Chapter Three: Supernatural Aid
Spring came, and all the arrangements had been made.
Cloud actually did a decent amount of research for it. He spent weeks looking over descriptions of faraway places. He learned what plants and animals could be eaten, where you could get water. All theory, of course, but memorizing it might help someday.
Cloud also ran into an interesting thing called the Heroes Journey. He even found a diagram, with it describing what he could expect to find along the way.
Mom was a lot of help with finding reading material, though she would often seem distant. She'd often spend days looking out the window aimlessly, and only just notice him.
And, at long, last, the day came, and Cloud snuck out without saying goodbye. Making his way out, he saw no one about. When he'd first envisioned this moment, he'd expected Tifa to be waiting for him by the side of the road.
To Cloud's disappointment, that was not the case. No one was about, and no one he'd mentioned it to had said much. It was a less grand exit than he'd hoped for, so he opted to imagine people seeing him off instead.
One thing was for sure, he was certain Tifa would wake up and realize he was leaving and race down the road after him. She'd probably want to say goodbye, or maybe ask him to stay, or even come with him.
Soon the sun was high in the sky; however, and Cloud was beginning to realize that nothing of the kind had happened. Glancing back down the road to a distant Nibeilheim, he saw people had begun to come out. But no one was on the road running toward him.
No one cared that he was gone.
No, no, that wasn't true.
Obviously, Tifa knew he didn't want to be distracted and so knew to stay back. If she had come after him and asked him to stay, he might have been tempted to turn back. Cloud was almost tempted to turn back now, or wait, but no.
No Cloud had to become her hero.
So he turned and soldiered on down the road, feeling his pack near him. He had a knife with him, and some other things—everything he'd need for a long journey. Before long, though, Cloud began to feel a bit lonely. Usually, there were people around. Having them near helped him with imagining things.
"Well, um, I guess that's it then," said Cloud. "Still, I'm sure the weather will be good for me. It usually is in stories at... first..."
He saw the storm clouds rolling in. Around him, meanwhile, were mostly rolling green planes with no real shelter. Thinking quickly, Cloud made for the mountains near him, hoping to get some shelter from the wind. As he did, he also picked up his pace, knowing that he needed to find a good place for shelter.
Cloud had been caught in a rainstorm once, and he hadn't liked it at all. He'd liked the week spent in bed even less. So he drew out the raincoat he'd brought and put it on, pulling the hood over his head. Wearing it for more than a few minutes, though, soon saw him getting sweltering as it conserved heat.
Even so, he knew he'd feel very differently about the extra heat once the rain arrived.
Soon, it began to drizzle, then rain, then pour. The land was soaked, and Cloud had trouble moving forward. As he did, the wind howled around him, blowing through his coat and making it all the colder. He drew his hands into his sleeves and folded them over his fingers to keep them from chilling. The gloves he'd brought with him weren't thick enough.
Now and then, Cloud would come to a tree or something and tried taking shelter under it. But it was nearly as bad as being out in the open, and when he was moving, it helped his body heat. So instead, Cloud groped forward, keeping his eye on the path to his right.
It was a bitter and unpleasant day of travel. Soon his pants were caked in mud, and Cloud felt like collapsing onto the ground. How much further to Midgar anyway?
A long, long way.
Cloud considered going back and not for the first time.
"No, no, I've got to keep going," said Cloud. "If I head back home now, I'll never be able to leave. I'll bet Sephiroth had a story like this one before he joined SOLDIER. Maybe someday I'll meet Sephiroth, and I'll impress him, and he'll take me as a student.
"Then we could become war buddies and go on all kinds of adventures together.
"Yeah, that would be so cool."
The thought helped, and as Cloud walked through the downpour. As he did, he imagined fighting dragons. Maybe dueling with evil warriors to stop the end of the world or something. Pretty soon, he had a vision of himself wielding a sword as long as he was tall.
All these imaginings were a nice distraction.
But Cloud began to get hungry soon and felt the urge to reach into his bag and eat some of the food he'd brought with him. All of it was meant to keep a long time, and he knew he had to conserve it. So he kept his hands away and focused on imagining rescuing Princesses from white towers.
Cloud wished he had someone to talk to.
Or at least to watch. Watching someone would be better than not having anyone around but himself. Well, himself and the Planet.
And the rain just would not let up.
It stopped being a downpour and went back to a regular rainstorm. Eventually, it got as little as a drizzle, before bouncing back. And it went on like this all day long. When it finally cleared up, Cloud was spattered all over with mud, wet and miserable.
Cloud stayed the night beneath a tree and finally allowed himself to eat. He'd read somewhere that if you lost weight, your body slowed your metabolism. So his plan was only to eat one big meal a day for as long as possible. And he'd only let himself have it at the end to stay motivated.
So far, it seemed to have worked. The rations he'd brought with him would taste awful normally. But after all that had happened, he was just glad to be eating anything. From there, he slept in his bedroll.
The next day was nothing but clear skies.
Yet that came with problems of its own. As he journeyed south, Cloud found that the sun beat down on him. Where before the problem had been cold, not he found himself in the beating sun. Soon he was drenched in sweat and savoring every gust of wind that blew through his spiky blonde hair.
His pack, meanwhile, was heavy on his shoulders.
Cloud missed his Mom, missed Tifa, even missed the townspeople, but he'd made a promise.
And then, right around midday, Cloud got another rainstorm and had to put his jacket on again. This went on for another two days, on and off, and Cloud felt all the more miserable. The winds got worse and worse, and Cloud began to feel he had to wait this out. Or at least rest for a little while.
During a period where the rain had let up a bit, however, Cloud saw a cave.
Shivering, Cloud looked up at the foreboding sky above them. Then along the road that seemed to stretch on forever and forever. And he decided a bit of rest in a dry place couldn't hurt.
Moving forward, he got into the cave and immediately felt it was incredibly warm within it. A little too warm. Actually, there was smoke near the top, and as he descended, he halted.
There, at the far side of the cave, Cloud saw a gigantic dragon. It loomed over him, a lizard of green scales and massive batlike wings. And it saw him.
"Um..." Cloud backed away. "I uh... I'll just leave now..."
Cloud bolted, and it breathed flame. He hardly scrambled over the cave entrance before a wave of fire shot into the rain. Steam hissed upward as Cloud made a run for it onto the path. Even as he did, however, there was a flaring of lights, and something hit him.
Cloud felt his arm break and screamed as he flew backward. Before him were a pair of headlights, blinding him. And the dragon shot out of the cave, flying upward before descending to land before him. Its mouth opened as flames rose between its mouth.
This wasn't how it was supposed to go!
Cloud had never even gotten out of the area around Nibeilheim. How was he supposed to defeat a dragon all on his own? He didn't have any kind of training! What did he do?
What did I do?
And then a figure landed before him. It was Sephiroth, the long sword and silver hair gave it away if his black trenchcoat did not. Drawing out the blade, Sephiroth took a defensive stance. The dragon opened it's mouth to breathe fire, but it never got the chance.
There was a blur of motion and the dragon halted in place.
Then, after a moment, the creature broke apart into two pieces and began to fade, giving off pyreflies. Soon nothing was left. Sephiroth sheathed his sword and turned back to the truck. Then he noticed Cloud. "Hmm, who are you?"
"I... I'm Cloud Strife, sir," said Cloud. "I'm a huge fan of yours, thank you for saving me-"
"Move," said Sephiroth. "You're blocking our path."
Cloud tried to obey and realized just how much pain he was in. His leg was in agony and so was in his arm. "I um... my leg can't move, sir."
"Very well," said Sephiroth, before raising a hand. Instantly, Cloud felt his pain disappear as his bones realigned and righted themselves. "Now stand and move aside. This has delayed my mission long enough."
Cloud got up at once. "Right, of course, sir."
Sephiroth then moved past him, seeming having forgotten Cloud was even there. As though he were one more obstacle to be overcome. "...Don't you at least want to know why I'm out here?" asked Cloud.
Sephiroth looked back. "No."
"But I've grown up hearing stories about your exploits, and you really inspire me," said Cloud.
"So I gather," said Sephiroth. "That is the purpose of propaganda." And he turned to walk toward the back of the truck. Cloud walked after him. "I'm heading to Midgar.
"I'm going to be in SOLDIER, like you. 1st class."
Sephiroth looked back, and a flicker of amusement came across his face. "I don't see your means of transportation."
"I'm walking there, sir," said Cloud, smiling at the attention. "I'm going to get to Costa Del Sol, then take a boat to Junon. Once I get there, I'll walk all the way there."
Sephiroth looked at him. "...I see.
"Do you have any combat training?"
"Well, no," said Cloud.
"Any skill at survival?" asked Sephiroth.
"I've read a lot of books and got this far," said Cloud.
"Any education worth speaking about?" asked Sephiroth.
"Well, we had a schoolhouse in Nibelheim," said Cloud, feeling somewhat unprepared.
"Go home," said Sephiroth.
"What?" said Cloud, never expecting to hear that from his idol.
"You are never going to be able to reach Midgar on foot," said Sephiroth. "Even if by some miracle you were to reach Costa Del Sol, you'd have no money to pay for transit. And were you to get that far, qualifying to be in SOLDIER is a process that can get one killed.
"At the rate you're going now, you'll only end up getting devoured."
"Wait, um, you're heading back to Midgar, aren't you?" asked Cloud.
"After I complete several missions in this region, yes," said Sephiroth. "What of it?"
"Well, couldn't you take me with you?" asked Cloud.
"No," said Sephiroth. "This is a military transport, and we're heading into battle with powerful monsters. You would only be a danger to yourself and my associates. Return home, and don't try to follow us."
Then Sephiroth got into the truck, and it left.
Cloud stood there in the middle of the road and realized his clothes had blood on them now. His own blood and he was feeling very bad. "Why would Sephiroth say those things to me?
"I mean, he wasn't at all like I imagined.
"Was it even the real Sephiroth?
"Wait, of course, this must be a secret test of character! A sort of leave your quest type thing! I must have impressed him with my resolve! Maybe he'll put in a good word for me when I get there!"
Glad he realized the truth, Cloud made his way on with new spirits. He was careful to check for smoke coming out of caves while he walked after that, but he ran into no more monsters. For five days, he traveled and found that he needed to eat more than he'd planned.
Settling on two meals a day, Cloud traveled ever onward and further south. At last, he came within sight of another town, a small city by the looks of things. His spirit brightening, he strode toward the town, checking his supplies. Mom had provided him with some money for the journey, so he could buy some more here.
"Hey, there's the next town. I can go there and get some supplies," said Cloud to himself, finding that talking to himself helped. "Oh, I'll be able to meet the first of a ragtag group of misfits who will become a party. We'll become fire-forged friends and-"
And then someone stepped around the corner and pointed a gun to his head. "Hand me the bag."
"What?" said Cloud, blinking in confusion. Weren't you supposed to get supernatural aid after meeting the mentor. Not a gun to the head.
"What, do you not see the knife?" asked the man. "Hand the bag over, and nobody gets hurt."
"Why do you want my bag?" asked Cloud.
"Isn't it obvious, this is a robbery," said the man in frustration. "Now give it here, or I'll blow your brains all over the ground."
Cloud drew off his bag, glad he'd kept his raincoat with rations in his pockets. "Um, okay. Can I um, take out some of my rations first, so I don't starve?"
"What am I, a charity?" asked the man. "Now-"
Cloud swung the bag up to knock the gun away, then kicked the guy in the crotch. The man doubled over, and Cloud made a run for it. He heard a noise like thunder behind him, and shots bounced off the cobblestones. Even as he tried to run, however, someone got in his way and smashed him in the stomach.
Doubling over, Cloud rolled away before someone kicked him in the stomach. Several other people moved in to kick him. Trying to defend himself, Cloud hurled the bag away from him and ran the other direction. Something ripped through the coattails of his raincoat.
"Idiot! Stop wasting the ammunition!" snapped one. "It's just a kid!"
"He kicked me! And where the hell were you, you're supposed to bar off their escape!" said the other.
"Just get the bag!"
"Come on, run! Run Cloud!" though Cloud to himself, hurting all over as he sprinted through the streets. "They can go for the bag, or they can go for you! Just keep running, and you'll get there!"
Eventually, however, he had to stop and fell against a wall, exhausted. Looking around, he saw that there had been people on the streets. Not one of them had helped him or even looked up by the looks of things.
He needed to get out of this place and fast.
It was fortunate that he'd kept some rations in his rainjacket to lighten the load, as well the canteen. But now he had no money to buy anything. So, he filled up his canteen as best he could and limped on. On the way through, he passed an army recruitment office.
But that was no good.
SOLDIER HQ was in Midgar. He couldn't join up here.
Cloud hoped his luck would improve.
Before long, he was developing bruises all over his body from where they'd kicked him. Every inch of Cloud's body hurt, and to make matters worse, the terrain got worse. Green fields gave way to dusty lands with little water. Where before Cloud would have dreaded the rain, now he'd have welcomed it to cool his sores.
However, no rain came.
"I am so hungry," murmured Cloud a few days later of eating half rations. "All my money is gone. Now, what do I do?" He sighed and thought about his research. "Let me think, I got the Call to Adventure, crossed the threshold, met the mentor, so where am I now." Then it dawned on him. "I get it, this is the part in the stories where the hero undergoes a low point, before emerging stronger. Right, um, what do I do here?"
There didn't seem to be much more to do than walk the empty paths of the deserts. Cloud dared not go off the road; it got unsafe once you left there. So he walked and wondered if he'd run across a beautiful healer lady who would help him. Maybe the first of a group of bold heroes who he'd cooperate with.
No such luck.
Cloud had to take off his raincoat soon and use it purely as a shield against the sun. It was too damn hot. Now and then, Shinra had set up waystations with sinks that he could get more water on. He guessed he could count these as supernatural aid since sinks weren't natural.
There were also vending machines, and Cloud was hungry. They had trail rations with the calories to get him through this.
He had his knife. Maybe he could break into one and...
No, no stealing was wrong. He wouldn't do it.
So, reluctantly, Cloud forced himself to turn away and keep walking. As he did, however, he saw what looked to be a wealthy businessman. He had a personal bodyguard and was talking on a phone, yelling.
"Excuse me, um..." said Cloud.
The businesswoman halted and looked up. "What do you want, kid?"
"I um... I'm really far from home, and I've just been robbed," said Cloud. "I, um, I really need help here."
"What am I, a charity?" scoffed the man. "Go find a real job."
Cloud wanted to kick the man or steal his phone or whatever, but that wouldn't be right. And the bodyguard nearby was clearly eyeing him with suspicion. So Cloud just drank as much water as he could and walked on.
Now he began to remember his other studies. Looking around, he kept an eye out for edible lizards. But he found that catching them was a lot of trouble and eventually gave up. The time wasted looking to catch them would waste more energy than he'd get.
It began to dawn on Cloud how little he had been prepared for any of this.
But Cloud had gotten this far, so he pressed on along the roads. When he found water, he splashed it onto his bruises as well as drank it. But Cloud soon found that he had another problem, that being sunburn. Using his raincoat, he could partially ward off the sun and collect morning dew with it.
Yet it wasn't long before his skin was flaky and itchy.
Every so often, he'd want to go back, but then he'd remember his promise to Tifa, who was probably missing him. And he'd also remember that Sephiroth believed in him and would probably wait for him in Midgar. That would give him the strength to keep on walking.
...Okay, Cloud, you prepared for this. You researched edible plants in this region, so you just need to find some—that and maybe some water.
Maybe I should go back?
No, no, I'd never be able to show myself if I gave up so early! Tifa is counting on me to be her hero, and Sephiroth believes in me!
I'll live off the fat of the land if I have to! I've studied for the past few months, and I'll make it happen!
"It will all be worth it when I get to Midgar, I'm sure," said Cloud as he stumbled on to the next waypoint. He drew out his map of the Heroes Journey and read it to himself. "Let me see. I've gotten the Call to Adventure, I guess. And I met Sephiroth, so maybe that's meeting the mentor. Supernatural aid, I guess that was Sephiroth killing the dragon. That means I'm in trials and tribulations.
"Although Sephiroth didn't really teach me anything. Though maybe if he teaches me later, it would count.
"Eh, I'm sure it will be worth it when I become a SOLDIER."
Cloud walked onward.