Eons ago, when the worlds were first being formed, two gods were born.
One was a pure white maiden, her golden hair flowing around her, gifted with harmony and love towards all. She was a thing of beauty, gentle and caring in all she did.
But the other was a hideous, ugly thing, with four arms, horns sprouting from his gnarled red face, and a thick tail swaying behind him. Two horrendous wings that spouted fire came from his scaled back, and he hated everything. Anger, hatred, and discord were his forte, and he revelled in watching others suffer.
For a while, the two co-existed, not knowing of the other's existence. But that was all shattered one day, and from then on, the two have been at constant war. A war that continues to cycle through itself, never changing, never faltering in the eventual defeats of those that fought for the gods of Harmony and Discord… or so everyone thought.
Through The Suffering
Chapter One: Summons of a Goddess
"Tell me why I'm here again?" He scratched the back of his head, running calloused fingers through long, thick black hair.
The other young man glared at him, resting his gun-blade on his shoulder. "It's simple. The Goddess of Harmony, Cosmos, has summoned us. Now let's get a move on." His thick, but medium-cut brown hair was slightly unruly, but suited his youthful looks and harsh demeanour. "We're probably late, thanks to you."
The pair continued on through the glassy labyrinth, trying to figure out where the exit went. A shout caught their attention.
"What was that?" asked the first.
"I'm not sure, Laguna, but there's something coming this way." The second pulled Laguna aside, and just barely in time.
A whirlwind was all it could be described as. It shattered through the glass, and crashed into a multi-faceted glittering red creature that could be described as an obscure rendition of a harlequin. The creature gave out a shriek and vanished.
"Just my lousy luck to end up here. That's the last time I follow a … whatever-you-are." She came into view, and Laguna's jaw nearly fell off.
Her hair was a light rose color, and she had pale skin. She wore a unique uniform that clearly denoted that she was a lieutenant of some kind of army, with a red cape that fell to her knees. The woman also wore brown boots that had clearly seen better days, they were well scuffed and dirty. Interesting to both men, however, was the weapon she held in hand, which looked like a giant, double-bladed sword with a cruel curve to it. She held it in the center, and around her fluttered red rose petals.
"Wow." murmured Laguna. "Have you ever seen anything like that, Squall?"
The woman turned her head sharply, just as the sword vanished into a much smaller one, but still unique. It looked like the handle was supposed to be on a rifle, and yet she carried it so well as a sword's handle. "Who are you, and on who's side are you?"
"I'm Laguna Liore, and this is Squall Leonhart. We were summoned here by Cosmos." Laguna grinned stupidly. "And you are..?"
"Lightning." she replied curtly. "Looks like were on the same side." She glanced behind her. "This thing…" She seemed to reach back and grab something, then drag it into view. "…is Zidane."
'Zidane' was a little boy, almost, with golden hair tied in a thin ponytail at the back, dressed in jeans, muscle-shirt, vest, and boots, with oversized gloves over his hands. His blue eyes looked up at Lightning, and he snatched back the object he'd been pulled by: a tail. "That hurts, you know."
"Well then keep up." Lightning looked at Laguna and Squall. "Let's keep going."
As they walked on, Laguna idly twirled his gun in hand.
"Do you mind?" asked Squall.
"You could take someone's eye out or something with that."
Just then, Lightning stopped.
"What is it?"
Lightning didn't respond for a moment, then continued walking towards the Sanctuary, where Cosmos awaited.
"Pretty big assembly." muttered Squall.
The group around the goddess's throne was mostly human. There were also two figures that stood there that seemed really out of place, aside from Zidane. One came to only Squall's knee and had her blonde hair tied in two pigtails. Her nose was black, and she seemed to carry a staff of some kind on her back. The other was caramel coloured, and wore a long shirt over pants. Her white hair was tied back low, and came to her waist. What really set this pair apart, though, were their long tapered ears.
Cosmos herself was the image of purity. Her skin was pale, and her dress as white as new snow. Long, corn silk hair flowed around her, covered by a light veil that draped over her arms.
"Welcome, warriors. Now that we are all here, I will give you the power to defeat Chaos. Find these crystals, and you will be able to end this conflict, and return home."
A bright flash spread out, and then, the warriors dispersed into small groups, off to find their crystals.
"Why are you following me?"
"Why not, Squall?" smiled Laguna.
"Leave me be. I work alone."
Laguna shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just don't go getting into trouble."
Chapter Two: But Where is He?
A tall, muscular man stopped beside a petit young girl, just barely a woman. She was wearing a kimono, and carried a staff in hand. She looked up at the man and smiled softly.
"Hey, Sir Jecht."
He smiled gruffly. "What's got you so upset, Yuna? We need to get going, find those crystals."
"I know, but…"
"It's the kid, isn't it? You're worried about that little punk?"
Yuna nodded. "He wasn't here."
Jecht smirked. "That means he's sided with Chaos, Yuna."
"I know, but I still want to find him. Maybe there's a way to get Titus to join our side."
"Not likely. He's thick-headed."
Zidane walked by. "Just like his old man."
Jecht turned. "What did you say, you little monkey?!"
Zidane hopped out of the older man's reach. "I'm not a monkey! I'm a Genome." He smiled. "Still, it's good you have memories, even if they are of someone that bothers you."
"Is something wrong?" Yuna asked.
Zidane shook his head. "No, nothing's wrong." He still looked nervous.
"Need someone to travel with?" Yuna asked.
"No, I'm with Bartz, so I'm good. Just…"
"Out with it, kid. You've been stuttering for a while." grunted Jecht.
"Can you… never mind. You don't know what he looks like, anyway." Zidane walked off to join Bartz and a young man in a gun-metal vest and red pants.
"Hey, Yuna!" A happy girl came running over, dressed in a white tank-top and black mini-skirt. Her long brown hair was tied off behind her, somewhere down her back.
"Tifa!" Yuna noticed the worried look on the other's face. "Is something wrong?"
Tifa sighed. "He wasn't here."
"Who?" demanded Jecht.
Tifa sighed. "I'm not sure. I've seen this shadowy figure, in my dreams. And at times, I think there's someone following me, but all I see is a shadow."
"Well, good luck finding your crystal." smiled Yuna. She and Jecht walked away.
"You ready?" Lightning asked as she came up beside Tifa.
"Yeah, I'm ready, Lightning."
A lithe, feminine youth sat on a grey brick wall, his feathery grey hair fluttering in the breeze. He wore a magenta vest with long, broad sleeves, and a skirt that was open at the front and showed the front of his magenta underwear. His boots rode well up over his knees, halfway up the calves and were the same radiant color as his vest and thong. He seemed to be staring out into nothingness, which was exactly what he wanted the jabbering harlequin to think.
"Come on, Kujie-coo, tell me what devious plan you're devising."
Will he never shut up? He glanced out the corner of his eye at the red-clad harlequin and briefly wondered whether anyone would notice if he punched the fellow in the mouth or not. He decided against it, figuring it would only make his plan that much more noticeable.
"Hey, spoony bard…"
That struck a nerve, and the youth dropped off the wall, landing gracefully on the wooden floor below. It took the harlequin above a few moments to notice his disappearance before he followed.
"Come on, tell Kefka what's up."
The youth sighed and looked at the harlequin. "Shut your mouth, Kefka, or I will be forced to shut it for you."
Just then, a woman with long grey hair done up in horns and wearing a red and black dress appeared. "Is that a threat, Kuja?" she inquired.
"No, Ultimecia, it was a promise. He's been talking in my ear for hours, and it's grating on my nerves. I can't plan a thing with him around." With that, Kuja leapt off the side of the ship and glided away.
"Cheeky brat." grumbled Kefka as he floated over the ground, scratching his bottom.
A tall, regal figure appeared, dressed in gold and purple, and carrying a staff. "Do you mind, Kefka? That is rather rude."
"Yeah, yeah." Kefka stood on the ground again and picked his nose. "He's up to something."
"Whatever do you mean?" Ultimecia asked. "Isn't your spell over him still working? He does still loathe that meddlesome blonde creature, Zidane, doesn't he?"
"That's the thing. My spell seems to be slipping. Someone is weakening my power!" His eye turned towards one of the two newcomers.
He was short, blonde, and broody at best. Once an ally of Cosmos, he'd come to them upon waking a few cycles of the battle ago. Dressed mostly in black, with shoulder-guard and white boots, Cloud Strife never really spoke to anyone, only seemed to vanish on occasion. Whenever he returned, he smelled of sweat, gunpowder, and blood. And yet not one of Cosmos's chosen had fallen to his hand.
"You think it's him?" the regal figure asked.
"The Emperor is right. He uses a magic system called 'materia' same as Sephiroth." said Ultimecia. "How could he lessen your spell?"
"He's been here before, remember? And he turned on Chaos!" Kefka danced around, throwing a little fit.
"That was cycles ago, and he's been purged of those memories, and any others he may have obtained. He is one of ours, and has been for two cycles, now."
"Yeah, yeah, think whatever you want. I know it was him!" Kefka sneered and vanished.
Down below, Cloud looked up to the edge where Ultimecia and the Emperor stood, then walked away.
Chapter Three: A Chance
Yuna looked around them. She and Jecht had travelled southwards, partly in hopes of finding their crystals, and partly because Yuna had heard of a beach out that way, and remembered how Titus had loved the water.
"Yuna, what do you hope to gain by finding that punk?" Jecht asked, and not for the first time.
"I hope to help him remember." Yuna smiled. "He once told me, 'If we're ever separated, just whistle'. He even tried to teach me." Trying to explain, Yuna placed her thumb and middle fingers in her mouth and made a shrill whistle. "Although I doubt he'd come running."
There was a moment's pause, and then Jecht turned. "What?"
There, standing in front of them, was Titus. He was clothed in a pair of rough black pants and was carrying a blue sword, but it was him. He looked at them both like they were crazy, and then glared at Jecht.
"Well, well. Looks like your whistle did bring him running, Yuna."
"What are you doing here, old man?" Titus demanded.
"I was lookin' for you." Jecht snorted. "Seems you left Yuna here pretty upset, punk."
"Yuna? I don't know any Yuna." Titus glared at Jecht.
"Yeah, well, she remembers you, so hear her out." Jecht snapped. "Make her cry, and I'll pummel ya."
"Titus. It's me, Yuna." She came closer to the blonde youth. "We travelled together, and had an adventure together, remember?"
Titus gave her the 'you're crazy' look. "I have no idea who you are." he said plainly, "but you're traveling with my old man, and that means a fight."
Titus attacked Jecht, hitting his sword hard against the other's. Yuna covered her ears, frightened by the sounds.
Whenever we're separated, just whistle, and I'll come running. Yuna looked up to see that the two were going at it fairly hard. Blood spattered the battlefield, and neither seemed ready to relent.
Gathering up all her strength, Yuna called out "Ifrit!"
The great titan of fire appeared and sent a wave of hot ash towards the two combatants. Without even thinking, Jecht jumped, pushing Titus out of the way as well.
She smiled. "You said my name." she reached her hand out to help Titus and Jecht up.
"Huh?" Titus blinked. He looked at Jecht. "I still don't like you." Turning to Yuna, he looked her over again. "A summoner, right?"
Yuna nodded. "I knew you'd remember."
"Yeah, well, I don't remember much, but I do know I despise my old man." Titus put his hands on his hips. "So, Warrior of Cosmos, what are you going to do with … AAHH!"
A bolt of lightning hit the youth in the back.
"Oopsie! I seem to have mi-issed!" Kefka grinned and bounced around them.
"Sir Jecht, get Titus out." said Yuna.
"Go, I'll handle the Clown." Yuna held her staff in front of herself.
Jecht nodded, gather Titus up over his shoulder, and ran.
"Oh, but I can't have them getting away." grinned Kefka. "Ok, missy, time to tear them to shreads."
A girl, pale and fragile-looking, appeared, dressed in a short dress with leggings, and a cape over her shoulders and back. Her pale golden locks fell in a waving ponytail, and she seemed to have no soul. With a nod, she gave chase after Jecht and Titus.
"Oh, and freaky-girl, as a note, I'M A HARLEQUIN!"
"What?!" Kefka was struck by a chunk of ice. "Don't mess with me!"
As Jecht ran, the wounded Titus over his shoulder, he worried about Yuna. How was she going to handle that harlequin, when she already had trouble with the manikins?
A shard of ice clipped his shoulder, and Jecht chanced a glance back. The strange girl was following them. He ducked into an old shrine, hoping to lose her.
Instead, he bumped into Laguna.
"Hey, what's up?"
"Here, guard this." Jecht dropped Titus on Laguna and turned to face the girl as she came into the room.
"Fight." she said softly. She raised her hands over her head, creating a whirlwind around her.
Jecht backed away, but it was no good. He was being drawn into the wind.
Just as all looked lost, a figure dressed in black dropped out of nowhere and held out their hand, stopping the wind. "Return to your true master, Terra." Without looking back, the figure vanished.
Jecht looked at Laguna, who was checking Titus. "Did you understand any of that?"
"Nope, but I wasn't watching much. This one wasn't with us when we were told to get our crystals. One of Chaos's goons?"
"Eh, Yuna's old flame, and my dumb kid. We kidnapped him, but then this clown showed up and sent his girl after us."
There was some panting behind them. They looked back to see Yuna. There was blood dripping down her arm, and her clothes were torn.
"Yuna?" Titus tried to get up, but his wounds stopped him. "Don't push yourself."
"Look who's talkin'. Like you can do much." snorted Jecht.
"She's…what he called…"
"What who called?" asked Tifa as her group walked over.
"He called…her…frail." Titus fell unconscious, unable to answer Tifa's question.
Chapter Four: Playing
"So, Cloud. Where have you been?" Sephiroth asked.
"Nowhere." Cloud replied.
"And yet again you smell of blood, ash, gunpowder, and sweat. I ask again, where have you been, Cloud?"
"Nowhere." Cloud went to walk away, only for the Emperor to block his path.
"Sephiroth was kind enough to bring you here while you were stumbling and still just waking." said the Emperor.
The Cloud of Darkness, a scantily clad woman with two vine-like creatures constantly at her side, floated over. "So, where were you?"
"Observing. Now leave me alone." Cloud walked away.
"Moody one, isn't he?" asked the Cloud of Darkness.
"He's no more than a puppet." Sephiroth replied. "And I will always be pulling his strings, no matter how much he may not want me to."
Cloud sighed and leaned on the wall. How long must this go on? He stayed looking at the floor. "I know your there, Kefka."
"Ooh, so the brooder actually speaks." Kefka grinned. Because his favourite red suit was destroyed, Kefka now wore his green suit, which included a grotesque green turban. "So, where were you?"
Cloud just pushed off the wall and walked away.
"Ok, fine, be that way." Kefka growled.
Kuja looked over as Cloud walked into the glassy chamber. Crystals dangled here and there, and sprayed up in enchanting fans from the floor.
"So?" Kuja asked.
"I couldn't find him." Cloud replied. "Not at first. He arrived after I'd stopped Terra, but he had other friends."
"So he is on Cosmos's side."
Cloud nodded. "How you holding up?"
"As best as one can manage for having that damned harlequin chatter in your ear for hours."
Cloud nodded again. "I hear you. He still thinks I broke your spell. Not that you managed to break it yourself."
Kuja nodded. "Cloud, I need you to set something up for me."
"The next time you wander and run into one of Cosmos's warriors, drop a hint that I'm one of theirs. It might prove…beneficial for my escape."
"You plan to run?"
"As do you, Cloud. And as does Terra, even as she fights for Kefka."
Cloud nodded. "Alright. I'll start letting the Cosmos warriors know you're working on the inside." Cloud started to walk away. "Oh, and Kuja…"
"He seemed happy."
Kuja smiled softly. "Good for him."
Lightning looked around. "We're not alone."
The whole group from Cosmos's throne had gathered together, figuring it was safer in a large group when night fell. The ground was rough, with think patches of grass that stood up like porcupine quills scattered around.
Zidane looked up from where he'd been resting. "Huh. He doesn't look like anyone I remember."
The figure walked closer.
"I think I've seen him before." said Jecht. "The guy that stopped that wind-chick."
Titus looked back as Yuna finished bandaging his back. "Stopped a wind-girl, huh? The girl had to have been Terra. She's one of Kefka's puppets."
The figure walked closer, until Lightning's sword crossed over where his chest was.
"You're not going any further." she snapped.
"I have a message." the figure said calmly.
"From Chaos? We don't need his lies." Lightning bit out at him.
"No. This message is for the one you call Zidane Tribal." He scanned the area. "Where might he be?"
Zidane stood. "I'm here. Now, what's this message?"
"Where the wind blows and the snow covers the water, there waits one you once called 'brother'. Take none with you, save your most trusted friend."
"What kind of a messed up message is that?" asked Bartz, a youth with a lithe figure clothed in a tunic and cape.
"Just for that, I'm not taking you." Zidane returned. "We're fairly close to the snow plains. I'll take Squall with me tomorrow and meet him there."
The figure nodded. "As proof that I and the other bear no ill will, I leave you this. We will be waiting, Zidane Tribal."
"We?" Lightning demanded.
"I will be there as well, as a guard against other Chaos warriors. We wish none to know of this meeting." with that, Cloud walked away, having made sure to stay out of Tifa's sight.
Chapter five: The Secret Meeting and Aftermath
Kuja looked over as Cloud walked over. "You managed to relay the message?"
"Yes." Cloud replied. "They should be here early tomorrow." He looked around. "I'll keep watch."
Zidane and Squall walked over towards the snow plains.
"I don't like this, Zidane."
"You don't like anything." Zidane looked over the plains. Cloud stood watch, holding his sword at ready. Another figure stood nearby, his face covered by a cloak.
"Hey." said Zidane.
"He's over there, and wants to talk to you alone."
Squall glowered, but remained near Cloud.
Somewhat nervous, Zidane walked towards the hooded and cloaked figure. "Hey."
"Zidane, is that you?"
Zidane's tail perked up. "Kuja?"
He pulled the hood back. "Yes. Zidane, I have something I must tell you."
"What is it?"
"I've missed you. These battles still sing on, and I've grown board of their hymn."
"What do you mean?"
"Zidane, those of us on the winning side are allowed to retain memories of the past battles, as well as continue to retrieve our old memories. This battle has repeated now fifteen times, and every time, Cosmos has lost. I grow bored of it, Zidane."
"So, what do you want me to do?"
"Take me with you. But not now. There are two others who wish to escape, but I need someone who can retrieve one."
"Her name is Terra, and at the moment, she still acts under Kefka's orders."
"And the other?"
Kuja looked over at Cloud. "Him, but he has his own agenda."
Cloud suddenly readied his sword, saying something to Squall.
"It looks like our time is up. Quick, Zidane. Attack me. It's the only way I can let you escape."
Zidane nodded and drew his Swallow Blades, attacking Kuja with youthful energy and an actor's grace. Kuja returned with his magic attacks, looking around quickly to see who it was that Cloud had spotted.
It was Ultimecia, and she had Cloud of Darkness with her.
"Zidane, hit my left shoulder and run."
The blonde youth did as he was asked, and Kuja lay in the grass, wounded. Cloud pulled a similar stunt with Squall, allowing the two Heroes of Cosmos to escape.
Ultimecia came over as Cloud picked himself up, rubbing his head. "What were you doing out here?"
"Watching." Cloud replied. "He caught me off guard."
The Emperor appeared. "Doubtful. You and he were standing close to each other. Do you know him, Cloud?"
Cloud figured it was safer to lie. "No, but I'm trying to gain their trust."
"Why would you be doing that?" asked Cloud of Darkness.
"The closer I am, the closer to Cosmos I can get." Cloud replied. "I plan on letting them wreck one or two of Kefka's plans. If you want, we can set up a false move for one of you as well, so it doesn't look like I'm singling Kefka out."
Kuja stood, holding his injured shoulder. If he didn't make his escape soon, he would be doomed to using Chaos's power to repair his injury. He looked at Cloud. "I will be making my move soon. You may have them attack me first, if they need convincing."
"Kuja, you are wounded." Cloud replied. "Will you still be able to catch them off guard?"
"Yes. He will be completely helpless."
Cloud nodded. "Very well. I'll continue my plans." He walked away.
"Little waif." Cloud of Darkness breathed. "He willingly leads the Cosmos warriors into their own demise. And yet…"
"What?" Ultemicia asked.
"He has yet to use the manikins." The two plant-vines at her sides snapped at Kuja.
Kuja stuck his tongue out at them and glided away.
"Immature child. Despite always having been with us, he has grown more melancholy and useless with each cycle of battle." observed Ultimecia. "Now, he fights with a half-hearted effort."
Zidane looked over as Cloud approached. "What is it?"
"Kuja needs out, now. He'll be waiting at the Old Chaos Shrine for you to 'capture' him. Make it look convincing." Cloud turned and walked away.
"Capture a Chaos warrior, huh? Well, if Jecht and Yuna can do it, so can you and I, right Bartz?"
Chapter Six: Capture and Crystals
Bartz and Zidane looked around. Sadly, there were about a dozen manikins, and they were getting close to the Old Chaos Shrine.
Zidane looked over. "There he is."
Bartz slashed through another manakin. "Go get him. I'll try to hold these off."
Zidane nodded and ran towards Kuja. "Kuja!"
Kuja looked over, and his eyes widened in fear. "Zidane!" He lept, pushing the smaller out of the way as a manikin slashed downwards. Instead, the Fleeting Flash's weapon slashed through his side, causing a massive wound. Kuja rolled to the side, leaching crimson blood.
Zidane growled, turning pink and fluffy as he went into trance mode. His Swallow Blades slashed the manikin, destroying it. He hurried over to Kuja, who lay still and silent.
"Bartz!" Zidane pulled Kuja up onto his back. "Let's get out of here!"
Just then, Kefka appeared. "Where are you going with my little poppet?" He laughed wickedly.
"Bartz, take him."
The other didn't argue, and took the bleeding Genome. "You'll be alright, right?"
"No problem." Zidane smiled. He turned back to the harlequin. "Time to take out the trash."
"Who you calling trash, monkey-boy?" Kefka cast his magic, sending fireballs at Zidane. He was unpleasantly surprised when Zidane deflected them, and the fireballs came flying back at him.
"Take this!" Zidane came charging, still fluffed out and very angry, slashing the harlequin with his blades.
Kefka shrieked, his clothes tattered, and wounded. "You'll regret this, chimp." He vanished.
Zidane returned to his normal form and hurried after Bartz.
It was only an hour before they returned to the group.
"What happened?" asked Kain, a Dragoon in purple armour. He currently had his helmet off, showing his long blonde hair, which was tied in a ponytail.
"He pushed me out of the way of a manikin." Zidane replied. "Is there anything we can do for him?"
The Warrior of Light, a grey-haired man wearing armour that included large horns on his helm, looked at the unconscious grey Genome. "The only hope is to take him to Cosmos."
"That's two days away." said Lightning.
"I'll take him." said Zidane.
"You'll never make it alone." said Yuna. "And Sir Jecht is already there with Titus."
Zidane looked at his brother, who was still bleeding. Taking off his vest, he tore the fine material and began to bandage the wound. "I can't leave Kuja to die. He risked everything to leave the Chaos Warriors. He's even risking his memories."
"What?" Kain asked.
"He said that only the winning side is allowed to keep their memories of the past cycles, and that this is the fifteenth cycle. We've all played this game before, but every time, Cosmos loses, and we're stripped of all but the most basic memories. Kuja's tired of dancing to Chaos's tune, and wants it all to end." Zidane tied off the make-shift bandages. "That's why he came to us."
"I'll go with you." said Tifa. "I get the feeling my crystal is back near where Cosmos is, anyway."
There was suddenly a bright light, and a strange blue object floated in front of Zidane. "Huh?"
"One of the crystals." breathed Yuna.
Zidane claimed it. "If only it could save Kuja." He lifted the other onto his back. "Come on, Tifa. I have to get him somewhere safe."
"We'll meet you back at Cosmos's throne when we have our crystals." said Onion Knight.
Zidane nodded, and then he and Tifa headed out to return to Cosmos.
"We have lost Kuja." said the Emperor. "Not a wise move."
Cloud only remained calm. "He reacted unexpectedly." He continued to clean the Buster Blade.
Sephiroth walked over. "And what of Kefka? That's laughing buffoon hasn't returned either."
"Point, Sephiroth." said Cloud. "Where is that hyena?"
The Emperor and Sephiroth were hard-pressed not to laugh at the analogy. While not one of them liked Kefka, the bizarre harlequin was becoming an annoyance, a hindrance, and lately the butt of most jokes going around the throne of Chaos.
"Hello?" Kefka walked in, wearing the most bizarre outfit anyone had seen him in yet. "What?"
"What died and gave you it's skin?" asked Sephiroth.
Ultimecia raised an eyebrow. "Looks like a zebra was murdered for his tights."
"And a cockatiel for his hat." added Cloud.
"Are you making fun of me?" Kefka snorted.
"Oh, no. We're just guessing where each article of that new get-up came from." said Cloud.
"Tell me, was that left sleeve once a snake?" asked the Emperor.
"Hm." Kefka stormed out, muttering about the rudeness of other people.
Inside, Cloud smiled. While making fun of Kefka was fun, he was also playing the wheels of distrust, first making Kefka distrust everyone. Already, Golbez distrusted Exdeath, Sephiroth hated the two women, Exdeath didn't associate with anyone but Ultimecia, Garland only spoke to Sephiroth and Cloud, and the two women only trusted each other. Fairly soon, they would be at each other's throats, leaving the God of Discord, Chaos himself, open for attack.
And that made Cloud smile an evil grin.
Chapter Seven: Return to the Throne
Jecht looked over as Cosmos finished healing Titus. "Well, is the little runt gonna make it?"
"Titus will make a full recovery, thanks to Shantotto's medicines." Cosmos replied.
Shantotto was small, with her blonde hair tied in two stubby pigtails, and long pointed ears. Her brown eyes matched her nose, while the rest of her skin was pale. She wore a black mage's cloak, and carried a staff on her back.
"You did well, he'll heal I can tell." she rhymed.
Jecht stretched and looked around. There was no sign of Prishe, Shantotto's taller and darker-skinned companion. But something was coming over the horizon towards them.
"Where could Prishe be, she's late you see."
Tifa smashed another manikin in the face. "Keep going, Zidane!" Now in possession of her own crystal, Tifa was trying to clear a pathway towards Cosmos's throne.
A dark-skinned girl wearing a long tunic came rushing in and bowled over a few of the manikins. Her hair was white and tied half-way down to her waist, and her ears were pointed. She smiled at Tifa before clocking another manikin in the face.
Zidane ran towards Cosmos's throne, the wounded Kuja hanging limply from his back. But as he came closer, he noticed Jecht and Shantotto standing ready to strike.
"Stop!" said Cosmos suddenly. "It's alright. Come closer, Zidane."
The blonde Genome came forward, nervous.
"He's got one of Chaos's flunkies with him." snorted Jecht.
"He needs help." said Zidane. He carefully lay Kuja on the ground in front of Cosmos. "He… he saved me from a manikin, but got wounded in my place."
"And were you with him, if not to destroy him?" Shantotto demanded.
Zidane wiped away a tear. "He's my brother, and he wanted to leave Chaos's side. In hopes of turning the tide in Cosmos's favour."
"If what you're saying is true, he was going to go with you?"
"What happened to your vest, Zidane?" asked Cosmos as she knelt to check the ailing creature before her. She gasped as she touched the bandage.
"I used it to take care of him, but that was two days ago. And Tifa had to come with me to fight off the manikins."
"Where is she now?"
"Over that way. There was a caramel girl fighting alongside her when I came."
"Must be Prishe." said Jecht. "I'm going out to help them."
Cosmos carefully untied the bandaging. "The wound is deep, and festering greatly."
Shantotto looked at the injury. "There may be a way, but it'll take me all day."
Zidane suddenly toppled over, exhausted.
"He'll be asleep, and not make a peep." Shantotto looked again at Kuja. "Siblings you say? This will help extend his stay."
Jecht slashed through the last manikin. "Hey, you two. Shantotto's gettin' antsy with you being gone so long on patrol, girlie."
"Yeah, yeah. I couldn't just leave her to fight those manikins alone, though." Prishe replied. "Let's head back together."
Kuja shifted as Shantotto finished cleaning the wound. "Huh?"
"You wake, was less than I thought it would take."
"Hmm?" He squinted at her, then sat up suddenly. "Zidane!" He winced, holding his side, which began to bleed profusely. "Zidane?"
"He's right here." said Cosmos, gently petting Zidane's hair. "He was worried for your safety, and has brought you here for treatment."
Kuja still held his side, swatting Shatotto in the nose. "Where am I?"
"You are at the Sanctuary." came the gentle reply.
Kuja looked at her. "Then you must be… Cosmos." He winced again. "Back off, midget. I can die just fine without your help."
Shantotto put her hands on her hips. "No one's dying here today, not if your brother and I have our way."
"Oh, good grief. Another one that gets under your skin." Kuja winced again.
Cosmos stood, leaving Zidane to sleep quietly on the edge of the dias, and walked over to Kuja. She knelt and reached a hand towards him, only for Kuja to shy away. "Do I frighten you?"
"All warriors of Chaos fear your touch. Chaos has led us to believe that we'll burn and die if you touch us." Kuja winced for a third time and looked down at his wound. His hand was covered in the crimson life fluid, and breathing was becoming a laboured task. A gentle hand touched his cheek, and he look up at Cosmos.
"There. Did that hurt?"
He shook his head. His chest began to hurt as he tried to keep breathing.
"Shh. Rest. I'll keep watch over you until you heal."
"You're still afraid?"
"I… I don't want to… be one of… Chaos's pawns."
"Rest. When you wake, you will have the freedom to choose which of us to serve." She ran her delicate fingers through his hair, and Kuja slept.
Chapter Eight: A fight Among Brothers
Cecil yawned and looked around. The day was dawning, and it seemed like a good time to look around before the group was on its way. Since Zidane and Tifa's leaving, Bartz, Onion Knight, and Yuna had all received their crystals. Today, they were going to traverse the south-eastern area of the land in hopes of others achieving theirs.
As Cecil began to make his way around the group, Lightning stopped him.
"Where are you going?" she asked. Like always, it was a curt, yet honest question.
"I was going to practice for a while."
"On your own?"
"Yes. Ever since I bested him, Kain has not wanted to spar with me."
Lightning nodded. "I'll stay on watch."
Cecil looked around, and was just rounding a unique rock outcropping when someone spoke.
"Cecil, what are you doing out here in this barren wasteland?"
"Hmm? Golbez!" The white paladin tried to still his rapid heartbeat.
"I asked a question, brother."
"Ah, so you still forget that we are brothers."
Cecil made a blank face. "No, I didn't forget. It's just that you only ever called me 'brother' when I was about to get the tar beat out of me."
Golbez laughed. "That was back home, dear brother. I ask you again, what are you doing in this barren wasteland?"
"I'm searching for my crystal. But you already knew that, seeing as how I've danced this tune before."
Golbez looked at Cecil, though it was hard to tell through the huge black armour that he wore. "Who's already spoken to you, Cecil? Only those on the winning side are permitted to keep those memories."
Cecil crossed his arms. "You seem to have forgotten then, we have one of yours now with us."
Golbez held up his hand. "Two, actually. The summoner and her friend stole the crazy kid, and your monkey stole Kefka's favourite puppet."
"The summoner is called Yuna, and her friend was Jecht. The boy they took was apparently her boyfriend, so you guys were asking for that one. As for the other one, he'd be pretty mad at being called a monkey." Cecil shrugged. "And, like you and me, they were brothers."
"It does not matter. I have been asked to get them back."
"I don't have them."
"Then fight me."
"Wha…?" Cecil's words were cut short as he dodged his brother's attack. "So that's how you want to play, huh?" He changed from white paladin to dark knight form. "This will be good practice."
Golbez laughed and launched another volley of magic attacks at Cecil. He smiled inwardly as he watched his brother dodge them. Again, he launched the black orbs towards his brother.
Cecil dodged and raced towards Golbez, trying to get a hit in. His blade swung, but missed Golbez by a hair's breath, only cutting the cloth of the cape. Changing to paladin, he attacked from the air. This time, his sword connected, leaving a scratch on Golbez's arm.
"It's good to see that your skills have not wavered, Cecil." he praised.
"I'm not done yet."
"But I am." Golbez replied, catching Cecil by the arm. "There is unrest around the throne of Chaos. Be on your guard, and don't depend on others."
"But, it is because I know they are there for me, and I for them, that I know I can go on." There was a gleam, and a crystal floated in front of Cecil. "Is this…"
"That is your crystal, Cecil. You obtained it on your own, and it will help you light your way." With those words, Golbez vanished.
It was probably a good thing, too, because just then, Laguna and Onion Knight came running around the corner. Vaan followed close behind.
"Cecil, we heard fighting. Are you alright?" asked Vaan.
"You're cheeks cut." observed Onion Knight.
"Huh?" Cecil brushed his hand over his cheek. True enough, it was bleeding. "Huh. He must have connected somehow."
"Who? I don't see a sparring partner." said Laguna.
"It was a Warrior of Chaos." Cecil replied as they walked back. "But, I did get this." He showed them his crystal.
Lightning glanced out the corner of her eye. "Good work." she said. Looking around at the other warriors, she sighed. "Time to get moving."
The others nodded and began the trek across the wasteland, each one hoping that they would find the other crystals, and soon.
Chapter Nine: Reflections
Cloud yawned. It had been awhile since he'd ventured out, away from the other members of Chaos. He looked over at the others, watching as Ultimecia yelled at Kefka for something. He could remember clearly the day he'd wandered into their midst…
It was raining. He'd woken up, as though from a long sleep, and couldn't remember much. Sitting up, Cloud had come face-to-face with a pair of black boots. Looking up, he saw Sephiroth.
Strangely enough, Sephiroth had taken pity on him, helped him up, and guided him to where the other Warriors of Chaos were gathered. It was a large cave, with shining crystals jutting out of the floor and walls in places, some as tall as he was.
Ultimecia had said to destroy him then and there, since he had no memories. The Emperor had agreed, as did Exdeath. Kefka wanted to cast a spell on him and use him as a puppet. Golbez and Galbranth had said nothing.
But Sephiroth had said that Cloud was his property, since he was the one pulling his strings, and always would be. And so Cloud's life had been spared. He followed Sephiroth like a lost little puppy for a while, until some memories of home had returned to him. But by then, he'd already done the unthinkable.
He'd cut Tifa down, his only friend from home.
… Cloud sighed.
"What were you thinking, Cloud?"
He looked up. "Sephiroth. I was just thinking back to how you found me."
"But you have memories of our world now, don't you?"
Cloud looked at him. "She bossed me around, and made me make promises that I couldn't keep. I'm glad I cut her down last cycle, and I'll do it again this time, if the opportunity arises."
Sephiroth petted him like a dog. "Good boy, Cloud."
Lightning looked out of the cave that they had retreated in from the sudden thunderstorm. As she watched, lightning flashed across the sky. Lightning. It was a name she herself had chosen, as a memo to herself that she was protecting someone.
"Thinking?" asked Laguna.
"About what?" asked Vaan.
"My home." Lightning replied.
"Tell us." said Yuna.
"Please?" asked Bartz. "I have only vague memories of my home, so hearing about yours might help."
"Don't see how, but as the storm doesn't seem to want to let up, guess I have no choice. What do you want to know?"
"What was it like?" asked Bartz.
Lightning thought a moment. "A cocoon. Humans were sheltered, protected, by beings called fal'Cie. Anyone with the fal'Cie mark was a l'Cie, and if you were a l'Cie belonging to Cocoon, you were safe."
"So your home was called Cocoon?" asked Yuna.
"Yeah. But for anyone who might be caught by a surface-world fal'Cie and branded by them, you might as well have been dead." Lightning gently touched her chest, as though a memory was etched there.
"What is it?" asked Squall.
"I was… one of the branded." She looked out into the rain. "My sister was branded a Pulse l'Cie, and I went after her. I was caught by the Pulse fal'Cie, and branded. Cocoon was crystalized for it in the end."
"You have a sister?" asked Firion.
"Yeah. Serah. But, I haven't spoken to her since she got married."
"Why not?" asked Laguna.
Lightning sighed. "Because Snow Villers is a vigilante idiot who doesn't think before he talks. He's all words and no action." She sighed, putting a hand over her face. "I couldn't protect her from him. Like the fleeting flash of lightning, I've done nothing but flicker. She doesn't even remember my real name."
Zidane blinked awake and looked around. "Hmm?"
Cosmos looked over, still petting Kuja's light-grey mane. "He's finally resting easier."
"Will he be alright?" Zidane asked.
Cosmos nodded. "Yes. Shatotto's medicine is working well for him. The wound should be just a scar in a few days."
Zidane walked over and sat next to Cosmos. "You mind if I spend some time with him?"
"Go ahead, Zidane. He's your brother." Cosmos stood and walked back to her dais, where she sat again. "Zidane."
"Can you tell me a bit about Kuja? He's a complete mystery to me right now."
"About Kuja, huh? Well, Genomes were manufactured, soul-less dolls, made for war. Kuja was a mistake, being the first to have a soul. So he was also the first to get a name.
"But our father and creator was soon unhappy with Kuja, although I don't know why. So he made me. Kuja felt put out by my existence, and left. He ended up in the capital city of Alexandria, and because he was upset and angry with father, manipulated Queen Branee into waging war with the other countries around.
"Apparently I didn't fit the bill for what father wanted us to do, mostly because I became a thief and actor, so he made our sister. She was obedient, but after she met me and Princess Garnet, she stopped doing whatever father wanted and went to live in the village of Black Mages."
"Hmm? Anything else?"
"He hates pet-names, doesn't like eating fish, and uses magic-based attacks a lot. And his Trance form is actually a very beautiful thing to see."
"I'd love to see it some time." Cosmos smiled.
"Maybe, when he's better, I can convince him to show you. He doesn't think it's beautiful, though. He thinks it makes him look like a beast." Zidane gently ran his fingers through the grey hair. "But I think otherwise."
Chapter Ten: That Thing He Keeps Stealing
"Oh, come on. It's just one small ride on an airship."
Lightning gave him a look as she wrung out her hair. "That's similar to what you said before we got soaked in water from that waterfall."
"Hey, how was I supposed to know that you had to perfectly time your jump through? At least we got you out of the pool it ran into."
"Cool ride." said Laguna. "But Light does have a point. We can't go joy-riding, kid."
"Come on, Laguna. We could find the crystals faster with this thing. And besides, it'll stay afloat at night so we don't need any guards." Vaan argued.
"And what part of 'no' aren't you understanding, brat?" asked Squall.
"Someone call?" asked Bartz.
"No." Laguna replied.
Vaan looked behind him as Lightning and Laguna argued. Someone was yelling, and it was coming from onboard the airship. His metal boots clinking, he wandered further into the ship, trying to find the owner of the voice.
What he found was a bizarrely dressed harlequin complaining. "What happened to the girl who was having so much fun beating the pulp out of people?"
"But I don't…"
Vaan squinted. "It's that girl Jecht described. Yeah, looks like their fighting."
"Listen girlie. You're a vicious beast with vicious powers meant for mayhem and destruction."
Vaan sighed. "And why do I have this urge to go rescue her?" Without giving it a second thought, he charged down to the lower level.
"Alright, so much for Mister Nice Kefka. Sorry, babe. I only hurt you 'cause you make me."
The girl screamed, and then Vaan got in the way.
"Hey, leave this girl alone."
"Who? What? When-where-why? You again?"
"Again? Oh, so I've done this before, huh? Well, that explains the urge to rescue her." Vaan smiled. "So, harlequin, was I successful in rescuing her last time?"
"Well, at least you didn't call me 'clown'. And you did steal her, but don't get any ideas." He looked around. "Where'd he go?"
"Thanks for answering! I'll just take the girl right now and fight you later."
"Yeah, so long. WHAT!?" Kefka growled and chased after Vaan, only to find himself facing a dozen Cosmos warriors.
"Look what we have here." smiled Laguna.
"Target practice." grinned Squall. "Finally, something worth fighting."
Lightning aimed her gun-sword, the blade folded down so it was in gun mode. "I'll go for his ugly mug."
"Who you calling ugly? And where's that brat?"
Bartz flicked through a series of swords. "Let's see if we can ruin those ugly tights of his."
"Uh-oh." said Kefka.
"Let's get him!" shouted Onion Knight.
"You again!" Kefka shouted, just before a bullet grazed his face. "Ah, my handsomeness!"
Squall and Laguna each took pot-shots at him, then made way for Onion Knight and Bartz, who charged in from behind, catching the harlequin by surprise. Together, they took Kefka's pants off at the knees.
"Those were my last tights!" Kefka shouted.
"Oh dang." Kefka muttered, looking up at the gargantuan fire beast. His feathers drooped, and he ran for all he was worth. But because he always moved with a springy step, he didn't get far before Ifrit burnt his bottom, right out of his trousers, as well as destroying his cape. "YEOWCH!"
Yuna giggled, then went to help Vaan with the new girl, who seemed like she was coming out of a hypnotists trick.
"Want some more?" asked Firion.
"Who are you watching for?" asked Lightning as she slashed Kefka, turning his shirt into a belly-top.
"This is so not going to go well when I return to Chaos." Kefka muttered. "I'm outta here." He vanished.
"So, who's the girl?" asked Lightning.
"I'm Terra." she replied. She looked at Vaan. "You've rescued me before, right?"
"That's what the harlequin said." Vaan replied.
"His name's Kefka, and he thinks he can use my powers to destroy you all. But you saved me. Please, if I can be of any help…"
"We could always use another on Cosmos's side." smiled Laguna.
"Cosmos? You're all with the goddess of Harmony? Then I have a message for you, from the Chaos warrior named Cloud."
"What is it?"
"I'll handle Chaos first."
Chapter Eleven: The Ones Who Turned Back Time
It was early morning, and the ground was littered with the bodies of manikins. Kain stood in his blue EX-armour, looking around. There was a cold feeling in the air. Frost was setting in over the corpses, and was even beginning to form over his armour, even as it changed back to the purple Dragoon style.
Cecil also stood nearby, looking at those around him. Kneeling, he helped the Onion Knight stand.
"This is bad." said Squall.
"What is?" asked Yuna. Her dress was in tatters and barely covered her properly. She looked at Squall worriedly.
Squall lifted a battered figure, only for them to drop the sword-like weapon to the ground.
"No." breathed Yuna.
Kain walked over. "Lightning." He picked up her sword.
"What?" asked Cecil as he gave Yuna his cape to cover herself with.
"We head back." said Squall. "We all have our crystals."
"All but her." said Laguna.
The battered Lightning didn't move as she hung in Squall's arms. Still, the group headed back towards Cosmos's throne.
It was night before she awoke. "Hmm?"
"Don't move." said Firion. "You've been badly wounded."
"Where are we?"
Bartz answered. "On our way back to Cosmos."
"Have you remembered anything, Bartz?"
Bartz nodded. "Yeah, and I know there's more that I have yet to remember." He smiled. "But I do remember my Chocobo friend."
"Good. It's a start." Lightning drifted off back to sleep.
"It's going to be another three days before we reach Cosmos." said Firion.
"Well, let's hope she can last the rest of the way."
"We're getting close." Warrior looked back to Squall, who was carrying Lightning on his back.
"Hear that?" Squall asked. "Hey, you listening back there?"
"Yes." Lightning replied. She looked up, and spotted a dragon made of light. "Shinryu."
"What?" asked Onion Knight. "Are you talking about that dragon?"
Lightning nodded. "Shinryu, the dragon that resets the battles."
As the group approached, Cosmos stood. "Good. Now all the crystals are gathered."
Everyone looked at each other as Squall let Lightning down. "But, Lightning hasn't gotten her's yet." said Bartz.
"Huh?" Squall looked at Lightning. "What did you say?"
"Claire. It was my name, before I became Lightning. It's the name my sister has forgotten, even though she's not here, taking part in these battles." She sighed. "And I've always had my crystal." Holding her hands at her heart, she cupped them together and carefully lowered her hands. A little red rose blossom spun in her hand.
"But, why do you have such a strange crystal?" asked Zidane.
Cosmos looked at Lightning. "Durring the Thirteenth Cycle, I was killed, and the world plunged into darkness. My remaining ten warriors fought valiantly. But, just as the Emperor was about to claim victory, Shinryu appeared, and time was turned back. Thus, a fourteenth cycle was played in reverse, and now this, the fifteenth cycle, plays out. But Shinryu would never have revived all of my warriors, since six were banished to the void. Not without a prayer and a dream."
"So who turned back the clock?" asked Titus.
"We did." said Kain. "Tifa, Light, Vaan, Laguna, Yuna, and myself wished for a chance to return to the conflict, and a chance to change what the Emperor had done. So we all gave Shinryu our prayers and dreams. In return, the clock went backwards, and we were restored, already with crystals in hand. The only flaw was that Chaos's side remembered the battles, and the Emperor's treachery. And the six of us knew everything."
"Sorry we didn't let any of you in on it, but it was a one-time deal." said Laguna. "If we fail this time, the six of us vanish forever, unable to even return home."
"You gave up you chance to return home, Yuna?" asked Jecht and Titus.
"No, not give it up. I bartered it. I believe that we can win this, and all go home." Yuna replied. "I have faith in us."
"We all shared that faith, and that was why we made the bargain with the dragon." Tifa added. "So, were we wrong?"
The others shook their heads. "No, you weren't wrong." said Firion. "And given the circumstances, it was probably a good idea to keep the fact that you knew what was going on hidden from us until now, too."
"So, now what, Cosmos?" asked Terra.
Chapter Thirteen: Taking On Chaos
The sky was black-red and seemed to threaten to unleash rain. There was the stench of decay in the air, as well as the smell of unclean bodies. A thick tension permeated the aroma, and added to his nervousness. By now, all of Cosmos's warriors would have their crystals, and have returned to the throne.
"Cloud, is something wrong?" asked Sephiroth. He looked at the nervous youth.
"No, nothing's wrong."
And then Kefka walked in. Due to the destruction of varied costumes, he had been hard-pressed to piece together the functioning leftovers in order to dress himself. The result was a repulsive, gaudy piece of work that left the Chaos warriors trying very hard not to laugh outright at him.
"What?" Kefka asked. "You pansies don't know what it's like to keep an image."
"Yes, and that image says everything about you." said Ultimecia. "Don't touch me, you filthy harlequin."
Chaos grinned. "So, Kefka. Where is your little doll, Terra?"
Kefka seethed. "Those damned Cosmos warriors stole her."
"A fool indeed." said the Emperor. "You are worthless after all, Kefka."
"Worthless? You are the one who's worthless. Prancing around, plotting behind everyone's backs. Don't you know by now not to mess with the fate chosen by Chaos?"
"You've lost both your dolls, Kefka." the Cloud of Darkness sneered.
"All of you, save Cloud and Sephiroth, have fallen out of favour with me." Chaos growled. "You plot and scheme, some of you even wanting my own demise."
"Then how do we find your favour again, Chaos?" returned Exdeath.
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Sephiroth. He put a hand on Cloud's shoulder. "Defeat Cosmos, and bring him her head."
Cloud swallowed. The repulsive smell was beginning to get to him. If he didn't do something soon, he was going to retch.
"Go." Chaos ordered.
The others left, leaving Sephiroth and Cloud still by the throne.
"I'll be on my way." said Sephiroth. He headed out towards the edge of the volcanic plains.
"And why are you still here?" Chaos demanded.
"I was wondering; will this war ever end?" Cloud asked.
"It will end when I tell it to." Chaos replied. "When Cosmos or I is defeated eternally."
"In that case, I'll end it." Cloud drew his sword.
"You raise your blade against me?" Chaos scoffed. "Ha, you shall perish, foolish puppet."
"We'll see." Cloud jumped as Chaos sent a stream of fire towards him. "Water!" Cloud shot a stream of Materia magic at the god of Discord. He nicked his opponent, but it was a strike nonetheless.
Chaos snarled, showing his fangs and gnarled teeth. He rushed and Cloud and swung, gashing his claws across the other's back.
Cloud tumbled away, using the momentum to gain some distance. "Water!" This time, the magic came in bursts from below, and struck Chaos in the loincloth.
"Aah!" Chaos snarled again, and his wings became fiery. He sent wave after wave of hot flames at Cloud, who was only able to dodge most of them, before falling prey to the last and most powerful of them.
Panting, Cloud stood, still holding his sword. He knew that this was a gamble, but he had to make it. A glint out the corner of his eye assured him that help was on the way.
"Limit Break!" His Buster Blade turned a glittering blue, and he charged at Chaos, catching the other by surprise. "Take this!" He struck, using his best technique, the Omni-slash, to strike at Chaos. Worn and exhausted, Cloud staggered back. He'd struck, but it still wasn't enough.
"This is your best?" Chaos asked. "Then you will perish, falling into the void, and remain there for all eternity."
But as Chaos raised his hand and blasted a flame as hot as lava towards the worn and wounded warrior, something flashed past, taking Cloud from harm's way at the last moment. When the flames cleared, there was no sign of Cloud or his rescuer.
"I smell fire and brimstone." said Onion Knight. "We must be getting close."
Cosmos nodded, then gasped.
"What is it, Cosmos?" asked Warrior.
"We are not alone anymore in this fight." Cosmos replied. "Two of theirs have joined our side, and fight alongside us."
"Huh? Wonder who they are." said Laguna.
"Any help is welcome." added Kain. "Cecil." He pointed over to a large and imposing black figure that stood on the pathway.
"Golbez." Cecil walked ahead of them, towards his brother. "What are you here for? If it is to cut us down, you are sorely mistaken."
"No, Cecil. The reason I remained at Chaos's side, was merely to watch over you as you danced the endless tune of defeat. Now, I see that Chaos's end is almost here, and now I will join the side I truly belong to."
"Welcome, my silent observer." smiled Cosmos.
"But, who is the other?" asked Kuja.
"Even I do not know their identity." Golbez admitted. "All I know is that the one called Cloud has already engaged Chaos in conflict, and has lost."
"What?" asked Tifa. She looked back at Cosmos.
"Don't worry, Tifa. He still lives, and will be ready to battle with us when we arrive." Cosmos reassured.
"Well then, let's get ready to fight." Lightning grinned.
Chapter Fourteen: The Battle to End It All
Chaos snarled. While he had defeated Cloud, he was still angry from being denied the satisfaction of seeing the blonde hedgehog incinerated.
As he stalked back to his throne, he noticed a slight pain in his shoulder. Glancing, he noticed that he had been wounded, though not significantly. There was a gash in his left shoulder, but that was not a mark that the Buster Blade would have left. Someone else was playing Cosmos's side.
With a snarl and a roar, he sat again on his throne.
Cosmos looked over her warriors. She wasn't feeling well, but tried to hide it.
"Cosmos." said Lightning. "Is something wrong?"
"No. I'm just anticipating the end, when you all can return home."
"I'm looking forward to it, too." smiled Vaan. "But right now, let's go take care of Chaos."
There was the smell of decay and rot. The sky was black and wrought with fissures. Flashes of red and yellow lightning streaked the heavens, and a low rumble rolled over the plains. Spires of lava-rock and black crystal shot up from the ground, giving the area an evil presence.
Cloud looked over. His rescuer had healed his wounds, and now, he joined the approaching army as they marched on Chaos's throne. His rescuer joined as well, having covered their head in a cloak, and their face with a scarf.
Chaos looked up. "My warriors are gone." he snarled. He saw the group as they approached the throne. Weapons drawn, battle stances ready, they all glowered at his hideous form.
"Well, it seems that some of my men were playing me like a fool." Chaos growled. Saliva dripped from his crooked teeth. "Isn't that right, Golbez?"
"In all honesty, I was never really on your side." Golbez replied.
"You will never rule this land again." said Terra, trying to be sure of herself.
With that, Bartz and Firrion took aim and fired with their bows. Lightning darted in close and swung, then jumped away, firing twice before being hit with the whip-like tail.
Zidane and Kuja, both in Trance Form, leapt up from the crowd. "Burn it up!" Zidane shouted, casting fire magic.
"How about this?" Kuja cast his signature Seraphic Star. The two attacks hit, but did little damage. What they did succeed in doing was draw his attention away from the series of swords coming at him from behind.
"You're gone!" (Squall) "Fire away!" (Laguna) "Who you watching for?" (Lightning) "Swords Delight! Burn it up!" (Onion Knight) "Bathed in the Light!" (Warrior of Light) "From above – comes Judgement!" (Cecil – paladin form) "Get a load of this! And another!" (Titus)
Chaos yowled in pain, but the attacks kept coming.
"Cross Slash!" (Cloud) "Despair!" (Cloud's rescuer) "I'm Breaking my Limit!" (Tifa) "Ifrit!" (Yuna) "Ha!" (Kain) "All becomes nothing." (Golbez) "Benevolent Wind!" (Terra) "You little runt!" (Jecht) "A fool like you with never see round two!" (Shantotto) "Take this!" (Prishe)
And then, Cosmos attacked. "Light of the World!"
There was a huge flash of light, and then, Cosmos and Chaos were gone.
The fallen warriors picked themselves up off the ground. Each one stared as they were bathed in a warm, white glow. Their wounds healed, and all their memories were restored.
"Huh?" He looked over, only for Tifa to wrap her arms around him in a warm hug. "Cloud, you idiot! Where have you been?"
Onion Knight smiled, and looked up at Terra. "See? We did it."
Terra nodded. "But, where's Cosmos?"
Just then, the glowing dragon, Shinryu, appeared.
"She is gone, as is Chaos. The war between these two gods is over, and you may all return home."
"Home?" asked Kain.
"All three of us?" asked Cecil.
Shinryu nodded. "Yes, or to wherever you would like."
"I just have one question." said Lightning.
"Here it goes." muttered Vaan.
"Who is that guy?" She pointed to Cloud's rescuer, who stood there in a black cloak, and whose face was still covered mostly by a black scarf, so not even the hair showed.
Chapter Fifteen: Going Home
"Who am I, you ask?" The person looked at Cloud. "Up until recently, I was your mortal enemy." He pulled the hood back and the scarf down, showing a pale, almost serine face haloed by silver hair.
"Sephiroth?" Tifa asked. "But, why help us?"
"I was bored." Sephiroth admitted. "Same as Kuja. When I saw Cloud, after he woke during the reverse cycle, I saw opportunity." He finished cleaning his sword, trying to get the stack of bodies off the blade. "I watched him, and figured he was working for Cosmos, or at least had his own agenda. So I figured I'd follow, while still acting like his puppeteer. And while Cloud is an obedient and strong puppet, it was him pulling my strings this time."
"Where will you go when I send you home?" Shinryu asked.
Sephiroth stretched casually, almost as though he were a teenager relaxing. "I'd like to go back to Midgar with Cloud and Tifa, but it depends on them."
"I don't trust him." Tifa admitted.
"I'll take him." Cloud said calmly. "He saved my life, I should at least help him out."
"Very well." Shinryu looked at the others. "Is there anyone else with a question?"
Cecil looked at Golbez. "Where were you this whole time? Why did you let me forget?"
Golbez removed his helmet, showing battle scars over his face, and short white hair. "Cecil, I stayed on Chaos's side, watching over you, trying to protect you. Every time you fell asleep, it was at my hand. I even felled your friend Kain once, before I told him of the never-ending war. I did it to protect you, and to keep you out of the void, where all who are permanently vanquished dwell."
"So, you were actually sided with Cosmos this whole time?" Kain asked.
"Yes, though I had to keep it hidden, lest anyone find out." Golbez placed a hand on Cecil's shoulder. "You have done well, Brother."
Cecil looked at his brother. "Are you going back to the palace when we return home?"
"No, Cecil. I've been away from you for long enough. It's time I met my sister-in-law and nephew."
Kain looked at Cecil. "You married?"
Cecil's cheeks turned red, and he looked down. "You…uh…remember the girl that traveled with us?"
Kain smiled. "You chose well, friend."
Onion Knight opened his mouth to say something, but Terra spoke up. "Shinryu."
"Yes, little wind-warrior?"
"I don't want to go home." she said, trying not to tie her cape in a knot.
Onion Knight's heart almost lept up in his throat.
"Why not?" the dragon asked.
"All that awaits me there are people who would use my powers for their own selfish gain."
"Then where would you go?" Vaan asked.
Onion Knight went to speak, but again, Terra spoke first. "I'd go with you, Vaan."
A thousand pieces of glass seemed to shatter around the young knight, until a hand touched his shoulder. "Huh?"
It was Prishe. "Hey, are you alright?"
Onion Knight wiped his nose on his sleeve. "No, I'm not alright."
"It's Terra, isn't it?"
The young knight nodded. "I promised her I'd protect her, always. Why is she leaving me behind?"
Prishe smiled at him. "What waits for you when you get home?"
"A brother that aren't biological siblings, a girl that can't take orders or listen to authority, and a knight that thinks he knows everything. I know that I'm smart, but it's all textbook knowledge. It's what only one of the four of us knows."
"Four, you say?" Shantotto asked.
Onion Knight nodded. "When I go back, I won't be Onion Knight anymore. What you see standing here is a culmination of four people. I'm not really a person."
"Then who are you?" Prishe asked.
"Luneth the Devout, Refia the Evoker, Arc the Black Mage, and Ingus the Soldier. When I go back, they wake from their sleep." A tear ran down Onion Knight's cheek.
"And which of you cries, with those sat brown eyes?"
Onion Knight tried furiously to wipe the tears away, only for Prishe to hold his arms down. She was kneeling in front of him, and held him close. "It's alright to cry." she said softly. "If you want, Shantotto and I can come with you. Our world has gotten rather dull, since no one wants to take our quests."
Onion Knight nodded.
"Shinryu, Shantotto and I want to go with the Onion Knight." said Prishe.
"Very well. Each of you will be sent according to your requests." Shinryu wrapped himself around them, and they vanished.
There was dust on the counter, the stools, the glasses. The singular ceiling fan spun idly and had collected dust as well.
Tifa ran her hand over the counter. "How long have we been gone?"
"Long enough." Sephiroth replied. "You opened another bar?"
"Fixed the old one, actually." Tifa replied. She looked over as Cloud wiped out three glasses. "Cloud?"
He poured some Midgar Import into the glasses. "To our safe return."
Tifa and Sephiroth smiled, lifted their glasses, and drank.
Cecil looked around his village. A young voice shrieked out, and a child came running. Kneeling, Cecil gathered his son close.
"So, this is the child?" Golbez asked.
"Daddy, who's the big armour guy?"
"This is your uncle Golbez, and my dear friend Kain." Cecil looked over towards his house, where his wife stood and waited. Softly, he smiled and led his friends over.
Titus eyed the ball in front of him. "Watch this!"
Jecht snorted indignantly, but his gruff attitude was replaced with shock as Titus effortlessly, kicked it against the post, executing the Jecht Shot Mark 3 with cool precision.
Yuna smiled and clapped her hands. "Well, Jecht?"
"I'm impressed. You been practicing, kid?" He ruffled Titus's hair and grinned. "So, you two finally married now?"
Yuna nodded, giving Titus a kiss.
"Good. I only have one question left fer ya."
"What's that, Jecht?" asked Yuna.
"When are you gonna make me feel old and have kids?" He grinned and gave them both a big bear hug. "I'm just glad to be seeing you two happy."
Titus smiled. "Thanks, old man."
Squall looked up at the building; then straitened his uniform. "President? How could a bumbling oaf like that be the president?" Swallowing, he walked into the building.
"Hello, and how may I help you?" asked the secretary.
"I'm Squall Leonhart from Balam Garden. The President asked to see me."
"Oh, yes. This way." The secretary led Squall out to the back of the building.
"Enjoy." She walked back inside.
Laguna looked over. "Hey, Squall. How's it going?"
"No one believes me."
"Hey, it's the same here. Apparently, I've been asleep at my desk for the past two weeks."
"Yeah, and I was in the infirmary for the same length of time." Squall scratched his head. "So, uh…"
"Yeah, I'm the president. But you can still call me Lugie, if you want."
Squall laughed. "Alright, Lugie."
The pair laughed.
The four youths slept soundly. The village elder sat nearby, worried.
Just then, Shantotto and Prishe walked in.
"What a place, so morbid a shallow. Prishe, be a dear, and open that window."
"What are you doing?" the elder asked.
Prishe opened the window, letting in fresh air and light, two things the room desperately needed. "There, now, let's see if they wake up."
The first to stir was the little one with the brown hair. He sat up and looked at Prishe. "P… Prishe, right?"
She nodded, just as the other two boys awoke. "So, umm, who are you all? We only know you four as the Onion Knight."
The girl sat up. "I'm Refia. The blonde is Ingus, the chicken is Arc, and the dufus is Luneth."
Shantotto looked at Prishe. "This will be fun, straightening out this one."
Prishe grinned. "I agree, this one my favourite of the three." She petted Arc. "Right, our little Onion Knight?"
Zidane pulled Kuja along with him. "Come on!"
"Don't worry. Everything will be fine." Zidane bounded up onto the ship. "Hey, Garnet!"
"Zidane!" The princess gave the blushing Genome a hug. And then she saw Kuja. "EEKKK!"
"Huh? Oh, don't worry. He's joining the troupe."
"He is?" asked the troupe leader.
"Yeah. Kuja's helped me, and he really wants to start over. And I've forgiven him. Shouldn't you?"
Garnet looked at Kuja a moment. "You're a Genome, right?"
"Can I see your Trance Form?"
Kuja looked embarrassed, but did as he was asked. His body covered in a red fur, he looked actually quite beautiful.
Zidane also turned to Trance Form and stood next to his brother.
Garnet looked at the troupe leader. "Take him, please? Him and Zidane look perfect together like that."
The two Genome looked at each other and started laughing.
Vaan laughed, turning the airship quickly. Beside him, smiling and thoroughly enjoying their little joyride, was Terra.
"Isn't this the best?" Vaan asked.
"This is the most fun I've ever had." Terra smiled.
"Wanna make it better?"
"Terra Branford, would you become my wife?"
For a moment, none of the other sky pirates said anything. Vaan, the little hot-head without much brains, was asking this girl to settle down with him?
"Yes, Vaan." Terra threw her arms around him. "I'll be yours, forever."
The sky was sunny, and the grass was spotted with flowers. A blonde man and his strawberry wife stood watching their three children roaming around with the Chocobo. A tall, chocolate-skinned man stood watching his son as well, and beside him was a snowy-haired youth.
Lightning sighed. She hadn't seen them in so long, she hadn't even known of the children.
Lightning looked up, only to see that her sister had been calling her daughter over. Still she slowly approached.
"Mummy, when am I going to be able to see my Auntie?" the little girl asked.
"I don't know."
Serah turned and looked up, strait at Lightning. "Light!" She threw her arms around her sister. "I missed you. Why didn't you visit?"
"I still hate your husband."
"Aw, come on, Light. I'm not that bad." said Snow.
"Snow gave up being a vigilante. He's a stay-at-home father, now."
"So, you're the one that works?"
Serah nodded. "I tend to the Chocobo on Sahz's ranch."
"You're our Auntie Light?" asked the children. "Tell us a story."
"Alright." Lightning smiled, sitting down. "I'll tell you a story of two gods…"