Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter Seven
...From Age To Age...
By Paul Nathans
It was nearly night when Cloud and Red XIII emerged from the Reactor, Cloud automatically using a Remedy on them both to restore them to normal size.
Cloud gasped, sucking in a sharp breath of air, turning around in all directions, looking at the area around him.
He finally turned back to Red XIII. "What do you think could have done this?" he asked wonderingly.
Nanaki shrugged, a worried expression on his face. "Theoretically, I do not believe the Guardian possessed this power, so the only logical explanation would be that the creature did this."
"Then where are the others?"
"Escaped, I hope," Red XIII answered. "As we must do as well."
"R-Right," Cloud answered, still stunned at the immense amount of destruction around him. The ground had cracked, they were standing on a narrow platform amidst metal, jaggedly interwined into the area, in the center of yet another crater made by destructive forces. Fallen trees, others, still standing up, collapsed huts, parts of the Wasteland, the ground, they had all wound themselves into a Crater the size of the North Crater, except it had no sharp rim.
Bridges of land crossed, skeletal structures were also intertwined. The houses were mostly attached to the southwest section, bridges of them, Climbing Poles attached to other sections of stone and grassy outcroppings. The walls at the bottom jutted outwards, above, a large, strangely-shaped metal building was attached to the center columns, which entwined around other metal pieces, all from the Reactor, reaching to the bottom, where the other pathways seemed to lead. One circled out from above as well, made of interconnecting trees bridging and dividing over the Crater, then leading into the wall, as did the platform one they were standing on now. It also connected to poles. The final was probably a cave, it looked like it.
As for the metal sections and bridges around the area, that was the fourth pathway, coming from the center. Each one split up, the house and cave one, leading into the walls, probably leading to the jutting walls beneath, as did the tree path, which also entered the cave. The metal path led to the bottom, where parts of the wasteland were scattered, and broken trees, entwined around, then entered. Knowing the way the Planet seemed to shape most of its Magically-Created Craters, they probably led to a Lifestream Opening below. Other parts of the Reactor formed paths that led nowhere, parts of the Crater were blocked off.
It wasn't even as deep, more like sheltered downwards below their section, curving out above them, tree sections and Reactor Sections forming a maze out, there being only one safe path. Below them, the Crater went down very far, probably the deepest into the surface any of the three Craters he'd been in, with the exception of the one made by Ultimate Weapon, went.
"So, what do we do?" asked Red XIII.
"I doubt anything will be coming here for a long time," stated Cloud. "So we eat, then we find a way out."
Red XIII, Nanaki, nodded.
Limping, Cid, Barret, and Tifa finally managed to disembark from the Highwind, the Crew staying behind to see if they could repair anything.
"The Tiny Bronco and the Highwind were my prized possessions," Cid said to her as they began to head towards North Corel, the nearest civilization, and their planned destination, having nothing to cross the river with. "The Shinra recognized its potential while looking for ways to avoid spending money on creating a Second Gelnika when the first became so expensive. They added the weapons, the specifications, placed things on it that made it last. Then took it away.
"And just because none of their planes were small enough to launch the surprise attack they figured they could use the Tiny Bronco for, they took that away! I told them they wouldn't take the skies away from me, now they may have done just that! Even if we could find a willing mechanic, the Highwind may never be able to be repaired again." He sighed. "I never got to figure out what the third and fourth switches did to the Highwind, since they're only usable with the Blimp and Special Engines it only has in its Full Form. Now I may never know what the other two Emergency Levers do. Worst of all, she may never soar again."
He took one last glance back at the Highwind, then the two continued northward, towards North Corel.
Kenek strode into the Council Chambers, a determined, yet annoyed, look on his face. One that had only been seen on Rufus, one barely seen, hardly there, but still there. He strode around the table, then took his seat.
"Shreelin, you had better give me a reasonable explanation as to why our Guardian caused such damage to the Gongaga Area," he spoke.
"I don't even know if the thing is alive," was the answer. "The Target got away, was apparently heading for the Upper Atmosphere, on a trajectory that could carry it out of this Planet's Orbit. Being part machine, it could survive. As for the Guardian, I believe it may or may not be functional. I'm excpecting reports soon."
"If it doesn't bother us again, that's good," he answered. "But the Gongaga Incident may be seen as a direct assault on the welfare of the people. We do not hurt people, unless a large group of people need to be taken down, an example being the destruction of Sector 7 to drive AVALANCHE to its knees."
"AVALANCHE was at the sight," answered Shreelin, stiffening, not pleased with the rebuke. "We finally shot them down. They may be alive near the Gold Saucer somewhere, the ship crashed there, I've taken the liberty of sending out a Search Party and placing the Gold Saucer Troops on Full Alert."
"That could work," answered Kenek. "We blame the disaster on AVALANCHE once again." Still, he flashed her a hard look that told her he wouldn't tolerate anymore disasters like that.
Then he clapped his hands, turning to the New Arrival.
"The Replacement for Reeve," he said. "Hojo's Assistant, actually more skilled in Reeve's Arts than his, Brezni Aloom."
The man bowed.
"Are the WEAPONS prepped and ready, and is the Sister Ray on Alert Mode?" Kenek's facial expression indicated if the answer was 'no,' someone might be fired from the Corporation. He was not pleased.
"Affirmative," spoke Palmer.
"Good," said Kenek. "And now, I would like to hear the reports on the Current Status of our Technological Maintenance System. I'd like it on the market soon, as my Predecessors have been demanding for months."
The others began to respond.
Red XIII leapt up to the Tree-Type Walkway, which was curving around to the south. This interconnecting upper layer led to mostly ledges, some to caves. Cloud realized out of the bottom four paths, the one he had thought was a cave path was probably a fossilage path. They were near the south exit, where there were still an abundancy of trees. That meant they would have to climb down the Small Jungle Rim around the Crater.
Below, it was largest, he knew, above, it wasn't, he also knew, but what of the cliff near Gongaga? He could see it standing here. If they got lost, he'd need the memorization of as many features of this Crater as he could get.
"What exactly was that thing?" asked Cloud, breaking the long silence for the first time since they had eaten, having changed direction, seeing a possible way to exit the maze of pillars and collapsed trees and into territory closer to climbing out of the Crater. At least, he thought he could see one.
"The beast?" queried Nanaki.
"Yes," answered Cloud, hopping up onto a horizontal tree trunk forming a bridge between the pillars. "What was it, and what were those strange forms of Magic it used fighting the Guardian?"
"I cannot even begin to speculate upon an answer," was the reply.
Cloud changed the subject back to what he had been meaning to ask during their meal, but had changed to questions about what he thought of the area.
"Do you think the Gongaga Citizens evacuated?"
"I believe so," was the reply to that question. "I only wonder where they are."
"I'm surprised none of the others are searching for us," Cloud put in. "I'm not even thinking about anything besides they're helping the citizens."
Red XIII changed the subject again. "You know, about the creature " he said, pausing to perform a rapid series of jumps, followed by Cloud, wondering if Nanaki's legs ever got sore.
" I believe it has a copy of Jenova Cells."
"They're non-functional, Nanaki." Cloud crossed another group of intertwined sticks, and found themselves on a path curving back towards the Center of the Crater, one that seemed to branch south near the metal section, and up again.
"All one would need is a living copy, and any spirit could manifest itself inside," was the reply. "I've known that for a long time." He paused, then continued. "However, I doubt the creature would let anything pertaining to Jenova in. It seems to be Half-Artificial, composed both of Robotics and Mako, with Criss-Crossed Patterns aligned into what was probably used in the Jenova Project."
"That clashing could've given it the ability to perform High-Level Lifestream Manipulations, and the way of its birth could have been the cause of its craziness," finished Cloud, figuring out where he was headed with his train of thought. Red XIII nodded, he had indeed been going to say that.
"I wonder if it was the energies released if the creature was destroyed that caused this Crater, or its powers," Nanaki muttered.
Cloud hoped it was the former for two reasons. Because he dreaded having to face the beast, and if it was the latter, he dreaded facing something with as much power as the creature would have if it had indeed done this while alive.
He was silent as they continued their way towards what would hopefully be an exit from the Upper Crater, back onto solid ground.
(And thus a new thing has entered into the Card Game.)
(Aisha, won't you ever stop those elaborative speeches? Its the same thing as before. The Evil of the Universe has simply combined with Shinra Technology, as it did when Sephiroth was created. Universal Evil, and the Evil That is Humans.)
(You're still upset about my torturing.)
(No, Aisha, I am not) she lied. (How is construction of our WEAPON going?)
(As well as it can at this moment in time) was the answer. (And as for what you believe is an Old Card, you need to realign your thoughts. It also possesses the Ancient Magic, and its Way of Creation gave it the Neo-Black.)
(It could be useful. Even more so than Jenova.)
(It and our WEAPON, the Infantry and the Cavalry. Interesting.) But deep inside, she could not keep the dread away. It had been so easy, then her sister had tortured someone. She was starting to sense the return of feelings that had never been inside her since that day so long ago. She sighed in her mind. (Let us prepare in the case our guest nears the Whorlex.)
She was asleep on a carpet of grass, the Sunlight filtering through the trees.
There were too many questions. And, as usual, not enough answers.
'Awaken, child,' came the voice on a gentle breeze.
Aeris' eyes fluttered, then they opened. She had caught a glimpse, just a brief glimpse, of a pcturesque, Fairy-Tale-Like Forest Elmyra had showed her as a child, and then the calling had come.
The calling of the Cetra. The same calling that had come to her Ancient Race many times in the past, the ones the largest in her memory were when they had broken the World-Links, and reduced the damage done by the Magical Apocalypse. She had learned so much as she left the Temple of the Ancients.
'Come, child,' came the voice again.
The strange voice. The unfamiliar voice.
Then she screamed.
There was something in the Lifestream, something...
"What is...who is!?"
The huge Juggernaut lurched into view, crackling, roaming around like a crazed beast, snatching at souls, ripping apart things, battling through the Lifestream with incredible forces she had never seen. Blasts of pure energy collided with spirits, and the very Planet seemed to shudder. At the top, two men dressed in familiar garb were struggling with their crazed machine.
Something that did not belong in the Spiritual Portion of the Lifestream, the Spirit Plane, had found its way there. There had only been two other instances, both when...when Cloud...
She wasn't alive, but her emotions were still there.
The Planet was calling her, begging her to do something. The Holy had been thwarted, ripped apart by the being as it left the Planet, enabling it to communicate directly, its confusion, gone. But its tumult had forced something deeper, with the thing's Blood, into the Planet, where it had come out.
"Lifestream Poisoning," she gasped. She knew what had come out of it because of Jenova, Chaos and Creator, Beings representing Destruction and Creation. But all of them had been warped. The knowledge of everything since the Jenova Crash, thrust into her mind in the Temple of the Ancients.
The thing was taking on the Biological Structure of a WEAPON.
No, a WEAPON was coming. The Planet knew of Lifestream Poisoning, would NOT allow it to happpen again. It would not allow all the suffering. If she could just reach Holy, if she could just reach Holy...
...but it was as she had feared.
Using Holy again had started the Reverse Process built into it by the Cetra. Their Magic had to be channeled through the White Materia, not taken from it. The thing had closed down, not even the Planet could open it.
"Is there no end to the Shinra's Evil!?" she gasped, hoping that she could face a Lifeform in the Spirit Plane without damaging the Planet. Hoping she could even do it. She was between a Spirit and a Lifeform, having seen what each had to offer, equally torn between being among kin again, if she was offered the chance, or the opposite. What if Tifa or Cloud found out, if she was offered the chance, and found she hadn't taken it. But she knew she had to be with the Planet.
"Stop!" she cried out, holding out her hands. The Lifestream seemed to understand, and there was a wrenching sound as both were transported into the All Plane, the Plane of Existence between the Spirit Plane and Reality. The place where it was only a battle of the mind, only that could help anything.
Now the being was WEAPON, the one the Planet had hastily constructed. And with it, the answers to some of her questions.
She readied her Princess Guard, assumed a battle stance...
...and it began.
The thing wasn't just WEAPON. It was a crazed being, fully technological, a part of Lifestream Poisoning, and a part of the other beast. It had separated, it was as much of the chaotic mind of the beast as it was the machine.
It lunged, opening blasts.
The mind manipulated the All Plane, the section of the Planet it had hardly ever opened, only in the most drastic circumstances. She was able to conjure up a shield, trasnform it into triangles of energy, all of which slammed into the beast with energies that immediately erupted into circles and collided into the thing.
It responded, artillery and strange limbs that shouldn't be there lashing out. She felt what passed for pain in this Plane, an immense number of it, and began healing. The other thing did the same thing, lashing forward, extensions of its arm swiveling free and unleashing missiles, as its Appendage-Parts blasted out energies at her.
The Shinra Pilots were swearing as they continued to attempt to regain control of their device, failing again.
The thing let loose with an enormous. The shield deflected it, and Aeris held her hand forward, palm-outwards. Magical energies blasted out, slamming into the thing. A horizontal axis of light appeared below her, attempting to electrocute her, and she moved upwards, destroying it.
The WEAPON-WarMech had entered the mind game.
It formed other Vertical Beams and sent them outwards. She shot upwards, unleashing rainbow blasts, wondering what this was doing to the Planet. The thing brought up a shield, blocking the blasts, after which it charged forward, and began lashing at her. She swifty blocked, channeling energies through the Staff.
They brust free in swirling, Backwards-Cone Electricity, smashing into the thing and whirling around, tearing off parts of it. Other sections of the strange energies blasted onto the WarMech, then began swiveling, sending out magical loops to grab her. She burst free again, moving her hands. Ice swirled around her opponent, then centered in on it.
Laser blasts were fired at her, each of which she caused to manipulate. more and more energies seemed to pour out of the beast, into her, causing her to stumble backwards. It lunged forward, and blue-white flames soared along the 'ground' sending her sprawling. She tried to get up, and the thing pinned her.
So she let energies flow out of her, straight into the thing, smashing through the Thing's circuitry, its Biological Hands and Tentacles that extended from its destroyed sections, causing the thing to move backwards, clutching at itself.
The Shinra Gunner swore a single, sharp word and punched down on a button. He had seemed to momentarily regain control of the machine, as it corresponded with his actions. The parts of the machine carrying the extra appendages were cast off, but they seemed to return. The machine opened fire on them, and they grew from the blasts, slamming into the thing, becoming part of it once more.
Aeris held both palms outwards, and they sent out orbs of golden, whirling light. It connected with the thing, channeling more energy into the Cyborg. She directed its flow, aiming it at its Biological Appendages, and they began to shatter. More blasts were unleashed at her, and the connection broke again. She moved backwards, not sure how much she could take, not knowing what type of being she really was now.
A magical hand grabbed her, holding her, attempting to crush her 'body.'
Then its face did something she thought impossible.
It contorted into a grin.
The Shinra seemed to have had enough. They attempted to hit Eject Levers on the Cyborg, which resulted with a flash of light. Things seemed to streak aay from the machine, when the motions were gone, the two SOLDIERS had vanished. Whether they survived, she didn't know. The thing contorted, its torn apart limbs filling with more circuitry, or flesh.
That answered more of her questions.
The thing's shriek reverberated through the All Plane of the Lifestream, after which it charged at her. She dodged, jumping up, gathering energies in her staff, and ramming forward, blasting through the thing, sending it flipping through the 'air' and coming down with a crash.
It grabbed her and flipped her over its hand, then blasted her with a ball of energy. She dropped to her knees, clasping her hands, palm outwards, realizing that she wasn't able to take much more. Her shields had shattered, she was down, hardly able to move at all.
Faint lights began to glow within the cupped space between her hands. The thing charged, unleashing all its laser blasts, following up with punches and kicks that nearly knocked her unconscious. Floating in the middle of the Rainbow-Colored, Cloud-Like Section of the Lifestream, not too different of the area surrounding the center, within the Core of the Planet, didn't do a thing. She was partially a spirit, yet she could swear that she had just been feeling human, or Cetra, pain.
She raised her hands to the sky, closing her eyes, assuming an expression of peace with everything around her. Exhausted, she let her arms flow apart.
The Rainbow-Colored Dust that came from her hands caused the thing to contort, then rip apart in a silent explosion...
...She felt herself being hurled through a multi-colored whirl of colors, ice drifting down around her, the ground becoming full of snow. Something was after her, pursuing her through this haze.
She found the strength to regain footing, how, she didn't know, and bolted. It was coming, roaring through the exits of the All Plane of the Lifestream back onto the Spirit Plane, the Realities bending. It was like a large, grasping claw, reaching for her. She kept moving forward, forcing her feet to keep on their steps.
The exit was so close...so close...
She threw herself through it, and it clamped shut behind her. She was gasping for breath, watching in astonishment as the thing grew to half the size of the Sapphire Weapon, or, what she had seen of its spirit, then exploded again, just as silently, lights flashing through the "Spirit Plane" what was really the road that held all spirits in the Lifestream together. Just as the All Plane was the sections of the Lifestream that pulsated through the Outer Core of the Planet.
Whatever that thing had been, it had been destroyed. Whether the Shinra had escaped she did not know, it did not matter.
'Thank you,' whispered the voice.
She now knew it came directly from the Planet.
Cloud collapsed out of the rim of the Jungle, outside the Crater, into a mingle of voices and cries, followed by Red XIII.
"You're safe!" Vincent exclaimed.
"It appears so to us, as well," said Red XIII. Nevertheless, he couldn't conceal the grin on his face. Cloud grinned as well. "That's the third Ledge-Maze Crater I've been in! This was almost as bad as the Underwater Crater!"
"It had mazes?" asked Red XIII.
"One of coral, one in a Seaweed Forest, one of Reddish Sea-Trees, and one of Shells, all leading into caves that jutted out into areas that entered the Lifestream," answered Cloud. "Counting the rocky escape pathway that Tifa and I took, it has five traveling areas up to a main point, then it leads out."
"We got the citizens to safety," answered Cait Sith. "Tifa and Cid stayed behind on the Highwind to deal with the Shinra, and picked up Barret. I got a PHS a while ago explaining the Highwind had crashed, they'd just repaired the PHS, they'll probably be in North Corel in two days, five days away for us."
Nanaki groaned. "How do we cross the river?"
"Dunno," answered Cait Sith. "Reeve's staying behind in that makeshift shelter in the thicket south of here to tend to the townsfolk. Priscilla's Condition leapt up, she should be awake soon, but he's going to make sure the villagers are settled in."
"What created this Crater?" asked Cloud.
"Some crazy Shinra Beast, hurtling like a Meteorite outta' the Reactor," was the answer. "The thing tore through the flying WEAPON that was also attacking like paper! That was kinda' cool!"
"We came to look for you," said Yuffie.
"Oh," Nanaki answered.
"So what do we do?" asked Cloud.
"Set up a Tent, I guess," answered Vincent. "I'll call up the others, then we'll set out and meet them in North Corel."
"How do we cross the river?" asked Nanaki.
"We'll come up with something," answered Yuffie. "I hope!"
The two day travel to North Corel was another danger-fraught path. The trio had dealt with all types of dangerous creatures on the Planet, the attack patterns of these ones were predictable, they weren't much of a threat.
Idle gossip helped keep the trip interesting. Barret kept pressurizing Cid for specifics on how rockets worked, thinking he could fire rockets out of his Gun-Arm, maybe making it into a new Limit Break Technique. Cid told him, but kept having to tell him that no part of it would work for a Limit Break.
Finally, he had given up explaining and turned to Tifa, asking her what she thought of Rockets. She had told him that she didn't really care about them, although the view of the Planet from Outer Space had been breathtaking. Then Barret had started complaining about his feet again, leaving Tifa to reprimand him like he was a child yet another time.
Cid had finally shut both of them up and they'd continued the rest of the trip in silence. They neared North Corel and Tifa decided they should set up camp near the town, not wanting to enter that town right now, having seen enough of the Gold Saucer during the two days Cloud had spent there trying to pick up the few types of Materia he knew they were selling there, thinking it would aid them.
So they had done so.
And discussions taken a turn towards how long they were going to wait for their companions, why they weren't just entering North Corel and trying to get help. Tifa had explained that they might miss the others if they were traveling along the wrong side of the valley. Then, to further complicate matters, a traveling merchant had stumbled upon their abode and asked them if they were willing to buy from him.
The Merchant had left having lost half his stock of Turbo Ethers, Elixirs, Megalixirs, and Ethers after Barret had gotten tired of him pestering them and told him to beat it from the area or he'd beat him up. The Merchant had decided he was being cheated, and after a rather long argument, Barret had slammed him in the face with a sack of Gil, had received some worthwhile items, and had politely told him where he could put the rest of them.
The Merchant had finally taken the hint and left.
Next, a large crowd of people had been hustled out of North Corel. Barret demanded to see what was going on, and they had complained about how the Gold Saucer had been put on Curfew because of the rush of people coming to see the Virtual Rocket Flight: Based on the Shinra's Piloting its Rocket Into Meteor. Cid had claimed credit, had been laughed at, and had stormed towards the town. Barret had finally dragged him back to the place they were waiting at.
Things quieted down after that.
They were finally forced to enter North Corel for food supplies, but other than that, they were able to stay in the Mountain Cleft, waiting for their friends to show up. Yuffie had called soon after they'd reached North Corel, explaining her brilliance had shown them the way to cross the river. Cait Sith had simply used his Slot Combine with two of their companions, then crossed the river again, and did the same with the two others, before transforming back to normal.
Something seemed to be going right once again.
Yuffie snatched at Vincent's Fire Materia, successfully grabbing it. Cait Sith spun and swatted it from her hand, picking it up and giving it back to Vincent.
"I was just picking it up for him," she said. "It fell off."
"Do you take a Lying Class?" snapped Cait Sith.
She ignored that, and moved to the front of the party, pretending that she was changing formation. Somehow all of Cait Sith's Materia seemed to vanish as she passed him, and he didn't notice it.
At least, not until they were attacked by two Jokers
one of which charged right at Cloud, nailing him with a Club. His Magic Counter glowed, and since it was hooked up to Ultima, proceeded to blast both of them into pieces
and Cait Sith found himself unable to cast a Cure 3, healing his wound, after the battle.
"What the-" he swore under his breath. "YUFFIE!!!!!"
"I think I see something just over that hill! I'm going to check it out!" She hastily backed away and turned to bolt. Instead, she found herself hanging upside-down, her pockets being shaken, until all of Cait Sith's Materia fell out of her pockets. Then Cloud proceeded to unceremoniously drop her on her head.
"Hey!" she whined. "He started it!"
"Shut up, Yuffie," answered Cloud, giving Cait Sith his Materia back, and shooting her a look that dared her to try that to him or anyone else.
She moved to the back of the line, muttering under her breath.
Red XIII moved backwards until he was striding next to her. "It would be much nicer if you would stop acting like an immature teenager and grow up," he said. "People might be less disinclined to be firm with you if you would do so."
Yuffie bit back a sharp remark, and they continued on.
In the City of the Ancients, something stirred.
Something that had been long-forgotten to the humans.
It stirred, moved, then was lifted from the water by a Shinra ScubaDiver. They had successfully moved past the strange Blowfish at the area, having pinpointed the location of the Materia giving off those strange signals, even though they had taken longer than expected, and now lifted it.
"This is what we were ordered to find!" snapped one of them. "Let's beat it!"
She was living in a dream.
She was in the middle of a large, icy corridor. At one end she was overlooking the North Crater, at the other end, were stairs.
Something seemed to beckon her, and without knowing why, she walked towards it, finding herself on a crystal staircase that seemed to descend into the ground, past glittering stars, past icicles.
'Come,' breathed a voice, its comfort seeping through all of her body. It was so soft, feeling so beautiful. She knew that whatever was down there, it wasn't evil.
She descended the stairs, the feeling of comfort rising until she felt half-asleep. Yet she still continued, the staircase taking on rainbow colors. She stepped onto a ledge at the end, watching a surreal bridge extend away from her.
The voice was at the end of the tunnel. She strode towards it, and suddenly part of her mind was screaming, telling her to turn away, to run as far away as she could. She turned to move, but the breath touched her again, and this time she felt as though she were floating in the middle of such intense rainbow mists. Her body didn't listen to her mind, and began to race towards its source.
There was something at the end, and she was almost completely asleep by the time she reached it, so drowsy, lost in comfort. Her mind screamed at her again, screaming, screaming
and she took the final step forward.
She was drowning in this comfort, now.
Her eyes slipped towards those last inches shut, and her body hurled itself at the exact center of the room, knowing that she'd never have to be alone again if she touched it
She wasn't alone.
She hit the mist's source, and her body, her eyes, felt like they were made of lead. But there was nothing
she forced them open, and began to run.
Something screamed as she exited the cavern, and she felt chills go up her back at the intense evil she had nearly entered. It was something something she could almost remember, but couldn't grasp.
She woke up.
"What?" gasped Cloud.
They were miles away from their planned destination, they'd get there tomorrow.
'Hi, again,' said the voice.
He saw his younger self standing in front of him again.
"What is it, this time?" he asked.
'I need you to think about something. Sephiroth Clones weren't created from his DNA. They were created from people injected with Jenova Cells, like you were.'
"So?" This didn't seem to have any relevence to the current happenings. "Zack helped me escape? What does that have to do with anything?"
'You weren't a Failure. You got the same amount of Jenova Cells as all the others. You were, actually, a Clone of Sephiroth.'
"Looking at it that way, obviously," answered Cloud.
'So how were you able to prevent him from completely manipulating you? How'd you manage to separate during the merging?'
"Because I could still think clearly. I didn't lose all my thoughts."
'Why didn't you?'
"Because I knew there was something wrong! He injected someone who knew much more about Sephiroth than those other Clones!"
'Correct.' His younger self shimmered. 'Things that seem strange, or mysterious, in ways, often are. Rejoin your friends, but beware. The Lifestream Poisoning was cast away. Without Holy, and without it in the Lifestream, what would it do to humans?'
"Something can't do nothing without a form." There was something dreadfully wrong about this talk, but he couldn't place his hand on it.
'It would take shape, or strive to, but flow, as a mist, attempting to destroy as well as it can. Once someone enters it, the victim never wakes up.'
That was what was wrong. "How do you know this?"
'You found out about this during the time your mind started fluxing, when you were a Mercenary. You read the speculation, you stole from a Shinra Historian, you read its histories, curious. And with a certain type of Cells, you could sense things on that power level. Your Jenova Cells don't function, but they can sense. This is just your subconscious relaying information in a way you're used to when Jenova Cells are involved. Something your mind set up long ago.'
Then he woke up.
Cloud shouted a hail from a ledge across from the cave, having seen a signal.
"Move it, Barret!" snapped Cid. "They've finally made it?"
The group met halfway, and after much back-slapping and greetings, which Yuffie edged her way out of, holding Cid's Experience Plus Materia, which he grabbed back from her and slapped her on the hand with, was instantly in the usual tangle of questions.
"Did you see what happened to Gongaga?"
"What WEAPON showed up?"
"What happened down in the Crater, man!?"
"Are you injured?"
Cid clapped his hands together, and the outbreak of questions ceased.
"One at a time, people! Can't there ever be such a thing as a quiet reunion of friends if its not during some sort of crisis!?"
"Yeah," said Red XIII. "We'll sort this out inside. Let's go."
"That's Yuffie, for sure!" concluded Cid, cracking up.
She shot him a venomous glance, then remained silent, crossing her arms.
"Freakin' Shinra!" swore Barret. "As if their Makoro Reactors and Sephiroth wasn't enough, now this creature was accidentally created because of a malfunction in how it was made!!!!!"
He raced to the door and began spraying bullets out over the valley.
Neither Cloud nor Tifa mentioned the strange dreams they'd received the past night. Red XIII, however, had plenty of speculations to lay out about the creature and the Guardian's fate, eventually prompting Cloud to speak.
"The thing unleashed Lifestream Poison."
Vincent's eyebrows rose. "How do you know that?"
"The same way I knew Aeris was in the Forgotten Capital that night," he said. "It was in some sort of book I'd stolen on one of my Mercenary Missions. It was supposed to be worth a fortune if sold, a fortune my employer wanted, but I was curious, I read the book. It speculated things about that, it was supposed to be a lost copy of Volume 87 of The Study of Planet Life in Cosmo Canyon. It said certain Cell Levels could sense those things. My mind pieced it together last night."
Red XIII sucked in a sharp breath.
"Lifestream Poisoning " he said. "In theory, its been the source of all the troubles this Planet has dealt with over the past Two Millenia, or around that time. If the Lifestream is indeed poisoned again."
"No," answered Cloud. "Its on the surface."
"That's not possible," Nanaki repeated. "I studied enough before I went to Midgar to know that. The Lifestream is composed of Six Parts. The Path of Spirits, the Lifestream's Namesake, which flows through all of the inner sections of the Planet, sometimes referred to as the Spirit Plane. If it gushes up into the Crust, which it does at certain points, we know, then it becomes Mako Energies. The All Plane, the special section of the Lifestream flowing throughout the Outer Core of this Planet, and its Central Part, the Core of the Planet, where we faced Sephiroth."
"That's four parts," put in Yuffie.
Nanaki ignored her. "The other two parts are not very subtle. It is believed, that at three times in history, at least, between the Beginning of the Lifestream Poisoning and now, that there were other cataclysmic events not clearly known. One of them was manipulated by the Base Course. It can separate our Planet, in a way, effectively trapping something that is Nothingness, or hold it together in the case something weaker than Meteor but strong enough to tear the Planet crashes into it. The Planet will not be seriously wounded, because of the Base Course. It flows on the fringes of the Path of Spirits."
"That's only one more part," said Yuffie.
Once again, Nanaki ignored her. "And there is, or, at least, used to be, a sixth form of the Lifestream, on the fringes of the All Plane. It was called the Magic Course. It is what the Theories of Magic are based on. Supposedly, in the most recent cataclysmic event before our time, Magic was destroyed."
"Then how can their still be Materia?" asked Cloud.
"Using Magic by just doing it was never completely ascertained. By the time of the Lunar Crisis, which started the period that our Second Moon was away from the Planet, people had used Reshaped Mako Energy, and early form of Materia, in such a way that it had inbred itself into a succession of people. Then came the War of the Magi, and Reshaped Mako Eenrgy came into practice. After something known only as the Pureland War, all practices of such were dropped, as all people saw that even that type of Magic could be destructive."
"You never told us this in Cosmo Canyon," pointed out Tifa.
"I was elsewhere, if you recall, when Bugenhagen gave his demonstration," was Nanaki's answer. "Afterwards, I never believed an explanation necessary, since it wouldn't have answered anything, would only have mentioned something related to the Path of Spirits. However, I did need to explain this. It shows that the Lifestream is Protective. It can't let something like that out."
"I used to be a Turk, and a Top Shinra Scientist," put in Vincent. "I can offer an explanation for how Cloud could be correct."
By now, Barret, who had ceased shooting bullets as soon as he'd heard the topic shift more directly to the Lifestream, stepped inside and took a seat. Even Yuffie was sitting on the ground in the cave, clearly interested.
"What is it?" asked Red XIII, moving his tail into another position.
"If something is given a source of energy, like a Star's Core, it maintains that," he said. "Then it searches for other ways out. That's how Lucrecia was able to understand how the Jenova Cells may have been able to heal Jenova, even though it was only her Illusions they brought forth, in a way I don't understand."
"Continue," was Red XIII's answer.
"Let's assume this thing injected something into the Lifestream that poisoned it. It wasn't coming directly from something, so would have to search for something near it to inject itself into. That would have to be the so-called 'Guardian.'"
He paused, taking a breath, then continued.
"If the Guardian was destroyed, presumably because it couldn't take the energies given to it, then it would unleash the poison," the Ex-Turk explained. "And what happens when something doesn't pertain to something else, yet has a sample of life in it, enough to give it a will of its own?"
"It's cast off," answered Cloud. "The SOLDIER Trainee Class had to study that Unit as one of our Science Exams."
"And that would bring the poisoning onto the Planet," answered Vincent.
"I see." Nanaki's answer was in a slightly disbelieving tone, but in one that said he'd accept that explanation unless another was found.
"Does that mean we just have to wait for the Poison to evaporate?" That was Barret's first question in a while.
"I don't know," answered Cloud. "These memories just came back to me last night. All I know is that the stolen book also said that something like Lifestream Poison strives to create life, entering it means eternal sleep."
"Oh-boy," exhaled Yuffie. "And I suppose you're saying we have to go after the thing, whatever it is!!!!!?????"
"Right," Barret put in. "Darn Makoro Reactors!!!!!" he swore, swinging his fists. "I thought all that's left is to nail Shinra again, this time hard enough to make it stick! Now we've gotta' track down somethin' that might exist first! That's one more thing they're gonna' hafta' pay for!" He paused, then concluded his statement. "Now let's move."
Cloud hung his head. "Its not my responsibility. This isn't connected to Shinra or Meteor. Count me out."
"WHA-AT!!!!!" shouted the former AVALANCHE Leader, standing up, swinging his Right Fist. Yuffie, who happened to be sitting near him in a position Biggs had been the day in AVALANCHE when Cloud had argued with Barret about his opinions on AVALANCHE, was flung backwards as the Gun-Arm connected with her, flipping backwards and smashing to the wall, then crumpling onto the ground, headfirst.
'Oh no,' breathed Tifa. Not again.
"I actually though you'd learned something!"
Cloud brushed himself off. "If it means going after the beast, fine. Its associated with Shinra. But I'm NOT, repeat NOT going after Lifestream Poisoning. It may have come from the beast, but its two-linked. Its not directly connected to Shinra, especially since its a phenomenon that's happened before, if the stories are true."
"URRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!" roared Barret. "You's still the same as before!"
Cloud clenched his hands. "I think you need to get the picture!" he snapped. "If its connected to the Shinra, I'll do it! If its connected to Sephiroth, I'll do it! I'll even go as far as to say I'll help if its connected to Sephiroth through Meteor or Jenova! But this! Its out of the picture!"
He stormed out of the cave, and assumed a posture of leaning against the ledge, his mind drifting back to how his last argument with Barret had ended.
"Not this time, Hot-Shot!" snapped Barret, yanking him back into the cave and spinning him to face him directly. "You're not walking out this time!"
"Oh yeah," said Cloud. "Watch me." He tore himself free and strode towards the door, only to be yanked around again.
"You know why I created AVALANCHE?"
"Yeah, to get revenge on the Shinra," he answered.
Barret roared again, blasting another rain of bullets out of his gun, this time out the door. "No, Hot-Shot Know-It-All! Because it was the RIGHT THING TO DO!!!!! Doing nothing was the WRONG THING TO DO!!!!!"
Cloud rolled his eyes. "I set my own Guidelines," he said.
"WILL YOU GET IT THROUGH YOUR HEAD!!!!!" Barret roared. "YOU THE DARNED HECK *CARES* IF THERE'S A PERSONAL REASON INVOLVED!!!!! DOING THE RIGHT THING IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!!!!! IF ITS IN YOUR POWER TO HELP OTHERS, THAT'S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!!!!! THAT'S THE REASON TO GET INVOLVED!!!!! TO BE HELPFUL!!!!! WE'RE FIGHTING FOR PEOPLES' *LIVES* HERE, DARN IT! THERE AIN'T GOTTA' HAFTA' BE A PERSON REASON INVOLVED!!!!! GOT THAT STRAIGHT!!!!!?????"
Cloud tore free again.
"Keep your rules and guidelines to yourself!" he snapped, before marching out of the cavern once again. This time he slapped backwards, nailing Barret's hand as the AVALANCHE Leader reached for him. Free to go, he strode out the door and headed down the grassy pathway.
Tifa's voice stopped him in his tracks, again.
"Cloud?" she called, running up to him. "Hadn't we settled this a long time ago!? You'd stay anyway, because of the promise, remember!?"
"I fulfilled the promise," he said.
"So that's that!" she said. "No, Cloud, it isn't! You save my life once, then just leave me alone! We're friends, Cloud! Friends don't abandon each other!"
"Why is it that you never seem to be wrong when it comes to matters like this!?" He laughed, then briefly embraced her.
"Thanks," he said, heading up the hill.
He walked up to Barret, nodding. "As usual, Tifa had a point. I'm back in."
Barret smiled briefly, as if he thought that would be the case.
"Now, where exactly do we start looking for this 'Thing?'"
He hadn't quite understood when Barret ordered they march into North Corel, saying they could probably find supplies for fixing the Airship there. He'd been more surprised at Barret telling them to stick together, explaining that strength in numbers probably would be best at this point.
Now he realized they were headed for the Gold Saucer, obviously to try to get help out of Dio again. The trolley once again carried them over the desert, and the driver noted with surprise that it was them again, the fourth time in a year. That was rare for the adventuring type.
The trolley navigated through the various Umbrella-Shaped domes of Gold Saucer, making sure to watch out in case the Round Square Trolley was anywhere near. It probably wouldn't be, though. It looped through, beside, and directly above three out of the seven Attraction Theaters, navigating between the other four, arcing above Dio's Statue, above Gold Gate and Event Square, before finally arcing over and in front of Gold Gate and moving back by Ghost Square to its Entrance/Exit. The Tram-Trolley didn't.
In a few short minutes they had pulled into the Gold Saucer, and the Tram pulled out. It would be back at lunch hours.
"Dio's probably watching the Goings-On at the Battle Square," spoke Cait Sith. "I'll make sure the Shinra aren't poking around here! I have a very bad feeling about this place, for some reason."
The others nodded, and he hopped towards the Wonder Square, where people were providing tickets to the long line of people waiting to go see its four new attractions. Spinning Holographic Blasters, the Great Rocket-to-Meteor Journey, Lost in Virtual Reality, and Reach for the Stars. Seeing a member of the Gold Saucer Maintenance, they hurriedly moved out of the way, letting him enter.
"Let's go to Dio's," ordered Barret. The rest of the group followed.
They stood in front of the Gold Saucer Manager, explaining the situation to him.
"Interesting," he said, looking at Cloud, and sighing. "I guess this means that you'll have to perform for me, boy."
Cloud clenched his hands at being called that again, but didn't respond.
"So, boy, what'll it be! Racing Teioh one-on-one through the Chocobo Race, or nothing else?" He paused as Cloud clenched his fists again. "Well, boy."
"None of my Chocobos are here," he said.
"Well then, boy, I guess you'll just have to use ours. You would've anyway, boy. Joe complained, so I offered him a chance at the Battle Arena. He can keep Teioh for the Maze-Race, since he won. That was the deal."
Cloud pursed his lips. "Fine," he said. "Place me on a Chocobo, and I'll do it."
"Remember," the Referee barked. "You'll know if someone else wins if the maze disappears and you find yourself on the track. No going outside of the maze is allowed, anyone who does that will be disqualified."
Cloud and Joe nodded.
"Okay!" she said. "Go!"
Cloud kicked the Chocobo.
It responded by warking, then charging forward. Joe was already ahead of him, racing into the maze. He followed, picking left, and went that way, finding himself in a cul-de-sac with no way out.
Of course, the track was the only real thing, the rest was Virtual Reality. On a hunch, he spun his Chocobo and raced towards the route where Joe was, only to find another cul-de-sac.
"Fake walls," he muttered, picking any direction and kicking his Chocobo in the flanks again. It raced one direction, crashed into the walls, and warked several times in annoyance before searching for a way out.
He sniffed the air, and finally turned the Chocobo in the opposite direction, pointing the thing ahead. Sure enough, he raced right through the wall
and found himself on a slide out in the main section of the racing, shooting downwards towards a large group of fans that were blowing upwards. Joe's Chocobo was struggling to keep on its feet to get room for a dash out of the way of the wind, while Joe was attempting to stay in the saddle. Cloud attempted to pull the Chocobo back, but didn't succeed. His crashed into Joe's, flipped over in mid-air, and was deposited in mid-air below the wind, which was blowing straight upwards.
The Chocobo shot up with it, in mid-air, and Cloud placed himself firmly in the beast's saddle as it was swept upwards. He kicked the thing, noticing a pipe jutting out, and it hurled itself into it. Joe swore, turned Teioh around, and rode right into the wind. It was somewhat of a race again, until the next turn.
Cloud made another wrong-turn, and the walls slammed shut all around him. The whole thing dropped, seem to slide down a slide, then opened, catapulting him over into another section of the maze, one that ended in a cul-de-sac where he could detect no breeze at all.
He spun, turning the Chocobo in the other direction, and raced out onto the slide, noticing another slide. He skidded his Chocobo, Realze, his name had been, onto the tube, noticing Joe timing his Chocobo for a leap from fan to fan above him. His Chocobo bounced off a spring and ended up in front of another tube
before he could guide his Chocobo into it, the wind behind them picked up, blowing the Chocobo forward. They entered more virtual reality, and Cloud guided the beast through random turns, which ended with them passing through a fake wall of Razor-Sharp Spikes, unceremoniously depositing them in the center of a group of springs. Teioh, carrying Joe, raced out below him. He moved Realze onto a spring, and leapt down in front of him, then moved the Chocobo forward again.
Joe sped up Teioh, cruising past him, and skidded over onto another group of fans in midair, which blew Teioh upwards. This time, Cloud decided to take a different course, and moved up and around a circular area, making turns wherever he could smell faint breezes. He burst out on a slide that took both himself and Joe down towards the Finish Line.
He kicked the Chocobo to its limits, landed on the ground
and Joe crossed the line seconds before him.
"I'm sorry, boy," said Dio. "An agreement's an agreement! You lost, so the Gold Saucer won't provide its help!"
"You don't seem to get the point, Shinra!" shouted Barret. "Right now something's worked its way onto the surface, something that could cause as much trouble as Jenova has, because of YOUR Reactors! You Shinra pay up, you caused the problem, fix it!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but "
Cait Sith chose that moment to burst into the room, and held up his hands for Barret to be quiet. The AVALANCHE Leader took the hint and shut his mouth, and Cait Sith walked over to Dio.
"With your permission, we'd like to stay at the Ghost Square Inn," he said. Barret opened his mouth to object, and Cait Sith whispered something to him. He nodded and removed himself from the showroom, the rest of the group, perplexed, following him.
Cait Sith waited until they were out of earshot before speaking again.
"It's going to be a bad night," Cait Sith whispered to Dio. "If I were you I'd put on one last Enchantment Night Attraction here." He lowered his voice even more. "And set up whatever garrisons you have here. From what I've found, this place may not be safe! After the Gongaga Disaster, I doubt anything will be."
"What?" Dio was clearly confused.
"Just do it," he said, before spinning and walking out of the room.
"All right, cat," snapped Barret, as they took their seats in the Lobby of the Ghost Square. "What the blazes is goin' on!?"
"Something that it would be safer for none of you to know right now," he responded. "I don't need any sudden actions."
"Tell me!" Barret demanded.
"Cait Sith held up his hands. "I'm not pulling anything." He sighed, then continued. "Look," he said. "I just wanted you out of that room with Dio. You were at the point where you could've called attention to the fact you're the AVALANCHE Leader. We'd be in a heck of trouble if you did that."
Barret groaned. "The heck with that! I'm talkin' to Dio until he-!"
"If you mess up we may not get the Airship fixed at all!" he spoke hurriedly.
Barret calmed down.
"Fine," he said, then spun to face the others. "Y'all get to the rooms we've signed up! They should be the same as before, so you should know where they are! We're up first thing in the mornin'!"
The others silently nodded.
Cloud stood at the window of his room in the Ghost Square.
He had been unable to fall asleep, reminded of how much these circumstances were similar to that night
memories of Aeris came pouring back.
Their first encounter in the Sector 8 Plate, how he had found the soot-covered girl amid the rushing people, and had even then seen the same openness about her only his friends Zack and Tifa had possessed, along with something else, more innocence than he had ever known.
He'd bought one of her flowers, still surprised at how he felt drawn towards her, as had Tifa and Red XIII. Her flowers
tears threatened to return again. He hadn't cried since that night at Nibleheim since his world came crashing down, when Aeris had perished, tears had fallen, but the grief was too overwhelming, any tears fled. When Tifa had nearly perished, when he thought he'd lost his last true friend, under the circumstances, he'd been hurt, hard, but he hadn't really sobbed. He'd tried to force his grief out, that had plunged him into his third visit to the Lifestream. And outside Kalm, a single tear
He could almost hear her knocking at the door. He bowed his head
and the knocking came again, louder this time.
He turned around, wiping his eyes.
"Yes?" he called, trying to figure out what was going on.
Tifa burst in, a grin on her face.
"Cloud!" she cried. "I don't know what's going on, but something special seemed to have been set up! Yuffie woke me up trying to get me to fork over my Gil Point Cards, she said she had been wandering around 'looking' for Materia, when this Special Attraction opened! The others woke up, all except for Barret and Cait Sith are at the attractions!"
"And you decided you wanted me to come with you, right?" he asked, the sadness replaced by an odd sense of deja vu. He couldn't help but grin.
"Are you trying to ask me on a date!?"
Tifa blushed, immediately finding herself at a loss for words.
"Just kidding," he said, grabbing her hand. "Id the others are enjoying ourselves around here, why can't we!" She grinned and they raced out of the room, Cloud still trying to figure out why this set-up seemed a bit too familiar.
"Well, where to?" Cloud asked when they were in the Gold Gate Station.
"I don't know," she said, looking around. The Wonder Square Area was still crowded, and an argument was going on near the Gold Gate Entrance as someone tried to swindle a Gold Ticket out of the Guard there.
She glanced around again. A show was taking place at the Event Square again, she could see another of the Managers taking charge of the line. According to the sign above, the name was "History of the Evil Dragon King, Valvados." Having had more than her share of dealing with dragons, she didn't want to watch any others being dueled. The Chocobo Races had lost their interest thanks to what had happened earlier in the day, and the Battle Square wasn't her opinion of an interesting place. They'd come from the Ghost Square, the Wonder Square was out because of the hustle there, and Speed Square, although pretty, wasn't something she'd care for. A few experiences on it had been enough. The Round Square
"I've never been to the Round Square," she said. "What's that!"
Cloud turned. "Trends take two people on a ride around the Gold Saucer. Its that thing that we see out the window on the Tram occasionally. Its a nice wooden house, it goes up, through, around, and down, viewing specific attractions from certain areas." He fell silent, as if the mention of it had kicked up a sad memory.
"Let's try it!" she said, heading in the direction of the Round Square Elevator. Cloud nodded, seeming to force back the sadness, smiled, and followed.
Neither of them noticed Yuffie burst out of the Wonder Square, clutching a sack full of what at first glance would seem to be large marbles, running from a group of Wonder Square PeaceKeepers.
"Tickets, please," said Tifa, walking up to the lady.
"Its free," she said. "For some reason Dio decided to hold another Enchantment Night tonight. He acted as if something big was going on."
"Enchantment Night?" Tifa asked in reply.
"Yes," answered the Receptionist. "All attractions are free, although PeaceKeepers are more widely spread to prevent cheating and the like." She took a closer look at Cloud. "Aren't you that guy who was "
He hurriedly nodded, not sure of what Tifa's reaction would be if she found out what had happened the only other time he'd been here. "Yeah," he said. He turned to Tifa. "C'mon!" he said. "Let's go!"
She nodded and entered, followed by Cloud, leaving a perplexed Receptionist behind. A black-haired teenager bolted out of the One-Way Wonder Square Chute and into the Station Chute, followed by a group of PeaceKeepers. As the Receptionist set the Tram moving, she couldn't help but ask, "What's going on?"
"Materia Thief!" shouted one of the PeaceKeepers.
Fortunately for their prey, Cloud and Tifa were out of earshot as the Tram moved out of the Round Square.
The Tram moved on a course Cloud would probably never forget. It only took a half-hour, and he fixed himself to looking out the windows.
"Oh my gosh!" came Tifa's excited cry. "Look out the main window!"
He did, and expected to see them come cruising into the area between the Speed Square Shooting Coaster. Sure enough, they did. Up above, faint sounds of Fake-Laser Cannons were heard. It was simple enough for a totally harmless beam of light to shoot out of any turret and connect with a target.
"Incredible, huh?" he asked as the Tram pulled out and headed upwards.
"Yeah," Tifa said, a dreamy look on her face. Then her eyes narrowed.
"When were you here before?" she asked.
"That night when the Shinra stole the Keystone," he said. "I didn't catch Cait Sith sneaking into my room and chase him out, I was never able to sleep."
"And ?" she prompted.
"Aeris came in. She asked me if she wanted to " he trailed off.
She hung her head, a small tear forming, then falling. "I see," she said, looking up. Then she smiled. "At least you got one last special time with her."
Cloud grimaced. "I don't know why she didn't ask you?" he said. "She seemed to be closer to you than anyone else, even me."
Tifa sighed, and they remained silent, watching as they passed by the Chocobo Arena. There weren't any races, there was another Maze Race. One of the Chocobo Racers was running through a flower field, in the process of jumping over a Crystal Spike. It opened and a fan activated, sending his Chocobo, and him, up, shrieking in surprise. His adversary, who happened to be behind him, whirled and headed in the opposite direction.
Then they were past that area, too, heading to the top of the Gold Saucer.
Tifa continued to gaze out at the stars a while longer, then turned to him.
"About Aeris," she said, trying to figure out how to approach this without hurting Cloud. "After that new batch of WEAPONS broke free, when I was unconscious, something just 'entered' the Lifestream."
She shuddered with the memory. "It " and she wasn't able to go any further. Just thinking about it almost brought the pain back to her. She winced. " Never mind," she said quickly.
Cloud looked confused now. "I don't understand what you're talking about."
"If I'm able to talk about it sometime later, I will," she answered. "Please understand that."
Cloud nodded. "Okay," he said.
"Thanks," said Tifa, smiling again, and trying to urn to the window. But what held her pose was Cloud's relaxed smile, as if he had just put something behind him. That was the way it seemed to be with him. If one of his friends had some sort of similar topic on their mind, an understanding would pass between them, and it would vanish.
Deciding this was the best time for it, she approached a topic she had been dreading. "When we've finished off the Shinra, or reasoned with them, if that's possible, or whatever, what are you going to do?"
He was silent for a minute before answering.
"I don't want to talk about that, either," he said.
Tifa nodded, brushing back another tear. "Fine," she said quietly. She paused, stammering with what to say, then spoke again. "Just try not to forget you'll always have a place with us."
He nodded again. "I know," he said, drawn into the topic without really noticing it. "But there's really nowhere for me to go. Nibleheim, though rebuilt, just wouldn't be the same to me. I'll just wander like I usually am, alone, until I find something to do."
"You don't have to be alone," she said, shaking her head. "You'll never stop being my friend, Cloud. I " She still couldn't finish.
"What?" said Cloud.
"Cloud, I well " She broke off again.
And knew she could say it this time. "Cloud, I-" she began.
She was cut off as a cacophony of voices erupted, along with a rumbling sound. A large explosion seemed to come from the desert surface just south of the Gold Saucer, followed by a shriek-roar that was now unmistakable to her.
Something leapt up, taller than the Gold Saucer, and descended onto the sand, quakes ripping through the area. It let out another shriek-roar, slashed with its hands, hurling large crescent beams, then began to move forward.
It was the Onyx Weapon.
All around the Gold Saucer the alarm was raised.
"WEAPON ALERT!!!!!" blared the speakers. Barret, who had been blowing off steam in the Battle Arena, feeling ready for the Special Battle, had just been about to ask if he could enter.
"Darn it!" he swore, bolting from the room as the people around began to panic. A family consisting of a married couple and two infants immediately gathered up the children and raced from the room as the panic began.
Yuffie, who was leading her pursuers in circle around the Chocobo Square heard the alarm and halted, still annoyed at being pursued. Cid had been playing the rocket game, all four games offered 4 Materia Each, that dumb one with the Virtual Reality Plane offering only three types of Materia she hadn't seen before, along with a Sneak Attack.
Anyone who could beat all new attractions the first time around was to be given a Magic Counter. Each one consisted of portions where she could find a Virtual Reality Materia, or win it, if so, the machine would throw one one her plate. On the way out she had collided with a clumsy oaf, spilling both their Materia, she had won all four games, but not on the first try, and the other, who had, dropped his Materia. Somehow they had all ended up in her Materia Sack, and when she realized they had, she bolted.
Right now, she swore, flung the stolen Materia at her pursuers, who had stopped, making a formation. Most people seemed to be heading for the Chocobo Square, at least, the civilians nearby. She guessed those nearest to it would evacuate through the Jockey Room Elevator and take Buggies out of Corel Prison. The ones nearest the tram would take that.
She headed towards the Station, guessing her companions would be there.
Cid, after sending a group of rather polite adults, who had been letting their children play Wonder Catcher nearby, scurrying away, by launching into a very long string of swear words, had bolted towards the Station Chute Elevator.
Cait Sith, poking around in the Private Council House in the outer section of Gold Gate Station, headed for the inner section, quite annoyed that another one of those big, lumbering oafs had chosen this moment to appear.
Red XIII and Vincent, watching the play in Event Square, a sorrowful tale relating how a dangerous creature who knew the names of all, who knew where things were at every second, a creature of wisdom itself, one of piece, had slowly but surely been changed into an evil beast by false seeds that were planted in its mind. Valvados eventually isolated himself on a craggy mountain near a prosperous kingdom, on an area where he could not see joy, for any of its type now sickened him, while misery contented him. Hatred was what it thrived upon, anything that was not hatred was what the monster hated. And because it couldn't keep happiness and things like that away from it, it began to ransack villages, castles, forests, plains, the whole Planet, unrelentless, hating joy, with each loss, especially if it was from something nice that he couldn't stand, the monstrosity would grow more furious with the world, and stronger, until one day...
...naturally the play was interrupted at that moment, and the two calm and serious beings deduced where they'd probably be wanted, and headed that way.
They met up in the Station, checking to see if all were accounted for.
"Cloud and Tifa are gone!?" exclaimed Red XIII.
"No, really," answered Yuffie. "Why is it either those two or Barret seem to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time!"
"You say sumthin'!" snapped Barret.
Yuffie shut her mouth, after getting slammed against a wall by him, she didn't want to see what would happen if he did it purposefully to her, or feel it, for that matter.
On the outside sections of the Gold Saucer, Shinra Soldiers rushed around, positioning themselves and immediately opening fire. Dio took control of the situation and ordered their WarMechs forward, along with a large portion of the wide stock of dangerous creatures they kept penned up.
They began to be lowered to the surface. The round Square Trendy Owner swore, realizing that those in the Tram were most likely doomed, it wouldn't pull in for a while, then proceeded to bolt.
The WarMechs lifted off, sailing towards the enormous monster, opening fire. It had been facing in the direction of North Corel, headed that way, throwing crescent beams from its hands to knock the Shinra AirForce out of the skies. They were refuling their weapons with Mako Energies, something Shreelin had suggested to them, a new way of recharging their weapons that they had been assigned to do, since this mission might require High-Powered Weaponry as their attacking equipment. Sharp withdrawals of Mako Energy in such ways, not large withdrawals hooked up to cables, was enough to alert a WEAPON. The Shinra were already behind schedule because of how long it had taken them to set up the Drainage System in the Reactor, it was portable, but they'd never guess it could take this long.
Now a portion of the AirForce was sent to deal with the threat, and the WEAPON, feeling the blasts aimed at it from the Gold Saucer, turned a shriek-roared yet another time.
Turrets unfolded, its Chest-Plates opened, and it strode towards the large Theme Park, blasting in front of it, incinerating Shinra Attack Squads, penetrating through sections of the huge structure, destroying other portions of it. The panicking people managed to take their place at Safe Areas, some being ushered into the Tram. Barret and the group with him were about to be 'escorted' to it when Cait Sith flashed his card at the Manager, and he left them alone.
Crescent beams were blasted at various arcing angles, several still aimed at the Corel Valley. One cut clear through a line holding the Round Square Tram, and it snapped loose, sending it careening downwards. Cloud grabbed onto Tifa, kicked open the top, and threw himself onto the Statue of Dio, which they had happened to be passing over. Other blasts hit the Support Poles, and all the wires in that section crashed downwards.
Cloud drew his sword, immediately activating an Ultima while Tifa cast Shield on them. The WEAPON sensed the energies and its orb began to suck inwards, all the magics entering it, huge chunks of the desert flying up into the orb to be ground to dust. The Gold Saucer actually began to lurch, and Tifa and Cloud found themselves fighting against the strongest intake of wind they knew. Below them, portions of the Gold Saucer were ripped off, and the Tram, in the middle of falling, suddenly began to fly upwards and backwars. The thousands of people gathering by the Ropeway Tram below found incredible forces attempting to drag them backwards.
"Something firm, Cloud!" she shrieked. "One moving object flies into us it'll knock us off our feet and we'll be finished!"
"Right!" He drew his UItima Weapon, a blade of pure energies, and plunged it into the statue. "This is part of the main structure of the Gold Saucer, while it may sway, its gonna' take a lot more than those winds to bring it off! Grab onto me!"
She did, and he relaxed his tired legs, letting them get flipped up beneath him, holding onto the hilt of the sword, firmly attached to the indestructible energies, indestructible unless they fluxated, that fashioned the Ultima Weapon into a blade. Tifa was holding onto him for dear life.
Down below, strong cables were being wrapped around the area, as the people had to hurriedly dodge flying shrapnel. More sections of the Gold Saucer came tearing free, while the structure itself shook, while, as Cloud had figured out, it wasn't really going to be torn loose from the desert.
Amidst the wind, the thing began to fire blasts. Tifa twisted herself, activating another Shield. The winds increased in intensity, ripping off that Shield as well.
"It reacts to normal magics, huh?" said Cloud. "Try a DeSpell on it!"
She grinned, and blasted the Juggernaut with one. The thing roared as the winds quieted, and sections on its shoulders, torso, and midsection began to flow apart, while its whirling Crescent Beams seemed to flow into its Orbs.
As the wind settled Coud crashed to the ground in a tangled heap. Tifa stood, casting another Shield, while Cloud was still clutching his sword. She was ready to resume their previous position if the winds picked up again.
"Yo, WEAPON, Incoming!" shouted Barret, casting a Tera Flare. He turned to his companions and grinned. "The blast itself has never needed to be this large! Sure, it didn't harm Ruby, but that thing was resistant to stuff like that! Its protective skin, and its size, made it resistant to the thing! If it was as large as this colossus the flare would have to expand, becoming larger, perhaps doing more damage than all of those Fighters that slice their opponents if someone casts Ultimate End!"
"My turn!" shouted Yuffie. The winds had agitated her, she'd had quite enough of them when the Ocean was being gathered up around the 'Underwater' Crater, thank-you-very-much. "All Creation!"
She swung her Conformer like a shield. Tremendous energies, drawn from the OMNI-Powers she had inherited from her bloodline, were focused into the Shuriken. They pulsated, grew to an incredible size, and because of the size of their opponent, grew even larger, until she could barely hold the Conformer. If the blast actually had weight, her arms would've been snapped off by now.
Finally the blast came free, sailing towards the WEAPON.
The thing's energies were all flowing into its orb, its Torso Cannons and Shoulder Cannons acring blasts down into the Orb, which seemed to disattach from the body, pulsating larger.
It unleashed an almost-Ultrasonic-Roar, then unleashed Energy Blasts that seemed to whirl around the skies, moving beams that pulsated with ten-times the energies of a Aire Tam Storm, portions of the desert being torn up by the energy that thing produced as it neared them. The thing seemed to focus into a drill, with larger energies coming from it, then slammed into the Gold Saucer. Fortunately, the Speed Square and the Event Square had been in its way.
Now, however, they had vanished, reduced to ashes, what was left falling below, the huge Golden Squares, or what was left of them, crashing to the ground.
Seconds later, All Creation and the Tera Flare impacted at the same time, actually, All Creation tearing through the WEAPON first, then disappearing, Tera Flare crashing down seconds later.
The WEAPON, quite literally, went insane.
It released blast after blast from all its cannons, sending Crescent Looping Beams outwards in all directions, roaring and roaring and roaring.
Fortunately the Shinra had radioed Sister Ray Base, and thing had fired.
The threat to it snapped the WEAPON's madness away, and it faced the direction of the incoming blast, striding towards it. The thing focused a shield, letting it expand to form another, then blasted them all at the Mako-Powered Shell, just barely halting it, the two blasts locked there, pressing against each other.
The WEAPON now had a new destination.
To reach the Shell while it was halted and chop it in half, it would take another day or so before the thing could be fired again, and then to move towards the Sister Ray...and destroy it.
The WEAPONS patrolling the area, their minds linked, knew, and settled down again, since they had begun to stir by the huge withdrawal of Lifestream Energies.
The enormous beast was finally out of the way.
And the Shinra had received new orders. Ignore AVALANCHE, and make sure that annoying WEAPON was terminated.
That morning, Dio agreed to send people to work on the Highwind in gratitude for the help they had given him in delaying the WEAPON until the Sister Ray had been fired at the beast.
"One of these days you people are going to have the world depending on you," stated the Gold Saucer Manager when his Repairmen had shooed. "But for now, we'll offer you one of our WarMech's. It can fit up to three people each, and we have three, so, well, this should be convenient for you."
Cloud nodded. "Yeah," he said. "And since we're used to traveling around in groups of threes, this set-up should be fine. When will they be ready."
"An hour or so from now. I'll meet you then." The Gold Saucer Manager strode out of the Desk Office, into the outer section of Gold Gate.
"Let's go make some plans," he suggested.
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