QNC: A oneshot for the animaverse anthropos, a world where the people who have animal parts are called anima, those who transform are called weres; cities exist based on the clans that rule them. Enjoy! If you have any questions, just ask away in a review or message me through my profile.
Zack hated war.
Unlike most of the older SOLDIERs there, his squad mates thought that it was some glamorous affair ridden with action, adventure, and rewards of valor and praise that any man could want out of a war.
But Zack was different; he was hoping that tonight's events would prevent a war from happening.
Back when he'd been a Third Class, his mentor and friend, Angeal Hewley had taught him that war was not glamorous, or wonderful by any means.
But that didn't make it any less necessary.
The Wutai were independent clans that were known for protecting other Weres from the domination of the anima military factions, who considered themselves superior to Weres for the simple fact that they can control and utilize their animal instinct at will, as opposed to the Weres, whose transformations were controlled expressly by the moon.
Zack himself was just a Second Class member of the elite ShinRa anima military known as SOLDIER. They were currently at war with a small group of Weres from Fort Condor that were supposedly under suspicion of decimating half of ShinRa's troops. Years ago, the Condorian Weres had attacked an official on their way to Junon. ShinRa's retaliation against the Weres was to send in a small army of anima to capture the mountain territory and build a fort in its place. But the Condorians were a fierce group that was known for being territorial and they won back that fort in guerilla warfare. The two clans had been at a reluctant standstill for three years, but recently, the Condorians had attacked a series of supply trucks and decimated half of the ShinRa army stationed near the fort.
The resulting explosion had led to the remains of the ShinRa army practically knocking at the fort's front doors and demading an explanation. The confused leaders of the Condorians had denied any attacks on ShinRa and had instead pointed the blame on a small group of rebels that called themselves Moonsong. The group itself had claimed responsibility for the attack and fled into Wutai. A tip led SOLDIER to Wutai to try and intercept the fugitives before they could cross into the safety of the Wutaiian Emissary territory; the clan was very territorial and was integrated as far as anima and Were realtions, but the anima-only ShinRa clans were usually treated as tresspassers. If Moonsong made it into Wutaiian territory, then they were as good as home free.
Shaking his head to clear it of morbid thoughts, the young man with short, spiked black hair and mesmerizing, pale blue-green eyes paused as an unfamiliar sound reached his ears. In response, one of the pitch-black appendages perched amongst his haphazard spikes twitched and swiveled in the direction of the strange noise. His long, equally spiky black tail froze against his body and tucked itself between his legs as he carefully crept from his half-concealed position behind darkened dewberry bushes and bramble thickets.
His head lifted and he gave a slow, deep drag of the air, registering the fading scents of his teammates that led towards the Wutaiian borderline and something else; something avian and furry, another predator animal or two were around here somewhere and he needed to know if they were with ShinRa or not. Funny, the scent was odd, and it was setting his lupine instincts into a frenzy with simultaneous cries of 'Run!' and 'Defend!'; it was something that Zack had never smelled before.
Another sound, sharper than the last, like a rock skidding across the ground, echoed throughout the silent night, and as the brunette's head snapped around to regard the source. At the same moment, the crouching figure that had been stealthily observing the young wolf silently dropped down from its position on the outer perimeter of the border and loomed over the wolf's shoulder.
Zack stiffened at the sudden presence and whirled, sword ready, ears lowered, and fangs bared in a fierce, barely-leashed snarl. He hated when people snuck up on him!
His first glimpse of his unseen attacker was silver; it ran in shimmering waves over the figure's solid black leather outfit and started from the enormous bangs arching out from a broad forehead and sweeping around glorious raven-black wings, down past slim, leather-clad hips.
Amused, cat-slit green eyes took in the sight of the ruffled wolf-SOLDIER and a small, mocking smile stretched across the person's face, flashing the barest hint of wicked-long, incisors that seemed just a bit too long to fit inside of a pale, bow-shaped mouth.
Zack was in awe. He knew who this was, and he was definitely an ally. The Great General Sephiroth himself was standing before him, his ethereal presence grasping the usually talkative young man into stunned silence. He had just had his first personal encounter with Sephiroth of all people.
"If I were the enemy, then you'd be dead right now, boy."
Despite the mocking smile, the words were matter-of-fact, even toneless. Zack still took offense, despite the fact that his commanding officer had spoken, but he settled for a mild glare and a muttered, "Sir."
The General's piercing, cat-eyed stare pinned him to the wall he was still lightly crouched against for a long time before they both lit up with amusement and a long, silver brow finally raised. There was no denying the mocking amusement coloring his voice when he murmured, "So you're Angeal's puppy..."
Zack huffed in annoyance before straightening from his crouch. "Why does everyone call me that?!"
If anything, the outburst seemed to fuel the amusement in that feline gaze. "It's...cute."
Zack gaped at the man who was known as the greatest anima on the Planet. "What'd you say?!"
Before the silver-haired General could answer, a heavy hand clapped down on Zack's shoulder, startling him into a yelp. A quick glance at the General showed that same light of amusement lighting his eyes, but no drawn sword, so it was safe to assume that the person behind him was no threat. And since the only person that could effectively sneak up on him (besides Sephiroth) was Angeal, then that meant...Zack's ears drooped pitifully as he realized who had gotten the drop on him.
"You're slipping, Zack."
"Yes, Dad," he muttered cheekily. The light cuff to the back of his head had him wincing in fake pain and he childishly stuck his tongue out at his mentor.
"Careful, before I take you up on that invite and bite it off, Zackary." Angeal growled in mock-anger.
Zack quickly retracted it and their banter ended in time for them to catch a light huff of laughter from Sephiroth's direction as he watched the proceedings with amusement and some unexplainable emotion. Zack flushed and lightly scratched the back of his neck in embarrassment while his tail cautiously waved back and forth . "Uh, sorry, Sir. Didn't mean to—"
"No need to apologize, Zackary," Sephiroth smoothly cut in. He smirked as he looked between Angeal and his student. "It is...interesting to witness pack interaction."
Angeal made a surprised sound as he stared at Sephiroth while Zack just looked between them, his slight tail movement stopping in his confusion.
"Seph, you know that Gen and I consider you to b..." Here he cut himself off as the emotion Sephiroth's eyes blanked out and a pale hand rose to silence him.
"Gentlemen, I do believe you're not Wutaiian and are therefore, very close to trespassing on the ancestral home of the clans. Leave now and we will not engage you in combat." A man appeared on the edge of the shadows along with two enormous snake shadows, his fine Wutaiian features were hard as he held a small, compact weapon that was shaped like a gun, but had small sparks of electricity arching over its barrel every few minutes; the man himself had thick black gloves protecting his hands and was stock still.
Angeal cursed and went to draw his weapon, but as the snakes hissed, the man aimed a warning shot at his feet, sending out a shower of fine sparks; Angeal halted his movement to try and match Sephiroth's absolute stillness as the smell of burnt leaves permeated the air.
Zack on the other hand had his head tilted and his ears pricked forward in fascination as he eyed the stranger with something akin to recognition, completely ignoring the two snakes flanking him.
"Heeeey. I know you! You're Tseng, aren't ya?" he asked, then looked from the weapon to the shadowed face. His happy grin faded to a frown of concentration. "But why the heck do ya have a gun pointed at us, man?"
Angeal growled in warning at Zack, who replied indignantly, "Whaaat? What'd I do?! He didn't say we couldn't talk to him. Jeez!"
"That's not, Tseng, Pup. Use your nose, not your eyes," Angeal told him in exasperation.
Zack gave the man a quick, testing sniff and caught the same faint musk of snake that hung around Tseng like a veil, but besides the anima smell, the scent was just not the same. "Oh," Zack concluded. "So then why do they look.." he snuck a glance at the unmoved man and finishes, "Why do they look so much alike?"
Surprisingly, it's the man himself that answers. "Most snake animas tend to be nearly identical in coloring to each other, since most are hatched, unlike mammalian anima."
Zack gapes at the man. "So you're his brother or something?!"
The man gives him a startled glance, while one snake lets out a noise suspiciously close to a snort. "Uh, not quite. That'd be like me saying that every Zolom you see is related to another because they're all dark grey," he explains.
"Oh," Zack says again, for lack of anything else to say.
Finally, the man sighs after staring at them for a moment longer and says, "If you're not here to attack, then why are you here? Your glowing eyes suggest ShinRa tampered anima, so what could you want with the neutral Wutaiian Emissary of Weres?"
Sephiroth stepped forward, his features wiped of all expression as he says, "We believe that a group of wanted fugitives of the ShinRa anima clans are hiding out in the area and are hoping to sneak into your territory. We are simply patrolling the border to be sure that their scents have not passed through here as they are all very dangerous, and very much so unclaimed Weres."
Zack's ears pricked forward at the news. That hadn't been in the mission report. "Weres? Like, only can change during the light of the moon, Weres?"
The snake man just looked at the eager wolf before shaking his head. "Gentlemen. I understand that the ShinRa clan have their business, but I simply cannot allow you to come too close to this area. It would be seen as a weakness that we cannot suffer. You'll simply have to take your business through the proper channels in order to get scent clearance."
"Scent clearance?" The young wolf broke in, again. "What's that?"
Sephiroth gave him an irritated look equal to that of a cat seconds away from swiping its claws across the nose of a bothersome dog; Angeal pinched the bridge of his nose, his proud black ears drooping dejectedly before saying, "It's a respectful gesture among different packs and clans, Zack. In a way, it's like asking permission to go into someone else's territory, which, if granted, means that your scent will be spread through their border patrol so that they don't mistake you for an enemy."
"But it also means that they memorize your scent for good," Sephiroth explains, steadily leveling his blank stare on the snake man, who nods at the remark.
"Oooh, I get it! Kinda like the SOLDIER's Kiss, right?" Zack asks, his tail waving excitedly as he looks from Sephiroth to Angeal.
Angeal nods, his ears straightening as he goes into lecture mode. "Right, Pup. We rub cheeks with those new to our ranks to scent mark and identify them, so that we don't accidentally attack them on the field. It's also a way to form bonds of touch and familiarity between us so that we're all pack," he adds, glancing at Sephiroth as he does so.
Though he's aware of the reference, Sephiroth keeps his gaze on the man before a humorless smile makes its way onto his face as he stares at the man, who finally steps forward to reveal the pale, flat-nosed, and beady black-eyed features of a snake anima. "If that's your final answer, then I suppose we'll have to let President ShinRa handle the political side of things. I wouldn't be surprised if the Turks were called in to handle this matter, though," he says by way of farewell, sharply turning on his heel with a brief hand sign to the two Firsts at his side, indicating that they follow along.
They all tromp the dark forest in silence at first, then Sephiroth says, "Gather your men, but keep your eyes open for the target. It looks like this is out of our hands for now. There is no need for unnecessary violence," he adds as he walks off towards the direction of the transport.
Zack's amazed stare follows the pale-haired anima until he's long gone, but for all the tales about how ruthless and cold the man was, everyone had conveniently forgotten to mention that despite being perfectly made for it, the man didn't like the idea of going on a hunt.
Angeal caught the amazed look on his student's face and said quietly, "He's not as bloodthirsty as everyone makes him seem."
Interesting thought for a well-known predator.
Zack thought that there were a lot of interesting things worth looking into about Sephiroth.
QNC: All fics based on this universe will have Animaverse in the summary, so keep a lookout!