Approaching the Canyon

Honestly, Verändern or Ver, whenever he returns back to being human from shifting, liked his abilities and would prefer to be in his 'shifted' form. But Cloud, the worrywart, always reminds him not to spend all of his time pretending to be an animal. Deep down, Ver thought his big brother just wanted him to stop shifting into a chocobo and nibbling his spiky hair.

Still, following Cloud's advice would be good for him in the long run. Now that he and Cloud are alone now, only the two of them against the entire world – to be dramatic -, they must find something to do in order to survive. Staying at Nibelheim was just asking for their end and their mother's last words were for them to enjoy their life to the fullest.

Something both of them whole-heartedly agree.

And that's why the two of them are on their way to the part of the Western Continent. Though Cloud wanted them to go up north towards Rocket Town because of the rumors of having jobs for them, both them agreed that it would be foolish for them to try and cross the mountain area. Especially when it was the 'Ber' Months and the snow was ridiculously strong at the Nibel Mountain range that not even a Nibel Dragon wouldn't decide to go out.

Ver and Cloud tried to do it once, with Ver shifting into a Nibel Dragon youngling in order to try and see what was beyond the mountain range. The outcome was a bust and Ver had to suffer for an entire 2 days stuck in a dragon youngling form with a headache. Both of them discovered right there that Ver's shifting abilities were, at the moment, limited.

So they decided to make their way Cosmo Canyon first and go to Gongaga afterwards. They had a map from Master Zangan, a parting gift he said, so they wouldn't get lost. As long as they follow the main roads, they would be alright.

The reason why the party of two decided to go there was because Ver was curious about the stories of Cosmo Canyon. When they asked for advice from Master Zangan on where they should go, the first thing he said was Midgar and the second thing was Cosmo Canyon.

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"Cosmo Canyon first then try to see if there are any ferry boats going directly to Junon from Gongaga, because you two would need to restock if you are planning to go to Midgar at this time. You two are too young to think of tackling the mountain range and I doubt you two would be allowed to hitchhike by the people here."

"Why Cosmo Canyon?" Cloud asked as he tried to fit the meager clothing he had into the small backpack. Verä was busy rounding up any leftover things he had by picking them up one by one and stuffing them to a smaller bag the white wolf would be able to carry later.

"It's the nearest to Nibelheim for now; Rocket Town might be nearer but with how the weather seems to be right now, I doubt there are any roads open crossing or going around the Nibel Mountain Range," the old man stated. He then picked up a picture frame on the small table near the entrance of the small house. "Huh. Claudia still kept that last picture. Neil really lucked out with her."

"What did you say Mister?"

"Nothing. Anyway, you and your pet wolf are sure on leaving this place. May I ask why?"

Stopping for a brief moment of pause, Verä saw Cloud stopped in his attempt to fit the rest of his clothes in his half-full backpack. Cloud couldn't say to the old man directly that he wanted to leave the place because almost all of the people there hated him and his mother. His mother was a saint in comparison to the residents of Nibelheim. A fact even he could admit was true, he who hangs around the town's water tower whenever Cloud was busy doing his portion of house chores and acts as a silent observer of the town.

Thinking fast, he picked up one of the pictures he and Cloud had set aside for safe-keeping and brought It to the blond.

Verä nudged at Cloud's leg. His self-appointed big brother looked down and saw what he was carrying in his white wolf form's jaws. A picture where he, as a white wolf, Cloud and Mrs. Claudia Strife were posing for a family picture. They were sitting in front of the fire with Verä on Cloud's lap while his mother was standing behind him, smiles evident on their faces. Cloud had borrowed Tifa's camera for the occasion and begged the town's only store owner afterwards to develop the picture of him and his family. Verä was making growling noises and nudged the picture even further to his brother's calf.

He hoped Cloud would get the idea using the picture of their small family… Their small family…

"It's… It's to follow my mother's last wish. She wanted me to enjoy my life. And what better way to spend it than to explore right? I guess it's because she was here for almost 13 years with me, raising me and living her entire life that she…. She told me she came somewhere at the Eastern Continent, I think it was Karum or something, so maybe I should try and go there, right?" Good. Cloud definitely caught what he was implying. He went back to his work while making sure he was listening to his brother and the old man.

Mister Zangan hummed and went silent for a minute. Instead of standing still and wait for the old man's reply, Cloud went to the kitchen. Verä followed his brother and saw him checking if there are any more food that they could bring. A small and almost silent gasp was made by Cloud. Figures. He would only find a piece of bread and a small bottle of sauce their mom made two days before she died were there at the kitchen counter.

He had cleaned the kitchen while Cloud and Mister Zangan buried their mom at the small garden he and Cloud made. There weren't any canned foods, oatmeal nor dried meat at the cabinets, and there were a lots of those since they tend to store food for the future in case their mom couldn't buy enough food for them to last the week. All those were already packed for their travel.

"If you are sure then I wouldn't stop you. But let me help you at the very least," the old man spoke. Cloud and Verä heard something being shuffled inside a bag as they went back to the small living room in the house. The old man had brought out a map and a small bag.

"Here." Mister Zangan dropped the map on his arms and Cloud went into opening it. It was a map of Gaia and there were a few marks and notes written on it. "Since you are so keen in going out, you'll have my old map. I bet there's still my notes all written there. Shortcuts, tips and any small towns along the road that would certainly let you stay at their inns," Mister Zangan spoke, pointing at certain routes at the map.

"And here," he opened the small bag and brought out a single green Materia orb, "I have a couple of Materia, all extras from my original ones, so I'll give it you. You will need it."

"I have the sword you gave me!" Cloud protested, pointing to the small broadsword leaning at the corner of the room. "Why would I need Materia?" Phoenix and his magic would deal with any monsters that are too far away from him so why…

"Kid, do you expect your measly skills with the sword would handle everything? Although I doubt you will have too much trouble with the animals and occasional monsters on the road to Cosmo Canyon," Mister Zangan then closed the small bag and reached out to his back pack. "It would be a very big help if you have Materia with you. Have you forgotten about those Sonic Speeds at Mt. Nibel and how you can't hit them with that sword of yours?"

Cloud ducked his head and laughed lightly. Even he had to turn around because it was embarrassing to be reminded of Cloud's fumbling at Mt. Nibel, trying to hit the Sonic Speeds when they are so high up in the air and were clearly finding his attempts to be so amusing. If it weren't for Mister Zangan noticing him, he would be stuck there until the Sonic Speeds got tired of him. Or until Verä jumped in.

"I still have no idea where did you found that sword that have 4 Materias already equipped in it when you don't even use it to its full potential. Next time kiddo, use it, okay? You're just wasting the Materia equipped to it."

"…Yes, Mister."

"And another thing, call me Master Zangan. Calling me mister makes me feel older than I should be."

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Still, Cloud really should learn how to use Materia. Just because he's already the designated magic user of their party of two doesn't mean he should be the only one. And besides, the Rune Blade he scavenged from Mt. Nibel would just be wasted if Cloud didn't use the runes and the Materia he equipped into it.

After an hour of walking the plains of the Western portion of the Western Continent, they finally reached the border of the plains and the mountainous area of the South-West region of the Western Continent. Unlike at the Northern region of the continent, the weather at the Southern region was the warmer and significantly hotter. No wonder the people at the towns they visited gave them a strange look when they heard of their plans.

"Well, here we are! We reached the canyons of Cosmo Canyon!" Ver exclaimed, taking in the view of the steep sides of the mountains of Cosmo Canyon. Unlike the Nibel Mountain Range, Cosmo Canyon had visible paths to the settlement in the Canyon.

"Yeah. A month of travelling and we are almost there," Cloud replied, also taking in the view. "Right now, I bet there's a blizzard at Nibelheim." The view was amazing especially with the sun setting over the horizon, giving the landscape a red orange color. The stars were also coming out but at Cosmo Canyon, they seemed to be a bit brighter.

"Just like every year, Cloud, there's always a blizzard whenever October kicks in."

Both of them fell silent after that. "Let's take a break for now. I'll make the tent!" Ver volunteered. Cloud nodded in agreement.

Unpacking his backpack, he brought out the components of their tent and began to set it up. Ver did it with a speed of a person who was accustomed to the action and soon enough, he had a sturdy tent prepared for the two of them. As he cleaned up the mess he made from setting up the tent, his brother was also busy making a fire for cooking and for their campfire.

Cloud already collected a bunch of wood along the way to Cosmo Canyon and kept them secured with a rope along his backpack. They were doing it for almost a month and the two of them were already accustomed to collecting wood if they noticed there weren't any towns nearby when night fell.

Ver sat down beside Cloud as he pulled out the Rune Blade and used the Materia equipped with it to cast a low level Fire on the pile of wood. With the fire ready, Ver brought out the ingredients in his backpack for making a hearty soup for the two of them, a recipe their mom cooked for them and Ver memorized in her memory.

By the time the sun completely disappeared and the moon and stars were shining bright at the night sky, Ver and Cloud had finished eating their dinner of soup and bread and were lounging under the night sky. The campfire was still going strong and with Ver consistently powering the Enemy Away Materia – something Ver managed to haggle from the old lady at the Materia shop of the last town they visited -, the brothers in all but blood were safe from any roaming monsters in the area. They still have their respective weapons beside them though, the Rune Sword for Cloud and a pair of weighted knuckle gloves and sturdy boots for Ver.

"You really have to tell me how or where you get these Materia. From the shops we went to, I never saw any of those Materia you have being sold there," Cloud asked, breaking the silence. "I doubt you stole them. So where?"

"Remember the time when you got caught by Master Zangan at Mt. Nibel?"

"How could I forget it. You ran off towards some place and left me. Then those Sonic Speeds came. Good thing I had the Rune Blade we found before or else I was done." Cloud huffed and lightly punched the black haired kid. "Wait, you mean you got our Materia at some cave in Mt. Nibel? All of them?"

Ver laughed. "Well, except for Phoenix, I got them all at Mt. Nibel. I guess that was a, uh, Materia mine or something. It was almost empty and I think I lucked out with these orbs." He brought up the bracers he had on both of his arms that had small holes in it. "I saw them a week before and didn't got the chance to get them. I thought at first they were just pretty rocks like mom had in her drawer but they were balls. I got only a few so I was surprised they multiplied after being used for some time."

"Hm… Maybe. Still, how can you identify which Materia is which. I still have a hard time picking out the fire Materia from the ice one." Cloud brought up his Rune Sword, a broadsword that was short enough for Cloud to properly use and not heavy enough for him carry. "What are these Materia again, Ver? I can tell though that this one here isn't a magic Materia but a, uh, special one."

"A Fire, Thunder, Long Range and a Restore. Yeah, you're right that the purple one is a special. That's a Long Range Materia, it allows you to reach flying enemies, like the Sonic Speeds. If you concentrate on an enemy and imagine it being hit, the Materia will act and the slash you make will magically reach it!"

"So that's how I was able to hit the Bomb back at the plain! Hey! You didn't answer my first question."

Ver giggled at his brother's realization. "You know how you 'feel out' the Materia with you mind, right? " Cloud nodded at him. "Great, try it out and think of its name. Title or whatever. Try guessing which one is a Thunder and a Fire." The one below the purple one was the Thunder while the one at the top was the Fire and the one sandwiched between it and the Long Range Materia was the Restore. Cloud closed his eyes and paused for a moment.

He then held the Rune Sword at its hilt, clearly attempting to 'feel out' the equipped Materia just like how he used a Thunder to strike the monsters an hour ago. Cloud then used his other hand to point at the green Materia between the purple and the green Materia and said, "I think this is… Restore? I 'feel' it can, uh, heal me. I never used healing Materia before since you always patch me up."

Ver smiled at his brother. "That's not what I was asking but you're right. So what is the other green Materia?"

"It's… Fire? And the one at the bottom is… Thunder."

"Yep!"

Cloud sheathed back the broadsword back to its makeshift sheath and placed it back to the ground. "So that's how you identify which Materia is which. What do you call it again? Uh… Mind games?"

Laughing lightly at his brother, Ver activated the Fire Materia he had on his bracers. He then played with the small fireball he now had on his hands. "Maybe~?" he said, lightly stretching the last syllable of the word. Tossing the other fireball to his other hand, back in forth. He almost dropped the fire ball when Cloud gave him a weird face. "Anyway, I can't believe you didn't notice you were using the Long Range Materia in hitting the out of reach enemies. And I'm supposed to be the younger one," he commented as he rose up from the ground, willing away the small fireball. Cloud's frown became more apparent when his eyebrows tensed slightly. He then tried to pull him back to the ground but Ver was quick. Ver jumped away from Cloud, just in time to avoid his leg from being caught.

He put his tongue out, taunting his brother. "Come on. Cloud. I'm going to sleep now. We have to get ready for the climb early in the morning!" He then went inside the tent and called out for Cloud again.

"Coming, you brat! I'm coming! Don't close me out of the tent again!"

"It's your fault for being slow, Cloud!"