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Final Fantasy 8: Novelization

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“Edea?” Cid stepped out of the house, the fussy toddler in his arms having finally fallen asleep after what felt like hours of tears and screams. Cid wanted to put him down, but he needed first for his wife to make sure the other kids were asleep and weren't going to wake him back up. Or the other way around.

Casting his eyes around their front walkway, Cid frowned at her stillness in response to his call.

“Edea? What's wrong?”

His wife was standing on the cobblestone path, looking out towards nothing, totally still. She didn't even hear him until the fourth time he called her name. Then she jumped and turned like she was startled and surprised.

“What's wrong?” Cid repeated, frowning in concern at the action.

“Cid...” she breathed, uncertain of how, or even if, she should tell him what just happened.

***

There was a storm in the sky. Bruised clouds weighted the air and the scent of the coming rain tickled Squall's nostrils. There was a soft breeze, heralding the fury that was yet to come. For just the moment though, it was strangely calm.

Then thunder rang out loudly as lightning lit up the dark clouds for the briefest of moments. Squall's eyes didn't flinch as his weapon, knocked from his hand just a moment ago, slammed its edge down into the ground directly before of him. It stuck in place, the silver lion pendant on a chain jingling against the hilt as the blade vibrated angrily.

Before it had stopped swinging, his gloved hand was grabbing the black grip and he jerked up quickly, freeing his abused Revolver. The gleaming of the silver blade was dulled slightly by the storm, but its edge was sharp and its bite still very deadly.

Squall felt unreasonably angry. Not just because it had been knocked away – careless – or because he had lost control of his weapon – unacceptable – but because it was him that had done it.

Grinning at the small victory, Seifer lifted his own thinner but sharper Hyperion and leveled it at at Squall's throat. The upper arm strength it took to wield the heavy, normally two-handed weapon meant that Seifer was stronger and more agile. But he paid for it with a lighter weapon. Squall's Revolver was much thicker, much more durable, than Hyperion.

Though Seifer had disarmed him, the battle wasn't over yet. Seifer's greatest weakness was that unassailable ego of his. An ego that permitted Squall to pick his weapon back up instead of claiming victory on a training session that had been going on for far too long already.

Squall's hands were tingling, going numb, from the constant beating he and his blade were enduring. He was hungry, tired, and dreading the hike back to garden through the forest from the plateau Seifer had chosen – the atmosphere! – to train on today.

Squall would never admit his exhaustion though. He brandished his weapon with confidence, refusing to show any weakness. Refusing to back down from this challenge. He was going to keep standing until he could no longer do so. He didn't care if the training session had far surpassed accepted parameters for time set by the garden. So long as Seifer kept coming, he would keep fighting.

He charged forward, bring the Revolver up and around as Seifer turned in place. Hyperion's blade slammed against his and Squall could feel the force echoing down his arms far more acutely than normal. He was getting too tired, he was going to get sloppy soon.

Also...

Did Seifer just do a pirouette? Had he always done that spiny thing and was Squall just noticing? If so, that was ridiculous. How had it taken him this long to notice Seifer dancing in battle?

Squall didn't get to ponder that for very long. They struggled against each other for only a moment before Seifer, slippery as always, slid past Squall. Hyperion's blade sung against Revolver's and Squall turned just as Seifer did to attack again.

He was already getting sloppy. His next slice swung far to the right of Seifer. Snarling, mostly at his own ineptitude, he brought the blade around again for another attempt.

Seifer knocked away his sword easily. Squall had to admit, no matter much it irked to do so, Seifer had a great deal of stamina. He was still going strong, laughing at everything like he was fresh. Only being intimately familiar with Seifer's fighting style allowed Squall to know just how tired his training partner was becoming. He wasn't constantly lifting Hyperion, choosing instead to rest his weary arms between strikes.

Just like Squall, he refused to admit defeat either.

Squall rushed him and Seifer ducked neatly under his blade. Skidding to a halt, Squall turned to see Seifer grinning at him. Well at his ease, he leaned back and beckoned him forward mockingly.

Obligingly, Squall stepped forward, and though his brain clearly commanded his arm to raise his blade, it was simply too tired to obey. So it came up late. Just in time to knock away the Hyperion being thrust directly at his face.

Once. Twice.

Seifer reeled slightly giving Squall his in. He slashed downward and threw all of his weight and remaining power down against Hyperion. His advantage lasted only a moment before Seifer, stronger than Squall, threw him off.

The crashing of metal against metal ripped through the air in time with the thunder. Seifer threw a wild side slash and Squall ducked under it neatly. He almost didn't jump back in time to avoid the sudden reverse slash Seifer struck with immediately afterwords.

Snarling with the effort it took to power his overtired body, Squall swung forward. Too sloppy, he didn't even get close to hitting him. He came back again, quicker, forcing Seifer to hold Hyperion's dull edge with his other hand to stave off his assault.

Then Seifer came up from under him, throwing him backwards and away. Squall's immediate retreat was short lived as he raced forward again.

And Seifer grinned.

The light of the fire spell lit up Squall's field of vision. He barely had time to recognize it for what it was before he lifted his sword. The spell crashed against the blade, throwing him flat onto his back against the hard ground.

Rocks bit into his back through the leather of his jacket as he sat up. Snarling, an accusation was already there on his tongue. This was supposed to be a melee training battle only. No ranged weapons – no bullets in the chamber – and no magic. They had been specifically instructed to leave their GF at garden. An instruction that Seifer had clearly not followed but Squall naively had.

However, as the smoke and ash floated down around him, and Squall looked up with a growl, it was to see a smile on Seifer's face. A slightly crazed smile. One that anticipated a victory. And the words he had been about to snap died in his throat.

He saw the blow coming like Seifer was moving in slow motion. Even as his instincts and training were urging him to duck away, his abused and exhausted body refused to follow the command. He could do nothing but watch.

Sharp pain erupted on his face as he fell with the blow. The splatter of his own blood against the rocks awoke the primal instincts to survive buried within him under years of training to be precise and exacting in battle.

He turned with a cry of anger, blood streaming hotly down his face. That smirk Seifer always seemed to be wearing taunted his pain.

Squall's booted foot planted hard against the ground. The Revolver sent up sparks as he dragged it harshly upwards. Between the two of them, it was always a competition. One always had to give just as good as he had gotten.

More blood, bright red, stained the rocky battlefield and Seifer let out the first cry of pain even as the inky blackness of unconsciousness was closing in on Squall's field of vision.

***

The bright morning sunlight burned Squall's eyes before he ever opened them. He recognized the antiseptic scent of the infirmary room as well as the morning birds that lived amongst the threes around the garden without needing to see anything.

A slight throbbing across his face reminded him of where he had been, what he had been doing.

Seifer...

He kept the mental curse to himself as his eyes finally opened. He wasn't at all surprised to see the kindly old Dr. Kadowoki grinning down at him. A grin that only spread as he sat up and reached for the slash across his face.

Dr. Kadowaki, an expert in both magical and non-magical healing, had already sealed it closed with a cure spell. There was a bandage across his forehead, to make sure that it didn't open again as the magic went into effect. Heal spells were powerful, but they were slow acting. Open wounds would heal, but they needed time to do so.

“How are you feeling?” the doctor asked him, a hint of amusement in her voice.

My forehead hurts...

“...Ok,” he said after a moment. Of course his forehead hurt, he had just recently gotten it slashed open. No point in complaining about it.

“It looks like your eyes are focusing. You should be fine. Say your name for me.”

“Squall.”

“Squall...?"

He resisted the urge to sigh. “Squall Leonhart. Would you like my ID number, too?”

Dr. Kadowaki chuckled at his cheek. “Your attitude is returning. That's a good sign. I must admit, I was a bit worried when you were carried in here.”

“Carried?” he asked, his voice mostly disinterested.

Dr. Kadowaki nodded once. “Someone really should have been looking out for you. You're lucky that I decided to send someone to find you when Seifer came back and you didn't or you might still be laying out on that rock. Or worse, in a monster's belly.”

“Whatever,” he mumbled. He should probably thank her. She didn't give him a chance.

“Why don't you take it easy in training? Next time, you might not be so lucky.” She was pointing at him seriously, frowning. It wasn't the first time he had wound up in this room because of a training misadventure. Nor was he the first student in here. However, he could admit, he probably frequented this room more than most.

It was sweet, in a way, how maternal Dr. Kadowaki was acting. At the same time, he didn't at all appreciate being told to back down. To not stand up for himself. She was acting like he was somehow to blame for this.

“Tell that to Seifer,” he finally mumbled as if to remind her who was really at fault here.

“That Seifer...” Dr. Kadowaki crossed her arms and shook her head thinking of him.

He had come in here around sunset last night as the storm was really starting to brew. He was howling in anger and pain like a trapped animal about the wound across his face. It had taken so long to calm him down that by the time Dr. Kadowaki was able to see to the mark it was too late for her healing magic to prevent any serious scarring.

Squall had been found about midnight after Dr. Kadowaki had 'gently' persuaded Seifer to tell her where the two of them had been training. He had passed out from a mixture of pain and exhaustion and Seifer had left him there. When Dr. Kadowaki had confronted him about it. He had shrugged and reminded her that he was also exhausted and in pain. How was he supposed to carry someone else back when he could barely carry himself?

It was infuriating because Dr. Kadowaki knew that Seifer had done it on purpose, but he could provide reasonable enough excuse for not doing so. Meaning he wouldn't be punished for the action. All she had been able to do was ask a couple of SeeDs between missions to go find Squall. Of course, by the time she had gotten to him it was too late to completely repair the damage. Squall's mark would be deeper, more apparent than Seifer's.

But neither one was coming through this unscathed. In a way, Dr. Kadowaki was proud of her boy for being so tough. He gave as good as he got until the end. He was one of the few that refused to allow Seifer to always get his way no matter how many fights broke out. When it would be easy to just leave it alone, Squall fought back.

Despite that pride though, she was also exasperated.

Seifer was a helpless case. Dr. Kadowaki didn't think anything could be done to help him. Squall on the other hand...

Squall was tough, he was strong. Fiercely independent and at the same time dependable. She had faith that Squall could be something great. If only he could stop landing himself in here because he forgot his own limits while fighting Seifer.

“Why don't you ignore him?” she asked, irritated with his stubbornness.

“I can't just run away,” he responded immediately as though it were a basic fact of life and she were the odd one for not understanding it.

“You want to be cool, huh?” she asked, throwing up her hands in annoyance. Why did it feel like she had had this argument a hundred times before? “Well, don't get hurt in the process.”

He didn't respond and she sighed internally. Like beating her head against a wall. If she didn't love him so much, she'd probably beat him. As it was, she should probably get him out of here before she lost the strength to resist the urge.

“Let's see, your instructor is...Quistis! Right. I'll call her now. Just wait here a minute.”

As she turned to walk to the phone on her desk just outside of the patient rooms, Squall laid back and draped his arm over his aching head. He bet if he complained Dr. Kadowaki would happily provide him with pain medication.

He kept silent as he listened to her dial and call his instructor. He really wasn't looking forward to seeing her and hearing the inevitable lecture he would get for this latest one.

“Quistis?” Dr. Kadowaki said brightly into the receiver. “Come get your student. Yes...Yes...His injury's not serious...It'll probably leave a scar.”

A scar? How long had he been laying out there? It had to be quite a while if her magic couldn't seal the wound neatly shut again. Not that it really mattered, he supposed. So long as it didn't interfere with his fighting abilities. It would probably make him more recognizable, but he wasn't taking stealth and spy study courses, so it didn't really matter.

“...Right,” Dr. Kadowaki nodded, her voice a bit grave. “Now, please come by.”

She hung up and moved around to get started on his discharge paperwork.

Squall occupied himself by counting holes in the ceiling, like stars in the sky. It wouldn't take long for Quistis to get here. Judging by the placement of the sun, morning class hadn't started yet. Not that there would probably be much of a morning class today, considering.

Oh, that's right, he still had to go to the-

“Squall.”

An unfamiliar voice interrupted his thoughts and his head turned over to look through the window that led to the darkened neighboring patient room. A girl with short, straight brown hair was smiling at him from the other side, her eyes swimming with emotions he didn't recognize. She looked like a pixie with her small face and delicate features.
She had...no sense of style. What was she wearing? What was the bright green wrap for? Squall was certain she wasn't a student of this garden. She had no muscle tone for one thing. She had completely flawless skin for another. It didn't look like she had ever been in a fight in her life.

How did she know his name?

Having caught his eyes, she smiled wider and her expression was a strange mixture of happiness and sadness. “So we meet again.”

Again? Did he know her? No, he's was certain that he would recognize a pixie faced girl who appeared to be several years his senior despite her childish features.

He didn't get a chance to ask who she was or what she was doing here. Even as she was walking away, he heard the door to the infirmary whoosh open softly and the familiar, fast paced, short strides of his instructor and longtime acquaintance.

Quistis was here. Lecture time.

Bright blonde hair the color of burning gold pulled back into a tight top knot. A long lean body that was deceptively willowy. She was just as tight and powerful as her weapon. She was in uniform today in preparation for lessons and had her delicate glasses perched loosely on her aristocratic nose. They shined in the bright sunlight when she nearly walked past his room then stopped and turned with a smile and a sigh at the state he made laid out on the bed.

She strode forward with that smile in place. It wasn't condescending or even really amused. It was more like a cross between resigned and happy. A strange expression. Squall thought he would prefer a stern glare and a lecture.

“I knew it'd either be you or Siefer,” she chuckled, leaning over him as if to examine his wound for herself. “Didn't think it would be both of you. Seifer's already out though. As I understand it, he absolutely refused to sleep in the infirmary. Which is only good. It meant you could sleep in the infirmary without him bothering you.”

Squall didn't dignify that with a response and she didn't wait for one. She was already turning, going into instructor mode. That he preferred most of all. Instructor mode was clinical, factual, and didn't bother him with emotions.

“Come on, let's go,” she said firmly. “Today's the field exam. I can't be late for class.”

Quistis gave him enough time to freshen up a bit in the infirmary bathroom before leading him out down the hall towards the main garden square. Squall strode with measured, unfaltering steps. He stared straight ahead and pretended not to notice her staring at him.

Here it comes...

“Squall. Is there something on your mind?” she asked curiously.

Here it was.

His answer was both pre-prepared for this conversation that he had known would be coming, and automatic. For once, it was actually kind of true. Mostly he was just thinking about getting out of here and back to class so he could get on with the prerequisites.

“Not really.”

“Nor really,” she said in time with him before she burst out laughing, stopping in place to do so.

Squall took a few steps forward before turning back, somehow aggravated. What exactly was that she had just done?

“What's so funny?”

“Funny? No, no. It's not that.” She waved his question away with a bright smile. “I'm just happy. I feel like I'm finally beginning to understand my student a little. That's all.”

More than aggravated now, Squall resisted the urge to glare at her. He had to remind himself that, despite their minimum age difference, she was still an instructor and he still a cadet. It would be rude and against the chain of command for him to snap at her.

He had to settle for, “I'm more complex than you think.”

“Then tell me,” she beamed as though she could hear his lie. “Tell me more about yourself.”

Squall deliberately turned from her and began walking away. He so did not want to have this conversation, especially not with her.

“It's none of your-”

“-business!” she finished quickly, beaming and laughing again.

He flinched in place before increasing his pace as she continued to laugh silently. She kept up with him easily. Of course she did. She was able to sense his annoyance now though and kept to herself. That didn't stop him from knowing that she had a very self satisfied smile on her face directly behind him without needing to see it.

The two of them walked together out of the hall leading into the infirmary and back into the garden proper. The large chamber nexus that connected all the common areas and dorms of the garden was filled with distant echoes of talking and laughter as students and SeeDs went about their day. The gentle trickling of water from the dolphin statues around the pathways was calming. The water beneath their feet shined in the light. This place always smelled of freshly waxed wood and cool water. It was a calming, happy sort of scent.

Squall knew there were people that whispered and laughed good naturedly to see him being escorted from the infirmary – yet again – by his instructor. They didn't mean any harm by it and it was easily ignorable. Quistis, however, seemed to take umbrage with it.

“Get back to your studies,” she ordered one group that all jumped to attention at the command.

Squall ignored it all in favor of returning to the elevator. He just wanted to get this obligatory homeroom over with so he could finally get some work done.

The rest of the walk to the classroom was quiet. A few times, Squall could detect Quistis about to say something, but thankfully she kept her thoughts to herself each time.

The door to the classroom swooshed open and Squall stepped inside. Just a few steps behind him, Quistis strode in as well and people began making their way to their desks.

“Good morning, class,” Quistis greeted them in full instructor mode. “Let's start with today's schedule.”

She moved around to her overly large desk, giving everyone ample time to take their seats. Her small frame was absolutely dwarfed by her the enormous desk and computer panel. She still somehow commanded the space.

“There seems to have been some rumors flying around since yesterday. Let me put them to rest now. Yes, a large scale field exam for SeeD candidates will begin later this afternoon.”

Squall knew that already. He had been dully informed by a gloating Seifer before their training session because Seifer, who sat just across the isle from him in class, always needed to be able to prove himself superior in any small way possible

Which meant Squall had to hurry up and finish his prerequisites if he wanted to be qualified to go. Which he did.

He turned on the panel of his desk and opened the drawer. Nestled inside, contained within a pair Odine Capsules, his two guardians waited where he had left them.

“Those not participating and those who failed last week's written test are to remain here in study hall. Field exam participants will have free time until the exam,” Quistis continued. “Just be sure you're in top condition. Meet in the front hall at 1600 hours. I'll announce the team assignments there.”

Ignoring her, this was just more stuff he already knew, Squall picked up the capsules and opened them with a press of a small switch. The magic of his GFs sank down deep into his arm. He could feel their energies racing up to their homes in his head. Shiva, his very first GF, and Quetzalcoatl. They greeted him warmly, even the ice queen.

Shiva was a strange mix of cool and warm. Squall could feel her settle into her familiar place, whispering a wordless greeting to him. Quetzalcoatl was faster than her, exciting and sparky. He sang his greeting out in Squall's mind as he nestled in place.

Immediately, he felt Shiva protest unhappily. She didn't get along well with Quetzalcoatl. She told him she didn't like how the bird was constantly singing. They reacted together peacefully enough, but it was common knowledge that most GFs didn't like sharing the same head space. The GFs would need to be friendly to want to share that way and most simply weren't.

“Any questions?” Quistis called out, pulling Squall's attention from his GFs. She scanned out over her classroom. Some looked happy at the prospect of study hall/free time. Others, like Squall, were clearly focused on preparing for the field exam. Then her eyes hit on Seifer who only looked calm and cool and quite at his leisure.

The sight of his scar, unbandaged and somehow proud, reminded her. Quistis felt irritation flare up in her chest.

“Oh, and Seifer!”

He looked up as though surprised to hear her calling on him.

Quistis frowned as she remembered the conversation she had with Dr. Kadowaki last night. Those two had been training for far too long if it was enough to make Squall black out. Besides that, both of them had come out of the ordeal scarred. She should have known better than to let them train unsupervised. As their instructor, it was her job to keep them both in line and safe.

Seifer wasn't going to be punished for leaving Squall behind, no matter how much it rankled Quistis inside or that she knew he did it on purpose. All she could do was give him a small verbal lashing for the rule he did break.

“Do not injury your partner while training,” she snapped, her voice making it clear just how displeased she was with his actions. “Be more careful from now on.”

As though he might have forgotten about the new, permanent accessory to his visage, Seifer looked over at Squall. The scar didn't irritate nearly so much as the thought of Squall telling on him did.

Squall, busy junctioning his magic cache between Shiva and Quetzalcoatl and his weapon – stored away at the moment – didn't look over at him or even really care that he was glaring.

Wordless, Seifer slammed his hand down on his desk panel. Squall didn't look up. Quistis nodded once as though the angry outburst was exactly what she expected from Seifer. And, honestly, it probably was, considering.

She addressed her class as a whole again. “Field exam participants: I will see you all later. Everyone else: At least pretend to get some work done, okay?”

Laughing at her joke, the class broke out into noise as people started talking and moving. Those taking the exam today were first out the door – Seifer included. The others milled about, talking and laughing. Very few actually pulled out notebooks. Squall, still working with his GFs, didn't move at all until Quistis called out again over the din.

“And Squall. I need to talk to you.”

He looked up from his task to see her smiling at him gently, well out of instructor mode. The sight didn't last long before she was descended on by her fan club. She had a fan club. For the life of him, Squall couldn't figure out how she had a fan club.

Well, he supposed she was a bit of a prodigy as far as fighting went. No one could deny her skill to be an instructor at so young an age. Still...A fan club?

Wondering what she could want from him now, he stood up and began making his way to the front of the classroom. She had to shoo her fan club away so he could get close. They stepped back, but the adoration and hero worship in their eyes still shined bright as they watched her talk to him. Like every word she spoke was gospel.

Sometimes, Squall really didn't understand people at all.

Quistis crossed her arms and smiled at him. Like they might both be cadets and comrades again instead of cadet and very superior.

“You haven't been to the Fire Cavern yet, have you?” she asked rhetorically. “You told me that was where you were going yesterday, right? You won't be able to take part in today's SeeD exam if you don't pass your prerequisites.”

He was very much aware. He would be doing it now but she was talking to him. He had originally planned on going this morning before homeroom, but Seifer...

“Hm?” Quistis looked at him interestedly, recognizing his thinking face. “Do you have a good excuse?”

“...Not really.” No point in telling them something they already knew. And taking the time would only delay his getting out there to complete the assignment. He had until 1600, but it was a little bit of a hike to the Fire Cavern.

“Then let's get going,” Quistis beamed brightly.

Why was she coming? Oh, that's right. He needed a SeeD member to support. He was going to ask one of the other SeeDs to do it. They didn't mind helping out cadets usually. He supposed Quistis would work just as well as anyone else. So long as she didn't keep looking at him like that. It made him feel awkward how she kept trying to get closer to him. He much preferred instructor mode.

“I'll be waiting at the front gate, so come down when you're ready,” she said, pointing over her shoulder.

Then Squall watched as she left and his eyes darted to her fan club, The Trepies, even before they moved. One girl looked devastated that she wasn't the one singled out. The guy was almost salivating to see their instructor walking away. All three of them followed after her like loyal puppies.

Seriously, what were they going so crazy over?

Figuring it was none of his business what other people did – or why – he left the classroom. He wondered if he would have some time to stop by the dorms to take a shower before he had to meet Quistis. She hadn't stated when she wanted to meet him. She would have to ditch her fanclub first though. There was no way he was going to accept them coming along. He doubted very highly that the garden staff would either and he wasn't risking making SeeD because of a group of hormone raddled, fan club people couldn't stand to be apart from-

“I'm late. I'm late! I'm LATE!!!”

That was the only warning Squall received before a blur of brown hair and blue uniform suddenly slammed against his chest. He recoiled neatly, his leg kicking back to catch himself as he resisted the urge to grab for a weapon he simply didn't have on him at the moment.

The girl, a tiny little thing, cried out as she fell back and landed hard on her bottom. She was tiny, but she was dense. Squall actually felt the force of that hit.

Should he ask if she was okay? She looked fine to him. She wasn't bleeding and she was standing up again on her own fine enough. He ended up not saying anything. He didn't really have to.

The girl, who had chosen to curl her hair outwards and up, smiled at him as she stood and straightened out her uniform. A uniform that looked rather new. He hadn't seen her before at this garden, though that was clearly a garden uniform.

“There,” she nodded, satisfied with her own appearance before grinning at him sheepishly. “Sorry. I was kinda in a hurry.”

She had an accent. Trabian, if he wasn't wrong. Her eyes darted between him and the classroom he had just walked out of.

“Hey, did you just come from that class?” she asked, her face falling. “Is...homeroom over?”

Squall nodded once. He was going to tell her it was fine because they were either having study hall or preparing for the field exam. Once again, he didn't get a chance to. She spoke right over him.

“Woo...Oh, nooo...” she moaned pitifully, her head falling into her hands. “This place is sooo much bigger than my last garden!”

Her last garden? Then she must be from Trabia Garden. An exchange student. If she was transferring to Balamb, especially at her age, then she could only be here for one reason.

“Oh, hey, hey!” she chirped like an overexcited bird. “I just transferred here. Do you think you could give me a quick tour of this garden?”

Squall seriously considered telling her he didn't have the time. He had to go meet Instructor Trepe, he had to grab his gunblade before doing that. He was still hoping to get a shower before going to meet her.

But she was looking at him so hopefully. And she was a fellow cadet. Instructor Trepe would understand he was sure. He would really rather not, but he couldn't turn down such an honest and necessary request. It wasn't like he had to literally take her around the school anyway.

“Sure,” he nodded again, resigned to the next half an hour or so.

“Whoo-hoo!” she called excitedly jumping up and down. “Alright, let's go!”

“We'll go down to the first floor lobby and I'll show you the directory,” he continued as though she hadn't interrupted.

The girl nodded eagerly and fell into step beside him as he made his way to the elevator. Really, it wasn't too far out of his way. He had to go to the infirmary to pick up the Revolver anyway since he had left it with Dr. Kadowaki – weapons were not permitted in classrooms and he needed her to remove the bandage on his head. Then he could go right to the front gate from there. Really, he wasn't going to be that inconvenienced. He would just a shower after the Fire Cavern.

The girl chattered at him as the elevator went down. Squall had no choice but to hear her since there was nothing else making a sound. He marveled at her ability to talk about absolutely nothing at all in particular.

Squall stepped from the elevator, grateful because his destination was immediately before him.

“That's the directory,” he pointed, walking forward determinedly.

“Oh, wow!” the girl beamed. “I didn't even see that!”

“Balamb Garden is pretty big. So it's a good idea to check where you want to go here at the directory. Especially if you are unused to the place.”

“How do you use this thing?” she asked, peering at the logo screen.

“It's a touch screen.” Squall reached up and demonstrated by swiping his hand across the panel and waking it up. “This is the first floor where all of the common rooms are. The second floor has the classrooms. I'll just give you a quick explanation of the various facilities.”

“Yes, sir!” she gave him a mock solute, winking at him as though they were in on a joke.

“You'll find the dormitories to the north. A majority of the students live in the dorms. There aren't too many students who commute. And those that do still tend to have dorm rooms. It's just easier to have a fast place to sleep after a long day of training.

“Yeah, I'm in the dorms, too!” she beamed brightly. “They're so cute and small! I love mine. I have a roommate and everything. She doesn't really talk much though.”

“SeeDs are given priority on the single rooms,” Squall explained patiently. “You'll find they are rarely there to occupy them though since they're usually on missions. You can rest and change in your dorms. Immediately west of the dorms is the cafeteria. There's always a big rush for the hot dogs. You better get used to waiting in line if you want them.”

“Why?”

“They're the only edible thing on the menu. The rest of it is mostly just bland or outright nasty. Everything is healthy and can provide you with all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and energy you need. I personally don't mind it, but you'll need to get there early for hot dogs.”

“Got it!”

“East of the dorms is the parking lot. Personal vehicles are allowed but not in the white zone. That's for authorized garden vehicles that we take during missions. It leads out to the front gate, which you can also reach through this hall here down south.

That's where Instructor Trepe was. How much time had he wasted? She was probably already there and it would be rude to make her wait excessively. Of course, it was partially her fault for not designating a meeting time.

“Hm?” the girl looked at him, curious as to why he had fallen silent. “What's the matter?”

“Nothing.” No point in telling her. “Next, the quad. It's located west. That's where we tend to hold the more sociable, less formal events-”

“I know! I know!” she jumped up and down, happy to recognize something. “That's where the Garden Festival is going to be! It's going to be great! I'm planning to be on the committee. You wanna help out, too?!”

No. Just no.

“Let's just continue,” he said as politely as he was able. “South of the quad is the infirmary. You can get any injuries you obtain seen to there, but a lot of students just go there advice. The resident doctor is a very kindly woman who is happy to help however she can.”

“What's the doctor's name?”

“Dr. Kadowaki. The east block over here has the training center. It's the only facility open during the night in case you want night training. There's real monsters running loose here, so don't go unless you're prepared to fight them. It's mostly lower level monsters. Mostly. If you don't take it seriously, you may end up dead. Just be careful.”

He glanced to the side to make sure she understood. She nodded nervously. “Okay.”

“South is the library. Most of the material you need or could want is already digitized. However, we do have a selection of works that are older or simply not put into the system. For most everything, the classroom panels is sufficient, but the library does have it's uses and serves as a quiet place to study. You know how to get to the F classroom now, right.”

“Yep, I remember,' she chuckled at herself.

“There's many classrooms up there, A-J. It's a clockwise circle, so just keep walking one direction until you find you want.”

“Easy to remember.”

“There's also a third floor. That houses the headmaster's office and guest rooms for any high profile clients that may be visiting with the intention of hiring SeeD. You should only venture up there if you have permission or you'll get in trouble.”

“Another question: What's the headmaster's name?”

She transferred here and didn't even bother to learn the headmaster's name?

“Headmaster Cid. Anything else?”

“Nope! I got it!”

Squall nodded and closed out the directory back to it's resting mode.

“Hey, um,” the girl looked at him with a friendly smile. He really hoped she wasn't going to try to make friends. He didn't like new students. They didn't know to stay away from him. “Are you taking today's SeeD exam?”

“Yeah.” If he could ever get to the Fire Cavern.

“Then maybe I'll see you again, later. I took my written test and fulfilled my prerequisites at my previous garden, so I'm taking the SeeD exam today, too. Good luck to both of us, huh? Thanks a lot for everything!”

She waved at him and walked off. Squall looked at the time on the directory and shrugged before walking off back towards the infirmary to pick up his weapon. Quistis was probably already at the front gate. He wouldn't have time for a shower. How disappointing.

***

Quistis was out of her uniform and back in her street clothes. A salmon colored pencil skirt and sleeveless button up shirt. A pair of brown leather boots and long leather gloves. She didn't wear her glasses outside of the classroom because she only needed them for reading. She smiled up at him as he approached. If she had been waiting long, she didn't give any indication of it.

“You remember your advanced junctioning?” she asked patiently.

“I remember.” He had already finished doing it.

“Your GF can each hold different abilities-”

“I know.”

“And the magic can boost them, thereby boosting your own abilities,” she continued in quasi-instructor mode. “How's Quetzalcoatl working for you?”

“He's not really. He doesn't get along well with Shiva.” Squall scratched at the back of his head where he could feel Quetzalcoatl resting.

The GF provided power to their masters, and in return took a place in their caster's brain as their own as a place of security. GF were able to experience the world through their masters and few of them wanted to exist without the safety of another's head. In a way, they were almost parasitic. If it weren't for their ability to mix with magic, they would only be drains.

The longer one had a GF, the more intimate and familiar they became with it. Shiva was Squall's first GF, earned during his first year as an upperclassman. They had been together, training together, for a while. She tended to live in a spot beneath his left temple. She was a great companion when he had a headache due to her cooling abilities.

Quetzalcoatl, on the other hand, rested at the base of his skull. He did sing a lot and Squall often heard him doing it like a whisper in the back of his mind. It didn't bother him overly much, but apparently it bothered Shiva.

Quistis frowned at his admission. “Really? Quetzalcoatl is very friendly. I thought for sure Shiva would like him."

Squall shook his head. “He may be friendly, but she's territorial. They're both great in battle, but they keep fighting even after it's over. Can you take him back?”

Quistis nodded and held out her hand. He placed his over it and the bright blue and pink magic energy transferred between the two of them.

Quistis smiled as she felt Quetzalcoatl settle into the back of her head. He was a longtime friend of hers that she hadn't mind giving to Squall in the hopes that maybe he could finally hold a second GF. Shiva was really too picky about companions. Then again, she supposed that she should just be happy that she had accepted Squall as her master. Shiva had spent a long time in the catalog of garden owned GFs because she refused all who tried to junction her.

Until she had finally been given to Squall. The two of them had bonded together well. To the point that the garden had just given her to him. However, her loner personality refused any and all other GFs that Squall would try to equip.

Quetzalcoatl had been Quistis's GF for a few years. She had given him up because he was so sweet and loving that she though he would break through Shiva's icy exterior. In vain, apparently. Quistis was happy though to hear him singing in her head again.

“Great,” she nodded after she had finished automatically junctioning her magic to him. “Ready to go? The Fire Cavern is located just east of here.”

He knew that. Why did she always tell him things he already knew?

Whatever...

He nodded and left out through the front gate. Quistis was just a step behind, smiling at the back of his black jacket. She had really missed fighting with him. That was the worst part of making SeeD and then instructor. She could no longer fight beside her students and cadets as an equal.

For just this morning though, she could pretend they were equals again. And if this afternoon went how she was sure it would, it would be true by tomorrow.