The sun was hot, even for late August. It seemed as though the warm weather made the already-busy people of Station Square even busier. Here and there were traffic jams, accidents, and parking lots being filled. Clearly this city was overcrowded.
Nelson and Lindsey Thorndyke were not used to this. Indeed, their home was in this city, but they scarcely ever lived in it. Nelson was the CEO of Thorndyke Industries, and he went on business trips lasting sometimes months. Lindsey was an actress, and not surprisingly, she spent most of her time in Southern California. But today was a special day for both of them. So special in fact, they would have the luxury to spend it at their own mansion.
"Isn't it wonderful, Nelson?" said Lindsey. "I can't wait to surprise Chris when we get home!"
Nelson cautiously pulled into the park garage. "Uh, yeah… Wait, why are we surprising him again?"
Lindsey crossed her arms. "Today is…?"
Nelson scratched his head. "Friday?" Lindsey's expression remained. "The 23rd?... 2001?"
Lindsey did a huff. "It's our son's eleventh birthday! How could you forget?"
Nelson blushed. "I knew that, I just wanted to see if you remembered."
Nelson was at the fifth story of the garage. It was completely full. "Is there a single goddamn place to park in this place?"
Lindsey looked as well. "I can't see -"
Nelson was pointing at a gap between two car near the wall. But whoever parked there had not done a good job. The car on the left was perfectly in the lines, but the one on the right was about a third over it.
"Nelson, are you sure you can park there?"
"Lindsey, I've had a licence for twenty-seven years. I think I can handle this." He crept up to the space, cautiously looking left and right. Seeing how he was mere inches from the car on the right, he quickly swerved his tires to the left.
"Nelson be careful -!"
The car felt a tremendous impact. The front end had collided with the mirror of the car on the left. Nelson swore out loud.
"Nelson! Get out of there!"
"Oh, you don't fucking say?!" He shifted into reverse, but it was for the worse. The front of the car was scraping the side of the other one, making an ugly screeching noise. By the time he had pulled out, there was a long, dark-gray mark on the side of it. He shifted to park and turned off the vehicle. Then he stepped out, pulling his Nokia 3310 from his pants pocket. "I'm calling law enforcement," he said. "It's only right that we -"
There was the sound of something dropping to the ground behind them. Before he had finished dialing, he spun around to see what it was. Lindsey stepped out to see as well. It was a young man, probably in his late twenties. He was tall and very muscular, had long, silver hair with spiky bangs parted in the middle, and had a strange attire. He had a black coat that acted more or less as a cape, with silver pauldrons covering his shoulders. The top of the coat was open, leaving his chest exposed, and making the suspenders of his black overalls visible. He had tight, black boots that went above his knee, seemingly made for trenches. And on his hands were gloves, as tight and shiny-black as his boots. It was a wonder he could wear so much clothing without even appearing that he was hot in the eighty-degree weather. His mouth and bright green eyes were wide open in shock and disbelief, and he apparently had dropped his bags of groceries.
"I'm sorry, sir, is this your car?" said Nelson. "We, ah, had a little accident here."
The man continued to stare. "My… my Lexus," he stammered. "My brand-new Lexus… ruined."
"It's not so bad; it can still get a sticker," said Lindsey. "And besides, we're the richest family in the county. It will be no trouble for us to pay you to get that buffed out. In fact, we could just as easily buy you a new car."
"You stupid fools. You have scratched my new car. For that, you must pay…" A longsword with an odachi blade materialized in his right hand. "...with your lives."
Before Nelson could react, the man had sliced his head clean off (the sword had astounding reach). Blood sprayed from the top of Nelson's decapitated neck. The man hopped onto the roof of Nelson's car and jabbed the blade into Lindsey's chest. It was so sharp it went through her like warm butter. Lindsey collapsed on her back in a growing pool of her own blood.
The longsword vanished and the man hopped off the vehicle. "Damn it," he said. "If anybody sees this the police will hunt me down. I have to make it look like an accident." Then he had an idea. He stuffed the two corpses into the front seats. Then he sat in Nelson's lap. He turned on the engine and backed up a few hundred feet.
"If I fuck up, I'm going to be fucked up."
He went back into drive and floored the gas. Then, seconds before impact with the wall, he bailed out of the vehicle.
That must have been one sturdy vehicle. It didn't stop when it hit the cement barrier; it broke right through and fell into the street below, getting totaled. He heard the sound of the car catching fire and people screaming in fear. "Well, glad that's over with." He put his groceries in the trunk of his car. Then he noticed the phone on the ground where his first victim had been standing. Just to be safe, he pocketed it and drove away.
The doorbell of the Thorndyke manor had been rung. The Japanese butler, Mr. Tanaka, rushed over to answer it. It was the Sergeant Albright.
"May I help you, sir?" Tanaka asked.
"I'm afraid we need you to identify two bodies we believe to be Mr. and Mrs. Thorndyke," he said in his Irish accent.
"What?" Mr. Tanaka followed him behind an ambulance. There there were two stretchers with the bodies resting on them. Mr. Tanaka could not have identified the bodies if he hadn't averted his eyes. The faces were so mangled they were unrecognizable. But, nevertheless, he knew that these were, indubitably, his master and mistress. He felt sick just in the moment he saw them. He fell to a knee and tried to blink the blackness out from his eyes.
"Sir? Are these -?"
"Yes," Tanaka managed. "They are. I do not know how I will tell Mister Chuck and Master Chris."
"Should I instead? It's not the first time I've had to do something like this."
"No. Take these two away from here. I would be a disgraceful butler to not do this myself."
"Suit yourself. I'm sorry for your loss."
Tanaka walked back into the mansion and went to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and drank it quickly.
"It is hot today, no, Señior Tanaka?" Ella said as she frosted Chris's birthday cake.
"Where is Mister Chuck?" he asked.
"He is playing catch with Chris and his friends out by the pool," Ella replied.
"Thank you, Ella."
Ella noticed the tone in his voice. "Señior Tanaka? Is something wrong?"
But Tanaka was gone. He went out the side door to where they were playing.
"Master Chuck! May I have a word with you?"
The middle-aged man turned toward him. The baseball hit him in the side of the head. "Ow! Who threw that?!"
Chris's friend Danny laughed. "Sorry, Grandpa Chuck!"
Chuck walked over to Tanaka rubbing his head. "What's up?"
"I have some unfortunate news."
Tanaka took a deep breath. "Your son and daughter-in-law… will not be making it to Chris's party."
Tanaka looked down. "They… are…"
"On business trips. Mr. Thorndyke called up and said they needed him for a conference out of state. And Mrs. Thorndyke had to do a second shot for the film."
"They're skipping out at the last minute again?" Chuck shouted. "I'll have to have a word with that son of mine! Can't he put his family before his job for once in his life?" He pulled out his cell phone and dialed his number.
"Hello?" said the voice on the other end.
"Nelson? This is your father."
"Professor? What the hell did you just call me?"
"Of course I'm the Prof - what?! You don't use those words with me! What are you doing?"
"I'm driving. I shouldn't be on the phone right now."
"No, you listen to me, Nelson. It's your son's eleventh birthday. You couldn't take a single day off for him?"
"Damn it, I'm throwing this phone in the trash. Goodbye, crazy old man."
"Nelson!" He looked at Tanaka. "He hung up on me! Can you believe it?"
Tanaka was petrified. If that was Mr. Thorndyke's voice on the phone, then whose body had he seen on the stretcher? And if that was Mr. Thorndyke he had seen on the stretcher, then who was just on the phone with Chuck?
"Do not get worked up over such trivial matters, Mister Chuck. I am sure Christopher can enjoy himself without them."
Chuck sighed. "I hope you're right. But this is the third year in a row they haven't shown up. It would have been a nice surprise for him, anyway."
Mr. Tanaka went back inside and phoned the police. He told them about the phone call Chuck made.
"DNA samples have confirmed these are indeed Mr. and Mrs. Thorndyke. We'll have the location of that phone tracked down immediately," the officer said.
Tanaka looked out the window. Ella was bringing her special Mexican pizza out to the picnic table for the kids to enjoy. If only they knew, he thought.
"Oh, boy!" Chris exclaimed. "Ella's pizzas are the greatest!"
"I've never seen a pizza like this," said Frances. "What is it?"
"It's Mexican pizza," Chris replied. "It has salsa instead of sauce, Mexican cheese, and topped with tomatoes, peppers and olives."
"That sounds good!" said Chris's girlfriend Helen. "Thank you, Ella!"
"It was my pleasure! Dig in, children!"
The children ate. They played games. They had fun. And all the while they were ignorant of the danger that was afoot.
"What have you found about this place, Cloud?" asked the woman sitting in an alleyway by a dumpster.
A young mercenary with spiky blonde hair was approaching her with a newspaper. "I've found bits of information in this newspaper, Tifa. Apparently we're in a coastal city called 'Station Square'. It's technology is significantly less advanced than that of Midgar, but it's population is far greater."
"Why would Sephiroth cross dimensions for a place like this?" Tifa inquired.
"I don't know. But I can't imagine his intentions for this place are pure. We have to find him." Cloud helped his friend up on her feet.
"Crossing into other worlds is not an easy thing to do," said Tifa. "It doesn't often happen without a Dimensional Shift."
"No, that's true. The dimensional stability of this world is must be decreasing. I imagine it could merge with it's sister universe within the next three years."
The two were walking down the street now. "Do you think Sephiroth realizes this?"
"He must. Or he was just desperate to leave the Planet."
"That madman will stop at nothing to conquer the world, regardless of it's his own."
"Woah. Look over there." Tifa was pointing at the burning vehicle that had seemingly fallen out of the park garage. It was surrounded by police cars, and it was being hooked to a tow truck.
"That might be good to check out," said Cloud, as he started running toward it.
"Looks like it fell out," said Tifa.
Cloud walked up to a policeman. "Officer, whose car is that?"
The policeman sighed. "Oh, that wealthy Mr. Thorndyke from the suburbs. A great man, he was. I feel bad for the man's family."
"Yes, he and his wife, Lindsey. Died upon impact. We believe they lost their brakes while trying to park."
"Mind if I take a look?"
"That's a question for the tow truck driver. Otherwise, be my guest."
Cloud did so. The driver lifted the front end of the vehicle with the hook, and Cloud looked underneath. Namely, behind the wheels and axles. "Tifa, could you reach inside and press down on the brake pedal?"
Tifa put her hand through the crumpled door hole. "Yeah I - ouch! There's broken glass all over the floor!"
"Be careful. Just pump the brake for me, will you?"
Tifa started to press on the pedal. Cloud kept looking. "Are you pressing it?"
"Yeah, I'm… whoops, that's the gas pedal. This is the brake."
Cloud tried to spin the wheels, but he couldn't. "Now let off the brake."
Tifa obeyed, but the wheels still would not budge. "They aren't moving," said Cloud.
"Why would they? The brakes aren't working."
"No, Tifa, don't you get it? Typically you would shift into neutral when you lose your brakes so you can work with gravity before using the e-brake. But if the wheels aren't moving, they must be in either park or drive. If this Thorndyke guy used the e-brake in time, the car couldn't have crashed through that wall. So obviously, this car must be in drive."
"But if that's true, then that would mean-"
"Yes. This was done deliberately." Cloud called over the officer and explained the matter to him.
"A suicide wouldn't be unlikely," the officer said. "They must have been very stressed. Did you know rich people are just as likely to be depressed as poor people?"
"But who kills themself by driving their car over the edge of a building?"
The officer rubbed his chin. "It's queer, a bit. We're towing the vehicle away to have investigators look over it."
Cloud turned to Tifa. "Let's let the police take care of this. Anyway, it's imperative that we find Sephiroth as soon as possible. Just imagine what horrible, inhuman, sick, twisted, godless, evil plans that criminal mastermind could be concocting at this very second."
The man with the silver hair had returned to his hotel room with all his groceries. But now he had a problem: He had traded the last of those green paper slips he found on the food. How was he supposed to pay the hotel bill when it came?
"Why didn't I just take their wallets?" he groaned. He had to figure out how to get more of those green paper slips without wasting too much time. Putting the bread and vegetables in the mini fridge, he set back out to loot people's homes.
After driving a few blocks in the suburbs, he found a home which seemed to belong to someone of greater status. Surely, if they had such a nice-looking home, they must have mounds of green slips, locked away in a chest or a safe of some kind. Parking his car several hundred feet away to avoid looking suspicious, he devised a way to sneak inside: Using his superior intelligence and parkour skills, he would climb onto the roof and break in through the skylights. Then he could find wherever they kept the money and take it back to the hotel.
He jumped up in the air and sprung off the side of the house next door with his feet. He landed on the clothesline between the houses and bounced off it, landing square on the roof. Then, on his hands and knees, he crept over to the skylights. Directly beneath was a girl, about sixteen years old, with shoulder-length brown hair, reading a textbook on her bed. "Well, that's not an option."
He went over to the edge of the roof and looked underneath. There was a window by what looked like her parents' bedroom. Perfect, he thought. I just have to be as quiet as possible.
He lowered himself so his feet were on the window sill. The window was already open (probably because it was so hot) but the curtains were drawn. Expecting something to rest his hands on in front of him, he tumbled through the window like an idiot.
While on the floor he looked up and saw what he assumed were the girl's parents, making out on the bed. "I believe I heard a noise, dearest," said the mother, turning her head. When she saw the man, she screamed.
"Well, shit," he said to himself.
"Who the hell are you?!" the father shouted.
"Santa's elf," the silver-haired man replied, grinning. "I can see you've been naughty this year."
"It's a stalker," cried the mother. "Honey, call the police!"
"Not so fast." The man produced the sword again and threw it at the wireless telephone standing on the dresser. It took the phone right off the holder and stuck it into the wall. The father gasped.
"How do you like the Masamune?" the man said. "It's incredibly durable and incredibly sharp, cuts diamonds in half like an apple. And the best part? I'm the only one who can use it effectively."
"Wh-who are you?" the grown man said, shaking and cuddling his wife like a teddy bear.
"I go by many names," he replied, yanking the Masamune from the wall. "Some call me the Silver Soldier. Others call me the One-Winged Angel. Some, very frankly, call me the Man in the Black Cape. You, however, may refer to me by the name 'Sephiroth'."
"What do you want from us?"
"I normally wouldn't act so rashly for something petty like this. But circumstances have forced me to act drastically. Show me where you keep the 'Federal Reserve Notes' in this house, and your precious daughter's life might be spared."
"We don't keep money in the house," the father replied. "It's all in the bank."
Sephiroth's grin disappeared. "The what?"
"Twelfth National Bank of Station Square," the woman replied. "That's where we keep our money."
"Where can I find this 'bank' you speak of?"
"It's on Emerald Coast Avenue," she replied. "In the outskirts of the city. You can't miss it."
"Good. Now please accept this token of my gratitude for your being so kind enough to assist me."
The girl ran into the bedroom. "Mom? Dad? I heard a scream. What's going on in -?"
Sephiroth decapitated both of her parents in a single slash. The Masamune glowed blue as he swung it. Then he turned to the girl. She was too scared to do anything but look at his face. Sephiroth walked up to her and caressed her cheek with his cold-blooded gloved hand, tilting her head up slightly at him. At the same time he put the edge of the sword on her throat with his other hand.
"I suppose the wise thing to do would be to slice your throat now," he said calmly. "But I'm a man of my word. I promised your parents your life for their assistance." His sword vanished again and he walked out of the bedroom. The girl buried her face in the blood-stained bed and wept.
Cloud and Tifa were troubled when they heard the sound of a girl crying coming from a nearby open window. So, as any hero would, the two of them ran through the front door and up the stairs to where they heard the crying. They found the door where it was coming from to be wide open. They were horrified at what they saw: A queen-sized bed with two decapitated corpses on it - a man's and a woman's - and a teenage girl at the foot of the bed, sobbing.
Cloud put his hand on the girl's upper back. "Hey," he peeped. The moment he touched her, the girl screamed and curled up on the floor, face in her hands, looking up at him through her fingers.
"No!" she cried. "Don't hurt me! I didn't do anything!"
Cloud knelt down beside the whimpering girl and started stroking her hair. "Don't worry. I'd never hurt you. I'm one of the good guys."
She uncovered her face. Tears were pouring down her cheeks. She could barely get words out. "Th-they're gone," she choked.
"Are those your parents, sitting on this bed?" The girl only responded with a sniff. Cloud held his arms out. "Come here, sweetie." The girl embraced him and continued crying on his shoulder. After a minute, Cloud stood her up and she rubbed her eyes.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm Cloud Strife. I'm a mercenary. And this is Tifa Lockhart, and old friend of mine."
Tifa bent over and hugged the girl. "\What's your name?"
"Tea. Tea Gardener."
"That's a nice name. Tea, I'm so sorry this happened to you. Trust me, I know what it's like to lose a parent. My mother died when I was eight."
"I never even knew my father," Cloud said. "He disappeared when I was just a baby."
"Do you know what happened to your parents?" Tifa asked.
Tea tried to respond, but she could hardly get a syllable out before another wave of tears consumed her.
"Tea, I know this must be difficult for you, but we need to know! There's a madman from our world on the loose, and -"
"Y-your world?" Tea said, her crying easing up. "What do you mean?"
"Cloud and I are not from around here," Tifa explained. "The lead scientists at the Shinra Electric Power Company created an interdimensional portal using the leftover Materia they had collected before they stopped using the Lifestream as their main power source. The purpose of this portal was to send people to other worlds to find new sources of energy to bring to Gaia. But their base was attacked by a villain known as Sephiroth, and he used the portal to invade this planet. We don't know what his plans are for this world, but they can't be good."
"I don't even know how he's alive," said Cloud, scratching his head. "I thought I had destroyed him in our last battle. I watched him disintegrate into the Lifestream."
"Well," Tifa said, "that wouldn't have been the first time, anyway. Didn't you toss him into Mako energy back on Mt. Nibel, too?"
Tea piped in. "I have no idea what you two are talking about, but I can tell you what happened to my parents. A big scary man broke into our house and cut their heads off with his sword. I saw it with my own eyes."
"A man?" Cloud repeated. "With a sword? What did he look like?"
Tea thought a minute. "He was tall. He had long silver hair and a black cape."
"That sure sounds like Sephiroth," he said to Tifa.
"Did he say where he was going?" Tifa asked.
"Well, I heard them say something about the bank -"
"To the bank!" Cloud shouted. Just as he and Tifa were leaving the room, Cloud looked back at the girl. She was sitting in the 'W' position, her head drooping. Cloud whispered to Tifa: "Tifa, this kid's all alone with no parents. I feel kind of bad for her. What should we do?"
"If only if she had family she could stay with," Tifa said.
"That's it!" Cloud whispered, snapping his fingers. "We'll be her family!"
"Us? We just met her. And what do you know about taking care of a kid?"
"It'll be easy! I mean, she's what, like, fifteen, sixteen at most? She can practically take care of herself." He walked over to Tea. "Say, Tea, how would you like to live with us?"
Tea looked at him. "With you? You mean like, as a family?"
"Yeah! Tifa and I can be your mom and your dad."
"You don't look more than five years older than me, Cloud."
"Well, I was a very mature five. So I'm a very, very mature 21."
Tea smiled through her tears. "Well, I have nowhere else to go. Thanks… Dad."
Cloud grinned. "How would you like to come run some errands with your 'mother' and I? Maybe… go to the bank?"
Tea nodded. "But if the silver-haired man is there -"
"- he'll be no match for my trusty Buster Sword!" Cloud said, producing a broadsword. Tea was amazed.
"It's even larger than the sword he had!" she ejaculated.
"Sure is. I've beaten Sephiroth before with this very sword, and I'll beat him again, no problem."