[Fic] A Long Road To Destiny - FFVII/FFX - Zack, Cloud & Sephiroth - 5/25?
Finally have some time off work, and I'm slowly recovering from exhaustion and burnout. I'll write as I am able to. Hopefully this bloody headache will go away soon. I'm now on day 28. ;p
Title: A Long Road to Destiny Series: FFVII/FFX fusion Pairing: Cloud, Zack & Sephiroth Rating: R Warnings: violence, angst, swearing, the usual Chapter length: 5705 Total length: 28,150
The summoner's journey is a long, hard path to walk. Having guardians you trust makes all the difference in the world.
Something fizzed over Cloud, a jolt of power that skittered over his nerves like a pyrefly over the Moonflow. He gasped and coughed, wondering why it was so easy to breathe. He remembered the searing pain of the cold air after the fire, remembered the way his lungs had shrieked in protest and every inch of his skin had throbbed with the pain of his burns. Why didn't he hurt now?
He opened his eyes, dazed, and found Zack and Sephiroth crouched over him. "I don't think it worked," Zack was saying, looking worried and fearful. "Maybe another phoenix down would help?"
"No, he's awake," Sephiroth murmured, and nodded at Cloud. Zack looked down at him, his expression both relieved and fearful.
"Hey, kid. You okay? You gave us a hell of a scare, there," Zack murmured. He got one arm behind Cloud's shoulders and helped him to sit up. "Can you talk? What happened?"
Slowly memory returned. He wasn't in Nibelheim, and nothing was burning around him. The fire in the doorway was gone, and Sephiroth held the Kilika sphere that had caused it to appear. Shivering, Cloud looked away from it. "I'm okay," he croaked, though he felt anything but. "I'm sorry. I just... I'm sorry."
"You've been caught in a fire yourself," Sephiroth said, sounding certain. "That's why you're so frightened of it."
Miserably Cloud nodded. He knew his guardians deserved an explanation for his shameful behaviour, but it hurt to even think of talking about it. It was the worst memory he had, and just thinking of it was enough to bring the horror and pain crashing back down on him. Somehow he forced his voice to work, the words emerging shaky but understandable. "I was ten. There had been a drought that spring and summer, and even the snowmelt hadn't helped. A thunderstorm swept through in the middle of the night, and the whole area went up like kindling." He shuddered, and Zack rubbed his shoulder encouragingly.
"Most of the town burned to the ground," Cloud continued doggedly, fixing his gaze on the safe solidity of the stone floor in a vain attempt not to see the flames in his mind's eye. "The winds made it impossible to stop the fire before it spread. We lived on the outside of the village, and by the time it got to us..." He closed his eyes, unable to describe what it had been like when the fire had roared over their house, waking him in the night.
"Wait." Zack sounded confused, and Cloud glanced up to see him frowning. "If you were one of the last houses hit, there should have been plenty of time for someone to warn you to get out. How'd you get caught?" Grimly Cloud looked back at him, giving his guardian the full view of his damned eyes, and said nothing. Horror and outrage dawned on Zack's face. "They didn't. They just left you to die because you're Al Bhed?"
"Afterwards, they said they were too busy trying to stop the fire," Cloud said bitterly. "That they hadn't thought it would get as far as us. That they assumed we would hear the shouting, or that we had already gotten out. Some of them even meant it." Tifa had apologized to him later with tears in her eyes, saying she'd been too busy trying to help her sickly mother get out of their own home next door, and he'd believed that she at least had been sincere.
"You humble me," Sephiroth murmured, surprising Cloud. "You have suffered far more than I, and more cruelly. Yet you are determined to make this journey despite all the odds against you, while I stew in my bitterness and refuse to save them."
"Like Zack said, not all Spirans are prejudiced assholes," Cloud admitted, uncomfortable with the way Sephiroth was looking at him. "And I have a promise that I have to keep. Besides." He laughed, the sound containing little mirth, and finally admitted the truth. "A large part of why I'm doing this is so I can thumb my nose at all of them. It's just my own way of showing bitterness."
"And you'll do it, too," Zack said, patting his back. "You've made it this far, against worse odds than I thought. How did you survive the fire, though?"
"There's a former guardian who sometimes comes to my village, to help us with the fiends and to train anyone who wants to learn to defend themselves," Cloud told him. "Sir Zangan happened to be camping nearby that night, and he came running when he saw the flames. He used ice spells to put the fires out, and he healed us afterwards." He looked down at his arms, where the burns had been worst. Only the faintest of scars showed there now, thanks to Zangan's magic. Unfortunately his mother had been far more badly burned; she carried visible scars to this day, though Zangan had kept her from dying or being crippled. "If not for him, my mother and I probably wouldn't be alive now."
"I know of Sir Zangan," Sephiroth said. "I've heard nothing but good said of him, though I've never met him myself. I'm sure he would be proud of you, now."
"Maybe we'll run into him on the journey," Zack said. "I'd like to thank him, myself. After all," he grinned at Cloud. "If not for him, I'd be short one summoner. Are you able to keep going?"
Cloud looked at the doorway nervously. It was clear now, with no sign of the fire that had filled it only minutes before, but he didn't trust it. "What if it comes back while I'm walking through it?"
"It will not," Sephiroth assured him. "It is merely a test of courage. As I said before, the fayth's intention is to test you, not to harm you."
"But what if that's the part the priests sabotaged?" Cloud persisted, sweating at the thought. "What if they rigged it so it will come back?"
"He's got a point, Seph," Zack said. He stood, and eyed the doorway, then shrugged. "Oh, well. Only one way to find out, I guess."
Before Cloud could realize what he intended or do anything to stop him, Zack stepped through the doorway. Cloud shouted a belated protest, but no flames licked out at his guardian. Zack made it through to the other side completely unscathed.
"What?" Zack asked, turning back to laugh at Cloud's horror. "No big deal. Not like Seph couldn't have healed me if it had hit me. The fire wasn't that bad."
Cloud could only shake his head, his voice lost in his terror and relief.
"Are you trying to give your poor summoner a heart attack, Zack?" Sephiroth asked dryly. "You're supposed to be preserving his life, not attempting to cut it short." He offered Cloud a hand up.
Feeling embarrassed that he needed the help, Cloud accepted his hand and let Sephiroth pull him to his feet. He was still a little unsteady, but he managed to stand on his own with no further assistance.
Even with Zack's example it took every bit of courage Cloud had to make himself step through the doorway. Cloud couldn't shake the irrational fear that the fire was just waiting for him. Sephiroth's solid presence at his back helped, as did the encouraging smile Zack gave him from the other side.
And then he was through, no worse for wear. Nothing terrible had happened; there wasn't so much as a whiff of smoke. Cloud let himself breathe again, shoulders slumping with relief.
"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Zack said. "Just trust us to protect you, okay? That's our job."
"You make it sound so easy," Cloud said. He looked hopefully at Sephiroth. "I don't suppose that was the worst of it?" To his dismay, but not really to his surprise, Sephiroth shook his head. Cloud sighed. "I was afraid of that. All right, let's go."
Somehow Cloud managed to keep his composure for the most part, though it wasn't just the heat that had him sweating as they progressed through the Trial. When they reached a room with a pit filled with fire, his attempt to stay calm started to fall apart. He stared at the door on the far side, trying to find some way to get to it that didn't involve going through the pit. Of course there was probably a way to turn the fire off, but he wasn't sure he could bring himself to walk the length of that, knowing the flames might return at any moment.
Zack was studying the lines on the floor and walls, trying to figure out what each sphere recess powered. Sephiroth stood back impassively, letting them solve the puzzle but keeping a sharp eye out for anything that didn't belong.
"Okay," Zack said finally, approaching a glowing Kilika sphere set into the wall above the pit. "So all we have to do is... huh?" He tugged at the sphere again, then yanked. It didn't budge. "Is it supposed to do that?" he asked, scratching his head. "Because I'm pretty sure we need that one to go over there."
Sephiroth approached, frowning. "All the spheres should be movable," he said, pulling at it himself. The smooth surface offered no purchase, and he fared no better than Zack had.
Cloud's stomach sank. "Let me guess. That's the one that turns off the fire down there."
"Looks like it," Zack confirmed, sighing. "How were they planning to let the next summoner through, though?"
"Undoubtedly they have a solvent for whatever fixative it is they've used," Sephiroth said. "However, there is more than one way to put out a fire."
Cloud felt the tingle of rising energy, and a soprano voice sang the Hymn softly over the crackle of the fire. Another voice answered it, a deep thrum that somehow managed to give an impression of being opposed to the soprano despite being in perfect harmony.
Ice crystals swept over the surface of Sephiroth's sword, racing towards the point where they burst free into the air. A massive crystal formed right before the summoner, and Cloud blinked as he realized there was a blue-skinned woman trapped inside. This had to be Macalania's aeon, the queen of ice.
The crystal shattered abruptly, leaving her standing beside Sephiroth, inhumanly beautiful. They almost looked like they belonged together, with Sephiroth's ice-pale hair and skin. Cloud glanced at Zack, and found his other guardian staring at the aeon, clearly entranced.
Sephiroth inclined his head, the summoner acknowledging his aeon. "Tiphereth, if you would be so kind?"
She smiled at him, and Cloud heard Zack sigh in admiration. "Now that is a woman," Zack commented.
"Too much for you to handle," Cloud teased him, watching in fascination as the aeon gestured at the fire pit below. Ice crystals began to form there, and Cloud thought he could hear the deeper version of the Hymn vibrating in anger. Sizzling and cracking noises filled the air as the flames fought to melt the ice.
For a moment it looked like the fire would win. Then the aeon snapped her fingers and the whole room exploded in ice and frost. The flames sputtered and died, and the aeon looked smug.
"Thank you, my dear," Sephiroth murmured, smiling back at her. She flipped her hair over her shoulder, and winked deliberately at Cloud. Then she dissolved back into a cloud of pyreflies.
"Hey, Cloud, I think she likes you," Zack said, elbowing him.
"Ow. I hope she still feels the same way when we get to Macalania," Cloud said, rubbing his ribs.
"Worry first about the aeon you must face today," Sephiroth advised. "I'm afraid the fayth isn't likely to appreciate having his Trial interfered with by his opposite element. Zack, grab the Kilika sphere we left in the antechamber, we'll need it to open the door. Come quickly, the fire will return eventually."
That reminder nearly sent Cloud running in the other direction. He froze, heart hammering in his throat, panic at the thought of crossing the pit freezing his feet as surely as the aeon had frozen the fire.
"Steady," Zack said, pushing gently on his shoulder. "Just take it one step at a time, kid."
Somehow Cloud got his feet moving; first one, then the other, until the stairs down into the pit were before him. When he reached the bottom step panic got the better of him and he bolted, needing to get out of the place where the flames had been as quickly as possible. Thankfully in his fear he simply ran in the direction he'd already been facing, and so ended up crossing the pit without even being really aware of it.
Sephiroth caught him at the top of the stairs on the other side, or Cloud might well have brained himself running straight into the wall. Zack emerged right behind him, sphere in hand. Gulping for air, Cloud turned in Sephiroth's arms to look back. Frost still covered the stones of the passage, though he could see places where it was beginning to melt. They'd all made it safely across with time to spare.
"Not bad," Zack said, laughing. "Wish I'd had a timer on me. That was a hell of a sprint. Ever thought about training as a blitzer?"
Cloud blushed and shook his head. "I doubt the Psyches would have me. Anyway, I had other things I wanted to do." Not that he hadn't thought about it, but then what child growing up on Spira didn't imagine becoming a blitzball star?
"Well, if you ever change your mind - like, if someone else defeats Sin before we get there, I mean - think about it. The Psyches aren't the only team who would take you."
"Recruit him later, Zack," Sephiroth said. "For now, let him concentrate on the Trial and the fayth. We're not out of trouble until he has the aeon."
Reminded that he still had more of the Trial to face - not to mention that he was going to have to go through that pit a second time to get out - Cloud made himself focus. "I just hope the fayth isn't too irritated about us cheating," he said as they moved through the next door.
"Unfortunately Kilika's fayth is not known for his easy-going nature," Sephiroth said. "Better to hope that he places the blame where it belongs, on the priests who forced us to take that step."
"Nice job encouraging him, Seph," Zack said with a sympathetic grin as Cloud groaned.
Thankfully they reached the chamber of the fayth without running into any more traps. "Wonder what the priests think we're doing in here for so long," Zack chuckled. "Since they'll be assuming that we're stuck at the firepit."
"Likely they'll assume we're stubbornly attempting to find a way across," Sephiroth replied. He looked oddly uncomfortable, shifting restlessly, with a troubled expression on his face.
"Are you okay?" Cloud asked him, concerned. "You don't think they trapped the chamber, do you?"
"What?" Sephiroth blinked at him, and Cloud had to repeat his question. "Oh. No, I don't think they'd risk the direct wrath of the fayth," he said, shaking his head. "Forgive me, I am... preoccupied. Din is restless, so close to his home."
It took Cloud a moment to realize that he was referring to his aeon, the piece of the Kilika fayth's power that he held within him. Cloud tried to imagine what it would be like to have that many aeons, and couldn't. Just having Jymavun's power made it feel like his skin wasn't quite big enough to hold him.
Well, he was about to find out what it was like to have at least two aeons, assuming this one didn't succeed in killing him where Besaid's had failed.
"This time I will wish you good luck, since we can only hope the fayth is reasonable," Zack said, smiling encouragingly. "So, good luck."
"Thanks," Cloud said, proud that his voice was only a little shaky. Once more he stepped inside a Chamber of the Fayth, letting the door close between him and his guardians. Out of curiosity, Cloud tested the door, and wasn't in the least surprised to find it locked.
"Looking for a way out already?"
Cloud spun, startled, and found the fayth already hovering over the buried statue. This one was a man in the prime of his life, battle-scarred and with the muscles of a warrior, dressed not unlike the Crusaders Cloud had seen. He was watching Cloud with a derisive expression in his eyes that made Cloud's shoulders go tense. He'd seen that look from too many Spirans, especially recently. Was this fayth just another closed-minded, prejudiced asshole?
The fayth smiled, mocking him. "You don't have the guts to go all the way," the fayth declared. "I've seen your type before. Always looking for the escape route, 'just in case'. Always relying on others to do the hard work for you. You'll back out at the first sign of real difficulty."
Stung by the accusations, Cloud bit his lip to stop himself from saying anything rash. The fayth's words only hurt because they struck too close to home. He had been relying on Zack and Sephiroth too much.
On the other hand... "You have no idea what I've been through just to get this far," he said through gritted teeth. "Yes, I needed help, but that's why summoners have guardians. I'll make it if kills me."
The fayth's smile darkened, and Cloud gulped, regretting his rash promise. The fayth lifted a hand, palm up, and a ball of fire gathered between his fingers. "Prove it," he taunted softly. "Take my power, and prove yourself worthy, if you've got the guts."
Cloud eyed the flame nervously. It burned with all the colours of fire, so hot at the centre it was intensely white. He wanted to tell himself this was just a test of courage like the Trial, that it wouldn't truly harm him. Something in the fayth's eyes told him it wouldn't be that easy.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Cloud demanded, anguished. First Besaid, and now Kilika. Were they just taunting him with a dream he would never have?
"If you cannot handle the tests we give you, then you are not the champion we need," the fayth said scornfully. "You'll face far worse than this before the end."
Cloud looked again at the ball of fire, and swallowed hard. Every instinct he had was screaming at him to flee.
"Now, will you take my power and become a warrior for us? Or will you run home to hide behind your mama's skirts? I'll even make an exception for you and open the door," the fayth taunted him.
Cloud reached inside himself and touched the core of power that was his connection to Jymavun. She sent him a burst of wordless encouragement, and he clung to the memory of the moment when he'd first summoned her. The pain she'd put him through had been worth it in the end. He had to believe this would be, too.
Before he could change his mind - or perhaps come to his senses - Cloud reached out with both hands to grab at the fayth's power.
Agony shot through him, and the sickening scent of cooking meat filled the room. Cloud screamed and tried to yank his hands back, but the fire came with him. It sank slowly into his skin, filling his veins with acid.
Then it reached his heart, and Cloud discovered whole new levels of agony. He collapsed, his body completely out of his control as he writhed on the ground in pain. He couldn't feel his hands anymore, but if the horrible scent of burned meat was any indication, that was probably a mercy. He thought his heart was going to burst, and he wondered if it was burning too.
It went on and on, time stretching out and every second lasting an eternity of agony. It was worse than when he'd been caught in the fire as a child, a million times worse. At least then he'd passed out from pain and lack of air fairly quickly, and had been spared the full brunt of what had happened to him. This time something kept him from the oblivion of unconsciousness, forcing him to remain aware of everything that was happening to him.
Finally, as it had in Besaid, the fayth's power slowly began to settle inside him. Unlike in Besaid, however, this power had left true physical damage behind. Cloud retched with agony and the smell of his own burned flesh, curling up instinctively in a vain attempt to protect his damaged body.
"You'll do," he thought he heard the fayth murmur. "You just might be the one we need, after all." It released whatever grip it had on his mind, and Cloud was finally able to faint from the pain.
Cloud half roused when he felt the tingling energy of a life spell sweep over him. Unfortunately it healed him just enough that his body started registering the pain signals from his hands again, and he screamed with a voice already gone raw. Someone swore, and another spell was cast over him that plunged him back into the blessed oblivion of sleep.
The next time he woke, awareness came slowly, his mind fighting it out of a vague certainty that waking would be painful. Voices reached him through the haze of darkness, familiar and comforting.
"...can't be normal. Are they trying to kill him?"
"Summoners do die in prayer to the fayth, though it's very rare. But I cannot say I've ever heard of one being physically injured before." That was Sephiroth's voice, Cloud hazily identified.
"Are the priests right? Is what he's doing sacrilege?"
"If you doubt..."
"No. No, damn it, I don't doubt him. The priests are wrong, or he wouldn't have received the aeon at all. I'm just starting to doubt the sanity of the fayth!"
"Testing me," Cloud said, or tried to. It came out as an indistinct mumble. Reluctantly he forced his eyes open, and blinked blearily at Zack. In what was rapidly becoming a familiar sight, his guardian was watching over him with a worried expression.
"Hey, how're you feeling?" Zack asked when he saw that Cloud was awake.
"My hands..." Cloud was afraid to look at them. They weren't hurting, which could be a very bad sign.
"They seem to have healed well, but you should make certain you still have your full range of motion." Sephiroth's voice was far closer than Cloud had expected it to be, and he could feel the rumble in the wall he was leaning against. He looked up and realized to his incredible embarrassment that Sephiroth was carrying him like a little child.
Cloud felt his face go hot. "I can walk," he squeaked, mortified. How embarrassing that the man could carry him so easily. Cloud knew he wasn't exactly huge for his age, but he didn't think he was that scrawny.
"Your hands?" Sephiroth prompted, with no indication that he intended to set Cloud down.
Figuring that continuing to protest would only make him look sillier, Cloud obediently tried flexing his fingers. They felt a little stiff, but loosened up as he worked them. There wasn't even any scarring. "I think they're okay," he said, more relieved than words could possibly express. "Thank you."
"He shouldn't have needed to heal you in the first place," Zack burst out, gesturing angrily. "What the hell are they doing to you in there?"
"Testing me," Cloud repeated. "At least, that's what they said." He kept his eyes on his hands, still not really believing there was no damage. "Jymavun's fayth said she was testing my strength of will, and Evned's said he wanted to see my courage."
"You have the aeon, then," Sephiroth said. Cloud nodded. He could feel the heat of the new power within him, a seething flame next to Jymavun's calm energy. It was incredibly uncomfortable, and Cloud hoped it would settle in time and stop feeling quite so much like an actual fire burning inside him.
"Testing you? For what?" Zack looked at Sephiroth. "Is that normal?"
"It was not my experience, but I can't say whether it has ever happened before," Sephiroth replied, sounding troubled. "It isn't something that is discussed, even among summoners. The experience is intensely private."
"Well, that's useful." Zack sighed. "We'd better find somewhere to hole up for a few days, until you recover. Somehow I don't trust the priests enough to be willing to stay at the temple, and apparently my first plan was a bit optimistic."
Cloud grimaced at the reminder of the disastrous scene with Zack's mother. There was still a deep but lingering hurt in his guardian's eyes, and Cloud would have done just about anything to be able to erase it.
For the first time since waking, he actually looked beyond his guardians, and he blinked. He'd thought they were still in the temple, perhaps making their way back through the Trial, but they were well into the forest outside. He could see the gates to Kilika itself just ahead. "How did you get me out of there?" it occurred to him to ask.
"Few minutes after you went in, the door opened again," Zack explained. "Seph went in when you didn't appear, and carried you out again."
"It should not have happened," Sephiroth said. When Cloud glanced up at him, he looked perturbed. "The door is only supposed to open when the triumphant summoner approaches with his or her new aeon - or when the summoner dies. You were unconscious, but certainly not dead."
"Maybe they're not trying to kill me after all." Cloud rested his head against Sephiroth's shoulder, trying not to be too incredibly self-conscious about being carried. It felt like every eye was on them as they entered the village, people pointing and whispering behind their hands. Cloud knew it wasn't his imagination when Zack moved so that Cloud was mostly hidden between him and Sephiroth, protecting him from the stares.
"I'm starting to think it might be a good idea to head for Luca sooner rather than later," Zack muttered, his gaze flicking back and forth over the crowded docks. "At least there, people see lots of Al Bhed, even in the company of Spirans. Damn it, why does my mother have to be the biggest gossip on the island?" To Cloud's surprise Zack looked miserable. "I'm sorry, Cloud. This is my fault. I screwed up."
"Don't blame yourself," Cloud said. "You couldn't have known."
"He is right," Sephiroth added. "You cannot spend time regretting past mistakes when your attention needs to be in the present, guarding your summoner."
Zack shook his head and squared his shoulders, appearing to take heart from Sephiroth's words. "You're right. We'll just have to..."
Cloud turned automatically at the sound of his first language, and found three angry-looking men heading straight for them. Goggles hid their eyes, but even if they hadn't spoken Cloud would have known them for Al Bhed by the wetsuits they wore. "Is something wrong?" he asked in the same language, a little nervously. Had they heard the gossip and were coming to confront him for being a summoner?
To his surprise, their angry gestures were clearly aimed at Zack and Sephiroth. "Did you think we wouldn't notice you taking one of us if you dressed him up like a Spiran?" the first man demanded, still in Al Bhed.
"Don't worry, kid, we've got your back," a second one added directly to Cloud. "What happened to the rest of your shipmates? Are you hurt?"
"Uh..." Cloud gaped at them, floundering for something to say.
"You are under a mistaken impression, gentlemen," Sephiroth said, his voice dry and accent flawless. The Al Bhed all stared to see a Spiran speak their language so well, just as Cloud had done when Sephiroth first spoke to him.
Zack was looking back and forth between Sephiroth and the Al Bhed, one hand on his sword hilt though he hadn't drawn it yet. "Someone wanna translate for those of us who only swear in Al Bhed?" he asked with a sort of grim humour.
"They think you're, I don't know, kidnapping me or something," Cloud told him. "Seph, put me down, please."
This time Sephiroth obeyed, though Cloud was dismayed to find that his legs were still too shaky to support him. Sephiroth had to steady him with a hand around his waist. "These are my... my friends," Cloud said in Al Bhed, changing his wording at the last moment. Telling these men that Zack and Sephiroth were his guardians was probably not a good idea. "They're helping me, not hurting me."
The Al Bhed looked surprised, and a little contemptuous, but their hands dropped away from their weapons. Sephiroth made a subtle gesture at Zack, who let go of his sword with obvious reluctance.
"Friends with Spirans? And dressed like one, too," the first man said. "Are you trying to pretend to be one?"
The third man, silent until now, nudged the first and leaned over to whisper. Cloud caught the words 'blue eyes', and knew they'd finally noticed that he was part Spiran. "I'm dressed like this because these are my clothes," he said anyway. "But... thank you for trying to rescue me." He did appreciate the sentiment - these Al Bhed were strangers to him, yet they'd been willing to risk their lives to protect him from they'd believed was danger.
Without thinking about it, he made the sign of Yevon and bowed to them. It had become an automatic gesture over the last few days. He realized halfway through what he'd done, and mentally kicked himself, but completed the gesture. If nothing else, it would emphasize that he wasn't one of them.
Sure enough when he raised his head, he saw them turning away with disgusted looks. Cloud sighed and rubbed his eyes, reminding himself that he might as well get used to it. It had been a nice change to deal with friendly Al Bhed on the way to Besaid, but now they would look on him with the same distrust and contempt as the Spirans.
"That went well?" Zack said, his inflection making it a question.
"As much as could be hoped for," Sephiroth said as they moved towards the docks again. "Nobody is injured or dying. But I think you may be right about leaving the island sooner rather than later."
Another Al Bhed was running towards them, a young woman. This one took no notice of them, tearing past them and heading straight for the group they had just left. "Hey, guys!" Cloud heard her call in Al Bhed. "You'll never guess what I just heard. The Spirans are totally up in arms, claiming that an Al Bhed raided the temple and forced the fayth to make him a summoner!"
"Uh-oh," Cloud muttered, going tense.
"They may not realize it's us the rumour is referring to," Sephiroth replied quietly.
Cloud gave him an incredulous look, then glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough the leader of the Al Bhed group was staring after him with a thoughtful expression that was rapidly darkening into anger. The man turned away and started talking to the others, gesturing emphatically, but they were now too far away for Cloud to hear their words. "I don't think we're going to be that lucky."
"More trouble?" Zack asked, reaching for his sword again.
"Don't," Sephiroth said, waving him off. "Going for your weapon first will only incite violence. They've offered no threat as of yet. We need to teach you Al Bhed, or your lack of understanding could become a larger problem in the future."
"Yeah, sure, in all our spare time," Zack said wryly. "One of these days."
Cloud was still watching the group of Al Bhed, but to his surprise they made no move to follow him. "Looks like they're just going to let us go," he said, not quite sure he believed it. "Maybe they just figure I'm too Spiran to bother themselves with."
"Or perhaps they are wise enough not to believe every rumour they overhear from a Spiran," Sephiroth pointed out. "In any case, clearly the Kilikans are not likely to welcome our further presence here. We'd best inquire about passage to Luca."
"Damn it, I really wanted to give Cloud a chance to eat something," Zack sighed. "Well, I'll see what I can do about getting something to help with that seasickness. Seph, can you take him for the moment? I'll go on ahead and arrange things."
"That might be wise," Sephiroth agreed. "I can protect him for the moment. Go."
Zack saluted him briefly, then turned and dove straight into the water off the side of the dock. He cut through the water like a pro, weaving through the slower traffic, and was out of sight in seconds.
Cloud and Sephiroth continued to walk at a more sedate pace, Cloud keeping his head down so his eyes wouldn't be immediately obvious to anyone who glanced at him. "Maybe I should buy a hood or something, to hide my hair, too," he sighed.
"Perhaps, but I don't think you'll find such a thing here," Sephiroth said, chuckling softly. "As you pointed out earlier, Kilikans seem to believe that less is more where clothing is concerned. Don't worry too much, Cloud. People will adjust, once the rumours have spread and the idea isn't so new. The more aeons you control, the less they can possibly protest that you don't deserve to be a summoner."
Looking down at his hands once more, Cloud could only hope that the trend wouldn't continue. If the next fayth was even more difficult to deal with than Evned's had been, he was certain he wouldn't survive long enough to need to worry about what the Spirans' future reactions might be.