Yes, yes, I know, I know, this one's been a long time comin'. I apologize. :'(
Just remember this: we are all fans of Square. We should all be able to deal with long delays by now, right?
Special shout-out to Earmuffed Amazon who helps me cut the mold off of my cheese (that's a metaphor).
The Place Where There is Water.
Now with his horn Assallam 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
Barret made his way down the street and began the descent into the slums. Yuffie and Red XIII followed, with the light of Red XIII's tail slowly chasing away the blackness.
It was very slow going. Barret slipped and slid and cursed at the mud and the rain.
"Difficult for humans?" Red XIII asked.
"Humph," was all Barret managed in reply.
Yuffie gave a loud, "Ha!" before replying, "Maybe for Barret it is, but for us ninjas? Piece of cake!"
"Oh really?" the beast asked in amusement.
Yuffie nodded and gave a slight bow. "Observe." With that Yuffie took off ahead of her comrades, prancing and skipping down the steep slope as she went.
"Don' trip, now!" Barret called after her in sarcasm.
Now near the bottom of the slope, Yuffie quickly spun around and stuck out her tongue. It was then that her feet both slipped out from under her and she went down, catching herself with her right hand on the ground, both feet spread out wide to her sides.
The young ninja's eyes went wide as she realized she had just averted disaster. She quickly recovered from her mishap when the other two approached, however, smiling at them and raising her left hand in the air to pose.
"Ta da! I made it!"
Barret slid to a halt in front of her. "What you talkin' about? You slipped."
"Did not! I did that on purpose! It's called a pose!"
"No, it's called pretendin' to pose to hide your sorry ass slippin' in the mud."
Yuffie leapt to her feet. "Shut your trap!" She stuck her tongue out again.
Both Barret and Red XIII chuckled and walked past her, leaving the girl fuming.
"It was really a pose!"
Barret's cell phone rang and he laughed as he reached into his pocket to get it. "Whatever. Yo!"
Yuffie pouted as she crossed the few feet between them, but stopped when she saw the look on Barret's face. Red XIII had his ears perked and was listening intently.
"No, no' yet, but we think we're close. We'll head back as soon as we find 'er. Jus' hold on 'til then. Later." He hastily hung up the phone and put it back in his pocket.
"What's up?" asked Yuffie.
"Denzel jus' had an attack. We need ta find Tifa, stat."
Yuffie gasped as Red XIII put his nose back to the ground. "This way!"
The three of them took off again as fast as they could across the remains of sector five, calling out wildly to their missing friend and each wondering just how the night could possibly get any worse.
"Hello?" Tifa called into the darkness of the back room, but there was no response. Whatever the creature was that she saw, it was long gone from this place.
Even still, Tifa found herself filled with a curiosity that she couldn't seem to shake off. There had to be something in this church for her; something that could perhaps give her the answers she sought.
In the two years since the first defeat of Sephiroth Tifa had never taken the time to thoroughly explore this church. She knew Cloud had, but he never seemed to like talking about it.
To her left was the bottom flight of a wooden staircase that led up to the rafters of the sanctuary. Much of the upper part of the wall in this room had fallen in, and Tifa could tell, even in the darkness, that the stairs caved in partially only a few feet up; no doubt caused by meteor two yeas ago. There would be no way to get up there.
So there's no point going that way, she concluded upon surveying the structure.
To her right, however, was a doorway. It immediately caught her eye when she turned around, and instinctively she made her way over.
Tifa very gingerly tried the handle of the door and found that it opened. She made her way inside slowly, checking for hazards in the darkness. But this room, it seemed, had been spared any damage from when meteor had come and caused the pieces of the plate to fall in on itself.
The water's soft glow that had filled the sanctuary seemed to drift in shortly after she entered, and it didn't take long for her eyes to adjust and allow her to see the contents of the room. Sitting on a table in the center was an old oil lamp. Upon checking a few of the drawers built into one of the sides she found a pack of matches and lit it, allowing herself more light to see by.
Tifa lifted the lamp and used it to look around the room. There really wasn't much to see besides upturned chairs and ripped up cushions, dust and cobwebs, and fragments of glass from a chandelier that had hung from the ceiling.
These Tifa bent down to search through, lifting the items and carefully stepping over the glass so as not to cut her feet. She let out a breath of disappointment when lifting the tattered remains of an old plastic tarp off of a couch revealed nothing.
She returned to the table in the middle of the room and began ruffling through the drawers on its sides only to find old pens, pencils, matches, and various other papers that meant nothing to her. Upon lifting the lamp for another look around the room, however, she noticed a bookshelf in the far corner of the room. Her interest piqued, Tifa made her way over to it.
Using the light of the lamp, she slowly read the spines of each book, pulling out the ones with nothing written to see the covers. There were a few bibles, various hymnals, and other religious texts of the same nature.
Tifa frowned. Every church contained these very same things. She wasn't sure just how these books were supposed to help her. But just as she was beginning to consider the idea of leaving, she noticed another book near the bottom of the shelf.
It was definitely older than the rest, with stains on the fabric-bound cover and strings hanging off in shreds. There was no writing on either the spine or the cover. Tifa took the book over to the table and set it down to read.
She flipped through the pages, hoping to find some clue as to what this book was about. On one of the pages in the beginning a name jumped out at her: Shamagim. That's what the wolf had called this place.
"Could this be…?" Tifa didn't finish as realization dawned on her like the morning.
The slums of Midgar were all comprised of eight villages that had, long ago, formed an alliance and built one large city. Each village had been assigned a number and designated as a sector. No one knew the original names of the villages. There were no records of life before Midgar.
But this book contained just that; records. Very old property records. All of them were hand-written.
Flipping back to the beginning, Tifa again found the page where she first saw Shamagim. It was part of a list of eight different names:
The first thought to cross Tifa's mind was why it was that she found the book. It had to mean something, and the only one she could think of who could tell her was the wolf. She looked wildly around the room and found a torn piece of the old tarp that had covered the couch. She quickly wrapped the book up in the tarp and proceeded to leave the room with it.
On her way out of the church Tifa saw the wolf. It had taken up position at the main entrance, where it lay staring out at the rain. Tifa walked up to where she had left her shoes by the door.
"So you are still here," she said as she sat down and slid on her right shoe.
The animal looked at her, but didn't reply.
She began to tie the laces. "I found a book back there. I think it was about the village that used to stand here."
The wolf looked at her again.
"That is it, isn't it? It had a bunch of property records."
Is that so?
She began to tie her left shoe. "Yeah. I mean, that's what it looked like to me. I didn't read the whole thing yet, though."
Tifa paused and looked at the wolf. "You were hoping I would find it, weren't you?"
It helps that you did.
"Where exactly are you leading me here? When am I gonna start getting some answers?"
The wolf looked back out at the rain.
Not my place.
Tifa sighed. "Yes, I know, you've made that clear. But it would make things so much easier if I had some shred of hope to hold on to."
Hold on tightly. Don't let go.
Tifa felt her temper begin to slip again. "What, so I can wake up tomorrow just to find out that you couldn't convince these so-called 'judges' of yours and that Cloud isn't coming back and that there's no cure for Denzel? Why do you have to talk in riddles?"
None shall be left behind.
Tifa shook her head. "There you go again."
Her head jerked up at the sound of a familiar voice calling her name.
"YO, TEEF! Where the hell you at, girl?"
She rose to her feet and peered out the church doors and into the darkness. Not too far away she could make out a glowing flame and three figures; two human and one not.
You're friends came to find you.
"Yeah, they did."
"Blessings?" Tifa asked.
But when she turned her head the wolf had disappeared.
She quickly glanced around the church for a sign but saw nothing.
"Wait! You can't leave me like this! I still have so many questions!"
But the church was silent save for the sound of the rain splashing into the pool through the roof.
Exasperated, she sank to her knees, grabbing the book and hugging it tightly to her.
"You better let him come back to me."
"Do you hear me? Take that message to your 'judges'!"
She turned her head slightly so as to see the figure of the girl standing in the doorway.
"Omigod! Tifa! Tifa!" Yuffie cried as she ran around to her front. She kneeled down and seized her friend by the shoulders. "Are you okay?"
Tifa looked up at her. "Yeah, I'm…I'm fine."
"Barret! Nanaki! In here!" With that Tifa heard the soft pat of Red XIII's paws followed by the loud stomp of Barret's boots.
"The hell you doin', girl? Makin' me drag my ass out here after ya. You're gonna catch a goddamn cold in the rain like this," said Barret.
"I'm sorry," she replied meekly. "I hope you don't get sick, too."
Yuffie gave a snort of laughter at the comment and Red XIII lightly chuckled. Barret merely narrowed his eyes.
"I don' get colds. I knock them suckas on their ass. They can't touch me," he replied.
Yuffie and Red XIII each gave a small chuckle at that comment, but he paid them no mind. His attention now was focused on Tifa, and he thought that he could tell, in the dim light of Red XIII's tail, that she might have managed a small smile. He walked forward and reached his hand out to her.
"Now get up. You got worried kids waitin' on ya. One of 'em needs ya now."
"Now?" she asked.
"Denzel ain't feelin' too hot." A look of worry flashed across her face. Barret continued, "He's okay, but we need ta get back."
Tifa looked up at the man before her, then took his hand and allowed herself to be lifted to her feet. Without saying a word, Barret took her jacket out from under his poncho and wrapped it around her, pulling the hood up over her head.
"You really had us goin', ya know that."
Tifa looked at the ground and nodded her head. "Yeah."
"Oh Tifa!" was all Yuffie managed to say before the petite girl flung herself upon her friend and wrapped her in her ams. The two embraced, and then Yuffie hastily helped Tifa get her arms through her jacket.
"You're making me feel like a little kid," Tifa joked.
"Well, we all need to be taken care of some times, right?" asked Red XIII.
"Yeah! And…I don't mind. It's the least I can do!" Yuffie chimed in.
Tifa managed a small smile and looked down again. "Thank you, and…I'm sorry."
The other three didn't respond, but merely looked at her.
"I shouldn't have run off like that. I guess…I just needed out. It was too much." She raised her head and looked at them. "I just always thought that, out of anyone, in the end…" her voice cracked and she looked down again.
This time, it was Barret who approached her. He placed a hand on either one of her shoulders. "Yo, Teef."
Tifa lifted her head once more, beginning to cry again. "I just always figured he'd be the last one standing." She leaned into Barret as she cried. Taken by surprise, he awkwardly hugged her close as she began to sob into his shoulder. Yuffie came up and hugged them both, while Red XIII rubbed his head on Tifa's leg like a cat.
The four of them stood there like that for a long while until Tifa's muffled sobs began to lighten from exhaustion.
"I got a message from Marlene," said Barret.
"What's that?" Tifa asked.
"She said she saw Aerith."
Tifa pulled away and looked up at him.
"Yeah. She referred to her as 'The Flower Girl,' but that really couldn't be anyone else, right?" Yuffie smiled.
Tifa stood silent for a moment, reflecting on what they said.
"Yeah, I think…" She turned and looked down at the opposite end of the sanctuary. "But I still don't quite understand what it all means."
"Huh?" Barret and Yuffie asked in unison.
"I saw a wolf. It lead me here, and it talked."
"Like Nanaki?" asked Yuffie.
"I am not a wolf," Red XIII said in defense.
"What are you then?" the ninja inquired, but was quickly shushed by Barret.
"No. It was a normal wolf. ("I am normal, just not a wolf," added Red XIII.) I…I was upset. I…was talking to the rain. I think it was replying to what I was saying. Maybe."
"What did it say?" asked Barret.
"A lot of things. And I'm so confused."
"What were you saying?" came Yuffie.
"I…I was asking that..." Tifa paused.
"You do not need to say it if you really don't want to," Red XIII interrupted, slowly walking forward and beginning to sniff around. "Well, I certainly don't smell any wolf, but…how strange."
"What?" Tifa asked.
The beast looked up at her. "It's almost like some type of flower." He sniffed again, and looked back at her. "Yes, definitely more of a floral scent."
"There used to be flowers in this church. They grew wild in a hole in the floor."
"So wait, this is the church?" Yuffie asked.
"This was her church. And I…I found a book here." She lifted it up for the others to see. "I think it's a record of something important."
The three humans stood there in silence for a few moments starring at the book. They might have stood there even longer, though, if Barret's cell phone hadn't started ringing. He hastily dug his hand in his pocket and pulled it out, recognizing the number of The 7th Heaven.
The other three stood there watching him, listening to the conversation.
"What? Okay, hang on, we'll be there soon. Yeah, we found 'er. We're on our way back. Later."
"What's wrong?" asked Yuffie.
Barret looked at Tifa. "It's Denzel."
Her eyes went wide. "How is he?"
"'E's asleep, but it sounds bad. It's gettin' worse. We better get back."
Tifa shook her head. "How could I do this?"
"It wasn't you, Tifa. But we can worry about it later. Right now Denzel needs you," said Red XIII.
She stared at the animal before replying. "Yeah, let's go."
No longer crying, Tifa moved through the slums with renewed vigor, spurred on by the thought that one of her charges was at home, sick and in pain, needing her care. The steep slope seemed like nothing to her, and the streets of Edge were all a blur. The group ran nearly the entire way there.
When they finally arrived, Tifa threw off her coat without even noticing where it landed and immediately made her way up the stairs to the bedroom at the very top. Waiting for her there were Cid, Vincent, and Cait Sith, along with Marlene who was sitting in a small chair next to one of the beds. In the bed in question lay Denzel, unconscious, the bandage over his forehead soaking through with black liquid.
"Tifa!" began Cid, but she didn't hear him. She was acting on pure motherly instinct now. The only thoughts occupying her head were thoughts of the young boy before them.
Tifa sat down on the edge of the bed opposite Marlene. "Denzel?"
"I'm sorry, Tifa. The black stuff keeps ruining the bandages. I can't make it stop. I keep changing it but…"
Tifa lifted her right hand and placed it on Marlene's cheek. "Shh. It's all right, sweetie. You're doing a good job." She could tell that the girl had been crying.
Marlene nodded. "I bandaged him up just like you taught me."
Tifa smiled reassuringly. "I'm very proud of you." Marlene smiled back.
"Tifa?" came a faint voice from between them.
"I'm here, Denzel, everything is fine. I'm sorry for leaving you like that."
"It's okay," he replied. Hearing the boy say that nearly broke her heart.
She took his nearest hand in hers and kissed the knuckle. "Just get some rest now, okay? I'm not going to leave you again."
Denzel nodded and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep almost immediately.
Tifa stood up from the bed and made her way to the door. "I need to change," was all she said.
She made her way out the door past the others, turned, and went into her own room, which resided on the top floor next to the kids'. She quickly removed her wet clothes, put on a dry outfit, and grabbed a towel she had laying on her bed. When she reentered the stairway, she noticed that everyone had moved downstairs. She followed.
"Hey, Cid," she began in a tired and empty tone, rubbing the towel over her hair, "Would you mind making some hot tea, please?" It was hard to believe sometimes, but he did make some of the best tea she'd ever tasted. A skill he no doubt learned from his fiancé, Shera, a woman Tifa had always liked.
"Sure thing," he replied. "What kind?"
"Surprise me," her voice trailed off as she went back up the stairs.
The horizon had begun to grow lighter before anyone had been able to get to sleep. The kids were tucked away in their beds, Tifa and Yuffie had both crammed into Tifa's, and Vincent had taken the spare bed in the delivery office while Barret and Cid slept on the couch and recliner in the living room. Red XIII curled up on a rug in front of the couch, and Cait Sith, who had been powered down for the night, was tucked in with Marlene, who had grown quite fond of the stuffed, mechanical cat.
The alarm went off early for Tifa. She hit the reset button and rolled out of the bed and into her slippers. Almost immediately Yuffie gave a loud snore, flopped over onto her back and took up the entire space. Tifa gave a small laugh.
However, that laugh died when she got downstairs and glanced into the main room of the bar as she walked past. There, still sitting on the same table, were the swords. She might have been able to convince herself that none of the previous night's events had ever happened if it wasn't for them staring her in the face.
She felt her eyes sting with tears, but she fought them off and made her way to the bar telephone. Sitting beside it was a small book where she wrote important phone numbers. She opened it and traced a list until she came to the one she wanted: the clinic where she had been taking Denzel for his illness. The reception desk would be open by now, and she needed to get Denzel in for an evaluation. The attack he had the night before was the worst he'd had since he first arrived at the bar.
Tifa found herself saying a small prayer in her head.
Please don't take Denzel, too.
"City of Edge Medical Center. How may I help you?" asked an overly cheerful voice on the other end of the line. Tifa was so wrapped up in her musings that she jumped at the sound.
"Oh, um, uh, I need to make an appointment. With Doctor Cartwright. For Denzel."
"Well, unfortunately it looks like there aren't any more openings today. We've been getting a lot of calls already this morning."
Of course, Tifa thought. People were probably frantic to be checked by a doctor who could confirm that they were cured, or maybe give them hope if they weren't.
"But, if you're calling with a concern involving geostigma, you might as well just come on down."
"What? But you said," Tifa didn't finish.
"Lot's of funny things going on this morning, what with that rain and all. I assume you are calling about the rain."
"Y-yes, yes I am."
"Well, if you want to get in today, just come on down and wait in the lobby and someone should be able to see you at some point. But I've gotta warn you, it's already turning into a mad house down here."
Tifa tried to imagine the sight. The "City of Edge Medical Center" was a lot smaller than what its name let on. The two short years since Meteor had not yet allowed the town to acquire an adequate hospital.
"Is that okay with you?" the voice asked. "I could make an appointment but we're all booked for the next couple of days."
"No, we should be fine. We'll take our chances and make our way down there and wait."
"Okay then. Have a nice day now. Buh-bye!"
Tifa hung up the phone and then turned to survey the bar. She didn't think she'd be able to handle dealing with any customers today, so most definitely it would remain closed. It was mostly all tidy and clean, except for the chard blades sitting on the table in the center of the room.
Should she just leave them there? She didn't know what else she should do with them. Yet they couldn't just sit there. So she decided that perhaps they would be best off in his room. Tifa took the dark fabric and wrapped the blades up the best she could. One bundle alone was fairly heavy for her; she still sometimes marveled at just how strong Cloud really was.
Tifa opened the door as quietly as she could so as not to awaken Vincent, but to her surprise she saw that he was already awake and pulling on his shirt.
"You're up early," he commented.
"I could say the same for you." Vincent didn't reply to this, but merely grunted and grabbed his red cape.
"What are you doing with those?" he finally asked as Tifa set the swords down in a corner of the room.
"Well, I figured they really shouldn't stay in the bar, and, this is his room and all."
"Hmm," was all he managed in reply.
"I need to go get the rest."
"I'll get them," Vincent interrupted. "You look like you need more sleep."
"I'm awake now." With that he was out of the room, leaving Tifa to stand there, bewildered. His personality really could be very surprising at times.
Tifa took this moment to glance around the room, looking at all the things that Cloud had left behind when he took off. Her eyes eventually stopped upon his desk, and the framed photograph that sat there. It was a picture they had taken with the kids not that long ago. She walked over and picked it up, staring at every detail.
Her eyes began to sting again, causing her to hastily put the frame down. Vincent reentered the room carrying the rest of the swords and placed them in the corner by the others. He turned to leave again, but Tifa stopped him.
"Are you awake now? 'Cause Yuffie has…kind of taken over my bed, so…"
"Then sleep here."
"And could you…wake me in two hours?"
"I will." And once again, he was out of the room.
Tifa closed the door and crawled into the bed. It was a fairly small bed, with a black tube frame, and the mattress was thin with no box beneath it, but it was surprisingly comfortable. She curled up in the blankets and lay there for a while with her eyes closed, unable to fall asleep quite yet.
This bed, as odd as the thought sounded to her from the moment it popped into her head, felt like Cloud. To the untrained eye it could appear to be too hard to sleep on, yet once you gave it a chance it was soft enough to be comfortable. He had once said that it was good enough for him, since he really didn't need anything more to be able to sleep at night. Cloud was always that way with everything. Everything except his beloved Fenrir model motorcycle.
Tifa thought back to the day he'd brought it home. Earlier that day, he had called her to discuss just how long someone could live for free at The 7th Heaven. She had groaned like a mother on the brink of giving in to her child's desperate pleading for a new toy.
"Standard military issue back during the war with Wutai, but ShinRa stopped making them after it was over. It can have a mounted weapon rack, and it's capable of switching into reverse on the fly," He had explained to her the day he'd brought it home.
"But…" she remembered asking him, "Where is the weapon rack?" Cloud's Fenrir didn't seem to have one.
"It was damaged and needed to be removed. There's a place outside of town that sells the parts needed to make a new one," Cloud had replied.
She folded her arms and cocked her eyebrows at this statement.
"So you're going to spend even more money on it?"
Cloud went silent then, and began scratching the back of his head; a sure sign that he was feeling embarrassed.
"Well…my deliveries take me to dangerous places. I need my swords. My halter can't hold them all."
"You need all of them?"
"There will be room in there for packages, too. And the back seat lifts up for storage as well."
"So you got this thing strictly for business reasons?"
To the untrained ear, Cloud would have sounded completely serious and all business during the entire conversation. But Tifa knew better. She had spent entirely too much time with him to not suspect there was a little more to it.
Tifa couldn't help but smile at her memories of the day. If only everyone could see the side of Cloud that she sometimes saw. As serious and aloof as he oftentimes was, when it came to motorcycles, he would talk about them with the smallest hint of child-like excitement that only she seemed to be able to detect.
She even remembered how, when they were kids growing up in Nibelheim, Cloud had a small dirt bike he would ride around town and up in the hills. That is, until the day a group of local bullies had decided it would be fun to ride it themselves, and then run it off a cliff when they were done. A couple of those kids had been her friends, and they had always picked on Cloud when they were children. Not once had she ever stepped in to put a stop to it.
Tifa rolled over in the blankets, trying to think of something more positive.
Another interest Cloud had had was materia. Normally being a man to get straight to the point, Cloud could sometimes stray uncharacteristically away from his point when trying to explain to her all the intricate details of how the magical spheres worked, usually wanting to explain to her some other aspect related to the topic before moving on. Tifa laughed at how a of couple times he'd actually stopped and, very sheepishly, asked her what it was he was talking about in the first place.
However, he was always straight and to the point when explaining it all to Barret. But then, Barret never really understood materia theory all that much, and Cloud had never had the patience to go into the intricate details with him the same way he had with her.
Tifa even remembered how Cloud had told her that back when he first went off to join the military he'd tested out of the first level in the required theory of materia class, and that it was this reason that allowed him to meet his friend Zack. Zack, it seemed, was none-too-good at materia theory, as were a lot of other candidates for SOLDIER.
Sadly, a superior knowledge of materia theory wasn't what moved a person up in the ranks of SOLDIER. In fact, many moved on without knowing anything at all besides basic use.
Tifa rolled over again and smiled to herself. Thinking back she didn't care about any of Cloud's shortcomings or failures. No matter what achievements he made, if he wasn't the same person she knew today, it wouldn't matter. She liked his strengths, but more so his quirks. Quirks like motorcycles, materia, and swords.
All in all, he was just a typical guy.
But the swords…
Tifa's eyes flashed across the room to where Cloud's six blades resided in the corner, charred and partially melted. Beyond repair, most likely.
It didn't take long for the happy memories to have a negative effect. Tifa finally allowed herself to cry again, now that she was alone. Her tears were silent and they slowly rolled across her face and onto the pillow. Her last thoughts before she fell asleep were of the wolf. Why had it taken her to the church? Why was she expected to find the book? What did it all mean?
Was Cloud alive?
And that is part four.
If you noticed, I took a couple liberties with the plot. Keep in mind that I have not yet played Dirge of Cerberus. In fact, I started writing this before it was even released, so if anything I write is disputed in that game, well, I'm sorry.
The biggest liberty, though, is the Zack one. Hey, it could have happened like that. We won't really know for sure until Crisis Core comes out and, honestly, who knows when that will happen?
I haven't played Before Crisis either, since it's a Japanese-only cell phone game. Probably never will. Makes me sad. Playing as a Turk? It's like a dream come true. :'(
And If anyone knows how it is I came up with the names of the villages I'll give you…a snarglefarf! (don't ask, my roommate made it up) Extra kudos if you get sector seven. :P