She was somebody once, but not anymore.

Once, she'd worn the uniform, and walked above the Plate a sacred enforcer of order and good will.

Now, she walked below the Plate, a silent weapon of organized crime for hire.

Her current job had her kicking in the door of a mob bar in the pits called The Seventh Heaven, and collecting a bartender who'd missed a payment. The ravenhaired girl was alone with no friends for protection, and jumped up on the bar with her dukes up ready for war. But our assassin drew her gunblade in a point-blank bead aimed right between her eyes. A Mako-eyes glare put the girl down, as if she somehow knew this was a fight she couldn't win.

"Let's go," the assassin growled a low tone that didn't do conversation, only gave quick orders before killing you.

Before, she'd handcuffed criminals like the one who employed her. Now she zip-tied a young girl, shoving her in the back of an unmarked carriage to be fast-tracked into the flesh market. She climbed in after, gunblade still trained on her in case of anything stupid, and they rode through the broken asphalt backstreets of the Sector 7 Slums.

Lamplights on the underside of the floating supermassive steel Plate hundreds of feet above them flickered off momentarily. This sick city had been engineered and designed by people who failed out of tech school and got rich on the stock market instead. The discovery of Magnesium Kobaltite as a fuel source—Mako—had ruined everyone's already miserable lives. Drilling the stuff gave off so much steam it made the metal foundations of the city float like a helium balloon. Monumental chains connected it to the ground, moaning in huge cries that ripped through lowcity like the mewling roars of giants. Kids who grew up down there were so used to it they could sleep next to them.

The Slums were a cacophonic blur of high tech and low life. Cracked neon signs lit up internet cafes and pawn shops that dealt prototype weapons and dirty bioware that fell of the backs of Shinra shipping trucks on a schedule so regular it was pathetic. Dingy cash-only dive bars that sold more than just warm booze dotted every corner, and underage girls in red tube tops and clear heels hovered in their back alleys waiting for drunk johns to jangle a few coins from chain wallets.

She was the same as them, she told herself. There was no difference between what she did and what they did. They were the meat and she was the butcher, a sick symbiotic relationship that kept her awake at night to leave permanent dark circles around her shaded eyes. But there had been no other way.

To escape Shinra, she ran to the gangs, and to escape the gangs, she ran to the mob. Now there was no escaping the mob because there was nowhere else to go. No way up from how far she had fallen. Though she still wore her vibro-weave battle dress that allowed her free movement at the knee, she'd ripped her rank patches off and sewn the holes with dental floss. She was no SOLDIER, she was a rogue, a disgrace to the SOLDIER name.

The carriage pulled up to the most lavish mansion that could be found off Fifth Avenue topside of the Plate, constructed right in the middle of the Sector 7 Slums in lowcity just to flaunt disgusting wealth to the peasants. The twin chocobos pulled the carriage away as she walked the girl up the marble steps, where a door guard tried to stop them. She shoved a gunblade in his face and pushed him aside.

Into the dual-staircase foyer and through a network of rose carpeted hallways she walked her quarry past joeboys and zuitsuited NPC's. Though she always had eyes on the back of her head when it came to these wise-guy slugs and their slumlord boss, this time her spider-senses went crazy.

Someone was here, and wasn't supposed to be.

She saw him, though he thought she didn't. She saw everything. A SOLDIER? He wore issued boots, but he was stark naked! Seemed like a very SOLDIER thing to do though. Streaking into the hideout of the worst crime boss in lowcity? Yup, SOLDIER. She knew he was tailing her, and it probably had something to do with the ravenhaired hostage she now escorted to Don Corneo's personal viewing room. Maybe she'd slow down a step, give him a bit to catch up.

When they got there, she shoved the ravehaired girl inside and went in after. Was he still there? She closed the door, but left it cracked, just in case.

Don Corneo, lowcity's personal piss-bucket, taking everyone's shit from them when they had nothing but shit to give anyway. Now he sat reclined at a mahogany desk nursing a really bad cigar, wafting a smell like a corpse died in her general direction.

She threw the girl at the Don's feet.

"Last one. I'm done here." Her voice was a haunting baritone, in a low note that wasn't having it today.

A line of stolen women stood in the room with muscle pimps pawing them. Some of them were trafficked from above the Plate, with ripped posh clothes still hanging off their bodies. The Don eyed them in peculiar scrutiny, mentally picking out which ones would go hustling and which he would keep chained in his bathroom.

She tensed. These decisions were usually over fast, and SOLDIER boy out there hadn't made a move yet. He needed time. So she muttered an insult about the Don's dick size under her breath but not quite.

That did it.

Ensue three full minute screaming slur session about how she'd get thrown in the line-up right next to these girls and tossed out to work the truck stops at North Edge after getting butt raped so hard by his entire payroll that she'd never shit sitting down again. That SOLDIER better have something good planned, because he owed her money for this. Come on, battle boy, make your move!

The door flew open mid chew-out, and her brows flew to the ceiling.

What in the holy crayon-eating reenlistment bonus bullshit is this?

Some blonde boy in drag strutted styling up to the Don, trying to entice him to take him to bed. This was even worse than the bet where rookie SOLDIER's had tried to sneak into her mentor's living quarters and grab one piece of proof that they'd been there. This guy, who was so obviously a guy that it hurt organs she didn't even have, had the dumb Don and all his cohorts believing that he was the hottest piece of ass this side of the Honey Bee, and it was his wildest dream to be dragged into the Godfather's bedroom and fucked like a chi-boy on sale.

There was obviously something really desperate and sideways going on here. She got the sick feeling that she should go along with it.

"BITCHES OUT!" the Don ordered, and she shoved the lineup of girls toward the door, noticing how the ravenhaired one mouthed panicked obscenities at him.

She handed the girls off to the boys from downstairs, and headed down a hallway that had a short route to its own exit. Posted up against the wall, she listened, waiting.

After a good ten minutes (took him that long? Wow), a silent alarm went off, and ten thugs came barreling down the hall.

Go time!

She waited until they rushed past her, then pulled her Gunblade from her hip unloading a full clip into their rear detail. When the rest turned and saw her, they drew blades as she darted in a quick slash across their midsections. Guts spilled onto the ground in a red carpet-dye, the few left bolted crying. She pursued in an aerial cartwheel that lopped off their heads.

Bodies still bashed against the walls in the viewing room. He needed more time.

She swept the remaining hallways clearing guards who were taken by surprise, threw the bodies down the garbage chute and in coat closets. She cleared a nice happy path to the exit and was feeling rather satisfied.

Screams of rage came from the Don's viewing room, and stuff started flying. Furniture bashed through the walls and the Don's desk rolled down the main parlor. Then parts of the ceiling started to cave. For fucks sakes the whole building was coming down! He cut load bearing beams, blew out walls, windows from the complete other side shattered in places where it was impossible for glass to be, like bathrooms. He must have been really pissed off.

She took cover under that mahogany desk as the whole roof came down. Propane explosions from the kitchen went off for a minute and stopped.

She crawled through the blown out hole where the fireplace was, coughing up a lung whilst toppling out into the back alley like a stricken idiot child. She turned to look back at the scene once she'd brushed enough asbestos off her face to breathe some oxygen again, and there he stood in full male review against the ruined backdrop of a druglord's dregs. She got a good look at him in the wreckage, a piece of rubble barely obscuring his midsection.

A young man with a combat-diver's raw physique stood panting in the dust, with hair like blonde spikes that exploded all over creation, and Mako-eyes ringed in the black trauma-circles of a haunted life. One more detail caught her laser-focus, a flowing anima brand glowed like a golden tattoo on his forearms, like hers.

She saw him and knew he was pre-purge. One of the survivors like her, but she didn't know how until she saw the huge meat cleaver of a weapon in his hand, and gasped.

THAT SWORD!

The man got his bearing and fled the rubble.

"Wait!" she ran after him, until a huge electric shock ripped through her body, knocking her to the ground. She spit up blood face down and lifted herself on scraped palms. Someone else had shot her with a shockwave, and it wasn't one of the dead Don's doormen.

The sound of expensive Italian leather crunching gravel strode toward her. A tall, thin man in a tailored micro-check suit with the craziest red hair from hell bounced a stun-baton in his hand. He smiled at her like he knew her, as she most definitely knew him.

"Hey sweet cheeks. Remember me?"

"Oh no," she scoffed as he twirled handcuff's around his finger.

"We finally get to play with these. You're coming with me, doll."

And his backup stepped from the shadows to his side, a bald man twice his size with muscles for miles under his suit and dark agency shades obscuring his stone expression.

What the FUCK were they doing here? They left no time for questions as they rushed her, and she leapt to her feet like a startled cat from her stomach, gunblade drawn in a swipe that fired hollowpoints at them on the quickdraw.

They ducked behind the remains of the retaining wall while she scrambled back for that desk. Now she was in a shootout with the Turks.

Her gunblade wasn't meant for solo-fire, it was meant to give cover while dashing in. So she did just that, a barrage of bullets and she rushed in leaping over the retaining wall. Her boot landed square in the chest of the big bruiser sending him flying back. She spun to lock up blades with the stun baton and he smiled toothy and evil at her. This guy was just plain batshit. They cross-exchanged blows with her backstepping to evade his absolute audacity. He was what happened when a firecracker had only the white powder bored out of it and shoved in a plastic bottle. With crazed downswipes of his electric-edged baton he drilled her hard, until she bat him up to back-handspring away for a breath.

Then the desk flew in two sliced pieces on either side of them.

The red-head turned stark pale, scrambling back into his friend.

"Oh shit oh shit it's him."

"Is he…alive?"

"Idontknowrun!"

And they both dashed into the shadows of lowcity like they'd seen a ghost.

She turned to see thick dust plumes, and the quickest flash of light from the moonlamps reflected for an instant off elongated steel.

The Damascus edge of a twelve foot long daikatana pierced through the smoke in a slow, primordial sweep. And at its hilt stepped a tall, ghastly figure with a river of silver hair streaming down to his combat boots. His face was a statuesque sculpture crafted as if from a scalpel, yet pasted with the ghastly pallor of life long departed, complete with black veins of decay. His eyes were straight dark wells with no irises, jet glass windows into a soulless void. All of him clad in a flowing gunmetal black longcoat that trailed his steps like apocryphal wings, and sword straps across his bare muscled chest that held the whole unholy vestige together.

When she saw him, her breath left her lungs. Her heart leapt up in the bright glow of recognition.

"Sensei!"

She ran to him, body and soul bared to leap into the arms of warm familiarity, when a quick slice ripped the air at her breast. She stopped on a dime as the daikatana narrowly missed her and swung back around for another swipe. Her gunblade whipped up to smash-parry what seemed like a million slices coming at her all at once, moving automatically to match the daikatana tit for tat like a pizza cutter.

Her eyes and mouth were wide open, mind blank save for the sheer utter confusion of a familiar sword now tearing up the space between them. She leapt back in the air, poised like frozen time, but he slammed into her midair jettisoning her back into rubble careening and tumbling.

He floated down like a wave of shorn silk, prophetic and hallowed. She could almost hear the unholy angel choirs lending battle music to their benevolent boss-fight.

As the demonic figure stalked his prey, sword poised for bloody finality, she dragged herself upright against the remains of the mahogany desk at her back.

"Please…It's me…"

The daikatana paid her no heed as it raised for its kill. She cringed back, but a blinding flash blocked its descent.

A dark figure in a flowing blue mage's cloak stood over her, swordcrossed with the big daikatana. And from where she laid flopped on the ground, she saw black recon-issued combat boots on toe in swordfighter's stance. Materia orbs glowed in his blade, and with orbiting magic he cast the black coated demon back into a brick wall.

Another SOLIDER! What the hell? She hadn't seen so many SOLDIER boots in one day since the purge four years ago. He brushed the dust off his shoulder from the rubble in a quick swipe. He must have been down in the dungeon and crawled through the wreckage like she had. Now he stood in front of her a shining sentinel, guarding against the oncoming fell swoop of this mysterious foe.

The demon in the black longcoat stood up from the rubble as if pulled by invisible wires, some otherworldly force holding the strings of this macabre puppet in a sick and twisted stage play. He circled in predatory strides, slow, calculating, mercurial, eyeing the young man with a sense other than sight.

"You've grown."

He spoke in a dark monotone, a haunting harmonic reverb.

"You've changed," the SOLDIER replied.

A dark laugh, and a theatric flip of the wrist. The demon shot a flame wheel from his sword but the blue mage cast Reflect, hitting it back at him to deal damage and status ailments. He exploded forward hyperslashing his longsword as the daikatana slip-parried in whirling whips. A Drain cast halved the mage's MP. He quick-cast Regen on himself but whipped into a Firaga-slash, not missing a turn.

Now the mage was stacked. Every attack upped his stats, and every hit-point he lost he gained back plus ten. The black coated demon might as well have been handing him healing potions. This guy was good.

The demon was one step ahead of these games. He cast Quake, and the foundations under their feet rumbled and roared until the mage was on his back, badly hurt.

Plan B. The mage Jumped, leaping into the thick pollution smog that hung low under the Plate. The demon turned about with eyes up, scanning above, looking all over the place as he lost turn after turn. He hurled thunder bolts upward hoping they would land, but they missed, and he was wasting energy. All the while a Plus Twenty flickered over and over.

A phenomenal spear down shot the mage straight onto the demon, but a huge daikatana cross-locked with his sword to stop him midair. A powerful Barrier left him suspended with magic-flared sword meeting silver tinged blade in hammer-space. The demon flicked him away like a rag doll.

It was time to end this fight. Black coat tails flared as the demon strode forward with daikatana poised. But flickering fractals flashed around the mage in translucent leylines, spinning faster and further apart. The flarelight shards shot out to form a ring around the demon, and it was then he realized they were seven crystalline swords.

The mage dashed out at teleporting speeds, grabbing the first sword and shooting across his foe to the second, slicing a stratovariant cross in hyperlight lashes from blade to blade so fast the naked eye saw a blue blur. The creature fell, leaning on his sword upon a knee.

The mage flowed back to a defensive caster's stance. Regen replenished his magic. He could go all night like this. He showed off his full health bar like an ace card face up, daring the demon to call his bluff.

A chuckle, slowly building to a malevolent laugh. He pointed a long, black tipped finger at the blue mage as purple stratus coalesced all around him. Chaos. A back step into the mist, and the man in the black cloak disappeared.

The mage strode over to her in deliberate, yet flowing steps. Quiet footfalls in those big waffle-stompers were the mark of a trained First Class operator. Seeing the glowing chrysanthemum on her chest, he sheathed his sword and threw back his hood, revealing shoal blue hair and the telltale Mako-infused eyes.

Another pre-purge. She stared up at him in a daze.

"Who…how…?"

"My name is Noctis Caelum. I was a SOLDIER and an apprentice to a First, like you. I ran away, and people started dying. I'm going to end this once and for all. Are you coming with me?"

He was terse, and didn't have time. Her mind was whirling but his soul was a rock, holding all the answers. She nodded without meaning to, and he held out his hand to her. As she took it and was lifted to her feet, an emblazoned anima brand glowed across his forearm—like hers.

"What do I call you?"

She paused. Someone else had asked her that question once, a long time ago now.

"Call me Light."

[Noctis is added to the Party]