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The mission, or "rescue" as the team came to call it, went off without a hitch and was successful right until the end. Zell, Seifer, and I left Balamb for the Bika Snowfields of Trabia just three hours after parting ways to gather whatever rest we could get. That part of the plan was simple, to evacuate all students and non-essential staff from the facility and transport them to the western coast behind the Vienne Mountains where they would be taken, by ship, to Balamb Garden. Within the first three hours of landing we evacuated half of the nearly three hundred children from the facility. By noon, all the kids were out and making the last leg of the trek through the mountain trail. Seifer stayed behind at the shoreline to see that the ships left with no issue while Zell and I elected to hike back over the mountains a fifth time to catch our breath at the facility before evacuating the staff and older students. Although it was just past midday in Trabia, Galbadia was still in the early hours of the morning. I planned on using the time difference to our advantage. If a building was going to be captured with prisoners, it was best done in daylight. If there would be no prisoners, an attack would come at night. There was no danger of airborne attacks because I knew that the Galbadians were using what missiles they had left against one another. I did not think they had any interest in killing children who were by blood Galbadian themselves and the others agreed. In other words, the maneuver would be short and sweet. 

Quistis and Irvine were on route to Timber to begin pulling what SeeDs were in the area out of Galbadia and were slotted to arrive at the East Academy train station in the early evening. In my mind we were three steps ahead of Galbadia. If they were planning any kind of action against either Trabia or Galbadia Gardens we were ready. What I failed to realize, and what everyone else did as well, was that there was a possibility that Balamb Garden was the intended target all along. That was my biggest mistake, though it would not all culminate at once. I hadn't considered that there was a chance that Balamb would be compromised. 

General Fury Caraway, Rinoa's fatherwas the general in charge of what was left of Galbadia's government and therefore the legislative body in charge of the legal complaint filed against Garden. This main branch of government existed and worked our of the Great Plains which housed the capital city and the majority of the continent's resources and wealth. The rest of Galbadia which had slipped into a bitter and deadly civil war. It was splintered into small seceded refugee camps, villages, and even cities. Larger well controlled areas such as the Dingo Desert were quickly snapped up by rogue soldiers at the beginning of the conflict. The D-District prison of the Dingo Desert and the Galbadian Missile Base were converted into a command center of sorts for the so called "D-district Army." Lanker Plains which was the land belonging to Timber was occupied by the "Grey Devils" another dissenting branch of the Galbadian Army. The Galbadians were already occupying Timber and most of the soldiers and officers posted there were crooked as it was, it was not difficult for the Grey Devils to turn them. In time, the reach of the Grey Devils extended through Roshfall Forest and the villages surrounding Obel Lake.

The beleaguered citizens of Timber fled to Dollet only to be met with severe backlash from the government there. Some refugees were allowed in, but most were turned away and given the label of "outlaw." Places that were already dangerous due to the monsters that inhabited the area such as Wendigo Plains were dotted with camps and small gatherings of people who were simply too poor leave Galbadia. Those who were unfortunate to end up such situations were not only in danger of random attacks from bandits and soldiers, they were exposed to the elements and vulnerable to monsters and wild animals. There were few humanitarian efforts to help those who were victims of the fighting, so it actually made sense that Ellone and the White SeeDs had intervened on behalf of the orphaned children of the civil war. 

Zell, Siefer, and I landed at the shores to the west of the Vienne Mountains before dawn. Four ships holding two armed SeeDs each landed shortly afterward. The Ragnarok, which had dropped the three of us off, promptly left flying toward Northern Galbadia to pick up the SeeDs Irvine and Quistis were evacuating. Claes Young, the Headmistress of Trabia Garden met us at the foot of the trail that lead into the Vienne Mountains. Three snowmobiles were behind her, but she was riding a white Chocobo. The snowmobiles pulled around us, carefully gliding over boulders hidden just beneath the thick winter snow. Claes dismounted her Chocobo and saluted before firmly shaking each of our hands. Claes was pretty, with thick black curls and deep set blue eyes. The last time I had seen her a few months beforehand, she had announced that she was pregnant, and now her belly had swollen large enough to be seen under her thick navy blue SeeD jacket. I suspected she was maybe six or seven months along, and her cheeks were rosy from the cold and her pregnancy. Claes was in her mid 30s or so and had a gentle personality. And though she was much shorter than her, the running joke amongst SeeD faculty was that Claes was Quistis' doppelgänger. 

"I'm sorry we're meeting again under such circumstances Commander Leonhart. My faculty has been briefed and all the students are prepar-"

"How many kids are we evacuating?" Siefer cut in.

Claes smiled up at him warmly. "Are you asking about the total number of students or the age of them Instructor Almasy?" The latter was a valid question as we already had the information on the total number. Seifer grunted but didn't answer. Claes looked down and nodded to herself a moment before snapping her head back up and glaring at him sharply. Claes was an incredibly patient person, and almost so sweet it was annoying at times. But over the years she and Siefer had butted heads frequently due to the fact that for a very short period of time they had been involved, and it didn't end well. 

"There are 47 students under the age of eight. 120 are ten to fourteen years of age. 9 are fifteen to eighteen, and lastly there are 12 infants. The majority of the very young students are refugees and some are quite disturbed. I do hope it is possible to carry out this evacuation with the utmost consideration. Does that sufficiently answer your question Instructor Almasy?"

"Sure."

"We'll do our best," I replied eyeing Siefer and nodding at Zell. 

Claes climbed back onto her Chocobo and the three of us along with five other SeeDs loaded onto the snowmobiles. By vehicle the ride through the trail of the mountains was short and we arrived at Trabia Garden in about 20 minutes. All 188 students were gathered in the outer courtyard waiting for evacuation instructions. Older students were transferred to the coast first because the ships would not embark for Balamb Garden until all students were on board and accounted for. The younger students could be kept calmer, not to mention warmer, if they were taken last. 

The evacuation was slow moving at first, but once a path from the snowmobiles was blazed over the path through the mountains it picked up speed fast. By midday Zell, Siefer, and I arrived at the coast with the last batch of children. They were loaded in and the ships set a course to arrive in Balamb by evening. Another ship was on its way to pick us up and Trabia Garden's non-essential staff. Since Claes was Headmistress, she and her faculty SeeDs would stay, and they did not accompany us to drop of the final group of children. 

Though the weather in Trabia during the winter is typically stormy, that day was perfectly clear. Aside from being bone-chillingly cold even the winds were cooperating on the highest bluffs of the mountains. The trail that lead from the coast to Trabia Garden can be best described as a wind tunnel because of the high walls of stone on either side. Seifer decided to wait at the coast with the small number of staff that had come with us to see the children off while Zell and I rode back to the facility to pick up the last of the staff. Just as we were about to climb back in, the snowmobile shuddered then shut off. The driver climbed out and opened the side of the machine to inspect the problem. When he came back up his brow was wrinkled. 

"What's going on," I asked walking around the vehicle. 

He pulled his goggles up and shook his head. "It looks like there's a hole in the fuel tank, we must've been leakin' all day! Prolly one of them rocks or boulders cracked right into it."

"We've got some extra fuel," said Zell beginning to unzip his backpack. 

The driver shook his head again and tapped the snowmobile. "Unless it's diesel it won't work, sorry boys." I sighed. Of course we didn't carry diesel fuel, Balamb didn't have any vehicles that even ran on that type. 

"Hey Squall, I'll just call the facility and have 'em send another," Zell said pulling out his mobile. "It'll take another half hour to get here, but it's better than walking back." I nodded in agreement and he punched in the number and waited for an answer. After a few moments he pulled the phone away from his ear and muttered something to himself. 

"What's going on?"

"No one's answering, I tried it three times."

"Try Claes." Zell obliged and dialed her number, but after several rings it went to voicemail. We briefly exchanged nervous glances...this wasn't normal, and given the circumstances it was a very bad sign. 

Siefer must've noticed and walked over looking confused. "What's goin' on?" 

"I think we lost contact with the facility, Zell's trying the radio now."

Zell swore under his breath and lightly punched the radio. "Dead air, Squall." 

I grabbed my backpack and snapped it across my chest. "We'll have to go back on foot then, Siefer you need to stay here."

"Excuse me?"

"You're the only trained SeeD among the rest of the staff here," I answered firmly. "The next fleet of ships should arrive in an hour. Have whoever's on board come after us when they land. Call Balamb and tell them what's happened. I'll call you and Balamb when Zell and I get to the facility, is that clear?" Seifer nodded and jogged over the group of staff to begin barking orders at them. It was something he obviously enjoyed. Zell and I quickly put on some additional gear and I checked to make sure my gunblade was loaded then started for Trabia Garden. 

Even though a path had been blazed through the Vienne trail by the snowmobiles, it was difficult to negotiate on foot. We tried to run most of the way to cut down travel time, but in some places the snow was almost thigh deep. And to make the trek even more difficult, it was uphill. The trail has halfway up and halfway down on both sides with the highest crest at the halfway point. At the crest you could see the valley and Bika Snowfields as well as the surrounding villages and Trabia Garden. The rest of the trail was walled off by stone and all that could be seen was the sky above and the tunnel of trail leading in either direction. It was for that reason that in the past, many a weary traveller could lose his way and end up at the wrong end of the mountain repeatedly, eventually dying from the exertion and cold. Because of this, every thousand yards was a sign reminding whoever was on the path to refrain from turning around. Some signs simply said "LOOK AHEAD," where others warned "DON'T LOOK BACK." There were no natural landmarks at any point in the trail other than a handful of thin paths that lead to villages surrounding the mountains. They were rarely clear because air travel had become more and more popular in the remote villages. So, to the untrained eye, such a path only appeared to be a dark crevice in the stoney mountain walls.

Even though it had the potential to be dangerous, as long as you went straight in either direction there was no possible way to get lost on the trail. It was for that reason seasoned leisure climbers and athletes called the mountain a "lazy trail." The incline was a steady and gentle grade until you reached the crest, and afterward it was a gentle grade down. But, since Zell and I were running, and the fact the snow was deep causing us to struggle in places left us gasping and coughing from the effort of trying to draw the oxygen thin air into our lungs. As a precaution, most times SeeDs are instructed to carry oxygen (among other supplies) when traveling through Trabia. However Zell and I were weighed down as it was with other gear so I didn't bother with grabbing the small tank from the crate in the snowmobile.

When the two of us finally reached the crest of the mountain, we were doubled over, wheezing and coughing. Zell was cherry red and too lightheaded to continue on, so I suggested resting for five minutes and he quickly complied by collapsing against a boulder. I dropped my backpack to the snowy ground and sat on it. When my coughing fits finally subsided enough to make a coherent sentence I tried calling Trabia Garden again with no luck. Claes did not answer her phone either so I radioed Seifer to let him know we were halfway there and to keep trying to make contact. From our view at the crest we could seed Trabia Garden's mithril dome was shining brilliantly against the sky and by all accounts it looked peaceful. I pulled out some binoculars and tried to survey the valley. There was no sign of vehicles, foreign or domestic, or anything out of the ordinary. A few distant objects I recognized as monsters, Snow Lions most likely, lumbered on a half mile or so away from the facility. Other than the tracks left by the snowmobiles we'd been using all day there were no other tracks on the roads around it either.  Zell took a look and confirmed. It didn't make any sense. There was no sign of any kind of struggle or fighting. Maybe there was interference of some kind with their radio or wireless signals? Although the destruction of Sorceress Adel's sarcophagus over a decade beforehand allowed radio and wireless broadcasts, the technology was flawed in most devices because programming knowledge had been somewhat forgotten in the near 20 years that wireless broadcast was impossible. Garden had temporary connectivity problems from time to time, but usually only for a few minutes. 

"I'm not getting anyone to pick up still, Squall," Zell said snapping his phone back to his chest. "I don't like this." 

My radio crackled and Seifer's voice filtered out. "Hey, the other ships are here and they brought a truck so I sent 'em up after you guys. They probably won't get there for another 45 minutes I guess, but I told them to go anyway." 

"That's good Seifer, we're almost there," I said pulling my backpack back on. I nodded at Zell and we started off again. The rest of the way was downhill and we made considerably better time for that leg of the trip. The trail is a total of 15 miles base to base. SeeDs are trained to be able to run at a pace of at least 8 minutes per mile, but of course since Zell and I were weighed down with gear and highstepping through snow the pace was slowed to 10 or even 12 minutes per mile. When we finally reached the foot of the trail and were on the road toward the facility, it had been over 2 hours since we left Seifer and the others at the shoreline. If getting there hadn't been such an emergency I would have searched through the woods surrounding the mountain for a Chocobo to at least get us up to the bluff. But given the circumstances, I couldn't afford the time it would take to lure one of the creatures, let alone getting it saddled and comfortable enough to ride without bucking me off. 

When the facility was a mere 100 yards away, Zell and I split off in opposite directions sprinting for the walls opposite the massive front gates. Since there were only two of us we had to be especially vigilant of the surrounding open areas. I gripped my gunblade's handle with my right hand and prepared to draw as Zell scanned his cardkey to open the gates. The gate's slid open and we both whipped around the corner. Zell with fists up, and myself with gunblade drawn. The courtyard was empty, but rather than running straight for the front entrance we crisscrossed our way through the snowy area, careful to keep an eye on the upper floors of the facility in case snipers were present. Other than the fact there was not a soul present in the courtyard (or at the front gate), there was dead silence. Noise levels would have been lowered anyway in the facility since all the children were gone, but it was eery. 

Slowly, I approached the front entrance as the automatic doors flung open. Once inside we peered around the corner into the large atrium for signs of the enemy. Again, no one was to be seen or heard. The only sound was periodic bubbling coming from the fountain in the center of the atrium and a light hum from the heating system. Still moving cautiously, Zell and I began checking rooms and offices on the ground floor. Each was empty, but what was more unusual (and scary) was the fact that nothing was out of place. Not even a sheet of paper was askew on the desks in the empty classrooms. Zell suggested taking the elevator to the upper level so that we wouldn't be surprised at the top of the stairs by the enemy if they were still present. Typically, SeeDs would take the stairs because if a facility was compromised, the electrical systems would not be functioning. But typically we would have at least a third person in the party and it would be easier to watch our own backs. The elevator came down without delay, and as expected, no one was inside. We went up to the upper level and carefully stepped into the hall, looking into the open rooms on either side leading to the interior balcony. That side of the quad was as empty and undisturbed as the ground level, so we methodically moved to the opposite side of the floor toward the recreational areas. 

Trabia Garden had its training center, gymnasium, study rooms, and student lounge on the upper level's west wing. The top floor housed dormitories in the east wing and administrative offices in the west wing. Zell went ahead of me toward the gymnasium and as he rounded the corner I heard him gasp suddenly then stop. 

"What?!" I whispered sharply quickly coming up behind him. Zell jerked his head toward the direction he was looking as a signal for me to come around. About 20 feet away Claes was lying halfway on the ground near the door to the gymnasium. Her cheek was rested against the closed door, and her neck was wrenched in an awkward angle as though she had lost consciousness before falling. She had fallen out of one of her boots and the rest of her body was slumped against the ground belly down, a dangerous position for a pregnant woman. Papers that she had apparently been carrying were spread out all over the floor around her. It looked like she was just about to walk into the room but suddenly lost consciousness. I shoved my gunblade back into its holster and ran over to her side. 

"Claes, it's Squall. Try moving your arm if you can hear me." I pulled off a glove with my teeth and grabbed her wrist to find a pulse. Her skin was cool, but that was no clear indication of anything since my own hands were freezing. Nothing. Nothing I could feel anyway. I looked back and saw that Zell was a step ahead of me already and radioing for emergency medical supplies to be sent as well. Carefully, I braced myself against the door jamb and held Claes' head and neck steady as I slid her flat against the floor. "Zell, I need your help." Zell ran over and carefully turned Claes onto her back as I held her head steady. Her lips were blue and she wasn't breathing. Quickly I took off my jacket, rolled it up under her neck and began chest compressions. Meanwhile, Zell was rifling through the supplies backpack for anything that could help. In a pinch a vial of Phoenix Down could revive someone who was in cardiac or respiratory arrest, but only within a certain frame of time. I saw a stethoscope sticking out of the corner of the bag and grabbed it. I rolled up Claes' shirt, exposing her stomach, and tried to find the fetal heartbeat but failed. I tried again to listen for Claes' heartbeat and heard nothing. Zell finally produced a vial and flung it over the woman, but there was no effect. Lastly, he found a vial of adrenaline and injected directly into her heart as I continued compressions and breaths but Claes could not be revived. Zell and I stared at each other in dismay. The woman was dead. 
This fan fiction directly follows the events in Final Fantasy VIII. This story is also the prequel to my other fan fic "Final Dreams"
fav.me/d7sccxs<---previous chapter/next chapter--->
All mentioned places and all characters: Squall Leonhart, Rinoa Heartilly, Seifer Almasy, Quistis Trepe, Irvine Kinneas, Selfie Tilmitt, Zell Dincht, Laguna Loire, Ward Zaback, Kiros Seagul, Ellone Leonhart, Fury Caraway, Cid Kramer, and Edea Kramer are (c) to Square(soft) Enix
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HDdeviant Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2014
wow, i will have to really get into your written work. i tend to focus on your drafting .
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Xadrea Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you :hug: 
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HDdeviant Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014
well earned:)
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