Phase XXII: Signal Fire
"Wake up…" a soothing voice spoke into his ear. "It's time to get up."
Their breath seductively brushed against his neck, arousing him in his sleep. The air around him was hot, mixed with the stuffy morning climate and the warmth of his makeshift bed. He couldn't move as he became aware of the weight sitting on his belly.
The weight didn't help the hunger pains jabbing at his stomach either. Squall curiously sniffed at the delightful smell of breakfast.
"I have coffee…" she giggled, and then he heard the crinkle of a paper bag, "And food…I hope you like pastries."
He was still so tired having only slept for two hours this time. He blinked, eyes adjusting to the sun shining through the window. Selphie's lips welcomed him. When he realized what was going on, he became alarmed by their intimate position. It wasn't everyday he woke up to a beautiful girl straddling him to his bed.
He wished he were more prepared for this.
"Oh!" Selphie chirped, "The Ice Prince is awake! Let's go!"
Bouncing off him applied a sudden force down onto his gut, which made Squall grunt in reply.
She held his breakfast in her hands and smiled when he finally sat up on the bed. "C'mon! Get dressed! We don't have much time!"
"Wha-!" His grey t-shirt flung into the side of his head before he could finish what he was going to say. Squall grumbled, yanking it off to find Selphie jumping around on a sugar high. She must have had her fix earlier this morning.
"Aiden and James are waitin' for us! They're takin' us to Esthar!"
"Now?" he croaked. She nodded shoving a paper cup and his breakfast in a greasy white bag in his face.
"Quickly! Eat and drink!" Selphie demanded, and Squall took the items before he could even get his shirt back on.
The two came up to the dirty white truck parked on the side of the road. James stood with his arms crossed overlooking the work of the SeeDs hauling sheet metal into it. There were wooden crates filled with other equipment already sitting on the truck's bed.
"Good mornin'!" James called to them, "Ready to take a ride?"
"What's all this?" Squall asked, surveying everything.
Aiden jumped off the back of the truck, his combat boots forming a dusty cloud upon contact. He was clad in a blue workers pullover, a black toque, and beat up jeans. "It's our cover. You're gonna go in one of 'em crates along with all this shit. The more we to haul to Esthar, the less likely border patrol will search us."
"So…" Selphie spoke, "When do we leave?"
"Wheneva ya pick yer crate." James replied, readying himself for the eighteen-hour drive to the eastern continent.
Aiden pointed to an open one nearby, "That's the one. Squall betta go in first since he's bigger. Selphie, you might have to sit on his lap. Won't be comfortable, but it does the job."
Selphie turned to Squall, who just shrugged. They made their way to the crate that was already loaded up with some other cargo.
Squall climbed in first, then picked Selphie up and helped her in as well. Positioning themselves and trying to get comfortable, Selphie sat on his crossed legs.
A few other SeeDs placed the lid of the wooden crate on top, leaving them in the darkness save for a few cracks of light. Above their heads, Aiden nailed the lid to the box and jumped off the truck again. The large tarp flopped over the cargo being held in place by bungee cords that stretched across width of the truck.
"Let's get goin'!" James shouted and then directed an order to the rest of his men. "We'll be back in two days. Hold down the fort while we're gone, yeah?"
With all cargo in place, Squall and Selphie hidden in a box, the truck rumbled to life. Squall felt it jolt forward and put into drive, en route to their destination.
He could feel Selphie's back pressed against him, hear her steady breath, and held onto her. In a time like this, he was glad he agreed to let her come along.
"You okay?" She whispered, knowing they had about a half hour before they got to the border.
"Yeah, you?" Squall breathed.
Selphie stayed silent, but even in the dark he could tell she was getting nervous. Squeezing her shoulder, he knew how she felt about their situation, about him, and what could happen if this went south.
But there was no going back.
"We got this. We'll make it."
She hoped he was right.
Esthar City/Presidential Palace Ruins
1223 hrs ET
They called this place the city of glass.
Seifer Almasy had been here only once before under the command of his sorceress. Funny enough, that was the same reason why he was standing here now. His men had fired the missiles that hit the Palace, and now they needed to make sure Loire was dead.
The blond yawned, the place was just a pile of rubble now, and as far as he knew, Trepe's men hadn't found their president yet.
Good. They were pressing onto other matters. Rinoa, who had the luxury of being back home, had given him the order to kill any SeeD on sight, which was fine by him.
He'd decapitate as many as he could just to bring them back to Galbadia as an example of divergence of her new rule.
He heard the stampede of boots hitting the glass they stood on coming towards him. Shouts and profanities exchanged between a soldier and the man they were dragging. Seifer's green eyes brightened to the sight. "What's this?"
"A SeeD, sir." One black clad soldier said.
He raised a brow with interest, resting the Hyperion on his shoulder. It glinted in the mid day sunlight.
"I'm not a SeeD! I keep telling you assholes-"
"Lift his shirt." Seifer clipped, but the soldier hesitated.
This pissed Seifer off. Who the hell decided to hire this guy? He ought to kill him, too. Right after this good for nothing SeeD filth. The SeeD had on civilian clothing, not the traditional Esthari robes or his black and gold uniform.
It wasn't the uniform that identified SeeDs now, but a tattoo of the SeeD crest did. Seifer knew enough of them that got one as a statement of their permanent allegiance. Men usually had theirs on their backs or arms. If they wanted to be really discreet, it was on their stomachs.
He knew where Leonhart kept his for instance-left side on his rib cage. Seifer dared him do it when they were just cadets. Leonhart chose the spot because it was said to be the most painful and to show Seifer he had grown a set big enough to do it. After graduation and his promotion, Leonhart wore it with arrogant pride.
These idiots were all so goddamn proud; they'd still die a SeeD to this day despite what happened to their precious Gardens. SeeDs would always be SeeDs, and Seifer would never be one of them. That was okay because he was better, no, stronger than they were. He was the rightful knight to the woman he loved and served, and he swore an oath to protect her.
"I wanna see where he hides his pride." Seifer smirked at the man who glared hatred back at him. The soldiers undressed him, stripping the man of his dignity. His clothing was left in a shredded pile at his feet, and now he only wore a pair of blue shorts.
This one was ballsy to say the least. The tattoo was constructed with heavy outlines and light blue accents. Balamb. He was once under Leonhart's command. This made things a lot better for Seifer, more amusing.
"You got balls." Seifer laughed, "Over the heart. You love SeeD that much that you tattooed your heart. That's touching."
"Fuck you!" the SeeD spat.
Seifer didn't hesitate to make those his last words. He slashed his blade so fast, the SeeD couldn't pinpoint his last second of life. Blood coated itself all over their uniforms and onto the glass surface under their feet. Seifer stood straight, turning his heel to walk away. "Burn his body. Make the flame a signal to all SeeDs that they'll be next! We won't stop until every single one is dead."
Fisherman's Horizon/East Border Checkpoint
Aiden pulled the truck up to a booth that housed a few galbadian soldiers. The sun was blinding, so he slipped a pair of aviators on before stepping out of the car with his paperwork. There was a small line up of other men trying to do the same thing. Exceptions for passing the border were few and far between. Delivering registered exports, such as glass or sheet metal, granted him that permission.
"License and registration." The galbadian spoke through his helmet, and Aiden casually handed him the paperwork. Watching him scan through the documents, Aiden hid a smirk. Little did this jackass know, he knew the best forger in Timber before the city was cleaned out. It paid to make friends once in a while, people in high places so to speak.
"Esthar Distribution Plant." Aiden drawled out in his northern galbadian accent.
"Business or pleasure?"
Now that was a stupid question, wasn't it? Who in their right mind would go east for some fun in Esthar after it was blown apart?
If it were up to him, he'd be on a beach somewhere screwing a nice looking broad while drinking Pina Coladas in a tiki hut. But of course he had to keep his sarcasm under wraps if he was going to get his Commander to Esthar.
"What're ya transportin'?"
"Sheet metal and scraps." Aiden replied, but noticed the soldier eyeing the truck behind him.
"My business partner."
The soldier scrutinized James, who humorously waved back at him. Aiden rolled his eyes as the man walked past him to examine the truck.
"Take the tarp off." The soldier demanded.
James jumped out, "Pardon me? Ya gonna need a warrant for that."
A click of a gun indicated that the soldier didn't go far without a weapon. It was pointed right at James' stomach ready to fire if he made the wrong move. James' swore under his breath with arms raised where the man could see them.
Both SeeDs unhooked the bungee cords, pulling the tarp off to reveal the crates.
Selphie could hear the soldier's boots trudge against the sand walking around the vehicle. Things shifted around in the front seat as if he were searching for something.
She gasped quietly, but Squall clamped a clammy hand over her mouth pulling her to him. He dared to peer out of a small crack next to him to get a better view. His ears did most the work and perked up to any sudden sounds or movements.
"How many crates?" he heard the unmistakable accent of the galbadian soldier say.
"Five." Aiden replied, "All have scraps and machines in 'em."
"Open one." The soldier replied. There was silence for a few moments, and then he spoke again more firmly than before, "I said open one!"
The weight of the bed drastically shifted, and two sets of footsteps shuffled onto the floor near Squall. Aiden was prying a crate open with a crowbar, reluctantly doing what he was told.
Selphie's body was still, her back pressing against his chest. Her breath shallow and quick, his embrace got tighter. He felt like if he let go, she'd move and blow their cover.
He found himself praying for once.
"See?" Aiden spoke after a while. "Just a whack load'a shit."
"Fine then. Come with me." The bed floor shifted again indicating that they had jumped off the back of the truck. Squall tightly shut his eyes, the tarp flapping over their heads sounded like heaven now. Aiden and James' muffled voices confirmed something was happening, an exchange concluding.
After a few beats, he could hear the screeching of the rusted gate scrape against the ground ahead of them. Again, the vehicle rumbled to life before continuing down the sandy dirt road.
Once it was clear that they made it passed the border, Squall felt Selphie's lips press against his. A silent gesture of triumph.
They may have made it through, but it was still a long way to Esthar.
Sis, I'm coming.
Esthar City/Underground Evacuation Centre
1727 hrs ET
The sound of an Estharian soldier scampering into her office drew her away from her damage report. He looked spooked with pale skin and a sweaty brow, like a he'd seen a ghost.
What could have brought a stoic, well behaved soldier into her office in this condition? Concern built up inside her, coming to stand behind her desk with wide eyes.
"What happened!?" She shouted. Others tumbled into the room looking just as distraught.
"Y-you have to zee this, zir!" He exclaimed in his Esthari accent. "Outzide. Z-ze Palace iz on fire!"
"What!?" Quistis rushed past all four men, making her way down the hall to the bomb shelter exit. The heavy steel door slid open, and soldiers and SeeD alike stood and watched. The palace looked like a large bonfire, black smoke polluting the air and filling the sky.
The smell of burning flesh was thick enough to make her stomach churn and want to vomit. Quistis covered her nose with the crook of her elbow, coughing. Some of the others did the same, but her blue eyes focused on the flame. It was a several stories high now, situated right in the centre of the city.
How this fire started was beyond her, but she felt like someone was trying to tell her something. This fire was too controlled to be a fluke or a result of the attack.
It was a signal.
Promptly, Quistis turned to the nearest high-ranking officer. "Gather up as many men as you can and divide in squads of seven. The enemy is in the city. I want all exits blocked off preventing anyone from coming in or out. Arrest anyone who looks suspicious, and bring them in for questioning. If you see Galbadians, shoot to kill!"
A group of them saluted, and Quistis stormed off again. She didn't know how much more she could take.
The enemy was here, and she needed to do something about it.
Deling City Galbadia/Caraway Suites
The black haired woman turned to see Watts rush into her bedroom. Rinoa smiled, welcoming him like a friend she hadn't seen in a while. In truth, she'd been too busy with meetings and conferences to catch up with him.
Despite working for her, Watts also did some work with the Underground Association. He had grown up a rebel fighter and couldn't leave that life behind.
That wasn't such a terrible thing though because it served as an advantage for her.
"Did you find anything out?" She asked him, knowing he'd been frequenting the outskirts of town lately where all the UA agents seemed to inhabit.
He quickly pulled out a file, dropping it onto the nearby table. She sat down slowly, brown eyes never leaving his. "That other guy? It was him."
Rinoa flipped it open and the first thing she saw was a profile of a man she knew better than anyone else. A few years back he had come to Timber looking for work, a drifter at the time. When he joined the Forest Owls, he'd turned out to be such a valuable asset in uncovering government information. Shortly after, Cesar had recruited him to Deling City where Skyros Angelus quickly became a legend amongst the underground factions.
Rinoa had seen the images before, the one that confirmed that Squall was involved in this. His accomplice was harder to identify, so a background check and extensive referencing was required.
"Skyros Angelus." She finally said. It put a name to the face of the man she previously dismissed when the SeeD hunt started. "How the hell is Squall working with him? How do they even know each other?"
"Maybe he recruited him, too." Watts replied, "I mean, didn't he try to do that to you when he went to Balamb?"
That was a few years ago. She had gotten a hand written letter from Angelus who was trying to get her to join the Underground Association.
Rinoa glanced at Watts, "The UA's actually recruiting SeeDs."
In Timber, the resistance groups had a few SeeDs fighting on their side, and Zone was reporting back to her on their activity. Those SeeDs weren't even part of the UA, they just fought for the sake of fighting.
If the UA wanted hire SeeDs to strengthen their forces, recruiting Squall Leonhart was a smart fucking idea.
She was afraid this would happen. Not only did SeeD want her dead, the Underground Association's involvement would complicate things further. If the two joined forces, who knows what they would be capable of?
"And if they do that, that's trouble for us, right?"
Rinoa stood up, closing the folder, and leaving it aside. "I need you to do something for me."
"Finish the job Zone started."
"And you?" He asked her back.
Rinoa paused, "I need to talk to Seifer."
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Prasino45Write a Review