[Shattered] Ice 26

Chapter Twenty-Six: Pagoda Persuasions

“There’s a really good explanation for it,” she tried. “Honest.” Her words were accompanied by a little squirm as she fought against the bonds, but the lackeys had tied them tighter than her skills would allow.

Cid sighed as his eyes narrowed. “What’d the brat do?” he questioned.

Cloud raised an eyebrow. “What the hell d’ya think? She stole our $#&! materia!” For all that he sounded like the pilot himself, it apparently worked as Yuffie had enough in her to blush slightly.

“Well, see…” But her words trailed off.

Vincent crossed his arms over his chest, narrowing crimson eyes at the normally exuberant ninja. It was still bemusing to see her hanging upside down, the blood rushing to her head. However, the ex-Turk was not at all amused, and he wasn’t even the one struck over the head with a random implement.

Yuffie gulped under the penetrating stare and wriggled about again. Her head was starting to hurt, and she wondered if her plan was even going to get by the gunman’s scrutiny. Of them all, he was the most perceptive, probably his training and years of insight. If anyone could see through her, Vincent would be the one to do it.

“What is it?” the former Turk inquired in a very toneless voice.

All ears strained forward to hear.

“Well, see,” she began again.

It was time to put on her best act. She fought down a giggle.

With a sigh, Yuffie lowered her head slightly and tried to look ashamed. “There are many reasons, but one is because Wutai needs it. After the war, we were devastated…”

And so she continued to weave a tale of desperation and sorrow, of the Wutaiians who couldn’t make a living and were forbidden from having materia, of the pain her father had gone through and how she had suffered. It would have pierced the heart of any person, young or old, that was how skillfully she wove her words of melancholy.

The only problem was… none of AVALANCHE seemed impressed and certainly not the angrier and angrier looking Cloud.

She noticed this, bright child that she was, and quickly ended the tale, only to start a new one.

“And so I really need them… and not just for Wutai but for me, too!” she exclaimed. “My father wanted me to work through the Pagoda this year, but I needed materia to make sure I didn’t lose. I don’t want to lose on my first time through; it’s important! I was going to give it back!”

Their looks of disbelief matched across the board. It was truly a sight to behold.

She spluttered and tried again, but no one was listening. They were tired of her lies and her actions, ready to just get their materia and get the hell out of Wutai.

“Where’s the materia?” Cloud demanded, his voice brooking no argument.

“But I need it,” the ninja whined, still managing to have some fight left in her.

“This is the last chance you have!” Cid proclaimed with a growl.

The ninja squirmed, chewed her lip, and generally had the air of indecision. Obviously, she didn’t want to give up her materia, but they all looked pretty mad. She didn’t think they would kill her, but then again, there were worse consequences than death.

She slumped against the wall in defeat.

“Fine,” Yuffie muttered. “I’ll take you to it. I’ve been hiding it in my house all along.”

Cloud nodded before gesturing towards Nanaki. “Okay, you can cut her down now.”

The girl breathed a sigh of relief as the demi-human bounded towards her. She was really beginning to get a headache.

Everyone else watched with wariness, thinking at any moment she might renege on their deal, not that she blamed them but still.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly as his sharp claw sliced through the bonds.

Nanaki blinked at her. “Apologizing to me personally?” he asked. “If I remember correctly, you left the Earth on purpose, didn’t you?”

She blushed softly as she spluttered indignantly. “No!” the ninja denied. “I just forgot it; that’s all!”

The demi-human chuckled and shook his head. With another great push of his legs, the two were safely on the ground. Yuffie stumbled a bit from the feeling of being completely upright, but otherwise, she maintained her ground. The girl put a hand to her head and groaned but wasn’t allowed a moment’s rest as everyone eyed her, arms crossed over their chests.

“Well?” Cloud demanded impatiently.

Yuffie put on her best dejected face and sighed as she kicked at the ground. Her hands remained bound, and Nanaki had confiscated her weapons, the ones he could see anyways. All in all, she looked the part of a very defeated teenager.

“I’ll take you to them,” she said with a hearty sigh. Her shoulders sagged.

Cloud nodded. “Good. Let’s go. And no funny business, you hear?” It was the only warning he was going to allow her.

With that said, the entire group began to trudge back down the mountain. Luckily, they hadn’t had to climb that far up, so the trip down was going to be rather short.

Still, Nanaki couldn’t help but wonder why Don Corneo ran off to the Dao-Chao Mountains in the first place. It wasn’t as if was a good location to hide at, the mountains being anything but inconspicuous.

Did he think they weren’t going to be able to find him? And what was the purpose in tying the girls to the face anyways?

Don Corneo had to be about the worst villain Nanaki had ever encountered. The man had no style, no evil laugh, no…

A dejected sigh pulled him from his internal musings.

Golden eyes looked to find Yuffie walking beside him with a mournful pout. Her steps dragged, and she sniffed softly, as if unable to hold back her tears. Nanaki couldn’t decide whether she was putting on a show or if she was truly that upset. Either way, he was hard pressed to find himself still angry at her. Regardless, he attempted to block out the pathetic noise by returning to his musings.

Ahead of him, Cid also heard the pitiful sound and had to fight down the urge to say something mean. Instead, he grabbed a cigarette, shot an equally dark glare at the Vincent and lit the tobacco. After taking a deep drag of the much needed and much missed nicotine, he had to keep up appearances after all, he cleared his throat and raised a brow.

“So, Spike, whatcha gonna do with her after we get back the materia?” the pilot asked, inhaling deeply. He pretended that there wasn’t an ex-assassin glaring daggers into his back. He was a grown ass man; he could have a cigarette whenever he damn well pleased!

The other blond shrugged off-handedly, his mind off in another world. “Don’t really know. As much as I want to, I can’t see us beating the crap out of her.”

There was a loud and very pitiful sniffle, which both men ignored.

“You gonna let her stay with us?” Cid asked, a bit disbelievingly. A cigarette bounced from his lips, the red and orange-embered tip moving up and down and momentarily distracting the still somewhat lost Cloud.

He blinked owlishly before shaking his head. “Now that you mention it,” the swordsman answered slowly, forming his words so that he did not say something stupid. “We could just leave her in Wutai.”

Yuffie gasped in shock as she heard those words. “B-but Cloud!” She both whined and stuttered. “You can’t! I want to fight Sephiroth!”

“Should’ve thought of that before you stole our materia,” Cid muttered under his breath with a snort. Never mind that he still had his materia, and it was actually Cloud and Nanaki’s materia that had gotten taken.

Well, and Barret’s… and maybe Reeve’s, but the pilot wasn’t sure about that one.

A cough came next, following his, and he struggled to keep it in so that he wouldn’t have to hear another lecture about the dangers of smoking. His face turned red with the effort, and he seemed pained, but at least, he wasn’t coughing… much.

“B-but…” The girl was still protesting.

She didn’t want to get left behind in Wutai. She had adventures to go on, materia to st-… find, a bad ass Sephiroth to beat up. Plus, her father was still mad at her for some reason. If she stayed, Yuffie would have to learn how to be a proper lady of all things.

Her cries went unheard, however. Vincent sent her a glare, causing her to promptly shut up, and the downward trek fell into blissful silence. Cid happily puffed away on another cigarette. The gunman frowned in eternal broody thought. Cloud’s brow furrowed as he contemplated some new mystery, and Nanaki was idly picking at his claw, removing dirt and grime from the weapon.

Sniffle. Sniffle.

Cloud’s eyebrow twitched, but he said nothing. He was convinced it was all an act of Yuffie’s so she could keep their materia… or something like that. At least, he hoped he was right; otherwise, he would feel like a jerk… a real insensitive asshole.

A bit like Cid. Or Vincent.

Sniffle. Sniffle. Whimper. Sniffle.

Cid rolled his eyes and puffed on his cigarette. He had no sympathies for the klepto ninja.

Next to him, Vincent didn’t even seem to notice. He was frowning slightly, brow furrowed in deep musings.

Cloud’s eyebrow twitched again.

“Now, I’ll never get through the pagoda,” the girl whined, schooling her face into its most pitiful expression.

By Cloud’s twitch and Nanaki’s increasingly sympathetic looks, her plan was working. The ninja sniffed again, sneaking a peek at the swordsman, whose fists were beginning to clench and unclench.

“I was only going to borrow it,” she murmured again, very quiet on the edge of a whisper, as if speaking only to herself.

Of course, everyone heard her.

She filled her voice with regret and sorrow as her shoulders slumped more. The town was beginning to fill her sight, and her time was running out.

Sniffle. Sniffle. Hiccup.

Okay, that one wasn’t in the plan, but it worked, nevertheless.

“Dammit, Yuffie,” Cloud growled, though he refused to turn around. “You stole our materia and knocked us over the head with a rock-”

“Driftwood,” the ninja interrupted quietly.

“-driftwood, whatever,” he continued on a rant, throwing up his arms. “Your crying is not going to work on me.”

Yuffie wailed then, knowing she had him in the palms of her hands. She had to fight down the sneaky grin and scrunched her face into a near crying expression.

“Cloud!” the girl whined. “Now, my father will hate me more! I’ll be the weakest ninja in Wutai cause I can’t beat the pagoda! I’ll be shamed forever!”

Sniffle.

Her lower lip began to quiver as she brought up her bound hands in a pleading gesture.

Their leader sighed and knocked his hand against his forehead in frustration. They were beginning to walk through the town, and now, everyone was regarding them with funny looks. Some were even shying away, as if they were monsters or worse… part of ShinRa. The fact that one of their own was in bonds and on the verge of tears did not help matters.

Some days, it just didn’t pay to be the leader of AVALANCHE.

“For fuck’s sake!” Cid growled as he flicked his cigarette to the ground and stomped it out. “Just let the damn brat come with us again. We can always throw her off the airship later if we want.”

He sounded absolutely serious, too, and Yuffie paled immediately from just the thought entering the pilot’s mind.

She put a hopeful look on her face. “The last thing I want to do is get thrown from an airship; I’ll be good,” she promised.

And she meant it, the first part at any rate. Well, she could be good; she just didn’t say how well she would behave.

Inwardly, the ninja snickered.

Cloud rubbed his forehead as his shoulders sagged. “Fine. You can come with us.”

“And the pagoda?” the girl questioned with very wide and hopeful eyes.

The four males exchanged glances, but it was Nanaki who answered.

“I think if we come along and watch her closely, only loaning out materia when needed, we should be able to handle the pagoda.” He looked at Cloud, questioning their leader with just a look.

The swordsman nodded with a loud sigh. “Know what? I don’t care anymore. Let’s just get our $#&! materia, get her through the damn pagoda,” he stated, practically sneering the last word and sounding a great deal like Barret, “and then, we’ll get the $# outta this town.”

The others were in hearty agreement.

Reeve crept quietly through the door to the airship’s cargo room, paper bag crinkling quietly in one hand as eager ears listened for the sounds of anything approaching. He was on alert, hoping no one would catch him in the act. He didn’t want anyone to know he had been in Wutai, the very reason he had recruited Imsin’s help. In his hand, he carried the man’s prize for being such a good sport. Reeve had gone to great pains to collect it, after all.

Once Reno realized that his friend and fellow Turk was in trouble, the two had been forced to go their separate ways, though with much regret. They had shared a few parting kisses before the redhead had headed off towards Dao-Chao, and Reeve had stopped by the luxury chocolates shop, paying an exorbitant sum for something that looked positively revolting. However, it had been a request, and he wasn’t going to be the one to eat it. With that done, the executive had made his way back to the Highwind, now in the process of delivering the “delicacy'” and going back to his room to pretend he had been there all along.

Expensive shoes slid over the plain tiled floor as Reeve crept inside, peering around before making his way to the far side. Unfortunately, he never quite made it.

“Gotcha now, ya little thief!” a voice boomed around the darkened cargo bay.

Moments later, a large weight crashed into Reeve, knocking him to the ground. The paper sack fell from his hands only to skitter a few feet away. Meaty fingers wrapped around the executive’s neck and squeezed.

Reeve choked and spluttered as he recognized the voice and face of one Barret Wallace, who was hovering over him with some sort of strange white and orangish mixture stuck in his beard. He had no time to ponder this as he was currently choking, however, and he struggled to get the larger man off of him.

“Mrph… lrgsh… uff… stupish… baitlsyt!” Reeve wheezed, unable to get out a true syllable with huge hands wrapped around his neck.

It took a moment for everything to register in Barret’s revenge-driven mind, especially the fact that the body beneath him was too large to be Yuffie. Plus, there was a deep voice and the feeling of a beard on the chin that scraped at his hands.

“Oops,” the dark-skinned man muttered, laughing as he released Reeve and moved back. “Sorry… thought ya was that damn $# Yuffie.”

Reeve rubbed his throat as he glared at Barret, coughing faintly. “How could you even begin to confuse us?” he questioned, throat not surprisingly sore.

The gun-armed man opened his mouth to reply. However, he came to a sudden realization and narrowed his eyes, attempting to cross his arms over his chest. He pinned a gaze on the executive, who was not the least bit intimated.

“Wait a minute,” Barret said. “Why were ya outside anyways, Mr. ShinRa?”

Reeve hrmph’ed. “I wanted some fresh air outside of this airship. Besides, what’s it matter to you?” he answered back before picking himself up from the floor and looking for the package he had just been carrying. Luckily, he found the small paper sack a few feet away, sitting unassumingly on the floor.

“What’s that on your face?” the executive asked after a beat, hoping to distract the other man.

It worked, and Barret began to stammer and bluster as he angrily swiped at his beard, trying to remove the evidence of having slept in his dinner. His eyes narrowed further in anger.

“That’s not important!” he responded. “What’s in the bag?”

“None of your business,” Reeve snapped. “I’m going to my room.” With that said he pushed past the larger man and headed for the interior of the ship.

The other man blustered for all of a few seconds before giving him a threat. “I’ve got my eye on you ShinRa boy,” he said in an attempt at intimidation.

Reeve merely waved a hand of dismissal and kept going. The executive decided that had Barret merely threatened him because he had nothing better to say. After all, everyone knew that if he stepped anywhere close to ShinRa, they would kill him… or at least, attempt to. He wouldn’t make it easy for them; that was for #$ sure.

He wondered what would happen at the end of it all between Reno and him. There was no way Reeve could return to ShinRa or Midgar, and he didn’t even know if the Turk would ever consider quitting his job, not that Reeve had one to turn to either.

Those last moments in Wutai, however, were something he would always keep close to him. For all intents and purposes, they may have been the last the two would ever have together.

Reeve didn’t usually like to think in such negative ways, but it was time he started preparing for the worst. After all, AVALANCHE was not out on a kiddie mission; they were trying to destroy the greatest SOLDIER that had ever lived.

To say that casualties were expected was an understatement of epic proportions.

The executive made his way down the hallways of the silent airship, wondering why it was so quiet to begin with. He had only asked Imsin to make sure the airship didn’t leave without him and to tell no one he had left. But from all accounts, the Highwind was deserted. He internally pondered this fact, while he kept an eye out for any other AVALANCHE members. Barret would have been suspicious no matter what he had said, but many of the others trusted him.

Reeve wanted to keep it that way.

On that note, he idly wondered how Cloud and Nanaki had fared in Deep Man’s Cave. He had seen Don Corneo carrying Yuffie, as well as Elena, and had been confused as to how that had happened. He had been doubly so when he considered the fact that the girl was supposed to be with Cloud and Nanaki, spelunking in a cave. Reeve had the feeling that it was the fault of the ninja more than anything else. The executive also had the sneaky suspicion that she and Nanaki knew something about Reno that they weren’t telling.

The two teenagers were remarkably perceptive.

Reeve shook his head to clear his thoughts, realizing he was dangerously close to brooding like Vincent, and he found himself standing outside the bridge. Apparently, he had thought himself down the entire length of the Highwind.

With a glance to the paper sack in his hand, now slightly rumpled, Reeve pushed open the door and entered.

Like the rest of the airship, the bridge was deserted, except for one lone crewmember. He was a thin, slightly balding man and was propped up in a chair with a tabloid magazine that seemed to captivate all his interest. The crewman looked up at his entrance, a toothy smile appearing on his face.

“Mr. Tuesti,” the thin man said as he brought down his legs so that he was sitting upright. “You’re back earlier than I expected.”

Reeve merely nodded. “Circumstances forced my hand.” He held out the paper sack, shaking it. “I hope this is correct,” he stated as he handed it to Imsin.

A big grin appeared on the crewmember’s face as he tilted the bag over and dumped the contents into his lap. A rather large object, roughly the size of one of Barret’s meaty fists plopped out. It was shaped like a sitting, praying Dao-Chao and seemed to be made entirely of chocolate. It was a heavy thing, being that it was not hollow.

Imsin promptly broke off one of the gesturing arms and bit into it. From that, Reeve could see that it was filled with a thick, creamy reddish liquid. After all, he had requested a dark-chocolate, raspberry-filled Dao-Chao, and that was all Imsin had wanted in repayment for keeping Reeve’s secret. The executive hadn’t thought it was a high price to pay at the time, except when he had bought the thing and realized it cost as much as a new set of throwing knives!

“Boss came looking for you,” the crewmember mumbled around a mouthful of chocolate.

Reeve raised a brow. “Cloud?”

Imsin nodded as he continued to consume the obviously sweet and sugary treat.

Reeve was a fan of chocolate himself, but seeing at the thing, he didn’t think he could ever consume that much on his own. Just looking at it made his stomach hurt.

“Told ‘im I hadn’t seen ya.”

“Thank you,” Reeve replied. “I’m going to go back to my room and pretend I was there the entire time.”

Imsin didn’t bother to say anything as he began to eat the chocolate with one hand and read the magazine with the other. He waved in a sort of dismissal at the executive before returning to his entertainment.

A smile quirked at the corner of Reeve’s lips before he turned from the bridge and headed to his room. Perhaps he could catch a short nap before Cloud and the others got back.

Yuffie had gotten stronger since she began traveling with AVALANCHE. As such, she sped easily through the first four battles. She defeated Gorki, Shake, and Staniv without using the materia that Cloud had loaned her. Chekhov had given her a little trouble, her Stare Down attack paralyzing the girl on many occasions, but nevertheless, Yuffie had succeeded. The teenager hadn’t even needed to use Cure because she had gotten so strong.

Her companions were not very surprised. With the circumstances that surrounded them, they all were getting more and more powerful.

Cloud was just glad that Yuffie seemed to be true to her word. She appeared to be serious about defeating the pagoda. A fierce determination had taken over her features, and though she taunted her opponents and made cat calls, she was actually trying to succeed. He was surprised by the slight bit of maturity he had caught in her.

But now, she faced the master of the tower, which just happened to be her father.

For this battle, she had requested a variety of materia from them, including Nanaki’s Earth and Enemy Skills. She wanted the high level Cure, not to mention mid-level Barrier and Time with Haste learned. She had borrowed Cid’s Counterattack after a few minutes of pleading, and Vincent had even deigned to loan her his Added Effect and Poison combination. All of this made her a fearsome opponent, but Godo was no easy opponent either.

There was a reason he was the lord of the pagoda. He had three stages of battle, all with their own unique attacks, weaknesses and strengths. He was strong and fast, intelligent to a fault and determined to not go easy on his only child and heir.

The four males along with the other pagoda people watched in silence and perhaps a bit fascination as Yuffie and Godo bowed to each other before getting into attack positions. A gong sounded, followed by three sharp raps of wooden sticks, and a great cymbal announced the beginning of the battle.

A smirk on Godo’s face was the only warning the observers saw before he dashed towards Yuffie at a speed that, though not as fast as Nanaki, rivaled his daughter’s own. There was a flash of magic as the girl quickly cast Regen and Haste on herself before darting to the side, tossing out one of her origami darts.

Godo had suspected this and twisted away, the dart tearing off part of his robes but not harming him. He stopped his rush, dug his feet into the ground, and offensively ran at Yuffie again, but this time, she was prepared. She held her stance and waited for him to come, shuriken at the ready.

One of his hands curled into a fist, and suddenly, a sword made of pure energy came from his hand, an attack he had named the Beast Sword. Lightning crackled around the room, drawing towards the pair as they began to duel. Sword met shuriken in a fantastic display of quick moves, which the observers could barely distinguish one from the other. The two ninjas were incredibly strong and agile as they flitted and fought their way around the small arena.

Suddenly, Yuffie pushed back and brought her father off balance. With another vicious swing she threw him backwards, his feet sliding against the floor.

But Godo was not fazed in the slightest. He ground down to stop before swinging an unweaponed hand in an arc. More lightning crackled before a triangle-shaped mass of energy came from nowhere, descending down upon his daughter.

The girl had only seconds to react, barely casting a Barrier around herself before the lightning struck. Yuffie gritted her teeth against the pain as her hair stood on end. Her hands burned where she refused to let go of her weapon, and she forced her eyes to remain open, knowing her father would attack the moment the Trine faded. She could feel the magic of the Regen battling against the constant damage of the lightning and wondered which would come out in the end.

At least, her borrowed Enemy Skills materia would now have a new spell.

After what seemed like hours, but was only a few minor seconds, the lightning dispersed out of nowhere. Godo threw himself into the battle, Beast Sword swinging. Yuffie was prepared for this, drawing out one of her throwing knives and blocking the spiritual-like sword with it. She then slashed at her father with her poison-effected shuriken.

The sharp blade bit through the cloth of his shoulder and seared into his skin, instantly poisoning him and therefore causing his speed and stamina to decrease. Godo, like his daughter, merely gritted his teeth against the pain, and he used his greater strength to overcome her small dagger. He pushed against the blade, knocking her off balance and into a far wall.

She struck with a faint cry of pain, her head knocking against the wooden slats.

Godo made a strange motion with his hand, and three orbs of shining blue tore themselves from Yuffie’s body only to merge with his own. All at once, the little ninja felt weaker than before. Her own father had used Drain on her in order to steal her will and strength. Well, if he was going to play dirty then so was she.

With a fierce growl, Yuffie threw her shuriken at her father, knowing he would easily block it. In the meantime, she took his moment of distraction to cast Slow, one of his true weaknesses, and Godo’s body became sluggish, his limbs not responding to his every command as quickly as usual. Along with the poison, his movements were now severely hampered.

He staggered for a moment, trying to gain some time by casting a poison of his own. Bio 2 struck his daughter with the pain of an acid. It hurt, but she was protected against it by the Ribbon she had “borrowed” from Reeve a few days earlier. He would most definitely want it back when he realized it was gone, but his momentary loss was her gain.

The teenager jumped into the air, retrieving her shuriken before immediately rushing at Godo, determined to end the difficult and draining battle quickly. She was tired already, having gone through four previous fights. Her breath was coming in short gasps, and sweat pulled at her forehead, but she had to win. There was no way she was going to deal with a loss.

Her body glowed a brilliant red as her determination kicked in. Her limit break had struck her in the same moment that she attacked her father.

“Doom of the Living!” she hissed as her body became super fast.

She slashed at her father before darting away and back in again, a series of successive attacks that he could neither block nor avoid. She was simply too fast, nearly disappearing every time she moved. Of course, that was only to reappear at his side and slice at him with her shuriken. A purplish light began to glow around the two of them as she struck several more times until he could do nothing but fall to his knees and gasp for air.

With a pant, her limit break ended, and Yuffie skidded to a stop, managing to remain on her feet by sheer willpower alone. The last attack had drained nearly all of her energy, and she panted as she leaned over, hands balanced on her knees.

Godo was sweating profusely, sucking in huge breaths as he bled from multiple wounds. Nothing was life-threatening, but with the poison and other such things, it was rather painful.

Nevertheless, Yuffie had won.

“Ah, my child,” said Godo with a gasp. “You have made me proud.”

The ninja beamed at this, even as she bowed to her father with the very next second. The other four: Chekhov, Shake, Gorki, and Staniv, rushed to her father’s side, and they quickly casting Heal and Cure on the pair until both were back in tip top shape.

“You have completed the tower,” Shake intoned with a nod of his head.

“You have honored your country and your family,” added in Gorki with a bow.

“You have honored yourself and your teachers,” Chekhov put in.

“And for this, we have presented you with gifts,” Staniv said.

As one, the four pagoda patrons bowed as Godo rose to his feet, limping as he came towards his daughter. One hand disappeared into his robe before coming out with a small scroll of paper. He handed it to his daughter.

“You already have the Leviathan materia, our highest summon,” he said with a gracious nod of his head. “And this is the secret technique of our family, the All Creation attack. It will destroy nearly any foe. Study it. Learn it. Practice it. And make us proud.”

Yuffie smiled and then put a serious look on her face as she slipped the gifts into her pocket. She bowed deeply at the waist.

“Thank you, father,” the girl murmured.

“Alright, brat,” interrupted the tactless Cid. “Can we go now?”

Yuffie and Godo shared glances before she giggled and turned around. “Yes! I’m ready. Let’s go.”

She flounced past them, moving towards the door before she felt a firm hand grasp her arm and drag her to a halt. The ninja looked over her shoulder to find the four males staring at her expectantly.

“What?” she asked innocently.

Four hands thrust in her direction, their meaning clear. She sighed and unhitched all of the materia that she had borrowed, returning them with much regret.

“You guys’re no fun,” she mumbled under her breath.

“After making this trip a waste of time.” Cid paused before grinning mischievously. “Well, perhaps not a complete waste.”

“Highwind,” Vincent growled warningly.

“Right,” Cloud answered nodding. “Let’s go. We have to get to the submarine and get back on the track to finding the key, whatever the hell it is, in a dark place… wherever the hell that is.”

“Yes,” Nanaki agreed. “And another thing, too.”

The swordsman raised an eyebrow. “What?”

But it was Yuffie who wrinkled her nose and answered, “Take a bath. Both of you stink. You been rolling around in the mud or something?”

Cloud’s eyebrow twitching was the only warning the itinerant ninja received before he leapt at her, hands aiming for her throat, murder in his eyes. The funny thing was that it didn’t seem that any of the remaining men seemed inclined to stop him.

A few hours later, everyone was aboard the airship as it took off towards where they had last left the submarine. Yuffie was bandaged up nicely as was Cid.

The poor pilot had been attacked by Barret when they had all entered the cargo hold. The gun-armed man had been aiming for Yuffie yet again and had missed. But after two mistakes, Barret thought it might be better to look before he leapt from then on.

Reeve was found in his room, lying on his bed, fast asleep.

Cloud wanted to know where he had been, but the executive merely shrugged because he had been in his room the entire time. Of course, this came after remarking that Cloud needed to take a bath.

Cid finally handed back over the keys to the crew, and the Highwind was able to take off as Vincent disappeared into some random dark corner to continue his broody thoughts.

Cloud and Nanaki both headed for their respective rooms to at last wash away the mildew and grime.

All of the crew was grateful for this.

As a result, Yuffie was left to her own devices, staring out the large window in the bridge. Nevertheless, the girl couldn’t resist taking a peek at the small scroll her father had given her. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the paper, unrolling it before scanning it quickly. The last line made her giggle and look around mischievously before putting it back in her pocket. She would save that technique for later.

…P.S.
And don’t forget… when it’s all over, get their materia!

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