The next morning mission statements were sent out immediately. Irvine watched lazily as Squall sped down the hallways to the row of mailboxes they owned for mission papers. The Commander yanked his open, breathed out an excited rush of words and tore the envelope there open as if he was attacking it. Irvine soon caught up and looked at his envelope with mild curiosity.
Violet-blue eyes widened and he gaped at Squall, “You knew what this was, didn’t you?”
Squall nodded, his eyes unnaturally alight that day. It was like the lightning in the eye of the storm to Irvine. The Commander looked energetic, alive, and vibrant with emotions.
“But wait, they’re sending us on a stealth mission without the stealth ship?” Irvine choked, “We’ve barely switched our training for that.”
“Something the enemy won’t be prepared for?” Squall suggested, “Xu designed the plans.”
Irvine nodded shortly and looked over his set of objectives. It would be him and Trianon in a sniping unit together. He hadn’t known that she was a sniper but being that she was the Weapon’s Instructor he really wasn’t surprised.
Squall would go in alone, through a side door to the old factory they had traced the signal back to. He was in charge of finding Selphie, and Seifer would join up with him, if the man’s condition improved in time, if not, it would be Zell.
Other SeeDs tagging along would be Michelle and Kerei, Michelle used a brace of throwing knives as her main weapon, while Kerei was another martial artist like Zell. Nida and Xu were going to be in command of Garden and the communications system, and a handful of other SeeDs would circle the perimeter and wait.
“Classy.” Was all Squall said when they showed him his uniform.
It was black. And he liked that. Tight, thick leather form-fitted to his chest swathed his torso completely with shells of metal covering each shoulder and thick plated gauntlets masking his forearms. It zipped up, and then buttoned up over top that, and as a last precaution there were three buckles that stretched over his ribs to hold the damn thing on even more tightly.
The pants were slightly more loose and of the same material. Everyone had knee-high boots with another shell-shaped cover underneath their pants that buckled all the way down. It took them about an hour just to get dressed.
“No claw is going to penetrate this. Hell, bullets in general are going to have trouble marking you, but you’re not invincible so don’t get cocky.” Xu informed them dryly.
Irvine nodded and looked down at his suit. It was amazing how powerful it made him feel, and he knew he’d have to concentrate on taking Xu’s advice. Michelle and Kerei stepped in two minutes after, finally finished their own suiting-up. Their outfit was slightly different, with only two buckles strapping around their torso (to accommodate a woman’s curves) and it looked as if they were wearing a metal bodysuit overtop the black leather. Irvine swallowed.
“W-who designed these?”
Xu caught the faint redness to his cheeks and smirked. The outfits did look more sexy than they probably needed to, but the creator had informed her that sometimes it gave an added advantage, as long as the design didn’t provide a disadvantage itself. These suits were still practical in their make, allowing for easy movement by an elastic material stitched in to every joint, and freedom of every limb to move unencumbered.
“I believe your partner did,” Xu smiled lightly, “Here she is.”
Trianon stalked forward in her own variation of the suit. Hers, though, was much different. It was fitted her from neck to toe, leaving only fingertips free. She wore her boots over top the suit and her gauntlets were thinner, her shoulder plates absent entirely. Lips pressed together firmly and eyes focused on her utility belt that she was slipping extra bullet clips into, the weapons instructor completely ignored the reference to her until she was directly at Irvine’s side.
“I created these, I find them to be very proficient in battle,” Trianon’s voice was smooth, musical, but it was neutral.
“They’re very comfortable,” Irvine blurted out, feeling the need to emphasize that he liked them.
Trianon gave him a curious look but nodded shortly in reply, “I have some weapons I’d like to bring down here for the other SeeDs to try.”
Xu nodded and Trianon instantly sprinted off to her classroom. When she left Michelle and Kerei stepped up and received their list of objectives. Theirs was a simple task, yet the most dangerous; it was to infiltrate the building and weed out any men inside, driving them out, or capturing them. Since they were supposed to be seen neither had to worry about sneaking around vents or keeping to the shadows.
Xu went over the finer details of their plans until Trianon returned with a large bag. The cerulean-haired woman slung it down from her shoulder and crouched down, looking happier than Irvine had ever seen her.
“All right. Michelle, see if this suites you at all,” Trianon lightly tossed the woman a throwing dagger from a new brace that was pulled out soon after.
Michelle caught it and her eyes grew slightly, “It’s a black blade, cool!”
She tossed it into the air and caught it, spinning it over her knuckles. It wasn’t any different from her knives as they were, but it was dark, and the metal did not gleam, which might give her an extra advantage.
“I only have two,” Trianon looked apologetic, “but they may help. Kerei and Zell, it isn’t much I am afraid, but here.”
She tossed them a small soft rubber addition to their gloves. Fitting over the middle and pinkie finger it gave them a cushion inside their palm to dig their nails in. It did nothing for their offensive skills but give them a little more comfort.
“For martial arts I was taught without gloves and hence never created anything for them. This was all I could think of in such short time,” Trianon shrugged, “This will be for SeeD Tilmitt, Commander, I’d have you take it for her.”
Squall nodded and stepped forward as Trianon unraveled the most delicate-looking weapon he had ever seen. The chain was as thin as his finger and of a pale silver colour; they were nunchakus, but half the size. Trianon could see the confusion in his eyes and then surprised him when she clipped something to both ends of the metal rods.
Three multi-edged daggers, thin as paper, hanging from either side.
“It doesn’t look like it would hurt,” Trianon agreed, “but,”
She gently picked up one of the blades and ran it along her arm. Squall watched as the leather became marked, and a tiny incision was made. Trianon dropped it away and showed him closer up how it had cut through, not entirely, but it had the power to if forced.
“Now, when she wields it, she won’t be making the daggers do this. She would be aiming for skin, in which it cuts very easily, leather you need to apply force. She will need to wear these, just in case, can you carry them?”
Trianon pointed to a pair of plated gauntlets that would protect up to her fingers. Squall could see that the nunchakus could be folded up and clasped to his back but he wondered where he would put the gauntlets.
“I could deliver them to you,” Trianon suggested,
“Trianon, your orders are to remain outside and pick out those who come out,” Xu frowned.
“We have six other SeeDs outside as well, we can’t leave Selphie defenceless,” Trianon argued, “It would not be wise, I am confident that I could duck in.”
Xu looked as if she wanted to argue more, but she hadn’t thought that Selphie might need to fight as well. It had been a careless mistake.
“All right. But Hyne be damned you better be careful,”
Trianon flashed a rare grin and tied the gauntlets to her utility belt. The SeeDs stood ready for departure and when Cid came down with a final debriefing, they were sent off.
Squall drove the Quad with Irvine and Trianon inside while Zell drove for Kerei and Michelle. The trip to the Qun’sho capitol was quiet as no one felt like speaking. Silently they watched the sun fall down its crest and sink beneath the far mountains. With her leg propped up and her arm balancing on it, fingers hanging down, Trianon gazed out into the darkness.
Why had she transferred to Balamb? She didn’t need to move, in truth, she had chosen to. It was the abundance of Those Like Her that drew her near, but she had barely seen any of the ones she called her kin. Her eyes rose up to the moon and she basked in its beauty for a moment. It was deep silver, and illuminated the buildings around them as they slid through the streets in their quads.
She was aware of the sniper watching her. He was discrete about it, as only a sniper should be, but she sensed his violet orbs on her, trying to figure her out, from behind his auburn bangs.
Quietly she turned and stared directly at him. Transferring the judgement over to his character. Kinneas seemed too kind to do what he did, but then, Selphie seemed too cheerful to kill anyone. Trianon wondered what Balamb had been thinking when it let children in to fight. Couldn’t these kids have better lives than killing?
A sigh escaped her lips and Trianon looked away from Irvine’s questioning gaze.
“We’re there,” Squall announced unnecessarily as he climbed out of the quad.
Trianon and Irvine jumped out of the sides and then shared a look. The area, their ‘playground’ was a row of factories complete with a maze of narrow streets lacing in between them, and a giant unloading area shared in the very middle. The target building happened to be the largest; it stored huge machines, ships, and trucks, though currently the database had said it would be empty for the next three weeks.
There were three entryways. Squall walked stoically through the shadows towards the one on the far side, while Michelle and Kerei grinned roguishly to each other and sauntered over to the main entrance. As long as they were careful their obvious entrance wouldn’t be a problem.
As three juniors took the quads away Trianon and Irvine took off into the darkness. Keeping up with the woman was hard because she was incredibly agile. She darted this way and that and when Irvine finally caught up he realized she had jumped, rebounded off the wall of one factory, and was scaling the wall of the other.
“An’ how d’you suppose I get up there?” He whispered up to her.
Trianon smiled but it was masked by her hair that fell all around her, “I will climb to the top, and drop down a cord for you to climb with.”
Irvine nodded, feeling better. He waited a few moments before, as she had promised, a thin black rope fell into a coil at his feet. Trusting to her to have secured it on to something strong at the top, Irvine began his ascent.
At the top he saw Trianon kneeling with one foot firmly planted on the ground and her eyes observing the still-quiet factory. He walked over silently and then crouched down beside her. Pieces of gun were strewn out in front of her and she was idly putting them together. Irvine pulled out his own sharpshooter, Exeter. Trianon’s eyebrows shot up when she saw it and she scooted closer to him, her eyes wide.
“You have an Exeter?”
“Yep,” Irvine said proudly, stroking his ‘baby’.
Trianon tilted her head, “It’s the only one left, you know, take good care of it.”
“Only one left?” Irvine blinked, looking up curiously.
Trianon nodded, her hair showering over her shoulders like a waterfall, “The company that made them has chosen a new direction for their produce, unfortunately their new models do not rival the Exeter, better than say, the Bismarck, but not coming close to the Exeter.”
Irvine’s pride was clear in his eyes, happy to know that his most prized possession was now a rare one as well. Trianon went back to putting her own gun together. It was a humble handgun, looked like a Taurus Tracker .17 HMR but she had modified it to handle a silencer, Irvine could see she also had a Kimber .45, the woman had pretty good taste, but it was obvious she didn’t use guns for her main fighting.
“So when did you take up snipering?” He asked her conversationally as they edged over to the lip of the Factory rooftop
“It came with my old job,” Trianon replied quietly, scanning the area over and over again.
Irvine looked at her for a moment. His intuition suddenly hit a powerful lead. Her straight nose, lips together, even, eyes piercing, her entire posture rang of it. Why had he missed it? Easy, she hadn’t wanted him to see it until now.
He lay down on his stomach like she was and looked over at the foreboding factory, praying Selphie was there. Tilting his head conversationally but not looking directly at her he voiced his next question,
“So how long have you been an assassin?”
Out of the corner of his eye he watched her smile.
Squall pressed his back against the wall and slid along the darkened hallway. The layout of the factory was thus:
Eight stories high with the first three being split horizontally in half. Half of the first three floors being one large room, the other half segmented into offices and supply areas. The next five floors were mechanical rooms, offices, conference rooms, closets (massive ones at that) and one floor was dedicated to dormitories for men who had to stay all night working on a project. Squall had entered on the sixth floor. They had no idea where Selphie was inside the factory.
He would climb to the eighth floor and work his way down, that was the plan. He had a small communications link wired up through his suit with a small padded microphone hanging down in front of his mouth. As he opened the door to the staircase Squall felt his heart slam into his chest. Bullets were being fired in the floors below. He didn’t have time anymore.
Running up with his shoes pounding on each stair, aside from those he simply leapt over, Squall found himself racing through the eighth floor, ripping locks off doors with the tools Xu had provide him with. He gained a new respect for Selphie who could disarm any lock within seconds of her finding it. For him it took time, he needed to figure it out, and then gently ease the door down after he had stripped it of its hinges, should that be the method he took.
The eighth floor was empty and he returned to the seventh, going through the offices, now also looking for clues as to who these men were. There was nothing here that helped him, and as he skipped past open doorways, shadows playing across his face, Squall advanced on the sixth floor.
Zell came in on the sixth floor as well, but his route would be very different. He went down to the third floor offices and would drop all the way to the first floor before coming back up to check the fourth and fifth. The small blonde ducked in and out of hallways, examining the rooms at a distance before daring to go up close. He couldn’t fight bullets, and to gain his offensive zone he’d have to be really close.
The hallways were eerie, just like Balamb’s at the dead of night when no one was awake to be moving around them. He didn’t like it like this, the whole idea of stealth missions…he liked it up front where he could see everything, when nothing was hidden. Zell sighed under his breath and then froze as a gunshot rang out below his feet. Firing on either first or second floor. Kerei and Michelle? Both had guns with them, now everyone carried some sort of handgun and all had basic training using them as well. Zell felt his back pocket and sure enough the handgun was there. He’d never use it; of all of them he had been the worst at firing. It was a regulation now that all SeeDs should have uniform weapons, and it wasn’t a bad idea either, even if he wasn't talented at the skill.
Zell moved faster, propelled by the idea that at any moment a flood of men could come out looking for who was infiltrating their base. More shots exploded from the silence and Zell winced as he heard a scream to go with them.
He kicked the door open to an office and looked around. Neat, orderly, nothing of any use at all.
“Hey kid what the hell are you doing here?”
Zell whirled around, berry-blue eyes wide. A man in an expensive suit faced him with suspicion planted all over his face. Another bullet streaked through the air below them and the man’s face had turned to shock.
“What the hell?!” He cried,
Zell lunged forward and planted both fists into the man’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Jumping back for a split second the SeeD whirled around and kicked his target in the face with a solid blow. The man crumpled down, unconscious, and Zell dragged him behind the desk, shutting the door as he left. If it wasn't obvious to everyone in the building by now then Zell would have to assume no one was home.
Kerei dropped to one knee and braced herself as Michelle jumped over her and let fly another dagger. The man dropped to the floor, wounded in the leg, and when he did it was Michelle who somersaulted away and let Kerei take the man down. Leaving him unconscious Michelle ripped her dagger out of his leg, grimacing at the smell of blood and the sucking sound the weapon came free with.
They shot to their feet and ran down the hallway, turning sharply to enter the main holding bay of the building. It was silent and pitch black but all at once a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, all the way down to a short twelve feet above the ground, flared to life and Kerei heard the distinct click of a gun behind her.
Michelle whirled around and hissed, Kerei seconds behind her and with a cry of her own. Where had all these men come from?
Michelle, probably the second-best shooter next to the sniper’s had her gun in hand within seconds. Kerei felt despair run up her sides, for there was no way they could win against all those men. Michelle fired. She hit the light bulb. They were in darkness.
“Let’s go!” she hissed.
Gunshots lit the air in stray intervals as the two SeeDs darted away for a recovery. They exited through the opposite hallway, only too aware that the men after them would know exactly where they were going. Kerei paused and tugged on Michelle’s sleeve as much as she could,
“Let’s use the guns to get them out.”
“We’ll run out of bullets!”
“Damn…we need to get them out of the building,” Kerei despaired.
“Why not bring the snipers in?” Michelle asked, “We never expected this many men to be in here, we need the snipers.”
“There they are!”
Kerei and Michelle crouched down in a doorway, Michelle narrowing her eyes to try and make out the dark figures while Kerei hastily messaged Irvine, all but begging him to get down there. As one of the men took a chance and fired at them the sparks lit up the hallway for a brief instant. In that time Michelle could clearly see three men. A bullet in the abdomen took one down, a knife in lung took another, and Kerei soon was in the middle of the three men slamming the last into the wall.
“One wounded, one unconscious, and one soon to be dead,” Michelle noted as she added it to the list of casualties they kept up,
“We can’t save him?” Kerei asked hopefully, crouched by the rasping man.
“Kerei, we’ve killed soldiers before,” Michelle looked at her and Kerei was relieved to see the eyes were glassy, “We have to leave him.”
“You’re right,” Kerei managed, “He would have left us.”
They stood up and walked down the hallway quietly. Now ever on the lookout for who might be trying to hunt them.
“Right, we’ll be there,” Irvine replied softly to Kerei’s little voice, “Elvelyn, they need us inside.”
Trianon nodded and stood up before dropping like a rock, “People moving out,” she hissed.
They peered over the edge for a second, locking on to four targets. Working their guns, the snipers looked back over and then carefully took aim. Two soldiers went down flawlessly, alerting the other two of their sudden danger. Irvine locked on to his next target and he and Trianon finished the job smoothly.
“Let’s go,” Trianon uncoiled her rope, the same she had used on the other side of the building and secured it to the lock on a vent opening.
Grabbing a hold of the coil she still had she ran across the rooftop and launched herself off the top, making Irvine choke and look down.
There was a stream of blue hair as Trianon let herself free fall down the majority of the building before she tightened the rope and skidded down at a sharp angle. When she hit the ground he curled himself over the ledge and slid down, not half as fast, but a great deal more careful.
Trianon was already running ahead, going for the main entrance. A man ran out as if to meet her, opening fire on the lithe body as it lunged towards him. Irvine had never seen a woman move so fast as Trianon as she streamed past the man, only to turn and kick him in the man, spin him to face her and disable his trachea. With him down she darted off to the side and, hand over hand, began to climb the wall. Irvine realized she still had to find Squall. In that case, he would be the one going to rescue Kerei and Michelle.
Whisking away from his spider-like companion, Irvine disappeared into the darkness.
Selphie sat wearily in the chair. They had tortured her twice now, since she had refused to tell them the pieces of Aries’ engine. Burn marks crossed her cheeks, lacerations slashed her arms with angry red streaks, and bruises turned her pale skin into a mosaic of colours.
Her entire body was wreathed in pain but the lights in her eyes still shone. She wasn’t about to give up, if they killed her, Aries would go with her.
Her constant companion was ever with her as well. He never left her side, teasing her with glimpses of freedom as he moved her from room to room, offering her positions of power, money, and everlasting happiness if she just told them the parts they needed and how to put it together. Selphie resisted. The only thing she wanted was Aries and Balamb.
He stalked into the room looking annoyed that day. Selphie tilted her head back and shut her eyes, not wanting to know why he was so upset.
“It seems your friends managed to find us,” He growled.
Selphie smiled broadly, earning her a slap across the face. It made her smile more and he cursed at her.
“Don’t get your hopes up Princess, we’re getting you out of here, we can assemble the Aries elsewhere.”
Selphie looked at him and stubbornly locked her limbs, refusing to let him move her with ease. He didn’t comment as he undid her bonds, knowing she was far too weak to really need them anyhow, and then he picked her up, her green dress falling around her tiny arms and legs. She was too light now, malnourished, dehydrated, at the best times her words made little to no sense.
They were on the fourth floor and the man carried Selphie out of the office they had transformed into their torture chamber and out into the hallway. Two men guarding the door mutely followed as Selphie’s captor carried her to the stairs. They would go to the sixth floor and escape from the side route. A car had been called seconds before, arranging a hasty pick up.
“Sir, what if it doesn’t make it on time?” voiced one of the guards,
“Then you guard us until it arrives,” The raven-haired man retorted, “she is key to our obtaining Aries or building our own replica.”
“Sir Morgan, our men are being slaughtered down there!” a breathless guard caught up with them, “Two women are down there, and there must be more inside.”
Morgan glared down at the man, “Do I care? This one,” he lifted Selphie up a little more, “is the only important person here right now. We need to get her out.”