The Beast Within

Chapter Seven

Trapped Within

"Tifa!"

The shocked cry that burst from the other room followed by scraping noises and the sound of things breaking made Tifa raise her head swiftly. She abruptly got to her feet and darted into the next room. Time seemed to come to a halt as many Heartless were roaming the streets, like a black moving carpet with bright yellow eyes flashing in her direction. In the dark of night, she couldn't see just how many there were. But it wasn't the number of Heartless out there that was the issue...

Aerith backed off and looked over at Tifa almost expectantly. Worried green eyes locked with angry dark ones and suddenly Tifa leapt forwards just as a Heartless scurried in Aerith's direction. The moment it leapt to sink it's claws into the healer was the moment it met Tifa's clenched fist and was thrown into the wall. Tifa whirled around and kicked another Heartless running at them with a battle cry.

"Where are the others?" Aerith called over Tifa's grunts of effort and the scraping of claws on the cold stone floor. She kept Tifa healed, as the occasional Heartless dug its claws right into her or managed to swipe at her skin.

Tifa hadn't heard her, sweat breaking on her brow as she kept her concentration on where the creatures were coming from next. She noticed that whenever she killed one, three more seemed to appear from nowhere. And as a result, she was rapidly becoming outnumbered. Tiredness was soon taking over, magick energy was becoming sparse and there seemed to be more pouring into Merlin's home. The place's interior was practically destroyed, bits of torn paper littering the floor and showing broken words beneath black claws.

"Tifa!" Aerith cried out as the Heartless crawled around her and then climbed up her legs. She desperately tried to summon a little more magic to heal Tifa, but it was as futile an effort as a parched traveler trying to get a drop out of a canteen of water that had dried out of liquid hours beforehand. There was nothing left to draw.

"Anybody?" Aerith tried to push the Heartless away. She felt them digging into her own skin, claws piercing the flesh and blood trickling down her legs and arms. She began to sink to her knees, weighed down by many Heartless clinging to her, pulling her to the cold floor...

Her vision was about to be smothered with black. And she began to wonder what would become of her, how she hadn't prayed, and how she was going to die. Lots of little claws slashed her skin, and it felt as if she was wearing a heavy coat of knives. The floor had become incredibly wet, and for a moment she thought it had been raining indoors... No, it wasn't water... It was her blood –her own blood. She was going to die. She couldn't hear Tifa, or the others. What about the others?

Just before the last bit of light was to be extinguished, a piercing bright red light flashed before her eyes. She heard growls and grunts and suddenly the coat of Heartless seemed to be washed away as if turned into sand. She could barely see and was about to collapse before a green light washed over her. Blinking a few times, Aerith's vision cleared and she saw Tifa sat on the floor a few feet away from her, looking at her with shared confusion and then they both looked to the floor as the torn pages of books slowly drifted with a breeze that wasn't there.

Hair flowing and a deep set frown on his face, Merlin clenched his fists as the book pages began to piece themselves back together slowly, swirling around in a slow spinning motion. The wizard stepped forwards as Aerith and Tifa pushed themselves to their feet. Disturbance was set into his wrinkled features and in a voice completely different to his usual tone, Merlin lowered his head and stated simply, "These are dark times."

"Where..." Tifa cleared her throat, glancing at Merlin and continuing, "Are the others...? They're not--"

"They're not here." Merlin finished her sentence for her, his own voice seeming to come back now. But he still sounded unsettled. "I know what you are thinking. And I can only say they know how to take care of themselves..."

"But didn't you see how many there were?!" Tifa interrupted, "You saw! You saw how we nearly died..." Aerith clasped her hands together and shook her head gently, hoping for the best for the others and shivering at remembering the feel of those claws ripping into her skin.

"I know how many there are. And there is nothing more we can do without the chosen wielders of the keyblade." He shook his head, an aged hand stroking his soft white beard thoughtfully. "All we can do is hope for the best."

"We've barely restored the town..." Tifa shook her head too. The restoration committee's efforts seemed to be a complete waste. Radiant Garden seemed to be slipping back to being Hollow Bastion. Too much time and effort had gone into the town, only for it to be destroyed. She hated to think what Leon would be like at seeing the town being ripped apart. She hadn't seen Leon for the past couple of days though. She knew not to worry of him and Cloud. She knew they could take care of themselves. She then remembered Cloud wasn't well. Was he responsible for the Heartless? No... He simply couldn't be. She looked over at Merlin raised the broken door and began to repair it, the hinges reattaching themselves to the door. And before it swung shut, she saw another set of yellow eyes pop up in the darkness, and a full moon shining overhead. She closed her eyes as the door slammed to a magic-sealed close.

----

Dirt was kicked up as paws thudded against the ground. Dark fur glittered with patches moonlight that ran over him in a blur. The trees tried to be intimidating, towering over his lower body. He felt like the king of the jungle, living up to the title that came with the name. Lion.

Darting between trees easily, his rounded brown ears raised as the sound of smaller paws hitting the ground behind him. Thoughts quickly ran through his mind, playful and scheming. Oooh, a chase he wants a chase he gets... Or should I run behind here and pounce on him? Surprise him? Is it a race? Maybe he's racing...

He shook his head clear of thoughts, dark brown mane swishing as he kept on running. He felt free, able to do whatever he liked. The world was his to explore. Nobody should dare cross his path. He felt his tongue flopping uselessly over his lips and flapping backwards because he was racing on. Only when he felt like his lungs were about to explode did he slow down to collapse next to a stream. Only when his heart began beating slower did he begin to think a little more coherently.

Where the hell am I? Lion's ears raised again as the wolf trotted into view, his tongue also lolling and blue eyes flashing with mischief. The lion turned around and dunked his muzzle into the cool water. I... This feels good. I feel so free. I love to run... But wait! What in Hyne's name am I doing? This is crazy! I need to be Leon! I need to go back! He couldn't control it. How could he convince the beast within him to give him his body back? He was burning with heat from running, and the cool night breeze washing over his hot fur was welcomed with open arms.

Hyne above... The others are gonna worry. Lion drank the cold water thirstily, eyes closing. He heard the wolf beside him do the same, his golden fur shining brightly. They were still themselves. He could tell this lion he wanted the body back. He felt everything the lion did, and the running... it was fantastic. He shared the lion's thoughts, of hunting, of play fighting and of the wolf. There was a very strong connection between the lion and the wolf, he'd noticed. And when Leon had gotten his body back for a good few minutes, he and Cloud shared a grin of understanding. Of how great the feeling was.

But so wrong! He was possessed but loving it? How did that make sense? Leon wasn't the sort of guy to enjoy losing control, but the feeling of freedom... It was far too great to dislike. He didn't quite understand. But it had only been a day or two. Or had it? He'd lost count... He'd lost objective. He had come there to find Cloud, and here he was. He came there to find answers, and the answers had been given. It was time to go back, and he didn't want to. He wanted to run around without a care, the King of the jungle, forever. He was arguing with himself. Hyne above... My head...

The wolf was looking at him expectantly when he brought his muzzle from the water and licked his lips. It was as if he could sense distress or confusion. If it wasn't that that Leon puzzled over, it was how the wolf trotted over and gave him a quick nuzzle in passing. This made Leon's ears prick again, and he watched as Cloud sloped off. It didn't make sense. He felt a strange sense of companionship just as Cloud passed, and he watched the golden figure move into the shadows of the trees. Nostrils flaring, he picked up his scent and immediately followed. He couldn't let Cloud go anywhere when he knew they had to go back soon.

He remembered the boy's blank eyes staring at him, feeling guilt chew at him. His ears had fallen back by then, and the wolf had turned around again, his own ears half fallen. Confused eyes locked onto concerned ones and Leon stepped forwards to follow Cloud once more. He then learned that whatever mood change he had, the wolf would be aware of it. It was as if, as animals, they were tuned into each other's thoughts, motives and emotions.

It continued to amaze Leon no end, but he felt the pressing need to get back to Radiant Garden. He needed to let the others know what he'd found out. Assure them Cloud hadn't fallen to the darkness. He paused for thought. What if the two of them couldn't control when the beast wanted to escape and they ended up turning in front of the others? Could he really tell the others that not only Cloud was going insane for trying to keep the beast back, but he was too? He let his eyes slide shut. He wanted to curl up in a nice warm spot and just sl-- No! I have to get back to the others! You don't understand...

The lion was reluctant, but gave Leon his form back regardless. Slowly, he felt his paws turn to human hands, the fur sliding back into the skin. He felt his ears lower and his mane become controlled. His body was slowly shaping back into Leon curled up on the floor. His clothes were torn and muddy, but thank Hyne they were still there. He looked up to see the wolf sat, eyes shining in the darkness. He knew what was going on.

Cloud was refusing to go back.