His name is Cloud Strife. He is many things. But in the wake of the battle at the Northern Crater, he ends up a stranger in a strange land. This is Ivalice. This is the Age of Technology.
a piece of Final Fantasy crossover fanfiction
one: o fortuna
He wasn't even breathing hard, which was the first thing that clued him to things being not quite what they seemed.
Not that he wouldn't have noticed otherwise, seeing as the last thing he'd known he _wasn't_ standing ankle-deep in water. The cavern was gone, and he was standing alone, with streams of Mako winding their way upwards from all around him.
"And so the discarded puppet still twitches, on tattered strings ... hoping to achieve what, exactly? Tell me, do you feel useless yet, 'Cloud'?"
That voice, on the other hand, he'd know anywhere from there to the ends of the world. He spun, the weight in his hands going through long familiar motions even as he immediately backstepped.
Smoothly efficient, practiced, and reflexive.
Mastercrafted Wutaian no-dachi glanced off a crude mass of armor-grade steel that could barely hold an edge, throwing up a shower of sparks that flashed past his face and faded into nothingness several feet behind him.
The good news was that, while he should have been sore and fatigued from the fighting, he wasn't. He felt good as new, so to speak, his limbs lighter than they had any right to be after several hours of traversing rough terrain liberally interspaced with fighting for his life.
The bad news wore a black leather longcoat, held a sword with a blade that was as long as he was tall and sharp enough to cut through almost anything. And it was smirking.
"Gee, I don't know, general," he said, shifting his stance. "But I think this puppet's feeling pretty damn good, compared to someone who's never made a decision of his own in his entire _life_."
The words came on their own accord, or so they'd felt, but they'd been stewing in his mind ever since he'd been dragged out of the mental limbo his little dip in the Lifestream had put him into .
His eyes widened momentarily, as the surroundings and the feelings that went with them clicked in his mind ... the distraction, minute though it had been, almost cost him his head.
Steel screeched against steel again, his heavy blade managing to come up in a crude parry at a moment's notice still. The forces involved had his skidding backwards, feet nearly losing traction on whatever slippery surface they were planted beneath the ankle deep 'water'.
Or should that be, Mako?
"You _dare_ speak of things you have no concept of, clone? What do _you_ comprehend of the Planet and the power it holds? Can your measly little mind even wrap itself around the concept?"
The Lifestream surged around the both of them.
And Cloud ... let himself smirk. Visibly.
He saw and felt the acute lack of Materia where it should have been resting in his weapon and bracer. At the same time, the fact that he hadn't been fried, frosted, or electrocuted yet meant that his opponent faced the same limitation.
He understood on some base level why this was the case, and what it meant.
"What's the matter? Did I touch a nerve? All your life, slaving away to find a meaning for yourself, and when you finally find a goal it's clear that you've never had a _choice_ other than dancing to somebody else's tune. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black ... _puppet_!"
Sephiroth lunged, a lighting-quick slash that should have been impossible with a blade of that size sliced through the air ... and was deflected upwards.
And then the white haired proto-SOLDIER went spinning, stumbling back and nearly falling at the force of impact when Cloud stepped up, shoving Masamune even further out of position with little finesse but power to spare, and proceeding to plant an elbow in the former Shin-Ra armed force general's face.
He was up almost immediately, as was his guard, but that did little to temper the expression of disbelief on his face.
Then it changed as he figured out something Cloud had an inkling of ever since he realized where they both were.
This was not physical.
This wasn't even magic.
This was a battle of wills.
Sephiroth had led and destroyed armies, had put the powerful of this world to on their knees, had killed, destroyed, and manipulated all for the sake of reaching his goal - his own holy grail of true independence through limitless, or nearly so, power.
But his actions had no been _his_ will for a long, long time. If ever.
... Cloud remembered the feeling of steel piercing through his stomach and out his back, and that of having lost _everything_ he'd ever cared for in the course of a single night, and the drive that made him move for just that moment longer, his muscles to work, the desperation that had driven a half-dead, grief-stricken boy into one last desperate lunge.
"I killed you once."
The Buster Sword. It wasn't even _his_ in the first place, but he'd built his life around it, picking up the pieces leftover from what first this albino abomination and then said abomination's dear old dad had done to him.
The Masamune, for all the perfection of its edge, was - to Sephiroth - just a tool. No more, no less.
"I'll just kill you again!"
It shattered into a thousand pieces as the awkward mass of Cloud's weapon smashed past, cleaving into Sephiroth's shoulder. It would have cut the man in two, had he not backpedalled desperately.
Another blow came almost immediately thereafter, shearing through flesh and bone, sending a forearm and hand flying.
"And _again_, no matter how many _times_!"
"So _die already_ you sorry piece of trash!"
The force was enough to turn Cloud around once, the heavy blade bisecting his foe through from shoulder to hip and sending both halves flying, before he could catch himself.
His breathing was heavy this time, from sheer rage though instead of from exhaustion, as he went down on one knee.
There was no blood.
Not really odd that it was the first thing he noticed. Sephiroth, what was left of him, was unraveling. That was the best way he could describe the thin wisps of purplish-on-green he was dissolving into.
For a moment, Cloud Strife came to finally know pure, unbridled, satisfaction.
Then the not-world around him exploded into a torrent of raw power, and he knew no more.
Ripples spreading over the surface of a pool of water.
Freakishly glowing water, true, but water nonetheless.
"Hey, Spike ... I swear, now he's got me sayin' it. I hang around the big lug too much."
She sat down, letting her legs dangle down from the edge, feet only a few inches from the lake of Lifestream. The ancient wound of Planet, the one that started it all, finally healing ... it was an awe-inspiring, and quite humbling sight.
Not that she'd be admitting that to anybody anytime soon.
"It's been a while. Yeah, I know, lame-ass opener. But what the hell are you supposed to say to something like this? Pops always insisted that this sort of thing is something you'd have to do in one way or another, but I've never been good at the whole 'respect' thing, right?"
It was weird, she thought, how it seemed that those few months would last forever at the time. That they'd always keep going like that, from then on, in a sort of never-never that would have them going from one grand adventure to the next.
The fun, the fights, the camaraderie and the Materia. Musn't forget the Materia.
And they were the best friends she could have asked for, from the furball to the rough and tumble fistfighting barmaid, and even the taciturn vampire-wannabe poster child for mid-life crisis angst.
They still were.
"We're ... everyone's doing good, or as good as they let themselves do. We're pretty scattered these days, but we've kept in touch. Mostly through the PHPs, but Nanaki's more than happy to pass any messages and little things along," she grinned. "Yeah, the kid's really grown up, and all philosophical about wandering the Planet and looking for the meaning of life. He sorta thinks too hard, but he's happy, and Old Man Bugenhagen would have been proud. I guess that's all that matters."
The low, budding grasses that had been sprouting up in the otherwise barren and icy landscapes of what had once been the Northern Crater region ruffled with the breeze.
"Barret ... well, Barret's being what he knows best, I guess. A huge pain in the butt most of the time, but he's trying. When he's not out and about leading Reeve's troop of merry men on wild moogle chases after oil reserves, he's helping out in rebuilding Corel. Pragmatic and nostalgic at the same time, that's the big lug. Marlene? Well, Tifa's mostly taking care of her these days. She's got a bar going on the outskirts of the scrap-heap that used to be Midgar. It's pretty much a scavenger town, but it's growing steadily enough. Carrot-head and the rest of that bunch hang out there most of the time, and they've pretty much adopted the Cloud 9 as their watering hole. What? Yeah, that's what she called it. Gives her a warm and fuzzy I guess, who knows."
She laid back, staring at the sky, hands behind her head.
"And the mighty Captain Cid, grouch of the highest order ... yeah, you won't believe this, but he and Shera tied the knot a couple of weeks ago. Word of mouth has it that one night, the dame got drunk enough to tie the old fart to his bed and have her wicked way with him. Who'd have thought, huh? Though ... ick. Cid getting his freak on is definitely not on the list of things I want to think about even on the side. As for the other old guy, he's around. Dunno where, at any given time, but he's as likely to pop up in Nibelheim as he is in Wutai the next day, when he's not trying to stare down a crystal. Well, what can you do, Vinnie'll be Vinnie. I think he does some work for Reeve now and again, and the one time I've dropped in on the Turks Tseng had a shrine to the guy set up on one wall. Something about exemplary record or somesuch. Yeah, I didn't need to know that one either. Creepy man-crushing going on there."
With a smooth, seamless series of motions she rolled and rose to her feet again.
"Me? Heh. Well, you know how it is. Life's never boring for Genius Ninja Kisaragi Yuffie! Or, I try not to let it get that way. It's been weird. Wutai's one of the few places that still have their shit together after the whole Meteor mess, and pops was a little shocked about that when he found out. It's a pretty sweet deal, and he jumped right on it, so you're now in the presence of _the_ scion to the most powerful country on Planet. Sooooo ... intimidated yet? Thought so. Anyway, that's about it ... I better get going. I think I picked up some tails when I was coming up here, but hey, it's sorta tradition, right? And hell, if pops thinks he can keep me in Wutai just because I'm suddenly actually worth something in politics? He's got another thing coming, yeah!"
She started walking, but paused after a single step.
"You know, Cloud ... there's one person still being left out here. It wouldn't have been the same without that person. Hell, we wouldn't be here without that person and ... I really, really _liked_ that person. I'm really glad I met him. I just thought, you know, I'd put it out in the open. You don't mind, do you?"
The faint, distant sound of shifting gravel made her break out in a faint grin.
"Nah. 'Course not. I'd tell you to stay safe, wherever the hell you are, Spike ... but what're the chances of that, right? Just thought I should tell you what's going on with everybody, sorta. I'll see you, sword-boy. Later."
And then she ran. Much to the frustration of several really tired people.
With every step, there was a crunch. Crips, sharp, and with time, becoming increasingly loud in the otherwise deathly stillness.
It made no sense, though. No sense at all.
White flakes danced in the paradoxically stagnant air, non-existent wind tugged at loose bits of cloth and covered them in frost.
Steel became so cold, that it would freeze to flesh near-instantaneously upon contact.
Time lost meaning.
There was only the effort of taking step after step, against the snow and ice.
No change to the landscape, no change to the sky. There was no sun, there were no stars, yet there was enough light to assume that it was day. There was no sky.
Just flakes of white, dancing to an inaudible tune.
That would be assuming he'd ever been sane to begin with.
The deafening cacophony of breathing, heartbeat, and the rush of blood came close to overwhelming him again and again, and yet ... he continued, with a single-minded determination.
There was no destination, no goal, no anything.
It was madness.
It was serenity.
It was breath condensing and freezing before his eyes, and muscles aching, and the knowledge, the certainty, that he should not stop. No matter what.
In a fit of morbid irony, he'd put the concept into words inside his head which he considered oddly fitting.
The manifestation of strife.
Times were, he wanted to scream. Times on, he wanted to cry. Times were, he wanted to lie down and let himself die.
Which was when he heard it.
At first, he thought he'd finally snapped. Well, snapped further. Then he realized he wasn't screaming. He tried, just to check.
It repeated, much to his surprise. Up ahead, and off to the side a bit. Loud. Piercing.
Sparking something within him. A sort of recollection, a sort of fierce kinship, a memory of things to come and a premonition of things that had passed.
He hesitated no longer, took a deep breath that nearly froze his lungs, braced, and ran.
With all the preternatural speed he possessed, and all the will he could muster.
In the distance, a wolf's howl echoed over the barren land.
Before his eyes, reality fell apart, and left him suspended for an ethereal second in a place of pure nothingness.
A sensation that was akin to nothing he'd ever experienced before, but almost managed to feel like icy fingers wrapping about his wrist and _pulling_ ...
... and he was suddenly struggling, eyes burning, the world around him murky and indistinct and wholly something _foul_.
In a moment, his legs found purchase, sinking into some sort of muck that offered precious little purchase. It was enough for him to orient himself, though, and as soon as his inner ear adjusted and registered a sense of 'up' and 'down' he pushed with all his might.
The past could bind a man as surely as irons.
This one knew it well, as he stood with head bowed atop the overlook.
It had been two years since that fateful day. Two years since he'd turned his back on his past, two years since he tried his best to distance himself ... but always, it came down to the here and now.
No matter the flamboyant clothes, no matter the never-say-die attitude and spirit, this would always be with him.
Nightmares, after all, are things you remember exceedingly well. Especially if you happen to be their orchestrator.
Was he even worthy of trying to honor those who'd been felled here, by his device? That, he did not know.
But he hoped.
And as much as it pained him, it was no longer his hope alone. There were those that had chosen to follow him, after all. To put their own luck and sky under his 'banner', tentative as that was.
In some ways, for the sky-pirate Reddas, defacto Ruler of the Free Port of Balfonheim, and at one time Judge Zecht of Archadia, hope was the only reason for life.
Beyond these mists lingering over the swampland below, was the sin of his past.
Behind him, where the sky met the sea, was the hope of his future.
He had paid his respects to the dead and would continue to do so, but it was time to invest in the living again.
The man whom some would call 'king of sky-pirates' turned to walk back to the airship anchored just outside this Mist-rich place, and was about to proceed when a chill washed over him.
Reddas was not particularly sensitive to fluctuations of the Mist - that was more of a Viera thing, after all, and last he checked he was still a man and hadn't managed to acquire rabbit-ears atop his head - but this was one that would have been impossible to miss, even in Mist-rich Jagd. Especially since it wasn't more than two dozen feet away.
The bog that covered most of the Nabureus Deadlands surged for a moment, muck and rotting plant matter flying into the air even as something lurched to the surface.
No, he corrected himself.
Even covered in the sludge of this wasteland, the figure moved rapidly, almost managing to swim the distance to a tentative shore. It sank again, mere feet away, only to haul itself bodily from death's embrace, fingers digging into soil and arms pulling the body from its filthy almost-grave.
The hume man - that much Reddas could tell now that some of the sludge had dripped off - hunched over halfway, still on his knees and now on even ground, and proceeded to throw up.
Not very odd, considering where he'd just shambled from.
And ... Reddas' eyes widened even more - with a sword that was more slab of iron as tall as the man himself was on his back. The strength one would require to achieve such a feat was ... definitely not normal.
Part of the sky-pirate wanted nothing more than to turn around and ignore it. It knew, _knew_, with unerring certainty, that this was not something he should involve himself in. He had enough trouble as it was without adding to the heap.
Another, though ... the past could bind a man as surely as irons. Coincidence? Not so? He didn't know. Would not know, unless he took a risk and found out.
"Ho, below!" So he tried. "Are you in need of assistance, traveler?"
The figure, who'd managed to stand without wobbling too badly, startled at this and fell back, landing on its ass.
'Unnatural,' the word echoed through Reddas' head as eyes that seemed to glow with an otherworldly sort of light were turned to look up at him.
The stranger stared for a moment, before blinking.
"Got a mint? Well, that or a stiff drink. I've got a really, really bad taste in my mouth and I'd be willing to try really drastic treatments to get rid of it."
"Aye, that could be arranged," the sky-pirate acknowledged, making his way down carefully, lest he lose his balance and risk the stranger's near-fate from which, he expected, he would have a rather more difficult time escaping than this man had had. "I am called Reddas amongst these parts."
He stopped beside the still sitting man, and extended a hand downwards.
It was considered for a moment, before the man grabbed his wrist in a warrior's handshake and let himself be pulled to his feet.
"Strife. Cloud Strife," the stranger said, then looking around. "Um, not to be rude, but where _are_ 'these parts'. I think I may have gotten lost somewhere along the way before ending up wherever this is."
END o fortuna