The Quest To rescue Nobou Uematsu
Darkness descended upon the rocky mountain path. Watch fires cast pools of warm light over the area. Nobody ever travelled along the lonely road for an ordinary, innocent reason; it was the back door of Squareland, a dark, unguarded path for criminals seeking a quick escape from the law from the law, or smugglers trafficking their stolen goods. Any adventurer worth half a gil knew you couldn't level up there. The random encounters were lousy.
The stranger hid teh's face further into the hood of teh's battered brown travelling cloak. It smelled reassuringly of home; rats and ruin. The howling wind began pulling at teh, and teh could no longer keep tehself from falling off balance. Teh found shelter under a nearby boulder, pressing teh's food bag tightly to teh's chest. Teh looked out at the endless expanse of Old Squareland. Chocobos ran over pixellated fields and deserts, their fetchers floating in the wind. Stars shone, the constellations of Cecil, Rosa and Kain, named after heroes from the epic saga of Final Fantasy, aquamarine blue pinpricks of light in the bottomless darkness. Waves rolled over the restless seas, occasionally leaping high enough to spray an airship. People from Old Squareland couldn't afford to buy airships. Teh had to give the government of Squareland some credit, though; the old provinces were beautifully preserved, and the stubborn, eight-bit folk still lived off the pixels of the land, not even bothering to look at an upgrade.
A fierce gust of wind blew teh's hood off, revealing teh's haggard features. Teh quickly pulled the hood back on. Teh didn't want to be seen. If the guards recognised teh, teh would be deported from Squareland permanently. Teh needed to do something about this; teh reached for a small metal object tied to a nearby post. Emergency Moogle whistle. Teh blew it. A small white streak of pixels ran towards teh. It shook itself off, revealing a small furry body, cat-like ears and a large, red, spherical antenna.
"What's the emergency, Kupo?" it asked, gasping for breath.
"Save, please." Requested the stranger. The Moogle pulled a small book from its backpack and scribbled in it; later, it would transmit the data to Mognet for safekeeping in the main computer's memory banks. Teh thanked the Moogle. "Listen, Moogle. I needs a favour. I ain't allowed in there. I needs to get there fast, my Hp is runnin' out. Could ya get me in?"
No authorities would be mad enough to delay a Moogle. They ranked just below a priest, a Man of Square,, in the religion of the land, and the religion was the law. It was a perfect plan.
"Why aren't you allowed in? Are you a murderer?" the Moogle tapped her foot.
"The games. I emulated 'em. Didn't pay for 'em. And I burned some CDs with the music on 'em." Explained the fugitive. Teh was referring to the holy computer games that chronicled the Final Fantasies. Sacrilege was punished with a years' exile.
"That's not a violent crime. I guess we can come to some arrangement, Kupo. Want a potion? Only fifty gil."
The stranger shook teh's head. Teh doubted it would heal teh. Teh's Hp wasn't just dropping, it was radioactively decaying. And that wasn't the most dangerous thing... Teh wrapped tehself in teh's cloak and staggered along the path.
Footsteps woke the guards abruptly from their doze. Two torches lit up the road immediately in front of the two rusty iron gates. Who were the two strangers, and why were they walking in the darker places of Squareland at such an ungodly hour? The guards saw the silhouettes of a Moogle and a man of unknown gender, wrapped in a ragged old cloak. They were approaching the city. The human looked drunk.
"State your business!" snapped the bolder and larger of the two night-watchmen.
"Mognet Moogle and bodyguard." Said the Moogle quickly.
"From the south road? That leads away from Squareland! We don't send Moogles to foreign lands!"
"Moogles, you idiot, can fly." The Moogle gave him an iron glare, "I just flew up from Lindblum. Do you have any idea how congested the air traffic is in Lindblum? I took the longer route around Lindblum, so I wouldn't get run over by an airship!"
"Why do you need a bodyguard?" asked the other guard suspiciously, "Only Moogles on dangerous quests are issued bodyguards You're only a delivery Moogle!"
"Get... the... grat... out... of... my... way!" the 'bodyguard' growled, pushing past the guards with a desperate strength. Teh ran a few steps, then collapsed. Teh grabbed a wooden post and pulled tehself up again. Teh's breathing was faltering.
"hey, that man's Hp is running out! Get a white mage!" barked the guard. The Moogle flew past him and sped off to the infirmary.
"Teh hung onto a railing and dragged teh's feet along the ground. They were almost too heavy to lift. Teh's vision was pixellating, breaking up, reverting to monochrome. Somewhere in teh's critically low stats, a bar was flashing. Teh couldn't see what it was, everything was too blurred.
"There he is!"
"He's limit breaking!"
The voices were coming from benign teh. An animal instinct told teh to run. The mines... there were friends there. Teh ran, kept alive by sheer inhuman endurance, towards the hole in the mountain, the skeleton of wooden platforms, the half-rusted metal tools. Teh scrambled, half-crawled up the stairs, guided mainly by the smell of the moisture in the cave. One of teh's hands landed in a puddle. A rat bit teh/ Teh tripped over a rock and flying down the tunnel. Teh clutched teh's chest; teh was down to teh's last HP
"I'm a White Mage. Don't move!" yelled a female voice in the darkness. Teh felt soft, disinfected cloth against teh's face.
"Uematsu..." teh gasped.
"Grat, your crisis meter is full... What did you just say?"
"Nobou... Uematsu... is... gone..." teh closed teh's eyes.
Seconds later, a terrified healer ran out of the mine just as a massive explosion blew apart the rock. Gouts of fire flew into the air, immolating everything in their path like demons from the lower summoning planes. Rock and flame rained down upon the nearby buildings, tearing them apart. The sky was black with smoke.
The Moogle flew away as fast as possible.
"His majesty Prince Cid of Figaro"
On cue, the young man rose form his throne. He had been leaning on one arm, daydreaming about his favourite chocobo. Prince Cid loved chocobos. His favourite activity in life was to ride out into the desert to nearby towns, bolstering public morale and keeping an eye on dishonest merchants. Unlike the New Squareland provinces with their huge Shinra monopoly, he wouldn't have anyone being swindled in his realm. A Prince of Figaro was not just a figurehead; he was the defender of the people, the righter of wrongs. He led the Figaro army from the front when war took place; he played cards in the inter-square tournaments in Treno. Prince Cid had inherited the good looks and flowing hair of his father, but not his skill with women.
He glanced at the man who had just been admitted into the throne room. He had an expressionless oriental face and wore a black suit with a small blue square emblem over his heart; a holy man. A Man of Square.
"The world is Square." Said Prince Cid respectfully.
"Alas, the next Final Fantasy may well be, as it were, the final one." Said the priest sadly, Prince Cid guessed that this was serious business; a Man of square didn't deign to visit a boy prince in a backwater province for no reason. The monasteries of Square were located on the moon, where life and spirit energy was amplified by the crystals that grew there, and they could perform wonderful miracles. How did they go to the moon? Cid imagined it was something to do with a holy white chocobo. He sighed wistfully as he imagined it, but stopped himself before he could drift completely away.
"What danger threatens Squareland so, oh holy one?"
"The godling Nobou uematsu is missing!"
"Missing?' Cid's brain reeled from the shock, "This is a global emergency!"
"Our thoughts exactly, you majesty. Which is why Sixth province, and only Sixth province, has been informed. " said the priest, "You are a nation of survivors. You are dependable in a crisis. You have Ultima-proof bunkers and a fleet of emergency airships in case the moon falls on you. As you know, the disappearance of Nobou Uematsu would mean that the music in the background, which keeps everybody sane, would stop. I want you to design a survival program in case it ever happens."
"That shouldn't be a problem. All you'd need is a big cave and a source of permanent sound." Cid mused, "You can leave it to us."
"Another thing, your majesty. There is a criminal running loose in the World of Ruin."
"He won't get very far." Cid said grimly. The priest was referring to a vast, lifeless wasteland that was part of Seventh province. It had once taken a direct hit from a Megido Flare. It was totally uninhabitable, "What in the world made him want to go there?"
"We don't believe he is sane, your majesty. He was banished, but a Moogle sneaked him into Squareland. He was dying from Hp loss. Then... the man performed a limit break. It destroyed the city of Narshe. We believe it was a Flare."
Before the astonished priest could say a word, Prince Cid ran out of the throne room and jumped on a chocobo.
A streak of red fur. Thumping noises, like the pounding of mighty hooves through grass higher than trees. A behemoth, maybe? Kuopon didn't think so. They were too rare. Maybe a Zaghnol. A gigantic ferocious bull Zaghnol with sharp fangs and two huge horns. The levelwalker tensed with excitement, her hand clenched over her stout Moogle-crafted spear. The point of the weapon glistened in the bright Ninth Province sun. Kuopon could almost hear the victory fanfare, the rattle of experience points as she went up levels like a rat up a drainpipe. She swooped down, and the pixels got larger and larger...
Splash! She hit the water and spluttered as it filled her sinuses. She crawled out of the puddle shamefully, a soggy ball of white fur. The red thing she spotted earlier was nothing more than the blob on top of her head!
Undaunted, she shook herself dry and flew up to a winding road overlooking the canyon. She hung her weapon across one shoulder and walked through the brackish undergrowth of Neo Treno Canyon. She could fly, but as a Mognet Moogle, she was faster on foot than any other Moogle. Delivery by air was impossible in Ninth Province; too many airships.
At this moment in time, Kuopon was not on an errand. She might never run a delivery again. The Moogle had to find the criminal, before someone found out that she had helped teh into Squareland. She was so ashamed... she would lose her job, and her parents would refuse to speak to her again, and even the local shop wouldn't sell her any Kupo nuts. She was an outcast, the village black sheep. But how could she fight this criminal who blew things up with the power of limit break alone?
The Moogle knew all about limit beaks; if the human body is about to die, or the mind is placed under great pressure, it has the ability to release all its energy at once. The result is more powerful than anything that the person can normally do. Anyone could limit break. But nobody was supposed to have one that powerful! Kuopon guessed the only thing to do was not let the criminal's HP get too low.
The red blob on her head flashed feverishly; danger! She looked around. What was happening? Run! She wanted to run like she was late delivering a parcel, but her foot was stuck. She couldn't move! She had wandered into quicksand! Desperately, she flapped her wings. The pull was too strong. Think, Moogle, think... what did the Mognet Survival Guide say to do...
"Hey, a save point!"
A slight breeze wafted behind the panicking Moogle's left ear. A dog barked. With a grunt of effort, a... thing... pulled the Moogle roughly out of the quicksand. Kuopon's rescuer dropped silently down again and stood there, tapping his foot to his theme tune, arms folded. He was a tall, shadowy man, his face concealed under a mass of mop-like black hair. He wore a black ninja-style outfit and a wickedly serrated knife/ His dog, an Alsatian, twice as big as a Moogle, growled at Kuopon, his ears flattened. Fur rose on the back of the Moogle's neck.
"Nice doggy!" she squeaked.
"He don't eat people 'less I tell him to." The man told her in a deep voice, "Save, please."
The Moogle did as she was asked, her eyes still on the dog.
"Ya take a message? To Wedge: pay up or die. I'm comin' to the Treno Inn to get my money." Recited the man.
"I'm not on duty at the moment." apologised Kuopon, ready to move when the dog did. The stranger shook his head and turned around, walking slowly into the marsh. Suddenly, he threw something at the Moogle. A business card.
"Ever ya need a merc, jus' come lookin' fer me. Name's Norsquall. Cloud Norsquall." He whistled to his dog, "Accountant, get yo' ass over here NOW!"
Without disturbing a blade of grass, the mercenary jumped up and completely offscreen. The dog seemed to disappear too. Kuopon blinked. How did he do that? It didn't matter. The Moogle was going to hire that man. He could be her bodyguard. Then they could defeat the criminal.
Nohrabbits chattered in the magenta light of the dying sun. In some bizarre parody of life and death, an Earthguard beetle burrowed its way out of the radioactive dust and immediately disintegrated, its life energy returning to what was left of the desolate earth. The relentless wind continued its mission to sweep away the remains of the foolish civilisation that could not prepare itself for Armageddon. A glowing red wolf howled. A tough chocobo ran across the wasteland. It saw an ugly concrete thing and kicked the door down in disgust.
Doan shivered. Where had the draught come from? Teh wished teh had teh strength to draw the rags someone had given teh as blankets around tehself. The fire inside teh's head burned, but teh could really be dying of hypothermia. Teh could no longer tell... Teh wanted to limit break again, to stop the pain in teh's head. The pixels came back. They were red and orange, like fire. A double helix of flames, the evolution of Armageddon... burn the world... BURN THE WORLD!
"It's okay, Doan. You're recovering HP. You'll survive, Doan..."
Doan's feverish brain struggled to recognise the voice. It was... familiar... but it was merging with the voice of another. A chorus of voices... like angels... singing... singing a song written by... he couldn't focus... It was a military song, a song of fire... of an office burning down... a man running... running for his life...
"Operator, they're going to do it! They're really going to..."
What are they going to do?
" THE MERGER! Forget about me, nobody's safe any more. NOBODY! Got that? Evacuate everybody!"
But I'm not leaving Nobou Uematsu behind....
"Listen, if Square find, you, they'll have your head. Don't... whatever you do... look for help from Square! HEY, THAT'S MY CAR! They've just set fire to my..."
"Doan, please wake up! DOAN!"
Teh woke up in a cold sweat. A man sat beside teh, tending teh's wounds.
"Cid?" "Thank Square you're alive! You were at deletion's door when I found you!" the young prince hugged him tightly, weeping with relief, "I got you your pills. Nobou Uematsu... did you really speak him?"
"Well..." Doan began, confused, "Dunno who he was talkin' to."
Glasses clinked. The two strangers were huddled in a corner, whispering nervously. Obviously up to no good, decided the barman. He cleaned some more glasses and tried to make the place look as closed as possible. Mercenaries paid for their drinks and kept out thieves, but they needed keeping under control.
A wolf howled at the chilling blue full moon. The sign on the front of the Treno Inn, a pack of cards and a sword, creaked ominously. One of the strangers glanced around and drew a knife.
"None of that in here." Barked the barman, reaching for his mercenary-whacking cudgel.
Nobody saw the man as the door creaked open. He was a silent shadow, a thing spawned of the night. Two dog eyes flashed momentarily. The breeze shifted. Milliseconds later, the smaller of the two strangers lay dead on the floor, a shuriken embedded in his chest.
"Biggs!" the other stranger leapt over the table and drew an oriental-looking sword. The invisible dog growled.
""Wedge." Said the unseen assassin, his voice as dangerous as a Condemned spell in a locked room.
Something that looked like a wet piece of paper flew across the room. Static electricity made the barman's hair stand on end. He heard fizzling and crackling. The assassins face was illuminated momentarily by a small bolt of lightning. He was hiding under a table.
The dog braked. Baring its teeth, the huge Alsatian ran at Wedge. They collided with screen-splitting force, sending the man flying to the other side of the room. He groaned and did not stand up. Without seeming to cross the room, the mercenary appeared before him and grabbed the collar of his blood-stained uniform.
"Where's my money?"
"I don't owe you any money!"
"My dog says ya owe me money." The assassin's eyes flashed red, "You callin' my dog a liar?"
"Money won't do you any good now!" Wedge laughed, "The world is coming to an end! Nagata... he's my boss now..."
The mercenary slammed him against the wall.
"Did Nagata tell ya not to pay me?"
Wedge nodded, still laughing.
"Do you really think... you can fight Nagata? He's... a god. He lives... in the Tower... Ultima Ozma."
"Yeah, right. He's a dead man." The mercenary drew a knife and finished the man off. The barman tapped the counter impatiently until Norsquall dragged the body outside and bought a drink. After a few minutes, the Moogle flew in, panting.
"Listen, Moogle, I gotta get my money back..." the mercenary explained what had happened.
"The Tower Ultima Ozma, kupo?" Kuopon folded her arms and flew in a circle across the room, "Do you know where that is?"
The mercenary shook his head.
"Its at one of the four corners of Squareland, kupo." She told him, "It would take a year to get there on foot. The security levels are too high to possibly get in, and even if you did, it's a testing ground for extremely high-level random encounters. You'd die before you took eleven steps, kupo."
" Hey, 'fit takes us a year to get there, we'll be a high level by then..." Norsquall shrugged.
"You have a point." Conceded Kuopon. It made sense, in a bizarre kind of way. "But what do we do about the security? We'll need a Square Pass. Only the priests of Square, the head of Mognet and the President of Shinra have the authority to hand them out..."
"Whoo! Shinra! Seventh Province! Gil-makin' city!" Nor leapt up and tapped his dog, "C'mon, Accountant, we're goin' to Seventh province an' buy us some new weapons!"
Kuopon sighed. He had forgotten to save his game...
"Merger? What's that?" Cid poured himself a Mid Tonic from his travelling flask.
"Business thingy." Doan shrugged. Teh was hard at work sharpening the blade of teh's can opener. It was huge, and doubled as a weapon for hunting rats with.
"Now why would a business thingy end the world?"
"Cause..." Doan volunteered, "It's Shinra. A leaflet told me Shinra gonna end the world."
"That's it! Shinra! We better get down to Seventh Province." Cid declared, relighting the fire. Doan had propped open the roof of the bunker for a few minutes so they could light a fire without suffocating to death.
"Grat, no. Can't breathe in the place. I'm wossname... hyper-sensitive to Mako."
"We really should go there." Insisted Cid, "Seventh province is the corporate center of Squareland. Shinra are based there. They're the biggest, most successful..."
"Most evil company in the world. If they can't tell us about world-ending business thingies, nobody can!"
"Dunno. They might chain me to a machine and make me work."
"I'll buy you out again. I'm a prince, remember? If you've got money, you'll be okay in Seventh Province."
Doan caught a passing rat and ate it. He stuffed some in his cloak for later. "I'll get my gas mask."
The young survivor stepped out into the wasteland. He loved the wasteland, better than anywhere else in the world. It was so beautiful, wild and free, plenty of places to hide and catch rats. There were people, but not too many of them. Prince Cid was less enthusiastic about absorbing high levels of radiation, but he followed on a sturdy yellow chocobo anyway. The chocobo ran through clouds of ash and dust after Doan. They stopped outside another bunker. Doan yelled a battle cry and launched himself at the door, which fell down with a resounding clang. Something scuttled away. His can opener was out in a second. He ran through the shadows and swung in the direction of the noise. Acidic slime sprayed everywhere. The creature screeched and ran out of the bunker. Doan turned on the light, a dim blue flicker. Bulky metal and boxes of paper were strewn around the room. Piles of blankets served as beds for the people who might have lived here. Doan scrabbled around inside a box. After throwing away a variety of strange objects, he found a gas mask and hung it over his shoulder. He also picked up an old sack and filled it with food and medical supplies. Once outside again, he loaded the sack onto Cid's chocobo and the two friends set off.
"WHO THE HELL JUST RAIDED OUR BUNKER?" someone yelled.
Footsteps echoed in the hollow silence between the metal floor, walls and ceiling. White sparks flew from the reactor, providing illumination to the poorly lit warehouse. There was no need for lighting; the system was fully automated. It ran the Mako extracting and refining process on its own, delivered the Mako to the other warehouse to be packed into crates, removed the waste products on its own, checked itself for errors. It even, as some cynical people told him sometimes, exploded on its own. It could be left to its own world; a sleepless, clockwork, conveyor belt world with no comfort for human beings. Some cynical people said that working for Shinra was like that for everybody.
President Rufus Shinra didn't listen to complaints. He listened to the noise that the reactors made. He liked to come down here with his lunch whenever he had a few moments respite form his hectic schedule. Stalking the shadows like a cat hunting for mice, he placed his palm against the reactor. He felt the limitless energy pouring into it, heard it hum like a sleeping beast, dreaming of world domination like Rufus did. It contained and processed the worlds life energy. A planets HP. Rufus breathed deeply; he could barely contain the transcendental wonder of it all. It was like a god; an artificial god. He watched the pressure gauge. He understood what all the dials meant; unlike other managers, Rufus could certainly use his own products. He could probably make a Mako reactor himself. Knowledge was power, and Rufus liked power.
He heard a noise. Quickly, he slunk behind the reactor and listened. Footsteps. Human. No smell of Mako- not an employee. A flash of green, the swinging of a briefcase strap- rival businessman! The adrenaline of battle coursed through his veins. He crouched like a tiger and threw his briefcase at the intruder. It exploded. Rufus saw the green ghost fade away and reappear in another place, closer to him. He darted across to the other end of the reactor and pulled out another combat briefcase. Carefully, he climbed up the technician's rail, where the hatch to the reactor was, and pounced, swinging the briefcase around in a whip crack. The enemy was not there. He kept control of his momentum and swung the briefcase around in a circle. He heard the swish of clothes as he narrowly missed his opponent again.
"Do you know that you attack President Rufus Shinra?" he asked the trespasser, flexing the strap of his briefcase. The man stepped forward. He was taller than Rufus, and wore a green robe and an elaborately carved wooden mask like the head of a bird. He carried not a briefcase but a tall wooden staff, ringed at intervals with iron, painted green. There was something intensely evil about him, like a thick black cloud of smog but worse, because at least Rufus could calculate the precise size and trajectory of a thick black cloud of smog.
The trespasser began waving his fingers and chanting under his breath. Rufus tripped him up with his briefcase before he could cast any magic spells. He grabbed the man's cloak and tried to drive his fist into his windpipe. He heard other noises, like a chorus of modems trying to log in. Green lights flickered in the darkness. Reinforcements? This was getting dangerous... he would have to use... that...
He ducked behind a reactor and delved into the darkest reaches of his evil mind, the terrible black iron walls of the places that mortals dare not enter. He saw the evil things and made them do his bidding...
"Close Breaker!" he yelled. Searing white fire poured from his briefcase, smashing upon the ground as it hit with the force of a bulldozer. Rufus saw numbers; big numbers. Too big... his vision was reeling... the numbers kept growing bigger and he couldn't make them go away... he collapsed to the floor.
He had cast the wrong spell. He accidentally saw how much money he had in the bank.
Bird faces stared down at him.
A new day began. The sun rose, a magnificent orange ball of fire. It illuminated the steep, winding path between Sixth and Seventh Province, cut roughly into the side of a hill, where two exhausted travellers tended to their chocobos. With great effort, it penetrated the clouds of smog that hung over Seventh Province perpetually. It shone on the glittering white building that overshadowed everything for miles around. The Shinra logo flag flapped in the wind, a diamond shape with the company name written in ancient Lunarian. A bird had done a poo on it.
A chocobo squawked in protest as Cid covered its foot in a herb poultice to relieve its swollen ankle. His ragged companion, Doan, had begun another coughing fit. He reached inside his backpack for another pill.
"I don't see how cheap recreational drugs keep you alive." Cid commented, "But then, I've not heard of a man being allergic to Mako."
"How 'bout the world? World's allergic to it."
"I hadn't thought of it like that." Admitted Cid, "You don't live in the World of Ruin, then. That's downwind of the Mako. Where are you from?"
"You can't mean..." Cid gapes, "That's miles from here! It doesn't even have its own Final Fantasy!"
"Ya wouldn't believe how far." Doan whispered, "Two thousand years away."
"Are you trying to tell me you can travel in time?"
"Listen 'ere, I'm tellin' yer the truth! From the Future, I is! After the wossname... big thing... smells funny..."
"Apocalypse?" guessed Cid. Doan nodded.
"Yeah. Survived it, I did."
"You probably could survive the end of the world, you old fox." Conceded Cid, "But time travel? You should cut down on those pills."
"The day that... Lavos came..."
The old man clutched his head as though in severe pain. Cid ran forward and caught him just before he hit the ground. His temperature was way too high. Cid helped him keep his arm under control as Doan scrabbled around for the pill he had been looking for. He found it and swallowed it, wiping the sweat from his unmanageable hair.
"Nineteen of us... touched by Lavos, we was... when I limit breaks...a terrible thing happens. So I gots to have these pills... so I never limit breaks."
"Doan, is it..." Cid shivered, "Is it Megido Flare? Can you cast Megido Flare?"
"I dunno... I dunno what it's called." He scratched his head.
"Oh, great." Cid mumbled. He wished he had taken his fastest racing chocobo with him.
The two travellers led their chocobos carefully up the path- it was now too steep to ride them. As they walked closer to civilisation, they were presented with a spectacular view; a huge wooden gate, polished until it looked new, shaped like a chocobos beak. Yellow ribbons streamed from the gate-posts, and billboards with pictures of cute baby Moogles stretched for miles. Doan looked up and caught a glimpse of the colossal Shinra building towering over them.
"Halt! What is your business in Seventh Province?" a blue-uniformed Shinra soldier pointed a machine gun at them.
"Is that how you greet all your customers at Shinra?" snapped Cid.
"Why aren't you using the front gate like the other customers?"
"Isn't it obvious? We can't travel in large crowds because of my friend's contagious disease! He can' even breathe on you without you getting the disease- that's why he wears a gas mask. The disease is only treatable with Mako, so if you'll kindly get out of the way..."
"I've caught it! I've caught it!" screamed the soldier, running away as fast as his legs could carry him. Cid laughed and guided the chocobos to a stable. After leaving strict instructions that the birds were not to be fed any Mako, he joined the crowds on the streets of Seventh Province. It was a sensory kaleidoscope of bright colours, loud noises, appealing smells and endless plastic. There was no plastic in Sixth Province, and Cid didn't like it. It made his skin itch. He did, however, enjoy the bustle of the market stalls, full of sweets, chocobo food, weapons, toasters and Vivi dolls. Inside the shops, with their flashing neon signs, the variety increased even more. They sold television that blared loudly, something about 'Shinra News'. They sold cars, which were like automated chocobos. What in the world would one do with an automated chocobo, wondered Cid. He liked this place, it was full of surprises and mysteries.
"An' it smells bad too!"
Cid looked around. That was Doan's voice. He was shouting very loud. Was he in an argument? The prince decided he had better run and have a look. He found Doan standing on a large wooden crate, surrounded by anti-Shinra protestors.
"Yea, we're gonna teach that bastard a lesson! Doin' mergers and endin' the world, it aint on!"
"Rufus is evil!" yelled a girl with green hair, "Overthrow capitalism!"
"Doan! What the grat is going on?" yelled Cid, trying to pull his friend off the crate.
"It's the exiled prince!" yelled the girl. The others began cheering.
"Who are you calling exiled?" he grabbed Doan and pulled him roughly away from the crowd, "We're going to see the President right now, then we're going to bet on the chocobo races, then we're leaving! No more trouble!"
"'Kay." Doan grinned and ran down an alley. He jumped onto a rubbish skip and climbed the wall where someone had helpfully made handholds for the more enthusiastic resistance movements.
"They're over the wall!" cried the girl, pointing, "They're really gonna do it! Let's help 'em!"
"But this was going to be a peaceful protest..."
"yeah, we would need lots more people to..."
"Shove off! I wanna be in the news!" the self-elected leader climbed the wall. And the wall, her gang of followers swarming in after her, wielding bricks, chair legs, flaming toilet rolls and occasionally a stolen sword from the weapon market. It made AVALANCHE look like a bunch of cissies.
Gunfire tore up the tarmac as Doan and Cid ran across the employees' car park ducking and weaving, hiding under the cars when necessary. Cid couldn't keep up with the old man; for such a slow thinker, teh could run very fast in an emergency. The night was electric with the buzzing plot, the sounds of yelling and cheering, gunshots and sirens. Doan jumped on another Shinra security guard and disarmed him with teh's can opener. Teh threw the weapon to one of the revolutionaries, and dove under a expensive-looking black car. Teh looked around and noted with satisfaction that teh's followers were good at not getting shot, and had acquired their own guns. Teh pulled Cid to the ground just as a bullet hit where his head would have been. They scrambled along the ground together until they reached the 'Employees Only' door.
"They've reached the door!" yelled the green-haired girl, helpfully throwing some burning toilet paper at one of the security guards. Doan picked the lock and pushed open the door.
A black shadow fell soundlessly to the ground in front of teh. It roughly shoved teh away from the door. Another shadow bit teh on the leg. Doan swore loudly and stared at the shadow. Darkness fell away from it like bats flying back to their roost, revealing a mercenary, leaning on the door with his arms folded. He looked deadly confident. His dog bared its teeth and growled.
"Doan! Get the grat away from him! That's a proper mercenary!" yelled Cid.
"Gonna earn me some gil?" the mercenary grinned, flashing his white teeth. Doan gulped.
"Shinra bastards!" yelled the girl. Doan's can opener appeared in teh's hand. There was no way of getting out of the fight. Teh slashed at the mercenary. Jumping into the air, the mercenary landed behind him, his dagger pointed at Doan's neck. A burning toilet roll hit him on the head. He yelled and patted his hair to extinguish the flames. Doan saw teh's chance and hurled tehself through the door. Barking, the dog grabbed teh's leg, tripped teh up and dragged teh back out again.
"OWWW! President's gonna die for that!" yelled Doan.
"Hear that, everybody? The President's gonna DIE!" repeated the girl, pelting the mercenary with bricks.
"President ain't here." The mercenary told them.
"Hey, no good blamin' me! I aint got no idea where he is! Only doin' my job." He shook his head, grumbling. He removed the dog from Doan's leg and pointed at him. "You. Che whatever. See you in the Coliseum. Tomorrow. You and me are gonna finish off this fight!"
Consciousness returned to Rufus. He couldn't remember much, except that he was in serious danger... something about a rival company. That didn't make sense. Didn't Shinra have a complete monopoly? His sharp eyes surveyed his surroundings. He was in a circular chambers, mostly shrouded in oppressive, evil darkness. Gargoyle faces leered out at him, carved on huge gothic pillars. Rufus saw grotesque statues of demons, horned demons with bat wings and cloven hooves, aberrations of nature. Some of them held green altar flames in the palms of their clawed hands, or burning in their eyes. The flames barely lit the room, and only made it seem eerier. Inside a circle of flames on the floor, a figure in a green hooded robe and a cloak of green feathers stood. A bird mask poked out from the hood, and the figure beckoned with one hand. Someone shoved Rufus forward, and he realised that his own hands were bound.
"If you think I'm scared of people putting chains on me, think again. It's not the first time. We all have to start from the bottom and work our way upwards."
"Spoken like a true businessman." Replied the robed man in a hissing voice, "I am also a businessman. I would like to have urgent talks about the possibility of a merger."
"I kill people who say 'merger'." Rufus told the man calmly.
"Ah, but this is a different kind of merger." He replied emotionlessly, "I am from the planet Oenix. I want to perform a ceremony that will merge my planet with your planet. You should be honoured, President Rufus, that I have chosen you. Only the strongest of minds can survive the ceremony."
"You're saying you're an alien from outer space. That's called insanity. You should retire." Rufus told him.
"I'll give you two billion gil."
"Only two?' Rufus gave him a look of utter disgust, "Ten billion and I'll consider it."
"We... haven't got ten billion gil." Rufus was sure he saw the man blush under the mask, "The ceremony is in three week's time, at the full moon. I hope you will co-operate."
He raised a hand, and the cultists dragged him out of the room again. He was led to a dungeon-like room with a bed and a bowl of water. He sat down on the bed and thought deeply. He needed some kind of distraction, so he could escape. He grinned evilly; he had the perfect solution.
He reached inside his jacket pocket and pressed the button on his Auto-Meltdown Device.
"Are you sure you want to fight a trained mercenary?' asked Cid, "You'll die!"
"Gots an alternative?" Doan asked him, sharpening his can-opener. They were sat in the training room where Doan had been sent to prepare for the big fight, practising his knife swings on wooden posts. Prince Cid had spent the whole day shopping for ghysal greens and placing bets on the chocobo races. Everywhere he went, revolutionaries appeared and demanded to know what was happening to their beloved Che Doan.
"I could fight in your place, you know." Offered Cid, handing him his pills. Doan shook teh's head.
"You gots princin' to do. Can't die. Gots no heirs."
Cid blushed. His father had lectured him quite extensively about lack of heirs. He was spared further embarrassment by a knock on the door. Two Shinra soldiers grabbed Doan and gestured toward the door. Cid followed them into the coliseum.
'Ladies, gentlemen and Moogles, the contestants have arrived!" announced a man in a blindingly bright yellow suit, an ugly tie and a microphone. The crowd roared their approval deafeningly. Golden Saucer Coliseum was an enormous amphitheatre in the middle of an even huger saucer-shaped building that could only be described as a Shinra theme park. A land of glitter and wealth where staff were perfectly happy to walk around dressed as giant cats or chocobos, and where the food really was ninety percent Mako. Most of the families in the audience had saved up a years wages to get in, but Cid spotted what looked like the top Shinra executives in their private viewing boxes, and a gang of Doan supporters who had managed to sneak in without paying. The crowd began to chant impatiently; they wanted a fight, NOW.
"In the red corner, we have a new entry- the man who lead the Shinra riots, the revolutionary leader with no fear; the indestructible Che Doan!"
Applause erupted from the audience. Doan was pushed onto the stage. Teh made a rude gesture at the Shinra executives. Someone threw a can of Mako at teh.
"In the blue corner, our reigning champion, the mysterious mercenary from the east... it's Cloud Norsquall!"
There was an even bigger cheer as the mercenary dropped onto the stage from nowhere and lounged against the railings, chewing a toothpick and stroking his dog, which was tied up just outside the arena. The presenter blew a whistle, and the fight began.
The two contestants circled each other, looking for signs of weakness. Doan crouched down like a dog waiting to pounce, but Norsquall's expression was one of intent study as he balanced his shuriken intently in one hand. Norsquall made the first move, throwing his shuriken at Doan's chest. Teh managed to move in time, but the weapon tore a large wound in teh's arm; the rogue winced and lunged at Norsquall, slashing repeatedly with teh's can opener. Falling back, the mercenary evaded teh's attack and jumped into the air. Doan instinctively covered himself with teh's nuke-proof cloak and put teh's hands over teh's head; teh didn't like things that fell out of the sky. The mercenary dropped back down and swore; he was hoping to slit Doan's throat. Instead, he hurled himself at Doan. The two grappled, Doan's teeth bared in a feral growl as teh tried to clasp teh's hands around the mercenary's neck. Norsquall suddenly let go of Doan's hair and backed away. Grat, he thought, that guy glows in the dark!
Doan succeeded in grabbing him by the throat and tried to strangle him to death. Norsquall whirled around and kicked Doan off, a switchblade in the front of his boot causing Doan a deep wound. Doan convulsed in pain, allowing Norsquall to roll away and throw a fire scroll at him. Flames erupted around teh. Teh's fireproof cloak stopped teh from burning, but it was painful... so painful teh couldn't move... and teh was losing blood from the wound... and the mercenary was moving towards teh... teh's crisis meter was filling up....
"NO!" Doan fell to teh's knees, clutching his head. A shuriken whistled over teh's hands. An aura was forming around teh... red... fire.... Apocalyptic fire... raining from the heavens... turning the earth to ashes... boiling the seas... laying waste to civilisation... burning the world...
"AAARGH, DON'T LIMIT BREAK!" yelled Cid, "Move out of the way, idiots! I have to get Doan's pills!"
"LI-MIT-BREAK!!!!" roared the crowd, ecstatic. They were making Doan's pounding headache worse. Teh hated them. Teh was going to nuke them first. Teh hated... the fat cats. Yes, the fat cats... in the private viewing boxes... they were going to burn...
-People of Seventh Province, this is an emergency news flash.- announced the televisions where the fight was being filmed, all around the walls. The arena fell silent. Even Norsquall stopped and looked up. - Reactor failure. Meltdown imminent. I repeat, there's going to be a meltdown.-
Pandemonium reigned on the streets of Seventh Province. Crowds of panicking people ran in all directions, raiding shops and destroying vending machines Cars were overturned, and the Shinra soldiers resorted to hitting random people on the head in an effort to lead the people in a more orderly fashion to the nearest shelter. Moogles hid on the roof, afraid for their lives. The televisions buzzed eith the sound of that single Shinra warning... and the endless drone of the meltdown siren, louder than any other sound.
They're taking this rather badly, thought Cid, considering that they probably have to do this all the time. The young prince observed the chaos around him as the audience desperately tried to leave through any exit except the correct one, pushing each other out of the way. Where was Doan? Cid jumped down from the curtain rail he was hiding on and followed the shape of a man huddled ina ragged cloak, scurrying along the ground in the opposite direction to everyone else.
"Doan! Wait for me!"
"Hey, you, are you nuts? The exit's this way!"
"Daddy, what's a meltdown?"
"REVOLUTION! KILL THE SHINRA FAT CATS!"
"Where's my popcorn gone?"
Ignoring the voices all around him, Cid ran after Doan. They climbed the ventilation shaft and scrambled across it until they saw the light again. It was spooky- the voices of the crowd sounded distorted and metallic in the narrow tunnel. They ran across the car park and into some bushes, through some straggly, Mako-stunted vegetation, and through a large hole in a wall. A chocobo squawked and ran out of the bushes, its nest disturbed. Doan didn't notice anything; teh was running on wild, pain-filled endurance again. Teh ran though the grass until teh tripped over something sticking out of the ground. Teh swore at it. The air around teh burned and a core of fire began to grow inside the object. It grew inside until the object shattered into shards of concrete. Doan bent down and lifted another lid, and jumped into the Mako-proof bunker. Cid ran over to it. He could see the back of the Shinra Towe looming over him.
"Doan, that's Rufus' private bunker!" he yelled, trying to lift up the lid. He couldn't.
It was locked.