[Shattered] Children 17

Chapter Eleven: A Flash of Calamity

The screams were noticeably quieter and his left leg felt crushed beneath something heavy. Those were the first things that filtered through to Zack’s conscious. A groan escaping from his mouth, his eyes fluttered open. He couldn’t see much through the haze of smoke and ash, but the smells were enough. That damn summon packed a powerful punch.

Forcing himself up to his hands, Zack rose shakily to his feet, dislodging the bit of stone that had fallen over his legs. It slid to the ground with a pronounced thud, sending up a stirring of dust. Luckily, he wasn’t injured, though the aches in his body seemed to say otherwise. His head pulsed within his skull and one of his fingers throbbed painfully.

Gritting his teeth, Zack grasped the finger with his other hand and cursed fluently as he pulled it back into place. Bone and tendon ground agonizingly before it slipped back into place. Sucking in several deep and pained breaths, he ripped off a section of his shirt and bound that finger to the taller one next to it. The half-assed job at fixing would have to do for now. He had the eerie feeling his opponent had been no more destroyed by the blast than he had.

His senses were accurate.

They flared to life and Zack threw himself to the ground, ducking and rolling in the same instant. He narrowly avoided the fist that smashed into the concrete where he had been standing, leaving a small crater in its wake. Zack was on his feet in seconds, though a bit shakily, eyes taking in the sight of Loz, completely unharmed. That same eerie, Jenova-tainted grin was on his face.

Loz didn’t give his opponent chance to recover, already yanking his arm-weapon free from the ground and darting towards Zack with a speed that seemed unnatural for his large body. The former SOLDIER worked to deftly avoid the blows, meanwhile scanning the ground around them for his sword. He winced at the sight of broken bodies buried beneath rubble, but there was nothing he could do for them at the moment.

All too soon, the bitter scent of spilled blood joined the odor of blaze and burning. And above him, the summon continued to circle, wreaking its own brand of havoc.

Zack flipped backwards, scraping his palms on some debris and narrowly avoiding Loz’s Dual Hound. He felt the air whistle past him as he landed, finally spotting his sword lying close by. His senses tingled and he dove for the blade, Loz’ weapon crashing into the ground and splitting the concrete as though it were mere paper. Electricity crackled along the metal of the weapon.

His stretching fingers curled around the hilt of the Zanken and Zack rolled to his feet, lifting the blade in the nick of the time. Loz’s Dual Hound crashed against the flat of it as his free first flew forward, aiming for Zack’s face. He twisted out of the way, catching the hammer blow in his shoulder. Fiery pain spread through the limb from the force of the strike and Zack hissed, backpedaling quickly.

Loz smirked, cracking the knuckles of one hand. “You’re more fun when you’re tied down,” he taunted, circling around Zack.

The dark-haired man forced himself to breathe, feeling as if his chest had been punched rather than his shoulder. “And you still hit like a girl,” he countered, fingers tightening around the Zanken. “What’s the matter? Mommy doesn’t have time to play with you?”

Green eyes flashed, going strangely elliptical as Loz’s face darkened. He pointed his finger at Zack in obvious anger. “Don’t refer to Mother so disrespectfully, human. She is Mother.”

It was a statement that made little sense, not that their obsession with an alien from the stars made any sense to begin with. In the back of his conscious he could hear Archer clashing with Yazoo, but couldn’t tell which of them had the upper hand.

His entire focus was on his own opponent, whose personality seemed to be shifting from child-like taunting to cold and calculating. The very attributes of Jenova. She obviously didn’t have enough concentration to spare for controlling all three of her toys.

Zack wondered if any of the three brothers could be saved.

“You’re human, too,” he retorted, feeling his boots grind on the evidence of fallen buildings beneath his feet. And above him, that summon roared, as though selecting another target to demolish. “Just like Sephiroth.”

Loz twisted his jaw, swallowing thickly. “Brother is better than us,” he spat, and there was a trace of jealousy there. Not poisonous, but melancholic. As if he knew what would happen when his usefulness ended. “He is Mother’s chosen.”

“And what does that make you,” Zack questioned lowly, feeling his senses tingle. “Where do you stand?”

“None of your business!” Loz roared, darting forward and swinging the Dual Hound at him with a ferocious attack. It was all Zack could do to avoid the sudden onslaught of anger.

“A human can’t understand!”

Clang! Scrape!

He twisted to avoid the weapon and felt it scrape along his side, giving him a jolt. Zack jabbed the Zanken backwards, the dull edge of the blade scraping alongside Loz’s knee.

You can’t understand!”

There was more than anger there. It was hurt and it was pain and it was confusion and it was Sephiroth. At least, to Zack, it was. They reflected his best friend so much that it was almost painful to him. And again, he asked himself if they could be saved. And if he could watch himself watch them die without even trying. He thought of Archer, desperately fighting for a love that might have been doomed from the start.

With a growl, Zack dropped to his knee, falling under one of Loz’s high and most likely painful kicks, and slammed his palm to the ground. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but when the earth responded to his touch, he felt a stirring of pride. Fenrir hadn’t completely left him after all.

Stone slabs shot upwards, spiking through the ground and surrounding the two men within an instant. A smaller one, blunt at the end, funneled out of the concrete and threw itself at Loz. It slammed into the remnant’s chest, knocking him backwards and into the solid wall created by Zack’s abilities.

Loz snapped against the harsh stone, losing his breath at the painful slap of his body. The Dual Hound cracked on the granite, and something fizzed on the weapon, a piece of metal falling from the weapon and to the ground. Loz groaned as he slid down, legs crumpling beneath them and feeling like jelly.

Zack was across the small space that entrapped them within seconds, one boot pinning down the arm with the attached weapon. He lifted the thick blade of the Zanken and placed it under Loz’s chin, sharp edge nicking the man’s throat. His dexterous sword carefully twisted the blade, making Loz’s head tip upwards to look at him. He met eyes that though they were green, flashed with indecision.

He thought that maybe there was still something to be saved.


Her entire body hurt, feeling as if she had been bombarded with boulder upon boulder. Which, in retrospect, was probably what had happened. The summon’s attack had done a good job of destroying a good portion of buildings around it, and it appeared the thing was gearing up for another attack. Not good.

She wiped an irritated hand over the blood streaming into one eye from the cut on her forehead, and gave up her dropped gun for a loss. It was somewhere beneath the rubble and she had more important things to do than spend time searching for it. Besides, Elena could always make another. Perhaps one with even better firepower this time.

A quick glance around the area and information began to filter in. The air was clogged with dust and smoke, making it difficult to both see and breathe. But Elena could tell that the Shadow Creepers had completely vanished, likely because Yazoo must have been caught by the blast and momentarily knocked unconscious. She knew better than to believe that he had been killed. Jenova-creations were too much like roaches. Nothing could destroy them.

People were slowly rising to their feet and walking around in a daze. Others were waking, noticing the danger that still circled in the sky, and darted to safety. The circle of children had completely vanished. The clashing of weapons floated to her ears and she caught flashes of Zack and Archer battling the silver-haired brothers. Che. Like she said – roaches.

Cursing under her breath, Elena waded into the crowd, trying to direct the frantic masses towards safety. She urged them towards the building, to run far from the threat, all the while keeping her eyes peeled for Denzel. How the boy had managed to disappear, she didn’t know.

“Denzel!”

Elena paused mid-step and whirled at the familiar voice calling for the young boy. Her eyes frantically searched the crowd, seeing a blur of pink some distance from her. Marlene…? But what was she doing here? Shouldn’t she be somewhere else? Somewhere safe?

Marlene was running without a care for the danger surrounding her, obviously searching for Denzel much like Elena was. Gritting her teeth, Elena changed direction, abandoning her hunt for Denzel for the moment. Marlene she could at least see, and then the two of them could look together. She couldn’t just watch the young girl run around without any protection.

“Marlene!” Elena yelled, trying to be heard above the crowd and the ruckus, ducking down as a small building to her right exploded. It had been struck by a random spell from Yazoo’s and Archer’s duel. In fact, the two of them were flinging magic every direction around them, a danger for the innocent bystanders.

The little girl heard her voice and whipped around, searching for the source of her name. Her face brightened with relief as she spotted Elena, immediately altering her course, and was nearly knocked down by a passing stranger. Above her, the summon passed and the downsweep of his wings sent a stirring of wind across the ground, strong enough to cause several to lose their footing.

“Stay right there,” Elena ordered, pushing someone impatiently out of her way as she promptly leapt onto and over a boulder. “Don’t move.”

Nodding, Marlene did as she was told, though her eyes were wide with fear. Understandable, given the situation. The courtyard was rapidly clearing of the mob, leaving only a few stragglers behind as they all poured into the alleyways to escape the circling menace. Skirting around a still smoking piece of debris, Elena chanced a glance at the sky and abruptly paled, her breath catching in her throat.

The large summon was banking downwards, as if seeking a place to land. She recognized its intentions, and a part of her didn’t want to know what it planned to do. She needed to get Marlene and find Denzel now. There was no more time to waste.

“What are you doing here?” Elena huffed, finally skidding to a stop beside the little girl and automatically scooping Marlene into her arms. She grunted a bit at the addition of the extra weight. She wasn’t as small as she used to be.

Rubbing a hand across her face to clear the dust and grit out of her eyes as well as a few fresh tear tracks, Marlene pouted stubbornly. “I wanted to find Denzel, but I can’t see him anywhere.”

“I’ll find him,” Elena promised, holding Marlene tight against her as she searched for somewhere safe, preferably away from pending summons and the two duels going on a short distance away. “But for now, we have to get you somewhere safe.”

Marlene’s fingers tightened around her arm. “We can’t do that,” she countered, her eyes filling with tears. “Denzel will get hurt.”

“And so will you,” Elena responded, finally spotting an alleyway that looked promising. Very little traffic and a pretty clear route to get to it. Not to mention none of the buildings around it were in danger of suddenly crumpling downwards. Perfect.

In her arms, Marlene wriggled, obviously trying to get down. “‘Lena!”

“You’re brave, Marlene,” she responded in exasperation, setting the girl back on her own two feet and grasping her hand strongly. Refusing to let go. “More so than most people I know. But sometimes, bravery’s not enough. Like right now.”

Her lower lip wobbled, indecision etched into her young features. Elena wondered if she had been that determined and stubborn, that courageous when she was Marlene’s age. Would she have been willing to run into the middle of a battlefield after her friend? Elena couldn’t honestly answer that.

Squaring her jaw, Marlene finally acquiesced. “Fine,” she muttered, stomping one foot against the ground and nearly tripping on a rock. “But you’d better hurry.”

Elena breathed a sigh of relief, and quickly moved towards the alley way she had spotted earlier. She never loosened her hold on Marlene’s hand, carefully tugging the young girl after her. Elena could hear the evidence of Archer and Zack’s fights in the distance – the clashing of swords, angered and heated shouts, magical explosions. And the ground abruptly rumbled as the summon landed, its mass causing the earth to quake.

The blonde Turk was nearly tossed from her feet. As it were, she stumbled and crashed into a fallen wall, dragging Marlene with her. She enclosed the young woman in her arms, bending over her to protect her from the dropping debris.

It took several long moments for the shaking to fade and once it did, Elena straightened, coughing as dust entered her lungs. “You all right?” she questioned, glancing down at Marlene.

She nodded, coughing into her palm. “What is that thing?” Marlene breathed, brown eyes wide with fear. “It looks like Seiryu but it’s not.”

“I don’t know,” Elena replied, grabbing her hand firmly and pulling her towards the alleyway, ducking and dodging around the new obstacles. “But we can’t fight it from down here.”

As if responding, the creature roared loudly, the sound loud enough to make her ears rattle and her head spin. Elena glanced over her shoulder, fear striking her heart as she watched the monster’s mouth open, a blue glow glimmering behind his teeth. That did not look good in the slightest. And her chest was beginning to ache, her breath wheezing from her prior injury. Not for the first time, she cursed Jenova and everything the bitch had done.

“Elena! Look out!”

She reacted without thinking, grabbing Marlene and diving to the ground, crying out when she slammed harshly into a piece of unforgiving concrete. Mere milliseconds later, a stray flash of lightning streaked through the air where she had just been standing, lending a stench of sulfur to what was already dust-clogged. Elena chanced a glance, realizing that the spell had come from the direction of Archer and Yazoo’s fight, the former having tackled the latter and struggling to gain control of the battle.

Elena hauled herself to her feet, and immediately felt a twinge in her shoulder. It ached and felt tender to the touch, proving that she would have a lovely green-black bruise in the future.

“Is Archer going to be okay?” Marlene asked, her voice trembling. The courage was still there, but it was obvious she was also afraid, especially when the ground gave another harsh shake as the creature shifted position.

Swallowing thickly, her mouth ashen and dry thanks to all the particulate in the air, Elena felt as if she were lying. “Of course,” she responded, as the dark shadow fell over them, blocking out the bright light of the sun.

In front of her, Marlene stiffened, brown eyes wide. And Elena felt her heart give a careful stutter. Pulling the little girl close to her, she glanced over her shoulder, and emitted a low curse under her breath.

The summon loomed over them, but only dismissively. It hadn’t even noticed their presence, in fact, too preoccupied by the sudden attack it seemed to be under. All Elena recognized was a cerise blur and the sound of gunshots, multiple ones. The creature roared its displeasure, its wings twitching as its tail abruptly rose into the air.

“We’ve gotta go,” Elena urged, stumbling forward and pulling Marlene after her. “Now, Marlene. Hurry.”

The little girl didn’t comment, only rushing after her with fear etched into her face. She had paled, and her hand was trembling in Elena’s own.

Something whistled in the air above them, the alleyway tantalizingly close. A dark spot of hope against the terror that pounded through her chest. There was a thunderous crash and the sound of stone dropping to the ground, glass breaking and sprinkling everywhere. Somebody screamed and only belatedly did Elena realize it was herself as she jerked Marlene into her arms and hunkered down, praying to Kami that everything was going to be all right.

And then the building fell on top of them.


Masses of frightened people were never the easiest to navigate, hysteria pushing them to act both selfishly and irrationally. Tseng cursed under his breath as he tried to push through the flowing crowds, going in numerous directions and making it impossible for him to find a steady path. Every time he bumped one of the frightened people, his mind would latch onto their emotions whether he liked it or not, their terror too strong to be effectively blocked. Which might have had something to do with the monster circling overhead.

Gritting his teeth, grey eyes searched frantically for one child amid the sea of stampeding humans. Shrieks of terror filled the air, blasting his ear drums as well as his mental senses. This couldn’t get any more difficult.

To his right, a building suddenly imploded, raining bits of debris down on the rampaging herd. Tseng weaved past the scattering strangers, nearly tripping over something’s legs. He looked down, clamping down on nausea when he spotted the charred remnants of something that might have once been human. The smell of cooked flesh worked its way into his nostrils and Tseng heaved, forcing himself to press on.

Sephiroth would never forgive him if something happened to Denzel or Marlene. Hell, Tseng would never forgive himself. They were only children. Raised in a time of war and witnessing more than those their age should, but still just children.

Reaching up, Tseng summoned a tie from his pocket and hurriedly pulled his hair out of his face. It was difficult enough to see without the strands blocking his vision. His swords bumped against his legs as he twisted to avoid one of the fleeing strangers, and finally he broke free from the press of people.

Tseng found himself standing in the middle of the square that had once been used to celebrate any number of things. The statue, once prominent, was nothing more than a smoking, smoldering piece of debris. And the summon, it was slowly rising into the air once more, batting wings and causing a flurry of dust to scatter around it.

The Turk Commander lifted a hand to shield his eyes as he searched for the children, finding it easier now that most of the mob had scattered. Now, there was only piles and piles of debris to search through. But was Denzel even still here? Perhaps the boy had already escaped, like the rest of the crowd. And was Marlene somewhere present as well?

Cursing under his breath, Tseng realized that he had very little choice in the matter. The only way to find either of them would be to rely on his abilities, ones that he strictly avoided whenever possible. Sucking in a deep breath, the Wutaiian closed his eyes and tried to focus. His hands curled into fists at his side as he slowly, carefully lowered his defenses, letting the voices and the emotions filter in.

Where is she? I can’t find her!”

Dammit, breathe!”

Mommy!”

It’s no use. Run, idiot! Ru-“

Tseng gasped, biting his lip as he tried to control the influx of images and voices flowing directly into his brain. So much terror and pain, it was influencing everything else and he couldn’t focus. He wished, in that moment, that Orthrus was there to help him. But there was no time for useless thoughts and he pushed it aside.

Ignoring the pulsing of his skull, Tseng concentrated again, this time focusing his mind on their voices, on what he recognized of the two children. Somewhere on the edge of his conscious, beyond the dimming black and grey, he heard crying. Soft weeping and the trickle of smaller rocks over larger ones. To his right.

Sephy…”

Silver eyes snapped open. That was Denzel; Tseng was sure of it. Keeping his senses unblocked, he pinned down the location, following it with his feet. Denzel’s inner voice was getting stronger now, and Tseng felt a measure of relief. The boy was frightened and worried, but he was alive. He was himself. That was all that mattered.

Closing off the connection, and infinitely relieved that the pressure on his mind had faded, Tseng continued his search. Cautious footsteps took him to a pile of debris, once part of an office building it appeared, and the sound of sniffling from beneath the stones. There was a sort of hollow, or opening within the granite.

Crouching, Tseng peered into the gloom, ever mindful of the threat of the summon. “Denzel?”

The sniffling abruptly stopped and there was the sound of stone grinding on stone. “Mr. Tseng?” A small, dirty hand emerged from the darkness as Denzel crawled out, a head of shaggy, brown hair first visible followed by the rest of him. “You’re not hurt!”

“Thankfully, no. What are you doing there?” the Turk asked, reaching to help the boy and set him on his feet. He was practically covered in stone dust and dirt, but he didn’t appear to have any major injuries. A gash on his cheek and some minor bruises. Nothing terribly serious.

The boy wiped at his face with the back of his hand, doing nothing more than smearing the dirt. “Hiding,” he answered succinctly. “I woke up and I was here and I can’t remember anything.” His lower lip trembled, genuine perplexity in his expression. “I don’t know what’s going on. Where’s Sephy?”

“He’s here,” Tseng assured the boy, rising to his feet and glancing quickly around him. “I’m not sure where, but he is here. He was very worried about you.”

Denzel lifted a hand to his chest, where he seemed to be gripping something through the fabric. “Really?” There was such hope in that simple word, and Tseng wondered if Sephiroth even knew how much this one little boy cared for him.

He reached out, taking Denzel’s small hand. “Of course. And now we’ve got to get out of here before something happens.” Dropping his free hand to his pocket, Tseng pulled out his cell phone. He was greeted with the truth of having no signal, unsurprising considering all that the summon was destroying.

Tseng sighed, wondering how he was going to get Denzel out of here safely. And where exactly that refuge could be found. The summon still circled above, but at least the shadow beasts had vanished. Small favor.

He’d found Denzel, but now Marlene was still missing. Was it possible for things to get anymore difficult?

Tseng curled his hand tighter around Denzel’s. “Let’s go.” Sephiroth would never forgive him if he let something happen to Denzel. And Tseng was determined not to let his lover down. Nor could he forgive himself.

He would protect Denzel, even if it cost him his life.


Kadaj cackled, throwing his arms into the air as he watched Bahamut ZERO wreak havoc on Junon, coming dangerously close to their building but not attacking it outright. The summon knew where its master was located, after all. And Mother, she practically trembled with glee inside of him.

So close, they were so close.

Behind him, the President and his lackey could only gape in horror and Kadaj felt infinitely pleased with himself. Or rather, Mother was proud of him.

He watched triumphantly as several buildings went up in flames, dropping debris down on the unsuspecting many. This was what the humans faced if they did not return Mother to him.

“See, Mr. President?” Kadaj demanded, as he slowly turned back towards Reeve and the red-haired buffoon that served as his bodyguard. Blue eyes faded back to their normal bright jade. “There is nothing you can do to stop us.”

Reeve, who had paled significantly since the summons appearance, fought for some sort of composure. He hadn’t wanted to play his cards so soon, but the situation called for it. He couldn’t let that monster destroy everything he had worked hard to build. Nor could he allow Kadaj and his Mother to kill that many innocent people.

He slid one hand into his desk drawer, sliding aside the secret panel and withdrawing a slim black box. The insides sloshed around disgustingly and Reeve tried not to grimace as he held the object, slowly rising to his feet. He quickly exchanged glances with his husband who stepped nearer, hand dropping to the EMR always belted at his side.

Kadaj was smirking as he faced them once again. “You are nothing more than obstacles in Mother’s path,” he declared as Reeve stepped around his desk, slowing bringing up his hand and the box it held. “And together we-”

The remnant’s declaration abruptly ended as he stared at the container that Reeve held. His eyes fluctuated, pupils expanding and contracting, and he sucked in a breath. His arms fell to his sides, all sense of glory vanishing from his expression.

Reeve’s gaze narrowed, his fingers white-knuckled around the box that contained that last surviving piece of Jenova. “Good sons would have noticed,” he taunted, slowly circling around Kadaj until he stood at the windowed doors to the balcony, able to see the destruction the remnant’s summon was causing.

“Give her to me,” Kadaj stated slowly, his voice a low and weighted hiss. His hands balled into fists at his side, jaw squaring with disgust. “Now.”

“I don’t think I will,” Reeve countered, slapping his free hand against the wall where the balcony began, revealing a panel.

He opened it deftly without looking, inputting his passcode. A series of beeps and clicks announced his success and then, the doors to the balcony slowly slid open. Reeve stepped onto it, never once taking his eyes off of Kadaj.

A low, barely human growl echoed in Kadaj’s throat, and his knuckles creaked as he tightened his fists. “Give. Her. To. Me,” he repeated, eyes flashing in and out of sanity. If he had even had it to begin with.

Reeve shook his head, unfailingly calm on the outside, though within his knees were like jelly and his stomach carried a flock of butterflies. “Stop attacking my city,” he demanded firmly, lifting his hand until it held the box over the edge of the railing in obvious threat. “Or I drop it.”

“Mother is no it,” Kadaj hissed, stalking slowly towards him, each step heavy and deliberately cautious. He didn’t even seem to notice that Reno was matching him move for move, aquamarine eyes worriedly bouncing between his husband and the remnant. “She is Mother. And she will rule this planet.”

Reeve didn’t even flinch, though his fingers felt sweaty around the box, and he wondered if when he did drop it, would it be by choice or accident? “Jenova is an alien creature. She is not your mother, nor my sovereign. Call off your creature, Kadaj. Or lose this monster forever.”

Kadaj screamed at him, an almost unholy sound, and all semblance of humanity seemed to vanish from his expression. His eyes had turned completely jade, slitted like a cat’s. No trace of the man that Archer loved stirred in their depths and Reeve wondered if he had already completely succumbed to Jenova’s influence. Perhaps there was nothing left for them to save.

“Give her to me!” Magic curled at the edges of his leather-covered fingertips.

Reeve’s eyes narrowed. “I won’t.”

In the distance, the summon roared loudly and Kadaj seemed to echo the sentiment as he rushed at Reeve, faster than the President could see, reaching for the box containing Jenova. The younger man collided into him with all the force of a low-powered materia spell, driving the air from Reeve’s lungs as he was shoved against the railing. He nearly dropped the compartment as his back slammed into the metal, creaking dangerously under the combined force.

“Reeve!”

He would not give her to him.

“Dammit, you bastard!”

He would not watch his city fall again.


The sound of a shotgun echoed above Sephiroth and he glanced upwards, finding a bright crimson blur bouncing all around the summon. The shots sounded powerful, destructive. No doubt they belonged to the Dirge of Cerberus, Valentine’s strongest weapon. And there were few who could pull off those moves, which bordered on the ability to fly.

Shaking his head, Sephiroth quickly drew the Murasame from its respective compartment and powered down Odin. It would take a miracle for the cycle to emerge from this unscathed, but he didn’t have time to take it away from the battle. He would simply have to hope that it didn’t get damaged.

One powerful leap took him to a nearby rooftop, and then a second followed, landing atop the nearest building. It just happened to be the WRO’s headquarters, he realized belatedly. Sephiroth hadn’t even known that the fighting was that close to Junon’s central hub. The former General came to a rest beside another familiar face, cigarette smoke clouding around the man’s blond head.

“I thought you gave those up,” Sephiroth commented quietly, his gaze focused on the huge summon in the sky.

There was another puff before the cigarette was flicked over the side, tip flaring as it fell. “Desperate times,” Cid grunted, twirling his spear on his fingers as he placed one boot on the railing of the roof. “What Vince don’t know won’t hurt ‘im.”

And with that, the captain promptly flung himself over the edge of the roof, having timed his leap perfectly. He landed on the summon’s head and with a great roar, aimed the tip of the spear into its head. The creature keened loudly, trying to shake off its unwanted passenger. Cid hung on with surprisingly tenacity, however, the creature momentarily distracted as a crimson blur shot past it, shoving several large bullets into its face.

Shaking his head, Sephiroth tightened his grip on the Murasame and stepped onto the stone railing himself. He looked down at the streets of the city several feet below him, and prepared to leap into battle. Without their anima, they couldn’t possibly hope to defeat the summon on their own. It would take a combined effort, he was certain of this.

The wind whipped his hair around his face, momentarily blinding him. And up here, the smell of destruction was even stronger. Ash and fire and charred flesh, it clogged his nostrils. Were he never a military man, it would have made his stomach clench. As it were, however, he bore it with a grimace. One never actually got used to the stench of war, but he knew how to handle it.

The summon – who superficially resembled Seiryu – banked into another turn, coming in range of Sephiroth. His muscles tensed, prepared to jump, when suddenly twin blurs of orange and pale brown streaked past him, feline growls echoing in their wake. Sephiroth blinked in shock as two lion-wolf hybrids flew through open air, latching teeth and claw onto the summon.

One he immediately recognized as Nanaki, the Iyatokan’s body shimmering mid-air and shifting shape into his demi-human form. Fierce claws raked into the summon’s side as his feline companion roared, moving almost faster than Sephiroth’s eyes could follow. Agile leaps and twists carried the second Iyatokan over and around its opponent, its brown fur a dark, beautiful shade.

“Who…? What..?”

There was the barest sound of movement as Nanaki appeared on the stone railing next to him, crouched down and eyes flashing with a hefty dose of anger. “Beautiful, isn’t she?” he commented, almost off-handedly as he eyed a wound on his arm, likely from one of the summon’s many small spines.

Sephiroth blinked. “She?”

The younger man grinned, cracking the knuckles of his weaponed hand. “Yuffie,” he explained succinctly, only to promptly leap back into battle, a high-powered Fire pouring from his fingertips.

The sphere of flame slammed into the summon’s side, singeing its blue scales. The smell of scorched flesh filled the air as the beast roared in agony, but did not cease its assault. Large teeth snapped dangerously close to the female Iyatokan’s – Yuffie’s, Sephiroth now knew – head. With a twist of her lupine body, Yuffie flitted out of the way, her flip causing her to land on a lower roof, temporarily out of harm’s way.

Thoroughly impressed, Sephiroth thought it was time for him to join the battle as well, before anyone else was injured. He ignored the coiling press on the back of his mind, the black fingers trying to seep into his brain. Jenova was calling to him, but he would ignore her. He would not give in, not this time and not ever again. Because Sephiroth had tasted freedom, and it was sweet.

Eyes narrowing with his resolve, the former General curled his fingers around the Murasame and leapt into battle, his first strike a highhanded slash across the side of the summon’s face. Sparks flew as his blade scraped along the scales, the attack reverberating up into his fingers. The creature roared in annoyance, shifting to rise higher into the sky as the Murasame fought to break through its scaly barrier.

With a curse, Sephiroth broke away from the attack and dropped down to a lower roof, landing with a jarring thud and crouching to absorb the impact. The building shuddered warningly beneath him, proving that it was already barely standing. He watched as the summon’s claws raked into the side of a building, raining glass and debris down on the courtyard below, its whipping tail shearing the spires of several other structures. A cold, blue light grew in strength behind the beast’s curved fangs.

Cursing under his breath, Sephiroth summoned the strongest magic in his arsenal – an Ultima. As the sickly green flames sputtered to life amongst his fingers, he shaped the magic to his liking, forming a sphere of immense strength. Sephiroth could feel the magic sapping at his energies, drawing the necessary power from within him. Were he any other creature, any other human, it would have killed him. But Sephiroth had already faced the truth. He would never be any other human.

Eyes taking on a faint jade gleam, the roof cracking beneath his boots, Sephiroth let a growl echo lowly in his throat. Energy crackling on his fingertips, he promptly threw the massive Ultima-Flame at the summon, the spell catching it on the side of the neck and melting through its scales within an instant.

The summon instantly reared, wings snapping out to the side as it keened in pain. It’s attack soared harmlessly into the atmosphere, exploding in a nearly blinding display way above the clouds.

Sephiroth didn’t let the brief moment of victory betray him, he was too well-trained for that. Instead, he drew the Murasame and leapt into battle once more, aiming the god-like blade at the weakened throat of the beast.

Go for the jugular. Just like ShinRa had taught him.

Have no clemency, show no mercy for it was nothing but a weakness. Hesitate and the innocent died. Strike hard, strike quick, and at the point where the enemy was weakest. Destroy them until nothing remained, and fight to the end. Only cowards ran, and there was no room for a coward in ShinRa’s army. No room for mercy in Jenova’s world.

Gray-green eyes shifted to bright emerald, and a snarl painted Sephiroth’s lips as the Murasame bit deeply into the summon’s flesh. He didn’t notice that the others had drawn back, to nurse their wounds, or to simply watch him. He didn’t even realize that he was the only one fighting now, ignoring the blood that rained down on the destruction. A demi-deity’s blood. At least, he wasn’t foolish enough to try and kill it. Only injure it a little, force it back to the immortal plane.

He never even noticed as those nauseating fingers pressed further on his mind, or when the poisonous presence seeped heavier into his conscious. Jenova’s triumphant chuckle was a mere battle threnody. The aching of his back, pulsing with new pain as the Geostigma ate at his flesh, spreading even further, was a mere annoyance.

No mercy, Sephiroth reminded himself. No mercy.

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