Kurai Kaze

Chapter Eight: Frozen

By FlyGirl

META, Esthar Continent - North Coast of Widow’s Reef Peninsula

Squall typed in the information and immediately a map appeared on his computer monitor. He tapped points on the screen that he wished enlarged and he printed out various views of the area and town that had suffered through the Scylla attack the previous night—or early that morning, truthfully. It was past three o’clock now and the afternoon sun glared brightly through the drawn curtains over the windows of his office despite his best attempts to conceal it. He manfully ignored it and spread the papers out over his desk.

Scylla… Thoughtfully, he regarded the two video screens beside him. On one monitor he watched the film recorded by the SeeD soldier the previous afternoon—he shifted through the papers on his desk and pulled up the name of the soldier, Sergeant Rawl, and grimaced at having already forgotten his name. The second screen showed the battle in Meta which, it turned out, an intern of Dr. Kencie’s had taped. The two bits of video were looped to play ad infinitum.

He pressed a button on a remote which froze both recordings, displaying two static images of the monster. Then, he depressed the small arrow on the controller that let him run the first video slowly. In deliberate, measured movements, the SeeDs ran in slow motion at the monster. A young man came sluggishly onscreen and raised his rifle as the monster sent a tentacle snaking towards him. A flash shot towards the creature and a bullet from the soldier’s weapon severed the arm. As the tentacle fell to the ground and the creature raised the stump in the air, Squall paused the video again.

Then, he let the second video taken in Meta run in slow motion, watching as the Scylla reached towards the miniature version of himself onscreen, its 99 arms writhing hungrily. He paused the recording, freezing it just as the creature’s claws began to wrap around his body.

Again, he shuffled through the papers until he found one with the name of the soldier that had shot the monster—Private Mackerzie. The information was not currently relevant, but he filed it away in the back of his mind.

And oh, his mind. His head, to be exact. There was a tight little headache right behind his left eye, and a hammer seemed to be driving a sizeable nail into the back of his skull. He was queasy and nauseous, as well, but he refused to take a Cure. He deserved this misery; he had earned it.

Ah, and add to it the disgust with his own weakness that morning; and then lying to Rinoa; and giving into all his little guilts and temptations to soak in Centradi rum; and finally taking it all out on Seifer, his only safe scapegoat in the world… pure, blissful, unadulterated guilt at its lowest, heaviest, most blameful best. He denied himself that Cure, at once rejecting his pain and wallowing in it.

Distracted again from the matter at hand, he grimaced and shook his hands as if to focus himself through the movement. He turned again to the second video and sped forward to his fall from the monster’s grasp, then switched it to the slow motion option. The slow speed picked up the icy blue glow coalescing around his hands as he summoned Shiva. On the screen, he released the Guardian Force, despite cries of protest as he let her go with no restraints or instructions, trusting to the naked force of her powers of destruction to catch the Scylla in whatever way she chose to manifest her magical might.

Amazed, he watched as she turned and aimed one deliberate finger at the Scylla and let loose a massive blast of ice, limning the grass and buildings in frost even as it passed to encompass the monster and trap it. He paused the video again, marveling at what he had not been able to understand that morning; Shiva’s unerring aim and the devastating power of her assault despite his failure to gather enough energy to guide and curb her attack.

Shaking his head, he shifted his studying gaze from Shiva’s bright outline to the Scylla, flailing in the cage of ice that gathered around it. Its 99 arms were frozen as it writhed and reached, struggling against the Guardian Force’s magic—the only thing that could really hurt it. Squall leaned forward and rested one fingertip on the screen—on the barely visible stump where the creature had lost a tentacle to a rifle blast. Or had it been—

Squall jumped as his vid-phone beeped and he tore his eyes away from the monitors reluctantly. He palmed the phone on.

“Leonhart. Make it quick.”

“And a cheery good morning to you, too, my son.”

Squall sighed inwardly. The morning was now officially complete.

“Laguna,” Squall said by way of greeting after a long pause.

“Squall,” his father said, imitating his son’s grave tone.

Squall rolled his eyes and let his shoulders slump.

Then Laguna laughed and let his son off the hook. “Hello, m’boyo. Good to see you looking so well after the morning you had.”

Squall’s realizations then were threefold: First, he could tell by Laguna’s bright tone and teasing manner that he was in a good mood, and therefore would particularly delight in trying to drag a smile out of his son. Second, Laguna’s reference to that morning told Squall that the man had already heard about what had happened in Meta—which was unavoidable, Squall supposed, as the man was President of the continent and was therefore probably alerted to the random disasters and goings-on in the villages within his circle of rule. Third, Squall knew for a fact that he looked like crap, pale and rather gray in his physical misery, and therefore Laguna’s comment on his good appearance was false. That was to say, Laguna was lying through his teeth, which were currently glowing white in a wide grin.

Squall sighed deeply, put his hands together and dropped his forehead onto his fingertips.

“Father, what do you want?” he asked, fighting to keep a whine out of his voice.

Laguna’s eyebrows went up and Squall covered his eyes with his hands, peeking out at the vid-phone through the gaps between fingers.

“Why, I wanted to congratulate you, boy! You and your excellent SeeDs that bravely rescued countless lives this morning despite great peril and danger!”

Squall dropped his hands and stared. “Laguna, this isn’t some leather-bound Hyurai War epic, here, there’s no need to talk like a cheap romance novel.”

“Oh, boy, let me have some fun. My fighting days are over, and it’s the right of the father to live vicariously through his son. Lighten up, dammit.”

Squall drooped a little in his seat, too tired and miserable to argue. “Yes, sir.”

Laguna’s lips twitched. “Much better,” he said without a tinge of sarcasm.

“Right,” Squall muttered. “Okay, well, thanks. I feel very congratulated now, so—”

Laguna laughed. “Well, that wasn’t strictly the only reason I called.”

“I knew it,” Squall said in an accusatory way, fully aware that he was being a little childish. Laguna just had this way—this fiendish power over Squall that reduced him to adolescent squabbling and immature bickering. The worst part about it was that Laguna wanted this reaction of Squall—the usually stoic SeeD could tell. Laguna, Squall knew, thought that his son acted too old for his nineteen years and rejoiced in eliciting any act of childishness from him that he could. Once, leaving his son startled and speechless, Laguna had actually called Squall…“stodgy.”

“Oh, no, Hyne and all the gods above forbid I worry about my son!” Laguna cried with a look of mock horror.

Squall dropped his arms to his sides and he spun a little on his chair. He faced Laguna’s concerned expression, his slightly drooping eyes, and let his head fall back onto the top of the seat back.

“I’m tired,” he admitted with a sigh in his voice.

Out of the corner of one eye, Squall could see Laguna frown and lean forward toward his own vid-phone. “Squall, son, I know that you work past the point of exhaustion until you drop—that is who you are and I think everyone that knows you has accepted that. But you can’t carry on like normal in the midst of a debacle like this.”

Squall tensed slightly at the word “debacle,” thinking of Laguna’s previous criticisms of how the Headmaster and his SeeDs were handling the situation, but he let it pass. “Well, it’s over now,” he said, passing a weary hand over his throat. “We—Seifer—the monster’s dead now.”

“The Scylla,” Laguna said, and explained in response to Squall’s surprised expression, “Quistis forwarded me a whole long report.”

“She’s so efficient,” Squall said, allowing bitterness to taint his tone as he sat up straight and pulled his chair closer to his desk.

Laguna lifted his chin and tilted his head. “Hmph. That she is. And you’re feeling—inefficient these days, boy?”

Squall drew a deep breath and pressed his hands flat on the arms of his chair. “Father, I’m feeling like a complete waste of skin these days.”

Laguna lifted one corner of his mouth sympathetically. “Ah. Well, I can honestly tell you that I know how you feel.”

Squall smiled a little. “Yeah, I guess you would.”

“Hey, now,” Laguna protested, but he grinned to show that he was not offended.

Squall frowned, trying to find a way to explain the twisting inside his chest without giving away all of the reasons for it.

“You see, I—”

The communicator on his wrist started beeping and he held up a hand to his

father.“Leonhart here,” he said into his wrist.

“Hello yer Commandership, sir. Captain Dincht reporting in for duty!”

Squall smiled the first real smile to touch his lips in a while.

“Roger that, Captain,” Squall said. “Where are you calling from?”

“Well, Sir Headmaster, sir, I seem to have been waylaid by a lovely young woman with long brown hair and big brown eyes, and she seems to have an unnatural attachment to your skinny ass, sir! She lured me into her lair and is keeping me captive here until your Hero-ness turns up to release me!”

Squall laughed as he heard Rinoa’s muffled voice in the background, “Ze-ell.”

“Copy that, Captain. I’ll be down to free you as soon as I finish up my conversation here with the Royal Headmaster’s father.”

“Ah,” Zell said judiciously. “Well, I’ll just see if I can’t find some way to entertain myself with this beautiful lady until you arrive, then!”

“Got you, Dincht,” Squall said wryly. “I’ll be quick.”

He switched off the communicator and turned to the vid-phone.

Laguna held up his hand. “I heard it all. Go rescue your girl from that oddball Dincht.”

“Yes sir, Mr. President,” Squall said, feeling a little jaunty.

Laguna laughed and then the screen went dark.

Squall’s step was a little lighter and he actually had a smile on his face as he rode the elevator down to the basement level. Zell kind of had a cheering effect on him. Not unlike, Squall thought wryly, laughing gas at the dentist’s. The small martial artist had been helping Selphie and her fellow SeeDs with the rebuilding of Trabia Garden for three months, now, and it had been a long time since Squall had had more contact from Zell than a brief progress report. He was looking forward to seeing his friend.

He sighed to cover a laugh and leaned back against the glass wall of the lift. It continued to lower him through the crystal elevator tube, and as it passed through level one, he caught a glimpse of the atrium. He saw students running to and from class, clutching books in their arms; he saw a group of cadets ready to depart on the mission from which they would emerge either as SeeDs, or failures. He saw a few students playing Triple Triad, one jogging, and a couple of men standing by the entrance to the Training Room comparing the size of their rifles.

Life for all those people was progressing as usual, none of them were fixating on a monster that had been killed and destroyed, a monster that could no longer present them any threat. A soldier had to constantly adapt, always stay on his feet. He could not afford to dwell on a moment; a soldier lived a dangerous life, he had many enemies that were hunting him at any given time. If he stood still too long, something or someone might just come along, catch him unaware, and kill him.

While everyone else was moving on, Squall was still frozen in place, focused on Scylla, repeating the attacks and the facts over and over again in his head; reading the reports, watching the films. And why? Something about the monster bothered him, something that had him arrested in a stagnating thought-loop, one from which he could not break free. The monster had attacked him twice and killed innocent civilians as well as one of his SeeDs, but Seifer had destroyed it and the Scylla was now in pieces in Dr. Kencie’s laboratory. Why was Squall still stuck on it?

Frozen in time, lost in the past, fixated on a dead monster that represented for him all his weaknesses and failures. Locked in stasis, torn between two lovers and unable to make any decision, to take one step forward and make his choice. He stood still, absolutely, encased in glass—in that crystal elevator tube—while the world spun around him, looking into his fragile shell and waiting for him to move.

The elevator passed through the section of the tube that went through the deep workings that roofed the basement level—so thick that it was the size of a level itself. Squall peered up as far as he could see and caught the winking light of fluorescent bulbs set into the machinery far above. The lift came to a gentle stop on the bottom level and opened with a soft whoosh. He stepped out and paused, for a moment torn between starting down the hallway where the instructors had apartments, and heading to the right to Dr. Kencie’s lab—and the body of the Scylla. Just then, his wrist communicator beeped. He shook himself and turned left, towards the apartment hallway.

“I’m coming, Zell.”

There was a short silence, then, “Excuse me?”

Quistis. Squall sighed tiredly, steeling himself automatically as he always did when he had to speak to his second-in-command. In those two innocuous words, he could already hear the ice in her tone that had frosted over her eyes and her smile sometime in the past year when he had not been looking.

“Nothing, never mind, Quistis. What do you need?”

“I wish to send out a team on a goodwill mission to sweep the beach and the nearby villages as a gesture of faith so the people of Esthar can once again feel safe in knowing that Balamb Garden is protecting them.”

Squall nodded to himself as he turned down another hallway.

“Good idea. What do you need me for?”

“I want your approval.”

Squall sighed again, silently. He could just imagine the cold snap of her blue eyes as she said this.

“Quistis, you don’t need my say-so for everything, and certainly not for approval on a small goodwill mission, you know that.”

“Do I? I wouldn’t want to overstep my bounds, Squall. You are, after all, the Headmaster.”

Squall pinched his lips together and kept silent as the calculus instructor passed by with a bow of the head. He spoke when the man was out of earshot.

“Quistis, you’re one year older than me. You were my instructor and the head officer on my SeeD field exam, for Hyne’s sake. You don’t need to ask my permission for every little thing you want to do.”

“Ah, but this is an official mission undertaken in Balamb Garden’s name. I am only a Lieutenant Commander, Squall. I’m not the high-ranking officer anymore. You are.”

Squall frowned deeply and slowed his walk as he approached the short hall that branched off of the main corridor and ended with his apartment door. Rinoa liked the extra measure of privacy it afforded them, but it made the soldier in Squall nervous to not be able to see who was approaching his door in either direction until they were right at the entrance of the hall.

“Is that why you’re being like this, then?” he asked, too tired and sore and frustrated to muster even an imitation of tact.

“‘Being like this’?” she echoed in arctic tones.

Squall scowled and held a finger poised over the off switch on his communicator.

“Enough. Do what you want, send whatever missions you want. If you want my permission for everything, then fine. I can be officious, too. See that you have a full detailed mission statement in triplicate on my desk within the hour, and I want a full report and debriefing when the team returns.”

“Yes, sir,” Quistis snapped, and Squall winced but only muttered a sign-off and tapped the communicator off.

His good mood absolutely crushed, Squall reached the door to his apartment and punched the key code into the lock so hard that he hurt his fingertips. The door whooshed open and he stalked inside.

And was immediately thrown off balance by a yellow blur that darted across the room and hurled itself against him. A small weight slammed into him and he tilted backwards precariously before losing his feet and falling with the blond and blue bundle still on his chest.

He lay still for a moment on his back before opening his eyes, picking his head up off of the ground slightly and looking up. Zell lay stretched out on top of him, resting his chin in his hands and grinning at Squall.

“Hey baby, fancy meeting you here.”

Squall let his head fall back to the floor. Zell got quickly to his feet, but Squall moved slowly, feeling the pain in his wounded body. Cuts on his chest, barely-closed puncture holes and his throbbing head all screamed at their treatment, but Squall covered his winces and pinched his lips shut as he stood.

“Feeling your years this afternoon, Squally?” Zell asked brightly as Squall straightened laboriously.

Squall ignored Zell and let Rinoa pull him to her side. He looked her up and down, then peered at Zell. “Well, looks like you didn’t damage her any.”

Rinoa laughed while Zell scowled.

“You don’t trust me,” Zell accused.

Squall lifted one eyebrow. “No.”

Rinoa laughed again and walked over to their dining room table. She picked up a sweater that was draped over the back of the chair at the head of the table, then walked over to his side again.

“Are you going somewhere?” Squall asked, taking her hand.

She nodded and squeezed his hand. “I promised Maya I’d help her in the nursery this afternoon. You boys can get along without me, can’t you?”

“Oh, sure,” Zell said, coming over and throwing an arm around Squall’s shoulders. “I can find some trouble for us to get into. You go be with the little garden kinders and we’ll be fine without you.”

She smiled at him and tugged on Squall’s hand. “Walk me out,” she said, and Squall raised an eyebrow.

When they were in the hallway outside the apartment, the door closed behind them, Squall looked down at his girlfriend and frowned.

“Is something wrong, Rinoa?”

She was looking down at their intertwined hands and didn’t meet his eyes for a long moment. Then she looked up with a frown creasing her brow.

“Squall you still look weak. You—you didn’t use a Cure last night, did you.” It wasn’t a question.

Squall fidgeted a moment, jiggling his shoulders and tilting his head, but then he admitted, “No. Not after the Potions Dr. Kadowaki used on me to close up the worst of my injuries, no.”

Rinoa sighed, and the sound of it pierced Squall to the heart.

“Squall, why do you hurt yourself?”

Squall blinked. “I—I didn’t—”

She interrupted him, somehow knowing what he was about to say. “It doesn’t matter that the wounds came from a battle. You refuse to do what you can and should to help them heal and take away your pain. Why, Squall? Don’t you know that when you hurt, it hurts those that love you and care for you, too?”

Squall looked down to hide his grimace and remembered the sad turn of aqua-blue eyes wavering behind a wall of tears.

“Squall—” Rinoa began when he did not answer, but she was interrupted by the ringing of her wrist communicator. She looked at it and read the verbal message that someone had sent her, then sighed. “It’s Maya. I’m late and she needs my help badly today because two of her regular assistants are sick. I’ll be back tonight, Squall. We’re going to talk then. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean that you will be talking, too.”

Squall stared at her for a moment before having to look away from the naked concern he saw in her eyes.

“All right.” Still, she stared at him, and he added, “I promise.”

“Okay,” she said softly, and stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. He looked down and put a hand to that cheek, his fingers almost touching where the skin still tingled from the touch of her lips. He looked up, but Rinoa was gone, disappeared from sight as soon as she turned from the small hallway into the corridor and walked away.

The door slid open behind him and he turned to find Zell grinning at him from ear to ear, those sharp canines of his adding a distinctly devilish air to his smile.

“Perfect timing,” Squall said, letting his hand drop from his cheek. “Were you eavesdropping?”

Zell looked mildly offended without dropping his grin, and put a hand to his chest. “Me? Eavesdropping? Squall, would I do that?”

“Yes, but you wouldn’t call it ‘eavesdropping,’ would you?” Squall asked.

Zell shrugged. “Nah. I’d call it—” he paused, looking up, then said, “—I’d call it purposefully concealed perception of—meaningful conversation,” he paused the one time to stare up at the ceiling again, a look of intense concentration on his face. “And I’d only do so if it involved friends about whom I care so deeply.” And he gave a half-bow.

Squall sighed, unable to even attempt anger. “I give up.”

“That’s good,” Zell said casually, walking past Squall and catching his elbow. “Come on, let’s go get a fresh of breath air.”

Squall took a step, then stopped and blinked in confusion. “It’s—”


“You said—”

“I said what?” Zell blinked his wide eyes innocently.

Squall caught on belatedly and shook his head. He closed and locked the door behind him and let Zell drag him down the hallway.

“Squall, is it just me, or did we just pass the first level?”

Squall frowned and looked out the elevator shaft, then at the panel where the button marked “3” was lit. “Oh, I must have hit the button for level 3 by accident. I’ve been in my office all morning, and I guess I left my brain there when I came down-level. I just automatically hit it without even thinking.”

Zell shrugged and leaned against the glass wall. “Sure, no problem. Let’s go to your office. Show me the footage of this infamous monster that caught you all with your pants down. I’m sorry I missed it.”

Squall looked at him soberly. “No, you’re not.”

When the elevator stopped at the third level, they got off and Squall let them into his office. He walked straight to his desk where the monitors were still set up. He reset the footage to the beginning but did not play it yet. He turned and found Zell had made himself comfortable in his big, comfy swivel chair. He perched on the edge of his desk as Zell propped his feet on the desk and folded his hands behind his head.

“Feet off the desk,” Squall said almost absently, as he turned back to the blank monitors. Zell sighed and Squall heard his feet drop to the floor.

“Okay, then, show me the video of this many-armed monster that had you all running around in circles.”

Squall lifted the remote that let him control both monitors. The one to his left ran the one that had been taken by Sergeant Rawl on the stretch of beach where Squall had been attacked, and the one on the right showed the footage from early that morning in Meta.

Squall let them both play at once and, though he had seen them so many times before, he watched both avidly, his eyes darting back and forth between the screens.

“Wow,” Zell breathed, dropping his arms to the desk and leaning forward. He winced as the creature attacked on both screens.

Squall found himself leaning forward intently as well, but he stopped himself, disgusted once again with this pointless obsession. He stopped paying such avid attention to the fighting on both monitors and instead let his eyes wander aimlessly back and forth between the two screens, not watching for anything in particular.

There, on the left, the monster with its 100 arms, still whole before Private Mackerzie shot one off and left it deformed with only 99. And there on the right, in the fishing town of Meta on the northern shore of Widow’s Reef Peninsula, the creature flailed its 99 tentacles about wildly before grabbing hold of Squall. He turned away and found Zell’s blue eyes fixed on him.

“Hyne, that monster’s tough! She sure thrashed you, huh?” Squall knew Zell too well to take offense at the shorter man’s rather discourteously accurate summary of the fight taking place as if in real time on the monitor near Squall’s desk.

Squall sighed in response and reached over to physically turn off the two monitors rather than use the remote but Zell grabbed his arm and stopped him.

“Wait, they’re not over yet!”

Squall sighed again and took his arm away, turning away from the videos and trying to ignore Zell’s obvious awe.

“Damn! And this was the second time you met this thing, right Squall?”

Squall nodded absently in reply and stood up. He walked away from the desk toward Rinoa’s piano, intending to play idly with the keys or perhaps just walk past it before turning to pace back.

Zell hissed and Squall winced, his inner clock so in tune with the time frame of those videos that he knew precisely what was showing now. On the right monitor, Squall was held in the air, tentacles wrapped around him, obscenely tight, one claw in his mouth while others stroked his face and throat, another puncturing the back of his neck. Soon, he would be painfully tossed to the ground and once again would fall, helplessly unable to stop it.

“Damn, Squall, this thing sure got you good,” Zell said, ever innocently offensive. “Did you just sit there and take it? Didn’t you get even one good one in on it?” Zell tsked and pounded his fists on the desk top a few times in uncontained agitation.

Squall opened his mouth to give a scathing reply and froze faster and colder than Scylla encased in Shiva’s ice.

Shiva’s ice on the beach in the morning, the glaring sun, the pounding surf, the unreal sound of its scream…

Squall couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, but suddenly, he could remember…

The Scylla’s cry, paralyzing him with fear so that he stood like stone as its claw tore at his chest. He cried out, curled around the wound, and called a weak healing spell but could do no more before it attacked again.

“—damn lucky that Seifer was there to save your ass, huh, Squall? Imagine that, Almasy, of all the sons of—” Zell’s voice filtered through a wall of white noise roaring in Squall’s ears and he could pay it no mind.

It attacked again, a sharp, black claw coming toward his face. It was strong, so strong. Fire and ice, he used fire magic on it, cast a sleep, hit it with an ice spell, but nothing hurt it. Then, in the end, he found the energy in the imagined laughter of his lover to call on his Guardian Force, and Shiva came, bringing down the moon and the stars and sending them in a blast of ice so cold it burned and at last—at last the monster released him and threw him into the sea, but first…but first…

“—Squall? Because I’m pretty sure that I would have just—” And Zell was going on, killing the silence, threatening to break Squall’s concentration, and if he’d only just be quiet!

The claw, a sharp, black death hovering in front of his eyes, swaying in a taunting dance, and coming for his soul. He lifted his sword, the gunblade like his own deadly appendage, and he…

Struggling to remember, Squall seized the edge of his desk and clenched it so tight that he heard wood creaking in his grip. Zell’s incessant ramble broke off and he stared at Squall in surprise, jumping up from the chair when Squall bent double under the weight of a struggling revelation.

99 arms…99 arms…

Dr. Kencie spoke in his self-important tone: “I don’t believe that this monster had any regenerative powers. The fact that this monster lost an arm this afternoon and had not regenerated the tentacle by tonight highly suggests that the creature could not repair its own flesh.”

99 arms…it had 99 arms…

There, on the monitors where the videos were programmed to run again and again, he watched it happen; the 100-armed monster attacked the SeeDs on the beach and the young soldier shot off one arm, leaving it with 99…

The body of the Scylla they had met in Meta was spread out that very moment on Dr. Kencie’s laboratory table, its 99 arms splayed around its gelatinous, amorphous, slightly charred body. On another table, he had the 100th arm that the team had retrieved after Private Mackerzie shot it off.

He lifted his sword, the gunblade like his own deadly appendage…

And he sliced off one of its arms.

He could still hear its preternatural shriek scraping at his ear drums, could feel the slight resistance as the blade passed through its shiny pink flesh and severed the arm. When he had summoned Shiva and the Guardian Force attacked the Scylla, when in pain and frustration it threw him into the ocean, the creature had only 99 arms because Squall had chopped one off with his sword.

The creature that attacked the team that Seifer sent out to scour the beach after Squall had been brought in, injured, had 100 arms—there, on the monitor, he could see them, minutes before Mackerzie shot one, waving around in silent anger and stretching towards the humans before it. They were all whole, no partial stumps or halved arms dangled from the shapeless body of the Scylla.

Dr. Kencie had said with great certainty that the monster had no regenerative powers and therefore could not grow back any lost limbs.

The facts added up in Squall’s brain to form a terrifying equation.

If the monster Squall had met in the morning had left their encounter with only 99 arms, but the creature that attacked the SeeD clean-up team had had every single one of its 100 arms, then, clearly—

Squall had to lean against the desk to keep from falling and Zell was at his side instantly.

Clearly, it could not have been the same Scylla.

“Squall? Squall, what is it? Are you hurt, are you in pain? Is it some injury you got from the Scylla? Squall? What is it?”

Squall tried to speak but found that he had no voice. He swallowed, cleared his throat, tried again, choked, tried again.

“The Scylla Seifer killed,” he began in a hoarse whisper, lacking the strength to make his voice any stronger. “It wasn’t the same one that attacked me.”

Zell frowned and shook his head, not understanding. Squall resisted the urge to shake him, to scream, to cry, to run. He cleared his throat again and swallowed tightly.

“They weren’t the same monsters, Zell,” Squall said, his tone suddenly surprisingly normal. “There’s another monster out there.” His eyes widened as a horrifying possibility occurred to him. “Maybe more than one.”

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