cheloya: (FF7 >> RAWR)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 2810
Notes: To those who waited patiently, and those who did not, I am sorry this took so long, and so very glad to be able to give this to you at last. I dearly hope you find it worth the wait.

Chapter One




Chapter Two: Blood and Shadows




[Day 5, 0400 Central Standard Time]

Vincent woke in darkness to a soft, querulous warble, and the insistent nudge of a beak at his shoulder. Obsydia’s large pale eyes would have been obvious even without his enhanced vision, but his hand still twitched toward Death Penalty. His fingers were stiff with cold despite the glove, a fact made all the more obvious when Obsydia twitched away from his fingers with a shrill sound of disapproval. Vincent shifted, uncomfortably aware of the chill in his limbs, and reached for her saddlebags, and the greens she was no doubt looking for.

Obsydia’s stomach thus satisfied, Vincent stood and paced the length of the cave. He had very nearly missed the massing blizzard altogether, despite its obvious strength. He had heard it all through the night, raging on the far side of the barrier of ice and snow he had created with some assistance from a low-level materia. He was fortunate to have found shelter at all, and yet part of him – the part, he suspected, without true sense or inhibition – wanted out of the cage he’d made.

The Galian Beast was restless, too.

Vincent went to the wall of ice and thrust his gauntlet through it. The ice cracked loudly, showering his bronze-tipped boots with frost and larger chunks, and cold air rushed in through the hole, causing Obsydia to make a shrill sound of complaint. But the wind was a whistle, not a howl, and Vincent went to work tearing at the barrier until he could slip through the ice and into the outside world.

The sky was clear – or as clear as the sky ever got, in the north – and without really meaning to, Vincent drew a few quick, snuffling breaths through his nose. Almost immediately he shook his head and stepped further outside the cave, testing each footstep cautiously in the snow, to check for signs of the storm in a more human fashion, but the Galian Beast’s eagerness was reassuring in its own way. There was little enough danger if it was so keen to move onward.

Rather than risk an avalanche by using Fire, Vincent tore at the ice around the cave’s mouth until he had cleared a gap through which Obsydia could pass. Limbs warm and tingling with the exertion, he swung himself aboard the chocobo and nudged her into motion, letting her pick her own way through the drifts.

Ascending toward the Great Northern Crater took some hours; the sun had reached its zenith before he crested the crater’s lip. Obsydia only shifted nervously the first time he tried to coax her into descending into the crater itself, and Vincent pushed her no harder – he dismounted and tied her reigns to her saddle. She had done well to carry him so far, with Chaos’ steady awareness growing in his mind. To ask her to approach whatever was causing the demon distress would be an unnecessary cruelty, and so he entered the crater alone, or alone as he could be.

The warm green glow of the Lifestream hung everywhere in the crater, its light reflected in the swirling mists, in the ice-encrusted rocks. If not for the pervasive grey of stone and shadow and the intense cold, it might have appeared inviting. As it was, the slow-healing furrows and cracks in the planet’s surface combined with glowing mako green gave the crater an eerie atmosphere that was only enhanced by the high, wordless wail of the wind.

Vincent felt the curious, sickly sensation of Chaos shifting in his mind, and stopped, cautiously turning until he felt that the demon’s focus matched his own. Hesitating when that focus was the centre of the crater, and listening again to the wind’s howl, noticing something else behind, beneath the sound. Perhaps not even truly audible.

Vincent stepped forward. The mist swirled around him, clinging to his limbs with the eerie green glow of a hundred thousand lives to be. It was impossible to tell how far he had gone; the crater’s edge was long invisible behind him, and in the crater all he had to guide himself was the rapt attention of Chaos upon the thing in the crater’s depths.

There was plenty of time for him to note the absence of fiends, and to firm and re-firm his grip upon the Death Penalty.

And then, when he was sure he had been walking blindly through the mist for more than long enough, a gust of wind swept the vapour momentarily away, and Vincent saw the centre of the crater. He saw dark, jagged spires, still reflecting that peaceful, poisonous green, and inside it there was a shadow, a nucleus to the black crystal formation. Vincent stepped closer, barrel trained upon the shadow in the crystals, unconvinced that the formation was completely solid—

—and Chaos surged, flooding his senses, drowning his mind, limbs changing, flesh growing and mutating, wings peeling from his back and shoulders as the demon carved its way out of his flesh.

The crater dropped away from his vision as Chaos took to the sky, black crystal vanishing again beneath green swirling mist, and before his mind slipped beneath Chaos’ at last, Vincent wondered what could possess the demon to lead him here, and flee.

***

[Day 5, 0600 Wutai Standard Time]

It was mid-afternoon when they arrived in Wutai. The heat would have been stifling even without the added humidity from the storm that threatened. Reno, still partially crippled by a hangover, felt like he’d been half-digested and then thrown up in an oven, but it wouldn’t do him any good to complain. The boss had sent them out here to give Kisaragi a hand, and that was what they were gonna do. Even if Reno had to have a few private moments with convenient shrubbery and large decorative urns along the way.

The town didn’t look too bad, if Reno was any judge. A little quiet, but then, everywhere was quiet in comparison to Midgar, and given that they’d probably had a commemorative festival all their own last night, it wasn’t like anyone except the cleanup crew was likely to surface in any major way. Still, it being after lunch, Reno would have expected some people to be out and about, particularly with the Highwind descending on the village and letting half a dozen of them climb down into the middle of Kisaragi House. That the streets were still quiet when they left was Reno’s first indication that Yuffie had not been kidding about the superstition surrounding the incident. He could only hope she’d been able to have the place cleaned up; Reno didn’t mind a little bloodshed, but his stomach wasn’t up to it today.

Elena was either spooked by the quiet, or sympathising with the delicate state of his head. Probably the former, but Reno was happy enough with that – she usually took great pleasure in reminding him, the morning after, why drinking to excess was frowned upon. She walked ahead of him, not-quite-with Tifa, as they crossed the cobbled courtyard, a short and mismatched train headed by Yuffie and caught up by the Turks. Rude was behind him, but there was a certain tense quality even to his silence, and Reno would have bet a hundred gil that he was flexing his hands like he always did before a fight.

There was a guard on the front door of the pagoda, but he didn’t look happy to be there, and he was standing at the bottom of the stairs rather than before the ornate sliding doors that led inside the pagoda. He bowed low as Yuffie approached, and stayed bowed even as Tifa and Cloud passed. Reno gave the flat of the man’s back a raised eyebrow as he passed. Clearly the guy hadn’t spoken to Yuffie much on a personal level.

They didn’t pause at the head of the stairs. Yuffie threw the doors open as if she had a personal vendetta against them and vanished into the gloom within. Cloud followed, as did Tifa after a moment’s hesitation and a hitch of breath that told Reno he did not want to smell whatever had happened in this building. Elena walked right in with no more song and dance than a wrinkle of her nose; she was such a good girl, really, Reno thought, and it’d really be a shame if the Turk leader couldn’t hold up as well as technically-a-rookie and a girl, right? Right. Suck it up, Reno.
He walked over the threshold, breathed in gingerly through his mouth, and decided right then and there that he would not be using his nose. If the air in the room tasted that strongly of meat and spilled blood, there was no way he wanted to smell it.

It was dim enough in the pagoda that he couldn’t make out much through his tinted goggles. He pulled them away from his eyes, up into the jagged flame red mess of his hair, and winced. The mats that covered the floors in any self-respecting building in Wutai, well, those had been replaced pretty quickly. But judging by the blood still smeared on the walls, the silk screens, and the heavy metallic taste of blood in the air, the rest of the building wasn’t going to be cleaned up quite so easily. Reno glanced up at the ceiling and saw the discolouration and slight sagging that meant blood had seeped right through from the second floor.

"I had my cousin photograph the entire building thoroughly." Yuffie’s voice was as bland as she could make it, wound tight with frustration. "He’ll be finished developing most of them by now. The only floor I couldn’t let them touch was Omni, up top."

"How come?" Elena asked. Yuffie jerked her head toward the stairs and shrugged her skinny shoulders, rounded with the weight of silk.

"See for yourself. I don’t think a camera could have done it justice."

That didn’t sound promising. Reno glanced at Rude, nodded to Elena. The two of them started toward the stairs straight away, Yuffie preceding them with surprising swiftness given the layers she was wearing. Reno followed more slowly, gauging the lay of the crimescene from what he could see on the walls, and on the bloodstains in the ceiling. The mats on the second floor had been replaced, too, though it was less obvious here – there wasn’t half as much blood on the walls.

The third floor more than made up for that. It seemed like every square inch of silk and wooden wall had been darkened with blood, and the perverse freshness of the new matting on the floor only made the gore on the walls more pronounced. The stairs to the fourth floor were sticky under his shoes as he started up them, trying not to touch the wall or the bannister despite the narrowness of the staircase. He tried not to think too hard about what they were sticky with.

Reno had to squint and fumble for his goggles when he hit the fourth floor. It was... it was perfect. No blood. No sign of it, unless you counted the faintest trace of footprints on the mat nearest the staircase. The shutters were wide open, the room as pleasant and airy as any room was likely to get during a Wutaian summer. Reno walked along the edge of the room to the stairs to the top floor of the pagoda and went up the stairs feeling as though he’d invaded some kind of sanctum.

Tseng’s place had been like that, austere and impeccable. Reno had only been there once. It had given him the same sense of being an invader, even though Tseng had arranged the visit; it made him feel smeared. He wondered I that was normal for a filthy foreign dog or whether it was just him.

He was still thinking about Tseng while he climbed to the top floor, so for a minute, the raised voices made perfect sense. Then his eyes narrowed and he picked up speed, hitting the top foor at a jog and grabbing the handrail as a potential launching point before he’d fully assessed the situation. Yuffie was right in front of Elena, arguing hotly with the blond Turk, who had both hands up defensively, but was starting to get annoyed if the changes in her stance were any indication.

"Hey," Reno said, and then a little louder, "Hey. Cool down. What the hell’s the problem, Kisaragi?" Because sure, Elena could be hot-headed, but she usually didn’t start it.

Yuffie’s eyes were dark and furious when she turned to him. "She says she’s seen it before," she snapped. "Where the hell has she seen it before?"

"What?" Reno looked to Elena, bewildered. "Seen what?"

"On the floor," Rude said. His deep voice, so rarely heard, gave pause to all other conversation. Reno craned past Yuffie and Elena to see more of the top floor of the pagoda, and felt the air leave his lungs without any real intent on his part.

In the middle of the floor, burned through the matting and into the wood below, there was a dark circle, maybe nine feet across. It was a crest, Reno thought dumbly, watching the snaking lines charred into the wood. A crest, like you saw in the movies, representing a house or a clan of samurai or something—

"Oh," said Reno.

"Yeah," said Yuffie, as Tifa and Cloud arrived at the top of the stairs. "‘Oh’. There’s no record of a mon like this. I’m still going through our oldest scrolls, but Grandma Roko and Grandma Asako don’t recognise it, so there’s no way it’s a family of ours. And now your rookie says she’s seen it before." Her arms crossed. Despite the pink and plum silk of her robe, or perhaps because of it, her expression was darker than Reno had ever seen. He glanced to Elena, who made a helpless motion with her hands.

"I don’t know where," she said. "And I mean, I might be wrong. They’re pretty complicated, aren’t they? So I might be wrong."

"But you don’t think you are," said Cloud. "You think you’ve seen it before."

Elena glanced toward Yuffie, and nodded slowly. "I’m... pretty sure."

"Then that’s a lead," Cloud said, before Reno could say anything to that effect. "Think about where you might’ve seen it, and we can start looking there again. In the meantime, Yuffie, we should get those pictures from your cousin."

"Right," Elena said, looking slightly happier. "If I have more to work with, um, stylistically, I might have a clearer idea of where to start."

Yuffie took a deep breath. Her fists unclenched. "Right. Yeah. I’ll have him come to Kisaragi House."

"We can have dinner while we wait," Tifa suggested, putting an arm around Yuffie’s shoulder. "I bet you haven’t stopped since you found out." Yuffie nodded, swallowed, scowled ferociously at the floor for a second. She heaved a breath that seemed to push all the frustration out of her face, and within a second or two her expression had settled into something approaching her usual good cheer.

Reno was the last person down the stairs. This time, when he passed the fourth floor, he felt a little less smeared and a little more irritated by the room’s pristine condition. He wondered idly whether Staniv had served other lords before Godo, and whether he’d felt the same grudging irritation when the man he followed was abruptly replaced.

***

[Day 4, 1900 Central Standard Time]

Chaos flew high above the ocean, so when the temperature dropped abruptly, the creature did not drop directly into sea. It dropped a hundred meters in a matter of seconds, and then began to beat its wings more strongly to compensate for the sudden change, not moving forward for some minutes as it struggled to regain its previous height.

Dimly, Chaos sensed the mind of the host fluttering beneath its own, struggling to be free of Chaos’ perceptions and to think in his own frame of mind. Chaos allowed it. Turned to face the source of the power it could sense, and remained in place until the host had gained his bearings, understood where they were, where the cold had come from.

Chaos sensed confusion, at its action, at the action its attention had revealed, but Chaos had no words the host would understand. It turned toward the west again and propelled itself forward, rising and falling more dramatically with each beat of its great blood- and bruise-coloured wings in the shock of cold air, and within moments felt the host’s awareness subside, though the power in the south did not.

Chaos roared, and flew faster.




Chapter Three: On Swimming in Concrete Boots

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June 2013

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