Final Fantasy VII opening novelized
Years ago, I started a Final Fantasy VII novelization effort that persisted for precisely one chapter (which covers the bulk of the opening area that was initially released as a demo with Tobal No. 1). Today, I happened to find that effort in a MySQL file (it had long since been removed from my site where I posted it) and I'm posting it here for... posterity? I haven't read through it again just yet, so it's probably all sorts of embarrassing, but I figured I might as well share. Enjoy!
Cloud Strife could think of a million and one reasons why he shouldn't be where he was. For one, it was dangerous. True, that had never stopped him before, but there were other things. Was this really the right thing to do? Years of Soldier indoctrination didn't vanish so easily. Shinra, he'd been taught to believe, knew what was right for the planet and mankind. Yet here he was, surrounded by a small group of mercenaries atop a speeding train.
''Almost there,'' a gruff voice said from behind him.
Cloud tightened his grip on the cool metal and peered around the short iron ledge. Wind rushed against his face, blowing stray locks of his blond hair over his eyes with stinging force that made them water. He blinked a few times and shook his head so the hair blew to the side.
Ahead, he could see the small station. This was a military train, not the type to carry passengers in any normal situation. Guards patrolled the station, guns slung over their soldiers. He noted their sloppy formation, the gaps through which someone might dash to enter the place they guarded.
''Ready?'' the same gruff voice called from behind, this time softer.
The train's speed was decreasing. Sparks flew from the tracks as the engineer applied the brakes.
''We have a choice?'' the man knelt ahead of Cloud asked.
Screeching grew louder and the train ground to a halt. The group riding atop it had mere seconds to act. Cloud saw the others leaping off for the ground. This was it, he told himself. He could stay on the train, ride it away from this place, never see his money, and never doubt his actions. Or he could jump down, swayed by ideals he might not believe in the morning. And money. Most of all, there was the money.
The choice was one he hadn't considered before, one he hadn't the time to contemplate now. He rose to his feet, then jumped. The distance to the ground wasn't much. He bent his knees as he landed, rolled, and came to his feet with his hand on his sword's hilt.
''Halt!'' a guard shouted from behind him.
He swore under his breath and spun quickly, unsheathing his weapon as he did so. The blade protested with a screech as it came free of the scabbard, glinted in the dim light cast by the lamps now to his right.
The soldier fired a burst of bullets. Cloud had seen it coming, though, and rolled to the side, then leapt forward. The guard swung the weapon to his left, too late. Cloud came swung his sword down in an arc that severed the man's arm. Flesh and the weapon dropped to the floor as the man let out a scream cut short by a second swipe from Cloud's sword.
''C'mon,'' someone called from behind.
Cloud turned quickly and saw the other two guards on the platform lying in heaps. There would be more soldiers soon, he knew. The train carried a regiment of them, something the resistance group hadn't counted on but something relatively unavoidable in recent times. Normally, the regiment would remain on the train, but the battle on the concrete platform couldn't have escaped notice. Some would come to investigate.
''Left, through there,'' one of the resistance members shouted.
Everyone followed, through a low, stone archway and up some crumbling stairs. Cloud felt the first stabs of pain in his throat as he followed. Time behind the desk had softened him, another reason he'd agreed to come on this mission. Soldier seemed to think he served their cause best behind a desk, something he'd never found all that appealing.
The head of the stairs opened into a large room with polished floor tiles. The remainder of the group waited there. The one with the beard and dark skin paced back and forth while most of the others stood around a locked door.
''Wow!'' one of the men said. ''You used to be in Soldier, alright! Not every day ya find one in a group like Avalanche. My name's Biggs.''
Cloud nodded. ''Cloud's mine. Not sure names matter, though. I'm not here for ideals, just the money. Once this job's over, I'm outta here.'' Best to make that clear right now, he thought. He sure as hell wasn't going to risk his life for this any more than necessary. Risk was something he was prepared for, so long as the money matched. The reward for his involvement in this whole mission wasn't enough that he planned to do much more than be an extra sword at their disposal.
''Got it, Barret,'' the one working the locks said over his shoulder to the bearded man still anxiously pacing the room.
The panel at the room's edge slid open.
''Our target's the North Mako Reactor,'' Barret said, rather than wasting his time with congratulations. ''We'll meet on the bridge in front of it. We had to move in a group up to here, but let's split up. I'll go with our friend from Soldier.''
Barret said the word 'friend' like he didn't mean it, which Cloud appreciated. He couldn't imagine ever getting together with any of these people in a tavern for a pint. They would never see him again after tonight. Though Barret didn't have to say it, Cloud knew the man wanted him around for matters of trust, or rather a lack of. That was fine. They didn't trust him and he didn't trust them.
Though Barret had asked the group to separate, they didn't find an opportunity for a while. The rooms here blurred together, a mess of steel and tile, concrete and venitilation shafts. The air was dusty.
''This your first time in a reactor?'' Barret snapped.
''No,'' Cloud said. ''I did work for Shinra, y'know.''
''Shinra.'' Barret's massive fists clenched and unclenched as if he would like to choke someone. ''The planet's full of Mako energy. People here use it every day. It's the life blood of this planet. But Shinra keeps suckin' the blood out with their machines.''
Cloud had heard it all before, from radicals he had to arrest as a member of Soldier, on television, on tattered flyers left at train stations. ''I'm not here for a lecture,'' he said. ''Let's focus on the mission.''
They wound their way through more narrow rooms. Cloud could agree with Barret about one thing: this whole group movement reeked of amateurism. Too bad whoever designed the plant hadn't left them any choice. Finally, they came to a halt in front of an elevator shaft.
''Think how many of our people risked their lives, just for this code,'' Biggs said as he stepped toward the panel.
Cloud didn't like to think about that, so he kept silent. Shinra was ruthless out of necessity. He'd been on the inside. Groups like the one that surrounded him now tried things like this almost daily. Without his advice as someone who had worked on the inside for years, not even this one-Avalanche-would have succeeded in coming so far. A traitor. That's what he was. A bloody traitor.
''Jessie,'' Biggs said, ''maybe you can help me with this one.''
The woman in the group, apparently named Jessie, stepped forward and examined the elevator panel. She hesitated for a moment, then held in one button while entering the code. The panel lit up and the doors slid open.
''Inside, everyone,'' Barret said with a glance behind them.
The group stepped inside, all five of them, and the elevator hummed to life as its drop began. The reactor they meant to destroy lay deep under ground, and Cloud knew from past experience that the elevator ride would take a while. He hoped no soldiers managed to come behind and stop the elevator in the middle of its descent.
''I still don't see why you refuse to give a damn about all of this,'' Barret suddenly said to Cloud. ''Little by little the reactors'll drain out all the life from this planet. The planet's dying.''
Cloud shrugged and feigned more indifference than he really felt. No one he'd talked to before ever seemed to care this passionately about things. He had to wonder if they knew something he didn't. Would the scientists at Shinra really keep the reactors running if they were killing the planet? He couldn't be sure. It sounded a bit like suicide, but people would do some crazy things if the money was right. Shinra made more money than anyone else on the planet. At what cost?
''Is there anything you do care about?'' Jessie asked from where she leaned against the wall of the elevator. She sounded genuinely curious.
''Of course.'' Cloud grinned. ''I care about finishin' this job before security and the Roboguards come. And there's always the money, too.''
Barret glared at him. ''Right now, I think I'd pay you the money just to see you shut up!''
The elevator reached the bottom, then, and the panels slid open once more.
''Finally, some room to work with,'' Wedge said.
Cloud looked beyond the others in the group. Ahead, a catwalk extended over a deep pit filled with misty air. None of it looked so sturdy as he would have liked. Thin ledges branched off from one another. One led ahead to another elevator while the other ledge headed off into darkness.
''I'll guard this next elevator,'' Biggs said.
''You gonna be able to handle all the guards alone?'' Jessie asked. ''They'll follow shortly.''
The group stepped out from the shaft and onto the catwalk.
''They won't follow.'' Biggs grinned and turned to the control panel behind them. ''This elevator works both ways, but not for long. I'm jamming the controls right now.''
Biggs typed a more codes and the panel blinked off.
''Nice.'' It was Jessie's turn to grin. ''But how do we get out?''
Biggs nodded over his shoulder. ''That elevator. It works one way. We just have to make sure and catch it in time. I'll stay here and work on the code. It'll take some time to figure it out. Our source wasn't so clear. The rest of you can go deeper. Just remember that if you do manage to set the timer for the core, we've got 10 minutes to get the hell out of here before it blows.''
Cloud kept silent. Ten minutes wasn't enough time, not by half. How much deeper did this network of tunnels run? If the group managed to complete this mission and blow up the reactor, that left seven still intact. Shinra wouldn't be done for, as was obviously their goal. And with them dead, who would take out the other seven? The whole mission would be pointless.
''Let's get moving,'' Barret said.
Cloud was only too happy to oblige. Each second down here made him grow increasingly nervous. Biggs might have managed to override the elevator's controls for a while, but there had to be security measures the soldiers above them could take. Then there were other concerns. Once they started the 10-minute countdown, would all the soldiers leave the building? Or would some stay behind to make sure they never escaped?
''Coming, Soldier boy?'' Barret asked.
Minus Biggs, the group headed along the catwalk that branched off to the right. The metal grating provided a perfect view of the long drop to the blackness below. Tendrils of green mist reached out like clawed hands from the brick walls, which seemed entirely too fragile to hold for much longer. Cloud told himself the walls had held for years and would continue to do so for a few more hours. Everyone's footfalls on the shaky ledge sounded like hammers pounding nails into a coffin. His coffin.
Their descent into the core continued. At two points, the group split again, to guard tunnels and sound the alarm in case a new threat appeared from somewhere else. Still the ledges continued, some sturdy, some not. Cloud let Barret lead. The man must have memorized blueprints of the area, to be leading with such surety. Hopefully, the escape route would come as quickly to the man's memory.
''There it is,'' Barret said finally, as they stood before a wide bridge over another gap.
Cloud didn't like the look of the bridge. It stretched a long way, until the opposite side was almost completely obscured in darkness. The open area extended past the edge of his sight. When most of the passages they traversed before were consciously narrow, this abrupt change seemed cause for concern.
''Coming?'' Barret started forward, apparently not worried in the slightest.
''Yeah.'' Cloud put a hand on his sword's hilt and left it there as they moved slowly over the bridge. Each step he took came with a grimace. The oppressive mist continued to wrap around them like a thick fog, and he saw only the briefest glances of architecture around them. Beams along the wall looked like frail bones about to crack under the weight of the planet. He expected them to trip some invisible alarm at any moment, but finally they stood on the other side without incident. He felt himself breathe a little more easily.
The ledge where they now stood was rather small. At its center, a tall column rose into the darkness above. At the column's base, a crank and several valves protruded like teeth. Cloud felt like he was facing a monster carved from brick and iron. Never before, even while working for Shinra, had he come so close to what some might call the heart of a reactor.
Barret looked back the way they had come, as if noticing their surroundings for the first time. ''Such a huge place, so deep in the planet, like a knifecut. When we blow this place, this ain't gonna be nothin' more than a hunka junk.'' He shook his head with obvious distaste. ''Cloud, you set the bomb.''
Cloud arched one eyebrow. ''Me? Shouldn't you do it?''
''Jus' do it! I gotta watch to make sure you don't pull nothin'.'' Barret folded his arms over his chest and waited expectantly.
Cloud hesitated. Barret had come all this way, should have memorized the process. Had he, though? Cloud had to wonder. ''Fine, be my guest.''
He turned the cranks carefully, waited until he heard the faint clicks, then pulled at some levers. For a while, he heard nothing. Seconds passed and he thought maybe his training had failed him. Then a faint rumbling came from within and digits flashed onto a panel that previously was blank: 10-00.
''Is it done?'' Barret asked.
''It's done,'' Cloud said, turning around and looking past Barret.
Ahead, maroon claws tipped with iron gripped the edge of the bridge. One rail bent slightly and the bridge groaned under the weight of the massive form crawling onto it. Red scales slid across what looked suspiciously like a mechanical scorpion. Its tail slid snake-like over the rails and fell with a clank to the bridge.
Sometime while the beast climbed onto the bridge, Barret turned. He swore softly now and switched off the safety on his gun arm as Cloud pulled his sword from its sheath.
''It's done,'' Cloud repeated, ''and I think we might be dead.''