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Challenges Both New and Old Chapter 2

Explanations, Complications

Yuffie Kisagari, princess of Wutai, struggled to mount a large boulder in the Da-Chao mountain range. She had searched carefully and spent maybe an hour cleaning out all the nearby monsters. Those flying gargoyle-esque things were tough (what were they called again? Elnyles?), but for someone who had helped defeat the mighty Sephiroth, these creatures were no more than an extensive chore. But after all that, she couldn't even get to her damn resting place.

"Come on, you damn rock. Let me up... I go someplace to friggin think and I can't even get to a good thinking spot! Rrrrrrgh!" On impulse, she pointed at the rock and concentrated. The boulder exploded into a million fragments, each raining down with a force large enough to render a girl Yuffie's size and build unconscious... temporarily at best. Without thinking, she swung her arm in front of her face, leaving a deep green glow in its movement's wake. All rock shrapnel headed her way bounced harmlessly off the green air, but turned it clear as it did so. Very quickly, Yuffie's shield had been dissipated, but so had most of the shrapnel. There was only one final piece headed her way, and a well-placed pinwheel took care of that. Finally safe, Yuffie stood still for a moment and relaxed... she had to learn to get a grip on all this. It's why she'd come out here in the first place. And a great job she was doing, exercising her powers at the slightest provocation. No longer having a rock, she contented herself with lying down upon the floor of the cavern which she currently inhabited.

"I'm sure doing Aeris justice, aren't I?" she muttered. "Using the power of the Ancients to blow up rocks! Goddamn, what a waste!" She wasn't entirely truthful; those powers had more or less been the reason she hadn't been slaughtered by these new monsters. Just her luck that the very first time these things come down here they come down right in her hometown. Well, not in her hometown, but near it. A lot of the Midgar continent had smashed into hers, but by some good fortune, it created a huge mountain range. If only Godo would recognize what could be done with them!

She launched herself up and began to point at the cliff wall, but quickly caught herself. She'd come here to get away from her father, and spend more time with herself... if that were possible. Repressing her frustration, she laid herself back down and commanded herself to relax. She even waved her arm around in a purposely aimless fashion, watching the trail of pure Ancient energy follow it. "You sure you did the smart thing, Cetra-girl? Are you sure I'm... worth it?" Yuffie had asked both Aeris and herself the same question innumerable times. And, as usual, no response was elicited from either person.

Yuffie wished she understood more about the Cetra... during her journeys with Cloud, she'd mostly been focused either on the materia, or on different ways to restore Wutai's glory. But now that she herself appeared to be a Cetra (not that she'd ever known such a thing was possible), she felt deep regret for not listening to Bugenhagen's droning. She didn't even know how she knew Aeris was involved... only that she'd never been so sure of anything in her entire life. But since when had Aeris been able to give away her powers like this? And even if she could, how come she couldn't zap rocks or make shields? Or maybe she could, but never told anyone... no, that was stupid.

And why would Aeris give powers to her? She and Aeris had never really been that close... a regret Yuffie already had from Aeris's death, but one that was only compounded by this most recent development.

But there was no time to try and puzzle this out, as she had to get back to Wutai. She shivered. Wutai... as if that place was worth going back to. She sighed, zapped a small rock, and started to run down the path. She had a father to go argue with.

"Marlene, sweety, please calm down..." Elmyra tried her best to soothe the child. "Daddy and everyone else are fine... they just went away for a little while."

"But why?" The child asked pleadingly. "Why? I... he just left me! Daddy's never done that before!" Marlene was in tears... Elmyra had taken hersomewhat forcefully to Junon's upper area, where they had rented a tiny apartment. It was quite a shock for a girl who'd really only known Midgar her entire life.

"I... I don't know, sweetheart. He... he said something about going with Aeris to save the Planet... I didn't want Aeris to leave either. But I'm sure they'll be fine."

"But why did they go, Auntie El? Why?"

"...I don't know sweetheart. I just don't know."

Marlene paused for a moment, occasionally hiccuping through the tears. "...Auntie El?"

Elmyra sat down and placed the child on her lap. "What is it, sweetheart?"

"...Aeris gave me a way to find out."

"What on earth do you... oh!" Elmyra's head started to droop, and then she lapsed into unconsciousness, falling back against the chair.

Marlene wrapped her arms tightly around her comatose guardian, squeezing her eyes shut tight. "Come back soon," she whispered.

Elmyra regained her senses... wait, where was she? The Airbuster's almost destroyed. What? Who said that? Wait... this wasn't her. Her mind was abuzz with confusion as her body lifted up the Buster Sword it was carrying and plunged it into the machination. It started shaking violently... almost as if it were in convulsions. That oughta do it. What was going on here? Exactly where was she... who was she? And then, without warning, the Airbuster self destructed, causing Elmyra to literally lose the ground she had been standing on. Her body managed to grab onto the ledge. Tifa appeared, holding out her hand. Barret appeared behind her. "It's gonna blow! Let's go, Tifa!"

"Barret!" Tifa pleaded. "Can't you do something?"

He shook his head. "Not a damn thing."

"Cloud!" Tifa called. Elmyra was... Cloud? "Please don't die! You can't die! There's still so much I want to tell you!"

Elmyra didn't seem to have any control over this strange new body, so she decided to go with the idea that she was somehow Cloud on autopilot. "I know, Tifa..."

"Hey!" interrupted Barret. "You gonna be awright?"

"I don't know if I can hold on," Cloud responded. "Shit... can't hold on much longer! Barret... hurry!"

Barret nodded his head. "Don't go cryin' like a woman. There ain't nothin' I can do for ya. Ya gotta do it yourself."

"Barret..." What exactly had just transpired between the two of them?

"Alright, then." Barret bid Cloud ado. "Later."

And then, as the overpowering sounds of the reactor explosion filled Cloud's ears, he let himself drop from the ledge to the depths below. Elmyra was terrified out of her mind... what was Cloud thinking? He slammed into something and quickly went black. Elmyra didn't think for a few seconds... she just waited. It quickly became apparent that although Cloud was unconscious, she was not. How exactly had she gotten into this situation anyway? Where had she been before?... she couldn't remember. Perhaps if she could wake Cloud up, she could learn more. ".....You all right?" she asked tentatively. "Can you hear me?" The response was slow in coming, but Elmyra was just so relieved that it came. .....Yeah..... Elmyra instantly fell looser (despite the fact that she didn't have a body to feel loose in, per say). She even allowed herself a chuckle. "Back then.... you could get by with just skinned knees....." ......What do you mean by 'back then?' Oh, he thought it was serious. No use in dwelling on that. "What about now? Can you get up?" .....What do you mean by 'back then?' ........What about now? She needed to keep him on task here. ".......Don't worry about me. You just worry about yourself now." Silence, then: ......I'll give it a try. The last thing that Elmyra saw before everything went black again was the fuzzy, but discernable, face of her daughter, Aeris Gainsborough.

"Damn... this is a nice setup you've got here!" Barret's amazement at the small but well-kept village tore him away from any thoughts he'd had concerning his lack of facial hair or his new arm. "Looks like somebody's been busy since that trip back to Midgar!" The babbling brook, green grass and well-reproduced artificial sunlight made it feel like he was on the outskirts of Nibelheim.

If Barret was amazed, Palmer was stupefied. "Wha... how? How on earth...? We went down... How can you have a place like this so far underground?!"

Red chuckled. "Yes, when you live here, it is very easy to forget exactly what a feat this was to produce. I shall tell you." Both Barret and Palmer instantly turned their attentions to this creature; they were excited to hear exactly how this miniature paradise had come into being. "After the razing of Cosmo Canyon-"

"What?!" shouted Barret. "Razing?!"

"Yes," sighed Red. "It was very unfortunate... I woke up to the sound of crackling... I saw a single silhouetted figure casting Fire on our structures, and then the figure just vanished. It was... unbelievable. Not even an escape spell, they were just... gone. Not only that, but it would take more than one person wielding your average Fire materia to put Cosmo Canyon up in flames, no matter how strong either the person or the materia was."

"Especially since materia's been banned going on two years now!" added Barret.

"You don't say..." murmured Red. "How do people fight?"

"It's mostly touch and go," responded Palmer. "With the Great Movement and all these new monsters, people don't travel much anymore."

"And with Shinra in possession of most of the world's weapons..."

"Yeah, they're making money selling weapons."

Barret immediately turned on Palmer. "You seem to know an awful lot about this, doncha, ex-Shinra-boy?"

If this had been the Palmer that actually was employed by Shinra Inc., he probably would have responded by bending back and retreating a few steps. But four years out of the office had taught him a thing or two about principles, and sticking up for them.

"Listen here, rebel-without-a-cause! I don't know if you think you're still dealing with the corporate idiot clinging to a failing program, but if you do, let me spell it out for you: My days of raping the Planet are over! I left any grudges Shinra might have had in Midgar, and since the city's now a pile of rubble, I don't think I'll be getting them back anytime soon!"

Red's eyebrows raised slightly. "It seems that your post-Shinra days have done you good. Come, we will discuss matters further in my private chambers."

Palmer followed Red into the centermost building. Barret trudged behind.

"Friggin' Palmer... not even a good comeback, really...."

Red's chambers were sparse but comfortable: a couple of chairs, a domed ceiling that matched the outside. "Have a seat," Red gestured. The two men, having been distracted by all this new information, realized that they were dead tired from walking through the wind. With relief, they sat down and took a load off.

"Tell me more about the burning," Palmer requested. Barret, having at last set himself at ease with the various issues that seemed to be plaguing his psyche from every direction, listened intently. The three of them were seated in Red's chambers, which appeared to be a miniature version of the dome that existed above-ground.

"I am not certain who did it, or why. My best guess would be the Shinra, or whatever they call themselves now."

"It's mine too, I'll tell you that straightaway!" interrupted Barret. "It'd be just like the damn Shinra to set some la-de-da 'we're saving the Planet!' rule and then break it as soon as it suited their goddamn needs!"

"Wait, Barret. Even though it's my best guess, I don't think the Shinra did it."

"Huh?" Palmer asked quizzically.

"What the hell?" Barret added a more personal touch to his surprise.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Palmer, but the Shinra have always had the luxury of being able to act in the open. And if what Cid told me over the PHS about this new leader is true, it doesn't sound they've changed much."

"Yeah," agreed Palmer. "Shinra wouldn't bother to hide themselves... they'd send a whole bunch of soldiers to just tear up the place."

"Yeah, you gotta point about that..." Barret conceded. He didn't admit defeat easily, either on the battlefield or in a heated argument, but even he had limits. He quickly changed the subject. "Was anybody harmed?"

"Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The arsonist apparently didn't know about the Cave of the Gi, so we all took shelter in there. But we lost untold volumes of information about the Cetra, as well as grandfather's personal notes." Red hung his large head. "It was a very sad day for all of us."

"I'm just glad you're alright!" Barret said happily. "So how'd ya get here, and... uh... like that?"

"After our home was destroyed, we realized we needed a new home quickly. We managed to get to Rocket Town..."

"Oh, by the way, it ain't Rocket Town anymore... it's 'Deling City.'"

"Thank you, Barret. Well, at the time, it was still Rocket Town, and we asked Cid to fly us to the northern crater. He seemed happy to oblige, and we started to build here. Since the Gi Cave, which sheltered us from the fire, was below our structures, we decided to reverse the idea and put our village below the ground. It also gave us the ability to make our village a tad a more hospitable." Red appeared to smile, but it wasn't clear. "And we've also been keeping an eye on Holy."

Chapter 3

All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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