The next morning Barret dropped Marlene off at the Seventh Heaven with Yuffie, Shelke, Nanaki and Danzel. Nanaki did not to go on this assignment with the others opting to stay with the girls to help look after the bar. They all waved goodbye as Barret walked towards the airfield.
Cloud and Tifa had already left earlier that morning to load Fenrir onto the airship and meet up with everyone else. When Berret arrived they all boarded the Shera and took off towards Fort Condor.
Cid, Vincent, Barret, Cloud, Reeve, Tifa and Miles all gathered on the bridge of the airship to go over the plans. Cid was flying the airship so they all stood near the controls while Reeve addressed the group.
“We should split up in groups,” he suggested. “Miles and Vincent will survey the reactor while Barret and I set the explosives. At the same time Cid, Tifa and Cloud can check the fort underneath for occupants. If we happen to find any people in or around the reactor we will inform them of our plans and offer to transport them to Junon with us. If they don’t want to go back with us we need to ensure they stay away from the blast site. If everything goes as planned we should be in Junon by dinner time.”
It did not take long for them to reach their destination. The Shera landed near the Fort just outside the blast zone and everyone but some of the crew exited the ship. As the group approached the fort nothing appeared out of the ordinary and there were no signs of life. Miles and Vincent walked towards the back of the fort so they could reach the reactor from the hillside. Barret, Reeve and two crew members followed the two towards the reactor carrying the explosives and blasting supplies. Meanwhile, Cid, Cloud and Tifa walked towards the front entrance of the fort.
Since the reactor was deactivated there was no power or lights inside the fort. Cloud, Tifa and Cid climbed up the rope ladder into the darkness above. All three pulled out flashlights and used them to survey the room.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is here,” Cid observed looking around.
“We should check every room just to make sure,” Tifa added.
“There should be a ladder going down over towards the top right corner of the room,” Cloud said pointing his flashlight towards the ladder leading down to the room under them. “And there are two rope ladders leading to rooms above.” They were all very familiar with the layout of the fort having spent a few days there helping the rebels fight Shinra years ago.
“Let’s start with the room where Reno and Rude spotted the light last night,” Tifa suggested shining her flashlight towards the rope ladder closest to them. She knew the room would be bright since it had a window and she was rushing to get this over with as quickly as possible. The room they were in was dark, damp and had a musty smell that was starting to bother her. She had been in Fort Condor many times before but this was the first time the smell was making her stomach turn. She knew the room above would have fresher air.
“Let’s check it out,” Cid said walking towards the rope ladder using his flashlight to lead the way. The three made their way up the tunnel to the room above which was actually a wooden shack located on top of the fort. It was used as a lookout when the rebels were fighting battles against the Shinra. The window opening provided lots of natural light so the flashlights were not needed and the fresh air blowing in was a godsend for Tifa.
She breathed a sigh of relief trying to take in as much fresh air as she could. “It doesn’t look like anyone was up here,” Tifa said looking around. The room looked exactly how she remembered. She walked over to the window and looked out down the hill. She could see Vincent and Miles still hiking up the deep slope towards the reactor on top.
“We should move on to the next room,” Cloud told the two turning towards the ladder.
The three exited the room making their way back down inside the fort. When they entered the darkness all three turned back on their flashlights and followed Cloud towards the next rope ladder leading to a room above.
By the time they climbed the ladder and entered the room the smell was starting to bother Tifa again. She tried breathing through her mouth to see if it would help but it just resulted in her tasting the damp mildewed air making it worse. She was determined to not let it get to her and forced back the nausea. She looked around the room with her flashlight and remembered that this room was once an item shop where the rebels sold weapons and materia. She doubted there were any supplies remaining after the place was abandoned.
“There’s not a damn person in this place,” Cid said shining his light around the dark empty room.
“We just have one more room to check to make sure,” Cloud advised. He agreed with Cid but didn’t want to risk the chance of missing someone before they blow the place up.
The three made their way back down to the main room and followed Cloud towards the far back corner. The last room was below them so they had to be careful where they stepped not to miss the ladder sticking out of a hole in the ground.
Tifa’s nausea was worsening and she was starting to feel hot and sweaty. To her it felt as if she had walked into a sauna. Working by the faint glow of her flashlight she followed Cloud and Cid down the ladder.
The room they entered was the most familiar having used the room many times to rest when they were traveling through years ago. As soon as Tifa entered the room she was hit with a horrible smell. The air in this room was thicker and had a copper smell to it. Tifa recognised the smell as blood but this was the first time it had ever bothered her this much. She tried limiting her breathing to just her noise or mouth in an attempt to overcome the smell and taste but nothing worked. Her stomach was starting to turn more and she was using every ounce of her strength to fight her nausea.
She could hear Cloud and Cid talking next to her but she was unable to concentrate on a single word they were saying. Her legs were starting to become weak so she went searching for a wall to support herself. As she walked she had to muster all her strength in order to force her legs not to give out. Knowing a wall was nearby she reached out her hand trying to feel for it while clenching her flashlight tight with the other hand.
When her hand made contact the wall made of dirt, clay and rock it felt cold and wet. Instantly she knew something was wrong. She immediately took her hand off the wall and shined her light on it only to find it covered in a red liquid; blood. Seeing the cold wet blood on hands was the last straw. The overpowering smell coupled with her nausea and cold sweat finally got the best of her. She managed to let out a slight noise before her legs finally gave out from under her and she fell down unconscious.
Cloud noticed that Tifa was so preoccupied with something she didn’t hear him talking to her as she walked towards the wall. He knew something was wrong when she shined the flashlight on her hand and she collapsed in front of her. Luckily he was able to catch her before she hit the ground. “Tifa!” he yelled as he held her in his arms trying to wake her.
“We need to get her back to the Ship,” Cid told Cloud who threw her over his shoulder so he can climb the ladder as fast as he could towards the exit.
Prior to Tifa falling unconscious Cloud and Cid had examined the room and were unable to find anyone but did find the room covered with blood splatter like there had been massacre down there. They were unable to find bodies or pieces of bodies but it evident that something happened down there. They could tell the blood splatter was pretty fresh and couldn’t have been more than a few days old.
They exited the fort and were the first group to arrive on the airship. They were met by some crew members who spotted them approaching.
“Take her to the crew lounge,” Cid told Cloud who made his way down with Tifa in his arms. Cid looked at one of the crew members, “get me a doctor, materia, potions, something!” Cid yelled in a panic.
“Sir, we don’t have any of those things but we do have a first aid kit.” The crew member informed Cid sounding a little nervous.
“Then get it and get down there!” Cid yelled. He pulled out his PHS and called Reeve to advise him of the situation. “Reeve we have a bit of a problem,” he told the commissioner. “We cleared the fort but somethin’s wrong with Tifa. She just passed out.”
“We’ve finished setting the explosives and are on our way,” Reeve informed the captain. “Vincent and Miles already passed us and should be there soon. Miles has some medical experience so he should be able to help.”
Moments later Vincent and Miles boarded the ship and Cid explained the situation to them prompting Miles to head down to the staff lounge to see if he could assist. When Miles entered the lounge he saw Tifa laying on the couch with Cloud sitting next to her looking over her with a concerned expression. He looked up toward Miles as he entered the room. At the same time a crew member ran into the room with a first aid kit and handed it to Miles.
“Sorry I took so long; this is our only kit,” the crew member told Miles who took the kit and walked towards Tifa.
Miles leaned down next to Tifa and placed his fingers on her neck checking her pulse while looking at his watch. A few seconds went by before he took his fingers off her and opened the kit.
“Well her pulse seems normal but she seems a little pale and her skin is clammy,” he said rummaging through the kit. “From what Cid told me it could be shock from the blood she saw or maybe stress or low blood sugar. Do you know of any pre-existing conditions?” He asked Cloud then he looked down at her blood covered hand and pulled out some disinfectant wipes to clean it off.
“No,” Cloud said looking at Tifa concerned. He knew Tifa and he knew they have seen worse so it couldn’t have been shock. Tifa was a strong girl and he knew she would not faint at the sight of blood, even a room full of it. He wanted to believe Miles was right and it was just shock or stress but deep down he knew something was wrong.
Suddenly Cloud’s phone went off.
“Hello,” he said answering it. He could hear the sound of gunfire on the other end.
“Cloud I know you are preoccupied right now but we need your help outside and bring your sword,” Reeve yelled above the gunfire. Then Cloud heard a click and silence.
“I got to go help Reeve and the others,” Cloud informed Miles. “Can you watch over Tifa?” Miles nodded yes while Cloud retrieved his sword and headed for the exit.
Outside the airship Cloud came face to face with his friends spread out across the grassy field fighting multiple creatures a few hundred feet away from the fort. He could see Vincent standing alone surrounded by three odd looking bird monsters. They looked like cokatoils but were larger and had a bizarre looking face. He appeared to be doing very well handing all three by himself shooting and dodging their attacks.
Reeve and Barret on the other hand were not faring as well as Vincent. They were next to each other surrounded by four creatures that looked like a bagnadrana, a bloatfloat and two needle kiss’ but like the cokatolis they were larger and their faces looked deformed. Barret was shooting at the bagnadrana and the bloatfloat while Reeve tried to hold off the other two with a pistol.
Figuring Barret and Reeve needed the most assistance, Cloud rushed over to them attacking the bloatfloat creature from behind. The bird like creature fell dead in one hit and in one motion Cloud jumped towards the two other flying monsters hitting them both with one swing; they were dead before they hit the ground. By the time Cloud slayed the three monsters Barret was able to shoot the dinosaur like creature dead. After he was finished Cloud looked over towards Vincent who was just finishing off his last monster.
“These things look like the monsters around Mount Corel, but different...” Vincent said examining the creatures he took down.
“They’re all messed up! What’s wrong with their F%$#ing faces?” Barret replied kicking the dead dinosaur like monster.
Reeve walked over and examined the creature.
“Hmmm,” he says bending down a little closer. “I think I might have seen this before but…”
Before Reeve could finish his thought Cid came running up towards them with his spear in hand, a little late to the fight.
“What the hell happened?” Cid asked as soon as he reached the group. “I was in the engine room when my crew told me you guys were fightin’ monsters.”
“They attacked Barret and Reeve on their way back to the airship,” Vincent informed Cid. “I was waiting outside when I saw the creatures appear from behind the fort and headed straight for them.”
This was very odd because it was out of character for creatures to target someone like this. Usually they would only attack if you crossed paths with them in self-defence or if the monsters were carnivorous and hungry.
“We should go back to the ship and set off the explosives,” Reeve told the group. “It’s going to be dark soon.”
The sun was just starting to set causing the sky in the west to turn a reddish-orange color with the sky behind the fort turning into a dark-blue night sky. Everyone started to walk towards the airship with the exception of Cloud who took a few seconds to look back towards the reactor. On top of the reactor he thought he saw the outline of a person but it was too dark and too far away to be certain.
Suddenly he felt the growing pain of a headache starting to come on but he ignored it and squinted trying to focus in on the dark figure far away. It was difficult to focus but he was sure he saw the outline of something fly up and away from the reactor disappearing into the night’s sky. By the way it moved he assumed, if it was anything at all, it was most likely another one of those flying monsters he thought to himself before turning and walking back towards the airship.
When Cloud entered the airship he went straight towards the lounge to check on Tifa. Although he like the idea of witnessing the reactor’s destruction Tifa was more important to him. When he entered the lounge Barret was sitting in a chair a few feet away from the unconscious Tifa with Miles sitting closest to her.
“She’s still sleepin’” Barret updated Cloud as he walked over and sat in the empty seat next to the sofa Tifa was lying on.
“All her vitals appear to be normal,” Miles informed Cloud who was relieved to hear the news but was worried that they were unable to find out what caused her to collapse.
There were no windows in the staff lounge but they all felt and heard the blast followed by the rumble of the airship engines being activated several minutes later. Reeve must have waited for the smoke and debris to clear before leaving the site because it was a while before they finally took off.
By that time Cloud’s headache was intensifying but he tried to ignore it focusing on Tifa. However ignoring it did not help and Cloud wondered if his worrying over Tifa was making it worse. The pain was making the light hurt his eyes so he closed his eyes tight and leaned forward putting his head in his hands in an attempt to try to relieve the pain.
“Headache?” someone asked.
Cloud looked up to see Miles eyeing him with a concerned look. He thought he was doing a good job at hiding the pain but he was wrong.
Seeing Cloud’s expression Miles knew he guessed right and continued explaining. “Last time I saw someone look like that I was working on the SOLDIER floor in Shinra. You remind me of a SOLDIER who has recently been exposed to Mako as painful headaches were a very common side effect.”
Miles was starting to ramble and didn’t even notice the confused look on Cloud’s face. Miles’ talking was not helping his headache but he didn’t want to be rude after Miles helped with Tifa. Miles had a tendency to ramble when he was nervous and the look Cloud was giving him was making him think he was overstepping his bounds.
”But I’m sure that is not what’s causing your headache…” He continued nervously not able to stop. “As far as I know the headaches were only a temporary side effect of mako exposure and it’s probably been years since you were showered with Mako...”
Cloud never said anything to Miles about his past but figured Miles just assumed he was in SOLDIER from the glow in eyes and his fighting skills.
“Showered!” Barret laughed listening in on Miles’ rant. “Spikey here swam around in the bloody lifestream and even survived Mako poisonin’’”
A surprised look appeared on Miles face.
“Wow really?!” He said looking at Cloud in disbelief. “Surviving mako poisoning without becoming a vegetable is very rare. Plus to swim around in the lifestream and survive is almost unheard of.” Miles appeared almost excited when hearing about Cloud’s exposure to mako. Seeing the questioning look on Cloud and Barret’s faces he realized he should explain the reason for his excitement. “Sorry, my field of study is the planet, mostly geology but I specialize in the lifestream and mako so hearing about this interests me.”
“What does showerin’ someone in mako do?” Barret asked. All he knew was Mako was the lifestreem and it was the plant’s lifeblood. He heard that Shinra would showered SOLDIER’s in mako but he had no clue why exactly.
Miles turned his attention away from Cloud to Barret. “Just showering someone in Mako does absolutely nothing. Mako is a naturally occurring compound and before Shinra started using it as a power source the lifestream use to pool in abundance to the surface in natural springs. People use to fall into pools of it all the time but Mako eyes is something you only see in Shinra SOLDIERs. You need more than just a shower of mako to benefit from the effects. Shinra called it showering but they would expose their SOLDER’s to large amounts of mako for a set period of time. Doing so permanently altered their DNA making them stronger, faster and so on. But it has some side effects like short term headaches, dizziness, fever, memory loss, glowing eyes, just to name a few. Not to mention you risk mako poisoning if you expose someone for too long; which is why they always choose the strongest and most resilient people for SOLDIER. Not only that but Shinra would also inject their SOLDIER’s with small amounts of mako.” Miles frowned. “Shinra used their SOLDIER’s as ginny pigs for mako testing. When I was working for Shinra I heard rumors from other science departments that prolonged exposure would alter a person’s DNA to the point where it could mutate them physically but that is only what I heard.” He explained leaning back in his chair. “I only worked in the Materia room so I never witnessed any of this firsthand.”
Miles turned his attention back to Cloud, “so how long were you in the lifestream for? How was your mako poisoning cured?”
Before Cloud could say anything Barret answered for him.
“Not sure how long he was swimmin’ around for. He fell in at the Northern crater and they found em’ in Mideel so we figured he was in there for at least a day or two, maybe more. He had mako poisonin’ when we found em’ and when Tifa and em’ fell back in the lifestream she fixed em’.”
Miles looked at Barret with disbelief. He had never heard of anyone being cured of mako poisoning let alone being cured by falling back into the lifestream.
Ignoring the pain Cloud looked over at Tifa who was still sleeping. He had no memory of being in Mideel with mako poisoning but he knew she stuck by him the whole time he was sick. She was the one who knew him well enough to help him sort out his memories in the lifestream and was able to help him find the real Cloud. He knew he wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her.
“Interesting,” Miles said leaning back in his chair deep in thought. He looked over at Cloud. “If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you having these headaches for?” he asked the blond. “It could be from long term Mako exposure or a side effect of the mako poisoning. If you want I can run some tests after this assignment to find out the extent of the Mako mutation but, mind you, I am not a doctor I just have some working knowledge on the subject.”
“No thanks,” Cloud replied without even considering it.
Cloud was never one for doctors and tests plus he figured it’s too late to worry about what the mako did to his body since it was irreversible. Not to mention all the Jenova cells that were pumped into him by a crazy scientist. Cloud figured the less people who knew about that the better. By the age of 17 Cloud had already been cut open by Sephiroth, then experimented on by a scientist for a 4 years, and by the age of 21 he had mako poisoning twice. If the worst thing to come out of all that were a few headaches now and then he should consider himself lucky.
“I understand,” Miles replied packing up the first aid kit. The three sat in silence until they landed in Junon a few minutes later.