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FF7: The Pony's Tale

© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ

Chapter Two: The War Begins

Second Revision (4-20-2004)

"The bomb's set. We've got ten minutes to get out of here," Cloud said as he turned around to face Jess and Berett.

Berett sighed in relief and nodded, a small smile on his face. Jess was about to lead the way back from where they had come when she stopped, and looked around in alarm. "Did you hear that?"

"Aw, don't tell me you're hearin' things too!" Berett retorted back, slightly annoyed.

"No, I heard it as well," Cloud vouched. "It was a sort of clanking sound...."

Suddenly, several alarms sounded from various speakers installed about the area, filling the room with the incoherent sum of several klaxons and red lights flashing wildly.

"Damn, you blew it, didn't ya!?" Berett immediately yelled to Cloud in the lack of any obvious culprit responsible for the alarm.

"It wasn't me!" Cloud defended.

"Berett, up there!!" Jess shouted, pointing up. Surprised, Berett looked around as something descended into view. As Berett looked up and tried to make out what it was, a large metal pincer, covered in what looked like six-inch thick, blood-red armor, descended from the darkness and clamped itself down upon the left rail of the catwalk they had entered from. Its complement soon followed, clamping itself down on the other side of the catwalk's structure. In but a short moment a second pair of identical legs followed, then a fifth and six leg completed the set as a large ruby monstrosity lowered itself down to their level. The gigantic metal beast must have been ten feet tall, equally wide, and fifteen feet long, as it sized up its three morsel-sized opponents through two pairs of emerald-green optical sensors. It opened what looked like a mouth, a set of mechanical pincers with sawtooth edges that could shear through a car in a single nip. As the full size of the beast sank slowly into view, two shoulder-mounted cannons swung themselves forwards, tipped in a ring of muzzles that could spew showers of bullets and shrapnel like a miniature pair of tornadoes eith fenceposts for bullets. Following behind this monstrosity they could just make out a large multi-segmented and heavily armored tail which thrashed about behind it, tipped in a seemingly crystalline barb that could effortlessly impale itself through any one of them. Emblazoned with a blue split diamond logo across its forehead -- the mark of the Rin Sha military, no less -- this crimson killer opened its metal maw and unleashed an ear-splitting roar in their direction.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?" Exclaimed Berett at the sight of this titan carefully balancing itself upon a catwalk too thin for it to otherwise stand upon.

Recognition of the monster's identity hit Cloud like a lightning bolt, for this was no mere robotic sentry poising itself between them and their exit. This gigantic machination was military grade, a titanic scorpion with a sting designed to kill even heavily armored tanks in a single blow. Nine and a half minutes on the bomb, there was only one way out of this predicament and that was to fight!

Jess grabbed a laser rifle from its sling around her neck, Cloud drew his weapon, and Berett braced himself, rolling back the metal shell of his right foreleg to reveal not a foot, but a high-caliber laser cannon. Berett switched the cannon on and in a moment their desparate stand was on.

Berett did not wait to find out who would attack first, as he fired a short volley of laser fire from his foreleg cannon into the beast. Unfortunately his laser blasts seemed to merely bounce off of the beast's reflective armor plating, leaving little more than a warm spot or two on its armor. Jess would have offered cover fire had she not realized that her laser weapon would fare similarly against the behemoth.

Cloud shook his head. Attacking blindly would only hasten their own demise; they needed a plan -- more so, they needed a weak point to strike. With an unwieldly large combat blade as the weapon gripped between his teeth by its handle, Cloud spotted a possibility, a hope for victory: Large and formidable as the behemoth was, it had trouble maintaining its balance upon the thin catwalk upon which it had perched itself. If the machine had no real weaknesses, thank the Rainbow that the battlefield itself offered one to their cause. "We'll go for the legs! Cover me!"

Cloud rushed forward, carrying his blade with him as Berett and Jess unleashed a volley of laser fire into the creature's 'eyes', hoping that somehow they could blind it to Cloud's misdirected assault. Immediately the machine reacted to this offensive and the barrels on its two rifles began spinning. Cloud rushed underneath the beast, pursued by an invisible stream of two laser designators and, shortly, a hailstorm of lead.

The machine, it seemed, was merely toying with them, like a cat with a mouse before it closes in for the kill.

Cloud took a slice at one of the railings underneath the beast's legs as he passed underneath its belly, but caused no real effect aside from putting a scratch in it. Berett and Jess continued their laser fire, Jess concentrating her fire to converge upon the behemoth in the same spot as Berett's own attacks, focusing on one of the creature's eyes. Maybe, just maybe they could knock out one of the sensors, even if it alone was insufficient to impair the robot's ability to fight.

Glass melted and cracked as Jess's plan bore fruit. Berett noticed this too, and paused to precharge his laser to maximum caliber as Jess continued laying down fire. The machine didn't seem to even notice that it had been blinded in one of its four eyes, and it began taking one careful step at a time towards Jess and Berett.

Cloud attacked again, trying again to focus on the railings. He had nearly sliced through on his last attack, so repeating his movements might succeed in its objective. Rushing underneath Cloud sliced again at the railings, breaking one strut and carving through, weakening two more, and a small burst of sparks ignited from the intense metal-on-metal contact.

The machine halted its approach, realizing that its left-side footing was becoming unstable, and that there could be only one explanation. Cloud sensed danger and escaped to safety, as the machine lifted up one of its legs and then pierced it completely through where Cloud had previously been. Such an attack would have killed him, judging by the sizable void it tore into the catwalk. The rear legs of the beast then tried similarly, unawares that Cloud was back in safety behind the machine, and its move served only to enlarge the breach to nearly gaping proportions.

Cloud forced himself skywards with his wings, preparing for an aerial assault. Immediately after disembarking from the ground Cloud began to focus his thoughts on one of two emerald gems inset into compartments on his blade. One of the gems answered to his thoughts and began to glow, green first, then followed by red. Cloud's blade itself began to glow brightly in resonance to his thoughts as he climaxed his jump and began descending upon the monster beneath him.

Cloud landed upon the back of the metal behemoth as his glowing blade seared open a hole in its armor, impaling itself through the turret of the beast's right cannon. The machine paused for a moment as the injury erupted in a pillar of summoned flame. The flames themselves did little damage to the creature's armor, but in lieu of actual damage, something far more sinister ensued. Popping sounds ignited from the rifle and dimples appeared in its armor as the cannon's chain-fed ammunitions cache exploded prematurely into life. From one single attack, one of the beast's weapons was now destroying itself from the inside out!

Cloud dismounted from the beast, jumping and gliding towards Berett and Jess as the behemoth's damaged cannon forcefully ripped itself from its chassis and ejected towards the safety of the glowing abyss beneath them. The beast now let out another loud, mechanical roar, as if in pain. How could something so little, so diminuitive cause so much damage?

The creature fixated its gaze straight at Cloud in retaliation. Its tail lashed upwards, curving over its back and revealing the large crystalline spike on the end, which soon began to glow in a bright sapphire hue. Berett and Jess resumed their shooting at the creature's eyes, and in a little while they were answered with the sound of the glass shield cracking and shattering.

Cloud was the first to recognize they were all in danger, as he identified the class of weapon it was about to use. "Stop!! It's charging up its laser cannon -- we've got to scram, now!"

"What?" Berett shouted back as he continued his bombardment.

"There's no time! That energy cannon could take out this whole platform!!!"

Suddenly Berett noticed a thin stream of light, a target designator, pointing his direction. Finally two and two clicked in the brown pony's head; quickly he sheathed the metal leg casing back over his laser cannon and threw a comment to Jess. "You heard the flyer! We gotta move out, now!"

Cloud led the way underneath the beast first, jumping over the sizable hole it had created in the catwalk. "There's a gap here, you'll have to jump!"

Berett stood back to his feet and began galloping beneath the creature's belly, and Jess followed. The behemoth, sensing its prey escaping, unleashed a massive burst from its tail cannon, that despite being not charged to maximum capacity still raked across the platform and monitor station, searing it cleanly into two. Fortunately, it had failed to strike their bomb.

The catwalk it was now standing on dipped and sagged suddenly as Berett jumped clear. Jess jumped, but too soon, landing with bad footing and falling to her stomach. Berett kept running, unaware of her sudden predicament as the machine reasserted its position. The prey now behind the monstrosity, it moved forwards to the sheared platform, and with legs clamped carefully on to the rails of the larger surface it began to turn around.

"Help!" Jess cried aloud. "My leg's caught!"

Berett heard the cry and looked back to find Cloud rushing over to Jess's side, and the creature returning its gaze onto them. Carefully but quickly as could prove safe, Cloud grabbed Jess's rear leg and pulled it back into the gap, so as to free it from the jagged metal edges it had become ensnared in. "Okay, let's move!"

Jess soon found safe metal grating for her four feet to stand on, and quickly she resumed a fleeing gallop. As Berett and Jess ran ahead, Cloud sensed danger. It was a straight line to the stairs leading upwards, and the creature had a clear line of fire for any of them. They needed a diversion, Cloud muttered to himself as he focused his thoughts on the second of the gems stored in his blade, the gem flaring brightly in green, then white and blue light and energy. In another moment, a blade of electricity summoned itself to life, leaping from Cloud's weapon instantaneously through the air and grappling into the machine's head. The force of this attack knocked Cloud backwards about two feet, and with that momentum he rolled over, around, and then ran. If luck was still with them, that electrical attack would immobilize their foe long enough for them to get out of here.

But luck is fickle, and at this time failed to offer them its aid. Cloud's electrical attack found the monstrosity's external armor plating highly conductive, and through it dissipated into the surrounding environment. The bolt failed to encounter any of the machine's sensitive internal circuitry, and via the path of least resistance is rendered itself useless.

There was no time to create a follow-up attack as Cloud quickly caught up with Jess and Berett near the stairs leading upwards. "Damn, can anything stop that thing?"

"No time!" Cloud shouted. "That's a military weapon! They're already here!"

"NO WAY!?" Berett yelled. "Then we gotta blow this joint now!"

"Hurry!" Jess shouted as she ran up the stairs, willing away the limp in her hind leg as she forced herself upwards. Berett followed closely behind and Cloud was about to do so when he looked back, spotting an empty platform far behind them.

Where was the monster?

Cloud dispelled the worry from his mind and raced up the stairs, catching up to Jess and Berett in the process. They followed it up to the second flight; they would shortly arrive at the plumbing that led further upwards and outwards. Jess ran ahead onto the slippery piping, but unwary of her own footing she stumbled and fell. Bruised but otherwise uninjured from this mishap she scrambled to get any semblance of decent footing as Berett waited impatiently.

"Berett, we've got a problem," Cloud stated. "I lost sight of it. It could be anywhere!"

And soon, the sounds of metal impaling itself against metal could be heard as the titan entered into view. Berett saw it first. "Oh hell, there it is!"

Berett ducked into the piping as Cloud whirled around. He failed to believe what he was seeing. There the beast was, but not standing on a platform or walkway this time; rather, using the powerful claws on its six legs, it had perched itself upon the wall like a spider, and now it was preparing for another attack.

Cloud dived into the hallway of pipes, losing his own footing as well but relieved in the fact that many of the nearby conduits would form a barrier against its attacks.

Their efforts were rewarded, ironically, by a beam of superheated energy raking itself across their previous position, eradicating the stairs that led back down. And then Cloud began to hear something else -- bullets.

Suddenly the conduits obstructing their view of the gigantic metal scorpion behind them erupted in explosions of shrapnel and various, possibly caustic liquids. Jess screamed in horror as the shrapnel flew. The enemy was firing at whom it could not see, with a complete disregard for how much damage it would cause to the Refractor's internals in the process. It seemed that even if they could not destroy this Refractor, that the massive terror in pursuit would finish the job for them.

Everyone hit the floor as the air above them filled with flying lead, lethal metal debris, and various gases and chemicals now mixing into the room. Berett glanced back and nodded, then began crawling clumsily on his stomach across the pipes. Jess and Cloud followed as the conduits nearby buckled and shattered from sustained gunfire. If they could afford to stand up and look out they would have a nearly unobstructed view of the machine chasing them, but for that there was neither time nor wisdom to do so.

The gunfire ceased as they neared the maintenance door that would serve as their exit. Cautiously Jess forced herself to stand up and withdrew the ID card she had purloined earlier, sliding it through the door's lock and granting them access back into the Refractor's sublevels. She opened the door.

To their relief, they saw only one Rin Sha security guard, lying harmlessly on the floor, ahead of them. But Cloud realized what it meant. Of the three guards he had so rashly divebombed previously, two of them must have recovered to consciousness and, probably, sounded the alarm. The third, judging by stains of blood in the guard's otherwise dusty red uniform, was dead.

Jess led the way ahead as they reached the zigzagging stairs that would lead them back to the elevator they had previously descended down. Upwards one way, then the next they ascended as quick as they could, wary that there was an unstoppable killer somewhere in this Refractor searching single-mindedly for them.

In another minute they reached the top of the staircase. Across from them was the elevator they needed. The three of them ran over and Jess hit the button. But to their dismay the elevator was not on this floor; it had been sent back to the top, and it would be a good minute before it would return here.

And they would have other problems to deal with in the meantime. Sounds of titanic metal bolts sliding back filled the room as two warning lights flashed on next to the large doorway on one side of the room. And there was one fearful guess about who, or what, was waiting on the other side.

Immediately the trio scattered from the open area of the elevator across the room, not waiting to see exactly what fate presented itself as the giant doorway began lifting itself open. They ran behind the only piece of cover this room offered: the large, metal crane turret long since used for construction, and just in time, as a shower of lead trnasformed the floor by the elevator into a bed of jagged edges and metal spikes.

It was here that their battle should conclude, one way or the other. The semi-familiar sounds of metal walking upon metal filled the room, and through the framing of their cover they identified the crimson scorpion entering the room, its faceplate damaged and righthand cannon completely dismembered, but still lethally armed. It scanned the area with its optical sensors as it walked over the spiked and shredded metal bits it had created with its gunfire.

Then it spotted them hiding behind the crane and rushed their position. Berett and Jess immediately evaded to one side, while Cloud jumped high into the air, ascending to the control pit of the crane with his wings. The creature bit down on the metal framing supporting the crane and snapped it like a twig, as it grappled on to the framing with its two front legs.

Cloud struggled to climb atop the crane as the machine forced its weight against the turret, and the crane station itself began to bend backwards. He had only one shot at this, and maybe, just maybe he could pull it off. Focusing his thoughts on the green gems situated in his blade Cloud jumped into the air as the behemoth toppled the crane in the room, smashing the location that they had only moments earlier taken cover behind and further mangling the crane's metal with its own weight.

With his weapon glowing red with the power of flame, Cloud landed right on the machine from above. His heated blade melted itself through the titan's thick armor plating, penetrating through the turret joint on its remaining arm cannon. Cloud pulled his blade free in an explosion of fiery energy that did little damage aside from igniting the beast's remaining ammunitions cache. Cloud backflipped and glided away as the machine's own bullets destroyed and dismembered its remaining arm cannon.

And maybe, just maybe, struck one of its internal circuits in the process. The machine seemed dazed, unsure of what to do now that only one of its primary weapons remained. Then a small chime, barely audible among the other sounds of the room, signalled and the doors on their escape elevator opened.

Immediately Jess, Berett, and Cloud dedicated themselves to a triple assault on the elevator. As the damaged monstrosity slowely turned in their direction, the three of them rushed single file towards the elevator. Once they were all in, Jess hit the button for the ground level with such force that she cracked the plastic shell on the elevator's control panel. The last they would see of their enemy was it charging their position as the elevator began ascending.

As if to say goodbye, there was a final quake as the machine penetrated its maw through the elevator, only to discover an empty shaft behind the doors. It was not much of a victory for these rebels but, at last, they were safe.

With about a minute or so left to wait until the top floor, Jess sat down and addressed the injuries she had sustained. Her rear leg had been sliced when it became caught on the floor of the catwalk, and it was still bleeding. Jess removed the cloth she wore around her head and wrapped it around her injured leg to serve as a makeshift bandage. It did not quell the pain, but at least it would help stave off further bleeding.

"How much time do we have?" Berett asked.

"I don't know," Cloud said. "I wasn't counting."

Jess looked at her watch and read the time. "With all that has happened, I'd wager we spent about five minutes down there...."

"Hope Biggs and Wedge got that exit secured...," Berett muttered as he opened up his laser cannon and exchanged its nearly depleted energy cell for a fresh one from an adjacent, storage compartment on the weapon.

Jess and Cloud nodded silently. "The military's already here," Cloud muttered. "We'll be lucky if Biggs and Wedge are even still alive."

"Hey!" Berett snapped back. "Let's be optimistic here!"

Cloud shook his head. Then the elevator chimed, indicating their destination floor. The doors opened to reveal Biggs and Wedge nearby, hiding on the edge of the hallway intersection, laser guns armed and heated up. Many burn marks decorated the floor and walls of the intersection as Wedge peeked around and fired a high-power blast from his rifle, only to turn back as a hail of laser fire filled the hallway in response.

"What's goin' on!?" Berett yelled as the three of them disembarked from the elevator.

"Good, you're safe!" Biggs shouted, relieved to see their comrades back from an ordeal, bruised and injured but thankfully, alive. "Their military's got us pinned down! They rushed the front office. We sealed the other side of this hallway but they're trying to burn through it. If this keeps up, we won't be able to reach the exit!" Biggs pointed to a door just across the intersection, a sign on which indicated it was a set of stairs to the other levels. "Those stairs lead to the upper level and from there it's a relatively clean shot to our exit. But we have to cross their line of fire to do that...."

"We can't jus' sit here and do nothing!" Berett shouted. "There's only a few minutes left on the bomb!"

"Yeah," Biggs concurred. "But we didn't want to risk doing this, until you got back...." Biggs withdrew a red stick of explosive from the string about his neck, and in another second inserted and lit a fuse. He threw it into the intersection, as it bounced off of the walls and rolled down the hallway some distance.

"Grenade!!" Echoed a near-unanimous shout from their foes. In a moment the explosive detonated, filling the hallway with smoke. "Now!!!" Biggs shouted.

Cloud ran first, somersaulting into the door to the staircase, impacting hooves first and breaking it free of its latch as it swung open. Berett and Jess immediately pursued after, followed soon by Wedge and Biggs, who took advantage of the chaos to prep, light, and toss another explosive down the hallway towards their enlisted opponents.

An explosion from the projectile rocked the hallway as they ran up the stairs to the second level. Cloud burst the bidirectional door open forcefully, opening up to a large room, which, judging by all the tables and seats occupying this large, white-tiled fifty-by-fifty area, was a caféteria for employees. At both sides were doors leading to other rooms, and at the opposite end was one of the fire-escape doors to this complex.

Just fifty more feet to the exit. Only fifty more feet.... Cloud dashed out of the stairs first. Numerous shouts from both sides indicated that their enemy had set up an ambush here, and erupting from the doors on both sides came approximately twelve soldiers, all armed with rifles. Cloud skidded to a stop. How could he have done something so stupid?

Cloud carefully sheathed his weapon in a gesture that would allow him to live longer. Soon the soldiers were approaching him, unaware of what the other comrades were planning.

A small stick of smoking red paper, no bigger than a cigar, bounced into the room and past Cloud's feet, catching his interest.

"GRENADE!!" The soldiers shouted as they jumped away, knocking tables over in the process to serve as makeshift shields. Cloud decided it would be smart to do so as well, as he jumped back, closer to the elevator, sailing and knocking over a table that could provide some cover for him as well.

The grenade exploded, sending small seats flying and overturning whatever tables still stood on their own feet. The battle was on.

Quickly Jess and Berett jumped through the doorway from the staircase, diving under the smoke of the explosive directly to safety behind two of the overturned tables. The smoke had barely any chance to clear up when Wedge, hiding back in the stairwell, discerned their first enemy and fired a burst from his rifle, lethally aimed at whatever soldier had been foolish enough to poke his head up from a safe, covered position.

Laser fire then filled the caféteria, most of it blindly impacting against the walls or the overturned tables providing cover to the combatants.

"We don't have time for this!" Berett shouted as he sniped a supercharged laser blast towards an enemy peeking out from behind cover. Wedge and Jess filled in by trading shots with their foes as Biggs scanned the makeshift arena for an attack of his own. Cloud, meanwhile, could almost sense his nearest opponent just on the other side. All he needed to attack with was some cover....

Biggs lobbed another stick of explosive into the fray. Unfortunately it fell short of his intended target and landed near Berett. Berett spotted the danger, then very quckly picked it up and tossed it again, lest it explode while in his posession. Panicked shouts of their enemy soldiers filled the clouded air as the explosive detonated almost upon impact in their midst, filling the room in a burst of flame and a cloud of smoke.

Cloud leaped from behind his cover, through the smoke-laden air, landing in the midst of several panicked soldiers as he drew his blade and spun around in a circle, slicing at their armor and knocking them all back before lunging upon one to incapacitate the foe. Two others were knocked out into the open and shot down with laser fire from Berett, Jess, and Wedge.

With the smoke cover slowly dissolving, Cloud set himself on the other soldiers in the room, catching them by surprise and knocking them out into the open, to be picked off by laser fire before they could recover. A handful of soldiers were soon dispatched as Cloud and the comrades cleared the area, and the rest retreated for their lives and reinforcements.

"Let's move!" Berett shouted, motioning back to his two comrades still in the back rank. Biggs and Wedge responded by galloping forwards into the now devastated caféteria, with Jess and Berett to cover their backs. In a few more moments they bounded across the obstacles of overturned, charred tables and thrown seats towards the fire-escape door on the other side.

Predictably, one hoof on the latch and alarms sounded from the emergency door while the five comrades burst out onto an escape catwalk surrounding the complex. Shortly off in the distance they spotted sirens and lights, accompanied by many dozens of military personnel. And in another moment they found a spotlight from a waiting police helicopter affixing itself to their position.

There was no surrender, no negotiations, and no time to argue. The five assailants began fleeing acoss the escape catwalk, with Biggs leading the way, despite vain shouts from the chopper's loudspeaker for them to stand still and surrender. Above such barked orders, as well as threats of opening fire on them, the shadows between buildings offered them safe haven from the spotlight of corrupt justice, and they cleared the fence right in time to buy front-row tickets to all hell being unleashed from the bowels of the Refractor.

Like an exploding volcano, the Refractor complex disintegrated in a titanic plume of fire and light that even through the City's persistent smog could be seen from the opposite end of town. Shockwaves ensued from the blast at several levels, shattering windows and overturning vehicles in the entire Eighth District. In another moment, the entire Eighth District ceased to compete against the towering inferno, and acquiesced into blackout. The City's power grid failed to compensate, and toppling like a stack of dominoes went the power in each District, one by one, until the mammoth explosion above was the sole, uncontested source of light in the City. What a show! Even the massive building in the City's center, a mammoth headquarters as large as the shimmering explosion now occuring, ceased operation as it stood in awe of the luminescent, rainbow-colored smoke and light emanating from the northern end of the District.

Victory belonged to the rebels this night, even though their war had just begun.

Author Notes:

This was previously part of Chapter One, but I split it up because my latest re-working of this chapter caused it to double in length!