Through the Looking Glass Chapter 6
Down the Rabbit Hole
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa stood defiantly before the HQ entrance, the wind whipping her long ponytail around her knees. She wore her usual fighting outfit that had stayed with her even after the Meteor Crisis. The short black skirt and white crop top allowed her perfect ease of movement when she fought and her right fist wearing the Premium Heart fighting glove clenched by her side. She bit her lip and fought back the tears that threatened to destroy her courage and defiance in a moment of weakness. Cloud was in danger, more than she could possibly know and she had to help him; no turning back or wimping out. She had to do this no matter what anyone said.
"You ready to go in?" asked a gruff but kind voice from her side.
She forced a smile and turned to look at Cid. Like her he also wore the same clothes as he had five years ago; his engineers outfit and lucky bomber jacket with its many pockets that always seemed to contain something useful. He leaned casually on his ornate spear; the Venus Gospel but his jaw muscles were clenched in tension. It was difficult to feel relaxed in the ruins of the once proud building silhouetted by a brilliant sunset in the horizon that stained the sky with gold and blood.
She nodded eventually and glanced back at her two other companions; Yuffie and Cait Sith. Although often known as the kids of the group, they had both matured much and defiance and bravery that matched her own was on their faces.
"We're ready when you are, Tifa." said Cait supportively and Yuffie nodded.
"Let's go in there and kick us some ass!" grinned Cid and with an exchange of amused glances, they followed after the enthusiastic pilot.
They walked quietly into the vast room that had once been the entrance hall. Tifa stared around, her mouth open in horror. Shards of glass and huge chunks of rubble lay all about and crunched loudly underfoot as she moved with attempted stealth. Battered pieces of metal were propped up against the walls with the faded Shinra insignia on them and Cid walked over to one of them and brushed a thick layer of plaster and dust from off it.
"Jesus, this place is in a helluva state." he muttered as he rubbed the fingertips of his leather gloves together and examined the dirt curiously. "It doesn't look like this place has been used in decades." he looked over at Cait who was completely transfixed and overwhelmed by the decay of the building that had once been his home. "Hey cat, you sure the Turks were right about Reeve comin' here? It doesn't look like a mouse has come into this place since it was torn to pieces."
"No, it's definitely here." Cait assured him once he had snapped out of his moments' trance. "I mean we saw that sheet of metal bein' used as a bridge over the gap back there. Someone must come here."
"How do we know that Cloud and the others didn't put it there?" asked Yuffie as she hopped off a large chunk of concrete and walked over to the small group.
"The wind would've blown it away if it had stayed there ever since they arrived." Cait explained. "I bet that it's used often as a way of getting backwards and forwards."
Satisfied with his answer, Tifa walked away and over to the elevator doors. She pressed the buttons beside one of them but nothing happened.
"There's no point in doin' that." Cid called. "The power's probably been shut down since Meteor attacked."
Unabated, she moved to the next door and half-heatedly prodded the buttons there. With a shock, she leapt back as there was a mechanical whirring further up the open shaft and the exposed cables began to sway.
Her three friends ran over to her and watched as the elevator lowered down and with a ping, its doors slid open to reveal the cubicle.
"Well I'll be damned." muttered Cid. "What did ya do?"
"I, I don't know. I just pressed the switch and it worked." Tifa replied innocently.
Glancing around at the others and receiving no other information, Cid brushed passed and walked into the lift.
"Are you nuts?" exclaimed Yuffie. "They might cut the ropes or somethin' when we're halfway up! We'll go splat!"
"Ah, don't be such a chicken." laughed Cid. "The rest of you can take the stairs if you want, I'm goin' up the easy way."
Cait glanced at the two women before walking forward and joining Cid who beamed out at them. "Anyone else?" he asked.
Tifa sighed and with a reluctant expression, walked in after them and looked back at Yuffie. "Are you coming?"
"You sure it's safe?" she queried suspiciously.
"Of course it's not safe!" Cid laughed. "Nothin's been safe since we walked over that dumb bridge but are you gonna wait around here all night while we go up and get a piece of the action?"
Yuffie was still for a moment as she seemed to consider the proposition. Eventually and hesitantly, she stepped into the cubicle.
"Hey, can we go now?" questioned Cait impatiently.
Cid glanced over at Tifa who nodded. "Which floor?" he asked.
"Sixty-one." she responded. "That always seems to be the start of trouble."
Cid pressed the button and they all waited in silent anticipation for what was going to happen next.
"Ah good. You're awake. I couldn't have you asleep to miss the pain now, could I?"
Cloud lifted his head up and looked around the room. He was in some kind of laboratory; the same one that Jenova had been kept in when he and the others had first seen her in the Shinra building nearly six nears ago. The crumpled metal dome sat in one corner of the vast room surrounded by old unopened crates and boxes.
He was lying on a bed surrounded by monitors next to a familiar large glass tube in the very centre of the room, a cold light glowing from its bottom that illuminated the rest of the huge chamber. Vague memories sprang to his mind of one of the AVALANCHE members, Red XIII being kept there a specimen when they first found him.
His arms ached strongly but he felt too weak to massage them to rub away the throbbing. All he could do was lift his head and that was only for a short time before his neck muscles gave away. He relaxed and settled his head back down on the hard operating table that he lay on.
"Pain?" he asked eventually to his unseen tormentor.
"Yes, the pain." a person loomed over him, his cold, rattish features unnervingly recognisable. "The pain of slowly having your life's essence drained from you. I've heard that it's supposed to be agonising." as he said this, a grin spread across his thin face and he stood up straight once more and moved away from the table.
There were the sounds of soft computer blips and bleeps as he programmed random information into it.
"Wh, Where's Vincent?" Cloud asked when it became obvious that Hojo wasn't prepared to continue the conversation.
The scientist span around, the grin still on his lips. "Valentine? Oh, he's probably busy right now."
"Busy...? What have you done to him?"
"Nothing for you to concern yourself over." he paused and looked down at a watch on his wrist. "As a matter of fact, he'll be waking up from his operation soon. You'll probably hear all about it then so I won't spoil the surprise for you."
He sniggered and turned back to his work while Cloud closed his eyes.
Everything had gone wrong; this wasn't meant to happen. Reeve had been kidnapped and it was supposed to be a simple rescue mission. What happened? Why had it all gone wrong? Why did all of these things have to come back to him...?
He sighed sadly. He was stupid to have ever convinced himself that everything was over. The death had Sephiroth had meant nothing. While science and people like Hojo existed, there was always the chance that the nightmare could continue.
He lifted his head up weakly and watched Hojo at work for a few seconds. "You're just a clone, y'know." he said suddenly.
Hojo paused for a brief moment but shrugged it off and continued his work.
"Did you hear me? You're just a clone!" Cloud yelled but it inspired no greater reaction than before. "That means that you're just a copy of someone." he explained as though Hojo didn't know for himself. "You're not the real Hojo. Just an imitation; a bunch of cells that walk and talk like he used to."
"Could you please be quiet?" muttered the scientist irritatedly. "I'm working on something very delicate here and I do not need your senseless prattling distracting me from it."
"So how does it feel... clone?" Cloud persisted with an evil grin that almost matched his captor's. "I may be a failure in your eyes, but at least I'm real. At least I'm not a walking lie like you."
"Shut up!!" Hojo screamed furiously as he turned around quickly, spittle flying from his thin lips. "I do not care what you say, miserable failure but would you have the common courtesy to drivel quietly??"
"Oh, I'm sorry." apologised Cloud in a voice that was dripping in sarcasm. "Have I distracted you from your little sadist toy?"
His comment ended in a cry of agony as a powerful force tore through his body and left him a shivering wreck.
"Heh, heh, heh." Hojo sniggered as he walked over to stand beside the operating table. "You will find that I am not as stupid as others believe me to be, Mr. Strife. Now, if you dare to make another sound, I'll tear you to pieces. For this part of the experiment, I no longer need you alive. I am only doing so as part of my revenge for what you did in Sector Eight." he shrugged. "You can call it one of my many negative points, but I cannot walk away from the chance to make someone's life hell if they've wronged me in the past."
"No... ." Cloud spat out. "You can't walk away from the chance to make anyone's life hell, Hojo."
Hojo raised his eyebrows and turned from the table to walk back to the computer panel. "Oh dear, Mr. Strife. You really don't have any manners do you? It seems as though I'm going to have to teach you."
Cloud screamed as he felt his body being torn to pieces once more as Hojo pressed down on the panel and watched him with a sickly satisfied gaze.
"It's so quiet." murmured Tifa as she stepped out of the lift and onto floor sixty-one, amongst the wreckage of the bomb blast.
"Looks as though someone threw one helluva party." Cid quipped and Yuffie glared at him.
Tifa bent down and stood up holding a melted piece of black plastic that was barely recognisable. Cait shuffled up next to her and gently took the object from her hands to examine it. After moments' silence, he sniffed and bowed his head sorrowfully.
"What is it, Cait?" asked Tifa gently.
"These are Rude's glasses," he answered quietly. "He'd never leave them behind... ."
The room fell silent as the dreadful news sank in. Cait was right; Rude was never without his glasses; something terrible must've happened.
"They've been melted." she observed. "They must have been caught in the bomb blast." Cait covered his face with his paws and lay down on Mog's head, weeping softly. "At least they went quickly... ." she added comfortingly as she gave him a pat on the head.
"C'mon Cait." said Yuffie as she walked up behind him. She lifted the small cat up and straightened his gold crown that had become lop-sided. "Let's see if we can do this... for them."
He wiped his nose and nodded forcing a brave smile. "Yeah... I'd like to give these terrorists a punch, eh Mog?" he smiled as he nudged his steed who nodded dumbly. He looked up at his friends and grinned. It was difficult to keep the small cat down for too long.
Cid lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "It's time we were movin' on." he announced gently. "Do we take the elevator or the stairs." he looked over a doorway with 'Stairs' written boldly on it.
Tifa glanced at Yuffie and Cait who simply shrugged. She sighed and glanced between the two options, finally finishing on the stairs. "We've probably already given away our presence but I'd like to keep them guessing. Let's take the stairs."
She walked over to the doorway followed closely by Cid and then Yuffie and Cait who stayed at the back talking quietly amongst themselves. She pushed open the door with effort and walked into a poorly lit room with two sets of stairs; one up and one down. Casting a last glance behind her, she began to walk upwards and into the unknown in search for Cloud.
They travelled up several floors before they found their route blocked by a dam of rubble and debris. She looked back to Cid who simply shrugged.
"It had to happened sometime." he commented. "Let's just be glad that we got up this far before it did."
The door to the level was pushed open and they were greeted with '66' painted in huge black numbers painted on the wall before them.
"We're on the floor where the big cheeses used to have their meetin's." Cait proclaimed quietly, fearful of disturbing the thick silence that hung solidly in the air threatening to fall upon them like an unseen avalanche if they disturbed it.
Cid's knuckles went white beneath his gloves as his grip on the staff of his spear increased and he looked around the floor. A large set of doors stood before them with 'Meeting Room' engraved on a brass plate next to them. He looked back to Tifa who seemed uncomfortable in the stillness. He coughed quietly to break the silence and Tifa looked at him. "Do we separate and look around or move up to the next level?"
She sighed. Why did the decisions go to her and who made her the leader? This was Cloud's job, not hers. She wasn't designed for ordering people around so why did they turn to her for guidance? She was as clueless as they were; it was only luck that had kept them safe up to that point. She ran her fingers through her hair in thought; eventually turning to them as they waited with expectant looks on their faces.
She wanted to yell at them; tell them to do what the hell they wanted. She didn't want the responsibility of being in charge. It was one thing to think of an idea but it was another to be in control.
"Um... I guess we should take a look around." she answered after a while. "I don't want to use the elevator in case it gives us away and we can't use the stairs. If we explore this level then we might find another way up."
They all nodded; it made sense even if they didn't want it to. Yuffie looked at Cait. "C'mon Cait. You come with me. You've gotta be crazy if you think I'm walkin' around here on my own!"
The pair walked away together, chatting and laughing so loud, Tifa cringed. If there were any guards further up unaware of them then they would be soon.
"Looks like it's me an' you then." said Cid. "Shall we go the other around and meet them up on the other side of the floor?"
"Yeah... okay." she replied absently as she walked up to the meeting room doorway. She examined the doors before turning back to him, glancing over her shoulder. "We may as well look in all the rooms. The executive's might've had a secret passage or something built in here... y'know, just in case they needed to escape quickly."
He shrugged at the logic. "I'll wait here for you." he said as he leant up against the wall and lit another cigarette, discarding the old one disrespectfully on the dusty red carpet.
Tifa felt around the centre of the doors before she felt the handles beneath her fingertips. She pushed down on them, expecting them to be as rusty as all of the other doors, but she almost fell forward as they opened silently on well oiled hinges. Straightening herself up, she walked into the black room.
She took a few cautious steps and paused; there was a strange sound emanating from somewhere close to her. She glanced back at Cid but he appeared a million miles away and out of reach. It seemed pointless calling to him or leaving the room after only a few seconds. No, she wasn't that weak; if there was a noise or something in there then she would find it, she was determined to.
She held her breath and felt a shiver run up her spine as her ears adjusted to the quietness that existed in chamber. There was a noise and terrifyingly enough, it sounded like breathing. She clenched her fists to prevent fear from taking over. It was deep and even; whatever was in there with her was asleep and by shouting out, she'd only wake it up.
Taking a few more steps forward, she walked straight into a table and almost cried out from the pain. Stifling it, she planted her hands on the tabletop and began to use it as a guide around the room, leaning on it so that she wouldn't fall or trip if she walked into anything more.
About halfway around the long side of the table, she started as her hands brushed against something unfamiliar. Reprimanding herself and repeatedly saying that it was nothing more than a piece of debris, she reached out a wary hand to touch it once more. She gasped and leapt back; whatever it was, it was warm.
"Cid!" she hissed overcome by alarm. "Cid!"
The pilot leapt up and ran over to the doorway where he could faintly make out Tifa's outline in the darkness. "What is it?" he asked in a loud whisper.
"Th, There's something in here! On the table!" she answered frantically.
His eyes widened and he felt up the inside of the doorway until his fingers met a knob. Pressing on it, there was an explosion of radiance and the room was illuminated brightly by an elegant light in the roof. Tifa fell back and shielded her eyes from the brightness and Cid was forced to look away for a moment.
As her eyes once more came into focus, she looked down at the table and inhaled sharply. "Oh my God Cid. It, It's Chaos... it's Vincent."
The massive black demon lay upon the table, taking up the full length of the twelve-foot long slab of marble. It's gargoylic-cattish face seemed oddly peaceful as it slept; its massive muscled chest rising and falling rhythmically with every breath. Its huge arms lay straight by its sides and its legs were held stiffly together, pointing away from the door that Tifa and Cid had entered through. The enormous bat-like wings with their black spokes and crimson membranes filled the rest of the space on the table and Tifa realised with certainty that she had touched one of them when feeling her way around the large slab.
"It's good to know that Vincent's all right." sighed Cid as he scratched the back of his head. "I crapped myself when I saw it, hell I'd forgotten what he looked like when he transformed."
"I've never seen it like this before." murmured Tifa as she walked over to the table and looked down on its gargoyle-like face.
"Nah... neither have I. He probably just got tired or something stupid like that." he smirked jovially. "I'll go an' get Fur-ball and the Thief if you wanna wake it up."
She nodded absently, only half listening to what the pilot said.
"Rather you than me... ." Cid muttered as he began to walk out. "Tell him to change back too. We're gonna be a lot more obvious with that thing following around us if he doesn't."
He laughed at his joke and left the room leaving Tifa with the sleeping Chaos.
Okay then... how the hell am I supposed to wake a demon, a bad tempered one at that... ? Hmm... .
She tentatively reached out and prodded the spiked shoulder without any reaction. Frowning, she leant over the table and looked into its face. To her shock one of the eyes twitched as she breathed upon it and she quickly jumped back. The breathing once more became even and with an irritated frown, she leant back over its face and dared to blow purposefully on the eyes. It wasn't conventional; in the bar a bucket of cold water normally worked but as the demon began to growl and shuffle on its bed, she stepped back and watched with slight satisfaction as it surfaced.
He opened his eyes and immediately squinted from the invading artificial light that was burning into his mind. He closed them again in a vain attempt to go back to sleep. He felt weary and heavy; he longed for his bed at home where it was secluded and dark. He wanted this nightmare to end.
Tifa put her hands on her hips and walked over to the table again to look down into the demon's face.
"C'mon. I know you're awake so stop trying to hide it." she scolded playfully. "If you don't come around right now then I really will have to get a bucket of cold water."
Tifa? What's Tifa doing here? Was everything a dream? Yes... that must be it... I've probably fallen asleep at the bar after running around after Yuffie all week. How embarrassing. If Cid's around I'm going to have to think of an excuse. Maybe I could offer him the chance of babysitting...?
He opened his eyes again and the bright light came as less of a shock. He moaned wearily and closed them once more as he rubbed his temples with his fingertips. He had a terrible headache and prayed that he didn't have a hangover. That truly would be something to get embarrassed about... .
Dropping his arms weakly by his sides he looked up again at the ceiling but Tifa loomed over him and looked into his eyes.
"Can you hear me, Vincent?" she asked warily.
Of course I can hear you. I'm not deaf....
"Umm... Chaos? I don't mean to be rude but would you mind turning back into Vincent?"
"Please don't get mad at me but we're in the middle of a mission right now and it would probably be easier if you were... Vincent." she finished awkwardly, unable to think of the correct phrasing.
What is she talking about?
He frowned at her and she was momentarily taken aback by the strangely human expression.
"Vincent, er, Chaos?" she stuttered and he narrowed his eyes.
Is this some kind of joke? If it is, I'm not amused. He opened his mouth and began to speak but to his horror, the words came out as nothing more than meaningless snarls and growls. Tifa's eyes widened in alarm and she stumbled back as he quickly put his hand over his mouth, unwilling to hear any more.
"L, Look.. I'm r,really sorry." she stuttered. "I,I didn't want to wake you up but w, we really need Vincent here now."
What's happened? Wh, What's going on? Vincent cried mentally in utter shock. Something wasn't right. Why couldn't he speak? Why was Tifa calling him Chaos?
He sat up suddenly and cried out in distress, the noise coming out as a pained roar and Tifa sank to the floor even more terrified as the demon's shadow fell over her.
He looked down at his hands, only they weren't his hands. They were huge and black with dagger-like claws on the tips. This wasn't his body... he wasn't black, he wasn't this tall. He looked to his shoulders and the source of his agony. Two massive wings protruded from them and as he sat up they were bent awkwardly. Something had gone horribly, horribly wrong...
Tifa was sat huddled up in a corner of the room, whimpering softly to herself in fear. But he wasn't going to hurt her! He had to let her know that this was him... .
He attempted calling her name but she suddenly leapt up and began creeping around the room in slow, petrified movements as he snarled. He hadn't meant to frighten her... it wasn't his fault.
She trembled violently. Where were Cid and the others? The demon was watching her now as she slowly made her way around the room, her back to the wall, her eyes never leaving its face. It saw her escaping so why didn't it move? It snarled viscously again and her pulse raced. Maybe it was just warning her... maybe it did recognise her after all and was simply scaring her away. Vincent would never let the demon harm her, would he? Why was he Chaos? Why hadn't he changed back? Maybe he wasn't in control after all... maybe it really was going to kill her... .
The door was only a few metres away and she dared a glance at it. She could make it, she was sure. If she could just sprint... .
She pushed herself off from the wall and ran but she tripped over a toppled chair and skidded across the carpet, crashing to the floor and rolling herself up into a ball, preparing to face death at the claws of Chaos.
It never came.
T, Tifa? Tifa! Please don't run! I, I won't hurt you! It's me! Vincent! Oh God.. please don't leave me here!
He watched as she began to run but fell. She dived across the floor and remained there, trembling in fright. Was she afraid of him? Of course she is... I'm afraid of myself.
He moved slowly and hesitantly, swinging his legs around until he sat with his feet pointing towards the door. He cautiously slid forward until his toes touched the carpet and then attempted to stand. He immediately fell to the floor with a loud thump and stayed frozen on his hands and knees, his head hung sorrowfully between his shoulders.
This is too much... this is far too much. Hojo... this is your doing. Only you would do something like this. Is this what you've always had planned for me? This... this monster?! This hideous demon? Is this how you always saw me? Like this... .
He let out a shuddering sigh and clenched his fists whilst closing his eyes tightly.
Oh God... you wanted to destroy me. You truly hated me this much? You've won Hojo. You've finally won... . I can't speak, I can't move... I can't even bear to look at myself. I terrify those closest to me... she doesn't even recognise me. I don't recognise myself.....
He sobbed and put his hands to his face.
Tifa looked up at the odd sound. Why hadn't the demon killed her? Was it playing with her; having its last piece of sick fun before tearing her to pieces? Well, she wasn't about to go easily. She leapt up and jumped into a battle stance. She was going to give the SOB something to remember her by even if it didn't know her now.
She stopped and dropped her arms; Chaos crouched before her, its head in its hands weeping quietly. All barriers and fears collapsed as she moved forward and knelt down beside it. She reached out and touched it gently on the arm. At the caress, Chaos's head jerked up and looked around in fear for a brief moment before its gaze settled on Tifa's face.
She gasped and put her hand to her mouth. The eyes... they weren't right. Chaos's eyes glowed red; there was never any whites or pupils, just the pure glowing red of hatred. These eyes were different. They were human eyes; at that point more human than any others she'd ever looked into. The crimson irises glittered with a sorrow of a life filled with suffering and pain that had gone on for far too long; each burning with a blood red flame that was threatening to extinguish in the overwhelming presence of defeat.
Silver tinted tear steaks ran down the hollow cheeks of the creature and she brushed them away with her hands as she moved them up to feel its face, tears welling up in her own burgundy eyes.
"Oh God Vincent..." she wept. "What have they done to you?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck and he held her back, silver tears once more flowing from his closed almond eyes.
Cid walked around the corner and blindly into the room, Yuffie and Cait following him closely behind. As his stare fell upon the embraced figures before him, he stopped and his cigarette fell from his mouth in shock.
"Holy shit." he swore quietly and as he stood in stunned silence, Yuffie walked into his back and almost succeeded in knocking him over.
"Hey! Watch where you're stopping, old man!" she exclaimed angrily.
She prepared to hurl more abuse but the words caught in her throat as her own eyes focused on Tifa and the demon. "Whoa! Have I missed somethin' here?"
"Godammit Tifa." Cid exclaimed. "I asked you to wake it up, not hug it!"
Tifa wiped her eyes and stood up, her eyes level with the demon's even though it remained sat on the floor. She glanced back at him and flashed a sad smile before turning to the others.
"It's Vincent..." she said softly. "H, He can't change back. Don't tell me how... I'm not sure if I understand it myself but he's stuck."
"S, Stuck?" repeated Yuffie in shock. "What? Y'mean he's gonna be like that... forever?"
Vincent turned and looked at her, his eyes narrowed but his face blank.
Yuffie gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. "Oh, jeez. I, I'm sorry Vinny. I never meant to say it like that." she mumbled, her voice muffled beneath her arm shield.
I hate being called Vinny. I've told them all that a thousand times he thought to himself irritably, not even attempting to speak in fear of scaring them away.
"Um... did you find anything then?" Tifa asked eventually while an awkward silence set in as Cid, Yuffie and Cait began to look around the room in an attempt to find something distracting to prevent themselves from staring at the huge black demon before them.
"No, we didn't." Cait replied. "Looks like we need to take the elevator."
Cid became thoughtful as Tifa pulled a face at the suggestion. "Y'know we don't have to." he said to the puzzlement of his friends. He nodded over at Vincent. "I bet that he could get rid of alla that rubble blockin' our path up the stairs."
All heads turned to Vincent who looked back at them with a frown. I can't even walk yet. How do they expect me to clear debris out of the way?
As if sensing his hesitation, Tifa looked at Cid who seemed delighted with his quick thinking. "I think that we could all use a break right now. It's not fair to start handing out tasks when Vincent is only just getting used to things."
Cid shrugged. "Yeah, sure. I am kinda tired."
Yuffie smiled happily before leaving the room and sitting down with her back leant up against the wall containing the elevators. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes in a blissful moment of relaxation. Cait moved over and the Mog sat down next to her while he pulled out a pack of cards from beneath his cape and began playing a card game with himself. Cid smiled at Tifa who returned it and left the room lighting another cigarette.
"I'm not gonna have any left by the end of today if I keep on dropping the damn things." he muttered angrily to himself as he strolled past Cait.
Tifa turned to Vincent when they were alone. "D'you need a hand or can you manage?"
I'm not sure there's anything you can do... . He shook his head sorrowfully.
She picked up a plush chair from off the floor and wheeled it over to the head of the table. Brushing the cushion down, she slumped down in it and rested her feet on the table.
She giggled to herself. "I feel like President Shinra!"
Vincent's eyes widened at the mention of the Shinra family. As he began to trudge through blurred images of his time in the ruined HQ, distant memories of Rufus Shinra and his insane plan to conquer the world became stark and all too clear in his mind. He glanced over at Tifa and longed for a way of warning her of the upcoming trials that faced her. She wasn't even sure if Cloud was all right. Although she hadn't even asked if her childhood friend was safe, the worry was written on her face as clearly as his claws gleamed before his eyes as he lifted them up before him.
They were terrible. Huge, clawed, black hands covered in the same deep black skin that covered the rest of him. It made him physically ill to even look at the rough texture. He could barely feel anything through the thick hide; he was only aware of an object's presence if pressure was put on it.
He felt his face and made out the vague shape. Although part of him wished for a mirror, he knew that he'd probably vomit if he saw his reflection. He had no idea what he looked like as the demon, he'd never remained still enough to look in a mirror or take a photograph. As Chaos, Hojo's creation of destruction, he never thought of anything else except killing or harming others, only vaguely aware of his allies and his foes. It certainly was a unique experience to fully command the body himself.
He placed one of the massive hands on the edge of the table he'd been lying upon. Warily and slowly, he moved one of his kneeling legs from under him and placed it sole down on the carpeted floor. Putting pressure on the hand, he cautiously pushed himself to his feet, bent double as he continued to lean on the marble tabletop. He first removed one hand and steadied himself before daring to stand without support. Stumbling backwards, he slammed against the wall and roared from the pain as his wings were crushed.
Tifa's eyebrows raised in startlement but she said nothing and bit her lip as she watched Vincent's efforts. He snarled, muttering bestial curses to himself and he bared his fangs in a worrying fashion before trying once more from a precarious standing position. He pushed off from the wall and held his arms out to keep his balance. He succeeded in remaining stood without help for a few seconds before falling sideways into the doorframe.
Yuffie's eyes opened and Cait's head jerked up as the bang echoed around the vacant floor; they both said nothing, exchanging odd glances before returning to their rest.
Vincent sighed wearily. He was twice the height as he normally was and the wings on his back weighed an incredible amount; he was literally forcing himself to do the simplest tasks again. Curse you Hojo. When I get my hands on you, I'm going to make you pay for this.
He growled and determinedly pushed off from the wall again. Although taking a few faltering steps backwards, he managed to stay upright and he gave a dour smile of satisfaction as he dared to walk and succeeded.
Tifa beamed proudly at him from her vantage-point on the other side of the room. "Well done." she said warmly and he looked at her from the corner of his eye to say that he wasn't appreciative of the praise.
She nodded understandingly and stayed quiet as he continued to practise.
Ten minutes later Cid returned to see Vincent pacing backwards and forwards in the long room in a way that was eerily familiar.
"We ready to go now?" he asked once over the initial deja vu and everyone looked up at him and nodded.
Cait and Yuffie jumped to their feet while Tifa and Vincent walked over to the doorway.
Cid strained his neck and took a few steps backwards until he could look up at Vincent' s face; the demon looked back, watching him with slight amusement seen only in his eyes and not reflected on his impassive face.
"Well this is gonna be fun." the pilot grinned and Tifa rolled her eyes.
"I just want this over and done with as quickly as possible." she said emotionlessly.
"I want to find Cloud... we have to get him out of here and I want to nail the bastard's who've taken him and done this to Vincent." she glanced up at the demon who seemed lost in his own thoughts. "Let's go." she said with a forced smile and everyone nodded grimly in return.
They walked silently over to the stairs and Vincent was forced to crouch as low as possible and twist himself sideways before he was able to enter through the doorway. As he glanced up and saw the blockage that had prevented them from moving any further up he pulled a face.
"You think you can get through?" asked Cid as he glanced up at the demon.
Vincent shrugged and walked forward, forced to stoop as the ceiling became gradually lower. He examined the chunks of rubble carefully before testily pushing against one of them. There was an ominous creaking and he looked back at the others questioningly.
"Is it worth it?" Tifa asked everyone. "I mean, it looks like he can move it but it'll be with a huge bang and it'll bring every terrorist in this damned building onto our heads."
"Ah, what the hell." shrugged Cait with a childlike grin. "Bring 'em on!"
Cid nodded approvingly. "Now that's my kind of thinkin'!"
"I'm getting outta here if you're all seriously considering bringing the roof in on our heads." Yuffie muttered as she stepped back out of the doorway and into the floor.
Vincent clumsily arranged his wings with obvious difficulty until they were folded around his sides. Receiving a gesture from Tifa, he planted his back against the wall of debris and closed his eyes in concentration. He pushed as hard as he could against the dam and gritted his teeth from effort, the muscles stood out on his legs and a strained growl passed his black lips as streams of dust and plaster began to filter from fractures on the blockade.
Tifa watched with bated breath as cracks began to appear, snaking up from the bottom of the debris dam and widening as Vincent persisted to press up against it. The breath was exhaled seconds later though as a rumbling began to echo around the room with frightening nearness.
She felt a rough hand grab her arm and begin to pull her back as the deep noise reached a crescendo. As she watched, the dam suddenly exploded in a waterfall of rubble and dust that clouded her vision and choked her lungs. Cid yanked her back strongly from the approaching torrent and as it rushed towards her, she found herself suddenly sprawled messily on the carpeted floor of the space outside the door. Dust poured out like a viscous liquid from the doorway and as silence settled upon the room there was the sound of an occasional pebble and sheet of battered metal falling into place. She stood up and brushed herself down; her black skirt was almost white from plaster dust and her hair had gone grey from the dirt.
She heard the sound of coughing and Yuffie stumbled to her feet close by helped by Cid. Cait clambered on top of Mog and dusted himself with the same vanity and commitment of a real cat. As the dust settled, she walked back into the stairway to see Vincent picking himself up out of a pile of debris.
"Are you all right Vincent?" she asked concernedly as she helped feebly to push large pieces of concrete from him.
He nodded and coughed violently, the white dust tickling his lungs. He stood up and looked down at himself uncaringly, his black skin dyed grey like Tifa's skirt. He turned up to the newly revealed set of stairs and looked back to the others who had entered the room that now looked as though a war had taken place inside it.
Everyone nodded and Tifa led them forward and up the stairs to floor sixty-seven where she paused and struggled to recall what the level contained.
"I'm not sure... but I think that this is where the cells are." she said hesitantly and Vincent nodded beside her. He knew the entire building off by heart; it was difficult not when he'd spent a year as a Turk constantly patrolling the corridors and rooms.
Receiving the confirmation, Tifa pulled her fighting glove on tightly and sighed deeply. "This is it." she said quietly. "If Cloud is anywhere... he's here. Good luck guys."
"Last one back to the bar has to buy the drinks!" Cid grinned and the others smiled.
She pushed open the door tentatively and it swung open to reveal a narrow, dark corridor. She looked back at her companions who urged her on, and she stepped out into the unfamiliar world. There was an unbearably strong stench of chemicals and her head went dizzy for a moment until she became immune to the fumes. With a wave of her hand, she walked onwards and the others followed closely on silent feet.
It wasn't long before they reached a fork in the path. Voices emanated from her right, carrying along the still air like ghosts and she shivered at the thought. Straight ahead of her it was dark and uninviting; at least if she went right then there'd be other people.
She turned right and began to walk but there was a heavy hand on her shoulder and she stopped. She turned around and looked upwards to see Vincent looking at her, grim determination set in his glittering red eyes.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
He looked towards the other route and then back at her. Cloud's down there. I know he his. I can smell the chemicals... I can smell Hojo. Wherever that bastard is, he's sure to have Cloud on a tight leash behind him. Come with me; let the others try this way.
She followed his gaze and looked to the foreboding path. "Is there something down there?" her voice lowered. "I, Is Cloud down there?"
Vincent nodded solemnly and firm resolution set in her burgundy eyes. Vincent stepped awkwardly to one side as Tifa looked at Cid, Yuffie and Cait. "Me and Vincent are going down the other way. You three carry on along here."
"No buts." she said firmly. "Just promise me that none of you will get yourselves killed."
"Tifa-" began Cid but she cut him off again.
"Promise me." she repeated, tears forming in her eyes. "I can't lose any more of you. I won't let it happen. Don't die on me, okay?"
They all nodded reluctantly and she stood beside Vincent as they walked past, casting her sad glances before they continued their mission. Once they were gone, she looked up at the face of the massive black demon.
"You're sure he's down here?"
I'm positive. He nodded.
"As long as you're sure... I'll trust you." she whispered and she led him into the shadows to find Cloud.
"So what do you two think about alla this?" Cid asked conversationally as he led the group of three along the sickeningly twisting corridor that seemed to stretch on forever.
"Well, I dunno. I'm just tryin' to make some noise here. Uh... Whadaya think about Cloud bein' kidnapped?" he questioned.
"It's a bad thing." stated Yuffie with a serious nod.
"Yeah, definitely a bad thing." agreed Cait.
Cid stopped and turned around to face them. "Y'know, you two never shut the hell up when you need to but as soon as I try to be friendly then you freeze up like a coupla kids during panto time at yer school." he shook his head.
"Well... that's because you're an old man and you only talk about things like the price of tea and stuff like that." Yuffie grinned fiendishly.
"Hey! I don't!" objected Cid loudly. "That's only some of the time!"
He grinned back and Cait laughed while Yuffie continued to smile happily.
"Alright then," began Cid seriously. "Keep yer mouths shut, we're gettin' close now."
With a wave of his hand, they moved forward gripping their weapons tightly in anticipation of the upcoming fight. With shallow breaths and adrenaline surging through their veins they crept along the narrow corridor in the shadows fearful of detection. Eventually Cid stopped and pressed his ear up against a doorway at the end of their journey. Listening carefully he heard the sounds of voices arguing about something muffled in the thick metal door.
Glancing back at the others he gave a slight nod and they prepared to throw themselves into the battle. He slipped his hand onto the door handle and gently pressed down on it. When the door was open, he put his foot onto it and with a loud battle cry, he kicked forward and slammed the door wide open leaping into the expected fray. Yuffie and Cait jumped in after him to flank his sides and their eyes widened in shock as they looked at their supposed fierce enemies.
The soldiers stood frozen in the middle of the room attempting to dress themselves without much success. Cait suddenly gasped as a broad grin spread across his cattish features. He leapt off Mog and threw himself onto the legs of the nearest enemy, tackling him accidentally and throwing him to the floor.
"Ah! Cait! Get offa me, will ya?" exclaimed a shocked voice from under the soldier's helmet.
"Oh I'm so happy to see you!" the ecstatic black and white cat said tearfully. "I thought you were dead!"
Cid and Yuffie exchanged puzzled looks and as they silently asked what was going on, the three remaining soldiers removed their helmets.
"You took your time, didn't you?" asked a flame haired man with bright sea-green eyes in an irritated voice.
"Quit moaning Reno." sighed Elena trying in vain to straighten out her hair which had become ruffled under the sweaty helmet. "Just be glad that we don't have to wear these stinking uniforms to get outta here."
Cid grinned and shook his head. "It's taken you all five days to get this far?" he laughed as the three Turks swapped puzzled looks.
"Five days?" repeated Reno with obvious surprise. "Is that how long we've been in this dive?"
"Didn't you know?"
"Of course we didn't. We were knocked out by a bomb blast and recovered a few hours ago before Rufus came and gave us some loony lecture on how he's gonna take over the world." Reno explained with a frown.
"Rufus?" gasped Yuffie. "You musta been hit on the head harder than you thought."
"It's true." confirmed the usually rigid Rude, burn marks scarring his face to match the right side of Reno. "He somehow survived Diamond WEAPON's attack and he's thought of an insane plan to get back the Shinra Empire."
Cid pulled a bemused face. "Rufus? Rufus Shinra?" They nodded. "Damn, this is gettin' too complicated."
"He's brought back Hojo too from what we've heard." added Elena as she pulled off the uniform jacket. "They're intending on bringing back Sephiroth with the help of some other deranged scientist called Janus or something like that."
"Janus." repeated Yuffie thoughtfully. "He was mentioned in one of the books I read at Vincent's apartment." she looked up at Cid. "Oh Gawd. I bet he's the one that's changed Vincent along with Hojo."
Cid slumped down onto the floor, trying to come to terms with all of the information presented to him. "Hojo and Rufus... . Man, this is weirder than the Twilight Zone." he mumbled.
Cait was thrown across the room suddenly and he landed lightly on his four paws looking slightly dazed. "I'm glad to see you too Cait, but you were cutting off the blood supply to my feet." muttered a muffled voice lying on the floor to one side of the room. Yuffie watched with a grin as Reeve pulled his helmet and gasped for fresh air; his normally neat black gelled hair hanging over his face and his cheeks flushed pink.
"You don't look too good Reeve." she commented and he looked up at her with an eyebrow arched.
"If you guys hadn't taken so long getting here then I'd probably be in a better state." he responded irritably but there was a hint of relief in his voice. He flashed Yuffie a smile. "How come it took you so long, anyway?"
She walked over to him and helped pull him to his feet. "Well the Jerks here..."
"Hey! I object to that!" said Elena in an offended tone but was ignored.
"They came along and asked Cloud to bring someone here to haul your butt out. Thing is, five days passed and they never came back so Tifa decided that we should come along and save the day." she finished brightly.
Reeve frowned and looked around the room. "Where is Tifa?"
Cid suddenly leapt to his feet. "Oh crap, she's probably walkin' in a trap right now!"
Before anyone could stop him, he sprinted out of the room brandishing the Venus Gospel and leaving nothing but a trail of cigarette smoke and the echoes of his latest curse.
Yuffie glanced around and quickly followed after him leaving the others to consider what had just happened.
"I'm scared." Tifa whispered as she walked blindly into the darkness.
Don't be... I won't let anything come near you. Vincent put a comforting hand on her shoulder and she placed her own on top of it as if to reassure herself of its presence.
They walked quietly through the barely visible black tunnel; Tifa's boots making soft thumps as she stepped and Vincent following on cat-like feet with an almost silent padding. She held her breath in fear of detection and even her heartbeat that rang loudly in her ears sounded far too loud.
Just as she was beginning to feel as though her blind and torturous journey would never end, she caught sight of a faint light up ahead obscured fully from view by stacked crates and boxes. Creeping silently, her senses heightened by the thrill and fear of the fight, she ducked behind the crates and dared to peer out into the room beyond. It seemed as though anything that was happening occurred on the other side of the large chamber. She looked up at Vincent who was crouched as low as he could still towering above her smaller frame; his face contorted with concentration.
"Can you see anything?" she whispered and he shook his head.
He could see nothing but Hojo was unmistakably there; his sterile scent covered every dust-layered surface and the very set-up reeked of his sadistic touch. As he continued to stare out into the room his predatorial vision caught sight of a brief shadow flitting across the wall furthest from them. He narrowed his eyes and to Tifa's sudden alarm, he emitted a low growl from the back of his throat.
"V, Vincent?" she stuttered fearfully.
He stopped and looked back down at her apologetically. I saw something... .
"Is there something there?" she asked softly and he nodded. "Is it Cloud?"
He shrugged; a slight shadow wasn't enough to tell him who it was; for all he knew it could have been Rufus but part of him begged it to be Hojo. Then Tifa could see what was happening; then she could understand who was behind all of this.
He stood up straight and looked patiently at her. She eventually stood and sighed nervously flexing and clenching her fingers. "Okay then... I'm ready." she said and they walked into the room side by side; the demon and the beautiful young woman who simply wanted to go home.
As they passed the large glass specimen container there was a blue blur before them and Tifa leapt in surprise as gunshots went off. Vincent stumbled back in a moment of pain but righted himself and growling menacingly, looked down on the soldier who had dared to fire upon him. The man dropped his gun in terror and made a feeble attempt at escape which was halted gruesomely as Vincent lunged forward and impaled the man upon the claws of his left hand.
The cries of agony were stopped as Vincent hurled the soldier against the far wall where he hit his head with a loud crack and slid down leaving a thick smear of blood. Tifa gagged at the sight and looked away to avoid seeing it but as she turned, she glimpsed at a still figure lying half-clothed on a hospital bed. She cried out and she ran over to it; tears falling freely from her eyes and running down her cheeks.
"I wouldn't touch him if I were you." said a cold voice and she stopped instantly, the hypnotic tone forcing her to do as she was commanded.
Vincent snarled and the voice laughed gleefully. Tifa turned slowly and saw a devilish figure standing next to the specimen elevator in the opposite corner of the room to where they had entered. Her face fell at the hellish sight and her knees went weak.
The apparition glanced at the dead body of the soldier and then up at Vincent. "I told that idiot Rufus that it would be pointless stationing a guard here. He never listens... ." he muttered with a frown.
"Hojo... ." whispered Tifa in disbelief.
"Hello Miss Lockheart. Have you come to pay your last respects to the specimen?" he asked disdainfully.
"The specimen..." she murmured in disbelief. Her eyes tore away from Hojo and fell upon on the pale and drawn figure on the bed only recognisable by his SOLDIER trousers and the unruly spiked blonde hair on his head. "Oh Cloud... ." she whispered as she forced herself not to reach out and touch him under Hojo's order.
His bright blue Mako eyes opened weakly and he laboriously rolled his head over to face her. He lifted his hand to touch hers and as she sank down to the floor covering her face with her hands, his arm relaxed and his eyes closed as he slipped into unconsciousness.
"Please!" she cried tearfully. "Don't you have any humanity in you?" she begged as she stood up and faced Hojo. "Don't do this to him!"
"Humanity?" Hojo whispered, an odd look coming over his face. "Humanity?" he yelled angrily, his mood changing suddenly and alarmingly. "I am serving the world to drag it from the primordial soup it crawled from! I am sacrificing my life to make it better!!"
"You're sacrificing the lives of others!" Tifa screamed back. "You're a monster and a sad excuse for a human being!"
Hojo stared at her imperturbably; empathy not even touching his stern face as Tifa collapsed emotionally before him.
"Stop killing him!" she begged. "Please...!"
"I'm afraid I can't do that Miss Lockheart. You see the Jenova cells that once inhabited his body have nearly been completely removed. He is incapable of living without them and he is dying now." Hojo explained.
You BASTARD! Vincent cried mentally as he sprang forward with an ear-splitting roar and grabbed the scientist around the neck, lifting him off the ground and choking him slowly.
Hojo coughed and spluttered, his glasses thrown from his face as Vincent shook him like a rag-doll and his throat was constricted.
Tifa ran over to the black demon and looked up at Hojo with horror and shock written across her tear-streaked face. "No! Don't kill him Vincent. Maybe there's something he can do..."
"Y, Yes..." Hojo wheezed, grabbing Vincent's arm and trying to pull himself up to slow the strangulation. "P, Press the yellow button on the panel... a,and the blue one n,next to it."
Tifa's heart leapt and she sprinted to the panel where she punched in the buttons that he had illustrated and looked up eagerly for the next commands.
"Press th,the blue... again." Hojo forced, his face going as white as the lab coat he wore. She did as indicated and looked up. "N, Now the... orange one... b, below."
As her finger lowered to press the final button, Vincent cried out and she spun around to look at him.
Don't trust him, there's no chance he'll give you the right codes he pleaded in his eyes and Tifa swallowed and nodded in understanding.
Vincent growled and threw Hojo to the ground where the scientist lay winded for a few seconds before scrambling across the floor and putting on his spectacles with violently shaking hands. He rubbed his throat and looked up at the demon who looked down on him with utter hatred. Hojo grinned.
"I take it you don't like your new form, Valentine?" he sniggered and Vincent snarled but walked away. "I thought that it was quite fitting for the demon that killed his one true love."
Vincent roared and spun around to rip Hojo's head from his shoulders, but suddenly Tifa stood between the two with her arms outstretched looking up into Vincent's face. She shook her head.
"No Vincent." she said firmly. "He wants the easy way out and if you grant him that then Cloud will die and you'll find no cure."
Vincent lowered his claws and nodded solemnly.
The young woman turned to Hojo who was cowering on the floor in preparation for death. "Get up." she ordered apathetically and he slowly pulled himself to his feet and brushed himself down. "Now turn off all of those machines hooked up to Cloud."
Hojo glared at her and turned away to stand next to the panel. She walked up behind him and studiously watched every move he made until the droning of the monitors and medical devices ground to a halt.
"I've done it." he stated obviously as he glowered at her with visible fury and loathing.
She said nothing but turned and ran over to the bed where Cloud lay in fitful slumber. "Cloud." she whispered gently as she stroked his forehead. "Cloud it's time to wake up... we can go home now... ."
Slowly his eyes opened and his bright blue irises looked into her soft burgundy ones. "Why are you crying?" he asked weakly as he moved his hand up to her face and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Because you had me worried, you moron." she said with a tearful smile.
She wrapped her arms around him and he held her back with all of his strength scared of ever letting her go again.
Vincent turned from the emotional scene and glared down at Hojo who looked back up at him warily. "So then," he began, a dangerous glint in his dark eyes that almost seemed black in the poor light. "How does it feel to know that people are seeing you properly for the first time without that human mask you wear? How does it feel now that they can see you for the black hearted demon you really are, Valentine... or should I call you Chaos?" he sniggered.
Vincent narrowed his eyes but didn't move. I am not in the mood for your mind games Hojo. You should be thankful that Tifa told me not to kill you otherwise you'd be dead or at least dying right now.
He looked away and over towards the exit.
"But do tell me... oh sorry, you can't speak can you? Oh well... let me guess. This might be more fun." Hojo said as he crossed his arms casually and sat back on the control panel. "Yes... let me think. What would Lucrecia think of you if she could see you right now?"
Vincent's ears pricked up at the sound of the name but he kept his emotions hidden as he slowly walked away from the rambling scientist. "Do you think that she would welcome you with the same open arms that she did in the past?"
I'm not even going to turn around...
"Or do you think that she'd run away screaming?" he persisted and Vincent paused but shrugged off the comment and continued walking. "Maybe she would throw herself at me as she did with you all of those years back."
Vincent stopped and turned around. What is this Hojo? Why do you want me to kill you?
Hojo crossed his legs and sneered up at the black demon. "Maybe she would thank me for punishing you for all of your sins." he lowered his voice and looked at Vincent through his eyebrows. "After all... you do have a lot of them... ."
Vincent's eyes narrowed and his fists clenched as he struggled to maintain control. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Cloud and Tifa locked in a firm embrace; it wouldn't be right of him to deny them their moment of peace for his own weaknesses.
"You're not a religious man, are you Valentine? Heh, heh, heh... you're not even a man anymore are you?" Hojo sniggered and rage began to creep up Vincent's mind. "Neither am I, religious I mean, but I'll be the first to admit that there is some all powerful force in this universe. Something... that controls and decides the fate of all of us. Do you know what that force is?" he asked rhetorically.
"Science." he answered triumphantly. "Science controls us all; from the screaming infant to the most decrepit old man. Do you know what that makes me? A God. All scientists are gods, but me, I am the highest. My genius is unrivalled by any other on this planet... maybe in this universe but I suppose that I truly would be blowing my own trumpet if I said that." he laughed at his own joke and Vincent continued to watch him, his patience wearing increasingly thin as time went by.
Hojo looked down at the panel and played absently with the buttons and switches. "That girl, Lockheart, she said that I was without humanity. Maybe I have to be otherwise I'd go mad... although I suppose that many would argue I already am. Heh, heh, heh.
He paused and looked up, an unfamiliar tone entering his voice. "I am not completely unfeeling; I did love her, I did love Lucrecia. Somewhere in this black heart of mine I did love her. But, if I were to do things again, I wouldn't change anything, anything do you hear me?" he said and his voice raised as he struggled to remain outwardly calm. "My one weakness... I actually allowed myself to have feelings for the bitch."
Vincent's eyes glowed faintly.
"Maybe, that's why as much as I hate you, I don't hate you enough because I know that you loved her too... much more than I ever did and probably ever could. Heh, heh, heh... my one weakness." he sighed and shook his head. "That's why I've given you one release."
Hojo waved his hand vaguely towards him. "That body... that form of the demon. It's your prison and it shall be for eternity but I am not completely without some compassion." he looked back down at the buttons. "You have an hour, I repeat one hour every night as your 'normal' self, I use the word as loosely as possible."
Vincent's eyes flickered.
"You will transform into your vampiric self for an hour every night but you will not be completely free. You cannot eat or drink as the demon and so you must do what you need to in order to stay alive in that hour." he glanced up. "By that I mean you must ingest the blood that you need to satisfy your bloodlust which will keep you alive for another day. If you fail to do that then you will die." he drummed his fingers along the metal surface. "It was not my choice, if I had the time then I would've eliminated that unfortunate side effect of your vampirism but I couldn't. You should be thankful, as a human the digestive process if far to slow so you would starve to death anyway. As a vampire the metabolism is considerably quicker and will keep you alive."
He shrugged. "At least it will until you die from other means."
Vincent wasn't sure exactly how to feel. The very man who had put him in his predicament was telling him that there was a marginal release. Was he meant to hate the bastard even more for doing it to him in the first place, or was he to praise him for his little humanity? Vincent didn't know. Confusion flooded his senses and numbed him until he felt as though he were living a dream. He turned and began to walk away.
He flinched suddenly as a terrible sound screamed through his head and drove into his brain like a hammer. He cried out and dropped to his knees, his hands over ears in a vain attempt to cut out the siren.
Tifa and Cloud jerked awake from their silent dream-like embrace as the terrible sound resounded in the room. They turned and looked over at Hojo who stood beside the panel with a smug grin on his face.
"I have a flair for the dramatic!" he announced over the whine.
The sound ceased as quickly as it had begun and was replaced by a woman's voice; recognisable as Scarlet, the old Shinra's head of Weapon Development.
"Self Destruct will take place in T minus five minutes. Please do not panic and head to the exits in an orderly fashion. Please evacuate the building. Self Destruct will take place in T minus Four minutes and fifty seconds."
Their jaws dropped in shock as the noise subsided leaving a soft blipping to indicate the seconds as they were counted down.
"You're insane!" Tifa exclaimed once her ears had stopped ringing. "You'll kill us all!"
"Ah well," Hojo smirked. "At least we'll go out with a bang."
He moved away from the panel and walked nonchalantly towards the specimens elevator. He stepped inside and closed the bars to stare out at the people in the room. "If you'll excuse me, I have some research I need to be getting on with."
He pressed a button and the elevator moved upwards and out of sight.
"T minus Four minutes and thirty seconds."
"Godammit!" swore Cid loudly as the final warning was barked out. "Which mad bastard did that?"
"Well I'm guessing that he had black hair, glasses and a hunch." said Yuffie as she picked herself up off the floor where she'd fallen when startled by the loud noise.
"Looks like Tifa and Vinny hit the jackpot." he muttered.
There was a loud sound from further along the corridor and the rest of the group came into view.
"I take it that was Hojo?" Elena frowned as she caught her breath.
"That's what we think anyway." agreed Cid. "Did you get the weapons?"
Rude and Reeve held up Cloud's sword and Vincent's gun.
He paused for a moment to look at the three dishevelled Turks who stood before him in their scorched uniforms and less than neat appearance. He sniggered and shook his head.
"Something funny, Highwind?" inquired Reno with his head cocked to one side and his hands on his hips.
"Ah, nuthin." Cid sighed. "C'mon, let's get the hell outta here."
Vincent threw himself against the bars of the elevator and fell back as they stood and served only to hurt his shoulder.
Tifa ran over and pulled him back. "There's no point, Vincent." she pleaded. "Let him die here if that's what he wants but I can't carry Cloud on my own."
Vincent sighed and nodded. He strode quickly over to the hospital bed where Cloud lay weakly, looking up at him an odd smile. Vincent bent down and carefully picked him up without a sign of effort.
"You look well." Cloud grinned hoarsely and Vincent raised his eyebrows and sighed.
"The others will be waiting." Tifa said urgently as she began to walk towards the exit.
Vincent followed with powerful strides and soon overtook her. Together they walked through the corridor and to the branch in the path where Cid and the others stood waiting.
The Turk's started as they saw Vincent loom from the shadows but looked away embarrassed as the demon was greeted by the other members of AVALANCHE although they didn't understand what was happening.
Without a word the large group walked to the elevators. Cid pressed the button and an eternity passed while nothing happened. "Shit, all power must be terminated when the self destruct countdown starts."
"What the hell is the point of having a countdown when there's no way that you can escape!" yelled Reno furiously as he kicked the wall. "Man, I hate this dammed building!"
"Stairs?" asked Elena as she looked down the corridor towards the stairway.
"T minus three minutes."
Reeve shook his head grimly. "There's no way we'll make it in time."
Everyone looked around in puzzlement for the source of the voice and Vincent bent down so that Cloud could see the rest of the group. "Water." he repeated weakly. "Down the elevator passage. There's an underground river. If we jump down the shaft we can make it."
Yuffie skipped over to the broken duct that had contained the bomb and peered down, almost fainting at the incredible distance. She couldn't even see the bottom but if she held her breath then she could hear the sound of water running far, far below her. She turned with unconcealed shock. "You're more insane than Hojo if you think I'm gonna jump down there!"
"It's not exactly a fun choice, is it?" said Reno as he looked down beside the young ninja. "Getting smashed to pieces as we fall down an old shaft into water that might only be a few metres deep or getting blown apart by a bomb."
"Well I dunno 'bout the rest of you, but I don't wanna sit around here doin' fuck all." Cid announced crassly as he took of his jacket and walked over to the open recess. "I say we jump."
"What about Cloud?" objected Tifa. "He's too weak to swim."
Vincent coughed, or at least did a feasible impression and Tifa looked up at him. "You'll carry him?" she asked and he nodded. "But what if you drown?"
I wasn't intending to.
He continued to stare down at her impassively and she eventually nodded and turned back to the others. "I'll jump too."
Cid grinned encouragingly and flicked his cigarette down the hole, watching until it was swallowed by the darkness. "I'm guessin' that it'll take about ten seconds to hit the water and another ten to swim out of the way. If we jump every fifteen seconds then that should work out."
Reeve nodded. "By the time someone's swimming away, another will be preparing to jump. That works."
"T minus two minutes and thirty seconds."
"Here I go." breathed Cid as he walked up to the edge. "I used to be a test pilot, y'know. This brings it all back." He grinned back at them and with a mock salute; he stepped back and fell into nothingness.
The wind rushed up around his ears and he closed his eyes tightly. His heart flew up to his mouth and the very feeling of weightlessness made him panic. Resisting the urge to flail out and grab something in the knowledge that his arms would probably be torn off, he kept them stiffly by his sides and waited for impact.
With an explosion, he hit the water and the breath was thrown from his lungs as he sank further and further down, propelled by the momentum of his fall like a dart. As he ceased moving downwards, panic set in and he began to lash out wildly trying to find something to pull himself up. He slowly co-ordinated his limbs and swum powerfully upwards. He broke the surface with a loud gasp and felt the cool air reach his lungs.
As he began to swim away from the area there was a loud splash followed seconds later by the sound of someone gasping. He swam over and eventually caught sight of Tifa trying to breathe in the icy water. He grabbed her and began to help her swim away from where she'd splashed down.
He held her and began to swim until she came over the initial shock and she was able to support herself. They broke apart and treaded water as they took the time to take in their surroundings.
"Where are we?" breathed Tifa and her heart leapt as her voice echoed eerily around wherever they were, rebounding off unseen walls and coming back to meet her like invisible creatures whispering into her ears.
"I dunno." answered Cid with a hushed tone. "It's big..."
As he said this, he looked around. It was almost pitch black; the only light coming from the small square fifty metres above them where they had fallen in their descent from the shaft. The faint light danced upon the ripples of the vast lake they floated in that reached on forever in all direction. As Cid squinted he made a vague outline in the darkness straight ahead where the water ripples seemed to stop.
"There." he said pointing towards it quickly. "I think its land."
There was another loud splash that resounded around the room before a spluttering Reeve broke the surface and began to choke violently. Cid and Tifa swam over and calmed him down until he was able to tread water on his own. Together, the three of them swam to the island in the dark lake.
As they pulled themselves up the shore there was another splash and Rude quickly surfaced and swam to them without complaint or sound. He dragged himself up to them and collapsed wearily on the muddy shore.
"We've got two minutes left." he reported.
They looked up towards the end of the shaft and waited for the next member of the group to slide out and impact with the water. As they watched, the hatch blacked suddenly as a large black shaped dropped from it. As soon as it reached the open air with a neck breaking jerk, two massive wings opened and the descent was halted.
"Hey, Vincent!" called Tifa waving her arms.
The demon clutching Cloud tightly concentrated on its movements and twisted in the air until it glided towards the island where it landed awkwardly, stumbling and almost falling before righting itself.
He lay a shivering Cloud upon the floor and Tifa rushed over to him. Cid sauntered over and glanced up at Vincent. "How the hell did you fly? I thought you couldn't even walk." he said with a frown.
Vincent shrugged and looked up suddenly as there was another loud splash and Elena emerged from the water. Rude waved her over and then the group waited for the next to take the plunge.
"Look, you're gonna have to jump or you'll get blown to pieces!" Reno exclaimed to Yuffie who was sat slouched up against the cold wall that faced the pit which all of her friends had leapt down.
"I don't wanna." she mumbled childishly. "For all we know, they could have all broken their necks by now."
"Look, I'll just go." offered Cait. "It'll be easier an' then I can tell the others' what's goin' on."
Reno turned to him. "You waterproof?"
Cait nodded with a grin. "Yup. I'm protected 'gainst all the elements, all reprogramming 'cept by Reeve, I'm crush resistant and-"
"All right, Jeez. I didn't want to buy you, just know that you weren't gonna electrocute everyone when you hit the water." Reno snapped.
"T minus one minute. Would all left in the building please evacuate, repeat, please evacuate."
"See y'all later!" waved Cait in farewell as he shuffled over to the open elevator. "See you at the bottom!"
He hopped backwards and fell into oblivion.
Reno turned to Yuffie and sighed with obvious exasperation. "Look. You have to jump, now."
"Oh yeah?" countered the sulking young girl defiantly. "An' who's gonna make me?"
Reno slouched down and sat next to her. She turned to him with surprise on her unhappy face. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm stayin' right here."
"But you'll get killed!"
"Pretty stupid, huh?" he said as he looked at her and she pulled a face.
"Oh yeah," she responded shaking her head in disgust. "I see what your trying to do and don't think it'll work. I know it looks dumb but I'd rather sit and die than fall and get smashed on some rocks!"
"T minus thirty seconds."
He pulled out his nightstick and began to polish it idly, stopping every few seconds to examine the surface as he whistled a cheerful tune to himself.
"T minus twenty seconds."
Yuffie began to shuffle nervously and look at him worriedly. "Umm, I think you've made your point Reno. I know it's stupid but I'm not leaving."
He stopped whistling but continued cleaning the black pole. "Oh, I'm not leaving either then." he said casually.
"Wh, Why the hell now?" she spluttered in shock.
He stopped and turned to her. "Because I'm not jumping until after you do."
"B,But I'm not jumping!"
"Oh well." he shrugged and he carried on whistling.
"T minus ten seconds."
Yuffie leapt to her feet and sprinted to the open shaft. "You, you... JERK!" she screamed.
He grinned and ran over to her. "Ladies first."
She glowered and jumped on him so that he was forced to hold her. "We go down together." she explained forcefully.
He nodded his head politely. "Yes ma'am!"
She wrapped her legs around his waist while he held her tightly and with a step back they found themselves plummeting down the void through Yuffie's own rabbit-hole.
'"You could not create such a world as you have described. It is impossible."
"It is impossible to found a civilisation on fear and hatred and cruelty. It would never endure."
"It would have no vitality. It would disintegrate. It would commit suicide."
"Nonsense. You are under the impression that hatred is more exhausting than love. Why should it be? And if it were, what difference would that make? Suppose that we choose to wear ourselves out faster. Suppose that we quicken the tempo of human life till men are senile at thirty. Still what difference would it make? Can you not understand that the death of the individual is not death?"
"I don't know-I don't care. Somehow you will fail. Something will defeat you. Life will defeat you."'
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Go To Chapter 7
Return To FF7 Fanfic