Curse of Memory Chapter 1

The Edge of Darkness

By Peter J Marcroft

The world had always been defined as a dark place, a solid ball of congealing corruption. Within this mass of desolation there always had to be a pinnacle, a place that emanated the utmost form of despair. Thoughts like this were what gave the group of fighters' very lives meaning. They were an underground sect, a group who distorted the will of their masters. For they found themselves locked in a battle within this metropolis that worships money and absolute power. The vast metallic construction that is named Midgar.  Midgar was the nerve centre of the new order, governed by a secular corporation named Shinra. Its form was of a vast disc, set within a barren wilderness, the grinding teeth of metal support structures, scythed through the soft flesh of mother earth. It was a two-tiered monstrosity that reinforced the ancient ideals of upper class and lower class, a future perpetuation of money being the force of sheer domination. This image was quite possibly the greatest reflection of Midgar, the idea of absolute despair.  For while the city had eight power-generating reactors, and a mass of modern technology, the populace of this metropolis conveyed another image. Those who lived on the top tier enjoyed it; they had sunlight, cleaner air, less crime, all the attractions and perks money could offer. But within the lower tier there was suffering, for the people were forced to live a life of poverty. Often this part of Midgar was referred to as 'the slums'.  The lower tier of Midgar was a densely populated wasteland. Where upper-tier junk is used to build homes, where drunkards often fight in the streets and where thieves mercilessly scavenged on those who were the weaker prey. This life, was what the group Avalanche, are fighting to destroy.

Avalanche were a group made up of skilled warriors, and tonight the elite of the fighting group were skulked within the shadows.  The group stalked the pathways knowing that soon they would begin a dangerous mission. The group was a total of only five, but a more lethal group would be difficult to find within this metropolis. Together they clung to the roof of a train car, as the Midgar express line thundered through a dark tunnel. No one spoke; they were all intensely focused on the mission ahead. A mercenary named Cloud was calmly holding his sword, a huge blade that was roughly five feet in length. An unusual weapon, but one that had saved him on numerous previous missions, and the sword was a reflection of him, for he too was unusual. His hair was blonde, relatively long and styled in a fashion that made it seem like his head was a spike trap.  The vibrant hair had gleaming blue eyes to contrast it. Eyes that conveyed fear and the green twinge to the irises made them deeply disturbing to the strangers who peered into them.  He was an outsider and naturally few trusted him, but there was no time for bickering, for the mission was upon the group.

It was a young female named Jessie who signalled back to the group that the platform was near, and her gesture with a clenched fist told them that armed guards manned the station. Carefully they readied themselves.  Armed with swords, guns and clubs the group awaited their time.  The thick mist of smoke was banished in seconds as the train struggled towards a halt.  The archaic steam train that had been modified to run on mako energy began to grind to a halt, the metal discs wailed as if in great agony as sparks ruptured within the darkness.  The carriage sluggishly slowed to a halt, and Avalanche quietly prepared for the onslaught. The leader of the group tapped his weapon and signalled forward, the silent code for a full assault.  A man named Biggs was first to move, gracefully he rolled backwards from the roof of the train carriage. With magnificent balance he landed on his knees in the space between train cars.  Silently…  Almost as if he were a shadow he moved onwards and prepared for his attack. He flicked the club into his wrist and leapt out into the open, a startled young recruit gasped as the club clashed with the helmet that shielded his head.  The recruit staggered forwards and the man mercilessly slammed the metal club into the man's throat; the blow compressed the vulnerable windpipe as if it were a soda can. Swiftly he ducked back into the shadows and carefully hid from view.

After only a minute, a guard cried out, before he advanced on the body.  He was unaware of how easy a target he appeared.  The figure couldn't have been anything beyond five feet tall; if that did not make him obvious enough the Shinra had seen it fit to make their guards as obvious as a red cloth to a raging bull.  For the guards all wore a uniform, though it formed something similar to an armoured exoskeleton, the uniform was too obvious.  The Shinra had always been a complacent organisation, and clearly they had failed to learn the valuable lessons of combat, one of which was very simple. "It is one thing to be prepared for combat, but one should not be so foolish as to always make combat attractive to you." Jessie found this incredibly useful, yet also very annoying, she shouldn't think about the literary works of D'Garmo as she prepared for her assault.  Jessie was the only female that was on this particular mission, though one would not consider that a flaw if they became familiar with her abilities. To be fair she did not cut a menacing figure, standing barely five and a half foot tall she was not likely to appear too intimidating.  Her long brown hair hung back on her shoulders in a tight ponytail, and in her hands were a pair of razor sharp knives. Her eyes were intensely focused, not for an instant did they leave the blue prey that crouched on the earth below her. Silently she slipped into the shadows and crept upon her victim…

The man had made two mistakes, his first was to confront the corpse alone, and his second was to turn his back on the one hiding place the group could have been within. Jessie made no war cries or nervous noise; instead she calmly and silently appeared from the shadows and drove both blades into the throat of the guard. The shocked recruit gasps one final time and died without sound.  Biggs chose that point to reappear from his hiding spot and signalled for the final three to appear. Wedge, the group's medicine expert and resident sniper stepped onto the platform first. He was not as calm as the others and while skilful possessed a weakness in the fact that he had cowardly tendencies. Wedge was larger than the other members; in fact it would not be unfair to call him fat. This made him slow in battle and hence why he had long since decided to take a back seat within battle.  Instead Wedge would be found lay on rooftops, eyes transfixed, and staring intently into the scope of a sniper rifle.

Swiftly behind Wedge came the robust form of the group's leader, Barret. A man of striking physical stature, at first a person would believe him immensely fat, but once the eyes of these people absorbed the sight of his biceps that misconception would be immediately forgotten. To compound upon this, Barret, was also dark-skinned, like the ancient tribal warriors that mankind once were.  Brashly he signalled the others to come close, as he was ready to give the full briefing.

While a man of great leadership, even Barret occasionally made mistakes. The two guards had appeared from the shadows and showed the intelligence to avoid the usual tirade of speeches that normally went arm in arm with the attitude of a Shinra guard. As quietly as possible they removed the safety catches from their rifles, took aim, and prepared to fire…

Cloud had seen the danger at the last possible moment, like a bullet he sped across the roof of the train carriage and leapt into the air. Majestically he twisted his body through a corkscrew somersault and hastily drew forth his weapon. The stunned guards desperately tried to counter this new threat, yet their arms seemed frozen in fear and they failed to raise their barrels in time. The ferociously sharp edge of the imposing sword ripped through the jugular of the first man. He fell onto the floor, gasping rapidly, constantly he tried to desperately plug the wound. His hand was not enough to stem the flow, however, and he died within seconds. The second man tried to harshly club Cloud in the skull with a nightstick, yet his move was a clumsy swipe that Cloud carefully ducked away from, before he backhanded his sword across the face of the guard, all but beheading him in one motion. Carefully he wiped the blade of blood before approaching the group.

            "It seems like that is all of them."

Barret nodded at this before addressing the whole group. "Right listen up! I have not yet briefed you all on this mission, so I shall do so now. Our mission is to destroy the number one reactor that lies right outside this station. As you lot have probably noticed, the Shinra have guarded this station quite sloppily but I expect further resistance beyond these walls. Cloud what would you expect?"

Cloud ran his fingers through his hair before he spoke. "I'd expect them to guard this place quite heavily.  Reactors are the key source of energy and are deceptively well guarded. I'd expect a few platoons of men."
            "How many men form a platoon?" Barret swiftly asked him.

Cloud shrugged, "No more than five, the reactor is quite cramped in places, so I'd expect a few platoons of four or five men. It might be a good idea to scout first though."

Barret nodded, "Fair plan, Jessie and Wedge, ascend to the rooftop here and scout the streets."

The pair nodded and swiftly made their way towards a small fire escape that led both up and down; within seconds they had vanished from view. A heavy silence then fell over the remaining group of men and for a long minute no words were spoken, unable to bear the tension any longer the fighter, Biggs, broke the silence.
            "Say man… How is it you know all this stuff, about reactor plans and such like?" Cloud shrugs off the question and remains quiet.

Barret mutters something under his breath before responding to the question. "This guy is called Cloud and was once a member of the Shinra outfit, he served within Soldier."

Biggs gasped in horror, "Soldier! Why the hell is he hanging with us then?"

The pair stared at one another; neither appeared too friendly with Cloud.  He chuckled and cut across them both. "Pay more attention Biggs, he said that I was once a member of Soldier.  I grew to hate the Shinra, at one point it seemed that there was a purpose, but then… Let's just say that I saw their true colours one night and I vowed to never allow them the chance to carry out such atrocities again." The pair looked at one another, both were stunned, neither of them had expected such a passionate response. Starved of words that would prevent a conflict the trio fell silent…

On the rooftops one would normally be treated to a magnificent view that stretched forever into eternity.  In Midgar though, this did not apply, instead one saw it for what it was.  The streets were a bizarre juxtaposition of times.  The roads were crafted from stone, in a cobbled fashion that would be familiar to vast citadels and places of flourishing history.  While the walls were all scrawled with appalling graffiti and decaying neon signs sparked as they vainly tried to advertise a product, probably one that had long since been removed from sale.  Fifty yards to the north lay the gateway to the western side of Sector one, and the bridge that served as an entrance to the mako reactor.  Surrounding the perimeter was an enormous wall, easily thirty feet in height.  Along the top of the wall lay a row of wickedly sharp spikes that would not find much of a challenge from piercing thick rocks.  Clearly there was no way of scaling the wall for entry.  Wedge continued to scan the area, the zoom of the binoculars granted a magnified and blinkered vision of the world about them.  He saw one possible point of entry, the main gate, and this he knew was possibly the most high-risk entryway for them to abuse.  He placed the binoculars down upon the rooftop and turned his face to Jessie.
            "It's not looking good for us, the only route I see open to us is the main gate, and I am not exactly… Keen on… That place…"

Jessie saw the fear within the large man and placed a reassuring arm about his shoulders. "Be calm Wedge, if we must risk the main entrance then so be it. I am confident in my hacking skills and am fairly certain I can get the main gate open, what I need now is a full scout report, keep watch here, I am going to get the others to see the problem at hand." Quietly she disappeared from sight and Wedge picked up the binoculars once more.

The silence on the ground had perpetuated and none of the three had spoken since Cloud's original outburst, Jessie sensed the hostility and moved with caution, Barret was a real firecracker and likely to flare off the handle at the merest insolent statement.
            "Barret we seem to have hit a problem with the mission…"

Barret forced calm upon himself and he responded,       "What is it Jessie?"

Jessie outlined the problem swiftly and he shook his head, "Damn that isn't good, you think you can hack it?"

Jessie nodded her head, "I am quite certain that I can, I have the most advanced hacking software in Midgar, I always carry these ice breakers just in case."

Barret scratched his head, "Ice breakers?"

She smiled and slapped her forehead, "Sorry hacker talk, 'ice breaker' means 'code remover', or basically electronic lock picks. I expected a secure facility tonight so I carried them to be sure we could carry out the mission."

Barret smiled,   "So far so good then, right let's see if we can concoct a plan to get inside." The four of them simultaneously moved away from the station and up the fire escape again.

Wedge was ready to jump out of his skin when the others unexpectedly returned to his side. He volunteered the binoculars to an eager Cloud who immediately scanned the horizon. The groups' faces all turned grim when they saw him cursing.
       "What is it Cloud?" Jessie had asked the question every desired the answer to.
       "They are prepared I shall give them that, the panel where the door code is entered has a different coloured floor." Jessie shrugged, "I thought you'd understand, the Shinra have never been very subtle and whenever they have a pressure pad they paint the floor another colour. At night it lights up telling anyone in the vicinity that the pad is active, if anything touches it the main alarm is triggered. Trust me when I say that is not a good thing." Barret loudly cursed, "It gets worse I am afraid, there is a tower far to the back and watching there is a Shinra guard, and judging by the desk I guess he has a manual alarm trigger button under the desk. His view is panoramic, no way of evading the gaze of his cameras."

Wedge stepped forward, "Is he protected?"

Cloud shook his head, "He is alone, and the only shield he has is glass, why do you ask?" Wedge had already begun the process of slamming metal pieces into one another. "What are you up to?" Cloud's question was answered eight seconds later, when Wedge held up a large sniper rifle.

"I'll knock him off from the roof, go when I shoot."

Cloud nodded at the suggestion, "That only leaves the problem of the pressure pad, while the code is entered nothing must touch the floor, once the code is put inside we rush in, be aware we only have about twenty-five seconds, after that the pad reactivates. So Wedge you had best move fast once you have fired." The group all nodded, "Jessie you had best have good balance, for my plan is going to involve you being off the ground, right next to the doors are a pair pf security cameras. I plan to loop a rope over them and tie one end to you, with that Barret and I shall hold you off the ground. Sounds simple but it is all that we are going to need. Are we good to go Barret?"

He snorted, "You trying to steal my position? Making all these fancy orders and shit like that?"

Cloud was full of disbelief; calmly he shook his head before responding. "I thought you had me here because of my Shinra knowledge? Trust me this is the most effective plan, we could try something else if you want, but don't expect a fireworks display, I fact don't even expect to be going back to wherever you guys are hidden. You'll probably alert the whole security force and wind up in prison, but then again I am only a hired hand so my words are probably worthless." The response was full of venom and Barret was clearly unimpressed by it. Snorting like a bull his face reddened and Cloud prepared himself, he was close to the edge and if Barret snapped he would be forced to act. The other three held their breath and whispered reassuring words into their leaders ears.

An eternity seemed to drag by before sense prevailed and Barret shook his head.  "Fine we go with your plan, but I am the leader right?" Cloud nodded in agreement, "Then let's move out!" The group moved away and only Wedge remained in place.

He was crouched down; his body was straight as an arrow. Only now did he feel no fear, for this was his type of mission.  The guard was lazy, or at least he appeared that way. His posture was large, and he neglected his position by lying back in his seat, his eyes wandered and a steaming polystyrene cup was hanging perilously on one of his knees. The zoomed vision Wedge possessed enabled him to notice such things as this. The guard was not sleeping; he was more like a living statue, a state of conscious inertia. Calmly he flicked the switch on the rifle and the laser dot appeared on the man's chest, slowly Wedge aimed upwards. A chest shot would kill the man, however, there was a risk of the man being able to activate the alarm. Snipers must be efficient and in this instance an alarm being triggered would not be professional, so calmly he sighted the weapon towards the centre of the nameless man's cranium. This was the best point he had available, Wedge was not overly pleased, a central headshot would kill the sentry almost instantly and the fact he would fall backwards reduced the risk of the alarm being triggered.  However, he would have preferred to have the back of the head exposed, a shot to centre of the back of the head was instant death, but he shrugged off this thought and prepared to shoot.  Steadying his wrists he pulled the trigger and watched as the silver bullet flew across the night sky, although not nearly as magnificently as a comet would. The bullet smashed through the glass membrane… The guard was shocked, and gasped as the pane shattered… Then the metal punched home, the silver bullet drilled through the skull and punctured the centre of the soft tissue that made up the man's brain. The empty husk fell silently to the floor and Wedge retreated from the rooftops. The mission was green and the war was to begin.

Cloud had been watching Wedge and instantly signalled to Barret as the gun was fired. Both men hauled on the rope and Jessie felt herself rising from the floor, with great care she was lifted into the air before she signalled for them to stop. The tough task was now at hand; Cloud had earlier failed to notice that if they used the cameras Jessie would be stood on the pressure pad and thus the mission would have been over before it even started.  Luckily there was a nearby lamppost that had swiftly been selected as the replacement. The main problem was that it was about six paces back from the panel and this meant that she would somehow have to be moved forward. Biggs had swiftly suggested pushing her carefully and after a quick reworking by Jessie the group had been ready to go. Biggs carefully pulled her backwards by the legs, let go and then dived to the floor. Jessie knew it was now up to her. Thrusting her weight forward she bolted forward a little distance, as swift as a diving eagle she thrust her weight in the opposite direction to gather momentum, five more times she did this before she saw the terminal in reach. Stretching as far as she can she clawed at the terminal and dragged herself over to it.

"Biggs throw me an ice breaker." Jessie commanded.

Cloud tugged on the rope and spoke, "Make it a fucking good throw, if that hits the floor this mission is over!" The group all nodded in a despairing way; evidently one could repeat themselves too often. Biggs threw the transparent card and Jessie caught it with ease, swiftly she slipped into the designated access slot.  A few seconds passed and the card had already begun to glow orange, she tapped the terminal a few times and the group heard the sound of gas being released.  Cloud realised it first when the floor dimmed to blackness.

"Get ready our time is now," he shouted.

Wedge reappeared from the alleyway at that point; he still clutched the rifle close to his body and was clearly overburdened. The doors slowly opened and the four others darted though without problem.  Cloud's estimation of the time on the doors was far too generous though and within seven seconds the doors were drawing to a close once again. Wedge darted as fast as possible and threw the rifle ahead of him. To the groups' amazement the rifle skidded to a stop in the space between the doors, a hideous growl filled the air as the doors are barred from closing. Wedge ran as fast as he could and dived forward, the momentum caused him to roll on his belly. As he cartwheeled across the floor the gun groaned and shattered as the force of the doors snap it into tiny fragments. Wedge finally crashed to a stop thanks to the sudden appearance of a wall. Groggily he tried to speak,

"Close… Samurai sword…" At first there was a blank look of incomprehension from the group, their faces appeared to ask the question 'what could he mean?'  For five long minutes the group cowered in the shadows and waited for Wedge to regain his strength. Finally he came back to full strength.

"I meant to say… That was close… Finer than the edge…  Of a samurai… Sword…"

Cloud chuckled, "Ah yes it was, but good work. I think we have done well."
"Besides you fucking the time up! Wedge could have easily been killed."

Cloud gave him an icy stare that showed his defiance, "People make mistakes Barret, evidently the Shinra have Grade A efficiency when it comes to locks. But at least we got in without alerting security, now for the hard part."

Barret stepped up, "As much as I hate to say it the guy's right, this next part is going to be toughest of this whole process. One thing we will not be doing is being so slack as to go back the way we came, so we have to have sector eight available as our escape route. Wedge since you took a knock you can do that; you and Jessie seemed to be the only ones who understood security measures at the hideout, well besides Cloud, but I mean computers and stuff.  I want to be sure every step of our escape is covered. Any other things shall be taken care of inside." The group all nodded their agreement and moved onwards towards the imposing structure…

The mako reactors were huge constructions, massive towers that resembled metal cliff faces. Each was easily one hundred feet down, although Cloud knew that this was only the very surface of what they were, some said that they could go further on underground, for it is within the depths of the planet that the energy they generate is found.  Carefully the group walked across the narrow bridge and it is the first time that Cloud saw the immense height between the upper plate and the slums. The view was a dizzying descent where the homes of the slum dwellers were mere pinpricks within a vast veil of darkness some miles below. The group advanced forwards and as the bridge forked in three directions Wedge went on ahead towards a massive door. It was an imposing steel giant that possessed only one method of entry and that was the flashing computer terminal on the front of it. Wedge opened up the small pouch of icebreakers and set about felling the metal giant before him.

The rest of the group had silently advanced upon the number one reactor's main gate. Cloud and Jessie cautiously snuck up to the front entrance; their deadly weapons were clutched tightly in their fists. Having made it to main entrance without alerting any traps Cloud pounced forward and kicked the heavy door harshly. The door groaned and slowly slid backwards exposing the main corridor; to his relief the hall was silent and totally devoid of security. Swiftly he signalled back to the others with a sweeping hand, the silent code for cautious advance.

Inside the reactor the group stood together and slowly gathered their breath. The only person not relaxing was Jessie; she was pacing around desperately thinking aloud about the possible barriers that they would face inside. Advancing further she saw the first problem and smiled.

"It is a good thing I remembered to carry some ice breakers with me." The inattentive group were all surprised to hear her speaking and thus did not respond audibly. "There are heavy doors here that block the path and the only way through is by code."

Barret smiled, "Good work Jessie, Biggs, you go and take care of it with her." The man swiftly followed Jessie towards the doors. "Cloud, you reckon there will be many more locked down routes?"

Cloud shrugged, "Who can tell? I am guessing that it isn't likely though, as far as I recall there are no locked doors beyond these ones. I think the Shinra are a little lazy, or maybe it is complacent?  To believe they are necessary."

Barret smiled, "Then we are good to go, I am just wondering you reckon I should have Biggs remain here while Jessie, you and me go onto the main mission?"

Cloud enthused silently before nodding his head in response, "It sounds like a good idea, he'll have seen the codes and as such will be able to deactivate the locks immediately, I am guessing that we will be getting out of this place in a very big hurry after all?" Barret nodded and signalled for them to advance when he saw one of the doors up ahead drifting open.

The reactor was of a very complex design; the floor was a multitude of metal bars that intertwined about one another, similar to a set of battling snakes. The walls constantly flashed dazzling rays of harsh red and shimmering green light from the numerous lights. The sound of distant whirring echoed, through the soulless man-made caverns of steel, a sound that grated on the mind and unnerved the soul. Cloud felt the chill of this echo course through him as if it was quicksilver, 'It's a warning.' He thought silently, carefully he unlatched his sword and moved forward. The trio had covered thirty yards when the siren sounded out. Swiftly they abandoned their stealthy actions and prepared themselves. They stood close together, each of their backs compressed against the other. Together they formed a triangular shaped battle line. For fifteen seconds they nervously awaited their foe, something had detected them and whatever it was would want blood.

Time passed as if it was weighed down by a horde of elephants, slowly and strenuously. From the lift before them came the sound of a gas being released, instinctively they broke formation and formed a line formation. Weapons drawn they stood still, ready and waiting… The door slid back slowly, the wheels of time seemed to slow down, increasing the nervousness of the warriors. The doors parted and within the elevator stood five guards. They were different from those on the train station platform, the only common denominator they shared was that their uniforms were blue coloured. Their body armour was of thick mesh, formed from interlocking metal links. Their helms ware shaped in a way similar to a beetle's back; the arm-mounted weaponry was similar to the talons of a lion. Cloud smiled, they looked formidable and this he welcomed. The lead guard is about to speak when Cloud jumped forwards, the man was unable to even gasp as the flat of the blade from Cloud's weapon smashed through the thick visor and gave him a shallow cut above the eye. Cloud gracefully rolled midair and landed in a crouched position, diving upwards he lunged the point of the blade home into a second guard's unprotected neck. Battle fever claimed him. This was his home, in the middle of a battle. Rushing into the brink he charged the three guards who stood ready and waiting.

"Blood and death!" He bellowed before bringing the sword arm up to neck height, and he smiled as he entered unto the fray…

Barret had been astonished at the ferocity of Cloud's attack, this he definitely approved of, yet some instinct called him back from rushing into battle beside the mercenary. As the huge man looked at the area about him he saw two more elevators moving, they were planning to surprise them and leave no avenue of retreat!

"Jessie! Call Biggs to your aid, there is another set of troops coming from the sides! You two take the left side, I'll handle the others!" Jessie obeyed instantly and headed left. Barret went right and advanced upon the doors.  He ducked into a wall recess and ripped off the sleeve from his cloak, revealing the weapon he had become to fight Shinra. He waited as if he was a preying panther on a pack of venison; this was the crucial time, the calm before the encroaching storm. The door began to slowly part once again and he smiled. 'Not this time you corporate bastards!' he thought silently to himself.  The guards inside stepped out cockily, expecting to partake in a mass slaughter. But they were wrong; the mass slaughter was not going to occur this night. Nervously the guards lifted their arms, as if to attack, Barret smiled and the lead guard began to cower away. Fear filled him like oxygen, he stepped backwards, a nervous retreat. Barret was in no mood for offering quarter, he raised his arm and horror filled the men. His right arm was flesh from the shoulder to the elbow, at the elbow though it became a nightmarish form. The arm was of solid metal, where the wrist and hand should be was something far more terrifying. A six-barrelled Gatling gun hung murderously on his arm and Barret nodded, almost as if agreeing to the silent question of its reality. Horrific screams filled the air as the gun whirred into life…


For Biggs and Jessie the scene was different, they were not overly confident of facing too many foes all at once. Silently they had crept from the scene and waited in a hidden space.  Biggs held the metal wire and was desperate for the guards to come upon them.  The elevator strained to open and the guards instinctively darted forward. Having seen the footage of both fights on the monitors within the elevator, they were not going to be caught on the back foot. Instead their leader had forced them on as soon as the doors opened. What he did not know was that decision had sealed the very fate of his men. Biggs stood erect and tugged the line tight; the guards ran forward and failed to notice the near-invisible steel wire. An out of tune concerto of horrendous screams sang through the air, as the steel wire sliced through the torsos of the attacking force. The thin wire acted like a wickedly sharp sabre and killed three of the five-strong force. Jessie meanwhile had crouched around a pillar and was positioned behind the final two men. Neither of them noticed her sudden appearance… Calmly she pounced upon the backs of the warriors and her movement forced them to the floor. When they had been successfully downed she flicked a knife into either hand from the hidden sheaths of her forearm… Mercilessly she rammed both blades home through flesh and sinew. Vaulting the bodies she ran straight on towards the other elevators.

Cloud had startled the attacking line when he killed one man and downed another. The other three guards were more prepared for him though. He sent a wild cut towards the throat of one man…  Suddenly he watched in horror as the guard swerved away from the blow.  He then gasped as air exploded within his lungs, the man's fist had rammed home as if it were a large truck.  Cloud grunted and staggered backwards as another guard dived forward and tried to ram his talons into the defenceless Cloud. Yet he squealed in surprise as his arm was suddenly stopped, as he looked to the end of it he saw Cloud's fist locked around it in a grip that was tighter than a portcullis. Cloud sealed the man's fate by lancing the sword through his ribs and up into his lungs.  Immediately Cloud drew back from the dying guard and spun, the blade sliced across the eyes of another preying guard, the man collapsed and screamed as blood gushed from the wound as if it were a crimson waterfall. The final man backed away, his arms raised, he was full of fear and his trousers were stained.

Cloud laughed. "No quarter offered, none given!" He rushed forward at the pleading guard and venomously slashed his blade into the neck of the man. The razor sharp edge tore the head clear from the body and sent it flailing to the ground below. Cloud then spun away towards the other elevator in pursuit of Biggs and Jessie, not even bothering to search the bodies for any bounty they may hide.

Barret looked as if he were an angel of death when the trio arrived on the scene. All around him was a mound of corpses some fifteen in number. His shirt was torn and seven brutal scratches scarred his body.

He nodded silently to the others and grunted. "They nearly had me, bastards had reinforcements in a secret room behind the elevator. I finished the first wave, turn my back and then bam!" He sank into the shoulder of Biggs, "Nearly had me but they paid for it, paid a big blood price.  They might have tried to keep us out the hard way, but the original plan remains, once the device is set the last thing they'll worry about is patrolling. Let's go." He grimaced with pain as the wounds seeped blood, with bestial grunts he wrapped tight bandages about his chest and soldiered on. Biggs rushed back to his original position, while the other three advanced on the elevator Cloud had cleared for them.

Barret rested his back against the tiny confined space of the elevator while Jessie kept watch on the monitors for guard patrols. Cloud stood lost in thought when Barret called out to him, "Cloud, you've been in these before right? Well we plan to blow the place up, Jessie suggested we find a weak point of some kind, you have any ideas?" Cloud enthused for a moment; it would need to create a chain reaction if they possessed any hope of turning this reactor into ground zero. He idly thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. "I think the only place is the main cooling tower. It would be the best place…" He was about to continue when the sound of a bell informed the group of their arrival at the next point. Cloud signalled for them to duck into the alcoves from sight, invisible he scanned his eyes about the area before signalling the all clear. Then he led them on.

"Dear gods! This is incredible!" Barret exclaimed in startled wonder. The view was indeed, impressive. The reactor was one large maze of platforms that led deeper down into eternity. All about them stood gigantic and sturdy metal girders that strained against the force of the platforms and somehow held them in place. The vista seemed to glisten as fluorescent light reflected from shiny metal stair rails. Even the polluted smoke seemed elegant as the reflected light shimmered through it. Below them was a vast pit of white coloured liquid that rippled in the dazzling fluorescent light.

"How deep does this thing go?" Barret quizzically asked Cloud.

"According to the main Shinra plans the very pools where untreated Mako is collected lies at least eight miles from here, although the actual pipes that leech the Mako from the land lie even further down below the surface."

Barret's jaw dropped, "Gods, then how in hell can we blow this son of a bitch up?" Cloud chuckled, "The Mako tower I spoke of lies only about half a mile down from here, trust me that will blow the place up. The tower has numerous tributaries within it that supply constant Mako energy to power the reactor. If we ignite an explosive within or near it, the explosion will flow through all of them igniting numerous fuel sources of the plant, a chain reaction of sorts."

Jessie gasped, "Of course a back draft, I had never thought of that. It sounds good to me that plan sounds pretty much flawless."

Barret slapped the safety catch from his gun, "Then let's rock!" The group headed away from the elevator and towards a set of spiralling stairs.

The first set of stairs had proven to be of no great problem; the area was unmanned and easy to walk down. Yet Cloud felt uneasy about the second set; he advanced warily and crouched onto his stomach, much to the annoyance of Barret, though a swift gesture had silenced him. Like a snake he crawled along the freezing cold stone floor, and once at the top of the stairs he risks a careful glance. He shook his head as he saw what lay ahead; at the bottom of the stair set was a group of twenty men. They were all in the same uniforms as those who had tried the sneak attack at the elevators. This time though they had prepared a little better for they were all crouching behind heavy iron shields. This made it impossible for the group to attack from the stairs without being cut to pieces, as he glanced further into the scenery he could see no more men. Yet he knew they were there, the Shinra were obsessed with contingency plans, and when the terrain offered so many hiding places it would incomprehensible for them to lack one. With a light curse he made away from the stair set as invisibly as he approached.

"We have a serious problem, on the first stair set I heard nothing and that is what alerted me to the guards ahead." Barret and Jessie shrugged through a lack of understanding. "I gather you didn't notice the wind then? They have to fully ventilate the reactors, as mako odour is a noxious gas. Well the wind is a natural wind that comes through many porous vents from above. As it is natural wind it has a natural sound to it, which, can be heard throughout the reactor. On the first stair set though I couldn't hear it. The guards are crouched beneath the second stair set behind huge shields that are blocking the wind, thus we have no sound coming to us from there." Barret smiled, "Man I got you all wrong, you are a great source of useful knowledge. But if they are crouched behind huge shields we wouldn't be able to hit them on the run would we?"

Cloud nodded, "Even worse we would have no avenue of evasion, they would cut us to pieces in seconds, twenty heavy armoured men is too much, hell ten is too much!" Barret cursed, "I'm not giving up, these corporate fuckers must pay for sucking the planet dry; they must not get away with it!"

Cloud nodded again, "Well unless you can think of a way to get rid of them without engaging them in attack we will be going no where."

Barret however grinned and tossed a circular object to Jessie.  "You know what to do Jessie, I'm going to rush out from cover and make an assault with my rifle, if I stay back they won't get me, you pop up from no where and nail them. Cloud, you will then join me and we make an assault!" Cloud was about to protest when Barret began rushing forth, this insanity was going to happen and there was no way to stop it.

Barret did not try and fool them with any pseudo assault; he went in all barrels blazing. The shocked guards watched as his gun spat bullets towards them, three noticed his attack at the last second and only just managed to scramble to safety behind the shields, one arrogant warrior drew a pistol and started to shoot at Barret. His aim was shocking though and his bullets harmlessly disappeared into the walls. Barret made no such mistake and nailed the guard with five bullets to the centre of the chest. Onwards Barret moved his pace carried him close to the actual stairs, he knew what they would do and this made him laugh. As he anticipated, when on the stairs they all appeared and started to fire. Rather than stubbornly stand his ground he dived backwards and behind the crest of the stairs. The surprised guards looked at one another in mass confusion, why rush and hide? He couldn't pick them off and there was no avenue of escape for they would merely charge behind him and rip him to shreds. What was the missing thread of the problem?

The confusion of the guards blinded them from their earlier knowledge, namely that there was more than one member of this attacking group. Jessie pulled the pin from the grenade Barret had tossed towards her and with stunning speed she jumped up and hurled the explosive into the centre of the group, worried cries sounded from the men as they desperately made for cover. The grenade spewed out fire and death as it exploded and four exposed guards were ripped apart by the grenade. The others, hidden behind the shields grunted with pain as they are hurled backwards and the shields clattered against them. All was chaos, with metal girders hanging out of place, twisted like drill bits. Rubble constantly collapsed about the guards as the aftermath of the explosion took effect; one guard died unexpectedly as a sharp piece of debris protruded through his eye. Barret and Cloud offered no respite to the fourteen survivors. Barret's gun instantly began to spit out bullets and a score of men fell with wounds. Cloud meanwhile had dived into the path of four men. Their gasps formed their last words as his blade ripped through them as if it were Death's scythe itself. Two of the men fall with their jugulars ripped out, another fell where the sword has tore out his heart and the final guard was knocked from the edge of the platform to fall mile upon mile to his inevitable death. Not to be ignored Jessie suddenly startled the final group of guards by advancing and leaping down the stairs in one bound. Rolling on her left shoulder she jumped forward and cut the throat of one guard before he had even seen her, swiftly she spun around and rammed her second blade into a guard that had tried to sneakily attack from behind. A whisper of movement to her far left caused her to spin and let the knife fly. The blade sailed through the air and sank into the chest of the guard who was aiming for the head of Cloud; he died wearing a look of pure shock. The battle was being won by the second and the inevitable occurred when only the leader remained. Cowardly he tried to run, but Barret's gun sent a bullet flying through the centre of the back of his skull and the empty husk died without sound. Calmly the group stopped and gathered their breath.

For five minutes they sat resting their tired bodies, Barret's chest roared in pain as he felt the wounds seeping blood onto the bandage. He knew they would clot eventually but for now he felt their pain all the time. Cloud was calmer now too, when in battle he lost all control and reacted on pure instinct alone, now the battle was over sense began to prevail. Jessie was the only one who had emerged from the battle without emotion or real need for rest. Instead she had begun checking on the explosive to make sure it would suffice… After a long minute passes the group get to their feet.

"That was a tough test, but good plan Barret, I should have seen that one for myself." Cloud said quickly.

Barret chuckled, "Yeah was a good piece of exercise, although they were too easy for my liking, especially that leader, number one rule of leadership is never abandon your troop. By the way Cloud you owe Jessie a thank you." Cloud gave a puzzled sound to this, "A guard had stepped back from the battle and aimed a gun at you, she threw a knife twenty paces and it killed him saving your life."

Cloud was flabbergasted, "You threw a knife? Shit I thought talents like that had not been used since the war years ago."

Jessie laughed, "Yeah it is an unusual skill, but it makes the battles interesting, and the horrified looks of enemies when they see it makes it all the more satisfying." Cloud nodded, "I'll bet it does, ok we have wasted enough time here, let's move on." Barret grumbled at this subversion to his authority, but remained calm enough to not make an issue of it and instead just followed the others.

The next area was where the group faced their toughest test; their movement into the next area had been untroubled. Now though they were to face a test of skill and unity. For this area was an unofficial route to the tower. Normally one would walk through to the elevator, however, Cloud had remembered when he was last in such a reactor that they required retinal scans, and not even the greatest hacker could get around that problem. So instead they were to face a daunting task. Above the tower was a network of piping that distributed the Mako energy through the reactor and out into the inevitable supply lines. The elevator, while the secure route down to the lower levels; it would not allow a team to check the maintenance of the supply piping. So the Shinra had been forced to plant numerous access ladders from the lower ground to them in case such a situation arose. Jessie had been the one who devised the plan, the tower had a path to it from the elevator and beside the elevator was a ladder that led down to it. Calmly Cloud and Barret descended a sturdy ladder and stepped onto the piping leaving Jessie behind on the platform above.

The view from up here was even more dizzying than the one granted back on the bridge between sector one and sector eight.  A mass of rusting pipes interlinked above the Mako abyss that lay some miles below them. The pipes were rounded, which, made them difficult to maintain balance upon. If this was not enough they were also thin, for someone like Barret they proved a great problem and as such his progress was slower. Not enough to take forever, but it certainly felt like it to Cloud. Finally the pair reached the ladder and swiftly began their descent, something about this felt wrong the Cloud. It was obvious to the Shinra that the elevator would be near enough impossible to access, so why was access to the piping so easy to find? Cloud wondered if they had been stupid enough to risk their defence in an all or nothing assault back at the stairway. He dismissed this thought as his feet landed on the metal platform; they would not be so stupid. The pair rushed forwards and soon found themselves at the base of the huge tower. A streak of light in the corner of Barret's eye caught his attention. A swift investigation reveals that he has discovered a piece of materia, he returned to the platform beside Cloud who stood there thinking deeply.

"Thinking of anything important?" The sudden voice irritated Cloud and only through great will did he stop himself from gutting the speaker.

Turning his head Cloud faced Barret, "I am just thinking of how to get the most from this bomb. If we want to get maximum efficiency, we will need to somehow get the explosion to flow inside the tower." The pair carefully searched the imposing metal spire of Mako, desperate to find an opening that will increase their chances of success. Many minutes passed without success before Cloud finally found a secure hatch. Opening it he saw it was a manual feeding hole where they dropped in catalysts for the reaction processes.

"This is exactly what we need, the bomb goes here."

Barret nodded at Cloud's idea, "Sounds good to me, ok set the bomb."

Cloud icily looked at the man, "I am hoping that was a jest, you are the leader, shouldn't you do it to make sure nothing goes wrong?"
"Jus' do it! I am going to make sure you don't try and sabotage this mission."

Cloud chuckled, "Is your trust so fragile? Very well be my guest." Cloud walked up to the hatch and secured the explosive to the hatch. He was just about to programme the sequence when he heard the sound of movement above him. Somersaulting backwards he watched as they began their attack…

His initial conception was that there would be another assault from guards, yet he was wrong. From above a huge robot guard had jumped before them. The robot was huge, easily twenty feet tall and roughly eight feet wide. It was a colossal giant of metal and force. It had been shaped in the same style of a scorpion, it had eight flexible legs that could house any surprise that was not obvious to the naked eye, and the chest concealed its source of power and a double laser cannon. Two arms rigidly hung in place, each possessing ominous looking rifle cannons. Behind the creature was a long swirling tail of interlinking pieces and at the peak of this curling metal tail was a huge serrated spike that glowed blue with inner energy. Cloud and Barret looked at one another and nodded, there was no escaping this giant construction, the rifles would pick them off if they tried to climb away from it, devoid of choices they had no option, but stand and fight!

The pair split up as together they would be sitting ducks. Cloud headed left and tried to observe it for a weak point of some kind, he darted forward and ducked as one of the legs tried to stab him. Rolling away he sliced his sword into the leg and smiled as it crunched through it and exposed sparking wire, yet amazingly the leg still managed to uphold its function. Barret meanwhile tried to engage it in battle and desperately shot for the armoured core. His bullets only caused minor dents to the plate and got nowhere near the goal of dislodging it. The scorpion showed its rage by standing erect and aiming both rifles. Barret desperately dived behind a pillar and cowered into a small ball as the bullets repeatedly tore away pieces of the pillar. Cloud saw he was in trouble and went for a diversion move. Rushing to its back he slashed his sword across he machines back and smiled as the robot ceased firing, but then he heard a sound above him. Gazing up he gasped in sheer horror and frantically backwards somersaulted over the rail, as the tail of the scorpion ripped into the floor and created a devastating scar on the metal surface.

Cloud freefell for two feet before he reached out and grabbed hold of a piece of metal, it was lucky for him that the Shinra had designed these bridges with a lot of surplus metal beneath the platform. Slowly he began to climb upwards, his arms strained from the weight. The fact he was holding his sword did not help, but he could not throw it aside, instead he took a deep breath and released the sword arm from the rail. He slumped a little and for a moment thought that he would fall. Anger forced him on and he launched the sword through the air.  He stared in amazement as it landed back on the platform, grabbing hold of the platform with both hands he swung back and forth numerous times before brazenly letting go and flying upwards.

Barret was stunned into silence as the sword landed back on the path and this silence was compounded upon when he became a gibbering mess at the sight of Cloud somersaulting back from the edge. Barret felt grateful for the fact Cloud had risked life and limb to save him and knew now was the time to repay the debt. Diving from cover he shot at the plate again, the bullets constantly clashed with the armoured form and with great determination Barret made them aim for the same place. He was eventually rewarded when the plate pulled back a little. Swiftly he dived left as two of the eight legs stabbed at the floor where he had stood only a few seconds earlier. Pulling the pin from the final grenade he hoped and prayed as he tossed it into the air. The grenade bounced from the armour and fell into the gap he created. He watched as the explosion occurred, the armour ripped away and the power source became a sparking mess.

Both men clashed their hands into one another at this, but saved the whole celebration, as both men knew that the battle was far from over. The scorpion robot began to pulse on the spot and raised its tail high above itself. Barret laughed, as it stood stock-still, carefully he aimed for the exposed source. It was Cloud who noticed the plan it had; the power source was sending great pulses of electricity into the tail. As if it were charging something, it was when the blue light grew into a radiant beacon of light that Cloud understood.

"Barret don't! It's charging the tail up!" Barret shrugged and fired, ignoring the comments of Cloud. The bullets flew into the hole and electricity sparked from within. Cloud rushed forward and dived with all his weight. The force from the collision sent both men crashing to the ground. An angry Barret fought to get up when the robot began to swing the tail over their heads. The blue beacon was now a dazzling bright beam of dark light. The serrated edge parted and out from the centre emerged a wide gun barrel. Barret finally understood and dragged Cloud beneath the creature. The barrel fired a great arc of dark energy and the noise was indescribable, as the beam ripped into the platform, pierced through it and pulled it from side to side. The pair watched in frantic horror, praying that the platform would not give. For that instant time appeared to have completely stopped. Finally the robot ceased firing and the platform, while sturdy, bore a huge open hole that stretched for roughly thirty feet. The pair stayed beneath the machine, believing themselves safe from the attacks it has, but this sanctuary could not last forever and they needed another plan…

The pair used the time to gather their breath and for a while it seemed that a stalemate situation was evolving. The robot though changed all that in one instant. The eight legs bunched beneath it and the pair watched as it leapt at least fifteen feet into the air, mid-jump it spun itself around so that the tail as pointing to the floor. Cloud saw the danger and dived to his belly, rolling back towards the Mako tower. Barret had not seen the problem though and the tail swung down upon him, the absence of the serrated edge saved his life. The force though sent him flailing through the air and clattering into a metal pole. He coughed and blood formed a dark pool at his feet, his eyes mirrored hatred and he grunted with bestial rage.

"Fuck you tinshit! Eat this!" All of a sudden Cloud watched Barret's mind snap and the rage caused great flames to surround him. The robot clung to the tower and saw its time running out. It jumped a further fifteen feet into the air and readied itself to crush the human bug beneath it. Barret's rage flowed through his blood and into the metal Gatling gun that rested on the end of his arm. Orange fire formed within the barrels and seeped into a great ball on the end. Barret's instincts held him steadfast, ready to deliver the killing blow. The robot had fallen fifteen feet and the exposed power plate was now visible. Taking aim he braced himself and fired. The ball of fire shot through the air like a comet and collided with the exposed plate. Barret crashed to the floor thirty feet behind where was stood, while the robot was sent twenty feet upwards from the force of the blow. The fire then singed all the circuitry and a monumental surge welled within the robot. The source of power imploded and tons of burning debris rained down upon the platform. Both men took whatever cover they could find, making sure the shower of pain would not reach them.

It was thirty seconds later when the last of the debris landed on the platform, Cloud and Barret forced themselves to their feet, adrenaline being the only thing that kept them going.

"We are going to feel like shit once this is all over." Cloud said sardonically Barret nodded, "No time for tiring, set the timer Cloud then let's get the hell out of here!" Cloud agreed and rushed to where the explosive stood, the robot had thankfully not damaged the bomb and Cloud swiftly inputted a ten minute time delay on the explosion. A loud voice warned them of the time and the pair swiftly made for their escape.

Jessie had been waiting for ages and was stunned when she saw the sight of the pair defeat the robot. All the time she had wanted to join the fight, however, guards had rushed her from above. She had had barely seconds to prepare but managed to make it difficult, when she saw three guards begin to descend the ladder, she had hurled one of her knives and smiled as it plunged home within the guard's throat. The dead guard then fell off the ladder and dragged the two others down with him. Jessie continued to stand her ground taking down a further three before the assault ended.

She smiled as Cloud reappeared. "You guys sure as hell took care of that thing!" Barret grinned, "Yeah as if a fifteen foot robot would be enough to take us out!" She laughed and he continued, "I see that you had some interference too."

She shrugged, "Nothing I couldn't handle, now let's not waste time standing here!" Cloud nodded, "I agree we have only six and a half minutes left!" The group hurried along and back into the area where guards had attacked earlier.

For three minutes they had experienced no trouble, but then as they got near to the elevator they heard the sound of something opening. To their horror the floor opened in three places nearby and three large laser cannons emerged. They were shaped in a peculiar fashion. The heads of the laser cannons were very traditional, possessing a long barrel and laser sight, but the support legs were very much like a single leg of a human. The laser sights peppered the floor beneath them and the trio ran as fast as possible. The cannons fired concentrated laser beams at the floor and the group gasped as hot grooves were left in their wake. For ten seconds they rushed in their evasion, Cloud then dived forward and slammed his elbow into the elevator call button. He ushered the others into an alcove and waited for the thing to come.

Twenty seconds passed like a lifetime for the earth before the elevator sounded out. Swiftly the trio reappeared from cover and rolled into the elevator. Cloud smashed his fist into the button to take them back to the top and then darted for cover as laser beams scorched the metal floor. The group thanked whichever god presided in the heavens as the doors closed and they began to get up top.

As the doors of the elevator opened onto the main floor Cloud consulted the timer on his wrist and gasped. "Fucking hell!" He rushed forwards and called out loudly, "BIGGS!" The bored team member is instantly alert at this sound, "Get the fucking doors open! We have only twenty-five seconds!" The man instantly tapped buttons and the group all sighed together when the doors opened. The four of them rushed out onto the bridge where Wedge knelt by the door to sector eight,

"Get the door open!" Wedge responded to Barret's command and the door opened swiftly.

"10… 9… 8…" Cloud counted and stopped in horror as Jessie tripped and fell down. Cursing he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder, he got to his feet and ran forward before he swiftly dived with all his strength and was flung forwards from the force of the vibration on the bridge. Landing uncomfortably on his back, Cloud turned and gazed at the awe-inspiring sight. The metal giant was cracked in numerous places before it finally shattered. A great mushroom cloud of Mako billowed into the open night sky and for some reason while such devastation would terrify and disgust a person. It seemed this time to possess eternal beauty and elegance. The mixing of fire and Mako within the night sky seemed to have an impact on the soul and one would find such an awesome sight very rare. The group sat and watched the display for a few minutes before they headed into the darkness of the sector eight tunnels. They had pulled off the attack, now to go back underground where they were safe…

Peter J Marcroft's Fanfiction