Vigil of the Fates Chapter 12

Change of Plan

By PeterEliot

            “What time have you got?”

            I take a glance at my Garden-issue timepiece.  “A quarter after 18:00.  Don’t you have your watch with you?”

            Zell looks sheepish.  “Well... I’m not really used to wearing it.  I use my fists a lot in action, and the wristwatches I wear kinda have a way of getting smashed up every other week.” 

            “You are still required to wear one to a field mission.”

            He scratches the back of his head.  “I know.  I forgot to put it on before I left dorm today.  Hope no one finds out; it could mean point deduction in my...”

            Suddenly there is a dull, booming roar like a distant thunder, and Zell stops mid-sentence.  I concentrate to determine which way the sound came from.  Soon there is more noise— the noise of shots and blasts, all blurred and remote.  The blare descends from the steep rocky mountains towering in distance over the skyline of Central Square.

            “Sounds like it’s starting,” I say.

            “Bring it on...” I hear Seifer a few yards away.  Loitering to his right is a stray yellow dog that has been keeping the vigil with us for the past twenty minutes or so.  The animal seems to miss the presence of people in the evacuated district.  Though Seifer already tried to chase it away a couple of times, the dog has been insistent on staying close to us since we secured our post.

            The dog is attempting to approach Seifer again, wagging its tail.  I suppose it doesn’t have much of a brain.  Or maybe it’s just the recklessly adventurous type.  Sort of like the guy it’s bugging.  Kindred spirits recognize one another, I suppose.

            “Get out of here!” Seifer snarls at the dog for the third time.  “Scram!” with a brandish of his gunblade.  The dog jumps back with an alarmed whimper, but it doesn’t go away far.  His thinning temper aggravated by the unwanted canine attention, Seifer is beginning to look impatient in earnest.  He faces the mountains and shouts, “Hey, you Galbadians out there!  What are you waiting for?  Come show me what you’ve got!”

            “And he called me inattentive,” Zell mutters behind me.  “...What an idiot.”


            *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            “....Nothing,” I say. 

It has been a full half-hour since the faraway battle was heard, and still we and the dog are the only moving things in the square.  I check to see how Seifer and Zell are doing.  Their faces are strained—neither is very good at waiting, it seems.  Zell walks to and fro with heavy steps while Seifer, leaning on his side against a building on the street, morosely taps himself on the shoulder with the back of his sword.

            Zell is the first to blow off steam.  “What the HELL!” he cries abruptly, hurling a downward punch at the ground.  “God... forget boring—this isn’t right!  What’s going on?  Why aren’t we seeing something?”

            Seifer dismisses Zell’s outburst with uncharacteristic cool.  Resuming tapping his shoulder, he mumbles half to himself, “Still keeping us waiting...?” 

He looks down at his feet.  The dog has sneaked upon him again, and it is rubbing its neck against his ankles.  Seifer explodes.  “THAT DOES IT!  I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!  WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM—A FRIGGIN’ PUPPY TRAINER?” 

            This time he resolutely goes after the dog, gunblade raised.  The dog runs away once again to the far corner of the square.  Turning east, the dog barks quickly, twice—then releases a long howl at the evening sky.  I start, and call out to the squad captain, who is about to add a house pet to his list of victims for the day, in a hiss: “Seifer!

            He sees me motioning to him to get back.  Promptly he returns, and the three of us get low behind the corner of a nearby building.  Soon a Galbadian soldier appears from the direction that the dog had been barking at.  Taking a quick look around the square, he gestures behind him with his hand.  More Galbadians then move into the square in a single file.  They are not coming from the mountain ahead; they are running toward it.  Looking visibly cautious, they run quietly across the square and exit through the northwestern street.  There are less of them than I had expected—six.

            “They’re by themselves.  Let’s surprise them.”  Zell gets up to spring forward.

            Seifer stops him.  “No, wait.  Something’s fishy.  Where the hell are they going?”

            I observe the enemy’s route and trace it ahead with my eyes.  They are headed for the bridge, about a mile or so ahead, that will take them to the base of one of the two sets of mountains that surround Dollet.  Following the road that can be seen just beyond the bridge, my eyes climb the mountains all the way up to...

            “What is that up there?” asks Zell.

            “Some kind of a tower...?”  Seifer squints at the rather flat peak of the mountains.  “That has to be where they’re headed.  The bridge is the city limit; there’s little beyond the bridge but that facility.”

            “How can you be so sure?”  Zell looks doubtful.

            “We’ll soon find out if I’m right.”

            “What are you...?”  Zell pauses in the middle of the question, understanding dawning.  “Wait a moment.  You mean to go up there?  You mean us to go up there, after them?”  He reads confirmation in Seifer’s non-response.  “But that’s against the orders!” he exclaims.

            “What’s the matter?  Weren’t you saying how bored you were just now?”

            Zell fixes Seifer with a disbelieving gaze.  Then he turns to me with an appeal.  “Squall!  Will you talk some sense into this guy?”

            Seifer’s expression wordlessly dares me to challenge him.  I contemplate for a minute, then say: “Seifer is the squad captain.  I will defer tactical decisions to the captain.”

            Seifer’s eyebrows lift at my reply; he has not expected it.  “‘Defer to the captain?’” he echoes, and a wry smile twists his mouth.  He steps up to me and places a fisted forearm on my shoulder, saying, “That’s right...  You are just dying to wreak some serious havoc yourself, aren’t you?”

            I shake him off, repugnance no doubt staining my face.  “As I said, you are the captain.  Your duty is to lead, ours to follow.  If you’re willing to take responsibility before the Garden for the orders you give, I will obey your orders.  It’s a good opportunity to test out my training.  Thanks to your daily harassment I feel like I can take on anyone... even if they do fight less than honorably, the way you do.”

            Seifer snorts.  “Believe this, Squall: when the time comes, you will thank me.  For what, I will leave to you to decide then.”

            “If you two are done with this weird soldierly camaraderie thing— and good God, are you two weird,” Zell speaks.  “Listen.  This ain’t no simple battle.  It’s an exam, and a damn important one.  I’m telling you, we have to stick to our orders.”

            “Fine, you stay here then.  I’ve got no use for a boy scout in my squad.”

            “What was that?” Zell screams at Seifer, and his clenched right fist automatically rises as it has done so many times today.  God, I’m getting sick of this.

            “Zell, do yourself a favor and don’t take his taunting seriously—just his orders.  And Seifer, if we’re gonna go, we’d better hurry after the enemy.”

            “Good, then.  The enemy is headed for the facility at the northern summit.  We, Squad B, are to secure the summit.  Those who are up to the task,” and he adds derisive emphasis to these words, “will follow me to our next destination.”

            The squad moves out, Seifer at the lead.  Zell is the last to take to his feet, and his disapproving murmur trails behind me.


            *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            A good mile of uninterrupted run brings us out of the downtown and to the bridge, where the low but impressively precipitous mountain rises beyond the considerable span of the bridge.  I note that halfway down the bridge are the tiny figures of four Galbadian soldiers.  They appear to be keeping a post on the bridge.  Probably watchmen.  They are too far away for me to note their faces.  But if they haven’t seen us already, they are about to. 

            “Don’t slow down.  Just crash through,” Seifer says.

            We run onto the bridge toward the mountain path.  Barely visible to either side of the bridge is the ominously murky water below.  The low fog beneath the structure makes it difficult to fathom how far down the water lies.  But I imagine the bridge is quite tall—Dollet’s foundation is not perfectly horizontal but elevates by step-like degrees as it pushes deeper into the mountainous inland.

            The Galbadians have spotted us, and they are firing.  At this distance their rounds are causes for little concern against our protective spells.  Still, they might have heavier weaponry in their arsenal, and on the narrow but unobstructed bridge we are ideal targets.  We are not equipped for this type of protracted frontal assault.  We need to close the distance and engage in dogfight before they resort to explosives.

            Seifer has apparently thought of the same.  “At my signal, commence fire attack at maximum power and keep firing.  Don’t worry about range or aim.  Ready, fire!”

            Not slowing our pace, the three of us instantly turn the path directly ahead into an inferno of flame and smoke.  The blaze swallows up an entire segment of the bridge, blinding the enemy and us alike to the sight of the other.  We charge into that blaze, and all the while we continue to ignite whatever lies before us.  When we emerge from the storm of fire, the enemy soldiers are mere ten yards away.  I leap at the nearest Galbadian, ready to strike.  The enemy releases a thunderbolt in my direction as he jumps back to dodge.  It only inflicts a dull shock, and I make a quick work of the opponent. 

            When all four Galbadians have been dealt with, I address the squad.  “One of the enemies used thunder magic,” I inform them.

            Zell nods.  “Yeah, another guy I fought tried to fry me, too.  Wasn’t much more than a sting, though.”

            “It’s the first time we’ve fought magic users today,” I say.  “These soldiers were better fighters than the ones we encountered in the city.  They were clearly guarding the bridge.”

            Seifer studies the downed Galbadians.  “These aren’t the soldiers we saw at the Central Square, either.  This is getting interesting.  The Galbadians must be up to something up there.  Enough talk. Let’s move out!”

            We cross the bridge without further entanglements.


            *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            It seems Seifer was right in at least one thing: there apparently isn’t much beyond the bridge except for the shadowy facility at the summit.  There is but one path up the mountain, a rude and extremely steep staircase that spirals around the cliffs all the way to the peak.

            As we run up the steps, Zell calls for the squad’s attention. 

            “Hey, look!”

            Seifer and I turn back to him.  “What is it, Dincht?” Seifer asks.  He hasn’t called the guy by his given name once today, and more often than not he hasn’t called him by his name at all.

            “I think I see someone...”  Zell runs back towards the edge of the steps we just passed.  I draw my gunblade, and Seifer does the same.  But soon I realize that Zell has not meant an enemy by his words.  Probing through the bushes outlining the rocky staircase, Zell helps a badly wounded Dollet troop in dark green gear out of them.

            “Who... who are you?” he asks us in a shaky, hoarse voice.  Blood drips down the side of face, and the rest of his body isn’t faring much better.

            “Easy, sir.  Let us help you first,” Zell tells him.  I look about for enemies while Zell treats the soldier with restorative magic.  Once the bleeding is brought under control, Seifer hands the soldier a flask of water to drink.

            “We’re with SeeD members dispatched to assist your people.  What can you tell us?  What’s going on up there?” Seifer asks as soon as the soldier is done drinking.

            “The Galbadians have occupied the old Communication Tower at the summit,” he replies, his voice more articulate now.  “I have no idea what business they have with that place; it’s been closed down for years.  Few people hardly go near that place anymore.  If you men are headed there, be on your guard.  Recently it has become a choice haven for large monsters looking for nests.”

            “Monsters, huh...” I say to myself.

            “Well, that’s just great, on top of all the Galbadians,” groans Zell.

            “More fun for us.  Come on.”  Seifer turns to the Dollet soldier on the ground.  “Keep the flask and hide yourself.  We can’t do more for you right now.”

            “Fine.  Please be careful...”

            We leave the soldier and continue our ascent.  On the way we run across a few more Dollet troops, but we do not stop to talk to them— they are dead.

Chapter 13

Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic