As a name, it had meant little until recently. Just another region in Esthar for hundreds of years. Then some bright spark had an idea. An idea that started with applying a bright spark to a rag stuffed into a bottle of spirits, then lobbing the lit bottle through the window of a government office. That sort of idea.

The end result of course, was a bitter war. Entire city blocks were razed to the ground by the fighting. Battles raged for days to hold a few streets. Thousands died at the height of it. Dozens died on a quiet day. The rebels fought the government troops. The government troops fought the rebels because the rebels kept attacking. The rebels kept attacking because the government killed civilians in counter attacks. So the rebels bombed apartments in Esthar itself. The sprawling metropolis, the most advanced city in the world which ruled Krastovia, a place where the average building had made the cheap houses built in Galbadia during the housing boom fifty years ago look like a palace, and that had been before most of the buildings were reduced to rubble by concentrated shellfire.

Esthar itself looked like it was a hundred years advanced, but the smaller "republics" had been neglected. Under Adel, and even under Laguna. He had tried. But his every effort to improve life there had failed, either resisted by conservatives in the republics, or viewed as attempts to make these areas more subservient to the government in the techno-city that swallowed up a hundred thousand square miles of the country.

But Esthar was still in a cold war of sorts. If one viewed the world like each country was a wolf it became simple really. Esthar saw itself as Alpha male of a pack. So did Galbadia. For almost sixty years, they had circled, growling at each other, the rest of their pack behind them, only a short pause when they lunged at each other then drew back. One had lost sight of his enemy for a little while, but knew he was still there. But as they circled, they grew tired. Those wolves they had fought to become leader had stopped looking at the throats of wolves across in the other pack, and made glances at the throat of their leader.

Krastovia was a wolf that had taken a lunge at its own Alpha.

Esthar had a little help though. It had loyal allies. It backed other wolves in their fights against wolves backed by Galbadia. And Esthar also had another little advantage. Galbadia was wary of the Jackal. The Jackal was SeeD.

Though officially neutral and unaffiliated to any nation, not even Timber or Balamb where they held headquarters, and even despite the fact they willing to do pretty much anything legal for a price, SeeD was regarded by Galbadia as a part of Esthar's sphere of influence. They were frequent customers, and had recommended SeeD to their friends. Galbadia had a jackal too, but that Jackal was pretty much just an extra claw for the wolf. SeeD Galbadia was virtually a part of the Galbadian Army. Which meant it was "hired" to do missions only by allies of Galbadia.

And there was no shortage of places for SeeD to ply their trade. Timber, for example. The south could not go north in force because Galbadia was unwilling to escalate the war. The north could not go south as they'd encounter Galbadians. Esthar could not join the north as the risk of Esthar fighting Galbadians was too great, as both still had missiles aimed at each other. But nothing stopped Esthar supplying arms, or mercenaries.

And when the headlines saw a few too many Estharian Soldiers die, men from out of town could be called in to Krastovia. This latest mission involved just one squad, under the command of Captain Zell Dincht, a twenty-seven year old officer who had served as a SeeD for ten of those years, and trained to be one for at least twelve before then. He still had the same facial tattoos he had ten years earlier backed up with a couple of scars, but the past few weeks had been no time to shave, so he now was wearing a light beard.

The seven men and five women had been in the country for three weeks, and in the combat zone for most of that time. Few of the men bothered shaving, their brown-green digital pattern camouflage uniforms, a series of square blocks in a pattern called SeeD Digital Camouflage Pattern, or SeeDpat, were coated in dirt and grime. It looked like they had been at war for years to a casual observer. However, their equipment was still well maintained, and they had no shortages of weapons and ammunition. The SR3 rifle, for example, a black conventional layout (I.E the magazine well in front of the pistol grip), selective fire rifle with a side-folding stock . It had sixteen millimetre accessory rails, to clamp on the relevant accessories, or conversion adapters for Galbadian twenty two millimetre rails, Estharian twenty one millimetre rails. One long rail ran along the length of the upper receiver between the rear sight drum and front sight post as well as three others roughly from the front post to the magazine well on the rear forward hand guard.

Then if the casual observer compared them to the Krastovian Government Militia, the locals would appear to have been in the fighting for centuries in comparison. Esthar was unwilling to arm militias it did not fully trust with the latest weapons, and so, their uniform comprised of well worn surplus grey and green tiger-stripe style fatigues that didn't fit in most cases, with an identical situation occurring with their webbing. Only a few soldiers had helmets, less had body armour. Their weapons were no newer than ten years old in the best cases, surplus EM3 rifles and EX2 handguns that Esthar had dumped on them to empty the warehouses to put brand new EM4 bullpups in their place.

Battered vehicles with crude repairs and additional armour were the order of the day in the mechanised corps of the militia. With only 64 obsolete tanks and ever dwindling numbers of lighter vehicles, Krastovia's Militia was losing this fight. However, Esthar had finally began to commit further forces, and their Gdetoan allies too were assisting the fight against the insurgency

Captain Dincht's team had been moving across the country, attacking the supply chain of the militants alongside Estharian Special Forces. The main objectives had been to destroy their stockpiles of vehicles and antitank weapons, and so far, they had destroyed three depots. At the city of Podavekna, the rebels held roughly 300 city blocks, in the centre, was an old factory that was suspected to now be working as a combined arms dump and ammunition factory.

The plan was for a large scale assault on the city by allied forces, with the SeeD and Estharian Special Forces landing a few blocks from the target and proceeding on foot as the enemy hopefully sent most of its forces to the front. The plan was to go in, set up charges to render the site destroyed beyond doubt, and then an airstrike would finish the entire building. Esthar wanted to make sure the entire factory was beyond repair, hence the dual attack.

Dincht's twelve-strong team was at a Militia base a few miles from the city, which was really nothing more than an old farm with a few dozen tents built around it. The SeeD team was readying their equipment as Armoured Personnel Carriers and marching infantry crawled along the dirt road in front of the farmhouse. As the diversionary assault prepared to move out. Artillery fire had already begun, shells and rockets streaking southwards overhead into the city. Standing at the front door of the farmhouse, Zell wondered just how many of these militiamen would not return. He returned however, to his task at hand, walking into what had probably once been the dining room of this two-floor farmhouse. There, his squad was loading magazines and tactical vests.

Each soldier carried his or her primary weapon, either a 5.40mm assault rifle, 8mm sniper rifle, or support weapon in either calibre. His team had three grenadiers, sporting underslung GL3U 40mm grenade launchers attached to their SR3 rifles, two marksmen, carrying SR2 Designated Marksmen bolt action long rifles, and two support weapons, MG3's which fired the same rounds as the SR3 rifles. Each was also armed with an S3 8mm pistol, firing a shorter round than the sniper rifle and carrying eighteen rounds in a normal magazine. However, the nature of SeeD weapons meant that if a weapon accepted an ammunition type, any SeeD-designed weapon that fired the same ammunition could usually fit that magazine. This meant that thirty round submachine gun magazines could be loaded into the pistols, and pistol magazines could fit in the submachine guns. The same was true of the rifles and support weapons: a thirty round box magazine from the SR3 could fit in the MG3, and the 100 round drum of the MG could likewise be used in the rifle.

This was to assist in reducing the load of SeeD operatives. With the same magazines able to be used in a number of weapons, an operator could usually carry more ammunition. In this case, most of the SeeD operatives had taken a number of thirty round magazines for their pistols as well as a number of eighteen round magazines. Every soldier carried at least 120 rounds of extra rifle ammo, in addition to a radio, water bottles, a mixture of smoke and fragmentation grenades, and slung over their backs, Light Antitank Rocket Launchers, one-shot weapons that fired an 80mm rocket that, if it hit a light vehicle, spelled doom. Against heavier armour, it was only effective at immobilising with a lucky hit: a very lucky hit against modern tanks. However, they were cheap and light, and also useful in urban fighting. The grenadiers carried two each.

'Alright, everyone, make sure we've got plenty of ammo for rifles and sidearms, have our OJA's fully charged and make sure we've all got our radios on the same channels. Five minutes until the helicopters are here,' Zell said.

'Captain Dincht, is your team ready yet?' a strong Estharian accent asked from the door, but in fluent unbroken Balamb . Zell turned to see Major Boradenko, the commanding officer of the Estharian Special Forces.

Boradenko was roughly Zell's height and ten years over his age. A veteran of the Estharian Army, he, unlike Zell, was clean shaven. Brown haired with a few greys beginning to show and with a few scars to show his age, Boradenko was a no-nonsense commander and had only one flaw in that he trusted intelligence too often. He wore the modern armour of Esthar, a so-called "smart" camouflage suit that was dotted with small light receivers. Based on the input of these devices, a small computer varied the chameleon plates that made the armour to change colours depending on the surroundings. They did not turn the soldier invisible, but varied the colours and shades of his or her camouflage pattern to best suit the surroundings, and even the light levels in the area would affect the shades used. For instance, standing in the doorframe facing the grey sky behind him, the front of Boradenko's armour had turned into various shades of murky grey. On a clear day, his armour would have turned a mixture of lighter greys and blues.

'Almost, Major, we're just readying the last of our equipment,' Zell responded, as his team confirmed they were prepared.

'Why are you carrying AT weapons? I thought we made it clear that the enemy won't have armour.'

'Well, we don't believe in certainties, Major, so we're just making sure every avenue is covered.'

'You SeeD are paranoid. Our intelligence cannot be wrong. You should drop those things.'

'They're nice and light. My soldiers forget they're there most of the time.'

'Well, it had better not slow you down.'

'It won't.'

'All of my thirty six men have the finest equipment in the world. We are ready for the urban fighting, and since we will need more ammunition, no one is going to carry a bulky rocket launcher in my platoon today.'

'Fair enough.'

'Besides, the biggest vehicle they'll have will be vulnerable to magic, and we have OJA's too. Every one of my men has eight vials of fire for the rebels if they do have a four by four with an MG...'


The helicopters could be seen on the horizon northwards, and the shelling heading south came to a close. Smoke was already rising from the city, the bombardment having levelled a few buildings and started a few fires in a city that already had plenty of rubble and burnt out ruins. Zell watched the last few explosions rise up in the city before turning to his team.

'Sergeant Kelly, you take your fire team and Corporal King's on the third helicopter. My team and Major Boradenko will be in the second, and the rest will be filled by his men. You're landing first, make sure you give us a tight perimeter.'

'Sir,' the bald sergeant replied.

'Thompson, Gorman,' Zell said, meaning the two marksmen who were the only two wearing helmets of the entire team. 'Keep your eyes peeled for any snipers out there and keep them off our asses.' The marksmen nodded as the throb of the helicopters became audible

'Presume the rest of us remember what to do?'

'If it's not on our side and has a gun, blow it away,' a private replied.

'Correct,' Zell said, turning to face the helicopters as they neared. A minute later, they landed, and less than ten seconds after, were heading towards the city. From the air, Zell could just make out a few burning vehicles from the attack force, and the faint lines of tracer fire coming from an MG somewhere rattling across the suburbs.

The helicopters flew fairly high up, above the range of rockets from the ground but not missiles. However, the attack was having its desired effect according to satellite imagery that was being described to Boradenko by a woman sitting in a command centre one thousand and three hundred miles away. She reported large numbers of rebels moving on foot towards the outskirts of the city, along with a number of vehicles. Boradenko grinned upon hearing this

'Well, Captain, I'm sorry to report all those vehicles you want to blow up are heading to the front lines,' the Estharian major said, with a gleeful laugh.

'Who told them we were coming then?' Zell responded sarcastically, but took it in the humour that was intended.

Passing over the actual fighting, Zell could see at least three APC's burning on a single street, with soldiers and two other vehicles firing at the windows presumably from where the rebels were fighting. The helicopter bank left, blocking his view just as another rocket flew out from a window towards one of the surviving APC's

'Five minutes to landing zone,' the pilot announced in Estharian. Zell spoke the language well, but a Boradenko spoke Balambian, Zell hadn't heard a single word of it all day.

From the helicopters, it seemed the columns of rebel troops and vehicles racing to the frontlines were like ants. They were in numbers, but the assault force was also fairly numerous. Zell was certain that the actual attack would falter within an hour. They had just rushed in, not even watching for rocket launchers hiding inside doors and windows. He'd counted at least ten APC's burning on the flight past.

The flight over the city continued. Nothing on the ground seemed to care about the helicopters.

They neared the landing zone, a small crossroads about five blocks from the factory.

'Prepare to land, one minute out.'

The crossroads itself was a wide area, with four half- ruined buildings at each corner. The building at the southern-western corner had collapsed to block the road west to any vehicles, and burnt out cars littered the area around the crossroads. The area appeared clear of enemy troops.

That minute seemed to only last thirty seconds before the first helicopter was on the ground and the transport Zell rode began circling the LZ, and the eight SeeD aboard ran out to secure a perimeter. Next, eight Estharians, followed by Zell's helicopter dropping out of the holding pattern and hovering just a few inches off the ground below. The eight soldiers aboard leapt out and ran to the perimeter as the helicopter lifted back off, going back into the air to provide cover for a few moments as the fourth landed.

'Safest way to travel!' Boradenko yelled, as the next eight troops hopped out of the fourth helicopter.

As the fifth began its descent and the eight men joined the other soldiers on the LZ perimeter, the first missile came. Fired from a rooftop a few hundred yards away to the northeast of the LZ, it streaked into the cockpit and with a flash and a loud bang, the helicopter span out of control. It overshot the crossroads, and instead, slammed into the ground halfway down the road to the east, where it then seemed to collapse in on itself before exploding in a ball of flame.

Other missiles streaked into the sky, and the other helicopters sped off. One however was clipped by a missile fired from the south.

'Shit! The satellites say they just spotted three concealed Surface to Air Missile sites on the rooftops near here,' Boradenko yelled.

'I suppose we have a new objective then, Major?' Zell asked. The major stood up to yell orders to his men.

'Alright, men, we've got some SAM's to hunt. Goronovich, take your team and-' Boradenko yelled, only to stop suddenly. As he did so, he fell, a gaping hole in the side of his head.

'Cover! Sniper!' Zell yelled in Estharian, though no one. As Goronovich dived behind a burnt out car, the head of Estharian trooper beside him exploded. The small raiding force was now pinned down, deep in enemy territory, and the SAM sites nearby would make short work of any aircraft moving to relive them.

And they'd only been on the ground for a couple of minutes.