Ahead On Our Way
The Shin-Ra van pulled up just outside the entrance to the small mountain town of Niebleheim. General Sephiroth stepped down surveying his surroundings as the others filed out of the van. "Peaceful."
"Yes," said Zack. He walked up next to Sephiroth.
"Order the soldiers to patrol the town."
Sephiroth strode into the town, Zack and the others following at a distance.
"Sir we have made preparations to say in the hotel."
"Good. You will need to rest for tomorrow."
With those words Sephiroth stepped into the hotel. Zack remained a while longer. The soldiers were off in the distance carrying out their patrol.
"Yes," he said recalling his superior's words, "Peaceful."
The flames were intense. They licked at the buildings as Sephiroth's sword flashed in the hellish light, cutting down the terrified citizens.
"Sephiroth! No!" Zack screamed as he ran, stumbling out of the Shin-Ra mansion. The general ignored him. Pausing only to pull his sword from a man's body, he turned and began striding along the path to the reactor.
Zack started after him, before a yell stopped him.
"Check the houses! There may be some people left alive!"
The martial arts teacher. Zack nodded and ran to the nearest house. There was nothing but smoke and flames. No one could survive in that inferno.
Sephiroth had to be stopped.
"Mother, I'm here to see you. Please, open this door"
With Sephiroth's words the door to the Jenova chamber slid open. Tifa Lockheart charged at Sephiroth holding his sword.
"You killed him, you bastard!"
Sephiroth turned. As Tifa swung the sword he lifted his hand. The sword slashed smoothly away from Sephiroth. He turned his hand back towards him. Tifa now stood offering the sword to Sephiroth. Taking it he slashed sideways, cutting a deep gash across her body. Without a sound she fell back down the short flight of stairs. Undeterred Sephiroth turned back and entered the chamber.
As Tifa's life ebbed away, Zack entered the room. Barely checking Tifa's body, Zack rushed up the stairs determined to stop Sephiroth at any cost.
Sephiroth was just standing in the room, staring upwards transfixed by what looked like a metallic angel
Summoning all his strength, Zack delivered a brutal two-handed sword blow to Sephiroth's side smashing him to the floor and spilling blood everywhere.
"You'll pay for that," Sephiroth snarled, flicking his sword up towards Zack. Zack deflected the blow slightly wincing as it cut a gouge into his right arm. Sephiroth snapped his blade up quickly, circling Zack's sword and then plunging into his leg. Then he ripped the blade out of Zack's leg, leaving a ragged wound.
Rising shakily to his feet Sephiroth lurched from the chamber, his arm clamped to his side, still leaking blood. Breathing heavily and wincing from the intense pain Zack raced after him, his cuts bleeding badly. He had to finish it. Now.
They were on the bridge over the mako pit.
"Insolent fool" sneered Sephiroth, impaling Zack on his sword. "You are weak," he said as he lifted Zack's body up off the bridge. Zack hung there barely able to breath, the pain beyond belief.
"You will not stop me," said Sephiroth.
Summoning the last of his strength, Zack took hold of the sword, wincing as it cut into his hands. He forced himself downwards.
"What? No!" There was a shocked expression on Sephiroth's face.
Zack gripped the sword tightly and pulled it upward, swinging it quickly out over the mako pit. He took a final look at his superior before letting go of the sword and groaning as it was ripped from his body by Sephiroth's weight. He collapsed coughing onto the catwalk, his blood flowing freely. Sephiroth hit the pool of mako and vanished beneath its chaotic surface.
Zack couldn't move anymore. The edges of his vision began to darken.
Zangan rushed through the reactor looking for Tifa. He found Zack's bleeding body laying a few metres in front of Tifa's fathers. Hurrying on, hoping, he found Tifa's body. She was alive. Barely. He could only save one of those here. He picked his best student. Patching her wounds as best he could, he picked up Tifa's unconscious body. Outside it was chaos. A Shin-Ra helicopter was touching down and soldiers were everywhere. Zangan slipped away without confrontation, as Hojo began barking orders at the soldiers.
"Get anyone who's still alive! Find Sephiroth and that SOLDIER sent with him!"
The town had been wiped out, all its inhabitants killed. As the last flames were dowsed, Zack awoke still in great pain. He was locked in a glass cylinder... the surroundings looked familiar... the basement of the Shin-Ra mansion. His wounds had been treated, but it was still painful to move. Zack shifted, examining his surroundings. He recognised the people.
"Hojo" he hissed.
Hojo looked up.
"Good. You have regained consciousness. Where is Sephiroth?"
"Dead. I hope"
"What! Dead? You could not have destroyed him! He was the perfect SOLDIER, the culmination of decades of research and claim to have destroyed him! How?"
"I dropped him into the Mount Niebel reactor pit. Not even your perfect specimen could survive that" Zack sneered.
Hojo looked taken back, but rapidly regained his composure.
"Why did you kill him?"
"He destroyed this town"
"He discovered the truth. His past. Here. In this library"
Hojo looked thoughtful.
"So he discovered his past...."
He turned, looking at the floor, deep in thought.
"Well. We shall require a replacement. You"
Hojo smiled evilly.
"You don't have much choice boy"
He turned to one of the assistants.
"Bring a canister of mako and specimen JNV-2019. We have work to do"
For five years Zack silently endured the tests that Hojo conducted. Now impregnated with as many Jenova cells as Sephiroth and re-subjected to the SOLDIER process, his strength was immeasurably superior to what it had been.
Hojo had long since left the continuing alteration of Zack to his assistants as he returned to Midgar.
For the last few weeks Zack had been carefully watching the routine for feeding him. He saw his chance and took it.
As the hatch to his glass cell was unlocked, he thrust his hand through grabbing the assistant around the neck, choking him. As the lifeless body slumped towards the ground, he tightened his grip and used his other hand to search through the assistant's clothing for the key.
Freeing himself from his cell, he quickly found his clothes. It seemed everything from that fateful time was stored together. Sliding his sword from the shelf, he marvelled at how light it seemed now. No time to reminisce. His freedom was within sight.
As he exited the mansion he was shocked to see Niebleheim. There was no trace of the fire. It looked identical to the day he arrived. There was no time to work out what had occurred now... he had to get away.
As the town disappeared into the distance behind him, Zack considered his options. He was going to have nothing to do with the Shin-Ra now. But his training as a SOLDIER was the only skill he possessed. There had to be a use for it... he could become a mercenary. But first he needed somewhere to lie low for a while. But where?
He suddenly recalled soft green eyes, and the slender figure of a girl. She had promised to wait for him before he left. But that had been five years ago. She would have found someone else by now. But, he was out of options. He could visit her at least. There was always a chance. The best place to start was her mother's. Sector 5.
It was two weeks later when Zack finally caught his first glimpse of Midgar. It had gotten worse over the time he had been imprisoned. The black wasteland now extended even further out from the gigantic two-levelled city.
There were shouts behind him.
"There he is!"
He whirled to find a platoon of Shin-Ra soldiers. He was outnumbered.
"Kill him," barked the commander.
Zack pulled the sword from his back as the soldiers brought up their rifles to fire. Springing he swung the sword at the nearest soldier gouging a deep cut in the soldier's body. Zack turned to cut the next as a hail of bullets cut him down. Black oblivion consumed him instantly.
The train hurtled through the murky darkness that hung over Midgar like a shroud. Barret Wallace glanced around at the other members of Avalanche standing around him, preparing for the assault on the mako reactor. They were all nervous. Despite all Avalanche's principles and their vocal protests against Shin-Ra, this was to be their first act of actual terrorism.
Barret glanced towards Jessie. She caught his glance and smiled nervously. He couldn't see how she could be so calm. Her backpack contained the bomb. Not that powerful, just enough to put their target out of action. It would give the Planet a little more time.
The others were there primarily as strength. But they all shared the belief that what they were doing was right and this was the only way to get the results they strived for.
The train began slowing. Barret glanced out of the window at the towering bulk of Shin-Ra Reactor 1.
"Okay. You guys ready?"
The others nodded.
"Right. As soon as the train pulls in we go for the guards. They sure as hell know we ain't supposed to be here"
The train continued to slow.
As it stopped Barret wrenched the door open, leaping side ways firing from the gun grafted on to his right arm. The guards didn't have time to react as the bullets tore through their bodies.
Climbing to his feet, he signalled the others. They moved quickly and carefully. Barret looked on pleased. He had trained them as best as he could.
They met up at the main gate.
"Hurry it up! We ain't got that long"
"Alright, alright" snapped Jessie, punching in the code.
Barret glanced at his watch. So far only 2 minutes. He just hoped there wouldn't be too many guards inside.
There was a beep and the massive door slowly slid aside.
Avalanche had infiltrated the reactor.
The reactor was dimly lit. Good, thought Barret, it'll make us harder to spot. They quickly reached a second coded door. This time Biggs stepped forward to type the code. Again the door opened.
The success started to neutralise the previous nervousness.
"I can't believe we're really going through with this," said Wedge.
"Believe it," said Barret "It took enough preparation. I just hope this bomb works"
"It'll work," insisted Jessie.
The group approached the catwalks that separated the mako reactor from the rest of the upper plate.
Wedge nodded and ran to the opposite catwalk. Their escape route secure, Barret lead the rest to the elevator and down towards the reactor core.
Biggs took up position outside the door once the elevator reached the lowest level. Jessie and Barret continued further. The catwalks gradually disappeared, replaced with ladders leading down towards the glowing mako pit over which they were suspended.
Barret nodded to Jessie who unslung her backpack. She handed it to him and watched as he clambered down the ladder.
Barret glanced around, slightly nervous. This had gone far better then he expected. The sooner the job was done the more life the planet would have. The ladder ended in a final catwalk suspended about 10 metres above the mako pit. Barret walked along carefully, trying not to slip in the coolant leaking from a burst pipe. As he reached the core, he opened the pack and retrieved the bomb. Flicking the switches he set the time: 10 minutes. As he attached it to the reactor cover, there was a faint metallic clang far above in the darkness.
"Jessie? That you?"
Hurrying now, Barret locked the bomb in position and activated it. An alarm went off. Barret looked around panicked. There was a larger clang from above him. Then there was a flash of something metallic rushing towards him and the impression of size.
The Scorpion guard hit the gantry with a metallic clang. Barret was shocked but only for a moment. Checking his gun arm, he fired. The bullets ricochet off the armour.
The machine was unfazed, and opened up with its twin machine guns. Barret leap desperately to the side, barely evading the stream of bullets.
One thing was for sure, he couldn't take this thing down himself, and his bullets couldn't penetrate the armour. Time for something else...
Leaping up he ran straight towards the Scorpion. Just before he reached it, Barret let his feet slip out from under him. His momentum and the coolant kept him moving as the fell to the floor. As he slid under the Scorpion he fired at point blank range tearing holes through the armour.
As he slid out from under the Scorpion, Barret grabbed one of the handrails on the catwalk. He turned, dismayed to see that the machine was still operational, but was less of a threat now due to it's inability to turn.
He wasn't about to give it that opportunity. Quickly reloading his gun, he fired point blank at the supports for the section of the catwalk that the Scorpion was on.
The plan worked. The weight of the machine pulled the rest of the catwalk into the seething mass of mako beneath. Barret didn't have enough time to admire his handy work. He scrambled up the ladder.
"Barret! What the hell happened?"
"Guard of some kind. No time now. We gotta get out of here"
Jessie nodded and ran on ahead, Barret following closely. He was relieved to still see Biggs by the elevator.
Barret still remained cautious.... he wouldn't think of this as over until they finally reached the Seventh Heaven.
Wedge looked panicky as they emerged from the elevator.
"What kept you? We're running out of time"
The others said nothing and just kept running. Wedge took the lead, taking them through service tunnels towards the upper plate. A huge explosion rocked the tunnel.
Jessie smirked at Barret, "Told you it'd work"
As they reached the end of the tunnels, Jessie whirled throwing another smaller bomb into the tunnel. It blew a few seconds later, sealing their escape route.
Barret collapsed onto the ground, breathing hard. After a few minutes, he looked up at the others.
"Ok. Move. You know where to meet"
The others nodded, running in different directions quickly vanishing into the gloom. Recovered, Barret got up and made his own way through the streets of Midgar. He glanced around with some resentment. The people who live here were the rich and the executives of the Shin-Ra corporation, while the rest of the populace were forced to live beneath them, in the gloom under the plates: cut off from the sun.
He hurried to the station, the only distraction a flash of pink. Barret looked again. A girl wearing a pink dress, selling what looked like flowers. Barret snorted as he hurried. Con artist. Everyone knew you couldn't get flowers round here.
It was about an hour later when the train pulled up at the sector 7 station. Barret was shaken from sleep by an impatient Jessie.
"C'mon. Tifa'll be waiting"
Barret roused himself and followed the others off the train. He waited until the train had moved on before addressing the group.
"We did well today. But don't let the success go to your heads. Shin-Ra'll be after us even more now"
The others nodded and started walking through the slums, weapons ready. While there shouldn't be any Shin-Ra soldiers, the slums were a dangerous place. The members of Avalanche made it without incident to the bar: the 7th Heaven.
Barret looked up at the shout. His adoptive daughter ran to him, her arms outstretched. He crouched and hugged the girl to him. Behind her, Tifa stepped from behind the bar.
"Well done. Our first victory"
"Yeah we showed those Shin-Ra bastards" Biggs put in from the table he shared with Jessie and Wedge.
"Yeah, but one ain't enough. We need to hit them again"
Barret sighed wearily.
"You okay?" Tifa asked.
"Fine, fine" said Barret "You still want to help with the next one?"
Tifa nodded. Barret stood up and walked over to the antique pinball machine. Feeling underneath the edge, he flipped a switch. The machine descended downwards to the basement. The rest of Avalanche waited until the lift stopped before using the ladder to descend. Tifa paused only to lock the door to the 7th Heaven before following the others down.
"Okay, you already know that our next mission is to destroy the reactor in sector 5. This one'll be different. They'll be expecting us to some extent this time, so there'll definitely be more resistance inside the reactor. So this time we'll use a smaller infiltrating force, myself and Tifa. The rest of you are to cover our entry. We'll be going into the reactor through the train tunnels, since the stations will be heavily guarded. Any questions?"
No one spoke. Satisfied they knew what they were doing, Barret ended the meeting. He watched the small group split up: Jessie to her computer and lab bench, carefully mixing the chemicals for the bomb, Wedge grabbing a sandwich as he made himself comfortable in the corner. Biggs was already asleep, and Tifa leant against the far wall concentrating on her book.
Barret turned to the sleeping Marlene.
"I'm doing this all for you," he said in a whisper. "I didn't want to do it this way, but it's the only way to save the planet for you to enjoy"
With that he turned to his own bed on the floor, determined to get at least a little sleep before the next attack.
He drifted to sleep as the TV droned on quietly.
"...Today the No.1 Reactor was bombed. The terrorist group
AVALANCHE has claimed responsibility. It is expected that AVALANCHE will continue its reign of terror. But citizens of Midgar.... there is no need to fear. I have mobilized SOLDIER to protect our citizenry against this senseless violence. Thank you and good night"
Barret was woken up by Tifa shaking him.
"Time to go"
The Avalanche leader quickly stifled a yawn and slowly stood up. Marlene still slept quietly beside him. He checked to make sure she was okay, before clambering up the ladder to the bar where the others waited.
"Sure she'll be okay here alone?" he asked Tifa.
"She'll be fine down there. She knows you'll be back soon."
"What if I'm not? What if something happens to us?"
"It won't. I made arrangements though. A friend of mine agreed to come and take care of Marlene if we're not back by 11"
Barret nodded, still not happy. Marlene was his only link to his past. To North Corel. He never wanted to lose her.
"Alright" he said raising his head "Time to move. Get to the station. I'll be along in a minute"
Jessie, Biggs and Wedge nodded, and hurried off into the slum towards the station. Barret paused as Tifa locked the door to the 7th Heaven, and then the two of them walked through the gloom to the station.
A short while later, Barret and Tifa leapt from the speeding train into the tunnels that snaked their way through the city. Jessie, Biggs and Wedge had already left the train to secure the route into the reactor. Getting out was Barret's responsibility.
"What?" said Barret as he guided them through the dark tunnels.
"Did you ever consider if this was the best way to save the Planet?"
"It's the only way"
"Nothing else works. We tried to tell the people the truth. You know how Shin-Ra works"
Tifa nodded. Appealing to the people to rise against Shin-Ra had failed utterly. They owned the city and it's people. The Shin-Ra's threat was simple, but ruthlessly effective at preventing rebellion: turn against us and you loose everything. Including your life. Tifa shivered remembering the live executions of the discovered members of Avalanche. Keeping their members secret was a constant struggle. They were forced to be paranoid, trusting no one now except the oldest, founding members.
"Hey. We're here"
Tifa shook herself back to the present as Barret descended a ladder out of the tunnel. Tifa followed, occasionally glancing down past the suspended walkways to the gloom of sector 5 beneath them.
Jessie, Biggs and Wedge waited at the next ladder, this one heading up to the reactor. She handed Barret the backpack.
"We're pulling out now. We'll see you back at the 7th Heaven"
Barret nodded taking the pack.
"See you there"
Tifa watched them leave.
"Get back safe, okay?" she called after them.
"No sweat" said Biggs, the relief of leaving this early in the operation making him slightly cocky.
Tifa watched them disappear off.
"C'mon" said Barret "Sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get out of here"
Tifa could only nod, and followed him up the ladder.
Tifa glanced around nervously as they worked their way through the reactor. Barret lead the way, moving quickly, glad that the reactors were constructed identically. As they crossed the final catwalk to the reactor, Barret stopped in the middle.
"Here" he handed Tifa a gun. "I don't want to get surprised again by any sentries"
Tifa hesitated for a second before taking the gun, realising that her martial arts training would be no use here. She watched as Barret made his way to the reactor.
Barret bent down fixing the bomb in place. This time there was no alarm. The Avalanche Leader grew suspicious, and glanced nervously around as he set the timer. Still nothing. He ran back to Tifa.
"I don't like this. This is too easy. The place should be swarming with guards"
Tifa nodded. "You set the bomb though?"
"Yeah. Let's get out of here"
They started through the reactor heading for the exit to the upper plate of sector 5. They reached the reactor entrance without incident.
As they crossed the catwalk to the exit, Shin-Ra soldiers stepped from the gloom in the doorway, training their weapons on the pair.
Barret looked shocked, but quickly recovered.
"C'mon. We can still get out through the station"
They turned, only to see a second squad of soldiers blocking the catwalk to the station.
"What the hell is this?" exclaimed Barret.
The voice was cold, accompanied by the sound of footsteps on metal. President Shin-Ra walked towards them from the entrance to the reactor.
"Why is the President here?" whispered Tifa.
"So you're Avalanche," sneered the President "So small, so weak"
"That doesn't matter," retorted Barret "this place is going up and it's taking you with it"
"Oh but it won't be taking me. But you will not leave this place" said the President as he took his PHS from his pocket and mumbling into it. The sound of rotor blades descended from above. The helicopter stopped beside the President. He turned to call to Tifa and Barret.
"Don't worry. I've arranged some entertainment for you, while you wait for the end. Ironic isn't it? Avalanche destroyed by it's own bomb"
With that he stepped into the helicopter that rapidly ascended. A movement caught Tifa's eye, and she saw the soldiers from both ends of the catwalk retreating. She was about to tell Barret, when a new noise began growing louder: coming from the direction of the station.
"What the hell is that?"
"I don't know," said Tifa, as it got louder still. "Don't like the sound of it though"
Something burst from the darkness moving at high speed towards them. It floated above the catwalk. A machine, covered with varyingly ranged weaponry.
Tifa whipped out her pistol, as Barret checked his gun arm. The machine emitted a blast of machine gun fire.
"Damn it! There's no cover!" yelled Barret, ducking to try and avoid the gunfire. "We've gotta take that thing out as quickly as possible."
Tifa nodded, throwing herself sideways to avoid another barrage.
"Aim for its fuel. We can try and blow it up" she yelled to Barret. Barret nodded, quickly searching the exterior of the mechanism for any sign of the fuel. There seemed to be something like that on it's left side...
"Tifa! Concentrate your fire on the left side!"
Tifa nodded in response, and began firing. Barret opened up with his gun arm, his bullets ripping into the armour. Fluids started leaking from the damaged machine.
"Tifa! Get back"
Barret continued firing. The fluid caught on fire. Nothing happened for a second, but then the machine exploded taking a section of the catwalk with it. Barret and Tifa were barely out of the blast radius.
"Come on!" Tifa yelled remembering the bomb. Barret followed her lead. As they ran onto sector 5's plate, the mako reactor exploded behind them, showering debris into the sector below.
Aeris Gainsborough was kneeling in front of the altar of the old church in sector 5. She carefully tended the flowers growing there, the only location in the city where they would grow.
A distant noise far above made her look up. It had sounded like an explosion. There was a noise like heavy rain as the fragments from the reactor bounced off the roof. She waited listening for a few minutes, and eventually the sound stopped. Aeris was vaguely curious about the noise, but her flowers mattered much more.
Her mind drifted as she carried out her task. It always happened when she worked. This time a face rose from the depths of her memory. Zack. She had only known him briefly when she was 16. They had enjoyed a sort of romance, nothing serious. That was all, she kept telling herself. But she knew it had meant more to her.
The intervening years had introduced her to no other companion and found herself thinking of him more and more frequently. But she hadn't seen him in over five years. It was time to move on.
Reno paused outside the Church. It was old and practically falling apart.
"You sure she went in here?"
Reno frowned. He had been sent to acquire the girl by Hojo. And it was not the first time the scientist had expressed an interest in her. As he had learned from Tseng, the Shin-Ra Corporation had been interested in this girl for over 15 years. However, any attempt to capture her had failed.
Reno smirked. Where Tseng had failed, he would succeed.
"Okay. You two wait here and guard the doors. The rest of you are with me"
He walked quietly into the church. There. She had her back to them, her attention focused completely on the flowers in front of the altar. Reno frowned at this curious. It was supposed to be impossible to grow anything in Midgar and the black desert that surrounded it.
Reno shook his head to clear his thoughts. He was here to apprehend the girl and collect his payment. Sliding his nightstick from his belt he set the setting low enough to render the girl unconscious, but not damage her.
Reno stepped right behind Aeris, his training allowing him to move with virtually no noise.
She started at his voice, twisting round to see who he was. Her eyes widened with fear.
"Do not try to run" Reno warned her, his nightstick hovering close to her neck.
"You're with the Turks," she said bitterly.
Reno allowed a hint of a smile to appear on his lips.
"Ah. Smart. Then you know that you cannot escape"
She nodded sadly. She glanced to her staff, which she had left on one of the pews. Too far, much too far.
Reno caught her glance.
"No that won't do you any good at all" He gestured with his nightstick. "Stand up".
She stood, and the soldiers formed a ring around her.
"Take her to the chopper" he ordered.
As the soldiers led her away, Reno glanced around the church and looked at the flowers again. The area they were growing in was quite small, but the flowers were densely packed. He frowned at this. It looked as though there was a small pocket of concentrated mako just beneath the church. Not worth reporting, he decided. With that he turned and walked out the church to the waiting chopper.
It was late when Tifa and Barret returned from sector 5. They had said nothing on the journey back. One thought concerned both of them: who had sold them out? Tifa doubted it was Jessie, Biggs or Wedge. They had known them for years now. They were trustworthy. But who else could it be? Tifa glanced at Barret as they walked through the slum to the 7th Heaven. It could never be him. They all knew his complete loathing for the Shin-Ra. No amount of money could ever convince him to sell the rebels out.
Tifa sighed as they reached the door to the 7th Heaven. It would take time and patience to figure out where the leak was. For now, she had to return to her image as a legitimate citizen of Midgar. Barret slumped in a dark corner, deep in thought. Tifa stood next to the bar waiting for the customers.
Five hours later, the number of customers began to decrease again; eventually all but one of the patrons had left. Tifa frowned. He had been one of the first to arrive and he had drunk very little despite the time he had been here. The man's gaze flicked between both her and Barret.
With a sinking feeling, Tifa walked towards Barret as casually as she could manage.
"Anything else to drink sir?" she said in as normal a voice as she could manage, before adding in a whisper "I think that man's a spy".
He nodded, before adding "Just another beer"
Tifa retuned to the bar and then took Barret his drink. Then she walked to the door, locking it. The man looked up in surprise. As the door locked, Barret was on his feet, grabbing the man roughly and forcing him against the wall.
"Who sent you?"
"What are you talking about?" The man looked confused.
"Don't give me that shit. You've been spying on us"
"I don't know what you're talking about"
Barret thrust the gun arm close to the man's head.
"Do you see this? If you don't tell me who sent you, you're getting this in your face"
The man looked worried, but still said nothing.
"Alright" said Barret "I'm going to count to three. One"
The man paled.
"Two" Barret loaded the gun arm.
"I can't tell you. He'll kill me"
"Who? Who'll kill you?" put in Tifa from the side.
The man didn't answer. Barret slammed him against the wall again.
"Don Corneo" The man looked terrified now.
"The guy from Wall Market?" Tifa said suspiciously. The man nodded.
The man shrugged. "My orders where to come here and see if there was a man with a gun arm"
"Well you found him. And you're going to get this arm through your head"
Tifa grabbed Barret's arm, stopping him. "You can't kill him"
He looked shocked. "Why the hell not?"
"Because then we'll be no better then them"
He knew she was right. For all their terrorism, they tried as much as possible to avoid injuring innocents. But this man was not an innocent. He was a spy. Barret raised his arm again.
With a snarl, Barret pulled back, dropping the man to the floor. He scrambled up, ripping open the lock and the door and disappearing into the night.
"No. I can't let you go through with this"
"We need to find out why Corneo's after us," protested Tifa.
"But not like this"
"How else are we supposed to get to him? His mansion's guarded. You've seen Wall Market. He owns it"
Barret sighed. It didn't look like he could persuade her otherwise.
"No. I'm doing this"
Tifa had already changed her clothes. Her hair was carefully styled. Barret had to admit she looked beautiful. More than usual.
"Wait here. You know I can take care of myself"
Barret knew she was telling the truth. Anyone who crossed Tifa never complained afterwards. Still, he felt a responsibility. He watched helplessly as she strode out the door of the 7th Heaven into the night, draping a cloak over herself.
It didn't take long for Tifa to reach Wall Market. The place was busy regardless of the hour. Tifa pushed her way through the throngs of people, heading for the mansion.
Don Corneo was a man of some reputation in the slums. He owned the infamous Honey Bee Inn, a place crowded with Shin-Ra soldiers on leave. He had some ties with the Shin-Ra, plus his own criminal dealings down here. He killed those who opposed him, but he had one weakness: women. It was this weakness Tifa planned on exploiting. The Honey Bee Inn was always on the lookout for new recruits, but first they all had to pass Corneo's personal "tests".
Tifa shuddered involuntarily. She pushed her way onwards. The mansion was not hard to find. It was constructed next to the wall dividing sector 6 from sector 7. Taking a deep breath she pushed through the doors into the softly lit interior.
She remained as calm as possible as she walked up to the first of Corneo's many personal guards. He noticed her immediately, a smirk forming on his face. He slowly looked her up and down. Tifa resisted the urge to hurt him. Badly.
"Hey, you're one good looking girl" he drawled. "You here for an interview?"
"Right this way. The Don's been looking for a wife amongst the candidates for the last month. We've been waiting for another candidate for today. You showed up right on cue"
Tifa kept her face blank as she felt a pit open up in her stomach. She was stuck now. This was not the way she had planned it. She had to be picked over the others. She needed to find out why Corneo was looking for Barret.
The guard must have noticed something in her face.
"C'mon! Cheer up a bit. Just think you could be the wife of Don Corneo, the most powerful man in the slums"
She tried to look enthusiastic, but it was hard.
The guard led her up the main stairs and onto a landing where two other girls were sat, two guards standing by them. Tifa waited nervously as the guard entered, after nodding to the other two. Moments later he re-emerged.
"Okay. The Don will see you now"
Tifa followed the others in. They lined up in front of a desk. Seconds later, the Don appeared from a side room. He was hideously overweight and leered at the girls as he waddled out.
"My, my" he drooled "What do we have here?"
He walked up to each of the girls in turn. Carefully looking them up and down, staring into their eyes. He approached Tifa, and she tried to remain calm. Corneo stared at her intently for some minutes, before taking a few steps backwards.
"I've made my choice"
Tifa felt the knot tighten in her stomach.
"I choose this one, the dark haired beauty" indicating Tifa.
The knot in her stomach did not go, but she felt some relief. She could get her information now. The others glared at her enviously, but she ignored them. Corneo spoke briefly to the guards.
"You two can have them. I don't want to be disturbed for the rest of the day"
The guards nodded, leading the two failures away, as Corneo lead Tifa off in to the back of his office. As he closed the door to this bedroom, Tifa punched him in the side of his head sprawling him on the floor. Corneo tried to sit up, his hand covering the spot where she hit him.
Tifa kicked him, forcing Corneo across the room, smashing him into the wall. Tifa reached down, grabbing his collar. She wrenched him up and shoved him against the wall.
"Why were you looking for Barret" she spat at him, her anger barely controlled.
"Who?" Corneo said terrified.
Tifa shoved him against the wall again.
"You know. The man with a gun for an arm"
Corneo's eyes widened with recognition.
"Why are you looking for him?" she demanded again.
Corneo didn't answer. With barely any effort, Tifa turned and threw him against the other wall. Grabbing him again, she pulled him up level with her.
"Why were you looking for him?"
"I was ordered to" Corneo finally replied.
"By who?" Tifa demanded.
"I can't tell you that! I'd be killed"
Tifa leaned close to Corneo, her voice quiet, but filled with menace.
"If you don't tell me, I'll kill you"
Corneo paused, and Tifa took the opportunity to fling Corneo across the room again.
Picking him up, she demanded "Who?"
"It was Heidegger!"
Tifa was shocked. The head of Public Safety Maintenance...a member of the Shin-Ra...
"What did you tell the Shin-Ra?"
Corneo gasped for air as he told her. "Shin-Ra's looking for Avalanche. They plan to crush them. Literally. They're destroying the support to the upper plate of sector 7"
Tifa let go of Corneo and stepped back in horror.
"They're going to crush the sector 7 slums? Because of Avalanche?"
Corneo nodded. "I'm just glad its not Sector 6"
"Shut up!" she screamed at him. She had to get out of here. Fast. Barret, Marlene, Jessie, Wedge, Biggs. She had to warn them. She ran to the door. Pulling her PHS from her pocket. As she raced out of the mansion she punched in Barret's number. As soon as he answered she frantically explained their situation. She could hear Barret immediately shouting orders to the others.
"We'll meet you at the support. Get here fast!"
"Okay" Tifa disconnected and started running as fast as possible through the crowded streets of sector 6.
The members of Avalanche frantically ran through the streets towards the pillar. The door in the razor wire fence that encircled the pillar was open...
Barret ran on up the metal steps, yelling back to the others
The others nodded, advancing slowly up, their guns at the ready. Barret charged up the steps, not believing that even the Shin-Ra would do this. They were going to completely destroy sector 7, the slums and the plate. Barret increased his pace, praying he wasn't too late.
Tifa burst into sector 7 moving fast. She could see blasts of gunfire coming from all over the pillar. As she watched, she saw a figure detach from the pillar, falling towards the ground. It landed heavily. Tifa gasped: it was Wedge. She rushed to him, praying he was okay. He opened his eyes.
His voice faltered, his eyes closing.
"No!" screamed Tifa, frantically searching for a pulse. There was none. Tears streaming down her face, she ran, leaving Wedge, racing up the pillar stairs.
Tifa ran fast, having already pulled out her gun. She stumbled to a halt as she saw Biggs slumped at a corner of the stairs, blood dripping from several wounds.
"Biggs?" she asked her voice trembling. He didn't answer. Tifa turned running up the stairs again, hoping, praying that someone was still alive. She found Jessie a bit higher than Biggs. She was resting against the railing, her hand clamped around her arm. Her eyes lit up when she saw Tifa.
"Barret" she gasped "he needs help. At the top"
"But you're hurt" Tifa protested.
Jessie shook her head. "It's too late for me"
Walking closer, Tifa saw that Jessie's clothes were slick with blood.
"Go" ordered Jessie. "Barret needs you"
Her words hit home. Tifa ran on, hearing the sound of gunfire getting loader. As she rounded the stairs to the top of the pillar, she saw Barret, ducked down using the stairs as cover.
In the centre of the gantry surrounding the pillar, a squad of Shin Ra soldiers fired at Barret, while behind them a man in a blue suit typed commands into a console set against the pillar.
"Barret!" Tifa cried.
The Avalanche Leader glanced back, and then resumed firing.
"The others..." she started.
"I know," said Barret. "They'll pay for this".
Between the two of them, they started picking off the soldiers, but by that point the blue suited man had stepped away from the console, speaking rapidly into a PHS. Within seconds they could heart he whine of rotor blades as a helicopter rose beside the pillar. Climbing aboard, he ordered the guards on, turning to Barret and Tifa.
"You can't do anything now. Need to be a Shin-Ra exec to stop the plate release"
"Bastards!" roared Barret, running onto he gantry firing wildly at the helicopter as it moved swiftly away under the plate.
"Barret!" Tifa yelled from the console. "Help me with this!"
He took a last glance at the retreating helicopter and ran to the console. Tifa was frantically typing, hammering the keys.
"It wants a password. I don't know what it is," she said in desperation.
There was dull rumble above them. Barret looked up. Above them, small charges embedded around the outside of the pillar blew, cracking the top of the pillar.
"Tifa! We have to leave now!" he yelled.
Tifa didn't respond, still frantically typing. Barret wrapped one arm round Tifa, pulling her up off her feet. He ran to one of the support cables. Grabbing it with his good arm, he fired point blank at the end attached to the gantry. The bullets shredded the end, and Barret, re-establishing his grip on Tifa dropped over the edge.
Behind them the main charge blew and fire consumed the pillar, cracking it from the top downwards. Splinters of rock exploded out from the very top of the pillar and the sector 7 plate shuddered and dropped a few metres, the remains of the support barely holding it in place. Then the pillar shattered. The plate lurched, falling. Cables and sections of concrete were ripped away from the other plates. Barret and Tifa completed the swing, landing hard in sector 6.
Behind them, the plate seemed to fall in slow motion. Chunks of metal already knocked loose by the initial explosion dropped, destroying houses. Faces appeared at windows looking out curious at the explosion and then pulling back in fear as they saw the plate. Fragments hit cars, sending up small explosions as the petrol ignited. People ran frantically for the gates as more debris began falling sending up clouds of dust. The immense point of the plate struck the ground first, sending up a plume of dust. The point carved a deep hole into the ground, smashing hundreds of homes. Then the rest of the plate hit the ground, pulling the point back up, destroying the rest of the sector. On the upper surface of the plate, it was as if an immense earthquake had struck. Houses collapsed into bricks and dust as the plate impacted. Sector 7 became as black as night as all the power failed and those few survivors trapped by rubble slowly died, cut off from everything.
Barret slowly stood up, turning to see what remained of sector 7. He stood and stared at the mass of twisted concrete and metal, before suddenly breaking down, sobbing.
"Marlene!" His cry chilled Tifa, who suddenly realised: Marlene had been shut in the bar. Safe from harm. She started crying as well, unable to stop the tears. Shin-Ra had taken everything from her. Her home, her Father, her friends.
Barret stumbled to a wall, punching it with his gun arm, before firing blindly. Tifa sat helplessly back, barely able to see because of the tears in her eyes.
The father suddenly turned. His eyes clear now, filled with anger and vengeance. Tifa saw and tried to dry her eyes, getting up and stumbling to where Barret stood.
"It ends now. President Shin-Ra is going to die"
Tifa nodded, her sadness fading, replaced with unquenchable anger.
"Let's get the bastards"
Barret raced through wall market, knocking down anyone who got in his way, his eyes fixed on their target: a cable. Before it had run underneath the upper plate of sector 7, but now swung free. It was a way up. To them. The Shin-Ra. They would get their revenge.
Barret pulled himself up the cable with ease, Tifa following close behind. They moved quickly, ignoring scrapes and cuts. The hauled themselves ever upwards, the tremendous drop below them concerning neither. At their incredible pace it wasn't long before they reached the upper plate of sector 6, pulling themselves up quickly.
Frantically they ran along the streets, following one of the spokes as it lead to the centre of the city. The Shin-Ra building rose up high above them, and for a moment Tifa hesitated, but Barret was already heading for the doors. She ran quickly and entered the building just after him.
They found themselves in an enormous lobby. Someone at a desk began addressing them without looking up.
"Yes, can I help..." her voice trailed off as she saw Barret and Tifa. Barret didn't pause, and began firing, killing the receptionist. He raced on, shooting the other employees as he neared them. The lobby was filled with screams and gunfire. The floor became slick with blood.
Tifa fired more carefully then Barret, trying to spare any civilians, or at least those who could not have ordered the destruction of sector 7.
She selected another Shin Ra executive, and was about to fire, when her chest exploded with pain and she was shoved forward. She looked in horror, her eyes streaming with tears from the pain, seeing a sword protruding from the front of her body. Her vision began darkening and she slumped forward, not feeling anything now. Oblivion consumed her.
Barret glanced back to see how Tifa was doing and was shocked to see a SOLDIER pulling his sword from her body, which was lying limply on the floor. With a scream of rage he turned, shredding the SOLDIER with bullets. As the body fell to the floor, Barret moved on. Rage had consumed him completely now. Nothing mattered except revenge. The stomp of feet made him twist his head to the staircase. A platoon of Shin-Ra soldiers ran down the steps. Barret swore under his breath, opening up with his gun arm again, looking for cover. He ran to the side of the stairs, still firing. A sharp pain in his leg made him stumble and fall. Looking down, he saw the bullet wound, blood oozing out onto the floor.
He tried to stand but his strength had left him. Pulling his arm round he fired at the soldiers again. They responded with a hail of bullets. His last thoughts as the bullets pierced him was of Marlene. He had failed her. He never felt the last bullet.
Aeris awoke, groaning. She looked round, blinking in the harsh light. She was lying on the floor of a huge glass cylinder, slightly taller then her. A circular hatch was set into the floor, and another into the wall, both closed. She gaze drifted out into the lab surrounding her glass cage. Her eyes widened as she recognised the man leering at her from outside.
"Hojo" she whispered.
Hojo sneered. "Good. You're awake. I have waited for this for some time. You have been hard to acquire. But now I have you. The last Ancient. It was a pity about your mother. A much superior specimen..."
Aeris was shocked.
"Is that all you think of me? A new specimen?"
Hojo laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.
"My dear, you are the future of our race. You will lead us to the promised land"
"No" she breathed.
"I'm afraid you don't have much choice" he replied.
Aeris leant against the side of the cage, desperately trying to figure a way out. Hojo had left her here for hours. She had nothing to help her, no materia except for her mother's...
That thought made her pause. She reached behind her to her ribbon, carefully undoing it and withdrawing the materia. Unrestrained, her silken hair flowed across her shoulders.
She held the materia in her hands carefully. It was a brilliant white, the only one of it's kind. It was her only link to her past...to her real mother. She grew sad thinking of the mother she barely knew.
Carefully she tied her hair back again, making sure the tiny materia was safely secured. Her eyes were wet with tears. She had escaped them so many times, but now the Shin-Ra had her, and there was no escape.
Hojo strode back into the lab, a look of determination on his face. He spoke to an assistant, saying something Aeris couldn't make out through the thick glass. The assistant looked slightly confused, but hurried off to the service elevator.
Hojo approached the cage.
"Well my dear, it seems we have been forced to take rather drastic measures to ensure that you can lead us to our goal"
"What are you talking about?" Aeris said becoming worried.
"The research we would need to perform would take substantially longer then your life time. Therefore we need to ensure at least some of the Ancient's genetics carries onto another generation. A much longer lived specimen"
Aeris' eyes grew wide. Hojo chuckled evilly.
"We shall be breeding you with a unique specimen I have acquired...Its lifetime far exceeds anything human"
Aeris had paled.
"You can't do this!" she protested.
Hojo said nothing, turning to a console next to the cage. There was a hiss and the hatch in the centre spiralled open, accompanied with the whir of machinery. Something red rose into view. Aeris backed away up to the wall. It looked like a lion, but it was covered with scars, and a tattoo was visible on one leg: XIII. Aeris pressed herself against the glass as the creature slowly awoke.
"This is Red XIII," announced Hojo, watching with interest.
Red XIII stood; it's gaze locking on to Aeris. It examined her for a few moments, before its head jerked to the left. Its one good eye widened almost imperceptibly as it saw Hojo. It turned back to Aeris crouching, a low growl now emanating from it.
"No!" Hojo shouted slamming his hand onto the console.
Gas filled the chamber. The creature looked up in shock, the fumes quickly overpowering it. Aeris slumped to the floor, slowly sliding down the wall as she watched Red XIII stagger and slowly sink to the floor.
Aeris' eyes flew open. How long had she been out? She saw Red XIII sitting perfectly still watching her. She pulled herself to her feet, pressing herself against the wall again, glancing outside to the console. Hojo had gone. There was no one to save her this time.
"I apologise for that. I was trying to fool Hojo"
Aeris looked round confused not sure where the voice had come from. Her gaze slowly fell on Red XIII. She looked at him with confusion for a second, before it added, "Yes. I can talk"
Aeris found her voice.
"It is something my species is capable of"
"I've never even heard of a creature like you before"
"Few have. I come from the next continent, from a place called Cosmo Canyon. It is a place of great wisdom. I am its guardian"
Aeris sat still considering what the creature had said.
"My name is Nanaki," the creature added after a pause.
"But Hojo called you Red XIII..."
Nanaki nodded, a faint smile appearing on his face.
"I have been deluding Hojo. He thought I was dumb animal. Red XIII is just a reference he chose"
"What is your name?" he added.
"How is it that Hojo is interested in you?" he inquired.
"I'm an Ancient"
Nanaki's eye widened at this.
"The Cetra still live?"
"Who?" said Aeris confused.
"The real name of your race is Cetra," informed Nanaki.
"There is so much I don't know" Aeris said shaking her head, "And to answer your question, I am the last"
"I can understand Hojo's interest in you. Is it true you can hear the planet?"
"Yes, but only faintly. Maybe it's because of the city?"
"I cannot answer this question for you. I am sorry"
"Any ideas how we could get out of here?" she asked.
Nanaki shook his head sadly.
"No. We cannot break the glass. The only way we can leave the cage is by Hojo opening the hatches. And I doubt he's going to let his two most "precious" specimens just walk away"
Aeris sighed. She had found an ally of sorts it appeared. Someone with a reason to hate the Shin-Ra and Hojo. But she was still unable to escape.
"We can't do anything for now. We may as well get some rest"
Nanaki nodded in agreement, lying down on the opposite side of the cage. Aeris watched him for a second, before closing her eyes and descending into sleep.
Aeris opened her eyes, some extra sense telling her instantly that something was wrong. She glanced around the cage, her eyes widening as she noticed the open hatch set into the wall.
"Nanaki" she hissed.
The creature's eye opened, rapidly waking up.
"Look" She indicated the hatch.
Nanaki stood up, padding towards the hatch quietly. He examined the seals.
"The seals have been cut"
"Who would free us?"
"I don't know..." Nanaki broke off, a new scent filling his nose. He padded forward. His head snapped round to stare at the source.
"What? What is it?" Aeris walked from the cage to where Nanaki stood staring down. She gasped. One of the lab technicians lay on the floor, his body slashed. His blood had pooled around him. A streak of blood led from the body and out of the lab.
"What happened here?" Aeris said looking round.
Nanaki ignored the question for now. He followed the blood out of the lab and into the darkened hall beyond. The blood was now in streaks along the walls, dripping down to the floor.
Nanaki walked on, Aeris following silently behind. The trail led into the stairwell, moving upwards. They passed more bodies, each slashed, their blood added to the trail they followed. At the top the door had been forced open, the lock cut out of the door.
They emerged from the stairwell into an open plan area, extending across the entire floor. The blood trail still continued, moving up a wide staircase that lead to the next floor.
"Nanaki" Aeris hissed, afraid to talk louder than a whisper, "That's President's Shin-Ra's office"
Nanaki nodded in acknowledgment, ascending silently up the stairs. Aeris followed growing more nervous. At first glance the room was empty. Aeris followed the trail of blood as Nanaki prowled the edges. The trail led to the desk stood in the centre of the room. Aeris gasped as she saw what was behind the desk. President Shin-Ra lay on the floor completely disembowelled. The head of the Shin-Ra corporation was dead...
Then she saw what lay beside the President. It was a sword, about eight feet in length, the blade stained red with blood. She reached down, her fingers closing around the hilt. She tried to lift it, but it was oddly balanced. Who could wield a blade like this? She wondered.
As she was about to drop it, the voices started. They began quietly, soft whispers almost on the edge of hearing. Then abruptly they changed, becoming harsh hisses. She saw a town consumed by flames, the sword taking lives, hellish light surrounding everything. The town faded from her view, replaced by a soft green light. It was strangely calming and there was a sense of familiarity here...
The vision changed again. The sword took more lives, then paused. She saw herself, asleep in the cage with Nanaki. The sword slashed through the seals, moving as though cutting paper.
Then icy laughter filled her ears. The sword retreated and moved on. She watched it end the President's life and then...nothing. The room reappeared around her and she found herself gripping the sword with both hands.
Nanaki's words snapped her head round. Her hands were no longer able to support the sword and it fell to the floor.
"What were you doing?"
"I found the President" she said looking pale "And the murder weapon"
She turned back indicating the sword, but it was no longer there.
"The sword" she gasped, "It's gone"
"I do not think we should remain here"
Aeris nodded in agreement. She took a last glance to where she had dropped the sword, before following Nanaki down the stairs.
"Where will you go now?"
"I must return to Cosmo Canyon. I have been away too long"
Aeris nodded. They moved quickly across the floor littered with bodies.
"And you?" Nanaki asked.
"I need to get out of Midgar. I need to get as far from the Shin-Ra as possible"
"You are welcome to join me if you wish. There is much knowledge at the canyon. You would be able to learn some of the history of your race"
Aeris considered this. She didn't want to abandon her adopted mother, but the longer she remained in Midgar, the more danger she put them both in. She reached her decision.
"I would like to go with you"
"It is a long journey, but I will ensure no harm befalls you and you will be safe in the canyon"
"Thank you" she said, a smile spreading across her face.
When they reached the elevators they immediately headed for the ground floor. The devastation was here to, the floor streaked with blood. The pair hurried quickly out the building and into the murk of the Midgar night.
"How do we get out of the city?" asked Nanaki.
"It's not easy," said Aeris "All the gates have been sealed for years. We need to take the highway".
She indicated the arc of concrete that snaked past the Shin Ra building and off towards the edge of the city.
"Why isn't it used?" asked Nanaki as they walked along the highway, noticing the complete lack of activity on it.
"It was never completed," replied Aeris "The Shin Ra begin projects when they seem profitable, but quickly abandon anything that isn't"
Nanaki nodded in understanding. They walked on in silence.
For hours they moved across the immense city, passing through expensive, safe sectors: the upper plates. The rich lived here, above the poor, never seeing what they so desperately avoided. For the rich, the plates hid anything undesirable. For the poor, the plates oppressed and hid the sun from them.
Aeris frowned as they stepped from the highway onto the desert surrounding the city. The ground was black and lifeless. Kneeling she reached out and touched the ground. It was like sand, fine, jet-black sand.
Nanaki looked around at the desolation.
"This is the result of mako reactors..."
Aeris stood brushing sand from her dress.
"It's because the mako is being removed from the planet. Nothing can live without mako"
"Does the Shin-Ra know this?" he asked.
"Probably, but they don't care. It's the most abundant energy source available"
"If this continues," said Nanaki staring round "The whole planet may die"
Aeris smiled slightly at this.
"You sound like Avalanche"
"Avalanche?" said Nanaki confused.
"A small rebel group. They've been protesting against the Shin-Ra for years. But they never took any direct action until a few days ago. They blew up one of the mako reactors"
"I wish them luck. But we must leave"
They headed out away from Midgar moving as quickly as possible over the black desert. The desolation had spread for miles around. Occasionally there were patches where even the sand had gone; just patches of barren rock, jet black like the sand.
Something caught Aeris' eye far ahead: green. She gasped.
"I see it"
Unable to contain herself, Aeris ran forward. There was life here. As she got closer she could see that it marked the end of the desert. As she stepped from the desolation to the grass, it was like a weight had been lifted from her mind.
The barely audible whispers she had heard all her life became voices. Thousands of them, speaking to her. She sank to her knees as her senses enhanced, the vast amount of information dizzying. She could feel the planet.
Behind her was emptiness. The planet could feel nothing there, but the area surrounding it was consumed with pain. She could feel more pain across the entire planet. She gasped, the planet's pain becoming her own. Tears streamed down her face. She moved on with her mind, searching.
She could feel an ancient wound slowly healing, far to the north. And to the south: an area where the Lifestream flowed so strongly it threatened to burst through the ground.
She turned looking at Nanaki in a new light. He seemed to her like a constant flame. She could feel honour, patience and loyalty. She could truly trust him.
"What's wrong?" he said a concerned look on his face.
"Nothing" she said smiling, while tears continued to trickle down her face. "I can hear the planet"
They continued on, Aeris now feeling happier then she had in a long time. Her newfound connection to the planet had changed her. The long terms effects of living in Midgar drifted away. The almost permanent tiredness she had suffered was gone. Her hair had become softer, more silken. Here eyes were brighter and she felt stronger then she ever had.
Soon they reached a small town. Aeris felt the Planet's pain again: there was a mako reactor here. She didn't want to enter the town, but she had no choice. They needed supplies to reach Cosmo Canyon. Nanaki took refuge in a small clump of trees, hiding from view.
Aeris took a deep breath and stepped into the town. The tiredness descended onto her instantly. She forced herself onwards. Soon she would no longer have to suffer this. Nanaki assured her there were no Mako reactors in Cosmo Canyon. The people there knew the price for Mako energy, and were not willing to pay it.
Rufus Shin-Ra strode from the helicopter; the usual smirk present on his face. He felt nothing at the loss of his father. The interfering old man hadn't known how to really run the company. He had used money. Rufus knew better. Fear would control the people. They would accept what happened to them because they had no choice.
He carried on walking form the heli-pad to his father's office. No, his office now. The smirk grew slightly broader at that thought. It faded as he approached the nearest guard.
"What happened here?" he demanded.
"We're not sure Sir. An unknown assailant entered the building and killed almost all of the inhabitants. From the wounds on the bodies, it looks like they were armed with a sword"
"You said almost all. Who lived?"
"Palmer and two research specimens"
This caught Rufus' attention.
"How did the research specimens survive?"
"We're not sure. The security cameras distorted in the locations of the assailant. All we know from the tapes is that they were in the research chamber when the assailant approached, but then once the distortion cleared the chamber door had been opened and they were left unharmed"
"Do we have them?"
The soldier shook his head.
"No sir. They took advantage of the situation and escaped the building. Uh...sir?"
"Something else was taken from the labs. The door to another sample chamber was forced open"
"I don't know. Hojo refused to say"
Rufus looked thoughtful for a few seconds.
"Take me to Palmer"
As Rufus walked through the door of the office a voice rang out:
"Rufus. Your employer"
A head nervously appeared from behind the desk. Rufus closed the door behind him.
Leaning forward, Rufus asked:
Palmer's eyes widened.
"Sephiroth" he whispered.
"What?" yelled Rufus. "Sephiroth is dead!"
Palmer shook his head slowly.
"No. He was here"
"You saw him?"
"What did he look like?"
The man swallowed and answered.
"He was tall. He had silver hair and green eyes. And he had a sword"
Rufus paused. That fitted the description of Sephiroth, as he knew it.
"And I heard his voice" added Palmer.
"What did he say?"
Palmer winced, obviously not wanting to relive these memories.
"'I will not let you have the Promised Land'"
Rufus strode from the office leaving the terrified Palmer behind his desk. Could it really be Sephiroth? His demise was well known, although as far as the public were concerned he was reported missing.
But why now? Why had he freed the research specimens? Was he too trying to find the Promised Land? Or had he already found it? Too many questions. The other sample taken from the lab... If Sephiroth had been here then it meant...
Hojo scowled. He had lost three specimens, the best he had. The last Ancient, the last recorded member of that Red species, not to mention the last specimen, the rarest of all.
He turned to see Rufus entering the room. His scowl did not diminish.
"What do you want?"
"I am the owner of this corporation now. You must treat me with the proper respect"
The scientist sneered at this. He had no time for respect.
"What was taken?"
Hojo waved a hand towards the lab.
"The Ancient and Red XIII"
"What was the other sample?" said Rufus raising his voice.
"Jenova" he snapped.
Rufus paused, his assumption confirmed. Sephiroth had been here. Sephiroth had taken what was left of his mother. Sephiroth was alive.
"Do you think it was Sephiroth?"
"You doubt it?" snapped Hojo. "No one else could have possibly taken out an entire building full of soldiers. As for the absence of Jenova..."
"What about it?"
"During some of the preliminary testing by Professor Gast, it was discovered that Jenova cells would migrate to try to form a whole. I suspect that this was why Sephiroth took Jenova. It is trying to recombine and is pulling all those exposed to the cells to one place. I named it the Reunion Theory and it looks like it has begun."
Rufus considered this.
"Then this means..."
"The SOLDIERs exposed to the Jenova cells are unusable. They will be incapable of thought, acting purely on instinct, drawn towards the Jenova body," said Hojo.
Rufus cursed. His best people out of action.
"What about the Promised Land?"
"What about it?"
"According to Palmer, Sephiroth said he wasn't going to let us have it" said Rufus.
"He's defending the Promised Land?"
"I don't have to tell you how important it is that we discover it's location"
"Of course. But it will be difficult if Sephiroth is willing to defend it" said Hojo.
"Do you think that's where he could be heading?"
"It is plausible," said Hojo slowly
"This could be the opportunity we've been waiting for"
"Yes. But he has a head start and we cannot use the SOLDIERs"
"Couldn't we just capture one and force him to lead us to Sephiroth?" asked Rufus.
Hojo shook his head.
"If the Reunion theory is correct, the SOLDIERs will be unpredictable and violent if challenged. It would be best to avoid them at all costs"
"It would be better then if Sephiroth was followed"
"I have just the people"
Rufus slouched in his chair as the Turks filed into the office, Reno walking casually, his nightstick resting on one shoulder. Tseng moved quickly to the desk, standing quietly his hands clasped behind his back. Rude moved behind the others, standing still, his sunglasses making his expression unreadable. Last came someone else. Rufus sat up as she walked up the stairs wearing the same dark blue suit that the others. She was as calm as the others, but stood close to Tseng.
Tseng indicated the Turk next to him.
"This is Elena"
Rufus nodded. The others needed no introduction. He knew them well. The Turks had been frequently used by his father. They were Shin-Ra's personal mercenaries. They would do anything for a price. Each had a speciality, a particular character trait. To be a member of the Turks you had to be good.
"You all know me because of my father. I will tell you now, that even though he is dead, nothing will change. You are still under the command of this corporation"
Rufus noticed a frown on Elena's forehead at his casual discussion of his father's death. Still something of a rookie then. She'll learn. The others stood impassively.
"I have a job for you. You are to track Sephiroth's movements and follow him"
Again Rufus noticed a reaction from Elena, but this time there was a look of shock on her face at the mention of Sephiroth. The others still stood impassively.
"You are to follow Sephiroth closely, but do not engage him in combat. I require regular updates on his position and his heading. On this matter, speak only to me. You begin immediately. Here is all the information we have at present"
He handed Tseng several sheets of typed paper.
Rufus leant back in his chair as the Turks filed silently out. He would have preferred SOLDIERs tracking Sephiroth, but the Turks were the next best thing. They would get the job done.
"Well, looks like the President's brat's got us chasing ghosts"
Elena turned to Reno shocked.
Reno sneered at her.
"You seriously believe that Sephiroth is alive?"
"The President believes so," said Elena.
"The President?" Reno sneered again. "He's only the President by accident"
"Knock it off," said Tseng. "We've got a job to do"
"Yeah, chasing figments of someone's imagination" retorted Reno.
"We're getting paid for this, that's all that counts"
Reno relented at this. They reached the elevators. Nodding to Reno and Rude, Tseng said, "You two go get ready. We leave in an hour"
"How the hell do we know where to start looking?"
"There have been some reports from citizens of someone matching Sephiroth's description leaving the city and heading for the swamps," replied Tseng reading from one of the sheets.
"Great" grumbled Reno as he and Rude stepped onto the elevator, "Make one mention of a supposedly dead person, and then the whole world thinks they've seen him".
As the elevator sped them away, Tseng turned to Elena.
"You can't keep getting shocked by everything anyone says."
"I know," insisted Elena. "It's hard though"
"No one said this job was easy. We only take the best. You must be strong. Don't let Reno get to you. He says something, you've got to have a retort ready"
Elena nodded silently, her eyes looking down, avoiding Tseng's.
"Good. Get your stuff and meet me in the lobby in an hour"
Tseng turned and moved off. Elena stood silently thinking for a moment. What was this she was feeling? She only felt it around Tseng. She liked him. He was certainly kinder to her then Reno...
She shook her head clearing her thoughts, Tseng's words coming back to her. She would be a professional.
"So tell me about yourself"
"What do you mean?" said Nanaki turning his head to glance at the young woman walking beside him.
"What's Cosmo Canyon like? Why are you its guardian? How did the Shin-Ra capture you?"
Nanaki was silent for a moment before answering the questions.
"Cosmo Canyon has existed for centuries as a place of study. People from all over the world go there to study and learn more about the planet. It is a peaceful place."
"And they know something about the Ancients, the Cetra?" Aeris asked.
"Yes, there are books detailing everything that is known about your race. I suspect they contain the information that you wish to learn about your people" said Nanaki.
"How did you become the guardian?"
Nanaki's face fell slightly at this. Aeris grew worried.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude on anything painful"
"No it's okay"
Nanaki composed himself.
"I became the guardian of the canyon when my cowardly father abandoned his appointed position during an attack by the Gi tribe. He abandoned my mother and I to save himself," said Nanaki now talking through gritted teeth.
Aeris gasped slightly.
"Nanaki, I'm sorry. I didn't know this was a painful subject for you."
The red creature calmed slightly. "It is not your fault. I blame no one for this pain except my father." He was silent for a moment. "The Shin-Ra captured me through my own stupidity. It was over a year ago, I was patrolling near the canyon. There had been reports of Shin-Ra activity in the area. The Shin-Ra are not welcome in the canyon because of the pain and damage they are causing to the planet. I went to investigate. What I did not know is that the Shin-Ra team was sent to capture me. Reports had filtered back to the Shin-Ra of my existence. They wanted to know how my species was capable of its immense life span. One half of their team distracted me, as the other attacked me from behind with tranquillisers. I have been in the labs since that time."
"Nanaki, I'm sorry"
He shook his head. "It is not your fault"
They walked on in silence again for a few minutes.
"I'm sorry?" Aeris blinked in surprise, Nanaki's question catching her by surprise.
"What of your past?"
Aeris was silent for a moment.
"My earliest memory is of a station in Midgar. My mother lay dying on the steps, and there was no one to help us. I couldn't stop crying. Then someone came. Elmyra. My mother begged her to take care of me. They were her last words. I don't know anything of my past before that time. Elmyra took me in and looked after me as if I was her own daughter"
A faint smile touched her lips.
"She was so kind to me. But it couldn't last. The Shin-Ra found me. I think now, they must have had something to do with my mother's death. They wanted me for their experiments. Whenever they tried to take me from home, I ran into the slums. I just kept running. They never found me when I ran. Sometimes they would hurt Elmyra. I found myself wanting to give up, surrendering just so they would stop hurting her. But Elmyra wouldn't let me. She forced me to run every time, even though it pained me as I did"
Aeris was silent again for a second.
"I was seven when I discovered I could make flowers grow"
This surprised Nanaki. It was well know that nothing would grow in Midgar.
"Elmyra was shocked when I came home one day with flowers. I thought it would be a nice gesture, but she just stared at them in shock. She wanted to know where I got them. I took her to the church in Sector 5. I felt safe there, comforted by something. It was like the moment where we left the desert, but not as strong. There was a specific place, beside the altar where the flowers would grow. I would spend hours in the church, sometimes forgetting that I was in Midgar. But I always found myself back in the church, in the slums.
"When I began selling flowers most people ignored me. They didn't want them. They were too busy with their own pain and misery. People couldn't believe that the flowers were real. When I was 17 I met him. I was selling flowers. He saved me."
Nanaki looked at Aeris again. There was a wistful expression on her face. And something else...pain?
"His name was Zack. A SOLDIER, 1st class. Only 16. He walked me home safely that day. He bought one of my flowers. He was so kind to me. We had a sort of romance. Nothing serious. He would come to see me everyday. As time went on, I found myself spending the whole day just waiting for him to arrive. He made me so happy. I think..."
"I think I fell in love with him. But before our relationship could grow he was ordered on a mission to somewhere far away. That was 5 years ago. I said goodbye to him at the same station where my mother died. He promised he'd be back; the mission would only take a week at longest. I watched him leave on the train, my eyes full of tears. I spent the next week barely sleeping, all the time just waiting for time to pass. But he never came back. I waited at the station, but he never came. For a month I visited the station, hoping, praying that one-day he'd be there to greet me. But he never was."
The wistful expression on Aeris' face had gone. There was only pain now.
"I've waited since then. I don't go to the station anymore. I still sold flowers on the streets, hoping one day he would step out from the crowd to buy a flower from me"
Tears had welled up in Aeris' eyes, streaming down her cheeks. She glanced at Nanaki, a small smile on her lips.
"I'm sorry. It's been a long time since I thought about any of this"
He shook his head.
They carried on walking, each concerned with their own thoughts.
The helicopter touched down outside the entrance to the Mythril mine. The Turks could see a Midgar Zolom swimming in the swamps. The helicopter waited until they were clear before rapidly ascending. There had been no sign of Sephiroth during the flight from Midgar. Junon had reported no sign of him, so the Turks had been forced to check the Mythril mine.
"What the...?" exclaimed Elena.
Beside the entrance to the mines was a Midgar Zolom. It had been impaled several times and coiled around a stake.
"Well he's been here," said Reno smirking.
"What tipped you off?" shot back Tseng.
Elena moved closer curious.
"How long ago do you reckon he did this?"
"What does it matter?" said Reno, walking past her towards the entrance.
"If we know how long ago he killed it, we know how far ahead he is"
"Forget it Elena," said Tseng, "We've got no way to find that out. We know we're on the right track at least"
"As long as this was Sephiroth," said Reno.
Tseng turned to him.
"What will it take to make you believe Sephiroth is still alive?"
"Seeing him myself. Till then I'll keep my options open"
Tseng looked at Reno.
"That" he said calmly pointing to the impaled Zolom, "Is a Midgar Zolom. Taking it on is supposed to be suicide, but whoever did that didn't seem to have any problems"
Reno just shrugged.
"I just say we get this job over with as quickly as possible"
He turned and walked into the mines. Rude following silently behind, glancing quickly at the Zolom. Tseng paused outside, turning to Elena.
"That was a good idea of yours. But this profession rarely calls for that kind of accuracy or equipment. But it is something to consider for the future."
Tseng turned and began walking. Elena stood for a second, smiling at Tseng's compliment, before collecting herself and following the others into the mine.
A week later the Turks entered the dual levelled city of Junon. Ignoring the darkened slums, they headed to the upper portion of the city and the Shin-Ra building. The base commander looked at them angrily as they walked into his office uninvited.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"Any new information on Sephiroth?" said Tseng walking up to the desk. He glanced down to the engraved panel on the desk, "Commander Leaven?" Reno slouched against the wall beside the door. Rude stood just inside the door, one hand reaching into his suit jacket and Elena stood next to Tseng for a moment, before sitting in one of the chairs.
Leaven paused, scowling.
"We've had reports for the last few days of a swordsman. Dressed in black. We sent soldiers to investigate..."
Tseng stepped forward.
"You were specifically instructed not to engage him"
"We weren't sure it was him," protested Leaven. Reno rolled his eyes.
"What happened to the soldiers?" he asked.
"They were all found dead, impaled by a sword. We have conducted a city wide search, but we haven't found any trace of him, except for those attacks"
"Have any ships left port recently?"
"Are you kidding?" said Leaven "The port's been shut down for the last week. We've been preparing for President Rufus' Welcoming ceremony"
Reno stopped leaning against the office wall.
"His what?" he asked.
Leaven looked towards him confused.
"You don't know? The new President is touring the Shin-Ra Empire. He's visiting every major settlement."
"To show them who's in charge, yes?" asked Tseng.
"That's the idea. He's having a parade in a few days"
"Who's doing the security?" asked Elena.
"He brought some of the lower ranked SOLDIERs"
Tseng was silent for a second.
"When does the next boat leave?" he asked after a few seconds.
"Right after the ceremony. Rufus doesn't plan on hanging around anywhere."
Tseng nodded thoughtfully. He turned and led the Turks out of the office.
"What are we going to do Tseng?" asked Elena.
"If Sephiroth's here it means he needs to cross the ocean. If he goes, then we have to follow"
Reno turned at this.
"Come on! We're still not certain it is Sephiroth! You're making a lot of assumptions here Tseng"
"I'm following orders"
"I think we should listen to Tseng," said Elena.
Reno just sneered at that.
Aeris and Nanaki paused at the edge of Junon. Aeris stared up at the massive city suspended above the tiny village.
"It's like Midgar," she whispered. Then she looked to the ground. "There is a mako reactor here"
"We need to go through the town. I'm afraid there is no alternative. We need to cross the ocean"
Aeris nodded sadly. She stepped forward wincing as her contact to the planet was cut off. They walked on through the gloomy village. Aeris glanced around them. She caught glimpses of faces at the brightly lit windows. The town was perpetually shrouded in darkness. They moved slowly through the town meeting no one. Supports for upper Junon were scattered throughout the town, heavy metallic posts driven deep into the ground coated with red paint.
"We should rest," said Nanaki.
Aeris nodded in agreement. "But where?" she asked.
Nanaki looked around them. Their choices were severely limited. His presence would make the acquisition of lodgings difficult. Aeris would have no trouble.
She looked up at his voice.
"Go to the hotel. You have some gil?"
"Good. Get a room for yourself. Lock the door, but leave the window open. I will join you once I have investigated the town."
Aeris nodded in agreement. She turned walking to the hotel as Nanaki withdrew into the gloom of an ally.
Two hours later Aeris heard a scratching on the roof above her room. Then something red dropped past her window, just catching the ledge. It was Nanaki, his claws embedded into the wooden sill. Pausing for a second, he hauled himself up and into the room.
"Are you okay?" asked Aeris concerned.
"I am fine," said Nanaki, sitting on the floor beside the room's only bed.
"What did you see?"
"I saw the dock but I couldn't get to it. The beach only runs for a short distance before it is blocked by an outcrop on the cliff face. There is an elevator to upper Junon but it is under constant guard."
"Do you think we could use it?"
"It's possible. We would have to get rid of the guards first. But we will run into trouble even if we do get to upper Junon. I will be easily recognised, and it is possible that the Shin-Ra will still be on the lookout for you as well"
"Then we'll go during the night"
"How will we get past the guard?"
Nanaki looked troubled at this.
"I will handle that. I'm going to keep track of the guard's movements. Look for an opening. You should get some sleep. I will be some time"
Aeris nodded, realising how tired she felt. Nanaki padded to the window. He pulled himself up onto the ledge and then launched himself towards the building opposite. His claws dug into the woodwork on the roof, anchoring him. He hauled himself up and then turned leaping back onto the roof of the hotel. Aeris heard his land on the roof, and then listened to the scratching as Nanaki made his way to the edge and then leapt to the next building.
Aeris kicked off her boots and lay down on the bed. Slowly she undid the ribbon on her hair and removed the tiny white sphere. She cradled it in her hands a feeling of comfort over coming her.
Aeris stayed overnight in the hotel. Nanaki returned as the sun began to rise. He could see the sky begin to change colour out from under the steel sky of Junon. He had watched the guards all night. A plan had begun to form in his mind. Nanaki leapt down to Aeris' window again, landing heavily, waking Aeris.
"I think I have found an opportunity to get us into the elevator" he said. "But we cannot do anything until tonight. I suggest we stay here out of sight."
Aeris nodded, lying back down on the bed and letting sleep overtake her. She had not had much sleep the previous night. Nanaki watched her for a few seconds, as her breathing became regular, then he too settled onto the floor and slept.
Nanaki's voice woke Aeris from a deep sleep. She opened her eyes, sitting up. She could see Nanaki sat up on the floor, his eyes glinting slightly in the faint light. Yawning, Aeris pulled on her boots and stood up. She glanced quickly round the room before stepping out into the darkened hotel hallway. They crept down the stairs and out into the gloom of the Junon night.
Nanaki padded ahead of Aeris leading the way along the darkened streets. Ahead, Aeris could see the streets lightening as they neared the elevator. Nanaki moved towards the side of the street into deeper shadow, as the area grew lighter. The street ended and they found themselves under the harsh glare of the artificial lights. Shipping cartons and crates were piled up ahead of them forming passages.
Nanaki stopped, and turned to Aeris. He nodded towards one of the passages.
"Follow the crates along to the end and wait."
Aeris nodded, and Nanaki watched her move off through the crates. He had feared this moment all day. Involuntarily he let out a low snarl. He crouched and then propelled himself into he air landing on the top of a stack of crates. He followed the lines of the stacks, occasionally leaping to another pile as he headed for the elevator.
Leant against the wall beside the elevator door was the guard, his rifle beside him. Nanaki kept his eyes locked on the guard as he circled him, first on top of the crates, and then as these ran out on the concrete slabs. Nanaki kept moving until he was beside the cliff wall. Then he moved forward slowly, keeping as low as possible. Then with a burst of speed, he sprang towards the guard, smashing him to the floor. Nanaki thrust his head towards the man's throat, his teeth, slicing through skin. Nanaki increased the pressure as the man struggled beneath him. Then, with a final convulsion, the man lay still. Nanaki kept his mouth clamped around the man's neck for a few more seconds, before stepping back. He gripped the man's uniform with his teeth and dragged him into the shadow of a crate.
Nanaki left the body and padded forward, turning into one of the passages. He moved quickly. He found Aeris sat against a crate holding a white sphere in her hands, her hair lying across her shoulders. She didn't notice his approach; all her attention was fixed on the sphere.
She jumped slightly at the sound of his voice, relief spreading across her face as she recognised him. Hastily she retied her hair, the white sphere now held in place with the ribbon.
"We can use the elevator now" said Nanaki. He turned and led Aeris through the crates to the elevator. They paused for a second as Aeris opened the door. As he stepped through, Nanaki took one last glance at the area. There was no one in sight. Relieved he followed Aeris through and onto the elevator.
With a clang and a sudden jolt, the elevator began moving. Aeris looked upwards along the carved stone passage, following the line of the tracks. The noise of the elevator seemed deafening. Aeris began to fear they would be discovered. It was a couple of minutes before the elevator reached the top of the tracks, locking in place with another metallic clang. Aeris and Nanaki hurried out through the loading dock and into the Upper Junon night. The lights were dimmed, but there were some people still moving around. Aeris looked up at the cliff like buildings set beside the main street. Shops were crowded onto the lower floors of the buildings and into the alleyways. Neon signs blinked on and off in closed shops, and there was the faint noise of activity from the bar.
"Where do we go now?" whispered Aeris.
"We have to find somewhere to hide," replied Nanaki. "In the morning you need to find out when the next boat leaves"
Aeris nodded. Nanaki padded across close to the buildings, Aeris following just behind him. He paused at the entrance to an alley and looked along it carefully.
"Here" he said walking further down, beside a boarded up window. He sat back and then pushed himself forwards so he had his paws pressed against the boards, his hind legs braced against the concrete floor of the alley. He sank his claws into the boards ripping them away. He looked into the room beyond carefully for a few seconds before dropping back to the floor. He turned to Aeris.
"We should be safe here"
Nanaki stepped away from the window as Aeris pulled herself through and into the gloomy room, and then he leapt carefully through the window. He dropped the boards that had covered the window from his mouth.
"Use these to cover the window," he said. Aeris nodded, placing the boards across the window as best she could. This done she glanced about the room for something to rest on. The floor was bare, cold concrete. Wooden platters were stacked in one corner. Aeris pulled one of these down and rested her back against the rest. Nanaki sat beside her.
"The sun should be up soon," he said. Aeris nodded, watching the thin strips of sky she could see out the window.
During the day, Junon was a hive of activity. Aeris pushed her way through the crowds, stopping to look at the signs that hung above the shops. Aeris glanced at her mud-streaked clothes and hoped she wasn't too conspicuous as she headed for the information centre.
Gratefully she stepped from the crowds into the relatively empty building. Stacks of leaflets and plastic panels crowded the entrance. Aeris looked at these carefully. She found the information she wanted, and frowned. The information had been hastily placed on top of an earlier sign, and stated that the port would be closed to all traffic for two days.
Aeris left and walked into the crowd in thought. Making a decision she turned and forced her way towards the docks.
Nanaki looked up as the boards dropped to the floor. He saw Aeris look down the alley quickly before pulling herself inside. She dropped down to the floor, and replaced the boards. She turned to Nanaki.
"The port's closed for another two days. But there's a ship at the docks we could stow away on."
"It will be easier to get on board now. We will go tonight"
Reno, Elena and Tseng stood at the bar on Junon's main street. Rude had gone off somewhere. He was the most secretive of the team, never speaking unless it was absolutely necessary. They had spent the last three days in one of Junon's many hotels, and at the bar. There had been no attacks since their arrival and no reports of a swordsman dressed in black. Now Rufus had arrived. The Turks listened to the parade, forced into silence by the volume of the music. Reno leant against the bar looking up at a TV set. Tseng just stared down at his drink and the bar. Elena copied his action, but occasionally glanced at Tseng.
"He'll be leaving soon," said Tseng, as the sounds of the parade grew more distant.
"We still need to get on the boat," reminded Reno.
"Call Rude. Get him to meet us at the docks"
Reno pulled his PHS from his pocket and selected Rude's number.
"Rude? We're leaving. Meet us at the dock"
The Turks finished their drinks and then walked slowly along the main street. Rude was waiting beside the ship on the dock, his arms folded. The crewmembers took one glance at the Turks and stepped aside. You didn't mess with the Turks. Making themselves comfortable in one of the cabins they waited for the ship to leave.
The hum of the ship's engine woke Aeris. She opened her eyes, seeing Nanaki still lying beside her. She slowly sat up. She could hear distant voices as the crew carried out their duties. She looked out from behind the crates. All the figures were at the opposite end. It had been two days since they sneaked on board. They had food supplies and a space in amongst the crates to hide in. Aeris lay back, staring up towards the ceiling, which was threaded with metal pipes.
Then the alarms went off. Aeris sat up in shock. Had they been discovered? Nanaki woke rapidly, already crouching into an attack position. The distant figures of the crew were all heading away from Aeris and Nanaki's position. They hadn't been discovered. But then what was the alarm for?
"I'm still not happy with you being here. Are you sure that Sephiroth couldn't have stayed in Junon?"
"He had no reason to stay in Junon except for the fact that no ships were running until today. We suspect-" Tseng was cut off.
"You suspect? I hired you to track Sephiroth not to guess at his next move. If you had no proof he had made or was planning to cross the sea, then you should have remained in Junon until you were sure he wasn't there" yelled Rufus
"Sir with all respect-"
The alarm cut him off.
"Sir" said a crewman hurriedly entering the room. "There is an unidentified passenger in the engine room"
"Send the guards!" Rufus yelled. He then turned to the Turks "You four: investigate. If it is Sephiroth you are not to attack him. I don't want a bloodbath while I'm onboard!"
Aeris and Nanaki watched as the Shin-Ra guards rushed through the engine room door. She could distantly hear the sound of a sword cutting air, along with screams of pain. One lone figure stumbled out breathing heavily, stumbling and falling against the wall beside the hatch. Aeris was about to go to the man when she heard the footsteps on the metal stairs that lead from the top deck.
The guard looked up blearily. He saw four figures in front of him wearing blue suits. He had to warn them.
"That... wasn't... human...can't...be... human..."
The Turks watched as the guard went limp.
"This is bad," said Rude.
They all pulled out their guns, Rude pulling an extra pistol from his suit. Slowly they advanced through the door. They moved as quietly as possible along the metal catwalks that formed the engine room. The pipes formed narrow tunnels along the room. Eventually the tunnels widened leaving a large room lined with controls. Standing facing the opposite wall was the captain of the Shin-Ra guard squad.
"Hey" said Tseng. "What happened?"
The captain didn't respond.
"I asked you a question"
The captain abruptly turned unnaturally. His head hung limply, his face contorted in pain. Then he fell to the floor.
"What the?" exclaimed Reno.
"After a long sleep"
The voice rang out like ice, cutting through the rumble of the engines.
"The time has come"
A point of metal emerged from the floor where the captain had been standing. It kept growing, leaving the floor undamaged. A long narrow sword slowly emerged. The hilt was clasped by two black-gloved hands. The sword kept moving upwards. A face appeared framed by silver hair.
"Sephiroth..." breathed Reno.
Sephiroth kept rising until he was standing in the room. Slowly he lowered the sword, noticing the Turks for the first time.
"The time is now," he said.
"What is he saying?" asked Elena.
"I don't know," said Tseng slowly.
Sephiroth stared coolly at the Turks for a second. Then abruptly he lifted up from the floor and flew up through the ceiling.
The Turks stood silently staring at the point where Sephiroth had passed through the ceiling. Reno broke the silence first.
Elena looked at him.
"So you believe now Reno?"
"That was Sephiroth. No question"
"What was he talking about though?" said Tseng. ""The time has come." What does that mean?"
The radio interrupted any further discussion of their situation.
"Attention all crew: we are approaching Costa Del Sol. Prepare for docking"
Aeris and Nanaki waited until the unloading operation was well underway before moving as quickly as possible out of the hold. They found themselves under the hot sun of Costa Del Sol. Aeris squinted at the resort town. She had never been anywhere so bright. It was wonderful. She was so used to the gloom of Midgar and the faint shroud that covered towns utilising mako energy. But they couldn't stay: the Shin-Ra were here too. She turned to Nanaki.
"Do you know the way back to Cosmo Canyon from here?"
"Yes, I remember the route," said Nanaki.
"Let's go. I don't think either of us want to get caught by the Shin-Ra now we've come so far"
Nanaki nodded in agreement and the two quickly left the town, heading across the grassy plains.
"Well it looks like you were right about Sephiroth. But that was still mainly guesswork. From now on you are to track his movements, not make assumptions about his actions. He will not have got far," said Rufus.
"Yes sir" said Tseng.
The Turks left Rufus on the docks as they made their way out of town.
The river was deep and fast flowing. Aeris stopped at its edge.
"We'll have to try another way," said Aeris.
"No" said Nanaki. "I think we could ford it"
Nanaki looked round. He padded across to a clump of trees. Aeris still looked nervously at the river. Nanaki leapt up into the trees, finding a thick branch. He pounded on it with his front legs. Eventually it snapped dropping to the ground. Nanaki dropped down beside it.
"Use the branch as support in the river" said Nanaki indicating the branch.
"What about you?"
Nanaki smiled briefly.
It was hard work. The water rushed around Aeris as she walked deeper into the river, driving the tree branch deep into the riverbed. Nanaki swam beside her, moving just slow enough to prevent him from being swept along the river and out to sea. Aeris braced herself against the branch as she shifted slowly sideways towards the opposite bank.
Aeris pulled herself out of the river breathing hard. She collapsed onto the bank. Nanaki walked a few paces away from her and shook himself dry. Aeris stared up into the sky as she regained her breath. Nanaki padded up to her.
"Slightly" she said pulling herself into a sitting position. Nanaki sat next to her. They sat there for a few minutes in silence, the hot sun drying Aeris' soaked clothes.
"Ready to move on?" asked Nanaki.
Aeris nodded, getting to her feet. Nanaki started walking again, Aeris beside him. She looked ahead. She could see the start of a desert on their left, and a line of mountains parallel to their path to the right.
"Why didn't we get a helicopter this time?" moaned Reno as they walked through the foothills of the Corel Mountains.
"Rufus is using it," said Tseng.
"It's bad enough that we've got to track Sephiroth by ourselves. The fact we have to walk just makes it worse," said Reno.
"Stop whining" said Tseng.
"You've changed your tune," noted Elena. "Yesterday you were convinced that it wasn't Sephiroth"
"I believe what I see. And I saw him" said Reno.
"We all did," said Rude.
"What was he talking about though? "The time is now"?" asked Elena.
"I don't know," said Tseng. He looked up at the mountains towering overhead. A little further on was a mako reactor; there should be somewhere there where they could rest up for a while. Something caught his eye.
"There's someone up there," said Tseng.
A little way above them they could see a man slumped across a rock. They quickened their pace.
The man woke from his sleep. He looked in confusion at the four figures in front of him.
"We're looking for someone" The man with long black hair spoke.
The man's eyes widened suddenly. He recognised them.
"Y-you're the Turks!"
"That's right," said Tseng stepping forward "So tell us, have you seen a man dressed in black?"
"I passed a man dressed in black about four hours ago. I tried to tell him it was dangerous in the mountains, but he just walked forward like he hadn't seen me"
"Did he say anything?" asked Reno.
"Not a thing"
Tseng contemplated the man for a second.
"Tell no one this," he said eventually, "Or we will visit you again."
The man's eyes widened again.
He gathered his belongings hurriedly, stumbling away along the path the Turks had taken.
"Was that necessary Tseng?" asked Elena.
"The less people who know about Sephiroth the better. They all think he's a hero. They'd fall over themselves trying to help him," said Tseng.
"But he's a murderer!" protested Elena.
"They don't know that," said Reno. "All they know is that he's Sephiroth the great general"
Elena relented at this.
Tseng pulled his PHS out and called Rufus, relaying the information he had learned. He turned back to the other Turks.
"The reactor isn't too far ahead," said Tseng leading the way up the winding mountain path.
Nanaki and Aeris walked around the vast desert that bordered the Gold Saucer.
"Is that the Gold Saucer?" she asked Nanaki.
"Yes" he replied.
"How do you get to it?" she asked.
"You see those cables?"
Aeris noticed two sets of cables that stretched from the lower branches of the Gold Saucer to deep in the mountain range to their right. Aeris nodded.
"Those cables run from the town of North Corel to the Gold Saucer"
"Do you think we could go?" said Aeris.
Nanaki shook his head
"No. The area is too high profile. If the Shin-Ra has any presence there, it will catch us in no time. It will probably be best if we try to avoid all civilisation"
Aeris nodded sadly, casting one final glance towards the towering structure. They continued following the edge of the desert.
The next day the Turks entered the ruined mining town of North Corel. They moved carefully through the abandoned junk and badly constructed shelters, following the remains of the train tracks. There were few signs of what North Corel had been before.
"What a dump" said Reno as they made their way through the town. It was still early morning, and the town was virtually deserted. The people there looked at the Turks with a mixture of fear and hate. The Turks did there best to ignore it.
They made their way to the rope way station. The operator was not a citizen of Corel and was more willing to talk.
"Has a man with silver hair passed through this way?"
The operator looked thoughtful for a few seconds.
"Someone like that went up to the Gold Saucer two days ago. Said he was looking for Materia. I told him to see Dio"
"Thank you" said Tseng. "Can we go up?"
The operator nodded.
As they stepped off the tram, a blast of music assaulted their ears. Elena winced slightly. She had heard about this place, but had never been able to afford the excessive prices for entrance. She wondered for a second, how they would all get inside.
"Excuse me sir...you need to buy a ticket"
Tseng stopped, turning to look at the cashier stood beside the door. Her eyes abruptly widened in recognition of who she was addressing.
"We are the Turks, under the employ of the Shin-Ra Electric Company. If you value the ongoing existence of this place and your life, I suggest you let us through and tell us where Dio is"
The attendant looked terrified and stuttered "Battle Square"
Tseng carried on walking. Once inside Elena hurried up behind Tseng.
"Was that really necessary?" she asked.
"We are tracking Sephiroth. We don't know how far ahead he is, and I don't want to lose any more time" he replied.
"We're the Turks," added Reno. "Remember that"
They made their to Battle Square, negotiating the Gold Saucer's unique transit system. Dio was not hard to find.
"Have you talked to a man with grey hair and green eyes?" asked Tseng as his only introduction.
Dio spun round in surprise, his eyes widening as he recognised the people in front of him.
"The man in black?" he was eventually able to say.
"Yeah, he was here a little while ago. He asked where he could find Black Materia"
Tseng's forehead creased in confusion.
"Black Materia?" said Elena.
"He didn't say anything else. Just wanted to know where he could find some. I told him I didn't know of any Materia like that. Yeah and there was something else. He had a tattoo of the number 1 on the back of his right hand"
Tseng nodded, looking at the floor. He raised his head, looking at Dio.
"Thank you. Now repeat that information and this meeting to no one"
Dio nodded hastily as the Turks vanished into he crowds.
"Reno. Call Rufus" said Tseng.
Reno relayed the new information as the Turks descended on the tram back to North Corel.
The next river was calmer and slightly shallower to Aeris' relief. She still carried the tree branch, using it as a staff. They hadn't met anyone for days now. They moved close to or in the woods, keeping well away from the roads. They forded another river, and then the grassy plains gave way to deep red rocks. A canyon rose around them as they walked. Nanaki padded calmly through, Aeris following close behind him.
They reached a bend in the canyon. Against the red wall of rock, a ladder had been set, moving upwards to a plateau. Nanaki turned to Aeris.
"This is Cosmo Canyon"
Aeris felt relieved. They had made it. She watched Nanaki scramble up the ladder, following close behind him. He disappeared over the top, and Aeris heard exclamations as she carried on climbing.
Aeris reached the top of the ladder. She slowly pulled herself up, sitting down for a moment to catch her breath. A guard holding a spear noticed her and stopped talking to Nanaki. Nanaki turned round, and saw Aeris.
"This is Aeris," he said by way of introduction. "She is the last Cetra"
The man looked at Nanaki in surprise.
"They were supposed to be extinct"
"She is all that remains"
The Guard turned his attention to Aeris.
"Welcome to Cosmo Canyon. You will always be welcomed here: as a friend of Nanaki's and as a Cetra"
"Thank you" said Aeris, not quite sure how to respond.
Nanaki padded forward through the small arch, Aeris following him. She gasped as the emerged into the light. A rock wall enclosed most of the area, stretching upwards. The settlement of Cosmo Canyon ran up the walls, perching in crevices. Ladders and walkways spanned the air above them. At the very top was an observatory. And in the centre: what looked like a bonfire, a bright yellow constant flame. Nanaki noticed Aeris looking at it.
"That is the Cosmo Candle. In the history of Cosmo Canyon it has never stopped burning"
Aeris nodded, finding the bright flame fascinating.
"I would like to introduce you to my Grandfather. He is very wise and will be able to tell you about your people"
"Thank you" said Aeris, smiling.
"This way" said Nanaki, leading Aeris to a set of stone stairs cut into the rock of the canyon.
The Turks continued tracking Sephiroth for two days, until they reached Cosmo Canyon. Walking through the twisting canyons, they caught sight of the settlement set high up on the canyon wall.
"What is that?" said Elena.
"Cosmo Canyon" said Reno.
"Are we going to check there too?"
Tseng shook his head. "We can't"
"Cosmo Canyon declared itself independent of the Shin-Ra Corporation. They refused Mako reactors. They believe things similar to Avalanche. If we try and go in they'll force us out or kill us"
Elena stared up at the settlement. "They believe the Shin-Ra is killing the planet?"
"Yeah" said Reno laughing. "Load of superstition"
Aeris had been in Cosmo Canyon for three days now. She loved the tranquillity of the settlement. So many people there in their quiet contemplation of the planet. But she still hungered for knowledge. Nanaki's grandfather, Bugenhagen had explained to her how life on the planet existed. The voices from the planet were from those in the Lifestream. She learned that one-day, she too would enter into the Lifestream. She would travel through it until she found her Promised Land. The Shin-Ra had been wrong for so long.
But the knowledge available about the Cetra was fragmented and often confusing. The biggest omission in all the records was an explanation for the decline in the Cetra population.
Nanaki was glad to have returned to the canyon. He was busily taking the responsibility of being the Canyon's guardian. But his father's betrayal still gnawed at his mind. Nanaki seemed consumed with the need to prove that he would not run like his father.
A knock on his door awoke Nanaki from his slumber. Waking quickly he padded to his door. He found Bugenhagen there.
"Grandpa. What is it?"
"There is something I must show you. Come with me"
Nanaki nodded and followed.
They stopped in front of a huge metal door. Nanaki had never seen it open. Bugenhagen touched a section of the wall. The door slowly rumbled open.
"These are the Gi caves. This is the route through which they tried to capture the canyon in a specific battle"
Nanaki listened to Bugenhagen as they walked through the caves. They were formed from large twisting tunnels, snaking off into blackness. Bugenhagen continued along a specific path.
"A lone warrior went through these caves. He fought off all the attackers. He saved the canyon"
They emerged into the night air into a small canyon. A figure could be seen above them on one side of the canyon.
"But the warrior could never return to the canyon"
Nanaki's eye widened as he realised that the figure was stone, impaled with spears.
"The warrior's name was Seto"
Nanaki looked at Bugenhagen shocked.
"Yes Nanaki. This is your father. He continued to fight the Gi tribe here. The poison the Gi used turned his body to stone. But he fought them off"
Nanaki stared at the statue of his father in wonder.
"You thought him a coward. You thought he abandoned us. But he gave his life to save the canyon"
Nanaki bowed his head; feeling tears well up in his eyes.
"All this time I have been ashamed of my father"
"It is not your fault Nanaki. I should have told you the truth long ago. I am just glad I was able to tell you before it was too late"
Nanaki nodded, still staring at the floor in silence. Finally he raised his head and stared up at Seto. He walked up the steep trail to the top of the canyon, beside his father. He stood beside him staring down, for the first time proud of his father. Then he looked up towards the stars and howled.
The Turks continued, the route that Sephiroth had to take clear now. From Cosmo Canyon, the mountain range and the sea forced any traveller to head for Niebleheim.
As they neared the town, Tseng's PHS rang. He quickly answered it.
"I had research ordered on Black Materia. It's not normal Materia. It can't be formed in Mako reactors. Records recovered from the Cetra show one possible location: The Temple of the Ancients"
"With all respect sir, that's a myth," said Tseng.
"Maybe so, but we have it's supposed location. I want you to meet me in Rocket Town tomorrow. If Sephiroth is searching for this Materia it must be important"
"We'll be there, sir"
Tseng turned back to the others.
"We have to meet Rufus in Rocket Town tomorrow. Then we have to go to the Temple of the Ancients"
"More delusions?" said Reno.
"You said the same about Sephiroth" said Tseng.
Reno lapsed into silence.
Unnoticed by the Turks, a figure stood in a darkened ally, breathing hard. He didn't notice the Turks. He was barely aware of anything, except that Sephiroth was near. He pulled his black cloak tighter. His hand was tattooed with the number 4.
As the Turks walked down the lower slopes of Mount Niebel, they watched Rufus' helicopter shoot overhead, moving towards Rocket Town. The town was built around the remains of a Shin-Ra rocket launch site. The Shin-Ra 26. The pilot had aborted take off at the last second. Now the rocket stood resting against the metal supports, slowly rusting as a town had formed around it. The pilot still lived there and harboured delusions of some day using the rocket to go into space.
Cid Highwind pulled at the exposed wiring in the Shin-Ra 26. It was all Shera's fault. If she hadn't stayed to check the damned oxygen tank, he would have succeeded. The Shin-Ra had told him they would attempt another launch. But in the years that passed he grew more disillusioned. The last time he had had any contact with the Shin-Ra was once he had completed the airship. His airship. The Highwind. They'd taken that too.
One of the technicians ran up the ladders and gantries from the ground to the rocket.
"The President is here!"
"What?" Cid was shocked. After all this time, could they be authorizing the launch? "Where is he?"
"At the edge of the blast area"
Cid pushed by the technician, feeling excitement building in him. He jumped down the ladders, running fast along the gantries. He hit the ground running.
Rufus waited next to a helicopter, the Turks stood just behind him as Cid ran up to them.
"President Shin-Ra" he said. "Why have you come here?"
Rufus didn't answer for a second and continued staring at the rocket. Then he turned to Cid saying, "We need the Tiny Bronco"
"What!?" said Cid, his hopes shattering.
"The airship and the Gelnikas are still undergoing modifications. As an employee of the Shin-Ra Corporation, you realise that the Tiny Bronco was built with the company's money and therefore belongs to us"
"Can't you leave me with anything? First you take space flight, then the Highwind, now the Tiny Bronco?"
"We don't have time for this," said Rufus. The Turks took it as their cue. Reno and Rude walked towards Cid's house.
"No, I won't let you take it," exclaimed Cid.
There was a click, and then Tseng stood there with a gun aimed at Cid's head. The noise of an engine starting distracted Cid for a second, and he watched as the Tiny Bronco lift slowly up over his house. Rude was at the controls and he slowly set it down beside the group. Shera walked through the front door, stopping and staring at the scene before her.
Rufus turned to the Turks.
"Good. Now here are your instructions"
He handed Tseng a sealed package, and then climbed into the helicopter. The Turks watched it move off, before all climbing into the Bronco. Rude moved the plane up and then with a burst of speed it shot out of sight.
Shera ran to Cid, putting her hand on his shoulder.
"Captain! I-I'm sorry"
"Not now Shera" said Cid wrenching himself away from her. "If anyone wants me I'll be in the rocket," he said walking away from her not looking back. Shera watched him disappear into the mass of equipment that made up the launch site. She wanted to comfort him, tell him it'd be okay. But he never let her close. She turned, walking slowly back to the house, feeling tears forming in her eyes.
As the Bronco lifted up from the ground, Tseng ripped open the package. A large sphere of pale green fell into his hand. It was almost perfect, except for a small pyramid shaped extrusion. The rest of the package continued a map and a printed sheet. Tseng carefully read the sheet. Once finished, he passed Rude the map.
"Take us there" he said. Rude nodded. "Rufus wants us to go to the Temple of the Ancients to recover the Black Materia before Sephiroth. This" he said holding up the sphere, "Is the keystone. It's the only way to gain entry into the temple. This means that Sephiroth cannot get to the Materia before us."
"Does this mean we have to face Sephiroth?" asked Reno concerned.
"It is hoped that we will gain access to the temple and remove the materia before Sephiroth is able to discover the location"
"But what if he does?" said Elena echoing Reno's concern.
Tseng sighed slightly.
"We are to use ever method at our disposal to prevent his entry to the temple"
"Shit" said Reno. "Rude, how long have we got?"
Rude held up 3 fingers.
"Three hours?" asked Reno.
"Wake me when we get there" said Reno, slumping in his seat.
The Tiny Bronco set down on a small-forested island. In amongst the forest, they could see the top of a triangular building.
"Is that...?" asked Elena.
"I think so," said Tseng.
A long stone staircase lead up to a doorway at the top of the pyramid. The Turks made their way up the steps that were undamaged despite the obvious age of the building. The room was small and dark. Pillars were set against the walls to either side. And in the centre there was a pedestal, with a slight circular depression in the centre. Tseng placed the Keystone on it. Without a sound, the pedestal lowered and a section of the floor opened, exposing a staircase leading down into the temple. He turned to the Turks.
"Reno and Rude, you guard the entrance. I want to know as soon as possible if Sephiroth turns up. Elena you're with me"
Reno and Rude walked just outside the door and waited. Tseng took a last glance at the two of them, before leading Elena down.
Reno sat against the Temple, squinting slightly in the bright sunlight. Rude stood on the opposite side of the door.
"So what do you think of Elena?" said Reno.
Rude looked at him, lifting an eyebrow.
"I think you two would be great together"
Rude lifted the other eyebrow.
"I mean it."
Rude shook his head.
"Don't you say anything? I think Elena likes you," said Reno, now desperate for some kind of response.
"She likes Tseng"
"She does?" said Reno.
"Didn't know that" said Reno.
Rude suddenly stood up straight, pulling a gun from his suit.
"What is it?" said Reno, pulling his gun out.
Rude pointed down the steps with his gun. A figure dressed in a black cloak was staggering towards the stairs.
"Do you think its Sephiroth?" asked Reno.
Rude shook his head walking down the steps towards the figure. Reno followed a second later. Rude grabbed the figure, throwing back the hood. The man's head lolled to one side, his eyes Mako bright, staring at nothing.
"He's a SOLDIER," exclaimed Reno.
Rude noticed something, grabbing the SOLDIER's hand. He looked at Reno in confusion, holding up the hand. Tattooed on the back of the man's hand was the number 6.
"What the hell does that mean?"
Rude looked up at Reno.
"Sephiroth has a tattoo of number 1" he said.
"He's here," said Reno.
Rude dropped the SOLDIER to the ground, pulling another gun from his belt. The SOLDIER's body suddenly convulsed, a spark of white shooting upwards and into the sky. The body lay still for a second. Then it suddenly jerked upwards into the air and slowly faded.
"PHS is out," said Rude.
"Shit!" said Reno. He reached behind under his jacket and pulled out a second gun.
Unnoticed by either Turk, Sephiroth dropped onto the steps at the top of the temple. He took one glance at them, before striding inside and down into the Temple.
Tseng eventually pushed open the huge doors to the room that according to the instructions contained the Black Materia. The room had two long walls covered with hieroglyphics. And at the end, an altar. Floating just above it was a pure black pyramid. Tseng walked the length of the room to the altar. Elena followed him for a second, and then something caught her eye in the hieroglyphics. She stopped staring at them, attempting to make sense of the carvings. The images were intricate and very complex.
Tseng reached out to touch the materia. It was slightly transparent. The temple rocked around him. Tseng snatched his hands back and the rocking subsided. He looked closer at the pyramid. It was formed from interlocking pieces.
"Tseng, what's this?"
Elena's voice distracted him. She was still staring at the hieroglyphics. Tseng looked, trying to work out their meaning.
"I don't know," he said after a few seconds. "You go join the others, I'll be out in a minute"
"Be careful, Tseng."
She started to leave.
"How about dinner after this job's over?"
"Th-thank you very much."
She walked out quickly, smiling to herself. Tseng watched her leave before turning back to the Hieroglyphics. One panel caught his eye. It contained a structure that resembled the temple. In the centre was a circle of jet black, in sharp contrast with the sandy stone the hieroglyphics had been cut from. The next panel showed another circle heading for the temple from above. It looked like something was falling from the sky.
There was a movement behind him. Sephiroth stood, his sword drawn in the centre of the room.
Sephiroth slowly raised his head, looking at Tseng with his glowing green eyes.
"So you opened the door. Well done."
Tseng stood in terror, eventually managing to choke out some words.
"This place... what is it?"
Sephiroth turned to stare at the stone panels.
"A lost treasure house of knowledge. The wisdom of the Ancients..."
He turned to look straight at Tseng.
"I will become one with the Planet."
"One with the Planet?" asked Tseng confused.
"You fools. You have never even thought about it. All the spirit energy of this Planet. All its wisdom...knowledge...I will meld with it all"
"You can do that?" said Tseng in a mixture of fear and awe.
"The way... lies here."
Sephiroth suddenly thrust the masamune forward. The blade shot through Tseng's body with incredible speed. Tseng's legs gave out and he fell towards the ground, skewered on the blade. Sephiroth slowly pulled it out of Tseng's body. He fell to the floor coughing, clutching at the wound. Sephiroth stood staring at Tseng for a second, before striding to the Materia. He looked at it in deep concentration. Then he turned rising upwards, disappearing through the ceiling. Tseng drew deep ragged breaths as he started crawling out of the chamber.
Tseng weakly raised his head at the exclamation. Elena was stood before him, staring down in horror. He could dimly see the other Turks just behind her.
"Elena...." he struggled to talk. He kept his arm pressed against him where the masamune had pierced.
"Reno, Rude! We've gotta get him out of here"
The two Turks nodded and pulled Tseng up as gently as possible.
Reno was staring at the area where Tseng had been lying. It was flooded with blood. Reno could see the blood on the stairs where Tseng had pulled himself through the temple.
"He's lost a lot of blood. We need to get him out of here now"
Reno and Rude took hold of him and ran down the temple steps, Elena running in front. The laid him down on the ground outside.
"Elena! Get the first aid from the plane!" Reno yelled as he tried to close the wound.
Elena nodded running.
"Tseng...who did this?" demanded Reno.
".... Sephiroth...." gasped Tseng.
Elena stumbled back towards them, ripping open the kit dropping items all over the floor. Rude took a bandage as Reno fumbled with painkillers. Elena knelt beside Tseng.
"Don't die, please don't die"
"...It's too late for me now..." Tseng gasped.
Rude was futilely cleaning the wound, which continued to ooze blood.
Tseng's eyes closed.
"Tseng? Tseng!" screamed Elena.
Reno checked his pulse. He shook his head slowly.
"He's gone," said Reno.
"No!" screamed Elena. "Wake up. Please wake up Tseng!"
Rude took hold of her arms, pulling her back from Tseng.
"There's nothing you can do"
Elena resisted for a moment before going limp in Reno's arms. She began sobbing. He let her. This was no time for professionalism. Rude remained mute as always.
The black-cloaked man stumbled along the empty halls of the temple. A tattoo on his right hand: the number 5. Sephiroth floated above the temple, guiding the man like a puppet. The control was easy. He listened as his mother whispered to him from the air. Reaching out with his mind he manoeuvred the Jenova SOLDIER into the room with the hieroglyphics.
At last he had found it: the Black materia. The hieroglyphics in the room had explained its effects, the summoning of a meteor. When it hit the planet, the Lifestream would be used to try and heal the wound. If he was at the point of impact, he could gain the power of the planet.
Number 5 stopped in front of the sphere. The man's hand reached out taking hold of the transparent pyramid. The temple began trembling around him. Sephiroth began concentrating intently now, his mind guiding every movement of number 5's fingers. He couldn't afford to make mistakes now. Number 5 began moving the interlocking shapes. They slid past and into each other. The shaking of the temple increased.
There was a dull rumble. The Turks looked back towards the temple. The stone turned black. It began collapsing in on itself but not falling apart. The temple began to shrink and then suddenly imploded.
"What the hell?" said Reno getting up.
There was just a deep pit where the temple had been, the sides perfectly smooth. There was no trace of the temple. Lying in the centre of the pit was a sphere of pure black. Next to it stood Sephiroth. He bent down and picked up the sphere, cradling it in his hand. He stared intently into the sphere for a few seconds, before uttering an icy laugh.
He glanced up, seeing the remaining Turks stood at the edge.
"You killed him!" yelled Elena.
Sephiroth looked faintly amused, but said nothing. Reno drew his gun and began firing down at Sephiroth. The others followed his action. The bullets struck the area around Sephiroth...the distance was too great and the weapons not accurate enough.
Sephiroth remained calm. Dropping his arms to his side he stood perfectly still. Suddenly he shot upwards above the Turks, twisting in mid air. He flew away over the sea heading north, moving in a perfectly straight line.
"Save your ammo" said Reno. "We'll get him. But first we need to bury Tseng."
Elena watched as Reno and Rude dug the hole with some difficulty. They had chosen a clearing in the woods. When the hole was deep enough, they slowly lowered Tseng in. Elena began crying again as Reno and Rude shovelled the soil into the hole.
Aeris woke suddenly. She glanced around her room in confusion for a second. What had woken her? Without warning she was overcome with nausea and dizziness. Stumbling she rushed to the window throwing it open. She inhaled deeply, her stomach slowly calming.
She stood for a few seconds leaning on the windowsill, before she realised what was wrong. The planet was silent. The voices had become part of her life, but now they were gone. With her mind she called out to them, but there was no response. The silence was disconcerting. Even before in Midgar they had existed as very faint whispers, but now there was nothing but silence.
Suddenly a pain exploded in her head, driving her to her knees. She clutched at her head, tears streaming from her eyes as she curled up beneath the window, trying to muffle the agonized sobs. Then the voices started. They began as harsh whispers, but then the volume increased. They were shouts now. Aeris tried desperately to block the noise with her hands.
Then...silence. The pain vanished. There was no noise now, but Aeris couldn't open her eyes. She saw things. Materia. A huge black sphere, absorbing all light. There was no reflection on its perfect surface. She shuddered as the image hung in her mind. It could cause great harm. Then a tiny sphere of white. Her mother's materia. It glowed brilliantly.
She needed to leave the canyon and go north. More images flooded her head. A forest with a hidden trail. And beyond that the remains of a city, crumbling slowly into nothing. She had to go there. She had to save the planet.
Aeris was suddenly aware of the hard floor she was laying on. As she slowly sat up, there was a knock on the door.
"Are you okay? You were screaming"
Aeris stood up shakily and opened the door.
"Nanaki" She fell silent for a second. "I must leave. Tonight"
The Guardian frowned.
"It's just something I've got to do"
Nanaki looked at the floor.
"I shall miss your company"
"I would like you to accompany me"
"No my place is here. I must guard the canyon from its enemies"
Aeris nodded slowly.
"I'm leaving in an hour"
The sky was still dark as Aeris walked past the Cosmo Candle towards the ladder down into the actual canyon. She had dressed hurriedly, taking only a little food. Nanaki padded a few paces behind her. Aeris turned at the ladder.
"Goodbye Nanaki. Thank you for your help, and for letting me stay here"
"You are always welcome here."
Aeris turned and started down the ladder.
Bugenhagen came up behind Nanaki.
"You should go with her"
Nanaki looked round in surprise.
"Why? My place is here. I am the protector of the canyon"
Bugenhagen shook his head.
"Aeris needs protection. She is the last of her race. Remember: they are the planet's protectors. Without her, the planet may be lost"
"But I cannot abandon my station"
"Your father did. He saved the canyon. Who are you protecting the canyon against Nanaki? There has been no attack made on the canyon for decades. We will manage without you. Go"
Nanaki nodded slowly.
"Goodbye Grandfather. I will return"
He turned stepping up to the ladder and clumsily scrambling down it. He could make out the figure of Aeris a short way away.
He took one last glance up at the plateau that held the settlement of Cosmo Canyon, before racing after the Ancient.
Aeris felt Nanaki's presence moving towards her. A faint smile touched her lips. She was glad he had reconsidered. This journey could have been lonely.
"I reconsidered" was all Nanaki said as he began walking alongside her.
Aeris was walking fast, compelled to move as quickly as possible. She had to hurry.
Nanaki looked around them puzzled. The canyon was well known for sheltering all kinds of dangerous creatures, but none had confronted them. He caught glimpses, but they were always cowering in crevices or racing away from the swiftly moving figures.
Three days later they arrived in Costa Del Sol. Aeris walked straight through the town to the docks and looked at the assembled boats. Nanaki paused beside her, beginning to sweat in the intense heat.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"North" was her only reply.
Aeris cocked her head slightly to one side, as if listening to something.
"That one" Aeris pointed to a small boat crammed in among the heavy cargo ships. "It will take us"
The next day they entered Bone village. Aeris didn't pause; she just walked through the village.
She stepped into the woods just beyond, Nanaki following at her heels. She paused for a second.
"What is it?" asked Nanaki.
"The forest..." said Aeris.
She listened as the voices spoke again. There was only one way through the forest. She concentrated.
There was a shift in the air and a path became visible snaking off between the trees.
"Stay on the path" Aeris told Nanaki.
He nodded and followed her as she walked through the forest. There was a sense of increasing urgency in her. The further they got from Cosmo Canyon the more her pace increased.
As they emerged from the forest, Nanaki gasped. They stood on a hill overlooking the remains of a city. Nothing grew within the shattered ruins. Vegetation halted at the very edge of the city, curling up an away from the remains of walls. The path they had followed abruptly became a cracked stone road. It split into three a short distance within the ruins: a single path continued in an unaltered straight line, while the two other roads headed for opposite sides of the city.
Not pausing Aeris walked down the hill along the road leading into the city. She began running, heading straight for the still standing central building. Nanaki broke into a run as well trying to keep up with her. Something was definitely concerning her. Nanaki's attention was constantly drawn to the wreckage around them as they ran on. The ruins were nearly familiar shapes. They passed several buildings reminiscent of houses. But there were other structures here, things that defied explanation. Projections thrust up from the ground, twisted and curved like no stone. They seemed to be huge shells, more resilient to the passage of time then the stone buildings.
They reached the central building in a matter of minutes. The gloomy entrance opened slightly to a dimly lit corridor stretching for twenty metres in a perfectly straight line. The walls were not smooth, odd projections thrust out weaving together and abruptly disappearing into the walls. The corridor opened up into a brightly lit cavern. A deep lake lay in the centre of the cavern, and beside it: an intact shell structure, a single entrance visible at its base. Aeris ran past the lake, not pausing for a second and into the shell. Nanaki followed as her as she ran following the twisting shape of the house's inside, to an opening set into one wall.
There was a second city beneath. This one was unscathed, but devoid of life like the one above. It seemingly stretched for miles, lit by a pale blue glow. The buildings here were still intact, but different from the ones above. These all formed recognisable shapes, but seemed to be constructed from a blue crystal, which seemed to radiate light.
Aeris ran down crystalline steps seemingly supported by nothing. The steps spiralled from the entrance to the city, and ended at the centre. There was a circular pool of crystal clear water here, and raised island set into the centre of the pool. A series of pillars protruding from the pool marked the only route to the island. Not pausing, she jumped from the edge across the pillars, and then stopped in the centre of the raised island. She turned slowly in a complete circle, a look of concentration on her face. The planet was talking to her...
Nanaki looked surprised. It was the first time she'd spoken for hours.
"I need to stop him. He is close"
Nanaki was confused.
"The one who would destroy the planet. I must pray."
With that Aeris undid the ribbon in her hair and held the white materia in her hands. Nanaki watched as she spoke words in an unfamiliar language. The materia began glowing a brilliant white, lighting up the area surrounding Aeris. This done she tied the materia back into the ribbon along with her hair. Then she knelt on the island, locking her hands in prayer and closed her eyes.
Nanaki watched her for a few minutes. Aeris did not move. He did not understand what was happening. Turning he padded back to the nearest street and glanced around the city. It was oddly comforting. There was a sense of familiarity about it. But it was devoid of life. Except for her. He turned back, once again contemplating the praying girl, and reached a decision.
Nanaki settled down facing Aeris. He would guard her.
For four days Aeris remained kneeling in prayer, completely silent. Nanaki explored the crystal city finding only empty houses, devoid of any signs of life or habitation. Anything that had once existed in this city seemed to have been completely removed, leaving only the empty shells of buildings. There was no sign of life here. The vegetation that had avoided the surface, also refused to grow in this subterranean city.
On the fourth day he heard movements. New scents filled his nose, seemingly alien after this sterile city. Humans. He looked up and saw three blue suited figures moving cautiously down the crystal staircase, glancing nervously down on to the city.
"What the hell is he doing here?" asked Elena.
"More to the point: where the hell did he go? We saw him walk in here" said Reno.
Reno was feeling annoyed. They had tracked Sephiroth this far and now he had disappeared without a trace. Getting here had been hard. Getting the lunar harp, which the natives of bone village had insisted was essential to negotiate the forest, had been frustrating. Now they had to deal with this. A dual city similar to Midgar.
"What the hell's that?" said Elena pointing.
Reno looked down the stairs. He saw Nanaki stood at the edge of a pool looking up at them. And in the centre... He realised with a shock that it was the girl Shin-Ra had sent him to capture in sector 5. What was she doing here?
"Who are you?"
The three Turks glanced round confused. Who had spoken?
"I asked you a question"
Rude's gaze fell on Nanaki. He raised his eyebrows. Reno caught the reaction and looked at Nanaki.
"You can talk?" he asked.
"What the hell are you?" asked Elena.
"My name is Nanaki"
"What is she doing?" asked Reno indicating Aeris.
"She is trying to save the planet. Why are you here?"
"We're tracking someone" was the reply.
"A man called Sephiroth. He killed one of us. We demand revenge," said Reno.
"He is not here. The only ones in this city are myself and Aeris"
"Who?" asked Elena confused.
"The girl" said Reno without turning. "Sephiroth is here. We saw him enter this building"
"I can assure you there is no one else here," insisted Nanaki. The Turks made him feel uneasy. Aeris had told him of their attempts to capture her. They were untrustworthy.
The voice rang out in the city.
She was still kneeling on the island, but her eyes were open. She was smiling.
"Don't worry. It has to be this way," she said.
"What are you talking about?" asked Nanaki.
"It has to happen this way. It always has"
"Aeris, I don't understand"
She remained silent, the smile still upon her face.
Suddenly, far above her, there was the flicker of movement.
Nanaki and the Turks looked up.
Sephiroth dropped like an immense crow, his coat billowing around him as he fell, holding the masamune pointing downwards.
Nanaki saw what would happen next.
"No!" he screamed running forwards.
The sword shot smoothly into Aeris' body as Sephiroth landed on the platform. The last Cetra was jerked forward as the blade passed through her and cut into the floor. Her eyes caught Nanaki's for an instant as she fell, and then she was gone, her eyes closing and the smile fading as her life ended. She was leaning forward, still kneeling, supported by the deadly blade that had killed her. Blood flowed from her two wounds, spilling down onto the platform staining the untarnished white surface. The pink ribbon that held the white materia fell fluttering to the floor in two pieces immediately stained dark crimson with blood. Her silken hair slowly cascaded across her shoulders and curled around her face. The sphere fell to the platform and bounced away from the two figures, falling into the surrounding water, its faint white glow slowly fading from sight.
Sephiroth looked up at the Turks and Nanaki, a smirk on his face. He still held Aeris impaled on the sword. He held his stance for a moment before pulling the masamune slowly from her back, its blade stained red. There was malice in his eyes as Aeris was jerked upright for a second before falling unmoving onto the platform.
"No!" screamed Nanaki again, darting forward at Sephiroth. The Turks could only look on appalled. Rude recovered the fastest. He pulled his gun from its holster and began firing at Sephiroth.
The murderer stood calmly and then rose several metres into the air. The bullets slowed as they approached him and fell to the floor. He looked down at the enraged Nanaki beneath him.
"Do not weep for her. Soon she will become part of me. As will you"
His voice was like ice, and he seemed amused at Nanaki's sorrow.
"Shut up!" shouted Nanaki. "She's dead"
"You do not understand. She will be reborn in me"
"In you? You are a monster"
"I do not have the time for this. I must go north"
With that Sephiroth rose rapidly, disappearing into the dim light above them.
"He's gone," said Reno.
Nanaki was standing next to Aeris' body. His head bowed, he pushed weakly at her with his paw.
"Aeris?" said Nanaki.
There was no reply. Aeris remained lying there, a strange look of peace upon her face.
"Face it she's dead"
Nanaki whirled staring at Reno.
"How can you be so cold? If it hadn't been for you, I could have saved her," snarled Nanaki.
"How? Even if you'd blocked that sword or taken the blow for her, he'd have still killed her after he'd finished with you" said Reno.
Nanaki struggled for a response. He knew Reno was right, but he needed someone to blame for his failure. He was supposed to be protecting her. Now the Cetra were all dead. And perhaps now the planet was doomed.
"We should bury her," said Elena trying to calm the situation.
Nanaki nodded sadly. He watched Reno walk forward and pick up Aeris' body.
"Put her in the lake" said Nanaki.
Reno looked confused, but nodded.
The funeral procession made its way up the stairs, Nanaki leading with Reno carrying Aeris.
Nanaki watched with Rude and Elena as Reno waded through the shallows of the lake to where the bottom dropped suddenly to unknown depths.
He could feel tears in his eyes as he watched Reno slowly lower Aeris into the water and she slowly sank out of sight, her hair spreading out around her as she descended. Then she was lost in the gloom of the lake. Nanaki turned away tears flowing from his eyes and on to the ground.
He turned, facing the speaker. Elena. He had been crying again. Aeris had become a close friend to him.
"Yes?" he said.
"We're heading north. We're still going after Sephiroth. He needs to pay for what he did to Tseng."
Nanaki nodded. They had told him of the death of their leader, and their desperate need for vengeance.
"You're welcome to join us. We all want revenge"
"Yes, I'll join you. I must avenge her death"
Nanaki watched the isolated mountain village pass below the plane as it moved north. It had been only a few hours since Aeris' funeral. It hadn't taken long to return to the Tiny Bronco through the forest, and they had soon passed over the ruined City of the Ancients. Nanaki's attention focussed on the central building, where Aeris lay. Far ahead he could see a line of mountains. They towered above the area. Nothing else existed at this far reach of the world. If Sephiroth was heading for a specific location, this had to be it.
Sephiroth. Nanaki's blood ran cold at the thought of the murderer. Why had he killed her? Was he the one that threatened the planet? Too many questions. Nanaki didn't care now. He merely wanted revenge. But one question still concerned him. Now that all the Cetra were dead- Nanaki found himself involuntarily shaking at this thought, - who would protect the planet now?
"Anything?" asked Reno.
Rude shook his head. There had been no sign of Sephiroth, just unchanging fields of snow. The mountain range grew steadily closer, the steep cliffs covered with snow and ice.
"What's that?" said Elena suddenly. A tremor had started in the hull of the plane.
Rude merely shrugged, concentrating intently on the controls. The tremors were shaking the Tiny Bronco in every direction, and Rude forced it to stay on course. The tremors increased as they neared the mountains.
"Do you think we can make it?" said Reno, beginning to shout over the rattling inside the plane.
Rude nodded. The edge of the mountain was beneath them now and Rude forced the plane down. They landed juddering on the rocky edge. The ground fell away either side.
"What is that?" said Reno, awe in his voice.
He was looking out of the cockpit towards the north. The other side of the mountain range was like an immense basin of rock. The bottom was hidden in mists and sparks of energy. In the centre they could see a projection of rock. It was twisted and shattered.
"What did this?" asked Elena staring at the scene before her.
"Something must have fallen from the sky centuries ago," said Nanaki.
"Why would Sephiroth be here?" asked Reno.
"I don't know," the red creature replied
The area around the Tiny Bronco was devoid of snow. As Nanaki stepped from the plane, he was surprised at the warmth. Padding away from the crater to the edge of the cliffs, he looked down at the ice and snow covering the cliffs.
The crater walls were steep, formed from shattered rock, huge cracks running from the top and disappearing into the mist below them. They walked on, entering the mist. It ended suddenly, only a very thin layer over the lower areas of the crater, leaving them in clear air. Trails of rock snaked off across the floor of the crater, sparks flying up from unknown depths.
They moved quickly along shattered floor of the crater. The rocks around them were twisted into almost organic shapes. It was as if the rock had grown, forced up from the ground by some unknown force. The area seemed to be slowly being rebuilt, some force attempting to heal this wound on the planet.
"What's that?" asked Elena. The others noticed it too, a monotonous drone. Suddenly an airship burst through the mist layer heading for the centre.
"That's the Highwind," exclaimed Elena.
"That means Rufus is probably here. Damn"
"Why the hell have they come up here?"
"I don't know, but considering what we went through getting here, I don't think it'll last much longer," said Reno.
They caught sight of movement far ahead. A figure in a black cloak.
"What the hell?" said Reno.
They moved more quickly now, more figures became discernable. It was a line of eight shambling figures, all wearing black cloaks. At the front stood Sephiroth. As the figures reached him he touched their foreheads and then slashed them, dropping the bodies into the chasm on either side.
The figures did not run from Sephiroth, but just kept blindly moving forward.
The Turks and Nanaki reached Sephiroth as he slashed the last black-cloaked figure.
"Sephiroth" Reno said.
Sephiroth looked up faintly amused.
"Ah. Still after revenge for your precious Tseng?"
His gaze shifted to Nanaki.
"And you for that Cetra girl?"
Reno didn't speak; he and the other Turks just unholstered their guns. Nanaki extended his claws. This just amused Sephiroth. Laughing he turned striding further into the crater towards the centre, negotiating the uneven ground without problems.
The Turks fired at him as he walked away from them. The bullets once again slowed as they approached Sephiroth, falling to the ground in a tinkle of brass. Not pausing, Nanaki began running, the Turks close on his heels.
Rufus stood in the centre of the cavern, staring at the walls.
"Materia" he whispered. "The entire cave is formed from materia. This really is the Promised Land. There is mako energy everywhere. The Neo Midgar project will succeed"
"This land is no one's," said Hojo. "This is where the reunion will occur. They will all gather here"
Hojo looked up at the tree like structure covering the roof of the cavern. Fine branches of materia held a much larger shard.
"They will all come here. To Sephiroth"
"What?" exclaimed Rufus.
Hojo pointed up to the crystal tree. In the centre was the torso of a man's body. A man with silver hair. His chrysalis was a deep green shard of materia.
There was a movement at one end of the canyon. The pair turned to see a huge eye blink.
"WEAPON," breathed Hojo.
"WEAPON?" said Rufus.
"Once in a time of great danger the planet produced creatures to try and save itself. There were five of them. Their objectives were to destroy the danger to the planet. This is where they rest."
"Do they pose any threat?"
"If they awaken yes. The use of mako energy could be interpreted as a danger to the planet, and all reactors are potential targets"
"How do we know if they'll awaken or not?" asked Rufus nervously.
"The fact that they seem to be preparing to activate indicates that there is a new danger to the planet. It is likely they will awaken now. And destroy every threat to the planet."
As he spoke, Sephiroth entered the cavern.
Hojo whirled at the icy voice.
Unnoticed behind them, the eye of WEAPON blinked again.
"I must complete my destiny. I have been chosen to become the ruler of this planet"
There was a shout from behind him. He watched the Turks and Nanaki enter the cavern. Nanaki stopped suddenly, the figure of Hojo instantly recognisable. He let out a low snarl.
"What are you doing here?" said Rufus.
"Looking for revenge" replied Reno. "He killed Tseng"
"And Aeris" added Nanaki.
Hojo looked shocked.
"You killed the Ancient?"
"It does not matter now. I will fulfil my destiny"
Reaching into his clothing he withdrew the Black materia. The WEAPON's eye blinked again. Sephiroth suddenly rose up to the chrysalis.
"What is he doing?" asked Elena.
The group watched as Sephiroth's hand clutching the Black materia passed through the materia chrysalis containing himself. As he let go of the sphere, he faded from sight.
The ground began shaking. Cracks appeared running across the entire cavern. They could faintly see the black orb within the chrysalis start sparking, energy flowing through the chrysalis and into the walls.
"Get out of here! The place is going to collapse!" yelled Reno.
The chrysalis began to shatter, shards of materia breaking off and shattering on the ground. The Turks, Nanaki, Hojo and Rufus raced from the cavern towards the airship.
The cavern collapsed on itself. The centre of the crater began to disappear into a cloud of materia dust. A glow began growing, slowly spreading to fill the entire crater along with the mist layer that began rising, fed by materia dust and particles of rock.
As the Highwind began ascending, there were hints of movement deep in the crater. Shapes began breaking the surface of the mist. Sections of rock, shot up into the air, and then suddenly crashed down, falling back into the mist. Smoother shapes broke the surface briefly, before falling back into the depths of the mist.
"Get us out of here now!" yelled Rufus at the pilot. The pilot brought the airship to full speed as it cleared the edge of the crater.
Behind them the crater exploded upwards, shards of rock and materia thrown upwards. And something else. Five huge creatures shot up and away from the crater. The onlookers only caught glimpses of massive figures moving up and away.
"The WEAPONs are awake," whispered Hojo.
As the WEAPONs moved away, the crater erupted in a bright beam of energy, sending a shockwave through the air. It hit the Highwind, thrusting it forward.
Elena looked back as the Highwind tore away from the crater. The blast was fading now. Suddenly one single streak of white shot from the crater and into the sky.
"Get the first squad to charge!" yelled Reno into the PHS. Far ahead, through the Highwind's canopy, the ruby red of a WEAPON could be seen, just in front of the towering Gold Saucer.
The Highwind skimmed low over the surrounding desert, while just behind them a squad of SOLDIERs raced towards the WEAPON in dune buggies. Reno paused for a second watching the SOLDIERs progress. The buggies crested dunes, flying a short distance before crashing down, the occupants bounced around inside. The harsh desert sun glinted off the assorted armaments of the SOLDIERs. The traditional swords often used by the SOLDIERs had been dropped in favour of more powerful weapons. Firearms and explosives littered the buggies, crammed in amongst the elite fighting force.
Reno looked ahead towards the WEAPON.
"Are all the rockets ready?" he asked.
"Yes sir" said the Pilot.
"Reno, they're in position"
Reno nodded to Elena as he spoke into his PHS.
"Continue moving forward. Fire one salvo of rockets now and another upon impact. After the second hit, open up with everything you've got"
As Reno spoke, rockets erupted from the buggies, streaking towards the WEAPON, leaving trails of smoke in their wake. The three Turks watched the rockets smash into the WEAPON, fire-obscuring parts of it for a second, as a second wave smashed into it.
"Slow down" said Reno.
The pilot complied, and the Highwind slowed. The buggies shot underneath them towards the WEAPON. More rockets shot towards it, and then there was the crack of gunfire.
"It's moving," said Rude.
The Turks watched as the WEAPON slowly turned, looking down towards the buggies, still heading straight towards it, gunfire and rockets erupting from them all. Slowly the giant maw of the creature opened.
"Oh no..." breathed Elena.
"Fall back! Fall back" yelled Reno as the WEAPON's mouth began glowing.
A burst of energy shot from the WEAPON, impacting into the desert in an explosion of sand and fire. Buggies were flipped into the air, and then crashed down into other buggies and the sand, crumpling from the force of impact. The wrecks exploded as the unused ammo ignited.
The buggies near to the edge of the squad, veered desperately around the bulk of the WEAPON. They sped past the WEAPON, gunfire and the trails from rockets still erupting from them. The WEAPON turned tracking the group that moved to it's left. Its mouth glowed again, and the group was decimated by the blast of energy.
The second group abandoned any attempts at attacking and accelerated desperately towards the edge of the desert. Another blast from the WEAPON destroyed them all.
"Damn" shouted Reno. The Highwind was still flying towards the WEAPON. It began to slowly turn in their direction. Reno ran forwards towards the pilot.
"Evasive manoeuvres" he yelled.
The crew clung desperately to supports as the Highwind began banking. The WEAPON watched the progress of the Highwind as it skimmed close to the desert, before ascending rapidly above the WEAPON.
"Prepare all salvos"
The pilot flipped a switch. One of the screens came to life, showing a view of the WEAPON.
"As we fly over it, drop everything," said Reno, speaking loudly against the roar of the turbines.
Just ahead of them, the WEAPON began powering up another attack. The pilot made a guess and plunged the Highwind towards the desert. The blast skimmed past them. The pilot jolted the Highwind up again. They were now just in front and above the WEAPON.
"Fire!" yelled Reno. Rockets erupted from the Highwind, smashing into the WEAPON. They continued firing as they sped over the immense creature.
"Continue evasive manoeuvres" said Reno as they flew away from the WEAPON over the desert. Blasts of energy shot through the air around them, the Highwind barely escaping.
"Head for Junon" said Reno.
The airship turned and moved out across the sea.
Elena stood looking out to see on one of the upper floors of the Shin-Ra building in Junon. The sea was tranquil and the sky slowly darkening as evening approached.
Suddenly there was a dull rumble... The building began shaking. Outside the sky changed, clouds swept into each other, twisting and curling. Lightning forked through sky, striking the sea. Then there was a shriek of pain. Elena had never heard anything like it, then there was a mournful moaning, the shriek just audible along with it. She clasped her hands to her head trying to block out the sound, but the sound seemed to be coming from everything. Glancing up again, Elena saw that the clouds had begun to clear away. The shriek cut through the air again, and the rumbling increased for a second. Then every light in Junon went out.
For a second there was quiet. And then with another shriek deep red light blasted in through the window. Elena looked out, gasping in horror as she saw the huge red rock that hung in the sky, seemingly larger then the moon. The shrieking and moaning suddenly increased, getting louder and louder....
With a shriek, Elena sat up in bed. She looked round quickly. She was safe in her cabin on the Highwind.
It had been nearly a week since the WEAPONs had emerged from the crater. In the sky hung meteor. The dull red glow it emitted changed the night from pure black to a hellish red light. The north crater was covered with a hemisphere of impenetrable energy, Sephiroth hidden deep inside it.
Three of the WEAPONs were unaccounted for. Some of Hojo's science team speculated that they were hidden in the ocean. One was sighted near the Gold Saucer in the vast desert that surrounded it. The other was ruling the skies. It seemed to randomly descend upon settlements, annihilating everything there. Efforts to attack this WEAPON had so far proven futile. The Shin-Ra desperately tried to track it, but even the fastest aircraft couldn't compete with the WEAPONs speed. By the time they received reports of the WEAPON, it was already too late to mount an attack.
Nanaki had returned to Cosmo Canyon several days before. He was concerned about the implications of the arrival of meteor and had gone to consult the elders.
Elena walked onto the main deck of the Highwind as they flew towards Junon. Reno was talking on the PHS to Rufus. The crew hurried about carrying out various operations and the few repairs that were needed. She nodded to Rude who stood silently watching everyone. He returned the nod.
"All the armaments appeared to be completely ineffective against the WEAPON, sir," said Reno.
Rufus paused as he heard this.
"It sustained no damage?" he asked.
"Not as far as I could see," replied Reno.
"What is it-"
Alarm bells began ringing in the background. Reno could hear shouts.
"Sir? What's happening?"
"A WEAPON is attacking"
"You're positive?" asked Rufus.
"The sonar indicates an object of immense size heading for Junon. We don't have anything that big" said one of the technicians.
Rufus was silent for a moment.
"Activate the defences," he said at last.
Outside huge metal screens rose up from the streets covering the buildings. Sections of the street descended and then slid aside as huge gun turrets rose up. Shin-Ra guards and SOLDIERs raced onto the docks, priming weapons and looking out to sea.
"Where is it?" demanded Rufus speaking into a PHS.
"Range one kilometre and closing"
"Prepare to fire the cannon," said Rufus, looking out towards the sea. There was still no evidence of the WEAPON.
A bolt of energy erupted from the cannon and smashed into the sea.
"Report" ordered Rufus.
"It's stopped moving sir. I think we- it's moving again. Speed 50 knots"
"But we hit it!"
"Sir. The WEAPON is accelerating. Speed 70 knots"
"Reload the cannon"
"It'll take time sir"
"Use regular fire power!" Rufus yelled.
Suddenly, some distance out from Junon, there was a spray of water, and an immense blue fin broke the surface, water thrown up around it as more of the WEAPON became visible, the rest a dim blue outline just below the surface of the water.
"Target and fire" yelled Rufus.
The men outside on the docks began firing. Rufus could here the crack of machine gun fire as the men fired at the oncoming fin. Bolts of energy shot from the smaller cannons sending up a spray of water as they impacted into the ocean. Rockets shot from the docks in curving trajectories as they sped towards their target. Some hit, sending up small explosions on the vast fin but leaving it undamaged.
"WEAPON is still approaching"
A tremor ran through the ground. The building began to shake.
"Sir. It's entered the shallows"
For a second there was nothing, the fin and the impression of the WEAPON in the water was gone. Then suddenly it reared up out of the water. The ground began shaking.
"Continue firing" yelled Rufus
The WEAPON stood taller then Junon. Huge clawed hands came crashing down, anchoring the immense creature onto its target. Parts of it began sliding away revealing an ominous glow. A beam flashed from it cutting holes into Shin-Ra building. Sparks flew as sections of the building collapsed.
"Status on the cannon?" yelled Rufus above the noise as the building shook again.
The very end of the cannon abruptly erupted in fire, completely consuming the WEAPON. There was a second larger explosion just after. As the smoke cleared, the relieved onlookers could see that the entire "head" of the creature was missing, leaving a smoking stump. No longer controlled by life, the WEAPON began falling backwards pulled by the force of gravity. It fell back into the sea, sinking, as the waves it produced rolled over the lower sections of Junon. The immense body lay in the port, partially covered by water, immense limbs locked in prone positions.
Nanaki padded through the settlement of Cosmo Canyon. The death of Aeris still lay heavily on his mind, and he still desired vengeance. But Sephiroth's actions had forced his mind to other matters. He glanced up at the sky. The malevolent red glow of Meteor filled his eyes. Sephiroth had threatened the very life of the planet. But for what purpose? He knew of only one person who might hold the answers.
Bugenhagen looked up from his books, his face breaking into a smile as he saw his grandson.
"Nanaki!" He exclaimed floating towards him. "Is Aeris still with you?"
Nanaki's face immediately fell. He looked at the floor as he spoke. "She was killed"
Bugenhagen pulled back slightly in shock. "By who?"
"Sephiroth" Nanaki hissed the name. The pain he had thought he controlled rolled over him, consuming him. He could feel the tears welling in his eyes once again.
"We went to the City of the Ancients. Aeris said she had to save the planet. Then she prayed. And then Sephiroth killed her".
Bugenhagen's eyes widened.
"The City of the Ancients?" he gasped. "What was Aeris doing apart from praying?"
"She used her materia"
"The white one?" asked Bugenhagen.
Nanaki nodded. Bugenhagen was silent for a second.
"There have been mentions of a piece of white materia in some of the Ancient's texts. These indicated that it was a method of defence for the planet. It was always associated with Black materia. Use of the Black materia is unclear but I suspect-"
"It summons Meteor," said Nanaki bitterly.
"Are you sure?" said Bugenhagen surprised.
"Yes. Sephiroth had it at the crater. He used it"
Bugenhagen's expression was grave.
"Aeris' materia... Was the spell completed?" he asked.
"I don't know"
"Where is the city?"
"It is on the northern continent, but you are old-"
"We must go to the city. We need to find out if the white materia was activated."
Three days later, Nanaki once again walked along the shattered central street of the Ancient's capital, Bugenhagen floating at his side.
"Where did Aeris go?" he asked.
"She went in there," said Nanaki nodding towards the central building.
As they entered the building, Nanaki couldn't help the memories appearing before his eyes again. Bugenhagen watched Nanaki screw up his eyes in concentration, desperate to rid himself of his anguish.
"Where did she go?" said he asked again.
Nanaki walked down the gently curving spiral of the building's interior. But the doorway leading to the crystal staircase was gone. Instead there a blank curve of wall.
"But the doorway was here...." said Nanaki confused.
Bugenhagen looked around him carefully.
"There may yet be answers here. Come"
Bugenhagen floated back up the curving passage, Nanaki following close behind. At the entrance, Bugenhagen paused for a second, as if listening to something.
"This way" he said.
They followed a path off to the left away from the central building, to a partially intact building. Inside it opened out into a cavernous room. A circular slab of rock was suspended in the centre, supported by a bridge that jutted from the stone walkway that encircled the room.
"There" said Bugenhagen.
They crossed quickly to the stone platform. A small circular depression was set in the centre of the platform, a series of holes arranged in it. Blocks of inscription were set into the entire platform and another line of text encircled the depression. Nanaki stared in confusion at the carvings.
"These markings are not in any language I know"
"True. These are the Cetra's language"
"Can you read it?" asked Nanaki hopefully.
"I can try"
Bugenhagen crouched near the depression, studying the text intently. Then, he turned slightly and touched a section of decorative carving. There was a distant noise like rain, and then suddenly water poured from an opening in the ceiling, splashing into the depression.
Nanaki looked down from the platform, watching as the water rushed into a channel on the floor of the chamber.
Bugenhagen's voice caused him to look round. The depression had begun to glow, a pale green that slowly crept up the descending water. Then the glowed faded, replaced with moving images. Nanaki's eyes widened as he saw Aeris, kneeling in the city, her hands locked in prayer.
He knew what was going to happen. He wanted to look away, but couldn't. He watched helplessly as the scene was replayed before him. He watched Sephiroth drop like a swooping hawk towards Aeris, the sword plunging through her back, slicing her ribbon in two. He saw himself rushing to the falling body.
But the images did not remain on Aeris. As the ribbon and the tiny white sphere of materia fell to the ground, the rest of the room was forgotten. Nanaki and Bugenhagen watched as the materia bounced across the platform and into the surrounding pool of water. It sank quickly, eventually coming to rest on the sand that had collected at the bottom of the pool. As they watched the materia glowed a faint green.
"There" said Bugenhagen. "The spell was completed"
"It is never made clear if that is what the white materia is supposed to act against. Their constant pairings in the Cetra texts make it very likely. But we have seen it take no action. But this is beside the point. You see the green glow?"
"I see it," said Nanaki.
"That is the spell activating. It is clear now that manipulation of the White materia takes a substantial amount of time. It is fortunate that Sephiroth did not kill her earlier."
"He killed her as she completed the spell," said Nanaki.
"But the spell has not yet worked. I suspect that it is being blocked."
"Most likely. The materia spheres give access to the powers of the Cetra. The Cetra have become part of the Lifestream: part of the planet. The planet will generate the defence and release it. The white materia is like a trigger."
"Why does Sephiroth want Meteor to impact?"
"I am not certain. But I suspect it has something to do with the theory of Planet life"
Nanaki nodded. He could remember it well.
"I suspect Sephiroth intends to be at the point of impact. The planet will gather its energies and the Lifestream there to attempt to heal the wound. If Sephiroth is at the impact site, he could absorb all the Lifestream"
Nanaki gasped in horror.
"He would destroy the planet!"
Bugenhagen nodded gravely.
"He must be stopped. The White materia spell must be released. Sephiroth must be killed"
Nanaki was silent for a second. When he spoke, there was a new determination in his voice
"I must face him then. I must avenge her death"
"You will not be able to accomplish this alone Nanaki," said Bugenhagen gravely. "I cannot help you in this matter"
Nanaki nodded slowly thinking over his grandfather's words.
"I know of others who also seek vengeance with Sephiroth. I think that they will help me"
"Good. You must hurry Nanaki. There is not much time, before it will be too late to save the planet"
Reno slouched against the railing of the Highwind as the team of Shin-Ra specialists opened the reactor on the top of Fort Condor. Idly he flipped on his PHS.
"Yeah?" Rude's reply came back quickly, short as ever.
"Any problems yet?"
"None" said Rude. He kept his gun trained on one of the commanders of the fort. Elena was beside him stood in a similar stance. Shin-Ra soldiers stood around them, each one marking one of the Fort's soldiers.
A loud hiss behind him caused him to turn. He watched as the science team opened the top of the reactor, releasing a bright green glow. Some gas floated over the edge of the hole, quickly dispersing into the air. One member of the team concentrated on the control panel set near to the base of the reactor. He stood up and signalled Reno.
"We're ready sir"
Reno nodded. He turned to the pilot. "Take us over the reactor" he said.
The pilot carefully moved the Highwind.
"We're in position now"
Beneath them on the underside of the hull, a small hatch opened. A long pronged claw was slowly lowered into the reactor. A crewman seated at the rear of the bridge controlled its movements. He stared intently into the video screen as the claw moved past the crystal coated walls of the reactor.
Reno sat back against the railings again. They had already collected two pieces of giant materia from Niebleheim and North Corel. All they needed now was the piece formed in the Junon reactor.
The giant materia was the latest idea from the defence section of Shin-Ra. They had been developing it for a while using a different compression ratio from other reactors. Now it could possibly save the planet.
Reno hoped the plan would work. There weren't many other options to survive Meteor. Blowing it up seemed an ideal solution. There was no record of the original intended use for the giant materia. But now it was due to be flown to Rocket Town. The failed Shin-Ra 26 was to become the planet's best hope. Once the four pieces of materia were loaded, it would be shot into space, on a collision course with Meteor.
Reno's head snapped up, looking towards the extraction expert. The screen beside him showed a large crystal of materia clutched between the four prongs of the claw.
"Withdrawing now, sir"
Reno didn't answer. He pulled out the PHS again and called Rude.
"We're done here"
"Right" came the reply.
Reno stood, looking over the railings down towards the Fort. Rude and Elena hurried to the boarding ramp.
"Extraction complete sir"
Reno contacted the science team.
"Pull out, we're done"
The team hurriedly resealed the reactor and boarded the airship. As Rude and Elena joined him on the bridge, Reno called the soldiers.
The soldiers moved out of the fort, the two squads covering each other in case of a sudden suicide rush by the inhabitants of Fort Condor. They reached the Highwind without trouble.
"Heading, sir?" asked the pilot.
Nanaki ran from Cosmo Canyon. He had made sure that Bugenhagen had returned safely, and now needed to get to the Turks. They had to face and destroy Sephiroth. As he ran Nanaki thought of Aeris and how strongly he felt the need for vengeance. He just hoped the Turks had a similar desire.
Acquiring the final piece of materia had presented the Turks with no problems. It came from a reactor controlled entirely by the Shin-Ra. The four pieces of giant materia were now safely stored in the hold. Reno looked up towards Meteor. The huge rock was still suspended in the sky, generating a hellish light. He just hoped this worked.
"Set a course for Rocket Town"
Cid Highwind crouched in amongst the discarded equipment crates and watched as Shin-Ra personnel swarmed over his rocket. It looked like they were preparing it for launch. His heart soared. This was his chance!
He had watched with some apprehension as the Gelnikas began arriving two days before. The Shin-Ra had placed the town under martial law, explaining nothing. Those that resisted were killed. But there was something else about the personnel that Cid noticed. There was an urgency in their tasks, and a look of desperation. Now he knew part of the reason why.
Could this launch have something to do with meteor? Its sudden appearance in the night sky had awoken him. The deep red invaded his sleep, keeping him awake. He was used to the blackness of the night sky, broken up by the pinpricks of the stars.
Suddenly Cid noticed the distant, but rapidly growing roar of an engine. The engines of the Highwind. The mechanic looked up as his airship shot overhead, and descended rapidly, well outside the launch area. Now Shin-Ra soldiers hurried to the houses built near to the rocket. People were forced out of their homes at gunpoint. Cid moved closer to the Highwind as they began unloading. He watched the three blue-suited Turks waiting beside the boarding ramp, as technicians hurried up the ramp, and walked slowly back down, carrying what looked like materia crystals.
Cid slowly made his way round to the launch control centre. Apart from a couple of Shin-Ra guards, the building was populated by inhabitants of the town. Most of the original launch crew had elected to stay with the rocket after the failed launch, and had moved into the town as it sprang up around the rocket.
He crept closer to the main control centre. He could hear the activity inside. Voices floated out to him.
"Loading of materia has begun. Explosives set. Check trajectory"
"Trajectory has been set. Impact area has 90% chance of lying on equator"
"Good. Engine check"
"Engines are fully fuelled. Last test showed no faults"
"Good. Has auto-pilot been set?"
"Auto-pilot programme has been confirmed. Simulations show acceptable results."
"Good. Await final confirmation of materia loading"
Cid sank slowly to the ground outside. They were going to try to destroy Meteor. With his rocket. He couldn't just let them use it as a bomb. It had to fulfil its purpose. This was his chance to go to outer space. He had to take it.
"Cid what the hell do you think you're doing?"
The voice crackled through the radio.
"I don't trust ya' autopilot. This has to work"
"Cid, we can't let you go through with this"
"You've only got one shot at this. If this fails we're dead. I'll use the escape pod once it's on course"
The radio was silent.
"Disengaging autopilot" Cid announced. "Launching in T minus 5 minutes"
The radio came back to life.
"Clear the area! Rocket launch in T minus 5 minutes"
Cid settled back into his seat waiting for the countdown. He would finally do it. He would be the first man in space. His dreams fulfilled at last.
The technician punched the final button. The engines of Shin-Ra 26 slowly glowed brighter and then ignited.
"Engines have fired"
The rocket slowly lifted into the air, blowing away the temporary houses that constituted Rocket Town. The rocket continued ascending, a bright trail of smoke following up as it headed for space and meteor.
Cid watched the altitude as the rocket rose. Just a few more seconds... And then he was there. He was in space. The first astronaut blinked looking out at his surroundings. The planet below, shades of blue and green with patches of black. The stars and blackness around him. The stars were clearer then they had ever been on the planet. They were like diamonds hanging in the sky. And above...
Cid shivered. Meteor hung like a vast moon above him. The surface was covered with a swirling mass of fire, angry red rock visible beneath. The rocket continued to move swiftly towards its final resting place.
He unstrapped himself. Time to go. He didn't want to give up space, but he still valued his life. He punched a button on the console.
"Control, I'm abandoning ship now"
"We read you. Get back here safely"
He took one final longing glance around the bridge and the new world around him, and descended towards the escape pod.
Cid moved quickly past the ranks of oxygen tanks. He heard a hissing. Tank number 8 was leaking. Before he could react, the tank exploded.
A shout woke Cid. He couldn't feel his legs... He opened his eyes. Shera was stood before him, a look of horror on her face.
"Shera? What the hell are you doing here?"
"That doesn't matter...I have to get you out of here"
With those words she grabbed the chunk of metal that was pining Cid and strained, trying to lift it. She collapsed back, breathing hard.
"It's too heavy" She began crying.
"Shera" Cid said. "Go. Save yourself"
Shera shook her head.
"I won't leave you. I couldn't live without you"
The words shocked Cid.
"Shera...I" he swallowed. "I'm sorry for how I've treated you"
"Don't be. I ruined your dream your dreams"
Cid shook his head angrily.
"No you didn't. It wasn't your fault that the next launch got cancelled. And you were right about the oxygen tank. "
He smiled. Shera smiled slightly, still crying. She threw her arms around Cid. For the first time in his adult life, Cid felt tears begin to form in his eyes. He pulled Shera close to him. Why hadn't he apologised sooner? Now he had doomed them both. But at least the people of the planet would live. Shera pulled back slightly and faced Cid, searching his face for a few seconds before kissing him. Cid pulled her closer to him as he returned the kiss.
The rocket hit meteor and exploded in a blinding flash of white light. The four pieces of giant materia added to the initial explosion of the fuel tanks. Everyone watched anxiously as the light slowly faded.
Meteor still hung there, a vast area of the surface missing, the lumps of rock spinning some distance above the surface. Bolts of lightning, snapped from the surface to the fragments, anchoring them to meteor. The fragments were pulled downwards, meteor attempting to reassemble itself. A few sections of rock, like mountains still hung above the surface anchored to the main form of meteor.
The white flash caused Nanaki to look up. He looked on as the blinding white light slowly faded. Meteor still hung in the sky. A section blasted away slowly began to reform. Nanaki ran on, Rocket Town only a mile away now. He had contacted the Turks from Niebleheim, having broken into a deserted house. The people had left in droves for the old mines around the base of Mount Niebel. Defeating Sephiroth would be their last chance now that the attempt to destroy meteor had failed.
When Nanaki ran into the town a short while later, he found Reno on the verge of suicide. Elena and Rude desperately tried to calm him.
"It's over," he shouted. "We may as well end it now instead of waiting for that damn rock"
"Reno, shut up," yelled Elena making a grab for Reno.
He stepped back and pulled out his gun.
"I'm not going to wait. I want out now," he said putting the gun to his head.
"Don't do it" said Rude, the sudden sight of the gun shocking him into speech.
Reno faced his two colleagues and cocked the gun. Then he was smashed to the ground as Nanaki leapt into him. The gun was knocked from his hand.
"Get off me!" screamed Reno.
Nanaki put all his weight onto the struggling human.
"Reno. You can't give up now. There may still be a way," snarled Nanaki.
Reno was silent, but continued to struggle before finally going limp.
Nanaki moved away from Reno, breathing hard.
"We must kill Sephiroth"
The three Turks looked at him in shock.
"Kill Sephiroth? That's madness. We can't even get close to him," said Reno.
"There must be some way of disrupting the field"
Reno shook his head.
"There isn't that much energy in any weapon that the Shin-Ra has built"
The group turned to look at Rude.
"What?" said Nanaki.
"The Junon cannon" said the quiet Turk.
"What about it?" said Reno.
"It fires mako"
"Right" said Elena. "If it's provided with more mako energy, the power will be dramatically increased."
Nanaki looked at Elena.
"Enough to disrupt the field?"
"I don't know. But we don't have many choices left"
Reno nodded wearily, and contacted Rufus.
Two days later the Highwind made up one of the many aerial craft that hovered over Midgar. Surrounding it on all sides were vast numbers of helicopters, steel cables fixing them to the canon as it was slowly lowered onto the city. This was the biggest aerial operation the Shin-Ra had ever performed. While the Turks had supervised the transport of the canon, the Shin-Ra construction division had been frantically making alterations to the five working mako reactors in the city, and preparing a mounting point for the cannon. Huge pipelines ran from the five reactors terminating just before the cannon cradle. This was formed from huge sections of steel girder, and the cannon towered above all the structures on the plate with the exception of the Shin-Ra building.
From within the Shin-Ra building, Hojo supervised all the work. The Jenova cells in his body multiplying and dividing, giving him more power, but also slowly taking over. He had begun to notice a faint whispering on the edge of his hearing. A single voice that grew louder by the day. He could see how everything worked now. It was all so easy. His son was to become a god.
Rufus watched from his office at the top of the Shin-Ra building. The cannon was lowered into place and instantly construction crew swarmed over it, welding it into place. The huge pipelines from the reactors crossed the sky on level with the Shin-Ra building, and then locked into the firing mechanism below the rear of the cannon. Sparks appeared along the length of the cannon as it was hastily welded into place. Hojo stood on one of the vast gantries below the cannon, making the last calculations.
Rufus turned to the Turks and Nanaki stood behind him.
"Do you really believe that this will work?"
"We're not sure. It is believed that if Sephiroth is dead, then meteor will be stopped"
"What is this? How will it be stopped?" asked Rufus confused.
"This knowledge comes from my home: Cosmo Canyon. Those that have studied the Ancient's records believe that the planet is attempting to defend itself but is being prevented by Sephiroth. I take this course of action because of vengeance."
"Vengeance?" said Rufus.
"I do not need to explain myself further"
"I see," said Rufus. "And you?" he said to the Turks.
"We also require vengeance against Sephiroth," said Reno.
"He killed Tseng," said Elena.
Rufus said nothing for a few moments. Then he turned to look out the window again, activating his PHS.
"Hojo. Are we ready to go?" he asked.
"Hojo?" hissed Nanaki quietly.
"Calm Nanaki" whispered Elena. "He's head of the science division. There's nothing we can do about it"
"All tests complete" said Hojo. "All readings within tolerance range. Preparing to fire"
On the steel gantry beside the canon Hojo felt another spasm of pain shoot through him. He was losing control of Jenova. The voice was loud now, commanding him. He resisted for now, but soon she would be pleased. He would deliver more energy than could be imagined to his son. There was a roaring in his ears as he began the firing sequence. As he punched in commands, he noticed the veins in his hands becoming more prominent. His skin was changing colour. Every movement he made seemed to happen a few seconds later. He hurried in his task now.
Switching on the PHS he rasped, "Firing now" as his trembling fingers found the firing control. He pushed it and heard the hum of machinery around him increase as the canon began to draw more power. Then Hojo lost his balance, falling back onto the steel floor. His body jerked with pain as something else took control of his body. His sight darkened and he felt himself falling into a void. His limbs began stretching and distorting. The pain was unimaginable.
The Jenova creature continued to take over the body. It didn't resist anymore. The body was barely recognisable as Hojo anymore. It was stretched and mutated out of recognition. It glanced round hurriedly, the hum of machinery around it. It felt exposed. Beneath it, it saw pipes and conduits, a safe haven of darkness. The creature moved coiling itself into the hidden space, watching and waiting.
The canon continued to charge. Mako energy rushed from the reactors lighting up the vast pipes running to the cannon. The lights of Midgar dimmed, and then went out. Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then the end of the cannon began glowing. Streaks of energy began collecting at the tip, the mass of energy increasing in size. The muzzle glowed a brilliant blue white, energy sparking off and along the length of the cannon and then the blast of mako energy exploded from the end. Several streaks of blue white mako energy blasted away, moving on a direct line towards the crater. The force of firing forced the cannon backwards. Shock absorbers slowed the cannon's movement as it was forced backwards. The blast shot across the planet heading on a direct course for the crater. It smashed into the field utterly destroying it in an explosion of mako.
As the Highwind neared the crater, the tremors that had affected the Tiny Bronco hit. The crew and its passengers hung on frantically as the airship strained forward.
"All power to engines" yelled Reno.
The ship lurched moving forwards slowly. Reno struggled along the bridge to the pilot.
"Bring us down on the crater wall"
The pilot nodded, concentrating intently on keeping the massive airship under control. They began descending onto the crater, the forces threatening to rip the ship apart. Eventually the ship touched down on the lip of the crater.
"Keep the ship prepped for takeoff" said Reno as the Turks and Nanaki moved away from the bridge to disembark. The Turks now carried more powerful weapons. Their handguns had been left in favour of SOLDIER equipment; assault rifles, heavy explosives.
The crater was changed. The centre had disappeared completely. Instead there was a deep pit. The Turks and Nanaki scrambled down the sides of the crater, heading for the centre. The splintered and shattered rock had been carved away leaving only smooth walls. They approached the pit. Elena gasped. It was deep, the bottom lost in a bright green glow far below them. Around the edges of the pit there were huge fragments of rock embedded into the walls all the way down until they were lost in the green glow.
"We're going to have to use the rocks," said Reno lowering himself over the edge of the pit and dropping the short distance to the first outcrop. The next outcrop was a few metres away and at a slightly lower level. The two other Turks dropped down beside him. Nanaki paused for a second and then leant over the edge slowly, using his claws to support him as long as possible. He skittered down the wall for a few seconds before falling heavily onto the rock. Reno ran and jumped to the next outcrop, signalling the others to follow him. They spiralled slowly down the pit, leaping from outcrop to outcrop. When they were about half way down there was a cracking sound. The rock that Reno and Rude stood on slowly began pulling away from the wall.
"Shit!" screamed Reno
Elena watched in horror as the Turks slid off the rock and began falling down the pit.
"Reno!" she screamed again. Her head snapped round as she heard more cracking. The rock she and Nanaki stood on began pulling away from the wall.
"Jump" yelled Nanaki, already leaping to a higher platform. Elena ran to the edge, but stumbled, falling heavily onto the rock. It continued to tilt and she slid off it and into the depths of the pit, screaming as she fell. Nanaki hung desperately to the outcrop. He had misjudged the jump. He hung on desperately trying to pull himself up, as the rock pulled away from the wall. It pulled free and Nanaki plummeted after the Turks into the unearthly green glow far below. The rock snapped and Nanaki plummeted down into the pit.
The voice was like ice. Nanaki forced his eyes open. He was still alive. He could see the Turks hanging in the air beside him. And in front of him... Sephiroth. Nanaki snarled and tried to slash at him. But he couldn't move. He flailed, his limbs attempting to cause movement, but he just hung in the air. They were in a huge cavern. Large fragments of rock floated in circles around a structure at the centre. The Lifestream passed through the cavern in small streams lighting up the cavern. It flowed through the air, passing through the structure at the centre.
Sephiroth stared at them and began to laugh.
"Weak fools. You are in my control now"
He gestured, and the Turks equipment hovered in the air in front of him. Suddenly the equipment disintegrated, the fragments floating off, fading into nothing.
"You thought you could destroy me with this?" he said amused. "Nothing will become between me and my goal"
Nanaki tried to move again, but his body wouldn't respond. His mind was free, but his body was Sephiroth's puppet. His limbs hung limply from his body, the Turks forced into a similar stance.
There was a metallic ringing in the air as Sephiroth unsheathed his sword. The masamune. Eight foot of hardened steel. It glowed green in the light of the cavern. Nanaki caught glimpses of his reflection and the Turks on that terrible blade.
"Who first?" said Sephiroth, toying with the group before him. He floated in front of Elena. Her face was streaked with tears, a look of pure terror etched there. She let out a strangled scream as he stared into her eyes smiling.
"You I think"
Sephiroth thrust the sword forward. Elena let out a strangled cry. She flew backwards, off of the sword, smashing into the rocky wall behind her. Blood flowed from the wound forming a cloud around Elena. She gasped, and choked, her life ebbing away.
Sephiroth turned back to the party, looking at them closely still smiling. He looked at Rude. The Turk desperately tried to move, his face pale and damp with sweat. There was a blur of steel and a ripping sound. Rude tried to look down to the deep slash across his body. He began choking, blood flowing from his mouth.
"You are no match for me," said Sephiroth, suddenly turning and impaling Reno on the sword. Reno's eyes widened slightly. Sephiroth withdrew the sword and finally turned to Nanaki.
"You still desire vengeance. You shall not have it"
Sephiroth slashed the sword down. It cut deeply into Nanaki's shoulder. Sephiroth snapped the sword back and down again. The blade left a shallow cut down the length of Nanaki's body. The pain was now excruciating. Nanaki prayed for a quick death. The pain was too much. At last Sephiroth struck. He slashed Nanaki again, then flipped the masamune and impaled Nanaki with it. Sephiroth watched as the last traces of life ebbed from Nanaki's body.
The last thing Nanaki saw as the darkness consumed him was the chilling cold green eyes of Sephiroth.
Sephiroth waited at the impact site as meteor struck the planet. It had begun. Sephiroth let the energy unleashed by the impact smash into the ground. Tendrils of Lifestream energy began pulling itself from the surrounding area. He drew it to himself. He began rising. The tendrils of Lifestream followed.
He watched the debris, smoke and flames rushing away from meteor. They were slowing. The debris began turning back on themselves moving towards Sephiroth, disintegrating. The Lifestream was flowing towards him more rapidly now.
Thoughts cascaded through his head. Everything that had existed on the planet was becoming part of him. The Cetra and their pitifully weak echoes: humans. Voices rushed through his head, all in pain. He merely laughed as he absorbed them all, drawing their power and casting the souls into oblivion. He saw those he had killed recently. The Cetra girl. She tried to plead for the planet. Sephiroth ripped her powers from her and cast her away like the others. Then he saw them... the last humans he had seen. He sneered as they join the multitude flowing through him. How could they think they could have beaten him? They were weak, powerless compared to those he had already taken. The lion creature interested him for seconds...it had some power. With help it could have defeated him.
Then materia reached him. All the spells were absorbed; each reinforced as another sphere gave up its power. Summon spells fought helplessly as he consumed them, they too were cast to oblivion once Sephiroth had taken their powers.
He turned his attention back to the planet below him. He was high in the atmosphere now, the Lifestream still flowing upwards to him. He could dimly see below the crater that meteor had formed.
Looking up towards the horizon he saw the colour draining from the planet as the Lifestream flowed to him. Sephiroth watched the four remaining WEAPONs heading towards him in their last attempt to save the planet, and watched as they too began to break down joining the mass of Lifestream.
The living area of the planet around him contracted, colour fading rapidly. Now the Lifestream had stopped flowing up from beneath the planet. It just burst through the crust on a direct route to him.
Finally the clouds above the surface began sinking, rain pouring from them. Lightning streaked to the ground, showering up more of the Lifestream. The clouds too slowly faded away, the water breaking down and flowing to Sephiroth.
And then it was complete. The planet hung below him, a huge sphere of black rock with two wounds etched on its surface. Sephiroth the god watched dispassionately as the planet began cracking, and drifting away. All life was gone now. His power was unimaginable. He could sense the whole universe around him. He could influence any of it. He smiled.
The planet continued disintegrating; the rocks crumbled to dust.
And in the centre a spark of white.
Sephiroth looked at this with confusion. He moved closer as the dust faded into nothing. A tiny sphere of brilliant white floated in space. Sephiroth reached out touch it. It burned. Sephiroth hastily withdrew his hand. Sephiroth looked at the materia again. Thoughts began surfacing. Memories of the Cetra. The strongest belonged to the girl. This was what would have stopped him, he realised. This tiny piece of materia could have prevented his ascension to god hood. He laughed.
"Mother" said Sephiroth. "We have done it"
But there was no reply. The usual comforting voice of his mother was gone. What had happened? Wasn't she always with him? His body contained her cells. Why wouldn't she answer?
"Mother!" Sephiroth grew desperate now. "What do I do now?"
Sephiroth hung in the darkness of space.