A bar stood near a desolate edge of Balamb. It looked somewhat of a lonely place, not really all that well visited by a large number of the town's inhabitants. Balamb was always known as a quiet residential seaside area that many families chose as a wholesome place to raise their children, so even though the town itself did not have a curfew, it basically shut down sometime after 9pm. The bar, while looking vaguely dim and weathered, was regularly frequented by random travelers passing by, or people wanting to drown their sorrows away at the bottom of a glass.
The bartender dried a couple of freshly washed mugs and lined them up carefully on the surface behind him, taking a moment to survey his reflection in the hazy surface of the mirror that backed the entirety of the shelf. Things have changed, that's for sure. It had been years since he served in the Galbadian Army, yet sometimes it felt as if very little time had passed at all. The last, and arguably the greatest, Sorceress War was behind them all, and the land enjoyed the longest period of peace it has ever known. Now, if only it just felt right.
It didn't mean that he wanted for war to tear the world apart again, but the calm seemed off. At first he just summed it up to the fact that people were so used to being on edge for something or another that it would take them awhile to unwind and really relax. But recently, he thought that something else, something sinister, was lurking in the shadows waiting for the right time to strike. Of course, he couldn't justify his feelings with concrete evidence, but he also refused to shake it off like a mere paranoia episode. No matter how many days, weeks, months, or even years went by, he was waiting for something to jump up and tear the facade of peace away like the pristine white tablecloth that it was and reveal the rotted corpse of truth. Maybe it's just me. At least, that's what I'm hoping.
"Biggs! Hit me up with another one, will ya?" Snapped out of his own thoughts by one of his regulars, he got right on to making a Torama and passed it down to the waiting hand on the other side of the bar. As he did this, he noticed a table full of SeeDs from Balamb Garden and had to fight to hold back a sneer. Perhaps his distaste for the world-renowned mercenaries was ingrained too deep to erase completely, especially since it was their fault all those years ago that he got demoted, and now he blamed them for the reason why the once great Galbadian Army is merely the shadow of its former self. A part of him, the rational part, knew that the real reason for the army's decay was because of its past affiliation with Vinzer Deling. Although deceased and his short-term affiliations with the sorceress with it, it was he that gave the order to Galbadian troops to back the sorceress at all costs, thus sealing their fate. Despite the fact that the new president of the city was Nathaniel P. Caraway, ex-general of the army itself, the people accepted him for two main reasons. One, he was revered as being a strong leader and was a long-term resident and beneficiary of Deling City. Two, he renounced his ties to the army shortly after setting into motion a plan to sabotage the sorceress. The plan itself failed, but the effort was commendable enough. Especially since it was also found out that the group he hired to carry out the plan was none other than the SeeDs who later went on to save the world. It was enough to send anyone's presidential campaign through the roof.
Biggs had always considered SeeDs to be kids who were too pussy to do the honorable thing and join the army like real soldiers but still wanted the taste of glory reserved for those who rightly deserved it. They always put their noses into situations that were too big for them to comprehend, yet still came off as the neighborhood heroes. How cute. Even he had to admit that to get rid of an all-powerful sorceress, from the future no less, had to take a helluva lot of balls and luck to accomplish. But that didn't mean that the new influx of SeeD recruits deserved any of the credit, and helped justify Biggs' bitterness towards them. They were always treated so special by the civilians, so the wanna-be warriors flaunted their status and their Garden's colors even in the face of people like him, who knew how tough a real battlefield could be. He reckoned that not even half of the kids he saw sneaking into his bar would even survive half a minute if the time came for them to be dragged into something their puny training couldn't have prepared them for.
Lately, there had been word on the street that the three different Gardens were formulating rivalries amongst each other, probably spawned by the fact that there were now too many SeeDs and not enough to do except to see whose proverbial dick was bigger. Sometimes, that's all it was; bad mouthing or pranks that sometimes got out of hand. Other times, people got hurt, although the media, still intent on keeping SeeDs in a more favorable limelight, conveniently muffled the extent of how bad the situation was becoming. All of it disgusted Biggs, and he found himself wondering what was more aggravating: the fact that the people were too busy having their lips firmly planted on SeeD's asses to see that they were slowly becoming no more than rival gangs with badges, or that he couldn't do a damn thing about it. There had been a time where he believed that there was not a situation that the Galbadian Army couldn't fix, but they were still busy licking their wounds. He was certain that causing a disturbance against SeeDs, no matter how justified, wouldn't go over well at all.
Looking back out into the smoky area, he noticed that the table of SeeDs had gotten up and left.
"Dude, did you see that one chick looking at me? Was she hot or what?" A recently graduated SeeD proclaimed to his friends, slightly wavering on his feet.
"Yeah, and she's probably ten years older than you, too," one of them replied dryly, unamused. He was the oldest of the four that were out way past their Garden's curfew, and was most probably the only one out of them all that was feeling increasingly uneasy about it. He was a handsome young man in his early twenties, his jet-black hair falling neatly to his chin and framed mahogany almond-shaped eyes. He didn't want to be out, and especially not at a seedy bar of all places, but he found himself out with them if only to keep them out of trouble. He didn't know how he was supposed to do that, but he hoped that by his presence alone he would curb undesirable behavior. He knew that they looked up to him, and even though they were so hyped up about getting him to do something "fun" at last, they still wanted his approval.
The previous SeeD rolled his eyes and made a face, made all the more comical by the shock of curly red hair that littered his head haphazardly. "Hyne, loosen up, Nida! You've been stiff as a board all night. Man, you just need to get laid. Maybe we can hook you up with that hottie in there..."
"I don't think so." Nida ignored the titters and the goading that followed that comment and started to quicken his pace down the street. "Let's just get back to Garden, okay? Trest, Rados; make yourselves useful and make sure that Dustin doesn't fall on his face on the way back." The people in question grumbled a bit at being ordered around after a night out, but they agreed that Dustin wasn't really at his best under the influence and stationed themselves on either side of their friend to make sure that he stayed at least in a straight line.
They hadn't really gone far before a voice rang out of the darkness. "Aw, someone got a little fucked tonight, didn't they?"
The four SeeDs stopped abruptly and squinted around, trying to decipher who had said it. The three sober guys snapped to attention and trained their senses to more thoroughly scan the area without looking too startled, which would certainly give whoever it was an upper hand. While doing this, they almost completely managed to forget that they had an obvious handicap of a drunk on their hands, who recklessly shouted out, "WHAT, YOU GONNA SAY IT TO MY FACE OR ARE YOU GONNA HIDE LIKE THE WIMP YOU ARE?"
Nida resisted the urge to facepalm. This is not the time to be exasperated with his foolishness. "C'mon, just ignore it." But his apprehension level rose a couple of notches when the perpetrator emerged from a small alley to their right along with two others, still partly shrouded by the stark shadows that the full moon above them generated in the night. Nida's trained eyes caught the tale-tell colors of a SeeD uniform from Galbadia Garden, and he barely held back a wince. This is not good. If for some reason he was here by himself, he might have been able to slip by since he was one of the few SeeDs left that preferred to save their uniforms for missions or other special occasions. But with his friends who were following the new trend of wearing their uniforms whenever they went out, they were immediately being targeted for who they were.
"I would say it to your face, but I don't want to get that close to it," one of the shadowed figures continued. No one could see his face, but they could hear the smirk in his tone. "Not to mention your breath probably smells just as bad."
Dustin opened his mouth to shoot back a nasty reply, but Nida beat him to it. "Look, we don't want trouble. Our friend is drunk, as you can see, and probably won't remember any of this in the morning. We just want to get back quietly."
"Oh, I'm sure. Leave it to the Balambs to be the goody goodies. If you really didn't want trouble, you wouldn't even be out here right now, so don't feed us your high and mighty bullshit."
"Oh, shove it!" Dustin managed to get out this time. "You're just pissed because no matter how much you do, Balamb's still gonna be better than you! You were fuck-ups before, and you're still fuck-ups now!"
"Dude, shut up!" Rados hissed. "We didn't come out here for this, not tonight. If you want to, we can settle this tomorrow when you're less wasted, but we can't cover for your ass right now!"
The Galbadian figure tsked. "You want to say that again? If you can remember straight, that is."
Dustin's face turned almost the same color as his hair and he shook off the helping arms of his friends. Drunk or not, he wasn't going to just stand there and take shit from a SeeD from a Garden that was below the greatness of Balamb. He rolled up his sleeves and started over to the heckling group, prepared to punch all of them to oblivion as long as he had breath in his lungs. He already told himself that he wasn't doing it just because they had pissed him off, but more because they were spitting on his Garden's honor. And if nobody else would stand up to that, then he'd have to be the one to do it.
The redhead barely had enough time to process that warning when he was thrown violently to the side. His reflexes dulled by the liquor he'd consumed, he wasn't even able to cushion his fall into a roll like he'd been taught, and he crashed ungracefully on the cobblestone street below him. He had heard something else during all of this, but it was hard to decipher what exactly was going on when his head felt like it was spinning like a top. Propping himself up on his elbows painfully, he blinked rapidly to clear his vision some and wiped his face with the back of his hand. He didn't realize he was sweating that much. But when he took a closer look at his hand, he realized that if it was just perspiration that was the problem, then it wouldn't have a sticky residue and shine ominously red in the moonlight. Panicking, Dustin frantically wiped off the blood on his shirt and started checking himself for injuries.
"STOP FUCKING AROUND AND GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!" Trest's voice shot out towards him. It wasn't often that Trest yelled or was anything other than nice, so Dustin knew something was up. Glancing quickly towards the alleyway while scrambling awkwardly to his feet, he noticed that the Galbadian SeeDs had disappeared as if they had never been there. Not allowing himself time to wonder where they ran off to, he made his way over to his other friends who were kneeling over a figure. Dread seeped into his bones and sobered him up faster than a cold shower as he got closer and looked down and identified the body.
"Wh-what happened?" Dustin stuttered, half afraid of the reply.
Revos shot him a fierce glare, fueled by the panic that was rising in his own chest. "One of those bastards had a gun. Nida saw it first and knew what they were planning to do, so he pushed you out of the way. But now..."
He didn't even have to continue. Dustin immediately realized that the blood that was spotting his face wasn't his own, and he stared catatonically at the bullet hole marking the side of Nida's head, still gushing out dangerous amounts of blood onto the street. "Hyne... oh, shit. Oh, shit..."
Trest looked over to Revos. "I don't know how, but he still has a pulse. It's weak as hell, though. We gotta team up and carry him back to Balamb Garden as fast as we can."
"Screw that. I have my cell; I'm calling an emergency transport." Catching the wide-eyed look Dustin shot him, Revos delivered his own incredulous look. "You can't possibly be worried about getting busted for being out after curfew right now. We can't waste time. If Nida doesn't pull through, then docked pay and possible suspension will be the least of our worries." With that, he flipped open his phone and dialed.
Dustin processed this all through a slow haze, one that wasn't even induced by the alcohol that was still in his system. The only thing that was moving along clearly for him was the slight breeze that moved a few strands of black hair across Nida's paling forehead. Even though he knew that his friends wouldn't sell him out, it was bad enough that his own conscious would eat at him for the rest of his life, especially if Nida died. No, don't think of that. Nida always pulls through. He's the one that takes care of us. Who knew that a guy's night out at the bar would turn out so horribly wrong? He looked up to the sky, barely registering the sound of the transport arriving, casting red and blue hazard lights flashing over them all. What have I done?