Foreshadow Chapter 1

City of Shadows

By Peptuck3

Here's the second chapter of my FFVIII fanfic, Foreshadow! Enjoy.

Just to let you know, this chapter includes my view on how summoning is supposed to work, as opposed to the way it was presented in the game. Its sort of like the way summoning worked in FFX. This chapter also has some conspiracy-theory stuff, along with a hint that Garden isn't what it appears to be in the game.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------

        Foreshadows Chapter 1: City of Shadows

        He slipped through the shadows, moving with the silent grace of a stalking cat. His passage was unseen and unheard as he moved down the corridor, avoiding the holocams set in the walls to prevent just such an intrusion. Not that their operators could have noticed the infiltrator. He moved through the darkness as if he were a shadow himself, an invisible wraith that human eyes were powerless to percieve.

        He came to a corner as the corridor turned to the right, and there the infiltrator stopped for a moment to glance around the bend. With the exception of light spilling from an open doorway about twenty feet down, this hall was as empty as the previous one. The silent figure crept around the corner, and paused at the open doorway, listening with his finely tuned ears as he tried to determine if anyone was inside. He heard the laughter and chatter of idle conversation, probably between some of the facility's guards.

        The infiltrator knew that the revealing light in this room, most likely a small lounge, could easily betray him to the guards if he continued down the hallway normally, so he paused for a moment, considering how to move on. The room he was looking for was just a bit further down this hallway, but he didn't want to risk revealing himself to the guards, in case they had comlinks. If they alerted the control room, things could get ugly, and-

        One of the guards strolled out of the room, interuppting the intruder's line of thought just as effectively as the intruder's presence had interrupted the guard's walk. The man was wearing the typical silvery uniform of the facility's guards, though he wasn't wearing his usual insectile helmet. In his hands he carried what appeared to be a three- barreled, pistol-sized shotgun with a large pickaxe mounted on top, a weapon otherwise known as a shotaxe.

        In that instant the intruder's left hand shot out and grabbed the man by the collar of his uniform and yanked him out of the doorway, while his right rose up and planted an open-palmed blow to the unfortunate soldier's nose. Even as the guard's head snapped back and his eyes watered from the stunning blow, the infiltrator's left hand caught him by the shoulder and spun him to face the wall, while the right came behind his head and sent his forehead slamming into the unyielding metal.

        As the guard was dropping like a bag of adamantite, the infiltrator was moving through the doorway, hoping to find and disable the others he knew to be in the small lounge. He spotted a man wearing the white and green robes of a technician, sitting at a table, and another wearing a guard's uniform, leaning against a wall. Both were turned to face the doorway, and opened their mouths in surprise as the black-clothed specter of the infiltrator swept into the room. The soldier barely got his hands up in a semblence of self-defense when the intruder's left leg came spinning in low, taking him in the back of the knee, tripping and laying the guard out flat. The technichian rose and opened his mouth, which was where the intruder placed his subsequent kick. The tech was hurled back several feet and slumped to the floor, quite unconcious.

        The infiltrator whipped back around, facing the prone guard. The soldier rose back up to his feet, only to take a lightning fast combo of alternating jabs and uppercuts, followed by a knee to the stomach that doubled the guard over. The infiltrator dropped his elbow on the back of the man's skull, and the guard flopped down to the floor.

        Two minutes later, the intruder was back out in the hallway, and the tech and the two guards were tied up in the now dark lounge. The silent stalker mentally berated himself for his mistake of forgetting to keep an eye and ear on his surroundings while considering his next move. If those guards had been wearing their helmets, or had a comlink in hand...

        The infiltrator shook his head, putting the self-criticism off until later. He had a mission to complete.

        He paused outside the door to the room he was searching for. A quick check of the softly glowing letters floating above the keypad next to the door told him that he had been right.

        "Odine's office," the intruder whispered to himself as his left hand hovered over the keypad. A faint, blue light glowed around his hand and the keypad as the cybernetic technology within his arm hacked through the security. A moment later, the door chirped a confirmation of his clearance and slid open.

        Silent as death, the ghostly intruder slipped into Dr. Odine's darkened office in O Lab.

        The infiltrator wasn't the only one entering O Lab that night.

        The trio of Estharian guards were quite bored. The soldiers were posted outside O Lab this night, on the alert for any monsters that might happen by, and so far, midnight had passed with nothing. The city had been caught off guard when the moon monsters came down a couple of weeks ago, but after the initial shock, Esthar had brought all of its considerable military firepower to bear on the creatures running loose in the city.

        The actual number of monsters in the city itself was relatively small, compared with the hordes wandering the plains to the east. The city itself had only been on the edge of the monster fall, but considering the sheer number of creatures that had come down, being on the edge was still a disaster. Even with only a fraction of the monsters that had fallen wandering the city, the hands of the Estharian military were full. Out to the southeast near Tear's point, where the fall had been centered, the monsters were everywhere. Many had been killed, destroyed by other moon monsters, or by native creatures, or even the fall itself, but their numbers were still immense. The eastern plains would be dangerous for quite some time.

        But after the military had been mobilized, the Estharian troops had begun to clear the beasts out of the city. The capital was fairly safe now, but the possibility of encountering a monster that had been missed or had wandered in was still very likely.

        Thus, as the guards were more concerned with a possible monster encounter this night, they were more curious than suspicious when a hovercar parked on the side of the street outside O Lab at such a late hour. Four men and a woman got out, and, to the guards' surprise, walked up to the front entrance to the famed laboratory complex.

        "Hi," the woman, who was leading the quartet of men, said cheerfully to the middle guard as she approached. "Is this O Lab?"

        "Yes, it is," the guard responded. He quickly looked her over. She was young, maybe in her mid-twenties, and quite beautiful. She had short, shoulder-length black hair, although streaks of it were dyed purple, and that, added with the fact that she didn't look like a native Estharian, gave her an exotic appearance. Like her companions, she wasn't wearing the typical robes of an Estharian citizen, but instead a black jacket and pants, with a dark shirt. Hadn't he seen some kid from the west wearing a similar outfit a few weeks ago, just before the Cry?

        "Can we go in?" the woman asked, almost pleadingly.

        "Do you have clearance to enter?" the guard asked. He had to follow procedure, after all.

        The woman nodded, smiling. "Yes, we do."

        Suddenly, her hands twitched, and a pair of slender, transparent, purple-bladed daggers slid out of the woman's sleeves. The smile on her face transformed into a malicious grin as her right hand snapped up into the middle guard's chest, the daggar punching through the guard's tough armor as if it were paper. The woman's left hand flicked across, the blade slicing the throat of the soldier to the left. The third didn't even get to raise his weapon before one of the other four men had drawn a silenced pistol and shot him between the eyes.

        Though the chest wound would have killed the first guard in a couple of seconds anyway, the woman yanked the dagger out of his chest, and then cross-slashed with both weapons over the dying man's throat, for no real reason except to widen that evil grin of malicious glee. She then dropped both daggers and grabbed the soldier by the top of his chestplate, and lifted him with surprising strength. She turned to the left, stepped over the dying soldier on that side, and hurled the middle guard off the high walkway, down into the depths of the city below.

        The woman turned back to her companions, one of which was already planting his breaching charge on the door.

        "You enjoy that too much," remarked another of the men, the one who shot the third guard. He absently twirled his pistol as he waited for their demolitions specialist to finish his work. The purple-haired woman grinned again as she strode over to her dropped daggars. She picked them up, and then flicked a small switch on the hilt. The dagger glowed with a brief purple light, and smoke emanated from the blade as it vaporized the still- hot blood of the murdered guards.

        As she turned back to the demolitions specialist, he stepped away from the door, holding a trigger in his hand. "Fire in the hole!" he muttered as he squeezed the device. The breaching charge detonated, its design blasting the explosive force through the door. With a blinding white flash and a deafening boom, the charge shattered the sturdy Estharian-made door. Without hesitation, the purple-haired woman strode through the portal.

        As she crossed the threshold into O Lab, a pair of Estharian soldiers greeted her with raised shotaxes. One of the guards dropped as a purple- bladed dagger sailed into his throat, while the other leveled his shotaxe at the intruder. The woman pointed a hand, open-palmed, at the soldier, and a bolt of lightning roared out of her palm and blasted the Estharian guard in his stomach, hurling him backwards to crash into a wall. The woman calmly walked over to the soldier she had dropped with her dagger and wrenched the weapon free of his throat while her male companions cleared the entry room. Once they were certain the area was free of any threats, the woman turned to the guard who had taken the lightning bolt, and walked over to the fallen man.

        He was still alive, although it didn't seem he would be much longer. The uniformed soldier groaned in pain, curling up as he clutched his blasted belly. The woman bent over him and held a hand out to him, once again open-palmed. Instead of a killing bolt, however, a shimmering wave of purple and white energy washed over the injured soldier. The man looked up unbelievingly at the woman, surprised at the Curaga she had cast on him.

        "I need to go somewhere," the woman said calmly. Even sheilded behind his faceplate, the soldier could feel the woman's cold gray eyes boring into him. "You tell me where to go, and you won't feel any more pain." She paused, letting the implications sink in. "Now, tell me where Lab Twenty- Two Aelph is."

        The soldier seemed to hesitate, and the woman, not feeling very patient, thrust her daggar out, its tip halting just below the man's chin.

        "Twenty-Two Aelph," she reiterated. The soldier stuttered for a moment.

        "It-it-its on level f-fifteen," he managed to say.

        "Level fifteen?" the woman asked again. The guard nodded. "I see," the purple-haired woman said as she took the knife away from the guard's throat.

        She started to rise, then suddenly came back down, stabbing the man in his stomach. Before he could even cry out, the woman flicked the same switch on her daggar, and the blade heated up. The soldier screamed in pain as he felt the searing heat in his belly. A moment later, the heat was cut off as the daggar's switch was flicked off.

        "Now, where is the lab actually located?" she asked again, her voice deadly calm. "Tell me, and you won't feel anymore pain."

        "Twenty-eight," the guard admitted. "Its on level twenty-eight."

        "That's better," the woman said as she pulled the purple-edged daggar out.

        Then, her other hand twitched, and the second daggar came out of its sheath and into her waiting fingers. Before the guard could even blink, she had slid the daggar up under the back his skull and into his brain stem, killing the soldier instantly.

        After finishing the kill, the woman calmly rose and flicked her daggers' "cleaning" switch again, and returned the weapons to their wrist sheaths. One of her companions glanced at the dead body.

        "I said he wouldn't feel anymore pain," the woman said nonchalantly. "Come on, I don't think these Esthar idiots are going to sit around after the ruckus we caused."

        "Are we gonna take the lifter?" another man asked, twirling his weapon of choice, a chain with heavy weights on either end. The woman cast a withering glare on him.

        "Of course not, you idiot," she hissed. "Once they wake up to the fact we're here they're going to lock down the facility. That includes the lifters." She looked around at the men. "We're taking the stairs."

        The four men groaned, but they were expecting this anyway. Their leader always enjoyed these frontal assaults, but there was always a cost. Their legs already ached at the thought of running up those flights of stairs.

        The stalker navigated through Odine's files swiftly, knowing that time was not on his side. He had spent fifteen minutes hacking into the eccentric doctor's excessively protected computer, and he knew that it would take a while to find the files he needed. He wasn't sure how often those guards he had decked needed to check in, or even if they were on duty. And that tech might be expected somewhere soon. Plus, there was the possibility of a patrol coming across him in the midst of his intrusion.

        "Come on, come on..." he muttered as he continued his search. If Odine had hidden the file, it would take even longer to find it. That was time the infiltrator didn't have.

        Without warning, the infiltrator suddenly found it. He blinked in surprise, then immediately inserted the transparent purple disk and began copying the files. As he watched the files transfer, the infiltrator breathed a sigh of relief. The mission was almost over.

        Then the intruder heard voices outside, of two men.

        "Hey, there's light coming out of the doc's office." The infiltrator tensed, dropping into a crouch behind the doctor's desk.

        "Yeah, I know. Probably working late again."

        'Hurry up hurry up hurry up,' the infiltrator willed at the computer.

        "No, I saw him leave earlier this night. But he might've just left his computer on."

        "Yeah..." the voices began to fade away, and the intruder relaxed. He noticed the computer was almost done copying the data, and he put his hand over the slot, waiting for the disk to eject.

        The computer beeped as it ejected the disk.

        "What was that?" one of the men outside asked.

        "I dunno. Let's check it out," the other said, as the intruder heard footsteps heading for the office door. The intruder quickly moved away from the desk and beside the doorway, waiting for the two guards to come inside.

        The electronic door slid open, and two men wearing the standard uniforms of Estharian soldiers walked in, shotaxes in hand.

        The closest soldier found his shotaxe flying from his grasp as a black shape erupted from the shadows beside him. Before he could react, the soldier was down and out cold, and the infiltrator was moving toward the second guard.

        The soldier's right arm came up blindingly fast, swinging the shotaxe at the intruder. The intruder's left hand snapped under the shotaxe, catching it by the axe haft and deflecting it up to hit the wall above his head. His right hand balled into a fist, and the intruder slammed the man in his face, staggering the guard. Before the soldier could recover, he was assaulted by a barrage of punches and kicks that left him slumped in the corner, thoroughly unconcious.

        The infiltrator moved out into the hallway quickly. He had to get clear before any other bumbling guards showed up. Swiftly navigating the corridors, the infiltrator soon found the lift tunnel that would take him to the roof of O Lab. Like all other lift tunnels, the device consisted of a seat large enough for three or four people that floated through tunnels from one area to another. And also, like all other lift tunnels, this one was quite well lit. He sat down on the floating device, feeling ridiculous, since he knew full well that if someone came across him while the brightly lit floater was sitting still, then he would be made instantly.

        To his relief, the floater beeped quietly and began to rise before anyone could come across the intruder. It moved upward for a moment, then to the left, around a bend, then up some more. The intruder relaxed, realizing that he would escape without any further excitement. he closed his eyes and sighed in relief.

        The floater came to a dead stop.

        His eyes snapped back open. He heard a female voice over the intercom.

        "Attention. This facility will be locked down immediately. All security personnel report to designated positions. Repeat..."

        "Its never easy," the infiltrator growled, looking around the tunnel. The walls were smooth, but close enough that he could brace against them and inch his way up. Not exactly the easiest or most enjoyable way to climb. Reminding himself that he had been made, the intruder immediately put his back to one wall, then braced his feet against the opposite side of the lift tunnel. Then, he began moving up the smooth tunnel walls.

        After a couple of long minutes, the intruder found the tunnel turned to the right. After twisting out of his chimney-climb, the intruder began walking down the tunnel, toward a bend about twenty feet down. The tunnel, the infiltrator noted, was tall enough for him to fit, but not wide enough for him to fight effectively if he was confronted by guards. Then, as if cued by his thoughts, the intruder heard voices coming from around the bend ahead.

        "Dammit," he cursed to himself as a pair of guards came around a bend in the tunnel. He just had to think that, now didn't he?

        "Why are we in these tunnels?" one of the guards asked, sounding perturbed.

        "There was a lifter moving in this area when we started the lockdown. We have to check it," the other replied.

        "Probably some unlucky tech or janitor," the first guard muttered. "They wouldn't be stupid enough to take a lifter would they?"

        "I don't-Hey!" The soldier spotted the infiltrator-not that hard, considering the tunnel was well lit and he was wearing all black-and raised his shotaxe. Or rather, tried to.

        The intruder actually now found himself to be glad for the tightness of the lift tunnel, since the guard couldn't manuver his bulky shotaxe very well in such tight conditions, and the soldier behind him couldn't get around his companion. The intruder took advantage of the situation and charged the guards. The lead soldier managed to finally get his shotaxe up, but by then, the intruder was on him. The soldier's axe hand was knocked against the wall by the infiltrator's cybernetic left arm with enough force to break his wrist. Even as the unfortunate guard cried out, he was being shoved back into his companion behind him. Losing his balance, the lead guard fell back, and the trio went down in a tangle. The soldiers tried to extract themselves from the pile, but the infiltrator, taking advantage of the situation, began hammering away at the vulnerable guards. One of them managed to send a few punches back at the intruder, but he shrugged them off and continued with his own heavy strikes. Even with their hard, insectile helmets, the soldiers were quickly beaten into unconciousness.

        The infitrator didn't bother to take their weapons or otherwise disable the pair. He knew time was of the essence. The guard's cry as he had been disarmed would have alerted the rest of the facility, unless he was stupid enough to have left his transmitter off. And since the only reason the pair would have had weapons out and ready would be if they were searching for a certain black-clad intruder, that possibility was unlikely. He'd been discovered, and that meant he had to get out, fast.

        The tunnels were no longer a safe route to the roof, and that meant the only secure way would have to be the stairs. At the first hole in the tunnel that would allow him to leave, the infiltrator exited the lift tunnel. He found himself in a hallway, only a couple of levels below the rooftop, since a glowing orange holosign right in front of the intruder stated that he was now on the twenty-eighth floor and O Lab had thirty levels. He swiftly moved down the now brightly lit hallways, running and no longer concerned with stealth. The infitrator turned a corner, and then without any warning, he found himself staring down the twelve barrels of four readied shotaxes.

        Five guards met the purple-haired woman and her companions as they stepped out of the stairwell to level twenty-eight. A moment later, three of them were on the floor, two with purple daggers in their throats, and the third with his upper body burned beyond recognition, courtesy of the woman's Firaga spell. The last two charged the five intruders, shotaxes swinging.

        One of the woman's male companions intercepted a soldier, drawing a slender saber and facing off against the guard. The last remaining soldier was tripped up as another of the intruders whipped out his weighted chain and swung it around the guard's legs. Even as the man fell forward, the other two intruders fired silenced firearms into his faceplate, dropping him for good. The saber-weilder quickly dispatched his opponent with a few deft strikes, and then the intruders moved on.

        After a few minutes of navigating the corridors, the group located Lab Twenty-Two Aelph. It was unguarded, which was no surprise, considering the havoc and trail of bodies the group had left behind them. Not one for subtlety, the woman opened the doors by driving both daggers into the door lock, the ripping them out.

        The doors slid open, and the group entered Lab Twenty-Two Aelph. The laboratory was a large dome-shaped room, filled with various monitors and electronics on multi-level platforms. Leading from the vatrious platforms were cables that connected to a long rectangular metal box, ten feet long and four feet wide, in the middle of the room, the centerpiece of the laboratory. The five intruders quickly surrounded the box, and began to dissconnect the object from the cables and electronics. They worked with much more cauton now, in stark contrast to the manner in which they'd entered the lab.

        After about five minutes, the group completed the dissconnection process. One of the men pulled a large, flat disc from his pocket and attached it to the side of the box. he tapped a button on the disc, and the large box rose up and hovered in the air as if it were weightless.

        Two minutes later, the group had returned to the stairwell, two of the men struggling to push the weightless yet unweildly box up the last two floors to the roof.

        They didn't know that they had already been beaten there.

        The intruder froze as the quartet of guards, standing in a line across the corridor, seemed to hesitate at his presence. The intruder could feel the pair of weapons clipped to his back belt, and knew he could get them out and slice through the quartet of guards. However, he was hesitant to use them. They were only there as a last resort, after all, only for when he was in a desperate situation.

        Like now.

        "Hey, he's not one of them," the middle left guard said in surprise. The intruder noted that this was the second time he'd heard the guards refer to a "them." The speaking soldier lowered his shotaxe slightly, bringing it just out of perfect line with the black-clad intruder. It was a small mistake, almost imperceptible, but it was enough for the skilled intruder to exploit without having to go for his weapons.

        He shot forward at blinding speed, moving right up to the middle-left guard before anyone could react, and decked him with a powerful right punch to the face. Even as that guard was falling back, the intruder spun to his left, his outstreched right hand closing over the haft of the leftmost soldier's shotaxe. A subtle twist was all it took to extract the weapon from his grasp and sent it flying down the corridor. Even as the shotaxe spun away, the intruder was continuing his left spin, bringing his cybernetic left hand up into a powerful backhand at the middle-right guard's face. The cyborg arm slammed into his faceplate, knocking the soldier unconcious before he'd even hit the floor. The last guard stood dumbfounded.

        In the span of a second, one guard was down, another stunned, and a third disarmed, all by one man.

        The last armed guard flubbed out something indecipherable as he swung his shotaxe around and fired a shot at the intruder. The intruder saw him bringing the axe to bear and dropped into a low crouch, his rear nearly brushing the floor as the shotgun blast flew over his head. Before the soldier could move, the intruder stepped forward, right foot leading. As the foot touched the floor, the intruder shifted his weight to it while his left foot rose up into a spinning kick that caught the soldier in the faceplate, hurling him backward into the wall, where he slumped, out cold.

        Before the infiltrator could make anymore moves, the guard he had disarmed slammed into his back, attempting to tackle him and bring the intruder down to the floor. The infiltrator quickly shifted his center of balance to compensate, however, and the attacking guard couldn't bring him down. The intruder quickly swung an elbow out behind him, trying to beat off his attacker, but the elbow couldn't connect solidly at the difficult angle. By this time, the first guard the intruder had struck, the man who had lowered his weapon earlier, had recovered and had his shotaxe in hand. He charged at the grappled intruder, shotaxe raised.

        The intruder snapped his right foot up into the charging soldier's jaw, the force of the blow actually lifting the man up a couple of feet before depositing him on the floor. The intruder quickly brought his right leg down, then back, curling it around behind this opponent's right knee. He brought the leg forward, tripping his grappling opponent, who dragged them both down to the floor. As soon as they hit, the soldier's grip lossened enough for the infiltrator to break free. In one smooth motion, he rose to his feet, spun around, and planted a soccer kick to the back of the grappleing soldier's head as he rose into a sitting position. The force of the impact actually sent the sitting soldier into a forward roll, and as he came to a stop, the guard was thoroughly unconcious.

        The infiltrator paused to catch his breath. The fight would have been a lot easier if he could have used the weapons on his back belt, but these guards were just soldiers, probably not in league with Odine, and not warranting lethal force.

        After a moment, the intruder moved on. He located the stairwell and ran up to the rooftop. Upon arrival, he quickly tapped his wrist, activating the transmitter imbedded in his arm. The transmitter sent out a signal to his pickup, and he almost immediately recieved a confirmation. Despite the fact that he would be out of here in a couple of minutes, the intruder would not allow himself to relax. For all he knew, a small army of Estharian guards could be charging up that stairwell, shotaxes ready.

        For the second time that night, as soon as he thought of something, it happened.

        The door to the stairwell slid open behind him, and the infiltrator spun around, his hands moving to the weapons on the back of his belt.

        Instead of Estharian soldiers, however, there was a young, purple- haired woman and a quartet of men struggling with a large hovering metal box.

        All of the intruders froze, quickly evaluating this surprising twist. The infiltrator immediately realized that these people were the "them" he had heard the guards reffering to earlier.

        "Who are you?" the woman demanded, a pair of transparent, purple- bladed daggers appearing in her hands.

        "I could ask you the same question," the infiltrator responded. They two stood there for a few seconds, eyes locked. Finally, the infiltrator grew impatient. "Well?"

        The woman smiled. It was an expression devoid of humor or happiness, the infiltrator realized, or of anything else that a smile was supposed to contain.

        "Illarra," she purred. "And you?" The infiltrator paused for a moment. He had gone by numerous aliases over the course of his life, but he wasn't sure if he should use one of them here. Finally, he decided to go with the name that best described him and who he was.

        "You can call me Silence."

        "Silence..." Illarra said, thinking the name over. "Interesting. Well, Silence, I am sorry to say this, but no one who witnessed our actions this night is supposed to survive to tell what we have done."

        "Really now," Silence replied, hands grasping the weapons on his belt. "That's a pity."

        "Indeed," Illarra said. Her hand flicked suddenly, and a purple dagger whistled through the air toward Silence's throat-

        -and rang out clearly in the Estharian night as a metallic bladed battle-fan deflected it aside. Silence stood there, holding a pair of kinzoku-sensus, bladed fans with short, straight, narrow blades emerging from the edges.

        Illarra blinked with surprise at her enemy's prowess, then glanced to the deflected dagger lying about twenty feet away from her opponent.

        Then the dagger was flying back to her hand, seemingly of its own accord. It was Silence's turn to blink in surprise, and then suddenly he found Illarra charging him, purple blades flashing in a dazzling display of cuts and stabs that forced the infiltrator back on his heels as he deflected and dodged the purple-haired woman's assault.

        After the initial surprise wore off, though, Silence regained even footing with the purple-haired woman. He countered her swift stabs and slices with his own whirling cuts and rakes with the sliver-like blades of his battle fans. However, like Illarra's initial assault, Silence found that he couldn't penatrate his opponent's defenses. Illarra was swift and agile, able to dodge aside or away from any attacks that made it past the blinding wall of defense and counters she put up with her daggers.

        Behind them, Illarra's companions watched in stunned awe as dagger and fan danced and interweaved in the dizzying ballet of battle, a dance of countering counters and deflections that seemed to know no end. The only sign of the reality of the struggle were the ringing and scraping of the two warriors' weapons as they dueled. The give and take of the battle picked up, the pace quickening. Dagger and fan were now almost blurs, and the clanging of metal blades now became one long ringing wail.

        And then, without warning, Illarra leaped back. The spectators were puzzled at what had happened until they saw a bright stream of blood running down Illarra's left arm. She reached up and touched the injury, then sent a withering glare at Silence.

        "First blood goes to me," Silence said with a grin.

        "Last blood counts for more," Illarra replied. Then she, too, grinned. Her daggers returned to their sheaths. She closed her eyes, then clasped her hands together a couple of inches in front of her face. Silence watched in confusion. Illarra looked as if she were focusing on something, like a spell, except that no magic was discharged. She simply stayed in that focused position, as if concentrating.

        Or summoning.

        From the looks of it, Silence would be hit by the summoned being's assault in just a couple of seconds. While being struck by a GF was painful enough under normal curcumstances, Silence had a particular weakness to magic as a result of a 'treatment" he had recieved years ago. A GF summoning by a skilled summoner could be quite fatal for the infiltrator.

        Silence also knew how to summon Guardian Forces, and he knew that summoning one would normally take at least a second or two, usually more, depending on how close the GF and its summoner were. Silence did carry a GF on him, but its connection to him was unlike most others. Close pairings of a GF and its summoner resulted in a GF responding quickly to a call, while poor pairings resulted in the GF usually taking its time to respond to the summoner's request for aid. Silence's connection with this GF, however, went beyond that normal mortal/spirit relationship.

        Without making a focusing gesture, without any concentration, without any outward msign at all, Silence simply willed the GF to appear. It responded without hesitation, forming out of nothing without any warning, just as the ground before Illarra "exploded" and a firey, demon-like creature leaped out of the "hole" into the mortal world.

        As Ifrit emerged, it found itself facing the floating, winged, demonic form of the GF Diablos.

        * * * * *

        "What the hell is that?" the pilot shouted, pointing toward O Lab as it grew bigger in the forward sensor window on his console.

        "That would be a pair of GF's," Kiros, seated behing the pilot, said in response. "Ifrit and Diablos, I believe."

        "....." Ward rumbled, looking at Kiros with concern from his spot by the sensors panel.

        "No, I don't know why Silence would be calling Diablos," Kiros replied. "We told him not to use lethal force unless he was in very deep trouble. Unless one of the guards protecting O Lab is SeeD trained and summoned that Ifrit."

        Ward's expression told his small friend how much he doubted that possibility.

        "What do you think is going on, then?" Kiros asked. Ward shook his head, signaling he didn't know. Then, he pointed at the roof.

        "Right," Kiros said, comprehending. "Pilot, speed up! We need to get there, NOW!" Kiros was pushed back in his seat as the engines fired up. It took a moment for the Ragnorok-class cruiser's artficial gravity system to compensate before Kiros recovered, and as he sat back up, Ward tapped him on the shoulder.

        "What is it?" Kiros asked. The big man pointed at the radar screen beside the pilot, which showed a large blip, also heading for O Lab. "Is that another ship?"

        "Yeah," the pilot said. "A light Corsair-class transport. Its en route to O Lab too." Kiros and Ward exchanged a significant glance.


        "Yeah, fire up the guns," Kiros agreed.

        * * * * *

        Ifrit, following the commands of its master, attacked Silence with a barrage of fireballs. The flaming balls of incadascent destruction, however, were deflected by Diablos as it stood protectively before its own master. As the fires faded, the demonic GF replied, hurling its own ball of destruction, a black globe of absolute darkness that engulfed the firey Ifrit. In the aftermath of that counterattack, Ifrit stood stunned, and then it began to dissipate into a formless mass of flames that quickly faded away. Diablos roared in victory and it, too, disappeared into darkness.

        Silence still stood across from Illarra, a triumphant look of victory upon his face. The purple-haired woman, however, was furious. Then, without warning, she calmed.

        "I didn't know you held a GF," she said nonchalantly.

        "Likewise," Silence managed to reply, caught off-guard by this unusual woman's sudden mood swings.

        That unexpected mood swing however, was another of Illarra's many useful weapons, for as Silence was still off-balance by the shift in her emotions, Illarra's left hand shot up. A blast of flaming destruction erupted from he palm, blasting into Silence and hurling him backward.

        "Hmm..." Illarra mused as she strode towards the infiltrator, who lay sprawled nearly a dozen feet away. "A weakness to magic, I see. Perhaps you aren't the invincible warrior I was fearing." As she approached his prone form, Illarra began to suspect that she hadn't just stunned Silence, but had actually killed him. His vulnerability to magic must be immense, she thought, considering the mental and physical discipline, and thus inherent resistance to magic, that he had to have possessed to match her in melee combat.

        As she reached his sprawled, burned body, Silence groaned and began to roll over. Illarra bent down, her dagger poised just inches from his throat. It was a pity to have to kill one so skilled. His GF summoning had been powerful, faster than anything she had ever seen, and his combat skills were breathtaking! And he was an attractive man. Excellent build, strong features, and long, coppery hair. Illarra also thought she saw what looked like glowing feather tatoos on his forearems, through a torn patch of one of his sleeves. A true pity.

        Even as she was considering the loss Silence's death would bring, Illarra had noticed one of Silence's hands still held a kinzoku-sensu. He had shifted the weapon to bring it to bear on Illarra, but the angle was all wrong for him to thrust it at her. At least, not without her being able to drive her dagger through his throat before he could get the weapon halfway across the distance to Illarra.

        Silence suddenly grinned. Illarra looked at him in confusion. He was about to die, and the infiltrator was smiling?

        Then Illarra saw a small switch on the sensu that Silence was resting his thumb on.

        "Stab the dagger, and you die too," Silence said. "These needle blades make for excellent projectiles, you know."

        The two locked gazes intently for several seconds, matching each other in a battle of wills. Illarra gray eyes met Silence's deep blue, as the pair struggled mentally, seeing who would back down first.

        "Then why don't you fire?" Illarra finally retorted, conceding to her opponent's unyeilding glare.

        "The needles are quite lethal," Silence explained. "You'd die, but remain alive long enough to send that dagger home." His eyes narrowed. "I'm not afraid to die. Are you?"

        "Not afraid to die?" Illarra said in surprise.

        "My purpose in this world is already fulfilled," Silence continued. "I can die right now without any regrets. The important question is, do you feel the same way?"

        "Then why not fire now and kill me?" Illarra demanded, tired of this stand-off.

        "Unlike you, I don't enjoy killing. I may be quite proficient at the arts of taking life, but that doesn't mean I do it for pleasure. I'd prefer no one died here today."

        Illarra was confused by this mysterious man. A master of death and murder, but without any desire to use his gifts?

        "What are you, some virtious mercanary?" Illarra spat in disgust. "A SeeD?" Silence laughed at that notion.

        "I'm no more a SeeD than you are," he said.

        Any response Illarra would have had to Silence was suddenly cut off as the roof access flew open and a small army of Estharian soldiers charged onto the roof. They were met by Illarra's companions, who launched magic blasts and gunfire at the guards.

        Seconds later, Silence heard the roaring sound of an Estharian Corsair-class transport's engines. A large, ungraceful-looking ship swooped in towards the roof, appearing to be little more than an oversized metallic egg with wings and engines. It wasn't exactly the most beautiful or graceful craft, but it served its primary purpose, ferrying supplies and people around the huge city. This Corsair, however, had been significantly modified. A hatch opened up on its underside, and a heavy machinegun lowered from the hidden compartment. The weapon turned toward the engaged Estharians and sprayed gunfire over them. At the same time, the Corsair's side cargo-loading hatch swung open, and a squad of black-clad men with rifles stormed out, adding their own gunfire and magic to the hailstorm of shots raining on the guards.

        The Estharians were not about to back down, however, and returned the intruders' gunfire with their own magic and shotaxe blasts. The air around the rooftop was filled with bullets and magic as the two groups battled.

        "Illarra!" one of the men shouted as he pushed the large hovering box into the cargo hatch. The purple-haired woman glanced back to Silence, who still held the sensu in her direction, finger on the firing switch. She turned back to the raging battle. Two of her allies were down, but the Estharians had lost nearly a third of their men in the battle thus far.

        "Another time, perhaps," she said with a grin, and rose, then moved away from Silence. She paused to cast a Triple spell on herself, then, as she ran back towards the Corsair transport, she loose a trio of Firagas upon the Estharian soldiers. The enemy soldiers, having suffered surprising losses, had already begun to fall back. The Firagas tore through their ranks and drove the survivors back to the roof access, where they began to regroup amidst the rain of bullets and magic.

        Seeing the battle won for the moment, Illarra turned back to Silence, who lay nearly forty feet away on the rooftop. She quickly judged the distance, and determined that the kinzoku-sensu probably couldn't fire its sliver-like blades accurately at this distance. In a single smooth motion, she drew a purple-bladed dagger, flipped it into the air, caught it by its tip, and cocked the blade back for a throw into Silence's prone form. Silence saw the movement, and he too knew that he couldn't hit her at this range. He snapped the sensu up anyway and leveled it at her. lining up his shot, he flicked the switch, loosing the blades at Illarra. She grinned as the slivers flashed past her, and ignored the stinging pain as one of the blades dug into her shoulder. She could accept this pain in return for removing the foolishly idealistic Silence from the world. Illarra's grin widened when Silence's shoulders slumped, as he accepted the death her coming dagger would bring.

        The grin was suddenly replaced by a look of sincere terror as Illarra's gray eyes spotted something beyond Silence. The dagger lowered as she began to back away. Confused, Silence turned his head and looked back in the direction of whatever Illarra had seen.

        Hovering there at the edge of the roof, guns ready, was a huge, graceful red and silver aircraft, shaped in the form of a mighty dragon. In the sound of the battle between the guards and the intruders, the quiet airship had slipped up unnoticed. Now the Ragnorok-class airship hovered just off the roof, guns leveled.

        "Look out!" Illarra screamed as she ran back toward the Corsair. Her shout was drowned out as the Ragnorok airship opened fire. The thundering blasts of its weapons deafened the people on the roof as the bullets exploded all around them, tearing chunks in the rooftop metal.

        The battle ended swiftly as the fighters on both sides dove for whatever cover they could find. The airship's gunner did not aim to kill, simply to scare, which he unsurprisingly achieved. Amidst the chaos of the Ragnorok's fire, the front hatch of the mighty airship opened and a large form, dressed in black much like Silence, came bounding down the ramp. He scooped up the fallen infiltrator as if he weighed nothing and carried the wounded man to the saftey of the ship.

        Silence was able to catch a glimpse of Illarra and her surviving companions as they dragged their dead and wounded back onto the Corsair transport before the ramp closed and the Ragnorok airship peeled away from the rooftop. A moment later, he felt a wave of revitalizing energy sweep over him as a potent Curaga spell was cast on him. While the healing spell had a somewhat limited effect on him due to the "treatments" he'd recived earlier, the restorative power of the healing spell was more than enough to get the infiltrator back on his feet. As he stood up, he turned to the huge, black-clad man who'd carried him out of the firefight.

        "Thanks, Ward. I owe you one," Silence said, patting the big man on the shoulder.

        "....." Ward smiled back, the expression much more telling than any words possibly could have conveyed.

        * * * * *

        Illarra clutched her wounded shoulder, hissing in anger. She had been so close to killing that damned Silence!

        "Illarra, are you alright?" one of the black-clad men asked. Illarra spun and decked the man with a single punch to the face.

        She was perfectly fine, the other men knew. She hadn't used her daggers on him, after all.

        Illarra pulled the slender needle from her shoulder, gritting away the pain. She vowed that Silence would pay for this insult. After casting a Cure on the wound, Illarra stood up and walked over to the large box. The whole reason they had been breaking into that lab to begin with...

        "Xerret had best come up with the money when we bring this to him!" she growled angrily.

        The group of men around her in the cargo bay glanced at each other. Illarra didn't seem to care at all that she had lost two men and four others were badly wounded. But then again, they were very well paid, so the men knew to keep their mouths shut.

        And anyone who still wanted to complain simply had to look at the unconcious man on the floor, and remember the volitale Illarra's sharp daggers hidden up her sleeves.

        * * * * *

        Aladorn lit the cigarrette with the small laser lighter. The sniper puffed the smoke, watching it waft off into space as he waited for the man to approach. The tall figure was walking slowly, warily, keeping away from the edge of the walkway, and trying not to look down, since even far from the ledge he would be looking down through the transparent boulevard, down into the city far below.

        He hated Esthar, Aladorn knew. The architecture, the clothing, the general feel of the whole city, all of it. He was too proud to admit it, but he was also afraid of heights, and in Esthar, there were an almost endless number of high ledges that overlooked spiral depths. And at nightime, it was even worse, since the the depths of the city consisted of either dark shadows or bright lights leading down to the depths below...

        Here, in this part of the city, there were more shadows than bright lights, since monsters still roamed freely. But then again, that was why this section had been chosen as the meeting spot, since few people except the soldiers that had secured the area specifically for the meeting would be here at night.

        Aladorn looked the nervous man over. He had been through hell, the sniper knew. His whole world turned upside down, his position of power stolen, his partner killed, and all of it due to a Sorceress from the future. And furthermore, the whole plan had gone out the window when that Sorceress had shown up. With the death of a primary player in their plans, nearly a decade of preparations had been snagged. Although, Aladorn noted, that same Sorceress had also set up a situation that they had awaited for several years. If only they could deal with Garden and SeeD, things would fall into place.

        And that was precisely this nervous man's role in the plan.

        "Why did you call me here?" the tall man demanded as he approached Aladorn. The smoking sniper puffed a couple of times, then took the cigarrette out of his mouth.

        "Security, my friend. Galbadia is a little too volitale right now, and Fisherman's Horizon is overrun with Kramer's people. Centra is too remote, Trabia too cold. Dollet and Timber are just as bad as Galbadia, what with Timber regaining independence and Dollet's recent offensive."

        The tall man shook his head. "Galbadia being bested by Dollet. Ridiculous."

        "Dollet has deep pockets," the sniper replied with another draw on his cigarrette. "The Duke has been planning to pay Galbadia back for years, and he and the Parliament were just waiting for a weakness so they could hire mercanaries for a war."

        "I suppose the disaster Ultimecia brought to the Galbadians was the moment they were waiting for," the tall man said. "Though if Dollet was expecting Galbadia to be leaderless, they were in for a nasty surprise when Veers took over." The tall man reffered to General Veers, among the higher ranking of the Galbadian senior command. With Caraway stripped of his command and Deling dead, Veers was the highest ranking member of the Galbadian military, and happened to be next in line for rule of Galbadia.

        "Veers has been recalling his forces," Aladorn remarked after another draw on his cigarrette. "Letting Timber go and giving Dollet the area around Yaluny Canyon were smart moves. Conservation of strength. He's a wise commander, moreso than Deling ever was." He puffed again. "Thus, setting up the perfect oppurtunity for us."

        The tall man cocked a curious eye on Aladorn, prompting him to elaborate.

        "Veers views retreat before Dollet's advance as weakness. He wants to counterattack, but logistics won't allow it. At least, not yet. You may not know this, but Veers has been opening diplomatic channels with Dollet's Parliament, and is trying to negotiate a cease-fire. But at first oppurtunity, Veers will break that agreement and use whatever he has to crush Dollet. And then he'll turn around and send his whole army at the disorganized, weak government of Timber. You see," Aladorn continued, puffing again, "Veers is a soldier, not a politician. When it comes to diplomacy and international relations, he only sees tools by which to further wage war. He does not, or perhaps, cannot, see the value of these relations in peacetime." Aladorn paused for another smoke.

        "Remember, the people of Esthar were just invaded by Galbadia and experienced the nightmare of the Lunar Cry, which is still going on today. They are immensely distrustful of the Galbadians, and if a threat is percieved, the Estharian people will demand that the government deal with that threat. A breaking of a ceasefire and the attempted domination of an entire continent could very, very easily be twisted into a threat to Esthar. We will have no difficulty prompting war with Galbadia in such a situation."

        "You forget Dollet and Timber," the tall man replied. "They might very well be able to deflect Galbadia's invasions. The whole plan fails if Dollet and Timber withstand Galbadia's coming assaults."

        "That brings me to the reason I wanted to talk to you," Aladorn said with another draw on his cigarrette. "Dollet has a small army that relies on outside help to kep its lands secure. Timber has no army to speak of yet. Galbadia just retreated a few weeks ago, remember, and local militias are the closest thing to an army they have. Both nations now rely on SeeD and Garden for protection." Aladorn puffed his cigarrete again. "Without SeeD and Garden, Dollet and Timber will fall to Galbadia. Then it would be quite excusable to 'liberate' those territories from Galbadian rule."

        "What of other mercanary groups?" the tall man asked. "SeeD is certainly not the only army for hire out there."

        Aladorn laughed. "Subtle threats can go a long way, my friend. A show of our power and a veiled warning would be all we'd need to convince most mercanary groups to refuse hiring by Dollet or Timber. And those we can't threaten into submission we can buy. After all, the only causes of a mercanary are money and intimidation."

        "Garden and SeeD are the key if we intend to win this war," Aladorn continued. "Trabia Garden is out of commission for the moment, as you know. Galbadia Garden is being repaired at Fisherman's Horizon, and the majority of the students and faculty are still out. That leaves Balamb as the only viable Garden. We can assert control over Galbadia Garden easily enough, and Trabia is too small to worry about. Balamb Garden is the key."

        "But NORG is dead!" the tall man growled. "Without that fat slob we have no control over Balamb Garden! Kramer and that kid Leonhart are in charge."

        Aladorn smiled. "Then get rid of them."

        The tall man paused for a moment, realizing the simple logic of it.

        "Eliminate Kramer and Leonhart, and Balamb can be taken over again without difficulty. And we will once again have control over the most elite collection of soldiers in the world, to spearhead our conquest!" Aladorn puffed his cigarrette again, his smile widening. "Best of all, these mercanaries will never know we created them for this purpose to begin with!"

        The tall man smiled. "How do you want the kid and the old man dealt with?"

        "Kramer would be easy enough to remove. The boy Leonhart, however..." The sniper gave his tall co-conspiritor a knowing look, as if he knew an incredible secret. "His girlfriend, Rinoa Heartilly, is a Sorceress."

        "What?!" the tall man spouted.

        "Yes, she inherited the powers from Edea, then Adel when she was killed." Aladorn laughed at the irony. "SeeD was created to defeat the Sorceresses, and the lover of their commander is one. Fate plays strange games." He puffed his cigarrette again. "Games that we can exploit." The sniper laughed again and the tall man joined in with him.

        "Is there anything else?" the tall man asked.

        "No, that's all. Good hunting," Aladorn said. The tall man nodded and walked off. Aladorn noted that he no longer noticed the depths of the Estharian city far below them.

        Taking one last draw on his cigarrette, Aladorn considered how close they were to the completion of nearly a decade's work. A few short months, and everything would be ready to exploit the wake of Ultimecia's destructive path. All that remained was to recover control of Garden and SeeD from that silly idealist Cid and the boy Leonhart.

        Once they had recovered SeeD, their trump card, Esthar would once again rule supreme.

        He took the stub, all that remained of his cigarrette, and hurled it over the edge of the street into the city of shadows below.

Chapter 2

Peptuck3's Fanfiction