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That One NPC

Final Fantasy (Tribute Series)

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Introduction Part 1
Reflections From The Future


"My name is Hans Venechenko. You don't know me, but you know our story. You know her legacy.

 

It's a story of love, hate, friendship, betrayal, courage, and sacrifice. All the hallmarks of a good story. It's about rebellion, men and women taking a stand to defend their land and people before there was nothing left to fight for. It's the journey of how one girl from the slums of Zenobia inspired the world to form a revolution. To take our freedom by force, although at a grave, and unforgettable cost.

 

This is her story, but it's my story, too. And I'd like to share it with you..."

 

 


Introduction Part 2
Desert Rose


Ana Maria Grace rolled over in her comfy bed of soft, warm, purple sheets in her cozy room. She was sound asleep, dreaming of some better time and place. A land of innocence, love, and peace. Angelo slept comfortably beside her. He was her large, furry brown dog. Her beautiful blonde hair rested over her forehead, covering her left eye. Her sparkling emerald gems were shut as she slept the morning away against her fluffy purple pillow.

 

The buzzer inside of her old mechanical clock clang its usual dull, metallic, insistent racket. New clocks had something called a chip that was made from data or something. Here in the slums of Zenobia, there was no fancy, fussy technology. Bikes that ride themselves, you just sit and stare at people passing by. Neat little boxes that show moving pictures. Nothing so sophisticated. The inner city was like something from a comic book or fiction novel. Some futuristic metropolis turning time like the inside of a clock. Late at night you can look out your bedroom window, peer north into the night sky, and see it's lights glowing, flashing and blinking like stars hung just above and below the horizon.

 

She opened her bright green eyes quickly, smiling wide. She smacked the plated spring on the clock, silencing it for another twenty-four hours, and leapt from her bed, startling Angelo as she did so. He slowly got up off the bed, jumping to the hardwood floor with a surge of energy that would last for the next 12 hours.

 

"Can't come today, Angelo. I'm goin' to the inner districts," Ana said, leaning over in the doorway. She shut the door on him, and he tilted his head with a whimper.

 

She jogged down the stairs of her tiny home, running into the kitchen where her mother was sitting, reading the Zenobian Times over a cup of tea. It was a shabby little home nestled into a nook of Zenobia's slums, but it was cozy, warm, neat and welcoming.

 

"I made breakfast," her mother said lovingly, eyes fixed on the article still, no doubt retaining the words as she spoke to her daughter.

 

"Not hungry, Mom," Ana replied, kissing her on the cheek, heading for the door.

 

Ana's mother looked over her shoulder at her oldest daughter as she grabbed her coat from the rack. "Stay away from those left-wing, hooligan friends of yours!" her mother yelled out to her as she dashed out the door.


The streets of Zenobia were bustling that particular morning. Buildings, trees, structures and rooftops towered over power lines and into the sky. Bikes, strangely built cars and trucks filled the busy streets. Some were paved or stone, others were run down dirt roads, usually in a series of gritty backstreets networking the outermost corners and reaches of the slums.

Far beyond the cluttered, towering groupings of buildings, the massive structures and sky scrappers of the inner core of Zenobia loomed on the horizon like pillars of the heavens, watching over the poverty, despair and corruption that ensued every day amidst the outer slums...

 

 

That One NPC
Presents...

125437148_FinalFantasy.png.e72240eb515ca4860664637f5a58a2e3.png


Inspired by Squaresoft's Body of Work From 1987-1999


Created by M.J. Saulnier(That One NPC)

 

Dedicated to Hironobu Sakaguchi, and Final Fantasy fans everywhere

Edited by That One NPC

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Chapter 1

Sands of Zenobia

 

 

Ana dashed through the crowded, busy streets. Posters, banners, post-it adds and flyers were pasted, hung and tacked all over the city. In windows, on walls, utility poles, news stands, hanging from wires and cables strung from building to building, and on billboards laid out everywhere. People in fancy, new world cloths walked or drove vehicles about the tight streets, shopping and going about their business. The inner slums were booming on that sunny Saturday morning.

 

She stopped as she passed a television set in the window of an upscale home electronics shop, just outside the core of the city. She leaned against the glass, listening to the sound of the picture machine. It was a simple recording of a woman conducting an interview on a news program. News feeds were the only thing you could get in the slums, and the news was filtered propaganda.

 

"Efforts continue today in the signing of energy contracts that will allow Zenobia Prime to construct reactors and generators, virtually over the houses of land owners in the slums. Dozens of city blocks have had to make way for the massive project, forcing thousands of residents out of their homes if these contracts are signed. Why should people give up their homes for these new reactors, Mr. Ducrinus?"

 

"Excellent question. One year from now if those very same people didn't have power to cook, or listen to their radios, they would be crying, asking why we didn't build enough reactors to meet the energy demand in the slums."

 

Sarovoc Ducrinus, brother of Lucious Durcinus, acting Emperor of Zenobia. Sarovoc was the President of Zenobia Prime, an umbrella corporation inside the framework of the Zenobian Government housing MiraTech, the corporation that controls all of Zenobia's energy supply. They are a big time technology powerhouse that is responsible for everything technologically advanced in Zenobia, and the majority of the continent.

 

"Shouldn't believe what you hear on the news."

 

Ana turned around, smiling.

 

"Jin!"

 

Jin was her best friend, and ally in the resistance. He stood 5'9, a few inches taller than her. He had a lean build, brown eyes, and scruffy black hair coming down to his brow. He wore a black and red leather coat, just like hers over a simple white shirt and jeans with scruffy white shoes. They both wore buttons and patches clipped onto and sown into the thick leather fabric. They were a variety of rebellious and anti-government slogans, resistance logos, and a few Rebel Radio patches. On the back and shoulders, was a homemade crest hand woven into the fabric. This was their resistance patch. Their symbol of freedom and justice. A depiction of Zenobia's core, as seen from the reaches of the slums, and a white dove flying free in the skies around it.

 

"The others are waiting," he said. "Let's not keep them."

 

She nodded, walking with him under the far peeks of Zenobia's core.

Edited by That One NPC

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Ana sat at the top of the large, dome-shaped roof of a metallic structure. She hugged her knees tightly, gently shivering in the cool, evening air. Her skirt left the bare, flawless skin of her pale legs exposed to the nippy, chilling breeze.

Next to her, leaning back with his legs crossed, was Jin. Kato to his right, followed by Willow Kensington on the far end.

The Zenobian Resistance. Four free spirited kids looking to change the world with the strength of their hearts, and the will of their ambition. Lead by Jin, co-founded by Ana, they spent their days day dreaming, studying, seeking knowledge and truth. Working menial jobs, plotting the demise of Zenobia Prime and the Ducrinus Administration, and hanging out here, just outside the core of the city. They wasted days and nights away, dreaming of a better world, a better time and place, when people their age didn't have to crusade against their own people, and stand alone against the powers that be. Four kids... Just doing what they can to ensure a safer, better Zenobia for all. Not just those locked away in the grand towers of the core, enjoying the greedy, corrupt lap of luxury, ignorant to the horror that dwells just beyond the cold steel walls of their paradise.


Ana's eyes were fixed intently upon a large, outdoor television screen mounted above a large intersection just inside the walls and defenses of the inner core. The sound it produced glided through the moist evening air toward them, reaching their ears at a level barely audible. It was evening yet, and the city was still booming with an array of sound that distorted and interrupted its playful waves as they danced through the sky.

"Welcome to Zenobia. We hope you enjoy..."


Kato stood up, casting his gaze to the sky. He was a young man, only nineteen. He was short, and filthy, wearing baggy shorts, high cut black boots, and a dirty, baggy red shirt that hung in agony around his skinny frame. His raggedy, ripped and stained jacket was tied around his waist, and over his bushy, messy blonde hair, he wore a red cap backwards.

Willow, the youngest of them all glanced up at him, and back at the television. She was only seventeen. An orphan like Kato, and practically his sister. She had long, beautiful red hair that surrounded her pale, freckled face. She wore her jacket zipped up to the neck, and a comfy pair of black sweat pants with white shoes.

"Tomorrow is the big day, Kato. I understand if you're not ready," Jin said compassionately.

"Hey, I'll be there," Kato snapped defensively. Out of them all, Kato was probably the most passionate about their cause, in-that he harbored the most hatred and resentment toward the government, and Zenobia Prime.

"Alright," Jin said, eyes fixed on the television set. "Tomorrow, we blow Zenobia Prime off the map."

Edited by That One NPC

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"Lucious... You're telling the Zenobian people that we are in fact not at war with other nations at present?"

"No."

"And that Zenobia's Armed Forces are not currently engaged in military action against other nations?"

"Absolutely not! Our affairs with other nations are better than they've ever been..."

 

 

 

*****

 


In the peaceful, quiet town of Pelgrin, the night was setting in slowly, and the hustle and bustle of the day was winding down to a halt. In the quiet, somber streets, the sound of a large explosion shook the tiny community to the core. Smoke, dust, rubble, and screams of pain, confusion and terror filled the air. More bombs exploded, causing mass chaos and confusion as residents spilled into the streets from their crudely built, stone and wooden houses. Zenobian soldiers flooded the crowded, chaotic streets in organized tactical units, firing weapons, throwing grenades, killing, beating and destroying everything in sight. They moved with precision, and calculation, to exterminate the tiny, peaceful village. Men with swords, axes and bows fought fiercely in the exchange to defend their home, but their efforts fell short and in vane as the bullets commissioned by Zenobian soldiers cut through them like hot knives slicing through butter.

The scene was morbid and horrific as the Zenobian troops worked tirelessly to kill every last man woman and child, and torch every last structure that stood in the once quiet, somber town.
 

Edited by That One NPC

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Author Note

Spoiler

My punctuation was all over the place when I wrote it, and it needs editing, perhaps some fleshing out in places. This was written in 2011, and for reasons unknown it gets skanky in areas. This particular part is choppy for a few reasons. This story is essentially told from the perspective of Hans and it makes sense in the end because he writes the book about it. And I also didn't want to build up Jin, Kato, or Willow too much and you are about find out why.

 

 

 

Ana took a deep breath of the night air, exhaling slowly. She stood with Jin, Kato, and Willow outside of the Zenobia Prime Building, all wearing heavy backpacks around their shoulders.

It's outer frame reached high into the sky. It was designed and constructed using state of the art architecture. It's steely, enormous curves and features were menacing and gloomy. It represented everything that was wrong with Zenobia. All of the greed, deceit, violence, corruption, and injustice.

"You all know what to do," Jin said sternly. Kato nodded, and the four parted ways, with Kato and Willow quickly disappearing down a manhole, and Jin dashing across the parking lot toward the side of the building.

Ana took one more brief moment to gaze upon the object of her resentment and hatred before she darted for the other side of the building. Her role was parallel to Jin's. Use the map to locate the second generator room, plant the explosives and get out of there. Jin was to cover the first generator, and Kato and Willow were supposed to handle the third.

Jin insisted that Ana stay with him, and that they delay the explosives to give them time to cover the second generator, but Ana put her foot down, insisting the explosives be synchronized and the generators covered simultaneously.

That was the plan...

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Thinking back to that night, I don't remember much. The details become blurry when the moment has passed. It all happened so fast, I didn't have time to think, or even react.

I remember them, the time we spent together that night. I remember fear, and adrenaline. Dark hallways and strange passages. I remember being confused by the map. It's a different experience when you're studying blueprints from the comfort of your bed.

I remember smoke and fire, the cool, fresh night air. But mostly, I remember him. His hand taking mine before I could pull it away. I remember Jin calling my name as I was dragged away. He looked kind of silly in that clothing with that sword strapped around his back, but he felt threatening and dangerous too. I remember him holding me in his arms as I struggled to break free...

I remember wishing I had died that night, instead of them...

 

 


*****

 


Jin fumbled with the explosives, his adrenaline raging out of control, and his nerves resting on the edge of insanity. They were about to kill a lot of people, regular employees, not just the corrupt masterminds.

The lighting was dim, the air was hot and heavy, and the generator produced a loud, mechanical hum that only added to the pressure of the situation.

He placed the bundled dynamite with a timed device strapped to it in one of the grooves of the massive, noisy machine. He hit detonate, and was startled to see a ten second timer begin to count down.

His mind raced. His black market contact assured him they were set up for a ten minute timer. Jin had stressed the importance of that more than once, and he had clearly been screwed.

He began to panic. As he stood up, he heard Ana shout his name to his horror and dismay. He looked over at her, thinking to himself that it couldn't have been any worse.

Ana stood helplessly, confused and concerned by the look of horror on Jin's face. She had read the map all wrong. She got scared and got ahead of herself, ended up at the first generator room instead of the second.

She blew it. Botched everything.

She felt a hand firmly grab her own, yanking her backwards. Jin screamed her name as she resisted and turned to face her captor.

He was a young man with long blonde hair, and striking blue eyes. He wore a long decorative sword across his back with black slacks, and a navy tunic under red heavy armor that covered his left breast, arm, and hand. His attire was barbaric and primitive to her, although she could find exotic beauty in the craftsmanship. It had a single, sapphire blue strip of decorative cloth that hung from the rear shoulder of the plate armor, which was extended in the back to further protect the wearer's vitals, and facilitate his sword's sheath. He was an outsider. No way he worked for Zenobia Prime.

She struggled, protesting her being dragged away and parted from Jin when she knew something was wrong.

"No!"

No sooner did the word escape her lips and the thought crossed her mind, an explosion jarred her body and senses, thrusting Ana and her captor into the solid steel wall. Rubble pelted her body as smoke and dust filled the dark corridors. She nearly lost consciousness, and felt him hoist her over his shoulder, carrying her the rest of the way. As she came around she began to sob, calling Jin's name, realizing he was dead, and she had left him behind.

He struggled up a sewer ladder, and let her down as they reached the cool night air. She scrambled to her feet and tried to run back toward the smoking manhole, but he wrapped his arms around her, and held her tight.

They both fell to their knees as she wept in his arms, resisting him.

"He's gone," he said softly, "he's gone..."

 

 

 

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"It's about choice, my friends. The choice to live free of oppression and corruption. To be afforded the same protection, securities, luxuries and privileges as those who live in the core.

We must rise above our oppressors and fight for our freedom. Storm the gates, spill the blood of our brothers who have forgotten and abandoned us. Locked us out, and cast us aside.

They've written us off my brothers and sisters! They've turned their backs on us, and built their walls and towers high. But this I say to you, my friends, my comrades: take for yourselves what is fair and right. Always we will fight. Light of day or dark of night. Always freedom in our sight...

Never back down, there are fellow freedom fighters all around you, hidden in plain sight. Seek and you will find. Keep the faith, have hope and courage. Stay smart, and you will be fighting the fight all the same. Our enemy is clever, and strong... But so are we, in our own right. In fact, we are even stronger! This is Stryker, coming to you from your one and only, Rebel Radio..."

 


All across the slums, millions of radios were tuned in to Stryker's transmission. He was the faceless leader of a desperate, broken city. A symbol of hope and freedom. A voice of truth. He was their hero.
 

 


*****

 


Ana's head was spinning, her heart was pounding, and her stomach was squirming as he lead her through a series of dark, unfamiliar backstreets in the slums. He held her hand tightly, aggressively, and belted her mind with a lengthy speech giving her information and instructions.

"Listen to me carefully, Ana. They'll come for you, and they'll never be too far behind you. Zenobia isn't safe anymore. They'll find out who you are, kill your friends and family, everyone you know and love until they find you, or leave you so broken and far from Zenobia you might as well be dead... Head east, through the desert. It's a long haul, but help and water will accompany the road east until you reach Odessa. I'll meet you there at the inn."

He stopped and turned to face her.

 

"They know who I am and they are already looking for me, so I can't be near you until we reach Odessa. You have a chance to escape. Find an old friend, someone you don't see often. Lay low until morning and then get out of Zenobia. Do you understand?" he asked her intently.

 

She didn't respond, still in pain, shock, and mourning. And so he shook her gently.

 

"Zenobia isn't safe anymore!" he yelled as he walked backwards away from her. "Odessa Inn!"

"What's your name?!" she asked him before he was out of sight in the dark, gritty backstreets.

He stopped, turning around, "... Edge," he replied, disappearing down an alleyway.

 

 

 

*****



Stryker was finished shutting his equipment down to go silent for the night, and stop his transmission to prevent the Ducrinus Administration from locating the source. His transmissions were short, to stop Lucious from getting a trace on his location. The operation had remained hidden for years, spanning nearly a decade, and reaching tens of millionss of Zenobians, desperate for the truth, desperate for hope, for a leader to follow. Someone to inspire them, bring their dreams of freedom and a better life a little closer to reality.

A knock fell upon the heavy iron door of his secluded, hidden home. He turned his head quickly, letting his right hand rest on the handle of a pistol he wore around his thigh. He was a tall, lean man with Long black hair that hung over a red bandana in spikes and locks. At the back of his head, his hair was tied in a bushy ponytail.

He approached the door slowly. No one should have been at his door at all, let alone at this hour, just after a broadcast. You couldn't run from Agents, but he was prepared to fight his way into an escape, or die a martyr Either was fine with him. He'd fought for Hector Ducrinus, witnessed and committed horrors that still haunted him. But he realized the error of his ways, and devoted the rest of his life to making a difference. To resisting the Ducrinus Administration, and bringing the truth to the Zenobian people. He could die knowing he did what he could, but of course, that was plan B.

He slid the cover away from the tiny peephole and saw what looked like a tiny blonde angel shivering in the nippy evening air. He unlocked the door in three different places and opened it quickly. A beautiful young woman stood before him, shaking gently, with tears streaming down her perfect cheeks.

"Ana," he said with surprised confusion and concern for the state she was in, or even that she'd shown up at his door.

She swallowed so she could speak, but the words were strangled by the grief in her voice.

 

"Jin's dead."

Edited by That One NPC

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Ana sat on Stryker's old, musty orange sofa. It matched the rusted, oxidized iron walls of his humble little abode. A hoarse brown blanket was thrown across her shoulders, and she held a cup of hot cocoa in her hands. She was distraught, distant, and weeping softly. Stryker sat across from her on the edge of a desk, arms crossed. He gazed upon her with heartbreaking compassion. She was just a girl, no older than twenty-two. She was sweet, innocent, and so beautiful. She deserved so much better from life, from herself. She was the most unlikely resistance fighter he could picture in his mind. She should have gone to university, met a nice boy from the core who could give her a nice life. She was Zenobia's very own long lost Princess. How she ended up at his door that night, he could only imagine.

"What happened, Ana?" he asked softly, his rough exterior brushing the surface of his tone. She wept harder.

 

"We tried to hit Zenobia Prime, and," she tried to explain, but he cut her off, raising his voice.

 

"Wait. That was you? Ana, what happened?" He asked her sternly. How could Jin have gotten himself into such a mess? That dumb kid was too smart for something like this. Stryker's mind struggled to accept that a kid he had mentored and looked out for would go so far as to attack a building within the core. And what was worse? He dragged the girl into it.

 

"She could be the future of the rebellion,"

 

Stryker recalled Jin saying. He had a faith in the girl that was unshakable. Unbreakable. And what Stryker found odd was that it never seemed to be a romantic thing. The girl was beautiful, and when he had met Ana, he dismissed that faith as young lust. But he really had taken their fight to the enemy. He had died for it, and she had been left in his wake. She looked up at him, shaking and replied.

 

"Something went wrong. They're all dead. Jin, Kato... Willow." She burst into tears, lowering her head. "And I wanted to stay - I wanted to, but he wouldn't let me!"

"Who wouldn't let you?"

"Edge!" she yelled back, looking up at him. He stood up as she did so.

 

"Edge Widowmaker?!"

Ana lowered her head again, and Stryker began to pace back and forth in front of her.

"Oh god, Ana. This guy is dangerous! He's not to be trusted. You're lucky he didn't..."

Ana looked up at him again.

 

"No, Stryker it's not like that. He saved my life!"

"Edge Widowmaker only 'saves' lives when he has something to gain. Thought that son of a bitch was dead by now. In fact I was sure of it," he grumbled almost beneath his breath. He was enthralled in thought as Ana stood up behind him, placing the cocoa on the small coffee table.

 

"I have to go, I have to get to Odessa," she said frantically. Stryker squinted his gaze and approached her.

 

"What?! No, Ana!"

"Yes, he'll know where Willow is, right? He probably saved her too. I have to go." She headed for the door, but Stryker grabbed her right arm, pulling her close to him, and wrapped his right arm around her gently.

"You're not going anywhere, kid. Not tonight."

She turned into his chest and let all of her pain, sorrow, and guilt flow freely.

He felt awkward, being almost twice her age. Still he held her. Still he comforted her and stroked her silky blonde hair as she dumped the weight of her shattered heart onto his chest.

Edited by That One NPC

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"I once knew a girl who used to say, "Anything truly great comes from a humble beginning."

She was right.

Back then I didn't believe in anything, didn't even believe in myself. Somewhere in my adventurous youth I had lost sight of who I was, where I had come from, and who I was destined to be. 
She changed all of that. Without even trying, without even knowing it, she inspired us all to create a better version of ourselves.

 

To create a better world."
 

 

 

Edge charged down a dark, narrow ally. His breathing was heavy and his heart threatened to blow as it pounded in his chest. In the distance, the sound of sirens pitched across the sky as soldiers flooded the streets, searching high and low for the escaped terrorists. They blocked all exits into and out of Zenobia, setting up check points to monitor and regulate all traffic leaving both the core, and the slums. Soldiers operating large armored vehicles and mobile missile deployment trucks lingered at the check points and stalked the streets while homes and businesses were raided and searched.

The streets were still relatively busy. It was late evening yet, and light traffic and crowds still roamed the streets of the outer slums. Edge had reached one of the main streets in Zenobia, stretching from the southern most point of the city, spanning north for miles into the core's high class downtown districts.

He lurked in the shadows, sizing up the street. There were citizens on the opposite side walking north, and a group of three teenagers heading south on his side of the road. Beyond them he set his gaze on a lone Zenobian soldier riding a hover bike designed for desert travel. The soldier was approaching slowly, intimidating the people with the slow, menacing crawl of his iron horse as he patrolled the streets of the slums. The kids were approaching too fast, and they would end up between him and the soldier by the time Edge had the chance to make his move.

He spread his back against the wall, taking full cover of the shadows and waited the situation out. As they grew closer, he could make out the conversation they were having.

"I say they're just muscling us so they can build their reactors," a young man said to the others, hands buried in his pockets as he strolled down the street.

"Wouldn't surprise me one bit," another boy said cynically, smoking a cigarette.

A young girl walked between them. She seemed to have more energy than the boys, more spunk in her spirit.

"Whatever," she said, snatching the cigarette from the cynic's lips, flicking it into the street.

"Hey, Shestah!"

At that moment the trooper called out to the kids and turned his bike toward them, pulling closer to the sidewalk.

The three teens turned around, and when they matched eyes with a Zenobian soldier, the cynical smoker attempted to bolt south down the street. As he turned to make an honest break for home, Edge emerged from the shadows with haste and force, pushing the poor kid aside. He bumped into Shestah as Edge rushed the unprepared trooper, smacking him across the face with the blunt side of his sword, swinging with all his might.

The trooper hit the pavement, unconscious and Edge mounted the bike, pushing its small engine to the limit.

Shestah and her companions stood in awe as he raced down the street, cutting an intersection fiercely before disappearing out of sight.

"Holy shit," Shestah said plainly, a twinkle of admiration shining in her big brown eyes.

"We should go," the cynical smoker said with both fear and excitement, looking down at the KO'd Zenobian trooper.

"Yeah," the other boy replied quickly, and three ran away into the night leaving the trooper there in the street.


 

*****

 


"Negative, I'm on foot. Guy stole my unit. Son of a bitch broke my nose. I need a medic."

"Copy that, trooper. He just jumped our check-point. Smooth move, asshole."



Sarovoc stood beside a large brown horse preparing to mount it. He wore an ear piece with a small microphone listening to the conversation.

He froze, closing his eyes and let a sigh pass from his lips.

"Stand down."

"Copy that, Sir."

Sarovoc walked away from the horse, leaving the stable. He dialed a number into a hand-held device and awaited an answer.

"Hello?"

"Victor."

"Sarovoc..."

"We have a situation."

Edited by That One NPC

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"Let me see if I understand this correctly," Lucious said with arrogance. "Some savage outsider tried to kill you, then escaped. Mean-while four kids from the slums tried to blow up Zenobia Prime?"

Sarovoc stood before his brother, looking around with irritation. He was defensive and annoyed. He nodded. Locking eyes with Lucious. Lucious was an older man with grey hair and an aged, wrinkling face. He wore a fine suit with a long black coat. His gaze was scrutinizing, and his brow stern.

"Deal with this yourself, brother. I have greater concerns than four dead kids in your basement," Lucious said as he got up from his seat, walking passed Sarovoc.

Sarovoc sighed, lowering his head.

"All four aren't dead," he said with a sense of shame and failure.

Lucious stopped, closing his eyes, lifting his head with annoyed frustration.

"What happened, Sarovoc?"

"The mercenary helped one of them escape."

Lucious spun around swiftly, scolding Sarovoc with his cold eyes. The same eyes their father used to scold them with. Hector was a vile man. A real violent, judgement bastard. He didn't let up until the day he died, clawing his way into the afterlife over a three day period struggling on life support. And even today the scars he left on their mind and body still haunted them, judging and picking apart their every move from the shallow grave he lay in. No one mourned the loss of Hector Ducrinus, because he had stricken anyone he had met with resent and hatred.

"I'm in the process of locating them now," Sarovoc explained, holding Edge's escape from the city close to his chest. He wasn't game for the condescending bullshit he'd inevitably face from his brother. Truth was, deep down inside he hated Lucious, and resented his being made Emperor based on age alone when he believed he was better suited to lead Zenobia.

Lucious was so disgusted he didn't even speak, only gave him a fatal look that was both immanent and threatening as he turned from him and walked away.

Sarovoc gritted his teeth, feeling a wave of rage in Lucious' wake. He dialed a number and waited for an answer.

"Lyra, here."

"Find the boy!" he yelled with hatred. "He dies, you die with him. I want him alive so I can watch him die myself!"

He hung up in Agent Lyra's ear, throwing his hand-held device against a large window that overlooked Zenobia from thousands of feet in the air.

Edited by That One NPC

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Ana awoke in Stryker's bed. The white sheets were musty and cold. She shivered as she became aware of her surroundings. There were machines, mechanical equipment, and large bundles and lengths of random wiring scattered all over the room. The walls were rusted and showed signs of water leaking from the edges of the ceiling, staining the metallic surface in waves. Bright, translucent rays of sunlight peeked through a tiny circular window on a downward angle. Sitting on a small night table to her left was an old, black and white photo of a young man and woman. They were smiling, cheek to cheek. She sat up in the bed, letting her legs hang over the edge of the mattress. She picked up the picture, and upon closer examination, she was able to determine that the man was Stryker.

She placed the picture back on the table as it was, noticing a glass of water sitting idly, and took a drink, soothing her dry mouth and throat. She stretched, allowing a big yawn that helped shake off the sleepiness. As she loosened her muscles, she felt sharp pains all over her upper body from neck to ribcage. She cringed, clutching her ribs and shoulder. She slowly, painfully lifted her shirt, exposing the pale flesh of her tiny body. She was bruised and scraped badly, and it made the pain seem so much worse. That's when she took notice of three small white pills laying next to the glass of water. She hadn't remembered coming in the room, or going to sleep. She must have passed out on Stryker, and he carried her in here, and left the medication for her, anticipating her morning after agony.

For a moment, she pondered whether or not he checked her body for wounds, but quickly realized her legs were badly scraped and bruised as well.

She reached for the pills, exchanging hands, and then the glass, as not to overextend her hurting body. She downed the pills with trouble, having to lean back and spare her neck the strain, but her ribs and lower back hurt nevertheless.

She chugged the entire glass of water and lowered her head, holding the cup in her lap. She almost wanted to cry, but she remembered Edge, his instruction.

"Odessa Inn!"

She had to get moving. Find a way out of the city. Maybe it was early enough that she could slip out past Stryker. He had already done enough, risked so much for a stranger. They had only briefly met on several occasions through Jin. It wasn't like he knew her. And yet he risked life and limb to harbor and care for her.

She strained to hug herself, rubbing her arms as she shivered in the cool morning air. Zenobia was hot during the day, and blistering cold during the night. Every morning was bitterly cold. It sunk into flesh and bone, chilling to the core. Wood stoves and coal furnaces were required to maintain heat during the night through crude ventilation systems. She missed her home, her warm cozy bed and soft purple sheets. She missed her mother's cooking and warm smile. She missed her sister, her dog, and her friends.

She pulled herself together, pushing herself off the firm, springy mattress and onto her feet. Her perfectly toned legs didn't approve, but it wasn't open for debate. She had to get going. She had to find Edge, he'd know what to do, where to go. She felt so alone. Her mind kept wondering toward Stryker, he was all she had in that moment, but she knew she had to leave. She couldn't burden the man anymore than she already had. So she pressed on, clinging to the walls for support as she tried to work the kinks and irks out of her legs.

She passed through a doorway, slipping through the slightly open door as quietly as possible. As she passed through the doorway, she could smell the aroma of eggs and bacon. She could hear the sizzling and light clanging of utensils. Stryker was already awake and preparing breakfast. Just her luck...


Stryker stood in his small, sorry excuse for a kitchen. There was a tiny fridge, a beat up old stove which he hovered over, and a small sink with hardly any counter space. He wore the same militant cloths he had on the night before with a white towel tossed over his right shoulder.

He turned as he sensed a presence enter the room behind him.

Ana stood just beyond the hallway, holding her left arm. He could see the pain all over her face, and it broke his heart.

"Sit down," he said protectively, walking over to her. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and tummy, walking with her over to the sofa. There was an old pillow and blanket sprawled across the cushions where Stryker had slept the night before. Just by the naked eye, she could tell he had been cramped and uncomfortable. A wave of guilt washed over her already exhausted emotional state. She felt as though she was imposing, putting the man out somehow. He helped her sit down as she cringed yet again, having to bend her knees and stress her back muscles as she sat down.

"I have to go, Stryker," she pleaded desperately, glancing up at him with tears forming in her gorgeous green eyes.

He stared back at her with compassion and sympathy.

"We're gonna go to Odessa, Ana. But not before you get something in your belly." He gently ran his fingers along the soft skin of her right cheek, brushing her hair behind her ear and returned to the stove to tend to the eggs and bacon.

"I can't ask you to come with me, you've done too much," Ana tried to explain to him, but he cut her off, turning around.

"You're not asking. I'm telling you. You'll never make it to Odessa alone in the shape you're in. I'm not letting you die out there, Ana. If you think for a second I'm gonna let you go out into the desert alone and wounded, you've got me all wrong." He went back to cooking as Ana lowered her head, accepting defeat with open arms. She knew she'd never make it alone. She didn't even know where Odessa was.

Stryker prepared her a heaping plate of food, and presented it before her.

"Eat up, kiddo. Then we get you to Odessa," he said with a charming smile.

She painfully reached for the fork, lifted the plate over her lap and stuffed her bruised belly.

Edited by That One NPC

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Ana followed Stryker through the hot, dusty backstreets of the outer slums. The sun pounded down on the desert city with an unforgiving malice. It was almost high noon, and her leather jacket was becoming more of a burden with each step she took.

Stryker was armed to the teeth under his long brown duster. He wore black, fingerless gloves and a pair of round sunglasses. He was so obvious, she wondered how he managed to elude the Zenobian Empire for so long. Then again, she was fairly obvious in that red and black jacket. Everyone around the slums knew Ana. Kids, shop keepers, students and teachers, mailmen, everyone from the south western districts knew her by name, or by her long blonde hair, angelic face, and that trademark leather jacket.

Red was a symbol of resistance. It represented the blood of the Zenobian people who died in the last civil war. 134 years ago, the people of the slums rose up against the Emperor, Tyranus Ducrinus, Lucious' great grandfather. They waged war on the core and were slaughtered by the thousands. The war only lasted a few months before the people surrendered, but they have been fighting that war in their hearts ever since.

He led her down a series of unfamiliar streets. Even after 21 years of walking these streets, she found areas of the city she had never been before. You see, Zenobia was simply massive. From above, she imagined it looked endless, stretching into the horizon and beyond. there were millions upon millions of residents in Zenobia, only about a million of them registered citizens with rights and privileges like healthcare, the right to vote, speak freely in public, and practice any kind of religious or spiritual beliefs. Those people lived in the core. Residents of the slums were treated as less than human. There were no police here, no firefighters, or government establishments or services of any kind. People had to provide services like hospitals, fire prevention, and other vital functions themselves. But these services are illegal to provide without a license or permit, and only citizens were eligible for them. The only right to service the people of the slums were afforded was the right to trade goods for gil, or other goods. And the government still stuck their nose in, making it as hard as possible for shop owners to make a living and keep their doors open. Murder wasn't even against the law in the slums, unless a citizen was killed by a resident of the slums, or by another citizen. It was a lawless wasteland where people had to band together to protect each other and survive. Some districts were worse than others. Ana was from District 93 which was generally safe and civilized. But others like 98, or 81 were total chaos.

The painkillers were working. She felt a little strange, but the pain had lessened to a reasonable degree, and as she worked through the burn, it became easier to walk.

Stryker took her by the hand to her surprise and led her down a dark, narrow alleyway between two shanty, poorly constructed buildings. She gazed around the environment with anxiety as she saw old, used condoms, and dirty needles on the ground around her feet. Broken glass and cigarette butts littered the filthy nook of Zenobia's underbelly. The alley gave way into an opening surrounded by abandoned buildings. Stryker brushed his duster aside and let his right hand rest on his six shooter as bums, dregs and junkies watched them wearily as they passed by. The smell alone made Ana sick, but the very appearance of the vagrants startled her senses. She had never been this deep into the filth of Zenobia, although she knew it was there.

They passed through a door into a dark, musty and moldy building. He led her down a long corridor. The floor was wet from water dripping from the ceiling. At the end of the corridor, there was a massive hole in the wall that led straight out into the desert.

Stryker stopped, letting her hand go.

 

"This is an old passage smugglers and rebels have been using for almost fifty years," he said with a low tone of voice. He led the way slowly, peeking his head out and looking around cautiously. "Zenobian troops might be patrolling the desert, so we have to move fast."

Ana swallowed her anxiety like a lump in her throat and followed Stryker out into the light.

The desert was sweltering. She could feel the heat radiating off of the sand in waves. The sun's rays glistened off of every grain, straining her eyes. She had never been outside of Zenobia before, and the anxiety she had swallowed forced its way out of her stomach and into her chest, gripping her poor heart with fear. It was real now. She was leaving her home. Her mother. Her little sister. Everything she had come to know and love.

Edited by That One NPC

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