THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

Birth of a Bahamut

Ian Mack
Themacks@comnet.ca





Chapter 1: A Strange and Ominous Occurrence.

The metal decks of the Highwind resounded satisfyingly as Yuffie Kisaragi sprang over the railing and down to the lower decks of the amazing aircraft. Yuffie was heading down to the lower level storage room to make a check on the materia crystals that weren't being used. Although Barret was a bit apprehensive about Yuffie checking on the materia, she had argued that it gave her a chance to see if the pills that Red XIII had given to prevent her airsickness would work. Not to mention that it also let Yuffie exercise her stiff muscles and Cloud had agreed.

"I certainly am glad that Cloud's back and all right," Yuffie said to herself out loud. "After all the things that have been happening recently, what with that Messiah woman and not to mention Sephiroth, I thought that things would never calm down."

As she walked down to the storage room, an abrupt flash of light from the storage room interrupted Yuffie's thoughts. With split-second reactions, Yuffie Kisaragi, ninja elite of the town Wutai, sprang into a sprint and, unsheathing her deadly Conformer, leaped into the room with a loud battlecry meeting a black shape that exploded by her and onto the floor of the Highwind. Yuffie immediately skidded to a halt and reversed direction, chasing after the person.

"Hey! There's an intruder on the Highwind!" Yuffie cried as she tore over the massive metal planks of the interior of the airship. But the black shape was just too fast. It stayed just out of her reach until it leaped over the railing and plunged into the open blue sky.

Yuffie skidded to a halt at the edge flipped her conformer at the shape but with a glance, she knew she wouldn't hit it. It was already to far away but she took heart in the knowledge in the fact that the thing, whatever it was, probably wouldn't be able to survive a landing at 3,000 feet. Then Yuffie narrowed her eyes as her keen ninja sight took in a different object just ahead of the black shape. The other object caught the intruder and Yuffie gasped as she saw the black thing in better detail.

"Why, that looks like one of Red XIII's people!" She exclaimed in surprise. "Hey guys! Get over here!" She tried to memorize what the two people looked like, but the two people abruptly disappeared in a bright flash of light that seared Yuffie's eyes. When she blinked her eyes open, they were gone.

"What is it?" cried Tifa as she ran up to Yuffie. Vincent and Red XIII were coming up close behind Tifa while Yuffie rubbed the blinking lights out of her eyes.

"A little slow guys. You missed him, or her, I mean, it." Yuffie said as she turned to face them. "There was somebody in the materia storage room, but it escaped before I could catch it or even see who it was, sort of." She told them.

"What did you see Yuffie?" Red XIII prompted as he nudged against her.

"Well, the person that was in the storage room looked like. One of Red XIII's kind," She said hesitantly, "At least, that's what I think it looked like, it was more feline than Red."

Everybody's eyes opened wide as they took in the news, for Red's grandfather, BugenHagen had said that Red XIII was the last of his kind. Even Barret was unable to say anything. Red however, had a wistful look on his face.

"I wish I had seen the person." He murmured.

Suddenly Barret spoke up. "Don't you guys think we should check out the materia? Even if this supposed thief exists." He said loudly with a sidelong glance at Yuffie. "I mean, we all know what sort of job Yuffie was in before she met up with us."

"Hey! I did not make this up!" Yuffie cried indignantly. "Are you saying that I, a ninja, lied?!"

"Mebbe," was all Barret said as he strode to the room where all of their unused materia was being stored. He walked in and rummaged through the arranged materia. Suddenly, loud and fluent curses rang out of the room and even the imperturbable Vincent was taken aback by the ferocity of the curses. "SHIT!!! Bahamut's gone!!" Barret yelled as he burst out of the room, "So is the fuckin' Neo materia!" Barret leered over at Yuffie and asked her, "Are you sure you had nothin' to do with this?" he asked through clenched teeth.

"Barret, calm down, you know that Yuffie is on our side and wouldn't take our materia. Just back off." Cloud said as he and Cid arrived on the scene. Cloud frowned as he looked at Barret, then Yuffie. "It seems you two haven't been able to get along since that incident with the vase." Cloud said with just the barest of smiles tugging on his lips.

The group began to head back up to the bridge with Yuffie stalking at the front and Barret striding behind, fuming. Soon, they reached the bridge and took their customary places on the bridge, Except that Yuffie was at the front taking in the scenery as it sped by more than 3,000 feet below.

"She has such a love for life." Cloud thought to himself as he leaned against the bulkhead. "I wonder if she could have just made it all up and taken the materia for her quest...no...she couldn't have. She's grown up too much to do something so juvenile as steal materia that she helped collect. Besides, where could she have put it." He said to himself as he closed his eyes in thought.

Yuffie paused and glanced back as she heard a voice whispered her name. She looked down and saw that Red was calling her name. She hopped off the railing where the ground was whipping by far below. Moments later, she and Red XIII were huddled behind the bulkhead where he could usually be found.

"What did the person look like?" He asked eagerly, as she got comfortable, leaning on the bulkhead.

Yuffie couldn't help but smile at Red XIII's eagerness because after Bugenhagen's death, Red XIII had retreated into a shell of maturity and showed very little emotion. This was a good reminder for Yuffie that he was still the young outgoing animal she fondly remembered. "I'm not sure really, I couldn't get a good look at he or she because they disappeared too quickly, but it was more feline than you are, and black. I'm sorry that I don't know more." She said to him apologetically.

"That's all right. I was just wondering." Red told her but she could see that it really affected him. He got back up and moved over to the window and, settling down, curled his tail around him and looked wistfully at the blur of the landscape speeding by, not really seeing it.

Yuffie got back up and gave Red a pat on the head before returning to place on the bridge. Soon she was lost in her thoughts, as was each other person on the bridge, pondering about the validity of Yuffie's claim of an intruder, where the materia had gone or things as trivial as whether or not they would get the cargo back to Midgar on schedule.

cd

As the Highwind soars through the air with its cargo a mysterious meeting was taking place on the far south continent. In a dark forest of trees, that were horribly twisted and scarred as if a poison was slowly draining the life from them, a man in flowing scarlet robes was striding towards something. His features were obscured in the long robes that he wore. Soon he reached an area where his sickness had killed all living organisms, except one. The young panther-like animal, which had just recently escaped from the Highwind, was moving towards the scarlet-robed man with somewhat hesitant strides.

"You have come." Said the robed man in a raspy voice that portrayed an image of an old man that was very, very sick. And that was not far wrong when looking at this man yet, behind the weakened voice, there was a lurking power of such force that even the black cat cringed and took a few involuntary steps backward. The man continued, "Have you brought what I have asked for?"

"Yes, I have. Now will you help me rescue my mother?" The black cat said, the thought of his mother strengthening his resolve to get the man's help.

"Of course, you know that I am always here to help in any way I can." replied the man, and if one looked closely enough, you could see the beginnings of a sinister smile on his lips. And then, he waved his hands over the black cat's head in an intricate pattern, "I am always here to help"

"Wha?..." moaned the black cat. His body faltered and he staggered as if some great weight was pressing down on him. With one last great, he collapsed to the ground; his last thought being of his guardian's betrayal.

The old man stooped over the black cat's body and soon got back up again, after ascertaining the pulse of the great cat's heart. He then snapped his fingers at the woods in general and as if by magic, small black shapes materialized out of the trees. "You will bring the cat back to my lair and prepare him for the ceremony."

The twisted black shapes that were the old man's underlings scrambled to obey his commands as he picked himself up and walked away, deeper into the woods where he could go and replenish his weakening health. His steps seemingly weak and frail yet exerted a mysterious sense of magic and power.

Later that night, the great cat whose name was Thanu awoke to sounds of some mysterious intoning. He shook his head groggily, trying to shake the weakness off and then recognized the voice of his previous master of who had betrayed him. With a great roar he tried to leap off the stone slab but could not, his limbs were tied down and although he should have been able to break free of those bonds through sheer strength he could not. Presumably he was still weakness from the spell that was cast on him.

He looked around and found that the chamber was dimly lighted and by the smell of the dank musty air, he was deep underground. By turning his head, he could see his deceiving master who was standing at an altar with something that seemed to glow with an unnatural light.

The words of magic flowed from the mouth of the wizened old man smoothly and to the ears of the great cat, he sounded stronger somehow, younger. Suddenly, as the old man's voice rose to a climax, the spinning orb burst into brilliance, Thanu realized that it was the Bahamut materia he had stolen. His chest exploded in agony as the blue materia was placed on his chest by the old man. The last thing he heard was the voice of his previous master and teacher, "By the power of my very spirit, I call upon the power of Bahamut to awaken within this beast so that you may serve my bidding...

Chapter 2: He leaves to Meet Another.

At the same time, the Highwind was making it's landing on the landing pads at Midgar. Technicians hurried around, operating special cranes and other objects, unloading the precious cargo that the Highwind had imported from one of the outlying research posts.

"This is some amazing stuff," said Cid as he overlooked the cargo unloading. "They must have got some top-notch avionics scientists on these engines. They might even be as powerful as the engines on the Highwind". Then he amended his comment as his crew turned and stared at him oddly. "Well, almost."

As Cloud and the rest of the crew on the Highwind were disembarking Red XIII came up beside Cloud, his expression somber. "Cloud, I must leave you for awhile, I must ... think." Red XIII told Cloud. "After all this talk of more of my kind, I feel kinda strung out."

Cloud looked down at Red XIII, knowing this was quite an admission for him because he had withdrawn into a shell of maturity after BugenHagen's death. He smiled worriedly as he said, "Of course, we will be here for several days. Just return when you feel you're ready... and be careful."

Red XIII looked up with gratitude shining in his eyes as he began to move away, his broad shoulders clearing the path. Shinra technicians stumbled out of his path startled. "I'll call you on the PHS if anything happens." He called over his shoulder as he disappeared from sight.

The rest of the group were staying in one of the more prestigious Midgar hotels and they were making the best of the time relaxing beside the pool, Barret was swimming with his daughter Marlene and Cloud could almost feel Barret's joy at being with his daughter again. Looking to the side, Cloud saw a soldier coming towards them, looking rather conspicuous in this crowd of well-dressed people.

"Cloud Strife?" The soldier asked as she threw a hand up in an awkward salute.

"Yes, that's me, what do you want?" He replied.

"I have orders for you and the rest of your crew to come with me to Shinra HQ, and also to give you this." With that, she handed him the envelope that had the symbol of Classified Shinra files. Then she spun on her heels and beckoned for one of the grunts to come over in the transports. Cloud, Tifa, and Barret got on the transport with the messenger and it sped off through the crowd of Shinra scientists, heading toward the center of the city.

Cloud Strife breathed in a quick breath of surprise as he scanned over the documents, his eyes widened as he realized the magnitude of these pieces of paper. Then he leaned over and told the driver to speed up.

"Cloud, what is it?" Tifa asked as the driver sped the lumbering transport to its limit. "You look pale." Barret leaned over with a curious look on his face, wondering what could have shaken up this strong swordsman and steady leader.

"Oh my God, you know how our Bahamut materia was stolen? Well," Cloud stopped speaking as the transport screeched to a halt in front of Shinra headquarters. The group leapt off and headed into the lobby where the rest of the party was waiting, as they were brought in by helicopter. "I think it will be better explained inside." He finished.

"Hey Cloud, you know what this is all about?!" said Cid Highwind as he motioned for Cloud, Tifa and Barret to get on the elevator.

"Yes.. Uh... maybe I had better let Reeves explain it though." he said as the doors closed and the elevator sped upwards. Soon, the elevator slowed to a halt at the top floor of Shinra headquarters, where Reeves' penthouse office was located. A wall unit of clear glass presented a stunning picture of the rebuilt Midgar below them. Machines now meshed with nature in an effort to grow closer with the Earth and the city was wreathed in a surprisingly pretty shade of green.

Then, a voice came out from behind the desk, "Stunning isn't it?" The party turned to see Reeves as he swiveled his highback chair to face them, his face somber, "Such an amazing city, built from nothing save the determination of the residents of the Midgar, and now it may be lost once again." His head dropped downwards to face the desk as he let out a tired sigh. "I assume that Cloud has been the only one to read the documents?" he asked as Cloud nodded. "All right then, a few hours ago, your materia was stolen and you do not know where it is. Well...I do..."

Before Cloud could ask how he knew, Reeves got up and picked up a remote where he turned on a TV screen that was displaying the image of a dragon over a city. "Bahamut! What's he doing over that city?!" Tifa cried as she recognized the dragon that looked so much like Bahamut albeit more sinister.

"Yes, what you are seeing is an outpost called Kihn, and now it is no more, destroyed by a rampaging dragon." Reeves told them as he flicked through images of Bahamut releasing great blasts of energy against the town. His tone descended until it was ominous as he turned to look at them through serious eyes, he spoke again to the tense party in front of him, "What I need you to do is to capture him, and someone bring him back to normal before he destroys New Midgar."

"How do you know that he will be attacking Midgar?" Barret asked, looking tense.

"He only attacks those cities which have the large energy generators needed for large populations. The dragon seems to be attracted to the energy output. And now, Midgar is the closest and largest energy center. If Bahamut were to somehow destroy our reactors, the resultant explosion would annihilate the terrain for miles around." Reeves said heavily.

Outside of the city, Red XIII was making another momentous discovery, feeling the stare of another pair of eyes on him. He quickly descended into a cleft where he hid in a small fissure waiting until the being passed, but then he froze, as the haunting image of a feline animal much like himself passed by, muttering to herself. Red XIII was just about to attack when he shrank back in on himself, realizing that her muttering had not been heard but had sounded in his head!

cd

Shea, once first female of the Dragon Tail Clan, smoothly moved from rock to rock as she followed this strange male, stockier than the males in her clan and colored red. It was with some surprise that she had noticed the flaming tip of his tail, almost giving away her position. She wondered curiously why she had never seen him before, the glimmerings of something heard long ago whispering through her mind, but then realized that he must be Chuevah, the felines that were either abandoned in times of famine, or shunned as a punishment for crimes. Seeing the muscles that rippled beneath the smooth coat for fur, she knew that he had not been abandoned. But he seemed so young, she had been first female for so long and she had never heard anything such as a red-haired feline. Suddenly she stopped as Red XIII entered the cleft, her eyes narrowing.

"Think you're clever Chuevah? You can't outsmart the Shea, first-female!" Shea paused as she spat on the ground in contempt, "First-female, now I'm nothing more than Chuevah! Well, it'll take more than hiding in a hole to catch me!" She leapt to the boulders above and circled around coming in from above, she sniffed tentatively for his scent but she could not find it, it had disappeared. She did not know of Red XIII's peculiar ability to be able to near-dissolve into a shade, unscented and translucent, invisible in the shadows when he wanted to, but even he did not know it. As it was, Red XIII was still hiding in his diffused state when she walked by, muttering to herself that she had lost him.

She continued walking along the ground when suddenly his scent flooded through her nose, she began to turn to face this threat when his voice rang out, stopping her in her tracks.

"What manner of beast are you that you talk in my mind?" Red XIII asked, his head low and his muscles tensed to leap and attack as this strange creature turned slowly to face him.

"What business is it of yours Chuevah?!" Confusion flicking through her mind as she spat in his face. She leapt without warning, her deadly claws reaching out to strike his face, but he was no longer there, she landed with a curse as she whirled around, trying to locate him.

Red XIII leapt to safety high on a rock and he looked at her, questioning. "Chuevah? What do you mean? What is that?" From the depths of his mind, he somehow realized that it meant abandoned or something but he discarded that thought as Shea's voice ripped into his head, but it was with astonishment, not loathing.

"You do not even know what that means? What kind of a feline are you to not even know what you are?!" She asked, her voice sounding eerie inside his head, as she relaxed, just the tiniest bit, and her haunches loosening as she sat on the ground.

"I don't know what I am." Red XIII said sadly, sorrow flickering through his face, "I thought I was the last of my kind." He sat down as well, his head resting on his front feet.

"What?! There are still many of us! Of what tribe are you?" Shea said as an old legend, passed on through the ages, flickered in her mind. She quickly dismissed it, scorning it as a tale to amuse children, nothing more.

Red XIII wondered at her mind technique as he answered her questions, "My tribe? I come from Cosmo Canyon, and there is only me because my father, Seto and." he could get no farther because of his emotion. Shea was suddenly on her feet and she leapt onto the stone. Red XIII crouched into a defensive stance but then relaxed as her face showed bewilderment.

"A descendant of Seto??! Cosmo Canyon!? But that's impossible! Cosmo Canyon was destroyed in a raid. Only two cats made it and they died within weeks!" Shea said as the legends of Seto, a hero even amongst her people, played out in her mind.

Red XIII was taken aback at this statement, "No! Seto my father died defending us so we could survive and to this day, he stands guard over Cosmo Canyon, his body turned to stone by poison-tipped arrows." Pride filled Red XIII's voice as he told her of his father, guarding the pass into Cosmo Canyon. "But what are you doing here? From what I've gathered, your home must be in the mountains by the Mithril Mines." Red asked curiously.

Shea bowed her head as she explained with an undertone of sadness in her voice, "My son disappeared some time ago, and I had to leave the tribe to find him I be...became Chuevah to find him." She sat down on her haunches, putting her head on her front feet. "I had heard stories that he was convinced to leave by promises of power, from an old man of whom we know little about, only that he is the carrier of an evil spirit and some horrendous power. We avoid him at all costs so I don't know if he was the one but I just feel that he is the reason. How he convinced my son to follow him, I will never know." I tried to get into the cave where the man lives but it is protected.

Suddenly, the harsh ring of the PHS disturbed the stillness of the small enclosure. "Red XIII here, what is it?" Red said as he got up stiffly to his feet, stretching his lean muscles.

Yuffie's voice rang out, slightly trembling as she reported in to him, "Hey Red! How close are you to Fort Condor? Bahamut's here!! I've already radioed Cloud and he's on his way with reinforcements from Shinra!"

"On my way." Red XIII hung up and sprang up to another rock, as Shea looked up at him in question. "I have to go to Fort Condor, Bahamut is there and I believe that your son may be linked to this. Come if you want but hurry!!" Shea's eyes lit up at the prospect of seeing her son and she leaped up to the rock, smoothly running after Red XIII.

cd

Meanwhile, above the peaks of Fort Condor, the soldiers were fighting for their lives against the terrible force that was Bahamut. The lancers filed into line, lances held out before them as they prepared to sacrifice their lives so that Fort Condor could live. But luck was not with them. Bahamut opened his mouth and a powerful blast of pure energy ripped through the ranks of Lancers smashing them against the rock walls.

Deep underground, a young boy trembled as he ran down the tunnels, his father pushing him faster as he tried to escape from this nightmare. "Hurry up Kayin!! That dragon's got his eyes on you and you don't have that much time!!" his father yelled as they finally reached the end of the tunnel, bursting into the daylight. "Now quick, get onto the Chocobo! Gods curse it, hurry up!"

Shoji, Kayin's father turned bravely, raising his sword to the sky, as the horrifying image of Bahamut appeared low in the sky. His small regiment of soldiers faced the dragon, knowing that they would most likely die. "Dragon! Why do you seek my son?!" He yelled. His troops sprinted towards the dragon, lances and swords raised as archers launched a volley of arrows.

Bahamut landed hard on the ground, his claws ripping through the soldiers, their death screams echoing in the late afternoon air. Blood flowed onto the rock surface freely, the stain sinking into the rock so deep that it would never be rinsed away. The dragon leapt forward, his eyes sighting on his objective. His wings spread as he prepared to launch forward and take the boy up in his arms when suddenly searing pain made him blink and recoil.

Shoji pulled his sword out of the dragon's tough hide as he prepared to deal another blow; he roared his battle cry as his sword arced downwards, a brilliant flash of light. "My life for my people! My life for my Earth!" As his sword sliced into the tough scales of Bahamut, a peculiar change came over Shoji. His chest shimmered with an ethereal blue light and he was enveloped in light. Yuffie covered her eyes to shield them for the searing light so only Red could see what was happening. Not that he understood what he was seeing. Finally the light faded and all could see the majestic form of Shoji, enwrapped by a glittering cape of dark blue, clad in traditional armor that shone white, but his eyes stood out most, they were glowing with purest light that threatened to blind all. His sword too had transformed. It still held the same shape but with every swing, it seemed to cleave through the very air itself. The tables were turned on Bahamut; he was now fighting someone on his own level in mystic energy. Shoji dodged Bahamut's energy blasts with a roll to the side and leaped in close to the dragon. With magically impelled force, Shoji's sword ripped through the toughened scales of Bahamut's side. He began to leap away but was clipped by a claw, moving faster than light. Shoji hit the ground hard nearly twenty feet away; he got up slowly, gritting himself against the pain. Slowly, Shoji gathered the shimmering light around into his sword, it began to glow brightly and seemed as though it would burst until he suddenly cried out, his voice carrying through the ranks of still onlookers like a clarion trumpet.

"SHOCK LANCE!" With a tremendous swing, Shoji clove his sword through the air once again and from leapt a shockwave that tore the ground into the air. Not even waiting to see if it hit Bahamut. Shoji sprinted towards the dark dragon. He leapt into the cloud of smoke, caused by his magical attack. Kayin squinted; trying to see what had happened but he only heard the cry of pain, suddenly silenced. When the smoke cleared, Kayin saw his father collapse to the ground, blood flowing from a chest that was no longer there, replaced by the deadly claw of Bahamut.

"NO!!" he cried as tears poured down his face. He tried to turn his mount around so that he could avenge his father, but the hysterical chocobo would not listen and continued to sprint away from the dragon, bleating in a scared voice.



Kayin fell to the ground, his mount gone in a wash of blood as the claws of Bahamut streaked by, reaching for him. Amazed that the dragon could have traveled so far in a single second, Kayin looked up to see the terrifying visage of Bahamut as a blood-soaked claw descended toward him; and then he was deafened by a roar of pain. A rush of air pressed him into the ground and he opened his eyes to see a young girl with some sort of boomerang clasped in her hand and Bahamut circling around to face her, fresh blood seeping from a wound on it's nose.

"Hey Kid!! You all right?!" Yuffie said as her deadly conformer flashed in the light. She settled into a battle stance as she prepared to do battle with the dragon. Bahamut leapt at her, his claws a blur as they encircled her. But then she was on his slender nose, ripping through flesh with her conformer. A nose is often the most sensitive part of an animal and Bahamut was no different. Enraged, he opened his mouth and threw her off. Before she even hit the ground, she was struck by a blast of energy.

Yuffie landed hard on the ground, her clothes tearing. She struggled to get up but couldn't. She weakly turned to the side, and then blinked as a bright light flashed in her vision. She squinted at the light, trying to identify it but tears of pain flooded her eyes. But she soon discovered what it was when she heard a voice from Fort Condor. "The Condor has returned! It has returned to save us!!"

Bahamut looked up from his prey to see shining claws appear out of the sunlight, ripping into his hide, damaging one wing. He leapt to the side, his mouth opening for a deadly blast, but the Condor was no longer there. Instinct took over as he rose into the air his claws sweeping around to cover his escape. He heard a satisfying scream of pain as his claws met smooth feathers.

Kayin, looked up and seeing the majestic Condor battle the dragon, he was filled with a sense of power. He stood up to fight with the Condor but something in his mind told him that he must tend to the girl that had saved him. He ran over to her limp body, a healing spell already on his lips. A wash of soft blue light shimmered and Yuffie felt wounds heal, cuts and gouges sealing themselves and scars disappearing. She opened her eyes to see the young boy she had saved, standing above her with a worried look on his face. "Magic?" She asked.

"Yes," He said defensively, "I dabble."



Chapter 3: Awakening of a Legend.

His hind legs working powerfully, Red XIII barreled through the underbrush, Shea close behind. His breath came out in quick gasps as he fought for extra speed. Then his feet landed on air and he was falling. He looked down to see a smooth chasm stretching out below him and he couldn't suppress a mirthless chuckle of disbelief. "After all that I've survived, to be killed by a simple fall into a gorge" Red XIII began to fall, closing his eyes in a silent apology to Cloud. "I'm sorry, I tried to be careful-!"

He couldn't finish his thought because he felt a sharp stab of pain shoot through his tail as if it would fall off. His eyes wrenched open, knowing he couldn't have hit the bottom yet and his head twisted up to see the form of Shea, her jaws snapped shut on his tail, pulling him up inch by agonizing inch. He pushed his front feet to the cliff side, pushing himself up slowly. He let out a long sigh of relief as he felt his body rest on solid ground. He looked back to see Shea shaking. "I'm all right now, thanks to you." He said.

"I'm...I'm terrified of heights and when I saw the depth of the chasm I thought we were both going to die; I almost let go." Shea said, taking a deep breath.

"Don't worry, we'll steer clear of the chasm until we can find away across." Red XIII said as he got to his feet, springing nimbly down the path, looking back to make sure that Shea was close behind.

Shea ran by him, her composure regained, "Hurry, or we will be too late." She said as she disappeared into the underbrush. Red XIII lengthened his strides, catching up to her and then matching her speed and running in line with her. They sped through the bushes and low branches, unerringly heading towards the battleground that was Fort Condor. Red XIII's ears flicked forwards as her heard the first signs of battle. He tucked his head and with a single word, "Yuffie!" Red put on an extra burst of speed that Shea could not hope to match. She was left behind to catch up as best she could.

Red XIII gained even more speed as the trees began to thin; a sign that he was close to the plains of Fort Condor. He crashed through another barrier of plants only to skid to a halt as he took in the bloodstained walls of Fort Condor, the wails of the brave injured soldiers. Shea however was amazed, "So this is why they named it Fort Condor, I thought the last Condor perished years ago in the Great War!" Red XIII looked on in disbelief as he saw the huge bird battling viciously with the dragon Bahamut. Then Red XIII saw Yuffie, a blue light shimmering over her that he recognized as a healing spell, and a small boy standing over her. As he sprinted across the flat plains, a bright flash of light and a piteous scream grabbed his attention. He looked up and was taken aback at the sight of the Condor, returned to the fort but now falling weakly from the air, blood trailing from a limp wing. He followed the path of the bird's fall and his breath caught as he realized that Yuffie and the boy were right below the Condor!!



Yuffie tilted her head to the side, hearing her name, "Yuffie!! Get out of the way!!" She saw Red XIII sprinted toward her and she looked up in the direction of her warning. She grabbed the boy by the shoulders and picked him up bodily as she made a desperate dive to the side, hoping that it was enough to get out of the path of the badly hurt Condor. Kayin hit the ground hard, feeling a pressing weight atop him as he slid along the smooth grass of the plains. "What the?!" He yelled in smothered tones. Suddenly the ground shook; he got one glimpse of the Condor hitting the ground with a squawk before Yuffie slid over him, blocking his vision. "No!! I must help the Condor!" He got up and ran weakly to the Condor, but he knew that he was too tired from the previous spell to attempt any healing. But he would try anyway.

With a roar, Bahamut tore around the corner of the fort to see his target running towards the Condor. He spread his wings and pumped hard, his claws reaching out to grab his prey. At the same time Red XIII reached Yuffie and saw that she was all right. But then he saw the giant dragon, diving towards the boy and he somehow knew that the boy must be saved at all costs. He took off once again, desperately trying to make the boy hear him but Red XIII knew he could not get to him in time because the claws of the dragon were already reaching out to encircle him.

Kayin looked up from the injured Condor to see the Bahamut bearing down on him. He screamed and began to run, but tripped on an errant stone. Kayin hit the ground hard and started crawling and trying to get away from the terrible beast but, feeling the rush of air upon him, he knew that it was too late.

"ICE 4!!!!"

Bahamut was ripped to the side of the mountain, the freezing cold spreading over his body and sapping his strength. His wings flapped uselessly as he convulsed from side to side, his gigantic body cracking the solid stone walls of the fort. The power of Ice 4, which had not been cast in hundreds of years, wracked the body of Bahamut. He shook the ground with his ladning, falling in a crumpled heap. Blood and ichor oozed out of vicious slices where the spell had impacted upon his scaled body.



Kayin opened his eyes gingerly, looking around, trying to identify what it was that saved him from the claws of the dragon. Movement higher up on the rocks of the mountain caught his attention. Shoji, chief of the Tribe of the Condor, father of the child that was destined to be the rider of the Condor, managed to keep his eyes long enough only to see his son rise up from the ground and look at him. Then the blood that tinged his vision spread and falling to the ground, he saw only darkness. His last thoughts being of the son who had made him so proud, his head fell to the blood-soaked rock, never to rise again.

"Kayin, my son..." Kayin's world fell apart as he saw his father collapse to the rock, and his father's last thoughts were strong in his mind. He felt the pride that his father had held for him all these years but Kayin's pride was dwarfed by the fact that his father was dying and he ran to his father, unheeding of the sharp rocks that pierced his feet. Kayin fell to the ground, tears flowing freely as he clutched his father. Their blood mixed into the rock and that blood that would never be washed out. He stayed there, crying over his father's limp form as the sun began to set. The people of Fort Condor gradually stepped out to retrieve the bodies of the dead, and heal the wounded. Then Yuffie and Red XIII moved beside the young boy while Shea stayed behind to inspect the dead dragon.

"He died to save you, you should remember that and honor that, but come inside before you freeze to death," Red XIII said gently as he nudged against the boy, trying to shake the boy out of his sorrow. "Your people will give him a proper funeral, but you must let them."

Kayin looked up, his eyes red and puffy and he did see his people clustered around them, looking hesitantly at the lifeless body of the leader and his own slumped form. He got up, wiping tears from his eyes. Looking at the talking beast beside him, he allowed himself to be led inside but intense pain and suffering leapt into his mind, causing him to fall to the ground. The thoughts of another mind erupted into his mind, more clearly than any of the others had ever before. He turned around trying to identify the source of these thoughts and his eyes came to rest upon the Condor, lying on the ground, its blood mixing into its feathers. His eyes widened as he broke into a run, he came to a stop against the head of the majestic creature, and he put his hands on it's forehead, trying to project calming thoughts to the Condor. He felt the Condor express confusion at these communications but soon Kayin felt acceptance and it's muscles relaxed. Kayin looked at the bird, amazement visible on his face as the first words from the mind of the Condor echoed within his own mind. He spoke aloud in a voice filled with awe; "She's all right!" He paused, "Her name is Synnoria," Kayin conversed with the Condor for a long minute as the now leaderless people stood by, staring at him as they wondered what would happen to them. Most of them awestruck that something so strong in their legends was actually in front of them amidst the carnage.

Kayin turned towards his people and standing tall, he addressed the men and women of Fort Condor. "My name is Kayin, I am the son of a great leader, my father Shoji." He paused as the still raw memory of his father's death stung him; "I will be a great leader as well, for my fate has been destined as the rider of the Condor. As the son of your Shoji, as the Windrider of Fort Condor, will you accept me as your new leader?" He was deafened by the roar of his people's approval and even Synnoria, the Condor, was roused enough to let her own majestic voice rise up in approval. Shea, just coming back from the dragon's body, was startled by the sudden clamor and flattened her ears as she darted to Red's side.

"Wow, this is pretty amazing huh Red?" Yuffie said as the people of Fort Condor swarmed to their leader. She couldn't help but feel tiny and insignificant so close to a legend come to life. But even that feeling was tempered by her insatiable curiosity. She looked eagerly at Red XIII and asked him, "Where do you think it came from? And why?"

"We have no ways of knowing the workings of the universe Yuffie," Red XIII said in a voice that seemed not his own, "I fear that this means that something of great evil has come to our planet. And good has come to fight it, in the form of legends." He looked to the celebration encircling the battleground of Fort Condor, and he felt a pang of loss, of which he could not fathom any origin.

"What do you mean?" Shea asked, her words bringing Red back to himself in a rush. She had sensed that his mental identity had changed but it returned to his original state. She looked at him in confusion.

He replied. " I don't know, I just have the feeling that something is going to happen, and that boy is the will play an important role in it." He said, puzzlement in his voice. He then turned his head towards the celebration hearing Kayin's voice raised in questioning. Red looked back at Yuffie and Shea, then loped down to the clearing. "Come on, we've been summoned." He called back as Kayin made his way through the crowd. Yuffie and Shea looked at each other as he ran down the slope, and then they both shrugged and took off after him.

Kayin kneeled down to Red's height. "I don't know how I can thank you enough for saving my life but if you have need for anything, just ask and I shall provide it." Kayin said as he managed to get clear of the crowd. He gave Shea a hug as well and he put his hand out to Yuffie. When she took it, he gave it a kiss and withdrew hurriedly. He looked down shyly and didn't notice Yuffie's sudden blush. "Thank you, for saving my life." He said quietly.

"We could not stand by and let you be killed," Red XIII told him. "However, if it would be possible, we wouldn't mind some lodgings for that night. We'll call our friends but they are still a great distance from here."

"Of course! You shall sleep with us tonight and join us in the feast tomorrow as honored guests." Kayin said as he beckoned for some people to come over, looking at them, he gestured to Red XIII, Yuffie and Shea. "Show these people to the guest rooms and see that they are fed."

The man saluted Kayin and motioned to Red and the others. "Come with me if you please." He then walked away into the night, the group close behind him.

cd

"Cloud here."

"Hi Cloud, this is Yuffie, I'm at Fort Condor right now, what? Oh it's a long story, just get over here tomorrow and I'll fill you... and yeah, he is here, yeah he's all right. Okay? I'll see you later." Yuffie hung the PHS up. "Red? Cloud and the others will be here tomorrow morning."

In the rapidly lessening sunlight, Red XIII looked back to see Kayin assembling the crowd and he heard him cry out. "People! We must prepare for the burial celebration on the 'morrow! Let it be a joyous occasion so that we will remember the deaths of our warriors with pride and honor!" He then looked toward the peak of Fort Condor, seeing the majestic form of the Condor, slipping inside the nest. But keyed up as the Fort people were, it was not until well after sunset that the fort was silent. Finally the tribe of Fort Condor had settled inside the fortress and not a thing moved upon its rocky plains.

Except for one man. Walking along the hard rock of the Fort, he came to a stop and fell to his knees. A single tear filled out and slid down his smooth cheek. He uttered a single sentence as the tear dropped to the ground, twinkling in the moonlit night, "Father, I will make you proud. I swear it." The tear hit the bloodstained ground and it seeped into the hard rock. The area was bathed in a soft blue light as the blood shimmered and wavered. A form began to coalesce in front of him, and the pale blue form of his father slowly appeared, features sharpening until they were distinguishable from the pale blue aura surrounding him.

"My son, you have made me proud. Ever since the day you were born." He said, his hands falling to the shoulders of the young man. He smiled with a sense of peace in his features as he continued, "But you must prepare for harder times, a great evil has come to the land and you have been chosen to fight it. Synnoria the Condor is proof enough of that." His voice was almost cheerful as he remarked, "I always knew there was something special about you. ButI cannot tell you any more than this but be ready, and I love you. Goodbye my son." His voice faded as the blue light began to disperse, his hands stretched out in embrace of his son.

The young man looked around, sad confusion in his eyes. Then he began to walk from the now serene rockwall and his features steeled into an expression of firm resolve. "I will be ready." He walked back into the fortress, so deep in his thoughts that he didn't see the tail of the dragon Bahamut twitching on the ground.

Chapter 4: The Forces Gather.

Thanu moaned as pain roared through his body, he could still feel sharp stabs of pain where the ice spell hit. He tried to open his eyes but could not; his nerves seemed dead except for the pain. Then he saw the child walking away from the glade. The thought of his objective in easy reach roused him enough to turn his head towards his prey but his legs would not respond. The dragon's head fell back down to the ground and he gritted his teeth in pain and anger, as if to separate his mind from the pain. Then suddenly, he heard a voice in his mind, "Stop! The boy will not be harmed!"

"Who are you??" Thanu asked. Then suddenly he howled in agony as the far more intense pain of Bahamut seeped through to his mind. He felt the near dead conscious of the proud dragon, reeling in pain from more than a spell wound. He realized that he, Thanu, was the usurper here. He had taken the body of Bahamut and pushed the eternal spirit to the side, uncaring of the damage caused to him. But there was nothing he could, he was little more than a pawn!

"I am Bahamut, I am a guardian of the Earth. You may usurp my body but you can not usurp my will! The boy will not be harmed!"

"What? Who is Bahamut? I don't understand! I have to capture the boy, or my mother will die!!" Thanu cried out, trying to get a hand on this impossible situation and being overwhelmed by the ageless thoughts of Bahamut.

"No, he has another destiny. You cannot interfere, I will not ...!!!" Thanu felt a wave of pain shoot through his mind as a familiar, far more sinister mind asserted itself over Bahamut. Suddenly the tangible spirit of Bahamut was gone, his words echoing in the ominous silence. "He has another destiny..."

"Who's there?" Thanu asked, somewhat frightfully. He could feel that lurking presence and it unnerved him. Like the Ice Spell, it seemed to draw the strength from his very bones. He felt the strength of it and he knew who it was and that was more unnerving than anything else was. "You"

"Yes me, but who I am is not important, what is important is that you must get away. Return to the glades. Quickly!" The presence left, leaving Thanu alone in the night. He tried to rouse himself and to his surprise, he was able to. He got up, spreading his great leathery wings. Thanu leapt up. A rush of wind whistled through the night as he pumped his wings, gaining speed. He soon disappeared into the night, moonlight glinting off his metallic scales.

cd

The Highwind slowed gracefully to a stop at a distance from Fort Condor and all were amazed to see the fabled Condor, poking her head out from the nest at the peak of the fort. "Sir? Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" The pilot asked Cid, speaking for the rest of the crew.

The cigarette dropped from Cid's mouth, causing another stir through the crew, he stooped down, picking it up, and he looked at it, poking it. "Looks like a ordinary smoke, hmmm..." He looked up again and saw that the Condor was still there, blinking it's eyes sleepily.



Cloud took charge as usual and began walking down the slope towards Fort Condor; slowly the rest of the group began to walk forward, following him. As Cloud reached the plateau, a soldier came out, yelling for identification. Cloud yelled in reply, "My name is Cloud and we're here looking for Yuffie Kisaragi and a Red XIII!"

The soldier brightened, and beckoned for them to join him at the doorway as he motioned to someone inside. Soon, Red XIII and Yuffie came out, accompanied by another animal and a young boy who appeared to be of some importance. Yuffie yelled over the plateau, "Hey guys! We got a whole bunch of stuff to tell ya!"

Cloud and the rest of the party reached the plateau and soon were caught up on the situation. "But where then, is Bahamut?" Tifa asked, motioning towards the rockface where he had lain the night before.

"A soldier noticed that the body was gone this morning and raised the alarm. Yuffie and I went to the site and I cast a spell to see when he left but he left a long while ago, too long ago for me to have tracked him." Red XIII said.

Then the voice of Vincent piped up above the rest of the questions of the party. "You seem to have made a few new friends Red, you must introduce us." He smiled as Red XIII's dark fur went a shade deeper and Red moved over, revealing Shea.

"This, my friends, is Shea and she is one of my own people, although from a different tribe. I met her while exploring this region. She has traveled with me, helping me to get here to help Yuffie." And then he pointed his head over at Kayin, "This is the new chief of Fort Condor, his father died while saving him from Bahamut, he is also the rider of Synnoria the Condor."

"You certainly seem to be getting around Red," Cloud smiled, "But Shea, what do you have to do in all this?"

"She is trying to get her son, who has gone missing and may be in danger. She has an idea of who might have abducted him but she does not know his name, and he was not much more than parts of legends before her son went missing, now she fears he is real. She is not able to talk to you because she communicates through the mind and human minds are somewhat different from our kind." Red XIII filled in for her.

"And the Condor?" Cloud asked, with another glance at the nest where the Condor was settled down.

"The Condor returned and fought Bahamut. She was instrumental in defeating him, and got injured pretty badly in the process, but she seems to have an amazing metabolism for healing." Red XIII said.

Once again, Vincent's voice rose out, freezing everybody with its somber tone, "I have heard legends of the Condor. They say that the Condor will return to humanity only in its time of need, and I can only hope that I have remembered incorrectly." Vincent looked down, concentrating hard as if to prove to himself that he were wrong but the memory of Vincent was, in fact, a legend of another kind.

"Well shit, if that's true then how do we find this new evil?" Barret said, his baritone voice rumbling against the walls of the fort. He leaned against a rock as he rubbed his forehead, sighing. "I really would like to get back to Marlene. She's been through enough. God, it's only been a year since Sephiroth."

Cloud looked at him worriedly, he realized that all Barret had done to save the earth had put a terrible strain on him. And since he was one of seniors of the group, all of this must be putting more strain on him than on anyone else. But it surprised him to let everyone see the softer side of him that wanted to settle down and just be a family with his daughter. "I think..."Cloud began, "I think that we should look for this evil. Even if it is for nothing. But I must confess, I have felt a strange tension lately and this could be why. But anyone go home of course." He said this strictly for Barret's sake Barret simply spat on the ground and replied, "Whatever."

Red XIII shifted position on the smooth rock ground. He consulted with Shea for a moment before speaking, "Shea says that her people have talked of a new evil in their lands. An evil that has caused the very spirit of the land around to twist and warp itself. Her people do not venture near this place and the foolish few that have, never returned or came back with their minds horribly torn. It seems pretty likely that this could be the place, since its appearance at the same time as the theft of our materia."

"Hey guys, just curious but if Bahamut has been brought under the power of this madman, or her, does that mean that Bahamut Neo is under the same spell? I mean, 'Neo is considerably more powerful so where's he?" Cid said as he exhaled a long plume of smoke from his lungs.

"Hmmm, not unless this evil being is saving 'Neo for a special purpose, maybe to augment his own powers." Red spoke as he conversed with the great mountain cat. "Shea tells me that the dragon had been seen in the valley, she was about to send out a scouting party when her son disappeared."

Kayin, who had been remarkably quiet during the conversation, looked up from his thoughts and spoke to the party. "Synnoria believes that we should head out now with all speed but not to the mountains, but to the sea for there is something of great urgency there but she knows not what it is." As he spoke, a disturbance from atop the fort forced the party to look up, the Condor, Synnoria, had rousted herself from her nest and was now gliding to a smooth landing upon the plateau. "It's not the evil we want but it is important, this could also give us a bit of time to think about what to do with the other enemy.

Cloud looked at the great bird and as he made contact with the eyes of Synnoria, his decision was made. "We'll fly to the place Synnoria is talking about and then take care of this new threat." He strode purposefully towards the Highwind. The rest of the party went with him, Cid barking into an intercom.

Mitch warmed up the engines of the Highwind with the ease of long practice. He pressed the throttles upwards, rewarded by a smooth increase in the noise of the engines as they heated up. He wiped away a single drop of sweat, and frowned. He had never felt this nervous before a launch, not even when he and his captain had left to fight Sephiroth, and that resulted in the near death of the ship! He ran loving hands over the smooth pilot's console of the Highwind, knowing that he must love this ship almost as much as Cid. He made the sign of the cross over his breast, praying that nothing would harm the Highwind. "All ready here Sir." He reported into the intercom.

As the Highwind and its passengers slowly lifted off, the great Condor winged swiftly into the sky, heading unerringly towards its destination somewhere at sea. Kayin hung on to the long smooth feathers even as he conversed with Synnoria. "What could make this more urgent Synnoria? I just don't understand."

The somber thoughts of Synnoria reached Kayin with surprising clarity as she told him of the whispers of the land, whispers that spoke of a danger that was much closer than the evil lurking in the bowels of the mountain valleys. Synnoria expressed her confusion to him as well, the land had at first been overjoyed at something but then became afraid of that very same thing. She was too early in the world to be able to understand the whispers accurately. So she simply continued on to her objective, accelerating until even the Highwind was hard-pressed to keep up with the great Condor.

cd

Thanu woke up with great pain burning out of every joint in his body, he tried to move his head and was gratified to see that he was in fact alive as his tortured head viewed the twisted trees of SteelClaw, the valley of death. He looked farther to see the hunched form of a man, no, not a man, but a demon approaching him, his malice choking the air in Thanu's lungs.

"Who...Who are you?" he rasped as the being bent over him, its eyes glinting evilly.

"You want to know who I am? You, an animal; lying filthily on the ground and you want to know who I am? Very well, I will tell you and your dreams shall be plagued with my story...the story of... Belios..."

Chapter 4: Mystery made more.

Thanu screamed as his mind was assaulted by images of years ago. Long down the ages where people civilization was beginning newly. Images of a youth where pain and evil had sunk their blades into innocent flesh seared into his mind. Flesh that bore only the sin of being born with something more...

Belios ran from his schoolmates as they threw the rocks at him, many of the rocks hitting him with such force that they split his flesh open. He turned a corner and through tear-streaked vision, he saw more children boring down on him, rocks already whipping through the air.

As he turned, he noticed a small niche in the stone wall and he squeezed through just as the other children reached him, their curses and jeers, ringing in his ears. He pressed on, the close stone walls tearing through his clothes and raking the tender skin beneath. But still he fled, blind to the pain, and growing increasingly worried that this crack in the mountains might end and that he would have to turn back.

Just as he slowed down to begin the long walk back, Belios came through the crack and fell to the ground in the midst of a copse of trees. The air was completely quiet and a silent breeze carried whispers of some unseen danger. He wiped his nose and looked around.

The trees surrounded him, extending to the cliff wall. They were withered and gray, appearing to rot before his very eyes. He turned around to go back, a shiver running down his spine, but he could not. Where the hole in the rock was, there was only a tree, great and withered, seeming to mesh directly with the rock wall.



Belios creeped down the path, whipping his head around at every noise. He couldn't help but feel terrified as a shiver of warning rippled through his body. He turned a corner and there was an altar. A black altar, full of unseen sins. But to Belios, he could only see salvation, escape from the jeers and taunts of his classmates who feared this jewel in his chest. Belios did not know why but this altar was seemingly calling out to his lonely side, the side of him that wanted someone he could confide in, a friend. He approached the altar, not noticing the black air that coalesced around his feet as he ascended the ancient black steps. They resounded with the evil that created them. As this young tormented boy reached the top of the altar, the black air suddenly swept into the form of a demon, his tentacles forming from the aura of death around the place. Belios tried to turn and run but slowed as he heard the demon words. "I can give you revenge, the vengeance you deserve."

Suddenly stopping, he turned and looked at the demon with wide staring eyes. An arrangement appearing in his mind even as the demon faded to a black gas and floated toward him. It touched his skin and melted within him as he said yes...

Belios awoke to find himself back in town. But the children were no longer near. He picked himself up and dusted himself as best he could before beginning the long walk home, which was on the other side of town. He kept to the alleys, hiding in brushes and shrubs whenever he heard any other person. Getting scratched from sharp branches numerous times, he ran home fearing, as always, any contact with humans other than his parents.

He finally managed to get up the long treacherous route to his home but as he walked in, he knew that something was wrong. The smell of coppery blood was in the air and his parents were nowhere to be found. As he rounded a corner, Belios screamed and backed away with wide unbelieving eyes as he saw the burned and bloody corpses of his parents. Their mutilated bodies stained his mind forever even as he stumbled over broken chairs and tables, trying to get out. Belios fell down the front stairs of his house just in time to see it ignite as many gallons of gas shed their fiery powers to the wood. He shielded his eyes from the glare thinking to run far away but he was frozen, frozen to watch as the life of a young boy burned to the ground with his parents.

"There he is!! Kill the mutant!!!" The mob screamed as they made eye contact with him. They came around the house, breaking into a sprint as young Belios quickly got up and tore down the escarpment. He ran, hoping that he could get away since he knew the twisting paths better, but he ran faster anyhow, desperation lending speed to his legs. Suddenly a rock came out of nowhere, narrowly missing him. He felt a jab on his arm and looked down to see a stream of blood appearing on his arm as another rock fell to the ground. That glance proved to be his undoing as he tripped headlong over a root and went rolling down the hill, tearing his clothes and limbs until he slid to a painful stop.

He leaped up, breath coming hard from bloody lips as he tried to get moving. Belios managed to get up and was speeding down the hill, again getting away from the mob but the few seconds he had lost in falling and getting up again had given them time to get closer. Thrown rocks littered the path as he dodged as well he could. He screamed aloud when a rock struck his back, drawing blood. But that pain was forgotten as another, larger rock cracked against his head, sending him to the rough ground. As he faded out, Belios felt a spark, a spark of black fire that anchored him to life. Another spirit within his mind was holding him from unconsciousness and death. A wave of fire pulsed over him, creating an agony of burning that he somehow withstood, but barely. He stood up just as the mob came up to him, gasping as wave after wave of pain spread over him. They yelled and charged again, calling him inhuman, evil. Belios roared, not a roar of outrage, nor even of pain, but a roar of power that was beyond human. Power lanced out from his fingers, touching the townspeople and causing them to wither and die in a matter of seconds, their power fueling his own. He laughed evilly as the whole mob fell dead to the ground in a matter of seconds.

That night, a wave of black fire raced through the town, killing the remaining adults and children, leaving only a husk of the a town. The bones of the people lay, broken and shattered on the ground. They were a testament to the rage of Belios....

cd

Thanu cringed on the ground in front of that withered old form. He knew that he should be able to break free, but could not. He could only lie there as Belios poured out the laments of his horrible choice so many years ago.

Belios laughed in the midnight air of the dead town, walking strongly down the hill. But then he fell silent, feeling the presence of another. "Demon, come out, there is no need to lurk about now, come out, I ask you!" Out of his peripheral vision he noted a shimmering to the right and as he looked, the form of the demon coalesced, a mist shrouded body, glowing blackly.

"You have made good use of your powers child." The demon said.

Belios cringed, the very voice of the demon seeming to suck the life out of anything that heard it's cold tones. "But now, you must come with me, wait in hiding, biding your time until the time is fruitful. Then you will take revenge on the entire planet!"

Finishing his narration, Belios turned back to Thanu. "Beast, the time is now and I shall take revenge. No one shall be spared. Not even you, my tool. But the heroes who killed Sephiroth, they pose a threat to us. You must seek them out and kill them!" Belios stood up, gathering his robes about him as he retreated down the path, a hacking cough erupting out of his clothes. His mind passed through Thanu's, reminding him of his duty. And Thanu got up to do the bidding of this demon, trying as hard as he could to break out of the grasp of the old man's mind.

Thanu reached outwards with his mind, summoning the powerful Bahamut. He spread the wings that came so easily to him, lifting out of the valley in a cloud of pine needles and dirt. The predator was awing.

cd

As one set of wings rose into the air, another set of wings came out of the air to land upon an unsure footing, rocking with the waves of the ocean. Highwind came in close behind, hovering just above and the view afforded by the wide sloping windows stunned its passengers. "Is that the old submarine, I'm seeing? Cid said, his cigarette falling from his mouth for the second time in as many days.

"I would be inclined to believe so," Vincent said, "But it is not the submarine we should worry about, it's dead but its passengers aren't."

"What?? What are you talking about Vincent......waitaminute, I think I'm seeing something......Son Of A BITCH!! Little Emerald weapons!!!" Cid strode to the front, peering down hard at the derelict ship trying to dissuade himself as to what the small organisms were.

Red XIII looked over at the form of Synnoria which was spearing the little weapons with her beak and he concentrated as she spoke to him, instructing him. "We must go down and fight the weapons, if they get to the sea there will be no way to stop them from producing more weapons." A wry smile flickered across his features, "It looks like Earth had a contingency plan in case we failed."

"All right but this other thing, we must deal with the person who stole our materia." Cloud spoke up, rising to authority as he always did. I suggest that we split up, half of us destroy the weapons. And the other half stay here with Kayin to kill this demon."

"Well Shit, who stays then?" Barret said with his usual eloquence.

"Well, I will go with Red XIII. Yuffie is already scouting out that valley so that puts us up to three. Since that's what we've always fought with, we'll stick with that, leaving the rest of you to exterminate the weapons. As soon as you are finished, take the Highwind and meet up with us if we haven't already taken care of the Demon. And I suspect that we will have not." Turning away, Cloud walked over to Red XIII was conversing with Synnoria and began to talk battle plans and tactics to battle the demon.

"What do ya think man?" Cid asked as he lit up another cigarette to replace the one which he dropped.

"About what?" Barret replied, turning to face him.

"About staying here while Cloud goes off to save the day, I mean, sometimes I wouldn't mind being able to take charge like he does." Cid said as he let out a long drag.

"Peh, you wouldn't be able to lead us like Cloud can and you know it," Barret told him with a slap on Cid's arm, "Cloud has a talent for that sorta thing and besides we're here for the gun blasting, pike-swinging part of it. I'm no good for tactics and plans, those're Red and Cloud's jobs. And you know.." Barret said as an afterthought, "You can be headman over while Cloud's gone saving the day. That oughtta get this leader thing through your system."

Cid laughed as he regarded his close friend, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I just admire his ability to do it, and I suppose I want to try my hand at it."

Cloud got up from the deck with Red XIII and motioned for the rest of them to come, "We're going now, Kayin has decided to come so Red XIII and I will leave with Kayin through an apport spell and we'll meet up with Yuffie. She sends her regrets that you can't come for the fight by the way. You hurry up and destroy the weapons and come to the valley. Sound good?"

"Cloud, you know it does, go and take care of yourselves" Cid said as he hit a button on the hatch, opening the door to allow his crew, armed to the teeth, to pour out and begin the decimation. "We've got some weapons to kill." With that, he leapt out, Barret right behind him, guns blazing and pike swinging. Vincent approached the railings of the Highwind and Cloud could hear the crack as his Sniper CR went off, a weapon fell dead an instant later. Tifa was soon out of the hold after giving Cloud and Red XIII a farewell hug.

"Well Red, are you ready?" Cloud said as Synnoria landed atop the sturdy decks of the Highwind. Thankfully, she was just small enough that she did not keel the entire ship but she still had to hold very still. Cloud picked up their choice materia and began to affix it to his gigantic sword and to Red XIII's headdress. He looked at the lithe body of the canine, knowing that the things that had happened to Red XIII and the rest of the party had matured Red beyond his time. He missed the more carefree Red that had raced Yuffie through the thick underbrush of endless forests and staged mock battles with Vincent. Although his advice was always welcomed as it was excellent. But Cloud missed how Red would point out the brighter side of the situation, of any situation. He shook his head, knowing that these wistful thoughts had to be put aside. He finished affixing the materia to Red's headdress.

"I will get Shea" With that, Red XIII got up and mentally signaled to the restless Shea that they were ready to leave. Then turning back to Cloud. "Cloud, you have the extra materia for Yuffie? I have a feeling that we're going to need it."

Cloud was already preparing the teleport materia which he had acquired from Yuffie, he briefly pondered asking her just where she had gotten it but he was thrown off his train of thought as Red XIII signaled that he and Shea were ready. By the look on her face, Red must have had to do some major convincing to get her to agree to this teleportation. He had been talking to Red and he had found that by her feline nature, Shea and all her kind had an intense dislike to magic. Cloud fingered the hilt of his trusty sword and he swore hat he could feel its eagerness to go into battle once more. He then tuned his energies into the Gem and began to concentrate on Yuffie; he expanded his circle of concentration until it included Red, Shea, Kayin as well as the monstrous Synnoria. Then they were gone, vanished in a bright flash of light and a loud pop as air rushed in to fill in the now empty area.

"Well, there they go." Barret said as his Gattling gun tore apart yet another Emerald weapon. He looked over at Cid as he swung his gun around, already taking aim at another weapon. "How goes it?"

"Things are going..." Cid paused long enough to skewer the weapon he was dueling with and continued, ".... Pretty good. We've taken relatively few hits and only two of my crewman are injured, leaving us with twelve." His pike swung in a wide arc, knocking at least a dozen weapons off their feet where Barret riddled them with bullets. "God DAMN!! How many of these little monsters are there?!?!" Suddenly they were gone, leaving only a very surprised Barret and Cid, along with twelve crewmembers. "What the? Where did they go?" Cid exclaimed in surprise.

"Hehe, mebbe they got scared...wait..."Barret and Cid looked at each other for a split second and they spoke a single word. "Tifa!!" Barret broke into a run, trying to get to the section she was last at as Cid filled in Vincent who was curious as to whether or not the Emeralds were all gone.

Barret came up to a hole in the hard outer shell of the ship and was rewarded with the sound of skittering as bodies scurried into the darkness. From within, he heard Tifa cry out. Barret leapt into the hole with an inarticulate cry just as Cid came up. "Goddamn it, wait up!" Cid was about to jump in after him, but paused as a thought hit him. "Hey Vincent!! Stay up just in case some little weapons come out! And the rest of you! I want six on this hole, and another six on a perimeter!!" Then he leapt into the dark hole after Barret.

Chapter 5: An Emerald Rebirth, A dark Reunion.

Cloud barely had enough time for a single "Ack!" of surprise as he discovered himself scraping along the ground, he swung his sword and embedded it into the ground, slowing his slide. Cloud clung with both hands as the dirt rebounded off his face. He caught a glimpse of Red XIII sliding but then he was engulfed by blackness. Shea! As soon as he stopped, Cloud leapt up to his feet, making sure that Shea was all right and he began running towards Kayin and Synnoria. He knew that Red XIII would be all right. Just to be sure however, Cloud glanced over at Red XIII as he knelt by Shea's body and sure enough, he was already up and facing the threat, expertly ordering the startled Condor into action.

He put a hand on Shea's neck, feeling for a pulse, and immediately pulled it back as if scalded as he felt the definite murmuring of another voice inside his own. He doubled over as remembered pains, slashed through his conscience, throwing him to the ground. But a voice abruptly took him out his trance. "Human! Pick yourself up! Red and the bird can't handle it for long!" A wet nose pushing against his face accompanied the mysterious voice. He looked up to see the fierce visage of Shea, poking him onto his feet. He put his hand on her mane for balance as the irascible voice continued, "Hurry up now, you have your magic, his weak-" Cloud blinked as the connection was suddenly lost, but then he felt Shea pressing against him "-is ice. Go. Now!" With that she pushed Cloud down the hill even as she leapt passed him, a flurry of claws and fangs.

With instincts born of many battles, Cloud shook off his astonishment. He spun around to face the dragon, and as he lifted his sword, he extended his conscience to that of the Ice materia. The Ice materia flared as he spoke the trigger words. "Ice 3" Cloud murmured, and then he was rewarded with a scream of pain from the dragon even as he felt a bit of his magical ambience fade as the spell used it up. He ran forward, his sword cleaving the way through a host of small golem-like creatures as he raced to reach the battle raging between Red XIII, Synnoria and Bahamut.

Cloud soon reached the side of Shea, her claws a whirlwind as she ripped into the Golems, protecting Red's rear. She snarled viciously and several Golems stepped back as the slower ones fell to the ground, the stomachs and heads slit open by the scathing fighting strength of Shea. She spared him a quick smile as he pushed through the corpses, pausing repeatedly to cast Ice 3 at Bahamut. Suddenly he was through the ring of Golems and standing before the great dragon Bahamut himself. It seemed that as even the Golems fought for the dragon, they would not approach him too closely for fear of being eaten. His trained eyes quickly took in the field, scanning for Red XIII. Soon he found him, the strong feline legs propelling him around the claws of Bahamut even as he lashed out with powerful spells, enhanced by his own natural spell-casting ability. The thought made Cloud pause, there was only one other person he knew of who had that talent, Aeris, but now-Angrily he shook his head, clearing his thoughts, knowing that this was not the time for this.

Cloud sprang into action, his instincts taking over as his sword slashed into Bhamut's whip-like tail. He ducked and rolled as the great dragon's head swung around, the huge fangs trying to catch him in his mouth. Leaping up, his sword cut down as the ground which he had just vacated exploded in a blast of energy. Fortunately, his sword absorbed most of the energy, turning it to it's own ends. But suddenly, he was in the air, his feet pulled out from beneath him by the tail of the dragon. He looked up to see the sharp teeth encompassing his vision when suddenly, ice crystals formed on the teeth and snout. Cloud felt bad breath roil over him even as he rolled away, his sword coming up. And then Red XIII was beside him, the blue glow of Ice materia dissipating from his headdress.

"Cloud! Bahamut is stronger this time!" He cried as he just barely dodged a sharp-clawed hand that slashed into the ground and whipped towards Cloud in the same second. "Ice 3 was more than enough to put him down last time but it's barely affecting him now!"

Cloud looked to the giant dragon, wondering how even Ice 3 could have taken this beast down but that thought was lost as the dragon let loose another blast of energy, nearly frying him. He rolled and dodged as he sought to find Kayin and Synnoria, trying to tell them that they must flee the battle. He had to tell them that Bahamut had become too strong. But Synnoria was occupied, her claws raking the tough scales of Bahamut while Kayin flicked his daggers. They were pinpricks to the dragon, until Kayin struck his eye. The pain sent the dragon reeling and the great body twisted, energy pouring out of its mouth to crash against the Condor. The energy hit Synnoria full in the face and she careened to the ground, Kayin hanging on for dear life. As Bahamut staggered back in pain, Cloud leapt in, his sword a slashing blur as he initiated his most powerful technique, "Omni Slash!" He cried. His sword ripped into the rock-hard scales of the dragon, slicing through them as if it were butter. His fury and desperation to save the Condor and the child that he barely knew lent strength to his arms. The area was bathed in a strong white light as the Ultima weapon fell through to the scales of Bahamut one last time with explosive energy. The cut sent out a shock wave that nearly tore Red XIII off his feet and sent several Golems flying across the churned-up earth.

Cloud dropped his weapon, thankful that he had survived the technique, knowing that it was foolish to execute an Omni Slash when Bahamut had already weakened him to his present state. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath. Then Red XIII came beside him, holding Cloud's weakened body up with his own. But as the dust began to clear, Cloud's eyes widened in horror and surprise and he collapsed to the ground unable to summon the energy to fight once again. Blood and ichor dripped off ravaged scales, but the dragon stood, his eyes glowing with such anger and vengeance that the remaining Golems fled at the sight, crying out to whatever primitive Gods they held dear.

Bahamut roared in pain and fury, his two consciences never knew this level of pain. The conscience half known as Thanu felt the vision that was not his own reddening as rage built up inside of him. A rage he had not thought possible. Energy pulsed beneath his scales, aching to be released onto these beings and rip them from existence in exquisite pain. He smiled evilly as he saw the red beast initiate a shield covering him and the human, from the peripheral side of his vision, he noted a second shield spreading over the Condor and the other child. No matter, he thought as he reared back, his jaws opening as he prepared to deliver the final blow in this battle, intending to take them all in one sweep. They cannot stand up to me. Red XIII exerted his will desperately, putting all of his energies into maintaining the shields, knowing that he would most likely die if it failed.. Through a haze of rage Bahamut/Thanu saw this and faintly respected this but even that could not stop him from fulfilling the directives instilled in him by another source. His open jaws exploded in white light as the searing energy slammed against the feeble shields of Red XIII and then suddenly his jaws snapped shut, the energy that rebounded against his mouth nearly knocking him unconscious.



Shea looked around confused, she was fighting hordes of Golems when suddenly they just disappeared, replaced by a cloud of dust such that she couldn't even see anything. Her mind reached out and sought that Red XIII, "Red! Where are you?" She didn't receive an answer except for an exclamation of pain, followed by a flash of light that singed her fur. "RED!!!" She leapt towards the light and emerged through it to see Red XIII collapse under the attack of the huge dragon. She sprinted desperately, trying to get over to Red XIII when she fell to the ground in shock as awareness coursed through her. "Thanu?" She asked as his soul, scared and pained at the same time, slipped into her mind. The dragon reared up and shut his mouth, plainly unknowing of what to do. Inside his mind however, a flurry of commands from an unknown being were striking into his brain without mercy.

"KILL HER!!!" The man in scarlet robes cried, knowing that this was the crucial point in his tool's destiny. "Kill the Cats! She must die!" He sent out his will, slashing into the muscles of the dragon, causing it to draw up a claw and swing it towards Thanu's mother. But less than an inch away from her head, the claw stopped, the dragon let out a scream and leapt into the air, flying away quickly.

Belios was horrified that he had lost control of his tool so easily, he would have to punish the dragon. "You will suffer for this!" With that, Belios sent out a black-red pulse of energy that seared through the skies, slamming into Bahamut/Thanu's conscience. The dragon fell out of the sky with a scream and disappeared into the dense jungle, a sickening thud marking his landing.

cd

Cid swore softly as he traversed through the dank pipe that Barret had tumbled through moments before. His ears were attuned to every noise. Cid hefted his lethal pike, reassured by its weight. "Damn, how fast is he going? He's gonna need help!" Cid picked up speed and his wet boots slipped on the grimy muck as he rounded a curve that led onto a steep incline. The cigarette in his mouth fell to the ground, lost behind him as Cid slid down the pipe. "Shi-I-I-I-I-T!" He cried as he saw light ahead, and then suddenly he was out of the pipe, suspended 10 meters in the air and rapidly losing height. Cid hit the ground rolling, bringing his pike into a ready position as his eyes scanned the area. He saw Barret just ahead of him, his gun arm held tense. Cid hissed Barret's name to get his attention but Barret's eyes were riveted to something behind himself.

"Shut up Cid!" Barret hissed, his gun arm unwavering, not moving in the least. He didn't even bother to look at him. Cid looked at him, confused and then followed his line of sight. His mouth dropped open and he rapidly moved towards Barret, scrambling to his feet.

"Oh boy, what the hell do you expect we do about that?!" He whispered, his voice was level but his eyes were wide and staring. Barret only glared ahead, plans going through his mind at an amazing rate and just as quickly being rejected. There, standing fully 30ft, was the head of the Emerald Weapon, and surrounding it were hundreds of little weapons. A phalanx of the things that squirmed and bristled as they collected themselves at the head of the beast. "Oh my God, Tifa!" A twisting of Tifa's body as she tried to break free of several weapons rewarded Cid's exclamation. But she moved sluggishly and it was apparent that she was not well.

With an inarticulate cry, Barret leapt forward; his gun blazing as he ignited a lightening spell that ripped into the nearest ranks of weapons. They squealed as powerful lightening sliced through hard scales and tore into the hearts beneath. His bullets often glanced off the hard hides but several punctured the less defended eyes. Cid, who had been standing motionless at this sudden ferocity jumped into action as well. His pike cleared the way to Tifa along with Barret's bullets. Then Cid fell to his knees, pain coursing through his body as an electrical pulse coursed through his body. It seemed the weapons had other weapons besides their claws! Hastily he threw a reflect spell around himself and Barret. And none too soon, another far more powerful spell rebounded off his reflective shield and fried several weapons around him. He looked over and saw the eyes of the Weapon head glowing; she was throwing all she had against them. Luckily, the spells simply bounced off the Reflect barriers and killed the closer weapons before dissipating. But it was not long before she stopped. She had realized what was happening and was changing her tactics. She motioned with her head towards the weapons and they cleared to either side, providing a clear path of sight. The weapons holding Tifa were slowly contracting their claws! Cid froze as did Barret and then the weapons stopped their contraction but did not release the hold.

Cid looked to the side as his peripheral vision caught movement to his side. A weapon came to his side and grabbed his arm and was tugging him towards the grotesque head. He almost sliced the weapon in half, but thing was not putting any pressure on him so he relented, curious.

He was the original one.

As he came closer to the head, Cid let out a small breath of amazement. The head of the weapon was completely disfigured and ravaged from the blast of the Mako Cannon. He put a hand gingerly on the rough scales that could not heal and he felt the pain that the weapon had been experiencing for nearly a full year. "Mental communication!" He thought incredulously as the weapon began to convey thoughts to him, thoughts that told him that they must not destroy her.

The Emerald weapon was the original. Thought to be the most important, it had played a prominent role in the shaping of the planet. When it's brothers and sisters were made, the Emerald weapon was designated to be the weapon that would regenerate itself and it's brothers should some great calamity come upon them. When the clarion call of the Earth summoned them, the Emerald weapon was the only one to feel the twinge of foreseen defeat. They fought their battles valiantly but fell to superior powers just the way Emerald had seen it the day she was awakened. And now it was up to her, in this ravaged and pained form, to recreate the four weapons and to increase their strength a hundred fold. So now she worked, deep inside this dank dungeon, trying to perfect her own form first before she began the reforming of the weapons.

"So that's why there are so many Emerald weapons!" Cid said, astonished, as he looked around, able to perceive minute differences in each weapon now that he was looking for them. "But we can't have all these little weapons running around!" Emerald replied that all prior attempts would die. He thought at the head. "But please, could you let Tifa down? She is in a great deal of pain." Her moan bringing her back to his attention. But the weapon told him how he needed to use the cells of Tifa to recreate a perfect clone of the Emerald weapon with her qualities. Her own cells were imperfect now because of radiation from the blast from the Mako Cannon that had destroyed her. All this was conveyed by images of which Cid could barely understand. It seemed that an ordinary human could not communicate properly with the weapons of the Earth.

"So you're now extracting DNA from Tifa to use for your cloning!" Cid said, in a flash of inspiration. Suddenly, a noise to his right beckoned him. He glanced over to see Barret helping Tifa out of the grip of the Weapons. She stumbled over to Cid with the help of Barret and spoke.

"Don't worry Cid, I had agreed after I was told." She said, her voice cracking. Hurriedly, Barret let her down to her knees and ran off to get some water for her parched lips. "I'm weak because I couldn't communicate to the weapon well enough to tell him of my needs, and well, extraction of DNA is not easy going, even by magical means." She chuckled softly and then continued, "I've learned most of Emerald's story and it is truly amazing. She is the original as you know, and since her brothers have been destroyed, it once again falls upon her to recreate the Weapons of the Earth."

"How can we help her?" Cid asked, "As you well know, we can't have those weapons spreading across the land." He moved his arm in a grand motion, indicating the vast amount of weapons. The moved uncomfortably as if they knew their lives were in the balance. He put his hand to Emerald's snout once again and bowed his head in communication. Then Tifa did the same.

"He is able to produce the clones!" Tifa said joyfully, "The DNA he extracted from was enough!" She leapt up into the air in joy and wrapped her arms around Barret who was flustered, obviously ill at ease.

He quickly voiced his concerns, "What do we do about the little weapons?" Barret asked, eyeing the large group.

"They will die after a short time because of their imperfect cells. The four new weapons will grow inside this ship until such time comes that they must leave and rejoin the planet." Tifa paused, a frown fleeting across her face. "Then, this Emerald weapon will be allowed to depart from this life of pain, her task completed."

Even now, Barret could see the little weapons dying, they were dying slowly but he could see it just the same, by the droop of their tails. The discolored scales. He turned around to see the imperturbable Vincent trotting in, with a guard of 6 crewmen. "Vincent! Why are you down here?" He asked, confused.

Vincent replied, his face straight, "I knew because Emerald told me," He put up his hands at the already opening mouths of the incredulous trio. "I could not tell you before because I had made a deal with them, or rather, the Earth. They were the ones of who put me into that sleep following their prophecies set millions of years ago. The prophecy told that someone who could communicate with them something that no human has done for many, many years, would approach them. The deal was that they would grant me the sleep I so desired but I could not reveal my ability to communicate with the weapons when the time came for me to be awakened and fight to protect the Earth." Smiling wryly, he added, "I did not think I would be fighting them."

Barret was moving out already with a grim expression on his face. "We'll talk about this later Vince, but right now, we haveta get to Cloud."



Chapter 6: Heading into Battle, A Time of Thought.

The small plateau, which had been the battleground between Cloud, Red, Shia and Bahamut, was devastated. Trees were uprooted and dirt was sprayed as far as the enclosing fog let Shea see. There was no sign of the Golems outside of the bodies that she had killed. They were crumpled on the ground, blood still dripping from the fatal wounds. But Shea was oblivious to all of this.

"My son" Shea said her voice catching. She looked mournfully towards where he had landed so violently. "How could this have happened? Why?!" She jumped to her feet to go after her son, even though she knew it was certain death. Then she caught sight of something that made her stop. Red XIII! He was lying down in front of the prone form of Cloud. His soft red fur was charred in several places and blackened. She went to his side and he moved his head, his whiskers quivering in pain. Shea choked, feeling something that hurt more than her own wounds and she fell to his side, tears rolling down her smooth nose.

"My..p..pouch, elielixir.." Red managed to get out of his throat. He rolled onto his side, grunting painfully as she sniffed through the pouch, bringing out a bottle of sparkling deep blue liquid. "Poorit over, my wounds" Shea did so, pouring the liquid onto Red XIII's body. The liquid bubbled softly as it ran into in his wounds and trailed off into the ground; leaving the wounds bleeding still.

"Red! It's not-huh?" A blue light suffusing around his body interrupted Shea. She stepped back and whipped her head around at the scent and now sight of Kayin standing tall, his hands ablaze with magical light as he moved them in intricate patterns. The majestic Synnoria stood behind him, looking worriedly at Red XIII, pausing every now and again to peer far into the forest that the dragon Bahamut had crashed into.

Kayin smiled slightly, knowing that this was going to severely strain his powers that were bestowed upon him by the magic of Synnoria. "As long as we are together, our power is shared." He murmured softly to Synnoria. Kayin's hands brought Red XIII back from death but he was still far from full health. "Shea, the elixir you have, put it on Cloud, he was shielded enough by Red for it to cure him the rest of the way. Red XIII's injuries are too severe for simple elixirs now."

"My head feels like I've just been run through" Cloud moaned, sitting up.

"What happened?" He shook his head as if to clear the fog and remember the details of what had just occurred.

"You very nearly were" Shea told him as her wet nose pressed against his back, steadying him. "If it weren't for Red-Hey! Sit down, you're still too weak!" The magical properties of the liquid were now diffusing as they shed their healing power on Cloud. He had already stood up, albeit unsteadily and to Shea's surprise Cloud moved over to Red XIII's side and fell to his knees. As Kayin lent his own energies to saving Red XIII, Cloud did so as well. Using up his reserves of magic, Cloud gave Kayin his own energy until he felt Red's consciousness return once again to the world of the living. Thus relieved, Cloud let the relative safety of sleep take him once again, sure that Red XIII would soon join him in the fight again.

Cloud breathed a sigh of impatience as they cruised through the otherworldly surroundings of the teleportational plane. Although it seemed as though they were simply floating in place, he knew that they were covering ground at phenomenal speeds. As they neared their objective, Cloud pondered several things. For instance, there seemed to be a connection between Bahamut and Shea, but what was it? And how was she able to make the dragon leave? He smiled to himself. "After Sephiroth been conquered, I thought that I would be free of such violence. And here I am, less than one year later, in the midst of another battle. I still feel fit, but could that just an illusion? Can I survive yet another brush with death?"

"You know Cloud, within the teleportational plane, we can all hear your thoughts." Remarked Kayin thoughtfully, a smile playing about his lips. "And it is my opinion that you are a superb and honorable fighter. You will survive this battle and all others that may fall into your path." Cloud could feel his face clouding up in embarrassment as a general agreement went around, echoed by a soft croon from Synnoria.

Hearing the voice of Shea clearly, Cloud wondered why he could understand her and not Synnoria. Carefully, he voiced his thought to Kayin. "Because Cloud, Synnoria's native language is far more complicated than most people can grasp. Maybe that's why I am the sole rider of Synnoria, I can understand her." Cloud looked over in Kayin's general direction and could see him, in the form of streaming light that they all took in this plane. He shimmered in a blue-white stream of particles and he noted that it was a beautiful pattern, almost hypnotizing. He assumed it must have been the same for his own body but Red XIII interjected his thoughts smoothly.

"You aren't Cloud, look at me" Cloud looked over and was surprised to see that where Red XIII's body was, there was a stream of red and black particles instead of blue and white. He looked around and saw that Shea's was blue-black and glancing beyond Kayin, he saw a stream of pure white particles, representing Synnoria.

Cloud looked back at Red XIII and voiced his thoughts once more. "It's beautiful, too bad that Tifa couldn't be here to see this." His smile dimmed at the thought of her, he knew that she had desperately wanted to be by his side but due to the limitations of their magic, she could not join them. He closed his mind to the others and resigned himself to his private thoughts once again.

Red XIII was looking on to this battle with some trepidation. He felt in the bottom of his mind that this was going to be more dangerous than his last battle, not only because the enemy was of an unknown quantity. He checked his items and materia once more, making sure that he was fully equipped. He knew that there was a lot riding on this battle and it wasn't just their lives; although their lives were certainly in a great deal of danger! But he felt that something even more precious than that was at stake. He looked at Shea, affection in his mind. He kept it hidden well from her, even in this plane of psychic communication. He was canine, she was feline and although such pairings were possible, they were rare. How could he possibly tell her? * Sigh * Red knew how to keep his thoughts private and he supposed she did too. Then, what was Shea thinking?

Shea was thinking the exact same thing as him. What was he thinking about? She herself held a deep respect and yes, affection for him. She had respected him as soon as she found out that he was the last survivor of Cosmo Canyon and she wondered how he had survived so long without others of his kind. But as she had traveled with him, her respect deepened until she knew that she truly did love him. But likewise, she did not want to hurt him by forcing him to make a choice between her and his friends. She saw the deep friendship he had with Cloud and it had touched her. But before Shea could talk to Red about her feelings, she knew she must rescue her son Thanu. Raising him on her own had been a hard trial since his father had died during a human raid. It was for his sake that she had left the tribe to find her son and kill his kidnapper. And that was Belios, she knew that he was responsible. She also knew that she would help kill him. She would be a fool to take this demon on her own but Red would prove a staunch ally. Red, she though, what an odd name. Even for a canine of Cosmo Canyon.

Kayin's thoughts, like the others, were on a somber note. Kayin was reflecting on the past few days of his life, which had been hectic and full of change. The appearance of Synnoria had certainly been unsettling. "He smiled, a note of joy forming in his mind as he heard the indignant squawk of Synnoria. He never could hide his thoughts from the majestic bird and now was no exception. But his thoughts soon returned to his more somber topic, his father, Shoji. Why had he died? "Dammit, I need him!" He thought viciously. "I wish my father were here to give me advice" But he told himself that his father couldn't be with him to give him advice but there was something that he could do about his father. And that was to avenge his father and destroy the dragon that killed Shoji.

Yuffie sat in a tree, sitting comfortably amongst the upper branches. These trees give me a creepy feeling, she thought. They didn't move like ordinary trees, they were deathly still. I'm not surprised that this is where that demon lives. It all reeks of evil! Shuddering, Yuffie shifted around in the branches, thinking of things that had happened in the past week. The one that was most surprising was her meeting the young leader of Fort Condor. She had saved him from the dragon and he had in turn saved her but when she was talking to him after and he kissed her hand so shyly, she felt lightheaded! Just like when she had that crush on Cloud, but this was lasting much longer. Yuffie couldn't wait to see him again even though it was to fight together against an enemy who may very well kill them!

And then they were there. The teleportional tunnel in which they had been travelling in, convoluted and Red XIII and the others were on solid ground again. Cloud pulled out his great sword in smooth motion, scanning the area for enemies but not a thing moved in this desolate place. "Hi guys!" The sudden sound made them jump up and twist around. Only Shea and Red XIII were unaffected because they had caught wind of the teenage ninja as soon as they had left the teleportational plane. She leapt down from the tree in which she was in and came up to Cloud and Red. "I've scouted out the area. Nothing! Absolutely nothing except for one magic shield down in that pass over there, though the shield is too strong for me to take it down." Yuffie indicated a small cleft in the sheer walls about 200 yards away. "Besides that, there are no sentries, no soldiers, no monstersno nothing. Either this guys thinks he is incredibly stupid or he's incredibly powerful."

"I would have to say he is probably the latter Yuffie." Red spoke, his hackles rising. "And I believe that he does in fact have sentries, look over there!" Swiftly Red XIII pointed, and as everyone else looked, they saw a Golem, much like the ones they had fought earlier. It was pitch black, meshing almost perfectly with the withered trees. It's eyes were open wide, it had apparently noticed that they had noticed it and with a small squeak, it dove into the underbrush.

Kayin however, had ignored the small golem and was moving towards the shield. He put his hands out towards it and the magic of barrier crackled. "It is very powerful, but I don't think that it is the only way in. If this is indeed where the dragon resides"Kayin said this in an ominous tone. " Then there would have to be another entrance to let it in. So I think that Synnoria and I should take the high road and look for that second entrance. What do you think?"

Cloud, standing beside him, nodded his head in approval. "Yes, maybe we can take the advantage of surprise if you come in from the top. So we'll get rid of this shield and continue on until we reach the enemy. I don't expect to meet any opposition considering he doesn't have any out here. But this magical shield, it is still a formidable barrier, I don't know how we can remove it."

Synnoria creened suddenly and she moved over to the barrier. Kayin, who was sitting atop Synnoria half-rose, startled. The great bird closed her eyes as she concentrated and her feathers began to give off a pure white glow that blinded the others. Cloud squinted into the light, trying to see what was happening.

"I think this is why the enemy wanted Kayin dead. Then Synnoria wouldn't stay in our plane of existence and we wouldn't be able to take this shield down, and not to mention, we wouldn't have found the weapons so far out to sea, yes, I think our enemy has planned this very welltoo well." Red XIII said grimly.

Cloud could feel the strength of the barrier lessening, the bright light was still blinding but his hair was beginning to settle back against his skin. Finally, he could open his eyes. The shield was nowhere to be seen, and Synnoria was standing beside the tunnel breathing hard. "Way to go Synnoria!" Yuffie broke the quiet stillness with her shout of glee. She ran down to the bird and threw her arms around it. Synnoria was not at all ruffled by Yuffie's grapple. She bent her head down and rubbed it against the joyful teenage ninja, giving a soft keen of pleasure. Kayin, watched the young ninja hug the bird with a smile on his face. But that pleasure was short-lived, less than five-minutes later, Cloud and company were ready to go on.

Red XIII took the lead, his senses being far better than the others did. The young ninja was just behind Red, meditating slightly to ready herself for the upcoming battle. Cloud too the rear. He hefted his sword lightly, checking his materia for the last time before he would use it in battle. Shea was following farther behind as rear scout. Outside the cave, Synnoria and Kayin were getting ready to lift off, her wings glistening with the resonating power of the barrier. As the party head into the dark tunnel, the light slowly dissipating behind them, Kayin conversed with Synnoria.

"What are our chances?" Kayin clung to the majestic bird's back as she lifted off, winging over the first mountain. She replied in the manner of her celestial kind. Her words seemed to be strands of light in Kayin's mind, moving so intricately and so smoothly. He could see why very few people could understand these mysterious beings and he had learned from his mount that there were others of her kind, in other worlds, in other forms. A fleeting image of a powerful canine, standing protectively beside the fallen form of a young girl in a burning house, slipped across Kayin's mind. "Who is she?" He asked. And Synnoria replied that it was someone of who also had a great destiny, a great destiny that may sometime entwine with his own.

The thoughts of the young girl, protected by a spirit of kin to Synnoria, were swept away by a gaping blackness as Kayin flew over the dark entrance into the mountains. Synnoria rested a moment above the hole and then folded her wings, slipping into the black depths like a feather arrow shot from the bow of heaven, borne towards an undying evil.



Chapter 7: Two Battles, One Freed.

The party deep within the system of tunnels had been travelling for what seemed like forever. They slipped quietly though the dank, moist caves, slaying those few guards that they came across. Red was trying to get a scent of the enemy that he knew was waiting around any corner but all he could smell was the pungent, unwashed fumes of the gnomes. And then he could smell it. The dark evil tones struck him full force, making Red keel over in surprise. Such evil! Such evil that he thought never existed. Red immediately twisted to the side. He felt a jarring wrench as he fell to the ground, and whoosh of air as one great claw, sliced past him. "Cloud! Company!" He barked.

Yuffie and Cloud looked at each other for a moment, then burst into action, tearing around a corner, sword and battle-cross unsheathed. Cloud knew that his sword was of agonizingly little use in the cramped tunnels so he relied on his magic. He called upon the power of his fire materia and he felt the aura of heat extend from the small globe on his sword. Cloud called out, "Red! To the side now!" And as he saw the stocky canine dive to the side, Cloud let the searing heat slash towards the monster for a moment. The fire slammed into the monster and the party could see it's ghastly form. It's skin was a sickly green, meshes with black scales. Standing on either two or four legs, the behemoth easily weighed the combined weight of Cloud and Red XIII. In addition to its scythe-like claws, a single horn protruded grotesquely out of the beast's head, it's tip dripping a sizzling black poison.

The party stood in horror at the sight of the beast and it took advantage of their shock, the beast leapt towards Cloud, but at the last moment turned towards Yuffie hoping to catch her by surprise. That was a mistake. The small ninja flipped her Conformer up, moving with blinding speed as she cut to the side of the lethal mass and slashed his sides. Her Conformer tore apart the rock hard scales of the beast, but her combination of strikes was cut short as she clutched her arm, the sprayed blood had scalded her! The beast slid to a stop but before it could turn around and begin to do some real damage, Cloud and Red XIII stepped in.

Moving in tandem, Red and Cloud began a deadly dance of death, slashing, cutting and lashing out with magical force that was empowered by their own special talent of casting. The beast moved back as fast as it could, trying to escape the scathing blow. Soon it had moved into a larger chamber. That was another mistake. Now Cloud's sword could come into play, and play it did, the sword wove a path of light through the ancient monster and its scarlet blood rained down upon the cave walls, whether any hit Cloud or not, nobody knew, so fast was he moving. But the young fighter could not keep this up for too long, knowing that he must conserve his energy, he took one last swing and stepped back to let a whirlwind of fiery death throw itself upon the beast. Red's claws tore a tattoo of death deep into the hide of the beast. And before it could do anything, Red leapt up and tore the poison horn from the ghastly head. He bared his teeth, not even daring to breathe as he twisted once more, bringing his body to the level of the unprotected belly of the beast. He swung his head savagely and the horn split the soft flesh of the belly. The poison sizzled as it caused an immediate reaction to the beast.

The death cries were heard by the foul being known as Belios and he cursed the three who had managed to slay it. All of his other creations were on the move, but he knew that he had fanned them too far out, they would not return in time. He knew that he must rely upon his own powers. Belios looked up, wondering once again, whether or not his last pawn would be sufficient for the task he had assigned it. But he feared that it would not.

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The dragon never knew what hit it. He had been streaking upwards, straining to reach his goal and it was a surprise when they collided. Two streaks, one of purest white, and one of darkest black, slammed into each other with the power of an exploding star. Thanu, who was wreathed in blackness, cried out in pain as Synnoria's sharp teeth bit into his unprotected neck and it was only the unreal instincts of the true Bahamut that saved him. He twisted to the side and gave a heave, freeing his neck from the sharp teeth of Synnoria. He growled deep in his throat and lunged toward the bird, aiming for the small man riding on top. His dagger-like teeth streaked for the man, threatening to swallow him whole.

But Kayin was ready for such a move and was in fact, waiting for it. He stretched out his hands, and calling upon his ethereal powers, Kayin struck with his powerful magic. "Ice 4!" He cried. Shards of ice four feet long, materialized out of Kayin's outstretched hands and slammed into the open mouth of Thanu/Bahamut before the dragon had even realized he had been duped. His vision exploded in pain and he fell. His wings twitching with muscular spasms. And even as he tried to get away, Synnoria and Kayin were after him. Thanu careened through the air and he searched through Bahamut's ancient mind, searching for something to do. Then he found something.

The dragon went limp and Synnoria knew that the time was now. She pumped her wings harder, trying to reach the dragon that Kayin wanted to kill so much. Within meters now of the dragon, Synnoria opened her powerful jaws. She pushed forward; fighting for the few inches that would bring the limp dragon's throat between her widespread jaws. She noticed that the head of the dragon was being buffeted by the wind, and was now pointing towards her but she paid it no heed. Her goal was so close!

"Synnoria! Watch out!" Kayin cried, the dragon's eyes opened suddenly he yelled his warning to the bird. But he knew that it was too late and he huddled down into the protective feathers her back. Synnoria looked up just in time to see the white ball of energy explode from the dragon's mouth andexplode in the air behind her as she teleported by. Synnoria opened her own mouth and the song burst outwards with the power of her anger. It didn't miss and hit the dragon full in the face, Thanu was shot back, already sliding into unconsciousness. But Bahamut now took over; he was one of the higher beings of the spiritual realm. Superior to Synnoria, Bahamut was even still worried for his life. So he improvised, Bahamut's wings snapped out and they caught the wind, pushing him to the side and upwards of Synnoria before she even knew what was happening. He had to get Kayin to understand!

Kayin heard the deep resonance of another voice in his mind, it penetrated his raging need to avenge his father and the redness that tinged his vision slowly receded. Suddenly he could understand the words of the deep voice. "-Must cease at once! Your destiny is no longer entwined with me!" Kayin looked towards the source of the voice and he saw the great dragon, just above him, no longer pure black but a myriad of colors ranging from brown to green to gray. The dragon circled slowly, eyeing the berserk bird. Kayin quickly calmed Synnoria down as he opened his mind outwards to communicate once again.

"And why do you say that?" Kayin queried. In reply, the great dragon chuckled mirthlessly. He glided lower until he was beside the young boy and Synnoria. Kayin got a chance to look at the dragon closely and he saw that the hard scales were of a beautiful iridescence. The moisture in the air literally sparkled off of the dragon-scales but even so, Kayin could see mars in the skin, scales that were bent out of shape or missing altogether.

"For my body was once accompanied by another, one who is now unconscious. I could not help but attack you for I was being controlled by this other and he likewise, was being controlled by someone else, someone far more sinister. But enough of thatI have known you for a long time, child. And I know enough of the ways of the world that you still have a great deal of time to grow and accept the death of your father. AhShojihe was a good man" Bahamut tapered off at this point, lapsing into long ago memories. Kayin, astounded that this great beast knew his father, pressed him on. "Oh yes, as I was saying. You must not take vengeance for your father Shoji on this body for we are only the instruments. I can not hold my power on my body for much longer so I will finish with this. Your destiny lies below, you must hurry! Your friend's are in the direst of emergencies!" And then, without warning, Bahamut heaved his wings and winged off to the side, trying to put as much distance between the child and himself until such time that Thanu would wake again and Bahamut would be helpless in his own body again.

Watching the powerful dragon speed away, Kayin could only reflect on his words. He grabbed the long smooth feathers of Synnoria and gave the mental command to move down into the tunnel to his destiny. As Synnoria dipped, Kayin knew somehow that he would have to fight that mysterious dragon again and he pondered. Should he possibly hold back his desire for vengeance? Could he?

Bahamut was right when he said that his friend's had been in the direst of emergencies. Cloud stood on one knee, bleeding from several gashes. He leaned on his sword wearily. Yuffie was in far worse shape, lying on the ground behind Cloud; she was huddled within herself, arm clutching a deep cut tightly. He conformer lay on the ground a few feet in front of her. Finally, Red XIII stood alone, several cuts and abrasions littering his ragged coat of fur. But he stood, snarling menacingly at the beast that had burs out of the very walls of the tight tunnels, bring a horde of it's minions. The trio had fought viciously but Cloud's huge sword was of little use in the cramped tunnels, and Yuffie was the first to go down as they swarmed over her before she had even realized what was happening. Shea was able to fight but with magic, she was unable to do much. Only Red was able to fight back effectively, his magic tore through the minions but the shield of the large beast was incredibly strong and Red XIII hadn't been able to break through it yet. He knew that the shield was only effective against magic for he had managed to sink his teeth in a few times, but he didn't have the outright strength to make that a viable plan. Luckily, his dazzling speed made him a near impossible target for the beast and his minions and he was able to slash through the enemies while desperately trying to think of a plan.

Red noticed that the lumbering beast was mostly staying put and Red looked up to see a massive stalactite was positioned right above the beast. Not pausing to admire the eerie luck of this event, Red through a bolt of magic at the ceiling. The energy slammed into the stalactite and it shook alarmingly, but didn't fall, however, a split opened up throughout the diameter of the heavy rock. Red cursed, knowing that he needed to rest, but prepared himself for another bolt. Unfortunately the beast followed the path of the bolt and saw the danger in its position. It began to move slowly out of the way. Red threw the bolt of energy.

"Hum" The young ninja said, moaning audibly, Yuffie pushed herself onto her knees. She had only a vague memory of the wall exploding beside her and then everything had gone black. Yuffie looked up and instantly took in what was happening. She saw the flash of light as the energy hit the cavern ceiling, and also saw the giant beast lumbering out of the way. Red was collapsed on the ground a few feet away. "Oh no!" Yuffie realized that if the beast got out of the way, then they would be easy pickings for it. She grabber her conformer and hurled it with all of her strength, hoping her desperate aim was true. She maneuvered in front of the beast at the same time. She saw that he would get out of the way of the falling stalactite so she leapt, hoping to push him back.

It was. The conformer sliced through the air and collided with the left knee of the monster and kept on going. It gruesomely ripped through its leg, tearing it off, and black blood spewed everywhere. The beast itself gave a roar of pain and collapsed and because of the Shea's push, the beast fell backwards. Just in time for the falling stalactite to embed itself deep into the chest of the beast. This time, the roar of the beast was no more than a gurgle. As blood pumped out of its oily body in dark spurts, the beast died. "Thank God!" Said Yuffie, crawling to her feet. She dug in her pockets and pulled out a flask of shining blue liquid. "This megalixer ought to help!" Yuffie raised the bottle high and immediately, a blue-white mist began to suffuse over Red and Cloud. It replenished them as quickly as it disappeared and Cloud and Red were standing up once more, ready for battle.

"AAGH! They destroy everything I throw at them! How can this be?!" Belios threw his crystal to the ground, gaining some small satisfaction at its destruction. And it was true, revitalized from the megalixer, the trio were tearing through all opposition, getting closer and closer with every passing moment. "It seems that the final confrontation may not be avoided, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!" With that Belios walked into the forest. The trees shrouded his body but he was faintly visible as he kneeled down and pulled a brightly glowing jewel out of a chest. "Oh yes, a few tricks indeed" At the same time, the Highwind was speeding towards the cave, Each person on board hoping that they would be there in time.

Chapter 8: The End of the Beginning, T'Sarith Nova.

"Come out! I know you're here!" Cloud's voice rang clearly in the domed clearing. He looked around warily; knowing instinctively that this would be where the final battle would be won or lost. His eyes were drawn to the onyx altar in the middle of the clearing but a dark mist obscured it. Suddenly the black mist shifted and parted, revealing the robed form of Belios. Cloud snapped into the swordsman's stance, his legs slightly apart, muscles loose and his great sword steady. He began to move slowly towards the robed man while Yuffie and Red spread out on either side of him, but all three stopped when he suddenly laughed.

"You can't even hope to touch my power! I will crush you under my thumb and my magic!" Without warning, Belios lifted his hand barking out a magic command. The earth directly below the party of three, suddenly twisted apart, creating a hole that would have ended the battle right there if they hadn't leapt to safety. Belios was undaunted and laughed once again. "This is my land, you cannot hope to win here!"

Red gritted his teeth; he could feel the pulsing rage that beat within his body, the rage at being considered an insignificant threat. "There is always hope." He murmured. Using those four words to channel his energy, Red XIII let go a blast of energy that was could not be considered standard. It was Red's own magic casting ability, which stemmed from his internal well of power and he drew from it, which created a new form of magic, a magic that hadn't been seen since the Esper Wars. It was the Creation of Magic. The sheer energy of it ripped through the evil atmosphere and slammed home into the altar of evil. Belios was taken aback at this pure energy and barely erected a shield. But he would be far from overpowered.

He gathered his own energies and reflected on the fact that Red was similar to him in the fact that no human being, or beast for that matter, had been able to form their own magic since the Esper war which had taken place nearly a millennia ago. But he simply adapted his own magic to strike better at Red. Twisting his magic into a spell of poison, he threw it towards the warriors but Red XIII had put up magical shields on the party and the spell dissipated harmlessly. The party assumed a battle formation and Cloud was in the lead, wielding his great sword. In his mind he was playing out tactics and was forming a battle plan that they could use against this dire enemy. Yuffie was close behind, already throwing her conformer at Belios. She knew that it wouldn't be able to get through his shields just yet, but she knew that it would distract him enough to cast some magic of her own. Reaching out her mind, Yuffie spoke the magical words that triggered one of the materia slots. "MP absorb!" She yelled and it's magic enveloped Belios. Sadly, his shield was too strong for a mere status spell, and he only lost the tiniest fraction of his magical strength. But the spell was only to gauge Belios' strength.

Red and Yuffie continued to harry him with minor spells and Belios easily diffused them. However, Cloud's furious sword was becoming an irritation. Belios was hard-pressed to keep his shields up and dodge the worst of the blows but he was steadily adapting to Cloud's style and he waited for the right moment to attack. Cloud lifted his sword for a savage down swing and Belios dropped his shield and struck. Calling upon all the powers of his evil heritage, he let loose a bolt of pure poison that struck Cloud full in the chest. His sword froze where it was. The poison shot through Cloud's system like wildfire and he fell to his knees, fighting the searing pain that was threatening to engulf him. Yuffie tossed a remedy at him from the hip. Thankfully, the potion protected him for the worst of the inhumanly powerfully spell but it would be a while before he could even get up let alone be in fighting condition. Belios saw this and he stretched his arm back, a spear forming out of the very air around him. He readied himself to plunge it through the figure lying prone on the ground in front of him but suddenly stumbled back as he felt the bite of Red XIII's headdress, the Limited Moon. Red threw himself at Belios wildly, forcing him back from Cloud. Red XIII used his natural magic casting skills to throw devastating spells at Belios while simultaneously raking him with his claws and headdress. Yuffie leapt behind Red XIII and knelt by Cloud, making sure that he was okay.

As Red XIII attacked Belios, he kept an internal gauge of his magic supply. He knew that the Limited Moon was losing effect as he used up his magic points. So he broke his attack off suddenly, sending Belios backward in a daze. Red then raised his head and yelled to Yuffie. "Use your summon now!" he dived to the side, leaving a clear path for Yuffie. She clasped her hands around her Conformer and concentrated her anger upon the summon materia, adding her anger into the magical power that triggered the materia's powerful spell. "Ramuh!!" She cried, summoning the holy power of the deity. The ground around Belios trembled and he fell to his back as earth began to collect in a mound. It piled higher and Belios looked on in sheer disbelief as Ramuh, defender of all things Holy, materialized at the peak of the mound. He raised his staff in the air and before he let loose his holy anger, he spoke to Belios.

"I know what thou art Demon, and you shall not escape punishment for this unholy union. I will send you to the eternal night from whence you came!" With that, Ramuh let his bolts of electricity fly forth and they struck into Belios, ripping though his shield. Belios' vision exploded in white light as electricity stabbed through him, his muscles contorting spasmodically. The prickling energy slowly dissipated around the area and his motionless body could be seen. Strangely, Yuffie thought that Ramuh had been enough to defeat Belios, but as the cooked air cleared, she could see him struggling to his feet. She collected her energies within herself and Ramuh prepared to take that energy and transform it onto another lethal volley of electricity.

"No!" You shall not destroy what I've made!" With a cry, Belios stretched his staff outwards and a streak of black light issued forth. It snaked through the air with blinding speed and struck Ramuh before anyone could do anything. Cloud got to his feet shakily just in time to see the form of Ramuh scream and contort as a ray of light burst from the mound. Red XIII cast a wall spell in hopes of freeing Ramuh from the spell of banishment but he was too late as Ramuh's body broke apart and de-materialized and Yuffie collapsed to the ground with a shriek. It is never good to break off the connection with summons. And Ramuh's quick departure snapped the symbiotic relationship between him and Yuffie. Her very mind was very nearly taken with him.

Shea ran to her side. Red XIII had told her to stay by the cave entrance but she cared for the young outgoing ninja and wouldn't let her suffer. "I'malright," Yuffie said as she clutched her Conformer. "I saw where Ramuh's gone, it's beautiful but horribly painful at the same time" She looked in Belios's direction where he was collecting his energies to renew his attack. Her eyes steeled. "You're going to regret that, you bastard!" Cloud blinked in surprise, the carefree girl was not akin to cursing. But soon as Belios got up, he and Red had realized that they were in for some major trouble. Red had recast the defensive spells but he knew that they would not withstand much of Belios' magical strength. The three grouped themselves in their standard fighting position, side by side, and they prepared to fight. Yuffie, bristling with rage, Red XIII praying to the Gods, and Cloud searching for weaknesses.

They advanced slowly as Belios raised his hands; he began to wave them in intricate circles and Cloud whispered to Yuffie and Red, "Prepare to scatter." But even so he was unprepared for the sudden blast of energy that ripped forth from Belios's staff. Flaring white light filled his vision as their death approached them. It never hit; the ball of energy slammed into an invisible shield that Cloud didn't even know was there. It splayed outwards and it's lethal energy dissipated harmlessly into the atmosphere. A few strands of energy exploded on the ground and a smaller one hit Shea on the side. Red was about to run to her but Shea mentally told him to stay and fight. She would be okay.

Cloud looked up on instinct and was greeted by the darting form of Synnoria. She wound her way through Belios' quick thrown balls of energy and retaliated with her own energy shots, effectively putting Belios on the defensive. The trio on the ground began to move, hoping to catch Belios off guard with three coordinated attacks. Red's headdress flared up as he cast Ice 2 on Belios, the freezing energy tearing towards the evil entity. Simultaneously Cloud leapt in and swung his great sword in a devastating cut. "Just in time Kayin!" he yelled. Yuffie threw her Conformer and all three attacks twined together into one and tore into Belios's shield. But the shield held. One by one, Cloud, Yuffie and Red slowed to a stop, standing open mouthed at the chuckling Belios. Nearby, Synnoria came to a landing, scattering dust violently.

"So pitiful you all are, so very pitiful. I will succeed in merging the planes. Nothing can stop me! How do you hope to defeat me?" Belios asked as he reached inside his black robe. His eyes began to glow with an unearthly light as he withdrew something almost like a jewel. A black wind twisted his robes around him, obscuring the jewel from sight.

"We hope because the good guys always win!" Yuffie cried, preparing herself for another attack. Belios replied by putting his fists together and black magic began to gather around him even as energy gathered around Yuffie. The young ninja reached deep inside her spirit, grasping for the special powers that so few people on the Earth had. As the technique took form, the trigger words turned over in her mind. Yuffie gritted herself to cast her final limit, the Final Creation. Cloud and Red saw this and stepped back but Belios stood strong, he began to intone a strange chant that Red couldn't understand. Yuffie, ignoring all else but the image of Belios in front of her and swung her conformer into the sky as she cried out the words to her most devastating attack. The strength of her attack was at the blasting point and Cloud though that it might have a chance to score. She began to intone the trigger words, "FINAL"

"T'SARITH NOVA!" Like so many of Belios's techniques, this attack was black in color but as it tore though the air, it left a rent in the atmosphere that threatened to suck in Cloud and Red XIII. Red gritted his teeth and dug his lethal claws into the ground. Cloud swung his sword down, embedding it into the ground and Synnoria simply flew out of the range of the black hole. Yuffie was far less lucky. She could only stand limply, completely drained of energy from her failed limit. The blast slammed into Yuffie and she collapsed to the ground.

"Nooo!!" Kayin screamed, he leapt off of Synnoria's back and was pulled towards her but Synnoria held him back. Cloud looked over to Belios and he prepared to initiate his own final limit but he stopped cold at the laughter that erupted from Belios, long and slow. He brought his fists close to himself and a sinister glow suddenly erupted from his chest, pulsing with arcane energy. "My goal is clear, I will merge the frames and my masters, my masters who have been waiting for eons shall finally rise to power in a new age! With your deaths, I will absorb the energy within the summons you have mistakenly brought to me. How does it feel to be tricked into bringing the key to your worlds defeat? Belios laughed disparagingly. "Eons ago, I have come to this plane, assuming a different form every time and every time I have come close to merging the frames for my masters, as close as I am now. But always a group of people, from all ends of the Earth, comes to fight me, and beat me. But now I shall have my revenge. For the people are weak once more, few there are who believe in the power of the Earth." Belios was encased in the glow of his rage and Cloud could see that if he were simply killed; he would appear once again sometime again in the ages and wreak havoc once more. No, this man's very soul must be destroyed. "You think that you are invinciblethat good will always triumph. Yet you have no idea of the power of my evil. And when you realize what you are facing you will cower!" With that, Belios spread his arms; and for a split second Cloud could see the object that glowed with such an eldricht light. It was gone in a searing flash of light as Belios himself disappeared.

"Red! He has the Bahamut Neo materia!" Cloud yelled. He tensed in his battle stance once again. Inwardly, he was afraid. Cloud knew that every good fighter was afraid and he could not help but be unnerved by the mysterious rumbling caused by Belios' disappearance. He fought to stand still as his mind raced through many possibilities. Is he going to become the dragon? Will he take his energy? Is this some sort of second form? What? Cloud's train of thought was interrupted by a fiery jet of steam that burst from a crack in the ground. The crack got bigger and bigger, splitting apart the earth and Cloud backed away, yelling a warning to Red. Staying on his own feet was made harder as the rent in the atmosphere became larger and it's pulling force became stronger.

"Synnoria! What's happening?" Thinking fiercely, Kayin fought to keep his hold on Synnoria's back. He formed a barrier around himself and his mount with his inert magical abilities and finally he could listen to her urgent thoughts. Synnoria told him that the power that was approaching was definitely elemental in nature. "It's Neo, it has to be." He motioned for Synnoria to land and as she did so, he cried out to Cloud. "It's Neo! What can we do?"

The battleground was a frantic place. Dead trees littered the sides of the cave and many of them were shattered and broken from the force of the battle. The branches were being sucked into the growing rent. The altar stood ominously at the apex of the canyon, and strangely enough, it was untouched even the ground around it was twisted and burnt. Kayin and Synnoria were standing protectively over Yuffie who was lying motionlessly. Beyond them, near where Belios had disappeared, Red was trying to keep upright and stand over Shea who had been injured. The great rent in the ground was expanding as fast as the hole in the air and all could hear the dark screams that were getting closer and closer. Suddenly, with a thunderous crack, the pointed head of Bahamut Neo burst out of the ground.

He soared into the air, barely fitting into the cavern. Neo opened his mouth and everyone was forced to hit the ground as he vaporized a huge portion of the cavern roof with a single mouth shot. Sunlight mixed in with the dust floating around and it served to mask Bahamut Neo's size, making him look even bigger than he was.

Cloud, standing on the ground over Yuffie, was mesmerized by the dragon hovering over him and almost didn't hear Red. But he managed to shake off the fear and looked over to see Red beside him. Red looked up at him, his red fur smudged and cut in places. "Cloud, Shea has found something, we think that Belios used this materia to merge with Bahamut Neo. Do you have the Zero materia?"

Cloud glanced at his sword but he couldn't identify the materia because they were all covered in the dust. He took a deep breath and let his consciousness move outwards, touching each materia; soon he found which one held the power to summon the ultra-powerful being. "I have it." He said.

"This materia should make you merge your spirit with the physical body of Zero, however, you won't be able to defend yourself until you merge, nor will I." Red XIII motioned to Synnoria of who was being informed of Red's plan by Shea. The great bird lifted off in a flurry of dust and Kayin immediately flung a searing bolt of energy into Neo's face, blinding him for a moment. Kayin knew that he and Synnoria were not nearly powerful enough to take on Neo but he hoped that his anger in Belios' hurting Yuffie would be enough to keep the dragon occupied. The time it would take for Red to grasp how the materia worked and to build up the energies needed to cast the spell would be quite long, considering he had to master the stone to utilize it.

And so Synnoria leapt into the air, she dodged the dragon's preliminary fireballs with ease and continued to arrow towards him. Belios was forced to dive to the side as the streak of light careened by. But she was by no means done. Synnoria banked with long practiced ease and once again was speeding towards the dragon, forcing him to move. And so they fought, Belios put on the defense by Synnoria's greater speed.

Below the fight, the black hole expanded and something began to move inside. A form began to take shape within the hole and although neither Red nor Cloud could see it. But Yuffie could and she let out a scream of pure terror that would haunt Red's dreams until his death.

The pulling force of the black hole awakened Shea, recovering from a blow received earlier on. She got up, shaking her head and as her head turned towards the sounds of the blood-curdling scream, Shea was given a direct line of sight into the black hole. Inside, another realm had taken shape; it wasn't a black hole at all. It was a portal! She could see the roiling gases beginning to take the shape of something and before she even realized it, the form of a sinister being had filled her vision. Reaching out, it grasped the terrified Yuffie and before anyone could do anything; Yuffie was gone.

She just disappeared. Red XIII thought. The impression he got was a hand appearing out of the hole, and then a flash of light. Red blinked his eyes and all that was left was nothing. Just a dark mist evaporating into the air. Without warning a red-hot rage suffused itself over Red XIII and the extra energy was enough to give him the power to cast merge. As he did so, tentacles formed of magic lanced out from the materia and shot into the Bahamut Zero materia that Cloud held near his chest. He grimaced as the merging process began and pain enveloped his entire body, and then his spirit! Cloud was unsure whether he could take this amount of pain when suddenly; another entity entered his mind. "Be strong little one. I will help as best as I can." As those words were spoken, the pain lessened considerably and he could see clearly once again. But he was seeing too much! He was seeing the pain of the Earth, the pain of the black and twisted trees. This is the vision of Zero! We've merged! Cloud though wildly. He could feel elemental power flowing through his arms.

"Why, we weren't even able to harness a fraction of your power!" He told Zero. But Zero had no time to reply for as soon as Belios had seen the merging. He had flung his energy into a searing ball of electricity that tore through Synnoria. Silently the bird fell to the ground, hitting with a sickening thud. The energy bolt continued through the air, only to explode in a thundering shower of sparks as it hit the shield erected by Cloud. Zero was the mightiest of the dragons; his might was the might of the one true Bahamut and his shield would not fall to the lesser incarnation of Neo. "But why were we able to beat Bahamut at Fort Condor than?" Asked Cloud as fireballs and lightening bolts rained down upon them.

"Because the cat of whom merged with him was unready. He could not achieve a perfect symbiotic relationship. But we must defeat Belios before he realizes that he still has the power of Bahamut and the demon to draw upon." But Zero was too late, Belios remembered the power of the demon and as he drew upon the darkest magic of the Earth, his energy took on a tainted blood-like color. He threw more bolts of energy but this time they hit with a much greater impact, causing Zero to grunt in pain. "Little one! You have control over my body, you must attack!" Cloud was not one to lose his self-control in battle and he immediately grasped what had to be done. Using Zero's knowledge of flight, he whipped to the side, using the air currents to increase his speed, dodging yet another fireball. Cloud gathered his energies within himself, he prepared for his opening blast and he hoped that it would be enough to put Belios on the defensive.

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Down below, the others were having a hard time. Energy shots slammed into the Earth, tearing ground into the sky. Shea and Red had moved to the relative safety of the trees and they began to form their next plans. Red knew that although he had preformed the impossible task of casting the merge spell, he was unable to get a perfect symbiosis between Cloud and Zero. Zero would lose! They would be unable to withstand the awesome energies that Belios had to draw upon.

Red broke into a sprint, mentally calling for Shea to stay put. He ran onto the battleground, dodging the fireballs that he knew would incinerate him if he got too close to any. Leaping over craters, he dared a quick glance at the ferocious battle above his head. Belios had his claws in Zero's wings but Zero had clamped his jaw upon Belios' neck and was expelling bolts of energy at point blank range onto it. But Red could see that the extra energy that Belios had created an impenetrable barrier and any minute Cloud would have to veer away. Red redoubled his speed knowing that by the time he got there, he must be ready to execute his plan or all would be lost. Belios hadn't noticed the Highwind but he would soon and he would surely risk himself in order to destroy it and its crew.

"Cid! What the Hell is this!?" Barret knew that Cid wouldn't know but he had to ask anyway in the hopes of gaining an understanding of what was going on. Synnoria was lying on the ground to the right of the Highwind and Tifa was already there, checking for Kayin. Barret could recognize Bahamut Zero and the other dragon looked almost like Neo, but why they were fighting and why Cloud and Red were nowhere to be seen-"Wait! There's Red!" he cried, seeing the canine sprinting in his direction. Red was not twenty yards away from him when he began yelling directions. "Get the crew into ranks! I need them grouped together!"

Cid, hearing the cat's words, immediately barked out the appropriate commands and the crew fell into a single file line. He looked back towards the great cat and saw his eyes glowing. Red had overstrained his wellsprings of magical energies and was in danger of burning himself out. "Red! You've got to stop! You'll die!"

Red XIII was not stupid, he knew that he close to death but he began to cast merge anyway, knowing that the outcome of this battle depended on it. Suddenly his eyes opened wide, he couldn't do it! He didn't have enough magical energy! Red slid to a stop, cursing his mortal constraints when he made a decision. It was his friends and the Earth, or him. Closing his eyes, Red chose the Earth and began to cast a spell, for one final time. But then from somewhere, he heard a voice whispering in his mind, "For your people and for your Earth" And a floodgate opened; magical energy of a purity Red had never experienced surged through him and he knew he would gain perfect symbiosis this time. The unique energies of Red XIII graced the Earth once more and lanced out towards the crew.

Later, even Red XIII would be surprised to see that his casting would work so well. Maybe it was because the crew had experienced a great deal of magic in their travels with the small group, or maybe because they had no other magical abilities. Either way, 11 of the twelve members reached a perfect merge with a knight. The last was unable to fight, the knight's body knelt on the ground, it's face twisted in a rictus of agony as though it was fighting something within itself. But the others stood their ground bravely; they awaited Red's orders, keeping swords, axes, and staffs at the ready.

"Shea! The deed has been done!" Red XIII thought, as he saw Shea turn her head from the fight to look at him, he continued. "The crew has merged with the knights but the cannot keep their powers in check, so everyone else will be using their magic to help the crew. I need you to get through to Cloud's mind and tell him to get away." Red saw Shea nod her acknowledgement, and she stretched her mind towards the mind of Cloud above.

"What?!" Inwardly, Shea choked as she found that Cloud's mental spirit was a roiling mess of pain, fear and anger. He had abandoned all vestiges of intelligence. Cloud was fighting on a purely animalistic level, ignoring the scarring injuries inflicted upon him by the other dragon. And worst of all, she could not get through to him! Her mind was not powerful enough to break through the barrier from so far. She would have to get closer. Picking her way through the battleground, Shea moved closer and closer to the two dragons.

"Cid, Barret, I will need everyone's help for this." We must concentrate our magical energy into the knights to keep them stable in this world. Your crew can't do this by themselves, take two and use your magic to protect the bond that now exists between the mortal and the immortal. Barret, go and make sure that Kayin is all right, we'll need his and Tifa's help on this." Red spoke to Cid and Barret authoritatively and as soon as they sped off to get ready, Red turned his mental call to the knights. "Oh great knights of endless time, heed my call. Evil stalks the land once again and now, it battles in front of us. I know that your calling is to defend the earth, and not to fight for it but will you step forward in this time of need and help us?"

The tallest of the knights stepped forward; he looked at Red XIII through a shrouded helmet that hid his face. Suddenly, he spoke. "You are one of infinite wisdom, and one of great heart. It would be an honor fight beside you" His voice was like a whisper of wind at the moment of dusk and Red knew that that voice would ring within his mind forever. As if by command, the twelve knights stepped into a line. "We await your command Nanaki."

Staring blankly, Red suddenly jolted back to himself, when the knight spoke his true name, he felt something stir within him. But he shook it off, realizing that the time to finish this fight was at hand. Quickly, he outlined his plan to the knights and than turned towards Shea to see if she had contacted Cloud yet. "What? Shea! What are you doing?" Red's mental voice was incredulous as he saw the cat was crawling up the near vertical rocks. She turned her head and tensed her body. The dragons were dangerously close and the surrounding energy was pressing her hard into the rocks.

"There is no other way" With those five words, Shea leapt straight outwards from the rock directly into the field of energy that the two dragons were creating, her tiny form disappeared from Red's view as she landed upon the Bahamut Zero. But it was enough. She struck rapidly through the mental confusion of Cloud's mind and relayed her instructions to him. As soon as she got his barely perceptible agreement she leapt. Shea didn't aim; she simply sprang away from the body of the dragon, and from the surrounding energy that was searing through her body, causing so much pain. And finally, it was over, Shea found herself high in the air and rapidly losing height as she fell away from the fighting dragons. The ground was coming up on her at an insane pace and she braced herself to hit the rock. Somewhat to her surprise, Shea found herself on Synnoria's back, soaring back to the ground at a more controlled pace. Kayin was trying to pull her large body to safety. "You scared me!" He said, his eyes wide. "I scared myself!" She replied.

As soon as they reached the ground, a much-relieved Red XIII gave the word. He summoned the energies within himself once again and cast his last spell of the battle. "Flare!" The energy of the spell sang upwards but this time it was not aimed at the dragon Bahamut. It was a signal flare and as it's explosive light lit up the giant cavern, Bahamut Zero veered away with such blinding speed that Belios simply hovered, looking blankly. That was the cue. One by one, the twelve knights leapt into the air.

From there, the fight went so quickly, it was almost embarrassing. Each knight dealt his own particular style of damage to Belios and with each sickening thud of an attack impacting upon the body of the dragon, Belios' conscious slid further and further from life. The rest of the group watched from below, all of them recovering from the fight that nearly took their lives. Suddenly Red had a question. Turning to Zero, he asked, "Won't Bahamut Neo be killed?"

"Of course not, the power of the knights are great but to destroy an a dragon would take much more power than they have Nanaki." Once again, Red shook off a feeling that he couldn't explain. He stared at the dragon almost plaintively.

The great dragon looked downwards at him, faint remorse in his eyes. Sighing softly, Bahamut Zero leaned down. "Look at me," As Red did so, the dragon continued. "Nanaki, that name was given to you by your father Seto, whose death was a source of grief, however ignominious you thought it was. But Red XIII, that name was given to you Shinra, a source of great pain! Your father have you your name out of love, Shinra gave you that title because it was convenient. You are rejecting your father in rejecting your given name. That name is as much a part of your history as it is of your destiny."

Looking at the majestic dragon, Red could not help but feel a lump in his throat. The matter of his name was such a concern in his mind that he could scarcely come to terms with it. Yet the way Bahamut put it, it seemed as though it would be right to call himself Nanaki, but there were so many memories associated with that name! He must first come to terms with those memories before even thinking of himself as Nanaki. But Red XIII's thoughts were disrupted as the body of Bahamut Neo slammed into the ground thunderously. As everyone watched fearfully, the knights settled upon the ground and even they stared at the dragon warily. Belios' spirit had been weakened enough that the dragon might be able to break free of its captor's conscience and move back into the spiritual world. But then again, maybe not.

In a matter of seconds the giant body began to fade before their eyes and a collective gasp went through everyone as the dragon faded away, returning to the spiritual world. Only the shining materia crystal remained as well as the body of Belios, his dark form trembling as he struggled to stand up.

"I can't believe it! Cough!" Using his staff as support, Belios stood up. He began to gather his energies but the energy disappeared and he collapsed again. "You this is your fau-cough-fault!" He pointed at Red XIII wrathfully.

Red had advanced upon the cloaked figure and stood over him. Red looked down at this malevolent entity who had taken away his precious friend Yuffie and had planned to kill each and everyone of the people he held dear! A surprising clarity had settled over Red XIII and he opened his jaws. Belios heard only one more thing as Red's sharp teeth closed around his throat. "For my people" And those words, the beginning of a sentence that Red didn't even know how to finish, scared Belios more than his own death. But then, the blackness took him and he knew no more.

"The deed is done." Red XIII said quietly as he walked back to his friends. He felt tired, as if he had only completed the first leg of his journey and not just potentially saved the world. But the death of Belios left him feeling better than he had in some time. He turned to rub necks with Shea who came up beside him. He could feel her emotion as they touch, raw and powerful. Suddenly he realized that they were not finished! Thanu was still missing since Bahamut had fled. "Zero, can you summon Bahamut? The entity that was controlling his body was a slave to another's will but now is free. He is probably frightened, he won't know to return here to his mother."

Zero grinned, or at least he spread his lips and showed off hundreds of scythe-like teeth. "That will be child's play." Before he even finished that sentence Thanu was there, appearing so suddenly that Red had to blink to see if he was actually there. Shea however, had no such worry. With a cry of joy, she leapt for her son, bowling him over in an excess of emotion. Red realized that she would want some time alone with her son so he moved away.

Red soon put Shea in the back of his mind. Cloud, Tifa, Cid, Barret, Vincent, Kayin and himself were being taught in the usage of the merge materia. Zero was instructing and they practiced by dispelling the spells on Cid's crewmembers. But night soon fell and all in the vast underground cave voted unanimously to stay inside for the night.

Late in the night, Cloud and Red were talking. They knew that they would have to go after Yuffie but how? They had no idea of how to travel between dimensions. In all of their travels, they had never even heard of another dimension! But Red had some sources that might hold some information. He would consult them when they left tomorrow. Cloud seemed satisfied with that and he slipped into a sleeping bag, falling asleep within minutes.

Soon all was quiet. Everyone was so tired from that day's exertions that they decided to post no watch. But by the outskirts of the encampment, something did stir. "Do you know where she is?" Asked a low voice. " I know, I know. It'll be dangerous but we have to. She saved my life and" The human fell quiet as he realized his friend understood. He jumped and was soon astride his steed. Mentally, Kayin gave the word to Synnoria to teleport to the realm that Yuffie had been banished to.

Even Synnoria wasn't prepared for the desolate wasteland that greeted them as they teleported into the spiritual realm. A cold wind brushed dust into their eyes, and Kayin quickly rubbed it out, almost wishing he hadn't. The whole place looked of death, black trees withered, shrubs lying limply on the ground. Although the spiritual realm was usually shown as each person viewed it, the evil had twisted it into a single form. "Enough, we must find Yuffie Synnoria, can you find her?" Kayin said, trying to ignore the bleak surroundings.

But at the moment, Synnoria's was moving restlessly, she had lived in this realm for millennia and the change was shocking. Her need to avenge her world nearly flooded Kayin's conscience. "Synnoria! Yuffie first. Then we will come back with the others and help you. Please" The great bird calmed downed, taking long slow breaths as she collected herself. Taking off in a flurry of dust, she told Kayin that she could feel Yuffie's conscience. Thankfully, there were no malevolent entities around for she could not feel the aura that they would have. Kayin urged his mount on, choking back pain at the thought of Yuffie lying defenseless on the ground. But Synnoria was fast and knew where to go. They would make it.

In the distance, Kayin thought he could make out something, something that was vibrant in this vast sea of desolate grays. Yuffie! Synnoria put on an extra burst of speed, feeling another entity approach. Suddenly it was before them. Bursting out the ground, Kayin identified the thing as a lesser daemon. A guard, but if they had posted a guard then they would know someone would be coming and-a trap! More daemons burst from the ground and roared towards the bird. But Synnoria leapt up, pumping her wings as she strove for extra height. She dodged the fireballs that the daemons threw. Soon she was ready to make an attack. Turning quickly, the bird dove towards the pack of daemons, they threw fireballs but Synnoria dodged them and threw some of her own. And then as soon as she was within a few feet of the daemons who were scrabbling out the way of her bulk Kayin leapt off. Forming a sword through spell, he slashed through the first daemon and was slicing at the next before they knew what had happened. The second was much harder, Kayin knew he was outclassed as the claws of the daemon raked him. His sword dissipated as he lost his concentration due to a massive fist that knocked him in the stomach. Gasping for air, Kayin gathered his energies to cast a spell.

"Meteor!" Kayin shouted the trigger word and by command, a rent in the atmosphere appeared and huge meteors from the depths of space hurtled forth, shattering the daemons they hit. Kayin knew those meteors would hurt him too but he was too fast, rolling and flipping out of the way of the meteors as they hit the ground. Shrapnel tore at him but it was not enough to stop his headlong rush. Soon he was out of the range of his own spell and he sprinted towards Yuffie. Sliding to a stop by her, he picked her, feeling for a pulse by her neck. He could feel one but it was very weak. Kayin mentally signaled to Synnoria who immediately came to a landing beside him. He threw Yuffie up and leapt on himself. "Quickly! Go!" He shouted. The surviving daemons had regrouped and were now back on the attack but they were much too far away to do anything. Synnoria quickly pictured the somewhat less desolate cavern that they had come from and she was gone.

As soon as they got back, Kayin out the limp form of Yuffie on the blanket that he had slept in not twenty minutes ago. Belatedly he realized it had taken only twenty minutes but it had seemed like much less! Yuffie pulled herself up on her elbows, looking around in surprise. Kayin quickly put her back down. "You should rest, you've been through a lot." He said. She was still a bit weak he saw, but that was from lack of food, or rest. But she still managed to ask what had happened.

"You were transported to the spiritual realm. Synnoria brought me and we got you back. You're all right now, you just gotta rest okay?" Kayin was practically crying know. Seeing Yuffie on the ground in that other realm had torn his heart. Quickly he wiped his nose on his sleeve, he would never let her know how close he had been to crying.

But Yuffie must have known. For she leaned up and smiled weakly. "Thanks." She said, then Yuffie kissed him. It was just a quick kiss on the lips, but it was more than enough for Kayin to realize his feeling for her. He smiled as she rested on the ground, almost asleep already. Moving quietly, he lied down close to her realized through a sharp burst of pain, how badly he had been hurt. Oh well, he would survive until morning. He put the blanket over them so that they did not freeze in the cold breeze that whistled in the cavern. His dreams that night were peaceful.

Chapter 9: A Time to be Alone.

Red's dreams however, were troubled. Images of his father surfaced in his mind. Red relived parts of his childhood, his father teaching him to hunt, use magic; communicate with the nature around him. "Remember my son, there are things in nature that we will never see, but you must always pay them the respect that they deserve. The things you cannot see are as much a part of the Earth as we are. Our creed shows our respect, For my people, for-" Red XIII awoke with a start, his eyes unable to focus in the bright morning sunlight that filtered through the great hole in the cavern, blearily he saw everyone else.

They were all moving with purpose, getting everything ready so that they could all leave. The dragon Bahamut Zero was still standing to the side of the encampment, still as a statue, watching over them like like like his father. "My father?! What is happening to me?" Red thought wildly, he had managed to put his past behind him but now it was all coming back to haunt him! Red shook his head, "I need to get away, to clear my thoughts" Getting up, he moved away through the trees.

Cloud looked up from the map he was studying to see the canine moving away into the trees. He was about to get and call for him when Zero interrupted his thoughts. "Leave him alone little one, he needs some time alone." Staring at the copse of trees where he last saw Red XIII, Cloud couldn't help but feel worried. But soon, his mind wandered to the dragon watching over the encampment like a monolith.

"Neo disappeared as soon as Belios' hold was relinquished, and the same for Bahamut and Thanu. But, why are you still here? We have separated, haven't we?"

The question apparently took the dragon by surprise and he fumbled for a few moments for words. Then he fell silent, thinking. Taking a deep breath, the dragon replied. "The hold that Thanu and Belios had upon the dragons were involuntary. They had no bindings within this plane besides Belios' spell. And now that it is gone, they cannot stay in the world unless summoned."

"What about you then?"

"I, uhmm, uh, I am able to stay because of you Cloud. I am anchored by your mind." Bahamut Zero fidgeted on his claws. Cloud couldn't help but feel suspicious.

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Red was sitting at the edge of a cliff, letting the sunlight from the top of the cavern warm his body. He was thinking of recent events and trying to figure them out. But, Red kept getting sidetracked with memories of his father. "Why couldn't you be alive Father, I-I miss you so much." He murmured in sorrow.

With a sigh, he moved onto other things. Dwelling upon it would not help. Sometimes it seemed as though the fight would never stop. It had been barely a year since Sephiroth, and the Earth was in danger this time from a spiritual plane. It was a barely understandable threat and only now that he was alone with himself, Red XIII could realize just what Belios had been planning. He was going to use the energy of the summons and merge the spiritual planes with the physical realm. But in using the energy of the righteous summons like Ramuh, there would only be evil summons left and the world would become a dark and desolate place. But was Belios truly dead? If his masters were even a fraction more powerful than he was, then he would most likely appear again. But there was something that cheered Red, Belios has remarked that many times he had come to the Earth in order to destroy it but always he was defeated. It gave Red hope that no matter when Belios should choose to reappear, there would always be people who would be able to banish him.

Looking into the sunlight, Red felt stirrings within him, a joy that he had not felt in a long time, since his father's death and when Shinra captured him. A single ray of sunlight lit up his face and a glimmering of his father entered his mind. "For my people" Red didn't know how to finish his family creed, it had been lost when his father had died but someday, someday he might find out.

A commotion interrupted him. A deafening voice rang out in his mind. "You went where? Foolish child!" And the more physical voice rang out. "Yuffie!?" "What happened?" ""What the FUCK?!" That startling curse halted everyone and the dragon chose that moment to step in. "They are badly hurt. I think you had better heal them first."

Two elixir's were brought hurriedly and Red loped into the clearing just in time to see Kayin and Yuffie get up, a blue mist evaporating. Kayin was looking down, avoiding the looks of the people crowded around him. Yuffie however was telling them what she knew. "That thing grabbed me and pulled me through the portal! But I was knocked out and the next thing I knew was that I was here with Kayin beside me. He rescued me!" She said his name with an inflection that Red XIII couldn't help but smile. So, he thought, even in the aftermath of battle, hope blossoms. That thought gave Red a good feeling and he stepped into defend Kayin who was being yelled out by Cloud.

Cloud stopped momentarily at Red's interference, but before he could say anything. He caught Red's look. He looked from Red to Kayin and back to Red. "He had to do it." Red XIII said. And suddenly Cloud understood. He took a deep breath and put his hand on Kayin's shoulder. Kayin looked up in surprise.

"I'm sorry Kayin, I didn't realize. I was just worried. It was dangerous and you were so badly hurt. Are you okay?" He asked, seeing the young boy in a different light. Kayin replied.

"Yes I am. Thank you for understanding." And although Kayin was smiling at Cloud, they both knew that Kayin was truly thanking Red XIII for seeing past the obvious to the hidden. Kayin knelt down and put his hands on Red XIII's shoulders. "Red, thank you!" With that he hugged the canine and Red himself smiled broadly.

Everyone else had calmed down by now and the area seemed to be suffused with an aura of joy. The joy that only love can bring when people have lost faith in life. They would never believe again that the Earth was a cold dispassionate place, not worth fighting for. The earth was a place of verdant emotions, bringing the light of love into the lives of those who would fight for it.



The End.

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