*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
My back was aching and I was hot, but at least I wasn't in that insufferable uniform. I had stripped to the waist as we moved equipment into position for the first night of surveillance. My squad leader was cracking down on me fairly hard, I guess to show that she wasn't favoring the Commander's fuck toy. I could take it. Hell, compared to all those bouts during my mission this was a posh deal.
I tossed a package in Elijah's direction and he caught it deftly, emptying the contents onto the table in front of him. I found myself wondering just how he'd gotten his hair that shade of purple. Most of the time it was obvious when people colored their hair. His just looked natural. He'd pulled it back to the nape of his neck and it hung down his back in a thick braid, tied off at the end with a length of leather.
From what he had told me that day, I gathered that he wasn't exactly well thought of amongst the ranks of SeeD. He had crossed paths with the wrong person on a mission, a man he wouldn't name. Just said the man had been vicious. Ended up taking the fall for some things he hadn't been responsible for. No wonder I felt comfortable around him.
I stood at his side as he concentrated on assembling a motion sensor. "Right here," he said, pointing to a small length of wire that led into a relay. I took the soldering gun off the table and secured the connection. "Okay, now here," he pointed again, "and here, then we're done." He held the device up and checked it over. "Look alright to you?" he asked as he handed it to me.
I took it in my hands and checked it carefully. "Looks good. What's the range on this one again?"
"Maximum of seventy-five meters in an open clearing. Of course, if they're in a wooded environment, the range will be limited because of the line-of-sight issue."
"This one of the three-sixties?"
"Similar. This is the only model that uses cubical motion-sensor capabilities. Seventy-five meters up, down, and side-to-side. Anything that steps in that box sets off the sensor. Means that it's not as easily bypassed as a typical laser model where all it takes is smoke and mirrors, literally. We can also set it to only register activity over a certain size, so that something the size of, say a dog, won't set it off, but something the size of a human will."
We took the unit over to where they were getting ready to take several of the units out to the perimeter. I handed it over and Elijah and I walked back to our squad leader. She gave us both a critical eye, her expression saying that she wasn't surprised the two of us were getting along. Maybe she thought we had a lot in common. I swallowed a nasty little comment as she told us we were released for a half-hour break.
I had staked out a position under a tree earlier that morning, and we sat chatting amiably. I saw Squall pass across the field, speaking to my squad leader. She gestured toward us and he turned our way.
Elijah saw Squall coming and stood up. "I should get going," he said.
"No, stay," I said. "I promise, he doesn't bite. Just doesn't talk much."
He laughed and sat back down. "Just a little intimidating, I suppose. He is my boss after all."
"Yeah, I suppose it would be."
Squall ducked his head as he walked under a low-hanging branch and sat down beside me. "Going well?" he asked.
I shrugged. "They tell me what to do, I do it. I'd rather tell them where to shove it, but I've found that isn't the fastest way to endear myself to my squad leader."
His mouth quirked up into a small grin, "You should have had my squad leader."
I couldn't resist a smile. "Hey, I heard he was a great guy. Very dashing sort of fellow, intelligent, driven, incredibly handsome too."
Elijah looked over at me in confusion. "I must be missing something."
I laughed as Squall pressed his lips together to suppress a chuckle. "I was his squad leader."
"You?" he asked incredulously. "You were the Commander's squad leader?"
"Scandalous, isn't it?" I raised an eyebrow.
He laughed good-naturedly. "Highly."
Squall stood up. "If I could speak with you?" he asked.
I nodded to Elijah. "I'll be right back. We can go get something to eat."
I followed Squall out, not missing for an instant the look in his eyes as his gaze roamed my naked chest. Nor did I miss the slight tautness at the corners of his mouth. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was just a tad jealous. I smirked at him as he stopped and turned to face me.
"Tsk, tsk. Not becoming on you, you know," I said.
Squall snorted derisively, feigning ignorance.
I raised an eyebrow suggestively and winked at him, darting the tip of my tongue out to lick my lips.
"Are you hitting on your Commander, Cadet?" The inflection in his tone of voice was unmistakable.
"Damn right I am, Sir."
That little exchange had sent all sorts of wonderfully distracting thoughts running rampant through my mind. Just what I needed, walking around in front of a whole crowd of people with a raging hard-on. I growled at Squall a little and he looked up at me innocently.
"I've got to head out for a while. I'm meeting with Ms. Case and Mr. Madra, but I'll be back before dinner. You aren't on the duty roster tonight, so I'll see you then."
"Okay," I said, touched that he was thinking of me enough to let me know where he was going. I looked about quickly, then reached out my hand and trailed my finger along the line of his jaw. Leaning forward, I whispered in his ear, "Love you."
He smiled up at me, all traces of jealousy banished from his face. "Love you," he mouthed silently at me in return.
I turned and headed back under the tree to find that Elijah had taken the liberty of getting the food already. I sat down to eat quickly before we had to report back for duty.
It was a short drive to the Field Command Center. We had set up the main hub in what looked like a structure that had been a barn in another lifetime. I walked in and was met by Davis Madra. He wasn't an imposing gentleman at all, standing just an inch or so taller than I did. I figured him to be in his mid-fifties. Thin, graying hair and wrinkles were his predominant characteristics, accented by typical middle-aged spread around the gut.
"Mr. Madra." I nodded politely.
"Commander. Alisa is waiting in back."
I followed him to where Alisa Case was standing, directing some volunteers from the town. He called out to her and she turned around. I heard the vague sound of chimes and immediately I was hit with an unidentifiable sense of déjà vu. I shook it off and turned to the task at hand.
"How are things coming along?" I asked.
"Very well. We got more volunteers than we were expecting to help with the setup. I appreciate Garden's willingness to work with us, given the size of our town and its financial restrictions."
"You're quite welcome. Better to react decisively now than to find out later you should have."
"Quite true," she nodded. "Allow me to show you the area. We're not far from where the first attacks occurred, here on the outskirts."
I followed her outside, and found myself lulled into a daze by the sound the hem of her skirt made as she walked across the open field. I was so distracted that I nearly walked into her back when she stopped. I couldn't see any outward signs of the brutal attacks, but there was a definite aura that permeated the air. It crawled across my skin, raising gooseflesh across my arms despite the warmth of the afternoon.
"Are you alright?" she asked, brow knit in concern.
"Fine, fine," I said.
"You feel it, don't you?" she asked pointedly.
"You mean it's not...?"
"Your imagination, no. Do you notice anything else?"
I took a moment to concentrate on my surroundings, trying to sense anything out of the ordinary. Then it hit me. "It's too quiet."
"The area is devoid of animal or insect life of any kind. It's almost as if every living creature is being warned to stay away from this area. That is one of the primary reasons we suspected magical involvement."
I nodded, feeling that disquieting sensation of dread I had sensed last night crawling its way back up my spine and to the base of my neck to stand the hairs there on end.
"Well," I said, "the basic perimeter should be in place this evening and we're staffing the Center overnight with a half-dozen people. Three magic users and two combatants. The rest of the team will be on standby, should any problems arise. They'll take twelve hour rotating shifts to ensure that things are covered at all times. There are fourteen highly trained people here, Ms. Case. I assure you we will do our utmost."
She smiled as if she was reassured by my words. I must be getting better at dealing with people. Either that or she's just being polite. "Shall we return?" she asked. "We can cover everything else when we get back to the Field Command Center. How long do you anticipate the meeting taking, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I allotted three hours to cover everything. You and your party will be fully informed as to exactly what will occur during the SeeD deployment here. We've also brought along a brief report from a Trabian specialist. A man named Doctor Volaju. I think you'll find the information interesting."
"Excellent," she said. "Shall we?"
I nodded, following her across the field once more. The chiming sparked that vague remembrance in my mind again. I knew I had forgotten something important, something I had to remember, and it all centered on that discordant ringing.
I was surrounded by the softest silk. It blew in waves around my body, leaving me senseless to the world outside. It danced in my vision like the flames of a fire. I reached out a hand and it trailed through my fingers. I could hear the chimes. They were beckoning me out of the safety of my cocoon. I fought the impulse but I was compelled. I ran unmindful of orientation, seeking only to find the source of the sound that so haunted me. Tendrils of silk transformed to silken hands and fingers that grabbed at my clothes and limbs and sought to detain me. I struggled against them as they held me in place, the chiming growing louder, the urge to find it more insistent. I withdrew my gunblade, slashing at the arms that restrained me. Blood flowed. Blood the color of silk the color of flame. For every formless limb I cleaved the chimes rang in my ears until it was an unbroken sound. The pale aqua of my weapon was now coated in crimson. I held it before me and watched as it absorbed the life-sustaining fluid, the blade becoming the color of flame.
I bolted upright, breath coming in ragged, heaving gasps. I held my hands up to my face in the moonlight, looking for the stain of crimson. Beside me, Seifer slept on in blissful oblivion. I was relieved I hadn't woken him. I wanted to tell him, but what was there to tell? I was being haunted by chimes and vague sensations? It was ridiculous, really. My subconscious must have been acting out some displaced feeling of apprehension. Still, I would feel better when we left this place. We were here to accomplish a mission, and that's what I planned to do.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and I could pick out objects strewn around haphazardly. I got up out of bed and walked to the window, arms folded across my chest, as I gazed out to the street below. There was nothing outside. I had half expected to see some figment of my imagination running down the road. I turned to head back to the bed and stopped dead in my tracks.
Sitting on the edge of the bed was a woman. She was so pale she appeared to glow. Her gown trailed down to the floor to pool at her feet. One side was slit to her thigh, allowing the fabric to drape gently down. Her hair hung down her back in softly cascading waves. In her lap, she held her hands perfectly still. In her hands she held an object. I couldn't tell what it was. Was I still dreaming? I opened my mouth to speak but she lifted one delicate hand and pressed a finger to her lips, commanding my silence. She turned her face to me and lowered her hand. Her lips parted and in my mind I heard a voice I knew but couldn't place. There was no mistaking her message.
Then, like my dream, she faded.
I stood outside in the darkness, Hyperion at my side, as I listened for the alarm that would signal the breaking of the perimeter. Squall had been distracted all day. I could tell something was nagging at him, but he was being unusually silent. Every time Alisa Case walked by he'd flinch, which is a hell of a reaction from him. The distorted crackle of my earpiece carried the voice of the all-clear signal to which I added my own all-clear. A light breeze stirred the grass around me and I looked across the clearing. Nothing. I rested my back against a tree, closing my eyes. This was ridiculous.
I opened them and yelped in shock.
She laughed, the sound like chimes carried on the wind.
I withdrew Hyperion and stepped forward. Why hadn't the perimeter alarm sounded?
She lifted her hand and placed one delicate finger on the tip of the blade.
I lowered the weapon that had suddenly become too heavy in my hands.
She smiled at me. "Remember."
As if she had pulled Hyperion's trigger I was hit with a barrage of memories flashing through my mind like a visual assault. I tumbled backward and felt my back impact the tree I had leaned on moments before.
I was looking across a fire as she sat on a raised dais. On one side I held Hyperion. On the other I held Squall. In the shifting light of the flames bodies flowed and turned in continual movement...
I shook my head and looked up, the vision dissipating, my eyes wide in shock.
She nodded at me. "It is time to repay your debt, Knight."
"They gather?" I asked in a whisper.
"He has sensed it, but refuses to remember. She has sensed it, but does not know."
She stepped backward, fading from view.
"Wait!" I called.
"I cannot be held," she replied.
The darkness closed around me and I slumped to my knees.
The time approached and I was powerless to stop it.
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