The second part o the series beginning with the story "Face to Face". I highly recommend you read "Face to Face" first, but it's not absolutely necessary.
A/N: I know I may have mentioned in the previous Story "Face to Face" that Zack was a second class SOLDIER. That's a mistake, he's a Third Class SOLDIER at this point. I have gone back to fix the mistakes, but in case I missed one I'm just going to let you know here.
Wutai: 2 weeks later…
"Zack? Zack! Puppy?"
Zack as he surfaced from the dark depths of unconsciousness at the feel of someone shaking him. He groaned and blinked a few times to clear his vision. He found himself staring into the concerned eyes of his mentor Angeal Hewley.
"Angeal?" Zack answered groggily as he slowly sat up.
"Good, you can move," Angeal said relief evident in his voice. "How are your legs?"
With some support from his mentor Zack got to his feet, he was a little wobbly, but remained upright as took a few steps.
"Good boy," He gently ruffled Zack's hair.
Now that his head had cleared a little, Zack finally took a look around to get his bearings. They were in the middle of a forest. Some distance behind them was the burning remains of their helicopter, setting some of the nearby trees alight, and sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air.
Zack stared at it in shock for a moment. "What happened?
"We were shot down not long ago," Angeal answered simply, his usual serious demeanor returning and he tugged firmly on Zack's arm. "Come on we have to get away from here, this will draw soldiers from both sides here, we can't take a chance that it's Wutai."
Zack nodded and followed. The younger SOLDIER hoped that the more he walked the better he would feel, however the opposite seemed to be happening, the more he moved the dizzier he got.
This was not lost on Angeal. "Just a few more steps. Sephiroth and Genesis are right ahead."
"Where--?" Zack began, but was interrupted when he tripped over a log in front of him. Luckily, his mentor was there to catch him before he fell on his face.
"Here why don't you sit down," Angeal gently ushered Zack to sit down on the log.
"I'm fine a I can—" Zack tried to get up but the world spun on its axis and he had to sit down again.
"Put your head between your knees, it might help." Angeal patted his shoulder before turning to walk toward Sephiroth standing not far away. "Stay right there. I'll be back in a bit."
"Where's Genesis?" the dark haired general asked walking up to Sephiroth's side.
"Up there." Sephiroth motioned to a very tall tree that seemed to stretched above the canopy of the trees. "Do you see anything?" He called up.
"Trees, and more trees, but the ocean is about ten miles west of us ," came the distant answer from the Scarlet general. "Has Angeal found his puppy?"
"Yes," Angeal replied with a chuckle. Seeing Genesis up in a tree brought back fond memories of the two of them climbing apple trees in Banora when they were boys . "I see you haven't lost your adeptness at climbing trees."
"Indeed I have not," Genesis called down triumphantly. "And you weren't so bad yourself. Care to join me up here? Not apples to steal, but the view is quite lovely."
"Quit the tomfoolery Gen, we've got ten miles to walk," Sephiroth said.
"Killjoy." Genesis grumbled, but began to make his way down, elegantly jumping down from branch to branch.
Unfortunately Genesis seemed to over estimate the strength of the next branch for when he landed on it, it broke clean off, sending the Scarlet General tumbling downward.
Fortunately the redhead's reflexes were quick and he lashed out and grabbed another branch to halt his descent.
"Very graceful," Sephiroth teased, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
With his dignity destroyed, Genesis dropped his refined demeanor for a more crude but pleasing expression of "Oh shut up!"
As he was not too far from the ground now, he let himself drop this time on his terms and landed gracefully on the ground.
"Perfect," Sephiroth said with a slight smile. This time the sentiment was genuine.
"Yes, I am," Genesis smiled slyly, running a few fingers down the side of his cheek as if putting on his mask of refinement once again.
"Seph, I know we have a very limited supply of cure materia with us, but I think Zack needs it." Angeal explained with his usual matter of fact demeanor, however he could not hide the worry in his voice completely. "He has a small cut on his head, but I think there may be a concussion to go with it, he's experiencing dizziness and unbalance when he walks."
Sephiroth nodded. "Better give it to him, if we are found by Wutai we don't want him to be vulnerable."
"Yes, we don't want to have a dead weight on our hands," Genesis drawled, earning himself a glare from Angeal.
Only two weeks had past since the apple incident and with the hurried preparations for the Wutai mission Genesis had not been able to get to know Zack much more beyond that. Just because the Scarlet general had apologized for threatening Zack, that didn't mean he was going to welcome the puppy with open arms…yet.
Angeal walked back over to his protégé who still had his head nestled between his knees, his shoulders trembling slightly with every breath.
"Puppy?" Angeal gently ran his fingers through the soft black spikes of Zack's hair. "How are you feeling?"
The young SOLDIER lifted up his head to look at his mentor. The boy's usually vibrant skin was pale with tinges of green. His usually bright eyes were blurry and he could only manage a small, groggy smile. "Angeal, would you be mad if I threw up on your shoe?"
Angeal chuckled and pulled a materia ball from his pocket. "I don't think it'll come to that, pup. Here this'll help." He pressed the materia to Zack's head. "CURE."
The materia glowed releasing its energy to encircle Zack for a moment then dissipated. Zack blinked a few times, then jumped to his feet. "I love materia!"
"Yes, yes, it's good stuff," Angeal humored him, but tugged him along toward Sephiroth and Genesis.
"So what's the game plan?" Zack asked Angeal, but it was Sephiroth who answered.
"We're going to head in the direction of the coastline. The open area should make it easier for us to find or signal a SOLDIER encampment nearby."
"At the very least," Genesis added." "We should get better reception on our phones once we're out of these trees."
The four of them began making their way through the forest towards the coast. The forest was quiet, a little too quiet.
"We need to keep our eyes and ears completely open," Angeal said gravely. "We're being hunted."
"Hunted…?" Zack asked quietly, wondering what on all of Gaia could possibly hunt the great Sephiroth, let alone the fact Angeal and Genesis were with him forming what had become known in SOLDIER as the Black Trinity.
"Yes, our heads would make fine trophies for Wutai. Of course mine would be the prettiest." Genesis purred, eliciting a small chuckle from Angeal at the morbid joke and a half confused, half horrified face on Zack.
"Quiet." Sephiroth hissed, his eyes scanning the trees.
Angeal and Genesis immediately froze and aided Sephiroth in his careful scanning of the area. Zack quickly followed suit unconsciously holding his breath in fear that the slightest sound from him would get them all killed.
Suddenly, Zack picked up the eerie hollow sound of metal flying through the air, but he couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from.
"Zack get down!"
Zack immediately dropped to his belly feeling something graze the very tips of his spikey hair. He dared a glance up and saw a giant Shurikan lodge itself in a tree near Genesis. Before Zack could even think of what to do next, he was jerked to his feet by Angeal and the next thing he knew they were on the run, leaping over fallen trees and branches. It was here Zack finally appreciated Angeal making him run all of those extra laps through the obstacle course.
However, one thing struck Zack as being odd was why they were running it was hard to imagine his mentor and the great Sephiroth running away from anything, much less a fight so quickly.
As if reading his young naïve mind, Angeal explained to Zack. "If we run they will have to follow us and that will draw them out of their hiding place."
Duh. If Zack weren't running at top speed he would have smacked himself in the head for not figuring out something so obvious.
Genesis and Sephiroth were running out in front, scanning the tree tops. However, it seemed Genesis was paying too much attention to the trees and not enough to the ground. Suddenly the scarlet general tripped over something Zack couldn't even see.
Sephiroth lunged forward and grabbed the back of Genesis' coat, preventing him from falling on his face. It was a good thing too, for as Zack drew closer he saw spikes emerge from the ground. One of them was only inches from Genesis' throat.
"Trip wires," Sephiroth said darkly as he pulled Genesis back to his feet.
"Either we were expected or just lucky." Genesis said calmly as he drew out his sword.
Zack couldn't believe how Genesis could be so calm after having his throat almost impaled just a moment ago. The mark of a first class SOLDIER, able to wipe death aside like dust off your coat.
"Here, they come," Angeal said drawing out the sword he actually used to fight with even though the infamous Buster Sword sat idle on his back. Zack followed suit.
"Let's flush them out," Sephiroth said, retrieving Masamune.
Genesis didn't need to be told twice, he was already forming a ball of fire in his hand before Sephiroth even finished the sentence. .
The fire ball set a row of trees in front of them ablaze. Then the Wutai soldiers appeared, jumping down from the trees some already in agony from the fire, most still un-singed with their weapons drawn and ready.
"Watch out for the smaller Shuriken," Angeal warned Zack quietly, as Sephiroth and Genesis engaged the enemy. "Some of them contain poison. Now the enemy is in front of us, but I want you to watch our backs."
Zack nodded and Angeal dashed off to join Genesis and Sephiroth. Even though Zack knew he was supposed to be watching the enemy, his eyes kept wandering to the three generals. He knew Angeal's strong powerful strikes well, but this was the first time he'd ever seen Sephiroth – and Genesis for that matter – in realtime combat. Sure, he was shown videos in class, but it was nothing compared to the real thing.
In sharp contrast to Angeal, Genesis moved more like a dancer each move smooth and graceful, every step measured, every strike timed and sure and deadly.
Sephiroth seemed to be a perfect combination of the two, he struck with Angeal's power, but moved with Genesis' grace. His sword Masamune cut through the enemy soldiers with the ease of a hot knife through butter.
This point made Zack's stomach turn over a little, that death could come so frighteningly easy and fast. No wonder Sephiroth was known as the "The Reaper" in Wutai.
Suck it up Zack, you're a SOLDIER. The young man told himself, and shook his head to clear it, which was a good thing, for he noticed the some of the Wutai soldiers were flanking them and coming from behind through the revealed spike field.
"Angeal! We're being flanked!" Zack called out.
Angeal glanced over his shoulder, quickly surveyed the situation and turned back to his own fight. "You can handle it, Zack!" He called back.
Zack felt rush of adrenaline pump through his veins. Angeal was turning him loose in a real fight. He had to concentrate, if he blew it here he would not only be a failure to Angeal, but a failure in General Sephiroth's eyes as well.
Zack clashed with the other soldier. He was pushed and the other soldier swung at him. He ducked and lunged forward, driving his sword into his opponent's abdomen.
Whether it was the sight of blood or the rush of the first kill, as he drew his sword out of the other soldier's body, something clicked inside Zack's brain. He charged without hesitation toward his next opponent.
The next thing Zack knew there were four bodies down around him and blood splatter on his arms and sword. Zack stood there shaking for a moment. He just killed four people without thought or hesitation, practically unconsciously. He had done it to real people just as easily as he had done it to his Virtual Reality opponents. Now he was a reaper.
Not a reaper a SOLDIER. Zack shook his head. He had to remind himself as a SOLDIER it was his duty to fight and possibly kill to accomplish a mission for ShinRa. Sure he had hoped he would do ore protecting than killing, but here and now it was either kill or be killed. The Wutai soldiers would show no mercy.
Zack was knocked out of his reverie when something sharp hit his arm. He looked down to see a shuriken embedded in his tricep. He mentally kicked himself for losing his concentration even for a second. No wonder Angeal kept getting after him about that.
He spun around dodging another Shuriken and blocking a few more with his sword. He thought about telling Angeal about getting struck, but his mentor seemed to have his hands full already. Zack winced when he pulled the Shuriken out of his arm, and charged toward the oncoming enemies.
He felt fine when he started but by the time he had cut down three enemies, the world started spinning around him. Suddenly his sword felt a hundred times heavier. Black spots formed on his vision and he swung blindly in front of him in case they were coming at him again. He hit nothing as the spots grew bigger until they formed a black curtain. The blackness seemed to travel from his eyes to brain slowly drowning it. He suddenly lost contact with the rest of his body including his legs and fell forward.
"Watch out for the smaller shuriken. Some of them contain poison."
The last thing he heard was Angeal's words echoing around in his head and the last sensation he felt was someone catching him, and then nothing at all…
Angeal glanced over his shoulder, he'd been doing so for the last fifteen minutes, keeping tabs on how Zack was doing. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched in horror as Zack collapsed limply into the arms of a Wutai soldier.
Angeal pushed away his current opponent and dashed towards Zack. However, fortune was not with him, for one of the trees Genesis had set on fire finally gave out and crashed down right in front of him.
"Zack!" He called as he tried to cut his way through the burning branches. But by the time he got through, the enemy soldiers and Zack were gone, no trace left except Zack's sword.
He looked back over at Sephiroth and Genesis and saw their opponents seemed to be making themselves scarce as well. There was no doubt, the enemy was retreating, but they had taken Zack with them…
Oh no! Zack's been captured! They'd better not hurt him or else they'll face the wrath of Angeal.