© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ
(Original Draft: 2-13-2004)
"No!!" Cloud shouted, waking abruptly from nightmares of a black pony, flames, and a sinister voice. He looked around at the dark gray walls of the prison cell, at Lockheart, and at the open door of their cell. He cleared his head. "Phew... just a dream...."
As Cloud looked around, he suddenly realized the door was open, instead of being shut and locked like a prison door normally would be. Cloud carefully and quietly walked towards the door and peered outside.
Looking both ways, Cloud saw nothing unusual, but more errily, heard nothing, either. No footsteps, no voices, not even machinery. Cloud carefully stepped back into his cell, his quiet footsteps sounding like pile drivers by comparison. Cloud nudged Lockheart.
Lockheart was still sleeping. Cloud nudged her again. "Lockheart, wake up!"
"zzz... hmm?" Lockheart said, sleepily opening her eyes. When she saw Cloud, she looked up and around. "What...? Is it that time already?"
"Something's wrong. Listen," Cloud said.
Lockheart looked around. "I hear nothing...."
"Exactly! I don't hear anything either! And look at this!" Cloud walked over to the open cell door and quietly moved out to the hallway.
"What? Cloud, is this some sort of trick?"
"No! I swear it's not!"
Lockheart stood up, stretched, then walked out into the hallway. "Wait a minute. Wasn't there supposed to be a door there?"
"Yes! Now listen..."
Lockheart listened to the silence, shaking her head. "I hear nothing...."
"Isn't that odd?"
Lockheart shook her head. "They're probably just shut down for the night."
"A building this large?" Cloud said. "No way. They'd have to have a night crew. Especially for the prison hall. Something's wrong."
"I don't hear anything," Lockheart stated. "But I do smell something. Something ugly..." Lockheart carefully walked over to the end of the hall. Peering around the corner, she saw the blood-stained body of a Rin Sha security guard, dead and smelling rank. "Cloud!!"
Cloud trotted over and spotted the dead guard. "He's all torn up. Who would do such a thing...?"
Lockheart began searching through the guard's uniform and found a set of keys. "We must get the others...."
Lockheart and Cloud ran back to the cells. Lockheart unlocked and opened the door to Aeris's cell to wake her up, while Cloud unlocked and opened the door to Berett and Spike's cell. "Hey, guys, wake up!!" Cloud shouted.
Spike snapped out of a light slumber and looked around, while Berett kept sleeping soundly. "What is the matter?"
"Something's up," Cloud explained. "I don't know what, but something's terribly wrong here." Cloud turned to Berett and shook him. "Berett! We've got trouble!"
"Wha--!?" Berett exclaimed as he woke up and shoved Cloud back. "...Wait a minnute, how'd ya get in here?" Berett noticed the opened cell door as Spike ran out through it to have a look around.
"Something's wrong. The doors are open, the guard's dead, and the whole place is real quiet."
"Well what are we waiting for, let's get a move outta here!" Berett piped, stretching his legs and then running out into the hall. Cloud followed, finding Aeris awake, standing next to Lockheart, also in the hall.
"Over here!" Called Spike from the opposite end of the hall. "You've got to see this!"
Everyone ran over towards Spike. Just around the corner was a dead guard, large gashes across his hide indicating what had killed him. But something was different about this second guard. Berett checked him over and found only spent energy cells in the guard's laser rifle. And those slash marks on the guard were not just on the guard, but also on the walls, floor, and even some on the ceiling. "Come on!" Spike shouted, jumping over the guard's body and running ahead. "Follow me!"
Cloud and the others followed curiously. Had Spike picked up on something? Spike led them around another corner to the stairway on this level. The door to this stairway was broken open -- literally. A large piece of the door lay, bent, twisted, and sheared against the opposite wall.
"What is it?" Cloud asked.
"I smell blood. It comes from one of the upper levels." Spike traced the faint smell up two flights of stairs, through another shattered door, through two halls and then, into the lab where they had first seen him.
The smell of blood intensified, and they found the bodies of two more dead ponies, similarly slashed apart. "There!" Spike shouted, pointing to the vat marked Jenova. It was empty. Its large door had been busted clean off of its hinges, and only some smelly liquid remained inside.
Cloud shuddered at the sight. "It... I said it was alive, didn't I?"
"Whoa," Berett said, looking at a trail of some liquid etched into the floor. The trail led back the way they came, to the stairs between floors. "Where did it go?"
"Let's follow it," Spike said, leading the way back to the stairs. They traced it back to the stairs and then upwards, where the trail mixed with blood from slain pony guards. At least three ponies had been slashed or hacked apart on this upper floor, the door to this level broken into three pieces, and more large slash-marks decorating the stairway leading upwards. Following the trail, they entered the 69th floor of the Rin Sha HQ, spotting at least half a dozen slain guards, all with large gashes across their uniforms and hides.
"What sort of monster could do such a thing...?" Cloud gasped at the sight, horrified by the sight and stench of it.
"Look!" Aeris pointed over to the two red-carpeted staircases leading upwards to the top level, the Rin Sha president's office. The railings were broken in several places, the carpet half ripped up, and spots of liquid and blood leading upwards.
"Ya don't suppose...." Berett wondered as they followed the trail and climbed upwards. The smell waned slightly as they entered the well-air-conditioned president's office up the stairs.
They spotted a familiar red suit behind the president's desk. But as they rushed over, the reality of the situation became apparent. The Rin Sha president lie slumped over on his desk, dead.
"Wh.. who... who did this?" Berett asked.
Cloud rushed over to the president. Nearby he found a very large blade, something so large that even he couldn't wield it. "No!"
"...Sephiroth did this!?" Cloud said, picking up the blade, blood from its latest victim draining cleanly from its surface.
Sephiroth's name echoed throughout the room repeatedly, as a bolt of lightning struck from dark storm clouds outside, and a wave of thunder echoed through the room.
Cloud heard something from underneath the left half of the president's desk. He checked underneath and soon dragged out a shaking, plump pony in a tan suit. "N-n-n-no! P-p-please don't kill me!" The pony pleaded.
"What happened?" Cloud demanded.
"It was, it was, it was... Sephiroth! S-s-sephiroth was HERE! I-i-i-i-i SAW HIM!!"
"Sephiroth, alive? You really saw him?"
"W-w-w-would I lie at a t-t-time like this?" The pony screamed. "He, he, he, he said something about not l-l-letting us get to the Ancient's Paradise. A-a-and then, no, no, he, he ... he killed the President!!"
The pony struggled free of Cloud's grasp and bolted out through a door to the balcony. They saw him run over to where a helicopter was landing just outside. A blonde-haired pony in a white business suit was hopping out.
"After him!" Cloud shouted, as he led Lockheart, Berett, Aeris, and Spike out to the balcony. Strong winds and heavy rain hit them in the face as they exited the room and chased over to the helicopter.
"Well, what do we have here?" Exclaimed the white-suited pony over the droning noise of his helicopter.
"And jus' who do ya thing YOU are, pal!?" Berett yelled back.
"My name's Rufio!" The suited pony yelled back.
"NO WAY!?" Berett exclaimed. "The president's kid?"
Rufio nodded. "I heard Sephiroth was here and causing damage! I arrived as fast as I could, but it looks like I'm too late for my old man...!"
"Don't tell me ya miss 'em!" Berett shouted back.
"His death is unfortunate...!" Rufio shouted. "But since it's happened, I will be taking over the presidential duties of Rin Sha!
"I'm not one for speeches!" Rufio shouted. "You see, my old man was interested in the money! Work for Rin Sha, get your pay, pay your taxes -- and if anything happens... Rin Sha will protect you! Right!?
"But I'll be doing things differntly! Controlling the citizens with money works, but it takes too much effort! A little fear can be much more persuasive! You mess with Rin Sha, and you pay for it with your life! So tell me, who do you think YOU are!?"
"The name's Cloud!" Cloud shouted over the noise of Rufio's helicopter. "Formerly a Stallion First Rate!"
"I'm Berett, of Snowslide! And don' you forget it!" Berett shouted.
"I'm with Snowslide too!" Lockheart shouted.
"Aeris," Aeris shouted. "And that's all you need to know!"
"They call me Spike!" Spike shouted.
Rufio laughed heartily. "This... is the fearsome rebel group, Snowslide?!? Don't make me laugh!! From the way my old man talked about you, I thought there were a lot more!"
"You heard what yer old man did to the Seventh District, didn't ya!?" Berett shouted.
"Berett," Cloud ordered. "Get the others out of here!"
"WHAT!?" Berett yelled back. "What 'bout you?"
"Listen: If Sephiroth's really back, he's a much larger threat than Rufio, the Rin Sha, or anything else! Let me take care of Rufio! You just get!"
"Ya sure 'bout that?" Berett asked.
"Go! Now!" Cloud shouted.
Berett huffed angrily, but Lockheart convinced him to move. The three of them ran back inside.
Cloud noticed Rufio climbing back into this helicopter. "Rufio, where do you think you're going!?"
"There are certain arrangements I must make for my old man's funeral! And we must prepare for the inauguration! I don't think I should see you there...!"
Rufio's helicopter began ascending.
"Oh, no you don't...," Cloud muttered under his breath as he charged one of his magic stones and unleashed a lightning bolt into the helicopter. The energy arced across the helicopter's surface but dissipated harmlessly; the darn thing must have been shielded against that sort of attack.
Rufio gave his pilot an order, and the pilot backed the helicopter off some distance. Cloud saw two guns on the helicopter appear next to its struts. Cloud instantly scattered to the side as the helicopter opened fire and sent a stream of lasers dotting across the balcony.
Cloud slipped across the rain-soaked balcony into one of its railings as the helicopter drew closer. Using the other magic stone in his posession, Cloud unleashed a large fireball towards the helicopter. But due to the heavy rain, the fireball evaporated before it could cause any damage to Rufio's copter. The copter approached quickly and Cloud darted under it, just in time to dodge another hail of laser fire from the copter.
Cloud heard Rufio shout something from the helicopter, and then a series of splishes as something jumped out and landed on the balcony. Cloud looked around and spotted a large four-legged beast, of thick dark blue fur, sharp teeth, glowing yellow eyes, and wearing a spiked collar around its neck. In a way, it looked somewhat like a dark, evil version of Spike, except that its build was different, more panther-shaped, and devoid of decorations or tattooes. The creature snarled.
Cloud stepped to the side slowly as the creature looked him over, possibly sizing him up. It roared and then pounced towards Cloud. Cloud jumped aside, but the creature caught him by the leg. Thinking fast, Cloud hit it with a fireball unleashed from one of his magic gems. Singed but otherwise unhurt, the creature backed off for a moment, then began circling around Cloud.
Cloud made his next move by firing a bolt of lightning energy from one of his magic gems. The bolt hit the creature in the face, but then dissipated through its collar and the rain to the drenched balcony under them. The creature limped backwards but seemed to recover, then it charged Cloud again. It landed into Cloud, knocking him over and giving Cloud some good cuts before Cloud kicked it off. Cloud stood up, the cuts stinging from the cold rain, and tried to focus.
The creature rolled after landing and quickly scrambled back to its feet. It charge Cloud again, and this time Cloud jumped over it as it closed the distance. Cloud flipped and landed as the creature skidded to a stop. It turned around and then approached slowly.
Cloud tried to hit it with another bolt of lightning, but the creature, learning quickly, dodged to the side and Cloud's attack only hit the balcony. Cloud tried again, and the creature evaded sideways but still closer. Then it pounced upon Cloud and knocked it over. It sank its teeth into the armor on Cloud's leg.
Cloud cringed and silenced a yelp of pain as he kicked the creature's underside with his hind legs. The creature yelped and let him go, then jumped off. Cloud struggled to get back to his feet, but his right front leg was hurting badly. Cloud limped over as the creature sidestepped, then charged and pounced again. Cloud braced for impact --
-- And then suddenly, out of nowhere Spike pounced on the creature, sinking all of his claws into its furry hide. They landed and rolled, then Spike jumped off. He unleashed a fire attack from one of his magic gems, and a huge pillar of flame erupted where the creature was standing. Injured, the creature jumped to the side and rolled a few times, the cold balcony and rain dousing its smoking fur.
A blinding bolt of lightning struck the top of the Rin Sha HQ above them and dissipated through the structure's metal frame, followed instantly by a loud clap of thunder. Spike looked at the creature through his one good eye, and the creature looked back and growled. It charged and then leaped towards Spike. Seeing this, Spike ducked and rolled forward as the creature flew over him, then sank his teeth into its hind leg, and it fell to the ground.
The creature slashed at Spike, hitting him on the right side of the head, and he let it go. For now. Limping, the creature backed off from Spike and roared back. Spike then charged at incredible speed and pounced upon it, grabbing ahold of it with his claws. Spike and the other creature rolled, one on top of the other then vice versa, across the balcony. Right before they would hit the railing Spike pushed upwards and let go, flinging the creature over the railing into the black smog. It disappeared in rain and clouds with a final roar.
Spike licked his paw and cleaned the right side of his face, then walked over to Cloud. "Are you all right?"
"I thought I told Berett to get you out of here," Cloud said.
"You did. But when I saw that creature jump off, I realized you might need help."
"...Thanks...," Cloud said, taking a limped step forwards.
"You're leg's broken," Spike noted.
"No, it'll be fine," Cloud said. He produced the one magic stone Aeris had given him. He placed it on his right front leg and the gem glowed. Cloud cringed for a moment, then put the gem away. He stretched his leg and then stood on it; no pain. "That'll do, for now...."
"Oh, I see," Spike smiled.
"We'd better get a move on. Where's Berett and the others?"