Blood and Fire
It all went wrong.
Intell said that the enemy wouldn't be ready for their swift and sudden attack, said that the Shinra forces would be able to easily land and take the coastline. It was assumed that the last of the Wutai Army would be entrenched in the capital itself, not awaiting the first assault wave on the beach. What the higher-ups hadn't realized, had perhaps refused to realize, was that the enemy forces were now desperate, fighting on madly because they had no other choice. The seaside village of Colomin was nothing but a collection of ramshackle wooden buildings, but the people of Wutai had decided to make a stand there.
It wasn't the first time Vance Gainsborough had seen his superiors proved wrong, and it probably wouldn't be the last, either.
The first wave was decimated. The slow-moving amphibious transport ships had been little more than meat to the Wutai shore defense missile launchers. Dozens of the assault craft had gone to the bottom, and with them countless skilled Shinra soldiers. Even landing on the beach offered no safety. The few men that were left had tried to rush the defensive bulwark and had been duly torn to shreds. Most of the commanding officers in the first assault were either dead or mortally wounded, but the rest said the battle wasn't lost yet. Help was coming.
That thought did little to comfort Vance now, as he and what was left of his unit hunkered on the beach, pressed against a boulder for shelter. The propaganda mills could talk about how Wutai was running short on heavy weaponry all they wanted, but it sure seemed like the soldiers in the town above had plenty to hurl down on the advancing Shinras. As if to underscore his thoughts, at that very moment a huge shell landed nearby, plowing up a huge stretch of the beach and showering the soldiers with sand.
Vance grunted irritably; the sand had covered his helmet's red visor. As he wiped his hand over it to clear his vision, he heard Sergeant Holcroft yelling into his military issue PHS:
"I don't care how you get those tanks here," the sarge bellowed, his face a livid shade of red, "but we need em and we need em now. My men are being cut to pieces by their artillery! We've gotta have armored support!"
Swearing loudly, Holcroft switched off the PHS and jammed it into the pocket of his blue uniform. He turned to his men, his teeth set angrily.
"We'll have to hold here a while longer, boys," he said, "Seems our armored divisions haven't even landed yet. Command's babbling about a mix-up in communications."
"What do we do, sir? What are our orders?" asked the young soldier called Vargas, his blue eyes wide with horror behind his helmet.
"We don't have any orders," Holcroft replied, "And with all the other officers shot up, we're not likely to be getting any more soon. I guess we gotta hold here for now - unless some of you boys feel like charging into those gun emplacements?"
Predictably enough, no one took his suggestion.
Twisting around as best he could without exposing himself, Vance looked out over the sea. Within a minute, he saw the second assault wave approaching; dozens of short, chunky transport ships. Each of them contained either Shinra troops or tanks, hopefully enough to break the iron defense above and overrun the beach.
An ear-splitting shriek tore through the air, then another, then another. Massive Wutai rockets flew over the Shinra soldiers, sizzling towards the advancing transports. A few crashed into the water, kicking up an enormous spray but doing no other harm. The rest of the missiles, however, ripped into the Shinra ships, sinking several and damaging about a dozen more. Even from the beach the explosions were morbidly impressive.
Again the shore defense launchers spoke, and again more transports went down. But it wasn't enough; slowly, inexorably, the Shinra craft limped forward until they made their way into the shallows.
There was a cheer from Holcroft's exhausted soldiers as several transports grounded themselves nearby, their front portals opening to disgorge tanks and fresh men. Looking at the determination and blind bravery on their faces, Vance wondered if he had ever borne a similar look. He had a feeling that maybe he had about an hour ago, before he charged from his transport and straight into hell.
As the soldiers in the second assault rushed to take cover along with the tattered remnants of the first, Vance realized what was going on. The tanks were going to open up on the defensive line, silencing some of the heavy arms fire and forcing a breach. Then, the soldiers could charge up the beach and shatter the Wutai fortifications.
The tanks moved forward, their treads cutting wide swaths in the sand. Disregarding any particular unit grouping, they simply took their positions where they could, the lighter Pheonixes standing shoulder to shoulder with the truly massive Gigases.
Then, Vance heard a sound that more beautiful and stirring than any he had ever heard before; the Shinra tanks' cannons roared. The men around him pumped their fists in the air as the armored vehicles belched fire.
The screams of the eviscerated defenders were dark amusement.
A momentary alarm rose in the Shinras as six Wutai tanks moved into firing positions atop the ridge above them. They were call Schrantal, a word that meant "Dragon" in the ancient language of Wutai. Vance thought it a fitting name; the Wutai machines were small, but a couple could go toe-to-toe with a Gigas and their cannons could rip apart a Pheonix's armor like tinfoil.
The Wutai vehicles opened up, their powerful cannons screaming out a challenge to the attackers. In a flash, two nearby Pheonixes seemed to disintegrate. Their crews had no chance to escape.
The Schrantal fired again, destroying another three Pheonixes and crippling a Gigas. Then, the Shinra tanks answered with a fusillade of their own, blowing one Wutai tank to pieces and seriously damaging another.
So the battle continued. Though outnumbered, the Wutai machines outgunned the Shinra tanks and had a better defensive position. For a long time, the battle was a bitter stalemate. Vance gritted his teeth and saw the soldiers around him doing much the same; the longer the fight drug on, the longer the enemy had to move in more weapons.
Finally, the armored standoff ended. It was just a matter of attrition, and eventually the last "Dragon" took a direct hit from a Gigas and exploded. The Shinra Infantry shouted in triumph as the tanks began moving forward to deal more death to the defenders. The veteran commanders were sober, however. True, the assault might be progressing, but too many skilled tank crews had died in the shootout. They would be hard to replace.
As the Shinra armored divisions crawled higher up the beach, more Wutai tanks moved to challenge them. These newcomers, however, were of the lighter Muitzi (Chocobo) class. For a few brief minutes, they stopped the advance by weight of sheer numbers, firing their underpowered cannons into the Shinra machines at what amounted to point-blank range. It was, Vance decided, a suicidal move, but it was the only way they could hope to stop the heavily armored attackers.
The Pheonixes, being the lightest of all the Shinra armored vehicles, had some trouble with the psychotically brave Muitzi, and though their crews worked efficiently and skillfully many were destroyed. The Gigases, on the other hand, seemed to relish the close and dirty combat favored by the Wutai Army. Their turrets rotating, the heavy assault tanks blew away enemy after enemy. The slaughter was appalling.
In time, the Muitzi were broken, and those few that had somehow survived were abandoned by their terrified crews. But now, though the Shinra tanks could continue to rake the defensive line with fire, they had advanced as far as was safely possible. The ground ahead of them was filled with innumerable land mines, sink holes, and other nasties that could stop an armored fighting machine in its tracks. It was time for the infantry to move in.
Of course, anything that could stop a Shinraworks masterpiece would certainly annihilate a creature of flesh and blood. But Command and President Shinra, in all their infinite wisdom, had apparently decided that it would be far easier and far more economical to replace a human life than a war machine. After all, all you had to do was snatch up another raw, eager recruit, put him in a blue Shinra uniform, slap a gun in his hands, and send him out to die. If you lost a tank, well, you had to build a brand new one! Longer working hours, more material and Mako power expended......
Economically sound, morally insane, thought Vance.
Then, the chance for cohesive thought was gone. From now on, he would have no choice but to concentrate fully on the battle. Anything else could get him killed.
"Forward!" screamed an officer nearby. Vance had never seen him before, and knew he had to have come in the second wave. He looked young and scared, way too green to be leading men into a situation like this.
Nevertheless, the men of the Shinra Infantry charged!
In those first stunning minutes when the battle had begun, Vance thought he knew hell. It was a fairly reasonable impression; after all, he had seen most of his friends and nearly all of his commanding officers die in the first seconds of the initial assault, raked by gunfire, pierced by shrapnel. Old Corey had been blown in half by an artillery shell.....
Now, running up the slope of the gritty beach, his Shinraworks No.4 Submachine Gun gripped tightly in his sweating hands, he realized that he had been mistaken.
How it could have been worse, he didn't know, but it was clear that this time the assault was even more horrific. Maybe it was that his original shock had finally passed, giving him a terribly clear view of the world around him. Maybe it was a natural reaction to the fact that he was in more danger himself. He just didn't know. Furthermore, he didn't want to know.
If I live through this, he thought, I'll wake up screaming every night for the rest of my life.
The whole nightmare charge up the beach was brutally clear to the physical side of his being, but his mind seemed to utterly reject it. Mechanically, he ducked and dodged, sometimes running, sometimes crouching, sometimes crawling, but always moving forward and upward. Agonizing sights appeared as he advanced.
A man lying still, looking as if he might have been asleep save for the fact that half his head was missing........ A severed hand, its nails bitten ragged. A man reduced to bloody gobbets of meat. A loose eyeball, a vivid shade of green, like the ones that the vids always said belonged to a "lady- killer." And everywhere there was blood, staining the sand a dark crimson.
Somebody's made an awful mess, he thought, then something inside him seemed to giggle. Briefly, he wondered if he was losing his mind.
Somehow, he survived the trip up the beach, though his rational thoughts had retreated to a far corner of his soul and locked themselves away, leaving him in a gray haze. Perhaps it was that his body had been trained so well that it knew reflexively how to respond.
Yeah, sure, Vance thought, seeming to come back to himself. Before the war, he had merely been an item shop owner and a gardener. He was no killing machine, and didn't have the instincts of one, either. He had simply been lucky.
Now, he had reached the kill zone where the Muitzi and the Shinra tanks had clashed just a few minutes earlier. Flaming wreckage was everywhere, and he could see many Shinra troops dug in around the area; the assault had stalled.
"Vance! Over here!" it was Vargas.
He and another trooper were in partial cover behind a burning, disabled Gigas. Vance moved to join them. It wasn't the safest spot; even a mechanic as terrible as himself knew they would be in trouble if the tank's ammo went off. Still, the danger of possible death was better than the certainty. Just a little further up, Wutai gun emplacements were throwing out a nigh impenetrable wall of lead. They'd all already seen what happened when you went up against those odds. The only recourse seemed to be to wait for the tanks to silence them.
As he ducked behind the Gigas with the rest, Vance noticed that Vargas was holding a grimy, bloodstained PHS.
"It's Holcroft's," explained the young soldier before Vance could ask. "He didn't make it."
"So what's the word?" asked the other soldier, a muscular man with a unique accent.
"Says we're to hold our positions," replied Vargas. "The tanks are taking severe losses, but they're breaking the defenses up." Uneasily, he adjusted the strap of the cumbersome Shinraworks No. 8 Rocket Launcher that was slung over his shoulder.
"So where are you guys from?" asked the other suddenly. Vance thought for a moment that getting into a personal conversation in the middle of a battle was insane, but then reconsidered. When the next instant might be your last, wasn't it natural for the brain to struggle to absorb all it could in the final seconds? In any case, he decided a little talk couldn't hurt as long as they were pinned down here.
"I'm Vargas - from Junon," said the younger man.
"I am Dio. I come from Costa Del Sol." then he turned to Vance. "And you?"
"Vance - from Midgar."
"Ah, Midgar," said Dio, "Are the stories I hear true? Do you really live under a huge plate and never see the sun?"
"They're true, at least some of them. You can spot the sun every now and then as it's rising or setting, but you have to be fast. Even at high noon it's dark under the plate."
"I hear there's so much pollution and Mako poisoning in the slums that there are mutie monsters everywhere." that was Vargas.
"You haven't heard wrong. My neighborhood is reasonably safe, but I've seen monsters before.."
"Why would anyone want to live there?" Dio asked.
"You want to know why I live there? I'll show you." Vance reached inside the front of his uniform and pulled out a silver chain with a locket on it. He opened it up to reveal a blurry photograph of a girl. It had been taken, he fondly remembered, at a cheap photo booth the night before he left for the war.
"This is Elmyra," he said. "She's my wife, and she has lived all her life in Midgar. It would tear her up to leave, and I love her too much to ask her to do that."
"She's very beautiful," Vargas said. It was true, though there was no way the young soldier could have known it from looking at the blurred photo. When Vance thought of her soft brown hair and her tranquil green eyes, he longed for nothing more than to return to her. But something dark and deep within him whispered evilly - You've changed, Vance. Elmyra's as kind and beautiful and innocent as she ever was, but part of your soul is dead now. You've killed men, Vance, and nobody like her wants a killer for a husband.
"Someday I'm going to open a great amusement park," said Dio. "I want it to be the entertainment capital of the world. It'll have Chocobo races, roller coasters, games - even fights at an arena."
"And where are you going to get the money for all this?" Vargas's voice dripped sarcasm.
"I've got the money," Dio said. "I'm a billionaire!"
"You're a liar, that's what you-" suddenly he stopped. From behind the three Shinra troops came an ominous mechanical creak.
It was one of the Muitzi tanks that was thought to have been disabled. It sure looked like hell; its main cannon barrel was broken off and smoke and fire billowed from several ragged breaches in its armor. It was still capable of locomotion, however, and even in its current condition it was more than a match for the three of them.
"Scatter!" screamed Dio as the Wutai monster closed in.
A terrible sound filled the air, reminiscent of a huge bolt of cloth being ripped. The tank's primary gun was definitely disabled, but its secondary battery seemed to be in fine working order. Chattering as if it were scolding Vance and his friends, the Muitzi's Vulcan Cannon spat hundreds of bullets into the air.
Vance maneuvered himself around a corner of the burnt-out Gigas where he could at least get a little cover and opened up with his gun, knowing it was probably useless. The SW-4 was a fine weapon, but it hadn't been designed with a job like this in mind.
Vargas was trying to be a hero, undoubtedly inspired by the war propaganda vids that were forever on television, the ones where a soldier always single-handedly smashed the Wutai army. He was wide out in the open, his rocket launcher at the ready. Vance wanted to yell at him to run, to take cover, wanted to tell him that he would be cut down in the open like that. He knew that it would do no good. Besides, the younger soldier would never have heard him over the din of the Vulcan.
Narrowing his eyes, Vargas balanced his massive SW-8 on his shoulder and sighted, ready to blow the metal monster to pieces.
Instead, he died.
At least Vargas never knew what hit him. Quick as a flash the huge cannon bullets tore into his chest, blowing a huge hole all the way through his body. He slumped backwards almost reluctantly, the still-intact SW-8 sliding from his shoulder.
The Wutai tank was rotating its cannon back and forth, searching for the next target, when Dio made his way to Vance's side. Both were concealed behind the Gigas, but it would only provide them with temporary shelter. Though both men knew that other Shinra forces had to be in the immediate area, none seemed to be hastening to their rescue. They were on their own.
"We have got to get the SW-8," Dio yelled right into Vance's ear. Even so, he barely heard him. "It's the only weapon that can dent that thing's hide."
"You saw what happened to Vargas! It's death to go out there." Almost on cue, the tank opened fire on the Gigas, filling the air with the deafening sound of metal clashing against metal. Hurriedly, the two moved even further into cover. Against such a fierce bombardment and at such close range, even a Gigas's armor couldn't hold up long.
"If it notices you, yes," Dio replied, "But perhaps you can distract it while-"
"What am I going to distract it with? It eats up the fire from my SW-4 like candy!"
"Take these." the muscular trooper pushed a grenade belt into Vance's hands. It was almost empty, but still had three of the explosives in it. "They are antipersonnel bombs, and probably don't have the power to seriously hurt that monster, but they certainly will get its attention." Then, with a curt nod, he moved around the corner of the Gigas.
Without waiting any longer, Vance ripped the pins free from two of the grenades, stood up, threw them, and dove back down in one smooth motion. Even so, he cut it very close; no sooner had he stretched flat on the ground than dozens of bullets whined above his head.
With a hollow boom, the grenades detonated. Gathering up all his courage, Vance peeped up from his shelter and saw the tank, apparently unaffected. Whatever minor damage they might have inflicted, the sheer distraction caused by the grenades was all he could have hoped for. Even as Vance watched, the Muitzi was moving straight at him, ignoring Dio entirely. Just to make sure it got the right idea, he tossed the last bomb, which exploded harmlessly off the tank's turret.
Then the Wutai machine seemed to sense some sort of danger. It was already traversing its turret to shred Dio, but it was just a little too late. With a roar of triumph the warrior from Costa Del Sol jerked the SW-8's trigger, sending a tubby little rocket straight at the Muitzi.
The front of the tank seemed to disintegrate from the impact of the missile while the rear tipped over on its side, burning. It was as dead as anything mechanical ever could be. They'd done it!
Before they could celebrate their victory, the PHS that Vargas had been carrying began to emit an electronic whimper. Somehow, it had survived the vicious attack that had killed the young soldier. It was even still functional.
Snatching it up, Vance pressed the receiver to his ear and flicked the RECEIVE switch. The voice of a green young radio operator came out over the airwaves. Kid sounded like he was scared out of his mind, even though he had to be at the very rear of the army, where headquarters was set up.
"Attention all units! Attention all units! Prepare for final assault on Wutai defensive positions. Repeat, prepare for final assault on Wutai defensive positions." Apparently, the speaker suddenly received a new, optimistic report, as his youthful voice suddenly lost all pretense of military conditioning.
"Repeat - What? SOLDIER? Hot damn, there's Sephiroth! You show em, pal-" the connection was terminated abruptly, and suddenly another voice was heard over the airwaves, one that had been echoed and reechoed over dozens- hundreds- of propaganda and war vids. It was the icily cool tone of SOLDIER's greatest fighter.
"This is Sephiroth. On my mark, all units attack. Do not stop, do not falter. SOLDIER will not be far behind. Remember that you fight not only for Shinra, but for the protection of your families." For a moment, all was silent, then "Attack!"
"Let's go, Dio!" shouted Vance.
"I am afraid not, my friend," Dio said, pointing to the bleeding wound in his leg, from which a jagged piece of shrapnel extended. "It seems the tank got its own bit of revenge against me. I am out of this fight."
"I can't just leave you here!"
"You must. I will be fine. The medics should be here shortly. Now go." He waved his hand impatiently. "GO!"
We can't win. It's hopeless..
Godo Kisaragi had never been so terrified in all his life. As he stood at the very rear of the battle lines (a position which had no doubt been insisted upon by his father Circal), he was filled with an all-encompassing fear that seemed to overwhelm him. As a child, he and his friends had once laughed at a boy who had wet his pants. Now, he was coming perilously close to that embarrassment himself.
His grip tightened convulsively on his Kitschal (Hornet) Automatic rifle. It no longer gave his heart much security, but then nothing did. The last pleasant memory he had was the beautiful girl he had bedded on the night of the declaration of war. It had seemed like a new golden age for his country, and she had been glad to help a "patriot" such as himself.......
Oh, how the papers and the television had proclaimed that Wutai would win easily. And indeed the first few months of the war with the Shinra had gone according to plan, with more than a dozen enemy Mako factories going up in smoke and the Shinra military suffering grievous losses. Then had come the disastrous attack against Midgar, a blundering excuse for an offensive campaign that had resulted in the destruction of the Fyla Ailgatha Wutai. (Wutai Air Force) and the loss of over 20,000 ground troops. After that, the brave men of Wutai had been forced to go on the defensive, and in the course of a few months they lost nearly all the new lands they had gained and were forced back to the western continent. And now the home nation itself was under siege. There was nowhere left to run. The Wutai army would fight.
And they would all die.
Of course, his father Circal had insisted for months that they could hold on, could turn things around. It was only so much tripe, but he had continued to dole it out even after his people had ceased to believe. With things going down this fast, even that old fool of a chief will have to realize the truth, Godo thought, but deep inside he knew that his father had accepted the inevitable long ago.
The young man reflected bitterly. In a few more years, he would have been the leader of Wutai. Now, he would rule a broken, enslaved country, victim to Shinra's every whim. That is, if he survived to rule at all.
"Why the long face, Godo?" asked Staniv, Godo's friend since birth. "We're not beaten yet, not by a long shot."
Absentmindedly smoothing the front of his khaki uniform, Godo asked, "And why is that?"
"They've got the Fyla Matera(Materia Force) moving forwards." He paused, spreading his hands wide in an attempt to express his feelings to Godo. "They're packing the heavy materia, too. I heard they got it from the town vault, stuff that was sealed up in there. Summons, quad magic, all kinds of shit!" He rarely swore, but he seemed to believe vehemently in the power of the magic orbs. Godo struggled to dig up some hope; truly, the Fyla Matera was Wutai's last chance. Without them, Colomin would fall, and then nothing would stop the Shinra from the final march on Wutai itself.
"You may be right," Godo said. "I pray that it is so."
Suddenly the firing at the front lines intensified.
"Here they come," said Staniv dryly.
Even after all this time, Vance still remembered the advice his superior had given the fresh young cadets in their very first combat briefing.
If you boys want to stay alive out there, he had said, you'd best remember one thing. Life isn't fair, and it sure isn't like the propaganda vids show it. You may have been taught that the Wutai army doesn't know its ass from a hole in the ground. You may have been taught that your weapons, your tactics are undeniably superior. Well, thinking like that may work for the pantywaists who make up the next Sephiroth flick, but out here thinking like that'll get you killed. I'm going to tell you the truth; the Wutai army is tough, damn tough, and they're smart. If you give them half the chance, they'll outmaneuver you. All this you hear about their inferior weapons is shit, too. Their Hornet Autos are at least as good as our SW-4s and pound for pound there's no finer tank on earth than their Dragon. So if you want to have a chance, you'd best start taking this fight seriously.
Having served in combat as long as he had, Vance knew the truthfulness behind the man's words. The Wutai Army was nothing to sneeze at; the average Wutai trooper had better training than the average Shinra and they were almost suicidally brave. The two made for a lethal combination, one which had proved the doom of many young Shinra soldiers.
Now, however, he tried to put aside his fears as he charged forward. Bullets whirled and whizzed by, dropping many around him in their tracks. Once again he survived despite the hail of lead. Swinging his SW-4 from side to side, he fired short bursts, hoping to at least pin some of the defenders down if he couldn't kill them.
The tanks had done a fair job of suppressing Wutai firepower. After their heroic efforts, attacking the fortified bulwark was simply foolhardy, as opposed to suicidally insane. The armored vehicles could do nothing about the various traps and lines of barbed wire in front of the low defensive wall, however, and many soldiers died when they stepped on land mines, fell into spiked pits, or broke hidden tripwires. Vance began to despair of ever surviving the day.
Then, he reached the wall of sandbags and wood scrap that marked the Wutai defensive fortifications and vaulted over. The enemy was ready, and no sooner had he landed than two of them moved to attack. They tried to fight with bayonets only; at such close range, they couldn't fire for fear of hitting friendlies. Vance had no such qualms. Pivoting on one foot, he slammed his rifle into the nearest man's gut and squeezed the trigger. The Wutai officer went down, his khaki uniform stained red with his own blood.
Vance turned and ducked in a single motion, narrowly dodging under the other man's stabbing bayonet. Avoiding the blow was more luck than anything else, but the Shinra didn't take time to reflect on fate's whims. Instead, he stabbed fiercely upwards, catching the Wutai soldier in the chest with his own bayonet. The man's eyes bulged wide, registering shocked surprise, then he pitched forward onto Vance, dead.
With a grunt of disgust, he pushed free of the corpse, expecting at any minute to be set upon by dozens of enemies. But it seemed that the Shinra forces had at last dislodged the defenders; around him he saw only blue uniforms, and all were advancing, advancing!
"Come on!" encouraged an unknown officer, "We're driving em like cattle!"
Out of breath and stunned from his recent battle, Vance advanced a little slower than he might have normally.
It saved his life.
The last fragments of the Wutai Army had retreated to the outskirts of the village of Colomin, where they had formed a desperate defensive line. Already some were firing on the advancing Shinras , using their Kitschals to rake the attackers with hot lead. Many of the blue-uniformed men went down, but not enough to matter. Having survived the bombardment of the heavy artillery pieces, the Shinra forces were not about to wither in the face of such small arms fire.
Then - the bombshell.
Vance had never been a big materia buff; most of the time the stuff was expensive as hell and he'd heard that not many had a knack for using it. But apparently someone in Wutai had been doing their homework, for in the next few seconds he saw over a hundred men die.
First, the Fire and Bolt spells. Fireballs blossomed, raw arcs of electricity tumbled through the air. Then, the spell he'd heard called Ultima manifested itself, a green mist that soon became a mass of annihilating light. And finally, the killing blow; a tall figure in a robe lifted a red materia orb high, spoke the words, "Mega Flare!"
In the sky, the clouds seemed to shift and twist. The dragon that dropped out of the roiling haze was like nothing that belonged on this earth. Its belly was a sickly yellow, its metallic scales a burnished black. It drifted on purple bat wings, and its eyes glowed like fire. Vance had heard about this summon monster. Everybody had.
Dozens were killed by its initial fireblast alone. Then, using its claws, it began to tear and rend, ripping men to shreds and eating them alive. Their screams failed to gain them aid, and those few that tried to fire on the thing found that their bullets were useless.
Why it decided to leave, Vance couldn't say. Maybe such creatures were bound by certain laws, being able to only exist in this world for a limited time. Maybe it had sated its hunger. Maybe it sought more sporting prey. In any case, after what seemed an eternity, Bahamut rose into the clouds and vanished, leaving scores dead in its wake.
It would be back; all the Shinras were sure of that.
The attackers retreated back to the outskirts of town to regroup and rethink their strategy. Vance eventually found himself hidden behind a condemned building that had no roof, along with several other soldiers. Curious as to what was happening, he pulled out the PHS (which probably deserved a medal of honor from President Shinra himself, considering what it had been through today) and flicked it to RECEIVE.
The airwaves were filled with a confused, garbled mishmash of talk-
"Oh god it hurts it hurts-"
"Dragon? Was that a dragon?"
"Never thought a summon would look like-"
"Where's the Materia Corps? We need-"
"Help! My leg, oh-"
Just as he was about to turn the PHS off, Vance heard the voice of Sephiroth cutting across all frequencies -
"Silence! This is Sephiroth. The Materia Corps has been wiped out - their transports never made it to shore. SOLDIER, however, has its own share of materia. We are continuing to advance. Hold your positions until we arrive."
Only too happy to obey, the decimated Shinras took cover as best they could, hoping somehow to hold out until Sephiroth and SOLDIER came to their rescue. It was likely to be a long wait.
"How ya feelin' soldier?" asked an older man beside Vance. "Ready to give the whole Wutai Army a sturdy ass kickin'?"
"Not until the Fyla Matera gets taken down a notch," he replied.
"Well, I wouldn't worry about that. I been in this war for years, and I seen ol' Sephiroth fight afore. Believe you me, he'll have them worms a'screamin' tanni (I yield) in no time flat."
There was a tremendous explosion as a fire spell struck somewhere nearby, close enough that Vance could feel the sudden increase in temperature caused by its passing. Then, came the high- pitched shriek of an expanding Ultima, followed by screams from devastated Shinra units. The air smelled of charred flesh and ozone from countless bolt spells. Was this ever going to end?
Suddenly, a legend moved to stand beside Vance. Even after all the war vids, all the propaganda posters, all the dolls he had bought for his nephew, he still wasn't prepared for Sephiroth in the flesh.
The man was tall in his black cape, his long white hair billowing around him as he strode confidently across the battlefield. In his hand was his famous sword Masamune (Masaboon, Vance's nephew had called it the day he had received the doll), longer than a man was tall. But despite his imposing figure, the most impressive part of Sephiroth's appearance had to be his eyes. They were a glowing blue-green, an unmistakable sign of a Mako infusion; icy, cold, and at the same time cruelly calculating. Behind them rested knowledge of all sins, mental or physical.
Sephiroth was majestic, indeed, but he was also terrifying. It made Vance shiver to imagine what it would be like to cross him.
Presently the members of SOLDIER gathered around their leader, each wearing a visored helmet and carrying the huge sword that was their trademark. Vance could tell by their subtle body movements that they had been mentally and physically conditioned beyond belief; killers all.
"Gemado," Sephiroth said, "I believe you have the enemy skill materia."
"Yes, sir," the SOLDIER replied, his voice muffled by his helmet.
"Take this." Sephiroth tossed a blue orb towards him. With a slight jump, he caught it gently, cradling it in his hands. "It should act as an amplifier. You know what to do."
"Yes, sir," Gemado said again. Reaching into the pockets of his red uniform, he pulled out the yellow enemy skill orb. Then, standing up even straighter, he lifted both it and the blue orb above his head.
"Big Guard!" he snapped.
Its power increased by the All materia, the Big Guard spread to envelop the entire group of SOLDIERS. They were bathed in pure white light, and within seconds they were affected by both Wall and Haste at the same time. As close as Vance and the ordinary Shinra troopers were to the SOLDIER force, they could feel the raw power stirring in the air.
Sephiroth seemed to glow with an ethereal light; he too was now protected by the spell. "Forward, SOLDIER!" he enthused. "I will lead the charge!"
As quickly as they had come, Shinra's fighting elite was gone, racing towards the Wutai lines.
"Wait'll you see this," said the grizzled old Shinra who had spoken to Vance earlier. "Just wait'll you see!"
Already Sephiroth and SOLDIER were almost face to face with the enemy. Though the Wutai Army tried valiantly to stop them, it was a hopeless task; as well as being magically shielded from the bullets, the Hasted attackers were simply too fast to hit.
Moans of dismay and pain rang out as the front ranks of defenders were shredded by Sephiroth's men. The huge, slashing blades seemed to be everywhere, cutting off every possible escape route, and Sephiroth -
Sephiroth was a living engine of destruction.
In time, the front lines were chewed to pieces. The Fyla Matera struck back with fire and bolt spells, willing to risk hurting their own men to stop SOLDIER. Still, the magic barriers soaked up the damage and the Shinras advanced. Now, the magic users faced the flashing swords.
It was no contest; what protective magic the Wutai fighters had had expired long ago, while SOLDIER was still fresh. Soon, the magicians too were falling prey to Midgar's finest. After only a short time, they were almost all dead.
Finally, the robed figure stepped forward again, the Bahamut orb in his hands. "Mega Flare!" He no longer sounded so confident.
Again, the boiling mass of clouds. Again, the monster plummeted from the heavens. But this time was different. This time, SOLDIER was at the front.
Still, Bahamut was powerful, and it was no great effort at all for it to incinerate half a dozen men with one fireblast. Then, it began to breathe out smaller jets of energy. Against such a strong elemental force, even the magic barrier provided by Big Guard was no defense.
Sephiroth was ready; even as his men were being cooked alive he was bracing for battle. "SOLDIER, withdraw!" he shouted, though his voice somehow managed to remain cool and calm. "I will handle this monstrosity."
The dragon turned to Sephiroth, sensing his voice and seeking to crush him. Unbelievably fast, it swung its gargantuan tail towards the Mako powered SOLDIER. Sephiroth leapt high over the tail and slashed furiously at the creature's gut.
The cold steel of Masamune bit harshly into Bahamut's soft underbelly, causing the massive monster to bellow in pain. It brought its clawed hand down violently at Sephiroth, but once again he was too fast. Dodging slightly to the side, he jumped onto the creature's arm and scurried up.
Vance knew he would never forget the sight he saw that day: Bahamut, huge and imposing as it furiously strove to shake off the tiny, wriggling ant that was Sephiroth. The way the black-clad man moved skillfully, anticipating the creature's sudden jerks and keeping a purchase until he reached first its shoulder and finally its head. The monster's angry, frustrated roars that seemed to declare: I've done this before, I've killed hundreds of these things. Why won't this one lay down and die?
Sephiroth didn't seem to favor that suggestion. Instead, he scrabbled atop Bahamut's huge head, making sure to keep clear of its snapping jaws.
There was a glint of sunlight on the Masamune as Sephiroth lifted it above his head, blade pointed downwards. All the combatants below seemed to draw in a titanic breath as the sword hung in the air, poised for some mortal blow.
With one final thrust, Sephiroth slammed the point of his weapon down into the glowing orb that was Bahamut's eye. Even after he had pierced the eye, he continued to apply pressure until almost the entire length of the Masamune was buried in its reptilian skull.
As the monster shook and shuddered beneath him, its limbs flailing uselessly, Sephiroth knew it was finished. Wrenching his blade free, he jumped to the ground, leaving the dragon to writhe in its death throes.
Of course, being an elemental, a creation of pure magic, Bahamut could not actually die. Instead, it was suddenly swallowed in a blinding flash of golden light and disappeared entirely. Somewhere, sometime, the summon creature was certain to show up again, but for now it was finished.
Furthermore, the man who had summoned it, the last of the Fyla Matera, was suffering from the phenomenon Professor Gast's lab technicians had dubbed "summon shock." Summoning a creature required an intense rapport with materia and necessitated the temporary sacrifice of some of the body's mental functions. It was a very rare occurrence for summoned creatures to be destroyed, but whenever such an event happened it always left the summoner temporarily disoriented.
The robed figure was suffering from a textbook case of "summon shock." His eyes were open, but they seemed to stare glassily ahead without any particular focus. A river of drool ran from the side of his slack mouth.
Sephiroth couldn't afford to waste any more time worrying about what other monsters this man could call on. Rather, he decided to do what any worthwhile soldier would in a case like this: he impaled the magician while he was still helplessly stunned.
Even as he was freeing the bloody Masamune from the corpse, Sephiroth pulled out his PHS.
"Enemy materia users neutralized." He reported. "SOLDIER is moving ahead to crush any command centers. The rest of you, mop up what's left of this army."
It was over.
Godo thought that he had been preparing himself for this all along, only to suddenly realize that to brace yourself for your own death - and the death of your country - was impossible. Now, it looked like the end was coming soon, and it didn't really seem to care if he was ready for the afterlife or not.
Sephiroth was like no human any of them had ever seen. In just a few seconds, he had torn his way through dozens of top-rank Wutai troops. Godo's father was among them; it was he who had called on Bahamut. Staniv was knocked unconscious, and many of Godo's other friends had been killed.
Not him, though. He was far too lucky to die. Instead, he got to lie here surrounded by corpses with nothing but a tiny Screckgallzi (lizard) pistol in his hand and a slowly expanding wet spot in the crotch of his uniform.
Well, Godo, he thought, You've finally gone and pissed yourself. What a wonderful badge of honor! And on the last day of your life, no less!
There was renewed shouting among the Shinras. They had to be massing for the final assault. Grimly, he tightened his grip on the pistol. Those bastards might have won the day, but somebody was going to be very sorry they ever hit the beach. The ground seemed to tremble as the enemy charged.
Then, the Shinra troops were running by him, around him. One even jumped over him. None realized that he was still alive, and despite his resolve he found that he was too paralyzed by fear to fire at any of them.
Now, their numbers were thinning out; it would not be long before they had all charged past him. What he would do then, he didn't-
Wait! That one saw him, one of the last ones approaching. His eyes widening in surprise, he struggled to aim his rifle at Godo.
Not fast enough; the Screckgallzi barked once, twice. The Shinra fell, and Godo immediately began to break out in a cold sweat. Surely, his friends had heard, and they would come back and-
But no, it seemed that the chief's son was safe for now. There would be no quick end to his life. Either he would be tortured to death or he would live on, burdened by his shame for a lifetime.
The Shinra moaned. He was still alive! After checking quickly to make sure no one was watching, Godo crawled to him. He was mortally wounded, the two bullets having carved twin tunnels in his chest, but he seemed to be struggling to say something.
The somber irony didn't fail to register on Godo as he cradled the head of the man who only seconds ago was his mortal enemy. Positioning the soldier in his lap, Godo unsnapped the seals on his helmet and slipped it off. Blue eyes stared up at him weakly as the Shinra spoke with lungs full of blood.
"El........El...myra......" With all his remaining strength, he scrabbled at the collar of his uniform, revealing a silver locket.
"Can't open...." Seeing his predicament, Godo grabbed the locket and opened it, holding it before the man's face. He smiled, just a little, then coughed, sending a stream of blood down over his chin. Still, he fought to speak.
"Elmyra........tell tell Elmyra I l-o l-llllllllllll......"
He was gone.
Feeling like somewhat of a voyeur, Godo turned the locket so he could see the picture inside. On one half was a badly taken photo of the soldier and a brown-haired girl, presumably Elmyra. The picture was so blurry that he could discern no details. On the other side, however, there was a small written note, carefully folded so it would stay inside.
Vance, my love, I hope that you are always able to keep this as a reminder of me. I will miss you so much. I will think of you every day. But remember that when you get back we will be happy forever. I hope to see you soon, dear....
Tears suddenly blurred Godo's vision. Now, the enemy had ceased to be a faceless "Shinra" and had become Vance. He was a real person, with a real life and real hopes and real dreams. He had a lover. He would have returned to her.
But now he was dead.
And I killed him.
He had never killed a man before, and even in self-defense it was hard to stomach.
And worse than the guilt over killing Vance was the guilt he felt for his father's decisions. How many Wutai men dead? How many hopes and dreams totally wiped out? His father had a chance to lead the country to glory. Instead, he led it to ruination.
Godo lowered his head, filled with shame and fear. The wind picked up, strewing apple blossoms from Colomin's trees over the scenes of carnage as the Shinras took prisoners. In the distance, he heard the sounds of his country dying.
"Tanni!" The shout rang out again and again, from all the Wutai survivors, declaring that it was all finished, that they had finally given in. It was freedom's death knell.
Surrender, complete and non-negotiable. He would live in an enslaved country, a country bound and broken by Shinra. A country that would be crushed forever, would never rise again-
"Tanni," he sobbed as the Shinra rear patrols gathered around him. "Tanni."