Ten years ago, an event occurred that even those who had been there knew technically should not have. Coincidence after coincidence had helped it all slide into place. Few people knew about that event.
What they did mostly know was a second Sorceress War had happened. This time between Galbadia and SeeD, a mercenary organisation based in Balamb and Trabia, and previously with a base in Galbadia itself. It was barely a war. The fatalities from it numbered only a few hundred at most between each side. It was a pointless war with no real cause and no real resolution. Its only notable long term effects were SeeD was now commanded by, of all people, a seventeen year old rookie. Galbadia saw change too. The sorceress Edea had usurped lifelong president Deling by a coup that saw his death at her hands. When she vanished, Galbadia found itself struggle into a new concept. Democracy. As the old ruling conservatives struggled to hold power against a revitalised and modernised left wing, constitutional change appeared on the agenda. Within a year, an elected president was in place. A liberal president. At least, liberal by Galbadian standards.
Then the real troubles began. Whatever the cause, Esthar's silence ended. It began talking to the world. Radio transmissions over long range became possible. Satellites launched did not vanish mysteriously. More importantly, Galbadia's military could now launch the network of satellites it had left languishing in a hanger at a Space Agency base, and now could place eyes in the sky, ready to either look at enemy silos or detect anything lifting off from one. Rather than seizing the opportunity for a brave new world to emerge from this, it merely restarted the cold was that had been on hold for the last seventeen years.
As that happened, Timber's rebel groups became emboldened and more brutal. They struck in force, slaughtering occupying troops with attack after attack. Not a day went by without the evening news reporting the deaths of more soldiers from roadside bombs or sniper attacks.
The protests that almost became riots in Galbadia hastened a retreat from the occupied nation. Galbadia had lost the Timber War of Independence. They signed a non-aggression pact with Esthar. The pact never mentioned surrogates. The pact didn't stop the arms race that had been raging for decades. It had never stopped, not even when the two superpowers couldn't even communicate with each other.
The role in Timber's independence attributed to SeeD was somewhat out of proportion, with many roadside bombs that displayed any level of sophistication being attributed to the mercenary group. But Esthar made it clear that any Galbadian attack on SeeD would be seen as an attack on Esthar. And under the aegis of Esthar, Commander Squall Leonhart was quick to seize the opportunities before him.
One of Squall's first actions following the second sorceress was to initiate an overhaul of SeeD as a whole. Where previously written further exams were used to decide pay grade, now, a rank system would be in place. As Commander, Squall technically earned no pay but was instead able to requisition some funds for items not available on base, for example, presents for a spouse. The reorganisation made four levels of Recruit, four of Non-Commissioned Officer, and six of Commissioned Officers, though there was only one commander and two Generals. Pay grades had been altered so that most lower graded SeeDs gained a pay rise, and recruits were given a larger allowance too. However, some operators saw their monthly salary fall by as much as twenty five thousand Gil.
This move, though unpopular with some, saved SeeD over five billion Gil in annual pay expenditure. This was invested along with further funds from Esthar, Trabia and Balamb in expansion of facilities, modernisation of equipment and training, expanded vehicle pools and even in new branches. For years, SeeD had barely broke even from the high cost of paying its operators, even with regular missions and funds from Balamb and Trabia. With Esthar also donating funds to SeeD, Leonhart found himself with over twenty four billion Gil in funds to modernise SeeD.
Amongst other items, an air force was purchased from the Balamb Defence Force: six BF3 Fighter-Bombers for SeeD Balamb, three for Trabia. Twelve IF-4 Interceptors were allocated to Balamb and fifteen to Trabia, six VTOL-1 Jets were allocated to Balamb Garden Mobile, plus six GAF10 Ground Attack planes, three at Trabia and Balamb. Six C12 transport planes were bought for paratroopers to supplement the existing three and two attack helicopter wings of three AH42 Gunships for Balamb and Trabia. An additional thirty T21 transport/utility helicopters were purchased to supplement the existing twenty. Twelve NT12 naval variants of those helicopters were also purchased, three for Mobile Garden, nine for a new ship for the Navy arm of SeeD. That naval arm also gained six NAH42 naval attack helicopters, three aboard Garden Mobile.
A squadron of battle tanks, Challenger98s, were given to each SeeD location, backed by two squadrons of light tanks in the shape of Warrior89 Armoured Fighting Vehicles, giving Trabia and Balamb twelve MBT's and twenty-four AFV's each. Old armoured cars were scrapped for armoured personnel carriers 'and infantry fighting vehicles, Scorpion81 and Swordsman84 respectively, Newer armoured trucks were purchased from Dollet as were newer civilian vehicles for use in certain missions. In one year, SeeD's mechanised forces increased from a mere fifty armoured cars and civilian vehicles to seventy two tanks, forty IFV's, eighty APC's, two hundred Dollet General Purpose Truck-4 four-wheel drive soft skinned vehicles, and approximately seventy six various examples of civilian vehicle.
Even the small navy gained a bonus. Fifteen gunboats were purchased, three corvettes built and even a light helicopter carrier constructed. The sixteen landing craft still operational were supplemented by a further thirty two.
In terms of individual equipment, SeeD moved away from encouraging every soldier to rely on a specific weapon and a selection of Guardian Forces due to the extreme dangers involved with junctioning. Long-term use of many GFs risked extreme memory loss and mental instability in those with fairly weak aptitude in the use of Guardian Forces and Para-Magic. Only a select few, tested and determined to be able to control a GF to the full, would be allowed the right to junction a GF and have access to a wide array of magical abilities, such persons having greater control over what memories the GF would shunt aside to form the mental bond with his or her master. Ordinary SeeD would be forced to take armbands, the Odine Junction Armband-2G, in order to have access to up to eight spell types. Magic had been SeeD's strong point, and still being able to field a limited number of GF's and more magical abilities per soldier than the next armed forces still gave them an edge.
But magic had flaws. It could be blocked, and when using a GF, even stolen by anything that could draw magical energy. Without a GF, the average OJA-2G cell of elemental spell energy would last for at most, eighty bursts of short ranged, weak elemental spells, or a mere ten of the most powerful spells where GFs allowed a user to carry ninety-nine. Magic also could be blocked, and the most powerful of spells were outranged by even a handgun. Beyond such ranges, their power lessened for every metre travelled until by the time a firaga spell hit a target a hundred meters away, it would barely be a ball of warm air.
However, the OJA-2G had bonuses: The cells could be reloaded. Each of the eight vials of energy on the armband could be ejected individually and replaced with another, much like the box magazine of a firearm. The elite GF using group of SeeD, the Forcemen, drew energies from the native monsters of Balamb and Trabia. Fire, Ice, Thunder, and Curative energies were commonly "bottled" at bases across the two nations and issued to other SeeDs. More rare energies had to be bought from a SeeD's own pocket.
This was possible because every living thing over time accumulated magical energy in its body from harmless background energies. The average human at the age of five would allow over one hundred cura spells worth of energy to be withdrawn from their body, and a small number of other spells would be present. Women who had the genetic makeup suitable to become sorceresses in particular absorbed magical energy well.
However, it was costly to keep the flow of bottled magic going, and a Forceman at the rank of Private earned more than three thousand gil per month, earning a pay bonus of twenty five hundred gil for their role in providing such powerful magical support and their role in keeping the para-magic of the rest of SeeD flowing.
All this still managed to work out cheaper than the previous organisation of SeeD. The five billion saved could pay for upkeep of all the new equipment, and the pay for new recruits to man these new weapons, as well as construct numerous new SeeD bases across Balamb and Trabia. Some pre-existing facilities were upgraded, but new ones were built from scratch.
This did not go unnoticed. Galbadia and her allies were concerned at this expansion as it was, despite the fact Galbadia had more soldiers in their armoured regiments than SeeD had in their entire force. Unable to initiate a pre-emptive strike, the primary Galbadian defence against SeeD's threat was to repair their own Garden. SeeD Galbadia split from the old body and became a puppet of Galbadia, able to perform clandestine work under the guise of mercenary action, initially including attempts to counter-attack SeeD. However, the moral panic the Galbadian media had attributed to SeeD had died down as Timber gained independence. Nonetheless, Galbadia still felt that the new organisation could come in useful.
Heavily funded and equipped with cutting edge technology, SeeD Galbadia attempted to outnumber Balamb and Trabia at least three to one in terms of aircraft, armour, and naval vessels, even though they had been forced to leave their original garden in the hands of the Galbadian Navy. Had SeeD continued along previous lines, then they would have been utterly outclassed by the new Galbadian puppet. However, soldiers now led the other SeeD, and unburdened by the greed of Norg and with reduced oversight from a committee of investors as Esthar joined Balamb and Trabia in supplying funding, the new Commander of SeeD had his forces prepared to be a match for almost anything the world could throw at them.
Timber's independence did not even complete its third year before the nation split. Those existed who wished to retain ties to Galbadia, and those existed who remained paranoid of the powerful nation. The divide was partially geographic: The north of the country had suffered worst from the invasion and occupation. The south had remained largely unscathed. It was also ideological: The north supported Estharian-style socialism, the south, Galbadian-style free market economies and limited government. Opposing factions took to the streets in bitter gun battles, and orders to deploy the military during the worst of the violence simply ended the state of unrest by transforming it into all out civil war. Northern battalions struck hard, but after three months of fighting, both sides held their respective halves of the homeland in stalemate as Galbadia and Esthar flooded the sides they supported with arms, equipment, and money. The north, the People's Socialist Republic of North Timber was given vast quantities of Estharian EM4 Bullpup rifles, the south, the Free Republic of South Timber was similarly half-drowned in piles of GMR11 rifles.
SeeD had remained mostly in the employ of the north, the various former rebel groups that had previously hired SeeD having wound up aligned with the north, perceiving the south as another Galbadian puppet. The Timber Civil War became the first proving ground for the new SeeD after a year of stalemate. In large numbers, key supply dumps and forward bases in the south found themselves under attack. Within an hour, SeeD had crippled the southern frontlines, and the North Timber army attacked. Within seventy two hours, they were at the outskirts of Timber City itself, when as fast as the war had moved from stalemate to an impending southern defeat, the tables turned once again. From the sky, thousands upon thousands of Galbadia paratroops fell. The vast Galbadian air force pounded Northern formations, and the routed Southern military regrouped as the G-Army hit the Northern forces with their elite paratrooper brigades. The war drove back to the border and back to stalemate in the next forty eight hours.
Galbadia's direct entry to the conflict repelled that assault, but enraged many worldwide. The Forest Alliance, the ragtag band of former rebel groups that had been fighting guerrilla war against the south, swelled in size with foreign and Timberian recruits. Esthar however, did not commit any manpower beyond advisors and intelligence agents, fearing the result of direct conflict with Galbadia.
Then, five years after the second sorceress war and half a year after the second stalemate began, SeeD and the North forged another attempt at a drive south. SeeD launched a large mission into the south. Over three hundred troops were deployed in dozens of missions, attempting to repeat the efforts of 2 years ago. The attack however coincided with a similar southern assault involving Galbadian units, and forces from one of the smaller republics aligned with Galbadia, the Kingdom of Linderhill. As the border erupted into the most brutal fighting yet seen in Timber, SeeD was caught in the middle, attempting to achieve raids against depots and bases that were defended by thousands of troops. The huge battle which erupted across virtually the entire front and involved well over two million soldiers enveloped the SeeD missions, southern forces cutting them off. In the end, one hundred and ninety four SeeD troops died, and a further eighty were captured. The rest managed to retreat with their northern allies, and the only thing that made the Allied assault falter was that Galbadia's parliament was horrified at the brutality of this battle. They stopped only a few miles over the previous border, political pressure unwilling to let the slaughter keep going. The commanders of the Free Army however were foolish enough to keep going, and somehow, the North held out and slowly edged its way to the old border, where the Galbadian army held them in check.
After than carnage, the entire war scaled itself down through unspoken agreement. Neither side had the will for such a battle again so soon, and for the next five years and to the present day, the normal state of affairs in Timber was the occasional border skirmish, bombing raid, or missile strike.
But Timber had inspired some. Galbadia had two small nations within its borders annexed over a hundred years earlier, and a mild nuisance element emerged in one, Lenz. Graffiti and hoax bomb threats followed by the occasional crude explosive device or gun attack on police officers led to fears a Timber-like insurgency was brewing in Lenz.
However, it was Dollet and Esthar where the next insurgencies sprang up. The southernmost portions of the Estharian continent contained a small republic of the Estharian Federation known as Krastovia, as well as the independent nations of Gdeto and Dusania, allies of Esthar, but with little love between each other. A full scale war erupted in Krastovia between rebel insurgents, Pro-Esthar local militias, and of course, Esthar itself. It drew Gdeto in, and Dusania began to supply the Krastovians as their alliance with Esthar became more and more fragile.
In Dollet, a terrorist campaign by republican terrorists began with a bomb in a shopping centre. SeeD-Galbadia was drawn into this battle, helping Dollet try and fight the terrorist threat.
SeeD was still recovering from losses in Timber a year later when it became clear few nations on the planet were safe from conflict. Deling City was rocked on March the Fifth by attacks on six trains, five buses, and five police stations. Dozens of explosive devices killed hundreds of civilians and police officers, with the vast majority killed when the packed 0830 rush hour express on the Metro East-3 line arrived at Studnland Station in the south west of the city. Of the seven carriages the train was comprised of, each had at least a hundred commuters squeezed aboard, and at least two bombs. Another four bombs scattered throughout the station detonated, and the sheer force of these numerous detonations caused large portions of the underground sections to cave in. Half an hour after that, a gas leak ignited a new explosion which added thirty first aid workers to the death toll and destroyed the remainder of the building.
In all, one thousand five hundred and eight people were confirmed dead or unaccounted for in the attacks, twelve hundred of those at the annihilation of Studnland station alone. No one admitted to the massacres. The Galbadian intelligence agencies to this day do not know who committed the atrocity.
A world where everyone is at each other's throats is one where it is difficult for most to prosper. The world lived in fear of the conflict beyond imagining sparking into a nightmare beyond reckoning. But for mercenaries, however, it was a perfect environment...
SeeD had been recruited to help fight in Krastovia by Esthar as well as by Timber to fight their war, in addition to the regular work of SeeD as bodyguards, monster hunters, and as private military contractors for companies attempting to work in hostile environments. But the more high profile, political missions in Krastovia and Timber threatened SeeD's main principle of being essentially neutral, with Trabia desiring open support of Esthar and North Timber.
It was a turbulent time for everyone. For those directly in the hearts of the various conflicts, it would grow much harder long before it grew easier.