Chapter 15: Underneath It All

Morgan was several blocks away when she forced herself to turn around.The bomb crew was safely on their way back to Sector Seven with the unused explosive, but it tore her up to leave when Kess and Ashe were so near. She made up her mind and decided to return. Despite the grim outlook, she might be able to get close to them while the Turks were busy cleaning up the leftover Avalanche forces. Retracing her most recent steps, and against her better judgment, Morgan headed back to Reactor Six. Approaching from a distance, she could see detained Avalanche members being escorted out, fighting against their captors as they were loaded onto various trucks.

She ducked behind a shack to remain unseen while she observed. It looked as if the entire mission had been a bust. Shouting and cursing rose above the various groups as they were rounded up. Though the reactor had been down, smoke poured from every opening on the street level. She could only imagine what the inside must be like. "Damn.." she sighed.

It would be impossible to get back in from here. She left the shack and made her way to another entrance around the right side. But the same scene greeted her there. Public Security laughing and carrying on as one by one, Shears' men were loaded onto awaiting trucks. One guard spoke up, "Looks like Coral Prison is going to be bursting after tonight."

Another chimed in, "Oh good! Maybe the chocobo races will get more interesting now!"

Hearty laughter erupted from them both as they pushed their last charge into the packed truck. The first guard pounded on the tailgate and the vehicle roared to life, taking away the defeated men and women. Morgan stepped back, trying to decide what to do. She had her ways of sneaking around undetected, but if Kess and Ashe were surrounded by Turks, it would be impossible for her to get within earshot. The Turks were way more observant than the basic Shinra guard. She thought of Shears and Elfé; had they been able to get away?

"It's no use, Morgan.. Avalanche is going to run out of members soon if they keep failing like this," a familiar voice spoke to her from an alley on her right side.

She shot her gaze to the voice's source and saw her former boss, Veld Tengille, leaning tiredly against a brick wall. He gripped his chest as if he'd been running, but made no motion to step any closer. Morgan narrowed her eyes and instantly leaned back into Zangan’s familiar fighting stance. She held her move but was prepared in case he tried anything. "There will always be support for our cause. Nothing you do will squash the spirit of Avalanche," she replied, raising her gloved fists.

He smiled and shook his head, his ragged brown hair falling into his eyes. He removed his hand from his now calmed heart and brushed his sweaty bangs aside. "I believe it.." he said in defeat, "and I'm getting too old to keep chasing you and your lot."

With a grunt, he pushed himself up and made as if to move towards her. Morgan turned her back foot sideways on the gravel and drew herself in more. "Don't come any closer, Veld," she warned.

A sudden rush of footsteps from behind caught her off guard and Morgan turned to see three familiar individuals; Kanos, Kyneugh, and Tierce; Fuhito's elite force known as the Ravens. "Ah good. Fuhito sent you to help," Morgan greeted them.

Kanos gave a shallow bow. "Indeed. But not how you think."

He was quick, faster than Morgan had ever seen. He lunged for her, his fist catching her in the side. Because she had been prepared to fight Veld, she was able to recover from the hit, but now she was confused. "Kanos!" she cried out, "what are you—"

Kyneugh readied his rifle and Tierce raised his twin wakizashi swords menacingly. "We have our orders," Kanos interrupted.

Morgan readied herself and Kanos came for her once more as Kyneugh raised his loaded rifle. Veld responded by pulling out his own gun, a .50 caliber Shinra Ulama, and fired three consecutive shots at the group of Ravens as he rushed towards them. Morgan pulled her weight back and landed a high kick into Kanos' chest when he got too close. Kyneugh pulled back to reload while dodging Veld's rain of fire behind a low wall. Tierce dodged the bullets, his blades behind him for aerodynamics. He leapt into the air and was coming down between Kanos and Morgan when Shears appeared.

His fist connected with Tierce's face, causing the Raven to cry out and drop one of his blades. Kanos took the appearance of their secondary target in stride. "Good, we will take care of you both, and the old man as well!"

Shears stood up between Kanos and Morgan and brought his hands up, beckoning Kanos with his right. "Let's see what you've got, shithead," Shears growled.

Veld was still firing at the low wall where Kyneugh had hidden to reload. He took to retreating as well to refresh his clip, pressing his back against a concrete pillar to keep out of view. He listened for his chance, waiting for when the Raven would pop up to look for him. "I've got enough ammo to outlast you, Turk!" Kyneugh shouted.

Veld closed his eyes, listening for his chance. He could hear Shears and Kanos brawling around the corner. The slashing of Tierce's steel short swords on the ground as Morgan dodged his attacks. He concentrated, inhaled and exhaled, and listened. He discerned the sound of Kyneugh coming out from his hiding place to see where Veld had gone. Veld opened his eyes, calculating where the man's head should be and without warning, he rolled out and took three consecutive shots at the unsuspecting Raven.

Though Veld missed his chance for a headshot, he landed the other two bullets right in Kyneugh's shoulder and neck, causing him to drop his rifle. He shouted in pain and fell to the ground, issuing a string of curses to Veld. The old Turk picked himself up and dodged behind the pillar opposite of his previous spot. He listened as the injured man writhed in pain across the way. "Those aren't just regular bullets!" Veld taunted. "Malboro rounds. You've been poisoned and soon it's going to get very, very bad!"

"URGH! You old fuck! I'll rip your goddamn head off!" Kyneugh gasped, his voice was a high pitched wail.

"Not with two of those in you, you won't!" Veld returned.

He narrowly avoided a wakizashi to the face as Tierce appeared. Veld moved reflexively, the blade plunging deep into the concrete pillar. He raised the Shinra Ulama and pulled the trigger, but the bullet missed its mark, hitting the brick wall behind the swordsman. A blue shimmer hugged Tierce's form and Veld recognized it as the use of Haste Materia. Tierce sent the other sword Veld's direction and he knew he wouldn't be able to move fast enough to dodge the second attempt.

He closed his eyes, feeling a rush of air by his side. Shears had moved just as quickly as Tierce, his boot buried deep in the man's back. Veld opened his eyes to see the same blue glow surrounding Shears as well. "Gotta be faster than that, asshole."

He grabbed both of Tierce's arms and pulled him back. Veld moved out of the way, his suit jacket swirling open as he pulled free another handgun from his underarm holster. He leveled them both on Shears as Tierce was brought to his knees, screaming in pain about his dislocated arms. Shears glared to Veld, daring him to pull the triggers. Without hesitation, Veld fired over Shears' shoulders and hit Kanos in the chest as he was coming up from behind. A wild scream let loose from Kanos as the two bullet holes in his chest seeped a noxious, green haze. Shears released Tierce and turned to see Kanos as he fell over, grabbing at the bloody wounds. He was suddenly fearful for Morgan.

Shears sprinted away from the group back around the corner and found Morgan slumped against the wall unconscious. The agonizing cries of the beaten Ravens grew louder and Shears knew that he had a limited time to gather Morgan and retreat before they brought the attention of the Shinra guards. Veld came around the corner, and on seeing Morgan beaten, he raced over. He holstered his guns and pulled a small case from his inner jacket pocket. On opening it, a row of small syringes were revealed. Removing one and without waiting for Shear's permission, he rolled up Morgan's sleeve and jabbed the needle into her arm, injecting her with a faint glowing, blue liquid. Shears didn't stop him, recognizing the tincture as an injectable elixir. "She'll be groggy, but fine in about twenty minutes," Veld spoke, putting the syringe away.

Shears picked Morgan up into his arms and held her close. He contemplated the man before him, his sworn enemy, unsure how the rest of this would play out. Veld glanced around the area and then to Shears. "The woman that was with you.." he began.

Shears shifted Morgan's weight to get a better grip on her and she moaned. "Elfé," was all he said.

Veld put the case away and buttoned his jacket. Shears had expected him to pull his gun and was curious when he didn't. "Before those goons come back for more, you should both get out of here," Veld instructed. "But before you go, please know, I think that your Elfé may be my Felicia."

Shears was confused by the Turks’ revelation. And then he remembered that Elfé was heading back to base where that treacherous snake Fuhito was. He had no doubt that he would continue to use her to further his goals without a care as to her frail condition. "Listen," he began, "I'm not sure what you're trying to say.. But you should know that the woman you saw tonight wishes for nothing more than the destruction of Shinra. She will stop at nothing to see it though to the end." His expression softened a bit. "That said, she pushes herself too much.. And Fuhito uses her."

He swallowed hard and turned away, intending to leave. "I don't know what Elfé is to you.. But if you truly care about her.. You'll go to the Coral reactor.. And get the materia that can help stabilize the one embedded in her hand. Fuhito will keep using her until it kills her. And as apparent tonight, he has decided to remove me and Morgan from Avalanche, so we can no longer help her."

Veld's brown eyes held a sorrowful expression. "Felicia.. She is my daughter.. I would do anything to help her."

Shears’ heart jumped at hearing Veld’s words. He closed his eyes, having always known that there was more to her than Fuhito let on. Finally he spoke over his shoulder. "Coral reactor, next Tuesday. They'll be there. Get the materia before Fuhito does."

He walked away, leaving Veld alone to consider the man's words. If he could speak to her, he'd know for sure. That was it then.. He'd take Shears' advice and go to Coral. Maybe he would learn why the materia was so important. Maybe he'd get his answers. He walked back to where the three Ravens had been, but found no sign of them save for a few bloody marks on the road. A few guards from the reactor had come over to check out the ruckus and stopped when they came across Veld. "Sir, we heard fighting," one commented.

Veld held up a hand dismissively. "It's over. Let's head back and see what our haul is."

"Yes sir!"


"Ke--ess.." Ashe's voice was soft and muffled.

He turned his head a bit to observe her. A bloody streak had been left behind from where she had moved. He grabbed his throbbing leg, moving it with a wince and a grunt as he inched closer to her.

".. Kess.."

But still, she did not move.

He put his hand down for better support and placed it right into a puddle of blood. ...her blood... He closed his eyes, pushing back the tears.. It couldn't end like this.. Not without him telling her-- Her arm twitched and snapped him back to reality. She moved it slowly, placing her blood stained hand upon Ashe's thigh. A small gasp escaped her throat, as she turned her head towards him.

".. Ashe.. is that you..?"

Blood had trickled from her lips and was pooling in the natural dip of her neck. When she turned her head, it slid onto the collar of her shirt before dripping onto the floor. Ashe broke down at the sight of her. Tears formed in his eyes, leaving clean streaks on his otherwise dirty face. His lips curled at the corners as he still tried to control his reaction. Using a burst of strength, he caressed her burgundy hair, now flecked with silvery strands. His hand moved to her cheek where it remained as she opened her mouth to speak again.

".. I'm glad that.." she stuttered and gasped for more air with a wet cough. ".. I'm glad that I could.. be here.. with.. you.. At the end.. I wish that it was.. under better.. circumstances though.." she chuckled, looking across her chest to survey the damage.

"Damn.. he got me good, didn't he.." She leaned her head back and gasped again.

Ashe crumbled next to her, his arm reaching around her waist. The memory of Jale shooting her point blank replaying over and over in his mind.. And then how he went ballistic on the psychotic bastard, messing up his leg in the process. "We got him too, Kess," he tried to joke. "Bastard didn't know there was a bomb in his watch."

She gave a strained laugh and Ashe followed up with, "I don’t think he will be missed.."

She looked upward to his eyes, the smile fading from her lips.“I don’t think I’m coming back so easily from this one..” she managed to say between short breaths.

Ashe saw tears beginning to form in the corners of her brilliant azure eyes. He pressed the side of his finger to each of them gently. ".. I have something to.." he stopped when she turned her head to cough. The sudden jolt from her lungs sending splatters of blood all over the ground.

She closed her eyes, her breathing becoming more shallow as they lay on the reactor floor. ".. Kess.. please.. don't go.." He pressed his hand to the side of her face as the tears continued to fall. "I need to.. I need to tell you something.. "

She opened her eyes wearily and looked at him. By now, Ashe's face was a blur among blurs.. But she tried to focus on him, even though the world was fading around her. She gathered her strength, pressing her hand against his as he held her face. "Ashe please.. stay with me.." her voice was less than a whisper.

"I'm here.. I'm staying right beside you."

" you remember.. When we sat on the beach..? You had that ice bucket.. Heh.. But we sat and enjoyed.. Just being there.. For a little while.." she sighed. "Mom always called the ocean.. La Mer…" She coughed again, wheezing this time.

Kess pulled out a small bit of paper from her jacket and Ashe saw that it was the photo of her family he had stolen from Kalm for her. She held it tightly in her left hand. "I hope I see them.. Ashe.. I miss them so much.."

Ashe clasped her other hand, fighting back more tears. "Maybe you and I can see the ocean again," he whispered.

A smile spread across her face. "Yea.. I think we will.."

He laid his head upon her shoulder and closed his eyes, squeezing her hand. For a moment, nothing was said. Ashe could feel her pulse weakening as he held her hand. When he could no longer pull the strength to open his eyes, he licked his dry lips and spoke, "Kess... it was.. a pleasure.. working with you... "

It was silent.. He thought he had lost her.. But then, she grasped his hand tighter and groaned, "You too Ashe.."

Her hand grew limp. He gripped tighter to keep her with him, but soon all was still..


Holding tightly to Morgan, Shears made his way through the back alleys and side roads of Sector Six. He didn't stop until he neared the border to Sector Five. It would be impossible to cross at this time of night without catching the attention of the Shinra guards stationed there. The whole area was on high alert due to the commotion at the reactor. They would have to lay low for now until it was safe to travel undetected. The best place would be the slums, but if Fuhito had sent the Ravens after them, he was sure they were being branded as traitors. Being seen by Avalanche members could be fatal. For now, they would have to stay topside. Before emerging onto the street, Shears knelt to one knee where he had stopped to rest and set Morgan on the ground. She was beginning to come around.

"Nnghh.." she groaned, rubbing the side of her head where a bruise had formed. "What happened..?"

Shears steadied her and crouched by her side. "Kanos clocked you good. Knocked you out. Veld used an elixir on you," he explained.

She winced and stretched her neck from side to side. "Why the hell did those three come after us?" she asked.

Shears looked out the main road, noting that it was clear of foot traffic. He stood, extending his hand to help Morgan to her feet. "My guess? We've outlived our usefulness."

Morgan had a sudden realization. Seeing Diego at the hospital was no coincidence. He had been sent by Rufus to kill Drake but who else was he reporting to? Fuhito had been the one who had signed off on Diego joining Avalanche in the first place. It was likely that he was in league with the Vice President.

"Dammit.." she growled.

Shears poked his head out to see that the street was clear. He stepped out, gesturing for Morgan to follow. "We're going to have to lay low for the night.. That hotel across the street is run by a friend of my father's. We'll be safe there." He guided her over to a crosswalk and they closed the distance in moments.

Shears kept glancing over his shoulder to and fro, on the lookout in case the Ravens appeared once more. Stepping up to the door, he opened it for her and the two walked inside. Shears approached the counter to make arrangements while Morgan lingered in the lobby. A television caught her attention, with coverage from earlier of Avalanche members being arrested at the reactor. An aerial view of the structure came on the screen with the ticker tape reading that Avalanche had been thwarted in the attack.

The screen flickered and the familiar faces of Rosco, Siena and Higashi appeared. Morgan inhaled sharply on seeing them. The scrolling report stated that they were to be executed on Monday in Junon. Shears came up beside her. "Alright. We've got a room and their silence."

Morgan glanced at him and then back to the news report. Shears looked ahead and saw the headline. After a moment of silence, he said, "Well, at least we know where we're headed tomorrow.."

"You mean—"

"I'm not going to let them rot in Junon. I think a rescue is in order." He adjusted his bandanna and turned to lead Morgan to their room. "Besides, it'll be easier to get into the Coral reactor if there's more than two of us."

She followed upstairs after him. "So, you intend to confront Fuhito as well..?" she asked.

"What, and let him get away with siccing his pets on us?" Shears scoffed. "You bet your ass."

Morgan laughed a bit as they entered the room to retire for the night. Tomorrow would be another mission to get to Junon in time to save their teammates from certain death.


Clean up had gone much easier than expected. Most of the rebels were foul mouthed, eager to cuss out the guards and fight back. But when the Turks joined in with rounding them up, there was a lot less hassle from those who had been captured. Reno and Marcus' electro-mag rods were in serious need of a recharge by this point. Becca kept checking her pockets in vain for spare bullets as she had run herself dry. August and Rude helped with most of the man-handling for overly rambunctious Avalanche members. Max, Tonya, Cissnei, and Shion had gone deeper into the reactor in search of Tseng, Samantha and the others.

With most of the last remnants loaded onto trucks, Reno sighed and wiped the sweat from his brow. "All in a night's work, eh Cole?"

Marcus nodded wearily, holstering his electro-mag rod. He stretched his hand, trying to relax the tense muscles. "You said it, Voss. They better send all of us to Costa del Sol after this job," he sighed.

The trucks began to pull away, leaving a few meandering guards in their wake. Becca, Rude, and August came over as the last truck departed and August dusted his hands as if to say 'Good Riddance'. "Costa del Sol, drinks on the beach.. Massages.. Yea, I know a good place to go for all the pampering," he mused with a smile on his face.

Reno gestured to Rude. "We know a good place there to get absolutely shit-faced, don't we buddy?"

Rude cracked his knuckles. "Hell yea, we do."

Marcus saw Veld approaching from the distance. "What's the boss doing down here..?"

His earpiece crackled to life, Tseng's voice coming through. After a moment, Marcus replied, "You got it."

Veld approached, hanging up his phone and Rude noted that he looked as if he'd been brawling. His hair was mussed and his tie was loosened. Marcus pressed a finger to his ear once more, straining to hear Tseng's words. "They were definitely outnumbered. Got quite a few, their leaders escaped. What happened down there?" he asked.

"Sir," Rude said as Veld stopped before them.

The group huddled around, Marcus remained outside the circle to be able to hear Tseng. When he heard of Jale's betrayal, he was unable to produce anything profound in return. All that came to mind was, "Bummer."

While Marcus was busy, Veld said to the others, "The hospital just got a hold of me. There was an incident.. Someone tried to kill Drake, but he’s stable. They got an image of the guy on camera.."

He held his phone up to show them the unmistakable image of Jale captured on film. The group gave various reactions of shock, but none of them were really surprised. Veld then asked, "Where are Tseng and the others?"

"Still inside at the reservoir. Max, Tonya, Cissnei, and Shion went to see if he needed help," Becca replied.

Marcus joined the group and relayed what had been told to him. "Tseng asked for some security to come down. Samantha's been hit, but she's alright. Jale's apparently dead. Tseng said he'd explain when they came up."

"Interesting.. What about Reignheart and Kincaid?" Veld asked with a tinge of concern.

"He didn't say," Marcus replied.

Veld's cell phone rang. He pulled it out to see that the call was from President Shinra. "Excuse me." He turned from the group and walked a few feet away before answering.

They talked among themselves, daydreaming about the possibility of a vacation. After a few moments, Veld hung up and came back to the group. "Marcus, may I borrow your headset..?" he asked.

"Of course," he said, pulling it from his ear.

He handed the device to Veld who pushed the earpiece into place. "Tseng, it's Veld. We have new orders.."


Tseng had left his perch high above. Before leaving his spot, he saw through his scope that Samantha had gotten up on her own, but was sitting alone by the vents. He pressed his ear piece and spoke aloud, "Marcus, send a detail down here to assist Samantha. She may have a head injury."

"You got it," came back over the device.

"What's the status up there?" Tseng asked.

There was some crackling, but Marcus replied once more, "They were definitely outnumbered. Got quite a few, their leaders escaped. What happened down there?"

"Regretfully, Mr. Gerrick is no longer with us.. I'll explain when we regroup," Tseng said.

Silence for now, as though Marcus was too stunned to reply. He came back with, "Bummer."

Tseng crossed the threshold that led out onto the wide platform where Kess and Ashe lay side by side. He had caught glimpses of what had occurred below, but was sure that he had witnessed a transformation. The bone wings that had once been a part of Kess were beginning to crumble into dust, the remnants being scattered across the long platform. He had seen other Soldiers with wings.. But they were different. They more resembled angel wings and were nothing like what she possessed.

He glanced to the railing where Jale had gone over and saw the maniac’s severed hand still grasping the metal barrier. Voices from the other end of the platform stole his attention. He saw Max first, Shion and Cissnei trailing after him. Tonya followed up the rear with a slew of Soldiers behind her. Tseng shouted over to them, "Max, Shion. Samantha is up by the vents."

Cissnei and Tonya crossed the bridge towards Tseng with a handful of guards following. He stepped around the disintegrating wings and approached the pair lying huddled together. Despite their condition, they were holding hands and looked quite peaceful. Ashe was hanging by a thread to consciousness and Kess appeared as though she had passed. In her other hand, she clasped a bit of singed paper. Cissnei walked up and covered her mouth in surprise. "Oh my.. Are they..?"

"Kincaid's still with us. Reignheart though.." Tseng trailed off, remembering what he had witnessed.

Tonya glanced upward as Max and Shion reached Samantha. They were beginning to help her to the stairs. She turned back to Tseng as he leaned down to pry the piece of paper from Kess' hand. Opening it revealed an old family photo, the bottom burned off. "How did you manage to get this…"

It crumpled a bit in his hand and he carefully tucked it away, intending to give it to Veld later. He pressed a finger to the ear piece he wore, acknowledging the instructions being given. He looked around as the guards that had come to assist closed in for a glance at the aftermath and spoke, "Understood. Sir, when we come up.. You and I need to discuss our Vice President's free time.."

He had heard a bit of Jale's confession through Samantha's earpiece and was disturbed by the notion that Rufus was the one funding Avalanche all along. The guards looked at him for their orders and he motioned to both Kess and Ashe, remembering what Veld had told him moments ago. He spoke with authority, "Send in a med team. Professor Hojo’s on his way."

He looked back down to Kess and Ashe as they were gathered up by the guards.

"He wants them taken to Deepground."

--To Be Continued..