Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 23
Caught In The Flow
By Paul Nathans
She was locked in a battle the likes of which hadn't taken place since that final, furious battle in which the Zodiac Braves had sealed-away Lucavi. None knew that they'd inadvertently fulfilled his true plan, his early strike had at first been meant to fail, but as the deity grew in power it realized how it could succeed. It had failed, though.
257 Years Ago Creator had been annihilated.
How she wished they'd removed the tower's abilities then.
But the people didn't want to leave their settlements, and the Planets, the Cetra, and many others didn't want the tower to remain in its shape. So they'd accessed the Planetary System's Lifestream for the second time in history, the first when the Enuos were removed, and reshaped the tower, giving one to each world, actually two in some, red-green and tree-like, twisting in color and forming what were known as Celestial Towers, linked to a Plane above the Star of this Planetary System, Reyzor Ninyo.
They'd appointed a Guardian by name of Isis, been forced to provide the thing, a WEAPON-Like Creature composed of 78 Special Materia Orbs known as Magi, with a false history, giving it intelligence. This had all been set-up.
Yet Ashura lived. Ashura, Arch-Fiend, Creator's strongest and most-dangerous 'game piece.' It disabled the Arsenal Guardians placed in the center of the Celestial Plane, for the Lifestream had been so interwoven that if it was destroyed the Planets would follow.
After 25 Years the process had been complete.
For 200 Years a battle raged between Ashura's minions and others. He was finally gone, yet Warrior Apollo had gathered the Magi. Ashura wished to pay them back for destroying its Master, and looked for utter destruction of this Planetary System. It had taken-down Isis, but hadn't counted on the 'Magi' splitting apart and falling through the 'Net-Lifestream.' Then they'd been found, only to have Apollo gather them. The Planets had evolved, yet were all subject to a quake as he'd activated the Arsenals to do what they'd been reprogrammed to do, smash the 'Net-Lifestream.'
They'd been slain, and Isis had followed her warning systems and regulated the webs. Yet the next 6 Years had been another multitude of chaos, until finally the people agreed to migrate back to their Homeplanet.
Something else had prevented them from taking the towers, causing them to invoke the power of the Lunarian Moon, awaken them from their slumber. Over the next year, all the beings that were from Artesta, some from other Planets that wished to originate back, were gathered. They were taken towards the Planet, even now unloaded. The Cetra had moved to awaken Isis, en masse once-again, invoking the Planetary System's Lifestream for what would hopefully be the last time.
Isis had been struck down.
The 'Net-Lifestream' was under attack.
If Artesta went, its detonation could take-out the Light Moon. The Big Whale was serving as a transportation method once-again, Artesta had two Moons once-more. They were all there, migrating back, all that remained was to unravel the 'Net-Lifestream' after which they would annihilate the remnants of the work of art that had been the Focus Tower, or Tower of Babil, constructed during the time of the floods and the first experiment with Crystals.
Ashura was alive.
And it had reached the height of its power, single-handedly unraveling the 'Net-Lifestream' while destroying the 100,000 locked in battle with it. Around 2,000 Cetra remained on the Planet.
The 100,000 were being slaughtered, as slowly as they were overpowering the beast. By that time the Planets would have been destroyed, the theory had been proven, she could hear the shrieking.
By the end of the battle only 8,000 would survive, something else she did not know. Another 5,000 were cut down by sprays of intense energies that was the pure opposite of Lifestream Energy.
A simple Flare Star, enormous in size, was invoked, rushing towards the group she was in. She finished her Spell and activated a normal Holy, then moved with the group as they shifted battle positions on this huge tiled plane above their star, protected from the light and vacuum by a shield that was also under attack by a constant battering of Ultimas.
"I always survive, Planet-spawn!!!!!" Ashura was screaming.
Not if they could activate the White Materia, Holy could reduce the thing, ripping apart its cells, provided it wasn't able to defend against it. This thing indeed seemed to possess powers similar to Jenova's, which confirmed the suspicion that Creator had been the other spirit that had burst from the Planet, one of the two formed by the Lifestream Poison Jenova had involuntarily injected into the Planet.
The central plane shook furiously, the island behind them where the Arsenals had stood guard until 7 Years Ago beginning to buckle, cutting-off their only escape route. Portions of the Celestial Palace came crashing-down towards them from high-above as the Palace began to buckle-in on itself.
Where was Holy? It wouldn't work unless there was a danger to the Planet, if they could just activate it now it would unravel the 'Net-Lifestream' by itself.
Their numbers thinned again, they couldn't escape thanks to the wards Ashura had placed around the area as soon as they entered, ones specifically attuned to the Cetra's unique Spirit Essences.
There were hardly any left to move around this plane, towards Ashura, who was in the center, hovering above the 'Net-Lifestream.'
They surrounded the thing on this large plateau on the Lower Celestial Plane.
Or had, nearly, with enough room to move. Now they were scattered, she couldn't find very many other groups with a Sense Materia, most were spread-out.
One last Negative Star, and the 'Net-Lifestream' was torn-apart, snapping like the sole remaining threads that held-together a canvas.
Yet even the Cetra, nor the Planets themselves, could truly fathom how the Planetary System's Lifestream worked, something they could barely communicate with through their homeplanet, Artesta.
A Negative Star, a black eruption of dark energies, tore outwards, shooting towards their group. Her last sight was of the 'Net-Lifestream' shooting-up to gather back together, and using the nearest lifeforce to do so.
Ashura screaming as he began to be torn into Spirit Energy was the last she heard before blackness engulfed her.
Approximately 944 Years Later
T-Minus 5 Hours .
Something that was and yet was not wind swirled around him.
His eyes drifted open, only to be snapped shut as piercing green light drifted into them.
He slowly opened his eyes, wincing as the green light tore into his head, a sharp pain that shot straight into his skull and made him wince.
Where am I?
He tried to gaze around, almost hissing as another sharp pain smashed into his skull, stronger than the first, and lanced all the way through. He ignored it, though, and continued to keep his eyes open. They slowly began to drift shut, but he kept them open until the throbbing pulses had subsided.
Am I am I no, he wouldn't think that way am I still alive?
For he'd rather not be doubting that he'd perished. He hoped he had.
What had happened?
Sephiroth he drew in all the energy from Elslumina, rocketed at that thing tore it to pieces and used them lives knives enormous explosions and a feeling of being whirled away a far-off blast of pure energy, something detonating, above and in front falling into the stars and the shards and the green.
So much power, pure, unbridled energy and anger, in that moment he'd seemed to become the God he'd wished to become, something stronger, something that was able to perform the action it had and still descend like an avenging angel out of the sky, sword coming down to slice through the threads that bound the thing to reality even as he'd done to Sephiroth months ago
what had happened?
And that last glance he'd given him
Something he never thought he'd see in his eyes
Pity, sadness, a wish that what had happened between them hadn't taken place, directed outwards to all of them.
Why had he been there, how had he existed, and what had he done?
Was he telling the truth?
A white light flashed, a crackle of energy that spread, and electric current that fountained outwards, shattering the green mists that they all floated in and depositing them upon a hard, silver floor.
He moaned again and allowed his gaze to wander across the room. They were all there, Altima was not.
He collapsed again, darkness rushing to meet him.
The chill of the air and the ferocity of the blizzards could be felt even inside Shinra Headquarters.
It filtered in, surrounding them all and seeming to suck the life out of them. Only the foolhardy dared to go outdoors now, the temperatures were so low that the cold could freeze even the heaviest-wrapped thing within hours.
The 'Shinra' SOLDIERS who had set-up the rocket were helped to the doors, and back into the facility, by others. They'd changed shifts commonly, for a total of two hours now, but the rocket was finally set-up.
Reeve stood solemnly, gazing out the window overlooking the two large 'launch bays' on the east wing of the building. One last person, Mayor Domino, could be seen boarding an elevator from the southern dome, which would take him up to the 58th Floor where he would be attended to. Ensalin Palmersa, Shreelin, and all the members of the Space Division that they could find were in the northern dome atop the two bullet-shell like cylindrical bays, also at the top area, below the thing's transparent dome.
Mayor Domino emerged from the elevator, shivering and hugging himself, and was escorted out by Hart and one of his friends, or, at least, acquaintance, someone seen with the Mayor quite frequently.
The PHS above the door crackled-on.
"This is Head of the Scientific Development Ensalin Palmersa and Riolo Galoro, Vice-President of the Space Division. The launch of the Savior will begin within the next hour. All who are not registered to watch this event yet wish to, gather where you can." Her voice cracked for a moment, then regained itself.
"This rocket is equipped with the finest set of cold-protecting metal we could find everywhere, so it should make it into orbit, a process which should take another half-hour. It will then take approximately two hours to orient itself to where the scientific anomaly that is causing this 'winter' will be removed, and launch.
"Let us hope no, let us pray, that this succeeds."
The PHS shut down.
She didn't need to state that this was very nearly their last hope. Afterwards, they could try something else, maybe attempt to build another rocket, but they'd all be frozen, lifeless creatures before that happened. Within months the temperature would reach Absolute Zero, and before the end of the year probably only Midgar would be habitable. After that
well, it would eventually fall.
If they weren't wiped out of existence in just a few short hours.
The week was over, and there was still no response from the Cait Sith Unit.
Sephiroth had launched his attack, rocketing upwards, what could only be Spirit Energy dragged into him from the walls of Elslumina, and wall still ascending, and wielding the power that had obviously been pouring into him, he had torn-apart Elslumina and used its shards to rip through the creature, while continuing to rocket-up over it and then descending and finishing the beast.
Or something like that, he hadn't seen the exact details of the coronal display of power and devastation. Cait Sith had been sent whirling backwards through the shards and what seemed like blackness and stars, and into the green of the Lifestream, before he lost the thing's signal.
His Cait Sith 'Secret' was out, but hadn't met any negative reactions, thank goodness. At least not yet, but if not yet, hopefully it never would.
He would not acknowledge that they'd perish. He wouldn't give up hope couldn't but his mood had been somber. Something told him to remain realistic.
The monster attack had been a diversion to keep them from noticing the clustering group of beasts in the hills before it was too late; looking for something they feared that the denizens of Midgar might attempt to keep from them, obviously, or else the would not have attacked.
The Turks were okay, although Reno could be crippled for life, and some of his burns may never heal.
He sighed and turned his gaze back to the southern dome.
The controls for Cait Sith beeped.
It hung in the stars.
Glimmering silver and perfect metal, unmarred by the ages, floated in space.
The greatest work of technology from millenia ago, the Floating Fortress of the Lefeinish. A pround, mightly stronghold that had been used to look down upon Artesta, the apex of the powers of the Sky People, seemingly symbolic of how they rose higher than anyone in their time, and entered the stars.
And, just the same, the citadel of evil it had been converted into, and then a conversion to the ultimate weapon for destruction, was symbolic of how they had fallen. The five-floored fortress of towers and mazes, storage room and launch bays held wonders that no one had ever seen before.
Armies of machines which could be used for self-preservation or warlike purposes. A launch bay which held fifteen ships, all outfitted for travel in the stars, below what many considered the bottom floor. A window was positioned below a balcony-like room, enclosed as all of the chambers were, where one could look down upon the Planet. The fourth-floor, a work of art unmatched even by the Shinra, and the highest level of the fortress, two towers spanned by a narrow bridge, the northern one, towering above the rest of the citadel, its roof spread like the bud of a flower opening over a metal garden, a place that had served many purposes just as much as the machines had.
Now this place was abandoned of all lifeforms, save for the creatures that dined throughout the halls; a habitat for ancient beasts long-thought extinct. Not a single soul had dared enter their domain...
What had begun would be concluded, what had erred would be removed, and what did not belong would be effaced, what should have been replacing it. The balance was almost achieved, the destruction halted the intricate web of life. Just one more Planet was required for the web to be halted. Then it would be undone, and what should have been would be replaced, removing those that were tainted for all eternity.
The judge, the jury, the executioners, all would be decided in five hours' time.
It was time for those who had corrupted the web of life and poisoned the sacred Path of Spirits to be cast down, while a new Universe would be created.
The time, at last, had come.
The fate of every single being in existance hung in question.
Judgement Day had arrived.
"Where...where are we?" The silver metal chambers were as unfamiliar to the rest of them as they were to Cloud Strife.
"I...don't...k--w!" Cait Sith's voice came-through weakly, static crackling around his tones. For a moment he ceased to move and a screech of pure radio disruption could be heard, before vanishing.
"Sorry." The Android spoke. "I had to adust the distance of the broadcasting. Its almost like you're far-away, not even near this Planet anymore. Whatever it was, the broadcasting range extended to the point where I had to implant the Emergency System to prevent time log. Sound isn't supposed to travel this fast, and the theory's only been tested a few times. They barely worked the other times, I doubt the transmissions will be crystal clear even with this state of the art!"
"Look at this!!" Cid Highwind's voice came from the other side of the room.
Nanaki followed his gaze, padding-up to the pilot, and saw what had gotten the pilot so amazed.
They were floating in the stars, their positions completely unfamiliar to him. The sides of the corridor that led from the chamber were all clear, transparent, although they couldn't be glass, being where they were. They could see a group of enormous asteriods floating-around a strange nebula of gas and dust.
"The Floating Fortress of the Lefeinish," the warrior spoke. "Almost all of the remaining pieces make sense now."
Almost as one, they were at the clear, glass-like panels, looking-out at the stars along with Cid. Almost-immediately, the pilot identified the grouping of asteriods. "These asteroids bear a substance that is only found on one of the Moons of..." he trialed-off. "This is one of the Planets that comet Sephiroth summoned to begin the Supernova Spell hit!"
"WHAT!!??" Cait Sith's shout was so loud his moogle shrieked and dropped him. The cat, disgruntled, clambered back-up onto the moogle, a faint crackling coming from his mouth. "If you're drifting in space...the signal keeps moving...that's why."
"How's that thing broadcastin', anyways!?" Barret inquired.
"A simple wideband frequency," the Android responded. "The soundwave is bounced-off of the Manual Unit, inside, between two connectors, until its picked-up enough speed its past Light Speed, then sent-out to the Main Unit. Doesn't take too-long to start, and since sound travels so fast, and the places are so close, it didn't take too long to activate. If the soundwave gets caught between any dust, though...that's why we might have some communication problems."
Barret simply nodded.
"I regonize the color," Cid spoke. "Unique to Renloa, Fifth Moon of our Seventh Planet...unless we're not even in our Planetary System anymore, or beyond its known boundaries."
"Hang-on," Cait Sith spoke, hopping over to a terminal on the back wall of the chamber they'd found themselves in upon awakening. His right breast opened and a probe-like bar extended, tube-portions sliding-out like antennas, plugging-in to the jack below the computer. "I doubt they considered anything like hacking, so..."
"But why are we here!?" Cid queried. "And for that matter, how long were we out, anyways!!??"
"A week," Reeve replied.
"Which means we don't have much longer before..." Cid cut himself off and launched into another string of curses "...and we still don't know what the blazes is really goin' on! We're missing something...we've heard enough times that Ralyon isn't the master, or that's what their tone sounded like!" He began whacking his head. "Think, ya' old geezer, think!!"
"I know what's happening," Rafa spoke, her voice timid and quiet.
"Its the Universe."
Cloud Strife stood silent, yet his mind was sent reeling for another time in this countless 'adventure' of theirs. His world shattered into shards and reformed around him, as he sensed the fact that his mind would need to be opened completely now.
Or he doubted he'd understand this.
"Remember what Zack said?" The brunette said. "'His Master doesn't want anything like destruction! They only want to begin again, recreate things from what they were before!' When he was referring to Ralyon. That in itself was the key, 'begin again.' And the only thing that could was the Universe."
"Uh, who says there's no others Gods or Goddesses or whatever?" Barret asked the Heaven Knight.
"If the Lifestream is as reliable as you say, and the Crystals could see enough to show us practically all we needed to know, then its rather obvious. There were no Gods or Goddesses we knew of, and even they couldn't do this. Even before this, it was obvious." Rafa answered. "I've known this even since Zack said that indirectly, yet didn't think it would be wise to tell you. The way he spoke, the whole way he explained this to us...his words showed."
"And you didn't tell us!" Cid clenched a fist where a cigarette usually would be, white-knuckled. He found none and brought it down into an open palm.
"You explained what Liukhan told you," she said. "How it could destroy you all. Even then I was certain that might be the case. Then Sliyonog reveals we're pawns, and after that we really had no chance. I'd intended to tell you in Elslumina, it was also obvious, at least from when we heard from the Crystals; obvious from the way they spoke, they couldn't reach there. But since we're being hunted anyways...and since if we could be annihilated now...well, our opponent would be focusing elsewhere?"
"But how?" Reeve asked. "This makes no sense. They want to 'correct,' and not even Holy could...unless they had it...and I still don't know what those monsters east of Midgar were searching for, and regarded important enough to attack us and distract us, and man were there a lot!"
Cloud had paled visibly at that. "White Materia..."
"Huh!?" Barret shifted his attention to him. "Speak-up, Spike!!"
"I saw it...right before Eurodertlana attacked...in the plains near Midgar...I'd forgotten..." He hung his head. This meant it was probably all his fault again.
"Not that it matters." The voice, explanatory, came from Cid Highwind, not Nanaki or Ruass. "Balance is the key."
"Why that be?" Barret asked.
Cid shook with momentary laughter. "How many times has 'Balance' been mentioned to us!?" He didn't wait for a response, although the semi-dark-skinned miner seemed about to give him one. "A ton of times! And every pilot needs to be taught about balance, or at least the astronomers! Sheesh!!" He shook his head again. "The Universe expands, simple space rules. And keeps on doin' so! If it stopped expanding...there'd be disruption! Like we've seen; what created that thing at Gongaga, all those powers joining into each other, all the stuff we've been told through our journeys! And hinted at...destroy enough systems and the Universe may stop expanding! Disruption then gives power that could regulate the scale! And with that Criyorti-Thing we've been told about...its nature to balance..."
"You're graspin' at straws, man!" Barret shook his head.
"No, he may be right!!" Reeve chimed-in. "We've got history to prove it! All those other examples, think on larger scales! And now Ensalin's method of freeing our Planet of the 'Darkness Cloak;' its revolved around something similar!"
At questioning glances, he quickly explained.
"Well, that problem may at least be solved!" Barret sighed in relief, before muttering ,"I hope."
"But why now?" That was Alma.
"Hmm...maybe they've finally succeeded in destroying a lot of other worlds." That was Rafa again. "I sincerely doubt we're alone out here, maybe they've finally succeeded in getting to the point where the Universe can't expand anymore. Whatever that means."
"Too much gravity, it'll collapse in on itself, too little, it'll expand until its too thin, just the right amount and it'll probably stop expanding altogether at some point!" Cid recited one of the simple laws of the Universe discovered in the past 100 years. "Too much mass will cause it to collapse, too-little and it'll expand. So it stands to theory just the right amount would cause it to freeze. The Universe itself has a mass, if there are enough other 'sub-masses' getting in the way, it could add-on its own mass!" He paused to take a breath."If that point's reached, that'll give balance, then if more balance with the Criyoriti-Whatever is achieved, we get physical and spiritual balance, and then a ton of power would probably form!"
"So we're saying the Universe is a conscious mind that is displeased with the way it has evolved and wants to make amends." Nanaki shook his head in astonishment. "Now that you mention it; it seems very likely. Although there's still the questions of how long this has happened. There could've been a trigger cause, maybe that 'Yggdrasil,' maybe strife amongst species. Also, the relevance of Elslumina. It coulve' been another blockade that needed to be removed, yet why not use those 'altars' on other Planets that we know about, to get there?" He took a deep breath, letting it out in a resigned way. "All that's left is to ask it ourselves; as I can see it there's no other way."
"Do you realize what you're suggesting!?" Cloud snapped. "One: If this is true, and your theories as to it being an overlooking consciousness with this much power is also true, we'd be annihilated if we tried to combat it. Two: If this is all speculation and doesn't prove to be true we could be wandering into a trap. We might've been shunted out of the Lifestream because there was no time to slay us there, too."
He clenched and unclenched his fists. "I know that we can't give-up hope; I know that we have to execute the best course of action here, to assume we were caught in Altima's energy transportation flow and taken here, slowly, being displaced. And then try to stop it from doing-so, and if we find Ralyon and Lucavi there do what we came to do! But Ralyon may not have a master! These could be coincidences! And if they're not we'll have wasted our time!"
"We don't really need the answers if they're irrelevant, but if they are and we don't get them...how do we even find a way to force it to answer us, I doubt it'd answer, if it wanted to it would've'!! And Ralyon, Lucavi, and Altima...whatta' 'bout them!?" Barret shot a round of bullets in the wall.
"If they're anywhere they'd probably be back where they were before, trying to destroy a Planet here by sending this Space Station rocketing through it," Nanaki spoke. Cait Sith nodded in agreement before nodding a "Done!", retracting its 'probes', and turning away from the wall, projecting a shimmering holographic map from its mouth for them to see. Nanaki nodded in affirmation, as did most of them, the rest giving gestures telling him they were looking at this map. The creature continued. "I also don't think we were accidentally brought here; master or no master even Altima could notice and handle that. Why did we end-up here?"
"I believe I can answer some of those questions!"
A short, bearded man dressed in Cetra robes shimmered into the hallway ahead of where they were standing.
"Liukhan!!!!!?????" Barret took a moment to recover his shock. "If you could take us here, then why didn't you help us anywhere else!?"
"I could not," he spoke. "Be thankful I could recover enough power to aid you now. As it is, I am nearly spent and shall soon return to the Planet." Even as he said this Cloud could tell his breath was ragged, forced. "The Planet, the whole web of Lifestreams was able to speak to me. It seems to think we might have a chance."
"So you know what's happening!?" Cid posed.
"You are right in guessing the nature of your 'foe,' and as to its plans. You are indeed up against the living essence of the Universe itself."
Cloud blinked, suddenly cut-off from the rest of them by a gap even-larger than any he'd encountered before. Liukhan had confirmed this, he'd heard enough from this man to believe him...meaning that they'd been wasting their efforts.
He was right before and now when so much is at stake
The Universe itself...he couldn't even fathom the despair he felt, yet it was enough to tell him that there was no possible way they could win this, whatever had happened. He gazed-around, saw expressions from the others mirroring the same hopelessness.
He knew what that meant. In a way, Liukhan had just told them that they'd been fighting for nothing. Every petty victory, all the sacrifices, useless if they were going-up against something that mastered everything. They hadn't gotten the full story on its powers, yet he knew that this was no deluded being like Creator had been. Enough of what they'd heard, what they'd seen...
Rafa had guessed this, yet somehow they needed someone else to confirm this. It was a simple thought process, one of denial that required something wiser to confirm their fears; only then would the shock come.
Dimly, he was aware Liukhan was speaking again. "I never would've suspected the truth about the 'Elslumina Mind.' Even that wasn't open to the Lifestream until its destruction...something that should've been impossible."
If not for Sephiroth.
They'd been paralyzed, completely and utterly, unable so much as to will anything to be done. Useless playthings to be discarded when no-longer necessary.
"The Altars do not provide teleportation, they were created by Lucavi to hold Elslumina here," the Cetra Sage continued. "And it was indeed an obstruction. Now removed, all that's left is what they've been doing since it became apparent the Universes' Evolution was out of the control of the being created with it. Something that became apparent at the time Ralyon, Ensconce, and Lucavi were formed, which shows you how long the 'fixation' has been going-on. Speculation shows that it probably feared what might happen approximately 30,000,000,000 Years Ago, when the first millions of Planets shown in the Lifestream had reached their end, and the majority of them began to be consumed by strife. And by approximately 27,000,000,000 Years ago, it must've been certain."
They'd forgotten about Ensconce.
"The Universe could not recreate itself with a whim, or it would be destroyed along with itself, and might not be able to accomplish what it apparently wishes. As for its plans, you were right, too. It needs to create a balance, which is why it created Ralyon immediately after discovering this; Ralyon in turn creating Lucavi and Ensconce. In somewhere between 4 and 5 Hours the Universe will halt its expansion, and the culmination of 27,000,000,000 Years of efforts will reach its conclusion."
And there was still those in the Whorlex out there. They hadn't been dealt with, and from what they'd been told, they would have to be confronted.
"Speculation shows this. All they need is to destroy one more Planet, and..." He cut himself off, sagging to the ground, "...and they will reach...their balance..."
His breathing became more-forced.
"The Crystals...they were able to record when the first Planets were lost...after around 5,000,000,000 Years. That is why...they aren't...as accurate. Either way, its...somewhere...in-between " He coughed, a short, abrupt gasp that he quickly bit-down on, halting. "Either way this is timeless."
"If you think that we're going to have anymore to do with this, forget it!" Cloud shouted. "You're just telling us that we've been fighting for nothing! Or is this Universe 'Mind' that you're speculating of some sort of web that has no power!?"
There! Let him take his speculations and reevaluate them. If he was wrong if he could speculate at what was most-likely the truth, they needed to know what the stakes were. If he could fulfill what Tifa had wanted
but if this was all for nothing, it was useless.
He moved into a crouch. Alma stepped-forwards to aid him, but he held-out his hand. "No!" He spoke. "There is nothing you can do! I will give as much as I know now, I must have the time!" He shifted his gaze back to its original position, encompassing them as a group. "You fear this?"
He was sitting now. "Timeless I was saying and powerful. If you wish to back-out " The beginnings of a cough rumbled deep in his throat. "Young Strife you guessed its power correctly. Callous in mentioning I know what you're feeling yet you can't give-up. How many people would be counting on you if they knew what you could do?"
Cloud hissed in response.
"Power insurmountable it could will itself out of existence set in its task. Too-much is set-up, has been set-up your guesses so educated you've grown wise there is another Universe linked to ours its the back of the storm, the concentrated Balance. Its expansion relies on the gravity of this Universe, connected to the same center. A Meteor of the Black Materia's style was placed there, a suction of energy so much set-up, this has been going-on for billions of years, 27,000,000,000 Years approximately."
So old...He'd made use of what he had left and now his body was failing him.
"I thought...you might be in a position...where...maybe you're the only ones...who could...do something...yet we all have to hope..." He fell to his knees, then to the floor once-more.
Cloud was visibly shaking with rage. He pointed an accusing finger at the Cetra. "You could be a false image sent to confuse us! Not that it matters, if you lie, I'm out, if you aren't, I'm out! Any way! If we're going-up against 'Existence' itself, this is nothing! Do you know how much grief Tifa was in before she perished! Zack had accomplished something, Aeris was content she !!!!!!" He choked on the sadness that began to gather in his throat, unable to finish his statement.
She was in pain.
Liukhan let-loose a half-cough, half-breath. "Your own fears are insignificant you may be like puppets yet your choices are your own. Aeris did not choose to " He gasped for air. "Beware the..."
And then he was silent.
The blonde-haired male caught the distant memory from so-long-ago, when he'd been in that fitful sleep in Junon.
Are we all just pawns to those who need us? He'd wondered.
No matter how much they could hope...it was obvious where to find Ralyon, Ensconce, and Lucavi. He knew where they had to be, a scan of the map showed him the way they'd have to traverse to reach where they were.
"We can hope..." Nanaki was saying. "We either lose having done nothing, or lose having made an attempt. What would you rather do?"
He ignored their responses.
Hope...fleeting...you'll never be free of this unending cycle...
Everything just coalesced on him at that instant, shooting into him and tearing through all the fibers of his being, overwhelming him, filling him with the most-devastating sense of hopelessness he'd felt yet. The Cetra's eyes showed it hadn't been lying, he'd still been in denial.
Wasted efforts, just pieces of a game.
Everything was turned upside-down.
Wait a minute!!
What was that 'Aeris didn't choose to ' mean? From Liukhan's tones, it didn't sound like he'd been referring to Holy.
One of the things that had been nagging at him quietly, concerning how many other things Ramza might have been keeping from him, was suddenly at the forefront of his thoughts.
How exactly had Altima been resurrected?
He turned slowly, ignoring Alma, on her knees in a silent prayer for the lifeless Cetra. "You didn't tell me exactly how Altima was reborn again?" He glared accusingly at Ramza. "Explain."
The sadness in his eyes at what this revelation would probably do to him told him all he needed to know.
he last thread that held him together snapped.
**HOW DARE THEY!!!!!?????** Defiled her...used her for this...
All that he felt was anger, hot, burning anger and hatred that cascaded through his blood, setting it ablaze. He roared, whipping-out his Materia Blade, and before he knew it, he was racing down the corridor towards where Altima most-likely was.
Ramza swore, then came his rapid, light footsteps as he took-off after him.
That was the last thing he heard before he was totally consumed by his anger.
"Arrrgh!!!!! Not again!!" Barret swore.
Ramza clenched his own fists, cursed, glanced at the map Cait Sith held for a few seconds, just long-enough to memorize the gist of the details, before taking-off after Cloud, pressing his legs to the utmost limits.
He'd thought he'd done the right thing.
Was Gafgarion right? Is it impossible to always do the right thing?
He brushed the thought aside. They hadn't expected to end-up in a 'sunken' city, fighting against a 'Holy' Monstrosity with the powers to rend and tear their Planet into pieces, yet they'd survived.
They were much-more-experienced now.
He'd never stop hoping.
A red Molbol, looking somewhat like an Ochu, but older, swung-into view from a side passage. Chaos Blade was out, searing through the tentacles that slashed at him. He shifted his sword to his right hand and chopped clean through the thing, slicing it in half, before continuing onwards.
The sounds of battle could be heard distinctly up-ahead. He rounded several corners, blade out and bloodied, ripping through mechanical things and creatures from strange humanoid-like mice to inorganic, blue things. A group of metal humanoids fired upon him from behind. He whirled, watched them erupt as he activated an Ultima, before pursuing.
Cloud Strife stepped-on a symbol alike the one in the center of the room they'd appeared in, only not broken, and shot-up through the roof in a shimmering light-blue beam. Not thinking of where it might take him, Ramza followed, almost running into the wall as he stepped-off. He spun and watched Cloud head down from his position, into a large ampitheater. He followed, stopping as a navy-blue humanoid machine stepped in his way, kicking its left-knee joint with his left foot to cause it to stagger, turret pointed away from him, and beheaded it in a clean swipe.
'YOU'LL GO NO FURTHER!!!!!'
What was easily more than twenty enormous metal things teleported into the room, surrounding Cloud. Each bore a singular eye and other features that indicated they were used for heavy work...and serious fighting.
He didn't spare them a second glance as he darted through before the circle closed, pausing at the opposite end to scrape the flat of his blade along the front of the thing's knee. It didn't penetrate, but had the same effect a paper-cut would have on a human. The thing staggered into a comrade, causing the things to become a mass of chaos as he followed his companion onto another strange 'tile.
He ended-up heading it what was probably the same direction again, through a different series of corridors than before, thinner hallways with transparent roofs at parts that were probably bridges, as well as walls. He darted through a series of corridors, bridges that led from tower to tower, before emerging in a room with a hallway branching left, ahead, and a room to his right.
Cloud was facing right, into that room. Ramza was about to grab him when he noticed what was in that room, and spun towards it.
Altima, resplendant in its demonic armor figure, hovered in a room with the all four sides transparent, purple-blue energy flowing from it, pouring into the Fortress. Before anyone could say anything, the fortress lurched and began speeding backwards at an incredible rate, the inertia nearly throwing them to the ground.
"What did you do!?" The Beoulve asked.
Cloud didn't even acknowledge his presence, although Altima did.
"I did what I should've done years ago, mortals! Within four hours, the Sky Fortress of the Lefeinish will plow into your Planet with enough force to rip it apart, ensuring the destruction of Elslumina! Its residual energy must be erased, and this time the energies cannot be directed away. We've spent weeks preparing, all we need to do is lighten this Universe of one more Planet...
"...as you know!"
"Get out of Aeris' body, you bastard!!!!!" Cloud screamed, launching into an Omnislash. Altima laughed, a short, abrupt mocking laugh, as he channeled the energies of an All-Ultima out of his right palm, suddenly pointing outwards, into a thin line that struck him in the chest, hurling him into the wall.
"I see that he managed to have enough sense to activate a MegaBarrier!" He laughed, even as both felt the rainbow energies shimmer away. He turned to Ramza. "I presume you'll try to stop me again!"
"I'll stop this madness, but you won't be harmed unless its necessary!" Ramza held his Chaos Blade in a ready position.
"I don't know how much pain you've seen, but no matter how much you reason, you will not persuade us to idly stand by and let you commit this genocide!" He took a step forwards, the sheer power that tore into him nearly enough to throw him out of the room. This thing's aura...
...almost as great as the 'Yggdrasil's.
Its power had been so great...yet they'd still destroyed this thing in battle.
"There are other ways!" Ramza spoke. "There have to be!"
"You think too innocent, youth! What has that innocence done to your friend but tear him to pieces bit by bit! He's a broken soul now, with nothing to live for! Look at reality, Beoulve!"
"Let me speak with your Master directly!"
"Its too busy!" He remained unmoved, continuing to channel power through the space station. Below, Ramza could hear the blast of power as Bahamut ZERO Tera Flared something, probably those WarMechs.
Cloud looked-up just as Altima finished channeling the purple-green energies free. They merged with the ceiling, walls, and floor, locking the course of the Sky Fortress. It laughed again, another mocking laugh, this one disregarding them as stupid children who couldn't comprehend reality, shaking his head. "I have nothing more to say to you!" He shifted his gaze to the spiky-haired 'Ex-SOLDIER.' "Want more, boy? We can have a rematch!"
He teleported away.
"I know where you're probably hiding!?" Cloud shouted at the air, before spinning and taking-off again.
He bolted-off again, and before Ramza could follow a heavily-panting Cid arrived, clapping him on the shoulder. "What the freakin' heck's goin' on!?" He shouted over the noise.
"Altima's activated the Fortress! Its going to collide with Artesta!"
Cid swore and reversed his direction.
Ramza was about to follow, then decided Cloud was in more danger and quickly reversed tracks, heading down the corridor after him again, hoping he remembered this place well-enough to know where to go.
Less than a minute later, legs threatening to give-way beneath him, he appeared in an enormous dome speckled by walls, ceilings, and floor sections open to the stars, wrapping-around on the ceiling. He briefly remembered something Cid had speculated on during their trek on Elslumina, when Malak had asked him about all the technological things he was talking about.
The othet 'tansportation thing' was on the 'roof.'
Altima hung in the center of this 'sphere chamber.' Cloud was in the process of focusing another Omnislash, and this time shot-up at enough speed that the All-Ultima blasts passed beneath him. Ramza remembered how far he'd moved when facing Xagor, and attributed this to the speed. He descended on the Bloody Angel, chopping at him wildly before he could activate a wide-range All-Ultima. As he hung in the air to finish his Limit Break, Altima reverted midway to a 'laser-style' All-Ultima, and fired.
Cloud descended through it and chopped into his neck...
...only serving to annoy the thing, who impaled him in the stomach with its right hand and threw him into the 'wall.'
Ramza polevaulted into the air and drove his Chaos Blade through the thing's mouth and out the back of its head, snapping its throat from the inside.
"Master...I failed again!"
Ramza darted over to Cloud, smashing a Megalixir down on the semiconscious boy and shielding him, holding-up what remained of the Genji Shield as the resulting detonation tore through the area.
The shield folded-in to a sharp, crumpled, molten piece of metal. Yet Cloud thrust his arm in between him, catching the thing as it began to buckle-in. The Gariland Cadet watched in a mixture of terror and revulsion as it buckled-in on his right-arm, fusing with him even as he screamed in utter pain.
There was a weak smile on his face as he leapt to his feet and used an Omnislash to propel his way to the 'elevation platform' above.
Ramza swore again and sprinted after him, pausing as he stepped onto the strange 'lift-thing' to glance on last time at Altima. If what Liukhan had said about Ajora's tragic end was true, maybe he had finally returned to the Planet, not needed any-longer to serve as a 'root vessel' for this thing.
He was atop the front-most tower on the map, a thin bridge with transparent walls and a transparent roof sloping-up towards the center tower.
He took-off in pursuit once-more.
Jst as they reached what seemed to be the end of the walkway and the exit into the chamber that crowned this mechanical citadel, they were halted by hordes of creatures, mechanical and living.
Cloud responded with his usual quickness, the green power of Ultima shooting from his left palm into the air, towards the things, only to have it sucked above them and absorbed into a crackling blackness in the doorway.
Their eyes met with what seemed like a living, shadowy, humanoid-shaped, mass of tentacles crackling with electricity. The others, all present save Cid, arrived behind them. More hordes appeared behind them, trapping them on this narrow walkway. A WarMech appeared at the foot of the walkway.
They were trapped.
The attack came quickly, attempting to compress and enclose them while dividing them from each other, throwing them away before they could respond, nevermind stick close to each other.
Rafa spun to meet an onrushing Molbol, spinning and thrusting the Princess Guard, an intricate, rainbow-colored staff that had belonged to Altima's latest possession when alive, into its face. She ducked and swept under the thing's legs, then drove a hand into its throat.
It fell, and a Malboro, a larger and more-evoloved version of the species, charged to meet her. She clenched her right fist, and the sextet energies of a Sky Demon exploded outwards in a dazzling display of yellow-white colors, tearing the thing apart. Blood drenched her eyes, and that split second cost her as the scythe of a humanoid mouse, half her size, cut into her stomach. She flipped back before it could penetrate, flipped off the ground, and smashed through the scythe.
Red exploded in her head and she fell to the ground. Turning, she saw a quartet of green-skinned ogres, large, spiked clubs in their hands. Another came down...
...a blade penetrated the foremost, and the thing toppled towards her. With the help of an Asura, the thing was sent flying into the others.
Meliadoul stepped-up to her and offered her hand. "Stick with me, I know a lot of tricks in battles like this."
Barret swore as his Quadra Magic-Contain Combo proved useless. The black thing at the head of the bridge sucked-in the energies of all four Flares.
A trio of what his Sense Materia identified as WizardOgres barreled into him from behind, the club of a GreenOgre coming-up to meet him. He blocked and socked the thing in the face. At this range he wouldn't be able to perform a Catastrophe, not without risking hitting the others.
A club descended into his head while the GreenOgre in front of him prepared to smash his head. He seemed to see the whole seen, and growled in annoyance. Somehow he managed to keep the concentration of energies necessary for Big Shot, and fired-it without even having to switch the gun's power-output.
He spun and fired at the others in rapid succession.
Nanaki had been right.
Ramza whirled with desperate fury, Chaos Blade cutting into moster after monster. Magic was now useless, and if they cleared-out too many of the creatures, they'd be open for some nasty spells. Their opponent, whichever they were facing now, had sorely miscalculated, and he was going to take advantage of that to get to that thing and place a sword in its head.
But if it was human...?
What did they really face?
A Zombie Dragon came smashing through the area and had its leg coiled around his neck. He thrust upwards, severing it, only to be targeted with a Shadow Flare, easily-seeable at close range. The white compressed into him, imploded, and left him with an explosion of black energies that dropped him like a sack cut from its rope.
The figure of Barret Wallace came into view, tearing down the corridor with well-placed Hammerblows, clearing him for the moment. He reached into his Item Sack for a healing item, and was rewarded with his hand being impaled by a large iron tentacle.
What the heck?
The others hadn't been separated by the rushing torret of creatures, but were in a single group. Nanaki stood in the center, continually rechanneling Sled Fangs and Blood Fangs as necessary. Cait Sith was switching Limit Breaks so rapidly it was starting to spark, and the beast was sure that if the thing was controlled by Reeve, not just with voice and commands, but with a specialized controller, it would've collapsed by now. It hadn't activated Slot yet, and was switching between its Level 3 Limit Break and Level 4 Limit Break, occasionally throwing Dice into the center of the group.
Materia, even Independant, proved useless. They were being swarmed effectively, Dragon Zombies and other creatures with well-bred Magical Potential or Spirit Energy forcing themselves to the front of the group, coming at them in a manner that seemed endlessly. He was sure they'd keep coming until the group was worn down, and by then it would be too late.
Ruass was the only one capable of doing anything. Parasites and Energies would explode amidst the group when necessary. He was in the center, the group having moved as one to protect him upon seeing this.
Through a sway in the ranks that allowed a H-Ocho to waddle through and lunge at him, he noticed some sort of mechanical monstrosity engaged in battle with Barret and Ramza. His tail lashed-forward, Limited Moon firml attached, to sear through the tentacles. A quick Blood Fang finished the thing off.
A group of black spore-like blasts drifted towards them, falling.
The explosions were like nothing he had experienced yet in his life. Powerful, devastating, yet a kaliedescope of colors and whirring stars that threw them into the hordes of beasts. He was faced with a dark-blue mouse-like humanoid, where the energies had been coming from. Sled Fang struck right on target.
A Iron Man cracked him over the head with the butt of his sword.
This was obviously not going to last. They were going down sooner or later. There was no outside aid, so any help would have to come from within. And even then...a large WarMech with a tank on its back rammed it into the transparent walls. A stray Parasite cought it and overloaded its systems with electricity, the explosions almost charring him.
He was about to shift his gaze from the stars when he realized what was wrong.
Why haven't they separated us from the bridge yet? They could expose us to vacuum and we'd be toast in minutes.
He swore as he realized just what was going-on, and reversed directions, heading straight for the WarMech. They weren't the only people who could play by those rules.
Cloud hadn't moved at all, save to raise his mangled arm, still burning with unfelt pain, to block the attacks of his opponents.
Faces of his comrades flashed by him, a whirling, unending dream that wouldn't go away, just left him with more and more pain.
How could he have done this!?
It was hopeless, and yet he'd led them here. They weren't going to desert him, like the pawn he thought he'd torn free of, they'd ended-up exactly where they didn't want to be. An ironic act, like something out of a fantasy novel.
Only this was real. The pain of the scythes chopping into his flesh told him that.
The Universe, quite literally, was out to get them.
Or it wasn't really Liukhan, and this was a trap.
Too many questions whirled throughtout his mind, doubts long-thought hidden under his surface of constantly changing views, old anger and resentment he'd thought he'd moved past. His mind was reforming over and over again and he couldn't will it to stop. He could control it, stride through those ranks, stab himself.
He could do anything, what was really happening could be anything.
Layer after layer after layer...you won't be free of this cycle because it never ends. You chose your path, now you're trapped in it forever.
The pain, the metal searing his flesh and drawing more and more blood, the traps that seemed like he was observing a book yet was existing in reality, the fact that this was a reality, and he was again helpless, they came on.
A whirling spectrum.
He had always been, always was, helpless.
"Darn it, you crazy mass of tentacles! You just gonna' stand there and fight, or are you gonna' act!!"
A thin line of pure white energies cut towards the MegaBarrier he'd put-up immediately after finishing Altima. He watched idly, like a newborn baby getting its first glimpse of the outside world, as the Magical/Spiritual force that was All-Ultima tore into his MegaBarrier. With idle speculation he noticed just how the series of attacks had'nt ended his life before, the MegaBarrier was pointed right at the thing, and when the energies plowed at the tip they activated the laws of symmetry. It split through and was vaporized a thousand thousand times, a scintillation of colors that seemed to shatter again and again before the bright light.
Yet that sharpness was still there, forcing it to spread, unlike other Magics. And by the time the energies reached him, he was blasted full-on with what could've been a Shadow Flare channeled into a glove and multipled thousands of times, something that he'd learnt to dealt with. An untrained warrior would've been slain immediately, but again he had his physical condition to thank.
This time, though, the blow was about to take him in the left breast.
He sidestepped it, planting his feet as if he was fighting the wind, and twisted himself. He was spun to the side, yet not harmed.
ITHAT WAS YOUR WARNING, MORTAL!!!!!
In the center of the hallway, an annoyed Barret was continuously releasing the anger of an Umgarmax into a jumble of limbs, what he now recognized to be a floating mass of tentacles, metallic ones, surrounded by a single eye, each one gold-and-blue. Some type of technology he'd never seen before. The pure-metal creation shattered at last, and scythes tore into his back.
He twisted and activated his last Elixer.
Across the hall, group after group of creatures suddenly exploded as the WarMech, which had been continuosuly firing vertical columns of rainbow energy through the room, along the sides of the wall, varying its length yet keeping it above ground level to avoid toasting the majority of smaller opponents, lost its eye, and its thermonuclear warhead let-loose a series of minor, non-radioactive blasts from the power overload.
Someone had obviously plowed the thing, and was now engaging it in combat on the teleporter, tearing circuitry out of it.
"Cait Sith, to me!" The cry came.
The Android plowed through the few creatures that remained, spoke to Nanaki for a few quick seconds, then extended a group of wires.
The black thing laughed, and the WarMech detonated.
It was then that the black thing realized exactly what the opposition had been doing. A look of surprise came to its face as it understood that the creature Nanaki had risked setting-off the thermonuclear reactors, no, known where to strike so as to clear a path for the android.
Which had presumedly been going to control the thing. The sentinel had responded with a quick blow, not knowing exactly the amount of damage the beast had done, seeking to destroy the supposedly-nonfunctional WarMech.
Which had set-off the thermonuclear reactors.
And the black thing was simply a sentinel. It hadn't thought to watch its opponents minds, was just watching for escapees. Ensconce and Ralyon were searching for the Dark Star. If it didn't make it a point to use gravity to negate its physical form, which was large enough to balance this whole Planetary System on the tip of its pinky, providing it was using its true form, they'd need to negate any gravitiational effects, or the plan was doomed.
Then they'd plow the uppermost floor into the Whorlex and use the nuclear weaponry stationed within there to mask their attacks on Aisha and single-out the beings within for a quick destruction just as they were expecting it, were opening to launch their creature, but had it doubly-masked. They'd sense the attack if they mvoed now. So they'd wait unless there was another delay there, and then they'd have to risk the attack. Either way they couldn't harm the Whorlex, they just wanted its inhabitants destroyed.
They'd settled-on the Whorlex itself. hey'd changed their mind often, they'd finally settled on a key creature. After Ceile had cut-off contact, they'd leant-towards Aisha when I became clear she wasn't listening to Ceile anymore, then the WEAPON they were creating, then the creature, then Aisha again, a series of thoughts until they figured-out none needed to be manipulated.
They just needed a focal point.
And the bridge had to hold the warheads to give them room to attack.
The activation of thermonuclear energies gave Lucavi no choice but to remove the energies from existence, or lose the bridge. It wasn't risking anything, because a stray disruption of power could prove their undoing if a certain group of probable annoyances tried anything the like of what they'd pulled on Ensconce.
This wasn't any risk, though, but it knew there was an ulterior motive.
More-specifically, the majority of the group was able to retreat back and allow Barret to activate an onrushing Catastrophe, melting through the rest of the creatures. Those not slain were made short-work of by combined bursts of Sky Demons and Sky Demon Backs as Rafa and Malak pressed their abilties to the utmost limits. Ultimas and Flares joined-in as the others became aware that whatever Red XIII and Cait Sith had done, it had caused the black thing to change its concentration enough that it couldn't touch the Lifestream.
Okay, the heck with the misfits. Time to activate their own wild gamble.
You could've decided whether or not to actually talk to them Ralyon, so we wouldn't have to keep them away and shed unneccessary blood if we didn't have to, we could've just teleported them into deep space or let them pass. And yet you still had to consider all the options. This time I'm really going to have to trust your judgement...and that of our Master's.
He still couldn't believe, out of all the unbelievable things that it had witnessed, that they'd actually guessed correctly.
The Fifth Floor began to separate preemptively. The hidden energies they'd placed in the ceiling and walls, the energies that would hold this thing together while it passed Light Speed if the Whorlex decided to play tag, whirred for a moment, but Lucavi quickly stopped them from moving, as it was not time to charge. They remained hovering inches above the Floating Fortress, following its trajectory.
Machines could be a pain more often than not.
Now all Lucavi could do was block them and hope it could teleport them this late in their little 'Chess Game.'
Darned 'Hosts!' If they'd shown themselves they wouldn't have had to be so on-edge as to what they did.
Darn it all.
One last group of Sky Demons and Sky Demon Backs finished-off the rest of the opposition.
Ramza turned to see the creatures around Meliadoul clear, vaporized.
And then went white as the scythe of an Imp sliced cleanly through her throat. She fell to the floor, lifeless, in seconds.
Rafa shoulder-tackled the beast with enough force to plow it into the wall and snap its own neck.
Yet it was too late for Meliadoul.
Rafa Galthana stood in shock at what had just happened.
If she'd had to weigh the scales in favor of whether or not that Nanaki's wild gamble, whatever it had been, had paid-off, she would've said this was far from worth it. It was simple-enough to decipher...and then, as they'd escaped from what was rising towards what she thought was the highest possible situation of danger that existed, and still come-out, they'd lost another in the end.
Her fault this time. She'd opened her mouth, she'd disturbed what could've been an approach of stealth, with understandable trepidation. Oh, sure, they still could've fallen into this trap, but why they had done this...
Whether the guess was true or not.
Another life had gone, shattering like fragments of a crystal.
She smacked herself on the head. "Ramza!!" She shouted. "We forgot the Life Crystal! Tifa, Yuffie, oh, blast it!!" She collapsed, weeping, and her brother drew her into a protective embrace, one that she immediately shrugged-off. Ramza moved to comfort her, and she waved him away, too.
He obviously took the hint, she wasn't taking sympathy.
"The lives are my fault!" She collapsed to the floor. "I can't choose between a life, we can't choose!"
Ramza hissed, now going white completely. He'd already dropped his sword, now he was aware his nails were tearing into his palm. His left hand had instinctively reached into his pocket, groped-around for a blue-white crystal, and withdrew it, still undamaged from all that had happened.
He looked it over, turning it around. It seemed to shimmer with a barely-perceptible spectrum of blues and whites, light emitting from each portion of the multifaceted crystal, very dim, but still glowing. That thing he'd recieved during the battle with Attune, in a way, forgotten, perhaps even dismissed as a lie, or something left-behind, perhaps fully-drained, or a lie, to mock them.
Yet it existed.
He was the one who'd carried it, he couldn't just use it...hadn't he decided to wait and see when all was done if they'd still need it then...
...No, if he had...!!
The others, save Rafa, who was still kneeling on the floor, sobbing, by Meliadoul's side, crowded around him.
Cloud strode up to him and reached for the crystal.
"No, Cloud, not now!" Barret shouted, blocking his way. "Don't forget about tentacle-face back there!!"
"We're not using it until we find away to divide the energies for Tifa, Aeris, and Zack!" Cloud spoke in a calm voice, as if that ended it all.
"Hey, you can't just be selfish like that!!" Barret snarled. "If we're gonna' divide it, which logic dictates we may not live to do, what about everyone else we've lost!? We may not even live through this, better to give someone who we truly can a chance to live, not hope at what may not happen!!"
Why...? Why did I bother even retrieving the thing...if it doesn't work...itd just be a false hope... But if there was a way, he couldn't use it now and feel it was the right thing to do.
"Barret, get out of my way!" Cloud snarled.
He grabbed for the crystal.
If there was ever a time when things could have been said to be happening in slow motion, this was it. Cloud brushed Barret's hand aside, lunging for the Life Crystal, a last, desparate hope in his voice. Ramza turned, and made to withdraw the crystal from his reach, realizing what potential harm this could cause.
And as Cloud swung at him with his disfigured right arm, he failed to dodge. The Crystal's top came-off, and bright light washed-over the arm, cleaning it.
Ramza recoiled, for a moment, thoughts speeding through his mind's eye, seeming to chill him and place him at the centerpoint of another decision that could ruin one, if not more, lives.
If it isn't a lie...
Realizing they had no choice now, that if it could help someone it would have to be used now, he instinctively hurled the rest at Meliadoul, watching as it shattered upon her motionless form and enshrouded her in bright, white, soothing light.
Seconds later, the light faded-away and left her, breathing, but unconscious, on the floor.
And the Universe swung into motion again.
Cloud shrieked in feral rage and hurled himself at the Beoulve, still gaping in shock that this thing had actually worked, a corner of his mind having truly expected it to fail. Cloud pounded against his armor, tears streaming down his cheeks. He continued the pounding before finally collapsing to the floor, leaning against the side of the hallway, tears streaming down his cheeks.
They stood in shock, gazes drifting about the hallway. Even the black thing seemed to be startled, what could be called eyes, slits of blue-white fire in the position of its face where eyes would be in a human's face.
The thing seemed to crackle with energy, and finally opened its voice to speak. "I do believe that was Sentoriotor's assignment." The voice of the creature was low, hissing, and yet deep and with commanding undertones. "Yet it was supposed to have been fully-drained, and if not, handed to us, so that we might use it?"
Its tentacles shot-outwards, striking the air in a sharp thunderclap as it seemed to understand. "Perhaps the human minds cannot be completely bent even when merged, or wiped and inhabited by, the other Lucavis."
The thing could've just as well been anyone to say 'other Lucavis' while not reffering to the thing itself, but if they continued to allow the constant doubts and 'what-ifs' that had suddenly been introduced full-force into their minds to intrude, they may loose hold on any coherent locks, any visualization they had of what was happening.
"You're the Lucavi," Alma whispered. "The real thing."
The thing released a low crackle of static, and it didn't take long for the youngest Beoulve to realize that the thing was laughing.
"Yes..." It hissed lowly. "I am indeed Lucavi."
Cid Highwind stepped-into the 'docking bay' of the Floating Fortress, legs sore and throbbing, as if they would buckle at any time. A brief glance at the map Cait Sith had provided earlier, along with the explanation of the thing that he'd heard...it didn't take a genius to figure-out there could indeed be ships here.
And if there were...it might just be their only chance to stop the fortress from collidng head-on with Artesta.
The lights flipped-on in the room, and his eyes rested-upon what looked like a vertical, thick, version of a rocket capsule, with ski-like struts and engines in the back. This was the only one that existed.
He shook his head, brushing-away the thought.
Everything couldn't be a trap.
Whatever they faced, no matter how omnipotent it might seem, there was always room for error. And if there wasn't, there was no choice. They wouldn't be able to do anything, yet he'd be a freak if he'd abandoned his friends and comrades.
They'd had to pursue Cloud.
Yet this sudden flash of insight.
He began to head towards the lone vehicle, confident that he could decipher its controls. The Shinra had been the only others to achieve this level of technology, they must've had to start somewhere along where the Lefeinish had. This could be slightly-more-crude, or slightly-more-advanced.
The door was open slightly, as if opened to see the inside of the thing, to judge its worth, and then left-behind. Ralsalin must've taken another-ship, perhaps this was the only one that hadn't been sucked into vacuum, or maybe there had only been another one left.
"Cid, old boy," he muttered, stepping into the ship. "Let's just hope you may be able to get-away with this one last gamble."
The black 'thing' seemed to shake with amusement, emitting a strange series of vocals that had to have been lower-toned chuckles.
"I am indeed Lucavi." It cackled again. "Servant to Ralyon, companion of Ensconce, sworn to carry-out the will of our Master!"
"Then we finally meet," Ramza Beoulve spoke, reaching-down to pick-up his sword and holding it at the ready position. On the other side of the corridor, Meliadoul moaned and began to stir.
"Indeed." The thing's 'mouth,' another narrow slit of blue-white flame, curved downwards in a frown. "And face-to-face, at that. I must compliment you on how exceedingly annoying your efforts have been." It turned to Nanaki and Cait Sith. "You two can clarify as second-place nuisances for that stunt you pulled."
"You must've wanted something with the Whorlex," the thing known as Nanaki and Red XIII answered. "As to why you haven't teleported us into vacuum, something I know you'd have thought of, I can only begin to guess. Some other type of balance, presumedly, which also adds more proof to Rafa's theory and the fact that Liukhan, if that was him, was telling the truth. Also, that his truths would prove actual truths."
Lucavi turned to Rafa. "While you can go at the top of the 'most-annoying' list for that guess of yours. The rest of you have made a number of annoyingly-accurate guesses, plus persevered better than anyone I know of yet, but yours is an utter pain for the fact of how well you pinpointed our secret. It won't do you any good if I say its true, since you have no reason to trust me."
"And tons of darned good reasons not too!" Barret shouted, raising his gun-arm.
Lucavi raised a large group of tentacles, folding them into palms. "For all your speeches and utter agreements of reasoning and how you don't wish to fight, you obviously don't even act what you feel."
"Funny," Barret spat in contempt. "Yet another pompous idiot trying to give us yet another pompous lecture. A heck of a lot of difference you have from the standard bucnh of morons! President Shinra himself saw fit to lecture AVALANCHE, you're no different from him in that!"
"Say and do as you wish, you will not pass," the thing responded dryly. "If Ralyon decides not to hear you out, but to slay you instead, prepare to breathe vacuum."
"I'se got a better proposal!" Barret retorted. "How bout' I get the lot of ya' at gunpoint, then if you don't listen, you all melt!!"
Lucavi chuckled again, this time the static and vocals cascading to a high level before finally fading-away. "You definately are amusing. You're either incredibly brave, insane, incredibly stupid, or a bunch of overconfident gamblers who've finally met their end of the odds. Any attack on us erases any chance you have to win this! Your attacks on the rest of our companions and servants may have already done so!"
This time it was Barret's turn to roar with laughter. A rather large sense of deja vu struck him, an almost-warning of how they seemed to have finally descended through the tip of the iceberg and yet still didn't know, Lucavi in place of President Shinra, this larger group of companions in place of Cloud and Tifa. While he stood, throwing lectures with an idealistic mastermind that could definately fit President Shinra's shoes, at least in their positions.
He shrugged it off.
"They attacked us' first, foo'! We merely defended ourselves!"
"I suppose you could look at it that way, but I definately see things pointing to the contrary." A tentacle rose from its left side while many more rose from its palm, and it began to count them off. "Slaughter of beasts who were simply in your way, even when you suspected we may not wish to harm you. Attacks on creatures that were merely guarding us. Annihilation of helpless beasts when you could've agreed with them. Oh, and let's not forget your butcher of Elteresel, who at the end, was only preventing you from entering Eslumina."
"You're not my judge, jury, or executioner!" Barret spat back. "Shu' the heck up, foo'!!" He fired a spurt of bullets into the door above him for emphasis.
"And stop trying to lecture us on our actions!" Alma added-in. "From what I've heard of what these people and beings have done, what I have witnessed, and what I have taken-part in, if we'd looked-back even once, to the degree you wished us to, we wouldn't be here, given a chance to even talk with you!"
"What she said!!" Barret shook his Maximum Ray violently. "I'm sick of hearing the word 'failure,' and I'm just as, if not more, sick of hearin' lectures from know-it-all jerks who think they's got the right to tell us what is right and isn't in a time where the rights and the wrongs barely exist!"
"Many wouldn't see it that way, but I, and my Master, at least, would agree. This is all the more reason why there is only one way to solve our problems."
"No..." Meliadoul began, in the process of being helped to her feet by Alma. She'd obviously heard enough of this to understand what they were in the middle-of...again. "We could hear Tifa speak! Rafa and I don't know whether we looked unconscious or not, but we weren't, and we were filled-in afterwards! You're wrong! Not even Tifa got it, and I may not! But I'm still going to speak...even if I sound like someone just saying 'Its over...' all-over-again, or repeating words! I could sound like that now and I don't care, but something's gotta' be true! And you're wr...!"
The Floating Fortress shook.
At the same time their PHSs crackled to life.
"Hey!" Cid Highwind's voice came. "If there's anyone still up there who gives a heck, I'd like to inform them their flight schedule for this piece o' junk's just been canceled!"
Lucavi, for the first time, visibly moved. "Not on your life!"
In the small Lefeinish Vessel, Cid laughed over the communicator, which he'd easily been able to find the frequencies of the PHS with. Right now they were rocketing through the asteroid belt of the Planetary System, and picking-up speed. This ship had been easy-enough to control, the only advancements were its lifts on the bottom and the array of turrets on the sides. Plus how-easily it could lock onto the Fortress' speeds, the Lefeinish must not have wanted their fortress to escape if they could help it. And that didn't include any of the aceleration compensators.
The hangar had been controlled from inside the ship, as he'd guessed. The thing obviously was equipped with some sort of field that kept vacuum out, which explained why this thing hadn't been damaged.
Lady Luck still hadn't failed him.
"Breathe vacuum!" He brought the ship up into the bottom of the Fortress again, this time noticing that the trajectory and speed with which the vehicles moved did indeed enable him to knock the Fortress upwards.
"Don't mock me! You are definately going to perish!!"
A black thing appeared on the rear sensors, and Cid swore, switching the broadcast of the thing so that the speakers also blared-out, throwing radio waves at the thing. "You're obviously not gonna' teleport this thing, there's something you're worried-about, and you won't risk the fortress!"
"Not if the 'Hosts' are pinpointed and destroyed first!" The thing growled. "do not defy Lucavi!"
"So that's who you are!" He flipped two of the turrets backwards and fired, watching as blue and green light lanced-out into the thing, causing it to swear and dodge to the side.
"Heck, I don't even know if this darned thing'll do enough damage to the Planet, but I'm not lettin' it!" He laughed again, hoping the thing would buy the bluff. He felt tendrils of energy extend towards his mind, and activated a Reflect with his Barrier Materia, throwing the tendrils backwards long-enough for him to juke to the side and come-up to the side of the Fortress, throwing it to the side.
It went very far to the side, and he had to swerve to follow-it. As an afterthough, he swiveled the turret behind him and decided to test just how far this thing could fire. A quick laser-blast caught the thing in the shoulder, and it howled loud-enough to be heard, without the Magic-Enhanced Voice it was obviously using, even at this distance.
"Pretty sloppy, when you're so darned worried about gettin' jumped!" He swung the ship into the side of the Fortress harder now. The first hit had reassured-him these things were built to withstand severe collisions, and even this didn't damage it.
"I'm expecting jumps here!" The thing shouted.
Cid laughed again. "Pretty confident again! Who knows, maybe you'll end up 'stoned' again!" He cracked-up again, only then realizing exactly what he'd said. "Ramza!" He shouted over the radio, not wasting the time to switch to the frequency of their PHSs, because that could clue 'Lucavi' in to what they were doing.
"Remember, this 'Godly-Being' lost its immense power way back when during the Elslumina Seal! Ensconce and Ralyon are the ones you have to worry about, not this guy-oh, heck!" He swerved to the side as an enormous light-purple comet was launched at him, realizing he'd hit a nerve.
"The Zodiac Stones have all been deactivated, they can't rely on each other for protection anymore, chop them apart!"
A howl from behind, and the vision in the viewports that enhanced what was behind him, showed-him the thing roaring and exploding as the slash of a sword meeting thirteen objects could be heard from above.
The thing erupted in an explosion of colors, to reform again, but acting a bit disoriented. Either this was Lucavi, or a remarkably good actor. If Lady Luck was still with him, this was Lucavi.
"I can still take you down, pilot! Perish in pain!"
Cid flashed a rather rude image involving a specific finger in the viewport, wondering if the thing could see it, then gave a shout of "Later!" into the communicator. He switched back to the 'phones on the back of the ship.
"I'm not called the Planet's best pilot for nothing! Try and stop me!"
At the same time, the Fifth Floor of the Sky Fortress shot-up towards a point where it would be positioned above the Whorlex. Ensconce had hastily erected a barrier in the door, yet now manned it himself as Ralyon teleported outwards to do what needed to be done to the Dark Star.
Seconds earlier, they'd gotten a message from Xagor and the Mu informing them that they were in place. And seconds later, the Dark Star had arrived. Their side had just received all the luck they needed, now all the thing had to do was trust Lucavi and keep the mortals out until Ralyon decided to speak with them...
...or didn't, in which case he could make them breathe vacuum. The 'Hosts' would be going-after Ralyon unless they were stupider than he thought, because despite what they knew of what it might be doing, Ralyon and the Dark Star could provide a greater danger.
It reached its point hovering above the Whorlex, while on Artesta Reeve made more adjustments to Cait Sith's PHS, stretching it as far as possible. That would hopefully reach-out as far as what was supposedly the Craxyold/Whorlex, as it was a lot farther down.
Cid's ship made the adjustments itself, having already been given a communications frequency and acting on what had been programmed into it.
Ensconce trusted Lucavi to deal with the pilot.
Cid juked to the left as a series of thin All-Ultimas came dangerously close to hitting the back of his engines. He was about to throw-off a few more taunts, but decided that would prove useless, as the thing obviously wouldn't be infuriated.
He flipped another series of switches, flipping onto the thing's side and rocketing right into the side of the thing, continuing to bash it away from its trajectory, paying close-attention to the centuries-old screen that gave the Planet's trajectories. Even if outdated, it had still been running. It hadn't recorded the destruction of various Planets, but it was unneccessary to do that.
He swore again as he was forced to dodge to the side, the awesome power of a real All-Ultima missing him by inches, making him a small dot below the enormous blast of energy. Why the thing didn't just Supernova the Planet was obvious, a certain flower girl would've known about this through the Planet and could probably convince it of no illusions, and an All-Ultima was obviously unreliable.
The Supernova's Comets, however, probably weren't illusion-based if targeted as blasts of energy, so he whirled through them, down and to the 'left.'
And realized his mistake as he was steadily forced-away from the fortress. The thing was far-enough behind that he couldn't get a good lock on it, and he still didn't know whether its 'immortality' was gone, and even if so, whether the ship's array of high-tech weaponry would be enough to destroy the thing.
He locked the ship's speed, hoping this would work, and shot straight back to the thing, firing a series of green and blue-white blasts of energy straight into its body, then took-off after the fortress again as the thing howled in pain and anguish one last time an detonated, momentarily filling the stars with a new bright spot.
Shera glanced-out the window, through the momentary break in the clouds, as a single star flared-up. It seemed rather-close to the atmosphere, maybe even closer than the Fourth Planet if the brief flickers of stars told her anything, but it didn't matter.
A cup of coffee was held in her left hand, her right hand holding the tray that supported it. Actually, a series of steaming cups of coffee were held on the tray.
They'd arrived four days prior, reporting all they knew.
And Cid's apology: He'd never owed her one, she was just saving his life. She didn't care if he did, but the simple fact he had made her more pleased than she'd been when she knew she'd saved his life seven-years-ago, then again one-year-ago.
She simply wished on the bright star that he would make it back to her. She knew of the dangers, she had confidence he would, but she still couldn't help but wish. She turned-away, even as the clouds once-again swirled to cover-up the new star, and strode towards the living room.
He would make it back to her.
She knew he would.
"Guys!" Cid's voice crackled over the PHS. "Lucavi's toast!"
Meliadoul, still shaken, looked-up from the comforting position where she sat against the wall, Alma holding her in a soothing embrace while Ramza had his left arm around her back, holding her left hand.
They'd just managed to explain to her exactly what had happened.
The blue-white figure that was alike to Lucavi in every manner save for its blue-white tentacles and the orange-red slits of fire that marked its eyes, nose, and nostrils, snarled, but did not move.
"Good riddiance!" Rafa muttered under her breath.
Barret spoke into the communicator. "All's well up here, although ya' mind telling me what the heck just happened!"
"The Fifth Floor just went rocketing-up towards that Craxyold/Whorlex thingey, that's what!" Cid called back. Nanaki nodded, as if expecting him to say that. "I' near Artesta, and should be able to finish knocking this thing out of the way!"
"Good!" Barret exclaimed. "I thought that's what you were doin'!"
There was no response, just the loud 'clang' of some form of metal meeting other metal. Off in the distance, bright flashes of light drew their attention, and they collectively spun to see an absolutely immense cluster of stars that had to be bigger than their Planetary System blocked by an equally-gigantic 'angel-thing' that reminded them of that Kefka 'thing,' they'd seen. Indeed they were alike, except stars and galaxies were reflected in its skin everywhere. It wore nothing, and a mass of writhing dark tentacles, ones obscuring the stars from view, were what it had of hair.
Cloud, who hadn't done anything except sob and stare blankly at the far wall, gaped in shock. "Ralyon and the Dark Star..." He whispered.
"And ignoring gravity, or this system would be toast," Barret added.
The clang into the fortress threw it away from the rapidly-approaching Planet. One more would do the job, but there was no way that he could spin around. That meant he'd have to cruise-down through the atmosphere and sit this one out.
As he tried to move to the side, two things caught his attention. One was the display through the rearview mirrors, and he thanked the stars that no one could see into the atmosphere of Artesta now, or the amount of rioting it'd experience would be immense, and that was the last thing they needed.
The other thing was the sparks that could be heard from the back, followed by loud concussions.
"Cid!?" Cloud's voice came. "You okay!?"
"Fine, kiddo'!" He responded, even though he knew darn well he wasn't. A shower of sparks from behind told him that. The rebound off the Sky Fortress had thrown the ship to the side, and the strain of collision from this far had obviously proved too-much for the small vessel.
He ignored it. Whether this ship survived this upcoming collision didn't matter at all. He had to knock that satellite away.
He remembered how, several months ago, he'd given his comrades his opinion on how the Planet just seemed to be a child floating in a lifeless Universe. And how it was just like a lonely child, defenseless and scared.
But you're not so defenseless after all, aren't ya'! Cid's there for ya'!
This time, the collision jolted his teeth.
"CIIIIIIDDDD!!!!!" Cloud cried.
The static seemed to suggest otherwise, though.
The thing, quite obviously Ensconce, began to move.
"Don't think it, punk!" Its aura was along the lines of what Sephiroth's had been. Barret flung himself into the barrier and pounded on it with a Catastrophe, ripping it apart and throwing the figure to the back of the large, black chamber that lay beyond.
"Stop it before it stops Cid's efforts!" He shouted.
The aid didn't come in the form he was expecting, but rather, in the form of a shimmering figure that warped into the corridor and sent a spear of light at the thing.
"You're the figure who pulled that stunt on me in-!"
It was teleported out into vacuum, and detonated there.
The figure was gone, but not before it tossed a single flower to Cloud, drawing his attention like metal drew magnet.
"Aeris..." he whispered.
That was one crisis averted. Cid immediately throttled-down the speed of the thing as it approached Artesta. The Sky Fortress had been given enough of a shove to clear the Planet's gravity belt, and its speed would carry it far past the Third Planet by the time the outmost fringes of gravity could take effect.
The right side of his ship, though, resembled a crumpled cardboard box. It was a miracle he hadn't been exposed to vacuum, nevermind he was still alive...
...and if he could just land the thing, he'd be fine.
Lady Luck had truly not failed him.
He could've sworn he heard Cloud just whisper 'Aeris,' but didn't have the time. He shot a series of glances around the ship for what had probably been the Lefeinish's equivalent of a fire extinguisher, found-one, and prepared to get out of his seat.
The ship finished throtting-down to cruising speed, yet Cid was thrown back into the chair by the jolt of entering the atmosphere.
By the time he realized that the engines were being vaporized by the immense heatwaves that he was passing through, as was the wall to his right, it was too late to do anything.
He was cut-off in mid-speech as the incredible pressure and heat of the atmosphere caused the ship to buckle-in on itself. Within seconds, it had been crushed-together and exploded into ashes and small fragments of metal that would melt-up further-down in the atmosphere.
Cloud listened as Cid's swearing was cut-off abruptly, the word left unfinished even as the PHS crackled with an explosion and went silent.
He hung his head again, gaze resting on the pinkish-red rose, which suddenly didn't seem so bright and comforting anymore. There was nothing left to be said.
Ralyon recieved the new instructions from his Master even as an infuriated Dark Star, who hadn't bothered to activate any 'Gravity Annulment Features,' and had luckily had some placed on it before any damage could be done, transformed into a globe of pure dark energy. Tentacles lashed-out at him and began to yank it inwards.
If it hadn't been going fast-enough to annul gravity until the thing was close-enough for them to sense it, or if Ralyon had miscalculated...well, he hadn't, and he darned wouldn't be taken-out by this trick. It wa nothing for him to reach-out and activate Phase II of the Whorlex Bombardment, bringing the thing 'downwards' towards the glimmering black orb, that part at least going as planned. It had been worried Lucavi's actions might have caused trouble in restarting the thing, but it had stopped on time, and had started on time.
'Don't harm my daughters!' More tentacles whipped-out around the 'Angel' attempting to crush it.
Ralyon blocked the thing's energies as they shot-out towards the Fifth Floor of the Sky Fortress, and was rewarded with more pain and a successive blast of energies. This part could take a while, but what was necessary had been done.
Ralyon sent a private mental transmission to its Master.
'Whorlex Bombardment activated.'
They didn't have time to move. Ramza had thrown himself in front of his sister and Meliadoul as he crashed into the wall, cradling them. Rafa and Nanaki landed on top of those two, while the rest fell downwards in a jumble of limbs, clanging into the walls, the floors, the ceilings.
Cloud seemed to be clutching the single flower dropped by the figure, as if for dear life...
...and his world exploded in a massive cacophony of colors.
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