Part 2: Present Imperfect

Chapter IV: Ahead on our Way


I don't trust air I can't see.

Some guy in a film about a submarine



"Terribly sorry, sir, but you aren't allowed to leave the city without a pass. May I see yours?"

"Oh, really? Anyway, that's not why I'm here. I just think I've found a mistake in this book. Would you mind just checking for me?"

"What? Sir, I'm a guard, not a publish-"


"Okay, guys," the Author called, replacing his dictionary through his belt and nudging the prostrate guard to one side with his foot. He knelt down and retrieved the man's keycard from his jacket pocket. "Coast's clear. We can head out now."

As he ambled over to the huge gate built into the transparent wall surrounding the entire lower plate and began working out how to open it, the rest of AVALANCHE appeared from round the back of the various buildings/rubbish bins/miscellanea they had been hiding behind.

"Yo!" Barret shouted. "Nice one! Sleepin' like a dummy!"

"I refuse to comment," Mr. Big muttered, leaping from his shoulder to the Author's. "So, we're on the move. Anyone decided where we're headed first?"

"There's a village just a few kilometres to the north-east," Perigee explained. "Kalm, I think. Seeing as Sephiroth's headed that way, he might have stopped off there. It'd be a good place to ask around, see if anyone's seen him. Besides, we'll need somewhere to stay for the night."

"Actually, I've got a tent here," Cloud interrupted, holding up a small cloth bag. He'd found it in Aeris' garden, of all places.

"Yeah, but I'd rather not try to fit us all in there," Mr. Big pointed out.

"Oh, right. Yeah."

"Yo, this ain't gettin' us nowhere," Barret snapped. "C'mon, let's get movin'!"

"Hmm..." Perigee considered this. They couldn't have everyone in the same party - battles would get far too convoluted. "There are quite a few monsters around on the way. They'd be more likely to attack a large group, wouldn't they? How about we split up into..." He paused for a moment, as if trying to decide on a suitable number. "Threes?"

"Wouldn't it be safer if we travel in numbers?" Tifa piped up.

Damn, Perigee thought. Intelligence. Just what we don't need.

"You obviously don't know much about these creatures," he retorted, thinking quickly. "They gang up on large groups. Trust me, I read several of Professor Hojo's reports on them a while back. We'll be safest if we split up."

He didn't fail to notice Nanaki raise an eyebrow sceptically.

The Author nodded in agreement. "Yes, three's a good number," he mused to the rabbit on his shoulder. "Two is an argument, three is an argument with a chairman. It's so much friendlier with three."

"So, Cloud," Tifa began resignedly, "who do you want to go with?"

"Now jes' wait a damn minute!" Barret exclaimed. "I'm still the leader, an' don't you forget it! I should get first pick!"

"Oh, I dunno..." Cloud pondered the situation. "Tifa, you and... Perigee, you two want to come with me?"

"Um, yeah, okay," Perigee agreed.

"I'll go with the Author and his rabbit!" Aeris put in before anyone else could get a word in. Perigee glared at her. He'd let this one pass, but once they got to Kalm... Cloud could have his moment of glory in the flashback bit, and then he (Perigee, not Cloud) would have to go and have a few words with that Author person.

Barret looked around wearily. "Oh... wha'ever..." he muttered. "Awright, Jess, Wedge, an' you..."

"Nanaki," said Nanaki.

"Yeah, you, you three're with me. Where'd you say this place was? Is?"

"North-east," Perigee repeated. "Don't worry, there's nothing else in the area. You can't miss it."

"Oh. Good." Barret looked around, then straightened up. "Okay, everyone! We'll meet up at Carm!"

"Kalm," Jessie corrected him gently.

"Wha'ever! 'Til then!"


* * * * *


"Come on, then," Aeris said as she and the Author wandered along. "You said you'd tell me who you are, now we're out of danger. And there's no one else around."

The Author opened his mouth, considered this, and stopped. He couldn't help but think it would be so much easier for him if only he could tell her the truth, about God and the LTF and everything. He knew instinctively she would be able to understand it, even though it was a concept that many people found difficult to comprehend. But no. There were strict rules in the LTF governing what was permissible to divulge and what wasn't, and despite the fact that the Author had been kicked out - or 'recommended for standalone duty,' as he himself liked to think of it - this entire plot was an LTF mission, and there was a team around somewhere. The Author knew perfectly well he couldn't tell her the whole story.

But... Why did he want to tell her? This wasn't a case of thinking that it might make it easier for him to protect her if he took her completely into his confidence, or anything like that. He actively wanted to let her know what he did, and he had a feeling it was for personal reasons. That was quite distinctly unprofessional.

"Yeah, I can take a hint," Mr. Big muttered, hopping down off his shoulder and darting on ahead. "I'll go scout out the region, shall I?"

The Author watched him go, then turned back to Aeris, who was staring at him, a coy smile hovering on her lips.

"I'm just..." He paused. "I'm just someone who knows that something is going to go wrong. I can sense it. Sephiroth is a real threat to the Planet, and I need to follow him and stop him doing whatever it is he's trying to. Being a Cetra is... well, it's just the past I invented for myself to try and make myself seem more interesting."

"Why?" Aeris laughed. "Don't you have a past?"

"Not really, no." The Author sighed. "Don't ask. Let's just say I needed a reason to get myself into this group, and I thought that perhaps, if they thought I was an Ancient, they'd think I was more important than I really am. As it turned out, I don't think anyone was paying me any attention when I mentioned it except you, so it was a bit of a waste of time, really."

Aeris smiled. "Hang on... You said something about not blowing your cover, back in Midgar. What did you mean? Have you got something to hide?"

The Author stared at her. She'd meant it as a joke, that was clear from her expression, but for some reason the comment cut deep. Yes, he had something to hide. Apart from his small but select group of followers, and the LTF, of course, he had never told anyone about who he really was. For every book he'd taken part in, he'd invented a new background, a new past. He'd got used to it - it was just the way he worked - but it did get tiring after a while.

"More than you can possibly imagine," he replied, and returned her smile. She laughed, obviously thinking he wasn't taking the question seriously, and he walked alongside her, content now just to watch her. He couldn't understand why anyone could possibly want to hurt her... Still, the ways of bad guys were not the sort of thing one dwelt on. Something to do with her being a Cetra, perhaps? He'd have to keep an eye on her. With his powers of literature he should be able to tell when something important was going to happen, but even so... He decided now. He would guard her, never let her out of his sight.

He mused briefly how melodramatic he was getting. Not like him at all. Whatever else happened, he'd have to make sure Mr. Big didn't learn about this, or he'd never hear the last of it.

"So are you going to tell me who you really are?" Aeris persevered. "What's your real name?"

"I..." The Author shrugged mentally. No harm in telling her this, he supposed. "I haven't the faintest idea. I'm pretty certain I must have had a proper, sensible name once, but I've called myself the Author now for so long I can't remember for the life of me."

"No, seriously?"

"Afraid so. Time does strange things to the mind. Just wait 'til you meet the Major."


"The Major. One of my friends from... from some time back. Quite possibly the most enthusiastic military twit you could ever imagine."

Aeris smiled again and looked around her. She turned back to him, about to make a comment about the surrounding countryside, but stopped when she noticed he was staring at her. Not rudely, or lecherously - she had to admit to being just slightly disappointed by that - but... Curiously, that was it. As if he was genuinely interested in everything about her.

She returned his gaze evenly. There was something he wasn't telling her - that was evident to anyone with even meagre magical abilities. But she got the impression that he was holding whatever it was back from her because he had to, not because he wanted to. Wisely, she decided not to bring the matter up. She was sure he'd tell her when he was ready.

The Author was the first to concede and look away. "Anyway..." He felt somehow as if an important moment had passed, and he hadn't noticed it. Part of him said that it couldn't have been too important, as otherwise his literary senses would have spotted it coming a mile off, but there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind that knew it was important in a different way. A way that transcended even the laws of literature. "I'd prefer it if the others didn't know about this. They seem to have accepted me without the whole Cetra business, and I'd rather not complicate matters." He turned back to her once more. "Please?"

"Of course. You don't need to worry, I'm trustworthy."

"Thank you." He glanced around at the rather dull landscape. A small town - Kalm, he assumed - was just about visible in the distance. "Shall we hurry on? There's probably an inn or something over there, and if he get a move on we could get the best rooms before the others."

"Why not?" He reached out to her, and she placed her hand in his. "Let's go."

To Mr. Big, watching from fifty metres or so ahead, they looked almost exactly like a man asking a woman for the next dance. However, that may have been simply because his thoughts had momentarily strayed to the period drama he and the Author had taken part in recently.

"Ah, Lady Sarah..." he murmured, memories of a fleeting affair he'd had coming back to him. It would never have worked, he reminded himself. The age difference, for a start - she was ten times as old as him. Ever since he'd joined the Author, he'd been three years old, in the same way that the Author himself was thirty-three and the Major over ninety. For some reason they just didn't seem to age. Probably something to do with literature. Most things involving the Author were.


Perigee was getting worried. The three of them had been travelling for maybe a couple of hours now, Kalm was so close he could just about make out the windows in the houses nearest them, and they hadn't been attacked yet. Not even by one measly motorbike monster. Turning his back towards Cloud and Tifa, he produced a calculator from one of his pockets and tapped numbers furiously into it. The odds of getting from Midgar to here without having one battle were... oh, not too bad, actually. It was a shame, though. He'd been looking forward to trying out his limits, and there was the possibility that either Cloud or Tifa might save the other's life and get the romance started. Still, plenty more time for that. The more pressing concern was stopping Aeris getting too close to that Author person.

"Hey, Cloud?" Tifa asked quietly. "I was wondering...?"


"About... well..." She hesitated, and cast Perigee a pleading glance.

Now, as has been mentioned before, Perigee was not the fastest on the uptake. However, he wasn't stupid, and he knew perfectly well when it was his cue to make an exit.

"I'll just be... I mean, I think I'll... oh, look! Dandelions!" he settled for eventually, and hurried off. Cloud curiously watched him go.

"What was that about?" he mused aloud. Tifa shrugged.

"I was going to say, Cloud..." she tried again. "I just wanted to know... how you feel about... Aeris?"

Thankfully for the authors, at this point the camera pans over to Perigee, who is much easier to write. He was strolling along about a hundred yards to one side, trying to appear nonchalant while staring intently at the two of them and doing his best to hear what was being said. A bit of a hopeless endeavour, it has to be said, but he had nothing else to do until he was attacked. It was because he was staring at them and not watching where he was going that his right foot struck something and he collapsed onto the grass.

"Hey there, shonny!" wheezhed a voice from ground level. "You should watch where you're going. Might hurt shomeone."

Perigee picked himself up and looked down. At his feet was a small grey rodent, wearing a miner's helmet, halfway out of its hole. It was scrutinising him curiously.

He had a feeling he'd seen it before somewhere.

"Who... sorry, what are you?" he enquired tactlessly.

The creature stuck one paw down into its hole and handed up a piece of white card, perhaps four by two inches. "The name'sh Gopher. Here'sh my card. I'm not in the book!"

Perigee shrugged resignedly. Hey, why not? Nanaki was a talking lion, the Author had brought along his own talking rabbit, so why not a gopher?

"Really?" Tifa asked, truly shocked. "You mean that?"

[Author's note: Many apologies for inserting the above line. I just think it helps to make you feel as if Cloud is revealing something important and that you're missing it.]

Meanwhile, Gopher was getting slightly worried.

"I shay, would you happen to know the way to Hundred Acresh? And what time ish it?"

Perigee shook his head. "Hundred Acresh? I mean Acres? I don't think there is such a place." But now that he came to think of it, the name did seem familiar... "But I can tell you the time is... five twelve. PM."

"What? Oh, dash it all, I'm late! Gotta be off, be right back!"

And with a cry of, "Waaaaaaaahhh..." Gopher disappeared down into his hole, which sealed itself up after him.

Perigee sat down and stared at where it had been. That wasn't good. Either that creature was a corruption of those annoying squirrel things that hit you with lava and money and whatnot, or it was something from a completely different plot that had somehow got itself involved in this one. Seeing as FG was around, he had a feeling it was probably the latter.

Perigee was what certain members of the LTF offensively called a Gamer. That is, he had been born in one of God's games with the Devil, and not on Earth. From an objective viewpoint, Gamers are no different from Earthers - but few people are objective. The game in question had been a fantasy, and Perigee had spent his first ten years trying (and failing) to explain it all by logical, scientific methods.

He'd been noticed by a member of the Beta team, who were doing a last-minute scout of the world before its termination. He was a prime candidate - rational, intelligent and quick to grasp new concepts. Tana, the Beta team member, had brought him back to headquarters, explaining en route the principles behind the Literary Task Force.

The problem was that Perigee was much too young to become an active agent. The youngest member ever, excluding a certain Mr. Big, age 3, had been 19 when called to duty. So someone, if not God Himself then certainly one of His direct subordinates, had decided that Perigee would live on earth for ten years before going on duty.

Perigee had mainly spent his time there, ironically, playing video games. Oh, he'd been put in a school, but since he knew his job prospects were certain, he'd never really bothered that much with studying. And now, here he was, inhabiting the very game that had cost him an A* in Latin. He had so many fond memories of that game, and it wasn't pleasant seeing it being corrupted this early. Aeris not falling for Cloud, talking rabbits, Gopher... He wasn't going to stand for this. He'd settle this with the Author - or should he say FG? - tonight. Without fail. Definitely.


* * * * *


And the sun began to set...

"Yo, you think sumthin's happened to them two lovebirds?" Barret enquired, leaning up against one of the houses on the outskirts of Kalm. It was a small village, but not so small that it wasn't entitled to have outskirts. Well, an outskirt, anyway.

"I'd rather you didn't refer to them like that," Perigee replied. "It's so humiliating."

"Huh? Oh, okay."

"Do you think they might be in trouble?" Wedge asked. "They might have been attacked or something."

Tifa shook her head. "They can take care of themselves. I'm sure of it."

"So why're we waitin' here then?" Barret interjected. "Can't we do sumthin'?"

"I've sorted out our rooms at the inn," Cloud reassured him. "Jessie's still asking if anyone's seen Sephiroth. There isn't that much more we can do, is there?"

"Well... hey, I saw a bar over there!" Barret cheered up remarkably as he remembered this. "C'mon, let's go get a drink while we wait for them, how 'bout it?"

Perigee nodded agreement. If he was to confront FG later, he could do with something to boost his spirits. It was strange, really. He'd been expecting to rendezvous with the rest of his team, one by one, and then have the final confrontation as a huge battle in a few weeks' time. That was how these things usually worked. Still, you couldn't foresee everything.

"Well, follow me, then!" Barret announced. "An' Cloud's buying!"

"Sounds good to... hey!" Cloud called after their departing backs. "I never said..."


The small bar was very festive, if you came from the right country. There appeared to be something of a highland theme, with plaid curtains on the windows, tartan cushions on the chairs, and a sign reading 'Och Aye' hanging in the kitchen doorway.

"Ow... my eyes," complained Perigee. "So, are we going to get anything here?"

Cloud said, "I'll have a... soda."

"Then I guess I'll have a... soda," said Tifa.

"I guess I'll have a... soda," said Jessie.

"I suppose I will have a... soda," said Nanaki.

"Hmm... I think I'll have a... soda," said Wedge.

"Oh, all right," said Perigee. "I'll have a soda too."

Cloud looked at him. "You say that funny. D'you not drink that often?"


"Yo, gimme a milk, foo'."

Perigee closed his eyes for a second. "Okay, so that's six 'soda's, and one milk. Okay." He walked up to the counter.

"Excuse me, miss?" he called to the barmaid. "We'd like six beers and one mil... um."

The reason for the incongruous 'um' was that the barmaid was glaring at him with an extreme degree of malevolence. Normally Perigee would be oblivious to this sort of thing, but that glare seemed oddly familiar.

"Hey, what's the holdup?" asked Cloud, tapping Perigee on the shoulder. "Um."

Cloud's 'um' was rather more inexplicable than Perigee's, as Perigee often went 'um' for no reason at all.

The barmaid had switched her glare to Cloud. She glanced back at Perigee for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "Cloud? Cloud Strife?"

Um... thought Perigee.

Cloud cringed, scratching the back of his head. "Uh... hi? I... I didn't mean to leave you. You know that, right? It was the Shinra, they..."

"You..." fumed the barmaid. "How could you? You know it was your fault, and you're just not taking responsibility. You never did. Y-you knew what would happen, and you did it anyway. Just go away. I... I..." She broke down into tears and gave out a long sentence, garbled into unintelligibility.

Perigee laid a consoling hand on Cloud's shoulder, his own worries temporarily avoided, if not evaded. "Wow. What did you do to her?"

"You want to know what he did to me?" broke in the barmaid before Cloud could answer. She turned her head slightly, and, in a louder, but slightly calmer voice, called "Roch, would you come in here, please?"

A young voice replied, "Be right there."

A small child looking about age 5 appeared in the dark portal leading to the generic back room of all bars, everywhere. He had short blonde hair, cut in that adorable pixie style that seems inescapable for young children. His eyes were shaded a dark brown, although if you looked carefully, they might seem to somehow be coloured a deep red as well. "Yes?" the boy inquired politely.

Looking directly at Cloud, she said quietly, "Roch, meet your father."

In the silence that followed, the owner, proprietor, chef and barkeep came out of the kitchen - all four the same person named Craig, and probably also the conceiver of the highland decorations. He took in the scene, and wisely decided to stay quiet and attempt to escape any attention. He failed.

"Craig, I'm going to need the evening off," said the barmaid flatly. "It's a family matter."


The sunset in its final stages behind the Author and Aeris as they trudged wearily into Kalm, both exhausted, was really quite beautiful. Not that either of them noticed it, though. It appeared that the reason neither of the other parties had run into any enemies was because all of said enemies had decided to pick on the two of them. Interestingly enough, despite the slashes and blows that had rained down upon the two of them and even Mr. Big, their clothes were still perfectly intact, not even their hairstyles had been messed up.

Nevertheless, it had been something of a gruelling journey, although all three had gained a couple of level ups along the way. Aeris didn't seem to have noticed anything amiss, but the Author had spotted when, for some unknown reason, she had suddenly become rejuvenated after disposing of one of their adversaries. He hadn't said anything to her, of course.

Himself, he had somehow felt himself become stronger, and at each level he'd earned a skill point. There was absolutely no way he could ever have described to the others what a skill point was, but somehow he knew he'd got them. He'd put one into hand-to-hand combat (again, he couldn't explain exactly how) and had noticed afterwards that he seemed to have become stronger and more agile. He'd subsequently decided to save the second point until he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.

Had he mentioned this to Perigee, an ardent gamer and one who knew all the traditions of RPGs, it would probably have severely worried the younger man. Skill points were definitely not a part of this game, so their appearance meant that the Author had not quite integrated properly. Just as long as the other characters didn't learn about it, though, it should be okay.

Mr. Big had put both his points into Charm, giving him a +175% chance of Seduce Babe.

"Do you think the best rooms'll have gone by now?" the Author asked, a tired smile playing over his face. "I've had faster journeys through gridlock."

Aeris sighed loudly and leaned on him. "I really don't care about what the room's like," she replied tiredly. "Can't we just get a bed and go to sleep?"

The Author's smile became more apparent. "Much as I'd like to as well, I think we should probably find the others. I expect... I hope they'll have got here by now."

"No worries there," Mr. Big observed.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well..." Mr. Big pointed an ear at the far side of town, where Cloud and Perigee could be seen heading into what was, as its sign proclaimed, Kalm's Inn. "The others just went in. They're all here, and they've found another girl, too. Not bad, if you want my opinion."

"Did I ask for it?" the Author replied absentmindedly. "Perhaps they're getting ready to settle down for the night. I say we do the same."


The Author pushed open the plain wooden door to the inn and ambled over to the reception desk. Aeris hurried in a few seconds later.

"Good evening, sir," the casually-dressed receptionist began, the eloquence not exactly rolling easily off his tongue. This obviously wasn't an overly upmarket establishment. "It's 150 gil for the night. Staying?"

"Of course." The Author nodded.

"Let's see... you're in luck, sir. We've got two singles left over. Or," the receptionist glanced suggestively between the Author and Aeris, "there's a double if you want that...?"

"I think a couple of singles is probably better for us," the Author replied.

Aeris put on an expression of mock hurt. "My company isn't that bad, is it?"

The Author shook his head emphatically as he searched through his pockets and finally produced a crumpled thousand-gil note, which he handed to the receptionist. "No, no. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm just worried about what might happen if we do share a room. More importantly, I'm terrified of what might happen if you end up in the same room as Mr. Big."

"There's another one of you, sir?"

"What? Oh, no. It's just an expression I use, that's all."

The receptionist gave him a dark stare. "In that case, I'd rather you didn't use phrases like that in this establishment, sir."

The Author stared back blankly for a few seconds before realisation dawned. "I think you've got the wrong idea here," he remarked, trying not to laugh. "Mr. Big is a completely separate entity to myself. Isn't that right?"

"Oh, yes," Aeris agreed.

"Right," Mr. Big concurred.

"And there is one more thing," the Author continued, while the receptionist tried to work out exactly where that voice had just come from. "A group of our friends just came in here. Huge party, some real characters. You couldn't have missed them. Anyway, would you mind telling me what room they're in?"

"Yeah," Mr. Big put in, grinning widely at the flash of confusion that shot across the receptionist's face before he could compose himself.

"Of course, sir. They're in the two suites - rooms 101 and 102. I believe they were all going to 101 first. Just up the stairs and to the right, sir."

"Thank you."


The Author gave the rabbit a venomous glance.

"You carry on like this," he snapped as they headed upstairs, "and I'll knot your ears round your throat and strangle you with them."


"Yeah, well I'll be damned if I'm gonna do it!"

"Oh, come on, Barret. You wouldn't fit in one anyway!"

"No way!"

"I say Wedge has to!"

Cloud clambered onto one of the bedside cabinets and banged his fist loudly on the ceiling to try and get the others' attention. A few flakes of plaster showered down on them.

"Order! Order!" he shouted. One by one, the group quietened down and watched him. Over in the far corner, the barmaid was standing next to her son and watching the proceedings with obviously forced calm. "Look, we're going to have to think about this reasonably, okay? There're seven of us, and only three beds in each room. That means, no matter how much we argue, someone's going to have to sleep on the floor."

"Why don't the dog -" Barret began.

"Nanaki," said Nanaki.

"Yeah, why don't he sleep on the floor?"

"Just because I am not humanoid does not mean I do not have a taste for luxury," Nanaki objected.

"Well -"

"Barret? Shut up."

Thankfully, before Barret could reply, there was a knock on the door and the Author poked his head round. "Hey, guys, I'm back. Sorry I'm late."

"Aw, wonderful!" Barret piped up. "Now we're three beds short!"

"I say I get this one!" Wedge retorted, and sat down heavily and conclusively on one bed.

"Nice to know they're relieved to see us, isn't it?" the Author commented wryly to Aeris as the two entered. "It's okay!" he shouted at the group. "We've got our own rooms!"

"GUYS!" Cloud yelled, trying to pre-empt the argument that broke out once more. He failed.

Temporarily ignored, the Author spotted the new girl and wandered over to her.

"I don't think I know you," he said pleasantly, bowing extravagantly. "Who are you?"

She glared at him, then remembered that he hadn't had anything to do with what had happened to her and tried to tone down the malevolence a few notches. "I'm Ess," she replied wearily. "Ess Harrison. I work at the bar here."

"Really?" The Author shrugged. "Just call me Author. This here is Aeris."

"Hi," Aeris put in cheerfully.

"So..." The Author wasn't really sure how to put this. "Why are you here? I mean, why aren't you in the bar? Not that I'm suggesting you should be, of course, nothing wrong with your presence, but..."

"Stop digging, man, stop digging..." Mr. Big recommended sagely.

"Good idea."

Ess shook her head, while on the other side of the room Cloud was trying to explain, "Look, it's not too difficult. Whoever takes the short straw sleeps on the floor, okay? That way it's fair."

"But then... won't the foo' who goes last be left wit' the short one?" Barret obviously didn't get the idea.

"You don't know which one's shorter when you pick it, Barret," Cloud continued.

"Yeah, you do, look. This one here's half as long as the others."

Ess returned her attention back to the Author. "I'll explain later," she said flatly. "Once these idiots have sorted themselves out."

"Come to join the party, have you?"

"So... lemme get this straight..." Barret muttered. "You make them straws all look the same, then we pick one, right?"


"C'mon, then! This sounds like fun!"

Cloud clenched his fist round the seven matchsticks, one broken in half, he'd got from that little complementary book you always find in hotels and inns. "Who's first?"

"Yo', I'm goin' first here!" Barret exclaimed. He grabbed one of the protruding ends between thumb and forefinger and promptly pulled out the snapped matchstick. "Wha...? This ain't no fun game!"

"Tough luck, Barret," Jessie called over. "Rather you than me, though."


"So..." Cloud thought for a moment. "Who's going to go in which room?"

"I can't help but think," Mr. Big mused out loud, "that it would be nice if one of them acknowledged our existence in even a very small way."

The Author shrugged. "Leave them be," he said. "It's nice to see people who take sleeping so seriously. The world would be a much nicer place if only people would go and lie down more often."

"So, that's Jessie, Wedge, and Perigee next door, then," Cloud said, not really seeking confirmation. "The rest of us in here."


"Sounds okay to me."



Cloud sighed. "Yes, Barret?"

"I gotta question."


"Can you explain?"

"Explain what?"


"A severe philosophical conundrum," Mr. Big observed. The Author calmly took hold of one of his ears and he hurriedly closed his mouth.

"What do you mean by 'everythin''?" Cloud enquired guardedly. "I'm not very good at explaining things."

"Everythin' that's happened. Sephiroth, that Jenova thing, uh..." Barret glanced over at Ess, who stared at him. "Her..."

"Yeah," Perigee agreed. "What exactly happened between you two?"

"You don't want to know..." Cloud began, rather hopelessly.

"Yes, they do," Ess snapped, striding forwards. "I think it's only fair they know what sort of guy you really are, don't you?"

"...yes..." Cloud murmured. He sighed, took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. Over by the far wall, the Author, who could spot a cliché from five pages away, hurriedly covered his ears.

"It all started five years ago..."

Prologue: Writing of Wrongs
Part 1: For What We Are About to Receive
   Chapter I: Editorial Changes
   Chapter II: Insert Chapter Title Here
   Chapter III: Biohazard
Part 2: Present Imperfect
   Chapter IV: Ahead on our Way
   Chapter V: On That Day, Five Years Ago...
   Chapter VI: Feather in the Wind (reprise)
Part 3: World Travel
   Chapter VII: Twelve Good Men on a Dead Man's Chest
   Chapter VIII: Music of the Night
   Chapter IX: Drawing Inexorably
Part 4: Crossroads
   Chapter X: The Trousers of Time
Part 5: Calculus
   Chapter XI: Differentiation & Integration
   Chapter XII: The Sunrise and I
   Chapter XIII: The Best Is Yet To Come
Part 6: Introduction to Destruction
   Chapter XIV: Makes No Difference
   Chapter XV: Second Impact
   Chapter XVI: Judgment Day
Epilogue: Loose Ends
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