I'm back! I haven't actually finished writing this, but I'm close enough that I'm comfortable starting an upload schedule. Plus, I figure some nice reviews might motivate me to pick up the pace a bit.
Chapter 1 - Catching Up
In the wastelands a little south of Midgar lay a blackened patch of ground. Not black like fertile earth, but as if it had been burned. Next to this scar within a scar a small graveyard had been dug. Each grave was marked with a metal bar engraved with the person's name, if it was known. Most of the graves remained unmarked.
That day, two of the marked graves had visitors. Aerith knelt in front of one, arranging a wreath of flowers around the metal bar then folding her hands over her heart.
"I brought you flowers from the church. I wish I'd had a chance to show you, since you probably never got to see them up north. I..." She folded over with tears in her eyes. "I'm so sorry! I know in my head that it isn't my fault, but... if I had done something different. If I hadn't let myself get hurt. If I had said something so you wouldn't have gotten involved... If so many people hadn't died..."
Zack saw her as he reached the graveyard. On his way, he stopped next to Cole. The boy stood with his head bowed, scratching at a spot near his right hip.
"Hey." Zack gripped Cole's shoulder gently. "You doing okay?"
"Better than Marie, I guess." Cole shrugged and hung his head a little further. "At least she died quickly."
Zack frowned. "Don't talk like that! It's been less than two weeks, we're bound to find a cure eventually."
Good enough for now. "You should head back to the church. Cloud probably needs rescuing."
That got a small chuckle out of Cole. "Sure. I'll see what I can do."
After making sure Cole was headed the right way, Zack went straight to Aerith. She'd calmed down a bit and most of her tears had dried, but she still shook like a leaf. Zack wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close.
"I heard from Reeve. He's done as much as he can getting homes set up for the refugees in Kalm and is planning a trip to Junon. I volunteered for bodyguard duty and thought you and Elmyra could come along."
Aerith sniffled. "That doesn't make sense. Wouldn't it be harder for you to protect more people?"
"Oh come on, the monsters between here and Junon are nothing. Besides, once we reach Junon I was thinking we could hop a boat and head to Costa Del Sol then down to Gongaga."
She looked up at him, confusion and anticipation warring on her face. "It seems a little strange to invite my mother on a romantic trip."
Zack laughed and pulled her up onto his lap. "Trust me, it's not strange at all."
The past week and a half had not been easy for either Nanaki or Kunsel. Nanaki in particular. They had barely come in sight of the gate when a couple locals rushed up and all but dragged Nanaki up into the caves. Kunsel wanted to follow but couldn't.
Well, he could, but it would have involved knocking out at least one villager and probably damaging a lot of property.
So Kunsel sat by Cosmo Candle to wait. As soon as Nanaki reappeared all his questions evaporated.
Nanaki shook his head. "The sentiment is appreciated but unnecessary. Grandfather lived a long, good life and if not for you and the others I would not have been able to see him at..." He shuddered for a moment before clearing his throat. "He says he wants me to travel the planet, recording all life within my memory. It is a fitting task. After all, I may live another five hundred years or more. There is a lot to learn in that time."
"Sounds good." Kunsel nodded. "Want some company?"
Nanaki opened his mouth but seemed to change his mind and shook his head. "No. You have things to accomplish here. I will be all right."
"If you say so. When are you heading out?"
"In a few days. First, I wish to visit my father and... I must make arrangements for Grandfather."
Kunsel leaned forward so he could grip Nanaki's mane at the base of his neck. "If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."
Under different circumstances Kunsel would have considered attending a traditional Cosmo Canyon funeral a great opportunity. It was still an honor, he just couldn't separate his emotions entirely. The next day, Nanaki tried to leave. When Kunsel went to the inn to eat supper he found Nanaki curled up under one of the busier tables.
"I thought you left this morning."
A big barrel of a man named Haru guffawed, thumping the table hard enough to make it jump. "He got scared and ran home! Our Nanaki may look fierce, but inside he's still a child."
If Nanaki's face could move that way he might have pouted. As it was, he simply turned his head. "I forgot something, that's all. When I got back I decided it would be best to try again tomorrow."
"Uh huh." Kunsel ordered his food then sat at a table across from Nanaki. "Where do you plan on heading to first?"
"Wutai. I thought I would start there and work my way east."
"Sounds good. When you get there you can call Yuffie and tell her how things are going."
At that, Nanaki seemed to smile. "That is a very good idea. I think I will."
A few hours later, after most of the villagers had gone to bed, Kunsel sat in one of the library's study rooms transcribing Dr. Gast's video research. Due to his level of focus on the task at hand, he didn't notice his visitor until the door closed behind him. The pattern of clicks could only belong to one person.
Kunsel glanced over his shoulder. "Hey, Nanaki. Can I help you with something?"
Nanaki shuffled for a moment before answering. "Ah, no. It's nothing. I shouldn't have bothered you."
"It's only a bother if you don't tell me why you came." Kunsel turned his chair all the way around. "So spill."
More hesitation, but eventually Nanaki shifted further away from the door. "This morning when I left... I looked back and couldn't see the village. It shouldn't have bothered me but I felt something dark well up inside. I couldn't move for a long time." He hung his head. "I don't know what it was or if it will appear again."
Kunsel shook his head. "That's called 'fear.' Considering what happened last time you left home, it's understandable."
"Then the others were right." Nanaki bowed his head until his nose almost touched the floor.
"In a way." Kunsel drummed his fingers on the desk for a few seconds. "I had a similar experience the first time I went into battle. Pretty sure the only reason I survived is because the monster thought I was a weird-looking rock."
Nanaki huffed. "It must have been a very stupid monster. You smell nothing like a rock."
"Uh, thanks." Kunsel resisted the urge to sniff his armpits.
"No, I should thank you. You are a very good human." Nanaki turned back toward the door.
"The offer to come with still stands."
Nanaki glanced over his shoulder. "It is appreciated, but if I am to conquer this fear I must face it on my own."
Though he doubted the wisdom of that approach, Kunsel didn't press the matter and Nanaki left the next day without incident.
The next Kunsel heard from Nanaki was three days later. Apparently the mystery illness they had seen in Midgar had made its way to Wutai. The one rumored to be the planet's wrath. The people of Wutai were in a panic trying to find who had brought the disease and were forbidding contact with any of the infected.
"I do not know if I should call Yuffie. She might be distressed at the news."
Kunsel thought for a moment. "It's your decision, but if you're asking what I would do, I'd call her. It's her home. Even if she can't do anything she'd probably appreciate knowing."
"I will consider your advice. How is your research progressing?"
"Still transcribing Gast's videos. I'm almost tempted to go back to Midgar just to grab a computer from the ShinRa building."
"There is something wrong with the computers available?"
"Well, no. I'm just used to processors that can keep up with my typing speed."
The conversation ended soon after that. Nanaki called a few more times with updates on the situation in Wutai, none of it good.
Kunsel wondered if he should try researching a cure. But how could he do that for something that had never been seen before? He was still questioning that when a line in the video he was playing caught his attention.
"The Cetra were attacked by the virus and went mad... transforming into monsters."
Kunsel ran from the study room without even bothering to stop the video. Elder Hargo nearly fainted when an anxious SOLDIER suddenly appeared in front of him.
"Do you have any copies of Loveless?"
Elder Hargo managed to regain his breath. "The poem? Several. My teacher, Elder Unne was quite interested in the possibility that the story as we have it now is a translation from an Ancient epic. The missing fifth act..."
"That's fine. Where are they?"
"This way." Elder Hargo shook a bit as he led Kunsel through the stacks. He felt far too old to be dealing with whatever had this new student so flustered. "Is there a particular edition you were hoping for? We have at least one annotated volume, I believe."
"The annotated one would be great. Thanks." As soon as Kunsel had his hands on the book he disappeared.
Back in the study room he flipped through the second act as quickly as he could without damaging the pages until he found what looked like the right passage.
"'Be you nurse or warden in this forsaken place?'" Kunsel muttered and skipped ahead a bit. "'The land you seek to rule is dying. Fly now and all you shall meet is death. Stay and death may yet find you.' It's got to be after this point, I think. Here. 'Bleeding black, the beast cried its last. The woman sang a death wail for one once beloved.'"
It felt like a long shot, but if true... He might have preferred the planet being angry.
This story may have a slightly slow start, but I thought it important to establish where everyone is and how they're dealing with rebuilding the world. I also couldn't resist putting in some of my own theories about Loveless. Though some fans seem to assume that what's quoted in Crisis Core is all there is to the poem, I'm quite certain there's more to it than that. There kinda has to be.