A/N: I do not own Final Fantasy VII. I do, however, own this plot, and the original characters/myself.

Heavy breathing and the thudding of his footsteps were in tune with the loud thudding of his heart. That was all Ronnie heard as he ran through the hallways of the 67th floor. That and the disturbing and distressing screams of people being mercilessly slaughtered.

Another scream erupted from somewhere in front of him. Ronnie skidded to a halt and dived behind a nearby wall. He took this time to pause, catch his breath, and reflect on what was happening around him. He honestly didn't know what was happening around him. His frantic mind couldn't fathom it, couldn't accept it.

Ronnie was a simple man. He was a Turk member, sure, but he wasn't what one would call an 'active Turk'. He stayed mostly within the building handling the paperwork no one ever wanted to do. Only when the Turks were short of manpower did Ronnie step into the real world of Gaia—a world quite different from his original Earth, yet similar at the same time.

Gaia had changed drastically since the Incident five years ago; the incident that nearly cost his best friend her life. He wasn't entirely sure that she was really alive, but he always kept that naïve hope that she was simply because she had to be. He wouldn't accept anything else. Just like he couldn't accept his situation just then.

It all started earlier that day. AVALANCHE, the organization Shin-Ra held responsible for the aforementioned drastic changes, had blown up the pillar that held Sector 7 in the sky; and down it had come, crushing and killing everyone both above and below the plate. At least, that's what Shin-Ra told the populous as the President stayed in his office on the 70th floor, listening to classical music as if the death of hundreds meant nothing to him—because, in truth, it didn't.

In reality, the dastardly deed had been done by the Turks, ordered by Shin-Ra. Ronnie had only found out after the event, and the idea of something so horrible being perpetrated by the company he worked for had almost made him vomit. Of course he knew that the Company was no saint, and that it had its dark dealings, its sins, but never could he have imagined anything on the magnitude of what had transpired.

The incident sparked something within Ronnie, some shred of a memory, and he remembered Saan. Not just Saan, but of what she used to constantly talk about for hours on end, never seeming to take a break—for she was usually ranting whenever she talked about it. Ideas and theories and protestations about Shin-Ra, its immorality, and how she loathed the Company; while at the same time expressing how she refused to leave her friends in such a place.

Her friends were an anchor to her, keeping her stuck at Shin-Ra, but they were not a burden. No, not a burden; if anything, they were a little speck of light and hope that kept her going. She would fight for them and die for them, and she nearly had.

Ronnie remembered the Nibelheim Incident vividly. He remembered the cut up bodies of Zack and a young, blond cadet. He remembered pitying them because they were forced to become Hojo's little lab pets. He especially remembered the discovery of Saan, her lifeless body lying beneath a Mako Fountain—how Hojo had "reclaimed" her and her ancient suit of armor and taken her back to the labs, as well.

Ronnie had been furious, his best friend being treated like an object, but he couldn't do a thing. He was simply a paperboy in the biggest corporation on the planet. What could he do? Nothing. But, he didn't have long to worry. Before Hojo had the chance to try anything, the suit had reacted, as if sensing the impure, corrupt thoughts of the greasy scientist and protected Saan's neck and face—the only visible parts of her body—with even more metal when the man had tried to touch her.

She was locked up tight, putting Ronnie's mind to ease a little. She wouldn't be experimented on, that was for sure. None of the scientists, Hojo included, could figure out how to remove the suit. Hojo had cursed Saan day and night, saying she was somehow still controlling the suit even though she was unconscious. He thought her to be in a coma. Pissed and at a loss for what to do, he placed her within a glass chamber filled with Mako, just as he had done with Zack. Fortunately for Ronnie, Saan was placed within the Shin-Ra building, instead of forever away in Nibelheim.

He was somewhat content with the decision, even though it surely hadn't been made for his peace of mind. At least this way, he was able to see Saan whenever he wanted; she still existed. As the years rolled on, he didn't know whether she was ever going to wake up. There were tests run to see if her vitals were all right—nothing changed. It was as if she were in a state of suspended animation. Ronnie wondered if she was even aging at all. He wondered if Zack and the other boy were aging at all; if they were alive.

And then, not but a year ago, Zack had escaped and taken his friend with him. Ronnie had been ecstatic. Not only was one of Saan's friends safe, but it proved that the coma, stasis, whatever it was, could be overcome. But no one ever truly escapes Shin-Ra. Despite Tseng's best efforts to keep the army off the boys, it had caught up with them. Zack had died. The other boy mysteriously disappeared. It was a sad day for many people, Ronnie included, and a strange day for the Shin-Ra scientists.

For whatever reason, Saan's brain waves had spiked. It lasted only for an hour or two, but it was definitely something interesting. The scientists were baffled. Ronnie thought he knew. He thought that she'd sensed Zack's death somehow. It wasn't an unbelievable theory considering what Mako really was—what Shin-Ra didn't want the people knowing it was. He'd silently prayed that she would wake up during those moments; that she would give them all hell. She was the only one who could; she was the only SOLDIER First that remained.

But she didn't wake. She stayed as still as she had for four years. AVALANCHE's attacks increased every day. Shin-Ra was being rocked by explosions. It made its own explosion. And it delivered into Ronnie's hands the very people who were out to destroy it—the people he was out to free.

He thought it was a genius plan. He would free the AVALANCHE members on the promise that they would help him free Saan, and together they would bring down Shin-Ra. Shin-Ra had to be stopped, Ronnie knew that full well. Saan had warned him years ago of what it could possibly be doing, and he had discovered she was usually right. So, he was going to listen, just like he usually did, and do the right thing since nobody within the Company was going to.

After breaking into the storage area that kept confiscated goods, Ronnie stole Saan's old staff weapon. He blew off the dust that had collected on it and stared at the three Materia orbs. He laughed at Shin-Ra's stupidity. Why leave such powerful Materia in the weapon? Leaving the storage area, he made his way to the 67th floor via the stairs. No real reason stood for him taking the stairs, other than perhaps he wanted to release the pent up energy he was gaining from the giddy idea of finally freeing his long lost friend—finally having the power to.

And that was when all hell broke loose…literally. Upon stepping into the halls of floor 67, Ronnie was met with a strange and very strong sense of foreboding. It was like all the hairs on the back of his neck and arms stood on end. He couldn't understand it at first. He certainly was nervous about betraying Shin-Ra, he knew the consequences of such an act, but nervousness had never made his hair stand on end, it had only ever made him slightly queasy.

He had made his way around the rounded wall that held the stairs and came upon the morbid sight of blood on the ground; and a dead body. Ronnie'd stared, mouth agape, at the fallen man. His hands unconsciously tightened around Saan's staff as if it would protect him simply by being there. Gulping, he went a few more steps before a shrill screech pierced his ears. Ronnie had seen enough horror movies in his lifetime to know the sound of a dying woman when he heard one. Scared beyond belief, Ronnie took a deep breath and ran for the holding cells.

Turk protocol told him to investigate what was going on and ensure the safety of the scientists and workers on the floor. Common sense told him to hell with that, self-preservation was the way to go; and he couldn't let whoever (or whatever) was killing people get to the AVALANCHE members before he did, or his plans would be ruined.

He was almost to the branch in the hallways that led to the cells when another heart-wrenching scream, this time male, went into the air. Ronnie'd dived behind the wall, and that's where he now stood, panting and shaking and just all around scared for his life.

He waited and he waited, fighting with himself whether or not he should remain at the wall and play it safe, or go and try to get to the cells. He was leaning more towards just remaining on the wall until a disturbing thought hit him. What if the creature snuck up on him and he was pinned against the wall?

Ronnie made a face. When had the murderer become a creature? What else could it have been! Ronnie reasoned. No sounds of gunshots or sword slashes could be heard before the terrifying screams, and he was in the science labs. It wasn't unfathomable that one of Hojo's experiments had escaped and was seeking its revenge.

Taking a breath to calm himself, Ronnie risked a look around the edge of the wall. Oh, how he wished he hadn't! Ronnie's eyes widened as he caught a glimpse of a strange, humanoid shadow cast on the wall. It was coming from the cells. Slapping his hand over his mouth to stop the scream that almost bubbled out of him, Ronnie slammed back against the wall, out of sight, and slid down. It was a nightmare! He was stuck in a nightmare! But, no, that wasn't right. He could never be that lucky. Whatever was making its way through the halls was very much real and it was killing people, murdering them.

He had to remember to breathe. He had to calm himself. If he didn't, he was going to panic—more than he already was! He waited for what felt like an eternity before he risked another peek around the corner. No sign of the monster. He waited more. Another scream; a shout; a second scream. Ronnie bolted for the hallway with the cells.

He slipped a little on the blood trail—oh God!—and completely ignored the fact that he completely failed to ignore the body of a guard broken and crumpled in the corner. The cells. He had to check the cells and make sure the AVALANCHE members were all right. The doors were not thrown ajar, and there were no other signs of forced entry. Ronnie assumed everything to be fine.

He had no idea who was in which cell, not that it mattered since he didn't know any AVALANCHE members personally, and so he chose the middle cell. On the right-hand side. He ran to the door, and upon reaching it, the automated system kicked on, and it opened.

Ronnie's brain was slow to process the fact that he was staring at a pair of glowing, blue eyes under a shock of blond hair until the man in front of him's features transformed from equal surprise to scorn. Ronnie opened his mouth to state his intentions, but he wasn't fast enough. What came out, instead, was a high-pitched, "Meep!" as the blond man grabbed him, quite roughly, by the front of his suit, yanked him into the room, and slammed him against the wall beside the door. Ronnie grunted.

The next few sentences to come were not able to be heard for both Ronnie and the man were yelling at one another, and neither was willing to listen. After a second or two of this gibberish, Ronnie paused long enough to wait his turn and shout:

"I'm here to help!"

"Who are you?" The man in front of him growled, his fists tightening around the fabric of Ronnie's collar.

"Cloud, what's going on?" A soft, feminine voice came from the bed.

Ronnie glanced away from the blond for a brief moment and towards the direction of the voice. On the bed was a young brown-eyed brunette woman wearing a white t-shirt, black mini-skirt, and suspenders. Ronnie found the whole outfit bizarre, what with her endowments, but figured to each his (or her) own. He hadn't been allowed to look at the woman for long before his attention was drawn back to the blond male with a not so polite jerk.

Ronnie was never one to allow himself to be manhandled, at least not in this way, and, with his surprise and fear wearing off, he was quickly becoming irritated with the man threatening him. Staring annoyedly into those shocking blue eyes—definitely a side effect of Mako—Ronnie decided then was just as good a time as any to state who he was and what he was doing there. Before he had to punch the man in front of him.

"Look," he began. "I need your help, and you need mine."

"We don't need help from Turks," the blond said venomously, "and we sure as hell aren't going to help any. You've wasted your time here."

Ronnie opened his mouth to object and say some things he knew he shouldn't, but he was interrupted.

"What's goin' on over there, Spikey?" Came a loud, booming voice from the cell to Ronnie's left. If he wasn't mistaken, the speaker was Black.

"Nothing," the blond replied, loud enough for the other man to hear him. "Just a pest."

The blond drew back to hit Ronnie. Perhaps he meant to knock Ronnie unconscious and he and his friends escape; however, he never got the chance. As Ronnie's grip on Saan's staff tightened and he began to summon some of the magic that had lain dormant within it for five years, the brunette spoke again as she pushed herself off the bed and walked towards them.

"Wait, Cloud!" She said, scanning Ronnie from head to toe, "Maybe we should hear him out. He did open the door for us."

The blond frowned, but heeded to the woman. He lowered his fist, very reluctantly, and continued to glare at Ronnie, not once letting go of his hold on Ronnie's suit. Ronnie, however, was confused. He hadn't opened the door for them. He had been under the impression that the blond, Cloud, had opened it from the inside somehow. Which, now that he thought of it, would have been pretty impossible since the guard, currently dead in the corner, would have kept the door locked and the key on him.

"I didn't open the door for you…" Ronnie trailed off.

"What?" Both people asked simultaneously.

"What do you mean you didn't open it? You had to have opened it; it wasn't open before," Cloud replied, dropping his hate for a moment, as it had been replaced with confusion.

Ronnie thought about it for only a moment. If he had not opened the door, the guard had not opened the door (how could he?), and Cloud had not opened the door, it could only mean the creature had opened the door. Why ever it would do such a thing Ronnie didn't know, but it did thoroughly creep him out. Remembering the creature that was probably on some other floor slaughtering all in its path, Ronnie realized that maybe some things ought to be called to attention before he progressed with his plan speech.

"Uh…" he said uncertainly. "I think perhaps you should look outside…"

Cloud's eyebrows knitted together skeptically, "Why?"

"You're letting us go?" the girl asked, hopeful.

"Er," Ronnie hesitated.

He had to make sure to answer both questions without provoking Cloud. It was in the best interest of everybody that a fight did not break out. Collecting his thoughts, he answered.

"Yes and no. I need your help, like I said before. After that, you'll be free to go wherever you like—"

"Or we could just leave now and ignore your little request," Cloud replied.

Ronnie was annoyed that he'd been interrupted once again, but kept his voice calm and polite, "As for leaving on your own, I really, really suggest that you look outside before making any decisions."

The blond frowned darkly, but then released Ronnie slowly. Giving him a stare that clearly told him to stay put and to not try anything, Cloud left the room and went into the hallway. Ronnie wondered as to what Cloud's reaction would be upon the discovery of the dead body.

Left in the room, Ronnie turned his attention to the brunette. He smiled openly and waved to her. The girl was surprised at his carefree disposition, but eventually smiled a little back at him. Ronnie was a very open and friendly person, being in the Turks hadn't changed that.

He used to always wave at random people in their cars back on Earth—on Gaia, he didn't own a car. Saan had always been perturbed by his openness, constantly bickering with him that if he didn't know someone, he shouldn't talk to them let alone wave at them. Ronnie never listened of course, just thought her anti-social, when in reality she just didn't want unwanted attention drawn her way; and, since she used to always be beside Ronnie, attention undoubtedly traveled to her.

It wasn't long before the blond spoke from outside the room.

"Tifa!" He shouted for the brunette.

"What is it?" She asked curiously.

"Something's wrong. You should come see this."

Frowning in confusion, the brunette, Tifa, left the room and went to join her comrade. Ronnie was left by himself…but only for a second. Feeling that he was no longer in danger of getting decked by the AVALANCHE members, he followed slowly and quietly behind Tifa.

In the hallway, Cloud was kneeling beside the fallen guard. Tifa's expression became one of shock, disgust, and confusion; just as Ronnie's had when he came upon the first victim.

"I wonder what happened…" She said quietly, almost a whisper.

"He should have the key on him," Cloud replied, ignoring Tifa's remark.

The blond, avoiding what bloodstains he could, searched through the guard's clothing for the card key that would open the cell doors. Ronnie didn't like this seemingly disgusting disrespect of the guard, but he knew there was no way around it. The other AVALANCHE members had to be freed, he had to convince them to help him with Saan, and to do that they needed the card key.

Finding the key in the guard's left pocket, Cloud stood up and went into action. He started with the first door.

"Come on, Tifa, get Aerith. I'll go help Barret and the others," he said as he swiped the card through the slot beside the door.

Tifa went to the door. It swished open like all doors in the Shin-Ra building did and she stepped inside to rouse her friend; if she hadn't already been awakened by Cloud and Ronnie's scuffle earlier.

"And you stay put," Cloud commanded, glaring at Ronnie as he went to the last door.

Ronnie obeyed. He understood the reason Cloud and his friends were giving him so much grief. The Turks had been responsible for killing hundreds of people simply to destroy AVALANCHE, they'd captured the Aerith girl, an Ancient according to Tseng, and then thrown the rest in jail when they'd attempted to rescue their friend. He understood it alright, but that didn't mean he had to like it. So, as Cloud opened the door to the other cell, Ronnie stood, clutching Saan's staff, and chanted like a mantra that all the offensive language and actions would be worth it in the end.

"Barret, Red XIII...come with me. Something's wrong," Cloud said.

"How'd you get in? Why's the door open!" The booming voice from before asked.

Ronnie had been correct in his assumption that the speaker was Black. The dark-skinned man ran out of the cell he'd been in, Cloud stepping to the side so that he wasn't accidently bowled over by the man's massive arms (or arm, for the other arm was, in fact, a gun) and came to a stop when he saw the body of the guard laying in a pool of its own blood.

The other person to exit the cell was not a person at all, but a four-legged creature with brilliant red fur, one eye missing, and a curious flame that burned at the end of its tail—much like Charmander. Ronnie was immediately taken by the red creature for no other reason than it was a dog; or was it a cat? There were tell-tale signs of both species in the creature. Regardless, Ronnie had always been an animal lover and he knew he would get along well with it. Using the process of elimination, Ronnie surmised that Red XIII was the creature's name; therefore, the man's name had to be Barret.

"This's kinda eerie…" Tifa muttered. Both her and the red-headed Aerith had exited the first cell and were also staring at the body.

"Must've been attacked by…" Aerith trailed off uneasily. She frowned suddenly, almost sorrowfully.

"The hell's goin' on!" Barret shouted.

Ronnie flinched a little. It seemed the older man really loved shouting. Ronnie saw many eyes turn towards him. He didn't understand why at first until he noticed Cloud's glare. They were suspecting him! He opened his mouth to object, but Red XIII did this for him.

"No human could've done this."

Ronnie was vaguely surprised that this creature could speak; but, given what he'd experienced over the years, it wasn't as great a shock as it probably was to other people. Red XIII's head lifted from the ground, where he had been inspecting the body. He looked back down the hallway, in the direction of the trail of blood.

"I'll go on ahead," he said before galloping off.

"I'll clean up back here, so you guys go ahead. And don't get caught by Shin-Ra!" Barret…exclaimed.

Tifa jumped a little, ready for action, "Come on, let's follow Red XIII!"

"Wait!" Cloud commanded just as Tifa started to leave.

She stopped and looked back at him. Everyone looked at him. It was obvious who the leader of the group was. And it was obvious to Ronnie what Cloud wanted to address. After all, the blond's eyes hadn't left him for a while.

"What's your purpose in all this?" Cloud asked. "What do you want?"

Ronnie ignored the fact that that was almost the same question asked two different ways and sighed.

"I have a name and it's Ronnie. I'm a Turk, obviously, I'm wearing the same stupid suit all Turks wear. I came here to help you escape—"

"Why?" Cloud snapped.

"Would you let me finish?" Ronnie snapped back. The two glared at one another for a second before Ronnie continued, "Anyways, I came to help you escape, but upon getting here, I noticed a dead body near the stairs. Then there were screams. I hid from whatever was killing people. When I got to the cells, the door to Cloud's cell was already opened, and you know the rest.

"Now, as to why I wanted to help you, it's because I need your help."

"Why does a Turk want help from AVALANCHE?" Barret asked roughly.

Ronnie sighed again, "Because the Turk is quitting and wants to take someone with him."

All faces turned surprised, some suspicious. It wasn't often that people heard of employees quitting Shin-Ra, let alone someone as high up as a Turk.

"There are a lot of reasons I want to quit, and all are tied to morality—"

Barret snorted, "What morality?"

"Exactly," Ronnie replied, ignoring the interruption, "and the main reason is they have one of my friends hostage just like they took your friend, Aerith."

Aerith's frown returned. Tifa, Barret, and Cloud seemed to be caught off guard. Barret snorted again.

"And why should we believe you? A Turk! Shin-Ra lies all the time, you could be lyin' to us right now for all we know!"

"Then don't believe me," Ronnie replied peevishly.

He should have known that AVALANCHE members would treat whatever he said with a grain of salt. He should have known; but, he needed to believe otherwise. If he didn't, Saan might never be able to come back; he might miss his chance to free her without any repercussions to either one of them.

"Just…" He tried to find his words. "Just let me show you. Let me follow you until we get to where she's being held. If you don't want to help, fine. I'll find some other way to get her out, I guess. Just please allow me that much."

The AVALANCHE members looked uneasy. He knew that his pleas were working on them, pulling on their heartstrings in some way. He had always considered himself an adorable guy, though Saan had never agreed. She would have simply said, "Uh-huh…" and ignored whatever he told her to do most of the time. She tended to do what she wanted to do and nothing else.

"I think we should help him, Cloud," Tifa's gentle voice spoke. "Think of what it was like when they took Aerith. He's probably going through the same thing."

"I think we should help," Aerith nodded firmly.

"I still don't trust him," Cloud mumbled, but the conviction in his voice was wavering. It seemed that the girls had a profound effect on him.

"I don't trust him neither!" Barret nodded, but then he frowned, "However, if there really is someone trapped here by Shin-Ra…I guess we'd better help 'em."

Ronnie grinned stupidly. He was beyond happy that AVALANCHE was going to lend him their strength and save Saan. But, the expression worked better than his pleas had. Not many people in the world can take seriously a full-grown man who grins like an idiot; and if a person isn't taken seriously, than that person isn't seen as a threat, either.

"All right! Let's go!" Ronnie exclaimed, about to bound his merry little way down the hallway.

Cloud gave him a blank look, "We need our weapons first…"

Ronnie paused and took a deep breath, "Weapons. Right. I don't have those. But!" He added at the look Cloud gave him, "They're probably in one of the other cells. The Turks didn't register confiscating them; they probably didn't have enough time. Or simply just didn't care."

Cloud seemed appeased with that answer. Ronnie huffed a sigh of relief as the blond went to the cells on the opposite side of the wall. Luckily for him, the weapons were in the first cell he came to. Both he and Aerith went into room to retrieve their weapons. Ronnie guessed that Red XIII didn't have a weapon. Why would he need one? Tifa was wearing gloves that hinted that she used her fists to fight, and Barret had his weapon fused to his arm. The contraption was very intriguing for Ronnie, yet he wasn't allowed to dwell on its mechanics long before Cloud and Aerith reemerged.

Aerith held within her small hands a plain, metal rod. Unlike Saan's weapon, which contained not only three lethal, bladed points but also a sharp, pointed diamond at the opposite end, Aerith's weapon was meant solely for bludgeoning and probably wasn't a very good weapon at all.

Cloud's sword was ridiculously large in Ronnie's opinion. The size of it would make it unwieldy to anyone; yet, Cloud lifted it as if it were nothing. It was big, sharp, and not very decorative. Definitely not a memorable weapon for Ronnie. However, that did not stop him from thinking briefly about the injustice of the SOLDIERs getting all the good weapons. Cloud had to have been from SOLDIER—Turks got nothing "epic."

"All right!" Ronnie shouted gleefully once again, "Let's go!"

The others looked at him strangely; Cloud glared at him.

"…after you," he added, motioning with his free arm for the others to walk ahead of him.

Cloud took the lead, Aerith and Tifa following after him, and Ronnie stepped into place behind them. Barret stayed behind to clean up the body like he had said he was going to do earlier. Ronnie didn't understand why Barret was wasting his time. The monster, whatever it was, was most likely killing more people and there was no logic behind the AVALANCHE members wasting their time to cover each one of the deaths up, especially since they had not been the perpetrators.

They followed the blood trail—a morbid mockery of the yellow brick road—and it brought them to the main portion of the lab. The group stopped and stared at the disturbing scene in front of them. The two screams Ronnie had heard before now made sense to him. One body lay near the Sample Room; another was in front of a specimen tank. Bloody smears led to the upper floors. The tank itself seemed to have been wrenched apart from within.

Cloud stared at the broken specimen tank, "Did it get away? Jenova…?"

Red XIII, who Ronnie had just now noticed, replied, "Jenova Specimen… Looks like it went to the upper floor using that elevator for the specimens."

The animal started to bound towards the elevator. Ronnie jumped into action.

"Wait!" He shouted, his hand outstretched as if that could stop them.

Red did stop, however, as did everybody else. Barret was just returning from taking care of business. They all faced Ronnie, waiting for him to continue. The time had finally come. His plan was about to come to fruition. His heart was racing again, only this time not in fear but in anticipation and excitement.

"She's here," he said, his voice coming out quieter than he had intended. "Saan's here."

Barret frowned and looked around jerkily. It seemed the man never could act fluidly or calm, or maybe it just seemed that way because he was so big.

"Where?" He asked. "I don't see nobody."

"That's the point. You're not supposed to see her. That was all Hojo's idea," Ronnie replied, stepping away from the group and walking towards the specimen tank that resided in the middle of the room.

He could feel the others' eyes on his back as he walked around the tank. Coming to the wall on the other side, he ran his fingers along it. He was looking for the hidden switch.

"Hojo?" Cloud asked.

"You mean that crazy scientist from before?" Barret added.

"Ah, so you've met him?" Ronnie asked. "Yes, the crazy scientist. In fact, that might be an understatement."

Finding the switch, Ronnie depressed it. A confirmation beep sounded from the wall. The secret wall slid back remarkably fast; not at all like the stone wall that existed in the Shin-Ra Mansion. Then again, this door was many years after the one at the Mansion. In fact, its sole purposed was to hide Anubis—the alias by which Saan went when she was dressed up in her fancy, ancient suit. The wall itself had been added when Anubis was declared to remain within the Shin-Ra building so that Hojo could test her himself and regularly.

Inside the small recess of the wall was a glass tube filled with Mako and, floating lifelessly in that, was Saan. The collection of gasps coming from the AVALANCHE members Ronnie had expected. It's not every day that one sees a metal, Egyptian god floating in a green, glowing liquid. Ronnie frowned a little as he looked up at his best friend.

The AVALANCHE members made their way around the specimen tank in the center of the room towards where Ronnie stood. He let his eyes linger on Saan before he turned his head to look at the others. All of them were surprised. Barret seemed slightly disgusted and cautious. Aerith was once again sad. Tifa seemed at a loss, too many emotions conflicting with one another so that nothing really showed through. Cloud…Cloud's expression was hard to define.

His brows knitted together in confusion for a brief moment, as if he were trying to recall something; and, then, being unable to, they relaxed and his face became blank. Red XIII's expression was hard to describe as well, but that was because he wasn't human and Ronnie wasn't exactly a zoologist. Barret whistled low.

"Damn…" he muttered.

"Yeah," Ronnie replied. "Now you can see why I was so eager for your help."

"It's just glass," Cloud spoke up, stating the obvious. And the obvious always needed to be stated. "Why couldn't you have broken it yourself and freed her?"

"You do have a good point," Ronnie replied. "However, then the guards would have come to kill me, and Saan would have been placed back inside the glowing tube, and all my efforts would have been in vain. No, see, my plan was to free you, have you dispatch the guards, free Saan, and then we would help you guys destroy Shin-Ra. I had not taken into consideration that a science experiment would break free and start slaughtering people."

"You want to destroy Shin-Ra?" Tifa asked curiously. "I thought you only wanted to quit."

"Same difference," Ronnie said. "There's no such thing as leaving Shin-Ra for a Turk or a SOLDIER. You know too many secrets. You either work here for the rest of your life, or they kill you. Nothing in between. Which means, to quit, I'd have to either die or kill them. And I have no desire to die just yet."

"That can't be true," Aerith muttered quietly as she looked down at the floor. She suddenly shook her head, her braid swishing back and forth lazily, and then looked up at Ronnie, determination in her eyes. "I mean, Cloud's with us, and he was in SOLDIER."

"Yeah!" Barret chimed in. "First Class, right, Spiky?"

Cloud merely grunted in agreement, his eyes still fixed on Saan, his face blank. Ronnie perked up a little. Another First had survived? And he was there with them? What were the odds!

"Really?" He asked hopefully, "Did you know Saan?"

"What?" Cloud asked, snapping out of his haze and glancing at Ronnie.

"Saan," Ronnie motioned to the floating woman behind him. "She was a SOLDIER First Class, as well."

"No, I didn't know her."

"You sure?" Ronnie asked, frowning thoughtfully. "Maybe you started after… I mean she used to work with—"

"Look, I think I'd remember someone like that," Cloud replied snappishly.

Ronnie's frown deepened, but he let the subject drop. Cloud's eyes had already returned to the tank. Ronnie found it odd that a SOLDIER First wouldn't know a fellow colleague. The Turks knew about each other; quite extensively, actually. But, perhaps Cloud had joined after the Nibelheim Incident. Ronnie noticed Tifa fidgeting with her hands, but then he shrugged and returned to the issue. How was he going to get Saan out of the tank without injuring her? Perhaps he could use the Materia within Saan's staff…

He wasn't left long to think before Barret decided to take initiative.

"All right, then, let's get this show on the road!" He said, raising his gun arm and aiming at the glass tube.

Ronnie's mouth dropped in horror. He threw himself at the darker man, desperately pushing the gun away from his best friend. Barret was surprised at his sudden movement and was temporarily knocked off balance.

"Are you insane!" Ronnie screeched. "We want to free her, not kill her! That suit of armor of hers is flimsier than you think. It definitely can't take a hail of gunfire from a machine gun!"

Just as he opened his mouth again, to say more objections, he saw Cloud draw his sword out of the corner of his eye. Ronnie's eyes widened as his head snapped towards the blond. However, the look on Cloud's face was one of shock and confusion instead of determination. He was looking at the tank. Ronnie turned quickly to look at it. He gasped.

The eyes on Saan's helmet—the incasing of metal that so resembled Anubis—were glowing with an eerie, yellow light. And her left hand, which had usually remained motionless by her side, was poised before her, her palm facing outward. Ronnie's eyes widened.

The next chain of events happened in a blur. Black streaked from the clawed hand (where had they come from?) of the suit. Saan's hand flew forward, slamming against the glass as the black energy, too, hit it. The awful sound of glass shattering and a small explosion had Ronnie covering his head and ears with his arms; Aerith screamed. The wind from the explosion hit him, causing Ronnie to sway a little, but it wasn't enough to knock him off his feet. He was barely paying attention to the sound of the dull alarm, or the red flashing lights that pulsed in warning, or the fact that, miraculously, the shards of glass from the tank had missed him.

Shuddering a little, Ronnie removed his arms from his head and looked towards the tank. There stood, for the first time in five years, his best friend. Saan. Anubis. And she was bent over a little, her arms dangling loosely even though her shoulders were tensed, and her legs apart in some sort of stance. She was breathing heavily, probably because causing the explosion had taken a lot out of her, or probably because she was finally actually allowed to breathe air. Maybe it was both.

The protective barrier that had erected itself the day Hojo had tried to touch dissipated into a black mist that swirled back into the jackal-eared helmet, exposing her neck and the lower portion of her face. Yes, she did seem to be gasping for air, but she also appeared to be extremely agitated—furious.

"Where is she?" She growled.

And Ronnie wasn't entirely sure if she had said it out loud, or if he'd merely heard it in his head.




A/N: -snicker- I wonder how many of you that read this prologue have not read the first of the series and are scratching your head, wondering just who the hell Ronnie or Saan are, and what Anubis has to do with anything. –evil grin- I highly suggest you go back and read the original, or you'll only be more confused as this continues.

HELLO, MY FANS! Yep, I'm alive. Very much so. My fall hibernation has come to an end as the semester has. Finals are next week, and then I will be free until…sometime in January, I don't remember. I didn't have an Author's Note at the beginning for I wanted to make fun of the newcomers. –cackles-

This is to be the only chapter written in third person, and from Ronnie's perspective. I didn't want to jump straight into Saan's perspective after these events because ya'll would have been left scratching your heads wondering what the hell happened. I thought it was an interesting perspective to take upon opening the new arc. It's also amusing removing myself from my body to reflect on just who I am. :D.

I've been reading The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice these past few days, and Lestat's inspired my style just a bit. I'd like to think it's for the better. I like my vampires forty percent gay, what about you guys? Also in the inspiration department we have: This is War, the album by Thirty Seconds to Mars (yes, the WHOLE album); Minutes to Midnight by Linkin Park; "Son of Chaos" and "Sephiroth's Wake," two remixes of "Shinra Company" and "Trail of Blood" respectively—look them up on Youtube; "Birth of Mewtwo" because you can't have people exploding out of liquid tanks without thinking about Mewtwo; and, finally, "Hello Again" by Lostprophets. The song that inspired the title. Listen to it. NOW! Yes, all my inspiration comes from music.

Also, special thanks to my new Betas—you know who you are.