Like The Sun, Like The Moon
It was hostile.
It was strong.
It was red and purple.
And geez, it was huge!
Maybe not as huge as other fiends they'd encountered so far…
Still, the thing known as Lost Number was definitely bigger than the safe it had appeared from.
And obviously, it was giving Cloud, Tifa and Barret quite a hard time just then. They seemed to be fighting with everything they had, and yet they weren't even close to overpowering that beast.
"Leon?!" he suddenly heard Tifa's voice gasp in surprise, "What are you doing here?!"
He arched an eyebrow. She must have sighted him while flinging that potion onto the puppet – which had, oddly enough, actually healed the blond rather than hurt him – now however, she was yet again concentrating on her current battle, bouncing to and fro in accordance with the melodious battle theme. It seemed as if she wasn't paying any attention to him any longer, if she ever had.
Nonetheless, he bothered uttering the monotone reply of "I could ask you the same thing." Simultaneously, he stole a quick glance at the troop's stats menu and immediately knew 'what they were doing there'.
Obviously, they were doing their best.
But in their case, the best just wasn't good enough.
Certainly, he did appreciate their performance. As a matter of fact, their teamwork and strategies could actually be seen as effective. But even the best plan was doomed to failure if you lacked the strength necessary to execute it.
And from the looks of it, the trio did lack the strength necessary; they were quite a few levels too weak for this enemy. Maybe the powers-that-be had simply expected them to defeat it later on, maybe they should just have gone out to train some more beforehand. Or maybe they could need some support.
He was just about to show some camaraderie by offering his help when he heard Cloud's voice all but commanding, "Leon, please, it's safer if you just left again."
Naturally, the brunet couldn't help frowning in disbelief. Had the clone really just said what he thought he had? Had Cloud Strife really just admitted actually caring for his travel mate's welfare?
"If it's the four of us fighting, it's the same as cheating, and you know how horrible that would be," the blond added without even turning to look at the one he was addressing, "The entire game might have a major breakdown!"
Inwardly, Leon groaned at that. Outwardly, he merely sighed.
If they insisted on losing again, then so be it – they would just try again and again until eventually, an enormous streak of luck would enable them success. Certainly, it wouldn't be a real win, more like a mutual annihilation, but in the best case scenario, one of the good guys would still be standing, HP dangerously low, but not quite 0 yet.
This time, he really groaned. It would take them ages to accomplish that feat.
Well, not in the literal way. Technically, about the same amount of time would pass their higher-level selves would take to properly defeat the monster.
But if you counted the countless tries they would definitely need…an eternity would pass.
And that wonderful day would never end.
Really, it was a nuisance. Just then, he truly regretted having joined the puppet's little fighting club – if he hadn't, he wouldn't be condemned to actually notice how many game overs they experienced. But as luck would have it, he'd be forced to wait throughout the whole ordeal – after all, there was some truth to the clone's warning: the game's limits shouldn't be challenged.
Thus, Leon simply shrugged and left without any further words.
Time to do some reading…
Suddenly, the world around him changed.
Once again, he found himself sitting in front of a chessboard, the sun descending on his right, a ninja shrugging on his left. A second later, she was frowning though, in a reproachful kind of way, as if she'd only then remembered that she was still supposed to be angry at him after their little chat.
Or at least pouting.
Either way, she didn't say anything, but simply grimaced at him in utter indecision.
He stared back, waiting for her to make up her mind.
And then Cloud stormed into the room. Even though the save point wasn't that far away, he seemed to have covered the distance running, hence he looked the worse for wear upon arrival. Yet when both Leon and Yuffie tilted their heads in the newcomer's direction, one arching an eyebrow, the other one all but glowering, the blond's formerly weary expression had miraculously turned into his trademark sort of sheepish grin.
"Hello there!" he greeted them and slumped onto the third chair at the table, "I was wondering whether…umm…" He scratched the back of his head. "…the two of you…erm…" He awkwardly looked at both of them. "…would like to…" His smile grew ever so nervous. "…come with me on a little walk…" Glancing out of the window, he coughed uneasily, "…on this nice evening?" Again, he looked up at his two comrades, still as uncomfortable yet a tad expectant as well.
But the awkward silence that would have prevailed after his suspect speech under normal circumstances didn't even get a chance to settle this time…
"So you finally scared Tifa away, huh?"
Cloud choked in response. Not because the statement hit the nail on the head, but because he hadn't quite expected such an offhanded, all but casual remark…
Even Yuffie gasped in surprise.
Naturally, the otherwise stern and silent ex-SOLDIER would respond to her outburst with a disapproving frown.
Yet before any further tension could build up, Cloud wisely decided to simply answer his travel mate's question. "I'm afraid she got kinda angry," he explained in a somewhat hasty fashion, "I told her we'd just have to keep trying, but she wouldn't even listen and just…" He almost looked sad at that point. "…left. And of course Barrett wouldn't stay, either."
Leon didn't show any sympathy. "After so many near-death experiences, this behaviour is hardly surprising," he pointed out.
After that, Cloud looked even more miserable and was, shockingly enough, speechless for a while. "Once the thing is defeated, they said they'd come back," he informed them, a hint of hope in his voice.
But in spite of his wonderful performance, Yuffie couldn't help gaping openly at the blond. "You're honestly asking us to go game over on you instead of Tifa and Barett?" she all but hissed, watching him suspiciously.
Again, the blond scratched the back of his head. "I think some training would be useful," he laughed nervously, "…especially since your stats are still way below Tifa and Barrett's."
As Yuffie's jaw hit the floor with an audible plonk, Leon's eyes narrowed.
Which wasn't much, mind you, but, gee, it meant a lot…a bad lot.
And so, in order to prevent the worst, one Yuffie Kisaragi took the freedom to lethally punch the punk herself. "Darn, Cloud!" she exclaimed, getting up to tower over their fallen leader, "That's not a way of asking for help!" With an angry hiss, she slumped back into her chair, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "Go learn some manners already!" And as if her words hadn't been stressed enough already, she abruptly turned her head away, hmphing in the process.
If Cloud hadn't looked like an abandoned puppy already, he certainly did by then.
...not that he didn't deserve it.
In fact, Yuffie was just about to start another assaulting spree – a good and reliable way of releasing her frustration – when Leon, once again, did something somewhat…unexpected.
He got up.
"Let's just defeat that boss and be done with it," he stated in a mildly annoyed manner and started towards the door, "We ought to leave this town behind as soon as possible."
Yet while both his companions gaped at first, Yuffie's face suddenly grew solemn.
If he wants to leave as soon as possible, then…
…I won't have much time to figure something out.
Uncertainly, she glanced after her friend, but suddenly her eyes fell onto a somewhat surprised Cloud watching her with a questioning expression. She narrowed her eyes at him and stormed after Leon.
She might not have a plan yet, but the training would at least give her an opportunity to properly think things over. Besides, she was definitely looking forward to spending a few hours with her very best friend, fighting alongside him against hordes of brutal creatures. While she had occasionally caught a glimpse of his rumoured skill, she'd never actually witnessed him fighting, let alone participated in such a battle.
So naturally, the prospect of it all but thrilled her.
Too bad she never got to savour it.
Just before ordering Cloud to unlock the safe, Leon had made it crystal clear that he had "no desire whatsoever to waste countless hours running around aimlessly in order to slay fiends that wouldn't even come into being if it wasn't for some whimsical humans' urge to prove themselves."
Needless to say, both his current team-mates had been caught off guard by that statement: only after several moments of stunned silence did Cloud dare to utter, "But we'll never defeat it like this…" He trailed off, sending a helpless glance at Yuffie.
She merely shrugged back, briefly considering which clichéd answer would most probably set the blond at ease. "Brute strength isn't everything, you know," she finally drawled, and as predicted, her words had the desired effect: Cloud's eyes lit up with realization.
Simultaneously, she noted Leon's head tilting ever so slightly. This was a good sign, or at least she hoped so. While she certainly wouldn't have minded a little training session, she wouldn't risk getting on his bad side.
And so, with their squad leader outnumbered relentlessly, Pandora's box was soon opened yet again.
But only to Cloud's surprise the plague it had contained was exterminated surprisingly…effortlessly.
Just moments after the monster had appeared in its red and violet glory, Leon had advised Yuffie to try her Enemy Skill's Death Sentence on the thing. She'd frowned at him, knowing perfectly well that such an attack wouldn't have much of an effect in a boss battle.
Hence, she was rather shocked when her action was shortly followed by a white 10 appearing above the fiend's…erm… head…, decreasing ever so gradually.
Instantly, her head spun sideward. "What did you do?" she asked the only person that could possibly be responsible for this phenomenon.
With his face as blank as ever, he arched an eyebrow at her. "What do you think I did?" he challenged her quietly.
She narrowed her eyes, but suddenly remembered that they weren't only in Cloud's company, but also in the middle of a fight. Thus, she shot him a quick glare and began robbing the monster until its days were numbered – after one short, probably painful seizure, it vanished into thin air, leaving behind…
"A basement key?" Cloud wondered aloud, staring at the metallic object as if it could answer any of his questions.
"Duh," Yuffie remarked dryly, glancing over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of their latest loot, "I sure wonder where we could use that."
Cloud looked at her.
She used the opportunity to quietly slip the newly won Odin materia into her pockets and, on second thought, snatched the so called 'Cosmo Memory' as well.
Even though she had no clue of its actual purpose.
"The basement's downstairs," the blond had offered in the meantime.
She couldn't help grinning – new treasures always made her happy. Thankfully, Cloud, their 'rightful owner' hadn't even noticed their absence yet. Leon had, though…but he didn't seem to mind, and so her mood reached new heights within seconds. "C'mon, you guys!" she finally chirped and all but danced out of the room, "What are we waiting for!" And off she was, heading for the basement.
…and oddly enough, they found a locked door down there. Yuffie didn't even need to tease Cloud into using the key; he actually opened himself. Yet even though she'd known nothing pleasant would be awaiting them behind a locked door in the basement of an old, ominous Shinra mansion, she certainly hadn't expected this.
A burial vault.
Full of spider webs and coffins.
She didn't mind the spiders, but the coffins…were a different matter entirely. She didn't particularly like the thought of death, now less than ever, and this place practically reeked of it.
She could barely stand the heavy atmosphere within that dark cave, but at the same time, she couldn't keep her eyes off the dusty coffin so conveniently placed in the centre of the room. And all of a sudden, an odd sensation overcame her. Somehow she felt the unexplainable urge to take a look inside.
It was childish, tactless and macabre.
But obviously she wasn't the only one with that idea: even before she'd decided whether or not to do such a stupid thing, Cloud had kicked the coffin open.
"Who is this?"
…revealing a strange man.
Although, in her opinion, said man wasn't strange at all. As he slowly opened a pair of strikingly red eyes, analyzing each of them carefully, Yuffie actually considered him rather intriguing, attractive even. Maybe his general appearance truly was a bit…different…but she wouldn't call him strange.
Nonetheless, his description did.
"…never seen you," he suddenly stated in his oddly monotonous voice, "You must leave." It wasn't an unpleasant voice, though, Yuffie noted. However, this wasn't the only thing she noted, for obviously the stranger hadn't only piqued her interest, but Leon's as well. The brunet was still leaning rather casually against the doorframe, just as he'd done ever since entering the room, but he was watching the unknown man closely. As if he was just deciding what to make of such an unusual person, determining whether to evaluate him as a threat or not.
Or maybe…it was recognition.
On cue, Leon's voice echoed through the cave. "You're a turk," he declared in a low yet clear tone, causing Yuffie and Cloud to jerk up in surprise. Said turk, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. "That was a long time ago," he stated after a while and closed his eyes yet again, ready to rest on.
However, Leon wouldn't let him. "Why are you sleeping down here," he demanded quietly and lowered his head a bit, "if there is so much to do?"
Opening his eyes once more, the strange man watched him with an unreadable expression. "There is nothing left for me to do but to atone for my sins," he responded impassively.
"You can only atone by rectifying your deeds," Leon replied darkly. It was only a simple sentence, it wasn't even phrased remotely passionately – and yet the stranger finally seemed willing to keep up this conversation. "Rectifying…" he mumbled softly, apparently deep in thought before addressing the other man once more. "What would you know?" Yet in spite of his intrigue, both his face and voice were devoid of all emotions yet again.
"Sephiroth," Cloud suddenly said.
Inwardly, Leon smirked. So the puppet had finally caught on.
Inwardly, Yuffie flinched. So he was truly trying to recruit even more people that would ultimately…destroy him? That thought didn't sit well with her – not at all.
She gulped, when suddenly, a very unwelcome utterance reached her ears. "Sephiroth has lost his mind," Cloud explained.
She shot him a glare before remembering that yes, Sephiroth was seen as a lunatic by most, nearly all her current travel mates – and that even though he was, in fact, the sanest of them all.
Oh, it made her so angry!
And yet she gulped down her fury. As much as she'd like to reveal his true, amiable nature to the whole world, she wouldn't jeopardize what he was willing to risk his life, his future and even his reputation for.
Everyone would remember him as a mad villain – and he actually wanted it to! The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. And on top of it all, Cloud just couldn't stop retelling the tale of her idol's alleged misdeeds to the stranger now known as Vincent Valentine.
No matter how much she tried to slip back in her role, she couldn't help boiling inside.
Her party leader's point of view was just wrong – whichever way she looked at it. He would keep reporting on Sephiroth's madness, his oh-so-evil plans to take over the world, his inhuman strength and, well, his inhumanity to begin with.
She couldn't stand it.
What was wrong with being different?
What was wrong with being strong?
What was wrong with trying to save the world?
Drooping, she stared at the uneven and dusty floor.
Why the hell did Sephiroth of all people have to do that, anyway?
He didn't deserve this. It just wasn't fair!
"She had made up her mind," she suddenly heard Leon's voice from next to her, "I don't think even you could have stopped her."
In utter bewilderment she blinked at him several times, yet finally she realized his words had been directed at Vincent rather than herself.
But when the brunet suddenly glanced at her, if only briefly, she realized it had actually been directed at both Vincent and her.
Closing her eyes, she sighed softly.
What had they been talking about anyway?
She mentally slapped herself for zoning out yet again. While Cloud's tale hadn't contained any news, at least to her, she should have paid more attention to both Vincent's and Leon's words on that matter, for they might hold some vital information.
But as it was, she had, oh so cleverly, already missed half the story on "…Lucrecia," Vincent all but whispered, a hint of bitterness in his voice, "The woman who gave birth to Sephiroth."
"His biological mother…" Cloud muttered in bewilderment as he exited the cave, followed closely by an equally confused Yuffie and a Leon as impassive as ever. Although even he could tell they had successfully intrigued Vincent, the peculiar ex-turk had eventually refused to acknowledge their presence any longer.
"Give him some time to think it over," Leon had recommended, "He'll come with us once he realizes he cannot keep lamenting Lucrecia forever."
Which brought Cloud back to his current train of thought. Shuffling his feet along the corridor, he looked up at the bats grinning at him from the ceiling. "I'd like to know…" he drawled, absent-mindedly opening a door that stood in their way, "…whether Sephiroth knows of his biological mother."
"Oh, I'm sure he does."
He froze in an instant. Only vaguely did he notice Yuffie reacting in a similar way.
"But whether this knowledge is of any relevance at all…" the icy voice went on in a chillingly playful manner, "…hm…I wonder?"
It hit Cloud like a ton of bricks. They had just entered the library – they had just entered that library. The one where everything had begun all those years ago.
The madness, the pain, the danger.
Would it also end here?
Lowering his head, he stared at the man whose murderous, green eyes had haunted him for so long.
"Lucrecia was a mere vessel," he casually informed them as he strode along the bookshelves and out of their immediate sight, "She was only of…temporary use…"
Ignoring a ghastly pale Yuffie and an inexpressive Leon, the blond jogged after his former role-model to find him in the library's main study, lingering on the only chair with his legs carelessly on the table. "Well?" Sephiroth demanded, "Will you participate in the reunion?"
This time, he was directly looking into Cloud's eyes – and it sent shivers down the younger man's spine. "I don't even know what a reunion is!" he protested weakly.
Even though that was the dumbest answer the blond could have possibly come up with, Sephiroth grinned at him. "Jenova will be at the reunion," he announced brilliantly and threw his arms in the air, "Jenova will join the reunion becoming a calamity from the skies!"
Cloud could bear that intent, devilish gaze no longer and stared at the floor instead. "A calamity from the skies…" he mumbled.
So Leon had been right after all?
Where was he anyway?
Yet Cloud didn't have much time to wonder, for Sephiroth would quickly reclaim his attention. "I will go north past Mount Nibel…" the ex-general chatted conversationally, "…If you wish to find out…" Suddenly, his voice darkened, "…then follow."
At first, Cloud didn't dare looking up. Yet when he did at last, the silver-haired madman had long vanished, leaving behind nothing…but confusion.
But then again, it wasn't only Sephiroth's appearance that was confusing the blond at that moment – but his so called party's absence as well.
In reality, they weren't absent per se. They hadn't even left the room – they had simply refrained from following him to the deeper depths of library.
For as soon as Yuffie had caught sight of the fake, mad Sephiroth, she had been both frozen and appalled.
And it was then that she had, more or less consciously, decided to drop the mask and demand answers right there and then.
"Why are you doing this?" she whispered tonelessly, not bothering to elaborate any further for she knew he could tell what she was referring to..
Of course he could. However, he didn't respond right away but rather leant back against the wall first. "Do you really think they would kill me," he finally spoke in a voice even more detached than usual.
"…if they actually liked me?"
End of Chapter Thirteen
A/N: Next chapter, Wutai chapter! Whoohoo!
I hope you liked this one, it was a bit longer than the last one and a bit more action-ish as well :)
Lotsa thankies to moonstarlight, SAMPSON12187 and GodOfDespair for their lovely reviews - your kind and encouraging words are what keeps me running!
...although I would have been happy about a few more reviews, ahehe...
But oh well, I guess I can't have everything :p
Anyway, see you all in the next chapter!