It hadn't been long since they had left Cosmo Canyon behind them. One week had passed, and the group, their car repaired and filled with more than enough fuel to last the journey, continued traveling.
The planes they were driving through was rugged and bumpy, a mass of small hills like speed bumps that jostled all of them as they traveled. On their left, ocean met skyline, while the right was blocked by a large mountain range that extended far beyond their line of sight. It was hard to judge just how long the mountain range was, but Naruto was sure it split most of the continent in half. Up in the distance, Naruto could see even more mountains.
Barret was sitting in the driver's seat this time. Naruto was impressed that the man could steer with one hand.
"How much further do you think we have to go?" asked Aerith.
"Not sure." Naruto grimaced as he looked at the map. "According to the map, we'll be coming to a mountain pass known as Mount Nibel. We'll have to ditch the car since it can't travel through the mountain. However, I'm sure everyone is pretty sick of being stuck in here by now.
Naruto received a chorus of agreements from everyone.
The car was pretty small, all things considered, and that basically meant all of them were squished together. Cloud, Tifa, Red XIII, and Yuffie were sitting in the back. The seats were only meant for two people, but three humans and one massive feline were sharing it.
Naruto had it easier. Aerith was sitting on his lap, and he had no qualms about that. The only real problem he had was that having her small, firm butt in such close proximity to his crotch made him want to do more than just sit there. It was too bad they couldn't do anything.
"Maybe we should get out and stretch our legs," Yuffie suggested.
Red XIII couldn't agree fast enough. "I'm sure Cait Sith would like to get down from the hood."
Cait Sith, their newest companion, was a mechanical that sat cat on top of an equally mechanic moogle. Naruto still didn't trust Cait Sith. The machine had come with them based on a miscalculated prediction. Something about that bothered him. His ninja instincts were telling him not to trust the cat.
"I am getting pretty sick of driving," Barret muttered. "Damn steering doesn't want to do what I tell it."
Naruto wanted to say that he hadn't told the steering wheel to do anything, but he didn't feel like teasing the man right now.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we could also have a picnic?" Tifa tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled.
"You know we aren't traveling to have fun, right?" Even though Cloud asked that while trying to look stern, he looked the most uncomfortable out of all of them. Several times Naruto could have sworn his fellow blond was going to puke.
"What do you think?" asked Aerith.
"Hmmm…" Naruto pressed his face against Aerith's neck as he held her close, pretending to ponder the situation. He took a deep breath. "I suppose we could. You need to take a bath anyway."
"Are you saying I smell? I hope that's not what you're saying, Naruto."
"Of course not. I'm just saying that you, Tifa, and Yuffie would probably like to refresh yourselves."
"Uh-huh. I'm sure that's it."
Naruto ignored the sarcasm in her voice. "Anyway, let's find a spring or something where we can all get cleaned off."
There were no cities this far out, which naturally meant they hadn't been able to stay at an inn or even find a bathhouse to wash themselves. Regardless of what Aerith said, all of them smelled rank.
Because the map wasn't one hundred percent exact, it took awhile to find a stream that was large enough for them to bathe in. It was a cool stream that traveled down from the mountains and eventually met the sea. The clear water was cold and refreshing. When Naruto splashed some on his face, he instantly felt better.
Several monsters were in the area. They looked like green dragons with purple fins that flared out like a maine on their heads and a single horn jutting from their reptilian muzzles. In terms of height, they were about as tall as a human. However, from head to tail, they were about six meters in length. They possessed green scales that glistened in the light.
Aerith, Cloud, Yuffie, Tifa, and Red XIII dispatched the monsters easily enough. There were only three of them. While they were strong, they were also sluggish. The only power they really had that could harm them was Stone Stare, an eye-based ability that could petrify people. However, it required eye-contact for them to use. So long as you didn't look into their eyes, you would be safe.
The men prepared the food while the women bathed in bikinis several meters away. Naruto had never been so glad that he'd decided to grab some swimsuits for them.
Barret, decked out in a white and pink apron, was preparing the portable grill to make hotdogs. Naruto took one look at feminine apron adorning his body, which had enough frills that maids would have been jealous, and snorted.
"You got a problem, blondie!" Barret growled.
Naruto looked away and continued to snicker. "Not at all. You look good in that."
"Don't diss my apron, bastard! Marlene made this for me!"
"It was a compliment."
Barret scowled at Naruto as he went back to work, putting the buns and hot dogs on the grill. His movements were pretty deft for someone with one arm.
While Barret made the food, Naruto was setting up the tents and sleeping bags with Cloud. It must have looked weird to the others. He and Cloud really did look similar. Spiky blond hair, blue eyes, lithe but muscular builds. There were some differences in the shape of their faces, but anyone who'd just met them would have easily assumed they were brothers.
Of course, if he created his shadow clones and someone saw them, that person would have been really confused.
They had three tents set up. One for the men, one of the women, and one for Naruto and Aerith, who categorically refused to sleep with the others because that was the only time they had to themselves. Even then, they couldn't have sex because the tents were paper thin. They'd tried to have sex before and everyone complained about the noise they made.
Maybe we'll try again tonight.
The thought made him smile.
"Looks like the girls are done bathing," Cloud murmured as he stopped working.
Naruto, who'd finished pounding in the last stake of the tent, looked up and toward the stream. The girls were no longer using the soap and shampoo to wash up. Instead, they were running around the shallow end and splashing each other as they laughed and giggled.
A smile appeared on his face. It left when he noticed Cait Sith looking at the girls. There was something about that machine's stare that really bothered him. He sighed. Given that he still knew nothing about this cat, he was going to have to keep the creature under constant surveillance.
"Think we should join them?" asked Naruto with a grin.
Cloud just looked at him, but in the next moment, Naruto was diving into his tent, pulling out two swimsuits, and tossing one to his fellow blond.
"Hurry up and get changed," Naruto ordered.
Naruto couldn't change fast enough as he dove back into the tent. He stripped off his clothes, pulled on his orange trunks, and ran barefoot toward the river.
"You girls mind if Cloud and I join you?" he asked.
"Not at all." Aerith smiled. She looked great in her pink and white bikini. "Though if you use one of your jutsu to splash us, just know that all of us are going to make you regret it."
"Now you've made me curious to see what you'll do." Naruto grinned as he stalked forward, hands raised as he made creepy grasping motions with his fingers. "I'm really tempted to use my Mizu Nami no Jutsu now."
"Sensei!" Yuffie raised her hand. "I want to see your Mizu Nami no Jutsu!"
"Ho ho! Then allow me to reveal the splendor of my ultimate water jutsu!"
"Don't you dare! Kya!"
"Mizu Nami no Jutsu!"
Naruto shouted as he kicked the water at Aerith, who turned tail and ran the other way. Of course, he couldn't let her escape and chased after the girl, but just as he was sure he'd caught her, Aerith twisted her body and kicked, sending a large spray of water that splashed him in the face. He coughed and sputtered several times, spitting out a good deal of water before wiping his eyes.
"Oh, now you've done it!" Naruto growled as a grin split his face. "I'm definitely gonna have to teach you a lesson now."
Aerith's breasts bounced within the confines of her bikini as she puffed out her chest. "Hmph. Go ahead and try, if you think you can."
"Hey!" Yuffie shouted as she ran over to them. "Don't leave me out of your fun!"
It didn't take long before a threeway water fight broke out between Naruto, Aerith, and Yuffie. Of course, women had a tendency to stick together, and when Naruto used his superior ninja skills to beat them both back, they double teamed him. He called foul, but Aerith's response was to mimic his old quote.
"If you're not cheating, you're not trying."
While this was water fight was going on, Cloud and Tifa sat in the shallower side on a rock, their feet dipped into the chilly waters. Cloud had cleaned off already. Unlike Tifa, who enjoyed taking her time, he was all about speed and efficiency. The two of them sat close enough that their shoulders and thighs were just barely touching.
"That Naruto is always having fun," Cloud snorted as he watched the trio. Naruto had just been tackled by Aerith and Yuffie, who were mercilessly tickling him.
"He's a strange man, isn't he?" said Tifa. "I wonder if all the people from his world are like that."
"Somehow…" Cloud continued to watch as Naruto created a shadow clone. Now the two Narutos were chasing after Aerith and Yuffie as they made perverted grabbing motions with their hands, giggling all the while. "I doubt it."
"Hmm…" Tifa hummed to herself, glanced at Cloud, and then looked at Naruto. "I really like how open he is about his relationship with Aerith. You could stand to learn a thing or two from him."
Cloud coughed several times as though he'd swallowed something that went down the wrong tube. Tifa gave him a somewhat vicious grin. He sighed.
"I… probably could," Cloud admitted. "But it's harder for me than it is for him."
A moment of silence passed. It wasn't awkward or even stifling, but at the same time, a sort of strange tension hung in the air.
"We're going to Mount Nibel, right? Do you think…"
Tifa trailed off, but that was okay since Cloud knew exactly what she was asking about. He shook his head.
"I doubt Nibelheim will be there. It was burned down by Sephiroth." He paused long enough for a grimace to appear on his face. "Though we will probably find the ruins."
Tifa took her toes out of the water, planted her feet firmly on the rock, and curled her knees into her chest. Cloud felt something inside of him constrict when he saw the look on her face as she hugged her knees.
"Yeah… I figured as much."
"Oi! You brats, stop playing around and get over here! Grub is ready!" Barret called out to them. Cloud was grateful. Had the silence continued for much longer, it would have become truly awkward.
Everyone sat on the grass, a plastic plate in their hands, and ate the food prepared by Barret. Considering they lacked seasoning, the food was pretty damn good. Naruto had to hand it to the man. He knew how to barbeque.
After everyone had finished eating, Naruto, Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa cleaned off the plates, while Barret washed himself off in the stream. Cait Sith didn't eat, and Red XIII didn't use a plate, so they didn't have to worry about that.
It had been late afternoon when the group stopped to make dinner, but by the time all was said and done, the sun had gone down and the stars were out. Naruto made them a campfire and they all sat around it, chatting. Aerith, Tifa, and Yuffie discussed everything from fashion to weapons. Meanwhile, Naruto made a point of teasing Barret about his super cute and frilly apron while Cloud and Red XIII watched on. Even Cait Sith seemed entertained by the spectacle, though it was hard to tell because the cat's face never changed.
The fire eventually went out. Everyone headed into their tents. Yuffie tried to sneak into Aerith's and Naruto's tent, but Tifa had grabbed the girl by the back of her shirt and dragged her kicking and screaming into their tent. Meanwhile, Barret, Cloud, Cait Sith, and Red XIII went into the tent reserved for the men.
Aerith's and Naruto's tent was the smallest of the bunch, but that was because they slept together. They shared a fuuton that was large enough to fit them both. Lying on their side, Aerith's warm body was spooned against Naruto. Both of them were bereft of clothes.
"You're poking me."
"Sorry. You know he's got a mind of his own."
"I'm sure. I don't know how you expect me to sleep like this."
"Maybe you could use it as a heating pad?"
"Now there's an idea."
Their banter, whispered back and forth so no one could overhear them, was accompanied by actions. Aerith had trapped Naruto's cock between her thighs. About half of it was poking out, so she reached down and began playing with his head. She rubbed her palms over the mushroom shaped object and playfully stroked it with her fingers.
Naruto groaned into the back of her neck as several pleasant jolts traveled through his body. He moved his hips back and forth. Aerith's breathing hitched as his shaft rubbed along her lips, causing a small trickle of juices to leak from her entrance and wet both his dick and her thighs.
"N-Naruto… we shouldn't do this right now. They might hear us."
"It's fine." Naruto continued his sawing actions as he fondled her breast. "I put our tent further away from everyone else. So long as we keep quiet, I'm sure no one will hear us."
"I-I don't know how you expect to… to keep quiet when—oooohhh…"
Aerith released a long, low moan as Naruto pinched her nipple and stimulated her clit, which he had already worked out from underneath its hood, with slow hip thrusts. He didn't want that to be all he did, though. Leaning forward, he took her ear into his mouth, nibbling and licking and sucking on it. Aerith shuddered as she bit her lip.
"T-this is really different than normal…"
"Mm. I figured going slow would make it easier to stay quiet."
"Do you really—ohhh—think so?"
Despite her words, Aerith turned her head to kiss him. They swirled their tongues out in the open. Their warm breath created a stark contrast with the frigid night air. Nasally gasps and heavy breathing accompanied the rustling of sheets and several lewd slurping and sucking sounds as he and Aerith exchanged saliva.
Naruto's body was growing warmer by the second, and his dick became even more wet as Aerith's juices continued to flow from her sodden entrance and mixed with his precum. A strangely amusing thought occurred to him as he rubbed against her pussy. His dick was like one of those hotdogs they had just eaten, and Aerith's lips were a lot like the buns they sat between.
"Something… ahn… ha… is something funny?" Aerith asked between pants and moans when Naruto chuckled.
"J-just had an amusing thought is all." Naruto stumbled over his words as his breathing hitched.
"Mhmm. Naruto, I—oh!"
Aerith's body shuddered as her pussy suddenly twitched around his dick. At the same time, Naruto shot a load of spunk that struck the tent wall. However, even after their mutual orgasm, he was still hard, and Aerith was even more fired up.
"Naruto, I want to feel you inside of me. I want you to fill me up with your dick."
"Believe me. You aren't alone in that. I want the same thing." He paused. "I mean, I want to fill you up with my dick, not that I want to be filled up with a dick."
Aerith rolled her eyes. "Just put it in already."
Grabbing her leg underneath her knee, Naruto lifted it into the air. Her foot swung back and forth. Naruto spent a moment admiring her muscular calf and thigh, and then sheathed himself inside of her warm, wet, and squishy interior. He closed his eyes as her walls shaped themselves to his dick.
"I really do love the feeling of being inside of you," Naruto whispered into her ear. "You're so warm and tight."
"And you fill me up so much it feels like I'm going to burst," Aerith mumbled as she bit her lip. One glance at her face revealed the bliss she was experiencing. She wore a half-smile, eyes lidded, and her cheeks had gained a healthy flush.
"I wish I could pound into you so hard you feel my dick knocking on your womb."
"If you did that, I'd definitely wake up everyone else."
Naruto breathed in as he retracted his dick until just his head was inside of her, and then pushed himself back in. He did it again. His pace was slow. It felt so different from what either of them were used to. The change of pace enhanced certain sensations while muting others. What's more, the cold air hitting his cock every time he retracted from Aerith's warm pussy caused shivers to break out on his skin.
"Naruto… this feels so different," Aerith mumbled as her breathing grew labored. Despite their slow pace, her skin was covered in a glistening layer of sweat. Her milky white breasts, capped with pink nipples that begged to be sucked on, bounced only a bit as Naruto pushed into her. "I wish this feeling could last forever."
"M-me too." Naruto grunted as he worked his core muscles to maintain a steady but slow pace. It was harder than it seemed. "S-sadly, I don't think I'm gonna last much longer."
"It's okay…" Aerith murmured as she turned her head and kissed him. "I'm close to cumming too. C-cum with me."
Naruto tried to stave off his orgasm for as long as possible. He wanted to enjoy the way Aerith's fleshy insides rubbed against him, the heat her body was generating. But it was no use. Tension built up in his balls, and so to help Aerith cum with him, he reached between her legs and began rubbing her clit.
Aerith's loud moan echoed inside the tent as she shoved the blanket of their fuuton inside of her mouth to keep from screaming. Her walls tightened around him. Thighs quivered. The muscles of her stomach clenched. Naruto groaned as he released his spunk, painting her insides white.
The two of them lay there for a moment, enjoying the post orgasmic glow. Naruto kept himself buried inside of her. He had no desire to remove himself, and Aerith didn't tell him to pull out.
"Do you… do you think we woke them?" asked Aerith.
"I don't think so." Naruto shook his head. "We were pretty quiet this time."
"I hope you're right," Aerith muttered before she and Naruto drifted to sleep.
~Legend of Gaia's Sennin~
It turned out they hadn't been as quiet as they thought, and so after being thoroughly scolded by an embarrassed Tifa—the spokesperson for the entire group of embarrassed individuals—the group set out once again.
As punishment, Naruto drove this time. It wa lonely being in that driver's seat by himself. It was especially hard because he'd been driving for at least ten hours now. The bumpy hills had flattened into a plain, so at least he didn't have to worry about being jostled about, but he really didn't enjoy driving for long distances like this.
"Are you sure we're going the right way, sensei?" asked Yuffie.
"As sure as I can be. Why?"
"Because it looks like we've already been through here."
"That's just because everything looks the same."
Naruto rolled his eyes at Yuffie, who sat in the passenger's seat instead of Aerith. He assumed this was also part of his punishment. That was just so not cool. In either event, he couldn't really blame Yuffie for thinking that way. Everything really did look the same, so it was hard to tell how much progress they had made. That said, the mountains in front of them were getting closer.
As Naruto drove and Yuffie pestered him, Tifa frowned as she stared out the window.
"Hey, Cloud," Tifa said suddenly. "Do you think…"
"Hm?" Cloud looked up from the map that he and Barret were pouring over. "Something wrong, Tifa?"
While the two men were looking at the map, Aerith and Red XIII sat squished together. Barret was just too big. He took up at least two seats by himself. Having them all sit in the back like this was hazardous, and Aerith was beginning to look uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
"No." Tifa shook her head. "It's nothing."
Cloud frowned at her, but then he went back to looking at the map. He and Barret were trying to plot a route for them once they made it past the mountains.
"There's only one town on the other side of this mountain," Barret grunted. "A place called Rocket Town. The hell kind of name is that? You think they specialize in building rockets?"
"Who knows." Cloud shrugged. "I've never been out that way."
As Naruto continued to drive, something appeared in the distance, small at first but growing larger. He blinked and strained his eyes. The indistinct object became sharper as he closed the distance. Small structures made themselves known. It took him a moment, but he realized they were buildings.
"Hey," Naruto called back, "was there supposed to be a town here?"
"There was," Tifa answered him, "but it was burned down several years ago. Why do you ask?"
"Because there's a town at the base of the mountain."
The shout came from Cloud and Tifa, who leaned forward to look through the window.
By this point in time, the town had become distinct enough that it was possible to make out the shapes of individual buildings. Most of them were fairly average one and two-story houses. Some pipes were sticking out of a few of them and smoke rose from chimneys. The roofs were made from wood, but the walls appeared to be made of mostly brick. As Naruto pulled the car to a stop at the entrance to the village, which couldn't have consisted of more than forty buildings, he spotted a rickety-looking wooden structure in the center.
"This is…" Cloud couldn't even finish his sentence. Naruto had never seen the man look so shocked before.
"What is going on?" Tifa whispered, turning to Cloud. "This was all supposed to be burnt down, right?"
"It was." Cloud stared at the buildings with something akin to horror. "I know it was. I saw it."
"Then why does everything look the way it did when we were kids? My house is still here, too…"
Naruto inferred from their conversation that they knew this village, and furthermore, that this village wasn't supposed to exist. Of course, the map did show that a town called Nibelheim did exist here, but according to Cloud and Tifa, the town had been destroyed by Sephiroth years ago.
"Shinra probably rebuilt it," Naruto said as he shut off the car.
"Shinra?" Tifa blinked. "But why would they…?"
"To cover up what happened," Cloud answered her instead of Naruto. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Yeah, that would make sense. I'm guessing that after the village was destroyed, Shinra hired some people to rebuilt it so no one would realize what happened here. That would explain why I never heard any news about the village's destruction."
"Then… my parents?" asked Tifa.
Cloud shook his head. "I doubt they'll be at your house. More than likely, all we'll find here are actors disguised as villagers."
Tifa didn't say anything, but the pained expression on her face was more than enough to let everyone know how she felt. Cloud also didn't look too good. However, he put on a brave face, steeling himself.
"Let's split up and gather information," Naruto said. "If you can subtly ask about the fire, do so. However, we don't want to arouse suspicious, so make sure you don't give away that you know what happened here. Try and make it seem like you heard rumors or something."
Everyone nodded at him and soon split up into three groups: Yuffie, Barret, and Red XIII as one group, Cloud and Tifa as another, and Aerith, Cait Sith, and Naruto as the last group. No one complained about the grouping this time. The tension that had settled over Cloud and Tifa made even Yuffie keep her mouth shut.
The first thing Naruto did after splitting up with the others was head toward the inn. There was only one inn located in the village, and it was easy to spot because it was bigger than the other buildings. At two stories in height, it looked to be about four times larger than the building Naruto saw Cloud and Tifa travel to.
He entered with Aerith and Cait Sith. His feet thumped against the wood paneling. The entrance lobby looked quaint, but that gave it a very homey feel, like something he'd expect from a country inn. He studied the very rustic interior. The walls had several portraits and pictures hanging from them. There was a counter near a staircase, where a man with tan skin and blue overalls stood.
"Hello," the man said with a smile. "Are you travelers? How can I help you?"
"How many rooms do you have available?" asked Naruto.
"We have four rooms, sir. Two of those rooms come equipped with four beds. One of them only has two, and the luxury suite has only one."
"We'll take the two rooms with four beds please. Also, we don't know how long we'll be staying. Is that okay?"
"That's fine, sir. We can have you pay each night you decide to stay. Just know that it will be six hundred gil per night per room."
Naruto paid for the first night. After the money exchanged hands, Naruto left with Aerith and Cait Sith in tow. He could feel them looking at his back as he studied the unfamiliar townscape.
"You're wondering why I didn't question him?" said Naruto.
"I figured you would," Aerith admitted.
"Given what I know, I doubt we'll be able to get anything out of the people here through normal means. That being the case, I'll might have to interrogate him at some point in time. However, since I don't know how long we'll be staying, I'd like to hold off on interrogating anyone, especially since I'm sure they'll contact Shinra once they realize our true intentions."
"Then shouldn't we have told the others not to snoop around?" asked Cait Sith.
Naruto shook his head. "It's fine. They aren't good at interrogating people. I'm sure the actors will just play them off as people who'd heard some nasty rumors. Besides, I doubt I could have kept Cloud and Tifa from snooping, even if I wanted to."
"I suppose not…" Aerith reluctantly agreed.
"Come on." Naruto gestured toward them. "Let's look around a bit."
The town seemed pretty normal, all things considered. Some people walked the streets, chatting amicably with each other, though he did notice several sets of eyes on them as they strolled by. Most people probably would have assumed it was because they "weren't from around here" or some such, but Naruto felt a distinct sharpness in their gazes.
He found Barret outside of a small shop, complaining about something. Yuffie and Red XIII looked on in silence.
"Is there a problem?" asked Naruto.
"Yer damn right, there's a problem," Barret growled.
It turned out he was actually complaining about the prices of supplies here, which were jacked up really high despite being lower in quality compared to what they could buy elsewhere. It was probably because this place didn't have much in the way of natural resources. Small towns like this normally raised the prices for travelers because they knew people would have no choice but to buy from them. This town only had two shops, too. It wasn't like they had a huge selection.
After spending about another half an hour wandering the town and speaking with the locals, Naruto discovered a few things. First, there was indeed a path through Mount Nibel that would take them to the other side of this continent. Second, there was an abandoned Mako Reactor near the top. According to rumor, or rather, according to the carefully designed information made to sound like a rumor, it had been abandoned after breaking down. Naruto wondered if they should check out the reactor, but he didn't think they would find anything useful there.
Another interesting rumor was about the mansion located deeper in the city. It was near the exit leading to Mount Nibel. Several people claimed they had seen strange figures traveling in and out of the mansion. The claim was that they were the ghosts of the deceased nobles who used to live there.
Naruto informed Cloud and Tifa of this rumor after meeting up with them at the inn.
"There was an old noble family who lived there before," Cloud admitted as much. "But it was before Shinra really came to power."
"It had been abandoned for as long as I can remember," Tifa added. "The rumor about there being ghosts was something that our parents used to tell us to keep children away from it, though that didn't always work out like they had hoped."
The room they were in was fairly nice. It was large enough that even with four beds, there was still plenty of walking space. It also had a table with four sets of chairs, which meant Naruto, Cloud, and Barret could sit around the table while the girls sat on the beds. The manager, who also manned the front, had said his chefs would bring up some dinner later that evening. Naruto guessed the table was for that as opposed to simple decoration.
"So this is a recreated rumor?" asked Naruto.
"No, it seems slightly different." Cloud shook his head. "The rumor when Tifa and I lived here was that ghosts haunted the mansion. Our parents would say that if you walked by the mansion at night, you could hear them moaning. This one says that strange figures in dark cloaks have been seen coming in and out of it." He shrugged. "I'm sure the rumor was made based on the old one, though."
"Shinra sure doesn't leave things to chance, do they?" asked Yuffie as she kicked her legs and back forth while sitting on her bed.
"I also asked around about Sephiroth," Cloud added. "Everyone claims they haven't seen any man with silver hair passing through here, but their eyes almost always stray toward the mansion when they say that."
"I'll bet you anything they know something about Sephiroth," Red XIII said. He sat next to Cait Sith. "Maybe he's currently inside the mansion."
"All this speculatin' ain't gonna get us anywhere," Barret grunted, arms folded across his chest. "We should jus' bust into that mansion and find out what's going on fer ourselves."
"If we did that, the people here might alert Shinra." Naruto shook his head. "Let's take things slow. I'd prefer to avoid arousing too much suspicion."
Barret grunted in disappointment, but everyone else agreed.
They stayed in Nibelheim for two more days, gathering rumors and intelligence. Naruto used subtle genjutsu to loosen the lips of the people living in the town. He made sure his questioning was subtle enough that it wouldn't make alarm bells go off inside of anyone's head. Through his questioning, Naruto learned that there had, in fact, been a silver-haired man seen passing through. However, he apparently disappeared several days later and no one had seen him since. They all assumed he'd left.
Some of the residents living there were beginning to get suspicious of them. Naruto had been asked several times, in a tone of faked politeness, how long they planned on staying, and every day he answered that they didn't know, a sense of increased hostility came over the people. It was clear to him that they wouldn't be able to remain in Nibelheim for much longer.
Naruto also checked into the veracity of the rumors about the cloaked figures entering the mansion. While Cloud had said it was probably a rumor propagated for the sake of keeping up rumors about the mansion, Naruto hadn't been so sure, and sure enough, when Naruto quietly kept watch over the mansion one night, he discovered several individuals wearing dark cloaks entering through the front.
He'd thought about knocking one of those cloaked individuals out and interrogating them, but something had held him back. The figures were strange. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his scalp prickled when he looked at them. Naruto would also admit that they gave him the creeps. He couldn't see past their hoods, so their faces were covered in darkness. One time when he got close to one of them, he'd heard them mumbling something about a reunion.
When Naruto informed everyone of his discovery, the group made a unanimous decision that even Barret agreed with.
The next night they would travel into the mansion to figure out what these cloaked figures were doing.
~The Legend of Gaia's Sennin~
The mansion located in Nibelheim was easily the largest building present. At three stories tall, with numerous dirty and broken windows spaced evenly at each story, it really did have the appearance of a classic haunted mansion. Several tower-like structures emerged from the ground, presenting what should have been a majestic aura. Had this building been clean, had the walls not been covered in grime and rust, Naruto was sure this mansion would have been quite something. As things stood, it was a derelict trash heap disguised as a mansion.
Naruto and the others stood in front of the mansion. No one else was present. The "locals" stayed away from this place. He could only assume they were under orders not to go near it.
"The gate is unlocked," Tifa muttered as she pushed the gate open with a squeal. Naruto and the others winced at the sound of rusty hinges being forced to move.
"That was pleasant." Naruto shook his head. "Anyway, let's go inside and see what's up."
As one, they all slowly made their way into the mansion. The imposing double doors, covered in rust and stains and faded with age, were unlocked. When he entered, Naruto was greeted to a large foyer with a sweeping staircase leading up to a balcony and numerous doorways on the first floor.
The floorboards creaked as he and the others fully entered the mansion.
"This place gives me the creeps," Aerith muttered. "There's so much hatred and despair here."
"I think… this might be the original mansion," Cloud said. He turned his head left and right. "I was only inside a few times, but it looks like nothing has changed at all."
"The fuck kinda creepy ass place is this?" Barret looked like he was ready to start shooting. His gunarm whirred as he looked around with wary eyes darting to and fro.
"Let's split up," Naruto said. "We can cover more ground that way. Barret, Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII. I want you four to pick a door and begin exploring. Aerith, Cait Sith, Yuffie, and I will do the same."
"Sounds good," Tifa said.
"All right!" Yuffie thrust a fist into the air. "I'm with sensei!"
"I trust your judgement on this matter," Red XIII added.
"I've noticed it for a while now, but…" Cait Sith scratched his large, cat-like ears in a very human gesture. "Why am I always with you? It's like you don't trust me."
"It must be your imagination," Naruto replied easily.
With the decision made, Barret, Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII chose a passage on the left hand side and wandered through the door. Naruto took Aerith, Yuffie, and Cait Sith through another door. Thus the search began.
The mansion really was creepy, like one of those haunted mansions you'd expect to find in the most remote areas, places that had been abandoned by humans due to their bloodstained past. Rickety creaking noises echoed from beneath their feet as they walked. Ominous winds caused strange sounds like crying to echo down the halls. Even the halls themselves were creep-fests, with portraits torn from age, stains coating the walls, and broken decorations littering the floor.
Most of the rooms were empty. Some had a few spare pieces of furniture, but it was as though everything of value had been removed long ago.
This wasn't true for all the rooms, though. One of the rooms, a library of sorts, had furniture that was covered with dusty blankets. The walls were actually bookshelves filled with a number of ancient-looking tomes. However, none of them were useful. The books that didn't crumble into dust on contact had their pages eaten through by bugs and were thus illegible.
"Sensei," Yuffie called out to him as he was perusing through a bookshelf to see if there was anything of value. He looked over to see the girl waving at him. "I think I found something!"
Naruto, Aerith, and Cait Sith traveled over to Yuffie, who was holding a faded sheet of yellow parchment. She stood behind the desk. Naruto glanced down and noticed that the drawer was open.
"What's it say?" asked Aerith.
Yuffie glanced at the paper again.
"It says 'I must get rid of all those that stand in the way of my research. Even that one from the Turks. He's been a thorn in my side for quite some time. I scientifically altered him and put him to sleep in the basement. I'm leaving this note here in case anyone comes snooping around after I'm gone. It's a little game I thought of. Nothing more. If you'd like to awaken him from his sleep, move the dial on the safe carefully but quickly. You'll have 20 seconds, and you can not go past the numbers while turning."
Everyone listened to Yuffie as she read the letter out loud. It sounded like one of the researchers had been insane, assumed everyone was trying to get in the way of his research, and genetically altered a member of the Turks and put him to sleep in the basement. This letter must have been left by the person as a sort of prank.
There were four hints listed on the sheet. Dial one: The lid of the box with the most oxygen. Dial two: Behind the Ivory's short of tea and ray. Dial three: The creek in the floor near the chair on the second floor… then to the left five steps, up nine steps, left two steps, and up six steps. The fourth hint was written in invisible ink. It said that the last number was Right 97.
"Whoever this person was must have been really off his rocker," Yuffie muttered.
"What should we do with this information?" Cait Sith asked.
"I'm curious to know more, so let's find that safe, get the key, and locate the person mentioned in this letter," Naruto said.
The safe turned out to be on the second floor, in a small room that looked like a combination of library and alchemy lab. Several small, round tables stood off to the side, covered in a variety of test tubes and beakers. There were also several bookshelves, but they didn't contain nearly as many books as the library had.
"Well, we found the safe," Aerith said. "Now what do we do?"
"I'm guessing we have to use those hints to locate the numbers we need to dial in," Cait Sith said.
"Let's each go to one of those spots, find the clue, and meet back up here," Naruto suggested.
There were only three places they had to check. Naruto decided to look for the number hinted at in the third clue. He discovered that the 'chair on the second floor' referred to the chair against the wall in the room that had a secret passage to the basement, which he discovered because it was already open. Cloud and his group must have gone down that way. He followed the instructions and ended up in the middle of the hall outside the far-right room. Written on the floor was "Right 59."
With the help of Aerith and Yuffie, they quickly uncovered the numbers needed to crack the safe. Right 36. Left 10. Right 59. Right 97. After Naruto turned the dial accordingly, the safe unlocked with a click, and Naruto opened it. There wasn't much inside. In fact, outside of a key and a bright red materia that glowed with an otherworldly light, there was nothing else. While Aerith grabbed the key, Naruto reached out for the materia.
Three shouts rang out as the materia glowed even brighter. Naruto closed his eyes as it became so bright it felt like his retina were burning. When the light died down, he and his three companions realized they were no longer the only ones present.
A man easily twice as tall as them rode atop a horse, a white steed with numerous scars running along its muscular body and eyes that had no pupils. Like the horse, the man astride it had a body packed with incredible amounts of muscle. His abdominals and legs rippled as he moved, the black bodysuit conforming to him had golden lines running across it, while a white chestplate and shoulder armor adorned his upper body.
It was clear from the get go that he was not human. His yellow face only had the general shape of a human. Thick brow ridges, a strong chin, and masculine features. However, this man had horns jutting from his head. Much like his horse, his eyes also had no pupils.
In his left hand was a massive sword that bore a slight resemblance to an axe. The blade extended from the hilt with a hook-like curve that caused one part to slope back toward the hilt. It was big. If Naruto stood next to it, the sword would probably come up to his chest.
"Hmmm…" A strange sound escaped the man's mouth as he breathed, white smoke pouring from it like spirit matter. His horse snorted. "What strange being calleth upon me? Who hath called upon Odin?" He turned his head and looked down. "Was it you, Otherworlder? Hath thou calleth me unto this world?"
"I didn't call you," Naruto said with a headshake. "I just picked this up."
"Ah." Odin's eyes seemed to light up as Naruto held the materia aloft. "I recognize that. Tis thine summoning stone. I see. The strange tug on thine conscience must hath been caused by thou's presence when thou touched the stone."
"This man speaks funny," Yuffie murmured.
"Hush," Aerith said.
"It seems thou art already haveth several of thine companions' summoning stones." Odin tilted his head. He seemed to be considering something. "Thou art has the eyes of a warrior. You hath seen much death. I shall allow thee to call upon me in times of need."
"I appreciate that. Thank you."
Naruto didn't really know what to say. These summons seemed to have an unhealthy interest in him, and even though Odin acted with a lot more reserve than, say, Shiva, it was clear that he also was interested in Naruto. Perhaps it was because he was from another world? He couldn't think of anything else that would make these strange beings interested in him.
"Verily. I shall take thine leave now. Do call upon me when thou hath need for me. Thine blade will rend thou's enemies in two."
The steed dug its hoofs into the ground, snorted, and then a bright flash of light emitted from Odin before he vanished. All that remained to show Odin had been there were the hoof marks from his horse.
"That was weird," Yuffie said.
"You're telling me," Cait Sith muttered. "I've never seen a summon appear like that before, nevermind speak."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure you'll be seeing this happen a lot more," Naruto muttered. Shiva occasionally liked to show up at random times and chat. Aerith hated when it happened because the woman was a flirt. Fortunately, it had been awhile since the female summon had appeared before him.
They searched the mansion for awhile longer, but it didn't look like there was anything of worth to note. With nothing left on the first and second floors, Naruto led everyone to the secret basement entrance.
"Be careful not to fall. This ramp is quite rickety."
Naruto warned the others as he walked down the spiral ramp, which was made by several wooden beams embedded into the wall, and then having wooden floorboards placed over the beams. Many of the boards were rotting, and a few boards were missing, meaning they had to be careful of where they stepped. He and the others went down slowly, wary whenever a loud creaking sound echoed from beneath their feet.
"I hope traveling all this way is worth it," Cait Sith muttered as he hopped along the ramp. The mechanical moogle wobbled several times as it nearly lost its balance, but somehow it always managed to right itself and keep going.
"It looks like Cloud and the others have already come down here," Naruto said. "Since they haven't emerged yet, I can only assume they found something interesting."
"What do you think they found?" asked Yuffie.
"Who knows? Maybe they found Sephiroth."
The ramp ended facing a large tunnel. Naruto couldn't even begin to guess how old this basement was, but the stone floor was warped. The rock walls were jagged. It seemed no one had put much care into this basement's appearance.
Several cloaked figures stood inside the tunnel, wandering aimlessly back and forth. Naruto went up to one and tried to get a look at their face. For some reason, he couldn't see past the darkness surrounding their hood. It was as though someone had used magic to cast their face in permanent shadow.
"Jenova is… Jenova will be…"
"Must go… Must…"
The cloaked figures mumbled incoherent sentences as they paced along the floor. Naruto and the others were creeped out by this, but they decided that trying to talk with these people was pointless. Naruto wasn't sure he'd be able to get information out of them even if he used a genjutsu to loosen their lips.
As they continued wandering, Naruto noticed the door off to the side. That must be where the Turk was.
"Man… talk about gruesome," Yuffie muttered as they entered the room.
"I sense a lot of sadness permeating this place," Aerith said.
"I don't like this at all," Cait Sith muttered.
Naruto glanced at the coffins in the decagonal room. There were five in total. Four of them were open, revealing the skeletal corpses of long deceased people. The coffins' interiors were worn with age, faded and torn velvet. Only one coffin remained more or less pristine, though the top was covered in a layer of dust. Wandering over to the coffin in the center of the room, Naruto used the key to unlock it.
"For someone to wake me from my nightmare, you must be a strange person indeed." The coffin lid flew off and slammed into the ground with a loud crash. A man stood up from within its confines and glared at them with red eyes. "Who has decided to wake me?"
Standing at roughly six feet tall, the man before them had crimson eyes and wore a red bandana that kept his long black hair from falling into his face. The red cape adorning his body flapped as he shifted. Underneath the cape were black leather pants and a shirt, creased by several straps and buckles that ran across his chest. A gun sat in a holster strapped to his right thigh. He wore pointed, golden sabatons on his feet, and the gauntlet on his left arm, which clacked as he moved the clawed fingers, shone with the same color.
"I do not know you people," the man said in a gravelly voice. "Leave now."
"We can't do that," Naruto said with a shake of his head. "We have reason to believe that Sephiroth might be here."
"Sephiroth?!" The man's eyes widened at the name.
"Do you know Sephiroth?" asked Aerith.
"It's a name I have not heard in a long time." The man stepped out of his coffin and gazed at the four of them. Those crimson eyes eventually focused on Naruto. "You start first. Tell me what you know."
Deciding to humor the man, Naruto told him everything he knew, from who Sephiroth was to how they'd begun chasing him. Of course, Naruto himself only had second hand information. Everything he knew came from Cloud. He told the man about Sephiroth's recent reappearance, about the atrocities he had committed, and about how he was seeking the Promised Land.
"Now it's your turn," Naruto said after he finished talking.
"... I cannot speak."
"What? Why not?" asked Aerith.
The man turned to her. "Everything that I have learned just means more sins have been heaped upon me. That is all."
"Then would you at least tell us your name?" asked Naruto.
"It is… Vincent," the man said after a short pause.
"You were formerly with the Turks, right?" asked Naruto. "We found a note stating that someone had genetically altered you and put you to sleep here."
"The person who did that…" Vincent's eyes lit up as he spoke in a low growl. "… was a man known as Hojo."
"We've had the unfortunate fate of meeting him once before," Naruto said dryly. "He tried to experiment on Aerith here." He gestured to Aerith, who shuddered when she remembered what that man had tried to do to her.
Vincent regarded him with cold eyes. "If you met Hojo, then you must have some history with Shinra. Do you know a woman named Lucrecia?"
"I can't say I do." Naruto shook his head. "Who is that?"
"She is the woman who gave birth to Sephiroth."
"But I thought Sephiroth was born from Jenova," Aerith exclaimed in shock.
"That is a theory, and it's not wrong, but it is not quite true either." Vincent paused as if silently contemplating how much he should tell them. "Sephiroth was born from a beautiful woman. She was an assistant to Professor Gast of the Jenova Project. I do not know the specifics of the project, but Lucrecia was subject to numerous inhumane experiences during the course of the experiment. I let the one I loved, the person I respected the most, face trials nobody should have to go through. That is my sin."
Naruto considered himself a good judge of character. This man seemed like a tortured soul who was beating himself up over not being able to save the person he loved. He'd seen this type of person before.
"So you committed some sin, and your punishment is sleeping like this?" asked Aerith.
Yuffie shook her head in dismay. "Seems kind of dumb if you ask me."
"Vincent, huh?" Cait Sith mumbled.
After contemplating the man for a few seconds longer, Naruto came to a decision. "Come with us."
"You say you have committed a sin. In that case, sleeping here is not going to help you atone. It sounds to me like your sin is intricately connected to Sephiroth. That being the case, if you want to make up for the mistakes of your past, then you should come with us and help us out." Vincent blinked several times. Naruto sensed his indecision and decided to sweeten the deal. "If you travel with us, you'll likely run into Hojo at some point."
While Naruto stared at Vincent, Yuffie leaned in and whispered into his ear. "Are you sure this is a good idea, Sensei?"
"Yes." Naruto didn't take his eyes off Vincent. "As a former member of the Turks, he may be able to help us. We both have something to gain by traveling together. We get an extra set of hands, and you will get to confront Hojo. How about it?"
Vincent released a grave sigh. "You bring up a good point. It is as you say. I will travel with you."
"Man, oh man," Cait Sith mumbled with a worried look. "It seems like we've got another troubling member in our party."
"I don't want to hear that from you," Naruto snapped.
Just then, a shout echoed from further down the tunnel. Naruto, Aerith, Cait Sith, and Yuffie raced out of the room with Vincent now in tow. They burst through a door at the far end of the hall, leading to a messy laboratory that had seen better days. Books lay on the ground. Broken vials and beakers were scattered across a table. The bookshelves were so worn that many of the shelves were broken. Standing near an opening that led to another section of the lab was Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Red XIII.
Naruto quickly raced up to the group. His mouth was open as he prepared to say something, but he stopped upon seeing who stood at the end of this opening. Sephiroth, his silver hair shifting as he looked around, the long sword in his hand glinting with a deadly light.
"That's…" Vincent looked startled. His eyes widened in shock.
His voice alerted Barret and the others to their presence, but their attention was still largely focused on the man standing several meters away.
"Being here brings back memories, doesn't it?" asked Sephiroth, lips twitching into a grin. "I remember the last time I was here. Such a strange feeling of nostalgia." He paused, chuckled, and then shook his head as if to rid himself of those thoughts. "Tell me, are you going to participate in the Reunion?"
Cloud scoffed as he ran a hand through his hair. "I don't even know what a Reunion is!"
"Jenova will be at the Reunion." The words stopped everyone cold. "Jenova will join the Reunion, becoming a calamity from the skies."
"Jenova, a calamity from the skies? But wasn't she an ancient?!"
Naruto could understand Cloud's shock, since what Sephiroth said kind of went against everything they had learned so far. Actually, wasn't Sephiroth the one who had originally said that Jenova was an ancient?
Sephiroth stared at Cloud for a second longer, and then shook his head. "… I see. I don't think you have the right to participate." He swung his sword, which cut through the air with a whistle. "I will go north past Mount Nibel. If you wish to know more about the Reunion, then I suggest you follow me."
Before Cloud could say anything, Sephiroth threw something that slammed into Cloud's stomach, forcing the blond to a knee. The silver-haired warrior than took to the air and blasted down the hall as though to escape.
"Oh no you don't!"
Naruto leapt into the air and met Sephiroth, whose eyes widened as he swerved to dodge. Blood flowed from a wound that opened in the man's left cheek as Naruto sliced into it with wind chakra.
Sephiroth spun, swinging his massive sword, but Naruto summoned a kunai and met the attack head on. Clang! The sound of clashing steel echoed through the lab as Naruto and Sephiroth were pushed away from each other.
Aerith raised her staff and summoned a massive chunk of ice that she tossed at Sephiroth. However, such a weak attack was nothing, and Sephiroth sliced the chunk in half with a simple swipe of his sword.
While the ice attack might not have been effective, it did work well as a distraction, which Yuffie used to her advantage. She ran up a wall, pushed off and tried to attack Sephiroth from behind. Her attack would have worked on a normal person. Unfortunately, their opponent was not normal. Sephiroth turned around and tried to cut her in half. She blocked it with her fuuma shuriken, but his swing was so powerful that he sent her sailing.
Naruto used his superior speed to appear behind Yuffie before she could hit the bookshelf and break something. He caught her in his arms.
"Y-yeah," Yuffie mumbled with a blush. "Thanks, Sensei."
While Naruto had rescued Yuffie, Sephiroth had used that time wisely to escape. Barret and Vincent fired several rounds at the man, but none of their attacks connected, and in the end, their opponent had escaped through the doorway.
"Damn," Barret growled. "The bastard got away."
"It's fine." Naruto set Yuffie back on her feet as he and the others gathered around each other. "Now that we know where he's heading, we can follow him easily enough. Let's spend one more night in Nibelheim, and then we'll travel through Mount Nibel tomorrow morning."
No one had any problems with this, and so they set off down the tunnel and up the secret passage. As they emerged from the house, Barret finally seemed to realize something.
"Who's the new guy?" he asked, hitching his thumb at Vincent.
"..." The man he so rudely pointed at said nothing.
~The Legend of Gaia's Sennin~
They stayed in Nibelheim for one more night. During that time, he introduced Vincent to Barret, Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII. Considering how Naruto had met the man, the group was suitably wary of him. It wasn't often that you met someone who'd been sleeping in a coffin. That said, no one contested Naruto's decision to let Vincent travel with them.
The next morning, everyone packed their belongings and prepared for the hike through Mount Nibel. Because they couldn't take the car through the mountain pass, they had to leave it behind. This also meant that a lot of their equipment was getting left behind as well. Naruto had made sure they only packed the essentials: food, sleeping bags, clothing, and weapons. He divvied up the supplies and had everyone carry what they could before they set out.
Mount Nibel was a massive mountain that pierced the sky like a stake. Naruto couldn't even begin to estimate its size, but it easily towered over the pass they were using.
Naruto and the others traveled single file along a steep mountain path. He glanced down on either side, noting how high up they were. He could just barely make out the bottom. While a fall like that wouldn't kill him, it probably would kill anyone else.
The path itself was winding and long, convoluted. Not only that, but there were numerous monsters that they had to content with. Most of them were flying types. There were reptilian birds with scaled bodies and sharp claws. Naruto was glad that Barret and Vincent were with them. They were able to defeat most of the monsters before they came close. What they couldn't kill, Aerith defeated with lightning materia.
Aside from the main mountain, Mount Nibel, there were many smaller mountains located throughout the area. They were wicked-looking things. Dozens of spiky outcroppings shot from the twisting spires to create a horrendous sight akin to a thorny crown. Naruto couldn't help but feel like the scene before him was closer to something he'd expect from the Underworld. The monsters only made this gruesome scene worse.
They eventually reached a bridge.
"This thing does not look safe," Yuffie mumured.
"It looks old," Barret agreed.
"Regardless of whether it's safe or not, we have no choice but to cross it," Naruto said. "I'll go first."
The bridge swayed as Naruto began walking across it. He moved step by careful step, testing the boards to make sure they wouldn't break. It was a good thing he was so cautious. One of the boards he touched snapped in half and fell. Had he not been expecting it, he might have very well fallen as well.
Once he reached the end, which led to a strange cave buried in the mountain, he turned and gestured for the others. They came one by one. When everyone had safely walked across the bridge, they went inside of the cave, which appeared to be a man made place. While the cave itself seemed natural enough, numerous large pipes were jutting from the ground, their twisted forms rusted with age and disuse. A bright glow from materia crystals embedded into the walls lit their path.
Naruto walked down a set of stairs that led to a platform created from numerous rusty metal plates. The others followed. Down, down, down they went, traveling down several ladders.
They weren't attacked by any monsters. Naruto thought that was odd since this place seemed to be infested with all manner of beast, but he soon realized why no monsters had been spotted inside this cave when they reached the bottom.
The moment they set foot stone ground, a giant beast with leathery blue skin rushed at them on four pointed legs. It looked like an arachnid, but Naruto soon realized that wasn't it. The creature had a strangely shaped head with a long horn jutting from the front, purple eyes, and a row of sharp teeth. Spiky outcroppings like spines protruded from it's back. As the creature charged them, it used the two extra limbs sticking out of its back to attack them in earnest.
"Spread out and attack at will!"
Naruto followed his own advice by leaping over the creature. Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie went left and right to avoid being attacked, while Aerith, Barret, and Vincent leapt across the chasm so it couldn't reach them. Meanwhile, Cait Sith and Red XIII moved underneath it.
The feline in their group darted in for the legs and attacked in earnest, clawing at the beast, though it seemed to do little damage. There was barely even a scratch to show for his efforts. Cait Sith wasn't doing anything useful. The cat robot shrieked as it ran underneath the thing and tried to avoid getting impaled. Naruto sighed. Why had he allowed this stupid robot to come along with them again?
"Cloud! Tifa! Go for the legs!"
Cloud and Tifa attacked the legs from opposite sides. The giant buster sword in Cloud's hand sang as he swung it, slicing into the monster's leg, though like with Red XIII, the hide was so thick that it only left a faint scar. Tifa wasn't having much luck either. As a melee fighter, her attacks could dish out impressive punishment, but this thing was stronger than it looked.
"Infuse your attacks with Materia!" Naruto commanded.
Hopping back, Cloud and Tifa began generating fire and lightning with the materia embedded into their weapons. As this was happening, Barret and Vincent opened fire on the thing, blasting it with a face full of led that caused the creature to shriek. It jerked back and stumbled away from the bullets, protecting its face.
Naruto quickly ran up the wall and pushed off, leaping through the air. Summoning his O-katana, Yamato, he equipped himself with wind chakra materia. Unsheathing his sword, he swiped the blade in a diagonal slash, sending a massive wind blade that sliced into the creature's back.
Another shriek emitted from the beast. As blood spurted from the massive wound on its back, Yuffie used that opportunity to attack its face. She threw her fuuma shuriken through the air. The shuriken was crackling with lightning materia. It spun like a helicopter's rotors, sliced through the horn protruding from the monster's nose, and curved around to Yuffie, who caught it in her hand.
While the creature shrieked in enraged pain, Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII attacked the monster with physical attacks empowered by materia. Cloud's lightning wreathed sword lopped off a leg. Tifa's earth infused fist pounded into the monster's underbelly, lifting it into the air. That was when Red XIII howled and leapt, his body encased in flames. He slammed into the monster and set it on fire.
Despite their powerful attacks, the creature landed back on the ground and countered with renewed ferocity. It set its sights on Cloud, swinging at the blond former SOLDIER with powerful attacks that rent the air. Cloud backed up, using his buster sword to block the attacks. However, each attack sent him skidding across the floor.
Lightning leapt from Aerith's staff and slammed into the monster. While the creature shrieked, it didn't move, leading Naruto to believe it was paralysed. Tifa used that opportunity to leap into the air and smash her fist into its face. The beast's head caved in, a loud crunching sound echoing all around them. That was when Cloud leapt into the air, swung his blade, and sliced its head clean off.
Blood gushed from the now headless corpse as it swayed back and forth. It stumbled and continued to move as though still alive, as though it had yet to realize it was dead, but then, after another second, the creature stumbled forward and slumped to the ground.
"Let's keep moving," Naruto said as he readjusted the pack on his back. It had been shaken loose during the fight.
"At least let us catch our breath," Cait Sith mumbled as Aerith, Cloud, and Vincent joined them again. "That was a hard fight!"
"Che! A hard fight?" Barret glared at the robotic cat. "You didn't do a damn thing!"
Cait Sith's shoulders slumped forward in depression.
~The Legend of Gaia's Sennin~
Beyond Mount Nibel lay a land filled with grassy plains, rolling hills, and small forests. The moment Naruto and his companions emerged from the mountain pass, they stood upon a small plateau that gave them a perfect view of the surrounding area. From this point, Naruto was able to see that Mount Nibel was actually quite close to an inlet. The ocean was about one dozen or so miles away from where they stood.
"Finally out of that blasted mountain," Barret groaned as he stretched his arms above his head.
"It feels good to see the sun again," Red XIII murmured.
Given that the position of the sun was so high up, Naruto assumed it was midday or close to it. He didn't know how many days had passed while traveling through Mount Nibel, though it must have been at least two, given that they had slept twice while wandering through the underground tunnels.
"I know we should probably get moving, but I kind of want to relax," Tifa admitted as she took in the view.
"I know what you mean," Aerith agreed.
Naruto glanced at his companions. Aerith and Tifa stood side by side, their expressions mirroring each other, while Barret was yawning and scratching his beard. Red XIII and Cait Sith were just sort of listlessly sitting around. Further back, Cloud stood with his arms crossed, the massive buster sword slung over his back. Then there was…
"Hey, hey. Why are you always so somber?"
"Am I? I guess it's because I'm not used to being around people."
"So you're anti-social? You seem anti-social. Nothing at all like my sensei."
"That's right. Naruto-sensei! I'm not surprised he managed to convince you to join us. That just goes to show you why he's such a great sensei. Even brooders like you come around."
The weirdest conversation ever was taking place several feet behind him. Naruto had no idea what to think as Yuffie poked at Vincent, who remained impassive even as he was prodded by the young ninja girl.
"Hey, Vincent. Do you know anything about this area?" asked Naruto.
Vincent tilted his head. His arms were already crossed. He pondered the question for several seconds, studiously ignoring Yuffie, who continued to poke at him. Naruto didn't say anything, but he thought the guy looked kind of cool with his long hair and coat flapping like that. Naruto would have loved to make an outfit like that, but instead of a red cape, his would be orange.
"It seems a long time has passed since I was put to sleep," Vincent said. "I do not know if it is still here, but when I was a member of the Turks, there was a small town on this side of the continent. It took several days travel by car. I imagine it will take even longer to walk there."
"You must be talking about Rocket Town. If it's going to take several days anyway, then there's there's no point in rushing." Naruto placed a hand underneath his chin. "Since we just finished traveling through Mount Nibel and I'm sure we're all exhausted, let's set up camp and relax for today."
No one had any complaints with that, and the group got to work on setting up the camp. They divided into teams. Aerith, Tifa, and Yuffie set up the sleeping bags. Cloud went to gather wood for a fire. Barret opened the satchel he was carrying and pulled out the few ingredients they had left. Naruto realized with a sigh that they would have to begin hunting for food if they wanted to survive. They were also nearly out of water.
It wasn't long before everyone had something to eat as they sat around the makeshift campsite. They'd had to ditch their tents since they were too heavy to carry. Naruto had prioritized food over everything else, so outside of food and weapons, they only had their sleeping bags.
He'd tried to seal most of the stuff they would need away, but Naruto couldn't just make sealing scrolls with a snap of his fingers. The paper required was difficult to make. The ones Naruto currently had on hand were filled mostly with ammunition for Barret.
As they sat around the camp, munching on the basic sandwiches they'd been made, Naruto turned to Vincent, who ate without making a sound.
"You mentioned before that the Jenova Project is what gave birth to Sephiroth," Naruto started.
Vincent paused in his eating. "I did. What of it?"
"I was just thinking… Sephiroth is about 27 years old or so, and you were put to sleep in that basement sometime before he was born, right?"
"That's right." Vincent frowned at him. "What are you getting at?"
"Well, if you were working for the Turks, that must mean you were in your twenties back then, which means you're over fifty now." Naruto reached his point. "I was just wondering how you stayed so young all that time. How did you not shrivel up like a mummy while you were sleeping inside that coffin?"
From what Naruto could gather, the coffin hadn't been anything special. There was no device that froze someone in time. By all rights, Vincent should not have been able to survive inside of that coffin.
At Naruto's words, everyone turned to look at Vincent, their gazes curious and intense, like laser beams. Vincent stared at everyone. The silence stretched on. Then, with glacial slowness, the man in the red cape went back to eating his sandwich.
He said nothing.
One of the biggest issues I have with writing this story is that it doesn't have arcs like most of my other fanfics. It's one massive where the characters travel across the world in search of Sephiroth. This means that everything is completely linear with one chapter leading into the next. It's very different from what I'm used to. That said, I think I'm doing okay. Outside of some issues on how much details I should write and whether I should describe the monster fight scenes, it's not exceedingly difficult.
Anyway, I hope you all liked the chapter. I'll probably save the next chapter for later. I think I'm going to work on Shifts in Life some more. I feel like I can finish that one the quickest, and right now my goal is to give all of you who have been faithfully reading these fanfics some closure. Shifts is currently my oldest series. The people who've stuck with that story deserve to see it finished.
In regards to PMs. Anyone who wants to talk to me would be better off finding me on Twitter and Facebook. I only come on FFN to update stories these days. I don't usually have time to check my messages because I'm always working. However, I always keep a screen open with my social media accounts in case someone has a question for me. My Twitter handle is BrandonBVarnell, and my Facebook is AmericanKitsune. Find me there if you'd like to chat sometime. I usually answer very quickly unless I'm binging on anime, light novels, or my new visual novel craze. On a side note, I've been playing Nekopara and it's amazing.