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The Sorceress War Part I, Chapter XXIII

The scene before Celeste would have caused the average person to vomit.  The stench, rather than the sights, would have done it to the whip user had she not applied scented lotion under her nose to guard against it.  In front of her, to her sides, and all around her were the fallen soldiers of all three armies.  Not many were left standing, and the thousands of fallen bodies that littered the ground stretched almost as far as her eyes could see.  A few regiments of Helian and Estharian soldiers were able to pull out after the sound of their retreat, yet many more Galbadians seemed to be alive than their enemies.  Neither side could really claim victory, since there was so much devastation to either side that it would take a long time to recover from the blows.


   The damage to the Galbadians was extremely bad.  Just by looking, Celeste could assess much of the damage.  The entire row of artillery that had been stationed at the edge of the beach was completely destroyed by airship gunfire.  Likewise, the only two airships that were able to escape the battle unscathed were a troop transport that escaped with the surviving Estharian-Helian soldiers and Virados' flagship the Avenger.  Only a few garrisons of Galbadian foot soldiers, whom were called "Regulars" by other members of the army, were able to survive and all were on their way back towards the barracks.  The Special Forces units seemed to be intact, though anything could have happened out there in the chaos.  Luckily, she was pretty sure all of Wolf Pack was okay.  Except for, that is, Julia....


   She shook her head and pushed the grenadier out of her head for a moment.  She would worry about Julia later, now she had to worry about the people she had a chance to help.  She looked around the battlefield for any sign of her friends, most of which she hadn't seen since they tried to rescue Julia, but that was about three hours ago.  She smiled, though impossible it may seem in her current situation, as she saw the spunky summoner of Wolf Pack running towards her.  

    Celeste raised her hand in greeting and waved to her,  "Andraia!  Hey, you made it!"


    Andraia scoffed and she ran up and hugged Celeste fiercely around the neck.  "Of course!  Was there ever any doubt?  Oh, boy we're really scattered all around huh?  Lancer and Lilliana (who had come into battle about a two hours ago after landing the Valhalla down) are all the way over by the artillery debris, I dunno what happened to Zion or Corin, and everyone else is just... around."


    "Well, we'll all get together when Raine orders us back to base.  We should be getting the order about now anyway, there aren't any enemies left."  Celeste replied, stringing her whip back into its holster at her hip.  It hung next to her other holster, which held her now empty Magnum revolver. 


    The order came just as Celeste had predicted.  Raine's voice came through her communicator with the usual serious tone possessed by their Pack leader.  "Wolf Pack, we've finally been cleared to return to base.  Everybody get back and get some rest.  I'll give you more orders when we've recovered."


    Celeste and Andraia both inwardly smiled in happiness, though they were afraid to show it outside due to recent events.  They both turned back towards the bases, Andraia drinking a potion quietly for a change.  Also to her surprise, Celeste had noted that Andraia hadn't done her traditional victory dance after completing her battle.  She must have been seriously shocked at loosing so many lives, on top of Julia's capture.


    The summoner's eyes widened in horror as she saw a familiar group of people carry an injured body off of the battlefield.  She dropped her potion, which broke with a loud crack against the ground, and ran towards them.  Celeste followed her with a stunned expression, tagging along to make sure she didn't get into any sort of trouble.  Before them, Excalibur was carrying a bleeding Aaron Tilmitt off of the field, their destination the medical wing of Zeta Base.  Aaron looked as if he was in immense pain from the injuries to his chest and shoulder.  


    "Oh my gods, what happened Aaron?!"  Andraia nearly screamed, to the annoyance of the other Excalibur soldiers, and grabbed his hand to try and comfort him in his pain.  


    He could only grunt in reply, though he looked relieved to see her.  Jesse took the initiative and decided to inform her of what had happened.  "Ah... Aaron here got picked off by a Helian sniper.  Two gunshot wounds, one in the right side of his chest and the other in his shoulder.  He'll have battle scars, but that's the best way to get 'em, huh buddy?"  He finished his phrase and tapped Aaron on his good shoulder.


    Icelina added on,  "We ran out of potions and none of us are white mages, so we had no way to heal him on the field.  He struggled through anyway, so we're taking him to Zeta's infirmary."


    "Well I'm a white mage!  I'm more or less out of magic energy, but I have enough left for a single Cure spell."  Andraia replied, casting a Cure on his shoulder wound.  It slightly healed itself and relieved him of minor pain, but it didn't do much else.   


    The summoner turned back to Celeste,  "Go tell Raine that I'm going to stay with Aaron and help him recover.  I'll meet up with the rest of you later, okay?"  


    Celeste nodded in return, and Andraia left with the Excalibur soldiers.  She swore that she could hear Jesse grumbling in annoyance under his breath, but apparently Andraia hadn't noticed.  She looked away from their retreating forms and continued back towards the bases.  




    Raine swiftly inhaled in pain as she used a pair of tweezers to pull a bullet that had barely penetrated out of an open wound on her leg.  She looked at the small metal object for a moment after she had pulled it out, then grabbed the nearest hi-potion and used it to close the wound it came from.   She had been offered to be cured by the medics at the base, but decided they should take care of the vastly injured instead of her.  She decided it was best to use what potions she had to cure her own wounds inside her room.  She miraculously hadn't been vastly injured during the battle.  Only a few blade scrapes that would heal with time, and one or two gunshot wounds which she was taking care of now, had damaged her flesh during that time. 


   The rest of the Wolves knew better than to be hanging around Raine right now, since she was obviously in a very bad mood.  She felt solely responsible for Julia's capture, and was taking her anger out on anyone nearby.  She felt bad for doing so, and had retreated to her room in order to brood to herself and not lash out at her friends.  She knew that she had to find some way of rescuing the grenadier, but had no idea how to since she wasn't sure if Julia had been taken to the Centran Ruins or not. 


   Once her leg and finished healing under the liquid contained in the hi-potion, she went over to her neatly-kept desk in the corner of her room.  Opening the bottom compartment, she dug through the many maps that she used to plot mission navigation points during the larger battles that Wolf Pack handled.  Fishing out a map of the Northern Centra continent (which she noted should have been Mysidia, but devout followers of Hyne's church had urged the countries to rename it claiming that Mysidia was a godless country and shouldn't be recognized; especially since Centra had conquered it, more or less.) and followed the grid until she came across the spot where the Centran Ruins were reported to be.


   It was a single temple among barren desert.  Mysidia had been that way ever since Hyne called the Lunar Cry to destroy the Mysidian Empire.  The last Lunar Cry had happened 60 or so years ago in Centra, which then turned Southern Centra into a rocky desert as well.  Historians claimed that lush forests and fields covered the continents, but no longer.  But that was beside the point.  Taking a close look at the map surrounding the area, she tried to plot an attempt to break in and find Julia, should she be there.   


    Raine scoffed.  Apparently, no one had bothered scouting around the ruins and much of the map didn't have much detail to it.  She somewhat expected it, considering the ruins were said to house many dangerous monsters.  A sane explorer would stay away from locations like that.  She concluded that the Pack would have to deal with whatever was there when they arrived.  She didn't want Virados to know about her attack, which he would if they came storming in on the Valhalla right by the temple.  Instead, she found an ideal mountain range that they could land the ship behind, then hike into the ruins.  If Julia was there, then they would find her.


    Now all she had to do was find a way to get the Valhalla out of the local Research and Development base...




    Zion sat by himself in the corner of Zeta's upper lounge.  The other Wolves were all resting, though Andraia had long disappeared after following that Tilmitt soldier to the medical wing.  True, Zion was also tired because of the battle, but he had far too much on his mind to be able to sleep.  Being alone allowed him to stop and think, something that was often rare as a Special Ops. soldier since they were always moving from one location to the other in order to fight as much as they could.  


    His thoughts primarily dwelled on Julia.  He found it odd how he could worry about a girl that he had only met a week ago.  To him, it seemed like a near eternity considering how much had happened during that time.  Hyne this is crazy!  Why on Terra do I care so much about her?  I just met her for Odin's sake, I shouldn't be feeling this way.  Why do I even like her?  She's insane and has some sort of death wish, not to mention an intense case of pyromania.  She's street raced, robbed, and probably has some astronomical kill ratio that towers above the other Wolves.


    Then he reasoned with himself.   He knew very well why he liked her.  What am I talking about, it's obvious that I care for her.  She's only the single most beautiful woman I've laid my eyes on.  Even though she's tough I've seen her be innocent and vulnerable... so she does have a good heart underneath all of that hostility of hers.  She just must keep a lot of emotions pinned down, and replies to everything with sarcasm in order to mask it.  Ugh... now I'm sounding like a wuss... look what she's done to me.  


    He stood up from the booth he was sitting in and made his way toward the exit.  His mind was beginning to get sore because of his thoughts.  Now he wanted to just go back to his room and sleep everything off until Raine found a way to get into the ruins and free the girl.  He would help her out, but Leonhart didn't seem to be in the kind of mood where she would openly accept company.  


    As he exited the lounge he nearly ran into Edea, who's sorceress powers must have aided her into a quick recovery.  He stepped to the side to let her pass, and then continued on his course to the dorms.  


    "Hey Zion, how-- "  Edea began kindly, but stopped as he ignored her and rounded a corner towards the barrack wing of the base.


    The sorceress furrowed her eyebrows in worry.  He hadn't really spoken since he last yelled at Raine for leaving Julia behind.  She figured that somewhere between his introduction to the Wolves and Julia's capture, he had fallen for the grenadier and now felt alone since she was absent from the base.  Even though she and Julia were rivals, she too felt somewhat odd due to her absence.  She and Julia were a strange pair;  when they weren't locking each other into some solitary part of the base, shooting attack magic back and forth at each other when no one was looking, they were bickering constantly.  Edea hated to admit it, but Julia was the closest thing she had to a sister that one fought with everyday.  


    Now she missed it.  She was supposed to be the refined and dignified member of the Pack, but for some odd reason she didn't feel like herself until she was fighting with Julia.  


    "Hey, Eduardo.  What's wrong?  You look kind of sad."  Lilliana asked as she rounded the corner and walked towards the lounge.  Edea gritted her teeth; Eduardo, Edward and Eddie were her nicknames, but she didn't like them very much.  They were a fad started when Julia had been teasing her one day.  


    "Nothing really... just remembering something."  The sorceress replied.  She looked to the female brawler who in return gave her an amused expression.


    Lilliana sighed and laughed without a hint of humor in her voice.  "Julia has that much of an impact on us, doesn't she?  Raine's pissed, Celeste's worried off her ass, you're actually sad she's gone even though you hate her, and Zion looks like the walking dead!  We'd better get her back fast before we all fall apart."


    "I don't hate her."


    Lilliana raised an eyebrow.  "Well you could have fooled me.  All of us-- except for maybe Raine-- think that you two hate each other's entire existence.  It's like when the two of you are together in the same room you both just seem to get all fired up and rub each other the wrong way or something.  Then naturally, you two just start fighting."


    Edea tilted her head and smiled slightly, despite her mood.  "Mmm... I don't think you can understand us, unless you are one of us.  It's too hard to explain really.  We don't hate each other, we just like to fight with each other.  I love her like a sister, in all honesty.  Just don't tell her I said that."

    Lilliana laughed, "Those will the first words out of my mouth once I see her again, thank you." 


    "Oh, great..." Edea replied, then motioned to the lounge.  "Come on, let's see what the other units are up to.  We can't very well talk to ours, they are all asleep right now, that or they're 'walking dead' like you said."


    As the two entered the lounge, Edea couldn't help but drift back into thought.  Now she had the feeling for the first time in her life that she might never see Julia again, though she hoped that she would.  That feeling brought on guilt, and she was pretty sure Raine felt the same way even though the Alpha Wolf was probably still in denial about the entire episode.  


    In Helios, Julia had brought up a subject that Edea and Raine had tried very hard to ignore.   It was the reason why Julia couldn't remember anything past age seven, and why she had memories about the snow, even if they were faint ones.  Now she felt guilty that the two had kept the secret from her, and that they might never get a chance to tell her.  She settled that she would talk with Raine on the way to the Centran Ruins, and persuade her to tell Julia the one thing that would shock the girl to her very core.




    In order to return to the male dormitories, Zion had to pass through the females' section.  Usually, he dreaded the place since he always seemed to get doused in some god forsaken smelling spray that they always put onto themselves.  Then he had to explain to the other male Wolves that he was not in fact, wearing perfume.  He hesitated this time, however.  He had passed by the Jade Phoenix dorms and was now in the Wolf Pack section.  One by one, he saw their names plastered up against the doors.  A. Navradski, L. Frieda, E. van Neil, C. Trepe, R. Leonhart and lastly, J. Heartilly.  He stopped and looked at her door for a moment.


    He stood there for about a minute, then turned the handle to go in.  Not to his surprise, she had forgotten to lock her door.  He entered, flipped on the light switch, and shut the door behind him.  Looking around the room, he got a better sense of her interests.  There were posters of several Galbadian heavy metal bands around her walls, musical equipment litter the floor, and magazines and other things were also scattered around.  Basically, Julia didn't clean her room very much.  At least it was tidier than Celeste's, whose dorm he had seen earlier on.  


    Looking to her dresser, he saw many pictures of her and the other Wolves that had been taken before Lancer and himself had been transferred to the Pack.  The group as a whole in what appeared to be Timber on a vacation; Julia, Edea and Raine as children gathered around a tree in some Deling City park;  and a picture of Julia hugging Raine around the shoulders, with Raine looking annoyed. 


    Also on the dresser was a copy of some Nintendo game called "The Legend of Zelda", which he had never played before.  There was a bright pink sticky note on it that said, "Give back to Trepe before she has a heart attack."   He had heard from Corin that on their off time, whenever they had a chance to get together, Celeste and Julia would play 48 straight hours of video games without sleeping and barely eating anything but sugar or junk food to keep their energy up.  That wasn't surprising, considering Celeste was already a computer junkie and Julia just seemed into that kind of stuff.

    Next, he spotted a notebook on her nightstand.  It was apparently a journal, but one that she didn't seem to mind leaving out in the open for any intruders to spot.  Either that or she didn't expect anyone to come in.  Battling with his conscience for a moment, then flipped the book open to the most recent page.  


    July 17, 4119:   Galbadia says that Dollet might be attacked soon.  If that's true then I hope the Pack is sent in.  It's been a while since our last mission, since the Phoenix and Excalibur people keep getting sent out.  But know us, if we go on one mission we'll be conned into going on eight in a row or something.  At least Celeste and I are getting pretty far on our gaming fest.  And to think Edea's worried about us playing so much that we're damaging ourselves.  Who needs sleep anyway?  In fact, we played so much that Trepe and I broke Raine's Nintendo.  So she's pretty ticked at me.  I guess I'll have to bring in my backup from our apartment, that or Trepe will have to go get hers.


    July 18, 4119:  Nothing much happened today other than the Pack sitting around waiting for another mission.  Celeste and I can't do anything about getting another console, since we can't go off base to get it.  Almasy and Raine got into another fight again, but that's not strange, they haven't been nice to each other since she found out he was cheating and broke up with him.  Serves the silly bastard right.  Corin and Lilliana are starting to get annoying, they should just date and get it over with already.  They flirt so much its starting to give me cavities!  I wonder if anyone else noticed that Epsilon's middle name is Francis?  The very idea of that is gut-churning funny!  So that makes four middle names I know.  Raine:  Elise, Epsilon: Francis, Celeste: Selena, and Edea: Vivianne.  Lucky for me, I don't have a middle name, ; p.  


    July 20, 4119:  Dollet was attacked, so Wolf Pack was finally sent in to beat the crap out of the Estharians.  We had a pretty good run, considering how we haven't fought for a few days.  More important to me, we have to new members in the Pack.  And better yet-- they're men.  Cute ones at that.  Maybe I'll have to make it one of my main tasks to ask out the one with darker hair, Zion I think his name was.  I'll have to get to know him better (and I don't mean that in a sexual way in case Edea is reading this again!).  This made the gunarm user smile.  


    July 24, 4119:  Like I said, one mission after another!  We got sent into the heart of Esthar to spy.  Why they picked the Wolves is a mystery, we only have four people who are good a covert things.  Anyway, we got captured and had to escape.  In the process we had to fight some evil Estharian general-bitch named Satori.  But there was something about the guy that was with her that was very strange.... but I don't know why.  We got back late last night, so I fell asleep right away.  I bet you anything that we have another mission lined up already.  I wonder if I get to use my grenade launcher with authorization this time?  Oh well, Raine will never tell I disobey orders, she'll just beat the crap out of me.  But I have to go now, I'm bored and need to see what the other are up to.  


    That was the last entry, obviously, since the that was the last time she had been at the base.  This just made Zion want to go rescue her even quicker.  His thoughts were interrupted however, since his ears heard the door opening behind him.  Quickly spinning around, he saw the angry face of Raine glaring at him.  She was next door, so she had apparently heard him come in.


    "I figured it would be either you or Edea.  What are you doing in here?"  She demanded, and hand on her hip, the other near her sheathed katana. 

    He didn't know what to say for a moment, but tried anyway.  "Uh... I just felt like I wanted to come in.  I wanted to get to know her, but I can't talk to her right now, so I guess this was how I was going to find out.  I'm sorry if this upsets you, but I do care for her, or so I believe."


    Raine was silent for a moment, and then sighed.  "I figured you did care for her.  You always looked at her like you did.  But you make it sound like she's already dead.  Well she's not.  We'll get her back."  Raine said the last part mostly for herself, since she was still in denial that Julia was in danger.  She needed to remind herself that she would be fine.


    "I know that.  She will be fine, I'm sure."


    Raine huffed though, "You know, I'm going to be like her protective big brother.  If you do end up going out with her and treat her bad, then I'll hunt you down and shove my katana up your ass."


    Zion laughed, which made Raine smirk.  "I know, Raine, I already figured you would do that.  Along with Edea maybe.  Don't worry, I like her too much to treat her badly... besides she'd probably hurt me herself if I did.   Come on, I'm done here, let's go."


    As the two of them began to exit the room, Raine spoke again.  "Did you read her journal?  Epsilon's middle name is Francis, but you already know that since you did read it.  I saw that guilty look.  You know, at least we have one more guy to make fun of him for it.  You should go ahead an do it, no one has made fun of him for a few weeks."


    "Sure thing... Elise."  


    "Shut up."


    The two soldiers laughed as they shut Julia's door behind them.  It had been the first time either had really laughed hard since Julia had been captured, and in an almost serene way, it was the only sound resonating throughout the hallway.  It filled the two with slight hope that Julia could be found and saved.  However, Raine knew that only time would tell if Julia could be rescued or not.  




AN:   All right, this didn't have anything but emotions and the Pack talking to one another, but I felt it was time they did.  I know I have them fighting too much, so I wanted a chapter where they could just be themselves.  

Chapter 24

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