It almost felt like flying.
In Cid’s mind, the experience happened painfully slowly, despite knowing how fast his plummet was truly occurring.
Plenty of time for his mind to provide a deluge of thoughts, memories and regrets.
Almost idly he wondered what had attacked them, and if the others were aware of the danger. He twisted in midair; bringing himself to look upward where the silhouette of his airship was rapidly dwindling. Looking for, and hoping not to see what he dreaded most; Vincent falling somewhere near him. In this position, he at least did not have to watch Death coming for him and was quietly thankful. He knew what happened when a body fell from such a height; at least the pain would be a thing of mere moments, quickly over.
So many things he wanted to say…
A whispered goodbye; the only chance he would ever have to voice what he held within and Cid closed his eyes, giving himself over to the inevitable.
The breath was driven from his lungs; a strange vertigo and nausea accompanying the sensation of being jerked abruptly upward as claws closed around him. He opened his eyes upon a nightmare, glowing yellow demonic eyes and fangs mere inches from his face. Leathern wings struggled to keep himself and the winged horror aloft, despite the drag of their combined weight.
An instant’s hesitation was lost to shock before Cid exploded into action. In his mind, the death awaiting him below was much preferable to ending up as a meal for the thing which held him in its clutches. He fought with everything he had, though weaponless, knowing he could not win; but he could at least keep the thing distracted long enough to hopefully take it with him. He spit out the foul results of the damage his teeth inflicted; and thought he heard the satisfying crunch of broken bones as he brought a knee up with all the force he could manage into the thing’s torso. A short but powerful punch to the face followed and his attacker keened with the pain of it; its grip faltering. Another kick connected close to the area along the ribs the pilot had injured and won him his freedom.
He fell anew.
Only to be snatched from midair once more, this time in a manner that left him face downward with his arms pinned to his sides. The creature struggled in its flight; its breathing raspy and uneven. Cid felt wetness upon his back, and hoped he’d done some real damage to the thing. Their ascent was jerky, uneven; as the demon that held him brought him slowly upward, back toward his airship. Even in the position in which he was held, the pilot managed to twist his head around enough to see more winged, demonic forms swarming as shadows across the ship’s moonlit framework. The creatures bore little resemblance to the one that had grabbed Cid, but they were bad enough. More mutations…escaped from Gaia knew where.
Barrett’s gun blazed and he glimpsed Cloud’s sword; light bouncing off the edge of its downward arc. Tifa and Yuffie fought back-to-back, holding their own. Nanaki slashed and snarled with a fury as savage as the creatures attacking them. Cid twisted and turned, feeling the creature’s claws breaking his skin, raking along his ribs. His gaze searched frantically for Vincent; but the gunman was nowhere to be seen. Nor did he hear the deep, triple voice of Cerberus and he knew he surely would have if Vincent was present and still able to fight. Cid went limp in the creature’s grasp, a part of him no longer caring as he closed his eyes in misery, thinking of Vincent’s shattered form upon the jagged peaks somewhere far below.
In doing so, he had no warning or chance to roll with the impact as he was abruptly released; dropping several feet to the deck. He felt the fall dislocate his shoulder and spared a moment’s gratitude for not having broken his neck. His breath had been once more driven from him but he rose, staggering into the fray to reach the demonic presence of the creature that had captured him and then landed clumsily only a few feet beyond. Its great wings sagged around its body as it braced upon what passed for hands and knees, bleeding from the wounds Cid had managed to inflict.
If the thing thought it was going to share Cid or any of the others as a banquet among its winged friends, it had another think coming.
The area where they fought was just beyond the bridge, backlit from the great windows. Cid was grateful for Barret having the presence of mind to grab his lance when he raised the alarm and the pilot snatched it from him with a quick nod of thanks, dodging the litter of nightmarish bodies as he struggled to remain upright on the blood-slickened deck.
Whatever the creature was, it’s greater size gave the appearance of being the leader of these monsters; and Cid was determined to take it down before it could recover and regroup the others. He skidded to a halt before it, raising the Venus Gospel to strike with his good arm.
The creature merely looked at him in that long, suspended moment; the intelligent eyes filled with pain. Cid could not help but shudder at what he saw in that gaze.
And then it disappeared.
Momentarily startled, Cid blinked, staring at the place where it had been but a moment before; but then a warning yell from Cloud brought him twisting about to skewer another demonic form bearing down on him from above. Still, he kept a wary eye for the creature’s sudden reappearance as the demonic bodies piled up around the team or were flung over the railing.
As suddenly as the attack had come, it was over; the remaining creatures fleeing into the darkness.
Cid gave himself a moment to catch his breath before he began taking stock of the others’ status. They all appeared to be on their feet, but there was still no sign of Vincent.
Barked questions as to his possible whereabouts produced no answers and Cid ignored his own orders regarding injuries to begin a frantic search, hoping he would be wrong in his earlier fears. There was no trace of the gunman on the outer decks; but Cid refused to accept what his mind told him; that his search would prove fruitless.
Running back the way he had come through the outer corridors, he burst onto the bridge; snarling over his shoulder for Cloud to take control of the airship as he sprinted toward the engine room. Cid doubted any of the creatures made it inside, but he paused in his search just long enough to trade the Gospel for its shorter version, one intended for close quarters. If Vincent were anywhere on the ship, his hideaway was where he would be. Cid had covered only a few feet of interior corridor beyond the bridge before he was confronted with smears and red spattering on walls and floor. Dread built in him as he doubled his pace, for the blood trail led unerringly in the direction Cid himself now traveled. He never slowed as he ripped a medkit from the wall in passing.
He barely gave the door to the engine room time to slide halfway open before he was through it, his eyes searching frantically among the shadows.
But he had found what he was looking for.
A thin ribbon of red trailed down the side of the boiler directly underneath Vincent’s hideaway; and as Cid watched, another drop fell to join what had already dripped to the floor.
He dropped his lance and was across the room and up the ladder in a seeming instant; despite having to climb one-handed. He raced along the narrow catwalk, heedless of his own safety and the considerable drop beneath him should he make a misstep.
Vincent lay curled small as a child in his blanket, a blanket dreadfully marked as the red stains seeped through.
Cid crashed to his knees; reaching desperately to uncover Vincent, to find if he still lived.
Underneath, the gunman’s clothing was little more than rags. Cid’s hands faltered; shaking as he stripped the remains of it away to discover the extent of his injuries.
A ragged breath from the gunman rewarded Cid’s rough handling. The pilot made a sound somewhere between a sob and a sigh of relief; forced himself to slow down, his hands becoming gentler in their insistent search.
Vincent was terribly bruised; his ribs obviously broken, his skin tattered with injuries. Vicious wounds had ripped through muscle to the bone, all but tearing chunks from the small body; and Cid loosed a low, keening sound as he uncovered more than a dozen of them. The pilot’s mind reeled in sudden, terrible clarity with the shock of what he saw before him.
Oh, Vincent…what have I done?!!
Cid knew what he had seen, but his mind veered away from it; he would think about what it all meant later. The creature and Vincent were somehow one and the same…and the thing Vincent had transformed into hadn’t hurt him in retaliation for what Cid had done; even when it had every chance. Cid shook his head to clear it. This was Vincent before him; he’d be damned if he would let him down.
Sparing only a moment from his task, Cid fumbled for his PHS, letting Tifa know Vincent had been found. He also requested her to bring certain items and leave them outside the engine room door, but for no one to enter under any circumstances. After he had spoken with her, he made quick calls to Cloud and Barret, giving coordinates to bring the airship to another of their secluded hideaways, knowing they could manage. Yuffie, Tifa, and Nanaki were to patrol the ship, making sure everything else was secure. Cid continued to work on Vincent’s wounds while he waited to hear from Tifa; applying antiseptic and bandaging where he could. He was doubly grateful for Vincent’s unconscious state as he grabbed the needle and silk thread from the kit; bracing his shaking, almost useless hand to assist the task of awkwardly sewing with the other, trying not to think of the new scars he’d caused.
The pilot had managed to close the worst of Vincent’s wounds when Tifa called to let him know her task was complete. He thanked her quietly; earning himself a surprised silence in return before the connection closed. When he at last finished, he risked leaving Vincent for a moment to gather the things she had brought.
His shoulder was an agony now, swelling; he knew he had waited almost too long to tend it. He went to one of the large metal support posts and wrapped the belt Tifa had brought around it, testing for length. He then strapped the wrist of his damaged arm to the post, cinching it as tightly as possible; curling the hand into a fist to insure it wouldn’t slip through. He took a deep breath, dreading what was to come as he aligned his body. With all his weight behind the motion, Cid threw himself back abruptly and forcefully; almost fainting from the pain as he felt the shoulder joint slip back into place. Sweating and cursing, he waited for his vision to clear; satisfied. The healing materia he had was limited in its abilities and he surely wasn’t going to waste it on himself when Vincent needed it more.