Challenges Both New and Old Chapter 5

A Taste of What's to Come

"Vincent, you idiot!!!!" Cid shouted at the top of his lungs. He couldn't remember getting this pissed since Rufus decided to fire the space rocket to hit Meteor. No, check that. This was so much more important than his piddling little space dreams. He had never ever been this angry before in his life. "How could you do that to them? To us?"

Vincent, in his trademark personality, did not budge or respond.

"What the hell were you thinking?! Did you ask anyone?! Did you stop to think that you were sending my child to kill my wife?!"

This time, Vincent actually bothered to speak. "I sent my son as well. Don't think I made this decision rashly; you know me better than that, Cid."

Cid's face grew bright red. "Well, I also thought you weren't a deranged fucker who had a IQ of 3, but I guess I was wrong, wasn't I?!"

"It had to be done, Cid. You can tell yourself whatever you want, but it had to be done."

"Are you out of your fucking mind? It didn't have to be done! It tried to be done and it didn't work! Now we've got the entire fucking Shinra army to deal with, the Garden Master decides I'm the one who has to suffer, not to mention the long-range missiles!"

"It was impossible to know whether it would work Cid, but Cloud and I knew we had to try."

"Oh, believe me!" assured Cid. "Cloud's not getting off any easier than you! Have you two gone so insane from your Galbadian undercover positions you'd think it's a good idea to listen to NORG and try to kill my wife when I told you to leave her the fuck alone?!"

"NORG had nothing to do with it," Vincent assured. "He's a bloated, self-centered idiot, but I don't need to tell you that. It's not a matter of NORG, but you, Cid. I've worked on Garden with you since the beginning, taking our own kids, along with Cloud's and Tifa's orphans, and helping you set up the Garden program. Never once had I questioned your orders. I went undercover into Galbadia territory and kept in consistent contact with you. But you were not going to neutralize this threat. She would have taken over the world, and you wouldn't have killed her. Garden was meant to protect the world, from Shinra or whatever else. Cloud and I did what we knew you couldn't."

"Do you really think trying to fight my wife would accomplish anything? It's evident she's being controlled! If not by Jenova, then by something else!"

Vincent's eyes narrowed. "That's almost certainly true, but we have no time to find out what the something else is. Shera has kicked me out of Galbadia garden... our garden. We cannot wait! War is gruesome, Cid."

"Don't spoon-feed me your goddamn slogans! I can get Shera back!"

"Oh?" asked Vincent. "Just like her own daughter was able to?"

"YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!!" screamed Cid, charging at Vincent. But the other man, in his infinite calm, simply clocked Cid with a well-placed right hook. Cid crumpled to the floor.

"You're not angry at me, Cid. You're angry at yourself, and the fact that your wife has essentially become the next Sephiroth. But you must do the right thing, not the selfish one. Barret had to fight his friend Dyne once upon a time. I lost my Lucrecia to Hojo. Cloud and Tifa lost their parents, friends, and hometown. Aeris lost her life. And you will most likely lose your wife to this malicious force, whatever it is. It will be unspeakably painful to confront her, but the alternative cannot happen. And if you find yourself unable to deal with this, I'd suggest finding someone who can." And with that, the former Headmaster of Galbadia Garden transformed into a certain long-unseen winged beast and flew out the window.

Cid picked himself up, his face red from what looked like tears. He wiped his eyes and sat down. Vincent was right. Absolutely right. It was painful, it was horrible, but it had to be done. Shera - no, sorceress Edea - had to be taken out at all costs. And Vincent was also right about him. Cid knew that when the moment came, when he pointed his once-retired Venus Gospel at the one woman who had cared for him, done for him, and made his tea, that he would falter. And she would strike. He couldn't do it. He was weak. He pounded the table in frustration, but he knew it wouldn't change anything. He couldn't do what needed to be done. He couldn't lead the garden against his wife. He'd need to appoint a new leader, someone cool and calm like Vincent, who would be able to make the decisions and actions needed without hesitation. But who....?

Suddenly, the door burst open behind him. "Headmaster!" came a voice.

Cid turned around to greet the voice's owner. "Squall...."

"Yo!" burst in Barret. "I'd love to talk about this all day, but we still need to get what we came for!"

Red's position remained stoic. "I'm sorry, but I can't allow it. We were lucky we got what we did, and the Planet has a lot to take care of."

Barret had learned a great deal of patience over the years. But this was one thing he hadn't counted on. "Maybe you don't get it, Red, but if the Planet doesn't help us, it's gonna be in even bigger shit than before."

"This Deling character doesn't sound any better than Rufus," Red admitted. "But how is the Planet in danger from him? He did ban materia, yes?"

Barret faltered. He should've thought before arguing with a creature this smart. "That's true..."

"You are both welcome to stay here as long as you like. Don't misunderstand, I do not wish for you to be caught." This was a step up in generosity from the old Red... Barret couldn't have imagined Red ever inviting him to stay at the Canyon. But it wasn't good enough now.

"Thanks but no thanks, Red. If they do find us here, we're screwed. Besides, we wanna help topple Shinra from the inside out!"

"Look," attempted Palmer. "You obviously thought that you and your tribe were deserving of the Planet's assistance. Why?"

Red stiffened slightly before answering. "My tribe and I have always been especially careful to take care of and respect the Planet. We've been through a lot: the Gi attack, Shinra raids, and the destruction of our home. All we asked for was what we needed to survive."

"Really?" asked Barret snidely. "You thought you were so much better than the rest of us?"

"I didn't say-"

"So were you guys doin' selling materia? Huh?"

"We needed the money..."

Barret was rolling forward like a snowball picking up mass. "And you think we don't need this? We're just here for a little plastic surgery!?"

"Of course not," Red explained. "I just don't feel we should ask the Planet for anything else. Had you come to me before we moved, my answer would probably have been different."

"Yeah, sure it would..." muttered Barret.

"But I really don't think it's a good idea to beseech the Planet for anything right now, even this."

Palmer stepped in. "Then let us do it. Let us suffer the consequences if the Planet is displeased."

Red sighed. He didn't want to put these two at risk, but they weren't going to give up. Barret had always been ridiculously stubborn. "Fine, come with me." He stood and led them outside. They started walking when a smaller, presumably younger Shumi came up to Red. He looked like a miniature version of Red; he wore the same robe, had the same face structure and skin complexion, and eve spoke in the same manner.

"Elder, what are you doing? You know you shouldn't be moving around too much!"

"Do not worry, Norgus. I am only escorting these two somewhere. It is not far and not too onerous... I will be fine."

Norgrus didn't seem to be satisfied. "Where are you taking them, elder? Why are you even allowing outsiders into our home?"

Red knelt and placed one of his gargantuan hands on the little one's shoulder. "Norgrus... sometimes you simply have to trust in authorities higher than your own. These are... friends, from before our move. Please believe that I know what I am doing."

Apparently Norgus had difficulty with that. "Elder... there isn't anywhere you could be taking them that they could possibly have an interest in, unless..." Red froze. Norgrus's face adopted a surprised expression. "No.... elder! You wouldn't!"

And for perhaps the first time in a while, Red was truly at a loss for how to respond. "I-"

"Elder!" shouted Norgus. "I can't believe you! This is... horrible!" Without waiting, Norgus immediately took off.

The three of them stood still for a moment. "Uhhhhh..." Barret began.

"It's okay," spoke Red immediately. "Norgus has always been a little... headstrong."

"I'm sorry," said Palmer softly. "He knew where you were taking us, right? We... didn't mean to sow any discord."

"No," responded Red. "Norgus has a history of distrust. He used to be a human back at Cosmo Canyon," (Barret dimly recalled the little boy who ran around near the Cosmo Candle) "but the fact that he was given his new form by the Planet went to his head. He tends to look down upon other races."

"...I see," said Palmer, completely unsure of how to react. "Well... I'm sure he'll come around."

"Yeah," agreed Barret. "Now let's go have a heart to heart with the Planet!"

Yuffie awoke on her bed. How long had she been out for? Minutes? Hours? She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything anymore. Her father had been all-powerful, but he had reneged on the code of the Wu-Taing to do so. The man she traveled with to rid the world of evil was almost single-handedly responsible for the downfall of both her dad and her hometown. And Sephiroth... well, Sephiroth appeared to be no good whether he was with Jenova or not. He'd had no qualms about destroying Wu-Taing and Godo simply because Shinra had told him to. There is no one you can trust but yourself. No... it couldn't be that simple! Cloud didn't know what he was doing... no, that wasn't true. He was just as mindless a pawn as the very man he wound up killing. And exactly how much of Godo's awe-inspiring strength had been his own? Yuffie remembered seeing a lot of materia on his belt. How strong was her dad, really? She'd never fought him in a true ninja battle, as he'd used materia when she fought him in the pagoda. Your father is a liar and a cheat. Who knows how much honor he ever had? And if Godo wasn't as strong as he had appeared, perhaps he was too scared to challenge Deling. You were able to defeat your own father. Why should you still defer to him? But he beat Sephiroth... I couldn't have done that. Did Sephiroth have the aid of Jenova and his clones? Wasn't Cloud able to defeat him as well? Well, sure he did, but that was when Sephiroth was stronger. When Sephiroth was stronger... so how strong was he when he faced your father? Yuffie gasped... Godo may have looked more convincing and fit in his younger years, but Sephiroth's weakness belied Godo's strength... her father was a fraud. Through and through. Godo disrepected the Wu-Taing code with his bravado, and attempted to make up for it with his cowardice. He fought in the shadows instead of with honor. This man cannot lead Wutai to its rebirth. He must be eliminated. No! I can't kill him! I won't! Dear child, it's the only way to ascertain the future of Wutai. I won't do it! And why not? You should certainly understand personal sacrifice for the cause of the greater good. Yes, but I don't need to kill him! Can you think of any alternative? He continues to patronize you, and is so steeped in his pride and his fear that he is in no position to do anything. That may be so. I may be more qualified to lead Wutai, and he may be an idiot, but he's my dad, and I won't... "AAAARRRRGH!!!!" Yuffie's hands flew to her head, as she collapsed to her knees. Even in the midst of the blinding pain, she recognized her position as the one that Cloud always assumed when he was being manipulated. No... she couldn't give in! She couldn't... let... Jenova... "AAAAAAAAG! NO, MAKE IT STOP!! MAKE IT STOP!!!" Yuffie passed out on her floor. There is no one in the world you can trust except yourself... and me.

In the dark of Wutai night, a small figure could be seen casually walking from Yuffie's house towards the pagoda, where Godo spent many sleepless nights. No one was around to see the figure, but if they had been, they most likely would have missed the fact that it was carrying shruikens, even though no monsters ever came into Wutai. But had they looked especially close, they might have seen a faint green glow emanating from the bag of shruikens. When the figure reached the pagoda, something very unusual happened. Rather than entering the door like a normal person, the figure rose of its own accord to the top level of the pagoda, with full access to the window. Without hesistation, the figure turned the shruiken bag upside down, emptying it. But instead of clattering to the ground in a ferocious mass of metal and noise, the shruikens hung there, each one surrounded by a bright green glow. "Godo Kisagari!" the figure shouted. "I present to you your daughter, heir to the rebirth of Wutai. Long live the leader of Wutai, Yuffie Adel Kisagari!" It was over before Godo could move.

"I think we should go to sleep," offered Kiros. The fire was dimming and he was getting tired. "We've discussed enough right now,"

"Any news from Red, Cid, or Vincent?" Ward asked.

"Nah, they've been involved in their own projects," put in Laguna. "Red's guarding Holy, and Cid and Vincent are still working on that 'seeds of the future' thing."

"And Yuffie still might be dead," finished Ward. "That's everyone."

"You forgot Elmyra and Marlene," mentioned Kiros. "I spoke to them the other day. They're getting a little restless about Adel... they think, because of her power, they might target Marlene."

"Tifa and Shera are okay," argued Ward.

"Yeah, but I think Adel wants a little girl," Kiros responded. "That's one thing we can't cover up."

"Ugh," muttered Laguna.

"What?" asked Kiros.

"It's just... I hate hiding like this,"

"Gee, not like you don't tell us that every time you get the chance," observed Ward.

"I hate hiding from Galbadia, I hate hiding from Tifa, I hate the lies and the secrecy."

"Way to talk, considering you used to be a spy," Kiros countered.

Laguna hung his head. "I know. And I told you I was sorry. What more do you want?"

"To hang in there," Ward answered. "It's frustrating for us as well, but try not to complain so much,"

Laguna managed a smile. "I'm Laguna Loire. It's what I do."

"Yeah, but we're alone," observed Kiros. "So act reasonable."

Laguna thought for a moment. "Do you ever want to slip back into your old way of talking?"

Kiros shrugged. "That was never an essential part of who I was. I find that people don't have as much of a problem being around me when I speak normally."

"I guess screaming 'fucker' all the time did have its downsides," Ward noted.

"I'm a different person now. Not just because I had to become one, but it's changed the real me as well. This has taught me to keep calm and not always act before I think."

"That's good," Laguna admitted. "I think you're better for it."

"Thanks," acknolwedged Kiros. An awkward silence followed. Now that they had the opportunity to reflect on old times, it seemed that much harder to do. "Let's just go to bed," Kiros advised.

"Alright," Laguna agreed.

"Sure," Ward replied. The three of them put out the fire, felt their way into the tent, and settled down for a pleasant evening rest, not having to worry about whether Kiros's bare right arm could be seen.

But as they fell asleep, a figure emerged from out of the foliage. It was large and rotund, with an unusual head. Not only did the head look unusual, but it acted unusual, because it suddenly hopped off its body and started moving around on the ground.

"Well well well," stated the head. "So this is the story of our precious campers. Mog, megaphone!"

The body, having stood still, now produced a funnel-like object and handed it to the head.

"Cait Sith here. We may have found AVALANCHE."

"So..." Barret fumbled awkwardly as Red led him and Palmer into the caverns below the village. "Exactly how are we gonna talk to the Planet?"

"It's different for everyone," Red stated. "Should the Planet choose to converse with you, it will manifest itself in a way that it feels best conveys its message."

Palmer spoke up. "If Lifestream is everywhere, how come we have to come here to talk to the Planet?"

"We are traveling to the core of the Planet... consider this its brain and the Lifestream blood. Sephiroth traveled here to be at the nexus of the Planet's architecture, the single most powerful point on the Planet. It will be up to you to show that you do not possess his intentions."

"Alright then," Barret gulped. He was secretly beginning to have doubts about this... he hadn't been a saint. He had willfully accepted Shinra's offer of Mako energy, and in his attempt to make up for this fault, he ended up killing many Midgar residents. Could Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, and all the rest see fit to forgive him?

He threw these thoughts from his mind as they continued onwards. He then noticed something fairly odd. "How come we ain't seen no monsters down here?"

"The only reason monsters existed in here in the first place was thanks to the mako imbalance caused by Sephiroth. Once we came here and started keeping an eye on things, the levels have evened out and the Planet is now healing itself normally."

"That's good... I guess," Barret finished lamely. There seemed to be so many levels to the Planet and the way it worked that he wasn't sure what was good or bad anymore.

"Barret?" Palmer asked suddenly.


"What are you going to do if you get your new body?"

Barret thought. "...I dunno. Guess I'd figure that out afterwards."

"Listen... Reeve and I will be heading to Deling City to work undercover. I figured inviting you along would be the best way to cement your trust in us."

Barret didn't know what to say. "Why would you want me along? I treated you both like shit sometimes."

Palmer cracked a small smile. "Well, we're hoping this would get you to stop that."

Barret thought for a moment. "Hell, why not?" he laughed. "It's a better idea than anything I've got, and I owe you guys anyway! Sure thing, Palmy!"

"...don't call me that," Palmer stated.

"...we're here," Red announced. It looked no different than the last time Barret had entered the crater.

"...this is it?" asked Palmer.

"This is the center of the Planet," confirmed Red.

"Shouldn't it be... I don't know... larger, more active?"

"The center is the part of the Planet that is the least active... it's the eye of the storm."

"Alright then," said Palmer. "Let's get this over with, then."

"Yes," agreed Red. "Let's." And he pushed both Barret and Palmer into the hole.

Barret's mind was racing faster than he was falling. Why would Red push him in? It couldn't have been an accident; far too deliberate. Did Red consider humans a threat to the Planet? No, he'd fought with us! He wouldn't double cross us! But he pushed us... And suddenly they stopped falling.

Barret found himself suspended in midair, akin to Sephiroth's grip on his body in the crater. Barret looked around... all he saw was green... showers and showers of green lifestream. Palmer was nowhere in sight. Barret struggled to move, but he simply hung there. What was going on here? Was this death? And suddenly, something in front of him began to change. An image starting forming on the lifestream shower... Barret recognized this technique from the City of the Ancients. Barret squinted to see if he could make out the image, but that didn't help. Instead, the image sharpened on its own, and Barret found himself looking at... himself. He saw himself leaning over a cliff, grasping a man with his right arm. Barret recognized himself trying to save Dyne. But why did the Planet (which he now presumed was responsible for this) show him this?

"What's up with this?" Barret asked. "What are you telling me?"

Either the Planet didn't hear or didn't answer, because the current image faded out and a new one faded in, with no explanation. Barret remembered this one also... he, Cloud, and the rest of the AVALANCHE team were running away from Reactor No. 1. This was the adventure that had started the battle for the Planet... that was it! The Planet must have been reviewing Barret's exploits! But Barret immediately saw that wasn't necessarily a good thing. The next memory made him feel queasy... he was fighting Dyne in the Gold Saucer prison. Barret saw himself cast spell after spell on the man, loosening Dyne's already-feeble grip on reality. Upon reflection, Barret realized he could have refused to fight Dyne... to run away. But it was his problem, his damn pride that told him to not back down from this fight, even if he didn't want to be fighting it. But then Barret saw himself trying to stop the runaway train to Corel, visiting Marlene before the battle with Sephiroth, scouring the world for an energy source that didn't harm the Planet in its use... these seemed like good signs. The Planet knew of his deeds, both the good and bad, but the former seemed to outnumber the latter. And then the Planet put his fears to rest: the next image was not one from Barret's past, but rather one that showed the future. Barret saw a picture of himself, a complete duplication of what he looked like now. And then the image began to change. It got slightly taller, the muscle-bound arms shrinking to a thinner size (Barret was sad to leave his muscle behind, but recognized that it gave too much away). The face got smaller and younger, so that Barret looked more in his early twenties than his late thirties. And, as if to prove that the Planet was not entirely without a sense of flair, Barret's hair extended into three long dreadlocks down his back.

"Wow," said Barret, in an utter state of awe. "...thank you."

But the Planet was not finished. Barret saw himself floating just as he was now, as the changes the Planet had just shown slowly took effect. Barret saw his face contorted, in the process of altering. He seemed to be flailing, racked with pain. His arms were pulsing at odd intervals, slowly shrinking in size. Apparently the Planet wanted to warn Barret that this would not be an easy task to undergo.

Two final images appeared, much closer than the others. Barret was at a loss to figure this out... the other pictures had been out of his reach, projected onto the flowing mako. But these two were just floating in front of him, and were much smaller. He could reach out and touch them. On the left was a picture of Barret as he was now, the other his transformed self. They hovered there, waiting. Barret wasn't sure what to make of this... was he supposed to do something? As if the Planet understood Barret's confusion, a new image appeared, above the two portraits. It was a single word: choose. That was it. This was the last time Barret had to back out. If he went through with this, there were no second chances, no redos. He would be forever an altered man, and would have to leave the Barret he'd known all his life behind.

"Well," he muttered. "Least I'll get some years back like Elmyra did." And he deftly touched the right portrait.

And then suddenly Palmer appeared to Barret's right. "Hey!" shouted Barret. "I'm gettin' a new body!" But Palmer didn't seem to hear him. The Planet appeared to be judging him now. Barret looked over and tried to see what memories the Planet was showing Palmer, but couldn't. Must have been exclusively for his viewing. However, Palmer's expression seemed to be giving the gist of it away, and it wasn't good. He was grimacing, shutting his eyes in what was probably shame. Palmer cringed, he squirmed, Barret thought he might have actually seen him cry. This looked nothing like the Palmer that Reeve had brought into the folds of AVALANCHE one fateful day, the one who professed he had changed and certainly seemed to have been telling the truth. Right now Barret got a view of the helpless, idiotic head of the dying Shinra space program, overwhelmed and shunned in a world where he didn't belong. No, this wasn't right. Palmer didn't get deserve this. He had changed. He weathered Barret's ridiculous accusations and put-downs even better than Reeve, and all he was doing was trying to make up for past mistakes. Barret knew what that was like.

"Hold it!" shouted Barret. "It ain't gonna work like this! Both Palmer and I are gonna get bodies! You know why? Because it ain't our pasts but our futures what are gonna make the difference!" Barret was so moved by this realization that he realized neither that he had reverted entirely to his old way of speech nor that he was challenging the Planet, the very mother of life itself. "Palmer here ain't been much of a good guy all his life, but that don't mean he can't change! Shinra brainwashed everyone... ya can't blame the individuals for that! Now either he gets a body or-"


Barret looked around. "Huh?"

"I'm getting the body. Don't worry." Palmer was suddenly next to him, and apparently could hear and speak to Barret.


"The Planet was already thinking like you. It showed me my past, but it also showed me some of the better things I've done."

"....huh..." murmured Barret.

"So," Palmer asked, extending his hand. "We cool?"

"We gotta be," responded Barret as he slapped Palmer's hand, "we're gonna be down here together for a while."

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