Chapter Twenty-Five: To Catch a Thief
The sound of the bell echoed around the temple area of Wutai. It was a low, throbbing sound but still somewhat mellifluous. Even more amazing was the sound of a door popping open somewhere nearby.
Rude smirked, laying the padded stick back down as he led the surprised Cloud and Nanaki down the steps and around the side of the building. There, the previously locked door was standing open six inches, as if inviting them inside.
“How did you know that?” the blond questioned as Rude pulled the heavy steel open.
It creaked quietly in protest, digging a furrow into the sandy ground.
The Turk eyed him impassively. “I told you. ShinRa already knew Don Corneo was here.”
With that, the three went inside, closing the door behind them. They found themselves standing at the top of a short set of stairs. It wasn’t exactly dark, the dim light of flickering torches enough to guide their way, and the distinct sound of muffled female voices and inane cackling reverberated around them.
Rude slowly moved in front, unconsciously tightening his gloves as he led his temporary allies into Corneo’s hiding room. In the shadows of the entrance way, they beheld their captive companions, who were struggling violently. Corneo was laughing like he found it all very amusing.
Cloud was the first to rush forward, Crystal Sword drawn. “Corneo! Its time you paid for dumping us in the sewer!” he declared angrily.
Immediately, all attention was drawn his way.
Corneo grinned maliciously. “Well, if it isn’t the blond in blue! Didja miss me that much?”
The swordsman reddened and flustered at the reminder of his one foray into cross dressing, all for Tifa’s sake of course. The treacherous bitch.
Rude shot him a strange look as the demi-human half-grinned. Nanaki remembered Aeris recounting that particular event to them as they stopped for a rest at the Chocobo Farm.
The captive females began wriggling about as they saw that their rescuers had come. Whatever they were yelling was muffled by the gags, however.
Cloud spluttered for another few moments before Nanaki chuckled and took over. “Return to us the materia thief Yuffie.”
Don Corneo did a little twirl on one foot, a miracle considering his size, and his fat arms jiggled. “Let me think about it… Hmm, no!” he exclaimed. “Guards! Get them!”
With that, he waddled to the far exit, two of his lackeys carrying the captured women. Their protesting squeals left a trail of noise in his wake.
Immediately, a band of low class thugs, perhaps seven in all, attacked them. Rude sprang into action, gloved fist slamming into the face of his first unfortunate foe. The man’s nose exploded in a spray of blood as his head snapped backwards, and the Turk quickly knocked the man’s legs out from under him, throwing him to the ground.
Cloud blocked a round of gunfire with the blade of his sword as Nanaki streaked by him in a blur of orange and red, metal claw flashing in the torchlight. Two thugs were slashed down before they knew what hit them; that was how fast the demi-human had gotten. His new body seemed even stronger than the original.
The ex-SOLDIER slashed angrily at the woman who had shot at him, slicing through the weapon with ease. The female thug’s eyes widened in surprise as she twisted her body to avoid a wild slash before being back-handed across the face. The thugess yelped and went flying, landing on the ground with a thud.
The swordsman turned to face another other opponent but found the man already reeling from a double-blow courtesy of Rude. Yet, the Turk couldn’t see the one sneaking up behind him, and Cloud lashed out with his sword, easily dispatching the brute.
The click of a trigger was the only warning the two men received before a splatter of gunfire came their direction. Cloud quickly twisted this body, bringing up the flat of his blade to block the bullets as Nanaki flashed past, claw slicing through the automatic weapon. One shot made it past his defense, slicing into the flesh of his upper right arm. It burned, and he felt blood dripping down his skin. However, he dealt with the pain, while Nanaki knocked out the last thug.
“Dammit,” Cloud cursed, staring at the blood streaming from his arm.
Thankfully, the bullet had only grazed his flesh rather than gotten lodged inside. That would have required something more powerful than the potion that Nanaki had just tossed him, and the blond sheathed his sword as he quickly poured the swirling, purplish liquid over his wound and chugged the rest.
“He can’t have gotten far,” the demi-human commented, idly tightening his claw as he shook off the remnants of cloth and blood.
They were born killers… all of them.
Cloud and Rude nodded in agreement as they stepped over their fallen enemies. They treaded up a set of stairs and out a door, emerging to their surprise from a secret passageway in the home of Lord Godo. There, four additional thugs were waiting for them, all armed with automatic weapons, and the trio instantly dove for cover, Cloud and Rude to one side with Nanaki to the other.
Bullets flew through the air, tearing up the wall behind them.
With an impatient and irritated growl, Nanaki snapped one of the fangs dangling from his hair. He threw it out at the four men, smiling with satisfaction when it exploded into an Ice3 attack, immediately freezing them into place. The fang bead was actually an Ice Crystal, though his foes had not known that.
Cloud gave a thumbs up to his companion before the three jumped to their feet and ran out of Godo’s house. They scanned the streets, hoping to find some trace of Don Corneo, but the lecher’s distractions had granted him what he needed, time to escape.
“He’s gone,” Rude commented unnecessarily.
“Dammit!” Cloud cursed again, sounding more and more like Cid with each passing moment… or perhaps it was Barret who was rubbing off on him. Either way, he was pissed. He slammed his fist into the side of Lord Godo’s home.
“There goes our materia again!”
When Rude raised a brow in question, it was up to the demi-human to explain as the blond was still seething.
“Yuffie stole our materia,” Nanaki explained. “We’ve been chasing her for hours.”
When Rude nodded in understanding, the familiar strains of his PHS filled the air. He slipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out his phone. He didn’t even have to speak before the person on the other side began talking.
“Please explain to me why I just saw Don Corneo scampering off towards the Dao-Chao Mountains with two female captives, one of which was Elena, yo.” The words were carefully spoken and seemed to come from someone barely restraining his anger. The voice was easily recognized as belonging to Reno, though any sense of authority was lost with the addition of “yo.”
Cloud and Nanaki could just imagine an eyebrow twitching on the other end.
“I’ve got it under control,” Rude responded in his normally stoic manner.
“Dammit, Rude!” came the spluttered response. “I only needed a few hours! We’re on vacation! The boss’ll have my head if something happens to the rookie!”
The bald Turk shifted where he stood, patient even through the yelling. He idly adjusted his sunglasses with the tip of a leather-clad finger as he listened to his best friend and, unfortunately, slight superior.
Cloud and Nanaki watched with mouths agape, never hearing such authority, or even intelligence, from the red-haired Turk’s mouth before.
“As I said,” Rude repeated, “the situation is well within my control.”
“It’d better be,” came the threat. “Because if it’s not and I have to leave, I swear to Kami that I’ll-”
There was the sound of scuffling as his voice went silent. Low murmured speaking could be heard in the background, though they couldn’t distinguish voices or words before Reno came back on the line, decidedly calmer.
“Just get her back before both our asses get fired,” Reno finished wearily.
A smile quirked at the corner of Rude’s mouth. “Will do. And tell the ‘boss’ I said hello.”
When Reno spluttered in response, the bald Turk just calmly ended the call. He of course, had known where Reno was the entire time, and he knew how much it meant to the redhead that he have this moment. So the bald man didn’t mind teaming up with the “enemy” so his friends could have a few minutes. After all, Reno had covered his ass on many an occasion when he had taken impromptu trips to Rocket Town.
Rude slipped the PHS back into his pocket and sighed before noticing that both Nanaki and Cloud were giving him vague looks of disbelief. He raised a brow at them, wondering that their issue was.
“What?” he questioned.
“He actually sounded… authoritative,” Cloud said slowly.
Nanaki shook his head. “I never knew that Reno could be like that. Makes me wonder why you guys always lose to us.”
Rude narrowed his eyes, though they couldn’t see it behind the dark glasses. He waved a hand of dismissal at the two.
“Don’t make me regret helping you find your thief. We have to get to Dao-Chao before Don Corneo up and disappears again,” he put in coldly.
“Right,” agreed Cloud. “Let’s get going.”
Warm… drifting… mashed potatoes… and cheese?
Yes, that was what he was eating before he decided to take a nap. And such a good nap it was, too. He had dreamed of happier days, when Dyne was still alive and Corel hadn’t been destroyed. With his head pillowed on the softest of down, he had slept peacefully.
Wait a minute. Pillowed… on down?
Barret jerked awake with a start, the magical sleep finally wearing off. He lifted his head from his pillow, and he found out to his surprise that he was not in his room but in fact asleep with his head in his dinner. A dinner he had not finished.
Brown eyes widened in surprise and then anger. A string of curses issued from his mouth as he angrily scrubbed at his face, pulling cheesy strings from his beard. At just an off gesture, he glanced down at his arm and then did a double take.
All of his materia was missing. Every last shining orb.
Barret jumped to his feet, more obscenities pouring from his mouth as he stormed from the common room, leaving his unfinished meal behind him. He glared this way and that, searching for the thief that had magicked him and taken his materia. He knew there could only be one culprit, only one person sneaky enough and conniving enough to do such a thing. That damned, whatever the hell she thought she was, ninja.
He angrily trod into the bridge, eyes narrowing when they caught sight of only one crewmember in the entire vicinity. A thin man, slightly balding with a magazine and a propped up pose.
With a snarl, Barret stomped his way. “Where is she?” he growled.
The crewman raised a brow behind his tabloid. “Who?” he asked simply without bothering to look up.
Either he was a fool or just really brave. He had not been fazed once in the entire crazy day.
“Yuffie!” snapped Barret angrily. “That short &$# always rolfing about everywhere.”
The crew member sighed. “Like I told the boss earlier, I don’t know where anyone is. The Captain and the quiet guy took off towards Wutai. I assume the boss and that guy with the tail took off towards there also.”
Barret curled a fist. Like hell he was walking to Wutai. He was no fool.
Muttering to himself, the dark-skinned man turned and stormed from the bridge. His stomach was growling at him, considering he had slept in his dinner rather than eaten it. He would wait until Cloud returned and wring his scrawny, little, spiky head for ever considering bringing that thieving ninja along.
And in the bridge, the crewmember sighed and shook his head. The Captain sure hung out with a strange sort of people.
He shifted his position, recrossing his legs before delving back into the magazine once more.
“You fat lazy slob!” Yuffie screeched, wriggling angrily against the restraints that held her. “You put me down this minute, or you’ll be sorry!”
“Oooh, feisty,” Don Corneo said lustily as he twirled on one foot. He stood on one of the many massive hands of the Dao-Chao Mountains, and his captives were tied up, hanging to the eyes of the face directly in front of him. Don Corneo checked them over carefully, trying to decide which would make the better bride.
He was accompanied by two of his thugs, who were reclining lazily on the ground, idly picking at the carved rock of the middle finger. They were bored silly but paid enough to be so. They didn’t mind very much. Their boss was an idiot, to be sure but a rich one at that.
“When my partners find me,” Elena muttered angrily. She had given up on straining against the thick rope that bound her and had resorted to furious threats. Her anger was hiding the shame she felt for being caught by such a loser.
“You’ll learn true fear of the Turks, Corneo!” she finished haughtily.
Don Corneo sniffed but didn’t even seem alarmed by her words. He darted between the two of them, a gleeful expression on his face.
“I think I’ll choose-” He paused before doing a little twirl on one foot and pointing. “The blonde!” he screeched with a cackle. He put one hand on his chin in thought. “I’ve always had a thing for them,” he recalled, remembering a particular blond in blue that hadn’t really been a girl at all.
Elena paled, suddenly struggling with more vigor. Inwardly, she was cursing Rude and Reno for taking so damn long. Not to mention that she was deathly afraid that somehow Don Corneo would be able to touch her, and he was not an attractive sort at all, the lazy slob. Besides, she preferred dark-headed men… and on top of that just men with hair in general.
“Corneo!” came a voice from out of nowhere. “You’ll be marrying no one this day!”
All eyes directed towards the only entrance to their little platform, immediately falling on Cloud, Rude, and Nanaki.
Don Corneo spluttered with anger as his lackeys struggled to rise, scrambling about for their weapons. “You!” he whined unattractively. “You’re always ruining my fun! Guards! Get them!” he ordered with glee, another twirl, and a point towards the three attackers.
However, the two lackeys had already decided that they weren’t paid enough to have to face both the huge shining sword and a Turk. Both guns clattered to the ground as they darted past their former employer and ran for their lives. They didn’t even dare look Cloud and the others in the eye as they passed.
“Release our friends,” Nanaki demanded coldly as Rude tightened his glove with a definitive sound and Cloud lowered his sword in an offensive stance.
Corneo flubbered about angrily as he stomped his foot. “I don’t think so,” he defied. “Rapps, come here!” he hollered.
At first, the companions were nonplussed, seeing nothing emerge. Then, the sound of something squawking and the beat of wings caused them to look upwards. A beast was descending upon them, finally settling down between the trio and the cackling Corneo.
The beast was like a dragon with huge wings and only a small hint of back legs, thin and gangly with green scales and orangish webbing. The creature, who they assumed was named Rapps, squawked irritably as it hovered. Its rows of sharp teeth glinted in the sunlight with each guttural growl, and Rapps seemed intent on fighting them, as its master had beckoned.
“Mwaha ha huh ha!” Don Corneo cackled again with a little dance and jiggle of his hips, which turned the stomachs of all present. “My little Rapps is gonna destroy you. Rapps, ATTACK!”
The creature cawed before diving in, massive pointed tail heading straight for its nearest target, the Turk Rude. However, Cloud intercepted, blocking the attack with the flat of his blade as Nanaki bounded past quicker than lightning. The demi-human gave a massive leap with his legs as the blond maintained his defense, and Nanaki landed on the creature’s back, hanging on fiercely as the monster tried to shake the intruding attacker off.
Meanwhile, Rude was not one to stand idly by. He decided that they could handle the beast as he taught Don Corneo some manners Turk style. Except the moment that he darted past Rapps, heading for its master, the beast decided that it had had enough.
Rapps gave a strong heave of its wings and body, knocking Nanaki loose and slapping Cloud across the legs with his tail, throwing both men a good distance away. Its tail swung about, finally wrapping about Rude’s abdomen and pulling him backwards, throwing him onto the pile of limbs that was Cloud and Nanaki.
All three males landed with cries of pain, their limbs entangled together.
Cloud worked himself free, forehead twitching. “That’s it!” he snarled, stomping up the path and scooping up his sword along the way. “Now, I’m pissed!”
His body began to glow a limit break red, and his sword took on a mako-blue hue. As Nanaki and Rude sought to detangle themselves, Cloud threw himself at Rapps, raising his sword up swiftly. He took a great leap, slashing at the enemy as he did so, the power radiating from the weapon sliding along the creature’s scales and seeking an entrance.
“Climhazzard!” he hissed loudly.
The blade bit into Rapps skin, tearing through the webbing and cartilage of one wing and causing blood to splatter on the ground. The monster howled in pain and whipped its tail out as Cloud landed, a smug expression on his face.
Nanaki and Rude had detangled themselves and stood there, backing him up and trying to figure a plan of action.
Nevertheless, Rapps wasted no time in retaliating. With a furious flap of its working wing, a great wind built up. The beast twirled into a tornado before it thrust the coil of quickened air at its attackers.
It struck Cloud first with him having no way to avoid it. The tornado ripped its way through the air, the swordsman taking the brunt as he was thrown backwards. As the blond made contact with stone, the furious winds whipping their way across his skin and attempting to tear into him, the demi-human growled and leapt at the beast.
His claw flashed in the sunlight.
Rapps was still struggling to stay in the air after its last assault, and it was further hampered by a damaged wing. Its reactions were too slow for the extremely fast Nanaki. As such, the demi-human sliced his way through the creature’s other wing, just as Rude barreled past him, slamming a gloved fist into the monster’s soft underbelly.
The howl of pain caught in Rapps’ throat as it crumpled, blood leaking from two torn and bruised wings. It doubled over, tongue lolling out of its mouth from the force of the Turk’s strike, his fist not unlike the feeling of being punched with a boulder or being hit with a cannon ball.
The bald man merely inclined his head, pulling back to give a slight tug on his glove. Nanaki shook his claw in disgust as Don Corneo wailed in the background.
Still, the battle was not yet won.
Rapps had some strength still in it. With a vigor borne of its final moments, the monster lashed out with its tail, striking the dark-skinned Turk in the shoulder before he could even block. The beast drilled through with the pointed tip until it came out the other side. Rude gasped in surprise, grabbing onto the tail with his hands and attempting to pull it out, but Rapps continued to press, as if determined to take another life with him.
A sword flashed in the air moments before it could do so, Cloud bursting out of nowhere, fury etched into his features. The Crystal Sword came down, easily slicing through the tail and detaching it from Rapps body even as Nanaki finished the beast with a killing blow. There was a cry of death, and then, the monster’s body stilled. Rude pulled the tail from his shoulder with disgust, now holding on to the bleeding part of his body with the other arm.
Nanaki tossed him a potion, but at least a Cure 2 and probably a Heal would be needed to repair the seriously damaged internal musculature. The Turk swayed where he stood, trying his best to ignore the pain that was shooting through him.
“Rapps!” Don Corneo screeched in horror as the monster’s dying breaths faded. “What have you done to my baby?” His eyes welled with tears.
None of the real men looked impressed.
“Hand them over, Corneo!” demanded the demi-human, not at all pleased. He was tired of chasing Yuffie around, and Don Corneo’s voice was grating on his nerves.
The Don’s face hardened suddenly, going from whiny to vengeful in the span of a few seconds. “You killed my Rapps,” he uttered in a low tone. His hand delved into his pockets, pulling out a small device, barely bigger than his hand. “So I’ll just have to kill your friends.”
He pressed a button on the remote, and with a squeal, the two girls turned until they were upside down. They slid a few inches down the face of the cliff.
Yuffie began struggling with her bindings even more, releasing a string of expletives.
Elena simply took a deep but shaky breath, even as her fingers carefully worked at the knot tying her hands together. However, anger boiled beneath the calm surface. She just knew that she should have taken her migraine medication this morning.
“Get us down!” the two cried in unison.
Corneo laughed maniacally and performed a little twirl. “Move one more step, and I’ll drop them!” he threatened with a cackle as he moved in a jig, holding the device in the air.
Nanaki and Cloud contained worried glances, while Rude didn’t make any sort of comment or move. He was too concerned with his aching arm, blood dripping through his fingers, a pained expression on his face. They weren’t sure how to handle the situation. Corneo was a loose cannon.
Suddenly, a gunshot pierced the stillness. A bullet struck the device in Corneo’s hand, sending it careening over the edge of the cliff.
All eyes turned towards its originating direction, surprised to find Vincent and Cid standing on a jutting, stony hand. The pilot had his arms crossed over his chest, and the gunman was slowly returning his Winchester to its holster.
The former Turk’s eyebrow twitched. “It is not what you are doing,” he commented in explanation as he narrowed his crimson eyes at Corneo, low voice carrying easily to them, “so much as the idiotic way you are doing it.”
Beside him, Cid laughed aloud, reaching for a cigarette before a stern glare from Vincent had him sighing and putting his hand back down.
The Don went white as he began to understand his predicament. His eyes searched for a way out, realizing he had no choice but to retreat. However, the swordsman and his duo were blocking the only obvious direction… unless he went over the side, and he paled further at the idea. Then again, the thought of being in Turk custody was even worse.
“Well, then,” he stuttered, inching towards the cliff. “It… uh… looks like you’ve won. Heh.”
Cloud and Nanaki exchanged glances. Corneo was acting stranger than usual, and both somehow expected another attack to come as the fat man stammered on endlessly.
“So… uh, I think its time I left,” the balding man continued, beady eyes darting back and forth as he inched away.
Yet, before could even try to leap over the edge, a shadow fell across him. Corneo looked up, eyes wide and mouth agape, as a person toppled onto him from above. The two crashed into the ground, limbs entangled. Everyone knew at a glance that the laughing, red-haired mess was none other than Reno.
Cuffs were pulled out and slapped around the unconscious Don’s wrists before anyone could say anything. Reno grinned, rising to his feet as he dusted off his hands. It was amazing how many had gathered to recover the lost Yuffie and Elena.
“Get me down, you late bastards!” the blonde Turk screamed, jerking madly on her bindings. She didn’t seem to notice that she was hanging upside down.
Yuffie, meanwhile, had calmed down, realizing that she was in an unfortunate situation.
The ones chasing her had finally caught up. She would be forced to return what she had stolen, and she only hoped that they wouldn’t beat her into a senseless pulp.
Quickly, the ninja began to form a plan, wondering if they would believe her.
Reno chuckled, half-turning with a cocky flip of his hair and a shrug of his shoulders. “Why am I not surprised?” he questioned with a raised eyebrow, unused Electro Rod tapping against his shoulder. “A rookie mistake.” He shook his head teasingly.
Vincent and Cid began to make their way to their friends as everyone began to come together, wondering the best possible way to get the two women down.
“Don’t worry,” Rude commented with a slight wince. His shoulder was killing him, but there was no way he was going to show weakness to AVALANCHE. “We will take care of Corneo.”
The blood was beginning to rush to Elena’s head, so it made her testier than usual. She started to make a loud protestation again when suddenly Nanaki made a great leap, clinging to the face of the cliff with one hand as he grabbed her and sliced through the bonds with the other. With another fantastic jump, he landed back on the ground, depositing the blonde safely upon it. Yuffie, he left hanging… on Cloud’s orders, of course.
“What I don’t understand is you how guys showed up at exactly the right moment,” the swordsman questioned with a raised eyebrow when Vincent and Cid strode in his direction, the pilot looking very cocky indeed.
“Was in a shop looking over some plane parts,” answered the Captain. “When vampy here saw Corneo rushing past with a screaming Yuffie.” He gestured with a thumb towards the gunman.
“We thought it prudent that we follow… after Cid argued with the man over the price, of course,” the gunman added in.
Before anyone could further comment, the blonde Turk spoke up. She shot a somewhat angry glance at her red-haired companion as they worked to heal their bald friend, Rude hissing obscenities under his breath.
“What was up with the super-hero act?” she questioned scathingly, still embarrassed by all that had occurred and therefore taking it out on her favorite target. Of course, a severe case of PMS didn’t help much either. “Trying to pretend to be something you’re not?”
But instead of responding in a teasing fashion, as Reno normally would, he narrowed his aquamarine eyes at her. A dangerous look crossed his face, and his features hardened as he finished applying the Cure 3 and subsequent Heal to Rude’s shoulder. The redhead turned towards his fellow Turk, and she remarkably fell silent at the look on his face.
“If you had been acting in accordance with Turk regs, we would have never had to rescue you in the first place,” Reno commented in a low voice. “Those were rookie mistakes, Elena; mistakes you know better than to make.” He was using that tone again, the authoritative tone that the members of AVALANCHE had heard echoing through Rude’s phone.
The female Turk lowered her gaze, instantly flushing under that piercing stare. Any biting comment that she had built up faded, and she once again felt like a trainee on her first day. Reno said nothing more, but it didn’t seem like it was needed.
And then, the sound of a PHS ended the somewhat tense moment. The ridiculous sound could belong to none other than Reno, and with a relaxing of his features, the redhead sighed and turned away from Elena, digging into his pockets to pull out the PHS as the members of AVALANCHE watched with interest without making it seem they were eavesdropping.
Poor Yuffie was left hanging.
“Reno, here,” the Turk answered swiftly, turning his back on his fellows and squaring his shoulders. Almost immediately, they tensed up at the sound of the voice, Heideigger’s horsy laughter echoing.
“AVALANCHE has been sighted in Wutai,” the ShinRa executive stated. “Orders are to kill on sight. Mwa ha ha!”
Reno twitched but merely nodded his head. “Affirmative,” he replied before closing the phone with a click.
The members of AVALANCHE tensed for a fight, all of them able to hear Heidegger’s loud orders. If it was a fight the Turks wanted, then they were going to have it rough.
However, the redhead merely shrugged and continued up the path, waving for Rude and Elena to follow him.
Cid, ever the tactless one and insanely curious, yelled to their retreating forms, “Hey! Aren’t you going to fight us?” he demanded.
“What do I care?” Reno questioned snottily. “I’m on vacation.”
Besides, if ShinRa was going to force them to take a vacation then he was going to bloody well enjoy every minute of it. He stuck Elena with dragging the heavy unconscious body of Don Corneo as a form of punishment as the three Turks began to make their way down the trail.
With a shake of his head and a grin quirking at the corner of his lips, Cloud sheathed his sword and crossed his arms over his chest. Now, they could devote their entire attentions to their thieving friend. The four AVALANCHE members turned to face Yuffie, hard looks on every face, though Cid and Vincent didn’t truly know what was going on.
The ninja paled and gulped loudly.
“Uh…” she began meekly. “I’m sorry?” It came out more as a question than a statement.
A slight and rather hesitant smile tried to fight its way to the surface, but the storm behind mako blue eyes killed it violently.
She was in big trouble.