AUTHOR'S NOTE: In an attempt to ensure that my fic (which is contiguous with the game and in canon) does not become "obsolete," I am attempting to incorporate what plots and events are known from both FFVII Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus (Kingdom Hearts, FFT and Ergheiz pending). They are referenced infrequently and, when they are, are of no huge import to the main story. Should the sequels, upon release, be shown to contradict or otherwise clash with the events of this fic, my fic will be updated accordingly.
"Laguna, wait up!" cried Kiros, every breath labored over as if he had a wound in his throat. "We can't move as fast as you right now!"
"Hah! What's taking you slowpokes? Didja forget to exercise your scrawny butts this week?"
"No," responded Ward. "But you definitely did. Why else would you run off like a pansy and not carry any of the equipment?"
Laguna stopped to think a moment. How to counter that one? Before he could answer, Kiros smashed head on into him, unable to see much of anything in the dark. Both men toppled forward in a manner akin to bowling pins. Ward, hearing sounds of this scuffle, wisely stopped moving and set down his gear.
"Well, Laguna. Looks like you've just found our camping grounds! Or would you prefer to get up and see if another place strikes your fancy?"
"Shut up! It was Kiros's fault anyway... I had stopped!"
"Only to think of a good comeback!" Kiros pointed out.
"Yeah... well..." Laguna fumbled. "Your mother!"
"And look how much good his thinking did him!" Ward proclaimed.
"Alright, guys, alright," Laguna acquiesced. "Let's just... set up."
They unpacked quickly and efficiently, setting up their tents and gathering around a decent campfire within minutes. Ward broke the ensuing silence. "Do you think Galbadia trusts us, giving us permission to camp out here on our own?"
"No," responded Laguna sarcastically. "Because we forgot to get our camping license! Now we'll be caught for sure!"
"Laguna...." admonished Kiros. "He means it."
Laguna's smile suddenly vanished, replaced with a focused, intent look. It was rare he showed this side of himself anymore.
"....yeah," he murmured. "We're alone. Completely alone."
"I can't believe we've gotta do this!" Barret shouted at the top of his lungs. Not that it did much good; there was only one other person around to listen. Besides, most of the heavy wind muffled his voice.
"Believe it buddy. And I don't want to do it anymore than you do. But for the sake of our own asses, it's gotta be done!"
"What, I don't look different enough as it is?!" Barret shouted. "It was bad enough I had to go and replace my arm, but getting rid of my beard? My beard was my pride and joy, my image! Not that you'd understand, you son of a bitch..."
The shorter, more portly man ignored the insult. "Your arm's even better than before, don't complain. And as for your beard, get the hell over it. Reeve shaved his no problem. Besides, you look younger."
"I don't wanna look younger! I wanna look like me... but of course, that's impossible now, ain't it? And Reeve? Reeve's, well..."
"What? Now Reeve doesn't have an image?"
"Look, I don't have to take this crap from you! I still don't even get why the hell you're here. You could go back to your buddies anytime!"
Barret's companion sighed. "We've been through this enough times. Shinra hated me. They were looking for any excuse to cut me out. After the launch of the rocket, I could feel the wheels in motion... 'course, Shinra bellied up before anything serious could happen, but the point is that I had nothing, and Reeve eventually let me come with him."
"I'm still not sure I trust Reeve either, that sonuvabitch. Don't think I've forgiven him for Marlene. And you... well, I'm one step away from punching your goddamn lights out right here and now!"
"Stow it, Barret," Palmer replied. "I think we've reached out destination."
And indeed they had. It was a large dome-like structure, colored a bland white. If no one were looking for it, it would have easily passed for camouflage. Barret knocked on it with his metal hand. It gave off a dull thunk. "Nice place Red's got here," he muttered to himself.
Palmer drew his handgun. He had discarded the old mako-using model in an effort to not destroy the Planet further. Those days, at least, were long gone. "Get your gun out. If Red's as cautious as we are, we may need to fight something."
"Gotcha," Barret begrudgingly acknowledged. Palmer was on his toes... a lot more than his behavior as a Shinra exec had ever let on. And for that, even Barret admitted he deserved respect. Barret moved his metal thumb into a hole that was located near the top of his palm, and the hand quickly retracted into the middle of his forearm. In its place arose a thinner, more streamlined gun than his large and unwieldy machine gun. It couldn't fire bullets at the rate of his old arm, but each shot packed a lot more punch behind it. "It still don't feel right," he stated, waving the gun around. And instinctively his human hand moved to his face, a sequence of actions that he had begun to perform ever since his alterations. "Not having no scruff here ain't right either..."
"Just get over here," Palmer told him. And together, they moved towards the dome doors. They opened automatically, and the unlikely duo found themselves in a large room. They slowly walked towards an unknown structure at the farther end. Taking their time, they examined the inner walls of the dome. They were bright and metallic, though the floor was made of stones. They also noticed a small, mako-filled hole, but gave it little attention. Ever since the Great Movement, there were tons of mako holes to be found throughout the world. At last they reached the mysterious structure at the other side, only to discover it was an elevator. Palmer pressed the button, and the elevator doors slid open immediately. The elevator was large. Large enough to comfortably accommodate seats that the two were more than happy to rest themselves on. A television screen that they had somehow missed before suddenly lit up, containing a face the likes of which neither of them had ever seen before.
"Ahhh, Barret!" exclaimed the face. "It has indeed been a while! And if memory serves, the man with you is Palmer, head of the late Shinra's space program, yes?"
"Wruh... wruh... Red?" Barret stammered. "Is... is that really you?"
"Yes, quite so. I know I don't exactly look.... ah... as I did before. But then, I see, neither do you. Personally, I thought you should have gotten the hand from the beginning."
"What are you?" Palmer blurted out. He had not been intimately acquainted with Hojo or his experiments during the time they spent at Shinra together, and had perhaps done no more than nonchalantly glance the way of Hojo's forlorn specimen every once in a while.
"An informed question, but difficult to answer," the face answered. Barret chuckled slightly. "I am what you see. Allow me to bring you down to our village where I can bring you up-to-date with what I know."
Vinzer Deling stood before perhaps the largest audience to ever grace the Planet. Not even President Shinra had been able to create this much of a turnout, not during the monumental announcement of the harnessing of mako energy. His face remained stoic and calm. Together with the remaining Turks, they stood like statues of gods: unmoving, yet worshiped for their very image, for the salvation that was assumed to be forthcoming from them. Deling cleared his throat and began.
"People of the world," he proclaimed. "Whether ex-SOLDIER, office worker, security guard, or just someone who used mako in their everyday lives, I call you all here today to finally let the truth be told!" Applause rushed from the crowd like juice from a straw. Truth. A simple word like that and everyone clings to whoever can provide it. As if truth will somehow make everything better, as if knowing what Meteor actually was will magically turn back the time, as if knowing it now is just as good as stopping it then.
"The truth," Deling repeated, "is that Meteor was simply too large a force to have been orchestrated alone. Yes, Sephiroth was indeed powerful, but in order to summon a horrible monstrosity like that, he needed help. And he got it, too. From AVALANCHE, the terrorist group responsible for the destruction of the sector 7 pillar just prior to Sephiroth's return. Nor were these AVALANCHE members your typical run-of-the-mill thugs. No, they actually assisted Sephiroth with magical powers... WITHOUT using materia!" This caused quite a clamor. Who on earth was able to use magic without materia? No one that any of them knew of except monsters. "These magicians... sorceresses, if you will, were the primary catalyst in summoning Meteor. Fortunately, the steadfast agents standing beside me were able to dispatch one of them before things got too rough. However, had this sorceress lived, the results may have been cataclysmic. Even now, we were not completely successful in repelling Meteor." Everyone gasped, and quickly began chattering amongst themselves. Meteor (or rather, what Meteor had become) was a taboo topic; Deling was awfully brazen to openly mention it in such a public arena. He pointed upwards, but everyone was already looking up instinctively. Meteor still hung in the sky, looming over the world as it had before. But this time there was no fear felt by those who gazed... Meteor had regulated itself to orbiting the Planet, becoming the first moon. When it had been originally averted by the lifestream, it had disappeared into outer space, knocking into the old moon as it did so. But one day, only maybe a month or two ago, it was back. At first there was mass panic, but an assistant to the late Hojo had noticed that it didn't appear to be getting any closer. And then it happened... a bright red beam shone down from Meteor, bringing with it a host of enemies unlike any that had ever been seen before. "The monsters that emerged from Meteor are unreal... they are faster, stronger, and more aggressive than our typical foes. And even though we tried our hardest to combat Meteor, this was all we were able to do in the end. Such a generation's follies are not pleasant to look back upon." There were murmurs of confusion... where was Deling going with this? Why bring up the torturous and embarrassing face of Meteor now? People, recognizing what the Planet had done for them, had immediately started treating it better. Materia had been banned, and electricity was ubiquitous in power worldwide... well, what was left of their world, anyway. The movement of the lifestream toward Midgar had altered the shape of the continents nearly beyond recognition... Wutai, formerly the smallest of the continents, was now home to about a quarter of all the world's land. The Midgar continent was now merely a collection of islands. No one was even sure exactly how long it had been since what had been coined the Great Movement... two years? Five? Everyone had been too wrapped up in trying to forge a new life for themselves to try and keep track.
"Between the fall of Shinra, the Great Movement, and the abandonment of mako, it's like we've all been living a new existence. We've just landed on an alien world and are trying to make it hospitable. But ladies and gentlemen, do not despair. For while this may seem to be a new obstacle to be overcome, I see this as a rebirth... a chance to start with a clean slate, to wipe ourselves free of the stains that spotted the last generation." At this a huge cheer erupted. Who, after all, wouldn't want an easy way out, a guiltless way to absolve oneself of whatever sins may have existed before? Suddenly the prospect of a new world to inhabit seemed more inviting than frightening. The thought circulated through the crowd and emerged louder, stronger. The cheering intensified. But Deling was not through. He held his hands up for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow men and women! Let us not be too hasty in our actions. We must ensure that the mistakes of yesterday are not repeated today! We must not abuse the Planet. We must not fall under the regime of a single megaconglomerate. And perhaps most importantly, we cannot allow another AVALANCHE to arise. We must terminate the remaining members of this upstart group before they are able to execute any other plans!" Further cheering. This couldn't be going better if he could physically take their free will away from them. "To ensure this happens, we are even offering a reward for their capture. If you would focus your attention on the television screen below me..." Deling turned to Rude, who nodded. He took a small controller out of his pocket and pressed a button. Instantaneously the huge television screen situated below Deling's 300 foot high podium flashed on with a picture.
"This is Cloud Strife, leader of the AVALANCHE rebellion. He used to be employed by Shinra, so he was especially adept at outsmarting them." The screen then showed an attractive, if debonair, woman. "Tifa Lockhart. Trained in the martial arts since the age of six, she is not to be underestimated by her small frame and kind demeanor." This time it was two people together, and what a pair they made. "Barret and Marlene Wallace. Yes, the child is wanted. She was as willing an AVALANCHE conspirator as the others, and was often used as a mole to gather information. Be warned that her father has a machine gun grafted to his right arm; he is quite strong and will not hesitate to mercilessly slaughter anyone who tries to take his daughter away." The screen changed again. "Vincent Valentine, also a former employee of Shinra. He was tortured brutally by the late Hojo, chief scientist for Shinra. The extent of his powers is unknown. Use extreme caution." Yet again. "Cid Highwind. Short-tempered space pilot. He is quite adept at repairing and flying mechanical crafts, and his resourcefulness has allowed him to evade capture thus far." The next person didn't look so threatening. "Palmer, former head of Space exploration at Shinra, Inc. Although he is merely a minor threat in terms of combat, Palmer excels at information gathering, given his former unfettered access to Shinra records." Most people recognized the next person. "Reeve, former head of Urban Development at Shinra, currently the leader of WRO. However, what he hasn't mentioned in his world-reforming campaign is that he was a double agent working for AVALANCHE!" Gasps arose from the crowd. "Shortly after Meteor was summoned, he actually rescued captured AVALANCHE members and fled with them. The only reason Reeve and Palmer's lives were spared by AVALANCHE during the Shinra collapse was because they had both already defected! To any of you in the WRO, I urge you, please resign from this organization immediately and join in the hunt for him." Cheers arose from the crowd, along with "Down with WRO!" The next screen had two different women, each taking up half of the spac. "Elmyra Gainsborough and Shera Highwind, wife of Cid. Both hosted and assisted several AVALANCHE members in their home for extended periods of time, and more than likely know many of their secrets and schemes." Nobody had ever seen a creature quite like the one the next image showed. "Nanaki; also responds to 'Red.' We have unconfirmed reports of this creature's death, but do not wish to take chances. Despite his ferile appearance, he is highly intelligent and capable of speech. But he also has the claws and strength of his more animal brethren. If he is indeed alive, be wary of his tricks." And then there was one final screen. "Ladies and gentleman, this last member of AVALANCHE is not to be captured. Yuffie Kisagari, of Wutai royalty. She returned to her hometown not long after the Great Movement, and we have since been assured by Wutai's government that they have dealt with her appropriately. Because we are establishing good relations with the new Wutai, we do not wish to second guess them and their methods. For the sake of these relations, Ms. Kisagari must not be harmed."
Barret slammed his gun arm on the TV, all but crushing the thing into disrepair. "What the fucking hell does this fucking Deling dipshit think he's fucking doing?! Shit, man!" The TV got another taste of his rage.
"Barret, Barret!" Tifa shouted. She'd had to deal with his anger spurts many times, but only a very select few had been of this magnitude. "That TV is satellite... very expensive! Be careful around it!" Vincent observed wordlessly from his corner, seemingly indifferent to whether he'd be able to watch the rest of the speech or not.
"Yeah!" echoed Cid, sidling up to the TV in an attempt to counter Barret's tirade. "Stow it, ya big lug! I can't hear what he's saying! Plus, the girls are sleeping in the other room, so keep it down." Shera and Elmyra were exhausted; they'd been taking care of Marlene and the stigmatized orphans all morning.
Barret was breathing heavily. "This ain't right... this ain't fucking right! He can't do this! Not to Marlene!"
Tifa put her arm on his shoulder... it made for an awkward stance but she knew it helped. "Everything's going to be fine, Barret. Marlene's been through the worst of it... she'll be fine."
Barret calmed down a little... his breath came a little more easily, but Tifa could tell he was trying his hardest to remain cool. "But don't you see... she shouldn't have to try and make it through anything anymore! We've won, we've finished! We're supposed to relax for the rest of our lives!"
"That's a very ignorant statement," Vincent observed.
"No one's 'supposed' to do anything," agreed Cloud as he solemnly entered the Costa del Sol villa, placing his Ragnarok sword across his back as he did so. The sweat slicking down his face was a dead giveaway to his stress, but he'd always had a much better ability to keep it under control then Barret did. He managed a curt greeting nod to the others before joining Tifa and Barret. "The serial killer doesn't think about whether his victim deserves to die. The judge doesn't care if the thief only stole because he was hungry. Things happen, and they happen whenever, and to whoever, they like."
"So what's going on out there?" Tifa asked professionally... it was the only way she knew how to act towards Cloud at this point. After all of the emotional turmoil they had been through, it seemed to be the only course of action left.
Cloud shook his head. "It's worse than we thought. People everywhere are lapping it up. It's like Shinra never really died."
"The freed animal will always return to its master," stated Vincent blandly.
"Can you blame them?" replied Reeve. "Deling says all the right things, has all the easy answers. Who wouldn't want to believe the first convincing argument a guy like him makes after all that's happened? People may have not liked Shinra, but it was all they really knew. And here he's offering them all the good parts with none of the bad."
"Sounds too goddamn convenient for me!" Cid put in. "If the Turks are working for 'em, then there's somethin' else he's got in mind."
"The Turks are the least of our problems," Cloud asserted. "They probably took this opportunity to get jobs just like the ones they had with Shinra. No, we have to worry about being outlaws."
"Pshhhhh," muttered Barret. "Like I ain't never done that before...."
"From the entire world as we know it?" countered Cloud. "Listen, it's been a while since our reunion at Midgar, but every time we've come together to take something out, it's always been an external threat... Shinra, Sephiroth, the trio, the crazed soldiers... we've never dealt with being complete and utter pariahs no matter where we go."
"Well why should we?" Cid responded angrily. "Let's tell everyone the most convincing story of all: the truth! Deling's got no evidence on us anyway! Why should anyone take his word over ours?"
Reeve sighed. "You've gotta get into the minds of these people. Deling may not have evidence, but he's giving them something these people have wanted for years... someone to blame. Think what they're thinking: Your entire world has collapsed around you, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. But now a messiah rises up and tells you that the same terrorists who collapsed the sector 7 plate were responsible for nearly destroying the world. Now you've got someone to rally against, and I know from experience; if you want to get people under your thumb, you have to give them a cause for their problems. Shinra did it with AVALANCHE, Rufus did it with Sephiroth, and now this Deling guy has gone back to AVALANCHE."
"Yeah, but...." Cid was struggling. "But... well, how do people think the world got saved in the first place? Do they think that Shinra magically got the lifestream to stop Meteor?"
Palmer spoke for the first time since Deling's speech had begun. He was still a bit timid around his former rivals, but felt that this was a topic on which he could reliably converse. "Remember that most people, me included, didn't know what was happening anyway. All we saw was a giant rock in the sky. If Reeve hadn't explained it to me, I might've thought Sephiroth was a hundred percent successful!"
"It's true," Tifa agreed. "No one knows about Sephiroth's plan, or JENOVA, or the history of the Ancients..."
"And no one will care, either," concluded Vincent. "As long as Deling gives them exactly what they want, they're his to command."
Barret asked the question on everyone's mind. "...so then what're we gonna do?"
"Not only must we leave our mistakes behind," continued Deling, "but to start anew, we must stop attempting to live the same life we did pre-Great Movement; we must reinvent ourselves and our world for a new age! We've drastically redesigned most of our towns anyway, so why should we leave any semblance of the age of our folly? For example, Rocket Town is obviously no longer an apt name for this village. I propose we scrap all the names of all our towns! Some places, such as North Corel and Gongaga, have already taken this initiative, choosing to rebuild in different places with different communities. Based upon the success of newly-established Winhill and Timber, I say we start a new country, the country of Galbadia, and I say that this very town be its capital: Deling City!"
All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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