It was quite a sight to return home to. All three men had seen the likes of it before, just never in the middle of Sephiroth’s living room.
Genesis hissed out a low curse, but the other two men stared in mute shock.
The assailants had come in through the balcony window, not even bothering with subtlety. There had clearly been more than one, as there were at least three jagged, man-sized holes that took out most of the large window. The broken glass dusted the floor, shards large and small, sharp as daggers, extending out several feet in front of the windowsill. The curtain rod had been torn down on one end, crossing the window at a diagonal as it barely hung by one end. The drapes were in sad tatters, fabric limp on the floor near the end of the rod that had fallen. The two floor-lamps by the window had tumbled as well, laying akimbo.
Beneath one of those lamps, amid the shards of glass, was a body washed in crimson. Too much blood to be merely his own.
The blood was everywhere. The walls, the floor, the couches and coffee table - there was even one bright burst and a spatter of it on the ceiling.
And some of the thinner smears were already starting to brown.
It had been hours.
And there was no sign of Hana.
“Get the Turks,” Sephiroth ordered. “Now.”
Angeal pulled out his cell phone and dialed. Genesis entered the room, while Sephiroth remained in the doorway.
“Do you know who did this?” Genesis said, his voice lethally low, level, more of an accusation than a question.
“She’s alive,” was all Sephiroth said.
“Oh, so they won’t kill her? Is that supposed to be consolation?” Genesis whirred on his friend, seething venom. “You know something? You may be many things right now, Sephiroth, but surprised isn’t one of them. I’ll bet everything I have in saying that you know exactly what happened…and why.”
Sephiroth’s face betrayed nothing – cold as steel with eyes of fire.
“You’ve kept one too many secrets, Sephiroth. Look at the results.” Genesis swept his hand over the scene to emphasize the carnage.
“You talk too much, especially considering that you are entirely ignorant of the situation.”
“I talk too much? Forgive me, let me speak a language we both can understand.” Genesis roared, drawing his flaming blade and charging forward in a red blur.
Genesis’s blade met Angeal’s with a harsh clang. Both swords sang, vibrating with the force of the impact. Sephiroth stood on the opposite side of Angeal, not having moved in the slightest.
“Enough, Genesis!” Angeal said. “This won’t help anything.”
Genesis smirked maliciously. “I was right, you are guilty. You didn’t so much as move to draw against me. I bet under all that ice, your guilt is eating you alive right now, knowing you let this happen.” With that barb, Genesis sheathed his sword and turned his back to his friends.
“We wait for the Turks,” Angeal said firmly, as if he could stamp out the fire between them. “Don’t disturb anything from the scene.”
No one moved. The three men stayed rooted where they were in silence until footsteps thundered down the hall.
Tseng entered without invitation, two more men in Turks uniforms behind him. “Lock down the building,” he ordered as soon as he laid eyes on the scene. One of the men beside him made the call.
“What do you know?” Tseng asked curtly.
“Nothing,” Angeal said, cutting over Genesis. “When we returned from sparring the apartment was like this.”
“How long since you left?”
“Three hours,” Angeal admitted quietly. They all knew that was the worst news. Hana could be well on her way to most anywhere by now.
“Sweep the perimeter and see if building security noticed anything suspicious. I can handle the rest alone.” The two Turks promptly dismissed themselves.
“Wutai troops,” Tseng said, kicking the body over so it laid face-up. “But not from the imperial military. I’ve never seen this phoenix insignia before.”
“Can you tell how many there were?” Angeal asked.
“At least three. One here, and two more bodies we found just before you called, apparently thrown from the balcony.”
Angeal grimaced. It was a long, long fall.
“There can’t have been many more,” Tseng continued. “If the party had been much bigger, they could not have evaded security the way they did.”
“It would only take one more to carry Hana off,” Genesis quipped. Sephiroth did not respond to the barb, still in the doorway, watching with hazed eyes.
“It’s a possibility we can’t rule out. We don’t know how many there were, which makes it impossible to say how many are still unaccounted for. ”
Sephiroth moved at last to sit on his couch, at the end that was the least splattered with blood. They all glanced at him as he made the move, but said nothing.
“Look,” Tseng said, carefully ruffling through the carpet to pull out a thin, but sharp sliver of wood. “We found these on the bodies down below as well. Darts, seeped in a powerful sedative.”
“They were trying to take her alive,” Angeal said.
“Tch. Sephiroth already knew that,” Genesis added.
Sephiroth sent Genesis a venom glare but said nothing.
“None of them were carrying any guns,” Tseng said. “Which means that all the bullets had to come from—“
“Dear Gaia,” Angeal cursed, realizing it for the first time.
The many, many bullet holes in the walls, the furniture, and most of all, the bodies, had to come from the gun left fallen on the ground next to an open volume of Loveless.
From the looks of things, it had been a blind, bloody frenzy.
Angeal sighed and put his forehead in his hand. “She…did this, then?”
“Most likely,” Tseng said, “as there is no other gun to be found.”
Genesis reverently picked up the copy of Loveless from the ground, brushing off the cover, but holding it to the page that had been opened when it fell. “Oh. She’d been reading the beginning of act four.”
“Don’t tell me that’s the part when—“
“My soul, corrupted by vengeance, hath endured torment to find the end of the journey in my own salvation and your eternal slumber,” Genesis read. “…I’ll admit it was unfortunate timing.”
Tseng’s phone rang. He said nothing, not even to greet the caller, but he nodded and pocketed the device after the message had been delivered. “I have news. We still can’t say for certain that Hana wasn’t taken,” Tseng said, “but the woman at the front desk said she saw a figure using a blanket as a cloak jet out the front gates, seemingly in great distress.”
Sephiroth propped his elbow on his knee and bent over to put his forehead in his palm. Through the silver veil of his hair, his face could not be seen.
“She ran, then,” Genesis said quietly. “And who can blame her. Especially for her first kill—or…three—this was pretty traumatic.”
“She shouldn’t be alone then,” Angeal said. “We need to find her immediately.”
“She won’t want to see us,” Sephiroth said in a deadpan tone. “Me, least of all.”
“We’re her friends,” Angeal insisted.
“We kill for a living.”
The conversation stopped for a moment.
“Fine. But we can’t leave her either,” Angeal said quietly in consideration of Sephiroth. “She knows nothing about the city, is unarmed, and we don’t know if she got all of her attackers. Even if she did, there are gangs and thugs in the alleys.”
“Her senses probably aren’t fully intact either,” Genesis said. “I doubt she could resist an attacker if she wanted to.”
“We’ll send out a team of Turks immediately,” Tseng said. “If it’s agreeable to you, Sephiroth, I’ll give the orders to guard only and remain out of sight. If she doesn’t want to be here, we’ll let her wander until she’s ready to return. We won’t intervene unless it becomes necessary.”
“That would be best,” Sephiroth said. “And keep the press away.”
“It’s too late for that. They got wind of the bodies below.”
“Then swing it as much as you can to keep Hana out of this.”
“I’ll try. No promises. Unless the three of you need anything, I’ll take my leave to oversee the mission and cleanup.”
“We’ll be fine,” Angeal said.
“I’ll phone in any new developments.” With that, Tseng left, leaving the three friends in the remains of the skirmish.
There was nothing left to say. Genesis made himself comfortable at the kitchen table, far from Sephiroth on the couch, thumbing through Loveless distractedly but not reading. For a long while, the whisper of turning pages was the only noise in the room.
Angeal took out his phone once again. He waited a long time after dialing.
“…Yes, Zack, I know what time it is, but I’m sending you on an urgent mission. …You’ll be interested once you hear what it is. Hana has disappeared.” Something sounded like an explosion on the other end of the phone. Angeal pulled it away from his ear and grimaced from the blast, but recovered quickly.
“Now that you’re up, here are the details. She’s likely on foot but she has a three-hour head start. Scour the city. Be gentle and considerate when you find her, she’s likely extremely distressed and may not want to come back immediately. Stay with her and guard her until she’s ready to return. …No, I don’t have any leads on which way she went.”
There was angry screaming on the other end, but Angeal remained calm “…No, it’s not Sephiroth’s fault,” Genesis snorted loudly but Angeal silenced him with a glare. “Wutai troops broke in through her window while Sephiroth was away. It was an awful, bloody mess and she’s likely shell shocked. …I know you may not find her, but try. The Turks are searching too, but you’re a friendly face and I think she needs that now.”
When Angeal hung up, Sephiroth was looking at him in disapproval. “Zack is…maybe not good at these things, but he’s better than we are,” Angeal justified. “His heart is in the right place, at least.”
“You should stay at my place tonight,” Angeal said. “You’ll get no sleep here.”
“I do not intend to sleep until the matter is settled.” He rose to his feet and smoothed his long coat. “There is much to do.”
He began to walk out the door, in no particular hurry. Genesis glanced up at him over the rim of Loveless. “Strange, considering you’re the one who got her into this mess.”
Sephiroth’s lips curled downward at the corners, and he shook his head once. “No,” he said. “It is quite the other way around.”
And then he was gone.
“So we just wait?” Genesis asked Angeal.
“What else is there to do?”
“We could start searching too.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude on Sephiroth that way. He’s raw enough as it is.”
“Well, how about a different kind of searching?” Genesis put down Loveless and began to make his way to the spare bedroom.
“No, Genesis, that’s not—“
But he wasn’t listening. With a sigh, Angeal resigned.
Genesis came back out with the box. “You have just invaded a lady’s private bedroom,” Angeal reminded him with scorn.
“I’m trying to figure out said lady,” Genesis said, setting the box on the table and opening it without ceremony. He put the jeweled hairpins aside and went straight for the kimono.
He lifted it and unfurled it with a flip of his wrists. The blue silk cascaded over the table, falling gently and silently after the breath it sighed as it swished out.
And there, embroidered over and over onto that kimono, was the emblem of the phoenix.
Genesis went back to the body and ripped the insignia on the soldier’s coat off, returning to hold the bloodied scrap in his hand above the kimono.
The insignia was identical all the way down to the coloration, but for one small detail.
The phoenix’s feathers on the soldier’s uniform were arranged differently, giving the wing a different shape.
“The feathers are shorter at the wing’s tip,” Genesis observed.
“They’re clipped,” Angeal clarified.
“It’s quite the other way around,” Sephiroth had said.
She’s the one getting him into trouble.
The two friends stared at the two symbols, and a feeling of dread chilled the air.