CHAPTER IV: Question and Answer.

They stopped outside a door on the first floor. "This is it?" Lark asked, glancing over at Nida who nodded without meeting her eyes. Lark stared at him for a moment longer, taking in the slowly rising blush, and the way his fingers were working nervously at his side. Sheíd never really understand that guy.

Lark turned back to the door and raised a hand to knock, but it never met the door, freezing in the air mere inches away from it. She looked over at Nida again, her eyes a little wider than usual, unable to think of any words to say or what she should do.

Nida was now bright red and muttered, "For luck," before quickly rapping on the door. Quistis Trepeís voice answered, inviting them in before Lark had come to terms with what had happened, and the girl reflexively opened the door.

"I was wondering when Iíd see you, Lark," Professor Trepe said, looking up at Lark from her paperwork, hardly noticing her preoccupation, "Hello, Nida."

"H-hi. Er, bye!" Nida stammered, still very red, and turned to run down the hall. Lark stared after him, still a little uncertain about everything.

"Would you like to come in, or do you plan on passing the Fire Cavern test by standing in my doorway?" Quistis asked, mild amusement in her voice.

"Oh, yeah," Lark reluctantly tore her attention away from the black haired boy, her mind slowly catching up with the rest of her body as she walked into the room. She shook her head slightly to clear it, telling herself firmly that it was only a kissóonly a peck on the cheek.

"Thatís what youíre here for, right?" Professor Trepe asked, "You want to talk about the Fire Cavern."

Lark nodded, forcing all thoughts of Nida aside. "Iíve never been kissed before."

"Excuse me?" Quistis asked, sounding honestly perplexed. It took a moment for Lark to realize what sheíd said, and her face flushed bright red.

"Er, Iíve never been to the Fire Cavern before," she stammered, "UhÖ"

Quistis laughed, easily putting one and one together to figure out what had happened. "Donít worry, I wonít tell anyone."

Lark sighed in relief although she wasnít sure why. It just felt awkward when your teacher knew about your social life. "Um, thanks."

"So, do you want to take the test today or tomorrow?" Professor Trepe asked, a smile still on her lips, although she dropped the earlier subject with ease.

Grateful for the change of subject, Lark replied quickly, "Iíd like to go today."

"Okay," Professor Trepe looked down at the calendar book on her desk, "I think I can fit you in after Diggory," she decided, "So that would be around one, after lunch, if youíre ready."

"Er," Lark recalled her friendsí warnings, "Well, I wouldnít want to burden you if youíre already busy todayÖ I could go with one of the other professors, if you want."

"Nope," Quistis interjected, "You couldnít. Xuís already fully scheduled today, and Professor Harman was injured yesterday and wonít be able to make it out today." She smirked a little, "Youíre stuck with me, if you still want to do it today."

Lark sighed, but nodded, "I want to get it over with as soon as possible."

Professor Trepe nodded, "Meet me by the front gate at 13.00 hours, then. Weíll take it from there."

"Yes, maíam." Lark replied unenthusiastically, "IíllÖ see you then, I guess." She left the room, her mind wandering back to Nida again as she walked down the hall. "Great," she muttered to herself, "I canít take a test like this, I wonít be able to concentrate on anythingÖ I need to talk to StephÖ"

"Hey, Raven," a deep voice interrupted her thoughts, "Congratulations on the test, you did good. Not as good as me, of course, but still pretty good."

"Hi, Seifer," Lark greeted, feeling her face start to heat up again.

The blonde frowned, "Are you okay?" He asked, stepping closer, "You look a little flushed."

That only made it worse, and Lark got the distinct impression he was doing it on purpose. "Iím fine," she answered, then bluntly said, "Nida kissed me."

Seifer stared at her for a moment, before he realized what she was saying and why. He smirked a little, "I told you he had the hots for you, canít believe Nida actually went through with something like that, though."

Lark blushed even more, looking down, "Well, it was only a peck on the cheek." She admitted.

Seifer tried very hard not to laugh, and almost succeeded. "You donít get out enough if a little kiss on the cheek gets you so worked up." He laughed.

"Iíve never been kissed before," Lark said softly, not daring to look up since she could almost feel the amusement radiating from him, "Well, not by anyone besides my mom and dad."

Seifer sighed, "And your first kiss had to be from a wimp who didnít have enough backbone to do it properly." He lamented.

Lark laughed, finally looking up again, feeling better after one joke. She stopped laughing immediately, and took half a step backwards when a mischievous glint entered Seiferís green eyes, his smirk widening slightly. She wasnít sure what he was thinking, but knew enough about guys that it couldnít be anything good.

Before she had time to react more than that, Seifer had closed the space between them, and met her lips with his own. Lark couldnít help but stare at him, taken completely off guard, and felt his arms already behind her, holding her securely in his kiss. She relaxed as a hand rubbed her back, and Seifer deepened the kiss, still careful to be gentle. Hesitantly, Lark found herself returning it, slowly becoming lost to the moment.

After what seemed to be both a very long and very short time, Seifer pulled back, smirking down at her, although his smirk wasnít cruel now, and his eyes didnít seem as mocking. "That," he whispered, "Is a proper kiss."

Lark watched him walk away, completely dumbfounded. She sighed as her head cleared and walked back to her room, wondering about the male population in general. She briefly considered trying to talk to Sloane or Rodor about it, but dismissed it just as quickly after reflecting on what had happened the last time she tried to talk to a guy about it.

She went to the small kitchenette in her shared dorm room, and pulled out a package of Pop-tarts, situating herself in one of the chairs to have a nice, long think.

Lark was just starting her fifth pastry when Bretta walked in the room. The black haired girl took one look at the wrappers surrounding Lark before pulling a stool from the counter over next to her and sitting down on it.

"Whatís wrong?"

Lark glanced at her, purposefully taking another bite from her Pop-tart as she did so. "What would make you think something was wrong?"

"Itís 11:30, youíre sitting in our dorm all alone, eating boxes of Pop-tarts and moping about. I know thereís something wrong." Bretta replied.

"Maybe I just feel like sitting alone in my dorm and eating a box of Pop-tarts." Lark argued, "I happen to like Pop-tarts."

"Then whatís the moping part about?" Bretta asked.

"Iím not moping," Lark responded, "Iím thinking."

Bretta smirked, "That can be dangerous, Raven."

Lark briefly glared at her then took another bite of her Pop-tart, choosing not to reply to the jibe.

"Now I know somethingís wrong." Bretta said, "So spill, I wonít tell anyone."

Lark muttered something that was too quiet and garbled for Bretta to make out. "What happened?" She pressed.

"Nida kissed me," Lark muttered sullenly.

Bretta frowned slightly in confusion, "Thatís good, isnít it? Or at least it isnít bad. What kind of a kiss?"

"Just a little one," Lark answered, "For luck."

"And youíre upset about this, why?" Bretta asked.

"Iím not," Lark said, "It wasnít a big deal or anything. Just unexpected. Iím over it."

"Then whatís got you eating Pop-tarts for lunch?" Bretta asked.

There was another unidentifiable murmur, and Bretta shot her room mate a sharp look. Reluctantly Lark repeated, "Then Seifer kissed me."

Bretta grinned, "Now things are getting interesting. Nida didnít see it, did he?óI know Seifer wouldnít stop at a little good-luck peck."

Lark blushed, only confirming the other girlís thoughts. She grinned wider, "So how was it? Youíre so lucky! Seiferís, like, the hottest guy in Balamb, if he wasnít such a jerk."

"I donít know," Lark was working fruitlessly on trying to get her flaming face back to a normal shade. "I donít even know why he kissed me. One second he was just standing there, making fun of Nida, and the nextÖ"

"Oh my gosh!" Bretta exclaimed, suddenly worried again, "So Nida saw it all? Poor guy, heís probably broken up about it!"

Lark shook her head furiously, "Nida didnít see anything," she corrected, "And I donít see why it would matter if he did, itís not like thereís anything going on between us, right?"

"I donít think Nida would have kissed you if he didnít feel something for you," Bretta answered, "But youíre right, that doesnít mean thereís anything between the two of you. Not if you donít feel the same way."

Lark sighed, and took another bite of her pastry, talking around it. "I donít know what I feel. I shouldnít have to deal with this, anyway, I shouldnít even be here!"

Ignoring the last part of Larkís comment, Bretta said, "Well, youíre going to have to decide what you feel sometime. Itís not fair to lead guys on like that. Personally, I think you should go for Nida, Seiferís not exactly on your level."

Lark looked up and glared at her, "Whatís that supposed to mean?"

"Just that Seiferís moreÖ experienced than you. On the other hand, I donít think Nidaís ever had a girlfriend, just that crush on you heís had since forever." Bretta smirked slightly, "Youíve never had a boyfriend, either, unless you havenít told me something. I just think Seifer would be a little too much for you to handle."

Lark still didnít appreciate what Bretta was implying, "Seiferís not too good for me, if thatís what youíre saying."

Bretta laughed, "No, thatís not what Iím saying at all! If anything, youíre too good for him. I mean, frankly, heís had a lot of girls, you havenít even been touched until today."

Lark was silent for a long moment and then asked, "Do you think I should tell Nida?"

Bretta seemed a little surprised by the question, and thought about it for a little while before responding, "I donít see why you should, especially if nothing comes of it. I mean, you didnít ask him to kiss you."

"Yeah," Lark reluctantly agreed, and then guiltily added, "I do think I gave him the idea, though."

"I donít think Seifer needs anybodyís help to come up with his ideas," Bretta said.

"I told him about Nida kissing me, and it was only after that that he did."

Bretta rubbed her temples as if fighting off a headache, "You told Seifer that Nida kissed you?" She asked. Lark nodded meekly. Bretta rolled her eyes, "Well how did you think heíd respond to that?"

"Well I didnít expect him to kiss me." Lark muttered, feeling embarrassed again.

"Oh, come on!" Bretta said, "Almasyís the most competitive guy in our school, and you didnít think heíd try to kiss you after you told him youíd just been kissed for the first time by some other guy? Are you really that dense?"

"Well, heís the one who told me that Nida liked me," Lark replied, "I thought heíd have something more productive to say than that."

Lark soon zoned Brettaís rant out, absent-mindedly taking bites out of her Pop-tarts, and watching as the hands of the clock moved all too slowly.

"Are you ready to go?" Professor Trepe asked as Lark walked up to her outside the school. She wasnít wearing her SeeD uniform, which looked a little odd to Lark who up until now predominately thought of her as the teacher. Instead she was wearing a lot of peach and orange, and Lark immediately recognized her from Final Fantasy VIIIósheíd almost forgotten the connection.

Lark nodded, fingering her shotgun holster unconsciously, "As ready as Iíll ever be." Lark, as usual, was dressed predominately in black. Baggy black jeans, a long sleeved shirt (which was actually dark blue, not black as she had told many people), her cross necklace, and black leather gloves, which she had found helped some with control for her shotgun.

"Do you have a Guardian Force equipped?" Trepe asked.

Lark nodded again, they had practiced with these in class. "I have Valefor."

Trepe nodded in understanding, "I have Quazicotl equipped. Do you have any questions before we leave?"

"UmÖ What are we being graded on? Ro said we go through the Fire Cavern, and do something to earn a GFÖ"

Trepe smirked slightly, "Seems he left out the important parts. The test is actually graded on two parts. One is how accurately youíre aware of your own skill level. When we reach the cavern youíll be asked to set a time limit, the closer the time limit is to how long it actually takes you to complete the mission, the higher your score will be. If you go over the time limit, you fail, and if you are unsuccessful in defeating the GF, you fail."

"Whatís the other thing weíre graded on?" Lark asked reluctantly.

"You have to prove to me you can use your Limit Break," Professor Trepe said, "You can do that either in the Fire Cavern, before we go in, or some time after we come back out, so I hope youíve been practicing. Anything else?"

"Er, noÖ" Lark said, her mind was screaming: "Limit Break? Limit Break! No one told me we have to use a Limit Break!" and pushed all potential questions out of it as inconsequential.

"Okay, letís go." Trepe said, and Lark followed her off campus, all the while thinking about her Limit Break, which she hadnít even thought about before today.

Larkís Limit Break problems were forced from her mind as she and Quistis battled their way to the Cavern. By the time they reached the entrance, about twenty minutes and five fights later, she had completely forgotten her dilemma.

There were two of the Summa teachers Lark had so recently gotten used to seeing everywhere standing in front of the entrance to the cave. Instructor Trepe introduced herself and Lark, and told them they were there for the Fire Cavern tests. One of the teachers asked how much time she needed, and after a bit of mental debate, Lark settled on "Twenty minutes." They were allowed to pass, and the two woman stepped cautiously into the cave.

Lark grimaced, "This place stinks." She muttered, her hand twitching at her side, desperately wanting to cover her nose.

"Itís brimstone," Quistis said, "At high temperatures it releases an unpleasant odor."

Lark nodded, "Letís get this over with." And she plunged deeper into the cave, the heat making her wish she had worn a short sleeved shirt. Maybe even shorts.

It took almost ten minutes to find the way through the cave, but Lark blamed it on her getting lost twice. The monsters they encountered, mostly mutated versions of bats, and a creature Trepe called a bomb whose flesh appeared to be made of fire. Lark sighed as she saw another dead end in front of them, deep in the center of the cavern.

"Do we need to turn around again?" She asked, disgusted, but still walking forward.

"No, this should beó" Quistisí sentence was cut off as the cave began to shake, stones falling from the ceiling. Lark, having experienced minor earth quakes a few times before, quickly covered her head with her arms, and the shaking forced her to her knees. When is stopped she calmly picked herself back up.

"That was weird," Lark decided, "There arenít normally earthquakes around here, are there?"

Quistis smiled thinly, "No, there arenít." She confirmed.

Lark nodded, "Thatís what I thought. Then itís probably that GF you were talking about, huh?"

Quistis nodded, "It is."

Lark tried to keep a cringe from her face as she continued forward, a little worried about what kind of creature could be powerful enough to shake a whole cave. She had barely taken two steps closer to an enclosed lava pit at the end of the path when her unspoken question was answered and a large, dark shape exploded upward from the pit, landing on the rocky path in front of her, large drops of burning rock dripping from his coarse hair.

"Oh shit." Lark said, looking up at it appreciatively.

Quistis smiled thinly again, "Do you think you can take it?"

Lark sized the creature up again, trying to keep a wince off her face, "I can try." She started uncertainly. Just then, an annoying little phrase she had once heard in a movie repeated itself in her head, "Do or do not. There is no try." She couldnít even remember the movie. With a mental sigh she amended, "I can take it."

The creature let out a bellow, and raspy words tore from itís neck, "Arrogant human! You are no match for Ifrit, the mighty god of fire!"

"Someoneís got an ego problem," Lark muttered before taking up a fighting stance, Quistis doing the same at her side.

The battle started out much like this: bang, crack, wham, bang, crack, wham. Ifrit seemed to be targeting the majority of his attacks on Lark, and she was feeling the pain only a few minutes into the fight. Quistis wasnít helping either, doing only what Lark asked, which at this point in time only consisted of attacking.

"This isnít working," Lark muttered after casting scan and seeing they had only managed to cause a small amount of damage. After a moment of calculation, during which she narrowly dodged another attack from Ifrit, she tentatively asked, "Do you have any ice magic, Instructor?"

Trepe allowed a small smile to show on her face, she had been waiting for such a comment. It showed good strategy, since Ifrit was a fire based monster. "I have a good supply." She replied.

"I think we should try casting that against him," Lark decided. Quistis nodded in understanding and cast an Ice spell. Lark allowed herself a small smile when she saw the damage was significantly more than that of their other attacks. Her moment of victory was cut short as a powerful Fire spell of Ifritís caught her.

Her entire body burned, and although she brought her hands up to try to block the heat from her face, it made no difference. Luckily for Lark, the sensation was short lived, although it left her feeling very sore, and weak. She fell to one knee, breathing hard.

"Are you okay?" Quistisí voice sounded almost like an echo, coming from a great distance away. Lark wondered if she had taken more damage than she had initially thought.

Her skin still felt tingly, something she had initially written off as a side effect of the Fire spell, but now noticed it was growing in intensity rather than diminishing. Her weariness was actually falling away, as if she were coming into a second wind, energy welling up inside her until it felt like she was going to explode.

Unable to sit still on the floor anymore, with energy pulsating all through her, Lark jumped to her feet and leveled her shot gun at the monster. She could feel the energy within her seeping through her fingertips and into the barrel. Less than a second later she didnít need to feel the energy leaving her, she could see it balling in front of the Remingtonís muzzle, a growing, pulsating orb of green and blue energy, lines of black occasionally running over its surface like lightening.

While normally this would have surprised Lark, she really wasnít thinking clearly at this point. Everything seemed completely natural, and she didnít question itís purpose for a second. Glowering darkly at the Guardian Force, she pulled the trigger of her shotgun when the power before it seemed to culminate, and the energy ball turned projectile flew towards the monster.

Ifrit bellowed in pain when it made contact, the energy exploding as it hit him, and the single bullet that had accompanied it following through. For a brief second, just as the energy was exploding, the entire section of the cave seemed to flash cold, and then it returned to itís normal heat. Feeling drained again, Lark collapsed back down to her knee.

"Impressive," Trepe commented lightly, "That was a pretty strong Limit Break. Do you want to be healed, or should I keep casting offensive magic?"

It took a moment for Larkís exhausted and pain-filled mind to comprehend the question and then she answered, "Iíd like to be healed, please."

Quistis nodded and cast a Cure spell on her. Lark had felt this spell before, from the times they had cast it during class, or during extra training. It tickled her skin like a warm summer breeze, and caused her wounds to itch. Then, as quickly as it had come, it disappeared, leaving her feeling revitalized, although still sore. With her renewed energy supply, Lark forced herself to stand and face their enemy again.

The rest of the battle went much like this: bang, "Ice", wham, bang, "Ice", wham, bang, "Cure", whamÖ and so on. Although she had pretty nearly mastered casting spells under Squallís tutelage, Lark did not attempt any now. She just knew Trepe was better at it than she was, and she didnít want to risk it failing as it occasionally did when she was fighting a real monsterósheíd have to practice that a little more before her Field Exam.

"You are strong," Ifrit finally conceded almost eight minutes later, all three of them panting, "Very well, human, I will join you."

The Guardian Force disappeared in a glitter of lights that reminded Lark of the cheap transporter effects in the original Star Trek series and at the same time she felt the extra power entering her head.

"We can get out of here now, right?" Lark asked.

Trepe nodded, "Weíre done here."

With a satisfied smile, Lark led the way back out of the cave. They encountered a few more of those annoying bat creatures, but it was nothing Lark couldnít handle with the occasional assistance of Quistis. She couldnít keep the smile off her face as they stepped out into the wholesome sunshine and fresh air outside the cave, and took a deep breath of it while lingering near the mouth.

"Congratulations on passing the Fire Cavern test," Trepe said, "You did well."

"Thanks," Lark responded, "I doubt I would have made it if you werenít with me."

"Thatís part of being a SeeD," the Instructor said, "You learn to work as a team. There will be a lot of missions you wonít be able to complete on your own after you graduate, and youíll almost never be sent out by yourself anyway. Itís good to learn early on that you can and should rely on others."

Lark nodded, and after a brief rest period, the two women headed back to Garden.

Lark frowned after sitting down at the table with her friends at lunch the next day. Rodor had gotten over his failure of the test remarkably well, and was now threatening Sloane with his corn dog. Sloane was reacting to the pressure of the Field Exam that was yet to come remarkably well, also; he was fending off Rodorís corn dog with a pretzel and various french-fries that managed to parry a blow before ending in his mouth.

However, despite how well these two were doing, there was something obviously missing. "Guys, have you seen Nida?" Lark asked, glancing around the rest of the cafeteria as if expecting to see a large neon sign reading "Nida here" to point her in the right direction.

Rodor paused in his doggish onslaught and glanced around, a small frown forming on his own face, "Weird. I didnít realize it until now, but I havenít seen him since yesterday."

"More specifically," Sloane added after looking around as well, "Since he left with you yesterday."

Lark sighed, "I havenít seen him since yesterday, either."

"Well," Sloane started slowly, "Did somethingÖ happen?"

"Er," Lark stammered, "Why wouldÖ Did you think something would happen?"

The brunette shrugged, "He was just acting kind of weird yesterday."

"WellÖ" Lark could feel her face heating up already and she hesitantly admitted, "He kind ofÖ kissed me."

Rodor spit out the bite of corn dog he had just taken and Sloane seemed equally shocked. "He what?!" Sloane demanded as Rodor coughed on some hotdog that had gone down the wrong way.

"Just a little kiss," Lark said, blushing redder, "On the cheek. I wanted to talk to him, though."

Sloane sat back in his seat, looking a little disgusted, "I canít believe he actually kissed you!"

Lark frowned at the other boy, "Well, why shouldnít he have?" She demanded, "Itís not like anyone else did! I mean," she reddened again with embarrassment and meekly added, "Besides Seifer."

Rodor, who had just gotten over his coughing fit and chanced another bite of his meal, spit it up again and stared at her with his mouth open. "Seifer?!" Both boys cried at once.

Larkís blush deepened as she nodded. "When did this happen?" Sloane asked, looking more than a little upset.

"Yesterday," Lark responded, "After Nida kissed me." She flashed them a warning glare, "That doesnít mean you guys can kiss me, you know. Iíve had just about all the kisses I can handle!"

Rodor blushed and Sloane scowled, "What makes you think weíd want to kiss you, anyway?"

Lark shrugged, secretly amused at the response, "Itís just that when I told Seifer Nida had kissed me, then he kissed me. It was really weird, I donít think someone should kiss you just because someone else did."

"That jerk," Rodor said emphatically, "Want us to go beat him up for you?"

Lark raised an eyebrow, "If I wanted him beat up, Iíd do it myself." She commented, "But anyway, this doesnít have anything to do with Seifer. I was just wondering where Nida was."

"Well, weíll find out when we leave for our Field Test," Sloane muttered, "Heís on our team."

"Heís not on our team?" Lark echoed, looking at the SeeD in shock. Could you switch teams like that?

The dark haired SeeD nodded, "A transfer student just arrived today to take the test and we had to mix around the teams a little. Sheíll be on your team if sheÖ" He broke off, then grinned, "Oh, here she is." Lark and Sloane followed his line of sight to see a girl running down the hallway to them.

"Iím sorry Iím late!" She exclaimed, "I turned left when I should have turned right and wound up in the cafeteria!"

The SeeD only smirked, shaking his head in exasperation, "Ms. Tilmitt."

Lark looked the other girl up and down, she was wearing the same standard cadet uniform that Lark had been forced into herself, the annoyingly revealing skirt making her extremely uncomfortable. She had chin length brown hair that was a little too bouncy for Larkís liking, and she immediately decided she was one of those annoyingly happy girls that she loathed so much. She probably needed a whole pack to visit the bathroom, too.

After a brief silence, the other girl took the initiative, holding out a hand to Lark first, "Iím Selphie! Selphie Tilmitt, from Trabia Garden."

Lark reluctantly shook her head, a vague feeling of knowing her flashing through her mind, "Lark Raven Till," she said, and refrained from adding: "Iím from another world, but everyone seems to think I go to Balamb, so who am I to argue?" She smirked just a little at her unspoken comment and almost grimaced when Selphieís smile widened, apparently thinking she was smiling at her.

Lark quickly retracted her hand and Sloane shook it instead, "Iím Sloane Joachim, pleased to meet you, Selphie."

Selphie grinned wider and opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by the SeeD, "Weíve got a car in the parking lot that weíll take Balamb city, letís not waste any more time." He set a swift pace towards the back of the Garden, and the three students quickly set out after him.

Without slowing or turning back to look at them, the SeeD continued speaking, "Iím Faur Llitan, Iíve been assigned as your supervising SeeD. I wonít actually be helping you, but Iíll be doing the majority of your grading. Grading depends on a few things. How professionally you conduct yourselves, remember, you may not be SeeDs yet, but youíre still representatives from Garden, please act accordingly. How you address battles, I can guarantee there will be a few, you canít really have a field test without them, remember, sometimes itís better to run away, but donít act cowardly, either. Thereís a lot more at stake than there is during training."

Faur paused in his rant, "Weíll be taking this car," he pointed out, leading them to a large van, and opening the door to allow the three SeeD candidates to enter. They went in ahead of him, and found seats in the already crowded van. Faur joined them and continued as if heíd never been interrupted.

"The Headmaster understands that sometimes things will pop up that are unexpected, youíll also be graded on how you deal with these things. Youíll be graded on the quality of your work, the quantity of your work, and pretty much anything else you can think of. You canít stand in one place or walk around without it reflecting on your score." Lark hesitantly glanced at Sloane and Selphie, wondering if they were just as nervous as she was. Sloaneís expression was unreadable, something Lark recognized as anxiety, and Selphie was looking nervously back. She smiled when their eyes met and Lark quickly looked away.

"Lark will be the team captain," Faur continued, "Youíll receive further orders when we reach Balamb."

Lark tried her very best not to stare at him wide eyed, but was finding it difficult. She also found it difficult not to voice her opinion that she would not make a good team captain, that perhaps Sloane would do better. She bit down her insecurity, having had it drilled in her head for the last several months that a SeeD was required to follow orders without question, even if they didnít particularly like those orders. She chalked it up to the world in general being against her, and possibly lying with the same fault of why she was here in the first place.

The van came to an abrupt stop in Balamb city, and all the SeeD candidates piled out, moving quickly across the parking lot to a number of waiting ships. As soon as the last SeeD had jumped out of the van, the car tore away as quickly as it had stopped, tires squealing loudly in protest.

They dutifully waited as everyone slowly filed onto the ship until it was finally their turn, and they were settled into their own compartment. Faur immediately took control again, picking up a small controller that was on the table and flicking on a monitor.

"Our client for this mission is the Dollet Dukedom Parliament. A request for SeeD was made 18 hours ago, Dollet has been under attack by G-Army since about 72 hours ago." An image suddenly appeared on the screen of what Lark could guess was Dollet, "49 hours into battle, Dollet abandoned their position in the inner city. Currently, they have retreated into the nearby mountains and are reorganizing their troops." Red and green dots appeared on the screen.

"Now onto the mission objective. According to our reports, the G-Army is mopping up the Dollet troops in the mountain region." A red line swept through what Lark presumed was the mountain region, "Weíre to make a landing at Lapin Beach." A dotted green line with an arrow moved across the screen to stop at what must have been the beach. "Weíre to eliminate the remaining G-Army within the city and liberate it A.S.A.P. Afterwards, SeeD members will intercept any G-Army forces trying to make their way into the city from the mountain region."

Faur paused and turned his attention more directly to the three students, "SeeD candidates are to eliminate the G-Army inside the city. You three are Squad Aóyouíll be the advance team, the first up into the city. Youíll be expected to proceed into the city," another green line started where the dotted line stopped, "And deal with any G-Army forces on the main road. Once you have cleared out all enemies along the entire length of the road, you will double back," the green line obediently turned back, leaving a dot where it had ended, "And await any further orders near the beach." It ended again in a blinking green dot just beyond the beach.

Faur turned off the screen, "The order to withdraw takes priority," he added, "As the advance team, you will either be the first or the last to know, so be ready to retreat at a momentís notice." He looked around at them, "Any questions?"

Lark glanced at her teammates again, trying to decide if she had any questions. She couldnít think of any and shook her head at the same time the others did. She could feel her nervousness welling up inside her at the thought of what sounded very important all depending on her.

Selphie eventually broke the silence, "This is so exciting!"

After her initial surprise at the comment, Lark rolled her eyes, "This is important," she added. She could hardly believe her grade was depending on how well she could work with Selphie. She inwardly groaned at the thought.

Lark, Sloane, and Selphie all stood near the bow of the ship, holding onto straps with tight muscles as they prepared for impact. The ship collided with the shore, shaking and jerking as it slowed, and before it even came to a complete stop the raid door had fallen open, and the three SeeD students were already jumping off. They didnít pause on the beach for a moment, but Lark immediately led them up the stairs to the city.

They met resistance almost before they had cleared the stairsóa forward guard, Lark quickly realized. The three SeeD candidates quickly took out the two soldiers blocking their path, and continued to run down the street. It wasnít their responsibility to get every soldier in the vicinity, just to deal with the braver ones that had the gall to attack what they had every reason to believe were SeeDs. They would weed out any they had missed on the return trip.

They were still in good shape when they reached the end of the main street, having already encountered five battles consisting of two or threeóthe last one had actually had fourósoldiers. Their trek back was slower as they goaded G-soldiers out of alleys and pubs, but they were soon back at the stairs, waiting for the order to withdraw.

"Well, so far so good," Sloane commented, leaning against the railing as he waited. He glanced down at his watch, "Forty-five minutes, we should have the order to retreat soon."

Lark nodded sharply, still nervous about being in command and feeling like she should be doing something. As it was she was already pacing, her hand anxiously feeling the handle of her Remington and her eyes darting about for any sign of the enemy. Selphie and Sloane were watching her.

"You donít have to be nervous," Sloane finally said, "Youíre doing a great job. A natural born leader."

Selphie nodded enthusiastically to voice her agreement, "Yeah, youíre doing great, Captain!"

Lark couldnít hold back a laugh as a little of her tension was releasedónot a lot, but a little. She paused in her pacing, "Sorry, Iím not used to being in charge. I guess I should calm down some, I mean, weíre through with our rounds and are on standby until the order to retreat is issued, so there isnít anything to worry about."

Sloane and Selphie nodded their concurrence and they all went back to the tedious task of waiting. About five minutes later Faur ran up the stairs to them, "The order to withdraw has just been sounded," he told them, "Your new orders are this: All SeeD members and candidates are to withdraw at 1900 hours. Assemble at the shore." He looked at Lark seriously, "You got that?"

Lark nodded, "Withdraw to the shore at by 1900 hours," she repeated concisely, "Squad A will spread the orders, sir."

Faur nodded and ran back down to the shore. Lark turned back to her team, "Alright, hereís the plan. Sloane, you go down the left side of the road, squads D, E, and F should be on that side. Selphie, you run ahead and notify squads B and C, B should be in the Central Square, and C should be on standby around the North sector. Iíll take the right and round up squads G and H. Any questions?" Sloane and Selphie shook their heads. "Good," Lark said, "Now weíve got about an hour to find everyone, so letís go!"

The three of them nodded and set off at a run to track down their teams, Selphie going straight ahead, Sloane veering off to the left, and Lark breaking away to the right. It took about ten minutes for Lark to track down squad G, who were in battle with a group of about six G-Army soldiers when she arrived. She assisted them and then reported the message to their squad captainóa nervous looking boy named Charlie. She waited just long enough to hear Charlie order (although she thought it sounded more like a suggestion) his team down to the shore, then started off at a run to find squad H.

It turned out squad H had left itís post, and she found them about twenty minutes later in a pub off the main street. She was almost shaking with anger as she barked the change of orders at them, fighting off the instinct to chew them out about leaving their post, although she couldnít stop a pointed comment about not being able to find them to the captainóa blonde girl named Teressa who looked like the typical teenage girl Lark felt gave all girls such a bad reputation.

Lark took it upon herself to herd Squad H out the door, and rushed out right after them, her adrenaline sent running through her veins again when she heard Teressa scream. She burst out the door, looking around for whatever enemy must be there, and saw something down the road in the distance. She stood there for a moment with the others, squinting and trying to get a better view of what it was. Her eyes widened as they focused on what looked like a large, mechanical spider or scorpionóa doomsday device from a movie if sheíd ever seen one.

"Run!" She shouted out, jerking life into the three members of squad H who immediately did so. Lark watched for a second longer before turning to run herself. She hesitated again when she saw Sloane herding another squad out of a pub a block down on the left. He grinned cockily at her before his expression changed to horror and he shouted something.

Lark knew he shouted something because she saw his mouth moving like it was, but she didnít catch what it was as a heavy feeling of impending doom settled over her, blocking out all else. Time seemed to slow and it was with great reluctance that Lark looked down the street in the direction of the ravaging monstrous machine. Her movements were as sluggish as the time and Lark could do little but watch as a car came flying right towards her, her eyes wide as saucers. Somewhere in the background she heard Sloaneís voice, but it sounded very far away and she couldnít quite pinpoint where it was coming from. If she hadnít felt so weak and rooted she would have compared it to achieving Limit Break.

All these things flashed through her mind in less than a second, because before she knew it the car took up her entire line of vision, and she was hit with an intense pain. She only felt the pain for a moment, however, and her vision, previously swamped with the unpleasantly twisted remains of a car, faded until it was black.

Previous Chapter | Chapter Index | Fanfiction Main | Next Chapter