Foreshadow Chapter 2

By Peptuck3

At long, freaking last, I finally began working on this thing again! Well, actually, I was working on it over the last few months, but little things like college and work stepped up to get in my way, but....I'm done with Chapter 2. Also, I will be updating more often. Much more often.

Be forwarned: I suck at this mushy love stuff, mostly due to a sad lack of personal experience. So, if the Squall/Rinoa dialogue seems a bit stupid or forced or something, cut me some slack.

Warning, this chapter is kinda boring. Its one of those "get all the boring background and current world situation crap out of the way" kinda chapters. That's why it took so long to finish. Bleh. Though I did include a sort of fight scene.... --------------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------------------------------------

        Foreshadow Chapter 2:

        Laguna leaned back in his chair, turned away from the door to his office to look out the massive office window. The huge transparisteel glass window offered a vast, panoramic view of the Estharian city.

        As Laguna absently watched the vast city he'd been administrating for the last seventeen years, his mind drifted back across time, to the final memory of Raine, as he had left to find Ellone.

        "I'll be right back after I find her! I promise!" he had said that long-ago day in Winhill, hoisting his machine gun and charging off to find a way into Esthar alongside Kiros and Ward. His words then had been grounded in the foolish idealism of youth. He had been twenty eight years old, but still mentally a kid, out to see the wide world. Even today, at forty-five, Laguna was still childish in some respects.

        But not this morning.

        When he had left Raine, she had been pregnant with their child, a child Laguna had never known. After coming to Esthar, Laguna had found that he couldn't just leave the place without dealing with the resident dictatoress, Adel. And after the revolution, Laguna had promised himself he'd return to Winhill, after solving the worst problems.

        And here he was, seventeen years later, still dealing with Esthar's problems. But the way he was slumped in his chair, the tiredness in his vivid green eyes, the slackness in his muscles, was not from the stress of having to keep the massive city up and running, the burden of ruling a nation.

        It was the weight of finally having to deal with the responsibility his past. A past that had suddenly come in the form of a young man who, three weeks ago, had brought an unconcious girl halfway across an ocean in a desperate mission to save her, and then saved not just the whole world, but time itself.

        A young man who Laguna had known about for years, but had never built up the courage to seek out.

        His son, Squall Leonhart.

        "He knows, doesn't he?" asked a soft voice from the doorway.

        It took a long time for Laguna to respond, as if speaking the word took everything he had.

        "Yeah," Laguna finally replied to Ellone as she walked into his office. He loosed a long, deep sigh. "He hasn't said anything to me about it, but I'm sure he's figured it out."

        Behind him, Ellone nodded.

        "Seventeen years," Laguna whispered after a moment. "He looks so much like Raine..." Several long moments of silence permeated the office. Ellone watched her normally jovial foster father for a while. She rarely saw Laguna like this, and only when he was reminiscing about Raine.

        After a moment, Ellone walked over to Laguna and put a hand on her foster father's shoulder. Laguna turned his head up to face Ellone, looking into the face of the girl he'd taken for his own daughter after that terrible day in Winhill. The young woman's presence always made Laguna feel a little better, and after meeting his daughter's eyes, a small smile crept onto his face.

        After a second, however, the smile faded as he noticed something in Ellone's own eyes. She seemed anxious, as if something deep within was troubling her.

        "Is something wrong, Elle?" Laguna asked.

        Ellone closed her eyes and shook her head quickly. "No, I'm alright, Uncle Laguna. Just still a bit shaken by all that's happened recently...."

        "That nightmare?" Laguna inquired, remembering how he and half of the palace's people had been jarred out of bed by Ellone's scream.

        "No," Ellone whispered, looking away from her father and out the window. "That was just a dream...."

        Laguna looked up at Ellone for a few more moments, then also turned his head to look out the window. He knew that Elle was hiding something, but refrained from asking. Laguna realized that his daughter would tell him in her own time.

        "Just a dream...." Ellone whispered again.

        * * * * * *

        Captian Vellius scanned the nearby area. Aside from the unending whiteness and the distant mountains, the only truly promenient feature of this section of Trabia was the huge crater visible to the south.

        At least, that was how it was supposed to be, but when the soldier had investigated scattered radio signals to the north of the crater, he had discovered something quite startling, that needed immediate reporting.

        With his scan detecting no enemies or observers nearby, the soldier reached into a pocket and pulled out his comlink. He dialed up a number, a familiar one, and then waited for the encryption to synchronize between his comlink and that of the man he was contacting. After a few seconds, his device beeped, and a voice came on the other end.

        "Vellius?" he asked, not worried about the encryption question. Vellius knew his job.

        "Yes sir. I have news."


        "Galbadians, sir."

        "What do you mean, Galbadians?"

        "A forward base, sir. Well concealed. They're using old Shumi comm frequencies to throw off our scans, and focusing the transmissions so the Shumis and the Trabians can't hear them. I didn't pick them up until I detected them while out on patrol."

        "Are they aware of the facility?"

        "No sir," Vellius replied. "They appear to be investigating an old Centra shelter wreakage, no more."

        "Is there any threat to the facility now?"

        "None that I can make out. But as I was scouting, I found that their patrols have been passing within seven kilometers of our perimeter. They could potentially pick up transmissions or emmissions from the facility, despite its location within the crater, sir."

        "I see... Our stake in this is too high to risk discovery by the Galbadians. We are too close to completion...but we can't risk an open attack. Captian, deploy a scout team near the Galbadian base. I want them to investigate, but also ensure they are discovered by the Galbadians."

        "Discovered, sir?"

        "Yes. If we destroy the base ourselves, it will alert the Shumis, the Trabians, and the Galbadians to our ...interests in the region. That would be a disaster to the research project. But, if we force the Galbadians to pursue a scout team, then we can always bring in a third party for elimination purposes."


        "Yes. The team should lead the Galbadian pursuit north, where the Galbadians will be headed close to the nearest Shumi encampment in that region, and also close to the large Trabian oil wells. The Shumi and Trabians will interpret this as an attack, and trace its source back to the forward base. They call in Garden, SeeD appears, destroys the Galbadians and their base, and we can continue our operations, with none the wiser."

        "Understood, sir. It will be done."

        "Excellent. Report back when the operation is complete." And with that, the comlink went silent.

        Vellius pocketed his comlink and climbed back onto his snow scout- bike, and turned his vehicle south to the crater. The Galbadians would be very sorry they came to Trabia.

        * * * * *

        The thin fabric of Squall's shirt clung to his body, bonded to his skin by sweat as he faced off against his training partner. The two fighters had been practicing alone in Garden's dojo-style training room for several minutes, engaged in hand to hand combat, and while Squall was a master of combat with the gunblade, his hand to hand skills were not as polished nor as effective as those of his choice weapon.

        It wasn't helping that his partner was no slouch in hand to hand combat either. He knew his partner had been trained as a child and a young adult in self defense and martial arts by several skilled teachers, and while those were not up to the standards or dedication of the training a SeeD recieved, they were still nonetheless impressive.

        Squall watched his opponent's movements. He noted his foe's stance, a balanced combat pose, the feet evenly spaced apart, left foot forward. He kept an eye on the hands, held up in a classic guard, ready to block or strike. He locked his gaze onto that of his opponent, judging the confidence in those eyes.

        After appraising his enemy, Squall's own hands snapped up in a guard and he advanced. He ran forward, towards his opponent. He opened up with a quick left jab, followed by a right hook and then a left hook. His opponent ducked aside from the jab, and blocked both hooks, and replied with a swift left jab that caught Squall in the chest.

        The blow thudded off Squall's torso, but he paid the slight sting no mind, and instead his right hand closed over the wrist of his opponent's extended left arm. Grabbing tightly, Squall spun to his left, pulling his opponent's arm with him. Holding his foe's arm out in front of him, Squall shot his right leg in front of his enemy's extended left leg, his foot tripping his opponent. Squall altered the direction of his pull on his foe's arm, yanking downward, using the force of both his pull and the trip to force his enemy down to the floor.

        Thinking quickly, his opponent managed to twist around towards Squall even while falling. Squall's foe reached forward with the free right arm and managed to grab the front of his shirt. Even as Squall was forcing his opponent down, he himself was yanked off his feet.

        The two connected with the training mats, and rolled along in a tumble of arms and legs. A moment later, Squall found himself on his back, his opponent on top. Even as Squall began to rise up, his opponent's hands planted themselves on his shoulders, and a quick shove had them pinned to the mat.

        "I win," Rinoa said with a grin.

        Squall let out a breath, a sort of laughing pant as he conceeded to her victory.

        "Yeah, you did," Squall said in response, his head dropping back to the mat, even as he locked eyes with Rinoa, who still had her hands planted firmly on Squall's shoulders.

        "I don't think the fairy tales talk too much about the princess beating up her knight," Rinoa said.

        Squall let loose a laugh at Rinoa's remark. Laughing...Squall didn't do that too often, at least before a few weeks ago. That thought brought Squall's gaze up to Rinoa's face, then into her rich brown eyes. Deep brown eyes, sparkling with inner life, the kind that invited you to explore their depths...

        Squall suddenly realized he was actually staring at Rinoa's face, and, judging by the knowing smile on that face, she knew it too. Squall opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but Rinoa's smile just widened, and she gave Squall one of those knowing looks, as if she knew he was nervous with someone understanding his true feelings. It was like he was back there at the dance, and she had looked right into Squall's eyes and told him without a word that she knew he was a better dancer than he was letting on. It was something about that look, about the whole way Rinoa was able to empathize with and understand people, combined with her open, friendly personality and zest for life, that had even attracted Squall to her in the first place. He still wasn't sure why he had found himself so concerned for Rinoa, but Squall knew that he did care for this girl who lay on top of him here and now.

        There you go Squall, he thought to himself, wandering off to your own little world again. As if to punctuate his thoughts, Rinoa spoke.

        "What are you thinking about?" she asked.

        "Nothing," the reflexive word came out before Squall thought about it. If there had been a wall nearby to bash his head against, Squall would have left a colossal dent in it right then. Brilliant, just brilliant Leonhart.

        But Rinoa just wore that understanding smile, as if she knew what Squall had said wasn't his intention.

        "I mean, I...I was thinking about us." Much better, Squall thought. Not so idiotic this time.

        Rinoa nodded, already knowing he had been thinking about them, or at the very least, her. One look in her eyes was all Squall needed to know that fact.

        The quiet, private moment the pair were sharing was interrupted as Squall and Rinoa heard the sound of beeping coming from Squall's watch, indicating he had ten minutes before a scheduled meeting with Headmaster Cid.

        "I suppose training is over," Squall muttered, as Rinoa stood up off him. The two teenagers stood up, and headed into the empty locker room where they had put up their loose clothing.

        Squall pulled his jacket out of the random locker he'd stowed it in, and glanced over at Rinoa as she too took out her loose blue cape-like garment. Squall didn't bother slipping his jacket back on, but instead watched Rinoa as she donned the blue garment. She flipped her hair back over her shoulder and looked over at Squall, who suddenly realized to his embarassment that he'd been caught staring. Again. Squall blushed slightly and glanced away, but Rinoa merely smiled and chuckled slightly in understanding at this young man who was still somewhat confused, who could love and feel passion and yet still be embarrassed to show it. Squall looked back at Rinoa.

        "What's so funny?" he asked, somewhat defensively, at the sound of her faint laughter.

        "I'm sorry...." Rinoa replied. "It's just..." She stopped there, not sure of what to say. She had almost said that it was funny how Squall was still so nervous and confused, being sort of ashamed at being caught staring at her even though their relationship was far beyond that.

        "Nothing, its nothing," she added a moment later.

        Squall's watch beeped again, indicating five minutes until the meeting with Cid. Squall glared down at the watch like it had betrayed him, and then sighed. It wasn't so much that he didn't want to go to this meeting, but that he still wanted to be here with Rinoa.

        "Dammit," he hissed, and looked back up at Rinoa, only to find she had crossed the distance between them and stood right in front of Squall.

        "Go on," she said, flashing that beautiful smile, the same one she'd shown at the dance where they'd first met. "I'll be waiting out in the Quad when you;re done with this boring meeting."

        Squall nodded, and then, with a slight hesistation, walked out.

        * * * * *

        Squall stepped off the elevator and passed through the doors into Cid's office. Cid's room had been refurnished after their adventure inside Esthar, the desk and chairs moved around to the side of the of the room. The center of Cid's office was still dominated by the elevator and central pylon that led to the "bridge", where Nida was on duty, keeping the Garden on its course for Fisherman's Horizon. Cid had ordered the destination earlier that day, but Squall hadn't heard why they were headed there in the first place.

        Cid was seated behind his desk, which was dominated by a stack of what Cid reffered to as "beauracratic hell," or in other words, paperwork. Both Quistis and Xu were sitting in some chairs in front of the desk, and an additional chair, Squall's obviously, was left vacant.

        Both Xu and Quistis rose from their chairs as Squall entered and snapped off the SeeD salute at him. Their raised hands hid their grins at the somewhat annoyed scowl that creeped onto Squall's face at the recognition of his rank as SeeD Commander.

        "Ah, Commander, its good to see you. How are you doing?" Cid asked as Squall walked across the room to Cid's desk.

        "I'm fine, sir," Squall replied as he took the seat next to Xu. "And you?"

        "I'm doing well. Now, since all the higher-up administrative staff is here, we can get this thing started."

        They all nodded. Squall was still Garden's military commander, and Xu and Quistis would continue the duties they'd been performing before when Garden had been searching for Ellone and fighting the Galbadians and Ultimecia. Xu was in charge of Garden's supplies and recruitment and was Cid's personal assistant. Quistis would be in charge of the students and classes. There were still gaps in the administrative body, but those were being taken care of.

        "First of all, I've been considering the performance of many of our cadets and personnel, especially during the minor civil war we expeirienced and also the battle with the Galbadian army. And I've decided that no fewer then twenty seven of our cadets have earned the title of SeeD, judging from their actions. These," Cid said, pulling out a thick folder filled with bound documents. "are their files. Xu has already looked over them and approved each of my choices. We're also promoting Irvine Kinneas to the rank of SeeD as well, and his transfer to Balamb has been approved . . . though not without some whining from Headmaster Martine over losing his best sniper and sharpshooter. As of right now, Selphie is preparing the party in celebration . . . and of course, also to celebrate the victory that never happened."

        Each of the SeeDs and the Headmaster knew what had happened, how Squall and his comades had defeated Ultimecia and saved time itself. But, aside from those six, Cid, Edea, Xu, Laguna, Kiros, Ward, and Ellone, no one else knew what had happened. In fact, no one else had even felt the jarring effects of temporal compression aside from the six heroes. So, the whole thing had really been just covered up and forgotten. Time compression and the battle against Ultimecia had never occured. The story going through Garden said Ultimecia must have been defeated by SeeDs in the future, which was obviously why she was no longer acting in this particular time, and Cid, Squall, and everyone else did nothing to stop the rumor.

        "Also," Cid continued, "we're adding a number of new personnel to our staff and shifting some more around. I intend to hire a team of full-time maintenience personnel, including some from FH to help us service Garden's drive system. I'm also considering adding in a few additional medical personnel, including another full time doctor to help Doctor Kadowaki. Also, with the removal of the old Shumi faculty, I intend to have some of our SeeDs serve as faculty, much like some of our old student commitees."

        Squall, Xu, and Quistis agreed. They had already discussed this with Cid earlier.

        "Also, I've decided that we need a stronger policing of our student body, and also more security for Garden itself. We also need an additional, experienced SeeD who can serve as a secondary commander of Garden, in case we need to deploy you, Squall. I've chosen to combine our security needs with the need for an extra commanding SeeD into one position, which I've dubbed Lieutenant Commander. I've already lined up a SeeD from Galbadia Garden for this role."

        "Galbadia Garden?" Squall asked.

        "Yes," Cid replied. "Our most experienced and skilled SeeDs here in Balamb already fill administrative roles, or are unfit for those duties. After discussing the matter with Headmaster Martine, he decided to transfer a SeeD over to me to fill the position. His name is Gerrard Kerrer, SeeD rank A, a rather experienced and exceptionally skilled SeeD. He's more or less Galbadia's equivilant to you, Squall."

        "Also," Quistis added, "I intend to train some of our students in other areas aside from combat, magic, and GFs. New classes will include machinery training, advanced medical classes, gunnery, piloting...we're planning on getting the Estharians to lend us a Ragnorok pilot so we can train SeeDs in piloting the ship. Eventually, we intend for Garden to be serviced and operated by an entirely Garden-trained, in-house staff."

        Her mention of the Ragnorok caught Squall's attention.

        "Speaking of the Ragnorok, what are we going to do with it? It does technically still belong to Esthar, after all."

        "Not anymore," Cid responded with a chuckle. "Do you recall that the Estharians hired us to assault the Lunatic Pandora and defeat Adel and Ultimecia? Seeing as how that was an actual SeeD mission, we were rewarded handsomely for it. A large part of our payment was in money, and some more was in the official transfer of the Ragnorok itself to our control. So its all perfectly legal."

        "We're planning on constructing a docking platform near the parking lot for the Ragnorok," Xu added. "Estharian technicians, as part of our contract with Esthar's government, will be there in FH to assist the FH techs we've contracted in the construction process, and also to help us expand the lot to be more of a general vehicle launch hangar."

        The mention of FH's technicians and the construction contracts reminded Squall of something else.

        "What are we doing with the MD Level? I know the contracts are being finalized, but I haven't had word on what we're planning."

        "Well, that's because we didn't have any idea of what we should do with it," Cid replied. "But, Xu and some of our more ingenuitive SeeDs came up with the basic ideas." Cid glanced at Xu, and waved his hand slightly, prompting her.

        "We've decided to rennovate the MD level into a large, deep storage area," Xu began. "The basic plan involves three compartments: one for supply and equipment storage, and another for ground vehicles, both of which also include an elevator to lower and raise freight to and from deep storage."

        "What about the third compartment?" Squall asked, intrigued by the possibilities.

        "That's where we'll store our ocean vessels," Xu responded. "The plans call for a large internal dock where we would keep the vessels. Normally, its dry, allowing for maintenence and repairs, but when we need to launch, we fill the dock with water and deploy. The FH technicians have been using this type of system for years."

        "Once the rennovations are complete, we'll sell the dock in Balamb where we stored our vessels and move our fleet to Garden," Cid said. "That will give us more flexibility, which is an important aspect of our new stance."

        "Also, to add to flexibility, we're planning on getting our hands on some new toys, such as hoverpods and maybe one or two VTOL craft in addition to the Ragnorok," Xu included. "We're also looking for some heavier vehicles, such as armored personnel carriers, light tanks, and mid range artillery. I doubt we could buy any off the Galbadian military, since Veers doesn't like us too much, and black market contacts would be too expensive, but we could have a private contractor handle it for us."

        "Wait a minute," Squall interrupted. "Where are we getting the money for this? I thought SeeD had a limited budget."

        "It does," Cid replied with a widening grin. "A budget set by NORG. But now that he's gone, we have more freedom to spend our money. And, it turns out that there is a lot more money availible to Garden than we had ever thought. Xu checked his computer records inside his pod while you were in Esthar and came up with some, well, amazing information."

        "NORG had been taking a large part of our income and storing it in Dollet bank accounts," Quistis said. "Hundreds of millions of gil were sitting there, accumulating interest. Not only that, but we learned that NORG also ran other operations aside from SeeD. Some were legitamite businesses, but others were highly illegal."

        Cid's eyes hardened in anger. "NORG was in charge of smuggling operations, drug running, dockside protection, and illegal gambling, just to name a few things. He had operations all up and down the coast, from Timber's seaside villages to the streets of Deling. We took the information to the appropriate authorities, and seized many of his assets. We're still in the process of uncovering all his accounts and information, but the amount of money we found was staggering."

        "How much?" Squall asked, hardly believing what he was hearing.

        "In monetary assets alone, he had about eight-hundred and fifty million gil in all the accounts we've found thus far. Counting property values and other hard assets....we're guessing over a billion gil. At least."

        Squall's jaw nearly hit the floor at Cid's words.

        "A...billion gil?" he asked.

        "Yes, indeed," Cid confirmed. "Not only that, but we're still uncovering more of NORG's operations, so you can expect that value to rise. The money is being split among the three Gardens. Obviously, Trabia is getting a big share dedicated to rebuilding, and Galbadia Garden is recieving a large part for its own repairs and rennovations at FH. We're getting what's left, which is, needless to say, quite a bit."

        Before Cid could continue, a beeping sound was heard from his desk. He tapped a button on the desk, and a panel slid open, revealing a phone. Squall, Xu, and Quistis all knew about that particular phone. It was connected to the Garden's office that dealt with people wanting to form contracts for mercanary operations. Which meant Garden had just recieved a request for SeeD intervention.

        "Yes?....I see. I understand. They understand the increase in cost for use of the Ragnorok? I see. Good. Finish the contract as soon as you can, I'll let my senior staff know."

        Cid hung up the phone and looked up at Squall, Xu,a nd Quistis.

        "We've been hired for an operation," Cid said. "Contact Selphie, have her prep the Ragnorok. And be sure to tell her that SeeD is deploying to Trabia."

        * * * * * *

        "Headmaster, you sent for me?" Gerrard Kerrer asked as he walked into the grand office of Headmaster Martine of Galbadia Garden. Gerrard snapped a salute to his superior and stood straight, waiting for a response from Martine, who looked up from something on his desk and nodded.

        "At ease, A," Martine replied, reffering to Gerrard's rank in SeeD, much as a commander in Galbadia would refer to his subordinates by their rank. Gerrard immediately relaxed and waited for Martine to speak. At six feet and three inches, with a muscled body honed by four years as a SeeD and seven years of training beforehand, the twenty-one year old SeeD was a powerful, imposing sight, which became even more frightening when he weilded his weapon of choice, a massive claymore. His closely cut but visible black beard and mustache gave him an air of control and strength, and his short but straight and combed black hair added to the look. It wasn't visible, but Gerrard also featured a promienent tatoo of the Galbadian Garden's logo on his back, under his uniform.

        "The transfer papers have been completed, and Balamb Garden is awaiting your arrival. I trust your belongings have been packed and are waiting?" Martine asked.

        "They were ready the moment I heard I was to be appointed, Headmaster. As soon as this meeting is over I intend to be on the train to Dollet to pick up transport to FH and then to Balamb Garden."

        "Good. Now, Kerrer, I did not call you to this meeting just to confirm whether you were physically prepared for the new position you will be called on to fill. But, I figure you are already aware of that."

        "Yes, sir," Gerrard replied. "There is something you wanted to say to me personally, sir?"

        "Yes, there was," Martine said, resting his elbows on the desk and clasping his hands together in front of his mouth. "As the Lieutenant Commander of Balamb Garden, you will be faced with far more decisions than a squad leader or mission commander normally faces. You will be tasked with tactical command of large groups of SeeDs."

        "I am aware of that, Headmaster," Gerrard replied.

        "I know, Kerrer. However, you will also be tasked with some administrative duties," Martine continued. "While paperwork and the like are an inevitable side effect of this type of command duty, there are other administrative tasks you may be a part of. Your job description does include the command of Balamb's SeeD forces for defense and policing of Garden facilities." Martine eyed Gerrard, matching the SeeD's gaze. "This will put you in a critical position. You've heard the rumors, haven't you, Kerrer?"

        "If you are reffering to the ones surrounding the transfer of Edea's powers and those of Adel, yes sir, I have."

        "If the rumors prove true, Kerrer-"

        "I will act on them. I will not allow Garden's security to be compromised by a Sorceress within our own ranks. You have my word, Headmaster."

        "Excellent, Kerrer. That was what I was wanting to hear. Remember," Martine looked Gerrard dead in the eyes again, "You are Garden's last line of defense. If Garden is threatened-"

        "I will do whatever is in my power to remove that threat," Gerrard assured Martine.

        "Very well, Kerrer. Dismissed."

        Gerrard snapped of a salute to Martine and strode out of the Headmaster's office.

        * * * * *

        "Silence got what we wanted," Kiros said as he and Ward walked into Laguna's darkened office.

        "And?" Laguna asked as he spun his chair away from the panoramic view offered by his window to face his friends.

        "Nothing," Kiros said. Laguna blinked in surprise.

        "Nothing?" Laguna said in disbelief. "Nothing on where he transported the monsters?"

        "Nope," Kiros confirmed. "It just has records on capturing a few of the lunar monsters. Some Turtapods, a pair of Toromas, a Ruby Dragon, and an Iron Giant. And some data on storing and feeding the monsters, and requests for replacement personnel after the losses that resulted from catching the things. Nothing on where they went."

        "...." Ward expression displayed his concern.

        "Yeah, I know he's up to something," Laguna said, reading Ward's face. "Question is, what?"

        "Whatever it is, it'll involve research," Kiros remarked.

        "That's obvious," Laguna replied. "Where's Silence?" he asked, changing the subject.

        "...." Ward shrugged.

        "He left after taking his money. I'm not sure where he went. But we can still contact him if we need another job out of him," Kiros said with a shrug. "But there was one other thing," Kiros added in a grim tone.

        "What?" Laguna asked. He didn't like that voice. It usually meant something very, very bad had happened.

        "Illarra made an appearance at the lab."

        He had been wrong, Laguna realized. That wasn't bad news, that was catostrophic news.

        "Illarra? She's back?" he asked in disbelief. He sincerely hoped Kiros was playing a very bad joke on him.

        "She's left whatever hole she and her people crawled into for the last three years," Kiros said. "We confirmed Illarra's presence at the battle, and there was a GF summoned. Strong magic as well. And to top it off, she said her name to Silence."

        "Illarra and her goons are back. Just what we need now," Laguna muttered. "Get EBI on this, right away. We can't have Illarra and her people running around now. The worldwide situation is too volitale." Kiros nodded. Laguna paused for a moment. "What did they do?" he asked.

        "...." Ward shrugged.

        "We're not sure," Kiros said. "They stole a box of some kind, but you know we don't look too deeply in on Odine's privately funded labs, so we can't say what it was they stole."

        "Whatever it was, it had to be valuable," Laguna mused. "Illarra doesn't go after pocket Gil, after all."

        "I'll inform the head of the Bureau. They'll see to it," Kiros said.

        "...." Ward rumbled his agreement. With that, Laguna's two closest advisors and friends left the office.

        The Estharian Bureau of Investigation routinely dealt with criminal orginazations that could run circles around the police of Galbadia and even Dollet's practiced smuggler hunters. But this was Illarra they were now chasing. There were few criminal orginazations that were as wily, clever, and elusive as Illarra's mysterious band of killers, theives, criminals, and mercanaries. And even worse, Illarra's group was the kind of organization that, when one was planning a raid on a hideout, the first words would be "After the bombing runs are complete..."

        Laguna vividly recalled the kind of destruction and death that Illarra had caused up until three years ago, before her group had finally been broken up by the EBI. The questions behind their organization had never been answered before they had gone underground.

        Illarra and her band of shadowy criminals had always been a mystery to Laguna. And now, they were back, and raiding O Lab, of all places. What did it mean? Why had they come back now?

        "Too many questions, not enough answers," Laguna muttered as he stood up and walked over to the window overlooking Esthar. He watched the flowing lights of the nightime city, and looked down into the depths of the urban landscape. Depths where criminals like Illarra and her people thrived.

        "Illarra...." Laguna hissed again as he looked down into his city.

        There were others who thrived in the depths of the cityscape as well, but only one whom he could trust.

        Laguna turned around and walked back to his desk. He picked up his comlink and dialed Kiros.

        "Laguna?" Kiros asked when he picked up his comlink on the other end.

        "Yeah, Kiros. I need you to do something else for me."

        "What's that?"

        "Get me Silence."

Chapter 3

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