~Final Fantasy – The Scars of Oblivion~

~Chapter I: An Obligation of Duty~

Journal Entry I – The Wutai Investigation

My name is Kenji Tsunekawa, age 17 and here I am writing one of my very first field reports as a new recruit of the World Regenesis Organization's Echo team. Under orders by President Rufus Shinra, we have been dispatched to investigate some strange activity that has been reported to be occurring within the mountains just due south of Wutai. Apparently a few months ago, Cosmo Canyon's observatory telescope had picked up very faint signatures of small comets landing in several respected areas of the Planet. We have no doubts that these fragments that fell from the skies were responsible for said activity, and I suppose it's up to us to find out what's going on. During our initial briefing, I couldn't begin to imagine what was in store for us up in those mountains. Those photographs and footage obtained by our scouts were somewhat disturbing, showing the mutilated bodies of innocent civilians, torn to shreds in a bloody massacre. No normal animal could have done this. There was no doubt about it.

With that aside, we are to meet up with one of the Turks stationed there in Wutai once we land in a couple of hours. I must say, this is the very first time that I've been on an airship, and I'm enjoying every single moment of it. It's an honor to be a passenger aboard the Shera, knowing this ship was the very same that captain Cid Highwind and his comrades piloted to save the Planet from certain destruction all those years ago. It's a shame he's no longer in command of this vessel anymore, but instead he's been working vigorously on his so called Interplanetary Space Projects, now funded again by Shinra them selves. I guess they figured that his ideals weren't so crazy after all, since it was thanks to him that we finally launched our first satellites into space. If I could only meet him in the flesh at least once in my lifetime, it would most certainly make my day, as his contributions to society have been very admirable.

Sitting here beside me is my superior, a member of the newly reestablished SOLDIER unit that had been sent along with us to carry out this investigation. His name is Denzel, age 17, one of the strongest men I've ever met in my entire life. Even though he is currently a 3rd class operative, his skill in combat is noticeably the best in his line of work. I find it kind of humorous that he and I both enlisted in the WRO only a year ago, and in only less than a couple of months, he's now a SOLDIER and the commander of Echo team. That kid must have trained real hard to become a part of that elite force. I hear it wasn't as easy as it used to when they were still treating new recruits with JENOVA cells and MAKO radiation. Whatever methods they use now to enhance their abilities, are beyond me since that information is way past my jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the scientists keep reassuring us that the procedure is safer and nowhere close to how it was before during those horrific experiments.

I guess since I've already introduced my commanding officer, I should go about describing the rest of my fellow comrades that I've been assigned to. Just sitting across from me is Felicity Torneau, age 16 and one of the most demanding out of the group. I personally don't really get along with her at all since she's always complaining about almost everything most of the time. But I guess you can look past her annoying personality and see that she is quite an adept marksman and one of the best snipers I know. I don't even think my aim comes close when it comes to firing at long range. Before I met her, she was known as one of the best mercenaries in the Mideel region. She mostly spent her time working with the local coast guard in taking out pirates whom were terrorizing numerous shipments of supplies and goods. I guess Reeve saw a great deal of potential in her with a skill so developed as hers.

Sitting right beside her is one of the best friend's I've ever made while in advanced training. His name is Roland Rivera, age 17, whom originated from the Bone Village close to the far north. Before joining the WRO he used to work with his father within the multiple excavation sites located in the immediate area. He had intended to go to a university and study paleontology for the sole purpose of becoming a top researcher in that field. However, due to financial issues, he offered to join this organization to earn enough funds to pay for his tuition. But if there's one thing I can say about him, is that he has the best experience out of all of us, with explosives. As a demolitionist expert, he has proven his worth countless times for being a part of Echo team. If we needed a wall breached or a bomb defused, you can be sure to count on Roland to be there to carry out his job. He hasn't failed us once, and I still believe he wouldn't ever.

On the contrary to these two interesting individuals, our fourth member is the very opposite in terms of her distinct persona. Standing there in the corner by herself is Paige Delarosa, age 18 and the oldest out of all of us. She's a very quiet person and only really seems to say anything unless it was concerning a mission objective. Her dossier doesn't say much about her background, only briefly mentioning that she was the daughter of man who fought in the battle of Fort Condor those many years ago. As one can only guess, she was orphaned during the aftermath of that conflict, with her father killed in action during combat. She excelled in medical school at very young age and was recruited at age 16 to serve as a combat medic for the WRO. Since this is the very first time I've ever met her, I don't know much about her prowess in the medical field. But I do know she'll be a life saver when the time comes, we'll be depending on her.

Thinking back on the current mission at hand, I can't help but feel a little bit nervous about returning to Wutai, it is my home town after all. Sure, I have family there, and I should be excited to see them again after such a long period of time. But that's not the problem. There's was girl I left behind in that city when I first left for Midgar for basic training, and there's not guessing what has happened to her after all these months. We loved each other way back then, but people do change unexpectedly during the course of time. My biggest fear is that she might have settled in with another man by now, she did get very lonely easily, and I wouldn't blame her for moving on. But despite all of that, I don't know for sure how I would be able to handle a loss like this. I guess the only way I can really tell is when I finally reunite with her. I just hope she can recognize me in this new uniform. You'd be surprised how different you'd look.

Well I suppose its time for me to end this journal entry here, as the pilot via the intercom has just told us that we are about to land in Wutai soon. This is the moment of truth for me, maybe some good will come out of me meeting up with "Natsumi" after so long. Maybe I'll ask her to dinner during my time off, and maybe show her around the Shera for a bit. That sounds like a plan to me, I can't wait. However, amongst other things, I hope I can get rid of this nervousness soon, since this is the only real mission I've ever been assigned to. I really wouldn't want to choke on the very first day on the job, not to mention put every one of my squad mates at stake because of losing my cool. Although, with a SOLDIER 3rd class part of echo team, I don't think we'll run into much trouble. If they are as tough as the legendary general himself, I have a feeling we'll be in and out of Wutai in no time.

WRO 10th Infantry Division – Echo Team

~Kenji Tsunekawa

Returning the journal to the pouch at his side, Kenji takes a moment to check his ammo and grenade supply before inspecting his rifle thoroughly. He takes the time to retrieve a small reflex scope and slide it into place along his firearm's rail system, along with the addition of a laser site and grenade launcher. The infantryman continues to load a single magazine of ammunition and takes aim to adjust his retractable stock for optimum performance. Meanwhile, Felicity can be seen performing maintenance on her very own sniper rifle, twisting in a silencer to the very end of the barrel. Putting that aside, the markswoman pulls out her sidearm and loads a brand new magazine as well, ensuring that she was properly equipped. At her thigh, she fetches a small combat knife and tests for sharpness as she gazes into her own reflection that shown on its blade, slightly grinning at the sight of her own beauty.

Beside the sniper, Roland loads several shells into his combat shotgun before cocking it and placing it upon his back. He too checks his sidearm for ammunition and reloads it accordingly, placing it aside. The demolitionist then persists to peruse through his collection of flash, incendiary and frag grenades that he had placed around the straps on his chest, making sure he had enough explosives for the mission at hand. Contrarily to everyone's routine of protocol, Paige only continues to stand with her arms crossed in the corner, as if she was already prepared for combat. The medic doesn't even bother to inspect her submachine gun for custom tuning or modification, but whatever the case, she knew well that she didn't require any of that to carry out her duty. It was only clear that young lady only really needed was her first aid kit, nothing more nothing less. If she needed to neutralize any hostiles, it wouldn't necessitate anything too capricious.

Denzel on the other hand was busy at work tending to his materia blade, also checking it for sharpness and properly maintaining the pristine condition of the blades edge. Close to hilt of his sword, the SOLDIER places three pieces of green materia into each of the slots available to him. Similarly, he fetches a single orb of red materia and places it likewise at the very center, hoping that it would prove useful if and when he needed to call upon its power. Satisfied by this, he spins his blade skillfully within his hand before sheathing and securing it upon his back, shifting his focus onto his cell phone which he reaches from his side. Denzel carries on to flip the screen open, only to see that he has a single text message from his master and mentor. The youth smiles as he reads the words "good luck on your first mission" to himself, before flipping it closed. It was time for him to prove himself, to make his superior proud.

In due course, the Shera finally descends upon the designated landing zone within the city walls of Wutai, opening its bay doors and allowing the rest of Echo team to exit from within the airship and onto fresh soil. With Denzel leading them, he heads towards the Turtle's Paradise where they were to meet with one of the Turks for further information regarding their mention. Upon entering the restaurant and bar, they are greeted by none other than Yuffie Kisaragi, now dawning her slick stylish suit and tie, with her large shuriken resting upon her back. She smiles happily at Denzel as she hurriedly approaches him, taking the time to examine him from top to bottom. Unable to contain her excitement, the kunoichi abruptly and playfully places the young SOLDIER into a choke hold and continues rubbing his head with her fist. After all she couldn't help it, as she hadn't seen the young swordsman for quite a while.

Continuing to rub Denzel's head, "Look at you, you little rascal. I never thought I'd see the day that you'd be dressed up in that SOLDIER uniform." Yuffie releases him, "It's good to finally see you after so long."

"I can almost say the exact same thing too," the swordsman replies, "You're really looking suave in that new suit of yours. I admit, I was somewhat convinced that you weren't into that type of style."

Laughing, the Turk says, "Well the best part about this job is wearing this fancy suit. It makes me look very professional, don't you think? Now all I really need is a pair of sleek shades like Rude's."

"Hey Yuffie," Kenji steps forward, "Long time, no talk. I must say, this is kind of unexpected. One moment you and your friends are fighting against the Turks, the next you become one of them. A lot has changed hasn't it?"

Placing her hands upon her hips, "And who might I ask are you? Are you some guy I used to know? You don't remind me of anyone else in particular. What's your name again?"

"The name's Kenji Tsunekawa," he removes his beret, "I'm the son of the weapon dealer in town. I recall seeing you running away from some spiky haired guy and his companions when I was younger. You hid in our shop."

Yuffie leans in closer, "Oh my, gosh. No way. I think I remember you clearly now. Man, you were really small back then, how old were you? I'm guessing you must have been a toddler during the time."

"I was ten," Kenji smiles "It's good to see that Godo's daughter is doing well for herself these days, instead of being the mischievous thief I knew as a kid. Not to mention, you haven't repaid us for those kunai you took."

Sweat dripping from her side, "Oh those days are over. I swear I've finally rid myself of my addiction. I'll never go out stealing people's belongings again, even their materia. Those old things are way overrated anyway."

Folding his arms, Denzel says, "So, getting down to business. What information do you have for us concerning the recent activity in the area? And what is this talk about these strange creatures roaming about?"

"Right, allow me to fill you guys in," Yuffie says as she offers them seats at a table. "The situation is much worst than we actually had imagined. Not too long ago, we sent more scouts to check out the site where the comet had landed. But until now, we've haven't heard from them since."

In deep thought, the Roland adds, "Telling from the photographs and video footage we saw during briefing, there's no question that we're probably dealing with some sort of creature, perhaps of extraterrestrial origin. Have you notified Shinra's research department of this matter?"

"Yes, HQ was just informed about this not too long ago," the kunoichi nods. "However, we were hoping that the rest of your team could assist us in securing the area first, as well as carry on the investigation to determine the source of these disappearances. As you can understand, fulfilling these objectives is vital to giving our scientists the go ahead to set up a research site in that area. We can't risk anymore innocent lives."

Raising her brow, Felicity interrupts, "Well all of this sounds mighty comforting. And what's worst is that they send us into the fray, hoping we won't suffer the same unknown fate. They should have sent more reinforcements, we don't really know if just the five of us is even enough to take out whatever is murdering those civilians."

"I believe you underestimate the capabilities of a SOLDIER unit my dear," the Turk raises her brow, "With Denzel around, you guys shouldn't be worried at all. Besides, I've agreed to come along to help in the investigation as well since Tseng requires a full written assessment of our findings to report to the president. The six of us alone should be more than enough to take on this mission."

Leaning back upon his chair, Kenji says, "So when do we get started? The quicker we get this over with, the quicker we can lower the state of emergency in Wutai. I can only imagine the people being reluctant to leave the city walls. It must be very difficult for them to even sleep at night, knowing something out there is terrorizing travelers."

"We can leave whenever," Yuffie rises from her seat, "And since the site is only a short ways south of here, we'll be traveling there by chopper. However, they will only take us as far as the base of the mountain pass since the area further ahead is of course unsuitable for landing. We'll have to walk the rest of the way when we get there."

Interrupting while heading towards the door Paige says, "What are we waiting for? We only waste our time sitting here. If you need me, I'll be outside. Just finish up whatever you guys are doing, and let's get a move on, shall we? There may be lives to save out there and we can't just leave them there to die. I cannot and will not allow that to happen."

Nodding in compliance with each other, the rest of Echo team along with Yuffie make their way outside where Paige awaits them beside the helicopter that would take them towards their objective. Upon entering the vehicle, Kenji catches site of a strikingly familiar face seated upon the cockpit before him. At first, he isn't sure to address her, but he finally takes the plunge to call out her name, thinking that he had nothing else to lose. As expected, the young lady responds as she innocently looks straight at him with her azure colored eyes. For a moment, she couldn't tell who the man was, but after noticing a recognizable likeness she was able to identify him as the loved one that had left her long ago to join the WRO. Leaping from her seat, she rushes straight into Kenji's arms, finally glad to see him back again within their home town of Wutai. Only tears can be seen running down her cheeks as she looks up at him once again, attempting to place a faint smile of joy upon her face.

With that aroma and embrace, Kenji knew that this was no doubt his childhood friend, Natsumi. How could he forget the way she used to hold him so lovingly like this, as it was comforting and reminiscent of his previous life? Running his hands through her long dark hair, the young man remembers how soft and soothing it was to the touch and how he used to wrap each strand within his fingertips while kissing her during the long summer nights below the canopy of the blooming sakura trees. It was in an instant that memories of their time together came rushing through his head like a gentle breeze, and such recollections were dear to him in every single way. Despite his obligation of duty, the WRO infantryman didn't care, he was reunited again with Natsumi and nothing was going to change that. All that mattered now was that the both of them were happy as their paths have crossed, seemingly entangled by the threads of fate.

Wiping away her tears, the young lady says, "Kenji? Is this really you? It almost feels like it has been forever since I last saw you. You never wrote back to me, I was starting to worry that something terrible had happened to you. You shouldn't be so cold hearted like that, I was alone for so long."

"No, please don't get the wrong idea Natsumi," he holds her close "It's just that, I was afraid that maybe you have moved on without me. Trust me. It was difficult for me to write a single letter back to you. And well, I wasn't sure if you would have responded or have remembered me."

Somewhat amused, Natsumi shakes her head, "I could never forget about you, Kenji. You're just being silly again, just how like you used to when we were kids. I'm just happy to see you after all this time, especially with you as a new recruit of the WRO. How's life been treating you?"

"It's been quite an adventure," Kenji exclaims "Seeing Midgar finally rebuilt never brought so much exhilaration, the place is amazing. All the sectors have been reconstructed and the people from Edge have already begun to move in. Maybe sometime I can take you there and give you a tour of head quarters."

Leaning in towards Felicity, Roland mentions "Just look at the both of them, its kind of cool seeing that Kenji's finally settled down with his girlfriend again. The guy never seemed to stop thinking or talking about her before taking the airship to Wutai. I guess he finally got himself some closure just by meeting up with her again. He didn't lie, she is very cute."

"Like the hell I care," the markswoman retorts "Shouldn't he be more concentrated on this mission, instead of some so called pretty girl he hasn't seen for only a couple of months? The guy really needs to set his priorities straight, we got no time for any of these lovey-dovey reunions. We got enough on our back as it is already."

Sighing disappointingly, the demolitionist says "Calm down, excuse me for only noticing our comrade's happiness. You're really heartless, you know that? I think its time you get yourself scheduled for some anger management. I suggest a visit to the hot springs when we get back from completing our objectives. Maybe that'll do you some good."

"Well maybe you should shut your mouth before I do something stupid," she crosses her arms, "I think it would be in your best interest to keep your useless banter to yourself. It's a wonder how I deal with the people of this squad, if the pay weren't so rewarding, I would've left eons ago."

Continuing his conversation with Natsumi, Kenji asks "So, what have you been doing since the last time we met? I mean seeing you here in the cockpit of this helicopter is no mere coincidence I take it."

"Well I guess you can say I'm a part of the local militia now," the young lady blushes, "More specifically, I'm in charge of piloting this vehicle for regularly scheduled reconnaissance missions. It was actually me who had sent the distress call straight towards the WRO themselves and notified them of the gruesome events occurring in the area."

Interrupting them, Denzel replies "Well you did the right thing in doing so. I deeply apologize for breaking up your conversation, but we have more important matters to attend to. Natsumi If you were be so kind to take us on our way soon, it would be most appreciated. You two can catch up later after the mission is completed, this much I promise."

"Understood," she responds as she makes her way back into the cockpit, "Just leave it to me. I'll get things moving immediately just as soon as the necessary preparations are made. Just be sure to strap yourself securely for the ride, we'll reach our destination in no time."

Taking her place beside the pilot, Yuffie flips open her cell phone and displays a map, "According to this, the best place of interest for us to land is on the beaches southeast of our current position. Satellite and thermal imaging suggests that there is a small ravine that runs through a series of tunnels, beneath the materia cave in that area. We can use this to our advantage in reaching the mountains from underground without climbing its rigid peaks. In short, this is the ideal locale for the extraction point."

"The materia cave," Natsumi questions, "But isn't that area off limits? People have said that dangerous levels of Mako radiation have been leaking out from that place recently. Because of this, no one has really bothered to go near the cave, it would prove to be fatal if we are exposed to too much of that poison. Are you sure about taking that risk?"

Nodding and fetching a gas mask from her side, "No need to worry, we have on board the necessary equipment to venture into the cave with no problem. The worst thing that can possibly happen is far meticulous than a little Mako radiation, I assure you."

"I guess I've got no choice but to take your word for it," the young pilot sighs, "But, I suppose its time for us to get this show on the road, the engine is warmed up and ready to go. Just do me a favor and hold on tight, taking off is always the roughest with this chopper."

Without further adieu, Natsumi violently yet swiftly takes the to the air in her helicopter, while continuing southward as directed by her superior. As Yuffie had feared, the initial ascent into the skies had quickly made her motion sick, causing her to grab her mouth as if she was about to do the unimaginable. Fortunately for the rest of Echo team, the Turk had quickly recovered from her engrossed condition as she waves off to the others in reassurance that she was alright. Denzel was the only one quite humored by this, since he felt that the young kunoichi hadn't changed one bit since the last time he had seen her. Although he was content with working alongside a familiar face, he couldn't help but feel concerned for the rest of the team. The 3rd class SOLDIER knew all too well the horrors he'd seen during the many events of his childhood, especially the brief return of Sephiroth all those years ago. If anything, Denzel could only ask himself if they were truly ready for this mission.

Letting out a deep sigh, Kenji also shares the similar worries and fears as his commanding officer. He knew well that he wasn't very experienced in actual combat in the real world, and that those simulations he had trained under, wasn't enough to decide whether he was prepared to tackle a real operation such as this one. The only member of Echo team that had at least enough familiarity in battle was Felicity their markswoman. And with that engrained in his mind, the infantryman was adamant on trying his best to demonstrate the optimum performance he could offer as an associate of the WRO. After all, the girl he knew and loved so dearly was with them, and it was up to Kenji to show Natsumi the extent of his ability to serve and protect her. Failure to do so was not an option for him, for it would be an unforgiveable act to allow one of his closest friends die in the line of duty.

In due course, the chopper eventually reaches the southeastern region of Wutai and descends upon the beaches just outside of the materia cave. Securing their gas masks accordingly, Echo team, Yuffie and Natsumi exit from the aircraft and continue on their way towards the extraction point. Once again, the WRO squad makes a final check of their weaponry before proceeding towards the cave which lay just a small stretch of land away from them. Natsumi also takes the time to arm herself by strapping her long bladed nodachi upon her back, and retrieves her twin pistols from an attaché case beneath her. Placing the firearms at her hips, the young lady catches up with the rest of her companions whilst tying her hair up for good measure. However, before she can reach her compatriots, the earth suddenly begins to viciously shake below them.

As the ground continued to quake, the company of seven attempts to hold their ground while enduring this strange and abrupt phenomenon that was beginning to escalate drastically. In the distance, it seemed as if the mountains were moving and shifting irregularly on their own, causing thick clouds of dust to rise up from the origin of the geological occurrence. Conversely, just as the extremities of the tremors had come, they had soon parted from the surrounding area, leaving the members of Echo team bewildered of what had just recently happened. So, to assess the current situation, Felicity immediately gazes down the scope of her sniper rifle towards where the sudden activity had come from, within the mountains. From east to west she thoroughly surveys the entirety of the rocky environment, only to see nothing out of the ordinary that would yield any possible explanation of what the cause of the event was.

"What the hell just happened?" Felicity says as she gets up upon his feet, "It's as if it just like it came out of nowhere. Do earthquakes even happen frequently in this region?" She continues to ask.

Shaking his head, Roland replies, "No, I'm just as surprised as you are. Usually the geology of this area is consistently stable. It's somewhat strange that tectonic shifts like this even occur at all around Wutai."

"I couldn't have worded it any better myself," Yuffie adds "I don't even want to know what was that could have triggered something so devastating. I wouldn't be surprised if Wutai had felt that coming."

Looking into the scope of her rifle once again, "Wait a second, what the hell is that thing? It looks like there's some person floating in midair just above where the activity had stemmed from. What's going on here?"

"A person…how can you be so sure?" Denzel makes his way beside the sniper, "Here, is it okay of I take a look for myself? This just sounds all too bizarre to accept as a mere coincidence."

Gazing out into the distance, the 3rd class SOLDIER catches sight of the analogous figure of an individual with long silver hair levitating several feet just above the snow capped peaks. A pair of dark feathered wings can be seen sprouted from its back as the being keeps itself a flutter before descending into the depths of the mountain, away from Denzel's site. Yuffie, on the other hand, takes the liberty to utilize Shinra's satellites, via her cell phone, to obtain overhead footage of the area. To her surprise, a strange anomaly had appeared just within the perimeter of where the tremors had originated, taking the form of an enormous formation of some sort. The distinct collection of steam can be observed to be escaping from the many various metallic conduits and pipelines that seemingly link to what appears to a central dome, which stands erect at the very center of the surrounding area of jagged stone.

Lowering the sniper rifle, he says to himself, "No…my eyes deceive me.

Sephiroth…has he returned again after all this time? None of this makes

any sense. Cloud had already defeated him all those years ago."

"Denzel? Are you alright?" Kenji places his hand upon the SOLDIER's shoulder, "You look as if you've just seen a ghost. What was that thing anyway? Were you able to identify the unknown target?"

Returning the firearm to Felicity, shaking his head, "No…I couldn't really get a good look at it. I think I'm just seeing things…it's probably nothing. Could have been just a bird, for all we know."

"Well, you should probably come have look at this," Yuffie presents her cell phone to Denzel, "This is what our satellites picked up in the general area. I don't know what to make of it, could it be our so called comet?"

Observing the image on the screen, "What the hell is that thing? It almost

strikingly resembles one of those old Mako reactors from way back, only it looks slightly more advanced, even for our own technology."

"Those were my initial thoughts exactly," the kunoichi replies, "But by any means, I'm sending this data as we speak back to HQ. I think it would be in the president's interest to have a look at this."

Breaking from her habit of silence, Paige says, "You guys must have a thing about wasting each other's time. We could have used this opportunity to investigate the area already. Let's get a move on."

"The girl's right," Kenji agrees, "We should head into the materia cave soon before anything unexpected happens again. I'll take point along with Denzel's support, the mission will continue as originally planned."

The rest of Echo team advances forward and into the materia cave where

they climb down into the ravine, just as satellite imaging had suggested. The squad continues their trek along the natural tunnel system beneath the earth above them, with the intensity of the Mako radiation beggining to increase as they went further with every step. Fortunately for them, these unfavorable environmental conditions did not affect them at all, thanks to the equipment Yuffie had provided. All was going according to plan until they had finally reached a wide and open expanse of caves which appeared before them. Felicity curiously looks through the scope of her rifle and up at the ceiling, only to notice the piercing rays of sunlight entering from a large crevice, which opened up into the surface. It was at the very center of the general area, that Kenji approaches what looks like a pod of some sort, with its door swung wide open, as if someone or something had been inside and had left upon landing.

"Hey guys come here and take a look at this," Kenji calls out to the others, "I think this is one of the so called comets that Cosmo Canyon's observatory have reported to have seen landing upon the Planet's surface. Doesn't look like any thing I've seen before."

Denzel takes a moment in thought to say to himself, "Maybe that thing I saw really wasn't Sephiroth…could it have been just another one of his minions or followers? Those wings and silver hair, these are no doubt the characteristics of subjects from the S Project."

"Look, the main panel is still functioning," Yuffie says as she enters the pod, "The images on the screen still look a little bit scrambled, maybe from the initial impact. If I try to repair and reconnect some of the wires here, maybe we can get an idea of where this sucker came from."

Venturing deeper into the caves, Felicity says "Yeah, you go on and do that. I'll try to keep myself entertained by scouting out the rest of the area, maybe there's more fascinating stuff lying around this place for us to find, maybe a couple of new fossils for Roland's collection."

"Although that sounds very tempting," the demolitionist replies "We have more important things to worry about. And I think it would be in your favor to try not to go off too far on your own. Who knows if the thing that landed on that pod is still out and about, it could be dangerous."

Waving her arm in reassurance, "You can quit your worrying. This is an investigation isn't it? I'm just carrying out my duty that's all. I don't need a person like you breathing down my neck every single moment I try to do something right. Just stay out of my way if you know what's good for you."

"I'm telling you man, the girl's got some issues," Roland says to Kenji, "I still can't help but keep asking myself why she's even on Echo team. I mean if she really doesn't want to cooperate with any of us, then she might as well just work on her own without any complaints."

Folding his arms, sighing, "She's one of our best snipers, if it weren't for her, we'd be lost without her well developed sense of tracking and direction. I know she may be way out of our league sometimes, but something tells me there's more to her story than what it seems."

"Roland, Kenji" Paige addresses them, "Can the both of you come over here for just a second? I think I've found something you all should take a look at. I think I know where all those scouts Wutai sent disappeared off to. And it's not pretty, not pretty at all."

Making their way towards the field medic, they take notice of numerous trails of blood leading further into the depths of the tunnels. Perturbed by this, Kenji takes out his flash light and illuminates the area just ahead of them to observe the distance the crimson stains had traveled before disappearing into the darkness. As the rifleman had imagined, the path ends abruptly just before a wall of stone in the distance, as if something had dragged those Wutai scouts into sheer nothingness. The only remnant those men had remained behind, was a single pistol drenched within a puddle of blood nearby. Upon thorough investigation, Roland notices that the firearm's slide was slightly positioned, as if every single bullet within the magazine had been expended. Such was enough evidence to illustrate that a dire struggle had occurred here, but against who or what? Whatever the case, they knew well that they had to find out the truth.

Meanwhile, Yuffie continues to tamper and reattach the many wires behind the flat screen display from inside the pod, in an attempt to recover any clues that would point them in the direction of the vessel's origin. It was only in a short moment's passing that the Turk had finally repaired the central panel and was able to access the computer's mainframe with almost little or no effort at all. As a result of this, a clear image of the Planet's solar system appears before her, illustrating an outline of target destinations as suggested by the pod's flight path through space. Several other alternating markers can be seen located along the surface of the world, extending towards the far reaches of every possible region in existence. Although, what brought utter and chilling concern to the young kunoichi, was the appearance of the name JENOVA which made itself evident across the uppermost corner of the screen itself, a name that she had thought to be forgotten for all these years.

"Denzel, come and take a look at this," Yuffie beckons the SOLDIER, "According to this, it seems that this pod landing here was no coincidence, and this is only one of three others. But that's not the only disconcerting piece of information," she points.

Examining the images on screen, "JENOVA, what does this have to do with any of this? It looks to me that someone on the Planet has been continuing professor Hojo, Gast and Hollander's research on that project they've been working on during Cloud's time."

"At first, that was my initial conclusion," the Turk continues, "But this couldn't have been under the direction of any person living on this world. Just from looking at the craft's flight path, it seems as if it had been traveling from way outside our solar system."

Bewildered, Denzel says, "Do you mean to say that these vessels that had landed upon the Planet are from another world? This is beginning to sound similar to Gast's earlier reports, saying that JENOVA had landed upon the Northern Crater from the skies."

"You've been really doing you're homework," the kunoichi replies, "But before we can draw any more assumptions from what we've seen here. In the mean time, I'll upload our findings straight back to HQ, maybe Vincent can delve further into the matter for us."

Somewhat astonished, "Vincent Valentine, don't tell me he's also join the Turks as well. I find it kind of odd that he'd return to the organization after enduring all that he had suffered during the Lucrecia incident at the Shinra mansion."

"Be that as it may, he's still searching for a means to redeem himself," Yuffie leaves the pod, "I guess since Shinra has changed its whole role in society, he doesn't really mind working for the company as long as it's for a good cause."

Imagining to him self, "I guess he's given up that old look of his for the whole suit and tie thing. Must be a big change for him, I guess. I can only wonder how the others are taking to his new appearance. They probably didn't recognize him so easily at first."

"I've only got one thing to say about that," she responds, "Ever since he's joined the Turks, all of the ladies have been crawling all over him like no tomorrow. He's even making Reno jealous out of the whole situation, thinks he's his rival or something."

Continuing towards the rest of Echo team, "Well I hope making this choice has led him towards the right path, best wishes to him and his return to the Turks. However, we should continue our investigation and find out the cause of these local disappearances."

Unbeknownst to the rest of the others, Natsumi had strolled to far off from her squad, attracted by the sound of a faint moaning coming from one of the networks of tunnels on the eastern side of the cave. She too catches site of another trail of blood and persists to follow it towards the almost lifeless body of a Wutai scout whom can be seen leaning up against the base of one of the stone walls. She realizes that the man is still breathing, and calls the attention of Paige to come and tend to his seemingly mortal wounds. The medic immediately heeds the call and starts to unpack her supplies in an attempt to resuscitate the incapacitated scout as quickly as possible. Fetching a syringe, Paige begins the procedure by injecting her patient with an anesthetic to relax and ease his pain. She then continues to apply an antiseptic upon his wounds before finally suturing and bandaging the area to prevent any more blood loss.

"What are…you doing?" the scout tries to speak, "You guys should get the hell out of here…while you still can…it's too dangerous to be wandering around this place…my whole team was wiped out by those things…"

Trying to help the man onto his feet, Paige says, "Try not to talk so much and save you strength, I'm not about to let you die because of your own stubbornness. Don't worry. We're going to get you out of here."

"No…you don't understand," he continues, "This is all a set up…she's just using me as bait to lure more test subjects for her…experiments…she'll torture all of you before you die a slow and agonizing death…"

Taking both of her pistols out, Natsumi asks, "A set up? What are you talking about? Who is this "she" you keep mentioning, let alone those experiments. I demand some answers immediately."

"It's too late for you now," the man looks up at the ceiling, "She's already sent them to collect your bodies…there's no escaping those monsters…resisting won't do you any good."

All of the sudden, a piercing howl begins to echo throughout the entirety of the whole surrounding area, as a large beastly creature reveals itself from the shadows above them. The grotesque being continues to leap down upon the ground before Natsumi and quickly charges straight for her with its snapping large jaws. It is with desperation that the young lady fires avidly at the approaching threat in an attempt to take it out before reaching her. But, despite her endeavors, the relentless brute is able to swipe its prey into its large arm, before attempting to make its escape towards where the pod was located. Out of concern for her comrade, Paige sets the Wutai scout down near the entrance of the cave and pulls out her submachine gun while pursuing the creature on foot. The medic tries to take aim and fire carefully at her target, trying by any means not to bring harm to the young lady within its grasp. Although, seeing that her shots had no effect, she decides to call out to the rest of her squad to advise them of what was soon coming their way.

"Kenji, Felicity," Paige catches their attention, "That thing's got Natsumi

within its grasp. Try to shoot it down before it can get away, there's no

thinking of what it intends to do with her."

Taking aim of her sniper rifle, "What the hell is that? Well whatever it is, it's

going down with a single bullet, whether it likes it or not. Kenji, would you

kindly try to knock the target off from the ceiling for me?"

"Well since you asked nicely, it'll be my pleasure," the rifleman grins as he aims his grenade launcher, "Just allowing it to come a little bit closer before I wreak havoc upon the poor guy."

Firing a single grenade round into the creature's left foot, Kenji is able to knock the creature off balance from the ceiling, causing it crash down flat upon its back. Felicity quickly takes this opportunity to fire one accurate shot of her rifle between the targets eyes, ultimately killing it off in one single blow. Drawing out her nodachi, Natsumi persists to slash herself free from the beast's grasp and makes her way towards safety with Paige at her side. However, unfortunately for the rest of Echo team, four more of the very same organism comes crawling in from the different reaches of the cave around them. They continue to howl provokingly at them as they slowly encircle and surround their whole squad, making clear to them that they would not escape from them so easily. So, it is with confidence that Denzel finally unsheathes his materia blade to deal with monsters that threaten them, unshaken by their menacing appearances.

"Kenji, you and I will take out the one on the eastern most part of the room," the SOLDIER readies his sword, "I'll leave it up to the rest of you to decide your targets amongst yourselves."

Releasing the empty shell from her rifle, Felicity says, "Roland and I got this one over on the south end, shouldn't be too much of a chore to take it out. How about you Paige? It's your turn to make your choice."

"Both Natsumi and I can handle this one on our own," the medic points to the west, "I can use the close combat support to take it out from a distance. This should prove to be an effective tactic for us."

Retrieving both her pistol and large shuriken, Yuffie readies herself "I guess this means I got this last one to the north covered. I've dealt with worst things in the past. This should be a piece of cake."

With every one of Echo team prepared, each of them advance towards their individually assigned opponents to eliminate. Denzel starts off by casting a strong and potent spell of Blizzaga upon one of the creatures standing before him, to which Kenji follows through by releasing yet another grenade round into the frozen enemy, causing shards of ice to shatter and collapse around it. The SOLDIER then uses this to his advantage to dash straight towards the stunned beast and leap into the air to execute a heavy downward slash, which successfully slices one of the monster's arms off. However, the brute retaliates with a strong horizontal swipe, which Denzel dodges and returns fire with a devastating Thundaga spell. As the creature is astounded by this, Kenji expends a whole magazine of ammunition to sever off the remaining arm, giving his superior the opportunity to deliver the finishing decapitating blow.

Nearby, Roland takes the liberty to toss a couple of his flash grenades to temporarily blind his opponent as he unloads several shells into the creature's chest. The demolitionist continues his onslaught of explosives by adding two more incendiary grenades into the mix, overall immolating the entirety of the large monstrosity's body. As the brute writhed in agony, Roland saw this as a chance for him to toss in a single frag grenade into the lingering threat's mouth, ultimately adding more to the damage. In the distance, Felicity bides her time as she peers through the scope of her rifle and steadies her aim. With the beast wailing around violently whilst on fire, it was difficult for the sniper to execute a proper and accurate shot upon her enemy. But her patience soon pays off, as she skillfully presses down on the trigger, and let fly one of her bullets straight into the target's head, taking its life instantly upon contact.

Meanwhile, Natsumi charges straight towards the snarling menace as it continuously attempts to hinder the young lady's advancing movements by lashing at her with its enormous arms. Avoiding each attack, she tumbles to the side and drives her nodachi into its side, causing the creature to writhe violently from the inflicted wound. From the opposite direction, Paige fires several magazines of her submachine gun into the beast's chest while dodging and evading its flailing arms. She continues to aim through the iron site and unloads several bursts of ammunition into her target's eyes, which gives Natsumi the proper timing to leap into the air and impale the strange organism upon the surface of its head. As her blade remains fixed within her opponent's flesh, the swordswoman pulls out her side arm and persists to land multiple fatal point blank shots deep into the monstrosity's skull. With the three of the four enemies down only one remains to rise up against their own.

With her opponent quickly advancing towards her, Yuffie throws her large shuriken straight towards it, quickly drawing her pistol to further add to the diversion. As the Turk had expected, her sidearm's projectiles were enough to distract the creature's attention away from her spiraling blade, but as she feared, her shuriken didn't even come close to reaching her target. Catching the returning ninja tool within her grasp, the kunoichi launches it yet again at the grotesque beast, this time firing upon the sharp points of the shuriken with her pistol. With every bullet bouncing of the surface of the whirling blade, its rotation had quickened into an alarming rate, causing it to burn deep into the organism's flesh from the friction of each shot. It was in this very moment that Yuffie executes the coup de grace as she leaps into the air to retrieve her shuriken for the second time before slashing deep into the monstrosity's spine.

As everyone was nearly out of breath, the rest of Echo team could finally place themselves at ease before the site of their defeated enemies. However, this moment was only short lived, for the sound of clapping applause had suddenly made itself apparent to them from the protruding ridge above. Looming over them, was the pale feminine figure of a silver haired individual garbed in black, staring down upon Kenji and his squad with glowing crimson eyes. Extending out from her back, was a pair of black feathered wings, the very same that Denzel had noticed through the scope of Felicity's sniper rifle just before they had entered the materia cave. The 3rd class SOLDIER knew now that his eyes indeed hadn't deceived him back then, and now, he was truly sure that they were about to face something far different and more challenging than those creatures that had recently attacked them.

"Impressive use of teamwork," scoffs the silver haired woman, "It's a

shame that my pets didn't last the fight for so long. But no matter, you all seem to have proven your worth as possible new test subjects. So, how about it, won't you kindly allow me to indulge upon your fragile bodies?"

Stepping forward, Denzel replies "Identify yourself and explain to us what exactly is going on in here. It's no doubt that you are the one responsible for the deaths of those Wutai scouts. Could it be that you are just another one of Hojo's failed experiments?"

"My, my you have a lot of questions," she continues to speak, "But allow me to humor you for the time being. My name is Arcana, and I have come to your Planet, along with my brothers and sisters, to complete that which JENOVA had failed to accomplish thousands of years ago."

Addressing her, Kenji asks, "Complete what, the massacring of many innocent lives for your own sick enjoyment? Who do think you are to give yourself the right to carry out such acts of cruelty? You should give me one good reason why I shouldn't plant one right between your eyes."

"You pathetic humans never cease to amuse me," Arcana grins, "You fail to understand that it wasn't I that had taken the lives of those men, but conversely given them new lives and a greater purpose. If anything, it was your entire squad that had murdered them all with your own hands."

Clenching her teeth in anger, Paige exclaims, "What the hell did you do those Wutai scouts, you sick bastard. How could you do such a horrific thing as to using them for your own personal playthings? Answer me, damn it, or I'll be forced to make you talk."

"Those creatures you've dealt with were just a taste of the new world your precious Planet will soon become," the woman replies, "We will wreak judgment upon this earth to eliminate all inferior species undeserving of mother's gift. Only our advanced race will flourish upon these lands."

Reloading a new grenade round into his rifle, Kenji takes aim, "I've heard enough of your bullshit. I don't care whatever your reasons and ideals are, that alone doesn't give you the right to play the role of a god. If there's one thing hate more in the world, its people with a big mouth like you."

"Foolish boy, you can't obviously believe you can singe me with that small little toy of yours," Arcana smiles as she spreads her wings, "Allow me to show you what the meaning of true power is, as well as the sheer destructiveness of what us, the Seraphim, are capable of."

Without hesitation, Kenji fires his grenade round upon the silver hair woman, only to be caught straight in midair with her pseudo telekinetic powers. She continues to crush the projectile into a contained implosion before gathering her dark energies within the other hand. It was only a matter of time that Arcana had conjured an orb of darkness, to which she unwaveringly releases upon the members of Echo team, causing a miniscule yet devastating outward super nova. However, to the winged angel's surprise, all of her victims but one had leaped out of harm's way just in time before the attack had unleashed itself. Lying there unconscious in the corner was none other than Natsumi's motionless body, as she had failed to avoid the overwhelming effects of the Seraph's power. Seeing this as a favorable chance for the taking, Arcana gently glides down towards the young lady with malicious intent.

"You, you will become my servant of darkness," the silver haired woman smirks, "Your body seems to be most fitting for our mother's gift. Perhaps you will show much promise after I've bestowed upon you her eternal blessing. There is nothing to fear child, for I will grant you bliss."

Attempting to get up upon his feet while still prone upon the ground, "You stay away from her, you son of a bitch. Lay one finger on her, and I'll tear off those pretty wings of yours with my own bare hands. I swear, if anything happens to Natsumi, I won't forgive you."

"And what do you think you're going to do about it?" Arcana takes the young lady into her arms, "What is it that a human like you can do to possibly stop me? You are nothing more but an impurity standing in the way of utter perfection. You are no threat to me, my dear."

Finally standing and aiming his rifle straight at her, "We'll have to see how much of those words are true. But for now, I'm afraid I can't allow you to take away another one of my comrades," He pulls the trigger, but only to no effect, "God damn it, the stupid thing's jammed."

"What the hell do you think your doing?" Grabbing Kenji's leg from below him, Felicity says, "You're only provoking a force you obviously can't take on by yourself. Let her go, Kenji, we'll get her when we can get a hold of more reinforcements. This isn't worth the loss of a good infantryman."

Placing his rifle aside and taking up Natsumi's nodachi, "You can say all you want, Felicity. But I'm not going to give up on Natsumi just yet. Who knows what unbearable things that woman might do to her, I wouldn't be able to live my life knowing I didn't do anything to save my closest friend."

"What nobles words," the black winged angel laughs, "However, its going to take more than just that to rescue this precious beauty. I'll have you know that she belongs to me now, and as a farewell gift, I offer you this final sentiment of lamentation."

Summoning forth yet another orb of dark energy, Arcana sends it hurling towards the cave's ceiling above them, causing the surrounding area to lose its stability and crumble under the pressure. With large shards of rock hailing down upon the WRO's Echo team, Denzel gives the order to retreat through the entrance from which they had come, seeing that this was the course of action for good of his comrades. But despite following the dictates of his superior, Kenji continues his pursuit of the silver haired tyrant whom had begun to flee back into the deep recesses of the caves with Natsumi still within her grasp. Roland attempts to follow after the stubborn rifleman, but is suddenly cut off by the collapse of several more slabs of stone, which in turn made it impossible for the demolitionist to move on any further. For all he knew, his comrade could might as well been dead because of his foolish actions.

Upon the opposite side of the barrier, Kenji is knocked out cold by the impact that had ensued from behind him. Just before the young man had lost himself into darkness, he catches site of Arcana making her way towards him with a slight grin upon her face. It only took a short amount of time for the infantryman to lose consciousness from the final site of his sworn enemy. However that soon changed for the worst as he had awakened to find himself seated and restrained upon a semi reclined chair amidst a bright circular room. Strapped around his arms were these syringes that were filled to brim with a glowing pinkish substance, one of which he hadn't seen before. Tilting his head to his immediate right, Kenji lays his eyes upon Natsumi whom was constrained in the similar matter as he was. The rifleman could only watch in misery as the syringes around her arms commenced in the injection of its contents into the unconscious young lady, for he felt powerless to free himself and save her.

Soon enough, Kenji too had suffered the same fate, as the syringes and needles strapped upon his arm slowly but surely introduced the luminescent pinkish substance into his blood stream. The effects of the strange chemical immediately took effect as he once again fell into darkness without little or no resistance at all. While still unconscious, he began to faintly visualize the past memories of his early life, mostly about his childhood recollections with Natsumi while they still lived within the city streets of Wutai. It was while only in this state, that Kenji felt tranquil and serene for the very first time in a while, but this was quickly marred with the site of him self awakening within a cylindrical cell filled with an unusual verdant colored fluid. Screaming out in pain, the young infantryman persists to remove the many tubes implanted upon his arms and neck, before attempting to punch through the wall of glass that contained him.

Escaping from his watery prison, Kenji heavily falls down upon the metal grating of the circular platform below him as the greenish liquid rushes freely from behind. It takes a while for eyes to adjust to the lighting, but he is able to notice the many other similar cells that surround him, each bearing the contents of those Wutai scouts that he and his squad were assigned to rescue. After much trepidation, the young man is finally able to identify one of the encased beings as Natsumi, and continues to smash her free out of desperation. With her now within his arms, the rifleman attempts to awaken her, shaking her motionless body voraciously but to no effect. However, during a quick turn of events, a platoon of WRO soldiers breaches and enters the area, quickly surround Kenji and Natsumi with their rifles forcefully pointed down at them. It was only with the single order from their captain that one of the operatives didn't hesitate to knock the infantryman down with the blunt end of his weapon.

All Kenji could do was lie helplessly upon the ground as he watches the platoon carry both Natsumi and himself on stretchers, out of the circular room and into the outside of the whole facility where a squadron of helicopters awaited them. With his vision still slightly blurry, the young member of Echo team gazes upon the massive dome from which they had took their leave of, only to see the whole place be destroyed before his very eyes, with use of advanced explosives. As darkness nearly takes him just as they begin to take off, he could only make out a couple of words that one of the scientists onboard had muttered. One said that the "young lady" wasn't going to make it, but the other had disagreed to give up on her and said that there would be a way to resuscitate her. And as the sound of faint steps approached him, only a few final words entered into his ears then, something he had not expected so easily.

"So, do you think this guy is finally one of the potential candidates we've been searching for?" a man's voice said "It seems the JENOVA cells haven't been rejecting him like the others we've seen."

Gazing upon Kenji with his crimson red eyes, "Yes, there is no doubt that this young man is the perfect contender for Shinra's experimental research," He flips open his cell phone, "Let the president know that Project Exodus is now underway back to HQ."

~To Be Continued~