The Fallen Chapter 15
Cid parked the Highwind in a wide stretch of plains, quite a
comfortable place, and the others thanked him for it, though strictly speaking
it would have been harder for him to *not* do so than it was for him to actually
do it. The area surrounding Kalm was, simply put, nothing but wide stretches
of plains, except for the occasional stretch of plain that was more long
than wide, and even that was debatable depending which way you were turned.
They left the ship, as usual, in the care of the trusted crew, and began
the short march towards the Chocobo Ranch.
Despite the Highwinds easy adaptation to storing and caring for Chocobo, it hadnt taken the adventurers long after the destruction of Sephiroth to realize that the normally quiet and serene birds went absolutely berserk when they were taken into the air under any power other than their own, and it was decidedly less of a hassle to walk back to the ranch every time they needed some land transportation than it was to try to sedate them whenever they needed some land transportation *after* some air transportation.
Chocobo Billy was glad to see them, and had actually got quite used to it. He had seen the Highwind soar overhead in the distance, heading towards its destination, and had gotten their Chocobos gathered together in the outside stable. Thus, the crew was greeted both by Billy himself, and by the warble of the birds they had painstakingly tracked and bred over the last year. Tifa in particular felt a little bad to have to lead the Blue Chocobos back into their private pens, but after all, they wouldnt be needing them. They werent expecting any water where they were going.
They were heading over the mountains.
They explained quickly to Billy that they didnt have time to stay for their customary lunch, and were on fact on quite a rushed schedule, and he responded by actually shooing them on their way. After all, hed said, it would be right stupid to fall late on account of the guy who you came to to speed you on your way.
They admitted that his logic worked, and indeed wasted no time on getting starting towards the Kalm mountains, plodding quickly along on their gathering of Green Chocobos, and of course Tifas golden one. Despite being in a hurry, they had Tifa leading the way, and she just couldnt resist the urge to go a little less than top speed just to enjoy the scenery that was Kalm in the summer. Still, they certainly werent going at a snails pace, and they were deep into the mountains long before nightfall, where they were forced to dismount and build a fire, setting up camp for the night.
Cid, ever the pilot of war, was asleep on the hard ground before they could even tell him that theyd packed sleeping bags. It was typical of the old pilot, to take the path of most resistance even without knowing he was doing it, but seeing as he looked perfectly content curled up on the grass, mud, and rock, the rest of them let him be.
The rest of them gathered around the flames, minus Cait Sith, who Reeve had deactivated to save power. Barret and Reeve leaned against the same log, though a comfortable masculine distance from each other, while Tifa and Cloud curled up openly in a sleeping back, and while Tifa dozed off to sleep in his grasp, Cloud seemed both awake and alert, eyes focused on the flames before him.
So. Barret said, managing to break the ice with his usual tool- a blunt statement. Were on the job again.
Im always on the job... Reeve muttered quietly, and intentionally unheededly. He had much preferred his lower ranking job in the old Shinra, than his current one in the new variety, as it had involved a lot more paperwork and a lot less mental anguish. He hardly ever got to experiment with things anymore, and he was sure that Cait was grossly behind the technology curve at the moment.
Yeah... said Cloud distantly, his eyes not leaving the fire. But we had a year break, and I think the salary we accumulated sort of levels out to being well compensated for our efforts. I probably have two dozen houses Ive never been to that were simply given to me by rich celebrities who wanted to get in their annual charity work.
Probably for tax purposes, Reeve said with a laugh, leaning further back against the log and putting his hands behind his head. He had no illusions about the real world, and especially the business world, and he knew that absolutely nothing was free, even if the only cost that ever came apparent was that you helped benefit someone when they were pretending to be charitable. And speaking of which, all that property would probably eat you alive with taxes.
Mm. Barret grunted. Of course, its not like we have to pay taxes anymore. Ever.
That *is* nice, Reeve admitted, not that I really got enough money out of the deal that taxes would hurt me. Apparently people didnt care for the double agent concept, and they didnt understand that you cant send checks in the name of a toy cat. It took three months before I managed to get him legalized as under my official care so some of the donations started coming through.
All through this, Reeves voice was fading, the common effect of a starry night, warm air, and a crackling fire being immediate and powerful waves of sleepiness. Tifa had succumbed to the urge even before Reeve had stopped talking, and only Barret and Cloud remained awake after ten or so minutes of silence, even the background music of the crickets seeming to cease. Cloud could tell that Barret had something on his mind, but didnt really seem to be ready to bring it up, so he prompted him in a different direction instead.
Hows Marlene? he asked quietly.
It was just about then that Cloud realized to what a shocking degree he had come to know his traveling companions, as Barret reacted exactly as hed expected to a direct question- by ignoring it. With a deep, lumbering sigh, the large man stared up at the crescent moon and growled. Its never goin to end, is it? he asked no one in particular.
Cloud, being the only one present, chose to answer. Huh?
The danger. The fightin. The evil. Barret said, and sighed again. I lost my best friends, my wife, and my arm to god damn Shinra, and we beat dem. But right away, somethin else comes around. Somethin worse. And even if we beat it, and Ill level with ya Spike, Im not sure we will, what den? Somethin even worse than dat?
To that, Cloud had no answer, besides to simply shake his head, though whether it was in rejection of the evil of which Barret spoke, the possibility of defeat, or even simply disagreeing with the mans theory, he himself did not know. He just felt like he needed to be rejecting something right now, when so many had been dumped right into his lap that he had no chance of avoiding. Like Aeris. Aeris, he said simply, as a way of bringing up the topic while at the same time admitting he had no idea what to say about it. Gravely, Barret nodded.
Aeris, he said.
And with everything that needed to be said having been said, the two joined the others in slumber.
They awoke the next morning with usual stiffness, though no worse for the wear than they had been the night before. Even Cid, upon seeing the inflated sleeping bags, merely shrugged and muttered something about sissies, and went off to find some water to boil over the fire for tea. In less than a half hour they were packed, fed, and ready to go, and after a few moments of doing the same for the Chocobo, the party started off again.
The only real problem at the moment was that didnt have any exact coordinates for where the hell they were going. All Aeris had said was the top of the mountain, but as far as they could see the mountain was too level to have any one true peak, and it was going to take forever to walk the entire length of the top. However, since- as so many things- they had no choice in this matter, they chose to simply let their Chocobo lead the way, and decided they would start looking from there.
It wasnt long before cool green grass faded to dark gray stone, and the way started to become rougher as the Chocobo no longer had soft land on which to tread. They soon came into a part of the mountains that they hadnt crossed in their last journeys over these parts, mountains that much reminded them of Nibelheim in their steep, spiky juts. And it was after rounding a corner, and then looking a considerable ways up, that they saw the peak, suddenly revealed out of the swirly white clouds above that seemed to get darker the closer they hovered to the mountain side.
Is that where were heading? said Tifa, not managing to conceal the awe in her voice.
I guess... Cloud said from somewhere behind her, with a shrug. It shouldnt take that long, that just looks impossible because were used to going on feet. These birds can do anything though, cant they? he added that last part while scratching his chocobo under the chin. It warbled appreciatively.
Their progress was slower from then on out, winding and cautious, and at some point they were moving at such steepness that the travelers actually felt they were going to fall backwards off their Chocobos saddles, and clutched the reigns especially tight. Finally, and almost thankfully, they came to a spiky narrow that even the Chocobos couldnt cross, and they tied them off to a rock. Fighting nose bleeds, popping ears, and dizziness, the travelers continued on, ducking into the dark cave that lay ahead of them.
It was damp, bright, and glittering, and glew with the constant energy of a mako cave, though no particular fountain could be spotted from the entrance. Most of them had never been in such a cave before, and stared around in amazement at the flashing colors that swirled all around them, while Tifa and Cloud simply shared common, slightly less happy memories about areas near a similar place. For some reason the sound of water running was all around them, though it wasnt raining and no stream was visible.
Absently, Cloud kicked aside a rock, and with a slight bubbling of liquid he solved the question both of running water and the location of the mako fountain. Out from under the sudden gap in the cave floor swept a stream of thick, dark green liquid. Experimenting, Cloud reached down and grabbed the edge of the whole stone, and pulled back as hard as he could. The extra energy actually seemed to be wasted, as the rock pulled easily away, and when he tossed it away he let out a gasp of surprise.
Woah... he muttered.
The others gathered around in surprise, before looking nervously at the rock around their feet. In the exposed hole that Cloud had made, there showed just a fraction of a pool of mako, and they couldnt see any end or shallowness to it at all. It appeared that the entire cave floor was just a thin layer between them and the ocean of mako, and that made the adventurers- especially Barret, who was the biggest, and Tifa and Cloud, who had been forced to go through a Lifestream swim before- incredibly nervous. On sudden instinct, Cloud stalked over to a stone wall of the cave, and threw his steel elbow pad hard against it.
Only the smallest of cracks appeared in that wall, but from that crack ran a dribbled drop of green liquid, slowly running down the side of the cave until it hit the floor and made a minuscule pool. Cloud stared around himself in amazement. Its everywhere, he said, sounding worried.
Huh? Reeve looked up from the pool of mako they were gathered around and glanced over at Cloud. Whats everywhere?
Mako. Cloud said simply, and weakly. This entire cave is filled with it. Its like a liquid barrier between the part of the cave we see and the mountain...
Well. Reeve said, blinking. Thats disturbing.
Yeah... Cloud answered simply, for all of them, and suddenly the entire group had had enough of the talking. They walked on in silence, slower and more lightly than before, as if at any second they expected their feet to punch through the floor, wherein they would sink up to their knees in mako, and would pull out the leg with tentacles sticking out of it or something. In fact, it might have been better if they had been going at their usual pace, as then Cid would have missed the groove in the floor, and spared himself the rather nasty lump he took from crashing to the ground.
Fuck, he snarled, turning around hastily to see what had tripped him. He saw two things that could have been the possible culprits, and neither of them should have been anywhere near the cave. Uh, guys... he said slowly, leaning closer to inspect what had sent him to the ground. The rest gathered around to inspect the offending objects.
The first was a slit, about five inches wide but only about a fourth of that long, and it appeared to go straight down in the rock until it disappeared from sight. The other one, oddly enough, appeared to be a leather hilt that had apparently been well worn in, but was still in remarkable condition. Cloud leaned down and grabbed hold of it, meaning to scoop it up with a quick pull. It didnt budge.
What the... he muttered, and leaned in to look closer. Its a sword, he said in surprise. In the same kind of hole as this one... but its stuck.
Move over Spike... Barret elbowed him quickly to the side, and grasped hold of the hilt with both of his meaty hands. To their surprise both of them wrapped easily along around the handle itself, even though it hadnt appeared to be close to long enough a few seconds ago, and he reared back with a mighty tug.
There was a small crick as he popped a stiff joint in his spine. That was, apparently, the only thing that was going to give. Well damn. Barret said, and stepped away. Thats weird.
Cid and Reeve both took their turns trying to free the weapon, which is required in the code of pointless masculinity, but both of them failed much in the same ways that Barret and Cloud had. Tifa, however, had utilized her lack of a Y Chromosome and used the time instead to study the second groove, and came up with a sudden surprised exclamation. Cloud? she asked quickly.
After a moment, he looked over from the handle.
I think your Ultima Sword would fit in this. In fact... Tifa peered closer. It looked like it was carved to fit exactly?
Really? Cloud asked curiously, drawing the glittering blue crystal weapon from its sheath, and sizing it up with the hole. It did indeed appear to be a perfect fit, and Cloud admitted it, but still appeared to have his doubts. But what if this gets stuck then? he asked. I dont want to be weaponless around here.
True, Tifa admitted, but what if it lets go of the other sword?
Like itd be better than this one? Cloud snorted, looking the hilt over up and down, and then looking at the hilt of his own sword. Tifa let up an exasperated sigh that was only half exaggerated.
Aeris told us we need these! she persuaded him, She didnt say anything about the weapons we already had, did she?
A man wise in the way of relationships, and especially of the one fundamental rule- in a disagreement between a man and women, if the man has nothing to win but principle, he should be sure to suddenly realize that the girl is absolutely right. Not saying a word, and not daring to glance over at their three male companions, who were sniggering appropriately, Cloud positioned his sword over the slit, and drove it down. It slid into the hole perfectly, all the way to the hilt.
A sound like thunder rang out. The group fell back, hands instinctively raising their weapons- or in Barrets case, hand simply raising, and the weapon coming with it via surgical attachment- from whatever attack may be coming. But instead of some kind of monstrous threat, they were greeted instead to the walls literally falling apart in massive chunks of rock, including a boulder so huge it kicked up too much dust to see for several minutes. While the others coughed and covered their eyes from the sudden visual attack, Cloud calmly wrapped his hand around the buried hilt.
The sound of steel sliding against stone met their ears seconds before their vision cleared, and they saw Cloud standing still, a shimmering silver sword raised high above his head, reflecting light from absolutely nowhere off of its perfect surface. Reeve, Barret, Tifa and Cid all stared at its edge, and were greeted by a marless reflection of themselves staring straight back. Reeve quietly voiced what they were all thinking.
Wow, he said. And then something caught his eye to the left, and his gaze twitched involuntarily again in that direction. There was a split second pause. Wow, he repeated.
The rest followed his gaze. Along the wall, now exposed by the falling rocks, and highlighted by the cool green glow of mako, was an assortment of weapons that seemed very much to be levitating off the ground. A set of incredibly dark leather gloves with three long juts of steel emitting from just in front of the knuckles of each. What appeared to be a glove, metal, but seemingly segmented and jointed in so many areas that it could be twisted or bent in any possible way. What may or may not have been a spear; a coral blue weapon that seemed to be nothing but twists and curves, that corkscrewed down into two razor sharp points on either side. And last, horrifyingly, what appeared to be a dead bird, lying limp and motionless.
The unarmed travelers rushed quickly up to them in varying states of amazement, and Cid quickly snatched the spiraling spear up, while Tifa grabbed the gloves. Reeve, however, ever the fan of mechanical items, had gone directly for the metallic hand, and in reaching for it, had quickly found that his hand passed straight through, tips touching against the stone wall behind. What the hell... he muttered, and tried again, with little fruition. Barret, who had been slowly inspecting the bird with growing wonder, looked over.
Whats wrong? he asked, clearly looking for a distraction to look away from the animal- or what seemed to be an animal.
Its a hologram, Reeve muttered in confusion, trying yet another vain attempt to grab it. Barret lumbered up, and gave him a pointed look.
I bet... he said, easily snatching the glove out of the air. Before continuing his sentence he quickly fiddled with the bolts on his right wrist, and popped the Maximum Score right off. With apprehension, he placed the base of the hand, which was producing a series of wires that Reeve had somehow overlooked, into the adapter on the tip of his wrist. There was a spark of electricity, and the hand locked with the wrist. Barret jumped a moment in surprise, and the fingers of the glove widened in likewise emotion. Amazed, he wiggled the hands thumb, the pinkie, the middle, and then all the fingers at once. ...this is mine. He finally finished, staring unbelievably at his own wrist.
Oh. Reeve said. He wasnt sure why he wasnt over come with incredible interest with the weapons the others had come across, but it simply alluded him. Christmas morning syndrome had hit him hard, and he simply couldnt focus on something until hed gotten hold of his own Legacy item. He hurried over to the bird in the hopes that it could be some sort of a clue, but no, it was simply a bird, and a terribly sad image at that. Suddenly overcome with regret, he ran his finger down the shiny metallic spine of the bird.
And then froze.
With a sudden chirping sound, the eyes that had moments ago been black and empty on the bird lit up red, and with the humming sound of machinery long slumbering coming to life, the bird lifted itself higher in the air, dropped a bit, beat its wings, and remained aloft, hovering in front of Reeves face, and staring thoughtfully at him. Reeve blinked.
Er... hello? he said. You wouldnt happen to know of a weapon that looks just about right for me, would you?
The bird made a grating noise that sounded amazingly close to indignant, and moved a little closer to Reeves face. Recognition suddenly came into his eyes, and he exhaled deeply. Ohhhhh... he said. Well. Hello little Legacy weapon.
It chirped again. Not knowing why, Reeve smiled, and then glanced over at Cid. I like your spear. He said helpfully.
Neptunes Highlight? Cid asked absently, trying to look straight down the spear, which of course made him incredibly dizzy. Thanks.
Neptures Highlight? Tifa asked, taking a few practice swings at the air with her bladed gloves. She relaxed her grip, and jumped as the blades quickly receded back into some unknown part of the glove themselves. She tensed it, and the blades popped out again. She giggled, and then quickly reaffirmed her attention of Cid. Is that what you named it?
No. Cid said simply. Thats what its called.
...huh. Barret said, clearly having no intentions of assigning a name to his hand. How bout you Spike? Whats that pretty little letter opener called?
Cloud hadnt moved a step since he drew his sword from the rock. He stared at its long, two handed handle, up and down its bright silver blade inscribed in a language hed never heard of, and most of all, listened to the buzzing feeling in his hands as he held it. Excalibur seems fitting, he said with a smile, hoping theyd think his reference to the Arthurian legends was a joke rather than a true feeling. Suddenly the Ultima Sword sticking out of the ground seemed very inconsequential. Something else, however, caught his eye.
What the hell is that? he asked, pointing behind them, and they turned appropriately. Looking further back in the cave, almost completely hidden, hovered one of the most bizarre things they had ever seen. A large robotics suit that looked like it could entirely enclose a man- albeit a short one- within an opening in the inside. Above it, chiseled into the rock, was a name.
Tyler Lucia? Tifa read allowed, and turned to Reeve. Isnt that your last name?
Slowly, looking incredibly pale, Reeve nodded. The bird beside him let out a discontent grate.
What, got a brother? Cid asked.
Reeve shook his head.
Actually, he said, with a catch in his voice, I have a son.