Vigil of the Fates Chapter 11
Attention: landing within sixty seconds. Theres a low wall ahead. Looks like barricade. Were breaking throughhold on tight and brace for impact. Lapin Beach, closing in forty-five seconds.
A high-pitched surge in the scream of the propulsion engine followed at the heel of the intercom message. The cruisers fore abruptly lifted off the sea surface and led the rest of the vessel in a sharp-slanted leap clear above the water. The passengers held onto handrails, trying to keep both feet grounded on the floor. For one breath-stopping second there was for all inside the ship a queer sensation of weightlessness when the ship reached the zenith of the jump. Then a violent metallic bang rocked the vessel as its airborne belly cut through the top of the brick hurdle midair, leaving behind a ten-foot-wide dent on the structure. Less than a second later, an even greater collision engulfed the cruiser in a seismic jolt as it plunged back into the water. Zell cursed loudly, barely hanging on to avoid landing on his bottom when gravity returned with vengeance. Seifer, giddy with excitement, released a thrilled, reckless laughter.
How does this tiny thing endure shocks like that? And the fight hasnt even begun yet! shouted Zell amid the rumble.
This tiny thing is the latest SeeD model-F armored cruiser, idiotthis babys the toughest thing with an engine on the whole damn eastern coast! Seifer shouted back with contemptuous glee.
Landing imminent. Prepare to disembark! The words were from the intercom.
Enough talk. Get ready, all of you! cried Quistis.
The ship shook again. Within seconds it came to a halt with the noise of sand dragging underneath. The fore hatch burst open, and before all lay the vision of the barren beach that had suddenly come alive with the arrival of the SeeD vessels.
Squad B members jumped onto the beach. Their feet dug into the soft sand, a stark contrast to the steel floor that they had been treading moments before. Squall quickly surveyed the beach with his eyes. Already cadets and SeeD members were storming the site, sprinting towards the walled outskirt of the city that loomed ahead. The dark SeeD cruisers with gaping hatches were lined up along the shore, looking, Squall thought, like so many beached whales. Then Quistis voice took hold of his attention.
All right, move into the city. You are to secure Central Square. Seifer, I hope you've been studying that map on the way. Be sure to neutralize all Galbadians at your post and on the way to it. Good luck, everyone!
Get those legs moving! I wont be responsible if you fall behind! Seifer shouted, running ahead. Squall and Zell followed the squad captain.
Quistis watched the three cadets who were quickly diminishing into distance. Merciful God, she mumbled, if they must get hurt today, then let it at least be at the hands of the enemy!
* * * * * * *
The three cadets reached the border of the city and ran up the stairs that took them from the sandy shore to the colossal concrete platform upon which the city stood. Dollets geography was a mixture of extreme features that contributed to the citys cherished picturesque image. Though the city itself was situated near the sea level, tall mountains abounding in nearly vertical cliffs towered at both sides of the city. With its old-fashioned streets and architecture, Dollet Dukedom boasted an atmosphere at once cozy and grand, settled snugly among great precipices at the bottom of the valley and overlooking the ocean. At the moment, however, there were little feelings of coziness or relaxation about the area. The streets had largely been purged of civilian presence, and smoke could be seen billowing at various points throughout the area, though Squall noted that damages to residential and commercial properties were far from extensive. It appeared that the Dollet troops had not put up too fierce a resistance against the invaders before abandoning the city. All was so quiet that it seemed as though the battle zone was deserted, but Squall knew that each building likely held its share of frightened civilians in hidingor, perhaps, Galbadian troops lying in wait to surprise his squad.
When the squad had run through several blocks on their way to the Central Square, the heavy silence pervading the streets began to be shattered from numerous directions. Shouts and gunshots were heard not too far away, and the sounds soon grew in number and frequency. The other squads were beginning to engage the Galbadians. The enemies were near. He was duly careful to keep looking sideways for hostile presence as he followed Seifers lead. A disturbance from left caught his attention when he was about to run past an alley, causing him to stop momentarily. Zell had noted the same, halting as well.
Is it Galbadians? Zell inquired.
It was. There were five of them with their swords drawn just beyond the other end of the back street, all attired in the infamous blue-and-silver Galbadian military gear. They were fighting against another squad of cadets.
Ahead, Seifer skidded to a halt, having discovered that his squad was no longer behind him. What the hell? he shouted angrily, turning around. What are you two doing over there?
Galbadians, fighting some of our people! Zell shouted back. Five against threeshouldnt we help?
Thats their fight! Come on, dumbasses; the squares this way!
Quickly casting a mid-level fire spell, Squall hurled the blazing sphere down the narrow alley at the distant enemy soldiers. He only lingered long enough to observe that the flame struck the Galbadians and immediately broke into a sprint again. Thats all we can do for them. Lets go!
God! and to think thats the captain Im counting on to cover my back! Zell grumbled and started running also. He saw a member of the other squad raise his hand in an appreciative salute. He waved back heartily, shouting, Hang in there, people! Go kick their asses!
Ill bust your ass if you dont move faster, Chicken-wuss! Seifer yelled ahead.
* * * * * * * *
Turning around a street corner, the squad encountered its first set of enemies. The company of six Galbadian soldiers seemed not a little surprised to see the armed cadets, drawing their swords instantly.
What are these? Dollet reinforcements? one of them exclaimed.
Hardly, was Seifers succinct reply as he dashed at the company. The Galbadian that had spoken found himself pierced through the side by Seifers gunblade. The soldier fell with but a small groan of pain, spraying blood on the ground. Squall was only a second behind Seifer in his own offensive. A blast of fire arose as he struck at the second Galbadian, knocking him back ten feet. Neither of the fallen enemies moved again.
Dammit! one of the remaining soldiers swore and aimed the gun mounted atop his battle armlet at Seifer. He fired at close range. A dozen rapid rounds hit the squad captain in a concentrated bundle of fiery bursts. Seifer, appearing wholly unaffected by the shots, sneered and cut down the shooter with another deadly slash that sank into the soldiers torso. His gunblade radiated a demonic blue glow each time it struck.
What in the world...? one of the three Galbadians left standing mumbled disbelievingly as he took an involuntary step back.
They are using magic shields! another cried. A moment later he too fell when Zell, with a ferocious but controlled battle cry, buried a solid right punch between his eyes, cracking open the soldiers protective helmet. Rotating, the cadet unleashed a bolt of thunder upon his next target. Without a sound the fifth Galbadian collapsed like a puppet whose strings have been severed mid-act. The last of the enemy soldiers would have run for his life but that the swift double strike of Squalls sword caught him at the thigh and the shoulder within a split second. The first hit robbed the Galbadian of his footing on the ground. The second knocked him unconscious.
Scarcely a minute into the battle, all enemy soldiers were effectively neutralized.
Our first victims for the day! Seifer announced, looking down triumphantly at the prone figures on the street. He addressed Zell with a degree of satisfaction gleaming in his eyes. Not bad, Chicken-wuss. And here I was wondering where youd left your weapon. Not much style, but it suits you just fine, really.
Zell stepped up to Seifer and cut him a disdainful glare. Shut up, you egomaniac. You didnt have to kill those two poor bastards like that!
What the hell... Hey, would you listen to this guy? Seifer said as he looked to Squall, who stood apart also gazing down at the defeated enemies. He turned back to zell, the hard front back on his face. Listen, little boy. This is a real battle. People kill each other in real battles. If youve got a problem with that youre in the wrong place.
Zell did not stand down. Take that attitude to hell with you, Seifer. Im not an ignoramus. I know what a gunblade can do.
What the f--- are you talking about? said Seifer with a frown. Temper was quickly heating up his voice. Then he took a long second look at the downed soldiers. His eyes next focused on Squall. Contempt and annoyance flashed in their gray depth. ...The hell? You left them alive, too?
Squall met the squad captains glare, reluctant to be pulled into others altercation but seeing little choice. They were weak opponents. With their injuries, they wont be rejoining the invasion forces even if they do awake before the mission ends.
I dont believe this! exclaimed Seifer, barking out a harsh laughter.
The gunblades attack is much more versatile than that of an ordinary sword. I dont want to misuse its full strength against petty enemies.
Misuse! cried Seifer. The only way to misuse power is not using it when you have it! Fine, have it your way, both of youbut Im warning you, if youre going to give me any grief about the way I handle my fights, youd better be prepared to suffer one of those fights yourselves. Move it, then. We need to get to our station.
* * * * * * *
The Galbadian invaders were now fully alerted to the presence of SeeD in Dollet, but few of them had an inkling of an idea that they were being used as testing materials for the young Balamb cadets. Hastily the Galbadians reorganized themselves into larger parties to thwart the advances of the small enemy squads. The twenty-five minutes that it took Squad B to reach Central Square saw five more run-ins with such bands of Galbadian troops. Their second fight proceeded in much the same manner as before, though this time the verbal ruffle was suppressed to a minimum. From their third fight on the cadets were, to their own surprise, cool and composed, each disabling his share of enemies with his own methods without further remarks on anyones part.
Squall realized that the more enemies they fought, the more efficient they were becoming. As the intensity of battles climbed, fewer words were spoken among the three uneasy comrades during and between fights. Their responses to external stimuli were quickly narrowing to only those pertaining to the mission at hand. They ran, they encountered Galbadians, and they crushed them with ruthless speed. Squall found himself amazed at how easily and naturally the pattern of action was being established in the field. There was something fundamentally different about battling human foes, he thought. Though he had to his credit years of harsh training against beastly creatures, many of them far stronger than these Galbadian troops, curiously the immediacy of danger that the monsters inspired in him had rarely been so overwhelmingor so exhilarating. Was it simply from the pressure to pass an important exam? Squall wondered. No, he decided. It was all about people. Fighting people was treacherous, somehow more insidious. With people, one could not afford to allow a moments opening even against weak opponents.
Squall paused, sensing movement from his right. Galbadians, three of them. Conveniently moving in a tight formation. They were charging in his direction, swords shining in the afternoon sun.
Come forth, Shiva
* * * * * * *
The Central Square is up ahead, Seifer said.
The end of the main street was visible now. The Squad B members hastened their feet. Soon they were at the circular public plaza whence the major boulevards of Dollet radiated.
Here we are! This is our post! Zell said upon reaching the memorial fountain that was the centerpiece of the square. Promptly a Galbadian foot soldier sprang from behind the fountain, his machine gun aimed, point-blank, at the cadet. Taken by surprise, Zell blocked the Galbadians fires. He was nevertheless knocked onto the ground from the blows. He scrambled to raise himself up and saw his attacker being flung backwards by a thunder blast.
Thats what you get for being inattentive, fool, Seifer scoffed, walking up. He kicked the fallen Galbadian in the side and verified that he was no longer a threat. Zell stood up with a quick expletive, nettled to have been aided by the older student.
Seifer motioned to the square with a sweep of his gunblade. All right, lets secure the area. You two, scout the vicinity for any hostiles. I want this place wiped clean of small nuisances before the big catch arrives.
Squall and Zell were about to execute the order when they did a double take in tandem at the sudden flurry of activity from the eastern avenue. Five Galbadians had run out of a building at the commotion, and three more were not far behind them.
I dont think we need to scout them out. Here they come! Zell shouted.
A pair of nearly simultaneous bangs erupted from both sides. The first came from a Galbadian heavy rifle, and the second from Seifers outstretched left hand. The shot claimed a bystanding victim in the memorial fountain's marble statue, whose arm was blown off. In contrast Seifers fire attack found its target with lethal accuracy, smiting an enemy front liner.
Scattertheyre magic users! one of the approaching soldiers cried. The troops immediately dispersed.
Theyve already got the sentinel! observed a Galbadian troop upon reaching the square.
And Im about to get you, too! Zell declared. He leapt in front of the oncoming enemy. His right foot drew a smooth upward arc in the air, and in a flash the Galbadian found his hands bereft of the gun he had been about to fire. Zells next kick crashed through the enemys armor vest.
Squall engaged the two soldiers on his both sides. He knew well that men relying on their number to overwhelm a lone opponent tended to leave their defense fatally open at the individual level. While the two Galbadians were attempting to coordinate their sword attacks to trap him, Squall easily turned the situation to his advantage with a fast stab at one of them followed by a rotating strike at the other. The two soldiers crumpled within seconds of each other.
Turning, Squall witnessed another enemy fall under Seifers gunblade at a far corner of the square. Zell was already readying himself to face the next set of Galbadians. Squall reviewed the two men on the ground that he had just defeated. A deep frown creased his scarred brow as he saw the rapidly spreading red stain at the shoulder of a fallen Galbadian. I thought I only hit him with the energy strike without actually stabbing him?... I suppose I misjudged my own attack. But, damn it, how could I know to do any differently? Ive only fought seriously against beasts, not human beings. And now Im hacking through these fools like they are animals.
Three more to go, Seifer said.
The enemy troops who shortly reached the square appeared flummoxed at the vision of their beaten comrades. They had expected to face half-decimated adversaries by the time of their arrival. Theyre kids. Whats going on? one of them said in amazement.
Dont underestimate them. Theyre SeeD! another replied, taking battle position.
Not quite yetnot that it makes a difference for you, Seifer said. Then he charged at the soldiers.
* * * * * * * *
I think thats all of them, Squall said.
Well, then, were on standby till the next wave of Galbadians move in from the mountains. Seifer jabbed his gunblade at the street pavement. Standby... I hate this part of a mission.
If we are going to wait here for enemy troops, we should move these to somewhere inconspicuous. Squall pointed to the motionless soldiers sprawled about the square. Their sight is sure to alert other Galbadians who come this way.
Hmm, youre right. Seifer considered for a second. His lips curled in a wicked grin. We could torch them to ashes with strong fire magic.
Zell stared at Seifer like he was insane. Squall disregarded the tasteless remark.
I was thinking more along the line of hiding them in that hotel over at that corner.
Fine, fine... But Im not stooping down to that kind of menial labor. You two take care of it.
As they were moving the soldiers into the deserted hotel, Zell asked Squall under his breath, Was that his idea of a joke, that bit about burning these guys?
You told me yourselfpay no attention to him.
They completed the grim work of depositing the Galbadians in the hotel lobby. When they had laid down the last of the bodies, Squall said to Zell, You go on ahead and look out for enemy movement with Seifer. Im going to disarm these men. Otherwise other enemy soldiers may get their hands on their ammunition.
Zell walked out of the hotel. Squall stepped up to the somber lineup of men lying down on the lobby floor and examined them closely. A good number of them were still breathingespecially the ones lucky enough to have avoided Seifers sword in the fight. Going from one soldier to the next, Squall cast a minor cure spell on each unconscious survivor. He then took magazine clips and ammunition belts from the men and threw them into a large wastebasket under the receptionists desk. He exited the lobby with the container in his arms.
Everything well? Zell asked when Squall came out to rejoin the squad.
Yes, he answered, dumping the contents of the wastebasket into the water beneath the shattered statue for a good soaking.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic