Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 15
Thieves and Vagabonds
They walked out of the mining town the next morning, deciding to skirt the
Great Desert and the Golden Saucer complex. They had no real purpose for
going there, as it was not very likely that either Cloud or his tormentor
had reason to stop there. They had planned to stop at the depot at the edge
of the desert to rent out transportation. The depot rented out buggies to
travelers wishing to traverse the Desert, but it would rent out more conventional
transportation as well and would do perfectly. As the mountains changed slowly
to hills and eventually flattened out, they saw flickers of movement in the
trees to their sides. Whatever it was did not dare attack such a large party,
however and they walked on in silence. Tifa was lost in her reverie, wondering
if she'd ever see Cloud again. Aerith and Sephiroth wore inscrutable faces
as they serenely led the way, their hands on their weapons. Zack brought
up the rear, a little anxious about seeing his family in Gongaga again. There
was no other way to get to Nibelheim by land, other than circling the desert
and going around the arid, inhospitable lands around Cosmo Canyon.
Ten miles out of North Corel, Zack called a stop, feeling a slight vibration in the ground. After a few minutes, the rest of the group could hear a rumbling sound, coming from behind. They took up defensive positions on the road, relaxing slightly as the source of the noise came into view. It was a large truck, such as was used for moving cargo. Sephiroth's eyes narrowed as he considered that the truck could be used for moving troops as well. He called out a low warning to the rest of the group, and unsheathed his Masamune. Everyone tensed up as the truck came closer, revealing ShinRa logos on the side and the front of the truck. Zack frowned, noting that the driver of the truck was a wide-eyed young girl, arms outstretched as she grasped the overly large steering wheel. Next to her sat a young man with a shock of orange hair, his bangs refusing to behave as they fell down on his face. His feet were propped up on the dashboard and a smirk played across his face as he took in the menacing looking group in front of him. The two were definitely not ShinRa standard issue. The truck rolled to a stop before them and the door swung open, letting the driver out. "Hi!" she waved cheerfully and continued, totally unintimidated by the group's expressions, "Need a ride?" They exchanged glances and approached the truck slowly. "We're heading roughly for Rocket Town, to sell this thing for scraps, but we got plenty of room!" the girl continued blithely, then paused and smacked her head, "Oh, by the way, the name's Yuffie. Yuffie Kisaragi. The red-haired freak in the cab is Reno. We're treasure hunters!" she finished proudly. Zack shook his head, hiding a grin. "I see," he said, "So where'd you hunt the truck down?" he inquired casually. "Borrowed it from ShinRa," Yuffie said off-handedly, "they didn't need it anymore." Zack laughed openly, Aerith smiled and Tifa grinned. Sephiroth, as usual, refrained from comment. Zack said, "Well, we seem to be going the same way, at least for a while...and we definitely need transportation. Anyone opposed?" He looked around and nodded, starting for the truck. Yuffie huffed, "Well don't do me no favors or anything." They clambered onto the bed of the truck, finding benches and settling down. Yuffie joined them in the back, "Reno's gonna drive for a while. What are guys up to?" she asked directly, her roving eyes afire with curiosity. "ShinRa's top SOLDIER, their head of Weapons Development, someone who looks like another SOLDIER and uh...you," she ended, looking at Tifa curiously.
Sephiroth glanced at Aerith out of the corner of his eye, his hand on the hilt of his Masamune. Aerith shook her head slightly and faced Yuffie, "You seem to be rather well informed for a ...treasure hunter." Yuffie shrugged offhandedly, "Well I am a very important person in Wutai...in fact, I'll probably take over my dad's rulership of the town when the old man finally gets too senile to give a crap anymore. Plus, I can kick his ass already...I mean, I am ninja. What was I saying?" she scratched her head, "Oh yeah...so I have to know a lot of stuff because one day I'm gonna be runnin ' my town. Plus, SOLDIER's are easy to figure out by their eyes, and I made it my goal to know the top staff of ShinRa. Heck, I probably know more than Rufus does, hehe," she trailed off, laughing softly to herself. She picked up the large shuriken lying on the floor and started toying with it, absently. She spoke, "So anyway, I met this Reno guy in a bar in Costa del Sol and he talked me into going to Rocket Town with him...seems they have a lot of Materia there." She paused, eyes shining greedily. She shook herself and went on, "So we borrowed this truck and set out. So far, we've found this," she proudly exhibited a couple of small, shiny, orbs. "But we plan on finding plenty more on the way. Do you guys have any Materia?" she leaned forward, intently. Zack answered straight-faced, "None to speak of." Yuffie sat back, visibly disappointed, "Oh." She brightened up, "So where are you headed?" Zack looked at Tifa, who nodded wearily. He turned back to the materia hunter, who did not fail to notice the exchange of glances. Zack said carefully, "We're following a friend of ours. He's been captured by someone, and we think ShinRa might be involved. They've been following us and causing us trouble for a while now, so we cause some trouble back. For now, we were hoping to reach Nibelheim before they do." "On foot?" Yuffie jeered, "Yeesh, you'd be in trouble if it wasn't for me!" she preened for a moment. Zack reddened slightly and said defensively, "Well, we planned to rent a truck at the depot ahead." Yuffie waved his protests away, "Yeah yeah, sure. You can thank me later. I..." she was interrupted by the truck lurching to a sudden stop, brakes squealing, and tossing them both to the floor. Tifa was holding on to her seat, and managed to maintain her balance on the seat, as did Aerith and Sephiroth. Yuffie leaped up agilely and yelled before anyone else had a chance to say anything. "What the hell you doing, Reno? Where'd you learn to drive?" The driver opened the flap separating his compartment from the back and announced laconically, "Trouble." Yuffie fell silent immediately and her face lit up. "We get to kick some ass? Cool!" With these words, she picked up her shuriken and hopped off the back off the truck. As she ran to the front, the rest of the group stood up and got off the truck, walking slowly forward. They knew that rushing into a fight rarely accomplished any good.
They caught the stench as soon as they stepped off the back of the truck. Tifa made a moue of distaste and even Zack grimaced slightly. Sephiroth's eyes narrowed and he said, simply, "Dragon." The air tasted of soot, and smelled like charred, decaying flesh. Sephiroth motioned Tifa to stay back, saying "Your Mythril will be ineffective against this creature. So will Fire; use Ice from behind us. Zack, come with me." Tifa nodded, stopping at a safe distance from the dragon as Zack obeyed, picking up Cloud's sword. It had a better balance than the one he'd previously been using, and was surprisingly light. He could see the dragon clearly, flying in low towards them. The ground was scorched around the area, showing that it attacked this part of the road before. That and the stench attested to that. Tifa turned to Aerith, who also stayed back, "Have you fought these things before?" she asked, nervously. Aerith shook her head, "No. But he has." She motioned towards Sephiroth. "Also, Zack had theoretical training, and he's very good. We should have little trouble." Tifa found herself relaxing, hearing the confidence in Aerith's voice. She turned her attention towards the dragon, which was now on close approach.
The dragon shrieked, sounding like tortured machinery, shrill and loud. It eyed the small group before it with a malicious, mindless stare. These creatures were obviously no threat to its might. It snorted a small flame from its nostril and inhaled deeply. Belching a gout of flame at the small beings, it launched itself forward. Sephiroth lifted his hand calmly as the flame roared towards them. Yuffie closed her eyes instinctively; this was more trouble than she bargained for. The flame washed over them, fringes of it warming Yuffie's left side, but nothing else. She opened her eyes in amazement, noting the way the flame parted in front of them, a shield of azure energy crackling as it absorbed the fire. She let out a whoop of glee, targeted the approaching creature's eye and threw her shuriken with all her might. The metallic projectile flashed in the sun, the high-pitched whine of sliced air terminating in an unpleasant, fleshy sound as one of its blades slashed through the creature's protective eyelid. As the shuriken started its return trip, the creature faltered and tripped, the loss of an eye making it lose its balance. The ground shook and trembled as the dragon skid towards the fighters, trying to regain balance. Yuffie caught the shuriken deftly and waited for another chance to cast it. Reno was standing to one side, taking potshots at the approaching dragon and having little effect due to the thickness of its skin. Frustrated, he disappeared back into the cab of the truck. The dragon finally halted a scant twenty yards in front of the fighters, and began to ponderously get up. The sun glinted off Zack's blade and Sephiroth's Masamune as they ran towards the creature, coming in from both sides at once. Sephiroth leaped, his SOLDIER augmented muscles carrying him high into the air, above the creature's head and stabbed downward as he fell towards it. Zack thrust his blade into the creature's side, distracting it from the impending doom from above. The weapon bit into its scaly skin with a crunch, doing little damage, but distracting enough for the dragon's spiky, scaled head to turn towards him, inhaling. As it prepared to breathe fire again, the Masamune penetrated its skull from above and pierced its small brain, stopping all thought processes. It exhaled its final flame reflexively, its eyes already glazing over with death. Zack's eyes widened as he took in the danger, muscles tensed for escape, when he was violently thrown sideways, away from harm. His form thudded to the ground yards away, as the ground where he was just standing became awash in flame. Gasping to regain the breath that was knocked from him, Zack rose, waving thanks to Aerith, who was putting away the Materia that she'd been holding. He froze as another scaled head emerged from behind the truck, directly behind the two women.
Reno finally re-emerged from the cab, holding a ShinRa issue bazooka on his shoulder. This was getting serious, so he needed serious ordinance. He took in Zack's frantic gesturing and turned around. His mouth dropped open and he whispered, "Oh, shit," realizing the thing was now too close for him to use his weapon. The dragon reared up, shrieking its metallic scream, making Tifa and Aerith whirl around, wide-eyed. They had underestimated the intelligence of these things. It had timed its approach to when they would least expect it, masked by the sounds of the battle. Suddenly, there was no more time. Everything stopped, as a tall, muscular figure appeared behind the dragon and leapt up into the air, imitating Sephiroth's attack. Instead of stabbing through its skull though, the enormous blade slashed completely through its thick neck. The figure landed, and time resumed. The dragon's head fell to the ground, blood spurting from the stump of its long neck and drenching the sword-wielder. Steam rose from the figure as the acidic liquid burned off, leaving him unharmed. Through a haze of green smoke, blue eyes out of a calm, indifferent face bored into Tifa's soul. "Cloud..." she whispered, reaching out. His mouth twisted, he jerked suddenly, as if listening to something, whispered something incomprehensible and vanished. If not for the beheaded dragon's still-thrashing body, the whole incident might not have happened. Yuffie swallowed and asked Zack in a shaky voice, "You know that guy?" Zack only nodded and squatted down, picking up some grass and cleaning his sword. Sephiroth flicked the gore off his blade and sheathed it, walking slowly back towards the truck. His expression was stony as usual, but as he approached Aerith, she could detect a slight tightening around his eyes, a sign of unease. As he passed her, he remarked, "He's getting stronger." Tifa turned to Aerith, and asked in a trembling voice, "Did you hear what he whispered right before he vanished?" Aerith studied her calmly and answered, "He said your name, Tifa."
In the darkness below the Nibel Mountains, something moved. A tall, indescribable shape shifted and a red glow emanated from two small openings into hell. They were the right distance apart to be eyes, but the eternal fires raging within them were too inhuman. A raspy voice hissed, "He resists." The words echoed in the dark vastness. The voice added, fading, "This will change." The sinister words hung in the still air as the eyes faded and the presence retreated.
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