Out of time - Chapter 17 - Her0loll4 (2024)

Chapter Text

The mess hall, a drab and dreary dungeon of boredom, sprawled out with tables and benches so firmly anchored you'd think they were there to mock any escape attempts. The air buzzed with the low hum of prisoners' chatter, occasionally interrupted by the clank of metal trays.

Seifer was sitting in his customary corner, radiating a practiced indifference as he poked at the unrecognizable sludge on his tray with the only utensil permitted in this gladiatorial soup kitchen—a spoon, naturally, as knives and forks were outlawed to prevent any misguided attempts at utensil-based assassination.

Bragg stood nearby, arms crossed, scowl set, and eyes narrowed, doing his best impression of a hawk on watch.

As Seifer slouched there, his mind drifted back to his last encounter with Quistis in the infirmary, and to the way he’d almost recoiled at her unexpectedly gentle touch. Probably because her kindness was a such stark contrast to the harsh reality he’d been entrenched in for the past year.

Reflecting on it, even in all his years at Garden, he’d never experienced tenderness. Not that he’d ever sought it out, of course—Seifer Almasy needed no one. He’d always been the bully, the thorn in everyone's side, the headache for his superiors. Acts of kindness were like unicorns: magical, mythical, and meant for other people—definitely not for him.

It had been eons since anyone had touched him without a hint of malice or a dash of punishment. The sensation was jarring, almost alien, like grasping at the fading wisps of a dream just out of reach. If he rummaged through his mental attic, he'd find just one soul who'd shown him genuine affection before… Her touch had been soft and soothing, brushing his hair and wrapping him in her embrace while she captivated him with compelling tales of knights, dragons, and princesses. Trust Ultimecia to twist those precious memories into weapons, molding him to her dark designs.

He shook his head, trying to exile the shadows that clung to his thoughts, making space for brighter memories… Mainly ones of the orphanage, now that Quistis had reopened that dam for him. Images of a bossy little blonde girl danced in his mind, forcing a reluctant smile to his lips. Quistis had always been a force to be reckoned with, even back then. She'd pack a punch like a heavyweight and unleash a storm of fury whenever he dared to torment Zell or provoke Squall just for the sheer sport of it. She'd dive headfirst into every skirmish, her infuriating no-nonsense attitude as sharp and relentless as it was today, only honed to a razor's edge over the years.

That bossiness hadn't left her, but now there was something deeper and softer beneath the surface, an undercurrent he was wary to acknowledge. Could he trust her? Could he really believe she was on his side? Trust had always been a perilous game for him, one that usually ended in pain and betrayal.

Yet, despite his reluctance, he couldn't ignore the flicker of hope that stirred within him. Quistis was offering him a lifeline, and he was cornered, desperate for a way out. His jaw clenched in silent frustration as he grappled with his fears.

Trusting someone again was terrifying, but maybe, just maybe, it was a risk worth taking this time.

The shrill blast of the alarm shattered the facility’s uneasy calm, yanking everyone from their monotony. Inmates erupted into a chaotic uproar, their yells merging into a deafening roar. Guards, caught off guard, fumbled to regain control, their faces a co*cktail of fear and confusion.

Bragg stiffened, ripping his radio from his belt. "Sticks! What the hell is happening?" he barked into the static.

The reply crackled through the noise. "Warden's ordered a full lockdown. All prisoners to their cells, now!"

Seifer's sharp eyes spotted the flicker of uncertainty in Bragg’s expression—a rare and satisfying sight. Amidst the chaos, guards started to corral the inmates, their frantic shouts barely cutting through the din. It was obvious this place rarely faced such emergencies; the guards moved like amateurs playing a part, not seasoned pros handling a crisis.

Noting this for future reference, Seifer didn’t resist as Bragg yanked him up and slapped the cuffs on with unnecessary force.

"Move it, Almasy," Bragg snarled, shoving him towards the corridor.

As Seifer drifted away from the mess hall, he spotted a gaggle of guards scrambling like headless chickens, desperate to rein in the chaos. The inmates, electrified by the confusion, were rebelling with gleeful abandon. Some tried to bolt for freedom, while others stirred up trouble just for the sheer thrill of it. Fistfights erupted like popcorn, and a few unlucky souls were dragged away, kicking and screaming like they were auditioning for a horror flick.

The mess hall had morphed into a simmering cauldron of fear and fury, and Seifer had zero interest in becoming the main ingredient. Turning the corner, he nearly collided with Sticks, who looked like he'd seen a ghost—pale, sweaty, and wide-eyed. The bony man whispered urgently to Bragg, but Seifer’s sharp ears caught every word.

“The Vice President’s on his way… Warden wants everyone locked down, especially Almasy.”

Seifer's mind raced, piecing together the sinister puzzle of the sudden lockdown and the Vice President's surprise visit. His instincts screamed like sirens, each fragment of information snapping into place with a chilling clarity.

This wasn't just a routine visit or some precautionary measure... The Vice President's arrival at D-District Prison could only mean one thing: his death sentence was looming, whether by a formal firing squad or a quick bullet to the brain. Seifer knew the political landscape too well to mistake the signs. The Vice President was infamous for his ruthless efficiency, cleaning up loose ends with the precision of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. Factor in the potential leaks about the Warden’s extracurricular shenanigans, stirred by his so-called allies, and it was clear: everyone was lining up to serve Seifer's head on a silver platter.

Well, sh*t… Looks like they're rolling out the red carpet for my grand finale.

His heart hammered in his chest as he mulled over his rapidly diminishing options. The Warden locking down the facility wasn't just protocol—it was a calculated move to prevent anyone from interfering with his twisted schemes. The guards were on edge, and the place was sealed tighter than a drum. No easy outs, no room for mistakes.

The weight of his predicament settled over him like a death shroud. Seifer knew he had to act now or face a swift, grim end. Desperation ignited his resolve, sharpening his focus: escape, find Quistis and Gavin, and somehow flip the script before it was too late.

His thoughts jerked back to the present as Bragg tightened the cuffs around his wrists. "Move it, Almasy," Bragg growled, yanking him forward.

As they walked, Sticks leaned in with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, trying—and failing—to muffle his whisper. "You know, I heard Almasy’s lawyer and some hotshot SeeD are stirring up trouble..."

Seifer's blood simmered, rage barely contained beneath the surface. The thought of Quistis and Gavin sticking their necks out for him was maddening. Their good intentions had only painted bigger targets on all their backs, and he couldn't afford to wait any longer.

His jaw clenched with renewed determination.

As they neared his cell, Seifer decided the moment had arrived for a bit of fun. He slowed his stride, allowing Bragg to catch up.

"You know, Bragg," Seifer drawled, his tone oozing nonchalance, "I've been pondering something. Do they give out medals for being the most aggravating babysitter in this joint, or is that just your personal calling?"

Bragg's eyes narrowed, every line on his face etched with irritation. His brow furrowed deeply, and his mouth twisted into a dark scowl. "Keep running your mouth, Almasy… It'll be that much sweeter when I knock you down a peg."

Seifer smirked, sensing he had struck a nerve, and pressed on. "Oh, I'm just warming up. Ever wonder if they gave you that baton to compensate for something? And no, I'm not talking about your microscopic manhood—though it's understandable that would be your first thought. I was actually referring to your pea-sized brain."

Bragg's face reddened as he leaned in closer, anger bubbling to the surface. "You think you're funny, huh? Let's see how funny you are with a few missing teeth."

Seifer's grin widened, his eyes glinting with mischief. "If you wanted to get closer, you just had to ask."

As Bragg leaned in, Seifer swung his head back with all his might, smashing it into Bragg’s face. The sickening crunch of bone on bone was followed by a spurt of blood from Bragg's nose, and the guard staggered backward, dazed.

Seifer didn’t waste a second. With a growl of rage, Bragg swung his truncheon wildly, aiming for Seifer's head. But Seifer was ready; he ducked, the truncheon whistling past his ear, and sprang forward, driving his knee into Bragg’s gut. The air whooshed out of the guard's lungs in a painful gasp.

Before Bragg could recover, Seifer followed up with a brutal elbow to his face. The impact was accompanied by a satisfying crack of bone and another spray of blood. Bragg reeled, his eyes glazing over.

"What's the matter, Bragg? Not so tough now, huh?" Seifer taunted, his trademark smirk spreading across his face.

The guard, now furious and disoriented, swung wildly again. Seifer used the momentum of his own handcuffed wrists, catching his victim off guard and locking the chain around his throat. With a swift twist and a pull, he tightened the chain, cutting off Bragg's air supply. His eyes bulged, and he clawed desperately at the metal, but Seifer held firm.

"Should’ve been nicer to the inmates," Seifer leaned in, his voice a low growl. "Maybe then you wouldn’t be in this mess, gasping for breath like a fish out of water."

Bragg thrashed violently, clawing at the cuffs as he desperately gasped for air, but Seifer only tightened his grip, his muscles straining with effort. The guard's face turned from a furious red to an alarming shade of purple, his struggles growing weaker with each passing second, until finally his body went limp and he collapsed into unconsciousness. Seifer released his chokehold, letting Bragg slump to the floor in a lifeless heap, and flexed his fingers to shake off the tension.

For a few moments he stood over the guard, breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling with the exertion. His ribs ached terribly, each breath sending sharp pains through his torso, but he pushed the pain aside.

No time for weakness now.

Seifer turned his attention to Sticks, who was paralyzed in horror after witnessing the brutal scene. Seifer's gaze, as dark as a stormy night, locked onto the smaller guard, who visibly flinched, fear written all over his face.

If Seifer had a mirror, he’d probably recoil at his own reflection too. His orange pants and white t-shirt were splattered with blood, giving him the look of a deranged lunatic—not far from the truth. The blood smeared across his face and arms amplified his ferocity, transforming him into a wild beast ready to rip apart anyone who dared to cross his path.

"Get these f*ckin' things off me," Seifer ordered, his voice as calm and deadly as a snake coiled to strike.

Sticks, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, snatched the key from the unconscious Bragg’s pocket. His hands trembled so badly that it took several fumbling attempts to fit the key into the lock. Finally, the cuffs clicked open, and Seifer's hands were free.

He let out a relieved sigh, rubbing his bruised wrists. The sensation of freedom was sweet but short-lived. He glanced at Sticks, still frozen in place like he’d been hit by a Petrify spell.

With a wicked grin, Seifer leaned in close, his voice a menacing whisper. "Get. Lost."

Sticks nearly jumped out of his skin, his eyes wide with terror. He stammered incoherently, his feet seemingly glued to the spot. Seifer's grin widened, enjoying the display of fear.

"Did I stutter? Scram, before I decide to practice my chokehold again."

Sticks snapped out of his daze and bolted, tripping over his own feet in his haste to escape. Seifer watched him go, shaking his head in disgust.

"Pathetic."

Seifer shifted his gaze back to Bragg, sprawled unconscious on the floor like a discarded puppet. With a smirk, he rifled through the guard’s pockets and found a jangling set of keys. He had no clue which doors they unlocked, but the satisfaction of leaving Bragg keyless was too good to pass up.

“Thanks for the swag, Bragg,” he muttered, slipping the keys into his pocket along with the guard’s radio.

Next, he expertly cuffed Bragg’s wrists and secured him to a nearby pole. With a nonchalant flick, Seifer sent the handcuff key flying over his shoulder, not bothering to see where it landed. He knew the other guards would find Bragg eventually, but for now, this setup would keep him out of the game. Leaving him trussed up like a turkey was just the icing on the cake.

Seifer cast one last, disdainful look at Bragg’s pitiful form before striding out of the chaotic mess hall. His mind was already scheming his next move.

He navigated the prison corridors with stealth and precision while the alarm blared, echoing off the cold, concrete walls. Guards scurried about in a futile attempt to regain order, and prisoners were being herded back to their cells like rebellious sheep.

Suddenly, he spotted a door marked ‘Maintenance Closet’. Without a moment’s hesitation, he slipped inside and quietly shut the door behind him, disappearing into the shadows like a ghost.

Inside, the cramped room was overflowing with brooms, mops, and various uniforms – exactly what you'd expect from a maintenance closet. Seifer glanced at his glaringly orange pants, now dotted with bloodstains, and scowled in frustration.

Might as well slap on a neon sign that says ‘ESCAPING INMATE HERE—PLEASE SHOOT’.

Chuckling at his own dark humor, he started sifting through the uniforms, searching for something casual but practical enough for a brawl. He tossed aside several options – too bright, too tight, too downright laughable – before finally settling on a pair of dark janitor pants and a matching vest that looked suitably nondescript.

He tore off his orange pants and hurriedly began changing, his movements swift and precise.

As he pulled on the stolen pants, the radio he had lifted from Bragg crackled to life.

"Bragg, do you have Almasy in his cell yet?" a voice demanded urgently.

Seifer couldn't resist a smirk. "Sure, right after my tea break," he muttered under his breath, finishing his change of clothes.

He tightened the waistband of the janitor's pants, ensuring they fit snugly, and pocketed the keys he had snatched from Bragg. He slipped on the slightly oversized janitor’s vest he found hanging in the closet, covering his blood-stained white t-shirt. Using a discarded rag, he wiped as much blood as he could from his face and arms, trying to blend in with his new attire.

Once finished, Seifer looked down at himself with a satisfied smirk. The janitor's uniform, though not a perfect fit, was a vast improvement over his conspicuous prison attire.

Still not as good as my old ensemble, but what the hell… Guess fashion takes a backseat when you're playing hide-and-seek with death.

Just as he was about to open the door, the radio crackled to life again, this time with the Warden's anxious voice. "Bragg, report. Is Almasy secured?"

Seifer’s lips curled into a wicked grin.

Oh, Warden, you're about to get the Bragg briefing a little ahead of schedule… Let's make this interesting.

He brought the radio close and pressed the transmit button. "Hey, Warden, riddle me this: who’s angry as f*ck and about to rain all over your parade?"

A tense silence followed before the Warden's voice returned, now noticeably panicked. "Who the hell is this?!"

Seifer chuckled darkly, relishing the Warden’s distress. "Oh, come on, Warden. I’m wounded. Don’t you recognize my dulcet tones? Here’s a clue: I’m the guy who just convinced Bragg to take an unscheduled nap. Poor sap looked like he could use the shut-eye."

The Warden’s voice came back, now a co*cktail of rage and desperation. "Almasy. You have no idea what you're up against… The entire facility is on lockdown. There’s no escape for you!"

Seifer's grin widened, his tone dripping with mockery. "Lockdown, huh? Sounds intimidating. But here’s a pro tip: maybe invest in better guards. Bragg was a joke, and Sticks nearly wet himself."

"Almasy, you won't get away with this!" the Warden spat, frustration oozing through the speaker.

"Just f*ckin’ watch me," Seifer retorted, then clicked off the radio with a satisfying snap.

"You son of a—"

The Warden's voice was abruptly cut off as he hurled the radio to the floor and smashed it under his boot with a gratifying crunch; no point in keeping it now that everyone knew Bragg was out of commission.

By now, the Warden had undoubtedly turned the whole prison into a buzzing hive of guards hunting for him. Seifer glowered at his empty hands: no weapons, no magic, not even a splinter to pick a lock with. He'd have to face the entire battalion of prison personnel bare-handed. Granted, most of them couldn’t punch their way out of a wet paper bag, but still… they'd be swarming him, armed to the teeth and ready for a brawl.

Oh well, at least he’d ditched the handcuffs. Small victories, right? But he still needed a weapon. Any weapon. Annoyingly, guards on the upper levels were banned from carrying guns—too risky in case an inmate got their hands on one—so they were mostly toting batons and little else.

Hell, I'd kiss Chicken Wuss’s ugly mug to have Hyperion with me right now.

In fact, he had no clue where his beloved gunblade was at the moment. Probably gathering dust or serving as a paperweight for some brainless Galbadian officer. The thought alone made him want to heave. The idea that his prized weapon—the one he’d invested every spare gil into upgrading—was in the hands of some dolt probably using it to open cans was sacrilege.

He really hoped Raijin had snatched it up after those damn Galbadians decided he needed an unsolicited tour of the Dingo Desert.

Well, no point wallowing in those delightful thoughts right now.

Taking a deep breath, he cracked the door open and peered out, making sure the coast was clear before slipping back into the corridor.

The halls were a chaotic labyrinth, guards storming past, blissfully unaware of the wolf in their midst. Seifer's brain whirred like a well-oiled machine, mapping out every twist and turn, every shadowy nook to duck into. He wasn’t exactly the prom king around here—scratch that, he hadn’t made a single friend—so he didn’t trust his fellow inmates not to sell him out for a pack of smokes or a half-melted candy bar.

Turning a corner with the grace of a cat burglar, Seifer nearly smacked into a pair of guards. Thinking fast, he melted into a shadowy alcove, pressing his back against the cold, unforgiving wall. He held his breath as the guards tromped by, their eyes scanning for any sign of the elusive prisoner.

"Move it, move it! The Warden wants him found yesterday!" one of the guards barked.

Seifer’s eyes narrowed into slits as they passed, blissfully ignorant of his presence. Once they were a safe distance away, he slipped out, muttering random curses under his breath.

With the immediate threat gone, he navigated the twisting corridors with the precision of someone who had memorized the blueprints. The elevator was a non-starter—might as well paint a bullseye on his back. The emergency stairs, though, were his ticket out. If he could just get there...

His heart pounded like a war drum as he skulked down the corridors, peeking around corners and staying as quiet as a mouse. Each step was a calculated risk, every glance a tactical decision. He quickened his pace, ears straining for the faintest hint of pursuit.

Seifer’s mind was a battlefield of plans and counterplans, the weight of the purloined keys in his pocket a small comfort. As he neared the door to the emergency stairs, he paused, taking a deep breath to steady his nerves. This was it—the make-or-break moment. His hand hovered over the handle, every muscle tensed. With a decisive yank, he pulled it open and slipped inside, the dimly lit stairwell a stark contrast to the chaos outside.

He descended quickly, each step a mix of hope and dread, the faint echo of footsteps above driving him onward.

Reaching the next landing, he was met by a locked gate emblazoned with a glaring "16." Considering the number of stairs he'd barreled down, it wasn't rocket science to deduce he'd hit the 16th level. He juggled Bragg’s keys like a drunken jester, swearing softly, the metallic clinking echoing his impatience. Time was slipping through his fingers like sand, each tick amplifying the urgency.

"Alright, don't fail me now," Seifer murmured to the keys, as if they possessed the power to understand and obey. With a dramatic flourish, he found a key marked with the same number and slid it into the lock. A satisfying click resonated, the gate yielding to his persistence. He slipped through, closing it behind him with a stealth that would make a ninja jealous. One hurdle down, a gauntlet left to run.

He had zero intel on how level 16 was laid out. If luck favored him, the levels would mirror each other, but luck was a fickle mistress, and he’d always prided himself on not needing luck anyway.

Rounding the corner, he nearly collided with a guard, their eyes locking in mutual surprise. Before the guard could decide between radio or weapon, Seifer lunged, driving the man against the wall with a shoulder tackle that knocked the wind out of him.

No room for hesitation.

Seifer's elbow found the guard's temple, a precise blow that sent the guard into unconsciousness, crumpling like a puppet with its strings cut. Adrenaline surging, Seifer scanned the stairwell for more threats. Clear, for now. He thundered down the corridor, each footfall a drumbeat in the confined space.

He had to find Quistis and Gavin; they were his ticket out of this nightmare alive.

Out of time - Chapter 17 - Her0loll4 (2024)

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