Vigil of the Fates Chapter 15


By PeterEliot

            “You hear that?” asks Selphie breathlessly. 

            “What did you say?”  Zell glances back. 

            “That sound—like an engine or something!”

            “Battles are still going on all around us.  Just concentrate on running,” I advise, though I do hear a distant rumble—is it growing near?—that rings discordantly in the stillness of the mountain path.  The loping pace induces a funny quavering accent in voice.  I run at the tail of the group, and the end of the winding steps is just beginning to come into my view, far down.

            “For crying out loud, you’re the slowest things on two legs I’ve seen all day!  Will you get moving, already?” roars Seifer from ahead.  During our run so far, he has not once lost his lead.

            “Gotta give him the credit, the jerk’s fast,” Zell quips, though his concession suggests little envy.  “Must come in handy when running for his hide!”

            “I heard a lot of people talking about him,” Selphie joins.  “Like how he broke a lot of the Garden athletic records in junior competitions and things.”

            “Junior’s the key word,” replies Zell, looking back intermittently to address the girl.  “They don’t count athletics once you register for SeeD candidacy.  Then it’s all about field competence and discipline and keeping your cool— HOLY! WHAT’S THAT?”

            I pivot in the direction of Zell’s outstretched hand to determine the cause of his outburst.  All of a sudden I realize that the rumble is now sharp and close, accentuated by a chain of rapid thumps.  For a moment I see nothing, only the slope of the steps we have just covered.  Then I trace up that slope—and find at the visible top of it, and charging at us with inordinate speed, a black and gray thing, a busily moving heap of metallic mass and limbs. 

Huge.  So much so that had it been a little wider, it should not have been able at all to move along the cliff-edged flight of steps.  But it is moving agilely down the narrow path, and it is scarcely fifty yards away.

            “Another monster?” Selphie inquires.

            “No, this one’s man-made.”  Zell’s answer is confident.

            “Forget it—let’s go!”  I resume running, and the others’ feet follow.  “Seifer!  Company!”

            “Major company!” Zell rejoins.

            Far ahead, Seifer skids to a halt and turns our way.  Immediately spotting the giant pursuer, he waves at us violently, screaming: “Dammit!  We don’t have time to waste on this thing!  Hurry down!”

            For once I find myself in agreement with him.  Throwing all precaution aside, the three of us begin bouncing down the stairs at full speed, skipping three, four steps in a rushed stride.  The noise of the approaching machine steadily increases.  I can neither afford nor risk looking back to check its distance.

            “It’ll catch up—” Selphie starts.

            I cut her off.  “Just get as far down as you can before it does.”

The rhythmic clashes of metal against rocky ground begin to reverberate palpably, all the while growing stronger and stronger.  There’s no choice; we will have to engage the machine in no time. 

“Keep running and prepare your strongest magic—”

            The quaking thumps all but mute my words, and they are distractingly close…

            “Shit, we can’t run anymore—” Zell cries and whirls around, fists clenched.

            “Zell, no!  Don’t engage it physically!” 

I turn after him, and the machine is there, before my eyes.  Zell strikes one of the robotic legs with three successive punches.  His spell-enhanced fists draw fiery particles from the hits.  The robot—it somewhat resembles a spider, I note offhandedly—shakes, and briefly its enormous frame tilts precariously as the stricken limb gives way.  A large, shiny claw at the machine’s front, similar to a pair of tongs, catch my eyes.

            “Hey, get down!” warns Selphie.

            Zell belatedly detects the open claw jabbing—it’s the only way to describe the movement, so quick is it—at him.  I aim for the joint of the steel claw and cast fire.  I am too late.  Zell stumbles backward in his effort to veer out of the claw’s reach, tripping on the stone step.  Before he falls to the ground, the claw snatches and hoists him up.  His torso is trapped squarely between the massive pair of slashers, and his legs kick the air helplessly.  The claw squeezes, and sparks fly from its friction with Zell’s shield spell.  He screams.

            “No!” Selphie cries.

            Climbing onto one of the machine’s appendages, I leap high and raise my sword to strike the claw at its root.  I am about to deliver the blow, and abruptly my vision, taken up by the up-close view of the robot’s gadgetry and Zell’s thrashing figure, bursts in flame.  The explosion knocks me back midair, and I fall on my backside.  A déjà vu of my earlier days as a clumsy gunblade trainee, when I could hardly strike an opponent without doing nearly equal damage to myself, flashes through my mind.  But I never even hit the robot.  Shaking my head to clear the disorientation, I see Zell a few feet off on the stairway in much the same plight as me.  The front side of his uniform is charred and tattered as he rises shakily from where the machine had apparently dropped him.

            The crazy fool had detonated a fire spell directly into the claw holding him—practically in his own face.  And in mine.

            A motion from left returns my attention where it is due.  The robot has stepped back somewhat, but it is completely unscathed save the smoke that emanates from where Zell’s desperate attack had hit. 

A flash of gray flies into my view.  Seifer, I realize.  Executing the move I never got to complete earlier, he brings his sword down on the robot’s smoldering claw, and it snaps off with a shrill crunch.  He follows with another round of fire on the same spot.  The robot lurches backward with a scraping noise that sounds oddly like a grunt.  I move to join Seifer’s lead, and stop short when I notice the black swirl of clouds gathering low over the enemy’s bulk.  I know those clouds.  And I’ve never been this close to them before.

            Closely at the heel of that thought, a pillar of light splits the sky.  The pillar descends upon the machine, and all goes blindingly white before me.  I shield my eyes.  A terrific blare like a thousand wails tears through the atmosphere.

            “Guys, are you all right?” I hear Selphie shouting in concern.  I open my eyes to see her and the others.  All except the girl look slightly shaken, but they appear unhurt by the flare. 

The robot is still there—now motionlessly slouched on the steps.  Dark scorch marks and ruptured cables speckle its frame, and the air sizzles in the immediate vicinity of the superheated mass.

            “A bit too close for comfort.  But it was a good hit,” I tell her.

            “Was that a GF, just now?” Zell asks, rubbing his ears.  “Damn, my ears are ringing.”

            “Uh-huh, that was Quezacotl.  Nothing like a bolt of lightning to put a berserk machine in its place, don’t you think?”

            “Good work, girl.  Now get back to…”

            A sudden metallic screech stops Seifer in the middle of an uncharacteristic praise.  Together we turn to the robot.  It is slowly getting back on its four legs, and bangs and sparks accompany its each movement.  A pipe bursts out of a mechanical limb, emitting steam.

            “Still moving…?” Selphie says in wonder.

            “No way anyone’s still alive in that thing… it must have a preprogrammed targeting system,” mumbles Zell.  “Okay, what do we do now?  Run?  Or hit it again?”

            I check my watch.  “Twenty-seven minutes,” I inform flatly.

            “Let’s move!” Seifer barks.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            The next twenty-five minutes elapse in a blurry haze of madness and adrenaline. 

The four of us are on the run for hardly three minutes before the abominable cadence of the machine’s feet insinuates itself into our ears again.  The stairway is already behind us, and we are on the bridge that will take us back into the heart of Dollet.  With even terrain beneath our feet once more, we are able to run with greater speed and concentration.  Unfortunately, so is the thing behind us.  I spot it entering the bridge just as we reach the midpoint of the structure. 

            I holler to Selphie.  “Selphie, summon Quezacotl again.  But don’t slow down—just summon him as you run, even if it takes more time.”

            Selphie’s head whips back to confirm that the robot is still relatively far away.  She nods quickly.  “All right!”

            “I’m also going to summon a GF,” I tell her.  “Unleash Quezacotl after my GF strikes—after, not before.  Understand?”

            “All right!”

            The robot’s sound nears.  Allowing three seconds for Shiva to appear, I wait until the pursuer is roughly thirty yards behind me and cast the summoning spell.  I can see the streets beyond the bridge.

            Shiva crystallizes directly in the path of the onrushing enemy, interposing herself between the robot and my party.  The robot betrays no indication that it has noticed the GF and continues to charge.  Then Shiva’s blizzard storm avalanches upon it, and the machine disappears in the miasmic profusion of snowy dust.  When the brief storm settles, the machine’s form is neatly fused with the bridge by giant clusters of ice.  It appears to have been frozen solid.  I motion to Selphie to hold off her GF attack.  Perhaps it will not be necessary.

            I am proven wrong the next moment.  With another bizarrely animalistic grunt, the machine quivers back onto its feet as though it were shivering in cold, and the mantle of ice cracks to pieces.  

            “Stubborn bastard, huh?” remarks Seifer.  A certain note of pleasure marks his words.

            “Selphie, go ahead and hit it.”

            A quick and intense flash, and the pelt of ice that still coats the iron spider shatters to a million shards around its bulk in a spectacular halo.  The ice vaporizes immediately in the heat of electrocution.  It will be an extraordinarily tough piece of machinery indeed that can withstand being frozen and then fried, all in a minute.  The radical change of temperature alone should be devastating to the sensitive internal parts and circuits.  

A number of small but distinct explosions rock the machine.  Once again it growls.  Its steel appendages seem to wobble for a second.  Then they take a step forward.  And another step.  And another.  It seems that I am wrong again.

            “You almost have to admire its persistency…” Zell mutters.

            “Guys, we have exactly twenty minutes left!” Selphie reminds us.

            “All right, let’s get going again.”  We move out, and Seifer turns back to the robot, which is slowly picking up its pace.  “A parting gift.  You deserve it,” he says with a grin, and hurls a fireball at its center.

            Getting off the bridge, we run on to the streets of Dollet.  I take a last look behind me before the buildings obscure the view of the bridge. 

The robot is still moving.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            “You sure this shortcut is actually a shortcut?”

            Seifer ignores Zell’s question.  We run in a single file along a narrow and straight back alley of the residential quarter, a convenient alternative to the snaky main street that we had taken earlier.  That is, if this is indeed the right shortcut, which Zell evidently entertains some misgivings about. 

            “Hey, did you hear what I said?” Zell yells. 

Give it up, Zell.  Please.

“Damn the fool… yo, how much time have we got, Squall?”

             I don’t need to look at my watch, having done so only moments before.  “Fourteen min…”

            My answer is cut short when a not so distant scream echoes through the alley.  It’s not just a scream, I then realize.  There are more than one, and they are soon accompanied by the uproarious noise of something being wrecked.

            “What the…  D’you suppose the Galbadians are finally counterattacking?”

            Seifer chooses this moment to acknowledge Zell’s query.  “Hope so; maybe then they’ll retract the withdrawal order.”

            Zell gets no chance to shoot back a reply.  The wall of the building to our right erupts and crumbles, and the four of us bustle to avoid being buried under the rubble.  All the same, a dusty smoke swallows us.

            “What happened?”  I hear Selphie somewhere beyond the thick screen of dust.  “Guys!  Are you all right?” 

            And then I hear the other sounds.  The grunts.  The thuds.  And the quaking mechanical sputter.  I wave my arms frantically through the smoke in an effort to locate the other people.

            “It’s that spider again!” cries Zell, popping into my vision.  “I saw it!  The God-damned thing is still after us!”

            “C’mon, all of you!  This way, hurry!”

            Zell and I run over the debris toward Seifer’s voice.  Selphie is already with him.  She literally jumps in relief upon catching the sight of us two.

            “It’s the robot,” I tell Seifer.

            “No shit,” he says.  His eyes are somewhere behind my back.  I whirl around, and there it stands, tall and enormous among the ruins.  It is a complete mess, bearing the scars that the GF’s have inflicted.  For some reason it looks like a badly mistreated toy.  For a moment it is still, almost brooding.  Then it resumes the chase.

            I check my watch.  “Twelve minutes.”

            Without further words we start running again, and the robot is unstoppable behind us.  The stampede of one crashes through the alley in pursuit, and walls collapse left and right in its wake. 

            “Not good, not good!” Selphie cries.  “We have to get back to the main street!  That thing will demolish this whole neighborhood!  People are gonna get hurt!”

            “Yeah, people like us!” Zell shouts.

            “We’ve *got* to get back onto the street!” Selphie screams harder.

            “This way.”  Seifer makes a sharp left turn at a corner.  I follow, and the boom from the rear tells me that the robot has just ripped through the corner without bothering to make much of a turn.

            “Hell, that thing is bulldozing right through the buildings!” says Zell disbelievingly.

            “Faster, faster!” Seifer presses on.  He is gradually beginning to outstrip the rest of us.  Meanwhile the machine is closing rapidly.  We are dead if it engages us in this cramped one-way lane.  “Up ahead!”

The central avenue is finally visible as an upright strip of light at the end of the darkened alley.  We dash toward the light.  Upon exiting the alley the line of vision broadens to include the vista of downtown Dollet.  It is the street that had brought us into the city earlier.  We are within perhaps ten minutes’ running distance from the beach, maybe less.

At our tail, the spider bursts out into the boulevard, and debris goes flying high as more houses fall victims.  Fragments of wood and bricks drop onto the street, showering us with more dust.  Selphie yelps when something hits her on the head.  Her day seems to be fraught with mishaps.  I could say that of all of us.

            We turn a corner and run smack into a small band of Galbadians, who have their backs turned to us.  One of them turns and leaps in surprise.

            “Hostiles!  Hostiles!” he squeals.

            “Oh, get out of my way!” cries Selphie, reaching for the pair of black bars that have been at her side all day.  *WHACK! *  And the loudmouthed Galbadian is knocked flat, and so is his bloodied nose.  Selphie brandishes the nunchaku through the Galbadian company, and the soldiers yield way in panic as we run straight past them.

            “He-hey!  Stop there!” one of the soldiers shouts from behind.  We pay them no attention and continue dashing at full pace.

            “Let’em have a taste of their own medicine,” mutters Zell beside me. 

            “Stop, or we’ll fire!” the soldier’s voice comes again.  “Men! open fire at will… Waaaaaahh!

            The spider rampages through the soldiers and sends them scrambling for their lives.  Seifer and Zell cackle, though our situation has improved little.   

            We are nearing the city limit.  By some unspoken consensus the group splits.  Or maybe it’s just that our natural differences in speed are coming out, now that we begin an open spurt.  Each of us runs individually, spread across the expanse of the street.  Seifer is at the lead as usual, while for a reason I don’t quite understand I elect once again to fall slightly behind the others.  I am glad to note that the robot appears a tad confused as to which target to pursue.  Its path draws a subtle zigzag after different preys.

            “Five minutes!” I shout.

            “We’re almost there!  I can see the perimeter!” Selphie shouts back, out of breath.

            “Damn it!  It’s closing again!  We can’t stop to engage it!”  Zell discharges a bolt of thunder at the robot.  It hits one of the spider’s legs, and the machine staggers for a second.  Only for a second.

            Ahead, cadets who have been stationed near the shore are exiting from their posts.  More cadets join them from different directions.  Clamors of agitation reach my ears, and I know that they have seen the spider.  When we reach them, the robot is so close that we can’t even afford pausing to address them.  We maintain our course and sprint for the city gate that opens to the beach.

            “Wha-What the hell?” a stupefied cadet exclaims, jumping back as I rush past him with a fifteen-foot-tall hunk of steel trailing behind me. 

            “An enemy vehicle!” another cadet cries.

            “Fellas!  We need some help here!” Zell calls out.

            “It’s after those four!  Cover them!”

            An absolute pandemonium ensues in our wake.  Fire and bolts and shells begin pouring in from all directions, and their thunderous bangs clash with the relentless percussion of the spider’s charging steps that remains through the onslaught steady and nigh.  Passing under the arch of the gate, I chance a quick look back.  The machine is beset in a torrent of blasts.  It convulses violently—the cadets’ fires are shredding its armor, and internal explosions flare all over its trunk.  Yet through it all it runs after us, and only us.  This monster will hound us as long as it has a functioning set of legs!


            That was, of course, Selphie. 

One after another we leap off Dollet’s brick-and-mortar foundation and drop down to the sandy beach.  I stumble in my landing and roll on the sand.  I pick myself up with a curse.  The ocean that stretches before me is scarlet under the setting sun.  Vessels with open hatches beckon me at the shore.  I dart at them after the others.  My feet feel heavy and clumsy on the soft soil, and my lungs pump air like they are about to burst.

Seifer has already reached the vessel, and his form vanishes into the shadow of its gaping mouth.  Zell and Selphie are almost there as well.  They are safe.

            Behind me the machine tumbles onto the beach and collapses with a dull, weighty thud.  Sand cascading down its body, the half-busted monster stands again to recommence the pursuit.  The vessel is but a few dozen yards away.  I realize with dismay that the robot’s giant legs are much faster than mine on all this sand.

            Onward, a figure climbs to man the heavy machine gun mounted atop the attack cruiser.  The vessel is slowly pulling out of the beach, the fore hatch still wide open, and seawater foams and splashes around it.

            “Squall, hurry onboard!” cries the instructor, her hands on the gun’s dual handle, poised to fire.

            I rush into the cold sea.  In an instant I am up to my waist in water.  Reaching and hanging onto the platform of the departing ship, I clamber onboard.  Gloved hands grasp me under the arms and help me out of the water.  It is Zell.

            A string of sharp, rapid cracks forces my attention back to the land.  The spider jolts and spasms under the machine gun barrage, scattering shrapnel across the beach.  Fist-sized holes riddle the machine.  A final groan escapes its battered frame.

            I only see the spider bursting into orange flame for a fraction of a second before the hatch closes before my eyes, shutting out the sound of the explosion ashore.  I am left in what feels like an eerie quiet inside the vessel.

            I walk to the main compartment to do something that I can almost swear I haven’t done in days: sit.  I note that several pairs of eyes are regarding us—Seifer, Zell, Selphie, and myself—intently.  Seated in the compartment are three cadets whom I do not know.  I imagine they are sharing this vessel home with us.  Their gazes are uneasy, shifting from one of us to another. 

In a flash of sudden insight I realize that they are clean.  And we are not.  We are all covered from head to foot in dust, and I especially in sand.  Selphie, the lone lady, produces a comb from somewhere and starts daintily combing the dust and wood fragments and what not out of her hair.  Drying blood stains decorate Seifer’s coat liberally.  Both Zell and I sport large, dark singes on our uniforms.  And I am dripping seawater wherever I walk.

            The tension builds thick in the compartment.  At length one of the three cadets opens his mouth to throw the question that doubtlessly all of them have been dying to ask.

            “What the hell happened to you guys?”

            From his seat across the strangers, Seifer erupts in laughter.  He goes on laughing uncontrollably for a good minute, unconcerned with the cadets’ worried stares.  With a sigh I seat myself at a corner, closing my eyes as I lean back against the hull.  I do not speak for the duration of the trip.

Chapter 16

Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic