Underground Empire Chapter 6

By Dan Schmidt

"This isn’t very much fun anymore," Cid said.

Nobody was enjoying their trek up the Gaea Cliffs. The temperatures had dropped rapidly in the past few hours. It was probably well below zero now, and they still were no where nearer to where the Jenova sense were coming from. After escaping from the ice pit, they had made little progress up the cliffs.

"I wish I still had some chips," Cid commented.

Aeris clenched her fists. "Will you shut up about your chips? We're all hungry. The rations are gone and there certainly isn't any wildlife up here."

"We'll find something to eat," Cloud said reassuringly. Their food had run out the night before and everyone was ravenous.

"Look up ahead!" Aeris called. Above them was a small opening the side of the cliff.

"That's the third cave in the cliffs!" Cloud called out, excited. "Once we get through there, we'll be in the Whirlwind Maze."

"Great, I loved that place last time we were here," Cid said sarcastically.

They continued up the cliffs until they reached the cave. Inside, they saw the beautiful crystal formations that were created by the ice.

"Wow, look at that!" Aeris said. "It's amazing."

"But it's not food," Cid commented.

Aeris elbowed him hard in the ribs. "Shut up, Cid."

Cid moaned and sat down against the wall. He immediately shot back up. The wall was covered with ice. "Geez, that's cold."

"What isn't," Cloud commented. "C'mon, down this ice hallway. It should lead to the Whirlwind Maze."

Cid kicked the wall and followed Cloud and Aeris down the hallway. Suddenly, the ground began to rumble.

"What is that?" Aeris asked.

"I dunno, sounds like a truck," Cid replied.

The ice in front of them exploded and a huge creature leaped into their path. The creature was dark green and had two heads attached to long necks. Cloud recognized it immediately.

"It's a Schizo!" Cloud cried. "Cid, you remember this guy. We fought one of these on our first trip up here!"

"I remember this scum," Cid replied. "We whooped him the first time, I don't see why we can't whoop this one."

The Schizo's left head roared and shot a beam of ice from its mouth. The beam struck Cloud square in the chest and flung him back against the wall. Cloud's head smacked against the ice, but he jumped right back up.

Cid leaped at the creature's left head. Schizo batted Cid away with ease, but Cid jabbed his spear into the creature leg and drew blood. Schizo roared and kicked Cid aside.

Aeris cast a fire spell on the Schizo's left head. "Use fire on the left side and ice on the right side!" she shouted. Aeris tossed a green 'Ice' materia orb to Cloud.

Cloud grabbed the orb and immediately cast a strong ice spell on Schizo's right head. It roared again and blew a beam on fire in Cloud's direction. Cloud dove out of the way, but hit his shoulder hard against the ice. Schizo leaped right in front of Cloud and raised its leg to crush him. From behind, Cid leaped at the creature and smashed it with his shoulder. The creature stumbled back and Cloud was able to escape.

"You owe me Cloud!" Cid cried above the wail of the creature. The Schizo smacked Cid with its left head. Cid was flung back next to Cloud.

"Where's Aeris?" Cloud said. He looked around frantically. Suddenly, a green light surrounded Cloud and Cid. They both felt suddenly rejuvenated. Cloud now spotted Aeris behind the creature, concentrated on her healing spell.

"Thanks Aeris!" Cid called. He then turned towards Schizo. "You're mine!" He leaped at the creature and drove his spear through the neck of the creature's left head. It screamed in agony and flailed wildly with Cid's spear still pierced through its neck.

Cloud raised his sword and slashed the left head and neck clear from the body. Green blood splattered on the ice below the Schizo.

"Cloud!" Cid cried. "You got Schizo blood all over my spear! That stuff will stain for sure! Not only that, but it reeks too!"

"Shut up Cid," Aeris called out. "You should be grateful that Cloud got your spear back at all." Aeris pulled out a red orb and concentrated fiercely on it. She then called out: "Diamond Dust!"

A white snow began to fall around the creature. Shiva floated down from the sky and raised her arm into the air. Blue energy swarmed around it until Shiva waved her arm forward. Th energy turned into a thick sheet of ice and smashed into Schizo. The creature screamed and shot a beam of fire from its remaining head. Aeris ducked out of the way just in time.

Cloud leaped forward with his sword and slashed at the remaining head. Schizo ducked easily out of the way, but Cid was right behind Cloud. Cid tackled the creature and jabbed his spear into the creature's remaining neck. It howled in agony, but concentrated on one last spell before it died.

Energy began to pull up from the earth. It formed into a large blue ball before it exploded. Cloud, Aeris, and Cid were flung back against the wall. The creature gave one final scream before it lied down and was still.

"Oww… my head," Aeris moaned.

Cloud got up and went over to Aeris. "You okay?" he asked.

Aeris smiled and Cloud pulled her up. "I'm alright. How's Cid?"

They heard a long string of profanity coming from somewhere off to the left.

"He's alright," Cloud said. Cloud and Aeris walked over to where Cid was muttering and helped him up. Cid walked over to the dead creature and pulled his spear out from its neck.

"Smelly pile of crap…" Cid muttered as he followed Cloud and Aeris down the rest of the hallway.

Soon, they reached the outside again. Cloud, Aeris, and Cid made the short climb up the side of the cliff before they reached the crater.

The Whirlwind Maze and the Crater lay before them. The Whirlwind Maze looked exactly as it did since the last time Avalanche was here, except for one thing. In the area where they had fought the Jenova-DEATH creature was a small building.

"What is that down there?" Cid asked.

"I dunno," Cloud replied. "Somebody's been a little busy since the last time we were here…" Cloud suddenly clutched his head and fell to his knees. "Ahh!" he cried. "It… it's here… Jenova… ahh!"

Aeris rushed over to Cloud's aide. "Cloud!" she cried. "Cloud! Snap out of it, Cloud. We're almost there."

Cloud stood back up with Aeris's help and dropped his hands back down to his side. "There. Jenova is down there. That building. We've found it." Without a word, Cloud started down the path towards the building.

* * *

A sound of a door opening echoed down the hallway. Barret quickly pushed the toilet over the hole he had carved into the wall with his gun-arm. Two guards came into view carrying a tray with food and water.

"Here ya go, fatty," one of the guards said. "You better enjoy this food. You won't be getting much while you're down here."

Barret ignored their insults as they opened his cell door and placed the tray down on the floor. Barret walked over and picked up the tray. It was only bread and water, but it was more than he expected.

"What were you thinking, coming down here like that?" the other guard said. "Wedge has an army of men and you had, what, nine, ten people? How stupid can you possibly be?"

Barret grunted. "I think you're pretty stupid to be going along with Wedge's crap. Do you really want to have the blood of billions on your hands?"

The guards chuckled. "You think we care? We're glad that we're gonna live through this all. Ya know what? You'll live just long enough to see the end of all your friends' lives."

"Don't count on it," Barret replied. "I'll stop Wedge, or die trying."

"The latter seems most likely," the first guard said. "See you later, Barret. Maybe…"

Barret watched as the guards left, laughing as they went. Barret smiled, knowing he would get the last laugh. He walked back over to the toilet and pulled it away from the wall. His hole was just large enough for him to fit through. He downed the water the guards brought him and stuffed the bread in his pocket.

"Here goes nothing." Barret crawled inside the tunnel and lit one of the matches he always kept in his pocket.

The walls of the tunnel were covered with cobwebs and niter. It smelled musty, like a crypt would smell. Barret had carved his way into an underground piping system. They were most likely gas pipes, so Barret would have to be careful with his matches.

Barret's knee struck something hard. He yelped in pain before realizing he shouldn't say a word. He looked down and saw a large bone.

"What the…" he said to himself. The bone was too large to be human. "Must be a dinosaur or something." Regardless of what it was, Barret decided to put it to good use. He tore of piece of his shirt and wrapped it around the bone. He then grabbed a handful of cobwebs and wrapped them around the shirt. He lit the cobwebs with the match and made an impromptu torch.

"If there's a leak in these gas pipes… " Barret mumbled to himself. If there was a gas leak, Barret would find himself burnt to a crisp.

Keeping the torch as far away from the pipes as possible, Barret began to follow the pipes. The pipes went on as far as Barret could see. They could lead to anywhere in Wedge's underground world, but Barret decided there couldn't be any place worse than in his cell.

The pipes went on straight for several hundred more yards before taking an abrupt turn to the left. After walking a few hundred more yards, Barret sat down to take a rest. The torch was getting dimmer and dimmer and soon he would be wandering about in total darkness.

"I'm starved," he said to himself. He pulled out the loaf of bread the guards had given him and bit into it greedily. It was slightly stale, but as hungry as he was, it didn't matter to him. He devoured the bread quickly and then stood back up.

"Gotta work double time now before the torch goes out," Barret said aloud. He pushed his legs forward into a slow jog. He started feeling cramps in his calves, but he knew the torch only had minutes left.

"These pipes gotta end somewhere," he said louder than he wanted to. He was right; the pipes had to end somewhere. He felt like collapsing from exhaustion, but he kept moving forward.

The pipes turn abruptly right and then left again. The pipes got very twisty for the next few hundreds yards. It seemed like they would curve after every step Barret took.

Finally, he saw light at the end of the tunnel. The torch flickered its last and went dead. But Barret didn't need the torch anymore.

Although bruised, battered, and beaten, Barret found the strength to run. Ignoring the pain from exhaustion, he charged forward towards the light with everything he had.

His foot suddenly struck a large rock in the ground and he tumbled head over heels. He landed hard on his right leg. He yelped in pain before covering his mouth. His leg was already beginning to swell.

"It's either sprained or broken," Barret muttered. Either way, Barret was now at a definite disadvantage. With a damaged leg, Barret couldn't run, or even jog. It would be very difficult to find a way out of Wedge's underground empire with only one good leg.

"Broken leg or not, I gotta keep moving," Barret said to himself. He began to hobble towards the light at the end of the tunnel. The light became very bright. When Barret reached the end of the tunnel, he found himself staring down from a vent high above a room. The room below him was the largest he had seen in Wedge's labyrinth. It had a floor about twenty feet below him and the ceiling about three feet above him. Below, inside the room, he saw mazes of large desks filled with computer terminals. Next to him on the wall was a large projection screen made from some kind of fabric. The projection screen stretched from the ceiling to the floor and was about ten feet wide.

On the other side of the room was a balcony about ten feet up with several mainframes. Black glassed surrounded the lower part of the room and Barret saw to large revolving doors on both sides of the room. Barret guess that this was Wedge's main control room.

The revolving door closest to Barret began to move and Wedge and another man entered the room.

"What's our current schedule for hollowing the caverns?" Wedge asked.

"Well, caverns are to be made under the current cities of Fort Condor and Midgar," the other man replied. "The explosive schedule is in a few hours. Five tons will be used in these blasts. That should trigger an earthquake of a 5.7 rating on the Richter scale in both areas."

"Hmm…" Wedge said. "Those quakes seem a little more violent than the past ones. In fact, none have been so violent since the Corel quake. Why the need for so much explosives?"

"Well, sir," the man replied, "The caverns will be used to house people, so the caverns need to be wide and high. Solar energy will be generated through the thin ceiling by the plates on the surface."

"Good enough for me," Wedge said. "Finally, I'll be able to rid this planet of all the things that plague it. I expect that nothing will go wrong."

"Rest assured sir," the man replied. "As long as no one tampers in the control room, everything will go off without a hitch."

"Excellent work," Wedge said. "I just hope Tanden can deliver the rest of the gas. I really don't have that much faith in him, but I feel he's capable. Dismissed."

The other man saluted Wedge and exited through the door.

Wedge looked up at the ceiling. "I smell a rat," he said. "I don't know where, or when, or how, but I can sense something is amiss. And if it has anything to do with Barret, he'll be immediately executed by me."

Wedge turned around and exited the way he came. The revolving doors came to a stand still, but Barret still remained quiet.

"Fort Condor and Midgar," he whispered to himself. "All those people… I've got to find a way to stop those explosives."

He then remembered what the man Wedge was with said about tampering with the controls. The man had unexpectedly given Barret the information he needed.

"I don't know much about computers, but 'tampering' sounds like my kind of business," Barret said to himself. "Wedge was right. He did smell a rat. That rat is Barret Wallace himself."

Barret looked down and saw the floor was twenty feet beneath him. He took a deep breath and leaned back against the wall.

"Now I just gotta figure out how to get down from here," he said to himself.

* * *

"Ah…" Reno said as he, the other two Turks, Tifa, and Vincent entered Nibelheim. "This is the first time I've been to Nibelheim and not smelled Mako. Unfortunately, I know smell the rancid odor of this putrid town."

"Shut your hole, Reno," Tifa shot back. "This is my home and it smells just fine."

Vincent didn't say anything, but gave Reno a cold stare.

"Just a matter of opinion," Reno said. "Now, we need to find out if Tanden is here or not. Shall we check the old reactor?"

Everyone agreed on that. They walked up past the Shinra mansion towards the Nibelheim Mountains. The mountains were easily the steepest and most jagged on the planet. Nibelheim thrived on the winter sports they drew in during the cold seasons. Skiing was probably the biggest sport in the whole region.

Tifa had been to the Nibelheim Mountains a few times in her life and each time end badly. The first time was when she was young, right after her mother died. She fell from the rope bridge and nearly died. The second time was during their previous fiasco with Sephiroth, where they were nearly killed by a Materia Keeper.

"I love the Nibelheim Mountains, don't you?" Reno said, as if on cue with Tifa's thoughts. "I love skiing and hiking."

Tifa clenched her fists, but she knew Reno was doing it intentionally. She just continued walking.

They soon reached the rope bridge, which was very unsafe after a year of no repair. The boards looked old and corroded, but they knew of no other way to reach the reactor.

Reno held up at the bridge. "Would anyone like to go first?" Reno obviously felt the same as Tifa about the rickety bridge.

"I'll go," Vincent said with uncanny calmness. Vincent walked casually onto the bridge.

"I'm not impressed," Reno said as he followed Vincent onto the bridge. He was followed by Rude and then Elena.

Tifa hesitated for a brief second before she followed the others. She hadn't taken five steps before the wood began to creak loudly under her.

"Umm… guys?" Tifa called out. "This bridge doesn't seem very stable…"

Before she could finish, the boards beneath her gave out and Tifa plunged downward. She desperately reached for something stable to hold onto and grabbed the board directly in front of her.

Vincent raced back towards her, slipping past the Turks. He reached his hand out to her. "Grab on, Tifa. I'll pull you up."

Tifa gratefully accepted his help and grabbed his arm. Vincent pulled her up easily and Tifa thanked him.

Reno stood staring at the two of them. "Could you hurry it up? Tanden could be gone by the time we get there."

"Reno, is there ever a time when you do care about other people?" Tifa asked. "I've seen you care about others once, on the Shinra space station a year ago."

"Really?" Reno replied. "Well, I guess one time is my record." He smiled gleefully back at her.

Tifa had to hold herself back. Reno was easily the rudest person she had ever met.

"If it makes you feel better, I've seen Reno does care greatly about Rude and Elena," Vincent whispered to her.

"Well, it's a start," Tifa replied.

They made the rest of the journey without a hitch and stood before the reactor several minutes after the bridge incident.

"Look over there!" Elena pointed towards two trucks hidden behind some large rocks. "Those must be Tanden's trucks."

"Looks like we hit the jackpot." Reno pulled out his electro-mag rod. "Time for a little fun." Reno ran up the stairs and into the reactor.

"Reno! Wait up!" Elena raced in after him, followed by Rude.

"Those Turks sure like to rush into things," Tifa commented.

Vincent nodded in agreement and raced in after the Turks.

Tifa shrugged. "Looks like I'm the only one who thinks we should have a plan." She shook her head and entered the reactor. The second she got back inside, bad memories filled her mind. She remembered seeing her father lying down dead after Sephiroth brutally attacked him. She also saw herself getting slashed across the chest by Sephiroth. She had come so close to death, and she hated to think what would've happened if Cloud hadn't come to her rescue and stopped Sephiroth.

Tifa shook her head. She forced those bad memories from her mind. "That was a long time ago," she said to herself. "I need to concentrate on what's going on now. Now is important."

"Tifa, would you like to join us?" came Reno's sarcastic voice from deeper inside the reactor. "We don't have all day."

Tifa hurried into the room with the different pods. She saw Reno, Rude, Elena, and Vincent hiding behind one the pods on the bottom floor.

"Tifa, over here," Vincent called.

Tifa ran over and ducked behind the pod. "Are Tanden and his men in here?" Tifa couldn't see anything over the pod.

"Yeah, they're up in the Jenova room stealing the MonoA93 gas," Reno replied. "He appears to only have a few men with him."

The door to the Jenova room opened and several men came out carrying canisters of MonoA93 gas.

"That's the last of it!" Tanden called from inside the room. He exited the room carrying a canister of the gas.

"Now seems like a good time," Reno said. He leaped out from behind the pod, followed by the other Turks. Vincent and Tifa optioned to remain low.

"Hello there, Tanden," Reno said. "Looks like you've got your hands full."

Tanden's eyes went wide in panic. He obviously hadn't expected Reno and the Turks to find him.

"Attack them!" Tanden shouted nervously to his troops. The troops dropped their canisters and reached for their weapons. But, before they could get them out, they were struck with a powerful fire spell.

"Compliments of Elena!" Elena shouted with satisfaction.

Tanden's eyes went wide with fear. He quickly hurled his canister of gas at Reno. The canister struck Reno in the knees and he fell back into the other Turks. Tanden saw his opportunity and bolted past the Turks and out of the reactor.

"Now we should move," Vincent said quietly to Tifa. The two of them ran out after Tanden. They got outside and saw him shouting to the drivers of the trucks.

"Go!" Tanden shouted. "Get going! They're right behind us!"

The engines of both trucks started and Tanden leaped into the back of the last truck. The trucks pulled out from behind the rocks and started down the path that led out of the Nibelheim Mountains.

Tifa looked angrily at the trucks and shouted, "You're gonna get yours Tanden! Just wait until we meet the next time!"

Tanden chuckled and made a profane gesture back at Tifa using his middle finger. Vincent suddenly fired a shot at the trucks, which made Tanden duck down inside.

A now recovered Reno walked out from the reactor, flanked by the other two Turks. "Did Tanden get away?"

"Unfortunately," Vincent replied. "But not without a scare."

"He left all his men behind," Reno said. "Typical Tanden. Now, we need to try to find out where he's going next."

"I say we leave Reeve, Yuffie, and Red at Gongaga, since he hasn't been there yet," Tifa suggested. "Then, I say we go to Fort Condor. That and Gongaga are the only two places left for him to hit."

"Hey, that's the first good idea I've ever heard from you, Tifa!" Reno said in his usual sarcastic manner. "Looks like we're going to Fort Condor."


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