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Title: The Planet's Enemy
Author: Ebonrune
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Possible swears and violence
Disclaimer: I of course, do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of the compilation. That pleasure belongs to Square-Enix.
Status: Complete
Summary: It's been half a year since Omega was sent back to its rest and everyone has moved on with their lives. As Cloud and his friends soon discover however, the past refuses to remain buried.
Author's Notes: This story occurs post Dirge of Cerberus and makes references to it, as well as Crisis Core, the original Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children Complete, and Before Crisis--a game released on cellphones only in Japan. As well, I've chosen to use the fan names (according to the Final Fantasy wiki) for Cloud's various swords, since they don't have official names and 'Tsurugi' is Japanese for 'sword'. As the swords are not labeled which is which on the wiki, here's the picture for your reference.
Prequel: Ties of Friendship
Chapter Links: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Fourteen Fifteen



It was finally done. All of his chocobos had been sold and Cloud would even get a cut of profits from the first three chicobos sold from Zakky's matings. Now he just had to get himself to Junon. He was walking back to Ghost Square and just starting to pull out his cellphone to try and get a hold of Cid again when he sensed someone coming up fast behind him. He turned, bringing his arm up and blocked a blow aimed at his head. He grit his teeth when electricity made his arm tingle and squinted under his raised appendage at his assailant.

"Reno." He growled. "You've got three seconds to start explaining, or I'm using Merciless."

"Heh." Reno lifted his electromag rod and flicked the power off, then rested the end on his shoulder. "Good reflexes, Cloud. I just got a question or few for ya, yo."

Cloud stared at him in silence for a few moments, then he sighed heavily. "Alright, Turk. What do you want?"

"Let's go somewhere a little more private, huh?" Reno motioned with his weapon. "Say, your room at the Ghost Hotel?"

Cloud eyed him again, but with another heavy sigh he turned to lead the way. Once they were situated in his room, he turned to face Reno and crossed his arms. "So, what do you want?"

Reno leaned casually against the wall, tapping the rod on his shoulder a few times. "I know you've got Sephiroth in your head." He said bluntly. "The question is, how'd he get in there? And" He continued quickly. "before you think about not answering or whatever, I sent a time delayed voice mail to Tseng. If I don't cancel it in the next half hour, he'll get it and then he, the other Turks and Rufus will know about Sephiroth too. You don't want that, do you?"

Cloud clenched his jaw, eyes narrowing slightly. "......I was injected with his cells in Nibelheim." He said slowly. "I'm the only living 'S copy' left, so I guess it was enough for him to take up residence."

Reno scratched at his nose, playing casual. "But not take over?"

"If Sephiroth had control, you'd be dead already." Cloud pointed out.

"Heh." Reno scratched his nose again. "Good point. Alrighty, next question. Deepground. What's going on with it? What do you know and how is Genesis connected?"

"That's more than one question." Cloud shifted his stance, loosely crossing his arms. "But I don't know very much anyway. Weiss and Genesis are working together, presumedly to bring back Omega--though I haven't heard about any mass disappearances." He arched a brow at Reno, who shook his head.

"I haven't heard anything like that either." Reno replied. "But your guess is as good as any." He straightened up as if to go, but then paused and looked back. "Oh, by the way. The boss wanted me to tail you all. So either you can leave me to do that, orrr you can let me join up with you."

Cloud gave him a deadpan look. ".....You're joking."

"Nope! So what'll it be?"

Cloud brought a hand up to pinch the brow of his nose. "Help me get to Junon to join up with the others and I'll bring it up with them."

"Heh. Sure thing." Reno whipped out his phone.

"And delete that voice mail too."

"Oh yeah, sure. No problem." Reno grinned. "I'll get right on that."

Cloud's eyes narrowed. "......There never was a voice mail, was there?"

"That's for me to know, Spike." Reno cheekily replied before turning his attention to the person on the other end of the phone.

Cloud stepped over to remove Merciless from its harness and sit on his bed, watching Reno. Of all the Turks that Rufus could have sicced on Cloud, he'd chosen the loud-mouthed, obnoxious one. There had to be a deeper reasoning behind that, though the what was lost on him. Reno was a Turk, nothing was ever right out in the open. Cloud could only hope it wasn't going to cause problems when he and the others finally tracked down Weiss and Genesis.

------------------------------------------------------------

Vincent's eyes opened slowly and then he froze. He was lying on his back, but above him was a very different ceiling than the last one he remembered seeing. Where was he?

"You're in Khymera Enviro General Hospital in Junon." A low, deep voice spoke up to Vincent's right. "Your companions went to get something to eat, I believe."

Vincent swung his head over, grimacing briefly when his neck cracked, and focused on the speaker. "......Veld?!"

Vincent's old friend and the former leader of the Turks smiled slightly. "Hello, Vincent." He greeted him. "Still looking fairly good for an old man, I have to say."

Vincent slowly moved to sit up, wincing and grimacing at every little pop or crack. "I certainly don't feel very good." He commented before re-focusing on Veld. "What are you doing here?"

"Would you believe that Felicia is expecting a baby?" Veld arched an eyebrow. "She got tired of my fussing, so she kicked me out of the room. I saw you being wheeled away from the CT, so I followed and when your companions decided it was a better idea to get food than to stand around fussing at you, I slipped in to see you for myself."

"Hm." Vincent leaned against the head of the bed and closed his eyes. "So your daughter is alright then. You succeeded."

"Yes....we were able to save her from Zirconiade." Veld sighed softly and leaned forward on the chair, resting his elbows on his legs and steepling his fingers. "It's good to see you out in the world, Vincent. It isn't so good that we're meeting again in a hospital, however."

Vincent gave the slightest flicker of a mirthless smile. "That which kept me young was taken from me, so I suppose I'll be as old as you in not too long.....and in far worse shape from the sounds my bones are making." He opened his eyes to look over at Veld again. "I atoned for as long as I could, but my 'companions' as you're calling them wouldn't let me sleep any longer once they found me. In the end, I had to confront Hojo for what he'd done. I haven't been able to return to my long rest since, though I suppose I'll be at the Lifestream's judgement soon enough."

"Don't write yourself off just yet, Vincent." Veld sat up straight again. "This facility is the best in the world."

"That may be so, but I highly doubt a cure for old age has been found and unlike you, have not had the benefit of a natural aging." Vincent looked at his left hand and ran his right over the slightly prominent veins. "The process of reaching my chronological age may well be the end of me."

"Dire as always." Veld shook his head. "It's a relief to know you're still the same morose individual you were in the Turks."

"I suppose it is simply my nature." Vincent stretched out his hands, grimacing when the joints popped and he looked around himself, noticing his gauntlet and gun sitting atop his folded cloak on the table to his left. "Hm." He reached out and picked up his gauntlet and gun to bring over, putting his gauntlet back on and setting Cerberus on his lap before looking back at Veld. "So, who is Felicia's husband?"

"Ah." Veld grimaced. "One of my Turks. You met him before. The spiky haired redhead."

"........Do you mean Reno, or the other one?"

"Summons take me! No, not Reno." Veld shook his head in mild amusement. "Alexander. He and--" Veld abruptly froze, eyeing the doorway. He got to his feet quickly.

Vincent looked over as well and swore. In spite of his still aching body, he leapt off the bed and got between Veld and the encroaching darkness, half-aiming Cerberus at it. "Nero." He growled before the darkness swallowed them.

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It had taken Zack a bit to make it out of the hospital and into Khymera Enviro itself and now he was staring at the directory, trying to figure out where to start looking for his fellow SOLDIERs. An elevator opened by him, but he ignored it, reading over the directory again in hopes that he'd missed something.

"........Zack?"

Zack turned his head to look at a man with disheveled auburn hair and bright mako green eyes wearing a sleeveless black version of the Shinra Infantry uniform. He tilted his head in puzzlement, not recognizing them. "Hey." He greeted the stranger anyway. He'd taken over commanding SOLDIER after he'd been promoted to First since Sephiroth wanted nothing to do with it, so it was highly likely he wouldn't know everyone while they'd still know who he was.

The auburn-haired man stared at Zack for several moments, and then a smile bloomed on his face. "Zack! By the Summons, it really is you!" He stepped forward as if to embrace the other man, but Zack stepped back.

"Whoa, man." He put his hands up. "I'm all about the bromance, but I don't think I know you."

"Huh? Oh." The man rubbed his hair sheepishly. "I forgot you'd never seen me with my helmet off." He looked back at Zack. "It's me. Kunsel."

".....Kunsel?" Zack thought about it for a moment, matching the voice up to his memories, and then his face broke out in a grin. "Oh man!" And then he was the one doing the hugging. "It's so great to see you!"

Kunsel laughed and patted Zack's back. "Likewise, man. Oh, you have no idea!" He waited for Zack to let go again and smiled for a few more seconds, but then became serious. "You wouldn't believe what the Infantry was spreading about you, Zack. They snuck some altered picture of you all shot up on your fanpage and it was all over the World Wide Network before we could do anything about it." Kunsel's expression darkened at the memory. "No one could figure out who'd done it, either."

Zack's own expression darkened, having a feeling he knew the picture Kunsel was talking about and he made a soft sound in his throat. "Listen, Kun. What're you doing right now? We should talk."

"Yeah, I agree." Kunsel put a hand on Zack's shoulder to point him in the right direction. "I'm on break and was going to grab a snack at the Sonic Donut. Come on."

The two of them walked out of the Khymera building and headed down the street, walking in silence at first.

"It wasn't a hoax." Zack spoke up at last, voice uncharacteristically soft.

Kunsel looked at him, and then promptly missed a step at the haunted look on the other man's face. ".....Zack?"

"It wasn't a hoax." Zack repeated. He lifted his eyes to look at Kunsel. "It really happened. On the cliffs over Midgar. I almost made it." Zack shook his head. "Not that it would have made a difference. I got cocky. We'd been doing so well...."

"Zack." Kunsel stopped and grabbed Zack's shoulders so he would as well. "What are you saying? What do you mean, it really happened? You're standing right here!"

Zack gave a ruined smile, which only served to alarm Kunsel more. "It's complicated, so let's just go with I came back in a clone body Hojo'd made and leave it like that." He shook his head and turned away. "I don't really want--" The hair on the back of his neck rose and he turned back toward the Khymera Enviro building. He and Kunsel watched in horror as the whole hospital side became swathed in pulsing darkness.

"Wh--What the hell?!" Kunsel took several steps back. "What is that?!"

"......I don't know." Zack muttered. "But we need to get away from it." He grabbed Kunsel's wrist. "Now!" He took off running, dragging Kunsel with him until the other SOLDIER was able to catch his stride and run along with him. The two sprinted for several blocks before stopping again and turning back. The darkness was starting to retreat now, and they watched as it pulsed back into itself like a sickness going back from where it came from. Once it appeared to be gone, Kunsel started back toward the building, but Zack grabbed his arm.

"Kunsel, wait. We don't know what that was, it could be dangerous!"

Kunsel swatted his hand off and turned on him, expression furious. "We're SOLDIER, Zack! We go toward danger, not away from it!"

"I said wait!" Zack pointed and Kunsel looked back to see that the same darkness that had swallowed the innards of the hospital was now writhing out the windows of Khymera Enviro itself.

They watched it writh and thrash like a living thing for several moments before it once more retreated. Their attention shifted moments later when a helicopter flew by overhead.

"Hey...." Kunsel squinted at it, watching as it buzzed the upper floors of Khymera Enviro."That's a Shinra copter. What's Shinra doing here?" He scowled. "I hope they weren't the ones who did this...."

It was a horrible irony how even former SOLDIER was suspicious of Shinra now and Zack gave a faint smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Hope not." Was the only thing he could say and the two of them watched as it peeled away from the building and headed toward them.

------------------------------------------------------------

".....Shit." Reno grit his teeth, leaning back in the pilot's chair. "Please don't let that be what I think it is."

Rude, who was sitting in the co-pilot position, scowled and leaned forward. "Darkness...coming out of every window...." He and Reno looked at each other, and their respective expressions were bleak.

"......What?!" Cloud came over to the front and grabbed hold of the back of Rude's seat, having to yell to be heard over the engine. His complexion was rather pallid, as rides in small enclosed spaces didn't tend to agree with him. He stared at the darkness that was writhing out of the building ahead of them as if it was a living being all it's own. ".....Is that Khymera Enviro?"

"Yep." Reno pulled the copter back into a hover. "Looks like Deepground beat us here."

Cloud grit his teeth against the sudden wave of nausea the copter's change in movement caused. ".....Deepground?"

"Nero the Sable." Reno sounded calm, though inwardly he was panicking. "That's his power right there, yo."

Angeal, who they had found at the Gold Saucer wondering where everyone had gone off to, joined Cloud, looking over at the building and the darkness that was starting to dissipate. "Fly closer."

Reno licked dry lips. "Heh.....okay. You're the boss." Again the helicopter was sent into forward motion. They buzzed by the upper floors, going slow enough to look inside and noticing the absolute lack of anyone and the fact that some things had obviously been interrupted mid-action. It was a scene out of a bad horror movie.

"Look there." Rude pointed toward the ground on a return pass, more specifically at two human forms that seemed to be looking up in their direction. From their height, they couldn't see more than faint details, but Reno gamely turned the copter in their direction, dropping height as he approached until they could get a good look.

"It's Zack." Cloud braced himself on the back of Rude's chair as Reno brought the copter down to land, shutting off the engine and popping the side doors so Cloud and Angeal could get off. Cloud was more than happy to disembark, stumbling a bit when his feet contacted the street and then heading over to Zack and the stranger standing next to him.

"Cloud...." Zack's expression fell as guilt swept over him. All of Cloud's friends had been in that building, and he'd been told to look after them. Instead he'd gone off to socialize. He tried to force a smile anyway when Cloud made it over to them. "Copter rides still don't agree with you, huh....?"

Cloud brushed the question off. "What happened here?"

The man standing beside Zack looked a bit hostile, but Zack himself bit his lip and glanced at Khymera Enviro before looking back at Cloud and coming to stand at attention. Falling back on SOLDIER training was the only way he could keep his composure at the moment. "We arrived without incident and Vincent had been taken to get a CT scan. I.....I left your friends to go to Khymera Enviro itself. I was planning to talk to the former SOLDIERs and try and get some extra help, but then I ran into Kunsel here" He motioned to the man beside him. "and....and we came out here to talk while he was on break. Then that....that darkness showed up and...and....." His composure broke completely. "I'm sorry, Cloud! I know I should have stayed with them, but I just thought--"

"There's nothing you could have done." Cloud couldn't afford to think with his heart right now or he'd definitely have a breakdown. "Reno said it's Nero's power, though he didn't explain what that meant." He noticed Kunsel come to abrupt attention and looked back to see Angeal moving to join him.

Angeal nodded to Kunsel, but then he focused his attention on his once student. "Zack." He spoke firmly. "You need to calm down and focus on the now. What did you observe about the darkness?"

"Uhm...." Zack shook his head slightly. "It wasn't anything in general, I just had a feeling that I had to get away from it immediately." He looked over at the building and licked his lips. "I still don't want to go over there." He admitted.

Angeal nodded slightly and turned to Kunsel. "Anything to add, Infantryman?"

"Actually sir, I'm SOLDIER." Kunsel saluted. "Kunsel. Former Second Class. Khymera Enviro has us wear these uniforms....and no sir, nothing to add....except that I'd be willing to go over there if neccessary."

"I don't think that will be needed." Cloud spoke up, expression turning cold so he wouldn't start frantically worrying for his friends. "When we flew by the windows, we didn't see anyone--but I didn't see any sign of panic either." He grit his teeth. "It's like what happened in Kalm and Junon six months ago. People just vanishing." He had to keep calm, especially now. He had to believe his friends were alive, he had to keep a clear head. "So if this is Nero, then this confirms it. They want to revive Omega....this is what happened before."

Angeal turned to him. "What do you think we should do?"

"We're going to Deepground." Cloud said grimly. "And this time we're--" He paused when his phone rang and he hastily picked it up. "Hello?"

"Cloud?!" It was Cait's voice. "Oh, thank goodness ae got a hold of yae! It's terrible!"

"Cait?!" Cloud looked at Khymera Enviro's building. "Weren't you with the others?"

"Aye, but the hospital's been attacked! Ooh....it was Nero the Sable, Cloud! His darkness swallowed everyone up! Ae transferred tae a new body, so ae donnae know where they are!"

Cloud shut his eyes. "....Did you try to get a hold of Cid?"

"Aye, but his phone still goes tae voicemail. Ae hope he's alright...."

"We can't take the time to worry about that. Do you know how to get into Deepground?"

"Aye ....Well, ae know a way. Ae donnae think yae'd be able tae get in that way, though." Cait was silent for several moments. "Shelke might be able tae help, though. Where are ye at the moment, lad?"

"Standing outside Khymera Enviro."

"Well then, make yaer way tae the WRO. Shelke and ae'll be waiting for yae." Cait hung up his end and Cloud shut his own phone to put it away. He looked reluctantly back at the waiting copter and sighed. "Well," He said. "let's head to the WRO HQ and pick up Shelke and Cait, then we'll get heading into Deepground and hopefully everyone will be alive and well when we get there."

"......Zack?" Kunsel looked questioningly at his friend.

".....You may as well come along, Kunsel." Zack told him. "It's a hell of a story, but we'll probably need all the help we can get on this one. I'll tell you what I can along the way, but I don't know all that much myself."

"None of us really do." Cloud spoke up as he reluctantly moved to re-board the copter. "Vincent's the only one besides Shelke who's been down there." He got on board and went to the front.

Reno glanced back at him. "Alright Cloud, what now?"

"Now we're going to the WRO to pick up Shelke and Cait. After that, hopefully Shelke will be willing to show us the way into Deepground and then we're launching a rescue mission."

".........Fantastic. I can hardly wait." Reno flicked the switches to get the blades started up. "You know I'll need to clear this with Rufus right?"

"You can feel free to dally about with red tape." Cloud replied, turning to go head to the back and strap in. "But while you're doing that, I'm rescuing my friends and the other people who got taken."

Reno sighed softly, the exhalation covered by the sound of the copter and he lifted off the ground to head for their next destination. The truth of the matter was Rufus probably wouldn't care, and would in fact encourage the mission. Though Reno had never entered Deepground himself however, he'd heard things from the old Turks who had and 'literal Hell' apparently only began to cover the description. He was not looking forward to this in the least.

------------------------------------------------------------

It could have been a lot worse, Vincent supposed, but it could definitely have been better.

When the darkness had enveloped them, he and Veld had immediately grabbed onto the other's arm and hung on so they wouldn't lose each other. To Vincent's surprise however, the darkness didn't try to actually absorb them but merely held them. He couldn't see Veld and he could barely feel his friend's artifical arm through the gauntlet, but he still hung on to him for all he was worth. Somehow they would survive, somehow they would escape. They were Turks, after all.

Just as he was trying to think of a course of action in the odd silence however, the darkness parted and they found themselves standing among others in what appeared to be a giant cage. Slowly they let go of each other and looked around.

Vincent could immediately hear quiet crying and low-toned voices, both from within his own cage and from ones on either side. The occupants all seemed to be patients, doctors or hospital visitors--civilians. He slowly made his way among them to the front of the cage and looked out--then started swearing softly.

"Veld." He called back to his friend. "What do you know of Deepground?"

"......This and that." Veld moved to join him, and then he too swore. "Aha. Fantastic...." He looked to Vincent. "I take it you've been down here before?"

"Unfortunately." Vincent looked down and then slowly reached through the bars with his gauntlet to hook his fingers into the lock and start yanking on it. He doubted he could break it with anything short of Death Gigas' strength, but he figured it was worth a try. The lock of course didn't budge, and he gave up after a few moments. "This isn't good."

"Indeed." Veld looked around, gritting his teeth and then giving a start when he heard a woman in an ajoining cage give a deep, low moan. "Felicia?" He headed over there. "Felicia, is that you in there?"

There was a pause and another moan. ".....Yes." A deep but still female voice answered. "Father, what's going on? Where are we?" She sounded surprisingly calm for a woman not only in labor but also in a foreign and decidedly not sterile environment.

"......That isn't important." Veld answered after a few moments and glanced over at Vincent. "We'll get you out of here."

"Don't make promises you don't know you can keep, Veld." Vincent warned him before gripping the bars of the door and starting to rock and shove it back and forth, hoping it was as rusted as it looked and could be broken.

"Damnit....the construction is solid, I'll give them that." He supposed it would have to be. In a damp environment like this, everything metal likely had stainless steel cores to keep them from deteriorating completely. He stopped and stared at the door again.

Maybe I can.... He closed his eyes, reaching down within the depths of his mind. He saw it as 'levels', with Galian--the easiest for him to command--at the top and Death Gigas at the bottom as the most quiet. He reached down past the comfortable den Galian resided in and immediately hit a maelstrom. He gave a soft audible gasp and his fingers curled tightly around the bars of the cage to balance himself as he fought past the gibbering insanity of Hell Masker. Finally making it past that level, he found himself in a lonely darkness.

Lend me your strength. He bid to the monster and reached out for it. Death Gigas groaned and only shrank further away. While Galian was malleable and willing to give Vincent help when he asked for it and Hell Masker was anxious to get out and cause as much murder and mayhem as it could, Death Gigas' only wish was to be left alone. That the first thing Vincent had done as soon as he'd figured out how to quiet the voices in his mind was lock them away probably didn't help matters.

Help me. He couldn't believe he was pleading with it and ignored the cackling that broke out 'above'. Lend me your strength. It was harder to reach for it, to get it to obey. Normally it was the adrenaline that came with near death that allowed him to grasp hold and use Hell Masker and Death Gigas, but he felt no such thing right now. If he could only borrow Death Gigas' strength without transforming...

"Vinny!"

Vincent's eyes snapped open and he jerked back at the sudden loud voice so close by. He almost started to growl before he realized who was looking at him from the other side of the bars.

"Yuffie?" He intoned stupidly. "How did you get out there?"

Yuffie beamed at him cheerfully and held up a set of lockpicks. "Never leave home without them! Good to see you awake, by the way." She then set to picking the lock, and within a few moments it popped open. "Baah, so easy! You'd think Deepground would try harder."

Vincent gave a soft sigh, reaching through the bars to pull the lock off and open the door. "Are you alright?"

"Hm? Oh, I'm peachy! No time to chat though Vince, I've got more locks to pick!" And she bounded off to the next cage.

Vincent opened the door and stepped out, noticing that while other doors stood open, very few people had ventured out of the cages. He was glad for that, as--unless his eyes were decieving him--there were a lot of people in each cage, the row of which stretched as far as he could see.

He then looked over toward Yuffie, who was continuing to open cages at a fast pace and he shook his head slightly. She was not alright. If that frenzied energy was any indication, she was close to having a hysterical breakdown. He wasn't surprised by this, considering the situation and how they had gotten here, but panic in one person was likely to incite panic in others and it could cause a hell of a stampede.

Damnit. He looked at his hands, which held a slight tremor in them and wondered what had happened to not only cause his friends to find it neccessary for him to end up in Junon but also that he had no recollection of the trip. He turned to the railing overlooking the mako lake surrounding the reactor and gripped it hard, looking down into the glowing green. There were too many people here, an entire hospital full if his guess was correct. How were they to get this many people--many of whom were hospital patients and therefore unlikely to be fully ambulatory--to not only move in an orderly fashion, but keep them from panicking and get them to the surface?

He felt a hand touch his back and he looked over to see that Tifa had found him. "Vincent." He spoke quietly. "How are you feeling?"

".....Well enough, for the time being." Vincent exhaled softly and straightened up. "Have you seen Cloud?"

"Cloud sent us ahead to Junon after you collapsed." Tifa explained. "He left Zack in charge, but....I don't think he's here either. He said he was going to talk to the SOLDIERs that work for Khymera Enviro to enlist help in finding and looking out for Genesis." She frowned. "Red XIII is here, and of course you saw Yuffie. Reeve and Cait were with us as well....but no sign of Zack, and we couldn't find Angeal before we left the Saucer." She looked to Vincent. "That leaves you."

Vincent arched a brow. "'Leaves me'?" He repeated.

"To lead us."

He immediately gave her a deadpan look. "You're joking."

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Tifa put her hands on her hips, her eyes meeting his with a surprisingly challenging gaze. "We need leadership, especially now. Cloud put you in charge before, so he has faith in you. Therefore, I have faith in you."

Vincent turned back to the mako lake and brought his right hand up to pinch his brow. "I'm not a leader."

"Cloud said that once upon a time too, and we put him in charge when he barely knew any of us. Vincent..." She put a hand on his arm. "We aren't helpless without a leader, but having someone to give orders....you know Deepground better than any of us. You know how to get out."

"Maybe, but this area looks unfamilar. I don't recall any cages like this around." Vincent shook his head. "It's possible the map you sent my phone that time is still on it, but even still..." There wouldn't be reception this far down, they had no way of calling for help.

"I think they took your cellphone at the hospital." Tifa explained. She eyed his gauntlet and gun. "Although....hm. Yuffie strikes again."

"Ah?" Vincent glanced over at the ninja in question. "Oh....you mean these." He held up his gauntlet arm and put his other hand on Cerberus. "Hm. Now I wish I'd put my cloak back on as well. A miracle I wasn't in hospital clothing on top of it, my 'coolness factor' is lessened enough as it is."

From anyone else the comment wouldn't have seemed so odd, but because Vincent had said it, Tifa surprised even herself by breaking out in a fit of giggles. "'Coolness factor'?!" She repeated incredulously. "I never would have expected you to say something like that!"

"And that's why it worked." Vincent sighed softly and turned away. "Alright." He said. "There are too many people here for us to rescue. The more we move at one time, the more chance something will happen and if panic breaks out, people could be trampled or pushed over the rail into the mako. I don't like this--believe me when I say that--but we'll have to leave them here."

"We can't do that!" Tifa looked at him like he was insane. "Who knows what could happen to them!"

"Then stay." Vincent looked back at her. "Stay back with the others and protect them. I'll head to the surface--wait. You said Reeve was here?" He glanced around, but not immediately seeing the man in question, he re-focused on her. "If I can find Reeve, he, I and Yuffie will head to the surface and once we can get to a phone, Reeve can call in the WRO."

Tifa frowned and crossed her arms. "You expect Red and I to be able to protect all these people if Deepground soldiers show up? And what do you need Yuffie for?"

"We don't have many options available to us, though you're more than welcome to try and evacuate them yourselves. As for why I'd take Yuffie..." He looked over in her direction. "It isn't that I need her help. It's that I worry she will have a gibbering breakdown if I leave her here."

"......You might be right about that. She is being rather jumpy." Tifa sighed heavily. "I still can't believe you're being so callous, though."

Vincent shot her an irritated look. "Herding hospital visitors, doctors, nurses and their patients--many likely who will need to be carried--through the bowels of Deepground and keeping them safe and calm is simply impossible. We don't have the manpower neccessary to do it. There are monsters, they will panic and people will die. If you want me to be the leader as you just strongly implied, then I expect to be obeyed!"

Tifa took a step back, eyes widening in surprise. It wasn't just at Vincent raising his voice, but at how remarkably like Sephiroth he'd sounded when doing it. After a few moments however, she recovered. "......Alright." She said. "We'll do it your way."

Vincent gave a gusty exhalation and turned away from her, scanning their surroundings again to try and catch a glimpse of Reeve, or even pinpoint Veld so he could go over things with him as well. He prided himself on his self-control, and losing his temper at anyone wasn't something he generally considered acceptable behavior. It had to be the build up, he told himself. Too many stressful factors were piling up too quickly for him to cope. He would do just as he said as quickly as possible and head for the surface with Yuffie and Reeve. Once the WRO was contacted....what then? Contacting Cloud, he supposed, but what then? Would he head back down? Vincent was chronologically the same age as Veld and the former Turk leader was seeming to do alright, but what if Vincent suffered another attack like the one that had presumedly scared his friends enough to have him sent to Junon? He didn't have a hope of fighting Weiss or Nero, let alone Genesis.

No. This was a fight he'd have to leave to his younger friends. If anything, the extent of his duties would be leading the WRO forces back down and then leading them back out again with the patients and the medical staff. Obviously things weren't quite as simple as all that, but he could only plan for so many variables and if they encountered Weiss, Nero or Genesis at any point, they'd likely be dead anyway. His only hope was that in their arrogance they would leave their victims for a while, long enough to allow for rescue. He had a feeling deep in his gut that this was not going to be the case however, and that everyone he was leaving behind was going to die.

He walked off a little ways, leaving Tifa standing there and turned to the mako lake again, staring at the glowing surface as if it held the answers he sought.

But maybe it did.

"Aerith?" He called softly. Was this mako still connected to the Lifestream? Could she hear him? Possibly help them? He stared downward, but no answer came.

"Aerith?" He called softly again, and then after a pause. "Father? Lucrecia...?" Why was he calling for them? He furrowed his brows, wondering at his own traitorous mind. It didn't seem to matter though, he was recieving no answers.

He leaned on the railing, gripping it and closed his eyes as a feeling of hopelessness washed over him. He'd failed as a Turk, and he couldn't even keep his most powerful monster out of enemy hands. What good was he, really? If he left, they would almost certainly die, but if he stayed the same outcome was just as likely. He'd let his heart dictate for his head and it had gotten Lucrecia murdered, the protomateria stolen and Chaos taken away. Tifa thought he could lead? He couldn't even show common sense when it mattered!

I should have returned to my atonement after Meteor....

"Vincent."

Vincent gave a gusty sigh and lifted his head, opening his eyes to look over at Veld when he approached. "How is your daughter faring?"

"Hm? Ah. She's fine." Veld came to lean on the railing beside Vincent, looking out at the mako lake himself. "Considering she's going to be delivering without an epidural however, I expect there will be some awfully angry screaming soon." He chuckled softly. "If it's one time when you know how much your wife hates that you stuck such a being inside of her, it's when she's trying to get it out. Poor Alexander."

"Hm." Vincent slowly uncurled his hands from the rusted railing. "I'll be heading to the surface with a couple of my friends soon. Hopefully we'll be able to get to a phone quickly and can call in the WRO to help evacuate everyone down here....do you think you can help to keep things calm down here in the meantime?"

Veld arched a brow at him. "I can try, but if you've been down here before, you know that if their soldiers come, there isn't much I'll be able to do. I have materia in my prosthetic, but one can only cast so many times and I don't expect that will do much good regardless."

Vincent sighed heavily. "I know. I did a good job decimating their population before, but even I'm not so arrogant as to think I got all of them....and I know Weiss and Nero are alive." He shut his eyes for several moments, then opened them again to look at his old friend bleakly. "To be honest, I don't know if....if there's a way everyone will survive this situation."

"That's because you weren't a Turk long enough to get the mentality of one." Veld responded. He gave a mirthless smile. "Your companions--your friends--they're here too, right? We might not be able to defeat Deepground, but we'll survive. You just need to call for help, Vincent. Hopefully this WRO can do something."

"I hope so....though I wouldn't hold my breath on that either." Vincent turned away. There was no more time to delay, they had to go and go now. He clapped a hand on Veld's shoulder briefly. "If my friends give you any grief, just tell them I put you in charge. Hopefully that will be enough." He looked at his friend seriously. "Good luck, Veld."

"I'll probably need that." Veld nodded to him. "Good luck to you as well, Vincent."

"Thank you." Vincent turned away to locate Yuffie and Reeve. No more time to waste. He could only hope that Weiss took his time before beginning the sacrifices to Omega. Maybe that 'pure will be spared for the cause' business Weiss had mentioned the last time would delay things a little.

------------------------------------------------------------

Cloud staggered to the wall of the World Regenesis Organization building in Edge and leaned heavily against it, trembling and dry heaving. He hated enclosed places, he hated helicopters, he hated all of it. He'd done alright earlier on, but when Zack and Kunsel had been added to the people sitting in the back it had just gotten too crowded for him and he'd ended up barely keeping himself from panicking.

Zack had never figured out that his 'motion sickness' had started only after the Modeoheim mission, but Cloud couldn't really blame him, as he hadn't known Cloud before the Modeoheim mission. However, when all you could do was hold on for dear life while the vehicle you were being transported in had become a metal, spinning death trap with Genesis copies forcing it into the side of a mountain and then you never recieved therapy for it because Shinra was rubbish at taking care of their Infantry....wouldn't you become a little claustrophobic?

"Deep breaths man, deep breaths." Zack had come over and was rubbing Cloud's back, trying to be helpful and looking at the blond in mild concern.

"Eugh....just....gimmie a minute." Cloud hung his head, gulping air to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. "Go on and--urp--head in with the others...."

"You sure, man?"

"Yes." Cloud forced out. "Go." Didn't Zack realize that if he lost his battle against his stomach that he didn't want to puke in front of him?

"Okay man." Zack rubbed his back again before moving to head inside after the others.

Cloud took several minutes to calm his stomach and convince it not to evac anything. Kneeling down, he pressed his cheek against the wall and stayed like that with his eyes shut, resting for a few moments.

"What are you doing?"

Cloud jumped, eyes snapping open and then he swore, covering his eyes with his hand briefly. "Damnit...I actually forgot about you."

"Well, Strife?" Sephiroth actually sounded annoyed. "Time is wasting, isn't it? Every moment you delay is a moment you're not locating your precious friends."

Cloud moved to get to his feet with a heavy sigh. "You're right." He conceeded. "Now isn't the time to be taking a break." He looked at the entrance of the WRO, sighed softly and continued inside only to end up walking into a potential battle.

Shelke stood in the hallway, eyes glowing orange and her energy sabers out and activated. She was pointing them at the others and ignoring Cait's frantic attempts to talk her down. Reno and Rude were tensed, but he seemed reluctant to get into a fight with her. Zack was also trying to calm her down, and Angeal seemed to simply be standing back, watching.

"Shelke!" Cloud stepped to the front and planted his feet, facing her down. "What the hell are you doing?!"

Shelke's gaze flickered to him briefly, then returned to the focus of her attention. ".....You came with Turks." She stated. "Why?"

She doesn't like the Turks? That was interesting, considering her attachment to Vincent. "They gave me a ride here." He explained. "Now stand down."

Even though he wasn't the only one who'd been telling her to calm, for some reason it was to Cloud that she finally listened. With a blink her eyes returned to blue and she flicked off her energy sabers, tucking them back into the sheaths on her legs.

"Cloud Strife." She addressed him, turning most of her focus toward him, though her eyes continued to flick to Rude and Reno behind him. "Cait Sith informed me that there is an issue with which I might be of assistance, concerning Deepground."

"Yes." Cloud relaxed his posture slightly, though he still wondered at her reaction to the Turks. "According to Reno, Nero the Sable attacked Khymera Enviro. My friends were there when this happened....and I think they would have been taken to Deepground, like the last time. Vincent's the only one who's been down there before, and I don't know the way in."

Shelke's pupils had dilated at mention of Nero, though Cloud was sure Cait would have told her all this already and he was just reiterating what she already knew. She frowned slightly and furrowed her brow, then finally sighed softly.

"There are several entrances to Deepground, though many likely remain sealed off. The route Vincent Valentine took was most likely the President's personal entrance as I had instructed him, located on the main floor. I am aware of that entrance, but I have never traversed it. If your friends have indeed been taken to Deepground, then that entrance will take you on a very long route before you would arrive at the most likely location. However..." She trailed off and looked at the Turks.

Cloud sighed and pinched his brow briefly. There was no time for these kinds of delays when he had to find his friends before something happened to them. "Vincent was at the hospital too, Shelke. He's....getting older and when I sent them to Junon, he was unconscious."

It was a bit underhanded in Cloud's opinion to use such information to produce action, but it did result in the desired reaction when Shelke took a sharp, startled breath before she narrowed her eyes slightly. "I see." She spoke simply. "In this case, I shall lead you down there myself." She glanced at the Turks again, but then looked back at Cloud. "Is their presence required?"

"Unfortunately." Cloud replied. "Rufus seems to be insisting that going into Deepground be done with a member or two of Shinra personnel." Much easier than explaining he'd been blackmailed by Reno, anyway.

"....Very well." She put a hand on one of her energy sabers. "But if they do anything I do not like, I will take appropriate action."

"Oh goodie." Reno sighed. "Well in that case kid, what's that leave us since you've got such an issue?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "If I was given the freedom, I would kill you. Fortunately for you, I seem to not have that option. Rather, I will use a Sleep materia."

She really doesn't like the Turks. Cloud didn't know much about her history, but he was starting to guess that the Turks had something to do with her having ended up in Deepground. As both Reno and Rude were around Cloud's age, he knew they hadn't been involved in it, but the business suit attire seemed to be enough for her.

He sighed. "We should get going, then." He told her. "Just tell us where to go." He switched his attention to Cait. "Are you going to be coming too?"

"Nae." Cait shook his head. "Ae think ae'll stay here and keep an eye on Denzel and Marlene." He chuckled softly. "Besides, yae know ae'm useless in a fight without Mog."

"Mm, right." Cloud hoped the WRO would stay safe, but he couldn't worry about them right now, he had his friends to rescue.

"Ready when you are, Shelke." He told her.

"Very well." Shelke moved to step past them and head back outside, the Turks, Angeal and Kunsel readily following. Zack paused by Cloud and put a hand on his shoulder.

"You gonna be alright, man?"

Cloud sighed softly. "I hope so." He said. Maybe if he kept his eyes closed, he could pretend the helicopter wasn't so crowded.

Zack gave him a slight smile and squeezed his shoulder, then moved to follow the others. With another soft sigh, Cloud moved to follow.

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