The fall felt like an eternity passed, and passed again. Hung suspended in are, nothing above or below but the rushing of the wind against his skin. He was completely disconnected from the entire world, save for the wind and the sound. He could hear both of them screaming, and that too sounded like it had been slowed down and stretched.
A second later, or maybe a century later, a bright light enveloped them, and with a sickening jerk, were held upright. Looking around, panicked and still pumping a thousand tons of adrenaline through his blood, he saw, but couldn't quite understand what happened. Slowly, it dawned on him that they had not fallen to their deaths after all, nor were they on the ground... or in the water. The two turks were suspended in a strange beam of light eminating from a large mound of materia in the ceiling, high above them. It lanced down into the darkness, illuminating what was once dark, and held them there, above the depths, but below heaven. When he got his higher thought processes back, he thought it was a pretty appropriate place for them. Neither hell nor heaven, but humanity somewhere between.
Cissnei was having a reaction very much like his, and he reached for her to take her hand. Eyes wide, face pale and still breathing like she had won a marathon race, despite the fact she was short and not that fast, which he just liked, her shaking was still very controlled, and he admired her for that.
He knew he would never get over heights again after this, though. Oh well, one small sacrifice to save their skins, he could live with it. On the other hand, having the others live with him when he refused to even get up on a step ladder...
It was something to think about later, for he realized that they couldn't exactly go anywhere, floating as they were in the beam of light.
"W-what do we do?" Reno asked, and was surprised to find that his voice was hoarse. Must have strained something very badly when he was plummeting to his doom. Cissnei just looked at him.
Trying something daring, the taller turk swung his body upwards, as much as he could, remembering the television programs he watched as a kid about how astronaughts would be weightless in space. It hadn't seemed to be true when Cloud and Cid came back down from the rocket, since Cid had definitely let it be known that he'd gone up and what it was like, but Reno used the memory well now. It worked, for they started to float up in that general direction, but slowly, oh so very slowly in the leisurely manner of a feather. The time allowed him to get used to it, and actually used the still shocked Cissnei as leverage to get them to go a little bit faster, throwing her upwards in a sharp action that nearly catapulted them upwards. Soon they were level with the ledge they had fallen off, and Reno saw where the materia had gotten brittle and cracked at the least sign of pressure, creating a place that would dump the first person to step there right into the depths and the freezing water below them. The materia he cleared away, still floating in the beam, and saw where the natural stone of the cavern bore a strong resemblance to clam shell iridescence.
Setting Cissnei up on the ledge, then pulling himself along, he felt the power of the beam leave him, and they were suddenly standing on the ledge, solid ground beneath their feet. With a gasp, Cissnei fell to her knees, and Reno did pretty much the same thing, save without the gasp, and instead issued a groan. Talk about heart failure, he had just had the worst brush with death yet, and he'd taken Cissnei with him.
He wouldn't have forgiven himself that if he had been the cause of her death.
"L-let's get out of here." Reno said, finally, climbing to his feet, thought better of it, and started crawling towards the exit, while Cissnei whole heartedly agreed and followed him, not getting to her own feet until she was sure she was almost out of the cavern.
She was holding his hand all the way through the cave, until they came out on the other side and into the rapidly diminishing daylight.
"Hey!" Rod yelled, waving his good hand at them from down the path a bit. They walked forward, still pale as death and Rod must have noticed. "Holy crap, you guys look like shit. What happened in there?" He stood up, ready to help despite his broken arm.
Reno shook his head and waved Rod down. "Just a reallly bad scare, we're all right... but man, there's something in that place that the others have got to see. It's... it's..." He failed to find the words, and finally just settled on shaking his head.
With a small sigh and a flip of her head, Cissnei finished for him. "We found Xanadu."
"You don't just make up a claim like that unless you can back it up with some sort of proof or some evidence that it existed there." Tseng mumbled over the phone, after what Reno had told him of the mythological city passed down from legend to legend to their generation. Whether it would get passed down still as a myth was in question, or whether it would be passed down as a real city yielding real information.
Reno felt that Tseng was taking this finding a bit too lightly, at least to his eyes he was, and he didn't appreciate it. Tseng was actually taking it very seriously indeed, however, and considered everything he had told him.
On the plus side, Cissnei didn't think he was crazy anymore, and hadn't told Tseng about what he said about the voices in his head. That was one good thing in the midst of all the madness that had suddenly come down on his head when he called Tseng in to Junon again. This time, Godo had insisted on coming with him, and had promptly gone off to the city to look for something he felt was needed in Midgar, for either his office or something that would help organize more Lost and Found people lists. The relief effort was gaining momentum every day, the people leaving Midgar were no longer the scared, intimidated individuals that had been there the last time Reno had managed the relief efforts, or helped to. In fact, people were starting to build new things, new places to live in, spreading out from around the ruined city in a circle. Reno mumbled to himself when he found that out that it would make cars very important to have in a city like that, but had nobody to tell it to, so tried to stop caring. People called it the Phoenix Effort.
Phoenix Effort or not, there was still a mission at hand, and it had just suffered another serious setback, but Reno was convinced that there was a scientist inside Xanadu, and insisted that they go find a man.
"I'll have to think about the proposal, Reno. The fact is we don't know how the cave structure is built..." Tseng was saying, which caused Reno to shake his head vehemently.
"I know they're there. That attack on Rod and his partner? That wasn't for them, that's why she's still alive and he only got a broken arm." He was tapping his foot, feeling itchy, impatient and ready to go find their scientist. "She's got the same type of wounds-"
"The other two were discovered knifed to death, Reno, with the knives still inside their bodies. This, from Rod's report, was a wild animal with a man standing behind it." Tseng watched his second in command carefully, watching for any sign that would tell him what Reno was thinking.
"I know that, but the animal we don't know anything about. Those knives could have been added later, they don't even really look like knives at all." Reno listed off all the possibilities, then flopped down into the chair the small office Tseng had in Junon had boasted. Not even a very comfortable chair, he thought bitterly. What he wouldn't give for a day or two off, either.
"What I'm sayin', chief..." Reno sighed, rubbing his head. "We should explore it. It's a damned prime spot for one of the people we're looking for, and hell, we might find out something important. I got this feeling about it..."
Tseng was not inclined to trust feelings, but he also knew that Reno's instincts where good. Slowly, he turned to face the younger man, and sighed. "Very well. I'll send a small detachment with you. I want this to be the last time, Reno. You hear me? I don't want this to keep stretching on. We have work to do in Midgar, scientist or no we're going to have to go in, deal with the monsters, and shut off the mako reactors." Picking up a folder, he dropped it on the table near Reno. "Read that. It has the report of the fly bys watching Midgar. You were right about the monsters escaping. There's been a rampage on what's left of the upper plate. Those people who have stayed there are getting ferreted out and eaten. Reeve has an idea on how to get the survivors out of Midgar, but-"
Reno had suddenly sat up straight, and stared at Tseng. "Whoa whoa whoa. Reeve? When did he come back? More importantly, where was he? The bastard just ups and leaves and we-" he stopped, for Tseng was holding up a hand so he could explain.
"He was with AVALANCHE. They went up North to make sure that Sephiroth was really gone, that there was no more remnants of Jenova there, and only just now got finished." He said, handing Reno another folder.
"...that doesn't sound like Reeve. He'd have been here, sticking with Midgar and... he was the one that actually started the evacuation, remember?"
That was one thing that Tseng could not answer, and he sighed. "He mentioned that he left the job in good hands. That's a compliment, Reno."
A dark look crossed Reno's face. "The day I need a traitor to tell me I'm doing a good job is the day I get put in the ground. I got no time for traitors, Tseng. What's he been feeding you? You know what we should do to him."
Tseng shook his head, stalling whatever else Reno had been about to say. "We need to start looking past that, Reno. In this world, we need cooperation, and without a unifying force, it's going to be difficult to keep the peace. I've discovered that those people who have met AVALANCHE like them, Godo included, so that means that we need to keep good relations with them, despite their past actions against Shin-Ra, and against the turks.
Rubbing his face, Reno sighed. "You ask a lot out of us now, Tseng. I'm not sure if this is good for us. We got the company to protect... they might try to bring it down while it's weak, just out of spite."
"I'm looking into it, Reno. Right now they don't care, they have what they want. The mako reactors will go, Shin-Ra is giving massive effort to the relief, and Rufus is dead to them."
That caused Reno to jerk back in surprise. "They think Rufus is dead?"
"They do, including Reeve. We've managed to keep it a secret from everyone but us," Tseng sat down across from Reno, feeling the strain on his wounds and body, and felt a little dizzy. "They think we've assumed power permanently, and I suspect they believe they can manipulate us. Apparently," a rather stern look from Tseng earned burning ears for Reno, though he did not know what he did, "Cloud and the others have less animosity towards you most of all aside from Reeve. If there weren't more pressing matters for you to look into, I'd have sent you back to Midgar."
"If I see Reeve, I'm going to kill him." Reno was hard and blunt on that, his eyes steely and looking more like points of a dagger than eyes. "You can't tell me it isn't my duty, because it is."
Tseng rubbed his forehead, much like Reno had caught himself doing, and sighed. "We need him right now. He's the only link we have that we can use with AVALANCHE. He's earned their trust, we can't be sure how far we can take their trust with you. I have started talking with Reeve. He's content to let me pull strings right here, he knows when I give my word I keep it. He's already requested some things from Shin-Ra, without pulling rank. I suspect he feels that walking softly is a good idea for him as well."
Rubbing his forehead with his palms, Reno shook his head vehemently. "If I see him, shit is going down, Tseng. I promise you."
An exasperated sigh. "Then I'll make sure to keep you two apart."
Reno was itching to go back to the lost city. He paced up and down his hotel room while Cissnei watched from the bed, buried under the covers for she claimed she felt cold. Pacing back and forth was a good way of getting rid of excess energy, and he definitely needed to get rid of excess after thinking about Reeve being back and causing trouble in Midgar. After all the trouble he went through! That bastard had to come back and ruin whatever else he had built up. But that wasn't quite so important as the urging to go back to the city. He was honestly confused why he wanted to go back so much, ancient sites and temples were something he tended to avoid, up until now. They had always made his head fuzzy and feel like he had a huge headache, but not lately... he was starting to wonder if it had anything to do with the voices in his head, the feelings, and the fact he could see invisible energy flows where they converged thickly.
He was denying it, did not want it to be true, but he had to face it, say it, or he would be stuck in a pool of confusion for the rest of his life. Did he want to admit it, even to himself? No, that would mean complications he didn't want... people would look at him differently. Cissnei already was, and she only knew what she had seen.
True, it would explain a lot about his natural abilities, but that was neither here nor there.
"Reno, you should come to bed." Cissnei's voice was soft, melodic. She was worried for him and wanted to care for him nicely.
Stopping his pacing, he glanced over at her and sighed. All the evidence, everything that's happened to me since Meteorfall, all the odd things and the voices, and the energy flows... finding Xanadu. They sound like something Aerith would have happen to her. Everything that she told us, was willing to tell, what we found out on our own... but why me? "Reno..."
"Reno..."The voice was feminine, familiar, and he looked up to see if Cissnei had spoken again, but she had not, just watching him with a sad expression on her face.
That was Aerith's voice.
"I'm sorry, Reno. I didn't know it would upset you so much." ...what are you apologizing for? "Yes and no..."
...what are you apologizing for?Reno sounded even more confused than usual. Are you the reason why this has been happening?
"Yes and no..."There was a slight pause, and a sigh. "The planet needs keepers. Anyone who has Cetran blood in them, it's trying to contact. I was the last with strong blood, but you know that."Reno scoffed out loud, surprising Cissnei into sitting up and putting on a hurt look. "Reno, are you all right?"
"Yeah... I'm fine. I'm just... listening to something." It was odd saying that, when there was nothing to hear, nor had he headphones on. Are you trying to tell me I got it, too? "You do... I'm surprised, too, you know. There are others out there..." What others? "I can't tell, their connection isn't as strong as yours. They didn't seek it... they hadn't gone through what you did, causing you to wish for contact."
"You do... I'm surprised, too, you know. There are others out there..."
"I can't tell, their connection isn't as strong as yours. They didn't seek it... they hadn't gone through what you did, causing you to wish for contact."This was starting to make a bit of sense, but not too much. Isn't it kind of pat that out of all of them, it's me that is getting this connection or whatever you call it? I don't remember my parents having special abilities. He sat down on the bed next to Cissnei, who moved up closer to him and curled around him, wishing that she could sooth whatever problems Reno had.
"Your grand parents..." They didn't have it either. "Not the ones you knew." "The old religion is an offshoot of our beliefs, Reno. I always felt at peace in the church."
They didn't have it either.
"Not the ones you knew."That was when Reno's heart skipped a beat. There had been one grand parent, his father's mother, that had died shortly after he was born. A face and a song was all that he remembered of her, clouded by the years and a memory that needed space for more important things. A song about a beautiful place people went to when they died. I just thought she followed the old religion... I remember looking it up, it was a hymn from a long time ago.
"The old religion is an offshoot of our beliefs, Reno. I always felt at peace in the church."He remembered the church well... after he had chased Aerith and Cloud out, helping the soldiers get to their feet, he felt oddly relaxed despite having had his mission foiled. The flowers weren't usually seen in Midgar. Looking at stained glass, he'd stayed there for a long while, feeling better than he had in a long time.
Cissnei sighed, and snapped him out of the memory. Reno looked down at her and gave her a sad smile. "I'm all right now, Cissnei. I just don't know what to believe anymore. I got to ask Tseng for a favor."
"What kind of favor?" She asked, brushing his unruly hair out of his eyes, where it just flopped back down.
"I need to be tested."
"Tested? For what?" Sitting up, she tilted her head and frowned, feeling his forehead to see if there was fever. "It's not like you to say something like that."
"I know... but what I mean is, I think I should get tested on my DNA. There's something going on with me, ever since Meteor fall, that I can't explain. The voices tell me what it is, but I need to be sure..." He trailed off, seeing her face get that ever worried cast to her face. "No, Cissnei, I don't think I'm crazy, I just want to be sure of this. We got samples from Aerith still, right? I want it tested against hers."
"You don't think that you're like her, do you?" Her eyes widened a bit in shock.
Shrugging, he wouldn't confirm it. "They said it, not me. I ain't gonna believe them until I get proof in my hands. Not likely to be a perfect match, if what is said is true. It'd explain everything, though..."
She buried her head into his shoulder. "You know what that means if you get tested and it is? You can't tell anyone... Tseng would understand, but... there's people who would look to you as they did to Aerith. If AVALANCHE found out, they wouldn't be happy with you, either. I know that much."
He just wrapped an arm around her and ran fingers through her hair. "It'll be all right, Cissnei. I'm still the same Reno you knew way back when, I just got a little extra here and there. New friends, y'know?" He snickered, and kissed her gently, on the lips.
The conversation was quickly forgotten as she responded to that kiss, and they followed their urges to the natural conclusion, falling asleep in each others arms, completely exhausted.
Things were never easy, he thought, just as his eyes finally closed of their own accord, but he figured he wouldn't have it any other way. That's what made life worth living.
Several days later, after Reno pitched a fit that he needed at least some time to rest, and Tseng agreed, even going so far as to order him to get rest, Reno took a lunch in the diner that the turks favored over all others, at least in Junon. Cissnei was off doing something for Tseng, having said that since Reno insisted on doing more work, she didn't need as much rest.
The diner was nearly empty, just Reno at his table in the corner, the staff in the back mostly, with the waitress occasionally coming out to refill his tea. Not coffee, tea. If he wasn't drinking, that was his choice, preferably a good herbal one instead of those foul teas that tasted about the same as coffee. Coffee was one thing he could never stomach, not even in an emergency could he take it without a gallon of milk and sugar to back the cup up, and he still had the bitter aftertaste in his mouth. Watching people like Tseng down it black made his skin itch and he wanted to shiver, the few times he did that still strong in his memory. All the same, he wasn't expecting anything to happen today, feeling good enough about relaxing to take his time there. Of course, he still took his PHS. One never knew if he would be called somewhere.
Today was not that day, thankfully, for things remained quiet. Not even the TV in the corner of the diner was on, and Reno almost felt that he prefered it that way. Too many restaurants in Midgar had those high tech flairs. Only in the smaller towns did he get that nice atmosphere which was really the heart and soul of eating out. Thinking about that led his thoughts to the Turtle's Paradise in Wutai. How long had it been since he last had been there? Far too long... it was when Elena had been kidnapped, or some time around then that he last remembered being there. That seemed like years ago... not the six months that it had been. No, wait... eight months now. Was it really that long ago that Meteor had fallen? It still seemed like yesterday, like he could turn a corner and still see it in the sky.
Back then, he honestly had thought he'd never see the sky clear again, without the marring of the angry red planetoid. He figured he should be grateful for that... that he was still here, and the planet was still here and not a blasted out hunk of rock.
Still, there were things that he wasn't grateful for, however helpful they had been.
"Thanks for that."It was becoming a downright pain in the ass, actually, he mused while he took a gulp of his tea and played around with the remaining food on his plate. He should come here more often, the food was decent.
"Reno. You shouldn't rest too long. There are still things you need to do out there."The unwelcome voice flinched when he lashed back at it, his face twisting up into a sneer of displeasure. This is my mind, you're an invader, remember that. When I want your advice I'll ask for it.The voice remained silent after that, and he could sense that it had been hurt, if such a thing was possible. Well, good, he felt vindicated. He wasn't Aerith, who had grown up with voices in his head for his entire life. He wasn't used to sharing his thoughts, benign entity or not. In fact... it was becoming damned annoying. Whenever he was with Cissnei, he would get a snarky comment in the back of his head, unwanted and unhelpful. It was twice now that he had to break it off, much to their mutual displeasure and frustration for the fact the voices weren't stopping. If such a thing was possible, he'd have it amputated.
Sighing, he flopped out over the dining chair and sat there, watching the steam come of off his tea. After a minute or two, an odd sensation covered his head, like he was hearing a huge party a few doors down, the voices and people laughing, but couldn't quite make anything out. He wasn't sure, but he thought that someone was trying to comfort the voice that had just spoken to him. That wasn't something that he wanted to hear, so he tuned it out with a huff. These things were becoming more apparent, and the harder Reno tried to ignore them, the harder they became to ignore.
He really wished Aerith was here, so he could know how to block them out, have a little peace to himself... and not have to hear it if he didn't want to.
In the end, he was wishing for time to go backwards, so he could do it all over again, and he wouldn't have to have the burden.
She said there were others. People like me, probably ones that really think they're going crazy. That's too damned bad, isn't it? What can I do about it? There was nothing, he honestly thought. Unless it became an epidemic, people would just laugh at him. Hell, most people didn't even know that the Ancients called themselves the Cetra. Many didn't go to school to hear about it, not in his world. Thinking about a world where everyone could go to school, and didn't have to fight monsters made him laugh. This planet, he felt, would never achieve that state. The cycle would go on, people would hurt, fight and kill each other, maybe another company like Shin-Ra will rise to power and over take, maybe even merge with it, it would do something a few people found deplorable and then it would start all over again, never mind the innocents that lost their lives, the rebellion was in the right, of course! They could take acceptable losses!
Thinking about those things just led him back to Sector 7. He never, ever wanted people to have to do that kind of thing again.
Well, he'd just have to do something, wouldn't he?
"That's the spirit."
But not... he added as a vicious after thought, before my vacation.The voice just sighed patiently, and then suddenly all of the odd feelings in his head vanished, as if they had never been there. It felt... like it was empty. A relief, but almost too sudden.
While he was pondering the significance of that, a dark cloud covered the sun, and blocked out whatever sunlight was making it through the windows. He didn't think much of it for a while actually, until he realized that it wasn't moving, and yet the winds were strong that day, or supposed to be. Getting up, he wandered to the window, and frowned, peering outside.
The sun had been shining brightly on the golden city, hanging directly over in the noon time position, and he could see off in the distance where it glinted off the ocean, but over the city... it was different. With a small feeling of dread in his stomach, he walked outside and looked up. There was nothing there, just the sun growing dimmer by the minute, until even the waves could boast of no diamonds on the water.
He covered his eyes and continued watching the eclipse, finally remembering that a long time ago, one had been predicted... almost as if in another world. The sun was being rebirthed, too. Into a world of horrendous tragedies and endless hopes. Standing there, feeling the warmth slowly start back up as the moon slid off and away, he felt sorry for it. The sun had never asked to be changed, it had been content to just stay there and glow.
Things set in motion...