A/N: Hi all! Gosh, it's been forever since I last updated and I am very sorry for that. I blame Real Life and writer's block. . . and laziness. T-T -is ashamed-
So, I fixed up the spelling and grammar mistakes, along with a few other things, in the prologue and the first two chapters. And I must thank my beta, Darkenigma, for helping me with that and this chapter as well. Much appreciated. :3
Thanks to everyone who read and/or reviewed chapter two. You guys are made of awesome!
Anyway, enjoy Chapter Three!
Disclaimer: I own only what is mine. everything else belongs to Q.T. and Squeenix.
"I Have Vermin to Kill"
Cosmo Area Airport
Due to the lack of commercial entertainment and the focus on cosmic, metaphysical and geocentric sciences, Cosmo Canyon was not the most popular tourist spot. In fact, most of the people who visited the out-of-the-way village were scholars, scientists, spiritual seekers and others of like mind-sets, who were interested in studying the ways of the planet and the mysteries of the Lifestream. The low tourist rate suited the residents of the remote village just fine because it insured that their peaceful and somewhat isolated way of life would remain just as it was.
Because of the infrequent trips made to the Cosmo Area, there were no regularly scheduled transports to there from any city or town. For this reason, people who decide to visit the village would have to drive or charter a private plane to the small airport, which was "conveniently located" twenty miles northwest of Cosmo Canyon, and then take the shuttle bus to the village.
Tifa err- Devon Shayne (as she identified her as to the ticket agent) stepped out of a small twin-engine charter plane and onto the tarmac of the small Cosmo Area airport after the four-hour flight from Rocket Town. Once she made sure all of her luggage was together and stowed in the storage compartment of the shuttle bus, she climbed aboard and sat in quiet contemplation as the driver guided the vehicle to Cosmo Canyon.
An hour and a half later, Tifa entered a medium sized establishment called "Cosmo Bar and Grill." She stood near the door and observed her surroundings, noting that the atmosphere was casual and comfortable. The decor had an understated tropical feel that surprisingly enough, did not come off as cheesy out-of-place tourist bait. Soft music, common to the Destiny Isles, played unobtrusively in the background. All in all, the ambiance was quiet pleasing.
Another thing Tifa found surprising was that the place was completely empty except for the bartender, who smiled at her from behind the bar. The man looked to be in his mid-fifties, though he had a body that any twenty-something would be proud to have. He was about 6'1" and very muscular, but not overly so, and appeared to be in excellent health. He had wise brown eyes, brown hair and a full beard that was ever so slightly starting to gray. Basically, he was not the type of man you'd expect to work as a bartender in a place like this.
"Hi," Tifa said almost timidly from her spot by the entrance. She stared intently at the man, as if she were looking for something.
The man looked at the young woman. She wore a white fitted T-shirt with a large picture of a Cosmo Canyon sunset on the front, dark low rider jeans and black and white sneakers. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail and she wore large black sunglasses that were still covering her eyes, even though she was inside the dimly lit restaurant. She was a new face to the Canyon and seemed nice enough. He greeted the young woman with genuine affability.
"Welcome to the Cosmo Bar and Grill," the man said with a smile.
Tifa smiled at that and walked further inside. She didn't come across as one of the world's deadliest assassins, but instead as a sweet, somewhat shy, tourist.
As she walked over and stood at the bar, a flash of orange and red caught her eye. She held her face in the bartender's direction is if she were looking at him, but behind her black sunglasses, her eyes lowered to the floor behind the bar and saw exactly what she expected to see. She smiled and shifted her eyes back to the man before her.
"Thanks, um, may I sit at the bar?" she asked.
"Oh, sure, sure. Please sit." He gestured to a stool and she took a seat. He then handed her a menu. "So, what can I get you to drink?"
Tifa glanced at the beverage section of the menu. "Uhhh, how about a ginger beer?" she asked politely.
"Coming right up." The man grabbed a glass from somewhere under the bar. "So is this your first time in Cosmo Canyon?" he asked conversationally, as he held the glass under the beer tap and filled it before setting it in front of her.
"Yes it is. It's very beautiful. So different from where I live."
"And where would that be?"
"Midgar," she said after taking a sip of her drink.
The bartender nodded knowingly. "Ah the big city, I've been there many times– uh, excuse me one moment." The man turned toward the open door that lead to the kitchen and yelled to someone back there. "We have a customer. Bring out an appetizer platter, quickly."
"I'm watching my soap operas." A younger male voice stated from the kitchen.
Tifa raised an eyebrow at the statement.
"Ah, shit. Lazy bastard . . . " the bartender groaned in irritation. "Screw your soap opera . . . Hurry up!" he yelled.
"Where is that new kid you hired? Break time ended fifteen minutes ago," the voice asked.
"She probably got tired of doing your work as well as her own and quit! Appetizers! Now!"
Tifa fought the smile that threatened to appear.
"You know today's special. Why don't you fix it yourself for once?" the faceless voice retorted.
"Shut up! Get your ass out here!" the man yelled. He turned back to Tifa and smiled sheepishly.
Tifa smiled in return to show him it was okay.
"As I was saying, I have been to Midgar many times. But I must admit, I wasn't too sad when it came time to leave. Of course, I'm not one for cities. I prefer open spaces and fresh air, but to each his own."
"I don't blame you," Tifa laughed. "This place is definitely a refreshing change of scenery."
"So, how long have you been here?"
"I arrived a couple of hours ago. How about you?" she asked and took another sip of beer.
"How long have you lived here? Are you from Cosmo Canyon?"
"Oh, I moved here some years back." The older man then remembered something. "Oh my Gods." The exasperated bartender turned to the door once again. "Tidus! What the hell happened to the appetizers? Hurry up dammit! Lazy bastard . . . "
A young man in his early-to-mid twenties, walked out of the kitchen. He was of medium height and build. He had shaggy blond hair, ocean blue eyes, well-tanned skin, and one shitty attitude. His gaze caught on the brunette beauty sitting on the opposite side of the bar.
Tifa looked at the young man. His name had caught her attention. He was attractive, no doubt, but he wasn't her type. She was over that whole 'blond haired blue eyed, smartass pretty boy' stage she had been in since the age of 15. And even if she weren't, she could never be with him, not Tidus.
"Well, well pretty lady, I'm Tidus. What can I do for you?" the young man asked with a sly grin, as he began to slink up to her in time with the particularly upbeat summery song that was coming from the restaurant's sound system at the moment.
"I'll take 'The Gigas' steak burger and mozzarella fries." Tifa replied evenly as the older man reached over the counter and slapped the blond on the back of the head, which earned him an indignant 'hey' from said blond.
Tidus eyed Tifa skeptically. "The Gigas? We call it that for a reason. You sure a tiny thing like yourself can handle it?"
Before Tifa could respond, the bartender interrupted. "Big, small, who gives a damn. Get her what she ordered."
At this point in time, the blond decided to start acting like a child yet again.
"How come I always have to get the orders? Ya know what? For ten years you got to bartend and I did the cooking. If this were the military, I'd be General by now!"
Tifa had to suppress the extremely unladylike snort that threatened to erupt at that absurd analogy.
The bartender looked at the young cook. "Oh, so you'd be General huh? If you were General, I'd be Commander in Chief, and guess what? You would still fix the goddamn meals. So shut up and go cook!"
Tidus sighed in mock dejection and shook his head dramatically. "See what I have to deal with?" he asked Tifa before heading into the kitchen to prepare her food.
Tifa rolled her eyes, a small smile played on her lips. "Some things never change." She thought to herself.
"Sorry," The poor bartender said to Tifa. He honestly wouldn't have blamed her if she'd up and left right then and there. So he had already made up his mind to give her the meal on the house. This is why the place was deserted at 3:47 in the afternoon. Because of that damn boy's lousy work ethic. Never mind that they served the best food in town, who'd want to come and wait forty-five minutes to an hour to enjoy it?! And whenever he hired someone new to pick up the slack, either they were incapable of following the recipes, or they refused to bust their asses while Tidus did nothing. And he couldn't fire the boy . . . could he?
"No. I can't. Damned last requests and dying wishes! And damn my being so dammed honorable! It's a good thing I'm not running this place for the money or I'd be cosmically screwed," he though almost bitterly. Then a voice brought him back to reality. He looked at the young woman in front of him. "Uh, I'm sorry, what?
"I asked if you were alright?" Tifa asked not even bothering to try and hide her amusement any longer.
He smiled. Something about this whole situation seemed like total déjà vu. But what was it? And this young lady, she was a lot like someone he used to know, but different at the same time. "Yes, yes, yes. Of course. So what brings you to Cosmo?"
"I came to see a couple of people." She suddenly became serious.
"Oh, yeah? You have friends in Cosmo?"
"Yes and no."
The man looked at her curiously. The previous lighthearted rapport had suddenly turned heavy and serious.
"I go way back with one of them, but the other, I've never actually met him," She elaborated.
"Mmhm." Tifa nodded, "I'm sure you've heard of them."
"May I ask who are they?"
"Red XIII and Shishou Zan."
As soon as the names escaped her lips, a loud crash was heard from the kitchen and something stirred behind the bar.
"What do you want with these people?" The bartender asked easily. His face remained friendly but his eyes were now cold.
She mirrored his expression perfectly. "I need Seto steel."
"Why do you need Seto steel?"
"I have vermin to kill."
"You must have big rats if you need Seto steel."
Tidus stood in the doorway watching the exchange with concern written all over his face. His eyes turned to the bartender as he began to speak.
"Miss, you sh – ," before the man could finish, the young woman removed her large black sunglasses and looked him dead in the eyes. Wise brown eyes met deep burgundy ones and breath caught in the throats of both men. Tidus stepped forward, gaping in complete shock. "Impossible! She . . . died . . . "
"Tifa?" The older man asked in a mix of disbelief and hope.
"Yes, Zangan," Tifa responded.
"How are you here?" Zangan asked, as he looked into the eyes of the girl he once thought of as a daughter, eyes he hadn't seen in over a decade, eyes he would know anywhere.
"You mean how am I still breathing." It wasn't a question. "I will explain everything but first– "
"First we have other things to discuss," An entirely new voice stated.
Everyone's eyes turned in the direction of the voice, which happened to come from behind the bar. Tidus and Zangan watched the figure round the bar, making himself visible to the women on the other side.
"Hello Red XIII, I'm glad to finally meet you," Tifa said, inclining her head respectfully. "I am Tifa Lockhart."
The creature known as Red XIII, sat back on his haunches and looked intently at the young woman. He had a somewhat lion-like appearance, but was only slightly larger than a big dog. His bright fiery red fur had black tribal markings located on the sides of his face and across his legs, with the addition of the symbol for thirteen tattooed in roman numerals on his left shoulder. A long scar ran down from the top of his forehead and over his right eye. Two large white and blue feathers were woven into his stiff red-brown mane that flared out at the top of his head and then traveled down to the middle of his back. Adorning his legs were three-inch wide gold metal bracelets with triangular patterns etched into them. His lithe body exuded power and grace, while his single eye shone with both great wisdom and knowledge. And although Red XIII was a sight to behold in general, the most extraordinary thing of all about him was the intense flame that lit the end of is long tail. It was cool to the touch, but seemed to burn with an inextinguishable mystic energy more powerful than any fire.
Tifa took in his form with quiet admiration.
"I am afraid I no longer go by that name. I am Nanaki of Cosmo Canyon." Red XII told Tifa in a deep and serene voice. "I have heard much about you, child. Tidus," Nanaki turned to the blond male, "Zangan and I have matters to discuss with Miss Lockhart. Please look after things here."
Tidus, who was still in shock at the situation, nodded dumbly in compliance. Tifa half expected him to object to being left out, but at the same time was not surprised when he didn't. Nanaki had an aura about him that was gentle but hinted at a fierce strength that should not be taken lightly.
"Please, follow me," the feline entity beckoned.
Tifa nodded and followed him towards the back of the restaurant.
Zangan had studied the young woman intently while she spoke with Nanaki. Yes, this really was Tifa Lockhart, the girl he practically raised, but something was off. Different. Burgundy eyes that were once warm and bright now had a cold edge to them along with something else he had hoped he would never see there. A deep hatred burned within. Her once pure soul had been tainted with the worse kind of poison. One that was all consuming and could easily bring the strongest person to their knees and eventually destroy everything around them and leave them as nothing more than an empty shell in the end. That is, if death didn't find them first. Blood lust, the thirst for revenge, was the worst poison for the soul. He had seen it before too many times to count, and the end result was always the same. A morally decrepit being whose character was so distorted from what it once was that even to those who knew them best could not recognize them anymore. And they go through their existence as little more than a shadow of their former self. Once a person reaches that point, there really was no going back. Self-destruction at its peak. He did not want that for her.
Their eyes met as she walked past him and she knew he saw her for what she now was.
He followed Nanaki and Tifa to the small corridor and staircase leading to the second floor of the building.
Tidus stood by the bar and watched the woman he once regarded as a sister disappear from view.
After ascending the stairs to the second floor, the trio walked down a short narrow hallway to the door at the very end. When they reached the door, the feline creature lifted a large paw and with unexpected ease, pulled down the handle of the door and pushed it open. He allowed the two humans to enter the medium sized room and then followed slowly behind.
The room had many handcrafted swords, guns and other weapons made of one kind of metal or another. Each piece was intricately designed and no two were the same. Wooden racks ran the length and height of the walls, only breaking for two small windows on the right side of the room and for the door they had just passed through.
Tifa walked down the row of weapons and stopped at the swords. She lightly touched the shiny wooden sheath of a katana. True, this wasn't her weapon of choice (she preferred and excelled at hand-to-hand combat) but she was more than proficient at swordplay since this was a key component in how many of the DWAS missions were carried out. It was a symbol used when the DWAS wanted to send a clear message to those who needed to be reminded of their place in the grand scheme of things. That 'place' always being far below Cloud Strife and his WEAPONs. Needless to say, their intended recipients rarely misunderstood them.
Tifa needed a sword for exactly that purpose. Cloud needed to be put in his place the hard way. Her old sword would have been great for the job but… it, along with her old life, was gone, and it was highly unlikely she'd ever see it again nor did she wish to. Still, the idea did have an appealing irony that even Cloud would appreciate.
Coming out of her thoughts, Tifa looked over her shoulder to Nanaki who stood by the door.
"May I?" She asked quietly.
"Yes, you may . . . "
Her eyes moved over each beautifully made sword. She began to reach for one.
"Try the fourth one from the top, in the sixth row to your left," Nanaki offered.
Tifa followed his suggestion and lifted the samurai sword in its shiny, black sheath from the rack.
She unsheathed the steel partially, admiring the sword's simple beauty. Then with an experienced flourish, she removed the blade from the sheath completely. She quickly, executed a series of flourishes and parries.
Zangan smiled in approval, "Some things haven't changed I see," he said after what seemed like an eternity of silence on his part.
She returned his smile with a wry one of her own then sheathed the sword.
Nanaki padded across the room and stood in front of the dark haired woman.
"I wanted to show you these . . . However someone as you, who knows so much, and who knows Zangan, must surely know that I no longer bless instruments of death. I keep these here only for their ascetic and sentimental value." He sat before her, his tail swaying lightly against the floor. "Though I am proud of my life's work . . . I have retired."
"Then give me one of these." Tifa was determined to leave this place with Seto steel and nothing was going to stop her.
"They are not for sale," he said firmly.
Tifa smirked, "I didn't say sell, I said give.
"And still the answer remains no." He stood and made to leave the room.
Tifa made to speak, but Zangan was faster, "Why is this so important?"
"I told you, pest control."
Nanaki looked over his shoulder at the persistent young human. "Tell me, why should I be obliged to assist you in the extermination of your vermin?"
Tifa stared unwaveringly into his eyes, "Because my vermin, is a former student of yours. And considering the student, I'd say you have a rather large obligation."
The creature's ears literally perked up at that statement and he turned around fully to face her head on. Zangan looked at her in disbelief.
They both scrutinized her with uncertainty, looking for any hint of dishonesty or perhaps misunderstanding on their own part.
Seeing this, Tifa clarified so there was no question as to whom she spoke of.
"This student is the very reason you ceased the pursuit of your life's work."
The great beast looked at her with regret as his expressive eye almost begged her to say it wasn't true, even though he knew it is.
Tifa nodded to confirm her previous statements.
Nanaki and Zangan made eye contact as a silent message passed between the two.
Zangan spoke to Tifa. "You can stay with me at my home. Tidus will help you bring over your belongings from the hotel."
Tifa smiled with gratitude.
"It will take my smiths and me a month and a half to create the sword. I suggest you spend it practicing. You may use the sword you have now to practice with if you wish," Nanaki stated as he tuned and left the room.
The woman looked down to the sword in her right hand and seemed to become lost in thought.
Zangan studied her a moment. She was so different from the girl she used to be. Though they had only been reunited for less than an hour, and for most of that time he had no clue who she was, he could see it in the way she carried herself and he could feel it in her aura. And her eyes . . . the pain, anger, hate, fear, wrath, grief; these emotions seemed to permeate her very being and rolled off of her in waves. Why had he not noticed this earlier? Perhaps it was because she purposely created a false front to hide behind. He did not know what happened to her all these years, or what Strife did to this girl who's so very dear to his heart to make her want him dead so badly, but he sure as hell was going to find out before she left. Maybe this time he could find a way to save her from herself, rather than fail like all those years ago.
But one thing he knew for certain, one way or another, Cloud Strife was a dead man.
Thanks for reading! X3 Niquie
Thanks for reading! X3