It hadn't been the smartest move, but at least it had been effective.
But damn, that hurt.
Kaile staggered as his spell receded, his entire body burning with pain. His uniform was tattered, his skin burned in several places, but he remained standing, forcing his mind to clear as he looked at the damage to his strange enemy. Ha...it had worked better than he expected. He managed a slight grin, but if the fight went on much longer, he would lose.
He jumped away from Wicket while she was distracted, landing near a bookshelf that had become completely engulfed in flames. Noting that his partner probably wouldn't have emerged from his hiding place without a better reason than to keep him from using para-magic on himself, he shot a glance at Suoh. "Got that code yet?"
He really didn't know how much longer he could keep fighting like this...
Last Edit: Mar 26, 2011 17:32:52 GMT -5 by Griever
"Don't be such an idiot!" Suoh snapped, his eyes narrowing at Kaile. That had been completely reckless! What if the spell hadn't worked on Wicket, or she had been resistant? "If you want to die, do it on your own time!"
He hated rash fighters...
"Yes, I've got it. She has a pressure point at the center of her forehead, striking it will give us a moment to input the sequence."
Wicket laughed, pulling herself up from the floor, hunched over. As she straightened, the slightly lighter 'button' Suoh mentioned became visible, exposed because the way the flesh had melted.
"Fiery red aura of intensity, you will blacken all you brush with scorching fingertips!" Wicket screeched at Kaile, launching herself at him and swinging out a clawed hand, fire swirling around her limbs.
"Sorry, I'm not gonna die on an exam," Kaile replied, his grin not fading. He sidestepped away from Wicket's attack, speed and reflexes not lessened by his injuries. Sure, hitting a button on her forehead sounded easy, but he still wasn't entirely sure what she was capable of. He would have to continue with a constant attack, or he wouldn't be able to keep up.
He brought one blade toward her back, and the other, flat side forward, up on the other side, toward her head. He doubted he could hit her so easily, but if he kept trying, he knew he would be able to.
Someone didn't earn the title of combat specialist without being deserving of it.
And he was much better at physical combat than magical. If his Flare had worked so well, he had no doubt he would be able to at least hit her, even if in normal combat he couldn't defeat her.
Seemingly enraged, Wicket’s movements became intense and sharp, but she was off-balance because of the injuries sustained by the head-on flare. She swung out her claws fiercely towards Kaile, sharp-toothed grin still in place and eyes wide with twisted delight, but her assault began impulsive and lacked strategy.
Even a little lopsided, Wicket was quick, her acrobatic evasion protecting her from Kaile’s blades. More than once Suoh readied his pistol to take an opportune shot, but before he could fire her position had changed completely. With Kaile engaged in such close melee combat, he couldn’t risk a stray bullet compromising his partner.
Wicket seem intent on maintaining the close sparring, though, cackling madly, and that eventually worked in their favor. With the right persistence, Kaile would prevail.
Once the button was struck she stumbled forward, slouching over but remaining on her feet, glossed eyes staring at the charred floor. Suoh wasted no time in rushing over.
“Are you alright?” he asked, opening up a small, hidden panel between Wicket’s shoulder blades.
He'd done it. The redhead slumped against one of the few bookshelves that weren't yet consumed by flames and wiped sweat from his forehead with a tattered sleeve, coughed as he inhaled some of the thick smoke that now filled the air. He was tired, still hurting from his own spell, and the smoke was making him dizzy; if this alone had been so dangerous, what else could they expect to find?
Could they really finish their mission and get out in a half hour?
"Yeah, I'm fine." Of course they could. Confidence came as naturally to Kaile as breathing. Sure, he felt like shit, but why admit that to Suoh? He was still grinning in that cocky way of his as he looked up at his partner, but examining the burns on his arm as he worked made the grin fade slightly. It looked worse now that he could look at it properly... "What about you, can you use your arm?"
A loud crash from somewhere near the back of the library made Kaile turn, but though he had reflexively tightened his grip on his knives, it was only a bookshelf collapsing from the fire. If they didn't do something, it would spread outside the library, and even if it didn't, on the chance what they were looking for was in here, they wouldn't get any points if the object they were supposed to find burned.
"Can you do something about this? I don't think it'll look good on our score if we burn the place down."
The fire had scorched the back on his arm, leaving the flesh blackened and glistening. Luckily, the soft underside seemed intact, though a little reddened, and his hands and fingers had been spared the damage. It was extremely painful, but it wasn't bleeding much and not too threatening since the mission was only a half hour. His hands were shaking pretty badly, but he had ample enough control over his fingers, and that was demonstrated as he typed in the passcode.
Deficit ambobus qui vult servire duobus.
"He who attempts serving two masters...serves none," the blonde mumured as the last digits were punched in. Immediately Wicket's head shot up, but that insane gleam was gone from her eyes and she no longer grinned wickedly.
"Little Suoh, good to see you again," Wicket said emotionlessly, her attention shifting the blonde. "Lovely evening, is it not?"
"Wicket," Suoh weezed, coughing from the thick smoke and taking a step back towards Kaile, pulling his injured arm close to his chest. "The fire..."
"Master's books!" She exclaimed, rushing about the library. The palms of her hand opened to expose small pipes, and she immediately got to work extinquishing the flame. Smoke instantly filled the library, but it was at least getting easier to breathe. Unable to see, Suoh lingered close to Kaile, the only sounds being the spray of foam and Wicket's frantic mutterings about the books.
"I don't think it's here," he said quietly, glancing at Kaile. "It's too valuable."
Interest caught, Kaile looked up as Suoh recited the passcode. It sounded like there was some meaning to it...But it was too complicated for him to care much, especially when they had a mission to complete.
He watched Wicket for a moment, disturbed by her sudden complete change in behavior - she'd just been trying to kill him! - until the smoke became too thick and he could make out little more than a small form darting here and there among the books. At the same time he was alerted to Suoh's presence as the other spoke, and he sighed, resting one of his knives on his shoulder.
"All that for nothing, then. What a waste..." Shaking his head, he turned around and began to walk out of the library, squinting through the smoke.
Outside he could see a short distance down the hallway from the remaining firelight, but not far enough to tell what was ahead, the view obscured by flame-tinted smoke haze.
Suoh seemed to know the place much better than he did, and asking seemed like a better idea than opening their map and going to the first place he saw...
((Hey, K-chan, it's your post in the thread with Lacilel and the twins xD))
"D-down," Suoh answered quietly, then quickly shook his head, icing over the momentary hesitance. He cleared his throat a bit, following Kaile out of the library. "The basement."
Because of the fight, there was no longer enough time to check the other places. The probability was high that the object they were looking for resided on the lower levels, reluctant as Suoh was to tread the passages below the ground. At least with the blueprints they wouldn't have to trek around in the dark.
The air cleared considerably once they were back in the darkened halls, and Suoh found it much easier to think properly. Keeping his injured arm close to his body, he used the other to pull out the blueprints and hand them to Kaile.
"I think we need to get into the room label B314, can you find the quickest way?"
Without his other arm, he couldn't really shuffle through the papers...and Suoh didn't remember too much about the manor, not having graced its halls in many years.
What was that? Hesitation? Kaile eyed his partner curiously, surprised. He'd never seen so much as a waver in Suoh's cool demeanor, so the loss of composure, however brief, caught him off guard.
It didn't seem like a good idea to comment on it, though, especially not when there were more important things to focus on at the moment. Reluctantly, he sheathed his knives and took the blueprints, preferring to have his weapons ready despite the need to know where they were going.
"B314..." he repeated quietly, looking over the papers, shifting them in his hands until he found the proper one. Using the library as an indicator of their current position, he traced the paths with his eyes, considering which would be quickest.
"This way," he said softly after some thought, glancing up to indicate the direction. He folded the blueprints and returned them to Suoh, pulling out his knives again the moment the other had taken them. Another noise from upstairs indicated that he was right in thinking that keeping themselves armed was a good idea, though he couldn't tell if it was the same thing they'd heard before.
"Think you can handle the light?"
The rapidly fading firelight would only help them for so long, and though Kaile didn't mind taking the lead, he didn't like the idea of doing so when he couldn't see what was in front of him.
“Of course,” Suoh answered, his voice even yet soft. He tucked the blueprints quickly away, then pulled out the flashlight and turned on the bright beam. Chewing his lip just a bit, he moved the light to his injured hand, then dropped his right to settle over the butt of his holstered pistol.
But he knew his nerves were frazzled more than usual, and after a brief scenario flitted through his mind – which involved him accidently shooting a fellow SeeD candidate who had decided to make a surprise appearance – Suoh decided to leave the pistol untouched for now. He could draw it if they were threatened, but he didn’t want to risk having it ready in his grasp.
At least he used his right hand for shooting; for everything else, his left was the primary appendage.
So Suoh switched the flashlight back to his right hand, curling his gloved fingers around it tightly to steady the beam. He followed Kaile, taking care to illuminate the passage while glossing the light over entryways, dark corners, and any odd shapes that might hinder Kaile’s progression. True to Kaile’s navigation, they quickly located the stairs and began their descent. Suoh didn’t like not being able to cover their asses by scoping out the other rooms, but…they didn’t have the luxury of time. If something were to make a surprise attack at their backsides, they’d just have to deal with it.
Sounds of other SeeD candidates moving around the other floors were nonexistent now, and it seemed the further downward they traveled the more eerily the echo of rain beating the side of the manor became.
Of course it would have to rain, just to spite him.
At the base of the stairs, they were met with a small hallway and two doors – one at the end of it, straight in front of them, and the other to their right. The left wall, judging by the windows on the ground floor, led outside. Well, led to dirt at least…
A scanning of the light informed them that door directly in front was slightly ajar, though there came neither light nor sound from within. Suoh turned to the left door, switching the flashlight to his bad hand so he could carefully try the handle. Locked. Bolted as well, it seemed. Then why was the other left opened?
The blonde released a breath, placing his gloved hand against the flat surface to collect his thoughts. Why had he agreed to do this? Sure it was a chance to get his SeeD rank early, but he was quickly beginning to think nothing was worth it. Oh, what Kaile must think…
He supposed he should give his partner some sort of explanation, in case he…locked up or something.
“My mother was a maid in this place…” Suoh confessed, closing his eyes for a moment and resting his forehead against the door. No time… “There was a fire, and she died. Down here.”
It wasn’t entirely the truth, but it was true enough to carry the same weight. His mother had died down here, and though it hadn’t been by fire, they didn’t have the time for details. Not that Suoh felt too enthusiastic about sharing anyway. In fact, he felt very sick.
The important thing was that Kaile understood. He might need a jolt if he froze up…
“If you…” Suoh paused, swallowing thickly, then seemed to get a better control of himself. He dropped his hand, turning to face Kaile. “If you go through that door there and to the right…and then right at the end of that room…”
Suoh handed Kaile the flashlight, tugging out the blueprints and tracing a quick square. “And another right down this short hall, you can unbolt this door from the other side and let me in…”
He didn’t think he could…progress this way. He remembered it too vividly…
Kaile didn't like this, the dark and the quiet, everything from above and outside receding in their descent, as though the world was closing off behind them. Isolation. He shifted his blades in his hands slightly, adjusting his grip. What kind of mission was this, anyway? Quelling political uprisings, providing military support in times of war, that was what SeeD did. They were mercenaries, not glorified errand boys, and the treatment was beginning to irritate and, as he considered the state of the manor, unnerve him.
Just a little. But either way, it felt too strange. He had a lot of questions, once he got out of here...
The darkness grew deeper the lower they went, even with what illumination the flashlight offered. It seemed the dust and cobwebs that choked the corridor pulled all of the light to themselves, greedily stealing much of what little visibility the SeeD candidates were allowed, turning the view to grey haze and reaching shadow. Like the damned place itself was working against them. Then, unexpectedly, Kaile's feet met solid floor as the stairs came to their abrupt end, and he had no time to consider the situation any more, his eyes quickly scanning the unfamiliar territory, the walls, the floors, the ceiling.
The silence and the stillness here were worse, somehow, than the unknown noises upstairs, they were so prominent. None of the other candidates had come down here, nor had the SeeDs that had accompanied them, tasked with ensuring their safety. Fine with Kaile. Better that they prove themselves on their merits alone, even if instinct was nearly overwhelming him with the need for caution.
Suoh's voice startled him, suddenly, as it broke through the silence. He stopped walking, turning back to the blonde as the light swung erratically; the sight of him, though, caught him by surprise, so that for a moment he dropped his guard completely. Stoic Suoh, all composure and logic, looked...vulnerable. So that was the reason for it, the oddity of his behavior. And for a moment, Kaile found himself hesitating in response. That was enough - he would've been willing to drop it all right then, at that look, to turn around and walk out and forget the exam had ever happened, and was on the verge of asking if Suoh wanted to do just that. The words were there, fully formed and ready to be spoken. But they died before they ever passed his lips, so that his only response was understanding, compliant silence.
No, they would see this through to the end, and if Suoh was willing to put aside whatever ghosts lingered here for him, he wasn't going to question it, and he certainly wasn't going to push the subject. So he took the flashlight, but he shook his head rather than looking at the blueprints, his eyes fixated on the locked door instead.
"No time for that. We took too long in the library." And the sooner they found their target and got out, the better. "This door's juuuust fine for both of us."
SLAM. The hinges creaked in protest of his kick, the wood shuddered, and dust clouded his vision. Coughing, Kaile shielded his nose and mouth with his sleeve, not intent on breathing it a second time. Another good kick, and this time with a great crash and a splintering crack, the lock snapped and the door flew inward. Kaile was grinning again with his success as he tossed the flashlight back, readying himself for whatever happened to be within. "Shall we?"
Suoh stepped away from the door when Kaile moved towards it with clear malicious intent, and he watched the redhead somewhat incredulously. He couldn’t seriously be thinking about… “Kaile, the—“
The blonde jumped slightly despite himself, lifting his own hand with the blueprints tightly clenched to cover his mouth and nose. What? Kaile was going to end up—
The door buckled under the force of Kaile’s second kick, splitting in and yielding them entry. Suoh’s eyes widened slightly, but he checked his surprise in time to catch the flashlight, the look fading from his features at the sight of Kaile’s grin. He didn’t smile, but a bit of a teasing glint lit his own sapphire hues.
Somehow, Kaile’s confidence was both reassuring and infectious, and Suoh felt his own spirits lift. He felt a prickle of shame for his weakness costing them valuable time – he should’ve just bucked up and gone through – but he decided not to linger on the unpleasant feeling for now, allowing his resolve to return.
“Well….now we’re sure to find out what’s lurking around,” he commented dryly, but there was a note of appreciation hidden in his words. Suddenly, he felt like…whatever it was, they could take care of it, and the shift in his demeanor was obvious as he suddenly looked the most relaxed he had since before preparations for the exam began. He just had to put everything else out of his mind and think of it like a…competition of sorts…
“This thing sure isn’t going to find itself,” Suoh mumbled into the dust-choked air, following after Kaile. He wasn’t incredibly familiar with this part of the manor, but…Suoh seemed to remember the patriarch often treading these floors. He remembered a lift…with a digital lock…none of the maids had been given access to it…
Could that be where the device was?
“Ten minutes,” Suoh said after a glance at his watch, his pace increasing a bit. The busted door led to another corridor, which led into a T hall, and after a right there, a wider room with many doors, most of them having windows of opaque glass.
“There’s too many options,” Suoh growled out in frustration, stopping to glance both ways down the hall, the light reflecting off dust and metal and glass. “We’ll never find it in time…”
No; he hadn’t put himself through all this for no reason.
Another flicker of the light, and Suoh paused, regarding the left hall from their current intersection. The end of the stretch was dark, but…was that more glass? “Let’s hope this is it,” he breathed, taking off quickly in that direction, not waiting on Kaile this time. Could it be…it was the lift he remembered, encased in transparent glass and sliding, iron-wrought doors. “If it’s not up here, chance are we’re never gonna find it anyway.”
Suoh’s growing anticipation was subtle but apparent – clearly he believed they were close to their goal. He passed the flashlight quickly back to Kaile, tugging out a small, folded pack of convenient tools and popping the faceplate off the lift’s security system. He stripped a couple wires there, twined the copper together here…and in just under a minute, the inside of the lift lit up with fluorescent bulbs around the base and the gates and glass slid open.
“Luckily, this is the same type of technology Garden was using a few years ago,” he remarked, moving quickly inside the lift and snapping off the faceplate of the small control panel inside. “I can set it to manufacturer’s default and bypass the code input…”
Which would take forever to decipher, even with his PDA on hand…
The machine blipped beneath the movements of Suoh’s fingers, still seeming to work despite the years of neglect. Once the modification was made, the lift jerked in protest and the doors of glass and iron closed, sealing them inside before it started to rise. At least up was a promising direction, right?
Still crouched on the floor near the panel, Suoh glanced up at Kaile for a moment.
“I don’t know what’s up here,” he said in a bit of a somber tone. “Whatever this device does, though…clearly Garden – or our employer -- thinks it’s important. If that’s the case, it’s probably protected.”
Of course, Kaile already knew that, but….he just wanted to make sure the other was prepared.
“We don’t have much time, but…it’s more important we stay alive and whole. Especially you.” He added with a faint sardonic note.
Really, what would Kaile do if he were ever crippled?
"Good," and there was far more enthusiasm to Kaile's attitude than was proper, "Let 'em come. The sooner we get through anything down here, the sooner we get out. Don't know about you, but I've had more than enough of this place already."
A glance over at Suoh found him apparently calmer, a sight that wasn't lost on Kaile. He'd been more irritable than usual - at least, to Kaile's speculation; he had barely exchanged words with him previously - from the moment they'd received their mission briefing, but now...now he looked a little more like a SeeD.
Well, Kaile observed, his confidence returning in force, he should. He'd be one when they got back to Garden. Ten minutes? They'd be done and out of here in no time.
He was walking considerably faster as he passed through the corridor, his brief unrest all but dispelled entirely and whatever caution he possessed rapidly fading. No need for it anymore. If a fight was going to find them, it would do it either way, and he was more than ready for whatever this place wanted to throw at him.
Except maybe the sudden split of the hall.
In a typical situation, he would've picked a direction and charged on ahead without a second thought, but...well, this was their field exam, and he was intent on passing. Best not to leave it to chance this time, especially when partnered with someone with knowledge of the building. So he turned to Suoh, prepared to ask his opinion, only to find him...going on ahead?
Well. That was different.
It was Kaile's turn to follow, and within a minute, his turn to be impressed. He let out a low whistle as he watched the other work, forgetting for a moment the danger of their situation. Suoh may not have been much of a fighter, comparatively, but...well, it was a good thing Kaile wasn't in charge of the technical aspects. When it came to machinery, it was all an unintelligible mess of wire and cord to him.
"Fine with me if it's guarded," he replied as the lift started to move, bringing them a little nearer their destination. "The more the better." The redhead was shifting impatiently as they rose, heels bouncing slightly off of the floor and knife tapping against his leg. He was growing more and more restless, it was evident in even his small mannerisms. "This wouldn't be much of a mission otherwise."
Then he laughed, shaking his head. "Not a problem. I can handle it." Not that he had any idea what this 'it' might be, but...
"You just worry about finding our target. Sound good?"
Suoh’s precision with his pistol was good, but in melee combat he was definitely far behind the specialists. Of course, he had the basic training of any SeeD, but…
Well, that was why Suoh was a technician, wasn’t it? Even if he wanted to reach the combat prowess of the fighters, he wouldn’t have time for two demanding majors. No, it was better to just stick with what he was good at. Besides, he didn’t exactly cut the most intimidating figure.
‘The more the better?’
Suoh gave Kaile one of his deadpan stares. “Wicket wasn’t guarding anything, don’t forget. She was cleaning.”
Cleaning. The creatures actually serving an important function were bound to be a lot stronger than Wicket, or she’d be the one on guard duty. Granted, they had gotten through her without lasting injury, but Suoh really didn’t agree with Kaile about more being better. In fact, all his rationality pointed to the opposite being true.
“Besides…” Suoh shifted and stood, feeling like the lift couldn’t have much further to go. “Chase already informed me she’d kick my ass if you recklessly got yourself carved up too badly.”
Like there was something he could do about Kaile’s impromptu battle decisions. But…Suoh wasn’t as concerned about it as he had been. He was starting to feel that Kaile’s gut was more trustworthy than anyone gave him credit for. After all, the redhead made it this far.
Suoh glanced at Kaile with a tiny hint of a wry smile, using the momentary distraction to try and forget that his burned arm still hurt like a bitch. “She started harassing me as soon as she found out we were partnered. I guess she wants me to find out if you like—“
The sudden, jerking stop of the lift cut off the blonde’s words, and he turned his attention to the doors, all his senses highly alert. The iron and glass twisted away to reveal…
Suoh stopped slowly out of the elevator, cautiously casting his eyes around their new surroundings. Instead of a room, they were met with thick vegetation all around with grass and underbrush plush beneath their feet. Insects chirruped in the night, yet nothing was wet—Suoh glanced up at the clouded sky.
Glass. The rain fell against it with a heavy pattering.
A huge greenhouse, almost cylindrical with a domed top. How had Suoh never known of its existence? It wasn’t on the blueprints, either…
It was almost…tropical, the trees tall and draped with lush curtains of vibrant green, preventing them from seeing very far. Judging from the ceiling…
Suoh pointed up. “Do you see those marks, Kaile?” he murmured, squinting slightly. It was difficult in the darkness, and the flashlight did little at that distance, but at least the natural glow of the outside moon did something to lighten the environment.
Faintly, one could see lines and curves etched into the glass in the ceiling. They almost looked like…
Suoh supposed they used to be alight.
Remembering the time, Suoh dropped his attention back to his partner. “We’ll have to split up, there’s no way we’ll find it at this rate.”
He didn’t like the idea, but…
“Here, take this,” Suoh dug something out of his pockets, and whatever it was dangled, glinting in the light from the elevator. Necklaces? He tossed one to Kaile, pulling the other one over his own head.
Signal whistles. Not the most discreet of devices, but…
Kaile couldn't help it. SeeD exam or not, danger or no, he was laughing when the lift finally began to slow. He had no doubt at all that Chase would do exactly what she threatened - and it wouldn't stop with Suoh, she'd kick his own ass afterward.
"Guess I'll just have to stay in one piece, then, huh? Shame, I was planning on getting myself killed. Maimed, at least." It was true that his bold recklessness and habit of charging into battle headfirst was somewhat famous throughout Garden, but the popular interpretation of his tactics was a misunderstanding. He was far from an idiot in combat, and he wasn't after some kind of life-or-death high. Openings, holes in an enemy's defenses, momentary distraction or hesitation - it was all easier to take advantage of when he put himself in the middle of it. He fought the way he did because he had the skill to back it up. And even if it sometimes proved detrimental to his health, it had worked well for him so far. He was still alive, wasn't he?
Despite his light tone and self-deprecating humor, he was on alert as the doors opened, prepared to meet whatever sort of monstrosity they would be greeted by this time. Another fireball, a more deadly automaton, a full horde of monsters? He was ready.
"This place...gets stranger and stranger," he remarked, following Suoh's gaze to the ceiling. What kind of person lived in a place like this? Somewhere in the back of his head it clicked that maybe that was why SeeD had been brought in for such an unusual mission, but a rustling off to his right put the thought quickly out of his mind as he turned toward the source.
Nothing...just a draft from somewhere, stirring the vegetation.
He turned back to his partner in time to catch the whistle, examining it for a moment before slipping it around his neck. Splitting up seemed like the worst possible idea, with Suoh's burned arm taken into consideration, but...well, they were both about to become SeeDs. He could handle himself.
It was certainly a better alternative than failing, when they'd come this far.
"Right, let's just hurry. We still have to get out of here."
And he set off on his own, returning one of his knives to its sheath at his waist in favor of his own flashlight. Even surrounded by glass, there was little light here, with the moon obscured by the clouds and the nearest lights from the city blocked out by the sheer mass of plant cover. It was the strangest feeling, this forest within a building; it didn't seem possible that Deling City could be so close by. Difficult to imagine that a piece of technology could be here, of all places, even if he did have no idea what it could do.
Of course...the way the manor seemed to work, that probably meant they were on the right track.
Strange noises met him from every direction as he made his way further into the greenhouse. Not just insects - it seemed there were animals here, too, though he didn't manage to catch sight of them despite his best efforts. Monsters he had expected in plenty, but if any lingered, they too were keeping out of sight. And nothing but trees and underbrush all around, with nothing to indicate where they might find their target.