Once upon a time there was a city that was called the Eyre. It was a very special city. First of all, it was very beautiful. In fact it was the most beautiful city on the planet. It was filled with fountains and gardens and white spires that rose high into the sky. Trees with golden leaves grew in the courtyards, and beautiful sculptures and marble statues lined the walkways and filled the gardens. No other city could compare to it's beauty, even if there were other cities on the planet with which to compare it to, which there were not.
Yet still, the beauty of the city, though remarkable indeed, was not, in fact, the most remarkable thing about it. No, the most remarkable thing about it was that the entire city floated in the sky.
The people of the Eyre were just as remarkable as the city itself. Each of them had wings, long white luxurious wings, which they were all very proud of, mind you, said to be the wings of eagles. They would fly through the sky above their city, looking down and admiring it's perfectness.
There were no wars in the Eyre. No hunger, no poverty, no crime. No one spread ugly rumors about their neighbors, and everyone exchanged presents on the holidays. Everyone got along in the Eyre, and there was no strife.
Oh, did I say strife? Well, maybe there was a little strife, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Everyone was beautiful in the Eyre. The men were tall, the women petite. They all wore white. No one was overweight, even though they ate pretty much whatever they wanted. Their complexions were fair, their skin smooth and soft, even without moisturizer. Everyone's hair was soft as silk and always stayed in place. There were no zits and never never any split ends.
Yes, everyone in the Eyre was beautiful, but even among the beautiful, there are some that are more beautiful still. And the most beautiful person in the entire city of the Eyre was a girl named Aeris.
Not only was she beautiful, but she was kind and generous and pure at heart. She never got angry and was always the first one to forgive. Everyone loved her and wanted to be loved by her. Every boy in the city, and quite a few of the men, wanted her to someday become their wife.
And that's where the strife comes in.
You see, there was a boy in this city named Cloud, which, by the way, everyone thought was a exceptionally fine name for someone who lived in a city in the sky. Like everyone else he had fallen under Aeris spell, and hoped to someday make her his wife. The difference from the other boys, however, was that Cloud had caught Aeris' eye as well, and she favored him more than any other boy in the entire city.
Which did not sit well with some of them. There was another boy in the city, whose name was Rufus, who wanted Aeris for himself, and his jealousy was great when he saw Aeris and Cloud together. He looked at Cloud and looked at himself and could not understand how Aeris could possibly choose Cloud over him, for he was older, bigger, stronger, and especially, much better looking. Whenever he saw them together he had to turn away, and his jealousy grew great, until finally he determined to do something about the situation.
"She would surely pick me if only this Cloud person was out of the way," he would often say to himself as he walked down the street, ignoring the strange looks that others gave him as he did so. "All I have to do is get rid of him and all will be well.
So, Rufus sent Cloud a note saying to meet him at the edge of the city because he had a surprise for him, which was not a lie. And since Cloud had no idea of Rufus' feelings for Aeris, he walked into Rufus' trap unawares.
When he arrived Rufus told Cloud that he had his surprise and here it was, and then he started to beat Cloud over the head with his fists. Since, as was mentioned before, Rufus was in fact bigger and stronger and older, there wasn't much the young Cloud could do but try to get away. Rufus would not let him go, however, he continued to pound on Cloud until he broke one of Cloud's wings, then he dragged him over to the edge of the city and tossed him over. He watched Cloud plummet downward for a moment, then turned away, quite satisfied with himself.
Now only one of Cloud's wings was broken, and he could still use it a bit, though it hurt greatly to do so. He had some control over his descent, yet even so, he looked down with great fear, for he knew he would hit the ground hard, and he didn't know what was below him. No one from the Eyre knew what was down there, down on the planet's surface. The Dark Lands it was called, and no one had ever gone there. Why should they? They lived in a city that was perfect and no one ever had any reason to leave.
So Cloud tried desperately to fly back up, up to the city, but his damaged wing could not support that, and he continued to drop, the lands below coming closer and closer. He could see mountains now, volcanoes, the smoke from them rising up high into the sky. The land was dark below, and he could see no green, no sign of trees. All was barren.
He struggled even more to turn around, but it was to no avail and eventually he hit the ground, hard, and remembered no more for some time.
"That over there! It looks like... a person!"
"It is! It is a person. It's a boy!"
"Okay, don't get all excited."
"Is he hurt?"
"He must be. Look, he must have fallen."
"Fallen? Fallen from where?"
"What about them?"
"He's... an Eagle-wing."
"An Eagle-wing? Oh great."
"Leave him alone."
"It doesn't matter. You said so yourself. He's an Eagle-wing."
"So he's one of them. He's got nothing to do with us. You know what he'll say if he sees us."
"Yeah, leave him be."
"Who cares! The other Eagle-wings will come get him. It's none of our business."
"I'm going to help him!"
"Don't be stupid."
"I'm not stupid!"
"You are if you help him."
"Yeah, c'mon, let's go."
"I'm not going to leave him."
Cloud opened his eyes and found himself looking into someone's face. A girl. She was leaning over him, staring at him, her brown eyes looking right into his. Her mouth formed a little 'o' and she lifted her head, startled, when she saw his eyes open.
"Oh, you're awake," she said.
He lifted his head, looking around. He was lying on bare earth. There were no plants. Boulders were strewn about in a very untidy manner. The place struck his as very... dirty.
He turned his attention to the girl, who knelt by him, her hands on her knees. There was something very strange about her. She was wearing black. A black body suit. Which was ridiculous or course. No one wore black. He hadn't realized clothes came in any color other than white. Even stranger still, she didn't have beautiful eagle wings on her back. No, no luxurious feathers there. Instead, she had black bat wings.
"W...what are you?" he blurted out.
The girl cringed back, as if she were suddenly afraid he were going to strike her. She paused for a moment, looking at him, but when he made no further move she answered him.
"I'm a Bat-wing," she said, her eyes downcast.
"A Bat-wing," she said again, lifting her eyes to look at him. "I'm a Bat-wing. You're an Eagle-wing."
She looked at him as if that explained it all.
"Where did you come from?" Cloud asked, for want of being able to think of anything else to ask. "I didn't know anyone lived down here."
"We came from there, same as you."
Cloud lifted his head and looked up at the city suspended high in the sky above them.
"You came from the Eyre?" he said, quite startled and quite skeptical, for he had never heard of or seen anyone like her.
She shrugged her shoulders, then lowered her eyes to the ground again.
"We did," she insisted. "Sometimes... sometimes people are born up there without eagle wings. Sometimes... sometimes we're born with something like... these."
She lifted her hand and touched the tip of the wing over her shoulder.
"Anyone who is born like that is sent down here, because they don't want us. Because... we're ugly."
Cloud looked at her, and though the wings were indeed a little hard to get used to, he was beginning to think they weren't all that bad.
"I don't think you're ugly," he told her.
"You don't?" she said, immediately brightening. "Really?"
She seemed tremendously pleased by this.
Cloud looked up.
"If you're from there... why don't you just fly back up?"
Her eyes dropped again.
"We can't," she said sadly. "Our wings are too small. We can't fly. Yuffie, the littlest one of us, if she beats her wings as hard as she can, can just get off the ground, but that's all. Besides, they won't let us back in. They don't want us."
Cloud really didn't know how to reply to that. He couldn't imagine not being able to fly. Well, yes he could actually, he thought, glancing at his broken wing, but not forever.
"You said we," he said slowly. "How many more of you are there?"
"There are four of us," she said. She took hold of his arm, tugging on him. "C'mon, I'll introduce you!" Then just as suddenly she stopped, seeing the look on his face. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. Are you all right?"
Cloud did a quick check and decided after a moment that except for a few bumps and bruises and his damaged wing, he was just fine.
"I'm all right," he told her.
She tugged on his arm again, helping him up.
"C'mon," she said. "They're over this way. My name's Tifa, by the way."
"I'm Cloud," he told her.
"C'mon!" Tifa prodded.
She led Cloud past a few boulders, into a small clearing. Three people sat around a small fire in the center of it. Two boys and a small girl. One boy was big, a lot bigger than Cloud. The other was thin and rather pale. The girl had short black hair and sat by the fire with a small cat cradled in her arms. None of them looked particularly friendly.
"This is Cloud," Tifa announced.
"Big deal," muttered the bigger boy.
The little girl looked up from petting her cat.
"Yeah, big deal," she repeated.
"That's Barret," Tifa said, pointing to the bigger boy, ignoring their comments. "The other boy is Reeve, and that's Yuffie," she finished, pointing to the little girl. "And that's her pet cat, Red."
"Why did you bring him over here?" Barret asked.
"What else is he going to do?" Tifa questioned. "He can't wander around here all alone."
"Why doesn't he just fly back up to his city?" Reeve asked.
"He can't, his wing is broken," Tifa replied.
"So what? Its not our problem," Barret told her.
"Yeah, not our problem," Yuffie repeated.
Tifa just stood there for a moment, then placed her hands on her hips.
"You people are mean," she declared.
"Why shouldn't we be mean to Eagle-wings?" Barret retorted. "They're the one's who sent us down here."
"I didn't do it," Cloud protested.
"Yeah, he didn't do it," Tifa agreed.
"So, he's still an Eagle-wing," Barret said stubbornly.
Tifa just looked at him, frustrated.
"Oh Barret, you're such a stupidhead!"
"Yeah, well, you're the stupidhead, if you're going to hang around with him."
Cloud looked up once more at the city far above them.
"I have to get back there," he said.
"Your wing will heal, won't it?" Tifa asked.
"Yeah, I guess, but I don't know how long that will take. I have to get back though. That jerk Rufus broke my wing and threw me down here. He's trying to steal my girlfriend!"
Tifa's eyes widened just a bit.
"You have a girlfriend?" she asked.
"Uhh, well... yeah," Cloud said slowly.
Tifa looked crestfallen. She looked at the ground once more, her toe digging into the dirt for a moment, but then she looked up again.
"That's all right. I'll help you."
"You will? Really?"
She nodded, forcing herself to smile.
"You can't help him," Barret interrupted. "We all know there's no way to get up to the city except to fly."
"That's not true!" Tifa retorted.
"It is!" Barret insisted.
"It's not! Don't you remember what the Captain told us? Through the midnight swamp, past the old tombs, around the lake of darkness, up the endless stair, over the rainbow bridge and into the Eyre!"
"The Captain," Barret snorted. "He didn't know what he was talking about."
"He did too!"
"Then where is he?" Barret said. "If he was so sure of the way, why didn't he ever come back?"
"I don't know!" Tifa exclaimed. "Maybe he's there. Maybe he's in the city right now!"
"He's not in the city. He never made it. He didn't make it because it can't be done! Why don't you ask your friend here if he's ever seen him."
Tifa opened her mouth, then shut it. She turned to look at Cloud.
"He... had wings like you?" Cloud asked.
After a moment, Tifa nodded.
Cloud shook his head.
"I'm sorry. I never saw anyone like that in the Eyre."
"See?" Barret proclaimed.
"That doesn't mean anything!" Tifa protested.
"Who's the Captain?" Cloud asked.
"He was the first one of us," Tifa explained. "The one who taught the rest of us to survive down here. He went away though, looking for the way up there, into the city."
"And he never came back," Reeve spoke up.
"No, he never did," Tifa said sadly. "But I'm sure he was right. I'm sure there was a way. He wouldn't have lied to us!"
"He didn't know what he was talking about," Barret proclaimed.
"No, you don't know what you're talking about!" Tifa rejoined. "I'm going to help Cloud get back to the Eyre."
She turned to look at Cloud.
"C'mon. Just ignore them."
She grabbed hold of his hand and started to lead him away.
"You're going to take him back?" Reeve asked.
"You're just going to get lost," Barret said. "You're going to end up sinking in some smelly bog, or falling off a cliff."
"I don't care!"
"Tifa! Don't be a jerk!"
"Leave me alone!"
Tifa's three companions sat there, watching her lead Cloud away. They didn't really think she could find the way, and they did think she was being stupid to try. Still, they had been friends for a long time and loved Tifa dearly, for she had taken care of them a lot of times when they had been hurt or sick. They knew the road she was taking was dark and dangerous and they didn't want to see anything happen to her. And they certainly didn't think that some dorky Eagle-wing would be able to protect her, or even want to.
Yuffie looked at Tifa, then at the other two sitting next to her.
"I don't want her to go!" she proclaimed.
Barret made a face.
"Yeah, I don't want her to either, but I don't think we can change her mind."
For a moment they all just looked at one another.
"Tifa! Wait up!" Barret called out. They all stood up and ran to catch up.
Tifa was surprised to see them run after her, and figured they were just going to continue to try to talk her out of it.
"What is it?" she asked, and, seeing them running to catch up, stopped to wait.
"We'll come with you," Barret said when he reached her.
Really?" Tifa replied, very pleased to hear that.
"Yeah," Barret muttered. "Even if it's a stupid idea, you shouldn't be running around here all alone."
"I'm not alone, I have Cloud with me," she replied.
Barret looked at her as if having Cloud with her wasn't much better than having no one at all.
"He's not going to help you," Barret said.
"I can help!" Cloud countered, insulted that they should think that way about him.
"Oh really?" Barret questioned. "Do you know what's the best kind of mud to smear on yourself to protect yourself from the sun?"
"Do you know how to strip the hide of a gaurbeast and use it to make a tent?"
"Do you know which one of the twelve species of snotbug beetle isn't poisonous to eat?"
"No!" Cloud replied, wondering why anyone would want to know any of those things in the first place.
"See? Useless," Barret confirmed.
"Useless," Yuffie agreed.
"He's not useless!" Tifa insisted. "What's useless is talking to you! So let's go if you're going!"
And with that, they set off.
Now, neither Tifa nor any of her friends had ever been very far from their campground. They had been told by the Captain that the Dark Lands were a dangerous place and not safe to wander around in. Even Barret hadn't explored very far, and though they knew where the midnight swamp was, none of them had ever attempted to traverse it and they were all, yes even Barret, though he tried very hard to put up a brave front, very nervous about the idea.
Yet Tifa pressed onward, determined to go forward, and the others were unwilling to be left behind.
Cloud, if anything, was even more nervous than his companions, for he had never been out of the Eyre, had never seen a land so desolate or dark as what he walked through now, had not thought it possible, in fact. There were no gardens here, no wonderful white towers. There was only dirt and dust and rocks. And something else, not long after they had started on their way, a very foul odor.
"What is that horrible smell?" he questioned.
"Must be Barret's breath," Yuffie piped up, then giggled.
"Oh shut up you little runt," Barret growled.
"It's the midnight swamp," Tifa said. "It's just ahead."
Cloud had never been to a swamp. He didn't even know what a swamp was, but he was beginning to think that, whatever it was, he wasn't going to like it.
He was right.
The smell was bad enough. That in itself nearly made him stop and suggest they turn around. There were no bad smells in the Eyre. Yet that wasn't the worst of it. Big black flies began to appear, as big as his fist. They buzzed around his head, and if that's all they had done, it wouldn't have been so bad. But every once in a while one would land on him and the bite that they took out of him nearly made him jump out of his skin. After the first time tried not to give them a chance, quickly slapping away any that landed on him, though with mixed success. They didn't seem to bother the others all that much. In fact, he saw Yuffie staring at one as it flew around in front of her face. Suddenly her hand shot out, grabbing hold of it, and she quickly shoved it in her mouth.
Cloud's face went pale.
Barret, noticing the look, came up beside him.
"Yeah, I don't know how she can eat them like that either. They're much better roasted."
Cloud swallowed hard and made no comment. Ahead of them he could see it was no longer barren. Finally he could see some green, but it was no garden he saw ahead of him, no great forest. Oh no. Instead he saw standing pools of... well, he couldn't call it water. The best he could come up with was some kind of gunk. The top of the gunk was covered with what looked like a green slime. There were plants as well, but they weren't like any plants Cloud had ever seen before. They were twisted into odd shapes, covered with brambles or evil looking thorns. What leaves they did have were ragged and broken and looked to have been ravaged by insects. A mist rose from the slime on the ground, obscuring their view of what lay ahead.
Cloud walked forward, following Tifa, thinking more and more this was turning into a very bad idea. As if to convince him of that, the next step he took ended with a loud spat and he felt something cold and wet strike his leg.
He looked down to see his foot had sunk into the ground and was now covered up to his ankle by a blackish tar like substance.
"Oh yuck!" he proclaimed. "What is this on my foot?"
The others stopped, just looking at him. Tifa, standing beside him, bent down to look.
"What?" she asked.
"That black stuff," he said in a disgusted voice. "It's all over my shoe."
Tifa stood there for a moment as if not knowing what he was talking about.
"You mean the mud?" she questioned.
"Is that what it is?" Cloud asked. Just like he had never seen a swamp, so he had never seen mud before. There was no mud in the Eyre, or, if there was, no one ever stepped in it.
"It's ruined my clothing," Cloud announced, looking down at the stuff which did indeed cover the shins of his trousers as well as his shoes.
"Oh what a wuss," Barret said.
"Leave him alone Barret, he's not a wuss!" Tifa declared.
"He is too. He's afraid of a little mud. Ooooh, I got mud on my clothes. Poor poor me!"
"Oh shut up Barret!" Tifa shouted.
Barret just turned away.
Cloud just glared at Barret. He didn't care what the other boy thought of him. He didn't care what any of them thought of him. All he knew was this place was smelly and dirty and disgusting and he wanted no part of it.
"I'm not going through this," he said.
"There's no other way!" Tifa told him.
"I don't care."
She stood in front of him, a frustrated look on her face.
"You want to see your girlfriend again, don't you?" she questioned.
But he hadn't expected it to be hard. He couldn't really say that to her though, now could he?
He just stood there looking at her for a moment. He could see her feet were covered with mud too, but she didn't seem to notice.
"But... but I don't want to get dirty," he said eventually. It just wasn't done. No one got dirty in the Eyre. If the others saw him like that, he'd be a laughingstock. "Maybe... maybe someone can carry me?"
"Carry you?" Reeve blurted.
Tifa placed her hands on her hips, frowning at him. It was the first time he had ever seen her perturbed at him.
"Cloud! We're no better off than you, you know."
"Yeah, but... but you're used to this," he replied rather lamely, he had to admit.
Tifa didn't reply, just stood there for a moment. It was a stupid request, and she knew it, yet, even so, she still would have complied if she could, but Cloud was much to big for her to carry. She looked over at Barret.
"Barret?" she asked.
She was certain he wouldn't go along, in fact, she was certain he would ridicule her for even contemplating going along with such a request, yet much to her surprise, he walked over to them, nodding.
"All right, I'll take care of it," he said. He walked up to Cloud and suddenly shoved him. Taken completely by surprise, Cloud fell over, landing in a large mud puddle with a rather loud sploop.
Cloud floundered around in the mud for quite some time, looking as if he were drowning, as if he didn't know how to get up, until Tifa reached down and pulled him to his feet.
"Barret, you are such a jerk!" she shouted.
Barret could only laugh.
Cloud looked down at himself and saw to his horror that he was almost completely covered with black mud now. His white clothes were filthy. In fact, you could barely make out that they were once white at all. They were completely ruined! If he ever got back to the Eyre, he would have to burn them!
He looked up at Barret, his face red as a beet from anger.
And that was the best he could come up with. He was trying his hardest to think of something really really mean to say but his mind was blank. He had never been in a fight before the one with Rufus earlier today. No one in the Eyre was ever mean to anyone else. As a result he was sort of insult challenged.
Barret came up to him and suddenly wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"Ahh, don't be like that," he said. "Look at it this way. I solved your problem for you. Now you're already as dirty as you're going to get. We might as well go on because, at this point, you can't look any worse, right?"
Cloud just stared at him, and if there was such a thing as steam coming out of one's ears, it would have happened here. Barret just walked away, the others turning to follow. Tifa stood there, looking at Cloud, then tilted her head and shrugged as if to say, well, he's right.
With a loud and very heavy sigh, Cloud gave in and followed.
Cloud didn't know how many miserable hours they spent in that swamp. All he knew was that it was a nightmare of epic proportions that he thought would never end. He spent most of the time walking in a daze, blindly following Tifa, and wondering what he had ever done to deserve such a horrible fate. Eventually, much to his relief, they did finally reach the other end. The ground rose up, the green slime disappearing behind them. The air grew lighter and lost it's stench. Not long afterward they stopped by a swift flowing stream to clean themselves off as best they could. To Cloud, the attempt was woefully inadequate. Even the water in this stream wasn't the cleanest in the world, and he had no detergent. He washed off his clothes as best he could but even when he was done they still looked filthy to him.
Still, there was nothing he could do about it. He sighed and walked back toward the others, who had cleaned themselves off as well and looked much cleaner than he, for the dirt stood out much more prominently on his white clothes than on their black.
As he walked up to them Yuffie suddenly turned and ran over to him, wrapping her arms around his leg.
Cloud, much surprised and wondering what had brought this on, looked down at her.
"I like you!" she said, lifting her head and looking at him with a big smile on her face.
"Umm, err, I like you too," he replied, not really sure what to say.
Letting go of Cloud's leg, Yuffie spun around to see Tifa running straight at them. Yuffie shrieked, then ran off as fast as her legs could carry her in the other direction.
Tifa chased after her.
"You give that back!" she shouted.
"No, it's mine!" Yuffie screamed in return.
They ran back and forth in front of the river a few times, but Tifa was bigger and faster than Yuffie and rapidly caught up. Finally, trapped in a corner, Yuffie beat her wings and tried to get enough lift to get over a large boulder, but Tifa reached out and grabbed her legs as she did so, pulling her down and tackling her. They struggled for a minute, Tifa still yelling for Yuffie to give it back, whatever it happened to be, and Yuffie screaming to let her go, that it was hers. Finally, Tifa sat on her and managed to pull something away from her. She stood up, Yuffie still on the ground, crying out in protest. Tifa walked over to Cloud, scratches on her face, trying to straighten her hair, and held something out to Cloud.
"Sorry," she said. "She's a bit of a klepto."
Cloud looked down to see a shoelace in Tifa's hand. He looked down at his shoe and saw that it was indeed missing.
"She stole my shoelace?" he questioned.
"Yeah, well, she'll take most anything," Tifa replied.
She held the shoelace out, looking apologetic, while Yuffie sat on the ground behind her throwing a temper tantrum. Cloud looked at the ragged and dirty lace that Tifa held. One end had broken off in their struggle.
"No, that's okay, she can keep it," Cloud said.
Tifa rapidly shook her head. She leaned forward.
"No, no," she said in a whisper. "Don't encourage her."
Cloud stood there a moment, but he could think of nothing to do but accept the shoelace, so he did. He sat down and relaced his shoe, though, because the lace was broken, he had to tie it only half way up.
When he was finished he stood up again and they continued on their way. As the walked Cloud noticed it getting darker. It wasn't because the sun was going down either. It was still high in the sky.
"Why is it getting so dark?" he asked.
"I don't know," Tifa said slowly. "We're getting close to the old tombs now. Maybe that has something to do with it."
Old tombs. That didn't sound like much more fun than the midnight swamp had been.
"Whose old tombs are they?" he asked.
"Who's buried there?"
"We don't know," Tifa replied. "They've been here a long time. Longer than any of us."
"That's why they're called old," Yuffie said, very knowledgably, seeming to have completely recovered from her little altercation with Tifa. Cloud wasn't sure he could say the same about Tifa.
"We don't know who put them there or where they came from. We only know the Captain told us to stay away from them," Reeve spoke up.
Nope, not good. Not good at all, Cloud thought.
As they progressed it got darker still, soon as dark as night. It wasn't long after that they saw the first tomb. It was big and dark and very creepy looking. There were trees here, though the branches were barren, and the trunks looked suspiciously like huge gnarled creatures that would reach out for them at any moment. As they walked they had been going slower and slower. Tifa had been in the lead, but now she slowed down until Cloud was right beside her. She looked around nervously, then reached out and took his hand.
"I'm scared," Yuffie said. She stood right behind them, close to Cloud's legs, though she did not grab them again.
"There's nothing to be scared of," Barret said, trying to sound brave and succeeding not at all.
"That's easy for you to say from back there," Tifa commented, noticing that Barret had fallen behind all of them except Reeve, who looked very likely to pee his pants at any moment.
"I'm not scared," Barret stated firmly, then nearly jumped out of his skin as the wind howled mournfully though the trees limbs.
"Okay, maybe I am a little," he corrected.
Cloud took a deep breath. It was cold here, and dirty, and there were spider webs and other yucky things hanging from the trees, but there wasn't any mud, or bugs, or horrible smells. All in all it didn't seem near as terrible as the swamp had been.
"C'mon," he said, tightening his grip on Tifa's hand. She looked at him, surprised that he was being so brave, but pleased as well.
They walked past the tomb. There was something written on the door. An epitaph.
"Wooooooooooooo," the wind moaned through the trees.
There were other tombs ahead. It was hard to see how many, being as it was so dark. Not only was it dark here, but it was getting cold too. Cloud felt himself shivering, and saw the others were too.
"I don't like it here," Yuffie complained.
"Me neither," Reeve agreed.
"Just keep going," Barret said. "The faster we go the sooner we get out of here."
Cloud agreed wholeheartedly.
"Woooooooooooo disturbs my ressssssssst?"
The froze. Cloud felt the hair standing up on the back of his neck. That was not the wind.
"What was that?" Yuffie exclaimed, looking around wildly.
No one answered.
For a long time they all just stood there, not saying a word, waiting for the voice to speak again, but it did not. Finally, Cloud spoke up, tentatively.
"Who are you?" he asked. "Where are you?"
For a moment he heard nothing, then the voice carried in like the wind once more.
"I am the voiccccccce of the dead. I am nowhere. I am everywhere. You cannot passssss through here. You may not disturb our ressssssst."
Cloud looked at the others, not sure how to reply to that. No one else, however, seemed to have any idea either. In fact, it seemed likely that, from the looks on their faces, the thought in the forefront of their minds right then was to run back the way they had come as fast as they could. Barret's face was white as a sheet. Reeve looked like he already had peed his pants, Yuffie's knees were knocking together so loudly it sounded like a machine gun and Tifa had a grip on his hand so tight that he couldn't feel his fingers anymore.
"We don't want to disturb anyone's rest," Cloud finally spoke up, trying to sound sure of himself. "We just want to pass through. We have to go this way. We're going to the Eyre and this is the only way to get there."
"Really? The Eyre? Can I come too?"
And with those words someone appeared in the darkness in front of them, so much out of nowhere it made them all jump. It as a boy, with long black hair. He had bat wings, just like Tifa and her friends, but he wasn't dressed in black. Instead he wore all red. Geez, Cloud thought, first black, and now red. Didn't these people have any fashion sense at all?
"Who are you?" Cloud blurted out.
"My names Vincent."
Yuffie suddenly ran up to him, standing in front of him and looking at him sharply. Then she reached forward and poked him in the stomach.
"Heeeey, you're not a demon," she announced.
"Nope," he agreed.
Barret suddenly strode forward as well, not at all pleased himself.
"So what was the big idea?" he demanded.
"What big idea?" Vincent said quite innocently.
"The big idea with that voice. The whole 'I am the voiccccce of the dead' thing!"
"It was just a joke. Did I scare you?"
"No!" Barret said quite emphatically and even Yuffie did not believe him.
"So, you're really going to the Eyre?" Vincent questioned.
"Yeah," Tifa replied. "You want to come?"
"Tifa!" Barret interjected.
"What?" Tifa questioned. "He said it was just a joke."
Barret stood there for a moment, then he just shook his head.
"Sheesh," he said, to no one in particular.
"I didn't know there was a way up to the Eyre," Vincent said.
"There is!" Tifa replied.
"Well, we don't know that for sure," Reeve reminded her.
"We can do it," she replied optimistically. "I know we can!"
"Yeah, we can do it!" Yuffie agreed.
"So then, what are we waiting for?" Cloud asked.
As it turned out, nothing, and so, with the addition of their new companion and after introductions had been made, they started on there way yet again.
It didn't take them long to get out of the tombs, and shortly thereafter the light grew again, until it was full daylight once more. They were traveling along a narrow trial at the boulder strewn foot of a mountain, and the going became quite difficult. After a while Yuffie started whining about taking a rest and having something to eat. They went on until they couldn't stand listening to her anymore, then stopped in a small clearing beside a brook that splashed down along the trail from the mountain above.
"Hungry hungry hungry!" Yuffie announced as she plopped herself down on the ground.
"Yes, I hear you," Tifa said. "We're all hungry Yuffie. Quit your whining or you'll get yours last." She looked over at Cloud. "Would you like something to eat?"
Cloud wasn't sure how to answer. He was, but he was a little nervous about what they might have. There didn't seem to be much food down here and he wasn't sure he'd like what they had to offer. One thing he did know for certain, though, was that if anyone mentioned lunch and snotbug beetles in the same sentence, he was going to scream.
"Maybe a little bit," he decided on as a relatively safe answer.
Barret, who had been lugging a pack over his shoulder, dropped it on the ground and Tifa opened it up and set about preparing their lunch. Cloud walked over to her and was much relieved to see it consisted of some kind of dried meat and a some fresh, though rather scrawny looking vegetables, with no sign of any insect involvement.
They ate quickly and were soon finished, with Yuffie polishing off anything the others had not finished, and after that, they were on their way once more.
It didn't take them long to reach the next obstacle. Just over the next rise the path led down a narrow pass between two tall mountains to the edge of a lake. The trail led straight to the lake, with high cliffs closing in on both sides. The stopped when they reached the shore.
Barret looked up at the imposing cliffs around them and then at the lake ahead.
"The trail ends here," he said. "It's a dead end!"
Tifa ran forward, looking around, trying to spot a way up the cliffs around them, but they were sheer and went almost straight up and she could see no trail leading up them.
"You mean we came all this way for nothing?" Reeve complained.
"No!" Tifa exclaimed. "There's got to be a way!"
Barret folded his arms across his chest in disgust.
"Well, where is it then?" he questioned, glaring at Tifa.
"I don't know," Tifa said hesitantly. "But it has to be here somewhere. Don't give up!"
But the others seemed to have done just that. Barret, Reeve and Yuffie all plopped down on the sand beside the lake, looking gloomy. Cloud just stood there, having no idea what to do. There didn't seem anyplace for him to look. The cliffs were there, the water was there. There was no place for a trail to hide. Tifa ran around looking in every nook an cranny, even in spots much too small to hold a trial, as if one would appear if she just looked carefully enough. Vincent lay down not far away, flat on his back looking up at the sky.
"Why don't we just swim across?" he suggested.
The others head's perked up. Tifa stopped her frantic running around and looked first at Vincent, then at the lake.
"Yeah, we can do that!" she burst out. "We can swim across. Look, it's not far! And there aren't any cliffs on the other side. I bet the trail continues over there!"
"We don't know that," Barret protested. "You remember. The Captain told us, around the lake of darkness, not through it!"
"Are you sure?" Tifa questioned. "Do you remember his exact words? How do you know it wasn't through the lake?"
Barret glared at her. In truth, he had no idea what the Captain's exact words had been.
"It's stupid!" he complained. "We've come all this way and now you want us to swim across that lake? And what are we going to find there? What if you're wrong? What if the trial doesn't continue over there? Then we have to swim all the way back and it was all for nothing!"
"I don't care what anyone says. I'm going!" Tifa said defiantly.
"I'll go with you Tifa!" Yuffie spoke up.
Barret glared at her.
"You're just saying that because you want to go swimming," he told her.
"I like swimming," Yuffie defended herself.
Barret just grumbled at that. He turned to look at Reeve.
"What do you think?"
Reeve just stood there for a moment, looking very much surprised that someone would ask his opinion. He looked at them all nervously.
"Umm, I guess we can give it a try," he said hesitantly, looking at Barret as he did so. "But I have a question."
"Yes, what is it?" Barret said impatiently.
"Why is it called the lake of darkness? It's not dark here at all. It was much darker at the tombs. Don't you think it should have been the tombs of darkness and the...umm... old lake or... something?"
No one really had an answer to that. Barret just shook his head.
"All right, I guess we can give it a try," he muttered.
"All right!" Tifa said.
"We can't swim across," Cloud suddenly spoke up.
Tifa turned toward him, her mouth dropping open. He was the one person she didn't think she'd have any trouble convincing!
"What?" she exclaimed. "Why not?"
Cloud didn't answer for a moment, just stood there looking slightly embarrassed. Eventually he opened his mouth and spoke again.
"Because, I can't swim?" he said timidly.
"Oh brother!" Barret blurted out.
Tifa walked up beside Cloud.
"You can't?" she questioned.
"No," Cloud said, shaking his head. There were rivers in the Eyre, but they were all shallow so that no one could drown in them. No one had to learn how to swim.
"It's all right," Tifa said. "You can hold on to me."
Cloud looked at the water. In truth, he wasn't too keen on the idea of getting in that water even if he could swim. It was dark. He couldn't see the bottom. Who knew what kind of creepy crawly things were swimming around in there. In the Eyre all the rivers were crystal clear, and they contained nothing but brightly colored fish with shiny scales that weren't slimy or yucky at all.
Still, if it was the only way, he supposed he had to give it a try. It couldn't possibly be as bad as that disgusting mud.
"Okay," he said eventually.
"All right, let's do it!" Tifa said.
They all got up and walked to the shore, then into the water. When they were in far enough, Tifa stopped to let Cloud grab a hold of her. Then she began to swim, but as soon as their feet left the ground Cloud tightened his arms around her neck with a death grip. A few choking noises on her part got him to loosen his hands a bit. She turned to look back at him.
"You're supposed to hold on, not choke me to death!" she told him.
"Sorry," he muttered, but he was deathly afraid. He'd never been in water this deep before.
Slowly they made their way across the lake, Cloud holding onto Tifa for dear life while still trying to let her breathe. It was almost as horrible as the swamp. He couldn't help but think of all that water below them, and how far it must be to the bottom, and what could be lurking there, even swimming up behind them. Any moment he expected to feel something slimly brush against him, or worse yet, grab hold of him and pull him under. And it didn't help either that the whole time they were making their way across Yuffie swam in circles around them, waving cheerfully at him whenever he looked up at her.
They finally made it across, wet, bedraggled but, except for a bit of weariness, no worse for the wear. They sat down on the shore for a while to let themselves dry off in the sun, all except Tifa, who immediately started looking for the trail once again. Cloud flopped down on the ground with the others, completely uncomfortable and wondering if this torture was ever going to end. He had never before suffered such discomfort. His clothes were still dirty, in spite of his washing them in the river and their swim through the lake, and now they were soaking wet on top of everything.
"I found it!"
The looked up and saw Tifa come running back toward them.
"I found the trial!" she said, stopping besides Cloud. "C'mon, let's go!"
No one moved.
"Ohhh, can't we rest for a while?" Reeve moaned.
"Yeah, rest," Yuffie commented.
Tifa just looked at them for a moment.
"C'mon, we can't stop now! We're almost there!" she said finally. She grabbed hold of Cloud and tugged on him to get up. "All we have left is the stair and the bridge!"
None of them looked too happy, but her enthusiasm had an effect and with some grumbling she got them to their feet again.
The trail led them up a slope, between two tall mountains. They reached the top of a ridge, then stopped, staring in front of them. A spire stood there, the trail leading right to it. A spire that rose up and up into the sky. And winding about it, all the way up, for as far as they could see, was a staircase.
"There it is! The endless stair!" Tifa cried out.
She ran forward and the others followed, all of them staring up at the stair in front of them. They couldn't see the top, but looking up, they saw they were indeed nearly underneath the Eyre.
Tifa clattered up the first few steps, then turned to look at the others.
"C'mon," she said. "What are you waiting for?"
Cloud was right behind her, at the bottom of the steps, but the others had stopped a few steps away, looking up at the spire and stair.
"Seems a looooong way," Yuffie commented.
"Yeah," Barret agreed. "What's the point of going up? We can't get to the top."
"Why not?" Tifa questioned.
"Because it's an endless stair!" Barret said. "You can't reach the top if it's endless!"
"Oh yeah," Yuffie said, looking crestfallen.
"Barret, don't be stupid," Tifa retorted. "It's not really endless, that's just what they call it!"
"You don't know that!"
"It can't be endless! If it was endless, it would take forever to build!"
Barret had to admit she had a point. He sighed. It was becoming more and more obvious that Tifa was determined to go on no matter how much he tried to talk her out of it.
"All right, let's go," he said grudgingly.
They started up the stair. And kept going, and going, and going. At first they all strode up the stairs gamely, galvanized by Tifa's prodding. Soon, however, their enthusiasm began to flag.
"Don't know why we gotta climb," Barret muttered.
"It's the only way to get to the Eyre," Tifa reminded him
"Are we there yet?" Yuffie asked.
"No," Tifa told her.
Up they went.
"There yet?" Yuffie asked again after about a minute.
"No," Tifa said again. "We're way way way far away from being there yet. So don't ask again!"
All their feet hurt now. Reeve had fallen behind, beginning to pant..
"How much farther do these stairs go on?" Reeve asked.
"I don't know," Tifa replied, wishing they would all just shut up and climb.
"Are you sure this isn't endless?" Barret inquired.
"Would you stop acting like a retard and climb," Tifa said. "It's just a bit more. Maybe..."
Still they climbed.
"I've had it! I'm going back," Barret suddenly announced.
"And spend just as much time going down as you did coming up?" Tifa asked.
Barret just shook his head.
"How many steps have we come up?" Vincent asked.
"I gave up counting," Tifa replied.
"Why is this giving me a strange feeling of deja vu?" Cloud muttered.
"What?" Tifa questioned.
"Are we..."Yuffe began.
"I said no!" Tifa exclaimed. "We've still got..."
"We made it!" Barret called out.
Tifa turned and saw that they had indeed reached the top, finally.
She looked at Yuffie.
"I mean yes," she corrected.
At the very top of the spire there was a flat area. Much to Cloud's surprise, there were trees here, and grass. There was greenery everywhere in fact, and these were not the stunted twisted plants like the one's he had seen in the swamp below. No, these were real plants, healthy plants, and though it was no garden, it was much more to his liking.
If Cloud was surprised to see this, his companions were utterly shocked. They had never laid eyes on such beautiful plants before, and could only stand there in awe, staring. Barret and Vincent didn't move, apparently unable to take it all in. Reeve sat down, wiggling his toes in the grass, grinning like a fool. Yuffie ran through the grass laughing, chasing a butterfly. Cloud just hoped it wasn't because she was hungry. Tifa fell to her knees, her hands reaching out, cupping a small yellow flower, the look on her face as if this was the marvelous thing she had ever seen in her life, and in fact, it was.
"This is beautiful," she said softly. "I never imagined..."
Cloud smiled at her, then looked up and pointed.
"Look! There's the bridge!"
They all looked up, to where he was pointing, and there it was indeed, a long white bridge spanning the gap between themselves and the Eyre.
They all ran forward, eager to traverse the last hurdle between themselves and their final destination. They reached the foot of the bridge and stopped, for their earlier observation that it spanned the gap was not quite accurate. The bridge started across the gap just fine, but then they saw a wall rising up about a third of the way across. Beyond the wall was only empty air for some distance, before they saw the other side of the bridge. They all looked up at the wall, which really wasn't a wall at all.
"It's a drawbridge," Cloud said slowly.
"Yeah, and it's up," Barret stated the obvious.
They all just stood there for a moment. Then Tifa turned to look at them.
"It's all right," she said. "All we have to do is find the mechanism to close it!"
"I'm afraid that's not as easy as it sounds."
They all spun around at the sound of this new voice. Cloud looked up the slope behind them to see a man standing a few feet away from them.
"Captain!" Yuffie shouted.
She ran over to him. After a moment the others did as well, almost ecstatically pleased to see their old friend again. They all crowded around him, all talking at once. Except for Cloud. He was just walked up behind them, not saying anything.
"Where have you been?"
"We thought you were dead!"
"What have you been doing all this time?"
"Did you get lost?"
"Captain, Captain, you're really here?"
That last one was Yuffie, who had run up to him and was tugging on the leg of his pants. Cid laughed and picked her up, motioning with his other hand for them all to calm down a bit.
They quieted down at that.
"I'll get to all your questions as soon as I can," Cid said. "First things first though. You can't lower the drawbridge because the mechanism to lower it is on the other side."
"So we can't get across?" Barret asked.
"I'm afraid not," Cid replied.
"But... but..." Tifa started. "There must be some way. You must have some kind of plan!"
"Well, actually I do," Cid replied.
"You do?" Tifa said, immediately brightening, and the others did too.
"I knew the Captain would think of something!" Barret spoke up. Tifa just looked at him, but she didn't bother to remind him of just how skeptical he had been.
"Hooray for the Captain!" Yuffie exhorted.
"All right, all right, don't get too excited," Cid replied. "I don't know if it will work."
"So what is it? What's the plan?" Barret asked.
"I'm trying to build an airship that will take us across. That's why I'm still here. That's what I've been working on."
"An airship?" Reeve said.
"Something to fly through the sky?" Yuffie questioned.
"Yes," Cid replied. "But I'm afraid it's not..."
"Where is it?" Barret asked.
"Yes, where is it?" they all echoed.
Cid didn't say anything for a moment. Then he turned and led them over to a small clearing by the edge of the spire. He stopped and pointed. The airship consisted of a few logs and branches tied together with vines.
"Umm, it needs some work yet," Cid said slowly.
Barret's mouth dropped open.
"That's it? That's the airship? You've been gone all this time and that's as far as you've gotten?"
"Hey, what do you want from me?" Cid said defensively. "I haven't got a lot to work with here. Do you know how hard it is to chop down a tree using a sharpened rock?"
None of them really had anything to say to that. Most of them plopped down on the grass, which seemed to be their favorite thing to do when they were discouraged. Cloud saw Tifa walk away, over to the bridge. He followed her, coming up behind her. He put a hand on her shoulder. She turned to look at him. She looked to be near tears.
"We've come so far," she said slowly. "I really thought...I really thought we could get there. I really thought we might have a chance. I guess I'm just a stupid dreamer."
"No, no, you're not," Cloud said, not sure what to say, but he didn't like seeing her like this at all. She had always been so cheerful, so optimistic the whole way. He didn't think they would have come anywhere near this far without her.
"It's okay," he said. "We'll think of something. We'll come up with a way."
She sat down on the grass, shaking her head.
"No, it's hopeless. We can't cross. And even if we did, they wouldn't want us there. This is no place for a Bat-wing."
This kind of talk just made Cloud feel really really bad. She had tried to hard to help him, he didn't even think of her like that anymore. He didn't think of her as a Bat-wing and himself as an Eagle-wing, he only thought of them as friends.
He looked up at the bridge, at the wall in front of them, feeling helpless.
"Wait a second," he said.
She didn't reply, wasn't looking at him as he slowly walked over to the bridge once more.
"I think I can get across," he said.
For a moment she didn't react, then she suddenly looked up at him.
"You... you can?"
"I think so," he said.
She got to her feet and walked over to him. He pointed up at the top of the wall.
"Its much higher up there than the ground on the other side of the bridge," he said. "One of my wings is broken, but I still have some control. I can't fly up but I think I can fly across and make it to the other side before I fall too low."
She stared across the gap, then at him, as if not sure if she could believe it.
"You can?" she said finally.
"I think so," he replied.
"You really can?"
He didn't know how to answer, so he just nodded his head.
"You can?" she said, yet again, but this time her voice was filled with hope.
She started jumping up and down.
"You can!" This time it wasn't a question.
She looked up.
"It doesn't look easy to climb up there," she said slowly.
"I can do it," he told her.
He walked over to the wall. There was a rail along one side. He grabbed hold of it.
"I can pull myself up on this," he said.
She just watched him as he started up.
"Be careful!" she said. He was right by the edge. If he slipped, he would fall over the side. Yes, she hadn't forgotten he had wings, but she knew they weren't working very well right now. He hadn't done any serious damage the first time he had fallen but that didn't mean it wouldn't happen if he fell again, and besides, he'd still have to climb all the way back up here again.
Cloud made his way slowly to the top. A couple of times he slipped, catching himself at the last moment. Each time he heard Tifa gasp below him. It wasn't easy. He was tired, and he was climbing almost straight up. Before this little adventure, he would have given up, would have decided this was much to hard and bothersome, but now he didn't, and finally he made it to the top. He stood up, right on the edge of the precipice, scaring Tifa again, but he wasn't scared at all. Having wings made fear of heights a rather moot point. A moment later, he launched himself into the air.
He beat his wings as hard as he could, even though it hurt a great deal to do so. He was aiming for the base of the bridge on the other side, the nearest point to him that he could land. He lost altitude almost immediately, but that just made him beat his wings harder. The gap he had to cross wasn't that far, and in seconds he was nearing the other side, but he was also dropping dangerously low. He wasn't sure he was going to make it!
His wings beat furiously, but he didn't know if that would be enough. His hands clawed the air, in a swimming motion, trying desperately to eck out every little bit of velocity he could.
A moment later he slammed into the railing on the other side, hitting it hard and knocking the breath from him. For a moment he almost blacked out, and he could feel himself slipping down the wall, but with a great effort he kept his head and pulled himself up, and a few seconds later he was pulled himself over the railing to fall safely onto the bridge.
He looked up and saw Tifa on the other side, jumping up and down with glee.
He waved to her, then pulled himself to his feet. His whole body ached, but he wanted to lower the bridge so his friends could come over. He could see a large lever at this end, near where the bridge ended. He ran over to it and pulled on it, and a moment later, the drawbridge lowered.
Tifa darted across, yelling to the others as she went. She ran up to Cloud and jumped gleefully into his arms while the others, who hadn't even been aware of what was going on but had come at Tifa's call, stared in wonder at the now complete span in front of them.
And so it was that Cloud returned with his new friends to the city in the sky. And I must tell you, it caused quite a stir when he emerged onto the streets of the Eyre with his Bat-wing friends in tow, as you may have guessed. It was quite a shock to the inhabitants of the perfect city to see people who looked, in their opinion, to be much less than perfect. Some screamed, some fainted, and some ran away in horror. It caused such a stir, in fact, that after a short time King Sephiroth himself came down from the castle demanding to know what was going on, and who it was who was causing such a disturbance in the peace of the city.
He was just as surprised as the other citizens when he saw Cloud and those with him. He walked up to Cloud demanding to know what was going on, why Cloud was wearing such dirty clothes, and who these intruders were. Tifa cowered behind Cloud in his presence, and the other Bat-wings stepped back, for King Sephiroth had a very imposing bearing. Cloud, however, was not cowed, for he knew King Sephiroth to be both a wise and just ruler. He stepped forward and explained what had happened to him, how he had met the Bat-wing people and how they had helped him return. How he would never have made it back so soon without their help. That maybe, just maybe, their bat wings weren't so bad after all.
Sephiroth listened in silence, and though he sympathized with the poor creatures in front of him, he could do nothing for them, for the law was very clear on this subject.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but they cannot stay. The laws of the Eyre state quite clearly that there is no ugliness allowed here."
For a moment Cloud could think of no reply. Tifa turned away beside him, downcast, for though she had hoped otherwise, this was what she had feared would happen. She walked back to her friends, and Barret reached out a hand to comfort her.
"C'mon," he said. "Let's go back to where we belong. We don't want to live in this stupid city anyway."
And they started away, but suddenly Cloud lifted his head.
"No!" he cried.
Everyone turned to look at him.
"They're not ugly!" he said. "They're not ugly at all. I think their wings are... beautiful."
And at this a great gasp went up.
"Yes, I think they're beautiful," Cloud repeated, even louder. "They're more beautiful than even our own."
He turned around and looked right at King Sephiroth.
"And besides, there's plenty of ugliness here! Its just not on the surface. You hide it inside yourselves! If they can't stay then... then... I'm not going to either!"
And this was a very hard thing for Cloud to say, for he had lived his whole life in the Eyre and knew of no other. He loved it dearly there and already had seen how much harder it would be to live down below in the Dark Lands. But he turned and saw Tifa looking at him, and how much her face brightened at those words, and he knew he couldn't abandon his friends.
Now this troubled King Sephiroth quite a bit, for he could not understand how someone would possibly voluntarily move out of their perfect city to go live in the dark and dangerous lands below. Still, there were no laws against such a thing.
"As you wish," he said.
So Cloud walked over to his friends, and Tifa took him by the hand, and Yuffie clung to his leg (and stole both his shoelaces this time, but no one seemed to mind), and even Barret came over and smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder, for they could all see what he was giving up. And Rufus, standing near the back of the crowd, smiled as well, for he had thought his plan had been ruined when Cloud reappeared, but now he saw it had worked better than he had ever hoped. Cloud was leaving for good and Aeris would be all his.
The crowd parted, and Aeris, who had also been standing in the back and had heard the whole thing, strode forward. She walked over until she too stood among the Bat-wings. Taking Cloud's hand as well she turned to the citizens of Eyre.
"If Cloud is leaving, then I am too!" she announced.
A great gasp went up once again, for no one in the city wanted the beautiful Aeris to leave, and there was more screaming and fainting, but no one ran away in horror this time, though Rufus nearly choked to death at those words. And though many people came up to Aeris and tried to convince her to stay, none could do so, not even the mighty King Sephiroth, and Aeris went down with Cloud and the Bat-wings (who she did not think were ugly either) to the Dark Lands to dwell. And since the people of the city all loved Aeris so much and couldn't possibly think of living their lives without her, they soon all moved down to the Dark Lands as well just to be with her. But after a while, since it seemed rather silly to have this perfectly nice city above them with absolutely no one living in it (not to mention that the Dark Lands were extremely messy and dreary and dank) they decided it would be much simpler if the all moved back and invited the Bat-wings to join them, and the heck with any silly laws they might have had. So that is exactly what they did.
And that, as they say, was that.