Stray Bullet
"I am your holy totem,
I am your sick taboo.
Radical and radiant,
I'm your nightmare coming true.
I am your worst enemy,
I am your dearest friend.
Malignantly magnificent,
I am of divine descent."

Book 1

Prologue
North Corel
The fight finished quickly. Laeryn, though small, was always the strongest. She used her small size to her advantage, dodging and twisting, nearly impossible to hit. She sidestepped a punch aimed at her face, and grabbed her opponent by his collar and belt. She threw him off balance with her hip, and, using his own weight as a lever, threw him to the ground. The boy lay in the dust with the wind knocked out of him and gasping for air. He managed to sit up, but he immediately started to cry when he realized he was beaten. Laeryn grinned triumphantly as she watched him scamper away. Probably he's going to tattle on me now, thought Laeryn, I'm always the bully, it's always my fault. Maybe they should just learn to defend themselves properly. She glanced up at the sky, her ice blue eyes narrowing. The sun was setting. Laeryn's parents would call for her soon, and they would no doubt be upset with her. Laeryn paused and stared up at the sun, which was just barely still visible above the black Corel Mountains, and bathed everything in red light.
"Laeryn! Come in now! It's getting dark!" Her head snapped around at the sound of her mother's voice. She walked slowly toward her home, her feet kicking up little plumes of dust with every step.
She pushed open the door to her house and stepped inside. Like all the other houses in North Corel, it had a forlorn look to it, even though it had been built only about eight years ago, right before Laeryn was born. Also, it seemed too small for three people to live in comfortably. The sparse furniture made it appear slightly larger, though. Laeryn's family, as well as all the others in North Corel, lived on the edge of poverty.
North Corel had been built up around the coal mining industry, an industry that had been made obsolete by the advent of Mako energy. Once a prosperous mining town, North Corel had been largely forgotten over the past decade. With so few users of coal power still around, the inhabitants of North Corel barely had enough money to live on.
Laeryn approached her parents cautiously. They were sitting at the kitchen table, sipping on coffee. She figured they had found out she had gotten in another fight, and braced for the inevitable lecture. That's not proper behavior for an eight year old girl! they would always tell her, you need to learn manners! You won't be able to advance in life if you keep acting like that! They told her the same thing every time. Laeryn was sickened by it. Because of her gender, she knew the only way for her to "advance in life" in North Corel would be to marry some rich guy from another town. Yuck, thought Laeryn, no way.
"Go ahead and get ready for bed Laeryn, it's getting late. And do remember to comb your hair! It's been very tangley as of late" said her mother.
Laeryn felt a surge of relief. Apparently, the boy's parents hadn't complained. She'd gotten off lucky. "Goodnight, mommy and daddy!" she said brightly, and ran into her room. In her room were a chest of drawers, a small bed, a sink, and a mirror on one wall. There wasn't room for anything else. Laeryn looked at herself in the mirror. There was nothing wrong with her hair! It didn't look any more tangley than usual. Nevertheless, she pulled out her comb and began running it through her choppy, chin length black hair. Her parents were still talking out in the kitchen. She was able to catch snatches of their conversation.
"....nothing for her here, Dawn."
"But where will she go, Kile? Certainly not...."
"She has a fighting spirit, she's very independent, she would do well..."
"I hope you're right about...."
"....talk to her in the morning."
Laeryn was intrigued. She caught the gist of the conversation; her parents were thinking of sending her away. She was both upset and excited by the prospect of leaving. On the one hand, she wondered why her parents wanted to get rid of her. On the other, she was thrilled at the chance to leave North Corel. Life in North Corel was deadly boring for Laeryn. There were not many other children her age, and most of them were rather frightened of her. She was left with very few things to do. When she was littler, she'd sneak into her parents' bedroom and admire her father's weapons. They had fascinated her throughout her entire life. The slender sword blade, which was always kept so clean that she could her reflection in it, and the elaborate, heavy shortbarrel pistol were, to Laeryn, the most interesting things in the entire town. As she had grown older and gained confidence, she would hold the gun and the sword in her hands, and then she would pretend that she was fighting off attackers, saving her parents and her hometown from monsters. Her father saw her one day, and was both amazed her predisposition for weapons handling and enraged that she was digging though his bedroom. From that day on, Laeryn was more careful about seeing the weapons. As she recalled that day, Laeryn wondered if it had something to do with what her parents were talking about. Laeryn finally forced down her anxiety and went to sleep.
Laeryn woke early the next morning and wandered into the kitchen, still pawing sleep from her eyes. Her parents were seated at the table, eating their breakfast in silence. They both had serious looks on their faces. Laeryn took a seat, and began helping herself to sausage links.
"Good morning", she said rather cautiously.
"Good morning, hon", her father said, a smile on his face. Laeryn studied him. He was worried about something, and the not entirely sincere smile had failed to hide it. Her mother didn't say anything. Laeryn tried her best to ignore the unusual silence that had fallen, but it was making her nervous and she started to shift around in her chair. Abruptly, her father cleared his throat. Laeryn looked up at him, expecting him to say something.
"Laeryn, your mother would like to ask you something. How would you feel about leaving North Corel for a while?" her father began.
Laeryn waited a moment before responding. "Where would I go? Would I go by myself? Why would I be going?"
Her mother smiled gently. "One question at a time please, dear."
"Look out the window, Laeryn. Look at North Corel. What do you see?" said her father.
Laeryn looked. "Dust. Some kids running around. Houses" she replied uncertainly, not sure why her father was asking her this.
"Can you see yourself living the rest of your life here, Laeryn? Do you see a future for yourself here?"
Laeryn thought about it. She never really had envisioned herself remaining in North Corel. She'd always imagined herself leaving on some quest, off to fight battles and save people and collect treasure. She shook her head. "No.....I've never imagined myself here....for my entire life...."
"Laeryn, have you ever heard of Soldier?"
She had heard of Soldier. They were the best fighters on the Planet. She sometimes envisioned herself as one of them, the best of the best. "Yes daddy, I've heard of Soldier."
"Soldier is a military organization run by the Shinra corporation. Children from all over the Planet enlist in Soldier when they're about your age. They devote their lives to their training, and become the best warriors around. They act as law enforcers, protectors, bodyguards, and of course they fight in wars when necessary. Soldier headquarters are in Midgar. That is where all the cadets and officers live, and where a lot of the training takes place. Does that interest you?"
Laeryn nodded eagerly.
"That is where your mother and I were thinking of sending you. North Corel is a dying town. By the time you grow up, coal mining will be completely gone. There'll be nothing for you here. We want you to be successful. You're a very strong and independent girl, and there isn't much you're afraid of. You have all the right qualities to be a Soldier. Would you like to go to Midgar and enlist in Soldier?"
"Yes, very much."
"Even if you leave Soldier after a while, you will still be able to find a job in Midgar, still be able to be successful. You will have a future there."
"How long will I be gone for?"
Her parents glanced nervously at each other. "A very long time, Laeryn. You're welcome to come visit us here whenever you can, but you'll be kept very busy in Soldier. Once you leave, you may not be able to see us very often anymore. Do you understand that?"
Laeryn nodded, suddenly nervous again.
"We don't want to rush you into a decision, Laeryn. Take your time, think about what we've discussed. You are excused from the table."
Silently, Laeryn left the table and went outside. She climbed up a rocky hillside near her house and perched atop and outcropping of granite, still in her pajamas. She cradled her head in her hand as her eight year old mind mulled over what her parents had told her. She stared vacantly down at the town, and saw kids playing in the streets. Normally she'd be with them, terrorizing them. Those kids'll grow up and be just like their parents, she thought, live in the same town, do the same work. Then they'll have kids of their own and the cycle will start all over again. That is, if North Corel is still around at that point in time. Laeryn suddenly felt a rush as she realized she didn't have to be trapped in that dead-end cycle. She could escape, be something other than a coal miner's wife, have weapons and responsibilities of her very own. Her mind made up, she climbed back down the hill.
She burst into her house and proclaimed, "I have made up my mind."
Her parents looked at her intently.
"I want to go to Midgar and become a Soldier", she said, her voice full of confidence.
"We knew you would decide quickly. We booked a flight to Midgar for tomorrow afternoon. We'll take the ropeway to Gold Saucer, and our flight will leave from there", said her mother.
* * *
Laeryn awoke at the crack of dawn the next morning. She could not even remember a time when she had been so excited. She packed her few belongings into an old knapsack and strode proudly into the kitchen, ready for departure.
"You certainly look ready. I see you've even combed your hair. It looks very nice. Are you excited?" asked Laeryn's mother.
Laeryn nodded eagerly.
"Glad to hear it. The ropeway's just a short walk away, let's get going."
Laeryn was practically bursting with excitement. She'd never been on the ropeway before, never seen Gold Saucer, never left North Corel. She stepped into the gleaming blue sky car on the ropeway. The sudden roar of the propellers was exhilarating to her. Her parents looked less thrilled than she did. A few minutes later, Gold Saucer came into view. Laeryn's jaw dropped at the sight of it. It looked like someone had dumped out a box of jewelry in the sky. It was almost blindingly bright in the morning sun and it reflected every color she could imagine onto the clouds around it.
There was a hiss of air brakes as the ropeway docked at Gold Saucer. Laeryn and her parents stepped out of the sky car and looked at the signs around them. The airport was to the left, one sign said. Laeryn could see most of the people who came to Gold Saucer went through the airport. The ropeway was rather antiquated. Everyone and everything at Gold Saucer was shiny, and looked as if it had been made the day before and polished countless times since then. What a big difference from North Corel, she thought, where everything is dusty and drab and looks like it's been abandoned for at least five years.
Laeryn and her parents finally stopped in front of desk, where a woman with a shiny white smile who asked to see their tickets greeted them. The woman nodded and waved for them to continue.
Laeryn had never been on an airplane before. She immediately pressed her face to the window and watched in awe as the landscape beneath her grew smaller and smaller. She glanced over at her parents. They looked ill.
They landed in Midgar late that night. A man in a crisp blue uniform stood at the gate and greeted them.
"Hello, my name is Alex", said the man in a voice as crisp as his outfit, "I am a recruiter for Soldier headquarters here in Midgar. You are Laeryn, I presume."
Laeryn nodded dumbly. She was exhausted from her day of travel, and was still trying to absorb everything she'd seen throughout the day. Alex was saying something to her parents, but she wasn't really listening.
"Are you ready to go, Laeryn?" asked Alex.
She nodded again.
"Say goodbye to your parents."
Laeryn suddenly felt a chill. The realization of what she was doing just hit her. Here she was, who knows how many miles from her home, about to leave parents for who knows how long, and some complete stranger was about to take her who knows where. Laeryn felt tears sting in her eyes. She bravely tried to fight them back, but they overflowed and began to spill down her cheeks. Her mother held her and said, "It'll be all right, Laeryn. We'll be thinking of you. Will you call us once you get settled in? We'd love to hear from you."
"I know you can do this, Laeryn. You have the ability and drive to succeed. I know you'll be the best. We'll be so proud of you when you come to visit us", said her father, "Now, go on and go with Alex. He'll show you where you'll stay."
Laeryn tried to say something, but her voice broke and she was silent. She slowly turned and followed Alex, waving over her shoulder to her parents.

***Sister Ray's Note***
Well there you have it folks, my first-ever attempt at at fan-fic! I've got big plans for this story, big plans. It's gonna end up being really long. I'm trying to place the emphasis on detail and character development, so I hope it doesn't get too boring! ^_^