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In Search Of God

* * * * *

Chapter 37: New things He closed the door with such great care and glided so silently over the foot-worn beams that it would not have occurred to a casual observer that the knowledge of the end of the world and the destruction of all life swam in dark shoals in the lightless pools of his mind.


He turned, tracing with enhanced speed and efficiency, the direction from which the voice had sprung.

It had come from a room hidden behind reception, cloaked by a doorless archway. This was the bar area and save from reception it was the only place in the lower floor where light burned invitingly in a veritable feast of shades and colours. Smokey greens, moody browns, tranquil blues and crisp whites all shined in the room as twin electric ceiling lamps showered various bottles, throwing out a mixing pallate of shades onto the walls.

Four or five rounded tables adorned the room each of them flanked by four padded wooden seats.

Cloud was sat at the table closest to the bar, one that gave him a clear view of the reception area and those who entered or left the building.

A beautifully carved crystal decanter half-filled with some spirit sat on the table next to a half drained glass.

Stretching out a gloved hand, Cloud offered his friend a seat.

"Pull up a seat." He said, backing up his gesture.

Vincent nodded his appreciation and pulled up the chair, sitting in it almost gracefully generating close to no sound as he did so.

"Thankyou." He said.

Glass to lip, Cloud nodded and then focused his gaze onto the pigmentless liquid in his glass as he sipped on it.

Vincent observed him for a moment and then flickered his gaze to the decanter on the table before him.

Its' beauty was almost hypnotic, capturing with little effort Vincent's attention and holding it.

It was moulded in the shape of a dragon, its' proud neck rivalling even the straightest of arrows. Its' great mouth was open and, with the application of a little imagination, one could almost hear a fearless roar rumbling from its' glass belly.

It sat on two great hind legs and the great tail curled up and met the base of the neck to form a handle, pushing its' way past two smokey wings.

Its' polished body was a mix of various shades, the body was a warm green whereas the talons and the wings took obsidian black as their shade. Two beads of red glass sat in the carved face, eyes burning with a furious pride at the touch of an admirer.

Finally, the belly was a clear glass, allowing the contents to seduce and tempt customers with its' intoxicating embrace.

"Remarkable." Vincent said, turning the decanter with his human hand and silently savouring the smootheness and texture of the surface.

"Such adept craftsmanship."

Cloud smiled as he swirled the glass in his hand and watched Vincent inspecting the decanter. What he just heard must only be indesputible proof that something quintessentially human played its' role still, silently, deep beneath Vincent's shadowy surface.

"Ever had zequila Vincent?" Cloud asked, pointing to the decanter.

Studying the liquid, Vincent shook his head.

"I don't believe I have."

Cloud sipped again and sighed.

"Some speciality from Wutai, quite rare so I am told."

Vincent raised an eyebrow.

"Why so?" He asked.

Cloud shrugged and sat forward.

"They distil it from crushed Zeio nuts and then it takes about 60 years to ferment."

Cloud let out a strange laugh.

"This bottle is older than you are Vincent."

Something in the young warriors words broke the thin film or normality which the two men had voulntarily wrapped themselves in. Warm tropical waters of reality flooded over the ice of avoidance and melted it, bringing the two face-to-face with the world once again.

"Sephiroth came before me just now." Vincent whispered.

Pretending to savour the liquid in the glass and keeping his gaze firmly on it, Cloud nodded and reluctantly swallowed.

"I know. Red was right, I can feel his presence now. I guess I always could, just didn't accept it, that's all."

"Still..." Cloud continued, smacking his lips.

"I figured if he wanted to speak to me he would have bust through that door, killed everything in sight then pull up a chair, maybe order a drink."

The darkness of the humour, even the humour itself was lost on Vincent, rolling over him like fat rain clouds over a black mountain.

Cloud neither chuckled or smiled. In his head he wasn't even sure why he had tried to lift the lead curtain of mood.

"What did he want this time, more dellusions of godhood and ruling the world I suppose." Cloud sighed.

"Worse." Vincent replied, his milky voice hushed to little more than a whisper.

"He refers to the destruction of this world as his 'ascension'."

"Ascension?" Cloud sneered.

"Ascension to what?"

Vincent set the decanter onto the table and fixed a solemn gaze onto his companion.

"You know as well as I that he would gain power beyond measurement from the destruction of this planet. He tells me now he intends to harness the supreme power through the destruction of all the planets within this universe."

No reaction was forthcoming from Cloud. It was as if he had never heard the words and he fluttered his eyes in such a way it was like an ocular shrug as he drained the glass and set it onto the table.

"Do you know what that would mean?" Vincent asked, perplexed at the lack of reaction from Cloud.

"Yeah I know. Power of god, ultimate knowledge and all that crap." Cloud sighed.

Vincent sat forward.

"And that does not bother you?" He asked.

Cloud shook his head and stretched his fingers several times, persuing some rogue muscle spasm from his nerve endings.


"Why not?!" Vincent hissed.

Cloud tensed his arm, satisfied that the spasm was defeated and fixed sapphire icicles onto Vincent.

"Because I know he isn't getting off of this planet alive." He said, reaching for the decanter.

Vincent felt his outrage cooling off and he sighed as he sat back in his seat.

"I do not believe that is so certain anymore, his plans are already well underway. He told me he has destroyed Junon also on this day."

Cloud's concentration on the drink he was pouring broke and he watched Vincent silently for the longest of moments. His eyes changed again and Vincent saw a deep sorrow freeze solid within him.

"We knew he was going to..." Cloud sighed, nursing his refilled glass.

"...but so soon...."

His eyes changed again. Hatred and conviction played duets now as he drained the glass in one go and hastily poured another.

"Well that's the last one he will be destroying." Cloud hissed.

"How can you know that?" Vincent asked.

"Simple.." Cloud said, sitting forward and placing his glass onto the polished mahogany finished table.

"What happens when you overeat? You get tired and feel ill, you have to rest.

The same principle applies to absorbing Lifestream and Sephiroth absorbed five million souls worth of it today..."

Cloud sipped his drink.

"...that's overeating on a cosmic scale."

Vincent was silent as he analysed Cloud's hypothesis, applied the water of his thought to the vessel of the metaphor and found it to be watertight.

"Indeed..." He sighed

"...but we have no idea of knowing how long this resting period will be."

Cloud sipped from the glass once more.

"A day or two at the least. I don't know, you would have to speak to Red, this is his area of expertise not mine."

Vincent sighed and lifted the decanter once more, unable to ignore its' carved beauty. His thoughts however were focused into other matters.

"He was still able to demonstrate great power to me just now, I hope you are not mistaken."

Cloud shook his head.

"There is a world of difference from summoning lightning bolts and destroying entire cities. Something within him is definitely weaker, his aura was not as intense. It was like the Jenova cells inside him were drained of their energy."

Cloud said.

"Like batteries?" Vincent sugested.

Cloud nodded.

"Exactly. And batteries have to be recharged before they can be used again."

Vincent nodded.

"How then do we proceed?" He asked.

Cloud drained the glass and set it down with a sigh.

"Same as we were going to before. We have to neutralise his ability to ascend, stop him from absorbing any more soul energy and the only way to do that is..." Cloud said.

"The Sephiroth Materia." Vincent finished.

"We have to destroy it."

Cloud nodded, smiling dejectedly as he poured another glassful of much needed alcohol.

"Twelve Mako bombs ought to be enough to level everything for several miles around it aswell."

Silence descended as the last words left Cloud's mouth.

They each knew what must be done and the plan was as good as any ever devised.

Time was the problem and only it sat in judgement over what lay ahead.

"I really think you should try this stuff Vincent." Cloud eventually said, retreating back beneath the film of normality that had been broken all those minutes ago.

Studying both Cloud and the zequila smiling at him from the belly of the dragon, Vincent sighed and set the dedcanter back onto the table. After a long minute, he nodded his head and sighed.

"What have I to lose? I believe I shall try it."

Cloud turned in his seat to face the bar and asked the barman for another glass.

Nodding, he reached under the counter and retracted another glass, setting it on the bar for Cloud who rose from his seat and took the glass from the bar, moving with the confidence of a man who had been drinking nothing stronger than water.

Cloud nodded his thanks to the barman and sat back in his seat. Grabbing the decanter firmly he topped up his own drink and poured another glassful for Vincent who picked his up apprehensively, studying it with his blood-red gaze and mentally re-evaluating his acceptance of the beverage.

Cloud smiled as he rasied his glass to his lips.

"Trust me Vincent..." He began.

"'s better than coffee."

The smell of the spirit assaulted Vincent's nose and stung at the lining of his nostrils. Energy shimmered in his eyes like sun beams rippling across still water as he glanced up at Cloud. Cloud smiled back and drained his glass in one large swallow.

Sighing, Vincent put the glass to his lips and took a modest sip of the liquid. The taste of the zequila was not as acidic as Vincent had been preparing himself for but still the strength was quite overpowering, blowing a wave of heat down his nose as he swallowed and sending a trail of fire down his throat. He gagged and coughed once as the liquid settled in his stomach and gently set the glass back onto the table.

His throat and mouth tingled as he breathed and he looked over at Cloud, energy rippling in his eyes once again as he moved to speak.

"Not bad." He hissed.

Cloud smiled and refilled the glasses.

"Told you you would like it." He smiled.

Chapter 38: The angel

Maria sighed heavily, the pain in her gut biting her hard with teeth of flame as she inhaled, her breath a ragged inverse groan of pain. She waited for a moment until the edge was eroded from the sudden assault on her nerve endings and then opened her eyes again.

It was definitely getting worse and there was now a noticeable swelling in the area of her abdomen that now cried pain and bit into her with each breath.

She sighed again, the pain not as intense this time as she scanned the gaunt and haggared face that now greeted her from the mirror. Weeping willows of stringy grey hair now curtained her once beautiful features emphasising along with the darkness under her eyes the ruination that her body was enduring.

"I used to like you." She whispered at the mirror.

It smiled peevishly back at her, lamplight twinkling in its' cold polished eye.

"But you don't like me anymore."

She groaned as the pain whipped her again, increasing the weight of her body and collapsing her into an armchair as the room twisted and swam in a nauseating whirlpool around her.

Almost knocking the small table next to the chair over as she fell, Maria closed her eyes and hissed sharply as she suffered another bout of intense pain and begged silently in her head for it to end.

A moment that might as well have been a century finally passed taking with it the cruel pain that began to ebb away like a tide of lava recinding back towards the volcanic rictus that had spewed it out.

As the room began to stop slithering and turning, a single thing focused itself back to normality amongst the warping distortion of the world.

She turned her head dreamily and found herself gazing into an immortalised stare reaching out to her from the captured pool of reality residing in a colour photograph that adorned the table next to the seat.

The man depicted in the photograph broke beams of happiness through the clouds of pain and despair inside Maria's head like holy lances and brought a thousand joyous memories of carefree days back to her, shielding her from the harshness of the world in which she now exsisted.

His face was thin but not gaunt with pronounced almost heroic cheekbones rounding off into a subtly squared chin. Deep blue eyes shining in an almost mako enriched kind of a way flared out of the radiant smile of the face like two stars burning across the vastness of the void between photograph and reality. Curtains of rich black hair fading in the autumn of life to majestic grey in places adorned the visage of the celluloid-captured face which, although youthful was the face of a man in his mid to late 50's.

A great smile was stretched across his features, lighting up the face and stoking the fires in his eyes which burned in their captivity with all the intensity of real eyes.

A well trimmed and shaped beard, greying in its' aging glory wrapped its' way around his mouth and his classical chin and seemed to smile along with the man as it curved around the stretched muscles of his mouth.

Maria found her smile broadening until the muscles went tight on her face as a psychic warmth stretched out from the photo and blanketed her almost as though he were still here and she was safely in his embrace.

"Oh Cecil..." Maria sighed, a mournful note piercing her voice as she caressed the photo with her thumb.

He smiled back.

"...why did you have to go first?"

No answer was forthcoming from the muted photo.

Maria let the smile die as she filled the room with a sigh as mournful as grief itself.

A strange glow lit in each corner of the room.

Soft light began to trickle down the walls, pouring like rivers and running along the floor, forming a radiant reservoir on the carpet.

The mournful sigh was cut short as Maria gasped in surprise and then gazed in wonder at this remarkable spectacle.

The light grew, engulfing the room in a flash that was neither painful or startling but warm and almost inviting, vanishing in moments and leaving in its' wake the form of a man.

His face was alight with joy as he stepped from the fading light and smiled.

"Hello Maria."

She did not recognise him but a nerve deep inside her head that should have tensed did not. Fear remained dormant.

"Who are you?" She asked.

His smile broadened.

"I am your salvation."

She smiled weakly.

"You have come to help me?" She asked.

He smiled calmly, his face almost ethereal as droplets of light dripped from his swaying silver hair like sweat beads.

"The pain grows by the hour now doesn't it? Breathing draws a tear from thine eye now."

She nodded.

Sephiroths' brief smile melted and poured off of his face like wax freezing his features into a crippling pity.

"I was summoned by your suffering, Maria. It rings inside me and pains me just as it does you."

She winced as she was stung again but she was not alone this time. Sephiroth too, gasped, as he absorbed the same ring of acid inside his own body. His eyes lit and his breathing was ragged for those moments that she suffered.

"Thine suffering is great..." He hissed, pain ripping into his voice with barbed hooks.

The pain finally passed, dislodging the hooks from Sephiroth's voice and cooling his eyes as he smiled again.

"I have come to release you from it and grant you that which your heart desires the most."

He tapped the photograph with his finger.

"Cecil." He said, face beaming with joy.

The womans' eyes widened and she almost found the strength to sit up as she heard the words.

"He is there?!!" She asked.

Smiling, Sephiroth nodded, dropping his arm back to his side.

"He awaits you with great anticipation."

Pain bit hard with burning teeth again, drawing sharp hisses from both Maria and Sephiroth.

"Accursed disease!" Sephiroth snarled. Maria broke down.

"Please take me to him..." She sobbed.

"..I can't go on like this."

"I thought it was nothing, but after weeks and months..." She mewled, staring into the flawless emerald of her angels' eyes.

"...It isn't going to go away, is it?"

Sephiroth shook his head and knelt down.

"It is destroying you from the inside. There is nothing you can do to stop it."

His eyes ignited once again and he smiled as the glow intensified.

Still Maria was not afraid.

"I have come to offer you salvation, the peaceful and dignified end to life that you deserve." Sephiroth said, his voice soothing in a kind of hypnotic way. Maria was silent as she turned her weary head to look at the photograph of Cecil. She smiled and it smiled back, filling her heart with joy.

"Take me to him, please." She sobbed, turning to face her saviour.

Sephiroth smiled and reached into some deep pocket in his robes, retracting a perfect sphere of green materia. Upon contact with the hand of its' master, the materia burst into light bathing the room in a soft green irridescence and lighting Sephiroth's eyes once more. He took her weak arm and placed the crystal in her trembling hand, the light within it fading as soon as it left Sephiroth's hand. His eyes intensified, illuminating the skin of his eyesockets as he smiled and looked at her.

"Do you know what this is Maria?"

She nodded, watching the crystal as if hypnotised..

"It's a materia crystal."

"A Destruct crystal." Sephiroth whispered.

"Pray unto it, ask for it to serve you and it shall take you to that place you so desire."

The pain raced through her again as Maria clutched the crystal and began to chant.

Sephiroth did not hiss this time but smiled intently as he watched.

* * * * * *

The glass hit the hard oak boards and shattered into a million pieces, spraying the floor with tiny rainbows as light slithered through the shining fragments.

Cloud's hands raced up and clutched at his temples as pain simultaneously erupted through every cell in his mind. The room smudged and began to blur, tunnelling his vision as the pain began to grow exponentially.

"He's here! In the building!!" Cloud hissed, pressing into his head as he tried desperately to silence the pain.

"Somebody's dying! He's killing somebody!!"

Without realising it, Cloud had got up and was half way up the first flight of stairs. Vincent, boots hammering on the beams of the floor, was hot on Cloud's tail, Quicksilver cocked and primed in his hand.

Upon reaching the darkened hallway atop the stairs, the pain nearly cracked Cloud's skull and he collapsed to his knees with a thud outside a room with 'Maria' on the door, groaning and clutching his head.

"In there! He's in there. Do something Vincent!"

Vincent nodded in his cool way and slammed his heavy boot into the door, snapping the lock clean out of the frame and battering the hingeless mass of oak into the room. A staggering flash of green light erupted from the room, dazzling both Vincent and Cloud who had forced himself to stand up and enter the room.

The ill looking woman from Reception lay still in the armchair, a glowing materia rolled dejectedly on the floor where it had fallen from her lifeless hand.

Her body shined, red sheets of energy masking her form as she broke into lifestream and vanished leaving only one piece of her being behind in the form of a golden thread of light in the chair. It pulsed and throbbed gracefully, letting out gentle heat that warmed and soothed both Cloud and Vincent.

Vincent was baffled but Cloud recognised the light instantly.

"A thought-energy!"

There was another ring of pain as Cloud bacame aware of another presence joining them in the room.

"Sephiroth!" Cloud shouted.

Sephiroth smiled absently at the two men and reached his hand out. The shining strand of consciousness in the armchair swam through the air in its' final act of majesty and touched him, showering him in a golden aura and then vanishing as he absorbed it. With his other hand, he summoned forth a wave of force that tore through the air and impacted heavily with Cloud and Vincent, knocking them from their feet and smashing them against the wall with enough force to knock Cloud out for a moment. As the two men slumped to the ground, heads pounding from the impact of the hidden ring of energy, Vincent, battling against the grogginess that clung to him, raised his gun and tried in vain to target Sephiroth. This time however, the wave was visible, rippling from Sephiroths' fingertips in six or seven smaller distortions that ran towards Vincent with alarming speed, striking his arm and sending it slamming into the wall with such force that, had it been bone, it would have snapped like a matchstick in a hurricane. Vincent dropped the gun and seccumbed to the after effects of the first attack as Cloud groaned and came to at his side. His hand fell, the steel clattering like a death-knell on the beams of the floor.

Sephiroth dropped his arm to his side and stood smiling at the two concussed men for a moment. Sighing almost contentedly, he knelt to the floor and retrieved the fallen Destruct orb from the fading carpet, the crystal burning like a sun in its' masters hand once again as he rose to full height.

"I hope this has illustrated the futility of fighting me."

Light began to swarm down the walls once again, forming a wonderful pond of brilliance at his feet.

"I hope further illustrations can be avoided."

Sephiroth vanished in a crescendo of luminescence leaving the two men to recover in the dishevelled room.

Silence was broken moments later by the sound of a bedroom door opening and then the soft pattering of bare feet on oak beams.

Without knocking, Cid, half dazed, half asleep and dazzled by the sudden light slinked into the bedroom wrapped in a black dressing gown. For some reason, his flying goggles were still sitting atop his head like a crown as he came in and rubbed at his eyes, yawning loudly as he did so.

"What the hell's all the noise? Some of us are tryin' to...."

He dropped his hands and surveyed the room, his gaze finally falling to his two dazed companions on the floor. His anger edged off and he looked around in disbelief.

"What the shit...?" He exclaimed.

"What the hell happened in here? Looks like a freakin' warzone!"

Cid watched as Cloud and Vincent began to move and groan, the stun wearing off of them.

"What the fuck happened to you two?" Cid asked.

"And why the fuck you smashing up bedrooms?"

Cloud rubbed at his temples as the last vestiges of the psychic attack drained from his being. He took several deep breaths and spoke to Cid without looking up at him.

"Go get help Cid, go to the bar and get somebody up here." Cloud hissed.

"The bar? Dressed like this?" Cid asked, gesturing to the dressing gown.

"God damn it Cid, just go will you!" Cloud shouted.

Cid did not move for a second, an affronted look leaking onto his face but then the golden shiny penny dropped inside him and worry plastered itself over his features.

"Sephiroth?" He asked.

Vincent nodded and Cid was out of the room and descending the stairs in a flash.

Locks clicked as more of the sleeping guests came out of their hibernation to investigate the commotion. Tifa padded drowsily into the room, Red slinking in groggily at her heels confirming rather than banishing the image of a faithful pet.

Cloud's head thumped like the war gong of a goblin as he shakily got to his feet and helped Vincent up. A mako enriched muscle in his desceptively thin arm tensed hard, pulling the formidable Vincent to his feet. Vincent tucked the Quicksilver into its' holster and surveyed his arm for damage as Tifa looked around, letting out a hushed gasp from the state of the room. She walked over to Cloud, putting a worried arm around his shoulder and looking at him.

"Cloud? what happened in here?" She asked.

Cloud hissed through clenched teeth and rubbed his head as the last of the psychic echo and the pain of Sephiroth's presence passed through him.

"That sick bastard!" He snarled.

"What? What is it?" Tifa asked.

"He's not happy just killing people, he's even making them kill themselves for him, the sick son-of-a-bitch!!"

"Sephiroth did this?" Red asked, surveying the room.

"Most strange...I sensed nothing."

"You were asleep!" Cloud hissed.

Tifa looked around.

"Was someone else in here?" She asked.

Cloud nodded.

"They were." He hissed again.

Feet drumming against floorboards shattered the conversation as Tifa lost Cloud's attention. In moments, Cid appeared, the black robes flowing in the wake of his body and masking him in a deeply unfavourable image. A young woman entered the room just behind Cid. As she looked around, she fell still and gazed at the wrecked room in a shell-shocked expression of horror.

"Bar was closed." Cid panted.

"But I found Yanna here at Reception."

Yanna tucked delicate curls of her blonde hair behind her ears as she looked around again.

"What happened? Where's Maria?" She asked.

"Maria, she was the...?" Cloud asked.

"The receptionist. Where is she?" Yanna repeated, her gaze icing with fear.

Cloud sighed. He reached up and rubbed at his temples again.

"She's dead, Yanna."

A deathly silence crystallised in the room as the fallout of the words settled.

Cloud felt himself shrink as Yanna pierced a burning gaze of ice onto him, her eyes moistening but intesifying in the same moment. Hooks of disbelief tore through Cloud from her eyes and he looked away.

"What? Was it her illness?"

Cloud was silent for a moment as he collected his thoughts.

"We knew she was ill but..." Yanna stammered.

"She was murdered." Cloud whispered, eyes curdling with sorrow as he spoke.

Yanna walked a little closer, clutching her cheeks with her hands, her eyes cowed and darkened with disbelief and horror.

"Murdered...?" She gasped.

" who? What are you all doing in here anyway?" She asked, suddenly finding suspicion in her voice.

Cloud looked away. He couldn't tell her the truth; she would never believe him. For once he was glad that the others were leaving up to him to explain.

He sighed again and looked back up.

"We tried to save her, we heard some commotion downstairs and came up to see what was going on." Cloud said.

Yanna shook her head.

"I was in reception and I heard nothing." She hissed suspiciously.

"Both Cloud and I were altered by Shinra experimentation. Our senses are many times more accurate than those possessed by a normal human being." Vincent quickly added.

Obviously he too had understood the need to conceal truth from Yanna. The expressions on the rest of the party indicated that they had understood too but they remained silent. That was probably for the best, if they all sprung into this concealment, Yanna would inevitably become even more suspicious than she already was, or appeared to be.

Eventually, Yanna nodded. She did not seem entirely convinced but she nodded anyway. The suspicion remained in her eyes though, to a lesser degree.

"That makes sense, I suppose. Where...where is he?" She demanded, a dire mixture of anger, grief, fear and suspicion icing onto her pretty face.

"Unfortunately, the killer was in possession of a Remove materia and managed to warp himself from the building after he killed your comrade." Vincent lied.

Cloud almost shook his head in amazement.

'Good thinking Vincent. I couldn't have though of that so fast.' Cloud thought.

The speed of Vincent's response was more than adequate to ease the majority of the distrust from Yanna's face. Grief and shock overtook her features now and darkened her pretty youthful face, giving her the appearance of somebody much older.

"Why would anybody do such a thing, to Maria of all people? She never hurt anybody..." Yanna asked, her face and her being swallowed totally in her own shock as she slumped into a sitting position on the edge of Maria's bed.

"We thought she would blink out after Cecil died, he meant everything to her but she managed to pull through, managed to fight on. Then they diagnosed her with Mako Poisoning..." Yanna said as she began to sob.

"...We were all putting 10 Gil a week into a pool to buy her a Restore Materia, we only needed one more week..." Yanna cried, her head falling into her hands as she began to sob uncontrollably.

"How could somebody do this? What could be right about a world that allows such cruelty to happen?"

Yanna burst into tears.

Cloud watched on with pity for a moment as Tifa put her arms around Yanna and tried to comfort her whilst grief took his pound of flesh from the young womans' soul.

Cloud shook his head and sighed as he took a step closer to Cid, whispering into his friends' ear and hoping that Yanna's sobs would drown out his words.

"Get your stuff together Cid and find Barret. We're leaving in one hour."

Cid nodded, flashed a glance over to Yanna then silently left the room.

Red looked up at Cloud and nodded, leaving the room after Cid and leaving Cloud and Tifa in the room with Yanna.

Cloud looked up at Vincent and signalled for him to follow the others. Vincent discreetly nodded back and quietly left the room, his footsteps hidden under the black quilt of Yanna's sobs.

Cloud sighed and a tiny silken thread of pain rippled through his heart as he knelt down next to Yanna.

"I am so sorry for your loss Yanna." He began.

She nodded, sobbing into her hands.

"We're gonna get the bastard that did this and make him pay." Cloud added.

Cloud broke his gaze and reached into his pocket, withdrawing the pouch that Choco Billy and his wife had given him. It still contained 150 Gil.

Cloud took Yanna's hand and placed the pouch into it.

"I know that's not much but I hope it will be enough to cover the damage."

She sniffed and limply accepted the pouch.

"Thankyou." She snifffed.

Cloud stood up.

"No problem."

Cloud watched for a moment, looking down at Tifa. Memories of Nibelheim, rare happy ones from the swamp of his pain-riddled childhood came to him as he watched her comforting Yanna, momentarily blocking out the ruin of the world.

He turned and smiled for a brief second before leaving the room, the picture of Cecil smiling jovially at him from the silver confines of the photo.

Chapter 39: Move out

The inn was deserted now. It was late at night and the commotion upstairs had drawn all the remaining staff to the upper level. Cid was the sole figure in the reception area now, his shotgun sitting almost tiredly in the holster at his side as he sucked quietly on the cigarette he was smoking. He was muttering to himself in a disgruntled fashion as Cloud and Vincent descended the stairs. The Ultima Weapon rattled confidently in its' sheath on Cloud's back whilst Vincent opened the chamber of the Quicksilver, double-checked that it was loaded and then closed the barrel with a chilling metallic crack.

"What you moaning about?" Cloud asked.

Cid took another long draw on his cigarette and sighed, exhaling the used vapours explosively as he groggily rubbed his eye with a gloved hand.

"Barret ain't coming with us Cloud."

Vincent and Cloud stopped at the foot of the stairs and exchanged a brief glance.

Cloud sighed and adjusted the bracer on his left arm, wincing as the metal irritated his skin.

"I expected he wouldn't."

Cid took another draw on the cigarette.

"That leaves us a man short. You think that's ok?" Cid hissed.

"It doesn't matter what I think." Cloud said, his attention firmly focused onto the bracer.

"We could throw an army at Sephiroth and still lose. Besides..."

Cloud looked up.

"...Can you blame him for wanting to be with his family?"

Cid was silent for a moment as he thought and smoked. Eventually, he sighed and shrugged.

"Suppose. Still pisses me off though, don't seem right some how." He sighed.

Cloud nodded and returned his gaze to the bracer.

"Wouldn't worry about it if I were you, we only need one man to drop the bombs. I'll take care of the rest."

Cloud affirmed his statement with a quick tap of the Ultima Weapon.

Cid chuckled as he finished the cigarette and pinged the butt out into the darkened square.

"We got us a fucking action hero here!" He said, musing to Vincent.

Vincent thought for a minute and nodded.


Cid chuckled again and lit another cigarette.

Cloud sighed and gave up on the bracer, instead shifting to look at Cid who was lavishly enjoying what must have been his tenth smoke in as many minutes.

"Don't you ever run out of those things?" Cloud asked, pointing to the smouldering weed in his friends' hand.

Cid laughed and confidently shook his head.

"I stashed about 20'000 of them on the Highwind, it's the only place I can have a smoke now without Shera pissin' and moanin'about it." He explained.

"Twenty thousand?" Vincent said, the silken fabric of his voice rippling with disbelief.

Cid nodded.

"How much did that cost you?" Cloud asked.

Cid smiled again.

"Not as much as you would think. I bought them that summer we took over the old Shinra beach house in the Costa Del Sol. Only cost me 3000 Gil."

"3000 Gil?!" Cloud exclaimed.

"You spent 3000 Gil on cigarettes?!"

Cid nodded.

"Hey, that aint bad for 20'000 ciggies you know!"

Vincent nodded.

"Perhaps so..." He began.

"...But you could have spent a mere 200 Gil on a Poison materia and achieved the same outcome."

Cloud smirked and Cid snorted.

"Ahh, fuck off Vince, you sound like my friggin' mother!" Cid exclaimed, tapping a small holdall with his foot.

"What's in the bag?" Cloud asked.

"Dunno. Yanna gave it to me while you lot were getting ready. Said it would be helpful."

Cloud nodded.

"Let's have a look shall we?"

Cid shrugged and knelt down, unzipping the bag carefully.

"Let's see what we got here..." Cid sighed, pawing through the contents of the holdall.

"A fire materia. Mastered too. Some medicines, potions, an elixir, a couple of hypers..."

Cid rummaged deeper.

"O-ho!" He exclaimed.

"What have we here? An Osprey 950 and about 100 shells!"

Cid retracted the gigantic handgun from the holdall and glanced up at Vincent.

"Here ya go Vince, this is your department!"

Vincent gladly accepted the weapon and began to inspect his new acquisition.

The barrel was almost triangular in shape with smoothed off edges. It stretched for about 10 inches with a moulded sight at the tip of the barrel. The handle was immense to encompass the gigantic .50 calibre magazine with moulded indentations to provide a more comfortable grip for the fingers of the user.

The butt of the gun was rectangular but seemed to flow into a triangular form at the point where the chamber met the barrel. The trigger was enormous, protruding from the belly of the weapon like a demons' tooth as black as the night. The only slight feature on the gun was the trigger guard which was a simple right-angle of black finished metal which protected the black succubus fang from being accidentally depressed. 'Osprey 950' was printed into the right-hand flank of the barrel in deep embossed letters.

"Magnificent. Truly magnificent." Vincent remarked.

His human fingers wrapped comfortably around the weapon and he depressed a catch, dropping the huge magazine into his left hand.

"The weight and the balance are as close to perfection as I have ever felt in a weapon, even better than my own gun." He said.

Cid chuckled and took a drag on his cigarette.

"I think he's in love!"

Cloud smiled but Vincent didn't react, his attention focused solely on the weapon in his hand.

"I wonder what an inn was doing with a weapon such as this, this was meant for the hand of an adept marksman."

Cid rummaged around in the bag again and fished out the box of shells.

"These might help." He said, cigarette in lips as he offered the bullets to Vincent.

Vincent snapped the barrel open, inspecting the mechanisms of the gun as he accepted the bullets.

Cloud shook his head and tried again to adjust his bracer.

"He'll be playing with that for hours." He sighed, turning his attention to the sound of footsteps on the stairs and leaving Vincent to the gun.

Tifa and Red emerged from the murk and the gloom of the upper landing, Tifa's gaze immediately slipping to the black-finished monstrosity in Vincent's hand.

"Holy smokes!" She exclaimed.

"Where the hell did he get that from?"

Cloud sighed again as the manacle finally stopped chafing his arm.

"A gift from the inn to help with the persuit." He replied.

Tifa nodded and looked back at the gun again as Vincent began to feed the huge shells into the magazine.

"Good thing he knows what he's doing, that could down a Behemoth!"

"Heard about Barret?" Cid asked, rummaging in the bag again.

Tifa sighed and nodded.

"Yeah." She replied, reaching into her pocket.

"He wants you to have this Cloud." She said, handing Cloud a folded piece of paper.

Cloud nodded as he accepted the paper and slipped it into his pocket without reading it.

"I'll read it later." He said, turning to the holdall.

Tifa watched him for a moment.

"It might be important." She needled, memories of the altercation on the Highwind swimming in her head.

"It can wait..." Cloud sighed bluntly.

"...I'll read it later."

There was a strange moment of silence as Tifa watched Cloud. He knew she was watching him but kept his back to her as he finished inspecting the holdall with Cid.

"That's all folks, no presents for any of the rest of us." Cid announced, zipping the bag shut and standing up.

Cloud stood up too but conveniently avoided Tifa's gaze.

"You sure scored well out of that, didn't you Vince?" Cid sighed as he juggled the Fire materia.

"Are we using this or what?" Cid asked.

Cloud sighed as he adjusted the Ultima Weapon.

"A Fire materia probably wont do much to Sephiroth. Just stick it in your pocket, we can use it for healing if we find a Tetra Elemental. I think I've got one lying around somewhere." Cloud said.

Cid nodded and secreted the materia into one of the many pockets in his bomber jacket.

"We ready?" Cloud asked.

There was a harsh snap as Vincent inserted the clip into the hungry underbelly of the gun followed by a well oiled click as he chambered one of the enormous bullets. The corner of his mouth almost curled into a smile as he glanced over at Cloud, fire pulsing in his eyes as he nodded.

"I am ready." He said.

"Us too." Tifa added, nodding to Red, who nodded his agreement.

Cid picked up the holdall and nodded through a cloud of smoke.

Cloud shifted the Ultima Weapon, holding it in his right hand as he reached for the door.

"Good. Let's mosey."

* * * * * *

The night air was much fresher now that the cancerous shroud that had choked the sky had begun to fall into remission. Above the ruination of Midgar far in the distance, the lightning storm had lost what remained of its power and the red haze reflections of fire on the ashen clouds won out over the lightning for the colouring of the sky. This Perdition-red glow betrayed the great fires that still burned amongst the ruins consuming what little remained of the city.

"They'll be burning for days." Tifa sighed.

"Weeks." Cid hissed.

Cloud was silent as the party trudged through the darkened halls of the night. Fire from the ruins flickered feverishly in his eyes each time he passed a glance towards them.

"We'll check out Mt Nibel first." He announced, glancing around as he scanned for potential attackers.

"Why? The Crater is closer." Cid argued.

Cloud sighed.

"I want to do a fly over Junon, to make sure he's not lying."

Tifa and Cid exchanged quick, alarmed glances.

"What happened to Junon?" They asked in unison.

Cloud looked ahead.

"Vincent will fill you in when we get underway."

Silence fell again as the party walke to the Highwind.

The night held no hidden assailants now, the removal of their cover pushing caution back into the minds' of the local monsters. Not even a Custom Sweeper would risk a full-on assault now not after what had befallen their last attack. They had been programmed very well and would be seeking cover by now and for a goblin to even consider twice the possibilty of attacking the party would be certain suicide. A single shot from the monstrous weapon Vincent now possessed would reduce a goblin to a mere patch of slime in the grass and the muzzle flash would illuminate the grasslands for many meters.

The party reached the faux-safety of the Highwind without incident.

Cid wandered up the ramp first, imputting a code into a small panel to release the locks on the hatch. Compressed air hissed as the hatch slid open, admitting the party to the darkened corridors of the ship. The hatch slid shut as soon as they were inside, smothering the group in a near total darkness.

Cid dropped the holdall, lit a cigarette and followed a a large painted arrow on the deck with 'BRIDGE' written along its' tail. The rest of the party sheathed their weapons and followed him in silence.

Smoking in a slightly less exhuberant fashion for once, Cid found his way through the gloom and parked himself in the master console seat, depressing several switches and flooding the wrought innards of the airship with welcomed artificial sunlight from the many ceiling-mounted panel lamps that were scattered along the bulkheads.

Several more switches and buttons brought the computers and the drive instrumentation to life and a large rectangular one marked 'Ignition Primer' brought the gigantic engines on line, the steel of the hull throbbing confidently from their incredible power.

"Junon first you say?" Cid asked, swivelling in the seat to face Cloud.

Cloud nodded as he was flanked by Vincent.

"Can you get us there in under 3 hours Cid?" Cloud asked.

Cid looked at Cloud, then at Vincent and then nodded uneasily as he chewed on the butt of the cigarette.

"Yeah, but it wont be a smooth ride. I'll have to neutralise the overdrive on the engines and it'll be red-lining all the way." Cid said.

Cloud and Vincent exchanged a pensive glance.

"How fast?" Cloud eventually murmured.

Cid shrugged.

"In the region of 1900mph. To be honest, I dunno, I've never neutralised the overdrive before."

Cloud sighed and nodded understandingly.

"At the first sign of trouble, turn it back on. We wont be much good to anyone if we blow ourselves up."

Cid nodded and began to program the destination into the navigation computer. A readout on the main monitor confirmed the destination and Cid began the lift-off procedure.

In momets, the great ship was airbourne and free to navigate. The party settled silently into their various seats as Cid engaged the engines, propelling them once more into the gaping jaws of the night and the many untold horrors and surprises that its' black shroud held.

Turbulence shook the grasses and swayed Barret gently on his feet as the monstrous airship sped away into the night above him. A tiny child watched from a lit window in the building behind him as he stretched up his hand and waved his farewell to his comrades.

"See y'all." He called.

"Good luck."

Chapter 40: Family

Barret closed the door quietly, as quietly as a man of his size and disposition possibly could as he came back into the silent building.

Nobody stirred.

Most of the guests had slept through the commotion and the staff were in the bar drinking in total silence as they mulled over the events of the evening. Even the departure of the Highwind had failed to rouse much attention.

Barret sighed to himself as he padded up the first flight of stairs but stopped on the first landing as a shape emerged from the gloom infront of him and set his heart racing.

Barret squinted, dispelling quickly the imagined swathes of silver hair and the two glowing green eyes, instead revealing the slender form of a woman.

"Elmyra? What you doin' up?" Barret whispered.

Elmyra emerged from the darkness, allowing a single blade of light from the reception to cut the veil of murk from her face. She seemed to be smiling but she looked worn and tired.

"Do you remember when I first met you, in Midgar?" She asked.

Barret nodded slowly.

"I scolded you for leaving Marlene alone while you were off fighting." Elmyra continued.

Barret nodded again.

"Yeah. I remember."

Elmyra stepped a little closer and held the pointed silence for a dramatic moment.

"Why didn't you go with them this time?" She asked.

Barret fidgeted and rubbed the back of his head with his big hand.

"Lots of reasons I guess. I made a promise to a friend long ago that I would look after that girl and I can't do that when I'm chasin' all over the damn world after that crazy ass."

Elmyra nodded.

"True but you told me you had to, to keep her safe, remember?"

Barret looked straight at Elmyra, the intensity of his gaze stunning her. He was not angry, he was not infuriated, what burned inside him was conviction.

"I'm fightin' on the home front now."

Elmyra was silent.

"This aint like no danger we've faced before If he can destroy a city, what chance do you two have on your own? Even if I can't do anything to stop him at least I will be here when..."

Barret fell silent and so did Elmyra.

"If a man can't have his family, what can he have? My place is here now."

Elmyra nodded.

"And your friends? Tifa told me about Cloud and you."

Barret nodded.

"I wrote a letter, just hope he reads it."

"He will."

"Dunno, I pissed him off pretty bad back there."

Elmyra shook her head.

"He'll read it. He's not a bad person, he probably feels just as bad as you."

Barret nodded and looked away.

Elmyra was silent for a moment and then took a step closer to Barret.

"You know, Marlene is asleep upstairs. I'm sure a big guy like you could convince the bar staff to lend us a bottle of something, don't you think?"

Barret looked up and caught her gaze again. He smiled and placed a hand on the bannister.

"Worth a try I suppose." He said.

Elmyra smiled and began to descend the stairs, turning and waiting for Barret to follow her.

"Come on, we can toast the end of the world." She sighed. Barret nodded and began to walk, following Elmyra into the light-washed lower floor.

"Yeah, and the start of a new one."

Chapter 41: Junon

Reverberations passed like great shivers through the hull of the ship, shaking the polished steel and rattling unsecured items. Metal groaned and creaked and screeched and the party clung to their seats nervously as the landscapes of the world screamed past below them.

Vincent had long since finished explaining his confrontation that night, precipitating a deathly silence amongst the party members as they assimilated the information.

Cloud was first to venture out of the muteness, leaning forward in his seat and gazing at the master console. Temperature spikes peaked on several of the displays and a red warning light had come on.

Cid was monitoring the console and smoking, a deeply nervous look inhabiting the usually placid peaks and gullies of his face.

"How long now Cid?"

Cid took his cigarette out of his mouth and looked over some digital readouts.

"About 10 minutes now but I might have to slow down before that, some of these engine temperatures are really worrying me now."

Cloud nodded and sat back.

"Just get us there in one piece"

Cid put his cigarette back in his mouth.

"I'll try!"

Cloud nodded again and now turned in his swivel seat, lending his attention to the rest of the party. They had not spoken a word since Vincent had finished speaking and the look on Tifa's face bothered Cloud.

"Hey." Cloud said, capturing Tifa's attention.

"You alright?"

She looked for a moment, studying Clouds' face as she shook her head.

"Not really. I'm having a really hard time with all of this." She sighed.

"Who isn't?" Cid interjected.

Tifa ignored him.

"How does somebody get so messed up?" She asked.

Cloud sat forward, clasping his hands together.

"You mean like I did?" He suggested.

She looked at him again but shook her head.

"No, no not like you Cloud. This is different, you had a personality disorder brought on by Jenova cells and emotional problems. No, what I mean is, how can a a great man suddenly become...evil?"

There was a long moment of silence. Cloud sat back in his seat and sighed as he thought to himself.

"You might not like what I'm about to say, but..." Red said, taking the initiative and drawing the group to look at him.

"...I do not believe Sephiroth is evil, not in the classical sense of the word at least. He has performed unspeakable acts of savagery but everything he has done, he has done under the reasoning of a motive."

Tifa sighed.

"What motive?"

Red looked up at her.

"He truly believes that what he is doing is right. He believes without question that he is an Ancient and that he is ascending to godhood. In his own mind, he thinks what he is doing is showing love to the people of the world and, judging from what Vincent has told us, that is why he destroyed Midgar. Although a dillusional belief, he does believe he is a god. What could be a better motive than that?"

"Yeah, that makes sense..." Cid added.

"...But where the hell did all this head-trip shit come from? Where did it all start?"

"I can tell you the beginnings of this situation." Vincent said.

Cloud looked at Vincent as he sat forward. Something flickered in his blood-red eyes that chilled Cloud's bones.

Something that haunted Vincent deeply shined for a brief moment as he began to speak.

"This all began more than 30 years ago. Sephiroth is the product of the Jenova Project, in actuality, the only success that it ever produced."

"I've seen the failures." Cloud sighed, recounting the events at Nibelheim all those years ago.

Vincent nodded.

"Then there was the Gaea Soul project. Once again, Sephiroth was the only success."

Cloud looked over at Vincent.

"When he saw the failures at Nibelheim, that is when it all began. He realised that he too may have been created in the same way as the things in those pods. He went back to the mansion in Nibelheim and disappeared into the basement for days, reading everything he could lay his hands on."

Tifa nodded.

"Then he destroyed the town and went up to the reactor. You killed him there Cloud, after he injured me and Zack."

Cloud sighed.

"He fell into the Lifestream below the reactor, taking the head of the Jenova creature with him."

Red looked up at Cloud, then at Vincent.

"He and Cloud may have shared some of the same mental instabilities. Sephiroth began to doubt himself after he saw the mutants, descending into some kind of paranoia and when he read the materials in the basement it confirmed this new self image he had created. The Sephiroth we know was born."

"Wait, wait, wait..." Cid called in.

"...You said Cloud killed him? How could he be alive if Cloud killed him? Was he dead or not?"

"I realise we should have gone through this again for your benefit Cid, we had all discussed this before we collected you." Cloud sighed.

"It makes much more sense if you have had access to the Gaea Soul project files. In answer to your question Cid, he was dead but not in the way we understand death. He was in a limbo, trapped between life and Lifestream."

Cid nodded and lit another cigarette.

"How the fuck did that happen?"

"You can thank Hojo and the Gaea Soul project for it." Cloud hissed.

Red looked at Cloud and then at Cid.

"The Planet couldn't reabsorb Sephiroth's body. During the fusion of human and materia, materia crystal formed inside Sephiroth. When he was 'killed' by Cloud and fell into the Lifestream, the Planet believed his body to be a materia crystal and as such, rather than absorbing him, allowed his physical being to reform all the while severing his consciousness and trapping it in a state between life and death. During this time, Sephiroth's mind and body travelled the Lifestream allowing him to absorb all the power and knowledge that it held..."

"...Ultimate power." Vincent cut in.

"How can a mere human mind contain the limitless possibilities of ultimate ability or of power without end?"

Red nodded.

"Exactly. The secrets of all that and more were available to Sephiroth when he was trapped in the Lifestream and the subsequent effect was the hopeless subversion of the human mind. This artificial construct, formed from self-doubt, frustration and delusion became Sephiroth and the human was all but destroyed, subverted so greatly by his own inner demons that it was nearly lost. It is hard to understand what has really happened to him bringing me back to my belief that he is not truly evil but misguided on a cataclysmic scale."

There was a long moment of silence as the group thought.

"One thing is certain, however..." Red sighed.

"...we cannot allow him to continue, we have to stop him at all costs. Gods do not know the weaknesses of mortals, fear, rage, loathing, hatred, contempt. No matter how powerful Sephiroth becomes he will still carry all that inside him, he is built from it, driven by it. Imagine a creator being driven by all that makes men weak. What kind of universe could he create?"

Nausea clawed at the stomachs of the party and there was a lowering in the whine of the engines. The rattling stopped and the screaming landscapes settled to a gentle rolling.

"What is it Cid? Trouble?" Cloud asked, rubbing at his stomach as he stood up.

Cid shook his head, entering commands into the drive computer and puffing on his cigarette.

"We've arrived at Junon." He said.

Junon, the very last stronghold of Shinra in the world now. After Meteor and the various investigations the full truth of Shinra's involvement in atrocities and their warped ventures into human experimentation came out, especially the Jenova Project. Their stock plummeted and their Mako business was ruined once restrictions on safe forms of generating electricity were lifted.

Shinra HQ's on every continent were ransacked by furious mobs and their executives were jeered at and beaten in the streets, or worse.

Only here in Junon was the last vestige of Shinra, a tiny graffitied building in the roughest neighbourhood from which tiny scraps of information were sold at next to nothing to those governments or companies willing to stoop low enough to deal with them. Shinra was finished but the fact they had even survived in their tiny hovel at all was insult enough.

The sun was groggily climbing the sky on this side of the planet, orange halos breaking the deep purple of the fading night and running a tiny highlight of gold across the horizon. Grey clouds shimmered silver across their bottoms as sunlight caught the tiny droplets of water vapour and ignited them into life.

Warm angel fingers slipped wetly along the side of buildings as the sun rose from behind the hills and cast its majesty across the ocean, a million reflections of its' brilliance dancing on the crest of each deep turquoise wave. As the sun rose from its' rest, stretching and lighting up the world, Junon was silhoutted against the heavenly backdrop, deep whorls of light dripping and rippling across the great glass towers and glistening wetly over the steel of great port structures.

Everything was as it should be. No fire, no smoke, no nuclear scarred landscape where once a city should have sat. A city waking with the resurrection of daylight around it.

"Lying son-of-a-bitch!" Cid growled as he reduced speed even further, beginning a slow circle of the city.

The rest of the party had left their seats and stepped closer, gazing at the dawn-washed metropolis below the ship.

Tifa's face cracked into a smile as she ran a hand through her river of chestnut hair.

"Thank god." She whispered.

Vincent found his feet with an irritated scratch of metal as his boots met the deck. Light rippled through his eyes like church candles as he gazed out onto the city emerging from the sunrise.

"He told me it was destroyed." He hissed, confusion bouncing across his voice like the sun on the waves below.

"Why would he lie?" He asked, turning to Cloud.

Cloud was silent as he surveyed the cityscape below. He took a step closer to the viewing dome and slowly began to shake his head, responding more to a thought than to Vincent's question.

"Something isn't right here." He said in a cowed voice.

Tifa turned to face him, some of her earlier relief escaping from her face.

"How do you mean?"

She had learned long ago to trust Cloud and she knew all too well he would not say something like that unless something really bothered him.

He did not look at her as the ship continued to circle the city like an angry insect.

"This is a port city. Where are all the dockworkers? They should be starting their shifts about now but there isn't anyone there."

Tifa looked out to the city, all but the last drop of relief leaving her now as she allowed the soft, vacant caress of dread touch her thoughts.

"Where are all the cars?" Cloud continued, gesturing to the silent streets.

"And look there..." He said, gesturing now to the ocean.

"Those ships are just drifting."

The party remained silent. The more they looked at the city, the more they realised that Cloud was correct. The structures themselves were intact certainly but nothing moved within them or stirred amongst them.

The ships, two entering and one leaving the port, floundered against waves, crashing forwards in a mindless, control-less fashion.

"What's that?" Cid asked, pointing to something in one of the streets below. Along the concourse of the main street, two red lights peered like dragons' eyes out of the gloom

Cloud shrugged, looking at Cid and then at Vincent before crossing the bridge and lifting the Ultima Weapon. Spinning it around his hand a few times, he placed it firmly into its' sheath and crossed back to the master console.

"Cid, take us low enough to drop the ladder. I'm going down there." Cloud said, heading for the door.

"I shall accompany you." Vincent said, loading the Osprey-950 and following Cloud.

Red and Tifa watched the two men cross the room as Cid carefully maneouvered the hull of the Highwind into the street, watching the buildings on either side nervously.

"Take care Cloud." Tifa called.

"Yeah, watch your asses!" Cid added.

Cloud popped the hatch and crossed into the corridor, flanked by Vincent.

"That's the plan!" He called.

* * * * *

A chill wind buffeted Cloud as he set his feet onto the concrete. Vincent hissed his discontentment as his mane of raven feather hair lashed in the sudden blast and joined Cloud on the tarmac.

The smell of the sea air clung to the mens' nostrils with briny hooks as they began to look uneasily around, Cloud instinctively drawing the Ultima Weapon from its' sheath.

"Where are the birds?" Vincent asked, scowering the bleak landscape. Cloud shrugged.

"Dunno. The sound of an airship coming down should have brought the whole town out though."

Vincent began to move up the street, the steel tips of his boots rasping like animal claws on the wet surface of the road.

"Something most strange is going on." He sighed.

Cloud began to follow him.

"You're telling me." He agreed.

The sun was still fighting its way past the distant wall of rock from which Junon hung like a growth, leaving the lower city itself mired in a deep cloak of gloom. Gold and hazy blue burned over the distant peaks like seraphic flames sent to warm the world but touching only the ocean beyond and the peaks of the highest buildings, their glass finished bodies erupting with reflected light. It would be a few minutes yet before the light washed down those buildings and lifted the murk from the street level.

Cloud and Vincent walked uneasily down the street, the smaller buildings glaring at them from lifeless glass eyes as they sat in their black cloaks like a coven of fallen gods.

Occasionaly, the briny wind poured down the streets stirring the mausoleum mass of black hair that sprung from Vincent's head and adding to the already substantial chill creeping the length of the two men's spines. Nothing living stirred and the only sounds were the ghostly rattlings of distant chains and the rasp of feet on asphalt.

"No birds." Vincent hissed.

"No strays either." Cloud added.

"Where the hell is everyone?"

Ahead of them, the two glowing dragon eyes emerged from the gloom, quickly becoming recognisable as the tail lights of a car. Even enhanced eyes could make out little else until the two drew nearer. What could be made out was quite disturbing however and roused both Cloud and Vincent's suspicions.

From the position of the lights, the car was sitting at a 45 degree angle in the middle of the two lane road, as if it had swerved to avoid something in the road. There were no junctions, no traffic lights. Whatever the driver had swerved to avoid must be hidden further into the murk but at this range, neither Cloud or Vincent could see it.

The lights burned mournfully into the sunless gloom, shining like two emaciated eyes in a forgotten prison cell.

Cloud squinted and his eyes finally cut through the gloom, allowing him to identify the car.

"This is a Delsche Wraith!" He exclaimed.

As the two drew even closer, the almost inaudible purr of a magnificently tuned engine stroked their ears. With the exception of the mens' footsteps, the feline purr of the Wraith was the only sound available. Even the peaked Jenova enriched senses of the two could make out nothing else.

"Who in their right mind would leave this out here?!" Cloud exclaimed as they reached the vehicle.

Even in the penetrating murk, Cloud could make out the deep metallic blue of the bodywork. Silver sparkles danced across its' absolutely flawless polish. The whole thing stood no more than a meter off of the ground and a subtle spoiler met a slight lip at the rear which curved around to form the trunk. The tail lights were rounded and shined harshly in the dying night. Cloud walked around to the front to find the obstacle the car had swerved to miss.

There was none.

Headlights pierced out into the forgotten nothing cutting two swathes of burning light into the darkness. The front of the car curved in sharply, the front metamorphosing itself into a subtle rocket nose. The headlights were situated either side of this feature, the cases sweeping back into the hood of the car and a sliver of metal cut the hood in half and branched off under the windscreen morphing into the fixtures for the side mirrors. Beneath the sleek body, aerodynamics embodied, a 5.9 litre engine purred as though it were merely a puppy. In full fury however, the roar of this beast would send Behemoths running in terror.

What sat before Cloud and Vincent was one of the few good things Shinra had invested its efforts into.

At the height of Shinra's rule, the Delsche Wraith had symbolised the greed and the decadence of the elite and only the best of the best drove them. After the fall of the Shinra Empire however, the car was seen as more of a proverbial phoenix, an emblem of a changing world. A place where anbody could drive 'The Car of the Gods' as Shinra had advertised it. And they did, as this one showed. It had been available in either a 6 Speed manual model or a 4 Speed automatic.

As Cloud peered into the drivers side, the feeling of awe struck him. The interior was no less impressive than the exterior. The dashboard was walnut finished with a black leather finished steering wheel. The seats were all leather upholstered, the dials and readouts all set in neatly trimmed silver frames on the dash. The handbrake was leather finished with a large chrome release button.

This was the automatic model, the selector was floor mounted with a leather finished handle. The letter 'D' was highlighted with a blue light and confirmed above the speedometer with a second blue-lighted 'D'. Shifting his attention to the speedo, Cloud noticed the last increment of speed upon it.

"250 Mph top speed?!" Cloud hissed in amazement, following up his statement with a whistle.

"Must be super lightweight material this is made from!"

Vincent, visibly less impressed stopped, looked up at the car and then around the streets again.

"Why has it been left here?" He asked.

Cloud shook his head and stood up.

"Still in Drive, that's why it didn't stall out."

Vincent nodded but looked uneasy.

"Why was it not left in Park?" He asked.

Cloud shrugged.

"Your guess is as good as mine. Whoever owned it sure left in a big hurry though."

A chill wind leapt down the street tormenting Vincent's hair once more and passing a chill down the column of Cloud's spine.

A foetal tendril of sunlight slithered down the sides of the buildings, piercing into the gloom and ripping the top layer of it away. Strange shapes littered the pavement, revealed as the murk softened and lost some of its' intensity.

"What are those?" Cloud asked, leaving the car and walking over to the nearest pavement.

Vincent watched for a moment then crossed around the car, opening the drivers side and slipping in. He reached down to the gear selector and slipped the car into 'P', extinguished the lights and got back out leaving the keys in the ignition.

A deathly silence descended upon the street as the purring engine fell silent. Vincent looked over the car once more then crossed the street where Cloud was looking down at something on the pavement.

Cloud looked up, noticed the missing engine noise then looked over at Vincent.

"Didn't know you could drive Vincent." He said.

"I used to." Vincent replied.

"What are those?" He asked.

Cloud sighed and poked at the thing with the end of the Ultima Weapon.

"They're clothes." He sighed again.

"I think they might have belonged to one of the dockworkers."

Vincent looked at Cloud then at the pile on the ground.

"What brings you to that conclusion?" He asked.

"They're covered in oil."

Vincent looked at the clothes on the ground and then back up at Cloud.

"What are they doing here?" He asked though he already knew the answer.

The wind lashed out again. Cloud looked at Vincent, the mako blue of his eyes shearing off the remaining gloom. He did not answer as his grim expression turned back to the clothes.

At that moment, the shrill buzz of a PHS broke the thin film of mausoleum silence, the distressed noise shattering the other-worldly calm of the abandoned city. Vincent holstered his pistol and reached into his cloak, pulling out the PHS and giving it to Cloud.

Shifting the formidable body of the Ultima Weapon to his left hand, Cloud took the PHS and used the back of his hand to wipe a thin string of cold sweat from his brow before answering the call and putting the PHS to his ear.

"What the fuck you two doin' down there?" Cid asked in a gruff voice.

Cloud disregarded the question as he sheathed the Ultima Weapon with his left hand.

"There's nothing alive down here except me and Vincent. He's killed everything here." Cloud sighed.

Static hissed and no reply was forthcoming from Cid.

"Cid? Did you hear me?" Cloud asked. The low tone of the static dropped another note as Cid returned over the line.

"Yeah Cloud, we heard you." He said, weariness leaking into his tone.

Cloud nodded, sighing as he spoke again.

"We're coming back now."

Cid returned again.


Cloud deactivated the PHS and gave it back to Vincent.

"We passed an empty garage back there. I think we should put that in it." Cloud said, gesturing to the silent car.

Vincent looked at the car and nodded.

"I concur."

He swept the crimson mass of his cloak over his shoulder, exposing more of his black-bound body.

"I shall do it." Vincent announced.

Cloud watched Vincent curiously as he crossed the street to the contorted car, opened the drivers side and got in.

A thousand half-buried fragments of memory came flooding back to Vincent with frightening intensity as he got into the car and turned the lights back on. He shifted his clawed boot to the gas pedal and turned the key in the ignition, gently touching the pedal as the engine roared into life.

He rested his fingers on the selector and shifted the car into Reverse and it whined confidently as it began the slow creep backwards. Vincent shifted around in the seat and gazed out of the rear window as he gently manipulated the wheel, turning the car into the abandoned garage and applying the footbrake as the reversing lights lit up the grimy back wall. He turned back around in the drivers seat, shifting the car back into Park and pulling up the handbrake as the engine purred to itself contentedly. Vincent sat for a while thinking to himself. Something tapped on the side window, drawing Vincent to look. Light rippled through his eyes as he identified Cloud standing next to the car.

"You alright in there Vincent?" Cloud asked.

Vincent nodded and shifted around in the seat, turning the ignition off and dimming the lights. He took the keys out of the ignition and opened the door, stepping back out into the gloomy garage and closing the door, locking it with the keys.

Cloud watched him for a moment as he left the garage, stepping back out into the slightly less gloomy street.

Cloud sighed to himself for a moment and stepped back out into the street, pulling the garage door closed and turning to follow Vincent who had already started back to the Highwind.

Another blast of wind flew down the street, catching Vincent's cloak and puffing it out like a great crimson sail. His hair writhed as he walked purposefully, forgetting or ignoring Cloud as he headed towards the ship which hovered above the ground like a great eagle, the ladder training from it like an umbilical cord, miring it to the earth.

"Pretty smoothe driving for a guy who hasn't driven in 30 years." Cloud sighed, trying in vain to lighten the mood as he caught up with Vincent.

Vincent nodded but kept walking.


The two men walked for a moment in silence.

The sun finally broke over the great ridge. Light erupted over the city, washing down the buildings and flooding the streets and revealing more of the unnoticed horrors that the night had concealed.

Oiled rags lay scattered across the pavements. Here and there the leashes of dogs or cats lay in blue and red rings on the ground, buffeted along by the infrequent gusts from the ocean.

No birds called in the birth of the new morning and the ships that lay off shore floundered in waves, the lights still burning brightly from their decks and portholes.

Vincent and Cloud reached the ladder and the two stopped, looking back over the city and the floundering ships in the wonderful turquoise water of the Junon sea.

Vincent placed a hand on the rungs of the ladder but didn't ascend it as he stared mournfully around himself.

He turned to look at Cloud, his eyes lit fully with energy as he spoke.

"We cannot allow this to happen again. I will lay my life down to stop this from occuring once more." Vincent said.

Without a word, he grabbed the rungs of the ladder with his other hand and began to climb into the steel underbelly of the Highwind. Cloud watched him for a moment, the cool briny kiss of the wind chilling his body as he looked around and took note of the death that surrounded him.

He nodded absent-mindedly and began to climb into the ship

Chapter 42: In search of God

Cloud clambered into the ship, resting on the deck for a moment before standing up. He rubbed salty spray from his face and pressed a large button on the wall. Pneumatic gears and compressed air hissed as the ladder was sucked up from the ground and pulled into the ship. Once it was clear of the hatch, Cloud pressed another button marked 'Cycle Lock' and a covering slid closed over the aperture on the deck, sealing the outside world off from the Highwind. A heavy clung grumbled in the tiny service corridor as a magnetic lock was engaged, sealing the hull closed even tighter.

Clouds' boots met the deck with a purposeful thud as he followed painted arrows on the shining steel floor marked Bridge, unclipping the sheath of the Ultima Weapon and taking it off, carrying the gigantic weapon as if it were merely a dagger.

Vincent and the rest of the party were all assembled on the bridge by the time the doors slid open, admitting Cloud to the grim-faced coven. He sat down heavily in his seat and propped the Ultima Weapon up against one of the consoles, clutching his head with both hands. He was aware that the others were watching him and he spoke without looking up.

"It's true. They're all dead down there."

Cid's lighter clicked as he lit a cigarette.

"Yeah, we know. Vincent just told us."

Cloud nodded.

"Set course for Mt Nibel, no great rush this time."

Cid nodded and filled the bridge with the musical sounds of fingers dancing over the keyboard of a computer.

"Why no rush?" Tifa asked, her voice a little steadier than she probably felt.

"Because..." Cloud said, standing up.

"...He'll have to rest after exerting himself so much in one day. He isn't a God yet."

Cloud chewed at one of his fingernails as he watched Cid playing around with the instrumentation.

Tifa watched him nervously, hoping to catch his gaze but he didn't look over.

"I hope you're right Cloud, I really do."

He dropped his hand and looked over at her for a brief moment, catching her haunted gaze and mirroring it with his own before quickly shying away.

"So do I." He whispered.

Metal creaked and groaned as if in pain as the huge body of the ship began to climb itself away from the empty shell of Junon. Sunlight flooded into the bridge from the viewing dome pouring wetly along the wrought walls of the ship and drawing long shadows from resisting chunks of consoles that sprouted upwards from the shining floor like creepers amongst the alloy jungle.

Curving a great arch in the sky as it turned, the Highwinds' massive engines erupted, pushing the ship onwards, turning slightly and adjusting its' its trajectory as it moved off.

The huge, abandoned ships floundered perpetually against the incessant waves of the Junon Sea, their twinkling lights watching like mournful eyes as the Highwind sped off leaving them to fight their battle against their inevitable grounding on their own.

Cid shifted a lever and depressed a series of switches on the drive console as the engines roared contentedly, continuing to accelerate the ship.

Cid lit a cigarette, sighed and stood up, stretching and running a hand through his blonde mane.

"I'm gonna go make a start on priming the warheads. You got the big seat Cloud, try not to fuck anything up!"

Cloud smiled wearily and stood up, walking over to the command seat and running a gloved hand along the soft leather rim.

"You left it on autopilot Cid, what could I possibly do wrong?"

Cid hit the lock button and took a step out into the main corridor.

"The Bronco had autopilot too and we all know how that one ended!"

Cloud laughed weakly to himself as he sank into the leather of the seat.

"I'll be in the cargo bay if you need me." Cid called, wandering down the corridor.

The huge doors slid closed.

Cloud turned his attention to the console, running his finger along a bank of controls and dusting down a small LCD display in which the words 'AUTO-PILOT ENGAGED' sat and taunted him. Another readout on the console counted down the journey time in seconds from 6.5 hours but Cloud's gaze inevitably fell back to the Auto-pilot readout as it smirked at him confidently from shining green eyes.

He smiled and sat back in the seat watching the world flying by, trying to calm his thoughts by sealing himself in a bubble. Death, Sephiroth, the end of the world. Through all that, one thought pierced as he watched the sea screaming past below him.

'Why does this thing have so many buttons?'

His bubble was indeed a strong one.

Chapter 43: Shinra's children

The deck hummed softly underfoot as the waves from the engines gently fingered their way along the skin of the Highwind's hull. Cid walked briskly with his cigarette perched in his lips as he crossed a section of corridor and turned into one of the grimier, less used areas of the ship. A weakly painted arrow on the oxidised-maroon of the deck told him that he was heading in the direction of the cargo bay.

Cid flicked a switch at the start of another junction of corridor, illuminating an otherwise forgotten pathway into the bowels of the ship. The sudden wash of light along the damp walls was as wonderous as the eruption of creation bringing light to the darkness of some great nothing into which a universe would be born.

The corridor into which Cid stepped was as gloomy as some dungeon in a castle lost in the twists of a nightmare. It smelled of damp and dust streaked into the long fingers of oil and lubricating fluids that reached down the walls from various disused and rusting conduits. He had spent a great deal of time carefully reworking the Highwind and grafting new life into the shell that had survived the rushed exit from the Crater. This was one of the original portions of the vessel and had been carefully overlooked during the rebuild. One thing that Shinra was good at was engineering and Cid knew well that this was one of the sturdier parts of the ship, that the rusting walls and broken conduits hid well the reservoir of strength that still coursed through the wrought veins of the ship. Besides, this entire section, the mass of corridors and decking that supported the cargo bay were structurally important and almost single handedly maintained the integrity of the hull. It was as if the engineers and tech guys had built the cargo bay first then attached the rest of the ship to it afterwards. Good at engineering though he was, Cid was not willing to totally gut and redesign the heart of the ship. For one thing he didn't have the patience.

He stopped in his tracks just before the final intersection, drew hard on the cigarette and dropped it to the deck, killing it quickly with a desicive clap of his boot. Exhaling slowly, he set off again, crossing the final intersection and continuing onwards until a grimy shape appeared in the murk ahead. A dim blue light sat in the wall, the only other source of illumination in this decrepitude save the infrequent smattering of panel lights on the ceiling, most of which flickered or remained dim.

The single blue iris sat on the bulkhead next to a huge door emblazoned with the Shinra Corporate Logo, under which in fading yellow lettering were the words 'Cargo Bay'.

Cid reached over and hit the switch, wounding the blue of the light as it gave way to red.

Long disused gears croaked and groaned into life, screeching almost in pain as they laboured to lift the huge door from its' resting place. With less than enthusiastic speed, the door allowed itself to be strung up by the gears, revealing a channel of polished steel between the two dusty landmasses of the bay and the corridor that had been hidden by its' stainless body.

Cid reached into his pocket and pulled another cigarette from its cardboard tomb, simultaneously hunting the depths of one of the pockets in his bomber jacket for the lighter. Fishing it out, he struck the lighter and applied the tiny finger of flame to the tip of the cigarette. The flame danced in the breath-quick rush of displaced air from the cargo bay but quickly filled the dank atmosphere with the gentle smells of roasted tobacco.

From the room beyond came the glimmer of total darkness with only the twinkling of distant control panels piercing the gloom; twinkling like distant stars in the endlessness of a universe. They added to the cloak of total desolation that hung like funeral drapes over the bay and the older levels of the ship.

Cautiosly stepping into the gloom, Cid placed his hand on a small green-lit panel on the inside lip of the door, flooding the bay in seconds with a searing explosion of light from 15 huge panel lights on the ceiling above. The bay was about 70 feet in length from the door to the far bulkhead and roughly 60 in width from wall to wall.

Sitting in the top right-hand corner of the bay in 6 large plate steel boxes were the things that had drawn Cid into the dank room in the first place; the Shinra's Children, a codename assigned to bombs utilising weapons grade mako. Two of them were packed into each of the green finished coffins, relics from a past and thankfully vanishing age.

Cid smiled absently for a moment as he walked towards the boxes, each of them fastened to the deck by a powerful magnet. Although the warheads required a priming code to detonate, Cid of all people knew just how notoriously unreliable technology could be and how easily it could screw up. That in mind, he had figured it was a good idea to treat anything as powerful as a mako bomb with the utmost respect and make it as comfortable as possible from things that may annoy it like turbulence. Given that he possessed 12 of them, the respect that the weapons had garnered from him was truly impressive and far more than any human had ever managed to secure.

Cid knelt on the deck next to the first of the military green boxes, thumbing dust from the latches and flipping them open. He drew one final time on his cigarette and stamped it into the deck with his boot before opening the box.

Light washed like dawn over the sleek black body of each missile in the box. They lay in slumber tightly wrapped into form-fitting grey foam.

Each of the weapons was roughly 10 feet in length and perfectly cylindrical, tapering into a smooth-nosed cone at the tip. Mid-way up the body of each missile there was a small panel fastened closed by a lock. The panels were about 30 centimeters in length and 10 centimeters in height, curving into the body of the missiles.

Cid ran a finger along the curve of the panel before delving into another pocket of his jacket and retracting a small chain. On it dangled a small latch release key which Cid pressed into the lock of the first panel, turning the key and opening the hatch on the side of the bomb.

Inside the panel was a 10-digit numerical code panel and an LCD strip on which flashed the words 'ICARUS; SAFE'. A red and a green light sat next to the panel with the green light lit at the moment next to the flashing LCD message.

Cid smiled again and reached into his pocket, fishing out a PHS device and activating it, calling in the code for the main bridge.

After a moment, Cloud answered.

"What's up Cid?" He asked wearily.

Cid shifted, crossing his legs as he tried to make himself comfortable on the cold steel of the deck.

"Do me a favour and check the ships' computer for the codes to the Icarus missile will ya?"

"One moment."

The sound of fingers tapping a keyboard translated through the PHS line. Cid listened in silence, rubbing his forehead wearily as he waited.

"Ok, Icarus we go."

Cid dropped his hand to the code panel and waited.

"Go ahead Cloud."

"Zero, seven, zero. Return."

Cid keyed in the code and entered it.

"One, six, one, seven, three. Return."

Cid followed quickly, keying the codes into the missile and confirming them.

"The final sequence is; seven, seven, six, one, zero, zero, nine. Return."

Cid keyed in the final code.

The LCD display flashed into life. In seconds, a different message scrolled across it as the red light began to flash next to the panel.


Cid hit the return button one final time.

The green light blinked out and the flashing red light burst into life along with a sharp yet momentry buzz.


Cid smiled again and closed the access panel, locking it securely and moving over to the second missile.

"Okay Cloud, only 11 more to go!"

* * * * * *


Cid closed and locked the panel on the final missile, closing the container and refastening the catches.

He stood up and cursed under his breath as pain ached in his knees.

"I'm getting' too old for this shit." He moaned, walking slowly towards the doors and leaving the cargo bay behind as he slipped the PHS back into his pocket.

His boots thumped on the deck as he followed the sprawl of corridors, finally coming back to the reworked portions of the ship. He followed the painted arrow on the deck to the bridge, though he knew the way without following the direction.

The doors slid open with little noise as Cid arrived back on the bridge, reaching into his jacket and pulling out another cigarette and his lighter.

Cloud turned in the command seat to face Cid, standing up and vacating it for his friend.

"Thanks for keeping the seat warm Cloud."

"No problem."

Cid sat heavily, resting his feet on the edge of the console and checked the chronometer.

5 hours and 57 minutes.

"Not bad. Give it a few more hours and then you and Vincent can give me a hand loading those things into the forward launchers." Cid said, turning his head to look at Cloud.

Cloud nodded, sitting back in his seat next to one of the lesser consoles.

"I thought you might want to launch them rather than drop them."

Cid nodded and took another draw on the cigarette.

"Listen, we've still got over 5 hours, why don't you all try to get some sleep."

Cloud shrugged and rubbed at his eyes.

"Might be an idea, sleep seems to be a luxury these days."

Tifa nodded and sighed.

"I'll wait here if it's all the same."

Red looked at Tifa then at Cloud, dropped to his knees and curled up on the deck.

"I think I will try to get some rest."

Cid smiled to himself and nodded, looking over to Vincent.

"What about you Vince?"

Vincent didn't look up from his clasped hands. He appeared concentrated on something but only he knew what it was.

"I slept for 30 years, I shall give this opportunity a miss I think."

Cloud clapped his hands against his knees and stood up.

"Well I'm going back to the rest area for some shut-eye. Call me along when you want a hand with the missiles, ok?"

Cid nodded.

"You got it."

Chapter 44: The gift

As always, the darkness was total. Impenetrable and foreboding yet baleful like the great black pupil of a giant that shed tears of lonliness into a black nothing.

The black slithered all over Clouds' body like a thin splattering of oil. As always, he was the only thing that he could see in the void.

There was no pinprick of light this time, no otherworldly feeling of peace.

Where once it had literally been a nothing, the darkness was alive this time or at least felt as if it was.

It was cold, hateful and a gentle current of something else ran through it.

The hair on the back of Cloud's neck stood in military precision as the darkness and the hatefullness of this place flourished all around him. In the same moment, the final piece of the world slashed into place like some demented and demonic jigsaw; despair, despair underpinned with a fathomless fury.

Cloud knew in that moment where he was.

It was different, more intense than the first time he had been here but the ambiance of the darkness was unmistakable.

Something else was different than before, something much more alarming.

No matter how hard he tried, Cloud could not move even the smallest appendages of his body. Not even toes would respond to his frantic attempts to move them and, despite the world having no form to it, he was aware that he was in a lying position. He could not be certain except for the deep vein of ice that chilled the backside of his body, as if he were lying on a mortuary table.

He tried to call but his voice came only as a thin rasp, like a cancer-riddled animal groaning and desperately trying to draw breath from its' malignant, rotting throat.

"So." The voice boomed.

"Here thou art, o'child of a lesser God."

It was Sephiroth.

Cloud felt his blood run as cold as the invisible glacier he was secured to. The words of Red and Aeris boomed in his mind and his heart pounded like a war-gong in his ears.

"You are coming to kill me, I sense your approach from far across the world."

Gentle laughter, almost mournful in its' nature slithered around the darkness.

"I am but one step from attaining the holiest of all powers and I cannot have you stop me..."

Cloud felt a hand brush across his skin then veer off into the darkness.

His eyes darted desperately from corner to corner but he could see nothing of his adversary. He could feel his aura, weaker though it was, still sickening in its' intensity in the darkness all around him, as if Sephiroth were the darkness.

"I don't want this anymore, I want you to understand. We can be far stronger together that we can through trying to destroy each other. Today grows old and I grow weak but there may still be time for one final mercy on this day..."

Cloud felt a hand grasp his forehead. He tried to cry out, tried to struggle but could do neither.

Two eyes erupted light in the darkness above him, fear giving way to outright terror as he saw them, his need to scream rising like liquid in his throat and almost choking him.

"Time for you to understand Cloud!"

Pain tore like white-hot fire through every bloodvessel in Cloud's body, the intensity breaking the spell over his voice.

He cried out in agony as the pain grew ever more intense, certain that death was coming to him in this freakish place. It was indescribable, worse than anything he had ever felt as the flames consumed him from the inside out.

The twin eyes above him reclaimed some of their former intensity, burning like a binary star system in the harsh nothing of space.

Cloud's head began to spin and twirl and he cried out again as he was swallowed by unconsciousness.

Chapter 45: A dark hour

"Cloud? Cloud, god damn it!! Wake yer ass up will ya?!"

Cid took his finger off of the 'com button and turned in the command chair.

Tifa was standing behind him chewing one of her fingernails and looking anxious.

Cid smiled and lit a cigarette.

"Man, he really must have been tired. Lazy fucker."

Tifa smiled.

"Yeah. You want me to go and wake him up?"

Cid stood up, shaking his head and sucking on the cigarette, completely missing the astringent note of fear in Tifa's voice.

"Nah, me and Vince'll head to the cargo bay and load the missiles after we get Sleeping Beauty up."

Tifa nodded and smiled weakly.

"Want me to mind the console while you're away?"

Cid nodded.

"It's on Auto-pilot so just keep an eye on it."

Tifa nodded and sank into the soft padding of the seat, reaching over and adjusting some of the dials. She checked the chronometer. Just under 3 and a half hours remained on it.

Cid watched her for a moment then chuckled under his breath as he turned and signalled to Vincent.

Vincent rose majestically to his feet, wrapping the deep red folds of his cloak around his shoulder and exposing the wrought steel of his arm as he crossed the deck to the doors. Cid followed smoking his cigarette luxuriously, hitting the cycle-release on the doors and opening them.

Vincent and Cid left the bridge. Tifa watched them go then turned back to the console, looking out over it to the deep turquoise sheets of the ocean as they raced past below the ship.

Cid clumped along the deck smoking and smirking to himself. Vincent shuffled as silently as a wraith a few steps behind his friend quietly thinking to himself. At the main junction, the pair turned left and headed about 50 feet down the corridor to the small room in which Cloud was resting.

Unlike the doors on the rest of the ship, Cid had replaced the cycle-releasing locks with a more traditional doorhandle. He now found himself wondering why he had done that.

The two men stopped outside the door. Cid took a final draw on the smouldering weed and dropped it to the deck, extinguishing it with his foot.

"Hope he's decent!" Cid quipped as he rested a gloved hand on the dull steel of the doorhandle.

He depressed the catch and opened the door, bursting into the room with a loud clap of boots on the deck.

"Get up ya lazy fucker!" He shouted.

Cloud was laying on a short two-seater sofa with his back turned to the door.

He did not move or reply.

Cid rubbed at his head and shouted again.

"Come on Cloud, we got work to do."

Cloud still made no effort to reply and he didn't move.

Cid looked over at Vincent and frowned.

"We aint got time for this shit now."

Cid crossed the room and placed his hand firmly on Cloud's shoulder, pulling him over onto his back.

Rather than waking with a start, Cloud turned on the sofa and collapsed onto the deck, face up to his two companions.

Cid felt his heart skip at least four or five beats as he recoiled his hand, looking down to the deck and simultaneously jumping several feet backwards as adrenaline poured into his bloodstream.

"FUCK ME!" He shouted.

Vincent's eyes widened and filled with light as he followed Cid's lead and took a step back.

Cloud was unconscious.

Blood seeped from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears and ran down his face. It ran into his hair and soiled the golden blonde, turning it to a kind of maroon brown and collecting in a small pool on the deck, serviced by tiny pulsing tributaries from his face.

The veins of his neck were bulging out from his skin as were the ones in his arms and deeply discoloured; deep ugly highways of infected purple ran the length and breadth of his body. Some of them had split and spat thick, rich blood onto his clothes that slithered like liquid serpents across the deck.

Cid looked down at Cloud and felt his stomach congeal into a heavy knot. He knelt on one knee and looked up at Vincent, his face filling with thick drapes of fear and revulsion.

"Oh Jesus Vincent, I think he's dead."

Vincent looked at Cid then at Cloud, his face growing even more pale and deathly than it usually was.

"He lives, just." Vincent hissed, kneeling next to Cid.

"We have to get him to a medical facitlity immediately."

Cid looked at Vincent, desperation ripping across his face.

"We have to get to Mt Nibel Vincent..."

Cid turned back to Cloud.

All the colour drained from his face as he looked at the blood splattered visage of his friend.

He ransacked frantically through his pockets and tore out the PHS device.

"Tifa, Tifa!!" He shouted.

The line crackled.

"What's up Cid?" She asked.

Cid sat back heavily, shock drilling into his skull and permeating deep into the soft tissues of his brain.

He felt himself growing numb, the chill of the steel suddenly tapered off and was lost, his voice liquifying into a disjointed collection of noises uttered from his sensationless throat.

"How far are we from the Costa Del Sol?"

Tifa laughed over the line.

"This is no time for a holiday Cid!"

Cid rose to his feet.

"Damn it Tifa, how far?" He hissed, urgency pouring into him.

The line fell silent for a long minute.

"We're about 30 minutes away. What's happened Cid?"

Cid dropped the PHS back into his pocket and didn't reply to Tifa as he looked back down at the crumpled body on the deck. A fingertip of ice played the piano of his spine as he began to move away, as if possessed, towards the door.

"I'm goin' to the bridge." He hissed.

In moments he was gone and the sound of his feet pounding on the wrought steel of the deck translated down the gigas-trachea of the corridor, assaulting Vincent's ears as he struggled to pull Cloud back onto the sofa. His eyes pulsed light as he hefted the limp form of his friend onto the seat and tried, probably in vain, to make him more comfortable.

Cid's feet pounded and pounded but his heart pounded harder. It convulsed and banged painfully against his ribs as he tore urgently down the corridor, his breath coming in clipped serpentine hisses through his clenched teeth.

Fist outstretched, he slammed into the lock-release for the bridge door and was brought to an impatient halt as he waited for the painfully slow gears to pull the eyelids of reinforced steel from their closed position. He raced onto the bridge without waiting for the doors to fully open, grazing his hand on some piece of the mechanism and nearly tripping himself up over Red who was resting near the door as he passed through the claustrophobic aperture.

Focused solely on the black throne in the centre of the room, he ignored Red and Tifa and flung himself into the soft leather padding, swivelling in an instant to the control console.

His fingers shifted into overdrive, bringing up the computers and the CPU interface as he frantically altered the course of the ship and realigned it with a new heading.

His eyes darted with rabid intensity across the panel and he depressed the large red button. A message flashed across the monitors 'OVERDRIVE DISENGAGED', as he pulled on the throttle lever and there was a sickening turn in the party's stomachs as the ship began to accelerate even faster.

He sat back in the seat, his eyes haunted and possessed as Tifa, her face grainy with irritation, came over and placed her hand firmly on his shoulder.

"What the hell is going on Cid?" She demanded.

He did not look at her or shift his attention from the steadily rising temperature readouts on the engine display monitors.

"It's Cloud." He hissed.

Tifa's eyes widened. Her hand dropped to her side and she took a step backwards.


"What's happened to him?"

Cid turned in the chair, his face white and haunted.

A shining petal of dread crystallised instantly in Tifa's stomach as she looked at him.

"You better get down there Tifa." Cid whispered.

She left the bridge in a flash, bolting through the doors and pounding down the corridor.

Cid watched for a moment and then turned back around, pulling the throttle lever back even further as he did so.

Red softly padded over, sitting quietly next to the command chair and sighing.

"What's happened Cid?" He asked.

Cid's eyes darted down to him. He lit a cigarette, the crisp white of the paper juxtaposing sharply with the drained white of his face as he inhaled angrly then looked back to the console. He slammed the panel several times, each hit becoming more furied than the previous as his face cracked with rage.

"FUCK IT ALL!!!" He screamed.

* * * * * *

Tifa knelt next to the sofa, her hands cupped around her mouth.

Several soft tears began to pinch from the corners of her eyes and dribble majestically down the soft contours of her cheeks.

Her hand limply lifted and moved a dishevelled strand of blonde hair from Cloud's blood splattered face.

"Oh Cloud..." She sobbed.

"What happened to you?"

She looked around at Vincent who was sat silently in one of the chairs that littered the room watching from a curtain of raven-feather hair.

"What happened to him Vincent?"

Vincent lifted his head and rested the great hulk of metal that was his left arm onto a small table next to him.

"We found him like this."

Tifa turned back to Cloud and sobbed uncontrollably for a few seconds, each sob chiming a thousand dreadful knolls in her heart before she managed to compose herself enough to talk.

"Is he going to die Vincent?"

Vincent sighed quietly and stood up, walking over to Tifa and standing motionless over her.

"I do not know. Cid has implemented a course correction to take us to Costa Del Sol."

Vincent knelt next to Cloud and Tifa and tried his hardest to mellow his usually flat voice into something resembling compassion. Feeling it and expressing it were different things.

"With access to medical facilities he may yet recover."

At that moment, a crackle rippled softly through the room as a 'com line was opened.

Cid's voice boomed across the length and breadth of the ship, quiet and drained but enhanced through the wonders of the microphone.

"Costa Del Sol, ETA 14 minutes."

Tifa sniffed then broke down again, gently laying her head on Cloud's chest.

Vincent stood up and watched for a few seconds. Something chilled inside him, a feather of ice tickled somewhere inside and froze in his mind.

It seemed that feeling compassion was not as strange as he had thought.

"I am going to the bridge. Shall I send Red XIII to stay with you?"

She sobbed and shook her head slowly but seemed oblivious to the question.

"Cloud..." She groaned.

Vincent left her as her sobs groaned through the arteries of the ship, the sound passing through him and waking a thousand fragmented ghosts of memories which stirred once more in some piece of Vincent's mind he had tried desperately to forget.

Chapter 46: A new plan

"So I take it the old plan is a non-starter then?" Red asked.

Cid slammed the console again.

"We were already one man down now this?! I'm telling you, we are fucked!" Cid shouted, placing the cigarette gingerly on the floor then stomping it mercilessly.

"Sorry..." He hissed.

"Understandable." Vincent sighed.

Cid rubbed at his forehead trying to straighten out the deep creases of fear and fatigue upon it as he tried to calm himself down.

"How's Tifa?" He hissed.

Vincent stood up and circled like a lost soul, monitoring the panels with little interest whatsoever.

"She is most distressed."

Cid nodded and held his chin as he watched the hypnotic spiking of the engine temperatures on the console.

"Do we know what did this?" Red asked.

"Oh come on!" Cid shouted, rising from the chair and circling the console.

"Do you really need to ask that?! I thought you were the fucking genius here!!"

Hands on hips, Cid turned and glared at Red, his anger unfocused and hanging around him like a cloud.

"It was that nutty mother-fucker Sephiroth, what the hell else could it be?!"

Red sighed and bowed his head.

"That is not what I meant Cid. What I meant was, do we know what Sephiroth has done to him?"

Cid sat back down heavily and clutched defeatedly at his head.

"I'm not a fucking doctor Red. All I can tell you is he's really fucked up. Might even die."

On that note, silence descended and remained hung over the room for the longest of moments.

"Well we have no time to waste, that's for god-damned sure."

Vincent looked over from his admiration of the weapons console.

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, we can't all sit around in Costa Del Sol sunning and fucking around. Somebody has to go to Mt Nibel and sort that bastard out. We still have a job to do here."

Cid checked the status of the weapons from his console then checked the chronometer. Vincent and Red watched him in silence.

"Right..." He eventually said.

"...Here's the plan. I am going to land at Costa Del Sol, you three are going to go the hospital and stay with Cloud. I'll load the warheads myself and haul ass to Mt Nibel and blow that fucker right out of that materia cave."

Vincent nodded.

"And then?" He asked.

Cid shrugged.

"You tell me, the final battle I guess. The rest is up to Cloud, if he ever wakes up."

A buzzer rang and called Cid's attention from the group. He checked out the computer display that flashed irritatingly on the navigation board.

"Ok, 3 minutes. Vincent, you better go and get Cloud ready to travel. Take everything that you need with you, weapons, items the lot. I'll stay here and start the landing sequence. You go with him Red and get ready to disembark."

Vincent and Red nodded and promptly left the bridge. Cid turned back to the console and lit another cigarette.

Growing steadily in the distance, a landmass rose up from the blanket of turquoise. Cid sighed as he eased up on the throttle, resetting the overdrive and gliding the last few kilometers towards the spread of golden sands that kissed the ocean and the quilt of lush green pasture land beyond.

The town itself was perched on a rounded bluff that sat right on the edge of the ocean. Gulls flocked and swam in the currents of the air around the town and sun splashed lazily over the terracotta masonry of the buildings. Easing up further on the throttle and sighing again, more mournfully than before, Cid began the final approach and started the landing sequence.

"Fuck it all..." He sighed.

Chapter 47: What's wrong with him?

There was a bone-jarring thud as the huge steel feet of the Highwind made contact with the ground, the great body finally coming to rest.

Tifa, her face puffed and reddened from tears brushed another dishevelled lock of blonde hair from Cloud's face. A small flow of blood snaked its' way from the corner of his mouth and his eyes twitched beneath their blackened lids but did not open.

Tif broke down again and sat heavily on the sofa, clutching her head in both hands.

Cloud was laying under a blanket on a stretcher on the floor now with Vincent standing over his friend like a black angel, guarding him as Cid and Red joined the sorry scene.

"Ok, I landed as close to the town as I could without actually coming down in the square but its' still a good 5 minute walk to the infirmary from here."

Vincent nodded.

"I have informed Tifa of the change in our plans."

Cid nodded and knelt down, wrapping his hands around the handles at one end of the stretcher.

"Right. Grab the other end Vince, the sooner we get there the sooner we can find out what that bastard did to him."

* * * * * *

The air outside the ship was much more refreshing than expected. The faint, astringent whiff of brine hung in the air, mixing with the smell of the luscious vegetation underfoot to create a nasal collage of the landscape.

It was mid afternoon in the Costa Del Sol, a world away from the chill of the new morning the party had left back in Junon. The sun beat down across the landscape though the intensity of its' peak hours was passing now leaving only a dreamy blanket of comforting warmth behind.

Little clouds of pollen hung in the air and waltzed around the tips of the wild grasses with each contented sigh of the wind. Crickets chirped in the grasses and birds sang to themselves in the skies above. Soft sobbing mixed with the orchestra of nature, turning the wonder of the mid-afternoon into a tragedy.

Tifa walked alongside the stretcher, her hand clasped around the bleeding grey hand of her friend.

He looked even worse in the daylight than he had on the ship. His skin was grey like that of a cadavre and his veins were blackening now, replacing the disgusting tint of infected purple.

His eyes were closed and the lids blackened like they were bruised. Rivers of dried and drying blood slithered like crimson serpents from his nostrils and his mouth, pouring into his ruined hair and soiling it.

Tifa sobbed even louder as she took note for the millionth time the coldness of Cloud's skin. His grey hand, lined with ugly black veins and tipped with blue fingernails sat as dead as the hand of a corpse in her own, like the heat of her own body was not reaching him at all.

"That's the infirmary there." Cid called, nodding to a quaint two-storey building in the immediate foreground.

"Don't worry bud, there are some good doctors in there. We'll have that spiky ass of yours up and about in no time!"

Tifa smiled for the briefest of moments, until the coldness of Clouds' skin touched her again.

"I'm going on ahead." She murmured.

"Tell them that we're coming."

She squeezed the limp hand one last time and ran off towards the building, her river of brown hair shimmering in the sunlight as she ran.

Cid gritted his teeth and shrugged his shoulders, realigning the weight of the stretcher with his body as he picked up the pace a little.

"Not much further now Cloud, hang on!" He hissed.

The room was sparsely decorated. There was a bed in which Cloud now lay, a bedside table on which sat a vase of delicate blue, pink and yellow flowers. They gave off a sweet aroma, like honey and spices mixing and swirling and lifting the disinfectant tint from the hospital air. Being such a small building, the hospital smelled quite strongly of disinfectant and the aroma of the delicate blooms was a welcome break in that dreary, foreboding smell.

Venetian-style blinds hung down over the window, letting just enough light into the room to make it cosy and, through the open window, the sounds of birds frollicking and distant waves crashing could be heard, bringing a thick blanket of tranquility to the otherwise boring hospital room. The gentle humm of an air-conditioner unit could be heard over the birds and the waves.

Cloud was looking a little better now that the dried blood had been cleaned from his body. He was in a half lying half sitting position in the bed with his long curls of blonde hair falling around the pillow.

Two tubes secured to drips containing a combination of liquids disappeared into his arm, held securely in place by needles that fed precious fluid into his jet black veins and arteries. His breathing appeared to be a little stronger but he still hadn't regained consciousness. His skin, though a little lighter, was still deathly pale and set against the tranquility of the room brought an ominous note to his condition.

Tifa was sitting on the edge of the bed clutching at one of his withered hands as she sniffed and let out the occasional sob. Vincent was stood at the door again giving himself the appearance of some guardian, his hand resting on the butt of the poorly concealed handgun in his beltline. His eyes shifted almost warily and he viewed each of the passing medics and orderlies with more that a casual interest, like he was suspicious of them and trying to determine if they were a threat.

Cid had left the room to smoke a cigarette and Red was sitting on the floor next to Tifa, his sombre gaze fixed on the ashen, lifeless hand that Tifa was clutching.

Footsteps on the linoleum floor tiles broke the collective silence and Tifa looked to the door as a plump man in a white coat with a greying beard walked in carrying a file and a clipboard.

He came in and closed the door behind him, setting the file on the bedside table and running a hand through his receding hair.

"What's wrong with him?" Tifa asked. Before the doctor could answer, the door opened again and Cid stepped inside. He closed the door and apologised for interrupting then went over to Vincent and stood beside him.

The doctor smiled nervously and reached into his pocket, fishing out a pair of silver rimmed glasses and perching them on his thick-set nose. He flipped several pages over in the file and gazed at the clipboard before looking up and shrugging, a baffled look painting itself onto him.

"I...I don't, I don't know. I have never seen anything like this in all my years of medical practice."

He looked at Cloud then back at Tifa.

"You are sure that he was alright when he went to lie down?" He asked.

Tifa nodded and turned on the bed to face the doctor full on.

"What is it?" She begged.

"Is he, is he...dying?"

The doctor laughed in disbelief as he read the notes again then looked back up.

"Dying? He should already be dead."

"What's wrong with him?" Tifa repeated, her tone growing more desperate.

The doctor sighed and took the glasses off, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.

"The blood samples we took, they make no sense. We detected a foreign agent in his bloodstream that we couldn't identify immediately, but when we looked closer..."

He looked up, his smile wiped from his face.

"...Materia. It was materia. We ran the test again and again but came up with the same thing every time."

Silence fell over the room. Red placed a paw on Tifa's leg and Vincent and Cid exchanged a shocked glance.

"Materia?!!" Cid demanded.

"You are certain of this?" Vincent hissed.

The doctor nodded emphatically.

"It gets worse though." He added.

"We are still waiting for results of more extensive genetic tests but we are certain that the materia is fusing into his DNA. I have never seen anything fuse with the base pairs of human DNA but every law of science that I know of tells me that materia and DNA should simply not fuse."

Vincent stepped forward and looked down at Red. Red looked up and caught Vincent's gaze full on.

"Could it be?" Vincent whispered.

"Gaea Soul." Red sighed.

The doctor watched Red and then Vincent, his gaze turning more to a kind of wonder laced with suspicion.

"You..." He said, pointing to Vincent.

"You've seen this before, haven't you?"

Vincent nodded and took a step back.

"Indeed I have but never in a host as mature as this."

He looked over at Tifa and felt a faint kiss of sorrow touch his heart.

"If indeed he has been seeded with Gaea Soul, his prognosis is grim."

The doctor shook his head again and pawed through the notes, clearing his suspicion from his face.

"No, well, from what we can determine we, we think that he is, that his DNA is accepting the fusion."

"But that's impossible!" Cid hissed.

The doctor shook his head again.

"If he were rejecting the fusion, he would almost certainly be dead by now. It is as if some force was watching over, guiding the fusion but I couldn't tell you what that force might be. Like I said, I have never seen anything like this anywhere."

"Force?" Red asked.

The doctor nodded emphatically.

"His body is not actively fighting the attack, which is what this essentially amounts to. A shock to the central nervous system on this scale should have killed him long before you got him here but something is synthesising the fusion at a guided rate. We found something else, a faint trace of energy in the new materia enriched cells. We have so far been unable to identify this energy or the source of it but we suspect that it's responsible for guiding the fusion."

Tifa sniffed and cleared her throat. She shook her head and seemed to ignore the preceeding statements. Denial.

"When will he wake up?" She asked.

Once again, the doctors' expression became sombre and he tucked the glasses back into his coat and sighed.

"He is accepting the fusion, but I have to warn you that this is no guarantee of a full recovery or even a partial recovery. He has suffered a collosal trauma, one that we don't even know how to treat. He is breaking all the laws of science that I know by even being alive. To be brutally honest, and please forgive me for being so, I believe his chances of ever waking up are less than 1% and even then, it would take a miracle. Even if he did wake up the odds of his not being severely brain damaged are even lower than that."

"But you said that this force was helping him." She whispered.

Again the doctor's face creased up and he shifted uncomfortably.

"The force I spoke of is guiding the fusion, acting as a buffer between the new cells and the DNA if you will, but as for the effect that energised materia will have on human brain tissue, well...I am afraid it is not looking very promising at all."

Tifa let out a quiet sob and turned back to Cloud. She turned away from the doctor and began to cry softly as she clutched his hand even tighter.

The doctor sighed and gathered his papers and effects. He reached for the door handle and opened the door, taking a step out into the corridor, his feet shifting uncomfortably on the linoleum as he hurried to leave the room.

"We'll try to make him as comfortable as possible but other than that, there is simply nothing that I can do. I'm sorry."

He closed the door quietly and left the room in a silence only broken by Tifa's heart-rending sobs.

Cid and Red glanced at each other and Cid quietly signalled to Vincent. Cid opened the door and ushered Red and Vincent out into the corridor.

"We'll be in the relatives room if you need us Tifa." He sighed.

She sobbed and cried into Cloud's shoulder without replying to Cid.

He stepped outside and closed the door, leaving Tifa alone in the honey-scented room.

Chapter 48: Sephiroth's sins

Cid sank into the dirtied cream sofa and sighed explosively. Vincent came in last and closed the door quietly, gliding over the floor to a hard-backed wooden seat and descending into it with next to no sound.

Cid sat forward and lit a cigarette, drawing on it loudly and spitting a stream of used smoke into the air. He aggressively crushed the empty packet and tossed it into the wastepaper basket next to the sofa.

"This is fucking unbelieveable, really. I don't fucking believe this. First Barret, now this...." He sighed, clutching his head.

"How could he have been infected with this Gaea Soul shit anyway?"

Red padded around and sat down on the floor next to Vincent.

"I don't know." Red sighed.

"But, this might work to our advantage."

Cid snorted.

"How the fuck do you get that?" He asked, turning to glare at Red.

"Well think about it Cid, what else could that energy inside Cloud be?"

Cid shrugged.

"It's Sephiroth, it has to be."

"How?" Cid asked.

Vincent sat forward, clasping his hands and looking at the floor.

"Only Sephiroth has the power and the ability to do something like this."

"And..." Red began.

"...that can only serve to weaken him even further than he was already. Tragic though the circumstances are we have now been presented with a golden opportunity with even greater potential for success than we had before."

"If we act quickly?" Cid offered.

Red nodded.


Cid jumped to his feet, crushing the cigarette in the ashtray on the oak finished coffee table next to the sofa and snorting a stream of grey and blue spirits from his nostrils.

"That sorts it then. Me an Vincent'll go to the ship and load the bombs. You stay here and make sure Tifa's ok. As soon as we finish, I'll come back and let ya all know then I'm going to Mt Nibel and I'm gonna bomb that mother-fucker into the ground."

Vincent stood up and so did Red. Cid louped for the door and thrust it open.

"Let's go."

Chapter 49: A fallen friend

Evening had descended quickly over the Costa bringing with it a deathly calm.

Far away, across the planes, the faint sound of music rang out from a street party in the town, joining with the confident chirps of crickets in the meadow grasses and the last melancholic calls of the ocean birds as the settled down to roost for the night.

No doubt the land was washed in the orange flares of a glorious sunset. Great golden fingers would be slipping through the pink sheets of the clouds as the sun descended into its' rest.

The hospital room looked different in the gloom of evening. Faux-cheery mint green paint covered the walls that soaked up the mellow artificial light of the bedside lamp. Even with the light, the room seemed dim and devoid of anything except gloom.

Tifa had drawn the curtains and dropped the blinds over the window, blocking out the world and the beauty of it as she sat perched on the edge of the bed.

The distant sounds of laughter and happiness and the faint echoes of the music from the celebrations in town burned at her heart and she sat, bitter that the world was going on around her and that nobody cared what had happened.

She clutched at Clouds' hand and watched as his chest rose and fell with his laboured breathing. She had cried herself out that day and, as much as she wanted, no more tears fell from her eyes.

She looked tired and gaunt and her cheeks were red and stinging where the anguished tears had slicked down them in burning rivers.

Clouds' skin was cold, his palm clammy. The deep black vessels of his arm had turned infected yellow in places and seemed to shine through his skin. His face was pale and bruised, his eyelids were almost black and fluttered infrequently but he remained hopelessley lost in his coma. Crusted blood clung to the edges of his nostrils and a solitary sliver slithered down his cheek.

Tifa sighed mournfully and brushed another strand of hair from Cloud's face, wincing as her fingers slipped over the cold rubbery skin of his forehead.

"Oh Cloud..." She sighed.

"Please wake up Cloud, please."

Inside she prayed. She begged and pleaded, hoping that her words would somehow break the spell over Cloud. She half expected and half hoped that he would sit up but he didn't. His eyes didn't so much as flutter.

As dry as she was, a single soft tear managed to worm its' way down her cheek, soaking into her blouse as she clutched at the limp hand, trying to warm it with her own.

Silence fell, save for the laughing and singing on the beach and in the town. Clouds' breathing could barely be heard over the sounds of the festival.

The doorhandle clicked, startling Tifa and momentarily breaking her silent vigil over Cloud.

Carrying the faint odour of tobacco smoke and wearing an ashen faced expression, Cid entered the room and closed the door as quietly as possible.

He adjusted his goggles on his head and walked over to Tifa, his boots gently meeting the floortiles rather than producing their usual exuberant stomp.

"How is he? Any change?"

Tifa shook her head and turned back to Cloud.


Cid nodded and sighed almost defeatedly.

"Me and Vincent have finished on the Highwind. He's in the relatives room with Red."

Tifa nodded again.

Cid watched her for a long moment then sighed again.

"I'm leaving for Mt Nibel in a few minutes."

Tifa finally turned and looked at Cid.

She stood up from the bed, her eyes welling up with tears that she didn't think she had in her.

She crossed the room slowly and stopped just infront of Cid.

"Get the bastard Cid, make him pay." She sobbed.

Cid took a step forward and wrapped his arms around Tifa. He held her and listened to her sobs and for the first time in his life lost the nerve to speak. Over her shoulders, he could see Cloud. The figure that lay in the bed served by tubes may well have been dead already. Cid felt anger race through him as he looked at his friend and he composed himself and focused that anger onto one single point.

"I will, you got my word on that."

He let go of Tifa and crossed slowly to the door. Resting his hand on the handle, he turned one final time to look.

Tifa had sat back on the bed and was holding the lifeless hand once more.

He sighed and opened the door.

"I'll see you all when I get back."

Tifa sniffed several times and turned to look at Cid as he crossed into the corridor.

"Good luck Cid." She whispered.

Cid smiled grimly and nodded and was gone in an instant.

Tifa turned back to Cloud with the faint lilt of music ringing in her ears and began to cry again.

Chapter 50: The fall of a god

The running lights of the Highwind seemed to turn the night into day once more, robbing the landscape of its' rest and cutting long sheets of shadow across the planes and the lands below.

The roar of the engines was intense, rattling the hull of the ship and running long fingers of vibration through the steel that crept up the base of the command chair and danced up Cids' spine.

With the exception of a single strobe light on the ceiling above the console, the bridge was in total darkness and a million curious eyes peered from the other adandoned consoles and watched Cid as he sat, eyes fixed on the readouts on the panel.

He had made good time since leaving the Costa Del Sol and was now mid way over the Corel/Nibel mountain range.

The image of Clouds' grey and lifeless body haunted him now and he could see it everytime he closed his eyes. He was not tired though he had barely slept in days and seemed locked now, more defeated yet more focused at the same time than he had ever felt. He sighed as he considered the possibility for a moment. Was this despair or was it hope? Could he feel both at the same time?

He was not sure. Too many strange things were going on for him to keep track of. In Cids' mind it was as simple as this; bomb Sephiroth, go back then, wait he supposed. As far as he knew, the rest was up to Cloud.

That thought alone gave him hope. If Cloud was as important as they all believed then he had to be alright, didn't he?

"Fuck it!" He hissed aloud.

"I don't get this shit."

Long shimmers of light danced along the sleek walls of the bridge as a lighter was brought to life. Shadows with long knife-like fingers slit and slashed along the deck, the walls and the ceiling, then died in a moment as Cid finished lighting the cigarette.

He inhaled contentedly and tried to clear his mind, focusing solely on the sensations of the warm smoke drifting down his throat and the delicate flavours of the roasted tobacco. He shut his eyes and sighed quietly, smoke creeping from his nostrils. A different image came to him this time, the soft face of a woman. Her blonde hair curled around her face and her blue eyes shined like diamonds dripping in sunlight as she smiled, her deep red lips were warm and pouting, inviting him to kiss them. Her body was slim and curvaceous from head to toe. It was Shera. Cid smiled contentedly to himself and folded his arms behind his head as he sank deep into this warm and appealing image.


Sudden and extreme, growing in intensity as the seconds slipped by.

Cids' eyes pulled open and the cigarette dropped from his mouth as he arched forward and shouted both in pain and surprise, dropping from the command seat onto his knees.

Pain erupted again and he cried out as a long silver tooth bit through the soft flesh of his abdomen and pierced out into the space infront of him. It glistened, red and wet as blood dripped from it and painted death-patterns on the dull metal of the deck.

Cid shouted out in agony once more as the blade was torn from his body and he felt great warm rivers of blood pouring down his chest inside his clothing as he fell forward onto his hands and knees.

Pain burned white hot and he felt the blade enter quick and retreat quick as he was stabbed a third time in the back.

Cid cried out again as the blade seperated two of his ribs, breaking the bones like twigs and ripping them further into his flesh as he turned, tried to escape the blade and fell heavily onto the deck, back against the cold metal.

The pain began to grow even worse and Cid felt a surge in his throat and turned on his side, regurgitating a large volume of rich blood onto the floor followed by the contents of his stomach. He coughed several times, drawing great arcs of pain across his chest and splattering blood both onto the deck and his own face as he collapsed backwards, hitting his head heavily.

Laughter slithered around the abandoned bridge and footsteps arose through the silence, careful and placed there was also a rasp as the great reddened body of the Masamune was pushed back into its' sheath. Cid groaned as the pain grew ever worse and he coughed again, splattering himself with blood as a thin layer of icy sweat froze on his brow.

Sephiroth sat heavily in the command seat, his face washed in light from the strobe lamp above his head. Great sheets of his fine silver hair hung down around his face as he clasped his hands on his lap and smiled, glancing uninterestedly at the banks of readouts on the console infront of him.

"Did you think I didn't know you were coming?" Sephiroth sighed, his voice tired and drawn.

"You could have knocked." Cid hissed, pain pouring into his voice.

He winced in agony and coughed again.

Sephiroth smiled and knelt down a little further.

"You have failed them Cid, all of them. You will die here, all alone before you reach me and this grand metal coffin shall fall from the sky and rust amongst these mountains, appropriate don't you think?"

Sephiroth's eyes lit on the final word and he smiled as he stood up and circled the console.

"Not long now Cid then you shall join me, serve me. The end of pain is nigh for you."

Sephiroth laughed again and there was a brilliant flash of light, engulfing him and taking him from the bridge leaving only the fading echo of his outburst behind.

Cid lay in silence, cold drawing in around him as shock began to freeze his heart. A thick sheet of blood creeped along the floor from his broken body and he almost sobbed from the intensity of the pain, pulling himself back from that abyss at the last second with silver reins of pride.

"I'll get you, you mother-fucker!!" He shouted.

He screamed in pain as he began to pull himself up.

His shaking hands reached up from the deck and wrapped around the armrests of the chair as he began to pull his shattered, ruined hulk up from the floor. Sweat poured down his face and mixed with salty tears as he began to move, the silver reins detatching and dropping away to desperation. The pain was indescribable as he flailed with his numbing legs and fell into the seat.

His breathing was ragged and the pain roared across every square inch of his being. His sight was beginning to blur through shock and the steady slick of tears as he reached his trembling hands out to the console and brought up a CPU interface.

He looked to the viewing dome as he began to type slowly.

The great snow-capped fang of Mt Nibel rended at the underbelly of the sky and drew droplets of blood from it in the form of rain as it passed from the distance into the near-distance. Cid smiled through the pain and looked back to the chronometer.

"Right on time!" He hissed.

The soft clicking of the keys was almost melodious, far more comforting in the silence and the darkness of the ship as Cid accessed a file in the ships' memory and began to adjust variable strings.


The computer froze for a moment as memory banks searched and checked. After a tense moment, the cursor came back onto the screen.


Cid checked the timer readout. 46 seconds remained on it. He winced in pain as it burned even stronger inside him and reached a numb hand to his eyes to try and clear his view. With his one remaining hand he clicked at the keyboard.


The computer thought for a moment.


The CPU interface vanished from the screen. With the same trembling hand, Cid reached over to the attitude control console and dropped the trajectory of the ship by 10 degrees.

Through the viewing dome, the huge mountain loomed closer as the nose of the ship dropped, aiming at a target that was hidden in the darkness below, nestled in the lap of the mountain.

Cid chuckled, the shock finally filing the edge off of the pain. He sat back in the seat and concentrated on the sensation of blood pouring from his wounds.

The mountain grew closer yet and he smiled, a warm and loving image suddenly bursting across the screen of his mind.

"I love you Shera." He sighed.

The chronometer decreased slowly, finally dropping to 5 seconds.

Cid smiled one final time and chuckled.

"Trick or treat mother-fucker!"

The warmth of those red pouting lips touched him and took the edge from the coldness.

He closed his eyes and darkness fell, the warmth of Sheras' lips filling his whole being as the pain vanished completely in a crescendo of light.

The night died a sudden and violent death as the brilliant eruption of light swept the mountains and landscapes for miles around. Light like the light of creation itself poured outwards as unholy shadows and the fearful grip of the night were torn instantly from the Nibel Plateau.

The explosion was deafening and tiny animals and monsters alike ran shrieking for cover as the rings of superheated plasma rushed from the side of the mountain.

Several more deafening eruptions of sound and dazzling explosions of light rocked the plateau as the darkness reasserted itself over the injured night, drawing terrified people from their beds to look out towards the mountain as it collapsed in on itself, rivers of melting basalt flowing from the horrible wound and cascading down the trembling visage of the mountain range.

The wind died off as a wave of heat rushed forth, carrying on it a scream as deafening and as fearful as the explosion itself. Thunder rumbled and great forks of energy tore at the sky as the light, heat and sound abated.

In agony and rage, Sephiroth screamed again, his pain drawing lightning once more from the gathering storm.

"DAMN YOU!!" He shrieked.


Part VII

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