Chapter Seven

     The sun was setting when a figure wrapped in loose, gray robes
which covered it's body and hid it's face slid onto the back of
it's Chocobo, a sleek yellow animal, one that did not seem at all
out of the ordinary for a lone traveler.  Only the glistening metal
cross strapped to the figure's large backpack suggested that this
traveler was something more than the ordinary.  With a shout and a
snap of it's reins, the figure sent it's mount into motion, and
trotted out from the town of Kalm at an easy pace, not taxing it's
animal in case it's strength was needed later on.

     Yuffie Kisaragi, sweating profusely inside the scratchy,
confining robes that she'd bought to disguise her appearance,
wished that they had found some other way to do this.  Still, it
made no sense for her to attempt to slip past Messiah without
disguising herself in some manner, and on short notice this had
been the only one she could think off.  She wished she'd come up
with something else, but then chided herself for her complaints. 
She wasn't the one who'd gotten swallowed up by this thing last
time, and whatever she had to endure was surely trivial in
comparison to what had happened to Tifa.  And despite what the
others kept insisting, she knew that it was her fault.  This was
her chance to make up for it.

     They'd spent almost half the day in the town of Kalm,
searching around as if looking for traces of Messiah's influence,
not searching too hard, of course.  Yuffie had hit every shop in
Kalm, buying everything that one would need to make the long
journey from Kalm to the area around the Mythril mines, a journey
of nearly two days by Chocobo.  A few of the shopkeepers had
glanced at her curiously, perhaps wondering why she was buying
provisions for a two day journey when they knew all to well that
she had access to the only Airship currently in the skies.  To her
disappointment, no one had asked anything, but that didn't mean
that they weren't spies for Messiah.  Vincent and Barret had acted
out a brilliant little dialogue in the Kalm tavern, Barret almost
knocking Vincent over after having a few drinks too many and
yelling angrily that their plan would work, and that Vincent needed
to shut up about it.  Then he'd stormed out, and Vincent had
apologized for his friend's behavior.  More than one of the bar
patrons had asked him what the big argument had been about, but
Vincent had of course refused to tell them, making them all the
more curious.  They had surely gossiped about whatever the saviors
of the world were up to now for hours after he had left. 
Hopefully, someone had come up with something approaching the story
that they wanted to put out.  And one of Messiah's spies had
overheard it.

     And, of course, it could not have escaped the notice of the
gate guards that five people had come into Kalm from the Airship,
and four had left.  If Messiah's spies were even close to
competent, there was no way they could fail to draw the conclusion
that Red had wanted them to come too.  

     "Messiah better figure this out.", Yuffie thought angrily.
"She has to.  Unless she's just stupid, or somethin'."  She tried
to settle more comfortably into the saddle, and resisted the urge
to throw off the hood around her head that seemed to be suffocating
her further with each mile that went by.

     "No,", she thought, "that would be a bit too obvious.  C'mon,
Messiah!  I don't like to be kept waiting.  I want some action!"

     High above her, flying safely above the thick cloud cover
which was always over the desert this time of the year, as the
clouds built and built before finally pouring down a few days of
unending rain, flew the Highwind, and inside it were Cid, his
command crew, and everyone else.  Tracking her with the Highwind's
scanners, waiting for this thing to attack.  It was comforting to
know she wasn't really alone out here in the rapidly darkening
desert, only a few desert insects and the occasional struggling
plant to keep her company.  Not that it would have bothered her,

     The moon had made it almost halfway across the sky by the time
Yuffie found herself falling asleep in the saddle, and had to
quickly move to a more uncomfortable position to keep herself
awake.  She was tired of waiting.  But still, frustrating her with
it's cowardice, the earth monster refused to appear.  She almost
wanted to step off her Chocobo and shout into the desert night,
challenge it, give it no choice but to attack her, but still she
resisted.  She had to stick to the plan.  She hadn't had much use
for plans and strategies in the past, besides staying alive and
finding materia, of course.  That was why she let people like Red
and Cloud handle all the really devious stuff.  She just hung out
with them and kicked ass whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

     Then her Chocobo stopped, squawking in dismay, and every fiber
in her body was instantly on alert.  At last!  The little bastard
had decided to show itself!  She reached into her cloak, ready to
pull out the PHS and signal the others to attack, when she realized
the cause of her Chocobo's dismay, nothing more than a pack of
desert dogs, who had crept up on them in silence, growling angrily,
their jaws hanging open, hungry and wet.

     "You gotta' be kiddin' me!", Yuffie exclaimed angrily.  They
had ringed her Chocobo, and were closing in from all sides,
snarling, baiting each other, trying to convince one of their
number to make the first move.  Sighing, Yuffie calmly dismounted
and drew out her cross.

     "Alright.", she said, bringing her cross up in between her
eyes, glaring balefully at the desert creatures surrounding her. 
"Which of you wants to be first, huh?  C'mon!"  The animals paused,
their ears perking up, as if they could understand what she was

     "What's the matter?", she taunted, taking a step towards them.
"You scared?"

     Without warning, the entire pack turned, their tails between
their legs, and vanished into the night, as Yuffie blinked, unable
to believe it.

     "Wow.", Yuffie thought with a sudden grin.  "I guess my
reputation proceeds me!"

     Then she heard a desperate squawk from her Chocobo, and a loud
sucking sound as her feet suddenly flew into the mud, her calves
right behind.  She was up to her waist in less than a second, but
that's all the time it took her to cast her spell and bring out the
PHS, clicking the send button on it's side a bit too quickly.

When Tifa awoke, she realized that she couldn't feel any part of her body. She seemed to be floating in limbo, a soul without a vessel to contain it, a mind without a body to move about in. Like she was dead. Like she was a spirit. "Am I dead?", she thought, curiously. She felt no sense of fear, and felt strangely peaceful. The chilling encounter with Messiah in her coliseum seemed so far away, the horrible death of Veric Masters barely more than a distant memory. Cloud's death. Messiah's offer. All of it didn't matter anymore. If she was dead, then she was out of Messiah's reach forever. She contemplated that thought, trying it on for size. No more responsibility. No more lives thrown into her hands. And no chance for revenge. It was then that she decided that she didn't want to die. Responsibility, love, companionship--all of it was nothing compared to the hatred that she felt for Messiah. Finally, she found herself understanding what Cloud had felt for Sephiroth. Although she had known Sephiroth was evil, and despised him as much as everyone else, only Cloud had truly understood him, and Cloud had been the one most hurt by his bloody grab for power. After the evil woman was dead, would she continue to have nightmares of Messiah like Cloud did of Sephiroth, unable to let her go because her hatred for the woman burned so brightly that even death could not put it out? "Or will Messiah have nightmares of me?", she thought, evilly. "Perhaps she will. If I'm dead, than I can think of no one that I'd more prefer to haunt. Wouldn't that be a change." "Tifa.", a calm male voice said, from somewhere out in the limbo that surrounded her. "Tifa, you must wake up." She cast about in the darkness, curious as to who's voice it was. It sounded like Cloud's. Could he be here too? The thought was almost too wonderful to be true. Cloud, waiting for her in the afterlife, safe from Messiah's power. Messiah had his body, but not his soul. She knew that even her evil magic could never fully possess that. No one could. She felt something touching her lips, something metal. A cup. And inside, something which she realized she had a desperate thirst for. Water, pushed to her lips by some unknown force. Numbly, she tried to drink, feeling some of the feeling return to her face, even though everything was still dark, and the rest of her body was still missing. Slowly, at first, then quicker, she drank the wonderful liquid, the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. How long had it been since she had had anything to drink, she thought? Before Messiah had thrown her into her cell. As some of the feeling began to return to her legs and back, she began to feel hard rock pressing against them, and then she realized with grim certainty that she certainly wasn't dead. She almost spit out the water then, the dread liquid that was bringing her back to consciousness, but found that she couldn't, too thirsty to resist. Then the water was gone and another cup was pressed to her lips, and she drank that as well, giving in to temptation. But why couldn't she see? A horrible thought suddenly reached from the darkest corner of her mind and took hold of her without warning. Messiah's eyes. Twisted scars, so noticeable a wreckage when framed by her beautiful face. No! Messiah could not... could not have taken that from her... She screamed at the thought, angry and betrayed, and felt her desperation somehow open her eyelids, as she stared out into the darkness desperately, searching for anything that would tell her that she still had her sight. Then she saw his face. And lashed out in horror, as he easily caught her weak strike and pushed it aside. "Tifa!", he exclaimed, his eyes flashing with blue energy. "Calm down! It's me, Frieze!" She collapsed back against the wall, not trying to strike him again. Frieze, the only person with any shred of morality in Messiah's twisted army. And even he was not to be trusted. He was on the edge of light and dark, too scared and in love with his mother to follow his heart and do what, deep down, he must know was necessary. She had seen it in his eyes, as they had shared that moment just after Veric Masters' death. "This is wrong." He must know that. She knew for sure that he felt as she did. Then why didn't he fight? Why wouldn't he help her? Because of her, she thought in anger. Because he is helpless to resist her will. Because he is her son. "You should not have done what you did.", he said, his eyes cold, but his voice sounded unsure. "Didn't you know that you were going to fail?" "I had to try.", she coughed, realizing that she could speak. "She is evil, Frieze! She had that man tortured and killed! Why, Frieze? Why did he have to die?" He didn't answer, and didn't contradict her. She could see the war going on in his head, and clung to his conflict, now her only chance to escape. If she could only convince him to help her. If she could only force him to shrug off eighteen years of his mother's horrible influence and join the side of light. "Right.", she thought, realizing how impossible that sounded. She was no magician, not in this sense. Not in the magic of changing people's souls. And she knew that people couldn't change that quickly, not like that, not with so little to go on. Frieze wouldn't help her. He would grieve for Messiah's victims, do what he could to ease their suffering, but he wouldn't stop her. He would suffer in silence and throw his life away in a second to protect one whose philosophy differed so much from his own that blood was the only thing that could tie them together. It was so tragic it made her want to cry. But she couldn't. She had shed her tears for Cloud, and that was all that she was willing to give up to the evil force that had imprisoned her. No, it was their turn to cry now. It was their turn to feel pain. "Mother knows...", he began hesitatingly, but Tifa cut him off, shaking her head wearily. "She knows nothing, Frieze.", she whispered. "Only how to cause pain, how to kill, how to destroy. How to manipulate others. She acts like she is a god, and treats you like her lowest subjects. You, her son! She treats you like you are nothing!" "She respects me.", Frieze protested half-heartedly. "If she respected you would she order you to do what she does?", Tifa asked, again putting a lie to his words. "Would she force you to imprison helpless people against their will, force you to watch gruesome acts of torture like the one that she inflicted on Masters yesterday night? Has she done that before, Frieze? Does she know how much it hurts you?" "She... knows.", Frieze admitted, turning away, unable to look at her. "And she is ashamed of me." "That is nothing to be ashamed of, Frieze!", Tifa exclaimed, taking his hand earnestly, seeing suddenly that she was getting through. "You know what she is doing is wrong! You know that she has to be stopped!" He closed his eyes, sighing deeply. "I cannot stop her, Tifa. What would you have me do?" His eyes opened, his face tortured. "Would you have me slay my own mother?" She couldn't answer that. Instead, she merely dropped his hand, and settled back against the wall, turning away. "I can't tell you what to do.", she said softly. "I can only tell you to follow the calling of your heart." "I cannot, Tifa.", he said, rising to his feet. "I am sorry that she hurt you. But you shouldn't have attacked her!" "I had no choice, Frieze.", Tifa said, refusing to let him off the hook. "She did something horrible. She took that man's life. And the other. Cloud. Do you know him?" "I do not.", Frieze said. "He is new, and already he is Mother's favorite. Where did he come from?" "He was my friend, Frieze.", Tifa said, sadly. "He was a great warrior. He knew what was right, like you! You wear his weapon at your side! He would never have let someone like Messiah torture anyone the way that she does! But she took him, Frieze! She took his soul, and replaced it... replaced it with this monster. A puppet. That was why I had to try, Frieze. I loved him. And she destroyed him." She closed her eyes, letting her head fall to her side, refusing to look at him. "I am sorry, Tifa.", Frieze said. "Truly sorry. I want to help! I do! But I can't! I can't go against..." "Frieze!", someone yelled suddenly, as the door swung open. Flaym stood there, his eyes flashing with fire. "What are you doing?" Frieze reverted to his cold, emotionless mask immediately, all trace of his vulnerability, his humanity, disappearing under his brother's gaze. "The prisoner is awake.", he said, simply. "She required water. Messiah does not want her to die." "She should die.", Flaym said eagerly, stepping into the cell and glaring at Tifa. "Can't you see that, Frieze? She tried to kill Mother!" "I know.", Frieze nodded. "But you stopped her. What does Mother have to fear, with the four of us at her side? You, me, Azure and Trymor. Nothing can stop the four of us. And no one can touch our Mother when we are united against them." "It doesn't matter.", Flaym said angrily, walking towards Tifa and bringing his hand back to strike her. "She deserves to suffer for eternity! No one strikes at Mother and lives! No one!" "Flaym!", Frieze yelled angrily, grabbing his brother's arm just in time to stop him. "Are you out of your mind? Do you want to anger Mother?" "She won't care!", Flaym protested. "Let me go, Frieze! She must suffer!" "Oh, she will.", Frieze said, his face as cold as a glacier. "But not now, Flaym. When Messiah tells us the time is right, we will make her pay. And I desire that as much as you do, brother! But we must be patient. We must wait! And that will make her death so much more, when Messiah finally wills it. It is a gift worth waiting for." "He sounds so much like her.", Tifa thought in horror. "He falls so easily into the same patterns that have made his mother insane. Insanely evil." "You are right, Frieze.", Flaym said, calming, taking a step away from her. "I wasn't thinking." "It's alright, Brother!", Frieze said immediately, grasping his brother's shoulder in a gesture of comradeship. "Just wait for tonight! Remember what Messiah said would happen tonight?" "I do.", Flaym nodded, suddenly grinning. He took one last look at Tifa, his eyes flashing with their horrible power. And then he turned and headed for the door. "Thank you for stopping me, Frieze. The last thing I would want to do is anger Mother. You know how she can get." Frieze nodded and followed him out. He closed the door without another word, leaving Tifa alone once more. The water that Frieze had given her had done hardly anything but make her aware of how thirsty and hungry she still was. Oh, what she would give for some food! They came for her not long after, barely an hour later, by her considerably disoriented internal clock. It was not even Frieze who they sent for her. The woman in white came instead, her eyes blank and pulsing with energy. Tifa could feel the electrical field that surrounded Azure, so powerful. Without speaking, the woman motioned for her to exit the cell. Tifa did so. And then Azure pointed towards the exit to the cave, and Tifa knew where they were going. The trip to the coliseum seemed to take barely a second, perhaps because Tifa wished it to take so much longer. She marched up the steps again, Azure close behind her, crackling with energy. Her lightning could paralyze as well as kill, as she had found out yesterday night. One strike had dropped her. That was power. But Azure didn't scare her. None of them did. Everyone had a weakness, and Tifa merely had to find it. But tonight was not the night to do it. Tonight she had to save the lives of whatever poor souls Messiah planned to destroy if she did not obey. She did not care that she would have to bow to that evil woman, praise her name and speak loudly of her reverence for the Messiah. The words were nothing, and she could fake them without a thought. She would do anything to prevent more people from dying. And then, just when Messiah thought she had broken her completely, she would strike, and kill her. And die at the hands of Messiah's enraged minions. "It's worth it.", she thought vehemently. "If I have to die to take that bitch down, I'll do it in a heartbeat. She is too evil to continue to exist. She should have been dealt with long ago." Azure marched her to the dais, and then ordered her to stand in the middle of the same row she had the night before. Tifa stood, calmly, as Azure and the rest went through the motions of the sick, pointless ritual that Messiah insisted on having before she would appear. Hail to Messiah! Long live the Messiah! All to placate the woman's enormous ego. It made Tifa sick. She glanced at Frieze, but he stood looking reverently towards his mother, as she descended to the dais, floating down like an angel to settle gently into her throne. Where she had come from Tifa did not know. She had just seemed to emerge from the air, and then swoop gracefully down onto her throne, a beautiful figure in white. Tifa turned to face her, keeping her hatred from her face. "Tifa Lockhart.", Messiah whispered, smiling radiantly, the scarred mess that had once been her eyes terrible in it's greatness. "Once again you have come before us. I hope that you will be better behaved tonight, my little puppet. Last night was not what I would have hoped for." "You are nothing.", Tifa thought, but aloud, she was silent. "And what do you have to say tonight, Tifa?", Messiah asked, making a grand gesture with her hand to encompass the entire coliseum. "More anger, more spite?" Tifa shook her head slowly, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. Still she remained silent. "She seems calmer today.", Messiah remarked conversationally to Flaym. "Do you think her spirit has been broken already?" "I think it needs to be broken further.", Flaym said, his eyes glinted with fire. "We shall see.", Messiah said simply. "What of it, Tifa Lockhart? What do you think of me today?" Tifa closed her eyes, struggling with her words. "You are the Messiah.", she said softly. "If I needed you to tell me that, I would not be who I am today.", Messiah answered with a gentle laugh. "What of your heart? Does it serve me as well?" "I live only to serve you, Messiah.", Tifa said, remembering Cloud's words the previous night. Words that had torn her soul apart. She fell to one knee as Frieze had done, bowing her head. "She doesn't mean that!", Flaym exclaimed, taking a step forward. Messiah turned to him, a curious glint in her eyes. "Why not, Flaym?", she asked, her voice neutral. "Do you doubt my power?" "Of course not!", he exclaimed quickly. "You know I would give my life for you, Mother. But this woman, this blasphemer..." He paused, addressing his words to the soldiers gathered around them. "She is unworthy to worship you! She is worthy only to die!" "Do not be so sure, Flaym.", Messiah said, turning away. His hand fell, his face a mask of shock. Then he fell to one knee like Tifa, bowing his head in supplication. He said nothing more. "Even the unworthy can be made to see the way. Is that not right, Tifa Lockhart?" "I live only to serve you.", Tifa repeated. "Messiah." "Well, she has said it twice.", Messiah said dismissively, gesturing grandly and turning away. "What more do you want?" "Mother...", Flaym gently protested, but fell silent at a simple glance. "Of course you are right.", he admitted. "Forgive me." "Forgiven.", Messiah said simply. "And so, Tifa Lockhart. You give yourself to me, heart and soul, of your own free will? Rise, and give your answer." Tifa rose, forcing herself to meet Messiah's eyes, praying that her words would not be so transparent that Messiah would see the lies coming from her lips. "I do.", she said. "Say it, then.", Messiah said with a smile. "Say it so that all assembled can hear. Turn to them, and sing my praise." Tifa closed her eyes, fighting back her anger and the urge to vomit. She must do this. Lives were at stake. She turned, to face the assembled soldiers. "My heart and soul, I give to Messiah!", she shouted at the top of her lungs. "I pledge myself to her! Hail to the Messiah!" "Hail to the Messiah!", the crowd roared back. "Poor fools.", Tifa thought sadly. "Well, I think there can be no more doubt.", Messiah said, triumph in her voice. "Turn and bow, Tifa Lockhart." Tifa did as instructed, grateful for Messiah's command. Had their eyes met again, she was sure that her hatred would have shown through. "You have given your heart and soul to me.", Messiah said. "All here assembled have witnessed this. So, now I ask for a gift from you to prove your worth. I ask for your life. Will you give it, Tifa Lockhart?" So this was it. Messiah was going to have her killed. She almost rose then, almost leapt for the dais as she had the previous night, even though she knew she was doomed to fail. But she did not. The lives of two children depended on her. Cloud was already dead. This was her chance to join him. "I live only to serve you.", Tifa replied without hesitation. "My life is yours, Messiah." "Rise.", Messiah intoned solemnly. Tifa did, and nearly leapt for her throat. Because Messiah was no longer alone. Cloud stood at her side, regarding her with blank eyes. "My Champion.", Messiah whispered into his ear, even though her voice was still somehow loud enough for everyone to hear. "Tifa Lockhart has offered me a gift to prove her worship of me. She has offered me her life. You will take it." "I live only to serve you, Messiah.", Cloud replied, his face blank and expressionless. "Oh Cloud.", Tifa thought sadly. "It would be you whom she forced to do this. It falls so easily into her twisted view of drama, of irony. But it will not be you that takes my life. I know that. And I forgive you, Cloud." She stared at him, her anger gone. "I love you. I will always love you." Cloud stepped toward her, reaching the edge of the dais, and then leapt down to land next to her, his legs flexing with the drop. Slowly, his blank eyes staring at her, he unsheathed his massive sword. Tifa saw Frieze turn away, unable to look. This was his last chance to do what he knew was right. And he had refused, choosing instead to turn away. "On your knees!", Messiah ordered, her voice filled with lust at the thought of an execution. Tifa slowly dropped down, her neck now the same height as Cloud's hands. He raised Ragnarok skyward, twisting it slowly in the air, his blank eyes staring into hers. She searched desperately for any trace that the old Cloud Strife remained, anything to tell her that he was still in there, somewhere. She found nothing but a shell. And she was grateful. Death was far preferable to being a puppet of Messiah. "Strike!", Messiah cried, and then Cloud let his sword fall, and Tifa closed her eyes.

"This is it!", Cid roared. "Mitch, we're goin' in!" "Yes sir!", his pilot responded heartily, throwing the Highwind into a steep dive. They fell, blasting apart the clouds with the fury of their passage, screaming towards the desert below. "We've got a reading, Cap'n!", Jerry called triumphantly from his station. "Three meters under! And it's big!" "We've got the bastard.", Cid said with a grin. "Ben, get ready to deploy the needle!" "Prepped and ready, sir.", Ben said from his station. "Waiting on your command." "Yuffie's floating, sir.", Jerry said. "As is her Chocobo. Looks like the earth monster didn't get either of them." "Poor bastard.", Cid said with a chuckle. "We in range yet?" The ground was rushing towards them, growing steadily closer with each second. "Has it noticed us?" "It's moving.", Jerry acknowledged. "Descending. But slowly. It won't be more than ten meters under when we're close enough to deploy." "Then open it up!", Cid yelled. "Ben, drop the needle into place!" There was a sound of hissing pneumatics as Ben replied, and a tremendously long, hollow pole, pointed at the end, it's interior filled with explosive, tore from the paint that had concealed it on the underside of the Airship and locked into place. "Needle locked and ready to rock!", Ben said with a salute. "We're almost in position!", Mitch yelled. "Bringin' us down!" "I'll do the honors.", Cid said with a grin. "Yes sir!", Mitch acknowledge with a salute. "Give it hell, sir." Then he transferred control of the Highwind to Cid's station, as the air roared past them. "You better do this right, Cid!", Barret yelled from his chair, where he sat, his hands desperately grasping the armrests. Vincent, by comparison, sat calmly with his arms crossed around his chest. "We're only gonna' get one shot at this!" "One shot is all I need.", Cid said, grinning like a madman. "Let's do it!" "Monster's moving!", Jerry yelled. "Yuffie's clear!" "Alright, you bastard.", Cid growled, staring at his station as the Highwind streaked down over the desert with a terrifying roar of jet engines, the long needle hanging from it's rear like the extending stinger of some massive wasp. "Let's see you swallow this shit!" And then they were in position, and Cid let out a loud whoop, dropping the Highwind straight down onto his target. The needle plunged through the earth, and then Cid's station flashed red, telling him that he had speared his target neatly through it's midsection. An incredibly loud, animalistic cry of pain tore from the ground and echoed through the air up towards the Airship. "Bye bye.", Cid commented, as he brought the Highwind soaring back up into the sky, neatly breaking the needle off at it's tip, and hit the ignition switch.

A wave of wind hit Tifa's neck, and she felt metal there, resting against her neck, it's sharpened edge cool and hard. Tifa's eyes opened again. A scream tore outward from the dais, the tortured scream of a voice too beautiful to belong to it's owner. Cloud shuddered violently, taking a step backwards, his sword sliding away from her neck, his head shaking, his eyes burning with red. Ragnarok dropped from his hands, clattering to the ground. "Tifa...", he whispered, a tear falling from his eye as the red faded, followed quickly by another, and another. "Tifa!" She rushed to him then, not knowing what else to do, throwing her arms around him and knocking them both to the ground. Messiah continued to scream shrilly, on her knees on the dais, having fallen from her throne, holding her head in agony, her face contorted with pain. "Cloud!", Tifa cried. "Cloud, you can hear me?" "She... had my mind...", Cloud said, his voice weak, filled with grief, tears flowing freely. "She had my mind..." "Mother!", Flaym cried, falling to Messiah's side, as Azure stood in shock, unmoving. Frieze dashed up the steps away from him, towards the dais. "Mother!", Frieze cried. "What is wrong?" "No... Tifa.", Cloud managed, hugging her close. "I can't... I can't stay. Her power is weakened... momentarily. But not destroyed. Not ended. She will take me again, Tifa." He closed his eyes against his tears. "I can't stop her! You have to run!" "There's no where to run to, farm boy.", Tifa whispered, kissing his ear, holding him against her like he would fall apart if she let go. "I won't leave you. Not ever. I love you, Cloud Strife." "Tifa...", he cried back. "Tifa... I..." His words disappeared into a whisper, and his head fell back against the coliseum floor. He seemed to have stopped breathing. "Cloud?", Tifa called desperately. "Cloud, speak to me!" "You!", Messiah cried angrily, striding towards her, having descended from her dais to confront Tifa directly. "Get off him!" Tifa rose, her face a mask of hate. Now was her chance. Now Messiah would die. Then Azure tore into her from behind, her body going rigid with electric shock, twitching in agony. She fell back to the ground, away from Cloud, completely paralyzed. "Trymor is dead.", Messiah cried angrily, grabbing Tifa's collar and pulling her to her feet, holding her limp body up with little effort. "Your... monsters! Killed him! Killed my child!" "I live only to serve you.", Tifa hissed, her voice filled with hate. "Messiah!" The woman screamed and threw her to the ground. She landed, cracking her head painfully on the hard cement floor, and blackness began to overtake her vision. "She will die!", Flaym cried, striding toward her, the last thing she saw before her vision disappeared. "No.", a voice countered. Was it Cloud? Was he awake again? Was he going to save her? "No, brother.", Frieze said, as she blacked out.

Copyright November 1997

by Eric 'StarFury' Bakutis

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