Thanks to artimusdin's bribe-art of Cloud for icedark_elf and medusalethe's fic Amalgamation, for providing inspiration for some cute snarkiness.
Title: Hunting Party 2/?
Fandom: FF7 AU (Mercverse)
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
Summary: Some old acquaintances drop in for a visit.
Zack eyed Zidane and Kuja curiously as he wondered just what Cloud meant by "Angels of Death". It -was- a rather cool team name, although it seemed much better suited to tall, sinister men in long black coats than to a cute-growing-into-gorgeous blond teenager and his even prettier older companion. But considering the odd sort of people Cloud knew, he might've used the term literally for all Zack knew.
Zidane grinned brightly and said, "Oh, we're in town to retrieve some items."
"Steal them, you mean. That's what thieves usually do," Cloud said drily.
"Steal them back, actually," Zidane replied with a decidedly cheeky grin.
"And it's 'thief' in the singular," Kuja said coolly, speaking for the first time.
Zidane shrugged nonchalantly and said, "Yeah, it ruffles his feathers when people call him that. He considers it beneath his dignity to engage in common thievery."
"And what about uncommon thievery?" Cloud inquired, his lips twitching.
"Yeah, what about that?" Zidane said, giving his companion a playful nudge with his elbow.
Kuja sniffed, flicked strands of long white hair -- or were they long white feathered plumes? -- over his shoulder. "Breaking and entering is your job. That makes you the thief. I merely provide arcane support."
By this time, Sephiroth had arrived in the hallway and was eyeing the two newcomers rather curiously.
"By the way, let me introduce you to the Pack. Zidane, you've already met Zack."
"Yeah, we sorta ran into each other."
"Why doesn't that surprise me at all?" Cloud said with a sigh. He then tipped his head in Sephiroth's direction. "And this is Sephiroth, our resident mage. The twins, Chaos and Vincent, aren't around at the moment."
"They look like a good crew." Surprisingly, there was no frivolity in Zidane's voice.
"They're the best," Cloud said quietly.
"You always did know how to pick 'em."
"I've made mistakes before. No one's perfect." There was something in Cloud's voice, a subtle somberness that unsettled Zack.
Zidane abruptly looked Zack straight in the eye. The teenager's gaze was eerily penetrating, as if Zidane was assessing him on some profound level. But before he could put his finger on the strangeness, Zidane's blue eyes shifted to Sephiroth. The mage's sharp intake of breath told Zack that he probably hadn't been imagining things.
"But not this time," Zidane said, turning to Cloud with a decidedly pleased grin.
Zack frowned slightly. He knew something in the conversation between Zidane and Cloud had gone totally over his head, although it was blatantly obvious that the two men knew exactly what they were talking about.
Cloud finished descending the stairs and said in a much more casual tone, "You said you were in Midgar to retrieve certain items?"
"Yeah. It seems that some fatcat nobleman from this city decided to indulge in a little recreational tomb-robbing. He made off with a bunch of magic talismans. I'm here to get them back, hopefully before they cause too much trouble."
Cloud frowned. "What sort of trouble?"
It was Kuja who answered. "These talismans contain spirit beasts that can be summoned. The summoning part is ridiculously easy. Any fool can do it. Controlling what gets summoned is the hard part."
Sephiroth, who had been staring intently at Zidane, looked at Kuja and said, "That's not an uncommon problem."
"True. If you have the necessary power and the inner strength, there's no problem controlling what gets summoned. On the other hand...." Kuja shrugged eloquently.
"Wait a minute!" Zack yelped. "When you say 'spirit beasts', do you mean like those two rampaging summons that we saw back there in the alleyway?"
"That's right," Zidane said with a nod. "And let me guess, the guys who summoned those things were waving around fist-sized orbs or something like that."
"Bingo." Turning to Cloud, Zack said worriedly, "Those summons were seriously powerful. They were really tearing up the place until that purple flash...." He stopped, then gazed speculatively at Kuja in his immaculate purple jacket and pants.
"Yes, that was me. Zidane and I are quite capable of handling the summons once they appear," Kuja said with a confidence that bordered on outright arrogance. "However, sealing or defeating them one by one is both time-consuming and laborious, not to mention all the collateral damage that's bound to result every time any of those creatures appear."
"That's why I want your help, Cloud," Zidane said earnestly. "I want to track down the guy who took the orbs and retrieve as many of them as possible before they get activated or fall into the wrong hands. But to do that, we really need someone familiar with Midgar, especially its upper-class."
"And that's where I come in," Cloud said.
"You've got the connections and you know the right people." Zidane grinned. "Hey, I don't expect you do work for free. I'm sure we can make a deal."
"I'm not worried about that. You can be ridiculously generous at times." Cloud looked thoughtful. "Can you give me a better idea what type of spirit beasts we're talking about here?"
"Maybe it would be better to show you," Zidane said, rummaging around inside his jacket.
"Uhhhh... maybe it's not such a good idea to summon one of these things indoors." Zack added in a plaintive voice, "I really like this house."
"Hey, chill out, Zack! Don't worry. I know exactly what I'm doing."
"Zidane, you -DO- realize that you scare me whenever you say that, right?"
At this uncharacteristic comment from Cloud, who was starting to look a little wary, Zack and Sephiroth exchanged quick nervous looks as they tried to decide whether diving through the nearest window would be a good idea. On the other hand, Kuja simply looked a little bored.
"Coward," Zidane accused Cloud. "Besides, what are you worrying about? You're immortal, remember?"
"Yes, but I still prefer to avoid dying unnecessarily when I can!"
"So says the guy who happily freefalls hundreds of feet without a parachute just for the adrenaline rush," retorted Zidane, now searching the other side of his jacket.
"Like you haven't done exactly the same thing?" Cloud said in annoyance.
"Well, yeah. But at least I don't get broken bones and ruptured organs when -I- do it. Ah! Here it is."
Zidane triumphantly pulled out a fist-sized orb, which glowed faintly in his grasp. It was crystalline and rather oddly colored, with a red top half and a white bottom half.
"Trust me, I've got it under control so you don't have to worry about the furniture."
With a snap of his wrist, Zidane tossed the orb into the air. There was a brilliant crackle and flash.
Instead of a large hulking creature similar to the ones Zack had seen earlier, this creature looked anything but dangerous. It was small, about the size of a dog, and bright yellow, with red spots on its cheeks and two brownish stripes running horizontally across its back. Its tail had an uncanny resemblance to a lightning bolt.
"Pika!" chirped the summons, blinking its large black eyes as it peered around curiously.
It was a rather cute summons, in Zack's opinion. Aerith would probably go ga-ga over it.
Cloud groaned and buried his face in his hands.
"By. The. Gods."
"Uh... Cloud?" Zack said, now feeling totally confused.
"Pika?" it chirped again in a slightly worried tone.
Ignoring the summons, Cloud lifted his head slowly and turned to glare at Zidane.
"And exactly how many of these orbs are we talking about here?" Cloud demanded in a low, dangerous voice.
"The guy made off with a boxful of them," Zidane replied a little -too- casually.
Cloud's glowing blue eyes narrowed suspiciously and he asked very sharply, "And just big was this box, Zidane?"
"A little over a meter in each direction?" the blond teen answered in a slightly sheepish voice.
"And was it full?"
"Uh... yeah. To the brim."
Zack could see Cloud crunching the numbers -- fist-sized orbs, over a cubic meter in volume....
Cloud took a deep breath, let it out, then took another one before gritting his teeth and speaking in a voice that started out low, but rapidly grew louder until it hit a near-roar.
"Let me make sure that I've got this straight, Zidane. You're trying to tell me that someone in Midgar is currently in possession of over SEVEN HUNDRED magical orbs, each of which can be used by any -idiot- off the street to summon a uncontrolled POKEMON!?!?"