Through the Looking Glass Chapter 21
The Beginning of the End Goodbye to a Friend
By Lucrecia Marionette
"Its there," Tifa shivered violently as she extended a trembling hand.
The others lifted their heads and with narrowed eyes stared towards the horizon. Unwilling to blink in case their eyes froze shut through sheer coldness, they looked until water streamed down their faces as the icy wind whipped against their flesh. Although their vision blurred as they diligently scanned across the supposed inhabited grassland, for a second they focused on a flickering light. As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished leaving them wondering if they had fallen for little more than a mirage. As it appeared once more however, they felt a unanimous wave of elation rush through their veins.
"The Chocobo Ranch," Yuffie breathed, a smile stinging her almost numb skin.
"It looks to be a mile, perhaps two away," Sephiroth announced from the back of the line.
Cloud led the five with Cid in the middle and the two women in front and behind him. Their trek had been driven by fear as they constantly felt the eyes of some hidden foe boring into their backs and burning into their very souls. They had marched on regardless of the freezing conditions which tore through their clothing and coarse brown robes; desensitising their extremities and draining their energy.
They felt waves of joy warm their veins at the sight of the distant light however and pressed on with renewed vigour reaching the fences around the small grouping of farm buildings within half an hour.
"Wh, What do we do now?" Cid asked through chattering teeth. "We cant just knock on the door."
"Of course we can," Cloud responded and the pilots jaw dropped in surprise as the ex-SOLDIER walked easily up to the house door and began banging gently on the wood.
"Hes gonna get us all caught; I cant fucking believe it!" Cid hissed in horror, leaping into he shadows of an awning. The bright moon beamed down its silvery light but missed the old pilot as he huddled against the whitewashed building in a vain attempt to hide. He motioned frantically for the others to join him but Yuffie and Sephiroth merely exchanged looks of puzzlement.
Tifa whereas moved with a disturbing unconstraint and linked arms with her lover before the converted barn entrance. Seconds later there was the clicking of a bolt unlatching and a rectangle of warm yellow light flooded from a fire into the wintry pasture outside. There was a long pause of terrifying silence, Cids breath halting in his throat mirroring the faltering pulse of his heart. Yuffie and Sephiroths muscles tensed and they stood rigidly behind the couple before them staring into an achingly warm room behind an unfamiliar figure. An old man with a snow-white beard which reached to his waist stood with a slight hunch before them framed by the door with a pipe clenched in his teeth. Bright, inquisitive eyes scanned over the four in front of him and a slow, crinkled smile broke across his face.
"Cloud," he exclaimed fondly. "What in blue-blazes are you doin here?"
"Nice to see you again, Bill," Cloud responded and the two men shook hands amiably. "We need our chocobos."
The old man identified as Bill gave a chuckle and took the pipe from his mouth as he shook his head in mirth. "You young folks certainly dont beat around the bush, do ya? Well, come in and lets talk. Its colder than a white chocobos first tread on snow out here!"
Cid stepped out of the shadows with an embarrassed shuffle as those before him started to walk warily into the house. Chocobo Bill stood to one side to allow them passage and shut the door behind them as they huddled in the centre of the large room.
"Make yourselves comfy; Ill boil up some water and you can have some tea or coffee. Or if youd prefer something stronger then thats more than alright," the old mans voice trailed off but he grinned at Cid and the pilot grinned back.
"Ill have a shot of whiskey," he announced and with a nod Bill left the room and went to where they presumed his kitchen was.
As the old man started to hum to himself, the oddly haunting sound echoing eerily through the rafters of the ancient structure, AVALANCHE turned to one-another. "How do you know the old guy, Cloud?" Yuffie was the first to ask.
"In the SP we sometimes came as far out as the marshes near the Mythril Mines to kill off monsters. There was a dragon wandering these plains a year or two back and it ate some of Bills best birds. I put a stop to it and weve been friends ever since," the leader explained. "He hasnt got much time for outsiders and Big City Folks", he chuckled, mimicking the twangy accent of the farmer. "So I know we can trust him. Its only because of the favours Ive done for him the past that hes so kind to us now. Hes pretty forgetful but will help us as much as he can."
"A useful ally," Sephiroth commented. "Its fortunate you know him so well."
"Do you think hell let us take some birds?" Cid asked as he slumped down on a ragged but oddly comfortable couch. He lay his brown cloak over his legs like a blanket and put his hands behind his head. Yuffie perched next to him and Tifa sat opposite the ninja on the other side of the relaxed pilot.
Cloud moved over to sit on the floor between the womans legs, shedding his own coarse cloak as he did so. "I dont see why not. Technically they are ours even though we told him he could have them."
Cid nodded and glanced up as Bill shuffled into the room supporting a tray holding mugs and two pots; coffee and tea. The ranch owner set down the items on a small table and handed Cid a shot glass of whiskey. He sat down himself in an old armchair adjacent to the couch and poured himself a mug of tea, indicating for the others gathered to do likewise.
"So you want some chocobos, huh?" He asked openly once they were suitably relaxed. Cloud nodded over a mug of steaming coffee, sipping from it and warming his hands at the same time before replying.
"We need to get to Junon within the next day or two."
"Really? Whats the hurry?" Bill inquired curiously.
Yuffie raised her eyebrows and looked at Tifa who gave her a silencing look and tried to appear normal in front of the farmers ignorance of the world around him. Cloud squirmed awkwardly and the old farmer watched the group with a peculiar smile, small eyes glittering in good humour.
"Sorry," he apologised bizarrely and they looked at him. "I was joking of course. Anyone who lives on this continent has heard about all the ruckus down in Midgar and about the fireworks you folks have been settin off."
"But that wasnt us!" Cid objected loudly but Bill only laughed.
"I dont care whether you did or not, an if you ask me Id wager my best choc you didnt. You all look like you need a good sleep and feedin. Feel free to use my house to stay in for as long as you want. I havent had a visitor this way for months and Im takin two young green birds up to Kalm on the morrow. An if anyone asks, I aint seen you," Bill said with a degree of firmness which made them realise they didnt have a choice in the matter.
Grateful smiles brushed over their faces and they nodded thankfully. "Youre too kind," Tifa beamed as she settled further back on the couch.
The old man waved his hand dismissively and started to walk out the room. "Im gonna hit the hay now. Ill be up bright and early so I probably wont see yall." He paused as he reached a doorway and glanced back at the rabble. "You might wanna turn on the radio. Im presumin youve been on the run for the past few days and wont have heard the news."
He disappeared from view and the group of five exchanged puzzled glances. "News? What news?" Cid asked with a frown and Sephiroth shrugged as he leant over the back of the armchair to switch on an ancient looking apparatus. He clicked a button and a murmured sound hummed from it and filled the equally old room. He swivelled a dial for a few seconds and the noise increased until everyone could hear it comfortably and sat down himself on the chair.
" however, accounts are vague and no information has been volunteered from the public concerning the event. The Midgar Police Force are hoping to apprehend prime suspects concerned with the raiding believed to have begun in Sectors Four and Five.
"The time is now 6 AM, Midgar Standard time. Now for the main stories which have been in the headlines for the past week," a female reporter droned in an irritatingly nasal tone.
"As of yet no trace has been found of the fugitives AVALANCHE who have been found responsible for explosions at the top of the old Shinra HQ and Reactor Three late last month-"
The monotonous tone of the female newsreaders voice was interrupted as Cids eyes bulged and he let out a string of expletives. "No wonder the damned world is up in arms if the media are spreading such shit about us! Sure we were there, but that proves nothing!"
"Cid, its like we said from the very start. People are scared and confused and they need scapegoats. We were seen at both events so people will just blame us for them because it comes naturally," Tifa soothed, placing a hand on the pilots arm to pull him down. His skin was blotched an angry red and he looked as though he was about to stand and tear the radio from the socket. Taking a few deep breaths however, he leant back once more and muttered curses under his breath.
" People involved with the group have been called in for questioning including neighbours and employees.
"As well as the destruction of two of Midgars most well known structures, the raging creature which broke out from the terrorists home has been linked strongly to their presence. Sources state that it had been seen in the area before the event supposedly speaking to AVALANCHE members. Later sightings of the beast since its departure from the city involve eye-witness accounts from near Kalm and vague stories have filtered exclusively to MFM News of a strange flying thing near Costa del Sol earlier this week "
Yuffie gasped with delight and the others gave audible sighs of relief.
"At least Vincents alright," Cloud breathed. "He must have been going to the Nibelheim Mansion to find a cure or something."
" And dramatic news just in listeners!" The reader squeaked in contrast to her previous, lifeless tone. Any conversations the group had been having stopped hesitantly at the sound as they tuned their ears to the wooden box in a corner of the room. Leaning forward, their breaths were baited in fear of the worst they hung on every syllable she uttered.
"In a statement issued from the Midgar Offices by Mayor Redfords own hand ladies and gentlemen we have information presented solely to MFM News, your first choice for groundbreaking event coverage!
"According to an, or should that be the official source," she giggled excitedly and Sephiroth frowned in annoyance, a reaction shared by the others. "We can confirm that at midnight two days ago Vice Mayor Reeve Jameson and his bodyguards, the Turks were arrested on a charge of Treason against the city of Midgar!"
Stunned silence pounced on the five.
"Numerous sources, the most notably being an anonymous tipster, allowed investigators to find the Vice Mayor and the Turks responsible for hiding AVALANCHE and providing them with passage from the city! Conclusive proof has been produced only reaffirming their role in the disappearances of the Eco-terrorists. Although motives are uncertain, it is generally believed that Reeve was involved with AVALANCHE when Neo-Midgar was originally being built. His stance against the use of Mako and AVALANCHEs view on the very existence of reactors was widely known. Current theories of their motives involve the Vice-Mayor giving AVALANCHE the means with which to destroy the old Mako reactors so that he could claim insurance. It is believed the collateral to be gained from the staged tragedies will run into countless millions. It has not yet been confirmed that Reeve Jameson was intending on transferring the cash to a hidden bank account and flee but computer experts based at the MOMP HQ are working on it.
"The three Turks, Reno OMahony, Elena Karloff and Rude Feuerbach, past employees of Shinra, are being held in connection to the events. They have been charged with conspiring with all parties involved and even developing plans of their own to help their boss.
"The four prisoners have been found guilty beyond doubt of all charges and for the first time in four years, a live, public execution shall be taking place at 4PM, Midgar standard time tomorrow afternoon. Security shall be tight so it is unsure whether spectators will be allowed to view the event first-hand. This reporter believes that public desire to see the four biggest murderers for almost two hundred years brought to justice shall be so great that no amount of force will be able to hold them back! Stay tuned for more details.
"No statements have yet been issued concerning the bizarre earthquakes which have been rocking the city since 9PM last night. MFMs own science correspondent believes that it is a side-effect of the devastating Mako blasts set off when Reactor Three was blown up almost a fortnight ago. What we can say for certain however is that the tremors are getting stronger pushing almost five on the Richter scale. It is unsure how the Offices will deal with any problems arising from the unnatural occurrences but experts urge the public to remain calm and listen to their radio in order to be told immediately of any emergency measures "
"Turn it off," Cloud said in a dangerously low tone and Sephiroth reached back to the box and silenced the incessantly annoying voice of the female reporter. Without the noise, their only link to the place they had left behind, a soundless void drained any life from the vast room.
They didnt even make eye contact any more; it seemed too painful to reminded of the existence of other people. If they simply kept their breathing quiet and their gaze fixed to the floor they unanimously felt as though they could shun the outside world and sink into their own minds. It wouldve been so much easier; it would have been so much more peaceful to slip into oblivion for the sake of never worrying or even being aware of the world outside.
A tear slipped down Yuffies cheek and she blinked hard to take back her outward show of depression. It was too hard; it was far too hard. Running away was meant to be the simplest option, leaving all troubles and taking all that you cant leave behind. But why wasnt it like that? Now they were being chased by their own guilt across the world with the weight of the universe on their shoulders. Damnit! Why did it have to hurt so much??
She threw her brown cloak to one side and leapt to her feet. "Theyre going to die!" She cried, tears now falling freely down her face; a face which had aged so much over the past month. "Weve gone and now theyre going to die! We have to go back!"
Cloud stood up. His face had been the epitome of seething fury for the past few silent minutes but as the young woman wept passionately before him he felt it melt away as remorse and pity swamped his heart. "We we cant go back now, Yuffie," he told her quietly and with eyes burning through hot tears she glared at him.
"Why the hell not??" She burst out but Cloud stood with a look of impassive compassion on his face, revealing nothing of his own inner torment.
"We could never get back there in time. Wed have to sneak in through back routes, find disguises and probably climb through the sewers all over again," he replied softly and her rigid frame relaxed marginally. "If we go to Midgar, what could we do? Wed be caught and executed with them. Its just like Cait, Yuffie. He died so that we could escape. The Turks will get Reeve out, Im certain of it. But if they dont we have to remember that what weve done, we did because we had no choice. If we could go back in time I dont think wed would change anything."
Yuffie collapsed onto her knees and bent over with her palms on the rough wooden floor. She watched as a couple of tears fell from her faces and landed on the old grain, soaking into the wood and fading forever from her view. What other hidden shocks did life had to throw at her? What other trials would be sent her way to see how long she could withstand them and keep her fragile soul in one piece? It was eating her from the inside out and she could feel her innocence slowly slipping from her grasp with a slowness that was as frustrating as it was terrifying.
Youre going to take me away bit by bit, are you? She confronted whatever powers could hear her thoughts. She clenched her fists and screwed her eyes up tightly. If youre going to ruin me then at least do it quickly. Then at least I wont even be conscious its happened. Just please, dont put me through what you did Vincent. I cant face the thought of losing myself like a tree loses leaves; a few every day. I dont want to be here any more. I dont want to feel myself and my friends disappearing and losing touch. Please .
The young woman opened her eyes slowly and looked up. Cloud had crouched down on one knee before her and had placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright?" he asked worriedly and she gave a single, mute nod. He helped her to stand and she did so on trembling legs.
"I, I think Im going to go to sleep now," she replied emotionlessly and the ex-SOLDIER gave a simple nod.
"We could all use the rest," he confided quietly. "The sooner we get to sleep, the sooner we can leave tomorrow."
The others made no move to answer so he sat back down on the floor near Tifa who wrung her hands worriedly. Yuffie stood in awkward reticence for a few more minutes before slumping back down next to Cid once more. The pilot flashed her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but she looked dumbly at him and turned back to the floor. He sighed deeply and pulled his cloak further up around his waist, squirming uncomfortably in the tense atmosphere. He wanted to desperately light a cigarette and exhale away his anxiety, but the closeness of his friends and their sensitive dispositions would only be worsened by such an action. Unable to do anything else, he lay his head back on the couch headrest and closed his eyes.
It wasnt long before he slipped into delicious unconsciousness, even if it was only for a few hours.
"Rise and shine sleeping beauty!"
Renos eyes opened hesitantly and his body tried to disguise the fact it had stirred with the noise. He didnt blame it; his head felt as though it were stuffed with cotton wool and his muscles throbbed painfully. He licked his dry lips uselessly, only making himself feel thirstier with the action. How long had it been since hed had a drink; alcoholic or otherwise?
There was the sound of keys jangling in the distance, suddenly becoming closer as a lock clicked and the creak of old rust screeched loudly in the confined cell. His eyes shut quickly as harsh, electric light flooded into the metallic chamber bleaching his vision and wiping his mind. He wouldve stayed like that quite happily for a long time if he could have, but a rough yank on his left arm persuaded him of otherwise. His lids snapped open and a brilliant aquamarine gaze glared at the person who had dared disturb him. He gave an audible moan as they focused on a long silver scar carving down the left-hand side of a bullish face; piggy-eyes gleaming at him wickedly from beneath a Neanderthallic brow.
"Oh fucking marvellous," he exclaimed sarcastically. "Youre the first thing I want to see when I wake up in a prison cell."
Jarrad Reed, Renos inquisitor grinned stupidly at the reaction and persisted to pull the flame-haired Turk to his feet. Reno shoved him away and stood on his own, arrogantly attempting to straighten out his jacket and shirt.
"What else do you want to know?" he sighed irritatedly. "I seem to remember how successful your first attempt at interrogation was so theres probably a lot."
"On the contrary, Pretty Boy," Jarrad grinned. "Youve done all you can. You just keep on dustin down your clothes like that. A lot of people are gonna be seeing you soon."
Reno stopped tightening the knot on his thin, black tie and looked at his captor suspiciously. "Now what are you talking about?"
Jarrad wagged a thick index finger in a taunting fashion, shaking his head. "Nuh-uh, Jerk," he replied. "Im not telling you anythin. You do what I tell you to now. I may not be allowed to kill ya, but I can certainly put a few ugly bruises on that girly face of yours."
Renos frown deepened at the insult, but the disturbing cheerfulness in the ex-SOLDIERs voice worried him to a greater degree. Pulling himself up aloofly he was well aware that he was still a couple of inches below the height of the muscle-brained idiot. He muttered angrily to himself mentally. Stop trying to look tough and intimidate him; thats Rudes job. You just look plain pathetic he admonished. Use your brains; the guys obviously thicker than pig-shit and you tricked him into spilling his guts before. How hard can it be to do that again ?
"Look," he sighed, slumping and taking an overall different approach. "You clearly have the upper hand and while youre here theres no chance in hell I can escape. Youre much stronger than I am and Im defenceless." He paused suddenly and his eyes flickered as they widened alarmingly for a heartbeat. Oh shit, he might think Im trying to come onto him!!
"Er, I, I mean not for the want of trying," he added hastily. "I wouldve busted out by now if I wanted to but even I know when to quit. So cmon, what are you gonna do with me now?" you big hunk of manhood. He burst into internal laughter and fought the hardest battle of his life to prevent himself from collapsing into hysterics. Jarrad seemed to not notice the fact he was being blatantly flattered for another cause and leant up against the doorframe with a smug look on his face.
"Well whod have thought that one of Rufus little lapdogs would be beggin for mercy from a lowly Third Class SOLDIER, huh?" He smirked.
"Certainly not me, thats for sure," Reno answered with a shrug. "But I guess thats the way life goes. So what are you doing with me?"
Jarrad basked in his praise for a few more seconds more before turning to the leader of the Turks at a leisurely pace. "Not that it really matters, but youre all about to get your Just Desserts."
"Just Desserts?" Reno repeated uncertainly. His face mirroring his confusion, he looked back up at his captor.
Jarrad burst into brutish laughter and walked forward producing a pair of handcuffs from the back of his belt. Reno turned around holding his hands behind his back in the hope of a response, but it was only when the tight metal bands had snapped around his wrists was his answer clarified.
"The city is about to get its revenge for all the shit youve been doin recently," the MP explained. "There were a lot of rumours flyin around over the past few days about what the Mayor was gonna do to you bunch of pricks, but none of us thought hed have the balls to do what we wanted him to do." He stopped and dragged Reno out into he corridor, shoving him down the tunnel towards the corner. "But looks can be deceivin. I guess you lot know that more than we do."
"Can you get to the point?" Reno muttered under his breath as he turned the bend and began to walk down a new wing, G painted on the walls in the same gaudy yellow as the H of the block he had inhabited for his time in imprisonment.
"Well, looks like the whole eye for an eye thing is back in fashion," Jarrad chuckled.
At that point there was an explosion as though a bolt of lightning had torn through the narrow tunnel. The Turk stumbled and fell to the floor on his face as the floor rocked beneath his feet. Dazed from the completely unexpected movement, Reno lay winded for a few seconds; his whole body pressed up against the floor, he felt the tremendous tremors as they gradually faded away. That quake had made the ones hed felt when awake before seem like little more than speed bumps driven over in a Shinra truck.
When the rumbling had subsided, he rolled onto his back and looked up at the MP. Jarrad was staring around with a comically stupefied expression, his mouth hanging open and eyes almost on stalks. Reno wouldve laughed, but in truth it felt as though hed broken a rib and any sharp movements could pierce a lung or any other vital organ he didnt particularly want damaging. Jarrad said nothing, but eventually looked down at the floored, blue-suited Turk and gave another chuckle.
He didnt remove his sickening smile as he picked up the fiery man by the handcuffs and pushed him forward once more. "I used to like the old Shinra way of runnin things. You did somethin bad you got punished. You did somethin really bad, you got your head kicked in. You want to know whats gonna happen to you? Lets just say youve been really, really bad," Jarrad roared with laughter and Reno stopped abruptly to face his tormentor half stunned at the mans ability to dismiss the earthquake so lightly, and also shocked at the response he had been given.
"Are you telling me in Idiots Language what I think you are?" he asked curtly.
"If what your thinkin is that youre about to meet your Maker, then yeah!" Jarrad sniggered, exposing brown teeth and blowing a gust of foul hot breath over the Turk.
Reno felt suddenly very ill and he knew deep down it wasnt due to the mans poor dental health. He was about to be executed? Shit. How fucking unfair was that? Sure hed done things and now that he was starting to feel sorry for them, he was going to lose all his breathing privileges. If his hands werent bound behind his back, he wouldve turned and punched the wall and then cleaned the self-satisfied look of superiority off Jarrads bull-face. As it stood, he was truly helpless and being led like a lamb to the slaughter.
He snarled and turned away to look down the labyrinth towards the exit of the entire underground prison complex, a feeling of pure defeat overwhelming him. He blinked hard to fight back any emotions which dared to shatter his angry, impassive exterior and took a deep breath. "Let's get this over with," he growled as he began to walk forwards. Jarrad stared after him, his brain overwhelmed by the fact his captive was walking willingly to his death. He blinked hard, and after a seconds thought seemed to realise that his presence was needed and a prisoner walking himself to the gas chamber certainly wasnt normal.
"Hey! Hey, carrot-top!" he called as Reno turned another corner. "Get back here!!"
As Reno was guided through the maze of metal corridors his mind went past with every line of rivets and every flickering fluorescent bulb. The whole set up reminded him sickeningly of the prison floor of the Shinra HQ. Having designed the underground jail of the Midgar Offices he realised now how much the old place had meant to him. Enough for it to be imbedded in his subconscious at any rate.
There was a final turn and he was pushed roughly up the only stairway in the whole floor to the others. Counting doors as he passed them, Reno realised with a distinct lack of interest that when they finally left the spiralling climb they were on the First Floor. Burnished steel gave away to plaster art deco and red carpets. Footsteps ceased ringing hollowly against shiny walls and were instead swallowed by the thick, luxurious floor covering. He wished that they werent; at that moment in time the sound of his constant steps reminded him that he was still alive. Now he didnt even have that privilege and he mentally remarked at how blood-like the rich colour was.
Why had he never noticed colours before? Why had they always just been there? Things in the background to make stuff look nice or drab. His suit was blue, right?
He looked down at his feet and watched as the scuffed black shoes moved forward attached to his body by lines of a royal blue. Except the supposedly neat and business-like trousers of the Turk suit were covered in brown smudges. The hems were stained almost green from the sludge in the old sewerage systems hed been down before his untimely capture. As he glanced at his shirt, the bottom was almost grey from dirt. I should really tuck it in he mused numbly and a smirk touched his face. What a time to suddenly care about my appearance.
Jarrad suddenly grabbed the handcuffs chained to his wrists and Reno was jolted back painfully, the metal rings cutting so far into his skin that he felt a warm substance trickle through his fingers. He was turned around to face a doorway. It was wooden with a gold door handle like most others in the building but without a plaque or notice of any kind on it. He felt a foul smell rush his nostrils and humid, hot air blown against his ear.
"Almost the end of the line for you, Jerk," Jarrad said menacingly. "Your friends are in here. There arent any guards or soldiers cos theyre all outside trying to hold back the crowds from rushin in here and kicking your brains out. Through the wall in there are about fifty-thousand people ready to watch you get gassed. Therere journalists and cameras on every spare patch of road and snipers in every window.
"In other words, if you so much as turn too fast youre gonna be filled with so many holes, youll put a window to shame." Although Reno couldnt see the MP he detected a grin in his voice. Utter hatred swamped him but the very futility of his situation quenched any violent fires and he merely clenched his jaw and stood completely still. Jarrad reached over the Turks shoulder and pushed open the door, shoving him unceremoniously through.
Reno fell onto one knee and the door slammed shut behind him. Slowly lifting his head, he found himself looking up at Rude. Reviewing his position he burst out laughing.
"I hope you dont think Im gonna propose. Youre going to be disappointed!" he laughed and a smile graced Rudes features.
"Youre not my type," the stoic Turk replied quite seriously and he helped his boss stand.
Reno looked around at the others in the room. Rude now stood by his side while Reeve and Elena sat together beside a slatted window looking down onto the street. Reno glanced at his generally silent companion questioningly, receiving an indicating nod in response. Twisting his bloody wrists in the handcuffs in an absent hope to loosen them, the fiery Turk walked over to the window to one side of Elena.
He gagged on his own breath at the sight which befell him. Thousands, upon thousands of people stood like an unimaginably huge coloured carpet, swarming over the main street. Overcome, he pushed his forehead up against the transparent screen and jerked back in shock as he felt it tremble. This was nothing like the unexpected movement of the quakes; it was constant and much less violent.
"Its a soundproof room," Elena informed him when he stared suspiciously at the window. "Reeve says that its probably shaking because of the noise people are making outside."
Oh Reeve says, does he? Reno imitated childishly in his mind. Realising what an oddly pathetic thing hed done, he looked away guiltily and blamed it on the stress he was under. Elena looked at him questioningly but he didnt bother to meet her gaze and sat down on a couch pushed up against one of the walls. He winced and a gasp of pain escaped his lips as he felt his broken rib twist under the movement.
Elena hurried over to him, a look of worry on her face. For the first time since Reno had entered the room, Reeve looked over at him; a haggard and weary expression covering his normally cheerful front.
"Are you okay?" The female Turk asked Reno when she sat next to him.
He nodded feebly in response, holding his breath in the fear that if he let it out, it would betray how he truly felt. "Ill be fine," he answered, unable to restrain himself any longer. "I wont have to worry about it for too long anyway, will I?" he added humourlessly, a grim smile touching his lips and Elenas eyes flickered in alarm as she thought she saw the face of death grin tauntingly at her from the fiery Turk.
"Please dont talk like that," she begged him weakly, clearly feeling the same as he did but hoping to instil some comfort in him nonetheless.
"You havent got any handcuffs on," Reno replied on a completely different tangent. She looked at him in pure confusion, unable to understand the sudden change in subject. Jolting her mind back into the conversation she looked down at her hands which rested limply on her lap.
"Oh, er, I suppose I dont. They didnt leave mine on when they put me in here."
"Mine either," Rude piped in as he held up his hands to prove his point. Reeve did likewise, but said nothing and turned back to the street outside.
Frowning, Reno moved his lips closer to Elenas ear. "Whats wrong with Reeve?"
He watched, momentarily taken aback as a look of deep concern washed over her face. She blinked slowly, long eyelashes obscuring chocolate brown eyes for a second as she watched the executives silhouette in intense sorrow. It suddenly hardened however as she turned back to Reno and he wondered why he felt a twinge of sadness in his own heart as he observed her subtle reaction to his question.
"Hes just overwhelmed by it all," she confided quietly. "Down in that cell none of us had to even consider this happening. Now it is though he just cant make it sink in. Ive tried talking to him but he hasnt said a word since Rude and I were brought in here with him."
Surprised at his own reaction, Reno nodded in a disturbingly understanding way. She forced a smile as she tousled his hair in an unfamiliarly fond way. A puzzled smile found its way onto his own features as she turned and walked back over to Reeve.
He looked back up at Rude and watched him as he slipped off his sunglasses and wiped them on the hem of his tailored, blue jacket. He gave a chuckle as he noticed the tall man give a deep sigh and then push his shades back on.
"Help me up, will ya?" Reno asked his friend and Rude pulled him to his feet once more.
"Why do you still have your handcuffs on?"
Reno blinked in bewilderment and then seemed to realise that his hands were indeed still bound behind his back. The remembrance brought fresh pain and he felt more liquid slip through his fingers. He cringed. "That bastard of a Third Class SOLDIER didnt take them off. Stupid prick probably wanted me to suffer for my last few hours of life."
"I dont think we even have an hour," Rude replied with an uncharacteristically depressed tone.
Reno smirked. "Whats makin you sad?"
A similar grin found its way somehow onto the taller Turks face. "No more beer," he answered simply and Reno burst out laughing.
"Vodka," he sighed eventually.
"Red or white?"
"Definitely white." Rude laughed. "Never did like dry wine much."
Reno nodded with an absurd seriousness. "Vintage?"
"Older the better," Rude replied and both the men gave simultaneous signs of approving.
"Are you two alcoholics intending on talking about drink all the way up to the chamber?" Elena asked with a falsely mature tone, a smile breaking out on her lips.
In response, Rude pretended to hold a microphone before his face. He looked down at it and put one hand on his hips. "And here we have the head of the Turk organisation, Reno OMahony. Mr OMahony, you are about to become a Past Tense Person and as such, would you care to say anything to the people of Midgar?"
Reno cleared his throat, his eyes darting around like a camera-shy villager as Rude held out the microphone to him. "Uh yeah. There is something Id like to say actually. Its been traumatising me for a real long time now."
"And what would that be?"
"That you stupid fuckwits went and blew up the only decent bar in town!!" Reno yelled.
They didnt have the time to laugh as all of a sudden the floor bowed and threw them into the air, sucking the oxygen from their lungs as they slammed against the walls. A fraction of a second later, they were hurled onto the carpet which felt considerably less softer than it had been under their feet. With unanimous moans they slowly stirred as the rattling of the blind against the windowpane faded away and the furniture came to rest, all pushed up against a single wall.
"Holy shit," Elena gasped in an unusually crass manner as she propped herself up on her elbows, blonde hair sticking out wildly from all possible angles. "Theyre getting so much stronger. I think somethings going to happen."
"What? Like the city is about to shake itself to the ground or something?" Reno asked in a semi-sarcastic tone of voice.
"The Lifestream must be really screwed up after those reactor explosions for the earthquakes to be getting so strong," Rude commented as, for the third time in less than ten minutes, he straightened Reno out.
The three Turks looked over to Reeve. The once Vice-Mayor was staring in a glazed fashion out of the window again. His gaze had lifted from the scene below to the sky which is where the trio found their own eyes drawn towards as they walked over to him. They said nothing between them; no words had to be said. The limitless heavens which, barely a minute ago had been a pure, crystalline blue, had rotted into the foulest and most acrid green they had ever seen before. It reminded Reno of the colour of the bottom of his trousers, only somehow deader. It appeared as though it had spread from the sky above what was left of the Shinra HQ and was radiating outwards to smother the city. As they watched the poison cloud, it seeped over what healthy coloured sky they could see, obscuring every patch of blue with the same, murky tint.
As they stared in sick silence, there was a click behind them. Literally dragging themselves from the disturbing sight, they twisted around to face the door they had all entered through; it was one of two doors in the room, the other being at a right-angle to it. Two MPs held undoubtedly loaded pistols and aimed wildly in the directions of the four. Seemingly satisfied that the utterly impassive figures, one of them chronically bound, posed no threat, one of them looked around the open doorway and made a gesture with his hand. Moments later, a new figure entered.
He was a man who was well into his sixties with an emaciated appearance; Reno felt that he could easily snap him in half with one hand. He had wisps of grey hair on a liver-spot smattered head and thin, purple tinted lips. He wore a pin striped, grey suit which hung off his coat-hanger-like shoulders; his short stature only made him seem more like a stick wearing a poorly fitting handkerchief. A gaudy red cape hung from his shoulders limply; its hem brushing on the floor.
Although the three Turks stared with a completely unimpressed and even pitying look on their faces, Reeve seemed totally in awe and respect. "Mayor Redford," he started with a degree of reverence. "Im so glad to see you. Please, you know me. You know how much the city means to me so must realise that Id never do any of the things that Ive been accused of!"
"Reeve, do not lower yourself any more in my opinion by resorting to begging," Mayor Bret Redford responded. Despite his ancient, withered front his voice was deep and booming; it took a tone that oozed authority. "I must admit that I thought Midgar was your life, but money can do strange things to a man. The most recent theories point to the fact that you blew up the old HQ and Reactor Two in order to claim insurance on them and flee the city. It was clear that you were in league with AVALANCHE by the very fact you aided their escape when it was known they were the destroyers of millions of lives."
"I told my interrogator that they had nothing to do with those explosions-"
"It matters not what you said. The facts have been lain out before us and you have all been found guilty. Rest assured, when we finally catch up with your friends they shall be put on trial and condemned to the same fate as you."
"Youve already decided what verdict youre gonna have??" Reno exclaimed. "Im sorry Your Honour but youre talking crap! Youd dont know shit about what the hell weve been going through recently, and youre prepared to stand there with all your pomp and circumstance claiming to know all the answers??"
One of the MPs stepped forward, but the Mayor held up a skeletal hand, and the man fell back into place. He didnt even acknowledge Renos outburst as he stared at the person who had once been his advisor and deputy. "Reeve, Im prepared to give you a choice," he revealed.
" What?" the Vice-Mayor asked with noticeable trepidation.
"Stand up, tell the people of Midgar that you were forced into what you did. Tell them that you were involved but it was against your will."
Reno almost screamed out in rage, but both Rude and Elena held him firmly back, clamping their hands over his mouth.
"And how do I convince them of that?" Reeve asked with perhaps too much curiosity for Elena to feel comfortable with and she gave a worried look. However, with his back facing her, Reeve took a step forward towards the Mayor and tilted his head to one side.
A crinkled, triumphant smile broke out on Bret Redfords face. "You were kidnapped; you say that it was those three that did it. They tortured you and told you that if you didnt comply to their whims then theyd blow up all the Reactors. You wanted to tell the public, but were unable to. The only way you could get us to know would be by getting yourself and your tormentors caught. It made it appear as though you were guilty, but our interrogators eventually uncovered the truth and you have been given a full pardon to resume duties immediately."
" So whats in it for me?"
"You get to keep your life," the Mayor answered curtly.
Reeve half-turned to his three companions but didnt make eye contact with any of them. "And what about the Turks?"
"We need to have some kind of a show for the people whove arrived. Theyre expecting an execution and they will get one."
Reeve stared at the Mayor, his face blank and expressionless. Suddenly, with a movement that shocked himself, his right hand flew up, his fingers clenched and he punched the old man directly on the face. The controller of the largest city on the face of the Planet fell back onto the floor with a satisfying thump and the three suited men who stood behind the executive cheered loudly.
For Reeves reward however, he was pistol-whipped as one of the MPs hit him across the jaw with the handle of his gun. He stumbled back and was caught by Rude. But as he felt a large purple bruise swell up on his face, he wore the biggest grin of his life over his messy, un-groomed goatee.
"AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, FOR THE EVENT YOUVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR !"
Reno cringed as he stepped out onto the roof of the Midgar Offices only to be bathed with the eerie green glow of the skies and the sick exclamations of the tannoy announcer. To his deep disgust, a cheer arose from the mass assembled many metres below him, crowding the main street of Sector Three. He was almost deafened by the cacophonous sound; it drowned out his senses and in a moment of panic he almost felt like just running. However, even the slightest glance towards a window of one of the houses opposite him showed light glinting off the barrels of sniper guns. Jarrad hadnt been exaggerating with his threat. If any one of the four so much as turned too fast theyd be shot by a thousand different bullets coming from a thousand different directions.
He felt a very large pit open up in his stomach.
Tilting his face up to the sky his eyes focused on the mass of green wash which looked like a stagnant swamp in the heavens.
Hed tried to do good, really he had. In fact no he realised.
Hed never helped an old lady across the road, never stopped kids picking on an old dog; if anything he was normally helping them. Hed lectured Cloud on the evil that was Vincent Valentine, but had he himself been any better? Hed killed thousands, no; millions with the destruction of Sector Seven all those years ago. Every time he blinked though, every time he thought he was alone, just one of those voices would scream at him. They werent calling him a murderer; they werent condemning him to hell. They were pleading. They were begging to be saved and he did nothing. More to the point, he could no longer do anything.
Over the past few years hed cleaned up his ways, even started drinking less. There wasnt much reason to drink as religiously as he once had. He had those screams to numb his brain to the world around him; who needed alcohol? Maybe this is what Valentine feels like, he pondered idly. Here I am thinking about all those people when Id probably never met a single one of them. Here he is trying to do right something which happened to him and the one person who he was closest to. Thats worse, right? After all, I pushed a button. He practically pulled the trigger .
Meditating on that fact, he raised his eyes and looked up before him. He trailed at the back of the line with Rude at the front. Between the two male Turks walked both Reeve and Elena, side by side. He felt that damned twinge of emotion again in his throat, but what the hell was it? Sorrow it was definitely sorrow, but why?
He shook his head. He didnt love Elena, he knew that much for certain. It was just never meant to be. They were far too much like brother and sister and it would be sick to even think of anything happening between them. He gave a sigh and to his amazement found a slight smile playing on his lips. It wasnt anything like the contemptuous smirk which had become something like a trademark to him; it was an expression of genuine happiness and warmth. He almost hid it and attempted to straighten himself out in order to give Midgar the sight of the murderer they wanted to see so badly, but decided against it. He was about to become a full-time Poppy-Pusher in less then ten minutes so why should he try and act all macho? If he really felt like it, he decided there and then, hed probably sing and do a little dance all the way up to the gas chamber.
The smile broadened as his gaze once more wandered to the female Turk and ex-Shinra executive before him. He felt sorrow, sure, but it wasnt for any reason which came immediately to him. It had taken a bit more thought but he realised then that he finally understood. Elena and Reeve had been getting so much closer over the past few years that hed have to be blind not to notice the chemistry between them. Hed never admit it to his female counterpart, but that night when Reeve had wept to himself in his office over the death of Cait Sith, hed watched as she knelt down and comforted the Vice-Mayor. Just as hed never tell anyone of the many times shed gazed for hours on end in the executives direction, hanging on his every word whilst he practised his many speeches to the trio. Both the leader of the Turks and Rude had made a secret pact to keep each other awake in the full knowledge that practise sessions could be anything from one to five hours long. Elena needed no such stimulus and absorbed everything he said with a childlike wonder.
Renos smile slipped off his face and his mouth became a thin, white line as he pressed his lips together. The joy of his delayed comprehension had worn off and now the odd sorrow washed over him again. He didnt care about himself; hell, he was even starting to wonder exactly what dance he was going to do up the steps to the gas chamber and whether asking the MPs to conga in with him would work. The sorrow he felt was for his friends, but especially the couple who walked closely together before him. Elena was like the younger sibling he'd never had and as such, although hed reprimanded and teased her on every possible occasion, deep down hed only ever wanted her to be safe and lead a happy life. Fat chance of that happening now they were nothing more than dead men walking. Shed never get the chance to act on the impulses he was sure she felt; shed never have the opportunity to turn around and say "Look Reeve, weve been friends for so long now but theres something I need to tell you ". And hed never get to know what it would be like to be an uncle.
And boy did that suck ass .
"Sorry," Elena murmured as she stumbled without apparent cause and fell into Reeve.
He shook his head. "Its all right," he responded. "Are you okay?"
She nodded mutely and focused her eyes ahead, shifting her shoulders uncomfortably in an attempt to make the tight handcuffs binding her hands to her back a little less uncomfortable. She failed and gave a defeated sigh.
She looked over at Reeve and noticed that he was looking at her. The left side of his jaw had swollen up and gone a vicious purple but he still bore the triumphant grin he had shown after flooring his old boss. She couldnt help but smile and shake her head in disbelief.
"Thats better," he remarked and nudged her playfully with his shoulder.
She managed a quiet laugh but it died quickly as her gaze fixed on the floor ahead of her. As she lifted her eyes to follow the path she was to take, she saw a small staircase leading up to a large capsule-like structure. It had a white ceiling and floor with glass walls to allow people to look inside. The floor was probably grated so that the gas could seep up from beneath and rise quickly to poison the little oxygen contained in the cubicle. It was so open and callous. So cold and scientific. Shed faced death before, but then shed had the pounding of her heart in her ears, the thrill of fight-or-flight. Now though, there was nothing. A short walk to oblivion and nothing more. There was the sound of the crowds cheering and shouting below her and the people she regarded as being closest to around her. Surely that was all she needed? The people that she loved and respected the most? But it was so cruel. So malicious and unmerciful.
She realised then that she couldnt handle it any more.
A shudder leapt up her body and adrenaline surged through her veins with horrific realisation. She stopped dead in her tracks, Reno almost walking into her back and Rude glancing back at her questioningly.
There were no MPs behind them or directly ahead of them; the television stations didnt want soldiers cluttering up valuable space which would prevent them from getting clear shots of the damned. Instead, the men with weapons stood in a thin maroon line around the very outside of the roof with their guns following the fours every move. At Elenas sudden hesitation they all heard the clicks of pistols switching off the safety around them in a vast circle.
"Whats wrong, Elena?" Reeve whispered as he looked directly at her, blanking the ominous sight of countless barrels pointing at their heads but unable to hide the fear in his wide, brown eyes.
She trembled visibly, chocolate-brown eyes blinking rapidly to flutter back any emotions which would have destroyed her completely. Overhead there was the sound of a helicopter hovering above the roof in order to capture the tearful scene and relay it heartlessly to the observing public.
"I, I cant do this," she gasped, her breaths loud and stuttered. She was terrified and starting to hyperventilate.
Reeves expression broke and he gazed back at her helplessly, floundering as he attempted to think of what to say. What could he possibly tell her? Hed made her smile but to do that again would be no better than asking her to lie in order to make him feel better. As he racked his very soul for an answer a rough hand grabbed his shoulder and shoved him towards the gas chamber. He stumbled down onto his knees but never broke eye contact with her. They simply gazed deeply into each others eyes and the outside world blurred as the two people seemed to finally realise something which had probably been there all along.
She stood so helpless and alone despite her friends on the vast rooftop without so much as a comforting word directed towards her.
He knelt on the ground, a dark, ugly purple smudge swollen on the side of his cheek at the complete mercy of whatever life had to throw at him. It throbbed, sure, but it wasnt even close to the pain in his heart as he watched her tear-filled eyes knowing that he would never get the chance to say
"I, I love you," Reeve blurted out, still on his knees with his head twisted back to look at her.
She stayed utterly frozen for a few seconds longer. It was then that her heart finally began to drown out the jeers of the millions surrounding them; it felt as though butterflies fluttered in her stomach and her mind reeled with confusion and relief. Shed been denying it long enough. Only Sods law denoted that it would be at that single point in time when shed realise.
Before she could even think out the consequences or comprehend the flood of emotions which had overcome her senses, she found herself running over to him and bending down. She thrust her face in his and in a clumsy, passion filled moment their lips met and they kissed deeply. With their hands cuffed behind their backs, the whole event would have looked purely bizarre if it werent for the ominous circumstances.
Reno let out a whoop of joy while Rude burst out into deep laughter next to him. The couple still kissing before the two Turks, for a moment they forgot where they were as Reno learnt that not all love was unrequited.
A stupid grin on his face, his wake-up call came in the form of a shove in the small of his back. He almost fell over, attempting to flail his arms to get his balance back but only serving to increase the flow of the warm, slippery blood oozing out of his wrist wounds. He gasped in pain, and only then did Elena and Reeve break apart to look over at him. Reno fell onto one knee and gave another yelp of agony as his rib gave a loud snap and finally shattered under all his movement.
Infuriated by the event, Rude somehow bent an elbow and smacked the MP who had hurt his friend so badly on the head. Not expecting the blow, the soldier stumbled back clutching a bloody nose, his gun falling to the floor as he tried to stop blood pouring from his face.
It was undoubtable that had circumstances continued, the MPs surrounding the four would have simply opened fire and put a halt to the fight before it even had the chance to develop. As luck, however good or bad would have it, at that point hell burst open and let forth one of its demons upon Midgar.
Another earthquake, infinitely stronger than any other which had gone before it tore through the city. Buildings exploded through the sheer force of the blast as the whole ground sank and rose back up in a movement so much faster than they could realise. All they knew was that one second the world was under them, and in the next heartbeat it was on top of them. Most buildings built across the vast area simply crumbled from the vibrations whilst others shuddered precariously and stood through the force of will alone.
Any joyful or elated cheers which had carried across the wind to the three Turks and Reeve ceased immediately. Everyone was hurled to the hard cobbled floor whilst those on the top of the Midgar Offices collapsed onto the flat roof, winded and unable to comprehend what the hell was happening. As they eventually gathered their breath and their brains succeeded in telling their bodies to try and find out what had just happened they rolled onto their backs and stared up at the sky. Breaths came raggedly through winded muscles and eyes stared in a glazed fashion at the sky.
"E, Everyone okay?" Reno forced out.
"Y, yeah," Reeve stuttered in response. He rolled his head to one side and looked at Elena who was lying in a similar pose to him, legs pointing in awkward positions where they had come to rest and hands pinned tightly behind their backs being crushed painfully by the weight of their own bodies. For some reason though, that didnt seem to matter as their eyes met.
"Im fine," Elena said eventually and Reeve felt deeply grateful.
"Me too," Rude ended and he sat up, his sunglasses hanging feebly by a single handle off his right ear. He shook his head and they fell to the concrete floor with an eerily loud clatter.
Unsettled by the too-loud motion, the other three did likewise and stared around. On the very edges of the building where MPs had stood so tightly together they acted as an impenetrable human screen from the outside world, there were now only one or two. They could only presume that the strength and suddenness of the quake had pushed them over the side where they probably met their deaths on the hard floor about twenty metres below.
Renos eyes darted around with the expert instincts of a Turk and eventually landed on the forgotten pistol of the MP who had pushed him over. When Rude had smacked the man in the face he had stumbled away, foolishly leaving behind his firearm and Reno felt a surge of hope. He made a motion to reach out to it, but his handcuffs held him fast. His sleeves and palms felt cold and soaking wet.
A flash of morbid inspiration overcame him.
Gritting his teeth as hard as he possibly could, his eyes screwed up and he pulled. White-hot agony tore up his arms and he thought he was going to faint. However, as he felt a jolt, he gave a final tug and with a scream of pain, he freed his hands using his own blood as a lubricant. He fell forward, everything going black as the pain of his action became too much.
"Reno!" Rude exclaimed in shock at his boss action. "Hey man, wake up."
He shuffled over on his knees to the slouched figure and nudged him with a shoulder. Eventually, Reno came too and blinked hard, almost toppling over. "Can you hear me?" Rude asked and Reno nodded woozily.
"Ah yeah," he replied uncertainly, holding his head. "I just feel dizzy, give me a sec." He gradually focused his eyes and pushed up from the ground. Snapping out of heavy giddiness he strode over to the gun with determined vigour and lifted it off the floor. "Hold out your hands away from your back," he ordered and the bald Turk complied. There was a startling gunshot which rang hollowly through the deadly still air and Rudes arms jerked apart. He massaged his wrists, putting his sunglasses back on and stood up next to his boss.
Within seconds Reeve and Elena had been freed and the four stood like the only survivors of Armageddon atop the building. People were starting to stir in their very distant vision on the edges of the building but the only ones near them had been knocked unconscious by the drop to the floor. Ignoring whatever impulses told her that she shouldnt appear weak, Elena took a step towards Reeve and in an unconscious gesture, he slipped a hand over her shoulders.
"We have to get out of here," he stated obviously. "Quickly, while everyones still stunned."
"How?" Reno questioned as he checked over his found pistol. "Were on the top of one of the biggest buildings in Midgar with an entire city surrounding us." He looked as though he was about to continue but a rumbling interrupted them.
The world had been in silence for so long now that sounds were like strangers to be feared and repelled. But, nothing on the surface of the Planet could stop such a tumultuous noise building up. It had begun quietly and subtly, eventually gaining momentum like a train as it roared towards them. It almost had a substance; it almost had a form it was so great. And as the crescendo was reached it blasted them like a sonic boom and they fell to their feet, their hair blown back from their faces and their clothes whipping back behind them. They shut their eyes to prevent the incredible wind from the strength of the sound explosion tearing them out. The hurricane eventually disappeared, but the rumbling remained and the ground started to vibrate up and down directly beneath them. It almost broke their knee-caps to be jarred up and down on the foot-thick concrete and Reno leapt to his feet, the others doing likewise after realising the benefits of such an action.
They stood there for over a minute with their teeth vibrating in their heads before something happened. And when it did, they suddenly longed for the seductive embrace of the gas chamber to steal away their souls and prevent them from seeing what they did.
The earth perhaps a mile to the west of them erupted; soil, masonry and people thrown hundreds of feet into the air as an incalculably huge plume of black, black smoke burst up from it. The smog travelled upwards, spreading and swirling in the swampy sky and reducing all light which reached the damned city to a murky, black-green. It was the most unnatural, and frightening sight Reno felt he had ever experienced in his entire life and he almost fell to his knees in prayer.
"Oh God " he whispered. "Is this it ? Are we all going to hell for what weve done?"
"No," Reeve murmured from his side after a harrowing pause. "I know what this is."
Elena looked at him, but he didnt meet her stare as his eyes remained fixed on the tragedy unfolding before him. "What?" she asked eventually and he swallowed forcefully.
"It " he stopped and shook his head, unable to grasp what he was seeing.
They hadnt been lying. The tremors had nothing to do with reactor explosions or bombs. It had nothing to do with the Planet re-adjusting after Meteors reign. This was something infinitely more terrifying and he truly wondered if indeed God had come to judge them and drag their tortured souls to the hell they surely deserved. Only He could perform such an act of destruction and damnation. A thousand people killed in one single movement and millions of others in the preceding quakes.
But it wasnt God who had done this; God would be delicious mercy compared to what he had heard.
The destruction of all life had been what It had promised. All life was a parasite destroying and draining the Planet of energy and it had made its duty to be the restorer of the balance after what man had done.
It was the judge, the jury and the executioner
"Its the Vigilante," Reeve choked and the Turks looked at him in undisguised horror.
They didnt have the chance to ask questions before there was another explosion and something else rose from the epicentre of the quake that smoke had been pouring out of. It was a column of the darkest black they could ever hope to imagine. It stood up like a tear in the very fabric of existence showing the void beyond except even from the distance they stood from it, they could discern lines like molten threads running across the unholy obelisk. There was the sound of a geyser erupting in their brains and they clamped their hands firmly over their ears as the top of the column split viscously leaving vast fangs protruding from ebony, snake-like gums. A hood billowed out from what they could only guess was its neck and like steadily growing super-novae, almond eyes appeared on the head.
The Vigilante had been born from the Planet and it announced its arrival with yet another hideous shriek which drove them to the floor in an attempt to retain their sanity.
As silence smothered the land like the heavy smoke that choked the sun many miles above them, it started to sway. At first the movement was slow and barely noticeable, but it started to gain momentum until now it rippled back and forth in a fashion so hypnotic it was almost painful for the four horrified spectators to tear their eyes away.
"Dont look at it," Reno gasped. "It must be trying to paralyse people to make its job easier."
"I dont even want to ask what its job is " Elena breathed painfully.
Reeves eyes darted over the rooftop. It was massive, covering the length and breadth of the entire Midgar Offices which took up perhaps one square-kilometre. Across the whole of its plain-like surface there were only two blemishes; the hastily constructed, easily seen gas chamber and the doorway they had walked up from. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he stared at the peculiar structure. It was as wide as it was tall, like a door standing unsupported in the middle of the concrete desert. It was many metres away; he hadnt realised just how far theyd walked on their way to their executions. Their only hope would be to somehow get off the roof. By some stroke of luck the building had stood through the earthquakes but who knew what turmoil lay inside? It was worth considering the fact that people would be too panicked to even care that their four murderers were escaping, but maybe that was being too optimistic. Office personnel trapped inside rooms and corridors probably wouldnt have seen the imposing and plain terrifying sight of the Vigilante and the final tremors will not have made their significance known to them. They would still see the Turks and himself as escaped prisoners and try to capture them.
No, he thought to himself. Not good enough. Well have to find another way.
He kept his gaze fixed to the doorway and took a few steps towards it in puzzlement as something caught his eye against the murky-green background of the sky.
"Hey," he called when hed wandered a metre or two away from the Turks. "Can anyone else see that?"
The others turned around and followed his line of sight. Their brows furrowed in concentration and Rude slipped off his glasses. "You mean that horizontal bar?" he asked eventually.
Reeve nodded. There was indeed what looked like a bar jutting from the side of the doorway. It stuck out obviously against the oddly coloured sky and it didnt seem to serve any apparent purpose. "Maybe it was shaken down with the quakes?" he mused aloud. "But I cant think why thered be a pipe coming up the stairs when special gas-lines have been fed up from the side of the building."
"It looks like a flag-pole," Elena added. "Or maybe "
"A helicopter blade!" Reno exclaimed and Reeve grinned by his side.
"You read my thoughts," he nodded. "Lets go and see. The only way were going to get out of here with our lives is in the air."
They sprinted forward; Rude supporting Reno as the flame-haired Turk gritted his teeth and attempted to keep up with them all. The pistol was clutched weakly in one of his blood-soaked hands and he didnt give it much thought as they turned the corner around the back of the doorway.
"STOP!" cried a desperate voice and the four came to a screeching halt.
They were met with the sight of a small helicopter sat inconspicuously behind the structure containing the downward stairway. In the middle of the rooftop, their eyes darted wildly around them and it was only when they heard footsteps from behind the door did they understand. Ten MPs burst out from the stairway into the open. From behind them strode Mayor Redford clutching a swollen eye, his formal, fur-trimmed, red cape flowing out behind him covered in plaster and tears.
"I said stop!" he ordered in a booming voice as he assumed a position behind the line of ten men. "Keep your hands off that helicopter! Its mine!"
Reeve started at the old man in disbelief. "What the hell has come over you, Bret?" he burst out in shock. "You used to be a good man, only caring about the city. I know Im not a murderer but you were prepared to convict me of being one in a single breath and offer me my job back! Now youre trying to climb over the people you claim to protect??"
"Im trying to stay alive!" the Mayor retorted angrily and the imposing tone of his voice disappeared leaving the words of a whinging, self-obsessed five year old. "Something youd do well to try!"
Reeve shook his head vehemently. "Youre trying to corrupt the city and pull down innocent people without considering the results. I chose you to be the Mayor out of all my administrators when Midgar was being built because you always had so much pride and such an altruistic approach to life! I swear that back then, you wouldve given your life if it meant a common thief could walk free. Now look at you! Youre a conniving, snivelling coward!"
"What makes you think youre any better, Reeve? What makes you such a martyr?" Bret Redford demanded and Reeve flinched.
"I dont claim to be any of those which is why I didnt make myself Mayor. Im a cheating, two-faced, cunning son-of-a-bitch and Ive never claimed to be anything else. The only thing I do say about myself is that I love this city and I love the people of this planet! If youd listened to me and if youd taken the time to have an open mind and not condemn me because angry, unthinking people tell you to, you couldve helped prevent this." Reeve gestured out to the city. As he did so a tremor caused their knees to buckle although they remained stood. In the distance there was screaming and a faint breeze shoved through the dead air with the scent of blood. Reeve swallowed hard. "We could have stopped this, and I know for a fact that in the past you would have trusted me and taken heed to everything I had to tell you. Now though, now you threw me in a bloody prison with the intention of having me killed whilst the city, my city was destroyed!! What kind of a man are you??"
Bret narrowed his eyes and for a second Reeve wondered if he saw a wash of black come over him. He didnt have time to ponder the fact as the old man made a gesture and the MPs began firing.
He only managed to dive out of the way by sheer luck, another tremor forcing him to the floor and sending the aim of the soldiers wild. The four fugitives threw themselves behind the stair hut and Reno returned fire with his pistol. He yelped in pain, clutching at his injured chest as he twisted into a sitting position after shooting blindly around a corner. Rude moved over to him and held out his empty hand. Reno glanced between the appendage and his pistol, a sulking, reluctant expression overcoming him.
"Give me the gun, Reno," Rude ordered firmly.
Reno shook his head. "No, as your superior I get priority on ass-kicking."
"Youre injured. Fuck authority, if you start moving around and trying to duck fire youre going to puncture a lung."
"Yeah? And dyou know what?" Reno asked the taller, much heavier built man and Rude shook his head. "Youre not gonna get it then either! Hell, when Im lying on the floor without a pulse then maybe Ill consider your request but-"
Rudes hand shot out, and before his boss could finish his sentence the gun was gone.
Rude leapt to his feet and pressed his back to the wall, twisting around the corner and returning the incessant fire of the MPs. There was an audible thud over the gunfire and he bent back into shelter.
"Bastard," Reno muttered bitterly but his curse went unheard.
The helicopter was within reach, but they had to cross the line of fire in order to attain its safety. They knew that the Mayor would never want to risk getting himself shot and would wait until every one of the four was dead before getting to the transport. Just as they could guess that if indeed they made it to the copter he wouldnt want it to be damaged in any way and wouldnt dare shooting them.
It was a Catch Twenty-Two situation Reeve realised with a grim expression. Either they stayed where they were until their ammo ran out or they were ambushed and killed on the spot. Alternatively, they could brave the no-mans land and get shot in the process.
"What do we do?" Elena asked by his side and he flashed her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Rudes a good shot, isnt he?"
She nodded. "Hes the best with guns out of us three although he prefers fists."
"Then," Reeve reasoned. "If anyone can get us out of this, its him."
She gave a dour smile. "I suppose. But that wont stop reinforcements coming, or that Vigilante slithering over here and killing us all."
Reeves face fell. Damn, I forgot about that
Reeve looked at the female Turk with a degree of surprise at her unexpected words. "What do you mean?" he asked with brows knitted together above the bridge of his nose.
"Im sorry for not believing you when you told me about the Vigilante," she clarified hesitantly and he reached out and squeezed her hand.
"Thats okay," he answered quietly. "To be honest, I wasnt sure myself. I think I just held onto it because I couldnt bear the thought that Cloud or the others would lie to me." She nodded and stroked his hand in return. "I wonder if theyre all right?" he asked thoughtfully and she sighed.
"Im sure theyre fine," she replied. "But dont you think we should be worrying about ourselves right now? We are just about to be executed after all ."
He gave a weary chuckle and looked to his left as Reno walked to them on his knees. He slumped down beside them; a look of stifled agony on his face. "Rude says the ammo is running out," he reported impassively. "If we want to make a run for the copter then its now or never."
The couple stood and helped Reno to his feet as they walked the three metres to Rudes side. "Ready to go?" he asked them as he gave a random shot around the corner. They nodded hesitantly and he pushed a new clip into the pistol. "I got these rounds off the unconscious soldier when we were coming over here. If only hed had more I mightve been able to kill all these MPs and then we wouldve had a clear walk "
His voice trailed off and a sudden bullet tore through the doorframe leaving a semi-circle of space where there had been wood before. The bald Turk raised his eyebrows over his sunglasses in a somehow comical gesture and looked at them.
"It looks like they have enough bullets to shoot their way through this structure anyway," he commented with a shrug.
"If we get over to the helicopter without looking like Swiss cheese at the end, Ill be impressed," Reno muttered as he attempted to deal with the fear he felt creeping up the back of his throat like vomit. This wasnt going to be easy; in fact, surviving, something which had always come naturally was about to become a near impossibility. "But at least if we die on the battle-field Ill go with a smile on my face."
"Youll be smiling when someone shoots a bullet up your ass?" Rude enquired with a light smirk.
"No, I mean a metaphorical one," Reno explained with an exasperated sigh and Elena laughed at his sudden use of such an obscure term. She didnt even realise he knew what the word meant. "In the real world Ill hit the floor with a face like thunder and a not-so-nice word on my lips. What I mean is that Id rather lose all my breathing privileges like a Turk, not like a dirty murderer in the damned gas chamber. I cant think of anything worse."
His audience gave solemn nods, and in a silent motion swivelled to face the helicopter. The door was around the corner behind them; their enemies opposite the cubicle-like structure with the covered stairway preventing them from actually seeing one-another. Neither side had any advantage over distance to the copter, but when it came to firepower, the four fugitives were hopelessly outnumbered.
What better way to leave the world than as a Turk ?
Rude wrapped a large arm around Renos shoulders giving his boss all the support he needed whilst holding the pistol firmly in his left hand. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose the barrel of the weapon in a gesture which made Elena cringe, but she said nothing. She and Reeve made eye contact giving a final smile before Reno gave a crude battle cry and they surged forward.
Bullets shrieked through the dead air towards them and Elena yelped as she was certain she felt one slice through her normally neat bob as her dishevelled blonde hair flew out behind her. She put her hands over her face in a pitiful motion to protect herself but kept her legs pounding forward uncaring as to where she was actually heading.
Reno almost wept with pain, his consciousness slipping with every step that jarred his battered body. His blood-soaked cuffs flapped soddenly around his raw wrists and he felt his broken rib crunch and grind precariously close to whatever organs he felt an intelligent desire to keep in one piece. Explosions went off near his left ear as Rude pointed and fired the pistol in the random direction of the line of MPs that sought to hamper their escape. The bald Turks strong grip on Renos slight frame was the only thing he felt kept him vertical. His legs were making the motion of running but they didnt even seem to touch the floor any more. He felt a wave of admiration overcome him like never before at his stoic companion. Not only was the silent man practically carrying him under one arm, he was the only thing keeping their enemies from mowing them down like moving targets at a fairground.
They were halfway to their solace now, bullets still screaming towards them. Only one of those lead slugs was needed to kill them; only one out of a countless thousand. They had been lucky up until then and they knew it was only time before someone was hit full on.
Rude, the closest to the line of MPs gave a cry of agony and fell to the floor, Reno sprawling out next to him. They lay still for a few seconds, the running couple Reeve and Elena now attracting the fire. Blinking blobs of light from his vision, Reno subtly dragged himself over to Rudes still form.
"Hey, you still with me, man?" he asked in a loud whisper and there was a hesitant nod.
"Yeah," came the muffled answer as Rude lay with his face pressed up against one of his arms. "The bastard shot my back."
"Can you get up?"
"No, he shot me in the back," Rude repeated patiently. He tilted his face up, his eyes naked; his sunglasses had been flung off across the concrete from the unexpected jolt of his fall. "I cant feel my legs, Reno."
Overcome by sheer horror, Reno almost jerked in shock, his head almost snapping up in a very uncorpse-like action. Catching himself at the last second he swallowed hard and directed his stunned expression at the floor. "Oh Jesus Rude," he gasped. "Ill kill the fuckers. Give me the gun and Ill blow the heads off every single one of them. Ill shoot their fucking brains out-"
"Dont be stupid. You know youll be shot the second you let them know youre still alive," Rude snapped in an uncharacteristically brusque way. Renos face contorted in inner pain as he could feel the frustration, anger and agony in his friends voice. It was rare enough for the tall man to ever say anything more than two sentences long let alone be so clearly abrupt and full of emotion.
He dared to lift his eyes and look at the form of his companion. Rude had his arms lying in no particular way over his head, his face pressed up against one of them. His legs were twisted in angles which were obviously not right and even from the awkward perspective Reno could see the obvious, red, bloodstain spread across Rudes back. He gritted his teeth and blinked hard to fight back any one of the number of emotions which tore through his mind at that moment.
"Im sorry," he breathed eventually and even over the sound of the consistent gunfire Rude heard it.
"Whats there to be sorry for?"
"I dunno. Everything I guess," Reno answered solemnly. "Im sorry for bein born. Im sorry for getting you into all this shit. Im sorry youve got a bullet lodged in your back."
Rude gave a snort of laughter, muffled in his sleeve and Reno did likewise. Despite the circumstances, they were soon in hidden hysterics, tasting blood in their mouths as they bit their tongues to stop themselves from bursting into loud, raucous laughter. They took deep breaths to calm themselves down, occasionally sniggering as they thought of all the thousands of times theyd been together.
Renos face twisted into anger as he gave a snarl in strong contrast to his brief period of joviality. This isnt the end, so why the hell am I thinking like this? He demanded of himself. Weve been in worse situations He fought hard to recall a time when life had, indeed been worse and failed miserably after only a few seconds.
" Rude?" he whispered eventually.
There was a harrowing pause and eventually he heard a weak reply. " what ?"
"I hope youre not intending on dying or anything pathetic like that. Id be really pissed off with you if you are."
He heard another snigger, and then all of a sudden there was silence followed by a distant cry; the voice of Bret Redford, Mayor of Midgar. "The guns have stopped firing," Rude stated weakly. "The Mayor wont want to risk damaging his only way out of out of this hell. Nows your chance Elena and Reeve mustve reached the copter."
"Im not leaving you."
" Youre being stupid again. I I cant walk; they mustve shot straight through my spine."
Reno grimaced and clenched his fists. "Damnit," he hissed in a high-pitched tone. "I cant fucking leave you! Theyll kill you if you dont die from blood loss first!"
There was another long pause and again Reno had to forcefully stop himself from looking up. " Ill shoot at them and distract their fire. You You just make a run for it."
"Im gonna fucking drag you there if I have to, you dumb bastard!" Reno gasped again and he was horrified to feel hot tears run down his cheeks.
"Just just go "
Reno didnt get another chance to object as he caught sight of movement from the corner of tear-blurred eyes. By some unnatural burst of strength, Rude twisted himself onto his back and started firing towards the advancing lien of MPs. Caught off-guard, three of the them fell before they could even draw their weapons.
Reno leapt to his feet and a bullet thudded into his left arm.
"See you in hell!" he cried as he turned and sprinted with an unholy vigour from the blood-soaked concrete.
"Not if I see you first!" He heard yelled in return and Reno couldnt stop a grin from pulling the corners of his lips up maniacally.
Clutching his dead arm over his cracked rib, he pushed forward like a flame-haired, bloody demon fleeing the fires of Hades towards the helicopter. He saw Reeve sitting in the cockpit. The executive watched Reno dumbly, his mouth hanging open in shock for a few seconds before looking down at the control panel and frantically pressing buttons. Elena sat next to him, her face cradled in her hands as she rocked back and forth. Over the sound of guns exploding behind him, Reno could barely hear his own thoughts but Elena was obviously crying.
That hurt him more than any physical pain he had endured over the past few days and in a few more vast strides, he propelled himself around the side of the copter and dived into the foot well of the driving-seat in less than a heartbeat.
The contraption lurched off the Midgar Offices rooftop and Reno rolled onto his back, his legs still dangling limply from the open door of the helicopter. Through the glass top he watched the blades as they rotated and sliced through the swampy-black air leaving circles of blurred grey in the air. It seemed so graceful so poetic. Although he knew he really shouldve been able to hear the chugging roar of the engine or even the scream from Midgar citizens below as they were torn by an unimaginably powerful force, the Vigilante; he heard nothing.
If anyone had asked him what he remembered from that moment of salvation before he passed out, he wouldve said the sound of Elena weeping quietly to herself and nothing more.
If his unconscious wish had been granted, he would have never heard anything ever again.
"Se ya, Rude," he murmured with tears burning his cheeks and the aches down his left side little more than meaningless throbs before oblivion swallowed him in its empty depths.
Go To Chapter 22
Return To FF7 Fanfic