Chapter One: A Midnight Invitation
Cloud's Story
Cloud's Journal

Off in the distance, a young boy with spikey blond hair watched his hometown, Vernious, be burned and razed to the ground. As he stared in mild disbelief, he started to slowly recollect himself. What had happened? Why were they attacked? To the young boy, it just didn't make sense...

"Cloud! Come on in! Your dinner's getting cold!" a middle aged lady called out from the porch on the side of her one story house. A bronze plaque that hung next to the porch read, "The Strife Household. EST 521". The lady was starting to show the signs of aging. She had put on a few extra pounds over the years and from carrying two children. Her long blond hair was tied at the bottom, close to the middle of her back, and some of the spikes in it had started to gray.

"I'll be there in a minute, mom!" Cloud called back. Cloud, who had just turned fourteen, turned to his friends. "I gotta go, guys. Mom's calling me. I'll see you all in a little while." After a quick confirmation, his friends started to disperse from their mock sword fight and Cloud ran to his house.

Cloud dropped his wooden sparring sword by the door and settled down into a chair to start eating. Cloud's mother was the first to break the silence. "Why do you and your friends have to keep beating each other with sticks?"

"They're not sticks, Mom." Cloud retorted, "They're sparring weapons." Although Cloud insisted that it was a mock sword, his sparring weapon was in fact a stick that he found in the local woods. Without anything else to say, Cloud started inhaling his dinner. His mother was first to break the silence again and started rambling. After a little while, she stopped, looked around the kitchen and asked Cloud, "Do you know where your sister is? I called her to dinner ten minutes ago."

Cloud looked up at her , some meat that had just been rendered from the chicken leg he was working on hanging from his lips, and said, "I hond nof". His mother eyed him sternly and said "What have I told you before about talking with your mouth full?"

Cloud quickly squelched the offending meat down his gullet and apologized. His mother's face softened and she patted his spikey head. Finally, Cloud's twin sister, Rachel, entered the kitchen. She was dressed in dark colored, baggy clothes. Her shirt had a picture stitched on it that read "Eat more orcs!". Her spikey hair had been died a myriad of colors and fell right behind her shoulders except for two spikes that remained in front of her shoulders.

"Well, aren't we being quite the rebel today?" Cloud snorted at her as she quietly took her seat at the table. "Oh my, has my brother actually grown a brain under that matte of thick skull? How many syllables did that sentence have?" she retorted.

Cloud, already showing the signs of his blood boiling to the surface of his skin, waved a fork in her direction. "What's that supposed to mean?! But at least I don't color my hair like those idiots on the green planet."

"I happen to like their hair color. It's beautiful. I doubt that a dirty boy like you could even begin to fathom the wonders of Parasonnea. Besides, you haven't answered my question."

"Wonders?! What could a backwater place like that have to offer? A bunch of funky haired yokels is what." Cloud practically spat at his twin.

Their mother, who had sat in her seat quietly, finally had enough of the twins' bickering and put her hands up. "Ok. That's enough. Why can't you two even get along for one meal? If you keep this up, I'm sending you both to your rooms."

Cloud looked at his mother, "But mom, she star-"

"No buts!" his mother interrupted him. "If you keep this up, I'll send you to your room and you won't be allowed out until tomorrow." Cloud backed down after that last remark. He couldn't be stuck in his room. He still had to go meet Mr. Thompson at the youth center later this evening. Mr. Thompson was going to help him learn how to ride a horse. Cloud looked over at his sister, who was wearing the face of victory.

You won this fight. Cloud thought to himself. He could almost have sworn that he heard his sister say Just like the ones before it, and all the ones to come, brother.

As the sun was setting, Cloud hopped off of the horse that Mr. Thompson had decided to train him on. "Thanks for the lesson, Mr. Thompson." Cloud thanked him.

"Hey, no problem, kid. You know me, always tryin' to enrich everyone's lives as best I can." Mr. Thompson smiled down at him. Towering at a little over six feet, Mr. Thompson embodied practically everything Cloud wanted to be. His dark skin was marked by a few scars that he had received in the Great War about ten years ago. He had five short spikes that flowed down the middle of his skull. The setting sun, only made Mr. Thompson's teeth seem even whiter than what they normally were. "Just be sure to close your leg and balance him when you go into turns. You don't want him ta trip over his feet and fall on you."

"Yeah, that would royally stink." Cloud looked at the setting sun. "It's getting late, I should head home now. Thanks again, Mr. Thompson!" Cloud leapt over the fence and started for his house. The village was starting to wind down for the night as shutters were closed and parents started calling their children inside so they could be put to bed.

Cloud reached his house and walked in. His sister was sitting by a candle reading a book. All she ever did was study or read. Where was her sense of fun? Cloud walked past her, giving her a slight nod to acknowledge her existence only to receive a harshly stuck out tongue. Shrugging that off, he went to a small shrine above the fireplace where his late father's paintings and small belongings were kept. His father was a small unit leader during the Great War and had been killed by an experimental powder called dynamite. That was ten years ago. Cloud and Rachel were barely over four years old at the time, so they didn't remember much about their father. It had been tough over the past ten years, their mom trying to raise two constantly warring siblings. It was amazing she was still holding onto her sanity.

Cloud kneeled down on the hearth and gave a small prayer for his father. He stood up and looked at his father's sword that was put on display with his other belongings. It was a nice longsword, crafted specifically for him. When the dynamite had exploded, the sword had been thrown clear of the blast and was amazingly unscathed.

"You just going to stand there all night and stare at that relic?" Rachel broke the silence from her position in the chair.

"! I was just giving a little prayer for Dad, wherever he is now." Cloud responded, a little dismayed at the total lack of respect that his sister could give his father. "Oh, I forgot. You don't believe in the afterlife. It must be hard to be an atheist in a world where gods have been proven to exist."

His sister reeled slightly from that comment. "I do believe in them, I just don't like them. They've never done anything for me at least. I mean, why did they-" Rachel stopped herself in mid sentence. "Umm...I'm go wash up...before bed." She got up and abruptly left the room.

Wow. Cloud thought to himself, What was that about? He'd have to ask her later. He knew that if he tried to approach her now, he'd probably find himself minus one vital organ. Not sure of what to do, Cloud decided to retire to his bed. He turned back to the small shrine, gave one last slight bow, and went to his room.

A loud crash awoke Cloud from his sleep. He lazily climbed out of bed to see what was going on. Outside he heard horses riding by. Why can't they keep it down out there? he thought to himself. He looked over at the bunk beds and saw that his sister wasn't there. The sheets had been messed up so at least she had returned at one point or another for sleep.

He peered his head out the door to see what was going on and immediately snapped awake at the sight in front of him. A man dressed all in black was threatening Cloud's mother. His mother was cowering in the corner of the room, protecting Rachel. Next to them lay the remnants of a flowerpot that had struck the wall. The man was saying something to Rachel and his mother, but Cloud couldn't quite make it out. The horses outside were starting to be accompanied by the screams of the other villagers. The man in his living room however hadn't noticed Cloud since he was too occupied with terrorizing the two women.

Not knowing what to do, Cloud looked around the room for something to use or do to help his family. His father's sword! The man's back was turned so he was facing away from the hearth. Cloud, as silent as he could, snuck closer to the hearth and the object of desire. About two footsteps away from being within reach of the sword, a board underneath Cloud creaked. The man turned round sharply.

"What the hell?! Where'd you come from, pipsqueak?" The man didn't get to say much else as Rachel jumped from her mother's protective embrace, brought the man crashing to the floor, and quickly beat him into unconsciousness. Cloud, looked stupefied at his sister. He hadn't ever seen her do something so...strenuous. Her smile of victory quickly regained its usual gloomy look as she climbed off the bandit's body.

"Mom, what's going on?" Cloud asked his mother as he gave her a hand in standing up. "I'm not sure, but the town's under attack. I was out here talking to your sister, something was bothering her, and then that man charged in here. We need to get out, now." Cloud's mother told the two children to go and get everything they needed and to flee. The two teenagers obliged and ran back to their room to gather some belongings.

As Cloud was putting his pants and boots on, he looked at Rachel and asked her, "What was mom talking about? Something was bothering you?" Rachel didn't turn to look at him. She continued putting a few of her precious things in a small bundle. "Nothing. It's none of your business." Cloud nodded, knowing that she couldn't see him do so. He stood up and went to his dresser and started gathering a few of his belongings. All he was going to take was his knife, his sparring stick, and a few articles of clothing.

After they had gathered up their belongings, the siblings found their mother packing up the few small paintings of their father in some bundles of cloth. "Mom, aren't you going to take his sword as well?" Cloud asked her. She looked up from her packing, some tears starting to form in here eyes. Probably from stress, Cloud thought. "No, Cloud. I'm going to leave it. They might not attack us if we're unarmed."

"That's nonsense, Mom. We're more likely to be attacked if we're defenseless. We'd just be easy targets for them if we don't have some way of defending ourselves." Cloud moved in to take the exquisite weapon from its stand on the hearth.

Cloud's mother moved to grab his hands. "Please, Cloud. Don't. I don't want to lose you, too. Please, leave your father's sword here."

Cloud pulled his hand back, looking from the sword to his mother then back to the sword. "But we have to take it. It was Dad's. We owe it to him to keep it. I'm not going to leave it here so some bandit can sell it off at the next town and make some quick money." Without hesitation, Cloud grabbed the sword and its sheath and fastened it to his belt. His mother looked at him with saddened eyes and nodded her head, accepting what Cloud had chosen to do.

As the small family was beginning to make their way out of the house, another tall man barged in. In the dark night, it was tough to make out who it was. However, he was menacing. Cloud put his hand to the hilt of his sword ready to draw when it was needed. The man moved into some light that was pouring through the window and Cloud immediately loosened his grip.

"Mr. Thompson!"

"Hey, kid. You guys ready? I'm working with the guards to evacuate everyone. I got my wagon ready ta go, but we best be hurryin' cause the guard ain't doin' too hot." Cloud nodded and started for the door. Rachel spoke up.

"Wait a second. You want me to run across a town that's full of bloodthirsty bandits that want me dead or worse so I can get to your tiny wagon and be crammed in with the other three survivors? Why can't we just run out of town instead of to the wagons?"

Mr. Thompson looked at her. "Listen here, girlie. We ain't got time ta be arguin'. I'd like ta see ya get out of here alive, and I'll try my best to make sure that happens. Anyways, ya ain't gonna be shoved in the back of my wagon. Some of the other villagers got their wagons ready ta go. All we need ta do is get back across town ta them. So, quit yer whinin' and let's get goin'."

Rachel looked at Mr. Thompson for a few seconds and finally shrugged. "If you think we can make it, fine then. Let's go." With the matter settled, the group picked up their belongings and headed for the door.

Outside, things looked pretty grim. Many people lay dead or dying as their houses started to catch fire. Cloud, resisting the urge to gag, started moving with Mr. Thompson. From inside some of the houses, tortured screams and pleas could be heard as the bandits tore through each residence. Were they looking for something? Cloud wanted to know. They quickly darted from shadow to shadow trying to move to the youth center as quickly as possible. The group reached their destination and noticed that a battle had already begun. The bandits had noticed the guards' plan to evacuate on the wagons and had chased them down to the youth center. The guards were holding their own fairly well, but there were just too many bandits.

Mr. Thompson ran forward into the battle to give a hand to the failing guards. Cloud ran after him, but was caught by his mother. "Please, Cloud. Don't go into that battle. You're just a boy, you'll be slaughtered." Cloud looked up at her and was about to protest when he heard Mr. Thompson call out to him, "Stay there, kid! We'll handle these bastards and then we'll get ya and yer family out of here!"

Mr. Thompson was amazing. Even bare handed, he was holding his own against the bandits. Well, he was in the war after all, Cloud thought to himself. Mr. Thompson was doing great. He was smashing heads left and right. He even threw somebody a good distance. But while Cloud's attention was preoccupied with watching Mr. Thompson fight, he didn't notice the two bandits that were coming up from behind.

Rachel noticed the two bandits just in time and warned Cloud. Cloud turned on his heels and ducked just in time to have a sword swipe over his head. He drew his father's trusty blade and took up a defensive stance. Great, now I get a chance to see what I can really do. Cloud flinched as the bandit's sword bit into his, the shock almost causing his blade to shake from his hands. Man this sword is heavy. The other bandit stood back a few feet, keeping an eye on Rachel and their mother.

Having parried the first blow, Cloud tried swiping the heavy blade at his opponent, missing miserably. C'mon. It's just like when I'm sparring with the guys. Except this guy has a big metal sword and wants to chop my head off! Cloud dodged the next swipe and he tried his luck again and made a stab at the bandit. Feeling his blade slow, Cloud knew he had connected. He opened his clenched eyes to see that he had indeed hit the bandit's abdomen. His body slumped over and the dead weight pulled itself off of the sword.

His partner wasn't very thrilled with what had happened. He drew his blade and pointed it at Cloud's family. "Do anything and I'll kill them!" Although he didn't want to endanger his family, Cloud couldn't help but let his blood boil.

"What did you just say?" Cloud was letting his anger get to him.

"You heard me." Cloud didn't like that one bit. "Oh? You got something to say to me? Did I hurt your feelings?" That was all it took. Cloud lunged at the man, taking him by surprise, and wildly swinging his sword.

The bandit, not sure what to do, parried the blows. He would try to find breaks to attack, but they were few and far between. After a few of Cloud's furious attacks, he began to slow down. The bandit took advantage of this and kneed Cloud in the stomach, causing him to double over and fall to his knees. Cloud clutched his stomach and began to hack and cough.

"Say nigh-" the bandit was cut off by Mr. Thompson's right hook. Cloud, still reeling from the knee, looked up at Mr. Thompson. "C'mon, kid. We got most of these bandits, the rest don't know what's goin' on and are still lootin' the houses. If we don't go now, we ain't never gonna get out of here." Cloud nodded and Mr. Thompson helped him up.

"Hey, you got yourself some good moves there, kid. But didn't I tell ya no fightin'?" Cloud smiled a bit and he and his family followed Mr. Thompson to his wagon. The wagon was a sight to behold. It was painted black and gray, with a red stripe down the sides dividing the colors.

Mr. Thompson helped the family in, and the wagons pulled out and headed away from town. Once, they reached a safe distance from town, the wagons stopped to get a head count of who was there.

Cloud got out and looked back in the direction of the village. They were on a hill, so he could get a better view of it. As he stared in mild disbelief, he started to slowly recollect himself. What had happened? Why were they attacked? He turned to Mr. Thompson.

"Mr. Thompson? Why were the bandits attacking? Why did they do that?" Mr. Thompson looked down at Cloud. He seemed to want to be able to tell him something, but all he said was "I don't know, kid. It's hard ta say. They probably just wanted some easy money." Cloud nodded. He didn't know why, but he felt that he shouldn't pursue the subject anymore.

Cloud, finally realizing that he still had his father's sword in his hand, looked down at the blade. The blood of the bandit was still smeared on it. Had Cloud actually been able to do that? He hadn't dreamed it. The proof was on the sword. Mr. Thompson broke his reverie, "Hey, kid. We gotta be goin'. There's a temple of Sospitas in the next town that we're gonna take the wounded to." Cloud turned around and nodded, following the tall man back to the caravan.

Cloud pulled the bucket out of the well just as the sun was starting to set. "Ok, sis. Let's get this back to the temple." Rachel, leaning up against the side of the well, nodded and began following Cloud. It had been three days since his village was attacked, and the people in Tristeria were nice enough to take in the refugees until they could get back on their feet. Mr. Thompson and some of the other guards had gone back to Vernious to survey the damage, and would be gone for a few days. Cloud had decided to help the clerics take care of the wounded.

"Here you go." Cloud handed the wooden bucket over to the waiting hands of one of the clerics at the temple. The cleric bowed a bit, thanking Cloud for his help. With nothing else to do, Cloud went to go see how his mother was doing. Although she wasn't badly injured, she had inhaled some smoke and needed a few days of rest.

"How ya doing, mom?" Cloud asked as he and Rachel entered the room. "The same as I was ten minutes ago, Cloud." his mom smiled at him. "While you were out, a man came over asking for you."

This caught Cloud's attention. "Where is he?" His mother sat up in her makeshift cot. "He's already left here. He said that when you came back, he would be waiting at the Golden Wing for you. I don't like it. Perhaps you should wait to see what he wants so you don't have to go in that filthy place."

Cloud looked down at the floor. "But what if it's really important, mom? I think I should go see what he wants. It can't hurt, can it? Besides, I can take care of myself now."

Rachel finally spoke up. "I say let him go. If he gets beat up by some barbarian, then he probably deserved it." Cloud's mom looked at Rachel and then finally nodded in agreement. Cloud smiled, thanked his mom, and ran out of the temple towards the Golden Wing.

The Golden Wing looked like a very clean establishment from the outside. It's sign swung right outside the door and barely had any dirt on it. On the inside, however, smoke filled the air and alcohol populated the floor. Cloud uneasily stood near the entrance. The sounds of talking died down as all eyes turned to the young boy. Oops. I don't even know what this guy looks like...

One man, with a giant sword seemingly attached to his back stood up and crossed the room to where Cloud was standing. The man stood about Mr. Thompson's height, and his jet-black hair flowed down his back, nearly touching his waistline. He was wearing a blue turtleneck and had two metal shoulder paldrons attached to his chainmail shirt. His booted feet stopped about a foot away from Cloud.

"I've been waiting for you." Cloud looked up at the man in awe. "Name's Rin Kay. I was at Vernious the other day when it was attacked. I'm sorry I couldn't have done more to help your village out. Anyways, what I'm trying to get at is that I saw you fight one of those bandits. You have some good moves. I work for a group named SOLDIER." Cloud had heard of SOLDIER. Apparently they were pretty famous down south. "I would like for you to think about joining SOLDIER. We need some young men like yourself. I think you'll like it. Great health benefits."

"Umm...I dunno. My mom may not like it. And I'm not sure if that's what I want to do..." Rin looked down at him. "Well, let's go talk to her then." Cloud nodded.

"No! I will not let you go off to some filthy boot camp place just so you can die like the other hundreds of nameless people on the battlefield!" Cloud's mother just wouldn't see Rin's side of the story. "Ma'am. Please. Your son is very skilled. And at such a young age, too. With some training, he could become one of the greatest swordsmen in the land."

"What part of 'no' do you not understand?" Cloud's mother stood up, coughing, and walked over to the door of the room that the refugees were being held in. "Please leave now. I told you already, my son will not be a nameless face on a battlefield. Now please get out!" Rin stood up and walked out of the room, his booted feet could be heard walking out of the temple. Cloud looked to his mom. "Mom, you should have given him a better chance than that. He didn't even get to the health benefits."

"Now don't you start either. I told you that I don't want anymore soldiers in this family." She walked back over to her cot and lay back down. "Now, Mr. Thompson should be back soon. Maybe the village won't be as badly damaged as we thought and we can move back in. Now go get some rest." She turned over onto her side and pulled the covers up to her shoulders.

Cloud closed the door and started walking towards the room where the uninjured refugees were staying. His sister was still up when he got there. She was sitting on her sleeping bag, looking at something in her hands. Cloud wondered what it could be and walked over to her.

"Whatcha got there?" Rachel jumped, not expecting her twin to be back so soon. She quickly hid the item in her hand and shot Cloud a glare. "None of your business, dog breath." Cloud walked a bit closer. "Well, I'm making it my business, stupid. Whatcha got?"

Rachel stood up, shoving the item into her pocket. "I told you already. It's none of your business. Now shove off." Cloud wasn't about to be told what to do by his sister, so he reached for her pocket, intending to find out what she was hiding from him. "Get back, you jerk!" Rachel pushed Cloud, but the boy proved to be too much for her, and they both toppled backwards onto her sleeping bag. They rolled around on the ground, the room's attention turning towards them. Finally, Cloud was able to get what he was looking for.

Looking down into the palm of his hand, Cloud realized that he had retrieved was a tiny self-portrait of their father. "Rachel?" Cloud looked up at her and saw that tears were streaming down her face. "I..I..." Rachel stood up and ran out of the room, leaving the stammering Cloud kneeling on the bag. Cloud stood up and ran after her.

Cloud finally found Rachel outside hiding behind a barrel crying. "Rachel...I didn't mean to hurt you. I..I didn't know what you had. I just wanted to see it..." Rachel looked up at him, the tears leaving tiny dried streams of salt on her cheeks. "You didn't need to do that... I told you no. Why'd you have to go and do that?!" Her face started to turn red, almost matching the color of one of her tendril spikes. Cloud couldn't think of anything to say. Curiosity? Because it was there? I don't really know...

"Curiosity?! You call that a good reason? I told you no! Why do you have to be so stupid?!" How had she known what he was thinking? "Give me back my picture, now." She outstretched her hand. Cloud obliged without hesitation and gave her back the picture. "You don't have to hide the fact that you miss him, you know..." he said.

Rachel looked up at him. "Haven't you seen the way I've acted? Every day, I go and pray for him." Cloud continued, "I don't care whether other people see me or not." Rachel looked down at the ground for a second and then turned her eyes back to Cloud. "It's not that simple, you moron. I hate him. I hate the fact that he left us. He didn't die in a battlefield, and it wasn't even a decent death. A stupid explosion killed him, not even a real person. Is that some way to die? And if he hadn't left us for the stupid army, he would still be here today. I hate him for that..." she trailed off. "But I can't not love him...".

Cloud kneeled down in front of his sister. "And now you want to run off and become a soldier just like him. Are you going to leave us just like he did?" Cloud looked Rachel in her deep blue eyes. "I never accepted. It would be nice. I could go and make something out of myself. I want you and mom to have the best. This may be the only way I can do that."

"You may not remember this, but Mom always told me that that was what Dad used to tell her. 'I'll make sure you have everything, Honey' he used to say. And all he brought us was a letter saying he had been killed in an explosion at the castle. Not even out of the country."

"Look...he may have died that way, but I don't intend to fall victim like that. But if it's what you and Mom want, I'll stay." Cloud stood up. "C'mon, let's go get some sleep now." Rachel looked up at his outstretched arm and accepted his help in getting up.

Cloud was awoken again by a loud crash. Déjà vu? He got up and walked over to the door. Opening it a crack, he took a look outside. One of the tables had been overturned in a fight, and there was a man dressed in black. At his feet lay a priestess, her blood draining out onto the floor. The man's sword glistened red. Cloud pulled back from the door. He looked around the room for a weapon. His mother had taken the sword away from him and it was in the other room with her and the wounded. Finally he got an idea.

He went over to a chair and pulled the leg off of it. A blunt weapon would have to do. He crept back to the door and peered outside again. The man was gone. Cloud cautiously opened the door and crept out into the main hall. Where were the other priests? And why was this person attacking the temple? He'd have to find out later. Right now, Cloud wanted to make sure that his mother was all right.

To his right, Cloud heard a creak and not a moment too soon. The black clad man jumped out of the shadows and attacked him. Cloud was barely able to get his chair leg up in time to block the incoming blow. Cloud staggered back a step, still not used to the shock of blocking. His eyes narrowed and he swung at the man who easily batted the piece of wood aside with his sword. "You're the one that killed our boss back at Vernious. I'm gonna get you for that and take over our group!" He swung again, a little too high. Cloud ducked under the swipe and swung for the bandit's knees. He jumped the blow, but didn't expect Cloud to come in with a left hook. The punch connected with his side and the man fell backwards.

"Heh. Just what I expected from someone who could take out the boss." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny bag. He opened the bag and threw it at Cloud, releasing a misting of dirt and dust. Choking and coughing, Cloud stumbled backwards. He heard the man get up and run for the woundeds' room. "Shit!" Cloud swept the dust in front of him and ran after the man. Rubbing his eyes, he saw the man standing over his mother's sleeping figure, sword held high. "One more step, and I'll slice your mother up into nice little pieces."

Cloud, rage taking over, ran full speed at the guy and tackled him. They fell backwards, both losing their grip on their weapons. Cloud proceeded to punch the man repeatedly in the face. The room had started to wake up and began clearing room for the two.

With ease, the man rolled over and pinned Cloud to the ground. Reaching for his weapon, he held it high, ready to pierce Cloud's throat. Cloud, realizing that his end was near, clenched his eyes tight and waited for the worst. When he didn't feel the cold steel penetrate his neck, he opened an eye to see the man starting to laugh.

"Good show, Cloud! You'll make a fine SOLDIER yet." The bandit took his mask off. "Rin?!" Cloud gasped. "The one and only, kiddo. You just proved to me that you'll be perfect for SOLDIER." Cloud couldn't process what was happening anymore. "B...b...b...but...what about that priestess out there? Did you kill her?"

"Nonsense. Oi! Rita! Come in here!" Rita came in, the front of her priestess robes bathed in red. "This had better be worth it, Rin. Dye is hard to get out of these things." Rin laughed some more. "See, kid. Nobody was hurt. I was just testing you to see if how you'd fare against a SOLDIER member. Now that you've proven to me that you'll be a good fighter, I can't let you go."

Rin got up off of Cloud and helped him stand up. Cloud's mother had a very displeased look on her face. "What just happened in here? And didn't I tell you no deal, Rin?" Rin chuckled again. "But Mrs. Strife, Cloud here just saved your life at the risk of his own. With a bit of training, he'll be a great swordsman. You can't let talent like this waste away in a small little village."

Cloud's mother still didn't look impressed. "Look, Mr. Kay. I know you think my Cloud is very good at fighting. But I don't want him to run off and die some miserable death somewhere far away." She paused. "But Cloud's shown that he's grown and matured. If this is what he wants to do, then who am I to stop him."

Cloud looked bewildered. Had he just heard his mother right? Rin looked down at him, "Well, kid. What do you say?" Cloud was about to say yes, but looked down. "Can I get back to you tomorrow about it?" Rin looked shocked by Cloud's response. "Sure thing. I'll be at the Golden Wing. Just find me there."

Cloud nodded and apologized to everyone for waking them. He walked back to the uninjured room, where everyone was waiting for someone to come in and tell them if it was safe outside. Cloud explained to them what had happened and sat down on his sleeping bag next to Rachel. "You're going to go, aren't you?" she asked him. "I'm thinking about it. But I don't want you to hate me like you hate Dad." Rachel looked up at him. "Do you really want to go? Because, if you do, then I'm behind you. Even if you are a moron for doing so." What was happening. All of a sudden everyone was complacent and letting Cloud make up his own mind.

"It's because you've shown that you can actually take care of yourself." Cloud looked at her in amazement. "How..." "You looked confused. And I know how your simple mind works." Without another word, she rolled over, her back facing Cloud and went back to sleep.

Cloud found himself standing outside the still seemingly clean Golden Wing. Well, here goes nothing. Cloud walked in and found Rin's room number from the innkeeper.

"So, you decided to come to SOLDIER with me, eh?" Rin said as he opened the door. Cloud looked up at him. "Yes. I'm ready to leave whenever you are."

Cloud's Story
Cloud's Journal