My name is Zack Fair.
Funny. 'My name is Zack Fair.' Or maybe. 'My name is Zack. Protagonist extraordinaire.' Only, that's not really true since I'm doing the following around here. Boy wonder would probably be laughing at me if he heard this.
Well… Not laugh. Smirk, more like.
Good thing he can't read minds, then. Huh…Or does he? He can be awfully perceptive sometimes…
GUH! Stop thinking about that Zack. Focus on what we we're about to do. Fo-cus.
Ah. Aerith's smiling at me. She probably thinks it's funny that I'm whining right now.
But damn. I should be entitled to some whining! I thought I'd be enjoying a quiet, peaceful afterlife but the Planet seems to like throwing me around whenever She pleases. Now I have responsibilities. And did I mention I'm dead? Well I'm dead. The dead shouldn't have responsibilities cause of a little thing called being dead!
I know, I know, that hasn't stopped Captain Hitsugaya. Toushirou needs to loosen up and have a vacation. He's too General Sephiroth-level serious. I'm pretty sure Aerith agrees with me on this one. Maybe after this whole mess, we can convince him to take a detour to Costa del Sol…
…Wait. Where was I?
Right. Responsibilities. Somehow, I've been downgraded from SOLDIER to the Planet's tour guide. Or maybe I should say upgraded from Hojo's guinea pig to the Planet's tour guide. Or is it fugitive to the Planet's tour guide? Either way, all I can say is. Great.
Bad attitude Zack. I know, and probably coming off as high-strung too. Don't get me wrong. Saving the Planet is dandy but tour guide? Really? Couldn't the Planet figure something out and let me kick some ass instead? I hate taking this backseat ride while people left and right are dying.
I hate this.
All I want to say to the Planet is, 'It's sort of getting crowded here in the Lifestream. How about letting me out and about alive for a bit, hm? I've still got a lot of dreams to reach and fulfill…'
…Aerith thinks there's a pretty high chance that that's not going to happen any time soon. She's usually right about these things too. Shame.
At least Toushirou's competent enough for the three of us.
I can't believe it's only been two days since his arrival. It feels a lot longer than that. First he arrives in ruin Midgar and gets jumped by a couple of monsters. Then he goes gallivanting off to Edge and challenging Reno and Rude.
Well. Challenging might be too strong of a word. He 'chatted' with them. They pissed him off. Of course, they all got back on even footing when the Turks busted his cellphone and Toushirou bit their heads off.
In hindsight, that was pretty funny.
And Cloud! The poor bystander put against the Planet's problem again. Hopefully he'll be a willing accomplice before Aerith's patience snaps and she forces her hand. She can be quite convincing when she wants to be. I should know.
…Don't tell anyone, but I think pouting cute girls are a weakness of mine.
Anyway, where was I again?
Right! Cloud. I still can't believe Toushirou actually talked him down and managed to convince him and the Turks to take him to the Forgotten Capital. Still, I'm glad he did otherwise it would have been mighty difficult to get to the White Materia.
Unless we got a flying machine…or somehow Toushirou learns to fly across the ocean.
But that…That isn't something I'd like to see happen to Toushirou though…Growing wings and taking flight seems to go hand in hand with science experiments and slow loss of sanity.
…I should stop thinking about that.
Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. How about when Toushirou actually got the White Materia and then captured a Remnant? That was pretty exciting. Then Cloud went and found Toushirou and they were all civil without going at each others' throats and…and…I still think that's the result of Aerith's well-meaning meddling but she's been completely mum about it whenever I asked her for details.
Anyway, after the whole Forgotten City debacle, everyone merrily travelled back to Edge with Marlene and Vincent in tow. Now we're at Seventh Heaven with the entire gang. Trust Tifa to call up everyone.
I can't wait till they start hounding Toushirou with questions though. It'd be fun watching him fend against AVALANCHE and the Turks simultaneously…
I think Aerith is talking to me again. Better respond.
"What's with the goofy smile?"
Zack rubbed the back of his head. "What smile?"
Aerith watched him suspiciously. "The kind that tells me you're up to no good."
"Honest. I'm not plotting anything!" he chuckled.
"I'm sure." Aerith giggled. "Well, while you were busy zoning out, Hitsugaya told them his story again…"
Hitsugaya scowled, arms crossed defensively.
He was stuck in the Seventh Heaven bar again but this time, his company around the table multiplied in numbers. To his right sat Reno, Rude, Tifa, Marlene, and a man with a gun arm named Barret Wallace. To his left was the airship pilot Cid Highwind, the Wutai-born princess Yuffie Kisaragi, the lion-beast Nanaki, and a strange mechanical cat by the name of Cait Sith. Directly across from him was Cloud and Vincent and behind them, slumped in an uncomfortable position, was his captured Remnant, bound and gagged.
There was also a lot of yelling, tension, and general disbelief. It didn't help matters that his Lifestream guides were chittering behind him, one impatient and the other excited.
Hitsugaya glared at the table dully, trying to ignore the fact that karma must love placing him in impossible situations just for laughs. Really, it was a miracle his contacts managed to sit through his explanation on the 'why he was here' without interrupting him.
Or…Maybe he shouldn't have counted his chickens before they hatched.
"Wait!" yelled the 'ninja' in aggravation. Everyone fell silent at her outburst. "So lemme get this straight. You-" She pointed at him rudely. "-are some sword-waving, inter-dimensional traveler with crazy foreign magic here to save our Planet."
Hitsugaya stared at her blankly, lips twitching downward in aggravation. Did he mention that he hated the repetition of all this? "…By extension I'm helping your Planet. My main concern is the geostigma."
A certain Turk interrupted him and diverted the attention to another topic. "Hey – Don't forget what he calls himself. Death God," emphasized Reno, clearly mocking the tiny Captain.
If his glare could induce a blizzard like his Zanpaktou partner, the Seventh Heaven would be a really, really cold place right now and not very heavenly at all.
Both Reno and Yuffie's behaviours weren't dissuaded by his growing anger though. The teenager sat back in her chair. "You can't be a-a-friggen Death God! Just no way."
"Maybe it's that karma stuff you kept yammerin' about," suggested Cid. "Or we could all be duped right now by some crazy Remnant with a god complex – their fourth brother or some sorta shit." The pilot flicked his cigarette into the ashtray, eyes lingering on his white hair and green eyes.
Within his soul, Hyourinmaru rumbled. Patience.
And following this advice, Hitsugaya voiced coolly, "Then how do you explain him?" He directed their attention at the unconscious enemy.
Cid shrugged. "Like I said. Crazy."
Tifa interrupted him, "I don't think he's crazy. I trust him."
"And if Teef's gonna trust the pint-sized kid then I'm with her," growled Barret. "She ain't been wrong about this stuff yet."
Cait Sith sang, "I dunnoo-oo."
"Hm." Vincent shifted. All eyes tracked his movements when he took an intimidating step forward. "You have details that you shouldn't know."
It wasn't a statement, but a question. Hitsugaya nodded. "Again, you can thank your Planet for my thorough enlightenment."
Nanaki questioned hesitantly, "So you can listen to the Planet…like…Aerith?"
The atmosphere grew solemn. The shinigami Captain paused before repeating himself, "No. I have guides."
"Your informants," stated Rude.
Cloud seemed to visible tense at those words. Hitsugaya took notice and nearly jolted in his seat when Zack slapped an incorporeal hand on his back.
The spirit exclaimed, "Do something – quick! Now's our chance to gain their trust."
Hitsugaya shrugged the hand away, as if ridding an itch between his shoulder blades. "Yes. My Lifestream informants." There was a hint of challenge in his voice but emerald eyes deliberately avoided the blond swordsman's searching gaze.
After a few more moments of silent deliberation, Cloud finally spoke up. "Aerith and Zack."
Tifa shot him a worried look. The others were puzzled except for Reno and Rude.
Calmly Nanaki asked, "What do you mean, Cloud?"
It almost seemed as if he didn't hear the question addressed to him. "…She appeared and mentioned you…" Cloud's expression hardened but the artificial mako-blue of his eyes betrayed him. He was curious. "Why? Why are you so willing to help the Planet? This isn't your problem."
Hitsugaya stood up in all his four-feet-four glory and the sad lack of height didn't mellow his authoritative air. "Your dying Planet, the one housing your existence and at least a trillion other life forms, asked for help. The Soul Society isn't made up of heroes but we aren't heartless." Or, at least the majority wasn't. The shinigami Captain added with conviction, "I'm here to see this to the end whether you like it or not, Strife. It is my duty."
He omitted the fact that there was also a chance that if Jenova destroyed this Planet, she would attack his realm next. This was due to their Planet establishing a stronger contact with his realm during the information transfer. He wasn't sorry about having this as one of his driving forces against Jenova because self-perseverance was a part of human nature; however, that didn't mean he would be tactless and offer that as a main reason.
That selfishness wouldn't inspire trust.
Cloud crossed his arms, repeating, "Duty…"
"Duty to prevent suffering and unnecessary death." Hitsugaya glanced at Cloud's geostigma-infected arm pointedly. "Duty as a Death God – to maintain balance and cycle. Jenova has perverted souls and caused misbalance to your cycle. It is only right to straighten this out."
Nanaki's tail seemed to flicker back and forth, a clue to his growing approval. He smiled wolfishly. "A noble cause…"
The tension in the air cleared slightly with Nanaki's words. Cloud seemed to internally grapple against an unseen burden before deflating. The others took that as a cue to take control of the conversation.
"Fine," growled Cid roughly around the edges. "I'll sorta believe you for now but tell me, how are you gonna do what you say you're gonna do?"
"Good question Cid-buddy!" chortled Cait Sith as he jumped in his seat. The cat added mischievously, "The pint-sized laddie already mentioned that his powers are limited so how are ya going to pull off something as big as curing geostigma?"
"Especially since the brightest minds in the WRO have been struggling to find a solution," added Vincent lowly.
Hitsugaya said offhandedly, "I already mentioned Project Gaia."
"Yea, so what? We don't even know what that means," said Yuffie, expression souring.
"Project Gaia is a compact spherical technology meant to amplify natural healing energies from your Planet. At the core, it is formed from the reiatsu of our healing arts so it has unknown capabilities in a direct healing process." The Death God removed the pouch holding Project Gaia from his waist, letting it sit in his palm.
"Aren't cha gonna open the bag kid?" grumbled Barret.
Reno interrupted rudely, "He mentioned something about spells and stuff that doesn't let him open that sack there. I say that's just weak excuses to stop us from nosing into his business-yo."
Hitsugaya locked his jaw, molars grinding, and shot the Turk a fierce look in warning. "There has been a change of plans thanks to that Remnant."
"Ya mean him?" Cait Sith pointed at Yazoo.
Tifa eyed the Remnant speculatively before voicing her theory, "I've been watching our captive for awhile now and his unconsciousness, it's unnatural, isn't it?"
Nodding, he explained, "The Remnant triggered the defence spell placed on Project Gaia, which is why he's knocked out right now. Furthermore, because of the current constrictions placed on my abilities, I am unable to re-establish this defensive spell."
"Then that means you can show us Project Gaia," finished Rude.
"Yes." Hitsugaya placed a hand inside the bag, briefly feeling a pulsating warmth tickle his palm, and withdrew the spherical object. He then placed the object onto the table, revealing the gentle contours of silver and midnight blue. Deep inside the orb, glimpses of cosmic reds and purples were seen entwined around a bright white light center. It almost resembled a cat's eye with a light-filled pupil.
"This is Project Gaia."
Yuffie inched closer, eye level to the pseudo-materia. "Amazing…" Her dexterous fingers skilled at thieving twitched in anticipation.
The others ignored her antics. Cid grunted, "Looks like a colourful bauble."
"But it doesn't seem like something you can find 'round here," squeaked Cait Sith, optic sensors analyzing the strange technology.
Vincent tapped a golden talon against the table. All attention returned to him. "You mentioned that this was meant to act only as a conduit. Where will the healing energy come from?"
With a growing respect for the damaged hybrid soul of Vincent Valentine, the shinigami Captain said, "It will come from the reason why I went to the Forgotten Capital."
Tifa blinked, "You're willing to tell us now after all the secrecy?"
Reno scowled about stupid bossy brats and secrecy before he was hushed by the glares from all parties.
Hitsugaya suppressed the lopsided smirk. "Yes because my Lifestream informants mentioned that I will need transportation to get to the next destination."
"Where to?" asked Cloud stiffly. The others watched him uncertainly as a 'bad feeling' was shared by all.
"The Temple of the Ancients."
Everyone shifted in ill-concealed surprise.
"But it is…gone," said Nanaki carefully.
Aerith, from where she stood quietly behind Hitsugaya, murmured for his ears only, "That's true but again, don't worry too much about that right now. Just know that it's one of the closest points to the Lifestream."
Hitsugaya nodded absently to Aerith's comments and reasserted to the living, "If you want geostigma cured I need access to the Temple of the Ancients, a place where the barrier between your physical realm and Lifestream is thin."
"And what will ya do there?" asked Barret. "Lotsa magic mumbo-jumbo?"
The Death God smirked, "You can say that." From a second pocket skilfully stitched into his clothing, he withdrew another sphere, this one a vibrant aqua-green. He placed it side-by-side to Project Gaia, both orbs twinkling with magical energies.
"Impossible," said Cloud, breaking the stunned silence.
Hitsugaya ran a hand through his white hair and said, "I present to you the White Materia."
"Do you have an appointment?"
Elena stared down at the secretary sitting behind the roomy, lunar-shaped desk. Exotic like Tseng, she had chestnut-brown hair freefalling over thin shoulders. Wiry hands were sitting on the keyboard of her computer console, one finely plucked eyebrow quirked upwards in question.
Her voice was gratingly nasal when the brunette continued, "If not, Mr. Tuesti is busy at the moment. Please wait in the sitting area. I will show you in when he is available." Almost to herself, she mumbled in a low voice, "Don't even know how you Turks got past security though…"
Tseng, level-headed, explained, "It's an emergency, Miss…" He read the name plate on her desk. "…Mabary."
"When isn't it?" The secretary rolled her eyes pointedly, manicured nails drumming impatiently with loud 'click-clack's.
Elena refrained from strangling the pencil pusher. Instead she pointed out curtly, "You've been previously employed by Mr. Tuesti at the time when the ShinRa Company was still in power, correct?"
The blond, female Turk leaned into the desk. "Then you know exactly what I mean when I say that the emergency will result in Sector 7 Operation levels if we don't talk to Mr. Tuesti."
The secretary was not stunned – either that or she had a very impressive poker face. Elena thought it was a poker face, anyway, because previously the secretary didn't bat an eyelash when she caught a full view of the guns they were toting.
Miss Mabary calmly stated again, perhaps a hint more patient and apologetic, "I will let Mr. Tuesti know that you're asking for him as soon as he is ready. Please take a seat."
It was obvious that Elena hated the bureaucratic tape slapped all over this situation. In a wise decision, Tseng stepped in before she could harass the woman physically. He gave her a measured look. "Tell Reeve that Tseng is here to see him."
Tseng. Unspoken ShinRa secretarial rule number seven: a name-dropping Turk means a serious business Turk.
The brunette sighed and finally nodded in acquiesces, albeit with obvious hesitance. "I'll see what I can do." She picked up the sleek black phone by her elbow and used the comm. function to relay the message. "Sorry for interrupting your conference call Mr. Tuesti but a Mr. Tseng and his…" She glanced at Elena. "…associate wish to speak with you."
The two Turks and one secretary could hear the scatter of papers and a soft clearing of a throat from the other end. "Let them in, Miri."
Miri Mabary disconnected the comm. link and spoke as if she hadn't just stalled two impatient Turks packing heat. "Please go through the doors to my left. Mr. Tuesti is waiting."
Tseng nodded his thanks and entered the office after the steel doors slid open. Elena trailed after him smartly, lightly tapping the gun tucked snugly against her side. They both spotted Reeve behind a desk overflowing with official-looking papers.
The leader of WRO raised his head up distractedly and gave them a strained smile. "Tseng. Elena. It's good to see that you've arrived safely."
And the leader of the Turks cut short the pleasantries. "Reeve. What's the current situation?"
Reeve sighed, "Rude and Reno didn't contact you?"
At the negatives, the executive leaned into his cushy chair, elbows resting on the arms. "AVALANCHE, Reno, Rude, and a Death God by the name of Toushirou Hitsugaya are holding a conference at the Seventh Heaven."
"Wait…Death…God?" Elena blinked and glanced at Tseng in askance but he was as unsettled as she was.
"That's what I said too," murmured Reeve. "Well, that and 'I need a hard drink'."
"Death God as in…A God of Death? What does that mean?" Elena bit her lip in thought.
It appeared Tseng also followed that line of thought and asked Reeve to 'please clarify'.
The poor man could only shrug and say, "He was very vague, which I could understand given his circumstances. He mentioned that he reaped souls in another dimension, sending the dead to the next plane of existence."
"I see." Tseng pocketed his idle hands. "What else can you tell us?"
"Well…" Using data retrieved from his Cait Sith persona, Reeve explained what occurred at the Forgotten City and the mission that 'Toushirou Hitsugaya' claimed to have. He mentioned his aim to cure geostigma with a tool named Project Gaia and the White Materia.
Reeve pressed his lips together into a frown. The creases along his forehead grew more prominent. "I've asked the top scientists in WRO to test the validity of using the White Materia against geostigma but even then…Any results would only be hypothetical. Moreover, we don't know exactly how trustworthy this 'Death God' is so who's to say he won't abuse the power of Holy?"
Tseng selected his words carefully. "The informants he mentioned…"
"Are unknown," confirmed Reeve.
"But he's proven himself to be quite the formidable ally," continued Tseng.
"And the others, they vouched for him?" asked Elena.
Reeve smirked, "No they didn't but they didn't say anything ill of him either."
The male Turk murmured thoughtfully, thinking of his agents, "He will be watched."
"I have utmost trust that he would be."
Sensing the discussion ebbing, Elena changed direction of the conversation to the next topic. "The security cameras at the Healin' Lodge were erased."
Tseng cut in. "Do you have any information on his whereabouts?"
"I'm afraid not." Reeve rubbed his forehead as he thought. "Reno and Rude did call earlier mentioning that they knew Rufus was kidnapped by the Remnants. For what though…They didn't tell me." The executive stared down the Turk, steeling himself for a confrontation.
Surprisingly, there was no such conflict. Tseng calmly stated, "The Remnants are looking for Jenova's remains."
"You were at the Northern Crater…Rude and Reno escaped…And then Rufus was kidnapped." After a moment's pause, Reeve's frown deepened. "The Remnants want Jenova. And you…Don't tell me you are in possession of the remains."
"Perhaps. Rude and Reno escaped with the container. I don't know what happened afterwards." Tseng gave him an appraising look.
Reeve understood Tseng's expression. "But you have a theory."
"Yes I do."
"You think that Rufus hid it."
"Yes." Tseng stopped Elena from speaking. "Thus giving the Remnants a valid reason to kidnap him."
Reeve half-nodded, watching Elena and Tseng vigilantly. One never saw disagreement in the ranks of the Turks so to witness that…Something was up. "During the conference, Cloud and the others did not mention seeing Rufus with the Remnants," he reported.
"Hm." Tseng's lips thinned. "They must have held him captive else-"
"Please sir." Elena interrupted the two men. "We are here to ask for resources."
"Elena," warned Tseng.
The blonde woman continued, "Mr. Tuesti, all three of us here understand the severity of the situation. If Jenova were to rise again, it will be disastr-"
"Elena!" Piercing hazel eyes glared.
"Sir! I know I'm speaking out of line, sir, but I feel that we must act as soon as possible sir!"
"Wait. Tseng. Elena." Reeve clasped his hands together, resting them on his desk. "Be assured that the WRO already have soldiers keeping a lookout for Mr. Shinra ever since Reno reported in. I will add to this manpower now because as Elena says, I do understand."
Elena gave him a small grateful smile. Tseng, generally serious in all situations, relaxed slightly and inclined his head respectfully. "Very well."
Reeve returned the gesture and asked, "Will you be joining the search or will you regroup with-"
A large explosion rocked the building.
"What-?" Elena grabbed onto a nearby chair as the entire room shook from the intensity.
Tseng removed his gun from the holster, looking poised and ready even with grey ceiling dust sprinkling his head. "Elena. Be ready."
"Damnit!" growled Reeve as he was tossed from his office chair. He quickly pressed the comm. button on his phone and barked out, "What is going on Miri?"
All they heard was static before the secretary responded apprehensively, "I'm…I'm not sure Mr. Tuesti – Wait – There's an incoming call from the Ammunitions Department."
"Patch them in."
"Right away sir."
There was a short pause when buttons were pressed before the leader of the WRO pulled the phone receiver to his ear and said, "Reeve speaking."
Tseng and Elena waited, watching the changing nuances in Reeve's expression. They could easily spot the mild distress, and this was reflected by the blaring red warning sirens that had lit up the office.
Finally, Reeve seemed to go ashen from shock before he grimly dismissed the caller, "Thank you. I will handle the situation now."
Setting the phone back down, he spoke lowly, eyes burning with a fighting fire, "The Remnants are here at Headquarters and just destroyed half the munitions stores."
"I hope you're ready for a fight."
"Oh. Oh. Oooh," moaned Cait Sith pitifully.
"Cait Sith." Nanaki winced as the robotic cat sitting on his head pulled at his mane painfully. "…Please let go. That hurts."
"Ah…" The puppet aborted the next tug and seemed to remember himself for he patted the top of Nanaki's head in an apologetic manner before bouncing onto the table surface. This invariably interrupted the current conversation when all eyes turned to him.
Reno asked callously, "What's up, cat?"
"Somethin' big's going down at Headquarters!" waved Cait Sith frantically.
Hitsugaya narrowed his eyes but stayed silent, opting to let the natives handle the situation.
"What?" asked Cloud seriously. "Is it the Remnants?"
"Yup." Cait Sith cradled his head and groaned loudly. "They blasted our ammo up and into the stratosphere!"
"Kzzzsht. They'll need backup," growled Cid as he snuffed out his cigarette.
"Let's go then AVALANCHE!" crowed Barret. "And kick those scrawny a-uh-butts." Glad he censored himself in time, he grinned apologetically at Tifa and patted Marlene on the head.
"Yea but you forget. Shera's outta commish," griped Cid. "I'm still waitin' for my engineers to call back."
Vincent asked, "What happened?"
Their resident ninja twittered with wild hand gestures, "There was some major turbulence in the sky 'cause of a black-"
She was interrupted by a sudden, familiar magical surge. Everyone turned to look out the window, just in time to see a bright blue emblem ascend into the heavens…
He was standing at the top of an unfinished sky rise building.
"Back again…" Loz cracked the tendons at his neck and shoulders, rotating the joints easily. Satisfied with the loose feeling, he steadily gathered his magic and built up enough power for a spell.
The Summoning spell.
"Come on out, Summon. Let's play!"
A celestial being garbed in flowing white robes descended from the pitch dark sky. Surrounding the elder summon in wild bursts were hot flashes of white lightning.
"It's Ramuh!" yelped Yuffie, hand pressed up against the glass of the window.
"That's a Summon…?" asked Hitsugaya.
Cid kicked the closest chair and cursed again. "For the love of – you gotta be shittin' me!"
Marlene quickly covered her own ears.
Tifa stared at Cid reprovingly before commenting on the situation, "This doesn't look good. We'll have to split up."
"Fine. I'm going to the WRO Headquarters," stated Cloud as he fluidly attached First Tsurugi across his back.
"And I'm coming with you," said Tifa quickly, marching after him.
Cloud's eyebrows contracted downwards and he opened his mouth to speak but stalled.
Hands planted at hips, the martial artist frowned at him. "Don't say no Cloud. You're going on that motorbike of yours and I know there's enough room for one more."
"And why not make it three? Just like old times," rumbled Nanaki. "I can keep up on ground."
Cloud gazed from Tifa to Nanaki before relenting, "Fine."
"Good. Then me and the others are gonna stay here and handle this mess," said Cid, jabbing a thumb at Ramuh.
"Yeah, we've got this," grinned Yuffie, bouncing on her toes.
"Hmph." Barret crossed his arms. "I'd rather go with Spike and Teefs and Red but I guess I'm stuck here."
"What about the Remnant?" asked Vincent, gesturing his head at Yazoo.
"Tch. Guess we're staying-" grumbled Reno.
"Wait." All eyes turned to Hitsugaya when he appeared to stumble in his spot. He then glowered at something behind his back before addressing the AVALANCHE and Turk members curtly, "…I'll stay here."
The red-headed Turk brightened. "Great! No complaints here-yo. I don't want to babysit the Remnant and little girl."
"I'm not little!" pouted Marlene, nose scrunched up in dislike.
"O' course not Marls. Don't let the mean ol' Turkies tell you otherwise!" cajoled the Wutai princess.
Tifa clapped her hands together to gain their straying attention. "Then are we settled with this arrangement?"
Murmurs of ascent echoed within the bar.
"Alright. Let's hop to it boys and girls!"
A smattering of noises erupted as people rushed to and fro. Hitsugaya took a seat within the Seventh Heaven and relaxed, watching the AVALANCHE members separate into two distinct groups. The first group, which consisted of Vincent, Cid, Yuffie, and Barret, had already exited the building and were heading towards the trouble. Following them at a slower pace but with a definite swagger were the Turks.
As for Cloud's group, they also looked ready to leave but their leader hesitated. Finally though with an unreadable expression, he told Hitsugaya curtly, "Don't make me regret trusting you, Death God."
The shinigami Captain caught the stares of Tifa and Red XIII before returning Cloud's serious expression and responding smartly, "You won't."
Hitsugaya ignored his guides when they high-fived behind his back.
In another area of the WRO compound, Elena and Tseng analyzed the live footage recording the current events outside. Reeve leaned against the computer console as he directed the technician to pan the view out into the horizon.
"There," tapped Reeve on the screen. "Their mode of transport."
The technician typed in several rapid commands into the computer to increase the resolution. "Sir, there appears to be someone standing on the roof of that truck."
Craning her head forward, Elena recognized the silver hair. "Remnant."
"They usually attack in threes," observed Tseng. "One has been captured. Where is the second?"
Suddenly, a new message box popped up on the screen.
"Connect immediately," commanded Reeve.
Moments later, a voice strained by high velocity winds was heard from the computer speakers. "Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?"
"What-!" The technician responded, "This is the WRO Headquarters. I don't know how you got this private number-"
"This is Tifa Lockhart. Please patch this call to Reeve-"
"Tifa." Reeve interrupted her. "What's the situation?"
"Reeve? Why didn't you answer your cell phone? I've been calling for the past ten minutes."
"I…" The WRO executive patted down his pockets and explained sheepishly, "I must have accidentally left it in my office."
"I see…Is everyone okay at your end?"
He sighed, "No casualties yet besides losing half our ammunition."
"The Remnant didn't attack yet?"
"No. He's just watching the Headquarters…" Reeve bit out. "It's suspicious."
"Hmm…" Tifa paused. "Stay alert and safe Reeve. Red XIII, Cloud, and I are coming now as we speak."
"What about the others?"
"They're dealing with Ramuh."
Tifa explained, "The Remnants summoned Ramuh at Edge, so we were forced to split up."
"…So a two way attack…" murmured Tseng contemplatively.
"…Is that Tseng?"
"Yes. They arrived about forty minutes ago," said Reeve.
"They as in…?"
"Tseng and Elena."
Elena greeted simply, "Hello Tifa Lockhart."
"Hello Elena. Tseng." Tifa cleared her throat. "Alright Reeve. We'll be arriving soon. Keep in touch."
The technician closed the call. Reeve tapped a foot. "The appearance of Ramuh…Why weren't we alerted by our Edge outpost?"
"Sir, about fifteen minutes ago, we received notice that the communication lines were terminated at Edge."
"Terminated?" Tseng's frown deepened around the edges. "That was probably caused by the severe electrical discharge."
"…What are these Remnants planning?"
"Mr. Tuesti!" The technician yelped, zooming the camera back on to the Remnant. "Look at what he's doing."
On the screen, the Remnant was glowing a wild vivid blue but the epicentre of his magic was focused on his left arm. Almost casually, the silver-haired enemy raised a palm to face the sky and released a burst of white light.
Elena's eyes widened in shock. "Summoning?"
Indeed it was summoning. In the sky, a web of intricate glyphs appeared, the radiance razing crimson fire from the ground. Intense energy gathered at one of the fissures and form was given.
A fiery blood red mane, frightening bull horns, and huge musculature. The djinn with power over the flames of the Underworld. Ifrit.
"Sir, what do we do now?" asked the technician nervously.
Tseng appeared unfazed. "The Remnant isn't finished."
Flicking back silver hair, the enemy gathered a dark nebulous sphere in his right hand and he released the negative power with a flourish. Two dozen-strong Shadow Creepers erupted from the earth in mid-pounce, tails lashing side-to-side. The minions eagerly sniffed the air like excitable puppies before all heads turned to face the WRO Headquarter greedily.
The Remnant held a staying hand as if halting his Summon and minions from attacking. He then hopped from the roof of the truck and opened the door to his ride. With less than gentle movements, he dragged someone from out of the backseat.
"That's Mr. Shinra!" Elena clenched her hands together, teeth gnashing. "We have to rescue him sir."
On screen, Rufus Shinra, who was still weak from the effects of geostigma, was dropped from the truck and left sprawled on the ground.
"I know, but a rescue isn't going to be easy," said Tseng coolly, hazel eyes calculating the risks of facing the monsters head on.
"No it won't be." Reeve bit the inside of his cheek. "Even with the manpower we have, I'm not sure how well we'll fair against that many creatures and Sephiroth's Remnant at once."
"This is…" Elena fell silent, unable to voice her thoughts.
Grim, Reeve finished her sentence for her. "…a fight we'll lose."
"But we can still stall," pointed out Tseng, ever resourceful.
Cloud. Tifa. Red XIII. The executive smiled thinly. "If we can last that long."
"Shall I patch you to the General?" questioned the technician, voice wavering.
"…Yes." Reeve sighed, "We need to formulate a plan."
Although the people outside were panicking over the attack, it was deceptively quiet inside the Seventh Heaven bar. This was because all the occupants of the humble establishment were hiding in a bedroom upstairs, avoiding the prowling Shadow Creepers.
Sprawled on her delegated bed, Marlene was busy with a colouring book, applying ample amounts of pinks and blues. Cait Sith was by the window, watching the immediate on-goings outside. By the lone wardrobe in the room, the Remnant was propped up against said furniture, unconscious.
Sitting Indian style on the second bed, Hitsugaya was meditating. To his immediate left was Aerith while Zack laid prone on the mattress.
"Are you really going to stay here, Toushirou?" asked Zack curiously.
Hitsugaya opened a teal eye to shoot an annoyed glare at Zack for interrupting him. "Yes. And it was your idea, Fair."
The three spirits ignored the puzzled looks from Marlene and Cait Sith.
"He also promised," remarked Aerith solemnly. "They're depending on you to watch Marlene and guard the White Materia."
"I know," said the Death God, a stray hand ruffling his white hair.
Marlene paused again before taking up courage to ask, "Know what?"
"It's nothing Marlene," said Hitsugaya, waving the question off as inconsequential. "Go back to colouring."
He was surprised when she didn't complain and complied with a small 'okay'.
Aerith noted his astonishment and said warmly, "She's a good girl."
"Ah." Glancing between the two girls, he didn't ask about their similarities in behaviour and hair style. It was obvious who Marlene was mimicking.
Zack watched the exchange and decided to break the monotony. "So let's talk business."
The Death God cocked an eyebrow upwards. Go ahead.
"Any ideas how we're going to junction Project Gaia and the White Materia? Actually…We also need to activate Holy…" thought Zack out loud.
"Leave activating the White Materia to me," said Aerith with determination.
"But that still leaves the junctioning. How will that even work?" grumbled the ex-SOLDIER. "I've been thinking about all the tech ShinRa used to let us play with and I can't think of anything that'd combine something foreign like your reiatsu with the Lifestream…"
Hitsugaya calmly picked lint off of his cloak sleeve. "This is when I actually miss my cell phone, Fair."
"You think your world will have something to help us?" asked Zack.
"Of course." The Death God stared down at Zack, unimpressed. "We built Project Gaia. We would understand its short-comings. I wouldn't be surprised if the Science Bureau has what we need without us asking."
The flower girl pointed out, "I already mentioned that the Lifestream can build an altar but-"
"-We'll need blueprints to deal against compatibility issues," finished Hitsugaya.
"Altar? Blueprints?" Zack scratched his head, trying to think back to the conversation but coming up with a blank. "Where was I when you two were talking about this?"
"You were watching over Cloud and Tifa at the time." For the benefit of her partner, Aerith supplied him with the information, "Captain Hitsugaya mentioned that to use Project Gaia and the White Materia effectively, we'll need to channel the combined energies and I thought using an altar of some sort might be a good idea."
Aerith asked openly, "You don't think that's a good idea, Zack?"
"No! No it's not that." Zack laughed nervously and said, "I'm just wondering how long it would take to build this altar."
Tired, Hitsugaya closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. "With just the three of us? It will take time and a lot of trial and error but someone arrived earlier-"
"Talking to yourself, little boy?"
"What-!" The Death God's eyes flew open in disbelief as he quickly unsheathed Hyourinmaru to a defensive position. "How did you-? No…You should still be unconscious. The spell lasts for at least twenty-four hours."
Wobbling, Yazoo stood by the window, all bindings removed; he was stepping on a submissive Cait Sith while holding a white-faced Marlene captive around the neck. With derision, the Remnant slurred, "Thought you could keep me dead to the Planet? No! Mother called me back…Silly…Silly…"
Zack commented, confused, "Is it just me, or does he seem off – er – more off than usual?"
"It might be a side-effect of the spell…" murmured Hitsugaya. He then demanded from his enemy, "Release them at once."
"You mean the little girl and her cat? Not a chance!" Yazoo tossed his head back and laughed. "You can't get things without a trade. With blood? Fingers and ears? Maybe flowers from the flower girl!"
Marlene's brave face crumpled at the Remnant's suggestions. "Please help us Toushirou."
"There will be no such trades," growled Hitsugaya, menacing. In his hands, Hyourinmaru hummed with suppressed power.
"Oh? Oh?" Looking disoriented, Yazoo could still think clearly enough to threaten. "Even with lives I can snuff?" He clutched Marlene's neck even tighter while she clawed at his hand with increasing terror.
Hitsugaya gritted his teeth together, trying to stop his anger; however, it was not enough to stall the brief surge of reiatsu. "Enough!" The window behind Yazoo exploded.
Marlene yelped from surprise.
"Put down your sword. Kick it to the door. Give me my gun," leered the Remnant as he stated his terms. "Then I'll release your friends."
Helpless and powerless again. Hitsugaya winced in sympathy when he spotted the flowering bruises around Marlene's neck. On the ground, Cait Sith was still unresponsive, perhaps offline.
Aerith touched his sleeve, eyes sorrowful. "Please, Captain."
The Death God nodded reluctantly and walked backwards away from the Remnant. He then placed his sword by the door gently, all the while glaring at his opponent.
"Good, good…Now my gun…"
Approaching the man like an obedient sheep, Hitsugaya removed the Velvet Revolver from his belt and tossed it towards him. Yazoo caught the weapon easily.
"You have your weapon back. Now release them."
"Haha, not a chance naïve little boy." Almost conversationally, Yazoo said, "I can feel the power. You have an artefact inside that bag don't you? The one I grabbed. I want it. Give it to me."
"No?" Yazoo pulled the safety from the gun and pointed it against Marlene's shoulder. "Still no?"
Marlene struggled, face pinched from pain. Hitsugaya sweated but stayed firm with his answer. There was no way he would hand over Project Gaia to the Remnant. "No."
"Too bad." Eyes darkening, Yazoo smiled cruelly and pulled the trigger to the gun.
…But nothing happened.
"What!" Yazoo banged the gun against the wall. "Stupid. Piece. Of sh-!"
"I suggest you stop." Hitsugaya glared at the Remnant, power churning ominously. "There are no bullets in the gun."
"You…You…But no…That's okay. Mother would tell me that's okay…" Yazoo chuckled hysterically. "Yes. I still have materia."
"You're bluffing," growled the Death God. "We didn't find any materia on you."
"Not on, silly…silly…"
Zack scowled at the Remnant. "…I think he means it's inside him."
"Inside?" asked Hitsugaya sceptically.
"A bit too late for those smarts! I still have my materia," crowed Yazoo. His left arm gained a red aura. "I have a Fire spell. Care to try it now?"
Hitsugaya stayed silent.
"Fine," shrugged the silver-haired warrior. He activated the Fire spell, letting it singe the nearby headboard of a bed. "I'm not bluffing."
"He really isn't Toushirou," worried Zack.
Aerith's attention did not waver from Marlene. "She's innocent in this…"
Yazoo prodded him, "Now hand me that bag of yours with the artefact!"
The Death God was absolutely torn between duty and compassion. "I…"
"Still hesitating…?" grinned the Remnant, one hand tightening around his captive's neck again.
"Please, Toushirou," whimpered Marlene.
He steeled himself, absolute loathing coursing through his veins. "Fine. A fair exchange."
"Excellent! Hand over the goods, little boy."
"Not until you release the girl," snarled Hitsugaya. "A half way exchange."
"Fine by me." Smiling, Yazoo cheered, "Another trinket to further Mother's reign…"
Already activating the Fire spell, the Remnant forced Marlene to stumble towards the far wall away from Hitsugaya as he approached with Project Gaia.
When Marlene was a safe distance away, the Death God reluctantly tossed his weapon against geostigma to the enemy.
Yazoo snatched the bag in its midair flight and said, "Thanks little boy." Kicking Cait Sith towards Hitsugaya, the Remnant laughed between words, "You should know we don't care about fair trades."
From the palm of his left hand, the charged Fire spell flew towards Marlene and struck true.
Marlene screamed from the pain and collapsed boneless onto the ground. Her shoulder was terribly burnt.
"You-!" Hitsugaya started, horrified. "Marlene!"
"See ya brat," sneered the Remnant. He then wagged a finger. "A word of advice: you might want to take care of the little girl first before going after me."
Laughing uproariously, the Remnant jumped out the window of Seventh Heaven, leaving behind a fuming Death God and two worried spirits.
Aerith quickly went to Marlene, offering a gentle, soothing presence. "It's alright, Marlene…"
Hitsugaya peered over her shoulder, guilt gnawing at the base of his stomach. "How is she?"
"She'll need immediate medical attention," murmured Aerith, hand gliding over Marlene's shoulder. "And I can't help her like this…"
"Don't, Aerith," chided Zack gently. "No guilt."
"In any case, medical arts aren't one of my strong points." Hitsugaya slid a hand over his face. "This situation is getting worse and worse."
"Don't say-" They felt another surge of magical power and a bright luminescent blue flashed outside. Zack cursed and continued, "See. Don't say that!"
"Another Summon?" Hitsugaya inched towards the open window, feeling an icy wind nip against his face.
Zack took a look outside, spotted the Summon, and stumbled back further into the room. He messed up his hair in aggravation. "This isn't good. They just summoned Shiva."
Hitsugaya stared at the ice blue female avatar floating in the sky. It was snowing. "Shiva?" He shook his head. "We'll have to deal with her later. First we should get Marlene as comfortable as possible and treat her wound."
"Agreed," said Aerith. "We'll need a first aid kit though…"
"I can help with that," interrupted a calm voice.
Turning to face the door, the shinigami Captain acknowledged the newcomer with a nod. "So it was you who I sensed earlier. It's about time you arrived."
"Hello Captain Hitsugaya. I bring tidings from Soul Society."
Zack waved in a friendly manner, grin diminished by stress. "Yea. Hey. My name's Zack Fair. Part-time tour guide. It's nice to meet you."
"I'm Aerith. Aerith Gainsborough." Gracefully, Aerith rose from her crouch and straightened out her dress with deliberate calm. Lifestream-coloured eyes regarded the new arrival; she offered a tentative smile.
"We've been expecting you, Vice Captain Nemu Kurotsuchi."
To Be Continued