The Fallen Chapter 12
Even in sickness, they avoided each other.
There was limited space that was offered for a motion sickness afflicted soul to utilize to empty the contents of their stomach over, and somehow Reno and Yuffie had managed to put every inch of it between the two them. It would be quite an image if anyone could deal with the gore that went with it, two deadly killers, one for hire, one for honor, on their knees gagging a few thousand feet in the air while at the same time not allowing themselves to heave one foot to the right, or left, respectively.
It had been rumored for a long time that tranquilizers would cure the sickness, but it was simply a new age version of an old wives tale. The mind altering chemicals in the vial could only numb the afflicted temporarily to any sensation at all, which is a horrible idea if you still want to make it to an open area and not make a mess on the floor around you. Even though both of them knew this, they both would have injected at least a half dozen into their veins if Cid had allowed any to be taken aboard the Highwind. Apparently he thought there was something dangerous about chemical that dulled reaction time aboard an aircraft. Weird.
Dully, Reno managed to realize that the scenery below had changed, and in fact had been different for some time. Instead of the brown rock of Midgar or the lush green instantly surrounding it, there was white absolutely everywhere, expanding in every direction as far as the eye could see. In the distance, but not too far, were the snow capped mountains they were heading towards, where his sister and her partner would be dropped off at, a fact that Reno was still not fully done opposing. It was just hard to argue when your opponent had the saving the world card to play whenever they wanted, over and over again. The only card he had was indignant brother, which was out ranked just a tad.
Forty agonizing minutes later, traveling at speeds that are inaccessible by almost all of the vehicles in existence, they reached their destination, and the huge, jarring stop that even the best technology in the world couldn't prevent caused Reno to retch a final time, before falling straight backwards, and losing his grip on the metal railing, slammed hard against the wooden planks that made up the deck. He lay there for a moment, in absolute bliss over the lack of movement, and then opened his eyes.
Standing above him, a taunting smile on her lips, was his little sister. A little back and to the left was Gabriel, who was making a few useless attempts to talk to Yuffie, who was in no mood to communicate with any other person on the Planet at that point. Reno checked his sisters eyes, which were bright and clear, and skin, which was as pale as usual but had no green tint, and growled at her. "Please don't tell me you weren't affected at all," he moaned.
Rory laughed, very much so at his expense. "Oh get up you big baby," she snickered, "it like riding a bike."
Reno blinked, staring up at her. "Have you ever ridden a bike?" he asked, causing Rory to pause.
"As a matter of fact, no," she said, "and it barely feels like I rode this thing. Now get up."
Slowly, wincing at the creaking sound his joints made- wasn't that supposed to hold off until you were at least thirty? There was a momentary flash when Reno remembered that he was thirty two, and he probably would have screamed if Rory hadn't been there- Reno pushed himself to his feet, and hugged his sister. While he had her tight in the embrace, he made a point of burrowing his head low, and whispered directly at her ear lobe, "Remember the knife?"
He didn't see, but felt, her head nodding. "Good," he whispered, "if alley boy over there tries something, I want you to bury it in his thigh."
Rory laughed and pushed away from him, but it was a happy push. They'd never been able to have real jokes in Midgar, nothing was ever that funny in the ever looming shadow of the valley of death that was the slums. Now, where the sky could be seen and you could walk alone for five minutes, everything just seemed a lot easier to laugh at. "Not everyone thinks like you," she laughed.
Trying to fake an innocent expression, Reno spread his arms. "Oh come on!" he protested, "who did you ever see me try to score with back in Midgar?"
"No one," Rory admitted, eliciting a triumphant grin from her brother, which she quickly smeared from his face. "But Ive been talking with Elena on the way here, down with the people whos stomachs dont turn into lidless blenders when theyre in the air."
Reno froze. "Oh," he offered lamely, and then knowing he was beaten submitted. "All right, all right, its clear years of not practicing has slowed my mind. When I see you at Condor Valley I promise Ill be better at it. Now go on, my smart ass little duckling, I think its time for you to start your hike."
Rory nodded, looked over her shoulder for her trip companion, and saw that Gabriel was already making his way down the long rope ladder that led to the frozen ground from the deck. Giving her brother a quick peck on the stubbled cheek, she hurried after him, pausing only once to check the pocket of the large coat Aeris had given her to make sure the gifted knife was still safe and sound. It was, and she went, waving both to Reno and to the pained looking lump on the floor that was Yuffie Kisargi.
Cid wasted no time in starting up the Highwind once the two of them had got clear, and Reno watched with a little sadness and a lot of mounting nausea as the two teenagers shrunk below, then were reduced to specks, and then dissapeared as the group continued on their path. It was to Wutai next, where- if it wasnt for Yuffies inexplicable popularity with the native people and her knowledge of the immeadite land- her and the Turks would be parting ways to go and find their respective pieces of the Legacy on their own.
Reno, in particular, was hoping for such a split to still take place. He had a few contacts he needed to visit in that area, he hadnt been in touch with them for far to long, but they werent the type who were likely to come out of the shadows if he had the daughter of the ruler of the city- and the maker of its laws- hanging around him like some sort of over affectionate, but extremely bitchy, cat.
To try to fend off the wave of illness, Reno looked to his right, where Yuffie was already looking ready to retch. He made a face at her, unsure of why, instincts of child hood twisting his face into a leering mask automatically. She went to respond, trying to cross her eyes at him, but the combination of distorted visions and high speed only made her illness worse, and she instantly dove at the railing so hard she almost flipped over it and began to gag.
Slowly, Reno leaned back against the wall, and allowed himself to slide into a sitting position. Then again, he thought, she might be good for a laugh.
For a long time, neither of them said anything. Rory and Gabriel marched, resolutely, side by side towards the first rising of the towering peak they would need to enter. It wasnt exactly like they needed a map, or to discuss direction- they had been told to get into the mountain, whatever the hell that meant, and look around. Both of them were tense beyond believe, feeling a sort of unbearable tension to suceed, to fulfill, to cast off the doubts of the others who hadnt thought them capable to go out together.
"...its fucking cold." Gabriel muttered, under his breath.
"Yes." Rory punctuated his thought, watching without much interest the white puffs issuing from her mouth and then dissipating into the air. "Yes it is."
"Think well find these things tonight?" Gabriel asked with a shiver, as his leg sunk a little deeper in the snow than hed hoped and some snow made its way over the tip of his boot.
Rory paused. It honestly hadnt occured to her about what they were going to do if they didnt. It wasnt exactly like snow made the best bed in the world, and even though shed slept in worse, she wasnt looking forward to waking up in below freezing temperatures, winter suits from a Cetra or otherwise. "Lets hope so," she shrugged, "or lets hope we find a hot spring."
With a shrug, Gabriel trudged on, and she followed closely behind. Shed mistook his meaning. The cold didnt bother him at all, it was heat that bugged him, hed much rather see his breath than be running with sweat. Its why he couldnt have been happier when Aeris had told them to come up into the land of snow and ice, even though he didnt believe for half a god damned second they would actually find something- especially not tonight. The mountain seemed to be at least an hours walk away, and after that- its a mountain! You dont go inside mountains, you go over them! You can go inside volcanoes, of course, but you often wish you didnt.
They walked on for about twenty minutes or so, noticing with growing concern that the snow seemed to be getting deeper as they moved on. It didnt make any sense, as there was no reason for it to have no blown level across the ground, but there was no mistaking the soggy feeling off chilled snow packed higher and higher around their legs. Then, in one moment, Gabriel sunk deeper than ever before.
"Knock knock," Rory said suddenly, coming up with the segway out of the blue. Gabriel glanced over in surprise.
"What?" he said.
"Knock knock," Rory repeated patiently.
Gabriel looked around. "Am I supposed to see a door?" he asked with a small grin.
"Very funny." Rory growled. "Knock. Knock."
"What do you want from me here?" Gabriel asked, still smiling, but genuinely confused where she was trying to go with this.
"Youre supposed to say whos there, idiot." Rory snapped at him. "Dont tell me youve never heard one of these jokes before."
Gabriels smile faded away. "I dont know many jokes, actually, he admitted.
"Oh," fumbled Rory, taken aback. "Well... then we can start now. Knock knock."
"Hm." Gabriel paused, hoping to milk her irritation. "Well, whos-"
Gabriels response was cut off by a sudden gasp of surprise as he felt his feet go out from under him, and suddenly his ankles were somewhere above his head, and his head was plummeting through hard packed snow, and he was falling. It wasnt a long drop, but it felt like it, and there was a loud thud as he bounced on the solid bottom to the hole hed slipped into, punching through the thin layer of ice that had acted as a roof. Rory instantly appeared at the corner of the hole, a horrified look on her face, staring down at Gabriel as if he were dead.
"Gabriel!?" she screamed down, though if he were consious he would have heard her anyway, and if he was unconsious it wouldnt have mattered. He was consious.
"Whos there?" he groaned in pain, trying to bring a smile to his own lips, but a sudden pain jarred through his ribs when he spoke. Broken, he guessed, or at the very least bruised. They hadnt even found that Hojo guy and he was already kicking his own ass. Skills.
"Are you OK?" came the concerned, if not all together intelligent response. "Can you stand?"
The second part had proved to be a lot smarter than the first, and Gabriel quickly tested himself. His legs seemed to be fine, and he managed to lift himself slowly, but that didnt stop a wave of despair from suddenly washing over him. "Ah.... fuck." he moaned.
"What?" came Rorys voice again, "Whats wrong?"
For a moment, Gabriel didnt respond, allowing her own words to sink in. After a few seconds, she continued.
"I mean, besides the obvious."
"I dont think I can get out of here," he answered her, "I dont jump eight feet and I cant climb snow, Id just sink deeper! Do we have any rope?"
"No..." Rory asked, biting her bottom lip. All she had that Gabriel didnt was her knife, and that wouldnt help them in this situation. "I..." something caught the corner of her eye. "I..." she half turned to get a better look, and promptly screamed.
"You WHAT!?" Gabriel cried fromt he bottom of the hole, craning his neck to try to see what was going on. All he saw was Rory slowly backing around the circle, a look of terror on her face. And then, he didnt see it, but heard it instead. A growl raspy and deep, the growl of something not altogether big, but dangerous. He didnt need to see it to realize what it was, and to realize that there was no way in hell there wasnt more of them. A sudden flash of gray fur over the edge confirmed his fears.
"Rory!" he screamed, not so much a warning as trying to get her attention.
"W-what?" she asked, amazingly calm, as she continued to walk with short, unsteady steps, away from the wolf.
"Run!" He yelled up simply.
He knew there was no way that she didnt already know that running was the best chance she had. It was natural human instinct in situations of high danger to simply turn tail and flee. Why she needed to actually hear the word spoken by another human being to put it into action Gabriel would never know, but he did know that Rory instantly took off like a bolt and dissapeared from his sight, and the sound of feet pounding snow was everywhere.
Rory was small, and Rory was fast, but Rory was on the wolves turf, and even if they had been on the hard concrete streets of Midgar- well, no one out runs the loping wolf. She knew as well as they did, slavering with hungry anticipation, that she could not simply sprint away from them. So it was either incredible luck, which didnt run in her blood, or incredible fate when the large out cropping of rocks ahead turned out to be closer than it appeared, and rapidly grew in her vision. Her feet pounded hard against the ground as two grey Timberwolves matched her stride and snapped at her heels, and with a final, diving leap, she rolled under one of the rocks and to- hopefully- protection.
She looked around quickly from the inside, realizing she had probably found the best shelter possible in the entire continent. The only entrance was the small crack she had just dove through, and beyond that, seemed to just be a tunnel of rocks. She backed up quickly from the opening, as if expecting one of the obviously too large wolves to simply crush through the rock at any moment, but was greeted only with silence. After a nervous minute, she crouched down, bare hands pressing against the snow, and peered through the crack.
There was a sudden, violent snap, so close to her nose she felt the breeze brush her face, and with a suprised scream she lurched backwards, out of the range of the chomping jaws. The wolves circled the outcropping for a few minutes, and then reluctantly retreated, growling deep in their throats. For a moment, the danger was over, and Rory allowed herself a deep breath, a shuddering gasp that she inhaled into her body. It was only then she remembered her knife, and wondered if she could have done anything with it.
A hundred feet away, the scene was playing very different in Gabriels mind. The last he had seen of Rory and the wolves was a frantic flight, and the last hed heard was a loud scream and beastial snarls. Panic struck him like a fist, and instead of trying to crush it he welcomed it instead, allowing it to flow down through his veins and into the pit of his stomach.
Which will it be this time, he wondered painfully, as he felt his skin begin to stretch. We just did the armor, so what are we doing now?
His question didnt take long for an answer, as this change was perhaps the subtlest he ever went through. Aside from the natural expanding of muscles, his skin faded to a dull white, almost to match the snow on which he stood. Recognizing with sudden regret what was happening, he pulled back his jaw and lower lip, as a pair of thin, spiky canines replaced his short and blunt ones, jutting down a good inch out of his mouth. Hastily he adjusted and snapped his mouth shut with a sudden close of his eyes.
When he opened them, they were red.
There are some very specific instincts that go with the change he simply called the Hunter. Very specific urges. Feelings. Hunger, cold, aggression... and cold, utterly logical calculations. Of course, it wasnt all detrimental. It also packed one hell of a lot of muscle mass.
Enough, say, to leap the necessary extra distance to grasp the rim of the hole in pale hands, and haul himself up over the edge. At this point, there wasnt very much left that he could do to control the drives of the Hunter, but all of those drives served his immeadiate purpose in mind. Find the wolves. Kill the wolves. The only restraint he would need was to convince the Hunter not to rip apart any small red heads he happened to come across. Hunting legs moved faster than wolf paws, and the Hunter cleared the distance in half the time it had taken the hunting pack. It came across them as they backed away from a large rock, and even though the small corner of reality based sanity in the corner of its skull realized something was odd, the Hunter couldnt have cared less.
Two wolves leapt at it to intercept its obvious charge, but it only struck once to retaliate. A large, sweeping backhand, and sickening crack was heard when it connected with gray fur. The impact traveled through the first wolf, and while not enough to break the seconds ribs as it had its predecessor, it was more than enough to send it sprawling, stunned and disoriented. The Hunter wasted no time in falling upon it at once, grasping both its fists together in a hammer blow and slamming it down upon the sprawling creatures neck, snapping it like tinder.
It took only those few seconds of violence for the other three wolves in the pack to get the point, and the Alpha male was the first to lead the charge in the opposite direction. Here, rational Gabriel tried to reach through the blood lust of his transformation and grab the reigns, but he was brushed aside like a bothersome fly. Crouching down like a true beast of attack, the Hunter charged after its retreating victims, snarling fangs bared like a knife.
The business was quick but messy, and only when the last twitching fur had stilled did the Hunter manage to calm itself, and Gabriel managed to force his way through the aggression. The switch back was slower than the switch towards, which is the way with most things, but gradually the pale skin tanned, the fangs receded, and the bulging muscles were reduced to simply strapped ones. When it was over, Gabriel stood panting like a dog, the exertion the Hunter had been able to ignore striking him all at once like a sledge hammer blow. To his disgust, there was clumps of dark gray fur caught under his nails, and the entire left side of his face was stained with a spray of blood.
"That... was unpleasant." Gabriel tried to spit once, making sure nothing has been left behind in his mouth. He ran his tongue experimentally over his upper teeth, and finding them straight, heaved a sigh of relief. It was impossible to leave the fear that one of these times, he simply wouldnt have the energy left to switch back.
"What... the hell... are you?" A voice came from behind him, loud but quavering. Gabriel turned quickly, shocked, his hand insticvely and futiley trying to wipe the blood from his cheek. Rory stood behind him, knees stained from the ground shed crept on, eyes wide in shock.
"So... how long have you been able to do this?"
The two were huddled around a fire that Rory had hastily made inside the stone enclosure, and it wasnt lost on Gabriel that she sat on the exact opposite side of the low, flickering flames than him. It had taken him more than a while to calm her, and even longer than that to convince her to let him explain. The dimplomacy process had been deterred by the short switch blade she refused to stop pointing at his shoulder all the time he tried to talk.
"Long enough," Gabriel muttered, his eyes locked on the new fallen snow. For some reason, he was never good at meeting the eyes of people who had seen him in changed form, and Rory in particulars gaze just seemed way too condemning. "First time was when I was about twelve and some drunk with a shotgun started shooting at us. Took me about five minutes to realize that when the stray pellets hit me, they were bouncing off. Got curious, found a mirror, passed out."
Rory laughed, despite herself. Seeing the average form of Gabriel, hunched over the fire, seeming to shrink in upon himself in a sort of quiet depression, made it all the more bizarre to imagine the streak of white hed seemed on the already pale snow, before the sudden addition of spilling, steaming red.
They sat in silence for a while, moving once in a while to warm their hands with the fire, though it was more for show than anything. The clothes and gloves- Rory had retrieved hers, having fallen off as she ran- were unnaturally warm, and the rocks provided about as good protection from the enviroment as could be hoped. Gabriel spent the majority of the silence simply watching the flames flicker, reflected in his brooding eyes.
"I think Im supposed to love you," he said, breaking the silence with a shrug.
Rory did a double take. And then a third. "Excuse me?" she asked, with due interest.
"We woke up together under explicable and slightly romantic circumstances. We went through some weird shit together. We happen to be the same age, and reasonably attractive on both parts, the average brought down by myself, Im afraid. And now were sitting around a fire," he finished with a flourish, "seems like the perfect bullshit movie scenario for a teen sex film."
"Oh..." Rory paused simply, feeling considerable relief that he was just babbling after all. "Well. Do you?"
"Nah," he said simply. "Sorry."
"No apologies necessary." She answered easily, and then looked down the narrow tunnel to her left and Gabriels right, where it yawned at them like a tired snake. "I think we should go through that tommorow," she suggested.
Tommorow seemed to have already entered Gabriels mind, for as the time passed he had slowly slid, budged, and repositioned himself into a fetal position near the fire. He barely seemed awake as it was, and had been speaking with a rather distant voice for some time. "How comes?" he asked with a yawn.
"Well, we need to get inside the mountain. As far as I can tell, this is as good a way as any," she explained, "unless it just runs into a suffocating and ultimately deadly sudden stop, at which point were screwed."
"Mm." Gabriel said, drifting off even as he spoke. "Or a bear cave."
And with that, he was asleep, and after a few minutes of watching the fire, Rory curled up and followed suit.