It turned out Firion wasn't as bad with technology as he made himself out to be. After explaining the basic functions, Cloud left him alone with the device as he concentrated on driving them both to the desert surrounding the Goldsaucer, where Dio had been pestering him for help to clean up for a while. It wasn't a priority, since people hardly ever passed by the Goldsaucer desert, so Cloud had left it as one of those "whenever-free" jobs. Once they had arrived, he found Firion deeply engrossed with his new gadget in the sidecar. He waited for Firion to notice that they had stopped.

After a few awkward seconds of rushing desert winds, Firion suddenly looked up. "Oh!" he said, looking around him. "We're here?"

"Having fun with the mobile phone, aren't we?" Cloud remarked, as Firion shrugged sheepishly.

"This thing," he showed Cloud what was on his screen - a sample video file that came with the phone. "It's amazing! How did they get all those flowers into the phone?"

"It's a video," Cloud explained. "They're like moving pictures. Anyway, I can tell you more about them later, if you want. More importantly, have you figured out how to call me with that phone yet?"

Firion went back to staring at the phone. He pressed on the screen a few times. A short while later, Cloud's phone rang. Cloud flipped it open to see who the caller was, and lo and behold, it was Firion all right. He nodded with a sense of satisfaction. "And that's all you need to know," said Cloud, as he removed his sword from its compartment and holstered it.

"Well, this book was helpful," Firion said, holding up the user manual for the phone before hopping out of the sidecar as well.

Cloud spun around and regarded the book thoughtfully. "You can read it?"

"I'm not illiterate, Cloud," laughed Firion, sounding only slightly offended.

Cloud shook his head. "I mean... Come to think about it, how is it we can understand each other, even though we're from different worlds?"

The light slowly dawned in Firion's eyes. "I see what you're getting at," he mumbled. He put away the phone and looked at the manual again. "Yes, it's definitely in the language my world uses." He caught Cloud's eye. "Do you suppose this is somehow related to the skyholes?"

"Maybe," Cloud frowned, "or maybe we're just making it into a red herring. Doesn't matter, we have other things to do at the moment," he said, pulling out his sword and a few maps from Fenrir's holding compartments. "According to reports, there's been an outbreak of Harpies in the area recently. These are usually rare encounters, but for some reason there have been a increase in the number of sightings. Although people seldom travel across the desert here, the owner would rather prevent attacks from happening at all than to find himself reacting to a disaster, if someone eventually does get hurt."

"Sounds logical," Firion said. He appeared to be in deep thought about something. "I don't think there are any Harpies in my world... That name doesn't ring a bell at all," he eventually remarked. "What do they look like?"

Cloud actually grimaced, his mind conjuring up the image of that dreadful three or four-headed beast. He still hadn't quite figured out how many and what animals they had been amalgamated from. "I'm not sure I can describe them properly," he gave a slight shrug. "It has three heads, I think, and... trust me, you'll know when you see them."

Firion ed his head to a side, but did not ask for an elaboration. Instead, he asked, "Well, what's the usual tactic against them, then?"

"They're not weak against any elements as far as I can tell," Cloud replied. "However they do like to cast water-based attacks, and can poison you if you're not careful, so have something on hand to guard against those things, I suppose."

Firion quickly went about sorting out his equipment and supplies, while Cloud found a crag to hide Fenrir under. He thought he might want to call Dio up again to ascertain the precise positions of the Harpies in those reports, but eventually decided against that. Looking for them themselves would afford him a chance to talk with Firion at a more leisurely pace. Once he confirmed with Firion that he was ready, they set off.

"Amidst all the rushing, I haven't had a chance to really understand your world," Firion started a conversation almost immediately. Specifically, he was looking at the brightly-lit Goldsaucer in the distance. "It's a bit like Squall's world, from what I've seen so far. Telephones and stuff... err... does... does that thing in the distance move?" asked Firion almost timidly.

"The Goldsaucer?" Cloud blinked, turning to look at the amusement park. "Not that I'm aware, why?"

"Oh, it's nothing," Firion said with a nervous laugh. "I was just remembering the first time I stepped on Balamb Garden. You know, it really does look like this Goldsaucer place. Kind of."

Speaking of Squall's world. "Has Squall come up with any strategy to somehow deal with this problem yet?" Cloud asked.

This switch to a seemingly more familiar subject immediately caused Firion to relax slightly. "I haven't actually met him since the last time I was here," Firion laughed a little, "but I'll make sure as many people know about the latest news as possible. Just think: We now have two new people we can add to the monster hunting team, and possibly a skyhole with a fixed destination! I'm not Squall, and I can already come up with one or two ways we could use that to bring us closer to a solution."

Cloud considered it. "Are you saying we should add Sora and Riku to the monster hunting team?" he frowned at the idea. It was a practical one, but it didn't sound right to him just then. He was mildly aware that he was being overprotective, and that he knew the boys could handle the monsters just fine, but it still didn't sit right.

Firion took a look at Cloud's frown and actually burst out laughing. "You always have that frown on every time we try to send someone that's not you into the fray," he remarked wryly. "Relax, Cloud. I'm sure they can take care of themselves."

Cloud mumbled something under his breath even he couldn't decipher. In a louder voice he asked, "What can you tell me about the situation in the other worlds, with the monster thing, then?"

After some consideration, Firion said in reply, "We're constantly on the move, trying to find information about monster attacks or just strange events in general. Since we're at the mercy of the skyholes, though, we don't get to pick and choose our next destination. We just hop into whatever skyhole's available. Again, this brings me to the point of how important it is to discover those two-way portals that lead to your basement. The possibility of sharing information together, and not just in bits and pieces anymore, will certainly be of great help to all of us, and our cause."

Cloud nodded in acknowledgement of that. "I think that would be a good idea too, since I doubt I can be away from this world for long."

"Honestly, none of us could either," Firion laughed again, "but it's not like we can ask the monsters to stop wandering into skyholes and such, right? Everyone pretty much had to leave something behind. But we managed, and so will you," he declared with the utmost confidence.

Cloud grunted something akin to an affirmative. He would probably warm up to the ideal of world-travelling within the next week or so, if he kept thinking about it. Maybe even expand his delivery service to include other worlds, not that he would have any customers for that except his soldiers-in-arms. Then it hit him. "Do you suppose we'd still be able to travel across worlds to see each other when we finally root out the cause of this skyhole thing?" he asked.

The question made Firion's eyes widen slightly. "I've... not thought about that possibility before," he admitted, "but now that you mention it... I guess we can try to find a way to do that too. Still, why do you ask?"

Not really wanting to reveal that he was thinking about his future business prospects, Cloud simply shrugged. "Just curious," he replied. "Besides, seeing you guys seemed to be the key to helping me remember what happened. Until I saw Squall the other day, I had actively forgotten about everything that we went through together. I initially thought it may have been a side-effect of an old illness, but the more I think about it... the more I'm starting to believe those memories had been actively blocked. Most possibly by the walls between our worlds. If we do resolve this crisis," he paused to see if Firion was following. He was. Cloud continued, "I don't want to have to have those memories blocked out again. For better or worse, they're a part of my life, and I'd like to keep them."

Firion didn't say anything for a while. "I think you may be on to something," he rubbed his chin. "It's funny that you say that, because I had no recollection of our time together too, until I saw Zidane, the first among the team to fall into my world." He tilted his head slightly, an indication that he was thinking. "Then it all came rushing back, like they'd never been gone at all."

Cloud blinked. "So it's not just me then?" He took a few seconds to ponder over this new piece of information. "It looks like... the trigger is... seeing someone from another world?"

"So far, that is," Firion agreed, but cautiously. "We have too little information about this. Maybe we shouldn't be speculating yet, until we can ask the others for their stories."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Cloud sighed. "At least I now know I wasn't the only one."

"I would like that, though," Firion remarked. When Cloud looked at him, he clarified: "To be able to remember and see everyone again even after this event, that is. I agree with you. For better or for worse, these memories are mine, and I'd like to keep them."

Cloud nodded at that. Then something struck him, and he asked, "By the way, how did you find the portal that led back to my house, anyway?"

"Oh yeah! I've been meaning to tell you in the house before everything happened," Firion chuckled. "It wasn't hard, because while the portal did spit me out in a different place from that cave that took us here, it was quite easy for me to find the cave again, and...just like what Sora and Riku said, once I approached the mouth of the cave, the portal showed up immediately, ed me in like the first time, and there I was in your basement again."

Cloud gave this new bit of information a long thought. "So that particular portal is in a fixed location, just like we theorised," he mumbled, to which Firion nodded in agreement. "Which means...we now have a way to bring everyone over to this a more controlled manner."

Again, Firion nodded. "Tidus is trying to bring that particular tidbit of information back to Squall as well. We'll have to see how things turn out from here, but at least we have something to work on now!"

Cloud was inclined to agree. Having a place that all of them could meet together at a particular time, instead of these random meetups, was sure to be advantageous to their cause. At the same time, there were still too many unknowns, so he held back from having high expectations. "Getting everyone into one place at the same time," he declared in conclusion, "should be our current priority along with monster hunting."

"I'll be sure to let Squall know about that the next time we meet," Firion chuckled. "If he hasn't already issued that command himself already."

The duo lapsed into companionable silence after that, both having a great deal to think about. For Cloud, however, something else was weighing on his mind as well. It had been a while since he had started talking with Firion, and yet there were no monsters in sight, which, Cloud thought to himself, was starting to feel a little strange. True, monsters generally stayed away from humans, but he would have at least seen one or two in the distance by now. This absolute silence was quite unprecedented.

As if reading his mind, Firion inquired just at that moment: "Any idea where we can find these monsters we're supposed to hunt?"

Cloud shrugged and shook his head. "We'll just go around the perimeter of the desert first, and maybe skirt the outer regions a little. The point is we don't want to wander too far from the border of the desert, because it's a 100% chance of getting lost. Also, the terrain is harsh and there are hidden quicksand spots everywhere. I'm far too old for unpleasant surprises nowadays."

"You're not that old, Cloud," Firion said in a semi-exasperated, semi-amused tone of voice. He rolled his eyes slightly for good measure.

Cloud allowed himself a small smile in acknowledgement.

"How are we going to find those monsters, then?" Firion asked.

"We don't, usually," Cloud tapped on his bracelet, where a purple materia was glowing brightly. "We wait for the monsters to come to us."

"What is that?" Firion stared at the purple glow.

"Materia," Cloud simply said.

Firion became silent for a while. Then, "Oh!" he snapped his fingers. "That's right. The spell system of your world. I remember you telling us about that before."

Cloud nodded. "I've been using an Enemy Lure spell for a while now. It shouldn't be long before we see some monsters, even if they may not be Harpies."

They continued their trek, both on the lookout for monsters and Harpies. "I'm not seeing anything at all," Firion said after quite a while.

"Yes," Cloud agreed. He stopped, and that made Firion stop as well. Glancing into the desert from where they stood at the fringe, he could only make out the looming figure of the Goldsaucer in the distance, and a large sandstorm that he wasn't too concerned about - those things never made it past the fringes of the desert for some reason. There was nary a monster in sight - not even the ones that would usually be hanging out at the edge of the desert. "This is quite bizarre," he admitted to a waiting Firion, who was looking up at the sky. "I must admit I'm baffled."

After a while, Firion lowered his glance to look at Cloud. "No skyholes in sight for now," he declared.

"You think the skyholes might have something to do with this?"

"I've seen it a few times," Firion explained. "I go to someone's world and the monster ecosystem there is somehow off-balance. It's almost always the fault of the skyhole dumping a few other-worldly monsters into that world, and the feeling I'm getting from here... I'm afraid to say it's frighteningly similar."

Cloud tried to remember whether a skyhole had opened up above Goldsaucer before. It didn't seem likely, as that would have caused mayhem of an order not even the WRO could contain. However it did make all the pieces fit together rather nicely - Dio's sudden and frequent requests to clean out monsters in the desert that had previously not proven to be a major problem before, and the monster no-show in the area - assuming they had been wiped out by the invisible new species - just to name a couple. "It doesn't explain why there would be an explosion in the Harpy population here, though," Cloud said. "If anything, shouldn't they be on the decrease?"

"I don't know, Cloud," said Firion, "but I think we should investigate, because if there are really monsters from another world here, that would mean they've somehow found a way to travel through worlds without the skyholes. I'm not sure about you, but that really doesn't sound like good news to me."

Cloud nodded in acknowledgement of Firion's concern. "They could have travelled here after being dumped from another skyhole on this continent, maybe," he suggested. "Remember the skyholes here are closing up quite quickly after opening. We may have missed out on some. That is, assuming monsters from another world are really the ones behind this phenomenon."

A strong gust of wind whipped past, spraying painful bits of sand on the duo. It was an indication that the sandstorm was approaching their edge of the desert. "Come on, we should get moving," Cloud gestured to Firion while covering as much of his face as he could with his other hand, regretting that he had left his goggles with Fenrir. He took a few steps away from the incoming sandstorm, but noticed that Firion wasn't following. "What's the matter?"

Firion said nothing, only pointing towards the sandstorm.

Following the direction of his finger, Cloud could see nothing but a mass of flying dust. At first. As his eyes quickly adjusted to the lowered visibility, he could then see silhouettes of a horde of grotesque-looking creatures moving rapidly in their direction. He gasped.

This wasn't a sandstorm.

This was a monster stampede of untold proportions.

"I think that Enemy Lure spell of yours is working a little too well for our good, Cloud," Firion joked good-naturedly. He was already pulling out his bow.

Cloud immediately terminated the spell. "Not trying to make excuses, but this has literally never happened before," he grouched while pulling out his sword as well. They could now hear the monsters' muffled screeches and roars. "Those things sound like Harpies," Cloud remarked. "Can you put up a Barrier for us? I'm going to try to clear the air a little."

"Sure," Firion nodded, and set up the Barrier almost immediately. Once Cloud felt the thrum of the invisible shield, he activated his Contain materia and conjured up a light Tornado spell, which he caused to p gently through the general area of the stampeding monsters. He really didn't want to accidentally p any monsters out of the area, after all. Cleaning that up would be another epic story on its own, to say the least.

The dust particles got caught up in the small tornado handily, and most of them were moved away when the tornado finally swept out of sight. Once the dust settled, Cloud terminated the spell, knowing that if he had let it go on, it may hit a town or village somewhere and wreak quite a lot of havoc, if not total destruction. Then he focused his full attention on the incoming monsters.

It was a fearsome yet comical sight, he decided. The monsters - a great gaggle of Harpies, now that he could see clearer - were storming their way through the desert at what had to be top speed. However, many were falling victim to the vicious pull of quicksand, toppling over and in turn causing the Harpy behind to topple as well. They nevertheless attempted to free themselves from their confines to continue on their journey toward the duo.

"Those are Chimeras!" Cloud heard Firion exclaim from beside him.


"Chimeras!" Firion's voice grew urgent. "A deadly three-headed beast from my world!"

Cloud squinted at the creatures. "They look like Harpies to me..." Then he shook his head. "Why are we even discussing this? Whichever world they're from, they're going down now."

Firion nodded grimly to that sentiment. "There are too many of them, though. We should come up with some plan."

"Already on it," Cloud mumbled under his breath. The monsters were far away enough, so he activated his Master Summon and called for a summon that specialised in pinpoint accuracy. Ramuh burst out from the ground in front of Firion and Cloud with great bluster. Firion gaped for a split second, then got into an attacking pose. "He's with us," Cloud held a hand out to stop Firion before he wound up attacking the summon.

"What?!" was Firion's flabbergasted reply.

There was no time to explain, though. "All of them if possible, Ramuh!" Cloud yelled over the rising din that was Ramuh still coming out from the ground.

"Possible? Of course it's possible," a booming, amused voice sounded out from above the hunk of ground that had arisen in the middle of the desert.

"And don't hit the Goldsaucer for fun this time, please," Cloud continued.

"You have to admit, seeing a whole year's supply of fireworks going off was worth the shellacking you took from Dio after that," the booming voice calmly reminded.

By this time, Firion was trying to inch far enough from the mound so that he could see who was on it. Failing which, he inched closer to Cloud instead and asked, "What is that?!"

"It's a summon," said Cloud.

"You have summons in your world?" the rebel leader exclaimed in amazement.

"You don't?" Cloud blinked.

Dark stormclouds were already gathering overhead, with streaks of lighting flashing across every once in a while. The orb on Ramuh's staff grew brighter and brighter even as the sky became ever darker. The air turned heavy and cold, and a sudden gust of chilly wind blasted across the terrain, whipping up the dust that had just settled. Cloud motioned for Firion to join him behind Ramuh's mound, where they could get a clear view of the scene without exposing themselves to the elements. Firion complied, after a slight initial hesitation.

No sooner than he had, the skies ripped open with an angry peal of thunder. This was followed by several blinding flashes of lighting, all crashing down to the ground at the same time. Terrifyingly high-pitched shrieks could be heard, intermingling with the loud crackling of lightning hitting monster flesh. The attack caused more sand to rise up into the air, obscuring the scene except for when the lightning lit up an occasional swatch of land or two.

Cloud and Firion pressed against Ramuh's mound as closely as they could, covering their eyes with their hands while still trying to peer out to assess the situation. Soon, the rumbling came to a stop, and the loud noise that had assaulted their ears gave way to ringing silence. The plumes of sand dust once again obscured the immediate vicinity. Cloud peered over the side of Ramuh's mound, but could neither see nor hear anything except vestiges of a powerful lightning attack. He removed himself from behind the mound and walked forward, ing his ears. There was nothing.

"Did we get them all?" Firion asked tentatively. He too had walked away from the mound and had joined Cloud in staring into the distance. "I can't see or hear anything."

"A most satisfactory outcome, I would say," was Cloud's reply. "You can usually hear a Harpy's grotesque cries before you see one, so if there's silence, that's a good thing." Still, he continued to try to see through the dust, and his weapon remained firmly gripped in his hands. "Something doesn't feel right, though." The stillness of the air and the sheer silence was bothering Cloud's instincts enough to make some of his hair stand on ends. He could not explain why he felt this way.

"Yeah..." Firion agreed.

"Do you feel that?" Cloud suddenly asked.

"Feel what?" Firion frowned.

"That trembling..." Cloud looked down at his hands.

Firion looked at Cloud in puzzlement for only a split second longer, then his eyes widened. He turned his head outwards, into the vast sandy terrain before them, and said, "Yes, I can feel it now. Something's coming this way. Something quite heavy, if I might add."

A ear-splitting roar suddenly sounded out, and bursting out from the settling dust storm was a creature the like Cloud had never seen before. It stomped its way through the sand, swiping its massive jaws at anything it thought was obstructing its advancement. Between its fearsome-looking fangs were what Cloud was sure had to be mutilated body parts of a Harpy. He was momentarily stunned, until Firion's gasp brought him back to reality.

"That's a T-Rex, a dinosaur from Squall's world!" Firion exclaimed in explanation. The monstrous T-Rex threw the body of the Harpy into the air and chomped down on it. The crunching noises sounded terrifying even to the battle-hardened Cloud. He allowed himself to gawk it at for just a moment more before whisking into action.

"Any weak points?" Cloud shouted at Firion over the din and dust as they both dashed as quickly as they could towards the massive creature. Since Firion had announced the creature's name, Cloud assumed that he knew more information about it as well.

It turned out Cloud's assumption was right. "None!" Firion shouted back. "We usually just keep hitting it until it goes down! It may take a while though; that thing has a lot of stamina! And don't get caught by its jaws! They really hurt!"

Cloud nodded, and fumbled around for a Scan materia. The crunching noises started to slowly fade away as the T-Rex finished its tidbit. The other Harpies were by no longer in sight, having acted on their natural instincts and fleeing the scene as soon as they saw an opening. The Rex threw a final dismembered limb into the air and caught it in its mouth. After swallowing, it paused for a while, before turning to face its next potential prey - Firion and Cloud.

The two of them, for their part, had already done their prep work while the massive creature was downing the final piece of its previous prey. Cloud had scanned the dinosaur and noticed that its fall into this world and foray through the Harpies' territory seemed to have cut its HP by nearly half. This put Cloud and Firion at an advantage - as long as the monster didn't manage to get a hit on either of them. Firion had warned Cloud about its jaws, but even if he hadn't, Cloud could tell from simply looking that it would take even him quite a while to recover from a bite from those massive fangs.

The large beast roared and started its lumbering march towards the duo. Cloud threw Firion a knowing look. The latter nodded and before the Rex could reach them, they turned and headed towards two different directions. Thrown off course for a split second, the monster quickly recovered and turned towards Cloud in pursuit, for he had activated the Lure materia again. Cloud had been expecting this, so he did not look back, simply kept going as he tried not to lose his balance, for the ground was quaking with every step the Rex took.

Cloud carefully navigated his way around an area littered with quicksand spots, and heard the Rex's growl of unhappiness as it stepped into one of them. That should delay it for a while, Cloud thought, as he continued his way. His final destination was the small dome of hard-packed sand just a ways further. If he could use the height to his advantage and Braver the Rex with full momentum, he was pretty sure Firion could take care of the rest.

It was a simple strategy, but it would work.

Except the Rex was pulling itself out of the quicksand much more competently than Cloud had anticipated, and catching up with him much faster than the plan would allow.

Cloud swore under his breath. He had used information from monsters he had been familiar with to calculate the strategy, but in so doing had completely forgotten that the T-Rex wasn't a monster he had seen before. He had certainly underestimated the speed of this hulking mass of muscles, and to pay for it, he would have to switch strategies on the fly.

Spinning around, Cloud poised his sword to attack the quickly approaching T-Rex. The unstable ground coupled with the shaking from the monster's heavy footsteps was another factor he hadn't thought to consider. Still, if he played this right, he would be able to at least fend off the monster until Firion could get a proper hit in from behind.

The T-Rex came in for a bite, which Cloud blocked without much difficulty. The huge weight of the Rex's powerful jaws, however, was proving a force to be reckoned with. Cloud found himself struggling to keep the sword pushed against the Rex. He wasn't worried that the fortified steel of his weapon would break, but he wasn't about to let this stalemate carry on forever either. He released one of the smaller blades from the combined sword, the sudden movement jolting the T-Rex into letting go of the sword out of surprise.

Seasoned instincts kicked and Cloud took advantage of the situation to pursue the momentarily retreating T-Rex by thrusting the small sword he had just liberated into the neck area of the monster, hoping to hit a jugular somewhere. The massive creature immediately recoiled and threw its head up into the air with an anguished roar. The smaller sword remained embedded on its neck as it tottered away, taking a few steps back. It shook its head violently, as if trying to fling the the sword away, but failed to succeed.

Angered, the T-Rex gave an anguished, angry-sounding roar and lunged at Cloud. Cloud immediately held his sword up in anticipation.

But there was no need for him to do anything more. A sharp whistling sound cut through the air from behind the dinosaur, and a magically charged arrow emerged from the dust storm to hit its target squarely - right on the back of the T-Rex's head. The spell loaded on the arrow - a powerful lightning spell - immediately spread throughout the T-Rex's body, rendering it immobile. It paused, shuddered, and then fell on its side, inches away from where Cloud was standing.

Cloud lowered his guard slightly, but didn't completely drop it. He poked the slightly twitching T-Rex with his sword, but the monster didn't respond. From the distance, Cloud could see Firion coming closer, his bow still poised.

"What spell was that?" Cloud asked.

"The highest-level lightning spell I had in my arsenal," Firion replied. By the time he was fully visible, the T-Rex had stopped twitching and was laying motionless on the ground. "Physical weapons never had much effect on this particular monster, so putting a lightning spell through its body was the best way to bring it down. Glad to see that hasn't changed when it came to this world."

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind for next time," said Cloud, although there was one snag. "How did you put that spell on your weapon, though?"

Firion pulled Cloud's sword out from the dinosaur's neck and flung it over, hilt first. "It's a little different from just throwing a spell out like that. I can show you after we're done here and back somewhere safer."

Cloud caught the sword and slotted it back into place with the rest of the combination sword. "Great," he nodded, then turned his attention back to the prostrate dinosaur. "What do we do with this? I can't drag it back to show Dio. It's not like he can see it anyway."

"Oh...right, you don't know," Firion rubbed his chin and nodded to himself.

"What don't I know?"

"Well, just stay there and don't move, all right?"

Cloud tilted his head questioningly. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped short when a dark, menacing shadow suddenly appeared from nowhere to loom over him. More specifically, it was looming over the general area he was standing on. Even more specifically, it was looming over the fallen T-Rex.

As Firion and Cloud watched on, the mini swirl of darkness started spinning above the T-Rex, faster and faster, until it finally spun out of existence, somehow ing the T-Rex up along with it.

Cloud stared at the spot where the T-Rex used to lay, then turned to look at Firion, silently demanding answers. Firion shrugged sheepishly.

"That thing drops monsters on different worlds, and then s them back who-knows-where after we take care of them?" Cloud could not keep the incredulity out of his voice. "Is it just me, or are we being epically trolled here?"

"Let's...not go there, Cloud," Firion's sheepish expression faltered only slightly.

Cloud ignored him in favour of more pressing matters. "What am I going to tell Dio?" He wondered out loud.


Cloud turned around, a wisecrack hanging on his lips. Before he could deliver his witty rejoinder, however, another dark swirling mass appeared, this time right beside Firion.

Firion spared the swirling mass a glance, then looked back at Cloud. "Alas, that's my ride home," he lamented. "Or wherever I'm supposed to go next to hunt monsters."

"Yes, we're definitely being trolled," Cloud sighed.

"Only because we're all such softies for adventures," Firion laughed. He was slowly starting to fade against the swirling darkness behind him. "I'll be seeing you around, Cloud."

And with that parting statement, Firion and the darkness disappeared.

Left alone with the sharp whistling of the desert wind and the stinging sand particles, Cloud took the time to try to clear his thoughts.

Foremost on his mind was this most pertinent question.

"Hey, would it kill you to maybe open a portal leading right to my house as well, while you were at it?!"

The screeching wind that followed his indignant roar sounded like shrill laughter.

16 January 2017