Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 21

Precious Life

By Paul Nathans

The city was silent in the pale light.

A lone figure stepped into the deserted town, looking in sorrow at the village lights. It was a pity as to what had happened here before.

Once a proud town, the three armies of King Crashento, King Galerox, and King Desrardon had devastated the place, all for a treasure. Galerox was ruler of the region, so when the ambitious King Desrardon invaded, claiming that it was only right he annexed the place because they held a tower, he'd desicrated their sacred artifact, using its sword for his own, and had promised to destroy it if the village would not break away. King Galerox's close friend Crashento had come to his aid, but in the center of the village Galerox's army, in direct disobedience of Galerox's orders, turned and removed the shield, claiming it was needed to ensure it could be returned. The Black Orb that crested the area at its center had been taken with it.

Crashento, furious at the betrayal, had removed the armor from the statue and would've smashed it if not for the townsfolk themselves. Half the populace of the town had been butchered, while Crashento was kept from the castle. Galerox was obviously considering what to do now and how to deal with the traitorous person(s) under his command. Crashento, however, promised to return the armor, yet had now found a use for it. What, he did not know, but his ability to see much told him it was to protect some girl, or attempt to.

Ah, well. With the Orb missing from here, he could test Artesta too.

Creator grinned and began to form what would soon become Gen-Bu, hidden 'Guardian' of the Town of Hero, and their proud statue of the Paladin Cecil.

He emerged from the town at dusk to be confronted by a chestnut-haired lady, obviously of the Cetra. "I heard the Planet's cries," she said accusingly. "Are you behind the treachery here!"

"Go back to your hiding in the Elslumina Mountains! You're south of 'King Sword's' Palace," he was referring to the adopted name of Desrardon, just as Crashento had adopted the name 'King Shield,' and Galarox 'King Sword.' "Go back and hide and trouble this Master no farther."

Her eyes seemed to widen as she sensed the type of magical energies coming from the being. "You're one of Jenova's…and…"

She spun, clutching the ground. Green tendrils of energy shot up into his vision and encircled him. He roared and cast a Flare, leaving a crater in the ground and probably alerting a few people in the village a kilometer or so away. The Cetra was gone, and inwardly he swore he'd test their courage.


Around 1,200 Years Later

Barret finished placing the Nail Bat in his Maximum Ray. Cloud placed his Ragnarok on a nail and held it there. Tifa grasped the Nail Bat with her other hand.

"How do we direct Materia? They're not the same Level? Many are unrelated to each-other!?" She shook her head. "I'm thinking this won't work."

"My Magic, and that of my companions, exists here, and now, if the constellations be right…I'll keep that second fact to myself…" Ruass quickly reassured the others "…it was rather obvious…as to where they'd be supposedly…and while it doesn't exist now, it can still be willed!"

"Creatures perform the actions instinctively, but humans have advanced so much…its a theory Aeris told me," Tifa responded. "Although I did see an adult Condor activate a Phoenix to open the egg of its child when it was ready." Her voice dropped. "The ultimate gift of love, sacrificing her life so her child could emerge…" Her voice rose again. "And it formed a Materia!"

"They still exist!?" Ruass was astonished. "They used to be the largest population of birds, or so the knowledge Elidibs gave me told me…but by the time I was created, they existed only in the Ordallia Wastelands. They merged with the Planet in such a way it immediately gave-out Lifestream Energy, although where it goes, and how it is connected to the stones that sometimes appear at occasionally-large bursts is unknown."

"Materia is solidified Mako," Tifa murmured. "Yet how the Spell is still cast…unless they hold Magic in them…like the Legendary Espers…" Then her face brightened. "Aeris showed me how humans can talk to the Planet, in a way…I wonder if I can get through to the Materia…"

"Then we take the Shinra Ray to Junon and see if we meet anything incoming halfway with the missiles there!" Barret muttered. "I just hope that this doesn't harm the town." He dropped his voice even-lower. "And I still don't believe what happened ta' Reeve."

"He gave us the Emergency Lockdown Codes for our PHSs," Cloud responded. "Besides, if this 'Materia Activation' isn't disastrous, we should be able to use it there too! And lure the thing away." His tone showed he didn't like doing this as much as the rest of them, either.

They were all painfully aware of the risks they were taking, too.

All too well.


Meliadoul waited.

And while she waited, she tried to sort-out the thoughts, find some resolve.

Her beliefs had been shaken to the very core, and no one could sort it out for her. Ramza had dealt with this, he'd pulled-through, but he was content to be resting now, and she didn't want to disturb him.

And that was another thing that was beginning to bother her. She definitely regarded him as a friend, and even as a kindred spirit…but did it go deeper than that?

She pursed her lips and mentally placed that thought in the back of her mind. Now was not the time to be worrying about something like that.

Was it?

How much time did they really have left to think about anything?

She huddled, curling her arms around herself, as the breeze dropped again, and resumed trying to search for a purpose.

Then it came.

A faint wail, something she'd heard a few times before in her life, when her father had disappeared sometime after receiving the Leo Zodiac Stone. Before he'd emerged, when she'd almost noticed some changes around him, if not in his manner. And when Altima had arose, too.

This time, however, it increased until it was almost deafening. She remembered hearing about something called 'The Planet's Wailing' in history books, something that only special people could hear regularly, but other beings could if the 'wailing' was drastic. She hissed and clutched her head.

The keening wail passed.

"Elslumina…don't understand…someone…Tifa…Daddy!!!!!" Marlene screamed. Her eyes snapped-open, glowing brighter-green than normal, before they slowly slid shut once-again.


"The others'll be surprised to see us this soon, won't they!?" Cid shouted over the roar of the wind.

After discovering there was little they could do to help Reeve, Domino, and/or Ensalin, they'd decided to fly north to the Forgotten Captial to see if 'Ramza's Group' was still there, and if so, if they needed any assistance.

"Sir!" One of the technicians shouted. "We're running low on fuel!"

"This darn thing ain't supposed to have fuel!" Cid retorted, striding up to the man and shoving him aside. "Its supposed to convert the energy gathered-in from the air into power for the engine, while the propellers support this vehicle!"

"Uh, I think that no one fixed-up that specialty," the technician stammered. "Remember, this vehicle was in Jet Formation for a while!"

"Shoot!" Cid swore. "I forgot about that! Are we near our destination?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Then we'll land at Icicle Inn to refuel!" He snapped. "Get moving, dunderheads!"


It had many names, and it had none.

Not even what was the final choice fit. It was a simple fault of existence, it wasn't supposed to exist, yet here it had incredible knowledge, and was helping out a torture-crazed female entity destroy what was his to destroy.

She didn't even know she'd be the first to fall. He'd take her WEAPON, use it as he wanted, perhaps use it as an extension of his will, and turn it on his targets. He, or she, or any other genders that he might discover once it had left this human-infestated Planetary System behind, was solely in command.

The longer it waited, to more its burning desire to destroy arose. It gained so much knowledge, learned so many new ways to destroy, and yet played with the coherent schedule of that Aisha thing by slowing-down randomly. She wasn't tired, Aisha had underestimated she/he/it in that.

It sensed another presence, more destruction. Down on Artesta, more presences moved.

And then something called to him.

One word, one name, a sole importance.


It could stand no more. The knowledge of how a weakling bent on discovering knowledge and shaping it into a foolish crusade was thrown at him. It was a power he had to have. But he'd use it to lash back at those fools who'd informed him of it. It'd destroy everything, the Mu, itself, and could keep on destroying itself as it grew larger and stronger and reality produced more Universes, twisted reality, at his command, faster destruction. It could sense a place where something had wanted to betray others to use its powers, that could be used to govern reality, it'd be destroyed, destroying others, but rebuilding them, so she could annihilate cencillions more.

It would merge, massacre the presence while make it more of an apocalyptic force. It could do that at any time, any Universe. Some wanted to reshape the Universe and its 'Twin,' others wanted to do so to that and the Mu, others to reality.

But everything would perish, and as more and more were destroyed it would have to destroy more and more. Devastation, annihilation, a living cataclysm, an armageddon with no limits, absolute annihilation of the fabric of all realities, beyond even what the Mu wished, to the removal, the erasing, of composition, of existence. All would be effaced.

It would have the DEATHGYUNOS as another target.



Its speed seemed to pick-up, until the WEAPON began to become greater, stronger. Efface WEAPON, that's what its name would be, had to be.




That was when it happened.

Oppressive forces began to tear into him.

"Father!?" Aisha hissed. "And only a week-or-so away!?"

It realized it almost blew its cover, but now Aisha thought it had sensed the incoming beforehand, and stopped in the middle of a "We might have to-!"

Another thing to destroy.



And more knowledge.





Yuffie grinned. It was rather obvious that something like this would work. She'd at first thought it would be Jenova that was in numbers, or Ifalna, but those were too-obvious. Cetra was very-obvious, short, and therefore, probably eluded. So she'd hit in the numbers that matched the Cetra closest at the end, and her hunch had been right.

While Cid was refueling, and restocking, she was here, following a hunch.

She didn't know why, but there had to be important data here.

The screen above 'blip'ed and flashed on, as words began to scroll across the monitor, narrow and standing-out.


Jenova Project, Year 473 AW (After The Second War of the Magi), AJ (Now-Confimed to be After Jenova's Landing) 2,477, 9 Years After Project Start, 7 Years Since First Jenova-Test, Project Sephiroth, Born


[To Whomever is Reading this, this is dated 3 Years After Start of Aforementioned Project, 2 Years after First Jenova Test-Project Sephiroth, Born]


[Much to my sorrow, I have made another breakthrough in research of the Jenova Organism, courtesy of my deal friend Ifalna Celenda. Upon informing her of the project, the first time I have gotten to see her in many years, she distributed a serious alarm and remarked on "that's probably why the Planet is wailing now." Further investigation there will have to be conducted.

After hearing an astonishing, and awful, tale from her about how she was one of the few survivors of the Cetra alive, and about a calamity from the skies, I had no choice but to examine the organism further, and run a complete diagnostic on Ifalna. There is no distinguishing properties between Cetra and Humans, save for 'Mako Eyes' and a greenish-aura that is only shown of Mako-Detectors. On Jenova, nothing was found, and trusting in how she'd never lied before, I had no choice but to attempt to save the poor two-year-old boy, Sephiroth.

I failed, and instead learned how Ifalna was a Shinra Target. Thus we were forced to retire here. We find each other's company quite-enjoyable, and seem to have struck-up a firmer relationship than before. However, that is irrelevant to this:

Whoever is reading this, I can only hope, I can only hope it is before we are all too late to prevent an irreversible catastrophe.]


[End old transmission]


This earlier speech was recorded onto this file, following completion of the interviews on Jenova and WEAPONS. If you would like to see the original speech or choose from one of the top-security files on each, or the disaster discussed beyond, please click on the choices:


Original Letter
Jenova (Project and Specifications)
Spirit Energy
Ancient Legends


Yuffie clicked on the File marked 'Jenova (Project and Specifications) and scrolled down past any folders titled with anything that held project data. At the bottom she saw a simple file marked 'Calamity.' She clicked:


Date, Same as Recorded on Main Message:


According to ancient myths, before the crash of Jenova, those named the Ancients [Correct Term: Cetra] first emerged. They felt the Planet's sorrow, and learned of its pain. {Note: This obviously took many years, as they adapted first to their life on Artesta, then evolved, yet I have not as of yet been able to trace where they first appeared.}

They saw a two-sided column in the center of what connected the Path of Spirits {see also The Study of Planet Life in the Main Network} was connected by a large shaft. The Planet could not convey its meaning, but things were locked-up there, on separate planes. All Cetra seemed to understand that the pain came from either being linked to the Lifestream Web that expanded to the Universe, or that something, and its rotating object, were not supposed to be there.

This showed them their world could be hurt, and they began to understand what they could do to help the Planet…


Yuffie scrolled-down past the description of how Cetra communicated with the Planet, and the five Planes of the Lifestream, then stopped at a blinking red title near the end, and began to read:




Yet out of all the legends of the Cetra, the one thought to be based on fact most is that of the 'Calamity from the Skies.'


And here I finish reciting what Ifalna said, which I record in hopes that this small 'tale' may not be lost over time, yet here in the case of ill-wishers being able to use this knowledge, is disclosed within:

And now I pick up, in my own words, the rest of what I was told of Jenova.

Of how it sank into the Lifestream and poisoned it. The poisoning took form, and it was obvious that the effects of it could not be cured. The Planet ejects poison as beings eject poison if there is no cure and the process can be done. It creates life, so it had no choice but to create some type of life-form. It could not govern the Lifestream perfectly, and because of this, the delicate balance of the continents began to shift, disrupted by the war of powers below. When eventually Jenova was sealed-away, the mountains were already moving-in to cover the Crater. The WEAPONS had already been created.

Where she came from and what her purpose was is not known, but she wielded incredible power, and was able to regenerate her limbs no matter where they were cut-off, bring back portions of her cells and heal faster than anyone could, and wore a heavy metal covering over its head. The beast protected its brain and heart like a normal creature, no one had the chance to strike a blow, and she could cure fatal wounds simply by drawing-in the lost parts. She could probably regenerate from losing her life, if enough means were available.

But beyond all this, she is a master of illusion, projecting images into the minds of her enemies that are real if discerned so. She could take attacks, but would constantly rejuvenate and withdraw. At times she'd appear to have fully-recovered, once we learned that she could, when time was needed to heal a fatal wound. In theory this too would probably be possible from a lifeless state, again, if means were available. Those means would have to be more than not wishing to return to the Planet, because she is not from here, but some type of gathering of energies, or a strong concentration of perhaps even Cells. She cannot fight well close-up, but manipulates others and spreads diseases.

From all these attributes we could gather she may have been some form of living weapon sent to strike down all life, and possibly existence, on all planets, similar to the condensed form of Spirit Energy we have named Materia and sealed-away after discovering what it has done, as well as having banded together to create a Materia to counteract this. We sealed the Black Materia away safely, our White Materia has never been tested, for it could prove disastrous if there was no danger, causing it to attack the poison in the Path of Spirits and damage it even further, but if it does what we made it to do, it should protect from anything but perhaps the greatest forms of danger. Our families pass it around, it never staying in the same family for more than 100 Years.

Ifalna has it now.

The Black Materia wields an enormous Meteor, as large as a continent, approximately, that regenerates in the same way as Jenova, according to the Spell depicted therein. Nothing sort of total destruction could stop it, while many could be created. Using it at a constant basis would require a drain of much energy from any place, leading us to believe it is also a weapon used by a being(s) of extreme power. Who or what it/they are, is unknown, but don't forget such a threat may very well exist.


Yuffie scrolled-back out and clicked on 'WEAPONS.' All she got was a simple diagnostic of how they were fashioned in various sizes, usually none smaller than a house or so, and were not smart. They simply listened to the Planet in a roundabout way, attacking any and all dangers, ignoring ones they couldn't touch if it was suicidal to do so, but other than that, remaining calm and patrolling the skies, yet responding if they were attacked.

The Wutain exhaled. Here, at last, was conclusive proof to what they'd suspected. The Sapphire Weapon had attacked Junon to try to save them, since they seemed dedicated to helping the Planet, yet it alone of the WEAPONS seemed to have recognized them. The others did not approach the Crater because they couldn't. Ultimate Weapon had tried to save the citizens of Mideel from the Lifestream eruption, yet they'd misunderstood its purpose. Diamond Weapon had tried to stop a huge Mako drain, and had been slain. And by the time the Crater shield had been taken down, obviously before the Planet could fully register that, still recovering from the Mako Drain, they'd deemed the WEAPONS menaces and slain the remaining three.

Just like these thirteen had headed towards danger, the Pearl Weapon towards Gongaga, along with the Topaz Weapon, to stop the Reactor there from producing something that was still out there. The others, well…Peridot Weapon and Onyx Weapon had been on their way to stop a manipulation of poison in the Lifestream, and the Planet had to recover from the manipulation, which is why they hadn't been called-off, and they saw no more until the Xagor Incident.

She choked on a silent sob upon remembering Vincent's fate.

Then more had come to stop the activation of the Sister Ray at Midgar, not wanting it to be fired-again, and the Citrine Weapon was still out there, somewhere. And apparently the Sapphire Weapon, now being used as a true 'WEAPON' of attack, perhaps still being prepared, perhaps having launched already. She wondered how the Lucavi, what they'd been told, and all this connected. They knew enough, and now knew for sure Ceile and Aisha were responsible for the Black Materia and Jenova, yet there was still one missing link.

Ralyon did not command them all, did it?

Oh, well, if they could draw his attention to Elslumina and *TALK* to him, get through to him, perhaps they might find their true enemy yet. Although something with enough power that the likes of Ralyon, the Mu, and creatures like Aisha and Ceile seemed to bow down to was incredibly-frightening. They didn't know the limits of Ralyon's power, though, maybe he, Ensconce, and Lucavi were long-lasting. But even if they were that weak, and didn't listen, whether or not her promise prevented her from joining what might become a battle, they were in for one heck of a fight.

And this she seriously doubted they'd walk out of alive. They'd hoped, and thought they might be able to defeat, Sephiroth, but here doubts were so shallow…well, at least for her. She clicked on 'Spirit Energy' and 'Cetra' respectively, only to find it gave specifications of, for Spirit Energy: Six, now five, different planes of existence, and for the Cetra: How far they could communicate with the Planet, and what they could help it do. She gathered that the Goddess, the Orbs, the Mana Tree, the 'Separation', the first grouping of Crystals, and the second grouping of Crystals, and definitely the White Materia, had taxed them to their limits. It didn't take a genius to figure-out the overload from the Celestial Plane, even with perhaps the Lifestream of a Star, which it had to have, helping them out, and stopping the Imbalance caused by moving the Magi Statues from completely annihilating the Planet, had caused burnout.

Finally she clicked on the last link 'Ancient Legends.'

And read, with a sinking heart, the amount of text contained therein.


There are two other myths of the Cetra, recorded here in my own words. Respect them well.

The possibility that Stars and any Planetoids have Spirit Energy is obvious, or there would be no existence. Solar prominences 'live' in a way, but do Planetary Systems together? And then, farther out, Galaxies, Galactic Clusters, Galactic Superclusters, and ultimately, the Universe and its 'twin?'

The Cetra have long thought so, in the following way. The streams must interconnect between the Spirit Plane, forming a seventh 'Plane.' True Spirit Plane. It would connect to the other Lifestream, in each Planetary System, while those would connect to the other Planets, and then that connected to the larger along a path of the Galaxies, which would connect to all Planetary Systems, the same for their links, and they would connect to the Galactic Clusters, Galactic Superclusters, and ultimately, the Universe and its 'Twin,' Pureland, in the same manner.

If the need it great, the Planet, with a little help required in many cases… (probably why the Cetra hadn't perished while 'moving' population, a Planet, and a Moon, while creating another illusion, and moving another Moon, they must've been slaughtered in the first, but in the second, with the Imbalance of the Magi, that remained the same, and the Star-Lifestream Hypothesis was confirmed, the Ninja mused) …could do amazing things. Yet we cannot travel the Lifestreams save when we supposedly go to our Promised Land through them. So it remains a mystery.

As does that which the Planet can only tell us is Elslumina. It drifts in the Lifestream behind was has been named that place, with a narrow shaft growing over it up to the lake. It is sealed by a constant barrier of superheated Spirit Energy, that of souls who had failed to protect the Planet, and wished of a way their Spirits could. Thus the Spirit Energy in that place has been bent to flow around that barrier and out. Nothing can pass through that wall, it flows back around, covering the bridge, and down into the Lifestream pool, held in place by a large crystal much like that which lights the power of the Forgotten Capital, and flows back into the pool. The sea of sparkling light there is a phenomena, and one beautiful. We have erected a shrine there, and use it as a gateway in that artificial area to attempt to enter the mind of where the Path of Spirits seems to link with the theoried 'Greater Path.' Our 'Lifesteam Barrier' prevents adventures from walking through the bridge to the planes and being incinerated by the barrier there.

What dwells in Elslumina we can only guess.


Yuffie gulped, and hoped that they could get past that barrier. She considered suggesting they get Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and the other group, but they'd already agreed they didn't want to drag them into this possible 'suicide mission.' She keyed-in a Download Command and went to find Cait Sith 4. She knew it had an extension cord from its left ear, she'd seen one in the framework of Cait Sith 3.

She left the laboratory.


"Ready!" Tifa gasped, the first thing she'd said in a while. "I hope!"

Cloud nodded, squeezed her hand, and moved into position.

Barret moved into position too.

"Amalgam Ray!" Tifa screamed.


The tip of Cloud's Nail Bat began to glow, first red, then orange, then yellow, then green-yellow, then white, then blue-white. It was joined at the fringes by a myriad of shapes and colors as bems of energy lanced back-and-forth from the Materia, exchanging energy, poviding power, summoning creatures to add their own power.

Then it lanced-out, shooting straight through the atmosphere and tearing through the clouds before it reached the peak of is arc, shooting up north over Icicle Inn as Yuffie raced to an Inn, then gazed-up at the flash of light that passed by.

"Cloud," she spoke in awe.

The beam circled over the Planet once, then again, finally ripping over the Citrine Weapon, standing guard in front of Elslumina and shooting down the shaft at an arc so it deflected off the Lifestream and sailed right through a pillar in its way, tearing through the barrier composed of part of the Path of Spirits, which solidified behind it, and smashing into the barrier beyond with enough force it could've torn through one end of Meteor and out the other within seconds.

The barrier had never been meant to take damage like this. It rippled, and vanished, yet only in one place. Elslumina was now open to their plain, unknown to all, hoped by one Ninja as she continued towards her friends, and to all the denizens inside Elslumina.

Yet not to those who had been waiting for this action.


'Yess!!' Ralyon hissed. 'IT IS DONE!!!!!'

The puppets were now useless. Elslumina was open. And what was better was they'd managed to choose a final piece for the front of the 'Eye.' There was one final phase left before the plan could be activated...

...not between one and two weeks as they'd suspected, but closer to one.

'Soon the suffering will end.' He whispered. 'You have been in pain too long, my children. In but a week, you will no-longer know pain.



The jet continued on its path.

Reeve was not at the helm, but a nodescript pilot. It banked south, towards the Clensaria Mountains. It had been an hour since they'd fired the beam, they'd pulled-up a pilot from Kalm named Vicks, the very same who'd almost perished during the battle with Schrosorz. He'd been pleased to see they were alive, and they had been pleased to see he was alive.

They'd contacted Domino, and managed to convince him, well, Barret had managed to more-or-less tell him to do so or he'd do several innapropiate and not-so-nice actions after he'd for a few seconds thought of taking the idea back, to activate a security lockdown at Junon.

He'd told Barret to shut up or he'd beat him up, which had pretty-much silenced him, and Tifa had handled the rest. Reeve was off 'somewhere' assisting the group of scientists working on Operation: Absolute Zero set-up their 'rocket.'

The beam slashed through the left side of the plane without warning, opening-it to suction. Barret grunted, mumbled something about how he'd been right that they shouldn't go sit down no on he other side of the plane instead of standing in ready positions. They'd dealt with wind before, so this was a minor nuisance, although Tifa grabbed-onto one of the chairs and clung to it until it ripped-off, then dropped down and moved it in front of herself.

"Effective way to remove a chair," she said, reaching-down and kicking open a compartment full of guns which she then proceeded to shove the chair down on, firmly, yet in a way she wouldn't have to drag against it to remove it. "And effective for emergency maneuvers in testing theories as to where emergency weapons are."

The next blow came at the engine.

"Hang on!" Shouted Vicks. "Time to fly!"

He punched a switch...


...transparent glass snapped-shut over the side of the plane, on the inside, to be exact. The outside blew-off, giving them a wide-open view to the blizzard, just as the plane down-down.

A huge green hand shot through the air above them, followed by a cyborg-like starry-arm. An enormous crescent appeared and slashed at the two planes, destroying the sides of the other. An enormous blast of energy suddenly gathered in the air and shoved through the blizzard.

It hit the jet and smashed into its shielding, causing it to crackle.

"Testing our strength, eh?" Barret hissed as the blow sent him wobbling backwards. He still couldn't see much through the transparent walls because of the blizzard outside.

Apparently not for long, as an enormous pattern of globular blasts began to tear through the air around them, smashing into mountains and upending them. A condor below screeched and ducked, shielding her wings to protect her nest even as the whole top of the mountain crashed down upon her in a downpour of boudlers. A laedge crashed over them, catching-onto two other pieces of rock and supported them, protecting them from any further barrage, while leaving a small opening to the air, one that could be made larger with work.

"Your idea, remember!" Barret whispered to Ruass.

He simply ignored the comment and prepared to activate one of his Spells, probably the one that converted all the energies of the targeted opponent into destructive powers. He was met with a roaring cry, and a blast of flaming energy.

Vicks swore and jerked the jet down, but not after they got their first look at the monstrosiy which faced them.

At least 50 times the size of the Onyx Weapons, so large its head towered-above even these 30,000 feet, was a starry cyborg. Its feet and claws were composed of blue-green energy, while strange objects seemed to rocket around it. An enormous pedastal with some sort of cyborg-creature, huge and muscular, with a skeletal face atop it, as well as a wispy beard, and a glowing left eye, attached to it could just be seen atop the head of the main head with the Sense Materia, its torso and below attached to a blue-green hovering thing. The torso of the beast itself resembled the thing as well, and portions of it were attached with cyborg machines. Its nostrils breathed huge blue-white flame, and multicolored destructive energies, also blue-white in color, were behind its eyes and mouth.

It roared and lashed-out at them again, left hand tearing through the air and grasping at where they were, channeling out a spray of sizzling, pure, power. Wedge snap-rolled between two of the strands and dove into the mountains. The thing roared again and fired an enormous multi-colored projectile after them.

"Hang on!" Vicks screamed as he kicked-in full-speed and shot forwards, the projectile but meters behind them, burning against their rear shields, causing them to waver briefly. The mountains smashed-apart upon connecting, while the thing strode through them, bashing them aside with hands as one punching his way through a snow-drift might do with the snow, occasionally firing more projectiles. Vicks ducked and wove through the mountains with a skill that surprised them all.

Barret swore and collided with the chair Tifa had pulled-up, thankful Yuffie wasn't here to complain.

"SHHHHOOOOOOOOT!!!!!" Vicks screamed as he snap-rolled again, in the opposite direction of the first one, and piloted through a pair of narrow ciffs, the projectile exploding upon impact with them and bringing the mountainsides down towards them. He pulled the plane low and dove, emerging north of Junon as the mountainside smashed to the bottom.

As an afterthought, Tifa cast a Flare there, hoping to convince the thing they had been destroyed.

They heard no more movement, save for a faint scraping sound, and assumed it was digging through the mountains.

"Thank goodness that blizzard gave us cover!" Vicks gasped. "Although not a scratch! Boy, I wish I could see old 'I'm-The-Best' Cid'dy' Highwind now!" He laughed and brought them above Junon.

Barret bit back a retort...


..."Was that what was sent to intercept us?" Barret spoke, scratching his head in confusion as they descended towards Junon, until it became clearly-visible, as well as a few prominent silhouettes on the ocean.

Cloud seemed about to respond-

"We're not out of trouble yet!" Ruass interrupted, pointing through the clear floor at the waters near Junon.

A familiar bluish fin was slashing through the ocean around twenty miles from where they were, heading straight for the Port City.

"How...?" Tifa began.

Another projectile slammed into the back of the aircraft, shattering the rear energy shields and destabilizing the shield generator, causing all of the vehicle's shields to short-out. A huge hand shot-out at them. Ruass spun and cast Balance on the thing.

Tifa activated her Sense Materia again, and once-again was rewarded with a glimpse of the pedestal-like-hat. The arm swept down again, causing Vicks to cut the altitude abruptly. As the Sense Materia retracted, she noticed the skeleton attached to the thing again, yet noticed something-else, how its torso seemed to merge with the thing, not like it was a part of the body, almost as if...

...the monster was a part of it.

"This thing was once used as a weapon!" She spoke. "Someone gathered a lot of power and formed it into that thing, an extension of its body!"

"How would that help us!?" Barret responded. He swore again and crashed into another bulkhead as Vicks ducked down under another swipe and shot-up, swiveling around and darting for Junon again.

The ominous shape of what could be the 'restored' Sapphire Weapon neared the city, the waves parting before it and spraying in the frigid air.

The colossus behind them roared again, letting a huge beam of white energy shoot from its chest. Vicks brought the plane down again, then shot back towards the thing as an incredibly-large, vertical discus appeared behind them.

Tifa suddenly grinned and pulled-open the emergency latch, at the same time grabbing a parachute and throwing it around her chest, snapping it shut. She leapt-out and allowed the breeze to yank her up, almost to the dissipating white beam, then floated slowly downwards, concentrating on her Master Magic Materia.

"What...?" Cloud recovered from his astonishment and turned-away from Tifa's skydiving figure, reaching-down for a now-useless Dispel Materia. He removed the Double Cut Materia from one slot in the Ragnarok's hilt and placed the Dispel Materia in, then activated it himself.

The size of the Spell enlarged enough to slam into the thing. He doubted this would work, but blinded the creature long-enough for Tifa to twist the parachute towards the plane and snap it shut. She skydived downwards. Cloud glanced at her to make sure she was okay, then back at the Spell. It appeared to be shimmering.

"Parasite!" Ruass hissed.

The bursts of multicolored magic erupted in front of the thing as the Dispel vanished. Tifa snapped-open her parachute again and yanked towards the plane, boarding and slamming the door shut again.

"MOVE TO JUNON!!!!!" She screamed.

"Affirmative!" Vicks snapped-back, bringing them into a dive. Tifa unhooked the parachute and placed it back in the wall container nearby. Barret activated a Bahamut Summon as they rocketed away, hoping it would continue to block the thing from seeing them...

"I had to try to Dispel the thing," Tifa said. "It didn't work, but I see you three came-up with a good contingency plan."

Then came the reason the thing hadn't attempted a wild blast of energies. The back of the plane literally was sucked-off into a sphere of gravity.

Cloud hissed and braced himself.

"What...!?" Vicks shouted. "Why's the plane...!?"

He shove the switch up to full-power and rocketed-off. The sphere grew in intensity until it could no longer, but the plane managed to blast against it. The humans, however, didn't, and braced themselves again. The chair that Tifa had wrenched-out shot backwards, sending her flying. She grabbed onto another chair, then dropped to her feet and began to inch forwards.

The plane began to fly backwards, parts of the back getting ripped-off. Vicks swore and kicked-in an overdrive, sneding them rocketing forwards and out of range of the gravity well. By this time the Bahamut Materia had finished its performance, and the creature lunged again, planting another gravity well in the center of the plane, one already at maximum intensity. The quartet braced themselves again, and the plane started to snap inwards while a projectile launched towards them.

Tifa cast a Demi on the thing, close-enough so it wouldn't enlarge while nearing the target, and snapped the orb in half, causing the air to detonate momentarily and throw them backwards. They still had the vacuum to deal with, leaving them staggering to their feet, save for Ruass, who was hanging-onto the back of the plane and pulled-himself up onto it.

The ducked the jet, only for its engines to be blasted by two more projectiles, small ones, and detonate.

"Darn!" Vicks cursed as the engines began to sputter.

"That's it!" Barret roared, raising his Maximum Ray. "Ultimate End!"

"Mimic!" Cloud intoned.

"Mimic!" Tifa shouted.

"Get us down!" Ruass snapped.

The 'Triple-Spell' was activated, blasting into the enormous beast and sending it into the Spirit Plane. Vicks let-loose a string of curses as the flew over the top of Junon. Below them, SOLDIERs and Attack Squad Members taking-positions on the battlements to meet the fin that would pass into their firing-range in seconds looked-up. Vicks punched another button, and the airship's engines whined-down, while a concussion field below allowed the ship to drop.

"Open fire!" one of the SOLDIERs barked.

The 'Triple-Spell' of Ultimate End came to its final conclusion, leaving a bewildered, and bruised, titan behind. It began to scan the area, and noticed the WEAPON moving towards Junon. Deciding it best not to interfere with the WEAPON, the colossal monster teleported away.


Yellow-white projectiles streaked out into the ocean, slamming against the fin of the approaching monster.

Ragnarok's hilt carried six Materia Slots, four on each side of the upper-hilt, one on the center-middle crossbar. He'd fit his other two into his Buster Sword, and made sure its hilt was attached to his shoulder pad, similarly attached to his Imperial Guard, so he didn't loose room for Materia. Barret's Maximum Ray held six Materia Slots in a ring pattern, but he'd managed to attach two to his normal prosthetic, the Gaitling Gun, the two niches between the Maximum Ray.

They could still put up a fight with Materia.

The yellow-white projectiles slammed into the fin of the beast, but did no damage. This time, however, no one intended to deal with a repeat of Junon's first encounter with a WEAPON. The metal walls that protected Junon slid-down at the uppermost section, allowing a large plasma shell to be thrown into the air as the WEAPON neared the harbor. The SOLDIERS took that as their cue and scattered.

Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Ruass, and Vicks were now at the back of the harbor, ceasing their dash and panting for breath. The fires from the jet engines caught-onto the fuel tank, setting the thing ablaze and causing it to erupt. Vicks held his pistol, and one of the guns Tifa had found.

The plasma energies descended lower.

Cloud glanced back at the totalled jet. "Vicks, leave!" He shouted.

"Without you!?" He shook his head. "Two of you have given me a helping-hand before, you also ensured my safety back on that flight! We're in this together!"

The plasma ball struck the fin, and ricocheted off it harmlessly.

"Heck," Barret whispered.

Waves parting before the creature, Sapphire WEAPON slammed once-again into the Junon Harbor at full-speed, the waves crashing-down before it, the metal structure of the enormous city shaken...


...Vicks screamed as the waves threw him backwards into the wall.

The other four had been thrown-back, too, save Barret, who held his ground against the current until the full-force of the wave slammed into him like a wall, throwing him backwards. This proved harmful for Ruass, as he gun-arm struck the Byblos' skull with a crack. He, too, slumped to the ground, unconscious.

"Remove!" Tifa shouted, shaing her head to clear the ringing from when she'd been smacked against the wall, too, willing the portal to deposit the two in the unused gas chamber where they could easily be reached by a plane later, whether or not the damage there had been repaired, because the place had windows. She smashed a Hyper Ether down on her Pemium Heart, then her Minerva Vest.

Barret did the same thing.

Cloud moaned and pushed himself to his feet, having been thrown onto one of the arms of the harbor. His eyes widened for a moment as Barret threw two Turbo Ethers at him, but then he nodded in understanding.

And at the same time, the Sapphire Weapon arose.


Nothing had changed to it. It was the size of the Emerald Weapon, half the size of Junon, with fin-shaped spikes jutting back from its head. Its skin was sapphire, fringed with reddish-brown and white. A spike protruded from its brow, which seemed to be a smooth helmet. Its left arm ended in a twisted spear-like tentacle, while its right arm ended in razor-sharp claws, with a scythe protruding from its elbow, arcing-out around its arm to encompass it.

Its chest held a shield over it, while its elbows, knees, and ankles were spiked. Its clawed-foot, four-clawed, as its right hand, was also sharp, while the center of the fin-shaped spikes from its back formed the fin they had seen. A long-tail jutted outwards. The color of the whole thing was the same, red-grey in various places, whitish, too, especially on its chestplate and brow, but mostly sapphire. Its 'orb' was obviously behind the shield.

Its face was shrouded almost-completely behind its helmet, but its eyes, nose, and mouth could be made-out.

"Son of a submariner!!!!!" Barret shouted.

The blizzard howled around them, the frged waves washed around their feet, and this smaller, yet just-as-dangerous, giant of a monster faced them, standing at the other end of the huge dock in front of Junon.


Barret made the first move.

"From the depths of the Planet, channel your powers! TetraDisaster!" He shouted. They shimmered out of existence... be replaced by a blazing eruption of fire. It quickly condensed on the monster, transforming into a huge boudler of ice, then into a dome of lightning that arced-outwards. The dome flew backwards into the form of Kjata, the enormous, brown-furred boar, which reared-up and brought its feet down. An earthquake rippled throught the peir, then monster and quake dissolved...

...allowing the others to shimmer back into existence.

"Madness of the air, bring forth your wrath in a cyclone! Disintegration!" Tifa shouted, raising her Premium Heart.

The trio shimmered out of existence again...

...this ime replaced by a two-headed, pinkish-red creature. It cackled madly, forming an 'obelisk' around reality, and created an enormous cyclone. As the winds ripped upwards, it spun the 'obelisk'' creating a white-and-blue pattern of clouds 'below' that would cut through armor with ease. The Sapphire Weapon fell into the whiplike clouds, and the other head of Typoon cackled. The 'obelisk' righted-itself...

...and the trio shimmered back into existence, reality, save for the Sapphire Weapon, which had fallen to the ground on its head and quickly moved back to a standing position, something that snapped a whole group of docks from the pier, was back as it was before the Spell was cast.

It opened its mouth and roared, a huge ray of light shimmering-forwards and smashing into Cloud, throwing him backwards and to the ground, Imperial Guard sizzling. The WEAPON spun-around, tail catching Barret in the side of the head, and throwing him to the right and to the dock. It spun again, lashing-out with its 'spear-arm,' throwing Tifa to the left and to the hard metal ground.

"Bird of flame, let your healing course through every damaged vein! Phoenix!" Cloud cried.

Previous attacks had just seemed to annoy the thing more, as this did.

It lashed-out with its scythe-arm, the scythe twisting below the hand, even though the bar could not move from the wrist, then twisting back. Barret was forced to leapt back and low to the ground even as he regained his feet. The next slash tore through his Imperial Guard too.

"Typhoon!" The thing roared.

Cloud and Tifa simply steadied their feet, while Barret scrambled to his feet and braced himself. A column of water formed in the air, picking-up two ocean liners and throwing them to the ground, before lashing-out with saber-edged talons of water. They'd dealt with wind long-enough to simply shove back against it and maintain in a position that was almost reflexive.

This left them wide-open to the water, and Tifa was thrown back into the wall again with a cry. She slumped to the ground, unconscious, while Barret and Cloud were forced backwards, armor shredded in other palces, wounds only superficial. One of the ocean liners crashed nearby, and its anchor smashed to the ground, pinning Barret's left leg to the ground. He howled in pain and unleashed Catastrophe from the ground.

The Sapphire Weapon let the energy flow around it. Parts of its sides were scorched, as well as its legs, but its head and chest were completely undamaged.

Cloud cast an Angel's hisper on Tifa, then spun and activated a Regenerate to pull Barret's left leg, which was not completely separated from his body, back to a position where it might be able to be healed later.

The Sapphire Weapon kicked-him, throwing him back into the wall again. He responded with a Cherry Blossom, using the 'size' trick they'd discovered before to scorch more of the outer skin of the thing. Its head, shrouded, still remained undamaged, yet it was sent staggering.

Seeing his chance, he quickly switched frames of mind and launched into a normal Omnislash, letting it rocket him to the right leg of the thing, where he chopped-away at its knee. The creature roared and lashed at him again. Cloud leapt up onto the spear arm, then towards the face of the thing, still powered by Omnislash, attempting to hold-in the energy required for the Limit Break's final blow. Right hand met the blade instead, and was sliced in half, energy peircing all the way to its elbow. He rocketed back as it split, shards of skin raining-down on him and throwing him to the pier, interrupting his descent as he neared the ground.

He attempted to rise, yet one large piece pinned him don, and he was momentarily-stunned from hitting the ground. He hadn't been up high-enough to receive a fatala injury, but it was hard to breathe. The wind had been knocked out of him quite-well.

The monster kicked at one ocean liner, throwing it back into the wall and causing the street to come tumbling down. Tifa quickly slid away, but was bashed to the ground by the back of the thing's chain. It only skimmed her back, but was going at a fast-enough-speed to throw her down in her state. The rest of the chain settled on her, trapping her, too.

Claws and another beam of energy came down as Barret grunted and unleashed another Catastrophe. It was sufficient to force the thing back a few inches, causing the beam of energy to pass between them. Cloud hissed as heatwaves from the blast assailed him.

The thing was waving what was left of its right arm, and its left arm, but regained posture. Like the efficient fighting 'thing' it was now, and wholly that, it slashed through the water, sending a tidal wave up to wash one of the ocean liners into Tifa. It smashed into the wall, and he could no longer be seen.

Cloud barely had time to react with any restorative before a skimmer was picked-up and thrown at him, smashing into his upper chest. He winced as he felt ribs crack, and turned his head to the side so the boat landed on his left cheek, bashing-it before rolling to the side.

The thing picked-up another ocean liner. The bash against his cheek had cut deep, but not into his brain. This would crush them all for sure, though.

Like a huge eruption of light, Final Heaven blasted through the ocean liner that had smashed into Tifa. She was in a crouched position, a bent part of the starboard side ripping up above her, meaning she'd managed to crouch there. She clutched her Premium Heart and rocketed into her combo again, launching it at the left leg of the beast. The next Final Heaven blasted upwards, shattering it and the whole left side of the monster, excluding its skin, into pieces.

She landed without trouble.

Sapphire Weapon let-out a cry of indignity and flipped backwards, catching her in the chest and hurling her back into the other destroyed ocean liner. The world blacked-out for a moment, and she regained consciousness seconds later to find herself having been flung to the ground. The thing flipped-again, shooting-up, and allowing its shield to glow.

It did, then a white shield shot out of the real thing and began to whirl in the air, growing and shooting-out crackling energies, smashing through the piers and walls, while the heatwave tore into the air and burnt the ships, searing her face. One blast struck her in the midsection, and she gasped, falling to her knees. She was protected by nothing, but if she could survive a Supernova with the shields around them being blasted-through, and then just barely, she could survive this.

A lesser person would've been slain instantly, and even then she hadn't been prepared. The blast should've slain her then, it was small enough to punch right through her. They'd survived the Supernova because they'd been built-up then, ven though they'd been seriously burnt and their shields had been shattered, and thanks to Barret's timely Megalixir. That was really what had saved them in the aftermath, or they would've perished, lungs burnt and choked. The MegaBarrier had saved them from being vaporized but was so-badly-weakened the blast of heat tore it apart, and the armor protected them a bit, so they didn't have to deal with all three layers of power.

This was a pure miracle in itself.

She pressed and X-Potion to the wound, gasping for breath, thoughts still whirling. Her chest was slightly-scorched, the Minerva Band having absorbed the heat as it had been designed to do and saving it from harm, but like with many other blasts they had received, she was still harmed while her armor was not.

And for every time they survived, someone-else seemed to perish.

The 'Shinra' had reformed and were blasting-out again. The Sapphire Weapon shot up its scythe-arm, a cord-like whip blasting from it and up to the highest-levels of Junon. Precisely, without touching a single building, it came down, decapitating each and every of the other attackers above.

It blasted from its mouth again, and she threw herself to the side, the X-Potion vial shattering and a shard of glass embedding itself deep in her right hand, drawing blood. She gasped against the pain as she tried to rise.

The WEAPON roared again...

...Barret fired the second and last-remaining of his emergency grappling cords, allowing-it to attach to the left eye of the beast, and fired his second, shorter, grappling-cord to the ground. Then he allowed it to shoot him up to a huge height. He reached to his wasit and unholstered one of the guns Tifa had found, charging-it up and coming down right below the weapon's helmet, where he swung the shorter cord and attached it again.

The thing reached-up with its left hand, and he fired, the beam cutting-through the already-weakened-cord at the scythe of the beast and smashing it apart. He disattached the larger-cord from his Gaitling Gun and swung the lower one down to Cloud, quickly-firing a morse code message of 'Grab Hold!' with short laser bursts from the gun, into the thing.

He hurled the shorter cord into the left eye of the thing, clenching his left arm tighter as it made contact, causing him to duck under the tail that came around at him and instead smashed into Tifa's chest, throwing her back again, rips snapped, as she was about to execute her Limit Break Combination again.

Cloud had already-grabbed-hold, Materia Blade unsheathed now, and activated an Omnislash in mid-air, the less-concentrated type. One singlee cone of energy surrounded and attached to his blade, from hilt to top, and extended outwards, smashing through the face of the WEAPON. It roared, crackled, then blasted to piecesn snapping the cords and throwing them to the pier below...


...where they collided with it, hard.


Ramza sat on the soft snow.

"Its amazing how one tiny stone can cause so much devastation," he spoke, flipping the crystal over and gazing at the other side of it. "Funny how they claim their mission is peace, yet they still destroy."

"That's what Izlude and I thought," Meliadoul whispered. "We didn't know this Planet has no God or Goddess, we thought that they were talismans that granted protection and healing. To make the world a better place."

"That's what they are for."

Ramza whirled.

Something stood at the edge of the clearing. It was apparently what had spoken. Its breathing was as raspy as its voice as it stepped forwards. "We want a peaceful world." It stepped-forwards again, beginning to appear as 'something' other than a shape. "You have fulfilled your role in this. Your friends have made it possible for us to create the perfect Universe which we have dreamed about."

Another step. A golden-black talon appeared in the snow.

"You can't escape." The thing stepped forwards again, right talon visible now. "This city is surrounded with each and every creature that can be thrown at you. From Imps to Plagues, Bombs to LunarDragons. You are trapped."

The thing took a final series of steps forward, revealing itself it last. Its claws were tiny for the rest of the beast, which rose out of the crouching position it was in. Apandas and Plagues, yellow-golden, large ones approached from behind them. The thing in front of them was snake-like, with mantis arms and tiny talons, bony yet large, towering a good five feet above them.

"I am all that remains of the once-proud Agonelt, master of the dragons. My brothers were slain, yet you will not survive. Beholds the Minds and the EvilMasks." More creatures stepped into the clearing. "And the tortured spirits of the Phantom Train alone, those that were so strong they left the Planet but couldn't be returned by normal methods, so they required something to take them to a Lifestream Opening. These are the ones on the Phantom Train that were tortured spirits."

White-caped figures arose, and shed their mantles to reveal wraith-like creatures with glowing orange eyes and black, crackling, something, where the rest of their bodies would be.

"Ogopogo, cousin, and my friend…"

"Scrap the eulogy!" Rafa shouted, stepping-forwards. "What about us!? Where does our pain come in, what we've suffered! What do you creatures really want!"

"Blasphemer! You are mine!"


It was over as quickly as it began.

Anogelt screeched and leapt forwards. Rafa withdrew her staff and brought it around, smashing it into the face of the thing.

"We're already heretics!" She responded, before activating Sky Demon and leaping back as the area exploded. Ramza, Alma, Meliadoul, and Nanaki stood back-to-back, unleashing blast after blast of Ultimas and Cosmo Memories at such a fast basis the front ranks were cut-down in seconds.

"You will leave my sister alone!" Malak spun below the thing as it slashed-out with a talon, chopping-it off and casting Sky Demon Back, leaping away as the thing screeched. 'Back' Spells did the most damage to demonic creatures, and this thing was definitely something to be classified as one.

A Plague, one of the larger ones, swooped-in from above. Meliadoul dodged to the side and cut-off its left wind, then cut in a horizontal arc, slicing-it in half. Nanaki suddenly found a Cosmo Memory deflected back at them by an Evil Mask, and leapt aside, kicking the three of them down.

Anogelt lashed-downwards, biting Malak's tunic and lifting him up. He thrust his spear into the thing's eye, bringing his staff down upon the beast's skull. He cast another Sky Demon Back, watching as the thing staggered back, then sliced at its neck again. The thing screamed once-more and threw him backwards. He hit the snowdrift and tumbled, black flashing before his eyes.

"You're only humans! You understand nothing!" It brought its serpentine head down. Rafa moved to deflect, and in turn was kicked in the torso, sharp claws ripping through her flesh and leaving a gaping wound.

Malak hissed, tossing an Elixer to her and attacking again. Rafa silently administered the Elixer to her wound. She clutched her stomach as it began to perform its healing-process taking slower than usual because of the intensity of the wound.

Malak threw himself forwards, bringing his staff down onto the thing's neck. Greenish blobs suddenly surrounded him, as the thing shrieked ,"Virus!" He felt suddenly dizzy, and began to loose his footing.

"Sky…Demon…Back…" he moaned, seeing where the energy had come from in his mind's eye, at last finding a way to channel his attacks at the target, not at the general radius. The blast hit right in the thing's brain, and did what it was truly meant to do, rip the creature apart from the inside.

He fell to the ground, gasping for air, and began groping for a Remedy even as an Ahriman swooped down upon him, targeting him with a Level 3 Flare, and all three of their destructive blasts.

"Sky Demon!" Rafa screamed, having seen what her brother did and trying to focus on the aura coming from the creature. A yellowish-white detonation took-place just below the thing, arcing-up to engulf it in flames. It shrieked and crashed to the ground. Rafa moved to her brother's side and guarded him as he finally found a Remedy amongst his inventory and activated it.

And continued to, unleashing her true powers, as well, would, until he finished healing and they could move somewhere else.

A RedDragon lunged forwards, sweeping-out with its tail and throwing them back into the clearing. Ramza cast another group of Ultimas, grabbed an X-Ether, and gulped it down quickly.

They still kept-on coming.

Alma activated an Ultima in the center of the creatures, throwing more to the side and sending down groups in piles, claws and wings ripping into each-other and slaying many.

And they continued to come closer.

"We're in trouble," Meliadoul breathed.

A whir of engines came from above, and the familiar form of the Highwind descended through the skies. One of the pilots took a quick look at the situation and threw down a rope ladder. The group quickly scurried-up, an Apanda leaping and grabbing onto the bottom. Ramza, last to board, sliced downwards, taking the thing's head off in a clean stroke, and scrambled the rest of the way up.

Another Apanda attempted to climb, and was shot down by one of the pilots. "Bring us up, blockheads!" Cid shouted to the Pilots. "Head for Elslumina Mountains, Elslumina Lake, above the clouds with the radar as before, and inform us if anything happens!"

The two Pilots at the controls nodded, while the other pulled-up the rope ladder. Highwind climbed into the skies seconds later as a Level 3 Flare erupted beneath them, and soared above the clouds, free of danger.


"Have I mentioned how-much I detest those darn foo' WEAPONs!?" Barret hissed as the lurch of the Shinra Jet they were aboard, thanks to Vicks' security clearance, moved to the side and began to circle Junon again, banging a seat into his not-quite-healed left leg.

"I believe this is the 19th time you have said that," Ruass remarked.

Tifa stifled a giggle.

"Are you sure the WEAPON wasn't what came to the trap?" Vicks shouted back to her. She and Cloud were sitting next to each other on the right side of the aisle, Barret on the left, at window seat, and Ruass crouching in the middle.

"It looked like it was headed elsewhere!" She responded. "And unless that gigas of a beast shows-up again, I'm starting to wonder if they figured-out the trap…"

"Actually, I believe we did all they wanted us to, and the gigas was a means to dispose of us," Ruass spoke.

Cloud's face went white, the first motion she'd visibly discerned in him since the battle, besides simply moving. She hadn't been able to get a word out of him at all. "Let's go to Elslumina, then," he whispered.

"*WHA-AT!!!!!?????" Barret shouted. "Make up your mind, spike!"

No one else voiced protest.

"Elslumina Lake, please," Cloud spoke again, before collapsing back into his seat as Vicks nodded and changed course again, simply gazing out at nothing.


Ramza whistled after reading all the information Cait Sith had given them. They'd already relayed information of what they'd done to each other, now it had been time to see Yuffie's treasure. Ramza changed his armor into Crystal Armor, and they'd exchanged Items again.

It took one quick word from him to confirm to his sister and those who hadn't been with Cid, Yuffie, and Cait Sith what they already knew.


Then he turned and addressed them, each standing in separate places around the meeting hall.

"As we are aware, this is quite-possibly the most-dangerous task any of us have ever embraked upon us," he began. He paused to take a deep breath. "Not all of us, maybe none of us, may come back from this task alive. We chased Vormav through Orbonne, knowing we would meet with disaster, but not as much as we did meet. Nanaki, you travel amongst us to observe and learn through experience; you descended through the North Crater with your friends. You have journeyed with them, and with us, knowing what you might face, but not with an absolute certainty the danger would be this great.

"And it may be worse, we have no way of knowing what we truly face. I stand by each of you if you choose not to come. Your lives are your own, and if you don't want to risk them against a danger this great, you don't have to come. Who wishes to leave the group?"

There was a muffled-snort coming from Rafa and a collective shake of heads. A similar muffled snort came from Yuffie.

"Was your mother, grandparents, or any of your ancestors related to her?" Cid whispered.

"My mother's name was Jenet Galthana," Yuffie responded.

Cid whistled.

The ship shook violently as if it had slammed into something huge.

"*WHAT THE-!!!!!?????*"


Cid emerged into the starry skies above the clouds to gaze into the monstrous visage of a starry face with some tiny platform-type-helmet atop its head, a large skeleton, with torso attached to its bottom barely seen at the apex of the thing's brow, a red-grey-peach head below, silver cyborg parts showing through, as well as some stars, a burning head there, as well. Blackness showed through there, with stars and clusters of nebulas everywhere, as it seemed to on the thing's body. Its enormous arms were green-blue, cyborg-like, and parts of it, were cyborg-like. He assumed the legs looked the same way.

Malevolent eyes with a burning blue-white fire gazed upon him, as did a gaping mouth filled with blue-white fire, too, and nostrils breathing the same blue-like fire. He was the first, besides the Highwind pilots, to gaze upon the thing that had assaulted the group so-long-ago.

One red orb seemed to burn in the skeleton's left eye socket.

"I am DEATHGYUNOS!!!!! Your destroyer!!!!!"

"Take that line and shove it up your-!" Cid began, but didn't get to finish. The two hands came around to the airship. He pulled one of the left emergency levers, causing too doors to open below deck and lower engines that could swivel and point down, or up, if down, the smoke would be filtered into the energy system, shoved aside the unconscious pilot at the main controls, and brought it straight down, below those monstrous hands.

The others emerged, weapons at the ready, and gazed upon this monster with expressions of awe and fear intermixed. Cid couldn't blame them, this thing had to be about 30,000 Feet tall.

He turned his gaze to the two Co-Pilots, and swore. Both of them had been thrown to the deck, heads crushed and necks snapped. One had a crushed chest and a twisted right leg. He turned to the pilot that he'd shoved aside, and saw he was only bruised. "Get him inside, and tell the others to stay inside!" He snapped, pulling the airship lower.

Yuffie nodded, ran forwards, picked-up the pilot, spun, and bolted back inside. The second attempt to crush them with a clap ended with hands above them again, but this time they came down. He quickly dragged the ship to the side, but the thing moved incredibly-fast, and slashed downwards. He pulled another lever, causing poles to extend from the metal plating below the blimp and snap-attach to the rings around it, forming propellers above that tore through the thing's right hand, ripping-off the part of it that came down towards the Highwind.

DEATHGYUNOS roared and sent-out an enormous blast of energy from its mouth. It spread and formed a vertical discus behind the airship, which immediately began to retract.

"Brace yourselves!" Cid shouted, bringing the ship into a steep vertical dive. The group all moved to grab onto the sides, save Meliadoul, who couldn't move fast-enough and began falling forwards. Ramza grabbed onto her left arm and held it tightly as Cid continued the dive, passing through the clouds and away from the discus.

They could now see the thing's torso, cyborg-like, too, and its feet, which Cid had guessed correctly about. He dove under them, skimming the ocean waters, and pulled-up behind the thing. It spun-around and grabbed the Highwind. Cid yanked the third of the 'Emergency Levers' he hadn't used, causing the rest of the airship, save the jet section, to detonate, and causing two more poles to snap-up on the sides, giving them the same maneuvering room as before.

The jettisoned sections of the Highwind flew backwards into the thing's left hand and exploded, taking a section of the hand with it. The hands apparently weren't as shielded as the rest of the creature.

During the next few hours, Cid brought his piloting skills to limits he didn't know he had, swerving the Airship from side to side, diving and circling the thing, shooting from just above the water to high above the creature, slipping between its energy blasts, which consisted from everything from a simple Fire Spell, large, to an Ultima, and even an Ultimate End. The thing seemed to be able to use every known Spell in the current time, and from history, as well, along with ones that were probably across the stars, like a yellow-ball that shot towards them named Plasma Nova, something the thing roared commonly. It also had a habit of activating an annoying amount of Gravity Spells, negated by the Ship being able to thrust in all directions, unless one hit right in the middle of the ship, which would occasionally pick-up a part of the deck before he brought the Airship away.

He continued to move them southward.

"Devil Claws!" The gigas roared. Enormous black-gold claws appeared beside them and attempted to claw into them, to hold them while a huge gold-and-red energy blast the size of All Creation would slam into them. He brought the vehicle low, them shot up and around the thing as it reached its largest pulsing, shooting along with the light, hoping it would blind them to the thing's view.

He'd been doing this every time one of those 'Discus Rays', as he called them, was fired at them, but having to swoop around the discus, sometimes barely making it. Here, he didn't have to, yet the titan noticed them anyway.

Twin blasts of tiny red energy streaked into the back engines, cutting through them. Cid swore and moved them to the right, down to the side of the beam, and yanked on the remaining 'Emergency Lever.' Another engine shot-out; below it, twin rocket launchers below it. The other engine shot back, falling into the beam and vaporizing upon impact.

He dove and then immediately pulled-up as he saw the mountains north of the Northern Corel Desert in front of them, ending-up above the clouds again.

"Heck!" He hissed, losing his balance and falling to the deck, smashing into a pool of blood left by the blast that had taken two pilots from him.

The impact of their loss hit him. Without knowing how, he was at the controls again, but veering around. He couldn't risk a dive to Elslumina and take more lives. The world was too darned crazy and suicidal, the creatures in it, tons of people in it, but he'd seen what nice things people had to offer.

He'd just been such a jerk not to realize it.

"I thought I told you darned knuckleheads to go home!!??"

"This is our home!!"

And Shera...

"Forget about me!! Don't lose your dream!!"

He'd repaid her by saving her, yet what had he done after that!? Had he done more than just complain and whine to her like some rich kid suddenly having to visit common relatives!? Could he have fixed-up the rocket!?

He didn't take her life because he couldn't hurt someone for a mission. He had to hide it, had to be determined to follow his dreams. Couldn't let anything show through! Had to...

By now he was unaware that he'd just circled between two Tera Flares and another Discus Ray, blasted under an Ultimate End portal, around two Disintegrations and above a Tidal Wave, dodging smaller blasts, operating on instinct.

There are tons of good-willed beings out here, they won't lose their dreams!

He couldn't lead this near their homes.

He was dimly aware of hearing Yuffie scream that they were headed for the thing's claw, but he didn't mind. He swooped-up and hit the 'Launch Open' button, bending-down and loading their other Knights of the Round Materia into the tube, attaching it to the back of the rocket by slipping it between the engine motor top niche and the sides, also actiavting the Spell. It'd block the rocket and perhaps the Spell, but one tiny explosion would be all it could take. Within the next second he was up, kicking the panel shut, and hastily slamming 'Launch,' with his fist. The rocket shot-out, followed by a multitude of others, directed up at the skeleton face.

That didn't go as planned.

The portal appeared and seemed to chop into the face...

...Yuffie shouted something incoherent and activated an All Creation...

...the warriors appeared and exploded, the Spell reversed...

...the rockets impacted with the face, which was given no time to duck as All Creation smashed into it and shoved it backwards, ripping off the rest of its arms. Yuffie waved the beam down, destroying its waist and feet, then back up, but not to the face, which she knew would be protected, and was only taking damage from a distortion and the rockets nearby, which it effected, one she could easily nullify.

A final rocket slammed into the Materia and brought it up into the skeleton, exploding and taking-it-out as DEATHGYUNOS roared in pain. It collapsed-in on itself, exploding outwards and flooding the clouds and snow below with bright light. The Red Eye that had once formed Ralsalin, and was the focal point that allowed the DEATHGYUNOS to be restored again, was bumped-into by the Materia. Up above, the last night exploded, as the orb and the Materia below passed through the center of the light, all that remained of the devastating energies.

The Materia exploded, its shockwave chopping the orb in half, its heatwave melting it into ash that fell silently to the frigid, ice-specked sea below.


He spun the ship around and ignored the exclamations, and few cheers, behind him, still concentrating on the flight, ignoring his aching limbs.

His mind was focused on the simple letter he'd write to Shera, that he'd hand to one of the crew-members to deliver before they entered Elslumina.

His body was focused on piloting the Highwind.

By night, which would come soon, they would reach perhaps their final destination.


The plane continued its leisurely flight towards Elslumina.

Barret and Ruass were up in the cockpit, which was closed, talking with Vicks, leaving just the two of them flying through the snowstorm.

She turned to look at Cloud again, the sight of which only wrenched her heart further. He seemed completely-pale, each breath forced. Her heart ached to comfort him, take away the pain, but she had no clue as to what was troubling him now.

Slowly she reached-up and brushed a stray wisp of hair out of his face.

"What's wrong?" she asked in a whisper.

"We're still just puppets on a stage," he whispered. "We're useless so now we're being discarded. Why else did we suddenly get attacked by something that could be loosed upon us sooner?"

He sighed, leaning-back. Tifa brought-up the armrest and moved close to him, putting and arm behind his neck and allowing him to do the same. She snuggled-closer and bent back, resting her head on his shoulder.

"We're living beings, not just something some higher being can use as pawns for some twisted fantasy of his or hers, or whatever it is," she responded back, keeping her tone low and soothing. "Barret, Ruass, you and I, all the others, everyone alive, we can't just be trifled with and used to their will. It has to stop. They have to understand."

"Zack…" he whispered. "If they don't understand…"

She sighed and stroked the back of his head. "If they don't understand us…if we have to fight them…we have to go in there confident we'll succeed. And even if we do…look around at this world. Do innocent children deserve to be treated like this? We can't just give up! Aeris didn't, we won't."

"It was so easy," Cloud spoke. "We told Sephiroth what each of us had found in the world…he just ignored us…but Zack…" he hacked a short laugh of sadistic amusement "…who are we to say they're wrong anyway!?" He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning-back against her arm.

"Cloud…" she whispered. "…I'm tired of seeing you continuously withdraw yourself from others! We all are!" Her voice rose to a desperate cry. "Can't you come out of that blasted shell for good!!?? Can't you live, Cloud!!??" She sighed and squeezed his left hand with hers, then slowly began to trace the lines of his face. "Can't you feel anything anymore!!?? Can't you hope!!?? What about the precious life that exists out there, Cloud!!?? What about it!!??"

"We're still hurting them just because there's a difference in ideals," he sighed. "Sephiroth was different, his ideals clashed completely with ours, and it wasn't even his. Whatever had been Sephiroth perished when he found out the so-called truth those freaks at Shinra gave him. He was just a puppet for Jenova, an empty shell. Slaying him was one of the biggest favors we probably did him. He was the last part of Jenova that existed, completely what she was."

"And Zack, would he want to be a puppet to Sliyonog?" She asked, in a soothing tone again.

"I…when I think about how we could've helped him…he was my friend, I never felt any such pity for Sephiroth," he sighed and squeezed her left arm. "It doesn't really make me any better than them."

"Cloud, don't worry like that," she sighed. "We'll all help you. I'll help you. I-"

He cut her off with his hand raised, and actually smiled. "I thought we knew how we felt about each other this whole time, Tifa. You don't need to waste your words, like you're reciting something from a fairy tale."

She sighed in contentment, then leaned forwards and gave him a brief kiss on the lips. Then she snuggled-up closer to him, let her left hand fall to her side, where Cloud grasped it and held him, leaned back against his shoulder again, and sighed in contentment ahead, closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.

Cloud let-out a relaxed sigh, smiling peacefully, and let his chin rest on her hair, taking in its scent as he, too, closed his eyes and also drifted off to sleep.


The jet and the Airship passed through the Elslumina Mountains, the jet swerving-down to fly across the top of the river to the south. It quickly banked north, and through the narrow path, finally entering Elslumina lake.

Cloud awoke shortly before he heard the door to the cockpit open, blinking his eyes blearily. He was about to call out to whoever was coming-out…


...Something smashed into the front of the jet, throwing it backwards. Tifa was wide-away as she crashed to the ceiling, while Cloud hurriedly reached for his Materia Blade. The shp shook again, the shields shattered, and an orange-gold hand grabbed onto the side of the ship and wrenched it north.

Citrine Weapon. Did their opponents control it too?

Blasts of pyramidal energy shot up inton the plane, shredding it and causing them to fall to the waters below. Tifa activated a Remove and activated it below where Vicks would land. The Materia worked through her, found the Highwind, whatever it was doing working, coming-in north, and she teleported him there, screaming "Get help!"

Then she smashed into the icily-cold waters, through weak ice, the WEAPON screaming and chopping down at her. She quickly activated a somersault and bashed the offending limb backwards, then performed a forwards somersault, bashing the other arm, which was descending towards her, down.

She scrambled to the side and clambered-up onto the ice, removing the stinging-pain in her shoulders with a Cure 3, the full glory of the Citrine Weapon before her. The others had taken their positions.

Ruass was the first to act this time, activating Parasite and momentarily blinding the thing with the burst of biological energies. Cloud muttered an Omnislash and launched himself at the thing. It simply swatted him and moved to impale him. Barret unleashed a Tera Flare, causing the thing to turn and launching another enormous blast of energy. The WEAPON responded by opening its shoulders and unleashing rainbow threads of power at them, which destroyed all it touched.

"Use the Amalgam Ray!" Ruass shouted.

Barret nodded and hooked-up to the Nail Bat Cloud quickly brought-out. Tifa bolted towards them, only for a vertical swirl of rainbow, launched from the beast's chest, to smash into the ice and send her flying backwards.

Barret used his Master Summon to cast an Ultimate End, giving her room to move. The WEAPON emerged as she reached the others, clearly annoyed. It shifted three times, elongating and countering the flurry of Ultimas and Show Flares Cloud seemed to unleash, until it was sleeker, and obviously ready for some serious combat.

Citrine Weapon roared again and attempted to backhand them. Tifa cast four quick Shields, yet the hand sucked them in, stopped moving, and let-out a purple-flaming hand which quickly sent them all sprawling.

Before it could finish them off, a group of missiles from the Highwind impacted into the thing's back. The WEAPON, surprisingly, cast Shield, but that gave Tifa enough time for two quick Cure 3s. They were up and bolting-away quickly.

"Does Cid wait until the last second just for glory!?" Barret hissed.

A huge shard of ice appeared in the thing's hands, while small wings erupted from its shoulders and shot up to the Highwind, which was rocketing above the thing's head, tearing through both wings. A small orb atop its head emitted another blast, which was deflected as an engine on the bottom spun and burnt it. Other engines seemed to stabilize the thing, but it had lost a lot of maneuvering room.

A small streak, obviously Cid performing a Dragon Dive, could be seen. The WEAPON cast Pandoras box on the grounded quartet, stunning them for the moment, and immediately boxed-them-in with a group of Ice Walls.

Cid was still hammering-away with his scimitar, tearing at the orb, which finally exploded. He had enough sense to dive away. "That was for the Highwind!" He shouted.

Vicks had appeared almost on top of him, and had given them the lowdown. He assigned him and the crew to the small Escape Pod the Gold Saucer had outfitted for it, given them a letter for Shera. He'd launched the escape pod, the crew reluctantly, as well as Vicks, but swiftly, doing as told.

However, Vicks had told him: "You can't fly through the Clensaria Mountains while running from a starry gigas thing!" over the intercom before he'd been ready to launch them. He'd trained the Pilots enough to obey orders, and Vicks obviously didn't want to leave, but wanted to get the heck out of there, hence their reluctance.

He sadly wondered where their home would be now.

And Marlene...they'd taken her with them, still Shera.

He'd responded: "I flew circles around that DEATHGYUNOS creep and above its energy beams without touching them, hotshot!" It looked like he might have some competition in flight prowess, if there was a Planet at all soon.

Right now he simply pricked the Citrine Weapon in the back of the head with the Scimitar, before sliding to the back of its shoulders. Two ray cannons slid out of the back of its shoulders, launching rays at him. He swore and leapt off the side of the thing, digging-in with his Scimitar and sliding-down the thing's back.

It did what a paper cut that didn't pentrate was to a human, and one that kept on sliding onwards.

He suddenly found himself swatted in the chest by the thing's tail, heading straight for the cavern where Lucrecia had perished. He dug his spear into the rocks above, stalling his flight, and began powering-up for a Big Brawl.

All Creation tore into the thing's head, causing it to launch a dark-blue projectile from its mouth. To the pliot's rage, it struck the Highwind, tearing it apart in a series of explosions, also sending his friends towards the waters below.

They'd be okay, but his ship was gone.

He narrowed his eyes and began focusing more power into his spear.


Materia Blade chopped-through the last-remaining section of ice, while Tifa's Fire Spells finished melting the rest. Up above, the Highwind exploded.

"No," Tifa mouthed.

The WEAPON, satisfied its latest priority was gone, turned to the other three again, smacking Barret in the chest with its clubbed-tail. A hand came down close to the other three. Ruass bit it, but could not tear in.

Above, a group of figures plummeted into the water. Tifa counted each quickly, but when Vicks, nor the five crewmembers were among them, she clenched her fists as she realized another five lives had been lost.

An Ultima erupted beneath the thing, followed by a Cosmo Memory, sufficient to cause the thing to stop moving. "Long story!" Nanaki spoke. "We'll swap as we cross the lake, assuming we're doing that."

Tifa nodded, then grinned. The lake was deep, the WEAPON wasn't destroying the ice, which meant Magic was holding it up. She activated her Sense Materia and could indeed feel it ripping off the thing in a corona. Dispel would definately effect that, grow strong from such feed, and effect the rest.

Seconds later, the WEAPON crashed through the ice towards the bottom of the deep, dark, Elslumina Lake.

Barret was up again, and she cast a Full Cure twice, one to move the ribs back where they were supposed to be, the other to make them stay. Any other bones couldn't be repaired as easily.

"Cloud, Barret, Amalgam Ray, now!"

The others had managed to clamber to the ice, Ramza and Alma, helping Meliadoul and Malak step-up onto the frozen surface, respectively.

It was much-easier to tap into the energies of the Amalgam Ray now. She moved-back, followed by the others, who seemed to know something critical was going-on. Yuffie waited until she saw the huge body of the WEAPOM, and the thing's face, below them, still under the ice, as it attempted to move upwards at them, and fired All Creation again, giving them another chance to mvoe back before it blasted through.

Amalgam Ray was unleashed, connected with the thing's left breast, and exploded, leaving it with a head and right side, the rest of it a tangled mass of body parts. It apparently did not have a circulatory system, though, or it would've toppled when hit by the all-powerful attack.

Cid tore into the thing from behind with a Dragon Dive, launched himself upwards with another Dragon Dive, and began using Big Brawl to rip through its neck, faint echoes of his swearing heard even at this distance as he hacked through the thing's neck. Cid wasn't holding anything back, and continued to invent new swear words as he hacked at the thing in a furious rage.

"*AND **THAT** WAS FOR THE HIGHWIND, TOO!!!!!*" He screamed, that sentence clearly-audible over the snowstorm, something they all seemed to be unaffected by, at least for now.

Cid Dragon Dived down and shot off the ice as it broke, coming to a rest beside them, final blow having snapped straight through the thing's head, it helpless to do anything but attempt to teleport away.

Seconds later, the last of the WEAPONS exploded in a fiery detonation that kicked-up another frigid wave and tearing through the blizzard. The waves passed unnnoticed as the proud and mighty species known as the WEAPONS crossed the line of extinction once-again, this time, perhaps forever...


...They stood at the yawning cave behind the now-frozen waterfall cascading down into the Elslumina Lake, a mulititude of emotions mixed within them. Sadness at the loss of the Highwind, at the fact that the WEAPONS were extinct again, also because of them, and at the loss of two of the crew of the Highwind. Relief that the other three had survived, and Vicks had, too. Fear at what they might face.

Yet they would continue. They had healed-up and exchanged Materia and Items as necessary, exchanged stories while crossing the ice, Cid had complained about the Highwind until Barret had threatened to slug him if he didn't stop complaining, and now they would stride into the depths of Elslumina itself.

The high-ceilinged cavern where Lucrecia had sacrificed herself to ensure that Jenoca would never-again prove a threat to anyone was no more. The floor had been blasted-away, save for a small blue ledge in the front that curved down into the depths of what appeared to be a huge shaft. Below was the faint green glow that could be associated with the Lifestream.

"What are we waitin' for!?" Barret shouted. "We've got billions of living beings to save!" He gestured with his Maximum Ray and turned to the left, heading down the path. Cloud nodded and came behind him, followed by Tifa, then Nanaki. Cid, Cait Sith 4, and Yuffie came behind them. Then came Alma, Rafa, Malak, and Meliadoul. Ruass, then Ramza, brought-up the rear of the thirteen.

And it began.


The pathway, at first, curved along the sides of the blue-brown shaft, one that was becoming steadily-brown as they descended, coming to a halt after around five circles, some complete, some broken, others swerving-out away from the cliffside. From there they were forced to cross the blue-white stone that was rubble from the cavern above, moving their way through it, Rafa and Yuffie keeping an eye out, as they usually did, for any treasures.

There was a small crack in the center, through which they could peer into another shaft below. Nothing had assaulted them, and they had to have traveled down around a full kilometer already.

Another pathway led below the rocks, on the side they'd come in, opposite where the pathway had halted. Barret continued to lead the way, and they emerged below what was left of the destroyed floor, something which had obviously caught-on to the narrow ledges above.

Below, the green of the Lifestream could be seen as clearly as when they were descending the western path in the Crater. Narrow ledges, each one the distance of a good jump or so from where they were, curved up and around the shaft. A waterfall gushed out of an opening to the lake behind them, flowed down a series of cobblestones that the pathway crossed over, from the right side of the falls, and then curved-around, out of view, and down around to a long, descending pathway that doubled-back on itself. It was lighter-tan, now.

There had been no dangerous creatures to worry about up-above, but here...


...three large Ahrimans and two red gargoyle-like creatures spotted them and dove. Cloud spun and immediately sent an Ultima at them. Two of the Ahrimans were caught in the blast, and proceeded to disintegrate. The third, along with the winged things, which Tifa quickly identified, with the help of the Sense Materia, as Aphreets, dove backwards and down.

One of the Aphreets waved its hands, causing a Flare to erupt in their midst, hurling them to the side. All but Alma were able to roll-away. The youngest Beoulve was thrown to the side of the ledge. Ramza quickly bent-down to help her up, while Rafa sent a burst of Heaven Heaven Thunder at the Ahriman that swooped in on them.

Two Shadow Flares, courtesy of Cloud, and the other two creatures fell down...

. one heard them land.

Barret gestured for them to continue on.


Within the next hour they managed to make their way past a double-back and around to the lake. They crossed the cobblestones, the only difficulty in the form of a GrandMalboro and a Dragon Zombie hoping for an easy meal. Rafa spotted a glimmering red chest up the ledge to the left, which circled-up above the lake.

When she returned, she was carrying a spear with a golden-black tip and a purple-magenta handle. "Not very many people could've found this place, and I bet less would've used it as a place to store their treasures. Most would've had to know how to retrieve them, so I doubt if we'll find any others."

Cid took the spear. "Looks like one of those Phoenix Partisans that I read legends about." He hefted the spear experimentally, and found it was not as heavy as the Dragon Whisker he'd ask Ramza let him test in Elmyra's, something he'd been eyeing occasionally. He sheathed it in his quadro-sheath, it barely fitting against his Scimitar, which was the fourth, and frontmost, spear he carried. The Venus Gospel had fit fine, but a broken weapon was useless.

He quickly rearranged his Materia, and they went-on down the path.


It doubled-back again under the waterfall, until they came to a palce where it led into a small tube-like section. On the bottom was an opening that led to the path below them, hopefully. Far-off to the side and below was the portion they could see that had doubled-back, somewhat closer now.

The lower opening did emerge on another pathway, which, over the course of the next half-hour they followed to an opening to a dirt pathway behind the waterfall. Two pathways curved-away, one to the left and one ahead, the left sloping-down. They'd packed more than enough rations before setting-off on this last leg of their journey, Tifa suggested they stop at the nook in the lower path as it curved to the side, and ate-up.

"Where now?" Meliadoul asked.

"We can't split up, and I have this nagging feeling we're racing against time," Tifa said. "If anyone bothered to look down and ahead while we were descending, they might've seen the beginnings of a labyrinth of openings below. There was a barely-discernable opening to the pathway on the other side of this place, and it circles around, doubles-back a lot, like we saw, and then circles around."

Rafa opened her mouth to speak, but Ramza shook his head. "Way too dangerous," he said. "I don't want anyone getting in trouble."

"Says who!?" Cid shouted. "Cloud here can use Omnislash to leap miles, if its powered-up enough, my Dragon Dive can protect me from a big fall, Tifa's used her Limit Breaks to jump-up pretty-far, and Barret has those cords."

"Had!" Barret corrected. "I used-em' on Sapphire Weapon, remember!?"

Cid swore.

"And using an Omnislash to jump distances does not count for falling," Cloud put-in. "Also, I think the huge jump was just the Limit Break compensating for its target. Omnislash sometimes aids movement as far as necessary, but its a fighting-technique. Cid's Dragon Dive is different, but we don't know what's below." He shook his head.

Meliadoul couldn't shake the feeling there was something important below, though. She didn't bother to ask, she just vaulted the ledge and took-off running.

"Meliadoul!!" Ramza and Yuffie shouted after her. Yuffie moved to pursue, but Cloud grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back, shaking his head. "No offense to your skills, but I think Rafa is better-skilled at this. From what I've seen, and from what Ramza told me, she's an expert at finding things. Sorry, but no."

Before, Yuffie would've shrugged this off, but now, she nodded.

Rafa nodded, too.

"Be careful, sis'," Malak said, embracing her.

"Yeah," Ramza added, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Like he careful."

Rafa blushed and nodded. "You too!" she said, then vaulted the path, too, and pursued the Tingel.


The rest of them took the other path, which continued-on along the sides of the shaft, emerging some meters later on what was the east side of the shaft, in relation to where they came in. Nanaki, using his memory to keep track of where they'd been, glanced back and to his left to confirm this.

"We're where we think is the right direction," he spoke. "Let's move-on."


What was approximately probably the morning of the following day, they emerged from another dirt path directly opposite the entrance that was now miles above. Below them, probably half of a kilometer or so, was the Lifestream. The path in front of them arced to the side and near the middle of the shaft, descending to a section with a ring around a pool of water. A smaller-pool caught a trickling waterfall to the northwest, while on the other side of the pool, another path led around below them.

Cid peeked over the ledge, and saw it led to an entrance below them, the path still the light-tan of dirt the eastern pathway in the Crater had been. The small cave paths were the darker brown of the inner pathways in the Crater that had connected with the honeycombed ledges there.

The sides were like the sides of the main column in that eastern path.

They'd passed none of what was a large colony of interconnecting grey-blue-stoned ledges, but seen neither Rafa nor Meliadoul, but plenty of creatures, and plenty of their nests, including a large variety of Zuu-Like Creatures named Garudas.

After passing through below the area, Cid had commented ,"If I see another Garuda I'm gonna' literally mutilate the flying freak!" Seconds later, a Dark Dragon had dropped a lifeless Garuda behind him, before swooping down for food, and perhaps some extras.

As they drew nearer to the lake they could see the west side was more-rocky than the east. Large rocks darted the pool, and some of the water flowed-up and over the sides, pouring down to the Lifestream, being on its very rim.

Halfway across the bridge, just before it turned to the side, a golden-scaled dragon obviously decided it had found a new variety of prey, and swooped down, landing on the platform in front of them, claws bared to attack...


...before anyone could even move, the thing shot into the air and swooped downwards, ramming Ramza in the shoulders and throwing him to the ground. Before anyone could strike at its copped-sided underbelly, it cast a Pandora's Box, throwing each to the ground.

It swooped down at Tifa next. She quickly brought up her foot and struck it under the chin, causing it to rear back. Cid activated a Dragoon Dive and leapt up into the air, then focused down and descending. The dragon chose that moment to attempt to dive to its right, and uner the ledge, and as a result, its left wing was torn off by the pilot's descent.

It shrieked and turned, giving Malak a chance to dart under the claw and shove his staff into its armpit. The thing swung its tail around his leg, picked him up, and threw him outwards. Nanaki immediately somersaulted up in the air, caught him with a Sled Fang, and spun around, landing at the side of the ledge, forepaws gripping it fiercely. Malak clambered-off, followed by the beast.

Cloud attempted to ram the thing with his sword, only to be swatted aside. Ramza was positioned to its right, and tried to move in at the Golden Dragon. It brought its claw back, but his chopped it off and leapt in the air, slicing at its back. It turned and cast another Pandora's Box, almost causing him to fall off the ledge.

Ruass was on its back, tearing-into its neck with its claws. The dragon swiveled its head, bit him in the right leg, and threw him off, down the pathway. Barret fired a volley of shots into its left cheek, drawing blood there, leaving Yuffie to throw her Conformer into the wound. It smashed through the brain, before rebounding back to her. The thing screamed and toppled slowly to its left, falling into the Lifestream with one final wail...


..."Blasted creatures!" Cid grunted, brushing-off his left shoulder. "Let's move it!"

The path did indeed slope-around to the side, but it did not swivel-around to the east side of the pool, as they had thought. It descended around to their right, and then entered another dirt pathway.

The followed that pathway, one which sloped down steeply and doubled-back twice below itself, circling-around, dealing with any threats as necessary, but as they reached the area that circled-around into another cave, behind the waterfall, they noticed another path that led-off to their right. It sloped-down and then curved leftonto a small patch of Light-Green Grass. One of those white Specials existed there, so they took the moment to use a Tent and eat a breakfast.

Finally, the group emerged from the 'dirt-cavern,' now below the waterfall. It headed right and left. Left it continued along the side of the shaft, but came to a steep halt. Right it circled-around to the other pathway they had glimpsed, and curved into two at the beginning of that pathway, the other one leading to stepping-stones across the small trickle they had glimpsed. Beyond that, it curved-up into a platform amongst the stones, although they could see nothing below the water easily, only to the exact right and left, so were placing pieces together from what they had seen.

"Right, then, so com' on!" Barret grunted.

As soon as the group had emerged from behind the waterfall a flash of of white light announced an arrival.

Barret stepped-back abruptly, and sucked in a breath. The cry that came seconds later came from Tifa as well.



...The Dark Dragon drove its claw down into Meliadoul's left thigh. She fell to the side, losing her balance and falling down the steep slope into another labyrinthine cavern. She'd taken them all by now, yet was exhausted, and barely able to move. Another beast, this time, a Dark Dragon, waylaid her in this section as she wondered whether or not she ought to take this last pathway. It had to be the one she'd sought, the one that she'd glimpsed that curved back-up and into a cavern that she didn't think she'd passed through, but had to check to make sure.

And she knew she hadn't taken that arc, she'd memorized every last detail of the pathway in her mind. The Dark Dragon brought its head down through the crevice, tucked its wings, and rammed through. She dodged to the side and brought down her Ragnarok at its neck, only to have it turned-aside by the rainbow-glowing Dragon Force the thing must've cast.

She lowered her blade and rammed forwards, smashing through the shield's strengths with a thrust that pierced the thing's belly. It swatted her aside, causing her to roll to the side of a small shaft. It emerged outside, this she could tell, but she wasn't capable of moving fast-enough, and taking this thing down. The belly wound hadn't done much damage, and had only made the thing more-wary of her now. She attempted a jump slash at its head, but it simply brought its head to the side, throwing her into the wall and lunging-down, mouth opened to bite her head off...

...The neck burst into pieces, engulfed by the flames of an Asura. The 'Temple Knight' had enough sense to throw herself away as the huge body crashed to the ground. The familiar form of the Heaven Knight Rafa threw herself under the body before it fell, blocking-off the tunnel...


..."Thanks for the save," Meliadoul breathed, clasping her hand. Rafa nodded and fumbled with her Item Sack, taking-out an X-Potion and handing it to her to drink. She sank to the dirt wall and gulped it down eagerly, then let it roll to the side, exhausted.

As soon as the panacea had finished healing her bruises, she sheathed her sword. "So Ramza sent you, eh?"

Rafa nodded, blushing momentarily at the memory of his farewell.

Meliadoul noticed, which piqued her curiosity. "What happened?" she asked.

"If you mean, is he closer to me than simply being my friend, no!" She shook her head again vehemently. "If he, well, I kinda' prefer the term 'girlfriend' here, that I've heard Elmyra use when she was talking about Aeris when she was younger, over the term 'lover' from where," she hastily bit off 'when' ,"we come from. Sounds a bit less-forecful, doesn't imply anything. For both, no. Believe me, he just views me as a close friend, but its a more lighthearted 'relationship,' or whatever its called here. I also think Malak and I kinda' remind him of Teta and Delita. He's not the type to get a girlfriend or lover or whatever."

"You've been spending too much time around Yuffie, who seems to think people imply so many things behind her back it nearly drove me crazy," Meliadoul pointed-out. "I was just making a comment." She noticed how Rafa had seemed to be biting-off something right before she'd said 'where,' which had piqued her curiosity even-more. "So you've figured it out, eh?"

"What?" Rafa asked.

"We don't know what led to this, so we can't really influence the past or it could really change things," Meliadoul spoke. "I think each of us knows it, it was rather obvious from the shape of the stars on the Highwind, and the landmasses, as related to familiar creatures. We're just ignoring that fact because it means nothing, this is something that's impossible to change without the risk of something worse happening."

Rafa nodded. "Why'd you run-off like that, anyways?"

" felt like a Zodiac Stone, only worse..." she sighed. "Or stronger. I don't even know the way back, I just marked tunnels inwards. You?"

Rafa shook her head. "No treasures, either, in case you were wondering."

"I kinda' was," Meliadoul responded. "I've eaten, have you?"

Rafa nodded again. "While trying to pick-up on your trail. I had to follow the pathways around, too, and ended up in quite nasty encounters. Some of these interconnect, so I wonder if we've passed each-other before."

"That still means we have to go forwards, I presume." It was not a question.

Rafa nodded once-more.


Sephiroth took a deep breath, watching as the lifeless body of one last Tiamat disappeared. He'd never felt so-exhausted, not even during his first battle in the big war with Wutai.

Sometime during the battle he'd felt an opening in Elslumina. It was now attached to the real world without a barrier. That gave him barely enough-room to slide-through as spirit energy and enter that section of Elslumina, he no-longer possessed the special will to try to force himself back into the Planet.

Yet once he did, and set-off down the marble pathway into the glowing golden cocoon of Spirit Energy, he couldn't help but wonder whether he was still determined to have his vengeance, or whether he just refused to back-down from the course he'd laid in front of him.


At last his circuit in the Path of Spirits, something that he'd slowly begun to merge with, his 'nonhuman' characteristics melting away in the time he'd spent 'in-between' as he pursued Sephiroth, reached Elslumina. He'd been taken-away from Lucrecia again, who was no all-alone there. Aeris had been called who-knows-where, and had not returned.

He was still 'conscious' enough to be viewing outside the Lifestream, but was almost-completely-in. He could see how the Lifestream connected to some greater Lifestream away from here, how nothing passed between paths unless they were in the 'in-between,' he'd been in, apparently the true Spirit Plane. Energies of existence, something he could discern, were in that other path, which served as a connection between the Planet. But he could see the Spirit Energy that he was entering never-truly entered-it.

To Vincent it felt like a current slowly dragging him in. What it felt like to be Spirit Energy he would soon find out, but he hoped it would rid him of his guilt. Even after telling Sephiroth the truth, he'd still failed him. Even after getting-through, he'd still left a guilt-torn man behind who, in a way, was going-through what he'd gone-through when he'd found-himself an experiment to Hojo.

He wondered how-long it would be before the last of the Jenova Cells were taken from Lucrecia, and she began the final metamorphosis into true Spirit Energy. Those cells, even as the 'mutations' Hojo had performed on him, faded-away into nothingness. Perhaps nearly a Lifespan, leaving mother and child to live-out the simple life they could've had, yet still isolated, here.

And perhaps, with Aeris' aid, enter the 'existing' 'True Promised Land.' Either way, they'd still be with each-other, before the rest of the Jenova Cells were extracted and they were returned to the Planet. Somehow, he knew, though, that the Cetra wouldn't let them be alone.

Only Sephiroth wasn't with her mother. He'd seen him dart-up to the bridge, and take it into Elslumina.

Leaving him with no hope of repenting for his failure.

He would always be a failure. Lucrecia, Sephiroth, he'd failed them both. Even telling Sephiroth the truth hadn't helped him because he'd still...

No! It's Sephiroth himself who chose this. He has his own path now, one to reach before he can finally achieve his peace of mind.

And he realized he'd done as much as he could. For the last time, a smile touched Vincent's features as he realized he had indeed helped mend probably the most-important wound in the family he loved as if it were his own.

A smile of serenity and contentment on his face, Vincent Valentine returned to the Planet.


They stood on the shores of the lake.

The blonde-haired, female, technician who had once been Jessie Mandrelos stood across from them on a stone against the water, clad in a dress that eerily reminded the second-youngest Beoulve of Ceila and Lede, only hers was golden-green. Embedded in her brow was the Virgo Stone, making her clearly, and undoubtedly, the Virgo Zodiac Brave.

They'd heard of her.

'Another life you've twisted, Lucavi...' the angered thought pulsating in his mind only to be cast into nothingness.


"How..." Barret finally found words.

Jessie stepped-down from the rock and waved her hand. A blue-green aura of a palm joined it, yet near him, slapping him across the face. He quickly blinked spots out of his eyes. "Wha' the blazes was that for!" he grunted.

"For daring to speak, to even try to tell me how I'm wrong! The Plate wouldn't have collapsed if not for the Shinra, we couldn't stop them, but our Master is giving us the chance for a perfect world. I'd wished I'd had a second chance to end the suffering as the Plate and the tower came-down on me, and as the tower exploded.

"That took me from the Planet, but my existence depends solely on Elteresel, the Virgo Zodiac Being! I became one with her because my thought patterns mirrored her own in its desperate cries. Don't tell me how much humanity I've lost, because I regret none of it! I only regret having to use your 'daughter,' Barret!"

"She was taken to Shera's on the Highwind Escape Pod with a SOLDIER named Vicks and what remains of my crew," Cid said. "She's been coming-to for seconds, then falling back to sleep. We've been feeding her steadily. She'll come out of it within a week, the 'Doctor' on the Highwind said."

"Within a week this will be over! I won't waste words, you already know the truth of what happened! Leave now, and you'll be spared! This is your last chance!"

"Do you really think you're Jessie, or just her desperate wish made real for a vessel for this Elteresel you mentioned?" Ramza shouted.

"I guess that answers this." She quickly produced a gun and fired twice. The first shot took him in the leg, between the leg pads and the bottom of his armor, causing him to fall, the second threw him backwards, but bounced harmlessly off his helmet.

It was over in seconds.

Alma quickly brought her Healing Staff down on Ramza's wound, closing it. Cloud activated a Cherry Blossom in the same instant, causing the wall above to explode, raining-down on the Virgo Zodiac Brave and knocking her to the ground.

"Cloud, Tifa, and I hold the memories of Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie with us, you travesty!" Barret snarled, the last of the pieces of his guilt clicking into place as he realized how it was up to him to carry-on their legacy. Their memories, the times they'd spent together, were with him, just as were Myrna's, Eleanor's, and Dyne's. The tragedies of the past couldn't be changed, but the future...

...they would have a future.

"I am not a travesty!" 'Jessie,' shrieked.

"Shu' up and burn' foo'!" Barret shouted, before unleashing Catastrophe on this thing, extinguishing this thing. If what Ramza and his companions had told him was true, and this really had once been Jessie, she wouldn't want to be like this. Wiegraf, Elmdor, and all those who should've perished but didn't, thanks to the Zodiac Stones, had been twisted. Thus as the Catastrophe burnt this freak that was preventing her from her peace into nothing, vaporized it completely, he knew, finally, what he'd done was right.

The Virgo Stone glowed and expanded into a discus of spirits and tormented cries, each which arced-out, then back into the thing.

"Get ready!" Cloud shouted, assuming a defensive posture and drawing his sword even as the Stone erupted into a creature.


The cave went-on for a good number of meters.

At the end was a door, which Meliadoul peered-through...

...into the northeastern section of what had been Elslumina Haven.

A flash behind them caused them to spin, but they were immediately thrown into unconsciousness, light pink strands ripping-out of the figure that suddenly appeared behind them, and lurched into the pillars of light that similarly enshrouded the two.

Zack/Sliyonog nodded and vanished again.


The creature that stood before them was a perfect mockery of the Jenova that 'Cloud,' really Zack's, memories, of the Jenova he'd seen in the capsule at Nibleheim, wearing nothing but silver armpads, legpads, and helmet she'd worn, save for the fact the name 'JENOVA' was not emblazoned upon the front of the helmet, and there were no special devices attached to its armpads and legpads that linked-it-up to any contraptions.

Other than that, it appeared to be the same blue-skinned type of creature. Its left-arm was a combination of a twisted claw and wing from spiked-elbow down, parts of the wing seeming to arc-out behind it. The wing was split in places, too, holes in them, like holes found in sea coral. The majority of the left wing did fold back into the air, and melded with the hand where it grew below the elbow, but was still attached to the shoulder, yet just behind the arm.

The right wing was similiar, but attached to the thing's back, and not attached to the arm. The rest of the body was humanoid, save for its claws and talons. Its knees and ankles were spiked, while its eyes would occasionally flash red in a menacing glare. The thing did have another left wing, which unfolded and unfloded from being attached to its back. This was, in a way, a 'one-winged angle' with the wing attached to its side, and no wings attached to its lower body.

But it was definately different than what Jenova had done in the past, and fought with as much power as other Zodiac Beasts. It immediately cast an Ultima, while swatting at them, bringing together purple-orange blasts of intense power. This forced them to duck, and a Shadow Flare, then blasts of red domed energy followed those blasts up.

Cloud darted at it, immediately ramming it in the upper chest and slicing all the way down, through her stomach, then brought the blade out and slashed through her head, having wasted no time in attacking at the first chance. She simply laughed, and discarded the false skin, revealing a purple body, completely-identical to its 'exoskeleton.' One hand came back, twisted, and struck at him across the face. Eyes no-longer flashed-red, but flared white. A series of Shadow Flares tossed Cloud backwards, towards the group, which was forced to stop its charge and back-up before they were hit.

Cloud landed in front of them, scorched and barely-conscious.

"When I deem it necessary to form an outer-skin, its normally red, but since you've met-up with that nasty little Jenova creature, I thought I'd have some fun!"

"Your idea of 'fun' is crazy!" Barret responded. "How dare you defile Jessie's memories like this!" He opened-fire with another Catastrophe while Tifa cast Full Cure on Cloud, but aimed it at the rocks. Yuffie fired an All Creation out to the side, leaving Ramza room to cast an Ultima at her. She simply rocketed into the air and over the beams before they finished sweeping-up, landing in the lake. A steady stream of ice rocketed from her right hand, spraying at them, and was aided by a typhoon.

Malak took this moment to polevault at her, doubling his fist and punching her in the left breast with his glove. He then shoved his staff into it, and since it wasn't even protected by anything, the only spots with garments being her head, lower-legs, and below the thing's elbows, yet above, even on both sides, although there was no wing claw there, where the wing-claws would've begun, hoped it would smash into her heart.

Instead the thing lifted him up by his right breast and threw him backwards, onto the shore.

Cloud cast the next Ultima, causing the 'female' to fly backwards into the water. She was up in seconds, and formed a coccoon of energy that began spinning around her, while sending-out blasts of Shadow Flares.

"If I cannot defeat you, I'll keep you from entering Elslumina Proper, even if I have to keep this up for around a week, or more, provided whether or not you run out of food, unlikely, or whether or not the Master completes its task!"

Barret cast an Ultimate End, which did nothing.

Yuffie targeted the thing with an All Creation, which did nothing.

That pretty-much told them how useless their efforts were.

"Freak of nature!" Barret grunted. He charged-up all five Levels of his guns, from Gaitling Gun, the Assault Gun that held his other two Materia, all the way up to his Maximum Ray, and waited until he could see cleanly through the blasts of Shadow Flares, Flares, Flare Stars, Melts, Mertons, and Ultimas that were being cast all-over the area, some near where they were, others targeted at them, forcing them to move. He charged-up a Big Shot, then cast a simple Dispel on it.

The distortion of energies tore through the shields, although he was left wide-open to be shot with a Flare Star, followed by a Melt, then a Merton, then finally an Ultima, tearing-open numerous wounds and sending him to the ground.

Tifa cast a Life 2 followed by a Full Cure before the wounds could become too-grevious, while Cloud leapt at the thing with an Omnislash, chopping through it and lunging-up for a final blow. He grasped downwards, retrieving the Virgo Zodiac Stone even as Elteresel detonated in a domed blast and crackling lightning, throwing him back to the shore.

"I don't think you're faking this time," he grunted, before collapsing; barely-conscious, and spent.

The way into Elslumina was clear, at least for now.


They continued as far as the opening on the other side of the lower bridge before Ramza paused.

"We have to wait for Rafa and Meliadoul," he said.

"Didn't you hear her!?" Cloud hissed. "We're racing against time! We have to use what we have to face whatever's ahead!"

"We can't abandon them," Ramza responded.

"I don't want to, either," he placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't want to abandon them to be attacked by monsters in a place where we could've helped them." Cloud gulped and forced himself to go on. "We all know now there are so many others..."

Ramza jerked away. "You sound almost like Gafgarion!" He hissed. "There's always a chance, although you may be right on how its greater! Around a week, she said! Heck, she may be lying, but I don't abandon my friends for the 'greater good!' I tried to stop this...I failed Teta...I almost failed Delita and Ovelia..."

"I've failed so many others too!" Cloud's temper suddenly flared, surprising even him, and the next words were out before he knew it. "But if we have to fight, all of us might need to be there!! We have to choose something, and I'd rather take the choice with the least amount of losses! I'm not failing anyone again! You're not going back!"

Ramza could only stare at him with pity, but Malak spoke before he could respond. "I had to ask myself what was better before, too.

"When Rafa fled Riovanes Castle, I chose wrong. I thought if I remained behind I'd be able to help her better. That was wrong, though. If I'd gone with her...sometimes what may seem like the worst choice may be best."

"Not going back for them is the worst choice!" Cloud shouted back. Tifa placed a hand on his shoulder consolingly, but he shrugged it off. "Darn it!" He turned to Barret and took a deep breath. "You led AVALANCHE. I would've long-since handed this over to you if I hadn't realized why Aeris had suggested I should lead. What do you do in cases like this?"

"Well..." Barret swallowed. "At first I was like you were, wanting my friends and I to stick close just in case..." he swallowed again "...after the darned Corel disaster. But as I saw I couldn't keep em' close...I realized I just had ta' have faith in my friends. Faith that...they'd pull through."

Ramza sighed. "That's what I'm asking myself. I've never been faced with this choice before, and now..." he sighed again. "I don't know whether to agree with you."

"They'll pull through," Alma said, resting her hand on her brother's shoulder. "As much as I'd like to look..."

"This isn't Midgar!" Cloud suddenly snapped, and then his voice lowered. "Ramza's right. We'll go look for them."

"You come to judge our actions, yet it is we who will judge yours."

Like paper cut loose by scissors, the whole pathway, save the section they were standing-on, broke-away and fell into the lake. For a moment Yuffie lost her balance, but quickly regained it, sighing in relief.

"Now we've got no darned choice period!" Cait Sith spoke.

"You'd better stay alive, you two!" Alma called across, voicing all their thoughts. Then she spun and led the way deeper into Elslumina.


A small cavern above the Lifestream, a bluish air with bright white pinpoints scattered over it like a cluster of stars gathered together, everywhere, on the walls, random intervals in place; this had to be the entrance.

Below, the Lifestream flowed, obviously through a section of the cavern below them. Or perhaps not. The cavern, the size of the cavern at the bottom of the Northern Crater, consisted of a stone walkway leading up to a pillar. Another stone walkway, consisting of ledges, circled back and down from the center ledge, beginning at its southwest side, which was surrounding glimmering golden-white energies. Those energies seemed to extend outwards in interconnecting threads, overhanging the path that went around back from the southwest side, meeting somewhere and doing something.

Behind the glowing pillar, two pathways of ledges rose-up and to the north, to end nowhere, at least from where they could see. On the southwest side was one last ledge, it curved up like a spiraling staircase, twisting behind the glowing section of the central pillar, forming another ledge, at the place where the pillar condensed-in to become thinner, connecting with a series of ledges that also circled around from the 'pathway' behind the glowing part of the column, moving from between where the larger ones met, arcing down, then twisting tightly up and climbing along the east side, arcing out from the pillar below where it started glowing, under the stairs, and swiveling around to connect with the bottom of the center column. The southeast pathway, from the semi-circle ledge below where this rock-structure attached, continued east, up, and to the side, over part of the rock formation, which obviously curved under it, up larger stairs representative of the small structure, and northeast a bit more, to another opening.

If there were any creatures here, they'd see them.

After a brief pause to look at the beauty, they continued on.

Upon reaching the glowing section of the column, Cloud and Barret peered behind it. The two back ledges did indeed meet above, forming a smaller step-structure, the one they'd seen that had coiled up to meet with just above where the column condensed, above the semi-circle pathway on the south side of the condensed section of the column formed by the southeast pathway when it finished arcing around. The southwest pathway continued forwards, to meet with a doorway protected by a current of Lifestream energies that arced up in front of it. The red energies obviously had gathered above it and flowed down below, then formed something there.

Well, according to what they'd heard from those who had witnessed the data on Cait Sith 4s monitor, now hidden in his chest; data Yuffie had found, that Gast had composed. Now the red-gold energies seemed to flow down, but no other glow could be seen behind them, while the faint outline of an opening could.

"What the blazes!?" Cid swore.

"Let's check from above," Tifa suggested. "We might get a better look from a different angle."

They followed the pathway around until they were all above and behind the glowing portion of the column. From there the reflection of the flowing red energies from the sides and above met the side of the door, then stopped, attached to its sides, yet…gone.

"I think I have an answer," Ruass spoke. He pointed at the thin column. Inches above where the 'stair' structure connected with the thinner part of the column it had been snapped apart, like a circular beam who's diameter was as large on the vertical sides as the pillar.

"A beam as large as the Amalgam Ray I saw fired," Ruass spoke. "It must've ricocheted off the Lifestream at the bottom of the shaft, because it went at an angle and with incredible speed. It obviously fit through one of the holes at the top of the main shaft, or pierced it, it bounced off the Lifestream because it hit like a laser hits a mirror at an angle, so fast and hitting something the could reflect it. It must've shot through the 'redirected' Spirit Path, which obviously reformed behind it, and hit the other opening. If we can remove the Spirit Path, we could enter."

"Yeah, but how?" Cid scratched his head.

"There's supposed to be a shrine off on another pathway, and a crystal that's existence holds it in place there." Yuffie pointed to the upper northeast entrance, one which seemed to bend so it was heading directly east. Even so, they could see the shimmer of some light behind it. She smacked her head with her left hand. "Duh!"

Cloud simply nodded.


The opening at the top of the pathway led to what might be able to be called a 'Shrine.' As they entered, each took in the surroundings. They stood at the foot of a ramp, red-and-yellow, that led to a higher, marble-white pathway. To the side was another marble section, which led to a bunch of boards. The whole area was floating on the Lifestream, the walls rock, too. The air was the same as in the smaller shaft they'd just exited.

Further to their left was a platform suspended atop cubical, rectangular columns. A series of stair-like columns descended behind archways, ones that crossed from the right side of the cavern, ending behind the staircase. It was attached to a pathway of glass panels, which seemed to be attached to a column staircase just behind the arches, on the right side of the cavern. The column-staircase moved further-back to an apex, while behind it the staircase led to a branch of the marble pathway above. Slightly to the side of it, one ran back around south of the arches, with another cubic column ascending from them, another group of wooden boards moving out south to an overhanging ledge of some sort. The center sections of the arch connected to one smaller arch, meeting the keystone and moving down to attach to both sides of the pathway. The path continued-on right, sloped upwards on another red-gold ramp, to something.

Behind the first row of glass panels was another, coming-up, they could faintly see, from a column edge. Here the air was somewhat obscuring their vision, but it appeared to becoming clearer. They could see another column, a stairway to its side leading down to another glass walkway, which continued-on, branching to connect with the bigger pathway by heading east, while the other sloped down on another ramp to a circular white dais. Lifestream would occasionally wash over it. What it was, they could not see.

Cloud gestured and led them forwards. They took the north slope, finding it attached to the glass pathway, and followed it down into the circle, which was engraved with a dark-blue, twelve-pointed star with a golden center. The Lifestream that broke the surface would dissolve through the floor, ahead a pathway led to what could be discerned as another circle. From it a ramp led upwards, met by a platform with a starry symbol similar to the one below them. The ramp was the marble white, as were the slopes that led downwards, reaching the bottom of their decline and moving to the sides of the walkway. A step-up from the center was a walkway that also led to the side of the cavern, at the sides it arced-up like dolphin fins, in the center was another walkway, dolphin statues to the side, that led to one final platform at the back of the cavern. A square platform, yet curving in from the east side, on both north and south sides, to meet a place where it moved straight south and north. A similar section was on its back, the semi-circle of the back attached to the cavern.

Upon the center of the pedestal was a crystal similar to the one in the City of the Ancients. The condensed 'starry-air' in that area was fading to, completely gone now, all the 'starry-air' gone from this place.

Yuffie wondered why it had been here in the first place, then decided she was just being paranoid.

"Let's go," Cloud said.

He began to move forwards from the circle.

A white column, signaling something teleporting, appeared in front of the crystal, and when it was gone, Zack stood there.


The black-haired man stood there, almost an exact image of Cloud, well, in many ways, at least, a blade which Cloud immediately recognized as the Ultima Weapon attached to his back in the way Cloud attached his weapons.

"A great work of art, this," he mentioned idly, stepping-forward. He gestured, and the sound of thirteen more teleportations was heard. They each glanced-around to see what was coming, and the 'Ex-SOLDIER's heart sank as he saw what it was. Four Ultima Demons appeared on the four sides of the crystal, one just behind Zack, three others atop the two column sides, and one above the keystone of the central arch, respectively. A final one appeared upon the southern wood section.

In front of the two dolphin tails on south and north sides of the cavern, two Iron Men appeared, atop the other wood section, right north above the entrance, a Dragon Zombie appeared. And on the platform at the northeast section of the cavern...

...came an enormous Behemoth, twice the size of the huge creatures Cloud and his companions had battled in the Sector 8 Dump and in the Northern Crater, Ramza and his group had fought at specific intervals, and Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Ruass had met during the battle with Clitor.

This one had a dark aqua-white faceplate, and green-purple fire burned outside its pupils and irises; eyes of incredible malice. Its nostrils also breathed orange-black fire. Its teeth were typical of that of a Behemoth, its irises, where they could be seen, were red-gold. Its fur was not just black, but obsidian, blacker than that of Dark Behemoths, which was light, compared to this thing.

"Devil Behemoth," Tifa identified.

"Your lives are forfeit," 'Zack' spoke. "Farewell, for all eternity."

He lunged forwards, yet Ramza immediately leapt upwards, unleashing an Ultima and causing their four namesakes to scatter as the blast tore apart the crystal, and could've done so to them. Cloud immediately followed-up with four Shadow Flares, causing each of the four to disentegrate. Tifa quickly supplied shield to them, and Ramza took Zack's first blow on his sword, redirecting it to his left side.

Then the battle truly was joined.

The two Iron Man leapt from their posts, chopping into the group with Grand Swords, forcing them to scatter. Tifa dove to one side and sent a Quake 3 at the right foot of one, which simply rose its feet and kicked the pillars of solidified dirt into her before they could dissipate. She gasped and fell back, one nearly catching her in the neck, and screamed as the world around her went white and grey, the crushing, detonating force of Shadow Flare ripping into her, throwing her backwards and to the side of the Lifestream, hardly able to move.

Malak saw this, and attempted to move to her side. Another Ultima Demon swooped in and impaled him in the left leg. He whirled and drove his spear through the thing's head, leaving him wide-open for an Ultima from the Devil Behemoth, one of the ones that Altima had cast before his transformation, from the descriptions of his friends, a starry blast of energy that descended upon him an explosion. He was thrown to the floor and pressed-down by the intense heat, the beast toppling onto him.

"Ya' freaks, fight fair!!!!!" Barret unleashed the fury of a Neo-Bahamut upon the Devil Behemoth, watching as a cloudy portal appeared above it, and the platform below the Behemoth shot-up into that portal, the clouds swirling upwards and inwards as it disappeared into the thing. He spun in time to take a Grand Sword upon his blade, spun, and fired a bullet into the left spider-leg of the Dragon Zombie as it prepared to cast a Spell, distracting it.

"Adrenaline!" One of the Iron Men grunted. It leapt forwards, blade cutting the air in front of him, smashing into his gun-arm again, one he quickly rose above his head. He was thrown to the ground, target of an Ultima Demon, but Alma was there, blasting the thing with an Ultima and throwing it backwards. She spun and whacked him with her Healing Staff, then cast a MegaBarrier.

The Dragon Zombie took her down with a Shadow Flare.

"Hey, bonehead!" Cid shouted. The Dragon Zombie glanced at him, and he performed a Dragon Dive, only to be knocked out of the air by a Nanoflare and fall towards the Lifestream. At the last second Nanaki managed to leap-out and Sled Fang him out of harm's way, but both were blasted by a second Nanoflare.

That did it for Yuffie! Dodging the Grand Sword coming at her, she lashed-out with her Rising Sun and channeled a quick All Creation through it, destroying the sword. She picked it up as she would a Conformer, the energies of the Shinobi still surging through her veins, and tossed it at the head of one Iron Man. Decapitated, it fell backwards into the Lifestream.

The other Iron Man leapt away, while the remaining four Ultima Demons ceased their attacks. The Neo-Bahamut Spell ended as the Giga Flare tore through the 'ground' throwing the Devil Behemoth backwards and downwards to crumple to the real platform, momentarily dazed.

"Oh, heck!!!!!" Cloud quickly cast a Phoenix as he realized what was coming, just as a succession of Ulmaguests, Ultimas, and Pandora's Boxes erupted around them. However, when the Spell cleared, leaving them battle-ready, the Dragon Zombie struck again, four quick Shadow Flares flooring Tifa, Malak, and Alma once-again, another flooring Cid.

"Cosmo Memory!" Nanaki howled. The twin galaxies spun towards the Dragon Zombie, blasting into it and tearing off half of its limbs. It howled in pain and was disentegrated by a large All Creation, courtesy of Yuffie, who was then floored by a well-timed swipe from a Grand Sword, along with Nanaki.

Ruass, Cloud, and Yuffie had moved back-to-back, Cloud choosing this moment to spring into the air and unleashing the fury of an Omnislash upon the offending silver giant, literally hacking it into pieces. An Ultima, green-type, from the Devil Behemoth, followed by three consecutive Ultimas, floored Cloud and Yuffie. Ruass leapt-up as one Ultima Demon swooped down, snapping its throat with his teeth, then flipped back to safety once-more.

Barret attempted to activate a Megalixir, yet a stream of comets smashed into him, throwing him to the floor, too, and buffeting him so hard that if he wasn't cood at rolling away from projectiles he'd have been crushed. A barely-moving Yuffie grabbed it and activated it before another Ultima, from the Devil Behemoth, threw them to the ground again.

"Scatter!" Ruass commanded, bolting to the side along the platform and ducking under a Comet Spell. Barret retaliated by removing the Devil Behemoth from battle again with an Ultimate End, before spinning and firing two quick bullets into another Ultima Demon, about to activate a Nanoflare. That left two, who unleashed a Nanoflare and Hurricane respectively, the Nanoflare blasting them backwards, the Hurricane shredding into them and throwing them, all save Malak, who quickly planted his feet in the floor, in the air, and Yuffie, who grabbed-onto one of the dolphin tails, around. Two more Nanoflares were unleashed.

Cloud swiped sideways, searing through the left wing of another Ultima Demon, while Nanaki activated a Cosmo Memory, plowing out of the Hurricane and through the beast. The Nanoflares buffeted them once more, and before they could land, another Hurricane picked them up.

Ruass cast Energy, distracting one of the Ultima Demons, allowing Malak to lock-on to its aura and detonate a Sky Demon Back right where its head was, causing pieces of the thing to fall into the Mako and the tiles. An All Creation from Yuffie disintegrated the sole surviving Ultima Demon. Tifa fell into the Lifestream to the side of the platform, but caught-on and hauled herself up.

Another blast of comets tore into them, throwing them to the floor again, save Yuffie and Ruass. The Devil Behemoth had finished being blasted and sliced by Ultimate End, and was no very angry.

"Mteo!!!!!" It roared!

Another blast of fifty comets sailed at Yuffie. She flung a few aside before reverting to an All Creation, taking the rest out. Ruass bolted along the glass tiles, but a stray comet crashed into the tile in front of him, sending out a ripple of Mako Energy that hurled him backwards. His head hit and he found himself unable to move.

'Meteo...' Yuffie pondered, even as one last group of barriers seemed to break down in her mind.

The 'Lunarians' intermingled with some of the Cetra...

"Do the White Meteo, now!!!!!"

She was already an intermingling of four species, was it possible one of her ancestors, closer to her, had been on their second moon when the Cetra used it as a vessel to ferry the people from the other Planets back to Artesta, and the Lunarians and Cetra had left that moon for good, intermingling here?

"You are getting me extremely ANGRY!!!!!" Cid swore. He grabbed the Dragon Whisker that he'd had attached to his back and had yet never used, focused his Dragon Dive into it, and threw. The spear caught the Devil Behemoth in the left eye, half-blinding it. The thing roared and countered with another of the Ultimas that were activated from above, smashing into all in the circle.

"!" Tifa grated, activating a Regen, followed by Cure 3s. If not for Shield, they'd have been destroyed by now. These things hadn't used a single elemental Spell, and each of their attacks had reduced the effectiveness of Shield to that of a BigGuard.

She somersaulted out, then performed a vertical back-flip, leaping over a slash of energy. She concentrated and sent-out her own Ultima to the Devil Behemoth, catching it in the face right where she'd wanted it to and crashing through its head, snapping neck and brain. She landed safely on the glass tiles.

Ramza was still attempting to hold-off the assault of the Sagittarius Zodiac Brave, and was losing, even as Cloud had once-before. Who had once been Zack was attacking furiously, yet each blow was concentrated in a way that Ramza doubted Elmdor or Orlandu could've matched, and Cloud wondered whether Sephiroth could've matched, either.

"The way's clear now!" Cloud shouted. "Ramza, come on!"

He risked a quick glance over his shoulder while catching a full-power, two-handed strike from the Ultima Weapon on his left bracer and deflecting it before the energy beam could rip through his hand.

"I'll hold him off!" He shouted. "Go!"

"You people play hero at the most inconvenient times!" Yuffie exhaled and sprang out from under the cover of the dolphin statue, then leapt atop it and waited for a clean aim. The rest stayed-back, administering to each other's wounds, unable to do anything but watch.

The Ultima Blade was at full-power, flickering with energy. Exact replicas of the Materia Cloud had placed in it when everything down to its hilt was destroyed rested there, yet they weren't real, simply ornamental installments in the magnificent hilt of the energy-crafted broadsword.

Ramza's Genji Shield met its end as he swung it in front of his face to block an attack that he couldn't defend himself against with by using his sword, shattered into pieces. He fell-back, but swung low and managed to slash through Zack's left leg.

He hissed and fell back, but the Ultima Weapon did not lose power as it did when Cloud was wounded-enough that energy was drained from him. Zack caught Ramza in a sweeping kick, and thrust his sword towards the Beoulve's throat, in a move that would stab through his neck, cleanly separating it from his head.

Then Yuffie was there, throwing him back and bringing-up the Rising Sun under the Ultima Weapon, throwing the blow up into the air to ensure she had a clean shot at Zack's stomach. He fell-back, rage smouldering in his eyes, and cast a Bolt 4 on her, enveloping her, screaming, in the torrent of electricities and explosives. Like a small forest creature riding the front of an explosion, a battered and twisted Yuffie Kisaragi was hurled backwards onto the platform near Tifa.

Cloud brought his Materia Blade up. It was alike in design to the Ultima Weapon, save for an extra gold layer that rimmed it, and its 4x Ability to enhance the capabilities of the Eight Materia Slots in its hilt.

"Omnislash." He spoke. He brought the blade down, and a white sword of light ripped up through the air. This thing was not Zack, but was an image of him, just fighting, not even proving anything other than the fact it was a vessel. He hadn't been able to remove the shock that had come at seeing his best friend reduced to this again, but he'd been too busy fighting now.

The second Omnislash was his normal Limit Break. This time who had once been Zack was unable to block. He descended upon him in a torrent of blows, not giving him the chance to use a Spell, like Ramza, yet he was unable to block. Gashes cutting through him, blood flowing down his sides, he could only look up as Cloud Strife came down with the finale to his Limit Break, leaping backwards from the detonation.

This was not Zack.

Tifa's Master Magic Materia was exhausted from the Full Cure Materias she'd used on Yuffie, ones she'd hoped would have an effect, yet even in the process of slamming a Megalixir on it, she looked-up. Like a moment suspended in time, the shards flowed outwards as she saw Zack crumple.

"This body was fitting to use once it wished for the wrong thing, but its time is over..." The Sagittarius Zodiac Stone floated up and began to shimmer, its discus hurling Cloud back into the the circle of his wounded comrades. He made it a point to grab a Megalixir out of his Item Sack and slam it against the stones as he fell...

...the wisps of energy shot out and into the discus, which refocused into a dome and enshrouded Zack and the Zodiac Stone. The dome expanded...

...and Sliyonog, Saggitarius Zodiac Beast, was reborn once more.


The black horse with the glowing red eyes and the green-purple fire that it brethed out of its nostrils, as well as the blue-white flames that existed behind its mouth, stood in front of them, twice as tall as Barret easily, Ultima Weapon in right hand and Chijiraden in left hand.

"Hosts of mine, come and dine!"

Three red creatures that looked like Iron Men in all but color and weaponry, bearing rainbow swords, and one more Devil Behemoth, appeared behind Sliyonog. Five Despair Demons and one black-and-white Dragon Zombie appeared behind them, three of the Despair Demons on the platform in the northeast section of the room, the other two, along with the 'Dragon Zombie' at the entrance.

"Amber Men and a Tiamat Zombie," Tifa identified.

Cloud leapt to join battle with the Zodiac Demon, even as the others braced for battle with the thing's aids.

Every instant, every last moment of this battle was unforgettable, pending survival, a survival that was fleeting even as a stream of water as rain clouds scattered before the Sunlight.

The Materia Blade arced-up, Velius' Bane, clanging together with the Ultima Weapon. Cloud thrust it to the side and cast Ultima, sending the Chijiraden skittering backwards to the pedestal, almost falling into the torrent of Spirit Energy below.

"Why do you continue to fight?"

"You are beyond reasoning!" Cloud answered, delivering a low thrust, one which was abruptly blocked. "It is Lucavi we come to speak with, and if you give us no quarter now than your fate will be that which your Masters gave my friend!"

"Zack exists! His body is my host, his spirit allows me to exist, it is the foundation upon which I can attach my spirit, but although we are alike-enough in thoughts to have been able to communicate, we're not alike enough that he has leave to talk!" The thing swiped downwards. Cloud brought the Materia Blade down, blocking it, and punched his opponent in the face.

"You trap his spirit! You're not Zack!"

"Absorb power in the sky and strike! Lightning Stab!"

Within the next second, a pinpoint of energy gathered behind and above the 'Ex-SOLDIER' as the Zodiac Beast brought the Ultima Weapon down. Cloud threw himself forwards, away from the shot of electricity that erupted and crackled where he'd been standing.

"Master of all swords, cut energy! Night Sword!"

Cloud threw himself forwards again as a red orb appeared above him. A blood-red icicle-like spear shot upwards where he'd been, before exploding.

"Armor won't help the heart stay sharp! Shellbust Stab!"

Cloud leapt backwards as soon as he saw the huge white sword blast out of the ground, just missing the blast, leaving him open for a stab with the Ultima Weapon. He managed to turn the blade aside enough so it wouldn't run him through, but it cut a gash in his left side.

He quickly responded with as concentrated, yet swift, attacks that he could, preventing his opponent, who quickly began forcing him backwards, from casting anymore Spells.

Cid had polevaulted over to where Tifa stood, and was preparing to activate another Dragon Dive. The Tiamat Zombie tore into the air and descended towards them. Tifa planted one foot right where its chest was and shoved herself upwards, bringing both fists down at its neck. The thing skittered backwards.

"Triple Thunder," It breathed.

Three quick bursts of lightning erupted from the air and into them, ripping across the field and sending two scorched figures to the ground. Three of the Despair Demons moved-in to finish them off, and each detonated into pieces as Malak cast a Sky Demon Back on them.

"Stars above, unleash your fury in a flood of devastation! TetraQuasar!"

It was like Cosmo Memory, only more destructive. Three tiny galaxies, huge and majestic, appeared and spiraled down towards Malak, entrapping-him between a three-way blast from their central discus, then trapping him in a pyramid of nuclear energy, which grew out to encompass Barret before it exploded, the detonation and discus galaxies smashing into Nanaki even as he leapt to join Tifa, sending him to the tiles, singed. A quick Life 2 stabilized them, but didn't heal them fully, save for Nanaki, the damage was so great.

She could barely move, but Alma could. She leapt over the Lifestream and caught the thing in the back of the neck with her Healing Staff, spraying MegaBarriers on Tifa and Cid. Tifa was up, grabbed the thing by the side of its head, and sent a roundhouse into its skull, then whirled-around and channeled the power of a Meteodrive through her foot as she performed another roundhouse in the opposite direction, catching the incoming Despair Demon on the neck and ending its life.

Ruass and Cait Sith, who hadn't found an opening in the previous battle, had climbed the pedestal. The Byblos would launch a Parasite at the Amber Men, while Cait Sith wwould proceed to activate his 'Level 3' Limit Break, or his 'Ultimate' Limit Break, knocking them backwards and occasionally bruising them.

Now an Ulmaguest floored them both.

Alma spun and fired another Ultima at the sole remaining Despair Demon. Tifa spun and fired a Flare at the thing, catching it in the chest and sending it to the tiles, scorched. She quickly leapt at it as it came up to fire probably a dark-blue Ultima, dome-style, or to leap at them, and blasted the thing point-blank with a Freeze, the huge boulder of ice throwing the thing backwards onto another panel, smashing through the panel and crushing the monster.

Cait Sith was up, and managed to slash-out at one of the Amber Men. It grunted and swung, only to have Nanaki Sled Fang into the sword and shatter it into pieces from the stump-section down. The thing hissed and cast Adrenaline, followed by a Comet 2. The warrior switched his frame of mind into that which could access Blood Fang, then activated it and plowed into the thing's midsection.

It staggered backwards, letting Cait Sith leap up as far as possible, its feet-jets activated, and smash the thing in the neck with its fists. Unlike Cait Sith 1 or Cait Sith 2, which were purely stuffed moogles, or even Cait Sith 3, not stuffed, but with a flexible superstructure, Cait Sith 4 was composed of a superstructure with special cords that could tighten, adding more energy to its fists.

The Amber Man's neck didn't just dent before the full force of those blows, it snapped into pieces.

Ramza had gotten the attention of the Devil Behemoth at the start of the battle with a quick Throw Stone right in its left eye. He'd polevaulted, normally, to the top of a dolphin statue, cast Ultima at the thing, and led it to the south side of the room, scooping-up rubble and chucking it in the thing's face as necessary.

Cornered at last, he threw himself under the thing and polevaulted upwards with his Chaos Blade, before swinging the very same thing around into the beast's neck, just below the faceplate. It staggered to the left and fell to the narrow walkway, almost tipping into the Lifestream pool. Before it could right itself, Ramza had thrust downwards, through the gash, and cut through the beast's windpipe. It thrashed one last time and this time did lose its balance and slide slowly, tail whipping around and throwing Ramza into the wall before he could dodge, barely conscious.

Its impact created a great splash of Spirit Energy.

Then it was gone.

Courtesy of one of Cait Sith's Megalixirs, all the wounded save Yuffie were healed within the next few seconds, yet Barret and Malak were still unable to move. Red XIII widened his frame of mind again, and activated another Sled Fang, ramming into the remaining Amber Man and throwing it backwards, then narrowed his concentration and unleashed Cosmo Memory on the creature, causing it to stagger back and growl.

"How?" Barret gasped.

"Your frames of mind!" The beast called. "Focus them as you did when you activated your Limit Breaks, bring them into essence!"

A final Megalixir from Cait Sith finished healing him and Malak, yet the Amber Man smashed a Freeze on them before they could get up, simultaneously bringing its rainbow blade down in front of Nanaki, forcing him to stop what would've been another Cosmo Memory and leap back. Barret roared and began to charge-up Catastophe, then remembered what red had told him, let the concentration of energies that would give-up an Umgarmax rip-out from him, and quickly removed his right wrist from the gun's 'trigger,' then shoved it forwards to continue concentrating the energy and smashed into the thing, unleashing the blast's power, the furry of the Limit Break smashing into its legs, snapping them. The thing fell, and its head was punched off. The final move of the Umgarmax was to punch the thing backwards into the Lifestream pool, where it sank into the depths of the greenish Spirit Energy.

Cloud cried-out, and they all spun, including Yuffie, who was now awake and climbing to her feet, focusing on the duel between the blonde-haired male and Sliyonog.

The Ultima Weapon had been thrust, up to the hilt, through his left breast.


Cloud Strife blocked another blow from his ultra-fast adversary, proceeding to bring-up his Imperial Guard and deflect the blow at a 45% Degree angle. Sliyonog abruplty reversed and thrust downwards, snapping through his navy-blue shirt and tearing into his left side. He spun away and delivered an underhand stroke that came up towards the thing's stomach, then farther-upwards towards its midsection.

Instead of withdrawing the blade to block the blow, the hilt came down, clanging onto his glove. Performing another move that would've probably been impossible for Sephiroth, and an amateur would've thought that this transformation had made even-harder, the sword wa snapped back and two the side, wrists twisting and bringing the blade down towards his own, keeping it vertical as it slashed downwards. The wrists then twisted and brought the blade along his adversary's, slashing right into the hilt.

All in an instant.

Materia Blade was snapped from his hands, unbroken, but thrown to the steps behind him. He whipped-out the Buster Sword and brought it down at his adversary's open chest. Sliyonog blocked again, moving the Ultima Weapon upwards but suddenly reversing thrust into an arc and chopping the blade in half neatly, bringing-back another hand and catching the spinning point neatly between two fingers. He flung it behind him, batted aside the Ragnarok that Cloud drew next, leaving him with only the Nail Bat and Yoshiyuki attached to his back, batted it out of the way of his chest by looping the sword vertically and bringing it up, then thrusting the Ultima Weapon, all the way up to the hilt, through his left breast.

His vision dimmed, and he was aware of two things as he fell backwards off the sword. One was Tifa screaming his name and attempting to activate a Full Cure, the other was Sliyonog slashing towards his neck to ensure no one healed him.

Now was as good a time as any to attempt a trick he'd been wanting to try ever since he found-out that Materia was condensed Mako. In what should have been his last effective breath, he grabbed their spare, Mastered Restore from where it was attached to the Yoshiyuki and cast Cure 3 on the wound, then smashed the Materia against the Spell and his insides.

The effect was what he'd been hoping. The Materia simply dissolved and amplified all of the energy of the Cure 3, the shards thrown away from him, instantly erasing all his wounds as if they'd never been there.

He'd also managed to increase his fall so that the Ultima Blade slashed harmly over his head. He now brought it forwards, still fighting to control the breathing he could suddenly perform again, even if it had been lost for seconds, and the next slash tore-apart Nail Bat and Yoshiyuki, reducing them to shards that rained to the ground. He leapt-back, picking-up the Materia Blade and throwing it into the pathway of the Ultima Blade, holding it there for as long as he could.

Behind him, he heard Tifa let-out a sigh of relief and abort the energies of the Full Cure, which were about to be unleashed.

Ten seconds had pased since he'd truly come the closest to perishing yet.

"No more Amalgam Rays accessed that way now, boy!" Sliyonog snarled.

"What!?" Cloud's head jerked-up, but he still managed to hold his energy blade against that of his opponent, keeping it in check.

"Don't pretend you don't know, boy!" He laughed again, a snort of feigned amusement and contempt. "Or are you that foolish that you didn't know that your discovery of our trap was planned, too?"

Cloud didn't respond, just broke the connection and swatted the blade away before his opponent could move. A hoof came-out and struck him in the chest, hurling him down the stairs and to his childhood friend's feet.

She helped him stand.

"You've been manipulating us," he spoke. "I figured as much, which is why we attempted to remove ourselves from your trap. Obviously we couldn't, if we'd failed you might've found a way to open Elslumina, but you were counting on us, predicting our probable responses, but had contingencies anyways. We'd hoped. There's a difference between a real puppet and a living puppet, though, as Jenova found-out the hard way."

This time Sliyonog's laughter was a series of rolling claps of thunder.

"Shu' up and explain yourself, foo'!" Barret snarled.

"All good things to he who waits," Sliyonog threw back. He paused to deliver a snap-kick to Cid, followed by five others, as the pilot took that moment to attempt to unleash a Dragon Dive on him, throwing him back to the platform, too.

Barret helped him stand.

"Have you ever wondered exactly why those at Crescendia and the 'Dark King' chose 'prophecies' to attempt to do what they thought needed to be done?"

"Don't know, don't care!" Cid responded first.

"Be silent, whelp!" A blow of pure energy, not even condensed to a seeable fashion, formed out of air and unseeable, slapped him across the face, throwing him to the flagstones like a ton of bricks shattered by a wrecking ball.

"You haven't the right to acknowledge anything! You couldn't change a thing even if you wanted to! Its just how people are!"

Cid scrambled to his feet and spat in the beast's eye. "That's what you think! That's what most thought about the Shinra Number 26! It wouldn't fly again, wouldn't launch, and it did!"

"Only when the Shinra wished it so!" Sliyonog responded curtly. "The Cetra in Crescendia were at the point where they subtly required human aid, so they placed flase prophecies in the air and left them hanging for brave souls looking for adventure to walk into their strings, just as the 'Dark King' did when he wished to find a human champion he could break and remake the way he wanted!

"They were needed, so they were used! A cycle that will continue on and on! Even if a paradise of existence is reached at the end of evolution, something would differentiate, if only in that matter! There would be a marionette of a blanket! Its all flawed, in order to achieve perfection we must begin anew!"

"Stop it!!!!!"

Ramza stepped forwards sharply, his face no longer a battle-hardened mask or that of a kind but calm adult. Alma recognized a brief flicker of the Cadet her brother had once been, before their lives had been torn-apart due to the needless slaughter between the Hokuten, the Limberry, and the Corps. His eyes were upset, obviously recalling painful memories.

"You're doing the same thing! You're acting just like Algus and Gafgarion!" He gestured towards the Zodiac Beast, palm open. "Replace what's useless because it will cause more pain! The way of existence remains unchangeable so live with it or act in a way that would have to harm others! Learn your place or fail! Those higher-up use those who are beneath them!" He swallowed. "You're just like them!!!!!"

"And even if you did forge your paradise, it would take too long!" Sliyonog shouted back, voice rising to tone reflective of one trying to thrust its view upon others. "Everything is going to be destroyed, vanquished, annihilated, and then be replaced! This Universe, Pureland, they'll vanish and then be replaced!"

So that was what was going on!

It wa strange, Alma reflected, how they'd almost known this and yet not focused on the obvious, thinking that something other than this really would happen. Not that it mattered, but their suspicions were totally confirmed now.

"We suspected as much," Cloud whispered.

"Every time a child snaps its neck against the rock, or a beast is slain to provide food for others, we feel its pain! When a Star explodes, its cries are heard throughout the Universe! Pointless slaughter reverberates through us! We never wanted it like this! We were given the mission to uphold this, to ensure no more lives would be lost, but we found that there was really no choice! If you knew we were going to replace the tortured existence we all live now, then how could you not understand!?"

Sliyonog paused to take a breath.

No one could answer that. Not even Cid, who seemed to be about to hand-off another retort.

"The majority of you are humans, so I'll use your pathetic race for this example! Look at yourselves! Each of you continuing to fight again and again over some pesky form of power! Greed and hatred fueling you, you want to lash-out and bring pain to others! Something that is misunderstood is oftentimes slain, while you treat each other as things! Kefka and Sephiroth, for example! The man named Kefka existed around 500-Years-Prior, and subjected himself to an experiment none of his superiors understood! The pain changed him, while the power that flooded him gave him a way to channel that pain! He was literally shattered and reduced to a pitiful coward who only wished for better ways to give others the pain he felt!

"And Sephiroth, as you all know...his whole life was devoted to being nothing more than a 'thing!' His own father subjugated him to experiments, prevented him from living a normal childhood, tried to take everything from him just because he thought that the boy, once grown-up, would show him how well he could use science! He played with life like a thing! You all do! We have no choice!"

"*STOP IT!!!!*" Tifa screamed, the force of the scream sucking her throat free of air for that moment. "I've heard countless lectures and explanations from many sides of a story about how this or that should be done one way, about how someone can be used because they don't have any other purpose in life! I've experienced what you do, I've seen my very life shattered!" She spun and glared accusingly at each one of them, although her gaze was more of a pitied one when her gaze passed Ramza. "Each of you can go quarrel over something, acting as if it were petty!" She spun back to Sliyonog, her hair whirling, and strode up the steps, poking the Sagittarius Zodiac Brave between the rips as hard as she could. "We came here to stop the fighting, not to exchange ideals or beliefs! We could hack at each other for a year, fight, shout, argue, lecture, but it won't change a darn thing! Each moment is what we need to live! We don't need to look at the overall disasters! If we had, Artesta would've lost its hope long ago! There'd be no reason to go on, we'd have all given up hope!"

Cait Sith's eyebrows rose, as did Barret's.

"We need hope! We don't need to be jerked-around and replaced when we get too out-of-hand! That is puppetry! We never need to give up or lose that hope and we'll get what we try for! Despite me, and what I know, what about the rest of us, and what happened in history, on this Planet alone! Look at what this feud has cost us already!!??"

Tears were brimming in her eyes. "Aeris...Vincent...all those poor people in

Midgar...any chance Sephiroth might've had of living a normal life...everywhere, every Planet, I'm sure lives have been ripped away...Ramza's best friend had his life twisted, and the person who snapped it only did so as a result of what his grandfather did! "*HOW MANY MORE LIVES WILL IT TAKE BEFORE YOU REALIZE THAT!!!!?????*" Now tears were rolling down her cheeks, unabated.

Her voice dropped to a barely-perceivable whisper. "I don't care if you think I'm just reciting the same thing you mean, yet with different words, Sliyonog!" She spun towards her comrades. "Or whether you think I'm rephrasing what you've been shouting back and forth too. I've learned so much now, we all did, but I may be the first person to understand the two other important things that we're missing! We're not doing this for ourselves, for the Planet, to stop the madness. That's just phrasing it in words." She spun back to Sliyonog. "If whoever could allied with Ralyon showed yourself, or even walked among us, attempted to teach us..." She spun back. "And we attempt to do it for all life, saying we are, following a hopeless dream so that peace is achieved!" Her voice was beginning to rise again.

"The heck with what they've done, or an impossible peace which can't exist! Strip away everything that belongs to their actions, even the actions of someone out there who's possibly so sadistic that even the most-twisted would find their actions against their morals, and you still find a living being." Her voice dropped again, back to a normal pitch, but it was obvious she was barely keeping that tone. "They're alive, we're all alive, and we have a right to stay that way."

She staggered down the steps and collapsed into Cloud, sobbing fiercely again. He simply wrapped his arms around her and stroked her hair, her cheeks, her face, her back, kissing her cheeks, her face, her brow, trying to comfort her, but she simply clung to him fiercely and continued to sob uncontrollably.

Sliyonog's eyes softened. "Maybe..." He shook his head... "Now I know how Exor Ra probably felt...but I can't..." He shook his head violently again, as if that decided it for him. "But in the future our Master will bring us we won't have to make these decisions."

Barret caught the change of tone, and swung his gun-arm up.

"I wouldn't do that," he warned, his tone once-again cold and acid. He clapped his hands, and a red crystal shot into view behind him, Meliadoul and Rafa locked in stasis behind them.

"Rafa!" Malak cried. He glared accusingly at Sliyonog. "What have you done to them, you bastard!" He growled menacingly.

"Such anger," he spoke. "Only keyed their Spirits to mine. If I perish, they will perish, too." The nonchalance in his voice was more-chilling than his cold battle stances of before. He waved his hand again, revealing a similar red barrier that blocked the only exit to the room. "Touch that and you perish. It reinforces the walls, to, so not even a Supernova, though it would destroy the rest of the Planet, would effect this place. You'll just have to stay here."

Tifa stood by her own now, not able to say anything in response. She'd simply moved free, and glared at him, tears still streaking down her cheeks. Cloud ached to comfort her again, but couldn't. One last wild card of a chance came to his mind, and it was either that or nothing.

"Liar!" He spoke the word in feigned contempt, and began to climb the two 'steps', sword held before him. Sliyonog obviously knew it was a false tone, but he was taking a wild gamble he wasn't counting on his determination, would know that he wouldn't go through with it the last second, that he couldn't.

He waved his hands. "And now your love is locked within the same confines," he spoke again. "What about her, too?"

"I don't weigh one life above others if I have no choice," he grated, throwing Zack's own words back in his teeth, climbing the final step.

Without wasting a second, he lunged, not giving Zack/Sliyonog the chance to respond. Barret started to move forwards, unsure of what he was doing and what to do in response, the others simply readied themselves to evade any attacks coming to them and possibly counterattack if they saw an opening and could, or ended-up having no choice in the matter, not really knowing what to do.

Cloud's stroke could've cut through Sliyonog's left breast, but he had something else in mind. He grabbed his Ragnarok and activated its only Materia, bringing it into contact with Materia Blade, both blades so close they were literally penetrating the web of energies surrounding the Saggittarius Zodiac Brave.

"Dispel," he whispered, immediately before the blades made contact.

Sliyonog's eyes widened, shocked, as his Spell was torn away from him, freeing two weak girls behind him from stasis, undoing the Spell on the walls and doorway, and removing its threads from Tifa, who was otherwise unaffected.

The blow did not pierce, though.

Ultima Blade came-up, casting Ragnarok from Cloud's hands, a blow that was barely turned aside so that only the flat of the Ultima Blade met his chin, throwing him backwards, down the platform, to the cobblestones once-more. He leapt backwards, grabbing onto the Chijiraden.

As he'd expected, one of them charged, focusing what would obviously be a Limit Break or something at him, maybe even choosing to dive, the figure preparing to dodge the incoming blow.

He was faster, though, and Chijiraden snapped through the air cleanly, before the figure was even in position. The blade shot through the air and tore right through Tifa Lockheart's left breast, straight through her heart, all the way to the hilt. Unlike the Ultima Weapon when it rammed through Cloud, it wasn't a simple stab.

Her life ended instantly, she had returned to the Planet even as her body hit the floor. She couldn't have brought-up any arm, not her left arm, with Minerva Band and Premium Heart, nor her right arm, or any limb, fast enough to stop the blow, neither could she have dodged fast-enough. And since it wasn't a simple stab, there had been no reaction time right after impact.

He felt a momentary pang it had to be her, she'd undoubtedly been going to launch an attack that wouldn't severely harm him, anyway.

As it did when someone perished, those who were not already moving to attack, or those who could halt their movement, were effected.

He targeted someone else with the next in the series of blows that would slay them all, and let-loose with another Bolt 4.


Cloud paused in the middle of what would've been a run-jump, face white, as if suddenly slapped so abruptly everything was drained from him.

"No..." He mouthed, unbelieving.

Yuffie was the one who leapt-up next.

"White Meteo!!!!!" Something the young warrior had read-about once pinged in his head. Up-above a huge light appeared. At the same time, a Bolt 4 smashed into Yuffie again, tearing into her and scorching her, leaving her screaming in the onslaught of power, before she was thrown back to the cobblestone walkway, bleeding nearly everywhere, the rest of her body scorched, barely conscious.

50 Comets, condensed into something tiny, but the real things, all their energies also condensed into that one space, with the double power of a second comet added onto each, effectively, and also, doubling the thing's strength, smashed into Sliyonog.

Such a strong attack even one such as he could not survive.

The first 49 Blows sent him flying backwards in a jumble of crushed limbs. He lashed-out, sides extending, a group of needle-like claws extending from his sides, tearing outwards at incredible lengths. Only one managed to penetrate, right into Barret's midsection.

Those first 49 Blows had hit by this time, the 50th smashed into Sliyonog's left breast and crushed it, along with the heart. The spidery-tendrils that had emerged from the sides of the horse-demon swung backwards, extending halfway across the room in both directions.

Sliyonog somehow managed to regain his footing and arch backwards, silhouetted in some fading, shattered glory, before crumpling to the ground and exploding in thousands of pieces, a domed yellow burst of energy ripping away his life, and plunging another species into existence.


The Sagittarius Zodiac Stone clattered to the walkway, unnoticed.



Not again.

This isn't happening.

White, numb, almost as if he truly was a puppet being moved-on by strings, he bent-down, gathering Tifa's body in his arms. He heard Barret say something to him, followed by Ramza, but their words were lost on him.

He half-walked, half-stumbled across the cobblestone floors, out into the cavern and down the walkway, not knowing how long it would be before the others followed him. Once or twice his knees buckled, and he almost fell over the side of the pathway into the torrent of Spirits, where he would then join his beloved in the Path of Spirits.

He never fell, just continued to stumble onwards, and down to the edge of the pillar. He took the turn they hadn't before, and from there, half-collapsed, half-fell down the cobblestone staircase that led to a beach above the glimmering Spirit Energy silhouetted by the starry shapes hanging above.

Just promise me that whenever I'm in trouble, you'll come to rescue me. I want to experience that at least once.

He had. When they'd faced the Pearl Weapon. And the second time that she was in a situation where he could've, might've been able to save her…

…he'd failed.

He looked down at her, expecting her to wake-up at any moment and give some cheerful remark, or simply tell him it was all right, like she had so many times when she'd come close to perishing before.

As he knelt on the small beach, alone in what seemed like a daylight sky, for a moment he held not just Tifa, but also Aeris and Zack in his arms.

He'd failed every last one of them.

He'd been so far gone when Zack had lost his life his grief hadn't hit him until that day in the mansion. That sadness had blasted into him like a gust of frigid wind. Zack, then Aeris, then Tifa. All three of his closest friends.

The closest thing he had to a brother, and both people he'd cared for and loved to an extent he wasn't sure the ends of.

He gazed-down at the plain, normal brunette with the open face that had captured his heart; saved his lives so many times he couldn't count them.

His mind drifted back to that night on the well 8 Years Ago, then to all the close times they'd shared. Wisp after wisp of what was now a lost dream flashed through his mind vividly.

She looks like a sleeping angel.

That memory, of the night they had all parted ways months ago, not knowing they'd be brought together again, the night he'd almost abandoned her…his friends, if she hadn't followed him…that memory was an exact replica of how she looked now.

He could've screamed, pounded out his rage upon the stones, but he didn't. He was too drained to care. He could replay this scene is his mind, every time they'd spent together, but it still wouldn't change a thing.

She was gone, and he could do nothing but silently grieve.

Please make sure she finds her Promised Land, Aeris.

He bent down and kissed those still lips one last time, then picked her up, gathering her to him once-again, kneeled down, and placed her in the Lifestream. Then he withdrew his arms and stepped back, his gaze never leaving her until long after she'd vanished from sight, into the green depths.

He collapsed to the beach, face-down, and sobbed uncontrollably, shoulders wracking with the force of those sobs, into the sand.


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