I was indecisive about this chapter, I considered splitting it into two due to its length and the level of action, but the scene wouldn't really work broken up like that so I left it as is.
Housing foundations shook and window panes rattled in their settings as a massive black shadow flew over the streets of Midgar, a rush of wind and a loud roar in its wake. Shinra infantry turned their guns skyward and opened fire, pinpricks on the thick, scaled hide of the beast above. Bahamut stopped and perched on the ruins of the Sector 7 Mako Reactor, wings spreading fully as it reared back. Half-sitting, half-hanging on to the bone protrusions along its spine, Elfé surveyed the city from its shoulder. For a time, Shinra would be running scared. Nothing in their forces short of Sephiroth or Angeal could fell a beast like Bahamut.
"Bahamut," Elfé commanded, pointing. "Behold your next target." Bahamut turned to the direction of her hand and growled. It flapped its wings to take flight again, flying forward, and another Mega Flare blast fired from its mouth. The Sector 2 train station shook, pieces of concrete and metal track being flung through the air. Elfé looked around for the next optimum target. Disruption, maximum disruption, was the key. Destroying Midgar wasted time and gained them little in comparison, Shears was handling the more valuable objective, she had to buy him time. She spied her next objective and nodded.
"The gates!" she ordered, pointing. Bahamut swooped around the tower and landed on one of the gates separating Sector 8 and Sector 1. The metal and concrete crumbled, passage between the two sectors blocked. Elfé prepared to give the command to move on to the second gate when bullets impacted Bahamut's back near her. She pulled back as Bahamut turned slightly. A quartet of Shinra infantry were on the street below, firing at it. With a deep growl, Bahamut opened its mouth and an orb of blue energy began to collect. The infantry stopped and turned to flee down the street, but they only got a few meters before the Mega Flare fired, turning them to ash and exploding, blasting apart parts of the houses nearby.
"Got a plan?" Kunsel asked Zack. The two were pressed against an alleyway in Sector 7, near enough to run into Sector 8 if needed.
"Survive, if we try to fight we're toast," Zack replied.
"Zack, that thing is gonna rip Midgar to shreds!" Kunsel protested.
"Nah, can't. Summons normally manifest in pocket dimensions, to call one out in the real world like this you need a lot of energy," Zack explained. "So unless Elfé has a Mako generator strapped to her arm she can't keep it out for long."
"Long enough, it already took out a reactor!"
"Yeah, right," Zack admitted, looking over at it. There had to be something they could do. None of them could hope to get close enough to use their swords, and bullets were obviously just a nuisance. Then there was only one option.
"I got Fire, you?" Zack asked, tapping his gauntlet against Kunsel's.
"Thunder, why?" Kunsel replied. Zack gestured with his hand and Kunsel shook his head. "You gotta be kidding."
"You got a better move?" Zack said. "Trust me. Give it over." Kunsel hesitated for several seconds, then drew back the slot on his gauntlet and popped the glowing green Materia orb out. Zack slotted it into his gauntlet beside his Fire Materia and looked back. Bahamut had moved along the wall and was stomping the second sector gate into rubble like the first.
"So what's the plan?" Kunsel asked.
"Run up and hit it with a double whammy, fire and lightning, zap its wing. Won't be as dangerous if we can stop it from flying," Zack explained.
"Sounds like it could work. What about me?"
"Uh…if I get incinerated, grab the Materia and try again," Zack shrugged.
"…right," Kunsel snorted. "Hey, you want your big hero moment, go ahead." Zack nodded and looked back at Bahamut, waiting until it had turned its head away. Licking his lips and steeling his nerves, he stood and charged through the sector gate. Boots pounded against the pavement and asphalt as he came closer. Above, Elfé and Bahamut hadn't reacted yet. Zack came close enough to be satisfied with his range, and thrust his hand up. A fireball and a bolt of lightning shot out of his gauntlet, the lightning coursing through Bahamut's wing. The beast roared loudly at the attack, and Zack fired off two more blasts. The wing crackling with electricity as the fireballs impacted and exploded, Bahamut's roar changed from one of anger to one of pain. Zack saw the smoke clear to reveal its leathery wing now scorched black with a large hole in the membrane.
"Yeah!" he cheered himself. Staring down at him, Elfé glared and reached to her back.
"Another irritation," she muttered angrily. "Bahamut, lay waste to the city!" she shouted, leaping off. Bahamut weakly tried to fly, gaining a bit of lift and hovering to a street intersection, landing heavily and shaking its head. Elfé landed on a rooftop and jumped down to the street opposite Zack, drawing her weapon over her shoulder and walking towards him.
"Katana and cape. You must be Elfé," Zack recalled from Aerith's description.
"SOLDIER uniform. You must have a death wish," Elfé retorted. The katana swung and Zack blocked it, but before he could move his blade to try and deflect it Elfé had pulled back and sliced again. Zack ducked to avoid it and she spun with the motion to bring it down. A second sword intercepted it, and Elfé's head spun to the side to see Kunsel defending Zack.
"Tough enough to take two?" he snapped, pushing her sword back. Zack stood and Elfé looked back the two cautiously, not retreating but not attacking either. Zack felt encouraged. If she was hesitating and thinking about it, it meant she wasn't fully sure she could take them both.
"You defend your comrade. Protect the city. You could have died in that foolish attack but you took a chance to try and stop us. Honorable," she whispered. "Yet you fight for a company that poisons the planet."
"And you just gave your pet summon orders to destroy the city," Kunsel shot back. "Killing innocents makes it hard to posture on morality."
"Innocents? These executives who live posh lives on the iron plate Shinra built to keep them safe from a world below that rightfully hates them?" Elfé sneered. "Everyone squatting on this plate has blood money lining their pockets, some just less than others. We'll be sure they repay it."
"I don't recall asking you to judge who deserves to die," Zack said, wary of her. She had already shown herself just as swift and strong as Aerith had warned. They may have outnumbered her, but he couldn't be sure that would be enough any more than she could.
"I don't. No more than you judge me for choosing a different side," Elfe said. She relaxed her posture slightly. For some reason that just Zack more nervous. A fight he expected, not whatever she was thinking now that she relaxed. "Why do you fight for Shinra?"
"Glory, respect, fame," Kunsel shrugged. "Take your pick of the usual."
"Because Shinra and SOLDIER are what breeds heroes," Zack answered.
"Heroism isn't something you'll find with them," Elfé shook her head. "AVALANCHE's numbers will only grow after this day. Junon was a whisper compared to the call for rebellion today will be. The world will see that Shinra is not invincible, and they will rally to our side for the chance to take vengeance on them. Shinra's reckoning is nigh."
"Maybe it is," Zack nodded. "But we're not backing down as long as you're trying to take them down with this type of destruction. You wanna destroy Shinra and claim to be some sort of moral authority, do it without this type of chaos."
"Or," Elfé began, seemingly not hearing him, "you can fight for a greater cause. What value of heroism do you place on fighting to protect the planet?"
"You're trying to trick us, won't work," Kunsel muttered. Elfé smiled slightly.
"Suit yourself…you, though," she turned her eyes from Kunsel to Zack. "You spoke of Aerith before. What is your name?"
"Zack," Zack said after a moment's thought. Elfé nodded, looking as if some more pressing question had been answered.
"Yes. Of course, the personality fits now. You would be one of the ones Genesis speaks of. I understand why."
"Genesis?" Zack replied, surprised. Elfé gave him an odd look and a small smile.
"You're a lucky man, Zack. You're marked for greater things than you know. You'll walk away from this day." Elfé turned back to Kunsel. "And you are?"
"I see. A pity for you, that's not a name I recognize." Elfé drew her sword back over her shoulder. "Kunsel. You have my permission to die. Zack. Do not test my leniency." She charged forward, and the two SOLDIERs defended themselves as her katana clanged against Kunsel's sword.
Aerith ran down the street, her eyes on Bahamut and Elfé as they landed on the Sector 8 gate, crushing it. She ducked into an alley to stay out of sight and took a mental tally of herself. Aside from her back being sore still, the Cure Materia had done its job, her wounds were healed and her fatigue relieved, for now. Her Thunder Materia still had a good charge, she had the element of surprise, and she had cover. Aerith looked down at her free hand and clenched a fist a few times.
"Hear me powers?" she whispered to herself. "If you're gonna work, let's go for it without me almost dying this time." She looked up and moved through the alleys as close as she dared without risking being seen. "Okay, plan, plan…" she went through her mind. If she could get up on the wall without being seen, maybe she could get on its back, and before Elfé could move into a position where she could hang on while fighting, then…
Aerith looked back as a loud roar came from Bahamut amidst a series of explosions and flashes of light. She heard Elfé's voice not long after.
"Bahamut, lay waste to the city!"
There was a grown of metal and Bahamut's shadow passed overheard, Aerith seeing it rest on an intersection. One of its wings was blackened and had a few holes in it. She grinned. Someone had crippled it.
"Alright then," she smiled, stepping from the alley and readying her staff. "Time to pick up where they left off!" she ran towards Bahamut, the dragon facing away from her. As far as she could tell it was still dazed and hurt from the attack that had damaged its wing. She reached it and fired a blast of lightning at the damaged wing. The dragon roared again and turned in the direction of the attack, its tail swinging. Aerith rolled under it and fired another Thunder spell up at its belly. Annoyed more than hurt now, Bahamut moved a foot to stomp but Aerith was already done. She swung her staff into its leg with as much force as she could muster, rapidly spinning the staff to deliver a flurry of blows. Bahamut roared and moved again to hit back, but she couldn't tell if she was hurting it. Her Thunder Materia obviously did, but it only had so much energy to it.
"Then there's only one option."
Aerith rolled behind Bahamut again and focused on her staff and the hand holding it. She tried to summon the familiar surge of vitality she had seen before, but whatever the odd power was, it wasn't responding to her yet. She struck again and again with her staff, avoiding the dragon king's feet and tail. Bahamut was clearly growing annoyed with the pest underfoot, its own size keeping him for seeing her clearly. With a growling roar it flapped its wings and lifted into the air, lifting into the air. Aerith looked up as it began to rise higher, blue energy flowing into its jaws.
Aerith turned and ran, looking over her shoulder. Bahamut reared back its head and snapped it back down, the Mega Flare launching. Aerith dove into an alley, the flames rippling pack in a wave of searing heat, the stone of the buildings on either side of her almost trembling. Aerith gritted her teeth as she put her hands down to push up, and focused her eyes on her hand. It may have been her imagination, but she focused again. A pulse of green light lit up her hand, and she grinned. Finally. She concentrated harder and an aura of green energy covered her lower arm, waves of green energy rising from her staff.
"Gotcha," she grinned. Her grin faded as a shadow fell over the alley, and she looked up. Bahamut had perched on the building overhead, but it didn't seem to notice her. Above the dragon swept its head over the streets, wings spreading out. Below, Aerith thought. Even with her new power, while it was on a rooftop Bahamut would see her coming, and she might slip up and fall while rolling and jumping to get around its feet and tail. She reached into her pocket and quickly flipped through the menus, finding the name she wanted and hitting the button to dial.
"Angeal, Aerith. Do you have anyone in the streets?" Aerith asked. "Someone you could call?"
"I'm in Sector 1, trying to evacuate the people from Bahamut. What do you need?"
"A distraction. I think I can take it out, or at least hurt it badly, but I need to be able to get close enough without it seeing me."
"You're certain you can harm it?" Angeal asked. He sounded skeptical. Aerith looked down at her hand and a quick moment of focus sharpened the aura again.
"Yeah, pretty sure. It'll do something at least."
"Understood. Get into position. I'll ring when I'm moving." Angeal hung up and Aerith ran down the alley, slipping her phone back into her pocket. She looked around, ducking back as Bahamut part leapt, part flew to land on another building across the street. She ran around to a building two down the street and climbed onto the awning over the front window, waiting. Angeal said he understood, so he had to be on his way. She had to wait for him. Bahamut roared angrily, its prey eluding it was not something it liked. Aerith licked her lips and focused again to keep the pulse of energy in her hand strumming, afraid it would fade if she lost it before she could put it to use.
An electronic beeping came from her pocket, and Aerith jumped onto the roof. Bahamut was facing away, and she saw under its wing Angeal running across rooftops towards it. Putting all her power into her arm and staff, she ran forward, her speed heightened as a familiar energy flowed through her body. Ahead of her Angeal was battling Bahamut, dodging it much as she had before and striking its legs with a massive broadsword.
"I can do this," she chanted in her head as she leapt one alleyway. "I can do this." Strike down Bahamut, save the city, be a hero. Orange and yellow embers began to collect on the far end of her staff as she leapt over the second roof, and she jumped up, landing on its back and bringing her staff over her head. Bahamut noticed her a moment before she slammed her staff in the back of its neck and pushed the energy through her arm, down her staff and into the fireball on the tip, putting all she had into it.
The Crimson Flare exploded against Bahamut's scales, the dragon roaring in pain and rearing back. The force catapulted Aerith through the air, and she turned her staff as she flew back to fire the second attack she knew from experience had formed. The second fireball hit almost the same point as the first. Bahamut staggered and collapsed to the side, rolling onto its stomach on the streets. Aerith landed and ran to the edge of the roof. The dragon lay wounded but was still moving, already pushing itself up with its smaller front claws.
"No way," Aerith muttered in disbelief. Her trump card had definitely hurt, but it hadn't done the job. Angeal jumped over the roofs to join her and looked down at Bahamut.
"Good plan," he nodded, returning his sword to his back.
"Not good enough," Aerith growled, angry at herself. She looked down at her hand and tried to summon the power again. She felt it, but not like before. It was a whisper, a faint shred of what she had before. She looked back at Bahamut in disgust. She had taken her one shot and it wasn't enough.
"No, but you wounded it," Angeal replied, holding a hand in front of him and making a fist. "I'll take it from here."
"You?" Aerith looked back and her eyes widened. A golden aura was lit over Angeal's arm. "Wha…"
"You set it up," the SOLDIER said, the aura pulsing in a manner Aerith recognized. "Now I'll knock it down!" Angeal leapt down, slamming a fist forward into Bahamut's leg as he landed. As Aerith watched from above he delivered a series of hammer blows, his fists drawing back and coming forward again faster than she could track. Bahamut turned to swing its tail and Angeal leapt onto its back, kneeling and delivering another barrage of punches, his fists and lower arms aglow in yellow light. With a cry, Angeal leapt back further onto the ground and dove forward, landing a pair of diving punches on the precise burnt spot on the back of Bahamut's neck where Aerith had hit with her fireballs.
An invisible wave of energy went through the air as Angeal hit, flipping over Bahamut's head to land in a crouch. A long roar of pain came from the dragon, and it collapsed onto its stomach. It lit up with green light and began to fade into wisps of energy that floated into the air and vanished. Angeal stood and turned to watch, the summon fading before his eyes. Aerith jumped down from the roof and walked towards him.
"You did good, landed those strikes in an optimal spot," Angeal said, nodding at her. "We worked well together."
"What was that?" Aerith asked. It reminded her of Crimson Flare, at least it seemed a similar type of energy and burst of power. She had never seen Angeal or anyone move that fast, she almost saw his fists moving through the air in the aftermath of previous blows, like a continuous stream of punch attacks.
"My Limit Break," Angeal said, rubbing the back of his hands. "I've not been pushed to using it since Wutai, we're fortunate I was able to bring it up as easily as I did."
"Limit what?" Aerith asked in disbelief.
"Limit Break. The expression of the peak of my spiritual energy," Angeal repeated. "Like yours, right? Those fireballs, I've not seen one like that before but I recognized the signs. Why didn't you tell anyone you've figured out how to use one?"
"….Limit what?" Aerith repeated, not processing the words. He spoke so casually, as if it was common knowledge and she should have already known what he was talking about. Angeal shook his head and took out his cell phone.
"I'll explain when all this is done," he said, dialing. Aerith was indignant at the dismissal when she was nowhere close to understanding. Angeal knew she had Crimson Flare? At least he seemed to be expecting her to be able to use it. And he had his own attack like that? It wasn't as versatile as hers, but it seemed much more powerful. Her fireballs hadn't done much more to Bahamut than her Materia, Angeal on the other hand ran in and killed it with a diving punch. She narrowed her eyes, her hand clenched into a fist.
So, it's nothing big after all. Some secret special trick, it's a secret to no one but me," she thought bitterly.
"Sephiroth, Angeal. Bahamut is defeated, what's our status?" Angeal asked on his phone. Aerith turned her attention back to him. "I see. Where?...you're sure you don't need aid?...very well." Angeal hung up. "The tide has turned. Sephiroth was able to subdue Genesis, and the building is secure. The Turks reported in that they chased Elfé off with the help of Zack and Kunsel, and she's leading AVALANCHE in a retreat. They may have caught us by surprise, but they were overwhelmed once we mobilized and fought back."
"Zack found Elfé? Is he alright?"
"Yes, he and Kunsel have minor wounds but they are safe. Our orders now are to head to Sector 5, we have identified unknown transports outside the city walls there and it appears AVALANCHE is evacuating from there." Angeal ran down the street, and Aerith followed him a moment later.
"Hey," she said as she caught up. "Those…Limit, things. Can everyone use them?"
"No, many but not all, and most that do never realize their potential to manifest them," Angeal replied.
"Does Sephiroth have one?"
"Not that he's mentioned or shown." Aerith smiled slightly at the new information. She still had a lot of questions, but the possibility that this 'Limit Break' technique was not something Sephiroth possessed was still encouraging even if it wasn't unique to her.
Angeal and Aerith reached the Sector 5 gate to see Shinra infantry slowly and methodically advancing down the street, rifle firing raining from their ranks. Down the roar AVALANCHE troops were heading deeper into the sector, a few staying to return fire but most fleeing. SOLDIER forces were taking cover behind cars, dumpsters and in alleys, moving forward when fire subsided somewhat.
"We got 'em on the run alright," Aerith nodded. "If Elfé's out here, you're gonna have to take her, I can't beat her one-on-one so I doubt most others out here can."
"I will if we find her. For now we have to cut off their escape, the slum passages are closed but they can still get out from atop the plate if they know the ways," Angeal replied. Aerith ran into an alley and moved quickly. A few other SOLDIERs, Seconds, were in the alleyways as well, moving in front of her. Aerith ducked down another path to go around. She had a score to settle, Elfé had beaten her twice and hurt Zack and Kunsel. She saw another street coming into view and moved slower. From the look and sound of it, AVALANCHE's presence in this part was heavy. She ducked behind a dumpster and peaked around the side.
"We're losing ground fast!" one of them, his uniform was a different color than the rest – must have been some field commander – was yelling into a cell phone of his own. "What's the hold up?" around him more AVALANCHE troops were clustered for cover, the sounds of gunfire were comparatively faint but not far away. "If we don't move now we can't get out!" he protested. "We need other options…that's it?...alright." he hung up and gestured.
"We're moving out through the maintenance tunnels, primary route has been compromised! Retreat to the reactor! Move!" AVALANCHE began to move quickly through the streets and Aerith pulled out her cell phone, dialing quickly.
"Angeal, I overheard them, they're escaping via the Sector 5 Mako Reactor," Aerith whispered, ducking back behind the dumpster.
"Understood. I'll call it in and the reactor will be sealed." Aerith hung up. She trusted Angeal, but not the company's higher-ups. She dashed across the street and began moving towards the reactor. If AVALANCHE was evacuating through there, that would be where Elfé was.
"Angeal may have gotten the dragon, but I'll get the dragon rider," she thought. After several minutes ducking through alleys, the fence blocking the Sector 5 reactor came into view. AVALANCHE had overturned cars and set up gunners behind them for defense, and the bridges beyond the fence had guards and more gunners Aerith surveyed the area from behind a wall. Far too many to assault directly, and the bridge would be impossible to cross undetected. Running back to the previous street, she pulled up the manhole cover and jumped down into the subway tunnel below.
"He's safe?" Elfé asked, pacing back and forth inside the reactor with her phone to her ear. Around her the members of AVALANCHE were loitering.
"He'll be bruised and have a hell of a headache, but he's ours." Shears replied on the other end of the phone.
"Alright. You know the objective, find your own way out of the city, if you need to lay low you know about our slum contacts. Once he's out of the city and secure in our hands, Shinra will never find him."
"That's a bit more complicated." Elfé turned to look at three AVALANCHE members at a large steel door on the far end of the room. "The materials tunnel was sealed before we could secure the reactor, we're working at breaking it open. We're moving what we can through the maintenance tunnels but they're only large enough for one at a time and there's only two lines."
"Hey, don't go dying on me Elfé," Shears said fiercely.
"We'll be fine, don't worry. Just get him out." Elfé hung up and turned back to the door. It was several inches thick and made from solid steel, but on the other side was the large freight elevator used to transport raw materials and sometimes vehicles up and down from the slums. Once the door was opened, they could evacuate in numbers.
"What's our status?" she demanded.
"We're working!" one of the AVALANCHE members said. "It's slow-going but we're making progress!" The other two were working on carving a hole into the wall with a pair of welding torches, but the thick steel wasn't letting them through yet. Elfé cursed and looked around. Many of them had died today but the bulk of the group was alive. But that meant nothing if Shinra had successfully trapped them, in which case they were all doomed. Elfé stopped and looked down at the grating beneath her feet, open air just an inch below her boots. Far below, below a mist of polluted clouds, the slums lay. If desperate, and if a long, long length of rope could be found, the gratings could provide an emergency exit. But that would have to be a last resort for the risk, if there was even a rope or some equivalent lifeline to descend on.
"Elfé!" she turned instinctively to the door, then noticed the call had come from elsewhere. She turned her attention to the room and saw one of the troops approaching her. "Come here!" he said, pointing to the wall where three other troops were staring at the ceiling.
"What is it?" she asked, looking up. The troop raised a finger to his lips and pointed. Elfé strained her ears. Along the ceiling ran several lengths of electrical cable, pipes of various sizes, and several air ducts. A low but quiet series of rumblings was coming from one, and as Elfé turned her eyes to follow it, it was going along the ducts, from the wall to the center of the room. Slow-moving but undeniable.
"Well well," she whispered, drawing her katanas. The other four backed off as Elfé stood on a crate. "It seems we have ourselves a lone hero." She swung her katana, slicing through the air duct. It creaked slightly, and there was an unmistakable human cry. Elfé walked across the reactor floor, most of the room watching now, and jumped to slice another part of the duct. The detached portions of the duct ripped free from their screws in the ceiling and the mass of metal clanged to the ground. A long, low groan of pain came from inside, then some coughing. Aerith slowly crawled out on her elbows and knees, her limbs stinging from the impact of the landing. Her hair and uniform were covered in dark grey dust.
"Do you make it an objective to lose more of your dignity every time we meet? If so, you are making impressive progress," Elfé said dryly, tapping the inside of her katana against her leg. Aerith looked up but didn't answer, pushing herself to a standing position. "Warriors of AVALANCHE," Elfé announced, looking around the room. "SOLDIER Second Class Aerith." A few murmurs and mutterings came from the crowd. "Yes, we know her, don't we? Genesis made sure of that." Elfé turned back to Aerith. "For someone he thinks could be some sort of 'legendary hero', she isn't that bright."
"Well, what I lack in common sense, I make up for in tenacity," Aerith shrugged, grabbing her staff from her waist and extending it.
"I concur, but you mistake it as a virtue in these circumstances," Elfé replied, assuming a combat stance. Aerith waited for her to make the first move this time. She didn't wait long. Elfé swung and Aerith deflected it, spinning her staff in her hand to hit Elfé's shoulder. Elfé blocked it with her gauntlet and struck again, Aerith jumping back. The AVALANCHE commander pressed her assault with precise, swift motions of her blade, but steel met nothing but steel each time. The two danced around each other, the metal floor tiles and steel gratings clanging from their rolls and jumps. Elfé's attacks were blocked no matter how hard and from where they came, Aerith keeping her footing and only attempting a counter when not pressed to defend further.
"You're more conservative than usual," Elfé noted, watching a spinning swing.
"You're too strong for aggression," Aerith replied. "I'm not as stupid as you think. I learn from my mistakes."
"Have you? Then you should not have come here." Elfé dodged another of Aerith's strikes, sweeping her katana and missing. Aerith blocked a second and moved to counter, but Elfé grabbed the end of her staff with her free hand, and with a twist of her hand pulled Aerith forward, trapping her staff between Elfé's body and her arm. Aerith growled at her in the close distance, and Elfé headbutted her, sending her stumbling back. With a triumphant smirk, she swung and slashed her katana across Aerith's torso.
Aerith cried out and fell back, her uniform torn from just under her breast to her stomach. Bright red blood was visible through the tear, and she clutched a hand to the wound. Elfé walked around her, picking up her staff and examining it as Aerith lay wounded.
"An intriguing design," she mused aloud, twirling it once. "Well balanced, lightweight." She pushed the button to retract it. "And compact. A worthy weapon for one of your tastes." She tossed the staff beside Aerith, the weapon rolling slightly, and Aerith turned her hand and grabbed it. Elfé swung her katana towards Aerith's chest and the SOLDIER halted her hand as it fell on the staff.
Suddenly, an electronic beeping filled the room.
The AVALANCHE troops looked at their waists, but Elfé stayed focused on Aerith. Aerith's eyes darted down at the second ring, then back up.
"It's mine," she muttered. She felt like she should have been embarrassed, the absurdity of getting a wall with an opponent's weapon set to skewer her. Elfé raised an eyebrow and made a gesture with her head as the phone rang again.
"Answer it," Elfé ordered. "Slowly." Aerith kept watching her as she reached into her pocket, flipped her phone open, and brought it to her ear.
"Aerith, I haven't seen you in the streets, where are you?" Angeal asked.
"Trying to infiltrate the reactor," Aerith replied. "It isn't going well."
"Abort it, get out now."
"Why?" Aerith asked, concerned. He sounded almost afraid.
"Shinra has decided to end AVALANCHE now. They're going to overload the reactor and keep the passages out sealed, they'll all be killed and you too!"
"…no. Angeal!" Aerith protested, her attention gone from Elfé. Above her Elfé narrowed her eyes and lowered her sword.
"It's already been done, I don't know how much time is left before it goes, you have minutes. Get out!" Aerith hung up and stared up at Elfé in horror.
"They're overloading the reactor," she whispered. Elfé's eyes widened.
"Everyone back to the bridges and streets now! Fight your way out!" she roared. AVALANCHE moved quickly, the soldiers filing out of the room. Aerith began to climb to her feet, grabbing her staff. She clamped her other hand over her gauntlet to command another infusion of Cure magic, the wound on her chest glowing blue-green as it closed.
"You can't get out through the streets!" she yelled. "They'll turn the bridge into a bottleneck and mow you down as you try to run, and whoever is left behind will get caught in the blast."
"Some will make it," Elfé hissed. "We are all prepared to give our lives to see Shinra destroyed!"
"And when most of your soldiers get killed on a suicide mission, I'm sure the world will flock to AVALANCHE then!" Aerith snapped back. "Everyone who wants revenge on Shinra will be lining up to throw their lives away when their commander tells them it'll be worth it!" The two women glared at each other, several AVALANCHE soldiers stopping to watch. Elfé looked away and made a slight face.
"If you have other suggestions, don't waste any more time voicing them," she muttered. Aerith thought, her eyes darting around the room.
"I got in through the train tunnels. So there has to be a connection besides air shafts right?"
"Yes!" the two turned to an AVALANCHE member, one of the ones who was working on the door before. "They would surely have some sort of train access, to transport materials and workers inside the city," he finished. Elfé nodded and turned back to the room.
"You heard them, go! Spread through the city and find your own way to the wasteland, they can't track all of us. You know what to do once you're out. Move!" Elfé ordered sharply. The AVALANCHE soldiers moved, and Elfé swung her katana to point over Aerith's shoulder as she turned. "Not you. Not yet." Aerith turned back and Elfé withdrew her sword. "Why help us?" Elfé demanded. "Any one of us would shoot or stab you if we got a chance, and likely will when you inevitably fight us again."
"You're right," Aerith nodded. "But in your own way, you believe you're helping people, and maybe you are. I just know that no one deserves to die like this, not people like you who have a cause worth believing it."
"What do you know of our cause?" Elfé sneered. "You serve Shinra like the other lap dogs, barking at your master's feet for scraps of fame and glory. You know nothing of the pain each of us carries, the pain that drives us."
"You really think that?" Aerith said, angry at the accusation. "You really think no one in Shinra knows pain like you do? That no one who serves Shinra hates them like you?" Elfé's eyes widened slightly, and she stepped closer, the two alone now. Aerith's bright green eyes held the stare of Elfé's grey, neither blinking.
"The planet's people cry for vengeance, against a company that has destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones," Elfé whispered. "I would see their fury join mine and be ignited into a blaze that consumes that wretched tower and everyone who works there."
"Not a sight I would entirely hate to see myself," Aerith replied.
"Then help make it a reality!" Elfé insisted. "Your power, your hate, if it is as you claim. You may have been raised there but you don't belong there!" She grabbed Aerith's hand and brought it between them, clasping it tightly in her view. Aerith kept watching her, almost fascinated by the sudden change in demeanor she was witnessing. Elfé's normally stoic and calm face was almost manic now, her eyes bright and her voice intense.
"Genesis has told me what he suspects about your past, the legacy you have been robbed of. You of all people should be one of us, in different circumstances you could lead us! The time is now, Aerith. Join us, and take back what Shinra has stolen from the planet. From you. Together, the two of us can bring them to their knees."
"Can't," Aerith replied simply, calmly letting go of Elfé's hand.
"Why!?" Elfé said angrily, taking her hand back. Aerith was silent for several seconds.
"Because that tower does deserve to burn," she said quietly. "But not everyone in it…and deep down, you know that." Elfé let out a sigh and stepped back, turning around. "This isn't as simple as 'with us or against us', Elfé," Aerith said more loudly. "There are good people there. They're just conflicted." She put a hand on Elfé's shoulder. "Just because we can't allies, does not mean we have to be enemies."
"No, we do not," Elfé nodded, her voice its normal tone again. "But at the moment, it happens we are." She spun around and shoved Aerith back, the SOLDIER stumbling. Elfé pointed her katana at her. "You have saved us this day," she said. Aerith slowly lowered her hand to her staff, preparing to fight if Elfé attacked. "We owe you a deep debt. I will repay it now." Suddenly, Elfé dropped to her feet and slashed into the floor. The large grating below Aerith's feet swung down, Aerith crying out and quickly grabbing onto the grating. The grating and the warrior on it hung down into open air, suspending by a second set of hinges on the other end. Aerith looked down, the slums below obscured by white and grey clouds.
"This is repayment!?" she screamed, turning back up to see Elfé walking to the other side of the hole the grating was hooked into.
"You said it yourself," Elfé replied. "You are conflicted. So I will give you a chance for education." She knelt down with an arm over her knee. "You were raised in that tower, you know nothing outside it. You are naïve. So I will show you firsthand the chaos and pain Shinra has inflicted on the planet and her people."
"By dropping me?" Aerith asked in disbelief. "The fall will kill me, what happened to that?"
"I have confidence in your ability to survive," Elfé said coolly, "and, to learn." She stood and raised her katana back. "When we meet again, and I am certain we will, I will make my offer again. And we shall see how you answer once you have seen what rots forgotten below the plate." The katana swung once more, and the brackets holding the grate were torn.
Aerith could have almost sworn she hung in the air for a moment as the grate pressing into her fingers lightened, gravity's effect on her hold fading. The red, green and grey image of Elfé quickly grew distant and then faded into the black and dark green ceiling of the reactor behind her as Aerith plummeted into the clouds above the Sector 5 slums.
Was Elfé giving anyone else flashbacks to Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, or was it just me?