Cloud felt stifled. Edge seemed more crowded than usual. Too many people, there were just too many people. He needed some time away from them, from everyone, even his friends.
“Tifa, I’m going out.”
“What? Wait Cloud. Where -?”
Cloud left Seventh Heaven before she could pin him down with questions. He liked Tifa, wanted to be with her, but the desire to be alone right now outweighed his feelings for her. It didn’t help that Marlene and Denzel were being more rambunctious than normal, running all over the bar like a couple of drunk Cactuars.
Revving Fenrir up, gravel spit up behind him as he sped out of the city. Once the open air hit his skin, some of the anxiousness started to seep out of his body. He hadn’t felt this wound up in a while and didn’t like it. Ever since that battle with Kadaj and the Geostigma Crisis, peace had settled over him. Sure, he felt a bit restless from time to time, but this was different.
Fenrir ate up the road in front of him, bringing him further into the wilds. Plains bled into forest, forcing him to slow down, but the trees around him offered a different kind of solace than speeding through the open road. He could sense beasts lurking among the trees and he slowed Fenrir even more, spoiling for a fight. Dismounting, he pulled one of the Fusion Swords, First Sword, from its bracket on Fenrir.
He let loose a shrill whistle, taunting the creatures that lay in wait. He was spoiling for a fight and they did not disappoint.
Several Fangs burst from the foliage, surrounding him. Cloud sighed. They weren’t exactly what he was hoping for, but it was a good start.
The beasts were dispatched all too quickly, much to Cloud’s disappointment, but he knew there were bigger, more dangerous things that lurked in the forest. He was one of them.
More creatures and beasts emerged to attack him, but none could stand up to First Sword and Cloud was beginning to get bored. He had come out into the wilds to expend his pent up emotions, not toy with trifles.
The moon was just beginning to rise when a loud belching noise echoed throughout the forest. It sounded like some rude noise that Cid or Barret might make, but knowing that the two were off surveying the new mine Barret owned, Cloud knew it was something else. There were few things, however, that could stink worse than them.
Cloud squinted into the darkness as the creature belched again. A malodorous odor clung to the air around him. A spindle of nausea wove through him. Shaking his head, Cloud tried to focus. He needed a battle, a good one. He wanted to clear his head of the noise that had filled it.
The bushes rattled and rustled around him. Five poisoned Toads hopped out.
Toads? Seriously? You have got to be kidding me!
It was a bit of a let down. He had been expecting something monstrous, not these pesky creatures. Sneering at the scrawny amphibians before him, Cloud sheathed First Sword and started to turn away.
Cloud spun around, his hand reaching up to the back of his head. It came away sticky with some type of sticky, viscous goo that smelled like the depths of the sewers from Midgar’s now abandoned slums.
He regarded the five Toads. They sat no more than five yards away, blinking at him with their wide eyes. Shaking his head, he turned away again only to be assaulted again, more goo sliming all over him. Now he was pissed.
“Alright, you little shits. You want a fight, I’ll give you a fight.”
He unsheathed First Sword again, but this time his movements seemed sluggish, his reactions slowed. His skin began to tingle uncomfortably as his vision began to blur. Cloud’s legs buckled underneath him as he was brought down to one knee, leaning on First Sword for support. He blearily looked at the Toads squatting before him, unsure of what he was seeing. What new devilry was this?
The Toads hopped closer, each staring at him with a gimlet eye. One Toad hopped on another and they seemed to merge, a slight shimmer enveloped them as two Toads became one. Another Toad hopped on another, and they merged. Three Toads now sat before him, two larger ones and the smaller one. Cloud watched, paralyzed, as the two larger ones merged with each other and the fifth Toad sprang up to sit on top of the massive Toad.
Though his ears were plugged up with the goo, Cloud could swear that he could hear a voice speaking to him.
“Next time you come picking a fight, Human, use more than your eyes to see. We think that perhaps a lesson is needed here.”
Cloud wanted to respond, but his mouth felt... funny, like it could no longer form words. Something was happening to his limbs, a kind of itchiness. He tried to shake his head, but it only caused a buzzing sound in his head that grew louder with every shake.
“Let’s see, Human, if you can get others to see with more than their eyes.”
Blearily, Cloud looked up at the towering Toad and its shoulder-riding companion. The last thing he saw was the small Toad leaping forward and landing a hard smack on his forehead. Everything went dark after that.
Sunlight was filtering through the leaves when Cloud awoke. Shit, he thought, have I been out all night? Tifa’s gonna kill me.
Cloud tried to get up, but his limbs refused to cooperate. He managed to fold his legs under him so that he was sitting in a squatting position, which was, strangely, not all that uncomfortable. His mouth felt like he had swallowed an out-of-date potion or had stayed up all night drinking with Cid and Barret.
He brought up a hand to rub the sleep out of his eyes, but stopped when he saw his, hand?
"Ah, shit." At least, that’s what he meant to say; all that came out was the croaking sound of a Toad.
"This cannot be happening," he thought. "What the hell was that thing and what did it do to me?”
No answers presented itself to Cloud, but one thing was clear: he had to get back to Edge. Staying here in the wilds was the height of stupidity. In his current, condition, he wouldn’t last long. No, he needed to get back to Edge, to Tifa. One hop at a time.