Blood Moon Rising
By Damian Dydyn

Reaching up into eternal gray skies, ravaged shards of rusted metal tore up through the ash-laden streets of the Midgar Ruins. Frail skeletons of the enormous buildings that once defined the worlds most technologically advanced city lay weathered and beaten by the sands of time, forever darkened by the fallout of Meteor.

Cloud Strife walked slowly north, mako-blue eyes scanning his surroundings diligently. So much had changed in the years following their battle with Sephiroth, so many had died. Something deep inside had drawn Cloud back here, to where it had all begun. Something he couldn't explain. It was as if this place had called out to him, forcing him to return. His intemperate blonde hair swayed as a light wind picked up from behind him, snapping his loose cargo style pants against his skin. It was sudden enough to make him glance back over his shoulder for a moment.

When the wind finally subsided, and his gaze returned to the north, his bright blue eyes widened. Standing before him, in immeasurable serenity, adorned in a rippling black trench coat with silver hair fluttering about wildly in a wind that didn't exist was the last person Cloud had ever expected to see. "Sephiroth," he gasped.

A wry smile crossed the former war hero's face as he tilted his head to the left slightly. Extending from his right hand and reaching down to the ground at a forty-five degree angle was the thin samurai style sword that had claimed the lives of so many over the years. The most painful of them being Aeris, the memory of whom sent a swelling of anger through Cloud's body. His blood ran hot and his flesh tensed as he drew his Bastard sword and charged without hesitation. "You son of a bitch!" Swinging his blade wildly, he was shocked to see it slip through his nemesis with no resistance. Instead, Sephiroth dissipated into a thin dark mist and spread out around him.

Cloud stumbled back, trying to avoid the spreading haze of darkness. It was no use though, as the mist moved too quickly and easily surrounded him. Appearing directly in front of him as if only a projection on the swirling darkness, Sephiroth's menacing smile taunted him. His eyes flashed a deep red and from nowhere came the samurai blade, slicing into Cloud's shoulder, dropping him to a knee. Warm blood flowed between his fingers, gripping the wound tightly. He was barely able to hold his sword with his injured limb. With every ounce of strength in his body, Cloud leapt forward, passing through the mist. He ran hard through the abandoned city, trying to leave the apparition behind.

He rounded a corner sharply, his feet slipping slightly on the dusty street, when Sephiroth appeared in his path. "You cannot escape me," he hissed, running his tongue along the line of his teeth, another smiled forming on his lips. Cloud backed up, terror spreading out from his core, sending a wave of trembling to his furthest extremities. "You are not meant to escape me!" With glowing red eyes, the ghost of his enemy darted forward, coming up on him almost instantaneously. Realizing no other options were left, he began swinging his sword furiously into the mist. Attack after attack passed harmlessly through the apparition, barely disturbing it now. Another slash of the samurai sword cut Cloud across the chest and he collapsed to the ground in a heap.

Curled up with his knees pulled up to his chest, he groaned in pain, feeling his body run cold, his blood spilling out onto the ground. His mind demanded he pick up his sword and fight, but his muscles refused to comply. He shivered at the coldness overcoming him, barely holding the strength to glance up at his nemesis. With a satisfied grin, Sephiroth materialized once more and raised his sword up. "You were never meant to defeat me. You were designed to bring about my true form. My physical body was a prison. It limited me. When you destroyed it, you freed me. You did for me what I would never have been able to do myself. And I thank you." Realizing the gravity of his actions, Cloud allowed a single tear to trickle down his face before the samurai blade swung down at him. He closed his eyes and awaited the final blow, the sharpness of the sword as it pierced him.

But it never came.

Jumping out of bed, Cloud panted hard, his muscles tense and his body covered in a cold sweat. He stood next to his bed, labored breaths echoing in the darkness. Behind him he heard a rustling and he jumped around, ready to attack only to find Tifa looking up at him curiously. "What's the matter?" she asked, still trying to shake the residue of unconsciousness from her eyes.

Glancing about, he realized he wasn't in Midgar. The soft rumbling of waves tumbling onto the beach made their way through the window and he breathed a sigh of relief. "It's nothing," he said. "Just a dream." Turning and walking to the window, he allowed himself a moment to catch his breath. A slight pain still lingered in his chest and he wondered if it was a physical manifestation of his dream or just a result of breathing so hard. Tifa came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her naked body against his.

He smiled easily, crossing his arms over hers and tilting his head back toward hers. She squeezed him with a soft moan and he looked up to see the moon out over the eastern horizon, reflecting in the choppy waters below. It was beautiful and helped to set him at ease, feeling her lean up toward his ear from behind. Closing his eyes he waited with a smile to listen to her perfect voice. The warmth of her breath as she parted her lips set his body afire with passion and he turned his ear toward her. "You cannot escape me," she hissed, sending a cold chill down his spine.

Spinning away from her he looked down to see blood red eyes glowing in the darkness and a wicked smile on her face. "You were never meant to."

"No!" he screamed, backing into the wall behind him. Looking around he saw his sword was on the other side of the room and he had no way to get to it without going through her. "This isn't real!" He charged for the door and ran down the hall to the mansion's entrance. Spilling out into the night, he stumbled and fell down the stairs, rolling end over end until he reached the cobblestone ground. Quickly jumping back up to his feet, he ran hard toward the beach just a few meters away. Up ahead the moon had begun to bleed, dripping across the black canvas of the sky, melting into the waters below.

He looked down to see his chest and shoulder were bleeding again and a searing hot pain shot through him. Tumbling to the ground, he rolled into the sand, sending it spraying out in front of him, mixed with the blood now flowing freely from the two wounds gracing his torso. He pulled himself up again and pushed on toward the water only to be stopped by an impossible image.

Standing with her back to him, her pink dress flowing lightly in the wind and her long brown hair reaching down to the center of her back, was Aeris.

"No," Cloud muttered, so riddled with disbelief he was unable to move. She started to turn toward him, slowly, methodically. The red glow of the moon cast odd shadows across her face. "It can't be."

She finally came all the way around and stood with her eyes down, buried in the sand. With a few unsteady steps, Cloud moved up to her, his lips quivering. He reached up and touched her face, letting his fingertips trace the curve of her lips, still unable to believe she was standing there. Before he could say a word, a smile began to stretch across her face and he felt his heart begin to pound.

As her eyes came up though, his wounds began to ache and fear resumed its course through his body, for they were blood red as they opened before him. "You cannot escape!" She slashed out at him with her hand, tearing through his stomach with demon-like claws. Cloud collapsed immediately, his intestines spilling out onto the beach. A moment later, his mouth was full of blood and darkness was creeping in from the corners of his eyes. "You set US free," she spat down at him as the impending wave of darkness finally overtook him.