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Setting 25: 1813 DAY 23, Directly under Nova Trabia Garden

“Now go; a single will fills both of us:
You are my guide, my governor, my master.”

-Alighieri, Dante
Inferno II

“I know that is where they hide it,” Seifer asserted for the fifth time.

“Are you certain about that?” Titanus grumbled yet again.

“What do you care?” Seifer finally snapped.

“I don’t,” the Guardian Force replied evenly and made some lewd motions below his waist with his free hand to spite his master.

“Who is ‘they’”? Raijin asked, trailing four lines behind in the conversation.

“We’re almost there,” Seifer repeated, purposely ignoring him.

In an unusual moment of joy, he picked Fuujin up and hugged her. He did not have the opportunity like Raijin behind them to see her look of amazement. Returning to his normal aplomb, he set her down and turned to face his two speechless spectators.

“Get to work” he ordered, pointing at Raijin but eyeing Titanus.

“And what is ‘it’?” Raijin wanted to know, the gears in his head still turning to decipher Seifer’s initial sentence.

“’It’ is what they’ve been hiding and what we’ve been mucking around this grungy tunnel to steal, nimrod,” Seifer vented.

“But what is ‘it’?” squawked a still more curious Raijin.

Fuujin rolled her eyes.

As if in response, Seifer cracked his knuckles menacingly. His usual white gloves were not on the dirtied fists to dull the sound, which reverberated off the walls of the tunnel and sped down its length.

Raijin got the message and dropped whatever mental heroism he had been endeavoring. He had decided for the time being to feel confident that whatever ‘it’ was that Seifer had planned to steal was something dandy.

Through the shade of the GF’s visor Seifer could make out Titanus’ incredulous scowl. Seifer followed the other’s gaze over to Raijin’s goofy but determined expression as he heartily banged away at the rock. If he was reading Titanus’ expression right, the GF seemed to be grieving about being indentured to Seifer’s posse out of all the pathetic humans to whom Ultimecia could have conferred him.

The Guardian Force’s eyes narrowed in anger. After all, he had won that bout against Seifer in her presence. What more did she want me to prove?

Witches were notorious for going back on their word. Any pledges she had made to him about setting him free were all certain to prove spurious at some time or another. He just hadn’t remonstrated enough to her face about being suckered into helping this classy rabble led by the most petulant knight he had ever seen, always piping, “My dream, my dream.”

My dream, Titanus cogitated sourly, is for him to shut up and finally give me a decent night’s sleep.

The Guardian Force turned from the section of the wall he had been working on and met Seifer’s knowing scowl.

“Not much gets by you, I take it?” Titanus muttered with so much gusto of condescension that even Fuujin slowed her rock-picking pace by a notch.

“I don’t miss a thing,” Seifer boasted.

It was difficult to determine whether he was sneering or smirking when he said that.

“Hey,” Raijin lifting his head giddily, having finally found his golden moment to participate in what seemed like an exciting discussion, “what about that time you screwed up the answer for the level 16 SeeD Exa-Oww!”

Because Fuujin had been awkwardly in the way between them, Seifer was a bit slow to get around and sock Raijin, a lag time that cost him the six more words than anyone needed to hear, but which, once spoken, would spawn unnecessary embarrassment at his expense.

Seifer shook his head and grumbled something about it being his luck to be marooned in a subterranean grotto with a pair of retards. Raijin just assumed that he was referring to the GF and Fuujin.

“You’re the retard,” Titanus snickered just soft enough so that neither Fuujin nor Raijin could hear, but just loud enough so that Seifer would have no problem making it out.

Seifer’s grip tightened around the handle of his chisel.

“You’re the retard,” he repeated.

The voice in all its harshness sounded eerily familiar. It also sounded particularly hollow to him, but was he getting feeling hollow inside and confusing his senses?

Was it even directed at me? Seifer wondered. No, right?

It was a shrill voice, belonging to a girl but in his opinion rather unbecoming of one.

“You’re the retard,” she said once more and rudely placed a hand on Yumey’s shoulder to begin the motion for a shove. Moving too slow to catch Cary Kay’s hand, Seifer resolved instead to catch Yumey from behind as she fell backwards. If they hadn’t been sisters, he would have broken her offending little wrist.

Seifer scowled, visualizing the signature white t-shirt, torn jeans, and red socks of a not quite forgettable former acquaintance. He was sure that even if he hadn’t been standing next to the girl in broad daylight to verify it, he would still have been able to imagine some tacky statement knitted on her sleeve. “Bite Me” was the most promising contender. Seifer took a second to glance at her shirt anyway. That day, it was indeed.

Seifer shuddered involuntarily.

Aren’t women supposed to have a sixth sense for fashion? he cogitated bitterly.

Cary Kay was the exception that proved the rule. He considered how she probably hated him enough to dress badly and spite him.

“You do know that he is just visiting for the summer, don’t you?” Cary Kay carped to her sister critically. “He’s one of those military types.”

Seifer moved forward to wrench the crow’s tongue out, but Yumey, feeling Seifer’s body tense from behind her, held him back. In reply she nodded meekly.

“Where is your sense of self-worth, Yumey?” Cary Kay shouted, waving her arms over her head for emphasis.

The extra display seemed pretty unnecessary to him.

Overall she is quite annoying, he noted for the four hundred and twenty-fourth time.

Yumey shrugged and leaned closer into Seifer’s indexically protective breathing space. She wasn’t smiling.

“Can’t you see that you’re just a fling of his?” the virago continued to disparage them. “You’re this season’s second serving of dessert.”

Yumey crossed her arms and then hugged herself tightly, and meekly.

“You are so being used, Yumey,” her sister sneered contemptuously, “but I guess you’re okay with that.”

It was a caustic addition, and Seifer could see his companion wilt under its weight.

Cary Kay herself was fuming. Unsure of how effective her grilling was at getting the point across to her sister, she stuck her hands in her pockets and paced back and forth. Yumey bit her bottom lip sullenly and tried to decide if she should press her luck.

“Can you please keep this a secret from dad?” Yumey begged.

“You are so infuriatingly weak-willed!” Cary Kay erupted and threw up her hands once again. “I can’t believe that you and I are related.”

She gave one final glare in Seifer’s direction and then stormed off.

Yumey tried to stay her sister, but Seifer sternly intervened. Sighing, she turned towards him and placed her arms around his neck.

“Do you think she’ll tell anyone?” she asked worriedly.

Seifer wondered, So what if she does? but instead quietly drew her in closer and lent her his shoulder to rest her head on.

“No,” he assured her, “she probably won’t.”

Yumey buried her face in his arm and sobbed softly. Seifer rested his cheek on her head and stroked her head tenderly.

“Hey,” he said, suddenly breaking away from the embrace, “come with me.”

She grabbed onto his hand as he turned and asked, “Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” he replied and shot her one of his trademarked winning grins.

She squinted curiously but smiled. At the time he had figured that she just liked being led around. In retrospect, she might have only followed him around because she couldn’t bear the thought of losing him.

Still holding her hand, Seifer headed towards the lot. She skittered along behind him, having to give two strides to match each one of his. He stopped in front of a gaudy blue motorbike.

Yumey was finally able to catch up and overtake him, but he pulled her back. She tucked her long hair back behind her ear and gave him a questioning look.

“This is it,” he said, pointing at the vehicle.

She blinked and then did a double-take. It didn’t quite register how a teenager like Seifer could have afforded the only newly market-released A08-series jet propulsion Garden motorbike. One would like to think that the standing government or motor authority would at least require a license for any vehicle that carried around self-guiding missiles in its side compartments.

“You didn’t kill anyone for this, did you?” she asked, tugging on his arm agitatedly. Maybe he has a wealthy benefactor’s patronage.

He raised an eyebrow and swung his right leg over the seat.

She scowled when he chose to motion for her to mount instead of answering her question.

When it was obvious that she wasn’t going to budge until she was satisfied, he did his best to confess penitently, “I might have maimed him, but I certainly didn’t kill him.”

His acting was overdone. She took it as a joke and gave him a quick peck on the cheek for trying to be cute.

“How should I sit; with one leg on each side or both together on one side?” she asked him.

“Does it really matter?” Seifer asked, distinctly disinterested.

He sighed when he saw from her subsequent expression that it did matter.

“You choose,” he amended and waited for her to climb on.

“I’m wearing a skirt, Seifer,” she reminded him in a serious tone.

“Take it off if it bothers you,” he suggested dryly.

She smacked his white-cloaked shoulder and told him that she’d rather discard him instead.

In response, Seifer frostily shook her hand off and started the engine as if he was going to leave without her. It had the intended effect.

Yumey cried out and held onto him so that he wouldn’t go. Without further indecision, she clambered onto the backseat and modestly swung both legs to one side.

Seifer took off his glove and unlocked the glove box with a fingerprint scan. Reaching into the compartment he pulled out two helmets and handed one with an opaque visor to her.

It didn’t take her too long after she put it on to figure out that it reduced her visibility to zero. She nudged Seifer and told him the problem.

“I told you where we’re going is a surprise, didn’t I?” Seifer explained.

Yumey didn’t say anything.

Seifer shut off the engine and turned around in his seat.

“You have a choice between putting this bucket over your head over blindfolding yourself with this Ribbon band,” he told her, reaching into his pocket and producing the said lace. He held both items out to her and waited.

She searched his eyes for a brief moment before tentatively reaching for the blindfold.

Seifer shrugged and put the clumsy headgear away.

“Do you trust me?” he asked her with a suddenly serious expression.

“Yes,” she replied with a brave smile.

“No, really,” he checked before repeating to her, “do you trust me?”

“Yes,” she said again after she had put in a little more thought.

Seifer nodded in satisfaction and turned back around.

“Then hold on tight-” he instructed her but was cut off by her two-fisted iron clamp under his diaphragm. It was one gripping experience.

The feeling only intensified during the thrill ride. Her small frame was duplicitous; blind to her environs, Yumey was also blind to the fact that he was on the verge of blacking out because of her clinch.

He was beginning to see spots just as the front wheel bit into the first patch of sandy turf, a harbinger of the flood of the golden shoreline that would soon hog the horizon. He slowed to a gentle stop and exhaled in relief as her embrace finally slackened. It would have been unfortunate had he needed to violently knock her off the seat as a self-preservatory measure.

“Where are we?” she asked, tugging on his elbow.

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it?” he retorted.

Careful not to jostle her, he dismounted and bid her follow.

“Can I take the blindfold off now?” she begged.

“In a minute,” Seifer told her. “For now, just give me your hand.”

“Why can’t I just give you this Ribbon band back?” she fussed. As she did this, she put her naturally placed her hands on her hips, but the slight sway from the bike in reaction to her movement threw her off balance. She teetered to the brink of falling, but Seifer caught her just as she cried out.

The next instant was just startling for her. The blacked-out world managed to somehow turn upside down. She guessed that he had hoisted her up over his shoulder and was carrying her as he walked. Inverted, her sandals fell off of her feet.

“Wait,” she cried, “my sandals!”

“It’s okay,” he consoled, “you won’t need them where we’re going.”

She conceded and let him bear her like a duffel bag for ten more steps before speaking up again.

“Should I be scared?” she asked.

“Are you?” he answered with his own question.

She didn’t make a reply but from how tense her body was, he gathered that she wasn’t very comfortable with manhandled as if she were freight. He stopped and let her down.

Her feet plopped down onto a giving surface. She gasped in surprise and ran her toes through the even sand.

“Where are we?” she asked again, still unable to guess.

Seifer took her hand and led her slowly forward. After a twenty more paces, he had positioned her perfectly to view the sparkling water just as the edges of the sun dipped beneath the horizon, eager to test the pool before fully submerging. It would bob there for a moment like orange flotsam as he undid the blindfold.

Once unveiled to her, she would say something more romantic than, “I can’t see anything until my pupils are still adjusting to the light,” and anticlimactically miss the magic. He would not forgive her in ten lifetimes if she was that deft at ruining this moment.

She gasped and grabbed his arm to steady herself, as if the power of the sight were so captivating as to enervate her from standing upright.

Nothing else.

And then, “Why?” she asked in a low monotone, her face suddenly falling into a shady gloom. There was more than a modicum of suspicion and none of curiosity.

Seifer optimistically ascribed the precipitous darkening of her countenance to the turning of her cheek away from the drowning sun. He wanted to answer that it was because she was worth it, but something about her expression suppressed the desire. He stiffened.

When she realized that he couldn’t speak, she went on, “I haven’t known you for that long.”

Seifer felt like he had been run over by a semi-truck. This is her sister’s influence!

“Put yourself in my shoes,” Yumey posed, trying to be cautious.

“Well,” Seifer countered with an unexpected flare of testiness, “no one has ever done this for me, and I’ve never done this for anyone else, so there is no way I can put myself in your shoes.”

You have baby feet anyway, he thought to himself. He could feel his jaw tightening.

“I wanted this to be all fun and games, but now it is turning serious,” she explained herself hesitantly. Maybe she assumed all of this would be clear to him.

“What’s the matter?” Seifer asked. “Why can’t you just trust that something good is happening to you?”

“It’s hard for me to trust people as much as you’re asking me to trust you,” she clarified, swallowing hard.

His facial features must have looked ironclad by that point.

“So this is about other people in the past?” he inferred. His face bore an indignant flush because she had chosen to associate him with a most unprepossessing crowd. For an instant he felt just as despicable as they had to have been.

“You don’t know anything about my past,” she objected icily.

The arching of the eyebrows betrayed the multitude of pejorative emotions he was wrestling with internally. As if on cue, Yumey grew patently uncomfortable.

“Do you understand what I mean?” she cut in.


She is being so cold, he judged. His gift to her had been his openness, a brutal exposure of both his position and his pride. It had proved to be a costly mistake. The vulnerable part of his heart closed up and was pad-locked for the span of posterity where it would take the entire girth of time to heal itself of the indelible pain.


And then, there was an inaudible yet blistering snap.

Seifer retorted as crassly as it was deliberate, “The only thing I understand is that you’re putting me in the shallow end of the pool because of all the shallow people that got to dip in it before me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it now because we’ll end up fighting,” she concluded.

“I wouldn’t get in a fight with you,” he remonstrated, not wanting to close the subject just yet. “The worst thing that could happen is I give up.”

It was a coin toss whether or not she would interpret that as a threat. He was hoping that it would sting at least a little bit. It was the first attempt to actively hurt her.

She bit her bottom lip silently, sullenly.

Maybe even ashamedly, he could just about detect.

“The day I give up,” Seifer then found the courage to add, “I’ll ask the one question about your past that I haven’t yet asked.”

“Why do you have to be that way?” Yumey chided.

“Do you want me to say it now?” he changed around.

A score of meek waves scuttled by in tense anticipation of her answer.

“No,” was her hollow murmur of a reply at length.

“Then I won’t say anything,” he finished, zealously over-agreeable. His hands plunged deep into his pockets as he prepared to walk back his bike.

“What will you say then?” she solicited quickly, not making too expert an effort to hide the fact that she was trying to stay him.

He turned on his heel and hissed, “Nothing now except what a great joy it is for me to have to rebuild a bridge that others have crossed before me and burnt down behind them.”

She was visibly taken back, but he could see that she knew it to be true. There was no protest from the receiving end, which let him know that she was probably feeling it.

Liking this, he took another stab at irritating the fresh wound, “You see all the angles so well. Tell me your assessment.”

Unstated but unneeded to be was the extra clause, If you were that excellent a judge of character, you wouldn’t be this pathetic and ungrateful.

He did not know whether he was being insensitive or too sensitive. He no longer had any compunction about the savagery because he felt it was justified. It was her turn to face the firing squad and be knocked senseless as he had been minutes before when she turned on him.

“You’ve betrayed me in the only way one can be betrayed,” he muttered with a sinister edge in his voice.

The feeble addressee had meanwhile shrunken back in fear, as if the feeling of being spurned were something familiar to her. The same retractive movement he had often observed in creatures that, not knowing any better, had been burnt.

“Don’t worry,” he voiced with bad intentions, “in a few weeks, I’ll be out of your life forever.” He was of course referring to the imminent terminus of the summer.

“That’s not funny,” she said softly.

“Now seemed like a pretty good time to give me a chance if ever, because now is the only time we’ll ever have together,” he rationalized, incorporating a few specious assumptions that he hoped she would miss.

Finding her still passively inert and unresponsive, he repeated, half demandingly, half tragically, “Now is our eternity.”

He was not a fortune cookie. At least Seifer didn’t think he was. He couldn’t predict the future any more than he could tell what she had been through or what she was thinking. But he could just about tell her unequivocally how much he disdained for condemning his present and their future because of her past. He held her in contempt.


Still nothing.

She hadn’t spoken a word.

It occurred to him that he wanted a commitment that she was neither sure about nor prepared to give. He had wanted to tell her as frostily as possible, “I can bury my pride, give you my soul, and allow you to cow my spirit, but now you’ve broken my heart, and so overstepped the bounds that I was prepared to endure,” but he kept it to himself in order to uphold a more stoic image. The best recourse then was to just drive her home, or, if he really couldn’t stand her anymore, just dump her on the boardwalk.

Seifer breathed deeply and noted bitterly that all the fuss had cost him most of the sunset. The last lingering traces of light were fading into oblivion, and had the gaze lasted a minute longer, he would not even have been able to see the pink shades smolder into lavender as it was changing now.

The wind had picked up slightly since he last made note of it, perhaps three minutes ago. Sheets of waves were now racing across the ocean surface like peels of apple skin sheered by an invisible knife. Wisps of wind tugged perseveringly at his hair, and he wondered briefly how exhilarating it would feel to accept their invitation and run right in.

The waves were still crashing behind her, the ocean surface gleaming as it churned under the sun's fading corona.

Was that the last I saw of her? he asked himself.

Seifer wiped off the sweat that had accumulated around his brow during his protracted flashback, throughout which he had been frowning.

Probably, he concluded after another second of rumination. No, wait…

Three weeks following the escapade, he had returned to Garden for training and did not have the occasion to return to Galbadia to check up on Yumey until the following summer under the guise of Rinoa’s callboy. It was an exhaustive set-up, but he badly needed information about his father that only General Caraway had access to. To get into the General’s mansion, the spoiled Timber Owl runt was indispensable, but in his heart, not invaluable.

At the end of the summer, Seifer found himself doubly disappointed by his findings. First, Yumey had gone missing since he left the previous summer, and second, the paper trail from Caraway’s old files had led him to a dead end. What was worse, he had to deal with an ancient nemesis whom he had clearly not forgotten about long enough to miss. It was one of life’s humorless ironies to rope, out of all the people in the world, the two of them together at Rinoa's summer slumber party. Yes, Cary Kay had to be yet another one of Rinoa’s myriad of annoying schoolmates that he was unfortunate enough to have to talk to at the totally ridiculous female bonding experience.

Cary Kay did not mesh well with him, and not just because of the past history with her sister; their personalities clashed and she could unleash a daunting amount of insensibility and intractability when it came to serious board games like "FF: World Domination.”

Her existence offended him. If there was one person who could take to hell with him it would be she, just so he could laugh at her for eternity. Hopefully they still allowed you to laugh in hell. Maybe it was prohibited. He would have to remember to check with Diablos.

To him, it was patently more realistic if, instead of being able to fortify one territory with any number of regiments from an adjacent district at the end of his turn, he should be able to fortify into any district of his so long as they were all connected, as any military expert would have no doubt extended supply lines and transport routes throughout secure territory. Of course, he had figured the weathering of the supply lines by the length at which it was necessary to maintain, so he proposed the cost of sacrificing an increasing number regiments for each additional district traversed. Hence, where players could only move maybe ten units to one adjacent region before, Seifer's proposal would have paved the way for players everywhere to move ten units to that area, then nine to a neighboring sector, then eight to the next local, and so forth until only one unit remained, at which point no more fortification could be done.

Cary Kay had thought that the idea was the stupidest thing she had ever heard of. She would rather treat the penciled board decorations of the White SeeD ship and the huge sea monster as transport vehicles between Galbadia and Trabia and between the Deep Sea Research Center and the Island Closest to Hell respectively, and she told him so. Seifer did not take well to being patronized, and her simple-minded life was a mockery of eons of evolution. He saw no other way to redeem the egregious wrong her existence posed to society but to lop off her head. It was in fact his duty as a noble citizen to see the act done.

But Rinoa liked her friends better un-decapitated, so he had to forbear his solemn duty to the state.

Seifer rubbed his temples sorely. Rinoa could never tell right from wrong. It disgusted him. She disgusted him, just like her schoolmates. Just like Cary Kay.

He never saw a reason for anyone to have two first names. It just wasn’t very efficient.

But the girl did know how to hold her tongue, he conceded.

For some reason that Cary Kay never divulged, she chose not to blow his cover and blurt out how she always speculated that Seifer kidnapped her sister. And so Rinoa never knew, at least not while he had been in town. In all honesty he had been glad to finally return to Garden for regular season training. A summer’s worth of seeing the same pasty, anorexic face was enough to warrant a vacation from vacation. He counted himself lucky to not have to run into her until she and the SeeDs attempted the pitiful sorceress assassination in Deling City.

Seifer scoffed silently. And we all saw how efficacious they were.

The only one who bit the dust in the execution of the plot was President Deling. The man hadn’t said much before the wussy SeeDs arrived, but it was not as if Seifer had expected him to. Deling was no political mastermind who could understand the intricacies of the total system and evaluate how the removal of Shojora from power might profit him. Frankly it seemed to Seifer that the President was not fit for much more than Iguon chow.

He got what was coming to him, Seifer reasoned coolly. Better him than me, anyway.

In retrospect it was a grand waste of time to have personally made his way to the Timber broadcasting station to meet the political ignoramus. Galbadia was a body politic without a head. Seifer considered foolishness and incompetence more meritorious of criminal charges than whatever illegal activities he had been accused of practicing.

Not that giving the Balamb Judicial Board my opinion on the matter managed to exonerate me from their court martial, he reflected glumly.

But he had to admit that he had gotten off lightly. Had he not gotten leniency, they might have ordered for him to be cremated alive. World domination was capital offence to most governing bodies in the world. Parole and community service seemed like a decent surrogate purgatory before he could work his way back up to the top.

This isn’t too bad, Seifer noted, surveying the cavernous enclosure around him.

He had the choice of digging his own grave or digging his way out. The surface could not come sooner. In the mailed tip he mysteriously received, there was a silent promise of freedom, a promise of something better than menial labor. All work that was selfless he considered menial. Mandatory volunteer service was so oxymoronic that it was in essence slavery, because in all its selflessness one did not get to do anything for oneself.

Thinking back to the church group under whose domestic custody they were subject, Seifer marveled at length of their stay. He reasoned that no religious sect could have afforded such a protracted excursion without some major funding, and certainly not through any legal channels. Their patron had to be searching for something, employing and manipulating them for their labor under the guise of holy sanction.

Haven’t the workers found whatever it is yet? he wondered. They’ve been at it for weeks.

Seifer reconsidered out of contempt for the pseudo-spiritual fanatics who would by nature rely more on totally unqualified leaps of faith rather than common sense syllogistic reasoning. Having asked around, it seemed as if none of them even knew who their sponsor was. With so basic a detail eluding them, it seemed unlikely to assume they knew what they were doing, much less be able to grasp the true motive behind the campaign and what was to be achieved.

But he was superior to them. He had at least formed his own suspicions, and on top of that had substantive proof to validate what would Quistis would have rebuffed as impulsive speculation not uncommon for her former pupil. The notice he had gotten in the mail that tipped him off about the archaeological dig had been sent by an unlikely old acquaintance with the kind of clout, political backing, and deep pockets that could sway a parole board – his to be exact. Of course, it might be specious to link the two together, and even more reckless to link them both to the identity of the ecclesiastical benefactor, but if past experience in the field was of any indication, it proved advantageous more often than not for him to trust his gut instincts which at present told him all three were one and the same person.

But why in Eden would he help me? Seifer pondered. It’s not like he owes me one.

His eyebrows assumed a fearsome arch. Not mincing words, their history together could only be described as bumpy. Unwarranted benevolence warranted further scrutiny. He didn’t smell a trap, but that didn’t mean that the patron’s motive was entirely benign, and certainly not so free of suspicion that Seifer would let go of his caution any time soon.

He wondered if Fuujin had any more of a clue than the sect’s disciples about who their sponsor was. She was the type who was comfortable with knowing more than she let on, as was oftentimes the case. So easy and so careless was it to underestimate the truth behind silence.

His eyes that had fixated themselves on her now flitted over to Raijin.

Those who say nothing have something of value to say as I’m sure those who don’t stop speaking have nothing of value to contribute, he assessed coldly.

Raijin, realizing that he was being observed, took a quick two-second sabbatical from his hammering to give his ringleader a cheesy grin.

Seifer felt like smacking him. He began to weigh the pleasure he would derive from socking Raijin in the mouth against the cost in time they would suffer from the consequent demoralization. It would not be so devastating a setback that they couldn’t afford it, and besides, it was just too tempting for him to pass up.

His wounds will heal anyway, Seifer considered in the final stages of coaxing himself. All he was looking for now was an excuse to walk over and wallop the big oaf.

Raijin must have realized it too because he instantly dropped the wide grin and turned back to his chiseling.

For the first time in a while, Fuujin gave Seifer a discouraging look, more disappointed than irritated, but just as effective.

Seifer gritted his teeth but managed to check himself. His consolation was that they were so close to completion.

And inexplicably in that instant, a soothing calm washed over him and he heard in the back of his mind Yumey’s coquette words, shaky but unguent with the sincerest trust, echoing as clearly as he’d heard them the day she spoke them as he led her barefoot onto the receptive sand, “Are we almost there?”

And despite his knowing that Fuujin was close enough in proximity to hear him and sensing that she would be listening, and against his better judgment, Seifer indulged in his hallucination and whispered aloud, “Yes, we’re almost there.”

Chapter 26

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