Like a child passing through
Never knowing the reason
Chapter 16: Passing
Pallas ignored the skin crawling along her belly and pressed closer to the forest floor, peering through the low scrub at the two figures standing just inside the tree line. Ten feet to her right Thero was crouching in the sticky shadow of some wild, overgrown lilacs. His yellow eyes were focused intensely on the human scene before them and his ears were perked, waving back and forth to catch every word.
They had followed the couple to this familiar place. Sticking to the edge of town in order to remain inconspicuous, they used their keen eyesight to keep tabs on their quarry. Although in retrospect Pallas knew the move had been inevitable, she was nevertheless surprised to find that she and Thero were the ones being hunted. Despite the fear he exhibited toward them, Pallas had always believed that Seifer knew them as friendly. They has been sheltering him for so long that his out lash now was borderline insulting.
On the bright side, however, the woman appeared to be someone Seifer trusted. She looked familiar - a slight resemblance to all those who had followed her in Trabia from the color of her hair to the angle of her nose. Standing next to Seifer, they looked like family.
"I'll go see what sort of equipment we can get from Garden," she announced. Her eyes surveyed the area, sweeping over Pallas and Thero without noticing them. "It shouldn't take long. You could come with me unless you want to wait here."
"No," Seifer said sharply. "But I don't want to go to Garden either. I think...I'll wait for you down by the beach."
Seifer felt a special affinity for the beach that Pallas had never been able to understand. Even in cold Trabia he'd spent all the time he could perched along the shore amid the cold, clammy spray of the ocean.
As the couple parted ways and Seifer started down toward the beach, his hands lodged deep in his pockets and a light step carrying him out of the trees, Thero suddenly thrust his nose out through the fuzzy lilac branches and sniffed the air. Muscles rolled under his black fur and his sides heaved against the ground. Grainy pollen showered down upon from the rattling bush and he sighed in frustration.
"I can't make out anything in this place," he grunted. "Damn flowers are the only thing I can smell."
Pallas tilted his own nose. "What are you looking for?"
"I can't smell it anymore," he said. "The beast. While they were here I lost it. But I can't tell for sure because of these infernal flowers." His large body came suddenly out of the foliage, folding out of limited space in a way that seemed magical.
Pallas hadn't noticed a change but dutifully examined the air, too. "You're right," she said. "I don't smell it either."
"What do you suppose that means?" he asked, plodding over to their grassy bed and checking for damage.
"Maybe it's gone. Perhaps he's beaten it without our help."
"I don't think so," Thero replied, punctuating his assertion with a twitch of his tail. "Things like this just don't go away."
"So then it's still there...but deeper, not presenting physically."
"I wish I knew what we were dealing with here," Thero said. "But everything's changed with this one. This thing is from a time and place that we don't know. Anything could have happened between now and then. Delos might be gone completely there."
"Don't say that," Pallas snapped. "Delos can't just vanish. It never has and never will. They need us."
"The world's a less forgiving place than it used to be," Thero replied calmly. "Maybe it's not worth saving."
"You don't believe that. You wouldn't be here if you did."
The two sat in silence for some time, each mulling over their thoughts. After a few moments, Pallas' logic became circular, and she came to the conclusion that their only option was to react quickly. Whatever they decided to do, in whatever context, it had to be done immediately. Things could look good on the surface but be rotten below - and her nose wasn't pleased with the situation.
The fur in the middle of Pallas' head scrunched together as she approached her partner, ready to make her suggestion. She sat down, relaxed her fur, and said, "I think she should talk to her."
Thero gave her the most incredulous look a wolf could give. "We can't do that."
"No...we can't approach Seifer, and he needs someone."
"That's not part of the deal. You know that. We can only interact with the damned."
Pallas huffed. "We interact with people all the time. How is speaking to her any different than when I appeared to her on the beach?"
Thero was cornered.
"We have to save him, Thero," Pallas cooed. "Perhaps the differences with this curse don't mean that Delos is gone in the future. Maybe it's more present than ever."
He considered this for some time. "We can't simply approach her in broad daylight in the middle of town."
"And we won't," Pallas nodded.
Thero looked down at the ground, thinking. When he finally looked up again, his great yellow eyes were narrow and sad.
"What do we tell her?" he asked. "How do we explain?"
Pallas touched her nose to his but didn't reply.
Quistis was hot and sweaty by the time she and Seifer finished setting up their traps in the woods. Her face was smudged with dirt, her t-shirt was damp with perspiration, and her hands were rough and scratched from handling the metal traps. Looking at one cut in particular on her thumb from a trap that tripped on her while she was baiting it, she tried to remember the date of her last tetanus shot. Frowning, she turned her hand over and ignored the scrape.
Seifer, too, was somewhat the worse for wear. The late afternoon heat had convinced him to shed his shirt which was tucked into the back of his pants. Under his clothes he was wiry and lean, which struck Quistis as particularly odd.
Seifer had never in his life been overweight, but he'd never been exactly thin either. Even as a teenage boy he'd never gone through the awkward too tall stage. His body seemed to develop all at the same time in harmony - broad shoulders and chest, strong arms and torso. Compared to the body she had trained, this one was a shadow. Although, in a strange way, it made him appear younger.
She squinted her eyes and looked up at the top of the trees toward the sky. The sun was still hot and heavy but was beginning to loose some of it's intensity as it dropped toward the city of Balamb.
"Starting to get late," she observed.
Seifer walked over next to her and flopped down into the grass. "Good," he said. "I'm getting tired."
She looked down at the top of his head. "How many do you think we got up?"
He shrugged. "No idea."
Quistis awkwardly folded her legs and sat down next to him. She'd kept a rough map of their progress so that they'd be able to find all of their traps in the morning. The hand drawn topography wasn't exactly accurate but was all they had. She spread the folded paper on the ground in front of them and began to count. Each trap was marked on her map with a flag drawn with a red sharpie.
"Fifteen," she finally announced. "Not too bad, considering."
She'd cleaned out Garden's supply of live traps big enough for a wolf to fit into. They usually were used for catching grats for the training center. Each trap was heavy, difficult to carry, and required a great amount of ingenuity to hide. Wolves were considerably smarter than grats and wouldn't be so easily convinced by bait to enter a large wire box.
"Felt more like fifteen hundred." He yawned and scratched his belly. "Hope we don't come back tomorrow and find them full of caterchipillars."
"I think they're too stupid to find them," Quistis laughed.
He smiled at her and she couldn't help but reach out and touch his hand. It wasn't a gesture that she thought much about, and they both took it for exactly what it was.
"I feel disgusting," Seifer announced, getting back up. "Hotter than hell here."
"Me too," she agreed. "We could go down to the beach for a while. We've got some time."
"That sounds a lot like relaxing," he teased. "I didn't think you did that."
She shrugged. "I don't normally take days off either."
They dropped off their things in their Garden car and Quistis drove it down to the beach, happy to leave the woods behind. Late in the day, there were only a few stragglers standing in the waves and delaying the end of their day. Further up the beach a couple was sitting together on a blanket watching the gulls fly and the sun set. Quistis wanted to find them romantic but couldn't help being somewhat repulsed. Watching a sun set sounded good, but in practice it could only make for one hell of a boring date. Might as well go out and watch grass grow together, she thought.
There was just no point to going to the beach and not getting in the water.
She pulled off her tennis shoes and threw them into the back of the car. Seifer lagged behind her as he took the time to roll up his pants.
The water was cold and delicious, pulling hard at her feet when she walked into it. Under her toes it sucked away the sand and the beach consumed her. Side stepping to avoid sinking she turned around to look for Seifer. He looked silly with his pants rolled up but eagerly waded into the water as far as he could. The look of pleasure on his face was childish and bald.
Like children, they splashed and played together in the water - earning a few irritated looks from one parent when the other two children in the water joined their game of Shark, something Squall (of all people) had made up when they were living in the orphanage. Despite her exhaustion from their long day, Quistis was drawn into the game and her competitive spirit flared bright and hot. She'd always had difficulty playing games without getting too serious about them. Quickly, she found herself hunting Seifer through a wave, her heart pounding, and pouncing on him with all the ferocity of a real shark. The idea was to bite and run, so she held him down against the sandy bottom for a few seconds before bounding away like a frightened deer.
When finally the parents had enough of the dangerous game, calling their children back to the beach and hustling them into a green van, Quistis and Seifer climbed sopping wet back up onto dry land and laid down there together.
Quistis looked down at her clothes which were now heavy, clammy, and covered in sand. The sun was now half set, giving the sky a liminal orange hue. It was getting late – time for them to go their separate ways until morning. Even then, Quistis had to go back to work. She wouldn't have time to check on Seifer and the progress of the hunt until lunch.
Turning her head, she looked at him lying in the sand beside her. His eyes were closed and the sea breeze was playing in his hair. He looked peaceful – much more so than he had that morning. Was this all he needed? Quistis filled with a warm glow, pleased with her own work.
He heaved a large sigh and rolled over on his side to face her.
For an uncomfortable moment, Quistis thought he might kiss or hug her. But he did neither, choosing instead to simply smile at her. She smiled back. The day had been a good one. She felt it as much as he did. It reminded her of the long summer days of her youth that had been filled with infinite possibility. As she looked at Seifer the brother of then and now collapsed together to finally become one person. She'd always had difficulty reconciling her vague memories of Seifer playing in the waves, fields, and trees with the man she'd known in Garden and during the war. Suddenly, they came together and she could clearly see within him the brother she'd known.
The same arrogant, insufferable Seifer – but family.
"I'll give you a ride back to the hotel, if you want," she said.
"I can walk."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded and sat up. "Yeah. You probably need to get back before Garden starts locking down for the night."
She shrugged. "I've got clearance. I can come and go as I please."
"I'll be fine," he insisted.
Quistis was hesitant to part ways. They had made so much progress in this one day, and with the sun setting upon it she feared that it all would be lost. The moment would end. She feared that once she walked away this night, she would loose this Seifer forever. The moment would end. She feared that once she walked away this night, she would loose this Seifer forever. She sensed that some delicate balance was at play which soon would tip to throw them again in different directions.
He stood up and brushed himself off.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked, uncharacteristically shy.
"Sure," she nodded. "I'll try to come by once before work if I can. If not, I'll be by the hotel around lunch time."
He nodded, not saying anything, and walked to the car to gather the remainder of his clothes. Quistis watched him pull his shirt over his head and put his shoes back on. A tugging sensation gripped her heart as he awkwardly went to leave, reaching out to her and then covering his action by turning it into a wave. She didn't know how to say what she was thinking, that once he left it would all be over, so she waved back and bit back her misgivings.
Maybe he would change back into the untouchable, unlikable Seifer. It wasn't her choice. She couldn't change who he was to fulfill her hunger for a family.
So she watched him go. And she got into the car and drove away, back to Garden.
By the time she parked the car in the garage she could almost believe that the entire day had been a dream. A pleasant day with Seifer? That wasn't possible. She imagined that she hadn't seen a change or his pain abate. It was easier to just pity him.
The lurid, yellow lighting of the garage stung Quistis' eyes, and she found herself walking back out the door into the night. She'd swing around the building and enter by the front door even though it was further from the dorms than the garage. She needed a bit of time to walk and think.
Night had fallen thick and heavy around Garden. Quistis walked through the shadows and gloom surrounding the building, her mind lightly humming but concentrating on nothing in particular. She felt weary now and relaxed. A bench beside one of Garden's many fountains emerged from the shadows in front of her, inviting and private. With a sigh, she sat down and leaned her head back and took in the moment of peace and silence.
You're worried about nothing, she told herself. What was I worried about anyway? She strained her mind to work out the logic of her desire to connect with Seifer.
"I've spent my entire life without him," she said to herself. "Why do I need him now?"
"You don't." A deep, unfamiliar voice intruded upon her. "He needs you."
Quistis eyes flashed open and she sat up, expecting to find a cadet walking toward her with questions she didn't want to answer. Instead she saw nothing. The world around her was just as quiet and peaceful as it had been before she closed her eyes. She searched the shadows for a moment longer before slouching with relief. She was just imagining things.
A great breath escaped her, fluttering off into the night. Silvery moths danced around the fountain lights beside her, drawing her attention. Their powdery butterfly wings caught and reflected the light, causing them to confuse one another and swarm chaotically. Quistis was momentarily dazzled by them and so didn't notice at first the glinting eyes in the dark. In fact, by the time she realized that four of the lights weren't like the others - a glaring orange - they had her locked in place and breathless.
"Don't be afraid," the deep voice instructed her. "We won't hurt you."
Quistis hand strayed involuntarily to her hip, grasping at air where she normally wore her whip. She couldn't think of a monster or animal that spoke, not even among the most magical. The only non-human creature she'd ever spoken to were Guardian Forces, and they were notoriously tight-lipped and certainly not something she welcomed meeting on a dark night.
"We just want to speak with you," another voice said, this one just slightly higher than the first. Remotely feminine, but certainly no girl.
Quistis watched, half in horror and half in rapture, as the eyes bobbed slowly toward her and became framed in the broad, furry outlines of two large faces. The one she recognized, silvery in the light from the fountain. She was just a shadow but unmistakable - the wolf. The other form was darker and harder to see, more a sense of great mass than a shape, but Quistis could guess what stood there. As if sensing that she was too exposed, the silver wolf retreated slightly into the dark before speaking again.
"Give us just a moment."
Still in shock, Quistis wasn't sure she could move either to run away or to speak. Part of her head was struggling to overcome the sheer illogical nature of the situation, refusing to believe that anything was even taking place. And still, though she knew running away was what made sense, she didn't feel threatened. Looking at their glowing eyes in the dark she felt a pervading sense of calm which she couldn't bring herself to question.
"We set traps for you," she said bluntly.
"We know," the silver wolf replied.
"You came here from Trabia."
"On the ship, the Albatross."
"And the killings..." she breathed.
"We were not responsible for those deaths," the other wolf announced with a low growling.
"But everywhere you are people have died," Quistis shook her head. "It doesn't make sense." It doesn't make sense...none of this makes sense. She struggled to come to grips with the idea that she was speaking to two wolves. But how much more extraordinary was this than time compression, Ultimecia's castle, or being shot into space? She'd done and seen plenty of things in her life that were more nonsensical than this.
"You remember the last sorceress war?" the silver wolf asked.
"I was there."
"Ahh...I see..." She saw a tail slash somewhere and the two gleaming eyes turned toward one another. "You're one of the six who battled Ultimecia. And you must have also met Griever than as well?"
Quistis certainly remembered Griever. Her blood still chilled when she thought back to their battle with the monster, so familiar with his Shockwave Pulsar spell. She'd never been subjected to one of her own spells before that battle and found the effects particularly disturbing.
"Griever was not just a monster who Ultimecia had enslaved to her will like the others in the castle," the wolf continued. "She created him. We know this, although we're not positive how or when."
"How could you know that?" Quistis asked doubtfully.
"During time compression, we were given a glimpse of Ultimecia's world and recognized Griever for what he was: a damned soul which once upon a time, like Ultimecia, had been human."
"Both Ultimecia and Griever were humans once?" Quistis was becoming agitated at the line of discussion, the sense of calm starting to wear off.
"The sorceress power is given, not something bestowed at birth. You know that," the male wolf grunted. "And she created Griever through a curse."
Quistis couldn't help but laugh at the impossibility of what they were saying. "Even if you're two wolves here talking to me, which I'm still not sure I believe...how could you know any of this?"
"We aren't wolves."
The silver one said this simply, as if it were plain to see.
"Then what are you?"
Quistis knew the word, although she hadn't heard it in many years. At the sound of the word, her once upon a time indoctrination into organized religion came crashing back. A Fravartin was a guardian spirit which conducted souls from this life to the next. In life, however, they were said they could only be made into flesh at the ancient wellspring of light and thought on the island of Delos - a place in between earth and sky, heaven and hell, body and spirit. Everything she knew about them was fraught with mystical rhetoric.
"But...Fravashis only appear to the dead or the damned," Quistis said, and then gasped with realization.
"We're not here for you," the female soothed.
"Then who..." Quistis shut her mouth quickly, cutting off the sentence. "Seifer."
"He has been cursed by the sorceress Ultimecia. The curse feeds off his evil - guilt, temptation, violence, wrath - and it transforms him into something neither living nor dead. He will become the beast that lives inside of him," said the male wolf.
"We appear to the damned to help save them," the female continued. "But Seifer cannot see us. Ultimecia...she changed the curse and we cannot appear to him without him transforming into the beast. We need you to help us, or he will be damned forever. And when the end finally comes...if someone defeats the physical monster...Seifer's soul will be lost."
Quistis remembered him in the waves, like a child unaware of the larger struggle waging around him. And now she was right in the middle of it, not only his life but his eternal soul resting in her hands. And his two guardian angels, dressed in the guise of two feral wolves, asking her for help. She sighed under the burden and couldn't help letting an anguished tear slip down her face.
"I don't know if I can do that," she admitted. "I don't believe in this."
The two eyes stared at her out of the dark, real and solid. As they moved closer, she felt the calm creep over her again and erode away her anxiety.
"He loves and trusts you. That's what matters," one of the wolves said, she wasn't sure which. "That's all you have to do."
She sensed the two wolves crowding in around her, physical beings who only seemed angelic or spiritual in the way that they made her head spin. She could hear them speaking to her but couldn't make out what they were saying. The dark came with them, folding in around her, sticky and sweet.
When it abated, the morning sun pierced through her bedroom window and she laid sprawled on top of the covers in her underwear.
The new day dawned, and everything had changed.