A very, very huge apology for such a long wait, but the good news is that my computer is fixed and running well once more, so as long as I can find to time away from work, updates should be fairly regular once more.
The sounds of running footsteps preceded Cloud and Reno as they made their way through a maze of hallways looking for an exit to the seemingly never-ending twists and turns. They had only just managed to get out of the room before being overrun by the Darkness monsters; closing the large door behind them just in time to slow their shadow attackers down while they picked a direction at random and ran.
Cloud still felt sore and exhausted, but he pushed it to the back of his mind for now as he moved, his eyes scanning each new hallway they passed for either an enemy or an exit. It seemed that the longer they ran aimlessly, the more likely they were to run into trouble.
Reno had quickly stopped asking questions once he had seen the trouble coming their way, so Cloud thankfully didn't have to explain anything. At least not yet. Despite everything around him, there was still a small part of his mind that was trying to figure out a good cover story for this latest happening. He some how doubted that he would be able to think of one to get him out of this one.
As they moved though, Cloud's thoughts kept returning to whether Zack and Angeal were ok. It had been a while since Razor had left him, and he had no clue if his friends would be ready for an attack.
"Oh, come on!" Reno growled when they turned a corner and found a dead end, "Is there no damn way out of here?"
Cloud admitted to himself that he was beginning to wonder the same thing, but instead of saying anything he just turned and kept moving once he knew the red-head was following, each second they were wandering around with no weapons and no clue was another second that their chances of escape narrowed.
Picking yet another hallway to follow the two moved with more urgency, the growing need to get away from this maze weighing heavily on them both. It seemed not a moment to soon that they turned a corner and two large doors marked with an image of stairs came into view.
Relief flooded through them as they made their way to the doors, but the feeling was short lived when they found the doors to be firmly locked. This time it was Cloud that cursed. While he figured that there would have to be another way out of here, the time it had taken to find this one had been far to long, and the time it would find another exit would only be suicidal.
Taking a quick inventory of his injuries Cloud moved up to the door and tried to gauge how sturdy the lock was. Reno moved to the side and watched the blond with mild curiosity. He was pretty sure that if he had his lock-pick kit with him that he would have them through the door in under a minute, but Tseng had confiscated them when he had tried to access some rather important file draws and hadn't given it back yet.
Cloud stepped back a little bit and once again gathered what little strength he had left before launching a bone-crushing kick against the lock. Normally such a feat would be fairly simple for the blond, but he was still much weaker than he cared to admit.
The lock shattered under the blond's boot and for the second time Reno was left speechless at what should be impossible actions by the blond man, and he once again felt a wave of questions surging forth to be asked, but his concerns were quickly re-prioritised as Cloud raised a hand to his head and fell to one knee.
The dizzy spell had hit suddenly and without remorse, sending Cloud to one knee as he tried to fight off the nausea-inducing rocking and spinning that felt to be throwing him around. After what felt like an eternity the world seemed to slowly right itself and Cloud was able to open his eyes and meet Reno's concerned ones from where he was crouched just beside the blond. What Cloud didn't expect was for the red-head to jump back in shock once he saw Cloud's eyes.
"What the-" Reno cut himself off and just stared. Cloud's eyes shone with the tell-tale Mako glow, the only difference being that Cloud's eyes retained their ethereal blue instead of the green sheen.
Cloud sighed, knowing that whatever the Planet had done to conceal his most telling feature would have to end soon. If anything he had expected it to end sooner with the strain he had been under. Instead of answering Reno's confusion, Cloud simply pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the way he staggered slightly, and moved into the stair well. There was too much at stake now, and Cloud had a feeling that perhaps the final confrontation was coming soon than he had hoped.
Zack's back hit the wall hard; most of the breath being forced from his body, but he held strong under the crushing force of Razor's blade pushing against his own. The anger still burning hotly in Zack was all that was still giving him strength after fighting for what felt like hours. Razor had landed several hits on Zack so far, none of which were very severe, but the Raven haired man had yet to land a single hit on his opponent.
"Just give it up." Razor sneered, a gleam in his eyes telling Zack that he was enjoying watching him struggle.
"Tell me... Where Cloud is." Zack ground out, his voice breathless.
"Now that would ruin the whole point of hiding him away now, wouldn't it?"
Feeling his rage grow further at the mocking words, Zack managed to push the other off of him and once again launch into a series of attacks that Angeal would undoubtedly be proud of. But Zack wasn't foolish; he was fighting a battle that there really wasn't anyway for him to win, but it was one that he was willing to fight regardless. For Cloud, Zack would take on the entire of Shinra's armed forces.
Razor deftly dodged or deflected each of Zack's attacks, he had to admit that he was slightly impressed with the determination that the Raven-haired man was showing; it would certainly make it more fun to relate to Cloud later on about how hard Zack had tried to fight, but how easily he it was to kill the man all the same. Razor chuckled to himself at the thought of torturing the blond in such a way.
With the blond in mind, Razor figured that he should probably check and make sure that Hojo hadn't gone down when he wasn't suppose to, and so using his powers even while fighting, Razor tapped into the shadows that he had stationed around the room where Cloud was being kept. He promptly growled out a curse at finding the blond had somehow managed to escape once again. He had been so sure that Cloud was immobilised and weakened enough that he wouldn't need to be concerned with such a thing.
Deciding that play time had come to an end Razor ducked underneath a horizontal slash from his opponent and crushed the hilt of his blade into the open abdomen of Zack, the force of the blow lifting him from the ground and sending him flying back a few feet to land stunned and winded on the ground, the large broadsword dropping from slackened fingers.
Zack had barely had time to prepare for the ferocious attack; seeing a sudden change come over Razor before hearing a muffled curse, and then finding himself laying on his back with pain exploding in his stomach.
Razor walked over with a cold calmness and stood over Zack, his sword raised to rest lightly against his neck.
"Well, it seems that I no longer have time to play with you." Razor said, the mocking gone now and stern frustration evident.
Zack looked up through watering eyes as he fought to breath after the harsh blow, but he was able to read what the frustration meant and a pained smile made its way to his face.
"He...got...away." Zack rasped, as he was finally able to draw in a breath.
Razor's face twisted slightly in anger and he pushed down slightly on the blade, drawing a small bead of blood from the tender flesh of Zack's neck.
"He will not be resisting when I show him your head." Razor sneered, putting just a bit more pressure on the sword.
Zack could only lay still as he felt a small trickle of blood run down the side of his neck. He knew that if Razor wanted to, he would indeed sever his head from his body and use it to terrorise Cloud, but if he was going to die here, then he would not give the twisted man the pleasure of showing fear.
Razor lifted the sword, placing one foot in the middle of Zack's chest to keep him from last minute heroics, and with a final sneer at the Raven-haired man he brought the blade down towards a vulnerable neck.
Cloud moved steadily up the stairs, with a still confused Reno following not far behind. There had been complete silence between the two since they entered the stairwell; Reno feeling that the world had gone crazy and decided to not include him, and Cloud simply focusing on putting one foot in front of the other to get to Zack and Angeal.
Cloud was fairly sure that the soft whisperings he could hear at the edge of his mind were from the Planet, but he couldn't figure out if these whisperings were good or bad, ever since his last visit from Aerith all contact with the Planet had been practically non-existent, or only just there is faint whispers like now. The blond was thankful that he was at least able to call upon the spirit energy that his connection with the Planet had given him.
So far there had been no other doors as they moved up the stair well, and as they climbed further and further, both men were starting to get concerned that perhaps this was no escape; but a trap in itself. Reno had the strange thought that 'dungeons' in real life were nothing like those in games or movies; there was no simple puzzle to solve, or key to find. In real life, the dungeon was made to keep people in, not allow them the chance to get out.
Once again, waves of relief came over the two men as the stairs finally came to an end and a door stood proudly at the top, and Reno felt quite silly for his thoughts on dungeons. Thankfully this door had been left unlocked, and the two men stepped into what seemed to be one of the many hallways on the Science Department.
"Damn, never thought I'd ever be glad to see this place, yo." Reno muttered as he looked around the bland white halls.
Cloud was only half listening though, as his ears had picked up the faint sounds of what seemed to be fighting. The blond frowned and began to follow the sounds, a sense of foreboding rising in his stomach as he mentally tallied the reasons a fight might be occurring in the empty hallways. There were not many reasons at all.
Cloud felt all his blood run cold when he finally rounded a corner, the sounds having died off a short ways back, to find Zack on the ground and Razor standing above him about to bring his sword down against Zack's neck.
Cloud moved without thought, launching himself forwards towards Zack and Razor just as the sword began its downwards arc. Time seemed to slow as Cloud moved closer, one hand reaching down to grab Zack's discarded sword before throwing himself forward.
It seemed like a race that would only be determined by a single split second. And it was.
Cloud's sword hit Razor's with the clear ring of tempered steel, knocking it just far enough away for it to be harmless to Zack, while Cloud's body impacted against Razor's and sent both of them flying to the ground.
Once the ground rushed up to meet them, time seemed to flow normally again and Cloud found himself depleted of his final reserves of strength as he rolled to the side. His body ached and the pain seemed to pulse with each heart beat. He honestly felt like he had when he defeated Sephiroth in the Life Stream; beaten and broken despite feeling at least slightly triumphant.
Zack simply laid where he was for a long second, blinking in confusion as his mind tried to process what had just happened. It had been a blur of blond, tan skin, blood red, and torn black that had flown over him and diverted his death. Surely the only thing that would fit that description would be... Cloud?
With that thought, Zack was up and standing in an instant, wincing slightly as the fast motion pulled at his winded stomach, and turning to see the blond haired man laying on the ground next to a slightly dazed looking Razor. It was Cloud!
Ignoring the obsidian-eyed man, Zack moved to the blond's side and looked down at very pain-filled, but alive, glowing blue eyes. A great weight lifted of his chest in that second, but the anger running through his veins only intensified; even though Cloud was now within his sight once again, the blood streaked skin of his torso and the deep mako glow to his eyes spoke volumes about what had been done, and even after all that Cloud had needed to save him! It should have been the other way around.
While Zack was fussing over the wounded blond, Razor stood up and looked incredulously at the pair. It didn't seem possible that Cloud could have escaped and made it this far, and just in time to save the annoying, hyperactive, SOLDIER fool! Razor was furious, although he wasn't sure that it was just aimed at the two in front of him; he refused to fail in his Master's request yet again, and yet, everything seemed to be falling apart once more.
If Cloud refused to give in, then he would just ruin everything that he had built here; he would destroy everything he cared for, everyone he cared for, and he would drive him from the security of the very company that he had travelled through time to sabotage.
With a silent curse, Razor bent down and retrieved his sword and stalked towards the two, his mind quickly contemplating the different ways he would enjoy to slowly kill the Raven-haired man while Cloud watched. He was already regretting not ensuring Zack's death sooner, as such a sight would have destroyed all resistance from Cloud, who he was sure that he would be able to handle without trouble as wounded as he was.
Zack looked up and saw Razor walking towards them with an absolutely murderous look on his face, and he knew that there would be none of the games from earlier; none of the pointless taunts and drawing things out; Razor had been over confident in his capture of Cloud and had paid for it. Zack knew that there would be no repeat of such carelessness.
Zack quickly grabbed his sword from where it had fallen from his grip earlier, and took up a stance in front of Cloud, the determination from earlier shinning brighter as he watched the man of the Darkness stalk towards him.
"This time. You. Die." Razor snarled as he brought his blade backwards and crouched slightly in preparation for a series of attacks that he knew the other would be unable to handle. It would all be over in a matter of seconds, and Cloud would be helpless once again.
A second of pure silence and stillness fell over them as Zack's mind furiously fought to find a way to not only survive what was coming, but to keep Cloud safe as well, was shattered prematurely, not by Razor attacking, but by a bullet flying between the two men, missing Razor only because the man had suddenly jerked back on instinct.
Both Zack and Razor turned to look down the hallway; Zack grinning in excitement and renewed hope, and Razor gritting his teach in pure anger. Angeal and the group of Turks stood at the end off the hallway with a smug looking Reno standing before them.
From where Cloud lay on the floor, he allowed himself a small grin as he watched Tseng pull the trigger once more; Reno had come through. He had been doubtful that the man would listen to his harried order to get help, but he was glad to have his concerns put to rest.
The rest of the Turks followed Tseng's example and began firing off rounds while Angeal drew his sword and moved forward with deadly purpose. The First Class SOLDIER did not take threats to those he cared about well, and would do anything to remove such threats.
Razor grit his teeth as he deflected several bullets and looked to where Cloud was pulling himself into a sitting position behind Zack. His fury was nearly visible in the air around him as he stared down at the ethereal blue glow of Cloud's eyes, and then the fury shimmered down to nothing as Razor stood straight and lax, completely disregarding the bullets flying at him and the SOLDIER that was nearly upon him.
Cloud frowned as he watched the change in the black eyes of Razor, and concern filled him as Razor smirked once again before dissipating into shadows just as Angeal's blade cleaved through the air where he had been. That had been a look of calculation, and Cloud did not like the implications that such a look could have. It meant that already, the obsidian-eyed man had come up with another plan.
Pushing the concern aside for the moment, Cloud brought his mind back to the present as silence filled the hallway in the absence of gunfire and suddenly Zack was kneeling beside him and drawing him into an embrace that spoke of warmth and safety, and made his realise all to much just how tired and in pain he was. Cloud rested his head against the strong chest before him and allowed unconsciousness to roll over him.
Zack held the limp Cloud close to himself, burying his face in golden spikes and allowing his relief to completely wash over him. Cloud was safe and soon enough he would be healed and all better once more.
Zack didn't even realise he was crying until Angeal crouched beside him and placed a hand on his shaking shoulder; the soft drops tickling his cheeks as he raised his head to look at his friend and mentor.
"He's safe Puppy." Angeal said softly, watching as Zack once again leant his head down, his arms cradling the obviously battered and bruised body with unbelievable care. For just a moment when Angeal had walked around the corner and seen how Zack stood before the injured Cloud, he had been drawn to thoughts long past of his concerns towards Cloud and the 'friend' that had died to save him. It was chillingly easy to imagine Zack placing himself in the firing line to protect the blond. And his suspicions that Zack had been that friend were once again brought to the forefront of his mind.
At some point medics had been called and when they arrived they had been unable to separate Zack and Cloud to the point that they had needed to allow Zack to ride on the stretcher with Cloud. In many ways Angeal did not blame Zack, he knew that he himself would not be allowing the blond man from his sights any time soon.
It had been far to easy for Cloud to be snatched away when they had looked away once.
It would not happen again.
And that is the end of that chapter. I'm still not sure that I like how it flows, but it is the best I can get it at this point. I hope you all enjoyed, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Can anyone guess what Razor's next plan may involve? :)