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The silence around them was terrific, too great to be denied. No bird nor beast made a sound that was audible, making the group shift listlessly. It was putting them at extreme unease, and that was not a way to be when on a mission. The oldest of them looked over his shoulder in anticipation of some unknown enemy, placing his hand (shaking slightly) on the handle of his sword. Others felt about the same; no weapon was far from hand. One of them lit a cigarette, and the momentary flare in the darkness surrounding the dull campfire made them all jump lightly.
One of them looked up and around slightly, training his eyes on the leader, whose dim figure could be seen trying to light a cigarette of his own. He thought for a moment about even speaking -- their leader had been on edge lately. Rumors abound in the underground he was turning homicidal. This was not difficult to believe, if you looked upon the events of his life. People accredited him and him alone for the destruction of everyone in Shinra. Not hard to believe at all. At last he decided to gather his wits and speak aloud.
"Boss," He said quietly, and he could see the boss pause in the middle of trying to strike a defective match -- many of theirs had been ruined while wading through a river of sewage yesterday, on their way to the ruin. The boss (and everyone else, for that matter; he had startled most of them).
"What do you want?" The boss replied, finally managing to light up his smoke. Its smell wafted over to the rest of the group, making them slightly dizzy. The boss was known to smoke stronger cigarettes than some men could handle. "I'm a busy man, Crane." He pronounced the name cran with his Nibel accent, making it a little sing-song that he found pretty funny. Crane did not find this so funny, but he knew better to keep his mouth shut.
"You sure this is the place?" Crane asked, feeling a slight of nausea from the cigarette pass through him. "This place don't seem right, boss. Did she say--" The boss shot Crane a sharp look that immediately silenced him. There was a short pause with the two staring at each other. Eventually Crane dropped his eyes, and the boss grinned.
Soon the sun rose in the sky and attempted to burst through the pollution that still lingered in the air, low now, and more toxic with age. This was their signal to move on. It had been a sleepless night and a tiring day before that, but mostly waht the group of ten felt was relief at the coming of morning, which vanquished any imaginary ghosts that might have haunted the ruins of Midgar, twenty years destroyed.
The boss headed up the line as they entered the inner city of Sector Five. It had been a long time since some of them had been here, and the memories struck the boss the most. His mind, which had refused to quit functioning properly since the "war" which he had been a part two decades ago, was still acute and remembered the beautiful flower girl whom he had loved in secret, who was killed at the hands of his enemy. His enemy was killed by his hand, however, so he had avenged her: or so he had thought. Now he wanted no more than to have impaled her on his own, so that the whole charade which had left him a broken man never even occured. Some inner voice cried out at this thought, but he stifled it quickly, and with ease, thinking he had silenced it, but it resurfaced a short time later, much to his annoyance. Soon they came to a dilapidated building that only the boss remembered.
"Guess this is the place," one of the crew said silently, staring up towards the steeple that had once adorned a church, but now only adorned a misshapen, collapsed structure that might have once been a building. They all stopped, staring up at it. Some of them thought they heard phantom voices resound from inside, promising insanity upon entry. The boss was impassive about any suspicions. What he was searching for was here.
"It is," The boss affirmed, his accent slightly thickened, making it diz. He started forward but immediately took attention that none of his comrades were making moves to follow. He whirled on them, sneering. The once-church behind him loomed, somehow making him appear more fearful than ever. They all fell back a step. "Come on, you dogs. It's in here. Come with me, or I'll separate your heads from your shoulders." They paused and made no move, even when he approached them. The light seemed more concentrated on this sacred ground, and they could see every detail of the boss' face -- the few days' worth of gray beard stubble he had accumulated; his once spiky gray hair still retaining some of the blond streaks it had possessed -- but most of all his eyes, bright and shining blue. Impossibly blue, someone could assert if they had seen them for the first time. His noble face had collapsed as the building behind him had, and Cloud looked now as what he was: a miserable scavenger on the brink of insanity.
"We're not going in, boss," One of them said boldly. "Haunts."
Cloud scowled, then gave an evil grin and nodded companionably. "Haunts, hm?" The ones who survived his attack later told people that it was at that moment the boss fell off. His eyes, which were bright blue, actually seemed to beam blue light, then fade into a dark midnight color. He immediately went for his sword at cut a wide swath through the group. The reaction was immediate: they turned and ran. He went after them and managed to cut all but about two or three down, whooping war cries and laughing while he was doing so. All throughout, his mind rang with one real thought: Vengeance. When he felt he was done, he returned to the church, staring up at it thoughtfully.
"Yuffie said it was here," he said to himself. In his voice a memory of his past self rang, and he sounded twenty-two instead of forty-two. "She was the best Materia hunter... but... I killed her, didn't I?" He paused to consider this thought for awhile. His memory seemed to have temporarily abandoned him. At long last he straightened up and nodded, remembering having slain Yuffie. She denied the existence of a Materia granting immortality. He didn't believe her, so he strangled her to death. It was a fitting death for a liar and a thief such as herself. He chuckled at that and entered the church.
It seemed a lot like the place haunts would hang out. The flowers which had once grown throughout the church had disappeared. Ivy scaled the tall cathedral walls and laced across the ceiling. Moss had set in across the rotted floorboards. Most of the polished and buffed pews had been stolen or demolished. In a few of the remaining pews, skeletons dressed in their best church clothes and gripping mildewy hymnals gaped at the ceiling maniacally. Cloud saw all of this and none of this. He cast a sharp eye throughout the green, searching for the one thing which might restore himself to his strongest state, as he was when he battled Sephiroth. His strength was diminishing, and it hurt him to breathe sometimes, especially when he was smoking. He needed the Materia more than anything else. He felt he needed it to survive. Then he could... what? After immortality, what can be achieved but global conquest? Yes... he was stronger than Sephiroth. He was still more powerful than Sephiroth had ever been. He could take over the world. Emperor Cloud, he thought amidst his meaningless jumble of thoughts and grinned, then started forward.
"I'll take a little work, Aeris," He said to himself, slashing away the ivy at the walls. He waited for the heavy clunk of the Materia to fall, if it was hidden in the leaves as he suspected. Nothing happened, then he started systematically destroying the walls. Debris flew all around him, and he didn't notice. "Just a little work, Aeris. Then I'll just a little. Then, a work. Aeris." His already meaningless ramble descended into an incomprehensible rave that eventually ended as he made his way up the rotted wooden plank steps into the belfry. He took a breather, smashing out a plank support as he rested. The ceiling creaked momentarily, and still he did not notice.
He progressed higher and higher, making his way easily throughout the ruinous church. He stepped off of a mildewed rafter to only have it fall to the floor far below behind him. Instead of crashing into splinters it seemed to explode silently. When it seemed there was no other way to go, he carefully brought out his sword and stabbed it into the wall. He stepped off the rafter he was balanced precariously on and onto the handle of the sword, then reaching above him and grasping onto a hole in the church's roof. Carefully he lifted his feet off the blade, then reached down and grasped the sword, pulling it out. He stabbed it in the wall higher above him, then swung his legs up and hung from the sword's blade by his knees. The wall groaned greatly, as if in pain, but failed to break. Cloud reached up and grabbed the sword with his knees still locked around it, then quickly jumped on the handle and grabbed another roof section. He was at the top now, and he could see quite a ways from up here... he fancied he could see Aeris' house, what there was of it. Grinning like a madman, he slowly turned and observed his surroundings.
When he did a full turn he saw a bright green orb, hanging from a vine. "Is it... it?" He asked to himself, tottering slightly. The wall made a louder sound from beneath him, but he did not notice. He precariously reached out to take the orb, but suddenly his vision was assaulted by a bright light, rivaling the flash that he had once seen when... something had happened twenty years ago. He couldn't quite remember what it was now, and he thought it didn't matter. He turned aside, then, when he thought the light had receded, he looked back.
"Aeris!" He cried joyously. What looked like Aeris was there, except she was different from the living being she once was. She looked the same, except she was colorless and transparent. The only color was in one of her eyes: it was the shining green orb. "Aeris... I've found it. Aren't you happy?" He grinned widely, his now-dark blue eyes glimmering a little but still presenting an insane aura.
Aeris smiled lightly, and wavered a little. Cloud, she seemed to say within the far-gone reaches of Cloud's mind. Cloud... take it. Live forever. Cloud's reaction was immediate: he reached out and snatched the orb. He grasped it tightly, and it burst in his hands. Tottering heavily, he opened his hand. It was a plant bulb. Mouth agape, he looked up and watched the image of Aeris take the shape of Sephiroth.
Live forever, traitor, Sephiroth said laughing, and from beneath Cloud the sword dropped an inch, then fell away completely as the wall shattered. As he fell, he could hear Sephiroth laughing. Crashing through rafters that did nothing but shatter his bones and smash his internal viscera, he could still hear him: a gravelly, evil laugh that rang throughout time. Just before Cloud impacted, his eyes became the bright blue color they were in sanity. He hit the old floor with a heavy thud that broke his back. He stared up at the ceiling and tried to breathe. It was a struggle to do so, and he insisted on giving up. But there was one last thing he had to say. He closed his eyes and collected his breath, then spoke softly into the stale air.
"Aeris," He said softly, his consciousness slipping away. "I am sorry... for what I've done." He gasped for breath, found it more difficult, and tried again. What came out was a raspy groan. He breathed in deeply and felt something in his chest grind against him. He dismissed it and the immense pain that came with each breath. "Forgive me... please... forg... ive..." He struggled to keep conscious, but comforting darkness overcame him. To his own shock, he greeted it happily.
Aeris, I'm coming! Was his last thought before he lapsed into the darkness, which was followed by a pale green light. He was at peace for the first time in his life. Cloud left his life smiling.
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