The Fallen Chapter 22
Rory had never been a fan of long, dark, ominous looking
tunnels that suddenly appeared out of a wall of solid rock inside of mountains.
This wasnt necessarily a pattern, this was the first tunnel of that
particular sort shed ever actually come into contact with, but she didnt
like the look- or the feel of it. The look was fairly obvious- nothing, it
was nearly pitch dark inside, and the feeling was simply cold. Thus, it was
with nagging reluctance and a backwards glance, hoping to see her brother
approaching, that Rory fell into place entering the tunnel, gripping
unconsciously onto the handle of the switch blade inside her
They walked, not for long, but for longer than any of them would have liked, seeing no end to the tunnel they were in. The curves and twists inside it made it impossible to turn around and see how truly far they had come, but to everyone in side it definitely felt like twice as much as it possibly could have been in that amount of time. Only a few minutes after that feeling had hit them, Tseng signaled a stop to the Turks, and Avalanche- not feeling like continuing alone- followed suit.
Your brother picked these up where we stopped over in Wutai, Tseng explained to Rory, pulling two tightly bound packages from the walking pack he wore. But I think theyre for both of you.
Cautiously but curiously, the two teenagers ripped open the string and pulled aside the brown paper, revealing a pair of brand new, navy blue business jackets. Startled, they looked up at Tseng, who had them both lined up with appraising looks. Those arent official, of course, he explained, the last thing I need is two kids getting killed on my pay roll. But fuck it, they might bring some luck, huh?
Nodding numbly, Rory and Gabriel hastily pulled the jackets on over top of their shirts, a thin replacement for the winter wear they had abandoned as they traveled south down the continent. Though not tailor fit, Reno had certainly done a good enough job at guessing their sizes.
Now that... there was a collective jump as the travelers turned to see Reno rounding a corner, his eyes gleaming, his smile stretched a little too wide to be real. ... is what I call looking sharp. He stepped diligently over Barret, who had sat down to take advantage of the momentary pause, and walked up to Rorys side. Spitting fucking image, he grinned, cept you arent as pretty as me.
Yeah... Rory said, her voice troubled. This wasnt exactly uncommon for her brother, it was just weird in a situation like this... must be nerves. Reno turned to Tseng, and gave him an inexplicable little head nod. Lead the way, captain, he said, weve got some pencil neck to fry.
And, despite the wording, they did just that.
They walked so long in a series of twists and turns that always led into simply more winding rock, that when the path suddenly spilled out into an open room, it took all of them a few seconds to notice. When they did, it was with a sudden shock of wonder that rocked them all, and left their jaws firmly lowered.
What the fuck... Reno muttered, echoing the feelings of many, if not all.
The room, or cave, or whatever a hollowed out section of a mountain with perfectly smooth walls was called, was absolutely massive, stretching for what seemed like miles in every direction, whatever that may have been contained in the conclaves and sides hidden by deep and dark shadows, and by a several dots of invisibility- branching from the floor to the ceiling in long twisted spires were pillars of stone.
What is it? Rude asked, scanning the stones with his sunglasses, seeing the room in a better light than anyone as the solids glew a dull shimmering green through his lens. He turned his head to the side, the image shifting, and slowly ran his finger around the rims on his glasses. On cue, the entire room lit up, but only to him, the by product of whatever God given magic was inside the glasses. Wait...
Its a web. A voice said, hushed, and the group looked as one towards Rory, who was staring around them with a look of abject horror on her face. Its stones, but its... a spider web.
OK, time to leave... Reno said, his voice hinting at humor, but he backed up as he spoke, drawing nearer towards the tunnel from whence they came. He continued to retreat, feet slowly passing back over each other, one hand firmly on the handle of his nightstick and the other clutching his gun. Something hit him, suddenly, between the shoulders, and he whirled, expecting to face an ambush. Instead he saw... a blank wall of stone.
Ah shit... he said, his voice quiet. The entrance into this room had disappeared as if it had never been.
A sudden, ringing boom echoed through the room, and the people who had turned to see Reno speak now spun around, facing once again the center of the room, where from the shadows suddenly appeared a massive mechanical segmented leg. It jutted up from the ground as if it grew from there, twisting back into the shadows and the darkness where it disappeared. Then there was a second boom, a second leg, and a third, a fourth, a fifth... and in one surging move, the creature that had once been Hojo stepped into their sight.
He was twisted, more so than he ever had been... his spider legs, which had appeared smooth and seamless metal less than a week ago, were now amazingly intricate pillars of intertwining steel and pipes, interlocking nuts and bolts that formed an incredible mish mash of parts and segments. The body, which had been flawless and unadorned, was now bulging with an unnatural amount of muscle, its stomach twisted with edges and rivets like a cockroach. The face, which earlier had been featureless and plain, was perhaps the least changed... the only altercation now was a wide split mouth that cut right down the middle.
The beast stood, as frozen as the horrified adventurers staring at it, framed perfectly in the shadows of the room. It radiated power, strength, and disturbingly enough a sense of nobility as it stood in perfect poise, before slowly raising its hands, which now looked curved, almost like hooks, up to its face. The eyeless skull stared at one hand, then the other, before settling its gaze on Cloud Strife, who stepped forward with his silver sword raised.
Hojo, it growled, for every drop of blood you spilled in this city, we will make you pay tenfold.
There was a frozen second, a moment of complete stillness. Then a small pop, and Cloud Strike was flung through the air, slamming into the stone wall with a thunderous clap.
Cloud! Tifa cried, sliding to the ground beside him. He lay still, nearly comatose, and didnt answer her as she cried his name. Stunned, it took the Turks roughly a second to draw their pistols and level them at the creature, and open fire. Bullets spun through spiraled chambers and burst into the open air, a split second killer bore from a barren womb, and went with unerring accuracy directly towards the supposed head of the creature... before simply blinking out of existence more than a yard from their target. Entire clips emptied without a single bullet touching anything solid.
Hojo, for his part, simply regarded them with silence.
Uh... Tseng said slowly, his voice stalling for one of the few times Reno could remember, ever. He subconsciously twirled the staff from the Wutai sacred lands in his hand. Fuck it. Were going in.
Dropping his pistol freely to the ground, Tseng sprinted forward, quickly beginning to cover the distance between them and the beast. Before he had reached the halfway point, the others were in motion, cued by the uttered battle cry. While Tifa stayed behind, frantically trying to shake some sort of coherence into Cloud, members of the Turks, Shinra, and Avalanche alike sprinted towards a common enemy.
Tseng, though in motion first, was no match for the sprinting skills of a Wutain ninja, and Yuffie outdistanced him right in the very end, pulling out her crystal chakram and leaping into the air to strike a moment before Tseng reared back his staff to swing. This essentially causes two things. First, it caused Hojo to casually twitch one massive leg, striking Yuffie in the abdomen and sending her twirling to the ground. Second, it allowed for Tsengs staff to strike a glancing blow off another leg, which while it didnt show any signs of actual damage, did instinctively jerk and knock the Turk leader five feet backwards.
Stunned by the speed and viciousness of the counter attacks, the rest of the chargers paused for but a second, and then redoubled their speed. Cid Highwind leapt over one table sized foot and lashed out with both the Venus Gospel and the Neptunes Whim, drawing long, greasy streaks of oil across the makeshift skin of Hojos under belly. Metal feet clamped and stomped all around the aging pilot, but he simply stuck beneath the center of the beast, out of its range. Flexing his legs for another huge leap, Cid once again buried the two spear points of his weapons into the underside of Hojo.
Thats right spider boy... what now? Cid growled in his aged and raspy voice, eyes wide and wild. What the fu-
Cids mouth suddenly froze, along with the rest of him. He stood immobile for a brief moment, the only thing moving was his eyes, which rolled upward to see one of Hojos long and bulgy arms pointing directly at him. For a split second he realized that it probably wouldnt have been a good idea to taunt the monster, but that split second disappeared as he went airborne, hurled off to the side like a record setting fast ball, the old pilot slamming with full force into the advancing Gabriel, and then both of they were flat on the ground.
Elsewhere, Hojo was busy. Electricity sparkled out him and raced up his metal leg, and he was too preoccupied with the close range bullet shots of Rude to stop the flow of the current. He was too distracted by Reeves shotgun, which peppered him across his stomach, to stop those bullets, and he was too distracted by that damn irritating mechanical bird that simply refused to stop flying at his face, too fast to strike at, to stop the spray of shells from the shotgun barrel. And he was too distracted by all of this to do anything at all as Rory popped the dark green blade out of her switchblade, and buried it in one of the hundreds of pipes that ran through and around one of his eight legs.
He froze, absolutely still, all activity ceased- the message he was receiving far more important than anything else that was happening-, as over ninety percent of his logical systems informed him that he was about to die. He didnt even need to look to realize that turgid green fluid had worked its way up his leg with unbelievable speed, and that the leg itself had been rendered immobile and useless because of it. Working fast, he simply allowed the leg to detach, molecules separating and the numb limb simply falling away... but it wasnt fast enough.
The poison had entered Hojos main system, and terror stricken, absolutely baffled at this sudden turn of events, he was forced to switch every ounce of energy he had into combating the neuro toxin that was racing its way to his brain.
While he did that, Zack lined up his swing carefully. Something- he couldnt explain what it was- was flowing through his body, adrenaline concentrated, energy like he had never experienced before in his life. He rose the rush like a wave and launched up, twirling his Ultima Weapon in his sword, and then struck a single motion straight across the breast of the beast. Oil spilled out on him like rain, but he didnt stop moving, or even slow down. The sword worked in his hands too fast to see, and even the tendrils Hojos very skin sent out as a method of defense were simply batted away with ease as he buried, twisted, and struck with his new weapon.
It was all over in a flash second- both the attack and the battle. Zack landed back on the ground ungainly, almost allowing himself to fall, and the thing that Hojo had become fell eviscerated to the ground, oil rushing out of it like a damaged tanker. The adventurers who had been below it dove out of the way to safety, and were still coated with rivulets of the sticky black goo. Reno, for his part, simply lay back as it washed over him, too exhausted from the battle between his nightstick and one of Hojos legs to move.
Well... he whispered, that was easy.
Yes. A voice came, a new voice, but familiar. Disappointingly so.
Reno sat straight up as the rest of the men and women- or those who were still standing- whirled on their feet. Stepping out of the shadows, feet padding lightly on the floor, and looking very much like his old self- was Hojo Hiroshima.
Every time... Hojo was speaking fluently, despite the fact he was walking through a half inch of oil with over a dozen weapons pointed at him. Ive built something in my life time thats truly remarkable, Ive noticed a disturbing trend. You either destroy it, or its funding was cut. Im sure theres a theorem about it somewhere, probably on the stupidity of humans.
He continued walking, coming within an inch of Rudes pistol, seeming not to even notice as the barrel swung with every step he took to stay level with his temple. Sephiroth... Gamma... in the end, my self, perhaps the greatest creation of all- but once again, you showed up in my lab, and cut me down before the Jenova cells had time to fully register. Tsk.
On the ground, Cid slowly rolled over off to the fallen form of Gabriel, and cautiously began to shake the boy awake, keeping his eyes trained on the rambling scientist. And then a miracle of science happens, the birth of man all over again, something worthy of a thousand bibles of text... chemicals mixed with cells, which mixed with elements... and I was born again, a modern day Lazarus. Or Lazarus raiser, the virgin born himself, the master carpenter... because I was ready to build the greatest machine of all time.
Several pairs of eyes twitched to the lying and shredded corpse of the spider monster they had just felled. Hojo saw them, and followed their gaze, only to laugh contemptuously. No, not that... that was just my tank, the battering ram that would create the cracks the genius would pour through. Built of flesh and bone, true, but nothing compared to what I have... had... in the works. The ultimate computer, the ultimate machine, the ultimate experiment- the world.
Reno snorted from his crouching position in the oil. I think God beat you to that, slick.
Hojos eyes didnt even move, but it suddenly became apparent that, for the moment, he was fully focused on the red-haired Turk. You dont believe in God. And even if you did, assassin, he wouldnt help you now, so bide your tongue. Not this world, this flawed imperfect place... but the ultimate world. A utopia, everyone working in perfect synergy, with perfect precision. Everyone would have their place, everyone would have a task, and things would be... perfect. Ultimate efficiency.
Youre insane, said Reeve, phrasing the obvious for them all. The world is a habitat, not a bee hive!
A momentary shudder ran through Hojo, and his fingers made the slightest of gestures towards Reeve. The public relations director reared back as if a snake coiling his spine for a strike, and was suddenly snapped maliciously into the rocky ground with a sickening thud. The others went to rush to his side, but were stopped dead by an invisible wall, some unseen force blocking the way.
As I was saying... said Hojo, oozing arrogance, perfect efficiency that was destroyed by you. Youve killed my first wave of workers, the true breed of people I needed. Everything from now on will be tilted a millidegree or two to the left of what perfection truly is.
Criminals and psychopaths, Reno snarled, still struggling against the unseen force, if only as a sign of rebellion, were your perfect breed of workers?
Wrong, Hojo said simply, just men and women without any natural conscience, lacking that ever destructive little voice of simpering pathetisism in the back of the mortal mind. Those willing to do whatever it took for the greater cause.
Greater fucking good!? Reno cried, throwing his arms in the air in an act of indignation, but really in an attempt to get his hand behind him, next to Rory. He succeeded, and gestured for her knife, which she promptly handed him. How is a world full of slaves and deluded scientists good!?
I did not, Hojo explained, say anything about greater good. I said greater cause. The cause of perfection, young fool, a world where everything is right, and everything that ever happens is expected.
Really? Reno asked, tightening his hand into a fist, expect this?
With those words he let the switchblade fly, dark green intertwining with black as the weapon whirled towards the air towards Hojo face. Casually, as if batting aside a fly, Hojo shrugged his shoulders, and the knife stopped dead in the air. It hovered for a moment, then dropped uselessly to the ground with a clang.
Yes. I did. Hojo sneered. Expect this?
Another finger twitch, but Renos assault was not near as unexpected as Reeves had been- just more violent. The Turk rocked backwards through the air as if struck by a plane, only stopping when his foot brushed against an upraised rock and he went somersaulting to the ground, landing limp and still as a rag doll. Rory screamed his name and chased after, but Hojo twitched again, and a pillar of stone rose up beneath Rorys feet, sending the teenager hard into the dirt.
You know... Rude said tersely, staring through his sun glasses. It looks like he has a microchip in his chest.
They looked at him, stunned by his sudden sentence, and confused by the words contained wherein. And then they perceived... and began to understand. As a whole, Barret, Rude, and Zack, the sole standers, charged at the scientist, who merely gestured towards the ground beneath their feet and pulled. The rock slid like a rug, and their legs went out, sending them down to the ground, dazed but not out- that is, until the same blanket of rock raised up above them like a tidal wave, and the force forming them disappeared, sending the stones cascading down upon them like concrete rain. It had only been a few violent moments, and Hojo stood alone.
The scientist didnt turn, too preoccupied to be bothered with it, instead simply reformed himself so he was facing in the direction the voice had come from. Gabriel and Cid had struggled to their feet, and beside the aging pilot the young mans eyes blazed with hatred.
Gamma... Hojo said, somewhere deep in his brain computing utter disbelief, I wondered what had happened to you. I never dreamed one of my own creations would be put together in the doomed team sent to stop my efforts.
My name, the one Hojo had called Gamma snarled, is Gabriel.
Right, right... Hojo said, a sickening smile twisting his face. A twist on your projects name, of course... phrased after one of the wonderful little altercations I gave you, wasnt it?
What the hell is he talking about? Cid demanded, staring at Gabriel, but was easily silenced with yet another twitch of Hojos gaze, and this time the pilot showed no signs of getting up from his twisted spot ten feet to the left.
Altercations? Gabriel said, not even glancing at the fallen Cid. I think so, though Im sure you know better than me that my memories a little spotty. This one, perhaps?
Something about Gabriels transformations had always remained a mystery even to him. On one of the rare occasions when he actually had the slightest want to change, all he had to do was succumb to the urge that was building inside him and allowed the changes to happen. Hed always wondered what would happen if he grabbed hold of that urge, multiplied it in his mind, and then tried to force it with every fiber of his being. It was a question hed never need to worry about again.
To a normal person, it probably would have seemed instaneous, but Hojo was no normal person. He could comprehend things faster than anything on the planet, and he saw every millisecond crawl buy at a frozen pace the same necessary to take in the whole of Gabriels change- the disappearance of the pupils, leaving blank white orbs for eyes, the suddenly split open shoulders, and new muscle mass... and, of course, the pair of eight foot wings that jutted out from the slits in the boys shoulders like spring snakes exiting a can. In less than a heartbeat, Gabriel stood before Hojo, a new man- if you could call him that- with a frenzied look on his face. Yes, he snapped, I believe it was this one.
Give it up Hojo, a voice came, breathless, from behind. Cloud stood wearily behind, Excalibur drawn but limp in his palm, and the ex Soldier was propped uncerimounisouly by Tifa Lockheart. I think we all know this is the part where you get crushed. In a surge of energy, Cloud reared up, standing on his own, and hefted his silver weapon. Standing beside her husband, Tifa sprouted the steel claws out from her gloves, and held them threateningly in front of her.
Hojo stared at all of them at the same time, even though they were on his opposite sides, his vision a perfect three hundred and sixty degrees. For a moment, he seemed nervous- and then that moment disappeared, gone forever, and he barked out an arrogant laugh.
Im afraid you dont realize, he snorted, pretty bird wings, shiny metal, and hopeless optimism notwithstanding, none of you stand a chance of getting within a dozen yards of me.
I wouldnt be so sure about that, a voiced boom, quiet but all encompassing. From the direction of the original tunnel two figures stepped, cloaked in shadows at first, but then revealed utterly as Aerith and Sephiroth in the dull light of the cave. After all, I have quite a long sword.
You! Cloud hissed, every joint in his body seeming to tighten up as his gaze fell upon the walking, breathing visage of Sephiroth. You-
Cloud. Aeris voice was quiet, but absolute. This will all be explained in due time. For the moment, we all need to focus on... him.
Straining with every fiber of his being, Cloud managed to perform the minutest part of her request by shifting his eyes back to the scientist, who had yet to move since the two had entered the room.
Yes indeed... Hojo said slowly, his smile gone, focus on the scientist, the scholar, and let the mass murderer stand free. Im surprised you got mixed in this, son.
Sephiroth blinked, as if slapped by the very word. I wish I could say the same about you, he snarled, but I always knew you were crazy.
Hojos eyes widened and his nostrils flared, his demeanor the same as when Reeve had called him insane, and his reaction similar, but more extreme. First he twitched a finger in Sephiroths direction, and then lifted his entire arm, seeming to be trying to reach out and strangle the Soldier with his bare hand. Whatever trick he was attempting, however, had failed... and it was just then he noticed the glowing staff in Aeris hand, and realized for a moment that he may have missed a few factors in his earlier calculations.
You think that can stop me!? he spit, his voice rising, you think you can stop me!?
No, Aeris answered, her voice just as calm as ever, but with them we can.
Four figures emerged behind the Cetra and the Soldier, apparently following at a close but uneasy distance. Rufus came into focus first, and then Elena, her shoulder still caked with blood but apparently healed utterly by the powers of Aeris. Behind them, a tall, lanky figure, and a quadruped, who was signaled first by the flames flickering on his mane and his tale- Vincent Valentine and Nanaki had appeared at last. Vincents eyes literally glew red as he stared upon his torturer, the man who had turned him into what he was.
Fools! Hojo said, his voice growing hysterical. You think because your Cetra friends little toy can keep me from striking you down, that you can destroy me? Be warned... I know how I appear, simply because it is how I choose to, but if I seemed to you as living stone the effect would still be far less imposing than my true self!
Aeris merely shook her head. Im sorry, Hojo, she whispered, but the Planet has spoken. Your time here is done.
It was a flash of movement, before a second, third, or fourth- impossible to track- chaos broke out, attacks closing in on the scientist from all sides. Silver swords ripped through arms, only for the same arm to strike the wielder into unconsciousness while twisting in the air. Angel wings beat the air as flames and ice worked in tandem, only for those wings to be seized and used as a handle to hurl the wearer against a wall. Masanume and staff struck simultaneously, only to be beaten back and beaten down with the sheer strength of the strickens arms. Flamed mantles raged as teeth sunk into flesh, only for that same flesh to melt away from the teeth, seize them, and bash their muzzle into stone.
Tifa fell before it even began, the first struck by the scientist. Cloud followed, then Gabriel, Aeris and Sephiroth, Red, all over powered and hurled away like children. Elena and Rufus, wielder of guns, lasted moments longer, but even as blood and flesh sprayed from the assaults of their guns, the skin healed, organs re-knit themselves, and Hojo advanced, and they too were soon beaten into the ground.
After that, a single pairing, metal claw against invulnerable hand, gleaming red eyes against vision that saw all. Vincent Valentine moved faster than any human had a right to, but Hojo moved even faster still, and Vincent lacked the ability to instantly heal that Hojo possessed. In mere seconds both of them had taken more fatal wounds than experienced in some wars, but both stood, fueled by powers far beyond mortal.
In the end, all that mattered was a simple duck. Reflexes increased, doubled, and redoubled since he had been careless enough to be shot by the scientist, Vincent dodged a single blow, and then came up with two clean hits, that snapped broke of Hojos arms like toothpicks. The bones tried to fuse, but Vincent struck them again, and seized the throat of the immobilized scientist with his brass claw.
Youve done a lot, Hojo, Vincent spoke, fully aware that while he did it was possible Hojo was returning to a state where he would be deadly, you ripped out Lucrecias heart, my own heart, and now you are attempting to the destroy the heart of the world. I think its time you knew what it felt like.
Sensing his intentions, Hojos newly whole arms flew forward to cover his chest, but with one mighty backhand to the crest of the scientists jaw, Vincent rocked his entire body back just the inch he needed. Claws pierced flesh, bone, and lung, until they came across their attempted goal- metal, and then seized and pulled.
There was no final moment. No sudden realization of doom from the defeated monster. Just the simple, instaneous disintegration, millions of cells sliding effortlessly apart from each other as the only thing holding them together disappeared. In the end, all that there was left was Vincent Valentine, a small microchip in his hand, and carnage everywhere else.