Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter 25
For The Sake Of All Life
By Paul Nathans
T-Minus 4 Hours
Reeve stood at a window of the Shinra Electric Power Company Headquarters.
"Its time for the launch, isn't it?"
He didn't have to turn to know who would be there.
Reno sat in a wheelchair, legs and arms in a cast. Burn scars and chapped skin crisscrossed the left side of his face and composed the whole of the right side of his face, matted, blackened skin that clearly spread down the side of his neck.
Rude stood behind him, hands on the wheelchair.
The snow swirled and howled outside.
"They're gonna' do it, you know," he spoke, as if seeming to reassure the Ex-Director of Public Maintenance.
He turned, bracing one hand on the Heater behind him, using the other to rub away the fuzz from his face, fuzz that had apparently collected from standing at these windows so long. He blinked, trying to focus his exhausted gaze better, and failed miserably.
"They'll make it." Elena was standing a bit behind and to the left of Rude.
"Who-who are you talking about?" He asked.
"Your AVALANCHE Friends..." Reno spoke again. He attempted to straighten, and then conceal a wince as pain visibly shot through his body. "Oh, come on, Reeve!? We're not that dense! We've known who controls Cait Sith! Remember, way back when, when you hired us at Wutai! And the rescue...sheesh, who the heck saved you from Midgar, you idiot!!" It wasn't an insult, just a comment.
Reeve blinked. He'd forgotten about all that. The Turks had been with them from the rescue in Midgar until that whole mess with Xagor.
It all seemed so long ago.
"We didn't tell anyone else," Reno answered. "But still...and even if you hadn't called us up, well, it was kinda' obvious beforehand exactly who controlled Cait Sith!"
"I...I'm sorry," he muttered. "This is just so much, I'd forgotten what had happened then. I was just focusing on..." He sighed. "On what happened now. This type of crisis...and trying to keep this a secret from the others, I just didn't know who to trust...I...oh, blast it, I'm not well cut-out for this!" He sighed again. "I just control a toy cat, and when I try to focus on two things at once...I'm sorry." He let-out a long, shuddering breath. "What happened to those Androids anyways?"
"Trashed shortly after that whole debacle with the Sister Ray and Kerem," Rude spoke for the first time. "You ordered it, that meeting with Domino, remember!?"
"Too much to focus on..." He murmured, shaking his head. "I...now I don't even know...how I'm still holding-up."
He shook his head. "I guess you could call it a desert on the fringest of a tundra." He turned and pressed his hands down on the Heater, yet they did nothing to chill the cold inside him. "Half my mind's been overcooked by all this, the other half frozen under ice. One half is composed of burnt and exhausted memories, the other composed of an unending cold of frozen attempts to try to help patch things up. Like I said, I was concentrating on keeping the secret from as many as I could, I was afraid of what would happen.
"Come to think of it, I wonder why Kerem didn't do anything. He knew...I guess he must've regarded me as a nuisance that didn't need to be mentioned. I suppose I'll owe Ensalin and the others if they were told, they must've been...must've left the entire decision up to Mayor Domino."
"It doesn't matter who was told," Reno spoke. "Its stabilized, the 'Pro-Shinras' are pretty-much ferreted out, those that used the riots to their advantage. There's nothing they can say about who...or about the fact this 'Setup' still has spies!"
"No, no, its not that." He held his head in his hands. "Its just..." His shoulders sagged, for what, the ninth time in twenty minutes. "...too much pressing on me. After this is done, after the enconomy goes back to those who are fair and the politics back to the politics, I'll probably quit Midgar."
"I didn't wanna' go back, either!" Reno spoke. "And then...when I heard the situation...I just knew, maybe it was from the brief period we were with you guys...well, I knew that we could do something. Helping people...yet you don't get much of a reward. I wondered how I could've missed that!"
Reeve shook his head again. "Way back with the Keystone incident...I'd wondered the same thing too...and yet somehow they managed to trust me."
Rude put a hand on his shoulder. "That's all you really need. Trust...trust in what you can do."
He shook his head yet again. "I...I try."
"And its good that you don't stop." He turned to see the form of Mayor Domino step into the room. "Launch has reached the seconds. Won't you watch with me?"
Reeve nodded. "Trust..." he muttered again. "Just act, trust I did what's right...but what's right anymore."
"My friend," Domino smiled. "That's what your heart must decide."
The speakers crackled-on to announce the end of the countdown.
The 'PHS' hooked-up to Cait Sith 4 crackled, and Reeve glanced-down to see Cid rushing by them, waving at them all, hurrying back the way they'd come, towards the lower floors of the Sky Fortress.
Then he looked-up as the rocket launched from the southern dome in a brilliant display of orange flame, cutting through the cold and slicing-up, almost like a Golden Condor igniting its fires to burn the egg of its child(ren) when it was time for the child or children to emerge into the world, sacrificing itself to give new life just as the Savior would sacrifice itself to give new life.
Or it would be meaningless.
This would work.
There were no other options.
T-Minus 0 Hours, 0 Minutes, 0 Seconds
The Present Moment
A mixture of sorrow and grief compounded into waves after waves of pulsating anger compressed, tearing his chest open from the inside and leaving him gazing at a bleak nothingness.
Cold, ice, to match the chill in his heart. His soul.
Why had he been spared!?
He should've perished then.
It had been some crazy, cruel trick of fate that had kept him alive when others would have perished, Aisha had lost her life at the exact same moment as he'd been hit, and for some reason, the timing had been perfect-enough that he was still alive. The incredible pain had come, the burning, and then the nothingness and the light.
That nothingness simply being a cease in the pain one cencillisecond before the flames would have burnt him into the green of the Path of Spirits, or into true nothingness. The light the storm of multicolored dust that blew by them, expanding from the explosion of the tormented Aisha.
And then that, too, was gone.
Why should he still be alive when so many others had perished?
It was a simple cruelty of fate that allowed him to survive.
He slowly shifted his gaze, and saw an exhausted Alma resting her head in her brother's embrace, soothed quietly. Their eyes met, and he smiled at her. She noticed his smile almost immediately after it appeared, and she smiled back at him.
There was at least one person that he hadn't failed.
He looked around for Aeris, but couldn't find her.
She'd managed to save them even though she hadn't been fast-enough to protect the others of the 'Hosts.' That and the timely arrival of that green Goddess-Like figure, the one that had presumedly separated from the Dark Star, according to the shards of the Crystals.
Where was she now?
I'm home... He heard her voice. I was given the chance to return to life or to my Promised Land...I'd done what necessary, and as all the survivors were promised, I was given that choice...I wish to be with my people...
"No, wait!!!!!" He cried, stretching-out as if he might grab her hand, turn her back...and all he ended-up doing was losing balance and falling forwards onto his knees, fresh tears coming-loose.
The new hope that had suddenly swelled-up within him was shattered and dashed upon the clear 'ground' of the sphere just as quickly as it had come.
She'd left him alone.
"Who...what?" He heard Barret mutter.
"She wanted to return to her people," Cloud sobbed.
It took a while, but before the passing of another minute they all seemed to understand what he was talking about.
Nanaki silently padded up to him. "It was her choice, Cloud," he spoke.
She chose to leave him alone...they all had...
For that brief moment the warrior allowed himself to act like a dog, treating Cloud like a brokenhearted boy as he let him sob into his fur.
Cloud was up in an instant. He hadn't even been aware he'd sheathed his sword, but now it was out. Gazing-down at the asteroid belt, he could see a group of multicolored swirls emerge from a tear in reality. The asteriods shimmered, and suddenly launched-free a Fifth Planet.
The one they'd heard so much about.
That had to have been the Mu. It shot to the side. High above them, the unmistakable form of the Dark Star was hurled far to another side. For an instant they could see Xagor, larger than it had ever been, locked with its form completely and thrown upwards, launched into the air.
Then the blinding white symbols of the Zodiac, the galaxies in themselves, were hurled into the sphere, super-compressed into tiny stars that had never been real in the first place. They must've taken-up enough space in the galaxy that they were similar to the mass of a Planet, and now they were being used...
...instead of Artesta.
They'd decided to spare it, for now.
As the signs of the supercompressed stars slammed into this section of the Universe, he could see the lines of power.
Like an eye...
"*STOP!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!*" He didn't know why he'd even bothered calling-out in this last desperate plea, their theories and fears had truly seemed to be made whole from that one glimpse that had seemed to flash in front of them all and was now flashing more-rapidly, expanding outwards.
He was screaming, slashing at that eye before he even knew that he was doing so, tears still gathering in his eyes, locks of hair swinging. Ultima after Ultima was fired at the thing, yet it didn't seem to do any good at all.
This must be the support that was being placed in this Universe.
The eye, he'd seen it briefly, Artesta, positioned somewhere near the front of the Universe, this was serving as a pupil might. In the Pureland Universe he'd had a brief flash of another Meteor, an exact replica of their own, hovering above the center of the Planet in the center of that Universe, its namesake, Pureland.
The Criyorti was assembled, the three beings were at the front of the 'eye.'
An eye, an all-seeing eye, an omnescient being, they were forming into an eye-like thing, double-sectioned, a section 2/3rds the size of the frontal one in the back. A perfect focus-point.
Assembled, and expanding. The one in Pureland had already been in place and was expanding. The Universe and the Pureland Universe had reached the point of their expanding that must be necessary for this to be activated. The one in the Pureland Universe was complete, the frontal one was slightly more complex.
Nothing he had done just now had stopped its reality from expanding.
This truly was all in vain, yet they were right there.
The final failure.
"PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!" He screamed, continuing to hack and blast the thing with Ultimas, Shadow Flares, Pandora's Boxes, and Phoenixes, still slashing and hacking, the force of the scream ripping his throat raw and making his voice hoarse.
And suddenly, it did.
They were hovering on the fringes of the eye, they could see it all and yet were not a part of it. All the threads of the Path of Spirits were interconnecting and glowing in their view, hovering and pulsating in the Universe. The triangle of the three different types of creatures, Xagor at the top, Dark Star on their 'left,' Mu on their 'right,' it could all be seen clearly as their perspectives changed.
"You see a fraction of my view now." The voice was deep and full of sadness, along with a strange kind of relief, coming from the 'eyes' themselves, or more-specifically, the frontal one. "Speak."
Cloud simply collapsed, finding he was suspended wherever they were in this place where size did not matter in the slightest. Well, more or less, he could still move. He sheathed his sword and regained his feet.
There was no sense telling this absolute being to stop, it already knew that's what they wanted it to do.
"Why?" Was all he asked.
"You understand what has happened as well as who I am, so you know what I must do." The being's reluctance, as well as its firm determination, shone clear.
"No...no you don't!" Alma spoke-up. "You're seeing everything wrong!"
A single slitted eye appeared in the middle of the thing, slowly beginning to open. "I haven't risked this much and steeled myself time and again only to be halted now! If all you have done is come to this place to stop, then you may leave!"
"Oh, blast it!" Barret muttered. "You're just some crazy 'seeing' thing! No way you could be the Universe, the center is always changing!!!!!"
"Not with the aid of the Ultimate Time Magic."
"Rofel..." Ramza muttered. "So that's what he did, how he froze the passages of realities to travel betwixt them."
"Your perception is keen, young Beoulve," the voice answered. "Yet I have not come here to listen to perceptions as well! They are as irrelevant as the manner in which the pieces of the Criyorti were submitted to do as necessary. Ralyon could've fully drained the Dark Star, and although it was possible, it wasn't able to. Thus it had to shunt-off the powers that were left when it was 'slain' as well as its own.
"Artesta could've been destroyed again, but I decided to spare your Planet for now, as there was no need for further bloodshed when I realized that Lucavi had perished. So I simply used the Zodiac Galaxies. Magical in existence, they possessed no Planets, just stars that were rather 'displaced,' non-existent. And as the removal of the Whorlex became more and more necessary, I could not use that as its center.
"I could've chosen to ignore the existence of the Magical Planes that were formed when I did this, the ones Attune's strong influence and Sentoriotor's knowledge combined to manipulate themselves into wanting. But instead I didn't, because if this wasn't regulated from there I'd fail.
"I chose not to.
"And while we're still on irrelevancies, I could explain every lat complexity on how stronger and weaker minds sometimes influence Zodiac Hosts.
"While we're on the subject, I could explain how the signals from the Cait Sith Command Module are fed into this place so that he may talk with us too.
"I could've even chosen to unmask my presence, force it here, but that's a waste of time. They're choices, irrelevancies, and things I do not wish to discuss.
"All are irrelevant, much so are your opinions. I could give you so many other reasons, but that is unnecessary as I brought you here to give you one chance, see if you knew one thing. And it becomes clear from your thoughts and words that you do not, so you can leave now."
"You don't know our thoughts!" Cait Sith shouted.
"Not here, the only place we could truly commune fairly, but I can tell. I don't need to pry, which I could if necessary, I can tell. I know how to tell things like this. And none of you have proven anything. So you may LEAVE!!!!!"
"No! *Wait!!!!!*" Meliadoul's shrill, desperate scream surprised even herself.
The attention of the 'eye' was suddenly focused completely and utterly on her.
"What would you have to say!? What makes you any different!"
"Because I can understand what you're feeling," She answered truthfully.
The eye in the center of the being that faced them seemed to open a bit wider, as if slightly surprised to hear something like this, only to close back to its slowly-opening slit.
"You know nothing of my pain!" The voice of the thing shouted back. "How would you like to just exist, knowing that you have within you the power to fix anything wrong, and yet are powerless to do so because of the laws of physics!!?? Year after year I've watched living beings suffer and slay, because of uncaring beings like the Yggdrasil and the Dark Star, and/or because of the humans!!!!!"
"Despite the difference in our scales of pain, I've seen just as much," the Temple Knight answered. "I was blinded to the truth of what was happening, and yet it was so easy to understand and to do what was right! I don't wish this fighting on anybody, and I, along with my friends, continue to search for a different method of solving things! Yet I've finally learned to accept certain things for what they are, and that they won't just go away if we wish them to!"
"Only you!?" The thing's eye focused a baleful glance on her. "Then that is testamount to how lowly you think of your friends! You mention them, yet you don't acknowledge the pain they've gone through!"
"You said it yourself!" Malak chimed-in. "Irrelevancy! She knows as well as I how much we've gone through! You can't just weigh us all on a scale and cast us away like trash!" He brought his hands downwards, palms outwards, as if to emphasize that point. "You can't just judge us when your crimes, even on our scale, are wrong!!!!! Besides, she was once like you, in a way! Bitter, angry! I fought against her and her friends in Bervenia Free City, don't try to tell me that if she can change you can't!"
"And yet you may have done just as much damage as you remained stubborn."
"Yet when I understood I did what was right!" The black-haired male shouted back at the 'being.' "That proves something, doesn't it!?"
"I was bred for destruction, like a 'machine' designed to take lives!" Ruass chimed-in. "Yet when I understood that what I was 'created' for was wrong, I renounced what had been the only truths I had ever known, and formed new ones according to what I knew was right!"
"Which many are often mistaken with in their views," the 'Universe' replied. "That, too, is irrelevant, though! I have existed longer than any of you, I know enough to know what is right, and at this point, I have no choice!" The 'eye,' slowly and inexporably, continued to open. "Or surely you don't seek to excuse the Dark Star, Algus, and/or many others for their crimes!"
"Even Algus, in a way, fought for what he believed in!" Ramza shouted back. "I don't know enough about this 'Dark Star' to sympathize or accuse, but I'm telling you right now that what you're doing is just as bad! It wanted to slow down the 'evolution' of the Universe and the Pureland Universe to toy with it, according to the knowledge of the Lifestream! I have no reason yet to doubt that knowledge, so I'm believing it, and that compares you quite well! Your reasons may differ, but the crimes you are performing are the same!"
"No one group of beings should be taken to task for what one of their race does, neither should all living things be taken to task for what a select number of beings and humans have done!" That was Nanaki.
"Cut-down the ones who are doing wrong now and others may take their place! There are also those who might change! Better now to erase them all from existence and begin anew! There will be no regrets that way!"
"Then we have no choice but to stop you!"
"You will fail!" That was spoken not as a boast, but stated as a simple, completely true, fact.
Cloud responded by clenching his hands into fists and bringing them together. His Materias, shaken and crackling by Aisha's attack and pressed to their limits in his mad strike before, still had enough left in them to blast-out one simple Ultima. The green-and-white cloud of energy condensed and spread, roaring towards the eye...
...only to vanish before even coming close to it.
"You seek to attack me then! There is no mercy for ones like you!"
"Cloud, stop it!" Alma snapped, even as the young fighter readied himself for what might truly be his last battle. "And you, Criyorti or Universe or whatever you wish to be known as, how could you claim to be so understanding if you won't even listen to one word we utter!"
The eye was nearly halfway-open by now.
"Perhaps you will need to see what I have experienced to understand!"
"Oh, shut the heck up and listen!" Barret snapped. "Each of us have gone through trials that 'mere mortals' such as ourselves shouldn't have had to face! Or didn't you hear anything that Meliadoul said!! Scale or no scale, what to us is a bee sting and to you is probably a nuclear blast, our torments are like your pain!"
"I do not disregard nuclear blasts!" The eye seemed to swivel at Barret, glaring at him with an intense look of anger.
Ramza spread his hands, bringing them down much like Malak had. "So we could just stand here for hours and try to show you all you've missed and you won't listen!" He bowed his head. "If you're so set in this task...you're just like them."
"DO NOT COMPARE ME WITH DELITA AND THE DARK STAR!!!!!" The voice boomed loudly. "The Dark Star learned what he needed to in the end, but that doesn't excuse all he did. Nor is your friend excused."
"I didn't mean it like that." He shook his head slowly.
"I was comparing you, in a way, with who Delita started to become after Algus slew his sister, or with someone who only seems to see the bad points of life. I never mentioned the Dark Star in that way, either. All I meant was you haven't really seen what life is about.
"A child's cry of joy...a mother's warm embrace...Sunlight shining through the clouds...a cool, refreshing breeze blowing through your hair as you stand at the side of a lake...you've missed the good points of living as well as the bad points."
"I wish to wipe-out the bad and give a world with only the good!" The voice of the Universe shouted back. "Haven't you been told that enough!!??"
"Oh, quite enough!" Barret retorted dryly. "And we still don't have any evidence as to whether or not you are who you claim!"
"I am who I say I am!!" The being shouted back. "I have no wish to lie to you nor reason to do so! And I truly am bored of hearing the same pitiful things from you! I will not change my views because they are not wrong! I have no reason to accept this reality, it has grown out of my control!!!!! I DO NOT WISH IT!!!!!"
"There's hardly anything in my life that I've ever wished!!" Cloud cried. "You it was granted to me!!"
"Indeed, you did not wish to face me, and yet you ended-up doing so anyways. Think of how you won't need to worry about facing things you don't want anymore!"
"Sorry, but I'm not going to even listen to that temptation!" He retorted.
"I did not ask that! I have given you enough chances, now begone!!!!!"
The air began to shimmer around them.
"You just won't accept reality for what it is!" Cait Sith snapped.
The eye seemed to turn briefly. "You now seek to challenge my vision as well!! I have told you that that was your last chance...and now you wish to challenge me!!??"
"He's not lying!" Ramza added, and this time he wasn't trying to convince the thing it was wrong for their good, but simply because he saw what had happened to him, and wouldn't wish what he'd gone through on anyone. "You're just running! You can't believe things like this could really happen so you just run, or, because you have the power, try to fix things, make them the way you think is better! You don't like to look back because the past is too frightening, too awful to imagine could ever happen! Because you have the power you're trying to fix it, but you're still running!"
The 'eye' had started to tighten, as if to remove them, but stopped, softening. Ramza continued to press-on, but couldn't quell the silent spark of hope it was still listening to what they had to say.
"I've tried what you probably have and already have, running away from it all, creating a new reality for myself! And it didn't work! Even were there no past to come back to haunt me the future would change for me! It has with each step I take! Everytime I make a choice the future is effected!
"It can't be altered!!!!! Its a dream, don't you understand that! If you shut yourself off and believe everything you do is for the greater good...then you're no different than Delita at his worst!"
Darn it! Why wouldn't this thing listen!!??
Regardless of the stakes, he was trying to help it see what it didn't notice, as he would to someone who's mistake did not threaten every single living thing. He was trying his best to show this being what was the true cause of its sorrow, and it wouldn't listen. He couldn't explain things any other way, though.
The eye, now 3/4ths open and widening all the time, momentarily seemed to wobble up and down, yet wobble smoothly. "I see..." it intoned.
"Unfortunately, we are all too much alike in one thing." The thing seemed to be gazing-back fondly, regret increasing a-thousand-fold. "We hope too much. You hope I'll understand and not make a mistake, not for yourself, but for the sake of all life.
"You are simply trying to open my eyes, not as a last ditch effort, but to truly help me. You are trying as best as you can, and I appreciate your effort."
The eye finished opening, and they could feel its sigh like a warm breath of wind carried slowly through the air.
"But I will not give up on my hope," the Universe concluded. "You may stay here and watch, I will not harm you, but I will not give up on my hope.
"I will not look back, I will fix this and continue to do so until I discover the thread, the missing thing that I cannot see, and then I will try to aid them!"
"What you're missing is life itself," Meliadoul stood there. "I try to change things where I have the power, but not deprive. If a child was trapped in a burning house I'd try to help the child. There are some things beyond our control, we just try to make a difference where we can. That's why...when this is over...I'm not fighting anymore." She spun from the eye and faced the swirling colors beyond them, perhaps representative of the edge of this plane or of the chaos that was the ever-flowing matter beyond this Universe, and perhaps beyond the Mu, that hadn't coalesced into something coherent yet. She unbuckled her belt and hurled it into that void, then brought her hand back and threw her Save the Queen Sword in that same direction, a glimmer of light flying into the twilight. Then she turned-back. "Its too much, being responsible for things you can't stop. Help where you may and you'll find your own solace. You'll find where you belong. What you see is a final fantasy that is the doors of your own mind closing-in on itself. Don't chase illusions, don't run from the past.
"Your life is there, just waiting for you to find. Not in wars, not with people who think they know what is better and what isn't, not in pain, maybe not even as a guiding Entity. Just be what you wish and change things where you may without causing harm. Slowly guide if you wish, but just live. Aid. Help. Above all, follow your heart.
"You're a caring being, I know that. I can tell. Out of most anyone, I think I've learned the most." She extended her arms as if to encircle her friends, and allowed Alma to step to one side, Rafa to the other, unbuckling sheathes, belts, and weapons and hurling them all away. Ramza and Ruass did the same and moved over to join, followed by Malak. Then Cloud, Nanaki, and Cait Sith. And finally, Barret.
"Your heart is in the right place," Rafa spoke. "As are the hearts of all my friends." She brought her arms out to encircle her comrades, smiling at each tenderly, holding Meliadoul and Ramza around the waists lightly. They each followed her example, joining hands...
...all save Barret.
"What's your problem!?" Cait Sith shouted. "Still not ready to accept friends as a part of your life!?"
Barret scratched his head. "Darn cat," he muttered, before finally smiling and joining hands with the rest of them.
"Your heart is in the right place," Meliadoul spoke again, the thought of the cencillions of lives that would be lost if they didn't make this being understand in a far corner of her mind now.
"It just needs guidance."
The eye seemed to water, if only a bit. "No one else has ever said such to me. As much as I wish it so, as much as I may wish that it hadn't taken me this long to find someone to tell me this, that it hadn't taken this long to understand...
Meliadoul smiled, joined seconds later by the smiles from all of the rest of them.
"But I cannot stop the Criyorti. It is in place and until it has performed its task, it will not stop moving. I am sorry...but it is too late."
"It can't be!" Cloud cried, stepping-out.
Energies began to pulsate along the inside of the eye.
"The Criyorti is the single most powerful action in all of existence! It means the Absolute Eye! It sees and passes judgement according to its directives!"
Even as he spoke, the energies were beginning to swirl-in, lines of the Lifestream unfolding and stars beginning to wink-out.
"In a matter of minutes the process will stop effecting the edges of the Universe and spread instantaneously, finishing their directives!"
No! Cloud cried silently, even as Barret swore. They'd finally won and still they'd failed. It was just like when they'd beaten Sephiroth, save there was no Holy to stop the Meteor and no Lifestream to flow into the amplifier and empower it.
The White Materia.
"What about the White Materia!?"
"It was only to be used as a last-desperation. I would amplify Holy's powers and make it fold into a sphere, forcing-together only bare sections of something and crumbling them into the type of mass I'd need."
"Can it work the other way!?" Cloud shouted.
The thing seemed to ponder this for a moment, the energies continuing to erase the edges of the Universe.
He exhaled in relief.
"Being White Magic, it would also allow me to heal the few stars that were damaged and in the process of their creation on the edges of the Universe, perhaps supply enough of the type of mass that would set the Universe back in order. And I can amplify it to fold into a shield and enclose us all while destroying the Criyorti.
"But it would require one of you to step into the center and activate it. And the energies that would be unleashed would tear you apart as you activated the Spell. The energies would have to be directed outwards so you could not be sustained or protected, and I cannot bring things back from the Lifestream, and can only restore what my energies had a hand in damaging, nothing prior either, to my sorrow. It would require one of you to step into the circle, yet never be able to return."
He knew they'd all go.
"That's simple!" Cait Sith 4 shouted.
"Broadcast will be cut-off as soon as you enter, and the White Materia requires a living essence that is right there to unlock it. It doesn't just work for Cetra, as has long been believed, but for anyone if they stand in a place of enough power."
Anyone would go.
But all of them had lives waiting for them...
"I'll go!" Cloud spoke. "Hand me the White Materia, guide me to where I need to go, and I'll stop the Criyorti."
He turned-back as a chorus of mutters erupted from the rest of the people. He smiled at them each in turn, eyes stopping as they met Ramza's.
"Whether I've hurt all of you or not, or failed anyone, I'm not standing by and seeing any of you walk into this. Regardless of whether or not I have my place, I won't let any of you do this. Remember why Aeris though I should lead?
"I understood one of the reasons, how easily I can remold my views. But the other one...she knew I'd never let any of you perish willingly. I know many of you wish the same thing, but I can't let you. You have your families, and even those who don't, you truly have reasons to live."
Nanaki and Ruass, who had already been starting forwards as he gave his explanation, stopped. He shifted his gaze to Barret, locked eyes with him, and saluted him too.
"Remember what you said? 'There's no gettin' off of this train we're on!'? or 'This train we're on don't make any stops!'? How many times?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Well, this is where my train reaches its end."
Barret slowly returned the salute, and after dropping it, smiled. "Well!" He laughed. "Seems I've taught you well, kiddo'!" He strode forwards and gave him a brief bear hug, which Cloud quickly returned. He stepped-back. "Go make me proud!"
He turned. "The White Materia."
The white globe appeared in his hand, cold to the touch, and yet giving-out a warmth that flowed through him. He brought it down to his side, and as his hand clanged against metal realized he'd forgotten to remove his weapons. Belt and sheaths went first, Buster Sword second to last, and finally, the Materia Blade, arcing like a rainbow windmill into oblivion.
He turned back from the void, and his friends, again. "'m ready."
"Hurry, then," the Universe spoke. "There's barely time left!"
He nodded, turned and gave one last nod to his friends, flashed a brief, final smile at them, then turned one last time and walked forwards, not glancing back once as he disappeared into the Universe.
The eye faced them.
"As for you, where do you wish to go?"
"Where else?" Meliadoul replied. "Home."
"Your respective times, I presume."
"You can do that too?" Rafa asked.
"It will cost me all of the powers of the Ultimate Time Magic, but such things as Meteor and Stasis should never have been made, and do not belong in the Pureland Universe, or this Universe."
"Hmm, guess this'll prove if you're the real article!" Barret spoke, although his grin, slightly marred by the fact that one of their friends was walking to his end, but still there, told him he already believed the being was.
"Then we'll just have to trust you," Ramza added, nodding to the eye. He suddenly remembered something. "What will you do?"
"It is my choice," the Universe responded. "I may guide, or create a mortal body and inject my spirit into it to experience real life, maybe not just once, but many times. I may do both, or more things than that. But know that I will never cause harm to a single soul again, no matter what the reason."
Ramza nodded, and smiled again, holding his friends and sister tighter around the waist and shoulders, respectively. "All right, then we're ready to trust you in this."
Cloud appeared in the midst of a glowing circle, the twelve original Zodiac Signs surrounding him, the Serpentarius Zodiac Sign floating above him, the swirling colors of the Path of Spirits below him.
"How do I activate this!?" He called.
"Will it as you would Materia." The voice came from all around him.
"Okay," he answered.
He looked down at the glowing orb, then back through the stars, and could see the devastation trillions of light years away. He looked down at the orb again.
"Come on, Holy," He whispered. "Its time."
The orb glowed green in response, and erupted in an incandescent display of white that flew outwards. He smiled as he dissolved, and felt no pain.
Zack, Aeris, Tifa...
The lights flared, and the shields formed.
They glowed and pulsed like a soft display of fireworks carried on a soothing current, lights of billions upon billions of hues in a dark, empty sky, visible only to them.
Then the 'viewpoint' of the Universe that they were in shimmered in a soft white light even as the Pureland Universe and the Universe was filled with shining colors in all places, ones that they knew couldn't be seen on the plane they existed on, but in all other planes.
It was over.
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