Further Fantasy 7 - Part 8
The members of AVALANCHE stood gaping at the disheveled state of the woman before them. On many occasions during their pursuit of Sephiroth, they had fought the Turks and all knew well how strong they were in battle. Only at the last, with meteor about to fall, had the group shown their true colours, agreeing an uneasy truce with AVALANCHE after doggedly following them and trying to hamper their attempts to locate the insane ex-SOLDIER at the orders of Shinra. Their ruthless professionalism had always been their strongest point; to see one of their number reduced to the exhausted, bloodstained mess that Elena was in was a humbling sight. The fact that she had been effectively carrying one of the highest ranked members of Shinra made the sight even more unbelievable.
Cloud was the first to react. "Let's get off this road and into some cover," he said, bending to lift Reeve by the shoulders, "Then you can tell us what's going on and we can get you out of here."
Elena shook her head, recovering some of the dignity and poise of a Turk. "No, there's no time," she replied, "We've got to stop them!"
"The Jenova Disciples?" Cloud waited for an affirming nod from the woman. "What are they up to?"
For a second, Elena didn't reply; instead, she rapidly scanned her surroundings, looking for possible threats. "Let's get into cover," she said, "then I'll explain the basics. We can sort the details on the way."
"On the way?" Tifa joined in, "To where?"
"The reactor. It's where the Church is holed up." Elena glanced round once more, then moved to help carry the prone Reeve. "Follow me," she instructed.
With Cloud and Tifa helping her carry the unconscious body of the Shinra manager, Elena quickly led the group into the ruins, Barret helping support Cid with Amy following close behind him and Nanaki watching the rear. Inside the shell of a ramshackle slum hut, Elena stopped and, after a quick look round, kicked at a heavy-looking chest in one corner. The chest slid aside and with a quiet click, a section of the floor against the far wall fell away. Releasing her grip on Reeve, the Turk crossed to the trap door, reached in and pulled out a ladder that was fastened under the floor on runners. At full extension, it swung down to reach the floor underneath. "Hurry!" she said, her voice a stage whisper, "Help me get him down here!"
Rapidly, the group manhandled Reeve gently through the opening and into the room below. Once inside, Elena grabbed a long pole and used it to push back the ladder, close the trap door, and slide the chest above back across, using a spike that extended down from its base through a hole in the floor for the purpose. Finally, she lit three oil lamps that hung from the walls, closed soundproofing panels over the trap door and the chest hole and spike, and then collapsed on a crudely made bench, her back against the wall.
Barret nudged Tifa as the AVALANCHE group looked round the bolt-hole. "Reminds ya of the old days, don't it?" he said quietly. The martial artist nodded.
The room was about twelve feet across by fifteen in length, and furnished with three benches and a table on which Reeve now lay. Behind each bench was a recessed panel - escape hatches, Barret assumed - and set into the forth were a number of padlocked cupboards, above which was a ledge. The tall black man reached up and ran his good hand along the ledge, eventually reaching what he expected to find - a set of keys.
"Wait!" Elena called out, suddenly. She stood, pulling a switchblade from her back pocket and stepped up to Barret. Taking the keys from him, she lifted them out into the light of the room, keeping them close to the ledge and above her head. After a moment's examination, she spotted the fine wire attached to the end of one key and sliced through it with her knife. "Pull that too hard and the roof comes down on us," she said, tossing the keys to the former AVALANCHE leader.
Barret nodded, impressed at the trap. "Quite a place ya got here," he remarked.
"One of many," she replied, "Necessary, unfortunately."
"Why?" Cid demanded.
Elena snapped out a hand, caught the cigarette that hung from the pilot's mouth, dropped it to the floor and
crushed it. "Hey!" Cid protested.
"This place is soundproof, but not airtight," the Turk snapped, "You keep smoking them things in Midgar and it won't be the nicotine that kills you." Cid looked hurt, but remained silent.
"What's happened here, Elena?" Cloud asked. Barret had opened the cupboards, and the group were now confronted with stores of weapons and ammunition, food and water, medical supplies, and even some blankets and items of clothing. "Seems you're dug in for a war!"
The Turk made a rapid check of Reeve then, satisfied that his pulse and breathing were strong and steady, grabbed some replacement clothing from the stores and began to change, speaking as she did so: "It started about a year and a half ago; Shinra's into construction now, and about a tenth it's original size. No army, no weird experiments, nothing. Reeve's one of the vice-presidents. Anyway, about that time, Reeve managed to persuade a few of the others that Midgar could be redeveloped - apparently the mako reactors need to be properly decommissioned, too. So he raised a big stir in various companies, scared some shareholders and managed to sort out a program to shut make the reactors safe then dismantle them, and then rebuild a new Midgar - nothing like the old one," she added quickly, catching Barret's angry growl. She gestured at another cupboard. "Have a drink if you want, but go easy - we don't know when we'll be able to replace the supplies."
"Thanks," Cloud replied, taking out a canteen. He took a small swig, then sat on one of the benches beside Tifa, handing the water over to her.
Elena continued: "Once he had backing, Reeve assembled a team of people for the first phase - reactor decommissioning and searching for anyone still living in the ruins. At first, things seemed to be going well, but after a month or so, everything went quiet. So another team was sent in - this time rescue workers in case some accident had happened, and also a few from Shinra's security. At that time, nobody knew about the Church, or how powerful they were. The second team also vanished, apparently without a trace. However, some weeks after communication was cut off, a call was received from a Shinra salesman in Kalm - a man had turned up on the verge of insanity, raving about the demons that now controlled Midgar."
"By this time, Reeve was beginning to get desperate; his backers were threatening to pull out, and also some of his reactor experts figured out that they had another four months before the reactor cores started leaking. So he called us in, and also got a unit of about 150 ex-SOLDIERS, Shinra Security, Engineers and Scientists together, and led the operation to find out what had happened. When we first encountered the Church, we dug in; it we thought we could hold them off, and for about three more months, we did. But when we tried to decommission the sector four reactor, we discovered their capabilities far exceeded our original expectations; we lost a lot of people. Reeve decided to leave at once and come back with an army, but by then it was too late; we knew too much for their liking, and they had barricaded us into the city. It's a miracle you weren't caught and killed when you entered the sector four gate; if you had turned up on any other night, you would have been." Elena finished pulling on her fresh clothes; urban camouflage trousers and armoured jacket over a black vest, military style boots and a cap. She turned to a second of the stores and began re-arming herself.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Cid demanded, still smarting at his earlier treatment.
"We found out that the Church are working towards some goal; we don't know what. But they're performing some kind of magic ritual tonight in the reactor, which is part of this; we think they intend to increase their power even further. That way, they won't have to hide in Midgar; they'll start extending their influence across the continent. That's what the fight was earlier; we had to try to stop the ritual and destroy the reactor." Elena shook her head, her shoulders slumping in defeat, "I guess you're right Cloud - we should get out of here and then out of the country."
Abruptly, Aeris's voice echoed through Cloud's mind as Elena finished speaking. What's up? he asked, focusing his thoughts inward.
Had the Ancient's voice been audible, it would have sounded urgent: <Cloud, we've got to go to the reactor and stop that ritual! The planet is telling me that it's vital that the Church don't succeed!>
Why? What are they trying to do? Is this what you were so afraid of earlier?
<Yes. I don't know exactly what they're trying to do. They're calling to someone something the planet's crying out to me, Cloud!>
Cloud concentrated. There was something there, on the very edge of his hearing. Yes I can hear it too, through you.
<It's afraid, Cloud! The lifestream is in turmoil the darkness rises > Aeris's silent voice now took on shades of panic, <Help me, Cloud! Don't send me back! Go now, before it's too late!>
Cloud nodded, grimly. Okay, we'll go. He took a deep breath and turned to the others. "Aeris says that we've got to stop the Church's ritual," he stated.
Elena was the first to speak: "Aeris?! What the hell are you talking about, Cloud?"
"I don't have time to explain now, but she says it's vital that we stop them."
"You're nuts!" the Turk exploded, "Sixty of us tried storming that place earlier and they wiped the floor with us! Now you're saying that six of us should try and go against them at the advice of a dead girl?!"
"Look into my eyes, Elena," Cloud said, simply.
The Turk squared up with the mercenary, expecting an argument. But when her gaze met Cloud's she took a step back. "Your eyes the pictures in Shinra files Are you wearing lenses these days?" she hazarded.
Cloud shook his head. "Like I said, we don't have time for the full story, but Aeris's soul has returned from the lifestream and is now gradually taking over my body. We're trying to find a way to restore us both, which led us to the City of Ancients, where we found the body of a Jenova Disciple. So when we got Reeve's signal, we came here. Now, is there any way we can get into that reactor?"
"Why don't we just go back to the Highwind, take off and bomb the hell out of it?" Cid suggested.
Barret beat Elena with the answer; "If they were that easy to take out, d'ya think AVALANCHE would've bothered tryin' to get a bomb in?"
"He's right," the woman added, "Those things are virtually impregnable from the outside. But there is a way in - if we can reach it."
"How?" Cloud asked.
"There's a secret entrance at ground level - it's for emergency access or escape." Elena shot a glance over to Barret, "How d'you think the Shinra managed to ambush you in the sector five reactor?"
"Sunnuva bitch!" the former AVALANCHE leader cursed.
"How do we get there?" Cloud continued, ignoring Barret's outburst.
"That's the trick. The area round the reactor is heavily patrolled. If we can slip past, we can get in - but all the ways we tried were too well guarded."
"'Scuse me!" a small voice called from just above waist height, "I can get us there."
"No way, Amy," Cloud replied, "This is gonna be very dangerous."
"But I've done it before!" the girl objected.
Elena looked down at the child - she had hardly registered her being there before. "What's this, Cloud?" she asked, "Is AVALANCHE recruiting kids these days?"
The girl's eyes widened and almost sparkled with joy, and she gasped loudly. "Am I in Av'lansh now?" she asked, disbelievingly.
"You'll have to wait until you're a bit older," the blond man said, a smile on his face. "But," he continued at Amy's look of crushed disappointment, "I think you're old and strong enough to be a trainee member."
Amy threw herself at him joyfully and hugged him. "Wow! Thank you! So can I go? I know Midgar better than anyone! I've made it to the reactor before! Twice!"
Cloud looked round the other members of the group. All of them wore expressions of impressed amusement, the former emotion more prominent in Elena's case. "Okay, Amy, you can come with me," he said at length, "but you'll have to be good, watch our backs and stay behind me if we get into a fight."
"Okay," the girl, although still happy, nodded seriously.
"It's best if we don't all go it," Cloud continued, "A large group will attract more attention. Elena, are you in?" He looked at the Turk, who gave a nod of affirmation, then considered who else to take. If they ran into any more Disciples, surprise and speed would be their best hope, and long range weapons would allow them to avoid the poisonous gas "Barret? You up for this?"
"Blowin' up a reactor?!" The massive black man smiled, "Hell, jes' like old times! Course I'm in! Never thought a Turk would be helpin' me do it, though!"
Cloud grinned back. "Okay, the rest of you, try and get Reeve out of here and back to the Highwind. If we don't make it back before midnight, go to Junon and come back with the army. Right, let's sort out weapons, items and materia."
It took about five more minutes for the group to sort out their equipment. As usual, the materia had been the most awkward part, deciding on which combinations should go with each member of the two parties. Elena had fitted a silencer to her pistol and Amy, much to her delight, had been received a poison armlet, spare from one of the AVALANCHE backpacks and hopefully capable of countering the Disciples' gas, and an additional four pieces of materia, adding a Phoenix summon and a linked earth-all pair to her arsenal, along with one of the mastered "HP-Plus" materia that formed a constantly active magical barrier around the users body, adding to their tenacity and allowing them to take more wounds. Tifa had given Cloud the ribbon (after a short argument, which had been broken up by Barret's remark of "This ain't no time for a tiff!") which, combined with the escort guard armour he wore, made him almost invulnerable to magical attacks. The plan was simple; Cloud's group would penetrate the reactor and try to access one of the sub-control rooms, where they could use one of Elena's Shinra passwords to override the system, increase the output to maximum, and shut off the coolant flow, causing an overload and blowing the reactor up. This would undoubtedly bring most of the Disciples to the reactor. Tifa's group, using a map from Elena, would follow the network of tunnels out from the shelter until they reached the one nearest the sector four gate, wait there until the commotion started at the reactor, then "run like hell" (as Cid had put it) for the Highwind.
Half an hour after entering the subterranean shelter, Cloud, Amy, Elena and Barret emerged into the darkness of the city, having taken another of the tunnels from the bolt-hole which led into a section of the sewers. After several encounters and subsequent fights with creatures that had made the long-disused tunnels their territory, Elena directed had them up another newly-dug tunnel which had brought them into another shelter, similar to the one they had left, save the stores were empty, dust obvious on the shelves. The Turk explained that the bolt-hole had been their front line point for attempts to access the reactor, but the team operating from it had never even reached their goal.
Warily, Cloud edged to the doorway of the building that stood over the hidden shelter, and looked out to the left and right. Footsteps from nearby made him pull back momentarily, but upon looking back out, he saw the expected knot of black clad figures pass the turning down the dirt track road that lead to where he and his group where hidden. In front, looming above the rubble, wood and metal of smashed buildings and smaller segments of the plate, was the reactor. "Amy," he whispered, "where are we?"
Amy stepped up and took a single quick glance to the left, then to the right. "We need to go this way from here," she said, also keeping her voice quiet and gesturing to her right, "there's a wrecked bar down there. When we get there "
"One step at a time, Amy," Cloud cut her off, a smile on his face. "Now, you stay with Barret and move when he does. I'll take the point, Elena will watch our backs. Everyone ready?" he watched for a nod from the other two, "Then let's move!"
In sixteen short bursts between points of cover, the four made their way up the road. Three times they had to hold and wait, once when a group of four Disciples came so close to the spot Barret had hidden, he could have reached out and touched them. Nevertheless, they managed to reach the place Amy had talked about without being seen. Immediately as she and Barret reached the half-collapsed shell of the bar, Amy vanished inside.
"Amy, wait!" Cloud hissed, turning to see what the girl was doing. A tap on his shoulder made him jump; instinctively he span and went for his sword, only to see Elena, who had caught them up. He took a deep breath and tried to slow his racing heart.
"This way!" Amy's voice called quietly from the darkness.
The three adults ducked into the remnants of the building, feeling relieved to have walls between them and the outside world. A rickety old ladder led down into the building's cellar. One by one, they descended into a room filled with racks of dusty bottles. Elena took one down and rubbed the dirt off the label.
"Mythril Moonshine," she whispered, "This stuff was illegal!"
"Yeah, an' tha's where the owner smuggled it in," Barret remarked, pointing. At the far end of the room, Amy had extracted a number of bricks, which opened out into yet another tunnel.
"Grampa had a special 'rangement with Mister Hargen," Amy explained, "He said when he drank Mister Hargen's special drink, he didn't feel so bad any more. I tried some once, but it didn't make me feel too good."
Cloud and Barret looked at each other, grinning in the near-darkness, and even Elena smiled a little.
"This goes all the way under the reactor," Amy continued, "'an down to a big pool of water under the ground. There's a ladder there that comes up in a building next to the reactor, right near a door."
Their spirits lifted by the thought of being able to move with little fear of being seen by the Jenova Disciples, the four made their way down the long, winding passage carved out of the earth beneath Midgar, following the light of a torch made from rags they had found dipped in the liquour and wrapped round a broken off section of bottle rack. Elena had also taken several of the bottles in her backpack along with some more of the cloth to make simple firebombs with. Again, they were by no means the only living things in the place, resulting in numerous fights, one particularly nasty one against a pair of giant spider-like creatures similar to those Cloud remembered from the Gi caves in Cosmo Canyon.
"How did you get past all these monsters, Amy?" he asked eventually, voicing the question that had been on his mind for some time.
"They weren't here before," the girl replied. She looked scared, but was keeping good control of her fears, and had even managed to get a few spells off from her fire and earth materia while staying behind Cloud as he had instructed. Only the spiders had rattled her, and then only because of their size.
"When were you last down here?" Elena inquired, concern in her voice.
"Just after the devil-people came after me an' Grampa. I was gonna go set them all on fire. That's when I saw found out about 'teria not working to make that man better."
"Whassup, Elena?" Barret broke in from the rear of the group.
"How much further is it?" the Turk asked, ignoring Barret's question.
"Not far now."
They progressed in silence for some moments as the tunnel took a long curve to the left, before Barret spoke up again: "Tell me I ain't freakin' out, but I can see better than I could five minutes ago."
"You're right," Cloud replied after a moment, his voice lowered. "Best be on guard in case they've found this place. Barret, you and Elena go up front. You've got the ranged weapons. Amy, stay close and keep quiet."
Abruptly, the tunnel straightened out and then veered sharply to the right. Opposite the turn, the left hand wall was illuminated by an eldritch green glow, and a quiet rumbling noise was audible.
Under her breath, Elena swore.
Cloud doused the torch. "Company?" he whispered.
Barret shook his head. "Man, you better come see this!" Illuminated by the glow, the black man's face showed anger and determination in equal measure.
With Amy beside him, Cloud moved up to join his companions at the apex of the turn. After three of four more strides, the tunnel opened out into the underground cave. But where Amy had said there would be a subterranean lake was a vast pool of sickly green glowing liquid. "What the is this the lifestream?"
"No." Elena shook her head, "It's mako. You can smell it - the lifestream doesn't have a smell. The reactor core must be leaking."
"Goddamn Shinra!" Barret cursed, "How could they build these things knowing that this might happen?!"
"I guess this explains both the spawn we've encountered and how the Church got their powers of transformation." Cloud remarked.
Elena nodded. "Possibly. Mako doesn't have the lifestream's ability to spontaneously create, but it can still warp any organism in prolonged contact with it. And that would certainly explain why they need the reactor so badly: While the reactor running, the leak will cause mako to flow into the reservoir, increasing the concentration. The same mixture of mako and water is then re-circulated into the system, which they could tap off within the reactor tower and use."
"So knock out the reactor and we get both Church an' their power source?" Barret grinned, "I like it!"
Cloud nodded. "Where's that ladder, Amy?"
"Go this way-" the girl gestured to the left- "when we get to the water. It's not far to the ladder."
Amy was right; as they entered the underground chamber, the ladder was clearly visible on the side of a scaffold that run up to the rocky ceiling, some thirty feet above, and a ledge ran round from where they stood to beyond the structure round to a crack in the wall on the opposite side of the cave. However, about halfway round, Amy stopped in her tracks, tugging on Cloud's sleeve. He breathed in to speak but in the nick of time noticed the finger at the girl's lips, indicating to remain silent. She then cupped a hand to her ear, emphasising to listen.
"Whassup, Cloud?" Barret's voice, although quiet, echoed off the chamber walls. Cloud winced and repeated Amy's gesture to the former AVALANCHE leader and the Turk.
This time they all heard it; over the background rumble of the reactor above came a distinct splash. Instinctively, weapons were readied, and they set off again at a run. If something was living in the mako pool, constantly exposed to the effects of the processed lifestream
At the front of the group, Elena was about five of six strides from the bottom of the ladder when the creature broke the surface of the pool, a short distance out from the four. It was enormous, and a more horrifying sight than even she had feared; a nightmare of distended organs and tube-like structure, bulging eyes and gaping maws. Barely restraining the terror she felt, she turned and bolted for the ladder, covering the distance in four long strides, and began to scramble up.
Behind Elena, Barret felt a shiver of dread shoot up his spine - last time he had felt it was when he, Cloud and Vincent had been ambushed by one of the hellish unknown creatures that had inhabited the crashed Shinra Gelnika on the ocean bed. This thing was at least half as large again and, thanks to the green glow of the mako, many times worse to face. Looking behind him, he spotted Cloud and Amy; the girl was frozen in terror. Fighting his own urge to panic, he ran to the child, scooped her up under his good arm and pelted towards the ladder, Cloud covering their retreat. With Amy on his shoulders and Elena now on the platform on top of the scaffold and taking pot-shots, Barret climbed up towards safety. A flash of light from below indicated that Cloud had engaged the creature and the Emperor Klaive was scoring hits. He scrambled up onto the platform and turn in time to see Cloud reach the foot of the ladder. He took aim with the Grim Reaper and laid down a burst of covering fire. The creature seemed to recoil, but a long tentacle suddenly whipped out and wrapped round Cloud's legs. With a yell, the young man was jerked off his feet into the pool as the creature withdrew, and abruptly there was silence.
For a long moment, the three survivors stared in shocked silence at the surface of the pool as the last ripples bounced against the edge. Then Amy wailed and burst into tears.
"God damn " Barret whispered, feeling his legs buckling. To his left, Elena was still staring down, holding the platform railing with a white-knuckle grip. Turning, he saw Amy and opened his arms. The child flung herself at him, clinging tightly to him as he held her close, allowing her to vent her grief and shock.
"What now?" Elena said at length. Her jaw was set in determination, but Barret noticed the traces of moisture at her eyes.
"I I dunno." He looked down at the child who still clung to him, her arms locked round his waist, and weighed up the odds. "What's our chances of getting' outta here over the surface?"
"We'd have about a mile to the closest bolt-hole, and the Church will probably still have people out trying to find any survivors from Reeve's operation earlier." Elena shook her head. "It's suicide."
"Same for trying to get by that thing," Barret gestured down. "It can sneak up on us too easy. It's probably jes' waitin' for us to try an' run for it."
"Mr. Barret?" Amy released her grip and tugged on Barret's jacket. Her tears were gone and her face, although pale, was set. "If we can't get out, can we go after the devil that took my Grampa away?"
Grief and determination flooded through Barret. He looked over to Elena, who nodded in agreement, then hunkered down in front of the child. "Yes, Amy," he said, "We're gonna go after the devil-people. We're gonna git into that reactor, sneak past 'em all, an' then take 'em all out."
He lifted the girl onto his shoulders and stepped back onto the ladder, giving one final glance back. Then, with Elena following, he began the climb up into the hole that lead to the surface, away from the mako pool and the nightmare that had claimed their friend.
Go To Part 9
Return To FF7 Fanfic