A/N: I deeply apologize for how long it took me to finish this story, and I am very grateful for any of you still out there reading. I am posting both final chapters at once. So this story is now complete. I will be going through and polishing some of the earlier chapters, but not adding anything major content wise. Just fixing some errors and bad bits of wording I noticed on rereading. Thanks for sticking with me. And I hope you enjoy the ending. :)
Chapter 11: Mount Gagazet
For a while, Seifer committed himself to remaining by Quistis's side during her convalescence. He brought her hot meals and played Triple Triad with her as she ate. He lingered outside her door while Fujin replaced her bandages. And he shadowed her steps when she got out of bed one afternoon to pad barefoot out into the lobby.
A plush chair warmed by a shaft of sunlight caught her eye.
She spent the rest of the day there.
The next morning, he woke to find her already in the lobby, ensconced in her chair with an Al Bhed book full of glossy pictures lying open in her lap and a hot cup of tea perched in her left hand. It smelled like cinnamon and cream.
She smiled at him.
"Hey," she said, waving him over. "Look at this."
She set down her tea long enough to turn the book toward him. A drawing of a giant catuar, four times the size of the human figure depicted next to it for scale, crossed the spine to take up both pages.
"Do you suppose these really exist on Bikanel?" she asked with enough curiosity and naiveté that he couldn't help but recall her sheltered upbringing in Kilika.
"Doubt it. Looks made-up to me," he said. "I mean...damn thing has a mustache."
She shrugged. "That would hardly be the strangest thing either one of us has seen on a fiend."
And speaking of fiends…
"I'm going to head out for a while to train. Gotta keep my skills sharp," he told her.
Staying in one place so long made him antsy. With every day that passed, he looked toward the mountains and tallied the ground they were losing against their competitors. Dona had already caught up. Yuna couldn't be far behind.
At the same time, knowing that he was expending all of his energy toward nursing Quistis back to health just so that she might survive long enough to die in Zanarkand made him anxious as well. Anxious and, much as he hated to admit it, heartsick.
He preferred to avoid thinking about the situation entirely.
To that end, he wore his heavy sword on his side, ready to send as many fiends as he could find to the Farplane.
"Want to come with me? Might be good for you to dust off your summoning skills a bit."
She glanced sharply at him. "They don't require dusting off."
No surprise that his suggestion irked her. She'd been unhappy with him ever since she woke up back at the travel agency. He wasn't sure why, but he suspected that it was because of the way he'd let her down. Thinking of it still made his stomach roll with shame.
With a curt shrug to mask his thoughts, he strode past her and out into the pale morning sunlight.
Around the back of the travel agency, he found Barthello outfitting two chocobos while Dona waited with her arms crossed.
Swearing, he moved to turn back before either of them spotted him—this just wasn't his morning—but Dona had already heard him approaching.
"Well, if it isn't the guardian lapdog," she said as she turned toward him with both hands perched on the sassy flare of her hips. "Where's your master?"
"You mean Quistis?"
"I didn't think you ever left her unattended," Dona replied. "Unless, of course, you're thinking of jumping ship…?"
"Give up? Not a chance. I'm heading out to do some training."
"Ah…training. I see. How admirable of you." She rolled her eyes. "Barthello and I are heading to Bevelle today. I hear that Squall is there. Any message you'd like me to deliver to him? Perhaps Quistis has some last words for her first choice?"
Seifer didn't bother to reply.
"I admit," Dona continued, "I was surprised to learn that he stayed behind. I always thought he'd come around eventually. You know, stop brooding and be the hero." She shrugged, then adjusted her dress around her cleavage. "Guess not. Anyway…best of luck to you in Zanarkand." This time she sounded sincere. Inasmuch as she was capable, anyway.
Watching Dona and Barthello turn tail and run for home gave Seifer a brief, self-righteous high. The summoner's mandate (and, by extension, a guardian's) had always struck him as something far too heavy to merely shrug off and walk away from. According to his philosophy, the more painful and burdensome the task, the greater the honor and more binding the oath in agreeing to bear it.
Real heroes didn't get happy endings.
They didn't expect them.
He'd always hoped for a blaze of glory in which to depart the world. A dream of nobility and sacrifice deeply bound in the imagery of the stories his mother had read to him as a child.
Which was, in part, why his growing reluctance to lose Quistis to this quest bothered him so much. He saw it as a sign of weakness. As his constitution wavering at the finish line.
But those famous storybook heroes he admired had suffered their moments of doubt, too, he reminded himself. They'd all found themselves at a place where they wanted to turn back, knowing the path ahead meant death and terror and sadness. But they had kept going because they had to. Because turning back meant something even worse—shame, failure, and defeat.
He had to soldier on.
The dew-damp grass whispered under his boots as he set off, desperate for something to kill. He didn't have to search long. The Calm Lands had been unoccupied by anyone but summoners and fiends for centuries. He cut swaths through anacondaurs, coeurls, ogres, and skolls. Clouds of pyreflies trailed after the edge of his sword like his own raging spirit.
When he returned to the travel agency that afternoon, filthy, bruised, and utterly spent, he stopped to check in on Quistis before heading to his own room to clean up. She sat at a table, taking notes on a pulpy sheet of off-white paper while referencing the book lying open in front of her. Deciphering the Al Bhed language, he realized. And making good progress, too.
He knew enough Al Bhed to help steer her in the right direction. Could probably even translate the entire passage once he got in the groove. But he didn't step forward through the doorway, knowing that she'd neither welcome nor require his assistance.
"Feeling any better?" she asked without looking up.
"Not really," he admitted. "You?"
She set down her pen and pushed back from the table. One delicate sweep of her hand pushed a strand of blonde hair back from her eyes. "I know you're eager to move on," she said, finally meeting his gaze. "I know that this delay has been frustrating for you."
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, hoping she couldn't see through to the deeper source of his discontent.
I don't mind waiting, he wanted to stay.
But, of course, he did mind. And her reassurances only drew his emotions into an even denser knot, pulling hard until the twisted sinews of doubt and duty made his chest feel too tight to take in a full breath.
"I'm healing quickly now," she continued. "In another day I should be well on my way back to full strength and we can get back to our pilgrimage."
"Good." He forced the word out past a lump in his throat.
This doubt wouldn't control him, he decided. He wouldn't let it destroy his dream. He tried to focus instead on the weight of Hyperion in his hand and the sharp, lemon-zest scent of pyreflies on his clothes.
"Let me know when you're ready to go," he said.
Then, gathering up everything he had, he turned his back on her and walked away.
0 0 0
Lady Yuna and her entourage arrived at the travel agency the next day. The group carried with them none of the joy and fanfare that had surrounded the wedding in Bevelle mere days before and Seymour was not with them. Quistis wondered what had happened. Had one of them called off the nuptials?
Her heart ached with sympathy for the other summoner. They had both left something of themselves behind in Bevelle, it seemed.
Seifer came up behind Quistis then, his deliberate, heavy steps distinct from either Raijin's or Fujin's. He leaned over her shoulder to peer out the window at the new arrivals and swore under his breath.
"Guess there wasn't much of a honeymoon."
Where he'd been restless before, Seifer became positively unbearable after Yuna's arrival. He didn't say anything outright. Didn't bully Quistis to tie on her summoner's bow and get back on the road. Instead, he retreated into an even darker, more pervasive moodiness. He snapped at Fujin and Raijin. Became quickly and violently frustrated by everyday inconveniences. And he paced. Compulsively. Endlessly. Until Quistis felt tempted to take up her whip again just to throttle him.
Yuna and her guardians left early the next morning.
Despite her better judgment, Quistis reconciled their account with the Al Bhed at the front desk and announced that they would be leaving as well.
"RUSHED," Fujin said, shaking her head, as they packed up their belongings.
"We've still got a long way to go before Zanarkand," Quistis pointed out. "I can finish my recovery on the way."
Again, they rented chocobos. And again they set off across the empty grassland of the Calm Lands. Seifer rode close to Quistis, his reins drawn tight and his knees locked to his mount's sides—brimming with military precision and control despite their easy, walking pace.
When they stopped for the first night and set up camp, there was no discussion as they lay in the dark together. Only Raijin attempted to strike up a conversation before Fujin elbowed him into silence. The day of travel had exhausted Quistis enough that she didn't mind. She stretched out on the hard ground and slept, undisturbed by dreams or fiends or sounds in the night.
Come morning, however, she noticed the void left by Seifer's emotional retreat. And she missed him. He didn't even make an effort toward being obnoxious. He'd become single-minded. All guardian with everything soft and flawed and human hidden away underneath a hard outer shell of indifference and determination.
"I saw their camp fire last night," he said over breakfast, itself a rushed affair that Quistis barely had time to bolt down before he had her chocobo saddled and ready.
"Whose?" she asked through a mouth full of fire toasted bread.
"Yuna's. They're not that far ahead of us. A few hours maybe. I don't think it will be too difficult to catch up before they reach Zanarkand."
The edge of optimism in his voice bothered her.
Although they made good progress that day, they didn't catch up to or pass Yuna's group. They did, however, find plenty of evidence of the young summoner's passing. When they arrived at the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth, an unusual number of people were gathered outside the cave's dark mouth. Their busy chatter echoed off the steep walls of the ravine.
"Amazing," a middle-aged woman was saying.
"She saved them all," another replied, nodding.
"Of course I wasn't scared!" a young man said while puffing up his chest. "Anyway, I knew I'd be safe with Lady Yuna."
Seifer rolled his eyes. "You'd think Yevon himself stopped by here the way these people talk," he grumbled to Quistis before grabbing a bystander by the sleeve and demanding to know what all the fuss was about.
It turned out that some people had gotten lost in the cavern. But Yuna had managed to guide every wayward traveler to safety before plunging back into the murky depths to confront the cavern's fickle fayth. She hadn't taken long to accomplish all of this. Her group, Quistis gathered, had just left moments before for the Ronso city located halfway up the mountain pass.
"At least this slowed them down a bit, ya know?" Raijin said.
"I guess," Seifer grumbled.
Under any other circumstances, Quistis thought he'd be pleased to hear of Yuna's group meeting with some kind of delay. But the accolades Yuna had generated for herself here clearly bothered him.
The Cavern of the Stolen Fayth took more time than Quistis thought it would to navigate. Happily, the fayth surprised her as well in preferring to battle those he served rather than listen passively to their prayers. Odin made short work of the aeon, Yojimbo, who didn't require any more convincing than Zantetsuken's fatal whisper to join their quest.
Invigorated by the battle, Quistis hardly noticed the temperature dropping as they set to climbing the steep trail into the mountains. As evening began to fall, so too did a fluttery pale dusting of snow. Kilika was far too tropical for such weather, even on the highest peak of the island's interior. So she had never seen snowflakes before, let alone felt them melting on her warm cheeks and clinging to her hair. The pervasive silence of the storm astounded her.
"How much longer til we get to the Ronoso city?" Raijin asked. "We don't want to camp out in this kinda weather, ya know?"
"FREEZING!" Fujin agreed.
"Shouldn't be too far," Quistis assured them.
With the last rays of the sun glinting feebly off the now thick sheets of falling snow, they came upon the first evidence of Ronso civilization – a series of poles struck into the rock with bright feathers tied to the top. The Ronso used these, Quistis had read, to find and remain on the path during the long winter when the pass clogged with snow.
Darkness was closing in as they reached the settlement, which appeared eerily bright in the night. The Ronso all had fires lit outside of their homes and stood gathered around them, chatting, enjoying the evening, unperturbed by the cold under their coats of blue fur.
Quistis's arrival drew everyone's attention.
Two of the Ronso walked over to meet her.
Raijin broke away from the group to jog up to the pair and take their hands. One of them, a lanky, lean Ronso with dark braids hanging down his back, wore twin blades at his side-an unconventional choice. The other stood a full head taller than his companion and was missing one eye, the socket glued shut by a knotty scar.
"Man…it's great to see you guys, ya know?" Raijin was saying. "Hey, Quistis…these are the friends I was telling you about. My Blitz buddies, ya know? Kiros and Ward."
She smiled and bowed. "Nice to meet you," she said.
"And…uh…you guys probably remember Seifer and Fu," Raijin said, sounding almost bashful. Quistis supposed that Seifer hadn't made a much better impression on these two than he had on Squall during his tenure in Luca's pool. The way the two regarded him—stern faced but polite—confirmed her suspicion.
"Kiros and Ward would be honored if you stayed with us tonight, Lady Quistis," Kiros said, his voice surprisingly smooth and gentle.
"That would be—" Quistis began, but Seifer interrupted before she could finish.
"That won't be necessary."
She sent him a scolding glance.
"The mountain is unforgiving. Especially at night," Kiros advised diplomatically.
"COLD," Fujin added.
"Yeah, well…we're kind of in a hurry. So we'll just stock up on some supplies, buy a coat or two, and be on our way." Seifer craned his neck, as if searching for their general store.
Kiros and Ward exchanged glances, their expressions inscrutable.
Not wanting to air yet another public argument with her guardian, Quistis smiled at the two Ronso, begging for their patience, then latched onto Seifer's coat sleeve and pivoted him around so that he had his back turned to the settlement and his wide shoulders stood between her and any prying eyes.
"We are not scaling Mount Gagazet in the dark in a snowstorm," she told him, her voice low.
He sighed, his breath crystallizing in front of his face.
"So, what? You want to just snuggle up here for the night? Lady Yuna is probably halfway to-"
Quistis interrupted him: "I don't give a damn about Lady Yuna. And I don't want to hear you mention her again. Understood?"
The irritation on his face vanished as his mouth twitched upward into a cocky, lopsided smirk. "Why? Don't like me thinking about other women?" he teased.
"Other summoners," she corrected.
"Come on. You can't possibly want to stay here overnight. Not when we're this close." He gestured vaguely above them at the dark form of the mountain against the night sky. "If we keep going, we could be in Zanarkand by this time tomorrow."
"Seifer, this discussion is over. We're staying." She stepped around him, breaking eye contact to let him know that she meant it, then bowed to Kiros and Ward. "We accept your offer," she told them. "Thank you for your hospitality."
The Ronso village wasn't very large, the entire settlement built in a protected valley that the winds coming down the mountain roared over rather than through. Kiros and Ward directed them past the gathered Ronso out enjoying the night and to a small wood and rock structure that they shared as a home. Snow dusted and rough hewn on the outside, it proved a cozy abode on the inside, warmed by plenty of thick furs and a glowing central hearth.
Quistis found it quite charming. But she noticed Seifer glancing over the home with a critical eye.
She hoped to Yevon that he'd keep his mouth shut and not insult their hosts.
Through some miracle, he stayed quiet—only his jaw twitched as he held back judgment and complaint.
"You are on your way to battle Sin?" Kiros asked, directing the question at Raijin.
"Yeah. We're gonna defeat him for good this time though, ya know? It's Seifer's destiny."
Kiros glanced at Seifer with what Quistis thought might have been amusement. "No more blitzball?"
"We retired," Raijin said. "But I figure I can coach next year. Once the pilgrimage is done, ya know?"
Ward silently made up beds on the floor out of blankets and furs for them while Kiros and Raijin talked. Quistis got the impression that Ward was incapable of speaking, perhaps due to the same injury that had disfigured his face.
"You are from Luca, too?" Kiros asked her.
"No. I'm from Kilika."
"Kilika." A smile peeled Kiros's lips back over his sharp, feline teeth. "You know Laguna?"
"Laguna Loire?" she asked, surprised.
"Yes! Do you?"
"Laguna, Kiros, and Ward traveled together many years ago," Kiros explained. "Laguna was warrior monk of Yevon then."
Boggled, Quistis couldn't immediately respond to this revelation. In all the years she'd known him, Laguna had never once mentioned leaving Kilika, let alone once serving Yevon and traveling the world with two Ronso companions. He didn't strike her as the type. Up for adventure, sure. But a warrior monk? He didn't have the discipline or the sort of disposition that meshed well with guns and flame throwers and uniforms.
"Laguna was not a very good one," Kiros added, noting her silence. His yellow eyes glanced quickly in Ward's direction.
Had his scars been earned while in Laguna's company?
It didn't seem polite to ask.
Instead she settled on top of a soft coerl-skin rug and shared stories of what Laguna had been up to since they'd parted ways. She told them about Raine, Ellone, and Squall. About Sin's attack. And about his brief stint as mayor. In return, Kiros told her about their time in Bevelle, regaling her with raucous stories of Laguna's poor map reading skills and his unrequited lover affair with a certain pianist who played every night at a club they frequented.
The clear warmth with which Kiros remembered Laguna filled Quistis to the brim with affection and longing for her family.
And those soft feelings, quite against her will, made her gaze turn more often than not toward Seifer. He sat quiet in the firelight, his expression so impenetrable that she hardly recognized the man she'd come to know underneath. She thought of the first moment she'd seen him deep in Kilika's temple. She thought of his arms locked around her in Djose as sinspawn washed up on shore And, more than anything, she thought of the unguarded moment under the firework filled sky in Bevelle when he'd leaned down and kissed her.
Selfishly, she craved more from him.
Not just more physical contact, but more emotion. More feeling. More vitality.
Once they settled in for the night, Quistis and her guardians taking up pallets of fur around the fire, she made sure to lay down beside him. Then she closed her eyes tight, breathed deep, and tried to soak up all that she could: the sound of popping wood, the soft fur against the bare soles of her feet, the regular breathing of her companions, and the utter silence outside as snow blanketed the Ronso village.
In the morning, they'd pass over the mountains into Zanarkand.
But first, one last night of peace.
0 0 0
Seifer got up early the next morning. He couldn't quite tell whether the sun had come up yet past the impenetrable cover of show-laden clouds that continued to roll over the mountain. Frost had collected on the inside of the window panes overnight. He chipped at some with his thumb, irritated. The little Ronso cabin felt downright cozy in comparison to the blizzard raging outside. It made him want to climb back under the heavy furs and not come out for the rest of the day.
He didn't want to want to stay here.
Fujin stepped up to the window beside him and peeked out. Her small shoulders moved up and down as she sighed.
"You guys ready to go yet?" he asked her.
"What's the hold up? I gotta get out of this place. I swear, if we don't leave soon, I'm gonna..."
Fujin turned her penetrating gaze on him. "WHAT?"
He sighed. "Nevermind."
He'd lain awake for a long time the night before, bothered by how close Quistis had bedded down next to him. Her foot had brushed his once or twice when she'd shifted around. And though he remained still with his back to her, he knew that if he'd rolled over, he would have been nose to nose with her. More than close enough to cross off a few items on her bucket list.
Quistis had left a few minutes ago with Ward to visit the Ronso across the way who apparently spent his days on the mountain cooped up in his house, hand painting the designs on Triple Triad cards. From where he stood, he could see the front door she'd vanished through and the shadows playing across the lit windows as the hearth inside crackled.
He imagined her sitting on a chair two times to big for her, sipping tea, charming the fur off the poor sucker as she surveyed his latest work, examining each new card with precise, delicate fingers. Picking out one to keep.
Impatient for her return, he shifted closer to the window until his breath began to fog up the glass.
"STUPID," Fujin said.
"I know," Seifer replied. "What's she going to do with Triple Triad cards in Zanarkand?"
"What do you mean, me?" He turned on her.
She crossed her arms, and when she spoke, her voice low, he knew that they were now having a very serious conversation. She'd only spoken to him this way once in all the time he'd known her, and that had been years ago when his mother died.
"SEIFER...why are you doing this?" she asked.
"Continuing with this pilgrimage."
"You even have to ask? It's my dream, Fu. Always has been."
"Things change. Raijin and I aren't sure this is the right thing to do anymore."
He stared at her, dumbfounded. "Are you trying to tell me that you're quitting?"
She put a firm hand on his arm. "We're a posse. Always will be. And because we're a posse, we want to help you. Whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams, we're willing to do. But you've lost yourself. This isn't what you really want anymore. This isn't what you dream about."
"Oh yeah? So, what do I dream about then?"
Fujin pointed out the window. "Her. You're in love with her."
Seifer had a hard time keeping his voice down when he replied. "What?! I'm not in love with her!"
"This isn't what she wants anymore either," Fujin continued, ignoring his protest. "It hasn't been for a while. Can't you tell? She has feelings for you, too."
Seifer shook his head. "No. But…even if she did, even we both did, so what? Why does that make any difference? Do you think none of the other guardians throughout history cared about their summoners? It wouldn't be a sacrifice if they didn't. It wouldn't mean anything."
"There are other summoners. Yuna. Isaaru."
"But none of them have me!" he yelled, not bothering to control the volume of his voice now. "This is my destiny, damn it. I thought you understood that."
"You're not the Seifer we knew anymore," Fujin said, her tone scolding and harsh. "We want the old you back. And that means we can't help you with this pilgrimage anymore."
He took a step away from her.
"Are you still going to keep going without us?" she asked.
He nodded, one hand resting on top of his sword. "It's been fun."
Fujin turned away from him.
Furious now, Seifer pulled his coat on. His boots thumped against the floor as he stormed out and the blizzard swept snow in over the threshold before he slammed the door behind him.
They'd abandoned him. He couldn't believe it.
And over what? Some feelings they thought he had for the summoner? What did they want him to do? Marry her and have a little pack of kids that they could watch die when Sin attacked their village? No thanks. This was better. Fighting Sin. Dying side by side. Living forever as heroes.
Quistis emerged from the house across the way then. A dusting of snow covered her golden blonde hair before she managed to flip her hood up. Ward towered next to her so that even in her bulky coat she appeared terribly small and fragile. A misleading impression, he knew. With her whip she could probably take down Ward in a second flat. Less if she bothered to use one of her aeons. No one gave either of them enough credit. They could do this. They would do this. Just the two of them.
"We're leaving," he told her.
"Yeah. Got to."
Her mouth turned down with her confusion. "Okay. Let me just say goodbye to Kiros."
"No time." He grabbed her hand and started pulling her along, away from the house and from the silent, disapproving figure of Ward. "Come on."
"What about Fujin and Raijin?"
"Don't worry about them."
"They've already gone ahead?"
He didn't respond. Better, he thought, to let her fill in that blank on her own. Let her assume whatever made her happy. Anything to get her out of the city, up onto the mountain pass, and into Zanarkand before this whole pilgrimage came crashing down around him.
They trudged through calf deep snow, Seifer plowing a path and Quistis hopping along in his footprints as if they were stepping stones. "I got two custom cards painted. Want to see them?"
"Are you sure? I think you'll like them. He does portraits, too. So I convinced him to make a card for each of us. You look a little cranky on yours, but..."
He spun around and jerked her toward him. "Listen, Quistis. This is serious. We're doing something big here. So drop the little girl from Kilika act and become the High Summoner you've trained to be. Okay?"
He expression flashed cold as ice and the soft curve of her smile flattened. "It's easier for you that way, isn't it?" she said and tried to pull her hand out of his.
His fingers locked vice-like around hers. "There's nothing easy about it," he growled. "Come on."
Although she continued walking with him, he could feel the hesitation in her steps and had to tug her along whenever her pace began to flag. He was losing her. How far would they get, he wondered, before he'd have to drag her? Could he fight off mountain fiends with his sword in one arm and Quistis in the other?
He'd have to.
The wind blew snow right into their faces as they headed out of the Ronso village and up the narrow mountain pass. A female Ronso stood guarding a colorful plate in the ground, a feathered halberd clutched in her right paw. The creature eyed them as they passed. Quistis looked like she wanted to stop and talk. Or bow. Or perhaps pray for a few hours. So he pulled her along forcefully enough to make her stumble.
"What's your problem?" she demanded once they were out of earshot. It didn't take long with the way the wind roared across the mountain top.
"You're my problem," he snapped.
Fujin and Raijin had left because of her. He'd let himself become soft and unfocused because of her. This whole damn quested teetered on the edge because of her.
"You're mad at me?"
Rage boiled in his gut. Why this constant dithering?
"Yeah. I'm mad at you. Mad because you're so damn-" He glanced over his shoulder and saw her: cheeks flushed pink by the wind, mouth turned down, tendrils of hair whispering at her temples and pressing in sinuous cords against her neck. Luminous. Warm and beautiful. Even here. "Because you're so damn…mediocre," he managed to finish, his stomach turning over.
All of the blood flushed out of Quistis's face.
She dug her heels in and pulled her hand free of his. "How long have you felt this way?"
"Way too damn long."
The shattering of her heart showed clear on her face. It pained him physically to see it.
"Where are Raijin and Fujin?" she asked, a thick edge of barely restrained emotion to her voice.
"Because they're cowards."
"No they're not. What happened?"
He sneered, hating himself. Hating her. "They think you have feelings for me and that you don't really want to go on with the pilgrimage anymore."
The way she froze at that, unable to reply, struck him. Was Fujin right?
"And yet you still want to go with me to Zanarkand?" she finally asked.
"Even though I'm such a mediocre summoner?"
He sighed and tried to recapture her hand. Time to try a different approach. "We can do this. Just you and me. Fujin and Raijin? Good riddance. We don't need 'em."
"Except for Lord Zaon and Lady Yunalesca, a two man team has never managed to defeat Sin."
"Well, perfect. I'd say we fit that bill."
She evaded his continued advances. "Seifer, Lady Yuna is ahead of us. And she has six guardians."
"So, there's a good reason why. The path this far has been difficult. But the path ahead? That's a challenge only a few have risen to in the past thousand years. There's no way you'd come out of there alive. We've lost half our team. Even if I weren't mediocre, going into Zanarkand just the two of us would be insane."
"It's not insane. It's glorious. We could walk in there with a whole army of guardians like Lady Yuna, but we're doin' it right. We can't stop here."
"Yes, we can."
"Didn't the temple teach you to keep going no matter what? To pursue your pilgrimage until the end?"
"No. They taught me to battle Sin wherever I find it. To serve Spira however I can. Neither of those commandments are served by allowing you to die needlessly in Zanarkand."
"Am I supposed to believe that you're worried about me? That you love me? I'm just as willing to die as you are, Summoner."
Again, he moved to grab her, but she took a fleet-footed step back.
"Don't touch me," she warned, the blue-green halo of magic buzzing about her.
Many of the spells Quistis had at her disposal could kill him in an instant. He'd seen her dissolve fiends five times his size with a flick of her wrist. But he knew she wouldn't use any of that dread magic against him. She wouldn't hurt him. She couldn't. Not if she really cared. Either way, he figured, he'd die today. At least this way he'd have one last change at his dream.
So he lunged for her.
With a blinding flash of lighting, Odin appeared at her side. The crack of thunder alone blew Seifer back a step.
"Stop!" Quistis commanded. The aeon's six-legged horse didn't advance. Instead, it pawed at the frozen ground beside her. The air itself seemed to part around the edge of Odin's unsheathed blade.
For a second, Seifer thought: I can take him. He'd watched Odin fight often enough. He knew how the attack would come. If he could counter it or strike first…slice the aeon in two rather then the othe way around…
"Why is this so important to you?" Quistis asked, her voice suddenly quiet and gentle.
"Because it's my destiny."
"What if it's not? Maybe we're not the ones meant to defeat Sin. Maybe Yuna is."
"But…I knowI'm supposed to be a hero. Like Lord Zaon, fighting and dying for love and honor."
"That's a fairytale. A story book. The real Zaon? He didn't mean to die. He meant to save Yunalesca. Because he loved her. Because he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It's a tragedy that they died. Not something to celebrate. Certainly not something to emulate."
Odin shifted beside her, his eyes glowing like hot coals inside his helmet. There would be no more entreaties now, Seifer knew. No more pilgrimage. No more dream.
Hands trembling, Quistis pushed back her coat and untied the black, satin bow at her waist. Then she held it out to him, the tail ends fluttering in the wind. When she let it go, it flew several feet before landing in a snow bank, slashing a black scar across the pristine white.
"We're done," she said. "Come back with me."
"I can't. You know I can't."
She nodded and bowed deep, her hands cupped in front of her in prayer.
"Quistis!" he called out as she turned to leave, a futile edge of warning to his voice. "Quistis! Get back here!"
Odin followed her, his massive back and the bulk of his horse blocking the summoner from view. If she turned to look back at him as he called, he couldn't tell. But she didn't slow. And after only a few breaths, the storm closed in between them and she vanished.
For a long time, Seifer stood there, the world coming apart around him.
Who would he become now? What story was he meant to play out, if not this one?
Shattered and alone, he sank down in the snow and waited for answers.