Author's Note: Disclaimer found below.

Chapter title is lyrics from the song "Black" by Sarah McLachlan. (In this case, the spacey remix from the X-Files: Fight the Future movie album. I'm sure that it's only coincidence that the song for chapter one of this story came from the same album... since this isn't the final chapter at all. XD I love the original version of the song as well)


(28: If I Cried Me A River Of All My Confessions, Would I Drown In My Shallow Regret?)


"Understood." Vincent snapped his PHS shut, but for a moment did not move, the device still raised in his hand. The angle of his head suggested that he was looking at the PHS, but he was turned slightly away; Tifa couldn't see. She did, however, see the way his gauntleted hand tightened on the arm of his seat.

Her throat was tight, but she knew he'd speak when he was ready; she distracted herself by wondering if he ever removed his gauntlet. He'd worn it every moment she could think of for as long as she'd known him. If he hadn't worn it inside his environmental suit on the moon, he'd surely stashed it in the airlock and had it on by the time he entered the module.

Loz, on the other hand, didn't have the sense to distract himself. "Well?"

Vincent turned his head slightly, though not enough for Tifa to read his expression. "Well indeed." He shifted to stow the PHS. "The Highwind will arrive within the hour. We will then travel to the former Temple of the Ancients and return Loz to his brothers... In exchange for Marlene, Denzel, and Mal."

The situation was exactly as bad as Tifa had feared, and the words hurt as surely as a punch to the stomach. It took her a moment to find her voice, and her hands lay uselessly on her still half-fastened seat harness. "The Bone Village -"

"Still stands," Vincent responded, but Loz cut him off before he could say more.

"Don't look at me, I told Yazoo to get Reeve."

There was a marked silence within the capsule. Slowly, Tifa and Vincent turned to look at him.

Loz stared back at them, having paused in slipping out of his restraints. "Yazoo wasn't gonna let me go," he said, gaze darting between them as his expression became uneasy. "But Yuffie didn't want Tifa to die either and said where Reeve was, and said Yazoo could get Reeve and fix him and trade him back for me when we got back. Then everything would be even again, right?"

Vincent turned away, his lips set in a thin line; Tifa could only guess how he felt at the revelation. She only glanced at him before fixing her gaze on Loz again, this time with considerably more anger. "You... you let us think you knew what you were doing, and then you..." She couldn't even find the right words. Rage coiled inside her, and she was thankful that she'd still no equipped Materia. She could have Summoned a Bahamut inside the module if she had.

Loz blinked in confusion. "I never said -"

"I need some air," Vincent muttered, abruptly standing and moving toward the ceiling hatch at the center of the module.

Tifa let him pass before speaking again. "You put the children in danger!" she snapped. "I swear, if your brothers so much as mess up their hair, I'm going to -"

"Look, I thought it worked out, I mean, you wanted your friend back, right?" Keeping his eyes on her, Loz carefully extricated himself from the nylon straps as though quick movements might incite Tifa to crawl over the back of her seat and attack.

"How is that any different from having him now!" She snapped back, struggling more quickly with her own harness. The last thing she wanted was for him to get out of range at this point.

"Well, Yazoo's been keeping him asleep; don't you want him to wake up? Yazoo's been tired of the dreams bleeding over for a while now anyway."

The revelation actually gave Tifa pause. "You're telling me that you guys want Reeve to wake up?"

Loz seemed a little relieved at her reaction. "Well, yeah. There needs to be a manual connection in order for Yazoo to unlock him alive, but we couldn't find him 'cos you guys kept hiding. And how could they trade him for me if he was dead?"

For a moment her anger very nearly was derailed. If they'd known... but it didn't matter, did it? She bristled at herself for being distracted in the slightest. "Then why did they take the children?!"

"How should I know!"

With a loud hiss, the hatch finally opened, and Vincent began to climb up and out onto the roof. But not even the sudden in-rush of humid atmosphere, salty and slightly smoky but fresh, could distract the pair inside.

By the time the Highwind arrived, Loz had been forced to relinquish what Materia he'd had, Restore Materia included. He seemed sullen as he climbed the rope ladder to the gondola, with new bruising blooming across the side of his face. He didn't even protest when Barret grabbed his arm to drag him to the room that was to again serve as his cell.

For his part, Barret looked like he'd rather shove Loz right back out into the air and shoot at him as he fell. Tifa couldn't blame him at all, her anger in accord with his. What bothered her was Cid.

Cid wasn't speaking to anyone, not even Shera, and he wouldn't leave the airship's controls. Tifa got as far as seeing him before thinking better of trying to speak with him. She'd never seen him look so hollow or... old. He gave no sign of acknowledgement to her presence at all.

Tifa turned to leave the bridge again, shaking her head to Vincent, who had accompanied her - but found her way blocked. Shera stood in the entryway.

She'd been there when it happened. She moved carefully, her limbs wrapped in bandages - there were probably more under her clothes. She'd tried to protect the children, tried to make them run...

The woman took a breath, not quite looking Tifa in the eye, and Tifa prepared herself for the invective she knew she deserved. This was all her fault. All of it. And she just kept making things worse.

But Shera only turned away, lowering her head. "Come down to the galley. You look like you could use a drink."

Tifa glanced uncertainly at Vincent, thrown by the unexpected reaction, but he only nodded for her to proceed and fell into step behind her once she did.

Shera began to speak when they hit the stairwell, glancing back once. "It's not your fault," she said in a quiet, even tone, as though she'd practiced. "We used to think that staying away from you would suffice, with the way trouble followed you so closely, but things have changed again, haven't they." She sighed. "I'm sorry that I was angry when you came to the space station. I suppose it was inevitable, that it wouldn't last."

Tifa didn't know what to say, pausing on the steps until Vincent gently nudged her ahead. "You have nothing to apologize for," he told Shera, and deftly changed the subject. "Tell us what happened."

The woman turned and nodded as she reached the door to the level with the galley, the electric light overhead glinting from her glasses. Tifa caught a gleam of silver on their dark frame - it had been broken and soldered back together.

"I didn't take the worst of it. Nanaki had the Restore Materia; he stayed behind with the others when Cid came," she explained, moving a little slowly down the hall. "It was night and most of us were asleep when they broke into the house. I think they were after Reeve, but they were going to kill Elmyra and Ruvie to get through them, and Marlene got in the way and told them to take her instead." Tifa saw the corners of the woman's mouth twitch downward uncontrollably as she turned to open the door to the galley. "They liked that idea a little too much and took Denzel and Mal too. Right..." Her breath caught. "Right out of my arms..."

Hesitantly, Tifa placed her hand on the woman's back. She could barely begin to imagine the horror of that, for a mother.

Shera sagged a little, then moved forward without looking back, heading straight for the liquor cabinet. Despite having invited Tifa and Vincent to join her, she filled a glass and drank first, knuckles white from how tightly she gripped the whiskey bottle in her free hand. "It took too long for the Highwind to get there. No one had more than a few Potions, you see. Elmyra and Zhai are no worse off than I, and Reeve was never even touched... Ruvie will probably keep her eye... but Lia's never going to dance again." She took another drink. "Her husband was taking it harder than she was when I left. I don't know that she'd realized yet..."

She was still standing at the cabinet, her hands shaking. Tifa sat heavily at the table as Shera spoke, but after a moment, stood again and took the whiskey bottle from her.

As Tifa took a glass for herself, Vincent closed the door behind them.

The Temple of the Ancients - or its former location, at least - took about a day to reach. It had been chosen because, by the time the Princes' message was relayed to the Highwind through Shinra, it was roughly equidistant for both parties. The Temple had once been fairly well hidden by the jungle, but the gaping crater it had left behind was harder to miss.

Neither Tifa nor Vincent stood guard over Loz's door during the night. Barret wouldn't leave his chosen post, and seemed to be itching for any excuse to put the prisoner in pain. Unlike before, however, Loz stayed in the room without complaint and did not speak the entire time.

After healing Shera with the Restore Materia she'd taken back from Loz, Tifa spent the night in her own room, sorting through the weapons and Materia that she'd left on the airship the last time she'd been there. She fell asleep for only a fitful hour, sitting cross-legged on the floor with her back against the edge the bunk, head bowed over Cloud's SOLDIER-issue pauldron in her hands.

Fully equipped and armored, Tifa left the Highwind feeling far less vulnerable than she had for weeks. The Pearl Armor was a comfortable and familiar weight that she'd missed, as was the bump of the poison-bearing Zolom fang knife at her hip. She was no longer afraid to take on Loz while unarmed, but his brothers were another matter.

It was raining lightly when Tifa, Loz, Barret, Cid, and Shera disembarked. Vincent remained behind, guarding the airship in case of some other attack and keeping it ready, though he couldn't pilot it on his own.

Loz was not bound or leashed, but walked silently behind Tifa, watching the uneven ground beneath his boots. At least they were his own boots - he'd had the sense to stow his leathers on the module. Otherwise he'd have had nothing but the thermal clothes to wear, as the only person he might be able to borrow from was Barret, and Barret was none too inclined to share.

The rain was light now, but it had obviously been heavier before, and had left a treacherous terrain of slick mud murky puddles in its wake. It was strange - the pathways near the Temple's location were neither grassy nor covered in fallen leaves, as though the Planet itself tended the area despite the Temple having... fallen.

As though this were a cemetery, Tifa thought dryly.

As they headed for the wide-open area at what had once been the entrance to the Temple of the Ancients, movement on the ground caught Tifa's eye. She realized after a moment that she must have seen their reflections in the still puddles. She watched her footing a little more, distractedly taking note of the patchwork of light and dark on the ground, painted by dim white sky and leaves' shadows. As they passed pools of water on the ground, she watched what she could see of their reflections: Loz, herself, Barret, Cid, and she couldn't see Shera... Loz, herself, Barret, Cid... Loz, herself, Cloud -

She stopped and whirled, only for Barret to nearly run into her. "What?" He demanded with a scowl, the tense circumstances leaving his temper short.

Tifa's shocked expression eased into uncertainty. "Thought I saw something," she muttered, before turning to catch up to Loz.

Except that Loz had stopped as well, looking over his shoulder at her, though he still didn't say anything.

"Get moving," she snapped, having intended to tell him to wait. Everyone seemed to be crowding her at the moment.

After only a few steps, though, she changed her mind. "No, wait," she said, glancing down at the puddles again. "I have a bad feeling about this. Hold still."

"We all have a bad feeling about this," Cid grumbled. It was the first thing he'd really said aloud for a few days, and Shera moved closer to him and slipped her arms around one of his, but Tifa wasn't paying attention.

She moved closer to Loz, then raised her hand over their heads and cast, watching his face as impassively as he watched hers. A green glow flowed out over them like a shell, then retracted, as though sealing over them individually.

"That was my Barrier Materia," he said, pouting a little.

"Hasn't been since the first time we made Planetfall," Tifa responded, turning to cast Reflect on Barret, Cid, and Shera as well. Deflecting ranged magical attacks wouldn't entirely keep them safe, but it would help, and at least this way Loz couldn't be teleported out of their hands. "All right, let's go."

As they reached the clearing, Shera made a sound. Tifa looked up from watching her footing and trying not to look too closely at the puddles. Figures that must have been waiting for them emerged from the broad-leafed foliage on the far side of the square crater. Kadaj led the way and Yazoo brought up the rear, with the three children walking between them.

"Hey!" Loz called out, waving as though there was some chance that his brothers could have missed him.

Kadaj, Yazoo, and the children stopped. Tifa could make out the faces of the children; Denzel and Marlene didn't look as frightened as she'd thought they might, though Mal did. The three-year-old was clinging to the end of Marlene's shirt as tightly as the girl held the lifeless Cait Sith puppet in her arms.

Tifa could also see the Princes' faces, and their expressions were not as expected either. She'd thought that they'd be as cool and superior as usual, but Yazoo barely glanced at Loz before bowing his head so that his hair hid his face, and Kadaj was openly angry.

Tifa's bad feeling became a clear tension in her mind. Beyond the danger of the situation, something was terribly wrong.

"Well, come on then," Kadaj snarled at Loz.

Loz took half a step forward, though he seemed intimidated by Kadaj's demeanor as well. "Kadaj, it's not -"

"Not what?" The youngest of the Princes snarled, drawing his double-bladed sword. "Move it!"

"Hey!" Barret stepped forward, raising his gun-arm. "The kids. Let 'em go."

Kadaj momentarily focused on the man before carelessly nodding to Yazoo. The two of them each took a step back - and Kadaj swiftly raised his boot to the middle of Mal's back and kicked.

Cid shouted and Shera gave a shriek, but to Tifa it was a relief as Mal cried out and tumbled down the sloping side of the crater. The sides were steep and the little boy would probably be bruised, but he'd be all right - she didn't know how she could be so certain, but she was, and she didn't question it.

Barret's roar came less than a second after, just as Marlene shouted. "NOW!"

Tifa caught Denzel turning and lunging at Yazoo, and realized that Yazoo had already been drawing his gunblade. What held her attention, however, was Marlene. The girl lowered Cait Sith to dangle the robot limply from her left hand as she withdrew her right hand from its back - she must have made a compartment inside the puppet at some point. Lowering the cat revealed that she still wore the vial of Mako around her neck that she'd had on the space station, and that it was now flaring with blue-green light, even as a more yellow-green light curled around Marlene's right arm from her hand.

As Marlene turned toward Kadaj, right hand outstretched, Tifa realized that the girl had not only hidden Materia inside Cait Sith - she'd absorbed it. Marlene could use Materia.

There was no time to be stunned. "No!" Tifa shouted, dashing forward. Marlene and Denzel were going to get themselves killed -

Denzel screamed, flung away with a snap loud enough to be heard across the distance that Loz, Tifa, and Barret were fast closing. He tumbled into the crater, one arm limp, and Tifa prayed that it was only a broken limb that he suffered. Cid and Shera were rapidly descending to the bottom of the crater where Mal was trying to reach them; they'd be able to get to Denzel.

The second scream, however, came not from Marlene, but from Kadaj. The Prince was holding the side of his face, rivulets of sickly green pouring from between his gloved fingers. Somehow Marlene had managed to dodge inside his sword's range and hit him with some spell in the face.

Marlene skidded down into the crater as well - she'd either been kicked or had the sense to have thrown herself away. Kadaj howled and leapt after her, sword raised, but Barret started firing at him, roaring again as he ran along the muddy side of the crater, trying to get between Kadaj and Marlene. Kadaj's sword flashed as he deflected bullets, and as his hand lowered, Tifa glimpsed the black and red and green that tore the side of his face, the blue-green of his wild eyes and the white of his teeth suddenly out of place.

How in the world had Marlene learned to cast that level of Bio spell -

"Yazoo!"

Too late, Tifa realized that Loz was ahead of her, running for Yazoo - who hadn't moved at all, after he'd shaken Denzel away.

That sense of something being wrong sang loud in her mind again. The shock of Marlene secretly learning to use Materia was nothing compared to the shock of Yazoo doing nothing. The slender Prince simply stood as though he were waiting, his face still hidden by his hair, gunblade dangling almost listlessly from his left hand.

Loz slowed to a stop a few yards away, perhaps finally seeing something wrong with the situation. "Brother..."

Tifa came up to one side of Loz as he spoke, and saw the effect that the utterance seemed to have. Yazoo's shoulders shifted and he straightened, his head tilting to the side rather than forward. As he did so, his hair fell away from his face, revealing reddened eyes and the streaks of tears.

"Brother," Yazoo echoed, and managed to make the word sound like a curse. He began to raise his ornate gunblade.

Too late, Tifa realized what was wrong, and hated herself for not understanding earlier. Her own feelings toward Loz - anger and whatever else - had distracted her from what his brothers must have been feeling. They had taken the children hostage so as to draw Loz out, but it was not for the sake of retrieving him.

She didn't see Loz's face as the gunblade leveled at him, but she heard his voice, whispering in disbelief. "Yazoo..."

The stutter of Barret's gun-arm broke the moment, firing close by - Barret and Marlene were below them, firing and casting at Kadaj to keep him away from the others. Kadaj leapt from one wall of the crater to a ledge on the adjacent wall, and glanced up at Yazoo - and laughed with near hysteria.

"Do it, Yazoo! Don't you want Mother to love you again?"

Loz took a step backward, and Tifa saw his face. It had been one thing to believe that he'd abandoned his family by coming to rescue her against his Mother's wishes; it was quite another to actually see him realize the magnitude of what he'd done. His plan to return to his family didn't matter at all - the betrayal had been too great.

But Yazoo hadn't fired yet. The gunblade was leveled but unsteady, and Yazoo's breath was uneven and hissing through his teeth.

"You don't have to do this," she said quickly, stepping a little closer to Yazoo. "You don't want to. Listen to me, you could come with us -"

"Shut up!" Yazoo snarled, and in the moment that his aim wavered while he began to turn the gunblade toward her, Tifa lunged.

There was a sharp crack as he fired, the bullet glancing from her Pearl Gauntlet. Loz shouted, and Tifa caught hold of Yazoo's arm and twisted, catching his feet with hers. She wasn't trying to throw him - she hadn't the balance for that in this position - but trying to bring him down with her.

In a disorienting moment, Tifa and Yazoo whirled over the edge of the crater, tumbling down in a small avalanche of dirt and stones and mud. When the motion stopped, Tifa realized that she'd lost her grip on Yazoo, and she struggled to re-orient herself. He was unsteadily getting to his feet nearby, his hands empty, and he raised a hand to push muddy hair from his face to look for his gunblade.

"Yazoo!" Loz was scrambling down into the crater after them, eyes wide with shock, and Tifa realized that he couldn't even acknowledge what was happening. The fact that the Queen had sent his brothers to kill him was beyond him.

Barret fired as Marlene shouted something, and Kadaj's laughter rang out again. Tifa pulled herself upright, seeing Cid and Shera starting to help Denzel and Mal climb back up out of the crater. Denzel was whimpering and holding his arm.

What was happening finally seemed to be sinking in on Loz by the time he reached the bottom of the crater. There was growing hurt and fear in his voice. "Yazoo, stop!"

Yazoo whirled on him, distracted from looking for his weapon. "You never stopped! How could you even think for one moment -"

"Mal!"

Yazoo was moving, stumbling closer to Tifa and Loz behind her. "- That Mother would forgive you obsessing over your bitch enough to betray Her?"

Loz was reaching out. "Brother -"

"Brother!" Kadaj cackled madly, leaping toward Barret with a slash that was barely blocked. "He still calls you brother!"

Loz jerked his head toward Kadaj, his expression stricken.

"Mal, no!"

Tifa stood and turned in time to see Shera and Cid reaching back down into the crater. Mal was rushing toward her, stumbling, intently focused on something on the ground. She followed his gaze, her eyes widening as she saw his goal - but she barely had a moment to cry out and reach for the boy.

Yazoo caught hold of her hair and yanked backward; Tifa yelped and stumbled back into him. But she didn't struggle, trying to see Mal, and Yazoo realized and followed her gaze.

And began to laugh. "What are you going to do with that!"

It took the child both hands to even pick up Yazoo's gunblade, and he couldn't lift it to aim, but he looked like he was trying. Cid and Shera were sliding back down the crater wall behind him.

Both Kadaj and Yazoo were laughing now, and Yazoo held Tifa's hair with only one hand, green flame curling around his arm as he prepared to cast at Mal.

For once, Tifa's long hair was an advantage - it gave her enough length to still duck and twist and punch Yazoo in the stomach.

He choked and fell back, gloved, muddy fingers pulling from her hair as she dodged away. She raised her head to look at Mal again to see his parents rushing toward him.

He didn't appear to be afraid. He seemed resolute, looking right back at her with eyes much older than his age should have allowed. For just a moment, before Cid and Shera reached him, Tifa was sure that there was someone else kneeling by the child, a hand on his shoulder.

"Cloud?"

She made to stumble forward, but a hand closed around her ankle, yanking her down again; she didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until she struck her chin on the ground and snapped her mouth shut.

Yazoo snarled like a wild thing, nothing but pain and anger in his expression as he rose over her.

"No!" Loz barreled into Yazoo, both of them tumbling to the side. "Yazoo, stop, you have to listen -"

"Listen to what, you whining?" Kadaj interrupted, approaching a few steps before Barret fired at him again, this time with an energy blast. He'd either run out of bullets or his gun-arm had been damaged.

"There's nothing to hear, you idiot!" Yazoo snapped, punching at Loz.

Loz wasn't hitting back. He was desperate, only pinning Yazoo, trying to get his attention. "You never listen, don't you remember, she was in the reactor -"

"What the hell are you babbling about!"

Tifa's eyes widened in shock. The reactor - the Nibelheim reactor?

Yazoo shoved the flat of his hand against Loz's chest, the energy of a spell building up in tendrils of green again. Loz's mouth dropped open and he threw himself back. "Yazoo, don't!"

The spell exploded from Yazoo's hand, and would have been a direct hit despite Loz's attempted retreat... had it not been for the Reflect spell that Tifa had cast.

It was not a weak spell. In his anger, Yazoo had cast a high-level Ultima.

There was no time. Loz shouted and fell as the spell deflected back along its course, shattering his magical defense in the process. Cid and Shera covered Mal as Barret did the same for Marlene and Denzel, who had slid back down into the crater as well. Kadaj screamed something, but Tifa couldn't hear the words.

Sound and light exploded from the source of the spell in a ground-shaking roar. Tifa barely had time to shield her face.

It must have only lasted seconds, and dealt little of the damage that a true explosion at that range would have to those shielded. It still took Tifa several minutes to rise afterward, and her ears were ringing badly enough that she couldn't hear.

Cid, Shera, and their son were getting up, the gunblade still dragging from Mal's hands. They looked all right. Barret, Marlene, and Denzel seemed to have made it as well, the now-muddy Cait Sith puppet dangling from Marlene's hand. She couldn't locate Kadaj. As the ringing faded to a dull white roar in her ears, Tifa turned, seeking Loz.

It was hard to see him for the mud that now coated his clothing. He was crouched over something on the ground. It took Tifa another moment to realize that it was Yazoo.

It struck her with sickening clarity that he'd taken the full force of his own spell, and that the Prince hadn't even intended to escape its effects when he'd cast it. He couldn't have, at that range, with no magical protection of his own. He'd intended to die with his brother.

Tifa's hearing finally cleared enough that she could begin to decipher sounds again. The first thing she heard was Loz. She couldn't make out the words, but he seemed to be babbling, voice low and whimpering. He pawed at what was left of his brother, his hands shaking.

He had no Materia at all, much less a Restore Materia. Tifa bit back the urge rush forward and try to help with the Restore Materia she'd taken from him, but there was nothing short of a Revive spell that would work. She'd never successfully cast that, and Loz didn't know how either, from what he'd said about how he'd resuscitated her in the forest.

So it didn't matter, did it. They were finally rid of one of the Princes. She was supposed to be happy about that, wasn't she?

She moved a little closer in spite of herself, and saw with shock that Yazoo was not dead. He should have been dead - he was torn and mangled and crushed. But his eyes focused for a moment, his gaze sliding from white sky to his elder brother, his lips forming near-silent words that were drowned in the blood that spilled from his mouth.

And then he stilled, eyes going unfocused again, and the blood ceased to flow. Loz choked and howled - but his cry was lost in the scream that echoed from the side of the crater.

Kadaj.

Tifa couldn't move. She stared at Loz, at the way he collapsed and sobbed into the broken body before him, and all she could see was Cloud's corpse under her hands.

The youngest Prince struggled free of the earth that had partly buried him, staggering to his feet and screaming again before finding words. "You, you did this! TRAITOR!"

Curls of flame burst from his body, first white-hot, then violet - then red. Kadaj was Summoning.

The others were fleeing, nearly to the top of the crater now; Kadaj was weakened, but anything he called with that much power would still be too dangerous to fight the way things were now. Tifa knew that, logically, she should be running too.

She couldn't. Loz didn't even seem to have noticed Kadaj at all - he was still huddled and crying.

Kadaj thrust his hands skyward with another shriek, fire pouring from him and into the clouds above in a flare of wrath.

Tifa didn't want to know what he was Summoning. She wanted to get out of there, but she could only make herself move in one direction.

She'd been going to stay, back then, when Cloud had died. When she'd killed him. She'd wanted to die there in the Northern Crater, holding Cloud's lifeless body while the rage of the Planet was born around her, the Weapons clawing their way from earth and ice. And she would have succeeded, if Vincent hadn't pulled her away.

Barret shouted from the lip of the crater. "Tifa!"

Instinct gave speed to her movements. She grabbed the collar of Loz's jacket, hauling him out of his crouch. "Come on!"

He tumbled to his side, nearly knocking her down and making no move to rise. She bent with his weight, but strained rather than letting go, her fingers digging into his jacket all the more. "Loz! Goddammit, MOVE!"

The clouds above swirled and darkened, the wind of an otherworldly storm picking up as the center of the vortex expanded and blackened. Something vaguely humanoid and skeletal began to pull through, energy whirling around it to form a tattered shroud. At a gesture from the entity, the ground began to shake, pillars beginning to rise.

She knew that she began by dragging Loz, but at some point, he began to move on his own - she still pulled him, but he climbed the slope to the top of the crater on his own. On level ground again, she hauled him to his feet, nearly buckling under his weight.

She accidentally looked back into the crater as she turned under Loz's arm. The Hades that Kadaj had Summoned was half as tall as the crater it stood in, and it turned empty eye sockets on them, targeting. On the ground far below, Kadaj had stumbled to where Yazoo lay - but Yazoo was disappearing, his body dissipating into specks of light.

Tifa didn't have time to try to understand what she was seeing. She tried to run, stumbling and pulling Loz, trying to make for the Highwind. She could only hope that it was still there. Logically, the airship should have left as soon as the others were aboard. Logically, they should leave as soon as they saw her coming and bringing Loz with her.

The Highwind was still there, gondola hovering but ramp still on the ground, Baret and Vincent at the entrance. Sometimes, she could admit to herself that she was glad of her friends' lapses in logic.

She could hear the roar of the Summon behind them as their footing shifted from soft earth to the hard metal. Vincent and Barret barely waited for them to be inside before beginning to draw up the ramp; Cid must have been watching through a video feed, because the airship lurched upward at an angle the moment their feet left the soil.

Heart pounding and breath loud and ragged, Tifa fell painfully to her knees. Without her support, Loz collapsed, curling with his head in his hands.

"That's my girl," Barret mumbled, but she couldn't make sense of the comment. For the moment, all Tifa could think was that she didn't have to run any more.


Disclaimer: The Final Fantasy VII compilation (in particular, Advent Children), its story, and characters are the property, copyright and trademark of Square Electronic Arts L.L.C., and no ownership or claim on said property, copyright or trademark is made or implied by their use in the work(s) of fan fiction presented here. This fan fiction constitutes a personal comment on the aforesaid properties pursuant to doctrines of fair use and fair comment. This fan fiction is non-commercial, not for sale or profit, and may not be sold or reproduced for commercial purposes.