Underground Empire Chapter 1
By Dan Schmidt
Cloud sprung forward and was immediately hit with a strong kick to the gut. Rethinking his strategy, he tried to go for the legs. He dropped to the ground and attempted a sweep kick. Instead of sweeping his opponents feet out from under her, she leaped over his swinging leg and landed on his gut.
"You can do better than that, Cloud," Tifa said with a grin. She helped him back to his feet and they set in the ready position again.
"Its been so long since I used my fists, Tifa," he replied, eyeing her carefully. "Im so used to using my sword, Ive forgotten how to fight hand to hand."
"Your sword may not be there all the time," Tifa said, swinging his fist at Cloud. Cloud blocked instinctively. "Youll have to re-learn to fight hand to hand."
Cloud dropped his hands to his side and took a deep breath. "Im beat," he said, "Lets get a soda or something."
"Its almost lunchtime," Tifa said, looking at her watch. "Want to go to the diner for some lunch?"
"Sure," Cloud said, removing the white tape from his hands, "Ill call Aeris and see if shed like to come."
Tifa frowned. "Its not that I dislike Aeris, shes one of my best friends and all, but you two have been hanging out an awful lot together lately."
Cloud shrugged. "That what friends do, isnt it?"
"Yeah, sure," Tifa rolled her eyes. "She can come if she wants."
Cloud was already at the phone calling her. Tifa sighed and collected her fighting equipment off the ground. She placed it in her closet and walked into the kitchen.
Cloud was still on the phone with Aeris. " okay see you soon bye."
"Ready to go?" Tifa asked, putting on her jacket.
"Yeah, lets go."
It had been one year since the defeat of Sephiroth and the fall of Shinra. Other than the incident with Waylon and the Shinra space station, it had been a boring year for Avalanche. The world seemed to be finally at peace, even if there were still some questions left unanswered.
It was a brisk, chilly afternoon in Nibelheim. It was late January, and the temperature was in the low 40s. Nonetheless, the town was abuzz with action, as it always was.
Cloud and Tifa entered the diner. They say Aeris at a table in the far back of the restaurant. She waved to them when they came in. Tifa hung up her coat and she and Cloud sat down at the table with Aeris.
"How did you get here so fast?" Cloud inquired.
"I dont know. Im just quick, I guess," she replied. "I ordered you both sodas. Is that okay?"
Cloud and Tifa responded with a nod.
"So, hows Barret coming along with Corels reconstruction?" Aeris asked..
"Well," Tifa replied, "The construction is nearly done. Barrets done so much for that town already, but now he wants to become Mayor even. The only buildings still currently under construction are the inn and the weapons shop."
Cloud smiled as he remembered him buying a few things from that weapons store. The owner certainly had his opinions. The inn was also a nice, and very cheap, place to stay.
"We should pay Barret a visit one of these days," Cloud suggested.
"Ive also heard some bad news," Aeris reported. "New about terrible earthquakes happening all over the world."
"I heard about that too," Tifa added. "They had ones in Junon, Kalm, and near the Mythril Mines. I also heard these were short, but powerful quakes."
Cloud frowned. "Why didnt I hear about this?"
Tifa chuckled. "Because your too lazy to read a newspaper, yet too busy to turn on your TV."
"Hey!" Cloud said. He gave her a playful shove.
"Heard anything else?" Aeris inquired.
"Not about the earthquakes," Tifa responded, "Although I did here rumors that a highly lethal gas was stolen from Midgar. I think it was something called MonoA93."
"MonoA93!" Cloud exclaimed. "Thats used in Mako reactor coolant."
"I guess Midgar had an overabundance of it anyway," Aeris said.
A waiter came over to their table and gave Cloud, Tifa, and Aeris their sodas. He then took their order. Cloud ordered his favorite dish at the diner, the Chicken Sorrento. Tifa ordered a Sirloin steak and Aeris ordered a garden salad.
"Not very hungry today, Aeris?" Cloud asked her. She just seemed to be staring off into space.
"Wha oh, no," she replied. "I guess not."
"I know that look," Cloud said to her. "Whats on your mind?"
"Just thinking about those earthquakes," she said blankly. "I hope they dont come to Nibelheim."
"So do I " Cloud suddenly clutched his head.
"Cloud!" Aeris and Tifa exclaimed in unison.
"Oh Im fine," Cloud said. He took his hands off of his head. "Just a little headache, I guess."
"Are you sure?" Aeris asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "Im fine. Lets just eat lunch, okay?"
"Alright." But Aeris could see right through Cloud and she knew something was wrong. Cloud shouldve stopped having those kinds of headaches when Jenova and Sephiroth were destroyed.
The waiter returned with their meals. Cloud dove in to his chicken. Tifa and Aeris both blankly nibbled on their food. Both of them were thinking about Clouds headache.
Cloud looked up and saw neither of them eating. "I said it was just a headache. Dont worry about it."
After the meal, Cloud paid for lunch. Tifa and Aeris grabbed their coats and the three of them left the restaurant.
"Well, that was nice," Aeris said, still with her mind set on Clouds condition.
"Yeah " Cloud suddenly clutched his head again. He fell to his knees. The pain was unbearable. It felt just like his headaches from Jenova and Sephiroth.
"Cloud!" Aeris and Tifa screamed.
Cloud moaned and collapsed onto the ground. The last thing he heard before passing out was Aeris and Tifas shouts of his name.
The blackness was suddenly filled with bright lights. Cloud opened his eyes and saw Aeris standing before him, praying. Suddenly, he looked up and saw Sephiroth, sword raised, headed right towards her from above. Cloud tried to move to save her, but was paralyzed. He couldnt lift an arm, or even move his fingers. Sephiroth came down faster and faster. He raised his sword higher. Then, he looked at Cloud and smiled. Cloud stood in shock as Sephiroth drove his sword through Aeriss body. Aeris slumped over. Sephiroth removed his sword and looked Cloud in the eye and said: "Theres nothing you can do now, and nothing you can ever do to stop me."
"NO!" Cloud screamed. Suddenly, everything went black again. Out of the darkness, the Jenova-SYNTHESIS creature appeared. It began to attack the members of Avalanche, who were tied together on a pole. They looked at Cloud, pleading him to rescue them. But Cloud was again paralyzed. Jenova raised its arms and slashed Avalanche again. And Cloud was forced to watch as each member went down one by one
Cloud awoke with a start. He looked around and saw that he was in his bedroom in Nibelheim. It was dark outside. Tifa was slumped on a chair besides Clouds bed. And Aeris was looking over Cloud with a worrisome stare.
"Cloud!" she said again, "Youre awake!"
Cloud gazed at her blankly and then shook the cobwebs out of his head. "How-how long was I out for?"
"Almost 12 hours," Aeris replied. "Tifa and I were really worried. We started taking shifts watching you, making sure nothing happened while you slept."
"It-it only seemed like I was out for a few minutes," he said, confused. He then grabbed Aeris and embraced her tightly. "It was far worse than my dream on the Sky Lighter. I saw Sephiroth. I dreamed back to that day in the City of the Ancients. It was when Sephiroth you know." He let go of her. "I was paralyzed. There was nothing I could do "
"Its okay, Cloud," Aeris said, sitting down next to him. "There was nothing anybody couldve done that day. But, Im here now. With you."
Cloud smiled and hugged her again. "Thanks Aeris."
"Should we wake Tifa?"
"No," Cloud replied, "She must be exhausted. Let her sleep. Shes earned it. I had another dream too. It was about Jenova itself. It was attacking Avalanche and there was nothing I could do. I was paralyzed again "
"Dont worry about it, Cloud." Aeris caressed his head gently. "It was a dream, nothing more." She was trying to comfort him, but she knew something was wrong.
"Theres one good thing that long sleep made me."
"Whats that?" Aeris asked.
"It made me dead tired." Cloud smiled. "Good night, Aeris."
"Good night, Cloud." Aeris gently kissed him on the cheek. "Ill stay here tonight with you, in case something happens."
"Thanks, Aeris." Cloud smiled again and closed his eyes. "Good night Aeris."
"Good night, Cloud."
Cloud slept soundly the rest of the night. Aeris kept watch over him, but eventually nodded off.
* * *
The next morning, Tifa was the first to awaken. Cloud and Aeris were still sleeping soundly. She silently crept downstairs to make some breakfast.
She turned around and saw Cloud sitting up in bed. "Good morning, Cloud. Did you sleep well?"
"Well enough." Cloud got up out of bed. "Breakfast?"
"I was just going to make it," Tifa said. "Would you like eggs or pancakes?"
"Pancakes " He suddenly clutched his head. He moaned in pain and dropped to his knees.
"Cloud!" Tifa cried.
"Jenova " Cloud got up off his knees and removed his hands from his head. He shook his head.
"Jenova these dreams are because of Jenova." Cloud began walking downstairs.
"Jenova?" Tifa gazed at him skeptically. "Cloud, Jenova is dead. We killed her it in the North Crater."
Cloud turned around and looked at her. "There must still be a piece left. I can feel it. And it must be close."
Aeris began to stir. She opened her eyes and saw Cloud and Tifa standing in the middle of the room.
"Whats going on?"
"Jenova " Cloud said. "Cmon, Ill explain later. We have to get to Cosmo Canyon."
"Cosmo Canyon?" Tifa asked. "Why?"
"That place is a gold mine for clues," Cloud replied. "We may be able to something there. Its worth a try."
"All right," Tifa said. "Cosmo Canyon it is."
* * *
Barret stood outside his deck at his home in Corel. The rebuilding of Corel was coming a long so well, Barret couldnt believe it. In a matter of months, Corel had gone from looking like a run-down old junkyard to almost a nice suburban town. Almost. Lots of work was still needed, and the cold winter was fast approaching. Winter would halt much of the reconstruction, so Barrets workers redoubled their efforts.
Barret turned and saw one of his head construction workers behind him.
"What is it, Dallas?" Barret asked him.
Dallas looked nervously at Barret. "Were detecting some unusual seismic activity below Corel. Its very strange for this kind of year. Corel is not too far from a fault line, but seismic activity this late in the year is not expected."
"Is it much?" Barret asked nervously. "Is it a big rumble, or just a little twitch?"
"Its getting stronger, Mr. Wallace."
And then it struck.
The ground began to tremble just a little at first. Pictures on the wall inside Barrets house shook and then fell to the floor, their glass frames shattering when they hit. The wood in Barrets deck creaked loudly. All around him, Barret saw loose boards shaking wildly. Then, the deck creaked very loudly. Barret heard a cracking sound and suddenly he was falling. The boards beneath him gave way and Barret plummeted ten feet to the ground. He landed sharply on this side and howled in pain. He had landed roughly on a small chunk of concrete.
Barret crawled to his feet, only to be thrown several meters when a larger quake struck. Barret gazed in horror as his house shook violently. He heard another loud snap and the roof of his house caved in. The house shook wildly now, and the siding was beginning to loosen. Then, the house collapsed in on itself. The walls snapped in two and fell to the ground, taking Barrets home with them. Barret tried to scream out, but the pain jolting through his body was too great. He gazed around and saw more buildings doing the same. Collapsing in on themselves, leaving people without a home, without a place to live. People were screaming as they ran out of their collapsing houses.
Chunks of concrete and wood imbedded themselves in the ground inches from where Barret was, but Barret was too terrified to notice. And then, as quickly as it had begun, the rumbling ceased and the ground was still.
Barret struggled to get to his feet. The pain in his side forced him to collapse back to one knee, but then he forced himself to stand again. He looked around him and saw debris everywhere.
Corel. It had taken months to rebuild it this far, and then it was wiped out in a matter of seconds. Not one building was left standing. People were crying of the loss of their homes. Children were screaming for their parents..
And Barret looked down at the remains of his house and began to cry. It had taken so much of his time, his effort, his life tom rebuild the town he loved. But now it was gone. One earthquake had wiped out the entire town.
Barret suddenly raced over to the debris that was once his house and began searching for his head worker, Dallas. He threw debris away at a rapid pace, but still could not find Dallas. He lifted a huge board of wood off the foundation and saw Dallas crumpled in between the debris. Barret pulled him out carefully and saw that he wasnt breathing. Barret quickly pushed on Dallass chest, performing CPR. But Dallas still had no pulse. Barret continued CPR, trying to restore life to Dallas. After about five minutes, Barret gave up. Dallas was gone.
Barret got up slowly and buried his head in his hands. He had to go for help.. People may still be trapped somewhere, and all this debris had to be cleared.. He could think of only one place: Cosmo Canyon.
* * *
Reno of the Turks moaned as the Turks crawled their way into the destroyed Sector 7. Sector 7 was the one Sector Reeve had elected not to repair. The Turks were independent now, and they had been hired hours after they had officially started their business. The man they talked to said that his superior wanted something from Sector 7. That something was the bodies of Biggs and Jessie, two of the former Avalanche members that had died trying to stop the destruction of the pillar. Their client was certainly an odd one, wanting the bodies of two people who had been dead for years.
"What is this guy gonna do with these bodies anyway?" Elena asked as the slowly made their way to the destroyed pillar.
"Who knows." Reno replied, "For all we know, our little client couldve been Barret." Even though the Turks had saved the lives of Avalanche about a year ago on the Shinra space station, the two groups shared no mutual trust or friendship.
"Well," Reno said, staring in awe at the mangled mass of debris that formerly was the Sector 7 pillar, "There it is. I didnt do a bad job of blowing it up, if I do say so myself."
Elena and Rude groaned at Renos lame attempt at humor. They mad their way towards the pillar. Debris became more and more of the problem as they approach the destroyed pillar. After much struggled, they stood before it.
"Not much of a site now, eh Reno?" Elena said, jabbing him in the ribs.
"Hey, it wiped out this entire Sector," Reno replied. "You guys should be proud of me."
Elena groaned again and started looking for the bodies. Reno and Rude did the same. There was plenty of debris to search through, and it couldve taken hours to find anything. But luck was on the Turks side, and soon after they began searching, Elena found something.
"Reno! Rude!" she called. "Take a look at this!"
The other two Turks rushed over to join Elena. What they saw was the bones of a human. There was a few bits of flesh still remaining on the bones, but the rest had either rotted away or been eaten by scavengers. Reno reached into his pocket and pulled out a perfect model of the teeth of Biggs. He compared the two and discovered that the body before then was indeed that of Biggs.
"This is him, perfect dental match," Reno said placing the model back into his suit. "So, who wants to carry him?"
"Put him in the bag, Reno," Elena said, obviously annoyed. Dead bodies werent exactly her favorite museum exhibits. Reno took out a large body bag and roughly shoved the skeleton inside.
"Careful Reno, jeez " Elena said.
"What?" Reno replied. "Who cares if its messed up, we were just hired to find them."
"Over here!" Rude called. Elena and Reno rushed over to him. Rude was standing before another skeleton, much like the first.
"This is Jessie, alright," Reno said, comparing it to another dental model he had pulled from his suit. "Rude, you found it, you get to carry it."
Rude groaned and roughly shoved the body into a body bag.
"Hey Reno," Elena said, looking back at the pillar as the Turks walked off, "Werent there three people who died on the pillar?"
"Three people," she stated again. "Biggs, Jessie and Wedge, I think was the other guys name."
"Oh yeah," Reno said, "Wedge I think I remember him. His body may be back there somewhere, but I dont know why this client of ours didnt want his body found."
"Thats awfully odd," Rude commented. "You would expect hed want all three."
"Its something to think about " Renos voice trailed off. "Oh well, lets get back and get our pay. Im famished, anyhow."
They began to walk back to Midgar; their minds set on the Wedge mystery.
* * *
Cloud stepped into Cosmo Canyon, his mind full of thoughts on these awful Jenova dreams he had been having recently. He sensed Jenova was always nearby, yet he knew Jenova had been killed in the Crater. He hoped to find answers in the Canyon.
"Well," Cid commented, "Lets go see Red." Cid had kind enough to fly Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa to Cosmo Canyon in the Highwind.
They headed up into Bugenhagens laboratory and found Red, as usual, buried in a book.
"Yo, Red!" Cid called out. "How ya been?"
Red looked up from his book and saw Cid, Cloud, Tifa, and Aeris standing in the doorway. "Welcome friends! What brings you to Cosmo Canyon?"
"Jenova " Cloud muttered.
"Excuse me, Cloud?" Red said, very much surprised. "Jenova is dead, though."
"So we thought," Aeris said, "But Cloud has been having awful Jenova dreams lately. He thinks that theres a final part of Jenova remaining."
"That is possible," Red commented. "Shinra dismembered Jenova. Its quite possible that there is one remaining piece."
"Thats what wed like to search for," Cloud said, "But we have no leads.."
"Well, I may have one." Red placed his book on the ground. "Back when I was in captivity, Jenova was stored on a containment unit right near me. I once overheard Hojo talking about pieces of Jenova missing. He stated he was heading North soon to look. It was soon after that Sephiroth attacked the building."
"North the Crater?" Cloud asked.
"Possibly, but I doubt there would be a piece there. We fought almost the entire Jenova specimen in the Crater. I would guess somewhere else."
"Bone Village, The City of the Ancients, Icicle Inn, Great Glacier, theres so many places to look!" Cloud slammed his fist in disgust.
The doors suddenly burst open and Reeve and Barret charged into the room.
"Have you heard?" Barret said, almost in tears. They had never, ever seen Barret cry, not even when Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie were killed.
"What happened, Barret?" Tifa asked him.
"Corel. Its gone. All gone!"
"What happened to Corel?" Tifa asked.
"An earthquake. It tore the whole town apart. It killed Dallas, and dozens of others. My dream if rebuilding Corel was shattered in a matter of minutes!" Barret sat down in a chair and buried his head in his hands.
"Ive heard of earthquakes other places, but not Corel," Red commented. "There have been dozens of quakes all over the planet. This is most strange indeed. Especially for this time of year."
"Theyre weird quakes too," Cid commented. "We had one in Rocket Town the other day, just a small one. They start up real quick and then end real fast.. Its downright crazy!"
"I want to go under Corel and see what the hecks going on!" Barret yelled suddenly.
"Barret, how would you even get under Corel? Besides, its just bound to be dirt and rocks," Reeve commented. Reeve had heard about Barrets dilemma first and had rushed to his aid.
"The well, of course," Barret said nastily. "Well go under the well. These arent normal earthquakes, I tell ya. They almost seem like explosions under ground."
"Barret is correct in saying that," Red commented. "These earthquakes do resemble explosions."
"Im going under the ground and finding out why my town is in ruins, and thats final!" Barret folded his arms across his chest. "Your all welcome to help me."
"I cant Barret," Cloud said. "I have to find Jenova and put a stop to these dreams."
"Jenova?" Barret said. "Oh yeah, I heard about your dreams from Tifa on the phone. Shortly before the quake hit."
"Im going with you, Cloud," Aeris said suddenly.
"Aeris, no "
"Dont try to argue with me, Cloud. Im coming. I know that area well, its where I was born. Besides, I may be helpful in detecting Jenova."
"Ouch, she got you there, Cloud," Cid said, smiling. "Looks like shes coming with us anyway."
"Yeah!" Cid said. "You need someone to fly ya there, dont ya? Im the only one who can fly the Highwind, so Im going whether you like it or not, Cloud."
"If you guys die, do you know how much trouble Ill be in?" Cloud said, trying to hide a smile.
"Hey, I expect Ill be dragging your behind over the snow for the larger part of this trip," Cid said.
"Red, thanks for everything." Cloud turned to Barret. "Barret, good luck with finding out about those earthquakes. Be careful."
"Whoevers making them, theyre in for a major pounding, Wallace style," Barret said. "Good luck Cloud."
"You too, Barret." Cloud, Cid, and Aeris made their way to the Highwind.
"Red, you like that theyre going off alone like that?" Tifa asked.
"Not one bit, Tifa," Red said. "Not one bit."
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