Series: FFVII/FFX fusion
Pairing: Cloud, Zack & Sephiroth
Warnings: violence, angst, swearing, the usual
Chapter length: 3824
Total length: 71,533
The summoner's journey is a long, hard path to walk. Having guardians you trust makes all the difference in the world.
Zack managed to haul Sephiroth up and get the taller man draped over his shoulder, but already Cloud could see there were going to be problems. Even if Zack could drag Sephiroth all the way across the plains, that left him unable to fight the fiends or dodge the lightning. It was going to be up to Cloud to keep them safe, and that meant summoning.
"Nothing for it," Zack said, probably correctly interpreting Cloud's apprehensive expression. "Might as well get on with it. The sooner we start, the sooner it's over, right?"
"The sooner we die, you mean," Cloud muttered, but he kept his voice too low for Zack to hear him. No sense in dragging Zack down with his bad attitude, especially when Cloud could see the effort it was taking Zack to maintain his cheer.
The fiends didn't seem to mind the lightning at all. In fact they had a distinct tendency to set up ambushes. Cloud was certain he saw some of them get hit by the lightning and come away stronger than they'd started.
By the time they neared the next tower, Zack was panting and Cloud was growing dizzy from all the healing spells he'd cast. Evned was too damaged for him to summon again, and though Jymavun was giving her all, she was drooping noticeably.
It took Cloud a moment to realize that the irregular rumbling in the ground wasn't happening in time with the thunder crashes. He looked up just as Zack shouted a panicked warning, but it was already too late. The fiend was right on top of them.
It was massive, far larger than the one they'd faced on the Highroad, and it appeared to be an animated suit of solid metal armour. Its sword was as long as Zack and Cloud put together, and when it slammed the weapon down to bar their way, Cloud was nearly knocked off his feet.
"Fuck me, that thing is huge," Zack gasped. He ducked out from under Sephiroth, leaving the older man a crumpled heap on the ground, and scrambled for his sword.
Quickly Cloud reached for Jymavun, but she had hardly settled to the ground before the fiend smashed into her side with that oversized sword. She screamed in agony and dissolved into pyreflies, and Cloud staggered as he felt the resonance of her pain.
With a defiant shout Zack charged past him, swinging his sword over his head to get the hardest strike possible. The clash of metal on metal nearly drowned out the thunder as the fiend blocked with its own sword. Zack tried again and again, darting this way and that, but the fiend was so massive it didn't need to be fast. Its huge sword might as well have been a solid wall of metal.
Eqeuh pushed at Cloud's mind urgently, and he knew he didn't have a choice. Whether he trusted his newest aeon or not, if they wanted to survive the next five minutes, Eqeuh was their only hope.
"Get back," he shouted at Zack, and reached for the crackling energy of D'jose's aeon.
Unlike the dramatic entrances Jymavun and Evned had made, the storm that moved with Eqeuh was swallowed by the larger storm of the Thunder Plains. One moment there was nothing but the fiend and the lightning, and the next Eqeuh was charging down from the clouds, hooves pounding in time with the thunder.
Zack had moved to the side, but Eqeuh headed straight for him. He yelped and dove out of the way, and the unicorn reared and neighed in a way that sounded suspiciously like laughter.
Cloud had had just about enough of his new aeon's attitude. "Eqeuh," he called, putting all of his will behind the word.
A little to his surprise, Eqeuh dropped to all fours and trotted obediently to his side, dropping his head to whuffle into Cloud's hair. Cloud could still feel his amusement, but he seemed to have decided to behave for the moment.
"If you could maybe concentrate on killing the fiend instead of teasing Zack?" he asked dryly, and Eqeuh neighed.
All the hair rose on Cloud's arms, and he shivered as he felt the massive build-up of power once more. This time he got to see it put to its proper use - the magical attack lashed out at the fiend, knocking it back a few steps. Eqeuh followed the blast with a Thundara spell, though Cloud thought it might be a bit of overkill. At least this fiend didn't seem invigorated by lightning; it staggered and went down with a deafening crash of metal, and pyreflies began to rise from its body.
Lightning lanced out of the sky as if called by the thunder spell, drawn to the tallest object in the area - Eqeuh. Cloud instinctively braced himself for the shared pain of the impact, but to his surprise Eqeuh only pranced happily, the lightning seemingly absorbed by his horn.
"Well, nice to see someone is enjoying the storm," Zack muttered, eyeing the aeon warily as he moved to collect Sephiroth. "You charge me now and I'll hit you with the damned sword, hear me?"
Eqeuh gave his laughing neigh once more. "He's not going to do that," Cloud said firmly, glaring at his aeon. "Are you." He made it a statement rather than a question, but Eqeuh shook his head anyway.
"Why's he still here? Battle's over, isn't it?" Zack asked, hefting Sephiroth up onto his shoulder once more. "I suppose it saves time to just keep him with you, but aren't you supposed to let him go so someone else can use him?"
"Maybe the fiends aren't the only thing he can help us with," Cloud said, lifting his head to consider the lightning still flashing among the stormclouds. "Zack, he absorbs lightning, just like most of the fiends out here. What if we use him as a mobile lightning tower?"
Zack paused, and looked over at the aeon speculatively. "You think it'd work? Won't he just draw it all to us?"
Another crash came at nearly the same moment as the blinding flash, and once again it was drawn straight to Eqeuh. "Seems to be working just fine so far," Cloud said as his eyes began to clear. "We might even be able to drape Seph over his back, then you wouldn't have to carry him. Uh, if that's okay?" he added, looking anxiously at Eqeuh as it belatedly occurred to him that riding an aeon might be one of his heretical Al Bhed notions. But Evned hadn't seemed to mind carrying Tifa for a little while.
Eqeuh tossed his head and folded his legs, sinking down to sit on the ground where they would be able to reach his back. Between the two of them Cloud and Zack managed to get Sephiroth up onto the aeon, and they arranged themselves to walk on either side of Eqeuh so they could steady the older man.
Travelling that way they made far better time, not least because the fiends seemed a bit less inclined to want to ambush them. "Man, makes me wish we could always have an aeon with us," Zack said, his cheer greatly restored by their improved circumstances. He didn't even seem to mind needing to be so close to the aeon that seemed to take great delight in tormenting him, and Eqeuh was behaving himself.
"Yeah, me too," Cloud agreed, not just because it meant there were fewer fiends attacking them. He could always feel his aeons within him, of course - unless they'd been too badly damaged, as Evned and Jymavun now were - but having one of them beside him was reassuring. For someone who had spent the better part of his life alone and shunned, he now found himself with more support than he knew what to do with.
Still, he knew he couldn't be selfish. Keeping one with him all the time meant no other summoner would be able to call on their version of that aeon. It was one thing when they were truly needed, like Eqeuh at the moment, but another thing entirely when the only purpose was to make Cloud feel better.
They reached the midpoint before dark - not that Cloud could tell where the sun was above the thick stormclouds, but it didn't seem noticeably darker than it had when they'd started out. They saw the travel sphere first, the bright blue glow of it cutting through the dim light like the beacon it was. The relief Cloud felt when he touched it and felt Jymavun and Evned return to life within him was indescribable.
Zack brushed his hand over it as well, then grabbed Sephiroth's hand and pressed it to the sphere. Cloud was relieved when Sephiroth immediately groaned and stirred, the magic in the sphere restoring him to health.
Sitting up gingerly, Sephiroth pressed one hand to his head. "That was... not pleasant," he commented. "How did you manage to..." He trailed off as he appeared to realize exactly where he was, and stared at the aeon whose back he was still on. "Binah?"
Eqeuh shook his head, mane flying, and craned his neck to look back over his shoulder at Sephiroth. "It's Eqeuh," Cloud told him. "He agreed to carry you. It was the only way we could move you and avoid the lightning."
"Yeah, he's pretty handy to have around when he's not trying to kill me," Zack agreed with a sardonic smile, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall of the travel agency. Eqeuh snorted at him, and Zack made a rude gesture back. Cloud had to hide a smile when he felt Eqeuh's amusement through their bond. He was starting to think the problem between his guardian and his aeon was that they had a bit too much in common - Eqeuh was as fond of teasing others as Zack was.
"Don't antagonize him too much, Zack," Cloud said, doing a little teasing of his own. "We're going to need him again to cross the second half tomorrow."
"Who's antagonizing who?" Zack demanded, raising an eyebrow. Eqeuh only neighed again in laughter.
"My thanks," Sephiroth said to the aeon, sliding off his back and bowing. Eqeuh reared and pawed the air, and then vanished in a sparkle of pyreflies. When they cleared, Cloud saw that Sephiroth was giving him a very odd look. "They do behave unusually for you. I don't believe I've ever heard of Ixion allowing anyone to ride him, no matter the circumstances."
It was the same way he'd looked at Cloud when Jymavun had saved Zack from the water. Cloud didn't like it any better the second time. "Please, don't," he mumbled, shifting from foot to foot and focusing his gaze on the ground. "I've told you, I don't know why they treat me like they do. None of it makes any sense."
Zack clapped him on the back, then slung his arm around Cloud's shoulder in a friendly gesture. "Hey, don't let it get to you," he said. When Cloud looked up, he was relieved to see that at least his other guardian didn't seem to be regarding him in awe this time. "Seph's just jealous 'cause the aeons like you better. Right?" He grinned and winked at the older man.
"I am not jealous," Sephiroth said calmly, refusing to be ruffled. He also stopped staring at Cloud, much to Cloud's relief. "My apologies, Cloud. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. Truly, I believe it is a good sign that they are so attached to you."
"Hey, if the normal aeons are going this far for him, imagine how powerful his final aeon is gonna be," Zack said, his eyes lighting up with excitement. "He's gonna kick Sin's ass so hard it'll be too scared to come back for a hundred years!"
To Cloud's surprise, Sephiroth's gaze went shuttered, and there was darkness lurking in his expression. He paused, as if he was contemplating saying something, but in the end he only shook his head and said, "I'm sure it will be something to see."
There was something Sephiroth wasn't telling him, Cloud was now certain of it. Something about the final aeon? But Sephiroth hadn't gotten that far, had he? Cloud looked up at his guardian, and wished he had the courage to ask outright. But it still felt too personal, too much like an old wound that he didn't want to tear open again. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Sephiroth.
All he could do was hope that his guardian would be able to tell him whatever it was, someday.
Inside the travel agency it was quiet, though not as empty as Cloud would have expected. "How did they get through the storm with the lightning towers not working?" he murmured as they shook as much water off their clothes as they could. Cloud was the best off, his wetsuit shedding the rain easily. "Or did they get trapped here when they stopped?"
"Some, perhaps, but most of these people live here at least part of the year," Sephiroth explained. "They run the agency, and make trips to bring in supplies and stock up."
"Well, well, if it isn't my two favourite summoners," a vaguely familiar voice said in Al Bhed. Cloud looked up to see Rin approaching them with a smile, and his jaw dropped. "I didn't expect to see you here so soon."
"How did you get here before us?" Cloud demanded, floored. "We didn't even stop in D'jose!"
Rin gave him a mysterious smile, and bowed. "There are a great many things about the Al Bhed that the Spirans are not aware of," he answered. "I see you have changed your appearance rather dramatically. I hardly recognized you."
Cloud flushed, and played with the zipper of the wetsuit, something that was fast becoming a nervous habit. "It's a long story," he muttered. He didn't think telling Rin that they'd trashed an entire ship full of Al Bhed was a good idea.
"Indeed, and I'm certain you are weary and hungry," Rin said, switching smoothly to Spiran for the benefit of Zack, who was watching them converse with a blank look. "Why don't we all have dinner, and you can tell me the details? My treat."
"Uncommon generosity from you," Sephiroth noted, tilting his head.
Rin only smiled. "Call it an apology, for the treatment you have received from my kinsfolk."
"You already know," Zack accused him, startled. "How is that even possible?"
"Al Bhed secrets, my friend," Rin told him. "Not all of the forbidden machina we have salvaged are weapons. Come, we will speak more in private."
He led them to what had to be his own quarters, a small suite of rooms in the back of the inn. A quick word with the inn's kitchen won them each a bowl of steaming, hearty stew, and they settled themselves around the table. Cloud dove into his bowl with an enthusiasm he could hardly remember feeling before. He wasn't sure if it was really that good, or if it was just that he'd had nothing but trail rations since they'd left the previous travel agency.
Had it really only been one night since then? It felt like a week, with all that had happened.
"I don't suppose you know anything about what happened to the lightning towers," Zack said between mouthfuls of his own dinner.
"It seemed a wise precaution," Rin said, and this time his smile was ironic. "When we heard rumours that the Crusaders were gearing up for a retaliatory strike against the Al Bhed, we chose a... non-confrontational option to defend ourselves."
"So it has nothing to do with stopping summoners from reaching Zanarkand?" Cloud asked, not convinced.
Rin gave him an approving look, like a teacher with a particularly bright student. "It does serve multiple purposes," he admitted. "Though the truly determined will take ship and sail around the long way."
"Yeah, through Al Bhed controlled waters," Zack snorted.
"I did not say it would be easy," Rin chuckled. "I am curious how you three made it through the storm."
"The Al Bhed are not the only ones with secrets," Sephiroth said mildly. "But I will say that if we figured out the solution, it will most likely occur to other summoners as well. Whether or not they will be able to implement it is another story." He gave Cloud a wry look. "Our summoner does seem to be rather unique in his affinity with his aeons."
Cloud flushed, and dragged his spoon through the stew, creating swirling patterns. "At least it won't help the Crusaders get through, either way."
"Yeah, there's no way a big group of armoured people is going to get past that storm," Zack agreed. "Though if they send the Chocobo Knights, I think they could probably punch through with a small force."
"And a small force is all they would need to take this facility," Sephiroth warned. "I would advise you and the others to find a better place to go to ground, Rin. This won't be safe much longer. There was a Crusaders unit moving out from Guadosalam as we left."
Rin sighed, and his customary smile fell away. It left him looking much older and wearier. "And so it continues," he murmured. "I wonder if it will ever end, this enmity between our peoples. So much hatred, for so little reason. We are not so different from you."
"Well, I think having an Al Bhed high summoner will be a pretty big step in the right direction," Zack said, patting Cloud on the shoulder.
Rin smiled thinly, but there was sadness in his eyes as he looked at Cloud. "I would rather the price was not quite so high. Surely there are better things one so talented could be doing with his life other than throwing it away."
"I'm not throwing it away," Cloud said stubbornly, meeting his gaze squarely. "No more than any Crusader or Al Bhed who dies fighting Sin and the fiends to protect the people he cares about. And if my death will bring peace between the Spirans and Al Bhed as well as bringing the Calm, so much the better."
Rin inclined his head. "Sadly, I already know from many years of discussions with Lord Sephiroth that I will not change your mind. As I am not one of those who is determined to interfere in the pilgrimages 'for the good of the summoner', we shall simply have to agree to disagree."
Despite himself Cloud relaxed on hearing that. He'd been half afraid that Rin would concoct some way to trap them here. It wouldn't have been difficult - all he would need to do was drug their food, either now or in the morning. Though surely Sephiroth wouldn't have brought them here, if he'd thought that might be the case. It seemed like he and Rin knew each other quite well.
"For the moment, please enjoy your dinners and rest here for the night," Rin encouraged them. "I'm sure you will have a better outlook on everything after a good night's sleep. Feel free to purchase anything you need before you leave, though I believe I will be closing the shop in order to pack up otherwise."
"You're not even gonna give us a discount, are you?" Zack asked him, rolling his eyes. His tone was good-humoured, though. "Mercenary merchant."
Rin spread his hands and assumed a wounded expression. "My friend, business is my lifeblood. If I were to give away my wares, even in desperate circumstances, I would go under and would not be there to provide services to the next traveller in need."
"We picked up a decent amount of gil fighting the fiends before Eqeuh chased them off," Cloud put in hastily. "Enough to buy some potions and phoenix downs, at least. We'll manage until we make it to Macalania."
"I'm sure we'll see you again further down the road," Sephiroth added dryly. "In the meantime, a good night's rest will undoubtedly serve us well."
"Then please, enjoy what hospitality circumstances allow me to offer," Rin said, gracious as always. "I only regret it could not be under more pleasant circumstances."
After getting only a few hours of sleep the night before, and that on hard ground while soaking wet and injured, Cloud greeted the sight of a warm, soft bed with unbridled enthusiasm. He still hadn't properly recovered from his testing at the hands of D'jose's fayth, let alone from everything that had happened since then. He was soundly asleep almost before his head touched the pillow.
It seemed like only minutes passed before a loud crashed jerked him back out of slumber. He flailed against the sheets tangled around him, trying to force his eyes open despite the way it felt like they had been glued shut. Surely it couldn't be morning already?
"Found another one," someone shouted, and rough hands grabbed him by the shoulders. "Get up, you."
"Wha..." Cloud finally managed to pry his eyes open, and found himself looking up at a complete stranger - a very angry stranger, in full Crusaders armour.
"Move," the man barked, and hauled him out of the bed before he even realized what was happening.
He was thrown face down on the floor, hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Stunned, he just lay there for a moment, trying to make his groggy mind work properly. What was going on? Where were Zack and Sephiroth?
The man yanked his arms back and wrapped a rough piece of rope around them several times, tying the knots painfully tight. "On your feet," he was ordered, and half lifted up even as he scrambled to try to get his feet beneath him.
He couldn't seem to catch his balance - he wasn't sure if the Crusader was deliberately pushing him to make him stumble, or if he was just frustrated with the slow pace Cloud was setting. "Filthy Al Bhed," the Crusader snarled, and pushed one more time, harder still, just as they reached the end of the hall.
Cloud staggered through the door that led to the main room, and immediately was assaulted by a wall of sound. People were shouting and cursing in Al Bhed and Spiran, children and even some adults were wailing, and over it all was the continuous rumble of thunder, louder than it should have been because the door to the outside was propped open. No - it had been torn off its hinges, he realized in horror. Everywhere he looked there was a Crusader with a weapon, the lamplight and occasional lightning flashes gleaming off their armour.
The Crusaders had managed to make it across the Thunder Plains after all.