Challenges Both New and Old Chapter 3
Tension So Thick You Could Cut it With a Buster Sword
"You wanted to see me, your highness?" Yuffie asked with a bitter tone as she entered the pagoda. What a jerk.
"Like it'll do any good," Godo muttered. Unfortunately, one of his few weaknesses was when he argued with his daughter, he became almost exactly like her. Until they'd started arguing, he'd always thought it'd come from her mother. Apparently not. "I figure that if I haven't gotten anything past your thick stubborn head by now, it'll probably never happen." No confidence in you whatsoever.
Yuffie smirked. "Why'd you send for me, then?" He doesn't know what he wants.
Godo sighed. "I don't even really know. It's been so long since we started this damn feud, I've nearly forgotten your ideals. I respect your desires and your drive to stand for what you believe in, but I think daddy knows best." He patronizes you... how do you think his country feels?
Yuffie snorted. "Don't give me that bull... I'm twenty. I think I deserve the respect of an adult!" After all, you defeated the great Sephiroth.
"And you have it; you sit on the council along with me and the other pagoda members. But respect doesn't mean that we act upon your ideas." That's because he lacks the spine.
"So what? We act upon yours? Guess which one of us led this place down the crapper the first time?" Why should we expect anything more?
She knew how to tick him off; she played that card every time. "It's precisely because of my mistakes that I feel I am more suited to guiding Wutai now than you are! I was far too arrogant to believe that I could have challenged the world superpower and won. They crushed us, and now we have a chance to restore ourselves. And I'm not going to screw it up just because my daughter is exactly like I was during the war!" He 's never had your vision, your eye for opportunity.
"Dad, don't you get it? Unless we act fast and act now, we don't have any chance at all! You think Shinra's gone? Don't be so naïve... they have a different name and a different leader, but they're still the same underneath! And they're not gonna wait for us to regain our power before they invade!" Unlike him, Shinra acts swiftly and decisively. That's one thing to respect them for.
"Do you realize why Deling is pardoning you? He doesn't want to ruin our relationship... he's scared of us! Our continent is the largest single piece of land in the known world! If we were to attack, the support of the people would be with him, and then we would surely lose. But we shall wait here, quietly gathering strength. If Deling is foolish enough to repeat the war, he'll turn his own population against him!" What a crock... the almighty Deling, scared of us?
"Ugh!" Yuffie cried out. Why is he such an idiot? "For one thing, Deling isn't 'pardoning' anybody! He has no right to accuse the others or me of anything in the first place! When you say it like that it's like you've forgotten who's the good guy here!"
"I know that Deling is being unfair," Godo assured, "but for now I must play by his rules, until we are strong enough to make our own." And when will that be? Cuz it definitely won't be once he starts pummeling us.
"Dad, we are strong enough!" Yuffie insisted. "The city had quadrupled in size, and we're regaining our old warrior ways! We can act and win!" He doesn't know how to wield his own power.
"You're a fool if you think the battle is only one of physical might!" insisted Godo. "As the ruler of this country, I have to be politically cautious. One wrong move and we could find ourselves the outcasts of the world!" Politics delay action. But action sculpts politics. Strategies can't always be run through the system before they're implemented.
"And what are we now?" Yuffie's volume escalated. "The number one hotspot? It's now or never!" They have a lot more to lose than we do.
It took all of Godo's years of ninja stealth training to maintain his composure. "Patience was never your strong suit. Deling's still too new in his seat of power to do anything rash." And how long did Rufus wait? "Besides, I've heard through the grapevine that he's not all that popular. They say he reeks of pre-Movement." Then why are they using the term he created?
"How do I get this through your head?! Nothing has changed! There is no pre-and post-Movement... Deling created that distinction, like he's created everything else in this massive cover-up!" There's no hope if your father continues to lead this country. "He wants people to think that everything's different but everything's the same!" It's time for drastic measures. "He'll invent some bullshit reason for attacking us and when he wins people will love him even more! It's all the same! What do I have to say or do to convince you of that?!"
Seize your opportunity.
Godo was enraged. "You simply do not understand... you are too young." Age causes pretention... the youth will always be stifled unless they are smarter.
The time is now.
"Rrraaaaagh!" Yuffie shouted. Her arm automatically flew to her belt and out of nowhere three shruikens flew through the air. Godo, without thinking twice, flipped out the way and landed five feet over as the ninja stars lodged themselves in the wall behind where he had been standing.
Godo looked at the stars, quivering by their points, and then at Yuffie. His mouth was wide open. Yuffie's was as well... neither of them could believe what just happened. The only noise to be heard was the subsiding vibration generated by the stars.
"Get out," Godo commanded. His arm raised slowly, mechanically, and pointed at the door.
Yuffie didn't know how to react. "Dad... I..."
"GET OUT!!!!!!" Godo shouted. With tears welling in her eyes, Yuffie bolted from the room.
Laguna had never had so much sweat on his body at one time before. He and two other new recruits were going to be personally inducted by the well-known and respected Colonel Caraway. He didn't know why the colonel had requested to see these three personally, but he figured it must be important. As far as he knew, none of them had done anything to get in trouble yet, and no one had seemed to have any problem with their requisite information. He stood stock still as he waited for the bus to pick him up, as if the colonel were inspecting him at this very moment. The details had been sparse; he'd received a message from his commanding officer to report for special inauguration. A bus would pick him up from the Deling City station at 2000 hours and drop him off at Caraway's mansion. No mention of the other two recruits was made.
Laguna adjusted his armor. It felt no different than it did before. How on earth was he to deal with his fidgets? He decided to count lampposts. one, two, three, four, five... that was it. Five lampposts. That hadn't worked very well. How else could he occupy his time? Hmmm... Perhaps he should work on his writing. He was only an amateur at present, but hoped to get better with practice. Might as well start now. As the lone soldier stood warily on the street corner, he oozed mystery. Who was he? What was his past, and where was the golden thread of destiny pulling him at this very moment? Apparently not very far. Where he came from, nobody could rightly say. But one thing was for certain, he meant business. As he waited for his next mission, only one thing was on his mind: When on earth was that damn bus going to get here? Oh, wait. Here it was. His coach had arrived. Who knew where it was taking him? Only the driver, perhaps, and maybe not even him... what was he talking about? Just get on the bus.
It was far from any coach: in fact, "cobbled-together heap" was probably a better way to describe it. Ooooh, that was a good one. Better remember that for later. "This goes to Caraway's mansion, right?" Laguna asked the driver tentatively.
"Yup." Tallkative fellow. This was truly an enigmatic man: his hat was positioned so that he face was invisible, and he wore a black outfit. In this light, it was impossible to see anything. Laguna shrugged and took a seat. If he knew this city, they should be to the mansion in a couple of minutes. He busied himself with looking out the window... Deling City was sure dead at this time of night. Maybe that was why the colonel waited until night to see them; he may have been too busy before. There was the park, the archway... Caraway's mansion should be next. But the bus suddenly turned into the archway. "Hey!" Laguna called. "Caraway's mansion isn't this way!"
"Why don't ya just let me do the drivin, Laggy?" Wait. He knows my name? Sort of... Well, that makes sense. Perhaps the driver knew the people he was driving around. That seemed reasonable. But why this roundabout route? At a loss for how to handle this, Laguna decided to sit down and wait it out. There they went, under the archway, and back around. This time they went down the shopping complex, now practically empty except for a couple of stragglers, and right past the bus stop where Laguna had been picked up. He noticed a sixth lamppost he'd missed before. Might as well work on the writing. Driven on a seemingly meaningless path, the clever yet currently ignorant soldier could only guess at what his superior must have had in mind... the soldier was already in awe of his military genius...
"We're here," called the driver. Laguna looked out. Indeed, the bus was parked right outside the mansion.
Laguna stood up and walked to the exit. "Thanks, uhhh..." Before Laguna could say anymore, the driver stood up and exited as well, closing the bus door behind him. He kept his face low, presumably to prevent anyone from seeing him. "Uhhh, what are you doing?"
"Coming with you. What's it look like?" The driver's tone seemed to ooze exasperation.
Although Laguna's jaw hadn't dropped open, he felt that it would any second. Say something, anything! "Ummm... who are you?" Okay, not really appropriate, but he'd let it slide for now.
The driver tipped his hat even further down. "You can call me 'Zack.'"
Tifa lay on her bed, staring past the ceiling into the expansiveness in the sky. As much as she agreed with Vincent and Cloud about the way things happen, she couldn't help but twinge when she thought that that was the last word. She sympathized with Barret... why did it have to be this way? How could they all do so much but get little to no recognition? Was this how the Planet wanted things to be? Around her, Reeve and Cid were packing up her stuff. She sat up, once again feeling self-conscious.
"I'm sorry I'm not helping more. Is there anything else you'd like me to do?"
"Nah," assured Cid as he and Reeve carried her dresser out of her room. "We've got it, Tif. We understand you need some time alone." Such good friends, Cid and Reeve. Under their tough and professional guises (respectively), they were two of the biggest sweethearts she'd ever known. And Barret, too. With these three, she knew that she'd always keep in contact, no matter what happened. Whether she was off waitressing in Timber while the boys made plans to topple Galbadia, or whether she wound up joining Red for a safe life in Shumi village, she knew they would always be there. She'd miss dear sweet Marlene, but knew that Elmyra would take care of her. Palmer was working his hardest to become a fully functioning member of the team, and she was really proud of him. He was still new and not quite up to AVALANCHE par, but had information and would not rest until he proved himself. It was such a miracle they found Vincent the first time, so she doubted she'd be seeing much, if any, more of him. He and Cid apparently had some plans in the works but Tifa was too addled to find them all out right now. Shera was going off with Cid, Yuffie had been out of the picture for years, and Cloud... Hyne, what had gotten into her?
The relationship between her and that man had always been refracted through a million different prisms so that whatever came out the other end was a severe distortion of what was meant to be seen. Tifa had never known what to think of Aeris and her forward advances... she knew Aeris had wanted Cloud, but Tifa had never been certain if she herself was okay with that. To be honest, based on the conviction with which Cloud had fabricated his story, Tifa had even begun to doubt her own recollections (Was Zack really Cloud the whole time and I didn't notice?). At this point she didn't know for absolute certain who she had been close to or had strong feelings for at any given point in time, so she decided to let Aeris, who seemed much more comfortable, do what she liked(incidentally, Tifa later discovered Aeris wasn't sure whether Cloud was a Zack reincarnate, and therefore was just as confused even though she put on a confident front).Everything changed, though, once Aeris was gone. Then, Tifa felt, more than ever, that Cloud needed her as a friend or something more, whether he knew it or not. Tifa swore to herself that she would not let Cloud sink any deeper into his hazed perception of reality. And it was upon her devastation at seeing him in Mideel, riddled with mako and medication and unable to express any sort of coherent communication whatsoever, that she knew. She cared for him romantically, and wanted to be something more to him. She couldn't bear to leave his side. She couldn't lose him yet again.
Even after it was revealed how close they had actually been and how much of a lid Tifa had kept on that fact, Tifa thought that perhaps she and Cloud could have a nice life together... but certain events had occurred before anything could happen. And after everyone had a chance to cool off from defeating the former Shinra soldiers, Tifa didn't see anything in Cloud's eyes. She thought he might have been too shy, even at this point, to tell her what he wanted to. But it was more than that... his bright eyes during their adventure, which were filled with understanding, gratitude, and comfort, while simultaneously asking for the same from her, had faded in color. Physically, they were still as bright blue as ever, but the energy, the liveliness, and whatever bond the two had formed was gone. When the guys all commented (though the actual content of the comments varied quite a bit) on Tifa's magic chest reduction, Cloud just nodded and muttered, "Congratulations." It was like the last four years had never happened, and there he was, drunk out of his mind in the front of the Sector 7 train station.
Tifa sighed, and stood up. She shuffled slowly to the piano, sat down and plunked out a few random notes. But, as is the case with musicians who have written a song they really like, those random notes quickly arranged themselves into the embodiment of Tifa's musical career. She had never gotten the opportunity to play the song for him. Well, she'd play it now. She started singing along with her music.
"Hey, that was great!" a voice called from behind her. Cloud? Tifa whipped her head around.
Reeve. "I was just carrying your dresser outside when I heard your voice... it was beautiful. Can you... can you sing it again?"
Tifa smiled. "Sure." She returned to the piano and started the song over. Reeve came over and watched her.
"I didn't know you were into music," he said with slight surprise. "For all your talent, you never let on at all."
Tifa blushed. "I... I never really was all that dedicated, what with martial arts and all. I played a few songs during my teenage years but... that was it.
Reeve gestured at the music. "Did you write that?"
Tifa looked down. "Yeah, long ago. But again more recently." She explained further. "When I came back to live here after Sephiroth, all the sheet music I'd had was gone. But I remembered this tune, and wrote it again."
Reeve shook his head. "This is absolutely amazing. I don't know music but I do know what sounds good. And this is number one with a bullet. And if you wrote this as a teenager, imagine what you can do now! You could easily make a career out of this..." Reeve suddenly trailed off. "Say, what are you planning to do as your new self?"
Tifa shrugged. "I really have no idea. I could become a bartender or waitress again, or she might settle down for a nice peaceful (lonely) life in... What's that place called now?"
"Winhill. But you can't go there... Elmyra and Marlene are already setting up shop. And you know we all have to disperse as widely as possible. But yeah, you should go into a career in music. After all the fighting you've done, you could probably use a break."
Tifa chuckled. Partially because she didn't think it would work out, but partially for something else... to tease Reeve further? "What could I do with a music career? Broadcast over satellite TV?"
"Nah." Reeve shrugged that suggestion off. "I say you work in the heart of Deling City. You'd be a welcome addition to our team."
Tifa smiled. "I thought we were supposed to spread out as far as possible."
"D'oh!" Reeve cried, smacking himself upside the head. Tifa laughed. "Actually, we need a few people to stay right in the city... if we're going to topple Deling, we're going to need to be seriously undercover."
"Palmer and I are going. Once he comes back from Shumi Village, we set out immediately."
"So who are you guys going to be?"
"It's a secret."
Tifa was a little hurt. "Even from me?"
"From everyone. None of us can tell the others who we're becoming... at least not now. Once we establish new identities and are set in them, then we can make moves."
Tifa started. "Shouldn't we not talk about this? Because... you know... they might be anywhere."
"That's true," admitted Reeve. "Except for the fact that Shinra is planning to demolish this place tomorrow, and doesn't know we know that. So they're all busy over at the Gold Saucer turning it into that damn prison... but at least they're not here."
That set Tifa at ease. "Who else will be in Deling City with you guys?"
"...oh," Tifa said uneasily. "Okay."
"But you should be there too, for sure. You'd be the perfect mole to hear stuff around town."
Tifa grinned. "Super-stealthy information gatherer by day, mild-mannered piano player by night, huh?"
"Well, when you put it that way, it just sounds like a super-secret spy position, demanding everything you know about espionage. A position rife with danger, deceit (well, on our part), and destruction. And if we're lucky, maybe you'll get to hit someone!"
Tifa laughed hard... she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so good. "I'll definitely think about it, Reeve. Thanks so much for cheering me up!" She happily trotted to him and spread her arms open. He embraced the hug and stood there, both of them content. On impulse, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Then she broke the hug, left the room and went down the stairs.
Reeve stood still for a moment, trying to piece together what had happened and, more importantly, what it could mean. He felt the area she'd kissed with his hand, rubbing it slightly. He closed his eyes and imagined Tifa running towards him again, kissing him again.
"Hey!" called up Cid. "Reevey-boy, are we done in this dump?"
"Just have to make a last-minute sweep!" Reeve answered back, startled out of his thoughts. God, he wished he'd had more (read: any) experience with women... but now was not the time to think about such matters. He circled around the room. The piano evidently wasn't coming, the bed was staying as well. He looked at the sheet music, forgotten atop the piano bench. Tifa wrote it in her teenage years, when she was concerned with Cloud and how Cloud was doing and Cloud's records and she made a promise to Cloud and she cut up newspapers about Cloud and Cloudcloudcloudcloudcloudcloudcloud... "All clear up here, Cid!" Reeve shouted. He turned and ran out of what was left of Tifa's house. The sheet music fluttered to the floor.
"Holy?!" asked Barret and Palmer simultaneously.
"Yeah..." thought Barret. "Whatever happened to that thing anyway?"
"What is Holy?" asked Palmer quizzically.
"Reeve didn't tell ya?" Barret pointed out. "Guess the suit's still got his secrets..."
Palmer rolled his eyes, then turned his attention back to Holy. "Ummmm... Red, right? Red... what's Holy?"
"Holy was a last resort created by the Ancients. Grandfather Bugen explained a lot at one point, but I believe there were things even he did not know. From what I understand, it was meant to enable the Planet to eradicate all that it felt was harmful."
"But it was cast, right? I mean, everything bad was eradicated, wasn't it?"
"It doesn't appear to be that simple," Red cautioned. "As omnipotent as it sounds, Holy appears to have limits. For one thing, it was meant to destroy Meteor. In reality, it only aided Meteor's efforts. It was the lifestream which managed to push Meteor away from the Planet. Furthermore, Sephiroth seemed capable of preventing Holy from working... we had to defeat him before Holy took effect. On the other hand, although Sephiroth himself has given us a bit of trouble since that day, JENOVA, arguably the greater threat, has not. Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I believe that Holy was able to dispatch her."
"Yeah..." put in Barret. "But where is it? Like, where's it actually sitting?"
"As far as I know, it remains at the bottom of the City of the Ancients... that is, if it's still standing. I have actually been unable to make the journey there to find out."
"Ditto for us. We've been too busy trying to lay low to attempt anything like that."
"Cid has told me something about it."
"Yes," responded Palmer. "If you would be so kind, please tell us exactly how you... ummm... became what you are now. Cid told us what he knew, but it wasn't a lot."
"I knew that would come up," stated Red. "Yes, when Cid contacted me, I was quite surprised... I hadn't seen any of my old comrades, much less you, Palmer, in quite a while."
"So why're you like this?" asked Barret, attempting to keep on task.
"It was fairly obvious that in my current form, I would be unable to assist in construction of our new home. The other inhabitants of Cosmo Canyon were also ill-equipped to permanently survive in this type of habitat. We appealed to the Planet for assistance-"
"Wait!" started Barret. "You just... appealed to the Planet? Just like that?"
"Well, it was a bit more-"
"You just sauntered on outside and said 'Yo, Planet, I needs the body hookup, G!'"
"Barret, please!" Palmer cut in. That seemed to have the right effect. "As I'm certain Barret is trying to communicate, it is a little curious that you could just ask the Planet for new bodies."
Red, a bit flustered, restarted his explanation. "It wasn't so simple as to just go up to the Planet and speak to it. For one, we had to travel to the depths of the crater, where we fought Sephiroth before. That is the spot that is closest to the core of the Planet itself. Second, we had to prove we meant no harm."
"Hmmm?" questioned Palmer.
"We had to convince the Planet that it should help us."
"So how'd ya do that?" Barret had returned to his attentive state and was once again willing to give Red the benefit of the doubt.
"Well," began Red. "We explained our hardships: our decimation by the Gi, run ragged by JENOVA and the Shinra, the destruction of our old home by this mysterious person, and now our inability to acclimate to the weather where we had decided to take up residence so that we could better protect the Planet. After that, the Planet saw fit to assist us in our transformation into our Shumi bodies."
"Shumi?" echoed Barret.
"Shumi, yes. That is our official tribal name; we hadn't had one since before the Gi."
"A new name suits a new body," noted Palmer.
"Well," confessed Red. "It's not entirely new."
"Say what?" asked Barret.
"Come again?" requested Palmer simultaneously.
"Well, the Planet didn't change us into entirely different beings... it simply sped up the evolutionary process."
"What do you mean?" Palmer asked, attempting to take this all in.
"The Planet informed me that my species was eventually going to evolve into a body not unlike this. It cross referenced that form with the human form of the other canyon residents and gave us these. Our infant form still remains the same, however."
"So..." began Palmer. "You just woke up one day and had these improved, if not new, adult bodies?"
"No, no," Red assured. "Far from it. The Planet was willing to help us, but it took literally months of endurance and sheer will to finally morph into this new species. Furthermore, the current infants don't look quite like I did as a youth... their speech capabilities have been grossly reduced and they are unable to defend themselves."
"So it sounds like it's been a lot of hard work for all of you," Barret observed.
"Yes," agreed Red. "We've been through quite a lot." And then silence. Now that it seemed all had been said and done, it seemed that there was very little left to be said. Except for one thing...
"So," began Red. "Precisely what is the purpose of your visit?"
Barret and Palmer exchanged the look. After what they'd heard, it sounded like more and more an unreasonable request to make. But they had to make it.
"You'd better tell 'em," Barret said.
Palmer didn't argue. He took a deep breath.
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