Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter Three
Dreams Of The Past
Once again, all she could see was white.
White, then a figure. Or two, actually.
"She's finally coming to!" exclaimed a brown-haired man, wearing a Doctor's Labcoat. She attempted to move, after which she gasped in pain. And the memories flooded back to her immediately.
Sephiroth. Nibleheim. The disaster there. Something had happened. Cloud had been there He'd been there! He had come to Nibleheim, though she didn't know how. He had been wearing she couldn't quite remember now, and didn't really bother to.
"We were wondering if you'd ever come out of that coma," stated a female voice, probably a nurse.
Reality flooded completely back with stark clearness!
"Where's Cloud, Zack, the others!?" Tifa attempted to sit up, gasped, then sank back against the hospital bed with a moan. "Where am I?"
"Midgar," stated the doctor. She gasped in surprise. "Although, as to the people you mentioned, you were the only one brought in. Some guy, I don't remember his name, he stated you were the only one left alive in the multitude there, as far as he could see."
"WHAT!?" Muscles tightened in anguish, and she screamed from the pain. The tears that had come to her eyes were released despite all efforts she could administer to quell them. "Not Cloud, please, not Cloud "
"I said I don't know. His purpose wasn't really clear. For all we know he could've been this Cloud guy. Want a description."
"No," Tifa said. "I don't want to know. It had to have been him! Who else would it have been, anyway!? If it wasn't " she dared not even think about that, shuddering. Soon, lost in her own thoughts, she didn't notice as she slipped into unconsciousness once more.
'After I had been released from the hospital, I decided to stick around for a while, trying to find some trace of you, Cloud. When you weren't there, I finally prepared to find the worst, and wanted to leave for Nibleheim to see if I could find some clues. It took a whole of two years to look around the city everywhere I could, and even then, I might've missed you when I passed a place you would just enter.
'I hadn't liked what I saw in the city around me, and when I stumbled upon a group of Shinra Soldiers bullying kids in the Slums, I couldn't stand it, and defended them. I found myself fleeing from Soldiers, at first, it wasn't many, but when they kept finding me, and more were left wounded behind me, it stretched into two more years. I managed to hook up with someone who said he was trying to assemble a small group of citizens who could launch small raids against the Shinra, and help stop the things they were doing to people's lives, to the planet itself.
'That's how I met Barret. Over the next year, we hooked up with Biggs, Jessie, and Wedge, and set up a base of operations. That day I was at the train station, wanting some time to myself, the first I'd had in so long, I noticed you there, although I didn't recognize you. I was so happy when I realized who it was, but concerned, because you didn't seem like yourself. I didn't want to risk you out of my sight, and that's what led to me telling you about the last-minute offer for additional recruits from AVALANCHE, when I found out you were a mercenary.
'You were right. I should've left you alone this time, though. Then this might not have happened. I'm sorry, Cloud I'm so sorry '
The dream faded away, and she awoke from her semiconscious state to find out she was gently crying again.
She was on some sort of soft cot that had been set up for her in the operations room, although that only came to her notice for a brief period of time. She couldn't hope Cloud would have fallen into the Lifestream and have managed to get out again. He had been so lucky before, hoping for it this time would be senseless.
The soft sound of two Chocobos chirping told her both Wenli and Chocos had been picked up and were in the Chocobo Stables.
The creak of the door opening caused her to turn around. If she wasn't this upset, she would've been surprised to see Nanaki, alias Red XIII, enter the room.
"Why are you here?" she managed through her tears.
"If an eruption of Mako happened near your hometown, you happened to be a respected warrior of the town with a lot of people placing responsibility on you, and you were the protector of the town, wouldn't you come running. I signaled the airship by using an Ice 3, and they explained the whole situation, including how they found you and Vincent, as well as the Chocobos."
"I know, I heard," she whispered, that was as loud as she could talk.
"Don't try to console me!" she snapped back with surprising force, before a new hailstorm of tears flooded from her eyes. "Cloud's gone again, perhaps forever, and this time its all my fault! How would you feel if Bugenhagen perished, and it was because of you it happened!?"
"Uh, Tifa " Nanaki began, starting to regret the lie he had told them in Cosmo Canyon after his human grandfather had indeed perished.
She was sobbing again, shoulders shaking, and didn't seem to hear him. He sighed, turned around, and walked out of the room.
Vincent was walking towards the room, obviously to check on her himself.
"She's awake," stated Red XIII. "But inconsolable. She thinks she was responsible for what happened to Cloud."
Vincent looked thoughtful for a moment, then turned away, striding towards the entrance to the upper deck above them. Nanaki, having four legs instead of two, caught up to him with ease and began to trot along next to him.
"What do you mean?"
"You should know what happens when someone undergoes the amount of pressure she's been dealing with. Ever since the raid on that Makoro Reactor I was told about, I get the impression that she's been going steadily downhill, one more upsetting thing after another. She's been handling it well, but, although she might not know it, she probably won't be able to hold out for long."
Red XIII sighed again. "What about you, Vincent."
"Strange, actually," he commented almost nonchalantly. "I guess I spent too much time closed to the outside world to experience much grief. I'd only just reunited with Lucrecia anyway, and not really that, to be completely truthful. Other than an undercurrent of sadness that is stronger than most of the time I experience it, there's nothing different."
He strode up the curved stairs to the deck, and walked over to the place he seemed to frequent most often. Red XIII followed.
"Why can't this planet ever endure peace?" he seemed to ask the sky.
"Huh?" inquired Nanaki. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Old Shinra research. Things have been bad before, there were many periods in the past when the Planet has undergone many a crises, but none as serious as what we just pulled through last week. At least, that's old Shinra propaganda, but I have a distinct feeling its true. And just two days afterwards, this happens." He sighed again. "Lucrecia said something about Jenova's actions having indirect outcomes while she was engaged in battle with the monster's spirit. I wonder if she was referring to the past, what the Shinra have managed to guess through old records."
"So what do we do?"
"I wish I knew." He sighed again, and bowed his head.
Reeve managed to pull himself up through the ventilation system leading from the Sector 2 Plate Sewers to the main walkway leading to the building. He kept on moving, ducking into crevasses as Grenade Combatants and Soldier 1sts passed by.
"Guard duty shouldn't be this strong," he muttered.
Still, glancing behind him to the pathway out of the ruined Sector 7 Plate, it was easy to see that he had been right in taking an elevator to the Sector 5 Plate, and from there finding a way to enter the Sector 5 Plate Sewers and following them all the way through the Sector 6 Plate Sewers, the Sector 8 Slum Sewers, and a small portion of the Sector 1 Plate to its hidden exit to the Shinra Building in the Sector 2 Plate.
Within moments, he had slipped around to the fire escape and began the long trek up the stairs. If all went well he could make it to a tube elevator, open a window, and use the high atmospheric conditions to block his PHS-DELUXE Usage. That way he could easily get back in contact with Cait Sith, and the robot should be able to recruit help.
"I don't CARE what you think about your STUPID Turtle's Paradise Inn! I bought a poster to get your idiotic Wutai Salsemen off my back, but this place is NOT remaining a resort town!" screamed Yuffie. "Do I make myself clear!"
"You can't force us out of business," complained the Inn Manager. "We "
"I've heard the same old junk from you over and over again! I'll give you two choices, you can either pack up your dumb contests and start trying to set up another business elsewhere, or I can give a demonstration of how disagreeable I can get!"
"Log Entry 7.89," droned Cait Sith's voice. "Members of the Turtles Paradise Inn seem reluctant to close down their shop. Current arguments seem to suggest that "
Yuffie ignored the cat's recording process and grabbed the man by the shirt collar, yanking him to the front of the bar. "What's the choice?"
"This is an outrage, young lady! I am going to report your immature actions to your father, Miss Kisaragi!"
Yuffie stood straight up. "We'll see your opinion after you find out you're the only Resort Enterprising Company left in this town. Go take a hike up the Da-Chao Statues, ya' loon!"
The Manager began to compose a rebuttal, but he suddenly snapped to attention and saluted. Yuffie and Cait Sith spun around to see the three remaining members of the Turk Bounty Hunting Organization enter the area, Elena leading the group. Upon seeing Yuffie, Elena flashed a brief grin while the other Turks, along with the soldiers, exchanged questioning glances.
"Thanks again for taking my place as Don Corneo's bride?" she strode towards a table while Yuffie stiffened and Rude snickered.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY!!!!!?????"
Cait Sith rolled his eyes, and decided not to intervene.
"I'd think someone as spunky as yourself could take a joke!" she laughed.
She bit her lip to conceal a very nasty response.
"Lookie here!" joked a Soldier 3rd. "Toughie Yuffie's tongue-tied!"
Yuffie immediately somersaulted up to the man and uppercutted him in the chest, sending him crashing back into the wall. The other one laughed as she almost tripped while trying to regain her balance, and met the same fate.
Elena raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps this won't be a break after all." She turned to Reno and Rude and grinned. "What's the proper procedure for Turks if someone harms their acquaintances?"
Rude, as usual, did not answer.
Reno's eyes widened. "You mean ?"
"Right," she said, spinning around and facing Yuffie. "Winner gets to have Turk's certified help for the rest of the week." Yuffie gaped. "That means you. If you lose, however, we get to arrest you for unprovoked assault."
"You're one, big-shot!" retorted Yuffie.
Then she turned to the Innkeeper, who had been muttering some very nasty things under his breath. "And if you ever call me that again, you will be reported PERSONALLY to my father, who, by the way, approves of what I'm doing." She turned back to Elena. "So, where to we square?"
Some of the Inn's customers laughed and/or groaned.
"The top of the Da-Chao Statues. Rude and Reno will protect us from monster attacks," she turned sternly to her friends ,"meaning, NO breaks," and then she turned to Cait Sith ,"while you stay here and make sure our escorts receive care."
The cat saluted, Reno and Rude groaned, but, nevertheless, followed Elena as she strode out of the tavern, Yuffie right behind her.
They stood at the highest hand on the Da-Chao Mountains, weapons at the ready, Materia prepped and ready to go. Rude and Reno sat nearby, knowing this would probably be very interesting.
Then Elena took a fighting stance. "Come on, Wutai Woman! Show me what you've got!" She drew her gun, Yuffie readied her Conformer
and the ninja lunged forward first. Elena, showing surprising agility, blocked the incoming blow, and retaliated with a somersault-kick, knocking Yuffie sprawling.
"Your boys aren't saving you from ME!" she shouted, immediately on her feet and casting a Regen on herself, following up with a Demi 3. Elena ducked, springing forward and flooring her again. She attempted to get up, only to find the sky and ground coming at her from several different directions as Elena executed another perfectly-timed karate combo, leaving her sore in several areas.
"You call that a punch, huh? Check this out!"
She concentrated, letting anger flow through her, and cupped her hands.
"All Creation!" She screamed. A multicolored beam of energy began to generate from her cupped hands, growing larger and larger, until it was the size of the Sister Ray Turret. Then it was sent flying, smashing into Elena and bowling her over. A back-somersault and a forward-somersault, though, had Yuffie on the ground again.
"Grr " she muttered, spin-kicking as she leapt up. Elena kicked, but she moved to her side, shoved off of the ground with her elbow, and back-kicked her adversary under the chin. Elena fired, and she snapped her fingers between the bullet as it passed there, stopping its momentum. Her ninja abilities were being used to their fullest potential, and she dodged the flames ripping towards her as Elena cast Turk Light.
The ground smashed into her face again.
This time, though, she was more than ready. She was up, slamming her Conformer across Elena's right breast, leaving a small gash through her armor, then backhanded her across the face. She finished the move by performing an uppercut, grabbing the flying body as it nearly moved out of her grabbing range, and smashing it down onto the wounded portion.
"Yield!?" It wasn't a question, it was a threat.
"Dream on!" snapped Elena. Yuffie backhanded her, then used the flat of the Conformer to repeat the process. The Turk actually winced.
"Yield now!?" It wasn't a threat this time, it was a threat with force.
"No," said Elena. Yuffie raised her hand, but she held up her right hand, palm outward. "I submit." Yuffie smiled
and rose to her feet.
Elena rose too, brushing herself off. "You are indeed a worthy adversary," she said. "You win the duel."
"And that means you gotta do what I say for the rest of this week, along with your pals! That clear!?"
"A Turk keeps his/her word," responded Elena. Yuffie's right eyebrow arched, but she decided she'd believe them for now.
"Okay, then!" she laughed. "You're working for the Wutai Resort Destroyers!"
"What the heck does that mean?" asked Reno.
Yuffie faced him. "You and your two pals are going to kick those members of that stupid Turtle's Paradise Inn OUT of this town!"
Rude held up his hand as Reno opened his mouth to object. His PHS was ringing, and frantically.
Elena snatched it out of his pocket, and opened it, pressing the ON Button. "Who is this?" she asked into the phone, already preparing several snap-remarks if it was someone she didn't want to hear. "WHAT!!!!!????? Sorry, we signed out of Shinra after Heidegger began sending us on all destroy and eliminate missions, we only squared off with Cloud since we met up, and those two Shinra Guards are fired men as well. I'm not working for you anymore, Reeve. Get lost!"
Frantic voices came through the phone. "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY!? Nope, I'm not getting reassigned by Shinra to ANYTHING again, even if it means placing bullets in Heidegger's head.
"Huh?" gasped Rude.
"Say what!?" was Reno's comment.
Yuffie simply gasped, then grinned. "You may not be workin' for them, but you're workin' for me now! If I want payback for you dorks causing trouble earlier, I can order you back there." She paused. "Why's he want us there anyway?"
"Something about Heidegger and Scarlet still being alive, having recalled Palmer from Rocket Town, having the Max Penalty on his head, and construction of war machines." She paused, then shrieked. "He DID WHAT!!!!!!!!!!?????????? All right, we're coming, free of charge."
She snapped shut the phone and turned to Rude and Reno. "Heidegger's the new President of Shinra, Incorporated, and placed the Max Penalty on us for desertion."
Rude's mouth dropped, while Reno drew his gun and fired a crack-shot at the side of mountain. "Nobody places Max Penalty on Turks, and ESPECIALLY not for desertion. We don't desert, we're mercenaries and bounty hunters, and do what we please. I'm telling those Soldier 3rds to stay here in case a back-stab is planned, then we're moving it. Rude, Reno, guard us on the way down!"
They both rose.
"Move out!" commanded Elena.
Priscilla grabbed another starfish from the beach, placing it in a basket, and waving to her dolphin friend, whom she called Mr. Dolphin. It squeaked and nodded back to the 7-year-old, then began to swim in a different direction.
She bent down to pick up more starfish, wondering what all the talk was about how another eruption of Lifestream Energy had opened midway between Nibleheim and the Gold Saucer. Just for once she'd like to see some of its energy, especially the ones in the underwater crater, but she'd never been allowed aboard a submarine. And now she was hearing rumors that an unusual outbreak of energy had burst from the crater. Weird, completely weird.
She heard Mr. Dolphin chirp-squeak from far away, and turned to see him slowly batting a body that was floating under the electric poles, nearly close to the danger zone. There was a pinkish glow nearby, and a half-bubble seemed to form under it. It almost seemed like the glow of one of those Independent Materias.
"Mr. Dolphin?" she called. "Bring the guy over here!"
It began to move, slowly pushing the person, and she could begin to make out some of his features as he drew near. He had spikey-blonde hair, and was wearing blue-black armor. Every time a part of him that was breathing surfaced, the bubble would disappear, only to reappear if both breathing parts fell underwater, and stayed underwater too long.
By the time the dolphin had brought him halfway to the shore, he had kept the guy's face out of the water, and she suddenly gasped as she realized who it was. "Oh, no!" she cried, striding out into the water and meeting Mr. Dolphin in the shallows. "Cloud!" She unhooked the Dolphin Whistle from her lips, placed it in her pocket, and raced back to the steps that would lead to the town, and her house.
"Is he gonna' be okay?" she asked, sniffling.
"I don't know, Priscy," her daddy said, patting her head. "I've never seen a condition like this. I've heard of Mako Poisoning, which seems to be half the case here, but there's something else that I clearly don't get. Part of it seems to be making his heartbeat steadily weaker, so things don't look too swift."
"He can't perish!" she said, stamping her right foot. "I'm gonna' marry him!"
Her father patted her hair again. "Yeah, sure. Now shoo, please. I've got to call down one of the doctors from Upper Junon."
Priscilla took the hint and raced out the door, deciding to sit on the balcony chair. But before she sat down, an awful thought came to her. What if it took too long for a doctor to get down here! She'd heard of the wonders specific Materia could work. She raced down the stairs, determined to have Mister Dolphin launch her to where she had seen Cloud climb up to Upper Junon so long ago. She'd heard WarMech's patrolled the Takeoff Platform where the ladder led to, but she didn't care. She had to save Cloud!
If Priscilla had remained on the balcony, she might have seen an interesting sight out in the ocean. Several Shinra submarines were rising, a lifeless body positioned between them.
"You sure this is the creature that Heidegger wants to start up the new Cell-Injecting Market with?" asked a crewman.
"He said the Sapphire Weapon, and this is the very same beast that attacked Junon seven days after that blasted Meteor had been summoned!" retorted the Captain. "The Diamond Weapon's already been gathered up, and the other three are in pieces, one near the Gold Saucer, another exploded so loudly and brightly near Cosmo Canyon it caused an actual reversal of the Sun's rays as it dissipated, that one is really in pieces, in tiny pieces, another is in pieces at the bottom of the Underwater Crater. Since we don't know if any small pieces got lost from the big ones, taking them in could cause problems! That should answer each and every question you should be able to come up with concerning our mission!"
"Its almost night, although, since its only four hours after that Mako Eruption, who knows whether another one's coming!"
"Watch what you say! If it hadn't been for a particularly large Mako Eruption that flung a frisbee-like beam at Midgar, we'd have perished by now! There can be a Mako Eruption here and now, for all I care! And we'll find a place to spend the night! Now get back to work before I demote ya'!"
The crewman saluted and resumed his duties.
"I'm worried about her," stated Red XIII. "We've waited here until midnight, and she hasn't eaten much, hasn't done anything except cry."
"Before she wasn't this depressed."
"That's because she didn't blame herself for what happened to Cloud last time," stated Vincent. "And if they hadn't ended up in Junon, sentenced to the Gas Chamber, who knows what would've happened?"
Tifa was striding up the steps to the deck as she heard this, and for a moment wondered why she hadn't given the group the order to start searching the area for Cloud yet. She had been through this once before. But they were right, it wasn't this bad before. It hadn't been her fault.
She slowly turned around to walk back to her makeshift cabin when she heard one of the crewmen shout.
"Shinra Airplanes below!"
Red XIII raced to the edge of the deck. "Oh my gosh! They're crazy if they're attempting what I think it is!!!!!"
Tifa raced up to the group. "What!? What's going on!?"
Then she looked over the edge. "On, boy," she muttered, her grief fading. Apparently sensors had detected them, because a group of Shinra Air Crushers swooped upwards, slamming into the airship
large, blue beasts with eight legs, a scorpion's tail, lobster claws, and various blaster cannons, only one of them shot up to the deck and began to send sweeping laser blasts across the area.
"Nail the thing!" shouted one of the crewmen, ducking behind a computer panel. Red XIII leapt forward, bit into the circuitry of the thing's face, and flipped backwards, landing on the deck.
"Ultima!" shouted Tifa. Her Master Magic Materia glowed in response, and a huge green ball was loosed from it, expanding and ripping through circuitry of the large WarMech. Red XIII let loose with an Ice 3, and watched as the frozen air centered around the beast. Next came a Bolt 3, this time from Vincent. Then Air Crusher crackled with energy, unleashing a salvo onto the deck.
All three hit the floor, and Vincent fired a shot straight on into the missile launcher as it was about to launch another one. Both impacted at each other, and the thing exploded. Tifa moved into an attack stance before she realized she was unable to reach the thing. It sent out a Torn Beam, a highly-concentrated laser blast that swiveled around the area, causing explosions, splitting, arcing, and taking several different wire-frame shapes before dissipating.
"Cure 3!" shouted Tifa. As the healing energies washed over her, Vincent fired again, this time at the laser turret. The two lobster claws extended, slamming into him from both sides and raising him up. The Scorpion Tail descended, causing him to sprawl backwards, then the claws dropped him.
Before they could retract Red XIII had torn both of them off, hurling one of them at the tail and blasting the area with an Ice 3 to double the impact. The tail snapped off, and the rocket engine just below it crackled as the explosion hit. Vincent let loose with a Bolt 3, causing the WarMech to explode. It crackled, then did so
"There's more coming!" Nanaki cried.
"Then hang on!" shouted the pilot at the main controls. "I wish Cid was here to see what I'm about to do!" He threw the airship into a dive, causing the other five deck occupants to grab onto other solid objects. The confused Shinra Air Crushers spiraled, and the pilot focused on the Shinra Airplanes carrying the lifeless body of the Sapphire Weapon, then rammed towards it, pulling up at the last instant and drawing a pistol, firing through the glass of the nearest plane. The pilot slumped in his chair, and the plane snapped loose from what it was holding.
The other planes, unable to support the weight of the thing, started to shift formation. The Pilot started the Airship forward, only this time, several Shinra Air Guardians had been released from the back of the airplanes
and charged right at them.
Red XIII immediately unleashed an Ice 3 spell. All five of the Air Guardians crackled, but the Materia dimmed. Tifa tossed a Turbo Ether in his direction while Vincent fired. The devices broke formation, and, being golden Guard Scorpions with rocket engines, let loose with Tail Laser blasts.
"Cid isn't gonna be too pleased with this!" muttered one of the crewmen.
Red XIII charged, clawing into the circuitry of one of the Guardians. It flew backwards, and he somersaulted away, barely going over the railing, but making it onto the deck. Another one swooped in and sent Vincent sprawling. Reacting with Turk instinct, he snapped a point-blank shot into its bottom portion. It reared back, leaving him completely open for moving out of the way.
Tifa flipped onto the thing and punched through its CPU, then let it fall. As she jumped off, a laser blast sent her sprawling. "Cure 3!" she shouted, not noticing both the Restore Materia and the Master Magic Materia had nearly lost all their light. Red XIII noticed, and returned Tifa's favor by throwing a Turbo Ether at her Premium Heart, before spinning and downing another Air Guardian with an Ice 3.
The remaining three rose, then dove, headed for the engines of the airship. Too late, Vincent realized their intent and ran to stop them, but they had blasted into the already-damaged engine. The Airship began to shake, and he found himself on the deck, a laser-blast aimed at his head.
"Do not touch my friends!" shouted Nanaki, leaping into the air. What looked like an entire galaxy appeared near him, and began to gather in his cupped forepaws. He charged forward, unleashing the rainbow blast and tearing apart the Air Guardian as Vincent dodged the explosion, got up, and was knocked to the deck one more, this time by the tail of another Guardian.
He used his Cyborg Hand to claw through the face of the thing, then kicked it backwards, exposing its neck. With a clean shot, it was torn off, and the WarMech was torn apart by erupting energies. that left just one, which was swinging its tail at Tifa. She continued to dodge, occasionally landing a kick and a punch, until the thing seemed to be totally unaware it could get blasted with magic.
That's when Tifa sent a Bolt 3 crashing down on it, and the Air Guardian crackled and erupted into pieces
ending the battle.
The Head Pilot took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and Vincent had to place his right hand on a railing to keep from collapsing. Red XIII had his eyes focused on the place where the airplanes had been, while Tifa was gazing in that direction, silently, though. The grief was probably coming back.
"Now what do we do?" asked the warrior.
"That remains to be decided," answered Vincent. "If the Shinra, for whatever purpose, are attempting to use DNA from WEAPONS the same way they used Jenova's, the results could be nearly as disastrous, if not more so, since the WEAPONS aren't really sentient."
"Uh, guys," interrupted the ship technician. "I don't think we'll be flying the ship much farther. She's taken too much damage, so we're repairing her overnight.
"Then," spoke Tifa, firmly ,"We find Cloud!"
Red XIII sighed in relief.
Cloud stirred in the bed, moaning, semi-conscious.
At least, that's where he thought he was. Then he realized he was in the Ancient City again, about to strike down Aeris. 'No!!!!!' his mind screamed. 'Not this!!!!!' He heard and felt himself stop, and it began again.
Aeris's beautiful form became impaled upon Sephiroth's Masamune. As he jerked it backwards, the White Materia fell from her hair, and he watched it plummet into the waters below, a smile of satisfaction on his face, before releasing her, leaving Cloud to kneel down and pick her up as she fell.
Only this time, the form changed into that of Tifa, and her eyes opened. She looked up, sobbing. "Why did you abandon me! You left me out there alone, and the Midgarsorms " she collapsed into sobbing.
"I I didn't want to endanger you," he said. "I didn't leave you!"
"Then you stabbed yourself, you should've fought back!" she sobbed again. "You can't leave me-us alone!" Her form shaped back to that of Aeris, and the dream shifted again.
'Oh no!' he gasped. 'Now this, too!'
He saw her form as she hurried up the Nibleheim Mountains.
What was she doing!? Was she crazy!?
Cloud raced forward, his own danger seeming like nothing compared to the danger she was in! He crashed into one of the other kids she had been with!
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Shut up, you moron! She's heading over the mountains to see her mother! Its too scary, so I'm not going!" He raced around Cloud and headed towards the town. Cloud began to hurry, realizing she was nearing the bridge, a place his own mother had warned his best friend Zacks away from at least, that was, before the move.
As he began to catch up with her, he saw Tifa's two other friends fleeing, actually, the male was dragging the protesting female away, but when he mentioned the Zuus, she screamed and began to run of her own will. Cloud began to race upwards as fast as he could. He was gaining on her.
"Tifa!" he screamed as she neared a rickety portion of the bridge. "Tifa!"
She didn't hear him, just continued, sobbing, up the bridge
and slipped on a snapped piece of wood, toppling to the right.
"NOOOO!!!!!" Cloud shrieked, diving forward. He reached for her fingers as she crashed into the rope and fell off the bridge
and missed! He heard her shriek, something that had haunted him until even now, saw her head impact against several sharp rocks, scrape along her body, until she disappeared from sight below, in a rough tumble.
"NOOOOO!!" he wailed, ignoring the searing pain in his knees. He pushed himself to his feet and raced to the nearest section of the mountain, beginning to climb down after her
now he was near Midgar, kneeling by Zack's lifeless body.
"The Shinra how could they you thought it was monsters, you tried to defend me that was cruel!!!!!" He slammed Zack's Buster Sword down on the ground nearby and began to sob again. First his town and his mother, then Tifa, betrayed by one of his best friends, now his only other true friend having perished.
He'd intended to try to find some way to rejoin Shinra, maybe even truly make it into SOLDIER, but the Shinra taking down Zack without any second thoughts destroyed that option. He picked up his friend's blade, clutching the wound Sephiroth had given him with his free arm, and managed to sheathe it. "Zacks, I may not have been fully conscious, but you wanted to become a mercenary. So that's what I'll do. I don't really have anything else left in life."
He forced himself to his feet and began to stagger towards Midgar
'It was a year later that the memory fluctuations began. At one point he'd think he was doing something, then there'd be a flash of light, then he'd wonder how he could have ever thought such a thing, it hadn't been like that.
'Over the next three years they grew worse and worse, and stories he had made up in his head to tell his friends from Nibleheim, if any were still alive, became reality, and it seemed impossibly that he could've been so dumb as to think of them as lies.
'It was five years after the Nibleheim Incident that he was assigned to hijack a train leading to the Sector 7 Slums. He'd been discovered, beaten, and kicked off at the train station. His joy at discovering Tifa was alive had been overwhelming, but he had nothing to give to her, or help her with, then. When he'd been told about the AVALANCHE Job his mercenary emotions had almost completely kicked in, except for when he was around her.'
"And it was the Shinra that started the Sephiroth Project in the first place," he muttered to himself weakly, tossing. "Hojo, Lecrecia, Gast not Jenova. She came from the stars, but from where. And the Black Materia? Cetra, Jenova, Black Materia, White Materia, where did they all come from? Do I really have my own life, or am I just one of many pawns in some sort of cosmic struggle."
Whatever had brought that train of thought faded away, as did his dreams. He sank, once again, into a completely dreamless sleep.
The Path of Spirits that sustains the life of all planets, controls all forces of nature, and protects each and every thing on the world. Spirits from lifeless bodies flow into it, with no way to return, except for on occasions. But, in the unlucky event that a spirit is not able to enter the Lifestream, its spirit must end up elsewhere.
Aeris had ended up with full awareness upon entering the Lifestream, but was not completely a part of it. She was separate of it because of Holy, but now, for some strange reason, she couldn't return to the Planet. When Cetra perished, they not only became part of the Planet, their spirits ended up with life in its fullest sense, living in what the Shinra had called the Promised Land.
She could feel it now, Sephiroth's overload of energies when he had received the Black Materia had cut straight through it. Without, and within, had been where he had been completely destroyed. And whether it was by some strange trick of Fate, or by the disruption of energies combined with the fact that she had activated Holy, she was no longer on the Planet of her birth, no longer within the same planetary system, even. She was somewhere in the reaches of the universe.
'You have arrived, fellow Protector!" came a voice, female, crystalline.
"What?" she asked, tentatively.
'Protector of the Enrasth System, you have arrived at the Place of Destiny.'
"I I don't understand!" she gasped, finding herself floating closer to an ever-shimmering light that seemed to provide warmth, and seemed to speak of ageless sorrow, yet an undertone of hope.
'Much like the others, I see, you have not been given partial knowledge of why you are here. So that partial knowledge must be given to you, Planet-Healer!'
"What are you talking about?" she asked, totally bewildered.
'Holy and Meteor, Light and Darkness, a struggle which has origins lost so far back in time that no one but myself, and a select few others know about.'
"From Person to Person,
From Age to Age,
As Long as Memories Last,
We will never forget.
The sacrifices that have been made."
Aeris flawlessly recited the finished poem that she had learned as a child.
'Partially true,' spoke the being. 'Partially true. But this is so far back in the depths of time even I don't know how it truly started, only a fraction of how it began. It is my duty to form protectors out of the souls of those who have the potential, and the willingness, to keep things ready, or had, until Meteor was destroyed. That was the sign that it may soon culminate.'
The being sighed. 'Child, you must understand that when the universe was young, distinguishing between light and darkness was something few knew how to do. It was one event of cataclysmic proportions that brought about the Meteor, the Absolute Destructive Power. Billions of planets, whole systems have fallen prey to it, nothing had been able to counteract it, until '
' until your people, the Cetra, discovered it on your own Planet. They discovered its powers, they discovered how it had been lost, why, even I do not know, they forged the Holy. Soon after both had safely been hidden, the Jenova crashed, beginning the slow process of exterminating the Cetra. Half the population of the planet was reduced to a few thousand, and because of the Lifestream Poisoning caused by Jenova, because of what it did over the years, the Cetra dwindled down to few. I have lost track, and, although it pains me to say this, you may have been the last of your kind, Planet-Healer.'
Tears came to her eyes, but she forced them back. "Why are you calling me that name?"
'Because that is what you are. Now that Meteor is destroyed, those that created it may try something else, far, far worse. Or, the unbalance could awaken the being itself. One Meteor was enough, the Jenova sent down to retrieve it was enough, but thousands of them, billions of them. This universe, not any one Planet, is what has been at stake here ever since it began.'
'You cannot know that, child. You can know your title, though. You wielded Holy correctly, and as such, may be the most decisive factor in what soon may break loose. Entire Planets could be damaged beyond repair by their Lifestreams, you must protect them, and heal them. The Cetra made Holy's power well, it can be summoned even from all the way across the universe. Such will most likely be your roll with the hosts.'
"Yes, you mentioned there are others! Who are they?"
'Rays of hope for their own worlds, or planetary systems. The hosts are actually few in number, you are the only one who is human, in some sense of the word. The rests are spirits, embodiments of the same spirits that are used in what you call Summon Materia, many in form. Estlak-Heg, Smaneth-Gye, Esco-Lesophlin, Lynneria-Ensta, and Nereo-Resorldisen. Not hosts in numbers, but in form.'
"Are there others, ones you won't tell me about?" she asked.
'If the time comes for you to find out, you will. For now, Planet-Healer, or Esen-Brenia, in the tongue by which the others have been named, you should meet the others.' She felt her spirit being moved again, somehow knowing she might retain control of it, but all thoughts pertaining to that vanished when she was taken into the presence of the others.
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