Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 32
"No," breathed Aerith in dismay, gazing at the remnants of the Temple. The
only thing left was the archway leading to the main complex. Of the building
itself, there was no sign. Smoke and dust swirled in the air above the
annihilated ruins. But this damage was only superficial; the real harm was
on the Lifestream plane. Sephiroth shifted his vision into the Lifestream
spectrum (unlike Aerith, he could not exist in both the material and the
spirit world at once, but could move and observe both with equal facility)
and beheld a massive, churning tornado of red and black swirling energy,
directly where the Temple stood. As he watched, the turmoil began to die
down, leaving behind it a gaping darkness; it was like staring at infinity
itself. He dropped his gaze, unable to look any longer; he imagined that
Tifa's spirit form was in there, somewhere. For now he could consider the
matter dispassionately, even though he had grown attached to the Avalanche
fighter. She was good in a fight, very determined, and always ready with
a helping hand; much like Aerith, but not poisoned by the bitter anger and
rage that took hold of the Ancient and took years to dissipate.
The tall warrior turned to Aerith; her eyes were shining with unwept tears. He melded his mind briefly and accepted her pain, giving in return his dispassion, concern and strength. She separated the link and straightened, nodding to him in gratitude. She walked purposefully towards Yuffie and Shera, and laid her hand briefly on their heads, sharing her strength. As the straightened as well, and the shock left their eyes, she began to walk towards the fallen Temple. "What about Cloud?" asked Yuffie, hesitantly. "He'll be out for a while. We have to see to the Black Materia for now," answered Aerith. They followed.
"There!" pointed Yuffie, her sharp eyes spotting the small, black shard glittering faintly in the hazy light. The area was still dusty, but the shard was visible. "Magic will not affect it. We have to get it ourselves," said Aerith. Sephiroth was already suiting his actions to her pronouncement by leaping down into the gaping hole left by the Temple's destruction. He landed lightly and walked towards the shard, keeping a sharp lookout for Chaos. Not seeing the dark form anywhere, he sheathed the Masamune and reached for the shard with his left hand. He picked it up and almost dropped it again; the stone felt warm and slippery. As he tightened his hold on it, it began to squirm and melt in his hand. He saw strange things, moving shadows out of the corner of his eye; he heard snatches of some unknown, compelling music. On the verge of dropping the stone, he gripped the hilt of his sword and tightened his resolve, realizing that this was yet another defense that the Ancients put in place. He opened his hand and let it lie on his palm; it looked like a dark piece of obsidian, bereft of the frantic activity of a second ago. He frowned, unable to solve the mystery of this cold, black stone for which too many had died.
He gathered his strength and leapt towards the edge of the crater left by the destruction of the temple. He'd be glad to be away from here; the restless souls of the Ancients were joined by Tifa's, and until she could somehow free herself from the turmoil here she'd be trapped. He had no doubt that she would break free eventually; with the exception of Aerith, she was the strongest woman he'd ever met - and he had met quite a few.
His thought process was interrupted in midflight as something raked his left hand, sending him tumbling to the ground dazed, but unhurt by the fall. He rolled back down the crater, coming to a stop ready, Masamune drawn. He had underestimated Chaos once again; somehow, his father had gotten free of the crumbling edifice and maintained enough speed to come up on Sephiroth unaware. Sephiroth looked down at his hand; the Black Materia was gone of course. What was worse, the Soldier's left hand was severely damaged; loose flaps of skin were dangling from the obscenely gaping wound, and severed muscles and tendons poured out of the slashed wrist. Sephiroth quickly blocked the pain from his mind and mouthed a quick Heal spell. It was all he had time for as Chaos lunged for him, Black materia in hand, red eyes glowing with now undisguised hatred. Anticipating the move to be another fake as in the catacombs of Nibelheim, Sephiroth whirled towards the dark form, rotating his body away from harm and coming down with an overhand slash at Chaos' arm. With inhuman speed, the demon turned away from the blow, twisting his body into an impossible shape. He could not escape completely, however. The blow grazed his arm and sliced cleanly through his bicep; the Black Materia went flying to land in the dust, nearby. Chaos bellowed - his voice no longer retained the semblance of humanity that it did before, and it resounded in Sephiroth's ears like a scream of tortured machinery.
"I got it!" yelled out Yuffie, scampering down the side of the crater to grasp the Black Materia. Her gasp of shock from contact with the eldritch rock was drowned out by Chaos' scream of rage as he saw his prize moving out of his reach. He sent a wild bolt of Fire towards her, but Sephiroth's efforts managed to unsettle his aim and the bolt missed the small ninja. Yuffie let out a small eep of startlement and threw the stone towards Aerith, standing on the lip of the crater. Her aim was true; the stone smacked into Aerith's outstretched palm.
"Drop it," said a calm voice behind Aerith. It continued, "I have several guns trained on your head. Hojo still wants you alive, but don't think I won't fire to get that stone." Standing several yards away, looking down into the pit where the fierce battle still raged as Chaos fought to get away from the relentless Soldier, Shera gasped as a scarlet figure emerged from the brush, an automatic rifle in her hand. Aerith turned slowly, and said calmly, "Neither you nor Rufus will know how to use it. You don't have the intelligence." Her lip curled slightly as she said the last, contemptuous of Scarlet and all of Shinra. "That is irrelevant," stated Scarlet, calmly refusing to be angered. "You will give me the stone now," her words were accompanied by the soft, ominous sound of gun chambers being reloaded. Aerith shrugged, threw the stone high in the air and vanished. A fraction of a second later, so did Shera a few yards away, Yuffie, from her sprawled and dazed position on the edge of the cliff, Sephiroth in midslash and Cloud's repose body, near the trees. A moment after that, bullets ripped through the air where Aerith had been standing and after a brief fusillade all noise ceased as an authoritative "Cease fire!" rang out from Scarlet. Bemused, she picked up the Black Materia from where it lay and stared at it for a while. She handed it to a nearby Soldier, cautioning him not to let it out of his sight and walked towards the edge of the crater. Of Chaos there was no sign, of course. She shrugged inwardly; it was all for the better. She straightened and walked away, rather briskly - this place was giving her the creeps and besides, Rufus insisted on speed. He'd be glad to get this little trinket, even if it looks and feels like a piece of ordinary rock.
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