Disclaimer: All characters, objects, and ideas that were originally in Final Fantasy VIII that are used in this novel are all property of Square Electronic Arts. All characters, objects, and ideas that were not used in Final Fantasy VIII that appear in this novel are all the legal property of the author.
Part 1: Shadow of a Shadow
"I am nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Then there is a pair of us...don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know."
- Excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson
Chapter 1: Preparation
It was indeed a very nice day. In the sky the sun beamed down on the vast green hills of Winhill and a nice breeze swept through the blades of grass that made them shine like little emeralds when the sun hit them just right. The monsters weren't as bad as they were on normal days, since they seemed to like gloomier days better, and the chocobos could be heard chirping cheerfully in the distance. A little dirt road ran straight through the middle of the big green hills and into the town of Winhill. Though it was very tiny, it was had a nice cozy look to it. It had for the most part large buildings made of wood and the streets were paved with cobble stone. But there was one thing that was queer about the cozy little town tucked in the cozy little hills on that perfect day. There was no people.
Well, no residents of the town were there anyway, since those who were now occupying it had chased them out. The man sitting on top of the hill overlooking the whole town didn't care if they were all dead. All he cared about was getting what he had been sent to do done. He was slightly taller then most people, but you could tell there was a good build under that long, black overcoat he always wore. He had short, wavy, white hair that he almost never combed or styled but it always looked presentable. His eyes were a cold blue that would send shivers down your spine just looking at them. And strapped to his back was a long lance that had a dark blue shaft with a long, sharp blade. He stood up and took a long drag of his cigarette before tossing it on the soft grass at his feet.
"It doesn't seem like the right kind of day for this work," he said as he reached behind his back for his lance. "But I'll get over it.".
He brought the lance in front of his eyes and ran his gloved finger along the blade, examining it carefully. As he was doing so a shorter soldier was running up the hill frantically toward him and surprised him when he started shouting. "Captain Kraven, sir! Here are the current reports of the enemy position and the mission papers from Major Thorton, sir! He wishes for you to come into town immediately and give a mission briefing, sir!".
The young man stopped abruptly in front of Kraven and handed him a letter. Melchiah sighed in disappointment. He returned the jumpy corporal's perfect salute and watched the frantic soldier run down the hill and back into town. Melchiah shook his head.
He walked casually down the hill towards town in the direction the corporal was running. He didn't have to hurry. The "mission" that was at underway was his to command (well, almost), and he was a man of much greater importance than the other Galbadian Soldiers inside the quiet town. He was under the direct command of General Caraway at the Headquarters. Also, he thought it was nice that he didn't have to wear those awful uniforms and helmets that the other soldiers did. A Genesis soldier could wear anything he wanted. But his fashion sense for long, black pants and heavy leather raincoats was coming back to bite him on the ass that hot, sunny day. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and strolled into the Mayor's Mansion, that was being used as the HQ for the Galbadian occupiers.
The soldiers who were inside who were sitting on chairs and leaning on tables laughing and talking with their fellow troopers stood up in dead silence and snapped to attention, presenting Melchiah with their finest and most disciplined salutes. Melchiah, getting aggravated at the constant saluting, quickly returned theirs back.
" At ease," he said sternly, and continued walking toward the door at the far northeast corner of the room. The reveling soldiers returned to their seats and resumed leaning on the tables. But dared not to say a word until the white-haired warrior was out of sight behind the door of the next room.
Melchiah shut the door behind him and looked around the empty office. There was and big desk in the middle of the royal blue carpet with two sitting chairs on one end of it and on the other end was a huge leather office chair with maps and blueprints sprawled out on the big desk in front of it. The maps caught Melchiah's eye and he walked across the dimly lit room and randomly picked up one of the many maps scattered on the desk. This particular one, mapped out the town of Winhill, looked perfectly normal except the docks, which were circled. There was something written in small print under the circle but the light in the room was too dim for him to make it out.
He was about to reach out for the lamp-switch on the table but the door on the other end of the room swung open and an angry old man in an officer's uniform with gray hair and worn, brown eyes stormed in. He was too angry and old to notice the map in Melchiah's hand, and instead shouted, "Where the hell have you been!?!".
Melchiah shrugged casually. " Out and about. I wanted to survey the land before we begin the mission.".
" Well you could have told us about that before you went wandering off!" the major snorted
"And you will respond to your superior with a 'sir', Captain!".
"Fine, sir. But I thought it necessary to know what kind of terrain we could use to our advantage against the enemy, sir." he explained irritably. He didn't like Major Thorton: One, because he was the only one in Winhill that had more authority than him; and two, because he knew that Thorton didn't like Genesis soldiers at all and he would do anything to make sure that they were miserable while they were under his command.
On this particular mission, Melchiah was directed by General Caraway to go Winhill and oversee a mission under the command of Major Thorton. "I know that Thorton can be a pain," Caraway said to Melchiah before he left, " But what do you want me to do? Threaten to spank him if he's not nice?".
"It's a thought," Melchiah replied sorely. And now he was stuck with Thorton doing what Melchiah thought he'd do. Thorton always chewing him out even if he coughed wrong.
"It's two hours before the mission and you don't know what the hell it is!" roared Thorton, his retinas were red and his flabby jowls were wobbling with anger.
" Don't sweat it," replied Melchiah coolly. "I can handle whatever you throw at me as long as you sent those two other Genesis agents down that requested.". He leaned up against the desk as he said this and looked at Thorton, who was getting angrier. "So where's Wolfe and Sam, anyway?".
Thorton scowled and replied " I did not send for Agents Wolfe and Craft, you will instead use my men for your mission." Melchiah jumped off the desk so quickly that he knocked some of the maps onto the floor.
"W-What?!" he stammered in exasperation, "You want me to use those, those rats out there?!" he pointed to the door that lead out to the lobby that the soldiers were in. "Are you crazy?!".
Thorton relaxed his expression and smiled, pleased by Melchiah's anger. "Did you even read the papers my aide gave to you earlier? It's all explained in there."
Melchiah jammed his fist into his pocket of his overcoat and pulled the letter out. He ripped the seal off and opened the letter. His eyes sped quickly through the words his frown getting heavier and heavier after every one. He finally looked up at the Thorton and said "You've really screwed me over, Major."
Major Thorton's smile darkened.
"I find no reason not to use my men, Captain. And as long as I'm in command around here, you will!"
"And might I ask who the enemy is?" Melchiah replied grimly. "Unless it's a bunch of stuffed animals with lollipops, we don't stand a chance." Thorton's mouth formed back into a smile as the last word that Melchiah wanted to hear escaped his lips.
Melchiah's eyebrows jumped up two inches above his eyes and his mouth hung wide open.
"Seed? You want me to take a bunch of green rookies out there to defeat SeeD? Even if you send every man you have out there to kill just one, your chances are still pretty slim!"
Thorton grinded his teeth and spoke with an evil hiss. "The fact is, Captain, you don't have a choice. Our scouts reported that they have landed at the docks, you will take a squad of fifteen men to go and meet out the enemy. The SeeD's manpower can't be above 8, so they will be outnumbered."
'So? Our asses are still grass.' thought Melchiah. "Why the hell didn't you get Sam and Wolfe? Killing SeeD's is our frickin' job!" he spat.
"Watch your tone with me, Captain!" Thorton shot back. "I don't care if a Genesis soldier can kill a SeeD doing a handstand! You will use my men!"
Melchiah shook his head and clutched his fists. 'Stubborn old bastard.' "Fine."
"Good," Thorton said triumphantly. "Now those SeeDs had to have been hired by somebody. I want you to find that out as well." Melchiah clutched his fists even tighter and closed his eyes. He wanted to hit Thorton.
"I have already selected the 15 that will be going with you. They are waiting for you outside the mansion. Give them the mission and head out."
Melchiah rolled his eyes and headed for the door.
"Captain, you forgot something."
Melchiah rolled his eyes again and turned around to face Thorton, who had his hand to his forehead in salute. He reluctantly returned it and walked out the door. He hated saluting.
Melchiah closed the door to the mansion and looked at his attack squad. He shook his head. 'Pitiful.' Fifteen men stood in assembly and saluted Melchiah sharply. "First rule of my squad," he instructed, "Never salute me." All fifteen men immediately put their hands at their sides and stood in perfect attention and silence.
'Their uniforms don't even have a scratch on them. They probably haven't even SEEN battle before,' he thought. 'Thorton expects me to beat eight SeeDs with this?!'
"Better check..." he mumbled. "Step forward if you ever been in battle before!"
Five of the fifteen men stepped out of the assembly into line in front of Melchiah. He buried his face in his hands.
"Great, just great."
He raised his head to the five soldiers and asked another question. "Which of you five, if any has ever engaged a SeeD?" One of the blue-uniformed troopers stepped forward.
"I hove, sssir," said the soldier strangely.
Melchiah raised his eyebrows in surprise and folded his arms. "Really? How did you do?" The soldier took off his helmet and revealed an eye patch on his right eye.
"I deed awight," slobbered the soldier. He smiled, and Melchiah saw that he didn't have but two teeth in his mouth.
"By doing well you mean you're still alive, I guess." Melchiah sighed. He turned his back to the squad and rubbed his chin. 'They'll only get in my way. It's better to do this one solo.'
He turned back around to his men and spoke in a loud, authoritative voice.
"The fact is, gentlemen, we are up against SeeD. They are planning to take this town back by force for the people of Winhill. We are one of the only lines of defense for this town, so we'd better make this assault count. Our scouts report SeeD's position is in those hills over there" He pointed to the hills, which was in the opposite direction of the docks, the true position of the enemy. "You are to sneak upon the enemy with your utmost speed and stealth. Use the hills to mask your movement, and then take them by surprise. Any questions?"
A hand shot up from small crowd of soldiers. "Won't you be coming with us, sir?"
Melchiah shook his head. "No. I'll patrol the rest of the town by myself." Several other hands shot up before Melchiah. "And I will not need accompaniment," he added. At this the hands went down.
"Well, if there's no other questions, then you are dismissed. Oh, and he..." Melchiah pointed randomly to a soldier in the crowd, "is in command during my absence."
The soldier looked stunned, but he didn't dare utter a word of objection to Melchiah's delegation.
"Uh, M-move out!" stuttered the soldier nervously. He made a gesture to move towards the hills, and all fifteen headed off, confused and worried. Melchiah watched the party until they were out of sight, and then he began to run through the small streets of Winhill towards the docks, laughing as he went.
Chapter 2: Punishment
Melchiah smiled as he ran even faster towards the docks. He thought it sucked that Thorton didn't give him Sam and Wolfe to work with, but he thought it was better that he fought by himself. As he saw it, the inexperienced squad would only get in his way, thus complicating the fight. Maybe even getting himself killed trying to lead a bunch of rookies into battle with SeeD." It's better this way" he reassured himself as he ran as quickly as his feet could carry him down the small streets of Winhill.
He ran until he heard the sound of waves slapping up against wood, the lonely cry of seagulls and the heavy smell of salt in the air which gave him the distinct feeling that he was near the docks. He stopped and tiptoed down a dark alleyway behind a building that was facing the piers. He then stood with his back up against the wall as he reached inside his over coat and pulled out a silver handgun with what looked like a grappling hook inside the barrel. He pointed it at the roof of building and pulled the trigger. The grappling hook shot out of the barrel with a soft 'pfft!' and went whizzing onto the top. Melchiah pulled the cord and the metal hook made a slight clinking sound as it slid back to towards him and caught onto the wall surrounding the edge. He gave the cord one last tug to make sure it was secure, and began to climb up the side of the wall.
When he got to the top, he rolled onto the roof, looked up at the sky, took in a deep breath, and smiled. He was about to fight. One of the only things he took pleasure in was fighting. He didn't know why exactly, but he didn't care. He loved it. He got up and quietly walked over to the other side of the roof. He crouched when he came to the wall, and peered over the side.
The docks were shabby and rotting and looked like they hadn't been used in years. That's why the brand new SeeD Cruiser looked so out of place sitting beside the aged planks. Melchiah could hear voices coming from inside the ship, but couldn't make them out. Suddenly the door of the ship swung open and two men stepped out. They were both wearing the standard blue, crimson, and gray uniforms that SeeDs were issued and both of them had swords sheathed on their belts. As the two men walked down the creaking pier they were continuing the conversation they were having inside the ship. Melchiah cupped his hand to his ear to catch every word.
"But seriously, Malick, don't you think the Galbadians would have caught on by now? I don't know about you, but I've got a bad feeling about this..."
Malick ran his fingers through his short, brown hair and shrugged.
"Well, I see your point, but I don't think they would let us get this close and know about it. They would have definitely done something about us by now. I mean, we've been here for two hours!"
'That's what YOU think,' thought Melchiah.
The other man stopped and looked up at the sky as if thinking. "That reminds me," the other man said, "Don't you think it's weird that the commander hasn't told us to do anything yet?"
Malick shrugged yet again and turned towards his blue-eyed companion.
"I guess he's letting them make the first move. Besides, Headmaster Cid says that President Loire wants no survivors. And what better way to make sure they're all here then have them come to us?"
Melchiah's eyes widened. 'Loire? President Laguna Loire of Esthar? But why would he want Winhill of all places to be liberated?'
The blue-eyed man nodded, "I guess, but I still have a bad feeling about all this."
"You always have a bad feeling about something, Criton." he teased.
Criton scratched the back of his head and smiled. "I know, I know. I'm just a very careful guy."
'Not careful enough, my friend,'
Criton walked in front of Malick and turned his back from the building Melchiah was standing on and looked at Malick.
"So I guess we just wait it out, huh?"
Malick nodded and rested his hand on the butt of his sword.
"Your wait will be shorter then you think, SeeD." Melchiah hissed under his breath as he stood up and reached behind his back for his lance. He looked down at Criton, who had his back to him, and chose him as his first victim. He looked one last time at his blade, and jumped.
Criton, who was standing with his back to his aerial attacker, opened his mouth to say something to Malick. But instead of words coming out of it like he intended, a scream of pain came instead. He looked down at his stomach to see a long blade protruding out from it, with a river of blood pouring down it's shaft, off the end, and onto the cobble ground. He looked up to Malick with his pleading blue eyes and uttered his last words, "I...told you..so...". The blade retracted itself from Criton's stomach and out the back, and he fell to the ground, limp and lifeless. This brought Melchiah into full view of Malick, who had drawn his blade and was in attack stance. Melchiah was simply standing there with a grin of satisfaction on his face. "You bastard!" Malick screamed, "You'll die for this!". Malick charged with his sword held high above his head and brought it down with all his might on Melchiah. But Melchiah brought his lance shaft up and blocked the heavy attack. Malick swiped his blade again and again at Melchiah, every time being met in midair with his blocks. Melchiah quickly turned around and started backing up towards the SeeD ship, all the while being bombarded with Malick's furious attacks. When he got to edge of the water, he quickly dodged one, and simple sidestep of Malick's attacks and spun around with his back to him.
' Unbecoming of a SeeD, to say the least.' Melchiah thought. Before Malick could retaliate, he jabbed the backend of his lance into his stomach. Malick doubled over in pain and was breathing heavy, trying to catch his breath. Melchiah stood straight up and looked down at his hunched opponent. He raised his lance over his head, and with one quick chop, Malick's head separated from his shoulders. His body fell to the ground, blood pouring like a river from the headless neck, and his head rolled off the dock and into the water.
Melchiah turned around and looked at the building he had so recently leapt from. "It was one hell of a jump, but it was worth it!"
He stepped over the pool of blood created by Malick's body and began to walk off, but suddenly was knocked to the ground. Something had hit him in his back, hard. He landed face first on the cobble pavement and grunted in pain. He turned around on his back and opened his eyes to see that that a spearhead was pointed an inch from his nose. He looked up to see the owner of the spear, another SeeD, standing over him with his teeth gritted in anger. "Who are you?!" he cried.
"Who I am is irrelevant," replied Melchiah in a vile tone. “What you'll be when I'm done with you is the true question.”
"Shut up!" snapped the SeeD, "Your time has come!" He raised the spear above his head.
'Too slow,' thought Melchiah. He swung his leg with all his strength into the SeeD's shins. The SeeD immediately fell to the ground, stunned. Melchiah quickly got up and had his lance pointed at the SeeD's chest. "This look familiar?" Melchiah scoffed. The SeeD looked up at Melchiah with pleading eyes, holding his hands open-palm close to his chest .
"Please," he begged, "please don't do this."
Melchiah grinned… and drove his lance deep into the man's chest, twisting it. The SeeD's eyes widened and he tried to scream but it was drowned out by gurgling. Blood and vomit erupted from his mouth and ran down his cheeks. He gave one last look at Melchiah, and his eyes rolled back into his head. Melchiah took the lance out of the corpse's body and shook his head.
"Sorry that you had to go that way, but all's fair in love and war. You should have stayed in the ship."
Then he heard movement inside the hull. The door of the Cruiser swung open again, and out stepped what looked like to Melchiah the commander. This conclusion was drawn because first this SeeD was not wearing a standard issue SeeD uniform. Instead he wore long, black leather pants and boots that were scuffed and broken in. On his waist were two belts, a red one to hold his pants up and a brown one that held the holster of what looked like a gun. A long, flat gun. On his shoulders was a heavy black winter coat with white fur on it's long collar. Under it was a plain white undershirt that looked dirty and on his hands were black gloves. But the most convincing thing about the man to Melchiah was his face. He had firm lips and a normal looking nose, and his eyes were a sapphire blue. His long hair was grayish-brown and untidy, but didn't look bad. The most interesting thing about his face was that there was a long red scar that streaked diagonally from the bottom left of his forehead to the upper part of his right cheek near the eye, which gave him a tough and experienced look.
Melchiah crossed his arms and spoke to the SeeD. "So, I assume your are the commander?"
The man said nothing, but instead put his hand on the curved, black butt of his weapon and drew it. It was not a gun at all. It had the handle, revolving chamber, and trigger like a gun but on the end was the long, shiny blade of a sword. Engraved on the side of the blade was a figure that looked like a winged lion. It gleamed proudly in the sunlight and looked as if it was glowing. 'So this is a gunblade?' wondered Melchiah, as the man lifted it and pointed it's tip at Melchiah.
"You're gonna kill me?" he laughed. The man still remained silent as he walked slowly towards him. Melchiah looked down at his blade, which was covered in blood, and then at the SeeD. "Your friends said that, but they were sadly mistaken..." he taunted. "This is your last chance to change your mind, SeeD!"
The man opened his mouth and spoke in a clear, angry tone. "No, this is YOUR last chance, Galbadian!" Melchiah's heart jumped nervously, because he could feel the power of the SeeD as he spoke, but he kept his composure and looked at the warrior viciously with his cold, blue eyes.
"Very, well then." he replied. He pointed his blood-stained lance at the man and charged with all his speed. The warrior continued to walk slowly towards him with his blade pointed out. Melchiah charged even faster. Still the warrior strode steadily. Melchiah lifted his lance over his head and brought it down hard. The warrior brought his blade up as quick as lightning and blocked the heavy blow. As soon as Melchiah had brought the lance down he found himself on the ground, having been kicked in the stomach. The SeeD raised his great blade above his head. Melchiah tried quickly to get up but he knew that he could not dodge the blow. He kneeled with his head bowed, closed his eyes and prepared for his fate.
He felt something blunt and heavy hit him hard in the head. Instead of using the blade, the warrior had hit him with the butt of the weapon. A sickening crack was heard at the same time blow was delivered, at he felt something thick and wet running down his face. But he could feel no pain. He touched his wound and fell on his back. 'I can't believe it.' he thought, 'This is it.' He opened his eyes. His vision was blurred but he could still make out the outline of his killer. There he was, standing over him just looking at him. He could feel the blood pouring out of his open wound, and he could tell that he was going fast.
He managed to speak one last word. "B-Bastard..." His vision went black. But as his hearing faded, he could hear the familiar voice of a man,
"Get away from 'im, ya filthy SeeD!" And the sound of gunshots rang through the heavy sea air as Melchiah drew a final breath, and relaxed…
Chapter 3: Awakening
"Mommy! Mommy! Can I go out and pway?" A small, white haired boy pleaded to his mother.
"Have you finished your chores, dear?" asked the brown haired woman to her child. The boy frowned and bowed his head.
"No," he replied sadly, "but I thought I could go out and pway and then I could finish my chores..." The woman crossed her arms and gave the boy a entertained look.
"Now you know the rules," she interrupted, "No playtime until you finish your chores."
"I know, I know," muttered the boy. "But look, Mommy!" He pointed a small finger out screen kitchen door. The sun was slowly tucking itself into rolling country hills and the sky had turned a dark orange.
"The sun's going away!" he explained, "and I haven't pwayed all day. And I did awot of chores..."
The mother looked at the little boy for a moment, and then smiled. "You have done a lot of work today," she admitted as she walked over to the little boy, bent down, and kissed gently him on the forehead. "Okay, you can go out and play..."
"Yay!" screamed the little boy, as he began to jump up and down on the hardwood kitchen floor with excitement.
"But I want you back before dark, ok?"
"Ok, Mommy!" he promised as he ran out the creaky screen door. The woman smiled and turned back around to begin making dinner.
The boy ran out across the hills and down towards the small grove of trees in the middle of the valley surrounded by the green mounds. This was where he went whenever he got the chance. This was were all of his fantasies and dreams came to life. He would pretend that the trees surrounding him were a gang of giants and he was the knight who had to protect his kingdom. Or when he was in a less creative mood, he would just hang from the winding branches and think about what his mother was making for lunch. He didn't really like other kids coming over to this place. But then again, there was almost no one living in the area of his farm, and the little boy thought it was just as well. He didn't want to share his secret place, it was his and his alone. He didn't even like his mother coming over to the grove to pull him off the branches and bring him in for a bath. This was his world.
He walked into the middle of the grove and closed his eyes. He extended his arm and pointed his finger outward. He then began to spin around and around with his finger pointing towards the trees. He stopped and opened his eyes to see which tree he was pointing to. The boy squealed with delight when he found that he was pointing to his favorite tree in the whole grove. It had a short trunk that was easily climbed onto, and long, winding branches that spread out in all directions. He would have climbed this tree every day if he didn't feel so guilty about not climbing the other ones. He believed that trees had feelings too and he didn't want them to feel at all neglected. He ran up to the tree and quickly scrambled up it's trunk and ran across the branches. He made sure that he climbed across every one before going back to the trunk and doing it again. He did this for what seemed like hours to him, but when he looked at the sky, he saw that it had went from bright orange to a dark pink. It was almost dark. He knew his mother would be furious if he stayed out. He quickly jumped off one of the branches and onto the ground, running out of the grove and up the hill to his house.
He charged up the hill as fast as he could, looking at the sky for a sense of time. It had turned a dark purple now, and the stars were beginning to emerge. The boy ran even faster, he absolutely had to make it before sundown. He was almost to the top of the hill. There he would be able to see the faint lights of the kerosene lamps that his mother put out in the kitchen. If he could make it to the top before the sun disappeared, he could yell to his mother and say that he made it back safely.
He finally made it to the top the hill.
"Mommy! Mommy!" he yelled, "I'm -"
He stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence. He let out a small gasp from his tiny mouth as he watched his house going up it flames. Huge whisps of fire climbed hungrily up the side of the small house and the porch in front of the kitchen had already caved in. All that he knew was getting eaten by the fire and there was nothing he could do. But what made the tears begin to drop down his tiny cheeks was his mother's screaming...
Melchiah's eyes shot open and he sat up straight and felt heavy beads of cold sweat dropping down his forehead. He must have also been crying because he could feel the even heavier drops of tears running down his cheeks. He took a deep breath and thought to himself
'Must have been a bad dream,' he concluded, 'but I don't remember any of it though.' However he could still feel the sheer emotion running rampant through his body. He sat there for a moment taking deep breaths and calmed down enough to realize that he wasn't dead. He was sitting in a bed in a small dark room with a window on the opposite side looking out into a lighted corridor with people in black uniforms walking to and fro past the window, occasionally glancing through it trying to see who was in the room. The room was still too dark, he reached into is coat pocket to take out his flashlight, but found himself reaching into thin air. His coat wasn't on. In fact, he wasn't wearing any clothes except for his boxers.
He then became calm enough to realize the throbbing pain in his head. He reached up to the top of his head to feel his wound and touched cloth, he then ran his fingers over his entire head and found that the forehead up was bandaged. He sat there for a moment, taking it all in. His pectorals glistened with sweat in the moonlight coming through the other window to his side. He shivered. It was cold. He pulled the covers up to his shoulders and tried to remember what had happened. 'Winhill,' he thought. 'Battle with SeeDs. That damned commander...' He touched his wound again and gritted his teeth with anger and pain. He then remembered the familiar voice and the gunshots he heard before he passed out. 'Sam?'
Suddenly, the door by the corridor window swung open. "Mel! Your awake!" exclaimed the familiar soothing voice of a woman. In the doorway stood the shapely figure of a woman. She was shorter than Melchiah, about 5'9, and had beautiful chestnut hair that was shoulder length and shone bright in the light of the hall. She was wearing tight gray sweatpants and a heavy gray sweatshirt that that said "Galbadia University" in bold blue letters across it. Melchiah recognized the voice and the womanly physique at once.
" W...Wolfe?" he said weakly. The woman quickly rushed over to the Melchiah's bed and clicked on the lamp on the table beside it.
"Don't talk Mel, you've been through a lot," she urged as she reached for the pitcher of water and a glass on the table. She poured the water into the glass and gave it to Melchiah.
"Here, drink this. You must be thirsty."
She was right, he was thirsty. He quickly took the glass from Wolfe's hand and gulped every last drop of water down. He then turned his head to her.
"....Thanks," he said softly. Wolfe smiled and took the glass out of his hands and set down on the table next to the picture.
"How do you feel?" she asked, looking at Melchiah's bandaged head with her dark green eyes.
"Not too good," he grunted, "my head hurts."
"I should think it does!" replied Wolfe as she crossed her arms. "That SeeD cracked your skull when he brought the butt of that gunblade down on your head!"
Melchiah's cold blue eyes widened in disbelief. "He did?" She nodded and sat down on the bed next to him.
"Yep," she confirmed. "If he had done it a little bit harder, then you could have gotten brain damage."
Melchiah's eyes got even wider. "Did they cut any of my hair off when they fixed it?" Even though he never talked about it, Melchiah took great pride in his hair. Wolfe laughed and put her hand on Melchiah's bare shoulder.
"No," she chuckled. "The doctor's managed to sew up that wound without cutting any of your precious white hairs off." Melchiah sighed in relief and looked at Wolfe. She was beautiful. Just looking at her made him feel better. But he also knew all too well that Alandra Wolfe was a force to be reckoned with.
For starters, the Wolfe family name was a highly respected one. They dominated the world of martial arts and was victorious at almost every tournament held. Alandra was the first woman in the Wolfe family to have an interest in martial arts. She loved especially to see her older brother Ransom compete. He would soon be the greatest martial artist that the Wolfe's had ever produced and Alandra held her brother with great respect. Her mother died while giving birth to her and with her father being the left to raise Alandra. He decided the best way to teach her discipline was through martial arts. She began training at the age of four. By the age of nine, she was a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do. She began to enter tournaments with boys and winning with great ease. At age thirteen, she began to take an interest in Ninjitsu, or the arts of the ninja. Her father was deeply concerned by this interest being that it was a deadly art and was only to be used by those with perfect self-discipline. He concluded that if he wouldn't teach her then she would teach herself, so he decided if she was going to learn Ninjitsu then she better learn it right, and took her in as her pupil in ninjitsu. By seventeen Alandra had mastered the art of ninjitsu. She could move as fast as the wind itself and be seen only when she wanted to be seen. When she was eighteen she wanted to join the military. She wrote countless letters to General Caraway in Deling City, asking to give her special permission to join. Caraway was impressed by her persistence alone, but when he saw her unsurpassed mastery of martial arts, he moved her to Genesis. There she met Melchiah, who had been her only friend (except for Sam) within Genesis ever since.
Melchiah took his eyes off of Wolfe and looked around the room. "Where am I?" he asked.
"You're in the infirmary ward of Genesis headquarters," she answered.
Melchiah's eyes narrowed in confusion as he scanned the room once more. Another question came to mind. "How long have I been out?"
"About two weeks," she replied calmly.
Chapter 4: Catching Up
A deep feeling of shock washed over Melchiah's body like a tidal wave. He turned his head away from Wolfe and stared at the wall in thought. 'Two weeks?! That SeeD did alot more damage than I thought. How could I have survived such a blow? And did they take Winhill back? If they did, then...'
"...I'm in deep shit," he finished his sentence out loud. Wolfe, who had been looking out the corridor window at the people passing by, immediately swung her head around and glared at the back of Melchiah's bandaged head.
"I know that you might be angry, Mel. I understand that," she said sternly, "but there is no reason to say that. Especially in front of me. You know how I feel about swearing."
Melchiah turned his head back to Wolfe and looked at her apologetically. "Sorry, I was just thinking..."
Suddenly, the door opened and the same familiar voice from Winhill bellowed, "Ya know Mel, that's yer problem. Yer always thinkin' too much."
Melchiah looked over at the door to see the figure of a huge, muscular man.
His head was round and muscular with big brown eyes that had unusually large pupils. If his body was any bigger he would have to turn completely sideways to fit through the door. This didn't mean that he was fat by any stretch of the imagination, for one could plainly see that his great build was sheer muscle. He was a little bit taller than Melchiah, and had matted brown hair to top it all off. He was wearing big, faded blue jeans and a belt with a huge golden buckle that had an engraving of a rifle on it. The long button up shirt that he wore had leather pads on the shoulders. He strode in and threw his cream-colored cowboy hat on the chair by Melchiah's bed.
"Do you know what your problem is Sam?" he snapped irritably at the huge figure.
"You NEVER think!"
Sam threw his head back and roared with laughter.
"Now, now, Mel," he shook a large finger sarcastically at him. "Is that any way to talk to the man who saved yer life?" Sam's loud voice made Melchiah's head hurt. Wolfe stood up and put her finger to her lips. "Sam, do you think you could quiet down? Mel's had a rough trip."
Sam nodded and looked at Melchiah worriedly. "We thought that we had lost ya fer a minute there, ol' buddy. That SeeD banged ya up good."
"Yeah, it's good that Sam and I went down to Winhill against Thorton's orders," Wolfe cut in.
Melchiah looked at the ceiling. 'So it was Sam,' he concluded.
Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, flat, silver box. He opened it and picked out a piece of chewing tobacco. "Yep, if we hadn't made it there right when that SeeD hit ya on yer head, you woulda been one dead dog," he said as he popped the tobacco into his mouth.
A spark of excitement ignited in the pit of Melchiah's stomach. "Did you get him?" he asked.
"Amazingly, no," Wolfe answered. She walked over to the table and picked up the empty pitcher. "The SeeD was incredibly fast. So fast that he managed to dodge every one of Sam's shots, which were perfect." She smiled at the gigantic man, who returned it thankfully.
"Yeah, I think I had somethin' in my eye," he joked. Melchiah laughed.
"Yeah right!" he cried. But there had to be a good reason for Bane Samuel Craft to miss any shot.
Sam had grown up on a ranch on the flowing plains near Dollet. He began shooting at the age of 7. His father had given him his old banged up rifle to ward off Geezards, Funguars, and other small monsters away from the cattle. Before long, little Sam was taking out the little pests in one shot. His father realized his natural talent for shooting, and thought that the old rickety rifle that he had given him was not worthy for such a accurate shot, so he bought him a G-481 Stinger, a top of the line rifle with a 10 round clip, a 2 mile range scope, and a twelve millimeter barrel. Not long after this hefty purchase, Sam was picking off Anacondaurs and Wendigoes with a single bullet. This allowed his father to venture out to new areas of the plains to let the cows graze, and he made tremendous profit off of Sam's perfect shooting, who was 18 by then. At the age of 20, Sam was tired of his old country life and sneaked out of the house one night to find his seek out his fortune. This eventually led him to Deling City, where he joined the Galbadian Army. He stayed with the Army for 5 years, where he used a standard issue sword. He was never given the chance to show off his shooting capabilities until he was ordered to give cover fire for a small group of reinforcements with a small handgun during a skirmish with Eshtar. With the small weapon, Sam managed to kill 23 Estharian soldiers in 2 minutes. News of this incredible feat quickly reached General Caraway who didn't hesitate to move the sharp-shooting giant to Genesis immediately. He met Wolfe and Melchiah there and the three soldiers had been friends since then.
Wolfe picked up the empty pitcher and started for the door. "I'll get you some more water, Mel. Be back in a sec, ok?"
Melchiah nodded, and then looked at Sam, who had grabbed the trash can beside the door and spit in it. When Wolfe walked out he immediately shut the door. "Heeeyy. Looks like you and Wolfe are finally startin' to click."
"Shut up Sam," Melchiah snapped. "What makes you think that anyway?" Sam shrugged and spit in the trash can again.
"I dunno, somethin's there that wasn't before."
"Oh really?" Mel argued. "Can you conceive the thought of a friend just being concerned for me?"
"Sure," said Sam, who finally spit the rest of the chew into the trash. "But I don't think that it's that."
"Listen Sam, I don't feel up to listening to you play love doctor for both of us, alright?"
"Okay, okay. Sheesh. What crawled up yer butt anyway?"
"I don't know, I think it has something to do with me either getting knocked out with the butt of a gunblade or waking up two weeks later on the other side of the continent," he said sarcastically.
Sam frowned. "Whatever."
"Do you mind if you leave? I'd like to be alone."
"Sure thing, little buddy."
He walked to the door and opened it. He began to walk out when Wolfe shot into the
room like a bullet. Sam jumped back two feet and buckled over, breathing heavily.
"Jesus, Wolfe. Don't scare me like that!"
Wolfe ignored Sam's words and quickly rushed to Melchiah's bedside. "I've got something that you might want to know about, Mel," she said excitedly. Melchiah saw the worried look in her eyes and sat up. "What's wrong?"
She took a deep breath and began to speak. "Well, I was at the water fountain filling up your pitcher when General Caraway comes up to me."
A deep sinking feeling stirred within Melchiah's stomach. "General Caraway?" She nodded.
"Uh-huh. So he asks me how you are doing and I say that you're fine. It seems that he's just concerned until he tells me to tell you to come up and see him in the 3rd floor conference room tomorrow morning."
"But then an old man with flabby jowls and a turkey neck comes up behind him and says. 'That's when we'll be rid of him.' "
The sinking feeling stopped and jumped into Melchiah's throat like a lit firecracker.
'Thorton.' "Oh great. The old bastard is finally going to do it."
A look of confusion swept over Wolfe's face. "What? Do you know him?"
"It's better that you not know," he answered as he patted her on the shoulder.
The pain in his head began to swell like an impending explosion. He put his hands on the bandages and closed his eyes. Wolfe put her hands on Melchiah's. They felt warm and soft. "Mel, are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'll be alright," he grunted. "I just need some rest."
She nodded. "Yeah, it's pretty late." She grabbed Sam by the arm, who was picking another chew from his silver box, and walked to the door. "Good night, Mel," she said soothingly. The door closed quietly. Melchiah clicked off he light and turned on his side.
'What would I do if I got kicked out?' he thought. 'Where would I go?'
Chapter 5: Waking Up
Melchiah awoke to the sound of birds chirping happily outside his infirmary ward window and the brilliant glare of the sun shining right in his eyes. He groaned and turned on his side to look at the clock on the table beside the bed. "Eight thirteen," he mumbled as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He froze suddenly as he remembered what Wolfe had said the night before. He was supposed to go and see Caraway. His mind began to race again with thoughts of imminent termination and exile from the only family he had. He shook his bandaged head and swung his legs around to the side of the bed. 'Calm down Mel,' he thought to himself. 'You don't even know what it's about yet.'
He heard a knock on the door. Before he could say 'come in' the silver door handle turned and in stepped Wolfe. "Good morning, Mel!" she sang happily. She walked up to the bed and stood in front of him, her emerald eyes gleaming. "Did you sleep well?" she asked.
Melchiah looked up to her and smiled slightly.
"Yeah, I guess so." he replied. His icy blue eyes looked down as he scratched the back of his neck, being a bit embarrassed that he was in the presence of a woman ( a fully dressed one with non- sensual intentions, to be more precise ) wearing only a pair of boxers.
Wolfe didn't seem to notice, who smiled at him as she bent slightly over in her black leather trousers, letting the bottom of her black leather jacket with leather ribbon on the arms and chest hang slightly above her small waist. "Would you like me to get you some breakfast while you get dressed?" she asked.
'She does notice.' thought Melchiah. He nodded. "Sure, thanks." Wolfe nodded back and pushed a lock of her short chestnut hair behind her ear.
"I'll be right back. I also took the liberty of bringing some of your clothes from your dorm and putting them in closet over there." she nodded to the white sliding doors to Melchiah's right. He looked at Wolfe and smiled.
She smiled back. "Don't mention it, Mel. Be back in a sec." She turned and walked out the door, shutting it behind her.
Melchiah sighed. 'Wolfe, why are you so good to me?' he thought as he walked to the sliding doors and opened them. After weighing his fashionable options for a moment, he pulled out a black dress shirt along with matching trousers and loafers. After putting his pants on, he sat down on the bed and began to button up his shirt. 'What if I do get kicked out, though?' he thought. 'Where would I go? Who would I have?'
Most people would have answered this question by going back to their families, but such was not the case with Melchiah. He knew of no family but his friends at Genesis. All that he knew was that his biological mother and father had died, and some time after that he joined the Galbadian Military, eventually being selected for the Genesis Project. What was strange was that he didn't know when or how his parents died, or even where he was or what he did between that and his admission into the military. What was even stranger was that he never questioned why that was.
He had just finished rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt when Wolfe walked in again, carrying a tray of with a steaming stack of pancakes and a few strips of crispy bacon on the side. She put it on the table and pulled out the chair from under it and sat in it. "Eat up," she said. "I'm sure you have a full day ahead of you." These words made Melchiah think about the dreaded upcoming conference with General Caraway again, but he masked his fear and smiled at Wolfe. "Yes, yes I do. Thanks." He sat in front of the table and pulled the tray up next to him and began to eat. After a few moments of silent eating, he glanced briefly at Wolfe, who was looking at his head.
Melchiah sat up and touched the side of his head, feeling the clothy touch of the bandages. "What? What is it?" he asked.
"Y'know Mel," Wolfe said as she stood up. "I think that you've had those bandages on for long enough. Maybe we should take them off before your meeting with the General?"
Melchiah nodded and put his fork down on the tray. "Yeah. But are you sure you can do this without the IP's ( Infirmary Physician ) consent?" Wolfe chuckled a bit and nodded.
"Sure. He came in while you were asleep last night and said he'd take 'em off today anyway." She looked down and touched her two index fingers together. "But I thought you might want them off before you meet Caraway." Melchiah was a bit confused by Wolfe's behavior, but he agreed. "Sure, that'd be great, Wolfe." She looked up and smiled excitedly. "Great!" She turned around and walked to a gray metal drawer cabinet near the door, opened it, and pulled out a big pair of black scissors with black handles. She walked over to the bed and sat next to Melchiah, putting one bended leg up on it so she sat sideways facing him. "Alright," she said, "Hold still." She gently put one hand on the top of his head and slid one blade of the scissors under the bandages on the side of his head. He felt the pressure of the cold steel change as she slowly cut upwards revealing some of his precious white hair. 'Why is she doing this?' thought Melchiah, 'Is she doing it simply to have an excuse... to be with me?'
Just then Wolfe cut into his thoughts. "Mel, are you going to be removed from Genesis?" Melchiah's heart jumped in shock from the question. But it was a legitimate one. After all, it was her who probably heard the vile tone in the General's voice as he gave her the message. And Thorton's comments pretty much seal the doubt that the conference was going to be a good one. Moreover, Melchiah had tried to pull a pretty crazy stunt back in Winhill, anyway.
He sighed a bit. "I don't know, Wolfe," he replied. "The chance is definitely there, though."
Wolfe shook her head. "But they can't fire you Mel!" she retorted. "You're one of the best agents in Genesis, they can't afford to lose you!" Melchiah was not at all surprised that Wolfe was expressing concern for him, it was how desperate she sounded. She finally finished cutting the last bandage and they unraveled on to the bed. He turned to Wolfe and looked into her eyes, the expression of concern within her lush green orbs was greater than he had ever seen her before. He didn't think about what to answer, so he spoke from the heart.
"Wolfe, be brave. I will not leave this place without a fight."
Tears began to well up in Wolfe's eyes. "B-But what if you do? What will you do? Where will you go?" She began to sob softly into her hands.
This even more so surprised Melchiah, but also filled him with compassion. He hated to see her cry.
"Wolfe," he put both of his hands on her shoulders, and she looked into his blue eyes. "I don't know what will happen to me, but even so, keep this in mind. No matter what happens to me, I'll always still be your friend, and I will always feel the same way about you. “And besides," he winked cheerfully at her. "These walls aren't strong enough to keep me from coming in and seeing my best friends."
Tears were now streaming down Wolfe's face. But she smiled. "Thanks, Mel." she sobbed as she leaned her forehead onto Melchiah's shoulder. They both stood up and embraced, Wolfe sniffling a bit and Melchiah patting his hand gently on her back. And there, for the first time in the twenty-six years of his life, his heart had been touched. Or at least it was the first time he could remember...
Chapter 6: Judge, Jury, Executioner
Melchiah closed the door to his room and inhaled deeply. He had asked Wolfe if she'd like to accompany him to the elevator, but she politely declined, saying she had a few “important matters” to attend to. 'Strange that she found the time to feed me breakfast and cut my bandages,” Melchiah thought with a smile. He made his way down the somewhat crowded hallway, pushing past the other Genesis agents to turn to his right and make his way down to the end, to the elevator.
Melchiah had pushed the call button at the elevator doors when he heard that loud, corn-fed voice bellow at the end of the hall. “Mel! 'Ey Mel!” The stitched gash on Melchiah's head pounded with furious pain at the booming sound as he turned around and saw, of course, Sam.
“Hey,” replied Sam, who was panting slightly from the dead sprint he'd made from the end of the hall to his friend. He never missed the chance to talk someone's ear off. “So you're goin' up to see the General, huh?”
Sam patted him on the shoulder. “Well I just wanted to catch ya before ya went in to wish ya good luck.”
“Well thanks, Sam. I appreciate that.”
Sam smiled proudly at Melchiah for a few seconds, nodding, then widened his eyes, as if remembering something. “Oh, yeah. I almost fergot…” His massive hand reached into his shirt and pulled out a long loop of nearly rotted string. A long, curved tooth dangled at the end, it's off-white color giving off a dull shine in the florescent lighting. Sam brought it up to eye level, swinging it back and forth slowly, his large eyes staring at it with entranced fascination. “…Do you know what this is, Mel?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
“Well, as a matter of fact, Sam, y-”
“This here is the fang of the very first Anacondaur I ever did shoot.”
“Sam, I know-”
“You know the story behind this?”
“Ya don't? Lemme tell ya.”
“I just said yes.”
“I was seventeen years old, about six months before my paw gave me the Stinger. I had went off in woods to take leak, when I hear this giant crash. I look to my left, I look to my right, then I look behind me, and there I see the biggest Anacondaur that ever lived. Fifty feet long, fifty!” He slapped Melchiah in the back, who was rolling his eyes for about the fourth or fifth time, and gave him a hearty smile. “So I raise my rickety ol' rifle, Ol' Wood and Windy I called 'er, and closed my eyes, prayin' to the faeries to get lucky, and shoot. And when I open them, the damned thing is impaled by a tree branch through the head! It stabbed itself when it tried to dodge my shot!” Sam was already roaring with laughter by the second `to last sentence, he slapped Melchiah on the back again.
“Whaddya think about that, Mel?”
“It gets better and better every couple of hundred times I hear it, Sam.” Melchiah replied sarcastically. A soft chime came from the elevator and the doors opened. Two fat cafeteria ladies walked out, and Sam tipped his hat to them. “Mornin', Agnes. Mornin', Helen. Y'all gonna whip up sommah that country style beans and cornbread for lunch today?”
The slightly fatter cafeteria lady, Helen, nodded and gave Sam a wry smile. “Sure thing, hon.” she said in a thick city accent. “I'll make yours just the way you like it. Extra beans with a little chewing tobacco.”
“Does a body good,” Sam said with a laugh. He tipped his hat again and watched the two ladies make their way down the hall.
'Chewing tobacco?' Melchiah thought, feeling a little sick to his stomach.
“Well,” Melchiah said. “Here's the elevator, Sam. I gotta go.”
“Wait a sec,” Sam said, holding out the trinket to Melchiah. “Take it. It's for good luck.”
“Whoa, Sam. I dunno.”
“C'mon, take it. It's always brought me luck. I figgered that you might need some up there.”
“Sam, I can't-”
“No, Mel. I insist. Take it.”
“No, Sam. No way-”
“Just take the damn tooth!” Sam yelled, shoving it into Melchiah's chest. Melchiah looked at the tooth for a moment, then at Sam. Sighing, he let the tooth fall into his hand.
“No prob, bud.” Sam replied, giving his friend a bright smile. “C'mon back with some good news, y'hear?”
“I will. See you later.” Melchiah said, stepping into the elevator.
Sam waved. 'Almost waving like it was the last time he'd ever see his friend,' Melchiah thought.
“We'll be in the cafeteria waitin' for ya!” Sam said. And the doors closed.
Melchiah pushed the button marked “Floor 7”. There was a slight jerk, and the elevator began to move. After a few seconds, he looked up at the floor indicator and saw that it was already on the fifth floor, a little faster than he had anticipated, giving absolutely no time to compose himself or even figure out what to say. But he wasn't at all surprised. 'It all follows suit with the luck I've been having nowadays, anyway.'
The elevator chimed again, and the shiny metallic doors slid open to reveal the office of General Caraway.
The office, for lack of better words, was nothing short of spectacular. Lush, red carpet spread from wall to wall with a complete set of polished cherrywood furniture; a couch, six chairs, and a recliner were spread out decoratively across the broad expanse of the room. But the most impressive part was straight ahead. The entire back wall, which really wasn't a wall at all, was a window. One giant panel of glass was in place of stucco and stone to give the occupants of the room a beautiful view of the great rolling hills of Galbadia. Serving as a backdrop to the hills, the great mountain range the separated Galbadia from the rest of the continent rose up like a sky-high, snowcapped wall. In other words, the view was breathtaking. Finally, Melchiah's eyes drifted back over to the middle of the room, where, sitting behind an immense cherrywood desk, his fingers intertwined in a powerful fold in front of him, was General Caraway. He wore a jet black uniform which match his eyes that seemed to stare right through anything (a feat that was being directed at Melchiah for that moment), his sharp facial features crimped into a blank expression. And beside him was Thorton, his flaccid face pushed up in a swaggering smile that almost supported his red, sagging eyes.
'Must be the bastards finest hour,' Melchiah observed, trying to act as professional as he could in front of Caraway. As much as he hated it, he saluted. “Reporting as requested, sir.” he said unenthusiastically.
“At ease, Captain Kraven,” said the General, his voice steady. “Please, sit down.”
Melchiah took a deep breath and sat down in the chair in front of Caraway's desk, glancing once again at Thorton's arrogant smile.
“I see that your bandages are finally off,” said Caraway. “I trust that you're feeling well?”
“That's good,” Caraway said, standing up from his chair, beginning to walk to the left wall where the liquor cabinet was located. “I suppose your wondering why you're here, Captain.”
“Not entirely, sir.” replied Melchiah. Shooting a look at Thorton, who seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly.
“Really?” asked the General, picking up a decanter full of amber liquid to pour himself a glass. “Then you know that you were sent to Winhill two weeks ago to carry out orders under the command of Major Thorton? Because I'm not sure that you did, being as you directly disobeyed him. Am I wrong?”
Caraway's sarcasm wasn't helping Melchiah feel better about this meeting at all. It was going to hell in a hand basket quicker than he anticipated. “Yes, sir.”
“Am I? So you knew that Major Thorton was your superior during that time and you still directly disobeyed his orders?” he asked, going back to his desk with a drink.
Caraway took a sip of his drink, as Thorton beamed. “I see,” he said. “Captain Kraven, are you aware of what your actions cost Galbadia?”
Melchiah knew full well what his actions cost his country, but he preferred to let it come from the General's mouth, in small hope that he might miss something else he did. He shook his head, pushing his heart back down his throat with a large swallow. “No, sir.”
General Caraway looked at Melchiah for a moment, his dark eyes piercing him like a pair of knives. “Captain,” he started, “Due to your failure to follow orders, you caused a major break in the chain of command, the allocation of fifteen battle ready Galbadian soldiers to the wrong coordinates, the dejection of Major Thorton's authority, the invasion and sacking of Winhill…”
Melchiah had originally expected to be charged with the aforementioned accusations until Caraway completely shocked him with the news of the loss of Winhill, which meant that the consequences of his actions would be much more dire. A court marshal was now nearly inevitable. His eyes widened a bit and he fidgeted in his chair when it reached his ears. “…and the vulnerability of invasion in our entire southwest territory.”
“In other words,” the least wanted voice of Thorton cut in. “You've made one hell of a mess. Is that a correct assessment, General?”
The General gave only a nod after Thorton spoke, his piercing black eyes still stabbing through the back of Melchiah's skull. And Melchiah kept his eyes on the General, and his mouth shut. As much as a just wanted to get up and beat the piss out of the sagging old bastard standing beside the desk, he wasn't stupid.
“Do you disagree with any of these accusations, Captain?” asked the General, his voice getting more menacing by the moment.
There was complete silence for a moment, then the General spoke again. “Captain, as a member of the Genesis, you are also considered a member of one of the most exclusive and elite forces in the world. You are expected to conduct yourself in such a manner. Your behavior two weeks ago was completely unbecoming of your rank in the military and contradicted the supposed knowledge, training, and discipline a soldier such as yourself possesses.”
“Furthermore,” he continued. “Genesis is a fledgling organization designed to carry out special operations and protect Galbadia from SeeD, it's greatest opponent to date. Your arrogance and failures two weeks ago did nothing to improve the reputation and integrity of this project. There are many people over in Deling City who would love to see us go under, and you have just given them one more reason to pull the plug, do you understand?” For a split second, Caraway's dark eyes darted in Thorton's direction, who was smirking snobbishly at Melchiah.
“Yes, sir” Melchiah replied. His heart sank deeper into his stomach as he clutched Sam's tooth tightly in his hand.
“As you may well know, Captain,” continued the General, finishing off the rest of his drink. “I can't take this matter lightly. The decision I've made has come after much deliberation, and I see no other suitable course of action.”
Melchiah knew that Thorton couldn't hold it in much longer. He knew the old fart wanted to start dancing right there in the office, the look on his face told him that much. At that moment, he almost thought it was worse knowing that Thorton won than being discharged from Genesis. But then, the General said something unexpected.
“Major, you may leave us.”
Thorton's sagging jowls fell like boulders down his face at the sound of those words, his mouth opening into a gaping hole. “Leave?! But-but General!”
“You've seen enough. Now leave, and that's an order.”
Thorton looked as if he was about to have a core meltdown. To put it a little more crudely, he looked like he had been interrupted and dismissed right at the critical moment of a good sexual encounter. Nevertheless, face red, eyes bloodshot with anger, he straightened his back and presented a firm salute.
“Yes, sir.” With that, he shot a furious look at Melchiah, who was trying his best not to smile, turned on his heels and left the office.
General Caraway had watched Thorton leave in silence. When the elevator doors closed behind him, Caraway looked at Melchiah in a more lax fashion and held up his empty liquor glass. “Have a drink?”
Melchiah shook his head, smiling. 'This is more like it', he thought. “No, thanks.”
The General simply shrugged the black shoulders of his uniform and stood up, moving towards the liquor cabinet once more. “Sorry about the whole inquisition back there. Had to put on a show to keep Thorton and the rest of the Army at bay.”
Melchiah was a bit shocked by that statement, especially since he believed the sincerity of every word that the General said with Thorton in the room. If at all he didn't cut it as a general, he definitely had promise in acting. However, Melchiah decided to play it cool, anyway. “I understand.” (Now that Thorton was out of the room, the formalities such as “sir” were to be thrown out. Both the General and Melchiah didn't care for such things. Besides, they had become friends.)
Caraway finished pouring his second glass, and took a hefty sip. He wiped the excess alcohol from his mouth with the back of his sleeve, and walked back to his desk. He threw Melchiah that lax look again. “Just to let you know, even though Winhill was invaded and captured, it wasn't sacked.”
This time Melchiah couldn't help but look surprised. “Really?”
Caraway took yet another sizable sip from his glass and nodded. “Yes. Major Thorton did the report paperwork from the mission, which said that the city had been sacked. I had a few doubts, so I sent a team out to observe Winhill.”
“And there weren't any damages?” Melchiah asked.
“It hasn't even been touched,” replied Caraway, sitting back in his chair. “I think that SeeD's been hiring themselves out again. Otherwise, I don't think that they would've cared what happened to it.”
Suddenly, Melchiah remembered what he overheard the two SeeDs talking about prior to his attack. “They are.”
The General's eyebrows rose in intrigue. “Is that right? How'd you find that out?”
“Two SeeDs were talking about it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.” Melchiah knew he was giving out further incriminating evidence about his botching the mission, but he knew that not a word would be spoken of that outside the office. “Looks like Esthar's behind this one.”
The General simply shook his head. “Dammit, just what we need. Esthar kicking us in the ass while we're already down. It's a damn good thing that idiot Deling is dead. Knowing him, he would've put another sorceress in office after all this, then we'd really be in trouble.”
“Do we have anything to really worry about, though?” asked Melchiah. “I mean, Esthar has problems of its own, and taking back Winhill will be a breeze with more men.”
Caraway shrugged. “I suppose, but that's the Army's problem now. I only hope they can get it together before Soren officially takes office.”
“Soren? Soren Deling?” asked Melchiah, looking puzzled. “But isn't he only twenty-nine or something like that?”
The General shrugged, finishing off the glass of alcohol with a tremendous gulp. “Yes, but he is Vinzer's son. And if he makes the same mistakes that his old man did, we're through.” He set the glass down and sighed. “But at this point, I'd rather have my mother in office than another Vinzer Deling, so I'll gladly accept Soren with open arms until he screws up. ”
Melchiah nodded. “Yeah, I guess you're right.”
There was a few seconds of awkward silence, then the General spoke again.
“Well, let's cut the chit-chat and boil it down to business,” he said.
There was a sinking feeling in Melchiah's stomach as he concurred. “Alright…” He held his first question back, but then decided to go on with it. If he didn't ask now, he'd find it out anyway.
“Am I getting court marshaled?”
Caraway hesitated a moment, then shook his head slowly. “I pulled a few strings up in Deling City to convince the big wigs up there not to go ahead with the court marshal. The plain and simple truth, Captain, is that you're just to valuable to lose to a court marshal. You, Lieutenant Craft and Lieutenant Wolfe are among the best the Galbadian military has to offer. Once I convinced the others of that, a court marshal seemed all but an idiotic course of action to take.”
Melchiah sighed and relaxed in his chair, “Thanks, General. I owe you one-”
“Whoa, now son.” the General cut in. “ Don't think that you've gotten off the hook just yet. You didn't let me finish. The Army still wants blood for this.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don't honestly think those old crotchety geezers would let a young, talented, strapping lad like yourself off scot free, do you?” The General asked with a laugh.
“I'm guessing that they're not.”
“Right you are, Captain. I had to do a little bargaining to avoid a court marshal as well. Something both good for you and them. But more so for them.” he replied, now spinning the glass round and round face up on his desk. “I'm sending you on a mission.”
In a few short seconds, Melchiah's mood went from joyous to confused. If what the
General said was true, it sounded like what he was getting was more reward than punishment. He loved missions, especially those with Sam and Wolfe. Major havoc was wreaked on those kinds.
“Excuse me, did you just say I'm going on a mission?”
The General nodded. “Yes, but it's no ordinary mission. I trust you remember your training on covert and undercover operations?”
“Yes,” Melchiah said. He'd never done a mission like that before, but the training was easy enough to wing. Well, that's how it was to him, anyway. However, the way the General was speaking made him uneasy.
“Good, because Lieutenants Wolfe and Craft won't be joining you for this one. You're doing it solo.” Caraway said. He leaned in closer to Melchiah from his desk, letting his face return to the grim state it was in prior to Thorton's dismissal. He spoke in a low voice. “Captain, whatever else that is said beyond this point is Section Five classified. If any of this leaks out, you'll be in a world of shit that I can't even get you out of. Do you understand?”
Now it was confirmed. This was serious. In response, Melchiah leaned in a little closer to the General and nodded. From what he was told, Section Fives weren't thrown out unless there was a damn good reason to. “Yes, I understand.”
“Very well,” the General said, then leaning back in his chair. “I'll give you only a quick overview of your objectives. You're paperwork and supplies containing the details will be delivered to you tomorrow before you leave.” He pushed one of the many books on his desk out of the way to reveal a button underneath. He pushed it, and a large projection screen descended from the tall ceiling behind him, obstructing the view of the mountains. He pushed the button again, and the screen blinked a few times in a blue light, then it revealed a map of the entire world.
Through all of this, Melchiah had been thinking. 'Tomorrow?' he thought. 'Why so soon? I just woke up from a coma.' But in rethinking it again, he decided he didn't have any place to argue with it. He let the General continue. Caraway swiveled around in his chair and pointed to the small piece of earth in the middle of the map, surrounded by water.
“Your first objective,” the General said. “Is to arrive at this at the Balamb train station at 1000 hours two days from now.”
“Balamb? What's in Balamb except-” Melchiah froze in mid-sentence, his cold, steely blue eyes staring straight into the General's, who was staring right back at him.
“There you will make use of fabricated identification and a blue Garden training uniform that will be provided for you at the train station in Timber. In addition, you are to go to the docks and secure a sea-going vessel. From there, you'll travel by car to Balamb Garden. That's your first objective. Get to Balamb Garden and get a boat. Understand?”
Melchiah slowly nodded. “Yes.” he said. He was nervous, but excited at the same time, which was turning his stomach into knots.
The General cleared his throat and pressed the button again, which caused another slide to appear. Balamb Garden, it's beautiful, white, and curvatious architecture standing out among the green grass of the puny Balamb countryside.
“Your second objective is to gain access to Balamb Garden. By this time, you'll be wearing your uniform and have your ID prepared. You'll also have with you fake transfer papers from Galbadia Garden. You're verbal cover story will be that you are transferring from Galbadia Garden in order to be closer to your family and fiancée in Fisherman's Horizon. If anyone asks about anything that may compromise your cover story, say that you're in a hurry and leave. Or, if the questioner is the only one in sight or earshot, eliminate him. Or her. Do you understand your second objective?”
“Good.” The General said. “Your third and most important objective is to capture and escape with Balamb Garden's potentially most dangerous weapon. A weapon that the Grand Military Staff in Deling City would wipe your record clean to know that it's out of the SeeD's hands.”
Melchiah spoke sternly, his vivid eyes trained inside the General's invisible pupils.
“General, what exactly is this weapon?”
“Captain,” The General replied. “Balamb Garden has a sorceress.”
“What?!” Melchiah's eyes widened in surprise. “That's impossible. Edea was destroyed a year ago.”
The General nodded. “Indeed she was,” he said. “But there were two.”
“Two? Two sorceresses? How?”
“That's irrelevant,” The General said. “All you need to know is that your objective is to capture this sorceress and escape with her.”
“Are you sure that I can kidnap a sorceress, General? I mean, that's what you're asking me to do, right?”
“I don't know, General. I don't think I've trained my magic defense high enough yet. My assigned GF and I don't get along very well.”
“I wouldn't worry about that, Captain. Although I DO suggest that you bring your GF along for the sake of offense.”
“Why not?” Melchiah asked.
“She's not that kind of sorceress.” Caraway, pushed the button on the desk and another slide appeared. It was a picture of the sorceress. She stood about 5'5“, wearing a black and blue short and strapped shirt with a light blue overset that extended down to her calves, contrasting well with her soft, white skin. Long, raven colored hair fell around her delicately sculpted face as she looked skyward, the sun raining white ribbons against her. In the background, there was a dog with long hair was visible. Maybe a German Shepard cross.
Melchiah stared at the picture. “You're telling me that she is the sorceress?”
“You're on a roll, Captain,” replied the General, shutting the projection off and sending the screen up. “Intelligence tells me that she, quote: 'Is probably the sweetest human being to walk the earth.' She shouldn't be too much trouble to lure.”
“ 'Sweetest human being to walk the Earth,' huh? She looks like it.”
“All the more reason to get in there and get out quickly,” said Caraway. “I don't want you to be in there long enough to get found out. Understand?”
“Yes.” replied Melchiah.
“Good,” The General said. “Furthermore, should you fail this mission, or your identity is compromised, the Galbadian government will disavow any knowledge of your existence and any of your records with us and the census ministry will be destroyed. In addition, you will never be allowed within the borders of Galbadia and her territories for as long as you may live. If you violate this ordinance after having failed the mission, you will be executed…” He then allowed a few moments for that information to sink in. “Do you understand this, Captain?”
'I guess this is the price of pardon and glory,' Melchiah thought sighing inwardly, 'I'd better not screw this up.'
“Very well,” the General said. “You are to be awake at 0600 hours tomorrow. Be at the quartermaster and receive preparations at 0700 hours. Departure for the Galbadia East train station will be at 0730.”
“Well,” sighed the General, standing up. “This meeting is over. Dismissed.”
Melchiah got up and walked for the elevator, the rays of the newly risen morning sun outlining the mountains on his back.
“Captain,” the General called. Melchiah turned around.
“Good luck.” Melchiah nodded and turned around, the stainless steel doors sliding closed behind him.
After watching the doors close, these words escaped the General's lips: “Please bring her home safe,” he said. “Bring my Rinoa back to me.”
To be continued…