In the rain of the forest, the solitary drops falling between the tall, dark interleaved trees, Squall Leonhart trained in the small, open clearing. These past few weeks, Master Shin had been exceedingly rough on him, bearing a stricter air that usual. There Squall was, in the rain, and there was the target: a wooden, straw dummy, tied with worn string and wire. He was to practice his ‘critical spiritual triggering’ here, in this quiet forest clearing, and he was to focus his honing and accuracy, critical fighting skills of any gunblade knight. He breathed slowly in and out, and then opened his eyes. As he rushed towards the motionless target, time seemed to do a strange thing: it slowed, everything around him began to hover and float, every motion and particle and piece of space in front of him undulated like a wave and he approached the target as the world and trees and the rain revolved around him, continuing their linear motion. He moved that fast. His speed was so great that he even felt his previous images behind him, successively lined up in invisible, shifting shadows, until he reached the wooden target. And when he reached the target with the tip of his blade, he pulled down the trigger hard, cut sharp and swiftly across, and lit it up in a blazing, brilliant flame. The wooden, straw dummy exploded and a flaming ember fell to the forest ground.

—Good, good, Leonhart, said Master Shin.

Squall breathed out and made no reply, glad that he had satisfied his master today. He drew back his gunblade into his sheath, picked up the stray bullet he fired into the target, and walked towards his master, who was sitting on a tree stump in the rainy, dark forest.

—Excellent. I can see that your focus is improving, boy. By now, I think you are around Seifer’s level, but may, indeed, soon surpass him, Master Shin said, scratching his dark long mustache. Master Shin Kigatana was his full name, and in addition to a long black devilish mustache that made him look like a Kurosawan Samurai, he wore a long dark, black trenchcoat, darkish-blue monk-like robes inside, and had black, hard-soled boots with silver toe-ends. There were a couple ancient mythological necklaces adorned with the Dragon-beast Bahamut on his neck and wrist, and his hair was short and spiked; one of his ears had an earring styled in an ancient Galbadian style. However, he was a lot older that Squall, and wore the aura of an experienced, trained and learned Gunblade knight – indeed the one thing that Squall strived to become.

As Squall went back to the garden after his daily gunblade training, he prepared for the evening meal. Such was the rigor of the regime he followed every-day: morning classes with Instructor Trepe in Battlefield Methodologies and Military Techniques, afternoon courses with Instructor Aki in the area of Weapon Mathematics, Computer Net Theory and Tactical Statistics. He took courses during the other days involving History and Folklore of the Guardian Forces. And also: Galbadian Literature and Survey Writing, in order to aid his skill on the difficult written exams that the Garden was prided on. All this discipline and training and vigor: all in preparation of course, for the one big day in which he would take the test, the SeeD examination, the ultimate summation and apotheosis and pinnacle of all his education, the one thing that would mark his passage into the real world. However, although he was reasonably competent in all the areas, thriving on the discipline that he himself had built for himself through the ages, he looked forward only to one aspect of his training: Gunblade practice. It was everyday, with Master Shin that he and Seifer Almasy undertook the vigorous spiritual, mental and physical training that the gunblade arts required. They were the only two students in the garden that dared to study the gunblade arts, and to do it under Master Shin, a teacher known almost mythically for his strictness, was rather brave. During all his other classes, say Military Strategies 01 with Instructor Trepe, he would appear to be paying attention, but his real focus laid in anticipating training with Master Shin later in the day. While feverishly drawing the insignia of the GF Griever in his margins of his notebooks, instead of listening or paying attention, he mentally, unconsciously trained his thoughts, on that one critical, pivotal moment, where he had to trigger the gunblade on the solitary, wooden target.

Dinner, surprisingly, was not hot-dogs. Squall had no particular taste for them, but did not abhor their meaty flavor either. Crunchy, fried Balamb fish was the specialty today, and as Squall grabbed his tray from the line and swiped his garden identification card for payment by the two ladies in the front cashier: Scanning - Student ID No.41629 –
Leonhart, Squall – Meal Access Granted, he walked alone, in his leather furred jacket and stone black jeans to the farthest corner of the room, away from any of the other students, to eat in solitude. They were all the same, he thought: mostly wearing the Garden uniforms, although they weren’t required. Talking, huddling and telling theirjokes in groups at the tables, laughing admist themselves, smiling like idiots. What fools, Squall thought, taking a slow bite of his Balamb fish and drinking a sip of Odine brand Elixir-type Soda. He rarely stopped to talk to any of the other students, but as a matter of fact, a lot of the student knew who he was, due to the fame that he carried around as one of the only two sole practitioners of the esoteric and dangerous gunblade arts.

Occasionally, he would also talk to a fellow classmate, Zell Dincht, from time-to-time, feeling some type of strange
connection, as if he knew Zell for a long while; however, most of the time, Squall was taken aback and perhaps even
annoyed by his loud, obstreperous, manner and short-temper, trying to avoid his advances if they could be avoided. The teacher that he was closest to, other than Master Shin, was of course, Instructor Quistis Trepe, his homeroom teacher who was responsible for all his academic and intellectual training, as well as occasional battlefield technique and application. Quistis did always seem to be a teacher to him, a mentor figure, a looming sisterly persona that Squall did maybe enjoy having around, but simply couldn’t remember if he had known her ever since childhood. Yet, he felt awkward most of the time, when she tried to understand and get to know him better because he simply was not that type of person, and did not need that type of understanding from anyone. What was he supposed to say about other people’s problems? If you want to talk about your problems, go talk to a wall, Squall always thought.

As he finished his evening meal, walking back to his dormitory, he realized that other than those people, he did not talk to anyone else. Sure, if he needed something, or requested a service or had to elicit basic, necessary communication he would do so, but never a how are you doing? Never a how was your day? Or an I’m fine, thanks. Usually just a nod, or a basic, stoic greeting. If the elevator was crowded, he didn’t take it. If there was a crowd in line for anything, he waited until it subsided. He took only the least populated hallways, loving open, free, unpopulated spaces – he thought true peace and quiet could be found there - and he didn’t even bother to talk with the roommate that lived next to him in the dorms, shutting his door to do his written homework, research on his portable online console and his math assignments.

As he came back to the dorms that night, he sat on one side of his bed, put his electronic text carrier down – it stored
all his books online on the Balamb Garden Server – took off his jacket, and from underneath his bed, took out the black, silvery case that housed his gunblade.

It was emblazoned with a Griever logo. The great lion god-beast Griever, the legendary, mythical GF, the grand monster: Griever: It was his sole inspiration and at the same time produced in him a visceral, tangible fear. But it was, in essence, a strong, invincible lion: it was what he truly wanted to be, what he truly wanted to become: strong, courageous, and proud. A lion wears his mane proud so that is why he lined the collar of his jacket with fur. That is why he made a miniature metallic symbol of the lion’s head that hands from the handle of his gunblade. That is also why he wears a metal chain of Griever around his neck. He had seen the insignia before, from cultish societies that worshipped the god-beast, but primarily it was something that existed in his imagination. He remembers, faintly, along time ago, being told stories about Griever from an older, sisterly figure. He remembers something like an orphanage, but it is vague. It was a caring, older sister-like visage that told him the stories, or was it a Matron? Whoever it was, the stories were told about Griever in order to scare him, like any other ghost story, but instead of imbuing him with fear, it filled his eyes with wonder and amazement. Squall has dreamed of Griever ever since that time, and its spirit he believes is also as a living testament to the childhood memories that he has lost.

He goes to sleep, but before doing so, remembers that the next morning will be a field battle Seifer, with Master Shin looking on. He doesn’t fear it much, knowing he has dueled Seifer many times before, always with Master Shin watching, but Seifer would always seem to have the upper hand, either through stronger brute power, a dirty trick, or a last pull of a desperation move that would knock him off his feet. But tomorrow: tomorrow he would be ready.

Seifer: Seifer Almasy was perhaps the only person in Balamb Garden who Squall thought he was the closest to: Seifer, at times, was somewhat of a confidante, a close comrade, and even kin. At other times, Seifer became his true enemy and one rival, someone who Squall hated, and maybe even despised. Seifer matched him blow-for-blow in the vigor and skill of gunblade training. He respected Seifer though, admired his technique, but disliked how he always thought he was in control of everything, with his huge cocky ego, running around the garden with his disciplinary committee of Fujin and Raijin, his groupies that followed his every command. That was a sign of weakness to Squall: depending on people, depending on something such as a ‘friend’, a term Squall did not believe existed. In the end you’re on your own, Squall always thought, it’s so miserable. People shouldn’t depend on other people, Squall would always think: they should handle things on their own.

The stretch of rocky plain where Squall and Seifer would have their usual duels was adjacent to the small forest clearing. Master Shin was there, sitting on a rock, never seen without his industrial jug of Fire-Sky sake, taking a sip every so often. The fog of the morning was just settling in, and as he watched Squall and Seifer arranged on the field, he took a swig, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and told them to ready themselves. Squall felt a slight uneasiness, and was a little unstable, being that such mornings usually gave him such a feeling. Seifer looked at Squall and raised one brow.

—All right Squall, Considering the beating I gave you last time, I’ll relent a bit.

—Whatever, Squall intoned, knowing that last time Seifer barely came through as the victor.

—My Hyperion will make quick work of you, my reticent friend. And oh yeah, Squall, what’s the name of your gunblade again?

—Revolver, whatever.

—Seifer! Stop teasing him like a bratty child, Master Shin said, gruffly. Both of you, to your stances. I want to see a clean, good match today. I’ll be watching your technique closely, so you’d better not slack off-!

—Yes master, Seifer said, rolling his eyes. Squall and Seifer took their places behind two lines across the plane, and
slowly, tensely, crossed their gunblades.

—Alright, Hajiime (Start)! Master Shin shouts.

Seifer crouches down, leaps up, launching at Squall with a jumping slash technique but Squall deftly defends it and meets it with his gunblade. Squall twirls and pivots around from the position and tries to hit Seifer with the tip of his revolver but Seifer is too fast, and moves around, spinning into a hard, forceful backward slash that throws Squall off balance: Squall slides with his feet into some nearby dust and rocks. Squall regains his footing, aligns himself in the Form-I position, and slices at Seifer with successive cuts, but Seifer defends, each with a clanging metal spark of his swift Hyperion. Sooner or later, they become a mess of metal and steel, clashing and alternating in blows and defenses, moves and stances, attacks and parries, counterattacks and surprise moves. Squall then, all of a sudden sees an opening, and cuts down near Seifer’s boots, then rises up in a graceful arc with his blade right into the collar of his grey trenchcoat. A piece of it flies off, and it barely misses Seifer’s head.

—You bastard! I just bought this, Seifer yells. With that Seifer cuts down hard at Squall’s defending gunblade stance and extends his hand out. I’ll just have to show you No Mercy, then, Seifer intones, laughing. From his hand forms glowing fire aura, generated without artificial drawn magic. It ignites and then he cuts sharply into the air sending a green twirling projectile, which is a sharp blade of plasma-flame, directly at Squall. Squall braces himself, holds the hilt of the gunblade out with one hand, extending the gunblade lengthwise. He then generates a charged, bright Ki-forcefield around himself that eventually deflects the green blade and sends it spinning off into some nearby rocks.

—Seifer! What the hell did I tell you about using that technique in duels? Master Shin shouts out.

—But master, I had to! Squall nearly cut my face off! I used it in self-defense!

Master Shin shakes his head in shame and leaps off his rock. —No, no, you could have defended that. All right, that’s enough you two. Good work for today. I see both your techniques are steadily improving. You’ve got to work on your speed in defense, Seifer. And I’ve could have seen some more aggressive attacks from Squall. In any case, I’d like to see you afterwards, Squall, Master Shin says, taking another swig of Sake. Both of you, Seifer and Squall, we may breach upon the area of Desperation and Limit Breaks next week, and I need to prepare both of you for the high physical demands that it entails. So, I need for you to practice extra hours this week, after classes.

—Understood, master, Squall intones. This is no problem for Squall.

—But master! I’ve got disciplinary responsibilities this week, and we have to take care of the patrolling for Garden Festivities this week as well, how can you just –

—Seifer, do you want to be a gunblade knight?

—Damnit, Seifer shouts, stomping the ground and storming off the plains, soon becoming a shadow that disappears towards the general direction of the Garden. Squall comes over to Master Shin and asks him what he wanted to see him about.

—Squall, now I don’t want Seifer’s insults to get to you in any way, now.

—They don’t, Master.

—Well, that’s good. A gunblade is not as good as its name, you know, Master Shin replies. It is a known fact that Seifer named his gunblade Hyperion after a legendary knight and hero from the many Sorceress & Knight novels he constantly reads, Galbadian Literature and Fiction in this style has been widely popular after the Sorceress Wars. Master Shin named his gunblade the Titanium Dragon, due to his spiritual affiliation and connection with the dragon-god beast Bahamut. Squall, although telling others that he simply calls his gunblade Revolver, hides the truth in his heart. In reality, he dreams it to be a part of Griever, the soul and heart of a Lion, imbued with the strength and universal power of the great Lion. But this, of course, he doesn’t tell others, especially Seifer.

—Leonhart, we’ll be doing some intensive training for Desperation Techniques next week, pretty much the culmination of all your years of practice.

Squall nods and doesn’t reply. But he understands, sincerely. Master Shin asks him if he has ever heard the Legend of Renzokuken. Squall shakes his head in reply and says no. Well, Squall, Master Shin intones, you’ve heard of a Limit Break before, correct?

—Yes, master. Pure release of skill and power brought on by a sudden surge of anger and repressed rage. Squall had recently learned this in Instructor Trepe’s course.

—Very good, it sees you are true to your studies, young man. How’s that young Instructor Trepe doing? Does she have a boyfriend yet?

—Well, why uh, do you ask, what are you implying? Squall embarrassingly inquired.

—Hah-hah, well you two might make a good pair, yes, but I was mainly inquiring for myself! It’s a joke, boy, lighten up. Well, on more serious matters, you may have heard of my Limit Break or Desperation before, haven’t you?

—Yes, sir. The Drunken Ascension. Perhaps the most feared technique in these lands. The strongest gunblade technique, every known, Squall says, his hand on one side of his hip and his other gloved hand extended, palm-out, explaining.

—Hah-hah! Flattery will get you everywhere my boy. Now there’s no need for that kind of brown-nosing to your old master is there now?

Squall made no reply, his face seemed to say ‘Whatever’. But Squall did know, for truth, that his master’s Limit Break and Desperation Move, the Mythical Drunken Ascension, was perhaps the most powerful Gunblade technique that he had every heard of. He absorbed rumors of it from other people, from Seifer, from historical lore, and sometimes, but rarely, from the master himself. It involved the user to drink high amounts of alcohol, preferably Skyfire-Sake. Master Shin always carried this around, his industrial jug with the Chinese character for ‘Sky’ and ‘Fire’ painted on one side. After being properly inebriated, the gunblade knight would loop into a deadly combo and dance of blindingly fast gunblade motions, stopping time with speeding swirls and cuts, entering into a deadly chain of triggering successions and multiple slice-attacks until the enemy was engulfed in a living, raging storm of fire, caused by the myriad explosions left in the gunblade knight’s deadly wake.

—What if I told you that there was a Limit Break technique stronger than my ‘Drunken Ascension’?

Squall’s mind gaped in disbelief. This sincerely shocked him.

—Stronger that the Drunken Ascension? But how?

—The Legend of Renzokuken, my boy. Then Master Shin told him the story. Of course, the succession of moves that leads up to the unleashing of the Drunken Ascension was a series of cuts and attacks, known as the ‘Renzokuken’ – the art of successive blades. Master Shin knew it, as well as a very few handful of gunblade masters around the world. It was a technique that had been passed down through generations and generations of gunblade knights. It required utmost concentration and focus and skill – relying on the principal and accuracy of ‘critical spiritual triggering’: the art of timing the trigger and focus of your blade with the trigger of the gunblade’s pistol. If done wrong, it could leave the user in a bloody mess. If done correctly, it could be unbeatable. It was dangerous, and took years to fully master. But – once many practitioners mastered it, they could only achieve a meager combo of successive gunblade strikes, and be able to finish it off with a paltry finisher that flourished in their individual style. However, this finishing move was considerably weaker because all their energy had been sapped by the previous kinetics of the Renzokuken strikes. It was this individual finishing move that essentially defined the strength of a specific gunblade master’s ‘Renzokuken’ succession. Then Master Shin told him about the Legend of The True Renzokuken Knight. Legend has it, that every 1000 years, a true Renzokuken knight would emerge with a Renzokuken style and legendary technique with the strongest finishing art in the universe. The flourishing ending technique would be so strong, and so powerful that it would essentially be invincible, unbeatable, and unable to be stopped. Squall opened his eyes wide in disbelief, and took it all in with awe.

—All right, I guess that’s about it for today, Leonhart. We’ll have to start early tomorrow, Master Shin said.

Squall nodded, put his gunblade back into the case, and walked out of the arid plains towards the Garden. While walking, he began thinking of the legend that Master had told him. Could such a technique even exist? It seemed as if it was something that Squall hoped existed, every time he trained. And he did that constantly. Training for Squall was an obsessive pursuit: he disciplined himself constantly. It was easy for him: he was a lone-wolf, didn’t need to talk to
others, didn’t need to socialize, and didn’t need to have free or spare time. What he did, whenever he didn’t have schoolwork or math assignments, was vigorously train and discipline and hone his gunblade techniques. He would focus his gunblade’s strikes and swings in the rain of the forest, among the tall trees; he would breathe the crisp air of the mountains and sharpen his mental accuracy for critical spiritual triggering; on a nearby Balamb Beach, he worked on his footwork, speed and accuracy – fundamental movements for gunblade-knight forms that he learned from Master Shin. When other students were out socializing in groups or hanging out or relaxing at night, Squall would be learning new techniques out on the barren Garden pavilions. And to apply his theories, he would go to the Training Center, every night, to fight monsters, constantly trying new things, new ideas, and hypotheses. Filling his gun-blade bullets with sleep powder to win over the T-Rexaurs, for example. Or realizing that he was able to slash the weed-creatures to green, leafy, bits if he attacked them by surprise.

Squall got his first gunblade at the age of 14. It has been two years now, and at the age of 16, he has seemingly mastered all the basic operations of a real, steel gunblade. In his years before, he was given a training gunblade with a wooden blade, plastic hilt, stopper and mild gunpowder. Its dull edge was a safety measure to prevent false-triggers and explosions. Ever since the age of 8, he wielded this training tool, dreaming of the day when he would receive his first real, steel gunblade, the authentic true weapon of a gunblade knight, the heroes he had read about in lore and stories. At the age of 15, Master Shin came to Balamb Garden. And that was when he first truly begun to understand the sheer power of the esoteric gunblade arts.

Shin Kigatana was a legendary gunblade knight and war hero known in lore and history that following the Sorceress War. During the Sorceress War itself, he was a soldier and general in the Galbadian army, commanding a gunblade-based team of fighters. Then, he went by his last name alone, Gatana. That soon changed however, when, in a bloody battle with a hyper- powered sorceress force, he lost his best friend, Jiin-Long. Hence, he renamed himself with the new moniker of Kigatana – bloody blade – for revenge. It was soon, however, after vanquishing the sorceress of that generation, that he realized that his war friend had become reincarnated as a Guardian Force spirit, by some means of the god’s divination and an unusual refluctuation of the Sorceress’ powers. Jiin-Long was always known for his dark gunblade techniques, which he combined with his innate powers of flare and fire. Therefore, he became reincarnated as the great dragon spirit, Bahamut. Years later, after encountering Bahamut himself, and defeating it, Shin realized that Bahamut was none other than the reincarnated version of his deceased friend. Shin then proceeded to junction his strength with that of the great god-beast, and consequently, Shin’s powers became tremendous. Time passed, and a manically-bent research group had somehow stole the junctioned aura of Bahamut from Shin, and fled to do research on Draw-Magic in some remote, underwater facility. But, Shin had already absorbed most of what he wanted to learn from the spirit of his deceased friend, and incorporated, along with his drunken gunblade-style, the dragon’s spirit and essence into a collective powerful theory of dark-gunblade arts that made him the most feared gunblade-master in the land. After wandering the world for awhile, disappearing from his homeland of Timber, without a trace, he then reappeared and settled down as a gunblade instructor at Balamb Garden, a paid- for-hire master to two young eager students.

That’s when Squall and Seifer began learning the philosophy and arts of the gunblade: the concepts of Spiritual Critical Triggering, Spiritual, Zen Focus and the theory of Mental Calmness. Seifer, even when he was young, would tease Squall to fight, being ego-driven and craving attention, but Squall, instead of declining, would always accept the battle gestures, almost in tears, saying if I don’t do it I wont be able to see Sis again. So, that’s how both of the students got to know each other, and how they learned the gunblade arts so closely. They learned the bullet-sciences and the physics of bullets while fire-timing: to bring the gunblade down on the target in a curved precise-angled arc, and fire the charge into it, pull down sharply, and let the trail of fire and explosives trail over the enemy like a continuous, slashing fire brush- stroke. They studied the slash mechanics and kinetics of bullet-firing and timing. The technology and construction of a gunblade, how to tweak it, modify it to do more damage: it became like a musical instrument to them, a pure device of pain that would hone their emotion and desire into hot steel. Master Shin taught them all this, from memory, it seemed. He also taught then the ‘Light-Body floating theory’ of Gunblade Arts – the capability to jump and soar high into the air when delivering a special-gunblade move. Its main principle was to concentrate the ki in a body outward, so that floating and jumping high could be achieved. Master Shin also made sure they mastered the ‘Ki-Extension’ Arts as well, techniques in which they could extend their ki into projectiles or long tangible masses with sheer focus, as Seifer had demonstrated before with his No Mercy technique. The Ki-force-field technique was also learned, and primarily involved the inward drawing of energy to charge the gunblade knight’s internal ki, either to form a shield on the external surface or to power one’s strength.

After the morning’s more-vigorous-than-usual training session with Master Shin, Squall slumped down in his seat in the 2F-classroom, hearing Instructor Trepe lecture on weapons systems and battle maneuvers. This morning, Squall and Seifer had to do a precision exercise: when Master Shin through a wooden log at them, they had to cut it into four parts, with two fast strikes. Then they had to practice on a moving wooding dummy, as opposed to stationary one, which really pushed their critical triggering skills.

Squall took notes on the lecture, and thought about Griever. Although he considered his life to be somewhat of a monk-like existence, he occasionally went to the library – when no one was around so that no one would know – and read books, anything on the great god beast Griever, or gunblade knights. When he wasn’t training, he escaped into those works, aspiring to become as strong as the monster that the stories described. He looked to the side of his shoulder, where he saw a pair of girls giggling. Girls: Squall would always see them walking around the Garden, in their uniforms with the short skirts that would show a lot of their legs. He was feeling the emotions characteristic of this age, but did he ever consider a girlfriend? No, he simply didn’t want to get hurt again, he didn’t want to take those chances. He remembers, vaguely, whoever it was, but remembers, more sharply, the pain, of depending on someone, and that someone simply leaving him, hurting him in the process. Was it a sister-like visage? Well, for one thing: it reminded Squall that you could never depend on anyone else, that you could never put your emotions out for anyone else. Because you would get hurt, and that, that would be too miserable to bear. Besides it was just simpler for him. If he attacked antisocial, people didn’t want to talk to him, so that worked out all the better, because then there would be no risk of getting hurt. The next couple weeks progressed, painfully, due to the sheer vigor of training that Master Shin gave them in the area of Desperation Moves. He was trying to push Seifer and Squall, trying to push both of them past their limits so that they would begin to unleash the hidden powers of their gunblade arts. For Seifer, Shin hoped for him to focus his fire- energy into a cross-shaped flame attack based on his magic and his gunblade’s design. For Squall, Master Shin was hoping that he would pick up the Renzokuken.

One day, however, after training, Master Shin wanted to see Squall. After Seifer had left to the Garden, Master Shin began to talk in a slow, careful manner. He told Squall that he was preparing to leave. Leave the garden, for good. Squall was slightly shocked, and asked why. The master told him, I am here to do only what I aim to do, and I believe that time is approaching. Squall was still confused. Then Master Shin told him that his goal was to impart the essence of Renzokuken to Squall. Then, only once that was done, could he leave: indeed, it seemed like that was his one sole purpose. Squall breathed back and still was slightly at loss. Master Shin told him that the one day in which he would decide if Squall learned the Renzokuken technique would be soon. The final, eventful day, in which Squall would be ready. It would end in a duel, a fight. With the Master, himself. Squall stepped back, surprised.

On his bed that night, Squall tossed and turned, thinking of the departure of Master. This past year, he didn’t believe that he’d attached any particular emotional bond to the master: he was just a mentor, a guide, a teacher, that disciplined him extremely hard, pushed him beyond his limit. But was he ever anything else? What if he just left, left him alone, just like everyone else had? Like that one sisterly-figure, long ago? Would he be hurt? Squall thought that he might be lost, without a master, without guidance. Even though he had been training by himself most of the time and largely self-driven, why did Master Shin want to leave, and so soon? Finally, Squall reasoned that if Master Shin had to leave, that he had to leave for a good reason. There had to be a way to forget him though, to forget Master’s memory, so as to not get hurt by his absence. Squall made this mental note to himself before he slept that night, and wanted to ask the master whether or not it was possible, when that time came, when he would fight Master Shin.

As days passed, Squall grew in strength and skill. Then one day, after being pushed past a certain threshold in a field battle with Seifer, his eyes glimmered, and he unleashed the beginning of a succession of flaming gunblade strikes, but stopped after the second or third blow. Seifer was sent to the ground, his chest steaming. What the hell are you doing, Squall? Seifer asked him, annoyed. What the hell was that? Shin looked on, nodded, seeming a bit excited. He glanced over to Squall and Seifer, and told him that would be it for today. After Seifer limped back towards to the garden, Master Shin said to Squall:

—Leonhart, the time has come. Meet me in the forest clearing, tonight. The duel will happen. Squall nodded in
agreement, gulped, slightly nervous, and walked away.

When the black shadow of noon obscured the starless sky that night, Squall came to the forest clearing, and saw Master Shin sitting on a lone stump. He was carrying his jug of Sky-Fire sake, and took a brief sip.

—Ah, so you’re here, boy.

—Yes, master. But before we start -

—What is it?

—I have to say I don’t know what to do if you leave, I mean. I would not like to remember you. I have been greatly appreciative of your teachings, master. And guidance. But I just don’t. I can’t remember you. It’ll be too much. If you just leave.

—Hah-Hah! You foolish boy, do you think you’ll remember me anyway? Aren’t you junctioning the GF Quetzalcoatl soon? Do you know anything about the effect on memory GFs have?

—I thought that was only a myth.

—Well, no. But I can see your concern. I know you, Leonhart. You want to be strong. You don’t want to depend on others. I know how you think.

Squall was silent, crossed his arms, his gestures expressing ‘Whatever.’

—So, Master Shin said, if it’ll make things easier, take this. He handed Squall a blank, metal ring. He told him that it was a memory-erasing ring that would erase the memory of a gunblade knight’s mentor, once it was engraved with a symbol or design. He told him that it was actually used in generations before, as was the tradition of the gunblade-arts: only the techniques get transferred down, passed down through the ages, but not the memory of the people. The lore of the gunblade knights lived on in history, but if each gunblade knight had to bear the burden of all his past predecessors, his mind would be clouded and would not be able to focus. Focus, of course, is the most critical skill for a gunblade knight.

—It was meant to be, Leonhart. I knew’d you ask me this when I leave, as all gunblade knights ask their mentors. You’re not supposed to remember your old master, anyway! The gunblade tradition has decreed this! You have nothing to worry about, you young fool. Now, at arms.

Squall nodded slightly, relieved, and took the ring. He then drew his gunblade and arranged himself in the basic Starting Form stance, with his gunblade at his side.

—As all knights, you were born to fight. When you become a SeeD, you will realize you were born to fight. Its you’re only purpose. It comes without question. Now, disciple, you will awaken the very essence of this being, I hope to make you understand, with this one fight, with this one blade.

And with that, Master Shin unsheathes his gunblade, Titanium Dragon, and whirls at Squall with a spinning gunblade attack that is faster than the eye can see. Squall rushes to his holster and pulls out his gunblade and stops Master Shin’s attack at the hilt, resulting in a fiery explosion of embers and sparks. A large clang ensues; Squall stumbles back, and pulls out his blade. Master Shin wastes no energy in slicing at him with consecutive whirls and cuts, but Squall dodges them all, and blocks them with a fast rising sideway motions.

—What are you waiting for, Squall? You’re better than this! Stop holding back, Master Shin says.

Squall hesitantly advances in a series of cuts and swings but Master Shin swipes them away swiftly with quick metallic blurs. After he attacks with two cuts from his own revolver, Squall taps the blade twice on his shoulder, dashes at Master Shin, and swings the gunblade down, triggering when the blade hits. But Master Shin somehow has developed a counter-attack for this technique, and swings his sword in a full circle, igniting his own bullet, and creating a brief, temporary shield of smoke and fire that renders Squalls attack useless. Nice try, Master Shin laughs, and slices so fast and hard that a wave of chi hits Squall hard and sends him to the ground, near a tree. Squall gets up, slightly frustrated, and rushes in with another succession of gunblade slashes, but this time they are quicker and faster, Master Shin has to move his gunblade at a more rapid rate to block them, then, time slows for Squall, Squall has achieved the clarity of his mental focus and his critical spiritual triggering and at that moment as the linear world revolves around him, the swaying of the trees and leaves, he sees his chance and lunges a pointing thrust at Master Shin. Master Shin sees this, surprised, but flips back in a black shadow of his overcoat and kicks the blade up with his heavy metal boot, sending Squalls hand flying and the gunblade soaring and spinning into the air.

—Good, Squall. Now, Stop Holding Back!

Master Shin pushes Squall back again with a swift energy cut. Squall’s revolver spins three times in the air and soars quickly, horizontally into a nearby tree. Squall is confused, sweating, thinking that the last attack was his best. He dashes towards the tree and pulls his gunblade out, just in time to defend Master Shin’s ferocious succession of gunblade slices and whirl-around cuts. Master Shin then slashes Squall two times in the chest, pulling a false smoke trigger each time. This still leaves quite the sting, and Squall stumbles back, crouching onto the ground.

—Leonhart, have no restraints! Don’t hold back!

With this, Squall grits his teeth and launches at Master Shin in rage, sending a fast furious downward cut, but Master Shin deftly deflects it, but, however, after this happens, something in Squall snaps and gives – he feels a great lion within him growl – as if Griever himself were awakening in his heart and soul – and he runs towards Master Shin furiously, sending a furious, flaming succession of gunblade cuts one after the another, triggering precisely on each one, causing explosions, one, after, the, other, and it ends in a terrific graceful finisher as he runs towards the target that he has slashed in a flaming blinding fury and pulls his sword up into a rising slash that cracks the ground and sends rocks from it flying, and he hovers in the air with light-body levitation.

Master Shin is sent flying into a nearby tree, hits in, slides down, and he grabs his chest. It is smoking from all the previous precision of hits. Squall lands nearby.

—Yes, Yes! Yes that’s it. That’s it! He says to Squall, silently. The Renzokuken! The ancient technique! He gets up from his fallen position, brushes off his coat, and takes a swig of his sake. He walks towards Squall and taps him on the shoulder. I believe you’ve done it, disciple.

—Done what? Squall asks, panting.

—You don’t need to know, but you’re focus already knows. I think my purpose here is done. I have taught you need to know. And you have just proved it to me.

—But master, I’m still confused, what have I just –

—In due time, boy, in due time you’ll learn. Master Shin says, walking towards Squall and tapping him on the shoulder. Do you remember that time I told you about the legendary Renzokuken knight? The story of the one knight that comes every one thousand years?

—Yes.

—I believe that is you, my disciple.

—Me? What are your saying? But why? How can it - ?

—I’ve always sensed it in you, Leonhart. I have always sensed your discipline, Squall, how frequently you train. You have what I like to call a Sleeping power inherent in you. I sense a great GF-spirit, junctioned deep within your soul, very much like my relation to Bahamut. When you break the powers of your limit, this great beast within you will awaken.

Griever, Squall thinks.

—But, young fool, as I said before your power is Sleeping. I think only an immense great, transformative event, or maybe even a person, will awaken this from within you. I hope that chance will present itself when you become a SeeD, some day. And I hope you realize I’m known to be quite prophetic.

Squall was silent, brooding, looking worried about the future and the burden of all things related to what Master
Shin had just said.

—Hah-hah! Don’t worry about it. Soon, after you carve that ring, you’ll forget me even saying those words. You’ll forget me, forget knowing me, forget me ever being your master. You’ll forget that foolish legend I told you about, and all those stories. All you’ll remember though, is the technique, and that is what is most important.

—Master – and you’ll leave then?

—Yes, why I have to. I can’t stay at Balamb Garden forever now can I? Well, Leonhart, carve that ring, and carve that ring well. In addition to junctioning your GF, you’ll forget me, your old master, in no time.

—I guess I understand, master.

—But you must know this. It’s the technique that always stays with a gunblade knight. Memories of people are ephemeral and fade fast. It is the technique, the pride of generations of gunblade knights that stays in your heart: it remains eternal and constant!

Squall nodded and finally understood what Master Shin was trying to do this whole time. With that, Master Shin and Squall had a few final words in that black, dim forest, and the master left, walking into the darkness and unknown of the plains.

Six months later, after carving the memory-erasing ring with the insignia of Griever; Squall is practicing on a dummy, and unleashes a Renzokuken, finishing it in a rising slice that breaks the ground. He pants and lands on the ground, saying to himself, I have done it, I have done it. But he is not sure who he is telling this to, but knows of only a vague shadowy figure that was in his past. The memory-erasure and the GF had already taken effect.

A year has passed –
Squall, now 17, wakes up to a day of field training. He will fight his familiar rival Seifer. Also today, Squall knows that he will take his SeeD exam. As he approaches the barren dusky plain where they will fight, Squall thinks of his technique, and only the sharpness of his gunblade. He had too many things on his mind to think of anything else. He rubs his metallic Griever ring, and walks quickly towards the dusky plain, seeing Seifer in a grey trench coat waiting.