A Warrior's Redemptionby Artiles
MEMORY TWO: THE DOUBLE-DOUBLE CROSS
"Get ready to fire" ordered Varlus, standing in front of his men. Most of them looked prepared to fight, machine guns and swords at the ready, jaws clenched in both anger and expectation. The artillery was thrusting forward.
Varlus moved towards the third column, where new recruits were placed. These men were the complete opposite from the others: nervous, shaking, guns in hand but still hesitant… afraid. Varlus repressed a smile: that's exactly how he felt in his first battle. He understood those privates all too well.
"Brace yourselves, boys" he said. "This is gonna be a tough one."
"Sir" one of the privates said, staggering forward, visibly nervous. "Are… are we gonna die?"
Varlus sighed, thinking what to answer to the private. He didn't want to speak nonsense, but these boys needed some incentive to enter battle.
However, there was simply no hope for these men: should he follow the President's orders, they were all as good as dead. Was there any other option?
"After our initial bombardment, the SOLDIER platoon will strike first. You'll serve as backup for them. They are a tough nut to crack, but they will be outnumbered. That's where you come in, boys. Just stick to the SOLDIER and you'll be fine."
Most of the privates gulped in fear. Varlus turned away. He had done it: to hell with the President's orders. He was not throwing those men's lives away just for nothing.
"I hope you're proud, Father" he thought.
He moved towards the SOLDIER team and tapped Lieutenant Noah's back. The hardened SOLDIER veteran turned to face him.
"Guys, after our cannon show, you'll move forward, supported by the rookies and our cannons. The main body and me will flank the town and raze the other exit, while we carry out our orders."
Lieutenant Noah faced him with deep loathing. "Those were not the President's orders, Commander Jenneson. The rookies are to be the expendable troops, not us. We are SOLDIER."
Damn those suckers' pride. Always thinking they were above everybody else just by having some Mako shit flowing through their veins. Well, Varlus wasn't going to have any of that.
"Lieutenant, I am in charge of this army. You have just received a direct order from your Commander, and I expect you to fulfill it to the letter. Do I make myself clear?"
The SOLDIER leader stared at the Commander toughly, yet no answer came from him.
"Disobey my orders, Lieutenant, and I'll see it that you spend the rest of your life farming Chocobos near Kalm" added Varlus roughly.
"Yes, sir" replied the Lieutenant reluctantly, smiling coldly.
"Good." Varlus turned to the artillery man behind one of the ion cannons.
It was time. Varlus signaled him.
The cannons fired their deadly ammunition towards the town. A tall pagoda got blown away in pieces, while other buildings were smashed to dust or incinerated. Earsplitting screams broke out the town's silence, and just a moment later, a vast group of fighters poured from the gates, ready to battle.
"SOLDIER platoon, forward! Third column, assist them! First and second columns, to me! Artillery, fire at will!" Varlus' orders dispersed the Shinra army through the field. The SOLDIER platoon hit the Wutai defenders' main line, initiating a bloody confrontation. Catapults and trebuchets unloaded massive boulders towards the battleground, severely handicapping the SOLDIER platoon, but also killing several Wutai fighters as well. It seemed the Wutai defenders didn't care about their soldiers' deaths, as long as they could cripple the attacking army.
The Commander rushed his troops towards the flank, shooting towards the city's walls, trying to stop the archers' deadly barrage of fire arrows. Wutai was not as defenseless as he thought: casualties were running high on both sides. Varlus ordered his men to run as quick as possible towards the town's east gate. As they reached it, another small force of defenders rushed from it to them.
"Forward, men! Show no mercy!"
The Shinra troops laid death to the defenders with their machine guns, but soon they got near enough to engage in melee combat, something the defenders were highly adept at doing. Machine guns thrown aside and swords out of their scabbards, there began a vicious hand-to-hand battle for the gate. Varlus was very well trained in sword fencing, but his men were not up to scratch. All in all, the Wutaians gained the upper hand quickly, pushing the Shinra troops back. Varlus raised his sword up, encouraging his men, and thrust forward, slashing furiously through both steel and flesh. He was soon covered in thick blood. His men were pushing forward relentlessly, and experienced though the Wutaians were, they were beginning to feel the side effects of this constant pressure.
Varlus' forces pushed the Wutaians back into town. The Commander was getting restless: his men had suffered numerous wounds, and were getting exhausted. It was then than a massive ion shell hit a tower nearby, which collapsed just on top of the Wutaians, murdering most, if not all, of the defenders.
"Now, privates! This is our chance! Steal all the Materia you can!" bellowed Varlus, rushing forward. As his men began to pillage the town, Varlus took a glance towards the main gate. The SOLDIER team looked like it could fare on his own, but the rookies were having a hard time. Debating within himself for a minute, Varlus ran towards the main battleground, jumped over some bodies next to the gate, and joined quickly with the rookies.
"Sir, we can't hold on any longer!" cried a helpless private, shooting his .45 at the Wutaians.
"What the hell are you doing with that crappy gun?!" demanded Varlus enraged, as he shoved off some defenders. "Pick up your SMG!!"
"Out of ammo, sir!" the private replied.
A young girl threw a shuriken towards the poorly armed private, which Varlus hurried to block with his sword.
"Here, use mine!" the Commander ordered, handing him his own machine gun. The private cocked the gun and pulled the trigger, which spat hot lead towards the Wutaians.
Yet, Varlus realized the rookies were doomed. Defenders were attacking from every side, and these privates couldn't cope with them, let alone fend them off. The Commander paused for a moment and addressed the whole division.
"Enter the city! My men have already secured it to some extent! Follow me!" And as Varlus made a break for the city's gates, the privates followed hastily, diverting attacks from every flank, and bringing down some Wutaians while at it. Finally, Varlus and the rookies made it into the town, where the Commander broke into a deserted and partially destroyed hut, followed by his men.
"Set up a trench!" he ordered. "We'll keep them in line from here!"
And so the privates did. Building up a shielding wall out of debris, the Commander and his men held any Wutaians at bay from there, ‘till the moment came when all attacks ceased. Puzzled, Varlus exited his hideout, only to find Lieutenant Noah in the town's center square, surrounding a scared man, Wutaian by his clothes. The Commander ordered his men to stay hidden and alert, and approached the SOLDIER Lieutenant.
"You're dead, old man" said the SOLDIER veteran. The man in the floor didn't reply. Varlus managed to catch a glimpse of a young girl nearby, concealed between some canopy jars, crying silently.
Varlus knew the Lieutenant was about to go too far.
"Lieutenant" he called. Noah turned around to face him, a hardened expression on his face.
"Just what were you about to do with this man?" inquired Varlus.
"Sir, this is Lord Godo, the leader of Wutai. He is to be murdered for us to conquer this town."
"Sheathe your sword, Lieutenant."
Noah closed in on Varlus.
"I have my orders, Commander Jenneson. No life is to be spared."
"And I have given you a direct order. You will not murder this man in cold blood."
"Commander Jenneson, I hereby become leader of this campaign" stated Noah, pointing Varlus with his sword. Varlus almost laughed. Kids never grew up.
"Cut the crap, Noah, I'm the leader of this army."
"Not anymore, Jenneson. I have strict orders from Shinra's president. My squadron and me were sent to this campaign to keep a close eye on you. I daresay the President thinks you are up to no good."
"Oh yeah? And what makes him say that? That is, if he actually told you that, and this is not just one of your immature delusions." Varlus' hand moved slightly to his sword's hilt.
"The President has voiced his concern about your… peculiar" Noah stressed this word strongly, "…ways of doing battle. And he believes you were to overthrow him in this campaign, seizing both the Materia for yourself and finding a decent hideout to keep your sorry ass out of sight."
"You make no sense, Noah. Shinra is my employer. I pay them with my loyalty. There's no reason the President would suspect me."
Noah laughed coldly.
"Get your sword away from me, Noah" said Varlus coldly. His anger was rising.
"You're a fool, Varlus!" retorted Noah, laughing. "Do you really think Shinra doesn't know anything about your beloved wife?"
This question hit Varlus like a hammer. "What do you mean?" he asked in response, staying cool, but feeling an uneasy chill down his spine.
"You have heard of Shinra's Jenova Project. The rebirth of the Ancients… the Cetra." Noah grinned evilly. "Your wife is key for this Project's success."
"You son of a bitch!" cursed Varlus, drawing his sword and rolling back into fighting stance. Blood pumped hard in his veins. His anger had long reached boiling point. That good-for-nothing brat… If he thought he could get a hold on Ifalna, he was damn wrong.
"Get away from here, Varlus. Run home to your wife and daughter… if you make it before they get kidnapped, that is."
"You're a dead grunt, Noah" spat Varlus, furious. Ifalna… Aeris…
"No! I'd rather die than seeing them hurt!" he thought desperately.
"Don't make me kill you, Varlus" taunted Noah, not grinning anymore, but serious, cold as a stone. As the two swordsmen stood ready for battle, another voice came out from nearby.
"That will be enough, both of you. Put your swords away."
Varlus checked his right side. There he was, the President, surrounded by a couple dozen SOLDIER troops and standard Shinra privates. Soon enough, the whole square was surrounded.
"Mr. President" said Noah, lowering his sword. "I wasn't informed you'd be here."
"Of course not. I chose not to inform you. Lieutenant Noah, I regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed."
"What? What the—"
But the President waved his hand, and his men discharged his weapons on Noah, who fell to the ground in a pool of his own blood. His body was still twitching when the gunshots ceased.
Varlus faced the President, still enraged. If Noah's words were true…
"Commander Jenneson" mumbled the President, moving towards him. "You did exactly as you were meant to do. You cleared the town from any defenders, secured Materia for us, in vast quantities, I might add… And I can see Lord Godo has surrendered to you. Excellent."
"Silence" interrupted the President. "However, Commander, I am afraid that what former Lieutenant Noah has told to you is by all accounts the truth. Your wife, Ifalna, is of utmost importance to our Jenova Project, and we will require her… cooperation."
"No!" shouted Varlus. This was not happening. This couldn't be happening! Why? Why Ifalna? Why him? What had he done to deserve this?
"It is not a matter of your approval. I am merely presenting you the only option you have, besides termination, of course. You are to come with us peacefully, return to your house, and bring Ifalna to us."
"Never." Varlus was trembling with rage. If he was to die, he'd die with honor at the very least. He would not surrender his wife and daughter to the Shinra.
The President sighed. "Oh, very well. It seems there is no other option than to do this forcefully. I am deeply disappointed with your lack of cooperation with Shinra, Commander Jenneson."
"Lack of cooperation?!" Varlus exploded. "Stuff it, old man! When did I betray Shinra? Ever since you employed my services I fought faithfully for your God damn company. I shed my blood to accomplish your sickened goals. And this is how you repay me? By taking away my wife… my daughter… my life?!"
"Sacrifices are to be made in order to enhance research, Commander Jenneson" replied the President sarcastically.
Footsteps echoed in his back. The private he saved from death in the battlefield was running at them.
"Commander Jenneson! Commander, we just—"
"RUN AWAY, KID!" shouted Varlus as Shinra's men pointed their guns at him. The private seemed shocked at the sight, but as the President gave the order to shoot him, the private awakened from his slumber and ran back through the town's streets. Varlus took his chance: he decapitated some Shinra men and kicked their bodies towards the others, who stumbled. Varlus then picked up a body and used it as a human shield against the other gunners' bullets, as he ran towards the same street the private took.
"Find him and kill him!" bellowed the President, but Varlus was already on the move. Getting out of the gunners' range of fire, he dropped the heavy burden and rushed to the fleeing private just ahead, catching up in a matter of seconds.
"Sir" panted the private, still running as fast as he could. "What has happened?"
"No time, kid" answered Varlus. "Follow me… Let's get away from this madness. Oh, and while you're at it, say goodbye to Shinra for good."
"Yes, sir" replied the private, following Varlus as he climbed a nearby wall.