You have to cancel the experiment, Hojo. You shouldn’t have experimented on humans in the first place!
But Lucrecia and I are both scientists. I’ve been careful.
Careful? She collapsed today! This Mako radiation therapy of yours is killing her!
The treatment is quite harmless. It is merely a variant of the process used to create members of SOLDIER.
But on a pregnant woman
On her baby.
The baby is inside her!
The collapse was merely due to the pregnancy. Lucrecia should not have been exerting herself so much. Hojo’s eyes gleamed coldly, and his hand crept to the inside of his stark white lab coat.
Lucrecia was getting up to get a drink! She’s dying, Hojo, and so is the baby, both thanks to this precious experiment of yours. Stop the treatment now, and maybe the results won’t be too bad– Suddenly, Hojo drew a gun and fired it at him. Pain blossomed through him as the bullet entered his stomach. He collapsed.
He awakened and sat up, clutching his stomach. His memory of the pain was still sharp. His past hadn’t troubled him for a long while, not since he’d been pulled out of his artificial sleep by a young group of adventurers out to save the Planet. They’d had to destroy Sephiroth to do that. He’d never told them that he’d felt Sephiroth’s death. Just a hint, as all with Sephiroth’s cells in them must have felt. But what then would Lucrecia have felt? She was Sephiroth’s mother. When he’d last seen her, her son had been in her dreams It might have killed her. But he’d been a member of the group that had killed Sephiroth; he’d fought with them. And he’d felt nothing from his conscience. He shook his head, his long black hair cascading over his shoulders. Maybe he’d lost more thanks to Hojo than he’d thought. he murmured. I am still Vincent Valentine, no matter what Hojo did to me. No matter what. He lay back in bed. Somehow, he managed to sleep again.
Timor Mortis Conturbat Me
When he woke up, the message light on his phone was blinking. Groaning, he pressed the playback button.
[click] Vincent, it’s Amiak. I need to talk to you about the object you ‘retrieved’ for me. Meet me at the same place I gave you your last job at six o’clock tonight. Bye. [click]
There were no more messages. He glanced at the clock: it read five in the afternoon. He wondered what Amiak could possibly want to discuss about the artifact. But no time for that – if he wanted to eat before meeting Amiak, he had to get moving soon.
He dressed quickly, carrying only Lady Death for protection. After sliding the gun into its holster, he slipped his claw’s concealment over it. He’d rather not have anyone learn about his other weapon before they needed to. Or what tended to happen when he got angry enough. There were worse horrors on the streets, but people tended to react badly when the horror was supposed to be human.
Nothing delayed him as he made his way to the restaurant he often ate at. The staff there knew his habits by now, and when he got to it, his food came quickly. There was no one else in the place – it was too late for lunch, and few people had time for an afternoon snack anymore.
He ate quickly and methodically. When he was halfway through the meal, he looked up to find one of the waitresses standing beside him.
Hi, Vincent, she said.
A suit was looking for you. Real official looking, mirror shades. He left this envelope and told me not to let anyone else open it.
He referred to you as ‘Vincent Valentine, the sharp-shooter with a claw.’ He nearly choked at the reference, but managed to cover it up. Do you really have a claw on your left hand? I notice you never use it to eat.
He stared at her for a moment, then managed to gather wit enough to speak. I, uh, was in an accident, and my fingers gut off. He waved what looked his arm in front of her. The hand’s still kind of sensitive. I’d rather not discuss it further. At least she hadn’t asked about the part.
Oh. Well. I guess I can understand that. Her voice trailed off. Anyway, here’s your letter. She plopped it on the table beside him and left.
The letter was addressed simply to Mr. Valentine, but it was not that which caught his eye. The name of the sender, printed in neat, black letters on the upper left-hand corner, was Divine Wind Enterprises. That was the name used by the Xiong Feng, a freelance underground agency, when they wished to appear legal. He stuffed the letter into his pocket to look at later. Then he paid the bill and left. The meeting place, at the centre of the park, was a good hour’s walk away from the restaurant, if nothing happened.
When the city planners had first drawn up the designs for Megapolis, they had placed a park near its center. This coincided with some dense forest that already existed there – hilly ground that would have been far too expensive to raze, flatten, and develop. And besides which, monsters lurked in it. They lived almost everywhere now, but the park was one of their favorite homes. Few people braved its depths: the paths were lonely and tangled, the trees and shrubbery dense. Amiak obviously had no qualms about facing monsters, but then, he had his sorceries to protect him. And Vincent had Lady Death.
When he arrived at the clearing that was the agreed-upon meeting place, Amiak was already there, casually leaning against the fountain in the centre. An old, worn, cardboard box was at his feet.
“Vincent.” He nodded in acknowledgement.
“We need to talk about the spirit-container.” He nudged the box beside him.
“What about it?”
“These containers were created when the Ancients still took care of the Planet. They placed the spirits of some of their sages in them so that later generations could take advantage of the knowledge.”
“So, this spirit-container doesn’t act as if it has anything in it! I can feel the Spirit
Energy inside it, but nothing happens when — There was a large roar from the forest behind Amiak, and he turned around to look.
The beast advancing on them was twice the height of a man, though it stood on all fours. It could almost have been a huge cat or dog, but it had two horns on its forehead and orange fins down the back of its head and neck. Its hide was purple and leathery. It was about to pounce on Amiak when Vincent fired a shot at it from Lady Death.
The thing recoiled, growling from the blow, giving Amiak enough time to get out of its way. It rushed at Vincent, knocking him over. He picked himself up, mostly unhurt — though he would have bruises later on. The pain was infuriating, and battle-rage rose within him. He shot at the behemoth again, as Amiak beside him began to cast a spell. He was attacked again, the thing’s teeth grazing his claw-arm. He swore but managed to bear the pain and fired again. Finally Amiak completed his spell, and a circle of fire appeared around the beast. The white-hot flames spiraled inwards. It let out a mighty roar as the fire scorched it. There was the smell of burning hair, but it was not dead yet.
Again and again Vincent attacked the purple thing, receiving most of the damage it dealt out. Amiak cast fire at it again, but the flames were cooler this time, and harmed it less than the ones before. Over and over Vincent bore the brunt of the beast’s attacks, each injury elevating his fury until it could no longer be contained. It still seemed to have no intention whatsoever of dying, and he was growing weak. He initiated the Change.
Fire ran through every part of his body. Needle-points ran along his skin as it grew into hide, tough and hard. Distantly, he heard a ripping sound as feet and hands changed into talons. His skull twisted and stretched until it formed horns. Spinal cord and shoulder bones contorted, forming wings. His leathery skin stretched to cover them. They snapped open with an explosion of pain, and then there was only darkness.
It would be free soon. Already, It could feel the tantalizing life energies around it. It had waited so long for a suitable anchor to this world. Finally, It had found one in this halfway shape-shifter. A little effort would transfer It. Soon, It would feed.
He woke with a tingling sensation over his skin. His head throbbed uncomfortably. He stood up, his head reeling with the effort. He stumbled before finding a tree to lean against for balance. Slowly, the pain abated and left him gasping with relief.
Amiak, finished with his examination of the behemoth’s body, turned towards him. You’re, uh, you’re human again.
Vincent sighed. Yes, I am.
You’re a shape-changer?
Not really. Abruptly he realised that his clothes were in shreds where he’d been standing earlier. Um, Amiak? I kinda —
Amiak noticed it at the same time. Yeah. I have a workplace in the forest where I can get some clothes for you. His voice trailed off.
He picked up Lady Death from where she’d been dropped, quickly checking her over to make sure there was no damage. He couldn’t remember when exactly he’d dropped her — or anything else during the change, either. Strange, he mused. Always there had been a dim memory, like that of a dream-image upon waking. He fired a shot at a nearby tree just to make sure the gun was fine, startling Amiak. Then he picked up the cardboard box with the artifact and followed Amiak to the wizard’s lair.
They were not disturbed as they traversed the wandering paths of the park. Likely any other animals around during the daytime were enjoying the feast of the purple creature’s body. Amiak’s workplace was a burrow in one of the taller hills, hidden by an illusion. Likely the mage had found it – digging with magic was just as hard as digging by hand and more dangerous, besides. The room they entered was kitchen, bedroom, and library. Across the entrance was another opening with a heavy hanging over it. Shelves of books reaching the ceiling lined one of the walls, and a bed sat across them on the other wall. To the left of the door, away from the books, was a small stove. The rest of the walls had cabinets covering them. There was a large, cluttered desk in the middle that, if the food stains were any indication, also served as dining table. Amiak, obviously more comfortable in home territory, moved to one of the closets and began digging through it. Vincent put the box down on the bed and started for the other exit. He stopped within a few steps of it and went back, his left prickling fiercely from the magical field within and surrounding the next room.
Finally, Amiak produced a half-robe and pants, the kind used for martial arts. I can spare these. I don’t have time for practice anymore. He threw them to Vincent. I didn’t really have time then, either. My studies. He gestured at the books.
Vincent nodded and dressed himself. True to Amiak’s word, the belt that came with the outfit was the white belt of an absolute beginner. When he finished, he noticed Amiak staring at him. Or rather, at what had taken the place of his left hand. Gold-coloured metal covered most of Vincent’s forearm, as if he were wearing some strange gauntlet. The fingers of it, though, were jointed as normal, and were also the size of normal fingers and tapered to razor-sharp points – claws. The entire structure responded as if it were his real arm – he had to admit that Hojo had been a genius, if a rather unethical one.
He held his left hand up. You’re wondering about this?
It’s magical! What are you doing with a magical false limb? And – I couldn’t sense it before, out of my territory – you radiate Spirit Energy! As if you were a mage! And the shape shifting! What are you?
He sighed. I’m human.
It doesn’t seem like it.
Well, that’s too bad. There was an edge of anger to his voice.
Oh. Okay. I can see that you’re sensitive about it, so I won’t bother you anymore. Amiak started to back away from Vincent, then swallowed and stopped, saying: Give me the box – I’ll show you what I mean about the spirit container. Vincent handed the artifact over to Amiak. Come – this is my real workplace. He gestured towards the next room.
Again, Vincent stopped before entering. Amiak must have invested a great deal of energy in his workplace, judging by the strength of the prickling feeling all along the metal of his left forearm. He moved on through the hanging. The tingling in his hand was making it grow numb.
There was very little furniture in the room, only a few tables at the corners that were cluttered with crystals, chalks, and various other items. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of old stone, confirming Vincent’s guess that Amiak had not built the place himself. There was a chalked mandala on the floor. After sliding a door into place across the opening and activating some magical protections, Amiak placed the artifact in the centre of the mandala. I don’t know how to prove that an object has Spirit Energy to someone who can’t feel it, so you’ll just have to take my word that this container isn’t empty.
Well, since it would be rather pointless to go to the trouble of having me get you another one if the first weren’t empty, I suppose I can assume that you’re telling the truth. And besides, Vincent could sense Spirit Energy, though not in the way Amiak meant. And right now, all the Spirit Energy in the place had rendered his left hand entirely useless.
Amiak had no reply for Vincent, but instead started the spell that would activate any consciousness inside the box. Standing on one side of the circle, he closed his eyes and began muttering words under his breath. Technically, neither words nor circle were necessary – such things served merely as focuses for a mage’s Spirit Energy, and a truly great mage could, theoretically, do without them. Theoretically. Amiak was pretty good – less experienced mages tended to use gestures and crystals in addition to words, and they also chanted out loud.
Amiak finished the spell and waited expectantly. A voice thundered in Vincent’s head:
What a fool of a mage, to try to break the bonds spun by the High Council of the Cetra and bind me with his own. This is the second time he has attempted the impossible. It is a pity I cannot suck the Spirit Energy from him this instant. But I must secure an anchor in this world other than my prison before I can affect it. No matter, I have found my host already. All that remains is to transfer myself. And then the fun begins.
The voice left as suddenly as it had come, leaving him disoriented. He barely managed to keep his balance.
There, you see! Nothing happened! Apparently, Amiak had heard nothing.
Actually, there was a voice. It sounded rather annoyed with you. It mentioned that the reason that you haven’t come up with any response is because you’re trying to free something that was imprisoned by a group of the most powerful Ancients, working together.
You heard something? Amiak’s voice was incredulous.
It can suck Spirit Energy out of people, but it can affect this world only if it has a host. And it has already found a candidate and only needs to transfer.
That’s not good. If it’s something that the Ancients imprisoned to keep it out of the Lifestream, and it’s almost free again his voice trailed off and he was silent for a moment. But – why did you hear it? If it can only affect the world while in a host being, how did it manage to communicate with you?
It wasn’t a conscious communication. Probably your spell did something that enabled me to hear its thoughts. Hearing thoughts One of Hojo’s experiments had something to do with that. Oh yes, his attempts to create more super-soldiers like Sephiroth by injecting his cells into others. The had wound up completely under Sephiroth’s control, save for a few. Vincent included. He’d heard the call as the other had, though he’d resisted. And he’d felt Sephiroth’s death.
The mage woke from his reverie. I must have been the first person to actually touch and hold the spirit-prison in decades. I must have awakened it somehow, and it formed a link with me.
Yeah, I guess that’s it. Amiak still sounded rather puzzled. But why would it do that? His brow furrowed in thought as he wondered aloud. You’re special. You have an aura of Spirit Energy like a mage, but you aren’t one. You have a false arm, and that’s magical, too. And you can change into a demon his voice trailed off. Demons – denizens of another world So you, you’re halfway between this world and that one. The thing said it needed an anchor for this world. So wouldn’t it be even better for it have a host firmly anchored in this world – but also partially in another world?
Amiak’s line of thought disturbed Vincent. The form he assumed when he underwent the Change had been described to him before, and he had a dim knowledge of what his body was like during it. But – it was a great deal like the form of a demon from the plane of summoned monsters. He shook his head. That couldn’t be it.
Why’d you suddenly take the spirit-container and rush out? Amiak asked. He realised that not only was he holding the artifact, but that he’d exited the main workplace and had been about to quit the place entirely before Amiak stopped him.
I have some other business to attend to. And I think it best if I disposed of this object.
I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be near it at all. Since the entity inside is responding to you, who knows what might happen if you remain in continued proximity with it? Maybe all it needs to transfer into its host is to be outside the protections of my workplace.
I have some protections of my own. Nothing should happen.
Okay, then. Good luck.
He walked out of the burrow and threaded the paths out of the park. On the way, he saw a squirrel lying on the ground. It was still alive, but it had been chewed up and spit out by some larger creature, its bones broken. He picked it up and finished the job, crushing it with his claw. Absently, he wiped the hand on his robe and continued out of the park.