Chapter 3: Phoenix Rising

Avian anxiously searched the black night sky over Midgar, not quite ready to believe that the huge ball of fire had disappeared in a brilliant flash of light in the snap of a finger. For a week, he had shuddered at the sight of it burning in the sky day and night with no way to escape except to stay indoors. But it was gone now, nowhere to be seen.

Awestruck, he had watched intently as that eerie green mist had come out of the ground and sifted across the fields toward Midgar. The luminous stuff flowed easily over the mountain ridge, engulfed the immense city structure, and swallowed that meteor thing whole. Whatever that green stuff was, it must have blown that wicked looking rock into a zillion bits; pulverized it into dust.

Tensely, he watched the green mist recede back over the mountain ridge and across the grasslands around the old farmhouse. He was very glad that he had chosen to watch the meteor fall on Midgar from the roof. He thought he could almost see hands and faces swirling formlessly in the tendrils that snaked through the yard and curled around the foundation of the house, and he did not want that weird stuff touching him. He was immensely relieved when he noticed it seeping back into the ground, rapidly disappearing as it traveled across the terrain.

Closing his eyes, Avian slumped as he released a ragged breath, tension flowing from his suddenly boneless body. After several moments, he straightened and raked his long sandy hair off his face, turning to meet the patient brown eyes of his companion, barely visible in the distant light filtering through the curtained attic window.

He reached over and scratched behind the floppy ear of the scraggly brown dog stretched out beside his leg. "Looks like it’s all over, eh Soldier? We’ll live to fight another day, you and I."

Soldier grinned happily, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth, tail thumping madly against the wooden roof. "Thank the Gods" Avian softly muttered, his amber eyes once more scanning the sky all around him.

The night sky seemed darker than before, and Avian realized that a ceiling of seething clouds had formed overhead . He shivered as a chill wind gusted over the roof of the old farmhouse, blowing his hair into his face and raising goosebumps on his bare arms.

Briefly appraising the sky more closely, he decided that a hasty retreat back to his attic bedroom was in order. The meteor and the explosion had probably stirred up the atmosphere pretty good, and he feared a storm was moving in.

"Come on boy, let’s go raid the fridge", he suggested, turning back to the dog. "All that tension made you hungry didn’t it?" Soldier cocked his head quizzically.

Avian shoved his long hair back over his shoulder once again and rose to his feet. His boots scraped across the wooden shingles as he stepped carefully along the peak of the roof towards the window.

Soldier, for his part, stood on four rangy legs, his paws firmly planted and body angled with the pitch of the roof. He whined plaintively, pleading eyes glued on Avian’s back. Avian looked back over his shoulder at the reluctant canine.

"Come on ole boy, just a few steps and you’re in." Avian turned away and put one leg through the window. "The old lady’s snoring away. We can sneak that hambone you had your eye on earlier. She won’t even remember there was one by tomorrow."

He looked back at the dog again, gauging the effect of his words. The motionless dog whined louder. With a loud sigh, Avian sat down on the windowsill.

Patting his thigh, he cajoled the recalcitrant dog. "Come on boy, let’s go…come on. The laser light show’s over. Let’s go now. Come on."

Soldier abruptly dropped to his belly, resting his muzzle on his paws. He raised his sorrowful eyes to Avian’s face.

"Oh, for crying out loud. I got out here on two legs, and you have four ", Avian exclaimed in exasperation. He stood and stepped out onto the roof again. Soldier raised his head hopefully, eyes focused unerringly on the youth.

Avian dropped his head in defeat. "Okay, I guess it looked easier comin’ out. Don’t worry, I’ll take you in." The thought of carrying the big dog across the steep roof in his arms didn’t overly appeal to him, but he had coaxed Soldier out there to sit with him in the first place because the thought of being alone when the world ended left a desolate hole in his stomach. But he had to watch it. He couldn’t stand the waiting. He wanted to see the end coming.

Avian headed back across the roof as Soldier sprang to his feet. The boy grinned as a full half of the dog’s body wagged along with the wildly sweeping tail. He chuckled as a sudden vision of the dog completely wagging himself off the roof flashed through his mind. At least Soldier would be down then.

He had almost reached the joyous dog when some unknown object smacked heavily against the roof behind Soldier, splitting the shingle and rolling noisily downhill. With a startled yelp, Soldier shot past him as Avian’s wondering eyes followed the sound of the object’s erratic path down the dark, steeply pitched roof and over the edge.

Before he could decide what it was, another falling object glanced painfully across his shoulder, sending him to his hands and knees.

As more unknown objects bombarded the old two-story farmhouse, Avian frantically scrambled for the partial shelter of the nearby chimney, stumbling as something sharp bounced off the crown of his head. He fell against the crumbling chimney and flattened his back to the rough fieldstone, sliding down to huddle in a tight ball, his arms crossed protectively over his head.

For several long minutes, he pressed hard against the stone as objects thudded all around him, splintering and cracking the weathered shingles and ricocheting off the opposite side of the chimney. He flinched as something struck the top of the chimney and glanced away, peppering his head with stone chips and dust.

After an eternity, the racket of falling objects tapered off and finally ceased. Still frozen beside the chimney, Avian waited in the dead silence for a few minutes more.

Finally, he raised his head slightly and scanned the roof around him with wary eyes. The fractured light from the window illuminated what appeared to be splintered wood, broken rock fragments, a twisted metal frame, and a shredded couch cushion scattered haphazardly in the space around him. He gaped at the amount of shattered and twisted junk scattered across the expansive rooftop, mostly unidentifiable in the murky darkness.

He dropped his arms and stood, brushing particles and dirt from his trousers as he looked around for his dog. He glanced towards the edge, hoping Soldier hadn’t fallen off into the yard. He knew the dog wouldn’t survive the two-story drop without injuries.

He gasped when his searching eyes locked on a child’s face, barely visible under a large broken plank. He reluctantly edged closer, his breath caught in his throat. He froze in his tracks when his intent stare locked on the glassy unfocused eyes spotlighted in a stray beam of yellow light. He peered closer at those eyes. Something about them just wasn’t right. His knees went weak with relief as realization kicked in.

"Damn!" he exclaimed. "A doll!"

Feeling a bit shaky, he turned in a tight circle, surveying the littered rooftop again, searching for his dog, hoping not to see any real dead people in the debris which had obviously come from Midgar. He hoped that everyone had gotten out of the city; that there had been time for people to leave when it became clear that the molten rock that was Meteor would drop directly on Midgar.

A soft woof drew his attention to the attic window where he spotted Soldier’s dark shape silhouetted between the curtains. He couldn’t see the dog’s face, but he just knew that Soldier’s face wore that mindlessly happy grin he sported most of the time.

Happiness swelling in his chest at the sight of the big canine, Avian shook his finger at the guiltless dog, a mock frown on his lips. "Damn mutt! Coward! Just leave me out here to die all alone after I came out here to save your hide! See if I risk the old lady’s wrath to get ya that bone now!"

The dog’s head drooped low over the windowsill, whining softly at the angry tone of his young master’s voice. Feeling guilty about teasing the dog, Avian lowered his hand. "Ah well, I forgive ya this time," he said softly. Suddenly, the finger came back up. "Just don’t let it happen again, ya hear me?

Turning his face skyward, Soldier perked his ears up, his stance suddenly tense and alert. Avian lifted his eyes to the night sky, staring hard in the darkness. He couldn’t see a thing, but something had captured the dog’s attention.

Soldier barked sharply, the sound shattering the tense silence.

"What is it, boy?" Avian whispered nervously.

Lifting his hand to block the light from the window, he squinted his eyes, straining to see what perturbed the dog, but still could not see anything. The night sky was black as pitch, cloaking whatever flew above them in deep darkness.

He hoped fervently that it was not another of those flying Weapon things that had terrorized the planet. The Shinra television news had reported that the mysterious creature was killed near Cosmo Canyon after totally destroying the village of Mideel, leveling every single building into splinters. Please don’t let it be another one of those things, he prayed.

He heard it first, a strange unidentifiable sound drifting into his ears; a low tuneless hum underpinned by the sigh of rushing water. "What is that?" he muttered, his wide stare focused in the direction of the sound, his eyes burning with his unblinking strain to see as the sound grew in volume.

Soldier barked madly now. His front claws scrabbled on the windowsill as he stretched his body skyward, struggling to snare the intruder in his teeth with his back paws firmly planted on the hardwood floor inside. Avian knew Soldier would not leave that room again tonight, not even to stop a vicious unknown invader from the air.

Especially not to stop a vicious unknown invader from the air.

Now that he thought about it, retreating inside his bedroom to join his obviously intelligent dog was a mighty fine idea. He half-turned toward the window, but froze when his eyes locked on a soft spherical glow floating against the black velvet sky.

His gaze tracked the light as it neared the house. Fear splintered through his whole body as he suddenly realized that the soft glow came from some sort of window attached to a much larger object. The immense bulk of the flying thing, its shape silhouetted against the barely darker starless sky, swooped directly toward him.

Avian jumped backwards as the object descended, displacing the very air above him. Consumed with terror and focused unwaveringly on the instrument of his death, he tumbled over a piece of forgotten debris, and somersaulted backwards as the steep pitch of the roof took him straight to the edge and over.

"AAAHHHHHHHHH……!!!" He fell, his wide eyes actually glimpsing the flying object as the impossibly large elongated shape barely cleared the roof and soared gracefully past him.

"SHI…UH!!!" He thudded into the ground, his breath whooshing forcefully from his lungs.

He laid there numbly, his tangled hair covering his face, and thought about perhaps getting up. He didn’t think he could quite manage it just yet though. He didn’t think he could even breathe just yet. Maybe he would just lie there until he gained enough courage to find out how many parts were broken and bloody.

He winced painfully as the nearby window slammed up into the frame.

"AAAAAVEEEEEEAN! What are you DOING in my flowerbed?! You get out of there this instant! I cannot believe you! First you wake me up from a dead sleep with that infernal racket you were making on the roof of all places with you thudding around and that flea-bitten mutt of yours barking his fool head off! And now I find you lollygagging around in my flowers! Broke my back planting those in the boiling hot sun for hours! You get out right now! You got a bed to sleep in, boy! I knew you were gonna be nothing but trouble when your Aunt Jae went off and left you here!!"

The old lady paused to draw in another breath as Avian finally gulped enough air into his own lungs to interrupt the shrill tirade.

"Okay, Grandma!! OKAY! I’m getting up, just please…please go back to bed!" he yelled back, his own tremulous voice banging inside his head.

"Humph!"

He winced again as the window slammed into the sill with a splintering thwack.

His breath sighed from his lips as he raised a hand to massage a throbbing temple. Please hurry home Aunt Jae, he silently begged. Before I’m driven to do something I know I’ll regret.

He thought that if he ever managed to rise from Grandma’s imaginary flowerbed, he should spend about an hour kicking himself around the barn for caving in to Aunt Jae’s wheedling. If his aunt had been the slightest bit truthful about Grandma’s condition he would have thrown himself from the Wind Cliffs before he would have agreed to take care of her, no matter what kind of mysterious personal matters forced Jae to leave.

His Aunt was taking an extremely long time to return to the farm outside of Kalm. He wouldn’t be surprised if she had cut and run as fast as her chocobo would carry her with no plans to return.

He’d only been on the farm for less than an hour when he realized that Grandma lived in world of shifting reality. Although still physically strong, her mind behaved like a kite jerked about in a strong gale with only a string to tether it to earth. He never knew how she would act from one minute to the next.

Sometimes, she was his loving, even-tempered Granny who doted on him. Other times, he was a curious stranger in her house, enduring countless interrogations about his presence and intentions. And sometimes, he was a frightening intruder in her home, a target of her defensive attacks.

Just this morning, he had entered the kitchen to get them some tea after an hour of playing cards. She had followed him quietly into the sunny room, and he talked to her as he pulled the cups down from the cupboard. Totally unaware of her stealthy approach across the linoleum, he had staggered beneath the brunt of a mop handle cracking down on his head, the cups dropping from his hands to shatter at his feet.

"Get out!!" she had screeched at him, her voice trembling with terror. "Get out of my house!!" He had grabbed the broom from beside the cabinet to fend her off as she swung the mop again and again, screaming her litany the whole time. For several minutes, they had waged a heated battle across the kitchen, toppling chairs and jarring the table, the wooden-handled weapons cracking sharply together. Avian had received another lump on his head before she left him an opening in her frenetic assault, and he seized the mop from her hands and threw it away behind him to clatter against the cabinet. Once disarmed, all the fight had left her and she’d scuffled out of the room, oblivious to her whereabouts.

Oblivion described her usual state. And Avian hated that more than anything. He couldn’t talk to her about the threat to their lives the past week or about how he moved through the days in a continued state of subdued fear. You couldn’t talk to someone about how scared you were to die, when that person didn’t even remember their own name much less that a gigantic ball of molten rock and flame, bent on the destruction of the planet, hung in the sky above their heads. Even if she did notice, she forgot the minute she turned her back.

Yessir, Grandma’s loopy alright, and Aunt Jae’s probably tanning on the beach at Costa Del Sol!" Avian chuckled at the thought. He figured he might as well laugh about it since nothing was going to change until Aunt Jae decided to return.

The sound of a distant roar jolted Avian from his thoughts. He suddenly remembered the mysterious flying object, gliding overhead in the direction of the grasslands the last he’d seen of it.

He sat up slowly and clutched his spinning head, his unruly hair hanging in his eyes. Impatiently, he tossed his hair back and waited for the dizziness to abate. Then he rose carefully to his feet, testing his limbs as he straightened. He decided that he might make his eighteenth birthday after all.

His blood ran icy cold when his eyes fell on a spear of jagged metal embedded in the yard just a few inches from the spot where he’d landed. A shudder ran through his whole body at the thought of his near escape. He was definitely going to have to be more careful. His luck had to be all but used up by now.

He jerked his stunned gaze away from the twisted metal shard and turned to face the expanse of grasslands between his Grandma’s farm and the village of Kalm. His eyes widened in awe as they locked on the object, now wavering over the field several hundred yards out, flickering beams of bright light lancing from beneath the object’s belly, bathing the ground below in a wash of bright luminescence.

This thing was definitely a man-made craft as opposed to a voracious dragon of unusual size or a marauding Weapon creature. The illumination of the landing lights partially revealed the sleek fuselage of the immense ship as well as the sweep of the extensive wings, the wingtips swallowed in total darkness.

He could see that the craft was experiencing problems, wobbling side to side on malfunctioning landing thrusters as it settled shakily toward the ground. The intermittent flickering of the bright lights indicated ongoing electrical problems.

The thrusters abruptly regained full function, the powerful jets shooting the aircraft upwards before the pilot quickly adjusted his control to the change in force. More steadily than before, the ship once again began descending, the grass and sparse shrubbery flattening for a hundred feet around. A rising cloud of dust enveloped the ship as the jets dislodged the loose soil, partially obscuring the craft from view.

Avian knew there was only one aircraft that size on the planet, the airship from Junon. And everybody knew that the notorious rebel band, Avalanche, had stolen the airship right from under Rufus Shinra’s nose several weeks back.

All previous thoughts of caution blown away in the wind, he sprang into a full run, vaulting the picket fence in one fluid leap, hitting the ground on the other side in an all out sprint, his feet taking wing.

By the Gods, he was going to see just who these people were, something nobody really knew for sure.




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