[11.30.00] » by Negative Creep

The suit itched. And his mask was hot. And if his comrade started talking about his family back home one more time, Kerrison swore to himself, he would personally shoot the annoying bastard.

The life of a Esthar soldier was not easy, especially not when every mission they took as of late led them straight into the boondocks. When Kerrison had signed up to be a soldier, a fresh-faced boy of twenty, his immediate thoughts had been of all the new places he'd see. Being stuck in Esthar, as appealing as it seemed to some, was not his idea of a life, and the youth had looked forward to seeing the wide world outside the boundaries of the advanced metropolis he had been raised in.

But so far all he'd seen was the inside of his mask and a whole lot of backcountry.

"So, Lance, you know where we're being assigned yet?" he'd asked one of his higher ranking friends eagerly a few weeks before. "Dollet? Galbaldia?"

The older soldier turned to him with a half-amused/ half-disgusted expression.

"Nope. Winhill."

A look of confusion passed over Kerrison's face. "Huh?"

Lance grinned at him. "Some backwater village in the middle of nowhere. The order came directly from the witch; I sure as hell ain't arguing with her."

Kerrison had shuddered at the thought of Adel. He'd only seen the Sorceress once, but it had been enough. He had to wonder at the term "sorceress" though; he had his doubts she was a woman. Hell, he didn't know if she was HUMAN. "I guess we're stuck then" he sighed, trying to keep cheerful. No village could be THAT remote; for the boy raised in the heart of Esthar his entire life no buildings towering around him was an impossible thing to imagine.

But here he was, in the middle of nowhere, trudging through what had to be the most godforsaken place on earth, at least to him. And there wasn't a skyscraper or car in sight. And it was driving him NUTS. The only thing you could hear was the sound of your own feet crunching through the grass and gravel of the plains, the occasional seabird, and crickets. So many damn crickets.

"I wonder if you can shoot crickets" he thought morosely, kicking at a stick in the path.

"Isn't this great?" bubbled the soldier directly behind him in line. "I'll bet you could walk miles and miles and never hit an outpost! And listen to that silence. You'd never hear it this quiet in Esthar, that's for sure!" The soldier took a deep breath and Kerrison just knew he must be beaming beneath his mask. Stupid bastard. Anyone that happy after a 27 mile hike through the outback was either not too bright or had a serious mental deficiency. Or both. Kerrison gritted his teeth and kept on walking, resisting the urge to scream bloody murder at his hapless comrade.

It didn't help that they'd been on an airship for the past 5 hours before landing on this continent and setting out to hike the 35 miles to Winhill. The excuse for just not flying there was the Esthar forces wanted an element of surprise, and hovering the largest ship in the fleet over the tiny town would have told even the dimmest residents that something was amiss. But Kerrison could care less about surprise; he had been sick on the way over, and the last thing he felt like doing was hiking.

The line of soldiers passed a chocobo carcass; victim of old age or some predator that had eaten its fill and moved on. From the looks of things it couldn't have been that long ago, but the smell........the heat had done its magic.

Kerrison felt himself gag at the stench, and desperately tried to hold his breath. It didn't work; the smell crept into his nose like it had a purpose. He couldn't hold out. Ripping his mask off, he turned to retch..........

...........All over Mr.Happy behind him.

"Let's see you say something nice about that " Kerrison thought sardonically.


5 hours later the troop had set up camp in a rocky canyon about halfway to their destination. Mr. Happy thankfully hadn't said a word since Kerrison anointed him with the contents of his stomach, and the rest of the hike had gone uneventfully.

Kerrison had never been so happy to hear the order to halt in his life. He had never been a big walker back in Esthar, relying on an incredibly fast metabolism to keep him rail thin, and even the training he'd received in the army hadn't prepared him for this. "Just one little skyscraper" he thought wearily, blinking at the land through a haze of salty sweat and exhaustion. "One little car. If I could just see something that would tell me the rest of humanity isn't freaking dead, I'd be thrilled." Taking off his mask with a sigh of relief, he flopped down onto the ground and stared at the sky, not really seeing the setting sun turn the clouds left in the sky mauve and peach and a thousand shades of orange. What the hell did he care about the sky? It wasn't gonna give him a bath and make him feel better.

An hour later he remembered that thought and just knew some higher lifeform was out to get him as he crouched, soaking, in his tent. A peal of thunder rolled out, which seemed to make the rain fall heavier. Not that it bothered Kerrison, oh no. He was already so wet that he couldn't be more soaked if he jumped in the Great Salt Lake. Cursing the sky, the higher-ups of the Esthar government, Adel, and anything else that popped into his mind, he turned over on his pallet and tried to get to sleep, shivering like all the other soldiers. The day's heat had turned to bitter chill with the night and the thunderstorm, and the entire huddled mass of people seemed to be shivering at once.

Still, Kerrison was exhausted, and he could already feel himself slipping into sweet oblivion. He was on the edge of dreamland when the sound of singing startled him out of his daze. Jesus CHRIST, who was singing at this hour ?!

Kerrison rolled over to glare at the culprit and found himself face to face with a fast asleep, loudly warbling Mr.Happy.


The next day started out better than the last, but Kerrison was still a bit wary. To some, the morning would have been considered beautiful. The thunderstorm had left droplets of water on every grassblade, and they flashed colorfully under the sun's rays. As usual, he could care less. All it meant to the youthful soldier was that he couldn't get his uniform dry before putting it on, and with Esthar's strange suits, this was especially annoying. "Whoever designed skin-tight uniforms for this army should have his head bashed in with a rifle butt." Kerrison muttered to himself, glaring at the cheerfully humming Mr. Happy, whose real name he had found out was Eric.

Eric had flaming red hair, a baby face, and was unerringly cheerful. He didn't even hold Kerrison's vomiting all over his uniform against him, much to Kerrison's chagrin. In fact, Eric seemed to like him. And god, that was the last thing he wanted. "I hope we get to hike more; I can't wait to see more of this place. Everything looks so cool, it's like a nature documentary or something." Eric chattered, shaking droplets off his gun-scythe. Kerrison sighed and wished with all his might that this day would be mercifully short and with a minimum of Eric-chatter in it.

And thankfully, it was. A few hours of walking and the land began to change slightly, the rough sage and gravel changing over to green grass and reddish canyons. The temperature became cooler, a welcome riposte from the heat of the higher plains. But there still wasn't any sign of civilization, which continued to unnerve Kerrison to no end.

The order to halt came a surprisingly short time later. The squad leader announced that this was as close to their destination as they would go in a body and gave them their orders, speaking in a terse, short manner through his mantis-like helmet.

"You will split up and surround the town. You will search the village and the area and find the girl Ellone Leonhart. When you find her you will bring her back to this camp immediately. Do NOT harm her, or you'll have the Sorceress Adel to answer to. However, if anyone gets in the way of your objective, you will terminate them without hesitation. Understood?"

Twenty-five blue masks nodded as one.

"Good. Now move out!" The leader dismissed them with a wave of his gun-scythe and the group split up into twos and threes, moving in the general direction of the small village. Kerrison was preparing to do the same when someone tapped at his shoulder.

Eric was standing next to him. And if Kerrison's guess was correct, he was beaming like an idiot under that mask.

"So, which way do we go?" he asked with his typical cheerfulness. Kerrison rolled his eyes and sighed. He was stuck with this guy, whether he liked it or not. "Well, I'd guess we go search the town and find the girl, wouldn't you think?" The reply came out sharper than he'd meant it to, and he instantly felt a little guilty. After all, wasn't Eric's fault he couldn't stand overly cheerful people. But it didn't seem to phase his mood a bit.

"Guess you're right" Eric replied, pointing his gun-scythe at an imaginary foe. "Let's go find that girl!!"

"Jesus god, let us find that girl before I kill him" Kerrison mumbled, briefly removing his helmet to run a hand through his long black hair in exasperation. If he had thought that the hike would be the end of his pains, he had been sadly mistaken.


The village was quiet when the two soldiers approached, following the dirt path that led into the center of town. "Not even a paved road." Kerrison lamented, looking irritably at the fine layer of dust that was now covering his shiny black boots. "I wonder if they even have electricity." "Great, isn't it?" Eric chimed in. "It looks just like a storybook place, or an old west town. Wish I had been born somewhere like this" he continued wistfully, "....But my dad was in the army too. Wanted me to do the same, so here I am." As almost an afterthought he added, "I have to be a good soldier. If I don't, he'll hate me when I come back. I just know it."

Kerrison blinked. He hadn't known there was such a sad side to the happy-go-lucky soldier who'd been dogging him the entire trip. He almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost.

Knowing the town wouldn't be quiet for long once the rest of the soldiers showed up, Kerrison and Eric split up, agreeing to meet back at the entrance in two hours, more than enough time to give the tiny town a fast once over before the rest of the squad arrived. Eric was to check inside all buildings, while Kerrison had the unlucky task of searching the outside perimeter. He would've rather stayed indoors, as primitive as the stores and houses looked, but they'd flipped a coin and as usual, Kerrison's luck had promptly took a swan dive. So scouting he went. He followed the long dirt path through a small cluster of houses and to a small crossroads. There seemed to be quite a few voices coming from the left fork, so he went right and hoped that for once his luck wouldn't fail. The path wound around a small lakeside cliff, through a small grove of trees, and ended in a small circle of houses, the center of the town. And there, peering out from over the bank of the hill, Kerrison saw what he was looking for.

The town square was composed of a circular cobblestoned area, surrounded by various houses and shops. Here and there some of the stones were painted various colours, so when seen as a whole, it looked as if a gigantic bud had opened it's petals in the middle of the courtyard. "Very pretty, but it still didn't hide the fact that this place is a dump..." Kerrison muttered. But the flower pattern wasn't what had attracted his attention.

On the outer fringes of the square, idly playing hopscotch with her shadow, was a little girl of about 5. Her dark hair fell over her eyes, and she wore a blue dress, neatly starched and spotlessly clean. Seeing no adults about, Kerrison stepped out of the alleyway and approached her carefully, taking off his mask so he wouldn't scare the child.

She looked up as his shadow fell over hers and gave him a cheerful smile. "Hewwo there! Do you wike to play hopstoch too?" She gave another small hop, skip, and jump, plotting her steps carefully.

Kerrison smiled and tried to look friendly, kneeling until he was at eye-level with the little girl. "No, I've never played before, I'm afraid."

She stopped her game and turned to look at him, a puzzled expression crossing over her face. "Never?"

The soldier shook his head and gave her a sad smile. "Nope. I'm too old for that now, you see."

The little girl nodded, seeming to consider this. "Well.....you could pway with me, if you wanted." She gave him another winning smile and patted him on the arm as if to console him for his loss.

Kerrison gave her a weak smile back. "What's your name, anyway?" he asked, even though he had a feeling he already knew.


The young soldier nodded. This was the one, alright. He had been sent here to take the girl, but now that he was faced with the actual deed, he had no earthly idea of how to go about it. He didn't want to scare her......"That's a very pretty name" he said, trying to keep the girl's innocent trust in him steady. The child beamed at him; evidently his compliment had worked.

"What's your nawme?" she queried, still looking straight into his eyes with her own dark hazel ones. Kerrison inwardly groaned; he hadn't wanted to get entangled in this personally, but he guessed giving his name to her wouldn't hurt.


The girl squinted and said it to herself. "Kewwison. That's nice" she stated, looking away to watch a bird wheel overhead. "I have a uncle named Waguna, you know" she confided seriously to him.

This reminded him of something, and he used her moment's silence to ask another question. "Where are your parents? Aren't there more adults around here?"

The girl shook her head seriously. "Waine and Waguna are hewping pick fwowers. I'm supposed to stay hewe and be good."

So that's where they all were. The Esthar troops had come right in the middle of the only thing Winhill was famous for : Its flower festival. That would make taking the girl easy; maybe noone would even get shot. Kerrison didn't think he could shoot someone in cold blood, even if their town WAS rural hell.

But how could he lure the girl out of town and back to camp without scaring her or causing a scene? He had to think fast.

"Ellone?" The little girl turned from her skygazing and looked back at the soldier. "How would you like to come with me and see the chicobo I'm raising? It's just hatched, and I need a little girl to look after it. Whaddaya say, hmmm?"

Classic kidnapper line. Kerrison had been taught early on as a child in the city not to go with anyone, no matter what they had at the other end of the bargain, but, as he had hoped, Ellone had been taught no such thing. Her eyes lit up like Christmas-tree lights.

"Owww yes pweese!!" she said, jumping up and down and latching onto the young soldier's hand. It startled the hell out of him, and he was tempted to shake her off, but something stopped him. Something about the trusting little face looking up at him so adoringly made him smile, not a fake smile created to insinuate himself into the girl's good graces, but a real, heartfelt grin.

The smile faded when he remembered what he had been sent to do, however. He couldn't get attached, couldn't let himself get involved. The kid was a prisoner, or was going to be, and there was no telling what they'd do with her once she was brought back to Esthar. That creepy witch was the one who sent out the order; he was sure she didn't just want to tell the little girl fairy tales. Hardening himself to his task, Kerrison turned back to the waiting Ellone, who was by this time almost dancing on the cobblestones with impatience.

"Ready to go?" he asked, knowing full well the answer, but wanting to forestall his fall from grace with the child and the guilt that was already creeping up on him like the shadow of a tall building.

A vigorous nodding of the head and a mighty tug at his hand were the responses. He couldn't help but smile.


Kerrison wished he could be as cheerful about this endeavor as Ellone was; she was here, there, and everywhere. Chasing a butterfly here, pointing and laughing at anything that caught her eye, she was the picture of a happy, innocent little girl. She never got too far away from him, however, and was always turning to smile at what she thought was a new best friend. And the farther they went, the guiltier Kerrison got. He hadn't signed up in the army to kidnap little kids; he'd just wanted to get out of Esthar.

This wasn't in the job description he thought. I was supposed to be in a Dollet bar by now.

The odd pair soon came out of the path and into a wide field on the outskirts of Winhill. Trees encircled the meadow, which was positively covered with wild lillies. Ellone squealed with pleasure at the sight of so many "pwetty fwowers" and ran to pick one. Then, carefully cupping the bud in her palms, she turned and handed it to Kerrison.

"This is fwor you." she said with a smile. "Isn't it pwetty?"

Something about the little girl giving him a flower, and the proud way she had presented it to him, made Kerrison's mind kick into high gear. Old memories, locked away and painful, came back to him, and he had to steady himself for a moment before he could look at Ellone again. When he did, it wasn't her face he saw, but another little girl, in another place far away.............


He had been 9 when it happened, a young, scruffy boy living amongst the skyscrapers and shining glass of Esther. His father had left them when he was 5, and upon his small shoulders had been set the responsibility of looking after his little sister, Meg. She was 4 years younger than him, and adored her big brother more than anyone else on the planet. The feeling was mutual; he loved the little girl greatly and always watched closely over her, buying her toys and nice things with what little money he made selling flyers for the various item and weapon stores in the Esthar Mall.

His mother tried to take care of them, but being on her own with two children to feed was more than the poor woman could handle. So maybe it was a blessing what happened next, although neither Kerrison or his mother thought so. Especially not Kerrison. It would haunt his dreams in the years to come.

He'd come home to the small, middle-income house he shared with his mother and sister, a shining red lilly clutched tightly in his hand. Flowers were expensive and hard to come by in Esthar, but he'd worked especially hard to buy this one for his little sister. She loved flowers, and he always made a point to bring her one or two a week if he possibly could.

The door had been wide open when he got there, the first indication that something was wrong.

"Mom?" he called out, peering into the darkened house "Meg? I'm home!"

No answer but the sound of weeping from within. He felt a chill go up his spine; something was definitely wrong. Usually Meg tackled him at the door, but today she was nowhere to be seen. And why was his mother crying?

"Mom?" he called, a note of fear creeping into his voice "What's wrong? Where's Meg?"

"She's gone, dear. A man came by today........they're taking all the girls her age to the witch. There was nothing I could do; he had papers and......I'm so sorry....I couldn't stop...."

The sobbing resumed, but Kerrison wasn't there to hear it. He was running down the darkening street, yelling his sister's name, looking for her. She couldn't be gone, she just couldn't.....why would they take HER? Why? Why would they take the only thing that mattered in his life?


The lilly lay discarded and forgotten on the doorstep, already beginning to wilt from the cold.


He came back to the present with a start. Ellone was glaring at him impatiently and tugging at his hand, obviously ready to see the "chicobo" he had promised. Kerrison looked down at the childish face, so like his sister's, and realized what he had to do. No, for Ellone's sake, for the memory of his sister, he would not turn this little girl over into greedy hands that wanted her for purposes he could only guess at. Screw being a soldier. He'd get out of Esthar some other way, and not at the price of his conscience.

But there was one little problem : the rest of his squad. They were scouring the countryside for her, and if he got caught helping her out, they were both dead meat. As if in response to his thoughts, over the far horizon a silhouette appeared, making it's way casually down the slope towards them. The figure walked into a dip in the hill and disappeared from view for a few moments, and Kerrison knew he had to use those few seconds to his advantage if he wanted to keep the child out of Adel's hands.

"Ellone?" The little girl turned and looked at him, the tiniest spark of fear beginning to show in her eyes as she realized that he didn't have a chicobo to show her. "We're gonna play a little game of hide and seek. You see those trees over there?"

She nodded, still being uncharacteristically quiet, as if she could sense the urgency in his voice

"When I say, I want you to run over and hide in those trees. And hide yourself well, 'cause I'm going to come look for you in a second, and I don't want to find you, O.K?"

She smiled at him, the idea of another game wiping all doubt from her face. "Owkay!!" As she turned to run for the trees, the soldier came into view, and as Kerrison saw him, he saw Kerrison. With a shout he came running down the hill, arms and gun-scythe flailing like a windmill. Kerrison realized with a sinking heart that, unless he took drastic measures, there was no way he would be able to save the little girl. Kerrison put a restraining hand on Ellone's shoulder and stood stock still as the masked figure approached.

"Kerrison, what are you doing?! You were supposed to show up at the gate half an hour ago!!"

He couldn't believe who it was when he heard the voice. Eric. He had forgotten all about meeting the cheerful soldier at the entrance to town, but it all came flooding back clearly now.

"Is that the little girl? You already found her? Great!"

The other soldier answered his own questions with his customary aplomb and reached for the girl's arm. Ellone's eyes widened, and she turned a pleading stare to Kerrison. It clearly said "Don't let this guy touch me. Please."

Kerrison reacted without really even thinking. He reached out and pushed Eric away, pulling the girl behind him as he did so.

Eric blinked, as if maybe he had misunderstood something, and doggedly reached for her again, only to be pushed away once more by the stolid Kerrison. This time Eric got mad, the first time Kerrison had ever seen him annoyed the entire trip. "Man, why the hell do you keep pushing me away? Let me take care of the girl and let's get outta here!!"

Kerrison took a deep breath and shook his head.

"We're not taking her back."

Eric gave him a look like he'd just sprouted another 5 heads. "Have you gone INSANE?! They'll kick us out of the army for that kind of insubordination, or worse! My dad would KILL me if I got kicked out....."

His protests trailed off into nothing and the two soldiers stood silently, looking at each other. Kerrison spoke again, a dangerous note entering his voice this time.

"I'm not letting them take her back to god knows what with that witch, so either help me, or get out of the way."

Eric said nothing, but didn't make a move to reach for the girl again. He just stood watching the two as Kerrison turned and prepared to send the child to the woods. As Kerrison opened his mouth to speak to Ellone again, he heard a tiny click from behind. He turned.......And found Eric pointing a gun-scythe directly at his chest. He blinked incredulously and looked from the gun barrel to Eric's face and back again. Now it was Kerrison's turn to be surprised.

"Eric.....no, come on man, don't do this" he pleaded frantically, backing away from the barrel wobbling dangerously in the direction of his chest. Eric didn't say a word for a moment, then pulled his mask off with one hand while still keeping the gun pointed at Kerrison with the other. When Kerrison saw his expression, he knew he wasn't joking.

"Give me the girl and I won't. Make a move and I'll kill you right here."

Ellone saw the strange man pointing a gun at her new friend and began to cry. Kerrison glared at Eric and very, very slowly turned and faced the girl. "Ellone," he said quietly, "Remember those woods I told you about?" The frightened girl nodded, eyes wide with terror. "When I give you the signal, I want you to run as fast as you can towards those woods. Don't look back, don't wait for me. Just run." He turned back around to stare at Eric. "Come on man, I'm sure we can settle this like civilized people -- we're both just rookies, right? Why should we obey that witch? What's she ever done for us, huh?"

A look of confusion passed over Eric's face. "It's not because of her. I have to be a good soldier. I have to make my dad proud." He paused, then spoke again."I don't want him to hate me." The gun barrel wobbled, drooping slightly.

Kerrison took another step back and made a sweeping hand gesture at Ellone. She took off, running as fast as her short legs would carry her towards the distant woods. At the same moment, he felt a searing, numbing pain explode in his chest and looked down to see a dark stain covering the front of his uniform. He looked, stunned, at Eric and his smoking gun, then felt his legs go numb as he fell to the ground. Vaguely he heard Ellone screaming and realized that she must've only run a short distance and turned around. She had seen the whole thing.

Eric dropped the gun-scythe to the ground like it was red hot. "I didn't want to do it!! I didn't want to!! You made me do it!!" he shrieked, pointing at Kerrison with a shaking finger. "I have to be a good soldier!! I have to be a good soldier!!" He shrieked again and sprinted headlong in the opposite direction, almost running directly into a group of three soldiers who had come running at the sound of the shot. One restrained the deranged soldier while another grabbed the still screaming Ellone roughly by the arm. "Is this the girl?!" he shouted loudly at Eric, who was still quivering like he was wounded himself.

"HE made me do it!! He wouldn't let me have her!! He made me do it!!" Eric babbled, sobbing. No amount of cuffing or shouting could get anything more from him. The soldier who had spoken to Eric sighed and left him in the care of the others, then walked over to where Kerrison was stretched out on the ground in a fast-growing pool of crimson. He stared down at him for a moment, nudged him with the toe of one boot, and reached down and plucked Kerrison's gun-scythe away from the dirt where it had fallen. Having done that, he turned and walked back to the other soldiers, one of whom was having trouble with the still-screaming, now fighting little girl.

"Shut the hell up!!" he roared, back-handing the child on the cheek, then turned his ire onto the soldier "Can't you control a goddamned three-year old?!!" The slap left a red welt, and Ellone's crying only increased in volume, although she quit fighting them. "You'we vewy bad men!!" she sobbed, giving all four the nastiest look she could muster.

The lead soldier gave another annoyed sigh, then grabbed the girl bodily by the hair and picked her up, tucking her under one arm like a piece of luggage. "Let's go, before one of the townsfolk shows."

As they prepared to leave, one of the other soldiers indicated in the direction of the prone body of Kerrison. "Hey Lance, what do we do about him?"

The soldier holding Ellone shrugged. "What about him? Leave him, he's not worth packing out."

The others nodded and followed him off in single file, one still having to lead the incoherent Eric. They walked over the hill and left Kerrison to the wild, the same wild he had hated since he entered it.

He had seen the whole performance with Ellone and the soldiers. He had wanted to stop them from hitting her, wanted to help her fight, but he couldn't seem to make his legs move. There was something warm and wet all around him; he seemed to be lying in a puddle of it.

Oh yeah, that's right. My own blood.

When the soldier had stooped down and taken his gun Kerrison had seen it in slow motion, like a movie reel that was being played back too slow. He had wanted to stop that too, but his whole body had gone numb. It felt so much better to just lie here and not move. But when he saw them leaving him alone in the field, he had panicked.

Don't leave me here!! Come back!! I don't want to be alone, I hate being alone!! he had yelled in his mind. The soldiers had take no heed of his silently screamed words, and in a few moments they had disappeared over the horizon. He was all alone.

As the darkness crept into the edges of his vision, he realized he was dying. Of course you are idiot, he thought, you just got shot.

He wished he could have helped the little girl-- what was her name? Ellie? He couldn't seem to remember anymore. He just knew he had been supposed to help her in some way, and had failed miserably. She was being taken back to something horrible, and he couldn't help. He could just lie here in this place he hated and let the blackness cover his vision.

He wished he didn't have to be alone, though. He knew he was too old for it, but he wanted his mommy. Mommy? He thought frantically, Where are you mommy?! Meg? Don't leave me here too!!

Just before he took his last breath, he had a moment of clarity. His vision cleared for a moment and he could see the sky above him, a deep, rich blue.

I wonder if she's there waiting for me. Guess I'll have to go find out.

Then he knew nothing at all.



Don't hesitate to tell me how much that sucked; I sure wouldn't. Writemewritemewriteme - NOW!! Yes, you there, behind the keyboard. tonberry101@angelfire.com or u_hrair@hotmail.com. See, now you have no excuses.

Others by this author
Others about this game