This story started out as the prologue to another that I am working on. But then it became so long-winded that I eventually decided to make it into a one-shot. Well, then it became too long for even that, and so now it is a multi-chapter story.
Disclaimer: I do not own the copyrights to Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, or the book quoted in this fic. I do, however, own any and all original content. It is expected that you, the reader, know the difference.
I'm also a dirt-poor college student and am making no money off of this! Please be nice…
The Place Where There is Water.
Now with his horn Assalam struck a barren rock, piercing it to a great depth, and drew forth a gushing spring of life. Wherever those waters flowed, fires were quenched and the Earth was made fertile with a multitude of fruitful things. Great trees rose up and blossomed, and under their shade came beasts both wild and tame. All this was by the intent of the Holy One, and the Unicorn was the instrument of His will. In such a way was formed the Garden of the Unicorn, called Shamagim, which means the Place Where There is Water.
Unicornis: On the History and Truth of the Unicorn
annotated by Michael Green
He'd done it.
"You just have to put your mind to it! A little push is what he needs, that's all!" Tifa had said to them.
Everyone on the bridge of the Sierra danced and cheered as Cid tried to yell at them all to settle down. Tifa was inclined to join in on the fun, but then something caught her eye.
A water droplet had fallen from the ceiling. The young dark haired woman looked up and stared at the new one that was forming there. She thought she saw a face reflected on the new droplet's surface. It was a smiling face, accompanied by a presence she hadn't felt in just over two years.
Tifa knew exactly who it was. Who else would it be?
"Somehow, I knew you were there. You never left us, did you?" she asked of the water droplet.
A feeling of intense joy radiated through the bridge. Tifa smiled.
"Thank you," she told the water droplet.
She turned to look out the window at the roof of the building below them. Standing upon it she could see the figure of Cloud Strife. He seemed to finally be at peace. Even from this distance, she could tell that the blonde man's head was leaning back, exposing his face to the gentle rain that fell from the sky.
It was a beautiful sight, for more reasons than one.
Tifa turned around to face her companions and finally joined in on their celebrating. She neither heard nor saw what was happening below. It wasn't until the explosion that anyone realized something was wrong.
It was a sound she and Barret knew all too well from their days as members of the anti ShinRa group AVALANCHE. The entire air ship shook and the bridge was filled with a bright light. In an instant Tifa was back at the window, Yuffie standing beside her looking just as horrified as Tifa felt.
"Cloud!" Tifa cried.
This wasn't happening. This couldn't be real.
It still didn't feel like it was. Even when, not very much later, she stood in front of the ruins of the building, staring up at the crumbling remains surrounded by the remnants of the once magnificent metropolis Midgar, which was now nothing more than a ghost city.
"I wouldn' get too close if I were you. Whole damn thing could fall apart any minute," came a voice from beside her. When she turned her head she saw that it was Cid, whose arrival had gone unnoticed by her. "Best ta leave this to the pros, huh?"
Tifa didn't reply, but merely turned her attention back to the large structure before her. The heat and vibration of the blast had caused a good part of the upper fourth of the building to cave in on itself. It was a strangely eerie site, given the location. Most the buildings around them lay in ruins as well, evidence of Meteor's impact two years previous.
It felt oddly like standing in a graveyard at night.
The comparison wasn't too far off, either. Many people had died here on that fateful day two years ago, and as the sun set in the glowing western sky, Tifa couldn't help but think that perhaps more had now, too. Including…no, she wouldn't think that. She closed her eyes and shook her head, allowing it to dip forward.
"You okay, Tifa?" asked Yuffie, who had come up on her other side opposite Cid. The girl's voice seemed small and weak, which was very unlike her usual demeanor.
Tifa opened her eyes and looked up. "Yeah."
There came the sound of footsteps, and beyond Yuffie Tifa could see the approaching figure of Reeve Tuesti, head of the W.R.O. The shift in her glance caught Yuffie's attention, and she, too, turned around to see the man. He was wearing a black raincoat, despite the rain having stopped some twenty minutes previous.
"Have your teams all arrived yet?" Tifa asked, rushing passed Yuffie and up to Reeve.
Reeve nodded. "They are all assembling down at the tent about to be briefed by the Turks."
"I still can't believe they're helping," Yuffie frowned.
"Yes, well, ShinRa has been looking for excuses to cleanse its name. Not only that, but they are the also the most highly educated on the situation at hand. We have no choice but to trust their guidance. I'm not about to send my people into such a dangerous situation without knowledge."
"Fuck! Cloud could be layin' in there and you're just a wastin' time about it!" Cid spat.
"Believe me, I'm doing the best I can. But these things can't be rushed. Not even for Cloud."
Reeve realized the harshness of his words and looked at Tifa. She lowered her head again and was surprised when she saw legs in black shoes and suit pants appear in her line of site. A gentle hand was placed on her shoulder, and when she looked up again, she saw soft brown eyes staring into her own.
"I'm sorry. It's all I can do."
Tifa swallowed hard and nodded. "I know." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Come, it's time for the briefing."
The members of the W.R.O. had hastily set up a large canopy to serve as a make-shift base furnished complete with tables, chairs and radio equipment. As the four of them made their way over to where everyone was gathered, Reeve turned to Tifa and said, "You may also want to speak with Rufus and the Turks after the briefing."
"Why is that?" she asked.
"They have some interesting news to report. Especially Rufus. Either way, you will find out in due time."
Upon reaching the tent, Tifa, Yuffie, and Cid each went over to stand off to the side with Barret, Vincent, and Red XIII. Reeve took a stance next to Rufus Shinra, who sat in a wheelchair up front.
Tseng, the leader of the Turks, stood in front of the W.R.O. workers, gesturing towards a group of surveillance photos pinned up on a bulletin board. The other usual three, Reno, Rude, and Elena, stood behind him on the sides of the board, their demeanor much more serious than Tifa had ever witnessed them to be.
"What we know about the three suspects," Tseng began, "is that their names are Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz. They are brothers, or at least claim to be. They appear to be in their upper teens to early twenties. Note the distinct silver hair and the bright green eyes that glow as if affected by mako, very similar to members of SOLDIER. Their pupils appear as slits, almost as if belonging to a cat. They are each around five-foot-seven to five-foot-ten in height and very slender, with Loz having a bit more of a muscular build."
It was then that Reno stepped in. "These three are wanted with the kidnapping of children from Edge, Junon, and Wutai ("Like they've never done that," Barret commented about the Turks under his breath.), the murder of three people at a motorcycle dealership on the southern tip of the North Continent, as well as the kidnapping and torture of two adults. It's possible they may have committed other crimes as well. They are responsible for the disturbance in Monument Square earlier this afternoon, as well as the possible death of a former member of SOLDIER barely just an hour ago."
For a moment, Tifa thought that her heart had stopped beating. Certainly she knew the circumstances, the possibilities, and the probabilities, but hearing it actually said aloud stung like a thousand needles.
And Reno wasn't even a cactuar.
The red haired Turk stepped aside as Elena came up to the board, a piece of paper held tight in her hands. "Now, we have unconfirmed reports that Kadaj may be dead, killed by a man by the name of Cloud Strife." At this, Elena turned and pinned the piece of paper to the board, which turned out to be a surveillance photo of Cloud himself. How had the Turks gotten it?
"A former member of SOLDIER, he has blonde hair and blue eyes with the telltale glow of mako radiation. He stands at five-foot-seven with an athletic build. He was last seen at the top of this building before the explosion. It is possible that he may be with the three brothers, but in no way is he a threat. On the contrary, if alive he may be held against his will. We have no idea as of yet if any of these men are alive, and until we find a body nothing can be confirmed."
Red XIII's ears perked up as Vincent folded his arms and the other AVALANCHE member's faces grew wide. Tifa herself couldn't believe what she was hearing.
Unconfirmed? They had seen Kadaj die. Certainly he had to have died, and Sephiroth along with him. Right?
Elena withdrew to allow Rude to come forward, clearing his throat and adjusting his sunglasses. "Now, we also have unconfirmed reports of a fifth individual who may have partaken in the events that transpired an hour ago. A man you may know by the name of Sephiroth." A silent murmur spread through the crowd at these words as Elena pinned yet another photo onto the board, this one of Sephiroth himself. "The decorated war hero. Served as a general in the elite SOLDIER branch of the ShinRa military. He stands at six feet with long silver hair and green mako eyes just like the three brothers."
Rude then withdrew as Tseng once again stepped forward. "These three silver-haired men we have told you about, as well as Sephiroth, are considered armed and highly dangerous. They are highly skilled in both hand-to-hand and weapon combat and are not to be approached alone. If you encounter either of these four, call for backup immediately and do not engage until help arrives. Reeve?"
Reeve stepped forward to address the group. "There you have it. We've already lost an hour, so if these men are here and alive we need to find them. Also, it is of the utmost importance that you," Reeve looked over at the members of AVALANCHE, "find Cloud Strife alive." He looked back at the group. "He is considered to be a valuable witness…" The tone in Reeve's voice dropped. "…and also happens to be a very good friend of mine. You are dismissed."
The crowd split up into smaller teams with shouts of, "All right, you heard 'em!" and "Let's get going!" erupting from the mouths of their leaders.
Tifa and her friends, however, rushed forward towards Reeve, Rufus, and the Turks.
"'Unconfirmed reports?' The hell is that 'bout, man?" Barrett demanded.
"Hey, I'm just doin' my job, man." Reno retorted, clasping his hands behind his head.
"We saw what happened," the larger man growled, clenching his fists to intimidate the man before him.
Reno, however, was not intimidated. "What, so ya think Kadaj is dead, and Sephiroth with him? Just like how Sephiroth supposedly died two years ago? And, oh yeah, five years before that, too?"
Barret scowled, but was cut off by Vincent before he could reply. "He does have a point."
"Yes, and since it appears that the explosion in the tunnel did not finish off Yazoo and Loz, there's no telling just what it exactly it takes to kill them," Tseng added.
"But what about Cloud? You don't really think he's dead, do you?" Yuffie asked.
"Hell no. That kid can take a fuckin' beatin' and still keep right on a ticken'," Cid answered for them.
Tseng sighed. "It's nice that you all have such high hopes for your friend, but we just want to make sure we cover all the bases. We aren't jumping to any conclusions until we have the entire facts one-hundred-percent straight. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is."
Barret and Cid both glared while Yuffie bit her lip and looked toward Tifa. Tifa met her gaze for a brief instant before stepping forward to ask her own question.
"Reeve told me that you guys had some 'interesting information.' What did he mean?"
"You might wanna ask Rufus about that," Reno drawled as he cocked his head in the president's direction.
The whir of a small motor caught their attention as they all turned to see Rufus Shinra, president of ShinRa incorporated, approaching. "May I…be of some assistance?"
The rest seemed apprehensive, but Tifa approached him without hesitation. She was, admittedly, very nervous, having never directly spoken to Rufus before herself. But Tifa was never one to easily give in to fear.
"Reeve told me that I needed to talk to you. He said that you had some interesting information for me."
"He did now, did he?" Rufus seemed far too smug for the current situation. Tifa wasn't sure how to respond. But she had a feeling that he was going to toy with her first; something that she wasn't in the mood for at all.
"Out with it, will ya?" Barret finally interjected.
"Now now, where are your manners?" the president replied with a flip of his sandy-blonde hair.
"We left 'em back on my ship," Cid replied, thumbing his nose.
"Yeah!" added Yuffie.
Tifa turned to face her friends and gave them each a look that shot daggers. "Would you guys please?"
Rufus and the Turks all chuckled to themselves. "Where were you when the rain fell?"
Tifa only half turned to look at him. "We were on the airship, and then we landed and came here to find out what happened."
"You haven't talked to anyone?"
Tifa shook her head. "Just Reeve, when we called him for help."
Rufus raised his right hand and turned it so the backside was facing her. He rolled up the sleeve to reveal more skin.
"Just over an hour ago, what you would have seen here on my hand were the black markings of geostigma."
Tifa turned to face him completely while Yuffie stepped forward for a closer look.
"What happened to it?" the young ninja asked.
"The rain…washed it away," he replied, pulling his sleeve back up and lowering his arm.
"Everyone who got caught in it was cured," Elena added.
There was a moment of silence as all eyes turned to Tifa.
"I need a phone," she finally managed after a few moments.
Yuffie quickly reached into one of the pockets on her vest. "Here, use mine."
Tifa took Yuffie's cell phone and quickly dialed the private line at the 7th Heaven. It rang a few times before the answering machine picked up.
It was the voices of two laughing children. "Hi! You've reached Tifa, Cloud…"
"We can't take your call, so PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE!" It ended with the sound of frantic giggles. The kids had made that recording a while ago, and Tifa never had gotten around to changing it when Cloud left.
Perhaps she hadn't wanted to.
She turned to walk away from the group as the machine beeped, signaling when she should begin her message.
"Denzel? Marlene? It's Tifa. If you guys are there please pick up the phone. I have…"
"Tifa!" Marlene chimed, sounding quite pleased that her caretaker was calling.
"Hey, sweetie. Are you guys all right?"
"Yeah, but Denzel doesn't feel good."
"He has a headache."
"I need to talk to him. Can you give him the phone, please?"
"Okay, hang on. DENZEL! TIFA WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!"
There were muffled sounds coming from the other end, and then the distinct sound of footsteps.
"Okay, here he is!"
"Denzel, honey, are you feeling okay?"
"No. My head hurts."
Tifa's heart sank, but hope still made her ask, "Have you been outside?"
"No. Marlene and I have been in our room."
Her heart sank even lower. "So you didn't go out in the rain at all?"
"Oh, no reason."
"When are you coming home?"
Tifa paused, thinking, but within a few seconds she made up her mind. "I'm coming home right now, okay? And Barret is coming, too, so let Marlene know, okay?"
"And Denzel? If it rains again, I want you to go outside, okay?"
"I'll explain later. Just promise me that you will. And don't cover your head."
"I don't understand."
"Just please, Denzel." Tifa tried her hardest to keep the sound of desperation out of her voice, but she wondered whether it was doing any good.
"Okay, I promise."
"All right, I'll see you in a bit."
"Hey Tifa? Is Cloud coming too?"
She closed her eyes and gave a sigh. "No. I mean, not yet. But I'll be there soon. Okay?"
"See you soon." With that, she hung up and returned to the group.
"Are things all right at home?" Red XIII inquired.
"Denzel isn't feeling well," she replied, giving Yuffie her phone back.
"He didn't go out into the rain," said Reeve, who had joined the group in her absence. It was more of a statement than a question. Tifa didn't respond.
"One of your kids has it?" asked Reno. Tifa nodded. "Whoa, tough break for you guys."
"Don't be such an insensitive jerk!" Yuffie scolded.
"Pft I'm not!"
"Reno," Tseng warned.
Reeve approached Tifa. "Go to them. We've got everything under control here."
Tifa met his eyes. In them, Reeve could see the glistening of tears. "Yeah." She then turned to Barret. "Marlene wants to see you."
Barret nodded. "Yeah, I wanna see 'er, too."
Tifa turned back to Reeve. "Let me know if you find anything. Anything."
Reeve walked over to a nearby table and opened a metal case. From within he extracted a plush mechanical cat wearing a cape and a crown. "Take Cait Sith. We can keep in better contact this way. Don't leave the bar until you hear from one of us."
Tifa took the cat in her arms and held it as a child holds their favorite stuffed animal. "Thank you. I'll see you all later."
"Later," echoed Barret.
As the two of them walked away, Yuffie yelled, "We let you know as soon as we all find Cloud! I'm sure the workers will soon!"
"Hm," came a sound from somewhere behind her. It sounded oddly like it could have been a laugh.
Behind everyone stood Vincent, facing the bulletin board and examining the surveillance photos with his arms crossed in front of him.
"Vincent?" Red XIII asked.
"What's that about?" Yuffie demanded.
"Yeah, what the fuck?" added Cid.
"You can look all you want, but Reeve isn't looking for Cloud. Neither is ShinRa."
"What?" asked Reeve.
"Now see here, Valentine…" Rufus began.
The red-cloaked man turned to face them all.
"You're looking for bodies," he said to Reeve, then turned to Rufus, "And you're looking for what's left of Jenova. You all think Cloud is dead, don't you?"
Reeve shifted uneasily. "Am I to assume that you feel the same way?"
"Hm," Vincent said again, turning back to the board and resuming his stance. "I admit that given the circumstances I don't understand how anyone could have survived."
"But Vincent!" Yuffie gasped in surprise.
"Although," he continued, "I admit that I count Cloud as a friend, and for that reason I find myself hoping it isn't true." He turned and walked through the group, making to leave the shelter of the canopy. "But I've never been one to ignore the facts."
"So you're saying that Cloud really is dead, is that it?" asked Yuffie.
"I'm saying it's a possibility."
"He…does have a point, you know," Red XIII added, a hint of sadness in his voice.
"Yeah. The idea sounds really fucked though, you know? Cloud dead?" said Reno, shaking his head. "Even I feel really weird saying it, yo."
"Indeed," replied Rude.
"Well shit…" said Cid, and for once became lost for words.
Yuffie hung her head. "Just don't tell Tifa."
"She'll find out eventually anyway," said Elena.
Yuffie shook her head, "The only thing keeping her going right now is hope!" she turned to Reeve, "You know how she is! It's one thing if they believe it," Yuffie cocked a thumb at the Turks and Rufus, "But for us to give up hope? If you all go and tell her that you think Cloud is dead it will break her heart!"
"That it will," said Vincent.
"So don't say anything until you know for sure! Until you actually find a body and know that it's him, don't say anything!"
"Yuffie, my personal opinions aren't fact. Until I have proof of everything I believe, my lips are sealed," Reeve replied.
"Well, personally, I think that us fuckin' around in here ain't helpin' things either way," said Cid.
"Yeah!" Yuffie cheered, smiling for the first time since in the explosion. "No matter what you all may think, I'm not about ready to give up. And you know, as much of a jerk as he can be sometimes, Cloud would never give up on us, either!" She then ran off after Vincent, and upon catching up to him, leaped and grabbed onto his arm, pulling to spin him around.
"Yuffie!" he said in surprise.
"And just where do you think you're going, Mr. Negativity? We've got work to do!"
Cid and Red XIII came following up behind them, Cid laughing out loud. "Well, now, what say we get ta work, huh?"
"Yeah, you guys!" Yuffie beamed. "Let's go!"
Please leave me comments. If you liked it, tell me. If you hated it, tell me. If you have nothing to say, a simple, "Hey, look, I read it!" will suffice. It's very frustrating to have a ton of hits and no reviews. It makes a girl not want to write anymore…
Not to mention the fact that Barret is so hard to write! He has a lot of lines in the next chapter.