Ghosts of the Past, Phantoms of the Future Chapter 1
A New Threat
By Conor McCloud
The setting sun cast its dying rays into the ocean as Cloud Strife drove along the coast on his motorcycle. Occasionally he would turn his head to catch the beauty of the sunset as the wondrous fluorescent colors splashed through the sky. Reds, oranges, pinks, and golds reached out from the falling red orb that was the sun, launching themselves into the cloudless sky. It was beautiful. For a moment Cloud contemplated stopping his progression just to admire the incredible magnificence of the scene, but then he thought better of it and admitted to himself that the view as he rode seemed even more appealing than if he would have stopped.
And so he rode on.
He let his thoughts wander, as he often did when he was riding, to the past. It had been almost a year since Meteor was destroyed and the planet saved. The world still had no idea what had happened behind the scenes of Meteor; the story of Sephiroth and Avalanche was merely a myth that was told during little childrens bedtimes. The only people who knew the truth were those who were in or related to Avalanche or the executive levels of Shinra. Shinra, of course, had been destroyed, and Avalanche . . . well, from Clouds perspective, Avalanche had simply ceased to exist.
After the final battle, Avalanche had basically dissolved. They all went their separate ways. Cloud had even denied Tifas invitation to go to Kalm with her, where she was hoping to open up a new bar or even a restaurant. It wasnt that he hadnt wanted to. It was just . . . well, he had his reasons.
He had eventually made his way up to Costa del Sol, where he caught a boat to Junon. In Junon, he bought a motorcycle, and began to travel the world.
And so he was alone.
He traveled the world, working whenever he could and sleeping wherever he stopped, though working was not entirely necessary considering the massive amounts of gil that Avalanche had collected throughout their adventures. He had seen all his former Avalanche allies at least once since the last battle, from Barret and Tifa in Kalm to Yuffie in Wutai. He even saw Vincent once, in Junon, though their meeting was brief.
And so he lived. Alone.
Because most of his time was spent traveling, Cloud had a lot of time to think. He thought about the present, and what was going on now; he thought about the future, and what would happen later; but most of all, he thought about the past. He thought about his early days in Nibelheim, and his childhood friendship with Tifa. He thought about his days as a Shinra troop, and his friend Zack. He thought about Sephiroth, and the events that had lead to their confrontation. But the thing he thought about the most, the one thing that was always in the back of his mind, was the very thing that he tried to forget.
Clouds decided destination for the night was Midgar. He entered through the Sector 8 slums, where he locked up his motorcycle and began to explore.
Midgar had changed phenomenally since the days of Shinra. But then again, everything seemed the same to Cloud.
The slums were still here, as poor and proud as ever. Crime still raged through the city, and not just below the plate. Beggars, lunatics, and conmen were a common sight, especially in the slums. The only thing that Cloud noticed a shortage of was flower girls . . .
Your fortune for a gil, sir?
Cloud turned to see the woman who had just addressed him. She was late-to-middle aged, though not quite old, and was obviously in poverty.
Please, sir. For only a gil Ill read your past and future.
Cloud took pity on the woman, and tossed two fifty-gil pieces to her. He then walked away quickly; he was in no mood for fortune-telling today. The woman stared after him in astonishment, to surprised to say anything. Generosity in Midgar was incredibly rare.
Cloud continued walking through Sector 7, which had finally been rebuilt after the Meteor disaster. However, this sector was not at all like it used to be. It had been rebuilt in a completely different design. Cloud traveled through it quickly; he had no interest in this sector anymore.
At last he reached the border of Sector 6. As he walked down the street, he was glad to see that almost everything was how he remembered.
Finally, after a few more minutes of walking, he reached it. It was still old and run down, many of the windows were still broken, and one of the front doors was hanging by a single hinge. But none of this mattered to Cloud. It was still the same place it had always been.
He walked in quietly, slowly moving to the rear of the building. It was still here.
The small flower garden still grew here, in the small church. Cloud sat down on the bench nearest the garden and gazed at the flowers. Then he heard a voice.
Ah, Cloud Strife. It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.
Cloud jumped up at the sound and turned to the doorway, where it had come from. Standing in the doorway was a man.
The man was more than six feet tall, and had short, very dark brown hair. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and carried an unusually long, curved sword. His eyes were a cold, clear, emerald green.
Behind him stood two other men, clad in dark blue and both brandishing swords similar to the man in blacks but much shorter.
Cloud stood silently glaring at the man in black. There was something familiar about him . . .
Cloud shook his head. Sephiroth was dead, killed by Cloud himself. But this man in front of him, he was . . . not Sephiroth, but he was . . . like him. And his sword . . .
Who are you? Cloud demanded, drawing the Ragnarok as he spoke.
The man in black smirked at Cloud.
Lets just say . . . Im a friend.
Clouds eyes narrowed. Do I know you?
Of course you dont. Or of course you havent, until now. But I should hope that you would know me after what is about to happen. With this statement, the man in black snapped his fingers, and his two accomplices began advancing on Cloud, swords swinging.
Cloud did not waste any time. He immediately concentrated on his materia, feeling the magic flow through him. The room became filled with a thick green mist, and a low rumbling sound could be heard.
Suddenly the space between the two men violently exploded in green flame, as Clouds Ultima spell worked its magic. When the mist cleared, the two men were still advancing, seemingly unscathed.
Cloud frowned as he heard the man in black begin to chuckle. It appears my friends here are immune to your magical spells, Cloud.
Clouds blue eyes bored holes in the man in black as he glared at him. Suddenly a bolt of lightning crashed down directly in front of the man in black and right behind his two accomplices, who both instinctively turned to look.
At this moment Cloud rushed forward and decapitated the man on the left, and immediately turned and slashed at the man on the right, who managed to get out of the way just in time.
They may be immune to my magic, but they sure as hell arent immune to my sword, Cloud managed as he pursued the other man.
The two fought on, but Cloud obviously outmatched the other man in every way, and the skirmish was soon over when Cloud impaled the other man on his sword.
Cloud turned, not even breathing heavily, to the man in black. I hope all of your friends arent like that, because I do prefer some challenge in my life.
The man in blacks green eyes hardened as they turned down in a scowl, and he snapped his fingers again. Four more dark-blue-clad men wielding swords similar to their predecessors entered the room, and began approaching Cloud. Then, the man in black himself gripped his long sword and started advancing on Cloud.
Cloud grinned. Now thats more like it, he lied.
Cloud swiped at the nearest man, ducking an attack in the process. Then he jumped up and delivered a flying-roundhouse to one of the men, and managed to cut one of the blue-clad warriors arms on the way down. When he hit the ground he spun in a circle and slashed immediately, cutting one of the men completely in two. He dodged another cluster of blows from his adversaries, and suddenly small meteors began to rain from above as Cloud cast a higher-level Comet spell. As he expected, it caused no real damage, but it had the distraction effect that Cloud desired. He rushed in and managed to take off an arm of one of his opponents, but suddenly felt a searing pain across his back. He turned and swung his sword, fatally slashing the man who had injured his back. Cloud felt another wound on his arm open up, and lashed out in the direction of his attacker. Cloud mentally calculated his damage so far. There were three men left, including the man in black, though one of them was missing an arm. Then his challengers attacked him again, and he felt a sword blade graze across his stomach. Cloud angrily feigned an attack at one of the men, and suddenly threw his sword high into the air. The two remaining blue-clad men fell for it shamelessly, watching the sword fly though the air as Cloud delivered a double roundhouse to one and hit the other with two left hooks followed by a right jab, knocking them both out cold. Cloud caught his sword as it fell and turned to the man in black, just in time to block an onslaught of slashes. Sweat and blood intermixed on Clouds skin as he fought on. The man in black was far more skilled than the other men, possibly even good enough to rival Clouds expertise. His sword was also lighter and longer than Clouds, giving him the double advantage of quickness and reach. Suddenly the man in black dropped to duck one of Clouds strikes, and appeared on Clouds opposite side, slashing at Clouds legs on his way up. Cloud back-flipped over the attack, but the man in black continued his stroke, bringing his long sword around and at Clouds head as he landed. Cloud brought his sword up just in time, and then, with a burst of energy, he hacked at the man in blacks sword, causing it to fly out of his grip. Seeing victory in sight, Cloud pounced on the man in black and put the Ragnarok a fraction away from his jugular.
Cloud rested there for a moment, sweat and blood pouring from his body.
Now, he managed between breaths, youre going to answer some questions.
The man in black merely smiled, and said Not today, Cloud. Then the man disappeared, and Cloud collapsed on the ground where the man in black had been a fraction of a second before. He looked around him and noticed that all of the bodies and even the long sword he had knocked out of the man in blacks hand had vanished.
Then Cloud blacked out from exhaustion.
When Cloud awoke, he was still in Aeris Church. But he was now laying on one of the pews, and a blanket was covering him.
He slowly began to sit up, when he heard a voice.
Oh, you shouldnt get up yet, sir. You still need rest. Lay down while I get you something to eat.
Clouds blurry vision turned to the person who was talking to him. A shock jolted through his body. She was here, in the church, with him. Aeris.
Cloud hoarsely gasped her name, but then his blurred vision began to clear. The woman with him was not Aeris. It was the lady from the Sector 8 slums, the fortuneteller. When his vision was clear once more, he realized that they actually looked nothing alike.
Cloud shook his head, trying to sort out his jumbled thoughts.
What are you doing here? Cloud asked confusedly. What happened?
I followed you after you gave me the money, she answered. Im not sure exactly what happened, but I think you were in some sort of fight, because when I got here . . . her voice trailed off.
And then everything came back to Cloud. He remembered his walk to Sector 6, his encounter with the man in black and his henchman, and the mysterious ending to that encounter.
Cloud sat up again.
I have to see Tifa, he said.
The woman looked at him skeptically. Im sure you do, dear, but please, you need rest. Its only been a few hours since I found you, and you are in no condition to travel.
Wheres my materia, and my sword? Cloud asked. That will heal me.
No, Ive already tried that. The wounds you have received seem to be unreceptive to magic. You will have to heal on your own.
Cloud paused. Unreceptive to magic? The men who attacked him were immune to magic, could they also inflict wounds that were the same way?
Give them to me anyway, I want to try it myself.
Well, go ahead dear, theyre right next to you.
Cloud snatched up his sword and concentrated on the Cure materia in it. Suddenly blue light appeared around him and . . . nothing happened. Cloud frowned and muttered a few curses.
How long until I can travel?
Probably at least a day, but Im not sure, Im no doctor.
Cloud scowled. This was not acceptable. He sat up again, and tried to stand this time. He managed to get up and walk a few paces, but even he realized that there was no way he could get very far in this condition without rest. He collapsed back onto the bench.
So what am I supposed to do now, he muttered under his breath.
The woman walked over to Cloud. I still owe you a fortune telling, you know, she said.
Cloud sighed. He wasnt in the mood before, and he certainly wasnt in the mood now. But what else could he do?
Alright, make it quick, Cloud muttered.
The woman beamed and took Clouds hand. They say that Im the best fortune teller in Midgar, you know, she bragged as she began to examine Clouds hand. Of course I am not one to brag, but . . . she paused as she closed her eyes, her hand still grasping Clouds. Suddenly she frowned. The hair on the back of Clouds neck began to rise.
Interesting . . . she said. Yes, very interesting . . .
What is it? Cloud asked.
The fortuneteller paused, a look of concentration on her face.
You found what you were looking for . . . though you lost something dear . . .
Cloud jumped at these words. Something was familiar about them . . . they reminded him of that day in Gold Saucer, when he and Aeris had first met . . . Cait Sith?
But, the fortuneteller continued, you will find it once more . . . if you let go of your fear . . . follow your heart; it will show you the way . . . and that dear thing you lost will be with you to stay.
Suddenly the fortuneteller let go of Clouds hand and stood up. Youd better rest now, she said. You should get some sleep if youre going to go all the way to Kalm tomorrow.
Cloud gawked at the woman. But how did you know . . . Then the woman put her hand on Clouds forehead, and Cloud didnt care anymore. His eyes began to droop, and he fell asleep.
He did not wake up until the next day. He felt much better, and decided to head for Kalm to talk to Tifa immediately. Attacks and muggings were not uncommon in Midgar, especially in the slums, but this was very different. From the magic-immune soldiers to the mysterious ending of the battle, this was something that Tifa, and possibly all of Avalanche, would want to hear.
Oddly enough, there was no sign that the woman had even been there the next morning, except for one piece of paper with a small note on it that appeared to be his fortune that had been read yesterday. Cloud carried it with him as he took off on his motorcycle in the direction of Kalm. As he rode, the lines of the little poem turned themselves over in his mind.
You found what you were looking for,
Though you lost something dear.
But you will find it once more
If you let go of your fear.
Follow your heart; it will show you the way,
And that dear thing you lost will be with you to stay.
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