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Writing FF7-The search for Aeris


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The Mayor of Corel sat back in his chair and looked vacantly at the heap of papers that lay on the desk in front of him. He had been working diligently, or as diligently as was possible for him, to make a dent in those papers all day, yet looking now it seemed as if he had made almost no progress. He glanced out a window to his left and saw that the sun now hung low in the sky, just peaking over the mountains of North Corel. He had been working on this paperwork all day, but he hated it, and it was slow going. How he wished he were out in those mountains right now and not stuck behind this desk!
With a shrug he turned back to his papers. He had too much work to do to let his mind wander. He reminded himself (for the millionth time, it seemed) that he had responsibilities now, and couldn't take off and leave everything on some whim like he used to in the old days. No, those days were gone, even though he had come to realize that they had been the most exciting in his life.

Still, a man had to move on. He idly scratched his right arm just above the gun grafted on it. He looked at the gun for a moment, holding it up until the sun glinted off it through the window. For all he had used this lately, Barret mused, he might as well have replaced it with a letter opener.

The door to his office opened. He turned with a frown. He knew he had to get this paperwork done, and he also knew that he would jump at any interruption as a chance to get away from it. To prevent that he had left his secretary with explicit orders that he not he disturbed.

A girl stood in the doorway, but it was not his secretary. He recognized her and his frown immediately turned into a grin.

"Tifa!" he exclaimed, getting up and striding over to her. "It's so good to see you again. I didn't know you were in town."

Barret wrapped her in a bear hug, and though she was by no means a fragile girl, she gasped for breath until he let her go.

"I just got here," she replied after a moment.

"Well, make yourself at home," he said, indicating a seat in front of his desk. He sat down behind the desk, his paperwork forgotten. "How long has it been since I last saw you, about a year I guess, eh? I can't believe it's been that long. How's everything back in Kalm? Are you doing well with your new bar? How's Cloud? Everything well, I hope?"

Tifa sat down slowly in the chair. She did not speak for a moment, and at first he thought she had just been overwhelmed from his barrage of questions, but then he realized this was not so. He and Tifa went back a long way from their days in Avalanche, and even when things had been bad Tifa had always been cheerful and optimistic. But now he saw a troubled look in her eyes.

"Is everything OK? How are things between you and Cloud?" he guessed.

"Ok, I suppose," she said with a shrug.

Obviously not good. He saw that he had guessed correctly.

"What did he do, run off on you?" The pokey haired kid had a good heart but he was so immature. Barret wondered if he was going to have to knock some sense into him.

"No, nothing like that, " Tifa said quickly with a smile, as if she understood his thoughts. She sat back in her chair and glanced out the window. Now that it came down to it she was reluctant to speak. She had never been very good about expressing her feelings for Cloud, and did not feel comfortable talking about it, even with her close friend. But after all, that was the whole reason for her being here in the first place. If she couldn't talk to Barret she couldn't talk to anyone, and if she didn't talk to anyone she thought she would go crazy.

"It's just that he's so distant," she said finally. "Sometimes it seems like he's in another world, and it's happening more and more lately. He can sit there for hours just staring into space. And the dreams. He doesn't discuss them, but I can tell he has them almost every night. He's convinced she's trying to contact him."

Barret nodded sympathetically. Tifa didn't have to tell him who 'she' was. Aeris death had hit them all hard, and no one really got completely over it. He had seen so many good people lose their lives. He still thought of Jessie, Wedge and Biggs often, and how they had talked about the good times they would have after it was all over. That would never happen now, but what could one do but go on?

"We all lost people we were close to," he said softly.

"But he's convinced she's alive," Tifa said.

Barret looked at her sharply.

"How could he think that?" he questioned. "We were all there. We all saw it. Sephiroth ran her... well, you know. No one could have survived that."

Barret shuddered at the memory.

Tifa bowed her head, obviously remembering also. But then she looked up again.

"No human could have survived it," she responded. "But Aeris was an Ancient, a Cetra. Who knows whether the same rules apply."

Barret looked at her in surprise. He had never thought of that.

"So you think it may be possible?" he asked.

"I don't know!" she answered. "I don't know what to think. I don't see how she could have survived, but what do I know about the Ancients? All I know is that Cloud is convinced she is, and he won't be whole until he finds out for sure, one way or the other."

Barret sat back in his chair. He had never been able to follow all that Ancient Cetra stuff that Aeris had spouted. It had all seemed much too complicated and not worth the effort, not when there was a gun in his hand (or on his hand, as the case may be) and a clear enemy to fight.

"So what do you want to do?" he asked.

She didn't answer at first. She got up and walked over to the window. Dusk had faded into night, and a few brighter stars now twinkled in the sky. When she spoke her back was still toward him.

"I want to find out if it is possible she survived. And if it is, I want to help Cloud find her."

Barret had kind of figured that was coming.

"How would you feel about that," he said slowly. "I mean, if it turned out she was alive?"

Tifa continued looking out the window, and for a moment he thought she wasn't going to respond. But then she turned and looked at him.

"I don't know," she said. "But Cloud can't go on like this. He has to be whole, even if it means..."

She fell silent, but Barret could finish the sentence easily enough. Still, it seemed unlikely to him it would ever come to that.

"Well I can see your dilemma, and I have to say I admire your decision. Of course I'll help you any way I can, but I don't see that there is much I can do. I never paid much attention to all that Ancients talk, and I certainly wouldn't have the slightest idea of how to look for Aeris, even if I thought there was even the slimmest chance that she was still alive."

"I know, " she said, nodding. "I didn't come here to have you find me a solution. It may be that there is no solution. I just needed someone to talk to."

"I understand," he said, then stood thinking for a moment. "Is Cloud with you?"

"Yes," she said. "I left him at the Inn. I wanted to come see you first. I was going to make some excuse but he didn't even ask me where I was going."

"It'll be good to see him again," Barret replied. "You know, I have no clue what you should do, but I think I know someone who can tell you, if anyone can. I think it might be time for us to visit another old friend."

to be continued....if there is a demand for it! :cross:
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[QUOTE][i]Originally posted by Raiha [/i]
[B][COLOR=royalblue]I DEMAND IT! Continue.....;)[/COLOR] [/B][/QUOTE]

ok, your the boss, no wait, I'm the boss, no wait....dammit I'm confused now, here's part two for your viewing pleasure....

It was night. Cloud stood on a treeless hill in the dark. Rain pelted down around him, he could feel it but not see it. He could see nothing but darkness all around him. He looked up, but there was no sign of any stars or moonlight.

He turned in a slow circle, but saw no hint of where he was, or how he had gotten here, or anything at all except the darkness. But then a light slowly grew ahead of him. Faint at first, but then growing until he could see a small figure.

The light continued to brighten. He could see Aeris clearly now, for the light seemed to emanate from her. He took a step toward her but then stopped. In the growing light he saw that he stood on the edge of a chasm. The ground dropped off in front of him as if it had been cut by a knife, and he could see nothing below but inky blackness. Aeris stood on the other side, close, but unreachable. She seemed to be beckoning to him.

He looked around, but the chasm seemed to stretch in both directions for as far as he could see He could not reach her.

He looked at her again, and it was then he saw the dark shadow growing behind her.

He shouted a warning, but though she didn't appear that far away, she did not seem to hear. The shadow grew deeper and larger behind her while she continued to beckon to him, unaware of the danger. Burning green eyes appeared in the blackness behind her and a long sword materialized out of the darkness and hovered above her head.

"Look out," he yelled as loud as he could. "Look out, behind you!"

She didn't hear. The sword swung up slowly and he knew in an instant it would descend.

With a cry of rage he flung himself into the chasm. He felt himself falling, and suddenly he could hear her voice calling his name, echoing in the darkness as he plummeted downward.


He awoke with a start to see Tifa looking at him, concern on her face.

"You've had another dream," she said softly. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, " he said quickly. "I'm fine."

He stood up and looked around. They had camped beneath a small stand of elm trees at the foot of a hill. The sun, low in the east, cast long early morning shadows around them.

Tifa waited, hoping maybe Cloud would say more, but not really expecting it.

He didn't.

"You better pack up your gear," she said finally, "We need to get an early start if you want to be there by noon."

He nodded and started to get his gear together.

"So you're finally up!" Barret came striding over and gave him a slap on the back that nearly sent him sprawling. "Thought you were going to sleep away the whole morning. And a fine morning it is, I might add."

Tifa was glad that Barret had insisted on coming along with them, although she had been kind of surprised that he could leave his office on such short notice. But when she had broached the subject to him he had just snorted dismissively and told her he had only taken the job in order to get Corel back on it's feet, and it was doing well now. He hadn't taken a vacation since he had become Mayor, and if they didn't like it they could just fire him and find someone else to take the job, though personally he doubted they would be able to find someone foolish enough.

He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the cool morning air.

"Ahh," he said pleasantly, "It's good to be on the road again."

Cloud smiled in spite of himself at his old friends enthusiasm. It was good to see Barret again. He had been surprised when Tifa had brought Barret back to the Inn, even more surprised when they told him their plan. He had tried to hide the visions he was getting from Tifa, but obviously he hadn't done a very good job. He had been half afraid if he told her she would have dismissed it as nonsense, or perhaps even thought he was losing his mind, as he had to admit he sometimes thought himself. He should have known better. He was grateful she understood and was trying to help him, though he hadn't told her so.

"We better get going," was all he said.

They finished packing their gear and were soon on the road again. Though Shinra Corp had been sucking the planet dry and no one in the party was sorry to see it go, having had more than a little hand in bringing about it's destruction, there were some disadvantages. The roads were in poor repair and vehicles were scarce. Not that any of them minded very much. They had done quite a bit of their earlier traveling on foot, and were well accustomed to the road.

Soon the flat plains around them began to rise up and the vegetation become scarce. The road wound up slowly into the hills and passed into a steep sided canyon. They came around a bend and saw a town carved into the hillside ahead, covering the entire side of the mountain. Perched at the very top they could just made out the dark silloutte of an observatory.

"Its good to be back," Barret remarked and led them up a rough cut stairway into Cosmo Canyon.


"Welcome, friends"

"Red, it's so good to see you," Tifa exclaimed, walking up beside him and rubbing the fur under his neck. He lifted his head for her to get better access. Cloud couldn't help but smile at the sight of this huge fire red beast, with rapier sharp claws that could tear a man apart in an instant, being petted like a housecat. Even though he knew the look was deceiving and Red was just about the calmest and most peaceful person (or creature, but he really couldn't think of Red as anything other than a person) he had ever met.

"Indeed it has been a while," Red replied. "Too long, in fact. My studies have kept me busy, but that has not stopped me from thinking about you all often. You are all well, I hope?"

He looked quickly at each of them in turn. Barret responded in the affirmative. Tifa just looked at Cloud, who said nothing.

"Ah yes," Red said quickly. "I have been looking into your theory. If you wish we can go up to my chambers and discuss my findings, or perhaps you are too weary from the road and need to rest first?"

"No, " Cloud said quickly before the others could speak. "We're not tired at all. Let's go."

Red slowly led them through the town and up to the observatory. Tifa and Cloud had readily agreed with Barret when he had suggested that they contact Red, and they had sent word ahead to let Red know they were coming and the nature of their quest. Cosmo Canyon held a huge storehouse of knowledge about the planet and all who had lived on it, including the Ancients. If there was anyplace in the world where they could find out what they were looking for, this would be it.

The observatory hadn't changed at all since they had last seen it. Red had kept it just the way it was in honor of Bugenhagen. He walked into the laboratory and sat down on the floor, the others gathering around him.

"I have been searching through the records since you first contacted me, " Red stated getting right down to it. "I am afraid that what I have found is not promising. There is no way she could have survived Sephiroth's attack. However, " he said quickly as Cloud started to speak, "there is some evidence that in certain circumstances an Ancient can be brought back from the dead. Although there is precious little information about death and/or resurrection of an Ancient. I have come across a few items that hinted at it. There is one thing I could find that seemed to hold some promise. There were two references to a special type of materia, a Crystal Materia, that apparently could revive the spirit of an Ancient. Both references were from some of the oldest books here in the Canyon, both written in ancient languages that were difficult to translate, but the fact that it was mentioned on two separate occasions, in two separate books, leads me to believe that it could exist, though whether it actually can bring Aeris back is unknown."

"But you think it might be possible," Cloud asked.

"Maybe," Red replied. "There is so much about the Ancients that is lost forever. I can't say for sure what is possible when it comes to them."

"So how do we find this Crystal Materia?" Barret asked.

"The books did not say," Red answered.

"You mean you have no idea where to find it?" Tifa asked.

"Correct," Red said.

"So we're basically right back where we started from," Cloud said gruffly.

"Maybe not," Red replied. "There was a reference in one of the books to another tome. I have looked though our archives and it is not in them. But a long time ago, when Cosmo Canyon was threatened with invasion, some of the books from our libraries were stored away in a secret chamber. Even after the danger had passed not all of them were returned to the library. I'm not sure what books they were but I know they were some of the oldest in the Canyon. It is quite possible that the book we are looking for is among them. But it is not a safe place, and I wanted to be sure of your determination to follow this quest before I suggested it. It is not in a place where I would go on a whim."

He sat up and looked at each of them carefully.

"So where is it?" Barret blurted out.

"In a chamber below the cave of the Gi."


Tifa felt a touch of fear rise unbidden within her as the door to the Gi cave slowly opened. She remembered full well how close they had come to death the first time they had crossed this threshold. She glanced quickly at the others, but they were all looking at the door as well. It was all right to feel some fear, she thought, as long as she didn't show it.

"Do you really think anything is left in there?" Barret questioned. "I thought we cleaned the place out the last time we were here."

"The dead abide here," Red replied solemnly. "There may be fewer than last time we entered, but you can never remove them permanently. Shall we go?"

Red slowly padded into the cave, and the others followed. Cloud first, then Tifa, with Barret acting as rear guard. Tifa looked around quickly as they entered but saw nothing out of the ordinary in the dim light. The only thing she noticed was the musty smell and the abundance of cobwebs. Apparently the dead, just like some living she could think of, were not fond of dusting.

They proceeded down into the lower chambers without incident. Well, not entirely without incident. It was true that nothing disturbed the party as it moved through the darkness, but Tifa could not shake the feeling, that grew stronger as they slipped deeper into the caverns, that something was nearby. She felt... she could only describe it as some kind of presence, and the feeling soon became overpowering. She kept glancing sharply around, for she kept thinking that she could see something just out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked that way there was nothing there. And there were sounds too. Furtive movements in the darkness around them. Or so it seemed. Yet even when she concentrated solely on listening, she could not really be sure what she was hearing was real.

They reached the bottom cavern and followed Red into the maze of tunnels.

The others said nothing, and for a while she thought that she was the only one who felt it. But gradually she noticed the others looking this way and that, and stopping for a moment to stare off into the darkness. The feeling of a presence was so overpowering now that she almost wanted to scream.

The others must have felt exactly the same, for Barret suddenly called out from behind her; "Quit yer sneaking around and show yourself. Then we can get this over with and all go home!"

The others stopped and tensed, looking around in all directions as Barret's words echoed through the caverns. The words died away into silence, but still no one moved. Finally Red turned to Barret.

"That was unwise," he said casually.

They continued on their way. Red turned suddenly to the left and slipped through a narrow opening that they had not seen on their first visit. He had been leading them at a cautious pace up to this point, but now he sped up, as a man tends to do when his goal is in sight.

"We're almost there," he commented.

At first Tifa was glad for Barret's outburst, for it had broken the tension, and the presence seemed to have disappeared. She began to think that it had all been in her mind, and that she had been getting nervous over nothing. But now the feeling suddenly came back with a vengeance. She stumbled for a moment, almost overwhelmed by it. Furtive sounds and shadows surrounded her, whirled around her in every direction, everywhere!

Get a hold of yourself, she thought angrily. She took a deep breath and forced herself to look only at Cloud's back. Then she marched deliberately after him, resolutely ignoring the dark movements in the shadows around her.

The party came to a sudden halt, and Tifa almost stumbled into Cloud. She had been concentrating so much on his back that she hadn't seen they had come to the end of the corridor and now stood in front of a rough cut stone door.

Without hesitation Red pushed the door, which opened smoothly and without a sound. When they entered the room beyond Tifa saw that it was circular and lined with dusty books.

"Here we are," Red said with satisfaction.

The feeling of the presence had not diminished, but now it seemed to be coming only from behind them, through the door and the corridor beyond.

"Please close the door," she heard herself say.

But even before the sentence was finished Barret had done just that. There was a heavy wooden beam beside the door and Barret used that to bar it as well. For some reason Tifa felt tremendously relieved.

Red was already carefully looking over the books. Tifa glanced at the books for a few moments, thinking maybe they could help Red look, but she saw that they were all in some strange language she did not understand. Barret walked around idly poking in corners and knocking softly on bookcases, apparently looking for some secret compartments, or walls. Cloud just stood near the center of the room and stared at nothing in particular.

It seemed like a long time, but it was only a few minutes before Red broke the silence.

"I found it," he said. "Now we have to..."

He was interrupted as the room shook. They all jumped, startled by the booming sound that reverberated around them. Something had pounded on the door!

It took only a moment for Cloud to compose himself.

"Something wants in," he remarked.

Barret stood back, looking at the door.

"Something big," he commented.

They all looked at Red.

"Apparently there is something still down here after all," he said thoughtfully.

"Is there any other way out of here?" Barret asked.

Red shook his head.

"Figures," Barret replied.

The room shook again, and the door shuddered.

Cloud took a step toward the door.

"Who's there?"

He jumped back as the blow came again. This time they heard the splintering of wood from the beam holding the door closed.

Cloud looked at Red again.

"Don't suppose there's much chance it'll just go away," he asked.

"Not likely," Red replied.

"Kind of figured that. All right folks, get ready."

Cloud slid his sword silently from it's sheath. Barret moved to stand in front of the bookcases directly opposite the door. Red moved to the left of Cloud and Tifa to the right. She felt her nervousness rising again. It had been a while since any of them had done this, and she wasn't really sure how much their skills had deteriorated. She had spent plenty of time practicing, but that was always different from the real thing. She tried to clear he mind of doubts and focus only on her opponent as she had been taught.

Cloud edged up closer to the door, then used his sword to slip the beam off. For a moment nothing happened. Then the door opened.

It did not burst open, as they had all expected. It opened slowly, almost casually, and for a moment they could see nothing beyond it. Dark shadows seemed to swirl in the air out there, then, like dark tendrils, they drifted into the room. Once in the room they thickened, until slowly they took on solid form, and Tifa could see half a dozen skeletal faces staring at them.

"Time to rock and roll," she heard Barret shout. Then there was a blast of gunfire as he opened up.

Tifa leaped and kicked the nearest skeleton warrior in the face. For a moment she thought her foot would just pass through it, but then felt a very satisfying thump and the warrior back. For a short while there was no time to think as she let her instincts, which apparently weren't as rusty as she thought, take over. They all fell back into the battle pattern that had been so familiar to them. Cloud in the center of things, swinging his sword like a madman. No one, or thing for that matter, could stand in front of him. Red and Tifa on either side of him, protecting his flanks. Barret in the back, picking off any enemy when the opportunity presented itself, or lending his firepower to any of the others if they seemed to get in trouble. The battle was over quickly, but even after the last warrior fell, Tifa could still feel the presence.

Barret apparently didn't share her feeling this time.

"Looks like we kicked butt," he said, grinning.

Then a figure appeared in the doorway. But it was not a skeleton warrior. It was the last person anyone of them would have expected to see, even though she had been so much in their thoughts lately. Tifa cleared her mind and thought of Zangan's training, all the while concentrating on her fist.

They all knew it couldn't really be Aeris, but the vision was so startlingly real that the others just stared for a moment. But that was enough. In an instant Aeris vision vanished, to be replaced by a huge clawed skeleton that rushed directly at Cloud, who was closest to the door.

Cloud tried to bring up his sword, knowing it would be too late, but just as the creature was upon him Tifa sprang in from the side and drove her fist with all her power straight into the creatures breastbone. With a horrible screech the creature rose up in anguish, and then suddenly collapsed with a clatter into a pile of bones on the floor.

For a moment they all stood there in silence.

Finally Barret spoke.

"Nice form. Now, I think it's time we got our asses out of here."
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sorry, I have to double post, it wont let me put in the whole of chapter 2 in one post, ghah....


Cloud, Tifa and Barret sat around the eternal fire of Cosmo Canyon later that night. Red was up in the observatory poring over the book. He had told them he would let them know when he found anything, but who knew how long that would take. Of the three of them Barret seemed enormously pleased with himself.

"Man, we were slicing and dicing just like old times," he said. "Cloud, you haven't lost a step with that sword. I knew you were good, but I'd forgotten how good."

"Thanks," Cloud replied. "You're still pretty handy with that gun as well."

The truth of the matter was that Cloud felt better than he had in a long time. Although, as noted earlier, he was more than happy to see Shinra Co. destroyed, the fact of the matter was that peace was not the best of times for a trained mercenary. With Sephiroth and Shinra out of the picture, there was not much work available for him. Even the monsters that had terrorized the land had mostly disappeared now that Shinra's Mako Reactors were no longer creating them. He had spent most of the last year helping Tifa with the bar, and it had been more satisfying than he realized to finally get to use his real skills again. He had a feeling that Barret felt much the same.

"And Tifa," Barret continued. "That was awesome. I hope I never get you mad enough to use that on me."

Tifa just smiled. Cloud had not thanked her for what she had done. Not because he was ungrateful but because he knew there was no need. He would thank her by saving her neck in the next battle. It had happened often enough in the past.

"Look, here comes Red," Barret said suddenly.

They turned to see Red padding down the stairway and coming over to them. He sat down between Cloud and Tifa.

"Well, I have some information," he said. "the Crystal Materia was originally in the Temple of the Ancients."

"Which we destroyed to get the black materia," Cloud reminded him.

"As I am well aware," Red replied. "There was nothing more about it's location in that book. But with that clue I started looking in some more recent books on the Temple. I found out that the Crystal Materia was removed by Infalna."

"Aeris mother," Tifa said.

"Indeed," Red said. "Apparently sometime after Shinra killed Professor Gast she escaped from them. She made her way to the Temple and took the Crystal Materia. Why she wanted it I cannot say, but she was recaptured soon after by the Turks."

"So Shinra got the Crystal Materia?" Cloud exclaimed.

"Yes," Red replied, "but they didn't know what it was. It does not look like ordinary materia. They didn't know it was materia. They didn't know what it was at all. They just knew it was some kind of Ancient artifact, so they stored it with all their other Ancient artifacts."

"And just exactly where was that?" Cloud asked, sure he wasn't going to like the answer.

"In a vault below Shinra Headquarters in Midgar," Red responded.

"Oh brother," Barret exclaimed.

"It figures," Cloud said, shaking his head. Midgar had nearly been destroyed by Meteor, and now it was completely abandoned. Abandoned by people, at least. It was probably the only city left on the planet, however, that was still crawling with monsters.

"So we have to go to Midgar," Tifa said.

"I'm afraid so," Red replied.

"And you know what that means," Cloud said.

"We're going to need our Materia," Barret responded.

"And you know what that means," Tifa added.

"We're going to have to pay a visit to Wutai," Cloud finished.

to be continued......probably, bah
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phew, finally found the time to post up most of chapter 3....

It was mid afternoon two days later when they reached Wutai. The town had grown considerably since they had last been there. The fall of Shinra and their restrictive trade polices had opened the continent up to free trade practices, and some shrewd bargaining by Godo with their neighboring villages had greatly improved the economy. Looking around the party could see that the town had probably doubled in size.

"This place is almost as crowded as Midgar used to be," Barret commented as they walked through the busy streets.

"But at least there's no sign of slums," Red observed. The others had been quite pleased when he had suggested he go along with them, and of course had agreed immediately. He knew it would take time away from his studies, but it seemed well worth it. The best way to learn of the world was to actually experience it, and he knew that he had learned more than he ever would from any books the last time he had journeyed with his friends.

They threaded their way through the crowd until they saw Godo's house ahead. Even as they approached they saw a diminutive figure rushing out towards them.

"I can't believe you're here!" Yuffie exclaimed as soon as she reached them. "What a stroke of luck. I need your help. My father is very ill, and the only way to save him is up on Da-Chou. C'mon!"

She took a few steps and then turned to look at them as they stood there bewildered. This was hardly the reception they had been expecting.

"What are you waiting for?" she cried. "It's a matter of life and death. Hurry!"

She turned again and ran off down the road. The others had no choice but to follow.

She ran through the town and then out along the path the led up into the foothills of Da-Chou. They finally caught up with her at she was laboring up the steep path.

"Yuffie, hold on," Barret said gruffly, panting slightly. "What the hell is this all about? If this is some kind of trick I swear I...."

"No trick, " she said, looking candidly at him, but not slowing down. "My father is very ill. He will die soon unless something is done. I've been told that he can only be treated with the leaves from a Minton tree, and the only place they grow is up on the mountain top above Da-Chou. We've got to go get him some."

They continued up the path, slowly passing the huge stone faces carved into the native rock so long ago that no record of it's creators was in existence.

"So why didn't you just come up here sooner," Cloud asked. "What do you need us for?"

"The Minton tree grows above the trail on top of the mountain. There is no path up to it. I can't reach it," she answered.

She kept going up, and the others fell silent and followed. No matter how deceitful she had been in the past, she appeared sincere this time.

They reached the top of the path. Here the trail led into a narrow cave, but she stopped before it and looked up.

"There," she said, pointing at the sheer cliff that rose up above them for perhaps twenty feet until it reached the pinnacle of the mountain. They could make out a few twisted branches covered with gold tinted leaves on a small tree at the top. "That's it."

They all looked at the cliff in silence for a moment. Then Barret spoke.

"What do we look like, mountain goats?"

"I don't see any easy way up, " Cloud agreed. "This isn't exactly our line of expertise."

"You've got to help," Yuffie said desperately. "You're my only hope. He'll die if he doesn't get the cure soon."

Tifa looked up at the cliff, then at Cloud.

"We've got to do something," she said.

Cloud shook his head and looked carefully at the cliff face. Finally he nodded.

"It's not completely sheer, " he said. "There are some handholds. I guess it couldn't hurt to try."

His slipped off his sword and laid it on the ground. He ran his hands along the rock, looking up to try and see which way afforded the most handholds. Then he slowly started to work his way up.

Even though it wasn't that far it was a painstakingly slow process. He had to test every handhold and toehold carefully before he could trust it with his weight. He almost slipped twice, but each time caught himself just in a nick of time. In this way he slowly inched his way within six feet of the top, but then the rock became smooth above him, and try as he might he saw no way to cover the final distance from this position. He tried to move sideways along the rock face to find an alternate route, but he couldn't go very far.

"Damn," he muttered. He certainly didn't want to go back down and start all over now that he was this close, but he could see no way to reach the top.

"What's wrong?" Tifa asked from below.

Suddenly he had an idea.

"There are no more handholds. I can't reach the top, but if someone else could come up here, I think I could boost them to the top," he replied.

Barret and Tifa both looked at Yuffie.

"What?" she said, then took a step back. "Oh no. Sorry, but I can't"

"Even to save your father?" Barret said pointedly.

"No really, " she said. "I can't. I'm afraid of heights."

"I'm surprised you admit to being afraid of anything," Barret replied. "C'mon, Yuffie."

She looked up at Cloud, and it seemed she had real fear in her eyes.

"Please don't make me," she said softly.

They looked at her in silence for a moment.

"All right," Tifa said resignedly. "I'll go."

"Tifa!" Barret interjected.

"It's all right," Tifa replied. "She's too scared to go. I don't think it would be right to try to force her. I wouldn't feel very good to see her fall."

"Then I'll go," Barret said.

"Don't be an idiot," she answered. "You're no climber, and it would take all three of us to boost you up there. Besides, I watched how Cloud got up, and it didn't look too difficult."

Barret had no answer to that. He looked at Red.

"I'm afraid she's right," he gave his opinion without being asked. "I'd go myself, of course, but I am afraid that climbing it not one of my better skills."

"All right then," Tifa said, and walked over to the cliff face. She tested some handholds and then started up. She went more swiftly than Cloud, for she really did remember basically what path he had taken. It wasn't long before she was directly below him.

It was a bit difficult to get up next to him, but eventually she succeeded. Holding onto an outcrop of rock that he knew to be secure firmly with one hand, he let her climb up onto his shoulders, supporting her with the other hand. She reached up and pulled herself over the top.

"Good going," Yuffie cried from below. "Now get a branch with a couple of leaves on it."

Tifa stopped for a moment to catch her breath. She looked out at the expanse below and for the first time noticed what a gorgeous view they had. She could see the entire town of Wutai and far into the hills beyond. Then she turned and walked over to the small tree, only a sapling really, and broke off a branch with half a dozen leaves on it.

"Throw it down," Yuffie called. "I'll take it right back to my father. There's no time to lose. Then I'll meet you in my basement. We can talk then."

Tifa dropped the branch and Yuffie caught it as it came down, then she took off like a shot.

"Yuffie, wait for us," Cloud called. "I wanted to see your father."

"No time," she called back. "I've got to get this to him. He's much too sick to see anyone anyway. I'll give him your regards,"

Then she was off down the hill as fast as she could go.

Tifa swung around and slid down to where she hoped Cloud could reach her.

"She took off awfully quickly," he commented from below her.

"Well, she wanted to get the plant back to her father as quickly as possible," Tifa replied. "That's understandable."

She held onto an outcropping of rock and swung her legs lower. Suddenly she felt Clouds powerful grip.

"No, something isn't right," he said, his suspicions aroused. "It all seems too much of a coincidence with us arriving here just in a nick of time."

He swung her down beside him and held her until she got a grip of her own.

"I'm going after her," he said.

He worked his way down as quickly as possible until he was less than ten feet above the path, then let go and dropped to the ground. In a moment he was after her.

Tifa tried to hurry as well but she found that going down was much more difficult than up had been. It was harder to find toeholds below her than it had been to find handholds above.

"I'm following Cloud," she heard Barret comment below. "If this was some kind of trick I swear I'll strangle that girl."

Tifa inched her way down a little lower, then glanced down to see Barret swiftly disappearing down the trail. After a moment she saw Red following him.

"Uh, Guys?" she said loudly, but they weren't paying any attention. They had just vanished out of sight when her foot slipped off it's narrow toehold. With a cry she slid down the last few feet of cliff face and landed hard on her rear end.

She sat there for a moment until the shock of it had warn off.

"Thanks a lot guys!" she yelled after them, even though she was sure they were too far away to hear. Then she stood up and dusted herself off.

"Hey, wait for me," she called and, limply slightly, trotted off after them.


Cloud caught sight of Yuffie again just as he reached the village, but the streets were still crowded and he soon lost her. She seemed to be headed straight for her home, however, which would make sense if she was bringing the leaf to Godo. So that was where he headed.

The front doors were wide open when he arrived. He stood there for a moment looking in, but no one was in the room. He heard voices coming from the hallway to the right, and one of them was a deep voice he recognized from his earlier visits. He went over to the hallway and walked down it. The voices were coming from a room off to the right, and they were plainly the voices of Godo and Yuffie.

"I am very proud of you for passing this next phase,:" he heard Godo say, and then he stepped into the entrance to the room. Yuffie and an extremely healthy looking Godo both stood in front of a window opposite the door. Godo was holding the branch in his hand. They both looked at Cloud.

"Well, thanks a lot, Dad," Yuffie said immediately, strolling over to Cloud. "But I've really got to get going. Cloud and I have some things to discuss that really can't wait." She came up beside him and practically dragged him along as she went by. "We can talk some more later, I'm sure," she continued. "It's just that this is real, real important."

They were out in the hallway now, Yuffie still dragging him along. Suddenly he pulled up short.

"What the hell..." he began.

"Not here," Yuffie said as loudly as she dared. "I'll explain everything outside. I promise."

Cloud looked at her skeptically, but then followed her as she walked back out of the building. As soon as they stepped over the threshold, however, he stopped and looked at her expectantly.

"I don't suppose you would believe me if I said that the Minton leaf worked really fast," she suggested.

"You can do better than that."

"All right," she said with a sigh. "My father's not sick. Part of my ninja training was to climb up on Da-Chou. I was supposed to bring my father the leaf as proof that I had succeeded."

Cloud shook his head. I should have know, he thought, I really should have known.

"So all that about him being on the verge of death was just a ploy to get us to help you cheat on a test?"

"Not cheat," she answered defensively. "He never said I had to get it all by myself."

"If that were true," Cloud countered, "then why didn't you just tell us the truth?"

Yuffie shrugged.

"Because it wouldn't have been as much fun?" she suggested innocently.

It was at this moment that Barret and Red came up beside them.

Cloud turned toward them.

"Yuffie has something to tell you all," he announced.

When Yuffie told them the truth Barret was livid with rage. He lunged at her as if he really were going to carry out his earlier threat to strangle her, but she dodged nimbly out of the way.

"I think you've lost a step or two," she taunted, dancing away from him. "Perhaps it's time you stared thinking seriously about retirement."

"Why you little wretch," he growled. "If I catch you I swear I'll make you regret every lie you ever told in your entire life."

"That's a big if," she shot back.

It was at this point that Tifa finally caught up with them.

"Enough!" Cloud commanded. "Now that your little charade is over we have important things to discuss. We came here because we need our materia.".

"Charade, what charade?" Tifa asked.

"My materia?" Yuffie questioned.

"Our materia," Barret said firmly. "Remember, we only gave it to you because you needed it more than we did at the time. And you agreed that we could come and get it if we needed it in the future."

"What charade?" Tifa repeated.

"That particular conversation seems to have slipped my mind," Yuffie said innocently.

"Quit playing around..." Barret started, but Cloud held up his hand.

"Perhaps if we go back inside and discuss your recent adventure with your father it will help to refresh your memory," he stated.

"All right, I remember," she gave in. "It's in the basement. C'mon, I'll take you down there, and I promise, no tricks."

"There better not be any," Barret said menacingly, but Yuffie just gave him a smile in return.

"So, why do you need all this materia all of a sudden, anyway," she asked as she led them off. Cloud, Barret and Red followed close behind her, with Tifa in the rear, a puzzled look on her face.

"What charade?" she said again, to no one in particular.

I'll post the rest of chapter 3 later on when I get the chance....
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ah, the rest of chapter 3, and some of chapter 4, too....
The group rose early the next morning and gathered in front of Yuffie's house about two hours past dawn. Even this early there were still quite a few people in the streets.

"Well, are we all set to go?" Yuffie commented.

"What do you mean, we?" Barret growled, looking at her darkly. No one had made any mention of her joining the party before this. He would have noticed, because he had been listening for just such a suggestion with the express purpose of squashing it immediately.

"Of course I'm going with you," she exclaimed, as if shocked that anyone might have thought otherwise. "I have to keep an eye on my materia. Besides, you guys need me. Let's face it, none of you are getting any younger. If anything, your skills have gone down in the year since our last adventure. But I'm still young, and I'm only getting better. You won't make it halfway through the outskirts of Midgar without me."

"It's our materia, you conceited little thief!" Barret snarled. "And it'll be a cold day in hell before we invite you along after all the trouble you put us through."

Yuffie looked at him with a pained expression.

"C'mon, I was just having a little fun," she said plaintively. "Can't you take a joke?"

"No," he replied forcibly.

"Well, what does everybody else think?" she asked, suddenly appealing to the others, since it was obvious she was getting nowhere with him.

"I don't care what everybody else thinks," Barret said sullenly.

"So who made you the boss?" she said pointedly.

He just growled at that. Then he said, "Well, my vote is no, and I won't change it unless everybody else is against me."

"That's not fair," she said.

"I don't care," he answered angrily. "It was bad enough I had to put up with you for this long."

"Barret, you really need to lighten up a little bit," she commented. Then she turned to the others. "Cloud?"

He didn't answer for a while, but just looked at her intently while she gave him the most innocent look she could muster. In spite of all the trouble she caused, she really was excellent in a fight and had helped them a great deal in their previous adventures. Finally he broke into a grin.

"Yuffie, I have to say that you are the biggest pain in the *** I have ever met. You stepped way over the line yesterday, but I have to admit it was pretty clever. It's all right with me if you come along."

Yuffie gave Barret an 'I told you so' look, but he just shook his head.

"Red?" she said sweetly.

"You have the exuberance and arrogance of youth, " he said unhesitantly. "I can think of no better teachers for you than the people here in front of you. It would be in your own best interests to join us."

Yuffie's eyes turned pleadingly to Tifa, who did not speak for a long time.

Barret suddenly seemed to realize what she was going to say.

"C'mon, Tifa," he blurted out. "Don't let me down now."

"You let me down pretty rudely yesterday," she snapped back. Although she was no longer limping, she still felt a little sore.

"I know I'm going to regret this, but it's all right with me," she said.

"Yes," Yuffie exclaimed gleefully. "I promise I won't let you all down."

"You better not," Barret said sharply. "Come along if you must, but stay out of my way. Now, if we're all done with the negotiating, what say we get this circus on the road?"

He turned and started down the street without waiting for a reply. Cloud looked at the others, shrugged and then followed. They fell in line behind, Yuffie last, as if to keep as much distance between herself and Barret as possible. Though there were quite a few people in the streets, everyone they noticed seemed concerned with their own business and didn't pay much attention to them. It would have come as quite a surprise to them to know that at least one set of eyes had been watching them carefully since they had stepped out of the house that morning.


Tarkin sat unmoving in his chair. His training at SOLDIER had given him the discipline to ignore minor irritations and sit for hours while remaining utterly still, especially when he was thinking, and right now he had a lot to think about.

His spies had informed him the failed experiment was finally on the move. It had taken much longer than he had thought. Cloud was apparently stronger than he suspected, but he should have known. He realized he had underestimated the young warrior, and he would have to be careful not to do that again. Even a failed Shinra experiment still had power. After all, he had managed, obviously by some fluke, to have defeated the mighty Sephiroth.

He felt anger inside him at that. He considered it for a moment and decided it was proper. Sephiroth would have been pleased with his loyalty, and slowly the anger dissipated to be replaced by satisfaction of what was to come. He reached over and picked up the yellow materia orb from the pedestal beside his chair, the last gift given to him by the great Sephiroth.

He would have to monitor things carefully from now on. Very carefully indeed. He needed someone to get close and report to him of Cloud's every movement. He was pretty sure he knew just who could handle that job.

A smile slowly grew on his face He looked at the materia carefully, stroking it as if it were a small pet. As he did so his sleeve slipped partway down his arm, revealing an old tattoo. It was faded now from wear but still visible. It was the number 3.

"Very soon, my dear master," he said softly to himself, "you shall have your revenge."


Tifa did not feel good as they passed through the crumbling walls and into the streets of Midgar. She had had some good times here at her bar in the early days with Avalanche, but she would never forget the poverty of the slums or the horror she had felt at the destruction of Sector 7 and the death of her friends. On the whole she would rather never have had to see this place again, she decided. True, things had changed radically since then. Midgar was mostly ruins now. Meteor had done such fearsome damage that it was decided it would be easier to just abandon the city than to attempt to rebuild it. The streets were choked with rubble, and vegetation had overgrown most the buildings that still stood. The streets were deserted for the moment, but they were all on guard, for they knew that all sort of strange creatures now inhabited the city.

Still, nothing seemed anxious to bother the well armed group as it traveled down the center of the road in broad daylight. Tifa thought this would chance quickly if they wandered very far into any of the old buildings, or after night fell. She sincerely hoped that they would be done and far away before the sun sunk below the horizon.

Though many of the buildings had been utterly destroyed, there were still enough standing that they were in no danger of getting lost. Tifa kept her eyes open as they headed unerringly toward Shinra Headquarters. She saw movement once or twice in the rubble around them, but nothing challenged them.

A short time later they stood in front of their destination. The building was still standing, although the top floors had been torn off and now lay in a pile of rubble completely covering the street to the north. Perhaps the bottom twenty floors were still intact.

"It's a good thing the vault was down in the basement and not up on the top floors," Barret remarked, looking up.

They walked up the cracked concrete steps that marked the entrance. The doors of the main entrance lay twisted and broken on the ground in front of them. Carefully they stepped over them and into the building.

The lobby was dark after the bright sunlight. Cloud looked around, but he saw no sign that anyone, or anything, had passed through recently. Still, he had a feeling that danger was not far away. He slowly drew his sword and held it at the ready as he advanced through the lobby. He knew they had been watched on the way here, and he had no doubt that even now a trap was hastily being laid for them, a trap somewhere in an area where they would be most vulnerable. The dark corridors of Shinra Headquarters seemed to be the perfect place to him.

"So where do we go from here?" Yuffie asked tentatively.

"Not sure," Cloud replied. Though he had been a member of SOLDIER, he had rarely been at Shinra Headquarters. And in his few visits here with Avalanche he had had other things on his mind besides taking a tour.

"We'll just have to wander around and see what we can find," he continued. "Stay together, and be ready for anything."

"Just look for anything that leads down," Barret suggested, not very helpfully.

It took them a while, but eventually they found a narrow stairway leading down into darkness near the back of the building.

"Why do I get the feeling we are walking right into the lion's den?" Cloud asked before he started slowly down the steps.

The stairs led down into a large room full of machinery. The floor was covered with about an inch of water, and they could hear dripping off to the left. There was a door at he far end of the room.

They started in that direction but hadn't gotten very far when the heard some high pitched sounds off to the left. Cloud stopped them and turned that way. He saw something scurry between two pieces of machinery off in that direction. The others took up battle positions without saying a word.

The giant rats struck quickly from two different directions. As soon as he had a clear shot Cloud sprang forward and swung his sword in a murderous arc. Two of the rats instantly lost their lives. The others scattered around him and tried to get at his friends, but Cloud flicked his sword like lightening and took out another as they went by. The others were met with a flurry of blows from Tifa to his right and the razor sharp claws of Red to his left. In minutes all but two rats were laying unmoving on the floor, and those two were scurrying off into the darkness to lick their wounds.

Cloud turned to see Yuffie fling her shuriken unerring at the last rat that still remained on the other side of them. Barret turned around to look at him, and they realized that the battle was over.

"Nothing to it," Barret said confidently. "We didn't even have to use our materia."

"Not yet, anyway," Red commented. "Somehow, I think this may have just been a warm up."

"That's what I like about you, Red," Yuffie said. "You're always such an optimist."

"C'mon," was all Cloud said.

They walked on. They reached the door and opened it to see a narrow corridor that went on for as far as they could see in the dim light. Both walls of the corridor held numerous doors.

"If we have to search through all these rooms we could be here a very long time," Barret said with little enthusiasm.

Cloud silently agreed, but he didn't see much of an alternative. He was just about to say as much when they heard a commotion behind them. It sounded like it was coming from near the stairs they had come down. They heard the high pitched squeaks of the rats, and the unmistakable sounds of battle.

"Looks like we're not the only thing on the rats menu today," Yuffie said.

In spite of the fact that it was most likely none of their business and it would probably just cause more trouble, Cloud could not stop his curiosity from getting the better of him. He headed back toward the sounds of the fight.

"Umm, I think we're supposed to be going this way," he heard Yuffie protest, pointing down the corridor. He ignored her.

"Shut up, Yuffie," Tifa said as she walked past her after Cloud.

The others followed, Yuffie last.

Cloud swiftly went down the corridor until the sounds came from just around a large heavily damaged and unrecognizable machine. He quickly glanced around the corner of the machine then ducked back. He looked at Tifa.

"I don't believe it," he said.

Tifa slipped past him and looked around as well. There she saw none other than Cait Sith backed into a corner with three giant rats closing in on him.

I'll post the rest later on :p
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ah, sorry, just didn't think anyone was interested anymore, here's some more of chapter 4....

"Boy, am I glad to see you guys" Cait exclaimed. They all came up and stood around him, ignoring the bodies of the three rats they had just dispatched.

"It was quite a surprise to see you," Cloud replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Actually I was looking for you," Cait replied.

"Huh?" Cloud questioned.

"I got a message from Wutai," Cait explained. "I assumed it was from your father, Yuffie. It said that you were headed for Midgar and needed my help. Here, I have it here somewhere."

He fished around for a moment and then pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. Yuffie took it from him and gave it a hard look.

"This isn't my father's handwriting," she said after a moment.

"So who could have written it?" Tifa questioned.

"Could someone else have written it for your father?" Red suggested.

"I suppose," Yuffie replied.

"Well, who else knew where we were going?" Barret pointed out.

Cloud took the note and looked it over. It didn't say much, just that he and his friends were headed for Midgar and urgently needed Cait's help.

"When did you get this?" he asked.

"Two days ago," Cait replied. "I set off right away."

"Two days ago," Barret repeated. "The day after we left Wutai. If this wasn't from Godo, whoever sent it found out where we were going pretty quickly."

"Well," Cloud said thoughtfully, "we didn't make any secret about where we were going while we were in Wutai. Someone might easily have overheard us."

"But who, and why?" Tifa questioned. "And if it's not from a friend, then what purpose could there be in sending Cait to us?"

"I don't know, " Cloud replied, "but I don't like it."

"Cait, do you know where the vaults are where Shinra kept all their Ancient artifacts?" Red suddenly asked.

Cait turned to look at him.

"Sure," he said, "why do you ask?"

Cloud briefly explained the mission they were on.

"So maybe my father realized that we may need help finding the vault, and thought Cait could help us," Yuffie said after Cloud had finished. "Which would mean the message really is from him."

Cloud shrugged, somehow not satisfied with the explanation. If it was true that Cait knew where the vaults were then he would be very useful, and it would have made sense for a friend to summon him. Still, something just didn't seem right, but he couldn't think of any better explanation at the moment. One thing was for sure, they would have to be more careful about who they said things in front of.

"We could debate who sent you for as long as we want, " he said to Cait, "but it's just slowing us down. The fact of the matter is you are here and can help us. Why don't we get on with it before every monster in Midgar decides to pay us a visit."

They could all see the wisdom in that. They headed back through the room once more, this time with Cait walking in front with Cloud. In this way they worked their way slowly down four more levels. They were attacked three more times, twice by packs of rats and once by some large spider like creatures, but each time they beat them off easily. Still, Cloud had an uneasy feeling. It seemed to him that the attacks were somehow coordinated. As if an intelligence was feeling them out, sending lesser forces against them to test their strength, while all the time it was gathering it's strongest forces for an all out attack that would come.... when? Well, he didn't really know, but he felt that it would be sometime soon. He tried to hurry them on, thinking if they reached their goal soon enough the enemy would have to be forced to attack sooner, before it was completely ready, or risk the chance of them slipping away.

They descended yet another set of steps. When the reached the bottom they gathered in a large vestibule whose only exit was a large steel door opposite the stairs.

"This is it," Cait said. "The vaults are behind this door."

"I hope it's open," Tifa said.

"Easy enough to find out," Cait replied. He walked up to the door and pulled on the handle. It did not budge. He let go and examined the door. There was no sign of a lock, just an electronic keycard mechanism.

"It's locked, and it opens with a keycard," Cait said, shaking his head.

"Not likely we're going to find one of them around," Barret observed.

"It wouldn't do us any good even if we did," Red stated. "The keycard mechanism runs on electricity, and there is no power."

They all stood looking at each other for a moment, but no one came up with any brilliant ideas.

"Well," Barret said finally, looking at the door dubiously. "Let's try it the hard way. Cloud, give me a hand, will you?"

Cloud walked up next to Barret as the others moved out of the way. The door looked much too solid for them to force, but he figured they had to give it a try.

Barret counted to three and they both flung themselves shoulder first into the door. They fell back, Barret grunting loudly, but the door didn't even shudder. Cloud knew right away that this would get them nothing but sore.

"Forget it, Barret, it's too heavy," he said. He suddenly produced an orb and held it up for Barret to see. It glowed a faint green.

"I guess we'll have to use this," he said, "though it will let every monster within a mile of us know that we are here."

"Yeah," Barret agreed, "but after they see that power they might think twice before taking us on."

"You may be right at that, " Cloud responded. "Get back, everyone."

Barret led the others back up into the stairwell. Cloud waited until he was sure they were a safe distance away. Then he turned toward the door. He held up the Ultima materia and concentrated on it. In seconds a green mist seemed to fill the air around him. He felt heat build up inside him. The green mist coalesced into a ball of green fire which rapidly expanded until it was almost blinding. Cloud took a single step forward and released. With a roar that rung in his ears the door was engulfed in the blast of raw power, which tore it asunder.

The echoes died away quickly, leaving an eerie silence. After a moment the others filed back into the vestibule.

Cait strode forward through the wreckage of the door. The others followed. Inside was another corridor which led in two directions.

"Which way do we go now?" Red asked.

"Not sure," Cait replied. "These are the vaults. The artifact you're looking for could be in any of these rooms. We'll just have to look through them all."

"Great," Barret said unhappily. "There must be a dozen rooms here. You told us you knew where to go."

"I told you I knew where the vault was" Cait replied testily. "This is it, but I don't have an inventory of it, if that's what you're asking. Perhaps there is one around somewhere if you care to look for it."

"We don't have time to argue," Cloud cut in. He felt more strongly than ever that they had to get out of here as fast as possible. "We'll have to split up into two groups. I don't really like the idea, but we can search a lot more quickly that way. Tifa and Cait, come with me. Barret, you take the others and look in the other direction."

Barret was going to protest about bringing Yuffie with him, but then thought better of it.

"All right," he said. "Just don't get yourselves lost."

"You either," Tifa replied as she followed Cloud. The corridor went perhaps ten feet and then made a left in front of them, but there were three doors before then, one on the left and two on the right. Cloud reached the first one on the right and grabbed the knob. He could see there was no lock, and these were simple wooden doors anyway and he knew they would have no trouble getting through them even if they were locked. But the door opened easily.

There was a large storage room inside. Boxes lined the walls and were piled up on shelves. They started methodically hunting though them.

"Most of these boxes are empty," Tifa said after a few minutes, holding one in her hand for Cloud to see.

"Most of these too," Cloud remarked sourly. "I hope someone didn't come through here earlier and beat us to it."

Tifa thought about that for a moment.

"But we just found out about it ourselves," she pointed out. "Who would have known?"

Cloud shrugged.

"I don't think they knew what to do with most of the stuff they had down here," Cait suggested "but they knew it could be valuable. Perhaps someone came down here right before Meteor struck and just grabbed whatever they could."

"That's possible," he answered. "Either way, all we can do is look."

It didn't take them long to finish with that room. They moved on to the next, and then the next. Red had explained that the crystal materia did not look like any other materia. It was not round but looked like a large multifaceted jewel. And instead of the soft colored glow that emanated from all other materia it was completely clear. But in each room they searched they saw nothing that looked anything like that.

Each empty room they left behind made Cloud more and more uneasy. He kept his ears open for any sounds in the corridors outside, and even though he heard nothing he could not help but feel that the enemy was closing in rapidly.

They searched though three more rooms with no luck. When Cloud went to open the next door he was surprised to find that it was locked.

He pointed it out to the others.

"Maybe that's a good sign," Tifa said "Perhaps there's something important inside."

Cloud took a step back and then lunged forward. His shoulder hit the door solidly and it flew open. They stepped inside.

This room was smaller than the others. It only held one shelf along the back wall. The only thing on the shelf was a metal box.

"At least this won't take long," Cloud said.

He reached over and lifted the box off the shelf. There was a key hole set in the front of the box, and Cloud thought it would be locked, but it opened easily.

He didn't say anything for a moment, then he looked at them and smiled.


"All right," Tifa said. "Let's get the others and get out of here."

They started for the door when Cait, who was closest to it, stopped and tensed. Even before he spoke the others heard the sounds in the corridor outside. Cait looked out the door and then turned toward them.

"We've got company," he stated.


"This is hopeless," Barret snarled, knocking some empty boxes across the room.

They had already searched through four rooms and found nothing.

"I don't think getting angry will help the situation," Red observed.

Barret just grumbled in response

They were almost done with this room. Barret walked out into the corridor, leaving the last corner of the room for the others. Just as he came out something off to his right caught his eye. He turned to see something vanish around the corner. He didn't see much, just a flash of blue.

"There's something out here," he called out.

The others came out and he explained what he had seen. Yuffie boldly walked down the corridor and looked around the corner, but the hallway was empty. At the end of the corridor stood another metal door, slightly ajar.

"It looks like whoever or whatever it was went in there," Yuffie said, pointing to the door. "Should we follow?"

Barret thought for a moment. There didn't seem to be much point in it. They were here to get the Crystal materia, not chase around after some Shinra monsters. Still, perhaps this would give them some clue. It would only take a moment to look, and he had to admit their search so far had been fruitless.

"Yeah, why not," he said finally.

As they walked toward the door they heard the sound of rushing water behind it. It echoed strangely in the corridor around them.

They reached the door and pulled it open. It seemed to lead into some kind of service tunnel. There was a channel down the center of the tunnel, and this was where the sound of the rushing water was coming from. A narrow concrete path ran down the tunnel on either side of the channel.

They stepped over and looked down. The water rushed swiftly through the narrow channel. The tunnel was not long, and the water passed through a grate at the northern end of it and disappeared into an narrow opening at the southern. The concrete path ended blindly at either end of the tunnel. There was a rusty ladder leading up into the darkness on the other side of the channel, but no way for them to get to it.

"Well, if anyone came in here they either flew out or swam out, and either way I don't think we can follow," Red said.

"I suppose," Barret replied. He looked at the water again. The rushing current would quickly sweep them away if they attempted to cross. Not that he had any desire to. It now appeared to him that whatever he had seen had not gone this way at all.

"All right, I guess we better..." he began.

Suddenly there was a loud thump as the door to the room was slammed shut!

"Hey!" Barret exclaimed.

They ran over to the door, but it did not budge when they tried to open it. Barret slammed up against it. The door shuddered slightly, but held.


the rest posted on demand :p
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rest of chapter 4....
They were some type of zombie like creatures. Perhaps the residual Mako energy from Meteor had reanimated them. Some of them still wore tattered rags of what appeared to have once been Shinra uniforms. Whatever they were, there were half a dozen of them in the corridor, and Cait could see more coming around the corner.

He had just settled into his fighting stance when Cloud burst past him, sword flashing. Three of the zombies went down before they had a chance to react, and the others hesitated, surprised by the ferocity of the attack. But as more and more of them came around the corner their boldness grew, until once again they surged forward.

In moments the battle was joined in earnest. Tifa held back a little, using his materia to cast defensive spells around herself and her partners, only moving forward to attack when she was sure they were well protected. Cloud fought with no thought of defense, always advancing, always striking for the kill, and even though this tactic usually caused havoc among their enemies, it left Cloud dangerously exposed. It was usually up to Tifa or one of the other more methodical members of the party to protect him when he did.

Cait was more deliberate, only advancing when the enemy was off balance or at a disadvantage. His huge Mog body could take as well as dish out an enormous amount of punishment. Not many of the zombies could stand in front of him for long.

But in spite of their fighting skills they found themselves slowly being forced back. There seemed to be no end to their enemy, and for every one that fell two or three replaced them. It seemed that every creature in Midgar had been called to the attack.

"There are too many of them," Tifa shouted.

Cloud swung viciously and another zombie went down. He glanced around quickly.

"You're right," he called back. "Get back into the room. I'll slow them down a little."

Cloud held up a green materia orb as Tifa and Cait bolted for the room. They stepped to either side of the door once inside and stopped.

There was a flash of blinding green light from the corridor and a tremendous roar, and then Cloud burst into the room.

He slammed the door.

"That won't hold them for long," he said, panting. "And neither will this door. I wonder were the others are?"


Barret paced back and forth in front of the door, feeling like a caged tiger.

"Damn, " he said again.

"That's not going to help," Yuffie pointed out.

"I don't hear you coming up with any ideas," he snapped in return.

"At least I'm not using up all my energy pacing and cursing," she answered.

"And a fat lot of good all your energy is going to do you if we can't get out of here," he replied.

Red ignored their repartee and looked at the water. He had to agree that their original assessment was correct. It was running much too swiftly for them to get across before they were dragged away. As he studied the water he caught a glimpse of a dark shadow beneath the foam, and suddenly the water started to bubble even more fiercely near the center of the channel.

He stepped back.

"I think there's something...." he began.

The giant serpent burst up from beneath the foam with an ear splitting cry, showering them in a spray of foam. Even though Red had been prepared, he still was stunned momentarily. The creature reached back and swung a huge clawed hand at him. He recovered quickly enough to attempt to jump out of the way, but was not entirely successful. The hand struck him a glancing blow, yet it was still strong enough the toss him hard against the stone wall. He slumped to the ground.

"****," Barret exclaimed. He opened up with his gun, blasting away at the creature. He saw Red go down but didn't get much of a look before the creature swung at him. He dodged and then moved back to the wall to stay as far away from the creature's claws as possible. He saw Yuffie fling her shuriken and then run swiftly in the other direction.

The creature reared back and then let out another screaming cry. Then it struck again, this time swinging at Yuffie, who stood there unmoving for a moment, then desperately flung herself out of the way just in time.

Barret shook the cobwebs out of his head.

"It's using some kind of sonic attack, " he shouted over to Yuffie. "Try to stay away from it when it screams!"

"If you see a place to hide, let me know," she called in return.

He had to admit she had a point. The path on either side of the channel was narrow, barely six feet across. Well within the range of the huge serpents claws. There was no place to hide.

Barret let go another blast, backing away slowly. They didn't seem to be doing much damage. He had his share of materia, but what spell would be best to use? The creature seemed to be at home in the water, so fire would seem the appropriate choice. But he knew he didn't have the fire materia. Who did?

He looked at Red, who still lay stunned on the floor in the center of the tunnel. He pulled out a green materia.

"Yuffie," he called, "keep it occupied!"

She looked at him a moment, then threw her shuriken again and stepped right to the edge of the channel. The creature turned and lunged toward her. She dodged so desperately that she tumbled and nearly fell into the churning water. In an instant she was back on her feet scrambling away.

"Thanks a lot!" she called back to him.

Barret did not respond, for he was concentrating on the green materia in his hand.

Red felt a surge of energy when he was hit with the cure spell. He shook his head and got up, feeling his mind clear.

"Red, use fire!" he heard Barret call.

The creature screamed at them again. Barret covered his ears, but it didn't seem to help much. The serpent turned and slammed both claws down on Yuffie, and for a moment Barret was certain she'd been crushed, but then he saw her scrambling away again, apparently unhurt.

The creature screamed again, but this time in pain as it was hit by a huge ball of fire. Barret stepped forward and started to blast away with his gun again. There was a flash of light as Yuffie hit the creature with a lightning spell.

The creature reeled back as Yuffie and Red hit it repeatedly with their spells while Barret continued firing. With one final scream it twisted around and sunk down below the raging water.

"We toasted him," Yuffie yelled with glee.

Barret sat down for a moment to catch his breath. They had killed the beast but they were still trapped.


It only took a minute for the zombies to break through the door, but if they thought at all it was likely they regretted it. For when they opened it they were met by Cloud's flashing sword. The party was making it's stand just inside the entrance, which was narrow and easily defended. The zombies could only come at them two or three at a time, and for a long time they stood their ground. But there seemed to be no end to their enemy. Even after there was a pile of bodies in front of them that almost formed a solid wall, they still kept coming.

Slowly the party was forced back in spite of all their attempts to prevent it. Cloud continued to swing his sword viciously at any zombie foolish enough to come within reach, but both Tifa and Cait had long ago resorted to casting spells that caused as much damage to as many zombies as possible.

Tifa risked a glance behind her and saw that the back wall was just a few feet away. They could not retreat much further. She cast an ice spell and stepped backwards, almost stumbling with weariness They were all exhausted, and she knew she would not have the strength to continue for much longer. It seemed impossible that they could have attracted so much attention without Barret and the others hearing or seeing something. Or perhaps they were in the same situation somewhere else in the vaults. She was just beginning to feel desperate about their situation when the seemingly endless line of zombies suddenly petered out. Cloud swung his sword one more time and the final zombie fell. Then they all stood in silence, hardly believing that the battle was finally over.

"We did it," Cloud said weakly, leaning on his sword for support. Cait sat down while Tifa leaned against the wall. They were too tired to respond.

"Looks like we caught you at a bad time," said a strange yet familiar voice. They all looked up to see a man in a neat blue suit standing in the doorway. Behind him two other people stepped into view.

"Turks," Cloud said softly. "Great."


"So what do we do now?" Yuffie asked.

Barret sat with his back against the wall, while Yuffie, without realizing it, was now pacing back and forth. Red was wandering around staring at the tunnel around them.

"I'm thinking," Barret replied.

"In that case we could be here a very long time," she remarked.

Barret did not answer. He was too worried to be baited by her verbal sparring. Someone had deliberately locked them in here, and the only reason he could think of someone doing that was to get them out of the way. He felt that Cloud and the others were in desperate trouble.

"We have to get out of here," he muttered.

Red strode over to them.

"Perhaps we can," he said. "Look at those pipes."

Barret followed Red's gaze. In the corner near one end of the tunnel, almost hidden in the shadows, two narrow pipes ran up the wall. He looked up and saw that they ran into the ceiling above, but another pipe ran out of the wall not to far from them. This one ran across to the other side of the tunnel into the far wall right next to the ladder.

He looked at Red.

"Someone might be able to make that," he said slowly.

"But those pipes would never support your weight," Red pointed out.

"And you, of course, have already mentioned that climbing is not one of your talents," Barret returned.

They both turned to look at Yuffie, who had stopped pacing and was looking at the water now, unaware of their conversation.

"Oh Yuffie, " Barret called pleasantly. "We've got a little job that requires your ninja skills. It'll also give you a chance to get over your fear of heights."


"Did somebody take out an advertisement in the paper announcing we would be in Midgar today?" Tifa questioned.

Reno stepped into the room and looked them over, a sly look on his face. Rude and Elena followed.

"I wouldn't know about that," Reno said casually. "The truth of the matter is we have no quarrel with you. We were sent here to obtain a particular item. An item that seems likely now to be in your possession. If you would be kind enough to hand it over we can all avoid an unseemly altercation."

Cloud gave a short bark of laughter.

"I seem to recall that the last time we had an unseemly altercation the Turks came up at the short end of it," he said fiercely.

Elena stepped forward.

"I told you they wouldn't listen," she said sharply. "C'mon, let's just finish them."

Reno held up his hand.

"Control yourself, Elena," he answered calmly. "In their weakened condition it would hardly be a fair fight. Besides, they were kind enough to open up the vault for us and eliminate any other opposition. We own them a debt of gratitude. Give us the Crystal Materia and I give you my word as a Turk that you will not be harmed."

"And if you are hoping that your friends will show up to give you a hand," Elena added, "then you are in for a disappointment."

"What did you do to them!" Tifa exclaimed.

"Just led them astray with a simple ruse," Reno replied. "I assure you they were unharmed when we left them. Now, I'm afraid I can't wait any longer. Will you give us the materia?"

Cloud lifted up his sword and held it in front of himself.

"Not likely," he answered grimly.

"So be it," Reno stated, as if he had known all along.

The Turks attacked simultaneously. This fight was considerably different from their battle with the zombies, who had used brute force and large numbers to try to overpower them. The Turks attacked with a coordinated well thought out plan. They did not press the attack at close range, preferring to hold back and pummel Cloud and his friends with magic spells. Tifa realized the wisdom in this. In their exhausted state they would soon be too weak to use their own spells, and this was a safer course then a direct physical confrontation, where even in his weakened state Cloud was still capable of doing serious damage with his weapon.

Tifa saw Cloud fall backward as he was hit by a blast from Reno's electromag rod. She turned to cast a cure spell but nothing happened. She realized she no longer had the strength to use her materia. With a sinking felling she realized they could not win this battle.

As if they could feel Cloud and his friends weakening, the Turks pressed forward, increasing the power of their attacks. Suddenly Tifa felt burning pain as fire flashed around them. She stumbled backwards and fell. She looked over to see the other members of the party down as well. With sudden resolve they all slowly got up, and stood with their backs literally to the wall. If they were going to lose, they would sell themselves dearly, she thought.

The Turks started forward but were interrupted by a blast of gunfire. With a shout Yuffie and Red ran past Barret and threw themselves into the fray. The Turks were instantly demoralized by the sudden appearance of reinforcements, and immediately were put on the defensive. With renewed vigor Cloud, Tifa and Cait sprang forward to join their friends, but the Turks gave way, knowing that the battle was hopeless now. They turned and retreated into the corridor, and Cloud was too tired to pursue them. Reno stopped and turned toward them.

"Apparently our simple ruse was a little too simple," he said. "You've won this round, but you know this isn't the end of it. We'll see you again soon enough."

Cloud knew that was true, but he said nothing as they turned and disappeared down the corridor.

"You guys got here just in a nick of time," Tifa exclaimed.

"That's apparent," Yuffie said, seeing their obvious exhaustion.

Barret resisted the urge to snap at her. After all, she had climbed across those pipes in the tunnel and gotten out quickly enough to release them and get them here in time. In spite of her character, she did have her uses.

"Well, it's all over now," Cloud said. "We have the Crystal. I suggest we follow the Turks example and get out of here as fast as possible."

chapter 5 will be posted, when I can get round to it, bah....
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[QUOTE][i]Originally posted by Sephiroth [/i]
[B]hey, its not my fault I can't be bothered to do something simple as posting up the rest of the story, maybe tomorrow I won't be as lazy, don't count on it though, lol :drunk: [/B][/QUOTE][COLOR=royalblue]I have learned to never count on you for anything.;)[/COLOR]
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[QUOTE][i]Originally posted by Raiha [/i]
[B][COLOR=royalblue]I have learned to never count on you for anything.;)[/COLOR] [/B][/QUOTE]

you aren't the first one :drunk:

Cloud was surrounded by white light. He looked down to see the world far below his feet. He was suspended in the air far above the planet, but he felt no fear or discomfort.

He looked up and saw Aeris standing a few paces away. He reached out to her and tried to call out her name, but he heard no sound. Still, she seemed to understand, for she looked at him and smiled. Then she looked down.

He followed her gaze and saw a large island below them. He recognized it as one of the southern islands, the one that had held the Temple of the Ancients, in fact, for he could just barely make out the small clearing where it had once stood.

He looked back up at her. She looked at him expectantly, her face showing no emotion except for her calm smile. It seemed she was trying to tell him something, but he had no clue what. He tried to ask, but again no sound came out. Then she looked down again and pointed.

He looked down one more time. And then suddenly he was falling. He looked up to see her disappearing rapidly into the distance, the calm smile still on her face. He looked down and saw that he was dropping not onto the island but towards the water off it's southern shore.

He felt no impact as he hit the water, but suddenly he was below it, sinking rapidly into the depths. He sank for a long time, but he still felt no discomfort or need for breath. The sea was filled with life, but none of it paid any attention to him. He looked down and saw that the bottom was now in view, and then he saw a cave on a small rise in front of him, a faint green glow emanated from it.

He drifted down to the bottom right in front of it, and then slowly felt himself being drawn in. The glow grew brighter and sparkled in a familiar way, and suddenly he realized it was the glow of the lifestream. It filled the air all around him as he slowly drifted into the cave.

He felt the tug of the current become stronger. The cave seemed to be filled with shadows that moved around him like living things. He had felt nothing but peaceful contentment up to this point, but suddenly he felt uneasy. The current grew stronger still, and for the first time he tried to resist. He made an attempt to swim back the way he had come, but it had no effect. He felt the current grow stronger still and now he was being pulled swiftly through the tunnel. Suddenly he saw the lifestream fade away into darkness and a black vortex opened up in front of him. He desperately tried to halt his progress, for he knew that if he was sucked into the dark abyss he would never return. His efforts were useless, and even as he felt himself being swept helplessly to his doom, he heard a familiar laughter ringing in his ears.


Cloud woke up with a start. He thought he had cried out, although he could not be certain. He sat up in the bed, looking around the room for a minute, confused. In a moment he remembered he and the others had headed back to Kalm after their little excursion to Midgar, and he was now sitting up in a bed in the backroom of Tifa's bar.

The sun was shining brightly through the window, and he wondered how late it was. He got up and a short time later strolled into the bar proper. The others were gathered around one of the tables in the center of the room.

Tifa came over to him as soon as she saw him.

"We knew how exhausted you were from the battle and didn't want to disturb you," she said. "Sleep well?"

He looked at her for a moment. It was obvious that she knew more about his dreams than he had thought, and he wondered now if she was somehow aware of his most recent one, but he could read nothing in her face.

"Well enough," he replied.

"Good," she said. "We've been waiting for you to get up so we can decide on the next step."

They walked over and the others greeted him. He and Tifa both sat down.

"Well, we've got the Crystal Materia," he said. "So I guess you're all wondering where do we go from here. Red?"

"I'm afraid we don't have much to go on," Red replied. "I've been working on translating the book but it is difficult work. From what I have deciphered so far the Crystal Materia can only be used successfully in certain locations on the planet."

"And where might that be?" Barret questioned.

"There are several places mentioned," he replied, "but I have never heard of any of them, nor can I find any reference to them in any other book. I think this is because that they are not actually on the planet."

"What do you mean?" Yuffie asked, puzzled.

"I don't think the locations mentioned are geographical locations on the surface of the planet, rather they appear to be locations within the lifestream."

"What exactly does that mean?" Tifa asked.

"It's kind of hard to explain," Red answered. "There are certain places within the lifestream that are places of power. They are not tied to one geographical location on the planet, but rather represent crossroads in the flow of the lifestream."

"So if they're not always in the same place, then how are we supposed to find them?" Cait asked quite reasonably.

"I said that they are not tied to one place," Red replied. "But that doesn't mean they move. It just means they could move. If I understand correctly, some do not move at all, or move only after thousands of years. If we found a reference to the location of even one on the planet, chances are it would still be there."

"But we don't know where one is," Cait pointed out.

"No," Red answered.

"It doesn't sound like we have much at all," Barret commented. "We don't even know how to get into the lifestream itself, much less find a major intersection."

"We were in the lifestream once before," Tifa pointed out, looking at Cloud.

He said nothing, but just sat there, apparently deep in thought.

"That's right, at Mideel," Barret spoke up.

"Perhaps that would be a logical starting place for us then," Red suggested.

"No," Cloud said suddenly.

They all looked at him.

"No?" Tifa said.

"No," he repeated. "We have to go to Junon."

"Junon?" Cait and Yuffie said at once.

They waited for him to explain.

"Cloud?" Tifa prompted, a look of puzzlement and concern mixed on her face.

He hesitated a moment more, then told them about the vision he had had that morning.

"So what are you trying to tell us," Cait asked when he had finished. "That the dream was real?"

"It wasn't a dream," Cloud said sharply. "It was more than that. It was so vivid, so real. I've never had dreams like this before. I can't explain how I know, but I just know. Aeris showed me the entrance to the lifestream. It's not in Mideel, it's in an underwater cave off the coast. If we go to Mideel we'll just be wasting our time."

Some of the others looked skeptical, but none of them doubted Cloud's sincerity. Whether it was true or not, it was certain that Cloud believed what he had seen was the truth. Tifa just sat silently beside him, staring off into space.

"So, even if you are right," Barret commented slowly. "Why do you want to go to Junon?"

"In my vision," Cloud replied, "I could travel underwater with no ill effects, but I doubt if that will occur in reality. We left the submarine at Junon."



Red turned as Tifa walked up beside him. The were alone in the bar now, the others preparing for the trip to Junon.

"Do you think Cloud's visions are real?" she asked.

"I don't know," Red replied with a shrug. "As I said before, most of what we once knew about the Ancients is lost. It is clear, however, that Cloud believes they are real."

Tifa did not respond. She sat down at the table and stared out the window.

"What's troubling you?" Red asked.

She sighed.

"I think he blames himself for her death," she said finally.

Red wasn't surprised.

"That's nonsense," he replied.

Tifa shrugged.

"I think he believes he could have stopped it, should have stopped it," she continued. "I think he feels guilty that he didn't. I think..."

She stopped. He waited patiently for her to continue.

"I'm sorry," she said suddenly. "I'm ranting. Sometimes I think he's losing his mind. Other times, I think I am."

Red looked at her with a sympathetic eye.

"You think he's having these visions because he blames himself for her death," he said slowly.

She looked at him for a moment, then looked down at the floor.

"I guess so," she said softly. "I've really tried to believe that she is trying to contact him, but I can't. She's dead, Red. Much as it hurts to say so, but that is what I really believe in my heart. Does that make me a terrible person?"

"Not at all," he answered immediately. "To tell you the truth, I had a suspicion you might feel that way. You were the only one who did not hesitate when Aeris vision appeared in the Gi cave."

"So what do I do Red?" she asked, turning to look at him once more. "What do I do?"

He smiled.

"I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of advice," he replied. "I would say that you should just keep on doing what you have been. I have a feeling that in the end it will all work out for you. In the meantime, the only thing I can tell you is to take your own advice."

She looked at him, puzzled.

"What do you mean?"

"There was a time in our last adventure when all of the people with Hojo's tattoos seemed to be going mad. I was afraid that it would happen to me too. Do you remember what you told me then?"

She paused for a moment in thought. Then she smiled.

"I told you to be strong," she said finally.

He placed a reassuring paw on her shoulder.

"Be strong, Tifa, be strong."

there, happy now? :p
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[QUOTE][i]Originally posted by Zero-Sama [/i]
[B]No,I'm not happy!I need more!And also,are Vincent and Cid in the story? [/B][/QUOTE][COLOR=teal]Cid yes. Vincent, err......we haven't met him yet. :D[/COLOR]
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bah, sorry I'm late posting, getting too damn lazy, here's some of of chapter 5, not all of it though....
They reached the dockyard on the outskirts of Junon early the next morning. None of them had been back here since their last adventure. After all, it's not everyday you need the use of a submarine. Things didn't look much different at first, but as they neared the docks they were surprised to find that it was surrounded by a fence. In front of them at the end of the road was a large gate with two guards on either side.

"That's new," Barret commented.

They walked up to the gate. A guard came forward and held up his hand for them to halt.

"Do you have business here?" he questioned.

"We need to get into the dockyard," Cloud replied.

The guard nodded.

"Certainly, if you'll just show me your clearance."

The look they gave him made it obvious that they were lacking in that regard. The guard looked at them sternly and shook his head.

"You can't pass without clearance."

"Clearance from who?" Barret growled.

"Why, Mayor Hart, of course," the guard replied. "We've had a lot of cases of unauthorized use of government property. Mayor Hart is cracking down. You can't go onto the docks without his permission."

"Hart?" Cait said. "What happened to the old Mayor?"

"He retired about six months ago," the guard replied. "Hart is the Mayor now. He's started a lot of innovative programs."

"I'll bet," Barret replied. "Look, we just need to use the submarine. We're not here to mess with anything else. We're from Avalanche, and I'm sure your Mayor won't mind."

"You guys are from Avalanche?" the guard said, his eyes widening. "I heard it was you who beat Sephiroth. I didn't think anyone would be able to do that."

"Great," Cloud replied. "Now can we pass?"

The guard hesitated and looked at them, embarrassed.

"I'm afraid I really can't let you through without permission," he said hesitantly.

"Oh good grief," Barret exclaimed, obviously starting to lose his temper. "This is ridiculous. We're not thieves, and we need the sub. Now let us through."

The guard stepped back as the second guard came over slowly. They both realized that they would be no match for this group if it came to a fight.

"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I'm just doing my job. I'm sure if you go see the Mayor you will have no problem getting clearance. But I can't let you through without it."

Barret just stared at them with his hands on his hips.

"It's all right," Tifa said, walking over to Barret. "We can go talk to the Mayor. C'mon, Barret. It's not their fault."

For a moment longer Barret glared at the guards, then he turned and looked at Cloud.

"Tifa's right," Cloud said finally. "C'mon, let's go pay the Mayor a visit.

They walked back down the road and turned north. In a few minutes they were in Junon proper. The city itself didn't seem to have changed much since their last visit. The cannon was gone, of course, decaying now in the ruins of Midgar, but otherwise the city appeared virtually unchanged. It turned out the Mayor had his office in the old Shinra headquarters, and Tifa shuddered for a moment as they walked by the room that held the gas chamber where she had almost perished. This was another place that she had hoped to never see again.

They reached the Mayor's office and entered. The waiting room was empty, except for a secretary at a desk in the front of the room. She looked at them as they walked up to her.

"Can I help you?"

"We need to see the Mayor," Cloud said.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked.

"No," Cloud replied. "We need to use the submarine and we were told we had to get clearance from the Mayor first."

"I'll go see if he's available," she said, and got up.

"Tell him we're from Avalanche," Barret added.

She raised her eyebrows at this, but said nothing. She walked into the next room.

"Let's hope this doesn't take long," Barret muttered.

She came out again in a moment.

"The Mayor will see you shortly, please have a seat."

Barret grumbled, but then they all sat down and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Barret fidgeted and grumbled the entire time. He kept giving the secretary glaring looks, but she did her best to ignore them. Finally even the others started to get impatient

"How much longer is this going to take?" Cloud asked.

"The Mayor is a very busy man," the secretary responded.

"Busy?" Barret exclaimed, "there's not even anyone else here!"

The secretary gave him an exasperated look.

"Considering the fact that you don't have an appointment, you're lucky that he agreed to see you at all," she answered.

"Yeah, real lucky,' Yuffie chimed in.

"Did you tell him that we were from Avalanche," Barret asked. "Remember, the people who stopped Meteor and saved the planet?"

"Yes, I told him," she answered with a sigh.

They sat back down and waited a little while longer. But then Cloud looked at Barret and without saying a word they suddenly all got up and walked toward the door to the Mayor's chambers.

The secretary stood up in surprise.

"You can't go in there!" she cried.

"Not likely you're going to stop us, sister," Yuffie exclaimed and took a menacing step toward her. The secretary stepped back.

"The Mayor isn't going to like this," she said lamely as they filed by.

"You can say that again," Barret growled.

The Mayors office was a large well furnished room. There was a huge desk at the far end of it. Behind the desk sat the Mayor with a young woman in his lap. He looked up startled as they came in, then stood up abruptly, almost dumping the woman on the floor. She righted herself a gave him a dirty look.

"I thought I told April that I was not to be disturbed, " he said, somewhat flustered.

"I'm afraid we took the liberty of coming in on our own," Cloud replied. "And since we're here now and it doesn't look like you're all that busy after all, perhaps you could find the time to have a little discussion with Avalanche."

The Mayor looked like he would get angry for a moment, but then, seeing the look on the faces of the six well armed people in front of him, appeared to change his mind.

"Of course," he replied with a smile. "Sorry to have kept you waiting."

He turned toward the woman. "I'll continue my dictation later on, Selene. You can go."

With a smile at the others, she turned and walked out of the room.

"So what can I do for you, my friends?" the Mayor asked.

Cloud explained the situation.

"Oh, so you need to use the submarine," Hart said when he had finished. "I see. Well, this is a very serious request. I'm afraid I just can't give you use of the submarine on a spur of the moment. We're conducting some very important research right now, and I don't know whether it can be interrupted."

"What sort of research is that, exactly?" Red questioned.

"Well, I'm afraid I can't say. It's all hush, hush, and all that. You know."

"No we don't know," Barret said sharply. "We're not going to need it for long. Besides, we were the ones who acquired the ship from Shinra, so it's basically our submarine."

"Well, " Hart responded, searching for a moment for a response. "As private citizens, you can't really own the submarine. It was property of Shinra, and once that company was dissolved it reverted to the state."

"But I'm not a private citizen, " Barret responded with a sudden smile. "I'm the Mayor of Corel And as such I believe I have the right to claim the submarine as property of that city."

Hart looked at him for a moment.

"But you were not Mayor when you acquired the ship. I don't think your claim would hold up."

"Look," Cloud interrupted. He really was not interested in discussing the finer points of any legal battle they might have over the submarine. "Are you going to let us use it or not?"

The Mayor looked around his office for a moment, as if trying to think of the proper way to respond.

"All right, I may be able to swing it," he said finally. "But you have to do something for me in return."

Barret looked at him skeptically.

"And what might that be?"

"I need you to get something for me," he said.

They did not respond, but waited for him to say more.

"I need you to get me the plans for the Mako reactor underneath Junon." he continued.

"Whatever for?" Tifa exclaimed. "Surely you're not thinking of building another Mako reactor?"

"No, not at all," Hart replied quickly. "It's just that some of my engineers believe that they can use the plans to build a conventional reactor that's more efficient."

Cloud looked at the others. They seemed as doubtful as he about this new development. Tifa in particular did not look like she liked this idea one bit. He turned back to the Mayor.

"Assuming we agree," he said, "just where are these plans?"

"Why, in the reactor, of course," Hart replied.

"Somehow I knew you were going to say that," Cloud said softly.


Mako created monsters had continued to haunt the city of Junon even after the fall of Shinra. Some brave people had entered the reactor itself to try to clean out this scourge, but none had ever returned. In the end it had been decided it would be better to simply seal off the reactor and let the monsters rot inside. Now Cloud and his friends found themselves standing in the underwater passageway just outside the huge steel doors that the Mayor's assistants were in the process of unbolting.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Tifa asked, not for the first time.

"No, I'm not," Cloud replied. "But it doesn't look like we have much choice. It's either this or take the submarine by force and probably have the entire city of Junon after us."

"For all we know," Yuffie said, "the city might be glad to get rid of this guy. I'm beginning to wonder how he ever got elected in the first place."

"And besides," Cait added, "how do we know he's telling the truth when he says he only wants the plans to build an improved conventional reactor? I don't trust him."

"After all that's happened," Tifa said, "the people would never let him build another Mako reactor. They'd kick him right out of office. That kind of greed almost destroyed the planet once already."

"Most people thought Shinra should have been kicked out long before it was," Barret observed, "but it took a long time for it to happen."

"I don't trust him either," Cloud said. "And I'm open to any suggestions, if anyone has got one. I think we have little choice but to take his word for it, and if we find out later on that he's lying, well, the citizens of Junon won't be the only people he has to deal with. I'm sure that you haven't forgotten that we have some experience at taking out Mako reactors."

No one had forgotten.

The assistants completed unbolting the doors and now nervously opened them just far enough for someone to pass through. They looked at Cloud and his friends anxiously,

"All right, let's get this over with," Cloud said. He walked over and slipped through the doors. The others followed. As soon as they were all inside the doors was slammed ominously behind them.

"I got a feeling they're not expecting us back," Cait commented.

They looked around. They were in a large passageway. Machinery lined the walls and a catwalk ran along the wall to their right. Except for themselves, it seemed deserted.

"Well, I don't see any sign of Mako monsters," Barret observed. "This place has been sealed up for almost a year, maybe they all turned on each other."

"Maybe, " Cloud replied, the doubt in his voice obvious.

"So where do we go from here?" Tifa asked.

Hart had told him where the plans could be found, if of course they hadn't been moved. Cloud thought that unlikely. The plans weren't something that would be of interest to anyone, or anything, for that matter.

"This way," he said, and started walking to the left.

There was a corridor off in that direction and Cloud led them down it. This led into another room filled with machinery. Tifa kept her eyes open as they walked, but she saw no hint that the place was occupied. Nor did she sense that they were being watched or followed. She felt that they were completely alone down here.

Cloud led them down two more levels, and still they met no opposition. Tifa was beginning to believe that maybe Barret was right, and the only thing they had to worry about was getting lost. They had made a dozen turns already, and without the others she would have no clue where she was going, but Cloud seemed to know the way and he led them unhesitantly.

They entered the largest room they had seen yet. They stood on a metal grating about six feet wide that ran along the wall on this side of the room. Below them the rest of the room was filled with a clear green liquid. A metal stairway led up to a catwalk that ran above the pool across the room and into another corridor twenty feet above the pool on the opposite wall.

"Must be coolant for the reactor," Red observed, looking at the liquid.

Cloud nodded and led them single file up the stairway and onto the catwalk. They had still seen no sign of an enemy, and he had unconsciously begun to relax a little. Even if he had been alert, he was looking for some enemy, and not at the structure on which they walked. The reactor had had no maintenance done on it in almost a year, and if anyone had looked closely they might have been concerned by the rust covering the metal struts supporting the catwalk.

But no one did notice, and the first hint they had was the grating sound of metal on metal and a sudden shudder as one of the supports gave way.

"Get back!" Cloud shouted in the instant he had before the section they were standing on collapsed.

The catwalk gave way at one end and swung down like a trapdoor opening. Yuffie, who was last in line, scrambled back madly and managed to make it to an undamaged section. Red, who was next, made a tremendous leap as the walk gave way and landed halfway on the undamaged part. For a moment he balanced there, his paws flailing wildly to gain a grip, then Yuffie grabbed hold of him and hauled him up.

The others were too far along to jump back. Cloud grabbed Tifa's arm with one hand, then lunged and managed to grasp the swinging handrail. Barret and Cait slid down, desperately reaching for the railing as they fell. Barret managed to grab it and hold on at the last moment. He hung there slowly swinging back and forth above the coolant. Cait scrambled to get a handhold as well, but couldn't quite manage it. He fell into the coolant below with a loud splash.

He came up gasping.

"Is this stuff poisonous?" he yelled anxiously.

"I don't think so," Red replied. "Just swim back to the platform and you'll be fine."

Cait paddled back toward the metal grating. Cloud hauled himself up the handrail, thinking at any moment the rest of the catwalk would give way and they would all end up in the drink. But he climbed up without incident, then turned and helped Tifa and Barret.

They stood up and looked back at Yuffie and Red. A good fifteen feet now separated them.

"So what do we do now?" Yuffie asked.

Cloud shrugged.

"I guess we'll go on," he answered. "I don't see how you can get across, so wait here until we get back."

She held out her arms and gave him a look of exasperation.

"So I'm just supposed to wait here with the furballs?" she said.

Cloud just shook his head.

"Let's get going, " he said to Tifa and Barret.

They move forward cautiously, but they reached the end of the catwalk without further incident. They disappeared into the corridor beyond.

Yuffie and Red walked back down to the platform and helped Cait climb out of the coolant. He shook his huge Mog body, and Yuffie cried in protest as he showered them with water.

"Cut it out," she exclaimed. "If you weren't such a big lug the catwalk probably wouldn't have fallen in the first place."

"Hey, don't try to blame it on me," Cait answered defensively. "This body is big but it's very light. I bet it doesn't weigh much more than you do."

Yuffie said nothing but looked at him skeptically. Then she turned and walked back toward the doorway.

"Cloud told us to wait here," Red said.

"Well, I'm not going to just stand around here waiting for them," she replied. "Suppose they get in trouble and need our help? I'm going to see if there is another way through."

"You're more likely to just get yourself hopelessly lost," Red said.

"You're welcome to come if you want," she said sharply. "But I'm going, regardless."

Red and Cait looked at each other, then turned and started after her.

"I've got a feeling we're going to regret this," Red said resignedly.

I'll post the rest tomorrow....probably :p
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