Cloud gazed out the window momentarily, recalling the scenery. "Healen? I would have assumed Rufus would have relocated after all this time. Maybe I expected more of him?"
"Or maybe we're just that good at keepin' secrets from you," Reno replied with a grin. "Besides, what's t' say he doesn't relocate on occasion?"
They trundled past the sign, the lodge itself visible across the beautiful ravine. The car motored up the trail to the drive in front of the building.
Cloud pushed open the back door of the car and climbed out, making his way over to the long wooden ramp that made its way up to the entrance of the facility. He didn't particularly feel a need to wait up for Reno and Rude.
Rude killed the engine and jogged after him.
"Hey, whoa there, pal!" Reno called angrily as he jostled out of the SUV and ran after Cloud. He reached out to grab his arm, then jerked his hand back when he remembered the wound. "The boss doesn't like uninvited guests. Hang back a minute, wouldja'? Damn, gotta be so difficult..."
Cloud stopped as he felt Reno's hand grip his arm. He turned his head to look at Reno as the Turk explained the situation. Cloud then relaxed his body and sighed. "Fine, let him know I'm here then," Cloud mutters.
Rude nodded and edged past Cloud and went inside.
After the two had vanished into the facility, within Cloud's eyes Uriko had just landed in the front of the door, smirking at Cloud.
It taunted him waving him to come at him. "Come on, boy...you want to know the cure?" Uriko took a step back and faded through the door.
Cloud could have sworn he just saw that damned Seraph that had attacked him in front of Midgar. It couldn't be though, could it? "Hm.. Reno, did you see something up on the platform there?"
"Tsk." Reno gave him a perplexed look over his shoulder and shook his head. "Doomed," was all he said before shutting the door to go talk to Rufus.
"Mr. President, it's my understanding that the Seraphs have been attacking towns in the immediate area of Edge that have been supplying the city," Tseng spoke, standing with his hands placed behind his back in front of Rufus' desk.
Rufus looked up from his paperwork, calm and quiet as he shuffled them into order and leaned back in his chair nonchalantly. "Showed up sooner than I thought," he said with a sigh. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering how much of a trouble magnet you tend to be."
"Yes, that is the current picture we have of the situation."
Reno snuck up to the office door just in time to hear that bit and, despite the looming crisis, couldn't help smirk to himself as he heard Tseng described as a "trouble-magnet." It was true, the man had it bad. Stabbed, shot, couldn't keep a girl he liked to save his soul and couldn't notice another girl right in front of his face. That was Tseng.
"That's the case, yes," replied Rufus.
Tseng continued to maintain his statue-like pose. "Well, if I may say, sir, this actually sounds like advantageous information to us. We have narrowed down possibilities of where the Seraphs may strike next."
Reno glanced up at Rude, still shamelessly eavesdropping, suddenly much more interested. Tseng actually figured out clues already?
The corner of Rude's mouth twitched disapprovingly at Reno's action, but he couldn't help but cock his head to listen in as well.
The voice spoke up into Cloud's mind. "They have the cure...they have it...but they won't let you have it. They are plotting on how to use you for their next set up...you're their puppet."
Rufus raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. "Their next move? That is valuable indeed. How did you come across that information?"
Tseng nodded his head. "Elena had called me over to one of our warehouses this morning under an emergency. When I got there, we had a close call with a Dark Seraph. We overheard it talking about a few things, though the attacks were what stood out to me the most."
Cloud could have sworn he heard a voice somewhere. How annoying. He must be getting feverish due to the wound or something. He started to make his way up to the entrance of the building. Reno and Rude were taking much too long to get back.
"Hmm... So they are finally making a move on Edge." Rufus tented his fingertips. "I had wondered what became of Dr. Aiden's abominable... project, but it appears it has, indeed, been fruitful and now that ripened fruit is upon us. We reap what we sow, Tseng." His eyes flicked up to the Turk's. "A Dark Seraph in one of our warehouses is no accident, make no mistake. What else did you find?"
Reno's eyes widened and met Rude's, which he assumed were just the same behind the other man's sunglasses. So, Rufus was familiar with the Dark Seraphs after all! Reno was stunned. At least, he thought to himself, Rufus wasn't directly involved in their creation... He hoped. No, he couldn't be.
"Unfortunately that is the crux of it, Mr. President. Otherwise, he was merely babbling about the other Seraphs it seemed," Tseng continued to explain.
Cloud had reached the door of the office holding his forehead. He had noticed the two bumblers crouching down in front of the cracked door like children listening in on their parents. Cloud put on a perturbed face before he planted his foot to Reno's ass and humorously kicked him through the door.
"FUCK!" Reno blurted as he face-planted into the door and skidded along the floor.
Rufus cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow, obviously not amused.
Tseng turned his head to find his number one subordinate sliding along the ground to his side. One could only imagine the embarrassment.
"Rufus," Cloud spoke as he stepped into the office. "The hell is with these Dark Seraph things? They had mentioned something about ShinRa to me."
"Cloud Strife... Do come in," Rufus said with a tense half-smile -- the "smile" part not fully reaching his eyes. "Reno, get up, can't you see we have a guest?"
Reno stifled a groan as he pushed himself up off the floor, rubbing his face and dusting off his clothes.
Rufus' tent collapsed as his fingers laced and he sat back easily in his chair, his position suggesting a relaxation that the Turks knew better than to believe. "So, you've encountered the Dark Seraphs as well? Surprise, surprise. Tell me how that went for you... Cloud?"
Cloud grabbed his arm for a moment, leaving the room silent for a moment before he lifts it to show the ShinRa President.
Tseng's eyes narrowed fearfully as they acknowledged the familiar wound on Cloud's arm. "It can't be..." Tseng couldn't help speaking out of turn.
Rufus sighed. "And yet it is."
"Doomed," Reno muttered under his breath.
"I heard that, Reno."
Rufus gently massaged his temples. "I know why you're here, Cloud, but I am afraid I don't know a cure for infection. At least... not at this time." He looked into the ex-SOLDIER's eyes slyly.
"They are lying..." The voice spoke.
Cloud barely heard a voice or noise inside his head. He ignored it, this was much more important. "Tch, you're going to tell me you're just as clueless as them?" Cloud asks with an extended arm, clearly pointing out Reno and Rude. "You must know something more, or someone else that has more information."
"Of course, Cloud, are you really that simple?" Rufus smirked. "As far as I know, some of Dr. Aiden's research still exists. If it were analyzed by, say, the proper people, it stands to reason that more may be discovered about the nature of the beast. Including a reversal."
Cloud looks at Rufus for a moment. "Oh? Well is there anyone that could be placed on researching those notes?" Cloud never thought he would wish Hojo was still alive.
Reno's mouth gaped. Did he just hear that? Cloud must be desperate!
Rufus let his amusement at Cloud's request show openly. "Cloud Strife, are you sincerely asking me that question?" he asked smoothly.
Reno imagined it would sound the way a devil might ask for a soul.
Cloud clenched his fists once again. It always burned to ask Rufus for any help at all. It couldn't be avoided here, though. "I'm no good if I'm dead. I'll destroy these things with my own hands, but I have to live that long first," he answered Rufus' question implicitly.
Rufus smirked contentedly as he leaned forward once again, pleased with the obvious success of the conversation -- well, on his part.
"A wise decision, Cloud. I have the perfect specialist in mind." His eyes met Reno's for the briefest of moments, and the redheaded Turk blanched, feeling a sudden drop in his stomach.
"In the meantime, you're going to have to do some digging around. Any copies that ShinRa had of Dr. Aiden's notes have been destroyed, thanks to Meteor. But the originals must still exist, the presence of successful Dark Seraphs being the proof. I have reason to believe Aiden had a hidden laboratory for himself in the ruins to the east of Edge."
Rufus paused. "If you see nothing, you may want to search for an underground shelter. The man was never quite the same after witnessing Meteor..."
Cloud nodded and turned around, about to step out.
Tseng decided to finally speak up again. "Before you go Mr. Strife, you may be interested in what I have to say."
Cloud stopped in his tracks at what he heard. "Mr. President, with the knowledge we've gained we may be able to intercept the Seraphs here and start to push them back. I know you're more familiar with the patterns they have been following in their destruction so far. If possible we may be able to launch a defense against them at their next stop."
The creature began to pick at his mind and provided the image of the exact location of where the underground lab entrance was. "Marcus...Marcus...the traitor. The creator is human...humans are the betrayer...Such imperfection...All will be perfected once again." The creature spoke so clearly that it sounded like it was standing right next to him.
"Pursue it," Rufus told Tseng curtly. "Use all the resources at your disposal. Mounting a defense when they least expect it may buy Cloud enough time to find what we need. He is of more use to us in finding a cure, is he not?" Rufus looked at Tseng, then Reno and Rude, meaningfully.
"But!" Rufus interjected. "Leave no trail so that they may get the upper hand again. This is a covert operation, and it will stay that way, understood?"
"Wait a minute..." Cloud spoke up, turning around once again to face Rufus. "Finding the notes is important, but nobody would know more information than those things themselves." Cloud pushes his hair out of his face and continues. "I won't be any help once those notes are being looked at. I'll find the notes today, and then go join in the fight tomorrow."
"Hmph. Ever the hero... Cloud." Rufus turned his attention back to his guest. "You'll be plenty of help while you're out there -- his lab is bound to be a hotbed of Seraphs. Since you'll be facing resistance, I'll give you... two days to return before we assume the worst." Rufus smiled as if he was being generous.
Reno's eye twitched. Damn, that was harsh. But Rufus wasn't unnecessarily cruel, which led Reno to the only conclusion he could possibly entertain: Rufus believed Cloud could do it. Well, he'd saved the world several times over, now... Reno sighed. It was out of his hands -- less stress to just leave it in faith with Cloud.
"Tch," Cloud clicked his tongue and turned to make his way out once again. "Reno... I'll see you tomorrow after I've found those notes." He spoke spitefully. Cloud didn't know why, but he felt like he knew exactly where the lab was located. He started to make his way out of the room.
Reno held back a shudder. "Y-yeah..."
"Remember -- time is of the essence. Especially yours... Cloud." Rufus' voice could be heard.
Cloud pauses for a moment as he takes in what Rufus said before leaving completely.
Tseng watched him leave before turning to Reno. "Reno, you, Rude and Elena will be going with me on this operation.
I'm going to stay here with the President for a little while longer to discuss where we think the next attack will occur. After that, I will go inform Elena of our mission."
"Elena's alone?" Reno blurted out, sensing Rude asking the same question with his body language. "I thought you said we had t' move together? I figured she'd be here with you?"
Rufus, too, gave Tseng a questioning look.
Tseng nodded. "I can't say I have any excuses for this. Someone had to come here to speak with Rufus, but it was also necessary to get the word out to the other Turks. I'll make it my priority to find her immediately." Tseng bowed in apology.
Wouldn't that be moving alone? Reno was tempted to say, but he could see Tseng wasn't in the mood. "Alright," he agreed. "We'll meet up later. Let us know when you've found her, unless you want us to go get her instead?"
Tseng shook his head. "It was my mistake. I don't expect anyone else to correct it." He looked back to Rufus. "Sir, I believe that it is important we have a discussion about our mission. When would you like to discuss this?"
"As soon as possible," Rufus answered without hesitation. "However, judging from your report, Tseng, Reno has actually engaged one of these Seraphs in battle. I would very much like to have everyone present for his report, as it should influence our next move significantly, don't you think?"
Tseng pondered for a second and nodded. "You are correct, Mr. President. In that case, shall we gather everyone early tomorrow so we may all be present for Reno's report? We can then use that to help determine our strategy."
Rufus closed his eyes. "Mn. It is late. Tomorrow will have to do."
"Wait!" Reno blurted out.
Tseng turned his head quickly in surprise at Reno's outburst. "Yes, Reno?" Tseng asked sharply. To cause a riot like that in front of the President of all things.
"Y' don' mean here, do ya?" Reno asked nervously. Rufus looked at him hard, a look that squeezed for answers.
Tseng's face turns curious. "Oh? Was there somewhere else you had in mind, Reno?"
"Boss, this place might have known ties to ShinRa," Reno replied. "You just found a corpse in a ShinRa warehouse."
"We shouldn't all be together in an obvious location," Rufus finished Reno's thought. "We'd be a rather easy target, wouldn't we?" He smirked. "So where else did you have in mind?"
"Er... " Reno rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn't exactly thought of that part, yet. "Well, somewhere that's pretty much the opposite of ShinRa. Like, the epitome of anti-ShinRa, even."
Tseng brought his hand to his chin to think on it for a moment. "A place that is anti-ShinRa... I wonder..." Tseng continued to ponder on the thought.
Rufus glanced at his senior Turk before growing very serious. "What about the rubble about Sector 7?" His gaze swept over to Reno and Rude.
Reno cringed. The thought had crossed his mind. "That's... a pretty good one."
Reno still had nightmares about that place and hated it with a passion. But business was business. It all came down to what Tseng thought, and he waited with baited breath.
"The crumbled grave of AVALANCHE... Not only anti-ShinRa but also barren. Nobody would be looking for us there. This may be the best plan of action." Tseng nodded his head. "That is of course..." The Turk leader turned to Reno. "..if going there won't surface any guilt from someone here."
"It's fine," Reno said gruffly with bravado.
Rufus eyed the redhead for a moment more before accepting his answer. "Sector 7 it is, then."
Tseng brought his attention back to Rufus, bowing to him respectfully. "Well with that decided, if you don't mind Mr. President, I must go find Elena."
Rufus nodded. "Please. And, Tseng, if we'll be moving, I'll need an escort as well," he reminded his subordinate.
"I'll make sure to pick you up personally before the meeting, sir," Tseng assured his boss before standing upright once again.
"You are dismissed."
Tseng bowed his head lightly once more before excusing himself from the room.
Reno and his partner followed suit.