Final Fantasy: Crossroads of Destiny
Sifan Leonhart ran across the balamb garden hallway hoping that none of the garden instructors had seen him. It had been around two hours since the classes had started and it was the third time Sifan was late that week. He repeatedly tapped the elevator call button and waited for the elevator to arrive impatiently. The elevator door slid open and Sifan jumped inside and again tapped away at the buttons. He usually didn't care about being late but to pull it off three times in a row would get him into trouble with the garden faculty, which Sifan knew only too well.
He walked out and saw the shiny corridor looking deserted. Not even a junior classman was standing around.
[This is just one of those days.]
He nervously walked to his classroom door, which slid open the moment the sensors picked up Sifan near it.
[Ok...today is Tuesday, which means, Quistis...phew.]
"As you all know, dragon guardian forces like Bahamut prefer to occupy lonely dark places." rang out Instructor Quistis Trepe's voice when Sifan walked in to the classroom in the middle of a lesson on habitation of Guardian forces
Quistis' icy blue eyes fell on the dark-haired boy who had just walked in.
The class broke into tiny sounds of laughter mainly because of Sifan's regularity in coming late to class.
Quistis sighed, "Sifan... do you realize-"
"Yes. I know. I am late. I am sorry." Sifan interrupted trying to finish the conversation as early as possible.
"We all know you're late." Quistis continued, "However...you seem to have forgotten you have a field examination today."
"Oh yeah, that. Uh.no. I didn't forget." Sifan lied.
"Then where's your gunblade, hmm?"
The class again broke into fits of laughter. They were enjoying the situation more than Sifan was.
[Okay okay, enough already.]
"Meet me after class Sifan. You may go to your seat." Quistis said, turning her attention back to the large computer screen that showed a picture of the deserted research center where Bahamut resided.
On his way to his desk, a flame-haired boy gave Sifan a smirk and shook his head and sighed as if to say, 'some people never change.'
Sifan ignored him and proceeded to sit at his desk next to a handsome young man, his best friend Avatar Fenis, who gave a slight chuckle as Sifan switched on his computer.
"What was the problem? The alarm wasn't loud enough today too?"
"What are you doing here?" Sifan quipped, "You're supposed to be in the physical arts section."
"Hey...no harm learning a little magic. Besides, they just teach the same old stuff in physical arts class anyway" the blue-haired boy said.
"Whatever." Sifan muttered and turned to the computer screen.
[Hmm...I hate these stupid field exams.]
Sifan touched the 'objectives' button on his screen and the computer listed out his objectives for the field exam.
1. Train with fellow student (classman)
2. Stock a minimum of 10 fire spells.
3. Assemble at garden gate.
[Train with fellow student. cant do it with Avatar, he's a physical arts student.]
"Your attention please" Quistis said, "for objective one. I have paired your names. I will now read it out to you. And the place where you are supposed to train."
The flame-haired boy sitting in front of Sifan who had earlier smirked at him sighed in frustration, "Damn.. I was hoping I could nail your ass, kiddo," he said directing his head at Sifan.
[What is Relafen's problem?]
"Just ignore Relafen" Avatar said, "he's been on a high since this morning."
"Take that back Fenis!" Relafen hissed.
"Relafen Almasy and Avatar Fenis!" Quistis said firmly, "will you two let me proceed?"
"I'll get you later" Relafen muttered again.
"Now." Quistis said, "Please move immediately as I call out your names in pairs with your training place."
"Avatar." Quistis said, "You are to proceed to your physical arts classroom where you will be instructed further."
"See ya later pretty boy" Avatar mumbled and proceeded across the classroom after winking at a girl who giggled at him.
"Please pay attention closely," Quistis said, "The following are your locations and partners. Zeron - Aaron at Floor B1 end room. Altraz- Gerald at floor B2 combat ring. Sifan - Relafen at the training center."
Sifan got up and proceeded across Relafen whose satisfied smirk started to get on Sifan's nerves. He waited near the door in order to meet Quistis. The students soon cleared the classroom leaving Quistis, Relafen and Sifan alone.
"Boys." Quistis said, "Now I don't want any blood you hear? You'll make contact only with your weapons. Remember, your enemy is out there. Not in front of each other."
"Yeah I know..." Relafen snapped, "Just tell precious Leonhart here not to run away."
With that, Relafen walked out of the classroom loading his gunblade with bullets.
Quistis sighed, "Like father, like son. Seifer was no different... However, in the case of the Leonharts." she turned her head to Sifan, "your father never came late to class, he never forgot his gunblade, AND he never wore that lethargic look on his face."
"Whatever..." Sifan snapped.
"Ah yes. The 'whatever' seems to be the only thing that has been carried over..."
"Okay Quistis. We all know I am not like my father. Stop comparing us."
Quistis reached for a long package under her desk and placed it in front of Sifan, "Fortunately for you, you have just received a new gunblade from Esthar. Courtesy, President Laguna."
[Great. Even my grandpa expects me to be like dad, an almighty gunblade warrior...sigh...I should have been born a duck or something].
"Go ahead, open it." Quistis said.
Sifan removed the cover and inside was one of the most beautiful gunblades he had ever seen. Its shine almost blinded Sifan's ocean blue eyes. At the end of the handle was a small chain with a phoenix pendant attached to it. At the bottom of the container was a row of tiny golden bullets sharp enough to penetrate the hide of a ruby dragon.
He took the gunblade, loaded it with the bullets and let it hang by his side.
Quistis smiled, "looks gorgeous on you darling. Finish your training with Relafen in fifteen minutes and meet me at the cafeteria, ok?"
She smiled and went back to some paper work. Sifan walked out of the door and past a couple of students who were engaged in a serious game of triple triad. He pushed the elevator call button and waited.
[Relafen's not going to be easy. He's been aching to prove me a loser. Especially, so that he can get back at dad for putting Seifer to shame. In a way, dads not to blame but tell that to Relafen. ]
"Excuse me?" a girl cadet said knocking Sifan out of his thoughts, "Did you call for the elevator?"
"Sorry." Sifan muttered and walked in to the elevator. After reaching the ground floor, Sifan proceeded to the training center. He was greeted by a dead grat. Its side had been burnt and on its burn mark was a deep cut.
[Relafen. This is going to be a long fight alright].
Sifan walked around trying to get a glimpse of the long trench coat Relafen wore. He imitated his father in almost everything unlike Sifan. A few meters away, Sifan heard another grat screech painfully and fall to the ground.
Relafen Almasy was standing victorious with his foot on the grat's head. His blue eyes fixed on Sifan and his well built figure clearly visible against the background of the dim lights.
"Here, Leonhart" he said tossing a tiny bottle to Sifan, "a nice little potion the grat dropped. You're gonna need it"
With that, he jumped away from the grat and swung his gunblade in the air with a re-load click, "lets make this quick."
The training center echoed with the screeches of noisy grats and the roars of t-rexaurs. The wind now and then blew across Sifan's dark hair before rattling the leaves of the tall trees and bushes. The training had the feel of a small forest all the more necessary for the t-rexaurs to feel at home.
Sifan pulled out his gunblade and reflection of the dim lights of the training center from Sifan's new gunblade fell on Relafen's chest.
"How nice!" Relafen snapped, "Kiddy's got a new toy."
Sifan rushed at Relafen with both his hands wrapped tight around the gunblade handle. With a powerful leap Sifan swung at his opponent with all his might. Relafen's blade quickly made its way in front of Sifan's to block the attack. Sifan withdrew his weapon but half way back he re-swung it and caught Relafen's gunblade revolver knack in the middle, causing the flame-haired boy to stumble backward.
"Had enough of my toy, Relafen?" Sifan said, smiling.
Relafen leapt at Sifan and hammered Sifan's gunblade with his. The flame-haired boy's attacks were not as powerful as Sifan's but they were swift and faster. Sifan blocked the first three attacks but the impact of the fourth one, which Relafen pulled off in quick succession to the other three, made the young Leonhart to withdraw his right hand from the gunblade handle. Relafen was lightning quick in seeing that his opponent was holding his gunblade with his left hand. Sifan was a right-hander, which meant his left hand was weak. It was the perfect moment; Relafen pulled the trigger of the gunblade and the explosion sent Sifan reeling backwards with his gunblade flying up in to the air.
Relafen was sure the battle was over but Sifan ignored the pain incurred to him by the explosion, jumped back into the air, grabbed his gunblade in mid- air, and brought it down heavily with a trigger. Relafen was caught unaware and a late defense resulted in a more powerful and louder explosion scorching Relafen's chest. He backed away from Sifan holding his chest, panting. Sifan suddenly had a better liking for his gunblade.
"No." Relafen said, "never... Leonhart...NEVER!"
He stretched out his right hand and let a fire spell rip through Sifan's balamb uniform. The heat made Sifan's head go dizzy. He dropped his gunblade, and the next thing he knew he was on the ground staring blurrily up at his opponent. His opponent stood in front of him with his foot on Sifan's gunblade. He was still feeling his brain reel from the heat of the spell. Relafen wore his usual smirk.
"Oh my..." Relafen said with a tinge of sarcasm, "Now, why does this look so FAMILIAR?"
"Cheater." Sifan said, "You used magic."
"But you're using a newer gunblade. All's fair in love and war, my precious Leonhart." Relafen said, raising his gunblade "Did you like the Scar your daddy wore on his face Sifan? Didn't you always want one like it?"
"No, I didn't."
A blue lightning spell thundered down on Relafen's head and the boy went staggering backwards and fell to the ground, almost unconscious, with hardly any movement.
Sifan took the potion bottle Relafen had thrown to him earlier, and he threw it on Relafen, "You talk too much, Relafen."
Sifan sheathed his gunblade and made his way out of the training center, the wind howling behind his back.
The cafeteria was usually stuffed with classmen from every corner of the garden but since they weren't serving any hot dogs that day, it was less crowded. Quistis was seated with Avatar Fenis at a table in a corner near the window overlooking the ocean. Sifan walked to them and took a seat near Avatar.
"So..." Quistis smiled, "How did it go?"
"Your student wanted to carve a scar on my face, you know, Seifer style..." he muttered picking up the coffee Avatar had ordered for him.
Quistis sighed, "and...?"
"And he found out how it feels to be struck by lightning."
Quistis sighed again, "You boys never go by the rules, do you?"
Sifan smiled, "Don't worry too much instructor, Relafen should be up and running by now"
"Anyway." Quistis said, "You still have objective 2 to complete, Sifan."
"I checked all the usual draw points for the fire spell in the garden on my way here." Sifan said, "They were all used."
"In that case, maybe you should pay a trip to the fire cavern."
"W-what?" Sifan spilt a little of his coffee, "No way. Uh-huh. I am not going in there."
"Chicken." Avatar remarked.
"I'll let you draw those fire spells from me." Quistis said slowly.
"But isn't that against the rules?"
Quistis smiled, "So is using a lightning spell during training. Besides, if you were to go to the fire cavern, then I would have to accompany you. Those monsters wouldn't stand a single slash of my whip and the job is as good as done. So you might as well draw those spells from me."
"You're just lazy Quistis." Avatar remarked.
"Very well then, Sifan, Fire Cavern it is."
"Uh. No. No." Sifan said, "I'll draw it from you..."
"I'll meet you at the gate in 10 minutes." Quistis said as she rose from her seat, "Don't be late..."
Saying that, she walked out of the cafeteria after acknowledging a few Trepies.
As soon as Quistis cleared the area, a pretty-looking brunette came to the table with her tray. "Um..." she said in a sweet little voice, "Do you mind if I sit here with you guys?"
"Of Cour-" Avatar started before Sifan interrupted, "Here, take my seat."
Sifan walked away from the table even as he heard the girl pass a comment behind his back.
[That's what I hate about Avatar. So damn flirtatious. He'll sell you any day for a female.]
Quistis was waiting at the gate with the other cadets when Sifan arrived, "It's about time you got here, Leonhart."
[Geez. Quistis sure is different when she's handling you personally, but in front of the class, its always Leonhart this and Leonhart that.]
Relafen shot Sifan a drop-dead look and reverted his attention to the Ragnarok that had entered the horizon.
[Finally, they're back... I wonder if Dr.Odine fixed that new turbo-warp engine to the Ragnarok]
"Cadets, you are now to pay close attention." Quistis announced, "About 20 km north east of balamb port is an island where the white SeeD ship has run aground. The crew onboard has been stranded for several hours there. Moreover, the island is infested with ice monsters. They have been holding them off for about an hour since the SeeD ship had crashed. They have alerted us that they are running out of spells, ammo and strength. Unfortunately, the Ragnarok will be unable to reach them immediately as it has to be refueled. Your mission is to take two hovercrafts to the island. Secure the crew as fast as possible and send them back to balamb in the hovercrafts. You are to wait in the island till the Ragnarok arrives to pick you up. This will also serve as your SeeD qualifying examination. I hope you have your fire spells stocked. Remember, Your first priority is to defend the crew and secure them. Any questions?"
"Yes..." came a feeble voice from one of the cadets, "How long is it going to take for the Ragnarok to arrive?"
"In due time, Aaron, in due time." Quistis said with a sigh, "Sifan, Relafen, Avata-where's AVATAR?"
[On a flirting expedition, ma'm...]
"I am here!" a voice called out as Avatar came running, panting wildly, "Sorry... I was busy with something important."
[Yeah. Sure you were.]
"As I was saying." Quistis continued, "Sifan, Relafen, Avatar and Aaron take the hovercraft from the balamb coast. The remaining four of you will take the hovercraft at the port where you shall meet Xu. Best of luck."
The other cadets rushed off towards the balamb port taking the pathway in order to avoid monsters.
"Now, you four..." Quistis said turning to Sifan and the cadets near him, " Since the coast is filled with fastaclicons and other monsters, I shall accompany you till you board the hovercraft. After that you are on your own. Let's go."
They took a short cut through a forest and headed towards the coast. Funnily there weren't any monsters in the forest. They probably knew better than to come out and pay with their lives. After about 20 minutes of scorching sunlight, they reached the coast where a hovercraft was standing.
"Phew..." Aaron remarked, "lets go."
Aaron proceeded to run across the golden sandy beach when Quistis gasped, "Aaron! Watch out for that-"
A fastaclicon burst out of the sand and it bit Aaron on his neck. The boy kicked it hard and then he staggered backwards clutching his bleeding neck. The poison had already started to take effect. Quistis ran to Aaron and her cure spell stopped the bleeding but the poison kept depleting his health.
"This is not good." Quistis said, "I am going to have to take Aaron back to the infirmary. You three will have to proceed on your own."
The fastaclicon wasn't done. It came flying towards Avatar this time.
"Man, I hate these damn flying fishy monsters..." he said pulling out his katana. The fastaclicon conveniently came flying straight towards him at his sword, and he promptly sent his blade through the middle of the monster's body. The monster died and was stuck on Avatar's katana like a piece of chicken down a toothpick.
"Ewww" Avatar said pushing out the monster fish with his leg.
Quistis slowly helped Aaron to get up, "I hope you three will be able to manage on your own. If you guys do it, I think you'll be awarded a higher SeeD ranking than the other cadets. Anyway, I'll see you then."
With that, Quistis and Aaron started to make their way back to the garden, Quistis helping the injured boy on his way.
"Oh and by the way" she turned, "Relafen, you are the party leader for this mission."
Avatar didn't look too pleased with Quistis' decision either. She nodded and soon cleared the place with Aaron.
As if to avenge the death of its fellow monster another fastaclicon popped out of the sand with a loud screech.
"Wassa matter?" Relafen cracked pulling out his gunblade at the monster, his face lighting up with the feeling of him being the leader, "Searchin' for yer mama?"
The monster seemed to have taken Relafen's comment seriously and it flew at him with open jaws revealing tiny but sharp teeth. The flame-haired boy shot a fire at the monster when it was just a foot away. Before it could back off due to the impact of the spell, Relafen sent the monster flying straight up into the air with his gunblade. It then fell on the ground, dead.
"Ok, you all..." Relafen said with an authoritative voice, "In to the hovercraft."
[I'll get Quistis for this.]
"Do what the damn idiot says for just this once." Avatar muttered under his breath as Relafen pushed the button to slide open the door of the hovercraft.
The hovercraft was spacious with a long dashboard with various controls, keys and LEDs.
The door slid shut as soon as the three of them had walked in and Avatar threw himself on a seat at the end of the hovercraft. The windshield was clear and Relafen studied the controls as Sifan checked his gunblade.
"Hey." Avatar said, "Aaron was the guy who was supposed to handle this thing."
"It's easy." Relafen said turning on the ignition, "just pull this thing here and-"
The hovercraft jolted forward suddenly almost knocking the three of them off their feet. Slowly, the engine came alive with a buzz and the hovercraft lifted about a foot in the air.
[Oh great, now he's captain Relafen.]
"Take your seat, Leonhart." Relafen snapped, the smirk reappearing on his face, "I don't want your ass falling all over this place."
Sifan reluctantly did as he was told. He wanted to get the mission done as fast as possible, especially, with Relafen as their leader. He decided not to question Relafen too much. At least for now.
Relafen turned the hovercraft towards the northeastern direction.
"Ok, hold on to yer asses boys!" Relafen said pushing the lever on to full throttle. The hovercraft rocketed forward with tremendous speed. Sifan was certain that if they were to hit anything at this velocity, the hovercraft would probably be in pieces.
"Relafen, we need this hovercraft in one piece to send the white SeeDs back to the island..." Sifan said, irritated with the rashness with which Relafen was handling the hovercraft.
"Don't tell me WHAT to do Leonhart." Relafen snapped.
After a few minutes of high speed cruising, a small island appeared on the horizon with the outline of the white SeeD ship visible clearly.
"Get your butts ready..." Relafen said, "We're almost there."
[Oh great, I forgot to draw those fire spells from Quistis.]
"Relafen." Sifan said, "I don't have fires stocked, I need to draw some from you."
"That's your problem Leonhart..." Relafen hissed, "The hell you doing here without completing that objective?"
Sifan hated to beg but he knew they would be up against ice monsters, "I just want around five..."
"Which part of 'no' don't you understand?" Relafen snapped, "I need them for myself."
"C'mon Relafen." Avatar said as the island drew nearer, "We're almost there, what harm could-"
"Will the both of you shut up?" Relafen snapped, "You will follow my orders and your first order is to keep your mouths shut. Its not my problem if precious Leonhart here doesn't know how to stock fire spells."
[Fine, I'll draw it during battle, like it or not.]
Sifan remained quiet as Relafen reduced the throttle, causing the hovercraft to hum slightly and move into the frozen coast near the white SeeD ship slowly.
The white SeeD vessel was a complete wreck. The mast was broken into two and the sails had been ripped apart. The ship head was broken and half of the ship was covered with frost already. The crew wasn't used to sailing outside the cetra area and this was their first time. Unfortunately, it had resulted in this casualty.
Sifan was about to slide open the door when the radio speaker came cracking alive, "This is the white SeeD leader speaking! Respond please!"
"Yeah, we hear ya." Relafen said loudly, "Which part of the island are you in?"
"We are inside the lower deck of the ship. Monsters have occupied most of the places, including the upper deck. We are afraid we will be trapped here unless the vessel is cleared of monsters. There is a broken oar on the left side of the ship. Please park your hovercrafts there, as it will be easier for us to reach. We have left a few items outside that may be of use to you. The door leading to the lower deck, I repeat, the door leading to the lower deck is near a huge ice giant about 40 feet tall. Taking him down should be the end of your mission. Once he falls, the remaining ice monsters should fear danger and leave the place. Best of luck. We will be waiting."
With another crackle, the radio went dead. Relafen adjusted the frequency and switched on the microphone, "Garden unit 2, come in please."
"This is garden unit two. We are about 10 minutes away from the island. Go ahead."
"We have just received instructions from the White SeeD captain; you are to proceed to the left side of the ship where you shall find a broken oar. Please park your hovercraft there. Do not leave the hovercraft till you spot the white SeeDs. Any of your cadets well-trained in combat?"
"I am afraid not."
"Very well. Please carry out the specified instructions. Over."
Relafen switched off the radio and unsheathed his gunblade.
"You got to admit." Avatar said to Sifan, "Relafen ain't that bad at being a leader."
[Yeah sure he is. All that fuss over a few fire spells makes him a great leader now, doesn't it?]
"Well, what are you dumb-asses waitin' for?" Relafen snapped, "You want me to instruct you every goddamn minute?"
Sifan walked out into the cold wind, tired of Relafen's rattling. He looked around and saw how vast the island looked, completely covered with frozen forests. Quistis had mentioned it being a 'small' island but it looked nowhere near it. Behind him he saw the vast ocean stretch over thousands of miles. The chill made his teeth clatter and the dead silence of the place wasn't comforting either. He was far away from home and for a moment, he felt alone, cold and very very small...Little did he know that they were feelings he would soon be familiar to, in his world to come.
"Brrr." Avatar shivered; "It's sub-zero out here"
Sifan nodded. He could feel the cold winds rant and rave though his ears. Relafen was loading his gunblade. Sifan's was already loaded. He walked over to the white SeeD and examined it. It looked like the typical bad- weather wreck. To add to that, the crew weren't too familiar with these parts.
[They never did like to leave the cetra region. Whatever made them to?]
"Hey!" Relafen cut in, "this ain't a crime scene analysis Leonhart. Those dumb asses didn't know how to run a ship and this happened. That's all there is to it. Now get yer ass ready to go inside." He turned to Avatar, "ya too ninja kid."
They grit their teeth and followed their 'leader'. As they approached the ship head, they found a draw point for the fire spell.
"Hey Leonhart, there's yer fire spell, happy?" Relafen snapped.
Sifan concentrated on the pink aura and soon drew the fire spells into himself. Avatar saw a small chest and on opening it found some phoenix downs and a few potions.
"That should come in handy" Relafen said.
"Okay, all of you, lets get onboard." Relafen said pointing to the lowered board near the hull, "Time to kick monster ass"
The instant Relafen's feet made the board creak; they were greeted with a hiss from the top of the ship's mast. Before they knew what had made the noise, a 20-foot long ice serpent dropped down in front of them revealing its icy-cold crystal fangs.
"OK. People. We're using garden tactic 2. We nail him with every fire spell we got." Relafen said immediately.
"But Relafen..." Avatar said, as the party waited for the serpent to make the first move, "Shouldn't we test his physical defense first? I mean-"
"Shut up kid!" Relafen hissed almost louder than the serpent, "I give the orders around here!"
"Okay. On three..." Relafen said, "One...Two..."
The three of them stepped back charging themselves with the fire spell aura.
Sensing the aura of all the three garden students, the serpent hissed loudly and it cast itself a reflect spell.
"Shit!" Relafen muttered.
"It's too late, we have to discharge the fire spell." Sifan said as the serpent stood, happily hissing away.
"Well... try to miss him dammit." Relafen screamed but it was too late. Sifan was the first to lose control. His fire spell blasted out like a rocket at the reflect barrier, bounced with a scorching sound and headed straight to Relafen. It caught him on the chest causing the flame-haired boy to leave go of his spell on avatar, who in turn released his spell at Sifan. The three of them panted, all burnt badly. The serpent tilted its head as if to say, 'sigh...humans"
"Hmph...so much for garden tactic 2" Avatar mocked Relafen.
"Its reflect is gone..." Sifan said, looking at the serpent, "I say slaughter the damn thing."
"Yeah...make the slithering son of a bitch feel our blades." Relafen agreed for once.
"GO!" Relafen rushed at it from the front while Sifan and Avatar circled in to it. The three of them jumped in to the air. Avatar landed first tearing the icy hide, Relafen arrived next, divulging the flesh and Sifan landed the finishing blow, triggering his gunblade. The flare-up sent the three of them backward and the serpent aloft in to the air. It landed on the ground, slithered round and round for a few seconds and then died.
"That oughta teach him." Avatar said.
Before Avatar could deride the serpent further, the air echoed with a monstrous roar from near the deck.
"Well, whatever ya taught him, I don't think HE liked it." Relafen said, "That's probably the ice giant we need to take out. Let's get this damn thing over with."
Relafen walked slowly with Sifan and Avatar following behind.
"Hey, Sifan..."Avatar whispered.
"Did you notice Relafen's fire aura?"
"What about it?"
"It was brighter...I mean I've seen a lot of fire spells being used, but that was bright. Like Squall's."
"Well. How did it FEEL? You were lucky enough to know that too, right?"
"Exactly...it burnt me bad. I can take a couple of fire spells with no problem but that hurt like hell."
"So what are you getting at?"
"HEY!" Relafen interrupted, "There he is."
Sifan walked near Relafen and looked down at the stairway leading to the lower deck. In front of the wooden door stood an ice giant, faced away from them. He was about 25 feet tall, his head almost touching the wooden ceiling. He seemed to be in a befuddled state as to how to go through a small door and fill his stomach with the white SeeDs behind it.
"So, we take on this ice dope and mission done?" Sifan asked.
"Yeah. And we also got white SeeD butt to save." Relafen reminded him, picking up a small stone, "The sooner, the better."
Saying so, he sent the stone spinning at the ice giant, which caught him smack in the back of his head. He turned around and his death cold gaze almost froze Relafen. He took a huge thunderous step towards the party, noticeably very enraged. He shot his arm out and before Relafen could jump away, the huge fingers wrapped around the timid body of Relafen. Holding the party leader in his hand, he headed up to Sifan and Avatar.
Relafen couldn't move in the giant's grip but that didn't mangle the voice out of him, "HEY! YOU DUMB ASSES! WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT! GET ME DOWN!"
"You know...nothing would please me more than to leave Relafen warm and comfy in the big guy's hand but then again, we would have to give too much details when we go back..." Sifan said, "So...I guess we have to get him down..."
"Sigh. Yes. Any ideas?" Avatar replied.
"Fire spell his wrist, I'll follow it with a jump slash"
"Fine, here goes..." Avatar stepped back and charged his fire spell as the ice giant keenly looked at the annoyed Relafen kicking about madly.
"Hold still godammit!" Avatar yelled at Relafen, "or you'll be going home with a baked face."
Relafen complied almost immediately.
"Good boy..." Sifan said and got ready for the jump slash. Things, however, had their own way this time. The ice giant shot out his left foot at Avatar sending him sprawling on the ground. Before Sifan could counter, the giant's left hand knocked Sifan to the wall against his back. Soon, both Avatar and Sifan were on their knees, gasping for breath.
[Damn...this guy's strong.]
The ice giant returned to his assessment of Relafen. Obviously, this seemed to be his first experience with humans. Relafen was growing intolerant by the minute, "C'mon you MORONS! Get up! Get up!"
Sifan was still wheezing badly. Avatar, having received the full contact of the blow, was still a bit wobbly.
Convinced that his catch wouldn't give him any sort of digestive disorders, the giant opened his mouth, revealing huge, whale-like teeth and a stench that made Relafen's head reel.
"Whoa! Big fella!" Relafen shouted, "You wont like me...I taste real bad...! SHIT!"
Relafen closed his eyes and gulped. Just as he was getting ready to say his last prayers, he felt his finger tighten around his gunblade trigger. Without losing a second, he pulled it hard. The bullet seemed to have found its way through the icy covering on the giant's palm. He roared with pain and with flaring fury, he raised his hand and threw Relafen to the ground. Relafen bounced on the floor once and fell flat, almost unconscious. He turned around slowly and faced the giant who was worriedly groping his hand.
Sifan tried to get up but he was still too weak. Avatar was almost on his feet, but still staggering about. The ice giant was advancing. Relafen looked at his party. They were almost crushed.
"Damn those garden bastards!" He closed his eyes and let a powerful green aura encircle him.
Sifan could hardly believe his eyes while Avatar managed to waddle towards him, "h-hey, Avatar... l-look!"
The black-haired boy turned around and also saw the green aura that was swirling around Relafen, "how the h-hell d-did he?"
"It c-can't be!" Sifan said, watching his own body turn translucent.
"It's happening alright. That explains the aura we saw and the intensity of that fire spell. He's got a guardian force."
The next thing they knew, all the three of them were indiscernible and looked like mere holograms. The ground started quaking violently as the ice giant tried to sustain his balance in vain. He fell down on the floor unaware of the impending doom. He roared when the ground in front of him tore into two and a huge beast three times taller than him flew out with a ball of fire swirling in front of him. The ice giant was feeling a nightmare already, watching the guardian force Ifrit ascend in front of him. Ifrit looked at the scrawny 'giant' and sent his enormous fireball blazing through the air with a deafening snarl. Sifan, Avatar and Relafen closed their eyes as the giant was engulfed in hellfire. Soon, everything was back to the way it was. The giant, however, was lying on his back, scorched and as dead as hell.
Both the hovercrafts disappeared over the horizon against the sunset that was giving the sky a cosmic orange radiance. Sifan sat at the edge of the wrecked white SeeD ship, Avatar sitting next to him. Relafen stood a little away as usual, with a foot resting on a rolled-down barrel. They didn't speak anything.
Relafen broke the stillness, "Yeah, I know what ya losers are thinking."
"How the hell did the great Relafen Almasy manage to get a guardian force which was never in our garden curriculum?"
"I really don't give a damn how or where or when you got Ifrit Relafen." Sifan said, "but...if it results in annulment of our SeeD graduation, I'll get- "
"Of Course, they'll cancel it godammit!" Relafen fumed, "Those bastards will do anything."
"Relafen...for God's sake! Why the hell are you talking like that?" Avatar said, "Geez, leader... relax."
"Look, once we get our asses back in balamb, after meeting that goddamn loser of a headmaster, meet Quistis at the cafeteria. She'll explain a few things." Relafen said as Ragnarok appeared on the horizon.
"There's something going on behind the scenes, huh?" Sifan said, watching the ocean waves rise.
"Hell, sure is...Leonhart...sure is." Relafen said and walked away to the Ragnarok that landed near the ruined white SeeD ship.
Sifan Leonhart toyed with the straw in his glass of cold coffee while Avatar sat edgily drumming the table with his finger.
"So..." Avatar started, "We managed to get away without squealing about the Ifrit thing...."
"Hmm...yeah..." Sifan said, "Well, it's a good thing none of the White SeeDs came out while Ifrit was doing his thing."
"I am pretty confused..." was all Avatar could say.
"Well...anyway. Quistis was the one who made Relafen leader. Maybe, that's what she wanted him to do. So I guess she has something to do with the guardian force and all that."
"I dunno pal, it's fine with me just as long as we get our butts into those SeeD uniforms..." Avatar said waving to the blonde-haired instructor who made her way towards their table.
"Hi guys..." Quistis said, pulling a chair, "By the look on your faces, I can see both of you are pretty puzzled."
"After what we saw, instructor..." Avatar said, "Who wouldn't be?"
"Here..." Sifan said pushing a sandwich to Quistis as she sat down, "Take a bite and tell us what's going on around here."
Quistis sighed, "Okay...here we go. Well, you've all under the belief that Guardian forces were never in Garden's curriculum. The truth is, they were. Your father used them, I used them and yes, all garden cadets were allowed to do so, 20 years ago."
"Whoa whoa, go easy, instructor. You mean GFs, here in garden?" Avatar said, taken aback.
"Yes..." Quistis said, taking a bite out of the sandwich.
"Then what happened?" Sifan said, "Why did they pull them out?"
"Look, I want you two to be really secretive about this, alright?" Quistis said, leaning forward.
Sifan and Avatar nodded.
"By the time the Ultimecia episode was over, the whole world came to know about guardian forces and their powers. First people didn't think of taking any advantage of these guardian forces. But then, Galbadia's leaders got the idea of conscripting garden cadets and SeeDs for Galbadia's army. Even if garden didn't allow it, they would give almost anything and 'buy' the cadets and SeeDs who were trained with summon magic."
"So that way, they'll have the edge over other armies. Especially Esthar." Avatar said.
"Yes, but Esthar found that out. And well, they did the same thing because President Laguna didn't have control over many things. Soon, everything went chaotic. So the garden committee decided that if nobody was taught summon magic, there wouldn't be any trouble." Quistis said.
Sifan buried his head in his hands, "and today, Relafen pops out Ifrit?"
"I'll explain, Sifan." Quistis said, "For a long time, neither Galbadia nor Esthar troubled garden but they still had their eyes on it. Around two years ago, Esthar's key scientists created a breakthrough in technology. Machinery that trained anyone, even a six-year old, to learn summon magic. Even the best of Galbadia's spies weren't able to get their hands on it. So Galbadia turned to garden again. But we refused to have anything to do with them. Then one day, they made a proposal. An offer, which brought out the greed monster in every garden committee member. They offered to buy the entire garden and also offered every faculty member high positions, social settlements, and earnings three times of what they got from the money out of SeeD missions."
"What kept their hats on?" Avatar asked. "I'd take an offer like that in a jiffy."
"Well, unfortunately, more than two-thirds of the committee were people like you Avatar" Quistis said, "According to the garden rules, however, anything they decided must have at least an 85% vote agreement. Instructor Vallhallan and me are the 16 % that is against the 'selling' of garden to Galbadia's army. In other words Vallhallan and I are the only thing that stands between them and the contract with Galbadia. As you know, Vallhallan and I crossed our 5-year teaching limit long back and the only reason we are here is because of our hundred percent record of SeeD examination passes. A few Garden rules devised long ago protect instructors like us. But they made another rule which said that even one failure under a teacher would allow the committee to dismiss the teacher."
"You mean... if one of your students or Vallhallan's fails the SeeD exam, you guys are out?" Avatar said, irately.
"Yeah...and you guys think the missions they give my batch or Vallhallan's batch are normal?"
"They give your students tough missions so they'll flunk? Then, they can boot you out, bring one of their guys into the committee and get their necessary vote and sell the garden?" Sifan asked.
"Bingo...you're smart, darling." Quistis said winking at Sifan and sipping from her glass, "So...I asked Seifer to teach Relafen a little something to keep you guys, my place, the white SeeDs and this garden safe."
"A la Ifrit." Avatar completed, "I must confess, I like the way you do things instructor."
"All this is giving me a headache." Sifan said, clenching his temple.
"It's Okay darling. I am glad you guys are safe and you're SeeDs now..." Quistis said, "Oh and talking about SeeD. Tonight's the SeeD graduation ball. The official glitterati where you guys turn into real SeeDs."
"Ooh, I am so excited..." Sifan muttered sarcastically.
"I guess you are..." Quistis said smiling, "So who's the lucky girl?"
"Oh please." Sifan mumbled, "That question's for Avatar, not me."
Avatar beamed, "Hey Sifan, remember that brunette I met this morning. We-"
"I am happy for you buddy" Sifan cut in, "Re-al happy."
"Ooh talking of Tania, I have to go meet her. See you, guys. Nice talking to you instructor. Thanks for the lowdown." Avatar said hastily and was soon gone with the wind.
"Geez. A guy wouldn't get his mother down a ladder but when he wants to meet a girl..." Sifan mumbled, sipping his almost empty glass.
"You know, your dad and mom met in a graduation ball." Quistis said, "So did Vallhallan and I."
"Guess it's the most romantic thing that happens in balamb garden, huh?"
"You bet!" She said with a smile on her lips, "Really Sifan, you didn't fix up a partner for tonight?"
"Geez, what's so surprising about that?" Sifan said, running his hand through the locks of his dark brown hair.
"I mean, every girl out there is waiting for you to just look her way today, expectant and bubbling in hope they'll be the one.." Quistis said as she and Sifan rose from the table.
"Aw geez Quistis, gimme a break, will you?" Sifan said on his way to the counter with Quistis.
"Hey this one's on me." She said and placed a few gils on the counter despite Sifan's rambling that he was the rightful one to pay.
They walked through the pathway leading out of the cafeteria. Quistis looked at her watch, "Well, I think I have to meet Vallhallan now."
"Lemme guess. You have something romantic planned like a walk along the golden beach of balamb?"
She smiled, "I guess you can say that. Well, I think some angel will walk into your life the way Rinoa did into Squall's. Anyway, I'll see you around darling..."
After waving goodbye, Sifan slowly made his way to the dormitory.
Even after fifteen years of being married to instructor Vallhallan, Quistis and her husband didn't plan to have a child. For this reason, she often treated Sifan like her own son. Sifan didn't perceive it too much but he always looked upon Quistis as a guide through many things. She and Avatar were two people who made sure Sifan didn't end up cold, withdrawn and lonesome like Squall had been. But some qualities were passed on to Sifan from his father. One of them was Squall's ability to shut his feelings out and also his incapability to materialize his emotions into words. But Sifan never concerned himself with emotions and feelings. At least till that time, he didn't have to.
He opened his room door. Everything was a mess as usual. He threw his gunblade in a corner and fell flat on his bed. He was really tired from all the things that had happened. Nida, the Ragnarok's pilot, had told him on their way back from the ice island a few hours ago, that Squall, Rinoa and everyone else had planned to stay back in Esthar for a valid reason. That day was Laguna's last day of presidency over Esthar. Squall and everyone else planned to give a surprise farewell party. The official stepping-down ceremony was the next morning. They had managed to persuade Laguna to attend the graduation ball in balamb garden to watch his grandson. And when he came back to Esthar, they would surprise him with the festivities. Squall had sent word to Sifan that he had to accompany Laguna back to Esthar along with Quistis, Vallhallan, and Avatar in order to attend the party.
Sifan didn't notice it in the Ragnarok but it occurred to him that Relafen hadn't been invited to the party.
[Well, I guess there was no reason to. But the fact is, Seifer and Relafen might as well be the reason Avatar and me are graduating today, alive and well. Somehow, it really doesn't feel right. Maybe they just forgot. They hardly see Seifer or Relafen ever since they moved into Esthar.]
Sifan watched the fan in his room circle and he slowly closed his eyes, feeling sleepy from the fatigue. He had to go pick his SeeD uniform up from headmaster Ronan in a few minutes but after what Quistis had told him in the cafeteria, he had lost all reverence he had for the 'old goat', as Relafen used to call him. He let the thought of being honored by the goat with the SeeD uniform slip away from his mind and fell asleep.
Sifan Leonhart woke up to the sound of Avatar Fenis banging on his dorm door.
"For God's sake, Sifan. OPEN UP!" came the annoyed voice of his friend.
Sifan sleepily rubbed his eyes, got down from his bed and opened the door.
Avatar Fenis looked as striking as ever. The gold and shiny red threads were intertwined beautifully on the bluish velvet material of his SeeD uniform, with his name curio graphed on the pocket in a Lucida handwriting font. He had his ponytail hanging beside his collar in front. If Sifan Leonhart had been a girl, he would have fainted.
Sifan, however yawned, "uh...is it time already?"
Avatar stormed in to the messy room, "For God's sake, Sifan. Where the hell were you? Everybody was there. EVEN Relafen. Geez, you know how it felt when they called out your name in the headmaster's room and you weren't there? Really, they all looked at me sas if I was zee offeeecial guarzian of seeefan leeyunhart."
"Ok ok, so I overslept a bit."
"Yeah and what a time to." Avatar said as Sifan washed his face at the sink, "Anyway, I got you your uniform. God, what's your mom gonna say-"
"Shut up already." Sifan said grabbing his uniform from Avatar. It was the same as Avatar's. Sifan put on the SeeD blazer and a black leather pant and almost walked over to his boots before Avatar caught him by the elbow of his arm, "uh uh, pretty boy, you aint going nowhere dressed so plainly, geez, just look at your hair."
"Give it a break, Avatar, I am just gonna stand in a corner and-"
"Hell, no." Avatar replied, pushing Sifan to the mirror despite his rebellious protests.
The garden's community hall looked as spectacular as ever. Sifan wasn't the only one surprised, Avatar's jaw also dropped as both of them walked into the gold-lighted palatial ball. The ceiling, made of glass, visibly showed millions of glittery and bright stars. From it's center hung a huge crystal chandelier, which was reflected clearly on the sparkling marbled floor. All in all, the place looked like heaven.
Sifan slowly tried to inch away to a shadowy corner when Avatar caught his arm with an iron grip.
"Hey, ouch! Don't do your ninja grips on me Avatar, you're killing me!" Sifan hissed.
"Well, don't try running away kid. YOU are the spotlight tonight!" Avatar said, "I mean just look at you. Prince handsome is finally real and you have no idea how many girls out there have their eyes on you..."
Sifan sighed when his eye caught something, "Hey look Avatar! It's...er...what's her name...?"
"Yeah, well, she's looking great and it seems like she's waiting for you..." Sifan said trying to loosen himself from Avatar's grip.
"No, drumhead. She's talking to her friend..."
"Uh...well...she's probably telling her about you, maybe you should go introduce yourself. C'mon pal! You can do it. Let 'er rip."
"Hmmm...well...now that you mention it..." Avatar grinned, his eyes on Tania.
[Hee hee... gets him every time...]
"I'll see you around, pretty boy..." Avatar said and walked away to the place where the brunette and her friend were standing.
Sifan heaved a sigh of relief and walked away to the side where the lights were a little dim. He leaned against a pillar lethargically, after picking up a glass of champagne from the waitress. As he stood sipping from the cold glass, Quistis and Vallhallan walked into the ball, hand in hand.
"Romantic, ain't it, Leonhart?" came a familiar voice from behind the support Sifan was leaning on.
"Oh hello, mighty leader." Sifan said after glancing at Relafen Almasy. Both of them were leaning on either side of the beautifully decorated pillar.
"How come precious Leonhart aint got a pretty face to dance with?" Relafen asked bluntly, "I mean, daddy's the famous hero who punched Ultimecia's ticket to hell..."
"Almost punched my dad's ticket too, eh?" Relafen said, thinking of his father.
"Is Seifer coming tonight, Relafen?" Sifan asked, looking at a shooting star bolt across the sky.
"Nah, why should the General of Galbadia care about some frickin' graduation party...?" Relafen replied, a considerable amount of pride in his voice.
"General!?" Sifan asked surprised. All he knew was Seifer, Raijin and Fujin moved to Galbadia after the Ultimecia incident.
Relafen laughed, "Nobody told ya, huh? I aint surprised, Leonhart. Who'd give a rat's ass about some outcast and what he made out of his life? Especially, an outcast who would lift his gunblade against the mighty Squall Leonhart."
"Yeah, he became general a week ago. Care to hear how, Leonhart?"
"I don't have anything better to do" Sifan said as Ex-headmaster Cid and Edea Kramer walked in to the hall. The music slowly began to play as a few SeeDs accompanied their partners to middle of the ballroom for a dance.
"It all happened 20 years ago, a couple of years after the Ultimecia incident. One fine day, Raijin got drunk in a bar in Dollet and slapped a Galbadian soldier with a fish. Another soldier there called backup and they belted Raijin's brains out. Well, dad and Fujin walked in to find Mr.Ya-know lying on the ground. Dad and Fujin flattened all the twenty soldiers in a minute. The general arrived on the spot soon. Instead of slaughtering dad for destroying the best of his soldiers, he made dad the commander of those troops. He didn't have anything ta do anyway. So he agreed. Ah well, then he worked his way up the ladder being a good leader and all that, fell in love with the general's daughter, my mom. He married her and...."
"Goof ball was born..." Sifan said emptying his glass of sparkling wine.
"Very funny, Leonhart. Anyway, last week, the general croaked. But he got the president to appoint dad general before that. I wanted to go to the investiture ceremony but noo.... these garden bastards wouldn't allow it. Even one day leave would cancel my eligibility for SeeD."
"They'll do anything to make us fail, huh?" Sifan said sick of how the garden committee was actually doing things.
"Well, that's how my dad came from feeling your father's blade to where he is today."
Sifan was tired of Relafen prattling about Seifer being victimized by Squall, "Look, Seifer stood in dad's way. That's all, ok? He doesn't have anything against him."
"Oh sure. If someone puts an inch-long scar on your face, you still wouldn't hold anything against him?" Relafen asked slyly.
"Hmm, nah, not if I gave him one too." Sifan replied with a smile.
Relafen laughed, "You're smart, Leonhart. But don't gimme that bull crap about Squall not holding anything against my father...Squall destroyed his life..."
"Okay." Sifan said turning around to Relafen, "When someone pushes the woman you love into the hands of a sorcerer to die, would you still hold nothing against that someone!?"
Relafen was quiet.
"Answer me, dammit!!" Sifan said a bit loudly.
Sifan had forced Ellone to show everything to him through her powers. He had seen the last moments of his father's struggle with Ultimecia as if he himself was present there. Sifan still remembered clearly...Seifer had held Rinoa in lunatic Pandora ready to push her into Adel. Despite her cries, the tears in her eyes, he had just grinned his usual cocky grin and pushed her into Adel. She would have died if it hadn't been for Squall. It dawned on him; Seifer had almost murdered his mother.
Sifan's fist was tightening but he let his anger go.
"Enjoy the evening, Relafen." he said and proceeded to the exit.
[Relafen didn't see any of it. But I saw it all through Ellone. If he had seen it, then he'd know. I guess I can't blame him. What he knows is only what Seifer, Raijin and Fujin told him.]
Seifer had changed for the better, he was happier. But Relafen, being in garden, had keenly observed Squall's lifestyle. He had seen him using the Ragnarok like his own private transportation, being offered the presidency of Esthar; being offered the garden committee leader position. He turned both down. Relafen noticed Squall was the role model for almost every garden cadet and SeeD. Squall's life seemed to look like a bed of roses ever since the Ultimecia event. But Seifer's had been the opposite. He had to work and fight for every piece of bread he ate.
[.... And Relafen blamed it all on dad. ]
Sifan inadvertently found himself standing on the deserted pathway leading out of the garden community hall. He had been so busy with his thoughts that he didn't even see where he had come.
[Who the hell needs to go back in there anyway? Inside almost every faculty member, was a demon that wanted to sell the garden on which they were dancing and waltzing.]
Sifan walked over to the desolate stairway and sat there with another glass of champagne he had picked up on his way out of the community hall. He ran his hand through his dark brown hair that Avatar had made for him. The music in the hall got louder and he could hear the cellos and the jazzy saxophones echo down the passageway. Frequently, sounds of laughter were also heard and he could have sworn he heard even Avatar's fake laughing in front of the girls. He shook his head and looked at the sky. He lifted his glass to the pale white moon, "Cheers..."
The wine was going to his head a little bit, "Ha ha.... No Rinoa's gonna walk into my life alright. I escaped. Hee hee. No girl pointing to stupid shooting stars either. Ha ha ha ha."
He took another gulp and emptied the glass. Just then, a blonde-haired female SeeD came down the passageway.
[Damn. I must be drinking too much.]
"Uh...hello..." she said. She was a good-looking girl and wore a shiny dark blue color, with of course, the SeeD blazer.
"Um, you're Sifan Leonhart, right?" she asked in a sweet voice.
"No, I am a ruby dragon. Roar. Now get lost."
"Hee hee, you're cute..."
"You want to die from my fire breath attack?"
"...He told me to expect something like this from you..."
"NO! ... I mean...no..."
"Can you come nearer please? You look so beautiful."
"Yes?" she said eagerly and came forward.
"Please get me another glass," he said stretching his glass, "They give more servings to beautiful people."
She got upset much to Sifan's content and stormed out of the passageway, cursing Sifan Leonhart under her breath.
Sifan smiled and turned back to the moon, "Now where were we, pal? ..."
The early morning sunlight seeped through the holes in the adamantine roof and fell on the closed eyes of Phillona Strife. Feeling the illumination, She opened her light blue eyes. It was the same mako blue that shone in her father, Cloud Strife's eyes. She sat up on her bed and let her long shiny brown hair fall behind her. Both the hands of the small clock on the wall stood at seven.
She got herself ready and opened the door and walked outside to be greeted by the early birds of Mideel who were already getting ready to toil the day out.
"The people of Mideel had all kinds of work. Hunting, woodcutting and cultivating were some of the things that were necessary to meet the everyday necessities of people. Mideel, or the village of the life stream as some people referred to it, is located in the southern part of the world in a small, fish-shaped continent. Since Mako reactors had sucked up almost all the lifestream in the eastern and the western continents, Mideel was one of the rare places where lifestream accumulations were found. The northern continent of course is the center of the life stream. After the METEOR incident, the ice had melted, revealing the earth and making it suitable for farming activities. Hence, the northern continent, showed new flora and fauna, and greenery started to flourish, making it a great tourist attraction despite the monster-populated northern crater near it.... MAN I HATE THIS CRAP!" growled young Ricardo, seated against the wall of Phillona's cottage near her door.
"Have a geography test today, eh, Ric?" Phillona said as Ricardo scratched his blonde hair. Ricardo was the son of Cid Highwind. He was smart and active, but only at things he liked. Geography was his least favorite. Mideel blossomed with youth life, and Ricardo was just one of the many teenagers that resided at the village of Mideel.
"Hi Phillona..." Ricardo said with a smile, "I have that damn crud of a test today, and well.... this stuff here...is driving me frickin' nuts..."
"Its okay, kiddo..." Phillona replied, "Just go and write what you know..."
"Say Phillona..." Ricardo said, "Where are you going, now...?"
"Oh good. In that case, can you give this to dad?" he said pulling out a small but attractive rose, "I need to go to school today or else I coulda come...Oh and Marlene wanted to give you this for her dad...too"
"Sure thing darling..." she said, taking another rose from Ricardo, "By the way, where's Marlene?"
"She went to Costa de sol with that rich guy...what's his name...uh yeah...Mike..."
"Oh...ok...See you around, Ric..." Phillona said waving goodbye. She walked to the lifestream well, the sun tickling her eyes. She looked inside the well and made sure the lifestream was still at the same level.
"Hello. Beautiful..." came a voice from behind her, "Don't worry...none of those Shin-Ra morons came last night to pilfer lifestream..."
"Oh, good morning Trex...." Phillona said, smiling at the fairly-handsome 17-year old boy, "I am off to heroes' garden...how are the chocobos?"
Trex was the professional when it came to chocobos. But more than chocobos, Trex was more in to guns. He collected them and knew every detail pertaining to them. However, most of the guns he collected seldom worked. He shrugged and gave Phillona a Gysahl green, "Choco's in the stable. Give her this and she'll latch on to ya in no time."
"Thanks..." She said, "Oh...and if any of those Shin-Ra troops come and cause trouble, the materia's in the storeroom. I am not taking any with me."
"You got it..." Trex said and went away munching on an apple.
Phillona crouched near the garden and plucked a few flowers and made a small bunch with them.
[Mom used to love daffodils...]
Having got what she wanted, Phillona hurried away to the stable to take the chocobo.
Phillona Strife dismounted from the chocobo and gave it a Gysahl green, "You stay here, ok? I'll be back in a few minutes..."
She walked down the slope to the depressed land where the temple of the ancients had once stood. Now, a tomb was erected there. The place was filled with green grass with a fence along its rectangular margin. In the middle was a golden plate on which was engraved,
'DESPITE THE SINKING SAND,
THEY STOOD AGAINST ALL EVIL.
THEY WENT WERE NONE DARED TO STAND,
THEY MAY BE GONE, BUT THEIR MEMORIES NEVER WILL'
She knelt down on the grass before the tomb. A row of granite stones stood with the names, Cloud Strife, Tifa Strife, Cid Highwind, Red XIII, Yuffie Kisaragi and Barret Wallace.
She placed the flowers near her father's and her mother's stone and placed the roses that Marlene and Ricardo had given her near Barret and Cid's.
[And I never got to see them.... Mom, they all tell me I look beautiful, just like you and Dad, I am supposed to have your eyes...I know you and mom only from other people's memories...not from mine as a daughter...you went away.... even before I took my first step...]
"Two years after the METEOR incident, as a result of the lifestream imbalance, violent earthquakes had started to rock all the continents of the world. Tectonic devices had picked up the source of the earthquakes to be the northern crater. But no one wanted to even turn his or her head towards the northern crater. Dad and the rest of his friends were the only ones who decided to take a look. After losing the highwind in the METEOR incident, they frequently used the small airship Cid had for emergencies. Using it, Dad and everyone else went to the northern crater. Marlene...Barret's daughter was 3 years old, I was a year old and Cid's wife was pregnant with Ricardo." Phillona wrote in her diary, brushing away a small tear, as the owls hooted, signifying it was mid night.
"They neared the crater when a sudden earthquake had begun. Since they were in air, they continued to move. But when the ground deep inside the crater gave way to a fissure, the lava pressurized for 2 years shot out 100 feet in the air, melting the propellers of Dad's airship. Cid tried to land the airship near the coast of the northern continent, but it took a plummet...and crashed...into the city of the ancients...the same place where Sephiroth had killed Aeris. No one survived. Not even Dad. They found the bodies a few days later...since that fateful day, there hasn't been a single earthquake...it was as if the earthquakes were just something to call dad so nature could kill him. When this happened, Marlene and I were taken to Cosmo Canyon. Buganhagen became my father. He raised me...I didn't know anything till I was ten. He wanted me to enjoy my childhood. But the truth always lands...the day when Buganhagen breathed his last, he told me everything. He smiled, seconds before he closed his eyes and told me, 'you will do great things...my girl...' and then, he gave me a phoenix pendant and died. He had taken care of Marlene and me for a decade. Ricardo was raised in rocket town and later sent to Mideel because of the City's polluted atmosphere. Marlene and I came to Mideel through friends of Buganhagen. We grew up into what we are now. We didn't have much to do. Until one day...we decided we needed to protect Mideel from the reincarnated Shin-Ra..."
Phillona's hand was aching. She had lost her old diary. So she made a new one and wrote most of the things the first one had again. The diary was the only thing on which Phillona let her feelings materialize. The true feelings of loneliness and sorrow of having no one to lean on were only on her diary. Besides that, outside she was her cheerful, bubbly self the world knew her to be. She drank a glass of water and returned to her bed and continued to write on her diary.
"After the METEOR incident, Shin-Ra had fallen and was as good as ashes. But even ashes had the reputation to give life. To start with, people were happy there was no more an evil corporation in the form of Shin-Ra. Satisfied with independent towns and cities scattered through out the world, people went on with life. But not for long, they began to feel the world was too big a place, and they felt things would surely go haywire if everyone did as they pleased. The crime rate had already reached its height. So...they decided there would be Shin-Ra the second...but this time...it would be 'for the people, of the people, by the people'...those fools didn't realize the first Shin-Ra started on the same foundation too. This time, they adopted the age-old Magitek technique to 'protect' and 'promote'. Thus, Shin-Ra was reincarnated, as a goody two-shoes organization. Shin-Ra, over the years, earned everyone's trust and confidence. They used Magitek, harnessing magic to do 'good', and received respect and admiration all over the world. They built new cities, new towns, channelised rivers, everything a citizen of the world could possibly want, they even bought the gold saucer and cut down the prices. But fruits of corruption are the fastest to blossom. Deep Under the desert region, an empire was growing. Magitek armory, weapons, and all forms of destruction personified. Shin-Ra headquarters was re-built; all information was recovered from the database of the first Shin-Ra including mako energy, harnessing the lifestream's powers. They combined mako and Magitek and soon, Makotech was born. Total madness. All this was going on underground. Shin-Ra's control over the world strengthened but resistance organizations found out the truth. They managed to free the northern continent and the southern continent from Shin-Ra, both being supreme sources for mako energy. The northern continent gave birth to it's own government, which refused to align with Shin-Ra because top officials in that government knew what was going on under Shin-Ra's rainbow skin. The mako center in the northern continent was the northern crater. As for the southern continent, there were too little people to start a government. Shin-Ra had already managed to occupy the borders of the southern continent but the mako center was Mideel. So every week, Shin-Ra troops constantly ran around Mideel, trying to infiltrate it and take control. They even tried to steal some lifestream from the well for their research purpose. So we have been protecting Mideel for the past two years. Me, Trex, Marlene and a few other people as well. We have some materia and it has been helping us so far...But Shin-Ra's getting sick of not using powerful force...they are about to reach the limit of doing anything to grab Mideel. We can't hold out much longer...we are going to need help.... from anywhere...from any world...."
Phillona closed her diary when there was a knock on her door.
"Come in, its open..."
Marlene Wallace walked in to the room, an irritated look on her face, "WOULD you BELIEVE IT? T-That TWERP!"
[Sigh...so what else is new...?]
"Lemme guess..." Phillona said smiling, "Your sweet Mike's flirting with a new girl in his town..."
"Lets just say things have a way of repeating themselves..."
"Uh whatever..." Marlene said plopping on the chair, "Geez...that darn ship from Costa de Sol takes a whole blasted two hours..."
"That's funny, last time you said it took ONE hour..."
"Uh...Well...last time...Mike was there..."
"Time flies when you're with someone you love, huh?"
Marlene smiled, "Guess you could say that..."
[Just wish...there was someone for me too... Sometimes, when it feels like it's all over...]
Her thoughts were rudely interrupted when Trex came crashing through the door. The cool, calm and collected look that was usually there was absent. He caught his breath a little and then blurted out, "They're coming! They're coming!"
"Damn...." Marlene said, "... At midnight...?"
Phillona reached under the bed and pulled out her leather gloves, "Trex, hurry to the store room and get the materia, weapon and the armor ready. And Marlene...alert the others and meet me at the village entrance."
A couple of years ago, Phillona had gone to Nibelheim and had trained in Master Duncan's martial arts dojo. Master Duncan's father had taught Tifa and hence Phillona came to know him. She had been there for a very short time due to continued intervention by the Shin-Ra troops in Mideel, but she managed to learn quite a lot. Her fighting style was unique although she knew how to do all her mother's signature moves. She recalled all her usual fighting strategy, hurriedly putting on her gloves.
She was about to leave the door when she stopped returned to her bed. She reached under the bed and pulled out a small box and opened it. Inside it was a shiny red stone, glittering with its entire glimmer. After making sure the cure materia was well fixed to her glove, Phillona equipped the Shiva summon materia and rushed out to face the approaching threat.
"I set one of the most beautiful girls up for you and you blow her away like dirt!" Avatar Fenis screamed angrily at Sifan Leonhart, "I don't have to do this, you know. I could just stay in there. Dance with Tania. Dance with Celina -Ahem- I mean...WELL, I am just trying to bring you to the brighter side of life, for God's sake!"
The wine's effect was still doing it's thing to Sifan, "If the brighter side of life means dancing with Lorena, Serena, Anna, Tania, Celina, Felicia, and every other feminine version of Tom, Dick and Harry, I think the dark side will suit me just fine..."
"Look at you. Squall Leonhart's son, sitting her semi-drunk, with your glass of champagne all by yourself, Ugh, God you're pathetic..." Avatar said, frustrated at how Sifan enjoyed being alone.
"Ah, what can I do?" Sifan said, "I am just another lone wolf..."
"Make that a lone drunk wolf..." Avatar snapped and marched away behind him.
[Sigh...they're all on to me...]
Sifan yawned. The party was almost over. In a matter of few minutes, they would all come marching out and make their way to the balamb garden's newly constructed balcony for their buffet dinner.
[Wait a second.... Avatar went BEHIND ME. The party and the girls are in the hall FRONT of me...why-]
Before he could think of anything else, icy cold water came down on his head, drenching him fully. Sifan got up and wheeled around and saw Avatar smiling maliciously, a bucket of water in his hand.
After chasing Avatar all the way to the dormitory corridor, Sifan stopped. Avatar had disappeared... and he had disappeared fast. After all, Sifan thought, he WAS a ninjitsu student.
"Hey...Avatar...I am in a mood for a little one on one..." Sifan said, unsheathing his gunblade, "How about it, kid?"
There was no reply.
"Hey, you don't have to worry..." Sifan said searching for his friend, "I am still a bit wobbly from the wine and I wont be that-"
Before he knew it, a figure from behind swept him off his feet with a sweep kick. Sifan fell down on the ground with a thud on his back. He quickly jumped back to face his assailant.
"Uh well, I was just thinking, I don't have my sword..." Avatar grinned, "But I think I'll accept..."
Sifan stood up, groping his neck, "If you had kicked me any harder..."
"...Yeah I know, your medulla oblongata would have gone splat but hey...I made sure it didn't...so...WHAT say ye, pretty boy, ye or nay?" Avatar said getting into his Zell-like fighting stance.
"You're on!" Sifan said, reloading his gunblade, "Just don't complain its gunblade versus fists..."
Suddenly, a shruiken cut through the air and raced to Sifan's fist but Sifan swung his sword and sent the shruiken into the ceiling.
Avatar smiled, "I may not have a sword but hey...we ninjas-"
"Shut up and fight..." Sifan said jumping in the air, gunblade raised above his head. Avatar moved to the side, and nanoseconds after Sifan's blade came down, swishing the air near his shoulder. Avatar immediately locked Sifan's weapon-equipped hand in a death hold. The next thing the young Leonhart knew, Avatar's knee sunk into his stomach with force. Sifan crumpled to the ground, his gunblade lying next to him.
"Aw..." Avatar said grinning again, "Don't tell me that's all the time we have today..."
"Er...unfortunately...it is..." Sifan said sitting up, his hand on his stomach.
"Ah, that's my boy..." came a voice from behind Avatar. Both of them turned to the direction of the voice. A man stood against the blue neon light, clad in a brown jacket with a furry-white collar. A glimmering lionheart hung by his side.
Squall Leonhart smiled as Avatar helped Sifan to his feet, "Hmm...you two haven't changed...still sneaking away from the crowd, just so you could fight..."
"Uh, Hi dad..." Sifan said, "Um...Nida told me you weren't coming..."
"Hmm...why would I want to miss my son's graduation...? Well, the sad thing is, I did They had to get that turbo-warp thing fixed in the Ragnarok. Well, anyway, just last minute changes. That's all. Your mother and everyone else are taking care of the farewell party back in Esthar. Irvine and Zell send their regards."
"Uh...yeah..." Sifan said, the pain still lingering, "Damn you Avatar! That one hurt..."
"Aw c'mon pretty boy, I didn't hit you that hard..." Avatar said and turned to Squall, "Hey... You saw that didn't you, Squall?"
Squall smiled, "I would've kicked him harder, Avatar."
"Very funny, dad." Sifan said.
"So...how about you two coming over to Esthar tonight?"
"We'd love to..." Avatar said immediately before catching sight of someone across the passageway "Um, will you excuse me? I need to meet someone. The party's almost over. I'll see you after dinner..."
[Tania...or was it Celina? Heck, who the hell cares...]
Squall nodded to Avatar with a smile, and soon the ninja disappeared in a jiffy. Squall was across mid-age but he was still in good shape and often helped SeeD with a lot of missions. But some signs of aging were inevitable, he couldn't strain too long, and the skin under his steel blue eyes had tightened, but he was still as handsome nevertheless.
"Hmm...don't you have to meet anyone, son?" Squall said continued to stroll beside his son.
Squall laughed, "That probably means 'No and I don't want to, either'...right?"
Sifan grinned, "What can I say? I'll have at least some things similar to you, if not all."
"Seriously Sifan...not a single girl?"
[Not you too...]
"I don't need em' dad..."
That amused Squall a lot. He laughed again.
"What's so funny...?"
"I was so much like you..."
"Until you met mom on a night like this..."
Squall smiled, "Ellone told me you forced her to show you all the 'interesting' parts of my life."
"Er...yeah. I remember. When mom got you to dance that night... oh boy, those blue eyes of yours just couldn't get off her, could they?"
"I danced that night, didn't I, Sifan?" Squall said, absentmindedly looking at the sky.
[She had you hook, line and sinker]
"She had me hook, line and sinker..."
Sifan looked at his father.
"What? Something I said?"
"Uh...no..." Sifan said withdrawing his look as they approached the dinner table on the balcony. Squall looked at his watch and sighed, "I'll have to meet a few people now, Sifan. I'll be with you in a few minutes, ok?"
Sifan nodded. Squall gave his son a pat on his back and went away. Sifan walked over to the balcony railing and stared at the stars that seemed to be doing their best at shining.
[Dad...he used to be such a lone wolf. Alone and lost. Then mom came along like in the fairy tales. Then his life became her. Everything in Squall Leonhart lived for Rinoa Heartilly. Don't know if it's wonderful or just plain sad. Then he slowly changed. She showed him how to live. She helped him to become everything he is. Dad, obviously, feels the same thing should happen to me. But I don't see any wonder or magic in love at all. Maybe it was because; things aren't as bad for me as they were for Dad at 17. Or maybe I don't know how it feels to be an Orphan. Or maybe I didn't grow up away from the world, as Dad had. Whatever it is, each of us had a different bringing up, but at this stage of life, we were more or less the same. Only thing, I am not as lonely as Dad was inside...and I guess that's why I don't find love so intriguing and astonishing like its some savior...]
There was sound of clapping behind Sifan, interrupting his train of thought. He turned around to see what all the commotion was about. He found out soon enough. A SeeD had proposed to another female SeeD with a diamond ring in front of all her friends and his. She had accepted.
[And of course, the crowd erupts into cheers, like its some grand finale to a game....]
They calmed down after a while and sat around a huge table, all with curvy smiles on their faces. The girl who had been proposed to, just kept looking at the diamond glittering on her finger and broke into tears and kissed her man-to-be.
[Geez...they just keep lookin' at each other's eyes as if there's no tomorrow...]
Sifan turned around and walked to a small table facing away from the rest of the crowd, overlooking the silver ocean.
"Champagne, sir?" the white-suited waiter asked with a raised eyebrow as soon as Sifan sat on the chair.
"Um.... no thanks...I'll just have a glass of water..." Sifan said.
"Will there be anyone else joining you, sir? We have this special for couples-"
"No...it will be only me, thank you." Sifan said, finishing rather abruptly.
After the waiter went away, Sifan buried his face into his hands.
[I still have another party to live through. Geez, talk about back to back parties. There'll probably be another bunch of waiters asking me all sorts of questions...Oh yeah...and then there'll be Avatar's mentor Mr. Irvine Kinneas...the co-author of my nickname 'pretty boy' asking me where's my girlfriend...Zell will probably punch me where Avatar kicked me and he'd go, 'wassup, man'... and mom of course, gets kissy kissy...and Quistis would elucidate on my garden performances and exaggerate probably everything, and then of course selphie'd be, 'woooooooohoooo, Sifoo's a SeeD' and she'll ruffle up my hair...Oh God, what a night this is gonna be...]
Zell Dincht punched Sifan Leonhart accurately where Avatar had kicked him earlier, "Wassup man?"
Before Sifan could say anything Selphie Kinneas disheveled Sifan's hair and screamed excitedly, "woooooooohoooo, Sifoo's a Seed!!!"
Irvine had earlier asked whether Sifan had brought his girlfriend but when he replied in a negative, he had just smiled his modest smile and went away with his 'student-in-flirt-arms", Avatar Fenis.
Rinoa came over and placed a kiss on Sifan's cheek, "welcome home, darling..."
[Everybody's jus too predictable these days, really...]
"Honey, I am sorry but I have to take care of a few things. Just a bit busy..." Rinoa said, "I ll be with you in a few minutes."
"Sure thing." Sifan nodded as Rinoa smiled again and went away to attend to the early guests.
Sifan still stood at the door of the huge presidential residence in Esthar. He took a good look at it and sighed. It was Laguna's last day at the magnificent place. But he had served his time.
"Hey, are you gonna just stand there all night, pretty boy?" Irvine's voice rang out from a corner, "Bring me those streamers will you...?"
Sifan picked a pack of colorful streamers on a table near him and walked over to the cowboy, "Say, Irvine...Where's Ron?"
"He went to pick up his girlfriend in Dollet. She couldn't come alone on the train. Not many people take the train at this time of the night, you know. Or maybe they just wanted to make it romantic..."
"I'll take the latter one. After all, He IS your son..."
Irvine climbed up on a chair and stuck a streamer to the wall, "Hey, where's your old man?"
"The Ragnarok's gone to pick him up. He'll be here in another hour or so. He had to talk to some people. Quistis will come with him too..."
"That aint gonna take an hour, Sifan..."
"We're talkin turbo-warping Ragnarok now, kiddo..."
"Oh yeah... Zell was telling me about that..."
"Yup, I feel it's that old goose Odine's best invention yet. You just type in the co-ordinates of the place you want to go to, and there's this small lil' gunny kind of thing under the cockpit that fires this beam in the air and opens up a floating portal. You just fly through the portal and voila! You're there...cool stuff, huh?"
"Yeah... Esthar's really somewhere when it comes to technology, huh?"
"HEY, IRVINE, you moron!" Zell screamed from the other corner, "stop yakkin' and stick the frickin' streamers, will ya?"
"I'll leave you alone..." Sifan said to Irvine, "Where's Mr. Smooth?"
"Oh... Avatar took that Tania girl to that skyscraper a few blocks away. He wanted to show her the view or something... that kid's after my own heart..."
[Tell me about it...]
"See ya around" Sifan said and took a look at the arrangements going on for the party. Rinoa was running up and down arranging the food on the table. Zell was putting up all sorts of posters. Selphie stuck a president sticker on a teddy bear and made it sit on one of the stools. Irvine of course, was busy with the streamers. A few other friends of Laguna were also present. Kiros and Ward were the president's right and left hand and so they had gone to balamb. The preparations were almost complete.
[Where the hell was Laguna back in balamb...? I didn't see him...or Kiros or Ward...probably my fault... I didn't even sit around still for ten minutes... Dad didn't join me for Dinner either. Maybe something important came up...Hmm.... talk of the devil, here they are...Guess the turbo-warp stuff's working...]
The sound of the Ragnarok landing outside fell on everyone's ears. Zell fell down from the stool he was standing on and hissed, " Somebody switch of the lights, godammit..." Rinoa ran away to the back to do so. And soon the lights went out. Total blackness.
They all stayed quiet making the place silent as a graveyard. Laguna's voice came from the entrance, "Hmm...What happened here? Something wrong with the main board...I think..."
"I'll go check..." Kiros' voice followed.
"I think I'll give Kiros a hand..." Squall said next.
Nobody uttered anything when Laguna spoke, "Great party at balamb, eh Ward?"
He was greeted with silence.
"I didn't see lil' Sifan though..." He continued under the belief someone was listening to him.
[I am little?]
"What a time for a blackout, eh Ward?"
[Laguna's not changed one bit...]
"Ward...? Squall...? Hey... anyone there?......Kiros?"
Suddenly there was a loud explosion and the lights came on and everyone screamed in unison. A few of them started honking air horns and someone put on the music at full volume while others still, busted a few balloons. A flabbergasted Esthar President stood there, still. Someone outside even unleashed fireworks in the sky which wrote in a magical green light, 'Cheers to the greatest president of ESTHAR...' When he finally came to, he smiled, still a bit surprised
[Not bad for last minute preparations...]
Laguna received a hug from Squall and felicitations from everyone. Sifan waited for the crowd to clear a little. While he was waiting, a voice came from behind him, "Ain't ya gonna hug yer grandpa, Leonhart?"
Sifan spun around to see Relafen Almasy smirking at him, "Don't ask me why I am here. I DON'T KNOW."
"Hmm...let me guess. Ward, Kiros, Squall and Quistis walked up to you and invited you. How can Seifer. Jr. say no?"
Relafen mumbled something in his mouth, "Yeah. Yeah. Tyranny..."
"Like I said..." Sifan smiled turning around and looking back, "Enjoy the Party, Relafen..."
Squall whispered something in Laguna's ears. Laguna nodded negatively at first but then he agreed. He walked up to a microphone that was hurriedly set up by Selphie. Everybody turned to Laguna as he cleared his voice.
"Uh, Well..." he started, "I am touched...uh really...you guys remembered the last day of this old man's presidency over Esthar. Um, I really like to thank you all for this. I...I never expected anything like this...it's been great being the president of this great country and well, I hope, It will flourish in every way in the decades to come...thank you..."
They all broke into claps and cheers again. Laguna stepped away from the microphone and made his way to a table near Sifan. At first, he didn't notice Sifan and sat down on a chair.
"Uh...waiter..." he said turning to Sifan, "do you mind bringing me a glass of-"
He stopped. "Sifan!?"
"You haven't completed your order sir..."
"Aw, cut the crap my boy!" Laguna said getting up and hugging him tightly, "You've grown. The last time I saw you, you were complaining about that punch of Avatar's which broke your tooth...you were ten if I remember correctly..."
"Believe me, gramps, things haven't changed all that much..." Sifan said, touching his stomach, which was still jittering a bit.
"I am sorry I didn't meet you in balamb...I was taking care of those SeeD funding matters... for the last time that is."
"Nah, its ok..." Sifan replied, "Wasn't much to see..."
"Hey, C'mon...I did want to see how you danced..."
[Sigh...yet another one...]
"You did dance, didn't you?"
"No.... I wasn't feeling too well..." Sifan lied.
"That's too bad... Oh look, it's your headmaster... I better go say hello... Help your self to the food my boy" Laguna said and went away to meet the old goat.
He looked around. Everyone was engaged in a conversation with someone or another, enjoying, laughing, and involved in some kind of emotional pleasure that can exist between people.
[I always seem to be alone...don't I?]
It was him she wanted. Squall Leonhart's son. Not his best friend. Somehow, it had all cross-fired and there she was, in that forsaken balcony in Esthar's tallest skyscraper, looking into Avatar Fenis' eyes, but still finding nothing.
"Hey...your friends tell me, you read palms...and stuff like that..." Avatar said after hitting on Tania for some time.
"Hmm... Even if I did read palms Avatar, there's no way I am gonna read yours..." Tania said, smiling at him, "Say...Where's your friend...?"
"Pretty boy is in the presidential palace... he's probably standing in some corner, alone..."
"So...that's your game, huh?"
"You want Sifan Leonhart...I should've known...they ALL want him..."
"No no no...Avatar...I came with you for you...ok? Not for some walking mummy like Sifan Leonhart..."
"Hee hee...walking mummy...that's a good one..."
Confident she had him around her little finger, Tania continued, "Well, yeah...I do read palms...my mom taught me...sometimes I am right.... sometimes I am wrong"
"Hmm...you just wanna hold my hand, right...?" Avatar said as Tania lifted Avatar's palm, "Why don't you just say so...?"
"Well if you put it that way..." She said, running a finger down the lines of his palm, "Hmm..."
"Well, what do you see...? When do we get married?"
"Smart-ass..." She said, "Lets see...you are going to go out of this world-"
Avatar started to snicker, "Hmm... how will the aliens look like? Fine-looking and attractive like you?"
"Oh shut up...you hit on me like there's no tomorrow..." Tania said, observing his palm, "Hmm...this is beautiful...your fate line gives way to someone else's-"
Avatar wrapped his fingers around her wrist, pulled her close, and looked in to her eyes. "Not as beautiful as you...". He said, with the silky tone Irvine had taught him.
Tania wrapped her arms around his neck; "You're just as smooth as they get...."
He leant forward and kissed her. Tania didn't resist and allowed him to, but in her mind, she pretended the boy in front of her was Sifan Leonhart.
Rinoa and Squall waved goodbye as the Ragnarok slowly lifted into the sky. They had promised to come see Sifan the next day as they were too busy too spend time with him. Initially, they had wanted Sifan to take a leave from his first day of SeeD but after what Quistis had told him about the Garden committee, he decided not to risk anything. Soon the Airship cruised out of the presidential residence's view.
The weather that had been agreeable all along began to turn its color. There were rumors of a thunderstorm near the Galbadian plains, but from the clouds that were starting to loom in the sky, it seemed like they were going to have one too. A huge thunder deafened the Ragnarok's occupants as it slowly veered around in the direction of the island of balamb.
Avatar sat dreamily behind the Pilot's seat in the cockpit, thinking of Tania. Since Tania was not a SeeD and was still a normal classman, she had to be in garden premises early. So she had left on the first trip the Ragnarok made to balamb after the party in Esthar. She had promised him lunch together the next day, hoping she could link up with Sifan in the process. Avatar, however, unaware of the intentions of the girl he had fallen for, was whistling romantic tunes he knew from the album of the 'wild chocobos' rock band.
Relafen sat the last seat, with his legs on the headrest of the seat before him, polishing his gunblade in his usual smug manner. Sifan stood behind Nida and watched him pilot the Ragnarok.
"Say..." Sifan broke the silence, "Can't we...uh...turbo warp?"
Nida shrugged, "Well, we could if we want to, but I've never really tried anything like that...without technical assistance..."
"Aw C'mon Nida..." Avatar said, "You know how to do it, right? Besides, you've been flying this thing for almost two decades."
Lighting struck a tree on the ground ahead of them and split it into two, as rain started to pour down heavily, almost thrashing the Ragnarok's exterior like metal bullets.
"The weather's not too friendly today, is it?" Sifan said looking at his watch, which showed 2 A.M.
"This is not good...." Nida said, "We haven't had a storm like this in years..."
Relafen got up, satisfied with the burnish on his gunblade, "So why don't we just turbo warp our goddamn asses to some nearby landing space..."
Nida opened a small control panel, which read, 'Turbo warp'. He punched in a few co-ordinates and sighed, "Yeah...I really can't see a thing. Its raining giant buckets."
Another thunder boomed across the hazy horizon. Sifan nodded in agreement, "Turbo warping somewhere safe is better than crashing into some mountain at 400 mph..."
"Alright..." Nida said, "here we-"
Before Nida's finger touched the 'confirm' button, a lightning bolt hammered the tail of the Ragnarok causing it to whirl frantically. Sifan shot out his right hand and grabbed a nearby seat and managed to secure himself as Avatar and Nida, with their seat belts on, received a hard jolt. Relafen, however, was unlucky enough to have forgotten his seat belt. The force, with which the Airship spun around, sent him flying backwards, flat against the cockpit door. His right elbow hit the steel hard, the shock causing him to trigger the gunblade in his hand. The bullet barely missed Sifan's face and crunched in to the turbo warp control panel.
The Ragnarok's engines were still on and the exhaust was pouting out flames. Sifan's eyes fell on the small screen on the turbo warp control panel. The co-ordinates display was going crazy, flashing all sorts of digits and symbols endlessly. Amidst the hassle of the Ragnarok still swirling wildly, Nida reached over to the control panel to close it but he received an electric shock as Relafen's bullet had revealed the circuitry. Before he knew it, the confirm button turned green and Ragnarok's turbo warp device started to zap rays wildly. To make matters worse, the Ragnarok 's left tail smashed into a mountain and was in flames, too strong to be wiped out by the raindrops.
"Shit..." Nida screamed, "The left tail is just above the fuel carrier...WE better get the hell outta here. Sifan, Relafen and Avatar...take a jet pack on the wall of the corridor, outside the door and head to the emergency exit, FAST! I'll follow you as soon as I put the emergency chutes on..."
The three of them didn't waste any time. They rushed outside and grabbed a jetpack each. They helped each other with the buckling of the straps as the Ragnarok continuously shook, almost knocking them off their feet.
"The emergency exit is just ahead...." Avatar said, "Follow me...."
Sifan looked back at Nida, frantically trying to get things in order. He had managed to activate the emergency chutes and the Ragnarok stayed wobbly but un-accelerated. Sifan wished him luck and hurried to the emergency exit. Avatar smashed open the emergency exit as an avalanche of wind and water lashed against their faces. Relafen jumped outside, activating the jetpack flare as soon as he was in the air. Avatar followed and turned around hovering in the air, "Sifan...jump out dammit!"
[I hope Nida 'll make it...]
Sifan sighed and jumped out.
The three of them stayed in the air, waiting for Nida. Suddenly, the turbo warp gun went berserk again and began to shoot rays, opening up bright blue rectangular portals everywhere it shot. As if to target the three SeeDs, the wind harshly changed direction. It blew the chutes to the right, turning the Ragnarok's head straight towards Sifan, Relafen and Avatar.
"Damn!" Relafen screamed. Before they could steer themselves out of danger, rays from the turbo-warp gun shot through the rain and engulfed all three of them, blinding them with it's dazzling blue light.
Sifan felt his body freeze without sensation, his head becoming unsteady. He felt his jetpack die out with a flicker. The next thing he knew, a strange sense of falling came over him, like he fell into a pit of perpetuity. All around him, there was only darkness, but he kept falling. He didn't see Relafen or Avatar. He tried to move, but his nerves didn't seem to respond to his brain, the numbness spreading to his neck. As he continued to fall, his consciousness began to fade away and everything went pitch black.
Sifan Leonhart opened his eyes; his head feeling like someone had put a knife through it.
"Ow...." He said clutching his head, "w-what h-happened...?"
Avatar Fenis' feet crunched the pieces of twig lying near Sifan.
"We got turbo warped to some forest...that's all..." he said pulling Sifan to his feet.
"Ugh...God, my head..." Sifan said looking at the trees packed so densely that they hardly seemed to allow even air to enter. Avatar Fenis stood near him, dusting himself and pulling a leaf out of his hair. Sifan looked at his coat, it was torn at a few places, seemingly from scraping against trees.
"Hey...I think we fell from quite a height..." Sifan said looking at the broken jetpack lying on the ground, "How come we didn't even break a cartilage?"
"Beats me..." Avatar replied looking at the scratches on his elbow, "Maybe the trees broke our fall...I don't know..."
"Where the hell is Relafen...?" Sifan said looking around, "Not that I care...but heck, he did fall with us..."
"Take a look at that..." Avatar said pointing to small piece of Relafen's trench coat stuck on a thorn, "The guy scrammed outta here faster than light I guess. He wasn't there when I came to."
"Let's get outta here..." Sifan said, wiping away beads of sweat.
"Looks like this is a forest near the cetra region... what a fine place to get warped to..." Avatar said as they made their way across the forest, pushing and cutting the branches and the green outgrowths with their swords.
After a few minutes of unenthusiastically hacking away the forest plant life, they finally came to a path leading out of the forest. They heaved a sigh relief and sheathed their weapons and walked out of the forest into the clear air. There were no clouds at all. There were only stars and millions of them, glittering along with the radiance of the full white moon.
"Well, will you look at THAT?" Avatar said, "The weather's playing nice now, huh?"
"Hey..." Sifan said, "What about Nida..."
Avatar frowned, "Let's just hope he's alright buddy."
Sifan nodded, "yeah..."
A cold gust of wind blew across the wide land, making them shiver. There were many forests, like the one they had come out of, scattered as far as they could see. A little far away was a sandy beach, the smell of seawater reaching their senses. Just then, Avatar froze.
"Shhh...." Avatar said, "listen..."
Sifan tried to listen but all he heard was the wind ranting and raving. He tried again, but only the same results reoccurred.
"Move!" Avatar screamed and tackled Sifan to the ground as he felt something rush past his face with a menacing growl. The beast turned around and crouched on the ground to attack as Sifan and Avatar drew out their blades.
It was too dark to see the beast clearly but Sifan saw its hide. It was dark brown; it's teeth revealed by the moonlight. It leapt in the air and slapped Sifan right across the face; it's claws drawing blood from his skin. Sifan knelt down, the pain callously throbbing in his cheek.
"Hey, you ok?" Avatar said, taking a potion from his pocket.
"Yeah. But that animal isn't going to be..." Sifan replied. He was tired, frustrated and to make it worse, the beast had given him a bloody scratch. His temple tightened and so did his jaw. Avatar Fenis knew what this meant. The poor beast was going to get Renzokukened to nothingness.
Sifan stood up raising his gunblade, removing the safety lock with his thumb. Squall had spent an entire night staying up, and teaching Sifan the Renzokuken. He had said that limit breaks could only be triggered with a sense of exhaustion, fury and pain. All the three ingredients were more than present with Sifan at that moment. He leapt into the air and landed on the beast with a whirlwind of wild and fierce slashes, triggering his gunblade, every time he felt his sword making contact. The beast let out a yelp as Sifan's blade disemboweled him, literally. Sifan flipped backwards in to the air and got ready to start his limit break special, when Avatar placed his hand on his shoulder, "Hey...he's dead...you Renzokukened the living hell out of him..."
Sifan looked at the beast lying dead on the ground. He lowered his gunblade, panting, as Avatar healed Sifan with the potion.
"Poor thing..." Avatar said, walking up to the beast, "His Early morning snack proved fatal..."
Sifan looked at his watch. 3 A.M. Avatar put his sword in its holder behind his back. His eyes lit up and he pointed to something behind Sifan, "Look..."
Sifan turned around and saw a light at a distance, "Finally...civilization."
After walking a fair bit, they came to a village. They walked through its entrance and noticed there were small cottages made of adamantine roofs scattered around the area. There was a huge glowing well in the middle and a water tower at one corner. There didn't seem to be anyone around.
"Hey, check that out..." Sifan said pointing to the gleaming well.
"Wow..." Avatar said scratching his head, "I don't think it's water in there..."
Sifan's curiosity got the better of him, "Hey... let's go and check it out..."
Avatar didn't move.
"C'mon..." Sifan repeated.
Sifan looked at Avatar, surprised. He was standing still. Too still. With a pale look on his face, his eyes were on Sifan's chest. He slowly stuttered, "S-Sifan...l-look..."
Sifan looked down at his chest. A chill went down his spine, almost freezing it. He swallowed hard. A small red laser dot stood in the middle of his chest. Sifan had heard Irvine talk about it all too often. They were his favorite. Sniper rifles.......
"A-Avatar..." Sifan said raising his hands in the air, "Where the hell are we?"
"Well...I haven't heard of this p-place..." Avatar said nervously, "but a board back there said 'Mideel'..."
The laser dot stood frozen on Sifan's chest,
[Whoever this sniper is, he isn't moving a ligament...]
Avatar decided to clear the predicament as fast as he could.
"HEY" he screamed, "WE ARE LOST...we aren't thieves or whatever you think we are..."
The dot moved from Sifan's chest to Avatar's. Avatar took a step back, "WE AREN'T LYING FOR GOD'S SAKE. GET THIS THING OFF ME!"
It was Sifan's turn, "Yeah. Our Airship crashed. And we saw this light...and we came here."
Only muteness prevailed. The laser dot was still on Avatar. Sifan turned and saw the source of the sniper sight. The air was a little misty, showing a thin perforated red line from the point on Avatar's chest leading to a tree at the far corner of town.
[He's sniping from that tree.]
"Yes, he IS on that tree..." said a female voice from behind a cottage a few feet to the left from Sifan.
A girl with dark brown hair stepped out of the shadows. Her knees were padded up and thick leather gloves stretched to her elbows, a few gleaming stones fixed in slots on the gloves. The wind blew her long hair behind as she walked up to the place where Avatar was standing stock-still.
"Uh..." Avatar said looking at the girl, "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this, honey?"
[Oh brother...Avatar's the kind that'll flirt with Ultimecia...]
As if the sniper had heard Avatar, the red dot moved up right between his eyes.
"WHOA" Avatar said, "Tell sniper boy to go easy, will ya...?"
The girl looked at Sifan and Avatar for sometime and raised her hand. The sniper sight disappeared from Avatar as both of them relaxed.
"Geez..." Avatar said wiping his brow, "Is this the way you treat your guests..."
"Cut the sweet talk. What's your game this time?" She said tilting her head.
"Game? Our Airship crashed and we came here. Does that sound like a game, beautiful?" Avatar said, annoyed.
"Shin-Ra's pilots usually don't crash their airships...neither do they fly at this time of the night..." the girl said folding her hands.
"Shi-what? I don't know what you're talking about, sister...we're from balamb garden. We're SeeDs. We were coming back from Esthar when we had the little misfortune..."
"Balam garden? SeeDs? Esther?" the girl said puzzled, "you must have taken quite a crash. You're talking Greek..."
Suddenly, another shorthaired girl came running from the far opposite end of the village. She almost stumbled and fell, as she coughed out, "Phillona! Shi-Shin-Ra. they're coming...around fifteen of them, southwest of here..."
"Assist Trex with those soldiers, Marlene. Have Trex snipe as many soldiers as he can. You support him with magic..." Phillona said and turned to Sifan and Avatar, "I'll take care of these two Shin-Ra twerps..."
"So...that's very clever you know..." Phillona said tightening her fists, as Marlene ran away in a hurry, "Providing a distraction, so your pals can storm in from the other end..."
"NO! Wait..." Avatar said as he bent backwards, Phillona's feet missing his chin by inches. He staggered backwards in a half-ready fighting stance.
Sifan's heart skipped a beat when the sniper sight re-appeared in his arm.
Sifan tried to run but the minute he took the first step, a bullet zinged through the air, and dejected in to his left arm.
[Aargh! I am hit...]
He clenched his left arm with his right hand, looking around for a place to conceal himself. Before the sniper sight could fall on him again, he ran to a narrow gap between two cottages and flattened himself against the wall, his arm starting to bleed. He removed the coat, with some difficulty, and sat down. He tore away the sleeve of his black shirt. The bullet's impact had been condensed to a fair bit by the SeeD coat but it had still managed to inter itself in the flesh. Sifan grit his teeth. The pain was excruciating.
Avatar's hesitation to a fight a girl proved costly. An uppercut from Phillona almost cracked his jaw as he flew backwards and fell on a clay pot, pretending to be out cold.
Phillona hurriedly went away thinking Avatar was knocked out. Avatar got up, clenching his jawbone, which Phillona had almost taken apart. His eyes fell on Sifan and he ran over to him past another sniper bullet that barely missed him.
"Hey, you ok buddy?" He said crouching near Sifan, "Shit. That son of a bitch got you..."
"Uh...look..." Sifan said, "Help them..."
"Forget it..." Avatar said, pulling out his katana blade "We got to get this bullet out first...it's iridium-tipped."
"No...neither of our swords is clean. You'll end up contaminating me if you use the sword. And we are going to need something sharp. So don't bother..." Sifan said, the pain heightening, "Help these Mideel guys fight those Shin-something guys, that's the only way they're gonna trust us..."
Avatar tentatively got up, but he nodded.
"Take care of yourself...I'll be back soon..." he said and rushed out. To his luck, the sniper was busy focusing on the Shin-Ra troops that were heading towards the village. He ran directly to the tree and jumped on a branch, and flipped to the thickest branch. A boy was crouched there, looking into the eyepiece of a sniper rifle. The boy was too engaged with the sniping to notice Avatar. Avatar slipped out his sword silently, and placed it on the neck of the boy.
"Look...Mr. Trex..." he whispered, "You hit my friend back there. And believe me, he's bleeding to hell. Now, I can slit your neck open in a minute but I am not going to."
The boy stayed motionless as Avatar continued, "I am not your Shin-whatever soldier. We were speaking the damn truth. Now, I am going to take out those troops who you're fighting. You try sniping me, believe me, I can sense your laser sight faster than you think. If I see a single red dot on me, the beautiful martial-arts girl gets a shruiken in the head, got it?"
The boy nodded as Avatar jumped down and rushed towards the place where he heard gunshots. A little away from the village, in rocky out plains with trees all round, Phillona and the other girl, Marlene stood against an avalanche of Shin-Ra soldiers. Phillona's ice spell knocked a soldier out of his senses and a couple of bullets from Trex pinned another two down. The soldiers, however, were closing in and the barrier Marlene had cast was getting weak from the bullets it was receiving. Moreover, the soldiers had spotted the sniper and a few of them ran towards the tree where Trex was sniping.
Avatar looked around. To his luck, there was a row of trees leading to the Shin-Ra airship from where the troops were approaching. He took to a tree without delay and being a ninja, he moved silent as a snake and swift as a bat. He somersaulted and jumped from tree to tree with utmost effortlessness. Soon he came to the place where the Shin-Ra airship had landed. His grappling hook often came useful for making long distances like the one between Avatar's tree and the ship. He aimed at the propeller and shot his grappling hook, which latched on with no problems. After swinging to the airship wing, he hung from the edge of the wing with one hand. Directly below him stood an unsuspecting Shin-Ra soldier. Avatar removed his sword from its holder and let go of the wing he was hanging from. He landed on the soldier, his sword sinking straight into the soldier's lungs, killing him instantaneously.
One down, fourteen to go. Avatar told himself as he turned around examining the airship. His eyes fell on a tank, which read, 'Fuel Reservoir-caution'
Avatar smiled. He raised his katana and buried it into the tank, which cut through the steel like it was butter. He pulled his sword down and wrenched open the tank as the fuel poured out. He walked to the other side and opened the door to the soldier's cabin. All the soldiers had rushed out towards the village and hence, no one was around. Sifan tiptoed into the cabin. There were all sorts of pictures on the wall. "Perverts..." Avatar muttered under his breath as he inched his way along the wall towards the cockpit.
The cockpit door slid open and the Shin-Ra captain walked out only to find himself staring at the tip of Avatar's sword on his heart.
"Do as I say...or..." Avatar slid the sword down to the captain's groin.
"NO!" the captain screamed, "Anything but that.... PLEASE! I ll do whatever you tell me..."
The Shin-Ra soldier smiled. Their barrier was broken, and both his opponents were too weary to fight. He aimed his gun at the brown-haired girl's forehead, "Its such a shame...a beauty like you...."
His fellow soldiers snorted and laughed as the soldier aiming at Phillona Strife and Marlene Wallace placed his finger on the trigger.
The air, all of a sudden, crackled alive with a voice from the megaphone on the ship behind them, "This is the captain speaking. All Shin-Ra units. Report to the airship please. We have orders to withdraw now..."
The soldier with the gun fumed. He pulled out his pocket communicator as the other soldiers remained immobile with their guns pointed at the two girls, "Negative. We have everything under control. Even the Sniper has been captured."
"We have orders from GENERAL RUPERT THORNE! GODDAMMIT! GET YOUR FRICKIN' ASSES BACK HERE. DON'T TAKE HOSTAGES AND DON'T HURT ANYONE!!!" the captain screamed, feeling Avatar's sword go through his pant's zipper.
"Affirmative." The soldier's voice came over the speaker in the cockpit, "Are you ok, captain? Your voice-"
"I AM FINE. JUST GET THE HELL BACK HERE!" the captain cried and hung up the communicator. Sweating, he punched in a few buttons and called Shin-Ra headquarters like Avatar had told him.
"This is headquarters. We hear you Unit Alpha 5. State your purpose."
The captain stuttered, "W-we've been defeated again. All soldiers in Alpha 5 are dead. Mission failed."
The voice at the headquarters was silent and then spoke, "Unit Alpha 6 will be at your co-ordinates in a few minutes. Bring the bodies back to HQ. Do not re-attempt mission. You're on stand by till then."
With that the line went dead. Avatar smiled, "good boy..." He raised his hand, and struck the captain across his neck. He fell unconscious in a second. Avatar looked up. He smashed the glass on the top of the cockpit and squeezed himself out through the top, managing to get on top of the airship. He aimed at a nearby tree and grappled there in a flash.
Reluctantly, the soldiers pulled back after cursing something or someone under their breath. Avatar waited impatiently on the top of the tree, as the soldiers made their way back to the airship. Phillona and Marlene stood there puzzled. The soldiers climbed in to the ship in a hurry, much to Avatar's satisfaction.
Avatar grinned as though he was evil. He concentrated and cast a fire on the broken fuel tank. The explosion was drastic as the Airship went up in giant flames, which soon reached the engine causing it to blast again. Soon, there was nothing but a huge wall of fire where the Shin-Ra airship had stood.
The ninja landed in front of the two on-lookers, both of them, their jaws wide open. Phillona had seen Avatar jump across the trees. She had thought the Shin-Ra coward was running for the safety of his ship. She didn't know she would be this wrong.
"Now, do you believe we are not Shin-la...or whatever...?" Avatar said grinning.
"You did that-?" Marlene asked, "I mean. All that...."
"The captain helped out a bit..." he said winking at Marlene.
She threw herself around Avatar Fenis' neck, "Thanks..."
Phillona sighed as Marlene stepped back, embarrassed of how she had lost control, out of gratitude.
"Yeah...Thanks" Phillona said, "Couldn't have done it without you."
Avatar walked away towards the village, the fire behind him dying out slowly when the thought of Sifan's condition came to his mind.
"Oh by the way." He turned around, the smile on his face vanishing, " Your sniper sent an iridium-tipped bullet into my friend's arm...if you don't know...Iridium can kill in three hours or less..."
Avatar crouched down near Sifan who was still in the same place, "Hey..."
Sifan looked up at Avatar, "I took that bullet out with my gunblade. To hell with getting contaminated. The pain was killing me."
The villagers had come out after the incident, hearing the explosion. Marlene and Phillona were busy sending them back to their beds, assuring them everything was all right.
Trex Denver walked over to Sifan, who was on his feet but still clenching his left arm.
"Meet your friendly neighborhood sniper" Avatar said putting Sifan's right arm around his neck to support him, "Thanks a bunch, kiddo..."
"I am sorry..." Trex said, "The medical room is just over there. P-Phillona will have h-him fixed in no time. Sorry...I..."
"It's ok...." Sifan said, "don't sweat it..."
Trex ran over to the medical room and opened the locked door with a key as Avatar helped Sifan.
"What did you do back there?" Sifan asked, "I heard an explosion..."
"I blew up their airship...." Avatar said smiling, "along with them..."
Sifan sighed, "You killed a dozen soldiers...?"
"Don't make it sound so apocalyptical..." Avatar said as Sifan sat down on the bed inside the medical room. It was a small room, with the walls painted in a creamish white color. There was a picture of a man with Spiky-blonde hair and another woman with brown hair standing together. Sifan noticed that the woman in the picture bore a lot of resemblance to Phillona. A diminutive table stood at the right, with a flower vase on top of it. A small cupboard was near the wall where Sifan guessed they kept their medical supplies. A clock on the wall showed 12 A.M, which was three and a half hours before Sifan's watch.
Avatar stood looking at the picture of a lion with its tail on fire, "Hey Sifan..."
"Yeah?" he said, slowly lying down on the soft bed, after adjusting his watch with his uninjured arm.
"Where do you think we are...?"
"I don't want to think about it...."
Avatar smiled, "Guess you thought it over too, huh...?"
"That girl didn't seem to know SeeD or balamb. Ok...that's agreeable. But I don't think anyone wouldn't know Esthar." Sifan said, recalling how confused Phillona had looked when he had mentioned Esthar.
"Irvine told me at the party...." Avatar said, "That turbo-warp was another one of Odine's IDTD disappointment models..."
Sifan closed his eyes, the pain starting to rise again, "ID-what?"
Avatar continued, "Inter Dimensional Transport Device...Odine had been trying to do inter-dimensional warps for the whole of last decade..."
"Yeah.... I heard about it..."
"But every gadget he dreamed up or produced was a flop...one of them, however, warped people within their world. He altered it..........made a few tweaks here and there........."
".... And got it to warp people where they wanted it to..."
"Yeah..." Avatar replied, "he thought it might be useful with the Ragnarok, since it was used so much."
"So...Relafen's bullet screwed it up. It did what it was actually created to do and we've become victims of an inter-dimensional warp? Tell me this is all one big dream...."
The pain in his arm shot up, brutally reminding Sifan that he was nowhere near dreamland.