Chapter 3: Changes

Two days after the meeting with Edea and Squall, Quistis opened the door to 2B and stepped inside. It would be the first class she had taught in six months. Yesterday had been another badly needed day of rest for her; she had accepted it with gratitude and felt in top shape once more. Her only duty had been a rather long meeting with Edea and Cid on the nature of this class. It was an experimental class; none like it had ever been taught this way, and if she failed, none like this would ever be taught again. She wouldn't fail, though. She felt an easy confidence in her own abilities as a teacher and leader, a confidence that she had not felt before. This was one way that the ordeal with Ultimecia had changed her. Winning the toughest battle that had ever been fought in history had done wonders for her self-esteem. It had done the same for all the members of the Team.

We're hardened, polished. Tempered. She sat down in the instructor's chair, and logged into the desk. She was about twenty minutes early. Good, she needed some time to think. The changes...we're all more alert. We watch everything. When we're together it's like we're one person; we're totally aware of each other. It's almost scary.

Squall. He changed the most. He wasn't the same boy who wanted to be left alone, the boy who couldn't understand and didn't care why people reached out to each other. Most of that change had been Rinoa's effect on him. She had been irresistible to him; he had drowned in her and been born again. She cared so much about what happened to the world. Her involvement in the Timber resistance was just one example. And when Squall embraced her, he had also embraced her care for the world. Good thing, too. I don't know if we would have won if Squall hadn't cared about the world as much as he cared about completing his mission successfully.

Zell. He was much the same, constantly displaying carefree exuberance to the world. But he seemed to be slightly more practical in some way. He took the problems they faced now more seriously. Quistis remembered his reaction to the news that Seifer was back. Funny. Squall has somehow gained innocence, and Zell has lost some. It balanced, though. They were all more balanced.

Rinoa. She was just as sweet as she had ever been. Quistis smiled. But she was a warrior now. She vividly remembered the day in Trabia's basketball court where the girl had confessed that she felt like she was left behind when the fighting started. Quistis knew that that had changed. Rinoa had definitely caught up. Quistis wondered if it was a side effect of being so close to Squall. Perhaps his attitude toward fighting had rubbed off on her. She had certainly rubbed off on him, why not the other way around? Rinoa had not been a part of their childhood, could not share in that bond, but Quistis thought that the bond created by Ultimecia was much stronger. Only Irvine could remember their childhood clearly, but she knew that Ultimecia would be etched in their minds permanently.

Selphie. Irvine. It was useless to speak of them separately. Their bond was easily as strong as Squall and Rinoa's. More than anything, they had simply grown up. They were both still themselves, Selphie giddy and girlish, Irvine outrageously charming to women and self-assured, but now their antics seemed more like play, and they always ended up looking to each other when play was over for a time.

Me. I don't know. More confident, yes. And perhaps more accepting of people. More willing to give people a chance to prove themselves. She wasn't sure, though. Perhaps she was just fooling herself, and the only change in her had been the relaxed feeling of complete competence. Maybe she was just analyzing her determination to give Seifer a completely fair chance at this, trying to give it a reason. She didn't know. She could never hope to be totally objective about herself. She didn't know anyone who could.

As if his name in her mind had summoned him, the door opened and Seifer stepped inside. She smoothed her expression and met his eyes.

"Good morning, Instructor." Seifer was a baritone.

"Good morning, Seifer." She glanced at her desk. Eight minutes to go. Well, this was different. Seifer usually arrived to class as late as possible. "You're early."

He didn't comment, but stalked across the room and sat at an aisle desk in the middle of the classroom. She had always classified his stride as a stalk. That hadn't changed, at least. Although he did usually sit in the last row.

"I'd like to see you after class, Seifer. There are some things we need to discuss."

He seemed annoyed. "I seem to be giving a lot of interviews lately, Instructor. I'm getting tired of it."

"I'm the one who decides whether you pass or fail," she said flatly. "I'm willing to give you every chance, Seifer. But you'll cooperate, or there's no point in you being here. SeeDs must be able to obey orders. This is the least of the trials you'll be going through in the next eight weeks, and if you're balking at a simple discussion with your Instructor..." She shook her head.

"I don't like threats, Instructor. And why eight weeks? Modules are four weeks. Have I been set back?" He was angry.

"It's not a threat, Seifer. Or not a threat that applies to you alone. That goes for all of the SeeD candidates in this class. And you haven't been set back at all. In fact, you should be taking your presence in this class as an honor. But I'll explain that when class starts."

"An honor. Great." He shook his head and logged into his desk.

Others began to file in. She saw the surprise on the cadet's faces as they realized that some members of the class were accomplished SeeDs. Some saw Seifer and were even more surprised. She smiled to herself, and browsed through Selphie's plans for the next Garden Festival until it was time to start.

Finally, everyone was present. Ten SeeD candidates and nine accomplished SeeDs. She stood up and walked around to the front of the class.

"Welcome to Module Zeta. I'm Quistis Trepe. You may call me 'Instructor'. And all of you will obey my orders without question for the next eight weeks. " She looked at each in turn, and began to pace slowly back and forth in front of the class.

"We are taking a radically different approach to the final stage of SeeD training in this class. It is longer, the trials are different, and every cadet will be paired with a SeeD mentor. We have several objectives for the upcoming weeks. This includes, in part, the material covered in the traditional final module. We will go far past that, however. All of you will be physically trained to your utmost limits. We will be spending a large part of our time on this.  The final exam, in addition to the traditional written tests, will be a trip to the Island Closest to Hell in pairs of two. You can see the difference between this and the usual trip to the Fire Cavern." She smiled. "It takes a lot of effort to achieve the level of fitness you need. You will need all the help you can get, but I'll make some things just a little easier for you. For the next eight weeks, you will abstain from alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and any other drugs unless in an emergency. I don't know of any emergencies that require nicotine, " she shrugged, "so plan on not smoking if that's what you're used to doing. We won't tell you what to eat or when to sleep, but you will be watched. If you overindulge in harmful foods or deprive yourself of sleep, these things too will be rationed. These rules may sound arbitrary, but you will thank me later. In addition, Garden will pay for upgrades on your weapons. Although we will probably be running across most of the required elements in our travels.

"Which brings me to another objective. Garden would like more variety in the Training Center. Different monsters have different techniques, and it is a good idea to fight as many different kinds of monsters as possible. So we will be collecting certain monsters that have been specified by the Headmaster.

"Since this class is twice as long as the other ones, we will have lectures only every other day. SeeDs, you are required to attend. You need to know what was covered in lecture so that you can answer any questions your candidate may have"

"So that is the basic outline of this class. Any questions?"

A young man raised his hand. "Will we still have a mission trial? Or is the trip to Hell our SeeD qualification test?" Some of the others chuckled.

"You will have a mission. However, I can't think of any likely mission that won't be trivial after completing this class," she answered.

"I don't know if I can do this," one slim young woman said candidly. "Is there any way we can opt out and take the regular module?"

"No. Marya Delee, correct?" the redhead nodded. "You were all carefully chosen. You have the ability to do this if you are sitting in this classroom. If any of you would prefer to do less work, well, that's one of our objectives, too. SeeDs try their hardest. You'll only be in a regular module if you fail here. Anything else?" She paused.

"Good. Now, here is the list of SeeD/candidate pairings." She read off nine pairs of names. But not hers or Seifer's. She would be mentoring him herself.

"All right then. I suggest you all go to the Training Center today and get some practice. Tomorrow you'll have a lecture and we'll be heading outside of Garden to gain some more experience. Dismissed."

They filed out, some looking worried and others eager. All but one student, who stood up when the last of the others had closed the door on her way out.

"Let's go, Instructor. The sooner we get this discussion over with, the sooner I can get to the Training Center." His smile mocked her. While not at her level, Seifer was accomplished enough physically to be way beyond the Training Center, and they both knew it. She ignored this jibe though.

"Meet me in the Library in fifteen minutes. Get one of the conference rooms in the back." He could cool his heels for mocking her. And she would have a chance to go to her quarters and grab some candy. For some reason she had a strong urge for chocolate.

He bowed extravagantly, that same smirk on his face, and strode from the room.