The Galbadians, their backs pressed against the frozen metal of the Ganymede Artillery base, slowly sidestepped towards an entrance. What weapons they had remaining were drawn out and ready for use. They still hadn't seen any sign of life since their approach, though they were well ready for an ambush if it ever came. Snow was falling heavily, still blocking most of their vision from the rest of the area. The only thing they could see besides the ground in front of them was the faint outline of the tall glacial mountains in the distance.
The two leading point, Julia and Corin, soon ducked into a small entry way, shield the snow from them. Seeing an electronic terminal which controlled the door, the grenadier waved Celeste over to them. The blonde hacker quickly pulled out a hand-held device, and attached it to the terminal after pulling of a panel.
Celeste entered a few commands into her device, and it let off a soft beeping sound, one that was almost dwarfed by the sound of the harsh wind of the snowstorm. She stood there for a few minutes until another beep and an affirming screen lit up on her equipment. She plucked the device from the terminal and pressed a few buttons.
"What did you do?" Julia asked over the sound of the storm.
"Downloaded a map of this floor and the one above." the hacker replied. "It's not much, but considering we lost our maps in the crash, it's better than nothing."
"Well, what's a good way in then?" Corin asked anxiously. He was shivering slightly due to the cold. Galbadian combat uniforms were designed to trap in heat during cold weather, though in the Trabian tundra, it wasn't doing a bit of good.
"We are not going to burst into the main entrance, I hope." Edea said from behind Corin's shoulder.
Julia and Jesse took a look at the digital map that Celeste held in her hands. The Excalibur chose to reply. "No, that'd be too difficult. It looks like there are two entrances. There's a cargo and supply room that leads to the ground floor just around this corner. Then, there's a ladder that leads to the top of the building, where you can enter the top floor from a hatch near the radar dish. That's on the other side of the base."
Julia then cut in. "Okay, guys, we're splitting up into our battle groups. Groups one, two and three will enter through the cargo room, while the sniper group uses that access hatch on top of the building. Communicate with the headset radios. The first three groups, once we get inside, will split up and search for the missile room. Got it?"
Seeing them nod, she waved them off, and the groups split. Epsilon, Jun and Aaron turned around and head back to the other side of the base, while the remaining soldiers continued onward. Before departing, Andraia stood on her tiptoes and gave her husband a quick kiss.
"Good luck, Aaron."
"The same to you." He replied with a smile, then turned and followed the snipers. Andraia stood there for a second, looking at him, then turned to follow her own group.
Meanwhile, at the rear of the group, Jesse and Icelina whispered quietly to themselves, not letting the Wolves hear them. Jesse stepped close to Icelina, and asked her a question he had on his mind for a while.
"Do you think the Pack isn't telling us everything that happened during the Sorceress War? I feel like something doesn't make sense. Like, when they all get tensed up when we talk about Hyne. Especially Heartilly."
The blonde woman nodded softly, as not to bring attention to herself. "Yes, I know. That woman has changed since the war. She's more quiet now, more reserved. Something happened, or they found out something, that was very bad and they won't tell us."
"I've been getting bad vibes from her lately, too. Something's wrong." Jesse added on, but cut himself short as a few of the Wolves began to pick up on their conversation. "We'll talk later."
Julia kept walking, not turning her head to look at the Almasy family, yet due to Mysidian genes, she was able to hear every word clearly through the storm and the people between her and them. Her face did not twist into a hated snarl that most probably would have expected, nor anything else. Her face remained neutral, though she began to frown slightly.
I'm different, huh? Colder? And you people think that something happened? Well, where were you when you heard the news that my best friend died in my arms three years ago? I am different I suppose. But bad vibes? From me of all people. Yes, you would be smart to be intimidated by the daughter of Hyne. Stupid Centrans...
Julia furrowed her eyebrows at her own thoughts. 'Stupid Centrans.' Did I really just think that? I'm getting arrogant, now. Six years ago I thought I was a damned Centran. Though, there is that little part of me that tells me something different. That part that tells me that they are inferior, even weak. But, I know that can't logically be true. Hell, a group of them killed Virados, and he was a strong one! And me... well, I married one. That's got to say something about my compassion and love for them.
"Yo, Heartilly, come back to Terra, will you?" Corin called from behind her.
She turned around, after widening her eyes for a moment. "I'm all right. You mind if I think once and a while?"
He shrugged and they continued onward for a few more minutes. They drew near the supply and cargo section of the base, which was shaped like a large warehouse, but it was still attached to the base's main structure. There were several loading vehicles parked outside, a layer of snow piling up onto them. There was still no sign of life anywhere.
"See any surveillance cameras or anything?" Lancer asked from the middle of the group, looking around.
The group halted and checked for a moment, yet found nothing of the like placed anywhere around the base. Or at least, not on this section of it. Julia peered closer, using her more sensitive eyes to pick up anything out of the ordinary. Even she found nothing, not a trace of human life aside from a few odd footprints.
Thinking they had at first been human, she inspected them closer, placing her own foot within the print left in the snow. She raised an eyebrow as she found the footprint to be twice the correct size, and the toes seemed elongated. The toes seemed to be similar to that of a set of claws. Lilliana, seeing her discovery, put a confused look onto her face.
"What would make that kind of print?" the summoner asked. "A Wendigo, perhaps?"
"No." Lancer replied. He had fought all his life, tracking was common in his world, and thus he was very knowledgeable on such things. "They have wider footprints and can't stand the frigidness of Trabia. I haven't seen anything like this before. Strange."
Andraia made the next comment, half-joking, half-serious. "Hmm... no people but monster footprints. Coincidence or is it nothing at all?"
"Don't even say that." Icelina replied. "You'll have me paranoid for the rest of the mission."
The teams fell silent again, and the soldiers in the lead approached the doors to the cargo room. Celeste rushed forward through the mass of soldier until she was standing next to Julia and Zion. Removing an electronic scrambler from within her bag, she placed it on top of the control panel which locked the door. After entering a few simple commands, a beep sounded through the windstorm once more, and the scrambler's green light blinked for a moment. Removing it and placing it back her in bag, she signaled to the others that the door was unlocked.
Julia kicked open the door, and the team rushed in, guns raised and awaiting resistance...
"Mistress Satori?" An Estharian rebel asked, slowly edging his way towards her in the dark room.
Satori's head turned slightly, but not enough for him to see her face. "Why do you disturb me? What is it?"
The soldier's sweat poured down from his temples and he shook slightly, an easy way of telling how distressed the poor man was. Partially due to his news, and even more so about Satori's temper. When the woman heard foul news, she could be downright hostile towards her own soldiers. It was rumored that she had even killed a man for bringing her bad news once.
"Um... ma'am!" He addressed. "There has been a breach in Cargo Bay 3. We assume it's those Galbadians we shot down a few hours ago. They must have survived."
"Tell me, corporal," Satori began, using a patronizing tone. "If your entire Mobile Artillery unit loses contact with you, do you think they have accomplished their mission? Well?"
"....No, ma'am, I suppose not." The corporal said in a downtrodden and somewhat fearful tone.
"Then what on Terra made you think that the Galbadians had died?" She snarled. "Did their 'ghosts' come back to kill the artillery soldiers? Answer me, you fool!"
Sweat continued to pour from his forehead. "No, ma'am! I apologize for my stupidity."
Satori was silent for a good while, but after a few moments of agonizing silence for the soldier, she continued. "They are here, are they? No matter. They're a little late. Dispatch the new soldiers and the remaining guards to deal with them. They should be easy to trap in here. The entire base is like a giant labyrinth."
"Yes, ma'am!" The soldier replied, giving a firm salute.
The soldier hastily backed out of the nearly pitch black room, opening and shutting the door as quickly as he could. Satori, left alone in the abandoned command room, was immobile for a moment. She was seated on her knees, resting on the soles of her feet, until she slowly stood in the darkness and switched on a screen.
Her eyes darkened for a moment as she saw the soldiers carefully walking down one of the hallways, weapons drawn and ready to use. She could remember their faces like a photograph, and upon their sight, her eyes filled with undying rage. Though absent from their ranks was the one that she hated the most. She had made sure that that woman would never again come across her vision. She could still remember the day that she killed the Alpha Wolf, and it had to have been one of her more pleasant days.
She walked over to a drawer and slid it open. From within it, she pulled forth a piece of aged paper with elegant and near perfect writing on it. It had turned a bit yellow over the years, as it was written at the very start of the Sorceress War. She held it in her hands for a moment, her eyes turning watery.
"Virados..." She mumbled with sorrow, yet refused to let her tears fall. She knew that he had some pang of emotion for her, as the letter indicated, yet it wasn't strong enough for him to reject his beliefs.
Yesterday, I know that you said you cared for me. But what was it that you expected me to do after you revealed it to me? You know full well that all I could do was say the opposite and turn away. You are merely my apprentice and ally, and nothing more than that. I have told you several times the culture of the traditional Mysidian. Did you honestly think that you could change my ways and force me to believe in something different from what I was raised with? It will never change, and I will follow the actions of my long ago ancestors.
But, I will tell you this. Do not think that I hold no emotion for you whatsoever. That is false. You are a Centran, and for me to associate with you at all is astonishing. I am on this planet for the sole purpose of exterminating your kind. I find it odd that you decided to side with Hyne and myself. Do you really hate Centrans that much?
I took you on as an apprentice for reasons which I cannot understand nor comprehend. Yet I did so anyway. Had you been a Mysidian, then perhaps a relationship may have been capable. But going against my culture is something I simply cannot do. I suppose I do care for you in return, yet not enough to go against everything I have been taught. It is forbidden to love a Centran. Never in history has there been a Mysidian became a lover to, or married a Mysidian. The odds of that happening are... astronomical.
Do not think less of me for these reasons, for I enjoy your company and wish that you would continue fighting alongside me.
She was remorseful over this letter. First, because he had rejected her and then died by Raine's hand before anything further in the matter could develop. Secondly, because he didn't love her because she was Centran, and no Mysidian could ever love a Centran without going against what they had been taught.
She picked up the letter, and shoved it back into its place before she could lament further over Virados' death. She had avenged him partially, yet the final revenge was soon to come.
"All right." An exasperated Andraia spoke. "There is nobody here. Not a thing. No monster even."
"There has got to be a trace of something somewhere." Lilliana replied. "They couldn't have cleared out of here that long ago."
"Right." Icelina agreed. "They made the transmission only a few days ago. They wouldn't have been able to get everything out of here in that time period."
"Okay. I think it's time the groups split up." Lancer suggested. "We'll be able to cover more ground that way."
"He's right." Jesse replied. "My group, we'll take the upper floors to look for any enemies up there. We'll probably regroup with the snipers once we get up there, if they've gotten into the base by now. Julia's group, check the first basement level, and Celeste, you search this ground floor with your group. Got it?"
The two women nodded, and the groups then gathered together. Edea looked over to Celeste and her group, and managed a small reassuring smile.
"Good luck. Keep out of trouble." The sorceress stated kindly.
"Yeah," The hacker responded, "You too, Edea. But, well, for you... well, you've just got to keep Heartilly out of trouble, and everything will stay frosty."
"Hey!" The grenadier shot back. She then feigned innocence with a smile. "When have I ever gotten anyone in trouble?"
"We could stand here for hours and ramble off everything you've done." Edea replied, "But I think it's best we go find our objective first. Don't you agree?"
As she said those words, she laid a hand on Julia shoulder, complete with a sarcastic smile and overly dramatic face. Julia batted her hand away and replied with a sister-like 'hatred'. "Don't touch me, you little prick!"
Edea pulled her hand slightly away, but just so far that her forefinger was a mere one centimeter away from Julia's arm. "Not touching, can't do anything."
"Oh, for the love of Shajuk!" Corin whined out loud. He grabbed Edea's hand and shoved Julia away slightly with his foot. "No time for fake-sibling rivalry! Get going!"
"Fine." Julia replied, then gave a side-ways glance at Edea. "Bitch."
"Whore." The sorceress hissed back, but the two women continued towards the staircase, with Zion in their wake. The two continued to exchange insults as they did so, though they knew full well that both were being sarcastic.
The general rolled his eyes at the two bickering friends. "God, why did I have to be in this group?"
The seven soldiers, all covered from head to toe in cold-resistant gear, slung their rifles and machine guns down from their shoulders and into their hands. All were silent, and followed the hand signals of their commander, who stood at the front of the group. The harsh arctic wind blew in their faces, snow threatening to cause frostbite at any moment, had it not been for the cloth they wore over their faces. Snow was crashing into everything as it fell from the dark sky in large clumps.
The soldiers ducked down as ordered behind the base of the radar dish, only the leader stood slightly, staring intensely at the ladder on the side of the silver building. His machine gun rested quietly in his hands, but was ready to strike at the sign of movement.
A gloved hand braced the top of the ladder, and a head with hair the color of fire poked it's way up from the side of the building. Tall, and wearing a black Galbadian special operations uniform, this red headed man was the target they had been looking for. One of them at least. Two others followed him.
The second was a woman with wavy long hair of the same color, and both the man and woman were holding sniper rifles in their hands. The last man was shorter than both of the taller snipers, and had darker brown hair rather than their red. A pair of handguns rested in the holsters at his waist.
Giving his soldiers a command with his hand, the seven of them stormed out from behind the radar dish, guns ablaze and pointed at the three Galbadian gunners. The three of them gave the attackers a shocked and dropped down to the ground...