Legacy of Reiginsei
FFVIII/Vampire Hunter D crossover
Chapter Two: Ignorance is Bliss
“Zell, honey, slow down or you’ll choke,” Ma Dincht warned with a small grin on her round face.
“I’m sorry, Ma,” Zell sputtered from around a mouthful of meat loaf. “Your food is just so good! All they have at Balamb Garden is crappy cafeteria food!”
Ma Dincht watched in amusement as Zell took a huge chug of his water to wash down all the food he had shoved in his mouth. “But don’t you like the hotdogs there?” she asked.
Zell nodded, wiping his mouth with his gloved hand. “Of course! But ever since Irvine decided that he wanted to like them, too, I’ve had to be a nice guy and share from time to time, and he gets out from his classes earlier than I do so I, like, don’t get as much as I want to!”
Ma laughed softly as Zell started mixing his peas into his mashed potatoes, something he had done ever since he was little. “How is Irvine?” she asked.
Zell shrugged, intent on his food. “He’s fine. He and Rinoa both passed their SeeD exams.”
Ma Dincht smiled. “How wonderful! When is the ceremony?”
Zell thought for a while, chewing on his food. “Um, I dunno. I’ll ask Squall tomorrow. It should be sometime soon, though. I can’t wait to go! That last one was fun…if Selphie hadn’t been begging me to join the Garden Festival Committee half the time.”
“Are you all having a Garden Festival this year?”
Zell shrugged. “Dunno.”
Ma Dincht looked at him oddly. “Honey! Where have you been? How come you don’t know anything about what’s happening at the Garden these days?”
Zell folded his muscular arms across his chest and sat back in his chair, trying to look collected, but Ma had already seen the complete look of distaste that had crossed his handsome face. “Nothing’s wrong, Ma!” he insisted. “Just been busy with my studies.”
Ma tilted her head to the side in a look of curiosity, her long braid spilling onto one broad shoulder. “Now honey,” she said softly, knowing that Zell only got that look on his face when the name of a certain person was in danger of being mentioned. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain blond-haired young man in a white trench coat I saw walking around Balamb tonight, would it?”
Zell immediately leapt up from his chair, hands clenched into fists and fire in his blue eyes. “Seifer!” he snarled, looking like a threatened panther. “What the hell was he doing here?! He’s supposed to be staying in the Garden! Squall ordered it! He and his little ducklings can’t leave! He wasn’t doing anything bad, was he, Ma?”
Ma folded her thick arms across her chest, for some reason looking every bit as fierce as the martial artist across the table from her. “Well, glad to see you’re still capable of talking like a human being, honey,” she said sternly, eyes on her fuming son. “Sit down, Zell. This is nothing to get all worked up over.”
Zell plopped obediently down in his chair, but the sapphire fire in his eyes refused to dim. “This is a big deal, Ma!” he insisted, waving his gloved hands emphatically in the air. “Seifer shouldn’t be leaving the Garden! If Squall finds out, he’ll kick him out again!” His handsome face abruptly became thoughtful, and he tapped his chin with one gloved finger. “I think I’m gonna tell on him, too! Should serve that bast—”
Ma glared at him sternly.
“That poo-poo brain,” Zell finished lamely, thinking that his original word would have sounded much better.
Ma Dincht raised an eyebrow. “Are you quite finished?” she asked, and before Zell could say differently, she continued, “I was just about to tell you, I saw Rinoa at the grocery store today. She told me that Seifer would be coming into Balamb tonight to see the new psychiatrist about his readmission back into Balamb Garden. She said that he needed to have his application professionally certified before he would be allowed back in.”
Zell blinked dumbly at Ma for a moment, blue eyes wide and innocent looking, like a puppy dog’s, but then he abruptly burst out laughing. “Seifer came to see a shrink? Hahahahaha!!!! God, that’s totally priceless! Whoo-hoo!”
The corner of Ma’s mouth twitched as she tried in vain not to smile. “Honey, it’s not good to laugh at other people’s problems.”
“Seifer’s a Charter reject!!!” Zell sang happily, clutching his aching stomach.
Ma Dincht finally gave in and grinned. “Honestly, honey,” she said, shaking her head at how much joy she received from just watching her son laugh. “Rinoa seemed to think of this as a rather serious matter.”
Zell waited for his aftermath of giggles to subside before saying, “You know, Rinoa’s been wiggin’ out a lot lately.”
Ma’s brown eyes narrowed with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. “Zell Dincht, that peculiar word you just said better not have perverted connotations.”
Zell shook his head wildly. “No way, Ma! It just means that she’s been acting a little weird lately.”
A curious look entered Ma’s motherly face as she raised her majestic bulk and began to clear away the dinner plates. “Weird? What do you mean?”
Zell directed his voice towards Ma as she made the short trip to the sink with her burden of dishes. “Well, I don’t really know. She just acts strange sometimes. Matron says that Rinoa’s still adjusting to her new sorceress powers, with all those hidden senses and all. Says it might take some time.”
“Rinoa did mention that she had been having trouble sleeping,” Ma interjected over the clatter of the dishes.
Zell nodded. “Yep. Squall’s a little worried, actually. She’s never been this bad before, he says. She keeps drifting off, like she’s daydreaming or something. Does it all the time, and she’s always jumpy, especially during the evening and the night.”
Ma walked back to the table, wiping her hands on a dishrag. “Is it anything serious?” she asked worriedly. Like the rest of Zell’s “orphanage gang,” Ma had come to see Rinoa as another child of hers, and loved the young sorceress almost as much as she loved her own son.
Zell shrugged and spread his hands. “Dunno, Ma. I wish I did, though. We’re all kinda worried.”
“Well, as soon as you find out anything, you’d best come down here and tell me.”
Zell nodded and smiled. “Sure thing, Ma! I’ll ask Squall about it tonight.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and abruptly jumped out of his chair. “Speaking of which, I’d better get back to Garden before curfew or my SeeD rank will go down…again.”
Ma followed her son as he strode over to the front door. “A strange thing,” she mused, “that a member of the elite mercenary force, the world-renowned SeeD, has to be home before curfew.”
Zell grinned, his hand on the doorknob. “Crazy, huh? That’s what I always think, but it pays to be a SeeD, you know. I’m happy with my life.”
Ma patted her son’s muscular shoulder. “I know, honey. I know you worked long and hard to get where you are now, and I’m very proud you.”
Zell blushed, turning red underneath his tan and looking down at the ground with a sheepish grin. “Yeah…thanks, Ma.”
Ma smiled. “You be careful,” she said. “And come and see me more often. It gets lonely down here when your Pa is out on business.”
Zell rocked forward and planted a kiss on his mother’s cheek, breathing in the same smell of oranges that he had remembered Ma having ever since he was young. “Of course I will, Ma!” he said enthusiastically. “See ya laterz!!”
With one final wave of his gloved hand, Zell opened the door and ascended the steps out of his house, Ma calling one last goodbye as she shut the door softly behind the child that meant more to her than anything in the whole world.
Zell stretched his arms over his head and yawned loudly with contentment, enjoying the ache in his limbs as he stretched muscles that had been too dormant while sitting in that chair. Eating dinner and sitting and talking with Ma were fun and relaxing, but sometimes he just needed to get out and MOVE, baby! Taking a few practice punches at the air, hoping the release a few pints of his boundless energy, Zell took a deep breath of the night air of his hometown. Sure, it wasn’t his real hometown, but to him, Balamb was the only place where he could rest his weary limbs and soul, a temple of sanctity that could never be desecrated. That’s why he had gone bubonic on Fujin and Raijin when they had invaded Balamb during the whole sorceress thingie a few months ago.
Unfortunately, thinking of Fujin and Raijin made him think of Seifer, and Zell let out a muttered curse as he stopped punching at the air, his serene mood evaporating as he pictured his golden-haired, azure-eyed rival, a fount of bitterness in a white trench, hiding behind a smug smile. Damn him to hell, he thought vehemently as he began to walk the streets of nighttime Balamb, boats thumping loudly on the cobblestone pavement. I know Squall is just tryin’ to be nice and fair by letting him and his stooges back into the Garden, but don’t nobody want them there! If I were Squall, I would have told Seifer where to shove it a long time ago! Right on, baby!
Fortunately, Zell’s bad mood didn’t last for long as the refreshing, clean night air of his hometown and the whispering murmurs of the sea cleansed his overactive mind of any vehement thoughts he had been having. The streets of Balamb still teemed with life, even so late into the evening. Men sat in lawn chairs on their porches or in front of their doors with their neighbors, sipping cool beers and talking idly after a hard day’s work. Some of them called greetings to Zell as he sauntered past, and the blond-haired SeeD waved back cheerfully. Rebellious and daring children still played ball in the streets, heedless of the fact that their mothers had probably told them to go in at the first sign of twilight. Back and forth they darted, laughing and giggling at their own youthful belligerence as they chased each other around the street lamps, making sure to stay clear of passing cars. Zell couldn’t help but smile as two of the children, Bianca and Travis by name, ran in circles around him, the little girl clinging to his waist briefly while trying to dodge the playful swipe of her younger brother.
“You kiddos play nice now,” he warned good-naturedly as he watched them disappear, laughing, into the shadows, two brief candles burning strong in the night’s embrace.
“Bye-bye Zell!” he heard Travis call. “Come and see us here again!”
The SeeD smiled back. He knew most of the people in Balamb, and they knew him. He had watched children like Fatima and Travis grow from infants to screaming toddlers, and now into rambunctious and headstrong pre-adolescents. Made him feel kind of proud, actually.
Guess I’m gettin’ old, Zell thought with an inner smile. But then again, some of the families had watched him grow from the little tike he had been when Ma and Pa had brought him home from the orphanage into a strapping adult with laughing blue eyes and hair made of liquid gold. Even now, they still stopped him on the streets to tell him how much had grown up, and how much they approved of the man he had become.
“Look at you now, Zell Dincht! You’re getting to be so tall and strong! Why, I remember when you barely came up past my hip!”
“…always running around and crying, clinging to your ma and hiding behind your pa…but now look at you! You done gone and become a SeeD! And a heroic one at that! Saving the world and all that razzle-dazzle! We proud of you, Zell!”
He tried not to let it all flatter him. All the SeeDs had received their fair share of the spotlight after word had spread like sweet passion-fire that he and his friends had been the ones to save the world from the maniacal Ultimecia. Newspapers. Interviews. Cameras. So many lights and people around him that it had made his head spin. All the coverage and fame had only gotten more intense as the media realized that the new Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly was none other than the daughter of Galbadia’s General Caraway and the late singer Julia Heartilly. It seemed that every time the Ragnarok or Balamb Garden landed on one of the continents, a dozen or so reporters would rush up and accost those disembarking for information regarding the famous Squall Leonhart and his band of heroic SeeDs who had bravely fought against all odds to vanquish the dark forces that be.
It had all died down eventually, but people still caught up to him in the streets of Deling City or the recently liberated Timber to pump his hand and express their gratitude for his valor. And Zell coolly accepted it all with a grin and a casual, “Hey, no prob!”
At least I wasn’t like Squall, he thought with amusement as he strolled up to the entrance of Balamb. Unsurprisingly, the leader of SeeD turned out to be severely camera shy and had spent most of his time hiding behind all that floppy hair of his and letting Rinoa and the others do the talking for him. Poor Squall. That guy just didn’t know how to accept praise or glory.
“Hey there, Zell,” a voice suddenly called from the shadows beyond the street lamps, startling the young man a bit before he looked harder and realized that it was none other than Nathaniel Jones, a.k.a. “Old Man Nate,” one of the town’s oldest residents. He stood leaning on his cane with his back to the darkness, steel gray eyes glittering youthfully in his skull like knives, slicing cleanly through the inky black that he cloaked himself in to fasten onto Zell’s azure eyes.
“Sup, Nate?” Zell greeted amicably, not at all bothered by the old man’s piercing gaze. Those soul-searching eyes had used to scare the living shit out of him when he was younger, but now that he was all grown up, Zell knew that there were an entire buttload of scarier things in the world than an old man with creepy eyes.
“Oh, nothing,” Nate croaked, sounding like a cheerful frog as he tapped his cane absent-mindedly on the cobblestones. He smiled at Zell. “I’m just a-standin’ here listening to the songs the night is a-singin’ to me. She loves talkin’, ya know.”
“Sure thing, old man!” Zell said cheerfully, crossing one foot over the other, unable to stay still for long. “You’d best be getting back home before your daughter comes looking for ya. It’s getting really dark out.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout me, boy,” Nate replied softly, turning to look into the night beyond the entrance to Balamb. His wire-framed glasses glittered in the moonlight. “I’ll be home in time – you bet your bippy I will. Why you be prowlin’ the streets at this time of night? Got a restless heart like that young Almasy kid I seen walkin’ in here earlier?”
“Seifer,” Zell snarled, clenching his hands into fists at the mention of his archrival. “He left town yet?”
“No, sir. At least not that I seen tonight.”
“Well, when you does, you make damn sure to stick out that old cane of yours and trip him up, huh?”
Nate laughed gleefully, punctuating his expression of mirth with a hacking cough. “Sure thing, sonny,” he replied.
Zell smiled, white teeth flashing in the darkness. “Good! Now, if you’ll excuse me kindly, I’ll be on my way. Gotta get myself back to Garden before curfew.”
He started to walk past the small form of the old man when he suddenly heard Nate suck in a sharp breath so quickly that Zell whirled back around, scared that the old man was having some sort of attack.
“You going out there alone?” Nate suddenly asked feverishly, hobbling up to Zell with his cane beating nervously against the street.
“Why not?” Zell responded, wondering if he should escort the old man back to his home before he got himself all worked up. Men as old as Nate tended to get like this sometimes – all jittery over nothing.
Nate suddenly began to flounder for words, tugging nervously on his suspenders and scratching at his balding head. “Well, sonny, that be 100% pure night out there beyond those walls. She hungry, and, well, ya know, the booger man might eat ya or somethin’.”
Zell grinned proudly and put his hands on his hips, squaring his narrow shoulders. “Well, I ain’t scared of any booger man,” he said confidently. “I fought against scarier things in my lifetime. Don’t worry about me, old man. Just get yourself back home before I gotta drag you back.”
Nate was suddenly beside himself with frustration. “Now, don’t you be foolish now, Zell Dincht. You take a rental car and drive yourself back to your Garden. No need to walkin’ out there on a night like this now!”
Zell decided it was time to get firm. His eyes hardened slightly, and he planted his feet sternly on the ground, drawing himself up to his entire height of five feet five inches, a modest height for a young man, but he was still a whole two inches taller than the old little man.
“Now, you listen here, Nate,” he said firmly but with no cutting edge in his voice. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate your warning and all, but you’re just being downright silly now! I’m a SeeD, for crying out loud. I’m trained to fight, and fight is what I do! There isn’t anything out there between the Garden and this entrance that can beat me! Just calm down and go home before you work yourself into an early grave right here and now! I’m gonna be fine.”
Nate’s smoke-colored eyes locked onto Zell’s face again, the dark pupils huge with dire warning. He sighed in defeat and slunk back into the shadows, holding his cane close to his chest like it was his only friend. “Fine then, young one,” he said in his old, wavering voice. “You go out into that there night while I pray to Hyne to deliver you safely back to your heavenly Garden. Watch out for them wraiths in the night.”
“Go home, old man,” Zell said softly, offering Nate a reconciliatory wave before stepping out the sinless temple of Balamb and into the terrible night, his azure human eyes blind to the demons lurking in the shadows and his ignorance forming around his small, compact figure an unseen shield that repelled any thoughts that maybe he wasn’t as invincible as his youthful mind led him to believe. Boldly he walked into the dark night, the realm of stalkers and vampires, of werewolves and demons. Into the night he strode, his boots sounding loudly against the paved street like a trumpet calling in the wraiths to do battle with him, challenging Death with his youthful foolishness and his delusions of immortality.
He was Zell Dincht, he was a SeeD, he was happy, and he was alone, yet he didn’t think anything could hurt him. After all, he had faced down and destroyed a diabolical sorceress hell bent on destroying Time itself. What else was there that could possibly offer him a challenge?
How about the deathly silence that the night was just brimming with? How about dark secrets lurking in one’s past, more evil than any demon, just waiting for the right moment to emerge and tear his life down around his ears?
And how about the wraiths in the night? Especially the one that was waiting for him…
Return to Archive | next | previous