The Fallen Chapter 17
The building was old, but that didnt fool Reno for
a second. He had gotten to know the place quite well during his short residence
in the town, and if the place was anything it was modern beyond belief. He
had only ever been allowed a short glimpse in the back despite his close
relationship with the owner, and what hed seen reminded him both of
a science room from high school, a meth lab, and metal shop. At least three
fires were burning around the edges of the room, surrounding a stand of
chemicals, which was almost directly touching what appeared to be the worlds
largest lazer pen. Thats all hed managed to see before Neo had
managed to shut the door, and hastily turn his attention
The first time he had seen her, Reno remembered as he pushed open the front door to the shop, hed almost shit himself. Hed thought that the masanume maniac had come back to finish off his job of skewering the Turks, but on a second glance had seen that it was indeed not Sephiroth, just a girl who came disturbingly close. Despite her age, which couldnt have been more than thirty, she had long flowing silver hair that reached her waist. Her skin was unwholesome pale, and her body... well, Reno would have loved to know, but the full suit of black leather armor she wore around even in the calmest and hottest of summers was quite a protection from the ravages of the eyes.
She was standing at the front counter when he stepped into the shop, odd as it was the first time he could remember that happening. Usually she was busy in the back, and hed hung around for hours before she had finally gotten around to answering the ultimately useless bell she kept next to the cash register on several past occasions. Oh well, if her services were anything, they were worth the wait. Neo Armory was widely known as the best weapon shop on the continent, after all... if you could afford its prices.
Hello Reno, she said in a distant, barely acknowledging voice. What is it today? New knife? Some mako shrapnel hand grenades? We just got something special in, a wonderful little mixture of aphrodisiac and hallucinogen. We call it Sextacy.
Sextacy? Reno asked, raising an eyebrow. Thats a weapon?
Depends how big you are, I guess, Neo said, sounding about ten times creepier than she should have due to the fact that though she was obviously telling a joke, not a single change in her distant and monotone voice took place. Besides, Im a women of all trades, except the ones that involve corners of streets. Seriously though, what may I do for you?
Well, said Reno, with a sudden pang in his conscience. He was beginning to feel like he was cheating on his wife just by being here, and he didnt even have a wife. Not that he knew of, anyway. With no real heart to finish the sentence he had begun, Reno pulled two things out from under his suits jacket- his Nightstick, and a piece of paper where instructions had been hastily jotted down in a runny pen. He handed them both to Neo, who looked at the paper is disgust.
Custom orders are usually readable, you know, she snorted, but shook her head. No matter, this looks simple enough. We just got some really great wiring in that will take care of most of it. I can even give the whole thing a rethreading, if you want.
Um, thanks OK, said Reno, fighting against his urge. It was one thing to have a few simple extra features installed into his weapon so he wouldnt have a repeat of the happenings on Wutai mountain, but it was a whole different matter to completely gut the thing and cram a new circuitry set in there. A man had to have loyalty to something after all, and if it wasnt to his dick and his beat stick, what was it to? When do you think you can have this done? Im only in town for a few days.
Hm... Neo peered at the instructions more closely, and then looked over at the nightstick. This is pretty beat up, you know.
Yeah, well, so am I, he responded easily.
Right. Two... no, three days. She amended herself in mid sentence with a heavy sense of finality. Is that fast enough?
Reno nodded, but he was barely listening to her words. Instead, he was searching her face, as something about her demeanor and words had seemed even stranger than usual, and with her, the usual was pretty strange. Her eyes kept flickering to the left wall, towards the east, even though there was no window in that wall, and thus nothing for her to be looking at. Maybe he was imagining things, but he just had this incredible feeling that she was pulling away from him even as the two simply stood there. On a whim, his eyes went down to her hands. What happened there? he asked with a dry voice, pointing at several nasty gashes that had been made in her palm.
Neo quickly turned that hand upside down, hiding the wounds. A blade in my band saw came loose.
And you caught it with your bare hand? Reno said with a laugh, but not a loud one. It was less funny because he knew that there was no chance in hell that such a thing had happened, though he did believe that she would do exactly what hed described if the situation arose. Neo didnt answer him, and instead simply looked again to the wall.
In a flash, Reno understood. Youre going, arent you? he asked softly.
Neos eyes darted up to him, wide, and a denial died on her lips when she realized he hadnt named any facts she could contradict. Instead, she exhaled sharply, and rubbed her hands together as if cold. Reno noticed that despite looking wet, no blood transferred from the wound to the other hand. Yes, she admitted, in a few days... Ill finish your job first, dont worry. Wait... are you going too? Is that what you need this for?
For a moment, she seemed actually paranoid, as if the thought of someone else going heavily armed worried her. Reno took some time to look around her shop, and realized where some of his awkward feeling had come from. All of the junk was still out, the Katanas, the chakrams, the hand blades... but all the really high impact, classy, mortgage your house to afford stuff had disappeared from the shelves. Neo was going to Fort Condor, and she was going packing some serious weaponry. No. Reno said, after his scan was done, not hiding the fact he knew exactly what she was talking about, and hoped she wouldnt know why.
But you feel it, dont you? she asked urgently, and her voice actually seemed to rise a bit for once.
...yes, Reno said, only half lying. He had felt it. Not nearly as strong as Neo, obviously, but it was still there. An image in his mind, a gentle tug that sometimes wasnt so gentle, pulling him to the east and then to the south. He imagined the only reason it wasnt worse was that deep in his mind he knew he was going there anyway, and so did the pull, and thus only stuck around as a constant reminded. Good luck, he added quickly, as if those words had any reverence at all. He wondered why they had popped into his head.
Thanks... Neo said, and bit her lip. I probably wont see you again, she admitted.
No. Reno agreed, I guess not.
Good to know you. She said.
Ditto, he answered, and quickly threw some gil down on the counter. It wasnt quite enough to pay for the upgrades up front, but he figured where Neo was heading, she wouldnt care if she had money or not. Taking care not to meet her eyes, Reno turned on his heel, and left the shop.
So where were you again? Yuffie asked for what had to have been the twentieth time about Renos side trip before they had started up the mountain again.
No where! he answered, also for the twentieth. Looking for absolutely anything to take his ears, eyes, and other senses away from the bratty ninja walking beside him, Reno turned to Tseng. So what exactly are we planning to do if tall, dark, and granite comes at us again?
Which one? Tseng asked.
Does it matter? Reno replied.
No, I suppose not. Tseng shrugged. We go up the mountain quieter.
Reno stopped in his tracks. Excuse me?
Tseng repeated his words exactly.
I believe, said Reno slowly, thats how we try to stop them from coming at us again. What do we do if that brilliant plan- which I dont even think we have in effect right now anyway- happens to fail?
Once again, Tseng shrugged. We always think of something, he said.
And besides for a few dark spots on the record of the Turks, that was reasonably true. The dark spots being, notably, the sudden disappearance of Vincent Valentine, the death of Tseng, and of course their *first* trip up the mountain, the Turks had displayed ingenuity and luck right up there with ruthlessness and aim.
Well... Reno said, and trailed off, looking for something to argue about. Didnt you ask anyone in the village if they knew how to deal with them?
Oh yeah, Yuffie was back in Renos ears again, throwing herself head first into his conversation with Tseng, well just calmly explain how were planning to defile their sacred land, and wed like to know how to get past the forces of God trying to stop us from doing so. Brilliant.
Reno shot the Wutain a smoldering look, but Tseng spoke again before he could take a shot back. I already said we arent going to defile anything, OK? he demanded, and when Yuffie nodded, he spoke again. Good. Now, if you please, I really would like to at least attempt the plan of not talking loud enough to draw the god damn things again, so I would like to hereby request that each and every one of you shut the hell up.
And they did, with varying degrees of compliance. Reno and Yuffie resigned themselves to simply use the time to think of something insulting they could throw at each other, while Rude barely talked anyway, but Elena quickly developed the need to scratch her palm absently in the place of rambling on. They went on that way in silence for a good distance, and had just about reached the spot where the monsters had first appeared when the first droplets of rain started to splatter against the ground.
The rain started slow, a gentle mist you would expect of spring, but quickly developed into the type of downpour you would be surprised at on an island in monsoon season. Suddenly damp, cold, and blinded, Yuffie decided at this point that there really was no need to hold up Tsengs order about keep quiet. *Now* do you believe the gods are against us!? she demanded, though in all honesty she wasnt even sure if the others were in hearing distance.
At the very least, Reno was, because a moment later she saw a glimpse of his red hair through the downpour of the rain, and though she couldnt see his face she imagined it was glaring at her. It disappeared just as quickly as it had popped into view, and relieved that she was still relatively close to the group, Yuffie let out a momentary sigh of relief. The last few puffs of air had just escaped when a pale hand popped out of nowhere and seized her wrist in an iron grip.
Years of built in instinct took over, and with one violent move Yuffie grabbed the wrist, wrenched it forward, and threw a wild knee into what was very likely the center of the wrists owner. She was rewarded with a wet thud sound, and with a sudden gasp her assailant was down on the now incredibly muddy mountain path. She fumbled for her chakram while backing away from it, in case it as going to leap at her. When it made no such movement, and she had her weapons safely drawn, she peered closer.
Reno lay in the mud, staring up absently at the sky.
Oh god! Yuffie said, feeling bad- but not too bad, of course- for what she had done, she quickly knelt by Reno. Sorry about that, you scared the hell out of me.
For a long time, Reno ignored her, staring up unblinkingly into the sky. And then, finally, he responded.
What the hell are you doing? Yuffie demanded.
...slowly tracing the steps of my life that led my to lying with a bruised rib cage and a dirty back in pelting rain with a sawed off bimbo hovering over me. Reno answered, and slowly sat up, holding his ribs. God...
Why did you sneak up on me like that? she asked, trying to turn the situation around by hitting him with an accusation.
...Tseng picked out a place for shelter about an eighth of a mile back, Reno said, and you were too fucking stupid to look around and kept plowing forward. Thus, I came to get you.
...oh. Yuffie said, and if the stinging rain hadnt been seriously impairing Renos vision he would have seen her wince. Well, where is it?
With a sigh, Reno rolled to his feet, and shot the ninja a dark look, which she responded to with her best act of innocence. Rolling his eyes, the Turk began to stumble back down the path, never looking back at her, but going slow enough so she could definitely keep up.
Huh, Yuffie thought as she trudged along, his butt looks kind of good wet.
The shelter, as Reno had had the gall to call it, was what most people would recognize as trees. A patch of trees. And while the dark forest that grew out of the side of the mountain did a fairly good job at protecting from the rain and limiting visibility of each other as they went to split up into little individual bedrooms, it did absolutely nothing about the wind and the cold, and so it was with much anger and sulking that Yuffie stormed off into the woods to do a good deal of walking before she laid down to sleep.
Eventually, as much of her walks ended up doing, this one slowly curved around in a circle, and after about twenty minutes she began to approach the same area that she had started from. It was getting darker by the second, and wondering why the hell they had left at this point in the day anyway Yuffie began to trip on the now unseen floor of the forest on her way back towards the small fire that Rude had built, using his sun glasses to amplify the last bits of sun that were still in the sky onto a pile of old leaves. Reno had made some sort of boy scouts crack, only to be stared down by Rudes unusually uncovered eyes.
After Yuffie bumped into what had to have been her ninth log in the last three minutes, she let out a frustrated growl and kicked at it as it rolled away- and realized instantly that something was wrong. First of all, logs dont squish that easily around a foot. Second, they dont make a gasping, moaning sound, and curl up clutching their stomachs. For the second time that day, Yuffie peered at the ground, and saw Reno looking up at her, though this time he was in considerably more pain.
Oh *god*... Yuffie moaned, and knelt down by him.
What the hell is wrong with you!? he snarled, when he finally got his breath back. So far youve attacked me while I was trying to lead you out of the rain, when I was playing cards in a bar, and now when Im sleeping! Do I have a big sign written on my face that reads insert foot here or something!?
...youre surprisingly articulate for being sleeping. Yuffie said, peering closer at him.
OK, OK, so I wasnt sleeping. Reno admitted, That doesnt men you should come up and wedge your boot into my rib cage.
Well... yeah. Yuffie relented. OK. But what the hell were you doing? Her eyes twitched involuntarily downward, betraying her mind. Reno snorted.
Hah hah, he muttered, if you must know, I was wondering where the hell my sister is right now. I think its become pretty obvious there is more to picking up these little knives or whatever than Aeris told us, and quite frankly, I dont think Rory and that little dude she went with could take care of something as big as a rock monster.
Yuffie was silent. She had no idea that Reno even had those sorts of though, though she guessed she should have assumed it. After all, he was as human being. A truly warped, weird, and altogether disconcerting human being, but a human being.
Its cold, she said suddenly.
Uh... yes. Reno agreed. It is.
Yuffie rolled her eyes. Sure she wasnt the most blatant person in the world, but she hated it when guys couldnt pick up on subtlety. I meant its *cold*, she said, stressing the words appropriately. Suddenly interested, Reno looked up at her.
You mean, cold, cold? he asked. As in the good kind of cold?
With a growl, Yuffie promptly smacked Reno on the arm. No you pervert, she snarled, I meant your supposed to put your arm around me so I can steal your body warmth and get some sleep!
Renos face went blank.
...yes you idiot, Yuffie said, revealing her sarcasm. I meant the good kind of cold.
Oh, uh... Reno sat up where he lay, and looked around, as if he expected a camera crew and a horde of police officers to appear out of nowhere. Good?
Good. Yuffie confirmed, quickly running her fingers down his arm. What the hell, she thought, he was cute, he was sad, and she was cold. Unless.. suddenly, she paused, and Reno glanced up in confusion. You cant tell anyone, of course.
Well... duh. Reno muttered, as if the mere thought of letting Rude know about this was offensive. With a small smile, Yuffie pulled one of his arms around her, and leaned down.
Dude, Reno muttered, early the next morning while the sun was barely peaking off the ground to do its work drying the ground. I slept with Yuffie.
Rude, who had been poking at the dead embers of the fire hed made with a particularly large stick, suddenly froze. For some reason or another hed had his glasses on even at this time, and he promptly pulled them off. His eyes were wide as they focused on Reno, and then he suddenly shook his head. Reno, he said slowly, like youd talk to a child who had just stolen some cookies, Ive been awake for fifteen minutes. That is not a fifteen minutes into the day topic. In fact, thats not an any time of the day topic.
Oh come on man, Reno bartered him, we are the only people in the world lined up to save it from being destroyed. Thus, were all very, very dead. And I mean really dead. The kind of dead where no one is left to bury you. So why *not* do it?
...good point. Rude muttered. And speaking of which, we should get up and get going. Tseng and Elena already went on ahead, and the ninja brat... well, youd know more about that than me at this point, but Im assuming shes not a late sleeper with the way she bounces around all the time. Rude paused, though Reno wasnt sure if it was in contemplation or a silent dread of starting walking this soon after waking up. ...does she bounce around all the time? he asked suddenly.
Haha, Reno snorted, and then groaned anew as he pushed himself to his feet. He didnt care how young the rest of him was, his knees were fifty and aging quick. Thats what happens when you spend most of your life running on some uncomfortable surface or diving out of windows. Honestly, I hope Yuff stays behind. The last thing we need is even more bullshit about sacred lands.
Huh... Rude said slowly. Maybe they are sacred. Not that we arent going on them anyway, he added quickly, as Reno gave him a dark look, but still. Im just saying you probably shouldnt spit or anything when we get there. Theres only so many chances that are smart to take.
Yeah, yeah, Reno said, but only to himself, as the two began to walk out of the woods and onto the mountain path, which was now essentially a strip of pure mud miles long. Tseng and Elena had apparently not made much progress, as they were still in sight, and Reno and Rude hustled to keep up, splattering mud behind them. Honestly, they werent in as much of a hurry to catch up with the others as they were to put a distance between them and Yuffie.
They caught up with Tseng and Elena easily enough, but they did so silently, making an actual effort to put Tsengs silence plan into effect. After all, despite the faithful words of their leader about their ability to adapt under pressure, none of them were in a hurry to run once again into those rock monsters.
Either the plan worked, or the monsters were simply too far to get to them with their big charging pain routine, but either way the effect was the same. Only an hour of walking through the mud later and they arrived at a large clearing surrounded by stones, where the path suddenly ended. Many tourists and travelers had taken the logical assumption that the land surrounded by stones was in fact the sacred area, and encouraged that belief, as it was a widespread city amusement to see travelers going home with clippings of grass that was simply grown from normal dirt.
No, the clearing was not the holy land. It was simply the arrow pointing the way. The rocks, while forming a circle in the whole, individually were all turned in one direction, off to the right of the path. Once Tseng, who had managed to weasel the secret of the stones out of a drunk the morning before, explained this to them, and pointed it out, they quickly followed the way for only a short walk, until they reached a large dropout off the mountain, and there was nothing left to walk on save air. Twenty feet below, stretching out in front of them, was the dark green holy lands of Wutai.
Um... Reno blinked. I may be stating the obvious here, but we are on a slightly different level of gravity here, than that is there. How the hell are we supposed to get down?
A voice came from behind him, absolutely saturated with stubborn anger. You arent, it insisted, I already told you that its sacred land.
They turned around and there stood Yuffie, perched on a particularly large rock, staring down at them disapprovingly. Her clothes were surpassingly devoid of mud considering the only way to get here was straight up a soaked dirt path, and she cast a long shadow on them from her perch. They stared up at her, at a momentary loss for words, as the unspoken challenge hung in the air.
And then, a split second later, the rock on which Yuffie was standing exploded.
The young ninja dropped hard from her stand, hitting the dirt and rolling to the side as chunks of debris and a cloud of dust washed over her. Looming above, coming upon them silently in a way that none could guess, was one of the rock monsters, who had just destroyed Yuffies seat with a single backhand of its mammoth arm. The Turks began to back up instinctively and reach for their weapons, but they remembered from earlier exactly how effective bullets were, and they quickly ran out of cliff to back up on. Teetering on the edge, Tseng looked from the monster, to the land beneath, to Yuffie, then back to the land.
Grab her, he hissed, and aim for the high grass.
And with that, Tseng took another step backwards, taking himself smoothly off the side of the rock. Elena screamed and turned to see him fall, and the cry only died on her lips when she saw him slam into a thick matted pad of plants, winded but obviously alive. Taking a deep breath, she followed.
Reno and Rude went to grab Yuffie at the same time, bumping into each other. The two shared a quick look, Rude nodded at Reno, and turned to join both Tseng and Elena in their plunge. Moving as fast as he could to avoid the towering granite behemoth, Reno scooped up Yuffie in his arms and took a running leap off of the incline.
The fall was an odd sensation. On one hand, it was sort of enlightening, just free falling, and knowing that there was nothing that he could do to change his current situation sure took a load off. On the other hand, it was one of the scariest and stupidest things that Reno had ever done, simultaneously.
There was a dull thud as he hit the grass. He felt the air drive out of his lungs, but thankfully didnt feel his lungs begin to launch its way out of its throat. He lay on the ground for a moment, breathing hard, and then realized he was still holding Yuffie. He rolled her off him and sighed, one more death defying stunt hed pulled and lived through. Even worse knees in the morning.
He took his sweet time getting up, and felt he had earned it. Being heroic took a lot out of him, especially when it was followed by a twenty foot plummet with nothing to break his fall but some foliage covered grass. When he finally did get up, he saw that Yuffie was stirring quite actively, and leaned over her.
I think big charcoal up there swept you off your feet, he said with a small smirk.
Ugh. Yuffie said elegantly, and Reno noticed that she was looking around instead of at him, and probably wasnt speaking of her current brow beaten situation. We shouldnt be here. She sighed. This is bad.
Reno sighed and got to his feet, simply because it would be a position that would get him away from her quicker. You need to lay off on this sacred land stuff. It isnt.
Yes it is! said Yuffie, gathering the energy to sit up just to yell at him. Suddenly, a large leather sack landed right beside her, and she turned to see the thrower- Tseng, holding a strange thin stick in his hands.
Actually, he said, it isnt.
What...? Yuffie asked, and instantly overwhelmed by curiosity, reached into the bag. She felt an odd sensation, as if she had just managed not to touch something that she physically should have, and then her fingers touched something hard, and incredibly cold. Instantly she pulled it out, revealing a glittering crystal ring, that looked like it had been carved from diamonds themselves. Tentatively she ran her finger down the edge of it, and it split the skin easier than anything shed ever seen before. Even as she popped her bloody finger into her mouth in surprise, she stared at the chakram in amazement.
See? Tseng said, catching her look. Its just a holding place for these weapons. Reno? he tacked that last part off as he glanced to the right, where Reno was eyeing the bag in what seemed to be very uncharacteristic nervousness. Something wrong?
Er, no, said Reno, kneeling by it and slowly reaching inside. He groped for a bit, before dipping down to the very bottom, and felt his finger tips bounce against something new. He quickly wrapped his hand around it, feeling like he recognized the material of the rounded weapon, and promptly pulled it out, before almost dropping it.
It was his Nightstick.
What the hell? Yuffie asked, looking over at him. How did that get in the bag?
Reno stared at it closely in confusion. It was almost identical to the weapon hed used for the last half a decade, but it felt somewhat differently weighted. Then it came to him in a flash- the modifications hed instructed Neo to do, they were finished, and they were now a part of it. I, um, dont know... he fumbled, I left it at a weapons shop to get juiced up. And now... its here, he finished lamely.
Yuffie gave him a sly look. Didnt go anywhere, huh? she taunted.
Reno paused. So much for your holy lands! he snapped back.
Really? Yuffie asked slowly, an obvious cover for just thinking quickly of something to save her side of the argument. Suddenly it came to her. I think your wrong. Aeris just said these were made by the planet, she didnt say what for. I think they were meant to defend the world, and thats why theyre here- holy relics! Suddenly, she stopped. Though it doesnt seem likely youve been carrying a holy relic around for a few years without being struck down, she admitted.
Hah. Reno snarled, and quickly turned the bag upside down. Nothing else fell out, and when he looked up at Tseng for explanation, his mentor simply shrugged. Rude and Elena already got theirs. This stick is mine, I guess... Tseng took a few practice swings with it, and then on a whim, pulled each side away from each other. A snap rang out, and they pulled apart, pulling a long wire string tight between them. A garrot wire.
Now this I like... he admitted, snapping the two sides back together. It seemed extremely fitting.
As he spoke, Rude was rounded a corner around a rock and walked over to them. Reno looked him over, and cocked an eyebrow in question, to which Rude simply shrugged. Did you know, he asked, sounding distant, that your undershirt has about nine holes in it.
Yeah... Reno said absently, and a second later his eyes went wide. Wait! Youre kidding!
Rude smirked. New glasses, he explained. Ray Bans. I wonder how the powers at be knew what style of glasses I wore two thousand years before I was born.
His tone seemed to clearly dismiss the concept of these weapons being magical and mystical gifts, though he was clearly impressed with the object that he had received. Reno was just about to ask what happened to Elena when he was cut off with a violent boom. He heard Tseng curse, and spun quickly around to see the source of the noise.
The rock monster, which hed thought they had left easily behind, was standing ten feet behind him. On its feet. After an eight yard vertical drop onto stone. Quickly, Reno fumbled with his new and improved nightstick, and rose it to fire, hoping these new features worked as well as hed designed them to.
His fire was held at bay as a small click sounded to his left, and he felt something very much like shock waves shove his arm to the left. There was a defeaning sound of stone shattering, and the air was suddenly filled with dust in a twenty foot circle, in which Yuffie, Reno, and the rest of the Turks were included. When it cleared, there was a small pile of pebbles where the stone monster had been.
The entire group looked, as one, to their left. Elena stood their, cradling a pistol small enough that it looked like an especially minuscule Derringer. Small wisps of smoke were escaping from its tip, and it was still aimed in the general area where the monster had stood. Her eyes were wide in shock as she stared at her hand, and the weapon contained therein.
Well. Reno said. I guess we know what Santa Claus brought you for Christmas.