Phase IX: Ghost Town
Ghost town didn't even come close to describing Timber's current state. The houses and buildings were completely baron of any human life. Holes from bullets lodged into the brick and wood of houses indicating a struggle that had gone on in the same fashion they had found Jenkins' home in. Other buildings were left either burned to the ground in charred rubble or ransacked of any valuable belongings.
To Selphie it looked like the end of the world had come and swept this city of life. It was like that popular TV show she remembered seeing once, the one about a widespread disease turning people in zombies and completely taking over. Thankfully Timber didn't even have those lurking the streets or else she'd have a bigger problem.
Regardless, she still didn't know what was out here. She wandered on her own straying from the group to cover more ground. The small brunette strolled down the street with her trusty weapon drawn at her side watching her footing on the cracked concrete and stepping over debris.
First Dollet. Now Timber? She thought to herself, this is seriously gettin' outta hand now. I mean I get that Galbadia and Timber were at war over the independence, but did the people get fed up and fight back?
That was the only logical explanation she could come up with, and something told her she was not too far off. She also highly doubted that she'd find Stacy here, feeling like she had hit yet another dead end.
She turned the corner down another road deep within the downtown core of Timber. Selphie looked up at the sign above her head recognizing the street name from her first visit during the Forest Owls mission. It lead towards the very place they had met Watts with the 'password' next to the gift shop.
Even after hiring SeeD, Timber still hadn't achieved its independence from Galbadian rule. Rinoa had hired them to help, but for some reason she didn't seem too concerned with the movement after she and Squall started dating.
Eventually, Rinoa stopped talking about the resistance all together when she lived in Garden. Selphie figured that between her new relationship and the whole becoming a sorceress thing, Rinoa had other priorities to concern herself with. And like many times before in the recent weeks, Selphie's thoughts always ended with in the same place, thinking about the same person.
Squall doesn't seem like he really got over her, but why does he have to be so cold with me? What did I do?
After running into him again, the memory of the kiss they shared was creeping into her thoughts more often. While they were apart those two years, she tried to talk to him about it. Squall promptly ignored her messages. That hurt the most. It was like he didn't want anything to do with her now.
Suddenly, she felt like it was her fault. Maybe she didn't do something that he wanted to her to do, but seeing as this was Squall, he wouldn't ever tell her.
It was a hopeless situation that could be entirely ignored before she got her hopes up or drove her absolutely crazy. She could just concentrate on the mission and left it at that.
She was so deep in thought that she almost didn't see sudden movement up ahead. Selphie blinked, second-guessing herself. Did she actually just see that? She blinked again. There it was again, and when her eyes refocused it was as plain as day. There stood a dark figure on the road not far away from where she was currently standing- in the shadows no less, but they really standing there.
She was certain now. This person, or whatever it was, hadto be real!
Selphie darted for the nearest alleyway trying to get a closer look. Her body pressed itself against a brick wall. It was dark, but the light from the flickering streetlamp above made it easier to make out shapes at the mouth of the alleyway.
The figure stood there on the train platform near the gift shop dressed in an unusual black uniform. It didn't remotely look like what the black clad soldiers had worn when they fought against them in the forest or in Dollet. It resembled riot gear. A black jump suit with a thick vest strapped to the torso and shoulders. The person didn't look armed, but raised their arms to remove the unusual helmet on their head. Selphie's eyes went wide when she saw the figure's red curly locks cascade down to her shoulders.
Her heart pounded,and her mind screamed into a ceremonious cheer as relief washed over her. Selphie frantically pushed herself off the wall about to dart out of the alley when something snagged her forearm sending her crashing against the brick again.
She let out a cry of discomfort, muffled by the black leather hand currently covering her mouth. The moon illuminated the side of this person's face, but she didn't register the identity fast enough. Her body was still quickly recovering from this random attack. They slowly removed the hand, and it fell to her right shoulder.
Their hot breath brushed against her face as the figure was approximately eight inches taller than she was. His body was clad in dark clothing, but his arms were bare. His scent was familiar and musky. It reminded her of the night in the quad all of a sudden. And she allowed herself to get lost in the memory for just only a little while. Neither of them moved. A standoff not with weapons, but emotions lie between them. Confusion not one of them, but replaced with curiosity on who will initiate the first move.
Just like the night in the quad, Selphie felt his face lower as his forehead pressed against hers. Both were panting now- not from over exhaustion, from something else entirely.
His breath caught in her mouth until he closed his eyes and kissed her. This time she wasn't so confused. She wanted it to be longer, longer than last time for sure.
But for how long?
Wait, who was this…
His lips continued to move for only a few more seconds before Selphie's green eyes fluttered open. Suddenly, her previous thoughts sounded so ludicrous when she factored in the last few weeks.
Selphie moved one of her hands against his chest pushing his body away. Finally, their eyes met, but hers held anger, and his had a hint of alarm. An awkward beat passed like they both did something that shouldn't have happened. Again.
And then she made her move.
His cheek flared up and stung, and he was left utterly shocked. Selphie had just enough time to wiggle away from him before he made sense as to what just happened. She didn't even bother looking back when her legs picked up the pace and ran as fast as she could.
As more questions popped up in her mind, the red haired figure had long since disappeared by the time she got out of the alleyway.
Zell and Angelus walked side by side through the ruins trying to find any indication of what had happened and where everyone had gone. Not even dead bodies could be found amongst the rubble.
They were by the Timber Hotel now- or rather what used to be the hotel. Angelus turned over another rock determined to find anything that could lead them in the right direction.
Meanwhile the brawler perched himself on a concrete slab watching the Naperic leader's attempt to uncover something. Zell cracked his knuckles and neck, figuring he might as well strike up a conversation. "So, you knew Seifer?"
"Yeah." He muttered a reply.
"Were you guys like buds or somethin'?"
"How did ya meet?" Zell asked again with more interest this time.
Angelus grunted getting to his feet, "We haven't. Rinoa used to talk about him."
"Ohhh," He exclaimed, "That makes sense. She dated him for a bit, didn't she?"
"Yeah, if you could call it 'dating'." Angelus grumbled, looking none too pleased, "She really thought SeeD would be able to liberate Timber."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean!?" Zell snapped taking offence.
Angelus shrugged, "Don't get me wrong, Chicken-wuss. I don't have a problem with SeeD. It's just she's the type to get herself into situations that she firmly believes in without much thought. Rinoa's a good girl, but that Seifer guy…he sounded like a prick."
Zell burst out laughing, "Wow, you're right on the money, man!"
Angelus chuckled allowing the tense situation to roll off his shoulders. "Was Seifer a friend of yours?"
Zell waved a dismissive hand, "Naw, man. He terrorized everyone. Hated his guts for a while. Oh, Squall, too. How do you think he got that scar on his face?"
"Yo. So you know Rinoa?" Zell then asked.
"Yeah. She's introduced me into the resistance. We started out together. Rin and I go as far back as childhood. Her father and mine were good friends, too. When she ran away, I was on the road and happen to find her here. She always talked about how terrible her father was and how the people of Timber had to conform to a Galbadian way of life. The one we ran away from."
"Hold on." Zell cut him off, "Did you and Rinoa ever…"
Angelus smirked, "I had a thing for her, yeah. Cesar offered me a position in Deling City. When I got back to Timber, she was with Seifer. I heard a bunch of other stuff after the war two years ago. Apparently she was staying in one of the Gardens and got involved with SeeD."
An alarm went off in Zell's mind. He wasn't sure how much this guy had heard and really hoped it didn't have anything to do with the fact that Rinoa was a sorceress now. Besides Esthar and Garden, it wasn't common knowledge, and he needed to make sure he kept his mouth shut on this one for the sake of everyone involved during the war.
The other possibility was that since the Underground Association's main purpose was to uncover the truth about what the government hid, then there was a possibility that Angelus already knew about what had happened.
Either way, Zell wasn't going to throw him that bone or be the bearer of bad news. He got the idea that Angelus still deeply cared about Rinoa and her wellbeing regardless of whom she was with now. Besides, it wasn't his business to do anything about it.
Squall aimlessly walked through the ruins of Timber by the TV station. He pushed the memories of this place out of his head from his first mission working with the Forest Owls. They were the oxymoron of organized crime with their rather unorganized strategies. He thanked Rinoa for that one. She was always getting herself into things without really understanding the consequences.
Sadly after their breakup, she hadn't learnt how to correct that flaw. Squall was an analytical kind of guy and found faults in almost everything. Blaming it on perspective away from her, it gave him time to analyze the memories they shared together. Squall had now formulated a mental list of what he didn't like about her that outweighed what he did.
Unlike Rinoa, Squall had a harder time trying to do the same with Selphie. When they spoke, especially recently, she annoyed the shit out of him. She was loud and bold. Selphie had a lot of nerve leaving him wary of her.
His actions less than an hour ago spoke differently. Frankly he didn't even know where the urge to kiss her came from, but he blamed it on his weaknesses and lack of self-control. He allowed his feelings to surface in a time where he needed to focus on this mission. Above anything else, he found her to be his biggest distraction, and he didn't even know why.
Squall's mind and body were split into two desires of opposite polarity. His mind told him to stay away from her, as she could be a risk for not only this mission, but also to himself. Selphie could potentially hurt him if he got too close, which figuratively she did when she hit him. Her slap still left his skin feeling raw combined with the crisp air hitting his face.
Like he did with anyone who even attempted to get close to him, Squall asked himself one question.
Why should I even try pursuing even a friendship with her, when she may not be around after this is all over?
His body told him something entirely different that left him so confused he let out a frustrated sigh. Her lips pressing his and their close proximity brought back urges he hadn't felt in a while, He wanted to be that close, he wanted to kiss her. Why? Because she was there, and there was something about her now that she didn't have back then. Or maybe it was something he hadn't noticed before. As for what it was, Squall's brain hurt just thinking about it.
He knew she was trailing something- a figure with red hair. And Squall knew what she had planned. He could say he was trying to protect her from whoever that was, but that would just be a poor excuse.
I can't just ignore this now. I don't even know what I'm thinking or feeling. What am I gonna say when I see her?
Nothing. I don't have to say anything.
Just then he heard something shift behind him, a shuffling in the alley by the pub's back entrance. His SeeD instincts kicked in, and he reacted. A blue flash cut through the air so fast Squall's eyes didn't keep up to what he was about to hit. Whatever it was he could have settled for dead.
"Whoa!" The source of the movement shouted. He fell to the ground in an attempt to get away from the Lionheart's razor sharp edge. His hands had instantly flown over his head as if to tell him that he was unarmed.
Squall pulled back, his eyes full of fury, and his body hadn't come down from the short burst of adrenaline pumping through his veins just yet. "Nida!?"
In fact it was Nida Sanders slowly getting to his feet and brushing himself off from gravel. His brown hair was shaved close to his scalp, and he wasn't wearing a SeeD uniform like he usually did back then. He had on an army green cargo coat with a black hoodie underneath it, light jeans, and a pair of white and black sneakers.
"Squall!" Nida exclaimed happily, "Man, I knew it was you!"
Squall growled, "I almost fucking killed you."
The man let out a nervous laugh, "Yeah, well. It's cool. So… what's up?"
The brunet cocked a confused brow at him, "I should be asking you that. Why are you even here, Nida?"
He smiled sheepishly, "Well, long story short. I'm like the only guy left in this city."
"I can see that."
"Uhh…" He started, "A bunch of us had fought against a shit load of soldiers dressed in black about week ago. Turns out they were too much for us. A lot of people ran…I don't know where they all went. This cities become a ghost town if I ever saw one."
Having enough of Nida's ramblings, Squall growled and grabbed the ex-SeeD by his hood dragging him along in the direction in which he came. Nida flailed his arms in response to Squall's forceful grip. "Where are you taking me, man?"
"I got some people you need to explain this to." He said shortly.
When she reached the Timber train station, she stopped to take a break. Her hands gripped the railing that oversaw the train tracks below.
It was peculiar not to see the trains running as usual or crowds of people seeing loved ones off on the platforms. Even during the Timber Revolution against oppressing Galbadia, the trains carried soldiers and the occasional passenger trains in, but still ran on active tracks.
She pressed her forehead against the rail in front of her and emptied the air stored in her lungs. Her mind tried to make sense of what just happened. Lips pressed against hers, his body overtaking the situation, the smell of gunpowder mixed with the odd combination of fresh fields. Selphie got a glimpse of him, and had no idea why he would kiss her. Squall, of all people, kissing her!
Suddenly, nothing made sense. It didn't before- fuck, nothing in the past few weeks did. Even worse, Selphie couldn't make sense as to why her stomach fluttered with anxiety or where this odd mixture of lust and frustration even came from.
I can't believe him! Is he playing games with me or what!? What the hell is his problem!?
Selphie was at her wits end now.
First, this stupid mission was a wild chocobo chase. Then she was still trying to find Stacy, which by the way, she might have succeeded if Squall didn't show up and ruin everything. And on top of that, he was still being an idiotic jerk!
Lifting her head, she grumbled running a hand into her brown locks.
The wind picked up blowing a newspaper of the Timber Gazette against the fencing of the rail. She curiously picked up the paper and opened it to the first article.
"Dollet seeks to expand Telecommunications towers all over the eastern Galbadian continent. A conference is set for Tuesday October 1st…." Selphie stopped right there. That was just over a week ago. Dollet had been attacked two weeks ago. Why were there still articles on Dollet being published as if nothing happened?
Communication towers. Galbadia was after its main tower just over two years ago- she was there when they tried, and SeeD stopped them. Were they after the ones being built, too?
But why act like the Dollet attack never happened at all?
"Propaganda." Selphie muttered, recognizing this political tactic, "Galbadia is trying to act like it never happened. I need to show this to Angelus!" She rolled up the newspaper and jammed it into her back pocket.
Squall, she thought, you're gonna have to wait.
"Guys!" They both looked up to the sound of Selphie shouting from across the main square. She had something in her hand that flailed frantically above her head.
"Hey, Selph." Zell stood up from his spot on the concrete slab.
Her hand squeezed her knee catching her breath from running all the way here while waving the newspaper around with the other. "Look! Page 18…"
Angelus snatched it from her. He opened it to the page that had been dog-eared near the middle. His brown and blue eyes scanned the headline and then the article. Upon finishing most of it, he glanced to Zell who was reading over his shoulder.
"That is some fucked up shit." Zell finally said.
"It's a ploy." Angelus explained, not being too surprised. "It's a way to make people think the bombing didn't happen. Why make the citizens think something is going on and cause chaos, when they can hide the truth?"
"Propaganda at its finest." Zell huffed, backing away.
"It's really something that happens a lot. This is the kind of shit that the Underground Association looks into. The media is paid off by the government to make people believe in lies. Knowing the UA, this article is probably old news by now."
"But they went after the new towers, right?" Selphie asked, "If that's what they are after that means Galbadia wants to seize communication between people and other countries."
Zell scratched his head, "So, they wanna lock us into the country?"
"I wouldn't go that far, Blondie." Angelus frowned, "More like they want to eventually have complete control over us. Where we cannot speak freely about Galbadian rule, or choose our own ways of life- that sort of thing. Look around us. They did it to Timber."
"Why do you think everyone left?" Selphie asked him.
"Timber had a large population involved in resistance groups. Almost everyone was part of one. From what it looks like, Timber was a threat to Galbadia because a bunch of SeeD and cadets moved here after the Gardens disbanded. Timber suddenly had a force to fight back with."
"They revolted. Galbadia didn't bother broadcasting anything because they wanted the incident contained." Selphie said after everything started to click into place. "To keep people on the outside oblivious."
"Exactly." Angelus confirmed. He ripped the newspaper clipping out and stuffed it into the pocket of his trench coat.
The group all sat at the rendezvous point near the Timber Maniacs building when they saw Squall coming with someone else being dragged along behind him. Selphie bounced off the steps to get a better look at the guy.
Zell ran up to them, "Nida! What the fuck are you doin' here!?"
"You know this guy?" Angelus asked Selphie who beamed with excitement.
She nodded, running up to their old friend. "Nida!"
"Hey Selphie!" He waved, but wasn't prepared for the bodily impact of her embrace. It was more like a body check.
"I can't believe it's you!" She laughed, "I missed you, buddy!" He just patted her on the back while struggling to breath through her bear hug.
Squall face palmed to her reaction, finding it unnecessary. He needed to walk away because the awkwardness of her presence was putting his stomach in knots. A thought crossed his mind, and he had to dismiss it as fast as possible. She's never that happy to see me.
I need to stop this right now.
"So, Nida, right?" Angelus came forward. "We are all wondering why you're here."
"Well," He looked at the six pair of eyes that all expectantly awaited his answer, "As you probably know after Garden disbanded, a bunch of us SeeD came to Timber. Galbadia hadn't completely removed itself from the city, and we agreed to help the resistance get them out. We devised a plan to revolt, but our plans somehow got out before anything could start. Someone within the resistance had tipped off some Galbadian soldiers who then called for back up. Next thing we knew all passenger trains were being short turned to East Academy or elsewhere, and only trains containing soldiers were allowed to come through the station."
Angelus and Selphie exchanged knowing glances. Nida continued, "The violence had been getting worse recently, and there were too many soldiers for us all to take on at once. The resistance factions were mostly only in intelligence and had no battle experience whatsoever, so they left the fighting to us. When the going got tough, the soldiers had evacuated the remaining civilians into trains and took them someplace else. Most ended up arrested and taken to Dingo Desert. The rest of the ex-SeeD scattered and left."
"Who else was with you?" Squall asked, "Was Xu one of them?"
"Nope." Nida quipped, "She's with Quistis in Ethsar."
"Yeah, and if you actually kept in touch with her, then you would have known that." Squall figured Selphie was still pissed about the kiss judging by her uncharacteristic scowl and hint of irritation in her voice.
Squall knew what she was trying to do, but chose to ignoring the catcall coming from Zell and the amused look on Angelus' face. He glared her way and muttered a quiet "whatever" to that. The last thing he needed to do was lose his temper with her, which he knew wouldn't take much longer.
"Anyways," Angelus pressed, wanting to get past the animosity that hung in the air, "That doesn't explain much as to why you stayed here."
Nida laughed, "Uh…I got knocked out. I woke up behind the bar of the Timber Pub. When I woke up, everyone had taken off."
Squall and Zell synchronized their face palms upon hearing that. Selphie uncrossed her arms and turned to face Angelus.
"We have to head to Deling and report back to Cesar. Then we make our next move."
"Hold up." Riki finally chimed in. "You said that the SeeDs ran out of town, right? What are the chances that they went to FH?"
"Since it's close by, very likely." Nida rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "There could be someone there who may have a better idea of what is going on."
"What are we waitin' 'round here for then?" Riki shouted with renewed enthusiasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. "Let's go to FH!"
Angelus knew why Riki had been so excited. The one person who would know anything about the attacks was the man they called the 'FH Scout'. He had hoped he didn't have to see that jackass' face ever again.