The seven of them, bound and some of them gagged, groggily looked at their surroundings. The room was damp and dark, with a metallic hue to the walls and floor. A group of men, along with one woman, stood before them. Drugged, or beaten into stillness, the seven Galbadians struggled to stay conscious long enough to figure out what was going on around them. They had no idea how long they had been out of it, so there was no telling where they had been brought to, or what had happened.
The leader of the Galbadians, a long time veteran of the Sorceress War, was the most stable out of his unit. The Smoke Panther unit, used by Galbadia for espionage, belong to him. He squinted in the dim light, trying to take in every detail. A group of ten soldiers, and two unit leaders stood before his own unit, and they definitely weren't on the Galbadian side. Only one of them looked Estharian, the others he couldn't tell.
The leader, an Estharian woman, stepped closer to him. She grabbed him by the dog tags, and read them aloud. "Major Gabriel Dorsen. Galbadia, Smoke Panther unit. So, the hicks finally got wind of this little operations, did they?"
Gabriel was silent, his jaw firmly clenched. The woman was quiet for a moment, and then violently backhanded him in the face. He grunted in pain, and fell back as he lost his balance. She smirked at him.
"Now, I will ask you again." She sneered, her eyes filled with hate. "Do the Galbadians know of this operation?!"
He still refused to answer her. "If you can't tell, why bother explaining, you stupid Estharian lunatic?"
Satori's face contorted into pure rage. She unclasped a sai, and slashed Gabriel across the face, drawing a large crimson line of blood. It trickled down his cheek, yet he refused to scream and give into the torture. Two of the female Sentinels closed their eyes to avoid seeing the blow, yet they too were dealt one. Two of the nearby soldiers in green uniform kicked them in the stomachs, and they fell forward in pain.
"So I take it they know." Satori said quietly. "They can't know everything. You two! Search their equipment bags. Look for files or photographs."
Two of the soldiers next to Satori left her and opened the bags thrown haphazardly behind them. Zipping open the bags, they threw the contents on the ground, and began to search through the mass of papers and weaponry. The Estharian general glared at them after a moment.
"Well, what did you find?" She asked impatiently.
"A mission briefing, their weaponry, cameras, and photos. Along with that are files that belong rightfully to us." One of the two replied. He handed Satori the stack of photographs and files, along with the mission briefing.
The general flipped through them, and she shook her head slowly in anger and disappointment. "How sad. 'Mission: Infiltrate the Ganymede artillery base and investigate suspicious activity. Recover files and photographs, or recordings if necessary. Report back at Deling within the week.' I bet what you found was real shocker, hmm?"
Gabriel grunted a reply. "I knew you people were up to no good. And to think, Galbadia refused to bomb the crap out of you. And this is how you repay us, huh?"
Satori was silent as she flipped through the files and photos the Smoke Panthers had recovered. She was oddly quiet and still for a moment, before she flipped a photo so he could see it. It was the one picture she had hoped that would not be present.
"So you found it, then?" She asked, a soft tone to her voice. She shook her head. "No matter. Plans that you think are secret will soon be revealed to more than just a few ragtag soldiers."
Satori pivoted on her foot, and stormed away. Before she exited the dark room, a soldier stopped her. "Ma'am? What do you want us to do with these Galbadians?"
She was quiet for a moment, then responded in a voice that held a plethora of sadism. "Kill them. All of them."
A soldier looked at her with a semi-disgusted face. Before he could ask if she was serious or not, she left the room without a word, leaving him only one choice. He and the others under Satori's command looked to the fearful and shocked looks of the Galbadians before them. The raised their pistols, with much regret. Fearing the outcome if they did not do as commanded, they ignored the tears coming from some of their prisoners.
They fired, and the prisoners fell.
Julia scoffed as she walked down a military street near the Zeta Headquarters, where Wolf Pack along with some other units were stationed during war time. She looked into one of the shops, seeing a bundle of tabloids stacked by the windows for impulse shoppers. She had left Zion alone for a while, as he completed some of the paperwork for the both of them. She glared as she read the title of one of the tabloids. 'Singer's True Love Sent off to War.'
She had read that article when it had first come out, and it was pure and utter crap. Apparently, the writers were getting two situations confused, and merged them together to form one absolute lie. She groaned, and passed the store, heading towards the base.
It had been written about a few years before Raine's death, during the Timber campaign. During the first year of the invasion (the whole thing had lasted for two years), Wolf Pack and most of the other Special Ops. teams had been sent in to eliminate Timber's defensive emplacements and the like in order to make way for the full invasion. Wolf Pack had encountered more opposition than expected.
With Edea (because she felt the invasion was unjust) and Lilliana (because it was her homeland) gone, absent from their ranks, the battles were harder. It was during this time, that the soldiers in Wolf Pack had to rely more on solo or duo missions to eliminate targets quickly, then escape. Zion and Lancer had been sent in to destroy artillery near one of Timber's armor bases. It was an ambush, and Zion was captured while Lancer was nearly killed.
Zion was trapped in a Timber jail cell for over a year. During this time, most of the Wolves thought him dead, though rescue missions were occasionally attempted. Julia fell into a deep depression then, become much unlike her usual self. She had taken up drinking, and became increasingly moody and violent towards her friends. She was a downright hostile drunk, though it was the only thing keeping the sadness from harming her. It made her numb.
The Wolves hated seeing her like that, and Raine and Edea had urged her to talk to one of her admirers in a bar she played piano at during her off time. She did, though she held no romantic feelings for him. In a panic, she had mouthed off some things she had told Zion months before. She had felt horrible for it, but the soldier was sent off to fight, and she didn't have time to apologize.
Zion returned a few weeks later, after Raine began to file for resignation. He had fought his way out, and had been taken back to Deling City by another unit stationed at the base, called the Paladins. Julia instantly gave up drinking again, now that he had returned, and her hostile behaviors vanished.
They became engaged weeks later. After reading those tabloids, she felt guilty once again, feeling that she had betrayed Zion, her one and only love. She broke down and confessed a short time before their marriage, and to her surprise, he was not angry. He claimed he understood, and they left it at that.
Julia's memories were broken as she continued down the street. She stopped, seeing him standing in front of her, awaiting her return to him. To his surprise, she smiled warmly, and instantly fell into his arms, glad that he had been rescued those few years ago.
He chuckled, and stroked her hair for a moment. "What is this for?"
"For being alive." She replied softly. He furrowed his dark brows, unsure at what her words really meant, aside from the obvious answer.
Before he had a chance to ask, there was a joy-filled shriek let loose behind them, startling them both. They both turned to see an overjoyed, petite brunette running towards them with a broad smile on her face. A pair of old but sturdy nunchakus were strapped to her uniform's belt, and her emerald colored eyes gleamed brightly in the mid-day sun.
"Andraia!" Julia greeted as the younger girl ran up to her. Before the Caraways knew what was happening, she had thrown her arms around them both, and hugged them tightly.
"Oh, Julia! I haven't heard from you guys in a while!" Andraia said with a bright disposition. "We really gotta talk about everything! I want to know all about you two, and Rinoa, and..."
"Take it easy!" Zion interrupted, noticing that Andraia was now starting to leap into the air happily.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" She replied quickly, and ceased leaping. She took a deep breath, and then continued. "So, what's on the agenda for today?"
"Briefing starts in ten minutes." Julia informed her, looking at her watch briefly. "Where the hell is everyone? I told them to meet us about fifteen minutes ago."
"Trains are running slow. Didn't you hear?" Andraia told her, and began to walk with them back towards the headquarters. "Timber is still having a hard time operating. Town resistance and all of that stuff. Everything is running at about 30% of what it used to be."
Zion groaned. "Great. Well, if they're a little late, I guess we can inform them."
Julia nodded, but noticed uniform clad figures out of the corner of her eye. She shifted her head over, and saw her entire unit running towards the base, afraid that they were late. She raised her hand to her mouth, and let out a sharp whistle. Andraia and Zion covered their ears due to the volume, the latter wincing slightly. The rest of the Pack skidded to a halt, and tossed them a glance.
They all burst into smiles, and ran towards each other. Laughter filled the once quiet dusk in the military district, and a long since put off reunion between the Wolves finally occurred. They hadn't seen much of each other since the end of the Timber Invasion, only coming together for a brief mission. Even then, only half of them showed up. The female Wolves received friendly kisses on the cheeks by the men, while the male Wolves punched each other lightly on the shoulders while laughing.
"Hey, Edea!" Epsilon said happily, swinging an arm around the sorceress. "Haven't seen you for a long time! You must be tryin' to avoid us Wolves, considering you're always down in Centra? Now what's so good about that place anyway?"
"Oh, please Epsilon, I'm not avoiding you Wolves!" Edea replied with a small smile. "I'm just getting some peace and quiet. Besides, I am up in Deling for the summers, you know."
Epsilon was about to add something, but Julia cut him off. "Now, now... if Edward wants to be a hermit, let her be a hermit."
Edea's eyes narrowed. "I am not a hermit! And my name is not Edward, geezard face. Get it right for once."
Lancer let out an elongated sigh. "Oh, god... here we go again. Lord, just take me right here and now..."
"Oh, no. You aren't getting out that easy, buddy. You gotta stay here and take it like a man with the rest of us." Corin said, shoving him to the left slightly. "Even though listening to those two evil little women is pure torture."
Despite these comments, Edea and Julia were too interesting in arguing. Having months worth of pent up arguing energy, they were more than ready to play-fight. Julia raised an eyebrow. "Geezard face? Oh, I'm so hurt! Just shut up, 'you who is uglier than an elderly hexadragon'!"
"All right!" Zion cut in, taking Raine's place as the one who broke up fighting. "We have a briefing to be at!"
"Fine." Edea replied, hands on her hips. "But I shall get you later, Julius."
"That doesn't bug me the least little bit, Eduardo." Julia replied, following the others as they began to walk towards the building before them. She smiled as she saw Edea flinch at that name.
Celeste shook her head as the two continued muttering insults back and forth between one another. She tried to get Julia off the subject. "Hey, Heartilly, I finally beat Metroid the other day!"
"The other day?" She instantly replied, swing her head back around. "That game has been out since before the 'Wolf Cubs' were born! What took you so long?"
"Sorry! I'm bad at those games! I'm good with puzzles!" Celeste countered defensively. "That's why we're a good team! You can fight but you're stupid, and I'm smart but don't have the coordination to fight!"
Julia laughed. "Yeah, I've seen you fight and it's.... wait. Did you just call me stupid?! I am not stupid!"
"Excuse me, but who took over a week to figure out how to get to the ninth palace in the Legend of Zelda? Hmm?" Celeste challenged. She smirked at the memory of Julia throwing the game controller at the television repeatedly.
"...Shut up." Julia replied quietly. Some of the others laughed.
As Corin did so, Julia glared at him. "What are you laughing at, Dincht?! You can't even get passed the second level of Mario! I wouldn't be laughing if I were you!"
"Easy there, spitfire!" He replied, waving his arms in defense. "I'm just kidding you! Jeez..."
Lilliana watched fight from behind the group, but couldn't help feeling like there was something missing. There were no agitated and withdrawn replies, no one telling them forcefully to 'shut up', and no ever famous retorts of 'whatever'. While the Pack was pretty much its usual self no matter what happened, things just weren't the same without the Alpha Wolf. She sighed as memories took over. Julia was a good leader, there was no doubt about that. However, Julia had her own place in the group during times they just talked. During that time, no one would take the place of Raine.
She took a deep breath, and along with the group, she entered a building she hadn't been in since the fall of Timber. It brought back mixed feelings of friendship, but also bloodshed. She wondered which one of the two she would find today.
Zion and the Pack parted as they reached the meeting room. He gave a quick kiss to Julia, and departed for the table with the other four and five star generals. There were five of each, including him, and all were seated at a large silver table in front of several rows of desks for the Special Ops. units. He sat down beside Corin's father, who was one of the most powerful Galbadian generals.
Wolf Pack took a seat on the left side of the large room, taking up two of the seating rows. Julia looked around the room, seeing just how many people were actually there. Usually only one unit was in here at a time for a mission, or all of them, like the time they were informed about the start of the Timber Invasion. Now she saw two other units in there with the Pack. There was Jesse Almasy with Excalibur, as she figured he would be, and the Jade Phoenix unit.
Edea leaned over to Julia and whispered quietly into her ear. "Three units? Isn't that a tad extreme? We barely ever work with two."
Julia didn't reply, but nodded silently. She glanced at Jesse, who caught it and gave her a shrug, telling her that he wasn't sure what was going on, either. Before anyone could say anything further, the lead general stood, and the room fell dead silent.
General Segat looked at the soldiers before him for a moment, then spoke. "Wolf Pack, Excalibur, Jade Phoenix, you have been called here today to prevent an international catastrophe from occurring. The following information is extremely classified. If word got out to the public, there would be mass hysteria and panicking among the civilian population."
Julia furrowed her eyebrows, and she saw her husband do the same, but with a much more worried glance. Now what? Helios and Esthar are done for. Timber is too small to do anything as of now.
Segat continued on, a projection of the Trabia continent appeared on the screen behind the generals. "As you all know, Esthar's ruler, Sorceress Adel, mysteriously vanished from the world stage three years ago. Ever since, Esthar has closed its borders and has gone under radio silence."
"We haven't heard any news from Esthar since then. It is assumed that someone has overthrown the sorceress, and ended the war. However, that did not sit well with some Estharian generals. Several of them have left Esthar, along with some troops under their command. This we know for a fact. While only about 3% of Esthar forces, they are still a few thousand soldiers. All elites, I might add."
I have a really bad feeling now. Edea thought to herself as the general said those words. She leaned back, and let him continue on.
He pointed to a dot on the Trabian map, that was about fifty miles from the Helios crater. It was up in the mountains, sheltered from the harsher snow plains. "This was one of Helios' artillery bases back during the first part of the war. It was rumored to be abandoned ever since the destruction of the main city."
"However, a month ago, we noticed activity. Not much, but worth investigating." Segat said, crossing his arms. "We sent in the Smoke Panther unit to investigate one week ago, as of today. We received an emergency distress signal, then all communications were cut off."
Celeste shook her head, as did several of the others. They had worked with the Panther unit before. Although they weren't good friends, they were still comrades. It was a shame to lose them.
"A day later, we received a transmission from that same artillery base." Segat said. He pushed a button on a small control panel. "Here, listen to it, and see for yourself what kind of mess we are in now."
A loud female voice boomed from the speakers in the room. A voice that made the Pack think twice about who it could be. "To all citizens of the 'Republic' of Galbadia, the Dollet Dukedom, the Balamb Republic, and the Nation of Timber. Six years ago, your soldiers mercilessly destroyed the country of Helios, leaving it's people in poverty and ruins. Three years ago, you usurped Esthar of its rightful ruler. If you had stopped there, it might have been tolerable."
"However, when it comes to Helios, you did not leave the matter alone. You built bases here. You terrorized the remaining people that were alive. To this, I say that you barbarians should burn in unholy hell. You will notice, that the transmissions from your nearby bases have stopped. Don't even bother investigating or trying to recover what is yours. Nothing is there. Your bases have been burnt to the ground."
"Deling City will follow suit. As will Dollet, Balamb, and Timber. Helios was not as impudent as you thought. They knew that they may be defeated. In such a case, they prepared for the worst. Each base within Helios had its own stock of long-range missiles. This particular base contains enough to level the capitols of each western country. The citizens of Helios have had enough of your violent ways, and Esthar's soldier prepare for the victory that should have been theirs."
"There will be no negotiations. Because of your actions, you are now doomed."
The recording ended there. Julia raised her hands skyward in annoyance when she figured out who the speaker was. God damned Satori! Does that woman ever surrender?
"That is the Estharian general named Satori Kirstarke, sir." Zion cut in, informing General Segat. "She led some of Esthar's forces during the War. She is... eccentric to say the least. If she says that she will do something, she will do it."
"That is what I feared." Segat replied, nodding solemnly.
Corin's father, Lyle, spoke up now. "A person would not make such a large threat over military HD cable waves if they did not have the forces to back it up. Those several thousand Estharians must be held up at that base, along with however many Helios soldiers survived the city's destruction."
"Wolf Pack." Segat addressed. "You are to be sent in with Excalibur. Jade Phoenix will be your back up should you fail. You depart in one hour. Colonel Reinhart will fill you in on the mission details in a moment. Good luck, there are millions of people counting on your success."