What makes a madman?
Maybe the decomposition of their mind, or more than a few environmental factors? Or perhaps an event that is so dire, so unforgettable that it snaps the conscience so heartlessly? An unforeseeable event, consisting of the deaths of friends and family, or even the schizophrenia that haunts one's dreams at night, twisting even the most mundane fantasies into agonising nightmares?
Or maybe, just maybe, there is no one left on the Planet. No one else to initiate human contact, no one else to comfort a lonely soul as they stared blankly at the ruins of a church that once held cherished memories.
Perhaps it was all of these things and more in Cloud Strife's case.
It built up slowly; a subtle poison that Cloud had noticed, yet dismissed for a spontaneous ache in the chest. Vincent noticed, and the ever enigmatic gunman cast a cryptic message the blonde' way, gazing at the sudden withdrawal of insanity's tendrils inside those blue eyes as they turned to the former Turk.
"Be careful not to fall off the edge, however tempting it may be." Vincent murmured, and swept away. It was all he could do, really, with ending the swordsman life coming up to a close second. Cloud was powerful, and insanity already had him in a vice. But Vincent believed in the good he had in him; the blonde knew his limits. The gunman had faith that Cloud wouldn't tip over the edge.
Yet he did not notice the slightest furrow of blonde eyebrows as blue eyes trained on the door he just left through. It was more of the matter of Cloud actually absorbing the advice rather than him actually following it.
And maybe that was the only time we could have stopped his descent.
The thought ran regretfully through Vincent's mind even as he succumbed to the mortal wound inflicted by First Tsurugi.
It wasn't everyday Cloud Strife had the strength to even attempt trying to string a thought together, though it was more of the fact that he bothered at all trying to make sense of anything that was rare.
A swirling void of voices always accompanied him. Sometimes, he couldn't tell whether the person speaking was himself, Jenova or even the Planet.
Of course, how could the Planet talk to him? He was no Cetra, and he smiled slightly at the thought of the brunette Ancient he'd known. She'd been a gentle force, yet powerful all the same. Aeris had always communicated to him from the Lifestream, yet nowadays he couldn't hear her voice anymore.
It occurred to him then that maybe she couldn't bear to speak with him anymore. She said that there had been nothing to forgive, though even that weighed heavily on his conscience. Was she lying? Had she simply said that to make him feel better?
It was a sickening hollowness, not being able to feel her presence anymore; even the echoes of Zack's noogies couldn't be recalled.
He stopped counting the days after that.
He hated it. The fact that he had to keep on living, to keep on going for damn near eternity with a body that couldn't wither away, that couldn't even get the tiniest scratch.
Aeris had told him – his ascension to a human WEAPON. The Planet had willed it, she'd said with regretful tears in her eyes – and that was the last time he had heard her voice at all.
The news struck him like a fatal blow. After everything, he couldn't even rest? He couldn't even find peace, but had to keep fighting and fighting just because of the Planet?
It led to new thoughts, new desires that he had never dreamed of having – desires that the old him would have shrunk away from in disgust.
Unable to fall into oblivion, unable to reunite with his friends in the Lifestream, unable to even entertain the comfort of being able to get hurt – the Planet should have known. He'd been through too many horrors, had felt obligated to fight so many times, had chosen to battle a weary war for the sake of his friends – surely he would have the just reward of being able to die.
In a bout of rationality, a manner of judgment that now rarely came to him, he wondered if that had been the ultimate trigger. That, along with the decreasing number of people he could truly call family was what the insanity had gotten a grip on.
What was it that Vincent had said? Don't fall off the edge?
Maybe, Cloud pondered, making him chuckle dryly to himself, there was never an edge to begin with.
It didn't really register at first, the familiar vestiges of towns he rode through on Fenrir. Maybe not familiar at all, yet the eventual realisation came to him. Haunting, as it were, the images of blackened towns he had once set foot in, the darkened sea with wisps of scarlet red twining through its depths, and the now barren landscape.
He remembered fighting for them, the villagers who both scorned and hailed him; the blonde wasn't stupid enough to think they all had glorified views of him. He'd seen the veiled fear, bordering on hatred in their eyes, and occasionally wondered why he was trying to save them at all.
Tifa and the others, really, were the ones who he lived for; his true friends – his family.
So when they started going one by one, youth dwindling away in front of his immortal form, the brink came closer.
To lose all semblance of reality or reason... it was tempting to the blonde, to say the least. But he held on, eventually growing distant from his family's grandchildren and the generations after that. They held no love for him now, his image just a myth passing from one mouth to another.
After that, he just wandered. He sometimes had blank moments in his memories. He'd be walking along the shore beside what used to be called Wutai, only to be greeted with the white terrain of the Icicle Area after a mere blink.
But it wasn't like his whole awareness gone; no, he was sluggishly aware, ever so buried beneath something inside his own mind that he felt like a puppet. It bothered him more than ever; the fact that he was being controlled like when Sephiroth had a strong grasp on the movements of his body. He hated the helpless feeling, yet when compared to the recent episodes, it wasn't entirely the same.
With Sephiroth, he couldn't do anything; he couldn't even begin to control his own movements, and the lack of any kind of resistance always left him feeling useless. But when he began having those holes in his memories, awareness dribbled into his limbs, ever so slowly – he could almost remember doing it, recognising colours at the most. The only colour that seemed to dominate was a fiery red, both out of control and in trailing rivers.
He could have gained control. He could have fought the presence that took over his mind like a disease - yet the high that was introduced to him, a seemingly intoxicated phase that left him drowsy as he regained awareness, was addicting.
Why even bother to think anymore when he could just go with that single-minded presence?
Besides, it wasn't like he was disturbed by the images of First Tsurugi impaling woman, man and child as much as when he'd taken his blade to the chest of a certain red-cloaked friend.
...Why had he done that again?
But the thought was gone as the madness overtook him again.
Cloud hadn't known. He wasn't aware how much he had deluded himself so. He had believed he became a hermit, lazily trekking across recently formed deserts when Fenrir's engine had finally given up.
But the true folly, he realised, was when he stumbled upon a ruin he'd wrought himself, and believed it to just be a sign of how many years he had been absent.
The ruins had once been called Edge, and only ten years had passed.
Idly, Cloud wondered how he had missed the permanent stench of ash and blood clinging to his skin.
Despite everything, the church still remained.
He approached it now, a weary soul eager to rest. It wasn't like he believed Aeris' spirit would be there, nor did he think there would be any comfort brought to him in this place. It was merely a vessel now, for the memories he wanted to relive and avoid simultaneously.
Cloud's vision flashed, and like a haunting lullaby, there Aeris was, kneeling among the flowers and tending to them with an almost motherly caress. Her expression was shadowed by the veil of her hair, and his breath caught as she began to look up-
Tifa was now there, lying haphazardly across the flora. He remembered this, stumbling into this exact scene and fearing for her life-
He blinked at the shimmering pool, an immortal being in and of itself - perhaps the only thing part of the Planet that tethered him to his past bonds.
WEAPON! Something hissed at him from behind him, or perhaps even from within his own mind; he couldn't begin to pinpoint the location as he was bombarded with what could only be described as memories.
My Cloud... sweet, sweet-
Did you really-?
Maybe if we took just one little fragment-!
Do you wish for comfort?
WEAPONs – first human WEAPON – our eternal WEAPON-!
Did you really think-?
Cloud realised, vaguely, that his knees had buckled. Water clogged his airways, and it took a sluggish second to realise he had fallen into the glistening lake.
His body thrashed, a futile effort to ward off the splitting pain roaring through his skull. No coherent thought could even begin to form, not when those voices ripped through and tore them to shreds.
Sssss, little Cloud-!
Cloud, Cloud, how many times must you wander?
Did you really think that you could-?
No mercy, my WEAPON...
I'll take care of you, watch over you like you deserve...
Did you really think...
His eyes flashed open, and everything suddenly went still.
Vivid green eyes with cat-like pupils flashed.
...that you could escape?
With a quiet shudder, he lost consciousness, the beings within him finally ebbing away.
Yet, only one stayed – a soft, feminine hand, running gently through his blonde locks.
A/N: Leave a review if you will.