Another chapter is here!

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It was a rougher landing than Crimson liked as they came down as close to the reactor as they could with the enemies on their trails. Yuffie's limitations when it came to summoning were reached by that point, leaving Leviathan to deposit them before its time was up. Then it turned around and released its fury upon their Deepground assailants while no longer restrained by passengers.

Dark grey waters appeared through its will and proceeded to form a rushing torrent from above. It came crashing down, smashing everything beneath it. That included the Pegasus Riders and Paratroopers that annoyed the Lord of the Seas, who were swatted like flies as the Summoning dissipated.

While Yuffie rummaged through their supplies to get an Ether to help clear her head, Crimson looked out in the direction where Cloud had gone off. The sounds of destruction and buildings collapsing in the wake of their colliding strength made it clear that the battle was still ongoing. But, as much as it pained her, she couldn't do more to aid him against Kunsel's killer than she already had.

"Heidegger is nearing the reactor now," Shelke said through the earpiece. "Hojo seems to be making his way towards the hangar, likely attempting to get out of the blast radius of the explosion. It may be more effective to divide into two groups, in order to reach them both before they accomplish their respective goals."

Well, she's not wrong, Crimson agreed silently. It was the only logical choice they had in the end if they were going to accomplish anything. Heidegger was a monster now, but they'd killed worse. It was the Materia Bomb and the potential release of the next Tsviet that were the more immediate threats. Since she was the only one here who could disarm the bomb, she would have to take the reins of one group.

That left Hojo to the second group. He was the bigger threat, all things considered. He was the one trying to kickstart Omega, had the Protomateria, and injected himself with Jenova cells. Aerith was the best-suited to deal with him while backed with support from the others.

That in mind, she turned to the others and divided their roles. "Vincent, Yuffie, Nanaki, and Lockhart will go with Aerith to deal with Hojo. Everyone else will come with me to put down Heidegger while I disarm the Materia Bomb. Rui, when Cloud finishes with Azul, direct him to us, understood?"

"Acknowledged," Shelke responded through the earpiece.

"Just a moment." Aerith halted their separation in order to begin casting spells. The Wall spell would give them an added layer of protection, strong enough to shield them from harm for a time. The Haste spell would quicken their steps, allowing them to get to their destination in time. And the Regen spell would soothe any pain they found themselves in should their defense be broken.

Aerith then gave Crimson her Gravity Materia as a replacement for the Thunder Materia she'd given Cloud. "All of you, be careful."

"As much as we can be," Crimson said as reassuringly as she could while coddled by the grouping of spells. "You guys be safe as well."

Then they split apart. Crimson watched Aerith's group depart until another loud crash stemmed from the battlefield they'd left behind. Her gaze turned towards it and she issued a silent but fervent wish for Cloud's safety, before she turned her back on him and went to deal with Heidegger.


A roar bellowed out as Azul lunged, his large body crossing the distance between them that stretched three buildings apart. He swung his hammer around in mid-air as he neared Cloud, and it met with the edge of the Buster Sword. They hammered into each other with enough force to make the air quake and shatter whatever glass hadn't been broken so far, while shards scraped against the ground as Cloud slid back.

Despite the good showing earlier, Cloud was on the defensive. Azul was both strong and fast. He didn't have technique, or at least he didn't deem it necessary, as the brute strength and speed he had were just enough to flatten most opposition with a single blow.

"Where's that bravado from before!?" Azul demanded, hammer chambered as he rushed in with surprising speed that belayed his size. Bringing it around like he was riding on a hurricane, the hammer threatened to break every bone in Cloud's body whether or not he blocked it.

Triggering the Earth Materia on his Buster Sword, Cloud slammed it down into the ground in front of him and directed Quake 3 spell outward. The Cerulean Beast leapt through the air in response as the ground beneath him was devastated, buildings and structures toppling as their very foundation was ripped apart by the spell. That was opening Cloud needed as his Limit Break activated.

The energy was nebulous in itself within Cloud, on the verge of becoming something else. But, right now, he needed something assuredly fast and strong. So he channeled it into his blade and swung hard to send the Blade Beam flying out.

A crescent of condensed and pure power, backed by the might of Cloud's muscles, sailed forward. It cut through the air and its radiant light overtook Azul as it neared him with the intention of ripping him apart utterly. It was hard to dodge anything in mid-air, so it would hit him head-on.

Azul laughed joyously at the prospect. A smile that bared teeth was displayed as he swung his hammer around to meet the challenge before him. The face of the hammer met the energy wave with a thunderous crash… and the hammer shattered it, rupturing the attack and causing it to break apart with a mako-shaded explosion.

… He really was a monster. That attack could have leveled a building and leave only dust behind. It had done that to one in Costa del Sol, after Crimson had been shot. Yet, the fact that Azul shattered it like glasswork left Cloud utterly stunned, sweat rolling down his brow.

Azul capitalized on it. The moment he landed, the Tsviet pointed the barrel of the cannon attached to his hammer towards Cloud. Then he fired an artillery round straight for him.

Cloud snapped out of his shock and brought the flat of the Buster Sword around to his front just in time as the trigger was pulled. The round smashed against the Buster Sward and exploded. The force of the blast sent a jolt through his arms and body, costing him his balance without solid footing to brace against. It created an opening, a moment in time where his guard was down and he was vulnerable.

And, in that moment, Azul closed the distance again with a monstrous charge. Another clash of strength followed as their two weapons crashed into one another, only Azul didn't stop his charge. Instead, he picked up speed and swept Cloud along, his feet sliding against the ground as he tried in futility to brace himself. Then Azul put everything into a swing that used the rotation of his hips, rocketing the smaller swordsman upwards.

"Nnghh!" A groan was forced out of Cloud's mouth as he tumbled upwards in the air, arms aching and feeling the force of gravity fighting against him on the way up. Then Azul leapt up with those inhumanly strong legs and was chambered to swing the hammer down. He twisted himself around and brought the blade into a guard-position again before it struck.

A resounding metallic crash echoed out as Cloud was spiked downwards. Pain blossomed in his body and another building was devastated as he plowed through two sets of floors before hitting the concrete bottom. He let out a bloody cough as he drew air into his lungs and felt agony in his arm that was now broken from the force of Azul's swing.

Cloud forced himself to ignore the pain as Azul fell down towards him, fully intent on finishing him off with a crushing blow. He gritted his teeth, raised his other arm towards the opening in the broken ceiling, and triggered the Thunder Materia to let loose a Bolt 3 spell with a violent jolt to his mind. The blinding bolt rose from the earth to the sky and struck the Cerulean Tsviet in-between, knocking him off his planned course as smoke trailed from his body.

Seconds were bought at best. Cloud didn't waste any of them, forcing himself to stand as he used a Restore Materia to patch his wounds. The broken bones snapped back into place and his aches were soothed, allowing him to ready himself for the next exchange. That came when Azul burst through the wall, a broad smile on his face.

"Doesn't this make your blood boil?" Azul asked as he tried to smash Cloud into paste with his hammer again, a simple but effective means of killing. Cloud deftly avoided it and brought the Buster Sword around with a swing that forced Azul to lean his head back to avoid losing it. Then he slammed it forward to headbutt Cloud backwards. "This is what it means to be a warrior!"

"What are you talking about?" Cloud demanded as he got back to his feet with a roll, still able to fight.

The Cerulean Tsviet spun the hammer around and took aim with the cannon to fire. "A battle of this caliber is a privilege only the strong may relish! Rejoice in it!"

"Is that how you justify working with Shinra!?" Cloud asked in turn as he darted around the gunfire and countered with a Bolt 2 spell. "Even knowing all the things they've done!"

The serpentine bolt of lightning that snaked out slammed into the larger man's chest, tendrils of electricity worming around his body before sinking into the ground. It barely hindered him long enough for Cloud to throw himself forward, wreathed in the light of the Limit Break a second time. It culminated in a downward slash containing three times his normal strength. "Even knowing all the people they've killed!?"

Azul tried to block it with his hammer, but the empowered swing cut through it and the point of the blade sliced into his mako-tempered flesh. Blood spurted out of the line drawn that ran from his shoulder to his abdomen, and for the second time in recent history the Cerulean Beast bled. It left him laughing rapaciously as, deprived of his favored weapon, Azul then use his left fist to punch Cloud hard enough to launch him through the wall and onto the street. "The strong survive and the weak fall. That is the way of the world!"

Cloud wiped the blood from his mouth as the grip on his sword tightened once more. "The strong… exist to… protect the weak!"

At that last part as he triggered another Quake 3 spell that rocked the area they were in. Still within the confines of the room and unable to jump upwards this time, there was no escape as the ground opened up beneath the Cerulean Tsviet. It swallowed him whole and the surrounding building collapsed inwards to bury him beneath several tons of rubble.

As the rumbling slowly settled, an uneasy silence took hold. Cloud took deep breaths as he stood there, sword at the ready as he stared down at the pile of debris. He was looking for any sign of movement, the slightest twitch that would show that Azul was still alive.

A full minute passed and hope wormed its way into his chest that it had been enough. Just enough to kill the man. To make sure he couldn't go after Crimson and the others.

"RRRAAAUUUGGGHHH!" Then that hope was snuffed as the pile exploded outwards and a monstrous roar bellowed out.

Using the heavy and thick blade as a shield to block the rocketing debris from hitting him also served to save his life as a metal claw backed by muscle reached out of the dust silhouette to smash against the blade. It knocked him backwards until hit the building behind him with a crash, forcing out another hacking cough as a result. But he got onto his feet as the dust cleared and witnessed the Cerulean Beast in his full, monstrous glory after Azul ripped away his human guise and fully embraced his inner beast—Arch Azul.

"If you believe the weak are to be protected, then come!" the Tsviet snarled in a bestial tone, maw open to reveal fangs as he took a guttural breath. "Prove it with your strength!"


"—should work," Aerith finished telling the rest of her group, outlining the plan she had come up with from atop of the summoned chocobo. Her staff was held outwards, a barrier of light emerging from the tip to block the gunfire from assault machines that had been deployed to delay them. "I'll try to support you, but please be careful!"

The leonine warrior snarled as he let loose his Matra Magic spell, sending the missile constructs forward. They tore apart the automatons standing in their way with prejudice, the resulting shrapnel held back by her spell as the rest scattered about in a cloud of dark smoke. The moment's reprieve from the constant drum of gunfire hammering at their ears served as the signal for them to press on.

Mog stirred his loyal companion in the direction that Aerith pointed her staff and it rushed forward through the smoke. The chocobo's powerful legs gained speed before leaping off the edge of the collapsed floor and onto the rooftop of the next building over. Tiles were smashed loudly beneath its talons as they dug into the damaged rooftop and rushed ahead, joined by the footfalls of the others as they followed.

Bounding over the rooftops to avoid the maze of the streets below that formed the ruined city, they leapt off the final building and the summoned mount beat its wings in order to slow its descent before landing on the uneven earth chiseled into a hanger connecting to the wastelands. There they found Hojo there in his human guise, but Aerith could feel the change from when he'd been fully human beneath the surface. The connection to Jenova was also there, but unlike the Sephiroth Clones his consciousness was still intact and he was operating under his own will more than anything.

"Ifalna's daughter," Hojo said, his voice devoid of any surprise at her arrival. "I knew you'd come. As the last of the Ancients, it is only logical that you would arrive with your guardians in a feeble attempt to stop the natural progression of things."

Aerith dismounted Mog and dismissed the Summoning as the others landed behind her, their Haste spells wearing out. "Professor Hojo, you of all people must know what you're doing now—"

He cut her off. "Spare me the lecture, child. I believe we have already covered the topic of morality during our last encounter, and I have no desire to listen to the prattling of those who cannot grasp what I aim to achieve here."

"…You're right. No amount of talking will dissuade you." Her grasp on her Princess Guard tightened. "So I'll perform my duty and eliminate you!"

Her declaration of intent was met with Hojo snapping his fingers. In response, the pair of mutated men who had been warped by the implantation of the Jenova cells roared with a wet shrill that made their dull-grey flesh ripple and swell. The sacs of meat bulged to the point where they were twice Hojo's height and resembled the two spawns of Jenova they'd fought before in both feeling and presence—if only slightly lesser.

If Aerith had to guess, Jenova or Sephiroth had given him the necessary information to recreate them using his propagated cells rather than pieces of its flesh. Their base desires were the same after all.

"Kill them," Hojo ordered. The abominations obeyed. They swiveled their heads around towards Aerith and leaned their top-heavy bodies forward, points of sapphire light flashing in preparation.

Aerith called upon the inherited wisdom drawn from the Well of Knowledge and conjured forth the Wall spell to shield herself and the others once more. The prismatic shell weathered the barrage of lasers that tore apart the ground surrounding them with enough force that they threw up plumes of stone and dirt. Then it shattered to cover the others as they began the counter-attack.

Tifa broke through dirt veil first, a throbbing sphere of fire pooled in her right hand and a gathering of frost contained in her left. She flung them both at the pair of abominations while shouting, "Red! Take out the helicopters before he can get to one!"

Nanaki acquiesced with a roar as the Fire 2 and Ice 2 spells struck their respective targets, resulting in a column of flames and bloom of ice. He unleashed another Matra Magic spell that sent the missile constructs flying in an arch overhead. They bombarded the aircrafts in the hangar, which detonated as the explosions also ignited the fuel and left only smoldering wrecks of burning steel.

Nanaki then bolted forward, dashing through the opening that Tifa created towards the silhouette of Hojo behind the smokescreen created by the flames. Once when he was in range, he lunged with his fangs exposed to tear out Hojo's throat!

"Too slow." The smoke parted as Hojo abandoned his human guise and took on his monster form once more. His arm was pointed forward and an ethereal clock bound itself to Nanaki mid-lunge. The leonine warrior slowed to a crawl and was left open as Hojo then brought his tail-like appendage around and the bladed-tip lashed out with a surprising amount of force.

A pained snarl forced itself out of Nanaki's throat as it struck hard enough to knock him back through the air. His flesh was torn into by the organic blade between his shoulder and neck, leaving blood to seep from the wound onto the ground. It was only stopped from going deeper by the protection bequeathed by Aerith's Wall spell. He landed roughly and fought against the Slow spell to pool a throbbing, pulsing sphere of fire between his maw, intent on shooting it at the mad scientist.

"Red, look out!" Tifa shouted as the glare of the Blue Light blanketed his right side before the beam itself was fired with a deep thrum that drowned out his scream. Ice gathered as she put her hands together and then lobbed a cannonball-sized bundle of frost. It froze the spawn's head before it could fire again at Nanaki's prone form, leaving only the other one to deal with as it targeted her next.

"I deny your magic," Hojo stated before she could finish casting another spell, pointing as he did Nanaki.

The forming ice dissipated as white noise assaulted Tifa's mind under a Silence spell, breaking her concentration and leaving her unable to use her magic as the greyish spawn released a pair of converging lasers from its appendages at her. She dove into a roll to escape the paired shots, but then the spawn's tail rose up and let loose a thicker beam that raked at the ground before rupturing into a gout of azure electricity that stole her feet from beneath her.

"I'll heal you!" Aerith pointed her staff at the two who had been injured and tapped into the Restore Materia adorning her Princess Guard to cast a Cure 3 spell over Tifa and Nanaki. Soothing light covered them as their injuries mended, before Aerith then focused on dispelling the Silence spell on Tifa. That was when she felt that very spell being cast upon her—or at least attempted by Hojo, only for it to slough off her as the Ribbon in her hair rendered her immune.

"A miscalculation, howev—" Hojo's words were silenced as a round from Death Penalty struck the center of his head. A second and third shot followed as Vincent flanked him from the side, one bullet catching him in the chest while the other punched through his shoulder and tore out a gouge in it. His inhuman body began to force out the foreign objects and repair the damage as he directed the purplish spawn toward the host of Chaos. "Strike the annoyance down!"

It turned towards Vincent as he continued to move and summoned forth spheres of water that swelled to massive size as they neared him. Once they reached their breaking point, they burst into surging torrents that threatened to sweep him away, only for Vincent to leap up into the air with inhuman agility and release the power contained in his Thunder Materia to send a Bolt 2 spell towards the purplish Jenova spawn. It let out a wet gurgle as the magical lightning coursed through its alien body.

Vincent then landed on the soaked ground with a splash and fired at Hojo again. The shot punched another hole in his head, a seemingly meaningless act as the damage was quickly accounted for and healed. Yet, even knowing that, Vincent shot twice more in order to keep him from noticing the speeding figure at his backside.

In the first place, their objective was the Protomateria that Aerith had sensed within him, lodged where his heart should be. The only reason they couldn't resort to completely obliterating him from a distance with Bahamut or using a big spell like Beta was because they couldn't risk damaging it. Once they retrieved it, they could pull back and scour the Jenova spawns from the face of the Planet with far more ease.

That task fell onto Yuffie. The kunoichi had gone around through the chaos of the battle, unseen amidst the smoke and unheard amidst the explosions thrown about by their attacks. Having gotten to his blindside and being unwilling to risk throwing it with all the attacks going around, she held the paper crane by its wing and struck from behind as fast as she could.

"NGGHGK!?" A pained sound erupted from Hojo's non-visible mouth as the seemingly flimsy weapon cut him clean in half at the abdomen. Alien ichor, pale purple with a nauseous scent, burst free from the two halves as they toppled onto the floor.

Yuffie steadied herself from the lunge as she slid to a stop ahead of the two halves, and flicked her arm out to rid the paper crane of the alien ichor coating it. The fluid came off easily. She then turned toward the corpse to try and find the Protomateria—

"Move!" Vincent shouted.

—when death closed in through the corner of her eye, no sooner than the warning got out. Despite being severed in half with what should have been his upper-body splayed on the ground, the tail attached to his head shot out like a lance. Stretching with the bladed-tip aimed for her skull, he aimed to pierce through it for a kill.

Honed instincts kicked in reflexively. Yuffie threw her head to the side and felt a hot flash of pain as the blade hissed past her face and drew blood despite the coating of the Wall spell protecting it. But she managed to avoid the fatal blow and moved her arm around to throw her weapon through his skull in turn.

That was when it twisted and coiled like a serpent. The sinuous appendage curved around to ensnare her throat, settling for strangling her to get around the defensive spell. Oritsuru fell from her grasp as her fingers desperately tried to pull it away before she suffocated.

"A futile attempt," Hojo said as the upper-half of his body floated back to the lower-half, which was now upright. They reconnected without issue, the severed parts seamlessly melding back together. "It will take more than such base means to destroy this body."

"Urrr….raa…gck…" She couldn't breathe as he forced her into the air by her neck as though to hang her. Her feet flailed about and her body writhed as she struggled fruitlessly.

"Let her go!" Vincent demanded, aiming Death Penalty at Hojo again. He didn't even get the chance to pull the trigger before azure flames enveloped him.

Yuffie's struggling lessened as her vision began to tunnel. Darkness encroached from the corner of her eyes and swallowed the light. Everything grew blurry before something red dropped down and she felt the temperature spike.

The Djinn of Hellfire descended at the summoning of Nanaki, freed from the Slow spell through Aerith's usage of the Time Materia. Quelling its flames to not burn the girl, it lashed out with its claws backed by flame-tempered muscles to sever the appendage from Hojo's body. Then, with a thrust of goat-like legs, Hojo's torso was caved in by its hoven feet and he was sent sailing backwards into the burning aircraft wreckage.

The destructive and visceral display of strength was then followed by its contrast. The fire elemental fought against its very raging nature to lift Yuffie tenderly, as if cradling an egg. Then it took a great bound into the air before a Blue Light attack from the purplish Jenova spawn struck it down.

Before it could take a second shot and get lucky, a Bolt 3 spell struck home. The blinding bolt of electricity caused it to shriek inhumanly loud as Vincent emerged from the azure flames, panting as his cloak smoldered. He was harmed but not out of the fight as his gauntlet crackled with electric streamers along the surface.

Ifrit then landed next to the leonine warrior long enough to scoop him up as well, before the ground where he'd been standing was raked by a piercing cerulean beam from the greyish spawn. To ensure the Summoning's escape with her friends, Tifa threw a Fire 3 spell that detonated on impact with the greyish spawn and sent out a gale of hot wind. The alien flesh was scorched black from the flames as it writhed around in place, flexing its body as though in agony.

Tifa and Vincent unleashed another Fire 3 and Bolt 3 respectively once Ifrit had made its way back to Aerith. The spells that represented the pinnacle of their basic elemental magic sailed through the air towards the pair of Jenova spawns. And both were countered as the purplish one raised a Reflect spell, a single viridian curtain stretched over them both.

They had just enough time to brace themselves before their respective spells were bounced back. The Wall spell covering them dealt with a majority of the damage at the cost of being torn to shreds, stopping them from being scorched and shocked to death. But the air expanding from the detonation and force of the lightning bolt knocked them both through the air, leaving them tumbling backwards. Both had only just gotten back up to their feet in time to see the greyish spawn was spewing a greenish cloud of gas now.

A moment before the billowing and rolling acrid vapor washed over the ground, Ifrit landed between the pair. It was less than gentle when it grabbed them and then jumped back towards Aerith, but they could see why a second later. That was when the gas made contact with the stray flames still lingering from where her Fire 3 spell had been reflected and ignited.

Aerith raised a Shield spell in time, encompassing them all in a shell of crystalized light as a massive explosion washed around it. Then she turned to her companions. Multitasking, while maintaining the costly spell and the spawns bombarded it with their respective long-distance attacks, put an immense strain on Aerith's mind, but she had to heal them now.

First, she laid a hand on the appendage still wrapped around Yuffie's neck and sent her magic into it, killing it and allowing to Yuffie breathe freely once again. Then she spread a Cure 3 among the group with the All Materia, to restore their bodies into fighting shape, before refocusing on keeping the Shield spell up.

"How's everyone feeling?" Tifa asked.

Nanaki let a low growl slip out of his mouth as he watched the purplish spawn take a moment to stop firing its Blue Light to renew the Reflect spell as the greyish one spewed more Gas. "They're working in tandem now. With that spell up, we can't use magic."

"I doubt it could withstand our most powerful attacks, but our usual magics would ignite the gas," Vincent said, his focus on the wreckage that Hojo had been launched into. It had started to shift as he began working his way out of it.

"That gas will hurt and slow you down if it makes contact with you," Aerith pointed out. "That will leave you vulnerable to their long-distance attacks."

"Then we need to disperse it…" Tifa brought her hand to her chin in thought for a pause as her mind worked overtime to process the information. She'd faced off against both of the spawns in their original state, so she tried to recall everything she knew and what they were capable of. Then it clicked as a strategy came to mind and she looked down to her Summoning Materia. "Red, does your Enemy Skill Materia have a water spell?"

He nodded. "It gained the same one the purple abomination used moments ago during our last encounter. Considering that it could heal itself from the water around it, I didn't use it."

"Now's the time then. Make it as strong as you can to disperse the gas. That should create enough of an opening to launch an attack."

Vincent volunteered for that part. "I should be able to control myself well enough to launch a Beast Flare in my transformed state. If it hits the ground before the curtain, the detonation should be strong enough to break through it. But they'll still bombard us."

In response, Mog's voice reached Aerith's ears through the Summoning Materia. "Mog says he can stop one of them. Can someone else handle the other?"

"I'll take… the purple one …" Yuffie said between breaths, staring at her weapon that was on the ground behind the pair of Jenova spawns. "Trust… me…"

"Alright then." Tifa turned to Aerith. "Drop the barrier and we'll act in three… two… one… Now!"

Aerith dropped the Shield spell and many things happened. She raised her staff to summon Mog, and the Moogle Rider appeared over the head of the greyish one, atop of a very large chocobo. It fell down upon the spawn and clung with its feet, digging into its head and pulling it about.

Yuffie extended her hand and gestured towards the purplish one's head. Whatever magic made Oritsuru so strong and allowed it to act as a boomerang responded as if she'd just thrown it. It shot off the ground, followed her hand-motions to tear out a bloody gouge before the spawn could fire its Blue Light, and then returned to her hand.

Nanaki bellowed deeply as he tapped into the Enemy Skill Materia and called for the Aqualung spell. Dozens of spheres of water appeared over the battlefield. They swelled in size until they ruptured into great volumes of liquid that fell over the gas and washed it away.

Vincent roared, his voice deepening as the light of the Limit Break briefly flared before sinking inwards into his body and starting to warp it. Fleshed burned away and bones darkened before tenebrous threads emerged from the within and replaced everything lost, bringing forth the Galian Beast. His molten gold eyes fixed themselves onto the pair of abominations brought forth by Hojo and bellowed out spheres that matched the tone of his eyes.

They rocketed forward before slamming into the ground, whereupon they detonated in a chain. Those explosions ripped apart the Reflect spell, at the same time swallowing the abominations. The inhuman heat seared their alien flesh and left them shrieking as they writhed in agony.

Last, Tifa laid a hand on her Summoning Materia and called out, "Finish them off, Shiva!"

The Glacian Summoning's regal appearance brought forth a flurry of white flakes, ice crystals, and raging winds. The cold beauty wasted no time in fulfilling the wish asked of her, drawing deep from her magic and calling forth a glacial blizzard to blanket the battlefield. Invasive ice rolled in, sparing only the mortals as it covered every surface around them and climbed up the Jenova spawns to lock them into crystal-like coffins of ice.

Then she snapped her fingers. The coffins compressed into themselves with a loud snap before shattering into ice fragments so tiny that light danced over them, glittering. Diamond dust fated to melt away as the summoning dissipated.

Aerith let out a deep sigh, her breath emerging in a puff of white mist from the lowered temperature. They had gotten rid of the monsters that Hojo had brought to defend himself, but now there was still him to deal with. He was half-frozen himself, locked up to the neck in a block of ice by Shiva.

"It's over," Aerith said softly as she walked towards the man, her companions following after her and their footfalls crunching the ice beneath them that still covered the ground. She could feel where the Protomateria was located within him, no doubt making it easier to use to control Omega and join with it. It would have to be pried out. "Your ambitions will end here before you swallow the world in your lust for knowledge."

In turn, Hojo had only one thing to say. "…Nero."

No sooner than that name left his mouth did stygian darkness bubble up out from the ground around them. A darkness so deep that there wasn't a trace of light to be found. It ensnared everything around it, including Aerith and her companions, and swallowed their feet.

Then the screaming started.

Not just screams of surprise from the group, but from the darkness itself. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of voices filled Aerith's ears with horrible words. Things that left her unable to contain her voice as they wormed into her skull and violated her mind.

"All of you have been annoyingly persistent in your meddling," Hojo said as the darkness slipped into the cracks of the ice and expanded to break it apart, freeing him. "It would have been foolish of me not to take into account your inference with my plans. Or rather, I planned this with every possible contingency after our last encounter."

Aerith could barely make out his words as her gift as a Cetra was being turned against her. It was crippling her as they overwhelmed her with all of their sin and regrets, all of it pouring into her mind at once. The abrupt tidal wave of misery made her fall onto her knees and try to cover her ears to silence them.

"Aerith!" Tifa struggled to get over to her, but the tenebrous mire locked her into place and refused to let go. Even with her strength, she couldn't break free "Ngh! What is this?"

"It-it feels like its eating me!" Yuffie shouted as she tried to pull herself free to no avail.

That was when a man emerged from it, thin and tall with messy black hair. From him the darkness billowed out, bleeding from his body in a rolling wave as natural as breathing. He said nothing as he lingered there, arms limp by his side.

"This child was the result of experimentation based off Grigoire Valentine's report on stagnant mako," Hojo explained, looking at Vincent. "After Lucrecia implanted Chaos with you and Sephiroth's birth, it was decided there may be some merit in its use and so experimentation was done in conjunction with my work. Of all the fetuses injected with it, he was the only success and was born with a connection to it."

Aerith forced her head upwards as she continued to sink into the darkness, to look into the man's eyes. They were strangely lifeless, and she could feel the connection to Jenova. His consciousness had been taken from him, turning him into no more than a puppet.

Hojo then raised his arm and the darkness rolling off Nero intensified to form a wave, meant to drown the group as a whole into the darkness. "Terra corrupt will free Chaos from its current host and I'll use the Protomateria to place it within him. Between the Jenova cells within his body and the Protomateria, Chaos and Omega will yield to me."

Aerith reached for her staff. She fought with all the mental strength she could muster to gather her concentration for a final spell as the darkness began to fall. But, in the end, she couldn't stop its descent.

The darkness came crashing down on them and snuffed out all light….