A few days after the meteor crashed down into Midgar, bludgeoning down all its buildings as if they'd been made of paper, Yuffie Kisaragi entered the outskirts of its ruins. The countless fires that had erupted at the impact were almost extinguished now, having consumed everything flammable in their proximity. The city had not calmed down enough for most people to dare entering. Now and then, the ground tremored as yet another building gave up its struggle against the forces of nature. Yuffie, though, thought nothing of the danger. What she had in mind was something totally different - namely, the huge amounts of Materia that ought to be lying about everywhere. When you are told to evacuate your home as soon as is humanly possible, your hardly used Fire Materia is not the first thing you think of rescuing. Or so Yuffie hoped, at least.
The city was truly a mess. Nothing less was to be expected, of course, considering the size, mass and not to mention speed of the object that had crashed into it. Not even the spirit-guided Lifestream had been enough to fully hinder the catastrophe from occurring, though it had greatly reduced the damage caused to the rest of the world.
The former citizens of Midgar weren't exactly celebrating their Planet's unexpected survival, though. They were still alive, yes, but all the imposing, expensive objects they'd been collecting and hoarding throughout their lives was gone. With nothing at all left to impress less successful (or as they silently put it - inferior) persons with, where would they stand now? Most of them had also been employees of ShinRa, a company that didn't stand much of a chance of being revived, with all of its higher executives dead or missing. To suddenly find yourself unemployed, homeless and totally bankrupt was quite a change for persons who had been living all their lives in Upper Midgar. Now they had become what they'd spent all their lives looking down their noses at, and they blamed Avalanche for it. So much for saving the planet.
Yuffie was far from being in a good mood as well. She had practically been promised the collection of Materia belonging to her latest combat partners, but now, after all was said and done, they wouldn't even let her near it. As if they would have a better use for it than her! The old Yuffie would probably have tried taking it anyway, but as of lately, she'd grown weak and couldn't bring herself to committing such an act against people who were by some obscure and surely unexplainable reason calling her a friend. Well. Perhaps she had grown softhearted, but she had learned to appreciate their friendship, and would like to keep it. Even if it in this case would mean giving up Materia worth millions of Gil - money that could be put to a so much better use, a worthy cause; building up Wutai again. If only they could have just given the Materia to her, as they had said, almost promised that they would... What would her father say about this? Small wonder then that she was feeling upset.
Nothing was left of the slums. Nothing could even be seen of the slums, since the collapsed plates and what had been constructed on top of them covered their ruins. 'It's not like I'm missing a fortune by not going there', Yuffie thought and shrugged as if to emphasize it. 'Now, where would be the best place to start looking?' Asking Tifa for help had yielded nothing. All the Materia trade points Tifa knew about were of course in the least respected parts of the city, since the former barmaid never had had a chance of visiting Upper Midgar until just before she had to flee. There were probably dozens of stores offering the coveted globes in Yuffie's nearest vicinity, but since everything looked exactly the same - grayish rubble and sticky cinders - she could be standing atop one of them with no chance of ever noticing it. 'I could spend the next two years around here, and still not find anything. I wish I had something like a.. um.. a Materia compass, that could point me directly to were there is Materia. "
Yeah, sure. She could wish for all Materia on Planet to fall down from the sky before her feet as well, that would give about the same result - nothing at all. She needed more than stupid dreams and wishes to get anywhere. She needed the biggest luck in the history of mankind, it appeared... unless..
'The ShinRa tower of course!' With all the Materia research and Soldier training that had taken place in that accursed building, it would be a wonder not to find what she was looking for. As for how to find it, well... she just needed to find the biggest pile of scrap around. Heading for the center of the enormous trash collection formerly known as Midgar, her mood gradually lightened. So what if Cloud wouldn't give her his mastered Knights of the Round - in the collapsed ShinRa tower, she could probably find something even better. Maybe experimental, perhaps even dangerous, but whatever she would find would certainly be unique.
An hour later, Yuffie still weren't sure if she had gotten any closer to her destination. Everything looked exactly the same wherever she looked - giant boulders, small rocks and of course the odd medium-sized stone thrown in for good measure. She had used the sun as a compass though, and she believed she had succeeded in not walking in circles. 'The tower used to be in the center of Midgar.. How big is this stupid city anyway?' She had to be getting closer. 'Or I'm stuck is some dumb labyrinth. Wouldn't surprise me, with everything looking almost exactly the same and all.' If she had to continue any further, she believed she would start moving outwards again - but the ground was still slanting slightly upwards in the direction she was heading, which ought to be a sign that she was on the right track.
The sun was setting now, and the ruins cast bizarrely shaped shadows crossing her path. Yuffie squinted to make out the contours of the way before her. Could that possibly be...? Was that really her goal? Nothing smaller than the ShinRa tower could leave that large a pile, certainly.
As she treaded closer, she quickly realized that this had to be the building she was looking for. No other facility had been even near the size of the infamous ShinRa tower. It was remarkably well preserved for having been hit by both the meteor and before that the energy ray of a crazed WEAPON. The lower thirty or so floors of the tower were still standing upright, seemingly intact at least on the exterior. The rest of the building had collapsed, spreading its debris evenly in all directions. She would have to enter from the middle of the building, since the lower floors were covered by the mass of stone fragments.
'Maybe there are even people still alive in there? That shock wave bursting through the city couldn't have reached into this building if it was surrounded by the remains of the upper floors like this.' She checked her Materia to make sure she had brought a Restore, and nodded with satisfied grin at recognizing its strength. Maybe it was foolish of her to believe that anyone would have survived the explosion, but as long as there was a chance someone was alive, she'd at least make sure to search the building thoroughly.
The 27th floor made an excellent entry point. The windowsills here were in line with what was now the ground level, and since the glass covering them had imploded when the building was struck, entering would be extremely easy. Still Yuffie took cautious measures before intruding, not willing to cut herself on any glass fragments that hadn't melted to shapeless lumps by the extreme heat. Her rucksack contained a few sturdy pieces of cloth she had brought if the circumstances would demand so, and now she packed them up and carefully wound them around elbows, knees and hands.
'I wonder why I'm still doing these things,' Yuffie pondered while climbing through the window. 'I mean, I can understand why Cloud and Teef wanted to keep the Materia, I think. I'm sure they would've just given me some money if I'd asked them for that instead. I was as great a part helping collecting it as anyone else.' Well, maybe it would have been quicker and easier to get the much-needed money from her friends, but truthfully, it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. Besides, the sooner she collected her fortune, the sooner she would have to return to Wutai and her father. The old man had probably chosen a husband for her now; someone that he thought would 'calm her down'. Bah. As if that was likely to happen, ever. Anyway, adventuring was so much more interesting. 'Maybe I should just send any money I get home and never show my face there again. Let's see the how the honorable Lord Godo would explain that to whatever old goat he has found for me.'
No, Yuffie. Concentrate on the mission at hand.
She'd always been too fond of letting her thoughts fly. Often it did not matter, since there was people around her covering up for her slips. Once or twice, though, she had been wounded badly since she had simply not been able to focus fully on her scouting task, allowing the enemies to sneak up behind her before attacking. Now there was nobody else around to come to her rescue, if the worst should happen.
However, the place did seem incredibly quiet. The hideous Mako mutations that were positively swarming everywhere else obviously hadn't reached here yet. What Yuffie was most wary of wasn't the chance of random ordinary monsters, though. She knew that she could take on most of the creatures out there. No, what she really hoped she wouldn't have to face were any surviving test specimen from Hojo's laboratory. They all had been of the most ferocious species, a trait grown even stronger by the professor's selective breeding. Now the creatures - if any had survived - wouldn't have been fed or otherwise taken care of in days, and encountering one of them would be a far from pleasant event.
Those laboratories had been on higher stories though, and so all animals - or whatever they should be called now - had probably been crushed by the stone masses when the upper part of the tower collapsed.
At least she hoped so.
Before continuing, she made sure to cast Barrier on herself, so that if any walls suddenly decided to fall down on her she'd not suffer too badly. She would have preferred carrying a torch as well, but she knew that it would make her vulnerable to potential prying eyes. Better to walk in darkness, since her eyes would grow accustomed to being without light.
She decided to venture further into the dark depths now, before she'd have time to reconsider, but not before checking her materia once more. One must be certain that all is in order.
When Yuffie reached the bottom floor a few hours later, she'd almost given up. Sure, she'd found a few random Materias, but nothing extraordinary. A Heal which was capable of casting Esuna and an unused Earth were certainly not worth the trouble she'd been putting herself through, even though she certainly did not leave them behind. She wasn't stupid.
Down here, the darkness was complete, and she had long since realized that there weren't any monsters around to bother her. Lighting your way was absolutely no problem when you had a Fire materia and an almost endless supply of broken office materials. "Maybe this was a part of.. say.. Heidegger's desk once?" she pondered, looking at the torch in hand. "Eww.. Disgusting!" That particular corpulent man was not something she wished to think about, especially not in moments like this. She could picture him sneaking around in these hellish ruins, performing who-knew-what unspeakable, wicked rites. Though the late professor Hojo would be more of the kind to do something like that, she supposed. Well, at least she knew that Hojo was dead. Thank the gods. If she hadn't been sure of that, she would've gone mental even harboring the suspicion that he was around. Even though she'd only met the guy once, Hojo was the indisputable number one on her creep-list. "Even without those tentacles," she decided with a shudder. 'And he was Sephiroth's father? How did that ever happen? Eww! Mental images!'
Anyway, though she had found an incredible amount of corpses - amazingly how many people were still working here during the last days of Midgar even with a meteor hanging over their heads - nobody had been alive. Yuffie had tried taking care of as many of them as possible, burning the remains to ashes to reduce the risk for plagues - and to lessen the horrendous smell. At last she had grown weary, and decided to leave all as it was. After all, she wasn't some sort of undertaker or cleaning personnel to do things like these.
It wasn't that dead bodies in any way disgusted her. They didn't. After all, she had grown up in a war-ravaged country, and had early in her life seen the effects on its inhabitants. All the adults she knew - and many who would not have passed as adults in peacetime - were fighting, and no small part of them suffered the fatal consequences. Her mother had been one of them. It had been Yuffie who had found her corpse, and Yuffie who had prepared it for its final rest, young as she had been.
No, the physical aspects of death did not bother her at all.
Thinking about of her mother still made her weep, though, even after all these years.
Going up again. For each stairway passed Yuffie's heart lightened. She had felt the weight of the stone masses above her at each second down there. She wasn't suffering from claustrophobia, not quite, but all those dungeons she'd been visiting during the adventure with Cloud and the gang weren't really her thing. She favored being out in the wilderness, preferably sneaking after someone, preparing to steal his or her Materia. Cities.. well, she could stand being in cities. Midgar had been a little too bustling for her, though, even after most of its citizens had evacuated.
Thoughts slipping again... "Be careful now," she warned herself, feeling as if she somehow was drawing closer to the heart of the building.
The higher floors felt insecure as well. The walls seemed so fragile, as if they were made of paper. She knew that they had withstood several assaults, but surely they had become weaker now? The ground was still trembling occasionally, and it seemed that the building amplified the quakes. Wasn't the floor sloping just a little more than it had done when she first entered the building? It could easily be her far too over-active imagination, but she quickened her moves nevertheless. What use would she be to Wutai if she'd get crushed by a building? "As if that would happen to someone like me. Hah. I don't think so." She was proud of her fast reflexes and strong intuition, which would surely save her if needed.
Suddenly, something caught her exposed thigh and she stumbled. Swearing loudly, she fell forward. Just a moment before her face would have hit the floor, Yuffie managed to move her arms up between her body and the ground, catching herself. The pain reverberating through her bones at the impact knocked the breath out of her. She fumbled with her bracelet to find the Restore materia, as she begun concentrating, drawing the needed energy from everything around her. A green tingle surrounded her as the power focused through the materia, and the pain was gone. Just like that. For a moment she idly pondered on how the world would be like without magic, then thanked the spirits that she would never have to find out. As long as the Lifestream would be around, so would magic - in one form or another.
Feeling a childish urge for revenge, she turned around to see exactly what it was that had tripped her. Another one of those countless, nameless bodies, it appeared to be. Well, no surprise there, seeing as the building was filled with them. A pale hand was sticking out from underneath a crushed table, its fingers slightly curled.
At least she could set it to fire then.
"Ah, why bother?" She kicked the helpless hand once, "Take that for tripping me, bastard", and continued ahead, scanning her surroundings with skillful eyes. "There has to be something interesting in here. Everything can't have gone up in flames." Though she had begun suspecting that was the case.
"What the...?" She turned around again, and at seeing the pale hand move slightly, panicked. Letting out a high-pitched scream, she ran without bothering to look where she was going. That wasn't too smart, which she quickly realized as she hit a wall head on. Dazed, she rubbed a sore spot on her cheek, which had taken the worst damage. It stung like a bite from some particularly malicious insect, and when she looked at her fingers they were red and sticky with blood.
Once again she cast Cure, this time on her wounded cheek. She cursed herself for being so jumpy as the skin pulled itself together over the wound the magic knitting together the small veins that had been damaged.
Now, what was it that had happened?
Oh yeah, that.. dead.. uh. Obviously not dead. That body had moved. "Damn it, Yuffie, that's no reason to freak out," she scolded herself. "You thought that there might be survivors." Though she had to admit that this particular survivor had taken her by surprise.
Alright, maybe she should take a look on the guy, to see if something could be done.
She edged closer to the body and cast Float on the broken furniture covering it. The table slowly levitated upwards, making it easy for Yuffie to simply push it away before the magic wore off. She simply loved magic. 'I'll have to get enough Materia so I can keep one of each type,' she decided, as she prepared a Sense spell.
Except for being unconscious, the man she'd found seemed to be alright. Nothing that a few Cures couldn't fix. Rather impressive for someone found in Midgar right after a catastrophe of this caliber, she thought. The clothes were stained with blood, though, so it seemed that the person had been worse off. A Restore materia clutched in his right hand quickly explained that little mystery. The materia was weak, though, and hadn't been able to do much more than keep its holder barely alive.
'Time to be a hero again, I guess.' Yuffie smirked. The act of restoring this complete stranger wouldn't be totally unselfish. This guy could probably point out where the valuables were hidden. 'And he can't stop me from getting them without feeling ungrateful. Besides, if he does I'll just knock him out again.'
Well, nothing would happen if she'd just continue staring at him. 'Okay, let's see...' First of all, she should move the unconscious body out from that pile of rubble. That proved to be easier said than done. The white-clad man was heavier than his lean frame hinted, and the debris around him was no easier to move. After a while, she had managed to free the body, and she turned him around to look at his face.
'No..! This can't be!' Yuffie plopped down on the floor, dazed. 'How can he of all people have survived?' Her eyes darted from the man on the ground to the materia she had planned to use on him, and back to the man again. 'No, I can't do it. I won't help him!'
As the sun rose over Midgar, Yuffie still hadn't decided what to do. The few hours of rest she had allowed herself in a secluded corner had been troubled and disturbed by horrid nightmares which she couldn't quite remember, and further investigations of the building had yielded nothing of value. As she searched through the abandoned rooms, her thoughts kept returning to the man she'd found. If anyone would knew where they stored valuables and all that unique, precious materia she wanted, he was the one. 'Maybe I could.. I don't know. Just wake him up and make him tell me were they've hidden their materia. I don't have to take care of him or anything. It wouldn't be my fault if some monster ate him up the minute I left.' But did she have the stomach to actually talk to him? Civilly? This man had destroyed so many lives, not even considering that he might be doing the wrong thing. Most likely, she'd get offended by anything he'd possibly have to say, and kick him right back into his coma having achieved nothing.
Yuffie wished that she'd brought someone of her friends with her, someone who could have helped her make this unpleasant decision. Normally she hated when people told her what to do, but just this time everything would've been so much easier. Though if she was supposed to rule her hometown when her dear father had grown too old and weak, she would probably have to pass even worse judgements. By then she could not afford to appear weak, to depend on other peoples verdicts and opinions. Maybe this was a good thing - forcing her to chose between two equally horrid alternatives. Though she didn't quite appreciate the task destiny had set for her.
She returned to the room where she'd left the body, and sat down beside it pondering her options. Maybe she could just leave him here and hope that it all sorted out by itself after she'd left. That way, she wouldn't have to worry about making the wrong decision.
Somehow, that seemed like the cowards way out.
That concept was not too appealing.
She walked out of the room once more, scanning through the story as she had already done countless times. If there had been something valuable lying around, she certainly would not have seen it being much too preoccupied with her thoughts. She was slowly reaching a decision, but she wasn't too sure that she would like herself afterwards - but then again, by choosing the other path she would condemn herself even more.
Brilliant scientist or not, the world didn't need someone like Hojo alive. It had enough problems to handle as it was.
No one would ever find out that he had survived the catastrophe, at the first place. Yes, she would leave this... man - if that word was the proper one to describe a creature like this - she would leave him here and make sure that this time he wouldn't come back again.
After casting a Sleep spell, causing Hojo to stay unconscious for a while longer, Yuffie left the building the same way she'd entered it. A Quake spell took care of the rest. Strengthening the natural vibrations of the unstable ground, the strong magic made sure that the ShinRa building would not see another sunrise - at least not still upright. As the tower shattered, its walls crumbling towards each other, Yuffie thought she heard someone cry out in pain. But that, as well, could have been her over-active imagination playing tricks on her.
The trip back to Kalm was uneventful.