The Sorceress War Part I, Chapter XXIV

AN:  I mention other cities inside the Galbadian country, just because it seemed awfully strange to have a country spanning almost an entire continent to have one or two cities.  So just because they aren't on the map, doesn't mean they wouldn't exist, they just have no point to FF8's storyline. 


   "My job's a hacker, but then I never really figured that I'd be hacking into our own databases."  Celeste mumbled more or less to herself as she began typing furiously on her laptop's keyboard.


   The team had all gathered in Celeste's room in order to witness the hacker gain access to Galbadia's global military network, in order to find out what had happened to the Valhalla.  As far as they knew, it was the only thing that could speed down to Centra fast enough for them to save Julia in time.  Wolf Pack's transport helicopter the Night Wolf was far too slow and would run out of fuel before it reached the Southern part of Timber.  A military jet would run out long before that and wouldn't be able to land easily.  So naturally, they figured that the Valhalla would be the way to go.


   "They're going to try and trace the hack, you know."  Celeste informed Raine, who was standing right beside her.


   Raine nodded, "But you can do it anyway, right?"


   Celeste smirked and looked up to her,  "I can do anything, why else do you think I'm a Special Forces hacker?"


   As most knew, finding a place to sit down in Celeste's room wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world.  There was a bed, two chairs and a ottoman, yet all were covered in electronic equipment and a wide assortment of other oddities that Celeste was to lazy to put away.  Lilliana was certain there were things growing in this room, yet none of them had yet to find them.  Pushing several video games, music CDs, and other items off of the bed and chairs and onto the floor, the team tried their best to settle themselves and wait for instructions.


    Edea quietly groaned,  "Celeste, I am personally coming in here when we have off time and clean this room for you for once in your life!  How on Terra do you live in this filth?"


    "Organized mess, Edea.  Not filth."  She said, looking up from her laptop.  "You shouldn't screw with my order, I know where everything is."


    Edea made an unbelieving scoff, but stayed quiet as Celeste began her procedure of hacking into Galbadia's computer networks.  Celeste knew she would have to be quick and precise, otherwise the system would track her computer and send soldiers in to imprison her and the rest of the Pack.  Accessing the main research database, she began the search for the lost airship.   Hacking into the nearest research base that could house something as large as the Valhalla and had the ability to launch the ship, she finally found what she had been searching for.


    "There's a base outside of New Santiago (which was another large city in Galbadia that was off towards Dollet) that just received a foreign aircraft from Deling City's Zeta Base.  That could only be our ship."


    And with that, Celeste exited the program before the tracers could lock on to her position.  She looked back to Raine for further orders as she slid the laptop back to where it had been before she picked it up.  The Alpha Wolf thought for a moment before giving out her orders.


   "All right, this is how I see it..."  Raine began.  "We drive over to Santiago's research base in a rental car that we can get from that place just outside Deling.  We'll dump the car just outside the base, and I'll find some way to get in.  We're Special Ops. so we probably have some access.  If we don't then we'll have to sneak in, but we obviously can't kill anyone and try to attack if we have to... since we'll be thrown in the bring until we have grandkids.  Now..."


    "We know, we know!"  Andraia said with an annoyed tone, "'Go prep your equipment'."


    Epsilon shook his head, "Slight problem, Raine.  The base doesn't allow anyone into the ammo lockers unless they have a mission, remember?  The Helios mission left us dangerously low as it is, but the battle drained all of our ammunition.  We can't fight unless we're supplied."


    Raine nodded for a moment.  "Good point, I almost forgot about that.  We'll have to pool as much money together as we can and run into the Shopping Arcade.  I'm sure there are firearm stores down there.  Though..."  She turned to Zion, "I don't know if they'll have clips for your gunarm, that weapon isn't used by civilians."


    "That's all right.  I'll bring an extra handgun just in case.  They'll sell clips for that."  He replied.  "If worst comes to worst, I'll just use my combat knife or hand-to-hand techniques."


    "Right!"  Exclaimed Corin, "We can go beat up Virados and his lackeys!  Martial arts is a wicked form of fighting, you should like it!"


    Zion only managed a small smile at Corin's excited phrase.  The martial artist had long wanted to recruit more people to take up the gloves as weapons, so that he and Lilliana didn't feel so alone in close-range combat.  Raine ignored the two and continued on.


    "Look, those who have weapons that don't need any ammo, go get ready.  Those who have guns, gather money and wait until we get into the Shopping Arcade.  Just prepare what you have with you.  Don't bother wearing your heavy combat gear, just go in normal clothing."


    As instructed, the team got up from Celeste's furniture and exited her room to go into their own.  They had much to do, and in secret no less, to get ready to rescue their lost comrade in arms.




    "That will be 300 gil, please."


    Epsilon groaned as he heard the price of the ammunition, but reluctantly pulled the money out of his pockets and took the clips and shells from the clerk at the gun store's counter.  He placed it into his backpack, and as Raine had told the gun users as they walked to the Arcade, was going to reload his weapons inside the rental car as they drove to New Santiago. 


    Celeste was actually more fortunate than she believed herself to be.  Not many public stores sold rounds for her Magnum revolver, since it was actually extremely rare among civilians.  She was able to buy a total of 24 bullets from the clerk, enough to give her four full rounds for the gun.  Andraia and Zion had simple handguns on them, and were able to easily buy six clips each.  Finding ammo for Edea's heavy caliber chain gun was out of the question, so she also took a pair of silenced handguns with her that she could buy ammo for easy. 


    After they finished purchasing their ammunition, Raine began to lead them out into the city streets once again.  As she did so, she ran into a tall figure that she hoped she would not see again for the next day or so.  The amused face of Jesse Almasy looked down at her and the rest of the Pack.  The rest of Excalibur, minus Aaron, stood behind him.  The team was obviously enjoying their free time in the city.  


    "Raine, Raine, Raine....  what brings you all the way out here?"  He said with sarcasm.  He folded his arms and continued on.  "I would think Reinhart would have liked to keep you on the base.  I guess he didn't stop to think that you and your team would go out to rescue Heartilly so soon.  In fact, I think he told the rest of the units that if we saw you off base, we should inform him right away."


    "Get out of my way Almasy."  Raine commanded sternly.  "This doesn't concern you the least bit."  Damn it, I knew something like this would happen.  He's going to run straight to Reinhart, I bet.


    Raine tried to walk passed him, but he stepped in front of her.  "Oh, but I think it does.  See, if I don't tell Reinhart, I could be in big trouble.  My team included." As he said that, the rest of the Excaliburs got a slightly uneasy look in their eyes.  "If some other team sees you and reports you, he'll know that I didn't and punish me."


    The Alpha Wolf sighed, then gave him an angry glance.  "Damn it, Jesse.  Would you just sit by and wait if one of your soldiers had been captured.  Knowing that Reinhart doesn't give a fuck if they live or die, letting them rot in some prison....their captors doing only Hyne knows what to them?  No, you'd never sit by and do nothing.  You would do exactly what I'm doing:  going in guns ablaze despite the risks to get them back.  Please... just let us pass.  If you don't I'll kick your ass right here and now."    


    This made him laugh.  "That's what I wanted to hear.  Of course you can go.  Don't worry, I won't tell.  I'm a jerk... but I'm not a rat."  He smiled as he said that.  "Go get Heartilly back, even if she's a lunatic, she's still a person worth saving."


    Raine, feeling too uncomfortable to say thank you to someone she hated so much, simply nodded in return.  She waved her team to come with her, and they passed by Jesse and his soldiers one-by-one.  


    "Hey, Epsilon!"  Jun called as they walked down the street.  


    The sniper looked back in confusion and amusement.  Maybe she'd finally seen he was a nice guy after all.  "Yeah?"


    The red head smiled after him and waved goodbye.  "Good luck."


    Epsilon's smile broadened greatly and he said farewell in return.   As he turned and ran a bit to catch up with Raine and the others, he didn't hear the groans that Alexius and Jesse gave after their brief exchange.  Only Icelina was able to keep a straight face, though if one looked closely they could see a slight twitch of her lips as she fought back a smile.




    Not able to fit into one car, the team ended up renting out two of the larger vehicles that the gas station had outside of the Deling City limits.  They had divided quickly, Raine in command of the first car with Edea, Andraia, Corin and Lilliana, and everyone else left to take the second with Zion in command of that.  After a good hour on Galbadia's main East-West freeway, Epsilon all ready had a map out to find a good route to New Santiago.  Every once and a while, the other three people in the car would hear a frustrated grunt coming from the sniper as he read the map backwards.  


    New Santiago was similar to Deling City, yet it was about half of the size of the Galbadian capitol.  Half of the city was for a civilian population ranging in the high thousands, while the other half was reserved for military research bases and artillery hangers.  In fact, the base the Valhalla was placed in was Galbadia's most advanced aircraft research base.  But while Epsilon struggled to find a way into the military district, Lancer had fallen asleep in the back seat.  Celeste was to his left, but she hadn't noticed him drift off.


    As had often happened to him before, he was having a dream--- well, more like a nightmare-- about the past he didn't like to talk about very much.  

    The blue mage was about only five years old.  Even though the Sorceress War wouldn't start for at least another eleven years or so, Esthar and Galbadia still had tension even back then.  Even occasionally, rebel troops from Esthar would get across the Horizon Bridge unnoticed, causing destruction and mayhem inside coastal Galbadian cities.  It was in one of these cities, that was now a ghost town that had been nearly destroyed by raids, that these rebels would cause Lancer the greatest loss in his lifetime.   


    He only remembered flashes of his parents-- maybe a familiar scent or color sometimes if he was lucky.  He remembered one day that an explosion had shaken their house to its very foundation.  His mother and father hurried to get Lancer and his sibling (he didn't even remember if it was a brother or sister) out of the house.  While they were successful in getting Lancer out of the door before the building collapsed, the rest of the family wasn't so lucky.  It was close for him as well, since he ended up trapped under the debris for a good while until locals helped him out.  


    They hadn't even bothered to send him to an orphanage of any sort.  He was left to wander the streets since he had no more family to look after him, living off of whatever he could find.  He lived under overpasses, in boxes, just anything that he could scrounge up.  Sometimes he even had to resort to climbing a tree to stay in for the night during rains and hail to stay out of the streets.  He remembered being so cold and hungry that he felt like he could die at any moment.  This life continued on for several years.   When he turned nine however, things changed yet again.


    An older man, probably in his fifties at the time, had come up to Lancer claiming that the boy had some sort of gift.  He introduced himself as Jared, and said that he had witnessed the boy fend off a Bite Bug with a spell that the man said was called Laser Eye.  Lancer didn't think that he, a boy with dirty ragged clothing and dust and grime filled hair that fell to his shoulders, had any sort of gift.  


    It was Jared who took Lancer off the streets and explained his gift, calling it Blue Magic.  He said that very few people had the gift, and offered to teach Lancer all he could learn about the magic.  Lancer agreed, he would have agreed to anything to get off of those streets.   So from ages nine to fourteen, Jared taught him all he knew, and more.  Lancer learned to use a variety of weapons, yet excelled at the pole-arm.  


    Jared died in another Estharian raid later, yet this time the war had begun.   That was when Lancer began to hire himself as a jack of all trades, so to speak.  He took on any odd job the Galbadian, Dollet, or Timber Armies could dish out to him.  


    It was then that Lancer realized that war was much more horrific than Jared had taught him.  The young teen, even though he was considered then as strong as a special forces soldier, found himself overwhelmed by the death and destruction he encountered out on the early battlefields.  He felt that he had no other option, considering his entire life had taught him survival and battle skills, and not much beyond that.  


    As he went along fighting, he suddenly realized that he was becoming numb to all the grief.  When he was younger he would be disturbed by the worst battles and attacks, and hold back a bit.  Once he reached his late teens (or early 20's, he had lost track of his approximate age over the years), he found himself becoming a more sadistic soldier.  He would go on runs with heartless, sadist soldier and attacked anything that crossed his path.  He had even killed innocent lives....


    With the images of old battles flashing through his memories, he gasped in shock and awoke with a jump to escape from his past demons.  He began to breath heavily for a moment, then calmed down as Celeste put her hand on his shoulder.  She gave him a worried look, though Epsilon and Zion hadn't been paying attention to him, but more to the course and driving.  


    "Are you okay?" The hacker asked with concern in her voice.


    He shook his head quickly.  "Nothing.  Don't worry about it.  It's just something I'd never do again... that's all."


    With that, the two stopped talking and adjusted back into their seats in silence.  After a few moments of concentrated thinking over what Lancer had been so upset about, Celeste scooted closer to him when he wasn't paying attention to her anymore.  She sighed and dipped her head down so that it was resting against his shoulder.  At the same time, she entwined her fingers with his.  This caused him to give her an odd glance at first, but after a few moments he smiled softly and was able to relax.


    Epsilon, who had been listening and watching since the two had begun to talk briefly, sighed and looked up to Zion who was in the driver's chair. 

    "Man, this is going to make me sick."




    Raine, accompanied by Corin, Epsilon, Andraia and Lilliana (since she was the only one who could fly the ship now that Julia was gone), made their way up to the main door of the research laboratory in New Santiago.  The remaining four Wolves were waiting outside the city to be picked up once they broke out the Valhalla or waited for a sign to move in as backup in case something went wrong. 


   Andraia quietly groaned as they neared closer to the building, their dog tags showing on their chests to prove they were Galbadian Special Forces.  "Raine, are you sure this is going to work?  What happens if it doesn't?"


   "It'll work." Raine replied, trying to ease her worries.  "If it doesn't then we'll just have to sneak in some other way.  Via sublevels or sewer systems if we have no other options."


   Andraia looked back uneasily at the others, only receiving an equal look from Corin, who was by  far the worst of the Wolves when it came to quiet espionage.  They slowly followed Raine, lagging behind Lilliana and Epsilon a bit.  Once they had reached the entrance to the amazingly large building (it had to be large considering it was a hanger for up to three large aircraft at a time) the two guards stationed out in front quickly walked up to intercept them.


   "Who are you and what is this concerning?" Asked the first guards, directed toward Raine.


   Raine flashed her dog tags toward him, "I am Major Raine Leonhart of the 12th Special Forces Infantry Unit.  I am here on orders from Colonel Reinhart from Zeta Base to inspect the Valhalla to make sure it arrived as ordered.  Let me pass."


   The guard looked to his comrade uneasily, pondering what she had said.  "Uh... I'm sorry Ma'am but no orders were received by our officials from Zeta Base, especially ones about an inspection."


   "Well, it looks like there's been an information gap then."  Raine said in her best mock-angry voice.  "Your officials must have screwed up as usual.  I have orders to go in no matter what you say, and for another fact I outrank you, soldier.  You take orders from me. I order you to let us pass."


   "" The guard stumbled for a moment, then gave her a crisp salute.  "Yes, Ma'am!  Please, enter."


   Raine hid her smirk as the guards stepped aside and granted them access to the research labs.  The Wolves walked proudly into the building, but at the same time were on the look out to anyone who caught on to their little scheme.  They passed through the entry hall quickly, Raine reading the direction signs to point her to the right destination.  Following one sign that read: Aircraft Hanger, she quickly did as it told and ran down a flight of stairs to the ground level.


   Rounding the corner, they saw the Valhalla through a large window.  They moved quicker, afraid that it would disappear if they waited too long.  It didn't appear to be hooked up to any cables yet, which would make it easier to escape from the place.  Also to their aid, the hanger doors were open, not having been shut since the airship came in only an hour or so ago.  They slid open a pair of doors and entered the cold and frigid room. 


   A few scientists gave them puzzled looks as they entered, but then turned back to whatever it was that they had been doing moments before.  The Pack quickly headed towards the main boarding ramp, causing slight confusion among local soldiers and scientists.  Raine swung around to clarify what they were doing, so not to be caught early.


   "We are from Zeta Base, and we have been ordered to inspect the airship to make sure that it is still intact.  Go about your business, we will not get in the way."  She yelled to the people in the hanger, to buy a bit more time.


   She heard a slight objection from a scientist, but the Pack had already ran up the boarding ramp and was closing it behind them quickly.  This commotion sent Galbadian guards running every which way, trying to stop the Wolves from completing their goal.  It was too late, Lilliana had already jumped into the pilot's seat.  Raine and Andraia buckled themselves beside her in the communicator's and navigator's seats, while Corin and Epsilon were seated in the crew's quarters below the main deck of the ship.


   "Here goes nothing.  I just hope they haven't disconnected anything yet."  Lilliana said as she flipped the engine ignition switch.


   There was a great motion as the jet engines kicked in from behind and underneath the craft, pushing it upwards and forwards towards the hanger doors.  To their surprise (well, not to Raine's), the doors were already beginning to slide shut in an effort to stop them.  Lily gunned the engine, pushing it to full throttle.  The Valhalla skyrocketed out of the hanger, already reaching about Mach 1. 


   Ascending into the sky, Lilliana headed towards the hill that the rest of the Wolves were waiting at.  Luckily, no fighter aircraft had been dispatched to bring them down.  Andraia and Corin both let out sighs of relief, worried that they would be caught and executed for disobeying direct orders from Reinhart. 


   Raine leaned back in her chair, "Let's go get Julia...."



Chapter 25