Chapter V

Wolf Pack and Excalibur were still en route to their landing zone, still trapped within the confines of the transport aircraft. Most had been asleep for the duration of the flight, yet now they were only a half hour away. All had awakened, and began to prepare their equipment for the coming battle. Celeste, finished with her equipment ahead of time, spent her idle energy gazing out of one of the small windows to her left. Mostly, she had seen overcast weather, and plain white snow covering the ground. Now, the foul weather had opened up into a clearing that seemed almost unnatural.

What she saw below the cloud line brought back bittersweet memories. "Guys! Come here and check it out!"

The teams unbuckled their seats, and made their way over to the left side of the craft. Crowding around the windows, they looked down in awe at what was below. Excalibur had seen it, yet not of this magnitude. The crater formed by the instability and explosion of the crystal used by Virados six years ago. Spanning the area of the city, the several mile wide crater made a deep indentation in the very crust itself.

Jesse whistled as he saw it. "Whoa. Shit, Wolf Pack, when they tell you to assassinate the leader of a country, you go all out don't you?"

"Well, you know," Julia began, "it just wasn't the same without a giant explosion at the end. It would have left an empty place in the whole story."

Alexius looked back at her in astonishment. "You really are the Queen of the Pyromaniacs, you know that?"

"Hey, you've never seen me unleashed, so don't even think I'm bad until you see me fight." Julia replied with a smirk. Most of the Wolves rolled their eyes at that.

Alexius threw his hands skyward in defeat. As he did so, Lilliana looked back towards the coastline of Trabia, which was now blurred due to great distance.

A while ago, they had flown over the wreckage of the Valhalla. It had brought back horrific memories of when the Helios airship had been shot down during the Sorceress War, and how Edea had almost died in the impact. Even though that experience was traumatizing, they still admitted to missing their airship. It had been their most prized transport during the war. Most also remembered one other fact that made it precious; they had left the majority of their old supplies in it so they could travel lighter. If worse came to worse, they could always hitch a ride to the coast and recover lost supplies.

"I just remembered," The summoner spoke up, still looking towards the seaside. "I left my jacket in that god-damned airship six years ago. That was my favorite coat!"

"We all have something in that giant piece of what is now scrap metal." Celeste responded, thinking back to the crash. "It's a shame. But, it had to be done, I suppose."

Julia pressed her face against the window, with a pleading look in her eyes. "I left a hand-held video game in there! Go back!"

"Because you're bored, you want to go all the way back there?" Corin asked incredulously. "I'm bored, but not that bad!"

"It's called sarcasm, pinhead."

Corin raised his arms in surrender. "Sorry for being a moron! Jeez, Julia, take a chill pill."

The grenadier mocked him in a high pitched tone, imitating what he had said. Edea sighed, as she was getting sick of all the fighting that had been constantly occurring among the soldiers in the plane. Six years prior, she would have been joining in. She still did at this time, yet very rarely or when she had the perfect come back.

Contrary to popular belief, she and Julia hadn't been fighting as much anymore. They fought on seldom occasions, usually if one or both of them were irritable (or the theory most widely excepted by the men: that one or both were PMS-ing). Edea assumed it was because Raine's death had prematurely sent the both of them into more serious adulthood mannerisms. Julia fought, though she had a bit more restraint than she did before the Winhill Massacre. Edea chose not to fight at all, unless she was in a bad mood.

It seemed to the sorceress that most everyone had matured a bit since that time. Either that, or from the birth of their children. Either way, they tended to be a tad more serious than they were prior to those events. Edea smirked as she saw Andraia and Corin from the corner of her golden eyes. Some of them more serious than others.

Zion, silent until recently, stood and knocked on the doorway to the cockpit. "Hey, pilot! How long until we reach the LZ?"

"Almost ready for your parachute off, sir! A few more minutes and we will be in range!"

Celeste groaned. To make a quick drop off, the Pack was going to result in a parachute entrance. Jumping off of the transport, in the cold Trabian air, at 30,000 feet, was not her idea of fun. Over the years, she still hadn't gotten control of her fear of heights. Lancer laughed slightly as he saw her face.

Julia turned to look at all of them. "You heard the man. Get your chutes on and ready! We've all done this before, so there should be no problem. Except for maybe Celeste, but she can manage. Right Trepe?"

Celeste gave a shaking grunt back as a response. Lancer swung his arm around his wife's shoulders. "Oh, come on Celeste! It'll be fine. Just remember to pull the cord! And whatever you do, don't jump after your parachute like Heartilly the last time!"

"It was a neat trick!" Julia smirked. Then she grinned more broadly. "I'm not going to use one at all this time!"

"You'd better pray your wings don't get broken, you insane maniac." Zion remarked. "I don't want a wife shaped like a pancake after she hits the ground going 200 miles an hour."

Andraia rolled her eyes and replied sarcastically. "Looks, looks, looks. Is that all she is to you?"

Zion frowned. "Of course not! You look short and I don't hold it against you."

He ducked from a pair of nunchakus that were flung directly at his face. He inwardly reminded himself that the shorter they came, the more furious they tended to be. Edea laughed, "scratch that maturity thought I just had."

The crew cabin suddenly turned deep red as the emergency lights began to flash. A loud warning alarm came from both the speakers and from the nearby cockpit. The Wolves and the Excaliburs jumped up in alarm, yet were thrown back to the ground as a violent explosion rocked the aircraft. Jesse glanced through one of the windows. The entire left wing was on fire, and at many points it had shattered and splintered.

Before they could regain their footing, the aircraft began to plummet from the sky, and they suddenly felt weightless. They came off of the floor, falling in time with the plane.

"Shit!" Icelina called out, and flung her parachute on. The rest of the soldiers followed her example.

"Pilot! Pilot, open the cargo doors and escape with us!" Lilliana screamed, but received no answer.

Jun was closest to cockpit doors, and pressed the button to open them. The pilot sat in his seat, a large blood patch covering his forehead and temples. Lifeless eyes stared back at them.

Julia, seeing no other alternative, brought out her snow white wings. Flapping once or twice, she positioned herself in the back of the transport, and flipped a few of the many switches on the back control panel.

"Here we go!!" She yelled in warning, just before the doors opened. As they did, they sucked all of the air out of the craft, and the Galbadians went with it.

The fourteen soldiers fell out of the craft, and into the open air. As they turned their heads, though it was difficult due to the force of passing air, they saw the entire front and left side of their transport on fire. They waited a moment before opening their chutes, hoping to reach the ground quicker. After a minute, they pulled their cords, and the large sheets of fabric expanded and caught the breeze. They slowed down tremendously, the force even hurting their shoulders and arms.

Julia opened her wings back up, broadening them, in order to stay with the group. She previously had them tucked all the way back, hugging her body, to reach a quick speed.

They were falling softly now, and some had the guts to call out to the others. Corin shouted first. "What the hell happened?!"

Jesse shrugged, unsure himself. "An explosion! Engine failure maybe?"

"That wouldn't account for the cockpit being in flames. The only thing that would do that would be...." Julia's thoughts were cut off before she could finish.

Loud bursts of gunfire opened up below them, and strings of bullets shot up towards them. Julia quickly looked down, and a row of anti-aircraft guns were lined up along one side of the Helios crater. Many of them cursed loudly at that, and now that their chutes were open, only luck would save them from death.

Another string of bullets passed dangerously close to them. Andraia shrieked as one passed very close to her left ear, and Alexius began to fidget in his harness as they passed him as well. After that, the artillery began to reload, giving them a moment of peace.

They began to fire again after a moment, and this time they hit. Alexius was the only one to go, yet it was exceedingly gruesome. Several bullets entered his body, one directly through the forehead. His parachute too, was hit, and he fell from the sky, his body being wrapped in the white fabric, dying it red.

A bullet whizzed passed Celeste, and fractured her parachute. "Oh gods!"

"Celeste!!" Lancer called down from above her, yet there was nothing he could do.

The fabric held for a moment, but ripped at the seams. The chute fell off from her harness, and she began to plummet to the ground, following Alexius' fate. Aaron called after her, though only one had the power to save the hacker. Julia pulled her wings close to her body again, brought her legs as close together as they would go, and set her arms firmly against her side. She skyrocketed passed the others. She quickly reached Celeste, more aerodynamic than she.

She threw her arms around the hacker, who instantly clung to her in fear. She was screaming all the way down, and even now that she was safe, she was still screaming, though it was softer now than before. Julia flapped her wings out, yet she was too far down to rejoin the main group with Celeste's extra weight.

She resulted in getting to the ground quickly. She pitched down again, heading directly for a snow bank where she thought the parachuting soldiers would land. Finally reaching the ground, she pivoted so that her feet were below her instead of behind her. She touched down lightly, letting the hacker go. Celeste clung to the ground in fear, yet looked hopefully up at the others.

While still going under fire from the artillery, they all made it. Zion and Corin set down first, even unclasping their harnesses before touching down, resulting in them falling for the few feet they had left. The others followed suit, not wanting to stay any longer in the air than was needed.

"Alexius. Damn it!" Jesse swore angrily. "God damn those fucking Estharians and Helians!"

Aaron furiously kicked the snow below him, sending it flying into the air. The Wolves were silent for a moment. A thought hit Julia's mind and she quickly gave out orders.

"Jun and Epsilon! Get your sniper rifles out and watch for incoming soldiers, they might be trying to follow us!" She called quickly.

They were fortunate to have the rifles attached to their backs, and they withdrew them from their holsters. Running to the top of the snow bank, and immediately going prone, they brought their eyes to the scopes of the rifles. They peered through, aiming at the artillery units. Indeed, there were at least six soldiers running towards them.

Jun let off the first shot, her silenced PSG-1 making little noise as the first enemy fell to the ground dead. In contrast, Epsilon's armor-piercing rifle was deafening in sound, and shot through two of the incoming soldiers in one shot. They continued taking turns firing, Jun even emptying a clip before all enemies were dead. It was hard to say if the soldiers manning the artillery units were still within or not, yet with the amount of soldiers they had taken down, Epsilon doubted it.

The female red head called back down to Julia and Jesse. "Clear!"

"Good." Julia replied, "Get back down here."

The two snipers slid back down the slope, coming to a halt in front of the group and standing again. Julia frowned as she looked at what supplied they had.

"Fuck." She swore. "We've lost almost all of our weapons. My flamethrower is gone, and so are all but one of my grenades. I've lost all my medical supplies as well."

"Same here." Zion said. "My gunarm is still good, but I have nothing else save for my sidearm and combat knife."

"I only have my sidearm. The chain gun is gone." Edea reported, looking across the vast snow wasteland for any sign of their weaponry.

Jesse looked to the others. "The melees have all their main weapons, but the guns and sidearms are gone. I lost my damned Hyperion!"

"Do you have another weapon?" Icelina asked, placing a hand on her own gunblade to make sure it was there.

"Sidearm." He responded bitterly. Losing his favorite weapon wasn't good for his anger. "Other than that, just a machete."

Julia rubbed her fingers against her temples. She sighed, realizing that this could put the teams in great danger. She might just have to radio in the Jade Phoenix unit already. Unsure, she asked the others.

"Should we radio for the backup already?" She asked, frustration filling her voice.

"Can't." Celeste responded quickly. "We lost that as well."

"Damn it." She whispered in response. She spoke louder after a moment, staring off to the north. "Well, then we'd better go ahead with the mission plan. Jesse, I suggest merging the units. No need for the both of them to be separate. We can form four battle groups, I already have the members in mind."

"Sounds good to me. What did you have in mind?" The blonde gunblader replied crossing his arms.

"Group one: Zion, Edea and myself. Group two will be led by you, and you'd have Icelina, Corin and Lilliana with you. Group three: Lancer, Andraia, led by Celeste. The final group: Epsilon, Jun and Aaron. Epsilon will lead them. We'll all reach the base together, then split up to search quicker."

"Right." Jesse replied. "Group four is the sniper team, so they can hang back and give everyone cover. The other three groups can search the top, middle, and lower levels of the base for the missile rooms."

"Perfect. Then we have a plan." Julia said. "We were downed about fifteen miles from the Ganymede base, so we should set off now if we want to get there by sundown."

They nodded, and began to follow her as she set off towards the base's general direction. They were silent for a minute, but Zion couldn't help but remind.

"Keep an eye out for the weapons and supplies. We have almost no medic supplies. Group four is without a white mage, so give them all the potions we have, and anymore that you find."

As Julia walked, doubt and guilt couldn't help but creep into her mind. "Damn it. I should have seen this coming and been more prepared. Damn it all. Tyran, please see us through this."

She clasped the dog tag that belong to Raine hanging from her neck. "And please, please Raine, watch over us."

Chapter VI