Chapter 1: Ice: Cloud
Sprinting through the Reactor, Cloud automatically reaches through Buster Sword and into the Ice materia slotted into the blade. Frost comes easily, blanketing the guards with a small fraction of the power of a Nibelheim blizzard. It says something about Nibelheim that even this is enough to keep the guards down.
Later, when he pops the marble out to clean the slot, Barret asks how long he’s had it. The question makes sense—materia grow stronger the longer a person carries them—but Cloud can’t remember picking it up or buying it.
Eventually he shrugs. “A while,” he says. And it must have been, because for him Ice really is easy to use.
(Much, much later, he looks down at the bright, fully leveled materia. For all that he’s remembered, he still doesn’t know how long it’s been with him.)
Chapter 2: Fire: Tifa
Tifa doesn’t like fire.
The oven and stove at Seventh Heaven both run off of electricity, not like the wood-burning stoves of her childhood. Her family had owned one for generations, since far before Shinra created electrical appliances, and they had used it up until…
So Tifa doesn’t appreciate being handed the newly purchased materia. She forces herself to equip it anyway—when she joined AVALANCHE she’d resigned herself to doing a lot of things that weren’t quite comfortable.
But the first time she launches the spell and smells scorched cloth and cooked meat, she quietly throws up afterwards.
Chapter 3: Lightning: Barret
When Barrett takes his gun-arm apart to clean and oil and polish, there are small shards of green set into the base. The conversion of nerves to machinery requires an interface, and Lightning materia is the best at turning thought into the electricity to move his new arm. They’re not big enough to cast anything with, just enough to pick up and pass on sparks, but materia is still the basis of the technology.
If Barrett were in a philosophical mood, he would talk about the proper, respectful use of materia and the Planet, point to his arm as an example of magic as both something that dealt death and brought life. But lately, he isn’t in the mood. He’ll make his point to Shinra with AVALANCHE instead.
Chapter 4: Restore: Aeris
Aeris stood by, the small kitchen of her home rendered strange by strange people.
“Tifa, give her the Restore,” Cloud ordered, his blue eyes abstracted as he swiftly divided potions and other medical supplies on the table by some arcane measure known only to himself. “Both of you take one of these, I need to go talk to Barret.”
“Sure, Cloud,” Tifa said, determinedly cheerful, but Cloud didn’t seem to hear her as he strode out. She looked after him for a moment, then turned back to Aeris. “Have you ever used materia before?”
“A little. Not much,” Aeris admitted. Tifa responded by loosening the dull metal bangle wrapped around her wrist and holding it out to Aeris.
“I’ll grab a spare from Barret,” Tifa said at her look. “It’ll be easier than getting the Restore out. Besides, haven’t you heard that old wives’ tale about not putting healing materia into weapon slots?”
Aeris accepted the bangle and fidgeted to make sure it wrapped so that the materia was flush with her skin. It wasn’t very bright, a faint spark glittering in its murky green depths. The spell inside was similarly dim, but she could feel depths to the materia that would open up as it was used, forging pathways to higher level spells. She identified the spell as Cure, softer than the fire materia she’d used before, warm and cooling at the same time.
“Okay?” Tifa asked, startling Aeris out of her contemplation. “If that’s settled, let’s fill out the rest of your supplies.”
“Yes,” Aeris confirmed, letting her arm fall back to her side.
Chapter 5: Poison: Tifa
They found the low-level Poison materia in the Shinra tower labs, stored away in an otherwise empty case. Tifa wondered absently what a combat spell was doing up here. Then her brain caught up to the steel reinforcements she saw everywhere, the muddle of animal and chemical scents, and what a materia that didn’t inflict injuries but that still caused damage might be used for. It reminded her in the worst way of the Nibelheim reactor. Nauseating.
But Tifa had been in several reactors since then, and she rode the instinctive adrenaline with the skill born of that experience. She rolled the marble in her fingers, almost expecting it to feel slick. Then she decisively clicked it into the empty space in her right gauntlet.
Chapter 6: Earth: Red XIII
These strange people, Red XIII reflected. They were in Kalm now, packed into two hotel rooms and stocking up on supplies for the next part of their journey. He hadn’t been expecting to actually come this far with the group—had expected to be waved away, politely or warily, with pointed comments as to letting him return home after his captivity.
Instead, Cloud and Aeris were frowning at a shopkeeper’s wares with him in tow, looking at hair accessories meant to subtly arm a human and marked by the ever-present materia slots. It was one of the few ways that he could carry magic, since human weapons were made for human proportions—and fingers.
“Hey,” Cloud said, in his usual abrupt manner. He pulled out their last purchase, an Earth materia, pushed it into one of the slots provided, and then held it out. “Will this work, do you think?”
Red XIII performed the usual dance to get the item wound properly into his mane, fast after nearly 40 years of experience. Then he shook his head, seeing if the balance of the accessory was off, mindful that it would be counterweighted even more once fully equipped. It stayed where it was.
Then he closed his eyes. Red XIII could feel the promise of the strength of soil and stone in the small marble, eager to grow to greater heights with the right prompting and usage.
“It works well,” he told Cloud.
Aeris clapped her hands. “Perfect. I think that’s the last thing we needed.”
“All right.” Cloud turned to the shopkeeper, who looked as if he wanted to protest their try-outs. “How much for that?”
Chapter 7: Heal: Aeris
It only makes sense to give the healing materia to the strongest spellcaster. Aeris customarily stands back at the rear of any engagement, only using her staff to push away enemies that get too close. It’s pretty rare for that to happen; Cloud and Tifa are front-line fighters, and they stand squarely in between her and combat.
So it’s her job to reach out with Esuna when Tifa stumbles, her face blacked with Blind. She’s the one who quickly flicks a finger over the materia that are becoming more familiar every day and wipes away the paralysis that has pinned Cloud in place. The magic is eager at her call, and Aeris reaches for it and glows.
Chapter 8: Revive: Aeris
Revive is the most heart-stoppingly intimate of materia. When Aeris spreads her fingers over the red stain on Cloud’s chest, she is Cloud, the mako in his veins and the spark of the Lifestream that lives in his body. She calls the brightness back to that verdant pattern where it had begun to dull, synchronizing her beating heart with his faltering one. Aeris’ magic flows in time to keep it from stopping, from that weave ripping free of its vessel and joining the flow of life through the Planet, as all things must in their proper hour. But this is not that hour, not for Cloud, not if she has anything to say about it.
He gasps in a breath and she does too, almost losing her concentration as he coughs up blood from the punctured lung. It’s only a moment more to be sure that Cloud has a firm grip on life once more before she sits back on her heels and sorts through her bangle for Cure next. Now she just needs to staunch the bleeding, and he will be good as new.
Chapter 9: Gravity: Cid
Gravity is the strongest thing in the world. Cid would know—he’s always been set on escaping it. The vertigo that makes his stomach swoop during takeoff never gets old. It’s the best drug in the world, better than alcohol or cigarettes, and more necessary than either.
In materia form, gravity wakes ugly bruises and yanks the unwary off their feet. It opens no wounds, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s destructive force, and no one is more aware of it than Cid.
Still, that same materia is a finicky thing. It takes a good eye to determine if the cast will be worth it; lighter enemies push through it while heavier ones collapse under its force. And everyone will concede that Cid has a keen eye, a head for calculating weight and mass. He uses it rarely, strategically, and always devastatingly.
Chapter 10: Time: Tifa
Silk wraps around Tifa’s limbs, an insect monster’s preliminary attack. It’s sticky and disgusting and it makes the world bright and high-pitched and fast, dripping darkness languorously into her veins. The urge to lie down and sleep, despite the disgust, is nearly overwhelming.
Cid roars, his heavy shoulders flexing as he drives his spear into the carapace of the Jayjujayme, green ichor staining the blade as it flicks through the air, leaving trails of light to Tifa’s dazzled eyes. She shuts them and grips her wrist, forcing her attention into metal and crystal.
Two equal and opposite spells flicker, Haste and Slow, one bright and quick, the other thick and heavy. The heavy one wants to come out, twine around the magic that’s already in her veins, but Tifa denies it. A touch of clear brightness—not like fire, or sunlight, but a little like the rush of Phoenix Down—a flash, and the world rights itself.
Tifa lets go and rushes forward, armored fist cratering the insect’s head between its antennae. Cid jerks his spear free of the green plates with a kick and turns on the next monster, Tifa stepping lightly in his wake.
Chapter 11: Mystify: Vincent
Status materia is a Turk’s best friend, the saying goes. The second half of that saying is—or was—“and Confusion is even better.” Vincent wondered if the young men and women who served in that capacity now knew the saying, or if it had been lost over the intervening years like so much else.
He thinks it may have endured, because Elena dances back and throws the spell like one of her grenades. It’s a pins-and-needles tingle that brings dizziness in its wake.
However, if there’s one thing that working for a terrorist group with acquaintances everywhere is good for, it’s getting ahold of rare gear. Confusion slides off Vincent, Ribbon warm on his upper arm.
He takes aim down the barrel of his gun and fires again.
Chapter 12: Seal: Red XIII
Red XIII sometimes feels like he gets all the cranky materia. Not the ones that require power, which tend to gravitate to Cloud or Tifa, or even finesse, which perform well in Vincent or Yuffie’s hands.
No, he gets the ones that would be immensely useful…if they actually worked as advertised. Sleep hit a third of the Shinra troopers, but left the remaining ones free to sound the alarm or start firing.
He gathers himself, front claws digging into the ground in preparation for his leap.
There’s always the old-fashioned way.
Chapter 13: Comet: Tifa
The thing they don’t tell you about the greater materia is how heavy they are. Not in the sense of physical weight, since they’re the same marble size, but the deep, deep color is a warning sign that carrying this magic is as much a burden as a benefit.
When Tifa equips Comet, she’s weaker. Her strikes aren’t as strong. Maybe a normal person wouldn’t notice, but Tifa has trained her body since childhood. There’s a distinct difference.
At the same time, she’s more. There’s more magic inside her skin, more endurance for casting. She wonders if that’s what it feels like to be Cetra, immense power held in glass-fragile control.
(A voice from memory, unwanted, says the knowledge and wisdom of the Ancients are held in materia, and she shies away from the thought and pushes it down. That way lies nothing but fire and pain.)
Chapter 14: Full Cure: Vincent
Full Cure makes the rounds of their group a few times before it ends up with Vincent. This is fairly normal as far as materia distribution goes. Cloud is always tweaking this and that about who gets what, though everyone has a fight at least once with their leader regarding what gets equipped to weapons and armor.
Vincent actually approves of this micromanagement in theory, since knowing what spells each person can cast is fairly central to good combat tactics. In practice, he wants to thump Cloud for not even letting him get used to what he had equipped before changing it, again.
Cloud seems more or less content to leave Full Cure with Vincent though. It’s rarely something he uses, but those times that he does more than justify the exhausting cost of the spell. He never really develops the mindset of a healer, though. For him, the instinct to kill always comes before the instinct to heal.
Chapter 15: Ultima: Cloud
“Run!” Cloud roared, hauling the boneless Yuffie by the strap of her pauldron. He hurdled the rope of tough, bone-white flesh that the WEAPON was using to try and herd them together, startling when its carapace was so red. It cried out in a voice that seemed to tear the air
It jarred Cloud down to his bones, and he heard Red XIII cry out in pain and felt Yuffie twitch feebly in his hold in an attempt to cover her ears. Electric green, mako green, dusted sparks along his skin and gleamed in the millions of grains of sand like tiny prisms.
In the second before Ultima hit, Red XIII bayed like a Nibel wolf and the protective shroud of Big Guard wove around Yuffie and Cloud, snapping the moment into unforgiving Haste-born clarity. A fraction of a second later, and the world—
thrashing in the tank, swirls of clotted green that left crystals forming on his skin, in his hair, needles and painpainpain—
Cloud retched, but animal instinct, hazy memory, Zack’s voice, drove him on in Red’s wake, every muscle burning.
Chapter 16: Transform: Cloud
Huh, is what Cloud tries to say.
“Ribbit,” is what he actually says.
Shuriken-calloused hands close on slick skin, and he lashes out, making Yuffie yelp. “Cut that out,” she yells, scrabbling for a better hold, “hold still for Remedy!”
She’s got a point, but—
He can distantly hear Barret howling with laughter as Yuffie fights to hold him and he fights to control the pure instinct that only registers something grabbing him. It’s a losing battle on both sides.
“Oh, for-“ Yuffie lunges, face smushing against his back.
Cloud slams facefirst into the dirt, chin grinding on the ground. Yuffie crows with victory from where she’s pressed between his shoulderblades.
Barret nearly dies from laughing too hard.
Chapter 17: Exit: Cait Sith
Scarlet and Heidigger, Reeve reflected, rolling the marble between his fingers until it lit dully, were morons. He could, on a certain level, respect Scarlet—he’d rescued enough robotics and engineering designs from her to recognize she had some skills, if not the ability to realize that just because you could build something didn’t mean you should.
But how Heidigger had gotten to an executive position, Reeve couldn’t imagine. For instance, how could that man neglect searching an AVALANCHE double agent for things like weapons, communication devices, and tools?. They had only confiscated his phone, with its quick interface to Cait Sith—not the more powerful and more complicated remote in his pocket that was the core of his control over the robot.
It was actually something of a relief. Reeve was used to working crazy hours trying to get everything in Urban Development done as President Shinra cut more and more of his staff and funding out from under him. Being locked up like this meant that he could give his full focus to disaster mitigation, both with AVALANCHE and with carefully chosen members of his own staff.
And when he got the chance…Exit gleamed innocuously in between his forefinger and thumb, like a promise.
Chapter 18: Barrier: Red XIII
Barrier was actually two strands of magic wrapped together in a single materia. Protection from physical damage and protection from magical damage, twined together until they become Wall.
The trick was separating them out: the materia wanted to cast Wall. Once it grew enough, it volunteered the spell eagerly. Even when Red XIII didn’t need the higher spell.
“Thought I asked for Reflect,” Cid drawled, wiping Bio 3 off of his face.
Red XIII looked at the green splatter that had landed on his fur. It stank to high heaven of rot and acid— if anything, he was suffering more than Cid, even if he hadn’t borne the full brunt of the attack, because his nose was just so much better than a human’s.
“Mixed them up. Sorry,” Red said shortly, contemplating just jumping into the river three clearings back, if only to get rid of the stench.
Chapter 19: Shield: Cait Sith
The failing of machines as compared to flesh was that flesh mended itself. Bones knitted. Skin scabbed over. Blood replenished, given a chance.
Steel struts, however, stayed bent. Wire coverings wore out. Oil burned away and needed to be replaced.
And machines, unlike the living, were not amenable to the handy auspices of Cure.
Oh, Reeve worked around it. He built using sturdy materials, things that required little maintenance. Cait Sith had backup systems to allow for field repairs. The Moogle doll even contained most of the necessary tools and parts for such things, stowed away inside its chassis.
But really, the only way to keep Cait Sith in full working order was to keep it from getting hit in the first place.
(Or just replace the doll altogether. Reeve will always remember the looks on the faces of the party when they realized that his sacrifice was…not permanent. Their concern had been touching, however.)