The Fallen Chapter 21

By Tiger

Renovations had been done fast on the landscape of what used to be Fort Condor- one of the benefits of having something that was virtually the widest slave labor operations of all time was that when you wanted something done, and you wanted something done fast, that’s exactly the speed that it got done. The towering stone building, which had been so painstakingly carved into the image of the bird from which it got its name sake, had been utterly destroyed, the rubble and debris that had been left from Hojo’s rampage drug into lines and piled up to make a towering wall of junk. The walls stretched for about a quarter mile, ending at the mountain itself, and after that- well, after that, only the builders knew the truth of it.

Stretching between the opposite end of the walls was quite possibly the most terrifying entrance way that had ever been conceived of on this earth. Ignore the fact that it was huge, mammoth, that the mere sight of it could make you feel as small and insignificant as getting a glimpse at the true scope and depth of the universe. Ignore the fact that it made no sense, an incoherent- and yet brilliant- twisting and jarring of shapes and symbols that somehow fit together with seamless perfection to bar an entrance way. That stuff didn’t really matter much, Rory reasoned... least not next to the bones.

Bones, humans have incredible amounts of them, and despite the classic image of femur bone lying on the ground as the key clue to solving a mystery, most of them are quite small and delicate. Those were the ones used to bind the other bones together. The entire gate, in all its gore and splendor, was made of bleached white bones, bound together by their own ilk, blocking the way of the two travelers.

“I think I’m going to be sick...” Rory said breathlessly, clutching at her stomach. The color of her skin and the look in her eyes led Gabriel to believe very sincerely that she was telling the truth.

“Hey,” he fumbled, looking frantically through his mind for a reason that she shouldn’t throw up besides for the fact that if she did, he was positive he would follow suit. “Most of those are just animal bones.”

Rory took the time he spent stammering to crouch down on the ground and lower her head down between her knees, taking deep uncertain breaths in an effort to calm herself. It seemed to work, as the next time she spoke it was with at least a degree or two of more certainty. “No,” she said with a groan, “they aren’t. But thank you.”

Gently, Gabriel helped her two her feet, and the two resumed staring at the gruesome blockade that barred their path much as they had for the last five minutes or so. They couldn’t see anything that was even conceivably a door, or a handle, or even an intercom system so they could ask nicely to be left inside, and they both agreed vehemently that if it became a choice between the world ending and them having to climb the gate, that they would go get drunk off their asses for the next week or two until the Apocalypse finally came.

“Well...” Gabriel said slowly, his eyes narrowed by the glare of the sun. “We could try to break it.”

“Or,” a voice answered from behind him, low and rasping, “you couldn’t.”

To say that Rory and Gabriel jerked in surprise would be an understatement, but when they finally returned to the surface of the earth’s crust they hastily spun around, seeing something that there was no way they should not have heard- at least five minutes ago. A dozen men stood behind them, decked out in what looked to be some street persons Halloween costume, make shift suits of armor formed out of things that no man had ever worn for protection before- trash cans, hub caps, car doors, and to Gabriel’s horror, a coffee can. Along with the humorous attire of the men behind them, however, there was a very non humorous shank of steel extending from each of the mans grips, swords that appeared to be lazer sharp as they glistened in the light. It wasn’t hard to spot the bright red letter H that had been forcibly carved into the palms of each man.

“Uh, actually, we’re lost...” Gabriel started talking quickly, but he realized how utterly pointless it was. Why would a lost tourist try to break a gate? Unless, of course, there was a mental institution somewhere around here they could have came from... but the only place like that he knew of was in Kalm.

“Bullshit,” the man said simply, “now get your hands up over your head and keep them there.”

Rory glared at him, not raising her hands. “Very official sounding,” she growled, “were you a cop before you came here to work for an absolute lunatic?”

The man fixed her with an angry gaze, his eyes clear and angry. “Rory Tremaine,” he spat at the ground, “smart mouth little bitch who knows more than is good for her, and that’s still only half of what she thinks she knows. Yeah, the big man told us about you. You are both going inside.”

Seeming stunned, Rory reluctantly raised her hands, and at the same time she shoved the handle of the switchblade Reno had gifted her into her sleeve. The man who had spoken gestured to one of the members of his group, who gave him a surprised and angry look, but walked resolutely forward to the gate, seemingly tracing the intricate pattern with his eyes. He watched the twists and turns looping around in an indecipherable curve, until he finally came across an organization of bones that seemed to form an H. Clenching his eyes tightly, he pushed his palm against the markings, lining up his cuts.

It happened before Rory or Gabriel even knew it had begun. The thin bones, sharpened by natural form or by the hand of man they had no idea, popped out from the wall with a small click, dipping into the man’s hand wound and opening the slices anew. He let out a low growl of pain, but apparently knew how to hold his tongue when the occasion called for it, as he simply backed up holding his injured appendage as the gates, now sparkling with fresh blood, suddenly split right down the middle.

It was amazing, the answer to the puzzle, and it was as infuriatingly simple as every answer to every puzzle when you saw it. All of Hojos little tricks, turns, angles, and shapes led away from the fact that the gate was just that- a door split down the middle. How Gabriel and Rory had missed the straight crack neither of them knew, but at the moment, they didn’t really care either. For the second time since they’d met, they were being taken into captivity.

“Move ahead,” the speaker said, speaker being how Rory now not-so-kindly referred to him in her mind. He was the only one who had deigned it necessary to speak a single word. “You will remain five feet ahead of us at all times. If you turn around more than 90 degrees in either direction we will cut you into more pieces than even God may put back together, do you understand me?”

They nodded. Apparently not caring either way, the man was already prompting them forward at sword point. Not lowering their hands, the two travelers slowly turned and began to take short, nervous strides into the yawning mouth of the tunnel. Though the man did not speak again, and the men he was with did not speak at all, they could sense the silent armed crew walking behind them at all times as they made their way, flanked by towering heaps of garbage on each side. The silence, as they say, was defeaning.

And then they rounded a corner, and the silence, as I say, was shattered.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...” Rory reeled on her feet, feel down to her knees, and went to spin around to retch into the dirt. Remembering the words of their captors to the letter, Gabriel caught her head in mid spin, and simply helped lower her to the ground where she emptied the contents of her stomach in much abundance. With horrified, disbelieving eyes, Gabriel gazed up from his fallen friend to the scene that had caused her to become so.

The walled tunnel gave way into a much broader room, a room filled with wandering bands of men, lit up with fires and machines. Everyone inside seemed to be at work, seemed to have been assigned some job or another, and all were busy. It seemed to have been carved from the mountain itself, but that wasn’t what caught the eye in any way, shape, or form. Instead, it was the final entrance way, the final threshold you would need to cross before entering that room that grabbed your attention. Lined up in double rows, on crosses made from shattered telephone poles, fourteen men hung crucified.

It was amazing what happens when you simply see the most gruesome thing you will ever see in your entire life- there is a small, ever so small, nanofractional spark of relief in the pit of your stomach that whispers to you in an ever smaller voice. This is it, it tells you, this is the worse that it gets- and you survived it. Its horrible, and its wrong, but you’re still here. That voice, unfortunately, is never heard in its gentle whisper- there is a thousand times louder screaming panic, terror, and disgust piled on top of it.

The men- and they were all men- were different, every one. There seemed to have been no pattern in their killing, no point in the slayings as a whole. They were naked, utterly, and some of them in various beginning states of decomposition. The stakes that had been used to peg them into the wood stuck out plainly, coated with dark lumps of dried blood, pinning both ankles and one hand. One hand only, because the second hand- the one, Gabriel noticed, fighting off dry heaves, that had before worn the H symbol- had been loped clean off of the arm.

“Oh god...” Rory repeated to herself, wiping her lips with the back of her hand, “why would they ever... why would they.... why?”

“Discipline,” Gabriel whispered to her in a strained voice. “They took their hands with the Hojo marking. Traitors, maybe...”

“Traitors indeed!” a voice came, high and twisted sounding, mangled, but recognizable instantly as a women’s voice. Strutting up to them, emerging from the shadows with amazing stealth, was a tall, pale figure, with long flowing silver hair. The clothes she wore was bizarre, bulky and spiky black armor that gave the appearance of some sort of a humanoid crab, covering almost everything but her face and her arms... and her arms were covered by something entirely else. Her skin was stained with what could only have been blood, seeped deep in color, resembling a pair of crimson gloves.

“Traitors indeed.” She repeated, and while very little could sway the opinion that she was crazy from their minds, her voice was not near as hysterical as they figured it would be. She had an air about her that suggested both sanity and insanity, though her attire and appearance obviously tilted the viewer very hard towards the latter of those two possibilities. “Traitors to the over all power of the cause. Traitors because they wanted to lead it, and in doing so, weaken it. But they fell, as all traitors shall.”

“O-OK...” Rory said slowly, staring at the lady in wide eyes. “That’s, um, good.”

“Indeed...” the lady said, narrowing her eyes, and for an instant they seemed to glow the yellow of a cat at night. “And today, two more are added to the list.”

Gabriel did a quick double take. “Is there,” he asked, “the slightest chance you are not referring to us?”

The women regarded him with cruel amusement. “No,” she said, “I don’t believe so.”

“Ah...” Gabriel said, practically whimpering, his hands dangling inches from his waist where his two daggers hung limply. “Right. May I ask you a question?”

The women didn’t answer. Not being denied, Gabriel decided to go for it.

“Would you kill yourself,” he said, stumbling at first, then rushing out the last words as quickly as he could, so they came out in a jumbled rush, “if you weakened the cause?”

“Though you speak of things of which you know nothing about and towards people you have never met,” the lady hissed, “the answer to the last question you shall ever ask is yes. Now...” To the horror of both Rory and Gabriel, the lady reached behind her back and seized the handle of a massive blade that was sheathed across her spine, and drew it out straight away. What metal the thick sword was made of neither of them could tell, and the only hint they had was that it was stained an impossible red.

“Oh come on!” Rory said, thanking Christ her voice didn’t squeak. “I think you’re being a little hasty here! I mean... I mean... were just passing by and your guys grabbed us! Were-”

“-messengers from the white bitch, as I have been told. You’ve come here to try to over throw the black order, babes and lambs against the armed lions of war.” The lady spoke mechanically, walking towards them as she recited her words like a recording that had been sketched into her hand.

“Black order?” Gabriel asked, he and Rory backing up to match the women’s advances step by step. “From what I was told, lady, the guy you’re working for doesn’t really believe in that sort of pretentious bullshit. He’s a scientist.”

Well there goes my platform of non involvement, Rory thought to herself with a mental sigh. “And even if he did, you’ve weakened the order yourself!”

That gave the women pause. “Explain,” she said simply, the implications of the word deadly.

“You let us keep our weapons!” Rory said, a sudden outburst of inspiration. “If you know so much about us, you should know we have them! We could kill at least one of these men right now, and you wouldn’t have stopped it! You’d be weaker!” She was wincing at the vagueness and hopelessness of her own argument.

The advance of the women started again in all its robotics glory, her doubts reassured and erased. “We were not told of any such weapons,” she said bizarrely, her eyes clearly on the hilt of Gabriel’s revealed daggers. “If they were of any consequence at all, we would have been.” Despite being several yards away from them, the women raised the weapon high above her head.

“Maybe...” Gabriel said, before realizing he had no idea of what maybe would lead to. He decided to make something up on the fly. “Maybe he didn’t know we had them! Maybe he isn’t as good as you think, did you ever wonder about that! Maybe he doesn’t see everything!” He was shouting by the end, and he realized he was slipping into a sort of hysteria. He prided his composure in any situation under god, but it was more than a little difficult to focus while corpses dangled a few feet to your left.

The women remained adamant. “Lord Hojo sees all,” she said, with ultimate finality.

Gabriel’s eye flickered involuntarily behind him, the by product of nearly tripping over a stone. He found himself looking into the entrance from which he had come, and then quickly looked back to the women. Almost casually, he stepped to the side.

A gunshot cracked out, cutting through the rest of the noise. A small, simple looking red dot appeared directly beneath the women’s left breast, and she stared at it idly... and then wordlessly collapsed. Rory spun around in shock, to see a rag tag group of four people, three men and a women, in blue suits standing with a Wutain ninja. Reno had his pistol out, pointed, and a whisp of smoke emitted from the tip.

“I bet,” Gabriel ventured, “he didn’t see that coming.”

With that final sarcastic quip, all hell broke loose.

Whatever it had been that had kept the men, who looked like they suffered from more blood lust than anyone Gabriel had ever met- and being in the Turks training that really said something- at bay, whatever indechiperable force had kept them silent and stable, seemed to snap as the long haired women fell. In one, fell second, every eye in the room suddenly went from vague and unfocused to lazer sharp... and fell upon them.

Ice and fire blazed to life as Gabriel ripped his daggers free of their sheaths and twirled them in his hands, only barely aware of how he no longer felt the effects of their temperature differences against his skin. A trifecta of men charged up to him, weapons drawn and raised, and Gabriel readied himself. He ducked the first overhead swing, hearing the wind scream above his head, and came up crossing his arms, stabbing to the left with his right arm and to the right with his left. Each blow buried itself below an armored chest plate, and two men fell, one man with a cut frozen shut and the other with one cauterized.

Gunfire blazed behind him, the Turks obviously set to work of their own with the man who had escorted them into this pit in the first place. This left the third man who had rushed Gabriel free to swing his weapon, a blow that the boy barely escaped with his life by simply slamming himself as hard and as flat as he could against the ground, a move he knew was a fatal mistake. It was a dodge you only used if by missing the swing the other man would be incapacitated- because pinned, immobile, his next hit would surely kill you. Steel raised high in the air, and Gabriel raised his head to see the smirking face of death- suddenly freeze.

Rory had made sure she got the blade releasing twist just right that night Reno had given her the switch blade. Thrust, twist, and squeeze... it was simple, but for some reason she wanted to perfect it, wanted to be able to flash that steel out in a split second the very first time she needed to. And then the first time shed needed to had come and gone... and it had gotten stuck. She let out a panicked growl and tried again, coming up behind the man trying to take a foot off of Gabriel’s height and several decades off his life, and thrust, twisted, and squeezed with a hard underhand swing.

The dark green blade popped free, lacing through the mans leg with suck a small knick Rory doubted he’d even felt it. A solitary, dark drop of blood welled up in the cut... and then promptly turned black. Rory watched in horror as veins as green as the blade of her weapon suddenly sprouted under the skin of the mans leg, bulging and pulsing, and quickly raced up his thigh. They disappeared under his pants, but a moment before he collapses, Rory saw them sprout to the tips of his fingers and go up through his neck, lacing towards his temple. He hit the ground and laid still.

Gabriel stared at her from his spot on the ground, eyes shocked but grateful. “Well,” he said, breathing hard, “it’s a good thing you didn’t test that on your finger.” His eyes flickered behind her. “Think you can do it to all of them?”

Spinning, Rory turned to see what he was looking at. All the men in the back room who had been so busy before now had entirely new pre-occupations... advancing on them with an entire cache of random weapons, pipes, tools, blades... she counted at least thirty in all, and behind them, there was a whole row of men with much more deadly weapons- guns.

The immediate solution was obvious enough, and Rory and Gabriel followed it to the letter by running like hell, skidding behind a set of rocks while bullets whizzed around their ears, coming from both directions as the Turks returned fire, and then in turned joined the two behind the relative protection of the mountains owns insides.

“You owe me a drink,” Rory panted to Reno, rubbing a cut that was now ripped into her leg from a bad skid on a sharp rock. “We beat you here.”

“Yeah,” Reno conceded, “and if we ever get the fuck out Ill get you a whole pack of Coronas. Don’t count on it though, kid.” His voice was grim, but his eyes had a strange look, a frenzied savagery, an apparent psychotic rage barely masked by his usual shields of sarcasm bullshit. He was not letting his sister go down again, not while he still had legs beneath him. Almost casually he twisted a knob on the top of his nightstick, and aimed it absently around the edge of the stone, and pulled the trigger.

There was a bizarre sparkling sound, and then a sudden flash, not the usual lightning strike but instead simply what it was- a sudden burst of light that seemed to glow white hot, instance enough that it seared the very retinas of their attackers eyes, and almost like being hit by a shock wave the first line of attack fell backwards, clutching eyes that momentarily saw nothing but sparkling white dots. Taking the general cue, the Turks raised up above their protection and opened fire. Bullets blazed back and forth, and when Elena emptied her clip, she reached inside her jacket for something a little more substantial- the small Derringer she had picked up in Wutai.

She fired once into the crowd, and men blew backwards like pebbles in a rain storm. She fired twice, and again they fell, but as she went to squeeze the trigger a third time in the series of rapid bursts a stray metal slug caught her shoulder, ripping it clean open and sending her flying backwards. Tseng, executing agility even he didn’t believe he had, holstered his pistol and spun, catching Elena an inch above the ground, where her brains were about to be scattered on a particularly large stone. Her eyes were wide in surprise, as if she wasn’t sure why she fell, but the answer was easy enough- her shoulder had almost been ripped in half.

Rude and Reno dropped down below the rocks to join Rory, Gabriel and Yuffie, who were crouched hard against the stone to avoid a similar fate to Elena. They crawled across the ground to their fallen companion, skittering across the stones like a pair of spiders, and slid next to Tseng. She was going pale, slipping into shock, and one glance at her limb told them why- she’d never raise her right arm again, that much was sure. Reno ripped his jacket from his shoulders and began to tore it into strips, a makeshift bandage to stem the blood gushing from the wound. “How ya doing rook?” he whispered to her as he worked.

All the cold expertise Elena had built up around herself over the past year seemed to have disappeared, and she had become the wide eyed frightened face that Reno had stared into so long ago, right before pulling the plug on his own sister. “It hurts,” Elena said quietly, her eyes seeming to unfocus as she spoke, and an unstoppable growl of rage ripped itself from Reno’s throat. Why the fuck couldn’t he ever protect the people who were important to him!? Tseng, Rory, Elena, everyone was getting hurt, and none of them deserved it! Why did he keep walking around unscathed when he was the only one who deserved to die!?

His agonized thoughts were punctuated by a sudden, fresh sound, a new source of blazing gun fire, and he instinctively moved around to cover Elena more thoroughly from any stray shells. When none came, he looked wildly over his shoulder, glancing around the stones they were using for protection, at one of the most bizarre things he had ever seen. A robot seemed to be marching through the crowd of men, gunfire blazing from the rips of its arms, ammunition bouncing uselessly off of its metal hide. Flanking it on any side- every side- was Strife, Tifa, Barrett, Avalanche as a whole, cutting through the men who had pinned them down. Currently uninterested in the scene behind him, Reno turned his gaze back to Elena, and began wrapping the bandage.

For the moment, keeping her alive was all the mattered.


Tyler Lucia was in several different forms of heaven. He figured that happiness was like a flower, the central core that was you, and then thousands of petals the branched out in any direction. Some petals bigger than others, more important, the ones that were rarely in bloom. Noise, power, destruction, and most of all invulnerability were some of Tyler’s largest petals, and as we speak they were in full bloom, soaking up the sun. The machine worked flawlessly around him as he surged forward, gunning men down like wheat, in the middle of the best video game *ever*...

He heard his father yelling something, dully, far back behind the sound of the hail of bullets he was letting out, the strongest game hero of all time, the Mario, the Duke Nukem, the Sonic....

“Tyler! Tyler! Slow down!”

He finally made sense of the words, and realized that like usual his father was trying to hold him back. Of course he had progressed faster than the others, they were slow and weak where he was fast and strong, the bosses minions took more time to pass for them than they did for him. They should have upgraded their weapons... Tyler looked back at the battle scene, admiring the graphics of the situation. Very well done.

When he turned back, all he saw was the black hole of a pistol pointed directly between his eyes, through the spot he had stepped into his armor from. His eyes went wide, his pupils dilated, and he suddenly snapped out of his stupor, his suspension of disbelief returned- this wasn’t one of his hallucinations, he was actually here, and he wasn’t going to get any continues if he died here- if being a useless word, because he had a second left to go, and he gritted his teeth in anticipation of the strike.

It never landed. A man he had never seen before, a man in blue, leaped clean over the back of his armor, coming down with a crystal sword strike right across the chest of the man about to gun him down. The gun fired, a single slug smacking home an inch to the left of Tyler’s temple, shredding through circuitry and metal. It was like a plug had been pulled, and with a sudden deflation his armor deactivated, and crumpled to the ground.

Reeve slid into position beside the man who had saved his sons life, shot him an uncomprehending look, and quickly began undoing the snaps that held the armor into place around his sons body. When they were all gone he raised the chest plate up above Tyler’s head and pulled him out of the suit, laying him across his legs as he lay as limp as a wet noodle. He shook the boy, whispering his name over and over, but no response came. He checked the pulse, and found it, faint but there, throbbing with the rhythm of life.

“Get his legs out,” the man clad in blue said, gesturing towards the boys lower extremities which were twisted along the ground. Reeve lifted him up and straightened them, and then looked at the man in confusion.

“Who are you?” he asked, still tapping his son on the cheek, searching for some sign of revival. The man, who was eyeing Tyler with professional concern, opened his mouth to answer.


The voice cut through whatever they were about to say, the voice of Cloud, who came charging over with a stunned look on his face. He and Zack stared at each other for a moment, recognition in their eyes, but suddenly Clouds gaze flecked to Tyler, and he crouched by the boy. “What happened?” he asked Reeve.

“I’m... I’m not sure,” the man answered him, running his hands back through his hair. “He was about to get shot, and, uh, Zack is it? Saved him... and then he just fell... but I cant see a bullet hole... what?”

“What are you doing here?” Cloud asked Zack, who was looking absolutely stricken at this point.

“Aeris... uh...” Zack fumbled, not something he was used to doing, “Sent us, we’re here to help.”

“We?” Cloud asked sharply, looking around.

“Me too...” a voice said, low and deep, directly behind them. Reeve and Cloud turned to see Rufus, absently prodding one of Hojo’s fallen soldiers with his toe. “Though we got here a little late, it seems. I only got one... the kid was quite a wrecking machine in that gatling gun with legs.”

“You!” Reeve half screamed, popping up to his feet with eyes wide. “What do you have to do with this!?”

“The same thing as him,” Rufus said simply, gesturing at Zack, who looked a little put off at the association. “I’m here to terminate an old employee. Literally.”

“Bullshit,” Cloud snarled at him, lifting his long silver sword in warning as he rose to his feet. “You’ve never tried to help someone if it endangers yourself.”

“Correct,” Rufus agreed, slinging his shotgun backwards over his shoulder. “But as far as I’ve been told, if someone doesn’t slip Hojo a very permanent pink slip, were all more than a little fucked. Id rather not die by something I’m not even involved in, Strife.”

Cloud opened his mouth to make an angry retort, but was cut off by a sudden wave of barking laughter, absolutely rife with maniacal glee. The four men, Zack, Cloud, Rufus and Reeve, all looked suddenly in the direction of it, but nothing was seen besides more blackness deeper into the mountain.

“Hojo,” Cloud hissed, under his breath for some inexplicable reason, “we have to go get him.”

“Agreed,” Rufus said slowly, then his eyes fell upon Tyler. “Who’s staying with the kid?”

“Me,” Reeve said, “I’m his father.”

“Really?” Rufus asked, taken aback. “I didn’t even know you had sex.”

“I...” Reeve paused, “what?”

“Nothing...” Rufus said. “Has that done anything yet?” He extended a finger, pointing at the small mechanical bird that was humming just an inch above Reeves ear. Reeve realized he had gotten so used to its presence he barely even noticed it anymore, it didn’t seem to do anything besides hover and beep.

“No... why?” Reeve asked.

“Then you’re going.” Rufus said, “Ill stay with the boy.”

“What? Why?” Reeve demanded.

“We were given these little tools for a reason, Lucia. We need them to win. If you stay here, your little... thing... there wont have done what it needs to, and were fucked.”

Reeve blinked at him. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Rufus said, “and thorough. Ill just watch over him to make sure he doesn’t suddenly go into seizures, its not like Id be much help in the fight anyway.”

“If this is a trick...” Cloud threw himself back into the conversation, stunned at Rufus’ revelation of his own weakness.

“Ah yes, I forgot,” Rufus growled, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “because I tried to cut prices by using a natural resource, that naturally makes me the sort of guy who would cut a childs throat as he lay unconscious for no personal gain whatsoever.”

“....right,” Cloud said, taken aback. His eyes flickered to Reeve. “Are you OK with this?”

The public reactions man took a deep, shuddering breath, and shot his immobile son a final worried look before nodding his head. “I guess,” he reasoned, “I have to be.”

“Tseng! We need to get going!” Cloud had already turned and was shouting towards the leader of the Turks, who was gathered in tense silence with the rest of the adventurers. The pale man shot him Cloud an angry look, but restraining his temper, stepped back out of the ring he and the others had formed around Elena, revealing her to Cloud, who’s draw dropped accordingly.

“Oh god...” he muttered, and looked back to Rufus. “Looks like you’re on double duty.”

The former president snorted once, indignantly. “Thanks for your trust, Soldier.”

“...” Cloud paused, and decided to let it slide. They truly didn’t have time for this. He jogged up to Tseng, who was once again stooped over the fallen Turk, and laid a cautious hand on his shoulder. Not even twitching at the sudden contact, Tseng glanced back over his shoulder to better hear what Cloud had to say. “We need to go,” the leader of Avalanche said quietly, “he’ll keep an eye on Elena until we get back.”

A raised eyebrow was all the questions Tseng needed to ask, and Cloud stepped to the right and pointed over at Rufus, who was kneeling next to Reeve and Zack in further attempts to revitalize the inexplicably unconscious Tyler. Tseng wasn’t the only one to follow the direction of vision, and a variety chorus of gasps and muttering rang out, suddenly cut off as Reno snapped out under his breath, “I’m not even going to fucking ask at this point...” he growled, realizing once again how little a grip he had on this situation, his eyes boring into Rufus.

It seemed like a split second before Tseng was on his feet, had removed Cloud’s palm from his shoulder with a casual sweep of his arm, and was storming directly towards Rufus. The former president saw him coming and rose to meet him, but whatever he opened his mouth to say was cut off as Tseng grabbed him by the front of the shirt collar and yanked him forward, so the two men were eye to eye. “You try anything,” he hissed, “anything at all, and I will kill you. Slowly.”

Roughly, Rufus pried the Turks fingers off of his shirt and took a step back, pulling straight his ruffled shirt. “You got it,” he said distastefully. “What do you people think of me, anyway? I’m a business man, not a psychopath.”

“Right.” That settled, Tseng turned on his heel, and drew from under his jacket the long staff he had found in the so called sacred lands of Wutai. “Rude, Reno,” he called over his shoulder, “let’s go. Rory, Gabriel, you too.”

It wasn’t lost on Cloud that Tseng apparently had every plan to advance with or without the rest of them, even though it had been their idea to go on first. In any other situation he would have called it, but this was the last place he wanted to get into a power struggle. He quickly gathered together the present members of Avalanche and Zack, and went to follow the Turks- the three unwounded members, at least. They trudged on into the darkness, leaving Elena, Tyler, and Rufus behind, the president the only one watching them go, with a deadpan look on his face.

Reno jogged up from his sister a bit, coming into matching strikes with Tseng. “What if I told you,” he said, “I need about five minutes back here to do something that I cant, and never will, tell you a single word about.” While Tseng shot him a startled look, Reno continued. “And you can pass the time by handing the packages I bought in Wutai off to the kids.

Looking thoroughly confused, Tseng scanned his partners eyes for a moment, dark hazel scanning over even darker green, and then he issued a short nod. “Don’t take too long,” he said, “we have a job to finish.”

“Yeah, yeah...” with permission granted, Reno’s attention switched. “Rory!” he called, and when his sister had sped up enough to catch up with him, he gave her an appraising look. “You and the others are going to walk for a bit, and then I need you to wait for me, OK?”

“What?” Rory asked, alarmed, “why?”

“Cant say,” Reno said with a shrug, “but Ill be real quick. OK?”

“Uh...sure...” Rory said, blinking in surprise at her brothers odd behavior. With his second and last needed confirmation attained, Reno halted his walking and allowed the others to slowly peel away from him, drawing odd looks from the other members of the traveling party who hadn’t heard his request. He dismissed them by turning his back, and hastily jogged off into the darkness.

He wasn’t going far, just around a single row of rocks that was a little higher than his head, and instantly saw what he was looking for. Lying on the ground, propped up against one of the stones and hastily peeling away the armor that covered her chest, was Neo. She didn’t seem surprised to see Reno, and barely lifted her eyes from the bleeding wound that adorned her skin like a badge, revealed by the lack of a breast plate shed just pulled off.

“I knew you were coming here,” she said, panting, her voice ragged from exertion. “As soon as you showed up in Wutai. Its why I took your god damn electro rod apart and burnt the pieces.”

Reno subconsciously gripped the nightstick that was hidden under his dark blue jacket, but decided there was no need to mention it. The knowledge of her failure wouldn’t hurt or aide her in a few seconds anyway. “Yeah, well, you forgot to take my gun.” He growled. “Speaking of which, when did you start carrying one?”

As if on cue, the scarce light in the mountain caught over the handle of a small black pistol that lay unhandeled by the silver haired women’s legs. “Since today,” Neo said with a small smile, and for the first time Reno saw the single streak of blood that licked out from between her lips and ran down her jawbone. “Did I get the bitch?”

“ hit her,” Reno said coldly, remembering watching Neo pull the trigger from her spot on the stone floor of the mountain, and then a second later seeing Elena fall back spraying blood.

“Good...” Neo said, her voice obviously failing, and she leaned her head back against the stone. “Good.”

“How long we know each other?” Reno asked suddenly, pulling a cigarette from his pocket, no pack included, and promptly lighting it up.

“I don’t know...” Neo said, her voice resorting to a whisper. “Since I let you fuck me after a night at a bar, I guess.”

“Right, right...” Reno said, taking a single drag from the cancer stick and then tossing it away, allowing it to smolder itself out on the stones. “That was fun. You’ve been a good chick, too, keeping me with bullets, discounts on weapons and shit... hell, you even found me my house.”

Neo said nothing, suddenly over come by a fit of coughing. Reno took a few quiet steps closer to her.

“I like you,” he whispered, “and you are one crazy bitch. But you tried to kill one of my sisters...” he paused, in a sudden moment of self reflection. “And you shot the other one. I’ve developed a very strict policy against that.”

Two things happened at once. First of all, Neo dropped the feint of lost strength, and surged forward suddenly, ignoring the searing pain from her gun shot wound as she went to bring her sword around in an eviscerating arc. Second, Reno kicked forward, catching her under the jaw and throwing her head straight back, pressing down to pin it against the stone. In one fluid motion he brought his gun up from its holster and fired a single round into her throat, the bullet passing in less than a half inch away from where his foot was. The silver haired women gurgled blood for a split second, then collapsed.

Reno stared at her for a moment, turned, and jogged off once again into the distance, trying to catch up to the rest of the Turks.

Chapter 22

Tiger's Fanfiction