*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
I sat at the helm, thoughts tumbling through my head like beads in a rattle. So now we knew what went on between Squall and Immamiel… but what good did it do? We’d left Elle standing at the entrance of Garden, waving goodbye as we made our way out to the Ragnarok. She’d wanted to go with us. Go with Squall, really. He wouldn’t let her. Instead he arranged for her to accompany Alisa back to Esthar to see what they could do for her there. Alisa seemed favorable to the idea, we arranged it quickly, and Kadowaki had deemed her stable enough to travel as long as they took a couple med techs. It wasn’t that much longer until we’d reach Centra again. Squall sat beside me, flipping through the files that the others had uplinked to us when they got word of our return. “Anything good?” I looked over at the screen but was too far away to see much more than scrolling text.
“Detailed analysis of the statuary, if that would interest you? Elijah went through and made some minor notations about it, mainly incidental carvings and things like that. Oh, and a translation of that one book… you know the one Heroth was holding? Nothing we didn’t know before, though.”
“Nah, I’ll pass for now.” I closed my eyes and leaned back against the headrest, feeling the soft thrum of the engines below us as we cut through the sky. Eventually it lulled me to sleep.
We arrived back in Centra in mid-afternoon, local time. I had radioed in just prior to landing, letting them know we were on schedule and not to bother meeting us. Squall and I made our way back into the cave, attracted by the sounds of idle chatter and random noises. “Hey!” I yelled, my voice echoing back along the stone walls. “I better see a lot of work done by the time I get back there!”
Momentary silence was followed by a shrill “Shut up, Seifer! I’ll have you know we’ve been busting our asses while you’ve been slacking off on your little vacation!”
“What ass?” I yelled back. “You don’t have an ass!”
Squall looked over, raised an eyebrow, and deadpanned, “And how would you know she doesn’t have an ass?”
“Jealous?” I winked; glad to see him at least feigning to be in a better mood, if not entirely the real thing. He just snorted and sped up his pace, walking a few steps in front of me. “Hey, Selph… you wanna see what an ass is supposed to look like? Just ask Squall to turn around!”
“Eww!! I’m not going to be scoping his ass, Seifer. That’s just sick. Squall! Do something about him, will you?” Selphie finished as we arrived in the statuary. Squall just looked over at her and shrugged noncommittally. “I got a better idea, Seifer,” Selphie continued undauntedly, “you wanna see an ass? Go look in the mirror.” She stuck her tongue out to complete the suggestion.
“Twerp,” I muttered, dashing after her as she dashed off to hide behind one of the giant statues. “I’m not back five minutes and already you give me grief.” Selphie just stuck her head out from behind Vach’s wing and grinned.
“I can give you grief, buttmunch. You owe me, oh yes you do!”
I stopped, folding my arms across my chest and raising an eyebrow in question. “And just how, precisely, do I happen to owe you?”
“Go look, go look!” She commanded with unrestrained glee, pointing across the room and down to the passageway. “Come on, Squall! You too!”
Grabbing my hand, Selphie began to tug at me to go faster. I dug my heels in and waited for Squall and the others to catch up before I fell into step beside him. The tunnel ahead was lit in pale yellow, the lights reflecting off quartz bits ingrained in the abnormally smooth stone. Light emptied into the chamber beyond. The path, blocked just a few days ago, was opened wide enough to accommodate passage. Well shit, I guess I did owe them.
I guess I’d just quit moving forward when I realized what they’d done. I jerked back to awareness when I felt Seifer tugging on my hand, pulling me into the chamber. The figure of the Sentinel stood at the mouth of the chamber – a fierce and glowering thing. It had the feral grace of a wildcat; only it stood as tall Seifer or Citan. The paws were almost as big than my two hands spanned together, the fangs hung like daggers from the snarling mouth, the mane and tail were threaded through with beads and feathers and bits of bone inscribed with unknown characters. I stepped closer and would have sworn that I felt heat radiating off it. “Is it…” I whispered. “Is it alive?” Reaching out, I brought my hand close to the muzzle, at once terrified that it might move and that it might not.
“If it was,” came Quisty’s voice from behind me, “it would be close to over two thousand years old. However, we ran tests. It scans as some form of marble.”
Someone stepped up beside me and I knew it was Seifer, even if I didn’t turn to look. There was just something about his presence that radiated out from him, so that I always knew. “You feel it too?” he murmured. I nodded, just an imperceptible shake of my head. I placed my hand right above the nose and was shocked to feel not cold stone but warm fur.
“Seifer, tell me I’m not hallucinating.” My voice was strained. “Touch it and tell me what it feels like.”
He reached out a hand but drew back in shock when a blue light arced from his fingertips to mine. “Fuck,” he swore. There were gasps behind us as I heard footsteps shuffling backward in surprise.
“Squall… not funny man, just really not funny. Quit screwing around with the Thunder spells,” Zell’s voice wavered beneath a façade of nonchalance.
“Zell,” I replied in hushed tones, “ I’m not junctioned.” I felt the residual of that power flowing through my fingertips, seemingly ebbing out into the ‘statue’ before me. “Seifer, again. Give me your hand.” Seifer reached out slowly and I could feel the power grow as his hand came closer to mine, a luminescent glow building between us that reminded me of Lionheart’s blade. It began to permeate the creature, flowing around it as a sound like crackling stone echoed off the chamber walls. I felt the warmth of breath leave the nostrils, startling me into stumbling backwards.
As I fell back I noticed Seifer’s stunned expression as my gaze continued upward into the eyes of a living, breathing thing.
A deafening roar rose up from the beast as the mouth opened and the eyes seemed to flash red for a moment I could only describe as split second infinity. I scrambled backward, pushing myself with my hands and feet, yelling at Seifer to get back even though he’d already begun to do so. Suddenly, the roaring stopped and it was like the sound had been sucked out into a vacuum. Nothing could be heard, not even breathing. Then, the heavy sound of a body hitting the floor jolted my senses back instantly. Before I could turn around to determine who had fallen a commanding voice burned its way into my brain, dictating where my awareness would fall.
“I am Shei’ro-Kaga, daughter of Yami-Ka’Meru, daughter of Aga’Meru, daughter of Mai’aga-Rui, and last of the Akuma Sesh’Ka-ha’chi. Who art thou to awaken me?”
It was absurdly stupid. There’s this huge orange furred thing roaring like all fucking get out inside my head and all I can think is it’s a girl. A damned girl. Never mind the fact that up inside of five minutes ago it wasn’t even alive that we could tell. I wanted to turn around because I’d swear to fuck that I heard Squall hit the fucking ground but I don’t want to turn my back on this thing lest I end up with those claws which are surely a good six inches if not more through my flesh and severing my spine. Or ripping my head off. Which ever it felt more inclined to do. I start backing up because I figure it’s the only way I’m ever going to reach Squall and I’m hoping to find him sooner rather than later but time seems to be a negotiable commodity right now because I’m fairly certain that it hasn’t been more than five minutes since this little occurrence started but I can’t quite be sure.
“Mortal, there are limits to my patience. I ask again: who art thou?” boomed that fucking voice in my head again.
I can’t shut off that vindictively sarcastic portion of my brain that can’t even take life-threatening occurrences seriously. More than anything I want to look up and just go, ‘Hi. Seifer Almasy at your service. Afraid I didn’t catch your name that first bellow…’ but somehow this thing doesn’t strike me as the type with an understanding sense of humor. I can see why the Centrans would use these guys as guards because I don’t know of anything in its right mind outside of the T-Rexaurs, which weren’t exactly known for their intellect, that would not seriously fucking pause before taking on something like this. That little thought, though, has precisely nothing to do with anything and doesn’t change this situation for the better.
All the sudden I’m pretty miffed at the fact that I really haven’t done a damned thing and that I’m standing here talking to myself like Squall and oh fuck, Squall.
I wonder if he’s managed to pick himself off the ground yet?
I breathe deep as years of training finally override the reflex reaction to panic. I look up and note that Seifer’s moving backward but hasn’t taken his eyes off the Sentinel. Very smart move at this point. I’m starting to get vaguely annoyed at things that keep speaking in my head but I don’t care to argue the point right now. Instead, I pick myself up off the ground, and stand in a stance that conveys much more bravado than I can possibly lay claim to. Bless Garden’s endless drills. “Squall. Squall Leonhart.”
“This means nothing to me. Art thou descended of the Cetra?”
“The Cetra?” Some illogical connection tells me that it must be what the Centrans called themselves. “They’ve been gone over a thousand years.”
“I serve none save the Cetra and their Guardians. By what foul sorcery hast thou awakened me?”
Sorcery? Fuck me. I wrack my brain knowing that somewhere in the mess I’ve made of my mind is an answer that will surely end this if I could only think of it.
“Sorcery?” Seifer’s voice startles me. He shakes his head almost imperceptibly and the change in his demeanor strikes me deeply. I recognize this persona. I’ve seen it before – at Edea’s side and once in Catania. He has again become the Knight. “Demand such answers of your mistress who has sent both Catalyst and Knight to seek out Kronos.”
“She hath been Sundered from this world. You lie."
“The Barrier weakens and Immamiel threatens. The same threat that destroyed your world now seeks to do so once again. Will you stand idly by and watch it happen?”
The Sentinel paused for a moment. Then, I heard it. I didn’t have to turn around to know what – or rather who – was behind me. That simple ringing sound ran like a knife up my spine, severing my ability to turn of my own volition. Immediately the Sentinel shifted, front paws stretching out on the dais in what I could only call a bow. In the periphery of my vision I saw a figure cloaked in red approach slowly. With each delicate step the ringing grew more and more insistent. For an instant she paused to look at me and I saw not a hint of suspicion in her eyes that I might not be what she believed.
“Shei’ro, my child. You have done well and for that I thank you. A greater service have you done for me than any Watcher before you. You have brought much honor to your ancestors. Your task, though, is not complete. It is with a humble heart that I request you aid these men. What the Knight speaks is true. He threatens once again and the barrier is weak…I cannot hold here for long. Aid them as you can.”
At this point, I was desperately hoping two things: that the rest of the team behind me was seeing this and that the sensors were picking it all up and recording it. As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone. Again. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Just being in her presence made my head want to split in two. Like someone was pulling at the synapses and connections between my right and left brain. I concentrated on breathing and standing and once I decided I had a good grip on that, made my way slowly over to Seifer, standing just to his left, my shoulder square with his. His gaze flicked quickly in my direction and registered my being there all without turning his head from the Sentinel.
“Do you believe now?” Seifer asked.
A low growl pulsed through the air, as if the beast didn’t care to be pushed on the point of being wrong. Seifer should readily recognize that, I thought. “It is only for Her sake that I offer aid. But, very well… I shall endeavor to assist - if only to spite that demon sorcerer.”
“I humbly thank you.” Seifer bowed in respect, earning a begrudging look of approval from the beast. “I am Seifer, also called the Knight. This is Squall, also known as the Catalyst. Our friends, whom you see behind us, aid us.”
I turned to face the group behind me, petitioning silently not to have my legs give out from sheer uncertainty. They stood frozen, eyes unblinking, like some strange Garden statuary. I gestured from left to right. “This is Quistis, Citan, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, and Elijah.”
Quistis recovered first, giving a slight bow, just a nod of her head. “I am honored. My name is Quistis Trepe, of Balamb Garden.”
I could have sworn a chuckle was conveyed as the voice countered, “Well, it seems not all are lacking manners. I am Shei’ro-Kaga, she who hath walked with Hyne, and Watcher of the Guardian Kronos.”
Quisty’s move seemed to cue the others, who gave slight variations on her initial introduction. It wasn’t until a moment after Elijah began to speak that I realized I didn’t understand a word coming out of his mouth. The look on his face said he obviously didn’t realize what he was doing.
“Priest! The tongue of Priests!” The tone in Shei’ro’s projection rattled in my brain like echoes off a stone building. “Come hither, Priest.” His eyes roved from the Sentinel to the ground to me to Squall and back, never once fixing on any particular thing. Elijah blinked for a moment, then started forward hesitantly. I whipped my head around to watch him make his way forward. He moved forward haltingly, as if Shei’ro held him hooked and was reeling him in with force of will and nothing more. I could swear I smelled the fear on him as he went past me, locked up in a tight ball in his gut. But give him credit, he faced it down and didn’t try to run. Can’t say I’d blame him if he had, really. Maybe the thought of going more or, mostly less, willingly was a better option than being chased down. In a way I was glad someone was going a bit more front row than I was. He reached the edge of the stone dais and stood as she lowered her muzzle toward his head. Subconsciously, he backed a hair’s breath away. Shei’ro’s nostrils flared as she sniffed the air around him, taking in his scent. “How is this accomplished? How hast thou survived if what the Knight speaks is true?”
He turned his face upward, his braid swinging down to flick at the curve of his lower back. Struggling to find his voice, it came out a ragged whisper. “I don’t know… I don’t know what you mean.” His features were etched in anguish and his knees quivered once, twice, before they gave way entirely and he collapsed to the floor of the cavern, hands braced listlessly against the stones that were as hard as the Sentinel before us had once been.
I walked behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder. He leaned his head back against my thigh, eyes never wavering off the gaze of the beast before us. “He was the lone survivor of an attack by Immamiel’s minions. It was the will of your Mistress that saved him. As her gifts are passed to others, so she gave this gift to him.”
“I see.” A pensive look crossed her face. “Dost thou have knowledge of the ways of Priests?”
“What do you mean?” Elijah asked.
I didn’t think it was possible for an animal to clear its throat, but she did. “We shall see, then. We shall see.”
So, another installment done! I know I said that I’d be updating weekly, but just as I made a solemn vow, Murphy stepped in and crashed the server at the main campus, which in turn killed the entire network at all the campuses. Oh joy. It’s been an insufferable week more or less because the a/c in the house died. Not so bad in spring, but hellacious in mid-summer when temps are climbing into the upper 90s every day. I happen to rent an apartment in the attic… and if you’ve ever gone in your attic in the summer… Well, just imagine living in it. Thankfully my job keeps me out of the house during the worst of it.
And yes, Shei'ro is the same kind of animal as Nanaki from FFVII, not that you could really call him an animal. I'm enjoying playing around with these ideas, and this one seems to fit. Since nobody knows about the people from Centra, I'm not going to let one little letter stand between me and screwing around with the concept of the Cetra.
Well, the story is officially 83,000 words long now. That’s about 134 pages if you print it out. Scary, isn’t it? I never thought I had that many words in me ^_~*
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