Setting 14: 2059 DAY 15, Archaeological Excavation Site on the Outskirts of Nova Trabia
"'Now you must cast aside your laziness,'
my master said, ‘for he who rests on down
or under covers cannot come to fame'."
"Outta my way, punk!"
Rajin knew that voice. He knew it through the entire duration of his fall. It was Seifer, his best buddy.
During their camaraderie Rajin had discovered, or assumed rather, that whenever Seifer called him a "punk," he meant it in an endearing way. The only way Rajin could rationalize and endure the actions of his leader, guide, and trusted friend towards him was to think of them as Seifer's means of showing concern and affection. How Seifer had just shoved him to the floor, then, must have meant that he had cared an awful lot. It was obviously prompted by some external threat, and in order preclude it from menacing Rajin, Seifer had moved in front of Rajin to face it. Pushing his friend altruistically away from harm, willingly stepping in between Rajin and the danger, and sacrificing himself to save his comrade from the assailant all spoke much of Seifer's lofty principles and character. Rajin looked up from his place in the dust, fully anticipating Seifer in his fighting stance, sword drawn and moving to strike the awful, awful Hexadragon.
Seifer Almasy calmly strolled by with a toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth, humming a few light notes from the moogle song. Fujin, expressionless as always, was right behind him, carrying a Tonberry lamp to light the way. Neither saw how the look of disappointment in Rajin's eyes. Suddenly, Rajin smiled and picked himself up.
He had figured it out and he was very clever for having done so. It was obvious that Fujin had meant to kick him to the floor or bash his head in with a rock. That was why Seifer had shoved him, not because he just felt like putting his colleague down.
No, Rajin reasoned, that would be too obvious, and Seifer is too clever for that.
Rajin knew better than to question Seifer's actions. While his motives and decisions were suspect at times, after a deed was done, there was little use in arguing with Seifer about whether or not to do it. If he had decided to do it, he obviously would have assessed all the risks and weighed them against the fruits of labor beforehand.
Thus, Rajin did not need to wonder why Seifer had shoved him instead of telling Fujin to put down the rock. Seifer probably had his reasons, and every time Rajin forced himself to ask for them, Seifer would be vexed. No doubt his reasons were too complex in a plan so convoluted that Rajin would not be able to understand them. Rajin had long since come to the conclusion that Seifer was a complicated man whose mind worked at light-speed, cranking out all sorts of ingenious ideas that Rajin had no hope to fathom himself.
Seifer's shoulders were bouncing up and down to match the beat of the moogle song that he'd really gotten into while humming. The song gave him good dreams, he'd told Rajin once after the latter had asked. Fujin was pretending as if nothing had happened.
That Fujin, thought Rajin, eyes narrowing on his subject, is trouble.
Some day he would show her. Yes, he would. Someday, he would buy shin-guards, and then she couldn't kick him there with the same effectiveness.
Rajin scrambled after Seifer and Fujin to complete the posse. As he did this, he was very conscious of the fact that he completed the posse, for no posse could consist of just two members. The awareness of the necessity and significance of his role in their gang was what kept him happy. He never thought to wonder if that was the sole reason they let him tag along.
The moogle song was just about finished when Seifer came to a dead end in the tunnel. He spit out his toothpick in a cavalier fashion and threw the sword he was carrying into the wall beside him where the blade remained, embedded in the hard stone. He then took off his jacket and shirt and picked up one of the pickaxes lying around on the passage floor. Rajin followed his example.
Earlier last night they had made quick work of the first eighteen feet of the tunnel they were constructing. By day they shoveled and they hauled it out and dispersed the debris by night. Seifer had cajoled the trusting missionary under whom they had been placed in custody that the entire posse needed to reconcile their qualms in their spirits with the divine will and to find their place in the world. Not a soul in the entire religious camp, set just outside Nova Trabia Town, believed otherwise. Thus, they were locked in to this underground chamber and, without anyone the wiser, had commenced digging in the direction of Nova Trabia Garden.
They only had to surface twice each day to be handed some sustenance before retreating back into their "hole of discovery." Seifer would not have bothered to stop digging and reassume his attire with the jacket had it not been necessary for them to receive their daily bread before the digging could recommence. However, the only thing they were discovering was that after eighteen feet, the walls no longer gave way to their shovels and axes like clay. Even Rajin was capable of figuring out that their stifled progress was inauspicious to the execution of Seifer's plan.
Fujin, however, lingered as the two men set to work, trying to work their way through the dense rock. Instead, she just stared at Seifer's blade that remained partially stuck in the wall. She walked over to it absent-mindedly and ran her fingers up and down its smooth surface. She was surprised how clean he kept the blade when hardly a day would pass in which he didn't sully it with someone's blood. The few times that he didn't run into any battles still somehow warranted his scrutinizing it, rubbing it with a cloth, and treating it so affectionately that it would be foolish to assume it didn't mean the world to him.
Why does it mean so much to him? Fujin asked herself.
It did not seem ordinary in anyway, but nevertheless, there had to be a story behind it. He never told her how he acquired this Kris-style blade, so broad that Fujin doubted if there was even a need to use the trigger part of the gun-blade. Seifer insisted on using it though, and his timing was impeccable. Not once had she seen his timing fail or his grip slip. Sure enough, every time he struck his foe, an explosion of gunpowder would follow in half a heartbeat.
She moved her fingers carefully around the edges, tracing the outline from where it was embedded in the rock to the handle extrusive handle. It pulsated slightly and emitted a blue aura at her initial caress, and then darkened again. Fujin hadn't expected the sword to react to her touch, but the thought of pulling back never occurred to her.
Where did he get this? she wondered, trying to remember the last she saw him carrying his Hyperion. The prison guards probably confiscated it they first captured us.
She looked at the Titanus* again, amused by the etchings of dragons on the side of the hilt.
*The idea of Titanus, its attributes, and the associated GF is the concoction of Dark Horse (sniper_3d @ yahoo.com) in "The Redemption."
Seifer must have hidden this before we were apprehended, she reasoned.
It made sense, after all; Seifer had let them take his Hyperion almost without a fight. It seemed so unlike him at the time to let some random constable, almost unworthy of holding his treasured Hyperion, deprive him of its company. How he endured that third-rate petty case of patrol officer's clumsy handling of his weapon had astonished both her and Rajin, but now she knew why Seifer had just smirked and callously looked away.
The studded rubies in the hilt that made up the dragons' eyes began to glow and the blade began to shake on its own accord. Fujin moved away and picked up a nearby spade, realizing that Titanus was waking. The interesting thing about the sword was that it housed a Guardian Force of the same name. However, she had yet to see Seifer actually summon Titanus the GF during a fight because he always vanquished his opponents so quickly with the blade itself.
Someday, she reflected smugly, opportunity would lend itself.
Seifer turned as Titanus rumbled to life, marveling at how the gun-blade steadily softened until it spilled onto the floor in a puddle of metallic jelly, from which sooty vapors poured out and quickly built up an obscuring fog. Seifer chuckled as Rajin ducked behind Fujin. The transformation always frightened Rajin as much as it pleased Seifer. Fujin, Seifer noticed, was apathetic.
Seifer recognized the familiar sound of metal boots meeting solid ground as the GF stepped out of the mist from which he had been spawned. A fully armored knight in a suit of ebony revealed himself. His face remained hidden behind the dark visor.
"What is it?" hissed the demon warrior.
Seifer looked at Fujin curiously and straightway interpolated what she had done to arouse the dark knight from his slumber. Then, shifting his attention back to Titanus, he kicked a spare pickaxe off the ground, sending it spiraling dangerously towards the GF.
Rajin gasped after acknowledging the possibility that one of the sharp ends could find a nesting place inside Titanus' chest. Even Fujin's eyes widened a notch at so dangerous a movement on Seifer's part.
Both Fujin and Rajin jumped in alarm when Titanus caught the pickaxe by the handle and sent it flying back towards Seifer. Much to Fujin's consternation the flying projectile reached Seifer before she could even move in his direction to help.
Luckily for Seifer, the pickaxe flew right by him, just over his shoulder and missing his head by an inch, before lodging itself into the cavern wall behind him. Rajin's jaw dropped a few inches. Fujin was stunned as well.
If Seifer had flinched even a bit, she realized, that would have been the end for him.
Seifer, on the other hand, was aloof of the exchange and dusted his naked shoulder off. Titanus raised his right hand, encased in a bulky gauntlet, and pointed his index finger right at his master.
"You win this round, human," the demon growled. "What task have you planned for me?"
Seifer pointed at the wall behind him.
"Get digging, we have a long way to go," he said tersely.
Titanus did not move. Fujin was sure the he was scoffing behind his face-guard.
"Like hell I am," he returned evenly.
Seifer did not shift his gaze from the supercilious GF.
"Get to it," he commanded, "and don't make me have to repeat it again."
Rajin's feet were shaking so badly that Fujin could feel herself wobbling from a foot away. She turned and kicked him in the shin, causing him to double over with a cry.
The dark knight either did not notice or did not care. Clenching his ironclad fists tightly, he walked slowly towards Seifer and stopped menacingly just a few inches away from his face. The stare-off did not last for more than a second because the GF proceeded to walk past him and pull the pickaxe out of the wall- but not before he intentionally slammed his shoulder into Seifer's in passing. It was clear to Fujin that a great deal of tension has passed between the two equally fierce characters.
It didn't take a genius to figure out that Titanus was no ordinary GF. He constantly defied Seifer and tested him. It was as if he disdained being claimed by a mortal. By not flinching, Seifer had won the standoff and, for the moment, won a little bit of respect from the critical GF.
"Can I just blast it with my special attack?" the GF asked his master.
"The last thing I need is an earthquake to bury us in this tunnel," Seifer replied, taking a place next to the GF and attacking the wall.
Titanus grumbled something foul and returned to hacking the wall to pieces.
Rajin picked himself up and limped towards the cart. His job was to move the refuse away from where they were digging and towards the exit before it cluttered the workspace. With Titanus' help, he would have to work harder to keep up with the excavating.
Fujin picked up the spade that she had dropped when Titanus threw the pickaxe at Seifer. She then headed over to him and asked, "DESTINATION?"
Seifer had told her once that her succinctness was refreshing, and it was for that reason that she limited her speech. She personally thought that the words that comprised the rest of the sentence were peripheral and just obscured the intended message.
Seifer wiped some sweat from his brow and took off his undershirt. He had a folded piece of paper tucked inside his belt that he removed and handed to Fujin.
She unfolded it and ran her eyes over the complicated diagrams on the paper.
"Those were copied from the Nova Trabia Garden Construction blueprints. We only needed the plans to the ground floor."
"SOURCE?" she asked him.
"One of Rajin's old buddies smuggled it into the prison at my request," Seifer explained, "so at least he's good for something."
"AUTHENTICITY?" Fujin inquired further.
"I think it's reliable enough to go on for now," Seifer replied and returned to his work. Soon, he was lost in his thoughts, monotonously tearing away at the bulwark of stone that stood between him and his goal.
His concentration was so intense that Fujin stopped every now and then to admire his steadfastness. She knew that he had programmed his arms to repeat the striking motion, thus liberating his mind to ponder other matters. She wanted so badly to know what he was thinking.
Take that! And that! Seifer spoke inside his head. He found this opportunity as good as any other to exercise and build up his arm strength. It was a pity that the wall could not fight back and parry his blows. Still, to draw a parallel between the rock and an enemy, this unwavering opponent exhibited exceptional stamina. He would make it a priority to be like the wall in future. To endure and always face the opponent, to never back away from a fight, to hold his ground- all very valuable characteristics that he would do his best to emulate.
He had to be the best. He would not have it any other way. He best way to accomplish that would be to take every obstacle as a lesson. The harder it was for him to surmount it, the greater its worth to him once mastered. His visage darkened a shade at the remembrance of the few defeats he had suffered in the course of the last few years.
He had never become a SeeD. How a second-rate fighter with no confidence in himself and didn't give a damn about his companions could become the commander of the Balamb Garden SeeDs while he was denied the membership of the mercenary group was a surprise to him. Cid overrated the role that discipline played in an elite fighting force who operated only to kill for money. Seifer was convinced that if he were paired up with another man with his fighting skills, even if both of them disagreed on every point during the mission, they could still end the day with a victory. On the trial run in Dollet he had managed to accomplish the mission even though puberty boy and chicken-wuss had been reluctant to follow his lead. He did not understand Cid's decision to deny him SeeD status just because he found another way to complete the mission.
"Your motive was right, but your method was wrong," Cid had explained to him when he demanded to know why he failed the test.
That blind fool, Seifer contemplated bitterly. Was there even a 'right' way to accomplish some of the missions that SeeDs had to carry out?
Surely trying to shoot the sorceress during the parade in Deling City wasn't very noble of the SeeDs. Cid was a hypocrite because his SeeDs had charged the Ultimecia head on as a contingency plan. The "right" way that Cid had been so intent on loftily imparting on Seifer would have been better demonstrated by his SeeDs had they just challenged Seifer and his sorceress to a duel. He had beaten puberty boy in their sparring before and he was certain he could duplicate it in a real one-on-one brawl. The fact that it was impossible for him to catch Squall apart from his comrades bolstered his estimation of Squall's inferiority to him. One of these days he'd have a fair shot at that boy's throat.
Seifer considered his father a great man, unlike that near-sighted Headmaster. He was able to see past the antiquated rules of engagement that merely repressed the full potential of the individual. Whereas Cid would rather have the entire Garden operating in harmony at half of their possible productivity, his father, General Shojora* saw the advantage of specialization.
*Kate Lorraine (lorraine_kate @ hotmail.com) gives the full account of Seifer's parentage by Shojora and Laura in "The Orphan."
If each member of the task force would do what he did best, the entire group would benefit in various ways. It took but one man to screw up for Cid's ideal phalanx to fall. Seifer's principle that he inherited from his father maintained that it took but one man to infiltrate the enemy defenses and capture the figurehead to defeat the entire army. Hence, it was more fruitful to let each man go his way. Presumably one of them would get lucky and bring victory much more quickly than if they carried everything out the "right" way.
Predictability was the child of standardization. Cid's agents were easily defeated because they moved as one. Find a weakness in one soldier and the rest would fall prey to the same tactics. Acting on impulse as his father had taught him to would keep his opponents guessing. If the entire task force were less systematic and more individualistic, they would cover more ground in less time and confuse the pathetic fools weaned on regulation and passivity. The waste of talent was a sad fact that Seifer did his best to resist and denounce.
His father, while he was still alive, had scoffed at the idea of there being a "right" way to fight a war, a skirmish, or a single enemy. "The end justifies the means," was the trite but true sophism that he had impressed upon his son, and Seifer in turn had drunken it in after questioning it only once. He remembered it well because he hadn't been enrolled in Garden for but a couple of years before it came to pass.
His mother Laura Almasy had raised Seifer by herself through most of his primary education. His peers made fun of him because he took his mother's last name and never had the chance to go fishing with his old man like they did. To make it worse, Laura decided to leave him at an orphanage because she was afraid his association with her would put him in danger. When he didn't understand what she meant, she had to explain to him never to tell anyone that General Shojora of the Galbadian Army was his father. Shojora had a lot of rival officers in the army itself and if they ever found out about her, she would make an excellent target for them. It was therefore safer for Seifer to be raised apart from her.
The day she dropped him off at Edea's orphanage was the last time he ever saw her. When he began his training at Garden, he was informed by Cid that a deal had been worked out through some middlemen to give Seifer leave from Balamb three days a week to train in Galbadia. Cid never figured out Seifer's relation to Shojora and the General never discussed it unless they were alone.
After a year and a half, Seifer had been allowed to accompany his father to Timber to apprehend the proponents of a minor resistance movement whose base of operations had been located. It was not dishonorable in any way for the proper authorities to bribe one of the revolutionaries to reveal the whereabouts of the rebels' headquarters. No, the dishonor rested on the turncoat who would rat on his own compatriots, and for that he had to be put to death as well.
Shojora had asked that his young son be given the best rifle operations instructor that his army had to offer. He was already eleven by the time his father felt that he was competent enough to go with them to Timber and suppress the feeble uprising. All he had to do was stay out of sight and scan the area for any wildcard threats that the general's advisors did not anticipate. The station that he ended up assuming was right outside the door of a dilapidated pub whose walls were on the verge of crumbling.
This is a very weak wall, he had noticed while standing outside.
He then peeked inside the pub and surveyed the area as his father's escorts quickly rounded up the ragtag team of insurrectionists, killing one in the process. Seifer didn't think much of it at the time since all the captives were scheduled to be shot the day after. Shojora then turned his attention to the barmaid who was affronting him. From the moment Seifer laid eyes on her he knew that there was something fishy about her.
He realized that she was hiding something because there was something moving below her waist which, being behind the bar, was hidden from the sight of his father's men. Seifer scrutinized the anomaly for a moment before making out a little boy's head. While the whimpering boy posed no immediate threat, he smelled trouble and inconspicuously raised the barrel of his rifle until it was level with the woman's chest.
When she pulled a gun and aimed it at his father's head, Seifer's suspicions were confirmed and he pulled the trigger without delay. He was a good shooter, sharp enough to never need to take aim because of how comfortable he was with holding a gun, perceiving depth, and measuring distances. This unique gift of spatial awareness, for which his instructor had praised him time and time again, was the key to saving his father's life. The woman never had a chance before he put her out of commission.
Later that night his father offered to give him whatever he wanted as a gift. Seifer had been bothered by the fact that the woman had not been given a fair chance to defend herself. He told his father that he found no glory in taking the life of an adversary who didn't cower under his weapon and call his name at the moment of death. Shojora asked him then if he was not particularly proud of what he had done, and it was then that Seifer questioned for the first and last time the nobility in using subversion, duplicity, and craft in a fight.
Shojora told him that history operated like a marathon.
"It doesn't matter if you were in the lead for nine-tenths of the race, because you could still finish last and be remembered as the loser. On the other hand, you could be dead last for most of the race, but win at the very end and be championed by everyone. People only care about the results, not the execution," he lectured to Seifer.
Nevertheless, for his gift, Seifer demanded to be taught to use a new weapon. He wanted to be in the frontlines, not hiding on some rooftop so far away from the battle that he couldn't experience the thrill of danger. Shojora asked him to be more specific as there were many single combat weapons that could achieve the end that Seifer desired.
Prior to this occasion, Seifer had only seen a gun-blade twice. The more recent time came about when he spied one of them gathering dust in Balamb Garden's weapon chamber but never acquired Cid's permission to use it. The Headmaster maintained that Seifer's temperance did not befit that of one who was worthy of commanding the elegant gun-blade. Way before that he had seen a man in a white coat cleave a flowerpot into four pieces while it was thrown into the air.
Out of curiosity, wonder, and defiance to Cid's repression, Seifer asked his father to teach him true to his word, began personally instructing his son how to use the gun-blade, the only weapon in his fading recollection that was as time-honored as it was apt to be forgotten over time. Those daily lessons were the happiest moments of his life, but they didn't last long; after three years and two weeks to the day, Shojora was killed in an ambush. Seifer spent his entire time at Garden from then on and tried to come to terms with what he considered absolute abandonment.
At the time he had been too young to suspect that his contemporary, President Deling, had anything to do with Shojora's death. By the time he turned eighteen, though, Seifer had come up with a few theories of his own. Seifer spent the entire summer with the daughter of one of the relatively new generals who might have profited in rank by Shojora's early retirement. Every time he was at their mansion he tried to find old files that might have been lying around in storage, but Caraway's daughter always kept within three feet of him. As the summer drew to a close, he realized that his plan to uncover the truth and develop other leads was a massive failure.
Seifer hated failure. He hated to associate with failure and those who failed. Suffering multiple defeats at the hands of Squall and his band of monkeys humbled Seifer quite a bit and introduced him to some of the toughest breaks in his life.
Fujin had noticed that the frequency of Seifer's strokes had increased and all his jaw muscles were taut in fury. She assumed whatever he was thinking had managed to rile him up. Apparently he had decided to take it out on the rocky face.
Rajin was hard-pressed to keep up removing the debris at the rate Seifer was digging. Titanus misinterpreted Seifer's sudden burst of effort as an indication of a contest and redoubled his efforts as well. Rajin saw immediately that there was no way he could keep up at this new pace and flopped down on the ground for a quick breather.
When Fujin turned to look at Rajin, he whispered to her, "Seifer has issues."
Normally she would have kicked him but this time she couldn't deny that he was right.
Seifer, stuck on the idea of failure, was oblivious to his posse's hiatus in labor.
I failed her! he chastised himself furiously. She was counting on me to protect her, and I let those SeeDs get right by me!
The notion of the sorceress brainwashing him was ludicrous. That the Garden and even his posse would be convinced of an idea so unfounded was news to him. He had gone to Timber by himself to confront President Deling and demand answers about Shojora's death. He was less surprised by Squall's appearance than he was annoyed by the unpleasant interruption at a time when he needed privacy the most. At the same time, he was aware of how his guise of going to protect Caraway's daughter- somehow she was with the SeeDs- was beginning to fall through. Ultimecia appeared in time to offer him an escape route that he was doubtful at first of taking, but realizing that he could not maintain custody of Deling with any plan he might devise impromptu, buying into the sorceress' promises and following her into her portal where she could bombard him with her eerie but cheesy music seemed like his best option.
Seifer would never forget where she took him.
Scratch that last thought, he corrected himself. It should be where she 'left' me.
He found himself in a white room with no edges. His movements weren't encumbered, but it was hard to see clearly what he was doing. The rate at which his eyes would relay signals to his brain was messed up because when he waved his Hyperion in front of him, it did not seem to move back and forth smoothly; rather its motion was broken up into progressive frames that produced the same visual effects as a sloppy cartoon strip or a child's flip book. He was beginning to worry that she had made a mistake while transporting him through the warp and that he was stranded in this white void forever when suddenly the room began to flash and the world materialized around him.
Scratch that, Seifer thought. What I meant was 'a' illusory world, not 'the' actual world.
It took him two seconds to realize that he was standing in the garden just outside Edea's orphanage. It would have taken him less time to recognize the place had he not appeared right behind Squall who was facing Edea at the time and did not notice him.
It had to have been Squall, Seifer reassured himself. Who else is shorter than me by those few inches so that I could just barely make out Matron's face?
Squall had fizzled out of all tangibility before Seifer could tell him to turn around and draw his weapon. The idea of a quick victory by stabbing Squall in the back never occurred to him. As reached out to Squall, the SeeD commander had already vanished and he ended up face to face with Edea, equally surprised to see this new blonde stranger as she had been by Squall's disappearing act.
Seifer gave himself a mental slap. I must have seemed like such an ignoramus with my hand outstretched and my mouth wide open like that!
Edea, who was wearing in a plain gray dress, and covered her mouth with one hand and laughed at him. He scratched his head and tried to find the right words to explain what he was doing there. It would not have been so tough if he actually knew what time period he was taking part in. He grimaced, realizing how articulate he must have seemed.
The good-natured Matron took the initiative and guessed, "Don't tell me. You must be Seifer, right?"
He nodded, not knowing what else to say. Figuring he should at least make an attempt to reintroduce himself, he opened his mouth to speak.
She placed a finger on his lips and hushed him.
"Just nod if I'm right," she told him, absent-mindedly placing the pinkie of her free hand in the outer corner of her mouth.
Seifer blinked in acknowledgement and Edea smiled. She seemed so young, just as he remembered her in the brief time that he had called her orphanage his home.
Edea kept her finger on his mouth but moved the other hand from her face to him arm and traced it all the way down to his hand, which he had wrapped around her waist out of reflex. She smiled curiously at this, and, leaving her hand on his, turned slightly to see that he held his gun-blade out from behind her as if to shield her from any possible danger that might present itself while she was less vigilant. She pondered for a moment what it meant for him to have maneuvered his arm there so that he could hold her between himself and the Hyperion.
She finally winked at him and, cocking her head to one side, asked him, "You're a knight, am I correct?"
He nodded, still remembering how she had told him not to speak. He could almost taste her aromatic finger, still pressed gently upon his lips.
"So you're here to protect me?" she posed next.
Seifer wasn't sure how to reply. After all, he hadn't exactly come here to save her from any threat that he knew of. Still, if one did appear, he would never turn away from saving her; not only was Edea a damsel- knights were required by law to save damsels- but she was also his matron, which meant that he was somewhat indebted to her.
Seifer nodded at length. The fact that Edea Kramer was still smiling led him to believe that she did not notice his slight pause.
"Just be good at what you do, then," she told him, removing her finger from his lips and letting a small chuckle escape from her own.
He was about to utter an agreement when he heard a slight bustling sound behind him. Instinctively Seifer spun around, keeping one eye on his blade to make sure he didn't lop off Edea's arm as he turned, and keeping the other eye on the lookout for any movement. Without realizing it, his free arm moved to catch Edea by the waist and maneuver her directly behind him as he faced the new menace.
Seifer's usually uniform vision switched to a series of frames that refreshed themselves every microsecond. His eyes detected a shift in depth of some object that he translated as moving moderately fast in the direction of his upper right torso. Before his mind was able to identify the flying object, his hands had registered the proper technique he had to employ as a countermeasure. Thus, before he knew it, he had flicked his wrist twice and disassociated the projectile into four pieces.
It was a flowerpot that some weasel-looking blonde kid had chucked at him while his back was turned. The soil contained within the pot exploded and hit Seifer square in the best. He looked down at his sullied shirt and prepared to vindicate himself by harpooning the kid the Hyperion, but Edea stayed his hand.
"Easy!" she cautioned him, "You really don't want to do that."
The boy, no older than six years of age, stared at Seifer in awe when he saw how quickly Seifer had clipped the pot in four with what seemed like a third eye. How else could the man in white spin around without knowing he was there?
"Go back into the house, Seifer," Edea told the boy who lingered a moment longer, fascinated by the gun-blade, before running past them, up the steps, and disappearing inside the dwelling. It wasn't until Edea and Seifer saw the little boy hustle through the doorway that they became aware of an additional set of wide eyes staring at the Hyperion. Seifer noticed a second boy, this one wearing an orange shirt, peeking out from the side of the doorframe.
Edea waved him off before turning back to her visitor and whispered, "I think it's time for you to leave too."
Seifer was about to protest but the Matron cut him off, interjecting, "We can't have more than one Seifer in this time and I have a lot to discuss with my husband."
The world promptly melted around him and Seifer found himself in the desert. The clouds above were fermented turbulently, fusing into one billow, rolling in on itself, and portending a dreadful sandstorm.
Seifer looked around, not sure which way to go. Then he remembered what his summer fling had told him once. While they lay together under a starry field one night, General Caraway's daughter had remarked that the universe looked the same from whichever angle you chose to face it.
That being the case, he set the flat side of his sword down on his shoulder so that he would only have to hold it up with his hand at an angle, and began trudging in the direction that didn't seem to be as stormy.
He walked past several dunes before he lost count with only the comfort of knowing that he wasn't retracing his steps because he did not spy any footprints in the sand. The only other activity he had encountered that could match the timelessness of wandering around in an artificial desert was braving Quistis Trepe's differential equations class, and even that was being rapidly promoted on the list of things that he would rather have been doing.
Show yourself Utlimecia, he dared with every other step, but she did not reveal herself to him.
After what seemed like a second lifetime, Seifer noticed that the ground had changed to a blue surface with a granite-like texture. He turned around to make sure that the desert was still behind him but he found nothing but more blue granite and a grayish haze that swirled around the bounds of visibility. He walked over to where the rocky floor seemed to end and saw that it was no optical allusion; he was trapped on a floating island that offered no escape.
He turned his Hyperion downwards and jammed it into the ground and settled down beside it. This way he could jump up and snatch the sword out by the hilt at a second's notice. Finally finding the moment to evaluate how hopeless a situation it was in which he had found himself, he wondered how in the world it came to be that the great Seifer Almasy, in fact the very same Seifer Almasy who had always prided himself in his impeccable sense of direction, had managed to lose a great heap of sand and his sanity along with it.
Just perfect! he had scoffed bitterly. This was all I needed before my weekend!
The humor in his words was there, but he was in no mood to laugh at his own sarcasm. The sorceress had brought him here, but where had she gone?
"I am right here, Seifer," spoke an icy but distinctly feminine voice from no more than three feet behind where he was sitting.
Seifer hopped up lightly and raised his blade, which he didn't even realize he had picked up in the act of scrambling to his feet, to sorceress's white neck.
"Don't you dare move," he warned her with a triumphant grin.
"You can't kill me," she replied coolly, "because then you'll never get out of here."
"It's just an illusion," Seifer retorted with feigned confidence, "and it will disappear when I take you down."
"Then take me now," the sorceress dared him, "if you're so sure."
For the first time in his life, Seifer's hand wavered for a second. He was more startled by this unanticipated display of indecision that he lowered his arm in shame and cursed aloud. He was more disappointed in himself than ever, possibly because he had not thought it was possible to let distrust himself or his own abilities before it happened just then. His entire body began to tremble, unsure how to proceed. The identity that he had fabricated and pursued his entire life seemed to have completely shattered into shards of despair by the lightest tap of Ultimecia's fingernail.
She's right! he admitted to himself, I don't have it in me to take her.
Frustrated by his helplessness, a feeling foreign to him that he bitterly mistook as the emptiness of incompetence, Seifer had taken two steps away from the sorceress and flung his blade far over the edge of the floating island and into oblivion. Whether he was aware of it or not, Seifer Almasy had renounced his profession, identity, and self.
The sorceress looked on with a trace of concern in her features. She glided smoothly over to where Seifer was on his knees, repeatedly beating the solid rock with his quickly bloodied fists, and bent over him. He thought enough to throw her arm off his shoulder when she placed it there, but eventually he found it pointless to resist; in this netherworld, he was at her mercy.
"Why did you do that?" she asked him tenderly.
"Because it doesn't matter anymore!" he shouted at her, wanting to lash out but the aspect of her eyes stopped him.
"But why?" Ultimecia pressed on.
"It failed me when I needed it the most," Seifer answered reluctantly, "and I don't associate with failure."
Unspoken was the follow-up phrase, I don't want to be a failure.
Ultimecia knew that that was the reason why he had thrown the sword away without caring if it was redeemable or not.
She made it easy for him.
Putting her soft hand onto his corresponding one, she stretched out their palms and waved at the clouds. An instant later a bright beam of golden light shot out from the gray fog, so bright that it forced Seifer to shield his eyes with his free hand. The sorceress waved their hands as one again and from the clouds there emerged his Hyperion. It floated slowly towards Seifer before settling at in his palm that Ultimecia continued to hold.
Their eyes met, his in surprise and hers in satisfaction. She leaned in closer.
"Get away from me, witch," Seifer warned her and brushed her off, purposely ruining the moment.
Undaunted, the sorceress rose to her feet and floated a little way off.
"Why are you fighting me when you've already given up on yourself?" she asked him in minor amusement.
"You haven't beaten me yet," he replied firmly, "and it is going to stay that way."
"Are you so sure of yourself?" she asked him, taking the opportunity to flash a devilish smile.
"No one can defeat me except myself," Seifer repeated.
Ultimecia smiled and licked her fingers like a feline comfortable with its spectators. She had obviously been waiting for him to say that.
"If I summon a creature of my choice to fight with you, man-to-man," she proposed, "would you fight him?"
"What are the terms of this wager?" he demanded.
"If you win," Ultimecia replied, "I'll let you live."
"It doesn't sound like I have much to gain by this needless battle," he remarked.
"You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're blade isn't a failure," she pointed out.
Seifer was silent for awhile, pondering the implicit message, And neither are you.
"And if I lose?" Seifer asked.
"Then you must give yourself to me," she said evenly, "and I will show you how to use the weapon that not even you can overcome."
The way Ultimecia had set up the terms provided Seifer an out in case he failed to beat his opponent; he could just blame the blade and exculpate himself from the stigma of defeat. It was an irresistible deal in which Seifer had everything to gain and nothing to lose, just as she had calculated.
"No magic or GF attacks?" he inquired.
Ultimecia shook her head.
Seifer rose to his feet and grinned.
It's not like I have a better alternative, he assured himself.
"I'm ready, sorceress," he informed her.
She licked her lips and clapped her hands together in an effort to call forth her defender.
"I summon Titanus, the Knight of the Garden," she exclaimed, and vanished into thin air as jets of dark fumes flooded the space that she had last occupied.
Seifer shifted his balance and raised the Hyperion to his eye level. His face remained expressionless as he heard the clatter of metallic armor ring from the dark cloud. He inhaled sharply and pivoted just in time to avoid a slash from a sword that shot out of the cloud.
Out from its cloak of mist charged a knight in ebony armor to meet him. There his opponent executed a flurry of cuts that he was hard-pressed to dodge and finally resorted to removing himself from the immediate danger with a fancy back flip. To his surprise, the knight had matched his move with a frontal flip and had already begun the motion for a quick chop to his head. Seifer barely had time to pull the Hyperion back into position and parry the blow.
The Knight of the Garden had accrued some additional force from his altitude and Seifer felt as much from the vibrations his adversary imparted when their blades met. Seifer was forced to one knee while Titanus continued to press downwards. After a tense moment, Seifer realized that he was the underdog in this tussle because the dark knight had the advantage of bearing down on his blade with his entire body and both feet under him. Seifer could feel the granite beneath him giving way to the weight above.
Unable to throw him off, Seifer resorted to rolling out of the way. As expected, the Knight of the Garden's sword crashed into ground where Seifer's knee had rested a second ago, creating a massive crater that would have been decorated with his crushed body had he stayed not moved. Seifer's opponent gave him no reprieve however, promptly picking himself up and swinging the blade back in Seifer's direction, this time aiming to cut through his midsection.
In response, Seifer brought his gun-blade down to meet the blow, only to find that it had been a feint to lower Seifer's sword. As practiced as Seifer was, he could not readjust his one handed grip from that position in time to deter the opposing blade to slide beneath his and follow the edge down to the handle where he could unarm Seifer. Seeing that he was either going to lose the Hyperion or his arm, Seifer retracted his blade early and stepped into the blow, allowing Titanus the time to close in on his hand.
It was a daring gamble but it worked. Right before the sword cut through his fingers, Seifer had leaned over the blades and was just close enough to the knight to knock him in the visor with his shoulder and spin out of the deadlock with all ten fingers intact.
Titanus had not expected the bodily contact and was knocked off balance. Still in step with his revolution, Seifer brought his sword to bear down on the Knight of the Garden's arm. At the last minute, he readjusted the path of his sword so that it connected with the knight's headgear just as the GF moved his blade to protect his arm. The knight saw Seifer's maneuver at the last minute and only managed to draw his head back far enough so that the Hyperion only caught the faceplate and ripped it off.
Seifer almost dropped his weapon when he saw who he had been fencing. The Knight of the Garden removed his helmet completely and smirked at his dumbfounded opponent.
Seifer looked the Knight of the Garden up and down. It was unmistakable. It was his own face that he was staring at.
"Impossible!" Seifer shouted, charging at the unmasked warrior.
"Pathetic human," Titanus retorted icily, easily moving away from Seifer's blind swipe and threw his own quick series of chops aimed at different strategic striking points. Seifer was now on the defensive, blocking the blow to his neck, moving down and intercepting one across his belly, parrying the next attempt at his right shoulder, and rolling out of the way of the final unblockable slice to his lower left ribs.
When he came out of his roll, he noticed that his ear was bleeding. Somehow one of the cuts had gotten by him, and he was extremely luck that Titanus hadn't taken off more than some skin and hair. Before Seifer could raise the Hyperion to strike though, Titanus fell on him with another strategic sequence of hacks, feints, reversals, and thrusts.
Seifer fought to get to his feet while blocking as many blows as he could. In the end, he had to endure four gashes spread across his body. He limped away, unsure of how to deal with his match-up.
"You set me up, sorceress!" he shouted into the void. "You cheated me!"
Ultimecia's voice thundered in the sky above them, "How do you figure?"
Seifer weakly dodged a few cheap slices and felt how sluggish his right knee had become.
"You made me fight against myself," he accused her.
"That wasn't against the rules," her voice sounded back as she sent a ripple of lightning racing across the cloudy sky.
Titanus was about to lounge again when Seifer gathered enough energy in his desperation to perform his Fire Cross technique that he saved for the most dire of circumstances. Raising his left palm, he released a jet of fire and prepared to follow it up by delivering some devastating blows from eagerly outstretched Hyperion. It was a critical mistake on his part to assume that the fire spell would knock the knight back as it did to Squall during their sparring. With the extra armor, the knight easily cut through the flames and brought his right under Seifer's chin. At the same time he caught Seifer's hand that was trying to bring the Hyperion crashing down on his enemy's head.
"Game over, human," the Knight of the Garden hissed at Seifer as he began to draw his blade across Seifer's neck to spill the blood nesting in the area of the throat.
Ultimecia recalled her GF and materialized beside Seifer just before Titanus made the cut. She also managed to catch him in her arms as his bleeding legs gave way, no longer sensitive enough to support his weight properly.
"You poor boy," she cooed, moving her fingers tenderly across his face.
"How did he win?" Seifer managed to mutter before he fell to coughing up a bit of blood.
"It wasn't that he was faster, stronger, or braver, dear child," she told him as she set his head in her lap, "but because you lacked temperance."
She bent down and licked the side of his face clean where Titanus had clipped some of his ear.
"Show me how to wield it my new weapon properly then," he said weakly.
"In time, dear boy," she hushed him, putting a finger on his lips.
She continued after she had his complete attention, "There will be a day when you will find yourself with limited time but the freedom to go anywhere. Find a dock somewhere and set to fishing. I've already sent Titanus away to that fated place. I believe that you'll catch the prize you desire."
He was about to argue more with her when she reminded him, "You already promised yourself to protect Edea, did you not?"
"But you're not her," Seifer replied in a half whisper. Unconsciousness was on the verge of seizing him because of how much blood he had lost.
Ultimecia pulled back own facial decorations and revealed the innocent face of Edea.
Seifer's eyes widened at the realization of the truth. He had indeed promised to keep her safe from harm, and a knight never went back on his word.
The sorceress caressed him gently for another moment, whispering in his ear, "And now you are mine."
The last thing he remembered before passing out was her leaning over and brushing her lips over his-
"SEIFER!" Fujin called to him, interrupting his thoughts and brining him squarely back into reality.
His expression had froze entirely and, without realizing this for he had become so absorbed in his own thoughts, his arms dangled limply at his side, no longer striking the wall. Titanus rested on his own pickaxe, gloating over his victory in what he has misconstrued as a digging contest earlier. He had outlasted his master, and thus, his work was done.
Seifer looked blankly at Titanus as he melted back out of existence and resumed his place as the guardian of the grand gun-blade. Fujin put one hand over Seifer's head to check his temperature and the other over his heart to check his pulse. He seemed alright- very sweaty- but his heart rate was stabilizing it and he showed no signs of a fever. To her surprise, Seifer pulled her in close and lowered his forehead onto her shoulder and rested for a minute. He was panting pretty hard.
Eventually his breathing returned to normal and he looked up to find Rajin. His eyes narrowed in annoyance when he found his target.
Rajin was sitting on the ground with his back to the cart, sound asleep and snoring loudly. He was dreaming about the time Seifer, Fujin, and he were allowed to accompany Headmaster Cid to a charity dance in Galbadia. Quistis was overloaded with classes that day and Squall was moping around somewhere where he didn't want to be found, so Seifer and this posse seemed the next logical choice.
The yellow wine cooler they served there was just as strong as Cid's if not stronger, and within three servings Rajin was had become teary-eyed and blubbering about how grievances with life. Seifer had meanwhile found some chick who had introduced herself as one of the general's daughter and pleaded with Seifer to dance with her because she was extremely bored and he was the most handsome guy present. Soon after Seifer left with the girl in the white dress, Rajin noticed that Fujin's eyes were reddening, but he was so intoxicated that he just assumed that her tears were also alcohol-induced.
Either that, he considered, or she doesn't like wearing provocative dresses.
Even Seifer had commented earlier that night how glamorous Fujin looked wearing her tight, blue gown, high heels, a matching set of earrings, and very nearly baring the whole of one of her slender, silky-smooth legs.
Spying the slumbering Rajin, Seifer and Fujin exchanged looks. Smirking, Seifer bent over, picked up a nearby rock and walked over in Rajin's direction. Fujin tried at first to hold him back, or at least suggest the alternative use of a smaller rock, but Seifer insisted that it would be more fun to wake up their colleague this way.
Fujin shrugged and watched as Seifer lifted the rock over Rajin's head and prepared the wake-up call.
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