Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 17
The Master And The Puppets
By Paul Nathans
They appeared in a small, abandoned house in Kalm.
Tifa blinked her eyes and looked around. Despite the absence of their Sun, it was easy to figure out they were in a building, and they could see the Kalm Clocktower south of the structure they were in, probably a shack.
"Darned freaks!" Barret spun and unleashed a group of bullets into the wall. "WHERE'S MARLENE!!!!!?????"
Cloud placed his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"We'll get her back," he said quietly. "But we need a plan."
Barret ignored him and headed towards the exit of the shack.
"And I have a plan," Cloud finished.
Barret stopped moving.
"Let's review what we know first."
Barret let out a low grumble.
"First of all, thanks to Ramza and his allies," he indicated them ,"We know somewhat of Lucavi's actions, so we can relate the Zodiac Stones to him, and combining what is going on with the Hades Loophole, I'd hazard a guess that he's attempting something similar to what Ramza witnessed, but different, one that would involve this Planet."
"Why just this Planet?" That was the Byblos.
"They're here for a reason, judging from the various information we've received," Cloud replied. "Lucavi would be acting here, although I didn't sense his presence in the Lifestream Orb when the Topaz Weapon was resurrected, which means Ensconse or Ralyon caused that. With two entities like Lucavi here, we'd sense them, so Ensconse would probably be elsewhere. We encountered some sort of Mu at the North Crater, and we know darn well what Xagor is!" Memories of the loss of Vincent flashed back through his mind, causing him to clench his teeth in anger.
"What does this have to do wit' Marlene!?"
"I think I'm catching onto what his idea is," Cait Sith spoke up. "He's narrowing-down the factors of our search. To conclude what he's saying, Aisha and Ceile are unreachable, and Elslumina and the Big Whale don't show us any means of rescuing Marlene yet. Plus, remembering what Zack told us about those who saved him, well, our target's right here in Kalm."
He paused for a few seconds. "As for what happened to me, well, I'm done with the records, we've got yet another card in the game. Ya' see, I'd finished quieting down the riots on the Plates, the Slums didn't notice much difference, before Zack attacked the area while some Entity trashed the Turks and took the three Guardians."
"Zack did WHAT!!!!!?????" Cloud spun to face him, hair flapping around.
"10,892 Casualties, 10,981 Machines Lost. Zack morphed into your friendly neighborhood beastie, most of the casualties had crushed heads."
Ramza nodded. "That sounds like the actions of a Servant of Lucavi."
"Those Guardians are one-human vehicles, smaller than the size of the juggernaut that got smashed in Gongaga, or supposedly did." Cait again. "Its MIA is now considered 'Loss.' Unless it turns-up, I'll have to consider it gone. Whatever got the Guardians stole them from the Turks, teleported Sapphire Weapon out of the area it was stored in, and turned the Sector 8 Monster Storage into a river of molten metal easily. Oh, and Zack mentioned the WEAPONS are under the control of himself and his pals, as well. He escaped with the Zodiac Stones.
"Needless to say, I had to quiet more rioting."
Cloud had gone pale. "10,892 lives "
Tifa placed her arm around him comfortingly, trying to keep her own grief off her face, barely-succeeding.
"SOLDIERS!" snarled Barret. "Once a Shinra, always a Shinra!"
Cloud stood up so-abruptly Tifa almost lost her balance on the crate beside him. His face was still white, yet his hands were shaking with barely-controlled rage, while his eyes were hard, anger ripping through that gaze. His whole body was taut.
"How *dare* you!!!!!?????" he spoke in a whisper, yet in a hoarse tone. "Zack was the closest thing I had to a brother in Nibleheim, I might still be a lonely male now if not for him! He gave me a place in Nibleheim, gave me a place in Shinra, yes, Shinra, when I applied for SOLDIER there! I don't know whether I would've survived without him! He saved me from Hojo, and sacrificed his life for me, and you *dare* to insult him like this! What kind of freak are you!!??"
Barret had immediately snapped his mouth shut after making that remark, realizing what he'd said. "Look Cloud I didn't mean to "
"And I'm sure that when you took out Rector 1 and Reactor 5 you said the same thing to anyone who blamed you for the loss of lives!" Cloud continued mercilessly. "I'm sure you didn't mean to slaughter innocent SOLDIERS, and Attack Squad members, who were just doing their job! Maybe Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie should've perished!"
"WHAT!!!!!" Yuffie and Cid tried to restrain the AVALANCHE Leader, who was now on his feet, resulting in both being tossed into the wall. "Mr. SOLDIER punk who only wanted money and didn't give a darn for th' Planet at the start! Now look who's talking! Judge yourself first, punk, then judge me! You know darn well that I didn't like havin' to take those lives!"
"And you know there's only specific reasons I stayed with you all!" the 'Ex-SOLDIER' snapped back. "Personal reasons, most of them! I do have morals, though, that's why I said that! I'm not doing much more past recovering your daughter, its not my problem! If Tifa stays, I'll stay, but if she wants to leave now then I'll go with her, my promise was to her, it didn't include you!!!!! Now will you *listen!!!!!?????*"
Barret looked like he was about to snap back again, but seemed to think better of it and stayed quiet.
"Right now, you're going to listen and I'm going to give you my plan! If you don't like it then choose another!" He sat back down again sharply.
Barret muttered something under his breath before sitting back. Tifa sighed and put her arm around Cloud again, while Cid, Yuffie, Red XIII, and Ruass, who been tensing for a big eruption, settled back onto the crates they'd been sitting on.
"We have Taurus and Cancer, and we'll use that to our advantage. I want you-" he pointed at Cid, "-and you-" he pointed at Barret ,"-to take a Sense Materia and a Choco/Mog Materia, disguise yourself, and sell them to someone, claiming not to know their value. We'll watch him/her, then stalk the person, if someone tries to take the 'Stones' by force, we follow them to their base and take them out!"
"And just how do we pull this trick off!?" That was Cid.
"We don't have speed on our side this time! If they're not alerted to our presence, we may get to pull-off a rescue, if they don't have her, we'll plan again! Its that or nothing!"
"What about the Whorlex that was mentioned!?" exclaimed Cait Sith. "As long as that thing's still there, we probably won't get to see our Sun again, meaning within the next month we'll have the beginnings of an ice age! Of course, the destruction of the Whorlex-Thing may not do a darn thing, but its worth a try!"
"Then you can go pinpoint the Big Whale we were told about!" Cloud retorted. "If it can enter space, its our one chance of getting there! Assuming anyone can figure out just how to deal with beings we don't know a darn about, well, let's see what you can figure out!"
"The location of where 'an Interstellar Airship' was supposed to be, geographically, would leave it to be submerged somewhere near Midgar, and I think we'd have noticed it in the submarine during that hunt for where Nanaki thought the Keyn of the Ancients might be," Yuffie put. "If you don't mind, since I may be able to remember more of its shape, since there could be a lot of Aircraft there, I'll go with you!" She paused. "That is, assuming you're headed there!"
Cait Sith nodded. "Will do, and I'll have Cait Sith Model 4 ready there, this one's just-about useless!"
"I'm coming too!" Cid shouted. "I gotta' see this thing!"
"What a surprise," murmured Yuffie.
"We'll start tomorrow, if this is approved," Cloud finished.
The others, excluding Ramza and his allies, nodded.
Cloud turned to Ramza.
"This is just a hunch, but something tells me that if we're going to that Whorlex thing we heard about, shouldn't we see if we can discover anything in the Forgotten Capital?" All heads turned towards Meliadoul. "That part you told us about the Forgotten Capital, well, you people spoke of it in a way that led me to believe there could be a treasure-trove of knowledge there, at least of things concerning Jenova. I doubt the Cetra know about the Whorlex, according to what I've been told that 'your group' found out, and what those 'Crystals' told us all, it stands to reason the Crystals only know of this through the 'Other' Spirit Plane Red XIII/Nanaki told us about! If them, maybe others!"
"I'm not letting Meliadoul do this alone!" Ramza stood up. "I'm going with her!"
"That places in all of us!" That was Malak.
All but Ruass nodded in agreement, which resulted in Alma looking at him questioningly.
"I'd like to find out a lot more about Lucavi," he spoke, as if that explained it. "After all, I was supposed to be his puppet, and I definitely would like to learn more about Lucavi." He looked at Alma. "No offense," he hurriedly said.
"None taken." Indeed, Alma probably would've perished with Ajora/Altima if not for that one risky Teleport Spell she'd cast, something even-now she wasn't sure she knew how she did.
"Hunches!" Barret muttered. "Cloud's have turned-out to be right, but he has Mako Cells! Still, I guess we'll have to trust you for now, since Cloud does, and he's had a lot of experience!" His tone didn't hide his current feelings for the Ex-Shinra, though, not that that mattered.
"I'll go with you!"
Ruass turned to Nanaki, raising his eyebrows.
"Grandfather wanted me to learn, I learn by experiencing, and right now, there's a lot that it seems we should be able to learn by experience!" He turned to Reeve. "I trust we'll get appropriate craft?"
"Oh, you will!" Cait Sith 3 replied, for some strange reason grinning.
"So that settles it?" came Malak's voice.
It wasn't someone who'd been expected to pose the question, but the question had been posed. The others nodded in agreement.
Cloud spoke once again. "We set out in the morning!"
"Sir!" a gasping red-cloaked man burst into the Inner-Sanctum.
Clitor turned, green eyes flashing. "The Pro-Shinra Group was successful?"
The messenger shook his head. "They didn't even get a chance to strike against the Sector 4 Plate! Some freak-monster attacked the Shinra Corporate Headquarters!"
Clitor concealed a grin. Zack had done well, not only had he shaken the people's faith even more, but he'd also retrieved Lucavi's Stones. As for their Master, he'd disposed of a notorious mercenary that they Pro-Shinras didn't need, as well as retrieved the Guardians and shut down the Monster Storage Facility, something he wished had been done long ago.
Even he hadn't liked the experiments that ended up down there, save for the four-most-common. No damage to Sector 4, either. Too bad Zack had been too-hasty, or they could've looked like they were about to detonate te Plate Support! He needed Shinra back up, they needed their front back! But if this continued...
Ralyon's Teeth served their master. The Lucavi Eagles, one of their lesser-factions, was still dedicated to them, and Ensconse, well, no one had received any messages from him in any dreams. Ensconse, according to the High Priests of the Ensconce Strikers, their other lesser-faction, hadn't contacted anyone.
"Oh, and the AVALANCHE Leader, along with his usual-traveling-companions, have been sighted in the Kalm Inn," the messenger added.
"Fetch Romoreto!" he snapped.
The messenger hurried out. Clitor backed up until he was positioned above his 'throne' and sat down, crossing his left leg over his right leg.
It wasn't long before Romoreto entered, clad in red Assassin-Clothes. He hurried forwards, dropping to one knee and bowing.
"Oh, stop that, brother, and get up!" he snapped.
His younger brother arose, he could almost see his grin behind his mask, while his eyes twinkled with amusement.
"AVALANCHE and their usual-companions are here! They have a high-annoyance-factor of entering and eluding traps! Therefore, I want them taken out now, by the usual means! No Magic, just climb through the roof and chop a board down on their necks! Quick and efficient, even the best warrior isn't immune to a well-placed board that falls to snap necks!"
"Oh, and if you see the Eagles on the way out, tell them to take the Ancients to the Forgotten Capital now and finish what they have to do! The Master has willed it!"
Romoreto nodded and hurried out.
Clitor sighed. His Master was sometimes so heartless, while sometimes as caring as his little brother, and his little brother did care, at least about him. They'd lost everything in the Wutai War, though, and the old High Priest, of 92 Years at that time, had found them, orphaned. They'd been among the many he'd rescued, he'd ascended to High Priest. Ralyon guided them, though.
He would continue to, as always.
She stepped outside, letting the breeze flow through her blonde hair.
Behind Kalm Inn she could view more buildings, with twinkling lights, and beyond, the fertile ground. She brushed her hand through her hair again and sighed in contentment. Despite what they'd heard of this place, it seemed beautiful-enough. Although that would change so soon, the snow would start, the grass would perish, plants would wither, the planet would grow cold.
The door opened and closed behind her quietly. "Hey, sis'," came a whisper.
Alma turned towards her brother. "Why are you out here?" Her blue nightgown billowed in the breeze.
Ramza strode forwards. "Probably the same thing as you...thinking."
Alma sighed once again. "About the War, about this Planet...a lot of things." She sighed yet again. "Humans slaying humans slaying humans, shrouded ones in the shadows calling the shots, others further under the cloak of secrecy plotting destruction. This world's had more than their share of it."
Ramza stood beside her. "And yet, they know how to enjoy each moment of life." He pointed up to the sky. "Whatever lies above," he gestured around ,"Or beyond this peaceful-setting, these people have rebuilt. No matter how much destruction around them, they rebuild, and continue living."
"There's that." Unbidden, a memory came back to her.
"Isn't it serene, Alma? You're a Cleric, why not help this vision come to pass?"
"Those memories injected in me, probably while you and the others were dueling Hashmalum. Picture-perfect, yet unreal." She spun around twice, each time in the opposite direction. "If this Planet, Artesta, they said it was, could see its Sun, this village would be good enough for me! No worries, yet the fact that its still something that is our world. Not ideal, the darker side of human emotions isn't always evil. If there was no grief over anything missed, could people comprehend happiness?"
"Not really. But what-"
Her ears caught the sound of a dirk whizzing through the air. Without hesitation, she spun and knocked Ramza aside, feeling a sharp pain lance through her right arm.
"Who is it!?" shouted Ramza, raising his right palm and muttering the words for a quick Ultima. A red-cloaked figure gasped and rolled backwards towards the edge of the roof. He raced towards him and grabbed onto him as he passed, just managing to reach his hand as he fell south of where the front of the Inn's Back Balcony ended.
He grabbed another knife and plunged it into his hand, dropping to a window-ledge below, turning to bolt away, it obviously knew its assassination attempt had failed, so it was going to flee to try some other time. Ramza swore under his breath and picked up a loose brick, hurling it at his back.
The man let out a startled-cry in mid-leap and fell, cloak grabbing-onto the back of the window. Alma was beside him by now, having activated a MegaBarrier and watching as it slowly-closed the wound in her right arm.
Ramza leapt over the ledge and grabbed the assassin, keeping his balance on the window just-barely. The figure attempted to trip him, causing Ramza to leap back. He grabbed the cloak of the 'human' yanking him back, and ducking under a knife-thrust, delivering a punch to his chest. He growled and latched onto him, as Alma activated a MegaBarrier on him. Ramza moved backwards...
...too-far, as both crashed through the window into the room behind it. No startled exclamations rang-out, meaning the room must be empty. The humanoid leapt off him, spinning and ready to kick down the door. Ramza tucked and rolled, ducking under two more dirks, then two more, catching the fifth and using it to block the sixth. He leapt up and stabbed forwards.
The door crashed down and the figure bolted.
"Ramza, throw this at him, but at his sheath!!" Alma shouted.
He spun as she hurled a small stone at him, glowing with a MegaBarrier. He grabbed it and threw it in a loop, watching with satisfaction as it plummeted towards the figure, closer...
...falling in his sheath.
He spun and shot a tranquilizer at the Innkeeper, who was coming in from the back room, too-sleepy to dodge. Then he raced out the door and slammed it behind him, no footsteps being heard as the 'thing' raced away to an unknown destination.
"Let's go get the others," Alma whispered. "And I'll explain why I had you throw the rock into one of his sheaths."
Cloud blinked and opened his eyes.
Glancing at his door he saw it was around dawn. Who would...
...He gripped his sword, knowing that he didn't have time to put on his armor, whoever was there, if opponent, would have to face him in his nightclothes. That put him at a disadvantage, somewhat, but they'd had these drills in SOLDIER Training before. If it was an unknown he was to use the flat if he could, to keep the intruder awake, if it was a known person who's mission was known, there was no problem with taking him down.
Ramza was at the door.
"Someone just attacked Alma and I a few minutes ago," he whispered. "We're not known here, so whoever was here was probably after you guys, and since they might have some of our descriptions...well...the humanoid was silent enough to avoid being heard, so must've decided he'd better try taking us down..."
"...since we were with you," Cloud finished. "It could be someone with a grudge against AVALANCHE, meaning Barret and anyone suspected to be with him would be attacked, but judging from the spies, it should be whoever has Marlene. Why are you here right now?"
"Alma and I slipped something inside the assassin that could possibly follow it back to its base. She's not going to explain until we're all together, so get your dayclothes on and let's move!"
He spun and closed the door behind him.
"Awright, this'd better be good!" growled Barret.
"We may have found where Marlene's bein' held!" retorted Cait Sith. "Or am I wrong in thinkin' that ain't good news!?"
"Well, get on with it then!!" Barret responded.
"Someone attacked us tonight," Alma began. "Judging from how good it could conceal itself, I'd say that it wouldn't have been heard from us if after others, meaning we were some of its targets. It couldn't be all, since we'd only have gotten a few descriptions, none by this Shinra we've been told of, so someone who doesn't want us here knows we're here."
"And does a good job, too!" Ramza added. "Instead of throwing at both of us, the thing aimed at me, since Alma would've probably turned to me startled, that would've been an optimum-time to nail her."
"Nevermind the fact it came near dawn, Alma said it came around a half-hour ago from now, a few minutes before we were awoken," Tifa added. "That means it knows any people who frequent taverns could be up late, and judges this as the best time to strike."
"The MegaBarrier!" Ramza reminded his sister.
"I was taught enough about its functions to know a few things," Alma responded. "First, its protection extends to its sole target, and only works on living things. Since it has to access the body of its target to close wounds, and the rock isn't alive, well, it would be searching for something, anything, on its substance. That means its still in-flight, activated, targeted, but close-enough to its substance its not active yet, thus won't be sensed by anything looking for Magics attached to someone entering its domain, because its in-flight. It could be detected on Wards looking for Magic Spells, but won't be, because its at its target. Therefore, its 'in-between.'"
"You based this on a guess!?" Malak asked.
"More or less," Rafa answered for her. "And I'd say its a good one."
"I contacted your ride," Cait Sith spoke up. "It'll be here somewhere after what would be our expected breakfast time, well, soon-after."
"That means we'd better have our groups ready," Nanaki observed. "It also means we missed what might be a normal meal, but, ah, well."
"We're forgetting something," Cid pointed out. "How the blazes are you supposed to keep up access to the spell!?"
Alma half-smiled. "How do you feel the energies channeling out of you when...?" She paused. "Oh, yeah, I forgot, there's no Magic in this time."
"That brings up something I've been meaning to ask you newcomers!" Yuffie interjected. "Why aren't you destabilizing the Planet?"
"Their Magic is Self-Generated, Lucavi's influence has passed its ripples around where they live like ripples from a shockwave," Nanaki answered. "Just in case they have wards we know naught about, I suggest we move shortly."
Romoreto drew in a shaky-breath.
"Stay away!!" he shouted.
The 'thing' crackled and swayed. "I do not obey, I do not permit access!!!!!" It was a twisted, writhing mesh of black tentacles, it had emerged from the door to the Headquarters immediately. "Eternal Night has come! We all grow, we are its result! Everyone, and everything!!!!!"
The door slammed open to reveal Clitor.
"The monster-breeding was successful!" his brother cried. "I take it you liked the joke that I ordered it to tell you!"
The mesh picked itself up off the ground, growling. "I am Type Designation A-92! We are the Evil Stars! We are the Black Holes, the Masters!" It spun and aimed at him, opening one tentacle. A huge gust of wind swept by him, so strong he was almost thrown backwards. It shut, the top opened, and blasts of boulders shot out. He quickly shredded each, jumping back from a whirl of flame that tore from the thing. Finally, ice-shards shot out, twirling-around, before white tentacles of energy lashed out from each tentacle, slashing quickly.
"Our contact! The Wind is for sucking open the entrance to Shinra, the Ice will freeze the WarMechs, the Earth shall shake, allowing the Plates to fall, Flames shall melt all who oppose us, its true abilities shall bring us victory! If we need an army..."
A yellow-red thing resembling an Ultima Demon walked out of an inner-chamber, followed by a red Behemoth with a golden crest. Flanking them were blue Uribos, golden Molbors, purple Hyudras, behind was a white Dragon. The Evil Star seemed to fall into the ground; Clitor motioned for them to enter.
Once they did, the door shut, and the Evil Star materialized in front of them. Four grey Flotiballs with green wings appeared around them.
"Meet our Despair Demons, our Zi-Ochu's, our Holy Behemoths, our Hopeless Ones, our Crystal Dragons, our Fallen Mogris, and our NanoHeads!" the High Priest spoke, pointing at each. "The breeding is complete!"
"Excellent," replied Romoreto. "Now what?"
"We wait for our foes to arrive."
"Are you sure this is it?" Cloud asked.
"It should be, considering Alma told us this location," Ruass answered. "Barret knows the layout of the town, this small chapel is where Marlene is!"
"Darn right!" retorted Barret, raising his gun.
Cloud held out a hand to stop him, and he lowered his gun, muttering under his breath. "Do that and you not only tell them we're here, but you also alert the rest of Kalm! Right now only Elmyra and the Innkeeper need to know we're here!" The others had headed for the house of Aeris' Foster-Mother, the Innkeeper, well, they'd found him before they'd talked, they'd placed him in a bed, he'd wake up soon-enough. Tifa had left a note for him there.
No one else in the Inn had awoken that night, thankfully.
"So what is the answer to this dilemma?" posed the Byblos.
Cloud drew his Buster Sword and slashed through the wood, unslinging his Materia Blade and using the flat to catch the wood he'd taken-down before it hit the ground, lowering it gently.
"Ruass, search the back for any entrances, take Tifa with you!" he commanded.
Both nodded and moved away.
Cloud sheathed his Buster Sword again and moved forwards, wiggling through the boards that had come loose. Barret followed, grunting.
The door shimmered-shut behind them.
"What the darned!?" Barret exclaimed.
Clitor grinned upon hearing the cry from the AVALANCHE Leader. He moved out of the back-room and put up a shield. With thirteen members, the chances one of them was awake was much, as were the chances Romoreto would be tracked. So he'd prepared a nice little surprise.
He grabbed onto a bar above and flipped up into the rafters, motioning. He slid into the shadows as nine golden Apandas warped into the room, now-lighted.
"This window appears to lead into some storage room," the Byblos whispered. "I can't see anything in there, so its either a trap or won't get us anywhere."
There was but a single shack between them and the outskirts of Kalm. The Byblos' ears picked up skitters, and he spun. A red-cloaked figure leapt out of a window in that shack, at the top, kicking it open, and landed in front of both of them, rolling and spinning, sending both flying through the window into the small room. He flipped in and motioned, causing the window to close again.
Lights came on even as the duo scrambled to their feet.
"Shall we dance?"
They were in a room composed of wooden-boards surrounding small gardens, sections of the destroyed chapel, a lot of the rafters, strewn-about the floor. A small staircase led up to a room opposite them, blocked by nine golden, muscular, crouched figures, positioned at various places in the room.
"A trap!" swore Barret.
Cloud's Master Command Materia flickered. "Nine Tantrars," was all he said.
His new sword, whatever it was, held Eight Materia Slots, like the Ultima Weapon had, and was a broadsword, rainbow-colored, with strange designs engraved upon the twisting mesh of colors that made up the sword. Its point showed stars and galaxies, another strange symbol on it, the section where it was connected to the sword, slimmer than the broad part, had a Black Hole, a symbol engraved on it, the hilt was golden.
"So much for stealth," Barret whispered. "I have a feeling the walls are soundproof though, so..."
He aimed, instead letting-loose with a Tera Flare, watching as the huge marble-like blast slammed down on the beasts, who scattered instantly, spinning and thrusting forwards their hands. Blue-white beams of light shot out, forming a globe, which burst, spraying red diamonds.
Barret ducked and fired a Bolt 3, was grabbed, and slashed across the chest. He gunned the thing in the head, watching with satisfaction as it fell. The others were encircling them, though, eyes the ones of beasts finding prey.
"Darn it, and darn it again!" the AVALANCHE Leader grated.
"You're the assassin that attacked our friends!?"
"So what if I am, Lockheart!?" the humanoid remarked, drawing a dagger. "I've heard you've trained under Zangan. Are you worthy of that honor?"
"Are you worthy to be mocking me?"
In response, he sprang forwards and had one dagger embedded in her right breast. She tore it out, muttered a quick Cure 3, dodging as she realized that had been a fake blow, it could easily have penetrated to her Right Lung. The second dagger was smaller than the first, which had been about half-a-foot. This one came at her Left Breast, aimed for the Heart. She flipped backwards and kicked it out of his hand, flipping forwards and chopping at his neck.
Where was Ruass?
Strange blasts of sparkling-energy was torn from her opponent. He laughed, grabbed them from the air, and chucked them at the Byblos, who flew into the wall with a *smack,* stumbling to the ground. A group of shurikens encircled her adversary as she put up a Shield, leaping through them.
A sharp pain assailed her from all sides. They'd sucked-away her shield like it was nothing, and had torn into her. She muttered a quick Regen, afterwards finding her opponent wasn't there. She spun, expecting a teleportation, before her instincts kicked-in and she grabbed upwards. A sharp hook slashed into her right hand. She spun with a kick as it was yanked away, tearing off part of her flesh. She looked behind her while flipping backwards, letting the Regen do its job, ending up caught in a Magic Tornado which sapped away her energies.
Before she landed, it became real, and she found herself pinned to the ceiling. She could see her opponent now, who had placed the Byblos in a sphere, and was now glancing-upwards at her.
"Let's see how well you can dodge my attacks now!" He grabbed a dirk and threw it at her.
Cloud darted to the side, letting his Magic Counter activate and blasting one of these things back into the wall with an Ultima. He leapt over another blast of diamonds, impaled through the arm with a small shot of black energy. He activated a Megalixir, they'd redistributed their Items before splitting-up in the Town Square, they wanted to avoid being watched, they'd be expected to take allies, so they'd lost themselves in the crowd before distributing their Ointments.
Two claws came towards him, he stabbed upwards, four down, counting the one Barret had nailed. They were back against the walls, barely-dodging attacks, grabbing for Items and activating Materia as fast as they could.
Cloud threw himself into the center of the storm that erupted around him, knowing he could endure this pain, shifting-positions. He threw himself forwards with an Omnislash, cutting down two more, one by Barret, one by him, with a rapid series of blows. He was in the frame of mind to use all his Limits, he turned to use another...
...a Tera Flare erupted around him, sending him to the ground. The Tantrars were good, whoever had trapped them knew how to set up a very good one. He activated a Finishing Touch, watched as it was channeled back at him. He pressed through the wind and was in turn pelted by another diamond.
Two blades sailed down from the rafters. Barret activated a Satellite Beam, destroying both, before spinning and launching a Bolt 3 at the ceiling. It caved in, crushing their remaining adversaries.
A black blast of energy erupted from the door, arcing down towards them. Cloud flung up his hands instinctively, reaching for Megalixirs. Tendrils of the black waves chopped towards the Item Sacks, he dodged and was hit in the face with the energy. He could hear some sort of muffled cry, could see the more of the room's ceiling collapse, and could feel the energies of a Megalixir wash over him.
Barret had shot down more of the ceiling, they could see the attic, ducking between both energy beams.
"If I can survive a huge crab, I can survive some stupid Magic Trap!" the big man said. He brushed a bit of dust of his somewhat-dark-skin, testimony to how much the Sun had tanned him since he was a miner. "Let's go!"
"It'll be another trap!" Cloud responded.
"No, it won't be!" Someone dropped down from above, dropping two grenades, each exhaling sleep gas which quickly moved towards them. Instead of covering his mouth, he cleared his mind and divided his thoughts to two things, staying awake and staying alive.
"Don't try to block it, just focus on staying awake!" he shouted.
He had no doubt they'd be nailed by poison gas next, they were supposed to be rendered unconscious first in case one of them, or both, had access to Esuana, obviously. An overwhelming wave of dizziness enveloped him, he clenched his teeth. Four Tranquilizer Darts, he clenched his teeth again, tearing them free.
"Stop!" he heard Barret mutter.
A shimmering, grey clock appeared before their adversary, sucking-up the gas, although not freezing it. Cloud leapt forwards, blasted back to the wall by a gust of wind. He flipped off and dodged the ice shard that came at him, only to be grabbed by the neck from behind.
"No more play," the humanoid said. "One more move and I snap his neck!"
Tifa twisted away from another blade.
She'd already found the wind followed her. Past experiences had shown her how to flip off the wall, but there was no way she could climb down, or even get a latch close-enough to the floor, without being stabbed. She'd activated an Ultima, found it sucked away.
Materia didn't work.
"You act like one who knows how to fight the air," the red-cloaked humanoid remarked, gesturing. Spikes shot up below her, and the wind began to suck downwards. She grabbed onto the ceiling and blasted her with a golden orb, causing her to lose grip and fall.
A snarl game from behind, the Byblos leapt forwards, grabbing her, and sailing to the other side of the area. He focused winds upwards before he landed, nothing happened, he shrugged them off and dropped the girl in the corner.
Romoreto moved into a crouched. "The fight me, Master of the Inborn Magic! You've inherited everything that exuded from Lucavi, can you use it!?"
In response, the Byblos growled "Difference!"
He shrugged it off and blasted the creature in the left ribs, cracking them.
"Shock!!" it screamed out. He shrugged off the incoming blast too and cupped his hands. "Currents of air, gather together, Inverse Suction!" The winds picked-up again, carrying the unconcious girl to the ceiling. "Currents of air, blast down towards ground! Reverse Inverse!" he shouted, this time not bothering to add a group of Icewolf Strikes. The Byblos snatched her again.
"My wounds are your wounds, Shock!" the thing roared.
He deflected the blast again. "Glowing light, rip into shreads! Orb of Power!" Another golden orb blasted from his hands, dodged quickly. "Containment Sphere, seal those who I enslave! Holding Medallion!" The Byblos dodged the sphere. He activated a Teleport 2, moving away. "From the powers of the Gauntlet Destroyers! Icewolf Strike!" Spikes of ice shot up, similar to those of an Icewolf Bite but targeted at the biology that was the opponent. He dodged, tackling him.
"Collapse in pain, eaten from within! Parasite!!"
"Hold the powers coming near, Toss Magic!!" Romoreto grabbed the green-white blast aimed at him and flung it back at his opponent, dodging another slash with yet another Teleport 2 and chopping downwards, delivering a glancing blow to the creature's fore-left-leg. He groaned, slashing again; the assassin simply moved away, finding another Parasite aimed at him.
"Throw away evil like paper, Slash Away!" The low-mutter sent the Spell away again, leaving him in a battle-stance. He lunged forwards, activated another Teleport 2, and drew a Kikuchimoji, slashing it across the back of the monster-like thing, before spinning and kicking out with his boots, flipping and stabbing the heels downwards, with daggers attached below, in the back of the thing, before flipping off it once again.
Ruass screamed and jumped again, slashing at the 'thing.' As expected, it teleported away. He spun and tripped him with his tail, only to find it pinned. He turned to Tifa, grinned, and flipped back.
"Costly Magic, exuberate from my body! Energy!" A blast of light flashed out of him, a basic orb that contained simple composition of inner Magics, tearing into the other Martial Artist. He backed up, clutching his stomach, as his wounds suddenly became too-severe for him to handle.
"Out of my soul, channeled from the Spirits! Constant Flame!!!!!" A huge blast of red-orange energy ripped from the hands of the assassin, turning into a vertical column, backing against the wall, still channeling energy. His opponent could warp and fry him, or do it now. There was really nothing to lose by testing this.
'Although I should've tried something else!'
Lucavi's Inner-Magics had flown throughout their time, staying, before slowly flowing away, at least for a long period. By his estimates, they'd be gone within another 50 Years on their Planet, all except in him. He'd been implanted with the Magic, in a way it couldn't be exonerated with each successive blast of energy. Whether his opponent was using 'Materia-Magic, whether it had been Planet Magic being used, or something similar to 'Lucavi's Magic' it still held enough to empower him.
He flipped into the flames, 'shifting' in some sense, whirling, and grabbing the assassin. He attempted a teleport and was slashed across the face, tearing off his cloak, revealing what looked like to be someone, male, barely-18. Tifa wasn't up yet, this slight gasp from Ruass was all that was necessary for the human to free himself and stab a dagger into one of his eyes.
Well, into his eyelid. He managed to close it, thus protecting the eye itself, and jerked bacwards, the point inches from touching his brain when it clattered free. He opened his eyes, trying to see through the red stream that flowed on it, and kicked backwards with a fast motion, slamming his heel-spikes into the feet of the assassin. He fell, and Rauss brought up both hands to finish him.
"Unhand him, now, if you value your friend's life!"
Ruass spun to a door in the wall, which had just opened, seeing a brown-haired man holding Cloud by the neck in left hand, Buster Sword in right hand, Materia Blade on his back. Barret, hands bound, was behind him.
Ruass threw the youth towards the wall, watching as he hit with a crash, and spun, lowering his arms.
Tifa moaned, and looked up, jumping to her feet when she saw the positions of the others. The man held out his hand, and she sighed and moved with Barret to stand next to Ruass, while the Assassin moved to behind him.
"My name is Clitor, the other is my brother Romoreto. And I am now your interrogator," he said.
Cid was pacing.
"Where the blazes is Reeve's 'escort!?'" Cid shouted, stopping and clenching, then unclenching his fists, before collapsing on a sofa. Barret and Elmyra were talking, sharing memories of Marlene, while Cait Sith 3 was sitting in the corner, grinning. The others were getting more-aquainted with the 'newcomers!'
"Oh, yeah!" Malak responded. "If you think that's interesting, wait'll I tell you about the one time Rafa and I..."
Rafa cut him off with a glare. "Tell Miss I'm-The-Best-Ninja another story about our 'castle escapades' and I'll hurt you!"
Malak ignored her.
"Anyways, Rafa and I were looking-around to find where Barinten's Ambassador Friend was, we were around five, and he was carrying some royal documents. So Rafa goes up to him..." he ignored it when his sister glared at him again ,"...puts on her best 'cute face' and asks 'Mister, wat'cha' reading?'
"The Ambassador respondes 'A Royal Document,' and Rafa asks ,'Who wrote A Royal Document? I haven't heard of that Author.'"
Yuffie, Ramza, and Alma burst into laughter. Malak laughed along with them, while Rafa blushed and drew her hood farther around her face, trying to conceal it from her friends. Meliadoul simply rose her eyebrows.
A soft whirring was heard above.
"Our transport!" Cait Sith 3 spoke.
Cid gasped. "You don't mean...?" He bolted up the stairs and rushed to the window of the Clocktower, the others quickly following.
Like a majestic green bird topping blue mountains, the Highwind streaked into view over the Clocktower, one of the grinning pilots throwing down a rope. A cat riding a moogle appeared on the deck, and gestured at them.
"Hop in!? Or are ya' slowpokes!?"
Cid was up the ladder quickly. "Thanks a lot, cat!" he shouted.
"Oh, by the way," the Wireframe-Cait Sith said ,"Since Cait Sith 4 won't be doing much on the trip, I'm sending this model after the others, in case they're in trouble!"
Cid simply nodded, and gazed up at his majestic Airship.
"We'll start with the simple questions!" Clitor was sitting in a high-chair behind a golden desk, in the back-area of the second floor. The room was ornate, dotted with flowers on the side, while openings through the roof could be seen. The weapons of the group were held on a table to his right, as well as their Item Sacks. Each were bound, Romoreto stood behind them, guarding escape. Their were too doors off to the sides, leading to somewhere none of the captives could guess.
"Cloud Strife," the blonde-haired male answered.
"Tifa Lockheart." That was the female, dressed in Karate-Garb. One of Zangan's other Trainees, no doubt.
"Barret Wallace, Leader of AVALANCHE!!!!!" That was the black-haired man with the mustache. His slightly-dark skin suggested he was a Corel Miner, not the one who dressed up in tight overalls and other such clothes, but the type who wore a simple shirt while mining.
"Ruass. And I have no last name." That was the Byblos.
"What the blazes are you doing!?" Tifa shouted.
"I ask the questions!" He slapped her across the face, and she simply spat in his eye. He wiped it away and grinned mockingly. "Won't be able to beat me up now, will you, Tifa Alsenia Lockheart!?" He grinned wickedly.
Her eyes widened. "Clitor Salento!!??"
"None other," he responded. "Oh, and meet your 18-Year-Old Cousin, Romoreto Salento." He gestured to the male behind her. She turned to him, as he took off his new mask and half-bowed, before turning back to the other. "Your troop was lost in-!"
"And saved by High Priest Zeseltin of the Ralyon's Teeth," the other finished.
"Your little spat-scare trick is as common as always!" She grinned half-heartedly, before frowning. "Now do I have to return that, or will you tell me what you're doing here before I punch you in the face!?"
Clitor had his sword in hand and at her throat. "While we may be cousins, never forget that we stand on opposite side of the fence! We share different views! Shinra serves Ralyon, the Protector, you seem to go against what he wants!"
"Ralyon...isn't that the name of...?"
Romoreto slapped her in the back of the neck, and she fell to her knees.
"I am asking the questions, and you will answer! Is that clear!?"
No one responded to that.
"Good." Clitor grinned and settled-back in his chair. "First of all, what are you doing here and what do you know of Aisha and Ceile!?"
"That's classified!" retorted Barret. Romoreto chopped him in the back of the neck with his rapier, not hard enough to penetrate, but hard enough to hurt.
"If you tell us what you're doing, I'll tell you what we're doing! Fighter's Honor!"
Clitor sighed. Tifa would never break that oath, Zangan had drilled it into both of them. And since there was no harm in telling them what he was doing, well, except for a few portions he'd best leave unsaid...
"Ralyon protects us, we spread his word, do good in his name," he responded. "He helps all, guides all..."
"Ralyon is an insterstellar monster who systematically destroys...!" Tifa was slashed in the back of the neck in the same manner as Barret had been.
"Do not speak of the Master like that!" Clitor snapped. "If not for him, there wouldn't have been anyone to save my brother and I! He, Lucavi, Ensconce, they work for a better Universe! Their methods may not reflect that, but they wish it so!"
"Didn't Schrisorz say something like that?" the Martial Artist whispered questioningly.
"ENOUGH!!!!!" roared Barret, flinging himself forwards. "WHERE'S MARLENE!!!!!?????"
Romoreto grabbed him and flung him backwards, holding him at swordpoint, laying on the ground. "Don't try that again."
"That's basically what we're doing here," Tifa said. "And all we know of Aisha and Ceile is the following." She mimicked the words of the 'Crystals' precisely. "24,980,000,000-Years-Ago, an accident created an incredible being, with power equal to that of Mu, which flows around our two Universes, and which had been accessed numerous times since soon-after 30,000,000,000-Years-Ago, when Planets began to form. The being held its own Lifestream, it wasn't intended to live, but let it out. It experimented with its powers, just having fun, only to find that it could destroy itself and the Universe, it wanted to do what it wanted, didn't care about destruction. His Separated-Lifestream took the form of a 'Goddess.' It reasoned with him enough to persuade him to stop, he agreed, although there was fighting, and began working covertly. Through an experiment he bore two daughters, who were named Aisha and Ceile, when he found out about them, he convinced them to come with him, leave their home, tutored them. They didn't want to destroy, so he trapped them in a way that forced them to, and they moved from Planetary System to Planetary System, to try to stop the Universe from expanding so it could be destroyed."
"Where did you discover that!?" the other demanded.
"A hidden chamber from something that called itself 'Crystals,' saying they gathered energy from the Spirit Plane for knowledge," Tifa finished, her own words once again. "I doubt you'd understand that!!"
"Try me." Clitor's mouth curled upwards in another smile.
"Something called the 'Dark Star' is their father, the rest, I can't remember right now, at least not clearly enough. If you'll let me sort it out, I might be able to present it to you in some terms you might understand. Now you finish!"
"Wutai, the War Front, although you know that part! We lost our father in a major assault, our camp was burned, mother was there, we were wounded, kicked off a bridge, and were thought to have perished, thus, we were left alone. The High Priest found us, we told you that part When he perished from old age, I was allowed to take his place. That answer your question!?"
She bowed her head. "Why did my Aunt follow Uncle?"
Clitor backed up, eyes softening. He hadn't expected a question like that. "I I don't know. She said she couldn't no, she didn't want to " he sighed. "She didn't want to be left alone, she thought she could make a difference?" His eyes hardened again. "Where do you think we would've lived had not we been found!? What do you think we could've done!?"
"Lived normal lives " was all she said. "Now you're just another puppet. Someone's playing a game, using us as pawns. They manipulated a WEAPON, created demons, destroyed countless words, countless lives, Barret's daughter has been kidnapped I don't know what they did to Zack."
"He remembered me from Zangan's Class. I saw him at Gongaga before we left for the war. I saved him, I let out threads of life to keep him from returning to the Planet, yet let his spirit remain whole. I'd doubted Ralyon before that, but then, as I held his spirit out of the body, yet kept it near-enough it could return, while being able to heal it without worrying about hurting him, bringing him back to our base, working on him, saving him I'd never doubted since then."
Tifa sprang up. "He's a puppet too!! Don't you know what the Zodiac Stones do!!??" There were no tears in her eyes, although it was clear she had to keep them from showing-up.
"Yes." Clitor nodded. "Its all necessary though, for the greater good."
"Sephiroth, you monster!!??" She lashed out at him with the Masamune, he simply caught it; the following words passed between them within seconds.
"Stay away, I don't want to hurt you too let go-!"
"Liar! You slew so many people, you heartless-!"
"For the greater good you're traitors anyway LET GO!!!!!"
Then the slash, the searing pain, she could feel herself collide upon the steps, laying their for a length of time she couldn't figure out. She thought she saw Cloud.
"You you're no better than Sephiroth!!!!!" she screamed.
She shrieked again, twisting and ripping free of the bonds in one fluid motion, springing forwards and activating a Final Heaven
Romoreto leapt at her. She spun and let it unleash on him, sending him flying across the room to collide with the wall, a snapping sound telling her that he would be nailed by rubble as he fell, a prediction that proved too-true.
Ralyon grabbed her.
"I told you we're on opposite sides of the fence! I'm sorry!" He drew a pistol and pressed it to her head.
A framework-hand slammed down on it as Cait Sith 3 jumped into the building, causing it to shatter. He let knives slice from his fingers and slashed off the bonds on the others, grabbing their weapons and throwing them to each. Cloud ducked under a blast, buckling on his Sword Sheath, and his Buster Sword, before grabbing his Materi Blade, Barret and Tifa doing the same, only with their 'gloves,' as Cait Sith tossed them their Item Sacks they attached each, still ducking. He was tossing their Materia towards them when he was hit in the 'face,' and exploded, the Materia scattering.
He was only a robot but still Tifa turned and kicked again, finding her foot caught. She was thrown back into the wall, and got up to face an enraged Clitor.
"Traitorous brat!" he snarled. "Don't you dare compare me to that good-for-nothing experiment!!" She was immediately-intertwined in coils of white energy.
Ruass was already upon him, had him in a hold. He warped away, spinning and slashing the back of his throat with his tail. The wound closed as soon as it opened, while the High Priest grabbed him by the tail, whirled him around, and flung him towards the door to his right. It crashed down, reviewing hallways branching into what was obviously guest quarters. Startled Priests and Disciples hurried out of the rooms they were in. One of them used the back of his hand to wipe his forehead.
"Phew! Don't you things know how to go anywhere without starting a ruckus!?" He looked at the creature suspiciously. "Say, what class are you, anyways?"
"One of the newbies, what else!" another shouted back.
Ruass could figure out what this meant, mumbled a quick sorry, and leapt out of the room, hearing some phrases like "Too bad the Lucavi Eagles aren't here, or they could've identified that one," and ,"Looked like one of those Mutated Apandas. Now get back in cover, there's supposed to be an attack!"
Ruass wasn't aiming for Clitor, though, he was aiming for the door on the other side. If his target wasn't there, he'd go back into the other rooms, but if what he'd been told of this Planet was true, then the 'contraptions' required to breed monsters, or places they were held, would need a big room like
the door slammed down, and he glanced back and forth. The room was as large as the corridor and the other few rooms combined, but was composed of a red-orange walkway with rails stretching from each side. Staircases led up gaps between oval-shaped, spherical pods, lined in two-by-two rows to each end of the corridor.
"Shoot, High Priest Clitor's the one under attack!" he heard from behind him. A shot of yellow-golden energy blasted into him, causing him to sink into blackness.
Cloud glanced into the room Ruass had torn-open, and saw with a sinking heart what could only be Monster Breeding Capsules.
He snatched up the Master Magic Materia from where it lay near him and activated an Ultima, letting it tear through the roof above, causing it to crash down near the approaching fanatics. He activated Remove as the acolytes were in midair, watching as they were drawn into the vortex and sucked up into the air, then willed the other end to deposit them somewhere in the Kalm Mountains, far away from where they were now.
"Yes, that would be nice," grinned Clitor, waving his hand, minimizing them all. "Did you know Remove automatically moves with a speed much more stronger than the terminal-velocity of wind!?"
Cloud spotted a small mousehole to the side and ran towards it. Ramza'd pulled this off when he'd he didn't want to think about that well, two could play that game.
"Black Hole of power, draw in all that I wish! Remove!!"
Cloud stumbled, almost yanked off his feet as the wind began tearing at him. He moved forwards into the mousehole, racing to the end, staggering, he'd never faced anything this strong. Tifa positioned herself against the wall, he covered her, Barret covered him. It had already exceeded the Terminal Velocity of normal wind, he knew they could've made it in here no matter how strong it was.
A small leaf flung Barret away. He grabbed onto him, and twisted, as another did the same to Tifa. He pressed himself against the wind, she slammed into him, before flying away. He leapt forwards, tackled her, and held her down, as Barret began concentrating for a Catastrophe.
He'd been in a Stop when he'd activated Finishing Touch, but Clitor was not.
He activated a Megalixir and blasted upwards with a Bolt Plume, shattering the rocks, countering the Shadow Flare aimed at them. Clitor was at the other side of the room now, he simply waited, a smile of contempt upon his face.
The wall buckled in, crashing and catching on the ground as the wind vanished, trapping Tifa in a complex of boards. She grabbed for her Restore Materia, only to have to roll away, trapped within this 'cage' as a black-and-grey blast came at her.
The Remove activated again.
Tifa, with no handholds, was sucked against the wall of her cage, not able to grab anywhere else, staying there until it broke. A Wall of Magic trapped them in here, except for the columns within. A simple nail was all it took to send him flying. He crossed his arms in front of his face, reached for the ground, and failed, sailing towards the pole. He grabbed it, interlocking his elbows around it, this looked sturdy-enough, if it went, the whole room would, that wouldn't happen. The cage around Tifa tore free.
Barret was grabbing Materia, which were flying towards the Remove Hole, attaching them to weapons, blasting at the wall. The 'cage' holding Tifa tore free, she was sucked towards him, and he grabbed her as she passed, holding tight.
"Get onto the roof," she whispered.
"That's probably expected!" He responded.
Cloud was still trying to swing his legs forwards, to bring them to the ground, now having to grab onto his friend had stopped that progress. He resumed, and soon-enough had them on the ground, and was staggering forwards, planting his feet in the ground firmly as the Remove Hole Wind reached its Terminal Velocity. Portions of the building, attached firmer than anything, tore free of the floor and ripped into the hole, where a destroying light was flickering.
He stepped forwards again, withstood another nail, and moved forwards again. Tifa grabbed a Materia tossed at her by Barret, who was blasting at his adversary with Spell after Spell, Summon after Summon. The board sent him into the air, he grabbed again, and missed. He moved himself towards the floor, grabbing onto the boards just in front of the vortex, and climbed to his feet. It was now trying to suck him up, he fought to stay on the ground, succeeded, grabbed the Enemy Skills Materia tossed to him by Barret and attempted to use it.
Another board sent him into the vortex, the air tried to move him up into the electricity. He fought for ground, gained it, and staggered forwards, now prepared for the boards. A Magic Floor appeared beneath them and launched them all upwards like catapults.
Now they were all headed towards the thing, he was grabbing for anything.
It felt like his arms were flailing, he managed to get his feet below him, but couldn't reach the floor, he was slowly being dragged backwards, helplessly.
He tried again, reached it, slashed through the Magic Floor.
A Shadow Flare descended towards them. Too late for anything now.
Barret finally activated Catastrophe, tearing through the Magic Wall. They moved through, the darned thing followed them, hampering their movements. To add more interest to the challenge, Clitor placed hail flying towards the vortex, along with pieces of the ground, and places walls of fire to their sides.
The Four Basic Elements were against them now, hampered by the wind, blocked by the flame, in danger of losing balance, not easy to see because of the earth and hail, maybe that was why suction seemed to be useful. It was a distraction.
Cloud growled and flung himself through the wall of fire, activating a quick Angel's Whisper, that took away most of the pain.
Clitor sighed and attempted to move the walls.
"I see you have one thing in common with the Mu and the WEAPONS at their worst!" Cloud hissed. "Use the Air to hamper your opponents, strike them then! Becoming a bit overused, isn't it!?"
Clitor glared. "DON'T compare me with those things!!"
"Lucavi uses it too, for bad purposes!" Sephiroth had been able to project thoughts, his Jenova Cells were gone now, but what they could do remained. If he just tried something different. He latched onto the memories of what he'd used Finishing Touch for, latched onto memories of the WEAPONS, of the Mu, and flung them at him as hard as he could.
Clitor gasped and backed up. Projected images like this couldn't lie unless
He refocused his blasts, but it did no good. Barret had followed Cloud's lead now, as well as Tifa, a stream of bullets punctured his left arm, he lost concentration on the Elemental Blast and fell to the ground
clutching his arm.
Romoreto approached from behind, locked them, and Ruass, in a Stasis Orb.
"Contain them," Clitor ordered. "If this isn't a focus of false memories, then I may have some talking to do with others."
Ramza, Alma, Meliadoul, Rafa, Malak, and Nanaki stood at the entrance to the City of the Ancients. The Highwind had dropped them off a while ago, according to Nanaki, who kept glancing at a gizmo on his right forepaw that could supposedly tell time, it was near dusk. They knew it was the afternoon, but still
Reeve had announced Cait Sith 3 had been demolished in a battle, which meant that 'Hit Group' had engaged the opposition. That had been in the morning, they'd heard nothing. Light drops of snow were falling from the sky. Meliadoul shivered and he pulled her close for a few seconds, offering her one of his spare cloaks, before doing the same to Alma.
"Thank goodness I wear these robes!" Rafa remarked. She paused to look at the city in the valley, she'd been looking around the beautiful Sleeping Forest as they'd passed. Slowly, tentatively, they moved forwards.
"I can think of only two places they'd have gone," Nanaki said. "The Recorder in the back-center of the city, in that small cliff-like building with the spires you can see through the shell's towers, or under the lake in the center of the city, in the center of the shell's towers, the center of the inner-forest, into the sanctuary below."
"You seem to remember the details of this place well," Meliadoul noted.
"I don't forget a place of importance. Too much has passed here in the shadows of history, and only a year ago, or so." He motioned with his head. "Come. We'd best check the back first, I doubt the Water Guardian in the Central Shrine notices daylight and nightlight, it should go by cycles, and the Planet would be crying if that place was breached. I can almost sense its 'connection.'"
As they walked, Rafa continued to look around her, admiring the beautiful shells and conical houses, along with the coral-pillars that were in the center. There was an amphitheater-shaped wall along the back, according to the creature, a small pathway wound-away from the northeast section of the city, back through the amphitheater-shaped walls that connected along the back, and out over at the entrance to a small mountain-pass that led to the icy north.
"My skin absorbs and reflects the heat of the Tertordo Desert, it doesn't provide shelter against the cold," the beast spoke, swiveling along the western path. "If was by myself " he shook his head.
Soon-enough they reached the area curving along the 'cliff-backs. A few small, two-story four-sided houses existed along the path, in front and to the side of them was an enormous brown building, only slightly-lower than the 'Coral Towers,' branching out into the cliff-like backgrounds.
Suddenly Nanaki stopped and sniffed the air. "No " he whispered. "My father told me she was gone! If she's still alive "
He bolted forwards.
"Oh, blast!" swore Ramza, hurrying after her. Rafa glanced-around, could see below a small bridge of the back, which led to a pool, could see a symmetric northeast side neared, except the cliff-like houses ended a bit closer to the central one, making way for what looked like an exit-walkway, or something like that, holding some more of the shell-buildings along the sides.
They burst into a domed room with a platform in the center, another entrance across from them, but below the pillars, the walkway they were on curved around the north, there was a section going below a few pillars, starting at the bottom of a circular staircase, but stopped there, an extra pillar blocking its way. In the southwest corner was small garden with a marble in the center, while the path they were on, she saw, curved around and down at the east side, leading out onto a walkway that went above a large, deep, pure lake.
Someone that looked like Nanaki stood on the walkway.
"Hello, Crysales," Nanaki spoke. "How've you been?"
The pillar to the southwest activated, and waters began to stream down the passageway, behind them, enclosing them and this beast.
"I see you haven't forgotten," the 'warrior' spoke in a voice that was definately female. "Would you like to resume where we left off, Nanaki?" she purred.
His ears shot straight up, and his fur bristled, as it nearly-always did when he was preparing for a fight. "I can fight better now, try to take my life once again and I wno't spare it! My brother made me promise to protect you, to forgive you, his intervention was the oly reason I didn't get ripped to shreads, but then you took his life, my father was the only one who saved me. Asiton made me keep the promise, but there's more at stake here, and I don't need to guess to figure out why you're here."
"We're the last of our kind, brat!" she hissed. "You're a fool, a fool! We could've accepted the alliance with the Gi Tribe and the Ageless Ones, but you wouldn't listen! The whole course of history would've changed if they were acknowledged into Cosmo Canyon, but your father went against it!"
"The balance of power would've shifted, if they'd actually neared the Gi so much power would've been distributed!" Nanaki barked back. "In places like this, people could be restored so easily, return, back at their former will for a month or so. Sephiroth would've felt his power early-on, he wouldn't have been a threat, or might have been, I know not which! It could've just influenced him, unknown! Who would've stopped him at North Cave then, if he'd found it! The ripples at the least would've disturbed the Lifestream to the point it would erupt! They had to perish!!"
"Those who lived with the Spirit Monsters belonged in Gi Valley!" the female Crysales retorted. "There wouldn't have been a reaction with the Lifestream Well there, wouldn't have even been a war if they hadn't been slaughtered! We failed to reason with them, we didn't have to slaughter them!"
"A direct confrontation with the Callers would've taken our lives! I didn't approve, I had no way of knowing that your 'boyfriend' was with them then! I approved of my father's actions then, now I know why! Think! They're related to the Ageless Ones that populated this Planet for the 50,000-Years before humans began to show up, they're leader is 60,000-Years-Old by now, or would've been was he alive now! The Spirit Monsters, or rather, True Espers, all was coming back!"
"Crusader survived the purge!"
Nanaki hissed. "Summon Materia still work, they wouldn't have ever found their way back to this plane if you hadn't experimented with the Shards of that Magicite! I know it all now, what you were doing! Then again, if Raiden hadn't been created there wouldn't have been a 'Special' Magicite to allow Odin/Raiden to survive! That was 29-Years-Ago, darn it! Every last one of those 'Human' Espers are gone! You can transform Espers into Humans but not the other way around! And they weren't humans, they were creations, they weren't even called Espers until the First War of the Magi! They're gone, Odin/Raiden is now alongside Choco/Mog as a Double Master, they vanished as the Cetra came to be, the Planet removed them!!"
"To the Ancient Forest!!"
"Enough!! It was an ancient culture, the Spirit Monsters are gone, heck, you're lucky you managed to summon the resulting ones! Odin/Raiden, Crusader, and Ragnarok!! Its lucky a real sword was made from him, not like the old legendary one! They're gone! What the blazes does Crusader have to do with this, anyways!?"
"He represents to us some of what the 'other' Odin represents to the Wutaians! They regard him as a God, Crusader is our one link to Ralyon, established here when Lucavi first happened upon the Elslumina Mishap in this world! They ruled everything, they gave rise to Leviathan, they would've completed their coup against the rebellious Leviathan, Asura, the ones who served them, and their Lunar Bahamut Masters! That's why the Planet had to dispose of them, the war would've destroyed it! Selfish Planet! And look what's happened now! The trio, along with all the 'Summoned Monsters', joined the 'Espers' as Magicite!" She growled again and spat in his face.
"Crusader shattered, but his presence allowed someone to find me!" she responded, venom in each word. "Since then Ralyon's Teeth have raised me, protected me! Our kind went down with the Hybrids, a kind that existed for 58,000 Years. That's the oldest one, Ragnarok and Odin/Raiden existed for 60,000 Years, too! Oh, and thanks to Lucavi's Wild Gamble, as he was about to free his brethren, *that* is why they were 'shifted' away, an accident of the Elslumina Lock! The Planet didn't help, its selfish! Our tribe perished in the battle, save your father, who is not really 'alive' anyways! My lover went first!! Freak!!!!!"...
...She lunged forwards, blocked and flipped by Nanaki. Ramza moved forwards, and Red XIII spun to face him and his comrades. "Stay back!" he snapped. "This is my fight, and mine alone!" He spun just in time to be attacked by the claws of the female once again, spining and slashing her across the neck with his back paws.
She staggered back. "Tearing Fang!!" she hissed out, launching forwards. Streaks of blackness came from her. Nanaki jumped to the side, only to have her swivel around and lash out at him again. She jumped, teeth tearing into his left side, and they struggled there, grappling and snarling, each trying to tear into the other.
She finally managed to move free. "I think I'll disgrace you first!!" She exhaled, spreading the traditional irresistable scent of a mating call. Nanaki knew what that meant, she wanted him to try to mate now, and she'd slay him first, but he'd have been not fighting. In combats amongst their tribe, there was nothing more-disgraceful than being slain while distracted from combat.
Too bad she wouldn't get her wish. He lunged forwards even as the scent caught him, ignoring what genetics ordered him to do and slashing at her left, ripping in. Now she was exposed to her own scent. He knew she could resist as well as he, but gasped as another scent came out, not a mating call, but something unnatural for any females to have.
"Tricked you, didn't I!?" she hissed. "I know quite well there's *NEVER* any such thing as irresistable!" Nanaki began to cough. He couldn't turn to tear out a potion, there was no time, which meant...what kind of poison was this!!??
"Cosmo Memory!" The girl leapt aside, but it wasn't aimed at her, it was aimed at the poison, blowing it away.
"Holy Rave!!!!!" The other screamed, leaping up and bringing her claws down on the bridge. Two large claw-marks appeared there and began shooting out light, which Nanaki quickly had to dodge, while the claws themselves snapped the bridge.
"Red XIII!?" Rafa shouted.
Much of the ceiling, hit by stray beams of light, crashed downwards, causing the water to start writhing.
Nanaki ignored the cry of alarm, he knew darn well what was happening. Not only was he expected to fall between the claws, or get caught by one of the arcing lasers, it would also provide a harder way to cross to the Memory Banks of the city. He rolled forwards and kicked the female above him, tripping her beneath the claws, and she vanished with a shriek, stumbling to the side and falling off the ledge with a subsequent slide, knocked off by his paws, falling to the waters below, which were now lashing from the constant bombardment like they were stirred by a hurricane.
The claws vanished as soon as she hit, and he spun to see the crystalline memory banks flicker, a golden demonic 'thing' with red wings and silver-grey skins emerging, growling menacingly...
...marching towards them.
"Too...much...knowledge..." it hissed, spinning and slashing at the crystal, allowing it to shatter into pieces.
"Despair Demon," Nanaki announced, his Sense Materia flickering.
Ramza drew his chaos blade and charged...
...the Despair Demon leapt back. "Gather the energies of the universe in one fell blast, TeraFlare!!!!!"
Lightning-sized energies crackled around his body, before arcing out and exploding in a huge marble-sized blast, sending them all back, staggering.
"Brush of vanity with reality, Ultima!!!!!" That was Alma, the dome of blue-white light caused their adversary to stagger back. He let out a long laugh before clapping his hands and returning the favor with another "Ultima!" It wasn't a greenish blast of energy, a blue-white dome, or a pulsing disk letting out a blast of energy to impact on the ground, forming a huge, blue-white dome of destruction, but was a dark-blue dome with energies, also huge, sending them backwards, Alma clutching her chest as she sank to the ground.
"MegaBarrier," she whispered.
Ramza chucked her a Phoenix Down before grabbing up one of the jagged stones and letting loose, impaling the thing in the forehead. It simply laughed, jumped forwards, and raked its claws across his Genji Armor, ripping enormous pieces of the metal out, aiming another blow at his head.
Rafa was between them, catching the blow on her pole. She bent before the thing could unleash it and flipped him backwards, headed for the waters below. The thing grabbed onto her leg, causing her to stumble over the ledge.
"Shoot!" Ramza leapt for her, grabbing onto her arms, aided by Melaidoul and Malak, while Nanaki, who had been rendered almost-unconscious by the Tera Flare, was being treated by Alma with her Healing Staff, who's MegaBarrier was slowly closing her wounds. Each wound the staff touched would close, not completely, depending on its size, but both were able to turn now.
The demon grinned one more time before yanking down, Rafa's hands falling out of Malak's and Ramza's combined grip. She screamed and lashed down with her pole, which was simply thrown into the walls to shatter...
...Ramza was in after her immediately. The Despair Demon had crashed against one of the rocks, neck twisted at an odd angle, against one section of the pool, Crysales was nowhere to be seen, and Rafa was flailing against the current, obviously not a strong swimmer. The pool seemed to wash down southward, towards a waterfall. He grabbed her and started swimming backwards, only to narrowly miss being crushed by a huge stone, which slammed downwards. He grabbed onto it and jumped upwards, hoisting her up and holding her close for a minute as she shivered.
Malak breathed a sigh of relief, before noticing the rock cracking. Rafa activated a quick Sky Demon, the explosion sending Ramza flying up, slamming into Meliadoul, who cushioned his fall. He was up again, and into the water once more, followed by Alma. She was probably the best swimmer in the family, as she grabbed Rafa and pulled her free of both the undertow and the current right at the edge of the waterfall, where she'd fallen in after hitting her head against the back of the small corridor.
"I'll work on her!" she shouted. "There's a staircase to the side of the waterfall leading down to a crystalline shrine below! There was something there!"
The others wasted no time and plunged into the water after Ramza, who stopped swimming against the current, swam with it, and flipped into the air onto one of the clear panels, the others following.
Aisha's mouth had been hanging open moments before; now she snapped it shut. 'So let me get this straight!?' she demanded. 'You can actually get this thing working as a wireframe beast, and it'll have just as much protection and hidden weaponry!?'
[Indeed!] That was their beast. She'd regarded the newest name for it, since it was made with her 'sister' in the area. [It should be ready by the end of the month if I put that theory to effect!]
'Then do it, Graxordya!!'
A flash, a viewpoint. A young girl praying in a small section of the underground shrine, a Materia in her head glowing.
Another flash. Two conflicting spirits within a single body, silver-haired, the one who had sent them through that gate to this Planet.
'If she is Cetra, mother, then why must she perish!?'
'Because she's a traitor to the race! She cares for the humans, she's a freak, she's half-human!! The Cetra must be purged.'
'She's Gast's child, blast it! He was the only one who could be considered a father to me, I'm not hurting her!?'
His mind became blinding-white, and he suddenly saw Professor Gast, pointing a gun at the Jenova Capsule, before seeming to realize that he would call security and flee, drawn-out, each detail, while below, someone struggled with his blade. Sephiroth growled and leapt forwards, not even noticing how he fell towards the girl until it was too late, only taking comfort in the fact she would be one with the Planet, he'd give her special care, he'd cared for Gast.
Another step, another flash.
"Because you are..."
He gasped, crashing against one of the steps and spinning, letting Jenova's other head-tail drop, as intended. It erupted into a creature below, attacking the others, and he threw his mother's head to the ground.
"I can remember now...the Lifestream was telling me...darn it...you-!"
His brain was filled with a searing-white again, and he collapsed, up again in a few seconds, holding his Masamune. He gasped when he saw his mother's head.
'You tripped,' was all she responded.
This place was full of memories, cries, demanding attention, begging acknowledgment. Ramza gripped his sword, seeing what this Jenova did was different than hearing it. Another Delita...he shut his eyes tightly. He'd helped one, maybe he could help the other, he'd sounded cold, just as Dileta had, at the Ruins of Zeltennia Castle's Church, as cold as when Dileta had taken Miluda's life. His voice was somewhat-cold, anyway, but there...
...and this person was already a force to be reckoned with.
The girl, yes, it was Aeris, he remembered her name...the girl was lowered into the water, sank to the area between the Inner Shrine and the walkway towards the stones, southerly, somewhat.
That Zack character held the girl, to his side stood four others. The girl was held, no longer a few yards north of the southern pathway. Another held a tiny girl, Marlene, maybe, also unconscious.
He looked her up and down. "Yes, she will do. She can't perish, she must be alive, but she is, in a way, elsewhere, although not in our perspective! Interesting, very interesting! But still, she's a host. The Bloody Angel shall not be thwarted this time! Twice, but not three times!!!!! Like they say, third time's the charm!!!!!"
Ramza swore and broke into a sprint.
"What in-!?" They'd barely-started down, now they were rushing. Alma hurried after her brother, gasping for breath. They circled around the loops quickly, rushing down, through the gateway...
...and stopped at the white column of light.
A blue-cloaked man stood on the bridge. "This is a 'Special.' It enables the healing-energies of specific fabrics to activate at times needed. One was thought to restore life to one, a long time ago! Alas, that was a long time ago, indeed, only a bunch of twits in Midgar used to pass-along this information, they controlled a Mimic Box, too, had a tape-recorder placed below a replica of this! The only other in the world crystallized a long time ago!" He withdrew a strange harp with his left hand, slinging it behind his back, whipped out a sand-colored rose, and a brownish-red book, held in his hand. "This shall join it!!"
He waved his hand, and a blue-white crystal appeared. He gestured again, and it flew into him. "Guidebook, Earth Harp, Desert Rose, Crystal of Life, they're all mine! I was promised these, I was promised the Master, they're mine! I am Attune, Libra Zodiac Brave! I shall be your bane!"
Ramza whipped out his Chaos Blade and stepped back. He remembered how he had been told what the others had told Liukhan. Poor Ajora. And to learn his powers were being used like this.
Red XIII growled. "You're the one who had the Underwater Materia and the Master Materias in your possession! What do you want, darn you!!??"
"Simply more power!" he laughed. "A long time ago, when Crusader first came alive, life was his to manipulate. He experimented, he created this Crystal of Life, he created one offshoot! He's a year-older than his brothers!" The man laughed. He wore a tunic below his cloak, above his gold-and-red armor, and black boots. "I noticed some interesting things in the All Plane! Like, say, a Diamond Sephiroth, multiple Ruby Sephiroths, multiple Emerald Sephiroths, all clones of the Swordsmaster! A strange Shade Weapon, a larger, stronger version of the Ruby Weapon, a large, stronger version of the Emerald Weapon, 100 Normal Emerald Weapons, multiple strange Materias, three, no, four, and multiple weapons! It was the All-Plane, so you could take more, it was a thing of the mind! But in reality..."
He raised the crystal, and it glimmered. "They're in a Dimensional Plane, but I can call them! The Materia is now mine, will help me, it connects, it helps! You don't know who you face!!!!!"
He leapt-forwards lightining-fast, slashing at them, cutting deep gashes in each, barely-parried, before returning to where he stood. "Oh, and this thing's broken, now, anyways! I always wanted to know its limits!" He tossed the Crystal behind them, unnoticed, Nanaki pocketed it, just in case it could be used later-on.
"Icewolf Bite!!!!!" Meliadoul shouted, watching as the Materias the fool wore, well, the four Support Materias, actually, two Support, and two Command, shattered. She aimed again, trying to hit the Summon Materias, and was backhanded.
Attune clapped his hands above his head, four Tiamats and four Dark Behemoths appeared hoving over the water, as well as a Hyudra, a Hydra, and a lone Ultima Demon, guarding the stairs. He briefly-glanced at those behind him. "Get to work, and hurry up!"
Malak jumped forwards, whipping his pole around and trying to slam the fool in the face. He ducked and kicked him. Malak grabbed at the four slots in the Guidebook, grabbing-out the Materia, before being overbalanced and falling into the water.
"I don't need them!" Attune responded. "I was just showing-off!"
"Armor won't help the heart stay shar-!" Meliadoul cried-out as a Triple Flame erupted below her, sending her crashing backwards into the wall. Ramza backed up, chanting a quick Ultima and letting it fly.
"Open the gates of time and space! Meteor!!" This time, instead of a huge Meteor dropping towards them, a portal appeared, and huge rocks shot out, bombarding them. Nanaki got out a Cosmo Memory, blasting two of the Tiamats into pillars in mid-flight, each getting their necks snapped, before being slashed by another, which spun and used its tail to send him flying backwards, smashing into the wall, unconscious.
"Power...burst...rip through the air! Ultima!" The Ultima that the Despair Demon had used burst into effect, blasting outwards. Alma managed to fling up a MegaBarrier, which absorbed most of the damage, before the Dark Behemoths unleashed Ulmaguests at them.
Ramza clutched his side and fell, before being grabbed by Meliadoul, who was up, grabbing him, and pulling him into the hut. Alma was half-conscious, leaning against a pillar, Rafa and Nanaki were both unconscious, Malak was nowhere to be seen. That left just them.
Mereiyu and Fink, two Cadets who had been with them until they found they'd be going up against the Church, and, fearing for their lives, left the group, had said something similar. "Just us, against the world of adventuring."
Strange how his thoughts wandered.
Alma swatted Nanaki with her Healing Staff, ducking under another Ulmaguest and chanting a quick Ultima, hitting another Tiamat and a Dark Behemoth as one swooped, and another was about to land from a leap, respectively, sending them flying backwards. Luck remained with her, as both necks snapped upon impact.
Not for long, though. The Hydra lashed out with a Triple Bracelet, and that left just Ramza and Meliadoul.
"You two!" Attune snapped, pointing to the Hyudra and Ultima Demon. "Find those fools and take them out!! I'm not risking my neck against a cheap shot, not when I have reasons to live!!"
The Hyudra moved fowards, acknowledging the words for a "Go stalk prey!" command, the Ultima Demon thought something at him like 'Most of us are willing sacrifices, I am not! Give me a better use!'
'Get moving!' Attune responded telepathically. 'I thought you were one of the Elite Ultimas! I can demote you!'
The Ultima Demon sighed and jumped, while Attune began to probe for the humans, readying a Merton for the moment he found them.
'The infant is set up!' the Virgo Brave communicated. 'Give us one more hour, oh, and we're sending Wispus towards Rocket Town for some extra bloodshed, just in case Zack's display at Midgar didn't do enough work!'
'Yes, m'lady,' he responded, also with thoughts.
He grinned again.
"Out of the darkness, come, healing gusts! Life 2!"
Once this fight was over, their Mistress would be dealing with him. Perfection was unnecessary. He wanted all the knowledge that existed, and he'd get it. He'd been content in the world, but when he found out about Meteor, he realized there was much more of other parts of life he didn't know.
So he wanted to find out. He'd stumbled upon Ralyon's Teeth, they'd provided him with the method, even with this Stone. He didn't know how the second group of humans to face-off against Ajora were in this Time-Period. He'd make it an effort to find that out if he had the time, too.
No monkey-wrenches. Just order...
...and knowledge. He'd never merged with the one in the Stone, he'd communicated. He'd convinced him, he'd betray them all! In this dark game of manipulation the ones who were the manipulators could win more than anyone would dream...if they really knew how.
Ralyon's Teeth was his puppet, they manipulated events as well as they could, comprehending their mission but not what type of entity they truly-served. Ralyon would give him the knowledge he wanted...
...or he would take his life.
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