By Al Kristopher
Heat. Sweltering, suffocating heat. Searing, leering, jeering heat, burning out from a flaming, angry star. Suffocation blanketed the world, fires licked at the roads, smoke and steam erupted out of the parched ground. Preachers that passed by that area likened it to the Lake of Fire in Hell, but they were much more accurate than they thought in their assumptions. Air as thick as leather hovered in the skies, molten lava burned in the grounds and the rocks glowed like coals. Heat. Fire. Hell.
The citizens that lived there called it Balamb Gulch.
Despite being stuck in the middle of such a cesspool of heat and fire, Balamb Gulch was a pretty decent town. Carved out from the mountainous boulders of the empty wastelands of the west, early settlers in Balamb saw a bright future for their little town. Of course, early settlers also saw a plague of drought, famine, scorching temperatures, bandits, outlaws, and Indians raid their part of the world. Through heavy perseverance, they were able to drive all obstacles away.
The first Mayor of Balamb, the honorable Laguna Loire, proved his competence early on. By assigning his old friend Cid Kramer as chief of the department of justice, and his wife Edea Kramer the matron of education, the town eventually prospered despite the heat.
Now when Balamb Gulch was still in its infancy, Edea's schools were sorely lacking in teachers' skills. Overcrowded with students, the one-room schoolhouse sweltered daily, and the poor matron was unable to continue her duties alone. A godsend came by way of telegram and train later that year--a young and intelligent woman named Quistis Trepe had been assigned as schoolmarm for Balamb.
Hailing from parts as far as Germany, Quistis proved to be more than a match for the unruly students of Balamb Gulch. Using her youth as an advantage, Quistis was able to identify with the student's needs, thus gaining their respect. She was also one of those rare schoolmarms that had physical prowess as well, and when things got hairy, she had no problems using the whip as a disciplinary tool.
As for Chief of Justice Kramer, his own godsend came in the form of a flirtatious one-time cattle wrangler named Irvine Kinneas. Kinneas had been trained in the art of gun fighting, and had won many a battle for his home of Texas in the fight against the Mexicans and Santa Anna. Now with the wars over, Irvine resorted to prostituting his skills to the highest bidder. At the request of Mayor Loire and Chief of Justice Kramer, the sniper came to Balamb Gulch and proved himself early on.
Schoolmarm Trepe audibly sighed, placed her book down on the desk, and groaned out an apology.
"Excuse me, class," she said. "There appears to be someone at the door who's rude enough to interrupt your education." Several teacher's pets smiled, and a few volunteered to receive the caller. As the door opened, a tall, somewhat lanky man strolled inside, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a letter in the other.
"Afternoon, ma'am," he said, tipping his hat. Quistis groaned and shook her head as Marshal Kinneas kissed her hand.
"Hello, Irvine," she replied, her voice no more enthusiastic than a stick of chalk. Kinneas kept his smile and his swagger, and winked as a few of the girls in the room swooned over his arrival.
"Aw, now hey, Miss Trepe!" he sang. "I know you're glad to see me! You're always glad to see me!"
"What's your business, Kinneas?" she asked, the stern tone of a schoolmarm very plain in her voice. Irvine drew back a little.
"Aw, now don't be like that," he insisted. "Just cuz' you're a year older'n I am, doesn't make you any higher or mighter'n me!" Quistis' mouth remained in its emotionless state, and her hand reached for the letter Kinneas held.
"I hope this isn't another one of your =91gentleman caller' invitations," she said. Irvine gave the teacher his most award-winning grin.
"Heh, don'tcha trust me, Miss Trepe? Sides', I only hand those out in private!" He tipped his hat and winked at several giggling girls. Quistis ignored his shenanigans and read the letter.
"Dear Miss Trepe,
"It has come to my attention that Trabia Ranch is currently engaged in a student transfer program, stop. Since I am friends with the Mayor of those parts, I have volunteered to exchange students according to our individual programs, stop. As with yourself and Mr. Kinneas, I have personally requested that a student from their ranks come and join us in Balamb, stop.
"Please make this student feel welcome, stop. She is leaving many friends behind in Trabia, so it would do you good to make her feel at home, stop. Her name is Seline Feena Tilmitt, but her close friends address her as =91Selphie', stop. I appreciate your cooperation, and will reward your work if things start going well, stop.
Mayor L. Loire, c/o Balamb Gulch courthouse"
"Please don't do that," sighed Quistis. Irvine gave her an innocent look.
"Look over my shoulder."
"Oh, okay." Irvine then proceeded to look over her shoulder.
"Mr. Kinneas! I thought I told you to not look over my shoulder!"
"Whoa!" he barked. "I thought you did tell me to--"
"Never mind," sighed Quistis, ignoring the laughter in the classroom. She frowned, and more or less accepted the flowers that he had brought. She curtly thanked him, and amidst the laughter of her students, she pushed him outside the room and wished him good day.
"Jeez, some women!" pouted Irvine. He shrugged to himself, dug his hands in his pockets, and whistled a tune as he walked towards the town saloon.
Now the saloon was owned by the respectable "Raging" Zell Dincht, who was apparently more accustomed to barroom brawling than bartending. This came as little surprise; he was a champion boxer back east, and had won many bouts in his brief career. While stumbling onto Balamb, he had picked up a job as the bartender, an occupation which he eventually grew to love.
"Howdy, Mr. Kinneas!" saluted Zell as the lawman entered his pub. His yellowy mustache and short beard made him look much older than his years. Irvine waved and sat down at his favorite stool, the one closest to the stage.
"She comin' today?" he asked. Zell snickered and began cleaning a mug.
"Nah. She's off shopping in one'uh them fancy stores. Course', when you're as rich as she is, you can afford those nice things."
"Yeah..." Without having to be told, Zell served Irvine his favorite drink, and the Marshal swallowed it down in a single sip.
"On the house," said Zell, spying Irvine dig into his pockets. Irvine smiled and thanked the bartender. He glanced at his pocket watch and whistled.
"Almost time," he noted.
"School to be let out," he replied with a wink.
"That means that the elegant Miss Trepe'll be free to spend some time." Zell groaned, and placed several clean mugs away. Business, as always, was relatively slow. Only a bare minimum of patrons were scattered about in the saloon, mostly middle-aged rednecks playing cards and swapping stories. Smoke just barely clung to the ceiling, and the piano-player was not at his post.
"Hombre, I dunno about her," said Zell. Irvine smiled knowingly.
"Trust me," he sang. "Foreign ladies come here to the states just to see the cowboys. An' I'm as pure-blooded as they come!" Zell snorted and tried to hide his smile. Unfortunately, he had to admit that the swooning, crooning mass was correct.
"Yeah, well, we'll see." Irvine smiled and chugged a little more of his drink. About ten minutes of idle chat passed before the doors to the saloon opened. Wolf whistles escaped the mouths of almost everyone, and not even Zell could help but notice the newcomer.
"What'd I tell you?" grinned Irvine. "These women are like clockwork! An' all I had to do was wait for school to let out!" Zell sneered playfully and continued washing glasses; Quistis sighed and joined Irvine.
"Good afternoon," she said, her voice as prim and precise as always. Irvine gave her a charming smile and tipped his hat.
"Afternoon, ma'am," he greeted. "Well, looks like you couldn't stay away from this desperado forever!" Quistis regarded the gunman with a relatively civil smirk.
"Marshal Irvine Kinneas, you need to discern business from pleasure before barging into any more institutions of education," she stated.
"Ouch, you got me right here." Irvine clutched his heart, and feigned injury. Quistis couldn't help but laugh as she "helped" the lawman up.
"Don't act so childish," she whispered before giving him a quick peck on the cheek. Irvine smiled.
"Course' not. Wouldn't dream of it. Oh, and... sorry for makin' a fool outta myself earlier today. Guess I was just glad to seeya." Quistis smiled, ordered something light, and turned her focus to the Marshal.
"That's perfectly all right. I suppose I overreacted a little as well."
"So do you two have a thing going on?" interrupted Zell. Irvine and Quistis each gave him a look, and he quickly apologized for his remark.
"Naw, it's okay," sighed Kinneas. "Professor Trepe'n I aren't doin' a good job'a keepin' our little romance a secret, now are we?"
"I'm not a Professor yet," mumbled Quistis. "But thank you anyway. And no, I'm afraid that we are not."
"Weird," coughed Zell, polishing his mugs. He droned out the remainder of their conversation for courtesy's sake.
Dust. Arid, dry, suffocating flesh of the brittle earth, to be more exact. It rose up into the air, this billowing cloud of stinging sand and dirt, and hung there like a crook at the gallows. Stinging pieces of grit and grime were mixed into the dust, and the slightest inhalation sent pieces flying towards throat and lungs. Flesh of the baked earth hovered everywhere at the train station, and the fact that the day was uncomfortably hot didn't make things better.
Still, roughly half of the town had turned out to see the arrival of the new transfer student. Mayor Loire had informed the citizens of Balamb Gulch at the last town meeting of the young lady's arrival, and thus a large crowd came to wish her welcome, despite the dust. Among those gathered were the Mayor, of course, and his assemblage of Chief of Justice (C. Kramer), Chief of Labor (Mr. Ward Zaback), Matron of Education (E. Kramer), and Chief of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Kiros Seagal).
Following the assemblage was the schoolmarm and the lawman, who were doing well to keep their romance under wraps (the town gossips, all 800,000,000 of them, would have never stopped talking if they learned the truth). Alongside the two of them was the rowdy bartender, and Mayor Loire's two interns, Nida Franks and Xu Xiang (who was a former supervisor of the Chinese worker's railroad industry). Unlike Miss Trepe and Marshal Kinneas, these two did not conceal their relationship well.
Lovers, dust, and gossipers aside, there was hardly anybody missing from the town's train station--but of course, there were some noticeable blank spaces. Mayor Loire regarded his adopted niece's absence with a fatherly sigh, while the ever-gallant Irvine whined over the loss of his "sapphire angel" (Quistis, keeping up appearances to the end, merely laughed).
With a soul-stirring squeal, the train slowly slid into the station, blowing out steam like an angry bull. It halted altogether, burping out even more dust, and the conductor leaned out to issue their arrival.
"All passengers bound for Balamb Gulch, please leave the train!" he shouted. "Passengers headed towards Dollet Canyon, all aboard!!" The assembly at the train station kept their watch as a slew of people poured out of the train. None matched the description of Seline Tilmitt that Mayor Loire had given.
"Think she'll show?" asked Nida Franks after a few seconds of waiting.
"I not know," shrugged Xu. Women that had emigrated from China were usually treated even worse than the men were, and the men were usually sent to work on the railroad tracks in blistering heat. Wielding her massive education, her slippery grasp of the English language, and her fierce skills, Miss Xu Xiang was able to break out of so many molds and climbed up to this rather high position. Despite her foreign appearance and poor language, Nida Franks couldn't help but like her.
"I hope she comes," sighed Nida, keeping a sharp eye out for Seline. Five minutes passed, and the conductor issued his final "All aboard" call. Just then, a petite young lady erupted out of the train, vaulting away from the locomotive with a single leap. This surprised everyone greatly, as normally, ladies were not required to leap over anything larger than a pebble.
"Ah, I finally made it!" blurted the girl. She paused just long enough to catch her breath, and suddenly noticed the large assembly gathered together to meet her. "Well, I do declare!" she sang. "All these people here for me?!"
"Uh, yes, ma'am," stuttered Mayor Loire. "That is, if your name is Seline Tilmitt."
"Selphie, please!" smiled the girl. "Call me Selphie. I don't consider it proper to address me in such a formal manner!" She smiled a radiating smile, her southern belle accent only making her sound more flamboyant. Mayor Loire scratched his head and extended his arm to welcome her, and soon Selphie's hand was covered with kisses by gentlemen.
"(Don't go overboard)," warned Miss Trepe as she nudged Irvine. He smiled at her mistrust.
"Hey, trust me, darlin'. That Selphie, she's a sweet lil' firecracker, but why settle for a sparkler when a stick'a dynamite like you's around?"
"And please," sighed Quistis, ignoring his attempts at flattery, "please use proper language."
"Ouch," whimpered Irvine. Without a word, he stepped forth and gave Selphie a polite peck on the hand. "Enchante, mademoiselle."
"Oh, you...!" giggled the girl. Quistis shook her head in defeat before introducing herself as well.
Humming a song rooted in the cotton-fields of Mississippi, Selphie twirled her parasol around daintily as she followed the entourage back into town. Despite the cruel heat and the omnipresent dust in the air, she had worn a frilly and somewhat expensive-looking yellow dress that showed no leg, but plenty of her upper chest. If one looked at her right, they would truly swear that she looked like a bell.
She certainly sounded like one. In a friendly but somewhat piercing southern drawl, she thanked everybody as they took the time to show her around and introduce themselves. Of Cid and Edea she made a good impression, and of the Mayor and his entourage she was as polite as a lady should be. She made quick friends of the schoolmarm, and although she enjoyed the praise she got from the lawman, she merely kept it at that and nothing else.
Quistis, who had managed to shack up in a room provided by Edea, had offered Selphie to be her roommate. The girl proved to be a great friend, although Quistis was very strict when it came to matters of business and pleasure. Schooling and socializing, she reminded, were two very different things. In the class, she was the teacher; outside was the only time that she would be the friend. Selphie didn't mind the arrangement a bit.
The heat and dust of the outside world vanished as soon as one entered the saloon of "Raging" Zell Dincht. The innards of his tavern were usually calm and collective, with a cool and refreshing feel to it, but today things were hot. Nearly half of the town had packed into his bar, only a few among them the feminine type. Each and every single one of them, whether they admitted to it or not, was here to see Her.
Irvine, especially, was present. Above all others, he was "the sapphire angel's" biggest fan; bigger even than Zell or Mayor Laguna. He would often smile and tip his hat as the lovely young lady stood on the stage and sang her tunes, and many a rose were thrown from his direction. The Sapphire Angel would always take them with a smile, but was smart enough to know that the gun-toting cowboy already had a sweetheart. Besides, what would a respected lawman like him want with a simple showgirl like her, other than the fact that she was pretty and talented?
"So," said Nida Franks, shoving Irvine a little, "are you gonna ask her out?"
"No way!" huffed Irvine. "I'm not that ignorant! I know that the Professor would shred me to pieces with that whip'a hers if she found out. Sides'," he added, "I don't think that the Sapphire Angel's my type."
"Pahdon me," said Xu, who was sitting next to Nida. "What is =91type'?"
"Well, you remember how I said that there are different types of people out there?" said Nida. Xu nodded her head. "Well, some types of people are more similar than others. Now when you say that somebody's your type, well, you're probably just saying that they're really similar."
"Ah so!" she said, nodding her head. A smile came to her ruby lips as she nudged Nida. "You my type?"
"Of course, of course!" he declared. Xu smiled even brighter and leaned her head on his shoulder. Before the cheering in the room grew deafening, she whispered something in her native language.
"What does that mean?" asked Nida. Xu tapped his arm lightly.
"Tell you latah." He smiled, and patiently waited for the interpretation; Irvine's patience was dedicated elsewhere. Like so many others in the room, he began cheering and clapping as the lights dimmed, and the piano player struck up a tune that meant nothing else but a rousing song. Sure enough, to the pleasure of the drunks and card players and gentlemen of the saloon, the Sapphire Angel came onto stage.
Dressed in a gorgeous blue dress that had just been imported from France, the Sapphire Angel smiled shyly as she came towards the center. Her black hair hung loose, falling past her shoulders as it swayed, and a lily had been planted into the locks. Her fair skin was a sacrilegious contrast to the scorching world outside, and the sweet perfumes and gentle makeup told stories that no amount of words could indicate.
Her real name was Rinoa Heartilly, but everybody knew her by her stage name, Sapphire Angel. The blue dress she wore was her trademark uniform, and the tiny angel's wings embroidered on the back completed the ensemble. Even if appearances failed to convince an onlooker, the Sapphire Angel's voice made sure that all doubts were quelled.
Shyly, almost nervously, the Angel folded her hands in front of her as she gazed at her audience. The men in the bar didn't care whether she sang or not: just looking at her was satisfying enough. Her voice would have been icing on the cake--in fact, one time, the Sapphire Angel stepped on stage and did nothing but stare at the audience. That was, of course, her first attempt at singing, so it could be excused. But now, she was a starlet, and one that every man in Balamb Gulch admired.
"Uh, howdy, y'all," she managed. The men whooped and hollered at the sound of her brittle voice. Blushing slightly from the praise, the Sapphire Angel scanned over the room a little more before finding a welcome face. Irvine, sensing her search, waved his hand lazily. The Angel responded with a smile only, and her courage returned to her.
"This first song," she began, "is dedicated to the honorable lawman in the front row, Marshal Irvine Kinneas. Without his support, I might not be where I am now." The patrons of the bar, even Zell and Xu, whooped and whistled at the mention of the gunman. Smiling sheepishly, Irvine waved again and pointed his finger at the Angel, mocking a gun. After collecting herself, the Angel took a breath for good measure, and sang a song that she had learned from her mother. It was called "Eyes on Me".
Heat, Hell, dust, flames, an arid wasteland stuck in the middle of nowhere. Rocks, gravel, brush, cacti, smoke, gravel, dust--metal for the hands of determined makers only. Sweltering temperatures, sweating teachers instructing a class of obedient pupils, a pretty girl whose presence made the heat seem bearable, a loveable lawman with a taste for a foreign lady, the Sapphire Angel, a raging barkeep... Balamb Gulch: population, about ten-thousand.
A mayor whom everyone loved... his two competent assistants... the wise chief of justice and his plain wife... the learned intern and the educated immigrant... all this and more filled the dusty streets of the sweltering town of Balamb Gulch, and nobody would have it any other way.
Quistis Trepe groaned again, visibly showing her irritation in front of the class. They groaned, but sweet little Selphie voiced the opinions of everyone in the class.
"Why I never!" she cried. "The audacity of that visitor, comin' in at an hour like this! Miss Trepe, shall I remove our caller from the premises?"
"No, thank you, Miss Tilmitt," sighed Quistis. Selphie shrugged, and allowed her teacher to answer the door. As expected, Marshal Irvine was the visitor in question, and as always, he held a bouquet of flowers for the teacher.
"Again, Mr. Kinneas?" stated Quistis, who just barely held onto her civility. Irvine nodded his head but there was no smile on his face.
"Yeah, uh, just wanted to c'mon by and visit," he muttered. More or less shoving the flowers in the teacher's hands, he quietly walked away, leaving Quistis in a fury. Taking a brief second to excuse herself from the class, Ms. Trepe stormed out of the school building and demanded in no calm terms that Irvine behave himself.
"Ssh, not so loud," he hissed, glancing around nervously. Quistis gave the lawman a glare that put the arid wasteland around them to shame.
"If you interrupt my class one more time--" Suddenly, Irvine stuck his hands over her mouth, preventing her from finishing the threat.
"(Sorry,)" he whispered, (but I had to getcha outta there without tellin' any'a the students about the news. I knew you'd follow me if I did that stunt.)" He paused, and slowly released his hands from Quistis' face. The grave look in his eyes told her that he truly was sorry, and that the interruption was well-justified. She sighed, and grew less hostile.
"What is the problem?"
"Ah, where to start?" he groaned. Digging his hands into his pockets, the lawman managed to cough out the news. "Seems there's been a lotta train robberies in the past few days. Normally that'd be my field'a expertise, but Mr. Kramer and Mayor Loire wants everybody to be concerned. See, they've got reason to believe that the culprit is none other'n that ornery injun, Lightnin'-Fist."
"Oh, that is bad news!" gasped the teacher. Irvine frowned, and nodded his head grimly. Lightning-Fist was a fearful Cheyenne who gave his clansmen a bad name by robbing trains and terrorizing the populace. Almost every lawman from Balamb to Dollet City feared him, for they said that he commanded the very thunders themselves.
"Yeah, and that ain't all," sighed Irvine. "Now, this ain't a guaranteed fact just yet, but I gotta hunch that it's turnin' into one."
"What is it?" asked the teacher, whose fury turned into fear long ago.
"They say that Lightnin'-Fist has teamed up with a famous bounty hunter known as the Crazy Razor."
"You're not serious!" choked Quistis, covering her mouth in horror. "You don't mean...?"
"Yup," shrugged Kinneas. "Francine Uma Ginn, alias Ghost Moon, alias Deadeye Jane, alias Crazy Razor. Some couple, huh?" Quistis Trepe visibly shivered as she heard the list of aliases. Even in her home country of Germany, she had heart faint whispers of the silent but deadly Crazy Razor. Coming to the states, these whispers turned into shouts, as reports rose of a one-eyed woman, pale and mysterious as the moon, who often did the "dirty" work for criminal organizations.
"A terrible twosome," muttered the teacher. Irvine clicked his tongue and held the quivering woman in his arms.
"Aw, now don't you worry yer pretty little head off!" he chuckled. "I'm just tellin' you t'look out for'm. Mayor Loire and Mr. Kramer are just sayin' that ol' Lightnin'-Fist and Crazy Razor might have a chance of appearin' in Balamb Gulch."
"And if they do?" whispered Quistis. Irvine grew serious, and pointed his rifle at the horizon.
"Then they won't leave here alive. I promise."
Sighing, Mayor Loire kicked back with his buddies as they were treated to another one of the Sapphire Angel's beautiful songs. Out of all the citizens of Balamb Gulch, he was perhaps her biggest fan, with the exception of the wild card of a lawman that often graced the scene. He was elsewhere, wrangling up some ornery desperados, which left the bar free of his heckling.
"Ah, this is the life!" sighed Mayor Loire, downing another soft beverage. His two assistants, Mr. Zaback and Mr. Seagal, couldn't disagree.
"Yes..." said Mr. Seagal plainly. The fourth guest among them, the very lovely and loveable adopted niece of Mayor Loire, also expressed agreement.
"Uncle Laguna?" she said. "Is it true that Rinoa--I mean, the Sapphire Angel... well, is it true that she's the daughter of... well, Julia?"
"Yup!" replied her uncle. "She really takes after her mama."
"Yes..." said Mr. Seagal. Mr. Zaback smiled and sipped at his drink.
"No, I'm not jealous or anything," insisted Mayor Loire. "I just, well, like hearing her sing. Reminds me of Julia." Mr. Zaback smiled wryly, crossing his beefy arms. "Hey! Don't gimme that look!"
"Uncle Laguna..." His niece sighed, placing her hand on his arm gently. "You're too much..."
"Yes..." said Mr. Seagal wryly. Mayor Loire snorted.
"Is that all you can say, Kiros?"
"Yes..." Mayor Loire sighed and leaned back in his seat. His niece chuckled politely, and Mr. Zaback shushed them. The Sapphire Angel, who had not noticed their conversation, kept singing.
Suddenly, the doors to the saloon swung open, and the sound of spurs clanging against the wooden floor could be heard. Few people turned around to see who had came in, but by the time the piano player noticed, everyone paid the newcomer attention.
If anybody had "bad seed" written all over themselves, it was this guy. He was completely dressed in black, from the boots he wore to the leggings on his feet. He had a black vest over his black leather trousers, and a dark hat was hung neatly on his head. What attracted everyone to him, though, was the noticeable scar on his face. Quietly, the man in black stepped over to the bar, and addressed the tender.
"Whiskey," said he. Raging Zell Dincht pursed his lips before silently serving the drink. Slowly, oh so slowly, the music resumed and the Sapphire Angel began to sing, but by now the man in black was conspicuous.
"Creepy," shuddered Mayor Loire's niece. "Does anybody know who he is?" Mr. Zaback shook his head, and for once, Mr. Seagal did not give his usual answer.
"Zell's bound to ask," noted Mayor Loire, "so let's ask him after the show." The four friends nodded in agreement, and tried not to look obvious as they spied on the stranger.
"So..." began the Raging bartender, "...what's your name, stranger?" The scar-faced man raised his glass to his mouth again, but made no answer. "What? Don't you have a name?"
"No," replied the man in black. "I don't."
"Well ain't that peculiar?!" stated Zell. He snorted, shrugged, and kept polishing the mugs. This man's name was none of his business, after all.
Later, as the Sapphire Angel took her bows and left the stage, Mayor Loire and his gang stood to speak with Zell. Unfortunately, the stranger was still there by the time they arrived. Awkwardly, the Mayor sat next to the man in black and ordered a round for everyone. His niece, Ellone, was the first to speak.
"Hello," she said. The man in black looked at her briefly, but averted his attention the next second. "I'm sorry," continued Ellone, "but I couldn't help but notice you as you walked in the bar. Who are you, anyway? I've never seen you in Balamb Gulch, and I've been here since before it was built." Sadly, Ellone never got an answer for her efforts.
"Hey, don't you have the courtesy to answer a lady when she asks?" pointed Mayor Loire. The stranger looked at him blankly but kept his silence. Finally, he opened his mouth, but still refused to say his name.
"I have no name and I come from nowhere. I am merely passing by."
"Good enough for me!" pointed Zell. He refilled the stranger's glass, and smiled as he gave the man one on the house. Mayor Loire and his crew, needless to say, were not satisfied with the answer. Suddenly, the stranger received a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, seeing the gorgeous Sapphire Angel stand behind him.
"Hi, I saw you walk in!" she smiled. He merely shrugged. "Hey, listen, I've been traveling these parts for a long time, and I've managed to make a settlement here in Balamb Gulch, but I've never seen you around before! What's your name?"
"I don't have one," replied the stranger. He turned around to face the bar, and Mayor Loire sighed knowingly.
"Hey, Rinoa, don't bother him," he said. "He's just a drifter. I wouldn't worry too much about him."
"Oh." The Sapphire Angel nodded her head, and walked over to an empty stool. "Raging Zell," she addressed, "is it okay if I have a drink?"
"Why, sure thing, ma'am!" he beamed. Zell poured Rinoa something from his soda fountain, and she drank the fizzy liquid slowly, keeping both her eyes locked on the stranger's.
The Sapphire Angel sighed, shivering just slightly as she stared up into the night sky. With no electricity in the area, there was no light pollution and thus, the stars were all out in full force, shining and blazing like torches, even those most distant. The moon was out as well, full and white like a china dish. The soul-searing heat that previously dominated the town had vanished with the sun; now, the night bore a cool refreshing atmosphere. Too bad it was too late for many people to enjoy.
The Sapphire Angel heard the crunching of rocks and earth, and turned with a smile as she saw the nameless stranger approach her. Since he wore nothing but black, it was almost impossible to discern him from the night. He came, thought the Angel to herself. He actually came!
"Uh, howdy!" waved the blue one. The nameless man shrugged weakly and stopped walking once he was reasonably close. For awhile, he said nothing, but this was nothing new.
"You wanted to see me," he stated. It sounded like he was telling her instead of asking her. The Sapphire Angel nodded her head and smiled.
"I know it's a little silly," she said, "a lady like me asking a stranger to meet her out in the middle of the night like this. But... I haven't been able to get you out of my head. There's just something about you... Maybe it's your eyes." The stranger frowned, and shut his eyes tight in response. The Angel chuckled politely.
"So why did you come here, anyway?" she asked, stepping closer. The man in black sighed and opened his eyes again.
"Just passing through," he told her. "This is just one more stop for me in my journey."
"Oh. And when will this =91journey' of yours end?" asked the singer. The man shrugged.
"Who knows. I just know that I'll know it when I get there." The Sapphire Angel giggled politely, and tried in vain to hide it.
"You mean you don't know where you're headed?"
"No." She controlled herself, apologized, and performed a nice curtsy.
"Sorry. I just think that's funny. Say, why don't you stay in Balamb Gulch? It's a little hot in the daytime, but you'll grow into it."
"No thanks," shrugged the man. "This... really isn't my kind of town. Too friendly."
"And what's wrong with that?!" A pause.
"...I'm not a person that you should be friends with..." He paused again, and the Sapphire Angel could've sworn that the statement was aimed at her. She stepped a little closer, grabbing his arm very gently.
"Are you sure?" she sang.
"Positive." Sighing, she pounded on his arm a little bit.
"Don't pass me by so easily," she whispered. "There's a lotta men in this here town that would like to have me."
"So go be friends with them," pointed the man with no name. The Sapphire Angel giggled, and smacked his arm a little.
"No, I like mysterious men!" The nameless one blanched just slightly, and the Angel smiled as she saw him become pale. Suddenly, the sound of laughter filled the air: the laughter of a man and a woman enjoying the evening. The Angel's fair face became even fairer as the voices came near, but a sigh of relief escaped her mouth as she saw who it was.
"Hey!!" The man gasped and became pale himself, but he too let out a sigh as he saw the Angel. The nervous look on his face turned into a smile, and he waved his arm to one of the very few people who knew his "secret".
"Hoo-wee, am I glad that it's you!" called Marshal Kinneas. The woman holding his arm also smiled warmly, for here was a girl in whom she could trust.
"Good evening, Marshal Kinneas!" smiled the Angel. "And good morning, Miss Trepe! It's nice seeing you on such a wonderful evening!"
"Good seein' you too, doll!" grinned Irvine playfully. His grin expanded dramatically as he noticed who his Angel was latched onto. "Ahh, I see you've got yourself a secret as well!"
"Oh, it's nothing like that!" blushed the Sapphire one. "We were just talking!"
"If you say so," shrugged Quistis. She looked at Irvine and smiled knowingly. "Marshal, we had better leave these two lovebirds alone, if you know what I mean."
"I read you loud'n clear, ma'am!" he replied. The Sapphire Angel blushed some more, denying the fact that she and the nameless one had anything going on. Irvine merely tipped his hat, and left his friend to her own devices.
"Oh, and by the way, stranger," he added, "it'd do us well if you didn't spread our lil' secret around just yet. I mean, we'd never hear the end of it!"
"I don't gossip," replied the unknown stranger. Irvine smiled and rubbed his shoulder.
"Good man. That'll get you far in life, y'know? Okay, Professor, let's go take that =91examination' you promised me."
"Irvine!!" Quistis hissed the name of her beau through clenched teeth, and her face was flushed red with embarrassment. Irvine chuckled and put his hand around her waist as he bade his Angel farewell.
"Who was that?" asked the unknown one.
"Just two fans of mine," replied the Angel happily. "That man with the hat? He's the local lawman in these here parts, and the woman with him is the new schoolmarm. Sorry for not introducing them to you before." The nameless man shrugged, and walked away from the Sapphire Angel without saying a word.
"Hey!" she called. "At least say good-night to a lady!"
"Good-night to a lady," replied the man emptily, and he left Rinoa chuckling in the cool desert by herself.
Screams woke Seline Feena Tilmitt out of her sleep. Grunting angrily, she rubbed her eyes and wondered what in tarnation would cause this ruckus at such an unholy hour. Taking a peek at a pocket watch she carried with her, she groaned miserably as the hour shown smiled Six and Fifteen times.
"What kinda bushwhacker would cause such a stir at a quarter after six?" she moaned to herself. Lifting herself out of bed, she managed to make herself look reasonably pleasant before peeking out of the window. A shriek escaped her mouth as she realized just who had ridden into town.
Children ran screaming and crying as the trio quietly galloped into Balamb. One child in particular was in the way of the leader, who sneered and kicked at the poor lad. The boy sniffled as he was tossed away, and ran crying home to mother. The leader only chuckled wickedly.
"That was not nice, understand?" said one of his companions. This man was a dark-skinned Native to the lands. He was dressed in the garb of a Cheyenne, with a feathery headdress over his black hair and a vest of reeds and fur over his broad chest. A tattoo of a lightning bolt was on both of his cheeks. He was very large and muscular, though his voice carried a calm sort of wisdom in it.
"Eh, whatever," sneered their leader. He spat to the side, and leered at the crowd as they stared at him. At first, he looked like a good guy. He wore a white coat over his body, and had ivory-colored leggings, boots, and even a vest underneath. A pasty-white hat rested on his blonde hair, and eyes of crystal blue were in his head. The way that he leered and jeered, however, indicated that this man was anything but pure.
One of the town's women, who noticed the trio ride into town, gasped in horror as she recognized one of the riders. Gawking like mad, she pointed at the only female member of the band.
"Yuh... yuh... yuh... You're the... the... the..." She swallowed, and finally summoned the nerve to speak. "You're the Crazy Razor, aren't you?!" Suddenly, the woman she was pointing at lashed her arm out, and a razor-tipped discus span out. With a THUNK, it planted itself into the dusty ground, just millimeters from the woman's toes. The lady quivered with fear, daring to gaze into the single eye of Deadeye Jane.
"Yes," came a reply. The woman known as Ghost Moon smiled mysteriously, and summoned her weapon back to her like a yo-yo of death. Without any further interruption, the trio continued riding.
"That was not nice, understand?" said the Cheyenne. Crazy Razor snorted.
"We did not come here to scare people," he replied. Their leader, the man in white, laughed cruelly.
"And this is coming from an injun who robbed four trains?" The Cheyenne mumbled something, but remained quiet as he followed his leader. "Yeah, I thought so!"
"Who are they?" Seline Feena Tilmitt shrunk back into her room, shivering like a frozen child. Her roommate sighed sadly and shook her head.
"Three desperados," she replied hoarsely. "The Cheyenne on the left is known as Lightning-Fist, and he's wanted for robbing trains. The albino on the right is Crazy Razor, a silent but deadly bounty hunter. The one in the lead..." Quistis sighed weakly, and was forced to sit before she continued.
"Who was it, darlin'?" asked Selphie. Quistis frowned before speaking, but her German-accent voice was much lower this time.
"He was... what you might call my former love interest. He's German, like myself, so I knew him when I was growing up. I have not seen him in years, though."
"Who is he?" whispered Selphie. Quistis managed to compose herself before responding.
"His name is Seifuehre Almsy, but in America, he is known as Public Enemy Number One. He is...... not a very friendly type."
"Oh my!" gasped Selphie. "What bad company! Miss Trepe, how on Earth could you associate yourself with such a cad?"
"He wasn't always like that," sighed Quistis wistfully. "I will not go into details, but let us just say that he... changed right before I moved to America."
"Oh." Selphie paused, and placed a hand of support on her friend's shoulder. "Say, I know! Maybe he's just here to say hi!"
"With Lightning-Fist and Crazy Razor?" stated Quistis doubtfully. She chuckled sadly, and shook her head. "No, I don't think so. A combination like that can only spell trouble. I think, with perfectly good reason, that Chief Kramer and Marshal Kinneas will have their hands full."
"Okay, boys and girls, time to follow the Epicurean way!" Every single patron in Zell's saloon glanced over at the man who had shouted. Some gagged as they recognized the faces from Wanted posters; others spat out their drinks. Raging Zell himself felt his Adam's Apple tighten up as the leader made a beeline for the bar.
"Hey, keeper!" he shouted. "Gimme three beers!"
"Hey! Ain't you Public Enem--" Zell was suddenly cut off as the man in white pulled out a nasty-looking bayonet. He swallowed fearfully, and Seifuehre clicked his tongue.
"You don't want to finish that sentence," he growled. Zell winced and quietly apologized.
"Yes sir, you're right, it's none of my business. Here, I'll get your beers." With a snort, Seifuehre smiled and turned his back on the Raging one, waiting patiently for his drinks. His companions made themselves at home, and sat at the first table their eyes scouted out.
"Oh, great..." Nida Franks sighed fearfully, praying to God Almighty that the two outlaws would sit anywhere but his table. Xu Xiang frowned, noticing her love's worried face.
"What the mattah?" she asked. "You not feel well?"
"(See those two brutes?)" hissed Nida, pointing to Lightning-Fist and Crazy Razor. Xu nodded innocently. "(Well, they are bad people, Xu! They are criminals, and they are wanted by the lawmen of this country! If they sit over here, they'll probably--)"
"Probably what?" came a deep voice, and Nida blanched as he recognized the tone. Fearfully, he turned around and smiled sheepishly as the two outlaws sat down at his table.
"N-nothing, Mr. Lightning-Fist!" he managed. The Cheyenne frowned, but thought nothing of the strange spectacle. Xu, poor dear sweet innocent Xu, stood to greet them.
"Hello, I am Xu," she said, sticking her hand out. Lightning-Fist gazed at her hand in confusion, whilst Nida had nearly bitten his lip in half from worry. Cautiously, Lightning-Fist took Xu's delicate hand in his own and squeezed it gently.
"I am called Lightning-fist, understand?" he said. Xu smiled and nodded her head. She then turned her focus to Crazy Razor, who was absently picking at her nails with a dagger.
"Hello, I am Xu." Crazy Razor noticed the outstretched hand, and weakly offered her own.
"Francine Uma Ginn," stated the woman. Xu blinked and tilted her head.
"If that yoh name, why they call you Cuazy Wazah?" Crazy Razor snorted, allowing a brief smile on her ghostly face.
"She is pale as the moon, understand?" murmured Lightning-Fist. "Many people think that the moon makes people crazy, understand? This is how she got her name, understand?"
"Ah so!" said Xu. "But why Wazah?"
"Better left unsaid," said Ghost Moon eerily. She let a creepy smile etch her features, and Nida shuddered. Lightning-Fist noticed his discomfort, and frowned in thought.
"Is there something wrong?"
"Uh, n-no, sir," muttered Nida. Lightning-Fist grunted softly.
"Do you fear us?" he asked. Nida winced and visibly perspired.
"He supahstitious," muttered Xu. "He scahed of you. He thinks you bad."
"Xu!!" Nida hissed offensively, but she merely shrugged.
"What? You say that." Nida moaned out in agony, half-expecting to be blasted or sliced to pieces for his comment. Lightning-Fist gave him a dark look, but otherwise did nothing.
"You think we are bad?" he said. Nida made no answer.
"Lies," muttered Crazy Razor. Lightning-Fist agreed.
"Not many know the truth, and even fewer want it, understand?" Nida swallowed fearfully, somewhat confused over the Cheyenne's speech. Lightning-Fist noticed his uneasy nature, and elaborated on his speech. "Many lies about us are told, understand? Not many people want to know the truth, understand?"
"Ah so!" exclaimed Xu. "Is like Chinese people. Many lies told about us as well. People think we stupid, not know anything. I not like that. Ask Nida, he know I not like what people say. He know that we just as smaht as othahs."
"You sure are," he smiled weakly. Xu mirrored his smile, and gently kissed him on the cheek.
"I know what you mean, Fist of Lightning," she pointed. "Many lies told about us, so we stay togethah and show people we not like othahs." Lightning-Fist grunted, a smile coming upon his otherwise stoic face.
"Your friend is very wise, understand?" Nida smiled weakly, and put his arm around Xu's shoulder.
"Yeah, I understand that!" Xu blushed, and kissed him yet again.
"Mushy," groaned Crazy Razor. She paused, and scanned the room for her leader. "Where's Seifuehre? Taking time; getting bored."
"Aw hey, did you miss me?" Crazy Razor growled offensively as an arm wrapped around her throat, and she squeezed it hard with her steely fingers. The man behind her chuckled, and ruffled her silvery hair lovingly.
"Fool," muttered Crazy Razor. Seifuehre laughed darkly and sat down between Nida and Lightning-Fist, a tray of three beers in his hands. He passed one to each of his friends, and gave a sarcastic apology for not ordering two for their friends.
"Oh brother," moaned Nida. "First the gruesome twosome show up, then Public Enem--"
"Ah-ah-ahh," sang Seifuehre, pointing a handgun at Nida's cheek. Xu gasped in horror and shouted out several expletives in Chinese; Nida apologized for the remark and tried to make peace with the man in white.
"Should be quiet," warned Crazy Razor. "Seifuehre paranoid."
"Humph, says who??" snorted their leader. Crazy Razor let out an eerie smile, and even Lightning-Fist chuckled a little. They all calmed down long enough to sip at their beers, and Lightning-Fist brought out a pipe to smoke. Seifuehre waved the aromatic odor away, coughing slightly as the wisps curled up.
"Hey, Thunder! You know that I can't stand your tobacco smoke!" Lightning-Fist merely puffed on his pipe, occasionally smiling to spite his leader.
"Don't care," came the reply. Seifuehre growled, but allowed the Cheyenne to smoke anyway. Xu, ever the polite woman, spoke up first.
"Question! Why you heah?" Seifuehre paused and looked at his comrades, both of whom were busy with their own affairs. He snorted and waved at her rudely.
"None of your business," he coughed. Crazy Razor snorted and kicked at his chair.
"Fool," she uttered. Turning towards the woman who had been friendly enough to introduce herself, the bounty hunter pointed her thumb at her leader and uttered, "Has score to settle."
"Scoah? What is scoah?"
"Revenge," elaborated the bounty hunter. Xu nodded her head.
"Why he want wevenge?"
"Scar," pointed the pale woman. Seifuehre smiled darkly and proudly showed the scar that had been cut into his face. Xu cringed.
"Look like othah man's scah," she muttered. Seifuehre growled and nearly bolted out of his chair.
"WHAT?! You mean there's another man in this town with a scar over his face?" Xu innocently nodded her head, and the man in white cursed happily.
"Was he wearing black?" he asked. Xu tilted her head cutely.
"Ah so, you know him!"
"Not really," snorted Seifuehre. "We're... what I guess you could call enemies."
"And so you came here looking for him?" asked Nida, who was slowly growing accustomed to the trio's appearance. Seifuehre nodded his head.
"We were just passing through here, hoping to find a clue," he explained. He traced the scar on his face, glaring at the duo eerily. "See, I gave him that scar he has, and he gave me mine. I've been chasing him all over the place so we could settle the score once and for all."
"Ah so!" exclaimed Xu. "He bad man?"
"There is both good and bad in all of us, understand?" said Lightning-Fist. He paused, and took his pipe out of his mouth just long enough to elaborate. "Seifuehre, Francine, and I all have good and bad in us, just as you do, and everyone else as well. But it is how we use this good and bad that makes us what we are, understand?" Xu and Nida paused, nodding their heads at the Cheyenne's wisdom. They smiled lightly, even Nida, and started to realize that maybe these two outlaws weren't so bad after all.
"Used to be holy man," explained Crazy Razor, nudging Lightning-Fist slightly. Xu smiled and nodded her head. "Not now. Exiled from tribe, their loss."
"Ah so..." Xu paused and swallowed her drink. Lightning-Fist was right; there was a degree of good and evil in every person in the world. It was impossible to place somebody in one category in the other. It was never so black-and-white, it never had been nor would it ever be. Things were just not that simple.
As she continued to think, the doors to the saloon opened, and Marshal Irvine Kinneas burst into the room, his rifle ready and his posse behind him. The patrons let out a shriek as they saw the loaded weapons in their hands.
"Deputy officer Irvine Kinneas!" he shouted. "Hands in the air, you three! You're under arrest for robbery, murder and affiliation with criminal organizations, and arson and destruction of property!" The crowd in the bar scattered, many of them wanting to be nowhere near the firing range.
Sighing in irritation, Seifuehre and his crew stood up, though nobody raised their hands. Xu, however, stood in front of the trio, extending her hands in an effort to shield them.
"Xu, what are you doing?!" shouted Nida and Irvine. "Get away from there!"
"No, these my fuhends! I not let them get shot!" The determined look on the Chinese lady's face brought a defeated sigh to Irvine's mouth and a look of honor and respect to the two outlaw's.
"Xu... what've they been tellin' you?" asked the Marshal. She glared at him.
"The tuth!" she replied. Irvine groaned, and cocked his rifle. Carefully, he aimed the crosshairs right at Xu's forehead.
"Xu, you ain't involved in this! Now step aside, or I'll have you arrested for affiliating yourself with criminals!" The adamant Xu did not move one inch, not even as Irvine began to brush his finger against the trigger. Suddenly, another figure stood in his way, and Irvine cursed as Nida Franks protected Xu.
"C'mon, Mr. Kinneas," he said. "Just let them go today. I can vouch for them if you need me too."
"Nida, this ain't the time to be a hero!" roared Irvine. Nida pursed his lips bravely, and received a gentle hug from Xu for his bravery. The awkward moment was instantly shattered, however, as the mysterious man in black chanced by the saloon doors. He paused, and nearly shouted as he recognized the man in white.
"YOU!!!" The two men each drew a nasty-looking bayonet, and shots blazed forth from both directions. Irvine and his crew leaped out of the way, and Xu, Nida, and the outlaws crawled behind a table for protection.
"Friends?" pointed Crazy Razor. Xu smiled weakly.
"I not know any of them."
"Xu!!" She giggled, and slapped Nida playfully.
"Just playing." He groaned softly, and managed to kiss her nose before sheltering her from flying debris. Lightning-Fist calmly continued his smoke, even as the table became riddled with bullet holes.
"This is not needed, understand?" he commented. His partner agreed.
"Noisy," she muttered. The Cheyenne smiled, but knew that he was powerless to stop the gunfight.
"STOP!!!!!!!!" The two bayonets became quiet suddenly, and silence dominated the air after a period. The four hiding behind the table groaned and managed to stand up. They were introduced to a chaotic room, with overturned tables, scattered glass and papers, and several broken bottles lying around. The entire room was pocketed with holes, and small fires were already burning. Poor Raging Zell was hiding behind his bar, wisely saving himself from the storm.
The people in the tavern stopped their fighting and turned to see who had quelled the fracas. In stepped the revered and respected Chief Cid Kramer of the justice department, and his wife Edea.
"Despicable," he spat. The men in black and white glared back at him.
"Hey, I wasn't the one who--" began Seifuehre, but Cid interrupted him.
"I don't care who started it, but I will say that this meaningless fight between you two will end right here and now."
"I agree," hissed the man in white, aiming his bayonet at the unknown one. Suddenly, his rifle was knocked out of his hands, and all he was left with was air. He stood there gaping, grasping his hand in shock. The smile on the Chief's wife indicated who had been responsible.
"Nice shot," whispered Cid, pecking his wife on the cheek. She smiled, and a light blush came to her face.
"Heh, Matron Edea was a sword-thrower in her youth," explained Zell, who was just now rising from his hiding place. For some reason, he had felt the need to explain why Seifuehre no longer had a weapon. Again, Edea blushed.
"My aim's still good," she said shyly. Seifuehre cursed, nursing his wrist tenderly.
"What's the meaning of all this?" he demanded. "Why did you stop us, huh? Come on, I've been after this guy for years now!"
"Stubborn as always!" came a familiar voice, and Seifuehre winced as he recognized it as Quistis'.
"Ugh, Quistis..." He sighed, and managed a pitiful look as his former love interest stormed into the room. She proudly clung to Irvine's arm, as if to spite him.
"You can't stay out of trouble for more than ten minutes, can you Seifuehre?" she accused. Seifuehre stuttered, and hung his head in shame. The nasty word that he uttered indicated anything but humility, though.
"Hey, you don't address a lady like that!" spat Irvine.
"Go take a flying--"
"Enough!" shouted Cid, gaining everyone's attention. He sighed, and stared at the two mavericks angrily. "Is there no way that you two can settle your differences peacefully?"
"How about a showdown?" said the man in black sarcastically. "At high noon?"
"Humph, not a bad idea," grunted Seifuehre. Chief Cid, who could honestly care less, thought it a good idea and agreed on it.
"All right, that sounds reasonable. I suppose that a showdown would seem best, since you two are so adamant on killing each other."
"No, he's right," pointed the man with no name. "There really is no other way, other than a final showdown. I wasn't serious when I suggested that, but now it seems like a good idea."
"So, what?" coughed Irvine. "Is this, like, some kinda guns at high noon or somethin'?"
"I guess," shrugged Cid. He walked over and picked up Seifuehre's weapon, and handed it to him. "I'd make sure that it was fixed if I were you," he advised. "We should schedule this duel for tomorrow, since it's already past noon."
"I'm all for it," shrugged Seifuehre. He walked over to his crew, and summoned them with him. "All right," he said. "Tomorrow at eleven-fifteen, we meet in the city square. When high noon comes... Well, we'll just see who'll be the last man standing." And with that, the three outlaws left the bar in shambles and in silence. Lightning-Fist and Crazy Razor both waved good-bye to Xu and Nida, silently thanking them for their bravery.
"Humph," snorted Raging Zell. "I hope the Chief knows what he's doing!"
The dusty air grew thick as leather. Eleven fifty. She had asked him not to go. She had begged him, don't go, you might get killed, please. I love you. Tears. He saw tears. Tears in a dusty world, tears in a dry, thirsty, hot world, where the wind burned as hot as the sun that beat down. Tears. They had evaporated in the heat of the day, and time for mourning was over. He had to go through with this; he had to face this man, or else die trying.
Odds were, he'd die. Eleven fifty-one.
I love you, she said. I love you, and the tears came after that. I love you. They had been whispered, whispered by a woman who was crying. They had never been uttered that way before; at least he didn't think so. I love you. Why? He was a loner, her a singer. A singer, working in a remote village that very few people heard of, in a little tiny bar that only a few people visited, although the food and drinks were always good. A little bar, with a beautiful singer, and she said I Love You to a man in black.
Eleven fifty-two. Eight minutes of life left to go.
Ten minutes of life, but only one split second of victory. That's what she said before he left--after I love you, after the tears, even after good-bye. Only one split second of victory. Is it worth it? Is it worth your death? Or his? Must you kill him? Must you face him? Must you go through with this?
Seven minutes of life left to go. The answer was Yes.
His fingers twitched, carefully brushing up against the tip of his gun. Not yet, my friend. Not yet. We still have seven minutes of life left to go. No, wait--six now. It's fast, the clock. Too fast. Fast like life--six minutes of life goes by very fast. So very fast. But it's not time yet. He brushed his finger against his gun again. Not time yet...
Eleven fifty-five. That clock was fast, or maybe it was slow, or maybe it was right on time. Anxiety hurried time; he was anxious. In five minutes, one of the two men would die--or both, perhaps, and she would be lonely. Well, not lonely; she had lots of friends. She'd just be... lonely. She said she loved him. Five minutes left. Maybe he loved her too. Maybe.
Eleven fifty-six. The first time he saw her was in that tiny bar--that crowded bar in a dusty village with a bizarre keeper. Drinks were lousy, food was meager, but she was beautiful--everything was beautiful with her around. He knew she smiled when he entered the bar--she smiled whenever anyone went in. That just came naturally. She was a smiler. But he also knew that that smile extended just a little more for him, and the eyes looked a little longer, and the speech was a little more refined when they spoke.
He was a diamond in the rough: hard, tough, and sharp, but with a mysterious radiation that came out from his inside. He wore black; a black diamond? Three minutes. Diamond in the rough... What was she? A sapphire--definitely a sapphire in the rough. Diamonds and sapphires--sparkling jewels, and the heat rose, and the wind picked up, and the sun was always merciless, and the hand of the clock moved one more time.
Two minutes of life.
She kissed him before--once, right before he left. Only once. She had never been kissed before, not to his recollection at least. Why hadn't a beautiful girl like that ever kissed somebody before? Only once, and to be honest, he didn't know how many other times she had been kissed herself.
He might have loved her. One minute. Might have. She had only known him for a day perhaps, or maybe fate had made them meet before. He did not believe in fate but maybe Fate existed after at all. Only one minute. Sixty seconds. He could hold his breath that long. Half a minute. He could stand on his hands that long. Twenty--the time it took for him to load his gun. Ten--a long breath. Five, four, three...
I love you.
Two shots. One death.
He calmly walked past the dead man--himself, in many ways. He calmly walked past him, noticing the clock was at twelve. He had escaped death again, and he swore that if he ever got the chance, he might tell her that he loved her too.
Shouts filled the empty, dusty air of the scorching-hot town of Balamb Gulch. People rushed to the dead man in white, some cheering that the enemy was gone, others silently mourning a friend. Out of those few, a dark-skinned Cheyenne man shed tears of quiet respect, and a pale woman quivered emptily. One single tear escaped her good eye before she broke down and crumbled into the arms of the Cheyenne. A teacher moaned softly.
"It's okay, darlin'," sighed Selphie, placing her hands on Quistis' shoulders. "It's okay... It had to happen soon, we all knew that. It was just... inevitable..." Quistis sighed sadly, and quietly thanked her friend. Two strong arms wrapped around her stomach, and her hands grasped onto his as he rubbed her belly.
"It was just destiny that they fought each other," said Irvine gently. "I don't know what went on between them in the past, nor do I know why they wanted to kill each other so badly. But they was just destined to fight, that's all." Quistis sighed again, having no comment on the matter.
Chief Cid sighed, glad that the issue was now over. He turned towards the surviving members of the lawless trio, and gave them his gentlest look.
"Excuse me," he said, "but will you two be all right?" For awhile, he got no response. Both Thunder-Fist and Crazy Razor had ghostly looks to their faces.
"Yes," said Thunder-Fist. "He is now free, understand? To the Great Spirit he will now go, understand?" Cid sighed, and nodded his head gently.
"Where will you go now?" he asked. Crazy Razor shrugged.
"Not wanted. Become obscure, maybe."
"You're welcome to stay here in Balamb Gulch," he offered kindly. The duo looked at him questionably, and almost smiled at his kindness.
"We could use the skills of a Cheyenne and a bounty hunter," he said. "This town is small, and not even Marshal Kinneas could protect all of it. If you'd like, I could arrange something."
"Won't judge?" asked Ghost Moon. Cid smiled lightly.
"We all do wicked things," he sighed. "I should know better than anyone here. But we are a people who are willing to forgive and forget." The outlaws smiled lightly, and silently accepted his offer.
"We will repay you one day, understand?" pointed Thunder-Fist. Cid snorted and waved him off.
"Hey, Chief? You sure that's okay, lettin' two criminals hang around here?" whispered Irvine. Cid smiled, although he couldn't help but notice the lawman holding onto the schoolmarm. He paid them no mind and answered the question.
"Of course. Half of the people here used to be lawbreakers themselves, remember? And didn't you use to steal cattle?" Irvine winced and began perspiring.
"HUH? How did you...? Whuh? Now hold on a dag-verm minute!!" Cid smiled happily, but Quistis was not so amused.
"N-nothin', sugarcake!" he muttered. "It's all in the past, honest!" Quistis sighed, but instead of yelling at him, she merely smiled and locked her lips onto his in full view of everyone present. Needless to say, the action got a few squeals from Selphie.
"Ooohhh, this is so interestin'! Who'd'a thunk that the schoolmarm and the lawman were an item?" Kinneas and Trepe each flinched, and blushed furiously as they realized their mistake.
"Oh, well," sighed Irvine. "At least we don't have to hide anymore!" Quistis smiled, and let out a hearty laugh she had been saving for a special occasion.
Oblivious to the festive aura in the town, the Sapphire Angel moaned painfully as she saw the man in black mount his steed. She had asked him to stay around, get to know the people, maybe attend another show of hers. He made no reply, and saddled up without saying a word.
"So you're leaving?" she groaned. He sighed, and quietly nodded his head. "But... why? You don't have any reason to go! You've beaten your enemy and now you can finally be at peace!" He suddenly turned his head to look at her, a somewhat noble and sad look on his scarred face.
"I will never be at peace, Rinoa," he replied. "And I don't have any reason to stay behind."
"You have me," she whispered softly. He sniffed, and the slightest of smiles came to his mouth.
"Maybe," he replied, and for awhile the Sapphire Angel thought that he would stay. But stay he did not, and without another word, he slowly trotted off into the distance.
"Hey!! I never got your name!" she shouted. He turned his head around, and to her surprise, he gave her a reply.
"Leon," he said. "Call me Leon Hart. Goodbye, Sapphire Angel." And with that, the mysterious man forced his horse to a gallop, and left Rinoa shedding tears in the hot air as he rode off into the sunset.