Once More Unto The Breach: The Flower Blooms
Elmyra placed the sleek PHS device back into the drawer and closed it. She had been given it by Barret after they had come home from their adventure. She had never really figured out why he had chosen to give it to her although she was certain it had something to do with certain tragic circumstances that had arisen during the course of their journey.
It had been a short and to-the-point conversation with Barret and Tifa and it seemed that she and Marlene were going to be spending some more time together. Not that it was an inconveniance, it was a pleasure as always just unexpected.
She had heard Cloud in the background and when she did she knew that something was wrong, there was something in his voice, something troubling. She had asked Barret what had happened but he would not tell her, all he would say was that he and his friends had to go on another journey and he wanted her to keep Marlene safe.
There was something in his voice also.
She sat in the seat and looked at the various trinkets on the small pine-finished table and finally fixed her gaze on the picture of her daughter. It was a small picture set in a delicately carved silver frame that represented a slim, serpentine dragon, its carved tourmaline eyes sparkling as it immortally completed the circle of life by devouring its' own tail. The frame itself was quite old but the photograph showed a relatively recent picture of her daughter.
Elmyra picked the photo up and felt a smile break across her face as she looked at the remarkable beauty of Aeris who was about 19 years old in the picture.
Elmyra could not remember taking the photograph but it was her favourite. It was her favourite possession.
It had been taken in the garden, Aeris was sitting on a small white bench holding a glorious spread of pink and orange flowers. Even in the ugliness of the old Midgar beauty was possible.
Small flares of sunlight that had miraculously circumvented the upper plate shined through the buildings in the background and illuminated Aeris' wispy chestnut hair. She was smiling, bright twinkles of intelligence and happiness shined in her eyes, her wonderful aquamarine eyes.
Her hair was loose and tumbled around her shoulders enhancing the classical yet soft contour of her chin.
The soft glow of the orange bloom that she had tied into her hair caught Elmyra's eye as she studied the photograph, memorising every minute detail, not that she had to. She could picture that photograph in her mind without ever having studied it.
So beautiful, the soft curves of her body right down to her slim legs where, in the picture, a small golden haired dog sat and watched Aeris, its' eyes brimming with affection.
It was so hard to know that such a beautiful and carefree young woman, so right and full of justice and the zest of life would die in that long-lost and lonely place, that yard of graves where a civilisation fell all those years ago. That she would die so deep within the earth without her mother at her side.
She replaced the picture on the table and wiped the single warm tear from her cheek.
Cloud had been the one who had broken the news to Elmyra and it was still difficult for her to think of him. She could still remember vividly that awful day in Kalm, the day after the Meteor, in the Inn. She had seen the damaged Highwind landing in the meadows beyond the town and its' crew disembarking.
Cloud had come into the inn, something in his eyes and his body language told her before he even spoke.
"Where is Aeris Cloud?" She had asked.
Tears had welled up in his eyes as he came and stood before her, arms hanging without purpose at his side, bottom lip quivering slightly. No answer was forthcoming from him as he looked at her, his proud sapphire eyes wet and scared.
She felt something well up inside her, emotion so mixed it was hard to discern what she was feeling. She had taken a step closer to this defeated looking shadow and repeated her question.
"Cloud, look at me."
His sad eyes had lifted and he winced as he looked at her, seeing the fear and the motherly fire burning in her eyes.
"Where is my daughter?"
"I'm so sorry Elmyra. Please forgive me. I'm sorry, I'm sorry......." He had sobbed.
The churning convulsing tangle of emotion stopped. Rage fell to dominance, the play of feelings falling into line inside her like tumbling dominoes.
"WHERE IS SHE CLOUD?!!"
He had fallen to his knees, bowing his head and sobbing as he spoke to her, his soft voice broken and saturated in anguish.
"She is dead Elmyra."
Rage fell by the wayside replaced by the chaotic mix of several competing feelings, denial, shock and fury. She stumbled backwards, knees buckling under the sudden huge weight of her body and she fell to the floor. No pain registered as she hit the ground nothing did, reality numbed and warped as she locked her gaze on the crumpled form of Cloud as he became the only thing in this warped and tumbling world that she could focus on.
"What?...... Dead?" She asked, her own voice sounding alien to her, the words meaningless yet full of purpose.
Cloud, sobbing nodded his head.
So many things did she want to say, to ask, to scream at him but her voice would not accept commands, would not work. She sat watching. Looking out from this whirlpool world at Cloud, the one thing in the centre of the vortex that did not move or warp.
"We tried to save her, we cast life, used phoenix downs' but it was too late, her soul was gone....we were too late...." Cloud howled, breaking into a sobbing pathetic heap sprawled on the ground.
Who knows how long she had lain there, waited for the world to stop spinning and moving, waited for the shock to die and to leave her. She waited for someone to come and tell her that it was all a big mistake, she waited for Aeris to come to her and say that Cloud was wrong but she did not come.
If he had not come to Midgar, not joined AVALANCHE and walked down that street where Aeris regularly sold her flowers maybe she would still be here. Maybe the Shinra would not have found out that she possessed knowledge of the Ancients.
Maybe. Maybe all this was wishful thinking.
Then again, the happiness that he had given Aeris in her final weeks and the love they shared albeit secretly..... did that make it worthwhile?
She did not know what to believe. In time she would forgive Cloud. She knew that Cloud had taken the death of Aeris in as terrible a way as she had, maybe even worse. She was the love of his life and she had been slaughtered by somebody he considered to be a friend, even a mentor and he had never told her how he felt, assumed that she had known of his love but could not be sure.
She sat back in the seat and sighed, pensively she bit a fingernail as she thought banishing memories of that dark day. They were too painful, too raw instead her mind floated back to her talk with Marlene's father
The substance of the conversation with Barret still troubled her. He was a big and boisterous man and Gods themselves had a hard time reigning in his enthusiasm but on the PHS he had seemed different, quietspoken and withdrawn. She knew he was hiding something but what? Was it good? Bad? Given what Cloud had said in the background she was inclined to believe that it certainly was not good.
'Don't tell her Barret.' Then a silence as Barret had thought what to say next.
'Don't tell her what?' She thought 'Is it really that terrible?'
She had considered pulling the 'I have a right to know' trick but then she grew fearful of what she might learn and decided against the idea.
She sighed and stood up. Why worry, she was not going to find out what it was but she knew that if it would place her or Marlene in immediate danger then
Cloud would have told her himself. It did not matter what she thought of Cloud, loyalty was one of his most practised qualities, loyalty to Aeris was all that had driven him and the crushing feeling that he had failied her only strengthened his resolve. He probably just didn't want to worry her with the details of whatever it was they had to do or give Marlene cause to worry about her father. Yes, that had to be it she assured herself.
Aeris smiled at her mother from the picture and soothed the worry in her heart, just as she had done when she was alive.
Elmyra smiled at the photo and stood up.
'Rest my darling.' She whispered.
The girl smiled her immortal smile back at Elmyra as she slowly left the room.
Upon hearing her coming, the youngster turned around and her small angelic face broke into a smile.
"Auntie Elmyra!" She shouted, running over and hugging Elmyra in her little arms.
Elmyra hugged back and then knelt down to face the youngster.
"Marlene, I have just been on the PHS with your father and I am afraid I've got a bit of bad news."
Marlene's smile faded a little and she cocked her head slightly to the left.
"He's going on another trip isn't he?" She asked, slight dejection seeping into her voice.
Elmyra nodded. She was a little surprised that the child could have figured it out so fast.
"Are you upset?" She asked.
Marlene's little face lit up and she smiled again.
"No way! Daddy's a hero he kills bad folks and always comes home!"
"Yes, he does doesn't he?"
Marlene hugged Elmyra again and ran back over to the waterfall to her toys. She scrabbled around for a moment and then gave an excited little squeal as she found whatever it was she was looking for.
Her shoulder length brown hair bobbed as she ran back to Elmyra clutching a piece of something.
"What's this stuff Auntie Elmyra?" She asked.
Her small fingers unwrapped from the object she was carrying and she dropped it into the adults' hand. It was a rough piece of green crystal with roughly the same dimensions as an apple and it felt warm to touch.
Elmyra studied it carefully and frowned as she realised what it was, light from it gleaming in her eyes.
"It's a piece of a natural materia crystal." She said, looking up at Marlene.
"Where did you get this?" She asked in a puzzled voice.
Marlene smiled again in her innocent way.
"A nice man gave it to me." She giggled, grabbing the crystal.
Elmyra stood up and looked around the garden. There was no-one save her and the child that she could see.
"What nice man?" She asked, concern brewing up inside now.
"A nice man with silver hair. He said he was coming to see me again."
The child smiled in her trusting little way. Elmyra smiled cautiously and stood up, walked to the front of the house and looked around for a nice man with silver hair. The street to the front of the house was empty except for a few cats and a bird. No people.
She looked back over her shoulder to find that the child had come to her side and was looking up at her. She smiled down at her.
"When did he say he was coming back?" She asked
"He didn't say when, he just said that he would. He was a nice man."
Elmyra thought for a moment and then she spoke in a practiced stern voice.
"Hasn't your father told you not to talk to strange people?"
Marlene looked up, the expression on her face suggested genuine puzzlement at Elmyra's hard tone.
"But auntie, he said he knew my dad."
Elmyra looked at the girl and frowned.
"I think he was lying to you so I don't want you to speak to him again. If he comes back I want you to come inside and tell me, promise?"
Marlene looked disappointed and she kicked the dirt. Eventually she looked back at Elmyra and gave a cheeky smile.
"OK auntie, I promise."
Elmyra smiled and hugged the youngster.
She stood up and looked around one final time for another person but still saw nothing. She sighed and looked back down.
"If you go inside and wash your hands I will make us something to eat, OK?"
The girl smiled and her eyes sparkled.
Elmyra watched as she ran into the house clutching the materia crystal. Her smile faded when she was sure that the child was safely inside. She looked out into the street again trying desperately to see if someone was there or skulking in the shadows between buildings. There was no-one, even the cats had gone now.
Why had somebody given Marlene a materia crystal, a rare natural one for that matter? Where had they gone after that and who was this 'nice man with silver hair'?
Should she call Barret on the PHS? No. It would just worry him, besides what could one man do? She did have a kitchen full of knives. If this creep came back and tried to hurt Marlene then he would be leaving in a bag.
She frowned to herself. Who was it and did they really know Barret?
She sighed. Maybe it would be better to call him, see if he did know a nice man with silver hair.
After dinner though, when Marlene was resting. When she would not hear.
She looked around again and then slowly walked towards the house, passing the small white bench in its' patch of radiant pink and orange flowers.
She disappeared into the house and closed the door.
Wind rustled through the flowers and whipped dead leaves across the garden, thin
sprays of water from the little waterfall splashed into the air projecting the
colours and beauty of micro rainbows into the garden scene, hanging like a
glorious fog of angel hair around the house.
Following Vincent's revelations, Cloud had gone to his room. Tifa, as usual decided that it was up to her to pick up the pieces and tidy up the fallout of this dire news, afterall she had know Cloud all her life and she was his closest friend. Besides, she was terrified that this would be the excuse he needed to use the Destruct materia.
She slowly climbed the stairs but upon hearing Barret and Vincent fleetingly discussing various topics, she paused and listened for a few seconds. They were talking about guns at the moment and various methods of dispatching monsters with them. It amazed her, after what they had just learned they could talk so casually about battle strategies. Was Cloud that resiliant even after all he had been through? She would soon know.
She climbed the last three stairs and went up into the landing. Sunlight splashed messily through the large window at the end of the left-hand corridor and bathed her in warm, clean light.
Cloud's room was at the end of the right-hand corridor, she knew he was inside as she could hear the sounds of him shuffling through drawers and such. She stood outside quietly for a moment listening, attempting to guage his mood before finally knocking on the door.
"Who is it?" He called out from inside the room, his voice resounding remarkable calm. This was surprising to her.
"It's me." She said uneasily.
"Come in then." He said.
She grasped the knob and turned it, opening the door with a gentle push.
She swung into the room and closed the door behind her and turned, surveying the room as she did so. He had tipped all of his clothes out of the drawers and onto the bed and was in the process of hastily shoving them into a large holdall. He stopped what he was doing and looked at Tifa, beconing her to sit in one of the neat wicker chairs next to his window as he did so. She sat down slowly and so did he.
She stared at him, his eyes, trying to see something in them like she had yesterday. There was something there but not even close to the intensity it had previously been.
She sighed and began to speak to him.
"How are you doing with all this Cloud?"
He did not answer, instead he waded into his pocket and retracted the small green sphere of crystal. The Destruct materia glowed seductively in his hand as he showed it to his friend, a strange smile asserting itself over his face.
Alarm flared in her eyes when she thought of what he might be doing.
Before Tifa had a chance to grab the materia, Cloud stretched out his hand and offered it to her.
"Take it, Tifa." He said.
She looked at him and again, his eyes. A strange light shined in them and it took Tifa a few moments to realise that it was a sparkle. She uneasily took the materia, wrapping her fingers around it and lifting it out of his hands. She held it, felt its' remarkable smootheness then looked back at Cloud.
"I will have no use for it yet." He announced.
"Why?" She asked with concern.
Cloud shifted back in his seat and sighed, running a hand through his hair as he did so. It seemed to Tifa that he was on the verge of a revelation of his own.
He looked at her and a malnourished crack of a smile came to his lips.
"This, no matter how difficult and believe me it is difficult, has given me a reason to continue, to live and to go on." He said.
"Good to hear that but why?" Tifa asked.
Cloud stood up and went to the window. He looked out of it and gathered his thoughts for a few minutes. He took a deep breath and then turned back to his friend.
"How could I go to her without having destroyed Sephiroth for what he did? How could I go to her knowing he was still alive? How could I leave him alive to do all this again to someone else, to the world?" He asked.
Tifa stood up and took his hand. Was he putting this on or was it genuine? The speed of this change within him was astonishing.
Cloud laughed quietly to himself.
"You know what?" He asked.
She looked up at him and smiled. He was changing she could feel that now and hear it in his laugh.
"I am actually glad, in a way, that Vincent came and told me this, it has given me purpose again." He trailed off and looked off into space.
"I was without that for so long." He whispered, his attention still wandering.
"So long I had forgotten what it was like."
Tifa sighed and thought for a moment.
"So how do you feel now, Cloud?"
He focused the gaze of his brilliant blue eyes onto her and smiled again.
"I'm beginning to feel like.........like me again."
Tifa sat him down in his chair again and held his hand tight.
"Remember what I told you yesterday about facing up to the past before you could move on?"
Tifa smiled a wonderful smile, Cloud could feel it in his soul like the sunshine breaking through a long and terrible storm.
"I think you are starting to do it." She said.
He smiled and looked at her, saw the kind and wonderful girl who had invited him to play all those years ago when everyone else had shunned him. The same girl who had been there for him as long as he could remember and here she was again, by his side. Now, when she needed him the most, here she was. Not many have friends like that.
She looked at him and for the first time in many long and turbulent months she saw something, a shadow, a mere glimmer of the old Cloud. Small, yes but the fact it was there at all was progress and with the right guidance and nurturing she would witness that tiny remnant of his old self grow and flourish like a flower gradually taking hold from a dying cutting or a phoenix rising from the ashes of his misery.
"There are going to be trying times ahead Cloud, for all of us but you must get through this. Win the battle. Aeris will always be with you and you will see her again but not like that." She mused, holding up the Destruct orb.
"It still hurts." He sighed.
"And it will do, for a long time yet but it will get better, if you let it that is. Don't give up, endorse that sense of purpose and when you fulfil it, find another one and fulfil that one too. That is the way of life."
He was silent, the logic of what she was saying could not be falted. He could feel a change coming, could sense in his very being that he was reemerging from the other side. He was pulling back from the whirlpool towards that black drainpipe of self-hatred and lonliness.
There was light at the end of this tunnel, distant, barely a candle in the night but it was there.
He was still devastated at the death of Aeris but he could feel now that he was beginning up the long, rocky slope to recovery.
Facing Sephiroth again would be the greatest challenge. Seeing his face would bring it all flooding back, her death, the near-destruction of the world. Would he falter? Would he fail?
No. Failure was not an option, could not be an option. This time, her death would be avenged.
He sighed and looked at Tifa.
"I don't suppose you or Barret have any hair gel do you?" He asked.
She flashed him a quizzical look and her pretty face cracked once more into that storm-busting sunlight of a smile.
"I don't think so, why?" She asked.
"I don't think that loose hair suits me. I miss my spikes." He said with a slight chuckle.
Tifa looked at him and giggled.
"Me either. Lets find some gel."
The two of them began rummaging around in various bags, eventually, with a shout of triumph, Cloud located a tube deep within some forgotten crevice of his bag.
"Right, I better change." He said.
Tifa smiled and stood up from the delicate wicker seat. She went to the door and opened it and half stepped out into the sunlight soaked corridor beyond the room.
"I'll wait in the kitchen for the grand unveiling." She mused before disappearing out of the room and closing the door.
She left them to it for a few minutes as she poured another cup of strong coffee, pausing for a moment to savour the rich and subtle aromas of the black liquid in the cup.
She took a dainty sip and sighed contentedly as the strong yet unassaulting tastes of the coffee swirled in her mouth. She sat, briefly transfixed, and enjoyed the sensation of the warm liquid slipping down her throat before replacing the cup onto the table and tuning in to the conversation.
"I still say that a good burst of auto fire right to the ass is the ONLY way to kill a monster." Barret boomed.
Vincent shook his head, serpent-like hair waving almost hypnotically as he did so.
"The sensation gained from a single death-shot warms even my heart. You take no pride in your work Barret."
"Hey man! Good ol' pepperin' would warm any heart!" He chuckled.
"Let us continue this at a more appropriate time, a lady has rejoined us." Vincent said in his strange silky voice.
Barret looked around and a broad smile came to him.
"That aint no lady, that's Tifa!"
She flashed a faked look of offence at him and the pair of them laughed.
Vincent, having little knowledge of the concept of humour just looked on.
"How is Cloud?" He asked.
Tifa turned to look at the strange and dark form of Vincent. The presence of concern indicated that Shinra, unlike with Sephiroth, had not managed to fully destroy his human soul.
"He is fine, better than fine for that matter." She said.
"Say what?" Barret asked, confusion evident in his powerful voice.
"We have Vincent to thank for that." She continued.
"Me?" He asked.
"He says that what you told him has given him purpose again."
Barret shuffled around in his seat as he poured a cup of the coffee and promptly drank it, taking little or no time to savour it, needing only fatigue-banishing properties. He looked at Tifa with a peculiar look in his eyes, sort of a hybrid between suspicion and disbelief.
"Is this change of heart shit not a little quick? You saw him just half an hour ago when Vince here told him the script, to say he didn't like it would win a fuckin' award for understatement!" He exclaimed.
"I believe him." She said.
"Why?" Vincent chipped in.
She went into her pocket and found what she was looking for, could feel the energy of the crystal and its' warmth against her palm.
"Because he gave me this."
She cooly placed the Destruct materia on the table. It rolled for a second and then sat still, raw energy flared within it sending an eerie green flash throughout the room. Barret gave the orb the once over. His eyes widened in shocked surprise as he took note of its' level.
"It was mastered." Barret exclaimed. He sat back and sighed explosively as he realised what Cloud had intended to do with that orb.
Vincent picked it up next and surveyed it with interest. His eyes glowed, gave a quick flash of red as he looked into the orb.
"A spirit of death resides within." He hissed.
He looked up at Tifa as he put the orb on the table.
"What did he intend to do with this?" He asked.
Tifa sheepishly looked at the coffee cup as she sighed, the knowledge still burning in her own head.
"We think he was going to kill himself with it." She said.
A voice from behind startled the group.
"You're right, I was."
Cloud was stood at the foot of the stairs.
"But not now. I am going to kill someone else."
Barret and Tifa smiled as he came into the room. He had changed into his 'adventuring' clothes, the ones they all remembered. The heavy metal shoulder pads of his blue top glinted with light and the sun caught the enormous Ultima Weapon which sat sheathed across his back sending sprays of coloured light across the room from its' various crystaline components. His hair no longer sat in the rough, unkempt ponytail instead it had been restored to its' former glory and spiked proudly into the air.
He dropped the holdall that he was carrying and unsheathed the Ultima Weapon, propping it up against the table as he sat down and poured a cup of the coffee. He took a long sip of the coffee and gave a contented sigh as the strong tastes and sensations slithered around in his mouth like liquid snakes.
"So, what do you think?" He asked.
"Much better." Tifa said, her smile reaffirming her words.
"Yeah man, that is the shit!" Barret boomed enthusiastically.
Vincent sat quietly for a moment as he studied Cloud and his regenerated appearance.
"Are you sure that you are taking this as well as you seem to be taking this?"
Cloud nodded and took another sip of the coffee. He swallowed the liquid and fixed his gaze on Vincent.
"I have to face my problems on my own Vincent but what you told me may have given me the strength to do that."
Vincent's eyes glowed again as he spoke to his friend.
"I fail to see how what I told you could help." He said
Cloud sat back and sighed as he took another deep swig of the coffee.
"Don't you see Vincent? How can I die knowing he is still out there? I cannot. If I am going to die it will be after he does no matter how long that takes. It is what I must do to be worthy of seeing her again."
Vincent sat forward and looked at Cloud but he did not speak. Cloud smiled slyly at Vincent.
"So, what do you think of the new look Vincent?"
Vincent was silent for a moment and then he formed an expression with so many similarities to a smile that technically it was a smile. It was as alien to
Vincent as it was witnessing it from Vincent
Cloud smiled again and sat back in his seat, coffee in his hand.
Tifa smiled as she took in what Cloud had said.
"We are all here for you Cloud. No matter how terrible the past has been or how terrible the future will be we are here. All of us."
Barret seconded the motion with a handshake and a trustworthy nod of his mighty head.
Cloud drained the cup of its' aromatic black contents and sat back in the seat stretching as he did so.
"OK, Vincent, you said that we needed to talk with Red XIII?"
"Then we had better leave before Sephiroth can fully regenerate."
Cloud stood up.
"I have some goodbyes to say so I will see you all in the van."
They nodded at him and he left the room. Barret and Tifa finished their drinks and stood up. Barret picked up the holdall and the huge Ultima Weapon with a grunt and headed for the back door. Tifa looked over at Vincent as he stood up, his wicked steel talons clicking on the table as he walked over to the door and out into the yard. She looked around the kitchen one last time and then she headed out of the door and across the rain freshened yard towards the van.
Chapter 9: Goodbye
Cloud knocked on the door of the sitting room and went inside, closing the heavy door behind him.
It looked very different from the room he had been sitting in last night, the room which had been under siege from that evil world behind the mirror, the quiet chamber that had been bathed in the eerie glow of flickering candles.
The table where Choco Billy and his wife had been playing cards did not even look the same, instead of the thick candle there was a pretty carved glass vase full of long stemmed blue flowers with slender tendrils of orange and light dustings of pollen hanging from the delicate bluey-white cup of the flower itself.
Cloud could not make out the species but suspected them to be orchids of some kind, probably picked from the morning fresh grasslands outside the farm.
He looked around the room and saw Choco Billy and his wife sitting on the sofa watching him from the brim of their coffee cups, taking in the regenerated looking young man that stood before them.
Choco Billy's wife smiled radiantly and placed the cup on the exquisitely carved mahogany table as she stood up and came over to him. He smiled and opened his arms as she hugged him. It was a tight hug and motherly in many ways. She was laughing.
Choco Billy stood up as she pulled away from him, a gentle tear rolling from her eye.
"I never thought I would see the day!" She exclaimed, raw emotion in her voice.
Billy ambled over to Cloud and shook his hand vigorously, a big broad smile across his kind face.
"Lookin' good Cloud, lookin' very good!"
After a few minutes of hugging and handshaking, Choco Billy and his wife went over to the sofa and sat down. Cloud went over to the armchair and sat in it. He smiled as he looked at them and they smiled back.
"I have some news for you, I have to go with my friends for a while." He said, deciding it best to keep it simple and not to scare them with the information that Vincent supplied him with.
"We know." Billy's wife said, her soft voice choked with emotion.
"We're gonna miss you around here Cloud, you know that?" Billy said, faint traces of emotion seeping into his usually steady voice.
Cloud nodded and gave a slight smile.
"You have my word that when I come back I will repay all your kindness to me." He said.
Billy gave an emotion drenched laugh as he stood up and came over to Cloud, embracing him in a best-of-mates kind of bearhug.
"Don't you worry that spikey head of yours about us two old fools! You gotta get out there and sort your life out first." He said, breaking up the hug and standing next to Cloud.
Billy's wife stood up too and went over to a small cabinet by the window and opened a drawer. She rummaged around for a moment and then picked something up, closed the drawer and came back over to Cloud and her husband.
"Here, take this." She said, handing Cloud a small pouch.
"What is it?" He asked.
"We always knew the day would come that you would finally have to leave this place and go back out into the world so we put that aside for you."
Cloud weighed up the pouch and looked at Billy's wife.
"It's 300 Gil, not much but enough for food and travel and the like." She said, her big kind face lit by a motherly smile.
Cloud was lost for words, he looked at the pouch and then at them. He gave a shocked/happy/grateful hybrid of a smile and engaged them in a fierce group hug.
"Thankyou both for everything." He said, emotion trickling into his voice aswell now.
The hug broke up and the three stood and looked at each other for a few moments.
"Come on, get out of it! Your friends will be waiting." Billy said with a choked voice.
"Goodbye Cloud." Billy's wife said.
Cloud hugged her and shook Billy's hand and then made for the door. He opened it and stopped as he was about to leave the room.
"Farewell for now, I will come back though. You have my word." He said.
"You know where to find us." Billy mused.
Wiping a tear from her eyes, Billy's wife spoke.
"On you go, we will come and wave you off."
Cloud nodded and said goodbye again. In a moment he had left the room and was crossing the kitchen to the back door, the dying smell of the coffee wafting in his nose.
Something lit in his heart as he stepped out into the yard. Grass blew and shook in the wind and a gentle, warm breeze caressed him from the east. The world seemed different somehow as he stepped out into it on this day, less oppressive and more wonderous. Then again, was it he that was different, less oppressed and more receptive to the wonder of things stepping out into the same world?
He could feel the forces of life all around him for the first time in many long and cold months, warm and secure and welcoming, greeting him as he awakened from his shell like old friends gathering around him. He smiled as he ambled over to the van.
He heard the chocobos chirping and scratching in their enclosure as he slowly walked over to the battered old van and hopped into the drivers side which Tifa had kindly left vacant for him. As he shut the door, he felt a hand resting on his shoulder from the back of the van. He turned to see Barret and Vincent huddled but quickly recognised the hand as that of Barret.
"You OK Cloud?" He asked.
Cloud nodded as he fastened his belt and smiled at Tifa.
"Good to have you back." She said from the passenger seat, her big brown eyes twinkling.
"I concur." Vincent piped in from the back.
Cloud looked out of his window and saw Billy and his wife standing at the back door, smiling.
He brought the engine to life with a mighty roar and shifted into first gear as he prepared to leave the place he had called home for over a year now. As he pulled away he rolled down the window and waved at Billy and his wife with his gloved hand, the sun catching the scratched steel surface of his wrist guard.
"See you soon." He shouted over the powerful roar of the engine.
They waved back and continued to wave as Cloud swung around in a circle in the yard and shifted up a gear as he increased speed and headed out of the gate towards the open road. They watched the truck slowly disappearing until they eventually lost sight and stopped waving.
Billy's wife sighed and put her head on her husbands shoulder.
"I am going to miss him Bill but I am so glad he is starting to get better."
Billy nodded and smiled.
"Sure will be quiet." He said, kissing his wifes' forehead and rubbing her shoulders.
"But we'll see him again. I'm sure of it."
'goodbye' he thought to himself.
He stepped on the gas pedal and the truck sped onwards along the deserted road as they began their journey.
Chapter 10: The call
The group had not been driving for long when Barret and Vincent began arguing again.
From the back of the truck Cloud could hear them picking up their conversation on how to kill monsters with guns. Barret was again arguing that automatic weaponry was best for the task along with small explosions caused by automatic weaponry. Vincent was shaking his head and sighing, again claiming that Barret took no pleasure in his work and then going on about the pride gained from single death-shots or something like that.
This conversation went on for about 10 miles until Cloud finally got sick and tired of the argument and jumped in with his view that swords were the only weapon of choice for dealing with monsters. This brought fevered protest from
Barret and drew Tifa into the discussion, arguing that knocking monsters into orbit with a fist beat all other ways.
Cloud sighed and wished he had never mentioned it.
The arguing could probably have gone on indefinately had the sharp buzz of the PHS device not disturbed the group.
Tifa withdrew from the argument and rummaged around in her pocket finally fishing it out as it began to buzz again. She held the sleek black device to her ear and answered it, gesturing for Barret and Vincent to keep the noise down in the back.
"Hello?" She asked.
There was a moment of silence as the person on the other end of the line identified themselves. Tifa's face lit up and she smiled as she heard the voice.
"Elmyra! Hello, how are you doing?" She exclaimed.
Cloud glanced over when he heard the name, just in time to see Tifa's face change, the smile disappear.
"Oh my god." She exclaimed.
Hearing that, Barret leaned forward and fixed his intense gaze on Tifa.
"What's goin' on?" He asked, concern in his voice.
Tifa passed the PHS device to Barret, concern flaring in her eyes. Barret took it slowly, gaze fixed on Tifa.
"Yo?" He said as he disappeared into the back and began to speak.
Cloud could make out little of the conversation over the sounds of the engine but from what he did hear he could tell that something had happened.
Tifa gazed out of her window and bit her thumbnail worriedly.
Cloud directed his gaze back to the road and waited for Barret to hang up. From the back he heard Barrets' voice raise a level as he spoke to Elmyra, something was going on but he could not hear enough of the speech to tell what it was.
Finally Barret said goodbye to Elmyra and hung up. There was a silence in the van for a minute, except for the humming roar of the engine and the wet rubbery noise of the tyres on the asphalt of the road.
"Uhhhh Cloud, we have a big fuckin' problem man....." Barret hissed from the back of the van.
Cloud looked around for a moment and then focused on the road again.
"Trouble? Is Marlene OK?" He asked in a concerned voice.
"A big fuckin' problem...." Barret repeated as if hypnotised.
Cloud turned to Tifa. Obviously, judging from her expression when she had handed the PHS to Barret she had been told that something had happened. Cloud focused on the road for a moment and then flashed Tifa a concerned glance.
"Tifa? What has happened." He asked.
Tifa took her thumb out of her mouth and sighed as she turned to look at Cloud.
Concern and deep worry etched into her young face.
"Someone gave a materia crystal to Marlene, a natural one." She said.
Cloud frowned and looked back at the road.
"Someone? Who was it?" He asked.
"A nice man with silver hair, that is what Marlene told Elmyra." Barret hissed from the back.
Something seemed to snap in Cloud's head when he heard the words and he hit the brakes and took the vehicle out of gear almost unconsciously and stared wide-eyed out of the windscreen as it screetched to a halt. He turned and looked at Barret, anger and worry flared in his eyes.
"Sephiroth?!" He asked.
"I think so. Whoever it was told Marlene that they knew me and I only ever knew one guy with silver hair." He said.
"Is Marlene OK? Is Elmyra?" Cloud persisted.
There was a deathly silence in the van for a few minutes, Cloud looked worriedly at Tifa and then back out of the windscreen
The group jumped collectively as the uneasy silence was broken. Barret slammed his big fist off of the floor, rage flaring in his big brown eyes.
"FUCK THIS SHIT MAN! GOD-DAMN THAT SON OF A BITCH!!" He shouted
"Now hold on a minute Barret, are we sure that it was Sephiroth?" Tifa asked.
Cloud gave a concerned little laugh.
"It is the kind of sick little game that he would play."
"IF HE TOUCHES HER I WILL FUCKIN' KILL HIM!" Barret roared.
Cloud shook his head absently.
"He won't touch her, he just wanted to get our attention with this little stunt." Cloud sighed.
"He fuckin' got mine." Barret hissed, finally calming down a little.
"Do you want to go back to Midgar?" She asked.
Barret looked at Cloud.
"Are you sure he won't hurt her, can you promise me that?" He asked, his big frightened eyes looking straight at Cloud.
"He wants us. He only did that to frighten you and to get our attention. Hurting children is not his style, hurting us on the other hand is exactly his style and that is what he is trying to do with this little show of power."
Barret processed what he had been told and sighed explosively.
Tifa took his hand and held it tight as she looked at him.
"It doesn't make any sense Barret. If he was going to hurt Marlene or Elmyra he would have done it by now."
Vincent sat forward and fixed his crimson eyed gaze on Barret.
"She is correct Barret, if he wanted your daughter dead then she would be by now."
Barret banged his gun-arm off of the floor of the truck and fixed his gaze on Cloud.
"OK, let's go and kill the son of a bitch then!" He hissed.
Cloud looked around at Tifa and sighed as he sat back in the drivers seat.
"I don't like this. I would like access to an airship before we go to Red XIII. It's faster and in situations such as this speed counts."
"I agree. We need to go see Cid first."
Cloud sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.
"Did he go back to Rocket Town? I have not exactly kept in touch if you know what I mean." He asked.
"Yes, I think so. We should head to the Midgar Coast there is a ferry service to the Western Continent that goes from there."
Barret sighed and cleared his head of the million and one thoughts that swirled within.
"Used to be that Shinra boat service that we stowed on to Costa Del Sol." He said quietly.
Cloud nodded and brought the big engine to life again. He glanced over at Barret and then back at Tifa.
"Keep an eye on him." He said to her.
She nodded as Cloud shifted into gear and began to move off.
Within minutes Cloud had pushed the truck up to 96mph and shifted into 5th gear. A sense of urgency flowed through him. Although Sephiroth was not a danger to Marlene and hopefully not to Elmyra his appearance all those miles away in Midgar was a worrying development and gave the clear sign that his power was again growing.
What was he going to do this time? Cloud wondered. He had the power to cast Meteor why had he not done so? Was revenge all that drove him this time, revenge against Cloud and his friends?
More than likely. Afterall they had killed him...again and destroyed that alien monster he was in cahoots with. Even so, the question still remained that if he was victorious in any decisive battle, what was he going to do then? Although that situation would never arise it was still a valid question.
Thoughts raced in Clouds' head as he floored the gas and drove head long on the deserted and sun-baked road towards the Coast and their ticket off of this continent.
Chapter 11: Isn't the sea wonderful?
The steel and concrete labyrinth of the ferry terminal lay ahead of the group and loomed in the windscreen like a great monster waiting for the arrival of Cloud and his companions.
Upon entering the outer reaches of the vast complex Cloud duly obeyed the speed restriction and slowed to the stated 25mph.
Ahead lay a check-in booth. Cloud pressed his booted foot onto the brake pedal and took the vehicle out of gear gliding comfortably into the space next to the booth. He rolled the window down and stuck his head out of the window.
A sullen looking woman sat at a small desk behind the glass of the booth playing with a strand of her badly dyed black hair. She looked up and saw Cloud with his 'hello there' smile plastered all over his face. She did not return it.
"What?" She asked in a bored tone.
Given the monotomy of working in the little glass hut, her manner was understandable but bordering on the inexcusable. Cloud duly removed his smile and greeted the woman with his usual unemotional expression.
"We want the next ferry to the Western Continent." He said.
She rolled her eyes and clicked several buttons on the keyboard in front of her, scanning information on the monitor as it appeared.
"How many is in your group?" She asked.
She tapped the information into the machine and waited for results which appeared promptly.
"150 Gil." She announced with her bored tone, stretching out her hand to collect the money.
Cloud flashed a look of irritation at her ignorance and then sighed and shook his head disapprovingly as he located the pouch that Billy and his wife had given him.
He counted out 150 Gil and gave it to the petulant little woman in the booth. She snatched it out of his hand with such vicious eagerness that it prompted Cloud to sarcastically count his fingers to see if they were all still there. As she waited for the tickets to emerge from the little printer she sighed and looked at Cloud.
"You want a breakdown of what you're payin' for?" She asked, the tone in her voice suggesting that she really could not be bothered explaining but it was obviously policy to ask anyway.
Cloud smiled a peevish little smile and poked his head out of the window again.
"Sure, why not?" He said.
She rolled her eyes and began to go over it.
"30 Gil per person, that comes to 120 Gil and a further 20 Gil for the vehicle."
"That should only come to 140 Gil." Cloud said, eyes flashed irritation.
The woman returned with a look that would freeze fire.
"We also have to take 10 Gil for insurance reasons." She said in a snappy little voice.
Cloud frowned and began to speak again. He was enjoying irritating this nasty little person.
"Insurance from what?"
She glared out of the booth at Cloud and he glared back.
"Some monster that lives out in this stretch of the ocean, a big green one with a real short temper."
Cloud sat back in his seat.
"That would be the Emerald Weapon. We found some old book and he was in it."
"Whatever." She said in her impatient tone as she snatched the tickets out of the machine and handed them to Cloud.
"Thankyou ever so much." Cloud said with the most sarcastic voice he could muster.
He put the vehicle into gear and hit the gas, pulling away from the booth with a screech of tyres and a roar of the engine.
Cloud looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the woman flashing him a look of disgust and contempt.
'Bitch' He though to himself.
Ahead lay the huge parking area. Truly it was a very big parking area, big enough to hold many hundreds of cars. Probably more than the number that even existed. Why waste all that money building such an excessively large car park?.
Cloud found a nice space close to the embarkation gate and parked. He turned the engine off and sat back with a sigh unbuckling his seat belt as he did so.
"So nice to be served by friendly staff." He mused at Tifa.
She smiled and looked at the tickets.
"What time we leavin'?" Barret boomed from the back.
Cloud looked at one of the tickets, scanning it for the relevant information.
"We sail in just under an hour." He said.
The group fell silent for a minute as they reflected on the journey and what lay ahead. Vincent clicked the vicious steel talons on the floor of the van as he thought about something. Cloud frowned and looked into the back of the van to see what was bothering him.
"Vincent? What's wrong?"
Vincent looked over at Cloud, his eyes glowing softly in the gloom of the van.
"What is this 'Emerald Weapon' that you speak of?" He asked.
"It is the daddy of all monsters. Seriously, you do not want to piss that boy off!" He mused.
"I have never heard of it sinking a ship before though."
"Probably just another money making excuse." He added.
Tifa sighed and handed the tickets back to Cloud.
"It is an overnight trip guys." She sighed.
The group flashed her a strange look.
"Is there a problem with that?" Vincent asked her.
She looked at him and sighed.
"I get seasick." She giggled.
The group gave a collective chuckle and then began stretching and shuffling around.
"Let's go and get some fresh air before we have to get on the boat." Cloud
The screech of birds hung in the air from the many seagulls that circled and glided in the wind that lapped around the great concrete complex like the currents of water that swirled in the ocean before them.
How the wind could play havoc with clothes and hair alike. Vincent stepped out of the van, his grand red cloak writhing and billowing in the strong breeze like an enraged dragon thrashing and struggling furiously. His raven feather hair lashed and convulsed as he walked around the van and joined Cloud and the others. Tifa's hair, the great river of chestnut that ran from her scalp to the small of her back blew and flowed in the wind like a storm of angel dust, so fine and preened.
Clouds' hair sat as it always did, the proud spikes immune to the chaotic effects of the tempest. Barret was the same, no hair for the wind to torment. The empty flapping of the sheath on Cloud's back echoed in their ears as the group walked slowly to the sea wall and looked out upon the ocean and the beaches on the other side of the bay. Soft waves broke on the golden sands of the shores, sheltered from the wind that they were experiencing. The ferry port seemed to be a windtrap, quite an effective one at that.
The ocean was a wonderful mix of colours, blues, aquamarines even churning and swirling to green in some places topped occasionally by the white froths and swells of the incoming waves as they headed towards the sands of the beaches. Birds swooped and circled in the air above and fell down into the sea either catching food or gracefully setting down in the water and bobbing up and down on the waves as they relaxed from the hussle and bussle of their busy little lives.
Cloud sighed. Aeris would have loved this, would have broken into her beaming little smile as she looked out at the wonder of the world and took note of its' beauty. He still wished more than anything that she could be with him as he looked at this scene but as she could not be it was up to him to enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of the sea enough for both of them.
Tifa stood next to Cloud and watched the tranquility. She took a big lungful of the briny air and sighed, closing her eyes as she savoured the sensations of the wind on her skin and in her angel-dust hair and the olfactory delights of the ocean as they lasily swirled in her nostrils.
Barret and Vincent looked on. Whether the natural parade of wonder touched them in the same way as it touched Cloud or Tifa could not be known.
Tifa exhaled with a sigh, almost a purr of happiness as though all that was wrong with the world rolled across her as easily as the wind. She hazily opened her eyes and turned to look at Cloud, her astonishing nature-crafted beauty striking even him. He smiled at her and she smiled that storm chasing smile back at him as she looked back out onto the waters, the chestnut flow of angel dust flowing and dancing like sprites in the wind.
"Oh Cloud, isn't the sea wonderful?"
Chapter 12: The crossing.
For the rest of the time before the sailing was announced, the group wandered around the vast complex surveying the buildings and the ocean before finally making their way back to the van and sitting, taking the brief time to relax before they got onto the ship and lurched headlong into the unknown.
They watched the grand vessel coming into the port, its' huge bow cutting through the waves like a great sword cleaving the beauty of the ocean in two and allowing the seperated halves to gracefully slick down the shining sides of the boat towards re-integration at the stern.
'Re-integratation'. The word swelled and tumbled in Clouds' mind conjuring up images of a huge materia crystal holding captive a form, a man with a slick of silver hair washing down his body.
Where could that materia be? They must find it and end this once and for all but first, the assistance and the comradeship of old friends must be sought. This thought brought Cloud back to the beginning, took his mind around full circle and left him with the same old feelings and emotions that had dragged him out here in the first place. Anger, revenge and the need for justice and the worthiness of past acts to be restored. The sacrifice he had witnessed and been haunted by these long and dark months would not have to be remembered as a vain attempt, would not be remembered as a vain attempt.
He watched the huge vessel dock, observing with a fatigued sigh the scurryings of the crew as they moored the huge body of the ship to the dockside. 'Not long now'. He thought to himself as he cooly watched the few foot passengers and cars disembark from the gloomy belly of the waterbourne monster.
The inside of the van was quiet as the group pondered all that had transpired and all that was to come in the near-future, the days to come. Cloud, his booted feet resting on the dashboard sighed and held his head in his gloved hands as he was overcome with a sudden feeling of foreboding.
Tifa, watching her friend with concern reached over and put her hand on his shoulder, jarring him back to his senses.
"You OK?" She asked.
Cloud nodded and stretched, exhaling explosively as he turned back to Tifa.
"Yes, just been a long day that's all."
From the dark maw of the ship a figure appeared wearing some official looking uniform. In his left hand was a coloured paddle with which he signalled Cloud that it was OK to board the vessel.
Cloud turned the ignition on and brought the van to life with a generous flooring of the gas. The engine roared like a great beast awakening from a long sleep and a cloud of bluey grey fumes rushed from the tailpipe of the van like the spirit escaping from some fallen hero. Cloud pulled away and descended into the darkened interior of the boat, flashing his tickets to the official as he drove past.
He quickly parked the van and the group got out. Cloud locked the van as the smell of the well oiled mechanics of the ship and the fumes of the vehicles assaulted his nose. It was verging on the toxic within the hold of the ship, the heat and the smells forming an allegiance that sought to strangle and choke the few car drivers who emerged from the safety of their vehicles to go up to the passenger decks. Cloud and Tifa hastily looked around for the stairway that would take them to the more clement climes of the passenger cabins. In the distance, on the left hand side of the giant belly of the ship they made out a form in the darkness, a doorway marked with the well dirtied sign reading
'PASSENGERS THIS WAY.'
"Let's mosey." Cloud mused as he headed towards the door.
The group gravitated towards one of the clusters of seats with a table next to one of the big windows and sat down, Vincent removing his weapon from its' concealed holster and placing it carefully on the plasticised surface of the table. Barret, truly impressed with the gun picked it up and gave it another once-over.
The group did not have to wait long for the ship to begin its journey. Crackling sounds filled the cabin as the captain came over the tannoy.
"Good day ladies and gentlemen, I am your captain today and can I wish you a pleasant journey. We will be arriving on the Western Continent sometime tomorrow morning."
Silence descended again as the tannoy went dead.
Cloud sat back in the seat and yawned, stretching as he did so.
"Good. That gives us some time to figure out how we are going to tell all this to Cid." He said, rubbing his eyes.
Tifa groaned as the ship began to pull away from the port, her stomach churning already.
"I hate boats." She sighed to herself.
The group looked out of the window at the huge complex. They were moving quite slowly just now, the wall of the dock slipping by calmly, the sun catching the ocean beyond as it moved and pulsated like a great living thing, the many turquoise and green and aquamarine eyes watching benignly as the ship began its' voyage.
Tiredness suddenly weighed down on Clouds' eyes as he watched the slow progress of the great boat, eyelids changing from flesh to lead as they sank. He briefly resisted, tried to remain awake but could not fight off the almost primal need for sleep, falling quickly into the comforting warmth of the darkness as he invited sleep to take him to the quiet, restful realms that lay beyond his consciousness.
Chapter 13: A reunion of sorts
The journey back from those quiet, restful subconscious lands that Cloud had been drifting in was slow, not painful or strange but warm and inviting. Sensation registered in his body piece at a time as he was returned to life from the cozy darkness of his dream world.
He was consciouss for a while before he opened his eyes. It was hard for him to end his sleep, the first truly restful one he had enjoyed in many long weeks and months.
Lethargically he opened his calm blue eyes and was met by the soft, souless glow of artificial lighting. With a mix of surprise and indifference, he turned his head and looked out of the window to be met with a world shrouded in darkness, a world where another glorious day had passed to its' rest and was but a memory in the minds of those who had experienced it.
He sighed and turned back to the table, he must have been out for hours. Funny, he hadn't even felt that tired.
In the seat opposite him, Barret was asleep, snoozing an assisted looking snooze judging from the five or six empty pint glasses that sat dejectedly in front of him on the table.
Barrets need for intoxication was understandable given the shock he had had today. It had been quite a long time since Cloud had gotten drunk, he tended to deal with problems differently, bottling them up. Maybe Barret's methods of dealing with ruts in the life course were better, they certaily caused less heartache in the long run. He watched the big man for a moment as he snored and slept druggedly and then continued his survey of his surroundings.
Cloud frowned as his eyes fell upon the empty seat next to him. Vincent was gone, probably off skulking in some dark corner of the ship unintentionally terrorising passengers with his evil-looking glowing eyes. The Quicksilver that had been resting on the table was missing also, probably off walking with its' master.
That gun was like a pet to Vincent, faithful, always by his side and ready to protect him at all costs. Cloud smiled to himself as he thought of the Ultima Weapon, sitting all alone in the van like a dog waiting for its' family to return.
The groan of nauseated pain from the seat next to Barret caught Cloud's attention and he looked over. Tifa was sat holding her stomach and gritting her teeth, her eyes closed.
"Tifa?" Cloud asked.
Her eyes opened and she smiled slightly as she fixed her gaze on Cloud.
"Cloud." She smiled.
"You have been asleep for about 4 hours."
Cloud nodded but the flares of concern in his eyes did not extinguish.
"What is wrong with you?"
She shook her head slightly, dreamily batting her eyelids.
"Severe case of seasickness, nothing to worry about."
Cloud's concern cooled off slightly and he sat back in his seat. v"You'll be OK, it should pass off soon." He announced.
She smiled and nodded.
Cloud gazed out of the window once more, taking in the blackness of the world and the distant fires of the many stars that hung in the sky. The journey certainly was a little choppier now that the ship was out in the open sea. They must be passing the sub-artic islands by now or at least entering the Northern Straits, the thin swathe of ocean that seperated the arctic lands from the tranquility and the warmth of the Costa Del Sol and it's entourage of surrounding islands.
It was quite a small world when viewed from a boat, whole land masses disappearing with the swell and chop at the stern of the ship as it ploughed on regardless.
No Emerald Weapon either. The ship should not encounter it now. It mainly haunted the Junon Sea and come to think of it, Cloud had never heard of a sighting as far up as the Midgar Straits and he certainly never heard of it attacking ships.
'I paid 10 Gil for nothing' He sighed to himself.
He looked back at Tifa. She had sat back in the seat and closed her eyes again as she battled to suppress her need to throw up.
"Do you know where Vincent went?"
She shook her head without opening her eyes and sighed.
"He went off for a walk I think."
Cloud nodded and stood up, stretching mightily as he did so.
"I think I'll go out on deck and catch some air. Wanna come with?" He asked.
She shook her head slowly.
"Can't. If I move now I will be sick." She looked up at her friend and smiled.
"Besides, Barret here might wake up and come looking for us."
"Yeah and fall overboard."
She giggled quietly.
"Yeah, he has had a lot to drink. I'll stay and watch him."
"OK. I'll see you later then."
In the distance, illuminated by the moon that hung in the frigid air Cloud could make out the twisting peaks and crevasses of one of the arctic islands.
Squinting he could just make out the tiny lights and illuminations of the Bone Village, the small encampment of archaeologists scurrying and digging to unlock the secrets of times past. Resting now, another days work, another days toil and trouble over and done with.
Apart from Cloud, the deck was deserted. Everyone else inside enjoying the warmth and the company of other people.
He went over to the railing that seperated the warm, safe confines of the ship from the slush and the ice of the water below and rested his arms on it, the harsh bite of the cold metal stern enough even to grab Cloud's attention.
Again she came into his head. How she would have appreciated the subtly magical atmosphere of this night, this view. Cloud gazed into the skies at the patterns and the shapes of the constellations. He did not know their names, only their shapes. Aeris had known them but had never the time to share that knowledge with him.
Tonight she would have been his teacher, his partner, his lover all rolled into one as they watched the heavens from the comfort of each others arms.
"Well, well, well. The puppet stands as though its' strings are cut."
Clouds' mind raced, his heart pounded and his eyes narrowed into slits as he span around on his heel to face the source of the all too familiar voice, a voice that hissed like the call of a snake in the wind. The turbulence of emotion settling, focusing into a harmonic voice of feeling within Clouds' head; hatred.
Behind him on the almost deserted deck stood another man, the gigantic organic form of the Masamune sheathed at his side.
Wind from the ocean beyond exhaled, the huge black cloak sheathing his form writhing and thrashing in the sudden breath of the planet before falling into line again as the wind died, passed onwards into the black shroud of the night.
"Sephiroth!" Cloud hissed, his hand instinctively reaching for his Ultima Weapon.
Sephiroth's face broke into a sneer as he watched Cloud grasp for something that sat 5 decks below his feet in the battered old van, the faithful dog that awaited the hand of its' master.
Cloud, having remembered that his search would be fruitless balled up his fists and crouched into a fighting stance. Sephiroth laughed as he watched the young man writh and contort into a hate fuelled pose.
"What do you intend to do Cloud? Did not you hear Vincent, I am a shadow, you cannot kill me."
Cloud, eyes contracted into mere knife slits, slowly stood up, locking his burning gaze on the dark shape of his nemesis.
"We are coming for you. You WILL pay this time." Cloud roared.
Sephiroth grinned, madness and something else burning deep within his emerald eyes. Cloud looked into them something within gazed back, not Sephiroth, as if another mind were staring at him from Sephiroth's body.
"How can you kill a god Cloud?"
"You are not a god. YOU ARE NOT A GOD!!" Cloud roared.
Again the black cloaked man grinned and laughed, madness echoing in his crazed fit.
"The power I have, what I have become.... What else save a god could I be?"
Cloud sneered, anger and hatred burned coldly in his sapphire eyes as he looked at the form of what once had been a teacher, a guide, perhaps even a brother of sorts.
"You are a mistake. A monsterous accident created in a Shinra lab. So much have you lost, your humanity, your soul and soon, very soon, you will lose your life." He sneered, raw hatred and contempt burning in his hissed voice as he took a bold step closer to his enemy.
"You are a freakish monster cooked up in a lab somewhere, a disgusting souless, inhuman thing, you are NOT a god."
In an instant, the smile was wiped from the face of his opponent.
Fury flared in his contracted green eyes as he withdrew the Masamune from the sheath at his side.
"I AM A GOD!!!!!" He roared, light flaring in his eyes.
Cloud shook his head and laughed contemptingly.
"No, Sephiroth. You are a freakish monster created by a madman whose days are numbered."
The evil flares of light from Sephiroth's eyes danced and gleamed on the great blade of the Masamune as it shook in his hands, rage and fury etched into his face.
"YOU DARE TO SPEAK TO ME OF LOSSES, YOU LOST YOUR TOWN, YOUR LOVE....HAVE NOT YOU GROWN TIRED OF SUFFERING LOSSES AT MY HAND?!!!"
Cloud laughed as he watched the great sword swinging uncertainly in Sephiroth's hand and he took another fearless step closer to him. Something within told him that he was not in danger of perishing, not on this night at least.
"I took your mother from you when I killed that alien, that thing."
Sephiroth's eyes cooled off as the wicked flares of energy within them dimmed and a strange look came over his face. In that moment, as Cloud's words hit him and took hold, the look of a lost child scared and alone in the world came to his face, the stern stone-cut contortion of hatred and fury on his face melted revealing fear and vulnerabilty. The huge blade of the masamune fell to his side.
"Mother....." He whispered.
Cloud looked at this defeated looking child-thing and sneered.
"That's right. I hacked it into pieces with my sword and watched its' blood run and spill from it's wounds and then I watched it die slowly in the void at the centre of this world."
A soft tear fell from Sephiroth's eye as he looked at Cloud.
"I KILLED YOUR MOTHER SEPHIROTH! I DESTROYED JENOVA AND WATCHED IT DIE AND NOW I WILL DO THE SAME TO YOU!" He roared.
The child-thing looked away briefly and then looked back, the single solitary tear that had fallen from his eyes had vanished and his face cracked once more into that maddened dagger-toothed smile as he brought the gigantic blade back to a striking position.
"Jenova? She is not dead, she lives within me now in her cells, her soul they are as one within me and I feel her. She is with me. For all time she is with me."
Panic flared in Cloud and he backed off slowly as the huge sword was returned to its' sheath.
In that moment Cloud realised that nothing human remained within Sephiroth now, only madness and corruptions so powerful they were beyond comprehension.
Even after it was dead, the alien still controlled his mind, its' tentacles and poisonous, venomous whisperings woven deeply into the soul of the once great man, driving him and pushing him further into the precipice of self-delusion and madness from which there could never be a return.
The human that once Sephiroth had been was dead now, beyond all hope was he gone never to recover, replaced with a shadow, not of a god but of what once was a man but now was a twisted, evil thing.
Sephiroth smiled, both he and the presence that dwelled within him looked out from his eyes.
Could it be Jenova? Was she still alive within her 'son' or was it something else, something worse than Jenova?
Light, cold and souless once again flared in his eyes as his crazed, inhuman smile widened.
"SHE IS HERE! SHE LIVES STILL!!" Sephiroth roared.
"CAN YOU NOT SENSE HER CLOUD? SHE IS WITHIN YOU ALSO!!!" He bellowed, his demented cries trailing off into the wind.
Cloud, backed up against the railing now, looked at the glowing eyed, inhuman thing that stood before him and sneered.
"She is dead. All you carry is her cells and when I kill you she will also die forever."
Sephiroth, his manic glowing gaze fixed on Cloud laughed.
"Soon you will see me for what I truly am. You will feel the power of a god."
Cloud raced towards Sephiroth, fists balled up in rage.
"YOU ARE NOT A GOD!!" He roared as he raced towards his silver-haired tormentor. "AND YOU WILL PAY FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE!! I WILL KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID TO AERIS I PROMISE YOU THAT!!!!!"
Empty space stood before Cloud, shock and anger burned in his eyes and his balled fists ached. As his words slivered off into the wind he looked around the deserted deck for his adversary but saw nothing, no-one.
He turned and swore, slamming his fist off of the railing as he held his head. He looked up, tears of hatred and rage pouring down his face.
He stood for a moment under the wintery cool embrace of the night air as he calmed down and banged his fists off of the rail several more times before finally looking up into the sky, his hissed words of hatred echoing and slithering in the wind hopefully to the ears he wanted to hear them.
"I promise you this Sephiroth. I promise you that I will kill you."
He sighed explosively and watched his chilled breaths escaping from his mouth like a host of spirits rushing forth into the blackness, racing headlong towards the warmth and the light of the life beyond.
He took one last look at the stars and dried the few burning tears that rolled
towards the point of his chin as he slowly turned and went back into the cabin,
his appetite for the freshness of the air and the starry embraces of the night
"Soon you shall see the power of a god Cloud. Very soon, I promise you that."