Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 22
To Cut The Strings Which Bind Us...
By Paul Nathans
The stars glimmered above the head of the quartet in unfamiliar patterns, moving ahead of them and around them as they strode ever-north.
Esla Delenya couldn't help but regard them with a mixture of awe and fascination, the same awe and fascination she had for the past two weeks they'd spent exploring this world. It was so-much-brighter here, their star a smaller, yet bright speck against the sky in the dim day this place had.
Even in that day, the stars were visible. It was day now, and the only difference between it and night, besides the bright star that hung up in the skies, was the orange-yellow hue it cast over this place's scant atmosphere with its corona.
Yet somehow this place managed to flourish.
Forests and rivers had been all she and her three companions had seen in her trek across this world, one that had lasted days as they skirted it, with no planets remaining, if it was a planet, apparently the fabled Paradise so many had been sent to find through the Celestial Tower, that which bridged all Planets, yet completely empty. A mass supercontinent, or so it had appeared until they'd reached this pure opal bridge that spanned this continent and a northern one, probably forested too.
Below, the frigid waters sloshed back and forth. The chill wind blew through the adventurer's shawl as they continued north, somewhere near the center of the bridge, at least by their count. The glowing golden orb they'd arrived in was far, far southeast, that which had led from the top of the tower, a golden flower-bud at the top of a staircase. Those winding stairs proved why the tower wasn't truly diminished in height, even on what they'd charted as the Eleventh Planet on their list.
They'd started as one, their 'leader' a simple black-haired swordsman who'd wished to find the cause of the monsters that had appeared in the tower, by name of Loka. She'd happened upon him by chance, best friend to his lost love five years ago, and helped fill the gap both had suffered by losing her. She was one of the others he'd hired, the other two were a pair of 'Mutants', the term for the strange individuals who could talk to the Planet by most people, a duo who'd been friends for years yet often skirted the edges of a love/hate relationship. Slen and Mele were their names.
They'd been rewarded with a trek through ten other planets, not counting this one, witness and part of countless tragedies. Yet they still had to continue. Ashura had a master, if the legends were true, and as long as one Planet remained unchecked, they'd have to wander it. Their charts would be added-to again.
And, of course, across to the top door had been that pit-trap. Maybe there was some hidden entrance there. They'd have to stage a climb there next if nothing was in this place, if they found a way back.
Nothing living, save plants, had been found here.
Was this the Paradise that had drawn so many?
The bridge was transparent like glass, yet hard as diamond, reflecting colors that were not seen on Artesta, since this Planet was farthest from their star. Ornate pillars arced down in shell-like columns into the ocean.
Maybe this was a huge lake, they still didn't know.
"Have to rest!" That was Slen, black-haired and usually solemn.
Loka sighed, about to respond to his friend's complaint. Judging from his demeanor, he'd probably want to press-on a bit longer unless it was absolutely necessary they rest.
The brunette Mele squinted. "Who is that up ahead?" From the look on her eyes it seemed as if the person was faintly familiar to her.
"Let's find-out," Loka motioned ahead, and they strode forwards.
The bridge branched-out into a large pedestal with stars and galaxies engraved on its floor, a domed- roof above held-up by twelve-pillars with more of the same work on the inside of its roof, rainbows adorning the shell-like columns.
The figure standing in the center, between twelve enormous galaxies, was the black-clothed, brown-haired, mystery man with the black-and-red helmet that seemed like a cross between a crown and a messenger's hat.
"Who-?" Loka began.
The thing held-up its left-hand, palm-outwards, and a sense of incredible power washed over them, stronger than anything they had ever felt, its very presence seeming to try to wipe them out of existence.
Esla flinched, as did Slen. Mele and Loka did not.
The male, no, something far different, this couldn't be human, smiled, a strange, steely smile rather than one of genuine gratitude.
"Welcome," were his words. "You are the first to finish the game."
Even as that thought rebounded through her head, a chill seeped down through her very core, and she involuntarily shivered, an unreasonable dread approaching her. Slen wore a look of confusion, while Sele's right eyebrow was raised questioningly. Loka had stiffened, bringing a hand to his sword.
"WHAT!?" he responded. "Who are you!?"
That simple action seemed to animate the rest of them. Elsa slowly moved her had to her Masamune, adjusting her triple-shield, two Ice Shields, one on top of the other, attached to the magical Aegis Shield, formost on her right arm. Her Cure 'Spell Activator,' one of the orb-like 'Magical Talismans' that was commonly found at markets, was almost-completely dim, but ready. Once-again, she wondered why Magic had disappeared a century or two ago, replaced with the ancient practices of selling orbs crafted from stones found throughout Artesta, and now, throughout the planet, or books crafted from the same stones, talismans that stored something akin to the Magic that had vanished in the War of the Magi a century or two ago.
The two 'Mutants' seemed to prepare for a possible battle. Mele placed one hand on her Excalibur Sword, another on her Vampic Sword. Her own nearly-useless Cure Orb was attached to the right side of her belt, just as hers was. Clen was armed with a double Ice Shield, like she was, and a Poison Sword. A Poison Blaster was embedded in a holster on the left side of his belt. Both 'Mutants' possessed the ability to pull 'Magic' from the Planets, or that's how it seemed their inborn Magical Abilities were activated. Loka's Glass Sword remained in his sheath, his hand still upon it, Sun Sword attached to his back in a double sheath, the other section of the sheath holding a Coral Sword. All were armed.
"My children," the 'thing' responded, letting his gaze linger on each of them in turn, a gaze Esla involuntarily flinched at as it passed her, seeming to evaluate her as if she was no more than a petty toy for this being, one it was evaluating the performance of in a play. "Loka Ralyumnay, Elsa Delenya, Slen Aldruna, Mele Yelestro...
"...I am Creator."
As shocking as his first words to them had been, this revelation was doubly surprising. Even Sele, who seemed to hardly ever be shocked, struggled hard to conceal a gasp of astonishment.
"*YOU!!??*" Loka shouted, all of the remaining pieces in this mystery clicking into place. "You helped guide us through the tower. Ashura presumably annihilated you, yet you live and aided us in the only way you could, as you've aided other travelers to attempt to stop the monsters, or perhaps guided the ones who wished to find the so-called 'Paradise!' Yet the children...the massacre on the upper floors, what happened to them!?" Loka paused, eyes widening momentarily. "And what did you mean by 'game?' What 'game!?'"
No, not everything made sense. There was still his taunting, foreboding statement. Creator held-up his left hand once-again, a gesture similar to the one before. The energies pulsated outwards, vibrating through this enormous dome that could oust the size of many a mansion.
A gesture to stop, a command to let him speak. But why a command?
"My creation." It was no more than a disregarding statement, as this figure, not even taller than them, seemed to look down on them as they were fools, not the benign deity that was presumed to exist in this Planetary System. Not Ajora, not Fara, none of them. "The one that calls himself the Arch-Fiend...Ashura."
At the mention of Arch-Fiend, Elsa had gone pale. She knew what this thing that said it was the Creator had been going to say then, yet still hoped...hoped it wasn't true. All those petty wishes were dashed, shattered into glass and sucked-up by a whirlpool that seemed to try to consume their very souls, break them before this power.
This was Creator, the power was everything from the legends about it, but this was no benign spirit. Maybe the rumors about Ajora where true...then...if Ajora was a servant of this 'Creator.'
"How..." Loka was struggling for breath. "Why?"
"I was displeased with the lack of determination I saw amongst mortals. The threats of the past millenia were little more than encouragements, after they were dealt with the mortals would simply grow content again, thinking they could create peace by not even making the attempt, fools who were still engaged in petty squabbles and war for no good reason, whether it be desire for domination, greed, or whatever the goal. So I remade the Focus Tower/Tower of Babil into this, a tower that links all the Planets, waited for 100 Years while the people discovered its potential and settled Planets, all but this Planet accessible easily. Then I formed the rumors of a Paradise and created Ashura with instructions to cause as much grief and devastation as possible, to see what the response would be. Whether they would view Ashura as a blockade to this 'Paradise,' or whether they would seek to stem the waves of creatures and Fiends he commanded. The ultimate test with goals from which I could distinguish what the mortals in this system were truly like."
Elsa had gone whiter than before. To think that this deity, the foundation of the rligion that started with Fara, shifted to Ajora, and in the past century to rumors of a Creator, ones that were adapted as quickly as three of the other Planets in this Planetary System managed to spread in civilization, while most did not, was at the cause of this...everything they'd had to believe was washed-away, erased by the ripples of this though. "You're...you're crazy!" She croaked-out, choking on her breath.
Creator smiled at her like she was a foolish child just learning how to walk, unlearned and not able to distinguish much about it. "I'm not crazy," it spoke. "I simply formed something, and waited to see what the reaction would be. To see whether splitting the mortals into colonies and giving them a divided goal would show them what determination really was, how hard they would have to work without growing lazy. A divided challenge where the greedy would be wiped-away by my hand, those who failed would recieve nothing but losing their lives in whatever way they failed, and those who passed a reward. A neverending test that would continue to be restored, remade, to ensure no one grew lazy."
That didn't justify anything, simply explained why the four Fiends had been reincarnated, thankfully struck down by them as they reascended the tower before they could do any more damage. Meaning Ashura would soon follow.
"So that's why the books with data on Ashura was wiped-away!" Mele cried. "And especially the theories on its master! Those who knew the truth were slain, for you feared they'd halt your test!"
"Which means this was all a game..." Slen whispered hoarsely, disbelieving. They'd risked their lives and searched for a way to save others only to find they were pawns to a being that held no right to make them such.
Creator smiled upon him, this time a genuine smile, yet only one that showed how pround he was that Slen had figured this out. "You are correct," he spoke. "Many have failed the test, like that family whose children I was supposed to protect. They failed so they did not deserve protection..." At that Esla went completely white, while Loka became livid, white-lipped, barely able to control his anger at this thing. Slen and Mele held a mixture of fear and loathing, both directed at this one 'thing,' "While those who would complete it would be rewarded. As you are the first ones to complete the test, I will reward you. I will grant you one wish."
That did it! Elsa crossed the two long steps towards him. "We didn't do this for a reward or for anything but to ensure safety to those who suffered from what you created! You used us, you've been using us all along!"
"We fulfilled your desires perfectly!" Mele shouted indignantly, crossing the distance as well, yet staying back a step or two. "We did everything you wanted unwillingly, just like puppets before some pompous jerk who think's its his/her right to guide everything and control everything! You formed a situation and we responded as you wished! In this way we were nothing more than creatures of your design!!"
What's wrong with that?" Creator asked, again gazing upon them from his place at the center of the platform as a parent annoyed with the incomprehension of its children. "I created everything." His eyes flickered to them, indicating they were no different.
Something inside Loka snapped. In a single long stride he was at the platform, right hand out to backhand this freak of nature in the face, sending him sprawling to the platform, thrown from the place where he stood like the central guide of all existence, crumpling to the ground. "WE ARE NOT *THINGS!!!!!!!!!!*"
Creator picked himself up, his face no twisted in rage and disbelief. "Are you trying to pick a fight with me!?" He still chastised them as if they were four-year olds, yet now like ones trying to engage in petty squabbles. Slen joined them where they stood, even as the brown-haired 'deity' laughed, a laugh that one would give when he/she heard something so insane that even the most-crazy being would not believe it. "Don't you know that you're simply insects before my power!?"
His face twisted again, now one indicating its possessor was resigned to something. "It would happen sooner or later, its inevitable mortals rebel against their Creator." He began to glow, as the area around them began to change; an orb of stars and swirling shades of color, representing all forms of existence, coalesced around them, forming from this dome.
Creator, too, began to change, expanding in size and in form. "As you are wiped from existence, before you are totally annihilated, remember the greatness of my power!!!!!"
Around 1,200 Years Later
2,412 AJ (Not Know to Represent After Jenova, more specificically, after her crash to the Planet of Artesta. Ignoring the Time-Lapse), 1,372 AW (Known to mean After the 'First' War of the Magi.)
The silver-haired man crossed the threshold at the end of the long bridge to Elslumina, entering and instantly becoming immersed in a strange cocoon of lights and pulsing energies.
(Who is this?)
(Oh, its that poor experiment, is it? But if he can cross over )
Sephiroth muttered a few words and extended his hands. A light pulsated upwards and outwards, and he blew at it. The orb shot forwards, washing-away the darkness that encompassed him as his perceptions changed drastically.
He was like a bug floating before a tree-like tower of being, each strangely-deformed and yet majestic and sculpted, reminding him of the transformations the body parts of Jenova took. Tentacles waved-down from the top, held in place by some figure at the top, which he could not view from here, the being moving in tune to their movements, as if controlled by them, yet another puppet bound by strings.
"What and who are you?"
The answer only caused him to narrow his eyes. (We are the masters, those who rose to a spiritual Level in the beginnings of the times of the Universe. We are the Gods, the ones who gave order in the beginnings of time.)
"And then abandoned us when we needed you most!" He knew this wasn't strictly true, he'd fully absorbed the knowledge of the fate of these beings from the Lifestream that flowed throughout the Universe, but something seemed missing, something he wasn't sure he'd like.
(Not so, Sephiroth Hojo,) another voice intoned.
His green eyes blazed with fury. "*NEVER* speak his last name again!!!!!"
(We do what we please.)
Another presence entered the room, a starry angel. (That's quite far enough, Yggdrasil!)
Sephiroth refused to show his shock. Yggdrasil was a legendary tree that gave-birth to saplings upon the Planet quite rarely; one of its saplings, and its resulting seeds, had played a vital role in the time of the Dark Waters and the first series of crystals when the Cloud of Darkness had existed, and then the following succession of wars that the Vandole Empire and the Glaive Empire took a major part in.
(Ah, Ralyon ,) The voice of the 'Yggdrasil,' was mocking.
(You know why I am here.) The starry being responded, before glaring.
Sephiroth's hands shot to his sword, and it was whipped-out. He quickly assumed a battle stance, unsure of what was happening, but definitely on his guard. "What the blazes is going on here!?"
(Elslumina is open, the Universes are ours to rule once-more.) That was the 'Yggdrasil.' Its tone, though without feeling, seemed to carry a touch of humor at was the 'thing' seemed to guess was stupidity. (We are the gathering of those who achieved the status of Gods and Goddesses. Yet we are far-more than you would have been, for we have absorbed not only the knowledge of the Ancients and those afterwards, but we have taken powers from Galaxies, even Quasars! We are a host, yet one!!)
He remembered the strange dream. The being known as Kefka who had also absorbed the knowledge and power of the Ancients by creating a Magical Imbalance. And all the other knowledge, of how beings liked Zeromus worked, how Chaos and Zemus had merged, the latter unknowingly, to create Zeromus, how the ripple effects and the Lifestream Poisoning flowed, how they could be diverted.
And recently, much more knowledge of the history of this misbegotten Planet. All the gaps had filled-in, and he knew how to manipulate the very Spirit Energy itself, even if he still could not bring tremendous amounts into one place, though he had no wish to.
The passages in the books in the Nibleheim Library, his travel through the Lifestream after Cloud had thrown him into the current in the Nibleheim Reactor, the knowledge he'd absorbed from the Temple of the Ancients, the knowledge from the Black Materia and the huge gathering of Lifestream, then the knowledge he'd absorbed from the place 'between' the Spirit Plane and the All Plane.
Even if in the lattermost, he'd only gathered the rest of the knowledge in this Planetary System.
"Demon!" He hissed.
(Leave that to the other puppets! Aisha and Ceile have played their part well!)
Ralyon roared. (It was YOU who caused the attack on their parents!!??)
The Yggdrasil seemed to shake with laughter. (Even though we are trapped here, we still controlled a sole remaining being. This agent of ours was able to set-up the trap for them, and we got the results we wanted. We've waited a long time for the desired effects to play out.)
Sephiroth had also accessed the knowledge of the Crystals through that time in the 'between' place. He knew what that meant, and for the first time in six years his face paled and he went completely white.
"You mean !!??"
Seconds later his knuckles were now white with rage as he gripped the Masamune so tight he thought his hands would be shredded.
The figure seemed to flicker gold, the figure that had merged with Kefka's 'Throne' in that vision of the past he'd seen, before the insane freak had transformed into an Angel of Destruction. He created a small orb with his eyes, and glanced through it. Sure-enough, between the shoulders, below the upper head that seemed to generate the cords from above what appeared to be the 'main head's' shoulders, the purplish-red thing hovered, face twisted in a smirking visage that was an exact mirror of his when he had been Bizarro-Sephiroth, the main face, not the upper head.
(Too bad this place doesn't generate as much light in different spectrums as when you played 'Safer' against your comrades!) The thing mocked. (Or maybe we'd allow you to come with us as we leave, with that knowledge.)
The detonation of the 'Bizarro-Sephiroth' had broken through the barriers surrounding Holy, and throwing all but Cloud, Tifa, and Barret, who had happened to be right in front of the Core, up into the tendrils that brought them up out of the Lifestream. The other four had ended-up in the Plane between the 'Real' Glimpse of the Spirit Plane and the Core Plane, upon which dwelled the Promised Land.
And above the Promised Land itself, upon a platform in a starry night sky, was where he had dueled Cloud that last time.
Ralyon spoke before he could respond. (So puppeteer meets puppeteer. Know ye' of the real reason we used 'Saint Ajora?') He laughed seconds later, having received no response/ (As much as Altima was to aid Lucavi, it was created for one true purpose.)
It paused to take a deep breath. (Bloody Angel, attack!!!!!)
The white-winged thing appeared behind Sephiroth, causing him to spin and draw his sword. Clad in red armor, five times his size, and bearing a striking resemblance to the Cetra Aeris, he was face-to-face with the Bloody Angel, or, as he knew from history, 'Saint' Ajora, or, more-appropriately, Altima.
(Your time has come, puppeteers!) Ralyon roared.
He vanished in a flash of light.
The thing that was supposed to be Yggdrasil shook with mocking laughter. (*THIS* is what you send against us!!!!!) It struck-out with a 'claw' shape. Altima lanced-out with its hands, halting the claw, and proceeded to form a barrier in front of it, keeping it from moving. In the remainder of those few seconds, before the 'claw' touched him, his knives were out and embedded in its flesh. A spiked tail with the shape of a crouched dragon on the back whipped into him, while a blast of light shot from the head of the 'Yggdrasil.' Altima warped away, formed a spear of pure fire, and lashed it across the thing's chest, before teleporting away once-more.
The beams of light, however, struck the 'walls' of Elslumina. It began to shake.
Sephiroth wasted no time in whipping the Masamune forwards. Just as he had done with the knowledge he'd obtained from the Black Materia, he projected all of his knowledge outwards into an arc of energy. A cocoon of power that descended upon him as he once again began to transform
Barret stood at the edge of the platform.
He was the sole remaining member of the original AVALANCHE.
Behind them, those from the past clustered. In the minutes after the battle, it had become obvious they knew 'when' they really were in. Especially since they hadn't been effected by Sliyonog. But no one was saying anything yet.
"If only I knew how to change one thing before this happened, it would be so there never was a Shinra, no, that would ruin your place in life I think the best thing to be would be to show that poor Sephiroth who he really was."
And that's how they found-out. Cid had flashed her a startled glance.
"We knew." She gave a halfhearted grin. She and her companions hadn't known Tifa very long, but they definitely felt some grief. She was a friend to them. "But we don't know how we could really stop this and since we don't know, and even if we did, really couldn't do anything, we'll help ensure this future isn't wasted and follow whatever plans we would've, or are, still shaping, for our futures."
There wasn't even a three-day journey across snowfields for them to spend their grief. Barret simply had to shove the pain away, as Cid and Cait Sith seemed to have done, or, at least Cid. Although it didn't really help.
Four years. He'd known her for four years.
When he'd attempted to gather members for AVALANCHE, she and Biggs had been the first to apply. She said she'd seen the destruction Shinra could cause, and wanted to put a stop to it.
It had definitely gone farther than that.
She was the bright face amongst them, the one who, later, along with Aeris, would put a cheerful outlook on their current situation. Both of them seemed to have a special place in their heart for everyone, a joke or a smile ready even at the worst times. Even after Aeris was gone, she'd continued to pull them out of and personal conflicts they might have, cutting through their despair or fear with a smile and a reassurance she'd be there to help them.
More than that, she was their friend. No, not just a friend. This circle, not counting the new arrivals, had become so close-knit they were like a family to each other now. They watched-out for each other, coordinated their efforts, understood what each was feeling. They weren't just a simple group of friends, their trials had molded them into a coordinated group.
Losing one was like losing part of themselves.
She'd seen beauty in mostly everything, and knew how to create it when none was there. She was so much like Aeris, although Aeris seemed more-open and gentle at times. That was just a false look, he'd never been able to tell who was more open. While Aeris had been their hope, one of the main forces that bound the group together, Tifa had been, too, but moreso than that, she had been their heart.
"Darn Shinra, and darn Ralyon's Eagles!" That was all Barret could think of to say. His gaze drifted around to the closest thing he had to family, and the group of those from the past, who were comrades, some regarding them as friends, some not sure if they'd truly known them long-enough. They held their own circle, too, yet they could feel the pain.
Was AVALANCHE going to end-up truly like an avalanche? A landslide of material that damaged the forms of the objects around it, harmed beings, and carved new pathways on mountains or the areas it took place in, yet ultimately was destroyed as it finished its descent?
His shoulders sagged, then he turned back towards the group. Once-again he seemed to be a default leader for the moment, and even if he wasn't, he'd have to inform them when he was ready to move-on.
He wondered if the pain would ever leave him.
Nanaki, to put it in the lightest terms possible, was crushed.
You have to be strong, Red!
Tifa's words from the Gold Saucer that night almost a year ago echoed through his ears like a phantom.
He still had to be strong, but he wouldn't forget this.
He couldn't, either, even if he wanted to. Snippets of the times she'd been with the group, the way she and Aeris always managed to cheer them up there was no need for a speech this time, he reflected as his memory touched the service they'd 'given' Aeris. They knew she'd understand.
The images continued to pass by.
She'd know they all cared for her, but it did not wash away the pain.
Cid Highwind bit-off another curse.
No matter how much he tried to do something, follow those dreams of his that told him something he did would make or break the future for them, as his dreams shattered and his friends dropped for good, he'd been unable to stop that from happening.
He idly wondered if Vicks and the others had reached Rocket Town by now.
He wondered where Tifa was.
He wondered what people would think of them if there was anyone left after this was all over.
He bit off another swear word and puffed on his cigarette. Then he grabbed it, feeling the need to vent something, and threw his last cigar into the starry skies. It touched the Lifestream like the 'plop' from a stone when thrown in the water.
The last relic from his piloting.
He shook his head. He still piloted a course, and it was time to set that course on line in a way that would truly make a difference.
Reeve flung one last tissue into the wastebasket.
He was waiting outside the hospital. The Turks had been recovered, the fact that they were alive a tribute to the fact that they'd been through so much harm before. Like his circle of friends, a lesser person would've perished.
But had that saved Tifa?
No, she was as mortal as anyone else. He bit back on the tears he thought would resume. He wasn't usually prone to crying, but now, the carefree personality he'd developed for Cait Sith had apparently given him aftereffects.
Elena and Rude were in the 'okay' position, Elena was even awake and demanding that she be allowed to have visitors, but the doctors forced her to wait another half-hour before they were sure she was stabilized, but Reno was still critical. No, not just critical, he realized as a group of medics rushed into the room where he was kept, carrying a syringe, and from which a 'Flatline' Beep could be heard.
He fervently hoped that he wouldn't lose another one of his friends.
Yuffie Kisaragi was going to perish shortly.
She knew it.
Every second she felt herself slipping away, farther and farther from the others. Tifa had healed her enough to allow her to stand, but that folly had opened her inner wounds. She'd been nailed head-on with a Bolt 4, then another.
It had definitely finished the job.
She was aware Alma was pressing a wet cloth to her hand, using a Full Cure Materia. She sighed and closed her eyes again, even as a tear trickled down it.
She'd be the second casualty from that fight. Tifa Lockheart had been slain, instantly perishing when the Chijiraden had neatly torn through her heart.
She couldn't find the energy for much else, her life was slipping-away like a trickle of water flowed downhill through rocks, that of the Last of the Shinobi. The last words she heard before her eyes relaxed and slipped fully-shut and returned to the Planet were Alma's.
"Hang on, Yuffie," she was whispering, stroking her cheek. "It'll be all right."
Funny how things never did turn out that way.
Then she was gone.
Alma swore. "I'm losing her!" Her desperate voice cried.
Barret swore. "Not Yuffie too!!!!!"
Alma hissed, quickly thrashing her Healing Staff over Yuffie's wounds violently, fumbling for a Megalixir and opening it, letting its contents spill into her wounds.
She opened another Megalixir, grabbed the Master Magic Materia that Barret had removed; he'd removed her Minerva Band, Premium Heart, and disattached her Item Sack and the four fighting gloves attached to her belt, leaving both hands open one last time, and the rest of her free from fighting, just as Sliyonog had been slain. She activated a Life 2, a Full Cure, while using another Megalixir.
"Work, darn it!!!!!" She shrieked.
Yuffie's breathing ceased entirely, and her face went white.
"No, no not again please no!" Her fists rose in the sky, and she clenched them, tears streaking down from her cheeks. She let-out a scream of pain. Ramza quickly came to his sister took her in his arms, enfolding her in a quiet, soothing embrace.
She seemed drained, and just sobbed against him as he stroked her hair and back. "I failed someone again "
Meliadoul somberly disattached the Shinobi's Minerva Band and Conformer, as well as her other four shurikens.
Barret had bowed his head, silently unleashing the phrases that he'd given Shinra to Ralyon's Eagles. Two people, slain, within minutes of each other. Two more losses of life that he'd been powerless to prevent.
Alma's words, though, cut through all that.
Nanaki's head shot-up as all of the group that was alive and on the ledge Barret was on swiveled towards him.
Barret was no-longer somber. An all-too-familiar expression of annoyance crossed his face. "You heard me!!" He growled. "Or's one o' you deaf, too!?" He shook his gun-arm, grunting.
"Now listen here! Next one o' you foo's who says 'I failed' is gonna' personally get smacked upside the head by me until they're seein' the stars spinnin' round their heads!!!!! We ain't failed until this train's destroyed!"
Cid blinked. Barret rested his gun-arm against the pillar and rolled his eyes. "Don't even' start wit' me, pilot! You know as darned well as I do that the train's still coastin' on its tracks! I ain't pleased with this development, but its not gonna' stop until we're through or we've reached an agreement with these foo's that live here!!"
Cid muttered a curse word under his breath.
Barret ignored it, moving upright again. "We's all movin' on! I don't like this either, but we's gotta' move it or we're all coastin' off a cliff! No one's failed completely until there's nothing left to do! I won't draw this out into another lecture, I think you all darned get the point!
"LET'S MOVE IT!!!!!"
The cocoon exploded.
Sephiroth emerged, humanoid in appearance, no One-Winged Angel Safer-Sephiroth nor a half-demonic figure like Bizarro-Sephiroth. He was simply a white-winged humanoid the same size as Altima, clad in the black armor that he hadn't worn since he'd taken-off at the Northern Crater, leaving behind the Sole Remaining Clone, the Number #1, not the 'Real Him' that was formed out of his mind and given essence if it could exist, a him that could simply become his 'True Self' erasing the body in the Crater. Masamune glimmered at his side as he posed to attack.
'Bloody angels, both of you!' The thing laughed in their mind. 'Stand aside and let the Master walk free of its trap!'
"I'd sooner recreate the Black Materia than allow you to do that!" Sephiroth spat, using the shimmering powers that his #1 Clone had been given when he wished to move it through simple walls. A thick type, one he'd only encountered when attempting to enter the Temple of the Ancients and being forced to wait until Tseng had used the Keystone, one of pure magical energy, blocked him.
'It was simple luck that what we wished to happen happened here!' The being that called itself Yggdrasil boomed. 'Aisha and Ceile placed your old 'friends' in a position where they could interfere with what Ralyon and his Master might attempt, and the rest is history! We've waited too long to resume our rightful place for a White Mage Vessel in a Cetra's Body transformed into a Zodiac Demon and an experiment of science to stop us now!'
The walls of Elslumina began to crack. Immediately Altima extended his hands, palm outwards. Golden-red tendrils sprang-forwards, shooting into the walls of the 'Spirit Chamber' and reinforcing them, repairing the small cracks of damage that had opened.
"You will not pass to cause further destruction with your 'experiments!'" Altima grated. "Thousands have perished in this useless war, now you shall fall before the wrath of Lucavi's Avenger!"
'Go hunt the Dark Star!' The thing laughed. 'It bears the same frame of mind, thinking that because it is so strong it has the right to manipulate the Universe and Pureland as it pleases! It doesn't even have that right! We were formed with the Universe and Pureland, and when we gained sentience and understood what we could do we knew our rights! That was long before that 'accident' was produced!'
"We already have the Mu Spirits and a Being of Destruction! A Comet's Eye focuses in the Pureland Universe, maintaining the balance necessary there, yet even when the Dark Star arrives here and sees our cause we have no Eye here! You possess the power to do nicely!" Altima's voice was cold, yet definitely carried a spark of ironic humor.
'If you convince the Dark Star! And there won't be enough left of you this time for even your Master to restore if the Balance is set-up, and your paradisical fantasy is made into a reality! And as for you, experiment, I don't see any Clones or Spirit Energy to save you now! If you perish here, your spirit goes, too!'
"I AM NOT AN EXPERIMENT!!!!!"
Sephiroth lunged-forwards, the larger Masamune managing to chop through a small hand that waved-around to stop him, attached to a 'thin' tentacle dangling from one of the thing's upper shoulders. A blast of white power so intense it made his Supernova seem puny in comparison rocketed into him, and he crashed into the Spirit Wall with speed that almost broke the Sound Barrier.
He clenched his fists and tried to draw Lifestream Energy through the wall, his 'ribs' cracked and his chest crushed in many places, which meant if he'd needed a circulatory system he wouldn't be alive now.
He managed to make a faint connection, pulling in energy from the entrance as Altima launched into a furious attack, and threw himself back into this battle before he could be stopped
Cloud Strife ran as fast as he could along the pathway, ignoring the pain from his protesting legs. Nothing else mattered, just the fact that no one else would have to go through this again.
He'd met-up with the others at the energy column. He'd heard Barret's yells coming from up above, at the uppermost ledge, but ignored them then. He wouldn't have been surprised if they'd appeared here without him hearing anything prior, he didn't care if he went-off alone or not.
He'd just bolted off along the pathway, towards the now-open Elslumina.
He was now racing across the bridge, the rest of the group following him. A hand clapped over his shoulder, and he spun-around, face-to-face with Ramza.
"Are you with us or are you going to become another Delita?"
Cloud snarled, yanking free. "He could be saved. I thought I could be. Maybe I could, but everyone who was dear to me couldn't. I only have one thing left to do, and then there's no reason why I should live!"
He began to move-away, but Ramza grabbed his right arm. The Beoulve had studied fighting-patterns long-enough to know that Cloud's tensing meant he would soon strike, so he quickly kicked the legs out from under the 'Ex-SOLDIER.'
"The rest of you go ahead!!" He shouted. "I've got some things to say to our friend here!"
Barret nodded dubiously, then motioned for them to continue.
Reeve was completely absorbed in what was happening now. Both in the hospital, and without. Moreso on what was happening around Cait Sith 4, though.
Thus, he didn't notice the hand tapping his shoulder until it was poked.
He looked-up. "Your friend's out of the Critical Zone and has been stabilized," a Medic spoke. "If you want to see him, you may."
Before he could respond, an earthquake of tremendous proportions smashed into the city, tearing-down through all eight of its gates and causing the plates to shake. Reeve was sent tumbling from his chair into the doctor, the controls for Cait Sith switching the Android's motions to Auto-Pilot.
The hospital was sent into pitch blackness.
Outside the city, dark shapes began to move into the Slums.
Once-again, Midgar City was under attack.
"So this is the way it has to be, huh?" Cloud brought himself to his feet.
"I'm not standing-by and letting one of my friends get away with possible suicidal impulses," Ramza responded, trying to keep a controlled tone on his voice. "You're not going a step further until you can collect yourself."
Cloud ignored him and attempted to break into a run again.
Ramza tripped him again, this time moving in front of him. "The last thing I want to have to do is beat you down so you're too exhausted to fight. I'm not letting you pass, though, so get used to it."
Cloud's lip curled in something resembling a hiss and a sneer. "So be it!"
One of the first things he'd learned in the Academy at Gariland when learning how to anticipate whether someone was going to attack was learning what form it would probably come in. He'd seen Cloud in action enough to know exactly what he was going to do. Chaos Blade came around, the flat of it clanging against his hand even as he unsheathed his Materia Blade, a stroke that would've probably slapped him in the neck with the flat of the blade, knocking him unconscious.
"I'm surprised," the blonde-haired man laughed. "I didn't think you'd do this!"
"What were we fighting to prevent?" The Beoulve replied with.
Cloud snarled again and threw himself forwards in a standard leg-grapple take-down. Ramza hadn't seen such techniques used in his time, but could guess what it was used for, and deftly leapt to his left. Cloud attempted to sprint by, only to have the young 'Cadet' grab his arm. Cloud snarled and spun again, causing Ramza to simply elbow him in the midsection. A sweeping kick floored him, and he stood over him.
"There's no darned reason for someone without anyone to survive!" Cloud shouted back. "Zack, Aeris, Tifa, all gone!"
"So you think they'd want you to join them!? Blast it, we suffered two casualties already and you're going to make a third! Yuffie perished thanks to Sliyonog, and now you'll be next, and you'll have gone willingly!"
"I failed another!?" Strife hissed.
Cloud lashed-out with his right leg, hooking it around Ramza's right, crouched-up, and hooked the other leg, driving his head into his stomach and throwing the other down. The Beoulve twisted free and kicked him, very lightly, in the left knee as he tried to get-up.
"No more failures! What did Tifa say!? All life, in its most-basic form, down to just the fact that it exists, is sacred, precious, something that isn't to be trifled with! You've been hurt, twisted, shattered, and yet still continue to try to get through to people when you're in a position to do so! I don't think you'd stand idly by the streets if a child was getting mugged, yet now you're not doing anything!"
Cloud shook his head and laughed, a chilling sound that reminded the blonde-haired Cadet of Delita's tone. "Oh, no!" He spoke. "I'm going through this to stop this now! I tagged-along, then it turned personal, then I realized we were in a position to save the Planet, then Tifa convinced me to keep my promise even when I didn't really think there was much danger, and didn't agree with their plans, and now when we find-out what the stakes really are, and seem to always have been, I'm obviously going to try to stop it! Especially in light of the fact I wouldn't even wish this fate on Sephiroth or Hojo!! There's no more promises, just reasons!"
"Then follow them and continue to live! I could've taken my own life when I lost Teta, and thought I lost Delita, at Fort Zeakden! But I didn't!"
Cloud hissed yet again. "I know that!" He sighed. "Its pointless to argue with you anyway and I haven't the time! Other lives are at stake here!"
"I won't let you take yours, though," the Beoulve spoke quietly.
Cloud didn't even bother to nod, he picked-up his sword, sheathed it, spun, and bolted after the others. Ramza sighed and followed.
"What's going on!?" Reeve shouted into his emergency PHS.
"We've just been hit by one giant of an earthquake, sir!" came the voice characteristic of a trained Military Police Member with all traces of emotion erased. "I don't know why, but it seems as if it was sir, something's -!"
There was the beginning sounds of an explosion, then static.
"Get the emergency power on!?" one of the surgeons was shouting. "What the blazes are you waiting for!?"
A black mass of 'something' materialized in the room.
"What in the-!?" The thing lashed-out with part of its body, now revealed to be a mass of thread-slim tentacles, ripping through the body of a nearby medic. The black-haired man fumbled for his gun, only to have the tentacles shot at him. The 'Administrator of Urban Development' dropped to the ground and fired a low-power Bolt. The thing sucked-in the energy, and a nearby chair, as it absorbed the blast.
Another group of tentacles shot-out, wrapping around his leg and flooring him, another tentacle coiling around his right hand and squeezing it at the same time, causing him to drop the gun, somewhat like a throw. It skittered to one of the hospital doorways. A final group of those tentacles rose-upwards, about to slash through his throat and behead him
A shot rang-out.
The thing crumpled, green blood pooling around it. Reeve looked-up to the grim visage of Elena, standing in front of the door to the room she'd been placed in, holding his smoking pistol.
"I told them that I was okay now," she remarked.
Considering the fact that both Cloud Strife and Ramza Beoulve had both performed maneuvers that provided a concentration within the legs to launch them off, and the fact that the latter was easily one of the fastest runners so far in history, they had caught-up to the rest of the group as the gaping golden thing that was Elslumina floated before them, shaking and giving-out occasional beams of silver-white light, its entrance a yawning abyss of blackness.
Barret simply glanced at the spiky-haired male, acknowledging his presence, and then didn't say anything further.
Seconds later, they were in.
Darkness dissolved before rainbow light and a strange feeling of floating, expanding, and being ripped apart. When they could see again, they were faced with three sights that were completely beyond their expectations.
A familiar silver-haired figure was in the process of dancing about some enormous creature, while another familiar figure, a red-armored being with pure white hair, also danced about the thing. And they were locked in battle with an enormous titan of a beast, grayish-purple-red, that was shaped like Bizarro-Sephiroth, the forms Jenova had taken in their first three battles with her, and held dangling tentacles that came from somewhere far above, along with a collection of body-like shapes that made-up most every part of the thing's body.
Their surroundings were multicolored, complex shades of all colors blanketed by whiteness. It reminded Cloud of the place they'd battled Safer-Sephiroth, yet what they faced here seemed to hold far more power; energies so vast he felt like he was reduced to ashes just by being here.
His gaze was on the silver-haired figure, though.
The black-armored man spun, his eyes narrowing in momentary hatred as they set upon his onetime foe. He simply shrugged and turned back to the battle, taking advantage of the fact that the other two beings in this room that were of concern to him had halted in mid-strike. He spun forwards and up at incredible speeds, at last being able to ascend beside the figure, then arcing his wings downwards and slamming into the head of the thing with the force of a comet.
No, slamming into a tentacle that swatted him from the air and to the ground in front of the eight, no, make that six, who had freed him from Jenova's control, and six from the group he had aided in the past.
He locked-eyes with the blonde-haired one amongst the three, and exchanged a brief nod.
Cloud spun to Ramza. "You've met him!?" He shouted.
Ramza opened his mouth to reply; Yggdrasil took that moment to discharge a blue-white orb of power at them, one that multiplied and expanded, each one larger than the one behind. He spun and flung-up the Masamune, blocking the explosion but blanketing them all with white light.
Reeve finished adjusting the monitor on the controls for Cait Sith.
They'd entered Elslumina, and then the signals jammed, according to the recorder. He finished adjusting the recorder to compensate for the distance, and 'true' distance only, disregarding the 'Plane' they were on.
Just in time to see Sephiroth and witness the exchange between them. His mouth dropped as he hurriedly took control of his Android.
He'd simply told Elena he needed someplace to sit, to which she'd allowed him to use her bed, and hadn't explained the reasons, other than that it was an outside contact that was vital to him. She hadn't questioned, busy with other things at the moment. Although he'd have to explain to them the truth about Cait Sith to her, and probably the rest of the Turks, nevermind the whole of what remained of Shinra, since he'd had to tell Mayor Domino those truths, when this was over.
If they survived
" And you, get him over there!" the Turk snapped, motioning to a nearby couch that had just been set-up. A few of the doctors moved one of their personnel, who had broken her leg during the quake, towards a couch.
After letting Reeve pass, she'd taken charge of the few remaining panicking personnel, most of the other panicking ones had been taken charge of by other doctors or physicians.
They said she shouldn't move, the heck with what they said. She still bore burn scars all over her body, ones that would take years to heal, but they were only superficial. Her hair was almost-completely-gone, black and twisted in practically all the few strands that remained.
She was a Turk, she would not complain.
The comm attached to the wall of the hospital waiting room, above the door, crackled to life. "This is a Midgar Wideband Broadcast!" That was Vice-Mayor Hart's voice. "Repeat, we are under attack again " he mumbled, although she heard him and cracked a smile, and figured a lot of other people had, some were probably even laughing. "Any who is capable we ask to move to defensive positions on the top of the Plates and the Sector Slum Walls. All commanding personnel, report to Armed Forces' Head Shreelin immediately!"
The door to Rude's room swung-open, and a small green one-eyed thing was sent sailing out, to smack against the wall and collapse in a tangle of jumbled limbs. If Rude hadn't slain it already, it was gone now.
"What do we do now?" He inquired, staggering to his door. A quick glance at him showed he bore as many burn scars as she did, but since he made it a point to stay bald, one of his fashions, in place of where burnt hair would be was a lovely little black scar with chipped skin on his head. Elena had a few, but had been protected from any serious scar almost-completely, by her hair.
"We're not leaving Reno," she spoke. "We don't abandon one of ours!"
Rude, as he was prone to do, didn't respond, simply nodded. Elena turned to ask someone if there were emergency controls for the electricity in this room, and if so, ask where they were and how she could help to activate them.
"What's going on here!?"
Cloud blinked as the lights cleared. Sephiroth had blocked the blow, something as astounding and confusing as the fact that he was here. Once more, he focused accusingly on Ramza.
"That's how we ended-up here!" The Beoulve responded. "I told you I'd mention later who the 'supposed old acquaintance of yours' that opened that portal was! You never asked, and after hearing the story of what happened to you and your friends...I was more certain I'd done the right thing in not telling you...I never got the chance to tell you, we had no time in which I could be sure it wouldn't provoke a response that could jeopardize the missions we decided to embark upon!"
A matter of too many things colliding. "Why!?"
"Purpose!" The silver-haired man shot back. "I didn't know the truth about my parentage...I'd just found-out about Lucrecia...and if amends were necessary I could make them then; and the fact was it was the right thing to do!?"
"Since when did you care about morals!?" Cloud shot back.
This situation was tense, that much was obvious to Alma. Both her brother, Strife, and the silver-haired man had been struggling for answers. She was about to step-in when the cocoon they were in shook violently.
She cried-out and fell to the 'ground' of the place, looking-up to see a familiar angel-like figure being swung-about like a ball, whipped from tentacle to tentacle of the other denizen of this place, the huge behemoth that towered above them all.
That drew the attention of silver-hair, who darted in and leapt into the air, channeling energies into his sword and lashing-out, a white crescent beam shooting-up and to his right, slashing into the tentacles. While they did not break from the attack, Altima had already been in the process of teleporting, distance-style, from its hold, and ended-up closer and farther-down from the chest of the thing.
Not that it made much difference, the knife-thrust, accompanied by a blue-white blast of dagger-like energies, was enough to cause the thing to grunt and fill the whole area will what the Cleric could recognize with All-Ultimas. The one referred to as Sephiroth activated a group of golden shields, larger than a standard MegaBarrier, and spun through each blast, a whirling tornado.
He wasn't as they'd remembered him, instead, he was too in the form of an angel, akin to Altima's. He caped his wings and shot forwards, dodging an enormous meteor, and created a huge half-sphere blast above him, one which he thrust forwards, allowing it to slam into the thing's chest. It grunted again, clenched one of its left hands, paralyzing Altima, and turned to Sephiroth.
'I'll deal with the Bloody Angel later! No puppets rebel against their masters!'
"I may have been a puppet, but *you* were never my master!" He spun again, rocketing up and vanishing from sight, only to be thrown down to the swirling 'floor' of Elslumina. He gasped and shot-up. "I came to this place to avenge myself on the Gods and Goddesses that did nothing but allow my life to be ruined, and instead find that they're the reason for my suffering! Either way you perish!"
Cloud finally regaining his footing, leapt forwards, and tackled his nemisis to the ground. "I don't know how you survived this time," he hissed ,"But I'll make sure you don't survive again!"
"Wait!" He shouted. "You don't understand!"
"Shut up!" Cloud shouted back. "I've heard too many of your lies! I don't care how many times I have to take your life but you will never harm someone again!"
Before Sephiroth could blast him off, Cloud could complete the stab, or any of the others could do something, Altima broke free of the paralysis and channeled an enormous ellipse of golden energy, sparkling with stars, at the thing.
The sound of its impact and the roar from the beast was only surpassed by the eruption of energy around it.
'Begone, freaks!' The colossal creature roared.
If its voice hadn't been coming from so high above them, it could've deafended them; as it was, their ears were ringing. A series of blasts of blue-white energies erupted around them, sending each scrambling backwards, most targeted at Altima, punching through its left breast and sending it to the 'ground' in a crumpled group of limbs, blood pooling below it.
Cloud activated an Ultima, throwing the silver-haired butcher to the ground, whirling towards the voice. "Who the heck are you!?" He shouted.
"A collective mind of the Gods and Goddesses, sealed-away by Lucavi in a Magical Cocoon that trapped him in a sphere orbiting it, and later thirteen creatures that attempted to free the being, which halted Elslumina in one place; at a newly-formed Planet...Artesta."
Altima clawed to his feet, ignoring the energy beam that shot through its chest, leaving a gaping hole there. He chuckled, a mocking laughter of contempt and disgust. "They call me 'Bloody Angel,' yet the blood of quadrillions lies upon you!!"
'Silence! You will not speak so to the Master of the Universe!!'
"Butcher...and idiot! Time to lose your life, Yggdrasil!" Altima unleashed one of the sky-carried Ultimas, momentarily distracting the beast.
"What the foo' is goin' on here!?" Barret shouted.
Altima favored him with an amsued glance. "This is the one responsible for Jenova, the one who used all lives as it wished, because it felt it had the right to guide them around, a puppeteer leading and using others like ants! It still had servants, could still broadcast to them, and realized that the way to escape could possibly lie with the Dark Star's Children. It sent the things that ruined their lives, they created Meteor and Jenova, as the Crystals have told you, you've discovered the rest of their effects on Artesta. Ours were simply to free ourselves, and end what was begun!"
Cloud's face was a mixture of disbelief and rage. "Once a liar, always a liar!" he screamed. "What about your Master's wish for a 'perfect' Universe, all the lives you caused to be shed when you were first created, and the ones you shed during the period long after!? And the lives Lucavi took!? What was the meaning for that!?"
"The Zodiac Stones were completed the day the constellations flared, they were a symbol to us to activate the transmission so we could be reborn in them, as was the slowing of the evolution on this Planet! Necessary symbols so even we would feel them!" The creature answered. "The Zodiac Constellations are groups of galaxies. They flared even before the light reached this place, the lights transported here! Such energy was needed to slow the evolution of the Planet, causing the Planet to howl so strong it alerted us. Thankfully, there was no true danger, and thus, the WEAPONS did not awaken then! The same process was repeated, brighter, in a heatwave output, to signal to us that a mage with the capabilities we could create something into was born! That one was Ajora, used to form me! And amongst my missions, this was the most-important!! I regret the methods we had to use, but it was necessary!!"
"Exactly what you Lucavis tried to justify to me, along with a lot of the Galabdos Church members!" Ramza shouted back. "And what of your other mission!"
"That you're in the way of, you'll learn no more!"
"Who says we should believe you, anyways!?" That was Cid.
"Believe what you wish," Altima shrugged, the fact that its right shoulder was dislocated of no relevance to it. "Why hasn't the Yggdrasil spoken, though, unless it wishes us to slay ourselves?"
That's true, Cloud mused. Is anyone telling the truth, if so; are they all telling the truth; if not, and one or more are, who's lying?
"Either way the 'Yggdrasil' perishes," Sephiroth remarked.
'Not before you!' The titan boomed. 'Do what you may, either way you perish if you oppose me!!'
"I think not!" Altima shot to its feet and clasped its hands. A familiar blue-white jellyfish-like energy pulsation appeared above it, trembling and shooting an enormous, similar-colored, beam down onto the creature. The being shot into the air and merged with the energy, all of it vanishing in a flash as it transformed into a larger, armored, stronger beast with small bat-like wings, orange in color, and a face as starkly-beautiful as Sephiroth's, yet in the shape of a skull, with no hair at all, the top of its head composed of short horns.
"Come, Guardians of Life!"
The huge gold and silver machines appeared in a simultaneous, tripartite, flash of light, unmanned and glimmering.
"Those are the Guardians that thing stole!!" Cait Sith cried.
"Perceptive of you." Altima's voice was now a snarl, yet just as commanding and deep as it had been in 'human' form back in Sunken Murond, and in its 'more-angelic' form.
...The three Guardians instantly responded to Altima's command by leaping forwards, hands-out, channeling burning blue-white energies from their fists, chest-plates sliding back and revealing rotating turrets of lancing energies that quickly batted-aside oncoming tentacles, tearing through ones that wouldn't move out of the way. The central one was grabbed, it responded by firing a round projectile from its uppermost cannon, for whatever good it would do.
On a hunch, Sephiroth flung-up another golden shield as the things impacted, erupting in a nuclear detonation that set those sections of Elslumina aflame, and actually managed to scorch the portion's of the beast's skin that it touched.
Sephiroth hissed as he realized he'd forgotten to activate a shield upon himself, then remembered that he didn't have to worry about radiation. 'Yggdrasil' activated a pulsating rainbow shield, immediately sucked-away by an enormous tornado from Altima, a Dispel 2.
"What's Magic is Magic," Altima smirked. "An example of that would be Zeromus' Big Bang, All-Ultimas, or Sephiroth's Supernova. While they are meant to perform what they are, they can be absorbed by MegaBarriers and the like. Were they real Magic, no one would have survived."
A second nuclear detonator was thrown. A tentacle caught-it and chucked it back at Altima. Sephiroth flung-up a second golden shield in front of the 'newcomers,' shielding them from the roaring inferno that enshrouded the bottom of Elslumina. The thing's tail came-around, tearing through his right wing and throwing him to the ground.
A green Ultima shot-up and enlarged, compensating for the thing, channeled from Altima, who soon rocketed free and gave the thing an All-Ultima, followed by a group of Mertons, right in the central 'head.'
The uppermost one, above the central head embedded just below the thing's next, the one in the place where the heads of humanoids would be, growled and created a maelstrom of multicolored energy, a whirlpool of destruction that shot-out from in front of the thing and blanketed them.
Sephiroth screamed as he felt his energies being compromised, and realized his shields would in seconds.
Then the energy vanished, just as soon as it came.
Altima floated high above them. "I've been reborn longer, and can see things clearly. I think you won't find me as easy to destroy as a simple Planet, harder even than wiping Lifestream from existence."
"So you're a 'spirit,' eh?" Cid remarked, voice directed at Sephiroth.
"What's it to you," he nodded. He could protect them, and would do so, but something prevented him from doing much more than acknowledge their presence. Pride, perhaps, a stubborn unwillingness to regard these others as equals, even after his illusions had been shattered.
Who says so? A mocking voice entered his mind. You could still be inside your cocoon, preventing Holy from moving, and when you wake-up you'll be a useless puppet unable to do anything about your life.
The reason for why he'd come here flared back into his mind, having been forgotten for the most part, during the battle, by years of practice in Shinra and battles in SOLDIER.
One of the Guardians, enshrouded in golden shielding, shielding that had obviously been placed upon them before they were teleported here, was thrown into the wall. It fired another nuclear blast, shearing through a large group of tentacles. A comet half the size of the place slammed into the Guardian, crushing it and causing what was left of it to explode.
'I don't care what's goin' on here, seems like this thing's attackin' us, so its gonna' have to face the consequences.
Cid had sen his opening and charged into the fray, ignoring the startled cries of his comrades, and activating a Dragon Dive. His Limit Break was not concentrated in its purest form, activated by rage, and thus didn't recieve the extra boost Cloud's Omnislash had during their battle with Xagor, so his theory that he would be able to target the central head of the thing and distract it for the moment proved untrue.
One of the tentacles of the thing shot through the shield Sephiroth had placed before it. He managed to bring-up his Flayer and knock into the tentacle, only for it to be shattered. His right leg was grasped and snapped, and another aimed for his neck. Altima teleported him to safety.
"We're on the same side for now," it spoke, channeling another All-Ultima into the thing. A huge series of enormous comets smashed into the Bloody Angel, followed by a vortex and a huge version of Dark Holy, then a Holy, discus-style, like the type used by the White Materia.
"Seeing as how this thing's tried to wipe us from existence, I'm afraid so!" Malak responded. He then activated a Sky Demon Back, yet the attack did nothing.
'Puny mortals!' The Yggdrasil's voice actually carried amusment this time. 'You're less than insects before me!'
"Insects can bite, you son of a submariner and a cheap planted tree!!!!!" Barret snarled. They began to shimmer as Ultima End began to activate. Their shields were removed and each was entrapped in paralysis holds similar to what Xagor had placed upon them.
'I don't think you're getting out of this one with Limit Breaks, or anything, for that matter,' 'Yggdrasil' spoke, its tone now completely serious again. 'Stay out of this or join your comrades in their end.'
"So they weren't lying!" Alma shouted.
'There may be other reason's I'm doing this.'
Another Guardian, spent, was thrown into the wall. This one managed to fire its five remaining nuclear warheads. Altima barely managed to shield them, for whatever reason he was doing so, before they erupted in the 'air,' tearing a gaping hole in the creature's left side and destroying one of its many body-heads.
Just as quickly they were rejuvenated, and the rest of the thing's wounds were healed. 'Fight all you want, Bloody Angel, you're still nothing to my power. You'll fall eventually.'
"If so, I'll have completed the purpose I was created for," it responded, continuing to trade immense Magical and energy blows with the thing.
"*No one is going to have to perish, or cease to exist!*" All heads, not counting the body-heads of the Yggdrasil, but counting its main-head and 'humanoid-placed' head, whirled towards him.
He was literally pulsing with energies, distributing and literally alive with a power that hadn't even been seen in him when Cloud and his companions had faced him inside the Planet.
Cid would've involuntarily flinched if the paralysis hadn't prevented him.
His 'wounds' were gone, his Masamune was drawn, and he looked every bit the avenging angel he had become when he'd attempted to pay back the Planet for what they did to his 'mother.'
He hung there, in reality, in Elslumina, yet in his mind, in a starry blackness, standing on a simple slab of rock exactly alike to the one in which Cloud had finally slain him less than a year ago.
...powerless to do anything about it...
All through his life he'd been crafted...
..."You're joining SOLDIER, boy! You're needed there so we're placing you there! You're useless elsewhere, now do as we say!!"...
...a simple experiment for Hojo to use, injected with Jenova Cells in his mother's womb, he knew the truth, Lucrecia had told him it all during their first meeting. He'd accepted it, but now he was finally having to accept the consequences that came along with it...
..."Was I created like this!? Am I...am I human!?"...
...the pain of being subjected to test after test in Shinra, every waking moment of his childhood, along with some during which he wasn't awake, most-likely, subject to experiments, ten years of agony...
..."Its for the good of science, boy!" Professor Hojo slapped him hard across the face, long fingernails tracing blood across his left cheek and mouth as he stumbled-back. "Now get in the tank or I tranq you again!!"...
...His own father, a freak that didn't diserve to be called human, obsessed with science...
..."What's a 'mother?'" The white-haired boy inquired.
"Look it up in school, boy!" Hojo hissed.
"I did," Sephiroth responded. "Let me phrase this question correctly. *Who the heck is my mother?*"
Hojo snickered at the 7-Year-Old. "Her name's Jenova. And before you ask who your father is...nevermind...get into the tank, President Shinra wants me to see whether you've sped with your growth."...
...He'd been referring to the abilities his Jenova Cells had given him, of course. He'd lied to him about his mother, he'd never discovered who his father was...he was to be kept in the dark and only told what he needed to know...even then, half of it, if not more, had probably been lies...
..."Why must you leave, Professor?" The 7-Year-Old looked-up at the only man who had ever comforted him, dark-haired Professor Gast.
"No tears, Sephiroth. I have someone I have to protect, someone who carries a secret that could endanger you if I don't. I'll come back for you as soon as we're sure that we've established a life somewhere else, I promise you that..."...
...The only one who he'd ever cared for, the man who'd been the father he never had, who'd shielded him from Hojo as best he could. Shot by that freak, his own daughter subjected to the same tests...
..."Gast would've wanted me to do this..."...
The woman embraced him briefly, fiercely, before turning and bolting into the escape route he'd planned for them...
...Ifalna...how he wished he'd asked for the name of her daughter then, yet Jenova probably would've just twisted that away too...
..."They're gone, and the only reason I'm still here is to inform you I'm getting out of your life, Hojo! Goodbye, jerk!"
He'd turned to run, and had gotten his first taste of what he now knew was gunfire, as Hojo had shot him in the legs, the arms, and through the chest, awful, piercing pain and so much blood, fire as he'd collapsed...
...when he'd asked what had happened then, Hojo had responded he saw it as as good a time to start his pain tests, to see where that threshold was, and had told him that was now what he would recieve if he ever disobeyed again...
...from then-on, he'd been pushed to the limits, receiving pain that no one should've had to deal with, hardly any, save ones that definately wouldn't prove fatal, directed at the heart or brain, and when he'd learned from his 'school,' really just machines that processed knowledge into his head at a steady rate, what they were for, and attempted to commit suicide, he'd received the worst beating of his life...
...fire and pain...limbs ripped-off, dismembered, and torn apart..."Stop it, please-stop it stop it *STOP ITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!*"...
...they'd forced him to remain awake during the whole thing...they'd still tested his pain threshold after ten, put him through obstacle courses, many of them tearing his stomach through with bazooka blasts; he knew he'd only survived now because of the intense amounts of Jenova Cells he'd been injected in...
...forced to join SOLDIER at 15, still occasionally submitted to testing...
...uncaring bastards; somehow he'd never mistreated anyone with him...he'd found a true friend in Zack and a lesser friend in Cloud Strife...
...searing pain as he'd fallen into the superhot Mako Vat below the Nibel Reactor, mind awhirl with revelations, finally recieving the end he'd so wished for...yet even that had been denied to him...
...Jenova, freak of nature...
...an avenging angel who stormed through Shinra, destroying all in his way, devastating Hojo's Laboratory as best as he could, which had inadvertently released Cloud and his compainions...
..."S-Sephiroth, where have you-!!??" Before he'd leapt upon the President's desk and sliced the Masamune through him, leaving that fool Palmer to scamper away from the meeting fearfully...he'd retrieved the sword after ensuring there were no survivors around the area, a symphony of Materia Magic unleashed, some he'd throttled, all as he bore his prize away, Jenova's body, merged with him...
...I was really part of her, would've been anyway...
...Aeris Gast, gone because of him...
...she didn't deserve to perish, no one who he'd slain, save those monsters at Shinra, deserved to...
...And the pure self-loathing he now held, masked by false pride that he couldn't admit to himself, and a desire for vengeance that had served to take-away his focus on reality...
...he really was an avenging angel now.
His mind back in the real world, he watched as the sole remaining Guardian was destroyed, detonating fifteen nuclear warheads. Altima was finally thrown against the wall, courtesy of a miniature Quasar slamming into the thing and exploding...
...he'd been ignored because he wasn't doing anything, wasn't a threat...
...He locked eyes with Cloud, noticing sadly Tifa wasn't there too, so she could receive his apology as well...
Something in his words must have carried through, for he saw his friend's eyes soften as he turned-away.
The 'Yggdrasil' had apparently heard this and turned towards him.
...I'm sorry, mother...
He hurled himself into the air, letting his anger take control of him one last time, focusing all his power into one final stroke, ripping the Spirit Energy that composed Elslumina away and channeling it into the thing, the very prison that had been built to contain it tearing it apart...
...All of you...
He was atop the thing, Elslumina shattering into a chaos of shards of energy and Lifestream, stars glimpsed amongst the chaos, the bridge shattered, all Spells nullified, everyone cast-away from this place...
He descended in one final motion, cutting through the 'humanoid-placed head' of the Yggdrasil like a knife through butter and descending upon the core of its essence, chopping through it as his world exploded, shattered glass shards and stars that vanished in white light...
...leaving nothing but blackness.
Go To Chapter 23
Return To FF7 Fanfic