Any beliefs expressed throughout my story are not my own. They are simply unique to the characters and their personalities. Just wish to clarify that.
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy or anything related to it. If I did, FF12 would already be getting a direct PS2 or PS3 sequel. I also don't own any other anime, manga, or game that I take elements or characters from.
"Blah" = talking
"Blah" = thoughts, writing, sound effects, or flashbacks
(Blah)= scene change
"Alright people. You know what to do, you know where to go. There's nothing else I could say at this point to prepare you anymore. Stick to your assignments, and like the kid mentioned, don't die."
All nodded in unison for the last time. Kanin gripped her staff tighter. Adelle drew her knives, her yellow eyes narrowing as the image of a certain Paladin flashed in her mind. Hurdy, Penelo, and Vaan began their ascent up the ladder, pausing just under the cover. The commander and Ensei drew their respective swords, the Parivir flinging his cigarette to the side, while Barley placed a few more bullets in his rifle.
Luso quieted his breathing, eyelids shutting to gain greater focus. The familiar glow of his aura rose mere millimeters from the surface of his skin, enough to cause the red robe to wave in the displaced breeze of its output. And just as his eyes opened, irises shining in all their cobalt glory, the commander sounded out, and his arm came down in swift, chopping motion.
The operation begins!
Only if from your lips
I would lay down my life at a single word
Chapter Fifty Four: Intruders
The moment the words left the commander's lips, Vaan shoved on the manhole cover, remaining extremities climbing up and over the resulting hole. Then, he turned around, reached to grab Penelo and then Hurdy's hand as they ascended. When all three had gathered themselves, the Sky Pirate made a motion with his hand to the right, and the other two followed wordlessly as he shifted into a stealthy run.
"Alright, the rest of us are going topside for now." Barley ordered, projecting his voice enough so that the trio caught every word before dashing out of earshot. "Remember. If we want to escape this alive, everyone's individual assignments take top priority."
Vaan internalized the words while shifting into a sprint, steeling his face as he took down a secluded alleyway which only led to more. They didn't have a specific route, only a general sense of the correct direction, but it served them well enough to place their outlet just within sight of their intended destination. The Sky Pirate halted at the alley's end, signaling for his comrades to halt, before all gazed ahead.
True to Luso's explanation from his meeting with crow and Barley's own words, Warehouse Thirteen couldn't be pinned simply by its namesake. From their vantage point, a massive rectangular building sat within an even more spacious enclosed plot of land a few blocks from the shoreline. Its three stories seemed comprised of sporadic mixtures of partially shattered window panes and uneven gray-toned walls, but even that was being somewhat generous. The crowns and peaks of industrial machinery, no doubt Moogle in origin, sat within the courtyard on top a surprisingly healthy carpet of grass, all visible through the occasional weathered holes in the stone wall surrounding the area.
On the opposite side, the thick tattered canvas of the airship hangar stood, dwarfing its quadrangle counterpart by nearly a story. Trees in full bloom sprouted in the yard around the structure where near the warehouse they had been nonexistent. Most seemed closest to the wall, their leaf filled branches peering over which Vaan figured he could use to his advantage.
The night's shadows covered their crossing to the wall and subsequent passing, leaping into one tree's overhanging branches and Vaan careful not to brush any leaves or trip over the scimitar dangling at his side. From here, the three held an enhanced view of the door: two guards, all a ragtag group of Hume, Bangaa, Seeq, and Moogles, leaned lazily against the walls beside the door while a few others circled the perimeter.
"Ready?" Penelo and Hurdy braced themselves at his question, then each responded with a firm nod. Vaan made sure to avoid rasping his unsheathing blade could cause and gripped the handle tightly. He looked straight down, spying an oblivious Hume using his plain wooden spear as a walking stick, then after a calming breath, he moved.
The sound of rustling leaves brought the Hume's attention upward, simultaneously marking the end of his consciousness. The Sky Pirate fell, slamming the flat of his scimitar down to smack right on the apex of the guard's cranium. The man jerked under the impact, crumpling under the blow and hitting the grass at the same time as his spear. Vaan's feet touched down in the same moment, and he lowered himself into a crouch. His eyes made a hasty sweep of the grounds, making note of every guard's position and their quick reaction time to his appearance. Hurdy and Penelo dropped down soon after, and with a reassuring nod, the trio bolted into action.
Vaan and Penelo were actually the only two to move from their position, though. Instead, Hurdy stood his ground, bringing his Aona Flute up to his mouth, then sucked in a deep breath. The resulting, powerful tune weaved its way into the ears of all present, but had the most profound effect on his two companions. Instantly, the thieving duo felt an improved sense of vitality, energy rupturing any figurative flood gates keeping it in check.
This newfound burst of vigor increased the speed of Vaan's steps and in a flash he was upon his randomly chosen victim, a Hume Thief at an identical height. The nameless brigand was surprisingly both intelligent and skilled enough to make full use of his two battle knives, deflecting what strikes he could rather than attempting a direct parry.
His decisions allowed him a few more seconds than he would have had otherwise. Hurdy's musical enchantment granted Vaan an increase in physical strength as well, and he forced his way past what would have been a sound deflection, slicing across the man's bicep. He dropped his weapon with a scream, and a follow-up sweep with the blade's flat knocked him out of consciousness and the fight.
That same sweep followed around in time to block two strikes from behind, a short sword and a long curved dagger from a Bangaa and Hume respectively. A standstill occurred, the blonde Hume struggling against the duo's combined might even with his enhancement, before he pushed off while stepping back. The attacker's momentum caused them to stumble forwards as his scimitar's resistance vanished.
A boot came up under the Bangaa's lengthened snout, the pirate deciding him to be the more immediate threat, and his body crumpled under the force. The remaining guard gained his stance again, but just as Vaan brought his sword up to block the following swing, the blunt edge of an odd-looking staff crashed into his temple, ending his participation in the skirmish.
The blonde regarded both the staff and his long time partner for a moment. If anything, the weapon looked more like a long-poled, blunt axe, a single gilded horn curving out and up from the staff's apex. His observation would have to wait, though, as that same weapon thrust just to his left, then hooked around his body to barley deflect two throwing knives hurtling towards his exposed back.
Regaining his sense of vigilance, Vaan spun around towards the aggressor. He was the next to go.
However, Penelo was a step ahead of him, accelerating towards the Moogle while the miniature bells fixed to her staff jingled in the wind she passed. The bat-winged being hadn't even the time to react before she was jumping from her sprint, twisting her body in midair, and delivering a sound heel to the top of his head. He flopped to the ground on his back, muttering a 'kupo' on his way down.
Vaan smirked as she swung the staff on her shoulder, returning a similar look. Around them, the remaining guards formed an irregular perimeter, encircling while Hurdy joined the two at their position, his melody never once pausing. The Sky Pirates gathered around the Moogle, backs to him and weapons ready for whatever came their way.
Vaan gave a half-hearted grin, watching the increasing number of guards while speaking over his shoulder to Penelo. "When we get out of this, remind me to knock Barley out for making us the distraction."
"You know what to do."
Ensei nodded at Barley's words, then deepened his stance while drawing his katana. Looking across from his position between two stone buildings, he could clearly see the dilapidated iron bars of the front gate and the cracked sidewalk leading to the warehouse's front door. A few guards patrolled around. He couldn't tell whether it was from a lack of need for guarding the spot or if Vaan and company's diversion had actually worked, but he wasn't about to analyze it any further.
The remainder of the group stood a little ways behind him, looking on as the Parivir held his weapon parallel to the ground. Mist took on a visible yellow form around him, not unlike the thickness experienced in the Aldanna Range, and began to coil around his outstretched katana. Luso cast a glance over at Kanin, who ever so subtly shivered at the occurrence while strengthening her grip on her staff. She quickly noticed his attention, then correctly reading the concern in his face provided a reassuring smile.
Mist continued to waft out from an area around Ensei's feet. He drew in a deep breath, pulled his katana back while spreading his feet. Then, his arm muscles tensed for a split second, and his blade shot forward.
A wave was the only way to describe the result, a rush of pure Mist crossed the relatively small expanse between the alley and their target, crashing into the gate with a thunderous noise. Its hinges cracked as it swung open, and the two guards unlucky enough to have been crossing the sidewalk hadn't the time to turn their heads towards the commotion as the wave overtook their bodies.
Barley and the commander were already moving the moment the attack was unleashed, Luso bringing up a close third place while all kept a healthy distance from the blast line. The brunt of the attack had been fully delivered by the time their sprint placed them at the gate, now a gaping hole wreathed with pockets of billowing excess Mist, and they wasted no time on cautious observation.
The commander's sword drew first blood, slashing across the chest of one of the guardsmen curious enough to inspect the former gate. The man fell backwards, a cry escaping with the flash of blood spurting from his chest and doing everything he could to cover the open wound. The commander paid him no heed and merely trampled over his fallen body, moving and scanning for his next victim.
Barley stopped within the hole and let Luso's rushing form pass him, bringing his rifle up to bear on the guards who were now scrambling to mount a counter offensive. Bullets already loaded, his finger became a blur on the trigger, literally aiming at whatever was moving in the distance. Everything within that category managed to find a safe barricade behind the numerous vehicles and hefty machinery littered through the yard, causing him to curse under his breath while he loaded a second plethora of ammo.
One enemy however, a hefty Seeq, felt confident that he could withstand the Moogle's non-lethal bullets, and charged from behind a rust-covered transport cart. Barley hastened his reload and felt a reprieve as Luso altered his course to intercept the assailant.
The Hume's two blades, the Atmos and his newly purchased Flametongue, worked together to parry an overhead chop from the portly being's double-bladed axe. They stayed like that for a couple seconds, Luso's Mist Channeling balancing out his opponent's innate physical strength. Then, with a solid push, he heaved the Seeq off of him, holding his ground as the pig-like creature regained his balance.
This confused the Seeq thoroughly, who expected a follow up attack in the recovery period, but he chose to chalk it up to his adversary's inexperience. He cocked his sword back for another swing while stepping forward, and as he did so a sharp pain in his gut followed the echoing sound of a gunshot. His attention didn't have time to refocus as a second bullet entered his abdomen, and both projectiles' effects began their grip on his senses.
Luso sent Barley a quick nod of thanks before heading off to back up the commander as the Seeq sped towards a guard duo crouched behind a large section of pipe embedded in the earth, the Fusilier returning the boy's gesture before scanning for his next target. Ensei, Adelle, and Kanin stepped into the courtyard, each surveying the area with weapons at the ready.
"Head on in. We'll cover you." As if to drive the Moogle's point home, two bullets leapt from his gun into the upper spine of a retreating guardsman, most likely heading off for help.
"Follow when you can." Ensei nodded, then looked back to check on the two girls, who gave them affirming looks of their own. Then, he bunched his legs and the trio sprang forth, making a bee line for the entryway.
True to his words, the Fusilier hammered bullets into whoever tried to impede their path, making sure to shoot extra charm bullets into each one for security purposes. The Seeq he had charmed earlier did his part in protection, every enemy he defeated or held up would be one less Barley, Luso, or the commander would have to deal with.
Luso in fact, in mid-combat with two slightly taller Humes, could ask for no better support. Despite that, though, he found himself not having as difficult a time as he first imagined.
His channeling had been running since the moment of first contact, and he was already used to the odd sensations the ability brought. Every swing of his opponent's curved swords as they nearly missed his flesh, every sound of their constantly moving feet closing in; those sensations and more came alive in parries and dodges he could have never dreamed he'd be able to perform. Still, he found the double onslaught more than an easy fare, and a well timed entrance of the commander allowed for a successful divide and conquer scenario.
While Barley's group cleaned up the rest of the guardsman, hopefully before reinforcements swarmed in what with all the commotion, Ensei's party safely reached their own quarry. The Parivir placed himself on the wall beside the entrance, pressing lightly on the door to ease it open. A quick peer within preceded a safe nod to the two young females behind him, and with a confirming nod of his own the group slipped in, not bothering to close the door behind them.
Barley watched the scene with a sense of relief, thankful that the plan so far was coming together. There was still a long way to go, however, and with that thought he jammed a few more bullets into his rifle, planning to relieve some of the pressure on his two Hume comrades.
"Sir Ewen, kupo."
The dirty blonde, ninja garments of midnight blue and deep purple covering his frame, relaxed his grip on the doorknob he intended to twist and whipped around to the source of the voice, a brown furred Moogle Thief. Two Humes, a Paladin and Black Mage, and a Viera Assassin stood off to the side or a little ways behind, wary of the ever so subtle fury he emanated. All kept silent as the man responded, voice controlled.
"What is happening up above, soldier?"
"Two groups have infiltrated the courtyard wall, sir." He responded, giving his best impression of a proper salute. "One group has been identified as the infamous Sky Pirates of late kupo, including one Moogle. The other seems to be Clan Gully and a few unknown fighters. As of now, kupo, we have limited their advance to the courtyard. What are your orders?"
"Guess they had no intention of living up to the agreement." The Paladin chuckled darkly, crossing his arms before directing a look at the ninja. "Crow and I can take care of their main force."
"Fine." He responded after a few moments of deliberation. "You have permission to act as you see fit." His face turned towards the Viera. "Take whoever you wish and engage them."
"What will you do, Sir?"
In response, he reached into one of his side pouches and fingered out a few strands of Whisperweed, handing one to each of them save the Moogle, while he donned the final piece. As they situated the earpieces around their own ears, he explained. "We will use these to keep in touch. I will stay here and guard the Baron and Cid. They may prove some use. Also, there is a chance our attackers didn't bring the Magicite. Keep one alive for security."
"And the others?"
The blankness in Ewen's tone, devoid of any hesitation or inflection, caused Crow to shift every so subtly. The Assassin performed a respectful bow, she and the Moogle silently making their way down the hallway expanse while Raven and the Black Mage matched their pace in the opposite direction, leaving none but Ewen's shadow dancing in the wake of the lit sconces across the walls.
A muffled thud preceded the implanting of the blade into the earth, a heavy palm resting on its pommel to prop the remainder of Vaan's body up. He glanced around, at first to the few bodies lying at his feet, then to the ones scattered around the courtyard, an eerie quiet washing over the immediate area.
Beside him, Hurdy and Penelo sat and kneeled over respectively, sweat coating their hides and labored breaths escaping at intervals. A Bard and Dancer, as he had come to learn, had quite the dangerous synergy about them. The sheer number of downed guards unscathed by the blonde's weapon only served as testament to the fact, though clearly it had drained them of their primary energy reserves. A double edged sword in their current situation, but if it hadn't been for their combinations, the outcome of the trio's skirmish might have been hopeless from the beginning.
Noting that, he stood straight, retrieving his saber and giving it a dexterous twirl, voice lighthearted.
"Well, that was easy enough."
The Moogle and female Hume, still panting, easily located the energy to level an unamused stare at him.
"What? What did I say?"
"Forget it." Penelo answered dryly, coming to an erect stand of her own. "So where do we go from here?"
"I say we hide and take a break, kupo. I'm tuckered out."
"I'm with Hurdy, Vaan. We're not much help as we are now."
"Alright." The blonde shrugged. "Let's find someplace outside the warehouse. We'll figure out what to do from—"
The Sky Pirate's voice cut short just as the sound of cloth whipping in wind filled his honed ears, eyes shooting upward to catch two shadowy figures descending towards him. Sword arm leaped into action, cutting a path through the night overhead to generate two successive metallic clangs as it received the assailants' surprise assault. The figures touched down on the earth for a moment after the altercation, then bounded out of harm's way to skid to a halt in opposite directions.
Penelo and Hurdy were beginning to gather what had just happened as Vaan's eyes darted between attackers, sizing them up. Ragged, black cloaks hung over the Hume's shoulders, concealing equally dark ninja garbs with coffee brown, leather protective gear on their chest and shins. Each held a curved dagger that was long enough to be classified as a sword.
The trio kept a stern watch on the newly arrived enemies, forming their defensive circle once more. A tense silence sprung up in the following moments as the two shadowed Humes maintained their distance, their only movement the fingering of their weapons. Confused by this, Vaan opened his mouth to speak, but was drawn to glance at the roof of the warehouse instead.
As he did, he caught sight of three figures leaping from the roof's edge, landing with minimal noise before carefully approaching their group. The Sky Pirate's eyes widened as the familiar form of a midnight blue-clad Assassin came into view. The two cloaked Humes on either side of her spread out, filling in the empty pockets around the trio so that all five formed a pentagon around the intruders.
"Your group has made a foolish decision in coming here."
"And yours for pissing us off."
She narrowed her eyes, then slowly withdrew the daggers at her side. "Did you not learn your lesson at the Baron's Chateau? There is no hope of victory."
"We'll see about that."
The Assassin regarded the blonde for a moment, clearly confusion in her demeanor. At length, she spoke, voice trained into passiveness.
"You are a Sky Pirate, yes?" Vaan gave a careful nod at the suggestion. "Fame-seekers, treasure hunters; stealing what they please and striking down those who would stand in their way." She absentmindedly twirled both daggers in her fingers. "The Baron's unguarded riches could have easily been yours, yet here you are risking your life to save the man you intended to rob. No sane thief would even consider such a notion. What do you hope to accomplish? What would you have to gain here?"
At that, the blonde kept his eyes trained on her. Then, Penelo and Hurdy watched from their periphery as he straightened out of his battle stance to face the Viera evenly. His voice carried an almost sorrowful tone.
"I've learned many things over the past few years, more than I have in my whole life, but two have maybe stuck out the most." Penelo looked away out of respect, only for a moment. "All the treasure in the world can't reverse a death, and money stained with blood will never ease your soul."
"You rescue your benefactor out of a guilty conscience? How ironic."
"Yeah, I guess it is." He gradually lowered down into his stance again, bringing the scimitar up. Penelo could tell by his newly adopted stern voice that he was finally getting serious. Then, he glanced to her; a simple glance, no more than a couple seconds, but it was all she needed to understand his message.
Get out of here now.
"Of course, that won't stop me from doing it anyway." Penelo was already mouthing to Hurdy as he spoke, something the four cloaked Humes kept a wary eye on.
Their attention was soon drawn back to the male blonde as his voice became strangely dim, the same time as a yellow burst of energy sparked around his legs and soared up to his head, crackling like electricity and leaving just as swiftly as it had appeared. Vaan's normally calm blue eyes had gained a certain weight to them, as much as his voice had.
He took two sauntering steps forward, eyes towards the ground and sword now held loosely in his relaxed arm. Then his head rose up slowly, and his voice came out icy.
"Matter of fact, neither will you."
"It's strange, kupo."
Luso and the commander's eyes angled down and to their respective sides, catching Barley's form keeping a steady pace with their own brisk strides down the dilapidated warehouse hallway.
They had since cleared out the remainder of the admittedly small contingent guarding the front courtyard before giving final blows to their charmed collaborators. After having fought with them, it had taken Luso a few moments to remember the men watching his back had been doing so unwillingly, and a few bullets in the appropriate spots had knocked them unconscious.
From there, the trio had shuffled into the building, navigating hallways and ascending staircases as per Barley's vivid and exact recollections, ones the Moogle had hoped Ensei would recall from his instructions in his own search for Cid.
Eventually, the group spilled out of the corridors into what Luso assumed was the main floor of the warehouse. From their position, the door having led them onto second story metal balcony that wrapped around the space, they had an entire view of the room.
The space was surprisingly well-lit just like the former hallways had been, massive sconces hanging from chains fixed to the towering rafters above radiating an almost fluorescent shine. Just below them sat a midsized airship, decaying and obviously abandoned mid-creation, but no less a marvel to Luso, who had until now never been so close to one. Machinery and metallic debris as rusted as the sconce chains lay sprawled about, some knocked over and others covered in a healthy layer of dust, spider webs, or both.
"What was strange?" Luso finally asked as all three continued to survey the room for any sign of an enemy.
"The guards." Barley responded, pointing to a staircase on the far side of the rafters that led down to the ashen, concrete floor and motioning for the two to follow. "This entire compound so far has been surprisingly unpopulated, kupo, compared to usual."
"You think Cheney's diversion worked?" The commander asked, bringing up the rear.
"It should have, kupo. But still…it wouldn't have left the place this deserted." He paused, long enough to flare his bat-like wings and leap over a gaping hole in the balcony, at least by his stature. As Luso and the commander absentmindedly did the same, he continued. "I would have thought they'd bolster their defenses once the exchange was off."
"It could be a trap. Leading us further in to cut off any hope of escape."
Barley grunted at the thought. "More than likely, but we're already too deep in to back ou—."
"It's no trap."
Barley, the commander, and Luso paused in unison, a particularly cold shiver ripping through the nerves of the former and the very latter. The trio turned their heads out to the floor expanse, then high into the lower rafters of the ceiling. At first they saw nothing, until further focus of Barley's trained eyes spotted a pair of dangling leather boots, and the Moogle could only relent at who their guest could be, fear evident in his visage.
The commander stood mostly indifferent; regardless of who it was, the man was an enemy. Luso, however, stood firm after the initials shock, a hand inattentively settling on one of his blade's handles.
That voice alone was all he needed to recognize him.
The figure shoved off from the steel beam it sat on, almost floating down onto the top of the airship underneath, his long blue cape flowing down behind his path. Boots touching down on the metal ship plating echoed throughout the room, leaving a deafening silence in its wake.
He rose slowly from the crouch he'd landed in as Barley hissed out his name and brought his rifle around to his front. Luso could just make out glowing yellow orbs from underneath the brim of his wizard hat, specifically as they locked onto his form while he continued speaking.
"No preparations were made to defend against an attack, because I didn't tell them of one."
More surprised than from Crow's initial appearance, Luso's semi-stern look melted away at the revelation. "You…you didn't?"
"No. I didn't."
"Why?" The Moogle queried skeptically.
"Because not a single one of you would have made it to this room if I hadn't."
A pause ensued, each side watching the other carefully. Then after a short time, Luso took two steps forward, allowing a free palm to rest on the cool metal of the balcony railing. His gaze fixed upon the Black Mage's.
"Does that mean we consider you an ally, then?"
Another silence, this time much more tense than the previous. Barley nervously fingered his rifle and the commander kept a wary hand near his sword handle. Crow's head angled down towards his feet, then rose, mouth speaking evenly.
"Don't you already know the answer to that?"
"Yeah. I suppose I do."
Luso removed his eyes from Crow at his answer, catching Barley bringing his rifle to bear on the spellcaster's position. Immediately he placed a placating hand on its length, pressing it down to the confusion of the Fusilier. As he did so, he resurrected his gaze at the Black Mage, voice recovering from its weakness. "Let me handle this."
"Are you serious, kid? Crow's no pushover like the ones in the courtyard. He'll mop the floor with you. We're better off—"
Barley stopped immediately. He wasn't sure why, what had caused him to, or why Luso's eyes had glowed a deep gold the moment the brunette had sent a powerful glance his way, but he stopped, lowering his gun in the process. Even the commander had twitched at the gesture, though his quick recovery preceded Luso's voice.
"We still have to get the Baron back. Who knows what they'll do to him while the three of us are tied up fighting. You two go on ahead. I'll open the path for you."
"Are you…are you kidding? What can you do against him?"
"Barley." The Moogle turned curiously to the commander. "He's right. One of us has to, and he looks ready enough to me."
At the commander's observation, the gunman turned back to the boy, noticing the feint blue glow he'd had earlier returning in full force, so much that the winds displaced by it ruffled his fur. Without looking back, Luso bunched his legs and used his hand to vault over the balcony rail, landing in a crouch onto the main floor.
His weapons sprung from their sheaths, handles twirling nimbly in his hands. Everything felt good. Everything was flowing.
Crow could only stare unnoticeably bewildered at the Hume's display, wondering where this new found source of confidence and strength had originated. He tossed the thought aside, though, as he witnessed the two others on his periphery making their way towards the first story stairs.
Then, the mage heard a rush of footsteps, warranting turning his attention back to Luso. To his chagrin, the boy was already upon him, right hand Atmos Blade swinging in a downward horizontal arc, something reminiscent of a lightning bolt. Crow's rod, resting in a fabric loop at his side for easy transport, flashed out to meet it, whipping around to smack into the blade's flat and knock it away.
Fearing a retaliatory hit from the other, both combatants leapt back, creating a mid-sized distance between them. Attention was now firmly locked in place, and if the glowing of Luso's Atmos Blade and the spark of fire igniting just above Crow's fingertip was any indication, it wasn't going anywhere soon.
Barley could only watch over his shoulder as the two stared each other down, forcing his eyes away from the inevitable battle with only the feeling that this would be the last time he'd ever see Luso Clemens alive.
The two finally meet head on!
Drastically long wait for this one, but hey what can you do? Life is life. Anyway, still only somewhat satisfied after two revisions.
Yes indeed, next chapter is what some of you have been waiting for. That said, I might take a little longer to get it just how I want, but hopefully you'll feel the patience paid off.
That's it for now. As always, until next time!