Hidden Light

The First Lesson

Vincent breathed out a slow sigh of relief when they finally left the ominous shadow of the ruined lab and looked back at his companions. Hikari, wrapped in Tifa's jacket, was picking her way unsteadily across the debris, mindful of her bare feet. Cloud and Tifa took turns steadying her, and Nanaki was keeping an eye on all three of them.

Climbing out had been especially interesting with pieces of concrete and metal falling around them as the building became more unstable. There was a tense moment when Hikari had slipped. She had clung to the rope, eyes wide and frightened, feet scrambling for purchase before Cloud steadied her. Despite her initial confusion at seeing the rope, Hikari grasped the concept after a demonstration. Even though her mental facilities were like a child's, Vincent had to acknowledge that the young woman still learned very quickly and without any sort of complaint.

Hikari stopped and stared, mismatched eyes round as she beheld the shattered remnants of Midgar. Cloud tugged on her arm, but she pulled away, taking a few steps past him to continue staring. Finally, Hikari turned, looking back at them, and asked, "What… what all that?"

"That is all that remains of Midgar," said Tifa softly.

"Midgar? What is a Midgar?"

"It's only a name," Vincent said. "A dead name for a dead city. Few people live here now; most have gone to live in Edge or Kalm."

Hikari looked bewildered. "City? Dead? Edge? Kalm?"

"We'll explain it later," said Cloud quickly. "Right now we need to get back to the bike. I don't want to camp close to all this wreckage."

"But, what make this?" Hikari persisted, sweeping her arm to encompass the view. "What make so much… so much…" She paused, clearly frustrated with her inability to make herself understood.

"Do you want to know what made Midgar?" Vincent asked quietly. "Or what destroyed it?"

Hikari's mismatched eyes fixed on him. "Both," she said solemnly.

"The people of this world made Midgar," he said, "but the greed of a few and the misguided hatred of one nearly destroyed it completely. Three weeks ago, another calamity arose to bring down even those remnants." Vincent bowed his head. "That's the short version."

Hikari nodded slowly, looking out at Midgar again. "All broken now? Can be fixed?"

"Maybe one day it will be fixed," said Tifa. "But right now, people are too tired and frightened. We're still recovering, but one day… who knows?"

The wind stirred Hikari's strange black and white hair as she frowned. "Not sure understand all you say," she said slowly, "but I keep your words inside." Hikari tapped the side of her head, and then placed her hand over her heart, almost as if she was making a kind of vow.

"Let's go," said Cloud softly. This time, Hikari did not pull away, but she kept looking over her shoulder at the ruins, eyes full of questions, but lips held tightly shut.

It wasn't far to the place where Cloud had stashed his bike. The lab had been on the outskirts of Midgar, so their temporary camp was pretty much rubble-free. A few stunted and blasted trees made a ragged circle around the clearing and patches of dying grass clumped in places. A fire pit had already been dug, and Cloud tossed in a few branches and lit them. The reflection of the flames danced across his bike. Hikari looked around the camp, drawn towards the fire in obvious fascination, but when she reached out a hand to touch the flames, Tifa quickly pulled her back.

"No, Hikari," Tifa said gently. "You must not touch the fire."

Hikari's eyes darted from the flickering flames to Tifa. "That is fire?"

Tifa nodded.

"And it will burn you if you touch it," said Vincent, surveying the camp's perimeter for any possible threats, though any sort of attack was unlikely in this dying place.


Vincent held back a sharp retort. "Remember the electricity when we let you out of your tank? The bright-pain-death?"

Hikari flinched and nodded.

"Well, that is what being burned feels like. Fire does the same thing; it's just a different color. Don't touch it." Vincent started to turn away, but then looked back over his shoulder at Hikari. "In fact, don't touch anything unless Tifa says you can."

The young woman nodded in silent obedience as Vincent walked over to Cloud who was unpacking some provisions from a compartment in his bike.

"Go easy on her, Vincent," said Cloud softly. "Remember, she's never been outside before, hasn't even seen other humans probably for years. It's going to be rough enough on her as it is."

Vincent crossed his arms. "Perhaps, but she's going to have to learn very quickly if she's going to survive," he replied. "This world is not kind. Shielding her from reality won't help her."

"At least give her a chance to learn more words before introducing her to the darker side of life," Cloud said, a wry grin on his face. Serious as ever, Vincent only looked at him. Cloud just shook his head and walked over to the two women kneeling by the fire.

"I'm going to head back to Barrett's place and let him know what we've found," said Nanaki. "Maybe we can find some answers back in Edge."

Vincent nodded in acknowledgment. There was always some kind of documents or traces of scientific lab work. The trick was finding and authenticating it.

"Thanks for all your help, Nanaki," said Tifa with a smile, and Cloud raised a hand in farewell.

Hikari looked startled. "You go, Nanaki?" she asked.

The great red cat padded over to the young woman and placed a paw on her knee. "Yes, I have to go now."

She blinked her mismatched eyes. "You come back, Nanaki?"

"Not here," he said, "but you will see me again."

"Why go?"

"Because there are some friends in the city of Edge that I must see," Nanaki replied. "Friends of mine and friends of Tifa, Cloud, and Vincent. They might be able to find more information about you."

Hikari cocked her head to one side. "Is Miss Lucy there?" she asked hopefully.

Nanaki shook his head solemnly. "I don't know, Hikari, but we might be able to find out."

Hikari reached out a gentle hand and touched the red cat's head. "Thank you, Nanaki," she said with a smile, and scratched him lightly behind the ears. Nanaki leaned into the caress and purred, which made Hikari laugh. "Funny face!" she giggled.

"Be well, Hikari, and listen to these three. They will teach and protect you." With those parting words, the great cat bounded off into the night.

Hikari watched the spot where Nanaki had gone for several moments, as if expecting him to return immediately. When he did not reappear, she sighed and turned her attention to Tifa, Cloud, and Vincent. Her mismatched eyes followed their movements as Cloud broke out the rations and Tifa put some water onto boil. Vincent remained on guard, standing still and silent in the shadows just beyond range of the fire's light. Hikari wanted to ask him more about Midgar, but sensed that his patience with her inability to communicate properly was wearing thin. Until she learned to speak better, she would have to talk to Tifa and Cloud.

"Tifa…" Hikari said softly.

The dark-haired girl looked up and smiled. "Yes, Hikari, what is it?"

"You… please, you talk while doing things?" Hikari asked. "Talk what you do, so I can learn?"

Tifa cocked her head to one side. "You want me to explain what I'm doing?"

Hikari nodded. "Yes, that way can put words to things and learn new words. Please?"

Tifa smiled. "Of course, Hikari. We'll start tonight."

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