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Moonlight and Mako

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Rosa, where are you?

 

The wind howled around Cecil, biting at the exposed skin of his face. Black, twisted crags of stone rose from the snow-cloaked land like the claws of a long dead beast, leading into the mountain beyond. Save for the lone traveler, the crag seemed to be devoid of life.

 

The environment was, to say the least, unfamiliar to the paladin. He'd spent years of his life traveling the world, carried by airships, chocobos and his own feet, but he'd never seen mountains quite like these. This both baffled and unsettled him - given their size and distinct shape, the mountains would no doubt be seen from miles away. What made it all the more baffling was that Cecil had no memory of arriving there.

 

It couldn't have been more than an hour before that he was out in the forests surrounding Baron with his queen and a number of his Redwings. He could still hear their raised voices and the plaintive cries of their birds as they'd raced one another through the trees.

 

He'd burst into a clearing with one of his captains in hot pursuit in hot pursuit and then…Nothing. Between one moment and the next, something had spirited him away from the moon-drenched forest and dropped him...wherever this was. Cold and terrible and lacking any comforting touch of green.

 

A sound disturbed Cecil from his thoughts, forcing him to stop mid-stride and scan his surroundings. Something or several somethings approached him, concealed by the rising claws of stone and moving too quietly for a normal human to hear. He slowly turned towards the sound, his hand dropping to the hilt of his blade, and waited.

 

The wolves flowed out from behind the stone claws, voices raised in discordant howls. The pack surrounded Cecil at a distance, watching with caution and hunger as he drew his blade. The hunting party was composed of nearly a dozen of the animals, fangs bared and low growls sounding in their throats. They were bigger than the animals he’d seen prowling in the forests around Baron and had manes, not unlike that of a manticore. One of the animals gave a roaring bark and the animals closed in on him.

 

Cecil struck down one of the wolves mid-leap. It hit the ground with a startled yelp, blood seeping from the deep cut in its side. Gripping the hilt with both hands, Cecil brought the tip of the blade down on the wolf’s skull before it could rise. As the first animal stilled, Cecil felt a weight on his leg and the sound of teeth against metal filled the air as another tried to tear into his arm. He kicked out, sending the animal flying just as another lept at him from the side. Cecil attempted to strike it before it could reach him, but wasn't quick enough and stabbing pain shot up Cecil’s arm as the wolf’s teeth sank into exposed flesh. The full weight of the animal bore into him, knocking him to ground.

 

The coppery taste of blood filled Cecil’s mouth as he bit the inside of his mouth. Cecil raised his blade, catching the wolf’s jaws as it snapped at his face. He heaved, forcing the animal to rear back or have its mouth widened by his sword. The wolf lunged again and Cecil managed to bring his blade up fast enough to push it up through the roof of its mouth. It stilled, blood flowing from the wound onto Cecil’s armor.  Forcing the body off, Cecil scrambled to his feet, taking a defensive stance as the remaining wolves circled him with more caution than before.

 

The paladin clenched his jaw and attempted to keep his wounded arm steady. Hot pain pulsed from the bite as it bled, staining the pristine blanket below a bright red. He needed to Cure himself but doubted the wolves would give him the precious few seconds he needed to cast the spell. If only Rosa were there.

 

His eyes darted towards a sudden movement at his side. A wolf had broken the circle and was charging full speed towards him. He raised his blade, turning towards the animal, but could hear a rushed movement behind him as a second wolf joined the charge. Painfully aware that he could only face one of them at a time, Cecil focused his attention on the one in front of him. It sprang into the air, fangs bared. Cecil raised his blade to meet the attack.

 

The smell of ozone filled the air and the area was filled with pulsing blue light. The wolf was knocked out of the air with a yelp as the Thundara spell connected with it, and a few of its fellows. Cecil spun to face the source as the boom of thunder filled the air and the remaining animals turned tail and ran, panic in their eyes. A man with spiky blonde hair stood a short distance away, the massive blade hefted above his head still crackling with electricity.

 

Cecil’s eyes widened with disbelief and recognition as he recalled the sprawling desolation the gods had constructed and the battles he’d raged there. He'd thought it all dream. Was he dreaming now? The pain in his arm told him otherwise, but still...

 

Cloud's eyes flickered with recognition as he met Cecil's gaze. His mouth pulled into a thin line as he rested the blade on his shoulder. “You're...Cecil…but that doesn't make any sense…” He said after a few moments.

 

Recovering from the initial “Did Materia bring us here again?”

 

Cloud let out a breath. “I...no. You shouldn’t be here.”

 

Cecil flicked the gore from his blade and slipped it back into its sheath, making a mental note to give it a more thorough cleaning at a later time. “What do you mean?”

 

“Give me a second.” The man replied. “And take care of that” he gestured at the bite “before you bleed out.” He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small device. Cecil watched with confusion as he poked at it and brought it to his ear, and then with absolute bafflement as he began speaking into the thing. “Yeah, I know. I know. Tifa…” He paused as if listening, a sigh of exasperation escaping his lips. “Listen, I’m sorry, but we can talk about it later.” Another pause. “If you’ll just listen for a moment.” His voice sounded strained. “Cecil’s here.” Pause. “I don’t know. I found him near Mt. Nibel fighting a pack of wolves.”

 

Cecil put his confusion to the side, deciding that now was as good of a time as any to tend to his wound. He began murmuring a quiet chant under his breath and lifted his hand above the bite. A warm feeling spread from his core, rushing to his hand and bringing a white light that enveloped his fingertips. There was a flash as the spell hit its finish and the light enveloped the wound. The pain eased away and he could feel his skin knitting itself back together. Feeling eyes on him, Cecil met Cloud’s gaze.

 

“He’s fine now.” He said. “No, he healed himself. Apparently, he doesn’t need materia in this world either.” Pause. “Yeah, I’ll call Cid.” Pause. “Yes, I’m aware. Vincent’s in Nibelheim again, I’ll have him pick something up for us.” Pause. “Okay, I’ll call you again if anything else comes up. See you soon.”

 

After another brief pause Cloud shut the device and dropped it back into his pocket.

 

“What was that?” Cecil asked, approaching cloud.

 

“A cell phone.” He replied, adding “I’ll explain later.” he said when Cecil gave him another baffled look.

 

Cecil shook his head. “I’m going to assume you haven’t gone mad for now.”

 

Cloud snorted and waved off the look Cecil gave him in reply. “We need to go.” He turned before Cecil could respond and began walking away. Cecil let out an aggravated sigh, swiping his hand through his hair and trailing after the shorter man.

 

Cloud led him to a large black machine that was unlike anything he’d ever seen. As Cloud climbed on the back of it, Cecil dropped into a crouch to better examine it but found he couldn’t make heads or tails of its workings, though parts called back to the guts of the Lunar Whale. Briefly, he wondered if the machine was Lunarian in origins but immediately pushed the thought aside.  

 

“Cloud, what is this?”

 

Cloud didn’t respond. He’d moved a short distance away and was talking on the cell phone again, his back turned towards the paladin as he talked. Cecil sighed and sat down in the snow, his armor acting as a buffer against the cold of it, and fell silent.

 

___


Leaving Cecil to his examination of Fenrir, Cloud pulled out his cell phone and dialed Vincent’s number. After ringing for almost a solid minute (had Vincent even bothered to set up a voicemail?) the ex-Turk finally answered. “Cloud, did you need something?”

 

“Yeah, you’re still in Nibleheim, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Cecil called out from Fenrir, but Cloud gave him little more than a glance before continuing his conversation. He’d have time for questions later. “Do you think you could pick something up for me?”

 

Vincent was silent for a moment. “That depends.”

 

“I picked someone up near Mt. Nibel,” he explained. Glancing back at Cecil, he saw the man had sat down in the snow, his back pressed to Fenrir and a distant look in his eyes. He was struck by how gaudy the knight’s armor was. There was absolutely no way he’d be able to go anywhere without garnering some kind of attention.

 

“And?”

   

“He’s kind of well...he sticks out.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Do you remember when Marlene kidnapped you and forced you to read that fantasy novel with her? The one about the Knights of the Round?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“He looks like one of them, but gaudier.”

 

Vincent was silent for a few moments, presumably trying to make sense of the statement. “Is he an actor..?”

 

Cloud shook his head. “No. He’s...I’ll explain when we reach Nibelheim, but he needs clothes.”

 

“I can arrange that. Do you know his sizes?”

 

Cloud lowered the phone. “Cecil!”

The man’s head jerked towards him and he blinked in surprise. “Yes?”

 

“What size are you? Clothes wise, I mean.”

Cecil frowned in reply. “I don’t know what you mean, my friend.”

 

Of course he didn’t. “He’s a little taller than Cid,” he told Vincent, his voice touched with exasperation  “and it’s a little hard to tell with the armor, but I he’s pretty close to me in build.”

 

Vincent made an affirming sound. “I’ll meet you both at the old Shinra mansion. Is there anything else?”

   

“No, that’s it. Thanks.”

Without so much as a goodbye, the line went dead. Hadn't Cid taught him any manners? Shaking his head, Cloud tucked his phone into his pocket and returned to Cecil.

 

The knight rose to his feet as Cloud approached, meeting his eyes in silent questioning.

   

“We’re meeting up with a friend of mine in a town nearby.” He told him. Cecil watched him as he climbed onto Fenrir. “Tifa?”

   

“No, it’s someone you haven't met. Get on.”

 

Cecil nodded and joined Cloud on the bike. “What is this, by the way?”

 

“A motorcycle,” Cloud replied, reaching inside his coat to retrieve his goggles. He pulled them on and opened a small compartment on the front to get his spares. He handed them back to Cecil, who examined them briefly before putting them on.

 

“Is it a sort of hovercraft?”

Cloud blinked, caught off guard by the question.

 

“You have those in your world?”

   

“...you don’t?”

   

“No, we do, I just...from what you told me I figured that you didn’t have that kind of technology in your world.”

 

Cecil smiled wistfully. “Back home we had a whole fleet of them. They were the pride of Baron, built and maintained by a good friend of mine. There was also the Lunar Whale, but that…” Cecil trailed off, his gaze fixing on the front of the bike before growing distant.

   

Cloud didn’t feel the need push him to continue, instead leaning forward a gripping the handles. With a mechanical wine, Fenrir woke and shot forward. Behind him, Cecil gave a startled cry and grabbed Cloud’s shoulder to steady himself. Cloud ignored the sudden contact and made a U-turn back towards Nibleheim.

 

___   


Too fast…!

 

While the hovercraft had moved fairly quickly, the motorcycle’s speed blew it out of the water, though it was nothing compared to one of Cid's ships or the Whale. Those weren’t so close to the ground, however, and he didn’t run the risk of falling off and being crushed beneath a pair of fast-moving wheels. Feeling sick and panicked, Cecil pulled his scarf up around his face and leaned against Cloud, quietly apologizing for invading his personal space. Cloud murmured something, but the words were snatched away by the wind. Cecil didn't bother asking him to repeat.

   

After a nauseating period of time, the motorcycle came to a stop. Cecil was off the bike before Cloud could finish saying “We’re here.” and on his hands and knees in the snow. He felt like kissing the ground and probably would have if weren’t hidden as it was.

   

“You okay..?”

Cecil rose, a bit unsteadily and turned towards Cloud, who’d gotten off the bike. “Yeah, just….that may take some getting used to.”

Cloud smiled and Cecil found himself caught off guard by the gesture. He didn't think he'd never saw Cloud smile. Though he’d barely spoken in their brief interactions, seemingly content to sit and listen while Cecil spoke, showing a stunning lack of interest in anything Cecil had said to him. He’d spoken more in the past half-hour than he had in the few months they’d fought Materia’s war.

 

Cloud approached him, meeting his eyes briefly before continuing past him. “Let’s go.”

 

Cecil turned to follow the spiky haired man and to properly take in their surroundings. Before them was the biggest, and arguably most threatening mansion Cecil had ever seen. The style of architecture was foreign to him and it was clear the place had been abandoned long ago. Vines and fire scars marred its face, though, strangely, its windows were somehow still intact.

 

“Is this where we’re meeting your friend…?” Cecil asked, a weary edge in his tone.

 

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

 

They continued up the path. As they drew closer to the front steps the door swung open and a man swathed in crimson emerged. Cecil’s hand went for his blade, but Cloud seemed nonplussed by the man’s appearance, even raising his hand in greeting. Cold red eyes met Cecil’s and a feeling of unease took him. There was something inexplicably off about the man, if not familiar.

   

“This is Vincent,” Cloud said, tilting his head back towards the waiting knight.

 

“This is your friend?”

 

“Yes.” Cloud looked back towards Vincent. “Vincent, this is Cecil.”

 

“You know him?”

 

“So does Tifa. It’s a long story,” Cloud said, running a hand through his hair. Vincent didn’t inquire further, turning and disappearing inside the mansion with Cloud in tow. Cecil trailed after them.

 

The mansion’s insides were worse off than shell. Years of water damage had left the carpet rotting and faded and the stairs looked ready to collapse at the slightest offense.

 

Vincent stood at the center of the room, a white bag in hand. He raised it towards Cecil, and seeing that he was meant to take it, Cecil grabbed it by the handles. He frowned, finding the material thin and unfamiliar, but didn’t dwell on it. Instead, he opened the bag and peered in at its contents. It was filled with what appeared to be clothing.

 

“You’ve probably gathered by now that this isn’t your world,” Cloud told him.

 

“Nor is it Materia and Spiritus’s,” Cecil replied. He hadn’t been given much to work with on that front, but this world felt too well put together. It had a more organic feel than the hastily thrown together land of the gods.

 

“No.”

 

Cecil pulled one of the garments from the bag, a knitted white shirt, its hem too short to be a tunic. He gave Cloud a puzzled look.

 

“People don’t run around in armor here.” Cloud elaborated.

 

“You do realize that I have clothes on underneath the armor…?”

 

“Yes, but I doubt its anything people have worn since the dark ages here.”

 

“Excuse me?” He said, more out of confusion than offense.

 

Cloud pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just...go change please.”

Cecil hesitated. “We’re not leaving my armor here, are we?”

 

Vincent turned his eyes to Cloud. “I can call Reeve and see if someone from the WRO can’t pick it up. Are you heading to Edge after this?”

 

Cloud shook his head. “Could you call Cid? Tifa told me to earlier but I haven’t gotten to it.”

 

“Were you going to have him bring the airship..?”

 

Cecil blinked, surprised to hear the words “Cid” and “airship” used in the same sentence. The stocky engineer's grinning face filled his mind, accompanied by an inevitable stab of worry. Had they become aware of his absence back at the castle? He needed to find a way home, and fast.

 

He pushed this train of thought aside and began walking away, leaving the two men to their conversation and escaping into one of the nearby rooms.

 

It appeared to be some kind of storage room with barrels and crates lining the walls. He dropped the bag on one of the barrels and began the unpleasant process of removing his armor. He could understand to a point why he couldn't wear the armor, but he wasn't comfortable with the idea of not wearing it in a foreign land.

 

When he'd stripped to his paltock and chausses, he hesitated, staring forlornly at his armor which now rested on a nearby crate. He sighed and removed the rest of his clothing before grabbing the bag from where he'd left it.

 

While the shirt was white, the pants and a long coat that had been stuffed inside with it were a deep, inky purple. It was distasteful of Vincent, but the man had no way of knowing about Cecil's issue with dark clothing. He eyed them for a few moments, fighting back his growing panic, before closing his eyes and forcing them on.

 

A loud knock sounded at the door, making Cecil jump. “Are you okay in there?”

 

It was Cloud. Had he really been in there that long? He grabbed his scarf from the floor, rolled it up and tied it around his waist. He plucked his sword off the crate and slipped it into the makeshift sword belt before approaching the door and pushing it open. “I hope the sword isn't an issue, I'm not eager to leave it behind.”

 

Cloud rested his gaze on silver and cobalt sheath before shaking his head. “No, it should be fine. Vincent pulled a few pairs of boots out from storage, so you should have something to wear on your feet besides the…” his eyes drifted to Cecil's feet, “oh, good, you remembered to put the socks on.”

 

Cecil gave a wan smile. His gaze drifted from Cloud to where Vincent stood at the stairway and to the line of boots lined up against the bottom step. He walked over and sat down before them. Wordlessly, he grabbed a pair and eyed it momentarily before putting it down and grabbing another.

 

“Cloud told me about the circumstances under which you met,” Vincent said. “It doesn't make a great deal of sense, but I've experienced things... almost as strange.”

 

“Are any of them as strange as being whisked away to another world.”

 

“No.” He replied but didn't bother to elaborate.

 

There was something about Vincent that reminded him of Kain, though he couldn't quite place what.

 

Cecil managed to find a pair that fit and, after lacing them, rose to his feet. A quick surveyance of the room revealed that Cloud had vanished. He could hear his voice coming from the storage room and guessed Cloud was on his cell phone again, possibly talking to this “Cid” he and Vincent had talked about.

 

He looked back at Vincent, who'd sat down on the stairs, eyes fixed on a wall and the claws of his gauntlet tapping against the wood.

 

“Do you mind if I explore a bit?”

 

Vincent kept his gaze fixed on the wall. “Do what you want.”

 

“Alright. Let Cloud know where I went.”

 

“Okay.”

 

He didn't know when this Cid would arrive, but he assumed it wouldn't be for a while. He'd have to keep himself distracted. With a sigh, he turned and began ascending the steps.



Chapter Text

In its prime, the abandoned manor would have been a grand sight, but dilapidated as it was now, Cecil found it downright creepy. Not only was it in a state of outright ruin, but the halls were also teeming with monsters. Humanoid things with axes for the abdomens dropped from the ceiling in an attempt to sever his head from his shoulders, cackling balloon-like creatures that followed him in droves and floating, ghostly mirrors.

He found evidence of life in every room. Beds, still made, bottles of perfumes sitting on vanities and wardrobes filled with dusty, moth-eaten clothing. Old books filled shelves in a few of the rooms and occasionally Cecil would find a materia buried amidst the relics of the past. They were warm to the touch and absolutely singing with magic. Cecil tucked each one he found into the pockets of his coat; he’d keep the black magic spells for himself and either sell or give away the ones containing white magic.

In one of the upstairs rooms, he found a rounded section of wall with a large indentation in it. No stranger to hidden passageways, Cecil began running his fingers over the stone. Eventually, he found what he was looking for - a small switch designed to blend in with the stone - and gave it a firm push. Hidden machinery whirred and stone ground against stone as the wall broke away and revealed a staircase that spiraled down into the darkness below.

Cecil crouched down and cast a Sight spell down into the darkness. Light filled the pit, but Cecil still couldn't see a bottom. He paused, contemplating whether it’d be a good idea to go down. He decided it most definitely wouldn't be, not a lot as he was, and began descended the stairs anyway.

A long walk later Cecil found himself in a massive stone cavern. The area was lit by glowing lights hanging from wires that had been nailed to the walls. Crates and barrels hugged the walls in places and there were bridges between the numerous fissures the ground sported. From his position, Cecil could see bones scattered on the ground a distance away, however, the light was too dim to tell whether they’d belonged to men or something else.

“A dungeon, ” he murmured. Either a lord had lived here once or a murderer. More likely the later, given overall feel of the place.

Further inside, across the creaking bridges, Cecil was met by a lone Sahagin. As the creature darted towards him, he spotted a key ring hanging around the creature's neck. He drew his sword to meet the amphibian's charge. He swung and beast hissed and ducked its head; Cecil's blade struck it and was knocked back uselessly.

“This blade has slain dragons, but can't pierce the armor of a lowly Sahagin.” He said, raising Ragnarok. An amused smile touched his lips as he met the monster's gaze. The Sahagin clicked at him and took a step towards him.

“Where are your fellows? Waiting in ambush?”

Another step. The monster bared its teeth.

Cecil figured a sword fight with this thing would be a losing one, and he wasn't entirely sure how to use materia or if they’d even work. Now, he could either run, which was the wiser choice or try something a little strange. On a whim, Cecil bowed to the creature.

The sahagin halted its advance and stared at him with a glint of curiosity in its eyes. After a moment it clicked a few times and returned the now. Cecil smiled, equal parts surprised and relieved. Rydia had taught them that while most monsters couldn't be reasoned with, a few were more receptive towards human words and gestures. Some, like sahagins, were intelligent enough to have their own forms of society and could learn to understand human speech and adopt some of their practices. It was pure dumb luck that Rydia's teachings would apply to monsters in this world as well.

He waited for the sahagin to rise before he followed suit, not wanting to risk another attack. The sahagin clicked a few times and began circling and gently prodding at him. He let it go through its investigation and carefully sheathed his sword. Once it had finished, it grunted and plodded towards the nearest fissure. Stopping a moment, it pulled the ring and the rope it was attached to from its neck and tossed them to the ground near Cecil. Then it dove into the abyss with a splash and was gone.

Cecil took the ring and scanned the room. He spotted three metal doors and began moving towards the nearest one. He found it unlocked and discovered a number of stone coffins lying within. Each had a lock pad on them. Cecil lifted the keys and went pale.

“I really shouldn't be disturbing the dead.” He told himself, then quickly added: “Kings and paladins are above such acts as grave robbing.”
His inner voice won him over and he left the room.

He found coffins in the next room as well and was expecting more of the same in the last one. Instead, he was greeted by a room lined with glass pods filled with a glowing emerald liquid and a number of bizarre machines he had no name for as well a few bookshelves. In the center was a metal examination table. A feeling of nausea filled Cecil as he connected the dots and Dr. Lugae's face filled his mind.

Not wanting to linger in the room longer than he had too, Cecil crossed the room and pulled open the door there. On the other side, he was greeted by a far more pleasant sight: a library. He left the door open a crack and entered the room, running his fingers over dusty tomes. His hand found a switch on one of the walls and flicked it up. The lights flickered on and a pale yellow light filled the room.

There was a table at the center with a number of open books covering its surface. They, like the rest, were host to a thick covering of dust.
Cecil took a seat at the table and picked one of them up, wiping the dust from its pages. He found the words written in a familiar tongue, but even after flipping to the first page he could make little sense of the contents. Words like “mako”, “ Jenova” and “Cetra” accompanied descriptions of places he didn't know and procedures that both baffled him and made his skin crawl.

Really, who the hell had lived here?

Before Cecil could read further, the door creaked open and a woman in a blue suit stepped inside. The pair stared at each other for a few moments before Cecil jerked to his feet and drew his sword. Her appearance had been too sudden for liking and the shuriken she held was far too pointy for his tastes.

“Wait!” She said raising a hand defensively. “You're Cecil, right? My name's Cissnei; Cloud asked me to come to get you.”

“Where is he?”

“Outside. He was helping Vincent load your armor into the truck.”

“Truck..?”

“Cid's on a mission with the WRO and couldn't bring his airship, so he called in a favor.” She replied.

“Oh, I suppose that makes sense.” He said, pushing Ragnarok back into its sheath. Honestly, not even half the words she’d just said made a lick of sense to him, but he figured he might as well pretend it did.

Cissnei eyed Ragnarok a moment before meeting Cecil's gaze once more. “We should meet the others outside. Cloud doesn't like us very much and I don't want to risk him getting into another fight with Reno while I'm gone.” Her voice dropped to a murmur and Cecil had a distinct feeling the statement was more for himself than him. She turned and disappeared into the lab.

Cecil gave the book one last wary glance and followed her out.

----

Cloud wasn't the most social person, but he could put up with most people. Reno, however, was not most people. Since the truck had stopped in front of the mansion, the redhead had been spitting a near constant stream of questions and poorly disguised jabs. If it weren't for Vincent’s steady grip on his arm, he would have impaled Reno on one of the nearby trees.

“Hey, Spike, are ya’ listening? I asked you a question.”

“Did you? I didn't hear a word.”

“Oh really? Did you not hear me or were you just not listening?”

Cloud gave Vincent a pleading look but the gunner shook his head.

Rude, who's been leaning against the door of the truck, trying to look cool, spoke up. “Yo, Reno, they're back.”

“Oh! So I guess you're friend didn't end up fish food.”

Cloud turned to see Cissnei emerging from the manor with Cecil at her heels.

“He's kind of weird looking, isn't he Rude”

“Silver hair, ” Rude remarked.

“And look at that sword! Where the hell do you think he got that? It doesn't look Watain or Shinra made.”

“It’s none of your business,” Cloud told them, voice steeped in irritation.

“What, you got something to hide, Spike?”

“No. And shut the hell up.”

“The only way to make him shut up is to kill him,” Rude said.

“That can be arranged.”

Rude snorted and turned his head to hide the smile that crossed his lips as Reno let out an incensed “Hey!”

“Don't kill each other,” Cissnei said as she approached them. Despite the admonishment, she was clearly amused by the exchange. Cecil, however, looked baffled and a bit uncomfortable.

“Are these friends of yours..?”

“Yeah, we’re buds. Right, Cloud?”

Cloud glared at him.

“We tolerate each other,” Rude said. Even with the sunglasses on, it was easy to see the way he eyed Cecil. Whether it was with suspicion or something else, Cloud couldn't tell.

“We should get going, ” Cissnei said, “Reno, do you want to drive?”

“Sure.” He replied, darting to the driver's side. He opened the door and looked at Cecil. “Hey Silver, do you want to ride with us?”

As friendly as the offer sounded, Cloud could practically taste the ill-intent. The Turk knew nothing about Cecil, save the spoonful Cloud had given him and planned on getting more from the man himself. Turk's didn't like not knowing.

“You should ride in the bed with Vincent.” Cloud offered, “Or you could ride on Fenrir with me.

Cecil's eyes darted to the motorcycle and his face drained of the little color it had. “I don't...I’d really prefer not to ride...out in the open. I appreciate the offer though.” He made a beeline to the cab of the truck where Cissnei had opened the door for him. Reno appeared delighted and Cloud felt his stomach drop. If Cecil ended up blabbing, he could only hope the Turks would assume he was crazy or making things up, and even if they didn’t...really, what was the worse they could do?

“Don't worry too much, ” Vincent said as he climbed onto the bed of the truck.

“When Turks are involved, I make it a habit to worry,” Cloud replied.

“Do you worry when I'm around?” Vincent asked, amusement creeping into his voice.

Cloud snorted as he mounted Fenrir. “What, are you on Rufus's payroll again?”

Vincent looked towards the truck. “An offer was made.”

“Are you serious?” Cloud sputtered. “I thought you worked for the WRO?”

“Occasionally, but it's nothing permanent. Besides, the WRO is a little too...rigid for my tastes.”

“You probably look weird in a suit. And I thought you hated Shinra.”

“I was told I wouldn't have to wear one. Besides, weren't you the one who said Rufus had “gotten better”?”

Cloud snorted and fired up Fenrir. The machine let out a faint whine as it woke. “Whatever, have fun on your leash..”

Whatever Vincent said in response was lost as the truck snarled to life behind him.

“Alright, jackasses, let's goooo~!” Reno whooped. The truck jerked forward, snarling in protest. The thing looked old, now that Cloud really looked at it and he had a feeling it wasn't even theirs, to begin with. How they'd gotten it and why they weren't using one of the company helicopters was a mystery to him, but not one he really felt like dwelling on. Instead, he snapped his goggles over his eyes and hit the gas, shooting after the Turks.

Chapter Text

“Listen, Rude, it would have been fine just to send one of us. It's like Tseng things we’re going to get attacked or something.”

 

“Out here, who knows.”

 

“Okay, but we've got blondy, Vincent and silver back here - It'd take a little more than a highwayman to take us down.”

 

“There are dragons up here, aren't there?” Offered Cissnei.

 

“They rarely come down from the mountains.” Rude replied.

 

Rarely , ” Cissnei insisted, “does not mean never .”

 

Cecil sighed and rested his head against the window. The three had been doing this since they'd started moving. Arguing about things that were either highly inconsequential or that Cecil flat-out didn't understand. The only thing he’d gleaned about these people was their names and that they worked under a man named Tseng.

 

“Hey,  Cecil,” Reno said.

 

He straightened at the mention of his name. “Yes?”

 

“Cloud said he found you up on Mt. Nibel. What the hell were you doing up there?”

 

“Trying to get down, mostly. And to avoid getting eaten by wolves.”

 

“Yeah, I figured that much, but why were you up there? Not even the locals like going up there, and you were up there in a suit of armor.”

 

“I wasn't there by choice.” He replied. His hand fell on Ragnarok and he began to strum his fingers on it in a nervous rhythm.

 

Cissnei gave him a quizzical look. “Were you dragged up there?”

 

Cloud really hadn't told them anything, had he? He began to wonder if he even should say anything. Cissnei seemed to be the most trustworthy of the three and even then there was something distinctly off about her.  He settled on “I suppose you could say that.” and left it at that. Reno didn't seem very satisfied with that answer, however, and continued to pry.

 

“Were you drugged? Did someone knock you out and drag you up there?”

 

“I don't know.” The thrumming turned into a tapping. “I can't remember.”

 

“Well, that's really fucking weird, isn't it, Rude?”

 

“It’s definitely bizarre.” Rude agreed.

 

“You're not from Nibelheim, are you?” Cissnei asked.

 

“Nope, ” Reno replied, before Cecil could say anything, ” I would've seen him around. “You know how it is.”

 

“Yeah.” Cissnei agreed, “then where?”

 

“Well…” Cecil trailed off. He considered whether he should name Baron or pull the amnesiac card. According to Edge, he was a terrible liar, so he opted for a third option. “Nowhere important.”

 

“Not a fan of your hometown then, huh?”

 

Cecil shook his head. “No that's not it”

 

Reno glanced at Rude and Rude glanced at Cecil, then back at Reno and nodded cryptically.

 

“You hiding something, Cess?”

 

Speaking of Edge, boy did he wish the ninja was here. Edge could throw a conversation faster than Cecil could even think. He’d probably have them talking about themselves by now.

Oh.

 

“What about you?”

 

“Me? There's nothing about me that you need to know.”

 

“Now it sounds like you're the one hiding something.”

 

Reno made an odd sputtering noise which quickly evolved into full-on laughter. Rude joined in and Cissnei turned her face away, attempting to conceal a smile by rubbing her nose. Cecil was left sitting with his hands in his laugh and feeling both confused and a little more than put-off. He rested head against the window, watching Cloud speed by on his bike. He was beginning to regret not sitting in the back with Vincent; he was certain the brooding man would be a better companion.  

 

“Cecil, quick question, ” Reno said once he’d managed to get control of himself, “do you have any idea who we are?”



Cecil kept his gaze fixed on the bike. “I know your names, but that is all.”

 

“We're Turks.” Rude told him. “Don't know if you figured that out by now, or…”

 

“I don't know what that means.”

 

“We work for Shinra? Rufus Shinra?” Reno offered.

 

“I’m not familiar with that name, unfortunately.”

 

“You...what? Really?”

 

Cissnei was staring at him as if he’d just sprouted a horn. Ah, he'd made a mistake, hadn’t he? He turned to look through the back window at Vincent but was greeted by a wall of black hair. Sighing, he turned back.

 

“Have you been in a coma or…? Fuck, you're seriously weird, aren't you?”

 

Cecil braced himself for a round of questions, but, miraculously, Reno's phone went off. The Turk pulled it from his pocket and tossed it to Rude. “Calling while driving is bad.*

 

Rude snorted and put the phone to his ear. “What? We won't be in Rocket Town for another few hours, not at the speed we’re going.” He paused. “Reno crashed it..” Pause. “Yeah, again. I won't be surprised if he runs this thing ragged and it breaks down halfway there.”

 

“Hey! If this thing falls apart it ain't on me.”

 

Rude waved dismissively at Reno and the Turk turned his eyes to the road, letting out an indignant huff.

 

“What’d Rufus do to owe Cid a favor anyway?” Pause. “None of my business, gotcha.”

 

Cecil glanced at Cissnei and whispered “Do you know when we’re stopping next? I need to uh…”

 

Cissnei nodded in understanding and reached over the seat to tap Reno on the shoulder. He glanced back. “Hmm?”

 

“Cecil needs to use the bathroom.”

 

“Convenient timing but whatever. I'll stop as soon as we're out of the snow. That should be what, another hour?”

Cecil could hear the smile in Reno's voice and he suddenly found he knew why Cissnei had been worried about him and Cloud getting into a fight. Cecil found he could get along with really anyone, but Reno and his bald companion were beginning to irritate him. He suddenly found himself missing Rydia; the summoner would certainly be able to make them shut up. Or Rosa.

 

Gods, he wished Rosa was here. His chest hurt just thinking of her. She’d be so worried…

 

“Whatcha thinking about, Cess?”

 

“My thoughts are my own, Reno.” And with that Cecil closed his eyes and rested his head on the window.

 

Anything Reno asked after that was met with a wall-like silence, and eventually, Cecil drifted into an uncomfortable sleep.

 

--

 

When they reached Rocket Town, Cloud immediately took the lead and made his way to Cid's house. While the owner wouldn't be there, Vincent had keys and he doubted the pilot would mind if they crashed there for the night. When they reached it, however, he found the lights were already on the door to the garage was wide open. A loud stream of swearing reached his ears as he eased Fenrir up the driveway; Cid must have gotten back from his mission in the time they were on the road.

 

Cloud parked Fenrir and discounted as the truck pulled up behind him. Entering the garage, he found Cid bent over the engine of a decades-old car and covered oil.

 

“Hey.”

 

Cid glanced back before returning his attention to the engine. “Hey, kiddo, is Vinny with you?”

 

“Yeah, he's in the truck.”

 

Cid rose and turned. His eyes fixed on the truck as Reno and his merry band of idiots, plus Cecil began piling out. Cecil was rubbing his temples and looked downright exhausted. Vincent appeared a moment later, positioning himself between Cecil and Reno.

 

“Great, there's three of them,” Cid grumbled.

 

“Speaking of Turks, did Vincent tell you about-”

 

“Yeah, and I'm going to talk him out of it. Don't worry.” More loudly he added, “Hey sweetheart!”

 

Vincent waved and made a beeline towards him, Cecil in tow. Reno began to follow, but a glare from Cid was enough to make him backtrack. He joined the other two Turks by the truck. Cloud motioned for Cecil to follow him inside and the pair left Vincent and Cid in the garage.

 

“That...what was that?” Cecil asked as they entered the kitchen.

 

“Which part?”

 

“The thing that man was working on. Another vehicle?”

 

“A car. That was Cid, by the way.”

 

“Funny.” Cecil stripped his coat off and draped it across the back of a chair. Then he fell into it and leaned forward, resting his head on steepled fingers.

 

“Funny?” Cloud asked.

 

“I have a Cid back home too,” Cecil replied. “He’s a mechanic as well.”

 

“What's he like?” Cloud rested First Tsurugi against the table and took a seat across from Cecil.

 

Cecil smiled. “Loud, enthusiastic and fearless. Terrifyingly so. He once jumped off an airship with a bomb in hand to keep our enemies from catching us.”

 

He sounded crazy if Cloud was going to be honest. “And he lived…?”

 

Cecil laughed. “Of course. His breed is hard to kill. The Dwarves found him and had him laid up in the castle infirmary.”

 

That was...a lot of things at once. Cloud had met a tarutaru and mi’qote and heard all manner of weird fantasy talk from the others during his time in the other world, but it was still strange to hear. He imagined Cecil felt similarly about all

 

The door to the garage opened and Cid strode in, wiping his face with a rag. Vincent was in hot pursuit and Cloud could hear the snarling of the Turk's truck as it started up. Vincent seemed distant and was quick to vanish to an adjacent room. Cid, meanwhile, had made his way to the sink and was scrubbing the oil from his skin.

 

Cecil appeared absolutely flummoxed and had risen to stare at the sink.

 

“I'm guessing you don't have running water back home, either,” Cloud remarked.

 

“No, I...where does it come from?”

 

“Pipes. There's a reservoir a few miles outside of town.”

 

“Amazing…”

 

Cid joined them at the table. “Apparently Vinny got that offer from Rufus after the Remnants attacked Edge. He wasn't considering it at first but apparently, there's been talks of Rufus transferrin’ the Turks’ contracts over to Reeve.”

 

Cloud raised an eyebrow. “And Tseng and the others are okay with that?”

 

Cid snorted. “Reeve's got pockets almost as deep Rufus's.”

 

While it didn't particularly surprise Cloud that the Turks’ loyalty could be bought, he still found this whole thing strange.

 

“Rufus is practically working for the WRO at this point anyway, ” Cid continued, disdain creeping into his voice, “Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the windmills and such that he's working on, but we've had to shuttle him to and fro more times than I like and he acts like his sorry ass is in charge.

 

Cecil, having apparently lost all interest in the conversation, had risen and was no running his hands under the faucet with a look of absolute intrigue.

 

“Having fun?” Cid asked. Cecil hurriedly turned the sink off, face going red in embarrassment. “Sorry, just getting a better look.” He returned to the table and proceeded to look everywhere but at Cid. The mechanic snickered.

 

“So now that he might be working for Reeve he's actually thinking of joining again?”

 

“Yeah, but that's only if the talks pull through.”

 

“And you'd get to see him more often.”

 

Cid snorted. “Yeah, there's certainly that. Still don't like the idea of him running around with that lot .”

 

As if on cue, Vincent returned. His hair was damp and his cloak and weapon were absent. He must have taken a shower in the short time he was gone.

 

“The bathroom's open if you need to use it.” He said, looking at Cecil.

 

The paladin rose from his seat, giving Vincent a quizzical look.

 

“Hey, Vinny, could you show him where that's at? They don't have running water where he’s from so I don't know if he'll know what it is.”

 

“Yes, if you could…”

 

Vincent nodded. “Follow me.”

 

Cecil followed Vincent out of the room. Cid called after them “Reno and Rude dragged your weird ass armor into the garage!”

 

“Thank you!”

 

Vincent would have to get Vincent to show him to. He hadn't been inside since Shera's mandated remodel of the place.

 

Cid turned back to look at Cloud. “So, Turks aside, do you have any idea what we should do with him?”

 

Cloud shook his head. “I don't know.”

 

“You haven't thought about it all? You're the one who picked him up, you know.”

 

“I...I know. I guess he can stay with us at 7th Heaven, but it's crowded and...I don't know Cid.”

 

Footsteps sounded in the hallway and moments later Cecil appeared. His hair was damp just like Vincent’s had been and he was twisting his beads back into it. The ex-Turk must have shown him the shower.

 

“Did I miss anything?”

 

“Nothin' important. Hey, could you go grab Vince for me? Tell ‘im I'm starting on dinner.”

 

Cloud sighed. He could already feel the beginnings of a headache building up in the back of his head.

Chapter Text

While Vincent and Cid cooked, Cloud and Cecil waited in the living room. Cloud had turned on the monitor mounted to the wall - which he, when asked, explained was a TV - and was watching something unpleasantly loud and gunshot laden. Cecil had coerced Cloud into letting him use his sword kit and was tending to Ragnarok to distract himself.

 

The front door opened and a woman’s voice drifted inside. Cecil perked up and leaned towards the kitchen in an attempt to hear the conversation that followed, but the with the TV's volume it was hard to make out much. He considered getting up to investigate but was saved the trouble when the owner of the voice appeared in the doorway. She met his stare and smiled, pausing to wipe oil-stained fingers on her lab coat before entering the room.

 

“I hope Cid hasn't been too much of a bother,” she said.

 

Then, when Cloud didn’t look up from the TV, she marched across the room and turned it off. He blinked as if he'd been woken from a trance and gave her a puzzled look.

 

“Not really.”

 

“Good to hear.” she adjusted her ponytail.

 

“I don't believe we've met,” Cecil said. The list of people he hadn't met was long and seemed to be getting longer by the hour. Honestly, with the way things were going, he wouldn't have been surprised if Y’shtola marched in with her Scions of the Seventh Dawn.

 

“No, I think I'd remember someone like you. My name's Shera - I work with the captain.”

 

“I imagine he's quite a handful.”

 

Shera smiled and stifled a laugh. “Oh, you have no idea.”

 

Vincent's voice carried from the kitchen and Shera glanced between Cecil and the men behind her. “Ah, sounds like I'm needed. You'll have to tell me about your world at some point, okay?”

 

She excused herself before Cecil could so much as a nod. Cloud reached for the remote but Cecil snatched it from under his finger. He shook his head when Cloud gave him an affronted glare and dropped the remote on the table.

 

“Now would be a great time to actually talk,” Cecil suggested.

 

But Cloud shook his head and rose from the couch. “Not interested.”

 

Any trace of friendliness Cloud had displayed prior to now and effectively vanished. He left the room, disappearing up the stairs and leaving Cecil, incredulous, in the living room. He was worse than Kane, wasn't he?

 

Cecil chased after him and found him opening the windows in what he assumed was a guest bedroom. A large grey cat was lounging on one of the beds. It gave Cecil a one-eyed stare before hopping down and fleeing beneath the bed. Everyone was running from him tonight, it seemed.

 

“Not interested?” Cecil asked. He smoothed the covers of the bed and took the cat's place.

 

Cloud didn’t pay him and mind. Instead, he moved to the next window and unlatched it. “It’s probably a long story, ” he said, folding his arms, “and I don't really feel like sitting through it.”

 

“Mine or yours.”

 

“Either. Both.” He shrugged, then turned away and leaned out the window. “I've got a headache.” He added, rubbing his temples in emphasis.

 

Deducing that prodding any further would get him nowhere, Cecil left the room and returned to the bottom floor. Shera met him on the stairs, a cup of golden tea in hand, and frowned when she saw him. “Is everything alright?”

 

“Cloud’s being himself again.” He replied.

 

Shera let out a small laugh. “Yeah, you'll get used to it. He's worse than Vincent some days.”

 

“Vincent pushes people away too?” He asked, even if he wasn't particularly surprised.

 

Shera's eyes shot heavenward. “Oh boy, does he. If the captain wasn't around he'd probably vanish off the grid again and we wouldn't hear from him for another two-three years.”

 

“Ah, I know the type.” He replied, recalling Kain.

 

Rosa had been all for sending the Red Wings out to hunt the man down after he'd missed their wedding and subsequent coronation. But Cecil had stopped her, insisting that he would return when he was ready. Whenever that would be. He found himself worrying about the dragoon's safety more often than he would ever admit to Rosa.

 

Shera raised an eyebrow, apparently intrigued. “Do you now?”

 

“A friend of mine vanished after we'd finished a journey together.”

 

Shera gave him a sympathetic look and moved past Ceci and began to move the rest of the way upstairs. She glanced back before she vanished from sight. “Vincent did the same thing after Meteorfall. Shelke and Cid dragged him back, though.”

 

Cecil watched Shera go. Perhaps Rosa was right and he needed to chase Kain down. They’d gotten nothing but radio silence from him after the events on the moon and Cecil could tell it hurt Rosa. It hurt him too.

 

Cecil’s mind wandered the rest of the night, his thoughts bouncing between the woman he'd married, the man he'd grown up with, his kingdom and the friends he'd left behind. He ate, but only half listened to the dinnertime conversation. Cid and the others seemed to have no issue keeping the conversation running, so his silence wasn't really noticed.

 

By the time they'd finished eating and were moving upstairs to their respective rooms, Cecil had managed to work himself into a small panic. He stared up at the ceiling, listening to Cloud breathe.

 

He rose to use the bathroom to wash his face and attempt to clear his mind. The sink did little to help, so he stripped and stepped into the shower instead. The hot water and the noise were just enough to batter his anxieties down to a manageable state, but not to banish them entirely.

 

When he returned, Cloud's phone was buzzing on the nightstand. Curious, Cecil padded back across the room and picked the device up. It buzzed in his hand and he frowned at the sensation, putting it back down once he'd read the name on the outer screen.

 

Nanaki.

 

“Nanaki?”

 

Was he a friend of Cloud’s? Cloud flopped over, raising his eyebrows at Cecil before snatching the phone from the nightstand. He guessed the swordsman had already been awake and was ignoring his phone.

 

Flipping the screen up and pressing it to his ear, he said, “Nanaki? Is something up?”

 

The blonde sat in silence, listening to the tiny voice that squeaked from the phone. He sat up and his confusion evolved into worry. Eventually, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and reached over to turn the lamp on. Cecil gave him a questioning look, but Cloud raised a finger to silence him, his frown deepening. Eventually, he exchanged a few final words with the voice and hung up.

 

Cecil rose from the bed when Cloud began yanking his boots on.

 

“What's going on?”

 

“It’s…” Cloud shook his head and swore under his breath. “I'm going to go wake up Vincent and Cid. Put your boots on and meet us downstairs.”

 

Cecil raised an eyebrow but did as an instructed. He tilted his head and listened for a moment until he heard Cid's voice, muffled but obviously angry. He finished lacing his boots, grabbed Ragnarok, and left the room.

 

He found Cloud waiting downstairs and the other two men joined them a few minutes later. Cid looked grumpier than usual but Vincent was his usual unaffected self. Both, Cecil noted, were armed.

 

Cid raised an eyebrow when he noticed Cecil loitering nearby “He's coming too?”

 

“Coming where?” the paladin asked.

 

“Cosmo Canyon was attacked,” Cloud told him. Then to Cid, he said, “We might need the help.”

 

Cecil lifted his hands, irritation sparking within him. “Remember, I know next to nothing about this world.”

 

“Our friend Nanaki lives there with his family.” Vincent elaborated. To Cloud he added, “Last I heard from her, Shelke was staying there too.”

 

“Yeah, and those two can handle themselves fine,” Cid added, rubbing his eyelids. “What in Ifrit's hell would even bother attacking that place and why can't they handle it?”

 

“A horde of monsters and a new Bahamut variant.”

 

“Bahamut?” Cecil asked. “If it's a new variant, then it might well be the one from my world. Though why the father of Eidolons would be attacking your friend's home is beyond me. Unless, of course, someone's controlling him..”

 

“Do you know of anyone that would have reason to attack Cosmo Canyon?” Vincent asked.

 

Cecil shook his head. The only summoner he knew of was Rydia and she wasn't one for wanton destruction. Unless she was being controlled by someone else, but with Zeromus gone and Golbez somewhere on the moon, that was unlikely. Then again, plenty of unlikely things had happened today.

 

“We need to go,” Cloud said.

 

Cid huffed, drawing his phone from his pocket. “Yeah, yeah. I need to make a few calls or we’re gonna be the only ones manning the Shera.”

 

Cid disappeared into the kitchen, flicking the light on as he entered and filling the area with a warm orange glow.

 

“If there's going to be a fight, I’m getting my armor.”

 

Cloud and Vincent exchanged glances and the blonde shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

 

---

 

Halfway across the continent, Cosmo Canyon burned.

 

Kain had arrived in the sleepy little village more a week prior. Sleep deprived and dehydrated from his unwilling journey through the desert outside its borders, the place had struck him as a veritable oasis. The people there were welcoming, if not baffled by his appearance. He felt the same way about them but chose not to remark on it, not wanting to offend his hosts.

 

It didn’t take him long to suspect he'd been pulled into another world. His rather abrupt departure from Mt. Ordeals was his biggest clue. The machinery and clothing of the people a close second. In his stay, he learned and heard things that further cemented this and he took it upon himself to learn more.

 

Cosmo Canyon was outfitted with a rather sizeable library, and he quickly became engrossed in his studies. The people left him alone for the most part, not out of aversion, he learned, but out of politeness, and were often too caught up in studies and research of their own. Occasionally he was brought food or recruited into a hunting party and once he was given “more sensible” clothing in place of his armor. Beyond that, his interactions with the people were few and far between. At least until Nanaki came home.  

 

Nanaki was a creature caught between a lion and a wolf. His eyes shone with intelligence, despite his animal appearance, and his demeanor was gentle if not a little withdrawn. He took an interest in Kain immediately, noting the dragoon's “unusual scent” and bizarre aura. He kept near Kain while the man pored through books, answering questions and asking a few of his own.

 

“I have been everywhere, but nowhere have I met a human who knows so little of the world and so much about another,” Nanaki said one day, “So I can only assume that is where you're from.”

 

Kain praised him for his astute observation but couldn't help but feel amusement when the creature would be so quick to believe his own outlandish claim. But since Nanaki was a beast with the mind of a man, there was little doubt he'd be more observant than his two-legged counterparts.

 

On the eighth day after his arrival, Dark Bahamut appeared in the sky, bringing with him a veritable army of monsters. Kain's and the Canyon's peace was shattered as flames filled the buildings and devoured the centuries of knowledge within. Kain was caught between fighting and aiding in the evacuation - there were so few fighters in Cosmo Canyon and the monsters were too much. More than half the town was evacuated into the surrounding dunes, but many were killed in the initial onslaught and the ensuing chaos.

 

Kain returned to the blazing town after the initial evacuation, intent on finding Nanaki, who had rushed ahead of him to hunt for survivors.

 

He found the cat grappling with a circle of Bombs, casting Blizzaga spells and baring into them with his teeth and claws. Kain rushed to him, leaping mid-run and slamming down on the largest of them. He lept back as it detonated and took out a number of its fellows before turning to help Nanaki finish of the rest.

 

Bahamut roared and launched itself from its cliffside perch. The Draconian’s eyes were fixed on a great metal ship as it descended from the clouds, filling the air with a great noise.

 

“Backup, I hope.” Kain approached Nanaki and stood at his side, staring up at the ship.

 

“Yes, ” Nanaki said. “Watch.”

 

From the ship emerged a figure in black, too distant to properly make out save its shock of yellow hair and the great blade it held in its hand. As they watched the man cut his blade across the great dragon's face, he couldn't tell if they were brave or mad. The dragon let out an indignant screech as its assailant dropped down onto the plateau below. Kain rushed forward and launched himself skywards, landing a few yards from where the swordsman now stood.

 

“You could have gotten yourself killed doing that,” Kain said as he approached. The blonde turned to look at them and they both fell silent.

 

“You're...Cloud Strife,” Kain said after a moment.

 

Cloud nodded and turned his attention back to the dragon as it circled above them, eyes filled with cold anger. It dove, maw wide and claws outstretched and the two warriors met its charge. Cloud lifted his buster sword to meet the creature head-on as Kain pushed off into another leap.

 

At the same time, three more figures dropped from the ship's hull: a man dressed in brilliant crimson, followed by a man with fiery eyes and a spear in hand. Kain paid them no mind, instead of splitting his attention between the dragon swooping beneath him and the familiar armor of the third figure.

 

Cecil. One of the last people he wanted to meet here.

 

Kaim bore down on the creature, pushing his Holy Lance into a break in the armor at the back of the dragon's head. It screamed and stumbled as it landed. As it fell forward Kain could hear the crash of metal and the boom of gunshots. Pulling his spear free he rushed across the head towards the eyes, leaping and twisting mid-air to bury the lance in the nearest one.

 

Bahamut rose to its feet amidst the slew of attacks and attempted to swipe him off with one of its great paws. He rushed away, ripping the eye free from the socket with the sudden force. Suddenly deprived of half its magic, the dragon could do little to defend itself from the next wave of attacks. Kain landed near the others as Cloud, little more than a blur, unloaded a number of heavy attacks on the Draconian. With one last, heavy blow the dragon collapsed and dissolved in a blast of shadow.

 

Kain glanced past him to the others and found Nanaki had scaled the cliff-face to join in the fray and was padding towards Cloud.

 

“You were quick.”

 

“Sorry we couldn't get here faster.” The blonde replied. Had he smiled?

 

The fire-beast shook his head. “No worries my friend, I'm just glad you made it.”

 

“Kain.”

 

The dragoon turned at the sound of his name and found Cecil approaching him. Kain paused - it had been almost a year since he'd seen his friend and it felt awkward to see him now. “Cecil.”

 

Cecil rushed him, dragging him into a hug before he could think to stop him. “Rosa's going to kill you when she sees you again,” he said with a little too much cheer.

 

Kain rested a hand on Cecil’s back. It was strange, Cecil should have been angry with him.

 

“Is she in this world as well?”

 

“No, she should still be back in Baron. I do intend to drag you home when we return,” he murmured.

 

Kain pulled away and shook his head. He began to tell Cecil exactly why that couldn't happen but was interrupted by Nanaki as he charged past them at full speed, shouting something about the fires.

 

Cloud and the other two men rushed after him. Cecil looked to him, eyebrows raised. “What was that creature?”

 

“Nanaki,” Kain replied. “There will be time for introductions later. For now, we have fires to stop.”

 

Cecil nodded and, without another word, the pair followed after their friends.