THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

Lazarus

by Brian Ehlers
LordSeto@aol.com

Authorās note: This story will make more sense if you read the fanfic "Redemption" at www.fortunecity.com/victorian/barchester/70/redemptn.txt I regret its graphic nature, but I thought the concept was interesting. Enjoy!


Chapter 1

So dark·

Why was it so dark?

Cloudās dreams had never been like this before·what was happening?

As he wondered, a figure with glowing blue eyes and a black cape approached him. He carried an eight-foot long sword and wore leather straps across his chest. The man slowly advanced in his direction.

"Go away!" Cloud screamed. "Leave me alone, I killed you long ago!"

"Really?" The figure mused. "You think in such three-dimensional terms. You cannot kill me anymore than you could kill yourself. I will live no matter what you do. Escaping the truth is impossible·"

"Shut up Sephiroth!" Cloud yelled at the figure. "You canāt effect me. Get out of my head! I wonāt dwell on something thatās not worth my time!"

"Always the optimist. You make me sick. Do you think you could have done differently in the same situation? Do you really think that you could have saved Aeris? The real you knows that you belong with me. It is your destiny and your inevitable path."

"You would say that! I defeated you once, and Iāll do it again! Aeris doesnāt blame me for her death! Love cannot be broken, even by you!" Cloud retorted in anger.

Sephiroth just looked at him and laughed, a laugh that penetrated every cell of his body. It made him shudder just listening to the sound.

"You have no heart, and cannot feel any pain. To think that you still think that I am dead shows something about you. You cannot live without your hate. You are just one big shell, filled with anger and despair. There is no room left for anything else! You are nothing but a puppet, caught in a game of chance. There is nothing you can do·"

"Youāre a sad impression of a man, Sephiroth! Get out of my head once and for all!" Cloud shouted in conclusion.

The figure cracked a small smile as it spoke once again. "Have it your way. I just wanted to warn you that Iām closer than you think·"

Sephiroth jumped up into the air and slashed at Cloud. The blade cleaved his head neatly from his body just as he woke up, sweating and gasping for air. Was it real? No, dead people stay dead. Or do they?

Cloud pulled on his clothes and got up. Barrett was sitting in the living room of their house in Kalm.

"Wuzā your problem, slick? You were moaninā in your sleep. Did you have a nightmare? Itās okay Cloudie, come here and gimme a hug!"

"Shut up Barrett·" Cloud mumbled to himself. "Itās bad enough that I have to live with you. Until Nibelheim is rebuilt for real, you had better shape up."

"Okay, just donāt wet your bed!" Barrett poked at Cloud.

He almost couldnāt stand it anymore when Barrett piped up again. "By the way," He said. "Red XIII called. He said he found something about keeping our departed friends closer than you think. It had somethinā to do with the ĪLazarusā or somethinā. Whazā that mean anyway?"

Cloud visibly gasped in memory of his dream. It did mean something! But what?

Cloud spent the next two hours trying to think. He went out to the special training range he had in the back, and used it to relax. To Cloud, that meant chopping things to pieces.

What was going on here? Was Sephiroth really alive? No, he had seen him die right before his eyes. It was real, real enough to believe. He had to be dead, otherwise Holy would not have stopped Meteor. Then why was he having these dreams?

He took his thoughts off of the present topic just long enough to neatly slice one of the several steel columns in half. It took almost no effort on his part. He was born to fight, and it didnāt matter what against. Maybe Sephiroth was right. Was he just a shell of anger? He chopped another pillar into three pieces as he continued to think. What was this coming to? Where was the answer? He would have to go to Cosmo Canyon and find out, even if there was nothing of importance to him. He still had his hopes. After all, the word Lazarus meant "Infinite Time." Maybe, just maybe, he could do the impossible. Maybe, he thought, he could bring her back·

Barrett interrupted his thoughts as Cloud sliced another pillar in half.

"Hey!" He yelled. "You made up your mind yet?"

"Lets take a visit to Cosmo Canyon, Barrett. Maybe youāll be less hyper when youāre on the trail again." Cloud said, with a renewed sense of purpose.

Without the Highwind, they had to take the ferry across the ocean. Barrett had "Negotiated" a free fare for the two of them. During the trip, Cloud decided to have a little chat with Barrett. They hung over the rail of the ship as they conversed.

"Barrett, do you think I could have stopped Sephiroth? Could I have saved her?" He said with a longing voice.

"Dunno. You never tell us straight out what youāre thinkinā. You jest keep it to yourself all the time. I jest canāt figure out who you are anymore." Barrett replied as he looked over the horizon.

"Did I let it consume me? Am I just an empty shell of anger?" Cloud questioned.

"Relax and enjoy the view." Barrett replied as he left the observation level.

Cloud just paced the deck for the rest of the trip, trying to sort things out. Barrett just watched him until they docked in Costa Del Sol. The walk to Cosmo Canyon was short, but it was sunset by the time they got there.

Red XIII exited the observatory and came to meet his former companions when he saw that they were in town.

"It is good to see you well." He said without emotion. "Come, I have found something interesting."

They walked up the stairs to the observatory and entered the telescope room. Red XIII turned to face the others and spoke. "In my grandfatherās journal, I have found a mention to something known as the Lazarus. The tale is pretty vague, but I do know where the story was taken from."

"What is this ĪLazarusā anyway?" Cloud asked.

"I think it alters time in some way, but Iām not sure. The term ĪLazarusā refers to infinite time, as in a way to make time last forever. Perhaps it is a time portal?"

"Maybe." Barrett said. "Whereās the complete story?"

"From an ancient oriental script, kept by the sons of the water god for generations upon generations."

"Well what in the hell is that supposed to mean?" Barrett piped up.

Cloud immediately turned to Barrett and spoke. "Got any materia on you?" He said.

"Yeah, why?"

"Hide it. Weāre taking a trip to Wutai!" He announced.

Barrett slapped his head in disgust and hid his materia in a small belt pouch. With any luck, he hoped to still be able to cast magic by the time he left Yuffieās home city·

Chapter 2

Tifa Lockheart sat down next to the fire of her cabin on Gaeaās Cliff. It was colder than usual this morning. She was glad that the fire was already burning.

Sephiroth walked in the door and shut it quickly. "It would be wise not to go outside." He said. "The temperatures are too extreme for a human."

Tifa smiled at her husband, trying to cover her pity for the tortured man. She recalled the day she had found Sephiroth inside the crater, four years after his death at the hands of Cloud and frozen in a cocoon without any of his memories. Tifa had showed him how to fight and taught him about his past. He had to live in total isolation, lest he be discovered and killed for crimes he didnāt commit.

"Why were you out there in the first place?" Tifa asked.

"Firewood. Our supply is dangerously low." He replied.

Tifa snuggled up beside him. "I think itās very brave the way you do that every day. You must be deathly cold. Let me get you a cup of tea."

"Iām fine, thank you." Sephiroth said quietly.

Tifa gave him a playful kiss on the cheek. "Cāmon, whatās bugginā ya? Youāve been like this for three days now. You can tell me."

Sephiroth stared at her and smiled. "I guess itās nothing. I just get this feeling that something is different in the world, like things are shifting."

He was sort of surprised as Tifa gave him a hug and said, "Itās okay, Iāll protect you from whatever bad things come to get you!" They both laughed at her remark, but the sharp ringing of the phone interrupted them. Sephiroth answered it without a word to Tifa.

"Hello?" He said, masking his voice like he always did.

"Who is this? Whereās Tifa?" An angry voice said over the receiver.

Sephiroth quietly handed the receiver to Tifa, who accepted it with a warm smile. Sephiroth crossed the room and sat down, quietly listening.

"Hello?" Tifa asked, not quite sure what to expect.

"Tifa?" Cloudās voice came over the phone. "Who was that on the phone?"

"Umm, hi Cloud!" Tifa tried to conceal her fear. "How are you?"

"Tifa, who was that on the phone?" Cloud said.

"How ya been? You know, I was just thinking about you! Howās Barrett?" Tifa said. She didnāt know how she could conceal the fact that her husbandās double was the man who killed Cloudās fiancée.

"What are you hiding, Tifa?" Cloud said, obviously suspicious. "Who was on the phone?" He asked, this time with more force.

"Well Cloud," Tifa began. "Iām not sure how to say this, but·that was my husband." Tifa worried as she said the words.

"You got married?" Cloud said. "Thatās great! Whoās the lucky man? Do I know him?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes·" Tifa trailed off.

"Well, who is he?" Cloud pressed.

"Umm·heās an old friend from Midgar! He knew Hojo real well." Tifa said, almost ready to scream in fear.

"Well, I guess Iāll meet him soon enough. When we finish our business in Wutai, Iāll try to make it. Tell your husband I said hello!" With that, Cloud hung up.

Sephiroth said nothing, just stared at the floor, obviously thinking about the consequences of a meeting with Tifaās best friend. They both knew that Cloud would not stop until he was dead.

"That was Cloud, wasnāt it." Sephiroth said with his face to the floor.

"Yes." Tifa said, obviously tired.

Sephiroth sat back and put a comforting hand on his wifeās shoulder. This was unavoidable. Eventually, he and Cloud would meet. Tifa had warned him that Cloud would stop at nothing to kill him if he found out he was alive. He decided that none of it mattered as much as a conversation with his wife on a cold winter morning.

"Tifa, when did you meet Cloud?" Sephiroth sighed as he slouched farther into the small couch.

There was no answer from her, and he turned to find her fast asleep against his hip. Feeling tired himself, Sephiroth closed his eyes and let sleep overtake him.

Chapter 3

Cloud slowly closed his cellular phone. "Sheās hiding something·" Cloud announced.

"Like what?" Barrett said. "We got no reason to think that Tifa is hiding anythinā from us!"

"Say what you like Barrett, but Iām sure of it. Somethingās just not right. Why didnāt Tifa tell me about the wedding? Who else would she invite that would be more important than you and me?" Cloud puzzled.

"I dunno," Barrett said. "But weāre not gonna get to Wutai on time if you donāt start paddling again! Get your lazy ^&$ in gear!"

Cloud pondered the questions for a minute, and then started paddling their canoe toward the small, forested island that housed the oriental civilization of Wutai.

They reached the sprawling mass of pagodas at about 6 oāclock. The town had changed little, except for the fact that Shake was running through the streets screaming. The two travelers slowly approached the screaming child.

"Whatās the matter, Shake?" Cloud inquired.

"Yuffie stole my pagoda!" Shake cried. "Sheās using it as a chocobo stable!"

Cloud and Barrett both looked at each other. Barrett spoke for the two of them.

"Now you just tag along and weāll talk some sense into your little friend. Iām sure sheāll give it back if we ask politely."

"GROSSNESS!" Shake shouted. "Iām not her friend! She is so un-kewl!"

Cloud laughed at Barrettās situation and they both went to have a talk with their little friend of a thief·

They found the 20 year-old ninja inside Shakeās Pagoda, auctioning off Shakeās possessions. A large crowd had formed around the back of the place. Several chocobo pens had been built toward the front. Above the crowdās voices, Yuffie spoke.

"Get yer antiques here! Antiques for sale, at rock-bottom prices! You wonāt find a kewler deal this side of the map!" She screamed above the ruckus.

Cloud shouted to Yuffie. "Do you have to sell off Shakeās stuff just to get a buck?"

Yuffie turned her head and saw the two companions. "Youāre no fun! Okay people, partyās over! Everybody leave!"

The crowd disappeared out the front door, leaving Yuffie, Barrett, and Cloud. Yuffie immediately started sniffing the air.

"What the #^$# are you doing?" Barrett asked.

"Where is it?" Yuffie asked looking at Barrettās gun-arm. "You hid it, didnāt you! Oh, itās in that pouch!" She said as she snatched a pouch from Barrettās belt and started weighing it with her hand.

"There must be seven·no, eight pieces of Materia in here! Thank you so much for the gift, Barrett!" Yuffie said, in complete delight.

Barrett was just about ready to pound Yuffie when Cloud piped in. "Yuffie, is there a book in the Wutai that details something called the Lazarus?"

Yuffie scratched her head. "Yeah, I think so, but if it is, itās in the Temple of the 5 guardians. Gorkii wouldnāt let you see it anyway."

Cloud smiled and rested his hand on his sword. "I guess Iāll have to ask nicely, then!"

"I canāt let you go into the sacred library, Cloud! Itās a holy place!" Gorkii said, worried at the sight of Cloudās drawn sword.

"I can make it a cemetery too if you donāt let me pass!" Cloud asserted.

"Defense Change!" Gorkii screamed as she turned into a monster. Cloud brought his Ultimate Weapon up to a ready position and cast a Big guard spell. Gorkii lunged and Cloud parried with his blade. The guardian pulled herself to her feet and cast a gravity spell, which Cloud healed quickly. Barrett shot off a few rounds at the guardian then took cover from Gorkiiās attacks. Yuffie threw her huge shuriken, Conformer while simultaneously casting a haste spell on all three party members. Gorkii howled in pain from the large wound left by the huge flying disc and lashed out at Cloud, knocking him into the wall. He got up and pulled out the Bahamut ZERO materia orb. Yuffie stared at it dreamily and was subsequently knocked to the floor. Cloud issued an ultimatum.

"Donāt make me use this, Gorkii! Let me pass!" He yelled. Gorkii hesitated, then reverted to her normal self.

"Go before I change my mind and Godo finds out!" She said and opened a secret panel. The three adventurers stepped into a closet with shelves of old books.

"There must be thousands of books in here!" Cloud said. "How are we supposed to find just one?"

"With finesse!" Yuffie called and threw a book to Barrett.

"Here it is!" Barrett said, looking at the book Yuffie had tossed to him. It was covered in gold leaf and it was studded with several precious gems. The binding was old, but the pages did not fall out. A thick layer of dust covered the whole thing. Cloud opened it and started reading.

"To activate the Lazarus, one must use the Dust of the Cosmos combined with the bones of a Sylpylid. Go to the crater of Kefkaās destruction and send your spirits through the gate." Cloud read. "What does that mean?"

"Dust of the Cosmos·" Yuffie pondered. "Space Dust?"

Barrett frowned. "Mebbe, but where in the #&%@ are we going to find some space dust?"

Cloud smiled. "I think weād better call Shera. Sheās gonna need to set three extra places in Rocket Town. With any luck, Cid will have kept some souvenirs from our little trip into outer space·"

Chapter 4

On the way to Rocket Town, Cloud wondered more about Tifa and her husband. He could have sworn he recognized the person on the other end. Who was it? He decided to share his thoughts.

"Hey Barrett!" He called. "Do you remember having as a friend anyone who knew Professor Hojo pretty well?"

"Not really, but it mightaā slipped my mind." He replied.

"Iām just bothered by that phone call. It gets stranger and stranger by the minute!" Cloud remarked.

"Givā it a rest, foo! You been thinkinā about it too much!" Barrett replied.

Cloud said nothing as they continued to walk back to their boat. On the way, they passed a small building. It appeared to be a stable for chocobos, but something told Cloud differently.

"Say guys!" Yuffie said. "Why donāt we drop in on that chocobo stable over there? Iām beat."

Cloud had to agree with her, despite his feelings. "It has been a long day. Letās ask the owner for some accommodations. Iām sure he wonāt mind."

The three companions entered the small house, only to frown at the sight before them.

"Turks·" Cloud muttered under his breath.

Reno, Rude, and Elena slowly turned away from the stable owner, whom they had obviously been questioning. All three of Shinraās finest wore dark blue suits with matching ties. Reno sported a pair of sunglasses, which he always wore on top of his head. Rude said nothing, just stood still while staring at his competition. Elena came forward in front of the other two and spoke quickly.

"Humph!" Elena cried. "Why did you have to ruin things! We were just getting started! You interrupted a perfectly good interrogation!"

"Donāt act so weak, Elena." Reno cut in as he drew his electroshock prod. "Weāve been ordered to bring you in. Come quietly or face defeat."

Cloud wasnāt about to surrender to Shinraās most elite corps of soldiers. "Shut up Reno! Leave this man alone, and you can try to take us out, if you can!" He said as he drew his Ultimate Weapon. Barrett and Yuffie followed suit. Reno, Rude, and Elena stepped outside as Cloud and his friends followed. They all proceeded to line up across from each other, Cloud with Reno, Barrett with Rude, and Yuffie facing Elena. The Turks stood ready and waiting.

"Letās end this·" Rude muttered.

Cloud immediately lunged at Reno with his sword, but missed as the Turk evaded the slice. Rude launched a flurry of punches at Barrett, while Yuffie was dodging Elenaās fire grenades. Cloud lunged again, but Reno parried with his nightstick. A powerful electric charge surged through Cloudās body, but he managed to break free and connect with a Lightning spell. Barrett was locked in an intense dogfight with Rude, both landing furious blows and crippling each other. Yuffie managed to knock Elena to her knees, but the victory was momentary as she threw another round of ammunition. Cloud swung another time, only to be fiercely electrocuted once again. Cloud counterattacked with a shadow flare and a cure spell. Reno glared at him and launched several fireballs from his electroshock prod. They all connected, and Cloud was thrown to the ground. He got up, anger burning in his eyes. Magical fire surrounded Cloud, and he leaped into the air, launching several meteors at Reno. Stunned by the blast, the lead Turk didnāt even see the knockout blow from Cloudās fist.

Barrett had problems of his own. Rude had jammed his gun-arm, and he was losing the fistfight. When Rude pulled a handgun, Barrett barely had time to take cover as the Turk shot several rounds into the space he had occupied just moments before. Fiddling with his gun-arm, he managed to repair it, and fired off several rounds at his opponent. Rude healed the wounds quickly, but still managed to shoot Barrett in the leg. With one final blow from Barrettās fist, Rude kneeled in pain, and fell unconscious. He tried to stop the blood flowing from his leg, but the world faded to black before he could take action.

Yuffie ducked as a fire grenade flew over her head, and jumped another that was thrown low.

"Gawd!" Yuffie shouted. "Canāt you hit anything, you worthless Turk?!"

Elena was obviously enraged by the comment, as she threw three grenades simultaneously. One caught Yuffie Square in the chest, and she was thrown to the ground, bleeding, by the blast. She cast a cure spell and threw her Conformer while summoning a swarm of meteors to fall on top of the female Turk. Elena was shaken, but she quickly regained her composure. Yuffie swayed back and forth, trying to control the blood that was still spilling out of her chest. Elena seized the moment and lunged at Yuffie, and the two rolled on the ground, vying for control. Elena connected with a right to Yuffieās chin. She acted quickly and held a grenade close to the young ninjaās face.

"Now you see why the Turks are so·" Elena began to look dreamy eyed and wobbled back and forth. "·so·sleepy." She said as she fell to the ground fast asleep. Cloud stood behind her, with a Mystify materia in hand. He rushed up to her and applied some bandages to her chest.

"Youāre bleeding pretty badly. Cure Magic isnāt helping too much. Thisāll hurt, hold still·" Cloud finished.

"What are you going to d·AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!" Yuffie screamed as Cloud reset several of her ribs. He worked quickly and tied the wound in place. "This will take a few weeks to heal, so donāt try anything serious, okay?"

Yuffie grimaced and passed out in his arms. "Great·" He muttered.

Barrett slowly got up, holding his leg. The wound had clotted and stopped bleeding, but it still hurt. "Goddammit! That *&#%inā Turk packs a nasty punch! Iāll kill the bastard!"

"Less words, more action Barrett. Yuffieās hurt. Help me carry her."

As they lifted Yuffie into the air and onto a makeshift stretcher, all three Turks pulled themselves together and stood up. Reno looked at his watch, and glared at Cloud and his companions. "Weāll be back." He said as all three ran off.

Cloud watched them go, then turned to Barrett. "Why did they attack us? We didnāt do anything to provoke them!"

"Those fooā Turks gotta hev a boss, right? How many people do ya think want us killed? Thirty or forty thousand mebbe?" Barrett revealed to Cloud.

"Letās just get to Rocket Town. Yuffie needs help quick." Cloud replied.

The three tired travelers arrived in Rocket town about noon. Yuffie said she felt better, but Cloud knew it was a lie. Barrettās leg had healed, but it clearly still caused him pain. Shera met them just outside Cidās house.

"Cidās been waiting. Something about ĪIām getting too old for this sort of thingā or some similar phrase." She said.

Cloud looked at Barrett and smiled. "I think weād best have some tea."

Cid Highwind sat at the table, sipping his tea and commenting on the threeās findings about the Lazarus. He brushed his dirty blonde hair away from his eyes and spoke. "Lemme get this straight." He said. "You need some space dust and bones, then you go through some crazy door. You donāt know where the door is, and it leads you to something you know next to nothing about? You havenāt changed a bit! Yeah, Iāve got some space dust. I found it on the escape pod we used to get off Shinra #26. What I donāt get, is how youāre going to find ĪSylpylidā bones?"

Cloud thought for a moment, then answered. "Bone Village! I remember them saying that a Sylpylid had settled over an ancient village, and that is the site where all the digs take place. Iāll just bet that the bones that are all over the encampment were from a giant beast known as a Sylpylid!"

"Good thinkinā wise guy," Barrett commented. "But how do you plan to get these bones. We canāt just ring the ^%#&inā doorbell and ask nicely! Those bones must be hundreds of years old! We canāt just take them!"

"Oh yes we can!" Cloud retorted as he pulled out a piece of paper. It had an official-looking seal on it. "I own all the dig rights to Bone Village now. We can take whatever they find!"

"And how did you manage to get that?" Barrett asked.

"What do you think I did with all 6 million gil we had earned over our travels?" Cloud said with a grin.

"Itās settled then!" Cid said. "Bone Village, here we come!"

Chapter 5

Tifa woke up like any other day on Gaeaās Cliff, except she just couldnāt shake the horrible feeling she had. Sooner or later, Cloud would learn of the fact that she had married his greatest enemy. Cloud would try to kill Sephiroth for sure! He did have a reason, though. After all, Sephiroth had killed Aeris, but that was a different time. A different person·

She walked into the living room where Sephiroth was feeding the fire.

"Good morning." he said as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I hope you slept well?"

"I just have to be alone for a while·" Tifa said as she went downstairs to her training gym. It consisted of several training dummies, posts, and many reinforced walls. One in particular was built of metal from the inside of the Cave of the Gi, forged in molten lava, and it was at least seven inches thick. She beat on it whenever she had problems. It was her kind of thing; it didnāt talk back.

Tifa quickly jumped toward the training dummies and shattered one into pieces with an axe kick. Wood chips flew everywhere as she moved to another dummy. She began practicing, when Sephiroth came down the stairs.

"Mind if I join your fight?" He asked without any cheer in his voice.

"Only if you can beat me one-on-one!" Tifa challenged as she got ready for a fight.

Sephiroth smiled and prepared himself as well. When Tifa lunged, he sidestepped out of the way and threw her into a pile of training mats. Tifa got up again and attempted to sweep kick him. He deftly jumped it and returned the kick with one of his own. She fell lightly onto the training gym floor.

"No fair!" Tifa said. "You didnāt even try to hurt me!"

"Do you actually think that I would hurt you, Tifa?" He replied.

Tifa smiled and stood up. "I guess not! Itās one of the things I like about you. Always caring, never unpredictable!"

Sephiroth smiled with her, and the two went upstairs together.

When they had both sat down, Tifa spoke. "Iāve just been thinking," Tifa said. "Sooner or later, Cloud is going to find out about you. What will you do?"

"Simple." Sephiroth said. "I will prove to Cloud that I am not the person he knew. He cannot hate me forever, it is not a part of the nature of life."

Tifa fingered Sephirothās huge weapon, the Masamune, where it hung over the fireplace. "I donāt think itāll be that easy." She said. "You, I mean, the other you did kill Aeris you know. Double or nothing he tries to slice you in two the second he sees you."

Sephiroth stared at the ground blankly. "If I am right, and I can change him, you will collect the firewood for one week. I find the cold·unpleasant at times." He finished with a small smile. "I win if he can tolerate me after one month. I am quite sure that you will lose·" He trailed off.

"And if I win, what then?" Tifa asked smiling.

"I am aware of the fact that the light from my eyes at night disturbs you. I will sleep in another room whenever it bothers you at night." He retorted.

Tifa laughed in recollection of all the sleep she had lost from her husbandās glowing ice-blue eyes and started for the door. "Really?" Tifa asked. "I think of that as a punishment. Iāve grown accustomed to that light late at night. If I win, nobody gets the firewood for one week, and you sleep in. I never catch you in the morning" She said as she went out the door.

"Where are you going?" Sephiroth asked as he took the Masamune off its pegs and followed Tifa out the door.

"Cloud is coming to Bone Village today." Tifa said as she pointed to the small encampment down below. The small village buzzed with activity as diggers looked for priceless treasures. "Iām going to tell him who my wonderful husband is!"

Sephiroth watched as she headed toward the set of hang gliders that Mr. Hozelhoff kept in the cabin when he still owned it. "That was not part of the deal!" he said. "I get to set the terms of the meeting!"

As he spoke, Tifa grabbed one of the huge wing-shaped pieces of fabric and faced the rocky ledge. "Stop! You could die! Those things are at least 50 years old!" He yelled, but it was too late. Tifa went gliding over the edge of the cliff, toward the archaeological dig. Sephiroth grabbed the other hang glider and prepared to run after her. He made a mental note of the fact that he would probably never be able to stop Tifa from rushing into danger, and ran off the cliff clutching the second hang glider.

Chapter 6

Cloud, Cid, Barrett and Yuffie had spent the night in Rocket Town before readying the Highwind for a flight to Bone Village. It took 30 minutes for the airship to reach Bone Village, and it landed just outside the dig. Cid had to jury-rig half of the systems so that the thing would fly in the first place. High above on her hang glider, Tifa watched the jet-powered craft land. She looked back to see that Sephiroth was still about a half-mile behind her. Perfect·

Cloud just got off the ship when his phone rang. He picked it up, only to find Cait Sith answer.

"Hi Cloud!" The robotic cat said. "I Saw the Highwindās contrails and figured youād land near here. Iām in Bone Village with Vincent and Red XIII. The diggers have found something interesting. Might be worth a look·"

Cloud replied quickly. "Weāll be right there. Say hi to Vincent for me. He could use a daily dose of emotion."

As he hung up the phone, he noticed two hang gliders up in the sky, one in front of the other. "Must be some of those crazy daredevils·" He thought.

Cait Sith greeted them at the gates of the small village. "Hi guys and gals! Cloud, we found a shiny object when we were digging, but we arenāt sure what it is. The director of the dig is in the tent now."

Yuffie started to speak, but Cait Sith cut her off. "No Yuffie, thereās no chance of it being materia."

The young Ninja frowned as she followed the small crowd into the directorĪs tent.

"From what we know," The director began. "The object is about 2,500 years old and originated from a man-made source." As he finished, he placed a foot-and-a-half long piece of metal on the table. It looked like the handle of a sword, but no blade was visible. The Īhiltā had a huge gemstone on it, and where the base of the blade should be, there was a piece of polished obsidian. Eight small holes, linked in pairs, ran down the length of the artifact, quite possibly materia slots. It had been dulled from sitting underground for at least 1,500 years. Cloud cocked his head as he studied it.

"Maybe itās a broken sword?" He said as he picked it up. When his hand came in contact with the metal, the gemstone on the end lit up with a brilliant scarlet light.

"Well, maybe itās a flashlight then?" Cid commented.

"I donāt buy it." Cloud said matter-of-factly. "Iām gonna take it with me and watch it. Does this thing have a name?"

"From what I can tell, the ancient script identifies it as an object of unspeakable power. They called it the ĪAtma Weaponā and honored it as one of the villageās prize possessions." He finished. "By the way," The director added. "Your young female friend here says that you need to know about the bones around the village." He said as he gestured toward Yuffie.

"Yeah," Barrett said. "Are they from a Sylpylid?"

"From the best of my knowledge," The Director began again. "This area was a town 1,500 years ago, named Narshe or something like that. A huge beast called a Sylpylid destroyed the town, but the monster was killed in the struggle. There must have been some mighty warriors in the town at the time to have killed a beast such as the one over this dig. From my estimations, only 5% of the creatureās bones extend above the dig. That would put the creatureās size at about 500 feet tall, larger than the WEAPONS!"

Red XIII added a thought. "So this site is directly over a town that existed 1,500 years ago which was then destroyed for no apparent reason? Intriguing. I will have to study this further. Perhaps we will find out who was so powerful as to have defeated a beast of this size and power. I will take a bone sample while I am working."

"All right," Cloud said. "Break up and have fun. Until Red XIII is finished, we have some spare time!"

The landing was relatively rough, but Tifa managed to stay on her feet as she landed her glider just outside of Bone Village. Sephiroth would land in a few seconds, so she started running toward the village. The second pilot to land wasnāt so lucky. Sephirothās hang glider hit a tree and he barely had time to jump to the ground before it crashed. He smiled and began running, confident of catching Tifa in no time at all.

Chapter 7

Tifa continued running as fast as she could, knowing that Sephiroth could catch up any minute. As she ran into Bone Village, she caught sight of Cloud and Vincent talking. Cloud had talked to Red XIII earlier, and the bone sample was in his possession. He had also found out that the beast was defeated by magic, some kind of earlier version of the Ultima spell. Tifa paid no notice to Vincent and smiled at seeing her old friend. She ran forward even faster than before, barely being able to stop in front of Cloud.

"Hi Tifa!" Cloud greeted her. "Whereās the fire? You must have been running an awful long way!"

"Gimme·your·sword." She said between breaths.

"Umm·sure, but why?" He said as he handed over his huge Ultimate Weapon. Tifa seized the moment and pinned Cloud to the ground, holding the huge blade right next to his throat.

Vincent brought his gun, Death Penalty, to within millimeters of Tifaās head as Cloud spoke. "Tifa! What the hell are you doing? Stop!"

"Chill out Cloud! I just want you to meet my husband." Tifa said as she saw Sephiroth running at top speed to catch her. With a deft blow of her fist, she knocked Vincent unconscious. As Sephiroth and Cloud came into eye contact, their eyes flared with intense shades of ice blue and jade-green. They just looked at each other for several seconds, both as if they were paralyzed. Tifa could feel the energy surging between them. Then suddenly, all hell broke loose.

Cloud sprung up with inhuman strength and wrestled his sword from Tifaās grasp. He brought the sword down on Sephirothās head, only to hear the clash of metal as he blocked the slice with the Masamune.

"YOU MURDERER! IāLL KILL YOU!" He screamed as loud as he could while swinging his sword with intense ferocity. Sephiroth grimaced as he parried the blows. Cloud continued to try to slice his opponent in half.

"Tifa, get back or help me! Heās alive! ALIVE! I let him live! I wonāt make the same mistake this time, you hear me demon?!?!" Cloud screamed.

Tifa sighed. That had to be the easiest bet she ever won. Too bad she didnāt live at the Gold Saucer, or sheād be rich. Seeing the trouble Sephiroth was having, she jumped in front of Cloudās sword. "Stop Cloud! Heās not who you think he is! Heās a different person!"

"Bull&#$%!!" He screamed back as he tossed Tifa at least a hundred feet to the right. She quickly regained her balance and grabbed Vincentās gun, which he had dropped nearby. Tifa ran up to her enraged friend and held the weapon against his skull.

"Stop it now Cloud! Heās not Sephiroth! Well, thatās half-true. Heās sort of Sephiroth, but not really. Just trust me on this, okay?" She said as she kept her unwavering aim.

Cloud said nothing. He pulled out the strange artifact that had been found in Bone Village and aimed the sharp gem at Sephirothās throat. "Die, you foul scum. May justice be done in its rightfu·"

He was cut off as a blade grew from the strange piece of metal. It was electric blue, and in the shape of Cloudās Ultimate Weapon. It pulsated with energy and the blade sizzled with electricity. All three combatants stopped and stared at the mystical power of the Atma Weapon.

Tifa snatched the opportunity and hit a portion of Cloudās neck with incredible force. He slumped to the ground, only able to move his head. He flailed in several different directions, but to no avail. He was completely helpless.

"Traitor! He has polluted your mind! Snap out of it Tifa! Help me!" Cloud shouted at his friend.

Tifa bent close to his face and spoke in steady, even tones. "Now listen Cloud. Iām going to tell you some things, and you are going to be very quiet while I tell them to you. If you behave, Iāll release you from the paralysis. Will you cooperate?"

Cloud just stared at Sephiroth, his eyes burning with anger. Tifa spoke again. "Iāll take that as a yes. Four years after you killed Sephiroth, I found a large stone in the northern crater. I took it back to my cabin and broke it apart, only to find the man you see before you. He had no memory of his past, no magical abilities, and no ability to fight whatsoever. He was, in reality, a totally different person. I taught him to fight, how to survive, and who he is. Heās a different person from the one you and me and the others knew. Heās also my husband, so treat him with respect. Do you understand?"

Cloud did not answer, he just looked at her with a stare that said "Come back to me, this is not the real you!" She knew this was not going to be easy for anyone.

"Iām going to free you now." She said as she handed Cloudās sword and the Atma Weapon to Sephiroth.

"No." Sephiroth said. "Take mine." He added as he handed his huge Masamune to Tifa. He stood with open arms in front of Cloud.

"So you are Cloud." He said as he sat down next to the fallen warrior. "I will have to admit that the only thing I remember is your face. I donāt know why, but you are the only thing that I remember before Tifa freed me from that rock. When I saw you, all I felt was anger and hate. I assume you felt the same. I am not your enemy, and I do not wish to hurt anybody. I know how you feel, and I am sympathetic."

He shifted his position and spoke again. "I know why you hate me, you know. I know what my double did to you. If it helps, I wish I could have met her. From what Tifa tells me, you were a lucky man. I even got to see a picture of Aeris. I must tell you that I would have tried to save her. I would have killed Sephiroth where he stood to save her life. I regret that I was not there·"

"So many thing that I have to answer for. Crimes I did not commit. People I never murdered. Things I never destroyed. I have to deal with them all. I have been convicted by a world that acted as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. My pain is much greater than yours is Cloud, for I have billions of people who want to kill me for no reason other than I look like someone else. I find it sad that you had Aeris taken away, but there are others who suffer more deeply than you are at this moment. I have the unfortunate privilege to be one of those people, one that has no hope for the future. I cannot live a normal life, but you still can. Seize the day, Cloud! Be happy for the gifts life has given you rather than what it has taken away!"

He finished and stood up. "I am unarmed now. If you consider me a threat, cut me down where I stand. If you have the courage to accept the truth, then I congratulate you. Do as you will."

Tifa sighed and hit Cloudās neck in the same spot as before. He convulsed for a moment, then stood up. He picked up his sword and the Atma Weapon, then stared at Sephiroth.

"The only reason I will not kill you where you stand is that I would not want to see Tifa cry over something thatās not worth her time. Iām going up the cliff alone. If you follow me, I swear I will kill you outright." Cloud finished and ran up the mountain.

Tifa sighed deeply. Her bet wasnāt looking too good in the way of winning now·

Chapter 8

With similar scenarios, Tifa managed to convince the rest of her friends that they didnāt have to kill Sephiroth. Barrett and Vincent had tried to shoot him, Yuffie tried to slice him in half, and Cid tried to impale him. Even Cait Sith tried to attack him with his giant megaphone. Red XIII said nothing, just stared into Sephirothās eyes with a strange look, as if he was saying; "Who are you really?" That didnāt mean that they trusted him just because Tifa said so, however. None of them would turn their back on him, and even Red XIII had a tinge of distrust in his eyes. The constant digging of their stares into his back made Sephiroth uneasy, and it made the trip up to Icicle Inn very hard for him. They tried to feign tolerance, but he could plainly see that any one of them would like to kill him at any moment. How long would it last?

They reached Icicle Inn late in the day. The innkeeper had seen Cloud, but he had not stopped to rest. He had continued up the mountain without even a meal. Sephiroth determined that Cloud would not stop until he reached his goal. He put aside his doubts and went to the bar for a good drink. "Where was Cloud going?" He thought as he took a sip of his drink.

"The crater." Red XIII said. "Cloud is heading for the crater. That is what you wanted to know, wasnāt it?"

Sephiroth turned his head just enough to see the guardian of Cosmo Canyon, then turned back to his drink. "If I had to guess at your thoughts," Sephiroth said. "Iād guess you want to kill me. Am I right in thinking that?"

Red XIII sat down in a much larger seat and ordered a drink. "Actually, my limited telepathic abilities tell me that you are who you say you are. I trust you to a limited extent. I certainly would not try to kill you."

Sephiroth chuckled and finished his drink. "Well, thatās just perfect. At least Iāll have one less person to worry about. Iām leaving this place in the morning. Do not follow me, and do not tell Tifa. I have to settle this alone."

He ordered another drink and paid deftly. "You want to know about Aeris, donāt you. So does everybody, right?"

Red XIII hung his head in sorrow, then replied wearily. "Yes, that is what is on our minds."

Sephiroth chuckled to himself. "I canāt tell you a thing. I didnāt even get to meet her, much less kill her! That person was not I, but he still haunts me sometimes at night. He beckons to me and begs me to let him in. I struggle to find out why such a weak person could actually get that close to dominating the planet. He is always on his knees to plead for life once more."

With those words, Sephiroth left the bar. Red XIII had just taken his first sip of his drink when he heard screams outside. He left his drink and rushed outside.

The scream had come from Elena, upon seeing Sephirothās cape blowing in the breeze, his sword drawn. His eyes flashed at the three as he flexed his muscles. Elena shrank back at the sight of the person who had almost become god. All three of the Turks were surprised to see this new development in the world. Reno stepped forward cautiously.

"I.D. scan confirms profile, retina, and fingerprint scans. Heās the real thing·"

Yuffie, Barrett, Vincent, Cait Sith, Cid, and Tifa all walked outside in time to see the three Turks pull their weapons.

"We have to eliminate you, as per our final orders from the corporation. Surrender or die!" Elena shouted. Rude stared into Sephirothās eyes, as if backing up Elenaās statement.

Sephiroth just stood in place, his hair and cape fluttering quietly in the crisp winter breeze. "If you want me, you will have to struggle to accomplish your task." As he finished, he leaped into the air and sliced Renoās nightstick in half, stopping his blade just inches from the Turkās face. Reno stood his ground, apparently not intimidated by the gesture. He dropped the sparking half of his Electroshock prod and produced another.

"No more games." Reno said coldly. "This is the real thing!"

Sephiroth almost didnāt see the fire grenade thrown at him, but he managed to deflect it right back at its thrower. Elena barely managed to get into cover as the grenade exploded in a brilliant flash of light. Rude charged him, only to be punched so hard that he went straight through the bar wall and out the other end. Reno managed to jab Sephiroth with his nightstick, and he was instantly hit by several thousands of volts. His Masamune blade magnified the electrical charge, and Sephiroth fell to the ground, stunned by the blow. As all three Turks closed in for the kill, a huge metallic dragon intercepted them. Bahamut reared his head and shot a huge fireball at all three Turks. The resulting explosion knocked them away from the fallen warrior, bruised and bleeding, and Red XIII ran to Sephirothās aid. As he approached, Sephiroth got up with no signs of injury. He marched inexorably toward the three Turks and held his blade next to their heads.

"Because I am not the kind of man to kill in cold blood, I will let you live. Do not cross my path again, or I will not be nearly as kind!" Sephiroth demanded.

All three Turks got up, and slowly walked away, one by one. Sephiroth looked over his shoulder and addressed the other members of Cloudās party.

"It is a good two-month walk to the top of Gaeaās Cliff. I am going, and those who wish to follow had better come now." He said. With that, he turned his head and began the long walk to the Northern Crater.

***Two Months Later***

Chapter 9

Sephiroth had left Icicle Inn alone, and the others had followed his trail up the side of the cliff, and into the Northern Crater. It had taken two months without the Highwind, which couldnāt land inside the crater anymore. When they finally reached the bottom, they found Sephiroth on top of a high ledge, staring at the blackness below. Tifa approached him and began to speak, but she found herself unable to form the words as she looked at the spectacular scene before her.

An immense portal had appeared, surrounded by rock, and the area was sprinkled with stone pillars. Light of all colors spurted form the gateway, magnified by the crystal in the pillars of rock. The ground was covered with a huge mystic rune that showed a symbol of a never ending figure-8.

The symbol of Eternal time. This was the Lazarus!

Cloud stood in front of the huge gateway, just staring as Sephiroth was at that very moment. With a triple somersault, Tifa landed on the Crater floor and approached Cloud.

"I know you brought him, even though I warned you and him." Cloud said. "It doesnāt matter anyway. This is the gate in the story. Someone apparently named ĪKefkaā made the crater, and his destruction produced this huge impact zone. The gate is at least 500 years old, but I donāt see why we didnāt see it before." He finished.

Tifa stepped forward as the others came down the high cliff. "Oh well, Iām going in!" She said, as she walked into the gate. As she touched it, she was thrown back at least 30 feet. It took her a moment to come to her senses.

"You okay?" Cait Sith asked as he helped her up.

"I think so, but who builds a gate that doesnāt let anyone through?"

Cloud answered her question with a serious tone. "Somebody who only wants certain people to go through, thatās who." As he finished, he stepped through the portal, which didnāt reject him like it had Tifa. He disappeared for a few moments, then he came flying back through the portal. Barrett managed to catch him just before his head hit the wall.

"Itās swarming with monsters!" Cloud remarked. "No one man could live through that!"

Sephiroth stepped out of the shadows and addressed the group. "Then two will have to go." He said as he extended his hand through the portal. It did not reject him just as it had accepted Cloud.

The other man grimaced, then boiled in anger. "I will not go in there with you! If the monsters didnāt kill you, I would gladly help them do so! Iāll go it alone!"

"We both know that you cannot do that. Those monsters would rip you to pieces before you even had a chance. We must work together, or you will never find the truth." Sephiroth finished.

"You murdered before, you will do it again! Aeris will never be safe from you!" Cloud spat at his enemy.

"I want to save her too, you know! I want to apologize for the endless horror my double caused her. She has to know the truth!" Sephiroth reasoned with Cloud.

He stared at Sephiroth, but with less anger this time. Cocking his head, he spoke with teeth clenched. "If you get in my way, I will kill you where you stand. You understand me? Iām just gonna tolerate you until I find some way to bring Aeris back. Then, you will leave and get out of my sight forever. Understand me??"

Sephiroth said nothing, just turned his back and started walking. "We had better get started." He said as he entered the portal with Cloud close behind.

As she watched them disappear into the mystical gateway, Tifa said a silent prayer for their safety and reassured herself that they would not try to kill each other on the way in. If they were to reconcile their differences, now was the time.

Chapter 10

The Highwind could not land in the crater, but when Tifa, Barrett, Cid, Red XIII, Cait Sith and Yuffie got to the top of the ridge they were able to get on via a rope ladder. Tifa wondered about Sephiroth and Cloudās safety as she climbed. She knew Cloud well enough to know that he would not try to hurt Sephiroth now.

Oh really? You actually think that?

Tifaās eyes opened wide with surprise. Who was that?

Youāre a fool, Tifa. Cloud will kill Sephiroth, once he has been properly·motivated.

Tifa gasped and fell off the rope ladder, landing with a dull thud on the crater floor. Blood began to flow from a wound she had received in the fall, and she could smell it as it pooled on the floor.

Canāt even take care of yourself. What are you doing, Tifa? You canāt save him now·

She slowly dragged herself to her feet and bandaged the wound. Tifa waved to the Highwind, trying to get them to stop, but it was too late. She had no choice other than running back to the portal that her two friends had walked through.

Foolish, foolish girl. I already have them both. You are too late!

Tifa grabbed her temples in pain as her mind began ringing with an intense noise. "Get out of my head!" She screamed as she continued to run.

Ha, ha, ha. This is pathetic. The little girl wishes to take back what is hers. You are so naive! I know you, Tifa. I know that you wonāt make it in time·

She continued to run, but a small rock got in the way and Tifa fell onto the crater floor. She screamed in anguish, but there was no one there to heed her calls·

You have lost·They are mine now!

Sephirothās head snapped up from its staring position. Something was wrong!

"Cloud·" He said softly to the other man.

There was no answer from him.

"Cloud!" He tried again with more force.

"What in the hell do you want?" Cloud replied with his weapon drawn.

Sephiroth stared back at the way they came, craning his neck, as if to hear a distant sound. He slowly drew the Masamune and spoke to Cloud without turning his head. "Something is wrong·"

"Yeah, you bet something is wrong! Iām tryinā to sleep and you woke me up. If you do that again, Iāll kill you!" Cloud spat back.

Sephiroth continued to look, when both of them heard a scream from down the tunnel, back the direction that they came. "Tifaās in trouble!" Cloud yelled and both of them ran back the way they came.

Sephiroth was the quicker one, but Cloud was in hot pursuit. Cloud really didnāt care about his anger toward the other man right now, but if Tifa was in trouble, her attackers would pay dearly! No one harms his best friend and gets away with it!

As they neared the entrance to the Lazarus tunnel, they heard more screams. Not screams of fear, or screams of pain. They were screams of torture. Sephiroth was the first to burst through the portal and into the real world again. Tifa was rolling on the ground, hands on the sides of her head. Blood was beginning to pool from a wound on her leg, and the stench was horrible. Cloud jumped through the portal just behind Sephiroth, and he just stared at his childhood friendās injuries. The sight of it made him sick to his stomach. Sephiroth was doing the best he could, but Cloud could tell that he was fighting a losing battle. Tifa still thrashed about on the floor in a supernatural seizure. Cloud looked for a moment, then handed a materia to Sephiroth.

"Revive." He said slowly as the marble changed hands. Sephiroth clenched his fist around the green sphere, then slowly opened it, eyes closed. Light began to emanate from the small orb, and Tifa slowly stopped moving. The bleeding stopped, and so did the seizures. The woman lay in a comatose state, and did not open her eyes. Sephiroth just looked and then turned away. Cloud looked at Tifa in shock.

"You murderer! What have you done?" He said in rage.

"I put her in a coma. She will not sustain any further physical harm, but I cannot be sure about her seizures. She will have to fight her own demons now. I can only hope that she lives·"

Cloud was about to assault Sephiroth yet again, but the other man spoke first. "I suppose youāre happy to see me this way! I have never had to cope with this before. Tifa was always the one that would protect me·teach me about the world. She is all I have in this life. Without her, I am lost·enjoy the moment while it lasts! I am leaving once again." Sephiroth said, almost on the verge of crying. Cloud was taken aback by the manās behavior. This was a different man than the one he had killed four years ago. The real Sephiroth would not show compassion, or love toward anybody. He finally realized how wrong he had been in judging the man before he knew him.

"I·Iām sorry. Sheāll pull through. Tifaās tough, she did survive a slice from that, you know." Cloud said as he pointed at Sephirothās Masamune.

Sephiroth was silent as he picked up Tifa and carried her inside the portal once more. He stopped for a moment, but did not turn to face Cloud.

"I am not sure what is happening to her, but I will find out inside, weather you come or not! I do not care how much you hate me anymore. All I care about right now is helping Tifa!" He said as he trudged forward.

"Sephiroth, wait!" Cloud said, but it was too late. The man had already disappeared inside the shimmering wall of blue light.

"Tears?" Cloud pondered.

Chapter 11

"TIFA!" Cid screamed as she fell from the rope ladder and back into the crater. He watched her land with a sickening thud and turned away with a grimace.

"Turn us around! Right rudder, 90 degrees starboard! All ahead full!" Cid screamed, but it was too late. He could see the crater leaving his field of view.

"Goddamit! No! Why, Tifa? Why?" He shouted on the deck, but there was no one to hear except the deaf iron walls. A salty tear flowed down his face as he leaned over the edge.

"Damn, Iām pissed!" He said as he walked away. "Iām not about to let some *^%#inā portal take away my friends."

Cid charged up to the control room of the huge airship and signaled to Barrett and Cait Sith. "Hey, you two juckoes! Weāre movinā out! Get yourself a parachute and meet me on the outer deck double time!"

It took a moment to register Cidās orders, then Barrett and Cait Sith grabbed the three gliding parachutes and threw one to Cid. "Letās go!" Barrett yelled at the pilot as he rushed by and into the mechanical-smelling cargo bay portion of the Highwind. Cait Sith was first to get to the top, followed closely by Barrett and not so closely by Cid.

"Allright!" Cid said. "Weāre going in!"

With Cidās signal, all three travelers jumped out of the Highwind and began to fall to earth at terminal velocity. The wind whipped by their faces and Cait Sith was holding onto his mog for dear life. They continued to fall, passing birds and planes on their way to the surface. As soon as it started, all three divers had sprouted large yellow parachutes, and they started gliding to the Crater, side by side.

Cloud woke up the next morning with a sigh of relief. He couldnāt believe that he was still alive. Sephiroth didnāt kill him after all!

Maybe, but he wants to·

Cloud gasped. Who was that? He looked all around, but there was no one. He turned to Sephiroth, who was silently watching Tifa. He had changed out of his battle gear as they approached their goal, and it was getting hotter by the minute. He wore brown leather pants and a white shirt that hung slightly open in the breeze coming from further down the way. He did not smile, just stared at Tifa and hoped for the best. Cloud disturbed the peace and asked the silent man a question.

"You hear anything just now?" He asked.

It took a long time for him to answer. "No·" He trailed off.

Heās killing Tifa. You think that the great Sephiroth would ever change? Heās evil to the core!

Cloud sat upright with a start. What was going on?

You should know. Iāve been with you all the time. I was there in person when Aeris was killed. I was there in spirit, right beside you, when you slayed Sephiroth at the bottom of the crater. I know everything about you, and I donāt like what I see. You have been a puppet all your life, and now you have succumbed to puppeteering again, but this time from the place you fear it most. You cannot harm me, Cloud Strife, but I can hurt you on a whim of my mind·

Cloud didnāt give the saying much thought until the ringing started again. The ringing in his ears, his mind, and his soul that was always there. It would not stop, and Cloud fell to the ground, clutching his temples.

"Get out of my head!" He screamed, and just as it had started, it stopped. He got up, and turned to Tifa, only to see Sephiroth in his black cape and armor, Masamune ready to strike. He fumbled for his sword, and he drew the Atma Weapon slowly from its sheath. The electric blue blade formed magically, and he brought the weapon to bear on his opponent. Visions of that fatal moment at the Forgotten Capital flashed through his mind, that moment when he had lost all that was dear to him in one horrifying second.

Strike now, Cloud! Before he can hurt any others!

He shouted a cry of anger as he slashed the man before him, and the blade cut a gash across his chest. In that moment, the armor, cape and sword faded, and Sephiroth was there in his white shirt, looking oddly at Cloud as blood oozed from the giant gash. He just looked, as if to say "Why?" then toppled over to the ground, eyes beginning to fade from reality.

Cloud stared, and dropped the Atma Weapon with a metallic clang on the cavern floor. What had he done? He quickly whipped out his materia and cast several cure spells, healing some of the injury. The main part, however, refused to be healed. He started sobbing at his handiwork.

"No! Damn it, It wasnāt supposed to happen this way! I never wanted to kill him! Why does my past always control my life? Why do I let it?" Cloud screamed, but only the walls heard him, and the walls were deaf to his complaints. He fell to his knees and put his head in his hands.

You have succeeded in your mission. Sephiroth is dying. Why arenāt you happy? I gave you what you most wanted.

"Bull*&#^ you did! You took away someone who didnāt have any hate for me at all, and you forced me to kill him in cold blood!" Cloud screamed at his invisible and invulnerable adversary.

I forced you? Donāt flatter me! I would never be that good at this. I just showed you the truth behind the mask, the face behind the facade. You were the one who made the choice. You were the one who cut him down. Congratulations! Now Tifa wonāt have to live the lie anymore!

"Youāre the one who is lying!" Cloud shouted into the empty air again. "He was good inside! He proved it to me! Tifa loves him, and thatās a good enough explanation for me! I donāt need your worthless theatrics!"

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Thatās a good one! You canāt live without me, and you canāt live with me, Youāre just stuck with me, and thereās nothing you can do to change it. You see Cloud, I control your life now!

Chapter 12

On day 3 of their journey down the tunnel, the monsters attacked. They rushed at Cloud by the thousands, one after another. He fought them off, with magic and sword alike, but there was far too many for one man, even the most powerful man in the world to fight off. They began to swarm, and Cloud was surrounded. They closed in even as their dead bodies piled onto the floor around the warrior as one creature after another fell to his blade. They finally closed the gap, and Cloud began taking tremendous injury. The monsters hacked, slashed, and cut at him, and he began bleeding in a dozen places. The cuts, however, were not the thing on his mind. The heavens rumbled as Cloud held up his sword, and energy began to shoot from the blade. Magical fire surrounded him once again, and after that, it was all over in a second. Severed bodies lay strewn over the ground, sliced in half or worse. Monsters had been decapitated and gutted, and the stench of blood filled the air with its iron-like smell, all victims of Cloudās Omnislash onslaught. He looked around at the destruction he had caused, and then collapsed in a heap of flesh, tired beyond words.

It was several hours before he awoke to see the face of Sephiroth watching over him. The voice was gone for now, but he was sure of its return. Sephiroth had put his hair into a tight braid in the back, obviously because of the terrible matting from the blood. He made no move to welcome Cloud back to the world and continued to sharpen his Masamune. Cloud slowly sat up, then turned to Tifa. She was stirring in her coma, obviously still being plagued by whatever was hurting her inside. He slowly turned to Sephiroth and began to speak.

"I didnāt mean to do that, you know." He said slowly.

Sephiroth laughed so hard and loud that it shook the walls of the cavern. "You didnāt mean it? Oh, well, Iām sorry. In that case, I forgive you for trying to kill me. Feel free to try it again sometime!" He trailed off with sarcasm and anger in his voice and continued to sharpen his blade.

"It wasnāt me. I was influenced by a·voice of some kind." He spat back, knowing that he had just used the truth as a lame excuse.

Sephiroth got up and faced Cloud with fire in his eyes. They were about the same height, but Sephiroth was clearly the taller one. "A voice told you to kill me? So you do whatever little voices in your head tell you to do? Do I have to keep this out all the time when you are near me?" He said, motioning towards his sword.

Cloud hung his head and frowned. Sephiroth was right. Why did he obey the voice inside his head? It had told him something, and he did it without question. Was he really being manipulated?

Of course you are. You donāt have any choice in the matter.

"Get your sword, Sephiroth. The voice is talking to me again!" Cloud spat. Sephiroth wasted no time at grabbing his huge blade.

Heās not defending against you! Heās trying to kill Tifa!

Cloud looked over at Tifa and saw Sephiroth lift his sword over her head. He sliced down to strike, and Tifa died right in front of his eyes. Blood spilled from her midsection and she slumped down, eyes glazed over. He stood in shock as Sephiroth turned on him.

Heās coming for you! Defend yourself!

Cloud brought his sword up, but then tossed it away and shook his head.

"Whoever you are, you just lost. I can already tell youāre warping the truth! Sephiroth would never hurt Tifa! You lie like a rug!" Cloud spat back at his invisible opponent with a grin. The world wavered and faded, replaced with the same as before. Tifa was still sleeping on the floor, while Sephiroth held his blade at ready position, studying Cloud, ready to evade his huge sword. He was sitting where he had been just moments before. "Iām fine now." Cloud said to the other man. Sephiroth dropped his sword and sheathed it while talking.

"You are getting worse as we go deeper into the cave. It would be wise to end this while we still can and get moving." Sephiroth advised.

Cloud agreed, and he brought up the rear. Sephiroth carried Tifa with one arm, sword in the other as the two continued down the dark tunnel.

Chapter 13

"I think the wisest course of action would be to find out what happened to Cid and the others." Red XIII said without any emotion.

Vincent frowned, but he knew that he was right. "Red is right. We must follow the others. Land the Highwind, pilot. Weāre going in on chocobos."

Hours later, Red XIII regretted ever seeing one of the ostrich-like birds. They bounded across the snow back to the crater, where they hoped to find all six of their companions intact.

"Somethinā aināt right around here·" Barrett said rubbing his gun-arm. Cid walked in front of him with his huge Venus Gospel in hand.

"Youāre right. Somethinā smells too. What the #%#* is it?" Cid cussed.

Cait Sith bounded over toward a patch of stained rock. "This is blood!" The robotic cat yelled, summoning over his two companions.

"^#&#! Tifaās hurt! Hereās a piece of her tank top!" Barrett said angrily.

"Why donāt you clean up your language a little for once? You donāt have to swear every second!" Cait Sith piped up.

Barrett pointed his gun-arm at the robot and shouted several words that were obviously not to be said around little children. Cait Sith just sat and wondered what kind of a mother Barrett had.

While Barrett beat on Cait, Cid noticed that the gateway to the portal was gone. The blue light no longer blocked the entrance and Cid looked down the tunnel cautiously.

"Lookitā that! Its huge, at least a mile long and probably longer! Itāll take us at least a day to find Tifa inside that! And if sheās hurt or bleeding bad·" Cid said.

Cait Sith bounded up next to Cid. "Relax! Tifaās a tough lady! Sheās hit me so many times I know I canāt screw up that fact! Sheāll be alright! Trust me!"

"Youāre a Shinra spy. How am I supposed to trust you? Hey, wait a minute·How did the Turks find us back at Icicle Inn, anyway? You wouldnāt know, would you Cait?" Cid said back to the robot.

He started to answer when a gunshot cut him short. The bullet whizzed past Cidās head and went straight into a monster that had been sneaking up on them from the tunnel. It fell to the ground with a smoking gunshot wound in its forehead. They both turned to see three weapons aimed at them.

"Take their weapons." Reno said coldly. "And take Reeveās pet cat too."

Cait Sith stood up as tall as he could. "I will not tolerate such discrimination toward robo·" His voice was snuffed out as Rude clenched his hand around the robotic cat and brought him to Reno. Elena collected the weapons, which were thrown in a large pile on the floor. They returned to their respective flanking positions around Reno as he spoke again.

"Well, just three of you this time. Whereās your deceased friend?"

Cid scowled at Reno and spoke through clenched teeth. "Seph aināt here! He went back to Icicle Inn, somethinā boutā a score to settle. Cloud followed him." Cid lied.

Cait Sith struggled and poked his head out of Rudeās hand. "Let me go you worthless Turk!"

"Rude drew his handgun in less than a second and brought it to bear on the robotās head. "What did you call me?"

"Umm·I was just saying that Iām a jerk. You know, everybody here probably agrees on that one, donāt you?"

"Enough!" Reno shouted. He walked over to the now-deactivated portal and peered down it cautiously. "Whatās down here?"

"Nothing youād need to know about!" Yuffie yelled from the top of the ridge and sprung high into the air. Rude pulled a few shots at her, but he grimaced in pain as the Conformer ripped the gun out of his palm, the giant shuriken now back in its ownerās hands. She quickly grabbed Elena by the neck and pulled her close to her huge disc.

"Let them go or Iāll kill Elena!" She threatened.

"Go ahead." Reno said. "Sheās expendable."

Elena gasped. "Well thanks, Reno! You act like Iām just some kind of common blonde girl!"

Cid and Barrett tried to contain their laughter at the obvious remark, but Elena obviously thought their effort was unsatisfactory. "Why are you laughing? Iām not just some dumb blonde!" Both of the remaining prisoners began to lose it as even Reno began to chuckle.

"Oh great, now youāre on their side! Donāt act so weak, Reno!" Elena commanded. Reno continued to laugh even as he spoke.

"A Turk (Chuckle) needs a little humor (Chuckle) every once in a while!" He said, looking like he was about to explode. He continued laughing until his gun was shot out of his hand. It clanged to the floor with a metallic ring and all eyes turned to Vincent, holding his gun out at the top of the ridge.

"Nice to see you again, Reno. Rude, drop your weapon or you will be shot." He said coldly.

Rude grimaced, then dropped his gun with a similar clang of metal. Red XIII leaped down the ridge and took Cait Sith from Rude, putting him back on his giant Mog.

"Man, Rude! Wash your hands every once in a while! You sweat like a pig!" Rude came about two centimeters from crushing the robotic cat before Cait Sith scurried away. Vincent had Barrett and Cid released, and the Turks stood in a line under aim.

"It would appear we have some prisoners·" Vincent trailed off as he closed in on the Turks.

Chapter 14

Tifa slowly opened her eyes, only to find blackness. Where was she?

Youāre inside your head, of course.

"Go Away·" Tifa tried to shout, but all that came out was a whisper.

But I canāt. I am you and you are me. We are the same person, Tifa. Why do you shut me out?

"You are not me! Get out of my head! Leave me alone, go away!"

I told you, I canāt. That will change soon, though. Your husband is a real helpful guy. He provides an object for Cloud to focus his anger on. Cloud attacked Sephiroth, you know.

"You lie! Cloud is more reasonable than that!"

Reasonable·Oh yes! Thatās the word that means you donāt blow your stack. Sorry, I never had a taste for that word. It makes me sick. Cloud understands me. Heās an easy audience. Iām sure Sephiroth will listen just as well as Cloud does.

Tifa gasped to herself. She had to wake up! But how? The louder she screamed, the softer she got. Working backwards it was then! If yelling made her voice softer...She would play a little game of turnabout intruder!

"If youāre so smart, than why are you so stupid as to reverse soundwaves? I can deafen you with a whisper. Want me to try?"

By all means. In addition to making your mind explode with the vibrations, you would certainly bring the entire crater down on top of you and your precious husband. Actually, that sounds like fun. Why donāt you try it?

Tifa weighed the possibilities, then decided that the voice was lying. These werenāt really soundwaves, just psychic vibrations. Time to have some fun.

She stood up and stared into the darkness. Quietly opening her lips, she whispered a single word.

"LIAR!"

Tifa was thrown back about a mile from the destructive shockwake produced by her mind. The voice in her head was now distorted, and it screamed with pain. She got to her feet and issued an ultimatum to her opponent.

"I can go louder if you want. Do you want to see what happens if I mouth the words?"

You are a fool! Foolish as your friends and your husband. I will return.

Tifa snapped up in her bed, right into the mako eyes of her husband. Sephiroth smiled and hugged her fiercely.

"If you ever do that again, then Cloud will have good reason to think I would kill you!" He said with tears of joy. Cloud approached the two and smiled upon seeing the relief in Tifaās condition. She looked around with a confused expression. "Mind telling me whatās going on?" She said.

"Weāre about three miles into the tunnel now." Cloud started. "We canāt see the start or the finish, but it must be close."

"Why do you say that?" Tifa asked as she turned her head to see a dazzling display of colors down the tunnel side. "Oh."

"It was triggered by an enormous psychic shockwave. Know anything?" Cloud asked again.

Tifa shuddered and started to warn her friends. "I was attacked, psychically, by a mysterious voice. Itās coming after you two next!"

Sephiroth and Cloud exchanged glances. "We know." Sephiroth said as he exposed the as yet unhealed gash on his chest. Tifa gasped and stepped back. "Cloud, did you·"

"Yes." He finished the sentence for her. "The voice has already attacked me, and we presume that Sephiroth will be affected shortly."

"Then weād better get moving." Tifa said as she ran further down the tunnel.

"How much are you getting paid?" Vincent questioned Reno.

"More than a stinkinā AVALANCHE member would have!" He spat back.

"Hey! You watch what yaā say about my group, fooā!" Barrett said to Reno.

Vincent was not effected by the argument. "Weāll give you 8 million gil to work for us." He said, still not flinching.

Reno shifted his position. "What could motivate a Turk to join an anti-Shinra organization, Vincent? Why did you leave? You were the best in the game, no one could touch you."

Vincent stared at Reno and replied. "Because I developed an anger control disorder, to put it lightly."

Reno gasped as he saw the former Turkās eyes burn red with color. They became spotlights in the dim room, singling out Reno from the darkness.

"You do understand?" Vincent said in a voice that was clearly not human.

Reno regained his composure and stood up straight. "12 million gil and weāre hired."

"Done." Vincent said as he quickly drew his Death Penalty and shot all of the shackles off of Reno, Rude, and Elena. All three looked in shock as Vincent spun the gun around and returned it to his leg sheath. "Letās move out, Turks. For this mission, we are four once again. I will be in command in Tsengās absence."

Elena stood up straight and smiled. She was proud to know that Vincent was a Turk once before. "Who is he, anyway?" She asked Reno.

"The best Turk there ever was. Vincent could hit a fly at 100 meters blindfolded with any kind of gun. He was Tsengās right hand man until something happened at Nibelheim, and I never saw him again. Hojo told us that he had died, but I never trusted that crazy scientist anyway. I proved him wrong when I saw Vincent again under Midgar. His skills have improved, so watch what you say around him. Heās higher in rank than me. I wonder what he meant about that ĪAnger Control Disorderā anyway?"

Elena preferred not to find out. His show of skill with their shackles and Renoās gun earlier was enough proof for her.

"Turks, our objective is to find Sephiroth, Cloud, and Tifa, and keep them safe. Reno, implement offensive plan 453 in case of a battle situation. Rude, make sure the team is outfitted with 30-caliber shotguns and fire grenades, there are some pretty dangerous opponents out there. Elena, youāre in charge of navigation. This tunnel system must extend for at least 5 miles in all directions. I want a complete map as we go. Keep in contact every 5 minutes, no one leaves camp unarmed. Any questions?" Vincent finished.

"Just one, sir!" Elena piped up. "What exactly is an ĪAnger Control Disorderā sir?"

Vincent cracked a smile and said nothing. "Weāre moving out at 1600 hours. Dismissed!"

Cid walked up to Vincent and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You donāt really trust those guys, do you?"

"A Turk always trusts his teammates to be serious, honest, and efficient. That is what it means to be a Turk. I trust each and every one of them with my life." Vincent finished.

"Go figure. This is too much. Iām gonna have a cigarette."

Chapter 15

The Lazarus defied description. It was a twist in time, a tear in the delicate fabric of reality. Light shot from its many folds in all colors and directions. It was a wonder of reality.

Cloud stepped forward. "Letās get this over with." He said as he drew the two pouches that contained the space dust and Sylpylid bones. He began to open them when he had second thoughts.

You donāt want to do that, do you?

"My god, get out of my mind! Go away!" Cloud screamed as Sephiroth sheltered Tifa from Cloudās possible attack.

Youād rather bring Sephiroth back, wouldnāt you Cloud?

Cloud stared into space like a deer caught in the headlights. No·he would not do it! Not for anybody, not even Tifa!

Yeah, bringing Sephiroth back would be a good idea!

Cloud smiled and pulled out a materia. Using its powers, he began to pull the voice from his mind. Out it went, and into the air. It instantly darted into Sephirothās mind.

Wouldnāt you like to meet someone new? Iām sure heād like you! He even has the same name!

"You are foolish and arrogant. I would never be so blind! Leave me now!" Sephiroth spat at the entity.

Perhaps Tifa would like some more Ītherapy?ā She had sooo much fun last time, why stop now?

"Stay away from her! Iāll do whatever you say, but stay away from Tifa!" Sephiroth said.

Thatās what makes you weak. Thatās what makes you·inferior to me. I used to give myself a good name, what with destroying planets and all. I thought your namesake could do it, but he fell just short. Too bad, he had such potential. Resurrect him now.

"Cloud, itās threatening to kill Tifa if I donāt resurrect Sephiroth." He said with a heavy heart.

Cloud said nothing, just opened the bags and threw the components of the spell into the Lazarus. The vortex shimmered, then turned a stable blue color. It straightened into a wall, and he was horrified by the scene in front of him. There he stood, frozen as Aeris prayed for Holy. Sephiroth impaled her once again, and she slumped to the floor. Cloud wept and pointed to Sephiroth slowly. The magic began to gather around the black-clad figure in the picture, and a ray of light shot from Cloudās finger just as he jerked his aim down and to the side. The figure of Aeris was struck by the light, and the room became unbearably bright. The light struck Sephiroth and Cloud head on, and something began to leak out of them. It was dark and shadowy, and it was coming from inside their bodies. The blackness floated in front, and took the form of Cloud and Sephiroth, exact copies, save the scars on the real people. The evil twins smiled and advanced, preparing to strike. Tifa had a similar doppelganger, and in back of all three of the shadow twins stood Jenova-SYNTHESIS. The voice in their minds had been her. They had all been exposed to her, and all must have had cells from the alien introduced into their bodies at some point. Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth met their clones in battle, and the clones were decisively more powerful. Cloud was having difficulty parrying the blows from his double. To his great surprise, the clone spoke.

"I am Clouud. Iām the real thing. You are the imposter. How could the real Cloud like someone even remotely like Sephiroth?"

"Because Iāve learned not to judge a book by its cover. Sephiroth is a good man inside. Tifa loves him, and thatās all the explanation I need." Cloud spat back.

"Hardly a good excuse!" Clouud replied and knocked Cloud to his knees. You have no heart·and cannot feel any pain."

"Bull#$%* you imposter!" Cloud spat back. "One who does not heal never learns. You are the evil inside me, nothing more! Evil never triumphs over good!"

"Really?" Clouud said as he struck his opponent to his knees.

Tifa was locked in combat as well. Every combo matched, every move countered, all with more force. Who was this woman?

"Hello, imposter!" The clone said. "My nameās Tifaa. Too bad you wonāt be around much longer. I could have taught you some better martial arts skills. Yours could use some work."

Tifa was appalled by the cloneās arrogance. How could this woman claim to be her?

"You have no idea of how pissed I get when people imitate me!" Tifa spat back as she pummeled Tifaa with blow after blow.

"Beat Rush! Somersault! Waterkick! Meteodrive! Dolphin Blow! Meteorstrike! Final Heaven!" She finished, drained of her energy. When the smoke cleared from her final atomic punch, Tifaa still stood, unaffected by Tifaās onslaught. With a final breath of exertion, Tifa collapsed to the floor. The clone slowly stood over her defeated opponent, and smiled.

"Stuck up to the end!"

Metal clanged against metal as Sephiroth fought his double fiercely. It seemed that He was evenly matched against his twin. Both were in a stalemate.

"Good looks you have, but the heart of a coward beats in your chest, imposter. I am the real Sephiiroth! You will fall before my blade!" The clone said.

Sephiroth fought off blow after blow while responding. "Love strengthens your heart, it does not weaken it. If you have nothing to fight for, why fight at all?"

"Because youāre good at it!" Sephiiroth spat back. He struck with such force that it knocked the blade from Sephirothās hands. Using the skills he had learned from Tifa, Sephiroth knocked the Masamune from his doubleās grasp. He followed with a punch to the face, which Sephiiroth grabbed.

"Pathetic! To think you actually listened to that woman! You do not deserve to live!" With a kick to the jaw from his twin, Sephiroth fell into unconsciousness.

All three closed in as Tifa looked up, dizzily. It was then that she saw the bands of light linking the clones to Jenova. Their power had to come from there, where else? She tried to get up, but it was no use. She had no energy left to offer. As she began to pass out, another voice spoke, a familiar voice.

"Now then Jenova, play by the rules! Four on three isnāt fair!"

Cloud looked up and smiled as Aeris left the Lazarus and glided to the cavern floor. She spoke directly to Jenova this time. "Leave them alone, Jenova. The elder council is NOT happy to hear about your little incursion into the real world. Edgar wants to talk to you personally!" She added.

All three of the weary friends stared at Aeris. She was exactly a she had been, pink skirt with a red vest over the top of her outfit. She held the Princess Guard high over her head and shouted to the walls.

"High time you played by the rules, calamity from the skies! My friends are more than willing to enforce that. Power of the Ancients, heed my call! Infuse these warriors with your power!"

Chapter 16

"Lookit this!" Cid yelled. "Looks like more blood. Tifa must be hurt bad!"

"You are mistaken. It is Sephirothās." Red XIII said as he pulled down his magnifying oculars.

"These blood cells are strange, as if there is something inside. Let me change to a factor of 5,000·"

Red was cut short as the entire blood sample exploded in holy energy. The floor was destroyed in a hole of at least 8 meters across. It was at least 10 meters deep as well.

"Damn! What the &%*# happened? His blood exploded!" Barrett yelled.

"I observed that as well." Red XIII said with no intention of humor. "When I looked at the sample, it contained holy energy in tremendous amounts. With the Holy materia gone forever, the planet must have needed someone to protect it. Sephiroth is the Holy materia, in function at least. We have to stop him from doing something terrible to harm Cloud and Tifa. He could accidentally destroy this entire area!" He said as he ran forward, the others following him closely.

Energy coursed through Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth as Aerisā incantation lit the fire in their souls. Cloud silently strode up to his twin and smiled. He raised his sword and spoke in a deep voice. "Too bad I only get to enjoy this once, because I would have loved to see you die a thousand times!" He said as the sky opened up and the Earth began to rumble. Cloud twirled his sword around his body and jumped high into the air, coming down sword first. The impact of the weapon into the ground created an earthquake of tremendous proportions. The quakes stopped for a moment, just enough time to utter one phrase.

"Cherry Blossom·"

The ground opened up beneath Clouud and lava from the core of the Earth incinerated his clone. The magma shot out uncontrollably, but then subsided, leaving Clouudās black and charred skeleton.

Tifa stepped up to her double, a scowl on her face. She stared at her clone, then gave her a slap in the face. "Thatās for messing with my mind!" Tifa slapped her again. "Thatās for messing with my husband!" Tifa squatted down low. "And this is for making me get pissed off for no good reason!"

Energy began collecting around Tifaās body, until it glowed with power. Tifa stepped forward until she could touch her clone.

"Total Meltdown·"

Where there had been a human a moment before, a hole in the Earth now remained. There was no trace of her double. Electricity coursed through the space occupied by the clone moments before, then dispersed as Tifa smiled.

"No, you son of a #$%@, you were stuck up to the end!" She spat.

Sephiroth felt different all of a sudden, as if something had been blocked inside of him and the water was beginning to build up against the dam. Light filled the room, and a whistling sound became apparent. Cloud stared at Sephiroth, but the only thing that he could notice was the fact that the other man had begun floating two meters into the air. A swirling vortex appeared between him and his clone, and it spat out light beams in every direction. Wind began to whip through the cavern, and Aerisā voice was barely heard above the din.

"Both of you, get over here! Heās activated Holy by mistake!" She yelled.

Cloud did not question Aerisā judgment, just ran over and put his hand on her shoulder. Tifa did the same, and, with a wave of her mystical rod, Aeris created a shield around the three and Sephiroth. He had begun to suffer from the high winds, and it was apparent that he was in pain. The light increased to blinding proportions, and he uttered a phrase with the last of his energy.

"Let Godās Justice be done!" He screamed.

Instantly, a pillar of Holy energy eliminated the entire room. Sephiiroth was eliminated by the blast, and Jenova-SYNTHESIS was likewise incinerated. Aeris strained to keep the shield up against the incredible force, and she was clearly being taxed. The pillar shot upward into the heavens, and then subsided just as fast. Sephiroth fell to the ground, dying. Tifa barely managed to catch him as he fell. Blood streamed down his face as he coughed up some more of the black liquid. He slowly turned his head, and to her amazement, he was still conscious. The wounds on his face started to close and he began to breathe normally. Sephiroth stood up, looking down into the bottomless shaft that had formed. The pillar of energy left only a meter-long circle of floor remaining around the edges of the once-large room. Cloud picked up a rock and tossed it down, but he was greeted with no noise.

"Thatās pretty deep." He remarked. Aeris walked up to him, but she became transparent for a moment. A second passed, and she was once again solid. All four of the people remaining in the room turned to see that the Lazarus was damaged. It began to dwindle and shrink, and it finally faded to less than a cubic meter. Aeris shimmered and smiled, then spoke to Cloud.

"It was meant to be this way." She said. "Do not grieve, we will be together again soon. I will wait for you·" And Aeris disappeared with a final flash of light.

"NO! YOU CANāT TAKE HER FROM ME!" He screamed, but the walls were deaf. He looked straight ahead, then, without a word, jumped inside the Lazarus.

Chapter 17

Vincent quietly motioned for his team to move forward. Reno, Rude and Elena crept up cautiously, all without a sound. Vincent craned his neck, then raised his gun and fired. They all heard a thud, but what caused it was not apparent until Vincent held up his kill, a Glacier Chameleon. It was about half a meter long and it blended in perfectly with the cave walls. The lead Turk tossed it aside and continued down the tunnel, knowing the rest of AVALANCHE was about a half-hour behind. About five minutes later, they came across Sephiroth and Tifa staring at a cube-like, luminous object. It was on the other side of an immense hole, which Vincent quickly judged to be non-natural.

"Whatās going on?" Vincent asked quietly.

Tifa shifted her stance at the sight of the Turks, but quickly regained her composure. "We saw Aeris and Jenova, but Sephiroth killed Jenova quickly and Aeris disappeared. Cloud dived in after her." She motioned to the Lazarus as she finished.

Vincent thought a moment, then listened as before. His eyes glowed and he instantly jumped at Tifa. She was pushed out of the way as a beam of light tore a smoking hole clean through Vincentās chest. He slumped to the ground as his eyes shut. All three Turks stood in shock at their fallen leader, but Tifa didnāt seem to care that Vincent was dead. She just searched for the source of the killing shot.

"Donāt you care that Vincentās dead? He gave his life to save you, Tifa! Show a little respect!" Elena shouted.

Tifa smiled and turned to Elena. "He never did tell you about his ĪAnger Control Disorderā did he?" All of the people turned at the sight of a monster coming out of the giant crater Sephiroth had created, Jenova-METAMORPHOSIS. The creature pulled itself from the giant hole and covered it with its enormous body. Tifa instantly got into a ready position. The Turks stood in shock, until they saw something different, which sent them into complete horror.

Vincent got up from where he had died, the hole in his chest still smoking, and flashed his eyes at the creature. The hole in his chest closed itself and Vincent cried out in pain as his body was ripped apart and replaced with that of an elder demon, known to history as the deity Chaos. It screamed an inhuman noise, then attacked Jenova with the fury of a thousand warriors. The Turks opened fire with their huge weapons, while Tifa shielded the whole group. Sephiroth stared at the battle, then jumped into the Lazarus after Cloud. All of the people in the room looked at the flash of light from Sephirothās departure, but then turned to the problem at hand. This would be tougher than they thought·

Cloud fell out of the Lazarus with a thud and landed on a smooth black floor. The only thing visible were three warriors, all staring at him. Aeris stood before them, praying for forgiveness to the one in the lead. He was a tall man, dressed in expensive clothing and carrying a sword that defied description. Its shimmer made him crazy as he looked at it, obviously the finest blade that was ever forged. He looked at Cloud, then laughed.

"I canāt believe this is the man who saved the planet. Heās so childish! Did you really have to pick someone so young, Aeris?"

"Forgive me, Edgar. He was the only one who could. Besides, I love him. Thatās all that matters. I wish to leave the lifestream forever, and join him again. Will you grant my request?" She pleaded.

The man named Edgar smiled, then laughed. "All right Aeris! If he can best all three of us, then you may go free." He turned to Cloud, then spoke again. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am your Īpredecessorā so to speak. My companions and I also saved the planet once, so we have more in common than you think. I am King Edgar of Figaro Castle, or at least, was. I am now the elected ruler of the lifestream and all itās inhabitants. We are now in the stationary lifestream, where we are not returned to the planet at any time or in any form. Allow me to introduce my friends." He finished.

Cloud took in the view of the two other people that stood before him. They would be a worthy challenge, but to face all of them at the same time would tax his very soul.

"This is Terra Branford. She is half-esper, a wonder of nature, and the first girl that I will introduce that has also resisted my charm." Edgar said. Cloud thought he heard a chuckle from somewhere, but he dismissed the thought.

"It is an honor to meet you, Cloud Strife." She said as she extended her hand. Cloud kneeled and kissed it lightly, as he was in the presence of entities far more powerful than him. "I expect you to be a challenge in combat."

"My other companion is the second to successfully resist the urge to marry me. Meet Celes Chere!" Edgar finished.

She approached quietly, almost seeming to float on a cape of white. "May the snow always find you in warm shelter, Cloud Strife. If you are puzzled by my familiarity, donāt be. I am the great-great grandmother of Aeris. Ifalna was my great-granddaughter, and I always thought she was beautiful. Aeris looks even more splendid. If you best me, and you will not, I assure you, I will place a special condition on your reward at the time of your victory. Good luck to you!"

Aeris sat dumbfounded, and just stared at Celes. Was this woman related to her? She looked into her eyes and saw the glow. This woman was an ancient, after all. Celes was telling the truth!

"Now then, are you ready? Any help for your side arriving?" Edgar finished.

"Just one." Sephiroth said as he slipped through the Lazarus portal and stood behind Cloud. "I fight with him."

Aeris stepped beside Cloud and spoke as well. "I fight for Cloud as well. He deserves better than what fate has dealt him."

"Very well, it is decided. This battle will determine your fate, Aeris. Good luck!" Edgar shouted.

Chapter 18

Elena continued to shoot even as Rude was knocked back to the wall by Jenova. Reno opened fire once again, and Tifa replenished the barriers surrounding each team member. Vincent, or more accurately Chaos, was in a complete frenzy. Though blood was spurting from several cuts on the demonās body, it continued to fight with a mad spirit, striking blow after blow. Nothing could stop the juggernaut of pain toward the monster. Jenova cried out, then struck and threw back all of the people in the room. They were under attack once more as the bladed end of one of the tentacles struck Chaos back from his attack. Tifa replenished the groupās lifeforce, but the Turks were running low on ammo. Help arrived at the last second as the Venus Gospel sliced off one of Jenovaās flailing tentacles.

"Mind if we join your little party?" Cid asked Elena.

"Go ahead. Admissionās free and thereās enough carnage to go around!" She replied. All of the people in the room attacked with blade, gun, magic, and other means of offense. Jenova counterattacked, but Tifa had help from Red XIII with healing their alliesā wounds. Blows struck the creature from all sides and, with one final shriek, Jenova fell to the floor, its life snuffed out for the last time. The body of Chaos fell from the air, and with a shriek it contracted and compressed, leaving the exhausted form of Vincent Valentine sitting on the rock floor.

"Now I know what an ĪAnger Control Disorderā is·" Elena thought to herself. She and the other Turks gathered around their drained leader, who stared all around.

"This cave is collapsing! Everybody out now!" Vincent yelled. With leaps and bounds, everyone in the room was running back the way they came.

Edgar moved forward as he drew his sword. It shimmered in the dim light, and its beauty mesmerized all present.

"Itās beautiful, isnāt it." Edgar remarked. "One of the few treasures that escaped the coming of Jenova. It is called the ĪIlluminaā, and it is the most powerful blade to ever be forged. The power of Holy is harnessed inside, waiting to be released. My companions hold similar weapons."

Terra stepped forward as she drew a lava-red sword from its sheath. "This is the sword known as ĪRagnarokā. It is different from the one you hold in your possession, as mine is the first weapon to bear the name. The power of a star is harnessed inside, and it unleashes its fury on the first unlucky soul it finds. I dealt the killing blow to the Sylpylid with it, and it was the most glorious battle in the history of the ancient world. I expect our battle to be just as glorious. May the espers smile upon your actions, warrior of the light!" She finished.

Celes was the last to present her weapon. It was a long, curved sword with an incredibly sharp edge. Cloud guessed it would slice anything in half without much trouble.

"This is the Holy Scimitar. It was forged so sharp that it is able cut through any material without any effort. I favored my first blade above it, but I lost the Atma Weapon when I fled Narshe during the Sylpylid attack. The Scimitar is a powerful weapon, but I long for the Atma Weaponās connection to my soul once again." Celes finished. Cloud stared at her, then drew the ancient sword. The electric-blue blade snapped into reality once again, and he brought it to bear on the female warriorās position. Edgar, Terra, and Celes gasped at the sight of the Atma Weapon back in the possession of a true warrior.

"If you win," Cloud started. "You may have your weapon back. Until then, you will have to fight for the privilege to hold it once again."

Cloud, Sephiroth, and Aeris lined up and held their weapons in ready position. The three ancient warriors picked an opponent, Terra chose Aeris, Edgar chose Sephiroth, and Celes glided into position across from Cloud.

"Aeris, would you say a prayer for the coming battle?" Edgar asked.

Aeris did not reply, she just kneeled and bowed her head. "Ancient spirits of the beyond, bless our coming battle with your wisdom, your power, and your grace..."

Chapter 19

Red XIII was the first to leave the collapsing tunnel, followed closely by Yuffie. Cid and Barrett were next, followed by Cait Sith and the Turks, save for Elena and Vincent.

"Whereās Vincent and Elena?" Reno asked.

"They must be in danger." Red said to the others. "Iām going back to help."

The warrior beast bounded along the tunnel until he came to the hole created by Sephirothās blood sample. Vincent was collapsed on the floor, and Elena was trying hard to get him out. Both were trapped in the pit.

"Grab my tail! Watch for the end!" Red screamed as a rock from the ceiling barely missed crushing him alive.

Elena grabbed Vincent by the arm, then held fast to Redās tail as he pulled them out. Another piece of granite fell into the gaping hole, and it was apparent that they did not have much time.

"Put Vincent on my back and get going!" Red shouted. Elena slowly placed Vincentās limp form on Redās back, then she ran for the distant exit. Red started to run, but Vincentās extra weight kept him from going faster than a fast walk. He had reached the end of his rope with this. Fire blazed around him as he shouted the words for the limit break.

"Lunatic High!" He yelled as his back stood erect under the weight of Vincentās body. He ran for the exit, the ceiling collapsing just behind him. With one final leap, he cleared the exit to the cave. The opening collapsed behind him with a cloud of dust that made him cough. They both entered the Highwind as the crater ridge caved in on itself with a huge explosion of dust. The airship sped away, but two people had yet to return to the real world from the swirling vortex of the Lazarus.

Cloud parried Celesā sword thrust, but the mage knight simultaneously attacked with a version of Fire 3 that Cloud did not recognize. It was weaker, and Cloud took note of that.

"Is that supposed to be a magic spell?" Cloud chortled. "Not even worth a notice!" He added as he cast his version of the fire spell.

"It doesnāt have to be!" She screamed as she pulled out a small rock. "I can just erase you from the face of the planet! The Crusader possesses the most powerful magic that ever was! Merton!"

Cloud felt his flesh being erased and liquefied by the heat that penetrated his body. He cried in pain from the burns as he looked to see that his legs were already vaporized by the firestorm. He expected to die, but was refreshed by a soothing rain from the sky. His body was regenerated magically, and he noticed that Aeris was summoning a heavenly host to their aid. She was interrupted from her prayers by a blow to the head from Terra. Cloud rushed into the fight once again and pulled out his most powerful materia orb.

"Crusader may be powerful, but I can defeat you at any time, goddess of the snow!" Cloud shouted back. "Ultimate End!"

Celes vanished, only to reappear moments later. She was clearly dead, and the fight was his. He pitied the pain that Celes must have received from King Arthur and his knights, but it was necessary. Her body magically restored itself, and she bowed to Cloud slowly.

"I yield to you, the superior warrior." She said as she presented her sword to him. Cloud turned it away as he looked into her eyes and spoke.

"We are not enemies. I honor you for your courage, Celes. If you should ever feel the need, visit my home. I would like to learn that fire spell you cast against me." Cloud finished. Celes smiled and handed him the shard of magicite.

"This is the Crusader Esper. It is the predecessor to your Knights of the Round materia. Use it wisely, for it is the most sacred treasure of the lifestream." She finished.

Aeris was struggling to keep up with her opponent, as Terra mercilessly battered at her with the Ragnarok. Aeris struck at Terra, and the smack of metal against flesh told her that she had hit her opponent. Terra grimaced, then vanished in a shimmer of light. What replaced the warrior was astounding. A white being of magic and light stood before her, the Ragnarok glistening with the arrival of more power through Terraās transformed hands.

"You will lose now, Aeris, for I am the most powerful being that has ever existed." Terra smiled as she struck Aeris with the butt of her sword. The Ancient fell to the ground, and Terra approached her fallen adversary with long strides. In the course of a second, Aeris got up and snatched the Ragnarok from Terraās hands. She held the ancient weapon centimeters from Terraās neck, and spoke in a calm voice.

"Thatās your weakness, Terra. Youāre too noble to admit defeat before dealing the winning blow." She dropped the sword and bowed to Terra. "You are a noble opponent, creature of magic. I concede that you are much more powerful than I am. You have earned my respect." Aeris finished.

Terra only smiled and turned to watch the battle between Edgar and Sephiroth.

Chapter 20

There was an immense clang as the Masamune found the Illumina in a parry of swords. Both Edgar and Sephiroth were tiring, and it showed in the expressions of their faces. In a brief break in the action, Edgar spoke to his opponent.

"You are a worthy adversary, but I will conquer you just the same. You will end up just like your double!" Edgar shouted.

"Stop!" Sephiroth shouted. Edgar lowered his sword as Sephiroth spoke. Cloud was listening as well, trying to reveal what had happened to his mortal enemy.

"Where is the real Sephiroth?" Sephiroth asked with fear in his voice. "I wish to meet him."

"We keep him locked up in the Cell Block, along with Kefka, Xagor and Apollo. Chaos and Xeromus were also kept in there, but Chaos was drawn away from the lifestream by a soul in pain and Xeromus was sent to find suitable territory for colonization. Sephiroth sure is a box of Fruit Loops! He raves and rants all day about Jenova and the Promised Land. We had to build a special cell to hold him. If you best me in combat, you may talk to him, but be warned! He is dangerously unstable, and the sight of you or Cloud may push him over the edge." Edgar said.

Sephiroth brought his sword up again and motioned that he was ready to resume. Edgar pounded at the warriorās weapon with inhuman strength, making it skitter away along the floor with several tapping noises. Sephiroth closed his eyes, then opened them and lunged at Edgar. The king of Figaro Castle dropped to his back and kicked Sephiroth up and over his body. Both warriors got to their feet and stood across from each other. In a momentās time, Sephiroth hit Edgarās hand with incredible force and snatched the Illumina. It glowed a deep blue with the energy of a new owner. Edgar stood up and smiled.

"I have other ways of defeating you!" He said as he pulled out a strange contraption. It fired a wave of magical energy that engulfed Sephiroth in a magical bubble.

"Move and youāre dust!" Edgar yelled as he returned the Air Anchor to itās hiding place behind his cape. Sephiroth paid no attention to Edgar; he just pulled out a piece of glowing red materia. An image of the sun exploding presented itself within the shining orb.

"I have the power to destroy our whole star system, Edgar. Need I invoke that power to destroy you?" Sephiroth asked.

Edgar sighed and backed down. "No, Sephiroth, you need not. You have bested me, and I will keep my promise. To the Cell block!"

The sight of him made Cloud sick, hanging there and pinned to the wall by magical shackles. The true Sephiroth grinned at him and spoke in an evil voice.

"Are you here to look upon me in superiority? Donāt even bother. I still control your mind, puppet! And you! You make me sick. To think you would actually fight beside this empty shell of a failure! You disgrace my name!" He yelled at Cloud and Sephiroth.

"Need I say anything?" Edgar asked.

"No, but open the door." Sephiroth said. Edgar silently opened the gate and Sephiroth walked up to his namesake.

"You are the one to pity." Sephiroth remarked. "You tried to destroy everything and everyone. What kind of a monster are you? Cloud has told me of your evils. I am ashamed to bear the weight of your doings!"

The true Sephiroth laughed maniacally and spoke in the same tone. "Iām sure that he didnāt tell the story right. He probably skipped the best parts! I do believe that he is too noble to tell of his insurmountable pain toward me."

Cloud said nothing, just stared toward him. "I do not think of you anymore, demon! I know the real Sephiroth, and he would easily give his life for me any day! I would do the same. Letās get out of here!"

As the six warriors left the room, Aeris took one final look at the real Sephiroth. The evil warrior closed his eyes and smiled wistfully. She wondered if Edgar would ever be rid of him for good.

"Cloud, I promised that I would return Aeris to the real world if you won, but itās not quite that simple. There are conditions of the bargain that cannot be avoided. You will not be able to look at her eye to eye, or she will return to the lifestream. She can only appear to you for two minutes at a time, and that can only be three times a day. I regret that I cannot do more for you." Edgar finished.

"I can." Celes said after Edgar had finished. "You bested me, and I owe you the privilege that I said I would grant you. If you can marry Aeris in a true wedding ceremony, then she may leave the lifestream forever and return to the real world."

Aeris looked at Cloud and sighed. "We canāt get married in two minutes! Itās impossible!"

Cloud grabbed her shoulders and spoke forcefully to her. "Trust me, Aeris. Iāll find a way! Wait for me, because I will find a way!"

Aeris shed a tear of joy. "Iāll be watching·" She trailed off.

Edgar shook Cloudās hand and wished him goodbye. "We will never forget your act of courage. Best of luck to you!"

Chapter 21

"Are you sure you didnāt forget ANYTHING?" Cloud said to Tifa.

"Of course not! You can relax, Cloud. Everything will be okay!" She replied.

"All right then. Everybody hide! This has to be perfect!" Cloud shouted to everybody. They all sat down, and the waiting began

Aeris shimmered into reality inside the Highwind. "Where was Cloud?" She thought. Surely she didnāt go to the wrong place!

"Now Vincent!" Cloud screamed as he grabbed Aeris from behind, being careful not to look at her face. Vincent carefully aimed and shot a small target. A red carpet dropped from the ceiling and unrolled along the center aisle of the Highwindās bridge. Cid quickly stepped out from behind the pilotās console and opened his copy of the Bible. All of the others came out of hiding and sat down behind Cloud and Aeris.

"Start, Cid! And make it quick!" Cloud shouted.

Cid cleared his throat and spoke as quickly as he could. "Okay everyone! Weāre here to see Cloud and Aeris get married. Clap, dammit!"

Right on cue, everybody clapped. Cloud quickly slipped a ring onto Aerisā finger.

"Do you wanna be Cloudās wife, Aeris?" Cid said at the same time that Cloud asked if she liked the ring.

"I do!" She said to Cloud, unaware of the real question she had just answered.

"Do you wanna be Aerisā husband?" Cid asked.

"I do." Cloud said quickly.

"Ten seconds!" Cait Sith shouted from the stands as Cid continued.

"Because Iām the captain of this ship, I say youāre married. Now kiss her, goddamit!"

Cloud grabbed Aeris by the waist and kissed her, just as time ran out. Cid slapped his face in disgust.

"Damn lovebirds! Iām gonna get a cigarette!"

The End

This story is dedicated to Aeris Gainsborough, who would have made the best video game in the world second rate if not for her death.

Afterward: I really hoped you enjoyed the story. Please, send me your opinions of the story at LordSeto@aol.com Thanks for reading.

© 1998-2015 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy