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Here is the second chapter of my ffvii fic. Enjoy!


Chapter 2:  Meetings



The crow circled high above the ashen plain. A plume of dust rumbled and billowed its way toward a tall mesa on the left of the road, a rattling truck at its head. The crow broke from its circling to follow the truck for a few miles, before swooping off to one side. A figure on the mesa’s peak held its arm up for the crow to land.
The cloaked face seemed to lock eyes with the crow, before both turned their heads to follow the truck’s path until the truck could be seen clearly. Then the figure launched the crow and shimmered in the dust dragged up from the plain. A moment later a second crow followed the first and the mesa was left empty.
 

~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~
 

Zack Fair was bored. This was extremely worrying for his companions, as a bored Zack meant attempts to entertain himself that got increasingly embarrassing for his victims. Even Sephiroth was a little afraid of his Second-in-Command’s sense of humour, despite being largely immune to his pranks due to his status as Zack’s Commander… correction, Zack’s status as his only friend – Zack never risked jeopardising his position – he “didn’t want Seph to be alone” so that meant no pranking the Silver General.

But still, Zack was bored.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~

Upon the group’s arrival in Nibelheim, the traumatised privates, secretly-amused Sephiroth and his not-bored-any-longer-2IC, were immediately met by Nibelheim’s Mayor and his entourage.

Mayor Lockheart was a blocky, balding man with a rather nervous manner about him. What little remained of his dark hair was short-cropped, and his pudgy hands with their stubby fingers were soft with living an easy life. He reminded Zack of a rat.
His daughter on the other hand, was fairly nice for a tomboy country girl, dark of hair and eye, with lean muscles and tanned skin that told of an active, outdoor life. She actually reminded him a little of a half-grown cat – she had an ego and liked to think she was independent, but really wouldn’t last a minute out on her own.

The mayor’s speech of welcome nearly bored him to tears, but he’d been well trained by Sephiroth not to show it. Zack mostly tuned the spiel out, until:

“…we don’t currently have a guide for you – none of the townsfolk have traversed these mountains in generations. It is not wise for anyone unfamiliar with this land to travel without a guide as well – the local, ah, creatures don’t take kindly to intruders, but if you injure or kill one of them, you’ll end up lost forever in the surrounding hills. We’ve lost a number of people that way…”

Both the Privates shivered. Sephiroth made enquiries about lodgings, seemingly ignoring the warning and slight apology, before thanking him and heading in the direction of the inn. As the mayor retreated back into his house with his flunkies, the Privates followed the General, but before Zack could bring up the rear, the Mayor’s daughter spoke up quietly.

“There’s one person who could probably guide you up there. If you want to contact Him, you’ll need to ask the oldest trapper in the tavern about a “guide to Hel’s kitchen”. He’ll give you instructions to meet with Him.” Zack could hear the capitals. She winked at Zack. “Don’t tell Papa I told you about Him – none of the townsfolk like Him except for the trappers and mercs, even if they do like the status He holds.”

She turned to head back into the house.

“Hey, wait!” She stopped. “Just, ah, thank you for the info…”

 She smiled at him over her shoulder. “You’re welcome”

 Zack shook his head, and trotted off towards the inn. He had to meet with Seph, and then go find this guide.
 

~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~

 His drinking buddies would be rather surprised if they saw him now, Zack thought as he pushed through the doors to the tavern and slunk inside, sticking to the shadows. Until he found the contact, he didn’t want to attract attention, very unlike him. That would be the last thing they needed – the General’s group had come into town rather openly after all, and what with the previous reactions of the Mayor and his sycophants, Seph had agreed with him that arranging a guide needed to be done discreetly. 

Seph had not been pleased. Understatement, Zack snorted to himself. He didn’t like the idea at all, but as it’s our only real option in order to get anywhere on this mission…He let his gaze meander around the barroom, trying to find the contact the girl had mentioned. 

There. A very old man sat hunched by the open fireplace. His age weighed him down like an avalanche of stone, rivulets of wrinkles running over tanned skin and under a thinning, tangled mass of gray hair. But beneath that frail cover laid muscles like steel cord, and those eyes held no sign of senility. The clever fingers hadn’t lost any of their cunning or dexterity if the way he was playing with that knife was any indication either. 

Zack watched him for a time, just marvelling at the stillness and silence the man portrayed. Then Zack froze as those too-sharp eyes turned towards his shadowed corner. 

“Come, boy” he said, “Ask, or don’t, but doan’ lurk. It makes m’ fingers itch.”

The crowd in the tavern paused, and watched as Zack emerged from his shadows, then went back to their conversations while keeping an eye on the SOLDIER.

Zack walked over to the aged trapper, an annoyed look in his eyes. ‘Damn, damn, damn! Stupid, Zack, stupid!’ Zack mentally sighed ‘Well, it’s done now, can’t change it.’

“Well boy? Wha’ d’you need?” The man motioned to the tavern crowd and they started minding their own business. 

Zack lowered his voice. “I need a guide to Hel’s Kitchen.”

The man stared at him, then laughed, a harsh, cawing sound. “Well, you don’t beat around the bush, tha’s fer sure.” He stopped laughing and lowered his voice as well. “All righ’ kid. If you’re certain tha’s where you need t’ go?” 

“I am, and I do.”

“All righ’ then. Listen t’ me now, boy, and listen good. There’s a man in these mountains that knows ‘em like the back ‘f his hand. Doan’ under’stimate him jus’ ‘cause he looks younger ‘n you” Zack was about to protest “ah-ah, we judge by experience here, and I doan’ know yous so you’re still “boy” to me. Now, back to the guide you want.

Not even us trappers go as deep in as he does, and we can only hunt here ‘cause he’s gotten the local gods an’ fae t’ give us a pass t’ certain areas.” Zack looked at him weirdly. “You never met the fae then, kid?” He cackled “’s an experience, fer sure, an’ while you’re here make damn sure you listen to y’ guide – you do not want to piss theys off. Theys can make your life a living ‘ell boy, no bones about it.

T’ meet with th’ guide you need to get t’ a hoose on th’ outskirts of town, nearest the fores’. Knock politely, an’ when th’ door is answered, ask th’ lady ‘f her son’d be willing t’ take you where you need t’ go. If she says no, well, tha’s th’ end of it. If she says yea, head fer the forest’s edge with th’ token she’ll hand you. After tha’, jus’ follow the music.”

Zack stared at him for a bit, then thanked him and stalked back out into the night, wondering just what he’d gotten himself into. With one last thought he disappeared into the darkness.

Seph’s just gonna love this.’

Chapter End

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