A sequel to “Retribution” by Neb

Jules leaned over the balcony that overlooked the entrance to Balamb Garden. There, in front of the directory, stood a batch of three upper-class SeeD cadets, all kitted out in Garden uniforms similar to Jules’s, ready to depart on their final entrance exam. Jules knew all of the cadets well, and had known each of them for as long as she could remember. She scanned the three nervous, yet confident, faces, from left to right, wondering what thoughts must be going through their young minds.

First, as he always seemed to be to Jules, was Connor Kinneas, the only son of Irvine and Selphie Kinneas of Trabia Garden. He was smiling confidently, but not smugly. Connor was one of those people who seemed to exude confidence, but not cockiness. He could admit when he was wrong (although, admittedly, that did not happen often), and would much rather help someone out than denigrate them. Being the only cadet to have passed his 17th birthday, Connor had been given command of the squad, but Jules knew that even if he was by far and away the youngest, Connor would have been the favourite to be in command, such was his infectious confidence. Just as Jules was about to move onto the next face, however, Connor seemed to “sense” her looking down on him, and he looked up at her and gave her a quick wink. Blushing slightly, Jules diverted her gaze to the next cadet in line.

Standing a full-framed six feet five inches tall, in spite of only being sixteen, was Zell Almasy. If Connor was the picture of coolness, then Zell was anything but. Although he was still young, he had the most to live up to- his mother was none other than Quistis Almasy, the headmistress of Balamb Garden. While Jules knew Quistis well enough to know that she’d never be disappointed in her son, she also knew Zell well enough to know that there was no length to which he wouldn’t go to make his mother proud of him. Jules gave Zell a quick smile, even though she knew he wasn’t aware of her presence, before she moved on to the final, and most familiar, cadet.

Sarah. Sarah Leonheart, the eldest of Jules’s 4 younger sisters. Aged 16 ¼, only two years younger than Jules, Sarah was the youngest cadet to take the entrance exam in a while, but she by far showed the most promise, having become one of a very rare breed- a specialised magician. In fact, there had only been one other SeeD who could rival Sarah’s magical skills- and that was none other than hers and Jules’s own mother, Rinoa Leonheart. Jules scanned Sarah’s face, which bore a striking resemblance to Rinoa’s, for any sign of nerves, and was relieved to find that not only was she not displaying any, but she actually seemed to be smiling. You’re gonna do it, girl, Jules thought to herself. I know you are. Just then, Jules’s thoughts were interrupted by another familiar voice from her right.

“Taking one last look at them, eh?” Came the masculine voice, with just a hint of insincerity in it. Jules shook her head, and turned to face the owner of the voice.

“Don’t say that, Alec,” she retorted. “It’s not even like it’s a difficult assignment for them.” Alec, who was dressed simply in black Jeans and a white T-shirt, nodded, and stood next to Jules, leaning over the balcony to get a good look at the cadets. While a few months ago, this action may have made Jules uncomfortable, enough time had passed since the end of their relationship for Jules to once again consider Alec a friend.

Alec Klimister, like Jules, Connor, Zell and Sarah, was a prodigy, descended from a prodigy. His mother was Xu Klimister, former deputy head of Balamb Garden, and current headmistress of Galbaldia Garden, which was where Alec took, and passed with flying colours, his SeeD entry exam two years previously. Aged a mere 15 ¼, Alec was the youngest SeeD of all time, and he quickly rose through the ranks, until he decided that he wanted to emulate his mother, and he took and passed (typically brilliantly) the instructor’s exam. However, at that point, 8 months before the present day, he was forced to say goodbye to his beloved Galbaldia Garden and move to Balamb, as Galbaldia already had its full share of instructors, while Balamb had a spot for a junior. It was shortly after Alec’s arrival that Jules found herself attracted to him, and to his offbeat personality. He was the complete opposite of what you’d expect an instructor to be like- Alec was very rarely serious, always found time to talk in depth with his students, and was, in general, the most easy-going guy anyone ever met. Unfortunately, their relationship was to last a mere two months- Jules’s promotion to senior SeeD, and Alec’s increasing responsibilities as an instructor, meant that they very rarely had time for each other, and when they did, they were frequently tired and irritable, prone to arguing over the most basic of things. In the end, Jules called a halt to the relationship before it damaged their friendship even more than it already had.

Jules was lost in thought, wondering where her relationship with Alec might have led, when she heard the young man speak up from beside her.

“I know what Zell’s going through,” Alec said, breaking Jules’s trance.

“I-I’m sorry,” Jules said, her thoughts returning to reality, “What did you say?”

“I know what it’s like to have to live up to expectations,” Alec replied. “Having famous parents. Of course, you must too.” Jules looked down at the floor- she tried to avoid thinking about her parents if at all possible, and Alec had opened a two-year old wound that was still fresh in Jules’s mind.

It was Jules’s sixteenth birthday, and her father was going to be home for it. He’d phoned her several times each day, promising her that he’d be there, even if he had to walk on water, he’d be there. However, the day came, and her father was not there. Her grandfather prepared a special lunch for her, and everyone had helped themselves to the delicious food, but her father was not there. Her birthday party started at 8 o’clock at night. Everyone was having a good time, except for Jules, because her father was not there. Eventually, 11 o’clock came, and there was a knocking at the door. Jules immediately perked up. It’s him. I knew he’d come, she thought eagerly. However, it was not her father who entered, but instead, it was Kiros Seagill, life-long friend of her grandfather, and the recently elected president of Esthar. The words he had to say would shatter Jules’s young life.

“I regret to inform everyone here,” he began, “that the ship that was ferrying Commander Leonheart home, has been found wrecked off the shores just south of Balamb Garden. No survivors were found aboard, and although Commander Leonheart’s body was not amongst the wreckage, we believe it’s highly unlikely that anybody was able to escape from the boat before it was destroyed.” At that point, Kiros went over to Jules’s grandfather, and placed a comforting hand on the shoulder of the sixty-seven-year old former president. “I’m sorry, Laguna,” Kiros whispered to the shell-shocked old man.

Jules couldn’t believe the news she’d heard. She sat down in a chair, almost hyperventilating. Dead… she thought to herself. Dead… how? How can he be dead? Slowly, but surely, tears started to form in Jules’s eyes, and before too long, they began to flow. Jules leant forward in her chair, her stomach aching, her entire body shaking, and she wept openly.

Jules had had a special relationship with her father, much more so than any of her sisters did. She even bore a greater resemblance to him than any of her sisters, her face possessing more of the strong, determined features that Squall’s did.

It was her father who taught Jules how to become an expert at the gunblade, it was her father who helped her study for her SeeD written exam, and it was her father who helped her junction her first GF. Squall doted over Jules, night and day, and he was consistently proud of her achievements. Jules felt connected to her father, much more so than she did to her mother.

Whenever Jules thought about her mother, she only had one emotion in her mind- contempt. After the death of Squall, Rinoa had become more detached from her friends, and from her family. More often than not, Jules found herself having to clean up after her sisters, having to cook meals and clean rooms, all while her mother sat in her room, staring out of the window in mourning for her husband. At first, Jules did what was necessary, hoping that her mother would regain her composure and start to return to the way she was before, but her hopes were in vain. The days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Jules passed her SeeD entrance exam, a month after her father’s passing on; Sarah began her training to become a SeeD, and still, Rinoa had not changed. Every morning she would get up, and sit by her window, pining for her dead love. After the third month, Jules had decided that enough was enough, and she confronted her mother. At first, she only had the best intentions for her mother, but as the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”…

“You’re not the only one who’s hurting, you know,” the sixteen year-old girl said to her widowed mother.

“Excuse me?” The mother replied, aggressively.

“There are three children downstairs who need their mother,” the girl continued, “more now than ever. I can’t fill in for you 24/7. You have to come down at some point.”

“I’m perfectly happy where I am,” the mother retorted, turning her back on her daughter so she could resume her vigil at the window.

“And what about Krissy? Or Anna? Or Lil’ Rinny?” The girl replied, angrily, referring to her sisters by their names.

“How dare you talk to me in that tone of voice!” The mother snapped, equally as angry as the girl had been, if not more. “Show me some goddamned respect, you ungrateful child! I am your mother!” However, the girl only bristled at her mother’s outburst.

“Well you sure as hell haven’t been acting like it!” The girl yelled, prompting her mother’s face to turn red with rage. She leapt up out of her chair, and stood toe-to-toe with the girl.

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” The mother yelled in her daughter’s face.

“FINE!” The girl yelled back. “You want me gone, then I’m gone! Maybe then you’ll start paying attention to your children.” With that, the girl stormed out of her mother’s room, and out of their house, marching all the way back to her quarters in Balamb Garden.

Jules returned three days later, to check whether or not Rinoa had actually taken heed of her message, but what she discovered when she arrived at her house appalled her.

“Hey Jules!” The cheery, if aged, face of Laguna, her grandfather, greeted her. Laguna was wearing an apron and a pair of rubber gloves, and had obviously been in the middle of doing some washing up when Jules had interrupted him.

“Tell me,” Jules said, walking into the house where she grew up, “tell me you’re only doing a little work around the house. Tell me, please, that she’s back on her feet.” Laguna simply sighed, and sat down at the table, gesturing for Jules to sit too. She duly took a seat next to her grandfather, and listened to what the old man had to say.

“Your mother’s gone through a great loss, Jules,” Laguna said in his wizened old voice. “Something like this, you don’t get over it so quickly. Yes, three months is a long time, but your parents truly depended on each other, more so than any other couple I’ve ever known.” Laguna looked down at the floor at that point, trying to hide from Jules the fact that he had started to cry at the memories of Squall and Rinoa during happier times. It also brought back memories of Raine, his one true love, who had died over thirty-five years earlier and whom Laguna still thought about constantly.

“But she has people who need her-“ Jules attempted to reply, but Laguna silenced her with a wave.

“She’ll come round eventually,” Laguna replied. “Trust your old granddad, Jules? When have I ever been wrong?” Laguna smiled confidently, but Jules was far from convinced.

And, as it turned out, Laguna was wrong after all, for Rinoa continued her vigil at her window right up until the present day, not going downstairs, not making any effort to spend time with her daughters. Her daughters still came to see her, of course.

All but one. The eldest of Rinoa’s five offspring made no effort to see her mother, and so, in the two years that passed, not one word was exchanged between Jules and her mother.

On the balcony, Jules grimaced at the memories that had come flooding back to her.

“You know I don’t like talking about my family,” Jules snapped at Alec. Alec grimaced as well- he’d made a major faux pas and he knew it.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, before a beeping sound came from his jacket pocket. Alec pulled out his small pocket pager, and looked at the message that was displayed on it.

“Damn,” he said, “I gotta go, I’m late for my next class. An instructor’s work is never done!” Jules grinned weakly at Alec’s attempts to lighten the situation, before the young instructor departed. Jules watched too, as the three SeeD cadets departed through the front gate of the Garden, leaving Jules alone with her thoughts, which, thanks to Alec, were all centred on her father, and the current date.

For some reason, both Rinoa and Squall were always subdued, almost to the point of catatonia, on July 23rd, for every year that Jules could remember. However, no matter how hard she tried, she could never find out the reason. She tried asking all of her parents’ friends, but they all refused to give her a straight answer, no matter what time of year she brought it up. Even Selphie Kinneas, whom Jules could, otherwise, always talk to, always avoided the subject, and turned it into a discussion about her birthday, which was the following day, instead. What happened on July 23rd that was so terrible? Jules thought to herself, as she walked down the hallway of Balamb Garden, looking for somewhere to sit. She eventually chose one of the benches overlooking the library, and sat herself down there, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. She sighed, and looked down at the floor, when she was interrupted by a voice, coming from above her.

“I recognise that pose,” the familiar voice. Jules leaned her head back, and looked up into the familiar, bearded face of Seifer Almasy, the man who had been one of her father’s closest friends, despite also being the man who gave him his scar. Seifer, despite being only 41, a year older than Jules’s mother, was an aged man. The colour was noticeably fading from his hair, and lines had started to form at the corners of his eyes, which themselves seemed to have lost the sparkle that Jules remembered the younger Seifer possessing all those years ago. The Seifer of today looked much closer to 61 than he did 41.

“Hello, Mr. Almasy,” Jules politely responded, before continuing her stare at the floor.

“Well,” Seifer said, sitting down next to a noticeably uncomfortable Jules, “at least you don’t share your father’s idea of ‘politeness’.” Seifer smirked at his remark, but the smile drained from his face when he saw Jules’s face pull into a frown. Nonetheless, Seifer was, as he seemingly always was, amazed by the resemblance between the young woman and his old friend. She’s so much like him, it’s unbelievable, Seifer thought to himself. OK, Squall’s hair wasn’t quite shoulder-length, and he never wore a short skirt to work, but asides from that, it’s as if he’s been recreated in perfect detail. Amazing. Seifer then smirked again as another thought entered his mind. Squall wasn’t quite that pretty, though, he mused to himself.

“He’s not dead, you know,” Seifer said to Jules, who responded by getting up. “Wait,” Seifer said, also standing up. “Wait, please.”

“I don’t want to talk about my parents,” Jules said, walking away from the tall, middle-aged man.

“You don’t even want to know the significance of July 23rd?” Seifer asked, prompting Jules to stop dead in her tracks. She slowly turned round, trying to look at Seifer with a neutral expression on her face, but the older man could see that she was desperate to know the truth.

“I’m listening,” Jules said, coolly. Seifer shook his head.

“Not here,” he said. “Let me take you home.”

“I haven’t been home in over two years,” Jules retorted. “I’m not welcome there.” Seifer shook his head again, this time, more vigorously.

“That’s total rot,” Seifer said. “Your grandfather and your aunt are there right now, waiting for you.” All of a sudden, realisation dawned on Jules.

“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Jules asked the tall ex-con. “You come here on the pretence of wanting to know how well your son did in the SeeD exams, when actually, you’re only here to get me to go back to that house.” Seifer simply stared at the young woman, no discernable expression crossing his face.

“On the contrary, Miss Leonheart,” Seifer retorted, “Wild chocobos couldn’t keep me away from the Garden when the results of the exam are announced. Laguna and Ellone simply… asked me to do a favour for them. They really want to see you, Jules. They’ve decided it’s time you knew the truth.” Jules sighed.

“I guess I’d better go, then.” Seifer grinned broadly.

“That’s the spirit!” Seifer exclaimed, as he escorted Jules toward his car, which was parked just outside the front entrance. “Your Granddad’s really looking forward to seeing you again, you have no idea how much he missed you on your eighteenth birthday…”

Laguna was seated at the kitchen table of the Leonhearts’ residence, drumming his fingers on the table impatiently, awaiting the arrival of his eldest granddaughter.

“I hope she comes soon,” the elderly man said, a tired tone creeping into his voice.

“They’ll be here soon, Uncle Laguna,” the middle-aged Ellone said, continuing her pace across the floor. “Don’t worry. We can rely on Seifer.”

“Yeah, I know,” Laguna said, the drumming of his fingers not ceasing for even a second.

Suddenly, there was a banging on the outside kitchen door. Laguna stopped drumming his fingers, and he stood up slowly, walking over to the door. He opened it, to be greeted by a very familiar face.

“Hello, Granddad,” Jules said to the now-grinning old man.

“Hi, Jules!” Laguna said, flinging his arms around the young woman and squeezing her tightly. Jules returned the old man’s embrace.

“I’ve missed you,” Jules said to her grandfather, who was openly weeping tears of joy.

“Not as much as I’ve missed having you around,” Laguna responded, before letting Jules go. Jules then spotted her other family member, standing in the opposite corner of the kitchen.

“Hi, Jules,” Ellone said, quietly, as she walked over to her niece and gave her a quick hug. “Please sit down.” Nodding, Jules sat down at the kitchen table, and was followed by Seifer, and her aunt and her grandfather. Once they were all comfortably seated, Laguna began talking.

“I’m sure Seifer’s told you the reason why I wanted to see you today,” Laguna said to his granddaughter. Jules nodded.

“Yes,” she said, “he told me it’s about July 23rd, why mum and dad were always… different, on this day.” This time, it was Laguna’s turn to nod.

“Yeah,” he said, looking down at his hands, which were clasped in front of him on the table. “Elle?” Laguna asked, looking across at his adoptive daughter.

“The truth of it, Jules,” Ellone started, “is that you were not the only child born to Squally and Rinny 18 years ago. You were part of a pair of twins.” The news hit Jules like a sledgehammer. She blinked a couple of times, trying to comprehend what she was hearing.

“I-I’m sorry?” Jules asked, still incredulous. “Twins?”

“Yes,” Ellone replied. “I was present at both births- of yourself, Julia Raine Leonheart, and of your twin brother, Squall Leonheart Jr.”

“M-my brother?” Jules asked, still trying to come to terms with the news. “What happened to him?” This time, it was Seifer’s turn to answer.

“About nineteen years ago, before you were even born,” Seifer said, “an assassin, a madman, tried to kill both myself and your father. He was insane, and nothing was beneath him in his attempt to take revenge on me.”

“Revenge on YOU?” Jules asked. Seifer nodded.

“Yeah,” Seifer answered. “About twenty-two years ago, I was brainwashed by a sorceress, a powerful, dangerous one, and amongst my actions was the murder of this man’s sister.” Seifer paused for a few seconds, remembering the owner of the blood with which his hands were stained. “Anyway,” he continued, “flash forward four years and your brother’s got an infection, so Squall, your father, takes him to the infirmary. Along the way, the assassin ambushes your father, and he shoots your brother in cold blood.” By now, Jules’s head was spinning from the information.

“Wait a minute, back up,” she said, resting her aching head in her hand. “Why was I never told this before?”

“You would have been,” Laguna responded, “if things had turned out differently. If your father hadn’t died-“ Laguna was interrupted by a voice coming from opposite him.

“He isn’t dead,” Seifer said out loud, stopping the elderly man in his tracks. Ellone, sensing what was about to happen, spoke up.

“Uncle Laguna, Seifer, don’t-“ she tried to say, but it was in vain. Both Laguna and Seifer had risen from their seats, and were speaking to each other in a very less-than-friendly manner.

“You little bastard,” Laguna said, “you little, insensitive bastard. How can you get her hopes up, eh? You know full well my son is dead, and I will thank you to never bring up that psychic mumbo-jumbo of yours ever again.” Seifer simply shook his head defiantly.

“It’s not mumbo-jumbo,” the bearded author retorted. “Me and Squall… we have a bond. And not even you can deny it, no matter how much I respect you.” Both men stared at each other for a while, before sitting back down. There was an awkward silence, before Jules decided to clear the air.

“So when were you planning on telling the rest of the girls?” Jules asked, referring to her four younger sisters.

“Sarah,” Laguna replied, “we were going to tell today as well. We were going to wait until the others were old enough before telling them, though.”

“Speaking of which,” Seifer interjected, “the candidates for the exam will be returning soon. Selphie and Irvine have probably already arrived at Balamb Garden, and we should be heading there too.” The other three all agreed with him, and stood up, preparing to leave, all hoping that when they arrived at Balamb Garden and saw the soon-to-be SeeDs arrive back from their mission, their collective mood would improve. As they were about to leave, however, they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps descending the stairs, behind them. As one, the four of them turned around…

“M-mum?” Jules hesitantly asked the figure that was descending the stairs. Rinoa raised her head, to look her daughter in the face. The sight of what her mother had become caused Jules to audibly gasp.

If Seifer had aged beyond his 41 years, then Rinoa had become almost decrepit. She was leaning heavily on the banister of the stairs for support (having had practically no exercise over the past two years), and while her long, flowing white dress was clean and unstained, Rinoa herself was not- her hair was tangled and unwashed, and her teeth had turned a distinct shade of yellow. She had also started to develop noticeable wrinkles around her eyes, whereas two years earlier, prior to her husband’s death, she had never had a single one. However, what disturbed Jules the most was not what Rinoa looked like on the outside, but what brewed within- Jules looked deep into her mother’s eyes, but did not see the usual feelings of warmth and love that she was accustomed too- instead, she saw only bitterness and spite.

“You ungrateful bitch,” Rinoa spat at her daughter, her voice filled with the same bitterness as her eyes. Jules, who had been highly upset by her mother’s appearance, had to fight back tears after her outburst.

“M-Mum,” Jules said, cautiously approaching her mother, “I-“ however, she was interrupted by another outburst from Rinoa.

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” Rinoa yelled in Jules’s face. Jules froze, not wanting to make her mother even angrier. As she did so, however, Jules was distracted by a strange glowing coming from Rinoa’s clenched fist- a glowing that looked almost light Rinoa had captured a bolt of lightning and was squeezing it tightly. No way, Jules thought to herself, she wouldn’t do that to her own flesh and blood, surely? Opting to test her theory, Jules started to approach her mother again.

The next thing Jules was aware of was hearing a loud bang, and of being thrown back across the kitchen, hitting the door with an unceremonious ‘splat’ and slumping to the floor, where she lay, panting for air. While Jules may have still been conscious, she was in tremendous pain, having just been hit by a powerful thundaga spell, cast by the most powerful magic user on the planet. Hastily, she started to junction a GF, while her grandfather had words with the angry sorceress.

“Rinoa!” Laguna yelled, defiantly. “How dare you treat your daughter like that? You heal her this second!”

“Get bent, old man,” Rinoa replied, nastily. She took a few seconds to cast disdainful looks over all those present in the room, and snarled in particular at her daughter, who was still sat on the floor, still hurting from her magical attack. Once she had finished, Rinoa turned and marched up the stairs.

“Rinoa!” Laguna yelled after his receding daughter-in-law. “RINOA!” However, the middle-aged woman would not pay any attention to him, and she vanished up the stairs. Seeing that any further appeals would be pointless, Laguna turned toward his granddaughter, who was still sat on the floor.

“Jules?” Laguna asked, in a far gentler voice than the one he addressed Rinoa with.

“I’m OK, Granddad,” Jules said, standing up with Seifer’s aid. “It’s just a thundaga spell. I’ve been hit by them before.”

“Yeah, well so have I,” Seifer said, defiantly, “and I can tell you for free that that was no ordinary thundaga. That was the equivalent of at least a level 4 spell.”

“Level 4 spells don’t exist,” Laguna retorted.

“Exactly my point,” Seifer replied. “She’s got stronger. A LOT stronger.”

“And angrier,” Jules whispered. “You don’t think-“ Laguna smiled and waved his hand in front of him, silencing the clearly unsettled Jules.

“As long as she stays here, we’ll all be fine, her included,” he replied, before taking a quick look toward the stairs up which Rinoa vanished. “You three start the car,” he said, formulating an idea in his head. “I’ll be there in a second.” Nodding, Jules, Seifer and Ellone all exited the kitchen, while Laguna slowly (due to his age) ascended the stairs, in pursuit of his daughter-in-law. When he entered her room, he found her, as always, staring out of the window, mourning her lost love.

“What?” Rinoa asked the old man, grumpily.

“It’s Sarah’s field exam today, Rinoa,” Laguna answered, calmly. “Don’t you care how well she’s done?”

“Why should I?” Rinoa responded, nastily. “She doesn’t care about me. She hasn’t come to see me in over three months. Daughters should respect their mother more than that.”

“I beg your pardon?” Laguna said, incredulously. “You may not have noticed, but she’s left answering phone messages for you and the girls every other day. I even made the time to play them for you.”

“Big deal,” Rinoa spat. “Balamb Garden is only five miles away. She could at least make the effort to come down here from time to time.” Laguna felt his anger start to swell inside him, but he took several deep breaths and calmed himself down.

“Firstly,” Laguna said through gritted teeth, “Sarah doesn’t yet have a full driver’s licence, so it’d be a major commitment for her to come down here, and secondly, when was the last time you took the effort to walk down fifteen steps to be with your daughters?”

“I see my daughters all the time,” Rinoa answered, angrily.

“Answer the question the may it was worded,” Laguna angrily retorted. “When was the last time you took the effort to walk down that flight of stairs to be with your daughters?” With a fierce look on her face, Rinoa turned her seat around to face her elderly father-in-law.

“Get out,” she whispered, evilly. Laguna could see that Rinoa’s fists were starting to glow, and he opted to back away.

“Okay,” he said, heading slowly toward the door of the room, “I’ll honour your request. But I’ll be back, Rinoa, and I expect an answer to my question.” Laguna then turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him before Rinoa could reply either verbally, or magically. He then took several deep breaths, and looked down at his wrinkled old hands, which were shaking uncontrollably. I don’t need this, he thought to himself, tearfully. I really don’t need this. Two years ago, Laguna had been an old, yet relatively very healthy, man who was surrounded by family who all loved him unconditionally. He had a son, a daughter-in-law, an adoptive daughter who hung off his every word, and five granddaughters whom all saw him as some kind of god given mortal form. But now, his son was dead; his daughter-in-law was no longer the same girl he’d got to know all those years ago; even Ellone, in her role as headmistress of Esthar Garden, no longer had as much time for him as she had done; and his granddaughters were all growing up- his two eldest already lived full-time at Balamb Garden, and the third would do in a few months time when she turned fourteen. All I want is to have my family around me in my old age, is that too much to ask for? Laguna contemplated, as he headed down toward Seifer’s car, where the others were waiting.

Laguna entered the car and sat back in his seat, worn out already by the day’s events. Seifer started the car and started down the road toward Balamb Garden, when Jules, in the back seat with Ellone, spoke up.

“Guys,” she said, “I want you to promise me that what happened in that kitchen, with the lightning spell, stays between the four of us. There’s no need for Sarah, Krissy, Anna or Lil’ Rinny to hear about it.” Seifer, Laguna and Ellone all nodded in agreement.

“I agree,” Laguna said. “We also don’t need to tell Sarah about Squall Jr. either, at least, not until after her graduation ceremony. I don’t want to spoil it for her.”

“Hear hear,” Jules replied, as the car continued on toward Balamb Garden. It arrived there a mere eight minutes later, and the four inhabitants of the car disembarked, entering the front entrance. There, several familiar faces greeted them. One of them was very familiar to Seifer, in particular.

“Quistis,” Seifer said politely, yet abruptly, as he stood next to the blonde woman who had taken over from Cid Kramer as Garden head teacher five years previously, and who had divorced Seifer two and a half years prior to that.

“Seifer,” Quistis responded, equally abruptly. The former couple stood side-by-side in total silence, waiting for news about their son.

Meanwhile, Jules had spotted three small faces that she hadn’t seen in a long while. Grinning broadly, she rushed forward to give them all a big hug.

“Krissy! Anna! Rinny!” She exclaimed, as she embraced her three younger sisters.

“Jules!” They all cried as one, as they returned their beloved eldest sister’s hug.

“I’ve missed yoo so much,” the tiny voice of Jules’s youngest sister, Rinoa Jr. (affectionately known as “Lil’ Rinny”) said tearfully. Smiling, and trying to fight back tears of her own, Jules squeezed the six-year old a little tighter, and kissed her on the forehead.

“Don’t worry,” Jules said, trying to calm her young sibling, “I’m always just a phone call away. And I want those phone calls, you hear?” Crying into the hem of Jules’s skirt, Rinoa Jr. nodded, causing Jules to smile even more. Jules then turned and addressed Krissy, the tallest and eldest of the three girls she was hugging.

“Although,” Jules started, jokingly, “I guess I’ll be seeing plenty of you soon enough, eh, Krissy?” Nervously, the tall, young girl inhaled, and responded to her sister’s question.

“Sure will,” Krissy hastily breathed out, trying to suppress her excitement. “Just four months to go!” Jules’s grin broadened- she remembered how excited she’d been when she enrolled as a SeeD cadet at Balamb Garden, some four and a half years previously.

Observing his granddaughters from afar, Laguna smirked- he had arranged for the three youngest girls to be excused from their classes so they could see Sarah’s triumphant return as a SeeD, but that was not the only reason he had made the phone calls to their teachers. He knew that their presence cheered Jules up, and vice versa. Krissy, Anna and Rinoa Jr. were beginning to show the same signs of hero worship toward Jules that they openly showed toward their father, and the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” had remarkable credibility when it came to all of his granddaughters, Sarah included. He was deeply engrossed in watching Anna tell Jules all about what she did at school, that he didn’t notice a familiar, trenchcoat-clad man stride up next to him.

“Ya know,” the man in the trenchcoat started, “that girl gets more and more like her father, god rest his soul, every time I see her.” Laguna turned round, and found himself staring into the smiling face of Irvine Kinneas.

“Irvine!” Laguna exclaimed, shaking the younger man’s hand. “Good to see you again after all these years. Is your lovely wife here as well?” Irvine sadly shook his head.

“Nah, Selph couldn’t make it today,” Irvine said, quietly, “being the commander of a whole Garden ain’t all fun and games, you know.” Laguna nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, I guess,” he agreed. “Got any plans for tomorrow?” Irvine simply laughed.

“Have we got any plans?” He exclaimed. “The whole of Trabia Garden’s been kitted out in streamers, balloons, all the cadets have got the whole day off tomorrow to celebrate!”

“Let me guess, Selphie’s in the middle of it all?” Laguna asked, smirking at his memories of the woman who remained as bouncy and upbeat at 40 as she was at 17.

“Hell, no,” Irvine retorted, “ as far as she’s concerned, it’s just a normal day at the office.”

“I think I see the whole picture now,” Laguna grinned.

“Nothing’s too good for my Selphie,” Irvine whispered. Before either of them could speak again, however, they, and everyone in the front entrance, were interrupted by a loud shouting noise coming from the direction of the stairs above them.

“They’re here!” They dimly heard the voice of the young cadet shout as he sprinted up to Quistis.

“Calm down, cadet,” Quistis said sternly, as she placed her hands on the cadet’s shoulders. However, the cadet simply shook his head.

“Y-you don’t understand, headmistress,” the cadet panted, “they’re on the helipad. They’ve got wounded.” Quistis’s eyes widened- Zell, she thought to herself, as she let the cadet go and turned to face her ex-husband. However, Seifer was no longer standing beside her. Looking around for any sign of him, she just spotted him disappearing up the stairs, undoubtedly en route to the helipad. In spite of the tension running through her body, Quistis allowed herself a tiny smile- Seifer had always been one of the most proactive men she’d known, and he’d not disappointed her. Breaking out into a slight jog, she followed him up the stairs, followed by the rest of the crowd, with the exception of Ellone, who stayed behind with the protesting Krissy, Anna and Rinoa Jr.

“I wanna go too!” Krissy shouted, trying to break free from her aunt’s grasp.

“No,” Ellone responded, “we wait here for news of them, okay?” Reluctantly, Krissy stopped struggling.

“Yes, Auntie Ellone,” she said, as the middle-aged woman led them all to a bench and sat them down.

“Auntie Ellie?” Rinoa Jr. asked in her tiny voice, “has Sarah gone to be with daddy?” Blinking back tears, Ellone shook her head, and cuddled her nieces close to her body.

“No,” she answered, “Sarah’s gonna be fine. You mark my words.”

Running up to the helipad, Jules repeated a simple prayer in her head, over and over again. Please, Hyne, let her be alright. Her spirits were lifted slightly by the sight of the giant Zell Almasy, limping toward Jules and the others, clutching his chest. Jules was unsurprised to see Zell’s equally tall father run toward him, and help him into a seated position on the floor.

“Son?” Seifer asked the blond-haired boy. “Are you alright?” Although he was clearly in pain, Zell nodded, and smiled at his father.

“I’m fine,” Zell said, confidently. “Just a few cracked ribs and a twisted ankle, that’s all. Sarah and Connor- that’s another story.” In a heightened state of panic, Laguna, Jules and Irvine ran toward the recently landed jetcopter, which bore their wounded relatives.

“Can you tell me what happened, Zell?” Asked Quistis, who was kneeling beside her son and her ex-husband. Frowning, Zell nodded.

“We were ambushed,” he stated, “by the dark SeeD.” Slowly, Quistis closed her eyes, lowered her head, and let out a quiet sigh. The day she had feared for over two years had finally come- the dark SeeD had begun their campaign of terror against the Gardens, and Quistis silently feared that they might not be stopped.

One week after Squall’s boat was found wrecked, a letter arrived at Balamb Garden, addressed to Quistis in person. On the letter, written in letters cut from various newspapers, were the words “We killed Leonheart. More to follow.” At the bottom of the page was the SeeD crest, only in black and white, and in negative. The dark parts had become light, and the light parts had become dark. Quickly, rumours of the “Dark SeeD” began to spread throughout Balamb Garden, and unrest was rife among the students. Quistis worked quickly to try to quash the rumours, but with the students still in mourning for their beloved commander, keeping the rumours fully under control proved to be an impossible task. Soon, the number of missions SeeDs were called out on increased, and while the general public were still largely unaware of them, it was clear to all concerned at Balamb Garden that the dark SeeD were responsible. Kidnappings, terrorism, random murders- all these atrocities and more began occurring on a more and more regular basis, requiring SeeDs to sort it out, and each and every time, at the scene of the crime, a black and white negative of the SeeD logo was found. Quistis knew that soon, the dark SeeD would begin openly attacking regular SeeDs and Garden cadets- and they had picked the worst possible day to start.

If there was one person at Balamb garden who had a deep loathing of the dark SeeD, it was Jules. When she learned, upon her graduation, of the dark SeeD’s involvement in her father’s death, she took it personally. They had murdered her father on her sixteenth birthday, the day that was supposed to be one the happiest of her life- how could she not take it personally? Jules saw the dark SeeD as thugs, a plague to be wiped off the face of the planet like an unsightly stain, and nothing was going to change her mind about that. As she ran down the corridor toward the jetcopter that bore her critically injured sister, her thoughts once more turned to the dark SeeD. First my father and now my sister, she thought to herself, angrily. How dare they.

Little was known about the dark SeeD, in spite of Quistis’s best efforts to investigate into them, they remained elusive. Nothing was known about their membership, their leaders, or, more critically, where they were finding the gil to carry out their campaign of terror. Quistis knew that the odds of finding and stopping them all in one fell swoop were miniscule, but she was determined to try, determined not to let any more of her friends die at their hands. Often, they would capture foreigners, typically Galbaldians, whom they suspected of terrorism, but nothing ever came of the interrogations, and they were eventually forced to release the suspects back into the public. As the months turned into years, Quistis felt herself become more and more frustrated by her futile attempts to crack the dark SeeD. All of her staff noticed, especially Jules, who shared her headmistress’s drive to bring the terrorists to justice.

Jules slowed her run down to a quick jog as she approached the jetcopter, just in time, it turned out, to see her sister stretchered off of the aircraft. The colour drained from Jules’s face as she saw the state that Sarah was in.

She was hooked up to several IV drips, and had a breathing mask covering her face, which was also covered, almost completely, in crimson blood from a deep cut half an inch below her hairline, which, despite several layers of bandaging, could still be easily located. Although Sarah was mostly covered by a medical blanket, there were enough slight red patches on the covering to let Jules know that Sarah’s head wasn’t the only place she was cut badly. Jules felt her grandfather’s presence beside her again, and she slowly slipped her hand into Laguna’s, and squeezed, trying to hold back the tears that were forming in her eyes over what she was witnessing. She felt Laguna’s hand squeeze back, as Sarah was wheeled away toward the infirmary. Letting go of her grandfather’s hand, she strode toward the doctor who had overseen Sarah’s unloading from the jetcopter, and who was presently dealing with getting Connor Kinneas, the other SeeD candidate from that day, off of the aircraft.

“How bad is she, doctor?” Jules hesitantly asked.

“She’s not good,” the doctor replied, concentrating on unloading Connor but still paying attention to Jules’s queries. “She’s got several cracked ribs, a broken femur, a fractured skull; she’s lost a lot of blood and we suspect some internal injuries as well. She’ll be in emergency surgery for several hours.” Jules sighed, but she knew she had no time for pity.

“Do you have enough replacement blood?” She asked, hastily. “Sarah’s got a rare blood type and-“ the doctor simply nodded, putting Jules’s fears at rest.

“Blood is not the problem,” he confirmed. “It’s her injuries I’m more worried about.” Jules gulped, desperately trying not to show her fear of losing another family member, as Connor was wheeled out on a stretcher. Jules was shocked at the sight of the usually vibrant young man- while Sarah’s condition had given her a good idea of what to expect, the sight of Connor’s pale face and torn uniform still took her by surprise.

“The lad’s got a good chance of survival,” the doctor said to the not-listening Jules, “his injuries aren’t that severe, just a concussion and a few cracked ribs.” Jules nodded, feigning attention, but in reality, her mind was with her critically ill sister. She’s not gonna die, Jules thought to herself solemnly. I ain’t gonna let her die.

Jules followed Connor’s stretcher down to the infirmary, and arrived there to find her grandfather, aunt and sisters all waiting for her. Immediately as she saw Jules, Rinoa Jr. ran toward her and opened her arms out wide, silently begging to be held by her elder sister. Jules immediately complied, bending down and picking Rinoa Jr. up, carrying her back to where the rest of her family was seated. Jules sat down, while Rinoa Jr. sat on her lap, holding onto Jules tightly. Poor girl, Jules thought to herself, she loses her father when she’s only four, she hasn’t seen me in ages, and now she’s possibly lost another sister… no wonder she doesn’t want to let go. Weakly, Jules tried to smile for her youngest sister, but still, Rinoa Jr. wouldn’t let go. Jules simply sighed, and turned to her grandfather.

“Is there any news?” Jules asked quietly, as Rinoa Jr. began to sob into her uniform. Stoically, Laguna turned toward his granddaughter and responded.

“They say the internal injuries aren’t nearly as severe as they first thought,” he said, offering Jules a slight smile as he did so. “Merely a bruised lung, that’s all. She’ll be in surgery for another few hours, but after they’ve given her a blood transfusion, she’ll be totally out of the woods.” Jules, however, simply sighed.

“Then she’s got the long road back to recovery…” She lamented. Laguna nodded, sadly.

“Yeah, but that’s what magic’s there for,” the old man replied. “Sure, it’s no substitute for bed rest, but it can make her recovery go three times as fast, especially with the medical magicians you have here.” Jules smiled a genuine smile upon hearing her grandfather’s statement.

“The term they use is “white mage”, granddad,” Jules said, referring to the new type of magician that had emerged, who specialised in healing and curative magic.

“Well,” Laguna responded, “whatever the name is, I’m sure they’ve got the situation fully in hand.” Jules smiled, and nodded.

“Granddad?” The small, ten-year old voice of Jules’s second-youngest sister, Anna, spoke up. “I’m hungry. Can I go to the cafeteria?” Laguna simply laughed, and turned to Jules.

“Well?” He asked, jokingly. “You get a discount here, I don’t.” Jules smiled, and nodded.

“Let me get changed first,” Jules said, picking Rinoa Jr. up off her lap and sitting her down next to her.

“Don’t go…” Rinoa Jr. wailed in her tiny voice. Jules simply smiled and hugged Rinoa Jr.

“Don’t worry,” Jules said comfortingly, “I’m only going to get changed. I’ll be back soon, I promise.” Trying to stifle her sobs, Rinoa Jr. nodded. Jules smiled again, and rose from her chair, heading toward her quarters, to the north of the Garden.

She arrived back at her quarters a mere few minutes later, and immediately sat on the end of her bed, her head bowed in silent thought. She knew her life had just become a hundred times more complicated- the dark SeeD had begun their attack on Balamb Garden, and Jules, like Quistis, feared that they might not be stopped; her sister had been badly wounded; her own mother had launched an unprovoked magical attack on her; and she knew she’d soon have to bid farewell to her youngest sisters again, possibly not seeing them again for a very long time, and while they were at the Garden, she’d have to be their mother figure 24/7, which Jules wasn’t sure she could pull off on top of all of her other duties as a senior SeeD.

All this had happened in the past six hours, and Jules was tired. All she really wanted to do was to curl up in bed and sleep for the rest of the evening, but she knew that would not be an option while she was needed elsewhere by so many different people. Jules sighed, and stood up, to find Alec standing there in front of her. Trying not to show her surprise at seeing him standing there, Jules frowned.

“How did you get in here?” She asked, defensively.

“I-I just wanted to see if you were alright,” Alec replied, cautiously. “I heard about Sarah, and I wondered if you-“ Jules cut him off in mid-sentence.

“I asked,” she repeated, more firmly, “how did you get in here? Hmm?”

“Your door combination wasn’t hard to break,” Alec replied, “and I knew if I just knocked you’d tell me to get lost. I was worried about you, Jules, is that so bad?”

“I’m more than capable of taking care of myself, thank you very much,” Jules less-than-honestly replied. In truth, she was dying to get her troubles off her chest, and Alec was probably her best friend, next to Sarah. However, she didn’t have the time.

“Well can I stay anyway, now that I’m here?” Alec asked, innocently. Jules turned her back to Alec, so that he couldn’t see her smiling- it was Alec’s irreverent attitude that had attracted her in the first place, and even now, months after they’d split up, she found she was still fond of it. I suppose it couldn’t hurt, Jules found herself thinking.

“If you have to,” she said, stoically, as she walked into her en-suite. She emerged a few seconds later, and tossed her facecloth at Alec. “Put that over your eyes, I’m going to get changed.”

“Have you changed that much since the last time I saw you naked?” Alec asked in a very jokey voice. Jules managed to suppress her giggles, and repeated her statement.

“Put it over your eyes,” she ordered. “Or do I have to pull rank on you again?” Laughing, Alec complied, and put the cloth over his eyes, while Jules changed from her uniform into her usual casual attire, which consisted of a blue spaghetti strap vest, similar to the black one her mother wore in the photographs had of her parents’ days at Balamb Garden; a pair of tight black leather trousers, and a plain black denim jacket. Around her neck, she wore the chain her father had worn every day of his life- it was to have been her sixteenth birthday present from him, in the end, it turned out to be part of her inheritance. While, in many ways, Jules hated to be compared to her father, when she wore the chain, she found she didn’t mind one bit. She knew that she was Jules Leonheart, and not just another Squall Leonheart, but as Jules fingered the pendant that was hanging from her chain, her thoughts were filled by the dead brother she never knew. What if it had been me that had died? She confusedly thought to herself. Would he have got this chain? Would he have been compared to Dad every day he was at Garden? Jules sighed.

“Hey,” Alec said, impatiently, “just how long does it take you to get changed?” Jules’s mind suddenly snapped back to reality.

“It’s OK,” she answered, pulling on her boots, “you can look now.” Alec removed the flannel from his face, and handed it back to Jules.

“Thanks,” Alec responded, before taking a deep breath. “Have you got any plans for dinner?” Jules, who was heading into the bathroom to replace the flannel, froze. Her face softened, as she rolled around in her head exactly what it was he’d just asked her. Did he just-? She thought to herself.

“Alec…” Jules asked, cautiously, “I’m not-“ Alec hastily cut her off.

“Oh no, I meant as friends, not anything else,” Alec said, laughing. Jules breathed a sigh of relief, and turned round, almost smiling at Alec.

“Oh, right,” Jules said, barely able to hide the relief in her voice. “And no, I’m afraid I can’t, my family are here.”

“Oh,” Alec replied, unable to hide his disappointment. “Well, I suppose I can always eat with Zell instead, he’s out of the infirmary, right?”

“Yeah,” Jules responded, “but his father’s here and they hardly get time to see each other.”

“Right,” Alec said, his disappointment growing. Is everyone’s family here apart from mine? He self-pityingly thought. “Right… then I hope there’s a good movie on TV tonight.”

“I’m sorry, Alec,” Jules started, trying to sound apologetic, “any other day and I-“ Alec interrupted her.

“It’s okay,” the tall, dark haired instructor said reassuringly. “I’ve got loads of paperwork to catch up on anyway. Maybe another day?” Jules paused, before answering Alec’s question.

“Yeah,” she said, smiling. “I’d like that.”

“Great,” Alec said, with a wide grin on his face. There was a brief, awkward pause, before Alec spoke again.

“I’ll, er, I’ll see myself out, then,” he said, pointing toward the door.

“Yeah,” Jules said, as Alec started through the door. “See you later.”

“Bye,” Alec said, as Jules closed the door, shutting him out of her quarters. Alec looked at the shut door, then lowered his head, and sighed. Damn, he thought to himself. Double damn with several hundred heaps of sliced damn on top! Why can’t it ever go right? Ever since they had broken up, Alec had not stopped thinking about Jules. She hadn’t been his first girlfriend, but she had certainly been the most memorable. Everything about her, even her flaws like her frequent sulking sessions and her sometimes point blank refusal to talk about anything, only served to make Alec more attracted to her. Alec cursed himself for letting her go so easily, and swore that, one day, he’d get her back. However, as the days, weeks and months passed, nothing happened. Jules and Alec grew closer as friends, but it was not what Alec wanted. Looks like you got the consolation prize, Alec, he thought to himself as he headed toward his quarters, and his microwaved supper.

Jules was sitting in the cafeteria, eating her dinner and talking to her sisters, aunt and grandfather, but in reality, her mind was still elsewhere. Thoughts of her father, her injured sister, her dead brother and her ex-boyfriend littered her mind and were starting to give her a massive headache. She was prodding the same boiled potato for the fifteenth or sixteenth time in a row, when Laguna finally spoke up.

“Jules,” he said, hesitantly, “are you feeling okay?” Jules, not feeling comfortable opening up in a public place, simply smiled at her grandfather.

“I’m fine,” she replied, “I’ve just got a bit of a headache, that’s all. It’s been a long day.” However, as she was saying those words, many other thoughts were flying through her mind. Are the dark SeeD after Leonhearts in particular? What if Sarah had died? What if I had died and my brother had lived? What if we had both lived? Would Dad have spent as much time with me? Would Mum hate me as much as she does?

“Well,” Laguna responded, unconvinced, “if you’re sure you’re alright, then that’s okay.” Jules smiled again, but her head was pounding, and, although she cursed herself for thinking it, she wished that her family would just leave her alone. Finally, she jabbed her fork into the boiled potato, and ate it. They won’t be here much longer, she ambivalently thought to herself, frowning.

At another table, the two Almasy men, Seifer and Zell, were enjoying their meal. However, Zell was somewhat subdued, even more so than he normally was. Zell was a naturally shy young man, unlike his arrogant father or his domineering mother. Everyone who’d known the late Zell Dincht remarked that Zell Almasy couldn’t have been more different than the former Garden head of security, and, although the younger Zell never knew the man he was named after, he was still flattered that his parents chose to name him after someone who had reached near-legendary status in Balamb, hometown to both Zells.

“So, how does it feel, son?” Seifer asked his eldest child. “Doing the one thing your old man never did?” Zell quickly swallowed his food and replied.

“I haven’t been told I’ve passed yet,” he answered, quietly. Seifer chuckled a little.

“You will have done, trust me,” Seifer replied, smiling. Zell merely continued eating.

“Lost for words, are you?” The tall author asked light-heartedly. “Well, you’ve certainly not lost your appetite!” Zell nodded, and continued eating, prompting Seifer to just chuckle some more.

Although Zell, at six feet five, was a full inch taller than his father, Seifer still intimidated him nonetheless. While young men and women like Jules or Connor had been raised by parents whose marriages were rock solid, Seifer and Quistis’s relationship always had the look about it of exploding at a moment’s notice. Many was the time when the eight-year old Zell would hear his mother come home from work, only to be shouted at by his father. Zell never did understand why his parents never spoke, but only shouted to each other- nor did he understand when neither of them came up to his room when he was crying. Often, with tears in his eyes, he would wander down the stairs on the orders of his bossy younger sister, Yana, only to have his father turn and shout at him when he got there, ordering him to ‘Go back to your damned room right this second!’ This would only have the effect of making his mother shout at his father some more, while Zell, having been shunned by both parents, merely slunk back upstairs to his room, where he cried some more. Zell was terrified of his father when he was angry, because of ‘the look’- when Seifer was arguing with Quistis, his eyes always seemed to start to bulge out of his head slightly. He looked wild, insane, and it scared Zell down to his very core when his father stared at him with ‘the look’. Even when he was nearing the age of 17, Zell had nightmares about his father when he was angry.

Zell’s mother, on the other hand, was a different story entirely. After their divorce, when Zell was only nine, Quistis gained custody of the children, but she was a very busy woman, being first deputy headmistress, then full headmistress of Balamb Garden. Quistis rarely had free time after her work was over, and often slept through evenings while Zell and Yana played in their playroom. Quistis was always on hand to kiss them goodnight, but on many occasions, that was the only thing she said to her children after arriving home from the Garden, leaving the actual raising of her children to their hired nanny. Eventually, Zell enrolled in Balamb Garden, hoping to get closer to his mother that way, but he was told in no uncertain terms by Quistis that he would receive no special treatment during his stay there, and he often found himself on the receiving end of disciplinary measures dealt out by Quistis, either for retaliating to a fellow student’s jibes about being the son of the headmistress, or for his grades, which he always struggled to keep above pass level. What hurt Zell the most, though, was that every time Quistis finished her dressing-down of Zell, she said the words ‘I’m disappointed in you, Zell.’ Those words made Zell even more upset than any scary look his father could ever give him. Eventually, Zell started to long for the school holidays, which he always spent with Seifer, because his father never graded or judged him, he only loved him. And while Seifer still got angry, and often (although always briefly) ‘the look’ would resurface, Zell knew that deep down, he was number one in Seifer’s eyes. However, he doubted that he could say the same thing about his mother.

“What’s up, son?” Seifer asked after a prolonged pause from Zell, which involved neither talking nor eating. Zell put his fork down and flashed a brief smile at his concerned father.

“I-I’m just worried about Connor and Sarah, that’s all,” Zell muttered, before resuming his eating.

“They’re in the best possible hands here,” Seifer replied. “They’re going to be fine, don’t you worry.” Seifer then leaned in a little closer to his son, and whispered to him.

“Although,” he whispered, trying to sound as reassuring as possible, “that’s not the only reason you’re quieter than usual today, is it?” Zell didn’t answer his father’s question, merely going back to slowly eating his meal.

“I understand,” Seifer whispered to his son, in a friendly manner. “You want your mother to be here with you. It’s only natural.” Zell put his fork down, and whispered back to his father.

“You don’t mind?” He asked his dad, cautiously.

“Why would I mind?” Seifer asked in return. “Even though she ain’t my wife any more,” he continued, with a pang of regret in his voice, “it doesn’t mean she isn’t your mother. If I were in your position, I’d want her down here so badly, I wouldn’t be nearly as quiet as you’re being.” Zell smiled, and picked his fork back up again.

“She won’t come down, though,” he said, regretfully.

“Hey,” Seifer retorted, “she’s a busy woman, but she’s always got time for her children, I’ll give her that much. She’s got her priorities right.” Seifer grinned, and Zell flashed his father a brief, but genuine smile of his own.

“Thanks,” Zell said, going back to his dinner.

“No,” Seifer said, “thank you for being the best son I could ever have hoped for. I’m proud of you, Zell.”

“What if I haven’t passed?” Zell asked, nervously.

“You have passed, I’ve told you before,” Seifer retorted. “And even if they’ve made a mistake and you haven’t, then I’m proud of you for putting in the effort.” Zell smiled again.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said, as both Almasy men continued eating their dinners.

In the infirmary, another father and another son were sitting, eating their dinners, but while Irvine Kinneas’s meal was being eating with a knife and fork, Connor Kinneas’s meal consisted of an IV drip filled with nutrients, as he had yet to regain consciousness. Nonetheless, Irvine was talking to his son, keeping him up-to-date regarding plans for Selphie’s birthday party.

“You know, son,” Irvine said between mouthfuls, “I’ve never seen Trabia look so festive, not even during the Hyne festival.” Irvine paused briefly, remembering that by the time his son would be well enough to travel, all the decorations would have been pulled down. “It’s a shame you ain’t gonna get to see it, I know Sefie would’ve wanted you there. Hell, she’d have dragged you across the sea herself if it meant you were there for her birthday.” Irvine paused again- it was getting very late in the evening, and the Garden’s helipad had already shut for the night. He’d telephoned Selphie earlier that evening, and although she’d agreed that he should stay at Connor’s bedside until he regained consciousness, he couldn’t shake the guilt that he was feeling over missing his wife’s birthday. “Both of us, in fact…” Irvine continued, mournfully. He was about to put another forkful of food into his mouth when, suddenly, a pair of hands appeared over his eyes, cutting off his vision.

“Guess who!” A VERY familiar perky woman’s voice whispered in Irvine’s ear. Immediately, the forty-year old sniper cheered up about as much as it’s possible to- he knew the owner of the pair of hands very well indeed. Irvine stood up, and gave his wife a long, tight hug.

“I’ve missed you,” Irvine whispered in Selphie’s ear. Selphie merely giggled.

“We haven’t been apart for more than a day, you silly!” She retorted, still giggling almost uncontrollably.

“Maybe,” Irvine replied, smiling coolly, “but that’s still too long for me.”

“And what ISN’T too long for you then, Irvine Kinneas?” Selphie asked, no longer giggling but still grinning almost maniacally.

“Nothing,” Irvine answered coolly, before giving his wife a brief, soft kiss on the lips. The couple’s attention then turned to the young man who was lying in the bed, just beside them. Selphie gulped- she’d been deliberately avoiding the subject in the vain hope that it would go away of it’s own accord, but she knew that she’d have to face it sooner or later.

“H-how is he?” Selphie asked her husband, nervously.

“He’s gonna be fine,” Irvine said reassuringly, while smiling down on his wife. “He’s just got a concussion and a few broken ribs, that’s all.” Selphie nodded, but she was still concerned- to her, Connor was still her little boy, and he was hurt, and he needed his mother. Immediately, she broke from her husband’s embrace, and sat down beside her son.

“Connor?” She asked, hesitantly. “Can you hear me, Connor?” Irvine went and sat down next to his wife, placing a comforting arm around her shoulder as he did so.

“He’s gonna be out for a while, Sefie,” Irvine quietly told his wife. “At least until tomorrow morning.” Dejectedly, Selphie nodded, and rose from her chair.

“I’ll just have to stay overnight, then,” Selphie stated, defiantly.

“But-“ Irvine started to protest, taking care not to spoil Selphie’s surprise birthday party, “didn’t you want to be in Trabia for your birthday?”

“Nope!” Selphie replied, her defiance not wavering one bit. “Not when my family is all here.” Irvine sighed- Selphie was one of the most strong-willed people he knew, and she rarely, if ever, changed her mind over anything.

“Sefie,” Irvine started, before he was interrupted by the perky brunette.

“Oh, Irvy,” Selphie replied, giggling, “you’re not worried that I’m gonna miss the huge birthday celebration you had planned, are you?” Irvine’s jaw dropped- How did she know? He thought to himself, incredulously. Selphie simply giggled some more at her husband’s reaction, and gave the tall sniper a quick hug.

“Come on, Irvy-poo,” Selphie continued, “Nothing happens at that Garden without me knowing about it. Surely you know that by now?” Irvine, knowing that he’d been caught out, simply tilted his trademark hat back, and laughed.

“Yeah,” he said, still laughing, “I should do, shouldn’t I?” Selphie and Irvine laughed and hugged for a while longer, before their attention turned back to the boy who was lying on the hospital bed.

“He isn’t going to be awake until tomorrow morning?” Selphie asked her husband, who replied by nodding.

“Yeah,” Irvine said, “that’s what the doctors told me, anyway. I was gonna stay with him overnight, just in case he woke up earlier.” Selphie smiled, and sat down in the same chair Irvine was sitting in when she entered the room.

“Well,” she said, spunkily, “now we’ll both be here if he wakes up early.” Irvine smiled, and sat down next to his wife, putting his arm around her slight frame and holding her close to him.

“Perfect,” he said, as Selphie gently rested her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes, praying that when she opened them, her son would be awake…

Sarah was falling. She didn’t know how long she’d been falling, or where she was falling from, exactly, but she knew that she was falling, and she was scared. All around her, she could see images of her past- images of the day she enrolled at Balamb Garden, the day she first learnt to use her trusty chain whip, and the day, one month before all that, when she’d found out her father had died. Below her, Sarah could see a tiny orange dot appear, then suddenly grow bigger. Sarah immediately knew what the orange was- it was fire, the very fire of hell itself. Without even slowing down, she plunged straight into the fire. Immediately, her muscles froze up completely, refusing to move. Sarah could feel the extreme agony of the fire, but her jaw muscles had frozen solid, meaning she couldn’t even scream, couldn’t even blink. She felt her heartbeat increase rapidly as she plunged deeper and deeper into the never-ending fire, until, eventually, the pain became so severe that her vision turned to white. Anxiously, she tried to start breathing, but her mouth wouldn’t open, and her lungs wouldn’t draw in air. Sarah began to panic, desperately trying to move a muscle, any muscle in an attempt to draw in air, but it was futile. Just as Sarah’s vision started to fade, and her lungs felt like they were about to explode, her eyes closed, and the pain left her entirely. She opened her eyes, and found that she was lying in a bed in the infirmary of Balamb Garden, with her left leg in a cast from the hip to the ankle, and with a massive pain starting to develop just in front of her left temple. Sarah took several deep breaths, in an attempt to fill her lungs. She had just about got her breath back when she was aware of someone sitting down on her right hand side, and then leaning in toward her. Slowly, Sarah turned her throbbing head to face the mystery person, whom she quickly identified.

“Hi,” Sarah said, weakly.

“Hi,” Sarah’s eldest sister said in reply. “Bad dream?”

“The same as usual, Jules,” Sarah replied. “The falling, the flames, it hasn’t changed.” Just then, a doctor entered the room, and sat down beside Jules.

“Hello,” the doctor said to Sarah, “welcome back to the land of the living!” Sarah merely snorted at the doctor’s remark.

“Barely living, more like,” the sixteen-year old girl replied. “I feel like I’ve been blown up.”

“Technically, you were, almost,” Jules interjected.

“What?” Sarah asked in reply.

“I need to ask you a few questions,” the doctor said, interrupting Sarah’s train of thought. “I need your name, age and rank.”

“Sarah Edea Leonheart,” Sarah began, “cadet, first class, and I’m 16 years 3 months old.”

“Good, good,” the doctor said, nodding her head before continuing her interrogation. “What do you remember about the mission?” Sarah closed her eyes, and concentrated.

“We were in an abandoned warehouse,” Sarah stated, mentally returning to her exam, “Where we had been told the kidnapped Dollet minister was being held. Me, Connor and Zell entered through the front door, but we had tripped some sort of laser beam or something. I spotted a mine stuck to a wall, about 2 feet from where we were standing. I walked over to it, to try to disarm it, but it- it all went blank. The next thing I know, I’m fal- I’m, er, waking up here.”

“Is that all?” The doctor asked. Sarah slowly nodded.

“I can’t remember anything else.”

“That’s alright,” the doctor said, “you should just rest now. Your injuries are quite extensive- you have a broken femur, several cracked ribs and a fractured skull, not to mention a bruised lung, blood loss and shock. In fact, you’re lucky to be alive. We’ve treated your minor wounds, such as cuts and lacerations, with magic, but there’s no white magic powerful enough to mend a broken bone, or to replace blood, I’m afraid. Just good old-fashioned medicine and bed rest will do here.”

“I understand,” Sarah replied, very disappointed.

“We’ll be in to treat you with magic spells every two hours, but we’ll be sure to try not to wake you. You really should sleep now, regain your strength,” the doctor stated, as she prepared to leave.

“Wait,” Sarah asked, firmly, “what about Connor and Zell?” The doctor smiled, making Sarah smile slightly too. Good news, she thought to herself.

“They got off lightly, compared to you,” the doctor said, confirming Sarah’s hopes. “Now you rest!” The doctor ordered, jokingly.

“Alright,” Sarah said, trying to make herself more comfortable in her bed. The doctor nodded, and headed back into the main body of the infirmary.

“I’d better be going too,” Jules said, quietly.

“But you only just got here…” Sarah complained, as Jules stood up and put on her denim jacket, which had previously been dumped on her chair.

“I’ve been here an hour and a half, Sarah,” Jules replied, laughing. “I was beginning to worry that you’d never regain consciousness.”

“Well you’d better be here when I wake up,” Sarah said, starting to pout slightly as Jules headed toward the door of her room.

“Don’t worry,” Jules replied, “I intend to be.” With that, Jules winked at Sarah, and left the young woman all on her own. With nothing better to do, Sarah closed her eyes, and drifted back off to sleep…

Sarah was falling. She knew the sensation only too well, but it never got any less scary, no matter how many times it happened to her. Beneath her, she could see the bright orange dot appear, and quickly grow into the large pool of fire she knew was coming. As always, she plunged straight into the fire, and her muscles froze as the flames started to burn her flesh. However, something then happened that shocked Sarah in a pleasant way.

All of a sudden, a barrier appeared between her and the flames. A small, skin-tight one at first, but it then grew into a sphere, completely surrounding Sarah. The young woman then felt her entire body start to glow with energy, almost as if someone had plugged her body into an electric socket. With her mind, Sarah extended the shell surrounding her, until it had completely extinguished the orange flames. Sarah began to laugh out loud, in a state of sheer ecstasy over what had happened.

“Take the gift I have given you,” a small, female voice whispered in Sarah’s mind. “Be the one you know you should be… that you were destined to be…” Sarah felt the energy inside her grow and grow, until Sarah herself was almost bursting under the pressure of it. All of a sudden, Sarah felt herself black out under the pressure.

“No…” Sarah said as her vision faded, “I want more…”

The second Sarah awoke in her bed in the infirmary, she knew that something was different. That SHE was different. She could still feel the energy within her, still as potent, still as great a pressure as it was before. Sarah could almost feel herself about to burst through the roof at a moment’s notice, the pressure was that great. However, unlike in her dream, Sarah could identify exactly what the energy inside her was.


Slowly, Sarah let her eyes close again, although the magical energy she could feel inside her guaranteed that there was no way she would get to sleep again. Reaching into her mind, Sarah made contact with her guardian force, Shinryu. It, like Sarah, could feel the increased energy within the young woman. Sensing Sarah’s will to communicate with it, Shinryu projected a feeling of concern into Sarah’s consciousness. Sensing Shinryu’s hesitance, Sarah thought confident, strong-willed thoughts, easing the magical creature’s concerns. Using the same non-verbal communication, Sarah then ordered Shinryu to junction all of her ultima magic to her magic-casting ability. The guardian force, however, was reluctant, and appeared before Sarah, at the end of her bed.

I THINK THIS IS A BAD IDEA,” the beast said in a voice only Sarah could hear. However, Sarah merely shook her head.

“I know what I’m doing,” she said, defiantly, as Shinryu lowered its scaled head in compliance.

AS YOU WISH, ” it said, before vanishing back into Sarah’s mind. “PREPARE YOURSELF.” Sarah took a deep breath in, waiting for the surge she knew was coming.

As Sarah exhaled, she felt her body’s energy increase again, only this time, it was much more potent than before. She could literally feel the magical energy flowing through her body as if it were her blood. The energy was almost calling to Sarah, asking her, begging her to be used. With a confident smile on her lips, Sarah once again closed her eyes.

“A test,” she said, as she stretched her palm out in front of her, and summoned forth a fire spell, which would, under normal circumstances, have just produced a roughly two foot high yellow flame for a few seconds, before dissipating.

However, Sarah’s fire spell was potent, much more potent. Sarah watched as the flames sprung forth from her palm, engulfing the entire room. Immediately taking control with her mind, Sarah stopped the flames before they could do any damage to the room, but they continued to burn, hotter and brighter than even the most potent firaga spell Sarah had ever cast. The flames grew brighter, until they were a blinding white. Sarah looked around in awe- she had not even finished casting the spell, and the results were greater than anything she could have hoped for. As the magic finally finished flowing from Sarah’s body, Sarah concentrated her attention on a chair at the end of her bed, which she had shielded from the flames. Reaching out with her mind again, she cast a float spell on it, but, like her fire spell, she found that the magic was more powerful than ever before. Sarah found that, with her mind alone, she could move the aluminium chair anywhere she wanted. Taking care not to let any of the still-raging fire spell get out of hand, she slowly let it engulf the levitating chair.

A mere split-second later, a puddle of molten aluminium appeared on the floor, underneath where the chair used to be. Sarah watched as the liquid metal soaked into the carpet, charring it beyond recognition. The former chair quickly hardened into it’s new shape, that of a roughly circular, half-inch thick splat on the floor, while Sarah continued watching on, in awe of her new power. Within a few minutes, Sarah’s fire spell to started to dissipate, eventually glowing dimmer and dimmer, until it turned into a small red flame, just in front of where she had cast it to begin with. There, it finally winked out. Sarah leaned her head back on her pillows. She felt exhilarated- she had never felt such power before in her life, and she wanted more. Her two spells had not even begun to diminish the energy that had built up inside her. Turning her attention to the pain that was still very much present in her left thigh, Sarah smiled confidently again. She focused on the top half of her plaster cast, and cast another float spell, tearing it from the bottom half. Sarah, with her mind, simply threw the broken lump of plaster across the room, and took a long look at her thigh. It was not how it should have looked- it was badly swollen and badly bruised virtually all the way from her hip to her knee, and it had noticeable scars all over from where the doctors had earlier operated. Reaching into her mind, Sarah summoned forth a curaga spell, and felt the healing energy rapidly begin to accumulate in her hand. After a few seconds, it had accumulated fully, and Sarah took a deep breath, before bringing her magically charged fist down, hard, on the exact spot of her broken bone. Sarah threw her head back in sheer agony, barely stifling a scream, as the magic began to take its course. In her leg, Sarah could feel the magic mercilessly work its way to the break, tearing away the bolts that had been placed there by the surgeons, and mercilessly shooting them out of the side of Sarah’s thigh, before going to work on the bone, dragging it back into location and knitting the bone together. Once the magic had finished, and the bone was good as new, it spread outward into the muscles in Sarah’s thigh, strengthening and firming them up as much as possible, before finally mending all of the broken blood vessels in her skin, healing it up totally and removing all of the bruising that had previously been there. With the spell ended, Sarah leant her head back onto the pillows, gasping for air. The pain she had been in had been extreme, to say the least, but once the spell had run it’s course, the pain, even the pain from her injury, had vanished totally. Sarah looked down at her thigh- it was just like any other ordinary thigh, totally devoid of scarring, swelling or even bruising of any kind. It even looked healthier than her right thigh, which hadn’t even been injured in the first place. Slowly, Sarah flexed her left leg, bringing her knee up to her chest. No pain… she thought to herself, almost laughing out loud. No pain! She let her leg flop back besides her other one, as she started to fully laugh out loud. As she did so, however, she began to feel the pain of her broken ribs, and her laughter soon subsided. Damn, Sarah thought to herself, forgot about my ribs. Well, that’s a problem that can soon be solved. Sarah summoned forth another curaga spell in her hand, and, once it had fully accumulated, she pushed her fist into the side of her chest, into the exact centre of the pain. Once again, Sarah felt the magic go about its task, and felt the agony that came with it. Her breathing was restricted to mere shallow gasps as her ribs were pulled and pushed together inside her chest, and her vision began to blur and fade, before the magic spell finished, and Sarah was left with no pain at all. Gingerly, she placed her hand on the side of her ribcage and pushed. As it was with her thigh, there was no pain in her ribs at all- they were as good as new, better, if that’s possible. Sarah clenched her hand into a fist, and gave her chest a light, yet firm, punch. There was still no pain. Once again, Sarah laughed out loud, louder than before, as her chest was no longer injured. However, her skull still was, and it soon began to throb, as Sarah’s laughs grew louder.

“Hmm,” Sarah mused to herself, as she stopped laughing, “Looks like I still have one injury to take care of.” Again, Sarah began to accumulate a curaga spell in her fist, and, once it was ready, she took a deep breath (to brace herself for the inevitable pain), and she pressed her fist into her skull.

The pain that ran through her skull was intense, yet not unexpected. However, Sarah was not braced for the side-effects of her magic spell- she began to feel weird sensations as, unbeknownst to her, the magic began seeping through the cracks in her skull, and into her brain. While the curaga spell was successful in curing Sarah’s fractured spell, the magic that was left over in her brain started to run amok, blocking synapses and playing around with Sarah’s memories.

To Sarah, it was as if she was in some kind of nightmare- images from her past began to spring up uncontrollably, only they had been significantly, and disturbingly altered. Sarah saw images of her parents as they were in the past, but they were never the same age- when her father was in his mid-twenties, her mother was in her late thirties; when her father was in his mid-thirties, her mother looked barely out of her teens. Images of her sisters flowed through her mind, images of her friends, people she’d met, and places she’d visited. Then, suddenly, Sarah’s vision was dominated by an image that terrified Sarah to her very core. She saw the outline, almost a shadow, of what appeared to be a woman, approach her and call out to her.

“Sarah…” the woman called in her frighteningly calm voice, “Sarah… come to me. You cannot deny your own destiny.” The shadow began to envelope Sarah, and she felt her mind begin to twist and warp. Suddenly, her head was filled with crazed, power-hungry thoughts, and another image began to form in her mind- however, unlike the other images she had seen, this one was clear, and distinct. Six young men and women stood before her as she eyed them from upon her throne. Six young men and women Sarah knew immediately- her parents, Squall and Rinoa; her headmistress, Quistis; Connor’s parents, Irvine and Selphie; and last but not least, Zell Dincht, a man Sarah had not known personally but about whom she had read since she was four. All of them faced her, weapons drawn, and with angry, determined expressions on their faces. Sarah began to rise from her throne…

“NO!” Sarah yelled, backing out of the shadow that had briefly consumed her. She turned, and ran away from the shadow as fast as her legs could take her. She didn’t know how or when she’d entered the castle, Sarah only knew she had to get out of it as fast as she possibly could. Sarah ran through hallways and passages, until she came to a long, straight corridor, at the end of which was a bright, white light. Closing her eyes, and screaming as loud as she could, Sarah ran as fast as she could and dived headlong into the blinding light…

Part 2