The Sorceress War Part I, Chapter IV
"Raine!! Help! Son of a *****! Stupid *******!!! Damned mother ******!!!" Corin Dincht trying to play Super Mario Bros.
Edea stepped off of the silver train and onto the hard, crusty earth of Esthar's outer-rim territories. The air was stale, and nothing appeared to be able to grow in such an area. There were no signs of any animals, outside of the run-of-the-mill monsters like Mesmerizes, Ochus and whatnot. Wind whipped Edea's French braided black hair as the others passed her as they disembarked from the train. The mountains were high above the valley they were in, but she could make out a steep crater like lake bed a few miles away, which was probably Salt Lake. Esthar would lie just beyond.
Andraia exhaled loudly and fiddled with her hair for a moment, "Now what? Everyone else on the train got off in Fisherman's Horizon. The train engineer thought we were crazy for getting off here!"
Julia scoffed and put her hands in the pockets of her leather coat, trying to warm them, "I think he was right."
Raine flipped a compass out from her backpack and looked at it for a moment, trying to remember which direction Esthar's entrance gate was in. She put the compass away after she was done and adjusted the belts that hung across her waist and held her katana and pistol under her trench coat. She stretched out her back for a moment, her muscles sore from sitting so much on the train.
Zion looked to Raine to see what the team was going to do now, "All right Major, now what?"
"We hike East until we reach the lake bed. We then go through that, and on the other side there should be a hologram wall. There's a ladder there somewhere, and we enter the city from there," she said, straightening her coat out, which had been ruffled from her crouching down for the compass.
Andraia stood on her tiptoes and looked out over the horizon to see the decline in height that was the lake bed itself. She glared from Raine to the lake a few times then put her hands on her hips, "Are you nuts?! That's like, gotta be at least eight miles!"
"C'mon," Epsilon started, "We ran at least that much during Special Ops. Boot Camp! Besides, I hear there are some good looking girls in Esthar! I'll race all the guys there!"
"You're on!!" Corin shouted, receiving exasperated looks from both Lilliana and the rest of the girls. Lancer and Zion followed behind the other two men, and were quickly trailed by the females.
After a few minutes of sprinting through the Estharian wilderness, Corin and Epsilon eventually returned to the main group in case of an attack by a beast or Esthar battle group. The team had sparked into lively conversations that had nothing to do with the mission, but which were more what you'd hear out of civilians that were bored over the weekend and the like. However, despite how much fun her friends and soldiers were having, Raine couldn't help but shake that ominous feeling she had been having ever since the team had left the base in Deling City. She felt that this mission was going to be much larger than it had sounded in the briefing room, and she hoped Edea had been wrong when she said the Raine had a keen sense of foreseeing the future, even if it was a joke.
Lancer put his hands in his coat pockets as he walked. He had been here a time or two before, but never passed the Salt Flats. As a mercenary, he had been hired by Galbadia a number of times, but none of his missions had gone passed the point Wolf Pack was at now. He came here a few years ago, when he was in his mid-teens, when the war had just started for the first time. Funny how it had now seemed like a way of life for the people who lived on the planet Terra, how their life was now engulfed by nothing but war and torment. And he had seen so much of it since then. Celeste noticed the distraught on his face, and the two hung back until the rest of the team was a fair distance ahead of them.
"Are you all right? You look a little uncomfortable," she said, stepping a bit closer to him with concern.
He looked up from the ground to her face, "Yeah, just a bad memory or two. You don't have to worry about me."
"Au Contraire," she said with a smile, fingering the whip which was tied around her waist, "I worry about everyone. Personality trait of mine."
He chuckled a bit, and returned the smile, "Thanks for your concern, but it's nothing really. Now come on, we keep talking like this we're going to get left behind."
Raine waved to them from the main group, telling them to hurry up and follow their lead. The two blondes jogged from their location to the direction the group was heading in. In a few moments they caught up, Lancer into the group the guys had massed in, and Celeste back into the girls. She shrugged off a mischievous look Julia had given her for talking with Lancer in private and told the brunette to mind her own business. There was still a long way to go, and the sun was starting to set over the mountainous horizon.
Finally, after an hour of hiking through the drought-like lands of the Estharian outskirts, the Salt Flats were finally upon them. The land in the lake bed looked like a form of winter ice, but Edea probably guessed it was just from Esthar's experiments and chemical dumps. There was a blue tint to the ground, which made it more visually appealing compared to the rest of the rocky terrain around it. It was a few hundred feet below sea level, and the path to the other side was long and curved. Corin groaned with the uncomforted feeling in his legs, sore from the previous hike and the battle only a day and a half before.
"Has anyone noted that my legs are sore?!" Andraia hollered out, breaking the silence, "Specifically aided by the fact we've killed about a trillion Mesmerizes in the past hour!"
"Boot camp was so kind," Corin whined, "I think I miss my Drill Sergeant."
"Ha, the boy finally lost it." Julia said, "Come on Dincht, Raine and I are tiny little women and we aren't tired. Don't be a wuss, get down there and start moving your lazy ass."
One by one they slid down the side of the Flats into the main area that they would take into Esthar. The terrain was rockier than it looked, and was hard as stone. The path ahead narrowed as ice like cliffs encased the walkway, allowing only one person to pass through at a time. Raine guessed the total distance to the other side was four miles. She thought they would be lucky to get into Esthar by midnight, but it had to be done, they didn't have a tent to camp the night in. They set out as soon as they all made it down.
"That's it, someone carry me!" Andraia whined loudly, "I give up, and so do my legs!"
Epsilon motioned that he was about to pick her up and throw her over his shoulder, but Andraia slapped him away, "Not you, skirt chaser!"
"Hey! She found out my nickname in High School!" Epsilon said with a smile, "And to think it would have died out!"
Lilliana shook her head at the usual antics of the Pack when they had to hike over long distances. But she understood how Andraia felt, for she too had sore legs and was hoping they'd get to Esthar soon so they could rest. She slid down a steep decline in the earth as the others did and jumped over a small crevasse that awaited them at the end of the slide. As she came down, she noted how long the path ahead really was. At least a good four miles across, there were several drop offs and cliffs that stood in there way. Another thing she noticed, and Abadon stomped through the area that was by the end of the path. Great she thought, now we have to kill what's already dead, too.
Half way through, Raine noticed the beast as well, and decided to take another route to the end. To their luck, it appeared shorter than the one they were previously on before. The only problem was that there was an Estharian garrison of at least eight soldiers guarding the way into the high-tech city beyond. By now, the team could easily see the hologram system flickering, giving away what it should have been masking from the world. Seeing the soldiers ahead, Raine quickly assembled the team and hid the group behind an outcropping of blue-silver rocks that was just behind them. On instinct, the group drew out and assembled their weapons.
"Wait a minute!" Raine said, hushed. "We can knock them out and use their armor to infiltrate the city easier!"
"And just how do you expect us to do that?!" Andraia whined, still sore from the physical exertion the team was going through, "They're all men! We have a few females in this group who would not be comfortable wearing men's clothing! Our fronts would be in tremendous pain!"
"Yeah... well, inhale then." Raine responded, gripping her katana a bit tighter. She was starting to get annoyed with Andraia's whiny behavior.
"Seriously Raine," Celeste interjected, "How are we going to knock out the soldiers without slicing up the armor?"
Raine thought for a moment. She figured she could send Corin and Lily in, since their weapons didn't cause any scratches or scars (but only if Lily retracted her claws and used the gloves as knuckles instead). Maybe send in Andraia and Edea in for curative purposes, so the two wouldn't feel so intimidated, since they would have been outnumbered four-to-one. She felt that that was too dangerous, and didn't want to put any of her team members in that kind of situation. Most commanding officers treated this like business, and didn't care if members fell in battle, but to Raine, these soldiers were like close family members. Instead, she remember how in high school she and Julia had pried information out of a guy official for Edea once.
The Alpha Wolf smiled one of the most evil smiles she had in a long, long time.....
"Oh Julia?" Raine called, ever-so-nicely.
"I have a plan...."
Julia walked down the steep path that led to the Estharian soldiers. She was walking a bit.... differently. She was swaying her hips a little more than she normally would, and had Celeste's whip dangling around her arms and waist like an inanimate snake of sorts. Her eyes were lazily half-closed, and had her shoulders more limp than usual. When she wasn't that far off, she put her hand to her lips and let out a sharp whistle. On instant, the eight guards jumped to attention, their Boomerang Swords raised in an attack stance. That is... until they saw her. Most stared at her, and Julia would have just loved to see their faces had they not been covered with those ugly helmets.
One soldier, presumably the leader of the group, stepped forward, "Halt! Estharian citizens have not been cleared to go passed here. Please present your identification card and we will escort you back to the city!"
Julia raised an eyebrow and smiled seductively, "Yes, I'm just sure you guys would love to 'escort' me back to the city. Would you help me with something... over there?"
"Heh heh... sure we'd love to help you, Miss," one of the others replied for the group, who nodded in agreement. If Julia wasn't so good at maintaining her fake persona at the moment, she would have burst out laughing at this point. But... she would have to kill Raine once this was over.
"Yeah," Julia prompted, "It's not like I'll bite. Or at least... not if you don't want me to." God that was corny.... Julia thought to herself. But the Estharians seemed to like that phrase more than the things she had already said.
...........Back in the rocks
"Raine Elise Leonhart, you should be ashamed of yourself!!" Edea yelled in a hushed voice to the Commander, who was laughing softly a few feet away.
Raine stopped sniggering for a moment, "What? Come on Edea, she's good at this! Just look at those guys follow her around. Besides, it's not like you didn't find this funny when we did it in high school!"
"Yeah well, as I recall you were with her when that happened."
"And embarrass myself in front of my soldiers? Ha."
"Get ready," Corin warned, "She's bringing them up here now! Time for the good ole fist fight, baby!"
"Alright," Raine said, suddenly growing serious, "We knock them out. No damages to the uniforms, attack with your fists only!"
........ to Julia
"Just a bit further guys, and I'll show you all you want to see..." She said in her fake airy voice, a hint of exasperation in her voice. The soldiers behind her were getting a little impatient and whiney, and were starting to annoy her greatly.
She jumped up onto one of the rocks above, which led to where Raine and the rest of the Wolves were waiting. This kind of tactic gave the group its name. Luring the enemy into a trap and attacking from all sides, like a pack of wild wolves. The team would attack from the sides and front, leaving Julia to attack from behind. She checked to make sure the soldiers were following her closely, which they were. She stopped for a moment, to see if the team was waiting up ahead. When she saw a hand come out from the rocks and give her a thumbs up, she smiled.
"All right boys, let's go into this rocky area. It should provide good... cover," Julia said, hands on her hips, and nodded towards the ambush site.
The eight soldiers quickly ran up ahead in front of her, some jumping up and down with uncontrollable happiness. A few were about ready to shed their uniforms when a shrill whistle caught them off guard. On instant, Raine and the others jumped out from the rocks, their fists and feet flying into the soldiers vital areas. Corin was of course doing the most damage along with Lilliana, since the two were experienced fist fighters. Julia used one of her pointed boots to roundhouse kick one of the soldiers in the back of the neck where the spine meets the skull to send one of the Estharians falling unconscious to the ground. Andraia simply resorted to grabbing a big rock and slamming it over one of their heads. The rest relied on simple punches to knock out the enemy.
By the time they finished their deadly assault, none of the soldiers were awake or aware of their situation. Zion went to his black backpack and took out a few strands of rope that he had brought for just such an occasion. With Epsilon's help, once the soldiers were stripped of their armor, they tied the Estharians tightly against one of the large rock outcroppings in the area. They had a feeling the guards would be stuck there for quite some time. Lily just hoped someone would find them before they dehydrated or starved to death.
Edea arranged the uniforms out in the crystalline ground according to size. Since there were only eight suits, two of them would have to go without, and it would be determined by the height of the Wolf that got into it. Basically, if you were one of the two people who would fit in the suits, you'd have to go in normally. Andraia raised her hands in protest towards Raine.
"You mean we have to wear these uniforms? What if they're too small? Or what if they're itchy?!" she said, accenting that she didn't want to itch during the trip.
"Well, you won't wear one then. I'm not going to force you," Raine said, pulling her coat over her katana. "Besides, we're two short anyway. Okay.... these suit were tall and fairly muscular, so we'll give them to Zion and Corin. These two were tall and thin, so Lancer and Epsilon get them. The next four are medium height and standard build. That applies to all the girls.... except of course Andraia who isn't going to wear one. Who will give theirs up?"
Lilliana raised her hand, "I'll go without. It's not that big of a deal. I'm good at being incognito anyways."
"Okay then," Raine said, "Pick a suit and just wear it over your own clothing. We'll get out of it as soon as we check into a hotel for the night."
"Oh, I can't wait until sleep! I really need to be unconscious right now!" Andraia said, exhaling harshly, yet smiling at the same time.
Each soldier pulled on the Estharian armor, shoving any coats or whatnot into their backpacks until they reached a hotel once they got to the main part of the city. The male Wolves seemed to have no problem with their armor, in fact it almost fit them perfectly (Epsilon was too tall for his). However, the girls, who were wearing male armor seemed to have a little difficulty. Each girl groaned in pain and the breastplate of the Estharian armor closed, squishing the girls chests into a much smaller space then they were used too. As the team began to ascend up a steep path towards the entrance ladder, Celeste and Edea could be heard quietly whining with each step they took.
Andraia giggled, "Now I'm really glad I'm not in one of those tin can suits."
Lilliana nodded in agreement and smiled at the currently injured women, who, if they could see through their helmets, were glaring in jealousy. The team had climbed a great distance up the path now, and the ladder was in sight. Of course it was flickering in the glitches of the Esthar Hologram System, but it was still clearly visible to anyone who knew about it's existence. Raine was about to say something to the group, to brief them, until Julia fell backwards and crashed into her. Raine was able to catch the brunette before she hit the ground. Her sapphire eyes clouded in worry.
"Caraway! Get this helmet off!" Raine ordered, setting Julia down on her back against the ground.
Zion quickly bent down and detached the helmet from Julia's head, letting her brown hair fall back down around her armor plated shoulders. Julia's eyes were closed, but she was breathing normally. Celeste checked her pulse to make sure it was alright, which it was.
Edea looked to Raine, "It's not high enough for elevation sickness... she just must of fainted out of fatigue."
"No," Raine responded, "She's never acted tired before, not even during the really challenging missions. I guess... we just have to wait and see what's going to happen..."
For the first time on the mission, Raine didn't know what to do. She didn't like this feeling. Worry for Julia combined with a sort of unknowing feeling on what was going on made her feel completely helpless. But, she set that aside to try and help Julia. She was her best friend, and wasn't going to let worry or fear, if that's what it was, get in the way of aiding her back to recovery.