Silver Haired Children
The alarm went off at around three in the morning.
The shrill, shrieking sirens did their job well, and within minutes, nearly every light in Midgar and Edge flickered on as the sleeping cities were violently jarred to life. Civilians, despite the warnings over the loudspeaker to stay indoors, were migrating outside, hands clamped over their ears as they shouted to each other for information.
“It’s been years since the alarms have been used!”
“Not since Sephiroth…”
“What in Gaia is going on?”
Above the confused chatter, a fleet of helicopters scanned the area, their own noise drowned by the sirens. Blinding searchlights split the darkness, roving from area to area in their thorough investigation. The sky was alight with the red and blue blinking lights of the helicopters, a stark contrast to the gentle twinkling of the stars.
Rumors born from panic and confusion began to spread. Some said that Sephiroth had indeed returned, and the thought of another Nibelheim only made the paranoia worse. Half-truths and myths ravaged the minds of the occupants of Midgar.
Vincent Valentine could no longer decipher one voice from another amid the din. His face was drawn; he didn’t enjoy the ruckus, and he was not comfortable among so many people.
He pulled the collar of his crimson cloak up, covering more of his face than usual, and kept his eyes down, knowing that if he was recognized as a member of Avalanche he would see no rest until the affair blew over. Thus hidden, he was able to creep silently and fluidly through the throng, listening, observing, and trying to make sense of it all.
The prominent explanation among the people was that Sephiroth had returned, but Vincent knew that it was also the most unlikely. Perhaps he was the only one to see the irrationality of it because every other civilian was blinded by panic, or maybe it was because he had been one of the few eyewitnesses to the tragedy of the past months.
Sephiroth was not going to return, and if he did, by some inconceivably small chance, it would not be to kill.
So what was the problem?
His search for answers led his crimson eyes to the sky. To his surprise, it was not the mark of Shinra on the planes. From this distance, he couldn’t quite make it out, but it was not the ruby box and black calligraphy of the now infamous company. Instead, the logo was thinner, more elaborate, and was sea foam green etched with white.
He wondered about the motives of the organization: were they trying to help or were they the source of the entire problem?
He was given evidence of the later soon enough.
Thin pillars of fire vaulted from the helicopters, shattering the air when the blasts struck the earth. Mayhem reached an unbearable level as the bombs assaulted the twin cities.
If that was Shinra, Vincent concluded (and he was fairly sure that it wasn’t at this point), he was going to have a gun-oriented chat with Rufus.
Coherent speech turned to shrieks and cries, and Vincent was able to gather no more information. Frustrated, he slipped into a back alley, welcoming the familiar darkness. The noise, though not entirely eliminated with the distance, sank to a level in which he could concentrate.
The projectiles he had seen were not bombs. Working with the Turks had given him enough experience in the area to be fairly sure of his conclusion. From what he remembered, they seemed to be a closer match to the capsules used to carry chemicals. The color of the greenish smoke ebbing away with the wind allowed him to classify the gas as a heavy sedative. He had once used something similar on a mission to manage a herd of fiends that had strayed too close to the city.
So whoever was attacking was not aiming to kill. That was somewhat consoling.
The helicopters were not being stingy with their supply; they doused the city with as much of it as they deemed fit. Such a rare chemical being used in such massive quantities was startling. Whatever they were tracking must have been very important to them if they would pay such an expense to bring their subject back alive.
Vincent carefully tracked the pattern of the helicopters, noting the formations, where they struck, and with what quantities of drugs. It was through these observations that he was able to tell when they had spotted their target.
The helicopters, which had previously been spread across the sky, consolidated around one area, and the capsules fell even more freely. The subject seemed to be on the run, as the helicopters moved in a roughly northerly pattern, though their course was adjusted sporadically.
Their path would take them straight toward Vincent.
He figured that he had learned all he could, and he wasn’t particularly keen about being knocked senseless in the crossfire. He decided to abandon his investigation and get the details later.
No sooner had he turned his back to the oncoming helicopters than he heard a sharp cough behind him. He could hear no footsteps; the stranger was still a distance away.
Vincent turned, and there it was again, and a third time. Soon he could hear quick, awkwardly paced footsteps. It wasn’t long after that a small, hunched figure draped in a thin, worn blanket came into his view, breathing in frantic gasps, arms swinging to attempt to keep balance – a feat that only half worked.
A child? Here? Now?
The blanket swayed as the child ran, and he caught a glimpse of the hem of a calf-length dress, and so assumed it was a girl. Wide, bright green eyes peered through a hole in the blanket, glowing with an ethereal light of their own. As she got closer, he noticed that the hunch appeared as if she was shouldering a large pack. He assumed it was the reason that the girl walked with such a pronounced limp, one leg stomping far too heavily, and the other swinging far too quick.
The girl moved right past him without a pause. Maybe it was because Vincent blended in so well with the shadows, or maybe it was because she was focusing every ounce of energy in her small body into putting one foot in front of the other. It was certainly not because she had been moving too fast to notice him.
He made no attempt to follow. He merely watched.
At the intersection of two alleys she skidded awkwardly to a stop, hands on her knees, sucking in loud breaths, only scanning her surroundings to see if it was safe afterward. It was during this pause that she noticed Vincent.
He could tell because she jumped back in alarm, taking refuge from his sight behind an overflowing dumpster. He could still hear her gulping in air, and from the long shadows she cast he could see that she was bent over, clutching her side like it hurt.
Vincent offered no greeting, but tried not to sound as fearsome as he must have looked. “What are you doing here?” he called out.
No answer was offered, but he saw those green eyes peek out from behind the dumpster, perhaps in curiosity, or maybe to judge if it was safe to flee. There was still a good distance between them, a fact that he knew did not escape her notice.
“I will not harm you,” Vincent assured the child, but he knew full well that he did not look like someone who would keep a promise like that.
The child withdrew fully into the shadow of the dumpster, taking refuge only for a moment before it summoned enough courage to turn its back and run blindly down the closest alley.
Vincent didn’t particularly like children – more accurately, they did not particularly like him - but neither did he want this little one wandering the dark, crime-infested alleyways of Midgar at night, especially when the city was under attack. He followed, calling out to the child, who stumbled on without any heed.
He didn’t expend too much energy during the chase. He knew that the child couldn’t run for long.
And he was right.
The girl tripped over a stray stone in the road, and silently, without crying out, fell to the ground. They had reached a dead end. Vincent stood between the child and her only exit. Ten foot concrete walls surrounded them on all other sides.
Vincent sunk to his knees and wordlessly held a hand out to her. The tiny, quivering body shied back, still not rising to her feet.
“What are you doing here? Where are your parents?”
No answer. The child scooted back until pressed firmly into the corner. Her eyes darted every which way, looking for any escape, but finding nothing.
Vincent slowly advanced, and when he was at her side, seized a pale, bony hand in his own. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with her, but he couldn’t leave her alone in the alleys, whether she liked it or not.
Vincent stopped dead, frozen, as the girl’s struggle shook the blanket from her body, revealing everything in one glance.
The girl’s skin was strikingly pale, and the rest of her body was painfully thin; she looked well more than half starved.
That was not what struck him most.
Long, gently curled silver hair gleamed in the moonlight, tied in two messy braids with frayed ribbons. Tears were spilling from green eyes that truly glowed – not from fear or illness, but with the power from the poison touch of mako. Her catlike pupils were narrowed to near slivers of black. As the blanket slipped entirely off her, he found that she had not been shouldering a pack after all. Instead, there was a pair of large, pure white wings extending from her shoulder blades, pressed tight against her body in agitation.
He knew the girl on sight, though he had never met her.
This was Nadiya, the daughter of Sephiroth.
The girl turned her face away as she struggled in vain to free her hands. Vincent held her still, struck with disbelief. Was it possible that she was still alive after all these years? Even her own parents believed her to be dead.
But here she was. Her distinctive eyes, hair, and wings testified without a doubt of who her father was. He was hit with a wave of sorrow as he looked at her closer, seeing not only her notorious father in her, but so much of her gentle mother as well.
“Nadiya,” Vincent said. She looked at him and stopped struggling, confusion replacing fear to a great degree. He had caught her attention by calling her by name. “Nadiya, I knew your parents. I am here to help you. I am a friend.” He reached up to undo the buckles that held his cape around his throat. When it was free, he held it out to her. It was not much, but it was all he had at the moment.
Nadiya was still cautious, but she still accepted Vincent’s crimson cloak with gratitude. He draped it over her body as she rubbed her arms, trying to warm them.
He was so absorbed in the young girl that he didn’t notice how the helicopters had gathered around him, encircling them and dropping more chemicals than before.
He didn’t see the silver streak until it hit him dead on, the newcomer lashing out with his fists.
“Get away from my sister or I swear I’ll kill you!”