On the Way to a Smile, Episode: Denzel [Revised]

Revised Audiobook Edition by Pixel

Midgar was divided into two very different worlds. An upper city; a steel acropolis high above the ground, known as the Plate. Then there were the slums; areas beneath the plate that never saw daylight. The people who lived there led chaotic, but hardy lives. It was thought that this thriving light and shadow, built by a single enterprise called the Shinra Electric Power Company, would be a sight that endured forever.

Four years ago, when the Lifestream came flowing out of the ground, many residents believed that Midgar would crumble and fall. With only their personal effects in hand, they fled their neighbourhoods, and yet, the people were unable to distance themselves from the city of steel for long. Perhaps they thought they could return to their normal lives of blissfull ignorance if they stayed close.

Before long, a new town called Edge was built along the avenue stretching east from Midgar, Edge’s main avenue started at the border of Midgar’s Third and Fourth Sectors. The town then expanded to the north and south from there. From a distance it seemed a magnificent city, but most of the buildings were actually constructed from Midgar’s debris. The streets smelled of iron and rust.

Johnny ran a cafe that sat along the main avenue. It was a humble establishment in a patch of open ground, with a stall, some tables and a few chairs, where he could do some simple cooking. He named the cafe “Johnny’s Heaven”. It was named after “Seventh Heaven”, a bar that once existed in the slums of Midgar’s Sector Seven. Johnny had been in love with the barmaid there for a long time. Her was Tifa.

Several months after the bar was lost during Sector Seven’s collapse, Tifa reopened a new Seventh Heaven in Edge. At the time, Johnny was among the masses who couldn’t figure out how to go on, and was moved by the strength of spirit with which Tifa lived. And so, with those thoughts in mind, she became more than just the former object of his unrequited love, but a respected figure in Johnny’s heart.

I’m going to live just like Tifa. But how? I know! I’ll run a business too. I’ll give hope to those who have lost their way.

That was the start of Johnny’s Heaven. Customers who came there were subjected to the tale of “Johnny Reborn” again and again.

As a result of that, many of them visited the new Seventh Heaven, wanting to see Tifa, and wound up becoming her regulars. Unaware of this, Johnny continued to open 6 days a week waiting for an audience who would listen to his tale of love and hope.

Eventually, someone did come. It was a boy. It was pretty rare for a child to come in alone. He was Denzel, a young boy who was special to Johnny. He was part of Tifa’s family. Johnny was going to put all his heart into his service for Denzel.

“Make yourself at home, Denzel.”

Johnny bowed deeply, lowering his head. But Denzel only glimpsed at him for an instant before heading to the farthest table from the stall.

“Come sit a little closer.”

“No. I’m meeting someone.”

He’s here to meet someone? He’s dating already? But he’s still a kid… Well, whatever. I’ll watch over him. This is all part of my special service.

“On a date, ey? Go get her kiddo.”

“Coffee please.”

Is he ignoring me? Ah, he must be shy.

“Give me a shout if you’re stuck. I know how to talk to the ladies. Trust me…”

Suddenly, Denzel stood up from his seat.

Was he angry?

Johnny was watching Denzel, but the young boy’s gaze was directed at the entrance. A man in a plain suit was standing there.

“Welcome”, Johnny greeted the customer, but averted his gaze. He was Reeve, a former Shinra executive. It was the first time Johnny had seen the man, who was now leading the WRO, up close. He had a reputation for bringing death.

What business does a guy like him have in my shop?

Reeve glanced around at his surroundings cautiously as he walked over to Denzel’s table, and sat down. It seemed a habit of his. Something struck Johnny’s mind.

Reeve was inviting Denzel to join the army. I have to stop them somehow. If something like that was to happen in my cafe then I wouldn’t be able to face Tifa again.

With that in mind, his expression remained calm as he glared at Reeve.

“A coffee, if you don’t mind”,

Johnny was shocked at how dignified he seemed.

“Yes, of course.”

Johnny stood up straight as he answered, then scurried back to the stall.

“Not an easy person to deal with.”

Denzel was surprised that the head of the WRO himself would come to interview him. He stood there, unable to get as much as a greeting out.

“Have a seat.”

Reeve’s voice snapped him out of it, and he nervously sat down.

“Now then, Denzel. I’m short on time, so let’s get right to business”,

“I should warn you up front, our organisation has changed. Gone are the days when we welcomed just anyone into our ranks. If it’s volunteer work you’re after, contact your local leaders. The WRO is an army now.”

“Yes, sir. I’m prepared for the dangers.”

“Im sure you are… All right, tell me about yourself, starting with your background.”

“My background? I don’t – I mean, I’m only 10.”

“Yes , I know. But even a 10 year old must have a background?”

“eh…” sigh

Denzel was the only son born to Abel, a workaholic employee of Shinra’s Division Three, and Chloe, a sociable woman with a knack for housekeeping. The three of them lived in Shinra’s employee housing area on the Sector Seven plate. Abel, who was born and raised in a provincial town, was satisfied that he could raise his family in the upper levels of Midgar’s acropolis. However, he believed he always needed goals in life, and his new one was to live in the executive housing area of Sector Five.

When Denzel reached the age of seven, Abel was promoted to head of division. That meant he had the right to live in the Sector Five housing. Hearing the news, both Chloe and Denzel prepared a surprise party. Sumptuous food and child-like decorations welcomed home the man of the house. It was an enjoyable dinner. Denzel listened to his gleeful father tell jokes, and talk about his life.

“Denzel, you’re very lucky to have been born my son. If you’d been born in the Slums, you’d have to eat rats instead of chicken.”

“They don’t have chicken?”

“They do, but because everyone is so poor, they can’t afford it. They have no choice but to catch rats with spears. Filthy, grey rats.”

“Ewww… Sounds disgusting.”

“So, how do they taste?”,

Abel winking at Chloe. She pointed to Denzel’s plate.

“Well, Denzel?”

Denzel grew uneasy, looking back and forth at his parents faces and his plate. His father looked down, trying not to laugh. Denzel remembered one of his mother’s sayings.

“There’s no meaning to life without smiles”

They’re both trying to scare me again. “Neither one of you is fooling me, ok!?”

* * *

“What mean parents.”

“They just liked to joke. I didn’t mind being teased.”

“I’ll tell you this, but as far as I know rats weren’t eaten in the slums. The rats in the slums at that time were…”

“I know. I know about it well.”

“Oh? Did something happen?”

“…It’s a long story.”

* * *

The phone rang while Denzel was watching the house. It was Abel.

“Where’s your mother?”

He seemed angry.

“She’s out shopping.”

“When she gets home, tell her to call me back right away… Nevermind, I’ll call her.”

He knew his father was troubled, and grew anxious. He couldn’t settle down, so he turned on the TV and waited for his mother to come home. On the news, they were showing Mako Reactor One, which had been blown up just days ago by a group calling themselves Avalanche.

“Dad’s been busy because of this. That’s why he was cranky. Not because of me or mom”

After about an hour, it wasn’t his mother who came home. It was Abel.

“Where’s your mom?”

“She’s not back yet.”

“Okay. I’m going to look for her.”

Abel was out of the house before he even finished the sentence. Panicking, Denzel went after him. They went to the market and found Chloe right away. She was happily talking with the butcher. Abel told Denzel to stay put and walked toward the shop. Without a word, he grabbed his wife’s wrist and practically dragged her away.

When he heard his mother’s protests, Denzel tensed up.

“Would you let go of me! What’s going on?”

Abel looked around him and lowered his voice.

“They’re going to destroy Sector Seven. We need to hurry and take shelter in Sector Five. There’s a new company residence for us there.”

“Destroy it?”

“The scum that blew up Reactor One… Well, they’ve picked their next target.”

Denzel looked at both of his parents’ faces. There was no sign of them stifling laughter. This was no joke.

“… Number Seven?”

He grabbed both of his parent’s hands

“Come on, lets hurry and go.”

But the two didn’t budge.

“But we can’t just… What about the neibours, Our friends?”

“There’s no time, Chloe. Besides, this is classified. I’m breaking rules here. They just made me head of division.”

Irritated, Chloe shook her wrist free.

“Denzel. Go with your father. I’ll catch up with you soon. Don’t worry.”

After giving Denzel’s hand a firm squeeze, Chloe left and started to run.


Abel ran after his wife, but after a few steps he came to a halt. Seeing how much his father was suffering, Denzel’s heart ached.

He wanted to go after her, but I was holding him back.

“Denzel, we need to go.”

“No! We can’t leave mom here!”

“Mom will be just fine. You can’t blame her for caring.”

A tall man was dragging a suitcase along as he walked at the borders of the Sixth and Seventh Sectors. Abel called out to him. When the man realised who was calling out to him, he quickly ran over.

“You’re still here, sir? The Turks have already deployed. By now they must be nearly finished planting the explosives. One of my buddies has a vehicle prepped, we should….”

“Not in front of my son”

“… Sorry, sir.”

Denzel knew quite a lot about Shinra, thanks to all he had heard from his father since he was little. The Turks were the ones who did all the dirty work.

“What did he mean that the Turks had planted the bombs? Are the Turks with Avalanche?”

He stared at the ground, wondering what they were talking about. Sensing his father’s gaze, he looked up.

“Arkham, could you take my boy over to Sector Five? The housing area, number 38.”

Abel never took his eyes off his son.


“Do as I say. Go with Mr. Arkham. Im going to bring back your mom”

“…We’ll go together.”

“Arkham, can I count on you?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Here’s the key. I’ll leave it with my son.”

From the inside pocket of his suit, he produced a key, and forced Denzel to close his hand around it.


“I bought us a new big-screen TV. Watch that while you’re waiting for us.”

After ruffling his son’s hair, Abel gave him a gentle push toward Arkham and started running in the direction of the Sector Seven. Denzel almost lost his balance, but Arkham was there to catch him.

“All right, lets get going. I’m Arkham. I work for your Dad. Its nice to finally meet you. Your Dad never stops talking about…”

Denzel squirmed and tried to run off, but Arkham stopped him.

“I understand how you feel. But I can’t disobey your father’s orders. For now, lets just go to Sector Five. After that, you’re free to do whatever you like. OK?”

The new house, nestled in a rows of cookie-cutter homes, was empty, except for a big box holding the TV. Arkham took it out of the box and hooked up the cables.

Together they watched the news. They were still airing the video of Mako Reactor One exploding. All Denzel could think about was when Arkham would leave.

“I’m hungry.”

“You got it. I’ll go pick something up”

Just then, the entire house shook. A huge explosion could be heard in the distance. As Arkham opened the door, they could hear the screams of twisting metal coming from outside.

“Stay here.”

“Wait, what about — ?”

Just as Denzel was about to follow, there was an anouncement on the tv.

“Breaking News”
“We interrupt our regular broadcast for this breaking news. We have unconfirmed reports that sector seven has just exploded. Yes, there seems to have been a tremendous explosion…”

Footage of an entire town caving in appeared on the screen. It took Denzel a few moments to recognise it a Sector Seven, where he and his family had been just hours before. The scene changed.

“You are now watching live footage from Sector Seven.”

There was nothing there. Sector Seven was gone. Denzel burst out the house. The streets were in chaos. People were running all over the place shouting that Sector Five would be next.

He ran as fast as he could and didn’t stop, even with the chaos around him. He made it to Sector Six, completely out of breathe. Soldiers were putting up a barrier. Denzel approached, trying to get a look at Sector Seven. There was nothing there. It was as though nothing ever had been. He could see Sector Eight in the distance. The joins for the Sector Seven Plate were peeking out.

“Whoa, kid! You wanna get hurt?.Where do you live?”

Denzel pointed into the empty space.

“I see… Damn shame, that.”

The soldier’s voice was gentle.

“Where are your parents?”

Again, Denzel pointed into the space where Sector Seven used to be.

*The soldier let out a sigh*,

He stood next to Denzel and placed his hand on his shoulder

“This is Avalanche’s doing. Don’t you forget it. When you get bigger, you pay them back for what they’ve done.”

“… You have to go. You can’t stay here”

The soldier turned Denzel toward Sector Six and urged him away.

He started to walk absent-mindedly. The voices of concerned strangers passed in one ear and out the other.

Which place was going to be next? … Dad! … Will it be alright here? … Mom! … I won’t forgive those Avalanche scum! … What are the Shinra doing! … Dad! … Mom, where are you?

The pathetic child’s voice was the only one he couldn’t tune out. When he realised it belonged to him, he couldn’t walk any further. Tears came welling up.

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