I've worked out that this is going to go on for about twenty-five chapters in total, so settle back and enjoy the ride... Purple Penguin and redrum: wouldn't you like to know? You'll find out the truth in a few chapters' time. Meanwhile, enjoy the suspense :) Change of scene again; over to Quistis.
WARNING: PG-13 for this chapter due to violence (no swearing, because Quistis doesn't indulge, and sadly no yaoiness, although there will be more quite soon).
DISCLAIMER: See previous chapters. FFVIII is Squaresoft's. I didn't write this for profit.
Chapter Eight - The Funeral Song
The attack began at dawn, when energy was at its lowest and when soldiers were most easily taken by surprise. Quistis was at the gates checking up on the SeeD night watch when the mortar blew up part of the Presidential compound's wall. So she got a ringside view when the Galbadian soldiers scurrying to seal the breach turned and ran, pursued by a low-grade heat-seeking ballistic missile.
"Get down!" Quistis shouted, pulling the closest SeeDs behind a garden wall and throwing a handful of Protect stones into the mass of fleeing men. It wouldn't be enough to save all of the few men who caught a stone, let alone the many who did not. She closed her eyes and took cover as the missile caught up with the mob of soldiers and exploded.
The screaming and the stench of burnt flesh hit her like a tidal wave. She pushed back the storm of her own emotions and stood up. She averted her eyes from the burning bodies, some still twitching in death's final paroxyms, and looked for the hole in the wall. Two men were standing there, illuminated against the light of the street lamps outside. As if time had slowed down she watched them pull a launcher the size of a small car into the gap and press the button on the side.
The missile thundered past her and struck the front door. Quistis threw her arms over her head just before the shockwave flung her backwards into the gate. She stared in horror at the crumpled fašade of the building for half a second, then pushed herself into action. "Attack them before they reload!" she ordered the three SeeDs. She took a moment to consider her own options. To go for the terrorists or to try and save the Palace? There was only one priority now.
She closed her eyes and concentrated. The spell fell into the front of her mind almost more easily than ever before. "Degenerator," she whispered, framing the alien incantation in thoughts rather than words, and she opened her eyes and pointed.
She refused to use this spell against humans. That said nothing about their equipment. She almost heard the rip as space-time opened around the missile launcher, sucking it into nothingness as if it had never existed. The terrorists froze for a second in shock - understandable; it wasn't every day that a hundred thousand gil of weaponry vanished from the face of the universe right in front of them - and, before they could recover, the SeeDs reached them. The woman in the lead pulled out a staff and struck out at the closest rebel. He dodged and brought out a vicious-looking knife, ducking into a crouch and spreading his arms out for balance. The other two SeeDs ran up to engage with the rebels, one attacking with hands and feet, the other casting an Aero spell.
Quistis didn't stop to watch how the fight went, but turned and ran to the burning porch. The door was gone; she could see people behind the flames, trying to beat them down enough to escape. "Water!" she yelled, clapping her hands. A globule appeared in mid-air above the blaze; slowly, ever so slowly, it bowed to gravity and the rules of molecular activity and the water bubble burst. The trickle dripping onto the flames became a torrent. The burning timbers hissed as violent jets of steam fired out in all directions. But it had worked. The fire was out.
Galbadian soldiers were pouring out through the windows, seeking to combat the rebels. General Caraway was just visible inside the main hall, giving the captains orders to secure the area. Quistis turned round, only to see one of the SeeDs fall to the ground along with one of the terrorists. The remaining attacker broke and ran. The SeeD mage gave chase; the staff-wielder hung back to throw a Phoenix Down over her fallen comrade, then raced off into the darkness. Half of the squad of soldiers followed, and the other half stayed to guard the compound.
Quistis ran to the side of the injured SeeD, White Wind on her lips. "Are you alright?" she asked anxiously.
The man, a recent graduate from Zell's class named Mico Charteris, staggered to his feet. "Yes, ma'am." He pointed to the body. "They were trying to use something else. In those flasks."
Quistis removed one of the bottles from the belt of the dead terrorist. She hesitated for a second; but it was unlikely that the clear liquid inside would explode immediately upon contact with air. She unscrewed the top and sniffed at the contents.
She gagged and almost dropped the bottle. Mico caught it before it could spill, and fixed the cap back on. He gave Quistis a questioning look; "Petrol bomb," she explained, trying to blow the sickly scent out of her nostrils. "Though why that and a rocket launcher -"
The clap of the explosion shattered every window in the district. Quistis pulled her whip from her belt, clamping down on the panic, as the whole city shook beneath her feet. The front of the Presidential Residence collapsed and a few more stones came off the wall. Less than fifty feet away, a drain cover shot into the air, propelled upwards by a spurt of flame.
"They fired the sewers!" exclaimed Mico.
"To destabilise every building in the area..." whispered Quistis. And the Palace was weakened from the attack earlier. We have to put it out...
Water wouldn't help. Foam would; ice might. "Get your men to find foam extinguishers," Quistis advised a hesitating captain. "Mico, go tell General Caraway I'm trying to use magic on it. And persuade those people to get away from the building."
Without another word she ran over to the drain, wishing she had Shiva. But the ice Guardian never left Squall's possession. No use wishing now: she cast two Blizzagas into the hole in quick succession. The flames diminished a little, but it was clear her half-plan was never going to work as long as she was outside the sewers. And there was no chance she could get down there to affect it without dying.
As the SeeDs who had pursued the terrorist no doubt already were.
She cast off the pain of loss and tried to think. A tight smile crossed her lips. She'd blithely assumed that no water magic could help. She might have been wrong.
Mico and three other SeeDs ran up behind her. She turned to them. Before they could speak she asked, "Do you all have Protect spells stocked?" They nodded, looking confused. "All of you, go and find every open entrance to the sewers you can and cast Protect on them. Like this," and she demonstrated the procedure on the nearby drain. "Hurry. I know a way to put out the fires." They nodded and withdrew. Quistis stuck her head into a side alley, saw a blazing manhole and cast the spell over it. There was no way they would fix every drain in the city. There was no time. The soles of her feet were starting to feel warm through her boots, not to mention through several feet of tarmac. She had to put her plan into action.
She retreated round the corner, back to the front of the Palace. Caraway was hurrying through the hole in the wall. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "We can't pump foam down there if you close off the drains. And the pressure down there will build up in no time. There'll be an explosion."
"There won't be time for things to go that far." She closed her eyes and reached into her mind, to the Guardian Forces. (Leviathan?)
(Yess, Quisstiss?) The sibilant words sounded not like a normal snake's hiss but like waves breaking on the seashore.
(I have need of your powers. Will you lend your aid?)
(I will. What iss your dessire?)
(Please create enough water to fill the tunnels below us completely.)
(It sshall be done.)
Caraway gasped as the gigantic water snake reared up behind Quistis. Leviathan moved forward, sticking his head out. He sniffed at the drain for a second. Then he opened his mouth.
Water, torrents of it, poured from Leviathan's mouth into the drain. Quistis, her mind linked to Leviathan's, felt it rush through the sewers, flooding them out, forcing the flames floating on the stream to rise higher and higher until they were crushed against the roof with no air to burn. The Protect barriers over the drain holes kept back the petrol and the fire - for that was physical - but Leviathan's magical water spilled out of the drains, washing over the streets, cleansing them. Every last flame was extinguished.
Leviathan hissed wordlessly in appreciation of a job well done and folded in on himself, returning to incorporeal form and his place in Quistis's mind. Quistis gasped at the shock of uncoupling and staggered; she might have fallen if someone hadn't caught her. She clutched at her rescuer for a second, then turned round and realised it was the President. "Are you all right?" he asked, radiating concern.
"I'm fine. Magical side-effect; I'm used to it." She looked round at the destruction the rebels had caused. Two of Salvador's designated bodyguards, a SeeD and a soldier, were picking their way over the wreckage of the wall, looking annoyed that their charge had escaped them. "You shouldn't be out here," she said, straightening up as she realised she was still half in his arms.
"They haven't tried to kill me yet." But he released her.
"Except by association," and she pointed to the wreckage of his official residence.
He looked rueful. "Point taken. Will you accompany me to assess the damage?"
"I have to find my people first." He nodded and withdrew, Caraway following him with another half-awed glance at Quistis.
She heard a shout from across the way. She turned - and gasped in relief. The SeeDs she'd sent to seal the sewers were standing there. Braced between them were the missing two. Their uniforms were half-melted and stuck to their bodies, and she could see from where she was that they were semi-conscious at best, but they were alive. She started across the street towards them.
She was barely halfway across when she felt the tarmac under her feet shiver. She broke into a run, but it was too late. The street gave way beneath her. Quistis screamed as she fell into the darkness.
She landed on the collapsed pavement with enough force to break bones. She tried to cover her head as more debris landed around her, but she couldn't stop the chunks of concrete hitting her legs and arms. She drifted away from her body; and when the pressure eased and she thought she started to fly, she decided to enjoy the fantasy and the belief in her own weightlessness. The voices that wreathed around her and the hands that brushed back her hair reduced themselves to dreams of a saviour.
(to be continued...)
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