The Fallen Chapter 14
Junon had changed a lot since the fall of the original Shinra,
and no one had been gladder than the inhabitants of the city that the newly
rebuilt company had simply decided to leave their home the hell alone. The
coastline had become much more enjoyable without patrolling Shinra issue
guards and a massive cannon sticking out of the center of it, and after they
had cleared the rubble that was left of some of the Shinra offices everything
had pretty much settled into an enjoyable, if not just a little dull,
Which is why it was fairly reasonable for the presence of a man in a long white coat with spiky blonde hair, and a hard cut Gonganan with a massive sword to cause a bit of a stir amid the local townspeople.
Zack and Rufus were well aware that they were being watched with less than welcoming gazes as they walked slowly down the main street of Junon. They would have taken any other, more secluded route if it had been possible, but the only elevator in existence that could take them down to the underwater Mako Reactor could only be accessed by going down the exact center of the town, and thus they simply decided to be as inconspicuous as possible. Due to the growing crowd watching their progress, they had apparently failed in that regard.
The elevator was one of the few things that had been left undisturbed in the almost riotous destruction of all things related to Shinra in the last year or so, if only because no one was sure what would come up from below if they got rid of the barrier separating them from it. This only added to the mounting worry of the villagers as Zack and Rufus approached the elevator without caution, and calmly pressed a button on the side that was marked down.
Rusted with infrequent usage, the doors stuck for a few seconds before opening, which they finally did with a small ding. The two men glanced inside, and then went to step in- before doing a sharp double take. Standing in the elevator, looking quite surprised himself, was a middle aged man with a face full of stubble and a rather wrinkled blue uniform on. His eyes went straight to Rufus, and widened.
Mr. President! he sputtered, and snapped to attention, raising his hand in a sloppy salute. Rufus heard a gasp behind him, far to the right, and quickly darted into the elevator, yanking Zack behind him, and shut the door. The Shinra guard seemed quite taken aback by this, but didn't drop his rigid pose until Rufus absently gestured for him to do so, running a hand back through his hair.
What the hell are you doing here? he asked, rather unlike the president that the guard had been used to serving.
Uh... my duty, sir! said the guard, sounding quite pleased with himself, apparently figuring he had come up with the perfect answer to this question. When Rufus disbelieving gaze locked in on him, he instantly realized that this was not so, and chose to elaborate on what he had said. Um, I was ordered to watch this elevator and regulate who was allowed in until relieved by a fellow officer, sir!
You mean to tell me... Rufus said slowly, you've been on duty for over a year now? How have you survived?
In answer, the guard merely looked to the left, where a inclove room had been built into the wall. It seemed to contain very little, just a bed, a few piles of clothes, and several hundred stacked cans of freeze dried food. The whole thing seemed very unkempt, which was slightly understandable, as it appeared the man had only brought about a weeks worth of clothing anyway. Rufus looked at him with a sort of pitying admiration. Soldier, he said simply, you are relieved.
The mans face lit up, but he didn't respond and give Rufus time to take back his order. Instead, he saluted smartly, wisely chose to ignore the ratty clothes he had in his little apartment, and opened the door to leave. Right before he exited, Rufus put his hand on his arm, and the man looked back at him in surprise. Remember, Rufus said firmly, and Zack noticed that flickers of old coldness had swept back into his voice as easily as most people turn on a faucet, this never happened.
Classified, right, the man nodded happily, and left as quickly as he could. Zack shut the doors behind him, and pulled the lever that would maneuver the elevator downward,all the while giving Rufus an odd look. Eventually, even the president couldn't pretend he didn't notice, and sighed with exasperation.
What? he snapped.
Nothing... Zack said with a shrug. Was it just me, or were you actually nice to that guy?
Rufus gave him a cold stare, and seemed to be thinking of the most appropriate response. We've been going down for about two minutes, he said finally, there is now roughly a hundred feet of water above us on every single side.
An involuntary shudder ran through Zack, who glared angrily at Rufus. Was that really necessary? he snapped, leaning back hard against the steel wall of the elevator and beginning to take deep breaths. Suddenly the earlier chiding words of Rufus didn't seem worth it to dispel by coming down here. Water was... an incredibly stupid concoction. If it wasn't for the fact that we needed to drink it to live, Zack probably would have started some sort of movement to simply boil the oceans away and give us a hell of a lot more land to walk around on. And imagine all the pre-cooked fish.
The trip down was incredibly long, even longer than Rufus had anticipated. Of course, very few people assumed that this elevator even went all the way down to the mako reactor- or could manage the trip- but it did and it could, though it took years of research to design and build a prototype that could stand the pressure. In the end though, it simply hadn't been cost effective to send a submarine every time someone needed to make a routine check up, especially when the damn things kept getting high jacked by random do gooder terrorist groups.
Even with the state of the art technology employed by the elevator, the two men inside couldn't even pretend not to notice the random squeak or groan that emitted on the trip downwards. Zack in particular was in the need of something he'd never really valued before, even though most of the other Soldiers seemed to base their lives on it- an incredibly stiff drink. Monsters didn't scare Zack, you had a chance against monsters. He had a sword, and he had muscles, and if the thing ate him then it was his own damn fault. But water... you cant fight a tidal wave, and its not like any skill under god would let you swim thousands of feet straight up without taking a breath. It was just... wrong.
The doors opened much with the same ding they had opened, but the sound held a very different meaning for Zack. When the doors opened, he expected to see glass walls, and thousands of tons of water all around, ready to snap in and bury him, to be discovered hundreds of years later and quickly put in whatever sort of book existed that listed some of the most unavoidable deaths ever. Instead he saw...
Fuck, Rufus muttered angrily beside him, peering out in vain into the darkness. Someone killed the lights. Well have to try to do this in the dark.
Zack looked over at him in horror. Is that even possible? he asked.
Not really. Rufus said, and shrugged. But at least you wont die by drowning anymore, you'll just die by walking right into an exposed wire or something. Rufus glanced over to see what kind of effect his words had caused on his traveling companion, and his eyes widened.
Uh... Zack? he muttered.
What? Zack snapped, looking around in a sort of sustained panic.
Why is your sword glowing? Rufus asked.
Huh? Zack quickly ripped his long buster sword from its sheath on its back, and discovered that it did indeed seem to be emitting some sort of light. Nothing like a flashlight, a lamp, or even a torch, but a dull flickering glow, that allowed him to see at least four feet in any direction. Though inexplicable, it was a mild comfort to know he had it. Im not sure, he admitted. And I dont really care.
Taking a deep breath, the ex Soldier stepped out of the elevator, feet clanging on the hard metal ground of the mako reactor. Shrugging his shoulders, Rufus also stepped out, staying close enough that he could utilize the light offered by Zacks weapon. I'm fairly sure we just go straight ahead, he offered, feeling quite useless because that's the way they had begun to walk anyway. Zack, however, didn't seem to be listening.
Do you see that? he asked slowly.
Rufus shot him a look. If you're referring the endless stretch of blackness, then yes, I absolutely do.
No, Zack growled, pointing his sword off to the side of the path. The light cast a bit further than it had before, and in the slightly illuminated area he was pointing out, shadows were dancing a little too actively for Rufus tastes. That. What the hell is it?
Not sure... Rufus said quietly, and calmly pulled his shotgun out from under his coat. He pumped two shells into the chamber, clicked off the safety, and easily aimed into the center of the area where the shadows were moving. Surprised, Zack smacked his gun barrel down.
What the hell are you doing!? he asked.
Rufus glared at him. Shooting it, he said coolly, obviously.
You dont even know what it is! Zack retorted harshly, keeping his hand on the top of Rufus gun to keep it down as he peered closer, trying to see what shape the shadows were coming off of. It looks like a dog!
With a snort, Rufus relented, and let his gun go limp in his grip. Satisfied, Zack released it, but kept a watchful eye on his partner as he muttered something about no dog being able to survive down here. Not entirely encouraged by his words, but resolute to discover what the creature was, Zack began to take a few steps forward towards it, and for the first time Rufus did not follow to stay inside the light. The orb of visibility widened, bringing for a few seconds the features of the animal in the corner-
-it was a dog.
See!? Zack said calmly, turning around to shoot Rufus a smug look. To his horror, the president had raised his shotgun again, and before Zack could voice a protest he fired once with both barrels, and a pitiful whine that was suddenly silenced was all the indication Zack needed that the man had been on his mark. He didn't even turn around, disgusted at what he might see, and instead rounded angrily on Rufus.
What the hell is wrong with you!? he cried, throwing his hands up. The light went with the sword, of course, casting them into darkness, and when Zack lowered the weapon Rufus still hadn't spoken, but was merely pointing at the still form of the animal. He walked straight up to it and knelt down, and Zack placed his sword down beside its limp body to get a better view. The fur on its flank was matted and blood stained, and dancing around its muzzle was thick, creamy foam. Zack looked back to Rufus in surprise.
Rabid. Rufus said simply, turning his head to the side to crack a stiff joint in his neck. And about a half second from ripping your spine out when you turned around. Without waiting for Zack to say anything, or even to see if he followed with the light source, Rufus rose and trudged resolutely down the way they had already been going, but Zack noticed he didn't replace his weapon in its holster.
With a sudden burst of speed the Gonganan caught up to him, and held the light a little closer to Rufus than himself in gratitude. Hey man, he said, I didn't know. Thanks.
The look Rufus shot him over his shoulder was unbelievably cold, and a sneer played across the mans lips. I'm beginning to realize, he said slowly, how a group of misfits managed to infiltrate my buildings and sabotage my operations over and over again. Apparently all it takes to be a Solider is a layer or two of muscle, and absolutely no grasp of the real world in their heads.
Zacks eyes suddenly unfocused, staring back over his companions shoulder. Uh, Rufus...
What? The president snapped, more dogs you'd like to go pet?
...not exactly... Zack muttered, seized hold of Rufus arm, and with one hard thrust dove to the side and spun the president out of the way of a brilliant flash of energy that struck the floor in a minor explosion, temporarily lighting up the room. They seemed to have walked into a sort of office, what Zack had assumed was only a wider branch of the hallway, and it formed a veritable maze of desk, chairs, and tables. Ironically, it was only when the darkness retook, could they truly appreciate what was looming behind them.
It appeared as if someone had shaved a gorilla, given it a few packs of steroids and some growth enhancements, and then force fed it napalm for a few weeks. The very skin of the creature seemed to glow and flicker with flames, that spread through its entire body, outlining its veins, bones, and nerves, and focused in a flat, featureless face, which sported only a gaping angry maw from which the energy had spawned. As Rufus and Zack lay, staring at it in shock, it reared back and fired again, managing to miss a second time, whizzing over their heads and striking a stack of wooden crates, lighting them instantly ablaze.
Slipping a little on the wet metal floor, Rufus and Zack darted to one side and slid behind an upturned table, now visible thanks to the raging flames. Under the temporary protection, Zack shot Rufus an incredulous look. What the hell is that!? he said frantically.
Rufus shrugged, worried despite his calm facade. Mako mutation, he said quietly, as he once again slid shells into his shotgun with shaking hands. While what he had said wasn't entirely correct, it had to have been close enough. Just about a week before his untimely death, there had been reports of three men falling into one of the reactors ultra hot valves, and the end result was most likely what was currently trying to light Rufus up like a Christmas tree. He just hoped the other two had done the polite thing in such a situation and simply died.
This time when Rufus rose up with his shotgun forward, Zack made no pretense of not wanting him to shoot- thus, of course, shooting is just what Rufus did not do. What he did was fall forward into a speedy somersault roll to avoid a high shot ball of fire, and then came up and emptied both barrels into the creature in front of him. The scattered shells hit it in both sides of the chest, and blew easily out the back, streaming smoke.
The creature didn't even blink.
Shit, thought Rufus idly, as he was forced to run straight *at* the creature to avoid the fireballs it was launching right over the back of his head, where they promptly licked at the heels of his feet and began to melt the soles of the new shoes hed picked up from Aeris. Shit, shit, shit... what is it with me and fire? With a final burst of speed, Rufus came right up in front of the creature, and feeling the unbearable heat radiate off it, rolled to the left, just in time to clear the way as Zack leapt forward and swung his sword uppercut style, where it pierced the creature mid belly, sunk deeper as it arced up, cleaving chest, jaw, head, and coming out the top in a flaming arc. For a moment it looked like the creature was indeed going to split in twain, but after a moment of hesitation, the two halves slapped back together, and apparently bonded back in the flame, remained that way.
For a moment, Zack stared at what used to be his sword. It was charred, black, and twisted, the glow extinguished, and he threw the now useless thing to one side and his body to the other to avoid yet another ball of fire coming his way. As tough as this thing seemed to be, it sure had bad aim, which was something of which Zack was eternally grateful. A pair of gun shots rang out behind him as Rufus once again tried his luck in shooting the thing- something that seemed exceedingly foolish to Zack, who failed to realize that the glass the structure was made of was strong enough to take a shot from most rockets, let alone a spray of bullets.
Of course, an idea came to him suddenly, that maybe the walls cracking a bit would be one of the best things that could possibly happen.
Vision aided by the now quite prevalent fires throughout the room, it didn't take Zack long to find what he was looking for- a pipe. Underwater or not, this place would need plumbing, and the Soldier took a moment to thank god that Shinra hadn't been one for flashy details, such as ceilings. Now he just needed something to bust it with...
Zack froze in sudden shock as a scream of pain rang out, and he whirled on his heel. The fiery thing had managed to maneuver Rufus into a corner, and from the way the president was clutching his left forearm tightly and had a look of extreme anguish on his face, Zack realized that the creatures aim was getting decidedly better. Lining up a desk in the corner of the room, the soldier charged at it, snatched up the chair that lay on its side, and leapt on top of it, bringing the chair over his head in an incredible arc. He felt steel ring against steel, and with the feeling of a bat smacking a baseball, he felt the pipe give way.
Instantly a cascade of water rained down upon his head, soaking him, the desk, the chair, and pretty much anything that happened to be in the vicinity of the desk, the chair, and him. Hoping the test his theory, Zack reared back and let the chair fly, tossing it into the back of the flaming creatures head. Though it seemed to do very little physical damage, a sizzling sound was heard as the damp object passed through the being, and it let out a guttural growl, turning angrily towards Zack.
Ah. Zack said, realizing suddenly that his plan might not have been the best after all. For the first time seeming focused on something, the creature didn't even bother with a fireball, and instead charged him much in the manner a linebacker charges a quarterback who is fumbling blindly for a loose ball on the ground. Zack steadied himself for an extremely painful impact, watching the blur of red coming through water blinded eyes, which he promptly closed as the creature leapt, arms out reached, for his throat.
He heard the sound that he imagined an entire chorus of snakes would make if they had suddenly been struck in the back with a shovel, and a torrent of steaming water struck him in the face, causing him to ball back, shielding his eyes from damage. He succeeded in that aspect, and opened them whole and undamaged, to see...
...absolutely nothing at all. The creature, whatever the hell it had been, had apparently disappeared in a sort of frenzied suicide, killing itself in its attempt to leap through the virtual waterfall. Chest heaving in pain, Zack rolled off the desk and hit the ground with a thud that seemed to remind him of a job well done. Slowly, he got to his feet, and saw Rufus crouched a few feet from him, staring distastefully at a cluster of dark brown skin that had formed due to the burn to his arm.
I'm starting to realize, Zack said quietly, but with extreme relish, how a group of misfits constantly infiltrated your buildings and sabotaged your operations. Your leader thinks he can use fire arms to fight actual fire.
Rufus snorted and shot him a glare, but there was little malice behind it. Instead, in a deep set way, Zack was startled to see fear. You do know, Rufus said slowly, picking himself up gingerly. That this is an underwater facility? No openings, no doors, no windows...
So? Zack asked, disappointed Rufus hadn't tried to sting him back.
But the president was preoccupied, watching the water pour from the broken pipe in incredible amounts. No drains, he said simply, and then looked down, where the water was already forming a thin layer of dampness over the entire floor. Inadvertently, Zack had just given them a very strict dead line to get out of here, because it wouldnt be too long before the water that was being siphoned into the room would spread, and if given enough time, rise to the ceiling.
This all came to the Gonganan in one impactful, sickening moment, and he reeled. Oh. Was all he could think of to say, before promptly turning to the side and throwing up.
In the dying remains of the fire, he'd seen exactly what he dreaded- tons of water pressing in on them from all sides through thick glass walls. At least, what had seemed to be in all directions. Now, with hydration rising steadily from the floor, was it truly closing in at every angle possible.
Zack took a moment to collect himself, and then retched again.