Part 1 of the Triumvirate Arc
“Well, isn’t this the life,” Seifer Almasy sighed to no one, watching the sun rise over Dollet Bay and paint the waters warm tones of pink and yellow. “No worries. No cares, and not a responsibility in sight.” He sighed again, lifting one arm to cradle his head, pulling his trench coat up over his body with the other. His teeth chattered in the chill of the morning air.
But to say that Seifer Almasy lived homeless and alone under Dollet Bridge would not have been entirely correct.
Seifer Almasy, former Balamb Garden Student, Sorceress’ Knight, Leader of the Galbadian Army and Failure, not necessarily in that order, lived homeless and alone under Dollet Bridge with a dog, and this in itself would not have been remarkable save for the fact that this stray dog was the exact same animal that had pestered him during his umpteenth SeeD Exam in Dollet so long ago. The scruffy animal that he had kicked and cursed at had followed him around faithfully since his arrival several months ago. It simply refused to leave him alone, and in time, Seifer had come to appreciate that.
“Hmm? Oh Yes, nothing but lots and lots of water.”
The dog talked to him.
And not in the incomprehensible doggy language of barks and yelps, tail wags and tongue lickings either, but honest-to-Hyne everyday conversational Balambese.
“Did I ask you, Scrub?”
The dog sat up on its haunches, scratching blissfully behind its left ear. “I am not a ‘scrub’, as you so delicately put it. In fact, my great-grandfather’s second cousin’s uncle’s brother twice removed was a prize winning blue-blooded Winhillian Sheep Dog.”
Briefly Seifer had pondered whether this phenomenon was the result of too many swigs of the liquor he used to dull the pain from the beatings during the day and to keep warm at night, or the result of a deranged state of mind brought on by head trauma and malnutrition. Maybe he was finally losing it.
But then he had decided he honestly didn’t care. “Whatever floats your boat, Scrub.”
With the sun beginning to make its ascent over the horizon, the tall blond stood and stumbled over the trash strewn over the pebbles and sand to a sack hidden in the shadow of a girder. He stuck a hand in the sack, rummaging until he came up with a sickly-looking apple with brown spots and 2 half-eaten sugar wafers, and made his way back to the pile of old rags, shredded clothes and aquatic reeds that made up his bed, settling back down to enjoy his breakfast.
Seifer made sure to throw both wafers to the dog before he bit into the apple, chewing slowly as the water lapped at the shore. Food had become scarce since he’d left the D-District Prison. He was careful to savor each mouthful of the overripe fruit, although if he tried…really tried…he could almost see himself back in the grove of fruit trees in the Garden Quad.
Yeah, Seifer smiled to himself, there he was, Seifer Almasy in full glory walking through the Quad, smirking at the students. “Ooh, it’s the DC!” “Better watch out!” It was like he never left. Fujin and Raijin were standing around like old times, handing out demerits (“VIOLATION!” “Sorry, ya know, but there’s no running in the Quad, ya know?”) while he took a break, walking around looking for something to eat, and there, on the highest branch of a tree near him, a succulent Golden Delicious, the most perfect apple he’d ever seen.
But even in his imagination, it was too good to be true.
Seifer frowned as someone came striding towards him from the opposite direction. It was a figure he recognized…belts, black leather, and a scowl to match; Squall Leonhart was heading right for the same fruit tree, eyes intent on the prize.
“Dammit, Leonhart! That’s my apple!”
Seifer growled, picking up speed, breaking into a run when Squall did the same. Yeah, he knew he didn’t really deserve to get ahold of it... He knew Leonhart was better than he was, better at everything, he’d practically had the sentiment shoved down his throat these past few months, but he’d seen it first and he was hungry and it was his apple! His! The tall blond almost cried as he reached the apple tree before the SeeD Commander, climbing up the branches with a practiced ease towards the top. Somewhere about midway, he chanced a look down.
Squall had begun to climb the bottom branches of the tree, and to Seifer’s frustration, he was not alone. Yet another figure had joined the chase for the fruit, and though Seifer could not make out who it was through the leaves, there was something familiar about the person. Was he…was he actually wearing a cowboy hat? The scarred blond shook his head, turning back toward the top and the fruit so golden it seemed to glow. Another few feet and it would be his…
Seifer cried triumphantly as he reached the top; with a blatant disregard for safety, he leaned out on the slender branch beneath him and reached for the golden fruit…almost touching it, feeling it within his grasp…almost…almost…
“What on earth are you doing?”
Seifer made a face as reality under Dollet Bridge came crashing back down with a vengeance. “I’m thinking about making you into a fur coat. It’s too damned cold.” The blond shivered miserably, shoving the core of the half-rotten apple into his mouth and pulling his beloved trench coat over him like a blanket. “Why the hell did I come here?”
It was a rhetorical question, of course. He knew damn well why he’d come to a backwater town like Dollet.
“Retribution,” Seifer muttered. “Gotta make amends for trying to blast the planet into oblivion. I mean, really, where the hell did you think you were gonna live, Almasy? Huh? The Moon? Did ya think Ultimecia was gonna keep a brainwashed knight around for kicks?” The blond sneered with disgust. “Stupid…”
“You’re not stupid.”
“Yeah,” Seifer shook his head, “I am. Stupid and drunk.”
“And you’re not drunk.”
“I’d have to be pretty drunk to hear a talking dog,” Seifer retorted. “That, or completely nuts.”
The dog shot him a decidedly canine-ish grin and wagged his tail. “Well, I can’t vouch for your sanity, but you’re definitely not drunk.”
“And just how the hell do you know?”
“I’m a dog,” the animal sniffed. “We just know these things.”
“Well, la-dee-da for you,” Seifer coughed. “You got radar, or does the doggy fairy just whisper it in your ear at night?”
“I can tell by your scent. I smell the alcohol in your bloodstream, and it’s not enough to make you drunk…” the dog watched Seifer cough again into his hand, “although you do seem to be a bit feverish. Humans are so susceptible to illness. It’s probably the lack of fur.”
“Thank you, Doctor Dog. Want me to take two aspirin and roll over?”
“If that is supposed to be a stab at canine humor, let me tell you it was an extremely unsuccessful attempt.”
“Aah,” Seifer waved a hand in the air, “give me a while to get warmed up.”
“Hmm.” The dog shook his head, sending a great deal of mud flying in all directions. “Now let me see, where were we? Ah yes, although you are rather unpleasant at times, you are most definitely not stupid and not drunk.”
“So how do you explain the fact that I can hear you, then?” Seifer challenged.
“Well, it’s not unheard of,” the dog blinked thoughtfully, “although as far as Talents go, it’s rather rare-”
A car overhead screeched to a tire-squealing, rubber-burning stop, abruptly putting an end to the conversation. Seifer tensed in the growing silence, already half on his feet in case he (with his dog, of course – friends were too few and far between to go leaving them behind) needed to make a run for it. Maybe there was just something in the road? Oil slick? Some debris…? Yeah, right, not with his luck.
Seifer cursed softly under his breath at the unmistakable sound of a car door opening. He slashed a hand across the air as Scrub began to growl, but the sound of footsteps running directly above them rather then toward the stairs at the side of the bridge reassured Seifer that whoever it was wasn’t there to gut him.
He allowed himself a shallow breath, squinting as something dark plummeted from above into the water, and as swiftly as the unseen person or persons had come, the footsteps retreated. The door slammed closed. The car raced off, leaving Seifer Almasy and Scrub the dog doubtfully eying the thing floating in the shallows of Dollet Bay.
“What is it, do you think?”
“Dunno,” Seifer replied. He stood and cautiously approached the littered beach with Scrub emitting a curious ‘whoof’ from beside him.
“It looks like a sack, but what’s in it?” The dog glanced at him expectantly.
The tall blond pursed his lips and blew out his breath. “Well, we’re not gonna find out standing here, that’s for-”
“What the hell?” Seifer suddenly jerked forward, tearing off his trench coat and wading into the shallows in the same movement. “It’s moving!”
Whatever it was, was moving… and moving quite a bit, in fact. The sack roiled furiously in protest as it began to slip beneath the surface, making Seifer plunge deeper even as he gritted his teeth against the icy water lapping at his legs.
“It’s going to go under!”
Scrub ran around in tight circles of nervousness.
“Tell me something I don’t know, for Hyne’s sake!” Seifer growled, watching the sack sink from view. “Dammit! Come here, you!” He thrust an arm in to the shoulder, fumbling under the water while Scrub paced and whined back on shore, scruffy canine ears held flat to his head. After a moment of grunting and cursing, the blond’s hand finally shot up with the drenched cloth bag victoriously held aloft. “Ah ha!”
The dog barked once, gleefully wagging its tail.
“What’s in it?”
“Beats the hell outta me.” A grinning Seifer Almasy waded back to shore with the bag in hand. Safely back in the relative comfort of his makeshift bedding, tattered gray trench coat once again wrapped around his shaking form, he set to work on opening it; his numb fingers slowly worked the neck of the sack. “It’s tied shut…” he murmured, absently snuggling against Scrub as the dog settled against him.
“Is it still moving?”
In answer, the bag gave a frantic twitch followed by a sneeze. “That would be a yes.”
“Well, then?” The dog’s nose wiggled impatiently. “Are you planning to open it sometime today with those clever paws of yours?”
“For cryin’ out loud, you wanna do this?” Seifer grumbled. “Don’t be a pest, Scrub. I’ve almost got it… Yep, there it goes.” He unwrapped the last of the twine from the opening of the sack and threw it aside. “Now, let’s see what we got here…”
Almost instantly, a tiny, sodden body emerged from the bag, dripping pathetically as Seifer cupped it in his hands and brought it to his face. He stared in disbelief. The animal stared back, silent.
And then it began to rumble.
“Of all the rotten luck.” Scrub placed both paws over his black nose in a doglike show of disgust. “There goes the neighborhood.”
“It’s a kitten…” Seifer breathed. The tall blond stared raptly at the soggy, purring little creature, eyes softening, then subsequently hardening into blue-green agates, indignation flaring to life in his chest like a sparkler on Galbadian Independence Day.
“What kind of sick fuck would try to drown a kitten?!”
“Bartholomew Dunwitty, huh?”
Irvine breathed into his cupped palms as they stepped off of the cobblestone main street and made their way up the marble steps of Dollet’s City Hall. “Now, that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. Don’t know the man personally, understand, ‘tho I knew folks that knew him. Supposedly a real character. Matter of fact, I heard tell he was caught up in some dirty dealing doing racketeering, contraband and the like for the Deling Administration.”
“Interesting,” Squall replied without enthusiasm.
He was too busy trying to feel his fingers.
They’d taken the Speeder by night across the Galbadian Sea to Dollet, only to be welcomed the next morning by crisp, cool ocean air that stung their faces and took their breath away. Hyne, but when had it gotten so cold? And more to the point, when had he gotten so soft? Squall scowled, wrapping his arms about his body as they climbed. Too many consecutive days spent in the temperate climate of Balamb had ruined him for weather like this, even with his trademark black leather bomber jacket.
“It’s cold,” he said shortly. He paused on the top step and turned, eyes narrowing on the sea. It had been positively brutal by the waterfront.
“Yep, good ole’ Galbadia,” his companion’s teeth chattered in agreement. “Not like Balamb, I’ll say that. Don’t know how I ever managed to get by without it bein’ damn near 80 degrees every day…”
They couldn’t help but share a wistful look before Irvine’s features took on a decidedly smug air.
“Gives me a chance to work on m’tan.”
Squall grunted, shaking his head. “Ah, SeeD, the pride of Balamb. I’m glad I pay you all that gil to go sunbathing.”
Irvine widened his eyes in mock-disbelief.
“Squall! As I live and breathe, I’ll have ya know,” Irvine drawled broadly, every ‘I’ coming out an ‘ah’, “that I happen to resent that remark. Sometimes I play beach volleyball with Selphie and her girlfriends, too.”
“And there’s a stimulating past time,” Squall retorted. His lips twitched when the cowboy bowed appreciatively, holding onto his hat as he did so. “Meanwhile, I’m writing reports in triplicate and on the phone with the good Mayor Dun-witless…Gods,” the slender Commander groaned suddenly, “I did it again!”
Squall waved his hands in the air. “…”
“Spoke, you mean?” Irvine raised an eyebrow. “Told me what’s on your mind?”
“But there’s no harm in that!”
“Isn’t there?” Squall asked dryly. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”
“Well, just so’s you know…” Irvine bit his lip before daring to place a firm hand on one black leather shoulder, the cowboy’s handsome, clever, smiling face turning uncharacteristically serious as he met Squall’s stare, “I would never betray your confidence.”
“I know you wouldn’t, Irvine.” Squall blinked in surprise, feeling his face flush in light of the warmth and respect in those blue eyes. “But I can’t just keep saying these things.”
Irvine’s blue eyes sparkled, crinkling, once again filled with mirth. “Why not?” he demanded. “A man’s gotta vent his spleen once in a while, Squall, and last time I checked you fit into that category-”
“Irvine, I’m the SeeD Commander. I can’t go around making snide comments about our clients…”
“My dear Commander, welcome…”
At that very second, the green double doors behind them threw themselves open, and the fat little client in question stepped out to greet them with clicking cameras and prattling news reporters in tow.
“My dear Commander, so good to see you! You’re early, but that’s fine, perfectly fine, don’t think anything of it, we have plenty of press gathered here already and you don’t mind some publicity shots, do you?” Mayor Dunwitty chuckled above the din of shouted questions and exploding flashes. “Of course you don’t… Oh, the light is so much better over here, don’t you think?”
Squall winced as Dunwitty made a beeline for him.
“At least,” whispered Irvine, who eyed the stout little caricature of a man rather dubiously, “not until after we’ve gotten paid, huh?”
“It isn’t a kitten.”
“Hmm?” Seifer threw a distracted glance at the dog digging in the sand. “What was that, Scrub?”
“I said, ‘it isn’t a kitten’,” Scrub intoned. He waited and flicked his tail pointedly between his legs, though his shivering, disheveled master was oblivious to the sentiment... Rather, the tall blond held his fingers out for the not-kitten to sniff, murmuring with delight as the animal gave him a few licks with its dainty tongue so that Scrub was forced to abandon any expectations of a reply.
By the Dog Star, the canine thought with an upward glance. This was going to be hard.
“It’s a monster,” Scrub sighed at last. “And I am not referring to its temperament. That animal that is currently busy tasting you is a monster.”
“You don’t say…?” His master stroked the not-kitten’s back, smiling as it arched against cracked fingertips. “I’ve never seen one that looks like Brutus, here.”
“Likely because it’s a juvenile of its kind and monsters rarely allow their young to be seen by those not in their family group…” Scrub trailed off and poised one foreleg over the sizable hole he’d managed to create, grimacing at the small animal for the hundredth time since his human had saved it from a watery grave in Dollet Bay.
Certainly no living thing deserved to die alone in a cold, wet place for lack of air… And the creature was undeniably cute; purring away in sheer contentment, cuddled against the broad chest of his human, it was adorable, even. Dried out and warmed (with some help from the gray trench that served jointly as blanket/jacket/towel), the tiny animal had proven to have a long, full coat of soft tawny fur, soft golden ears –one of which was notched—and an equally soft, gold fluffy tail that it whipped around with great enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, a vague otherworldly spicy scent that tickled his nose every time he was downwind from the creature told him that it was inarguably a monster. For a moment, the dog held its breath as Seifer held the tiny thing at arms’ length, only to release it all in a low woof when the tall blond shifted the not-kitten to his other side. It was no use; the creature’s large, trusting green eyes followed his master’s every movement, and his master was just as intent on returning the favor.
Scrub then gave a hopeless sigh, hangdog eyes far more hangdog-ish then usual. “And it’s a runty juvenile at that. Just what on Terra is a ‘Brutus’?”
“It’s his name!” Seifer grinned proudly. “It just came to me. Not bad, huh?”
The dog slumped. “You’re not listening. The creature-”
“Brutus,” Seifer corrected automatically.
“Ahem. Brutus is most certainly not a kitten. Brutus, to give his precise scientific classification, is a young, carnivorous Lunarius Felinidae of the species Toramaranus.”
“All that for this little guy?” Seifer crooned, running his hands over the softer white hair of Brutus’ belly. “Aw, does Brutus like his tummy rubbed? Yes, he does… Yes, he does…”
“Good grief!” The dog rolled its eyes. “You’ve never rubbed my belly like that.”
“Stop whining, Scrub. You sound pathetic,” his master replied without sympathy.
“I am pathetic,” the dog sniffed, placing its paw over its nose. “Where did I go wrong? I’ve been loyal and faithful, but all I ever get is a pat every now and then and the odd snuggle or five, and sometimes you’ll feed me snacks and scratch my rump for me but you don’t do that nearly as often as I’d like whereas you’ll give some monster you just met a full body massage simply because it’s cute and helpless and making eyes at you-”
Seifer gave a snort, tossing his blond head slightly in irritation. “Scrub, what the hell are you talking about?”
The dog drew itself up onto its haunches. “Listen, and pay attention, please. Brutus. Is. A. Lunarius. Felinidae. Toramaranus.”
“You don’t have to go talking to me like I’m some kind of idiot…” Seifer replied, finally focusing on the scraggly canine, coughing into one hand. “Felinidae… That’s feline, obviously, I already figured that much out without help, thank you very much.... Lunarius… Lunar. Moon? Moon cat? What kind of cat comes from the m-?”
The tall blond’s jaw dropped. “Did you say…Toramaranus…?”
“Mm-hmm.” Scrub’s tongue lolled out, his tail thumping in approval.
“A…a Torama?” Seifer glanced down at the bundle of fur, blinking rapidly. “You’re saying it’s a baby Torama?”
The not-kitten mewed at him happily, scrambling out of his arms to scamper over his trench coat.
“That’s what I said.”
“But… A Torama?”
Scrub’s ear flicked in annoyance. “Yes, I believe I already made that clear.”
“Here in Dollet?” Seifer shook his head, slipping a hand under the creature when it missed its footing and slid several inches down his chest. He replaced it carefully on his shoulder, where it paused for a moment to survey its new surroundings before batting happily at his hair. “But how’d it get here?”
“The black market, of course.”
Having gotten through to his master at last, the dog busied itself sniffing a patch of grass, cocking his head speculatively at a large, black beetle. “For reasons that are quite beyond me, people will pay obscene amounts of money to own their own monster.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Seifer sighed. “But then why did someone go and toss this little guy?” He scratched the little feline absently on the head, wincing as it chewed affectionately on his ear.
“Runt of the litter.”
The dog lunged into a pile of dirt after the beetle and sneezed. “People don’t want to pay big money for undersized monsters. Since he was the smallest of his litter, no one would buy him, and the seller didn’t want immovable merchandise eating the profit.”
“So why not drown him in Dollet Bay with no one the wiser?” Seifer snorted. “Nice plan. Fuckin’ sicko… Someone oughta tie them up in a sack and drop them into the sea. See how they like it-”
The diminutive animal mewled again –a somewhat plaintive cry this time- and Seifer raised a blond, arced eyebrow. He cocked his head thoughtfully with the next mew. “Hungry, eh? I know the feeling.”
Scrub looked up, his nose brown with sand and mud. “Just how do you figure he’s hungry?”
Seifer shrugged. “He told me.”
“He most certainly didn’t!” The dog’s eyes widened in disbelief. “He’s far too young yet!”
“Maybe so…Ah, Gods!” The tall blond shuddered as a strong gust of wind lifted the trench coat from his damp body, but then the smirk returned to his face and he turned his attention back to Brutus. “But you don’t know for sure, do ya?” Seifer mumbled smugly.
“Cheeky.”And with a last regretful glance at the beetle making its way down the beach, Scrub returned to snuggle beside his master.
Return to Archive | next | previous