Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 20
For The Sake Of Artesta
By Paul Nathans
The blizzards howled outside the 'abandoned building.'
Inside, however, the epicenter of a tremendous conflict was about to erupt.
"What are you!!??" Clitor shouted.
"I am an instrument of change! I am the protector, and I will see that the Master's Plans are not disturbed. It is almost time to end this...forever."
"End what!!??" Tifa shouted in frustration. "What is going on!!??"
What might've been a chuckle came from the creature. "If you honestly expect me to answer that, you really need to check your wisdom."
Tifa rolled her eyes at the bad joke.
"As for you, though..." the thing began again. "*YOU* will be ended right now!!!!!"...
...The thing seemed to rise-up, more flames seemingly-appearing out of nowhere, swirling to gather around it.
"Goodbye, mortals!" The thing spoke in a deep voice.
Its tongues of flame flickered again, but instead of releasing another sweeping blast of blue-white flames, white lasers began to channel amongst the 'orbs' of the thing, reflecting off one to the other until each was connected in a spidery pattern.
The Hopless One charged forwards, attempting to bite Romoreto's head off. Tifa leapt in front of it, ducking under the thing and kneeing it in the midsection. She grabbed its left head, flipping her right leg above the neck and bringing her heel down, hard. There was a satisfying snap.
The right head came around to bite at her. She leapt backwards, bringing her left leg back to stop skidding along the ground. "Freeze!" She spoke.
The right head crashed to the ground, snapped-off the main body by the enormous boulder of ice.
It hissed back, thunder arcing from the stumps of its two side heads and the mouth of the middle one, crisscrossing, moving towards her like menacing claws. She leapt between two of the rays as they crisscrossed again, running forwards and acting as if she was going to knee the thing. It leapt up to counter the move, but it had been a feint. She leapt up, swinging her left leg above the center of the monster's back, bringing it down, hard. She spun and chopped downwards with both hands, shattering the neck of the beast, and jumped-off again.
No one noticed as the beams of light reflecting between the spheres of the flaming monster grew more-intense.
The Evil Star was sinking and rising in various places around the room at half the Speed of Sound. Any attempt to nail it with Spells was negated as each was absorbed, while no one else save Ruass seemed to have been able to move around the room more than a few inches.
The Lich shot into the air, forming a scythe in its right hand and a spiked-mace in its left hand, coming down atop Clitor. He whipped-around, sword tearing through the robes of the thing. The Lich grabbed it and sent electricity down it. Clitor absorbed the flow and redirected it, yet the thing warped away. The Evil Star appeared behind him, grabbing him around the neck with its tentacles.
Cloud threw a sharp, shadowy projectile at the thing, guided by his Throw Materia. The Lightning Ball erupted instantaneously, causing the Evil Star to redirect its attention for a moment.
A moment was all Clitor needed. He unsheated another sword and spun, slashing right through the 'skin' of the creature. It let-out one last, low hiss, before collapsing to the ground with a gurgle, the boards sizzling where the creature touched them, steam rising from the area it fell for a few seconds, too.
The Lich reappeared in front of Ruass, lashing out with its scythe. The Byblos jumped backwards, and the undead bent forwards, bringing its mace down. Tifa muttered the words for a quick Fire 3, watching as the thing reared-back in a silent scream. It fell, robes falling as if there was nothing beneath it. Moments later, they were reduced to ash and swirled away into nothingness.
Seeing an open path, Romoreto charged at the flaming monster and thrust his Katana right through the central 'orb' of the beast.
Energies shot up the blade and were absorbed into Romoreto. His mouth opened as he tried to scream, but he couldn't. Flames immediately tore upwards and out of his robe, ripping through his eyes and leving them open sockets. His mouth still open in a desperate shriek, he crumpled to the ground.
Clitor froze in mid-step, as did Tifa. Both Cloud and Ruass had seen the scene, and were stunned at what had just happened now, too.
Then Clitor assumed a very-familiar pose, one the 'Ex-SOLDIER' had performed himself, and seen from many others.
He was about to execute a Limit Break.
Rocks, ice, and firestorms swirled around his fingers, held there by a vortex of immense power. "You *DEMON!!!!!*" He roared, snapping his arms forwards and bracing-himself even as the Quadra-Elemental Blasts rocketed out of his hands, colliding with the thing and erupting in a rainbow blaze.
When the rainbow blaze vanished, the thing hadn't even moved.
And its web of light was incredibly bright, forcing Cloud, Tifa, Ruass, and Clitor to either cover their eyes or squint to avoid pain. Even so, the light still hurt their eyes.
That's when the thing attacked.
An enormous ray of multicolored heat and energy tore from the central sphere of their opponent, expanding to the side of one of Yuffie's All Creation's, roaring across the room. Lesser beams, no-less-dangerous, swept out of the other red globes in the thing's body, lighting fires all around the rooms.
The large beam ripped straight through the wall opposite the being, continuing on to smash into the upper window.
Cloud immediately threw himself into Tifa, knocking her into the ground and covering her with his body, while Ruass covered him. Cloud held his eyes shut, clutching the brunette as if their very lives depended on it.
Clitor simply fell to the ground and muttered a spell.
When the huge beam reached the window, it was immediately reflected back at the thing. It began to let-out a cry of astonishment, but the beam reached it before it was complete, heating the beast to such a temperature it simply detonated like a miniature Supernova.
And Clitor, right at the front of where the dais of power was, was caught by the eruption of heat and Magic, vaporized from his face to his back in an instant.
The detonation tore through the wall behind the thing, and letting a bright pattern of light out through the windows, ones that were blocked by the intense blizzard.
The smaller fires dissipated seconds after...
...And the hall was silent.
'It doesn't have to be this way, you know.'
Sephiroth spun, head snapping up towards where the mysterious booming voice seemed to come from.
"Who are you!?" He shouted. "What do you want!?"
He cried out as the area above him erupted into intense energies. They blasted downwards, throwing himself into the 'Normal' Spirit Plane.
'Elslumina will be ours. Do not interfere!'
"If you're so confident in that, then why are you hiding!?" He responded mockingly.
'Why did you stay in the North Crater once Meteor had been triggered instead of leaving to make sure you met no opposition!?'
He winced, anger at what he had almost done redoubling again. "To ensure Holy wouldn't be unleashed."
'I simply need to wait for something else. Unfortunately, you won't be around to witness it.' There was no humor in that tone, just absolute seriousness.
He drew the Masamune.
47 masses of black tentacles appeared around him, above him, and below him.
'Meet the Evil Stars, Sephiroth. Farewell.'
The Ex-SOLDIER began to consider his options. This looked easy, but obviously wasn't, which meant he might have to do a bit more of that than usual.
Why did he have the feeling that was exactly what he was expected to do?
Ensconce was worried.
Not because of the ever-reproducing wave of attackers, but because of the fact no one whom he'd expected to appear had done so.
He had access to abilities that no sentient LifeForm could access, and had tapped into them quickly and easily. Although it had left him open to an annoying amount of pain, he'd simply channeled Healing Energies through himself while transforming into a Black Hole of Spirit Energy.
The area surrounding him had soon become one of lifeless bodies.
He knew what was only referred to as the 'Goddess' was out there, knew either she, those who followed her, or both, would appear here. He expected at least more than one, but hadn't been able to sense any.
A cry of distress tore into him like a pulse of electricity. In one blinding instant, he knew that the NovaSentinel had been destroyed.
He faltered for a moment, allowing forty large purple ships that looked like squids with no tentacles and miles upon miles of interconnected quarters, docking-bays, and enormous wings, along with twelve great engines, to swoop-in and activate huge beams of Concentrated Gamma Rays.
This, along with the knowledge that one of the beings closest to ever becoming like them had just been slain, caused him to erupt.
Anger cascaded into his palms like molten rocks suddenly falling onto solid ice, heating them, causing all barriers of power around them to evaporate. As they did, all barriers around his own energy vanished, too.
He subconsciously reached-out and tore apart the delicate balance that held the Star of this Planetary System together, allowing white rays to extend from Star to Star across the Galaxies at speeds faster than even a Warp. The timing was perfect, and would do justice to his companion.
Just as the beams reached the central Black Hole of the galaxy in the exact core of this Supercluster, the Stars went Supernova.
First this one, then more, and more, until finally cencillions of Stars, ranging from Black Holes up to Red Super-Supergiants ignited in a huge detonation of power. Every single Star in the largest Supercluster of the Galaxy, also the most-advanced, ignited and detonated in less than a second. Tongues of radioactive, nuclear gasses devoured Planet upon Planet, Object upon Object, reaching out like the legs of enormous spiders to close-in on the abominations that was life existing here.
Esconse, however, could not warp away.
At last he realized how he had been tricked, how his opponents had snuck-in through his defenses and neutralized his ability to warp, then had escaped without a trace of their presence.
He'd survived Black Hole Supernovas before without a scratch, but this...
...those were what would probably be his last thoughts, all in those few seconds, before the inferno claimed him.
His Master was ahead of him, though.
'That idiot!!!!! He almost destroyed the balance!!!!!' The Master was angry, probably the first time ever, at least to Ralyon's knowledge.
Ralyon, however, was now worried a bit.
'Does that mean that we have a change of plans?'
'No! Yet I told him never to take a risk like that unless absolutely necessary! What's more, this may have cost him his life!'
'He's alive!' Ralyon spoke. 'I can still sense him.'
'Yet he may not be for long. I will tend to him.' His Master paused, seeming to contemplate something in its mind. 'With Clitor gone, order a quick assault on Midgar, and make it frontal. They'll expect a surprise, but will probably think we wouldn't try to make them think we have considered all battle options. Therefore, they won't be expecting what may seem like an actual front assault; no traps along with it.'
'And I can always pull them out if things get too-tough.'
'Good. Everything's proceeding according to plan.'
'As it always does,' Ralyon added. He wasn't sure what would happen if Pro-Shinra People actually managed to take control and prevent being slain themselves, but either would serve as a distraction.
'Just give us the rest of this week and the next, and it won't matter anymore!'
It was daytime, a full hour or so later, before Cloud stirred and looked-up.
"No." He whispered. A deep crater had been left in the floor. All-around broken boards were strewn, some burnt, others twisted. The outer-wall had collapsed-in, and he could glance to see the wall separating them from the outdoors. Someone, probably Clitor, had deflected the huge beam back, obviously slaying the flaming beast, yet it had generated enough heat to leave large scorch-marks in the wood.
No one in the other rooms stirred, some had been slain or harmed more by the lesser beams of energy. They had struck the 'Monster Vats,' quite-obviously. That could be seen from the devastation and smell of ash there, along with wires strewn-around.
Clitor lay at the front of the radius of the explosion, untouched by the two destroyed walls, debris from the wall behind the 'Altar' strewn around him. He looked remarkably-peaceful, and completely-normal.
Save for the fact that the air in front of him had vaporized, drawing a suffocating curtain of air around him that must have crushed his windpipe, leaving him to perish of asphyxiation shortly-after the heatwave had knocked him unconscious.
Tifa was still below him, muscles tense, eyes squeezed shut. Ruass had already arisen from his place on Cloud's back when he had moved, and was gazing at the devastation in shock.
Sensing the movement above, Tifa glanced-up.
"Oh, no," she whispered.
She rose to her feet and staggered across the room, as if awakened from a stupor. Her face had gone pale-white, as white as her now-lifeless cousin's. Tears brimmed in her eyes, and this time she let them fall.
She'd thought they were gone. She'd lost her mother and her father, and upon seeing them the joy of having a family had suddenly been rekindled. She didn't care how much a stranger the two were now, all she knew was that they were alive.
And just-as-soon, they were gone.
"Is this our fate!!??" She shouted to the sky. "To lose everyone we care for!!?? *MUST YOU TAKE AWAY EVERYTHING!!!!!?????*" She shrieked again in frustration and collapsed on his prone form, once-again sobbing hysterically.
Cloud was standing now, yet found himself paralyzed. He wanted to go to his friend, take her into his arms, and comfort her, yet he couldn't. Not yet. Not while he still couldn't get over his own shock of seeing this.
He barely knew them, yet he could already understand their confusion.
He couldn't trust them, and would be against them helping save Marlene. He would have stopped them in aiding them in that, a necessary precaution, just in case they were trying to pull a ruse on him.
Yet they were like him when he'd lost Zack. Lost, cast-adrift, unsure of what they were fighting for, unsure if they should fight. Emotions were concealed under a wall, they could not truly trust anyone, or anything, save in their case, each other.
'And just what are we really fighting for?'
Tifa had told them what Schrisorz had told her. Each of them had beliefs and ideals and were acting upon them. The 'Zodiac Beasts' were victims of a cause they couldn't fully understand, while he was one of a web of lies. Jenova had used them all, yet they knew even Jenova had been created as the result of the viewpoint of someone else. Save for Shinra, who were just plain greedy, freaks like Dycedarg had been, and that crazy scientist Hojo, there were no true villians.
'Do we even have to continue to fight?'
So many questions with no answers at all rocketed through his brain. For yet another time in these two years, his world was shattered and reformed again, yet letting him see from other viewpoints.
What if he hadn't been so angry at Sephiroth?
What if Vincent had been able to talk to Sephiroth?
What if he hadn't been so-concerned with how others saw him he hadn't been there that fateful day in Nibleheim?
What if there was no Jenova, or was no Jenova Project?
Some of these were just plain 'What-Ifs?', while others were true questions he could ask himself.
'Cloud Strife.' A name that was oddly fitting. He could never be certain of what he saw, each point of view fighting with the other. He had trapped himself in his own world, which had cost him the life of a dear friend; he'd slain a kindred spirit without even thinking of what he was truly doing, and more things besides.
This had to stop.
Not what they saw as destructive, but the madness. The fighting. All of it.
At last he understood why Aeris had suggested he lead this group.
Because of how he could shatter and reform his viewpoints when the need demanded it. Because of how he could doubt like this, yet still remain certain. A stunning realization came to him, one that should've come a long time ago.
He was his own anchorhold on how he viewed the world.
Not Tifa, not Sephiroth, not Jenova, no one but himself.
He moved to Tifa and knelt down beside her, wrapping his arms around her. She turned, did the same, and clung to him fiercely, still sobbing uncontrollably. He brushed back a tear that was about to drop from his eye, then simply held her and stroked her back.
Ruass continued to gaze at the destruction.
A simple creation gazed at the exact opposite.
Devastation surrounded him. He could hear faint cries, ones he recognized as the cries of the Planet. He could sense them all-around, yet could not tear his gaze from the lifeless body of Clitor.
He'd lost his life, a castaway on a huge whirlpool of hatred and misgivings.
And he, too, understood his purpose.
To live. Whether a creation or not, he was still a living being. He need not search for what was there, he need not see anymore loss of life to know how he simply needed to live.
Now he needed to teach that to others.
She was aware that she was clinging to Cloud with as much strength as she could muster. Like he was the only one who prevented her from drowning in grief. She was aware he was holding her, stroking her back.
Yet she continued to cry. Her mother's face, then her father's, flashed in front of her. Now Romoreto and Clitor joined them.
She continued to cry.
All those poor people in Nibleheim were victim of the same circumstances that had almost taken her friends time and again. That had taken her cousins. She knew what they had to stop, yet it hadn't truly solidified.
She just continued to sob.
She gasped for air and tightened her grip until she could do so no longer. For a brief instant, she felt the brush of lips against her skin, as Cloud instinctively kissed her forehead, before resuming to stroke her back.
She allowed herself a brief smile, then continued to sob, clinging to Cloud as if she would never let go.
"So that's it." Shera whispered.
Yuffie nodded, sniffling and wiping her nose. She gave a weak nod.
The blonde-haired lady sat back, giving the young Ninja a comforting, understanding look. "It seems to me as if you just want to stop the fighting," she stated.
Yuffie's jaw dropped in utter astonishment at this simple truth. Seconds later, though, her heart sank again. "Except I can't break the kind of oath I made."
"That's not true," Shera said. "Life is much more important." She took a deep breath and sat back, folding her arms across her lap. "Although you really don't have to," she continued. "Because you're not fighting them, you're stopping the fighting altogether. You're doing just as you promised, yet in a different way."
"Except I promised I wouldn't interfere with what they wished to do anymore."
"Then think of it as guiding," Shera answered. "Not interfering." She cracked a smile. "Think of it as aiding others, something that you may be able to do."
Yuffie sniffled again. "I...I dunno'." She wiped-away a tear. "I guess I was just upset, then!" She sighed. "Sometimes I wonder whether I should've continued to wander around forests, hunting, living a simple, carefree life."
"And you'd never have reconciled with your father, and got in a position to restore Wutai, this well," the Scientist answered. "The answers to your problems, all our problems, lie not in the past, but the future."
A hacking cough came from the bed where they'd put Cid. Two heads whirled as the Pilot sat up. "Did I just hear what the heck I thought I just did!?" He shouted. He turned to Shera and flashed a grin. "I never thought you'd start reciting philosophy to anyone, woman!"
"We're not going after the Big Whale, though," Yuffie spoke, standing-up. "That was a suicide mission. We're going to what seems to be the source of this whole problem." She took a deep breath, before stating the location.
Cid's mouth hung open for a few seconds, then he was forced into another hacking cough.
This was starting to get very confusing. He managed to get Yuffie to activate a Cure 3 quickly, not letting her lapse into another state of mind like before, with a quick order. Shera had insisted he attempt to move slowly, so he'd taken the moment to get Yuffie to recite all they'd gone over again.
He groaned when he realized that the Highwind was probably still out there in that raging blizzard, and if she was above it, would encounter a lot of problems coming down to pick them up, most-likely.
He could understand Yuffie's logic, as to how Elslumina was the only known point where they could truly stop this madness. They might be able to reason with the Zodiac Demons, if they went there, according to her, and that would get them out of the way. Then they just had to remove the darkness shrouding Artesta and go to that huge spherical thing.
"That's probably as wild a guess as to use that Big Whale thing!" He shook his head. "We can't enter Elslumina, and just because it supposedly has connections to where the 'Lucavi Things' might be, doesn't mean we could enter through there if we even got in! Furthermore, its just as dangerous, and just as suicidal!"
He'd eased himself into a sitting position minutes after Yuffie's Cure 3 finished repairing his wounds, and at last swung his right leg off the bed. He stood-up, blinking away a brief spell of dizziness. "We can't do a thing!"
Shera gestured towards the storm outside. "So we just try to rally our spirits, something the others here have finally been able to do, and try to bear this! That's crazy, too, as crazy as believing the once-panicking citizens here won't resume panicking!"
Cid clenched both his fists.
"I'm tired of this, ya' know! Tired of running-around, from battle to battle! And now we find out every last option is gone! What's happening now is out of our control, so far out of our control we couldn't make one bit of a difference!"
Shera stood up, and for once a stern look came to her face. "So that's it, then!? What happened to the haughty pilot that never lost hope his dream would be fulfilled!?" Cid immediately realized what type of lecture he was about to get, and opened his mouth to interrupt, only to be cut-off by Shera continuing.
"We went through 26 Rockets, and 27 Launches before your dream was fulfilled! I don't care if you think this is different, but you weren't afraid to hope then! And you'd darn well not be now! Elslumina, from what I've heard, is a big gamble! You're the scientist, and you can make a difference in some things!" She pointed towards the unconscious Cait Sith. "Now wake that thing up, get Reeve on your PHS, and the three of us are going to figure out a way to destroy this cloak of darkness!" Shera finally let out a breath as she finished her speech.
Cid had to smile, mostly-inwardly, and gave her a quick salute. "Will do, ma'am!"
Reeve held a whole stack of documents in his hands. Brenzi stood nearby, and rapped on the door to Mayor Domino's Office again.
Ensalin had confirmed this would work, to the best of her abilities. Now all they had to do was receive authorization from the Mayor.
The door was opened by Hart, who immediately took the stack of papers from Reeve and brought them to Domino's desk, setting them down with a thump. "Sorry for the wait!" He said. "If I had any idea..."
"I understand," Reeve said, watching as Domino clicked his PHS off and set it down. Hart nodded and moved to the side, holding out two chairs.
"I only accompanied Reeve to ensure he didn't drop anything," spoke Brenzi. "I'll be leaving now, if you'll excuse me."
Brenzi bowed, turned, and left the room, allowing the double doors to close behind him.
Reeve moved one of the chairs until it was right-across from Domino, then sat down. Hart moved the other chair towards a table behind them and to their left, then moved to stand behind and to the right side of the Mayor.
The Mayor of Midgar inclined his head towards Reeve, then took the sheaf of papers into his hands, turned them to face him, and began to read them.
Reeve's PHS rang.
Reeve reached to snap it off, but Domino shook his head. "By all means, take your call. This could take a while to finish reading."
He did, and the voice on the other end made him thankful he had.
"Reeve!? That you!?"
It was the voice of Cid Highwind.
He let out a sigh of relief. "Its good to know you're okay," he said after a few seconds. "What exactly happened, anyways?"
By the time Cid finished telling him, Domino was finished reading his and Ensalin's report.
Reeve's astonishment at the coincidence of what he'd been called for was quelled almost-immediatey. "Uh, funny you should say that," he answered. "Ensalin and I have kinda' come-up with a possible solution."
"Well!?" He heard Cid exclaim. "Now don't that just be amazing!?" His tone was half-surprised, half-pleased with this happening. "Lady Luck definately hasn't failed me yet!!!!!"
"Who is it?" That was Domino.
Reeve gulped, and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Uh, guys..." he said quietly. "I'm getting a healthy signal from Cait Sith 4, so..." He pressed a button on the bottom of the PHS, "...run his recordings to find out what I know while I talk with Domino. And call back in about a half-hour."
"HIM!!??" shouted Cid. "That son of a submariner lazy-!!!!!"
Reeve clicked the PHS shut to cut-off the string of swear words that seemed about to emit, and placed it in his pocket. He then turned to the Mayor, who was watching with a curious expression. "Uh, Mayor Domino..." he began, choking on a nervous breath, "...there's something you should know about my...contacts."
The river of time flowed, seeming to spin as if to count how many seconds were left before the point of impact was reached.
Shinra Construction Workers continued to do their job, working-on repairing the Gold Saucer, despite the frigid temperatures of the Desert. Dio hadn't even hesitated to speed-up their job when the latest catastrophe had befallen the Planet. He'd simply ordered the construction workers to hurry, that people would really be looking to a place to spend their time again.
Whether or not it would be their last time here.
The citizens of Rocket Town, shown what had happened because there were no Police Officers where there should be, instead concentrating on riots, forged pacts anew, clinging to hope. Scientists who'd stopped working, but never stopped theorizing, banded-together to attempt to solve the phenomena that had come to them now. No one dared approach Shera's residence, out of respect for what had just happened to her and her comrades.
A lone Ocean Liner pulled-in at Junon, and a seven-year-old girl named Priscilla scampered out, followed by her father. She twirled in the snow, oblivious to the danger is posed, happy to be home. Her father took simple comfort in the fact that she was alive and well.
At the forest southwest of Gongaga, men, women, and children stood at the doorways of protected tents, watching the snows. Some worked to secure the lining of tents that had been toppled again. Other children were outside, building snowmen.
The citizens of Kalm Town were under investigation for a mishap that had befallen the Innkeeper of The Seagull Inn. A Shinra SOLDIER named Vicks emerged from the hospital, watching as a troop of Officers passed by. He saluted them, and they returned the favor. Then he wrapped his arms tightly-around-himself and went-off to find a place to stay before he could find a way back to Midgar. Those in Kalm had quenched their riots themselves. They'd witnessed Meteor's distruction as it began to descend through the atmosphere, they'd somehow found their confidence, and hope, that they'd survive.
For the first time, people in the Slums of Midgar could walk on something other than dirt and destroyed roadways. A toddler scampered through the Sector 1 Slums as snowflakes blew-in from under the Plates. Construction Workers passed another area damaged by the recent disaster, while those who had caused riots before, having given-up-hope, had realized a while ago that their combined strength could aid people. This was discovered as a deserted building crumbled around them, and they realized what strength they had. This message had spread to the other rioters, the were now sending calls to the Plate and Heaquarters, asking where they could be of assistance. Some even found themselves brought-in to work in the Science Department, in a last-ditch effort to bring daylight back. The same was true of those on the Plate, only they'd experienced snow a few times before, and the messages reached a select few there last out of all.
As the temperature continued to dive towards Absolute Zero, many remained confident that they'd be protected again, whether by an accidental, enormous, eruption of Mako Energy, which had saved them from the meteor/comet headed towards their Planet, or by others. Some tried to come-up with their own methods of saving the Planet. Others simply hoped.
Even the nondescript, black-haired leader of the Pro-Shinra Corporation pitched-in in various ways. If they could pull through a meteor/comet, they could pull through this, too.
What it meant to be alive had suddenly become more-precious, perhaps, than ever before.
They would not give up hope.
And, most-importantly, they would not give up.
A dark, ominous shadow rose from the ocean, and began making its way towards Junon, where it would then head for Midgar.
Another one shimmered into existence atop the Elslumina Lake, in front of the frozen waterfall.
Billions of miles away from Artesta, the schedule of construction for a magnificent beast, changed again, by pure chance, reached its conclusion, as the thing was whole now. All that was necessary was bringing it to life, something that could take almost two weeks.
A shooting cluster of power moved through the Lifestream, barreling towards where it had felt something happened that should not have happened.
Other energies, from both Universes, moved into motion...and alignment.
And at the cliffs surrounding Midgar, a dark and sinister legion of creatures arose from the snow, hiding themselves, and slowly moving towards the huge city.
The spark had been united, the surface of the pond disturbed.
The fire began to kindle, and the ripples flew away into tidal waves, a vast, cataclysmic force of energies that began to fan throughout the two Universes, the final beginning of the ultimate inferno of devastation and uncontrolled energies.
Tifa looked up.
She had no idea how long she had been crying, just sitting there with Cloud holding her, trying to comfort her.
Right now her thoughts had settled into a consistent pattern.
She sniffed one last time, relaxed her grip on the blonde-haired male, and rubbed her nose. "We need to talk to Barret," she whispered.
The Sector 7 Plate hung in the silence of Midgar's night, and what was really night, at this point.
It was disrupted, sharply, and abruptly, having endured a last second of peace. The pillar that held-up the Sector 7 Plate and the Sector 7 Plate City shook. More flames appeared, growing upon that pillar, cracking the pillar, until at last one shattered the pillar and cracked the Plate support in one blow.
Barret clenched his teeth as he whizzed past the now-falling Plate, Marlene, Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie forzen in his mind. The happy moments he'd sped with them shot by...
...the Plate fell to the ground behind them, crushing its buildings and setting-off a cacophony of explosions. Anyone still caught under the Plate who just might have survived was probably destroyed in those blasts. Barret landed on the ground...
...and fell to his knees in front of a wounded Dyne.
"Gosh!" He spoke, limping to the chasm in front of him. "Marlene's...already...four..." Then he fell backwards, as Barret reached-out and screamed his name, falling as he had fallen when they'd lost one of their arms. That pain shot through him again as this did...
...the sleek, huge, black beast shot by, its tail whipping-out and catching Tifa on the back of the neck. She cried-out and fell. Barret knelt and caught her before she fell to the deck of the Highwind...
"Barret..." she spoke...
...He looked-up into his friend's concerned face, now feeling the chill of the outdoors as it bit into his body.
His bent-up sorrow tore into itself once-again, solidifying into his usual cold shell of anger and self-loathing. He moved his gun-arm, finding it could move without much trouble, indicating the use of a Full Cure, and hissed.
"I told ya' to leave me alone!!" He growled. "I got nothin' to say to ya'!"
Ruass padded up, moving his mouth to Tifa's ear. "Let me try something," he whispered to her.
She nodded and withdrew.
Barret decided he didn't care what that exchange had been, hadn't heard, could guess, didn't care.
"Did you believe Dyne was beyond redeeming?"
That question jolted him back into full awareness. "Huh!?" He allowed his mind to spin as he tried to figure-out what that question was for. Whether or not it was the obvious meaning, or not.
There was really only one answer. "No," he whispered.
"Then do you believe that you are beyond redeeming?" Ruass' words were devoid of emotion, utterly factual.
He sighed and snorted, sitting up. "What is it about you beasts, anyways!? Ya' all get me all emotional and contemplative!" He shook his head, chuckling quietly. As of now the Byblos couldn't decipher whether that was because he'd realized the import of that statement, or because he was simply laughing at how pathetic this was, how this was some joke that he wasn't a freak. "What I must sound like...going-on about Marlene and the past when I don't even work towards the future! I don't even know if that stupid torture-nightmare showed me anythin' that wouldn't have been there in a normal nightmare...thinking I've failed her."
He chuckled again. "We don't need personal reasons to fight. We just need ta' make sure all others have those futures." Then he paused and scratched his head. "Not that Marlene doesn't matter...but we haven't failed em' all." He pointed out at the snow. "It still avalanches from the sky, so do we." He scratched his head again, and slammed his prosthetic down on the ground beside him. "Darn, I definately ain't good at these speeches! Now where to!?"
Tifa pursed her lips and looked at the Byblos in wonder.
"It seems to me a probable location to see if we can discover something," Cloud said. They'd finished restocking their Items as best as the could, although they'd have to do without the cure-all Megalixers and Elixers now, unless they met-up with the others again, and if they still had any...
...Regarding the fact that they were still...
...He didn't want to think that, and slid Barret's note under Elmyra's front door. "When we save her we'll bring her back here first," was all it said.
Barret was equipped and ready to move-out again.
"Elslumina is not," Ruass snapped back, shifting his weight to balance his new Item Sack in a more-comfortable position.
"Why?" Cloud asked.
"Did chasing Sephiroth get you to him until he'd arrived at his destination?" The Byblos answered. He waited for a few seconds, and, satisfied that question needed no response, continued. "It seems to me that our opponents are similar to Sephiroth in one term...they expect us to follow their trail until we end-up where they want us to. Its time for us to turn the tables on them."
Ruass grinned. "Remember those different kinds of Materia Yuffie one?"
"A lot were just enchancers like the Health Protection Plus and the Materia Power Plus, or the Health Protection/Materia Power Switch. One even enhances how-fast a Materia Reaches its highest-level, Ability Power Plus, or something. Some Support, some Independant, some Command."
"Well, if they can amplify each-other and link each-other, what do we do to get their attention?" Ruass grinned.
"Oh." Cloud caught-on almost immediately. "We link them all."
"Right," Ruass finished. "We go outside town and amplify a lot of them, and send a blast flying right at Elslumina, of enough power that its absorbedd into the Lifestream, yet we use the focusing capabilities and our minds to tell it where to go. We remember the image we were shown...and aim at the orbital section. We get them to come to us. Now we need a weapon to connect them all."
"Something that can link our weapons together. And still be held by one and all three. That way we get to multiply all our Materia with our usual combos. Just replace your two lost Final Attacks with a HP/MP Switch and an MP Plus. I'll be smashing Ethers down on those things."
"We'll attach it to the Nail Bat." Cloud spoke. "Attach it to the nails. I knew that thing would come in handy sometime. Premium Heart, Ragnarok, and Maximum Ray or whatever its called will be attached to the nail bat. Barret, place it in part of your gun, Tifa, you grab it with the Premium Heart. We're about to test the true powers of Materia."
"But first we've gotta' call Reeve to get some transportation ready so we can move and survey the damage." Barret put in.
"You offered," Cloud spoke as they stepped outside Kalm. "Ruass, find us a suitible, secluded place to do this."
"I think I've already found one," answered the Byblos, pointing towards a small peninsula that could fainty be seen through the snow, moving towards the horizon.
Domino clasped his hands, placing his elbows on his desk.
"Interesting," he said slowly. "Very interesting."
"You think so?" Reeve responded, fumbling for composure. He had a bad feeling about this. Well, at least an expectation of something retrograde to anything that he'd consider a good thing.
"Yes," the Mayor replied, tone still precise and slow. "I find it highly-interesting how you have continually collaborated with a group of 'terrorists.' While its quite obvious they are not, I find it hard to believe I was not made aware of this."
"As you are no-doubt aware of, the massive Shinra Corporation has only recently gone out of business. As you are also no-doubt aware of, there are still those who would like to see it back in business...and in control of political affairs as well. Therefore, this is not the time for secret actions. What have you to say for yourself, Reeve Glossaner?"
Reeve folded his hands across his lap and set perfectly-straight. "I had considered all options, Mayor Domino," he began. "And it seemed to me that you didn't need to be made aware of my connections with the Cait Sith Android Models. I didn't believe it could do any harm not to tell you, so I chose not to."
"And you accept full responsibililty for that choice?"
Reeve nodded. "Yes, sir."
Domino didn't say anything for the next several seconds. "However," he began again ,"In light of the current situation, such behavior cannot go completely without consequences. Therefore, as Mayor of Midgar, I remove you from your duties until the current crisis has been averted."
"But sir, what about the-!?"
"The project?" Domino said. "I happen to excel, at least to your level, in science, myself. Instead of 'correcting' the few flaws in this project, I'll simply work in your place."
Reeve sighed, and bowed his head. "Very well, Mayor Domino." Then he rose his head sharply. "But if I may, what exactly are the design flaws?"
Domino chuckled. "It wouldn't do any harm to tell you," he said. "There are only really two. First, the fact that the engine emits the rocket's energies outwards from the container in the design. If heat is cut-off in space, then there needs to be a way we can keep the engine going until we're sure its far-enough from the atmosphere to have an effect. Therefore, we'll need to install a backup engine, enabling the craft to move once free of Artesta's Gravity. We'll have to install an engine similar to that of a submarine, and let the other engine detach once the spacecraft enters orbit.
"Secondly, there is the matter of launching the Absolute Zero Capsules. It requires energy to do so, thus meaning heat will relate to that action. Instead of launching those capsules and detonating, they should be attached to the inside of the ship, enclosed, and detonators should fit on them. They'll have to erupt, from the inside, at the same time as the rocket explodes, or they may be activated too soon. The Absolute Zero temperature must be activated the moment that the capsules are exposed to vacuum, or there will be no chance in this succeeding.
"A possible third might be that we don't know how far the rocket needs to go. Therefore, we'll need to attach thermometers. Where no heat is located, and no energy from our star can be detected, the rocket will perform its task. All we can do then is hope that the plan will work."
Reeve nodded slowly. "I see. But won't it take extra time to install the additional engine and check for programming errors?"
"Not if we speed-up," Domino replied. "You can help, and you still have control of Cait Sith, but you can't do anything along the actions of sending-out choppers or other such without my permission." He seemed about to conclude, then apparently remembered something. "Will your companions need to speak to me about this?"
"I'll relay this information to them," Reeve said. "Then I suppose its their decision whether or not to speak with you about this project." He rose. "Good day, sir."
He inclined his head, and was about to leave, when the PHS rang.
Her eyes were open within the next few seconds, and she attempted to sit-up and look-around. She moaned and fell-back, clutching her chest, and whispered the words for a MegaBarrier. Nothing happened, other than a feeling of a loss of strength, causing her to clutch her chest again.
She didn't have enough energy left for a MegaBarrier.
She looked-around for her Healing Rod, finding-it atop rubble to her right. She crawled towards it and clutched it to her, pushing it against her chest until its restorative energies shot through her. She opened her canvas bag and withdrew an X-Ether, allowings the liquid from the vial to pour over her, into her, renewing the magical powers that had been completely drained.
She took her first look at the destruction.
The crystalline beams that had made-up this underground sanctuary had collapsed in on one-another. Whatever had been keeping the water out had obviously been nullified, as waterfalls burst through cracks in the beams nearly everywhere at the thing's circumference. They hadn't been crushed simply because the lower beams supported the higher, ones that hadn't fallen-in completely and had scraped the bottom portions of the other beams.
Ramza was lying on the marble walkway that led to the 'Sanctuary Proper,' which was now-demolished. The front sections of it had fallen, smashing into the column stairs that led to the small 'house.' Malak's left arm was trapped under one of the stones. The one named Nanaki was also in that area, near Ramza, and closer to her. Rafa was behind her, near the southern-most portion of the 'cavern' to the side of a fragment of one of the beams.
...She drew in a sharp breath and quickly raced to her side, stepping over Red XIII and Ramza. Her left side was trapped under a huge beam fragment, left arm twisted. The walkway had been devastated, leaving small craters, so it was hard to tell whether her head was crushed or not.
She dared not use the Healing Staff on her, for fear it could disrupt whatever balance her body had that enabled her to still be alive. Her breathing was faint, though. And she doubted anyone could move that plaque.
A brief image of that poor knight in Riovanes came into her mind, followed by one of Izlude, and she silently told herself she wouldn't fail anyone else like that ever again. She would continue to repair damage wrought to living beings.
And she would succeed.
If it was within her power, no one else would ever perish needlessly again.
Rafa came-to in a fuzzy haze, the sounds of rushing water nearby almost-unmistakable. She thrust herself up, ignoring her dizzy head, and looked-around. Alma was activating the power of her Healing Staff on Ramza. She looked up, acknowledged Rafa was awake, and headed in the other direction.
Towards her brother.
Blinking back tears, she hurried after her, scrambling over the beam that held the unconscious Meliadoul, leaping to his side. She turned to Alma, wondering if she should thank her, unsure if she'd performed any healing.
Alma spun and touched her staff to her chest, allowing its energies to flow through her. That answered that question.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You're welcome," Alma responded, before turning back towards Malak. She knelt, attempting to lift the rubble off Malak's left arm. Rafa, knowing how Malak could be healed by the force of an Asura, while damaging enemies, simply cast the Spell. The shard burst. Alma knelt-down to complete the healing, and spun again.
Rafa simply sat by her brother, grasped his hand, and held it. At least this time she was sure he'd survive.
That was the least of her worries, though. How much longer she could, and should, keep the secret she was trying to hold in her mind she was unsure of.
Malak winced, a throbbing, fiery pain receding from his chest into emptiness.
He heard movement beside him, then Rafa's voice.
"B-Brother?" She asked quietly. She seemed to be crying, or trying not to cry, so he simply sat-up and drew her into an embrace.
"What's wrong?" He asked, wiping a tear from her eye.
She opened her mouth as if to speak, yet didn't. For a moment it was if she was struggling with the right words. Finally she spoke.
"Whether or not you believed me, it wasn't hard to try to explain what I knew about Barinten."
"And...?" Malak inclined his head, stroking her back and hair gently.
"I think I've figured-out something that no one else may know, yet it may be too dangerous to unveal." She paused, took a breath, then delved back in to what she was saying. "I know I'll have to...but now..." She choked on a sob, gesturing around at the devastated 'hallway.' "...I think maybe...if I'd mentioned this before..."
"What's done is done," Malak finished. "I don't know how many times I wished I'd listened to you earlier. I don't know how many times I see the faces of those Riovanes Soldiers who perished needlessly. How close you came to losing your life..." He swallowed, removing the dryness in his throat, while glancing around himself. "Could we have done something about this secret if you told us?"
Rafa sagged, seemingly exhausted. "I doubt it."
"Then just follow your original instinct," he whispered in her ear. He continued to hold her as she cried weakly, thankful he had the chance to be there for his sister during this catastrophe, which was the closest to the Riovanes Massacre he knew of.
He wouldn't fail her again.
Ramza came-to again. One nightmare merged into another as he attempted to sit up. He felt strong arms surroundd him and aid him in accomplishing that task, and found himself looking at Alma, smiling weakly. He gave a weak smile back, before looking-around.
The wounds of that Nanaki creature were closing even-now, meaning he'd just been tended to. He looked-around, taking in the destruction and silently cursing himself for not being able to stop this beautiful structure from being crushed. A piece of the fish-head from above told him what had probably happened to that structure, too.
Rafa and Malak were comforting each-other, while Alma turned to Meliadoul.
He'd just completed the task of standing up, yet recoiling from what he saw almost sent him to his feet again.
Not Mediadoul too...
He didn't want to fight anymore, he just wanted to help. He thought he could...again he berated himself for doing this, and berated himself for thinking he shouldn't have come. He knew about Zodiac Stones, it was his responsibility.
Yet the logic of the other voice was starting to seem more-and-more truthful.
He didn't want to continue to fight, he had hated this fighting the whole time..."I couldn't just hold myself responsible for everything that happens. After this we'll just find somewhere to live quietly."
"True..." Alma said, trying to lift the huge shard of clear crystal off of Meliadoul. She hadn't even activated any healing techniques yet, and he could guess why.
He was a but surprised at having said that out loud.
"Wasn't that all we ever wanted, for ourselves...and for others?" He hadn't whispered it out loud either, since that was Malak speaking to him.
Rafa strode-up to him and squeezed his had reassuringly, before patting his back. "That's really the key, isn't it?" Malak walked up to him to, then turned and looked at his sister questioningly.
He shook his head. "We have to stop the fighting first. We already know that's what we're doing." As he said this, he activated an Ultima in the center of the huge shard, causing it to rip to pieces. Alma knelt and began the process of trying to heal Meliadoul.
"And then someone-else will take the place of this new menace," Malak spoke. "Cycles like this don't end for millions, perhaps billions of years. How long do you think it would take for every living being to evolve to the point where it no-longer needs to fight? Where there truly will be harmony?"
"Don't you think I know that!?" Ramza wrenched his left hand from Rafa's right hand and clenched his fists. "Yet how can I try to live normally, expect someone-else to take up the cause, and have no regrets that I could've made a difference!!??"
"That is why you must choose based on what you think is right." Ramza spun towards the newest voice, and saw Nanaki arise. "I heard it all," he said. "I have often wondered this myself, although either way we wouldn't abandon you." He paused to let-out a slow sigh. "I have often wondered where I should be. My Grandfather told me to wander the Planet and learn about it, but there are times when I think I should be home protecting the village. Now I understand what Seto faced."
"And that is why you must let the Lucavi and their comrades finish what they are in the process of doing." Crysales' sharp voice penetrated the tension, causing each to spin towards her, save Alma, who only looked-up, then looked down at Meliadoul again and moved her Healing Staff to another portion of her body.
"I too heard what you said," Crysales spoke.
Ramza's hand dropped to his Chaos Blade, and he gripped it, moving into a battle stance. His mouth was actually hanging-open, and he quickly shut it.
"Are you telling me that the Lucavi really are trying to create a better place?" He responded.
"Right now, instead of waiting." Crysales stood behind Marlene, tankfully undamaged upon floor of the sanctuary proper. "Their Master, our Master, wants to create a world without strife. A world without conflict, where no one has to worry, or feel pain, because it will be nonexistent. A perfect world. The Master has striven so hard to do this, for billions upon billions of years, and finally found how it can be done.
"You need only wait a bit longer for the Master's dream to become real."
Ramza's mind flashed-back to the discussion he and Alma had shared at Kalm. Glancing down and to his right, a momentary flash of her eyes told him that memory had returned to her, too.
His next words seemed forced at first. "Picture-perfect is nothing. Without a flower wilting-away, it can't bloom again. Without rain, nothing can grow." Slowly but surely, the rest came to him. "Nothing can function. Life is not just living, but springing back, showing its resilience. With nothing, with all comforts, there would hardly be anything. Your Master's fantasy is nothing but a misleading dream. The cycle of life has to continue this way. That's why..." he paused to let what he'd said sink-in. "...we will no longer fight after we have shown this to your Master. We can't evolve the way your Master thinks, or its not evolution.
"We have to live."
"Is this true?" Crysales responded.
All the others, but Nanaki, and Meliadoul, who was unconscious, nodded their heads, Alma's vigorously, Malak's slowly and determinedly, and Rafa's lightly.
He sighed and stepped forward. Ramza moved to follow him, but he waved him back with his back-left-paw. Sensing this was something he had to do alone, at least for now, Ramza nodded.
They faced-off again, Nanaki across the pillars, undamaged in the collapse of this place, Crysales not having moved at all.
"And you, Nanaki?"
"I wander the Planet in search of the knowledge it has to offer," he answered. "Thanks to you, and to my new friends," he paused to smile back at Ramza and his companions, before turning to face her again, "I have learned more. You have given me hope I'm not the last of my kind. Bugenhagen was like a Grandfather to me, and still is. He taught me some of the ways the Elders there work their abilities. I may not be leftover from the Cetra like them, you may be the only other one of my species alive, but I inherited what they had, I'm not alone, and I won't give up hope. They countermand each of those negatives with a far-better positive. In a way, this discussion and what you said confirmed that.
"Thank you, Crysales."
For a moment absolute silence, save the slowly-rising water, could be heard. Then Crysales flung-back her mane and laughed, a bittersweet crescendo of drops of water and gemstones bouncing off each other.
"That's all inspiring, but how will you get out!?"
"The Highwind Pilots will be back for us in one day, assigned to check on us." He pointed upwards to the staircase. It had been underwater, so the upper section had not been damaged. It hung five yards, probably, if not more, above one of the slanted panels. "And as for getting to the surface, it may be nearly-impossible to swin against an undertow leading towards a waterfall, but we can climb." The lower portion of the staircase was destroyed, yet the holes the water cascaded in they could fit throu,gh and hold their breath while outside, climbing to the next. They'd take another breath and resume climbing the outside. "And whether or not we have food, we can hope that we can last that day of waiting."
Crysales growled. "You are still in the way of the plans of our Master. You cannot be trusted."
"I don't want to have to harm you again," Nanaki answered.
Crysales laughed again. "Harm me!!?? Maybe as myself, but thanks to the treachery of one confused soul who was over-eager for knowledge, and the infant Cetra here, this will be much, much easier!"
"Xarodate englominous shalanto regarden zodiac rashulta!!!!!" She chanted. The area around Marlene's body flared to life, forming into a dome above her. Slowly a Zodiac Stone materialized there...the Libra Stone.
"Merge with me, Sentoriotor, so that we may at last vanquish those who oppose us and seek to destroy the perfect Universe!"
Red XIII swore
the stone glowed, producing a pinwheel of blue-red energy that spun around Crysales as a multitude of voices cried-out in torture and pain and the wisps rushed-outwards, then back into that very same pinwheel, which finally erupted into an incandescent, expanding dome of energy.
Crysales was gone when the dome dissipated.
Sentoriotor was reborn in her place.
The Lucavi hissed.
This one was a red-black scaled 'reptile.' It stood a standard twice-human-size, with scales rippling all over its body. A white cape with bluish insides was folded around its armored shoulders, while two serpent-tails coiled around its ankles. It wore gold-black boots, along with red-and-jade armor and breastplates. A large black broadsword dangled from a silver-copper sheath, and a dark-red shield was attached to its right arm, a large, pointed-spike extending from the center. Its helmet was red-and-gold, with wing sides extending upwards from above the ears, and its leg guards and arm pads were black with a dark-blue gemstone embedded in the front center. The thing was also clearly sleek and muscular.
Its shoulder-pads were also black, and spiked, while white-silver hair cascaded down the back of its throned, scaly head. Its eyes, nostrils, and mouth burned with an inner flame too.
"If you will not remove yourself from our way, defend yourselves!" Sentoriotor sprang forwards, whipping out its sword and bringing it down towards Alma and Meliadoul. Ramza quickly sidestepped into the path of the sword and blocked it, twisting the blade out of the lock and thrusting at the creature's stomach. It responded by bringing its shield to the side, smashing into his helmet and throwing him to the floor.
Nanaki darted towards Meliadoul, around the beast, and grabbed her hood with his teeth, jumping so as not to drag her, and setting-her down with his paws on the opposite side of the room. He spun and activated a Bolt 3.
"The net of energy comes together!" Sentoriotor roared. "TetraOmega!!"
Three globes of multicolored energy appeared in the air, one above them, one behind them, and one just-above the Lucavi. The one behind the Lucavi detonated into a swirling ellipse pattern of hand-sized energy balls, each a different color. Those discuses spun around and lashed outwards, while there was another multicolored explosion right behind those discuses, and a fifth slashed through. Ramza ducked the central blast, throwing himself on Alma, yet they were thrown backwards by the bottom blasts, pain tearing through them.
The second globe descended upon them, erupting into an enormous blue-yellow dome that expanded outwards, swirling, letting-loose blasts of lightning-like-energy that struck the beams and other portions of the structure, while pillars of intense electricity swirled outwards, smashing through each of them, scorching their skin as they tried to jump between pillars, but leaving them unharmed, mostly. Even Meliadoul, who Red XII carried out of danger again. The same was not true of the walls, though, which could not move away. The pillars tore into them, causing them to crash downwards while the water poured-in from all sides.
"Duck!" Nanaki screamed, leaping onto one of the beams. The others followed, as the beams were picked-up by the flood and spun around. The fish-palace above crashed through the now-open top, into the center of the flood, causing the whirlpool to pick-up pace, while other sections of the structure were picked-up and tossed around.
Alma shrieked as she lost her balance and tumbled backwards, but Rafa managed to grab her and pull her away. She and Ramza had been in the center of the dome, Ramza above her, so the back of his Genji Armor and Genji Helm had taken most of the damage from the energy, although their legs were scorched. Not-enough to hinder movement, though.
The third globe erupted into group of whirling discuses, multicolored, too, while balls of kaleidoscopic energy spinning inside and around them. They spun at all angles, whipping around and smashing through the rest of the structures. One stray beam slashed across the front of Rafa's cloak, leaving a dense burn-mark. Alma quickly touched it with her Healing Staff, before using it to remove her burns and Ramza's.
They were now atop the lake, Sentoriotor on a floating section of what had once been the walkway, across from them. Debris floated all-around, as the whirlpool below began to effect the surface, and they began to spin downwards again.
"Oh, shoot, Marlene!" Rafa shouted.
"Wait!" Ramza shouted, reaching for her even as she jumped into the water, this time willingly, swimming as never before, kicking her way downwards, careful to stay underwater as she moveed around the whirlpool.
She came-up for air on the other side, before resuming her swim towards the 'Sanctuary Proper,' now being tossed-around like a rag doll, Marlene sliding from one side to the other, down the walls, across the ceiling.
"Cosmo Memory!" Nanaki screamed, reaching-out and gathering two galaxies together around him, before launching himself at the Zodiac Beast. It simply struck-out, sending him plummeting into the whirlpool, before another TetraOmega was unleashed.
They could easily sidestep the pillars of lightning or block the dome if it neared them, which it wouldn't, or even dodge the ellipses, but Ramza knew all-too-well what a combination of electricity and water did.
The Lucavi leapt onto the platform, through his own Spell, which obviously was the type that didn't effect the target but effected anything-else, cutting low with an underhand stroke than sent Ramza reeling backwards and collapsing. Alma, already-off-balance by the landing, had to roll to the side to avoid having him land on her leg.
A deep breath came from behind them, as Rafa came-up with Marlene, her face tinged a faint-blue, and clambered aboard a pillar, trying to keep her balance. The pillars erupted at that point, giving her no way to dodge. Her cloak was still dripping wet, too.
Alma quickly-erected a MegaBarrier on her, rolling away from a vertical sword-sweep even as Ramza did. Still in that second, Nanaki surfaced, gasping for breath. "Do you know what CPR is!?" He shouted to Rafa. "Mouth-to-Mouth!?"
"You mean Mouth-to-Mouth Air Provision!?" The Heaven Knight responded.
Nanaki nodded, as Rafa threw herself in front of Marlene to absorb the brunt of the energy blasts, as Ramza flipped to his feet and landed a well-aimed blow on the monster's right shoulder, as Alma got to her feet and caught Sentoriotor on the left ankle with her Healing Staff, tripping him and letting him fall into the water...
...as Malak, swinging at him, overbalanced and fell towards the water...
...Rafa shrieked and quickly used her only undamaged X-Potion. Malak gasped and withdrew his hands from the water, throwing himself backwards before anymore of his body could touch it, with a cry, and looked at his palms, which were now burnt...
...Nanaki howled in pain and grabbed for the only-undamaged Megalixer, only to find it was damaged, and fell backwards, wide-eyed, perhaps unconscious...
...the third globe exploded, yet its energies passed above and around them.
Malak reached towards his staff as it floated nearby, but was yanked back by Ramza. "Don't tocuh something metal that's been electrocuted!" He shouted, pointing at the teenager's singed hands and burnt palms.
Behind them, Meliadoul stirred, even as she, too, began to slide towards the water, while Rafa knelt beside Marlene as best she could and started to perform what would in the future be named CPR on the child.
Sentoriotor didn't waste the time to swim, and simply rocketed upwards, landing on the front of the platform with such-force it titled-upwards. Ramza backed to one-end, grabbing Mediadoul's hood and yanking her backwards as she began to slide down. He then grabbed for Alma, who had also lost her balance, and slid towards the Zodiac Demon, flailing.
She spun and jumped upwards, activating an Ultima below the thing. It unfurled its cape, now revealed to be lings, and leapt backwards, hovering in the air and swooping downwards in a kick. Its snake tails unraveled and joined together, then shot between its legs and lashed-out at Ramza. He ducked, but the top of his Genji Helmet was completely destroyed, and tumbled into the waters below.
"Armor won't help the heart stay sharp! Shellbust Stab!" Ramza jumped away, yet the front of his Genji Armor was sliced-off. The back of it, and the helmet, which had melted, its inner layers folding in, having saved them from the energies, now the only undamaged piece of that portion of the gear.
Ramza took the next blow on his Genji Gauntlet and cut downwards. Sentoriotor grabbed him by the hair and hurled him into the center of the whirlpool, where he slammed chest-first into the roof of the 'Sanctuary Proper' Chapel. He managed to roll-over, but was unable to move anymore.
Malak decided the electrical current had to have evaporated by now, but his rod was on the other side of the whirlpool. He ducked an incoming swipe, activating Sky Demon back. The first burst came behind the monster, causing it to trip backwards and fall towards the center of the vortex, too.
The upper staircase fliiped-by and got caught in the underside of the Fish-Shrine Balcony, as-of-yet undamaged.
"Next trun-around that area, go there!" Ramza shouted, pointing to it. Malak grabbed his staff as it came around. He noticed movement from below and thrust hem backwards as the creature burs-through where they had been.
"And Ramza!?" Alma shouted.
"I'll handle myself!" He shouted back.
Rafa, who was whirring by, nodded, leapt forwards, and grabbed the staircase, Marlene tucked under her left arm. She pulledd herself up and through the rushing waters, then climbed-up onto the balcony.
"And Nanaki!?" Malak shouted.
Ramza grabbed him and quickly activated Throw Stone, using the momentum to hurl him to safety, hoping he wouldn't break anything.
"Go!" He shouted, even as Alma ducked another swipe. Sentoriotor growled and channeled a globe of energy outwards, one the size of a marble at first, but one that expanded. Malak nodded, grabbed Meliadoul, who was in the process of opening her eyes, and leapt-up, barely making the jump. He pulled them through the water to safety, and Alma jumped next.
Her fingers sailed near to the staircase...and missed.
"Ultima!" Ramza managed to gasp. The energy that erupted beneath her as she fell came at just-the-right-time to throw her upwards and to safety. She spun on the section of the staircase the was still outside in the whirlpool and cast MegaBarrier on Ramza before shoving her way through the water and climbing to safety.
Before she could grab the side of the platform the staircase snapped-free. Rafa reached-down and yanked her up, but the platform began to buckle. Sentoriotor activated another TetraOmega up there, forcing them to run for the shore, before spinning and leaping at Ramza.
"Twice-accursed Beoulve!" It spoke, a rasping, yet booming, voice. "Need we both perish to stop this insanity!"
"Listen to yourself!" Ramza retorted, enough energy back that he could grab his sword and stand-up, backing-up to the steeple as what remained of the roof below snapped-away. Sentoriotor simply strode up, leaving them hardly any room.
"This will all be worth it in the end!" He/she/it bellowed, swinging at him.
Blades clashed again.
Meliadoul blinked and opened her eyes as someone reached down and picked her up, running somewhere. She looked around, saw the energies nearby aiming at the 'walkway' the were probably on, and looked-up at Malak. Ahead of them, Rafa was carrying that Nanaki creature.
The walkway gave-way under the strain of the whirpool below. Meliadoul's instinctive reaction was to roll out of Malak's hands and flip him over her onto solid ground, so at least one of them would make it.
She stood, clutching her chest, and noticed two things.
One was she had no sword or Item Sack, the other, more-obvious, that the walkway they were on was about to collide with a fish-head. Noticing the duel below was a third.
Ramza dodged to the side as another slice tore through the top of the roof, knocking-off the 'steeple pole.' Above, the TetraOmega erupted, far-enough-away no one would receive injury, unless he'd missed something.
He parried again and scored one more stab before he was forced to back-up, his boots touching the top of the rushing water. Below them, the rest of the shrine was picked-up and tossed out, and the whirlpool began its slow process of closing-in on itself, its final phase.
As far as he knew, no one had ever tried switching their state of mind from what was considered one 'Battle Class' to another in mid-battle because of how long it sometimes took the mind to change focus into another 'Battle Class.' Instantaneous changes lasted only moments, but that couldn't be absolute. He couldn't just snap into a different focus, although he could try to do so.
For a moment he felt his Lancer's Jump Ability flowing through his legs, and leapt upwards, realizing he was actually going to make it.
The walkway that had collapsed hit the fish-head and swung around, launching Meliadoul into him, sending them both back down onto the 'Chapel Roof,' his head throbbing. The concentration was gone now.
He lashed out, blocking the blow that was sure to come, and instead shoving the shield of the beast away before it crushed him. The thing was lashing at whatever had hit him, and also missed.
He looked behind to see it was Meliadoul.
For the first time he could see her with her hood off, as she attempted to rise. It looked strangely-peaceful and, well, rather pretty, against the backdrop of the water. Her chestnut hair cascaded down her back and blew in the water-induced breeze.
He flashed a brief smile at her, and she returned the favor, before spinning to watch Sentoriotor shoot up out of the water again. A Melt burst outwards from the shore, and he heard Malak's shout as he was tossed backwards into the whirlpool and onto the fish head.
"Malak!!" That was Rafa's voice.
"Shoot!" That was Alma's.
"Melt!" He shouted again, aiming at the two on the steeple. Ramza threw up his arm and moved in front of Meliadoul, letting the Gauntlet take the heat of the blast closest to them, while the rest passed-by. He clenched his teeth as the superheated front of the armlet shot through to his lower arm.
He spun and thrust Meliadoul behind him, slashing at the thing again. It blocked with its own armbrace, and responded with a punch, then a slash downwards at his chest, shield above the arm to finish the job.
He dodged to the side as Meliadoul ducked under the arm and shield, and twisted the creature's thumb, causing it to drop its sword. She picked it up, straining against the intense wait. "You and Hashmalum before you have the strangest ideas about battle!" She shouted, making a feint before switching to a two-handed stroke and bringing the blade at the creature's head. "One was bloodthirsty, in a way, yet acted as if his actions were necessary!" The blow dented the helmet of the thing, sending it back, dazed. "You don't do the former, but act more in the latter!" The second blow shattered the beast's helmet, causing it to stagger back again, and to almost slip.
She swung a third blow, but this time the thing gestured. The sword disappeared from her hand and reappeared in its, impaling her right shoulder. She cried-out and swung backwards, kicking at the thing's spiked breastplate to throw herself onto the top of the steeple, and activated an Elixer.
"Why!?" She shouted.
"To end this suffering!" The monster responded. "To finally produce a world with no strife in it!"
"My brother perished for that! We'll stop this in a different way!" She cupped her hands and ducked under the beast, punching it right in the left eye. She found herself thrown against the fish-head Malak was leaning against, trying to regain his balance.
That was all she wanted to do, just stop this, remove the insane Zodiac Braves so others could live without them being a threat. That was all she really wanted to do.
Something else could replace this madness, but her part would be done.
Something she knew they all longed for.
Within seconds she'd have none at all.
"Sentoriotor, you defend yourself!" Ramza lunged again, tearing through the left side of the thing's head with the Chaos Blade.
He moved-backwards, tripped, and fell again.
"No, you and Crysales both!" Ramza recognized the familiar voice of Nanaki as he leapt downwards, plowing into the thing, kicking aside its shield and performing some sort of transformation. He shoved a ray of light through the center of its brow before shimmering back and delivering a Cosmo Memory to the thing.
"This is for my people!" He activated a Sled Fang, tearing into the thing's already-wounded face and into its brian, sending it plummeting into the waters below. He spun and activated another Sled Fang, plowing under the Beoulve and towards Meliadoul and Malak.
"Grab on!" He shouted. The complied, and he launched himself out of the lake, landing beside the others as Sentoriotor exploded below, launching the Libra Zodiac Stone into the air.
It slid down a tree-branch above them, towards the trunk, before rolling down beside where they were now.
A final roar came, this one of the water, as it collapsed in on itself, destroying the last an most-sacred place of the Cetra, sending the fragments of its great work up into the air only to sink down into the whirlpool as it closed with a final gurgle that shook the shoreline itself.
In a way, The center of the Cetra's importance had truly been returned to the Planet...
Ramza sat gasping against Nanaki, who was curled-up behind him. Rafa was wringing her sleek-black hair free of water, while Alma finished administering the powers of her Healing Staff. She walked over to Ramza, sat-down beside him, and handed him the Libra Zodiac Stone.
He sighed and placed it in his pocket.
The snows here were light, blanketed by the seaweed trees they sat against, the occasional snowflake drifting to land upon them.
"What'd I miss this time?" Meliadoul asked.
Nanaki was the one who explained, ignoring the fact his back was slowly being covered with snow.
The Ex-Temple Knight sighed, leaning-back against a snowbank, eyes full of a deep sadness and a wavering resolve. "Normal life. That's not open to us anymore. We don't even know how to end this!" She added at the end.
"That's not true," Alma answered. "If we succeed we just find someplace to live, for each of us! We don't need anything special! We have more than enough Gil to buy at least eight common houses, I'd bet!" She pointed at the wallet she carried, full of the lightweight substance.
"That's an if," Meliadoul answered. "Maybe the rest of you have, in a way, but I didn't do much beyond look past the moment." She sighed, and silence reigned for at least several minutes, if not more.
"First we need to get out of here." Malak remarked.
Red XIII pulled-off his PHS, or what was left of it, from his collar. "We'll just have to wait with this thing broken."
"'Destroyed' is a better word," Alma pointed-out.
The thing had fallen into countless pieces held together by a few cords. Stray chips were caught in niches of the destroyed device, some may have even been lost.
"Then we wait until tonight," Alma stated.
"What if its passed?" Rafa asked, sitting down and pulling her hood back up over her head.
"I can tell by the still-confused animal activity it isn't," Nanaki responded.
"So we wait," Alma repeated. Then she pointed to Marlene. "And we make sure that she'll be waking up."
And hope, for the sake of the Planet, and those upon it.
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