A soldier's experience in the final battle of the Machina War. (one-shot)
An army of machina and their Spiran controllers marched into the Northern Plains. Once where the central Ronso village lay, the Upper Plains had consistently been a battleground. Bevelle had attempted genocide upon the Ronso and Zanarkand-then under the rule of Yu Yevon's father-had come to the aide of their neighbors. They did not do it out of a moral obligation to save thousands from death; it was the perfect reason to begin a just war against their rival Bevelle.
The war had not gone as planned. On and off for a hundred years, their armies clashed, neither gaining enough of an upper hand in order to defeat the other. That was all about to change, however. Both states had finally mobilized every resource at their disposal. Now, the battle would mean life or death for the nations. The survivor would face decades of upheaval and economic crisis but they would still be the final remaining power on the continent.
"Do you think Yevon will send us across the Endless Sea when this is over?" asked a young woman. She was dressed in Guardian combat fatigues but with a white crescent on her back. The girl was a frontline medic, as the crescent symbolized; it was her job to remove foreign objects from a wound so that Cure spells would not trap things such as shrapnel inside of a man's body. Such things would cause intense pain, infection, and even death. In the heat of battle, they could not afford to resurrect constantly the freshly dead.
Her junior medic beside her steadied her as she almost stumbled on some loose rocks. They were making their way down the slope of the mountain to the Zanarkand perimeter at the base in the Upper plains. "Is there even something out there, Elise? I mean, it is the Endless Sea, after all."
"Taken modern history course at the Academy at all?"
"No, ma'am, I'm only sixteen. All we cover in the Primaries is an overview, mostly ancient."
Elise nodded, "Probably no lit courses which would assign texts like The Painted Sun, then. That's too bad, Alexios Durnem is a fabulous author. When this is done with, I'll have you over for some tea. We can talk about it in depth. Believe me, Gen, your teachers at the Primaries will be very impressed if you've ever read Durnem."
They continued down the mountain, neither of them speaking for several minutes. All around them, soldiers were making their ways to wherever their posts were. Some were carrying the dead on litters; dead who were too far gone for magic to help. Most of them were male, rugged and dirty men who had fought as Guardians for many years.
"Why are you here, Gen? You're not even twenty yet, you're still in Primaries. You should be home playing with your friends."
"Why are you here, Elise? You're only twenty-eight and you're a woman in an army almost exclusively male." He did not mean what he said negatively but he did figure that it would be an appropriate answer. His reason was probably close to hers.
She took a moment to answer. Not wanting to lie, she could not say she wanted to make sure as many men as possible were able to go home healthy. That had not played a role in her decision at all. "Patriotism, Gen. I think I owe it to Yevon and everyone else who made sure I could live free."
"I reckon that's my answer, too."
"Reckon? You should know one hundred percent. I have no doubt that Zanarkand deserves my heart and soul, and that it's my duty to help. Besides, Bevelle is full of butchers and sadists. I'd love to kill at least one of them."
Gen looked at her strangely. They had not spoken much before setting out for the front lines-her previous junior medic had been caught in an explosion from an airship raid on the Gagazet command post.
A shell whistled ominously overhead; they were almost to their destination. The artillery barrages had already begun. It was the third stage of battle. Air attacks and ground skirmishes had hit both sides. The conflict was quickly escalating. It was a good bet that the diplomats did not succeed in their search for a ceasefire.
"This'll be good times," Elise sighed as the system of defense trenches came into view. Trench warfare had not been used in a century due to the tendency for the ditches to become death traps. The universal small unit tactics that had only recently gained popularity had just as suddenly disappeared in the last two years. Each side was going all out to destroy the other. "It's funny; we don't have the luxury of reinforcements. Bevelle can build a new warrior every day, and we take six months to train someone out of Primaries, at the very least."
She knelt down and pulled a spherecam from her pack. "No way I'm letting this view be forgotten, though. As she recorded the trenches and the far side of the plains, one hand searched through her jacket pockets. It came out with a very small computer. "Best way to upload to the Journal's network. I get paid for every image and video feed I send them."
Gen reached over and took the device from her. He looked it over, turning it around in his hands, playing with the menu options. "Looks expensive."
"Got it for free from them," Elise shrugged. "If it breaks, though, I hope I die soon after because I do not want to have to pay for it."
She took it back from him and hooked it up to the spherecam. "Sending, sending, come on, tell me it worked." Once it beeped to acknowledge the upload, she slipped the device and the camera away to their respective places. "All right, let's get down to the comm center."
A shell exploded not far away from them. Gen practically through himself to the ground while Elise barely flinched. She had been through an artillery barrage before. Grabbing his arm and hauling him up, she motioned for him to hurry into the trenches. They did not want to be standing on the normal ground for very long. Bevelle was known to employ human sharpshooters.
As they stepped around the resting defenders, Elise kept track of how many turns they took. They would need to remember the trenches-especially the escape route-as best as possible. She could not help but feel nervous; as always, she started talking about random things to ease her anxiety.
"Four hundred years ago, Spira was invaded by an army from across the Endless Sea. They were defeated but Zanarkand allowed many of them to stay behind here. Before them, everyone here in the north was really pale. Now, we have variety. They brought their culture, too." She did not expect Gen to listen to her, she just needed to keep talking. To her, nothing was more interesting than Spiran history. She had focused on it at the Academy. "That's what The Painted Sun is about. You really..."
Gen looked at her as she trailed off. She was staring over the edge of a low-walled trench, her mouth moving slowly but with no accompanying noise. "What is it?"
Elise pointed across the field at the spot where Bevelle's army had slowly begun to enter the plains. Her finger directed his gaze over the edge of the trench and to a monstrosity of technology. It towered over the Handlers, human soldiers who made sure machina did their jobs and who made field repairs whenever possible. The giant rolled forward on massive tracks and it rotated its body toward the Zanarkand lines. Two enormous coils-undoubtedly electrostatic cannons-slowly raised to a higher angle, preparing to fire.
She tapped a nearby soldier on the arm. "W-we do have shielding over the trenches, right?"
The man nodded, "Assuming that tank only has those coils, it can't do anything to us until we have to drop the shielding to fire at them. It can still fry anything coming down from the mountain pass."
Just as he spoke, the coils lit up and a stream of what looked like lightning shot across the field. It slammed into the protective shielding, just above the tops of the first line of trenches, illuminating the invisible wall; the crackling bolt bounced up into the air, heading off into nothingness. The coils turned, dragging the lightning across the trenches, looking for an unprotected spot.
Looking away from the energy beam, Elise watched as one of the gun emplacements adjusted its sights to destroy the tank. The commander of the emplacement screamed to one of the shield operators, "Disperse our section!"
As soon as they could, the cannon let out a thunderous boom, loosing a shell at the tank. The explosive crushed the tank's body on impact but failed to explode. One of the coils snapped off under the stress; the other turned too quickly for the shield to be extended back over the cannon. The lightning enveloped the gun, blasting it apart, the crew of the gun screaming as they were cooked alive by the energy.
Gen started to run to the baked gun emplacement as soon as the beam stopped. He was tackled by Elise, though. She held him down with the help of a soldier near them.
"Let me go, we have to help them!"
The woman slapped him, "Don't be stupid, they're all too far gone. They won't want to be brought back if they even can be."
He looked up at her, surprised. She did not want to bring back the gun crew so they could make it back to their families. He did not understand why she would not want to help them. "But we can..."
"They won't want to remember being roasted," the soldier said. "One of my buddies was revived from being burned alive. He wasn't the same guy as he was before. Trust me, you'd be doing them a service by letting them stay dead."
Elise let go of him and offered him a hand up. They both looked up at the sky as a bomber ship cruised through the air. The lightning tank fired at it in an attempt to shoot it down before its payload slammed into the Bevelle army assembled below. However, the bomber was equipped with a physical shield; the energy was drawn the metal plate and was dispersed harmlessly. The airship's bottom opened up and dropped a long stream of bombs as it moved across the Bevelle lines. As they slammed into the ground, they burst into enormous balls of fire, which quickly spread across the far side of the grassland.
In the time it took for the flames to die down, Gen had calmed and returned to his superior's side. She laid a hand on his shoulder, just in case he needed a little extra reassurance that everything was going well and would end up in their favor, despite the deaths already.
The woman started talking again, trying to ignore the stench that was wafting their way of burned flesh, plastics, and metal of the gun emplacement they had just lost. "It's so weird seeing this much of Guardians force in one place. I remember when I was airdropped with just twenty men into St. Lucas. We were to defend the city, since the Lucans are allies. Twenty men, can you believe that?"
Gen nodded, "I heard about it on the news a long time ago. None the soldiers would let the media near the perimeter because Bevelle got the same transmissions we did. Reporters were angry."
Elise laughed, "They're idiots. They would have given away our weaknesses. If Bevelle knew we had twenty men and all the rest was automated turrets, they'd have 'EMPed' us right off and stormed with human troops."
"I don't think they were all that wrong. We deserve to know what we're sending our people away to do."
One of the Guardian soldiers sitting against the trench wall started coughing loudly. He lifted his rifle and pressed the side against Gen's thigh to gain the boy's attention. "I'll tell ya what I think. Reporters can shove it all down their throats. Ne'er once have I seen them do anythin' worth their pay. They get good men killed; you want documentation, give us a good still spherecam op'rator who won't demand to share things which are classified for a good, Goddess-damned reason."
The woman pushed the rifle barrel away. "He's just a kid, sir. He's got plenty of time to figure out these things."
The man rolled his eyes and settled back against the wall. "Jus' you wait, boy...jus' you wait."
Elise motioned for Gen to move along, mouthing, "Let's go," before the boy could say anything to the soldier. It was dangerous to get a Guardian angry. They moved further down the line, trying to find where they were supposed to go. "Never been in a trench before, so sorry about having to wander."
"It's okay. I just don't think I want to talk to soldiers anymore."
She laughed, "You get used to them. They may be crude and vulgar but at least you know they're honest. It's kind of a cruel honesty, but they won't lie about what's going on. Kinda sad when you meet the heretic ones, though."
Gen carefully stepped over a woman who was sleeping in the mud, hugging her rifle to her chest. "Heretics?"
"Yeah, you know, unbelievers; 'The Goddess isn't real' types. Lucky we're from Zanarkand and not the Guado States or St. Lucas. If we didn't focus on the aeons more than the saints and Goddess, we'd probably have them executed like everywhere else does. Even the Hypello are fundamentalists compared to us. Ronso would have been slaughtered if not for us."
"Worshipping a mountain, I know. Why is it sad, though?"
Elise shrugged, "It's hard to explain. You'll find out soon enough once Bevelle...should be soon that they charge."
In an more spacious area of the trenches, a heavily robed woman stepped out into the open. With her staff raised in front of her, she widened her stance, one foot touching the ground only with her toes. The staff dipped toward the ground and she gently spun around, the outstretched foot forming a circle in the dirt. As the circle closed, it began to glow red and a rune formed within it. The ground shook and cracked as she completed her summoning rite.
Gen was taken aback by the spectacle. He said nothing, enthralled by what was happening. The ground ruptured and a fiery beast burst forth, taking the summoner into the air. The beast landed safely with the summoning woman on its shoulder.
"Wow...," Gen gazed at them, amazed. The beast was enormous and its fur moved like fire.
Elise was likewise stunned. She had never seen that particular aeon summoned before. She knew which it was, though. "That's Ifrit, a patron of fire."
Gen nodded, "We had a list of them in a book. The picture didn't look like that, though."
They both flinched as a variety of deafening roar and thunderous booms surrounded them. Other summoners were calling their aeons forth to do battle. The aeons would try to destroy the Bevelle army before the Guardian soldiers had to fight.
In front of them, the energy shield shimmered and the low hum it emitted ceased. Ifrit jumped high into the air and an enormous meteor seemed to form from nothing. It hurled the orange at the machina, slamming into them with an explosion of earth and fire. All around them, the aeons charged the machines and soldiers of Bevelle in an attempt to finally end the war. The summoners climbed to the tops of the trenches to watch and be able to issue orders to their aeons; the magical link was not severed by the distance.
The machina seemed to be getting overpowered, especially by the agile aeons who seemed impossible to hit. Valefor shot through the air, firing its energy beams at the soldiers; Shiva glided gracefully from one artificial warrior to the next, freezing their components and smashing them to pieces. A giant tank-like aeon known only as Alexander sat in the middle of the battlefield, launching volleys of rockets at the enemy artillery.
Bevelle's machina were programmed too well, though. They stopped targeting the aeons and ceased to focus on their own defense. The metal and human soldiers alike charged recklessly at the Zanarkand trenches. They had no way to directly defeat such an aeon like Alexander, or even Bahamut, the king of dragons. Summoners were much easier targets. Before the Guardians and summoners realized what was happening, the woman in front of Elise and Gen screamed and fell back into the trench, hit by a powerful blast of energy. Ifrit disappeared from the field.
Elise rushed up to her and knelt beside her. Gen had his pack beside him, ready to get whatever she needed him to. The senior medic looked the summoner over, placing her fingers against the carotid artery. "Phoenix down, Gen. It was just Thundaga."
As she checked the woman's ID tags, the boy administered the medicinal item and a warm, white light surrounded the woman's body. Her eyes opened and she screeched in horror, waving her arms wildly. Elise grabbed her arms and held her still.
"Lenne! Mistress Lenne! It is okay. You are in Spira and you must return to the fight against Bevelle!" Elise yelled at the summoner slowly, trying to bring her back from the vast nothingness she had just visited. Elise prayed she would never know what it was like to literally on the edge of death. Beside her, Gen forced Lenne's mouth open and poured some of a potion into her mouth to revitalize her.
Lenne gazed up at them, her eyes wide and lips moving without a sound. She was in shock; it must have been her first time "dying." Elise did not give her a chance to say anything. She got up and rushed down the trenches to aid someone else. The Guardians could protect Lenne.
"Come on, Gen, keep up!" Elise called back at him as she made her way to the next fallen soldier. She slid to a halt near him and gazed down at him. He was a haggard, older man, crying out in pain.
"Goddess help me!" he repeated his agonized moan over and over again. Elise tore his shirt open to see the extent of his wounds. His chest was ripped apart by machina gun fire. There was no way she could remove the bullets to cure him in time.
"Oh, God-Goddess save me!"
Elise pressed her hands together as though in prayer, touching the tips of her thumbs to her mouth. She laid her hands on the man's chest and whispered, "Goddess, relieve this soul...death."
Gen watched in dismay as dark coils stretched forth from Elise's hands, leeching away the man's life. She killed him. He knew the logistics of it, he knew why Elise was to kill him rather than try to heal him. Still, though, he didn't understand why once he actually saw it. They should have helped him....
Elise picked up the man's rifle and looked at the wooden stock. Carved into it was a heathen symbol. The soldier had not believed in the Goddess. She tossed it at Gen. "That's why it's sad," she said.
She slowly stood and adjusted her uniform. There were too many shots and explosions around them. The summoners were being quickly picked off, one by one. She could see that Alexander had vanished from the field. Bevelle was overpowering them and the engagement had just started. Months at a stalemate and now Zanarkand was about to lose. She knew they would lose. The feeling welled in her stomach and started creeping up her throat. She dropped to her knees and spat out a mouthful of bile. Her abdomen jerked with dry heaves.
Gen knelt beside her. He started rooting through his pack, looking for something that could help her. "Are you okay, Elise?"
She looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. All her work to appear strong had been worth nothing. She knew Zanarkand would lose. There was no way around it with the summoners being knocked out of the fight so easily. "I don't want to die, Gen. I don't...."
She grabbed him and pulled him against the wall of the trench, hugging him tightly. Holding his head to her chest, she cried. "Don't leave me, Gen. I don't want to die. Don't leave me. Please don't leave me."
The boy pulled away from her a little. Through her blurred vision, she saw that he was crying, too. He knew it. He had looked around and seen that they were abandoned. The Guardians had fallen back almost immediately, leaving their wounded to die. Elise hadn't noticed and she had prevented Gen from noticing, as well. But it had happened. The fighting had just begun and they were already alone on the battlefield. Bodies littered the trenches but there was no one walking. He wrapped an arm around her and hugged her right back. The only thing they had to hope for was that the stories about Bevelle's treatment of prisoners were lies. Elise couldn't stand, or even move her legs. She wouldn't be able to run. She just held tightly on to Gen. As long as the boy was with her, they would be fine. She knew it had to be true.