On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 12
By Caleb Nova
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein
The consequence of rash action was becoming abundantly clear to Zell. It might not stop him this time, but in the future it would prompt a somewhat deeper review of his actions ahead of the actual happening. He had indeed made it to the sewers, but rather than go into detail, it is suffice to say this. Zell went out for a walk, and ended up taking a swim.
Zell could remember more refreshing swims. In fact, these other swims were central in his thought processes. Perhaps it seemed to him that if he thought hard enough about the nice pools he had been in before, what he was really swimming in wouldn't seem so bad.
Well, whatever he thought, it wasn't working.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hendrow found Julian hunched over a large desk that looked like it was mahogany, formerly the property of Poleground. Hendrow could see most of the filing cabinets had been opened, and several of those that had been locked had been forced. Julian was flipping through piles of official documents. His browsing seemed random, but Hendrow knew Julian well enough to know that he was looking for something specific. Hendrow gently cleared his throat.
Julian looked up with a small smile. "Ah, Michael. I knew you'd be up here sooner or later, and now that it's later, you can appreciate the full benefits of my research. What you see here are all files of a secret operation aptly named Spreading Sun, one that might be not only of some interest to us, but also of use."
Hendrow pulled a battered armchair to the front of the desk and seated himself. The room itself was somewhat shabby, with tattered maroon wallpaper and matching carpet that was just as ratty. A single large painting hung behind the desk, and Hendrow saw it was the exaggerated likeness of Poleground himself. There was apparently no accounting for personal taste in decor.
"Now, from what I have here," Julian said, shifting the stack of files. "It is apparent that Poleground was little more than a glorified Governor. He had little saying outside of Deling, and in fact several factions of the army have formed areas of independence, free from any current political power other than their own. These groups are powerful only by force, and are not interested in what happens around here, so we shouldn't expect any serious military reprisals. However, this also decreases the amount of Galbadian troops we can command."
Hendrow absorbed this information, mulling over in his mind. While those other troops would be useful, they were not absolutely necessary in controlling and maintaining Galbadia. If an obstacle is immovable, the next best thing is to go around it.
Julian paused, giving Hendrow a few more seconds to thing it over, then continued. "The project 'Spreading Sun' was an ingeniously engineered operation, well above the capabilities of a man like Poleground. He obviously had many intelligent backers, no doubt whispering in his ear so the damn fool wouldn't foul things up."
Julian almost never swore, and it was clear he held Poleground in contempt as he did so many small men.
"It was a cleverly designed plot to topple various leaders of the separate factions so that they could be brought back into the fold, with the eventual long term goal of eliminating the Gardens. From what we've gathered it was an experimental project centering on some sort of biological weapon. According to Poleground's personal files some progress was made while the project was still under regular Army jurisdiction, commanded by a certain General Caraway, but the project didn't move fast enough for Poleground. It also says that the General objected quite strenously to the use of biological weapons. Eventually, the General was deposed and the project given to a defector from some other country, a sort of freelance scientist. Again, close details of the project have yet to be found. I assume they were hidden from the General's supporters."
Hendrow raised an eyebrow. "They really planned to take the Gardens?"
Again, the small smile. "This clearly makes no real tactical sense. While the recovery of the various factions might be considered a Governmental priority, it seems ridiculous to jeopardize the stability that would be achieved by retaking the fragmented population by attacking a difficulty enemy. Perhaps the Galbadians had some bigger plan for which the Garden infrastructure had to removed, but it seems to me that this is all part of a even larger grudge. Galbadia has a good reason for hating Garden, as they were a key part in the countries recent, ah, troubles. It is possible they hoped to reunite the country against a common enemy, but it may be entirely personal."
Hendrow shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It seems a rather foolish way to run a country."
Julian decisively closed another folder. "Michael, we are dealing with some very foolish people. You will notice the takeover went flawlessly, an aspect that almost certainly would have been impossible in taking a much better governed state. Anyhow, as I said, this project could be used to our advantage. The Gardens seem to host many self-styled heroes, and heroes, Michael, save the day. We don't need any heroes here. Spreading Sun had already succeeded in taking two of the militant groups, and it would be in our best interests to keep the project running. It may be that in the future, we must either stop the Gardens from interfering with our projects, or simply put a stop to them entirely. Of course, we need the missing information to understand and utilize the project."
Hendrow phrased his next question carefully. "Taking a disorganized and relatively undefended country, and these were rather special circumstances, is something quite different from attacking a well defended and well trained base manned with an elite fighting force. Are you sure that would be wise, Julian?"
Julian leaned back in his chair and assumed the most relaxed pose the intense man was capable of. "As always, you are the careful voice of reason my friend. However, your concern is misplaced. I have done my research well, and I know what we're up against. You see Michael, the Garden does indeed nurture, train and sustain the most elite force on the planet. But what is also clear is that if this fighting force were to be imported to our world, they would be next to useless. Have you ever wondered, Michael, how this 'Squall Leonhart' can use his sword against men with machine guns? How can such medieval relics prevail in a world of very modern technology? The answer, as with so many things in this strange world, is magic. Garden students junction their weapons to divert bullets, or even give themselves the speed to block them. Using magic to junction spells to their bodies to increase strength, dexterity and other things, they also junction magic to swords and sticks to give the weapons firepower equal that of any gun, not to mention their extensive training in magic in and of itself, utilizing offensive spells like Firaga and even defensive magics too. All this combines to indeed make a formidable fighting force. But I see from your eyes Michael, that you already draw the obvious conclusion."
"Their magic," Hendrow said, smile widening. "Will be as always quite useless."
"Exactly. Against us the SeeDs will have a severe disadvantage. It will be men wielding pointed bits of metal, versus men who can spray death for hundreds of yards."
"But surely the SeeDs will have also been trained in more modern tactics too? Consider this Irvine Kinneas. He used what we consider to be modern weaponry."
"That well may be. But even so, we can crush them by sheer weight of numbers, and the Gardens will be an excellent asset to control."
Hendrow mopped his brow, sinking yet deeper into the chair. "An ambitious undertaking."
"And simply coming here was not? Great risks beget great gains Michael, and the gains here far outweigh the risks."
Julian allowed himself a small chuckle. "It may well be Michael, that in a matter of time we may take a tour of this famous Garden, first hand."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Back." Squall gasped, running as fast as he could from the stairwell entrance with Quistis over his shoulder. Scott was closest to Selphie and grabbed her as best possible, moving while still being puzzled as to why. Irvine stopped, confused for a second since he had already been halfway into the action of getting Selphie, but regained his composure quickly and hobbled after Squall. It seemed that it was barely a second after they had cleared the area when the stairwell collapsed completely in a shower of twisted metal, burying the small room behind them.
All of them halted, Irvine clutching his leg and Scott slumping to the floor to ease the spinning in his head, still holding Selphie in his arms. Squall did neither, but instead set Quistis on the floor and surveyed the still smoking wreckage as the choking dust cloud enveloped them and then faded. Scott thought he might puke again, and propped Selphie up against the wall to remove her from the splash zone.
Irvine however threw back his head and laughed as if the near death encounter was some sort of personal joke.
"And that, people," He said with a grin. "Is how we do that."
Squall rolled his eyes and turned away. Scott would have rolled his eyes, but this seemed like a risky proposition as it felt like they might fall out if he did.
As Scott and Irvine nursed their respective injuries, Squall scouted out the best possible route of escape. With the total chaos ensuing above, their best bet was to now head for the city limits since their chances of slipping past the walls had greatly increased. Judging from the noise and the direction of the intense bombardment, he judged that the attack was coming from the east, but the fastest way to the walls from their position would be south. Squall was torn between a faster way to an avenue of escape and a probable safer way. From the condition of his companions he was tempted to choose the safer route, but he wasn't sure they had that kind of time. Finally, he ascertained to move quickly, and swim out the sewege canals to the south.
He turned to his friends. "We need to move out through the southern sewage tunnels. The section of city above us is almost certainly taken by the rebels already, but they probably haven't assumed control of all the cities security structures, assuming they're still intact."
Irvine shook his head, pushing painfully to his feet. "Quistis and Selphie are still out, we need more time."
"We don't have it. We can carry them, fast as possible. Hopefully they might wake up soon enough to speed things up. We need to go now."
Irvine slowly nodded, working himself up to moving. He turned to haul up Quistis but Squall moved faster, shouldering her first.
"I can go faster carrying her, and Keyor can carry Selphie. You the only one with a leg wound."
In a perverse sort of way, Squall knew this was a damaging leadership policy for Irvine, spreading responsibility away from him and excluding him from the team. But they didn't have time.
They went down the tunnels, sometimes jogging, mostly limping, with Squall slowing for the others and sometimes going ahead to check around corners. It was on one such corner check that Squall found the monster.
He had just turned the corner when a reeking stench hit him full in the face, and simultaneously a green-gray monster of the purest nightmare reared back, shouting some sort of gurgling war cry. Squall reacted instantly with the reflexes of a seasoned veteran. He swung Quistis back out of reach and drove his fist into what he judged was the monster's torso. The creature reeled back, collapsing on the concrete floor. He had half opened his mouth to shout to the others when Squall made a stunning realization- the creature was sporting a familiar, if rather slimy, hairdo, and it hadn't been letting loose a fearsome bellow, but a human shout of surprise.
It was in this way that the Deling team finally met up with Zell, with him lying gasping on the floor covered in filth, and them cowering back from the stench.
Irvine was the first to gain power of speech.
"Zell!?!" He gasped incredulously, faltering on his wounded leg.
The slime-soaked martial artist choked back a reply, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position, almost hyperventilating in two-parts pain and relief.
"Yeah, it's me," He said, grimacing. "I came to see what happened to you guys. Oh, Squall?"
"Yeah?" Squall grunted, trying not to show his rising feelings of relief and happiness at seeing his friend again.
"Next time, just hit me on the head or something and not in the stomach, okay?"
Zell put out a hand for Squall to help him up, placing a generous amount of raw sewege on Squall's palm in the process. Squall looked at the offending mess and wiped on the wall.
Zell looked around at the five, assessing them. "Why are you carrying Selphie? What's wrong with her?"
There was a badly hidden tinge of panic in his voice. Squall raised an eyebrow.
"She was hit in the shoulder. Her junctions are healing her quickly, she'll be fine soon."
Zell shoulders noticeably sagged in relief. He saw Irvine and Squall were looking at him strangely, and he tried to shrug it off.
"Oh. So what happened to you guys? Who the hell is that? You look like crap."
That was rich, Scott thought, coming from a man drenched in the leftovers from a million meals. Obviously the use of the word 'crap', in all it's forms, was a mistake here. More importantly than playing word games, was the number of people present. Scott figured he could add, so subtracting him there were five good friends all around and he was the odd man out. But weren't there six heroes?
"Uh, hey," Scott said, trying to break into the conversation. "Isn't there some other person in your.... Group?"
Rather than answers, all he received was stares. He shifted his weight uncomfortably, trying to maintain a firm grip on Selphie, who seemed to be feebly wiggling without being fully awake.
"No, seriously," Zell said, pointing a finger at Scott. "Who is this guy and why is he asking about Rinoa?"
Squall looked over at Scott, eyebrows lowered. "I know who he is, but I don't know why he asked about Rinoa."
A wave of palpable suspicion was emanating from them all.
Scott raised his free hand in placation. "I just thought that there was someone else guys, I wasn't trying to offend or anything."
Irvine and Squall seemed to be willing to reopen the question later as haste was in the cards for now, but Zell was still slowly cornering him.
"Zell," Squall sighed. "Not now."
But Zell wasn't having it.
"Hey man, you know there are people interested in Rinoa, or what she is anyway. And now some dude here-"
Irvine interrupted before his tirade hit full swing. "Relax. Trust me, he doesn't know Rinoa. He's not from around here."
"Oh yeah? Where you from then pal?"
Scott kept a straight face. "Out of town."
Irvine snorted in laughter and Zell glared suspiciously at both of them.
Squall decided that precious time was being wasted, and without word started off. Scott and Irvine quickly followed, with a startled Zell running to catch up.
"Hey man, wait up!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Rinoa floated somewhere between the world and space, surrounded by a breathtaking array of stars and galaxies. Myriads of lights flashed and her heightened senses could detect every delicate ray and every speck of interstellar dust. The beauty of this was lost on her as she focused all her attention not on the cosmos, but a single city, harder to see than all the universe.
Leviathan, soon now?
Rinoa squirmed mentally for another two seconds before the need became too much.
Quickly, Rinoa searched her mind for the GF's presence. Yes, it was still there.
And like the sun rising, Squall's essence came blasting into her senses, just outside of Deling. His was followed by Zell, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine and-
A burst of mental static crashed through Rinoa's psyche an instant after she touched the strangers mind. Instead of a human presence there was a vacancy, a terrible vacuous hole in the world. It was a miniaturized version of the dark spot over Deling, but centered around one small point. She realized her friends could not sense this thing. She had to warn them.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Squall was in the process of hauling Quistis out of a drain when he heard Rinoa. He almost dropped his precious cargo but managed to catch her before she hit the ground. He looked around wildly.
Zell grunted as Squall half dropped Quistis, forcing him to take most of her dead weight.
"What the hell man, hold your end up!"
Can you hear me Squall?
"Yes," He said, laying Quistis down and still scanning the nearby surroundings, with no sight of her. "Where are you?"
Zell misinterpreted Squall's sudden moves and shoved Quistis onto the grass, jumping up to his side. He crouched in a combat stance.
"Who's here man? Who's talkin'?"
"Rinoa?" Squall called again, ignoring Zell. Zell did a double take.
"Rinoa!? Where? I thought she was-"
Zell! Tell him!
The obvious answer occurred to Zell about the same time Rinoa asked it of him. Squall stared at Zell.
"Tell me what?"
Zell grinned. "Oh, cool, you can hear her too!"
"Right, right. Squall, dude, Rinoa can talk to your mind. Go ahead, talk back."
Tentatively, Squall did so. "Rinoa?"
There was obvious relief in her mental projection. Squall however, only frowned. When had Rinoa been able to do this?
"When did you learn this?"
Never mind that, your in danger!
Instantly, Squall unsheathed his gunblade and Zell put his fists up again. By this time Irvine and Scott were manhandling Selphie up out of the hole.
Squall and Zell spun around, but the only thing to be seen was Irvine and Scott setting Selphie down on the grass. Zell scratched his head.
"Uh, I don't see nothin' Rinoa."
No, it's right there! It's moving!
Irvine and Scott were staring at them as they appeared to be talking to thin air. Irvine opened his mouth to speak.
"Gahh!" Irvine yelped, jumping a good foot into the air. Like Squall and Zell before, he glared around. "Rinoa?! Where are you?"
Zell laughed at him. "She can talk to your mind man. Pretty cool huh?"
Irvine appeared to be stuck over this for a moment, but then accepted this new oddity with resignation. Everything had been crazy since he had been recruited from Galbadia. Nothing new here. He shrugged.
Now Scott was the only one left out of the loop, and he was very confused. He chuckled nervously.
Squall started to explain things to him, but Zell beat him to it.
"Yeah, we've got a friend who can talk in your mind."
Like Irvine, Scott figured there was nothing to do here but nod and pretend like he understood until someone could sit down and explain it to him. This was after all, a different dimension. Maybe telepathy was pretty common here. Mentally filing it aside for later examination, he moved over to pick up Selphie. Zell saw what he was doing and inexplicably ran over to beat him to it.
"Hey man, I got her," He said, hoisting her up and shifting her to a more comfortable position. "Relax."
What's it doing?
Squall shook his head. "Rinoa, I don't know what your talking about. There's nothing else here."
Yes there is. I can sense five of you and something else.
Squall raised an eyebrow. "There is nobody else here but Scott."
Hyne Squall, I heard you. Why can't you just volunteer information instead of it being dragged out of you? Who is Scott?
Squall tried to sound apologetic. After a somewhat long separation, this was not how he wanted to restart their relationship. "We met him in Deling. It's a long story. I'll tell you when we get back."
Where is he standing?
"Right of Irvine from where I'm standing."
I can't sense another person. There's nothing there but this- this hole in time and space. I thought you were in danger.
Everybody who was conscious looked at Scott. He smiled nervously.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic