Disclaimer: The Final Fantasy series is not mine, and I make no financial gains by use of the property.
For as long as he could remember, Cloud had been able to speak with Gods. It started with vague voices, distant and nonsensical, usually occurring when he was alone and at peace. At age six he encountered the voice of the famed God native to the mountains around him, Nibel. At the time, Cloud had been tracking an animal that had eaten some of his Mother's kale. He had ventured much too far into the woods nearby, and it was fast approaching dark. Carefully scanning the blanket of snow and foliage, Cloud cautiously felt something welling inside of him. He sat with his back against an old, strong oak tree. His breathing became slow and steady, and a sudden lightheadedness made this moment akin to a dreamscape.
You cross paths with those unseemly.
Clutching onto consciousness and these strange words, Cloud closed his eyes. Despite being young, he intuitively knew this voice was not being heard from his ears. He knew this voice had spoken to him before, and he was never able to understand the words.
The darkness is rising, and you must take shelter.
In a sudden shiver of panic, young Cloud recognized that he had strayed far from the path. He couldn't recall how long he had been tracking, what direction he had set himself on, or where the sun was last showing its rays. Cobalt eyes opened to the sky; it was a blank sheet of dark grey. The wild beasts hadn't made appearances for hours, and he knew the wolves reigned the land beyond his town. He strained his ears for the dew birds his mother had pointed out to him years before.
Cloud knew the signs. A blizzard was coming. The blond boy stood, brushed the snow off his legs, as well as the voice he heard a mere minute ago, and took off at a dead run in the direction he thought he came from. The skeleton trees blurred together as he looked desperately for the light of his town, not acknowledging an innate fear that this way was the wrong one. Small feet created holes in the snow large enough to delay his speed, and Cloud could not stop tears from gathering and falling.
Seek the bramble, young one.
Bramble? Bramble bushes? Cloud peered left and right until he spotted a knot of brown in the otherwise white terrain. The blizzard had come during the mad dash for home, and it seemed the storm was close. Taking a moment to turn up his tan hood, Cloud pushed his arms over his eyes and headed toward the bush. It was thorny, and wouldn't bear flowers until early spring, but it was most certainly bramble. Beyond it laid a vast whiteness that Cloud couldn't see past. Dejectedly, he sat down and allowed frustration and fear to overwhelm him.
If you give in to your failures and your fears, you will never find home.
'I want to go home', the young boy responded, 'I want to go home and I don't know the way.'
I have shown you the way.
Cloud scanned the vastness once again, seeing absolutely nothing. 'There's nothing there.'
That you can see. Go forward and you will find home.
Suddenly, the lightheadedness was gone and the presence curiously absent. The result was like waking from a bad dream. In a burst of courage and stubbornness, Cloud trekked straight into the dark. The determined boy pushed himself until he slammed straight into something hard. In confusion and light irritation, he raised his hand to the object. It was flat and felt like wet wood. Brows furrowing, his hands followed the structure around a bend.
Torches were lit in the town square, and a group of men were doing their best to keep them lit. Miss Lindra scurried from the general store, where she worked, to the town's only inn. It also seemed to be the only building with power, judging from the lights he could see inside.
He was home.
When he hurried into the warm arms of his relieved mother, no time was wasted in relaying the epic adventure that had taken place. There were some embellishments here and there, but he kept the voice's instructions the same.
"He saved me Mom! I wouldn't have known where to go without his advice."
Slowly stirring a beef stew on the stove, Cloud's Mother took a few moments to process her son's story.
"Cloud, please get me the bundled rosemary."
Sighing, Cloud climbed atop the counter and looked up at the drying herbs. Which was which? He grabbed one and sniffed it, immediately recognizing it as lavender. He recalled rosemary being more leafy and less flowery. He picked a small, long leaf from a branch and inhaled. Rosemary.
"Here." Cloud offered the bundle to his mother. She quietly took it and began breaking a few leaves with a mortar and pestle. "Mom," Cloud started again, "…what do you think?" Mrs. Strife smiled briefly at the boy and added the ingredient to her broth.
"I think you were visited by the God Nibel," She tapped his nose affectionately, "Generations ago, our family used to worship him and keep his shrine. He was said to negotiate with the snow goddess Kaguya whenever there was a snowstorm in our town's path. The prayers of our town would wake Nibel and send him on a journey to redirect the storm. That's why the dew birds chirp even though they are in the midst of a blizzard; they have a pact with him. Could you get some more wood for the stove?"
Huffing at the interruption, Cloud picked up branches from the spare counter and threw them into the fire. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, Cloud turned back to his mother, "So others have heard him too?" His mother chuckled at his wide-eyed expression.
"No, but if there were anyone here worthy enough to hear him, it would be you."
He was late. He was late and his commander was going to kill him. Spiky blond hair was hurriedly brushed down by glove-clad hands as he rounded yet another corner, thankful no one had been there to discipline him for running in the halls. Running was replaced by awkward hopping as he, rather ungracefully, maneuvered a ShinRa authorized cadet boot onto a bare foot. If he kept running, he could make it to his 5am endurance training.
"Spike! Hey, slow down!" A hand tugged at the scruff of his uniform, effectively driving him backwards and into a warm, and rather unwanted, man hug. "What's up? I haven't seen ya' in a minute."
Cloud, trying his hardest to exercise patience, gently removed himself from his best friend, "Zack, I would love to talk right now, but I'm going to be late for endurance."
The First Class barely had a chance to open his mouth before Cloud went speeding down the hallway. Standing in the quiet building allowed him a few seconds of reflection. As of late, his cadet had been, what? Distracted? Tired? MIA? He had always suspected Cloud was hiding something, but the past few weeks had been beyond suspicious.
He'd caught him in Angeal's garden last week, just sitting there. He waited in confusion for ten minutes before realizing that Cloud wasn't going to do anything interesting any time soon. A few days before that, he had gone to the blond's barracks only to hear that he'd been gone for hours the night prior and came back looking worse for wear. He'd taken off at the crack of dawn again, confusing his bunk mates. As his best friend, that information made Zack uneasy. Just yesterday, he'd tried to corner Cloud after lunch. Cloud had obviously seen him, but made of show of pretending not to before slipping out the back doors of the cafeteria. What was going on?
"Don't think too hard, puppy. You'll hurt yourself. Are you feeling blue? " Commander Rhaspodos clasped a hand on Zack's shoulder, "Do you want me to ask Angeal for your favorite squeaky toy?" He drawled out in a husky, yet unmistakably patronizing tone.
The effect was immediate.
"Get away from me, Genesis," irritated blue eyes snapped at him, "I'm not in the mood." He headed in Cloud's direction, fully intent on spying on his secretive cadet and ignoring his mentor's poor choice of a best friend.
He was getting tired of this place.