Phase VII: Briefing
Deling City, Galbadia's capital, was the largest city on the continent that only had about ten days of sunlight a year. The streets were always crowded with people oblivious as to what was really going on under the surface of superficial lifestyles and pretty architecture. They walked down the paved sidewalks laughing and toting multiple shopping bags from designer stores. Luxury cars from various manufacturers lined the streets on a two-lane road. The air was thick from bus exhaust as they drove down their designated routes.
The store windows lit up to showcase whatever product the shop was trying to sell. Women ogled at the designer coats and boots on posing mannequins, which were freshly styled for the upcoming winter season.
Squall hadn't been in the city in a while and forgot how populated it could be. He recalled the last time he had come here was just over a year ago at the insistence of Irvine to celebrate his 18th birthday. Even then the city streets hadn't been this busy with pedestrians.
Riki sang as she walked arm-in- arm with Selene, "It's good to finally be home again!"
Selphie had a smile lingering on her lips as her eyes were naturally attracted to the women's fashion labels.
"We haven't been here in a while, eh Squall?" Zell asked him, treading not too far away with his hands in the pockets of his blue and black sweater.
"Never mind that. We need to find the guy who was in charge of the attacks in Dollet." Squall reminded them.
"We're staying in the Galbadia hotel for the night until we can locate where the Sahara group is. In the meantime, we are to hang tight at the bar area." Angelus informed the group walking ahead of them.
"Sahara?" Selphie asked, "Sounds kinda like a desert to me."
Selene giggled at her comment, "Sahara is our ally group. We correspond with them on a regular basis. They are the group who notified us about the attack."
The sound of Angelus' cell phone going off caught everyone's attention. He pulled it out and put it to his ear, "Hello?"
"Hey man! Heard you're back in Deling!" A cheerful voice spoke into the other end.
"Cesar?" Angelus broke into a smile, "Hey, how did you find that out so soon? I haven't even been here for an hour and you already know?"
"Who is Cesar?" Selphie whispered to Selene.
"He's the leader of Sahara. He and Angelus go way back."
"Even you should know that word travels fast here." He laughed. "So, the reason I called you is 'cause I'm just chillin' here at the hotel bar by myself just drinking my cocktail. Where you at? We need to talk!"
"Cocktail, huh?" Angelus chuckled, "And nothing's ever good after you say 'we need to talk'."
"Always was the joker, Angelus. But seriously, I've got more stuff on the attacks that my groups dug up. You need to check this out."
"Fine, I'll be on my way." His conversation concluded, and the line went dead.
"What was that?" Zell asked him.
Angelus shoved his phone into the depths of his trench coat pocket. "Looks like we got some more info. It might even be a lead!" He looked excited and darted down the street for everyone to follow.
"So, what's the deal with this Cesar guy?" Squall asked Angelus when they got to the hotel entrance.
"An old friend; his group is a little more reconnaissance and a little less action. They overheard those soldiers, and we were set to deal with the rest."
Angelus strolled towards the counter striking up a conversation with the pretty receptionist. "Where can I find Cesar Lamont?"
"He said he will be waiting down in the bar area for you, Angelus," said the blonde woman with a smile.
"Thanks Danielle!" He winked and made his way in that direction just to the right of the foyer.
"He always gets like this…" Riki muttered, shaking her head to his predictability. Her statement had caught the attention of Zell, who just laughed.
"So what's this 'information' you guys dug up?" Angelus asked when everyone had slide into his or her seats in a circular booth. They had chosen a booth in the farthest corner of the bar away from eavesdropping ears and other patrons who were there to enjoy the fine dining and good liquor.
Cesar was Galbadian. His strong accent gave it away from moment he opened his mouth. He was an older man judging by the crow's feet that surrounded his brown eyes when he smiled. His strands was cropped short, but had enough dark brown hair to cover his entire scalp. He was of a medium build and had enough muscle mass to suggest he may have been a former soldier. It was no wonder that he was positioned as a spy for the Underground Association. Cesar blended into the common folk rather well wearing a brown leather jacket, blue dress shirt underneath, and faded jeans. Nobody could tell the difference.
"There's a guy code named 'Jenkins' who lives in the Timber Forest. His crib's some ol' shack or somethin' 'long those lines. A few nights ago, he found some corpses a couple kilometers away from his place with strange markins' on their bodies."
"Could it have been magic?" Zell questioned.
"Could be," he said, sipping his forth cocktail that night, "They did have burns on their bodies, too. Wounds had these large slashes. Couldn't be some regular sword, I can tell ya that!"
"What sword can inflict fire on itself?" Angelus muttered, but only Squall heard him clearly.
"Someone could have junctioned fire to a physical attack." Squall stated.
"What?" Selphie's eyebrows rose.
"Junctioned?" Zell echoed, "But only SeeD and cadets were able to do that. They took that away from us when Garden shut down!"
"Could it be?" Selphie asked amongst herself, Squall, and Zell hoping she could be wrong, "Could an ex-SeeD be the one who killed them?"
"No…"Squall muttered, "It's an ex-cadet…the only one who is ruthless enough to do such a thing."
"You think it's-" Zell exclaimed.
"Seifer?" Squall finally said, "It could be him. Sounds like a gunblade wound."
"But couldn't it be another gunblade user?" Selphie asked.
Squall replied, "There aren't many gunblade specialist's left after the war. There weren't that many to begin with, anyway."
"So, you're saying you might know the guy who did it, Squall?" Angelus inquired, cocking a black brow at him. There was something about the name Seifer that rang a bell. Angelus racked his brain as to where he'd heard it before.
Squall glanced over at the Naperic leader, "Seifer wouldn't do such a thing if the person telling him what to do was weaker than he is. He must be working along side someone of higher authority."
"The Galbadian general, perhaps." Cesar cut in, drawing the group's attention to himself again.
"What does Caraway have to do with this?" Angelus asked.
"He might have some connection with what's goin' on in Galbadia. I mean, doesn't he always?"
Riki tilted her head, "If he commands the Galbadian army, he probably has some sort of input on the governmental matters of the nation. So…wouldn't he be aware of what happened in Dollet?"
"Wish I knew…" Cesar sighed, and leaned backed into his chair. "Our underground groups haven't found that out yet. They're still lookin', but they can't find anything suggestin' that Caraway was involved in this somehow. It's been three days and nothing."
"I say we bust in on the general's house and get our answers from him ourselves!" Zell suggested swatting the air with his fists for emphasis.
"That'd be stupid!" Angelus snapped, angrily, "If we did that, there's no doubt he'll get the cops involved. We would have to be slick, move silently through the shadows…"
"So, we gonna do it, Angelus?" Riki asked expectant for his answer.
"That ain't a good idea," Cesar interrupted Angelus before he offered his opinion on the matter. "We don't got much proof that the general was the person who got those guys in Timber Forest killed or the reason the media hasn't address the attacks in Dollet at all. We can't bust 'em yet, the time is still young, and we got important matters to get to. I'll keep watch and report anythin' I see. As for you guys, you need to get to Timber ASAP and find out who…or what killed those guys."
"How we gonna get there?" Zell asked Cesar.
Selene smiled, "Well, there are perks in working with the Underground. We have ties with different people."
"It's true. Call us one big happy family!" Riki chirped.
"And you three are part of us now, so get used to it." Angelus smirked. Squall didn't like the way that sounded. He felt like they owned them now.
"That's why I got you these," Cesar said pulling ticket stubs from his coat pocket and revealing them to the group in a fanlike orientation. "Tickets to Timber. You're train leaves first thing in the mornin'."
Deling City, Galbadia/Squall, Selphie and Zell's hotel room
October 4th, 2009.0015 hrs
"Timber." Squall muttered as he sat alone on the balcony of the hotel room he shared with Selphie and Zell. "I haven't been there since…"
"Since our first SeeD mission, yeah?" Selphie's voice said from behind him. He turned to see her leaning against the doorway still wearing her normal attire.
He nodded, reminiscing over all the events that occurred in Timber and the girl he met there two years ago. Rinoa had changed everything, and she's also crushed his heart in a million pieces after that.
Selphie continued, "I mean, it was Rinoa who started it all." The brunette took a few steps further onto the balcony to join him in the opposite chair. Her company wasn't really wanted welcomed, and he just wished to be alone for a while.
"Our first mission. We didn't know what to expect. We never thought we would get thrown into an all out war and the complexities of Galbadian politics."
"Yeah…" Squall had to agree with her there despite wanting her to leave.
That awkwardness between them never settled, and Selphie missed the days where they felt natural with each other- where animosity didn't exist between them. Now he ignored her and treated her like she did something wrong. Like he was punishing her for something. Regardless, she continued to hope that he would talk to her like he did that night in the quad.
Her green eyes gazed at him, her voice becoming softer, "Isn't it going to be hard to go back there, Squall?"
"Whatever…" he muttered, trying to act like he cared little for this conversation.
"I could tell…" She spoke after a moment's silence, and he turned his head in question.
"You still love her, right?"
"That's why…" her eyes narrowed. "That's why you didn't keep in contact with me…am I right?"
Silence swallowed him whole.
"That night when you told me she cheated on you. And when you…"
Squall inhaled deeply and let out a loud-goaded sigh. She was partially right, but all he could do was watch her from the corner of his eye. Selphie was persistent, and for some reason he had a problem with that. "Selphie, what do you want?"
The conversation took an unexpected turn, and he was right to call her out on why she really wanted to talk to him. Selphie had lost her friend in exchange for her own life. In the past few years, a lot of people she cared about seemed to disappear or die due to the affects of war. She was sick of it already, but knew she still had to fight.
Putting aside the animosity she felt towards Squall for not answering any of her messages or calls over the past two years, the fact that he had left Stacy behind so easily just added to her anger. But besides all that, what had really needed to be addressed was that he had saved her life back there. The least Selphie could give him was her gratitude for his efforts.
"I guess I wanted to say thanks," she stated, curling up into a ball on the balcony chair and wrapping her arms around her knees. "If it wasn't for you I'd be a goner."
"If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead." Squall quipped. He was irritable again. She still didn't understand what she did to deserve this backlash from him. All she ever wanted to be was supportive of him. Selphie just wished she could figure him out. And all she really needed was to understand what was happening, or there lack of, between them.
"What the hell is your problem!?" She snapped watching Squall get up from his chair. "What did I do to deserve this?"
"Selphie, goodnight." He stated firmly as his feet lead him back inside, leaving the brunette to vent without any consolation.
She pouted staring at the city lights over the balcony banister. I don't get you at all!
Squall lay in his bed later that night as the time ticked away on the bedside clock next to him. He sighed unable to sleep thinking over the conversation he had with Selphie earlier.
I've closed myself off from the people around me again.
Rolling onto his side, Squall's eyes found Selphie curled up under the blankets on the bed next to his. Unlike her waking self, her face was a blank slate, and her smile was nowhere to be seen. It looked unnatural and foreign to not see emotion in her face. They'd done nothing but argue since they met each other again, and Squall wouldn't blame her for not smiling as much anymore.
It's for the best…can't you see that?
He now looked to the ceiling. His thoughts never ceased to run endless in his mind. I can't believe it's been two years already. I remember my last days at Garden so clearly.
The last two years have been rough to say the least. I…don't know if I'm completely over Rinoa. Weird thing was when I wasn't thinking about her, I kept thinking about that one night. Selphie sang to me, and then I stupidly took advantage of her kindness…
Selphie, I still don't know about you. You piss me off, but…fuck, I don't know.
Squall grumbled burying his head under the down pillow. His face felt hot. He shifted and fell asleep that way. At least it was a temporary escape from reality.