By Lanfir Leah

“Marlboro!” Irvine shouts.

I spin around, fueled by Pandemona’s speed junction and I find myself staring in the big jaws of a Marlboro Tentacle. For one terrifying moment I don’t know what to do; but then survival instinct kicks in again. I sort through my magic and cast a Meltdown on it. What do I know about Marlboro’s anyhow? I think back at the exams I took: nasty monsters, capable of status attacks like confuse and pain, hard to kill. This should be interesting. I’m totally unprepared for this after the gazillion easy Mesmerizes we’ve been battling up until now.

Irvine’s Bismarck thunders next to me. Chunks and bits of green goo splatter on the ground. He inflicts quite a bit of damage; the Meltdown spell caught on nicely.

Selphie, on my right, takes a hold of her Crescent Wish and whispers Ifrits name. Fire magic should be equally destructive, I suppose. I check my junctions once more. Why didn’t I junction more than just Esuna on my defenses? This is way too basic for a high level monster like this Marlboro. No time to worry about that now; we need to act! Pandemona’s speed rushes through my veins as I begin to whisper the name of the wind Guardian Force.

Not fast enough.

The Marlboro howls and a black mist erupts from its jaws, encompassing us all.

“Hyne, it stinks!” Selphie yelps.

She’s right. It smells as if we’ve been bombarded with rotten eggs. It seems to cling at the air around me. I try not to retch and I’m desperately blinking to regain my vision, but I realize that I have been blinded. Dammit.

I decide to try for an Esuna spell, or whatever else I can blurt out, but I find that I’ve lost my voice as well. The command will never escape from these lips until I’ve gotten myself an Echo Screen… but of course I do not carry any items on me. Selphie has those hidden in the pockets of her short dress.

The black mist thunders in my ears; I have a hard time to keep my footing. I feel as if the world is spinning. Damn, I hate being blinded! This is not the time; Marlboro’s are dangerous, I need to act! Go go go! Even though my magic is gone, I can still feel Pandemona’s adrenaline inside of me. I can’t reach any of the GF’s inside my mind, but I can still feel them with me. It’s my only light in the darkness while all my senses seem to be deserting me. I feel as if I’m standing in a black mist that is robbing me from my energy. There’s still speed and power, but I can’t focus. I can’t speak the commands, my Flame Saber seems slippery in my hands. I’m trembling and aching all over. Am I being drained? Poisoned? Hell, it’s probably both.

I’m trying to keep my head together but the world is spinning wildly; my thoughts are incoherent and tinged by fear. For the first time in … weeks? Years? (~A T-Rex? I’m not ready for this!~ Quistis’ voice reminding me: ‘Sometimes it is better to run, Squall!’), the taste of fear is bitter in my mouth. I can’t hear Irvine or Selphie anymore. I wonder… Are they doing any better than I am? Can they voice the spells and the names of the GF’s? Were they any more prepared for this battle than I was? Is this truly it? Will we all die on this dreary day? This shouldn’t be happening! Why didn’t we take the car to that damned Lunar Gate?

No time for questions. Panic is clogging up my throat – I need to act, I need to hit something, I need to damage the monster before all my strength leaves me. All I have is my speed and my Flame Saber… I need to do something. I can’t remember what I have junctioned upon my attack anymore. Was it Firaga?

WHATEVER! I need to stop thinking and start acting!

Cid spoke about my destiny and I have to believe him for now. He and Matron say I have a destiny to fulfill and… I refuse to let them down. I want to prove I can take care of this. I wish anyone else could do it, but maybe this is my destiny. And Rinoa… I have to protect Rinoa. I owe it to her. I have to hear her voice again. I have to see her smile. I can’t die here and leave her forever in that weird coma she is in. She needs me.

With a jolt of energy, I lash out. The Flame Saber twists in my hand. I can’t see it, but the feeling of it in my hands is more familiar than anything else in the world. I pull the trigger and the slash is accompanied with a blast. I feel flesh give way and wetness splatter over my clothes and even my face. That was a head-on attack, perfectly timed and extra damaging.

My opponent screams; it sounds oddly human. Does a Marlboro actually sound like that? It doesn’t matter. I strengthen my hold on the hilt of my gunblade and prepare for another vicious attack. If only the world would stop spinning…

I loose my footing twice as I hack and slash blindly away at my enemy. My aim is good, my trigger is perfect. The nausea increases and the pain is doubling, fire scorching my arteries, but at least I’ll kill that bastard before losing consciousness or maybe even dying. At least I’ll take him with me. “Die!” I scream, and all of the rage and anger in the world is in my voice. The buzzing in my ears makes it sound distorted.

Pain explodes in my backside. I’ve been hit from behind. I cringe and fall, blindly clutching my gunblade. If I lose my blade, it’s all over. My blade is my lifeline out of this mess, I need to… need… the headache becomes unbearable. I find myself on my knees, clutching my head to try and get rid of the pain, but it only becomes worse. My body feels heavy and sluggish. It is becoming hard to move now.

Somewhere from the depths of my mind, a memory of Quistis’ voice drifts upwards. ‘It might take a while before you recognize what is happening to you. Slow Petrify feels as if a Slow status attack has been cast upon you. Limbs and head become heavy. Movement becomes harder and harder, until you lose all sense in your fingertips and skin. The rest follows quickly. You have around twenty seconds, but you’ll never know that this Doom-like spell is upon you, three seconds before you’ll turn into stone. So be careful. Know your opponent, and keep your Esuna’s close at hand…’

I am going to be petrified. A few more seconds and it’ll all be over.

I can’t trust on Irvine or Selphie to use a Soft on me; they would have cured my status a long time ago if they could have. They’re probably dead already. No, I can’t think that way! I should think of Rinoa and my duty, and I should ACT!

So one last time I lift my gunblade. It feels heavier than a mountain, but I feel it sing through the air in a deadly arc. The moment it hits flesh, I pull the trigger and I feel the skin of my enemy explode under my blast. The enemy slumps at my feet.

…Just as I think the battle is over, new pain explodes around me. Acid is burning through my skin, and I feel the stone cold feeling of the petrify taking a hold of my fingers. It creeps up my underarms and legs, elbow and knee. Time’s up.

And just before the petrify reaches my chest, all of the status inflictions are lifted and I can see for just one moment. The Marlboro is still standing, its tentacles jiggling an ugly dance in the air before me.

In that same one glance that is granted to me, I also see the dead body at my feet. Red stains on a yellow sundress. The slash that’s dripping its last blood while the body is cooling off: it matches the form my blade perfectly. Selphie…

Realization hits me. I never touched the Marlboro.

Irvine lies to my left in a similar pool of blood and gore. His wounds are typical for one that is attacked with a gunblade. I nearly took his head off.

I did not hit the Marlboro once. It’s still standing and it seems to laugh at me.

I killed my friends.

The stone that chills my heart and stops its beating is almost welcome.

Author’s note: I hate Marlboro’s. I truly do. Can’t stand the bastards. They’re even more annoying than Ultima or Omega Weapon, which counts for something in my book.

The scenario I wrote out here actually happened last night at 3 am. I was so frustrated I almost smashed my controller into the TV. But then I thought how it must be for the people involved… realizing that a confuse spell made you take out your friends instead of the enemy… and this ficlet was born. I know it’s short, but it’s just a ‘what-if’ scene. And I like scenebased writing.

Thanks for reading!

~Lanfir Leah

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