Chapter 8: Strengthened Resolve

Over the next week, Aven's training was alternating between fighting against Reno and simulated missions. Several of the missions involved sneaking into a location, tracking down a person of group of persons, patrolling for suspicious activity, and stopping assassination attempts. A few she'd come very close to failing, but managed to pass by the skin of her teeth. The best part was, she managed to avoid killing anyone in any of them. How was that for accomplishment? She had to admit, between the simulations and fighting Reno, she could feel her reaction time and her stamina improving every day.

On her off time she would either exercise or visit with Justin, who was only too happy to see her during work hours. Sometimes Reno and Rude would take her out to eat, though she had to limit herself to what she ordered. All in all, things were going nicely in her world.

She couldn't deny though, she was getting a little impatient. As exciting as being a trainee was, she really wanted to get out onto the field with the rest of them. There was no way Tseng, Reno and Rude were the only Turks at Shinra and she was dying to meet them all. At one point after a training session she asked out loud to herself how long they were planning on keeping her a trainee.

Tseng, who had been nearby at the time, overheard her rhetorical inquiry and answered, "Until we believe you're ready. Not before."

At that was it. She figured there was really no point in bringing it up again, so she just followed through with whatever was asked of her.

Around the start of the following week, Aven found herself back in the training room. It was late morning and she had been doing some major stretches for a while now, trying to ease the pain she felt from her sore muscles. She highly regretted working out so much after training with Reno. Her body was in such pain that when she had tried to get out of bed she nearly fell over. By now, however, she had stretched her muscles out enough where she could freely move without causing herself even more ache. About the time she finished, she had received a call from Tseng letting her know that she was expected to appear at the training room for another round. She could feel her body screaming out in protest at the very idea, but she didn't argue and was actually looking forward to what came next.

She had been the first one to the training room and was waiting patiently for Tseng to arrive with whatever her training would be this time. After a few minutes, the door behind her opened and Tseng's voice echoed into the room. "Aven, go ahead and step inside so that we can begin," he said in his calm cool voice. Aven did as she was told and quickly stepped through the door immediately looking around for what she'd be facing this time around.

Rude was there waiting for her, pulling on his fighting gloves, looking as deadpan as always. Aven was just a tad nervous. She'd yet to see what Rude could do, and wondered if he was even tougher than Reno.

"So you're my training partner today, Rude?" she asked him.

He merely nodded in answer. Aven bit her lip. In this situation those shade were troublesome. She couldn't tell what he was thinking at all. Suddenly the scenery shifted around them, and Aven almost lost her balance when the floor suddenly turned soft. A quick glance around and she saw they were on a sandy beach.

She took a moment to admire her surroundings noticing that nearby was what looked like the ocean. She was so enthralled by the scene before her she nearly missed Tseng declaring the start of the training. In an instant, Rude was almost on top of her as his fist shot out aiming right for her head. She managed to get her bearings well enough to duck at the last second feeling the rush of the wind as his fist passed her ear. She quickly rolled back up to her feet and threw her guard up as quickly as she could realizing it would simply be another dodge the attacks session. Though, now she was wishing she'd paid more attention to what Tseng had said before hand because she wasn't sure if materia would be used as well.

The instant she was back on her feet, Rude pivoted around aiming another punch for her stomach which she dodged to the side of. Just as she moved out of his way, she felt her foot sink deeply into the sand, failing to allow her the solid ground she needed as a launch point to get away. Next thing she knew, her balance was gone and she was falling backwards into the sand.

There was nothing she could do as Rude's other fist came down with her. The sensation of being sandwiched between the ground and Rude's fist in her diaphragm was physically shocking and for a moment Aven panicked because she couldn't get a breath. Worse yet, Rude looked as though he might attack again. Forcing her aching body to move she rolled over and scrambled away and managed to draw breath again, wincing as her diaphragm expanded. She was undoubtedly going to have a huge bruise later on.

The small girl quickly got back on her feet, getting Rude back in her sights. He came at her with another combo of punches. Aven was beginning to learn why Rude was coupled to Reno. The guy wasn't as fast, but he was swift, steady, and powerful. He moved across the sandy surface with no issues of finding good footing. While avoiding his attacks, Aven watched his feet, seeing if maybe she could pick up on his secret.

As she continued to move as quickly away from him as possible, without tripping over herself again, she kept watching his feet. After a time she noticed that when one foot touched the sand, it came down flat footed putting the full weight onto the soul of the foot. Then when turning, he simply performed a grapvine step that would turn into a rotating boxstep. All the while his feet remained firm and in a flat angle keeping the possibility of slipping almost at zero.

Alright, so now that she understood what he was doing, she'd just have to try to mimic him. She focused on keeping her footing flat and not digging into the sand. It was harder than it looked, especially in mid-combat when she was trying to avoid getting pummeled. Every move she made felt slower and heavier and her feet were so used to heel toe movements.

When she'd backed up several paces, Rude paused for a moment drawing back his fist. Then with a downward swing he punched the ground send a shockwave and spray of sand her way.

Aven tried to quickly push herself away from the flying sand, but the shockwave threw off her footing enough where she fell again getting blinded momentarily by the sand that flew up. By the time she got her bearings, Rude was bearing down on her again and she quickly rolled as fast as she could out of his way while attempting to regain some sort of footing.

She managed to get back to her feet and immediately started focusing on keeping her feet in the right position. She got the impression that Rude was pleased with her reaction, but that didn't last long. She was quickly put back on defense as she dodged around Rude's blows. Each one got closer and closer to its mark, however, and she was sure he was figuring out how to read each movement. This was confirmed when after a particularly near miss, his other fist came out of nowhere knowing right where she'd be when she dodged and connected with her gut making her collapse to the ground in pain.

Aven clutched at her gut, trying not to be sick all over the sandy beach. Well, Reno had warned her to eat light before this. The small girl wasn't used to getting so beaten up like this. Then again, she'd never had to face such fearsome opponents before. She wasn't about to give up though, not yet. Rude, while not having relaxed his stance, was also holding back from kicking her while she was down. So, not only did she need to keep good balance, she also needed to be unpredictable. Her fingers closed down over some sand and she got back on her feet, ready for another go.

When she got to her feet, she squared off against Rude once more waiting for his attack to come. It came in the form of a rush which she moved around. She found that it was becoming easier to move on the shifting surface and she was even starting to gain some speed on Rude. Then, with a well aimed kick at her legs, Aven dodged to her right only to have his fist waiting to make contact with her head. Before it could reach its mark, however, she threw the sand that was still in her hand into his face giving her enough time to go under his fist and jump away from him a few feet.

Sunglasses or not, sand was a most irritating thing to deal with, because it got EVERYWHERE. Rude felt the sharp grains of sand clinging to the corners of his eyes, waiting to slip in and impair his vision. He might have suspected Aven to be a dirty fighter, even if she certainly didn't look it. Which was just fine. It didn't matter how she did it, so long as it got the job done, and she was learning just that. In spite of her tough front, he could tell she was spent.

"We're done," he told her, relaxing his stance.

Aven's eyes widened with disappointment. "Wha? But I was just starting to get it. Come on, just one more round? I can handle it." As if to prove a point she threw a few punches, but her body betrayed her as she winced from the pain of her abused diaphragm.

Rude shook his head. "You need to know your limits. Otherwise you'll only hurt yourself unnecessarily."

"Rude is correct, Aven," Tseng's voice stated from overhead and the beach shifted back into the training room. "The session is over."

"B-but," Aven tried to argue but another sharp pain shot through her gut and she resisted the urge to double over.

"Rest," Rude told her before turning and leaving.

Aven watched him go and collapsed to her knees once he was gone. "Why do I feel like I've completely lost," she muttered under her breath as she tried to get back to her feet. "At least with Reno I felt like I was almost on par."

"There are no winners during training," Tseng stated as he entered the room. "If you feel that terrible then you must truly feel that you did not perform at your best."

"Well...I do feel like I could have done better," she admitted finally pushing herself back up on her feet.

"You're not used to fighting on that sort of terrain, are you?" Tseng guessed.

Aven shook her head. "I've never even set foot on a beach before. The closest I ever got was desert but even then I didn't spend that much time on it."

"It is difficult to readjust to something you are unfamiliar with," Tseng explained as he led her out of the training room and out into the hallway. "However, given the circumstances, I feel you handled the situation adequately. You were able to pick up on your opponent's movements and apply them."

Aven blushed a little at the praise and tugged at her hair. "Ah... well…thank you, sir."

"You will need to learn to adjust to any surrounding, because you never know when or where you'll be when trouble finds you," Tseng told her. "Remember that."

"Right," Aven nodded keeping in mind that he did think she did well. "I'll keep that in mind from now on."

"Good, you're free to rest for the remainder of the day. You'll have your next simulation training tomorrow. Don't be late."

"Yes, sir," Aven said with a salute, watching him leave. 'Another simulated mission... wonder what it'll be this time?'

As she turned to head back to her room, she nearly fell backwards when someone was right behind her. "Aw, hell, did I miss the whole thing?" Reno asked looking disappointed.

Aven nodded, moving her hand away from her stomach. "Yeah, it ended about five minutes ago."

"Shoot, and I was looking forward to seeing how you managed against Rude," he sighed rubbing the back of his neck and yawning. "Instead I slept right through it."

"Well, there's always next time…" Aven began but stopped short when Reno lifted both of her shirts up to look at her stomach. "Wh-what are you doing?" she asked backing away enough to where the cloth was pulled free from his grip.

Reno shook his head. "I was right… he pulled his punches with you."

"That was pulling his punches?" Aven asked in surprise. She'd never felt anything hit her as hard as he did. "You're pulling my leg right?"

"Nope, if he'd been going all out, ya would have ended up with a couple cracked ribs and some serious bruising," Reno answered shaking his head. "He's such a softy when it comes to fighting women."

"Right," Aven muttered thinking back on her fight. After Reno's little explanation she realized that if he had been going all out chances were she wouldn't have avoided a single hit.

Her sudden depression must have been showing on her face cause Reno went up and patted her lightly on the head. "Hey don't sweat it, he pretty much holds back on every fight. Unless he's deliberately trying to hurt them at least," he said in his laid back manner attempting to be comforting.

Aven looked up at him. "You weren't holding back too, were you?"

Reno smirked. "Look, we've been at this longer than you have. Sure, you fought in an arena for a while, and you've got some skill out of it, but most of the guys you see in there, all they know how to do is throw their weight around. It also doesn't help when you probably never had real training, right?"

Well, she couldn't deny that. She shook her head in answer. "No… this is my first real training."

"Then you better be ready for hell, cuz that's what Turk training is," Reno told her with grin. "What you've experienced so for was the bunny slope of the training." At the horrified look on her face he laughed and ruffled her hair. "No worries, I think you'll walk away from it just fine. I wouldn't have brought you here otherwise."

Aven smiled a little at that. "Right, well I need to get going. I wanna be good and ready for tomorrow's training."

"Sure thing... oh, I almost forgot…" He pulled out his EMR and pointed it at her stomach. "Cure." Immediately the pain in her stomach lessened and then quickly disappeared and she sighed in relief. "I've dealt with Rude's punches before. They're a real bitch, but I bet ya feel better now right?"

"Yeah," she nodded enthusiastically, suddenly feeling much more energetic. "Thanks, Reno!" She waved goodbye to him as she actually ran right out of the training area.

"Okay...I could have sworn all I healed was her stomach...not her exhaustion," he thought watching her run off. "Where'd she suddenly get all that energy?"

The next morning ended up being a free period for Aven. They must have decided that she needed the extra time after dealing with Rude's blows to recover. So, until later that afternoon, she spent her time in the workout room pumping a bit of iron and attempting to beat Reno's records. She was unsuccessful but she did make some headway and spent the rest of her time relaxing in the TK and firing a few rounds in the shooting range.

Around four in the afternoon, she got the call from Tseng telling her to return to the simulation chamber. When she arrived, she entered the room which had already been shifted into her newest mission.

"Are you prepared?" Tseng's voice asked over the sound system once she was inside.

"Yes sir."

"This will be your final simulation," he told her frankly. "This particular mission has more of a sense of realism to it so don't let your guard down. The simulation will end when you either rescue the hostage, or the hostage dies."


Aven took a quick gander at her surroundings, finding herself in some sort of corridor. She would guess it was underground since there were absolutely no windows to be found and the walls were lined with piping. It was also rather damp and chilly. The hall was lit with fluorescent bulbs, some of which flickered spookily.

Licking her lips, she took a deep calming breath before moving forward down the hallway. Aven had to tread lightly to avoid her footsteps echoing or grinding on the concrete floor. The hall stretched on for what felt like forever when it must have only been roughly a few several yards.

When she at last reached its end, she was a little dismayed to find it branched off in different directions. After a moment of deliberation, she decided to take the left path. As she cautiously continued on, she kept her ears sharp for any sounds indicating she wasn't alone.

Somewhere down here, a hostage was being held. She needed to find them without getting spotted and caught herself. Someone was counting on her to get them out safely. She couldn't let them down.

As she neared the end of the corridor, she started to hear sounds of conversation. She paused when she reached a large metal door with light coming from underneath it. Taking a slow calming breath, she slowly slid up near the top where a small window sat and peaked inside. The room on the other side was pretty small and consisted of only a few meager furnishings where two men sat playing cards.

"I still can't believe we managed to get a hold of one of them," one of the men stated. He had dark brown hair and spoke through a thick mustache.

"Yeah I know, talk about a lucky break," the other muttered throwing down a few cards and taking the same number from the stack in the middle. He was larger set with light blonde hair. "What are the odds that we'd find one of them injured and unconscious?"

Aven kept hidden out of sight. The two fell into a lapse of silence as they each placed down some money. She was about to move on, thinking there wouldn't be any more to learn here when the blonde spoke again.

"I just wonder what the boss plans to do with him," he murmured out loud.

"Who knows? Probably torture him for info," the other stated before revealing his hand. "Call."

"Aw, dammit," the guy muttered, throwing down his hand. Aven figured he must have lost.

Sneaking away from the door, Aven quickly hurried on. The place was like a maze and Aven ended up having to backtrack to the original fork once she'd reached a dead end. She needed to figure out where they would keep a prisoner.

She took a moment to think on this and realized that if it was her holding someone in this place, she'd keep them at least a few rooms into this maze with some subtle markers leading the way so she wouldn't get lost. Once that was decided, she began looking closely at the walls and floor of each passage for some sort of indicator. After a few minutes, she thought she found what she was looking for. A small piece of cloth was stuck to one of the walls in the middle right passage looking as if it was caught and torn off by accident.

Believing this to be a signal of sorts, she began to head down that path reaching a door shortly afterwords. She quickly discovered that there were no people currently in the room and silently slipped inside, making her way to the door at the opposite end. Just as she reached it, the handle began to rattle and she hid herself against the wall behind the would be opened door.

When the person stepped out, they came face to face with Aven. They were so surprised they didn't even yell as she threw out her hand. "Sleep," she commanded firmly but softly. The person's eyes drifted closed and she caught them, albeit with some difficulty before carefully setting them down. She carefully poked her head into the room, only to find it empty. So she dragged the unconscious body back into the room before shutting it again.

Now she really needed to hurry. The sleep spell wouldn't last forever, and sooner or later that person would be conscious again. Each time she got to a new room, she'd listen for any activity inside then check to see if it held the person she was looking for.

Each time she came up short. However, she noticed that every time there was another fork, she'd find another scrap of cloth on the wall of one of the paths. As the time she spent on the simulation drew closer to the hour mark, she suddenly heard a shout of pain coming from the other end of the corridor she was in. Remembering what the men from the first room had said about torture, she sprinted down the path, not caring if her footsteps were heard. When she reached the door at the end, she paused long enough to catch her breath before peeking inside and seeing a lone figure tied to a chair with a small girl resting nearby. She couldn't tell from the door, as it was so dark, but the shout from earlier had made her believe the captured party was Reno...and it filled her with worry.

Taking a quick moment to look for anyone else and not seeing another guard, she slipped inside startling the little girl awake and move closer to the hostage. "It's okay, don't be scared," she said quickly hoping to ease the child's fears. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just going to take my friend there and then I'll be on my way."

"I think not."

Aven whirled around to see a gun point at her face. She impulsively stepped back a little. The man who'd been hiding behind the door shut it firmly closed before flipping on the lights.

"What do you know, another Turk. This truly is our lucky day."

Aven heard a groan of pain from behind her and glanced over to see the captive was indeed Reno. He looked a mess. His uniform was torn, tattered and bloody. From the looks of things, he had several cuts and bruises, some of which looked fresh.

"Your friend here wasn't very cooperative. But perhaps you'll be more accommodating and tell us want we want to know." The man gestured to Reno with a jerk of his head. "Otherwise he dies."

Aven looked the man right in the eye. She wasn't sure how to reply, with Reno tied up and his life threatened she couldn't act recklessly or he'd pay for it instead. Plus, as fast as she was, she couldn't outrun a bullet; especially not at point blank range.

She quickly made her decision and gripped the small orb in her pocket before smirking at the man. "Sure, I'll answer anything you ask," she muttered. "When Sandworms learn to fly." With that she activated the materia in her grip freezing the man's legs to the ground and fully distracting him. Then she easily knocked the gun out of his hands and knocked him out.

"Well, that went better than expected," she chuckled nervously. "Okay, let's get you out of here, Reno."

"S-stop right there!" the little girl shouted. To Aven's immense surprise, she watched as the little girl held a gun out and pointed it at the red head. "I-If you get any closer… I-I'll shoot him!"

Aven faltered, taken aback at the sudden hard left turn this mission seemed to take. Why would they have a little girl doing something like this? It was just sick! "Please," the trainee implored softly. "He's my friend. I just want to take him home."

The little girl shook her head. "You can't! Mommy told me I had to watch the prisoner."

"Ugh…" Reno groaned stirring a little. He opened his eyes a little, his breathing heavy. "S-Squirt…" He looked over at Aven before glancing down near her feet. She followed his gaze and spotted the gun of the man she'd just dropped.

"He seriously wants me to shoot her?" she thought in surprise. "B-but she's just a kid. She's no older than I was when I first met a Turk." As she struggled with the idea, her thoughts fell on the interview questions she had with Tseng.

"What would you do if there was an attempt on the president's life?"

"I'd stop him."

"What if it was a child?"

At the time she'd said that she'd still do it despite the churning of her she'd have to prove it. Slowly, so as not to startle the child anymore, she reached down and picked the gun up off the floor.

"Don't move!" the girl shouted again though her voice cracked out of fear. As Aven returned to her feet she saw tears falling down the girl's face and felt her heart clench.

"You don't have to do this," she murmured softly hoping to convince the child to put the gun down. Shooting her was the last thing she wanted to do. "No one would blame you for stopping. You don't have to hurt anyone."

"Y-yes I do," the girl exclaimed in a high squeaky voice, the gun shaking in her hand. "Mommy told me to! I-I have to do what Mommy says!"

"You would kill someone just because your mother told you to?" Aven asked her seriously.

"Yes," the girl sniffled, "because you guys are bad people. You're the ones who took daddy away from us!" Aven blinked, shocked by this revelation. "If it wasn't for you, daddy would still be with us and mommy wouldn't be so sad."

"You honestly think doing something like this will bring your father back?" Aven practically screamed at her. "Because it won't!"

This caused the girl to falter for a moment, but then her grip on the gun was reinforced. "I don't care… Mommy is all I have left. And I'll do whatever it takes to make her happy again!"

Aven watched as the girl's index finger rested on the trigger and Reno's eyes narrowed in grim acceptance. The female trainee knew her time was up, and the time for words was over. Gripping the gun with both hands, she brought it up and pointed it at the girl before closing her eyes and pulling the trigger.

CM: Wow... talk about your make or break situation. We apologize for not getting the chapters out faster. Truth is we are currently working on our other stories as well as a new story which will cover Reno's beginnings as a Turk. Something for you all to look forward to. :D And, to avoid leaving you on a grim note, here's an extra special. Enjoy!

"Why the hell do I have to be a hostage?" Reno complained as he sat tied up in a chair. The fake blood and bruise make up was making his skin itch uncomfortably, making him even more restless.

"I already explained this, Reno," Tseng's exasperated voice came in on his earpiece. "I want this simulation to be as real and believable as possible. No would you quit fidgeting and do your job?"

"How is this in any way believable?" the red head muttered. "Like I'd ever be stupid enough to get myself captured."

"Need I remind you of our first meeting?" his superior spoke pointedly.

"Hey, that was different," he argued. "I wasn't trained as a Turk and you freakin' shot me."

"Just make sure you make it believable," Tseng told him in mild frustration. "She's heading for the first room so it shouldn't take too long."

"Yeah, yeah," Reno grumbled as he shifted once more in his seat. "When she gets here I'll be like; Oh the pain, the agony. Please, save me."

"You will take this seriously or you will be allotted with over time for the remainder of this week," Tseng threatened.

Reno muttered a curse but didn't give anymore lip. He tapped his feet and his fingers rhythmically as he waited. He was getting rather bored and wished Tseng had at least allowed him to be unbound so he could entertain himself. After a few more minutes he began nodding off.

The next thing he knew, Tseng's voice was screaming in his ear. He shot awake shouting in pain.

"What the hell? What's the big idea shouting into my ear like that?

"You weren't answering," Tseng told him. "I wanted to make sure you weren't nodding off. "Now get it together, she's almost to your room."

"Finally," Reno said, ready for this thing to be over. Though he secretly hoped the squirt wouldn't screw this up. "Alright then, time for a show."