Payback's a Bitch 2: Redemption Chapter 14
By Joe L.
A year had passed since Zarin had personally marched with his troops to begin the assault on Kobiashi, thus beginning his assault on the Rebel outposts on Bakaar. Since that time, the Rebels had been hopelessly outmatched in strength, military discipline, and tactics by the Imperials. For every brilliant move they made, for every feint they made to draw the Imperials off them, the Imperials countered with a brilliant move of their own. The Generals in the Rebellion, though not incompetent, were not like the three Super Ghiites, who lived and breathed for war. One Rebel soldier who witnessed their terrible power remarked that he thought that they were fallen angels from heaven, on earth to take their vengeance. Perhaps it was not so far from the truth.
The city of Gradia teemed with energy. Though usually a quiet port town which the Rebels controlled, the city was now back in the hands of the Empire and King Zarin. Zarin, with his armies taking back the cities the Rebels had fought so hard to gain, had driven the shattered remnants of the Rebel army to Zandose, their makeshift capital. 20,000 warriors strong occupied Zandose, all of them seasoned veterans in war and who would not give an inch to the Empire or Zarin. However, the King of the Ghiites loved a good challenge and this final hurrah for the Rebels would certainly provide him with great entertainment.
As it were, King Zarin in full battle armor passed down from the generations of Ghiite kings, surveyed his troops. They formed their lines on the outskirts of Gradia, in the long rolling plains of green grass. 70,000 troops there were, all in their finest acouterments, and armed to the teeth. With them, in the front of the lines, stood 600 of the most elite of Zarin's warriors. Their armor shone a deep, fiery red, their cloaks blue and whipping softly in the light breeze. The Fists of God. Though their ranks suffered an extreme blow due to the war (their numbers were half what they were), the Fists still were the pinnacle of what any soldier could ever wish to achieve. No one, not even the Rebels, could doubt their bravery and courage, even in the face of undeniable defeat.
Three Ghiites walked with the King as he inspected his army. His generals Feddis, Bozas, and Ottadis, the three most fiercesome warriors in the military. Their armor was a deep blue, made of the finest metal that the metalsmiths of Bakaar had to offer and helms with two deadly horns jutting from them adorned the general's heads. The three proved to be an extremely impressive sight, if not dangerous.
"The men are eager to end this bloody war my liege," General Feddis quietly said to his King, who nodded his head in agreement.
"Yes. I can feel their hatred for the Rebellion, in all my pores. It is overpowering... Are the preparations for the ships ready?" Feddis shook his head. Zarin looked at the General in disdain, a frown forming across his reptilian features.
"I am sorry, my liege. There was an accident while loading the supplies. Seems one of the cranes malfunctioned and smashed a large hole in the deck of one of the ships. It was easily fixed, but it did throw off our schedule a bit. The men will have to work overtime, but we will be ready in time. However-"
"Spare me your excuses, General. They fall on deaf ears. I do not care if the Gods themselves strike down our ships right now. We will leave this night to Zandose, do you understand me?"
"Yes my liege. Forgive me," the General momentarilty bowed his head to his lord. Zarin grinned, a wolfish grin, and accepted his warriors' apology.
"Of course......The troops are in excellent condition. Much better than I expected."
"Yes my lord. Most of them arrived from Delash, where the fighting was the least intense." This time it was Ottadis that spoke up. Zarin nodded his head once again.
"Wasn't it though? The cowards practically threw down their weapons and surrendered to me! Sniveling bastards. I imagine the men got a kick out of it when I publically executed the Rebel general, what was his name? Ah yes, Nidio. What did ever happen to his head?" Ottadis grinned in Feddis' direction and then answered.
"I believe they had it impaled on a spear outside the camp."
"A pity I wasn't there to see it, but I had more pressing matters," the King muttered distantly, thinking back to those more "pressing matters", namely his troops being routed in the Razor Valley. Many Imperial soldiers thought that it was because of the indominatable will of their King that they defeated the Rebels, but at a terrible cost to both sides. 75,000 Ghittes lost their lives during the bloody Battle of Razor Valley, most of them Imperial. Still, Zarin knew that the price for victory would be great, but he wouldn't let the whining of a few weaklings and currs interfere with his campaign.
The rest of their inspection was held in complete silence, save for the few comments they made to passing soldiers, whether they be compliments or harsh reprimands.
It was nearly dark by the time that the quartet finished inspecting the troops, and at that time the soldiers were dismissed back to the barracks to make final preparations before boarding the ships and traveling to the continent of Newark, where waited their final destination, Zandose. Though the Ghiite people did not realize it, the destruction of Zandose would mean their doom.
Yes, their fate will be sealed, the voice spoke from inside Zarin. That same monotone, mechanical voice that sent shivers down his spine.
Gyver and the other two live. I have seen visions. Yama as well. What should I do?
Nothing. Those three......... Yes, this changes everything. All playing to our advantage.
Please tell me Father, I must know of your true plan.
The sun had just began to creep over the horizon, sprinkling the sky with it's rays of light. As such, their training began. For a year now, they had been up at dawn and asleep by dusk. Yama enforced an extremely strict schedule on his pupils, though to him it made perfect. If God had wanted people to be up in the night, then there would be light during the evening. Therefore, one must use all the sunlight that God grants wisely and just the same use the nighttime wisely. Even Sephiroth, always the iconoclast, found it difficult to debunk the ancient Ghiite's simple, but effective logic.
Their day began with breakfast, which consisted of a bowl of crushed up oats, vegetables, and some ingredients even Yama wasn't exactly sure of. Not exactly a culinary delight, but it gave them plenty of energy to work, and so they were satisfied. Their breakfast was eaten in silence, as was it always. Even though the group had been training for a year, they would never become friends. Though they respected each other as warriors, the respect ended there. There was too much bad blood between, to many unresolved issues that stood in the way of friendship. Dreams shattered. Innocence lost. These things could never be forgiven.
At about midafternoon, Sephiroth and Gyver were away, sparring each other. Yama was instructing Cloud however, on the same technique he had been trying to perfect for the better part of six months. An impressive feat in itself, but Yama and Cloud both knew that Cloud would have to master the Ketsuo-Ken, perhaps even go beyond mastery, to have a chance against King Zarin.
As it were, Cloud stood with his arms at his side, his eyes closed in deep concentration. Yama was sitting indian style on the ground, watching Cloud meticulously. Cloud wasn't sure how long he had been standing on the desert sands, feeling the sun scorching his exposed skin. Why can't I just do this right? I know I've followed Yama's instructions exactly! What am I missing! Damn!
Cloud threw up his hands in the air and cursed loudly. Yama merely shook his head at his young protege's rantings.
"Damn! I can't do this Yama! I'm sorry, but I just can't do it. We've wasted six months of good training for nothing. Maybe you can teach it to Gyver, or even Sephiroth........" Yama shook his head.
"No Sh'kaar Nali, I cannot. There is not enough time. Already I feel as though there is a disturbance in the Lifestream. Like the Planet knows something that we do not......."
"What do you mean?"
"I have been hesitant to share this with anyone, but the visions are becoming less fantasy, and more reality. Sh'kaar......this battle you three will fight with Zarin. It will not be just for the Rebellion.......This battle....."
"What?" The ancient Ghiite appeared pained to speak, as if what he was about to say would destroy him. But he had to tell Cloud the truth.
"This battle will destroy the Ghiite people. I have seen it. Two outcomes. One for good. One for evil."
"No. You've got to be kidding!"
"I am not, Sh'kaar. The dreams, they do not lie."
"But.... how can the destruction of this planet be for good? Is Zarin going to destroy this planet? Why?"
"I cannot say exactly, but I do know this. If the Planet recieves a great injury to it, then the Planet can heal itself through the use of the Lifestream. And also that the souls of the dead become one with the Planet after they die, and then they are born anew."
"Yes, I know this. Why are you telling me this?"
"Because, there is something you might not know. What if Zarin not only inflicts great damage to the planet, but he disrupts the flow of the spirit energy by killing millions of people? You see, as hard as it may be to believe, even the Lifestream has it's limits. And therefore when such great loss of lives occur, the spirits of the dead linger and wait for the Planet to be able to send them to the Lifestream to rejoin the Planet. While these spirits do not wait long, it would be more than enough time for Zarin to harness their energy and use it for himself." Cloud's eyes grew big as plates....... No, this can't be...... Like I'm stuck in some sort of loop!
"God, Jenova and Sephiroth..... they tried to use Meteor......"
"Yes, I am well aware of your friend's plight. But this is different....... His power will not come from materia. Zarin will be there to receive that energy, of the thousands upon thousands of dead souls waiting to join the Planet. And once that occurs, God himself will tremble....."
"How will he do it? How is he going to sacrifice these people? And why?"
"That, I do not know. And in all honesty, even I question the validity of my dreams. And yet...... I know that they are the truth."
"We'll find a way to prevent the destruction of this planet! I won't let Zarin destroy everything."
"Perhaps Zarin won't be the one to destroy the planet," Yama said, his eyes staring accusingly (or so Cloud thought) at Cloud.
"Now, wait just a minute! I'm not about to-" The old Ghiite shook his head, and stared up into the sky.
"We are a dying race Sh'kaar. Once, we shined as brightly as the sun and stars, but now.... The Ghiite people are fading away, very slowly perhaps. But fading nonetheless. Each year more crops fail, there are more famines and plagues. New wars arise from old hatreds. The cycle of hatred and violence will not stop, Sh'kaar. It hasn't since we arrived on this godforsaken planet. I think truly that our time had passed when the Cetra had defeated us back on Earth, and forced us into exile. We should have died there. Cruel as it may be, the law of nature is survival of the fittest. And we were certainly not the fittest. However, we clung to that last shreds of our lives and found this desolate rock to call our own. All a sham, all in the hopes of deluding ourselves into believing that we still had a right to exist in this universe. But I think even then the elders knew we were only fooling ourselves. So here we find ourselves, having survived these past milleniums on this planet with the meager resources that are about to be exhausted. We cannot lie to ourselves any longer, Sh'kaar Nali. The Ghiites...... are not long for this world."
"You are saying you want this Planet do be destroyed? You want Zarin to win?"
"No, my son cannot be allowed to win."
"What are you saying then, Yama?" Yama gave Cloud an odd-looking grin, like he was already in the heavens with his God.
"For good or ill, this will be the Ghiite's final hour."
Nighttime had overtaken the Great Desert. All was dark, except for a small campfire that the group hovered around. Gyver and Yama had fallen asleep, while sleep seemed to elude Cloud and Sephiroth, standing on opposite sides of the campfire. Both looked at the campfire blankly, there emotions unreadable in their eyes. There was too much to think about, so much rested on their actions tomorrow, the fate of an entire people, of a Planet. Perhaps too much for mortal souls. Cloud broke the silence.
"Tomorrow we attack," he stated simply. Sephiroth looked away from the campfire and regarded Cloud intently. He then nodded his head in agreement.
"Yes. If Lady Luck is on our side, we live long enough to face Zarin. If not......."
"You don't think we have a chance, do we?"
"The odds are certainly not in favor of the Rebels. Not only do the Imperials outnumber them, their soldiers are better equipped and are all seasoned veterans. In addition, they say that the three Generals' power is second only to King Zarin himself. Still, I've faced worse odds," Sephiroth quipped, a smirk playing across his features as he remembered battles long ago when he was a SOLDIER. Before IT happened......
Cloud bitterly stared at the fire, and absently stood up and kicked the sand. "Goddamn. I'm sick of this! I'm tired of fighting other people's battles! Why can't everyone leave me alone. Why am I even here?"
"Enough with your complaints. You'll wake the others." Cloud stared angrily at Sephiroth, the man who had cost him so much and seemed to have to regrets.
"Easy enough for you to say, you cold hearted bastard. You never cared about anybody but yourself. There were people on Earth who cared for me, who I cared for. And now I'll never be able to see them. Instead I'm in the middle of some civil war on the godforsaken planet in the middle of nowhere! My whole life, it's like everything is against me, like I'm cursed...."
"What do you know of suffering, Cloud Strife?"
"How would you like being Hojo's lab rat for-"
"I was a guinea pig my entire life! Every waking moment of my childhood, from the time I woke up to the time I forced myself into sleep, Hojo was there. Poking, prodding, hurting, abusing. I remember quite vividly lying on my back for twelve hours a day while Hojo performed all of his tests on me, never allowing me food nor drink. Sometimes, I thought that I would lose my mind. However, Hojo's meddlings weren't the end of my suffering. Every single person I've ever met either looks at with complete and utter fear, or with looks of total disgust and hatred. You see, I might have been revered on the battlefield for my skills as a warrior, but back at the Shinra Headquarters, I was nothing but a freak to all of them. A monster. Can you understand what it's like to be utterly alone in the world, Cloud Strife? Can you understand what it's like to be hated simply because of who you are? That you were born?" Sephiroth looked directly into Cloud's eyes, almost expecting an answer. Cloud was tempted to say yes, he did know what it was like to be utterly alone, but he opted not to. Instead, a thought donned on him.
"That's why you gave into Jenova, didn't you?" Sephiroth looked at Cloud with his piercing blue eyes, his visage grim.
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't want to be alone anymore......"
"......Yes......" Sephiroth said, though it came out as nothing more than a whisper. He then turned and walked away into the desert, staring out into nothingness. "And I paid quite a price for my weakness, didn't I?" In that moment, Cloud Strife knew that he could never hate Sephiroth. He would never forgive Sephiroth for what he had done to him, for the pain he had caused him and his friends, but now he saw Sephiroth differently. Behind the icy exterior was a human being, a human being desperately needing acceptance but knowing that he would never have it. He almost pitied Sephiroth.
"Yes, you did." Cloud muttered vaguely. Sephiroth appeared to be struggling with something inside of him, like he wanted to say something, but couldn't muster the strength to do it. Sephiroth turned around and faced Cloud.
"Cloud, I want you do something for me."
"What is it?" Cloud stared at the warrior harder know, trying to read his expression. Sephiroth's face was like stone, implacable.
"If you ever make it off this planet......." Sephiroth began, but then faltered, as if trying to think of the right words to put together.
"Yeah?" Sephiroth's expression hardened (if that were possible) and he spoke with confidence, with determination.
"Tell your friends that I am sorry." And then Sephiroth went to his sleeping bag and fell asleep.
In the blackest depths of the night, Zarin's army set sail on the large warships bound for Zandose. There was a jittery anxiety that fell over all the soldiers not borne of fear, but for relief. All the soldiers prayed that with this battle, the Rebellion would be completely obliterated. And with their destruction, then the Ghiites could begin living peacefully once again. Most of the soldiers occupied the time on the boat by checking their weapons and armor, while the Fists of God locked themselves in a small cargo bay on one of the ships and began a chant in some archaic dialect not used by any Ghiites today, save for the Fists. Zarin, like always, found himself pacing in the bridge, the helmsman nervously looking behind him at the King. Finally the helmsman summoned the courage to say a word to Zarin.
"Something the matter, my Lord?" Sweat poured from the Ghiite's brow, and Zarin grinned wickedly as the helmsman appeared to the point of total collapse.
"Not at all, my boy. Not at all." And with that, Zarin resumed his pacing of the bridge. The helmsman sighed and decided not to pay any more attention to Zarin, but instead to concentrate fully on getting his ship to Zandose safely. As Zarin continued his meandering around the bridge, the voice that he loathed and worshipped, feared and respected came to him.
All seems to be going quite well, the voice plainly said.
Yes. Are you sure Gyver and his ilk will show their faces?
Most assuredly. However, they will not be a problem. The Super Ghiites should easily handle them.
I'd imagine so...... Father, I have a question about-
One Ketsuo-Ken. You must form the Ketsuo-Ken, and you will only have one chance to do it. Any more would be too much exertion on this body, and you would be crushed to dust.
And if all goes well.......
We proceed with the next part of the plan. Leave this planet, which will be nothing more than a barren rock, immediately. Travel to the Xandran homeworld, where my brethren are kept prisoner.... And free them.
It will be difficult won't it? And with the cryogenic freezing, will my body be able to acclimate quickly enough?
There will be plenty of time to prepare yourself for your battle. And yes, it will be difficult. Perhaps the odds are insurmountable. We shall see.
The Xandran....... I shall destroy them not only for you, Father, but so the ghosts of my people may rest in peace.
This will be the last time I will be able to contact you, Zarin. Any further communication while you are engaged in battle and the Ketsuo-Ken could result in the loss of your concentration and total failure, perhaps even death. However, my final command for you is to rest, so that your mind, body, and soul will be in perfect harmony for tomorrow.
I understand. I will try to, Father.
Excellent. One last observation, Zarin. Don't underestimate Gyver, Sh'kaar, or Sephiroth. Either one of them has the potential to surpass and defeat you.
Impossible! I thought with your power and mine combined that-
As did I. Until recently, I thought so as well. However, if your Father lives, and if he were to teach one of them the Ketsuo-Ken.....
No! He's dead! He must be!
Perhaps, perhaps not. It is irrelevant now. Everthing will be decided on the field of battle tomorrow. If we win, then we may proceed with the plan. If not, then it was never fated to be so.
As the sun's golden rays peaked from the horizon and washed away the night, so did the three warriors awaken from their slumber. Breakfast lay waiting for them as soon as they awoke, courtesy of Yama's culinary skills. Breakfast was eaten in silence, though thick with anxiety and perhaps even fear. Cloud broke the tension first.
"This is it, huh?" He looked at his companions, and managed a small grin. This reminded him of his days with AVALANCHE. When I was human......... "The day we've been training for...."
"Getting sentimental on us, Strife?" Gyver retorted while shoveling food in his face, snout to be more exact.
"Maybe......" Cloud muttered no one in particular, then returned to his meal. The remainder of breakfast went by quick and before they knew it, they were ready to leave. However, there would be no fond farewell, nor a happy repartee. Yama regarded all three of his disciples with the same cold, impassive expression that he always had. Of a man waiting to die.
"Millions of peoples lives rest in your hands. The fate of a planet is yours. I wonder, what shall you do with it?......." As Yama trailed off, Sephiroth and Gyver and wrote off the remark as the ramblings of an old hermit, but Cloud understood Yama, and was quite disturbed by it. Yama shook his head and laughed, "Doesn't matter now, does it? Go forth, my warriors. I have nothing left to teach you." Gyver and Sephiroth muttered half-hearted goodbyes to their old master as did Cloud, but as he was about to join his companions he turned around and looked Yama directly in the face.
"I'm not going to let this Planet die. I'm going to kill your son, Zarin, even if it costs me my life." Yama nodded at the remark and as he began walking away Cloud spoke again. "Rest in peace, Yama." Yama grinned at the young warrior and even chuckled to himself.
"I will. Believe me, I will." And with that, the old Ghiite turned back walked back to his encampment, and the three warriors soared into the sky, with their destination as Zandose.
Most of the journey was travelled in silence, save for the occasional squawking of birds flying. Once again, Cloud broke the uneasy silence.
"Do you think we have a chance?" The other two looked at Cloud disdainfully, but Sephiroth spoke up first.
"This is a highly dubious endeavor. Even with the training the old man gave us, the chances are marginal at best... Still, it's better than waiting for Zarin to destroy us."
"Agreed," Gyver snarled, "we are the Bakaar's only hope for survival. The Rebel army is going to be crushed by the Imperials easily, even with the fortifications they have set up at Zandose. Zarin might just let his three Generals do the dirty work for him, the sniveling bastard."
"I'd almost forgotten about them.... It will certainly make for an intriguing battle, to say the least. In fact, we should be getting there soon, correct?"
"Half an hour," Cloud answered, "maybe less. I just hope by the time we get there the Rebels will still be fighting. I'd hate to fight an entire army all by ourselves." Gyver snickered at the remark.
"Heh. Don't get your hopes up, Strife. Though the Rebels are veterans, they don't have the rigorous training that the Imperial soldiers have been through for many years of their lives. Hell, it might be over by the time we get there."
"Just who's side are you on here?"
"I despise Zarin just as much as you Strife, but I am still loyal to the Ghiite people and the Empire."
"Speaking of which, who would become King if Zarin is defeated. He has no heir, I assume. You know, that in itself could start another civil war," Sephiroth stated.
"I don't know.....perhaps..." Gyver chuckled to himself as a thought popped into his head.
"You? A King? Please, even I give the Ghiite people more credit than that," Sephiroth muttered, though with a sly grin on his features.
"Blasphemy, I'd make an excellent leader! Why I'll have you know that during my education I was groomed to be a great bureaucrat in the monarchy!"
"Why didn't you? Failed your classes and joined the military instead?" Sephiroth quipped, laughing to himself at his joke. Gyver chuckled heartily as well, the first time in a long time. As Cloud grinned and looked on, he couldn't help to think how sad it was that things had turned out the way they had. Joking like acquiantances, perhaps even old friends..... If things had only been different, Cloud thought. We might have all been friends, in some other life. But not this one. I won't drown myself in illusion and fantasy anymore. This life is what you make of it, not what has happened to you. And I choose to live. With these final thoughts, Cloud felt a renewed vigor enter his soul. No longer anxious or afraid of the events that Yama had spoken of, Cloud held his head up triumphantly, ready to face the dangers that lay ahead. Gyver and Sephiroth noticed this sudden change in Cloud's demeanor and when they looked at him, he returned their stare with a nod of his head. The two nodded back in mutual understanding, and they themselves felt encouraged by Cloud's actions. The time for fear and anxiety of the companions was over, replaced by a staunch determination in themselves and the outcome of this battle.
It was then that the three could see in the horizon the city of Zandose, and the massive battle taking place. The violence of the scene was in stark contrast to the complanceny of the ocean and the sky.
"There it is," Gyver remarked, "Zandose. Looks like the Rebels are faring better than I expected."
"I doubt for very much longer though. The Imperials have them surrounded on all sides," Sephiroth observed as he saw Imperial troops crushing the last remnants of a battalion on the outskirts of Zandose, the last defensive position before the city itself.
"This might be the last time we ever see each other," Cloud noted as he looked at his two companions. Sephiroth grinned in that wry way of his at Cloud's sentiments.
"Indeed it is. Gentlemen, I can't say it's been exactly pleasant knowing you."
"No time for this now. Zarin is waiting for us," Gyver interjected, eager to finally confront Zarin.
"Yeah I know..... Good luck you guys." Cloud then stuck out his hand for Sephiroth, who looked at it for a moment and then firmly clasped Cloud's with his own.
"Good luck, Cloud Strife." Cloud then proceeded the gesture with Gyver, who wasn't all that familiar with the gesture (not a Ghiite custom, though he knew about from his time on Earth).
"You're a fine warrior, Sh'kaar Nali," Gyver spoke, using Cloud's Ghiite name.
"All right, let's go!"
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic