Part 3- The Meaning Divided by the Shadow
"No!" Cloud stepped between Derin and Daphne. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he shook her. "How's he got you brainwashed?"
Derin laid a hand on Cloud's arm. "I've done nothing to her but help her remember."
"Remember?" Cloud trembled. "She can't remember things she never knew."
Daphne met Cloud's eye. "You are right about that. So what if I do remember things that only Aeris could have known?"
"He put them in your head, then."
"Now how the hell would I do that." Derin shook his head.
"You tell me!"
Red XIII stepped forward. "Cloud. If Daphne says she remembers things about Aeris, maybe you should be open to-"
"I don't remember things about her," Daphne said, "I remember everything. I am her."
The only response she met was eight pairs of doubting eyes.
"Cloud," she said desperately, "I told you my payment for your bodyguard duties would be going out with you once...Tifa, I told you never to call me 'Ms. Aeris,' and Barret, I told you that Marlene was safe. Even though I knew Tseng was going to hit me."
The three of them were stunned, but remained silent.
Red XIII started at the sound of his birth name. (We never told Daphne what my real name was...how...?)
"The reason why I was afraid of you outside of my apartment is I partially remembered how Hojo shut us up in that cell together...he raised you up on an elevator." She glanced around. "Should I continue?"
Cid lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "Say something about me."
"When we were flying the Tiny Bronco and Shinra shot us down, you told us to 'hold on to your drawers and don't piss in 'em.'"
For maybe the first time in his life, Cid Highwind actually looked meek. He looked at the raven-haired girl in awe.
"Yuffie," she said softly, "I was so sorry for you. Sorry that you had to go down to the altar with Cloud that day. I know you cried every night for weeks. I just wanted to give you a big hug and tell you everything was going to be all right."
"You could see that?" Yuffie whispered.
Daphne nodded. "I watched you all. I had to make sure that everything was going to work out after my sacrifice."
Vincent was silent.
"Oh, I forgot to mention you," she said with a toss of her long hair. "I remember you too. How you went back into your coffin like a big grouch after we told you we were hunting Sephiroth."
He looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
"And then only going with us so you could beat on Hojo! Geez...." She smiled. "Not that he didn't deserve it, but I would hope you answered to a higher obligation than revenge."
"I'm here now, aren't I?"
"Yes." Daphne's eyes sparkled. "I'm so proud...of...all of you. Still hard at work, protecting the Planet, even when you've earned a retirement."
"How 'bout you?" asked Barret. "You paid a higher price than all a' us. Yet...you're back... how?"
Derin smiled. "There are many souls who are weary of life. The powers-that-be don't feel too badly in letting them trade their bodies for peace. Then protectors are sent in place of the weary souls. More life insurance for the Planet."
"How do you know all of this?" Cloud glared at him with an almost inhuman amount of viciousness.
"Haven't you guessed?" he asked, amused.
Cloud just narrowed his eyes.
Daphne placed her hand softly on Cloud's shoulder. "That's Zack."
Cloud just turned on his heel and slowly walked away from the group, disappearing in the darkness.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"I suppose the revelation was quite startling," said Derin. The entire group, still sans Cloud, was gathered at Red XIII's rooftop observatory.
"That still leaves him little excuse for abandoning us," remarked Vincent. "After learning that Aeris was standing there with us, I expected to learn that Sephiroth was here, too."
Derin was oddly silent.
"I keep getting the feeling that you know more about all of this mess than you are willing to let on."
"I was...advised, before my passage back to this Planet, that I was not to give the solutions to questions, but to guide others to the answers."
"What does that mean?"
"Well...it seems that I'm more like insurance than anything. The Masters in the Promised Land expected that you all should be able to solve these problems. I'm here 'just in case.' I didn't really have a role in all of this."
"No role?" Red XIII furrowed his brow. "Then why were you allowed to return here?"
"I made a promise once to someone very special," Derin said softly, "and in the Promised Land, promises are never broken. Because of this, the Masters understand that sometimes allowances must be made in their plans." He glanced at Daphne, wondering how slowly her memories were returning to her.
Daphne was quiet because all this talk about promises had indeed brought a memory back to her...
("I want to meet the 'real you,' Cloud," Aeris whispered.)
Cloud started from his dream. Aeris had been dead for three months. In some ways, it had seemed like three seconds; the images of her were burned so deeply into his memory. (But other times it seems like three centuries. That she was gone, long gone before I ever got a chance to do the things I wanted. Say what I wanted to say. I was so stupid then, still lost in my delusions. She probably just saw how I acted like Zack and cared for the Zack-like parts of me...)
He lay awake a long time, thinking bitterly. Eventually he found he was able to close his eyes and drift back into the land of slumber and thoughtless wandering.
Aeris glanced up from the pool where she had viewed this scene. True, the Promised Land was lovely, but she was compelled to check in on her friends as often as the Masters would allow. She knew they sometimes wondered at her attachment to the material world.
(They don't understand. I was so close to the spiritual when I was alive... That I am still close to the tangible while I am only a spirit myself.)
She was held in great reverence by the Masters, and they even allowed her to visit the dreams of her friends. (After I argued my case by showing them Yuffie's grief, they said I could come to them, but only in dreams. I would go to ease their pain as well as my own. The Masters thought I would soon let go. But I swear, I won't. Not now, not next week, not ever... As long as my friends live, I will watch them and visit them.)
Aeris descended down into Cloud's dream...
("Aeris, where are you?" Cloud cried. He was wandering down a dark trail in a forest in the middle of the night. The only thing that guided him was a glimpse of pink ribbon now and again.
Suddenly, in front of him, walking softly, was a maidenly form. Clothed in all silver, the girl stepped out of the trees. The air around her sparkled; she seemed to be giving off her own radiance. Her green eyes glittered with unshed tears. "Cloud, you have to stop doing this to yourself."
"I can bring you back with me," he whispered. "Just let me find a way."
"That wouldn't be right. I did what I had to do. This was my part. We all wanted to save the Planet; this was my way."
"No." A tear traced a path down his cheek. "I had so much to tell you. Show you who I really am down inside. Prove to you that I was worthy of you, and not just some Zack wannabe."
"What about Tifa?" Aeris asked diplomatically.
Cloud stood silent for awhile. "She means a lot to me. But, I doubt I can get over the hurt from when I got blamed for the bad things in her life. Back when we were small."
"She cares for you deeply. What if you cause bad things for her now?"
"I'll try not to." He suddenly looked at her, locking his eyes onto hers. Blue eyes met green; both were filled with pain and grieving.
Aeris broke eye contact first. "Neither one of us needs to regret what could have been."
"How about what should have been?" Cloud asked with sudden insight.
Aeris had come to soothe him. He, in turn, had led her to question herself, and the powers that reigned over her. "I don't know."
"I'll promise to live and let live, if you just give me one bit of hope, swear to me..." he began.
"If you ever come back, if there's a way for me to see you...that you'll give me a chance to be to you what I should have been to you on that altar."
"Give me one thing to hope for. I could live to be a hundred years old, and if you give me that, I'll have one reason to breathe if nothing else."
"I promise you Cloud," said Aeris, "that if we ever meet again..." But she could not bear it any longer. She turned and fled back down the dark path into the forest.)
That was the last time Aeris visited a dream, any dream. She finished the promise in her own head, back in the Promised Land. (I promise you Cloud. If I find a way back...I'll tell you how I feel about you. Let you have your say. Then maybe we can both have peace.)
The next time she met with a Master, she met with Eldor. She had a few questions to ask him.
Cloud decided that he was never going to go into a bar again. (All that I ever find are girls who are all too willing to hit on me.) He prepared to give the owner of that feminine voice the most scathing look he could muster. Then he recognized her.
"What?" she asked with innocent eyes, noticing how his eyes were studying her. "Do I have something caught in my teeth?"
"Nah," he replied quickly. (Too quickly) he thought to himself. (What's the problem, Strife? You've got nothing to prove to her.) He regained his composure. "I recognized you from outside the convention, that's all."
"Oh really!" she breathed.
(Her face lit up like someone had turned a lamp on inside her skull.) Cloud allowed himself a smile. "That's right. You were, uh 'battling' some guy with a Masamune, I believe."
The red-headed girl was quite animated at this point. "You actually noticed that? Wow. Cloud Strife noticed me casting a little ol' Ice spell." She leaned closer and batted eyelashes over her gray eyes. "I'm sure you have a lot more in your repertoire that you could show me."
He met her eyes, which held a question deep within them. Studying her face, he wondered what she wanted him to say. "Uhh... You have me at a disadvantage," he muttered. "What is your name?"
"Jen Nova." The girl burst into giggles. "Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Nova is my last name, oddly enough though. My name is Kayley Nova."
"Are you from Junon?" asked Cloud politely.
"No," she said with a light twist to her voice. She met his eyes and then slowly smoothed the jacket of her costume.
He noticed that she wasn't wearing a blouse with the outfit, and the girl had also bent over ever so slightly-with the full intent of giving him an eyeful of cleavage.
"I'm staying at a hotel across the street." Kayley rested a hand on his arm and leaned over so she was speaking softly into his ear. "I have a nice bottle of wine up there. It's a lot cheaper than the watery beer here."
"Oh really," Cloud managed to get out. (There is something about this girl, either her eyes or...goddammit, her brand of shampoo.) He had let his eyes close when she got near, and he felt intoxicated by the scent of...this woman.
She let her lips brush his ear ever so slightly before she withdrew. Noticing the response her invitation had managed to elicit from the taciturn hero, she decided to get an answer. "So, want to have a drink and chill out? I promise I won't bite," she purred.
Cloud was unsure of his responses, how he ought to respond. The military and mercenary work hadn't really prepared him for dealings with the fairer sex, which previously had been limited to Tifa, Aeris, and Yuffie. (And Daphne...who is Aeris...) He was still confused over everything.
"I'm waiting for an answer." Kayley pouted.
(She came back with Zack! I don't owe her a thing.) His mind was made up in the heat of the moment and without a bit of afterthought.
Kayley led her prey across the street, up three flights of stairs, and into her bed.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Only one question remains," said Vincent.
"One?!" Yuffie scratched her head. "How do you come up with that?"
"Simple math. You should try it," growled Red XIII.
She stuck her tongue out. "You red beast. I don't understand how he can say 'only one question remains'! Why is Aeris back? Who is the enemy? Where is Cloud? What is Reeve doing here? Who's that red-headed disappear-y lady? Why did Cloud cut off Tifa's clothes?"
"She has a point," said Cid, "and I have a few more to add once her lil' mouth gets tired of jabbering."
"Why you so crabby?" Yuffie sniffled.
"Nicotine withdrawal," muttered Red XIII.
Yuffie muffled a snicker and the rest of the group found it hard not to crack a smile.
"I heard that." Cid smirked. "Believe me, if I was in withdrawal, you wouldn't be smiling that cocky smile right now. If you did, I would slap it clear into Reeve's lap."
"Which brings us back to the beginning." Vincent smiled. "Reeve, what were you doing when our paths crossed yours?"
"I could take your question literally, but Cid's not in too good of a mood right now, and I like the present location of my mouth. I'm sure Derin can corroborate when I say that red-headed woman is a force to be reckoned with. To make a long story short, I was reckoning with her."
"She didn't look so tuff," said Barret.
"Well, she attacked me from behind, cast Tornado on me, then cast Death Sentence on me." Tifa looked at her old friend. "Knowing how I fight, what's your opinion of her now?"
He looked stunned. "Well, I dunno Tifa," he said slowly. "Except that I told Vincent that he shouldn't have let ya go off all by you'self." Barret threw a vicious glare in the direction of the gunman.
"Barret. Vincent was kind enough to take leave of me when I asked." She smiled warmly at Vincent. (He can be so kind sometimes. An odd contrast to his cold exterior.) "Besides, technically, I was attacked outside the convention. Who'da thunk it? Besides, Derin came along to save me."
Derin met her eyes and smiled. "I saw that woman follow Tifa out the door and I knew that it was our enemy. I had seen the way she looked at Cloud while we were sitting at the coffee shop. I thought, 'okay, she has it in for him. How odd.' But when she started an active pursuit, there was no time to be lost."
"And he saved the day," finished Daphne softly.
"No, Rissy," he said firmly. "That bitch was about to cast some summon called 'Ultimate End' on us-"
Yuffie jumped up. "Knights of the Round?! But we have the only orb for that!" She checked her pockets. "Where'd it go?"
"I have it," said Vincent quietly. "So hush."
"But how would witch lady have it?"
"Remember the Master Materia?" asked Red XIII. "We have two Knights of the Round, since we have the Master Materia, but haven't mastered the red orb. This woman might be carrying pieces of Huge Materia, though I have no idea how she could have gotten any."
"It would explain how she would be able to do so many attacks," said Daphne. "Tifa had Tornado and Death Sentence on her, almost had Knights...and we saw her vanish from Reeve before our very eyes. I bet she used Exit."
"Speaking of Reeve, what were you saying, Derin?" asked Vincent.
"I was saying...that as Tifa and I were about to be chopped up into hamburger by King Arthur and his men, Reeve just jumped onto this woman and started hacking her to bits with the Masamune."
This revelation put the group in shock. "The Masamune?!"
Reeve drew his sword, in answer. "Yep, the Masamune."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Kayley looked down at the blond man lying in bed next to her with a mixture of contempt and loathing. (You are a fool, boy. Nothing more than a simple fool. I will manipulate you into doing the things I wish. In return, you'll receive something you believe is emotional fulfillment.)
She knew once she reached Gaia's Cliff, and she had climbed to the rift in the Planet where the Lifestream flowed freely, that she would dispose of Cloud. (I will return to power and glory before this poor boy's eyes. By the time he realizes what he has done, he will become either my first puppet or my first sacrifice. It's so hard to decide.)
There was a strange pang of emotion within her. Kayley sighed. She despised this new incarnation, hoping with the core of her being that full contact with the Lifestream would not only fully restore her powers, but also free her of this annoying human feeling of remorse. As could be expected, the enigma living within the body of a pretty young woman was also in possession of the memories of that woman. A blessing or curse, depending on whether it was well suited to motives.
Remembering how to be a sweet innocent girl was helpful for the poisonous beast residing within; however, remembering a first kiss, Kayley's mother, or watching Sephiroth stab another secretary within the Shinra building was a burden. The soul inside Kayley couldn't help but wonder if that one deed of Sephiroth's was wrong.
(No! It is one thing to reek of humanity, while being trapped inside the prison of a human body. Yet, another thing entirely to let humanity breed inside oneself. Once I enter the Lifestream and find myself...I'll tear this body limb from limb. Free myself from this loath and vile instrument. For that's all a human is. An instrument for my own wishes.)
She looked upon Cloud's face. It was peaceful as he slipped away into sleep. The night had grown old and daylight had begun to peek from the mountaintops. Rays of light surrounded the area where he lay and she could not help but reach a hand out to caress his face. Already, a change had taken place in her. She wanted to keep him.
(Perhaps...tool is an incorrect word here. Humans feel things, and they are smart enough to shelter themselves from the weather and light fires when they feel a chill in their body. They fight a quick seizure of control, yet are too blind to see their natural rights slowly slip away. Natural rights? Ha! That is a concept conceived by foolish dreamers.
Maybe I should keep him as a pet. For as long as I'm in this body, at least, he can give me pleasure. This body enjoys when he smiles at it. I do enjoy receiving compliments on the appearance of my prison; I chose a pretty one because I could.
And as for afterwards...I could see if this human pleasure could be transferred to my original form. I will control this child, anyway. I can make him do the things he did to me tonight. Make him relive this night over and over again.)
She couldn't help but wonder at the sinking feeling within her heart as she contemplated these things. Then Kayley came to a startling realization. She wanted Cloud to make love to her from his own will, as he had that night. At that moment, she also realized he only had slept with her because of stress.
Her eyes were alight with an internal flame. She cast a Sleep spell over Cloud to make sure he did not stir, and she quickly put on some clothes. As cold as ice, her gaze rested back down on his face. (No more fool thoughts. The only things that matters is this mission. His foolish friends will not raise a hand to me while I am in his company. He will lead me to what I need.)
She slapped his face as hard as she could without breaking the spell. (Then I will dispose of him. I have no use for such an inferior specimen. He can never lead, only follow. It will be a mercy killing...but why do I care about mercy?)
Kayley spent the early morning as silent as stone. The only thoughts she allowed to cross her mind were thoughts about her mission; it would begin when Cloud awoke.
Tifa's martial arts training had long insisted on her body awakening at the break of dawn. No matter how hard she attempted to shake this habit off, she found herself always losing her extra couple hours of sleep to an ingrained memory. (Damn training.)
She walked down to the lobby of the Junon inn, wondering if there was any chance in hell that a continental breakfast would be set out so early. (I want a bagel. With cream cheese. And then some donuts and coffee. If there are any hard-boiled eggs, I'm gonna eat a bunch. So there, body!) She suppressed a giggle at her bizarre thoughts.
"I suppose if there was any person who would giggle at this ungodly hour, it would be you, Tifa."
Startled, she jumped around and met the amused glance of Vincent. He was holding a glass of some sort of red liquid and had made himself comfortable on the loveseat, facing a television. The screen was black, though. Raising an eyebrow, he patted the seat cushion next to him.
"Won't you? Nothing's on, anyway."
Tifa attempted to suppress all feelings of surprise, both at the fact that Vincent was just sitting on a couch in a hotel lobby, and also that he was patting a couch cushion and inviting her to sit down. She gingerly sat down at the opposite end, still leaving hardly any room between them. The word "loveseat" is not a misnomer.
"You seem suddenly quiet. I haven't bothered you, have I?" He sipped his red beverage thoughtfully. "Would you like a drink or something?"
"What do you have there?" she asked cautiously.
"Blood." Then suddenly, a smile cracked his somber features. "No. I just wanted to see your reaction."
Tifa smiled. "I didn't believe you!"
"Cranberry juice and vodka, which is probably more surprising to you." He shrugged. "Throwback to my Turk days, I suppose. The bar's about to close though, so if you want anything..."
"Nah. I'd just complain about the skill of their bartending."
"I suppose you would. You were probably the best Midgar had ever seen."
"Hmm?" She gave him an inquisitive glance.
He shifted his weight and became seemingly closer to her. "I just pick up the perfectionist vibes in you. I doubt you can help it. You're awake because 'wake up at dawn' has been engraved on the inside of your skull."
He stared at her in wonderment, then actually let a little laugh escape from his lips.
"So that is your reaction."
"You were testing me?" Vincent was surprised.
"You're not the only one who can be a silent observer on human nature." Tifa paused. "No, that's wrong. No one can sit back and just be an observer. No matter how hard they try."
"You really think so?"
She stood up. "You can sit here and watch life through a little window you allow yourself. That's one choice. There's another one, though. Participating in life instead of letting it stream by." Her eyes were off on some introspective tangent, but eventually returned to Vincent. "Anyway, the discipline smushed into my brain tells me I need to find that granola bar I stashed in my backpack. Just in case I might faint before breakfast without it. See you later, Vincent."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Daphne sat in her room that morning with a feeling of dread that just wouldn't go away. She was still in the hotel room she had been sharing with Cloud. There was one problem, however. ("Sharing" a room with someone usually means that they actually are in the room, too...
(Cloud never came back last night. I knew he was upset with me...but I waited so long for him to go back. He could've come back and kicked me out or whatever, but he has no right to make me worry so much.) She sighed. (I haven't been this worried about him since the day I died. Since the time he almost stabbed me. I have to wonder sometimes if he's in complete control of himself. I know that Tifa and Cloud supposedly found each other in the Lifestream...but...
(The endless searching for Sephiroth, the endless searching for me...I think through it all, Cloud was really searching for himself. Just like he said he wanted to prove to me that he was more than just a wannabe version of Zack...when the thing he really needs to do is prove that to himself. Maybe he can't do that with Zack back here, but he can't really help that now.)
She grabbed a pair of black pants and a pink shirt. (I hope he soon reappears, if just to let us know he's okay.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"You were sure asleep long enough."
Cloud looked up at his companion from the previous night. "Whatever. I had a long day yesterday." He shook his head, trying to detach himself from his actions. It didn't quite work.
"Are you just going to leave me now?" Kayley pouted.
"I'm really sorry," he said, disinterested, "but I do have pressing business here in Junon." (Just the news that someone I cared deeply for is back from the dead, along with her ex-boyfriend. The person I emulated, and the person she's probably truly in love with.)
"Can I come along?"
"No. Sorry. It's private business." He looked at the disappointed girl. "Personal problems."
"You would think from the way it was last night, I'd understand 'personal' problems," she retorted.
Annoyed, he turned and glared at her as he attempted to put his pants back on. "Look. In case you haven't figured it out, you were a one-night stand. Sorry. It's not really my style, but I couldn't help myself. You asked me if I wanted it."
Kayley appraised him with cold eyes. "I just need a ride somewhere. Could you arrange that, in return for my supposed favor to you?"
(Even for me, the "fuck-and-runs" get fucked up royally.) "I got a connection at the airport; I'll see what I can do." Cloud narrowed his eyes at her. "You come with me now, you get your lift, and you're going to leave me alone, right?"
She smirked. (I'll let you think that.) "Sure. Unless we made 'Cloud Junior' last night."
(What a bitch!) "I hope to whatever god there is we didn't. He might take after you, and that would suck royally."
Inside, Kayley steamed. (Even if I don't kill you painfully, you will pay for that comment. For an excruciatingly long period of time.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Derin had met Daphne at the hotel for the walk back to Red XIII's observatory. The meeting was going to be a discussion of how to go about searching for the mysterious red-headed woman. They all had decided late last night that there was no possible way she would have been stupid enough to stay in Junon after her deflected attack of Tifa.
She smiled to herself as she walked along the familiar street, remembering the conversation with Reeve.
"Yep, the Masamune."
Barret looked at him cautiously. "Can y'all be so kind as to tell us what th' hell you's doing with that thing?"
Reeve smiled. "Of course. I got sick of the stuffed cat."
"Umm, pardon me," said Red XIII. "You're not the newest avatar of Sephiroth, are you Reeve?"
"Certainly not. I like my life now. I got to take over the company, shut down the three largest Mako reactors, and set up three test plants. One is solar, one is thermal, and one is hydroelectric. The most productive one will be used to replace the rest of the Mako reactors."
"Maybe you don't understand us, Reeve," said Tifa. "What the hell do you have Sephiroth's sword for?"
"In case you didn't notice the cape," he replied sarcastically, "Sephiroth is my costume."
The sound of multiple people slapping their foreheads could be heard down on the street.
"This is," he continued, "a real Masamune though. For some reason, Rufus hung up the sword that was left in his father's body, up in his office. Which I inherited. I took it with me, and boy, it came in handy, didn't it..." His sentence trailed off, and he looked at Derin. "Should I call you Derin or Zack?"
There was a moment of deep thought before he responded. "Let's just go with Derin. That's what all my I.D.'s say, and no one here besides Cloud or Rissy knew me in my previous life, anyway."
Daphne raised an eyebrow. "Then why don't you call me Daphne?" she teased.
"Well he knew that you were Aeris for a long damn time," said Yuffie. "We're just all confused, so we call you Daphne still. Wait until we get used to the idea enough, and we get mixed up and call you 'Daph-ris.'"
She wrinkled her nose. "Ew. That sounds like a disease." She turned to the group as a whole. "You can call me anything you want, just make sure it's one name by itself, and not a disgusting combo."
"Sure thing, Araphne," said Cid.
He had to dodge many rolled up pieces of paper as they were tossed at his head. "Hey!"
So even after Cloud's disappearance, the night had ended on a slightly positive note. The entire group had been reunited-almost.
Daphne and Derin made their way up to the roof; they were the last ones to arrive. "We can finally begin," said Red XIII. "Our main pressing point of interest is how to locate our new adversary."
"Maybe we should split up," suggested Vincent.
The conversation stopped as they heard someone walking up the stairs to join them. They all looked up and were very surprised. Extremely surprised.
"Hi guys," said Cloud. Following close behind him was the red-headed woman.
Everyone jumped up from where they were seated and took on a defensive stance.
"What's the problem?" Cloud looked bewildered.
"That's the person who attacked me last night!" shouted Tifa.
Cloud glanced at his companion, who had folded her arms across her chest, sneering at the brunette's accusations.
Derin stepped forward, wielding his Buster sword. "Hey man, no biggie, you saved us the trouble of finding the bitch."
Kayley raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think I am so easy to kill, Protector?"
"No. Then again, neither was I, Calamity from the Skies."
A light went on in Vincent's eyes. "Jenova." A glare hardened his features and he lifted his Death Penalty to place a well-aimed shot.
Yuffie darted forward. "Stupid alien!" She delivered a startlingly quick set of slices to Kayley's body with her Conformer.
Kayley raised an arm and sent the ninja flying with a blow to the stomach.
"Oww! You're mean!"
"And you're annoying." She effortlessly cast a spell upon Yuffie. "Toad." The girl turned into a small, chattering amphibian, still ready to charge until Red XIII scooped her up into his mouth.
"What th' hell is the point of this shit?" asked a confused Barret.
Tossing her head back to give out a good laugh, Kayley addressed the group. "The fear factor, of course. See how powerful I am in a mere human body? Just wait until I regain my old powers...and install my plans into being."
"How do you intend to do that?" Reeve leveled his Masamune, waiting for the first open shot at her heart.
"The same way I always do." She smirked and held up a yellow Command Materia. "Controlling Cloud." She slipped it into a bracelet and paused, letting the energy flow inside her.
"Oh no, she's got a Manipulate Materia!" Daphne ran to Cloud.
"Oh yes." Kayley gave the raven-haired girl a devilish grin. "Cloud, get rid of that annoying wretch."
Cloud sent the girl flying across the room with a toss of his arm.
"Good boy." She turned to the group. "I'll see you guys later. I have some cells of mine to find." She winked and prepared another spell. Raising her arms, she announced "Exit-All," making both her and Cloud vanish from the room.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"So Derin, you're our insurance, huh? Well unless that's all bullshit, I think you owe us. We paid our deductible, that damn Strife again." Cid looked at Red XIII. "I can smoke, right?" He lit up before he received an answer. "Mmm...menthols."
"Zack?" asked Daphne softly.
"Okay, okay." Derin leaned forward. "The Masters are good...well, can't call them people, they're more like entities. They're old souls. They're so old that they don't have to go be human and learn things anymore. They are here to guide us young souls and help us along our way, both in life and between lives."
"I could have said that Derin," she muttered, "tell us something new and original."
(So you switch to my name in this life when you don't need something from me, interesting.) Derin gave Daphne a searching look before continuing. "Anyway, after they sent Aeris back here, they took a promise of mine into account, and decided that you guys needed help. They felt a disturbance in the life-death barrier, and that's the reason why they let Rissy return. By the time they got around to dealing with me bitching about her going back all alone, they figured out something big."
"What could be bigger than the return of Jenova to the Planet?" Vincent spit out his comment bitterly.
"The return of Jenova with a plan. The problem here is that Jenova can't completely die until all of her cells are dead. And since I don't plan to go and execute everyone who had Jenova injections, she will never die until the descendents of those people die out. If she could force her way back, she would just need to find a small collection of those cells, fuse them into her new body, and recapture her old abilities."
"How could anyone force their way back though?" asked Red XIII. "As far as I know, even our Revive spells only initiate respiration and heart rate, doing nothing for blood loss or brain death."
"Good souls go to the Promised Land. Totally lost, vile souls are dispersed into the Lifestream, which is used in the creation of new souls. Most cases, the person goes to the Promised Land and is reincarnated. So even Sephiroth and President Shinra are awaiting their returns. Their next lives will put them in the situations of the people whom they hurt. Hojo's energy was dispersed, as his soul had basically its last chance in Hojo's life."
"Talk about complete failure," whispered Vincent.
Tifa glanced at him. In spite of her own worry for Cloud, she couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for Vincent as all these hurtful people from his past were brought up.
"Jenova had a very powerful life force within her. I say her, because to her people she was female. It came from her chronological age and also because of the fact she was an extraterrestrial. She was far from being consumed into the Lifestream, and she was fighting the process and looking for a way out. She found it where there was a weak place in the cloth between life and death. Her strength helped her so much here, all she had to do was wait for someone with Jenova in them to die in a controversial way."
"Ribbit!" The small Yuffie-toad hopped up and down impatiently.
The group looked at Red XIII. "What, my duty was to change her back? I at least kept her from dying!"
"Red," said Daphne gently.
"Oh fine." He looked at them all. "Well someone at least hand me a Transform materia."
"She had the only one," said Vincent softly.
The Yuffie-toad blushed. It hopped one last time and shouted "Toad!" Yuffie was standing before them. "Sorry guys."
"Derin." Vincent looked up. "What would be a controversial death?"
"Oh anything with murder involved. A mysterious accident. Or suicide." Derin shook his head. "Jenova escaped the Lifestream after a woman decapitated herself."
Yuffie looked at him in shock. "Decap-herself?"
"The woman had attempted suicide countless times, but the Jenova within her caused the attempts to fail every time but this one. Her name was Lucrecia."
Tifa expected Vincent to jump up in rage, exclaim how it couldn't be, run off to go check for himself...just to do something. Not to sit there and look at his hands. She hadn't expected anything like that. (I can sense the emotion running through him from here. But do I dare...do I try...?) She reached over and took his good hand in her own.
He looked up slightly, barely catching her eye. But he had caught it. Usually blazing, whether in disgust at the world, with hatred for Hojo, or in amusement at some silly member of the human race, it now seemed slightly dull. It looked like someone had not just kicked him where it hurt, but cut it off too.
Tifa looked down and moved her hand. (How stupid to think that I could even make him feel better. I don't know what it's like to have someone I love that much die.) She thought of Cloud in the clutches of Jenova. (At least...not yet.) She did not catch the small flash in his eye as she looked away.
It was a flash of agony.
Derin, who had no idea of Lucrecia's connection with any of the party members, continued on. "She used that slight opening to break herself out. Because of the cells in the woman, Jenova knew the precise moment and location of her death. She forced a woman named Kayley Nova from her body, but she did not realize one very important thing."
"Which is...?" Red XIII began.
"The reason why a soul has to go down to the Planet to learn things is that mortal existence is very cloudy. Any soul going back to a life here could make all sorts of plans, but become distracted and forgetful and relish the experience and not learn a thing. If it was easy, the Masters would not think it necessary for us all. When Jenova returned here, at first she did not remember who she was."
"She obviously knows now!" snorted Cid.
"Of course. All she needed were enough images from her past. That's why reincarnation isn't allowed until a few centuries after your last life. So you can't remember. But you start out not knowing. And I bet if Rissy had never met Cloud a couple weeks ago, she might never have remembered her past unless I came along or she went to that convention."
"How'd you remember your past, Zack?" asked Daphne eagerly.
"I was just about to come to that. The reason why I have to be careful with what I reveal to you is...I never forgot. I did take over someone's life, but the Masters were very worried with Jenova's return. They sent me back as an avatar. I am my pure soul, in a mortal body."
"Now don't say this sounds silly," exclaimed Yuffie, "but why aren't you all godlike and stuff then?"
"It's not a silly question. The answer is simple, though. I'm a very young soul, so I act young even when I'm all 'godlike and stuff.'"
Vincent turned dull eyes to Derin. "What is Jenova's plan?"
"I don't know exactly how she attempts to do this, because the Masters did not know yet, but she has a very very bad plan. Essentially, it's to open the gates of hell."
"Hey now," said Barret, "you never said nothing about no hell!"
"It's her plan in essence, even if there is no hell. She has the idea to regurgitate souls back from the Lifestream, and that would not be pretty. Anyone with a shot of saving themselves gets another chance, and winds up in the Promised Land, you see."
"So my theories were right." Red XIII looked dismal. "If we fail to stop her, we will see the return of an ancient enemy. And all the other enemies that ever existed on this Planet."