A Lover's Vengeance- Chapter 10: Escape and Pursuit

Marlene sat in the tent, waiting for Tifa to get back. She was worried. Something wasn't right…. Why wouldn't Tifa ever let her come when she had to get the keys? How could getting the keys be inappropriate business for a little girl to deal with? Besides, this was Wutai wasn't it? She hadn't seen Yuffie and Vincent for a long time. It would be nice to visit them. She thought about her dad. She missed him. She couldn't believe he had been murdered. He rarely ever got into trouble since saving the world from Meteor. She frowned. She began to think about everything that had happened since leaving Midgar. Tifa's mysterious behavior, her strange dreams about the man in the black cape with the long flowing silver hair and glowing green eyes, the journey itself; they had been to all the places that she knew her dad's old AVALANCHE crew lived, and yet they hadn't seen any of them. Tifa often came back from her errands tired, her face drawn with an emotion that Marlene could not quite place. It was like sadness, but not exactly. If what Sephiroth told her in her dreams was true, Tifa should be happy. And most of the time she was, but after her errands she folded up into herself, hiding away and Marlene felt like she wasn't with her at all. It was often evening when she returned and Marlene was sleeping, but she always woke up when Tifa came back, and peeked out of her half closed lids. Tifa took pains to be quiet and not wake her up. She generally would take the lantern outside with her and light it there. One time, Marlene had peaked through a crack in the bathroom door in the inn in Junon and thought she saw Tifa washing off blood…. No she thought…. That was the night Tifa went out with Reeve….. But, that was also the first night she dreamed of Sephiroth, who said Tifa was trying to get to him because he wanted to make them a family. Why would Tifa go out with Reeve, if she was already in love Sephiroth….? It just didn't make sense to her. Tifa had been gone only a short while. She wouldn't be back for a few hours yet. Would it be bad to go through Tifa's stuff? Maybe she could make herself feel better, if only she had some reassurance that everything was okay. Marlene bit her lip and looked sideways at Tifa's stuff. Unable to restrain herself she scooted over to Tifa's bags and began to go through them with great care. At the bottom of the bag Tifa usually stuffed the smaller pack she carried around, there was a glimmer. Marlene reached towards it and pulled out a vial with some red liquid in it. She held it up to her eyes trying to get a better look. The liquid was viscous and almost black. The only reason she knew it was red was because as it sloshed around in the glass vial it left red stains around the inside of the glass. Suddenly it dawned on her…. This looked like the blood she thought she saw Tifa washing off in Junon. Horrified, Marlene dropped the vial back in the bag. Then panicked, she rummaged around in the bag a little more pulling out a piece of scrap paper with writing on it. It was titled "Keys to the Promised Land" and underneath was a list of names…which included her daddy's, Reeve's, Nanaki's, Yuffie's, Vincent's…; these name were crossed out. Below them were two other names… Cloud and Aeris... which were not crossed out.

Marlene stared at the paper for a few seconds, her young mind processing the information on the sheet of paper, her hand covering her mouth. Silent tears began to course down her cheeks as she connected the vial of blood she found in the bottom of Tifa's bag with the scrap of paper in her hand. It all became clear and she knew that the AVALANCHE members crossed off on the list were dead. Except… Tifa hadn't been gone that long. She might be able to help Yuffie and Vincent. If she could do that, maybe they in turn could help her find out what was going on with Tifa and if she could come back from whatever spell Sephiroth had her under. For surely, it was a spell…Tifa wouldn't do something like that of her own free will. Marlene grabbed the vial of blood and the scrap of paper and shoved them into her small backpack along with her most important possessions which she kept there. They were mementos of her father and her life before this.

Yuffie stared around her, trying to find something to use to cut the sheet binding her wrists. She could feel the heat of the fire engulfing the house. She had to get loose so she could rescue Vincent and get out of the house before they became human torches. She glanced over at Vincent, and saw the guilty, ashamed look on his face.

That bitch…when I get my hands on her…, Yuffie thought with vehemence. How dare she hurt my Vinny like that...!

"Yuffie… you have to believe me, I don't know what came over me… I'm sorry!" Vincent cried anguish apparent in his voice.

"Vinny… It's okay. It's not your fault." She struggled to wiggle closer to him, to offer him comfort if she could. She leaned over, ducking her head so she could get her face in his line of vision. He was looking down, hair hanging in his face. She made eye contact, the pain in his eyes making her heart wrench. "I love you Vinny…. I know you love me and would never hurt me on purpose. She brought her lips up to his and kissed him, letting him know she wasn't mad and didn't blame him. She broke off the kiss much sooner than she wanted to, feeling the house becoming an ever hotter, burning furnace, around them. "Vinny… We have to get out of here. I need to find my shuriken so I can cut off these sheets. Do you know where it is?

"Yuffie we moved all of our weapons out to the storage shed in the back. I don't know what we can use. All the knives are in the kitchen, scissors are nowhere to be seen…. I've got it!" he said, his face lighting up with an idea. "Can you reach the pocket on the inside of my jacket? There is a present in there that I bought for you while I was out today. Now is a better time to give it to you than any other I suppose." Vincent chuckled bitterly.

"Maybe… let me see if I can get my hands in front of me." Vincent watched as Yuffie turned into a contortionist, wincing in pain as she brought her knees to her chest, and looped her arms under them. She sat back, sweating. He could see the swelling in her knee where Tifa had landed a good hard kick.

"Okay, Vinny. Lean over here a little." She fumbled to the inside of his jacket pocket and managed to pull out the rectangular box. She opened it and smiled. Her Vinny always knew what she liked. She gazed at the deadly ninja stars, appreciating their cruel beauty only for a moment before setting the box down and pulling one out. She began to work the sheet binding her wrist against the sharp star edges. It took a couple of minutes, but finally she was free! She hastily cut the sheet strips binding her feet and turned to work on Vincent's. It was only a matter of minutes before they were both free, sweating bullets from the heat of the fire.

Yuffie carefully picked up the ninja stars. Then she headed to her materia chest, knowing she didn't have much time. She beckoned for Vincent to help and together they quickly selected the most important and useful materias. Smoke was pouring in, as the fire started eating its way into their room. Flames licked up the sides of the doorjamb and spread outward along the walls. Yuffie turned, grabbed a satchel from the closet, and stuffed the material into it. Then she took Vincent's hand and they crashed through the window into the back yard, coughing from the smoke. They ran to the edge of their backyard, where a tall wooden fence separated their yard from the forest beyond. Vincent boosted her up and over the fence, then leapt up on top of it, balancing himself before jumping to the ground. They could both hear the approach of the fire trucks, but had no time to stay and make a report. They had to catch Tifa and fast. Hand-in-hand they ran, heading for the most likely place she could be… the coast.

Marlene walked into Wutai and was assaulted by the sound of fire truck siren. She caught sight of it and followed it, running hard. She knew it could only mean Tifa had gotten away and probably killed Yuffie and Vincent. The fire truck stopped in front of the burning inferno that used to be the house Yuffie and Vincent shared. The heat coming off the house made the air hot and dry and it burned Marlene's lungs as she breathed it in. She prayed that Yuffie and Vincent hadn't been in the house, yet knew it was unlikely. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Yuffie and Vincent emerge quietly from the forest a ways from the house. She turned to get a better look and took off after them. She didn't call out to them… They had had a reason for sneaking out of the woods. She followed them to the house Yuffie used to share with Godo before moving in with Vincent.

Inside, Yuffie and Vincent went into the library and disappeared behind a wall. By the time Marlene made it there, there was no sign of the couple. She would wait for them. Marlene sank into a chair near the desk. She suddenly felt very tired….

Vincent opened the chest, hoping that weapons they had stored here over a year ago were still there. Godo had gone through and gotten rid of a lot of stuff after he and Yuffie had moved in together. It looked as if he had overlooked this room though, whether from laziness or that he didn't know it was there, since the weapons were, in fact, in the chest. He sighed with relief and began sorting it out. Yuffie limped over to help, grimacing in pain.

"How much of this stuff do you think we should take?" she asked him.

"I'm not sure… it's just Tifa, but at the same time, she nearly killed us both." Vincent leaned against the wall, rubbing his hand over his face where stubble had already begun to grow.

"I just don't know what to do… I can't believe that was Tifa!"

"She must be under the influence of a spell or mind control or something…" Yuffie said thoughtfully. "That definitely wasn't the Tifa I knew a couple of years ago."

"That's for sure." Vincent sighed and went back to the weapon's chest.

"I think we should go lightly and efficiently armed," Yuffie offered. "Mostly because I'm not sure that I can handle carrying that much… She really got me good."

Vincent crossed to her, putting his hand on the side of her face and stroking his thumb along her cheekbone. "I know. It won't happen again. I'll make sure of it!" he said, determination glinting in his crimson eyes.

"I know you will." Yuffie said, stretching to kiss him lightly on the mouth, relishing his fierce protectiveness of her. "Now, let's load up and get going. Who knows how much time we have before she makes it off the island."

Tifa made it back the camp on the shore in record time. She needed to get out of here and fast. She had really gone all out with the demise of Yuffie and Vincent. It was a sort of trial run for Cloud and Aeris. How she had plans for them! She called to Marlene, hoping she wouldn't be asleep yet. She could sleep as they made their way back to the mainland.

Tifa entered the tent, expecting to find Marlene sleeping or perhaps drawing with her crayons, maybe even eating a snack of some sort. She looked around…. Marlene was nowhere to be found. Tifa began fighting the rising panic. Marlene shouldn't be alone in the dark and if she somehow made it to town, would she know enough to point the finger at Tifa for the deaths of Yuffie and Vincent? She fought to calm herself down and gain control. She spied her bags, and went to them. She sat down and carefully took out the vials of blood and the athame she used for obtaining the keys. She counted them and then counted them again. She was missing one. She began digging through her other bags, thinking that one must have fallen out. Tifa searched all of her bags coming up with nothing. What if Marlene had found it? Her list of key names was nowhere to be found either. Tifa fought to calm herself. She sat down, steadying her breathing, and tried to reach out to Sephiroth asking for aide.

Sephiroth sat deep in the Northern Crater, contemplating what it would mean for Tifa and the girl to share his Promised Land. What would it be like to have a family? He had never had one before. All his life, he had never really known what compassion or love felt like. Could he give that to them? His lips turned up in a cruel smile. Perhaps, perhaps not, but his defeat would be avenged. Tifa was taking care of that for him in her quest to find the Promised Land and the love she so desperately wanted. She had been easy enough to manipulate, her spirit already broken by Cloud's rejection. He had sensed her desire to be loved, even back when he had toured the MAKO reactor in Nibelheim. She had always been a sort of side obsession with him. Did he want her? Oh yes. But the question was, love or lust? He frowned slightly thinking, of how he had changed. Many years ago, it would have been no question. He would have used her for his purposes and gotten rid of her. Now he wasn't so sure. It wouldn't be so bad to share his isolation with someone else.

Sephiroth…. I need you…

Tifa's voice, calling to him. What now?

I hear you. Sephiroth reached out to her through their telepathic connection. What is it, my love?

I have lost Marlene. I don't know where she is. And what's worse, I think she found one of the keys and the list….

Don't worry Tifa, I will find her. You are so close to your goal. Wait for my message. I will call to you when I have found her….

Sephiroth broke the connection with Tifa and reached out his mind for Marlene. Hopefully she was sleeping. It was the only way he could find her. His telepathic connection with Marlene only worked in the world of dreams….

Marlene walked the streets of Midgar towards the house she lived in with Barret and Elmyra. She picked up her pace breaking into a jog. There was something very important she had to tell her dad, but she couldn't remember exactly what it was. The house was dark when she got there. Carefully she entered, calling for her dad softly. She wandered through the dark house, shadows surrounding her. As she entered her father's bedroom, a shadowy figure appeared sitting in a chair near the widow. Moonlight streamed in, casting the figure's face in shadow. Unnatural MAKO green eyes peered out at her, from the shadowy and face and she heard a voice.

"Marlene, what are you doing? Where have you gone? Tifa is so worried!" Sephiroth said.

"I know who you are…" Marlene said, backing away towards the door to the bedroom.

"I should hope so. After all we will soon be spending plenty of time together." Sephiroth replied.

"Uh… right… " Marlene stammered backing away from him still farther. She heard the door open in the foyer downstairs.

"Marlene?" Tifa called from downstairs. Marlene heard her begin to make her way upstairs. "Come on sweetie, I need you to come home so we can leave. After all we still have a lot to do before we can meet Sephiroth in the Promised Land," Tifa called.

"No! I'm not going!" Marlene shouted, trapped between Sephiroth upstairs and Tifa as she came up the stairs. "I know what you did Tifa! How could you do that to my Daddy?" Marlene began to cry.

The house, Tifa, and Sephiroth began to shimmer and fade….

"Damn it!" Sephiroth swore as his tentative connection with Marlene was broken. Someone had awakened her from her sleep. That meant someone else had her, and his chances of getting her back to Tifa and possibly protecting Tifa's (and his) secret were much smaller than before. He shouldn't have let Tifa keep the girl….

"Oh Marlene…!" Tifa gasped, coming out of her meditative trance. Now her chances of getting the girl back were slim. And Tifa was almost sure that Marlene had found the vial of blood that must have fallen out of her pack. How could she get it back? And was it safe to try to bring Marlene back? She hoped Sephiroth wouldn't insist that she hurt the girl…. She didn't think she would be able to. Still, she would go to any length to get that key back. She calmed herself, preparing to reenter the meditative state to ask Sephiroth whether she should pursue Marlene for the key or bide her time.

Marlene opened her eyes, tears coursing down her cheeks and stared into the stormy grey ones of Yuffie. She launched herself from the chair into her arms. "Yuffie!"

"Marlene? What are you doing here…and why are you crying?" Yuffie asked hugging her, trying to offer some comfort.

"Is your dad here?" Vincent's voice. He stroked her back. She pulled away from Yuffie to enter Vincent's embrace.

"He…he… he's gone…" Yuffie sniffled. Vincent gently held her at arm's length. She gazed into his crimson eyes, calming herself down, waiting for him to ask her what that meant.

"What do you mean…gone?" Vincent asked, his voice gentle and soothing.

"Tifa… killed him."

Vincent and Yuffie exchanged a pained look, their worst fears realized. Yuffie pulled Marlene into her arms again stroking her hair. "Are you sure it was Tifa, Marlene? Did you see?"

"No… I didn't know at first. I have been traveling with Tifa since then. We have been to Junon to see Reeve, Cosmo Canyon to see Nanaki, Rocket Town to see Cid, and now Wutai to see you. I didn't know what was going on. I never saw any of them. Tifa always made me stay behind. I didn't know until I found this…" Marlene pulled the vial of blood and the list out and handed them to Vincent.

"I have also been having dreams…." Marlene said. "About… Sephiroth."

"Sephiroth?" Yuffie asked.

"Yes. He said that me, and him, and Tifa are going to be together in the Promised Land, after Tifa gets the keys. At first, I missed my daddy so much, and he was offering to give me a family again… I didn't think it was going to be like this. I'm just glad you and Vincent are okay. I was so scared when I made it into town and saw your house burning. Then I saw you come out of the forest and head here. Can I stay with you?"

"Of course. We will keep you safe!" Yuffie replied, dropping a kiss on Marlene's head.

"We need to get somewhere safe. Tifa may have noticed that this is gone." Vincent said, holding up the vial of blood. "If I'm right, she will be after this. The longer we can keep her in the dark about us being alive, the better."

"We have to get off the island. Otherwise she will find us eventually. We can take the Tiny Bronco. We haven't used it since Cid gave it to us as a wedding gift. It is on this side of the island."

"Where do you think she is headed next?" Vincent asked.

"According to this, Cloud and Aeris are the last ones on the list. She will be headed to Mideel. We have to get there first." Yuffie said.

"Let's go." Vincent picked Marlene up and they headed out of Godo's house.

Tifa sat, a cold sweat covering her body. Her heart was pounding and she felt like there wasn't enough air in the room for her. She knew she was panicking. It was the same thing that had happened two years ago when Cloud first left. She struggled to her feet and stumbled out of the tent into the warm breeze drifting in from the ocean. She began to take deep shaking breaths, willing herself to calm down. What was she supposed to do now? She couldn't risk going back into Wutai to look for Marlene. Someone might recognize her and start asking questions about the Valentine house if she was seen going in or leaving. She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to think. She would ask Sephiroth. It was the only way. She just needed to calm down enough to concentrate on their telepathic connection. A sudden calm came over her, and she knew he was there without turning around, yet she felt compelled to do so. She turned and caught her breath. Sephiroth was standing before her, in a pair of white linen pants and nothing else. His silver hair shown like silver in the sun, as the gentle ocean breeze blew it around his face. His MAKO green eyes stared at her, mesmerizing her. He beckoned to her, and she went towards him, unable to stop herself. She didn't want to anyway. She stopped when she was a hairs-breadth from his chest, wanting to run her fingers of it. He looked down at her, giving a seductive half smile and taking her hands in his and putting them on his chest. She relished the warmth and strength emanating from him, memorizing every muscle and angle of his torso with her hands. She reached up, wanting to catch her fingers in his hair. He gently grabbed her wrist stopping her.

"Not yet." He said

"How did you get here? I thought you couldn't leave?" Tifa asked.

"I haven't left, only astral projected myself here. My powers are growing, with every key you obtain. Do you have something you wish to speak with me about?" He cocked an eyebrow, making him look all the more seductive. Tifa could feel her blood heating and warmth spreading in her lower belly she had come to recognize as desire.

"I…" she started, trying to regain control of her senses. "I'm not sure what to do. Marlene has run away. Should I risk going back to town for her? Or should I move on to…Cloud and Aeris."

"It is too risky for you to go back. She may have already told someone and they may be looking for you. The best thing you can do is move on. It would be wise to get to Cloud and Aeris before word gets out about you. If that happens before you reach them, they will be ready for you. Surprise is you most important weapon." Sephiroth explained, rubbing his hand along her cheek bone.

"Who will take care of Marlene?" Tifa asked, troubled.

"Someone will take her in. There are many people in Wutai. Do not worry about her."

"I don't want to lose her. She has become like a daughter to me… And what of the key that is missing?"

"Don't worry about the key. I will figure out a way to take care of that. It is your choice. Her or me? You have come too far to stop now. We are almost within each other's grasp." Sephiroth released Tifa's wrist and leaned in close. "Let me remind you what awaits you." He kissed her long and deep, drugging her, making her malleable to his will. Her fingers entwined in his hair pulling him further into him. She wanted to meld with him, so she wouldn't be able tell where she ended and he began.

He pulled away from her, leaving her breathless. "Go now, beloved. I am waiting for you." He laid one last lingering kiss on her lips and was gone.

Tifa began packing up and making preparations to leave, forgetting completely about Marlene.