Chapter XVIII: Luck Be a Lady Tonight
Rikku followed the flow of the sewage for about an hour, grateful there was enough light to see which direction to take when the pipelines turned and forked. There was an eerie silence, the only sounds her slight splashing as she waded through the middle of the tunnel. There was no squeaking of pipes or scurrying of critters. Not that she wanted to encounter any rats or more disturbing fiends, but the silence was almost as bad.
Rikku has quickly learned to get over the smell. She hadn't bathed in months, she guessed, so how much worse could this sewage be? However, the lack of necessity to be wary of other inhabitants allowed her to think more upon herself, mainly that she was defenseless. Her garment grids and dress spheres, essentials not only to her comfort but also now for her survival, had been taken. She hoped that somehow one or two had fallen down into the sewer and that perhaps she might be able to recover them.
Luck smiled upon Rikku as she turned a bend. She felt it inside her before she could see it, that something valuable, not in terms of monetary worth or rarity but rather from individual memories, lay nearby. She walked more slowly, trying to scan even more closely the smoothed walls of the pipes. Then she heard it; a faint clink as something solid bounced on the walls of pipe. Rikku bent down into the water, and though the smell intensified to an entire new level of repulsion, groped her hands blindly by her feet. She picked up the object, perfectly smoothed and rounded, that fit perfectly into her hands.
Rikku smiled an expression that would seem to have no place in such a pungent, remote place. But the sphere she held in her hands was nothing less than a dress sphere. She immediately engaged it, too giddy to check first which sphere it was, and a bright light shot forth from her hands, illuminating the dank tunnel ways. The light subsided and Rikku stood there amazed.
Her simple Al Bhedian clothes had been replaced by a vibrant yellow dress with a plunging neckline that seductively hung to her body. Carefully placed holes and rips littered the dress. Her legs were now covered in fishnets and her hands in orange gloves. The sphere no longer occupied her hands but rather a pair of large cards. Whether from instinct or habit, Rikku extended the cards into the air above her head and struck a pose. The transformation was complete.
Now truly with Lady Luck on her side, Rikku continued her trek through the sewer systems. Around her began to gradually smell better as her alluring perfume permeated and then diluted the rank air. She felt like her wandering now had a renewed sense of purpose. Both skill and luck were now tools she could employ to truly escape her capture, and now she could actually inflict damage if need be.
This thought had just floated through her mind when she stopped suddenly. Around the next corner, she had heard something, something that didn't belong in the sewers.
A human voice.
The small group of cloaked people made no response. The question was not important enough to warrant an answer.
The speaker, who was fairly short and skinny, spoke again, his nervousness not only audibly detectable but also physically, as he began to shake, "But di-didn't the mess- message s-ss-say that all n-new captains n-need-needed to repor-rt?"
But before the timid captain could be reprimanded for his annoying behavior, the doors to the atrium swung open.
A woman shuffled into the atrium. She walked silently, her robes rippling as if blown by an invisible wind. She walked with purpose toward the center where the loose group of figures waited. As she approached, a grin spread across her face.
"You all know why we are here," she began, "the time we have all been waiting for, working toward, has begun." Her statement was responded with an assortment of cheers and smug smiles.
The woman raised her arm, and silence fell. "Now then, you all have been receiving your assignments through courier up until now. However, this current state of affairs demands that nothing goes awry. Therefore," and she looked up for the first time, revealing a large hole darker than night where both her eyes should lie, "you will all report here, to our castle, directly."
As these directions some of the group tensed. The woman lowered her face once again beneath her cloak and continued. "Now is the test of your true intentions for joining the Twilight Clan." She turned to leave, and then added as if an after note, "I hope none of you disappoint us." With those words finished, she let out a chilling cackle and left the atrium.
The group looked at each other beneath the security of their hoods. None of them failed to detect the threat, nor her malice, if one of them should be found to be disloyal. Some looked as if they wanted to grumble against this additional measure, but none did. Now was not the time, nor was it the place, to appear unsupportive. They owed their entire lives now to the Twilight Clan, and in a second, it would take that and even more away.
The cackle dissipated after echoing throughout the stony castle walls. Silence hung for a brief moment only to be interrupted by a surprisingly peppy voice. "Well, y'all heard the lady. I gotta go now and settle some business before our next meeting." A somewhat forced laugh followed. "Until next time, buckaroos!" And with that, the speaker stepped through a portal of darkness, leaving the castle behind. The rest of the group followed suit, each returning to their respective homes, some burdened, others excited, about the news.
Back in the castle, the woman had entered the throne room. She rose from her bow and laid her eyes on the man sitting in the king's chair. "Now, nothing can stop us, my Lord."
Whereas Luck had seemed be in a favorable mood, Cloud did not enjoy any of her clemency. He had toiled incessantly for weeks, perhaps months, to try to devise a plan of escape. But the irregularity of his meals, lack of all light or sounds besides himself, and physical immobility due to the heavy metal chains that hung to his body had left Cloud deflated. He had barely enough strength to think straight, let alone try to coherently plan an escape. The thoughts of the torture that Rikku must also be enduring had fueled his resolve at first, but as he was unable to overcome any of his limitations, he was certain Rikku was powerless, as well. And that fact, that Rikku, the girl who meant the world and more to him, was alone, despairing, in a dank cell perhaps even in a worse condition than he, crushed his heart. His heart had experienced too much crushing pain and defeat already, but those pains disappeared completely when he was with, or even thought of, Rikku. But a heart can only endure so much; it can only weather the tempest of intense passions for so long before it, too, is overcome by the storm clouds. And a heart that beats only to survive, one no longer capable of holding onto hope or love in the loom of utter despair, was a heart that now occupied Cloud's body.
He first had grown increasingly more depressed as he began to realize his ability to feel slipping away. But sadness is a product of a hopeful heart, and soon too he no longer could feel self pity. He had accepted this fate, accepted his weakness, accepted his inability to have mattered. He could not save himself, but that did not worry him. Death would be an end to this torture. But he could not save Rikku, a woman so full of vivacity and love of life. For something so fiery and delicate to have to wither was beyond unfair, beyond the physical torture of his cell.
But as his heart seemed no longer capable of retaining any emotions, Cloud's mind wandered off Rikku, who was now but a memory. He thought of Tifa, Gippal, Leon, Yuffie, then to that pair of mysterious warriors that had sacrificed themselves to stop the Heartless, Jackal and Hakaar. Then his mind rested on Kait, the girl who seemed oddly connected to Rikku despite living worlds apart. He remembered that strange melody that she had played, the Hymn of the Fayth, as Rikku had called it. The ancient words of the song played inside his head. Whether it was the strange sense of calm the song seemed to have carried or the lack of food that made Cloud light-headed, he was unsure. But Cloud quickly drifted off into slumber as that ancient melody of Spira echoed inside his mind.
This was not going to be easy. Everything had to work out as perfectly as it did in his mind, and he knew nothing ever did. Timing was everything. That was the major problem. There seemed to be no pattern in the visitations, and they had become less frequent since his last encounter. Whoever that woman was, she was trying to trick him into despising Rikku. But why? Both he and Rikku were captured, both were in little cells. Why keep them here? Why not—
The doors began to creak open, and Cloud furtively prepared himself. But something seemed wrong; the figure in the doorway was a new one.
"Hello, Cloud. Expecting someone else?" the voice asked malignly out of the darkness. "I'm terribly sorry to disappoint, but since your little outburst, we've had to be more careful."
Why be more careful? Cloud thought. Why not just end it now? Why torment me with these mind games?
"Oh, don't fret," the voice answered with mock compassion to Cloud's unspoken thoughts. "We'll end it soon enough. Just wait a tad longer. I promise it won't be long— is that okay with you?" Again the fake compassion ripped at Cloud. Something about the figure was familiar, but all Cloud could remember was meeting Hakaar and Jackal when he was searching for Rikku. Both were dead. And it was all his fault. He then remembered all the others who had died for him, who had sacrificed themselves for him.
"Now, now, Cloud." The voice was next to him. Cloud felt dark smoke swirl around the two of them. The man's features were still cloaked in the darkness, but still something seemed familiar. "It's not your fault. They chose to try and save you. It was their decision. It's not their fault that you couldn't keep your end of the bargain and stay alive." The man erupted into maniacal laughter. Cloud was at his breaking point.
"You bastard!" he yelled as he lunged at the figure. However, the man swiftly sidestepped Cloud, causing Cloud to careen onto the stone floor. Cloud quickly got up and prepared himself for another strike. He lunged. The figure evaded. Cloud hit the stone. This strategy obviously was not working, but in his berserked stage, he could not think clearly.
"Give it up, you worthless beast!" the man spat at Cloud. "Learn your place! You're my prisoner; chained like a pitiful dog. You should be thankful I haven't killed you. But no," his biting tone cut into Cloud, "you just had to throw it all away!" Bright red eyes glowed from beneath the figure's hood and the smoke surrounding him began to dissipate. A feral man in a pitch black cloak stood before Cloud. Large, sharpened claws protruded past his sleeves. The figure smiled, revealing sharp, glistening fangs. "Well, if you seek death, as your master, it is my obligation to please you." Swirling dark magic streamed from his menacing claws and formed into large, bat-like wings.
Cloud had regained control of his mind. He knew the full extent of the danger he was in. Nothing had ever terrified him like this did. He had nobody to help him. He did not even have a weapon. He was chained in a desolate cell in who knows where. He was going to die. But worst of all, he would never see Rikku again. He could never tell her—
The beast roared as it shot into the air. It piercing eyes narrowed and suddenly a flash blinded Cloud momentarily. The cell was now lit up. Flying like a bullet towards him was the beast. His heart pounded. He frantically tried to escape. But to no avail. In mere seconds, he was going to die. "Rikku," he began to say.
He did not expect to be able to finish his thought. He thought he would be dead. But he wasn't. He looked up and saw a figure engulfed by the lights piercing the beast's flesh. A large lance had been thrust through its stomach. The being, an angel in Cloud's mind, pulled her lance out of the beast, sending a sharp pain through its body. It reeled in pain and let out an ear-splitting screech. His cloak fell back, revealing the distinct red ensignia of the Heartless. The lance plunged in and out of the screeching body thrice before it released its captured heart. The angel then turned to Cloud. The bright lights still were affecting Cloud, and he could not see what she looked like. But his hearing was fine, and he heard these two words: "Mee Nimbe."
Kait had now narrowly escaped being buried alive three times. The excitement that came from this unknown earthquake had been eclipsed by the feeling of terror. However slight the odds, Kait couldn't find a single person missing; everyone seemed to have escaped safely.
Once everyone had gathered together in the single room and begun to quiet down, one of the leaders rose to speak. "This is it everybody! This is our time to shine, our time to purge this world of evil!" He sat down as Jackal stood up.
"These earthquakes that we just experienced we nothing less than a deliberate attack orchestrated by the Twilight Clan. They know that we are planning something big." He paused, letting the profundity of what was about to said sink in. Jackal sat down, and the man who had introduced Jackal now stood again and spoke, "We are going to spread across this world, and all worlds. Like a torrential wave, only getting stronger and larger as we near to our destination. We will completely crush these usurpers under our waves!" Cheers exploded as he paused. Kait looked over to Jackal and could see the smile on his face, see that he was proud of being able to strategize and lead.
"Thus I officially name this movement TSUNAMI. Now go out and cleanse this world with our purifying waters!" Cheers roared from the crowd, and even Kait, who was by far the youngest, felt herself compelled to clap wildly.
But just as the hubbub had crescendoed immediately after the man had spoken, it almost immediately died as another man rushed into the room. Wanting to pant but knowing the dire need to tell his message, he composed himself into a few seconds. "They've infiltrated the first defense. There are too many. Two captains…" The messenger then quickly ran off to spread the word.
The excitement from the rallying speech now had a concrete application. Everyone began hurriedly preparing themselves for battle. Some began sharpening blades, others tried to remember incantations, while still others were huddled, trying to clear their minds.
Kait, too, felt the fire building inside of her, but she couldn't help in anyway. She knew no magic, was no skilled warrior. In fact, she didn't even have a piece of weaponry or armor. Terror struck and she quickly ran over to Hakaar. He saw in her eyes the frantic emotions racing through her mind. He smiled, and extended his hand onto her shoulders.
"There, there, lassie. It'll be a'right. Ya jus' stay do'n here away from ev'ryt'ing." He then embraced her in the largest bear hug she had ever been given. It did make her feel better, but her being defenseless prevented full comfort.
Her brief moment of solace was also cut short by Jackal's talking. "Hakaar, we must go now. He awaits." And without questioning either to where or to whom, Hakaar let go of Kait and followed. The two quickly ran off down a pathway Kait wasn't sure she had seen before. Many others had also dispersed by now, leaving Kait to be guarded by only three men. Three men would've been sufficient, if she hadn't appeared: one of the captains of the Twilight Clan.
She entered inconspicuously, merely walking in casually. Glided would've been a better term, Kait decided, as this woman had no legs. A dark essence, like an amorphous shape that billowed smoke, had taken the place of this woman's legs. Her legs were mostly covered by a long sailor skirt. In fact, her entire outfit reminded Kait of a school uniform. Her raven black hair fell perfectly down to the woman's mid-back. Her face was delicate and beautiful, but her eyes were strange. They held no emotion but merely stared forward.
She let out a small smile, but it was more malicious than good-natured, and Kait immediately began to run away. She heard a rumbling noise and a swoosh of metal, but kept running. It wasn't until one of the men let out a scream that she turned her head. Her innocent eyes grew wide as she saw the three guards dismembered and slaughtered on the ground before her. The woman turned, blood splattered across her face and clothes.
"Now it's your turn."
Cloud's eyes shot open, his body trembling. "Mee Nimbe," he muttered. He knew something was going to happen, a change big enough to end his pain, but whether through the freedoms of death or emancipation he knew not. But it no longer mattered, and his heart began to truly beat again.