A Final Fantasy VII/XIII fanfiction by Lushard
- Lost -
It all started with what he had assumed as a trivial matter.
In place where his geostigma had been, there was a new aching that he had first ignored. He must have overworked himself in that last delivery when he had been confronted by a pack of hungry wolves. After pouring a stash of Hi-Potion as a just-in-case prevention, Cloud had paid it no mind.
Frowning, he looked at his left arm, eyes and brain not working well in tandem with what he was seeing. There was some sort of a...dull mark on his skin. It had appeared without him noticing and it looked and felt as if it had been carved by a sharp tip of a burnt object. Scratchy, not quite as painful as the wretched stigma, but it was throbbing none-the-less.
A series of possibilities came across his mind. Could it be that the geostigma had an after effect? No it couldn't be. At least he thought it couldn't. Aerith's healing water should have taken care of any lingering virus in one's body, for such was the prowess of a Cetra's unexplainable healing magic. Then could it be that a new disease was plaguing him? But if so, what was the cause? The greater question still: how it would affect him? So far he had yet to feel weakened or ill.
Cloud shifted his gaze to the darkening sky above. The city of Edge was in the vicinity, and on top of it thick, black clouds were forming, a sign of a storm to come. His delivery had just been finished and he only had to return to the new Seventh Heaven. But he couldn't just yet.
Fishing for his PHS in his pocket, he flipped the device open and dialed Rufus Shinra's. Though he was reluctant to, Cloud had to admit that the man knew his way around anything that a scientist was supposed to know about the Planet.
"Yes, Cloud?" Rufus' voice came.
"Can I drop by?" He had never been one of polite nonsense. "There's something I want you to check."
Cloud mumbled his thanks and started Fenrir.
Moments later he had Rufus peering close to his arm. Rufus' eyes were narrowing in concentration, fingers probing Cloud's skin. "Most intriguing," he said in a murmur, as if to himself. He pressed two fingers against the mark, and Cloud felt a stab of pain. "It hurts?"
He grunted in response.
Cloud was seated on a sofa in one of the surviving Shinra's lodges. Now back in active duty, Rufus was once again a busy man who strove to amend for what he and his father had done before Meteor. But still, even when wearing a clean suit of a company man, he was a scientist at heart. There were labs in each of his abode where Cloud knew the man would gladly shut himself in were there no paperwork for him to do.
Rufus' curiosity was boundless. It was well hidden beneath the cool exterior and professional demeanor of a businessman that his aura spoke of. But now seated beside him was the Rufus he had rarely seen: absorbed in a new finding, focused and without a trace of malicious intent. How time had changed things, Cloud mused.
Rufus withdrew his fingers and inspected it closer. "Hmm. It looked like a fresh tattoo to me and nothing else," he said. "The pattern is hard to trace too. It's too subtle."
"No reading on magic whatsoever?"
"No. I've checked. So, constant throbbing pain is our only lead?"
"Sometimes it recedes into a dull pain. But it's still there, the sensation."
"How long has it been?"
"The last six hours."
Rufus threw a half smile. "And you suspected if to be skin irritation or the likes."
It wasn't a question so Cloud kept silent. Rufus' female subordinate, Elena if Cloud didn't recall her name wrong, strode into living room with a cellphone in hand. "Director, there is a call for you," she said to Rufus.
"Vincent Valentine, Sir."
Cloud and Rufus glanced at each other before the silver hair gestured for Elena to hand the phone over to him. "Yes, Valentine?"
SOLDIER hearing let Cloud listen to Vincent's voice with little to no difficulty. "I cannot reach Reeve Tuesti," was the marksman's blunt opening. He too was someone who never bothered with pleasantries. "Might you know where he is?"
Rufus' brows knitted together. "I've just had a phone meeting with him two hours ago."
"Well. Now he cannot be contacted. Must I complain to the provider?" Vincent asked, and people would have regarded it as a sarcastic question were it not coming from him. Anyone who had spent at least two hours near Vincent would know that the man was clueless when it came to modern technology that weren't designed to shoot bullets or cut objects.
"I'll check," Rufus said, and switched line to dial Reeve's. It couldn't connect.
At the same time Rufus was on the line with Vincent again Cloud's own PHS vibrated. From Seventh Heaven, the screen informed him. He pressed the 'Answer' button and instantly, Marlene's shrieking voice threatened to deafen him. "Cloud?! Cloud, can you hear me?! Please answer!"
Cloud winced at the loudness of statics and Marlene's voice. "Yes. What's wrong?"
"There's a storm in the city. And Tifa's gone!" came the panicked reply. "Denzel's the only one with me, and I can't contact Papa too!"
Fear almost rose in Cloud's chest but he quickly stomped over it. "'Gone'?" he repeated. Rufus' head swivelled at him. "What do you mean, Marlene?"
"She was in her room a minute ago, and when the storm hit she was not there!"
Marlene now sounded as if she was ready to break down. Denzel's voice took over. "Cloud, the electricity has died down. What do I and Marlene do?" The boy's voice was not as panicked as Marlene's but Cloud could hear his distress.
Cloud stood and walked to the window, spotting Edge kilometres away and was surprised to see that the sky was almost pitch black, covered by thunderclouds. This was no ordinary storm all right. "Calm down. Don't go outside, and-"
The statics grew worse and in the next second the line was cut. Cloud resisted the urge to scowl. He was aware of his fastening heartbeat. Tifa was gone? What in the hell had just struck the world? He turned at Rufus, whose signal connection had apparently been cut too. "What's with this storm?"
"It isn't normal," he said, glancing up. He issued an order to Elena to check the computers for any strange readings while he opened his own laptop. The screen flashed to life and Rufus immediately shook his head. "No service. I can't even reach the main server."
Whatever thought Cloud had left was swallowed when suddenly, the lights in the house were out and he felt the ground shake. His enhanced vision allowed him to see Rufus stumbling to the floor, and he would have done something, screamed, but a great pain lanced through every nerve in his body, paralyzing him.
The mark was burning; heat was consuming him alive. He knelt on the floor, clutched at his arm, as the pain intensified. It blinded him. And to the darkness he succumbed.
VII - x - XIII
Hope Estheim had spent years in the merciless hands of Bhunivelze to learn that emotions and feelings were out of the question whilst working to fulfill his new purpose under the god. He had read what fate Bhunivelze had to foretell, had listened to his voice over and over and be forced to accept it as his only guide in life, had seen and experienced torture beyond imagination that he now couldn't even feel a twinge of curiosity at the new finding showing on the many screens before him. It was only natural. He, after all, had been re-programmed by the god to simply act and not feel.
'ANOMALY' the screens read. Glowing red dots appeared on the world map. They were scattered all around the area.
Hope's nimble fingers typed on the massive board, his eyes leaping from one monitor to the other. There was something going on in the realm below, but he couldn't pick up what. His radar was functioning normally but it couldn't read the strange signals coming from several places all at once. This reading...it resembled the Chaos. Only that the Chaos didn't pop up so randomly and in so many places at the same time without any trigger. People randomly losing their sanity and turning into the darkness within and around them was an absurd idea. Unless the world decided that the thirteen days humanity had been granted were to be shortened into mere minutes.
"Light?" he tried to make a call.
A short moment of waiting had him almost suspicious that Lightning, the world's Saviour he was meant to assist, had not heard him. But after a short moment she replied. "There's something wrong."
From one of the monitors he could see that the she was standing statue still in an open plain. Lightning was in the Wildlands, still wielding the Crimson Blitz in one hand and Night Lotus shield in the other, looking fresh from a fight. Behind her was remnants of a wild monster, already fading from the realm as shards of black and white engulfed its being. Lightning's eyes were transfixed on the sky, and Hope had the monitor show what she was seeing.
Black clouds were dancing above the greenery. They were quickly enveloping the area with darkness, travelling with such a speed that within a blink of an eye everything on land was shaded. A storm? His reading didn't indicate so. Whatever it was, it was not of natural phenomenon. Hope checked the other cities and areas only to find that the same thing was happening across the world.
Hope said, "I'm trying to look into it but so far I've found nothing."
Suddenly all the monitors blacked out. Hope abruptly stood, sending his chair tumbling back, surprised. Before he could do something about it they all functioned again, showing images and data as they had before like the blackout hadn't happened.
Strange. The Ark had never suffered a shutdown before, let alone a power shortage. The Ark existed in a realm inside Bhunivelze's very consciousness, and so, it was supposed to be untouched by any changes or factors coming from the external realms. Except...that whatever happening below was something that even transcended not only time and space, but also the god's core of existence. It was a theory Hope found almost impossible. Such a thing had never happened before.
He eyed the Tree behind him to see if it had reacted somewhat. It stood passively still.
He prayed that he wasn't simply imagining things. He knew he was running out of time, but he'd be damned if the curse was redoubled with the burden of being delusional. Hope tried to scan the monitors for signs of change as he reached for Lightning again.
"What happened there, Light?" The Ark showed that the dots had their frequency reduced to that of chaos. It did no longer alarm him of any further anomalies. Yet.
Statics colored the connection when Lightning's voice carried through. "There was a quake. Very brief. Accompanied by lightning strikes. And now the dark clouds are gone; the sky's as clear as it had been a minute ago."
Suspicious. "That was too quick."
"It was. Found anything cute?"
Hope found the fact that Lightning could jest with her emotions stripped was, but he was too focused by the dot marks to make a comment on it. "Yes. It seems that it was the Chaos. Or something close to it." He once again glanced at the Yggdrasil, waiting for a silent voice to inform him of something, of anything.
He heard nothing. He turned his attention back to Lightning again. "I get a reading coming from the forest southwest of you. Mind to check it out?"
"You don't need to ask." Lightning strapped her sword on her back and began jogging towards the pinpointed location.
Hope leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, sorting his thoughts. He had lost the ability to feel anxiety, but he simply knew that there was something happening down there. The ancient soul within him had the intuition that was rarely off the mark.
VII - x - XIII
Cloud woke up with a start.
He quickly rolled to one knee, assuming a defensive position, his hand instantly found the hilt of his sword. Such was an instinct he had developed over the years of being a light sleeper and being haunted by people and creatures with intention of harming him.
All around him was a sight of lush green. The air was clear and had an exotic smell to it, something that resembled mint and dark cocoa. He was clearly in a forest, surrounded by tall trees and plants he did not recognize; the ground was soft beneath his boots.
Where was he? What had happened?
The last moments of the time he'd spent in Rufus' lodge came rushing in. Marlene's call...and then... The storm! And the quake!
Cloud looked around, frantic, and found that he was alone in the woods. There was no one in his range of vision. No Rufus, no Elena. No signs of the luxurious penthouse where he had been. His brain started to formulate questions, but before he could process them the pain on his left arm throbbed again. He looked at his arm.
A strange, black mark had appeared on his skin. It was...pulsing with life. The mark emitted a soft, red glow that glimmered. What on the Planet was it?
SOLDIER instinct told him that there was another presence nearing his position. Soft steps on the soil resounded, and his eyes soon caught a movement amidst the bushes. He tightened his grip on First Tsurugi.
A feminine voice. Deep, and one that was used at giving commands.
Cloud slowly stood up, still in a guarded stance, ready to pounce. He sensed that the woman had stopped a good distance away from him, probably assuming a wary stance as well. They were separated by thick bushes, but they didn't prevent his vision from analyzing any sudden movements the female soldier might make. Oh yes. He knew that he was dealing with a soldier, and a trained one at that. He could tell from the shadow of her movements and the sound of her rythmed footsteps when she'd been approaching him; they had been measured and light, balanced and ready for action.
When he had finally drawn his body to its full height, he finally could see whom he was face to face with. A woman of pale complexion and pink hair, clothed in the strangest garb of black and white he had never seen before. She was standing with her feet slightly apart, now eyeing Cloud's hand that was on his sword. She had a sword of her own on her back, and also a matching red shield on her left arm. A melee fighter?
The woman was first to speak. "You don't look like a hunter from around here."
Strange accusation. Cloud thought of some response. Questions would come first, he decided. "Who are you?"
Her expression remained impassive and guarded, even as she raised her eyebrows. "I should be the one asking." Then her green eyes travelled to his left arm and widened.
Within that very second Cloud's body had moved on its own; reflexes taking over. He had drawn First Tsurugi, solidified his stance, and deflected a fast blow aimed at his head with his blade. He didn't think when the woman slashed at him again, only responded. He changed the angle of his blade to block the attack, received the weight, then used it to fling the attacker into the air.
"Who sent you?" the woman bellowed as she landed several meters away. Damn she was quick! Should he not have the S-cell infused into his blood his head would probably be rolling onto the ground.
"What're you talking about? Nobody did." He couldn't understand what she was implying but very well knew that the mark had meant something to her to trigger such hostility.
"Don't act stupid, l'Cie!" she spat. Again the female soldier launched an attack. But this time, with a conjured magic Cloud had not expected.
He had no time to neither curse nor think as he jumped to his right to avoid a blast of thunder. The solid tree trunk where he had been cracked. A second spell was already cast, dropping the temperature by ten degrees before knife-sharp icecicles flew at him. He swung his massive sword to crush them, and with one dash he came at her. He was not going to play easy to kill with an enemy like her; staying on the defensive for too long would mean death.
One strike, two, hard blow directed low. Good, she fell for it. The woman had not been prepared to be counterattacked that swiftly and so she was forced to raise her shield in defense. An inch before his Tsurugi made contact to her shield he separated one sword. The heavier weapon staggered the woman, then he used the lighter one to aim for her unprotected side.
Only to meet a wall built by magic. Was that Protect? How could she cast it so fast?
Cloud dashed back. And blinked. Twice.
Had the woman just changed garb?
She was now clad in a clothing that looked like a combination of a white sleeveless shirt, purple skirt and steel armor that covered her feet and arms. Her sword and shield had also changed: they were now of a different design, almost tribal in appearance, and had carvings and rougher edges to them. The woman stood, body still tense, but she was holding her sword in a passive manner. She had her eyebrows fiercely drawn and seemed to be whispering something under her breath.
Cloud's hearing picked up her murmur: "All right, Hope. You watch for any strange readings."
Against Cloud's logic she lowered her weapon. "You weren't lying?" she asked him.
"I wasn't." Cloud lowered his swords too. Still, he readied himself should the woman change her mind and lunge again. The mastered materia he had equipped to First Tsurugi would be ready the next time she made a suspicious move.
"You're not from here?"
Finally a question he could answer. "I'm not."
The woman looked dubious at first, but then slightly accepting after she scanned him from head to toe. "Where are you from?"
"Let me ask you a question first. I believe it is my turn," he said.
She glared but kept her mouth in a firm line. Her grim expression translated as 'Go ahead but I'll behead you if you try anything funny.'
Cloud contemplated if his question constituted as funny, but he asked anyway. "Where am I?"
x -0- x
A/N: Couldn't resist it any longer.