A. Another Witchmaker (Seiken Densetsu 3/Secret of Mana 2)
C. Duran's grief was suppressed by faerie and the elementals. So... What happens after the final battle? Some comfort would be nice. :3
AN: Considering Another Witchmaker was entirely in Angela’s POV and was also a romantic comedy (not to mention ten years old), this was really weird to write (Duran’s POV plus an effective genre change?) Still, I gave it my best shot and hope you like it.
His duty was done. Failed, a voice whispered in the back of his head – a voice that had been strangely absent over the past few tumultuous days. Sure, they’d stopped the Dragon Emperor, but had he been just a little bit better, a little stronger, a little faster…
His report to King Richard had been short and to the point, his voice only hitching briefly on the destruction of the Mana Tree. The true identity of the Darkshine Knight he skipped altogether.
He tried to tell himself that it was to spare his liege – King Richard had believed his Knight of Gold, Loki, dead for fifteen years. Discovering that the Dragon Emperor had turned him into his dark pawn would only cause him unnecessary pain. The Darkshine Knight was defeated, and the knowledge of his true identity no longer mattered.
Truthfully, though, it was shame that paralysed his tongue.
Shame, and grief. He had killed Loki, his own father. At the last moment, the dark knight had dropped his sword, and Duran had struck him down in his wild rage. Why hadn’t he seen? Why hadn’t he noticed that vestiges of his father still survived underneath the Dragon Emperor’s tainted magic? It shone through in his every defensive strike, in his attempts to spare him. Why had Duran been so blind until it was too late?
They could have saved him, somehow. Once they killed the Dragon Emperor. The Elementals or the Fairy or even Angela might have been able to do something counteract the magic. But Duran had failed him. Just like he’d failed to save the Mana Tree.
And now he stood outside his Aunt’s house – his long awaited victorious return home.
He felt hollow.
How was he supposed to face her like this?
He couldn’t. Blindly, he turned and fled back towards the castle courtyard, armour clanking with his rushed, clumsy steps across the cobblestones. It was late – the sun already set – and the poor light made only worse by the blurriness in his vision. He didn’t know what he was doing, or where he was going.
The streets were quiet and empty – by this time of day, most of the people in Forcena had retired to either their homes or the Inn – only the occasional soldier passed by on their regular patrols. Dazed, Duran didn’t even register if they tried to speak to him or not in his hurried passage. He’d been gone for what felt like a lifetime, and the castle grounds, once like a second home, seemed as foreign as the sands of Navarre.
Suddenly Duran felt starkly, horribly, and utterly adrift and alone.
Only a few months had passed, true. But he’d grown accustomed to Angela and Hawk by his side – the magus and rogue’s colourful commentary, with the occasional spark of violence, filling the long empty silences. The Fairy’s absence too, had left a void. The Elementals’ blessing still cloaked him like a blanket, but where once it felt warm and thick like a woollen duvet, now felt as thin and sheer as Angela’s silk red dress.
Under any other circumstance, the comparison might have brought forth a blush, but it only added to the ache of unexpected loneliness. He was happy for the princess and thief, he really was. He couldn’t even bring himself to be bitter about being turned down in favour of the Navarrian. The memory of meteors filling the sky put that brief fantasy to rest fast.
Yet this was never quite how imagined his quest to defeat Koren – or later, his role as the Mana Knight – would go. It had been for duty and pride, but at the end of it, what did he have left?
A father twice dead, a home that no longer felt comfortable, and a tide of inexplicable grief and inadequacy and self-doubt and shame that duty could no longer fill.
Now he was left only with broken pieces. And he had no idea what he was supposed to do next.
The cannon still stood, proudly displayed, in the middle of the courtyard. The portly form of Bon Jour could be seen waddling around it, despite the late hour – performing maintenance by firelight, perhaps. He looked up at the paladin’s approach. “Sir Knight! I heard you were back in town. Thought I might see you soon.”
Without even thinking about it, Duran searched his pockets, and was mildly surprised to come up with a handful of gold pieces. Hawk remembered to return his money pouch before they’d parted ways, apparently. Not that Duran had ever doubted he would…
He thrust the pile of money into Bon Jour’s hand. “I’ll take a trip.”
Bon Jour blinked at the money briefly, as though uncertain what it was. Then his face stretched into his typical jovial business smile. “Sure! But where to?”
Duran shrugged, already scrambling into the cannon. “Anywhere.” Anywhere but here.
“Ok, here we go!”
The long-forgotten thunder of the cannon roared in his ears, and only too late did Duran remember why they’d long forsaken cannon travel in favour of Booskaboo and Flammie.
He never did have a very good memory.
Mid-morning light greeted him when he came to. Duran wasn’t quite sure if that meant he’d been unconscious for a long time, or if he’d travelled against the time zones again.
But the clink of the lance and the sewn leather shoes entering his vision seemed oddly familiar. The reddish rocks and faint trace of flower pollen struck him with nostalgia too.
Duran rolled over, and stared up at concerned blue eyes and long blonde tresses and the armour of a formidable-looking Valkyrie.
“Riesz?” The cannon had sent him to Rolante?
Her smile was brilliant and welcoming. “I haven’t seen you since you went to fight the God-Beast. Good news, I hope?” She reached down to help him up.
Duran felt something in him warm as he took her hand – so much smaller and daintier than his, but her grip was as strong as any knight’s.
“Yes. There’s a lot I need to tell you.” This time, though, he felt as though he wouldn’t need to hold back like he did with King Richard. Riesz wouldn’t judge him – she would understand both the weight of loss and failure and grief, and she was a warrior as much as a princess.
It lifted a weight from his shoulders – a weight he hadn’t even been aware he’d been carrying until it was gone.
The Mana Tree might have fallen, but the future was starting to look bright once more.
For Anonymous Lurker
A. Final Fantasy VII
B. Cloud, Kunsel
C. A happy ending to Dear Kunsel! Please?
AN: I am actually pretty happy with the end of Dear Kunsel, but let it not be said that I never give people what they want.
It was a quiet afternoon at Seventh Heaven when the stranger came into the bar. The lunch crowd had long left, the evening crowd had yet to trickle in, and Tifa had taken the opportunity to take Marlene, Denzel, and Shelke out to get new shoes, leaving Cloud in charge with the assurance that the chances of any customers coming while she was gone was virtually nil.
The entire bar smelt strongly of wood varnish, the ceiling fans didn’t turn, and the lamps were still all kerosene – even three years after Meteorfall, electricity remained exorbitantly expensive and for the most part was rationed towards hospitals, the WRO’s facilities and other priorities like food refrigeration, construction, and industry. So it was always a little dim inside, despite the wide windows at the front, and when the door opened, the stranger’s arrival was announced with the tinkling of an antique bell instead of a buzzer.
Cloud glanced up from where he’d set himself up in front of the bar, cleaning the internal mechanisms of First Tsurugi. It had seen some extra wear and tear over the Deep Ground uprising, and he finally felt like things had become calm enough to do a full disassembly for proper maintenance.
The stranger was wearing sunglasses – similar to the pair Cloud wore while driving. His hair was a mousy brown, slightly spiky though nothing as extreme as Cloud’s – more like he had a constantly bad case of bed-head. He had a swordsman’s physique – lean body, but clearly defined muscles on his arms and shoulders.
Even with all of that though, he looked perfectly ordinary at first glance. The sort of face you would never notice in a crowd, and forget if you hadn’t seen it for a couple of days. His clothes were plain, too – eminently practical, dark blue turtleneck and pants, the same sort of material all the construction workers favoured. He wore black fingerless gloves and a simple bracer on his arm, its slots empty of any materia.
Cloud slid off his stool, hoping that the customer didn’t have too complicated an order – or better yet, was just looking for directions or a glass of clean water.
Instead, the guy just stood there, staring at him, an odd sort of half-smile on his face. “Cloud Strife, right?”
Cloud tensed, scrambling through the crater-ridden landscape of his memory to see if he knew this guy. They’d met a lot of people on their wild romp all over the Planet, but chances were he’d forgotten a lot of them after his second stint of mako poisoning.
Then he took off his glasses, and revealed a pair of glowing blue eyes.
Cloud took a step towards the biggest piece of First Tsurugi. Another Tsviet? But-
“It’s good to finally meet face to face, Cloud.”
“What are you talking about?” he demanded. Was he fast enough to get his sword first? It wasn’t assembled, the stranger could probably grab one of the pieces too…
Instead, the stranger only smiled. “I guess it’s been a while. But we made a promise, right?”
A promise? The only promises Cloud had ever made were…
He froze in disbelief.
His grin looked a bit sheepish, now. “Sorry it’s so late. Maybe I should have sent a message first. But it’s about time for those drinks, right?”
It had been three years.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d played out how this meeting would go, back before he’d given up hope and had spiralled into his self-destructive depression. He’d been nervous, and hadn’t know what Kunsel would look like, or sound like – he’d envisioned someone that was sort of a cross between Zack and Tseng, but he didn’t look like that at all. His voice was light, and friendly, with the typical middle-class Midgar accent. Cloud had imagined that after they exchanged their first words, he’d shake his hand, and then they’d sit down, order a round, and drink a toast to Zack and Aeris.
Instead, he found himself pulling the SOLDIER into a tight, one-armed hug.
Kunsel patted his back, a little awkwardly, though he could still hear the smile in his voice. “Hey. Better greeting than I expected. Didn’t think you were the type for hugs.”
Cloud really wasn’t. His voice came out strained when he spoke. “Thank you. For everything.”
“No need for that. You already thanked me.”
Roughly, he pulled away. “What happened?” He didn’t need to explain what he meant by the question. It had been three years.
“Why don’t we sit down first?” He settled himself at the nearest table. Almost on automatic, Cloud fetched two beers, then paused and picked up one of the precious few bottles of Banora Whiskey off the top shelf instead. Tifa never wanted to let him drink any of the spirits, claiming they were wasted on the mako-enhanced. But Cloud doubted there were many occasions more worthy than this.
Cloud slid a glass over and filled both of them. He sat and waited for Kunsel to start talking, drinking in the sight of the man before him, committing every feature to memory. He’d spent years wondering what he looked like, and now he stood before him in the flesh, it felt like a waking dream.
“Where do I even start?” the former SOLDIER mumbled, staring into his glass. “You know about Deep Ground, right?”
Horror clenched his gut. Kunsel had…
He nodded. “Yeah. The Tsviets nabbed me during the evacuation of Midgar. I don’t know if it was just opportunistic, or if it was because I’d been looking into the reports of all those SOLDIERs going missing.” He shrugged helplessly. “I was completely cut off. Wasn’t much I could do. I just kept my head down as much as possible and tried to bear it.”
He didn’t explain any further, but his shudder said all he needed to.
He shook his head. “I spent some time in the tubes, but by the time I came on board Hojo was already dead, so I was lucky.” He looked briefly mournful. “I used to know Weiss, you know? Nero and Rosso and Azul, too. They weren’t always like that. Rosso’s biggest ambition in life used to be getting Commander Rhapsodos’s autograph. And Azul was rotten at cards, and used to borrow money from half the floor every couple of weeks since he kept losing his salary on it. He always paid it back, though. Would do extra missions behind the Director’s back to make up the difference.”
Of course Kunsel had gossip on the top Tsviets. Even after three years, Cloud couldn’t bring himself to be surprised.
“You know about the Uprising, of course. I was lucky again. Slipped away, down the service tunnels before they even reached the surface. You know they keep the blueprints for the whole place right there on the net? Flood chambers, quickest way out.”
Typical. Incredible. Vincent had required Shelke’s specialist net-diving capabilities to get even a portion of the plans. Kunsel magically found the entire damn blueprints without even trying. If Deep Ground had ever found out about Kunsel’s talents, they never would have needed Shelke in the first place. “Why is it…?” He struggled to find the right words.
“…Why I didn’t join the Tsviets in the Uprising like the rest?” He scratched his head. “Maybe part of it was because I was so late in getting drafted. They didn’t spend as much time on mental conditioning, and I already had some clue what might have been going on from my poking around, so I played along. Guess none of them ever read my psyche eval.” He grinned, rubbing the back of his neck. “SOLDIERs are supposed to be super-smart as well as strong, right? But really, most of them were meatheads, didn’t have a cunning bone in their bodies. Like Zack, you know? Smart enough, but act and react, move first and think later. ShinRa didn’t want their super-powered weapons to be able to out-think their Turks. When they did, well…” He gestured awkwardly. “You know what happened.”
Geniuses like Sephiroth, and Genesis Rhapsodos before that. Weiss and Nero, and their twisted plan that nearly robbed the Planet of the Lifestream.
Guys like Kunsel, who could get AVALANCHE out of any number of tight spots even from halfway across the world, right under the Turks’ noses.
“I’m glad you managed,” Cloud murmured. The idea that Kunsel might have been among the army of Tsviets they’d fought and struck down was disquieting. There had been no survivors – they’d been like wild animals, with no sense of self-preservation at all. After all, why should they have cared about surviving, given their end goal?
“I was lucky.” Kunsel ducked his head a little. “And you know… I had a promise, too.”
That felt like a vice on his heart, and said more about life in the Deep Ground than anything else. A promise could mean a lot when you were in a dark, desperate place. How many times had his promise to Zack pulled him back to his feet when fighting Sephiroth?
The Omega incident had been a couple of months ago, though. “What about since?”
“There was something big going on up on the surface. Got caught in a cave in. I thought I was a goner for sure.” Kunsel shrugged. “But I guess even Second Class SOLDIERs are pretty tough. Took a couple of days to heal, then a couple of weeks to dig the rest of the way out I guess. Don’t remember it that well.”
If it weren’t for SOLDIER enhancements, Kunsel would have died, just like Cloud had feared. Even if someone had found him, would they have helped him, wearing a Tsviet uniform?
If anything, he was probably lucky he hadn’t been found at all.
Cloud took a long drink, and didn’t taste it. This entire conversation didn’t seem real to him. Only a lifetime of shocks and people coming back from the dead were letting him keep his head on straight.
“After that, I had to sneak around a bit. Ditch the uniform, figure out what had been happening topside, and where you’d disappeared to. Of course, you’d changed your number by the time I got out. Lucky for you I’m good at tracking people down.”
Cloud blinked. “…You still had your PHS?” He’d kept his for nearly two years after Meteorfall, but in the end had got rid of it, more to stop clinging to false hope than any real wish to upgrade.
“Well, not mine. But I’d backed up all of my contacts on the net. In case, you know. I actually dropped mine when I got nabbed by the Tsviets.” He looked embarrassed by the admission – though maybe that was understandable, because by the number of mails the SOLDIER Second sent, Cloud had suspected his PHS was surgically attached to his arm.
Then again, the whole reason he’d dropped it had probably because he’d been sending messages at the time.
He shook his head in rueful wonder. This time, he said it out loud. “Typical.”
Kunsel just laughed. “So tell me what’s been happening with you. We’ve got three years to catch up on, right?”
Cloud gave him a wry glance. “You mean you haven’t found out everything already?”
Kunsel grinned. “Well sure, I could. But I’d rather hear it from you.”
A. FFVII/Fifth Verse (bet you were expecting that...)
B. Genesis/Chibi!Cloud/Cloud (prob expecting that one too)
C. Chibi finds out who Cloud actually is
Cloud had the feeling he wasn’t supposed to see the confrontation.
But his hero, Commander Rhapsodos, had ambushed his uncle in the corridor. Cloud had been about to announce his presence to them both, but then the Commander had started talking and it was about him and Cloud completely forgot about honour and immediately started channelling his inner Kunsel.
“The boy’s talented with materia,” Genesis opened abruptly.
His uncle made a small sound of what was probably agreement in his throat.
“You never said anything about it.”
His uncle shrugged. “Things have changed a lot. I wasn’t sure if it would be the same.”
“Such talent is independent of the enhancements. In that regard, mako does more to bolster endurance than anything else.”
His uncle shrugged again.
It was hard not to be jealous, sometimes, of how his uncle seemed to command his idol’s attention so easily. He didn’t even seem to care for it, whereas Cloud still couldn’t believe the incredible luck he’d had. When he’d come across Kunsel on Mount Nibel, he never expected that would one day lead to him getting the privilege of personal attention from the very best SOLDIERs in the company.
“I’ve hardly seen you use yours,” Genesis remarked. “And I don’t think I’ve seen you use that dark green one, or that summons, at all.”
“…They’re not materia to be used lightly,” was his Uncle’s eventual reply.
“You’ll have to demonstrate.” The tone made it sound like a foregone conclusion.
“I need to have some concrete measure of the boy’s potential, of course, if I’m going to teach him properly.”
Cloud’s initial giddiness at the prospect of being taught by the Commander quickly faded into confusion. He kind of wanted to see what his uncle could do with materia – the few glimpses he’d caught in the past had been impressive – but what did his uncle’s materia skills have to do with his potential?
“We’re not the same person anymore, you know,” his uncle pointed out. “I was never into Loveless as a kid.”
Genesis sniffed. “To your eternal loss. Yet another improvement you have rendered in this timeline.”
His uncle looked mildly amused, but only said, “We can go out onto the Wastes if you really want, just don’t go judging him on the results.”
The Commander huffed, crossing his arms. “You are not so different as you think, you know. He did drag that Second Class across the continents entirely by himself.”
“That’s not such a big deal. Lots of kids made the same trip about the same age.”
“With a comatose patient, and hiding from ShinRa?”
His uncle rolled his eyes. “You’ve made your point. Let’s go.”
They started walking ahead, but Cloud found his feet rooted to the floor.
Had he heard right? Could that mean what he thought it meant?
There had been a lot of weird discrepancies with his Uncle, and Zack and Kunsel sometimes said things that didn’t make a lot of sense. With this, though, all the pieces started fitting together in a frighteningly clear way.
The concept of time travel was a little mind-boggling, but then, he’d been learning a lot about materia from Commander Rhapsodos, and it could do all sorts of things.
What happened? He admired his uncle – he was family, and he was strong, and kind, even if he could be a little standoffish, and Cloud felt like he understood him – and that his uncle understood him in return. But Cloud couldn’t imagine how it worked – the SOLDIER program was cancelled. And why hadn’t he liked Loveless? The moment Cloud had first heard about Commander Rhapsodos had been life-changing, and he could remember it with perfect clarity. Why hadn’t it happened in another timeline?
Still… his 'uncle' was him? From the future?
That was kind of awesome.