Chapter 2

"Must we always go to the Training Center? Can't you be more creative?" Bahamut whined. It was early Friday morning and Bahamut, always the grouchy one, was definitely not a morning person. "I hate doing this. Don't you ever just sit back and relax? How about sleeping? Don't you ever do that?"

"Oh stop whining. You sound like a two-year old," Ryn snapped.

"Well, couldn't we at least go outside?"

"You know I can't leave Balamb. And besides, what's so bad about a little exercise? We all know you need it."

"Hey, that's harsh… Just for that, I'm not gunna help you."

Bahamut severed the connection and Ryn sighed. "You're such a baby."

"Who is?"

Ryn nearly jumped out of her boots. There in front of her was none other than the notorious "Chicken-wuss" himself. "No one. Since when did you get up this early, Zell?"

"What? I always get up this early." Zell cast a suspicious glance, noting her vague answer. "Or does that change in the future?"

"I guess you'll find out." She countered and walked around him to the Training Center. "Sorry, but I can't stay and chat. I have some things to do."

"Yeah, but none of those things involve sleeping…" Bahamut groaned.

Ryn rolled her eyes.

Zell noticed the eye roll, but ignored it for the time being. He shrugged and walked off towards the cafeteria.

"I guess his appetite hasn't changed," Bahamut commented.

"Are you done?"

"Hmpf… Some one's touchy in the morning."

Ryn resisted the urge to smack the dragon across the head and headed through the door to her right.

æ § æ

After facing about a dozen Grats and a T-Rexaur, Ryn left the Training Center in search of a quiet place to cool down. She plopped down on the bench just outside the gates, stretching her legs out and reclining as far back as she could without falling off.

"It seems as if I've come at a good time. Don't want you getting too lazy now."

"Ryn, watch out!" Bahamut yelped, but Ryn was one step ahead of him. She used the bench to back flip onto the cement railing behind it just before a double-bladed scythe rendered the bench a pile of rubble.

"I'd know that over-grown poker stick and cocky attitude anywhere." Ryn almost smiled when she looked into the face of her good friend, but then remembered what had become of her. "Reiven, what a pleasant surprise.". .

"Always a pleasure, Ryn." Reiven stood to be about 5'9, just a little bit taller then Ryn herself, with shiny red hair with the black highlights that make her name so fitting. She wore common blue jeans with a green tank top that dimmed in comparison to her forest green eyes;. eyes that once held the envy of many, but now pulse with the black hatred of Griever. "Where's my warm welcome? Usually there's a hug or hell even a parry but all I get is an over-dramatic evasion? Honestly Ryn, you're losing your touch."

"I guess I expected a follow up. I mean after a weak attack like that you'd be dead on the ground if someone took you as a serious threat. Good thing no one's that stupid around here."

"How cliché. I expected a sharper tongue from you."

"I don't waste such talents on sell-outs."

Reiven paused, setting her scythe effortlessly on her right shoulder. "Heh, that almost hurt. Well, I guess if you lose the sting you gain the wit."

"Or is it: if you lose the battle you gain the shame? Is that more fitting Griever?"

Reiven's eyes flashed crimson as she took another strike at the seemingly defenseless redhead. Ryn, anticipating the outrage, had her long swords in an X-like position ready to catch the scythe.

With the handle resting firmly on the swords and the tip of the scythe's blades grazing the top of her head, Ryn evaluated her delicate situation. "I'm crouched down on a ledge about one or two stories above the ground with a hair-splitting blade inches from my head."

"You're dead, genius," Bahamut grumbled, reading her thoughts.

"Stop being so pessimistic. No, I'm not." Ryn pushed the scythe off towards her left shoulder. Using that momentum, she turned a 360 and countered with both blades aiming at Reiven's defenseless left side. Reiven recovered quickly from her first attack and blocked Ryn's attempt with the handle.

"Oh, so close," Reiven taunted, swinging the head of the scythe around to strike at Ryn's upper torso.

Ryn ducked into a forward summersault, the blade passing safely above, and got to her feet a safe distance away. "You've gotten slower."

Reiven smirked. "We'll see." She came at Ryn with the scythe held low then cutting up at the last second. She reversed her grip and countered with another overhead attack.

Ryn easily back flipped away from the first attack, but didn't land far enough away from the second one. She barely got her blades up in time for the block.

Reiven laughed. "It seems you've gotten cockier."

Ryn scowled, but held her ground. "Ryn, something's not right here."

"Bahamut, what do you mean?"

"Not good. Look at her scythe!"

Ryn stifled a gasp. Black liquid dripped from the blades, causing the ground to drip like melting ice away into darkness where ever the liquid touched. Ryn tried to back away from the increasing hole, but Reiven pressed Ryn back even harder.

"Is that fear?" Reiven laughed. "Doesn't this feel like déjà vu? Weren't we here in Balamb Garden?"

"Time Compression." Ryn concluded.

"Ryn!" The redhead looked and cursed when she saw the ground melt away beneath her feet.

"Bahamut, lend me your wings."

"Of course."

"It's not that easy." Reiven, already adorning both wings, one Tiamat's (black outlined in gold) and the other Griever's (A red and black mix), glowed blue for a second and threw a ball of magic at her. "Break."

A pillar of stone rose up and surrounded the startled Ryn. Her arms and legs were immediately pinned to her body and she had no choice but fall into the abyss. Reiven's laughter followed after her.

æ § æ

Ryn cursed loudly and closed her eyes. Her body began to glow green as she whispered the word "Esuna." Her muscles relaxed. "Now Bahamut." Black dragon wings, outlined in silver, shot out of her shoulder blades and flipped her upright again.

They flapped effortlessly to keep her afloat.

"You should've expected that. Why didn't you junction-"

"Not now, Bahamut, please! Frankly, I didn't expect her to show up until we reached Galbadia."

"Well, too late to worry about that now. We have to get back to Squall and the others right now before Time Compression gets us caught up in its web again."

"Should we see how everyone's doing at home?"

"That's out of the question. We have to keep following Reiven. If we go back now we'll never be able to stop her."

Ryn sighed sadly. "I know," she said aloud.

"I will never be a memory."

Ryn clutch her head and let out a scream of agony.

"There's nothing I don't cherish!"

"Shall I give you despair?"

"W-what are these voices?"

"Ryn, what's wrong?"

"Can't you hear them, Bahamut?" Her scream got caught in her throat, breakfast attempting to wretch itself from her stomach. She swallowed the regurgitated eggs and sausage.

"You know you like it."

"You made this shit?"

"Where can I buy a phone?"

"I'll give ya the grand tour afterwards!"

"W-where are they coming from? Do you think Tiamat-"

"That's a possibility. He's probably working through my connection with me to get to you."

"D-do you think he's t-trying to tell us where Reiven's going?"

"But Tiamat was possessed by Griever." Ryn screamed again, tears welding up in her eyes.

"Please… stop…" Ryn begged.

"He doesn't live here anymore."

"You are just a puppet."

"It's a contract that says when the war is over, the materia will belong to me."

"Your hair looks like a chocobo!"

"Ryn, you can't keep thinking about them! If you do then you'll be stuck there!"

"Don't you think I know that?!"

"All that I care about is finishing this job before security and the roboguards come."

"The planet's dyin', Cloud!"

"Cloud?"

"Ryn don't!"

"We're friends, right Cloud?"

"Ryn!"

æ § æ

"So Cloud…"

"Cloud? Who is this Cloud?" Ryn thought. The vast darkness slowly dissipated into the muddled shine of the sun behind her eyelids.

"…how does it feel to be back home?" The speaker's voice was warm and held a small touch of humor. It was nice to listen to she had to admit. She opened her eyes to gaze upon the speaker. He was as stunning as he sounded. He sported long, black, spiky hair and brown eyes under a stern, but soft brow. A blue, sleeveless shirt with black shoulder guards accented his toned upper torso and baggy black pants, tucked into brown boots, fit comfortably on his lower torso. To finish off the outfit, a large buster sword sat lightly in its sheath across his back.

"C'mon, Zack, let's find the inn I'm exhausted." Ryn turned to the other warrior. This one had as dashing of looks as his partner. He had long, silver hair with cold aqua eyes and wore a long black cloak with silver armguards. Being so long, the cloak nearly covered the tall black boots covering his feet as well as the extremely long sword in its sheath at his waist.

"Where am I?" Ryn thought aloud and threw her hand over her mouth to try and silence the remark. Too late..

A soldier next to her elbowed her hard in the ribs. She gritted her teeth and forced her body to remain upright. "You're in Nibelheim, dimwit! Didn't you listen to the briefing?" Ryn resisted the urge to smack him across the head. He wore a blue, long-sleeved shirt with blue pants to match and black shoulder guards. A helmet, with a silver visor that came down to his nose, kept the redhead from seeing his expression. She only wished that the man could see her own glare, but realizing that she saw out of the mere slits of her own helmet, she knew the man was saved from the icy look, for now.

"Alright then, let's go," Zack responded with an small sigh and followed the silver-haired man to the building with the word "Inn" painted over the door. The rest of them fell in behind.

Ryn halfheartedly watched as the main two warriors made the arrangements with the clerk. Her eyes roamed along the furnishings and other things that littered the room. "Well, this isn't Balamb."

"Your intelligence is astounding…" Bahamut grumbled.

"Ah man. I was enjoying the silence," Ryn retorted.

"Don't go snapping at me! You're the one that got us into this mess!"

"Like I had a choice!"

"Hey soldier, stop gawking and get a move on!" Ryn was so engrossed in her argument with Bahamut that she didn't even notice the others heading up the stairs to the rooms. She saluted an apology, hoping that the Balamb Garden salute was good enough, and raced up after them.

"Would you stop drooling after that Zack guy and just ditch them already?"

"I'm not drooling after anyone, so stop meddling in my affairs. I'll sneak out as soon as things settle down."

"'Stop meddling in my affairs?' For goodness sakes Ryn, we're in this thing together!"

"Then stop yelling at me and just trust me for once."

"All of you will be staying in this room. Sephiroth and I will be in these two rooms," He pointed to the smaller rooms across the hallway. "in case any of you have a nightmare." Zack joked and gestured Ryn and the others into a large room to his left. Two beds were spaced evenly on the right with two more on the other side of the room. The four soldiers, Ryn included, saluted and left to put their stuff in the room. Zack and Sephiroth nodded then closed the doors to their rooms.

"That Zack always makes jokes." One of the men commented. "I don't know how a man like Sephiroth can put up with him."

"Me neither," said another. "I mean for one so idolized as Sephiroth, you'd think he'd find a different partner. What do you think, Cloud?"

The last soldier remained silent as he unpacked. Ryn held her breath once he took off his helmet. Cloud had spiky, blonde hair and attractive light blue eyes.

"Cloud?" One man pressured.

"Oh leave him alone. He's friends with Zack, aren't you Cloud?"

"Just leave it, Sylias," the spiky blonde responded. "I'm going out."

"You'd better ask big brother Zacky for permission!" Sylias yelled before he closed the door. The other just snickered.

Ryn rolled her eyes and went about undoing her own things. "I wonder what I even packed?" She thought but then laughed quietly. "Apparently this dimension was ready for me 'cause I don't remember doing any of this."

"Hey you. Aren't you going to change?"

Ryn turned towards the speaker. He was already out of his gear and sporting only boxer shorts. The unattractive smirk under brown hair didn't joggled Ryn's memory as much as the cocky tone in his voice. This was the same one that had knocked her around before. She looked away. At first she thought it was from embarrassment, but then she realized that it was because she didn't want her anger to take over and end up killing the man.

"What? Embarrassed are we?" He laughed again.

"Why should I be?" Ryn asked, pulling off her helmet and shaking out her red-brown hair. "You have nothing worth looking at."

"A-a girl!" they both yelped together.

"The intelligence in this room is astounding," Ryn responded, mimicking Bahamut's remark from before.

"Why you-" the one in boxers started, but was cut off by Sylias.

"Quiet, Evlen. If this girl wants to stick herself willingly into a room with three other guys then by all means let her do it. I'm all for the arrangements." The smirks on their faces could only mean one thing and Ryn had no intentions of being the play toy of any man, let alone these two dopes.

"You two are pathetic. Do you honestly think that I can't take care of myself?"

"You're a lass. No lass can take care of herself." Evlen spat.

Ryn nearly doubled over in laughter. "Well, that philosophy definitely won't get you far in this world now will it?"She jumped out of the way of Evlen's lunge, landing safely on top of her bed. She laughed again when Sylias tried to grab her and pull her down. This attack she merely flipped forward over onto the bed next to hers. "You two are pathetic. How did you get into the military?"

Evlen had recovered from his attempt and was up for one more. Ryn rolled her eyes and kicked him in the belly when he actually sidestepped her first punch at him. He went flying into the dresser and remained still in the rubble.

"Who do you think you are? He's your comrade!" Sylias screeched.

"Are you kidding me?" Ryn cocked an eyebrow and laughed again. "You two were the ones that said you'd throttle me and here you are saying that I'm in the wrong?" She stepped down from the bed to land in front of him. He threw a punch at her face, which she easily avoided, and yelped when Ryn jammed her heel into his little toe. While Sylias was still crying like a baby over his broken appendage, Ryn grabbed a free arm and twisted her body. She shifted her weight back then forward, using the momentum to propel Sylias' body over hers and into the opening door.

"What's going- Woah!" Zack evaded the body at the last second, allowing it to smash into the table and vase of flowers in the hallway. "What the hell-"

"Sorry, sir. Just a misunderstanding is all." Zack looked up Ryn for the first time since opening the door. His jaw dropped. "A-a woman?!"

Ryn sighed. "Well, at least you didn't call me a girl. There's a small amount of dignity returned." Before Zack could speak again, Ryn reached down and grabbed the two long swords sticking out of her backpack. She hooked the sheath around her waist and slide in the blades.

"Wait, how did you even get into the military?"

"Now there's a good question isn't it?" Ryn saluted and leapt onto the windowsill to her left. "Send my sentiments to the innkeeper will you?" With that said she was gone.

Zack went to the sill and looked down into the ally below. He only saw a tip of red hair as it disappeared around the corner. He had to smile. "Two soldiers easily defeated by one woman." He looked back at Evlen then out at Sylias in the hallway. He saw Sephiroth's door open and walk over to investigate the commotion.

"Zack, what the hell happened?" He asked, annoyance thick in his voice. Zack merely shrugged then laughed. "What's so funny?"

"The funny thing is that I don't even know her name."

"Her?" Sephiroth thought, but then just brushed it aside. He had better things to do. "So, are you going to stay and clean this up or come to the Reactor?"

"I'm following you of course."


A/N: So... uhh... yeah... sorry about the terribly long wait. I was pretty hesitant when it came to doing the FFVII part and am still worried about what's coming up, but I think as soon as I pass this part it'll be pretty smoothe sailing... I hope. Heh. Well, I hope you enjoy this chapter and hopefully another one will be up soon. I noticed though, that it's really hard to write four stories at once...

Strata