Another Chapter is here

Kazeshuriken: Of Course!


The Materia Keeper roared as it came under assault, pale-purple fluid leaking out of a rend in its hide from the heavy sword Cloud possessed. In the end, he had been the one that made the call to leave Nibelheim behind and journey up the mountain. The reactor was the first place to check for Sephiroth and Jenova, as that was where their faithful encounters began—the source of their pain and suffering.

And blocking their path was this thing, another obstacle that needed to be overcome.

Cloud pulled back as the six-legged creature tried to overwhelm him with a flurry of stabs, using the points on its appendages. But it was quick to act, striking before he could take more than a step back. The blade moved to intercept those that could have actually done fatal damage, blocking with a spray of sparks, but the others stabs cut and ripped into his flesh with the same strength that pocked the ground with divots around him.

A salvo of missiles constructs crashed into its flank courtesy of Nanaki, who was being cautious in what spells he used. The leonine warrior had, at one point, used the Beta skill after they'd done significant damage to it beforehand. It absorbed the flames and patched the wounds they'd made as a result, so they wouldn't try that approach again.

It bought him time. He activated the Earth Materia and swung the blade down. The ground beneath them shook and tremored, a shockwave tearing the stone beneath it up and forcing it to stagger backwards. A gentle light swaddled him and patched his wounds, courtesy of Aerith lingering back as far as she could. Revitalized, he jumped towards it anew and he swung his sword down.

A monstrous shriek emerged from its maw as the sword lopped one of the appendages, leaving it down to a mere five instead. Its retaliation, while he put some distance between them again, was cut short as a cannonball of frost and mist slammed into the ground beneath it. Ice blossomed into jagged spikes that penetrated its dense hide, only to shatter when it struggled.

Cloud came to a stop with his blade at the ready as Tifa and Nanaki darted past him and towards the monster. The stingers moved to sweep them away before they could get within striking range, but gunfire rang out from behind Cloud and two rounds knocked the appendages aside with a combination of stopping power and precision. Fist and claws found its face and eyes as empty casing shells fell to the ground, replaced by fresh rounds to the sound of a pained shriek.

"I don't think it will last long," Tifa said as she pulled back alongside Nanaki. Heavy pants left their mouths while the monster trashed around blindly. Then it went still and soothing light encased it. Its wounds began to knit themselves, eyes reforming.

"It's healing itself!" Nanaki prepared to fire another salvo of missile constructs when the atmosphere changed around them, picking up a charge of some kind. Pain struck them all as they lightning battered them from every angle with no escape, their cries of agony drowned by the crackle of the thick charges surging through them. By the time it faded, everything hurt without reservation.

Cloud tried to brush off the burns, grasping his sword as it approached, when the furious light of the Limit Break engulfed Vincent like an angry flame. He howled, his flesh burning away and his skeleton darkening—warping into something else as the lost flesh was replaced and dyed purple by tenebrous threads that burst from some unseen void within. Gone was the man in a mere instant, replaced by a purple beast with sharp claws that could flay flesh from bone, curved horns that could pierce steel, a red mane that flowed down its back until it reached the start of its pointed tail, and yellow eyes that seemed to burn like molten gold.

Its eyes met with the monster that had forced the change. The corded muscles in its legs tensed. Then it was off, cracking the ground beneath its starting point as the air screamed when the claws cut through it in a Berserk Dance.

Healing light encompassed the rest of them as the beast and the monster clashed, slaves to their primal instinct. Cloud frowned at seeing the transformation, and the effect it had on the quiet man in person. Vincent had been forthcoming about what he knew on the changes brought about from the experimentation on him.

A man that should be dead was given the power to turn into monsters and made ageless. It was unnatural to such an extent that Aerith could peg something off about him by presence alone—different from Jenova, but still something that shouldn't have happened.

Their wounds finished healing by the time the Galian Beast lost its battle against the larger opponent and was sent flying by a vicious strike, crashing into the slides. Its form melted and then reformed into Vincent's shape. He was unconscious, though not without horrendously maiming the opposition beforehand.

"Kill it before it heals again!" Cloud ordered as he watched Aerith revive Vincent. It drew the Materia Keeper's attention.

The leonine warrior roared in compliance, Enemy Skill Materia aglow. The dual pyramids of lightning, an inverted one within an upright one, enclosed upon the monster and discharged. The air grew thick with the scent of ozone as it warbled, with tendrils of smoke wavering up and into the air from its own spell turned against it.

"My turn!" Tifa slammed her fist together and the furious light of her Limit Break shone brightly around her Powersoul knuckles. Closing the distance with everything she had, Tifa advanced for the kill and brought her empowered fists against her foe.

The first three blows are hard enough to punch it senseless. The somersault hit hard enough to knock its head back and shattered its yellow fangs. The waterkick generated a torrent strong enough to sweep its five remaining legs loose. Then she got underneath it and lifted above her head with herculean strength, suplexing it into the ground with a battle-cry. The impact was hard enough that they felt the ground shake, a cloud of dust and spray of stone kicked up in the process.

Bolstered strength fading, Tifa leapt back as the monster let loose a death knell from the brutal assault. By the time the dust cleared, it had dissipated entirely. All that was left was some kind of ring or bracer that it must've swallowed. She dusted herself off and stretched her arms upwards as Nanaki fetched the accessory.

"Let's move." Cloud placed his sword upon his back again. "We've been delayed long enough."

They continued their trek, relieved at knowing they had a ride waiting for them at the very end of the mountain climb. Dealing with the monster they had just faced would have been easier with everyone present, but they had split their party up in order to accomplish their goals. They couldn't tarry in Nibelheim to go through the records and documents with Shinra very likely to be on the move to that location, and they couldn't ignore that the reactor would be a prime spot for the Reunion between Sephiroth and the rest of the people under Jenova's thrall, but they couldn't leave the Buggy behind just because it couldn't scale the mountain.

Yuffie, surprisingly, came up with the solution. She, Crimson, and Barret would load the Buggy with all of the books and files before getting it to the other side of the mountain base by crossing the sheer-drop inlet between them using Titan. They had received a call stating that it worked, though Crimson seemed a bit distant since that monster they dealt with from the safe.

He still wasn't really sure how Hojo fit it in there, or how it survived for what must've been years of disuse. Then again, Vincent said he had been sleeping in that coffin for decades on end without the need for food or water somehow. Maybe he would talk about it later with her, but for now he devoted himself to the path ahead.


The helicopter blades whirled noisily on the landing pad as Elena walked towards it. She had been called in after spending her time observing the Ancient's mother. Thankfully, she only received a light reprimand for slipping up that evening since the older woman had gone back home.

At the front of the helicopter were Rude and the President, with Reno sitting in the backseat. She climbed into it and sat next to him, slipping on her headset. "What's the mission?"

Reno handed her a set of photographs and a file. The photos were all of listening devices, nestled into nooks and crannies. "Rude and I spent the last few days combing the building and vehicles for bugs, since we thought Cissnei's group were a little too informed of our movements. Turns out there were a lot of them, tucked away. We have people still checking in Junon and Costa del Sol, but right now we've got a lead on Sephiroth."

"Are we going after him?"

He nodded. "We need a plane that hasn't been compromised to reach first. Since we're not sure to what extent they've infiltrated us, we're going to borrow a personal craft belonging to the man in file."

She flipped the page and came across the image of an adult male, blond. According to the documentation he was a talented pilot selected for the now-defunct space program, but was notably crass in terms of personality—according to Palmer. His current residence was the town that sprang up around the rocket, a bit of a tourist attraction for the smaller towns and villages on that side of the continent.

Elena went over the information until she felt squished as Palmer sat down next to her and shut the door. The helicopter then started to lift off. Their leader wasn't onboard.

"Where's Tseng?" she asked. "Is he not coming?"

Reno shook his head. "He's still with Scarlet. They wanted to investigate Fort Condor for a Huge Materia but met with a lot of resistance from the squatters on the mountain. He'll report in when they're done with suppressing it."

Her mood fell a bit since that meant he wasn't there with them, but she resolved to do her job well and make him proud. Not that it should be hard. They were just going to borrow a plane…

So why did they need over twenty soldiers and what looked to be a shipment of modified Mighty Grunts?


"We're here," Crimson said with a sigh as she parked the Buggy outside of Rocket Town. The search for Sephiroth in Mount Nibel and the reactor there was a dead-end, leaving them to try and find out where he had gone further north. There were a few small villages on this side of the continent, but it was still a stretch to guess where that was. And they were low on supplies since they couldn't restock in Nibelheim without being spotted and reported.

Not that it mattered with how fast they had to leave after she fell into Hojo's trap. That was a mistake on her part. One that she was frankly embarrassed about, since it reinforced what Kunsel had said that night about her judgment being compromised. Someone in her role, where she had to make decisive and clear decisions, could not afford to blunder there.

"Finally!" Yuffie climbed out of the Buggy first and stretched her arms and legs. "It's kind of cramped in there with so many people now."

Crimson didn't deny that, but there was nothing to be done about it. "One group will go shopping for supplies, another will ask the residents if they've seen any sign of Sephiroth, and the other will make Inn reservations. We'll meet up after the sun goes down, to give everyone enough time."

"I call shopping!" Yuffie said.

"Only if two people go with you, otherwise no." She noticed Yuffie pouting at that. "We can't have a repeat of what happened in Costa del Sol and we need a lot of supplies, so someone with muscle has to go as well."

"I'll go keep her in check," Barret said. He had a cloak draped over his shoulder similar to Vincent to cover up his gun-arm, since it was too distinctive. Not many people would be comfortable seeing it alone, but combined with his height and his attitude, it sent up warning flags. "Need to check on Marlene anyway."

"I'll go with you as well. I need to pick up some new clothes," Aerith added as she pointed down to her dress. It had gotten torn somewhere along the way when they descended the mountain.

Nanaki sniffed the air and climbed out next. "I shall search the surrounding lands for any scent matching those in the manor and hunt for myself."

"Take someone with you," Crimson said. "It'll be safer that way and they'll have a PHS so you can remain in contact with us if something comes up."

"…I'll accompany him," Vincent offered. "I have no need for anything in town."

That was probably for the best. Given what Vincent told them, he needed next to nothing in the town and could keep up with Nanaki. If there was anything the both of them couldn't handle out here, which wasn't likely at present unless Shinra marched the remnants of their army to the town, they could flee easy enough and send word.

That left Tifa, Crimson, and Cloud behind to either gather information or set up reservations. Since she needed some time to herself and was momentarily avoiding him, Crimson decided to handle the reservations. "I go get things set up at the Inn. You two look into asking around."

"….Right." Cloud looked as though he had something else he wanted to say, but decided against it. He departed with Tifa, leaving Crimson all alone.

She set out to the Shanghai Inn, the largest one in the town. After she confirmed that they did allow for exotic pets, so that Nanaki didn't have to sleep outside again, she went to the room. Lying down in the bed, she covered her eyes and tried to sort things out—beginning with when she started feeling attracted to Cloud and to what extent.

She started looking after him for two reasons. The first was because he was Zack's friend, someone he died to protect. The second was because all of his misfortune could be traced back to the company, just one of the things she turned a blind eye to under the belief that she was making things better for others until confronted on it, and she wanted to help him.

Then there was Costa del Sol, when she felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on his nice, firm arms. It was purely accidental, but she had admitted to herself that he matched her definition of an ideal body-type. She supposed that would be the source of her physical attraction, but what about emotional?

Cloud wasn't funny and outgoing like Zack was, that much was clear. But Cloud probably knew her better than Zack did in terms of the secrets that they kept. Even with all of the ugly things that she had been a part of, Cloud never once blamed her for the misfortune that befell him because of the company, even when it would be easy to do. That helped make things more bearable, giving her solid footing when she needed it.

His presence was also proof that she was making a difference. It gave her an anchor, a sense of self-worth and a path to follow that she wasn't sure she'd be able to find. At the same time, seeing the rare moments when he was happy made her happy, and she hated seeing him upset. The thought of being injured or humiliated in front of him made her embarrassed when she normally wouldn't mind, meaning that his opinion of her held more weight to her than anyone else.

She was most comfortable around Cloud too. The only other person who she even came that close to being completely at ease around was Aerith, who was probably the best friend she'd ever had to this point. She even told Aerith at the Gold Saucer that she'd be able to do nearly anything as long it was for his sake with no regrets, even if he never knew about it.

Factoring those in… Yeah, too many of her feelings and motivations were tied to him. Of course she would start feeling this way. It was stupid and ruinous considering their circumstances, and she could only curse herself for not being able to tamper down on it sooner.

Crimson resolved to keep it to herself. That would be for the best, all things considered. She sat up in bed when her PHS buzzed in her pocket on vibrate, leaving her to look down at the number. It was Cloud.

She took a deep breath and squashed down her emotions before she answered, in order to avoid giving away anything. There was no reason to bother him with this. "Did you find something out about Sephiroth?"

"No," he said. "It's… well, there's talk going on around here that Rufus Shinra is coming."

That… took a moment to wrap her head around. "Seriously? Why?"

"Apparently he's on his way to Rocket Town tomorrow," Cloud continued. "He's scheduled to meet with someone they call the 'Captain' here, according to the locals."

"Okay, I'll head out and do some digging into that as well," she told him. "Keep looking into Sephiroth and send word to the others. If you hear anything else memorize it for when we all gather again later tonight. "

"Got it."

Crimson sighed when he hung up and laid the phone on the bed. If it wasn't one thing it was another. She rubbed the bridge between her eyes and then pulled herself together. There was information to be gathered.