Author's Note:I write this having seen Advent Children in its (subtitled) entirety, and therefore there are spoilers contained within. Consider yourselves warned.
She had almost missed it –a glint of something metallic amidst a sea of rocks and grey upon grey. She caught sight of it through a crack in the ground some several inches from where she stood, lodged under a clutter of stones. She knelt for a better look; the movement caused loose dirt and pebbles to pour through the small rift, momentarily obscuring the object from her view. When she could see it again, when she bent close to the ground and was suddenly able to make out a single letter engraved on a piece of metal she called out excitedly, "Tseng?"
She heard him approach from where he had been searching, his footsteps inciting the rocky debris that littered the crater floor to clatter. "What have you found, Elena?"
"What we came here for, I think," she said, rearing back from the small fissure in the ground to let him take a closer look. He knelt beside her, dipping low to peer into the small opening, his face lost then behind the curtain of his ebony hair as it fell forward over his shoulder. She heard him suck in a breath an instant before he straightened, and when he looked at her then a satisfied smile curved his lips.
"Well done," he remarked, casting his eyes skyward while reaching up to adjust the microphone attached to the lightweight headset he wore before speaking into it. "Reno, we've found it."
The reply came a moment later along with a burst of static; Elena cupped her own earpiece in order to better hear the tinny voice that responded. "Cool. You want me down there?"
"Not yet. Give us a few minutes to secure it."
While Tseng and Reno spoke, Elena set about in her attempt to widen the fissure. It wasn't hard; a few well-placed blows with the butt of her handgun had weakened the edges enough that they quickly crumbled. With the rift widened, she slid her weapon back into the holster that rode low along her hips; reaching down, she brushed rocks and other sediment away, revealing more of what had originally caught her eye. What was exposed now to both her gaze and that of Tseng's was a wide, flat length of metal; even though it lay partially in shadow, the word engraved deep into its surface was perfectly clear.
It read "Jenova".
"To think it's still here …" Elena said half wonderingly.
"It?" Tseng asked as he began carefully to dig around the metal band and what lay attached to it.
"She," Elena corrected, watching as his fingers began to unearth something pale, something made of flesh. Gradually the line of a cheek was exposed, along with the lid of a closed eye; dirt was clumped to the lashes, and tendrils of pale hair were now visible attached to the scalp above the metal nameplate. Despite knowing what it was, despite knowing what it could do, she still found herself staring with disbelief and apprehension at the head her superior was steadily freeing from the earth. With a triumphant sound Tseng reached down deeper, wrapping his hands about it; a moment later it was free from the confines of the dirt and stone and exposed to the daylight.
"What the hell-?" Tseng muttered as Elena simultaneously made a noise of disgust. The head of Jenova was not whole; in his hands the leader of the Turks held an incomplete thing, with part of the face missing. Bits of gore and other, thicker things trailed from the ragged edges of what was undeniably a wound caused by some sort of blade. The left side of the face, from just below the temple to the chin, was gone entirely, having been carved away by a weapon. Not just any weapon, Elena knew with sudden clarity, but by the sword of the would-be Soldier, Cloud Strife.
"Amazing," Tseng breathed, hands cradling the grotesque thing. Elena leaned closer to see what had caught his attention; with one finger he pointed at the exposed mass of muscle and bone that had lain beneath the side of the face now gone. For a moment Elena stared, attempting to discern what it was she was supposed to be seeing, and then she saw it. A myriad of blue veins spider-webbed through the muscle that gleamed moistly, and it was a moment before she realized that the veins were all pulsing faintly.
"It's … she's still alive?" She whispered incredulously.
"So it would seem," Tseng replied, standing. He gripped the head by a fistful of its pale hair and let it gently fall to hang by his side before touching his headset with the other hand. "Reno? We're ready."
Again, there was a crackle of static before the reply reached their ears. "Be right there."
Elena stood as well, craning her neck back to gaze into the thick, heavy cloud cover that perpetually shrouded the crater. A moment later the steady, rhythmic thunder of an approaching helicopter reached her ears, and a moment after that the sleek, long body of ShinRa's corporate helicopter was visible as it descended. As the wind from the propellers began to blow strongly past them both they began to back away, giving the helicopter space to land. Shielding her eyes with one hand, Elena watched as Reno, now visible through the cockpit window, flipped them both a jaunty salute. Trying to smother her smile at his impudence and failing, she turned to Tseng to ask a question.
It was then that she saw them.
Her shouted warning was almost drowned by the roar of the helicopter, and if it hadn't been for the headpiece she wore her fellow Turks wouldn't have heard at all. As Tseng whipped around to see what she'd seen, Elena already had her gun in hand and had it steadily trained on the three men who were shaping themselves out of the heavy mist that swirled about the cavern floor some hundred meters away. She had only one moment to try and decide whether they were friend or foe, for then the question was abruptly answered for her as the shortest of the three –looking from this distance hardly more than a teenager- opened fire with what seemed to be some sort of gunblade.
Tseng yelled something incomprehensible, lost to her as Reno's alarmed shout deafened her through the headpiece. The roar of gunfire echoed all around them then, and as Tseng ran for the helicopter with his macabre prize in hand, as Elena moved swiftly to cover him, her world narrowed down to the three attackers and the gun she held. All the assailants were firing now with their similar weapons, and standing alone in the midst of their fire, retaliating with one swift shot after another, she realized with sudden, numbing clarity that she may not survive. All too soon she had emptied the clip from her handgun; falling to one knee she quickly and with calm hands removed an extra from within her blazer and seamlessly slid it home. She was on her feet and firing again an instant later, backing steadily away towards the helicopter that hovered precariously above the ground waiting for both she and Tseng. The fact that none of her shots struck her targets had registered with her, and that alone was enough to make her experience a heavy rush of unfamiliar alarm; she was an expert marksman. The three men were, she realized suddenly, either deflecting her shots with their gunblades, or dodging them entirely …
"Elena! Come on!"
Tseng's voice jerked her around, and then she was running flat out for the helicopter, where he was perched half in and half out of the cargo compartment, one hand outstretched towards her, the other firmly gripping an inside handle. Conscious of the bullets biting into the rocky ground around her feet, aware that to falter was to die, she made a leap for the helicopter, for Tseng's hand, and felt a wave of relief wash through her as his fingers closed around hers.
"Reno, pull us up!" Tseng ordered, reaching down to haul Elena bodily on board. The helicopter lurched as Reno complied, and as the ground fell away beneath them Elena made an effort to hoist herself up-
Sudden agony in her shoulder rendered her immobile, and for a moment she could only stare dumbly at Tseng's stricken expression before she realized she had been shot. An instant later she was falling, her hand having slipped from Tseng's upon impact of the bullet. It was not a long fall, less than ten feet, and when she struck she did so in a roll. She heard her name shouted both within the earpiece and without, and when she managed to get herself up into a crouch she looked up, squinting through the intense wind caused by the propellers to see the helicopter hadn't taken flight.
"Go!" She screamed, her eyes darting to the three men who were now close enough to see clearly. "Get out of here!"
"Elena!" Her name, shouted in unison by Tseng and Reno, drove her to her feet. With one hand clutching the wound in her right shoulder, she fumbled with the other to remove her handgun from its holster. When finally she had it in hand and pointed somewhat unsteadily at the closest and shortest of the three men, she could see his face in great detail.
He was smiling.
She pulled the trigger without thought, envisioning the bullet punching through his skin, through the bone, and out the backside of his head. Instead he moved so swiftly he became a blur, and when he became still again her shot had been deflected harmlessly away by the flat edge of his gunblade. His smile hadn't faltered, and as he began to move again, gathering himself to lunge at her, she knew with cold, certain finality she was about to die. But it wasn't to be, for his rush was halted as someone surged in front of him with a harsh cry, and with wide eyes Elena realized her saviour was none other than Tseng.
For a moment the leader of the Turks and the strange man grappled with each other; the other two men had stopped some ten feet away and were watching the struggle closely. Tseng dropped to one knee, attempting to execute a throw, but with the same astonishing fluidic ease the other managed to escape his grip. There was another blur of movement and then Tseng was impaled on the slender, curved length of a blade the strange man had produced; an instant later Tseng was airborne from a vicious backhand blow, blood flying everywhere in his wake. He landed behind and to the side of Elena, and as his body came to lie limply still he yelled at Reno through the headpiece in a strangled voice.
"Reno! Get out of here!"
"LEAVE US!" Tseng roared, and immediately began to cough. The helicopter began to lift rapidly then, the wind from the propellers almost driving Elena flat against the ground. Instead she half-ran, half-staggered to Tseng, collapsing on her knees at his side. Blood from the wound in his lower abdomen had soaked through the dark navy of his suit and was pooling on the stony ground beneath him; a small river of crimson trailed from the corner of his mouth.
"You should have gone," Elena told him softly, sadly, noting out of the corner of her eye the three men drawing closer. Desperate, she raised her gun again, trying to focus on the foremost of the three. Her aim wavered so badly that she knew it was hopeless, yet she was prepared to try anyways.
"I wasn't going to leave you," Tseng managed to wheeze; he had turned his head to mark the progress of the assailants. "Besides, Reno has what we came for."
"I hope," she said quietly, "that it was worth it."
She fired; the shot went wide. Her finger flexed around the trigger again, but this time the bullet was warded off with by the blade still coated in Tseng's blood. She never managed a third round, for quite suddenly the tallest and burliest of the three men was before her. For that one instant all she could focus on was the malicious grin on his face; he picked her up then by her collar and hoisted her until her feet no longer touched the ground.
"So this," he said in a deep baritone full of condescension, "is a Turk?"
"Yes." Clutching at the hand wrapped around her throat, Elena twisted her head around to see that it was the shortest –and presumably youngest- of the three that had spoken, the one that had struck Tseng down. He continued, prodding the prone form of Tseng with his boot, "Mother isn't with them."
The other member of the mysterious trio, tall, lean and long haired, said from where he stood a few feet away, "The helicopter took her."
The man holding Elena made a noise of dismay, bowing his head, and taking advantage of this Elena brought her legs up and struck out, hitting him in the chest with the flat of both feet. He dropped her and staggered, cursing; she dove for the gun she'd dropped-
The young one intercepted her, slashing, and she reeled back desperately to avoid being sliced. Frantic, she whirled about, seeking away around him, to get to the gun-
A fist slammed into her jaw, knocking her head back. The last thing she saw as she hit the ground was Tseng's pale, blood-spattered face and wide, dark eyes.