Shadows of the Mind @lord22
Meeting the Mentor

Chapter Five: Meeting the Mentor

Third Class was...

Not fun.

Cloud was glad he was experiencing it, though. Being stuck on the bottom deck, the cargo hold of a liner was terrible. Not being able to go outside and having only dim lamps was worse. At the same time, now he knew how people who went third-class lived. It was something he wouldn't have known otherwise.

Still, it was a very uncomfortable learning experience, to say the least.

Cloud wished he could have been able to explore the rest of the lower deck, at least. But they were all kept behind a grating. Meals were not brought in at all, but rather each person was provided rations for the journey. Several people had tried stealing rations from other people.

These attempts had ended with an audible click as a huge, scary black man with a machinegun for an arm pointed it. After that, attempts to abuse other parts of the third class ended. He also destroyed several stores of drugs people wanted to use.

Cloud, for his part, kept his distance.

"Attention all passengers, we will be coming into sight of Junon soon," said a voice. "Please stand by and collect your family and belongings."

Cloud had never lost his belongings; he'd kept them very close. Things that were left around would probably never be found. And anyway, the floor filled with water on bad nights, so he had to be ready to head for higher ground.

"Excuse me..." said Cloud, moving up to the door.

The guard glanced up. "What is it?"

"Um, could I go up on deck and see the port as we arrive?" asked Cloud. He'd been looking forward to seeing the port from afar.

"What does this look like, a cruise ship?" asked the guard. "If we let everyone in third class be on the deck, we'd never be able to get any work done.

"Get away from the grate."

"Right, um, thank you," said Cloud.

Irritated, he made his way over to near the scary black man. With the man was a four-year-old girl, who was sleeping against his side. There was also a girl whose hair was tied up with a headband with a metal plate. She um, well, she wasn't quite as curvy as Tifa, but she was very pretty.

"...So, what's your story, kid?" asked the black man suddenly.

"Oh, me, I'm Cloud, I'm headed for Midgar," said Cloud. He wondered why he'd opted to talk to Cloud at all.

"You got folks you running from?" asked the black man, eyes narrowing.

"Not running, my Mom knows where I am. I want to join SOLDIER," said Cloud. If anything, he was running toward his other parent. Though that wasn't why he wanted to be in SOLDIER.

"I'd drop that dream if I was you," said the black man, gun clicking.

"Yeah, I know, I'll never make it," said Cloud, not deterred. "Everybody tells me that much."

"No, it's not a dream you want to be part of," said Barret. "SOLDIERs ain't nothing but murdering thugs. Just cause their elite murdering thugs doesn't make em heroes."

"What makes you say that?" asked Cloud.

"I..." the man halted, looking like he was able to yell before he sighed. "You tell em, Jessie."

The girl Cloud's age looked up. "We're all that's left of our town. Shinra destroyed it."

Cloud stared, remembering the conversation Dad had had with his meetings. Were these people from Corel? "Why would they do that?"

"Because someone in the town tried to sabotage the Mako reactor," said Jessie. She looked away and brushed her brown hair back. "Shinra didn't want to bother to investigate, so they just tried to kill us all. They dropped firebombs on our houses, and when people tried to flee, they gunned them down."

Suddenly the four-year-old girl opened her eyes and touched the black man.

"Quiet, will ya! You're waking Marlene!" said the black man.

"Daddy... Daddy, what's going on?" asked Marlene, the four-year-old.

"It's nothing, Marlene," said Barret. "Don't worry, we'll be out of this place soon."

"So... there weren't any..." Cloud strove to speak. "They didn't take any..."

"Not that we know of," said Jessie. "All of us were pretty scattered during the fighting. Barret and Dyne got some of us out, but... we don't know if there were any others."

"I..." Cloud felt suddenly horrible. "I'm sorry.

"What are you planning on doing now?"

"We're heading to Fort Condor," said Jessie. "It's one of the few places Shinra has never been able to take. There are some villages around there, and they take refugees from Shinra all over the place. Maybe we'll be able to get work there.

"What about you?"

"Well, I've already walked all the way across a continent to get to Midgar," said Cloud. "I um... well, I'd feel pretty bad if I didn't at least get to the city. They say that it hovers in the sky like a floating mountain of metal. And there are always lights on in it, I always wanted to see it."

"Well, good luck, I guess," said Jessie.

They were silent for a while.

As the ship docked, they were finally allowed to walk out. Cloud, meanwhile, felt increasingly bitter as he got off the pier. He'd always remembered that order to attack Corel, but...

Until now, it had never really set in what it had meant.

He'd imagined them as terrorists, not as people who were terrorists. Or even just people. Cloud wondered how Barret had gotten that arm?

"Did you see that view when we got here!" said a very well dressed college student.

"Yeah, that sure was something," said a girl. "Not the sort of thing you see every day."

Cloud paused by the pier and felt suddenly very angry. He looked at all these tourists, many of them on their phones. They weren't even looking at the buildings around them. The brick architecture was something Cloud had never seen. It had really nice arches and beautiful statues on the windows. Cloud had read some of these buildings were a century old.

But these tourists, out to see the world, didn't even notice it. He saw some of them taking selfies in front of a monument to dead war heroes. Looking at it, Cloud realized that the memorial was dedicated to those who died defeating Sin. It must have been centuries old at the very least.

Yet once they took their selfies, they ran off not once looking at the thing they'd come all this way to see. All that mattered to them was being able to say they'd seen the place, they didn't want to learn. It was all about their ego.

Cloud read the names of the people who had died.

Spira was a continent that Shinra didn't have a base on, just yet. And it had been the place where Sin had been killed for good. However, Sin had been a menace to the entire world. He'd destroyed coastal villages and technological civilizations. No one could defeat it, but they could draw it away, lure it to less populated areas.

And it had almost always been a suicide mission.

Only High Summoner Yuna had survived defeating Sin. Only she and Tidus had finished him for good. Though the reasons as to why varied by the story.

The names here numbered by the hundreds, and many of them were spaced decades apart—entire generations of heroes, immortalized for their deeds. And now many spoiled brats were using them to pretend to be cultured by posing in front of. And for the first time in his life, Cloud felt genuine hatred for someone. He knew it was irrational that he was overreacting, but it wouldn't go away.

He wasn't even sure who in particular he was hating. It just was.

"Hey, um, Cloud..." said a voice.

Cloud looked up and saw Jessie standing before him. Barret was speaking with Marlene, brushing her hair as he did. "Yeah?"

"You want to walk with us for a bit?" asked Jessie. "I mean, the area around Fort Condor is contested, so it might be better to go in a group. And you'll have to go through it."

"Right, sure," said Cloud. Looking down, however, he noticed Jessie had a number of metal cylinders strapped to her side. Were those insulated water bottles? "Um, what are those you've got there."

"Oh these?" asked Jessie with a smile, and she drew one out of her belt. "They're explosives. I made them myself." Then she tossed one spinning into the air, before catching it in one hand. Her smile went a bit too wide. "You want to see one go off?"

"Um, no thanks, not right now," said Cloud, looking around nervously. Then he spoke in a hushed tone. "Where'd you learn to make explosives?

"Her Dad was a miner with the rest of us," said Barret, coming forward. "For the Shinra got to him."

"Yeah, we um, well, we liked to make our own explosives," said Jessie. "Cheaper to make them ourselves from base materials instead of buying. I was always really good at it, and Dad said I should do it for a living. I actually made a lot of money from it.

"I used it for singing lessons.

"These are what I was able to make with stuff I got from the ruins of our town."

"You seem pretty chipper," noted Cloud.

"I'm trying to hold together, to be honest," said Jessie.

"Daddy, whose the spiky blonde-haired boy?" asked Marlene.

Cloud smiled and kneeled before her. "I'm Cloud, Cloud... Strife." He'd almost said Shinra.

"Strife?" asked Jessie. "That's a weird name."

"Jessie, watch Marlene," said Barret. "I've got to go get some supplies with what we have left."

And he strode off.

"What uh..." asked Cloud. "What happened to his arm?"

"Shinra..." said Jessie. "Shinra shot it off. Dyne died then; they were... best friends."

"And the gun?" asked Cloud.

"Oh um... yeah, we forged it onto the stump," said Jessie. "Barret wanted it."

Barret came back with the supplies. "Alright, we're good. Now come on, time's wasting."

"But Daddy, I'm tired..." said Marlene.

Barret leaned down and pulled her up, putting her on his back. "I'll carry you then, Marlene. We can't stay here near the Shinra just yet.

"So, Cloud, you got any skills?"

"Well, I know a lot about herbs and finding food in the wild," said Cloud. "Though I'm not much good at hunting. I mean, I studied this region's wildlife."

"Good enough for me," said Barret. "Let's go."

And together, the four of them headed off.

As it turned out, Cloud was able to be far more useful than he thought he'd be. He was able to recognize various herbs and roots on his way. And he was also able to cook, which the others couldn't. Barret, on the other hand, seemed to be very good at shooting and would often hunt for their food.

Jessie would often talk at length about explosives. She seemed to have a fascination with them.

"I've always dreamed of blowing a building up," admitted Jessie one night over a campfire. "Maybe as demolition work or something. You know how in movies you've got those people to blow up a building and walk slowly away?

"That's who I want to be."

"Well, everybody has dreams, I guess," said Cloud. "You sure you don't want to stick to singing?"

"Hmm," said Jessie. "Think maybe there's some way I could combine the-"

"No," said Cloud.

"Gotta admit, these roots and herbs you know how to find come in handy," said Barret, having just put Marlene to bed. "Where'd you learn to find em? You been here before?"

"Nah, we've got a Manor back in Nibeilheim with all kinds of data," said Cloud. He was sure to make a note not to mention anything more about Dad. "Not, um, my manor or anything. My Dad... well, he let me read the library. I learned how to survive in the wilderness and read up on all the plants."

"Sounds like a pretty smart guy," said Jessie.

"Yeah, well, he went into business, so I'm not so sure anymore," said Cloud.

The journey continued, and the four of them made for Fort Condor together.

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