Grazhir :: Final Fantasy :: Snafu :: 04

04

Squall wandered a short distance away and sat on the ground going over everything they knew so far. He could only come up with only one conclusion. He checked his conclusion time and time again before snarling and returning to the others with a grim expression. “All right. This is a trap.”

“Well of course it is,” Zell exclaimed. “We trap her and shoot her!”

Squall shook his head. “You don’t get it. It’s a trap for us.”

“What?” Quistis said. “Where are you getting that from?”

He looked around, noting that Seifer, Irvine, and Selphie were all nodding at him, sour looks on their faces. Nida seemed to be surprisingly unconcerned.

“The gateway team will be trapped with the sorceress if something goes wrong. With only two ways out she’ll know exactly where you went—unless whoever is there can squeeze through the windows and don’t mind a storey drop—and she will know someone is there because someone had to have dropped the gates. Huge neon sign of bad planning, point one. By the time the sniper team could get anywhere near there to help it’d be too late. The sniper team has to get out of the clock tower, out of the residence, beyond the gates, and then run that huge distance, all to supposedly engage the sorceress, unless of course that is a sewer access, in which case they’d have to thread the maze first. Bad plan point two.

“There’ll already be a team in place there to engage if necessary so there’s no reason for this plan to rely on the sniper team for both. Bad plan point three. If by some miracle the shot hits and kills the sorceress, you do realize she must pass on her powers? And who is going to be right there? One or more SeeDs. Bad plan point four. And if those powers pass to a SeeD, are we then supposed to kill that person? And the next that they jump to? And the next? Bad plan point five. Even if we have the best available sniping point this whole plan is bullshit. We’re being set up to take the fall for something that won’t work anyway, and once they figure out that SeeD was behind it, what do you think is going to happen to Garden? Bad plan point six! Don’t even get me started on this exactly at 20.00 business.”

“You’re right,” Seifer said. “And being a sorceress, it’s not like we can waltz up and cast Sleep on her and expect it to work.”

“I am a mercenary, not a mindless puppet to dance to the whims of people who may not be able to tie their own shoelaces without an assistant. The fact that a general of the Galbadian army is a part of this brilliant plan just makes all of it worse. And I bet he won’t be anywhere near the events in question so he can save his own skin. I am not going to take the fall on this one and end up dead or imprisoned, and I refuse to order any of you to do it, either.”

“This is an important mission,” Zell shouted. “We have orders!”

“Squall, look,” Quistis said. “I admit that this isn’t a perfect plan, but Zell is right. We have orders. Maybe if we talk to Caraway something can be worked out.”

“You think he’s going to completely redesign the plan overnight?” he asked, shooting her a look of disbelief. “You have got to be shitting me. No wonder they demoted you!”

Quistis hissed like a cat and took a step forward, her hand twitching at her side. “How dare you.”

“It’s easy,” he retorted cruelly, “because now I can see with absolute clarity just why they said you have no leadership skills.” The second her fingers curled around the handle of her whip he said, “Do you really want to fight me?”

She blinked and stepped back, her cheeks turning a deep, mottled red.

“Uh, folks,” Irvine interjected into the tense atmosphere. “There’s something else that needs to be brought up.”

“Yes?” Squall said, not taking his eyes off Quistis.

“Sorceress Edea. We—we all know her. She was our matron at the orphanage.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Zell yelled.

“Don’t you remember? Or was getting adopted enough to make you forget about the rest of us?” Irvine replied. “All of us, except Nida, were at an orphanage together for several years. Zell and Quistis were adopted after a few years, but the rest of us didn’t leave until later. Edea is the woman who took care of all of us, the one we looked up to as a mother figure.”

A gasp sounded off to the side and Squall could just see Selphie move into his peripheral vision and stand right next to Irvine and cling to his arm. “We were,” she breathed. “Irvy!”

“That’s right, darlin’, that’s what you used to call me.”

Zell started looking at everyone, confusion writ on his face, until suddenly his eyes widened. “I don’t believe it. But. . . .”

Nida, again, seemed completely unconcerned, which marked him as a follower in Squall’s eyes. Or maybe he just didn’t have the balls to speak out against authority.

Quistis suddenly relaxed and planted one hand on her hip. “Squall, I outrank you in the SeeD hierarchy.”

He chuckled. “Insubordination is so ugly on you.”

Her hand went toward her whip again, never quite touching it. “If I’d known what a bastard you really are I’d have never scored you so high on the exam!”

“Oh, come on, Trepe,” Seifer drawled. “Everyone knows you’ve got wet panties for Squall. You’d have scored him high no matter what.”

“And you!” she shrieked. “I still don’t know how you managed to pass this time. You obviously cheated somehow because you’re nothing but a failure!”

Seifer just laughed at her.

Irvine coughed and adjusted his hat. “I’m not even a SeeD. And you know what? I’m not doing this. Squall is right, this whole operation reeks. I quit, so you’re gonna have to find yourself another sniper.”

Selphie nodded and pulled Irvine away from the confrontation. She slipped into the driver’s seat of the car as Irvine took shotgun.

A few seconds later Seifer said, “Same here.”

Squall arched a brow at Quistis and smirked. “Looks like you’re in charge now, Trepe, just like you wanted to be, because I also resign. You can consult with Caraway on all those minor flaws. I’m sure he can get a message to Galbadia Garden in time for replacements to come help you.” He turned his back on her, almost daring her to attack, and got into the back seat of the car with Seifer.

Selphie hit the gas when it was apparent that neither Nida nor Zell were going to move, and drove them back to the city at the top speed the vehicle could handle. She slowed down once within the city itself and pulled into a spot near their hotel, then handed a key over to Irvine. “I’ll keep the car warm. You go drop off the key with Rinoa.”

Squall and Seifer also handed over their keys, and Irvine was back in less than five minutes. Selphie smoothly pulled away from the curb the second Irvine’s door was shut and drove out of town.

“Hang a left,” Squall instructed, “and head along that peninsula. I had a few moments to investigate that package the guard shoved at me and there’s a tomb at the end with a Guardian Force inside. It shouldn’t take long and we can use that time to cool down a little.”

“Sure thing,” Selphie chirped, having seemingly regained her cheerfulness.

Squall suspected it was faked, but he wasn’t about to call her on it right then. He sighed and slouched, startling slightly when Seifer arranged to wrap an arm around his shoulders.

“You, my dear partner, are fucking amazing. Oh, I have so wanted to lay into Trepe like that! You’re my new hero.”

Squall began laughing almost helplessly, leaning against Seifer’s side until Selphie brought the car to a stop. “Let’s blow off a little steam.”

They were in and out in twenty minutes and half of that time was spent fighting the Guardian Force duo in question: Brothers. Back outside Squall gazed off into the distance before saying, “You know, when we were discussing that brilliant plan, I noticed something off in the distance. It kind of looked like a missile base.”

“It is one,” Irvine confirmed.

“Should we leave this continent with a bang?” he asked.

Selphie squealed. “If Galbadia plans to subjugate everyone else they’ll probably need that base. It just so happens I have a few tricks up my nonexistent sleeves that might help us blow the place to smithereens!”

“I’m game,” Seifer said, “but where do you intend to go after? We can’t go back to Balamb, and I don’t think it’d be wise to go to Trabia, either.”

Selphie pouted at the mention of her former Garden, but quickly smiled again, bouncing in place excitedly.

“I was thinking we’d head to Fisherman’s Horizon and see if we can figure out how to get to Esthar. That bridge is still there,” he said. “The people at FH came from Esthar, but there’s no way the entire population packed up and moved. And Esthar was where Adel reigned before she disappeared. I’m willing to go there to see if they’ve got something we could use against Edea that isn’t fatal. You’re right, going to any of the Gardens is a bad idea. If we’re being set up we’d probably end up right back in Galbadia’s hands. Irvine, what do you think?”

“I’m all right with it. Those missiles are just asking to be taken out. Not sure how we’re gonna get in there, though.”

Squall shrugged and headed for the car. “What kind of tricks can you pull off, Selphie?”

“Well, I picked up a number of things while we were scouting, just in the off chance they’d come in handy. I can put together a fairly strong sleeping gas, more than a few types of explosives, and one hell of a dense fog. Stuff like that.”

“So we’ll get as close as we can, check the place out, and see if it’s worth trying.”

They arrived at a crossroads near the base a short time later—how could they not with Selphie driving at top speed again—and realized almost immediately that approaching the place without being seen would be impossible unless it was full dark, which it was not. Selphie dropped her binoculars and said, “I vaguely recall that sometimes fog banks roll in from the west around this area. So, if we approach from that direction slowly enough and toss the fog canisters ahead of us as far as we can, we might be able to fake being lost once we arrive. Long enough to put any guards outside to sleep, anyway. Then we should be able to steal any access cards or IDs or whatever we might need and head in. Toss in some more gas, wait for them to all conk out, and start setting the place to blow.”

Squall considered for a few minutes and replied, “I don’t suppose you’re carrying gas masks, too?”

“Of course I am,” she chirped. “I store all kinds of stuff! You never know when you might need some of it.” Then she said in a confiding tone, “I’ll have you know I maintain a subscription to Anarchist Monthly. Lots of great ideas and information in that.”

He snorted and said, “Then it’s possible we may be able to take our time and evacuate the place before blowing it.”

“Yes, sir! I suppose if there’s enough vehicles we could pack ’em in like sardines and drive them clear of the explosion, then take off in our own car. Maybe steal one of theirs since they’re probably more durable. I don’t know about you, but the thought of walking that bridge makes me woozy.”

“All right. But a slight change. If we do this now it might disrupt what’s going on in Deling. I know that plan isn’t going to work, but if we time this to coincide or do it just a bit before, we may not need the fog and they won’t have time to contact Deling and distract the sorceress from her little ceremony and parade.”

Selphie nodded and looked at Irvine and Seifer, who nodded back.

“Take us around at a distance and settle up on the west. We can camp there for the night and you can make what you need. If we can help with that at all, we’ll do so. Tomorrow evening we’ll begin the plan.”

They had just gotten back in the car when Seifer swore loudly and leaned forward. “Tilmitt, how long would it take at top speed to get to Dollet?”

Selphie twisted in her seat and looked back in confusion. “What for?”

“How long would it take!?”

She bit her lip and flipped her hair around for a minute, then said, “A few hours? Again, why?”

“I can’t just blow up a missile base and flee to Esthar without sending a message to Raijin and Fujin. They’d kill me!”

Squall glanced at his watch and nodded. “Do it. We can eat dinner while we’re there, stock up on anything we need, and set back out in the morning. We should have more than enough time to get in place and refine the plan. Trepe will probably think we’re halfway to Balamb by now anyway to turn in our resignations.”

Selphie nodded and turned back, started the car, and pushed the accelerator to the floor. “I can try to get a message to Trabia as well while we’re there.”

*

Quistis turned around, pulled the whip off her belt, and screamed! A moment later she was snapping her weapon around in a furious rage at an imaginary enemy. “Those bastards! How dare they do that!?”

“We can handle it without them,” Zell insisted.

She turned around to face him, her whip neatly coiling around her waist, and leveled a glare at him. “We—just lost—our sniper,” she growled. “We also just lost one of our most intelligent and skilled SeeDs. I hope to hell that Galbadia Garden has qualified replacements. On top of that, we have to walk back!”

Zell skittered back a few steps quickly.

“How the hell am I going to explain this?”

“We should probably get going,” Nida said quietly.

Over two hours later they were at the entrance to Caraway’s mansion and Quistis glared the guard into letting them through. If he had said one damn word she was prepared to show him just how painful a whip could be.

Caraway strolled into the study a good twenty minutes later looking vaguely annoyed, but greeted them pleasantly enough. “You have questions?”

Quistis heaved a sigh. “We’ve run into some . . . technical difficulties.” As soon as she said it she could feel her face burn in anger and humiliation. “I don’t even know where to begin so I’ll just say it straight out. Four team members quit after we discussed the results of our scouting and the plan itself. They had some crazy idea that Garden was being set up to take the fall when the operation failed, as it must in their opinion because it was horribly flawed. As you can see, one of those people was the sniper.”

Caraway lost him composure enough to gape at her before sitting down heavily in his chair. “Flawed?” he parroted.

She heaved another sigh and gave him a quick summary of the reported flaws and finished up saying, “And obviously, we’ll need some replacements from Galbadia Garden.”

Caraway leaned his chair back and gazed at the ceiling for a few minutes, then sat up. “Wait here while I send a message. We’ll discuss some changes to the plan when I return.”

As soon as he was out the door she muttered, “I hope one of them is no females on the gateway team, then.” ‘And what the hell am I going to do about Rinoa? Only one member of the original team is left, and he has about as much spine as a wet noodle.’

*

Selphie drove the car slowly toward the base as the three men hung out the windows and hurled fog canisters ahead of them with as much force as they could muster. They were in luck that, even though it was not yet dark, it was overcast and smelled of rain. Squall had worried over the time for quite a while and initiated a debate on the subject, concerned that the explosion might be visible from Deling City somehow, despite the distance, or at least the resulting smoke. After Selphie pointed out that she had prepared shape charges and could control to some extent how the explosion would take place they decided to proceed before dark so they had more time to get away. And also, the less time they spent driving in unfamiliar territory at night the better.

The gate guards were easy to take out and they were through two minutes later, spreading mayhem before them. Surprisingly there were not that many soldiers inside, so it was less trouble than Squall expected to link them together with ropes, Float them, and haul them outside. Selphie giggled maniacally and dashed forward to tie the ropes to the back of their car so they wouldn’t have to exert themselves any further.

They did one more sweep of the base before setting the explosives, triggered the self destruct on the way out, and hightailed it out of range after reapplying Float to their captives. Selphie stopped at the crossroads and hopped out, and tossed a bunch of tents, water bottles, and rations on the ground as Seifer and Squall untied the soldiers and moved them off to the side. They were soldiers, yes, but that was no reason to leave them out in the middle of nowhere with no supplies. As soon as the base imploded they piled back in their car and Selphie pushed it to maximum speed on a course toward Timber.

“That should put a kink in their plans,” Irvine commented, then leaned over to kiss Selphie on the cheek. “Such a clever little firebug.”

“Irvine! Don’t flirt with me while I’m driving,” she said with a laugh. “I need to concentrate!”

“Right, right. I’ll just sit here and admire you. And if you’re nice to me I might even let you wear my hat later.”

Squall rolled his eyes and sat back, adjusting his position slightly when Seifer wrapped an arm around his shoulders again. For a moment he considered asking about it. Instead he tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. “We’ll have to see if we can drive across Horizon Bridge to FH rather than walking,” he mused, forgetting that it had already come up.

“Possibly bumpy ride if we do,” Seifer replied, “but it might still be faster. Less taxing on us, certainly. Hey, you’re kind of tense. Take a nap or something. I’ll wake you if necessary.”

He did feel tense so he closed his eyes without protest and focused on getting his muscles relaxed, one group at a time. They must have thought he had drifted off because after a while he heard Selphie speak to Seifer in a reasonably quiet tone.

“So, Seifer,” she said teasingly. “Got a thing for Squall, do you? You look awfully cozy back there.”

Seifer jerked slightly and Squall let his head loll to the side, his cheek coming to a rest against the blond’s chest, and could feel his hair falling down to cover part of his face. It was strange how Seifer kept getting so close to him, but it was probably all innocent. He had never once seen Seifer eye another man, but he supposed that meant little. It wasn’t like Squall advertised that he eyed anyone. And indeed, he went out of his way not to when there was any chance at all it could be witnessed.

“Don’t wake him up,” Seifer replied quietly. “He did something I never expected to see yesterday, and then got us moving, first on the base plan, then on a reasonable escape path. He’s had a tough two days. Not one of us spoke up when he asked if we had something to say. And yeah, I admire him for it.”

Squall could feel the arm around him tighten and that Seifer had angled his head to look down at him.

“I totally agree,” she assured him. “I’ve had one too many team leaders who expected people to shut up and obey. They didn’t want your opinion. Squall, on the other hand, has proven that not only does he expect us to think, he expects us to speak up, and wants us to be able to come to an agreement. He wants a team with a leader, not a leader and some flunkies.” And then she teased him again. “But you didn’t answer the question. Come on, it’s not like we’d make fun of you. He was super nice to me when I first got to Balamb Garden. Showed me around and everything when I asked for help. Granted, I was convinced he was incapable of smiling or laughing by the time we were done, but still. He’s been your sparring partner for how long?”

Seifer’s chest rose and fell in a deep breath, and Squall could only imagine what kind of face the blond must be making at the rear-view mirror.

“Leave it alone for right now, okay, Tilmitt? Go back to flirting with Irvine.”

“Fine, fine. But don’t think I’ll forget,” she threatened, and then her voice dropped too low in her resumed conversation with Irvine for him to decipher over the noise of the vehicle.

He went back to focusing on relaxing muscle groups and drifted off a short time later. He was awoken by a gentle shaking and sat up properly in response. “What?” he said groggily, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

Selphie twisted around in her seat and said, “We’re at the bridge now. Irvine is checking to see if we can just drive it or if it’ll shake us to pieces in the attempt.”

Squall nodded and ran a hand through his hair, then over his face. All that work un-tensing his muscles and now his neck ached a bit from the angle it had been at when he fell asleep.

Irvine got back in the car a few minutes later and shut the door quietly. “It’s fine. Just try to edge closer to one side or the other to avoid where the rails are inset a bit.”

“It’s about 20.30,” she said. “Shall we have a meal before we continue, or press on and worry about it when we get there?”

“Make the most of what light is left,” Squall said, then reconsidered. “If you’re all right to keep driving, that is.”

“I’m good,” she said with a nod. “We should be there in approximately two hours unless we’re forced to stop along the way. But if you’ll excuse me for just a moment I need to go find a bush or something.” She opened her door and hopped out, making a beeline for a small stand of trees not far away.

As soon as she was back Squall got out and relieved his bladder as well, absently noting that Seifer was doing the same off in another spot. Back in the car Selphie was nibbling on a pastry to tide her over and had gotten a fresh bottle of water. She brushed her fingers off after the last bite and started the car again.

Squall still felt groggy from his nap and was tempted to nod off again, but instead looked over at Seifer and said straight-faced, “So, is this a date?”

Seifer raised his brows. “. . .What?”

“You do keep putting your arm around me,” he replied, the corner of his mouth starting to twitch. “Isn’t that the usual move a guy makes? Oh, there’s not enough room between these seats. I think I’ll stretch my arm out and—oh, how coincidental, it’s now resting around my date’s shoulders.”

Seifer got that mischievous gleam in his eyes again and grinned. “I don’t know, Squall. Can a knight go on a date with the person he’s knighting for?”

He smirked faintly, getting the idea that Selphie might be right. And after what he had seen lately of Seifer, he rather thought it might be interesting. “I guess that depends on if the knight has honorable intentions toward the person he’s knighting for. You know, aside from the whole business of the knight being a knight for the person he’s knighting for.”

Seifer's eyes narrowed for a second. “Of course he would. How could a knight be honorable in one aspect and not in the other? For a knight to be a knight for the person he’s knighting for he must be honorable in all respects.”

“You do have a point, and very well spoken it is,” he replied, then countered with, “But if the knight has never considered going on a date with the person he’s knighting for, I suppose it would be a moot point, would it not? Because the knight would not ask the person he’s knighting for on a date in the first place.”

Seifer started chuckling and shifted in his seat so he could better face Squall. “I’m not sure the knight would ask the person he’s knighting for out on a date if he thought the person he was knighting for was not interested in dating the knight who was knighting for them.”

Squall couldn’t hold it back any longer and started laughing silently.

Seifer leaned in and murmured, “Would you like to go on date with me, Squall?”

He nodded, still trying to contain himself. “Yes, I think I would.”

“Good.” Seifer grinned again. “Though . . . where?”

Squall shrugged. “Maybe in Esthar, once we finally get there.”

“If nothing else we can split up for a while from those two in FH, assuming the place is friendly.” Seifer paused and glanced at the ceiling. “Though, from what I remember, they really dislike fighters, so they might not welcome us when they see we’re armed.”

He shrugged again. “We’ll see. If we have to move on quickly we will. Though maybe while we’re there it’ll be possible to send another message to your friends, or check to see if they’ve responded.”

“Yeah. I urged them to get the hell out and told them where we were heading. All in code, of course. They never wanted to be SeeDs anyway. They were in it for the education. Raijin wants to start a small restaurant and I think Fujin plans to manage it.”

“Really. I had no idea he could cook. I know he loves to fish. He must given the number of times I’ve noticed you three down on the docks.”

“Mm, he does pretty well. Say, you willing to tell me yet about your reaction to what Irvine said about Sis?”

Squall froze, surprised he had forgotten about that already. He glanced toward the front of the car, saw Selphie’s eyes looking at him from the rear view mirror, and almost refused. “Sis was special to me. It’s like she was my sister in blood. No matter how much I got annoyed by something, or angry, or sad, she was there to help me feel better. When she just disappeared—I remember I kept looking for her. Matron wouldn’t tell me where she’d gone. I was such a miserable little thing after that, and you kept bugging me to be like I had been. I think I forgot about the orphanage because her leaving really hurt me. If I’d been older it would have been different, I think.”

Seifer nodded, and where Squall thought he might once have mocked him for admitting to something like that, he simply gave him a small smile and put his arm around Squall’s shoulders again. “Maybe we’ll see her again some time.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

*

Quistis screamed in frustration inside her mind. Bad enough that they had three team members she had never met nor worked with before in any capacity. Bad enough none of them were SeeDs and could only rely on their own humanity in a fight. That alone made her grind her teeth. But then to have realized Rinoa had gotten involved and was going to die if they did not get up there fast enough. . . . The moment the gates were clear and all eyes were on the parade vehicle she tugged on the sleeve of the sniper and—

—screamed mentally. ‘It’s like she knew we were going to make the attempt! The sniper’s shot was perfect and she blocked it!’ As the current team leader she knew what her duty was, and even as she started moving to comply she fully realized and appreciated the enormity of the distance and obstacles involved. A somewhat bitter smile twisted her mouth as—

—the sniper was useless at short range and had fled. Rinoa was a basket case and had fled just like the sniper the moment they had finished climbing over the damn gates. By the time she made it all the way to the arch Nida was already staring at the sorceress with an expression of loopy adoration, Zell was knocked out, the other Galbadian was nowhere to be seen, and—

—it had only been due to the sorceress’s sheer arrogance that Quistis had been able to get Zell out of there, first using Float to help her literally steal him off the stage, then waking him up a short distance away, then running flat out for the car rental agency. By the time they reached Dollet she was exhausted, but could not yet stop. No, they had to get a train down to Timber and transfer to one to Balamb. It would be less suspicious that way.