The Strangest of Friends
Remember when Selphie said she did have experience with a GF before transferring to Balamb Garden? Well, this is the result I conjured up ^^
She took one step forward.
Unfortunately, that was all she needed to be able to slip on the slimy rock and tumble down into the darkness of the cavern.
"Oh, how did I know that was gonna happen, Selph?" an amused voice called down from the source of light above.
"You guys are mean!" Selphie wailed back, wishing that the skirt of the trainee SeeD uniform wasn't quite so short and very glad indeed that it was dark down here. "Are you coming down or what?"
"Check it first."
"Okay." Selphie scrabbled around in the shadows for her shinobou and hung them around her neck, simultaneously unleashing the powerful light of the torch she and her group had been issued with. The radiance shimmered off damp surfaces, but only seemed to make the darkness blacker. When the torch penetrated a deeper area, Selphie tried to peer down it with little success.
"Well, Selph?" Jen sounded only slightly concerned.
"Looks okay, I guess. There's a tunnel down here. Wanna check it out?"
Another more anxious voice emanated from the narrow hole."Instructor Kane said we shouldn't go too far down . . ."
"Feena! You wanna be a SeeD, but you don't have the guts to go down a tunnel that's a tiny bit dark?"
Selphie grinned up at the light, listening intently as Tina encouraged: "Come on!"
"Oh, fine! If we get our asses kicked by Killer Kane, then don't blame me!"
"That's the spirit!"
"And you can shut up, too, Michael!"
Somehow, the group of four SeeDlings made it down to where Selphie was waiting patiently in the gloom. Despite her deliberately neglecting to tell them that the stone was slippery underfoot, no one else fell over on them.
"All right then," Jen said authoritatively, flicking her blonde forelock from her eyes. "Our mission starts here - fight as many different kinds of monsters as possible and bring back evidence!"
"Now that's exactly what I don't get," Michael frowned, folding his arms. He was tall enough to have to duck his head at this point in the tunnel. "Evidence? Hope you brought your camera, Selphie!"
"No, silly!" Selphie giggled. "Monsters are usually carrying some sort of valuable material or item, aren't they? We just bring those back."
"Fair enough." And Michael cracked his knuckles loudly.
There was a pregnant pause, eventually broken by Feena, who cocked an eyebrow and said: "Ew. Just, ew."
"You'll get arthritis, you know," Jen warned, wagging a finger at him.
"And you'll never get a girlfriend because girls find that disgusting," Tina added.
"All right! Sheesh! I thought it made me look cool!"
The girls exchanged one of those looks - the type that expresses despair and pity for the opposite sex - and began to walk off down the tunnel, leaving Michael to wonder exactly why it was that he chose to hang around with so many females.
Seven battles later, three varieties of monster down and an uncertain number to go, the group paused near an underground stream with a bright light source in a fissure above the hollow cavern, primarily to catch their breath.
While Tina, Jen and Feena refilled their drinking flasks from the water that trickled down from melted snow on the level above them, Selphie sat with Michael and sorted through the items they had so far.
"How many types of monsters did Kane say there were down here?" Michael asked, carefully placing a sealed vial filled with the mystery fluid a gayla exuded upon its death into the rucksack.
"I think it was five that we were allowed to fight," she replied absently, brushing the steel-like fur they had claimed from a fortuitous encounter with a low-level snow lion. Contact with the material made her skin tingle coldly.
"Then we only have two left."
"Yeah!" Selphie smiled brightly. "But, we'll only catch a mesmerize further up. I heard one of the other groups say that."
"Well, we'll just get one when we return then." Michael zipped the bag shut and swung it up onto his shoulder. "Hey . . . Selph?"
"Hmmm?" The girl was inspecting a strangely coloured stone with utmost interest.
"How hard do you think the SeeD exam will be?"
Selphie blinked several times before answering. "Well, you're jumping ahead a little, Mike! We still have years to go before we can even enter the theory test! But someone once told me the SeeD exam was really hard."
"A lady . . ."
"A lady?" he repeated sceptically.
"We called her Matron." Selphie hugged her knees to her chest and began to rock backwards and forwards on the spot, smiling pleasantly. She was the one who sent me to Garden to train to be a SeeD!"
"What about your parents?"
"I . . . don't have any."
Surprised by the almost unnoticeable slip of her perpetually optimistic attitude, Michael instantly apologised. He was only twelve years old, but he was mature enough to know when he'd hit a tender spot.
"It doesn't matter!" Now she was Selphie again, her eyes nearly slitted with the intensity of her beaming expression. "I'm here now, and I'm gonna do her proud!"
"You guys ready?" Tina called, to which they both stood up and nodded. "Good. Then let's get going!"
Another hour of scrambling around in the dark finally produced the result they were after - a lowly bite bug and its equally lowly m-stone piece. Feena pouted at the tiny amount of magic in it, and fretted that Killer Kane wouldn't believe it had come from a bite bug because so many monsters dropped these, but the others teased her playfully into silence.
"Short of dragging the body back," Jen huffed, "there's nothing else we can do to prove it! He'll just have to take our word for it!"
To which Feena subsided, particularly when Selphie started a new topic of conversation - the idea of a Garden Festival.
"We could start a band, and invite other people, from inside and outside the Garden, to come perform! There'd be singing, dancing, music . . . it'd be great!"
Her friends admired the fact that Selphie seemed to glow whenever she was happy. Sometimes, the girl was so frustratingly ignorant that she bordered on stupidity, but no one could ever stay angry with her for long. One look at those radiant emerald eyes was enough to persuade even the coldest of people that Selphie was a Genuinely Nice Person.
" . . . and me and Nueilla started this new score the other day. She's gonna sing it, and I'm gonna play it on violin, but we could do with a few other instruments to compliment those. Jen, don't you play piano?"
"Yeah, Selph, but where are we going to get one from?"
"Leave that to me!" And her infectious giggle set all four of them off laughing. They stopped when a soft clink echoed through the tunnel that would eventually lead them to their place of origin. "Uh oh . . ."
"Uh oh, what, Selphie?"
"Uh . . . guys? I dropped the m-stone piece!"
Four voices rose in harmony to wail: "Selphie!"
"It's okay, it's okay! Really! I'll go get it. Head on up and wait for me by the hole! I'm gonna look for it!" She snatched the torch out of Tina's hand and began to flit its light over the floor of the tunnel.
"We'll come with you -"
"No! It's my fault and I'll do it!" Selphie grinned reassuringly. "Go on! I'll be fine."
"Well, if you say so . . ." Feena frowned into the dark. "Be careful, okay? And don't be long!"
The others began to walk slowly up the tunnel . . . up? Selphie grimaced. The tunnel was on a slant, and the m-stone piece, had been round. Still, it was big enough to be able to spot, even if it had rolled back some distance. Flexing the torch, she scoured the surface, her eyes keenly searching for the missing object. As an afterthought, she also tried to 'listen' for it. Magic radiated, and you didn't need to be a Sensitive to feel it if you were close enough.
She didn't hear the magic, but she did notice the trickle of water that she hadn't heard before. It sounded . . . deep, and it echoed faintly, too. Glancing back, she saw that her friends had disappeared from view, though she could still hear them engaging in what appeared to be a humorous conversation. Smiling distractedly, she thought of the fissure in the floor they had carefully bypassed on their way down.
Had they passed it yet? Selphie traipsed a short way back down the tunnel, her torch fixed on the base of the left wall. Sure enough, a narrow dribble of melted ice water disappeared into a solid darkness only a few feet away. Selphie crouched next to the narrow hole and shone the light into its depths.
"Great," she said softly, grinning at her bad luck when she saw the m-stone piece lodged in a wide crack a short way down. Swivelling slightly, she took her nunchaku from their casual place around her neck and secured them tightly to her belt, leaning over as far as safety permitted. The stone, however, was just out of her reach. Her height was such a disadvantage sometimes!
Pursing her lips, she put her foot down the hole and rested her boot on the closest ledge, pushing it firmly. It didn't budge.
"All right then," she decided, and, holding the torch in her mouth, began to negotiate her way down to the ledge, eventually bending at the waist and encircling the m-stone piece with one hand. Her balance left her momentarily, and she used the same palm to support her weight, but the crack in which the stone had been lodged was nowhere near as strong as the ledges she was using already. The brittle rock crumbled away, and Selphie shrieked as she tumbled, headfirst, into the darkness of the hole.
She hit the floor first, and the torch clattered to the ground several seconds after her. Groaning, Selphie lay still for a moment. After deciding she'd suffered nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises, she sat up, blinking into the darkness.
The torch was lying a few feet away from her, its light considerably dimmer than it had been prior to the fall. Nevertheless, it was better than nothing, and she scooped it up, focusing the beam on the hole through which she had entered.
Its walls were steep and they looked as though they would be difficult to climb. Biting her lip, she began to wonder how she could get back up.
A low rumble made the damp air tremble, and Selphie whirled around, not daring to breathe. The torchlight slipped over dripping stone walls and uneven ground, and . . .
The faded, leathery blue skin of something that was moving at the back of the chamber.
Selphie's eyes widened as she took in the features of the sleeping blue dragon. If it woke up and attacked her, there wouldn't even be any pieces of her left to pick up.
But it looked quite old. Its skin was more grey than blue, and the scales on its jaws and belly were weathered and worn. A scar ran jaggedly from its left eye ridge to its upper lip. Nevertheless, Selphie knew a blue dragon was force to be reckoned with, ancient or not. Careful not to make any noise, she crept towards the hole and hurriedly tried to figure out a way to climb back up.
Should she call for the others? No . . . she might wake the dragon that way, and besides, what could they do? Even their combined forces wouldn't be enough to take on a monster of this calibre.
Something was nagging at her. Blue dragons weren't particularly known for their magical prowess - they preferred to tear things limb from limb - but Selphie could sense another presence in the rocky chamber. Her curiosity momentarily overcoming her anxiety, she approached the creature with light footsteps.
This dragon's aura emanated the usual spells for that type, but there was something else that she didn't recognise. Suddenly feeling brave, or quite possibly stupid, she took a step backwards and focused on drawing the presence from the blue dragon.
The light as the magic rushed from monster to human was dazzling against the darkness. Selphie had to shut her eyes tightly to stop herself from being blinded. When the blue dragon roused from its sleep with a deafening roar, she gasped and ran towards the hole yet again.
Something lashed out of the darkness and would have crushed her against the wall had she not been quick enough. Selphie knew she was going to die if she didn't do something -
That spell. She didn't know what it was but it had to be powerful enough to beat the blue dragon - she'd never felt anything like it!
Wait . . . if it was that powerful . . . perhaps it wasn't a spell at all.
Guardian Forces weren't strictly taboo in Trabia, unlike the policies of Galbadia Garden, but not one of the SeeDs there used them. However, they did learn the theory. Selphie knew how to junction if the need should arise, and she did have a small supply of magic with her . . .
Casting the thing had no effect - it had to be a GF! Selphie cleared her mind of thoughts as best she could, trying to concentrate on linking her own spirit with the Guardian Force's.
She cried out at first. The feeling of a presence in your mind that does not belong there can be startling, but junction had been achieved. She just hoped the GF was a useful one.
"Help me!" she yelled, and, drawing her shinobou and wondering why so much of para-magic consisted of concentration, focused this time on materialising the Guardian Force before her.
Eyes closed, she didn't realise the GF had been released until the attack she'd been expecting from the blue dragon never came.
Her opponent was wary, backing off slightly. Selphie stared in astonishment at the faintly glowing blue and white wolf that was tensed at her feet. It was taller than her in height (no big accomplishment there, though), and its pale, flowing mane shimmered silver. Two radiant midnight-blue eyes were fixed intently on the dragon. Somehow, Selphie knew its name.
"Fenrir," she breathed in admiration. Then she grinned. "Toast its ass!"
And it did.
"Amazing," she said when Fenrir had finished. The overgrown wolf was now sitting next to the dragon's corpse, eyes fixed on her this time.
Selphie thought it was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen, the epitome of all that Trabia's vast ice plains and snowfields symbolised - nature, and power, and loneliness. It felt masculine, Selphie had already decided. When he fought, his sleek form moved as swiftly and smoothly as an icy avalanche, and time seemed to slow down around him. The GF possessed a grace and intelligence that seemed out of place in an animal.
But then, he wasn't an animal, was he? This was a Guardian Force, a magical entity, merely taking physical form.
"I'm . . . Selphie!" she smiled, and moved closer. He was still junctioned to her - he wouldn't attack. But something about his expression made her slightly wary. However, he didn't resist when she reached up with one hand and, gingerly at first and then with more confidence, petted the delicately soft fur between his ears.
Obligingly, he lowered his head for her, so she didn't have to stand on tiptoe, and she got the feeling that he acknowledged her . . . as his master?
Fenrir blinked slowly, as if in affirmation. She could feel his thoughts in her own head - they weren't words, but emotions and pictures that conveyed meaning as easily as language, and much more expressively. Right now, Selphie radiated thoughts of affection and admiration, and Fenrir was quite obviously honoured by them.
Many mortals had tried to tame Fenrir, but he was, quite literally, a lone wolf. Those that had wanted him had craved power, but this girl . . . she was different. Of course, there would always be a parting of ways - Fenrir would not stay attached for long before his inclination for freedom called him away - but, for now, he was happy to protect her. She would prove most interesting.
Fenrir got her out of the hole in the end. By that time, her friends had come back down the tunnel and looked extremely angry.
"Selphie, where did you go? We were worried!" Jen had adopted her 'angry mother' tone of voice.
Selphie glanced sideways at Fenrir, who tilted his head slightly to the left. His thoughts were very clear indeed.
"No, you will not kill her," Selphie said under her breath, grinning at the idea.
"I should kill you! And exactly who is it you're talking to?"
Selphie blinked, wondering if Jen had gone blind. But Feena, Michael and Tina showed no sign of acknowledging Fenrir's presence either.
"You . . . can't see him?" she asked, confused.
"See who? Oh, never mind! Where did you go?"
"The stone fell down a hole and . . . uh, well, I followed it!"
"Must've hit her head on the way down," Michael said out of the side of his mouth to Tina. Selphie awarded him a scathing glance. "Well, I guess it's too much to ask that you managed to find the m-stone piece, right?"
Selphie's grin was slow and wide. "No, but I do have this!" And she produced the fiercely glowing red stone she had discovered under the blue dragon's corpse.
"A fury fragment!" Tina gasped. "Where did you get it? Don't tell me you killed a blue dragon all by yourself!"
"Well . . ." Selphie considered telling them about Fenrir, but would they believe her? It did sound a bit far-fetched. "No, but there was a blue dragon's skeleton down there and since I couldn't find the m-stone piece, I took this instead. We'll just say we got it fighting a really low-level dragon!"
Feena looked dubious. "You really think Killer Kane will believe that?"
"I don't care if he does!" Selphie said cheerfully. "Let's just hurry up and get back to ground level, and some light!"
Selphie couldn't believe that no one except herself could see Fenrir. The thought crossed her mind that maybe she was hallucinating, but the GF always denied that fervently.
After the field trip - Instructor Kane actually did believe their story, since blue dragons were rumoured to have lived in the caves in the Bika Snowfield long ago and it was only logical that some might have survived - they returned to Trabia Garden with the best catch out of all the groups. They sold the fury fragment to an older SeeD who needed one for a weapons upgrade, and Selphie decided that the gil they received for it should be put away in preparation for the Garden Festival.
She kept Fenrir junctioned at all times. A quick search through the library revealed that if a GF wasn't actually being used in battle, then its manifestation was a mental one rather than a physical one, meaning that only the person it was junctioned to would be able to see and feel it. An exception to this rule was other people with junctioned Guardian Forces - this amplified their magical prowess and 'sight' of magical things in general. Fortunately, no one in Trabia fitted into that category, so her secret was safe for now.
However, her friends were not her best friends without good reason. Selphie was insanely happy most of the time. Recently, she had breached the healthy level of optimism and they had noticed this.
"Selphie," Tina began in the cafeteria. "There's something different about you."
Selphie continued to smile, one hand discreetly petting Fenrir, who was asleep beside her stool. People kept walking through him and pausing with puzzled expressions on their face. She found the whole thing quite funny.
"Like what?" she asked.
"Well, for a start, you're too happy, even for you!" Michael butted in, taking his place at the table.
"And that's not all," Feena said, waving her spoon around.
"Yeah, you're positively glowing, Selphie," Jen said suspiciously. "Do you have some powerful spell that you're not telling us about, or is it just your natural magical prowess?"
"Well, are the changes bad?" Selphie asked sweetly.
"No, they're good, I guess." Jen seemed uncertain, though.
"Then there's no problem!" she replied serenely, and focused on her lunch.
Her friends looked at each other with raised eyebrows, but couldn't deny the logic of that notion.
Selphie loved having Fenrir around. She'd never had a pet before . . . or had she? For some reason, she couldn't remember. Well, anyway, he wasn't strictly a pet, but he was as loyal as one. And he didn't need feeding and he didn't, well, soil the floor of her dorm, and wasn't as aggressive as he looked. Though whenever anyone so much as looked at her funny, he was quite prepared to tear their spine from their back.
But, as the weeks went by, Selphie sensed a certain yearning in her GF. When no one knew, she would slip out onto the snowfields and train, with Fenrir as protection. His howl could rend an enemy in two, and by sheer physical force he defeated her opponents, if they got too much for her.
When they weren't fighting, however, Fenrir was more subdued. More than once Selphie caught him staring out into the snowfields beyond the Garden. Perhaps they were his point of origin?
She sighed; Fenrir had been hers, and she had been Fenrir's, for a total of two months, but it didn't feel like more than two minutes. He had saved her many times in battle, when she had been brave enough to go it alone without her friends as back up, and she felt great respect towards him.
Selphie took him out onto the courts where, past the mountains, the great snowfields and ice plains lay, barren and hostile, but a suitable environment for monsters and other lone creatures.
"Fenrir," she said softly, scratching his head affectionately. She sat down on the cold floor, and the Guardian Force settled down beside her. His thoughts were torn between two things: his loyalty to Selphie, and his longing for the life of a lone wolf. To be alone was in his nature . . . she knew . . . and his dilemma was starting to affect her, too. People were beginning to notice the way she'd become more hesitant - Jen, Tina, Michael and Feena in particular. She'd gone from overly happy to unusually depressed in a matter of weeks.
"Listen, Fenrir. You're the best GF a kid could ever ask for!" She hugged him to emphasise that point, burying her face into his silvery mane. "But . . . you deserve better. You saved my life when the blue dragon attacked me."
Fenrir looked at her, and she caught a glimpse of herself drawing him from the vicious, if ancient, monster. Selphie grinned.
"So, maybe I did kind of free you . . . Maybe if I fought more, you'd be okay, but I'm still only twelve and . . ."
The Guardian Force sighed heavily.
"I'd love to keep you around, but you don't want to be here, do you?"
Very slowly, Fenrir turned his head and rested it on the top of hers. How could this girl understand that, of all the power-hungry masters he had been tied to in the past, she was the only one who actually cared about his welfare? And yet . . . the snowfields beckoned. The call of the wild was ever stronger than the humanistic emotions of his heart. If she offered freedom . . .
Selphie suppressed the tears she felt rising to the surface, released Fenrir and stood back. "I'm gonna let you go." She opened the mental lock that was joining them together, and felt him leave her mind. The image before her began to fade. Fenrir stared at her for a long time, and for a moment, she could still feel his thoughts. He was thinking, quite powerfully, in tones that transcended words but were translatable as:
"If you ever need my help, you know where I'll be, Selphie."
Then he leapt the fence and faded into the background of snow. Selphie hooked her fingers through the wire of the fence, suddenly feeling incredibly alone.
"Bye, Fenrir . . ."
She turned. Michael, Tina, Jen and Feena were standing near the entrance of the courts, regarding her scarcely concealed excitement. Selphie forced a smile, wanting to keep up the optimism.
"What's up, guys?"
"Listen, we know you've been depressed lately so . . ." Michael pulled something from behind his back, and handed it to her. Selphie tilted her head sideways with curiosity and accepted the plain brown envelope. It was addressed to one 'Selphie Tilmitt'.
She opened it, and read it in full.
Your request for an end of term Festival has been considered, and we are glad to announce that permission has been granted. If the outcome is successful, we will be glad to make the 'Garden Festival' a regular event.
"Oh . . . but I didn't even send off the letter yet! I've been . . . distracted . . ."
"We know," Jen said, affectionately clapping her on the shoulder. "But we haven't. And we sent the request to the headmistress for you! What's more, we've even got a few acts to start you off!"
"AND!" Tina added exuberantly, "we've persuaded some of the engineers to help work on the stage!"
"If that doesn't cheer you up," Feena said with a grin, "then I don't know what will!"
Selphie began to cry, and the others were immediately horrified. As they crowed around her to see what was wrong, she had to yell through the tears: "I'm happy! I'm happy!"
A loud, lonely howl echoed through the chill afternoon air. Selphie looked up sharply, gazing into a sky so clear the moon was visible even at this time of day, and smiled.
"Come on!" she said, linking arms with the friends either side of her and wiping her tears away in the process. "We've got a lot of work to do before the end of term, guys! Let's . . . start . . . RECRUITING!"
As the five friends began to make their way inside the Garden, fresh snow began to fall, and no one noticed the sleek, silvery-blue shape watching their progress very intently. Only when they had disappeared from view did it turn and dart away, a barely visible shadow against the cold landscape, leaving only a flurry of snow in its wake.
Disclaimer: The usual stuff ^^ FFVIII and its characters and story, sadly, do not belong to me, but Selphie's four friends do! :D