The small town of Narshe was a quiet, isolated place far north of the majority of the Dissidia Empire. Snow descended from the permanently gloomy sky three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and little of significance ever occurred there. Outsiders had little reason to trek the long, uneasy miles to visit the town, and for the most part the town was forever left alone.
It was because of this isolation that Zidane Tribal was wondering just why a well-equipped knight was limping into town without the aid of any transportation, especially on such a dark and snowy night. Lurking in the shadow of a house, the thief sized up the intruder. Armor of darkness encased his shoulders, chest, and legs, and a sword, black as obsidian with golden accents, was sheathed on his waist. Silvery-white hair cascaded down past his shoulders, and there was a sorrowful glimmer in the man's eyes that immediately told Zidane one thing: this man was haunted by something. Perhaps it was the past, or possibly the looming shadow of the empire itself.
Whatever it was, it seemed to coerce the thief into somersaulting out of his hiding place and landing mere feet in front of the man. "You lost?"
The armored man locked eyes with Zidane, taking in the thief's appearance. In sharp contrast to the stranger, Zidane truly didn't look like much. His blond hair was tied back in a spiky blond ponytail, and mischievous blue eyes looked deep into the intruder's. A teal vest fell over a ruffled white shirt and puffy pants of the same shade of teal concealed his lithe frame from the chill. Twin daggers were hanging on a chunky belt at his waist. Despite the lack of sleeves, the cold didn't really seem to bother him.
The one feature that stood apart as bizarre was the tan tail poking out from his backside. It usually garnered far too many questions, but the armored man didn't even ask, something Zidane was grateful for.
Teeth chattering, the man inquired feebly, "Is there a place to buy food in this town?"
Zidane smiled encouragingly at the man. Whatever his deal was, he didn't look hostile. "I know a place. You got a name?"
"I'm Zidane. Welcome to Narshe."
Umaro Tavern only had two employees, but that was honestly all it needed for the small mining town. Tonight, only one customer was seated at the counter, Zidane noted. Beside him, Cecil sighed in relief for some reason, but Zidane narrowed his eyes. It seemed awfully funny to him that two newcomers would be in town.
The guy had taken off his coat and placed it on the seat next to him. The longer Zidane glanced at him, the more peculiar the guy seemed. His chestnut brown hair and cheery hazel eyes were nothing out of the ordinary, but his clothes were another matter entirely. He was attired in a sleeveless blue silk shirt and white tights. An intricate shoulder guard protected his left shoulder, and multiple sashes and scarves adorned his waist, along with a cape covering his shoulders.
The look reminded Zidane of a mime. He was carrying a red rapier, and Zidane took a moment to reflect on when exactly everyone in the world felt the need to tote a weapon around anymore.
It was a depressing train of thought, so he shook it away and feasted his eyes on the woman behind the counter. "Hey, Terra, this is Cecil. He's new in town," said Zidane, not taking his eyes off the girl.
She was far from an eyesore. Green hair pulled up in a ponytail (a rare color; it received even more questioning than Zidane's tail), kind yet slightly distant violet eyes peering out from behind bangs, a red mini-dress, and a cape (Zidane really needed a cape, it seemed like everyone except him - and Cecil - had one), she definitely drew quite a few stares.
Terra glanced up from the glass she was polishing and smiled at Cecil. "Hello there. Do you need food?"
Eyes widening, Cecil nodded vigorously and said, "If you may. Anything hot is fine. I can't linger too long."
"Take a seat," she offered, "I'll fix something up."
"Thank you." Cecil procured for himself a stool next to the other stranger, and Zidane beside him. "
So...where you from?" Zidane queried as Terra handed Cecil a cup of tea.
Cecil paused as he took a sip, contemplating how much to tell the boy. "...Baron," he finally replied.
Zidane leaned over the bar to ask the other, "How about you? Got a name?"
This guy was much more open. "I'm Bartz, Bartz Klauser. I'm...not really from anywhere. Mostly I wander with my Chocobo, Boco. You may have seen him outside."
Indeed, Zidane had spotted one of the yellow birds tied up. You didn't see many Chocobos up so far north.
"Why're you guys here? You don't get many visitors around here anymore."
Bartz simply shrugged and said, "I just go where the wind blows!"
Cecil, however, looked far more anxious. This prompted Zidane to say, "Look, Cecil, you've got the armor, the equipment, and everything you'd need, even money, I bet, to live well, yet I found you outside of here hungrier than a Qu. Are you -"
"Zidane, mind your own business," came a voice from behind the trio.
Zidane must've leaped three feet in the air, which was impressive when you realized his feet couldn't reach the floor to give him the necessary boost. "Cloud! Don't freak me out like that!"
Cloud shrugged, and as Bartz and Cecil took in the sight of the man, they couldn't help but wonder. Spiky blond hair that strongly resembled a Chocobo, glowing blue eyes, and clad in black from head to toe, Cloud certainly looked the part of a menacing security man.
On days when customers got too rough for even Terra to handle, Cloud happily stepped in and unleashed the enormous Buster Sword on his back. The Buster Sword strongly resembled a five-foot long butcher knife, and not a single person in town was willing to match blades with the master swordsman who wielded its girth. Despite all this, he had a mournful gaze that Zidane had never seen in anyone before in his life - until today, when he had met Cecil. Just what were their stories?
"Hi, Cloud! I'm Bartz!" the man himself said.
Cloud nodded coolly at Bartz. "You guys staying long? It'd be nice to have someone else besides monkey boy for company."
"Hey!" Zidane groaned, to everyone's amusement.
"I'm going to be here for a couple days," Bartz answered.
"I plan on leaving tonight," Cecil responded.
Bartz raised a skeptical eyebrow. "In a rush, huh?"
"...You could say I'm avoiding a meeting." Cecil said no more and just gazed into his teacup. What he saw in the liquid, the others could only imagine, but his eyes looked so scarred, so horrified, that no one knew how to respond.
Even so, Zidane had finally pieced together the puzzle pieces. "You're a fugitive."
Cecil closed his eyes and, hesitantly, nodded. Bartz and Cloud's eyes widened, and Terra poked her head up from her spot at the stove. "What?!"
"I should leave, I'm endangering you all here," Cecil murmured.
He tried to rise from his seat, but Bartz clutched his wrist. "Hey, man, I wouldn't leave now. It's getting dark, and the snow could get bad quickly. Besides, we can all take care of ourselves if anything happens!"
Cecil shook his head furiously in denial. "You don't understand, I've lingered too long already! They're - "
A dark, guttural voice spoke from the tavern's entrance, one that chilled everyone to the bone. "Well, well, well, look who it is."
Cecil spun in his seat, cursing to himself that he had been so easily found. How long had they been following him? "Jecht!" he cried.
Cecil had only met Jecht a few times, but he wasn't someone easily forgotten. The bronzed, gruff, athletic man had only joined Dissidia's forces recently for reasons unknown to Cecil, but he was formidable in battle. Effortlessly hefting an anchor-like sword, he had proven himself vital in raids and any other combative situation.
Jecht also wasn't sent on the elementary, everyday missions; he was rarely deployed, giving Cecil cause to worry. If Cecil was worrisome enough to have Jecht after his scent, then who was working alongside Jecht?
"Took us long enough to find you. Guess we're lucky we found you first," Jecht growled in his usual impatient tone. He spotted Cecil reaching for his weapon and sighed, tossing his own sword onto his shoulder. "Look, you're pretty reasonable from what I've seen. Just come with us and no one gets hurt!"
Us. So Cecil was right: Jecht had backup. Things just kept getting better and better.
Behind Cloud, the tavern's other occupants were all taking action of their own volition. Cloud was rushing to the back door, sensing the threat behind Jecht's words and hoping to ensure no one else entered under his guard. Terra, on the other hand, ducked down behind the bar, and Cecil offered a silent prayer she wasn't noticed.
Zidane and Bartz were already on their feet, weapons out. Cecil had to marvel at their audacity and strange loyalty. He had only just met them, yet here they were, willing to fight alongside him...justice and truth still lived. Even after everything he had done, at least there was still good in others.
Jecht cocked an eyebrow at the wanderer and the local. "Huh. Nice tail, buddy."
"At least I'm wearing a shirt!" Zidane retorted, puffing out his chest. "Just get out of here, old man."
"Why are you chasing Cecil, anyway?" Bartz queried. "What crime's he guilty of? He seems to me like he's a nice guy."
Jecht shrugged. "Doesn't matter to the Emperor. Orders and orders, and they're telling me to bring you in." As he spoke, Jecht lifted his sword off his shoulder and pointed it at Zidane and Bartz. "Now just - "
Cecil stepped in front of Zidane and Bartz, shielding them from the intruder. "Jecht, no! This is between you and me! Keep them out of this!"
"Come on, you're a traitor!" said Jecht. Cecil had to ponder why Jecht sounded so agitated; he always gave off the impression he didn't give care about anything, let alone if the Empire burned. "And you're coming back with us. Dead or alive, it's up to you. Do yourself a favor."
"Look at us, Jecht!" Cecil bellowed at the older man, his eyes fully disclosing the anguish he was in. "We've become murderers and thieves, and all for what? To find a few crystals that might not even exist?"
Behind him, Cecil could hear Zidane and Bartz murmuring questions to each other in befuddlement, but he paid them little heed, his attention fully focused on Jecht.
Jecht sighed and stuck in sword in the floorboards to scratch his red bandana. Terra would probably be furious with the damage, but by the end of this reimbursing a barmaid would be the least of anyone's concerns. "Hey, I don't like it anymore than you do, but if we don't follow through with this then - "
"Are you done fraternizing with the enemy, Jecht?"
All four of the tavern's occupants (aside from possibly Terra, who was deathly quiet in her hiding place and probably hadn't moved a muscle) turned to stare at the newcomer.
Suddenly, Cecil began to worry he wouldn't win this fight.
Sephiroth. Of all people to set loose on his tail, they had sent Sephiroth, the silver-haired General in leather, the only one known to master the Masamune blade. Scourge of the Midgar Empire, bane of Alexandria...There were rumors that Sephiroth wasn't even human, and as he locked his violet eyes with Sephiroth's glowing acid green ones, he began to see there was almost certainly truth to these rumors.
"Let's not dawdle any longer, he's clearly not coming willingly," Sephiroth murmured dangerously, the whisper somehow perfectly clear to everyone in the room.
Without warning, Sephiroth rushed Cecil, bringing Masamune up and around, slicing the ceiling as it went. Just as quick, Cecil raised his dark sword to block and fired a volley of light orbs at Jecht, who rolled to the side.
Zidane and Bartz also leaped into action, the former jumping up and over Sephiroth's head and bringing his daggers around in a stabbing motion and the latter flinging a series of shuriken at Jecht. While the throwing stars were still in motion, he brought forth a rapier and attacked Jecht with a battle cry.
Even going two-on-one, Sephiroth was incredible. For all his skill and prowess, Cecil found himself sweating in exertion as he barely kept up. The General's aura practically reeked of something alien as he swung his blade to and fro with awe-inspiring speed. Their swords clinked as they clashed, sparks soaring through the air all around Sephiroth, Zidane, and Cecil.
Surprisingly, Zidane was nearly as fast as Sephiroth. Zidane wove around the room like a maniac. Crying out, Zidane jumped up, twirling his daggers to engage Sephiroth. Sephiroth slashed, but at the last minute Zidane flipped midair over the blade and brought his daggers down. They met air as Sephiroth shifted his body to the side, but it gave Cecil an opening to engulf Sephiroth in darkness. However, Sephiroth managed to escape relatively unscathed.
Bartz, meanwhile, wasn't faring any better. The wanderer seemed to have hundreds of tricks up his sleeve, just like the mime he appeared to be, but Jecht was overwhelming him with sheer brute strength. Deciding to switch tactics, Bartz sidestepped Jecht's swing to cast a fireball, but Jecht's fist collided with his jaw, sending him flying backwards right into Zidane. Ironically, this involuntary tackle saved Zidane's life as Masamune sliced right where Zidane used to be.
"Sephiroth!" Cecil heard Cloud holler as the spiky blond burst into the room. The General's eyes widened for too short of a millisecond. Then a malicious smile spread across his face as he purred, " Cloud ." Cecil supressed a shudder. Whatever Sephiroth had done to Cloud, it wasn't pleasant.
Cloud didn't even give Sephiroth time to reminisce, instantly hurling himself at Sephiroth. The two clashed in midair and Cecil took a step back. So he wasn't the only one affiliated with these men...
Cloud stabbed forward, and Sephiroth leaped upward. Gritting his teeth and giving a harsh, passionate battle cry, Cloud went with the stabbing motion and rushed up, his sword brushing Sephiroth as the man barely dodged in time. A few of Sephiroth's severed hairs fluttered to the ground, but Sephiroth was too busy fighting his presumed archenemy to notice this atrocity.
Cecil decided to let these two deal with their vendetta for now, and he turned to Jecht. Bartz was still reeling from the horrible blow dealt to him, and Zidane was equally dazed, so Cecil faced Jecht alone. He darted forward, slicing his dark sword up, then to the right; Jecht barely managed to block. "You don't have to fight for a cause you don't sympathize with!" Cecil declared as the two clashed.
Jecht aimed a ferocious kick at Cecil's head, but Cecil ducked and summoned another orb of light to throw at the man. Jecht back-flipped as Cecil sent the orb hurtling, tossing flames at Cecil as he went. "Shut up, kid! You have no idea why I'm fighting!"
Undaunted, Cecil internally decided to stick to artes instead of physical techniques. "But you're killing innocents for them!"
This proved to be a mistake, as Jecht took advantage of this the time as Bartz to hurl another kick at Cecil's throat. Cecil stepped back, but he was still sideswiped by the blow. "I don't fight for no one but me!" Jecht hollered.
Cecil backpedalled and smacked into a table, tripping and smashing into its top. Faintly, he heard Cloud hiss in pain as Sephiroth dealt a blow. He picked his head up and saw Sephiroth grinning in triumph at a fallen Cloud, a dark sort of glee consuming his presence.
"I've been looking forward to this," he said to Cloud. "It's been how many years now? I've lost track. Ever since that day, I've actually been hoping I'd see you again...the last remnant to be destroyed."
Cecil tried to rise, but Jecht pinned him to the table with his foot, though his eyes were on Sephiroth. Sephiroth raised Masamune to deliver the killing blow -
And a thin blade was at his throat. "Let them go," Terra ordered, her voice quiet and low.
Sephiroth, for his part, looked like he was fighting off a good chuckle. "Or what?" he queried, eyeing her much smaller blade. "You'll slaughter me with your toothpick?"
"You don't know what I'm capable of," she replied. On the floor, Bartz and Zidane were slowly picking themselves up, but no one truly noticed.
"And what would that be, hm? Do you think you can overcome me?" He removed his sword from its place above Cloud's chest and instead pointed it at Terra, the smile gone from his face. "All I see is a terrified little girl, lost in a battlefield."
"Terra! Get out of here!" Cecil managed to shout before Jecht pressed his foot harder into his chest, pushing Cecil's armor against him and making it barely manageable to breathe, let alone yell.
"No more running!" Terra shouted, though what she meant was lost on them all. "Just let them go, and nothing has to happen!"
Something was happening around Terra. Sephiroth narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out what was occurring. After just a moment, his eyes widened in actual horror. "That's not possible."
He swept his sword toward Terra, but the movement was futile. Cecil, in all of his lifetime, throughout all the battles and hardships he had been through, had never witnessed someone casting Ultima. It was considered a lost spell, something so forbidden by humanity, for any attempt always resulted in death for the caster.
Terra, however, was much more resilient than she appeared. The Ultima hit both Sephiroth and Jecht with a precise barrage of green energy, not even dealing a glancing blow to Cecil, Cloud, Zidane, or Bartz. The two enemy soldiers cried out in agony as the Ultima's assault continued, and Cecil took advantage of the break to help Cloud to his feet.
Terra tried to assist Zidane and Bartz as the spell slowly dwindled to an end, but the two could only gawk. "What are you?" Zidane murmured in shock, and Terra turned her face away in shame.
"We need to get out of here," she muttered in reply, not desiring to answer at the moment. Around her, flames were starting to lick at the walls. Cecil thought to himself for a moment that her attack had been too aggressive...but then again, it was the first successful Ultima he had ever seen. You had to cut her some slack.
Focusing instead on the matter at hand, Cecil hoisted Cloud's arm around his shoulder, eliciting a moan from the guard. "Can we put him on your Chocobo, Bartz?" he asked as they limped out as quickly as they could.
Bartz nodded and helped Cloud onto Boco, and the five made off like thieves into the night, braving the cold in order to live.