Chapter 5: The Mark Has Been Made

Nightfall in Midgar meant a lot of things.

On the upper plate of the city, it meant meeting with friends and an end to a long work day. Downtown bars hosted the local music scene and welcomed many to share their talents on private stages to audiences eager to unwind. Restaurants gave the population the option to dine out with spouses, friends, and colleagues. Many places in Sector One offered karaoke which was popular with the younger crowds. On the grander side, people took in operas and plays, the most popular being performed in Sector Eight at the ritzy, Shinra owned Asura Theater. Many nights saw President Shinra in attendance, usually with a prospective business partner. On rare occasion, he was seen with his wife.

However, below the main city, things were not as well off.

In the slums, the setting of the sun took on an entirely different meaning. Crime was rampant in the over crowded shanty towns. Lawlessness often reigned supreme and one had to be very careful not to become the target of a mugging or pick pocketing. Don Corneo was said to employ many of these street urchins. They would swindle you with a near toothless grin before making off with their victim's hard earned gil. Many times, the kids would work for him until they were old enough to handle a gun, and then they were introduced to the real work. Many of the slum dwellers were decent enough people, only turning to underhanded deeds when times were desperate. And with Shinra controlling everything above, times were indeed desperate.

This is what Avalanche fought for; an urge to bring balance to the world. The Company claimed to want to help the people. Their motto, "Mako production for a better tomorrow" was burned into the minds of those that tuned into the news. It was what they wanted everyone to believe. And it was all lies.

Fuhito sat statue still while he listened to Shears rail on and on about 'the Shinra this' and 'the Shinra that'. The commanders had taken to the briefing room to discuss mission options. Morgan was present as was Elfé. But as usual, the conference devolved to Shears complaining about the Company. It was getting rather old and Fuhito was growing weary of the repetitive chatter. He would sooner be rid of him than listen to another tirade about Shinra.. But he still needed him because he had bodies. Bodies of devoted men and women who were willing to throw away their lives in an attempt to stop Shinra from expanding their horizons. Avalanche had their use, for now at least. He glanced to Elfé who was listening to Shears speak and closed his eyes momentarily. How much longer could he stand?

"Is there a point to all this?" he heard himself say.

Oops, that slipped out..

Shears stopped with a grimace. But then he held up a small device. Fuhito opened his eyes as the room grew silent. He narrowed his gaze on the item. "And what is that?"

Shears slid the drive across the table and Fuhito stopped it under his hand. He picked it up and adjusted his glasses. "What have we here..?" he mused.

"Reactor layouts," Shears informed him.

Fuhito's eyes seemed to light up with the news.

So.. He is still useful..

"Oh really.. And how did you come about this?" he asked.

"You're not the only one with connections."

"Hmm.. Obviously."

Fuhito pocketed the drive. "I'll see what useful information I can extract from this. In the meantime…." he trailed off while glancing at Morgan. "Maybe this will be a job for your team if the intel checks out."

Morgan brushed back her long hair. "Of course. Once Ashe is back to one hundred percent, I see this as an ideal mission."

"Oh, speaking of which," Fuhito began, "you're getting some help while Mr. Kincaid is on the mend. He should be showing up later tonight. His name is Diego."

Morgan was caught off guard by the news, but then agreed, "Good. We can use all the help we can get."


Elfé released a short sigh and Shears glanced over, seeing that she had knit her brow in apparent distress. "Elfé, do you need to rest?" he asked with genuine concern.

Without opening her eyes, she gave a small nod. With some effort, she rose from her seat and bid everyone a good night. "If anyone needs me, I'll be in my quarters."

Shears watched as she left, unable to push the feelings away of wanting to help her. He shifted his gaze to Fuhito. "I thought your treatments were helping her get better."

Morgan looked to Fuhito to hear his answer. The scientist pushed his glasses back onto the ridge of his nose and then crossed his arms. "It's not as simple as you think. Elfé's body has been through too much in the last few years. While the process has indeed slowed, she still encounters bouts of weakness and fatigue. She needs her rest.."

Morgan seemed satisfied with his response, but Shears had always held a certain level of distrust for the ex-Shinra scientist. He seemed to have more excuses than answers. But he acknowledged his analysis just the same and excused himself from the group. Fuhito stood and set to gathering up his intel papers. Morgan lingered a moment longer. "What is it, Narshe?" the scientist asked with a tired tone.

Morgan finally left her seat and leaned against the table, watching Fuhito as he gathered up the documents. "Nothing really.. I was just curious about this new recruit. Where did he come from?"

Without glancing up to acknowledge her inquiry, Fuhito hurriedly replied, "Another cell stationed in Corel."

Having gathered up his things, he made for the door. "If you'll excuse me.."

Morgan watched him leave noting that it seemed like he couldn't be bothered to explain more. She glanced down seeing that one of the pages from his notes seemed to have escaped and was resting under the table. She scooped it up and eyed the scribbles suspiciously. Quickly written notes that were mostly gibberish. The only discernible word on the entire page being Zirconiade. She narrowed her gaze, searching her memory for the unfamiliar word but came up with nothing. "What is he planning..?" she wondered.


Despite the stuffy meeting, the base itself bustled with life after hours. Rebels hung out in the hallways, most of them off duty. The ones that were on busied themselves with equipment inspections and inventory checks in the armory and storage areas. Others took this time to train and ready themselves for a run-in with Soldier at any time.

"So what's the deal with you an' Reignheart anyway?"


Ashe hadn't been paying much attention to his workout buddy since they had entered the gym located in the heart of the Avalanche base. His teammate Rosco lay on a bench, his dark brown hands gripping the weighted bar above him. Ashe couldn't do much himself since his shoulder was on the mend and had offered to spot for him. Rosco pumped the bar upwards and back down to his chest, lifting what Ashe figured was around a hundred pounds. "You and Kess, you guys.. You know.." Rosco raised his eyebrows and grinned through grit teeth.

"What? No!" Ashe replied quickly, his face turning red at the thought of Rosco's insinuation. "It's not like that at all."

Rosco shook his head and lifted the weights again. "Bloody shame, mate. Being regulated to the 'friend zone' is as rough as it gets 'round 'ere."

Ashe sighed, watching the bar move up and down. He hoped that Rosco would change the subject but was out of luck. "Me an' Siena.. Well you know, we go back a bit. We 'ooked up a while back." He spoke between lifts. "But like, she didn't want to commit to a 'relationship'." His tone was condescending.

Ashe continued to watch and listen without a word. "Said she 'didn't want to get attached', that I 'was better off not being tied down'," Rosco huffed. "If you ask me, women these days are just scared of someone actually showin' an interest."

Rosco moved to hand Ashe the bar to set back onto the rests when Siena's voice came from behind and startled them both. "What are you two talking about?"

Rosco let go of the bar before Ashe had a decent grip and his arms lurched forward. "Oh shit!" Ashe shouted.

Rosco moved instantly to help Ashe get the bar back onto the rests before the weight came crashing back down on him. "Oi mate, you alright?" he asked Ashe.

Ashe gripped his injured shoulder and leaned up. "Yea, I think so."

They both turned around to see Siena leaning against the doorway. Her arms crossed and a scowl on her face. "Hey Siena.." Rosco greeted. "Said we'd be up for dinner in a bit.."

His deflection wasn't working. She only glared at him and then addressed Ashe. "Just letting you know that the special tonight was supposed to be beef with shitake mushrooms, but Hobbs ran out of beef."

"Damn.. That's rubbish." Rosco turned to Ashe. "S'pose he's got something else on the menu that ain't beef."

"Maybe, if you two hurry up and stop doing whatever it is you're doing down here, we can find out." Siena's tone wasn't cutting either of them any slack.

Rosco dusted his hands and stood up. "Right. Let's get going then. I think we're done."

Ashe looked between the two of them, finally letting go of his shoulder. "Ashe, your arm!" Siena gasped.

He glanced down and saw a red stain on his shirt sleeve. "Shit.. Must've torn your stitches when you grabbed the bar." Rosco muttered.

Ashe sighed in defeat. "You guys get a table. I'm heading to the infirmary to get this fixed."

"Great, more time wasted. We'll be lucky if he has bread and water when we finally get up there. Guess I'll let Kess know not to rush." Siena turned and left the room.

"Man. What's got her pissed off? You think she 'eard us talking?"

Ashe pushed passed Rosco, gripping his shoulder. "Short answer, yes."

"Ahh shit.. She's gonna be hell to deal with now.."

As Ashe crossed the threshold, he turned back to Rosco and aimed finger guns his direction. "Aaaannnd friend zoned."

"Fuckn' hell.."


Heavy footsteps echoed across the concrete walls, mixed with voices and other noises from the base's occupants. Kess walked the long corridor from the living quarters toward the infirmary to collect Ashe for dinner. She'd gotten Siena's message and hoped by the time she arrived, they'd be finished patching him up.

She rounded a corner and unexpectedly plowed into a woman who was rushing the opposite direction. "Oh, sorry! I didn't see you." Her hands clutching some crinkled documents.

Kess stepped back. "Sorry, I shouldn't have cut the corner like that. Don't you work with Ashe?"

The woman apologized once more and moved around Kess. "Oh, uh yea! I'm Jessie. Jessie Rasberry." She shifted the papers to her left hand and extended it to Kess. "And you're Kess. I must say, you've given Avalanche the ace card at best."

Kess' smile widened as she shook Jessie's hand. "Oh. Word travels fast around here, I see."

Jessie managed a nervous laugh and replied, "Well, it does do wonders for our morale. Anyway, Fuhito wanted these notes transcribed yesterday. Sorry to rush off!"

She hurried away towards the barracks and Kess watched her disappear around the next corner. Without much more of a thought, she returned to the journey at hand. At last she came to the infirmary where she was greeted by the on-duty medic. She waved and made her way to the back of the room where Ashe was sitting on a table. Another medic was by his side, tightening the bandages around his upper arm. "Ouch!" he cried out. "That hurts, can't you be more careful!?"

The woman shook her head. "Mr. Kincaid, if I don't make this tight enough, you'll get an infection, or tear the stitches again. And I'm sure you don't want to come back a third time."

He sighed in defeat and grimaced as the nurse tightened the bandage. "There, finished." she leaned back up and began to place items on a metal tray to clean the area.

On her way to the trash bin she took notice of Kess. "Come to collect him? He's such a whiner, but he'll live," she giggled.

"Hey, I heard that!" Ashe called out with a grimace.

Kess snickered and made her way over to her friend as the nurse hurried away. "How are you holding up?" Kess asked.

"Well enough," he replied. "You know, Avalanche could do wonders if we would hijack a pharmaceutical train. Nothing to dull the pain is hard enough without Nurse Masochist ripping apart your arm."

"And I heard that!" called the nurse from the front.

Ashe cringed and pushed himself from the table. "Good, you were supposed to!"

They shared a laugh and Kess helped him steady himself. "Well, let's get outta here and get some grub."

"Oh Kess.. you said the magic words."

Together they walked from the infirmary to the small bar down the hall. Consisting of makeshift cable reels for tables and mismatched chairs, the bar was something that Shears thought would be nice for unwinding. The lighting was dim here to help with that and tables were set in groupings. If you wanted to dine alone, there was always the bar which was tended by an older man that everyone called Hobbs. No one was sure if that was his real name.

With the generosity of the top side Wutaiian restaurant, the bar almost always had a well stocked pantry. But that didn't stop Hobbs from grumbling about what was on hand. He had no problem reminding Shears that 'back in his army days, the men would eat potatoes three times a day and no one dared complain'. Now people had choices.. Always with their choices. One thing that Hobbs did have under control was there was absolutely no smoking allowed, bar or not. It aggravated his asthma and everyone would have to hear about it if he had an episode.

Kess and Ashe took seats at their usual corner table. Drinks were ordered and after the first round disappeared, another was ordered with food. Once food orders were placed, Kess saw Siena and Rosco enter the bar. Rosco was a wiry fellow with a darker complexion. His brown hair was always neatly slicked back and twisted into dreadlocks. He wore the familiar red Avalanche bandanna, cargo pants and a black vest over his brown shirt. Siena was small in stature, but she made up for her lack of height with her attitude. With her short, light brown hair and freckles, she looked younger than she actually was. She sported the brown Avalanche uniform and wore her bandanna around her upper left arm. They pulled up chairs to join them, Siena brought over one more and set it by Kess.

"What's this?" Ashe asked on seeing the spare seat.

"Morgan mentioned a new guy. Said he'd be here around ten, but it's about eleven now," Siena replied.

"Well, he'll get here when he gets here," Rosco added.

"Besides, he's probably late because someone blew a hole in the side of the Shinra building and they still haven't fixed it." Kess laughed, giving Ashe a side glance.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," he snickered.

Rosco crossed his arms and snorted. "New guy got a name?"


They turned to face the voice's owner and saw him standing to the side. Kess was usually pretty observant, but even she had missed this man. He pushed himself from the wall and sauntered over towards the chair. "And you guys, and gals," he winked to Siena and Kess, "are my comrades in arms."

He grabbed the chair and spun it on one leg, taking a seat next to Kess, draping his arms over the back. Siena wrinkled her nose at the wink. Kess eyed the newcomer for a moment before returning to her drink. He tossed a worn duffel bag on the floor under the table, pulled a cigarillo from his inner pocket, and lit it. He then looked around the table with a genial grin. Jale eased into the lie as if he'd been 'Diego' his entire life. Ashe was the first to speak up, "Diego, is it? I'm Ashe. Glad you made it." They shook hands.

"Hey, better late than never, eh Ashey boy? The train was delayed because of that accident at the Shinra Building."

Kess nodded, as if to tell Ashe 'I told you.' Rosco let out a sudden laugh and slapped his hand on the table. The beers spilled and Siena was startled. "Oh for fuck's sake, Ros! You're like a bulldozer!" she exclaimed.

She waved to Diego. "I'm Siena. The loud guy is Rosco. And the one next to you is Kess." She wasn't one to waste any time.

Diego shook each of their hands, but on Kess' turn, he took her hand gently and planted a suave kiss on the back. "Diego, the pleasure is all mine," he said while staring into her eyes.

He knew the glow in them all too well; they were Mako Eyes. On letting her hand go, he caught sight of a familiar tattoo on her inner wrist; the mark of Soldier. Glancing to the other one, he saw the Shinra logo with its familiar black and red hues.

An ex-Soldier. That explains a lot..

The food arrived and Hobbs glared at Diego. "Can't you read?" he grumbled.

Hobbs pointed to a sign over the bar that displayed 'ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING'. Diego grimaced and pushed the lit end of his cigarillo into the table top to snuff it out, leaving a burn mark.

"Honest mistake. I thought I was in a bar," he said with spite.

Hobbs 'harrumphed' as he placed the food on the table and walked away. As everyone started eating, the conversation resumed its place. "So I caused the trains to be late, eh?" Ashe smirked smugly, finishing his drink with a rude slurp.

Diego raised a brow and crossed his arms over his chest. "You're telling me that you put that big hole in the Shinra Building?"

"Indeed I did."

Diego feigned being impressed. "Man, I wouldn't want to be you if Old Man Shinra came walking in right now!"

The group joined in the laughter. Kess eyed the entrance, not sure how to take the joke. Diego's drink arrived soon after and he put the glass to his lips. "So, when do I get to meet our commander?"

"Morgan? I assume she'll be along soon," Ashe replied.

Diego placed his glass back onto the table. "Excellent," he paused, "well, let's get to know each other. How long has everyone been with Avalanche?"

Ashe, being the excited person that he was, fell for the bait and readily answered. "Kess and I have been here for about a year. And Siena, well she's been here for―"

"Six months," Siena interjected, "Ashe, I can speak for myself."

Rosco pounded a fist to his chest. "Been ‘ere since the beginning, with Aldin at the helm."

Diego whistled. "Wow, that long eh? And six months.." He glanced to Siena and then to Kess and Ashe. "And just over a year. Impressive. Where did you all come from?"

Siena was quick to reply. "We don't talk about our pasts here. Avalanche is about new beginnings."

He put both hands up in defense. "I totally get it. It's not about what you did before. It's about what you can do for the future."

The group seemed to accept his answer. Kess felt as though he was fishing for information. But seeing how strict Shears and Fuhito were about new recruits, she ignored her gut instinct. "When will I get to see some action, eh?" Diego asked, deciding to change the subject before he let the silence stand too long.

Siena answered, "Shears will be holding a meeting tomorrow with the new recruits."

Diego followed the conversation, drinking the rest of his beer. "I see. Nice."

Kess felt as though it was a little forced and so remained fixed on her plate for the moment. His voice wasn't quite right. His responses seemed canned and too precise, like they had been rehearsed. She glanced at the clock on the wall above the bar and then faced the group. She was about to excuse herself when movement by the door caught her eye and Morgan entered. "Ah, our fearless leader!" Ashe called out.

Morgan made her way over to the table, grabbing another chair on the way. She crowded in between Diego and Siena. "So, I see you've all met." She extended a hand to Diego. "I'm Morgan. Good to meet you."

Diego recognized her instantly. Morgan Narshe, an ex-Turk. Her time with the Turks was before he had joined, so her recognizing him was slim. He didn't see any recognition in her eyes when they shook and he took his hand away. Morgan sized him up, this being her first time actually meeting Diego. The Avalanche uniform suited him. Though his choice of footwear was odd; snakeskin boots were hard to match with almost anything.

More food arrived with Hobbs bringing Morgan her usual. Diego sat in silence and observed everyone, taking in what the others were discussing. After about another hour, Kess was feeling drained from the interaction. When Ashe nudged her shoulder, she realized that she had been staring at the bar. She came to and saw Diego's gaze locked onto her but he looked away to try to hide it. 'Was this creep staring at me this entire time..?' she wondered.

"I'm heading out. I'll catch you all tomorrow at the briefing." She rose and tossed some gil onto the table to pay for the meal. She then pulled her jacket from the chair and put it on.

"Hey wait, I'll walk with you," Ashe offered while he stood up.

"Sure," she agreed, both hands pulling on her shortened burgundy ponytail.

Rosco smirked behind his drink and gave Ashe a wink, a reminder of their conversation from earlier. Ashe kicked Rosco's chair leg sharply, causing the latter to sputter on his drink. He coughed loudly, catching the familiar glare from Siena. "What?" he argued.

Kess waved to Morgan, Rosco, and Siena. She gave Diego a curt nod and walked away from the table with Ashe in tow. Diego waved his hand after them. "Good to meet you both."

Ashe shook Diego's hand again. "Good to have you aboard, Diego."

He smiled and Diego returned the shake, but squeezed a little too tightly. "What can I say? I had to find my place in the world sometime."

He watched them leave and finished his food while Morgan, Siena and Rosco talked among themselves. Not long after Kess and Ashe had departed, he excused himself from the table. They bid him a good night as he scooped up the duffel bag and left the bar. It was time to check this place out and see what it had in the way of vulnerabilities.


Elfé had returned to her room as intended, but rest did not come as she had hoped. Instead she had removed her black leather gloves and was staring intently at the back of her left hand. Just beneath the surface was a dark mark that formed a hard lump. She brushed the fingers from her other hand across the area, curious about its origin. Fuhito had told her before that it was a broken piece of materia that had become embedded in her skin during the accident that took her memory. Her skin had healed over the laceration, but she could still discern the object. It was a strange sort of pressure and when she fought with all the might she could muster, it was warm to the touch.

She couldn't remember much from the accident. Her memories from before were a series of fleeting feelings rather than viable images. And like ghosts, the moments would fade if she tried to analyze them with any scrutiny. She tried asking Fuhito once where they had met, but he told her that she had been abandoned by her parents at an orphanage in Nibelheim. He had taken special care of her because of her condition. According to him, she had been left at the facility after a fire wiped out the town of Kalm. Did her parents think that leaving her at the facility was their best option? Fuhito had told her that she had been severely injured and they lacked the funds to care for her.

But feeling pity, he adopted her and they left Nibelheim. Traveling to Cosmo Canyon, they stayed there for many years before joining the anti-Shinra group, Avalanche. But Elfé had her doubts about his retelling of her past. She felt as though there was time missing from his story. She always felt that she had been younger when the fire occurred. And that loving parents wouldn't leave their only child in the world behind in a strange town. Even if they had taken her there to be cared for, why wouldn't they ever come back for her?

She closed her eyes, feeling weak once more and let her hand rest by her side. Without her memories, she would have to rely on what others told her. Meeting someone from her past was a slim chance in Midgar. With a city so vast, it was unlikely that anyone would recognize her. Feeling a twinge of defeat, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but memories from before coming to Midgar flooded her mind.


Life in Cosmo Canyon was simple. Despite other children calling the town home, she didn't seek them out for companionship. Fuhito kept himself busy assisting the local scientist, Dr. Bugenhagen, with his planet study. Elfé was mostly left to her own devices and took to sword training in the isolated backyard of the house where she and Fuhito stayed. Another resident had taken notice of Elfé's diligence and offered to help with her training. His name was Aldin Spears.

Despite having sworn off violence himself, he was eager to teach the young girl how to deflect attacks and discourage people from fighting. He taught her many defensive strategies and different ways to disarm opponents. He was a pacifist at heart, taking the studies of Dr. Bugenhagen to the next level, he started Avalanche with a group of like minded individuals who wanted to follow the path of nonviolence in their pleas against the Shinra Company. Fuhito regarded them all as fools, telling Elfé that the only way they would ever dissuade the Shinra Company of anything would be through lethal force.

Elfé continued her training with Aldin and became one of, if not the best, swordsman in the area. Though there were some days when he would sit out and simply watch her, it never dawned on Elfé that her mentor was growing weaker and his cough stronger. One day, he collapsed and was taken home to rest. When she asked Fuhito if he knew what was wrong, his revelation was cold and emotionless.

"Cancer, child. Mr. Spears is dying."

Elfé was crushed by the news. She asked Fuhito to help the man, but was met with a response even more detached than the first. "There's nothing that can be done. It's in his brain.."

Mere days later, surrounded by his friends and followers, Aldin passed away. Elfé was by his side at the end but overcome with emotion, she ran from the house. Fuhito found her a few hours later sitting before the Cosmo Flame, a place that Aldin had been known to meditate religiously. Elfé asked Fuhito what had caused Aldin to succumb so quickly to the cancer. Fuhito's response was swift, "Mako poisoning."

A fire ignited within her, the embedded materia in her hand grew hot and glowed red beneath her skin. "Shinra.." she growled.

Fuhito placed a hand on Elfé's shoulder, a smile crossing his thin lips. "Well then, we should do something about them, shouldn't we?"

Elfé nodded and pulled her sword. She sliced through the air, the force splitting the eternally lit flame into two separate parts momentarily before reforming. "I will carry on Aldin's dream.. Avalanche will not die here in Cosmo Canyon.."

She turned to face Fuhito, her expression hardened despite her cheeks being wet with tears. "We will take this fight right to their doorstep. In Midgar."

Plans were made, and the pair departed Cosmo Canyon the morning after Aldin was laid to rest. The south wind blew fiercely that day, driving Elfé more to reach the great city on the eastern shores. When they arrived, Fuhito sought out proper lodging. Being an ex-Shinra scientist had its perks and he recalled that many of the Sectors had unused Soldier barracks just below the main plates in the event of an emergency. The only thing he was unclear on was how to breach them. He and Elfé headed to the slums in an attempt to find an entrance under the plate structure; and that was where they met Shears.

Shears Albrook fancied himself a bandit king in the Midgar slums. He despised the Company for taking the lives of his parents, effectively making him an orphan when he was fourteen years old. An explosion had occurred beneath Sector Seven at the Mako reactor's base. Soldiers arrived to find a local disturbance underway, protesters angry at losing their jobs in the local coal mines had gathered and were angrily shouting at Shinra workers. A rock was thrown, the Soldiers opened fire at the crowd. Shears had been out with his parents who weren't even part of the skirmish, shopping for supplies for the mill that they operated. When the dust settled, fifteen townspeople lay dead, Shears' parents among them. He swore revenge and would not rest until he had it.

He gathered men and women in droves who were victims of this heinous act. They readily assisted in attacks on trains and Soldier vehicles, taking any supplies they could and leaving no prisoners. He would react with the same callousness that Shinra had that day at the Sector Seven Reactor; no one was spared. By the time Elfé and Fuhito arrived in Midgar, their numbers had swelled and soon they had over a hundred helping hands ready for the cause of taking down Shinra.

Fuhito got a lead about how to breach one of the underground barracks from a pillar in an underground train yard; a place where Shinra stored defunct rail parts and decommissioned trains. It was here that Shears made the mistake of underestimating Elfé's abilities. She and Fuhito stumbled across Shears and his men actively ransacking a halted train. Men and women were taking supply boxes from the cargo holds and loading them on awaiting trucks. A few Public Security officers were nearby, being detained by one of Shears' men. When Fuhito and Elfé came into view, they were ordered to get on the ground. Elfé responded by placing her hand on the hilt of her sword. Fuhito moved away and as he left her side, Elfé proceeded to demonstrate all that Aldin had taught her.

Shears' forces were beaten in mere moments, groaning on the ground in pain. Disarmed, but still alive, not one of them wanted to continue the fight. Shears ordered them to get up and kill these ‘Shinra dogs' but Fuhito quickly brandished a pistol and shot one of the captured Security officers in the head. "Would ‘Shinra dogs' kill their own men?" he posed the question.

Taking in what Shears had in the way of forces, Fuhito followed up with an offer of his own. Join them, Avalanche reborn, and Shinra would suffer immensely. Or, Elfé could finish what she started with the men writhing on the ground. Weighing his options, Shears accepted the deal. The train was liberated of the remaining supplies and the remaining Shinra guards dealt with. Fuhito led the way to the new base, moving all of Shears' forces and their stockpiled munitions over night. The Avalanche that had begun in Cosmo Canyon was no more. Peace could not be attained without calculated bloodshed. The new Avalanche had become a force unto itself; led by Elfé, Fuhito, Shears and later Morgan Narshe.


Elfé sighed and turned onto her side. She felt more rested than when she had first laid down, but the actions that had led her to this moment still buzzed in her mind.


After leaving the bar, Kess and Ashe walked towards the barracks. Before they turned the corner towards her room, Kess spoke up, "I've changed my mind."

Ashe made a remark resembling a 'hmm?' and she turned to him. "I want to go for a walk. You up for it?"

He seemed to toss around the question, then gave his answer, "Yea. Sure. Where to?"

She pointed upward with a mischievous grin. "I was thinking about outside."

"I thought that we were supposed to be laying low.."

Kess shoved his shoulder playfully. "What? We won't get caught."

He couldn't help but laugh at the irony. "That's what you said last night, Ms. Reignheart. Yet I distinctly remember the opposite happening." He pushed her shoulder back.

She started into a jog towards the stairs and he followed in defeat. "I'm coming, I'm coming."

They left the hidden base via the entrance that led to the Wutaiian restaurant in Sector Six. Dirty halls twisted into a confusing labyrinth in the underground base, but Kess knew the way and soon they were approaching the guards who watched over the hidden entrance. "Where do you think you two are going?" one asked jokingly.

Kess scoffed, "Top side. I need some fresh air."

"Must be nice.." he muttered as he opened the access gate via a control panel.

Kess and Ashe scuttled by as they closed the gate behind them. "Could you at least bring me back some dumplings?" the other guard asked.

"Sure thing!" Kess called back.

The first guard taunted him, "Always thinking with your stomach, eh, Wedge?"

"Stop calling me Wedge! My name is Alex!"

The entrance led to the basement of a diner rumored to be owned by a family from Wutai that had lost much due to Shinra's war. They helped out the rebels where they could; providing food and intel. But most helpful of all was the quick get away in their basement. Kess and Ashe emerged from an open cistern that fed into the main Midgar sewer line. Luckily, this tunnel was for the waste water coming from the restaurant and would connect with the main line further down. Once in the basement, they exited via the main stairs and came up to the first floor near the restrooms. They merged with the crowd and then found their way to the street. Once there, Kess looked up to the night sky. "It's so stuffy down there.. And after being around everyone, I just wanted to get out.."

Ashe didn't have much to say. He pulled his red bandanna from his forehead and tucked it away before it was noticed. Loose hair fell into his gaze and Kess pulled out her own ponytail, handing him the tie. He took it with a smirk. "Alright. Where to?" he asked once his hair was tied back.

"Obviously to get you a haircut," Kess joked.

He rolled his eyes with a laugh. Kess replied, "Let's go; see where our feet take us."

He shrugged and followed at her side as she took to the sidewalk. The streets were somewhat deserted given the hour, but many of the businesses here were still open. They walked along, looking into store windows and enjoying each other's company. When they were some distance from the restaurant, she spoke up about something that had plagued her since last night. "You used to work for Shinra, right? In the building?" She glanced skyward towards the building in the distant city center.

"Ugh, don't remind me.."

She continued, "So you knew a lot of people that worked there too?"


Kess paused before saying the rest, measuring her words carefully. "Did you know Hollander?"

Ashe shrugged. "Sure. Everyone did. I mean, I didn't know the guy personally. But we worked on a few projects together. But that was in Junon." Ashe crossed his arms as they walked, nearing a bridge that sprawled over the train tracks. "He was.. eccentric, I guess is the right word?"

She stopped as they reached the center of the bridge and leaned on the side. "Why do you ask?" he replied, leaning next to her.

"I ran into him.. Last night. He was in the archives with me before the Turks showed up."

Ashe's gaze widened. "Oh, well that's news since he's supposed to be on the run, according to the media.."

'Yea, I thought the same thing after last night's broadcast. He and Genesis the First Class Soldier.." She wondered if she should mention the other oddities about the situation.


She shook her head to push away the uneasiness of remembering what Hollander said. She pulled herself up onto the ledge of the bridge wall and sat while Ashe leaned. "Yea, this mass Soldier desertion has got the Company freaking out. Be thankful it wasn't Scarlet you ran into instead."

"Scarlet? Why?" Kess asked, her legs swinging a bit.

Ashe shuddered and winced. "So you want to know, eh? Very well, but I will not be responsible if you get sick to your stomach." He managed a smile, but Kess could tell it was forced.

"As you know, before I was with Avalanche, I was a Shinra employee in Junon. I was one of the main technicians that worked on the Sister Ray. Well, Scarlet was the Director overseeing the project, and she would relentlessly hit on me. It was incredibly noticeable and annoying. She just… urg, makes my stomach twist in knots, but in a bad way." He shuddered again.

"One night, after a particularly hard day, I was tired and returning to my apartment, I discovered that the door was unlocked. This was odd, because I remembered that I wasn't a dumb ass and would have totally locked my door when I left that morning. So I went in, grabbed the nearest defensive object, a marble book end, and ventured into the apartment. Someone had lit candles and a trail of them led to my bedroom. At which point I knew exactly who had broken into my apartment. So rather than confront the perpetrator myself, I went for back up."

Kess raised a brow, watching a smile form on Ashe's lips. "When three heavily armed security guards burst into my bed room to find a nearly nude Scarlet stretched out on my bed, let's just say I was no longer on her flirt list. I was outside on the street when she came rushing out, wrapped up in my bedding. At least she saved me the trouble of having to burn the sheets."

Kess burst out laughing, her heels kicking the stone wall. "Ahaha! That's hilarious! So what happened after that?"

"Well, I finished my work on the Sister Ray and was immediately transferred to Midgar the following month to work under Palmer." His face grew solemn and he looked to the street.

"What is it, Ashe?"

"I guess I should go back a bit further.. For you to understand."

Kess jumped from the wall and motioned onward. "We should keep moving. You can explain while we walk."

Ashe knew Public Security patrolled this area and picked up that Kess didn't wish to be here when they came by. "Well, I suppose I'll start at the beginning.."

"I was born in Thrym, the area that's under Sector Three before the flooding down there made everyone have to evacuate. Mom died when I was young. She had a cough that got worse and worse til one day I guess she couldn't take it any more. She overdosed on the morphine the doc had given her. I remember that morning she told me she loved me as I left for school. When I came home that night, she was gone. Dad said that the pain from the cancer was just too much. Not long after that, we left Thrym and moved to the lower Company housing in Sector Seven."

The streets began to become more vacated as they walked on. Soon, they were walking through the gates to the park. Faint green mako lamps lit their way as they continued on.

"Dad was a truck driver for the Company. It didn't pay much and so I never thought I'd amount to more than following in his footsteps. Unknown to me, he had been saving money on the side and when I graduated, he told me that he would be able to send me to the Junon Science Academy. It was a dream come true. Working on high profile Shinra projects, the Sister Ray was one of them. After it was completed, and the little run in with Scarlet, I went to work for Palmer. He had finally gotten funding for the space program and they wanted a bunch of us from the Sister Ray to work on a rocket."

He glanced to Kess as they passed under one of the Mako lamps and she looked back with some skepticism. "A rocket? To go to space?" she asked.

"Hence the title 'Space Program'," he laughed.

She shoved his shoulder. "No shit. So what did you do on the rocket? You weren't the pilot, I hope."

Ashe sighed. "Oh, hell no. They have people for that.. No, I worked on the electronics. Micro tech had become my specialty, so I was personally requested by the team."

He grew silent, the walk had carried them from one side of the park to the other and they were now exiting. "Is that it?" Kess asked.

"No.. That's just the beginning.."

They walked on, passing a row of shops closed for the night. A hazy mist had begun to rise from the warm streets and obscure their line of sight. "Dad got sick and so I had paid for him to stay at the health resort in Mideel. All the time I worked with the space program, I had been sending him money to pay for it."

"Launch day arrived but as you know, we never had lift off. One of the oxygen tanks was misbehaving and a female technician was still in the hold when it came time for the launch. The captain aborted the whole mission to save her from being burnt to a crisp by the engines. After that, Palmer lost funding and there were rumors of the entire division being closed. They sent a lot of us to the Shinra Building to work in weapons manufacturing under Heidegger’s public safety program.."

"Palmer had pretty much given me free reign, so I had started a lot of unfinished projects with the robotics team. Heidegger wanted to start weaponizing some of the security bots with explosives, lasers, weird science fiction stuff. They picked me as the team leader. We.. Made a lot of dangerous things.."

He sounded more remorseful than proud. "A lot of people have been hurt by the weapons I helped design. I wasn't exactly excited to tell this to my Dad. But I also got to work on a lot of rewarding projects, like the prosthetic advancements department. At least that was one good thing I can put my name to. We helped a lot of people after the war. It had been about two years since I set dad up in Mideel after his health started failing too. I decided it was about time for a visit. A few days before I was set to leave, I was given notice that if I left while so many projects were unfinished, I would be replaced as the team lead. So naturally, I left that night, taking a boat to Mideel."

Kess chuckled, "So you were always this defiant."

"Oh, no doubt. I logged hundreds of hours with Shinra. They weren't about to dictate what I did with my free time. When I got to Mideel, everything changed.." he paused as they rounded a corner onto a darkened street.

"The lodgings were decent, the staff nice. But one thing was missing. And that was my dad.."

Kess looked surprised at the news. "What do you mean missing?"

Ashe went on. "When I arrived, they seemed very surprised to see me. Told me that all the arrangements had been followed as I asked and that Dad had been well tended to. Had been. Arrangements.. I had a terrible feeling and then the doctor for the clinic confirmed my fears. My father had died, a few months after arriving. The money I had sent covered the cost of the funeral and burial.. When I asked why I was never told any of this, he looked surprised, saying it had all been laid out very clearly in the letter they sent."

"You never got those letters…"

"Yup, pretty much.."

Kess shook her head in disgust. It was almost the same story she had. Shinra's lies ruin lives. "So there I had it.. Laid out right in front of me. Dad had died here, thinking that his son had abandoned him. The money I sent covered his final expenses, but the rest was gone. Likely funneled back into the Company. I didn't blame the resort.. This was from higher up.. My money’s on Scarlet over the embarrassment she suffered. So, that was it. The moment that I decided to cut ties.. But first, I had some loose ends."

Their trip around Sector Six was taking them into unfamiliar territory. "We should head back."

Ashe took note of their location and concluded she was right. They turned around and began to head back the way they came. After a few more steps, she asked "So what did you do?"

Ashe grinned. "When I returned to the building, I was approached by security. 'Mr. Kincaid, we're going to need you to come with us.'" he recalled one of them saying.

"Of course, I saw this coming. No doubt they already knew what I'd found out and I was going to be escorted to Heidegger or Scarlet. I had to think fast. So I asked the guard if I'd need to bring the files as well. 'Files?' he asked. 'Yea, the files. The secret files; Ms. Hargrieves will want them if I'm being let go.' I waited for them to take the bait."

Kess snorted a little laugh. "Nice guard impression."

"'Yes, of course, the files. We'll escort you.' he says. All the while, I'm trying to work out what the hell I'm going to do when we get to the science department. We went to the 57th floor and I decided to see if I could strike up a conversation with these guys. I asked if anyone had caught the recent chocobo race featuring Chocobo Joe. Well, they started to argue about how he always won. Was it skill? Was his chocobo, Teiho, being juiced before the races? This is exactly what I wanted. They were distracted enough that when we arrived, I was able to step out of the elevator, hit the button for the lobby, and leave them both inside arguing as the doors shut."

"God, what a couple of idiots," Kess laughed.

"Yea, lucky for me they weren't that bright. As the numbers began to decline, I ran for the lab. It was still pretty early, so no one was in yet. I started grabbing whatever I could. Files, discs, prototypes, a few of the items I had in that backpack when you and I first met Fuhito. I knew that I wouldn't have time to take the work files, so whatever I couldn't take, I destroyed. I dumped everything into a briefcase and a shopping bag from a pastry shop one of the gals left from the night before. Then I went into the safe, grabbed a detonator, and paired it with one of the bomb prototypes in the lab's display case. I programmed the timer, thinking that fifteen minutes would be enough, and chucked the device back into the room."

Kess whistled as they retook their trail through the park. "Geez, when Ashe Kincaid quits, he really quits."

"You better believe it. They kept my dad's death from me to keep me churning out results. The least I could do was destroy everything I made for them," he winked. "I grabbed the stolen documents, disabled the door panel and headed towards the elevator just as it returned with the two guards. They were cursing up a storm." He mimicked them, "'Dammit I hate when that happens. Went all the way down to the lobby..' grumble grumble."

"He saw me waiting to get on and nodded to the briefcase saying 'That it?'. Then he eyed the pastry bag. 'What's that?' So I held it up. 'Oh, you know Scarlet. She loves her bear claws.' I stepped on with them and the guard pressed the button for the 68th floor. This meant that it was Scarlet they were taking me too. If it was Heidegger, we'd have left the building and gone to Junon instead. I checked my watch; seven minutes had already passed and I needed to be going the other direction. I tried to remain calm, gripped that briefcase and the shopping bag tighter, as if my life depended on it. The elevator opened and as I figured, the guards stepped out first to avoid getting trapped again."

He glanced at Kess with a huge grin. "I was already pressing the 'door shut' button before they could turn around. I pressed for the first floor and could hear the smaller guard comment 'Well that was unexpected..' I assumed they were trying to call up the other elevator, but I was already well on my way to the lobby by the time it arrived. Once on the main floor, I made tracks for the front door. Fifty-seven floors above, there was a deafening *BOOM* and the building shook. Without looking back, I was on the street and able to disappear into the crowd."

Kess nodded in approval to his daring escape as the Wutai restaurant came into view. "They set up checkpoints, but I helped design most of them, so I knew how to slip by without getting caught. I hid out in the slums for a while, but knew that the longer I stayed in the city, the greater the risk of getting caught. So I went to Cosmo Canyon, a place so far off the grid, Shinra would not follow me. Well, not as likely at least. I did have to make my way through a few more checkpoints on the highway, hiding in the back of more than one produce truck. It took a week, but I got there and did what I could to lay low. Time passed and no one came looking for me. I guess Shinra decided to cut their losses and write me off. That'd teach them not to mess with Ashely Terrance Kincaid.."

"That's around the time we met.." Kess interjected. But she stopped herself from saying much more. She redirected the conversation. "We came to see what this Avalanche group was about."

"Yea, we both wanted to get in. Two eager ex-Shinra employees. I think that's what makes up a lot of Avalanche; desperate, revenge seeking people."

"Probably. Is it any surprise that the Company will step on anyone to increase their bottom line?"

"No, not really."

They entered the restaurant and Kess ordered a bag of dumplings to go for the guard who had let them out earlier. She meandered around the diner for a moment, coming across a cluster of photos on the wall. Some seemed like they were family of the owners, some were faded scenic panoramas of Wutai. As the order came up and Ashe took the bag, a group of individuals caught Kess' eye. She squinted to get a better look, but resorted to taking the framed photo off the wall to scrutinize it. Ashe came trotting over and she held the photo out for him to see. "Get a load of this.." she muttered.

Ashe took the photo and held it close to view it better in the dim light. Among the many faces was a familiar individual. "Is that..? It is.. Well whadda ya know. It's Diego."

Ashe turned the frame over to see if anything was written on the back. "Says here 'Wutai Crescent Squad'.. This was taken like four years ago."

He handed the photo back and she put it back on the wall. "So, he used to be a soldier in Wutai. Seems about right then that he would join Avalanche. I mean, Shinra did a number on that place."

Kess thought on the new information before turning and heading back towards the basement. The dumplings were handed to the thankful, but impatient guard. "Geez, you guys took your sweet time. Thought I was going to starve."

After leaving him, they headed towards the barracks. "Well that couldn't have gotten any stranger," she said.

Ashe scratched the back of his head nervously. "Eh, I mean. We come from all around, right?"

"Sure. But did Rosco ask us where we'd been before?"

"Well no. But it makes sense if he was with the Wutai army. Maybe he wanted to know who his teammates were. Like, he wanted to know we'd have his back."

Kess grimaced. She wasn't so sure. She had been trained to read people and Diego seemed like he was hiding a lot. "It seemed like he was trying to gather intel on us. He saw my tattoos and I could tell he was interested in them.. I can't put my finger on it.. Shears and Fuhito are so careful.."

"Tell you what then," Ashe began, "let's keep an eye on him. If we notice anything more, we'll tell Morgan."

She thought for a moment and then agreed. "Alright. But now I'm going to be watching him like a hawk."

"Kind of part of the job," he laughed.

They arrived at her bunk and Kess ducked inside her room. She called back before the door shut, "Good night, Ashe. Thanks for the walk."

"Hey no problem. Thanks for.. Er, listening to me.."

Her smile was genuine. "Anytime."

With that, Ashe turned on his heels and waved to her with his good arm. Kess shut the door and crossed the room to the bed. It had been a long day and she was thankful to be off her feet. She didn't even bother to turn the lights on; she was comfortable and she wasn't moving.

Ashe walked the lonely corridor towards his own living space. Upon entering the room, he flicked the light on long enough to kick his shoes into a corner. He showered in silence, taking special care to keep his bandages dry. After the careful shower, he walked out to the main room and crawled into bed. It was early morning and he had to be up in a few short hours. Soon enough his heavy eyelids won the battle and Ashe drifted off.

--End Chapter 5..