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By Sabin Marcus*
* pen name. Send any comments to Sabin_Marcus777@yahoo.com
Special thanks to the writers, composers, and designers at SQUARE for inspiring this composition.
Reeve stared out his office window. It was simply amazing. No more than a year ago, the Diamond Weapon had fired on Midgar, destroying trillions of gil worth of Shinra property and killing hundreds, including president Rufus. As if that weren't bad enough, the apocalyptic Meteor had fallen to the Planet, with Midgar at the epicenter of the chaos. Fortunately, the Meteor never did actually hit the Planet, and at least some of Midgar had been spared. The towering skyscrapers and bustle of millions of people below him stood as a living monument to the ingenuity of humanity. Midgar had been rebuilt, and now Shinra, Inc. was left in his care. He had been able to make significant changes in the corporation's greedy practices, but there was still a lot of work left to do.
"President Reeve?" a voice buzzed over the intercom.
Reeve sat at his desk and activated the intercom on his desk. "Yes?"
"Our R&D department has discovered another remnant from former-President Shinra's planned product line. I told them you were busy, but they insist that you take a look at it immediately."
"What is it?" Reeve asked, curious as to what demanded his immediate attention.
"The lab boys say it's classified, top secret. Only the President and the top developers are supposed to know about."
"All right. Tell them I'm on my way."
Captain Highwind departed from the Shinra-28, the third vessel to leave the Planet. For the third time in his life, Cid had been allowed the chance to marvel at the wonder of space. The mission had been disappointingly simple, though, and now it was over, which was even more disappointing. He was shocked when Shera greeted him at the launch pad of New Rocket Town.
"What's wrong?" he asked the engineer.
Shera bowed to Cid, still showing humility at ruining his first chance at space travel many years before. "I received a message for you while you were in orbit, Captain," she began, holding a piece of paper out. "It's from President Reeve! The message didn't say anything specific, but it was marked urgent. He wants you to go to Midgar at once!"
Cid didn't seem in the least surprised or excited. He took a puff from the cigarette still hanging from his mouth and threw it to the ground, stomping it out. "Is that so? What the hell does the little prick want now?" Cid asked, snatching the paper. "'Urgent. To Captain Cid Highwind: Report immediately to Midgar. Signed: Reeve, President of Shinra, Inc.'"
"It seems far too early for him to want to discuss the next Shinra Space Launch. I have no clue what he could need!" was all Shera could respond with. "However, the Tiny Bronco is prepared, Captain. You may depart when you're ready."
Cid wadded the note and threw it off the landing pad. "Well, it's never a good idea to piss off the boss. Make sure these morons don't screw anything up while I'm gone." Cid climbed into the cockpit of the Tiny Bronco. "And don't touch anything!" he shouted over the roar of the engine. "I don't wanna miss my flight on Shinra-29!"
The President's Conference Room in the Shinra Building was crowded. It seemed that Cid wasn't the only one called to Midgar. Sitting around the table were familiar faces. Cloud and Tifa sat directly across from Cid, and Yuffie and Barret sat on either side of the pilot. Red XII sat, chair-less, at one end of the table, while Reeve stood at the other, facing away from his guest and at another of his massive windows.
"Do any of you know what the hell's goin' on?" Barret asked, angered as usual at not knowing all the facts. Everyone shook their heads.
"I don't know," Cloud said, looking to Reeve's back, "but I sure as hell would like to."
Reeve, trying his hardest to look dramatic, spun around. "I called you all here for a very special reason."
"You're selling materia at half price?" Yuffie joked.
"No, but I am counting on your expertise on materia, Miss Kisaragi," Reeve replied. "I've called all of you here because you all possess one skill or another that is invaluable to an upcoming project here at Shinra. The fact that we have all worked together in the past only makes me even more certain of my choices."
Red suppressed a growl. "Where is our semi-living friend, Vincent?"
"Mr. Valentine is already working on another important project an cannot be diverted from it for this."
"What do you want with me?" Red growled, not forgetting what Reeve had done as Cait Sith by leading Shinra to the keystone.
"You, Nanaki, are a member of a rather long lived species, correct?"
Red hesitated before telling the former spy anything. "That is correct. My expected life-span is approximately five hundred, fifty years."
"Good. I am hoping that you are familiar with your species' history, as well."
"Excellent. You'll need that information, or rather, I will, but later."
"That's all fine and good," Cid cut in, "but just why do you need all of us?"
Reeve smiled. "I was hoping to get to that, Captain Highwind. If you all will sign the forms in front of you, I will show you why you all came here."
That was the first time Cid had even noticed the paper and pen that lay before him. He decided to read it aloud. "I (Last Name, First Name Middle Initial) do hereby swear not to divulge any information presented by Shinra, Inc. or any subdivisions thereof between (Beginning Date) and (Ending Date) to any person, party or entity." Cid scoffed. "Why so damn secretive?"
Reeve drew the curtains and walked to the back of the room, manning a projector that stood there. "You'll see when you sign the waiver. Nanaki, your paw-print will be sufficiently legal." Everyone signed (or pawed) their respective papers.
"What you are about to witness is classified information, people," Reeve said bringing up the first slide, marked 'Legacy of the Cetra: TOP SECRET.' "Yesterday, my research and development department came across one of Shinra's most secretive projects." Reeve advanced to the next slide. Displayed now was an odd circular machine that sat upon a metal desk. The device was apparently meant to have a chunk of materia inserted into a niche on its topside, and it currently held a large piece of green materia. "Code named 'Legacy of the Cetra,' this appears to be a machine for accessing the potential of unique, currently unusable materia pieces." Reeve advanced the slide again. Now, the screen showed a holographic image of a human projected from the materia crystal, apparently speaking to one of the nearby researchers. "We activated the device by pure chance. It seems that everyone connected to the project was killed in either the destruction of Sector 7 or Diamond Weapon's assault on Midgar. This is briefing data from before either incident. Sadly, this is also the only material we have remaining of the pre-disaster research." Reeve deactivated the projector and opened the curtains. "I want you to finish work on this project."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Cait, but I ain't no God damn researcher," Barret said. "If you don't mind, I'll be headin' back to Cosmo Canyon."
"Wait! I've made sure that all of you will be able to utilize your own separate talents on this assignment!"
"We ain't no Shinra employees!" Barret argued. He turned his head to Cid, "'cept Capt'n Shinra over here."
"Now wait just a damn minute!" Cid barked, standing from his seat.
"Gentlemen!" Reeve shouted. "Please, Captain, sit down. None of you may leave until I am finished telling you why you're here. Mr. Strife..."
"What?" Cloud returned, seeming to be slightly annoyed.
"You spent some hours at the North Cave, in the Lifestream, and speaking with the last of the Ancients, Aeris. You must have some knowledge about their past, and I want you to utilize that knowledge here."
"No buts! Besides, you'll make an excellent security addition," Reeve turned to Barret, "which applies to you, as well, Mr. Wallace. Miss Lockheart..."
"Strife," Tifa corrected, seeming to do so automatically, as though this weren't the first time she's had to.
"Very well. Mrs. Strife, this project will greatly benefit from your ability to interact with human beings. This will certainly be frustrating at times, and I am hoping you will do what you can to keep our team focused."
"If she's not too much of a distraction," Cloud said with a smile. Tifa elbowed him in the ribs.
"If I may?" Reeve said, trying to go on with the briefing. "Nanaki, as I said, I'm hoping you are familiar with your species' history. I'm willing to bet at some point, your people met with the Cetra, perhaps as recently as your grandfather's generation. Captain Highwind..."
"I want you to make good use of your mechanical expertise on this project. See if you can't get that device to work properly. If that's everything..."
"Wait!" Yuffie called. "Why do you need my extensive knowledge of materia?"
"Did you see that magic materia in the machine? We have no clue as to what it is or does. That's your job to find out. My secretary will direct you to research lab number fourteen; wait there for the rest of the team."
"This is truly startin' to piss me off!" Barret commented as the team rode the elevator to the underground research lab. "Why the hell are we doin' this, anyway? What'd Reeve ever do for us?"
"Besides help us escape from Corel Prison?" Cloud offered.
"Shu'p!" Barret snapped. "He also led Shinra to the Keystone!"
"And helped us get the black materia without killing ourselves," Tifa said.
"Who asked you? He let Shinra listen in on all of our conversations!"
"And was more than willing to face Sephiroth afterward," Yuffie added.
"Okay! So he's made up for the shit he's pulled! That don't explain why we're heplin' him now!"
"He's reopened the space program and converted the Mako Reactors into solar arrays," Cid followed up, adding one more reason to help Reeve.
"In short: because we owe it to him," Cloud answered, cutting Barret off. "Besides, I don't know about you guys, but life's been getting kinda boring since we killed Sephiroth. When materia's involved, there's always the chance things could get interesting."
"I still say this 's a crock o' shit!" The door slid open as the elevator reached the bottom floor. An ordinary-looking man with shoulder-length, black hair and a pale complexion stood before them. He was wearing a lab coat and bore a security badge.
"Greetings. I'm Doctor Collins. I'm the new head of the 'Legacy of the Cetra' project. I'll be working with you."
"Where's the rest of the team?" Cid asked, stepping off of the elevator. He stared for a moment at the strange device on the table before him, but turned back to Collins when he realized that the Doctor hadn't answered yet. "Where's the team?" Cid asked again.
Collins stumbled over his own words. "I've had to assign them to another project. We'll be the only ones working on this assignment."
"I see," Cloud said from the elevator, sounding somewhat suspicious.
"There's no need to worry, Mr. Strife. I'm here out of pure scientific interest. Captain Highwind?"
"Alright! Enough with the formalities shit! You know our first names, use'em!"
"As you wish, Cid. As I was saying, your record indicates an uncanny ability to instinctively operate a number of devices..."
"I only do air and space craft."
"Even so, I would like you to investigate the Legacy Machine, as I've come to call it. Yuffie?"
"I want you to analyze this," Collins said, producing a large chunk of green materia, the same piece that was in Reeve's briefing.
"I'm keeping my eye one you!" Cloud said to the ninja, remembering full well what she did when the party got near Wutai a year before. "That materia's worth more than you can imagine, I assume."
"More than Midgar itself," Collins said. "Although that may be a bit of an exaggeration."
"So what are the rest of us supposed to do?" Red asked. "While we were told why were chosen, I fail to see how to use that now."
"This is quite amusing, actually," Collins laughed. "When Cid gets that device operational, you'll all understand why you're here."
Barret eyes the doctor carefully. "Jus' what the hell is that s'pposed t' mean?"
Collins chuckled for a moment. "You'll see, I promise."
There was a grunt from the direction of the Legacy Machine. It was Cid, tugging on some bar attached to the front of the contraption.
"Captain! That's a support strut! Leave it alone!" Collins called to the pilot.
"No, it's not!" Cid grunted. "It's... a lever. A... really stuck... lever." A loud crack was heard, followed by the grinding of metal. The lever moved, and Cid fell to the floor from the added force he had applied. The materia slot crackled with electricity and fizzled, but nothing more.
"Yuffie! Are you done with that materia chunk?" Collins shouted across the spacious lab. "We need it over here!"
Yuffie, still staring at the glowing rock in her hand came running towards Collins. "I think I've got it. It looks like its a piece of Time materia, but there is far more power than in most Time materia pieces. If you don't mind, I'll just be keep-" Yuffie was cut off when she tripped over Red, falling to the floor and sending the materia flying.
"No!" Collins shouted. He dashed after the materia, but it landed long before he could've caught it. It would've surely shattered had it not landed in the Legacy Machine.
An image sparked to life from the machine. Standing over the Legacy Machine was a hologram of a beautiful woman, apparently human. She spoke. "I am Sarina, one of the few remaining Cetra. Whoever finds this materia, I implore you: Don't let the memory of the Cetra die out. That accursed Jenova has already killed so many, and I fear for the existence of my people. Please, hear my story. Know that the Cetra did exist, and that we were a proud and noble people. I present to you, now, the history of the Planet, as the Cetra know it..." the recording stopped there.
"Damn it!" Barret exclaimed. "I knew she wasn't gonna finish that. Collins! What the hell happened?"
"I'm not sure," Collins replied, inspecting the materia. "Damn! It looks like someone cracked this materia. I have no clue who might have done that..." Collins said, obviously implicating Yuffie. "I don't know how to get it back..."
Sarina's image reappeared. "...and the vile creature known as Chaos was defeated. The Light Warriors would go on to..." The image blinked out again.
"What did she say?" Tifa asked, perking up upon hearing the recording continue.
"Something about warriors destroying Chaos. This is clearly a very detailed account of the world's history. At least, it was before a certain native of Wutai, who shall remain nameless, decided it should go airborne," Red growled.
Sarina returned again. "...Empire Baron was brought to its knees and rebuilt under its new king. For the fourth time, this world, Earth, avoided destruction..."
"So that's what this planet's called," Cloud marveled. It seemed silly to him, but he'd never heard this giant rock he lived on referred to as anything but 'The Planet.'
The image flashed back to life. "...although the world had been destroyed and my people decimated by this, the sixth disaster, all life continued. It has been almost ten thousand years since those events. I can only hope that by passing this message on to you, I have managed to preserve the rich, if not somewhat disturbing, history of Earth." There was an inhuman growling heard in the background. Sarina screamed, and the image faded from existence before the horrors of an attack from Jenova could be seen on the young woman's body.
"My God!" Collins gasped. "I knew that there was a recording from an Ancient on here, but this is something else!"
Cloud gave Collins a suspicious look. "How did you know there was a message from a Cetra imbued in this materia?"
Collins turned away from the Legacy Machine and faced the former pathological liar. "I... was here when we accidentally set the machine off before."
"An' you wasn't gonna share this information wit' us?" Barret asked, subtly patting the Missing Score attached to his right forearm.
"I was going to," Collins protested weakly. "I just didn't have the chance. Anyway, it seems as though you've all completed your tasks. You're free to go."
"But, I didn't do anything!" Tifa argued. She was starting to suspect Collins of something, but what?
"Nor did I," Red growled. His tail waved rapidly as he faced the doctor. "Somehow, I don't think that we're really finished here."
"I know I broke the crystal," Yuffie started, "but I'm sure there's a way we can recover more of the recording. Give us some time!"
Cid was still inspecting the Legacy Machine. "What's this indicator here. 't says '1.83%.' What is it, Collins?"
"It's..." he paused, surveying the lab full of suspecting faces. "It's a progress display," he admitted with a sigh. "The percentage shown is how much of the materia's suspected potential has been accessed."
"So we've only seen a little less than 2% of the message that Sarina left?" Cloud asked.
Yuffie's eyes narrowed to slits, staring into Collins. "If that message is the only thing special about that materia. It's a magic materia, Cloud, there's gotta be a spell or two on it. Really strong ones, too."
"No!" Collins panicked, obviously far louder than he had intended to. "We're only after the recording!"
Cid sneaked up behind Collins, who now faced the rest of the party. "And why is that?"
Collins jumped and spun around to face the pilot. "Because.... because... because that's all there is!"
Cid stared into Collins' eyes. "Right..." he said in a sardonic tone. "You have no reason at all to lie to us, do you?"
"That's right. It's been a rough day. Why don't you all just go to your suites and we'll get back to this tomorrow," Collins said, appearing more and more nervous.
"We've only been here for twenty minutes!" Tifa exclaimed, surprised by the suggestion. "You wouldn't be trying to get rid of us, though. I'm sure of that. After all, we're all the team you've got!" Tifa's tone was a sarcastic one.
Collins laughed an obviously nervous laugh. "Exactly! I don't know about you guys, but it's been a rough day for me," Collins faked a yawn, "and I definitely need to get some rest."
"Right..." Barret said, matching Cid's tone.
"Emergency! Unauthorized entry detected in vehicle bay 70-A!" a computer's voice sounded over the intercom, waking the party. They met in the hall outside their rooms.
Cloud drew the Ultima Weapon. "Where's bay 70-A."
Reeve came running down the hall towards the heroes. "70-A? That's on the roof! But the only thing there is the..."
"Highwind!" Cid finished for the President, infuriated all of a sudden. "I'll bet it's Collins! That little shit! If he steals the Highwind, I'm gonna..."
Reeve charged past the heroes. "I'll meet you there. I've gotta go do something first."
"I thought the Highwind was destroyed!" Yuffie exclaimed in the confusion.
"You can't keep me from getting them to build another, and now Collins is trying to take it away from me!" Cid said.
"Right!" Cloud agreed. "Let's go!"
"'bout time you got it right!" Cid commented, already running full speed towards the elevator. "Damn!" Cid cried when he got to the elevator. "Someone's pressed all the buttons! There's no way we'll get to the roof in time!"
Cloud look about. Seeing a large window, he smashed it open with the Ultima Weapon's pommel. "We'll climb!" the leader informed as he climbed out into the high winds and cool temperatures of Midgar at night. "C'mon! It's only twenty stories!"
"Cloud? How the hell am I s'pposed t' climb twenty stories wit' one arm?" Barret asked.
"Go find another elevator, then."
"I knew ya'd say that!"
The party exited through the shattered window and began the long climb. After only a moment or two of climbing, a loud noise was heard from the top of the building.
"That's the Highwind!" Cid yelled over the winds. "That prick is stealing the Highwind! Outta my way!" Cid started climbing faster than anyone could even hope to climb. A great rush of air from above was felt as the Highwind passed over the heroes. Whoever was flying had no idea what they were doing. The great airship suddenly dropped, stopping in midair right next to the party. Collins was at the pilot's console. Cid looked down from the 65th floor. "I've got an idea!" Cid climbed a up a few more feet, bent at his knees, and thrust himself off the building.
"Cid!" Cloud cried when he saw Cid's suicide jump. A loud thud was heard, but far before he could've hit the ground. A moment later, another pair of much smaller engines added it's sound to the din the Highwind was causing. Out of no where, the Tiny Bronco lifted up into the sky, in quick pursuit of the runaway airship.
"Leave it up to Cid to do something foolish," Cloud said as the two aircraft became tiny smudges on the horizon and finally disappeared. "Let's keep going. Reeve's waiting for us on the roof."
On the roof, Barret and Cait Sith were standing on the airship landing pad. Barret lowered his gun arm as the party climbed up. He had apparently been aiming to hit Collins, but it was far too late now. Cait hopped over to the heroes.
"Cloud, we've got a problem," the remote controlled cat said. "I'm in the 'Legacy of the Cetra' lab right now, and the Legacy Machine is missing."
"Tha' bastard! He stole the Highwind jus' to get away wit' the Legacy Machine!" Barret said, clearly quite angry.
"He won't get far," Cait said. "The Highwind doesn't have enough fuel to go anywhere, except maybe Kalm, or Fort Condor."
"Or Junon," Yuffie threw in. "That's the only other logical place to go! It's the only town with facilities for an airship!"
"I suppose he could barely reach Junon on the gas he's got," Sith admitted.
The Tiny Bronco came back and slowly descended on the airship pad. Cid climbed out of the cockpit, his face reddened with anger. "I told your God damn mechanics to have my plane refueled the minute I landed!" Cid fumed at Cait. Cid calmed down a little before continuing. "I couldn't follow him far, but it looked like he was headed towards Junon."
Yuffie uttered an odd noise of what Reeve thought to be jubilation. "I knew it!"
"Okay. We know he's at Junon. I'll order the airport staff not to service the Highwind until I say otherwise," Cait offered.
Cloud shook his head. "Not good enough. Collins could already be fueling up the Highwind. We need to go after him, and fast."
Cid shook his head in frustration. "But how? The Tiny Bronco only seats one!"
"Maybe the rest of us could just grab a wing or something?" Yuffie suggested, thinking she was on a roll. She wasn't.
"No way! I'm not doing that again! Last time it almost cost me the Tiny Bronco!"
Cait hopped with joy. "We could take the Buggy! I bought it from Dao eleven months ago!"
"'s tha' gonna be fas' enough?" Barret asked.
"It'll have to do," Cloud said. "We don't have time to screw around. If we're going to find out what Collins is up to, we gotta go now!"
The Highwind floated majestically over the Junon landing pad. It was a great airship, with a regal appearance accented by the rising sun. The only thing keeping the work of art from flying away were a few anchor cables and two thick fuel lines.
"So how do we get her back?" Cloud asked Cid. The party was hiding amongst cargo crates, waiting to make their move.
"Le' me think a minute," Cid said. "We could shimmy up one of the anchors, and then just take the ship by force. I figure the crew is just now finding out that she's missing, and if so, Collins is probably acting alone."
"Work's fer me," Barret stated, stroking the Missing Score. "I wanna give tha' Collins a piece a' my mind!"
"All right then. We'll just sneak in and kill the punk," Tifa said, concurring with Cid's plan.
"I'm not sure I'll be able to climb those cables," Red whispered.
"Just watch me, I'll show ya'!" Yuffie comforted. The party quickly dashed to one of the anchor cables, scurrying up the bound wires onto the passenger deck. Once aboard, they darted toward the bridge. Collins was standing over the control console. He didn't even notice the heroes' arrival.
"It's over, Doctor Collins. Gimme back my ship, and I'll let you go," Cid said, dramatically as possible, to the doctor's turned back.
"Damn it! I thought I should've landed at Fort Condor. Cid, listen to me! I can't let you have the Legacy Machine!"
"We're not really interested in the Legacy Machine!" Cloud said. "Reeve is, though, and he's made sure that we've got reasons to get it back. C'mon, Collins. Give us the ship back while you can still keep your job."
"You don't get it, do you? I know the full power of this machine, of the materia inside! Once I've harnessed that power, I won't need that God forsaken job!"
"Damn it, Collins! Step away before I have to kill you!" Cid yelled at the trembling scientist.
"No!" Collins screamed, pounding a few of the controls. The Highwind took off at an angle that left everyone with no footing. Everyone slid to the back of the bridge as the airship snapped the anchor cables without so much as a creak of strain. The fuel lines came free and spilled fuel over the entire landing pad as the Highwind's fuel tanks sealed themselves. Collins climbed to console and leveled the ship out.
Cloud picked Collins up by the collar. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Attempting a daring escape..." Collins informed in a choke. Cloud dropped the scientist.
"What do ya' want wit' the Legacy Machine? What ain't you tellin' us?" Barret demanded, pointing the Missing Score at Collins' head.
"Don't shoot!" Collins cried. "I'll tell you!" Collins stood and dusted himself off. "Yuffie was right. There is a spell on that piece of Time materia. A powerful one. It's not like other Time materia. No Haste. No Slow. No Stop. One spell. One very powerful spell. If I can find a way to manipulate that materia, I'll make enough money to buy the world!"
Cloud stared into Collins' eyes and drew Ultima Weapon. "What's the spell?"
"I... I... I can't tell you," Collins squeaked. Cloud held Ultima Weapon to his throat. "All right! All right! Don't kill me! I'll tell you. Well, I can't tell you really. I haven't been able to properly operate the Legacy Machine or that materia. But I do think it's a spell that can manipulate time in ways you could never imagine! To degrees you never thought possible!"
"You mean time travel?" Yuffie asked with a snort. "Slit his throat, Cloud. He's a liar. And even if he is telling the truth, cowards make lousy leaders."
"No! I'll prove it. I just need to activate the materia!"
"How do you plan on doing that?" Cait asked.
"I think someone with enough Mako energy could activate it, but that bastard Reeve switched us from Mako to solar!" Collins said. Cait Sith punched him in the gut. "What the hell?"
"Watch it! You never know when I may be watching you!"
"Sir?" Collins asked. Cait nodded. "My apologies, but the fact remains that we can't activate the materia without Mako energy."
Cloud looked into Collins' eyes. "Notice anything?" the ex-mercenary asked.
"Your eyes... You're an ex-SOLDIER!"
Cloud didn't feel like explaining the truth. "That's right. I've got Mako energy coursing through every blood vessel in my body. Tell me where to find the Legacy Machine!"
Collins sighed a sigh of defeat. "It's in the Chocobo pen."
"Cloud!" Tifa exclaimed. "You don't actually believe this guy, do you?"
Red spoke up. "Honestly, Cloud! He can't be telling the truth. Not even the Cetra possessed that kind of power!"
"All I know is that no one knows anything about the Cetra. Nothing important. Not enough to honor their memories. If for no one else, we should do this for Aeris! I'm going to the Chocobo pen. The rest of you keep an eye on this worm. I'm sure Reeve will want to slug him in person once or twice." Cloud left the bridge. A moment later, there was a loud whine of energy, followed by a blinding white light. Suddenly, things felt different...
The sky was darker here; sort of a chaotic red. That was the first thing anyone noticed.
"Where the hell are we?" Barret asked.
Collins failed to stifle a triumphant laugh. "Don't you mean 'When the hell are we?'"
"Shu'p!" Barret barked at the scientist. "I still don' think we' gone through time!" Another airship pulled in front of the Highwind. It looked like a large metallic blimp, with a medium-sized gondola attached to the bottom.
"There's another airship!" Cid gasped.
The other ship had an open deck, and several people aimed low-tech firearms while another spoke into a megaphone.
"This is Setzer Gabbiani of the Royal Air Force of Figaro!" the bogey captain called. "Please identify yourselves!"
Cid, shocked, walked over to one of the consoles and spoke into his own megaphone mike. "This is Captain Cid Highwind of the Shinra airship Highwind. What can I do for ya,' Setzer?"
"I insist you land immediately. I would like a parlay with you myself." The metal blimp, the Falcon judging by the name painted on the bow of the gondola, dropped like a rock, but apparently landed safely. The Highwind matched the maneuver, and the party departed, with Collins in tow. Setzer and a cadre of varied troops were already outside the Falcon.
"Welcome to Figaro, Captain Highwind. Nice ship."
"Thanks, Setzer. I know an airman's supposed to know where the hell he's going, but where are we?"
"You're in Figaro airspace, which is the only place you can be if you're airborne."
"What d' ya' mean? Last time I checked, I was in Shinra corporate airspace!"
"Are you out of your mind? The Kingdom of Figaro covers this entire world. Like I said, you're in Figaro airspace if you're airborne!"
"Or at least, you would have been ten thousand years ago," Collins whispered. Barret jammed the Missing Score into Collins' spine as a signal to be quiet.
Cid released a grunt of exasperation and shook his head. "What's the date?"
"The date?" Setzer asked, unsure as to why that would be relevant. "I don't know. I can hardly keep track of this messed up world as it is, now you want me to keep track of time?"
"September 9th, 1709," a man clad in full plate mail said.
"Thanks, Cyan. Why do you need to know?"
Cid didn't answer. He was trying to think of the date he believed it was. "Well, shit! Collins is actually right!"
"You mean...?" Yuffie said, sounding as though she was going to be sick.
Cloud nodded. "Our date was September 14th, 11712. More than ten thousand years ago."
"You mean to tell me you people are from the future?" asked muscular man, dressed in light armor over aerobics garb. "I doubt it. I'm Duke Sabin Rene Figaro. I welcome you all to my brother's kingdom, though I must warn you that we're not terribly fond of liars."
Red, keeping his appearance in mind, stepped forward. "Listen to me. I know it's difficult to understand, but we are from the future. We've come here by accident, but now that we're here, we seek to learn more about a people known as the 'Cetra.'"
A woman with mild green hair stepped forward. "The 'Cetra?'" she echoed. "I've never heard of the Cetra."
Setzer, who'd been facing each speaker in turn, turned to face Cid. "Captain Highwind. I believe that you don't pose a threat to Figaro, so I can let you go. However, your talking cat tells an intriguing story. Please, follow me to Figaro Castle. I think King Figaro would like to have a word with you."
"Interesting," was all Edgar said at first. "Very interesting. You say you've come here from the future in search of a race that no one's ever heard of. You certainly look and talk differently than anyone I've seen, and I've been all over."
"Your Highness..." Cloud started.
"Call me Edgar."
"Edgar, please believe us. We've seen records left by the Cetra. I watched the last of them die, and I can't honor her memory without finding out more about her people. No one ten thousand years from now knows anything about the past or the people that lived in it. I need to let them know; give them something other than their secluded lives to think about!"
"I don't know. Let me consult my advisors. Defense?"
Cyan stepped forward from behind the throne. "These people seem trustworthy enough. There's no risk that I can see. Sir Locke?"
Locke took his place by Edgar. "Seems safe, and sounds fun. Edgar, I'm going with them!"
A woman dressed in white armor walked forward. "If Locke's going, I'm going, too!"
Setzer called from the front of the room. "They're going to need a way to get wherever they're going. I'm in."
Edgar stood from his throne. "This ought to be intriguing enough. Make room for the King!"
"Wait!" Cloud interrupted before all of the old adventurers could volunteer. "Who said that we're going anywhere?"
"You have to find the Cetra, right?" Sabin asked. "It's been almost four years since we toppled Kefka. We're bored. We need some adventure, and you people are the ticket!"
"Who's Kefka?" Tifa asked, getting a cold feeling just from the name.
Edgar, truly looking at Tifa for the first time, stepped up next to her. "I'll tell you on the way," he said, mustering up the most romantic voice possible.
Cloud noticed. "Back off, Romeo! She's mine!" Edgar looked at Cloud defiantly, and then at Ultima Weapon in fear. Taking his hand away from his own Atma Weapon, Edgar stood back. "Seriously, though, who's this Kefka guy?"
A man... or woman... or an 'it' dressed in a heavy red robe walked over to the gathering to tell the story. "Kefka is the name of the evil man that turned this world into the wasteland you see outside the windows."
"Wasteland?" Cid repeated, gazing out one of the windows. "Awfully teeming with life for a wasteland."
"It wasn't when Kefka was done with it," the mystery person, Gogo, continued. "And he was still unfinished when we defeated him. His wish was to turn this once beautiful planet into a monument to non-existence, using magic drained from a people called the 'Espers.'"
"He drained magic from people?" Red gasped, thinking it to be impossible.
"Yes. He killed many to build his own power. He eventually took control of magic itself, becoming the source of all things magical. Sadly, that magic disappeared when we killed him, and the Espers have surely perished because of it."
Sabin interrupted. "Except, we've been able to use what spells we learned, despite the absence of magic!"
"So we've got our own mystery to uncover!" Locke exclaimed. "And I'm willing to bet that our latent magic and your 'Cetra' are somehow connected!"
"So you see, Sir Cloud, we must come with you!" Cyan finished the speech.
Cloud turned to his own party and looked across their faces. "I think they deserve to tag along."
"We could use their help if things get ugly," Tifa said.
"Anyone that can use magic without materia is someone I want around," Yuffie added.
"If we're all going, we better damn well be taking the Highwind and the Falcon, there's not enough room on either ship for all of us," Cid stated as an afterthought, his tone a conceding one.
"You people know this place better than we do," Cait Sith said. "Where should we go?"
"There's only one logical place to go," the green haired woman said. "The Sealed Gate!"
"Just where is this 'Sealed Gate' of yours, anyway?" Cid asked into the Highwind's megaphone.
The Falcon's responded in Setzer's voice. "No one's sure about that. It was on the Floating Continent, but that fell apart five years ago. It' possible the gate itself has been completely destroyed."
"Meaning?" Cid prompted.
"Meaning that we may be completely cut off from the Espers. Meaning that there's no way to find out for sure if they still live or if they've died because of us."
"So just how are we supposed to find it?"
"I thought we'd just do an aerial sweep of the area. It's our best bet."
"Damn it! That's the best you've got?"
"It'll have to do."
"It's out there. I can feel it," Collins said in a delirious voice.
"Wha'?" Barret started. "Yer crazy."
"Captain Highwind?" a new voice called from the Falcon.
"Call me Cid."
"What the hell? What do you mean?"
"My name is also Cid. The King informs me that you're interested in learning the history of the planet."
Cloud dashed over to the console and snatched the microphone in a split second. "That's right, Cid."
Captain Highwind snatched the 'phone, giving Cloud a dirty look. "What do you want to tell us?"
"I am responsible for much of the trouble Kefka caused. When you return to your time and people ask you 'Who led Kefka to such power,' tell them it was me."
There was silence aboard the Highwind. Cid Highwind broke it. "Why do you say that?"
"I am the one who developed a method for draining Espers of their magic. Without me, Kefka would never have been able to gain such monumental power."
Captain Highwind wasn't sure how to respond. He hadn't been in any way affected by Kefka. He wouldn't even be born for thousands of years. "It's not your fault. You handed a madman a loaded gun, sure, but he had to pull the trigger."
The green haired woman's voice replaced Cid's. "Captain Highwind? This is Terra Branford. My father was an Esper, so of course I've got a special interest in this operation. I don't know much about my father's people, but I was at the Sealed Gate. It should be just a few miles south of our current location, but after the Continent lifted off, it could've moved as much as four to eight more miles. We should concentrate our search in that area."
"Alright," Captain Highwind said. "How big is this thing, anyway?"
"Maybe two dozen feet wide in either direction."
"A needle in a haystack," Cid Highwind said to himself. "Oh joy." He heard a laugh in the back ground. It was a roar of insane happiness.
"I found it!" Locke shouted. "We're right over it now!"
Setzer laughed, almost as much as Locke did. "I see it, too! It's almost sticking out like a sore thumb! I'm taking her down!"
"I see it, Setzer," Captain Highwind said. "I'll land next to the Falcon, just lead the way."
Although it had faced the weather and hardships of years past, the portal still stood, it's lightly glowing rock frame still emblazoned with runes from the Esper language. It bore two heavy iron doors, untouched by time's brutal hand, and gave a foreboding sense to any travelers that might happen upon it. Any traveler, that is, except Terra.
"Home," the young demi-Esper said, pressing an ungloved hand against the cold iron, a tear in her eye.
"The Cetra," Cloud said, a tear forming in his own eye as he thought of Aeris. "Can you open the gate, Terra?"
Terra laughed through the tears. "I can try." The woman stood back a few paces and held both hands forward. She slowly began whispering words unfamiliar to any of the other heroes. The words grew louder and more rapid as a beautiful green glow started to enshroud Terra's hands. The great iron doors slowly moved back, but quickly slammed into the closed position again. To everyone's surprise, Terra laughed at the failure. "Someone's still trying to hold the gate shut!"
Tifa breathed a sigh of relief. She'd thought, from Gogo's story, that the Espers were gone for sure. "This proves that the Espers are still alive!"
Terra was too overjoyed to learn that her people were still alive. "I can't break their seal alone, though," she said, her tone a defeated one.
Collins, his face pale and his voice sounding less sane by the minute, said, "I have an idea." He was off the Highwind, even though he'd been ordered to stay aboard, and he was wheeling the Legacy Machine to the door, with the materia still in it.
"Collins!" Barret barked in anger. "Wha' the hell do ya' think you doin'?"
"I'm opening the gate, what else?" Collins left the machine standing in front of the door for a few moments, and then turned to Cloud. "Mr. Strife?" he called drunkenly.
"Can you activate the materia for me? It seems I haven't been bathed in Mako energy lately."
"What? No way! You've lost it, Collins!"
"No? Then perhaps Captain Highwind would be so kind as to activate the machine?"
"Cloud's right," Cid Highwind started, "you have lost it. $#@% off, Collins. Get back on the damned ship."
"You too, Captain? I should've thought better of a loyal Shinra employee."
"You're one to talk about loyalty," Cait Sith said. "You tried to steal the Highwind, and now you're impeding an official expedition. One more screw-up, Collins, and you're out of a job."
"No sense of adventure in any of you? Miss Branford?"
"Don't even think about it," Terra said. "I've only known you for a couple of minutes, and I already don't like you."
"Could you just take a few steps forward? Towards me, I want to see something."
Terra glanced to each of the people around her. Over a dozen weary faces, none of them offering any advice. Her gaze met with Collins' again. She nervously took one step closer to the mad doctor. Then another, followed by yet another.
Collins seized the opportunity. Having already nestled his foot under a large rock, Collins kicked out, flinging the stone at Terra's ankles. The demi-Esper tripped over the petrified dirt and stumbled forward falling towards the Legacy Machine. Reaching out for something to brace herself against, Terra's hands fell on the large materia in the mysterious device. The materia sparked to life, glowing brightly. Rather than sending Terra ripping through the fourth dimension, the magical rock reacted with the gate, blowing it wide open and shearing the iron doors from their hinges.
"How the hell did you know that was going to happen?" Cid Highwind asked the mentally perturbed scientist.
Collins released an insane laugh. "Lucky guess."
A thunderous voice roared across the barren landscape, causing the travelers to reel and the mighty airships to tremble. "Who dares to defy the will of the Espers and open the Sealed Gate?"
Terra recognized the voice at once. "Father?"
The booming voice, Maduin's, replied through a sob of joy. "Terra?" The hulking frame of the powerful Esper appeared in the glowing portal. Tears streamed his battle-hardened face. "Can it really be you, Terra?"
Cid, the geneticist, laughed. "I can't say that I'm sorry to see you alive, but how can this be?"
Maduin stared at the diminutive human. "And I cannot say that I am pleased to see you."
Cid kneeled and bowed his head. "I can never forgive myself for what I have done to your people. I can never honestly ask for your forgiveness, either. The virtual genocide I committed against the Espers in Kefka's name will forever be a black stain on my past, but I must know how it is that you are alive again."
Maduin stared into the geneticist's eyes. "I do not know. I can sense the power of magic waning. What have your people done to the statues?"
Edgar stepped between Maduin and Cid. "Unfortunately, to assail Kefka, we had to destroy the statues. He had possessed them somehow."
Sabin approached the Esper in defense of his brother. "It didn't matter, though! Kefka had already drained the magic from statues."
Celes, the woman clad in all white, spoke. "So we are still left wondering what has happened."
"Mako," Red uttered.
Cid Highwind turned to the talking cat. "Red?"
"It's just a theory..."
Barret crossed his arms. "Le's hear 't."
"Kefka was, in essence, an embodiment of magic, right?"
"Yes," Cyan replied.
"So when he died, he released that power."
"Or it went down with him," Locke suggested.
"Magic apparently ceased to exist," Gogo pointed out.
"But here I am, now," Maduin pointed out. "So are all the other Espers that Kefka butchered, as well as the ones he didn't."
Terra shook her head. "Hang on, a second. What's this 'Mako?'"
Red sat on his haunches. "To the best of our understanding, Mako energy is the life energy of all the living things on the Planet. Mako, commonly found in an odd liquid state, occasionally forms solid chucks, called materia, that grant their wielders the ability to perform magic."
"So we are made of this 'Mako?'" Maduin asked.
Barret lowered his arms. "All livin' things are. We think when somethin' dies, its Mako goes back to 'Earth,' an' tha' somewhere else, part of the Earth's Mako turn's into anot'er livin' thing."
"So we become trapped in this materia of yours, never to be reborn?" Celes inquired, sounding quite concerned.
"Some of you will, yes," Cloud answered. "On the plus side, it's not really a death of sorts, but rather a limited form of eternal life."
Collins, stumbling back from the Highwind, to which no one saw him depart, was fumbling something in his hands. "Does one of you go by the name 'Bahamut?'"
A shrill shriek pierced the brief silence that followed. A great wyvern circled the mass of people and landed next to Maduin. It spoke in a deep, reverberating voice, "Who summoned me? This measly human?"
Collins, despite the intimidating beast before him, held a red, glowing chunk of materia up to Bahamut. The dragon writhed, apparently unhappy with the stone's presence.
"What are you doing?" the beast choked. "What have you done to me?"
Cloud looked at the materia. "Bahamut," he whispered. The ex-mercenary ran over to Collins and slashed the materia out of his hands, causing damage neither to Collins nor the materia. "Don't do that."
Bahamut stared into the rock. "Is that... me?"
Cloud sighed. "It will be in about ten thousand years." Barret lifted Collins and jabbed the Missing Score into the scientist's spine before carrying the twerp back to the Highwind.
Maduin directed his focus on Red XIII. "So when the vile Kefka was destroyed, his magical powers became this 'Mako energy' of yours?"
"Yes," the fire cat responded. "At least, I think so. It would explain why these humans still possess their magic capabilities. If he is like all other living things, in fact, that must be what happened."
"So," Tifa started, "Kefka was the start of the Mako cycle?"
Cloud gazed at the warriors from the past. "Impossible! That would mean that this Kefka character had control of all of the power of the Lifestream! That would be unstoppable!"
Sabin's view met Cloud's, and the Duke shrugged. "We beat Kefka! That's the important part!"
"Wait a minute," Cid Highwind started. "If the Cetra was a race of people capable of controlling the powers of the planet, the these people here are using Mako energy..."
"Then that makes them the Cetra!" Yuffie finished.
Cloud couldn't contain his elation. "We did it! We found the Cetra!"
Terra hid her disappointment. "What about me?" she asked. Once again, she was a member of no single society.
A small Esper woman, almost like a cross between a human and a butterfly, flew into a position next to Maduin. "Maduin! Bahamut! Come quickly. Some of the younger Espers are doing something dangerous. No time to explain, come quickly!"
"Jerek! Exis! Nillia! Obren! Valick! Allanis! Stand down at once!" an elder Esper shouted at six younger Espers forming a circle in what appeared to be a small Mako fountain. The heroes arrived just in time to hear the old man.
"What are they doing?" Cloud asked, his eyes suddenly blazing as he drew the Ultima Weapon.
"They're merging. They say they can't stand life without their full power, and so are becoming a single, more powerful entity."
"That can't be!" Red protested. "They're absorbing the power of the Mako fountain!"
Strands of Mako energy grew from the fountain, encircling the group of Espers. The young people began to glow intensely as their bodies were bathed in Mako. There was a great flash of green energy, and when it dissipated, a horrible beast had replaced the six Espers. With blinding speed the monster struck down the old man and resumed it position over the pool of Mako.
"J... E... N... O... V... A..." the elder Esper rasped as he tried to call the Espers' names in a vain attempt to restore their senses.
Cloud stared at the beast. "Jenova!" He turned around. "Get the king out of here! Everyone, run! Get as far away as you can. Red, get over here. Let's cover their retreat."
"Not without me, your not!" Sabin called to the defenders, taking a fighting stance next to them.
"I'm in, too!" Terra shouted, running past the fleeing masses.
Cloud brought the Ultima Weapon into a defensive stance in preparation for any actions Jenova GENESIS might have opened with. Seeing no such attack, Cloud leapt at the beast, slashing into it four times with the most powerful sword available.
Red raised his head, one of the red materia in his headdress gleaming. As though signaled, Bahamut flew to the scene of the battle. Unable to do anything other than what the materia commanded, Bahamut breathed a Mega Flare at the newly formed monster and quickly retreated to the world beyond the Sealed Gate.
Sabin flexed his arms as an orange swirl of energy circled his body. "Bum Rush!" he shouted as he literally ran circles around Jenova GENESIS, pounding into her countless times before rejoining the rest of the defenders.
"Ultima!" Terra declared, engulfing Jenova GENESIS in a deep blue dome of destructive energy. The monster squealed in pain.
Jenova GENESIS raised one of its arms, tipped with a scythe-like appendage, and swung it at Cloud. The fighter deftly dodged the ill-aimed attack and countered with a blow with the Ultima Weapon. Cloud then attacked with another quartet of slashes from the Ultima Weapon. Jenova flashed a bright shade of red and seemed to disintegrate before the heroes.
"She'll be back," Cloud spat.
The sky, after all this time, still maintained its orange-red color. There was a gathering of Espers, dotted by a small group of humans. The defenders emerged from the gate into the outside world. Maduin fell to one knee and bowed his head.
"My eternal thanks to you, humans, Red XIII, and my precious daughter, Terra. You have saved people from destruction and destroyed the beast Jenova."
Red hesitated before responding. How could he put this lightly? "Your thanks is appreciated, Maduin, but ill-placed. Jenova is not destroyed. She will be reborn, in some new form. She will be a plague to us all for thousands of years to come."
Maduin jumped to a standing position in shock. "Did you not kill it?"
Cloud decided to take over for Red. "Yes, we did kill Jenova, but her Mako energy always resurfaces, reinforced by Mako she's ripped from the Earth."
Celes sighed in despair. "So Jenova will return? And stronger still, you say? So we are to defend this planet for a long time to come?"
Tifa joined in. "Until you die, it seems."
Sabin flexed his right arm and let out a triumphant laugh. "It was starting to get really boring! Now we've got something to do!"
"Glad you feel that way," Cloud stated. "Well, we've discovered who the Cetra are, and I'm willing to bet that, with some work, we could get the rest of that recording. Let's go home."
Cid stopped Cloud as he began walking towards the Highwind. "Have we thought of just how we're going to do that?"
Cloud stood for a moment without answering. "Our only real option is to activate the Legacy Machine again and hope that it sends us back to our own time."
"Wait jus' a minute," Barret interrupted. "Does tha' mean we gonna hafta deal wit' tha' Collins?"
Yuffie thought for a moment before answering. "I don't see how we can avoid it. He's in the Highwind, with the Legacy Machine and that Time Materia. Cloud, has it occurred to you that Collins may not want to take us back?"
Cloud shook his head. "It's not up to him. I'm the one who can activate the materia, and he's not in any position to stop us."
Setzer walked over to Captain Highwind. "Cid?"
The pilot looked over to the gambler. "Yes?"
"I want to race. Your Highwind versus my Falcon."
Cid laughed. "There's no way your metal blimp's gonna outrun the Highwind! Save yourself the embarrassment; she'll be the fastest ship here again in no time."
It was Setzer's turn to laugh. "She's already the fastest ship here. I want to prove it."
Red XIII interrupted, "We don't have time for this! We need to spread word of the Cetra as quickly as we can!"
Cid looked down on the talking cat. "Wha'd'ya mean? The future isn't going anywhere. As long as we've got that materia, I'll take as long as I want!" Cid looked back to Setzer, "Not like this race is gonna last long, anyway."
"It's on, fly boy!"
The airships both hung in the sky, suspended by their different altitude control mechanisms, over Figaro Castle. Edgar was on top of the keep, talking into a megaphone and holding a huge checkered banner.
"Figaro Castle will be your starting line and goal. The first airship to complete 30 laps around the world will be declared the winner," Edgar said. "Setzer, are you sure you don't want to back out now?"
"Just start the race," he responded. Setzer whispered to himself, "This one's for you, Daryl." Edgar waved the flag and both vessels darted off to the east. Within seconds, the Highwind had passed the Veldt with the Falcon lagging behind by less than fifty yards. The two vessels maintained their top speeds, the Highwind slowly but surely taking the lead over Setzer's slower ship. Suddenly, the Falcon gained a burst of speed, surpassing the Highwind and nearly completing its twenty-fifth lap. Setzer thought aloud, "So that's the little trick that killed Daryl."
"Damn it!" Cid barked. His victory had been assured, but now it almost looked like it was in jeopardy.
"This is pointless Cid," Cloud started, "I'm taking us home."
"No! Just two more laps!" Cid pleaded. The two airships were neck-and-neck, and the Highwind was sure to pass the Falcon on the final lap.
"It's over, Cid."
Edgar peered over the horizon at the two fast incoming airships. The Highwind was clearly going to win, although not by much. To his total surprise, the Highwind disappeared into a flash of green light just before passing the castle. The Falcon darted through the flash, zipping past the castle as Setzer shouted cries of elation while completing his victory lap.
They weren't in the Figaro era anymore, that much was clear. They weren't home either, and that, too, was sadly certain. Below them was a castle, though not as grand as Figaro Castle, surrounded by a bustling city on every side. The sky around them was filled with wooden airships, all armed with medium-caliber cannons, though nothing compared to the Highwind. Several of the ships, all with red-painted hulls, took positions around the Highwind.
"Hello, there," Cid said into the megaphone. There was no response. "Can you hear me?" Cid asked. There was no response immediately, but the airship directly in front of the Highwind took up a position level with the Highwind's deck. The great airship rocked, and the heroes of the future quickly ran to see what had caused it.
Standing on the deck was a man in crystalline armor, complete with Crystal Sword, and a woman in light armor that accompanied him. Standing behind the two of them was a man with in a makeshift jumpsuit, aviator's goggles and a thick red beard with hair to match.
"It ain't very nice of you to jump aboard my ship without askin' first," Cid said.
The man in the crystal armor knelt and bowed his head. "Forgive me," he said, standing, "I am King Cecil of the Kingdom of Baron." He indicated with his right hand to the woman, "This is my Queen, Rosa, and this," he said, indicating the other man with his left hand, "is my Royal Engineer, Cid."
Cid Highwind looked at the other Cid. "Another guy named Cid?"
"And now," Cecil continued, "perhaps you wouldn't mind introducing yourselves, if properly asked by the King."
"I am Captain Cid Highwind of Shinra, Inc.," Cid laughed, "which probably means nothing to you."
"I'm Cloud Strife. In your terms, I'd probably be called something like 'Defender of the Realm,' or something like that."
"I'm Tifa Strife. I used to be a bartender, but now I'm more of a 'Defender of the Realm' myself."
"I'm Barret Wallace. I keep troublemakers in line."
"I'm Yuffie Kisaragi, professional materia hunter."
"I am Nanaki of Cosmo Canyon."
"I'm Cait Sith. I own Shinra, Inc."
"Two talking cats? Materia? Cosmo Canyon? Shinra? I trust you won't mind explaining who you and what those are over lunch?" Cecil requested.
"You mean I wasn't the first man in space?" Cid Highwind asked.
"I'm afraid not, Captain Highwind," Cecil said. "My advisor, Kain, my queen, Rosa, the king of Eban, Edge, his queen, Rydia, and of course myself... we beat you to it. And, if your story is true, we did it by almost thirty thousand years. If it's any consolation, I don't think the people of your time need to know that." Cecil faced Cloud across the grand dining table. "If you don't mind me asking, why are you here?"
Cloud sighed. "Like I said, we discovered the history of the Cetra, and we had hoped to head home. I don't know what happened, but we ended up here instead."
Rosa cleared her throat, drawing everyone's attention. "You said that people in your time can only use magic by harnessing the power of the Cetra, correct?"
"Yes," Red answered.
"And that people twenty thousand years from now can only learn to use magic by controlling the corpse of a dead Esper, which sounds very much like a Summoned Monster?"
"Also correct," Red replied.
"Very strange," Rosa said. "People of this time, if they are gifted by God with such ability, can use magic freely. That leads me to a conclusion I don't really like to think about."
Yuffie caught on to what Rosa meant. "If people in the future can't use spells naturally, then this current race of humans must be destroyed by some terrible accident somewhere along the line!"
Barret shook his head in disagreement. "Then how could we live?"
"Maybe in a few generations, magic will be less common and those that do use it will be killed as witches," Cid, the engineer, suggested. "But that's just a guess."
Something swung the doors of the dining room wide open, arresting the concentration of the people there and blowing out the dozen ceremonial torches that lit the hall. It was Collins, pale as ever. "Wasting away your limited lives while greater power awaits in the hold of the Highwind?" he asked, his tone not implying any great deal of sanity.
"Ah, this must be your mad doctor friend," Cecil guessed.
"Ha. More like mad doctor fiend," Captain Highwind corrected with a terrible play on words. "Collins, go away! Get back on the Highwind, and get that damned materia rigged to take us home!"
"Now, now, Captain. I'm a guest in this kingdom, too. I did a few laps around the world and found some very interesting stuff."
"You flew the Highwind?" Cloud asked. He didn't wait for an answer. "Collins, do I have to tie you down?"
"That's not nice, Mr. Strife," Collins said. "Anyway, I've got what I came for. I'm ready to go."
"Yer ready?" Barret asked. "Wha' the hell's that s'pposed to mean?"
"I've got everything this time period has to offer me, I'm ready to go home."
"You mean you brought us here?" Tifa asked.
Collins laughed maniacally. "No, Mrs. Strife, I didn't. Another happy fortune for myself, it seems."
Cloud wasn't giving Collins much credit as far as telling the truth went. "Can we get to our home time if I activate the materia?"
Collins nodded. "It should work."
"Collins, ya' son-of-a-bitch, wha'd you wan' from this time?" Barret asked rather curtly.
Collins emitted another insane laugh. "I can't tell you that!"
Cloud interrupted Barret before he could demand an answer. "It doesn't matter, we're going home! King Cecil, thank you for your hospitality. I'm sorry to say that your exploits aren't common knowledge in thirty thousand years, but maybe I can change that. We'll be leaving now. Good luck keeping the peace."
"Good luck in spreading the word of the Cetra," Cecil replied. "I simply wish I could've helped you more."
The party left and boarded the Highwind. Only moments after taking off, the great metal airship disappeared in a flash of green light...
...And reappeared hovering over the Junon landing pad. They were actually home again, and apparently only seconds after they'd left, judging by the untouched fuel spill that covered the metal slab below them. The Highwind descended to the messy plate beneath it.
"We're home," Cloud said in a distant tone. His gaze, which presently stared out over the ocean, turned to the people on the Highwind's bridge. Cloud sighed, "But we've learned so little about the Cetra."
Collins laughed again. "Are you that thick headed? Didn't you pick up on it? I thought it was perfectly clear, but I suppose I'll be nice and explain it to you."
"'bout time ya' did somethin' nice," Barret said.
Collins ignored who he considered to be a brute and continued. "The Cetra are the people we met in Figaro, although they're far more powerful than the Cetra we know are rumored to be. This is only a well-founded hypothesis, but I believe that the people we met are what I would like to christen 'Proto-Cetra.' These 'Proto-Cetra' would eventually procreate with the inferior beings that surround them..."
Yuffie interrupted with a loud "Eeewww!"
Collins sighed at the immaturity. "Not that inferior! I mean regular humans! Because of their Mako-enhanced, or should I say 'magically enhanced,' genetic codes, they passed their abilities to their offspring. Those abilities were diluted by the non-magical DNA of the regular human parents, but the magic ability would eventually be a part of almost every human DNA code, albeit in a very dilute form. The Cetra, who were apparently living in harmony with the non-magical humans, were eradicated by Jenova, judging by our knowledge and Sarina's message."
"Damn," was all Cid had to say.
"Now how th' hell did ya' get all a' tha' from the other people we met?" Barret asked.
"It's really a simple coupling of what we know, what we learned, and basic logic," Collins said in a superior tone. "Anyway, it may be the middle of the day, but we've just lived many hours in the time most other people live only a few seconds. I suggest we get some rest."
"Yeah, right," Tifa said in a sarcastic and suspicious tone. "I think we all remember what happened the last time you had that suggestion."
"Seriously, why would I try another stunt like last night's?" Collins asked. "I've seen what the Legacy Machine can do, and I'm certain there's no way I can make a massive profit from it."
"Right..." Red growled.
"Emergency! Unauthorized entry detected in laboratory 14-LOTC!" a computer's voice blared over the intercom. The party met in the same hall they had last night.
"Where's Lab 14?" Cloud asked.
Reeve shouted from down the hall as his Cait Sith machine hopped towards the party. "Someone's broken into the 'Legacy of the Cetra' lab!"
"Collins!" Cid accused aloud. "I'd bet my ticket on Shinra-29 it's Collins!"
This time, there were no elevator jams to keep the heroes from promptly arriving at the lab. Collins was standing over the Legacy Machine, his back to the elevator, and a few hunks of red materia laying at his feet. He glowed as though he'd just been exposed to far too much Mako energy, and his skin was a pale shade of neon green.
"I'm so glad you decided to come," Collins said, his voice scratchy from the overexposure to radiation and still belying his sanity.
"It's over Collins," Cait Sith said. Reeve's voice was heard over the intercom, "All SOLDIER personnel report to Laboratory 14-LOTC." Cait hopped in fury at the scientist. "They'll be here any minute."
Collins stood silent for about four minutes, his back still turned to Cloud and the others. "Did I forget to mention that I took the liberty of disposing of SOLDIER?"
"Impossible!" Cloud and Cait Sith gasped at once.
Collins spun around. His eyes were completely glowing green, as was every breath he exhaled. Small strands and sparks of Mako energy occasionally arced over his skin. "Is it?"
Reeve's voice blasted over the intercom again. "Turks to Lab 14-LOTC at once!"
Collins let out an exasperated sigh. "I knew I overlooked something." A quartet of people charged into the room. Three were easily recognized from their Turks uniforms. It was the same ol' Reno, Rude, and Elena. The fourth person was also easily identifiable...
"Vincent!" Cid said in shock, nearly dropping the cigarette from his mouth.
"Well, well, well," Reno said, surveying the occupants of the lab. "Isn't this a familiar bunch. Still causing problems for Shinra, Cloud?"
"Can it, Reno!" Cait barked.
Before Cait could issue his orders to the Turks, Vincent issued his own. "I believe our target is the glowing one. Reno, take the left. Elena, the right. Rude, circle around behind him. Want him dead or alive, sir?"
"Whichever suits you, Mr. Valentine," Sith responded. "Although, do be careful. It looks as though he's a Sephiroth wannabe."
"Sephiroth?" Elena questioned. "This one's for Tseng!" Elena raised a long, narrow barreled gun. She fired a bubble like projectile from it, encasing Collins in larger such bubble. The Mako soaked madman broke free instantly.
Reno hung his head in shame and shook it disagreeably. "You've still got no style..." he said quietly. The Turk held up a weapon similar to Elena's and fired a stream of liquid nitrogen at Collins, covering him and ice and presumably freezing him to death. "This way, we know he's dead." The ice shattered and Collins emerged unscathed. "Or not," Reno said, his voice belying no emotion.
Rude, not being one for fancy work, pulled the pin from a large grenade and threw it at Collins. By some miracle, only the scientist was caught in the blast. By some curse, it didn't even faze the Mako-enhanced maniac.
Vincent aimed the Death Penalty at Collins' head and fired. The shot was perfectly on target, but Collins didn't drop. He just jerked back a bit from the impact and stood still.
"Done playing games?" Collins asked. "Ultima!" A green globe of destructive energies filled half of the lab, hitting each of the Turks. When the blast subsided, everyone remained standing.
"It think it's time we left," Reno said. "Not to worry boss. Cloud here can handle it... I hope." With that, all of the Turks, except Vincent, left the room.
"Cowards," Cloud said. "What do you want, Collins?"
Collins let out a laugh like so many other laughs of insanity. "What does everyone want? I want money! I want power! I wasn't lying when I said I wasn't going to make a massive profit from the materia. I'll make more money than anyone's ever dreamed even existed! But why settle for money? I'll take my powers to the past and take control of the world itself!"
"You're out of your mind, Collins!" Tifa challenged.
"Time to give up, Collins, and return to reality," Cloud warned. "We took down Sephiroth, we'll get you, too. You haven't even had his SOLDIER training."
"Ah, but I've got something he didn't," Collins said, picking up one of the red materia at his feet. "All of the plagues of the world. All of the harbingers of annihilation. All of the souls that stood for nothing but total carnage. All of them," he paused for a dramatic effect, "in these materia."
"What?" Red asked.
"Chaos!" Collins shouted, raising one of the summon materia and summoning a beast that resembled Vincent's final Limit Break. "I think I'll rather enjoy watching this fight."
Cloud leapt over to the original abomination and slashed into it once with the Ultima Weapon. The beast disintegrated before everyone's eyes.
"That was rude!" Collins shouted in mock surprise. "I'll have to try something different. Zeromus!" A wall-sized horror of a tangled bio-mass appeared, attached to one of the lab walls. "I'm sorry, but all I could get was this terribly weakened version of the fabled Zeromus. I mean no offense by it."
"Right," Cloud said, bringing the Ultima Weapon between himself and Zeromus. "Red, Barret, let's get this thing." Cloud dashed at the beast and slashed into it several times with his blade. Zeromus bit at the hero, but didn't connect.
Red readied himself to pounce, but instead cast Ultima, blasting Zeromus with a globe of destructive energy.
Barret leveled the Missing Score and fired a volley into Zeromus' 'head.' The beast screamed, but nothing more.
Zeromus glared at the heroes. "So long have I waited to claim this Earth of yours! You are foolish to stand in my way." Several of Zeromus' body cavities opened and the monster laced Cloud's formation with energy beams, badly hurting all of them.
Cloud twirled his sword and put it on his back, holding his fists in front of him. A healing wave descended on the heroes and Cloud quickly redrew Ultima Weapon.
"Cosmo Memory!" Red declared, blasting Zeromus with even more energy.
"Catastrophe!" Barret called. He jumped into the air and unleashed a cone of fire from the Missing Score, bathing Zeromus in flames and propelling the Corel native higher into the air. The barrage stopped and Barret landed. Zeromus flashed several times and exploded into nothingness as Chaos had.
"You killed Zeromus!" Collins wheezed. "Do you know how long it will take to cast that spell again? I guess I'll have to skip right to the big guns." Collins held forward a piece of red materia, laced with strands of black. "Feeling something... unpleasant, Mr. Strife?"
"Sephiroth," Cloud whispered, his eyes glowing madly. "Sephiroth is in that materia!"
Collins laughed again. "I found this little beauty while inspecting the North Cave a week ago. Strange, this materia... there are two spells on it."
"Two spells... on one summon materia?" Yuffie asked.
Collins guffawed. "Yes. 'Dancing Mad' and 'One Winged Angel.' Don't you see? It's a Black Angel Materia!" The floor rumbled. "And it looks like mommy's come to save her precious baby!" Jenova AFTERLIFE burst through the lab's floor. "I'll just leave you to play here," Collins said, darting upward with the Legacy Machine in tow. He disappeared as he hit the ceiling.
"Cid, Barret, Red, stay here and deal with Jenova. Vincent, Yuffie, come with me. We're going after Collins," Cloud said. Before Tifa could protest, he turned to her. "Go with Cait Sith and evacuate this building. Things could get ugly really fast."
Everyone dashed out of the room, except Cid, Barret, and Red XIII. Cid glared at Jenova AFTERLIFE. "Ugly bitch, ain't ya'?" Cid jabbed his spear deep into Jenova AFTERLIFE's body and pulled it back out. Jenova AFTERLIFE just stared into the pilot's eyes.
Red raised his head and summoned Bahamut ZERO. The dragon, unseen by the combatants, circled the Earth and located the battle. Firing a Terra Flare, the great dragon managed to hit Jenova AFTERLIFE without even harming the heroes or the Shinra building.
Barret tensed his body as he magically flung a thick mass of Bio poison at Jenova AFTERLIFE.
"5" Jenova AFTERLIFE screeched.
"Huh... oh shit!" Cid said. Fumbling an Enemy Skill materia, Cid cast Big Guard.
"4" Jenova AFTERLIFE shrieked.
Red raised his head again and cast Neo Bahamut. Jenova AFTERLIFE was lifted on a slab of stone and steel into the sky to come face-to-face with Neo Bahamut. The dragon reared back a bit and breathed a Giga Flare at Jenova AFTERLIFE, blasting her and her platform. Jenova AFTERLIFE fell back to the lab floor, which, like the rest of the Shinra building, was magically unharmed.
"3" Jenova AFTERLIFE rasped.
Barret lifted his own summon materia. The ancient warrior Odin emerged from a swirling black cloud and flung his Gungir Spear skyward, parting the Shinra building and clouds. The mighty spear pinned Jenova AFTERLIFE for a moment before disappearing with its master. Like before, the only thing harmed was Jenova AFTERLIFE.
"2" Jenova AFTERLIFE choked.
"Shit! Shit! Shit!" Cid swore. The pilot held up a piece of green materia, electrifying Jenova AFTERLIFE with Bolt 3.
"1" Jenova AFTERLIFE coughed.
"Where's Aeris' Great Gospel when you need it?" Red wondered out loud. Figuring he might just as well finish the chain, Red summoned Bahamut. The red dragon appeared out of nowhere and spat a Mega Flare at Jenova AFTERLIFE. She hardly recoiled as the dragon disappeared.
"Weapon Strikes," Jenova AFTERLIFE hissed, casting its own unique summon spell. Weapon appeared out of thin air and fired a volley of energy shots at the heroes. As it disappeared, Diamond Weapon appeared and matched Weapon's maneuver. When Diamond Weapon vanished, it was replaced by Ultima Weapon, who fired Ultima Beam at the party. That Weapon was replaced by Emerald Weapon, who blasted the heroes with its own energy assault. Finally, Ruby Weapon arrived and beat the party down with its tentacles.
When the thrashing stopped, Cid was barely even capable of kneeling. He pulled out a remote control and choked "Highwind!" The ship, from the top of the Shinra building, rained a barrage of missiles down on Jenova AFTERLIFE. She vanished in a blast of red light as the final missiles hit her. Again, the lab and Shinra building remained mysteriously undamaged.
"You're outta places to run, Collins!" Cloud shouted over the high winds. He, Vincent, Yuffie and Collins were standing on the Shinra building's Highwind landing pad. The airship was gone already, presumably taken by Tifa and Reeve when they evacuated the tower. Collins still clutched the Black Angel Materia, brandishing it every few seconds like it was a much larger weapon.
"You're absolutely right, Mr. Strife," Collins agreed, also shouting over the winds. "I can't run any farther. I guess I'll just have to kill you here."
"You've lost it!" Yuffie shouted. "You couldn't possibly beat the three of us."
"Give it up, Collins!" Vincent hollered.
"You're right, Ms. Kisaragi. I can't beat you, but these two will! Dancing Mad! One Winged Angel!" Collins, utilizing both the Black Angel Materia and a hidden W-Summon materia called forth two horrors. Hovering on his left was Kefka, in his final, angelic-looking form. On his right, Safer Sephiroth hung suspended by some unseen force, his one wing not moving at all, glaring at Cloud with total hatred and loathing. "Enjoy yourselves!"
Kefka laughed his own maniacal laugh, which oddly almost matched Collins'. "I so wish the Figaro brothers could be here now, but it seems they're dead already!" Kefka laughed again. "Time took care of that challenge for me! And look! Civilization reborn! It looks like I'll just have to destroy everything again. What fun!"
Sephiroth simply floated in place, staring down the fighter that killed him a year before.
Cloud glowered back at Safer Sephiroth. "You two take out Kefka. Sephiroth is mine!" A cyclone of dust formed around Cloud as he held Ultima Weapon upright over his head, producing a globe of light at its tip. "Omnislash!" he called leaping into a slashing frenzy focused entirely on Safer Sephiroth. Cloud didn't want to stop until this abomination was destroyed. He brought Ultima Weapon down on Sephiroth countless times, battering him repeatedly with all of his strength. Finally, Cloud took up his old position, breathless.
Sephiroth stared at Cloud for a moment before countering. "Fallen Angel," he said, draining Cloud of almost all of his life force.
Vincent fired the Death Penalty at Kefka, hitting the madman in the head. Kefka recoiled and laughed at the attempted assassination.
Yuffie stood back a minute before disappearing with Vincent. Kefka was, from nowhere, electrified by an unseen foe. The sparks turned to flames and engulfed Kefka in a ball of fire. Those sparks in turn became ice shards that froze Kefka in a cocoon of ice. Finally, Kjata itself appeared and sent a massive tremor towards Kefka. The final part of the attack had no effect on Kefka, but he was left badly injured by the rest of it.
Kefka laughed. Lowering himself to be level with Yuffie, Kefka slashed at her with his wing, throwing the materia hunter to the ground.
Cloud, wasting no time recovering from Sephirtoh's attack, drank an elixir.
"Supernova," Sephiroth said emotionlessly. Unseen by the combatants, a massive asteroid plowed through the outer planets one by one before colliding with the sun. The sun, turning volatile, expanded and consumed Mercury and Venus. Finally, its corona almost touched Cloud, scorching him for untold amounts of damage.
Vincent, like always, fired a perfectly aimed shot at Kefka. This time, however, the twisted angel appeared to suffer greatly from that attack.
Very unfortunately for Kefka, his attack had reduced Yuffie to exactly 7777 hit points. The ninja launched into a barrage of attacks, each causing identical damage to Kefka. When the final blow was landed, Kefka began to fall apart, molecule by molecule.
"No!" he cried. "Not again!" Kefka tried to execute the same spell that destroyed his tower all those years before, but to no avail. With no more than those defiant cries and that useless gesture, Kefka was destroyed.
Cloud raised Ultima Weapon again, creating another cyclone and ball of light. The warrior began another all-out offensive on Sephiroth as he called "Omnislash!" Once more, the fiend was caught in a barrage of rapid-succession slashes. This time, however, there was no surviving the assault. As the final slash landed, Sephiroth found himself powerless. Having been stripped of his energy, Sephiroth plummeted to the street below, disappearing in a bright flash only seconds before falling on a late night traffic jam. Cloud turned away from the ledge to face Collins. Breathless and panting from the onslaught, Cloud asked "Give up yet?"
Collins, still glowing, seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Hmm... an intriguing offer. You say that if I surrender now, you'll let me go?"
Vincent now faced the doctor. "We'll let you live."
"You know, fellow researchers, that is a more than fair bargain for you to offer, seeing as I just tried several times to kill you," Collins said. "However, I have a counter proposal," Collins waved his arms, sending Vincent and Yuffie flying across the roof and over the side, "I could just kill you all now!"
The sound of the Highwind's engines filled the sky for the second night in a row as the airship, piloted by Cid, elevated itself to the roof, hovering over the streets below. Yuffie and Vincent leapt onto the exposed deck of the ship as Cid maneuvered it closer to pick up Cloud.
"C'mon, Cloud!" Cid shouted. "Get aboard. I can't fire the missiles with you standing too close!"
"Troublemakers," Collins said quietly. He raised an arm, pointed at the Highwind, and fired a ball of green energy. It struck one of the fans of the airship, causing its interior to flare in a great explosion. The Highwind began to pull away.
"It's now or never, Cloud!" Tifa shouted. "He's not worth it!" Collins fired another energy bolt at the airship.
"Too late, Cloud! Hope you can handle him!" Cid shouted over the roar of the remaining engines.
Cloud, who'd turned to face the Highwind, spun around to face Collins. Raising the Ultima Weapon, Cloud dashed at Collins and brought his weapon to bear on the scientist's head. To his surprise, Collins blocked the slash with his arm, despite the absence of armor. In retaliation, Collins flung a pair of energy balls at Cloud. The fighter deftly dodged the attack and lunged at Collins, who in turn dodged Cloud's counterattack.
"Now do you believe that I destroyed SOLDIER?" Collins asked, chucking another pair of energy projectiles at Cloud.
Deflecting the shots with the Ultima Weapon, Cloud responded, "Not if you fought like this!" Cloud circled the scientist a couple of times, his sword held at the ready. Out of the blue, Cloud bolted at Collins again, swinging the Ultima Weapon like a madman. Collins blocked each strike and countered by punching Cloud square in the face. The SOLDIER wannabe was sent sprawling.
"I was hoping for more of a fight out of you," Collins taunted. "I guess you can't have everything you want." Collins waved his arms again, sending Cloud over the edge. Now, the hero hung on to life only with his left hand. Collins strolled over to the edge and looked down at Cloud. He held his fist over Cloud and energized it, readying it for the killing blow. "You can't stop me, Cloud. You were foolish to try, and now you will die for it."
"Will I?" Cloud asked, his tone turning into one of triumph. Catapulting himself with his left arm, Cloud flew upwards, slicing Collins' arm off at the elbow with the Ultima Weapon as he went. Landing behind Collins, Cloud gave the screaming scientist a stiff kick in the back, sending him a couple of feet off the roof and letting him fall to his doom. There was a loud, messy sounding thud as Collins hit the street, and an even louder, messier sounding one when a car, unable to swerve, ran over the scientist. There was a great explosion of Mako energy and everything went black...
Cloud awoke with Tifa's, Barret's, Cid's, Yuffie's, and Nanaki's faces hovering over him. Sitting up, Cloud saw Vincent, Reno, Rude and Elena standing at a doorway with two SOLDIERs, 1st-Class with them. It was then that Cloud realized that he was in a hospital room. More like a hospital suite, judging by the size of it. Reeve walked in.
"Well, it looks like he's finally come around," Reeve said. "SOLDIERs, Turks, you're dismissed." The SOLDIERs and Turks, except Vincent, left the room.
"Wha... What's going on? Why were the Turks here? There are still SOLDIERs?" Cloud asked.
"Why the Turks? An Honor Guard for the man who saved the world. Same with the SOLDIERs; Collins only managed to kill one of them, and he was only a SOLDIER, 3rd-Class," Reeve said. "You've been in a coma for two days. We're not sure how it happened, but you were exposed to massive amounts of Mako radiation."
Cloud looked around the room, his eyes darting as though in search of something. "There were people there. Where Collins died. Where are they?"
"So Collins caused that fourteen-car pile-up? They've all recovered, thank God, and none injured so badly as you were. Looks like you took the brunt of the blast, and you're going to be okay."
"It's over then?" Cloud asked.
Reeve nodded. "I've determined that the Legacy Machine and its accompanying materia are too dangerous to have around. After twenty hours of trying to recover the recording, both were destroyed. You, Cloud Strife, are now the world's leading expert on the Cetra."
"Is that so?" Cloud asked. "Well, someone get a recorder. It's a long story and I only want to tell it once."
...or is it?
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