Disclaimer – I don't own FF7
By Crimson Skies
Chapter One – Divergence
A pair of amber eyes watched amusedly as the prey scuttled blindly across the broken stones through the dark. Lazily, it stalked after the child. It could smell the fear of the wandering human boy. The child was lost, that was obvious. The creature did not ponder over its good fortune in finding the boy deep inside the mountain's labyrinth of caves. Whatever had driven the boy to the hazardous depths was none of its concern. But it was determined to milk every drop of fun from this chase. Humans only wandered into its caves roughly once every century. They tasted nasty and weren't of much value as food, but the entertainment value was enormous. It would have grinned, had it been human. Its tail flicked happily as it observed the human kit run headlong into a stalagmite. A sound vaguely reminiscent of a snicker left its mouth. Humans were truly amusing, especially their young.
However, merely stalking the boy was growing boring. It supposed it wouldn't hurt to spice things up a bit. Gleefully it leapt down next to the child and brushed up against it. The reaction was immediate. The child had not been aware of its presence until that moment. The scent of fear increased tenfold. The boy bolted even further into the darkness. It ran closely behind, occasionally getting close enough to snap playfully at the child's limbs. It even managed to bite the boy's are without ripping off flesh. It didn't want its toy to bleed to death too soon, after all. Of course the wound further terrified the child, spurring on his frantic flight.
Soon the boy, weakened by pain and exhaustion, began to falter ruining its fun. The creature reached out with a bit of its power and coated the ground in front of the child with ice. The results were immediate. The boy slid across the ground, arms wind-milling. He collided with the stone wall and slumped to the ground. The creature paced in front of the boy, savoring the moment. A menacing growl, issued from deep in its throat, echoed with the intention of scaring the child. It intended to wait as long as possible before killing the human youth.
It was the creature's first, and fatal, mistake.
Everyone knows that when an animal is cornered it is at its most dangerous. Human beings are no different. So as the creature neared, the trapped boy grasped a particularly sharp stone he had fallen on. When it was within a couple feet of the boy it suddenly reared back, a shard of rock in one eye. It roared in pain and fury. The game it played was suddenly not so fun anymore. Snarling, it charged its power to blast the boy out of existence. In a rage, it put everything it had into the blast. Lightning arced over its body, lighting the cavern. The boy received his first glimpse of the deadly creature in the sudden light. He froze in renewed terror. At the last possible second he attempted to dive past the creature. The huge blast hit the ground where he had been, just inches from his feet. A tremor wracked the earth.
The last thing the boy remembered was the floor falling out from beneath him.
If nothing else, one thing could be said about sleeping in a coffin in a locked room in the secret basement of Shinra Mansion: one didn't play host to many visitors. Actually, the one in question hadn't had visitors for years. Not unless one counted several skeletons that had been around for who-knows-how-long. It really said something about the nature of Shinra. They didn't have closets with skeletons. No, they had whole rooms full of them. Someone really needed to hire a decorator. Or perhaps an undertaker. Better yet, a psychiatrist. Then again, the previous psychiatrist had thrown himself out the window of his office. Said office was at the forty-third floor. The one before him had shot himself in the head. The one before that slit his wrists. Another stole several fire materia and flambéed 12 Shinra employees before diving off a balcony. The original psychiatrist was the only one who didn't commit suicide. He was 'retired' after his third day at the job. Apparently some Turk hadn't appreciated being called 'unstable'. But there's no need to describe the gory details. It's enough to say that the division of Shinra devoted to mental and emotional health was unanimously voted a complete failure after the doctors themselves went off the deep end. (With the exception of the first unfortunate to acquire the job – but that was a well kept secret.)
In any case Vincent Valentine awoke rather abruptly when a cacophony of tumbling rock and shifting dirt shattered the silence. He blinked blearily as the chaotic noise quieted. Something shifted sending a few pebbles skittering across the ground. The ex-Turk tossed the heavy lid off the coffin with ease. Red eyes surveyed the room cautiously, battle ready. What he did not expect to see was a gaping hole in the ceiling and a large pile of rocks and dirt covering the entire right side of the chamber. Curiously enough, a bright tuft of yellow something (hair? feathers?) protruded from the top of the pile.
"A…chocobo? The hell?!"
Vincent came to the most sensible conclusion. His years hibernating in a coffin surrounded by skeletons and rock walls had wreaked havoc on his unconscious mind. He'd begun to see chocobos fall from the ceiling. Of course, knowing that there was at least twenty feet of rocks and dirt between the ceiling and the surface didn't help much. He felt a sudden sympathy for the former, unfortunate Shinra psychos…er…psychiatrists. If all of their patients had described things like what he was seeing it was no wonder they committed suicide. A random scene of a scientist describing his daydreams about bubbling green ooze and killer pink bunnies to a horrified doctor marched to across his mind. He considered it.
"Nah. Only one scientist is that crazy, and he'd never consent to seeing a shrink," the gunner mumbled absently.
In a faraway laboratory the life-form known as Hojo sneezed.
Intrigued, he studied the damage. It appeared that the hole in the ceiling opened up into some kind of cavern. It was apparent that something had caused the layer between to collapse. The gunner had a suspicion that whatever it was lay in the dirt pile. Frowning in thought he approached the mound fearlessly. There was very little that scared him these days. Reaching out with his right arm (his normal one) he shifted the dirt around the tuft of yellow. Said yellow tuft revealed itself to be hair attached to the head of a young boy. Suddenly filled with concern, he thrust his arm into the pile. Grasping what he thought was an arm, he heaved the boy out. Laying him on his back on a junk-free portion of floor, the ex-Turk felt for a pulse. Amazingly enough, the boy was alive.
Vincent, rather relieved, pushed aside the confusion of a child being there of all places and studied him. ChocoBoy (the gunner privately began to refer to him as) was covered in filth. Even through the grime he could tell the boy's skin was pale. Whether it was natural or from fear, Vincent didn't know. Puncture wounds on the boy's right forearm bled sluggishly. It appeared to be a bite from some kind of large animal. That was not good. It was probable that the arm would become infected if not taken care of properly. The forearm was obviously broken and he would wager that it wasn't the only broken bone. It seemed likely to the gunner that whatever had wounded Chocoboy had also caused the blast that had collapsed the ceiling. In which case, the creature was probably still nearby.
Just as he realized this, Vincent heard the dirt begin to shift once again. He pivoted quickly. A large, catlike creature dragged itself from the rubble. It was five feet tall at the shoulder by Vincent's estimation. Its fur was thick and white with black stripes. A whisker-like tentacle extended from each side of its head, becoming leaf-shaped and turning turquoise at the ends. A single amber eye glared angrily while large, tufted ears twitched in annoyance. It growled at him.
"Coeurl!" Vincent breathed. The Coeurl was a rare beast with an affinity for lightning and ice. A mythical creature, they were hardly ever seen. It was said that they inhabited the deepest, darkest caverns of the world. Rarity and mysticism aside, the ex-Turk thought it made a rather sad picture. Dust had settled into its ragged coat. In place of one eye there was a mass of blood. Its long tail was very obviously broken, likely from the falling rocks. It was rather pitiful for such a rare creature, Vincent decided. No doubt the Coeurl was the creature that caused the cave in, probably while chasing the boy.
The Coeurl didn't give him much time to think, for it leapt at him, fangs and claws bared. Vincent's acted on reflex. He deftly stepped the side. The beast sailed harmlessly past him and the boy. His gun was drawn from its holster a split second later. A loud shot rang through the room. The large creature collapsed as it landed, a bullet through the heart. It was almost a shame, but he'd had no choice.
Vincent returned his attention to the boy. Thoughts raced through his mind. It was obvious that ChocoBoy needed help. No skirting that fact. Vincent could really care less about what was happening in the world right now. All that really mattered to him was his penance, his punishment for his sins. However, his solitude had been disturbed. Now that there was a gaping hole in the ceiling he could leave. However, it did not feel right. In his eyes his sentence was far from being served. And yet…
He glanced at boy again. No. He had to help him. Vincent had already failed to help a child in need once. He had no desire to do so again. If he left this boy now it would only compound his original failure. He would help the child. At least take him to his home, wherever that was.
Yes, that is what he would do.
Kneeling, he carefully gathered the unconscious youth into his arms, careful of his clawed arm. The boy hardly needed another injury. Taking one last glance at the solemn chamber he leapt through the huge hole into the cavern above.