One Year Later

Ragnar and his friends had been through a lot, but they had much farther to go after the New Shinra were finally defeated.

There was still a sizable number of New Shinra soldiers still alive. They were the first problem to deal with. In the end, Ragnar was lenient with all but about one hundred of them. Eighty of those were wanted by the Wutai Gold Navy, and were imprisoned by their government. Ragnar himself was not the head of a nation, but he had them taken to prison back in Midgar. They all underwent trial in the months that followed. Ninety of them were convicted of war crimes against innocent people. Wutai kept theirs in prison, although they executed two of them. Ragnar really had no more authority to lock anyone up, so he let a consensus group made up of representatives from Midgar, Edge, Kalm, Fort Condor, and Junon decide their fate. Ten more were released after that and ten were given twenty years.

As for the remaining soldiers, a deal was eventually worked out. They were each allowed to return to their hometowns after signing a document renouncing their loyalty to Shinra Inc. and the New Shinra Army. A database was created and sent to Midgar, Wutai, and Junon. The ex-soldiers were essentially blacklisted from working in certain jobs in those towns that could lead to a resurgence of their force for the next five years. This created some animosity, but compared to simply being shot in the head or thrown in some labor camp it was good. Most of them were tired of war in the first place. Ragnar had wanted to distribute something of their pay to them before leaving to try and fix the rift that had happened between them and the rest of the world…but unfortunately someone had cleaned the New Shinra's account before he was able to access it.

Maritza was not a problem...simply because she was never there. She vanished at the end of the war, and no one had seen anything of her since she had left Aerith and company. It was probably wise. Ragnar was willing to actually pardon her, but he knew most of his army and Wutai wanted her dead. So long as she stayed out of trouble, he didn't care. For what it was worth, he passed an executive pardon on her although she wasn't physically present.

Not everyone was pleased with how Ragnar had dealt with the situation. Some wanted a bit more revenge or punishment. Wutai itself would have executed at least twenty of their prisoners if Red XIII hadn't been sent in to calm the government's anger. He even received two letters saying that he was a traitor to his own cause. Yet Ragnar let his decision stand. He had his fill of hate and animosity, and nothing that anyone could say would change his mind.

With the end of combat, Wutai became a problem. The war was now over…and they expected compensation. Ragnar might have had a force of volunteers, but they had a country with an ever-expanding infrastructure. And since Ragnar had little to no damages to rebuild himself, they had wanted almost all of the salvage from the Dome and New Junon area, as well as occupation of the demilitarized zone. The youth realized with some chagrin that he might have another Shinra Corporation to deal with once the current leaders passed the reins on to the next generation. In a way, he was glad he had helped create Isuzu Industries, if only to help balance the world market a bit better. He was certainly not letting them occupy the same area. They'd have free reign to build their own military base. To the tune of 80 percent of the salvage, he managed to make them back off. For the next ten years, only crews working on dismantling the old military engine would be allowed there. To ensure that no more munitions or weapons "shifted around on the table", it was agreed that an ex-PPA officer, a Wutai official, and a neutral party would be there to supervise the cleanup.

It took two weeks to finally get this all done, and he and his friends were tired and wanting to go home. They did so soon after, and found quite a celebration awaiting them back in Edge. After all, they had saved the place from annihilation via the Gauntlet of Zeus. They had ended the war that had made them live in fear for years. Major Shalua Rui came forward to personally transfer control back to Ragnar, and at that time he found a good person to become the first PPA representative for the decommissioning of the Northern Continent.

Ragnar wanted nothing more than to call in everyone, thank them for their support and dedication, and then send them back home to their families. Yet it was much harder than that. It took weeks to systematically shut down each barrack and depo and transfer control back to Edge and Midgar. Personnel had to go through channels to make sure that they were properly dismissed, and such only took place in a piecemeal fashion.

Also, with the war now over…some of the formerly generous civil servants began to show their true colors. They left much of the cleaning work in Ragnar's hands, and even demanded that his force repair much of the destroyed city. That was fair enough…except that the PPA had already repaired most damage done to the city. The officials were directing them to whatever old warehouse, cracked street, or busted light they could find and claiming they damaged it. People who had before donated their services and weapons now came forward and began to say, since Ragnar had come into so much salvage, that he give them "suitable compensation". Even the mayor of Edge himself seemed to pull out taxes from thin air, saying that since the war was over he now was responsible for it. Ragnar couldn't afford to take these matters to court, although he did feel rather betrayed. He had to pledge another fifteen percent of the salvage to the city before all was said and done. That left him with five percent, which he had to use to hire the workmen to actually take the place down. He also had to pray that there was something of real value in that building, or these people would simply come back and demand more money.

Three months after the final day of battle, Ragnar threw a few final things into a suitcase along with his folded up uniform, and turned to leave his office for the final time. A few of the soldiers, now turned civilians again, offered him small parting gifts and salutes as he walked out of the building that had served as their command center. Most of them were sentimental, but he was grateful that some of them at least realized what this had been for. In truth, he was glad that no one gave him any money. Otherwise, more would have demanded it from him. Then, just like that…Ragnar himself was a civilian again for the first time in three years.

Aside from a few clothes at home, his sword, and the meager contents of his suitcase (all of which amounted to a value of 45 gil), he had nothing left. This was what he took with him to start his new life. It was only slightly better than it had been when he had first drug his ragged, soaked body down the streets of Edge. And just like last time, he started off where he had started then…walking back through the doors of the Seventh Heaven.

The house was very crowded now. Ragnar had actually slept on the old couch in his office quite a bit over the past three months to try and save room. Krystea now took one of the large beds. Aerith and Tifa switched off between the remaining one and a spot on the floor. Ragnar and Cloud were still stuffed in the sofa and chair in the living room. The only place where they had more room now was in the kid's room. True to what he had said…Barret took Marlene with him back to Corel. It wasn't the happiest of days. Tifa had managed a goodbye and hug, but then had to go away. She didn't want Barret to see how attached she had grown to Marlene, and how much this affected her. Denzel and Azure weren't that much better off. Marlene herself was clearly torn. On one hand, she liked being back with her father. But Tifa was the only mother she could remember. It was like parents separating. Barret had definitely missed being away from his adoptive daughter…yet he also wasn't blind or callous enough to not see that this decision caused quite a bit of sadness to everyone. For the time, he said nothing. At any rate, Azure finally had his own bed. And despite the loss of their friend, he was able to return to some semblance of his former life.

The bar was back open again, and Cloud had returned to his delivery job. That allowed some meager income to come in, but bills had piled up when the bar had been closed for repairs. Apparently, the utilities companies only let their mercy extend as far as the war. Then they wanted their back pay. Before, basic supplies and food had been taken care of by the PPA, as it had been for all families quartering troops. Now that was cut off too. They were sliding into the red. It was clear that Ragnar and Aerith had to get some work. Unfortunately, Aerith was working for Tifa. She had taken her up on the waitress job. It really was the only thing for her. Returning to selling flowers wasn't going to pay the bills or even give them petty cash. Ragnar needed to apply for work himself, but found out in short order that he wasn't qualified for much. Before he had been a general, he only had minor experience selling clothing. Applying for a job wasn't any easier. Though there were some more "menial" things he could do, he ran into trouble every time he gave them his name. Most people had never seen Ragnar when he led the Planet Protector Army, and those who had saw him in uniform. Seeing some scrawny, basically-dressed young man claiming he was the military officer who had saved the city led far burlier employers to basically throw him out the front door. Things had been looking bad during the fourth month.

Until then, Ragnar, Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith tried to keep their financial woes a secret. They didn't want to start knocking up their friends for cash, and they didn't want to worry the boys. Yet they had forgotten that Krystea was also a viable presence there. One night, Ragnar had been talking about actually getting a factory job from Rufus Shinra when Krystea walked in on them. She was walking again at that point, albeit still shakily and with the aid of a cane. Her brown hair now covered her head, although it was still very short. Her eyebrows were back and her nails had returned, and her skin was a healthy color once more. She was beginning to look a lot like her old self. When she heard about their problems with money, she mentioned that she had some cash from an old job she was willing to give to them for letting her stay there…

Tifa nearly passed out at the ATM the next day when she saw how much had been transferred.

Ragnar would have liked to have graciously accept Krystea's gift, but the fact is that one look at the enormous amount of it tipped him off to its source. Even if it hadn't, the remaining three Turks coming in the next morning yelling that she was nuts was a further indication. Ragnar knew that 30 million gil was the last recorded amount in the New Shinra stockpile. Krystea had given them 7.5 million…one fourth of 30 million. That was what had happened to it. He had an honest streak in him at the time, and honestly thought of contributing it to his original plan of giving all of the former NSA members some to bury the hatchet.

The other Turks nearly attacked him for this. They knew what Ragnar wasn't thinking of. The moment that he tried to give any of this money away, it would become public and the former soldiers would demand the rest. They'd think that Ragnar had stolen the money himself, gave out 7.5 million, and then pocketed the remaining 22.5 million. If he thought he had been taking heat from fair-weather friends before now…he'd be fried after that. In addition to everyone accusing him of being a thief and organizing this entire army simply so he could make himself rich, everyone and their grandmother would be knocking him up for cash. Last but not least, as Reno clearly pointed out to him, it was the members of the PPA who had done the fighting and bleeding for him. If he tried to give some cash to the NSA without giving them anything for their sacrifices, he'd have a thousand death threats by the end of the week.

"This is going to make me throw up to say this…" Reno finally admitted with a sigh. "…But you guys deserve this. Look at you. You take in kids off the street…your generous to any poor bums you see…and you actually try to make this miserable city a better place to live. I didn't do a thing against you guys or for you guys that I wasn't well paid for. You actually gave up your lives to do all this for the world and ungrateful bastards who don't give a damn one way or another. So just take that damn money…because it's making me so pissed that you want to give it away that I'm about ten seconds from shoving it down your throat."

And so…eight months later…things had expanded.

At first they only enlarged the living portion of the Seventh Heaven. That took a bit of decision making. Until now, Ragnar and Aerith had been living with Cloud and Tifa partially out of no where else to go. To be honest, Ragnar had a desire to move back into the City of the Ancients, deserted and ruined as it was. Yet for now, he knew that wasn't too practical. The Northern Continent was still a mess. He had no job to be able to build a house of his own. Aerith herself was working without pay for Tifa, just to try and help her out in the bar. In the end, they decided that they didn't mind living together, and decided for it to stay that way.

Now that they had more money, they were able to think a bit more about options. While Aerith didn't mind working in the Seventh Heaven, once Krystea was healthy enough she decided to give it a shot herself, leaving her more room to think about her own future. It was around this time that she realized there were many orphans still living in the neighborhood. Cloud and Tifa had looked out for them in the past, and had even taken in Denzel, but many of them still had nowhere to go. And so, using a portion of the money, they eventually bought one of the larger buildings and lots next to the Seventh Heaven, and hired an architect to plot out expanding the area around it and joining it next to the bar's main building. They decided to take things to the next step and build an orphanage.

It was around this time that Ragnar himself bought a smaller building down the street and decided on what he wanted to do. Out of all things he could have thought of…he ended up building an arcade. It wasn't a ton of money, but it was a bit more. Aerith couldn't help but smile at the decision.

For a while after that, things were calm. Krystea was back on her feet. Denzel and Azure had adjusted somewhat to Marlene being gone. Ragnar and Aerith had time to go out and relax at the Baptismal Garden as they had used to, and construction was proceeding on the new "greater Seventh Heaven complex". Last but not least…both Cloud and Ragnar noticed that Aerith and Tifa were starting to "put on a little weight". Life seemed pretty good until the sixth month.

Then something came on the news one night. Three police officers had shot an eight year old homeless child to death. Naturally, there was an investigation that was following. Apparently, the police had been called in by a group of older teens, each of which looked to be of the "rougher" sort. They claimed that the kid had attacked them in a bizarre way…shooting lightning from his fingertips. He hadn't hit them, but he did hit a faulty electrical outlet on a nearby building and had caused a fire. The police had arrived and saw the kid in the midst of the flames, trying to find a way out. One of the officers apparently had little sympathy for "urchins", and had yelled at the kid to come out to him. He claimed that the boy responded by shooting lightning at them as well, at which point the officers opened fire out of self defense.

Neither Cloud nor Ragnar bought all of that, and did a bit of their own investigating. It wasn't hard. The place hadn't been far, and, sure enough based on their assumptions, they found the group of older teens roughing up a seven-year old girl for what gil she had made from begging that day. Luckily, Cloud had dealt with this type of people before. After roughing them up a bit, it didn't take much more to get them to wet their pants and spill the truth. They had started the situation with the boy, going for his money in the same way they had tried to go for the girl's.

While dropping them off at the local police station, they encountered the officers they saw on the news. The two others looked like they were nervously clamming up about something. The rougher one was clearly dominating them, and made no secret of throwing his weight around in an attempt to get Cloud and Ragnar to back off. So they simply waited until he was going on duty before Ragnar showed him a bit of his own magical powers, yet this time started by sending a fireball at his gun, knocking it from his grasp. After that, he spilled his guts, and Cloud gave him a warning to never let him catch his sorry ass lying again.

The boy had been innocently walking to the nearest fast food place after a day of pan handling. That was when the older boys had found him and demanded his money. He refused, and they had answered by smacking him to the ground and beginning to rip at his clothes to get to it. It was then that the boy got upset and cried out, and after babbling something incoherent seemed to wildly shoot lightning from his hands. At that point, the gang had scattered as the fire broke out on the nearby building. Thinking he was some mutant or monster, they called in the police. The boy himself was left stunned and afraid as the fire began to lick up the building he had ignited.

The policemen finally arrived. Two of them might have tried to coax him out, but the rougher one treated him like a typical thug. He drew his weapon immediately and told the boy to put his hands in the air and come out. When the child answered with stammering and confusion, not understanding what he had done or what was going on, the officer answered by firing a warning shot. That fear was too much for him. He lashed out again, this time wildly scattering lightning around the three officers. Out of panic, the three had shot him dead.

It wasn't the tragedy that soon made the four of them upset…it was knowing what this meant. Aerith still had the Sorceress within her. Whenever she wanted, she could bring it back out again. She had been content not to use it anymore, but apparently that wasn't enough. Her release had done what Bahamut had warned it would.

After thousands of years…magic was returning to the world. Not just materia effects or mako weapons, but real magic. Ragnar had remembered reading old stories about how certain children were gifted with it at a young age, and if they were found early enough could be enrolled in special schools where they could learn to develop their powers. Yet there were no special places for them now, and the world didn't believe in them. Already, many of the children who had been under Jenova's control lived in fear from their neighbors and fellow orphans. Now many more of them, both here and around the world, were soon going to discover they had special abilities, just like that boy had found out that one night. Once they did, they'd meet with the same hatred and fear that the policemen had given them. Now a new age was starting. This was an isolated incident for now. Yet more could come, and it wouldn't take long for people to find out that this was an event happening all over the world. When that happened, the response was not likely to be acceptance. It was more likely to be witch hunts and systematic genocide.

It was then that Aerith decided to take a new job once the facility was built. This wasn't just going to be a haven for unwanted children. It would be a shelter for those with magical abilities as well. Ragnar and the others readily agreed. They were the only ones on Gaia, most likely, that understood what was happening. And fate had conspired to give them quite a bit of resources to work with. Perhaps this was their destiny and responsibility. All that was left to do now was wait for construction to finish and to start identifying children on the street who would need to come in. That…and pray that their orphanage was finished before a major panic began.

After that, however, things had gotten better. Seven months after the end of the war, Barret and Marlene had come back into town. Part of the reason was that Barret was opening a branch office on this side of the continent in Edge for distribution of oil refined back in Corel. Another part, however, was that he realized that Marlene was too unhappy being away from her friends. She had spent much of her life with them as well as Barret, and so he knew that keeping her an ocean away from them save for a few vacations a year was too much of a stretch. And so…they ended up moving to a new place within Edge themselves. Azure and Denzel had their playmate back, and Tifa brightened up quite a bit herself to see Marlene constantly visiting.

Eight months after the end of the war, and Ragnar began to get enough support for a new venture back up north to turn the City of the Ancients into a World Heritage Site. That would mean that it could be mostly kept in its same condition as it was now, save for some efforts at natural restoration to its original appearance. It also opened it up to some earlier archeological exploration despite the fact that the area was still a "neutral zone" from the war. Ragnar was eager to head back. In addition to relishing the site, he wanted to read more of the documents and look into his ancestor's past. He also wanted to take Aerith back to teach her how to read her own native language, assuming it didn't simply "click" as it had with him. Of course, by that point, neither she nor Tifa were moving much of anywhere…

Nine months after the end of the war, Cloud and Ragnar found themselves being "Mr. Mom"s around the house as they ticked off the final few days to their respective special days. It ended up only being three days apart when it happened. Tifa beat Aerith. It was a bit chaotic initially. Tifa had wanted to check into the hospital, but Aerith had somehow changed her mind by reading her an article that showed that births were ironically less complicated when they happened at home with only a midwife. Krystea, having a basic training in the event and being the only female adult in the house, ended up reluctantly taking the job. As it was, Tifa yelled once or twice at Aerith for talking her into going through labor without the use of drugs. However, both women were no strangers to pain, and both were able to go through without many problems.

It turned out that Cloud now had three sons…since he had officially adopted both Denzel and Azure only two months after the end of the war. Their new baby brother, Crain, had Cloud's intense blue eyes and Tifa's soft brown hair. Aerith surprised everyone by giving birth to not one baby but twins. One boy and one girl, both with beautiful green eyes. Although Ragnar had an idea of naming them after a famous pair of twins in ancient history, Palom and Porom, Aerith, with some assistance from Tifa, superceded his decision, and their names were Samoa and Simoa. For the next few months, it was a happy time with the new babies, stressful as it was at times. Luckily, they had Krystea to persuade the other Turks to come in and babysit occasionally. Rude was surprisingly good. Elena was a bit too jittery. Reno dreaded every moment of it, since Crain enjoyed pulling his hair and the twins enjoyed the feel of his coat when they felt the need to throw up.

And now, twelve months from the end of the war…well…

The doors to the Baptismal Garden burst open, and the two couples rushed out into a storm of white birdseed.

It was true that they had Barret quickly marry them back on board the Dyne a year ago, but they had wanted an official ceremony with all the trimmings ever since then. It had taken a long time for things to calm down and get situated, and even after that was done there were the babies to worry about. Yet three months after they were born, they had finally managed to get together to carry it out.

The two men wore basic black tuxes. Cloud had the harder time getting into his, but Ragnar had wanted to wear his old uniform himself. It took some needling from their other friends to get them in, and they looked nice despite the fact that Cloud was a bit too "wild" for a suit of any kind. The two women wore white dresses up to beneath the shoulder. No extremely long trains or overwhelming ornamentation, but both of them continued to wear the white flowers that had held their veils over their faces as they came out. It suited them well. It had been suggested at one point that Aerith simply go into her Sorceress form, but that would have not only overshadowed the ceremony but it would have been hard to know what to do with four wings. Either couple held the hands of their spouse, and smiled and laughed a bit as they kept their heads low, dodging some of the birdseed as they made their way down the stairs.

Their closest friends were the ones responsible for the bombardment. Some of them were patrons of the bar or old officers of the Planet Protector Army who had come to respect them. The nearest, however, were friends from before the New Shinra had ever been heard of. All in all, it still made for quite a crowd.

Red XIII, who had been elected to act as minister for this particular event, was the only one not throwing anything. It was only partially due to his reserved nature. Part of it was simply that he lacked the appendages that could do such a task. Yet he smiled with the rest of them as his friends left the church. He felt glad that he had come here to the wedding, dirty and foul as Midgar and Edge were compared to a place like Cosmo Canyon. Yet he was able to do some studies on how the local flora and fauna were improving here…first after the mako eruption, but more recently after the powers of the Sorceress had greatly advanced the healing of the Great Northern Crater. More importantly, however, was something here he wanted to see that was nowhere in Cosmo Canyon: his friends.

Barret, always maintaining his gruff exterior, had to struggle not to cry. It wasn't so much for Cloud or Ragnar or even Aerith, but for Tifa. It hadn't just been because Marlene was unhappy that he had brought him and his adoptive daughter back to Edge. It was because Tifa had always been there for him and for Marlene. Barret knew that he was hardly a "motherly figure". If Marlene only had him for an influence, she would have been swearing and beating punching bags when she turned six. He really appreciated her time and attention which she gave to the girl. He truly thought she was the third most wonderful woman he had ever met…after his wife and Eleanor, of course. He mouthed a silent promise to "ol' spiky" that if he ever made her cry, he'd live to regret it.

Yuffie had to struggle from blubbering herself even as she hopped up and down for joy. Being the most emotional out of the whole "original group", she naturally showed the most reaction. It was hard to believe that she had once been the least trusted and most disliked member of their team. After all, she had tricked them and betrayed them. Even their initial meeting was a fight. However, time had really changed the young woman. Maybe it was because she had to accept far more responsibility back in Wutai and find time for her ninja thief career that she realized how much it meant to have friends and what it meant to be willing to fight for someone other than yourself. Of course, in the past year, she took that to an extreme. She now cut out of Wutai frequently to go around as some sort of vigilante, calling herself the "White Flower of Wutai" before leaping into danger…and half the time getting trashed by an unseen villain. More than once, she had stumbled into the Seventh Heaven with a sheepish smile and covered with bumps and bruises after an unsuccessful night…which only went to show that having friends was a good thing.

There wasn't much to say about Vincent, other than the fact that he had shown up, stood at the front lines, and smiled along with everyone else. He continued to roam Gaia after the war was over and his wounds were healed, going on some unknown mission that was likely to try and discover more about himself and the final months of Lucrecia's life. No one could say if he had found his peace yet. Despite the dialogue that they had, Aerith had never pushed him for an answer after that day before the final battle. One could say she already had enough on her mind and couldn't worry about something like that. One might also say that she already knew the answer and didn't need his explanation. There was only one thing clear to her now…and that was that whenever Vincent came into town and saw Krystea…he seemed to actually feel the emotion of happiness. Perhaps, in spite of the truth they knew…it felt good to at least make as if it was real…

Reeve and his eternally faithful Cait Sith had come, the latter sans moogle. That was good, for he was practically pelting the brides and grooms with seed and the bigger toy would have done much worse. Reeve had good reason to be happy without this event. Isuzu Industries was booming, having easily made the transition from military production to commercial goods. It was expanding quickly in its wake. As a major shareholder, he was profiting quite a bit from this. However, he liked the fact that he now could be a driving force of this company, and not merely some voice to be ignored. The latest "eco-friendly" projects were moving right along, and testing of the first "fission reactor" was proceeding.

Of course, he owed most of this innovation success to their current president, who for right now was continuing to operate behind a dummy. Rufus himself may have been gaining back much of his former wealth and cleaning up the mess left by his father's company, but he would commit corporate suicide if anyone knew he was the president of the industry. He didn't even dare show his face in public to be at the wedding. However, he had sent something of a "gag" gift…the mug shots of Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa from when they had been arrested for infiltrating the Shinra HQ Building. As for Ragnar, he sent him a pair of eyeglasses…that had belonged to his father. The note inside simply read, "Deep down inside, I'm sure you always wanted a piece of my old man. This one's on me."

The kids were there too. They had a great time. After all, Marlene and Denzel had wanted Cloud and Tifa to finally get married for years. And as for Azure and Denzel, they were finally going to be a real family along with their new baby brother. The darkness of the past seemed to have faded. Azure was free of the Jenova within him, now living life as a normal, happy child. Of course, he was still incredibly strong, agile, and intelligent, but it no longer mattered. After all, Cloud was the same way. And Denzel, due to his own Jenova cells, was already stronger than kids four years older than him. Their family was already filled with unusually powered people, so this was nothing new. They had been even happier lately, now that Marlene was back in town and visited them almost every day…except on days when they visited her. As far as the kids were concerned, it looked like things would be going well with them for a long time.

Of course…there was one person missing from this festivity. Shera had never known the group as well as Cid, but she had come none the less to wish them good luck. She wasn't alone. Old Commander Mack was giving his own regards. After all, he knew Ragnar before Cloud. And it was due to his involvement in the PPA that he found his next calling in life: pilot. Even if Mack hadn't heard Cid's last words, it was outlined in the last version of his will that he wanted Mack to work for his company as an airship captain. It had taken a few months, but Mack had taken the job. The company was doing well now. It was getting easier and easier to move around Gaia thanks to it. Now that it no longer donated any of its resources to the PPA, the business was "taking off" (pardon the pun). Still, Mack couldn't help but feel a bit inferior compared to Cid. He didn't even like being called "captain" on board the ship that had once been his. That said, Mack fit in like a hand in a glove at the place, and there was little doubt that this was the best place for him to be.

Then, of course, were the Turks. For once, their suits seemed to be appropriate. However, since Krystea had been Aerith's maid-of-honor, she once again didn't match them, but wore a simple dress instead. Despite the fact that her hair was still not back to its original length, she had managed to style her shorter hair in an attractive fashion none the less.

For her, this was a bittersweet event. Though she was happy for her sister and her new friends as she saw them walking off the last steps and headed toward the car that would bear them to the reception, she was sad to know that she wouldn't be with her much longer. Despite what Aerith had insisted, she was still a Turk. And now that her strength had returned and she was back to normal for the most part, the others wanted to move out. She had held them off for almost a year, but now they were ready to leave right after the reception. She couldn't give up her lifestyle or her friendships so easily. Nevertheless, she knew how much Aerith hated her line of work…and after seeing herself commit such horrible murders through the eyes of Aleron, she had to admit that she wasn't much for any more assassinations. Still, she had no idea what the future would bring. And because of that, she was going to hold on a bit longer. Perhaps some day she'd "settle down" into a lifestyle that her sister liked better, but for now…

Krystea suddenly noticed a flashbulb go off to her right. She was a bit surprised, having not thought that there was a photographer or a person with a camera there before. She turned her head to see who had come up while she had been lost in thought…

She was rather surprised to find herself looking down instead to find the flash's source. There was a little girl standing there, lowering a camera from her vision. She couldn't be any older than eight. Yet despite how young she was, she dressed in a rather mature fashion. Most of her clothing and frame was concealed by a long brown spring coat she wore, and a wide-brimmed hat kept anyone from seeing much of her face.

Krystea was confused at this. What was this girl doing here? Was she one of the orphans who had come to Cloud and Tifa? She looked rather clean for one of them. Yet she didn't see any parents around her. If she could have gotten a closer look at her face, then perhaps…

Much to Krystea's sudden surprise, the girl suddenly turned and looked straight into her eyes. The Turk actually drew back a bit at this. The way the girl was dressed, it seemed as if she had been trying to conceal herself before now. Yet now that Krystea was looking at her, she readily turned and looked back.

She looked very vibrant and energetic, despite her calm position. She had soft brown hair and burning green eyes. Those eyes were intense…very sly yet empowered. Most of all, Krystea had the sensation that she had seen her somewhere before…but she couldn't think of when…

"You looked very lovely in the wedding." The girl finally stated.

This only surprised the woman more.

"…Who are you?"

The girl grinned and struck a pose. "I'm just a lil' wedding crasher. I love going to big parties. That, and seeing everyone in their cute little suits and dresses. Makes me wish I had gotten married."

This answer only confused Krystea even more than before. "You're only…"

"And, of course, I had to see my darling all healthy and dandy too." The girl cut off. "You're a very pretty lady. I'm sure you'll make and break a lot of hearts for the rest of your life."

The woman blinked. "…Do I know you?"

"Nope." The girl cheerily answered.

"Do your parents know where you are?"

The girl shrugged. "If you believe in that existential stuff, I suppose all our parents know where we are. But I'm glad I know where you are. And I hope you have a nice, happy, mutation-free life…regardless of what happens to me in the next few months."

Krystea's brow furrowed…wondering if that meant what she thought it meant. "How…?"

The girl answered by showing her teeth and holding up a hand to wave at the woman. "Toodle-oo!"

Without another word, she turned and sprinted off into the wedding crowd. Lithe and small, it was easy for her to twist around the bodies of the people gathered and soon put quite a distance between herself and Krystea. She was soon out of sight. The woman took a step forward, holding out her hand to tell the girl to wait…but it was already too late. She had vanished into the crowd, and there was no way she could catch up with her. Everyone was too busy watching the brides and grooms. It would take forever to push through them and catch her.

Confused, and feeling that same haunting familiarity about her, Krystea stepped back but continued to look out to the crowd.

"I'm not really used to treatment like this. I don't usually ride around in cars…"

Ragnar gave a shrug in reply. "Well…it's a special occasion, and I wanted to do the whole 'just married' effect. So long as Reeve offered, I supposed it wouldn't hurt."

"It's alright with me." Tifa threw in. "Otherwise, Cloud might have tried to squeeze me on the back of Fenrir in this, and he would have failed in that regard."

The two couples both laughed a bit in response to this joke. Currently, they were seated in the back of one of Isuzu Industries' company cars. It was a stretch one, meant for seating important executives from out of town as they were shuttled to and from the port of Junon…and recently the new airport. Reeve had let them borrow it for the purpose of the wedding. As they sped off to the reception at the Seventh Heaven, the four reclined on seats facing each other, each one seated with their respective spouse.

"Although…" Tifa continued after a moment. "I would have been happier if I could have taken the day totally off…and didn't have to cook for my own reception."

Cloud turned to her. "I told you that you didn't have to if you didn't want."

This only made Tifa smile again as she elbowed Cloud a bit in the ribs. "I didn't want to get poisoned at my own reception either, Cloud. I've seen you cook."

Everyone, Cloud included, snickered a bit at this comment.

Ragnar let out an exhale afterward and leaned back a bit. "Well, it's still not going to be much of a honeymoon for any of us. I guess the past year has been our real reprieve. The orphanage is opening up next week and I'm leaving town after tomorrow night for the archeological dig."

Aerith turned to him and sighed a bit. "I wish you'd put that off for a bit longer. I'd like you to hang around the house for at least a month until we've gotten everything squared away at the school."

Ragnar frowned but shrugged. "I can't do anything about it. I've been wanting to get back to the City of the Ancients for years. I practically rammed the permission order down the throats of Wutai's government, and if I balk now they won't give me another chance for months…maybe years. I'm still planning on doing as much work as I can before then." He paused, and then smiled. "You know me…the old workaholic."

Aerith smiled back. "That's for sure. At least you'll get to greet the first one tomorrow. He's the only one from out of town, and Mack's flying him in from Nibelheim. That's why he's going to be leaving the reception early."

Cloud himself leaned back a little on hearing that. Tifa changed slightly too, seeming to lose some of her own smile.

"Nibelheim…" Cloud echoed aloud.

"I looked at his bio." Tifa threw in. "His parents were settled in the old town after it was destroyed. Still…after what happened with kids like Denzel, there's no telling what Shinra might have been doing to the new people there."

"Doesn't seem likely that they'd just settle them there to cover up an accident and not try to get something else out of them." Cloud answered. "Maybe this is a chance to find out what exactly happened after Zack broke me out of there…"

"Well don't harass him that much." Aerith answered. "He's already had so many accidents with his own new powers that we've heard about him all the way in Midgar. We don't want him to start worrying about what happened to his town before he moved in." She paused a moment after saying this, and then smiled. "Besides…today's our wedding day. We can worry about the world's problems again tomorrow."

Ragnar gave a smile and a nod himself at this. "I agree. We have plenty of stress the other 364 days of the year. I'd like a day to just lean back and realize what we all have to be happy about."

Cloud and Tifa said nothing else, but it was clear that they agreed. Soon, all of them were leaning back a bit and relaxing in silence. As time went on, they slowly began to look toward their respective spouses again. They remembered what had happened today, and now again began to realize what it meant to be man and wife. Until today, it had seemed almost transitionary…like some sort of engagement rather than official. But now it was true. They had all their friends and families. After having lost so much, they had gotten a lot back…with interest.

Slowly, Aerith leaned over and rested her head against Ragnar's shoulder. She smiled and looked up to him, and he in turn smiled back and put his arm around her. It was so strange, he realized. Aerith still had the power of the Sorceress within her. Now that it was a source of life and not death, she could call on it whenever she wished. He was sitting next to the most powerful being on Gaia…possibly in its entire history…and yet with all her strength and ability she was content just to rest against him. It made him feel even luckier than he had been before.

The young man turned his head and looked outside the window. His head looked up to the sky. In spite of all his friends and family here, and how happy this day was, and what a bright future he had to look forward to…it was missing one thing that could have made it perfect. His mentor…his friend…his father…had not been there to share it with him. He still thought about him from time to time. It was because of him that they had won in the end. His knowledge and power alike had come to the aid of humanity one last time before returning to the Lifestream. And he missed him. He had saved his life twice, and there was nothing he could do to repay it. He only wished that he could go sparring with him as they used to one more time…

Where am I?

This feels…familiar…

Bahamut felt himself coming to something. However, he couldn't exactly say that he was becoming conscious. He knew what it was like to be unconscious and to awaken again. This wasn't like this. This wasn't like emerging from some deep fog of heavy blackness, slowly remembering who you were and what was going on. This was something different…

It didn't feel so much like remembering yourself…as becoming yourself. Bit by bit, he felt as if he was coming together out of nothing. It was like he was being formed piece by piece… First he could feel his awareness. Then, bit by bit, he began to feel his senses. His touch first, although he couldn't feel anything. His hearing came next, although there was nothing to hear. Then he began to feel his body. It started at his head…then his neck…then his chest…then his arms slowly came into being. One at a time, he began to feel his body return.

Yet he felt different… His body didn't feel quite the same. He didn't even feel the same in the traditional sense of feeling and realizing physical presence. He had the sensation that he was floating in some empty void. Yet it felt warm…almost livid as it went around him. And yet all of this felt familiar somehow…as if he had experienced it a long time ago… Yet the memory was vague…lost… Somehow, he thought he had tried to find it before, but had failed every time before now.

Now, however…he felt the memory returning. It started to become clearer… He had been here before. It was a very long time ago, but he had spent a long time in this place when he had last come. But where had he come from?

He thought he would know clearly…but he didn't. He didn't remember how he had come here, or when. To his surprise, his memories seemed flipped. What once was clear was now vague, and what was once vague was now clear. How had this happened? What was this?

Yet even as the realization began to sink in…he felt something new on his newly-formed lips.

Something warm and alive pressed against them.

It seemed only at that point that his eyes reformed, and at that time he opened them to see what had happened.

Now he remembered.

All around him was a vast expanse…stretching infinitely in all directions. And here, infinity truly meant infinity. This place was as large or as small as one wished it to be, depending on how much they looked into what was around them. For here…there was no reality except what was in the spirit. And the depths of one's spirit cannot be measured by physical means or even imagined by mortal minds. Only if one's soul remained here could they hope to see it or begin to understand it. Yet even then, it was impossible…for here was the collected stuff of life from all living things on Gaia, coursing throughout the Planet as blood travels through a living being…

The Lifestream.

This was not some mortal looking into the Lifestream. If they did, they could see nothing except an endless flow of green energy. If they were attuned enough, they might be able to hear the attempts of the spirits within to manifest themselves into sound, perhaps even see the form they would take…but none could see or hear more than that. Now…Bahamut was a part of the Lifestream. He was one with the energy. The spirits flowed around him both amorphous and concrete, and him with it. They saw everything about him, and he saw everything about them.

He had been here long before…when Wyvern had sent him here centuries ago. Yet now, he only saw something else. He saw that he was not the only one here who had taken an approximation of his original physical form. One more was right in front of him…and kissing him deeply.

Bahamut was surprised…but at the same time he enjoyed this. Something about it seemed very warm…very familiar. A sensation the likes of which he could barely remember feeling yet he loved flowed through him. He felt himself closing his eyes again and relishing it. It wasn't long before instincts…or perhaps memories…made him respond just as strongly to the kiss he felt. He could feel the lips on the other smiling as he did this. For what seemed like hours…days even…they were linked together. He felt the other's arms encircling him, embracing him tightly. He too felt the need to do the same, and he did.

At last they parted. Bahamut had to. His memory remembered this, but he couldn't focus enough to know why or who it was. It felt right, but that wasn't enough. And so he pulled back the precious distance he needed, and looked to see who it was.

As soon as he saw her…part of his memory cleared, becoming as clear and distinct as crystal.

Specifically, he remembered how he had seen her so many years ago…when he used his mental control to change her perception of reality. It led the both of them into the grove from his own memory. There he was, in human form but also in his most regal attire, wearing his crown of seven spires. And there she was, similarly attired in how an important lady in his old court would have looked. She had chosen to look like this again, for here one could look however they wanted. Yet she wasn't scared like last time. She smiled softly at him, looking happier than she had been in a long time.

"Terra…" Bahamut finally said.

The half esper kept her smile. She reached out and touched his cheek. "…I've waited hundreds of years for you."

When Terra's fingertips touched his cheek, he felt no scales there. Just soft flesh. He looked down…and saw that he had changed too. Either Bahamut had subconsciously willed it the moment he saw her dressed like this, or somehow she had altered him for herself…but he was now dressed the same way he was in the same vision, and in human form as well. He looked back up to her. For a moment, he was silent. He heard what she had said. It filled his face with some confusion and hesitation.

"You've waited for me? All this time?"

"I never was able to bare my soul to you in life." Terra answered calmly. "I swore I would do so after death."

Bahamut's mouth loosened slightly. "You…never married?"

Terra reached out and took his head with her other hand. She kept her smile.

"I meant to marry you when I said yes to your proposal, Bahamut. You were the only one I ever wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I could never live with anyone else."

The esper was speechless. He stared at her for a moment more, his own face still uncertain. He slowly shook her head at her.

"…I only wanted you to be happy, Terra. I never wanted to keep you from finding love…"

"I found love long before I met you." Terra answered, cutting him off. "I loved the children. But the only one I could ever love in that way was you. I was sad after you died. I was barely able to do anything other than sit and think of you for a year. But I remembered that I had let people down before because I was too unhappy to do anything. I wasn't going to let that happen again…just like I knew you wouldn't want me to. I knew you loved the children just as much as I did. So I forced myself to get on with living. I had a good, long life. I saw the children up until their grandchildren. I was happy. But I would never truly be happy without you. What truly made me content is that I knew I'd be with you again one day. I just never expected that you were the one who would die after me. I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. There's nothing more than can get between us. Death cannot separate us again."

Bahamut looked back to Terra again. It was true…he had missed her very much. He had been waiting to see her again. Yet…he never fully believed that Terra would want him back just as much. Now, however, he saw how wrong he had been. Her devotion had been just as great as his…spanning life and death alike. And now…they were together. Nothing would ever come between them again.

The esper slowly began to realize the truth. At long last…he was at peace.

This damn thing won't be cleaned out for a decade…

Oh well…what do I care about hours so long as I get a percentage?

This line of thinking was pretty much the norm for all workers inside the former New Shinra HQ Dome. It was still a marvel even when decommissioned. The building may have not been as high as the original HQ Building, but it more than made up for it in ground surface area. Many of the workers believed that General Leers had been a fool when he first built it. He must have put the majority of what iron he was able to mine into constructing it and the Juggernaut. It was small wonder that they were able to be outdone in resources by the PPA and WGN given enough time.

As it was, the building now provided plenty of scrap for the rest of the developing world. The only personnel left here were workers and demolishers, and day and night for months they had been slowly disassembling the great monolith. Ex-General Ragnar had done one thing right to ensure that work would continue, and that was ensuring that the workers themselves got a share of the profits from selling the scrap. That ensured that the building was being struck as quickly as possible, and also that as many large pieces as possible were being conserved. Girders, circuit boards, lights, and pipe sections were only some of the prefabricated pieces being removed. Current developers were designing their buildings to use as many prefabricated pieces as possible to take advantage of the surplus of materials.

The places where many stock units were assembled together were easy to take apart. It wasn't so in areas where this particular worker found himself with his thoughts. This area looked like it had been in a hurricane. Most of the structure was weak and deformed. Whatever hadn't been welded down had been broken and thrown apart. This was standard fare for the outside of the Dome, where cannon fire had destroyed much of the surface, but it was far more unusual to see this damage here on the lowest sublevel. All architects and engineers theorized this area should have been the most protected from any bombardment. Yet it looked almost like the war had been fought in this basement…

Unfortunately, this was one of the first places that had to go. Based on how the Dome was constructed, it had to be taken apart in reverse order. That meant starting with the center. It was hard work, because this was the area with the reactor and much of the waste produced from it. It took two months just to clean that out. Yet once it was gone, there was still quite a mess left behind. One of the tanks had ruptured, it seemed, and had covered the floor below with the foul material. It had melted quite a bit of good stock, and created more of a hassle for those who were forced to clean up after it.

The worker was unhappily doing this right now. His jackhammer hummed as he used it to pry up large chunks of broken concrete. He was literally at the bottom of the Dome while he did this. Beneath him there should be nothing but soil. Normally, they would have left the foundation until last…but thanks to the mako spill they had to check for waste contamination. It wouldn't do to lower in a heavy piece of demolition equipment just to have it collapse into a mako waste sinkhole. This was genuine grunt work that had no real profit in it. Overhead, working on what of the interior structure wasn't wrecked, other workers were cutting through welds and unratcheting girders. Only two others reserved his dank position, but they were busy prying the metal off of the concrete foundation. That left him having the worst job.

I better still get a cut of this. He thought as he drilled at a new spot. I may not be salvaging anything at the moment, but I'm still doing the jobs no one else wants to do. I'm the one putting myself at risk up here. I could always fall into the sinkhole myself…

As if to confirm his thoughts…the ground abruptly fractured beneath the man's jackhammer. He suddenly lurched forward as the device punched through the concrete and into empty space. He toppled a moment…but then the memory of what this could mean and what could happen to him kicked in. In a rush of fear, he released the jackhammer and quickly scrambled backward, out of the rough hole that he had made.

However, he didn't go far. The jackhammer had punched through something, but hadn't done much more than that. Now, the chisel lay about six inches under the rock, with the rest of the tool tilted slightly out of it, being supported by its position. After that, all was stable. The worker stopped and waited, looking for the rest of the ground to give way or something. It stayed steady though. Nothing else happened. Nothing creaked or groaned. Nothing crumbled.

The worker stayed back a bit longer, but then tentatively began to move back. He set his feet lightly on the ground, as if by doing so he could somehow avoid being caught in a cave in if one occurred. Yet the ground was steady and stable. He slowly made his way back over to his tool, and with utmost care picked it up and pulled it out of the hole it had made. Once that was done, he looked at the ground around it. Most of it wasn't as deep as the area he had punctured. He hesitated a moment, but then stamped lightly on the area around the hole. It didn't move or budge. Only a few grains of dirt came down around the edge. The area he must have hit must have been a weak spot. Whatever open space was below, it must have curved down on all sides, making everywhere else thicker.

Now realizing that it wasn't going to collapse anytime soon, the worker got more of his bearings back. His first idea was that he had found it…a sinkhole caused by mako waste. Yet as he began to inch closer to it again, he noticed that he didn't see the same pale glow that one would expect from a pit of waste. What more, he was wearing a special counter for toxic particles, and it wasn't picking up anything new. If it was a waste hole, it had to be incredibly deep by now, keeping any of the toxic particles from rising to the surface again.

The man finally reached the edge and looked down. There wasn't much to see. Even with portable lights set up in the sub-basement, he could barely see more than an inch down into the dark indentation he had made. With that in mind, he reached for his flashlight next. After pulling it out and switching it on, he shone it down the hole to try and see what he had come up with.

It did no good. The beam went down into darkness…and then was swallowed up. He couldn't see the bottom or the sides. Wherever it was…it was very large and deep.

The worker formed a puzzled look as he pulled his flashlight back and turned it off. Was this a mako sinkhole? If the waste had been intense enough to make this big of an impression, why didn't it cut through the concrete above? The ground really wasn't fractured or warped enough to allow the formation of a sinkhole in the first place. It was enough to make him think that this spot had always been here. But if that was the case, then why hadn't they filled it up when they placed the foundation of the Dome? Why did they just patch over it?

The worker didn't know. However, he didn't think it was a good idea to work down here if this was going to be a problem. He turned around and looked up to the workers in the chamber around him.

"Hey Marko! Get the boss on the horn! We've got a problem here!"

The center of Midgar was lifeless and dead. Decimated by WEAPON, Meteor, and a duel to the death between the two titans known as Sephiroth and Cloud Strife, it would not suffer humans to pass for a long time. Even the eruption of Lifestream and the revitalization of the Planet would only permit small amounts of weedy life to start making homes here. In generations to come, it would become far more fertile. Yet for now, it was a waste…home only to mutated beasts. Even the homeless shunned the ruins of buildings there.

At night, far more deadly creatures went on the prowl, going about killing each other for food and slowly eradicating their abominable existences from the face of Gaia. Of course, they'd kill anything else that suited their fancy as well. Hence, even the birds tried to fly around it when night fell, sticking to the rim area and Edge instead. Humans didn't bother coming here, and didn't even attempt doing something so risky as spending a night.

As a result, it seemed fairly moot that one of General Ragnar's final orders before disbanding the Planet Protector Army was to have a security force appointed by Edge's government to keep an area off limits to human contact.

The area in question was nothing special. Most didn't even recognize it for what it was. In the ruins of a sub-basement that had been gutted and exposed after the heaven-rendering battle between the two juggernauts, half buried by girders, was a massive metal door. It was cold and formidable, just as it had been since its construction over a decade ago. The locks still held. By now, they were rusted and old, and it was unlikely that anything could move them. But they kept their original purpose of keeping the door shut. And therein was the special thing about this door…that it was to remain shut forever, like a great, cosmic Pandora's Box.

The beasts came by here occasionally, just as they had always done. On the surface, it seemed to be no different from the rest of the center of Midgar. Yet human senses are not as sharp or attuned to mortal danger as those of other animals. The hound-like creatures would snarl for prey, flicking their whip-like tails and gnashing their teeth, as they leapt over to the door in search of food. They would lower their heads and sniff the edge momentarily.

And then…something would strike them. Ever since their painful mutation, it seemed unlikely that the maddened creatures could feel anything but animal rage. Yet this door reminded them of another emotion…fear. Their tails would actually stop flicking and lower between their legs, and their lips would again cover their teeth as they whimpered, turned, and began to run away. They smelled death in there…death and danger.

On this particular night, a much more dim-witted and stronger mutant came by. This one was called a Dual Horn. It lumbered about, crushing metal underneath its heavy feet and treating car ruins around it like debris as it stomped forward. It cared for nothing about danger. It only cared to find food…and to gore and trample any and all who looked like a threat. To its small, tortured brain, however…the whole world was a threat. Yet that made no difference to it.

It approached the door, but paid it no mind. There were a few dull scratches on it from the past, when numerous Dual Horns had come by and attempted to gain entry. Each had failed, so it turned its attention elsewhere. It looked to a pile of metal debris and rubble just in front of the door. It shifted its massive bulk to this position, and then lowered its lower horns to the ground. Once there, it slowly began to shift away at it, in search of the teeniest, tiniest source of vegetation to ease its hunger pangs…

For this particular Dual Horn, fate was against it that night. It was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The creature never even heard the massive gunshot go out. That was hard to believe, because anyone who had heard that gun fire would have not thought of it as a gun but some sort of cannon. Every beast and creature for miles around cried out in terror or pain (depending on how close they were to the sonic boom), and then fled as fast as they could, struggling to find shelter or safety from a new predator. Even if one hadn't heard that, there was little missing the massive blasting and creaking sound that resulted…as the once mighty and formidable door was ripped from its hinges, carried a few feet, and then left to slam down onto the ground before the doorway it once concealed.

That was because the shot may have ripped the door off of its hinges, but it wasn't satisfied with that. As soon as it ripped off, the shot continued to punch through the metal until it formed a craterous impact in it. A smoldering hole was left in its wake as it ripped out the other side. It was from here that the shot continued until it reached the thick, heavy neck of the Dual Horn…and tore right through it. The spine, carotids, and larynx were immediately severed in a messy, crude way. Only six inches of flesh held the beast's head on. However, it didn't live long enough to realize what had happened to it. It fell down a moment later, and moved no more.

Smoke poured out of the black opening that had been left in the wake of the door. Moonlight shone its dim rays inside, giving the interior the first illumination it had received in over ten years. At first, it seemed like a phantom event. There was no sign of any life, or of the weapon that had done this.

Yet then…they came.

The first was the one who had fired. It was obvious not from the fact that the smoke was pouring from the end of his gun barrel, but because of the fact that the gun itself was the only thing big enough that could have done it. It was the size of a piece of light artillery…and yet its owner hefted it with one hand. Yet this too was easy to see, because the owner was practically ten feet tall and was rippling with muscle. His short, spiked blue hair hung back over his head, revealing burning, cat-like pupils in black corneas. If this thing was human, something very unnatural had turned him into what he was now.

The next was far more human in appearance…but far less human in soul. Wearing a cruel, sadistic smile on her face…one that would have been in Aleron's league, she strolled out wearing a sort of combat uniform that looked more like an exotic dress. Her own brushed back long red hair was as vivid as her eyes…crimson like blood. The strange weapon she carried appeared to be a polearm with blades on both sides, and guns in the middle built into the staff. She wielded it in a fashion that indicated her eagerness to draw blood with it.

The third looked the most helpless. He was dressed in skin-tight black, and his arms looked bound against his body with silver straps. His mouth and head were bound in similar silver bands, out of which peeked his own spiked black hair and dark eyes. Matching the color of his restraints, he bore two metallic wings on his back. They seemed to have arms and guns built into them as well. Just as the previous one would have given Aleron's sadism a run for its money, this one gave Sephiroth's darkness a run for his. The shadows actually seemed to be clinging to him…

This was the first one who spoke.

"The Planet Protector Army is no more, correct?"

A fourth came out, seeming to be the one the third addressed. She might have looked the most innocent and human…if it wasn't for the fact that her face was as cold and hard as ice. Just like the rest of them, she felt neither pity nor remorse for the evil within her heart. Though she appeared to be just a simple little girl, she was far older and mature. Holstered at her sides were strange sorts of stick weapons that seemed to plug in behind her. She gazed out with her own burning eyes ahead at the world around her, feeling no love or desire to preserve it. For a moment…it appeared that her eyes did actually turn into flames…

"It has been no more for some time now." She answered, speaking in the voice of a little girl, yet cold and heartless. "I've watched them slowly decommission after hacking into that cat one of them created for months. There's not even a skeleton of a structure left."

A laughing snort answered this as the fifth, and final, individual stepped out of the shadows. This one wasn't as tall or hulking as the first, but he still looked to be a model of perfection. His muscles were toned and hard. His skin was without blemish. After all, it shouldn't have been. After having undergone the process of becoming a first-class SOLDIER, and then undergoing countless other "modifications" after being shipped off to the place they knew only as "DeepGround", he was the most perfect being after Sephiroth that Shinra was able to make.

His hair was partially covered by his own long white spiked mane. He kept his shirt off, allowing the world to not so much marvel at his strength as to fear his power. His bare skin taunted all enemies into trying something…knives…guns…bombs…anything at all. The last thing they would see would be it bouncing off like flinging a marble at a sheet of rubber. Sheathed behind him were two katanas, each with a gun built into the handle. He let these stay down for now. Though he had a lust for blood, he didn't indulge it just yet. At this point, that would be unwise…but soon the time would come.

"Then the weak will have nothing with which to protect themselves." The dark warrior known best to his subordinates as Weiss the Immaculate spoke. "And the world will belong to the strong."


This concludes "The Aleron Saga". Hopefully, this is the last "long" saga in "The Servant". The next two should be far shorter, provided that I haven't gotten long winded after all this time.

Despite the coming of DeepGround, the true next threat to the people of Gaia lies not beneath Midgar but beneath the Dome's ruins. An innocent spot beneath the earth holds the possibility for life and death alike in the world. The coming of the Sorceress was simply the herald of a new age filled with wonders and nightmares, and how the future will play out is still up for grabs. For in the midst of cleaning up the mess of war and starting the seeds for new life...the impossible is about to happen. The dead race of the former age is about to live again...but will they forgive their executioners?

The answers to this lie in the fifth part of "The Servant": "The Diablos Saga"

Coming soon...