Angel of Love
True Love's Sacrifice Chapter 3

By Spawn of Piccolo

Cosmo Canyon was almost exactly the way Aeris remembered it. It was still hot and dry, and the red dirt still seemed to be everywhere. The Cosmo Candle was still burning brightly as ever. The only real difference was the size. It had grown considerably. Refugees from Midgar caused the population to soar; those who couldn't find a house or room at the inn had to make do with tents at the city's edge.

Up in Red XIII's study, the book proved hard to find. Apparently Bugenhagen hadn't been a big fan of organization, and Red had not yet gone through everything. After an hour of searching Cid found it nestled between a bookcase and a crate of ancient scrolls.

Red flipped through the volume until he was somewhere close to the middle. "Ah," he exclaimed, "here we go. This prophecy tells of Meteor's aftermath. ‘There will be a young man of incredible strength who claims that he is a god. The whole world will believe him and become his followers. Nothing will stop them from carrying out his will.

"‘At first he will seem peaceful, and will gain the people's trust through false kindnesses and miracles. By the time he shows his true nature there will be few who stand against him. He will attempt to gain more power by obtaining the black and white materias. Once he has these he will transform into a monster with four arms and five tentacles. He will wield a sword enhanced by the Lifestream, and he can only be stopped by the three sacrifices of true love.'"

The only sound in the room was that of Aeris taking the book and studying the section that Red XIII had just read aloud. Her brow furrowed in confusion. "What's this?" She pointed to a photograph of a mural that Sephiroth recognized as the one he had seen from the Temple of the Ancients. It was actually less of a drawing than a design, consisting of continuous lines that doubled back on themselves and swirled around each other, strategically located so that they made up the image of the fabled monster.

"It's called the Kendegar. Cetran for life stealer," Red answered. "Obviously it's Zack's true form."

Chewing her lip, Aeris sat down in an empty chair to give the book her undivided attention. Her lips moved slightly as she read, and Sephiroth realized that she was trying to decipher the Cetran hieroglyphs that had been carved at the bottom of the mural. He looked over her shoulder so he could see.

Kill her!

He jerked back in shock, nearly stumbling into Yuffie. The voice had reverberated through his head, ricocheting around like a bullet against steel walls.

Kill the Cetra! Now is the time!

Clutching his head, he staggered out the door, oblivious to the puzzled stares he was receiving. The sun felt good against his chilled skin. Cold sweat formed on his brow.

You can't be doing this–not now, not here, he pleaded with her mentally. You can't control me anymore! I'm free, do you hear me?

You can never be free from me, Jenova informed him. I am a part of you, just as your hands, arms, legs, eyes, hair, face, are a part of you. If you shave your head, the hair will grow back. And I will return as well. You cannot purge yourself of me. She gave a sinister chuckle that didn't fail to send jolts of fear down his back, like a wave of cold darkness.

She continued to speak, ignoring his obvious distress. I will admit that my power has been weakened drastically, but I am still here, and you are not immune to me. In the end I will have my way, just as I always do.

Monster, he snarled into the confines of his head. I can resist, and I will grow stronger. You have no hold over me. But it was like throwing words into a dark, empty room. Jenova had gone, had burrowed deep into one of the obscure nooks and crannies in his mind that he could not access consciously. She had heard him, of course, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that she had.

"Are you all right?" someone asked from behind. Sephiroth whirled around sharply and came face-to-face with Vincent. The gunman's blood-red eyes burned into his own. He was obviously waiting for an answer.

Yet how could Sephiroth tell him the truth? If they knew Jenova still plagued him, they wouldn't dare allow him to continue with them on their quest to stop Zack. But if he refused to answer they would immediately sense that something was wrong.

So, he did the first thing that popped into his head. He lied. "Headache," he muttered, rubbing his temples gingerly with his fingertips. "I'll be fine in a few moments, just give me some space."

Vincent shrugged his consent. "So be it. Nanaki says we are to stay the night if we want to begin searching for Zack. He needs to consult the book some more. The rest of us are free to do as we wish." He turned on his heel, the long red cape billowing in the soft breeze, and climbed down the ladder that led to the center of town.

I didn't even hear any of them leave, Sephiroth noted. I must have been too preoccupied to notice.

And if I have my way, you will no longer have any of them to distract you, my son, Jenova whispered in the back of his mind. You will be mine to mold into the perfect ruler of this planet.

Sephiroth shuddered in anger. Would he never be free of the cursed witch? He started to climb down the ladder, to find somewhere private where he could figure out a way to fight the beast inside of his head.

* * * * *

Flames danced in Vincent's vision as he stared into the Cosmo Candle. It was beginning to get dark. He was alone up here, on this ledge overlooking the town's center, and that was how he liked it. No nosy townspeople asking him questions, or scurrying away when they saw him coming in their direction. Up here no one could stare at his odd, vampiric appearance, or the metal claw that had long ago replaced his left hand.

His mind wandered, as it often did, to Lucrecia. She would have loved this view. He'd overheard her telling a colleague that she had always wanted to visit Cosmo Canyon. Maybe if she were still alive, if they had met under different circumstances, she could have been up here with him . . .

Somebody was up here with him; he could hear gravel crunching lightly under their feet. Obviously they were trying to sneak up on him, and they were failing miserably, too.

He waited until they were right behind him, the swung his metal arm backward. It connected with the person's legs with a dull thud, and a muffled curse coming from between clenched teeth. Vincent turned around. Yuffie was bent over, rubbing her shins gingerly. She glared at him. "What in the name of Leviathan was that for?!" she hissed.

"I'm sorry," Vincent replied. His face showed no remorse, so Yuffie wasn't quite sure if he meant it.

She shrugged. It wasn't her problem if he didn't care. "What are you doing up here?" she asked, taking a seat next to him.

The only answer she received was a quick shrug. She sighed. She wasn't quite sure which was more infuriating–the fact that she couldn't get a straight answer from him, or the fact that it was one of the things that attracted her to him.

Yuffie had liked Vincent for quite a while now. Ever since they had learned of his past, she'd felt drawn to him. He was cold and somewhat distant, yes, but if he could love someone as much as he had loved Lucrecia, then it was possible that maybe she could get him to love her. It was a silly idea, of course, but she always enjoyed a good challenge.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was staring at the bonfire in the middle of the city, so she had a good view of his profile. The glow from the fire barely touched his face, so his features were obscured by the darkness. From his silhouette, however, she could make out a prominent jaw line and a handsomely chiseled nose and chin. Stray strands of ebony hair hung down into his eyes, giving him a slightly wild appearance. Yuffie smiled. He was so cute!

"Why are you staring at me?" Vincent asked. Yuffie was bolted from her thoughts. Had she really been that obvious? She hadn't realized that she's been gazing at him openly.

She opened her mouth to throw a scalding retort at him, but she found that she couldn't do it. There was no reason why she shouldn't–after all, just because she liked him didn't mean he could get away with an accusation like that. But here was the perfect opportunity to see if her crush would remain an infatuation, or if it would actually bear fruit. And if Vincent didn't like her, then maybe it would at least get him to stop moping about Lucrecia.

She edged closer to him. "I didn't mean to stare, Vinny, it's just that, well . . . " She peeked up at him through her eyelashes. "I never noticed before how good-looking you are."

Vincent raised an eyebrow. "There's no need to lie, Yuffie."

"I'm not lying! You're a very attractive person–why won't you believe me?"

"It's obvious that you're trying to flatter me. Don't waste your breath. I'm not worth the time."

There was a dull thud as Yuffie punched him on the shoulder. "Fine!" she shouted. "Don't know why I'm wasting my time anyway, liking you. Can't even take a hint, much less accept a compliment!" Gravel scraped against her skin as she pushed herself into a standing position.

"Yuffie--" Vincent stood up at the same time that she did and caught her arm. She tried to pull away, glaring at him as though she would have like to see him torn apart by wild animals. He ignored her attempts to escape and turned her body to that she was facing him, his hands gripping her shoulders. "Listen to me," he said tersely. "I'm going to ask you something very important, and I want you to answer truthfully. Can you do that for me?"

Nodding dumbly, her mouth open slightly in confusion, Yuffie wondered what he could possibly want to know.

"Did you mean that? When you said you liked me?" The claws of his metal arm sank into her shoulder accidentally, making her flinch. He removed it quickly.

Yuffie's mind was racing, along with her heart. "Y-yes," she managed to stammer.

Vincent leaned in, his nose nearly bumping hers. Blood-red eyes gazed into brown ones; he reached out to caress her soft cheek. His hand was cool against her flushed skin. Now their lips were just a hair's breadth apart–

"Oh, how cute!" The unexpected sound from behind made them nearly leap out of their skins. Tifa stepped out of the shadows with a knowing grin plastered on her face. Seemingly unfazed by the stern glare she received from Vincent, and the shocked anger on Yuffie's face, she giggled and placed a hand on her hip. Her gaze rested on Vincent's hand still cradling Yuffie's cheek. He jerked his hand back as if he'd just touched a hot stove.

Either Tifa didn't realize that she was unwanted, or she didn't care. "You two are so cute together!" she squealed, clasping her hands together underneath her chin. Her eyes lit up at the possibilities.

Yuffie shot a look at Vincent and forced a yawn. "Well, I'm beat," she stated. "I'm gonna go to bed. G'night guys." She dashed inside.

Vincent glared at Tifa, who smiled back innocently. After a long pause, he sighed and stalked to the doorway. Just before he slipped inside, he heard Tifa call out to him. "And remember Vincent, separate rooms."

* * * * *

Jenova was extremely pleased with herself. She had once again established her place in Sephiroth's mind and was having a virtual field day reacquainting herself the workings and trappings inside of his pretty silver head. Oh, she knew she was far from having complete and total domination over his every move, as she had for more than five years, but she knew it was only a matter of time before he once again became her plaything, her tool with which she would gain control over this puny world, populated with weak, inferior beings who could all to easily be enslaved. After all, Midgar hadn't been built in a day.

When her body had been destroyed by those infuriating insects led by Strife, Jenova had lain dormant in the recesses of Sephiroth's brain. Forced to become an observer, she had lost all contact with her pawn at his death and was surrounded by an empty blackness where her only reassurance to herself was that she would find some way to regain power. She realized her chance when the darkness began to fade into the familiar viewpoint that she had occupied for so long. She found herself watching the red beast reciting from its precious book. The long-forgotten prophecy came rushing back. This was her chance. Her second chance to take control of what was rightfully hers.

Nestled snugly in her stronghold, Jenova was certain that this time she would prevail. She would be patient, slowly building up her power over Sephiroth, until she could once again control his every move. It didn't matter how long it took. She could wait. She had an eternity to wait.

* * * * *

The tavern was a popular one, frequented mainly by menial laborers getting a well-deserved drink after a long day, and prostitutes looking for a meal ticket, with the occasional well-to-do businessman who'd been kicked out of all the available gentlemen's clubs. Drunken barroom brawls didn't usually occur, but there were exceptions. Tonight had been one of them.

"And stay out!" the bartender shouted as he tossed the drunk out into the street. The intoxicated man landed on his posterior rather forcefully. Grumbling threats and complaints under his breath, he managed to push himself to his feet and feebly shake his fist at the tavern's closed door. He took a tentative step toward the building, but as he had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, he was far too unsteady to manage more than falling back onto his bottom.

Blinding white light illuminated the night. Shielding his eyes, the drunk could make out the outline of a car barreling toward him. He froze like the proverbial deer in headlights, ignoring the blaring car horn.

The driver slammed on his brakes, but he was too late. Tires squealed in protest, bringing a crowd running from the tavern. They watched in horror as the drunk squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the inevitable, while the car came rushing down on him.

Just as solid steel was about to connect with flesh and bone, there was a blinding flash of light, and the onlookers were forced to look away. When they returned their gaze to what they were certain would be complete carnage, they were shocked to see the car stopped, the driver half outside and staring up at the sky in wonder, where the drunk was floating in midair, about six feet off the ground. He glowed with a golden light that trailed away to another glowing figure, a young man with spiky black hair and a massive, unwieldy sword strapped to his back. His left hand was raised, pointing at the man he had just saved. Slowly he lowered his arm, and the man was gently set down onto solid ground. The light disappeared from him, and he turned with an awed look upon his face to meet his savior.

"Who are you?" he asked as the young man walked toward him.

"Zack," replied the young man. "Calm yourself, Kendall Richards. You are safe now."

Kendall's eyes widened in astonishment. "How–how did--"

Zack chuckled. "How did I know your name? The same way I raised you above that car and saved you from certain death." He rested a hand on Kendall's head. "I can do these things because I am God."

His statement caused Kendall to drop to his knees. Reverence shone bright in the man's pale blue eyes. Behind him many in the crowd gathered around them were doing the same. The bartender, a normally rough, harsh atheistic ma, was crying in wonder. Someone began chanting Zack's name. It was picked up by the others, and soon became a mantra.

Zack smiled, reveling in the glory of being an object of worship. These pitiful mortals were easily deceived. Soon he would have the world eating out of his hands, and then he would show this Planet what it really meant to be God.

Author's Note: Hope you like this one! Took me a while to finally get it out, but I'm pretty pleased with it myself. As I've said before, any suggestions, comments, etc., would be appreciated.

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