|Shards of Memory - Table of Contents|
"We shouldn't be here," Cloud thought, standing still in the entrance room of one of the small, seashell-like structures as Terra explored it. Everything in his body was screaming at him to leave, to put as much distance between himself and the Forgotten City was quickly as he could. But he couldn't understand why. He remembered something had happened here before, he clearly remembered passing through the city with his comrades and stopping overnight. There was something he had forgotten, he knew that, there was another hole in his memory. What could it possibly be to make him feeling like this?
"So what is this place?" Terra asked, her voice coming from around the corner of the structure. "You said it's from your world?"
"Yeah," Cloud answered simply, staring at the red-orange wall to his left. He wasn't really listening, he was busy mentally sifting through his memories trying to figure out why he was so unnerved. He had come here while tracking Sephiroth, then…something…he had returned here years later to find the children Sephiroth's remnants had kidnapped, but that couldn't have been it.
"Cloud?" Terra asked, giving him a concerned look. Cloud didn't acknowledge her, starring off into space. She lifted a hand and waved it front of his eyes, and Cloud jumped. He turned to Terra.
"What?" he asked, slightly annoyed.
"I asked a question, you didn't hear me."
"What?" Cloud repeated.
"I asked you what this place was, in your world," Terra said. "You called it the Forgotten City, right?"
"Yeah…the Cetra, this was one of their cities when they were still around," Cloud explained. "My friends and I passed through here on our way north."
"Oh," Terra mused.
"You seem really distracted, and you said we shouldn't come here. I'm a bit worried," she shrugged. "Are you okay?"
"Did something happen here?" Terra asked, peering closer. Cloud nodded.
"…I can't remember."
Sephiroth stood silently, watching the round green Crystal in front of him levitate, just level with his chest. An hour ago he had been prepared to seize control of Cloud, kill Terra, and then use him to kill his former comrades, and if possible, Kefka when he had the chance. Then Mateus had spoken to him. The emperor had been half-right: Sephiroth did approve of whichever path lead him to triumph, but this particular action he would be required to perform did not sit well with him. If Mateus was lying…
"But what reason could he have for that?" Sephiroth wondered. Mateus had always been truthful, if arrogant and annoying. If he were lying, he stood to gain nothing from it. If he were telling the truth…the question was, could Sephiroth afford to chance it? Trust the emperor and listen to his orders, and emerge victorious, or choose not to trust him and continue as normal, and risk being left with nothing. Mateus had put him in a delicate situation. He had given Sephiroth his orders but he could not force him to comply, Sephiroth would decide that on his own. He had not yet decided though, and the time for him to do so was short. Had Mateus waited until now to tell him on purpose, to try and force him into doing what he wanted? To make him think there was too little time left to do anything else?
"I am not his puppet to be played with," Sephiroth said to himself. He couldn't deny though, he had unwittingly allowed himself to be played all along. What difference did knowing it make? He could rebel, and refuse to obey, but that would mean giving up and allowing Cloud to win. His pride would never let him do that. So, with admitting defeat to spite Mateus out of the question, there was only one course of action available to him.
"Very well…if I must then I must," Sephiroth said. "If it will lead to my victory, than I shall play my part…" Sephiroth held out his hand under the Crystal slowly rotating before him. He reached out to it with his mind and narrowed his eyes. "And you, Cloud, shall play yours." Sephiroth closed his eyes and concentrated. The Crystal glow, and the air around the two rippled as a pulse of energy emanated from between them.
"He has managed to convince himself that Terra is the Ancient he has forgotten…how pathetic," Sephiroth thought. "But I suppose I ought to be thankful. That laughable delusion will only make my task easier."
Cloud stopped in the middle of the path, his eyes wide. Ahead of him, Terra didn't notice and kept walking towards another sea shell-shaped building. Cloud turned around to scan the wide-open ruins behind him. Aside from the skeletal white trees dotting the area and the crumbling buildings, there was nothing. Cloud stood still as Terra's footsteps grew lower in volume.
"That voice…I've heard it before." He had, he was certain. A woman's voice calling his name, he had heard it clearly. Cloud lifted his head. The dreams. The voice of the woman in the dreams, it was her. But he knew he was awake now, and he had never heard her voice outside of the dreams before. "What I've forgotten about this place…could it be about her?" Cloud looked over his shoulder at Terra, now some distance away. She hadn't notice he had stopped and had kept walking. Cloud thought perhaps it was her, the woman in the dreams of memories he'd forgotten. But, if the real source was here, now…
"I have to find out where that came from," Cloud said, turning forward and walking down the path. The path curved forward to the entrance to the city. At the crossroads, Cloud stopped and looked around. He had heard the woman calling to him, but he couldn't tell from where. The other path curved to the right and lead further into the city's outer ring, he remembered that much. The path to his left lead outside the city limits to the top of the cliff they had scaled to see the city itself. The path to the right…Cloud turned his head in that direction. It lead to the city core, a dense thicket of the white trees around a small lake.
Cloud let out a small gasp as the voice sounded in his mind again. This time, he was able to figure out where it was coming from. Brown boots turned in the dirt as Cloud stepped down the central path. Stones crunched under his feet as the path began to angle down towards the lake. The trees on either side of the path grew thicker until Cloud could not longer see the rest of the city. Further down the path the trees spread out to form a large clearing. Across the clearing rose a large building in the form of a pristine white conch shell. Between Cloud and the building, in the middle of the clearing, was a large lake. Cloud walked up to the shore, the tips of his boots making ripples across the water as he just barely touched them to the edge. Flashes of light went off in his eyes, and Cloud let out a cry, lifting a hand to his face.
"What is it?"
"She's here…and so is Sephiroth."
"Hey, how do you know?"
"…I don't know. I can just feel it…"
Cloud gritted his teeth and fell to his knees, his other hand going out into the water and pressing against the sand to keep himself up. The pouch on Cloud's belt shifted position, and a small, glowing green Materia orb fell out. The magical orb bounced once and rolled down the slight slope into the water, stopping below the surface as it rolled against a stone. Cloud's fingers clenched into his hair, his eyes wide.
"What…what is this…?" he thought, closing his eyes. The flashes were painful, sending jolts through his mind.
"Stop pretending you're sad."
Sephiroth's voice rang clear in Cloud's head, and he forced the anguish away. The memories and voices circling him dispersed, and he lifted his head. The white conch-shell shaped building in front of him rose up from the other side of the lake. Cloud narrowed his eyes and pushed himself up. With a breath, he turned and began to circle around the shoreline.
"Cloud?" Terra called, walking along the path. "Why would he go off…we don't know what it is we're looking for here," she thought aloud. Ever since they had first glimpsed this place that Cloud had called the Forgotten City, he had been on edge. Something had happened here, something about this place had caused a complete change in his demeanor. Cloud was still hiding something from her, she had told him her secret but he had kept his. And she still had no idea what it could be, but she had a suspicion now it was tied to this city. Why else would it make Cloud act like he had, and cause him to sneak away from her?
"I hope he's still here," Terra said. She couldn't say the same for Cloud obviously, but she liked this place. A low pulse of magical energy surged through the ground, and into every building, rock and plant around them. It was like the entire city was alive with power. It reminded her of the cave near Thamasa, or the energy she had felt surging through the floating continent. The Cetra Cloud had mentioned were ancient mages of great strength, so it would make sense for their city to have an aura of magic over it. To still have it endure after what must have been centuries of falling into ruin, the Cetra must have been mighty indeed.
Terra stopped at a junction in the path and turned her head. The pulse of magical energy was stronger down that direction. Terra walked down the path into a thicket of trees, the white bark slightly luminescent, noticable even under the light of the sun. Terra emerged in front of a large lake. Something caught her eye, and Terra knelt down and reached out her hand. Her fingers wrapped around the Materia orb in the water and pulled it back, water dripping off her hand. Terra looked past it to the lake itself. It was shallow a few feet in, then in the center gave away and fell deep into the ground, almost like a flooded pit more than a lake. Terra looked at the Materia orb in her grasp, then at the white building opposite her.
The glowing, transparent crystal steps hummed and glowed blue with every step Cloud took on them. The walls glistened silver, white and blue, the rock covered by a sheet of magic crystal. The sound of his boots as he descended the crystal staircase beneath the city was almost muffled, the steps cushioning him. He remembered this place, somehow. He had been here before, but why, for what reason? The throbbing in Cloud's head grew more intense with every step, but he did his best to ignore it. It was here. Whatever it was that he had felt calling him for weeks, the presence Terra had felt, the source of his nightmares. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew the answers lay in this place. After what seemed an eternity, Cloud's boots touched on solid, pale crimson floor.
The palace-like structure under the city was as he remembered, or least, how he thought he remembered it. A large lake filled the bottom of the area, a ring of white, pink and crimson towers, turrets, balconies and bridges lining the wall, rising from the water below on long, smooth pillars. The area was lit both by glowing shards of blue crystal jutting up from the waterbed, and by the crystal covering on the walls. Cloud closed his eyes, allowing himself a moment to try and get his thoughts in order. He opened his eyes and turned to walk along the path, when something caught his eye. Cloud looked back to make sure he wasn't seeing things. In the middle of the lake was a single large pillar rising into the air, a staircase leading from a smaller platform up onto a circular platform atop the pillar.
Standing there, in the middle of the depths of the Forgotten City, was a figure.
Cloud squinted to try and make out details, but for some reason his vision blurred. Looking around, Cloud put his hands on the railing in front of him and jumped, landing on a lower platform just above the water's edge. Cloud ran across to a series of circular platforms rising from the water. With only a moment's hesitation he jumped onto the first, then the second. Cloud jumped across and landed at the bottom of the small staircase leading up to the central platform. Nervous, anxious and curious, Cloud slowly ascended the steps. The central platform was covered in white and black tile under his feet, and was illuminated by a pillar of light shining down from above.
"You…" Cloud whispered. Standing on the other side of the platform, standing straight, hands clasped over her front, the figure didn't respond. "You're her, aren't you?" Cloud asked, cautiously taking a step forward. The figure turned her head to the left slightly, brown hair swaying slightly with the movement. "Who are you?" Cloud asked, stepping closer.
"Cloud…" the figure said softly, the voice the same as the one from his dreams. She turned, and Cloud inhaled sharply. "Do you really mean…you've forgotten me?" the woman asked. Cloud stared. The figure before was smiling at him sadly, a smile he'd seen before: Terra. Cloud winced and clutched as his head as the throbbing grew into a pounding. The Terra-woman with brown hair watched as Cloud fell onto his knees.
"Is your mind really that easy to break?" she asked, her smile vanishing.
The voice suddenly changed in mid-sentence, turning colder and masculine. Cloud strained his head up to see Sephiroth looking down at him.
"Sephi…" Cloud groaned, clenching his eyes.
"Really Cloud," Sephiroth lectured, the image of him flickering. "You're even more pathetic than I thought," the voice shifted again, Terra's voice overlaid with Sephiroth's as his hair turned pale blond, cold green eyes turning blue. "You used to be so strong," the figure said, eyes shifting back to green and hair darkening to brown. "Look at you now…"
"What…is this…" Cloud ground out, doubling over.
"This is the truth of who you are," the figure sneered. Terra, Sephiroth, and the dream woman – the voices intermingled with each other as the mysterious figure spoke. "You try and hide it, run from it, deny it, and you just come back to it again." The figure kneeled and placed a hand on Cloud's shoulder. Looking in between the fingers clawing at his head, Cloud watched the visage of the figure twist into a cruel smile, eyes flickering between blue and green. "Why do you think I lead you here?"
"Yes…back to where you belong. To where you've always belonged," the figure chuckled darkly, the black glove on Cloud's shoulder lightening to red. "You need someone to guide you, otherwise you'd be helpless. You can't even keep track of your own memories without Terra there to keep them held together." Cloud didn't respond. Silver hair ruffled slightly as Sephiroth's face shifted. "Now, make a choice," the figure ordered, Terra's face smiling. "Lay there and die, or get up and fight."
"What is this place?" Terra thought, watching her feet as she stepped down the crystal staircase. The aura of power surrounding the city was growing stronger with every step she took into the depths below. Below, there was a large lake ringed by pink and white towers and balconies. Terra looked out below again, and gasped.
"Cloud?" she called, her voice echoing off the crystal walls. The man kneeling on the platform in the center of the cavern didn't respond. Terra bit her lip, and closed her eyes. A bright blue aura lit up over her arms, and she leapt, slowing descending to the ground below. Terra opened her eyes as she fell and took a shaky breath as she watched the ground loom up before her feet. Her heels touched on one of the balconies, and the aura of magic vanished. Terra looked up at Cloud and jumped across a line of circular columns in the water, landing at the foot of a small staircase below him.
"Cloud?" Terra repeated, running up to him. Cloud was on his hands and knees, his eyes closed. "Are you alright?" she asked. Cloud turned his head towards her and nodded.
"Yeah…" he said, pushing himself up. "I just…I think Sephiroth is here."
"Where?" Terra asked.
"I don't know," Cloud said, "but I felt him here…we need to find him before he pulls something."
"Right," Terra nodded, turning to look around the cavern. "The power I've been sensing seems strongest down here, if he's around he might be-" Terra began to turn, and gasped as Cloud swung the Buster Sword towards her. She raised her arm with a scream, a barrier rippling around her. It didn't form fast enough, merely deflecting the blow. Cloud was knocked away, the force of his strike knocking Terra off balance. She stumbled backwards and fell down the steps, lying on her side on the small landing below. She looked up, Cloud running across the platform towards her. The Buster Sword cleaved down through the air, and Terra rolled off the landing. She fell in the cold water below, the giant sword inches from hitting her and shattering the tile under where she had been.
Underneath the water, Terra kicked as her cape got tangled in her legs. Pushing herself to the surface, she gasped for breath and looked up. Cloud rose to his feet above her, glaring down at her.
"Cloud," Terra whispered, "what are you doing?"
"He's just having a little fun!" Terra turned her head to see Kefka standing atop the spire of one of the side towers, a wide grin on his face.
"Kefka…what have you done to him!" she shrieked.
"Me?" Kefka gasped, pressing a hand to his chest in mock surprise. "Whatever did I do to deserve such accusations? Ya'know, besides the obvious."
"Kefka," Cloud muttered. "I told you-"
"To stay out of this." Sephiroth spoke the words aloud, his eyes closed as he focused his energy on Cloud. Of course he was fighting, but Cloud was too weak to repel him. The trauma and despair of events his conscious mind couldn't remember had broken him enough to allow Sephiroth to take hold of him. Cloud was putting up a stronger defense then he had expected or would have preferred, but the hold was sturdy enough. Cloud was his to command.
"Oh come on, be a sport!" Kefka's words rung in his head as he heard them through Cloud's ears. "You didn't think I was gonna let you kill her and not snag a front-row seat, did ya?" Sephiroth let out a growl and turned Cloud's head back to Terra.
"I'll deal with you later…" he said.
"For now," Cloud said, pointing the tip of the Buster Sword at Terra. "Get out of there."
"Sephiroth…" Terra whispered, realizing what had happened. "It's you, isn't it!" Cloud smirked.
"I really ought to thank you," Cloud said. "I had thought you would have kept his mind too stable for me to shatter. But in the end you helped me. Even I hadn't expected this turn of events, but I thank you for it nonetheless."
"What are you talking about?" Terra asked.
"He hasn't told you? …ah, so he hasn't," Cloud chuckled, kneeling down with an arm draped over his knee. "Cloud forgot someone dear to him, and try as he might he couldn't remember anything about her, not even her name. Then, you and he met. You and her…you're so much alike it amazes even me. Cloud didn't realize it, but his mind was so weak and desperate to save itself, it clung to the illusion that the two of you were the same. Impossible, of course, but Cloud is so deluded he doesn't know that. To keep the shards of memory he still had of her intact, his mind began to remember you in her place."
"This is where she died, which is why he so hates this place but can't figure out why," Cloud continued. "I almost made him kill her with his own hands, at this very spot. But he resisted, so I did it myself. Coming back here, the pain of forgetting her, watching her die before his eyes, almost doing it himself…he simply couldn't handle the strain of it, the emotions were too great even if he doesn't understand what caused them. He was so convinced that the two of you were the same person, it was easy to distort that pain and direct it towards you. Now, part of him even wants to kill you. Between the false memories I've given him, and the ones his own mind twisted to include you, he doesn't know the reality of events anymore. He can't tell if you're a friend or an enemy now."
"You're lying," Terra cried. "Cloud wouldn't fall for your lies, and neither will I!"
"I love it when she gets defensive like this," Kefka giggled.
"My lies? He's fallen for his own," Cloud said. "He'd tell you so himself, if you would only live long enough to speak to him again." With that, Cloud held out his hand. Tendrils of dark energy snaked through the air from his palm, descending towards Terra. Terra turned and swam away, the tendrils dipping under the water to follow her. She reached the edge of the platform lowest the water and climbed out, a chill shooting up her spine as one of the tendrils twirled around her leg. Terra drew her sword and sliced it apart, the other tendrils vanishing in dark smoke.
With a single leap, Cloud cleared the lake and descended toward Terra, the Buster Sword held over his head. Terra dove aside to avoid it, rolling onto her feet. Cloud turned and ran towards her, slicing the sword horizontally. Terra jumped back to avoid it, floating in the air overhead. Cloud glared up at her and held out a hand, more tendrils of darkness weaving into the air. Terra sent a blast of fire at the tendrils, dispersing them into puffs of black smoke. The smoke shivered and reformed into the streams of darkness, and kept coming. Terra turned and flew away, the darkness following her through the air.
"Run run run!" Kefka called, lifting a hand over his eyes as Terra flew past him and turning to watch her. Two dark tendrils raced by on either side, and Kefka pulled back with a growl. "Hey, watch it!" he snapped. Below him on a balcony, Cloud landed from a jump and stood up.
"If you're going to be here, at least make yourself useful," he replied, waving a hand and sending out another tendril. "Otherwise you're just in the way." Kefka lifted his other hand and tapped his chin for a moment, then flashed a grin.
Terra dove down, skimming along the surface of the water as the darkness chased her. She turned over in mid-air and flung out another fireball. The attack exploded on contact with the tendrils, but they reformed once again. Terra flew around the central platform, stopping in the air as two more tendrils raced around the other side in front of her. She flew to the side, the steams from behind and before her merging and turning to follow. Terra turned and lifted hand, conjuring another fireball. Suddenly, a jolt shot through her, and she hesitated. The dark tendrils rushed into her, and Terra let out a scream. She was driven back through the air, slamming into the wall and falling forward.
"Oopsy," Kefka smirked, spinning the red and black Crystal on his fingertips.
"About time you did something useful," Cloud said, walking towards Terra. Terra began to climb to her feet as Cloud neared, and raised her head in time to see the Buster Sword be drawn back over his shoulder. Cloud swung, and Terra lifted an arm, a barrier rising over her. Cloud was pushed back, and Terra got up, breathing heavily.
"Cloud…I know you're in there," she said. "Fight him. Don't let him do this!"
"Waaaaaste of time!" Kefka laughed.
"He can't hear you," Cloud sneered. "Not where he is now." A dark aura appeared over the Buster Sword, and Cloud swung. Terra raised another barrier to deflect the blow, and cried out as the sword slammed into it. Sparks of dark energy flew and Terra stumbled back. Cloud swung again. Another barrier appeared, and Terra nearly fell with the impact Cloud made on it.
"He has to hear me…" Terra insisted.
"Waste your breath then," Cloud said, advancing. "You can't keep up your defense forever." Cloud twirled the Buster Sword and brought it down in an overhead cleave against another of Terra's barriers. She fell back, sliding along the smooth white floor on her back. Cloud marched forward as she pushed her torso up.
"Just kill her already!" Kefka screamed. "What's the hold-up?"
"Shut up," Cloud muttered. The aura of darkness over his weapon intensified, and Cloud swung. Terra lifted an arm, and her barrier had only a moment to rise into place before it shattered in a shower of sparks, Cloud's attack barely blocked in time. Even blocked, the force sent pain up Terra's arm and knocked her onto her back. Cloud's hand came down to grab Terra by the throat, lifting her in the air and throwing her. Terra fell onto a lower platform, arcing her back on impact and rolling onto her stomach. Cloud jumped and landed behind her, reaching out and grabbing her ponytail. Her head was pulled back, eliciting a sharp gasp.
"Ya know," Kefka yawned, draping an arm over the balcony behind them, "normally I'm all for attacking and torturing innocent people, but in this particular case I'd rather we skip to the death part!"
"You think you can save him?" Cloud sneered, twisting Terra's head to look at her face. "You can't even save yourself." Terra cracked her eyes open to look up at Cloud. "I'm disappointed in you Kefka," Cloud said loudly, turning to look up at the man behind him. "Considering how much you've spoken of her strength, she isn't even putting up a fight." Terra lowered her eyes and moved a hand to the folds of her skirt.
"Eat me Sephy!" Kefka snapped, gnashing his teeth. Cloud looked back down, and Terra thrust up her hand, pushing the Materia orb in her hand into Cloud's chest. With a burst of fire, Cloud was flung back, hitting a column while Terra fell onto her chest. Terra climbed to her feet, Cloud following suit behind her. The Materia in her hand vanished into her skirt as she reached down her waist, drawing her sword and holding it out.
"You intend to fight after all?" Cloud asked, swinging the Buster Sword forward. "You're too weak to defeat me."
"I don't care," Terra replied. "If I let you do this to Cloud without at least trying, I'd never forgive myself."
"As you wish," Cloud said. He swung, and Terra lifted her sword, magical energy coursing through the blade. With a flash Cloud's blow was blocked, the sword in Terra's hands ringing. She took advantage of the opening and flung a fireball into Cloud's chest, knocking him onto his back. With a soft cry, Terra fell onto one knee, the sudden attack using more of her strength than she had expected. Cloud lifted his legs and kicked back onto his feet.
"You barely have the strength to defend yourself, much less take the offensive," he noted. Terra winced and pushed herself back into a standing position. "Besides, you wouldn't dare hurt him, not seriously. We both know that. You're as dangerous to me as a snake with no fangs." With a cry, Cloud charged forward, the Buster Sword cleaving the air again and again. Terra narrowly deflected each blow, her muscles screaming in protest with the swift movements. Cloud swung down, knocking Terra's blade aside, and with the same motion twisted his arm and brought it back up. The red fabric of Terra's dress tore, leaving a red line of blood over her stomach. Terra gasped and clutched at her stomach, stumbling back. With a spin of his weapon, Cloud slammed the Buster Sword into the ground. A burst of green energy erupted from the weapon and rushed into Terra's feet.
The energy beam exploded, catapulting Terra through the air. She landed heavily on the central platform, hitting on her back. Beside her, her sword landed with a metallic clang.
"Finish her, finish her!" Kefka screamed, jumping up and down. Terra panted and reached out to grab her weapon, then turned over to pull herself towards the railing around the platform's edge. A shadow loomed over her, and Terra looked over her shoulder. In the air above, shadowed by the light shining overhead, Cloud leapt through the air, the Buster Sword held over his head. Terra let go of the railing and fell with her back against it, lifting her sword up and bracing the blade against her free hand.
Cloud descended and slammed the Buster Sword down, a shockwave of black and violet energy pulsing from where it met Terra's barrier. Sparks flew from the contact point, and with a slight growl Cloud set his feet on the ground and pushed. Terra nearly fell onto her back, trying to sitting up.
"Cloud…" she whispered, looking up at him. Cloud's face and eyes were blank. "You have to fight him…you're too strong to let him do this…"
"Wrong-o!" Kefka cackled, jumping onto another tower. "He's way too weak to stop him, you both are. Pooooor wittle Terra," Kefka made a show of wiping his eyes, "She's gonna die and she didn't even put up a fight. How pathetic can you get, really?"
"No…I don't believe that!" Terra protested. Her arms began to shake, and she focused her strength into holding up the barrier keeping the Buster Sword at bay. Tears began to stream down her face, and she let out a cry of pain from the strain.
"Believe it," Cloud said coldly. "Your voice cannot reach him where he is. Cloud is beyond what little help you could possibly provide. I control his every action now, and both of you are powerless to stop it."
"Never…Cloud is stronger than you know," Terra said.
"Please. You know him for how long, and profess to know him."
"Better than you do!" Terra shouted. "Cloud may have hesitations, and he may be afraid sometimes. But I've seen him fight, and I know what he's told me about him, and about you. More than that, I've seen his heart, and I've seen yours, Sephiroth. No matter how much you taunt him, no matter how you manipulate him and try and control him, it doesn't change the fact that in the end, Cloud Strife is stronger than you could ever be!" feeling new strength, Terra tilted her head up. "Why do you think he keeps beating you!"
It was then, Terra saw it. It was only for an instant, but in that split second, time slowed to a crawl. The blank expression on Cloud's face softened slightly. Blue eyes staring coldly at her grew warmer, and locked onto Terra's. Then, it was gone. But Terra suddenly felt new strength coursing through her. She had seen it, if only for that brief moment, Sephiroth's control had slipped, and Cloud had broken though.
"You are in there…" she said, smiling triumphantly. With a sneer, Cloud narrowed his eyes. The aura of darkness over the Buster Sword flared up, tendrils of power cracking the air around it.
"It doesn't matter," he hissed. "A brief lapse, nothing more. I let your taunts distract me momentarily. Don't think I'll make the mistake of letting it happen again."
"But it doesn't have to," Terra groaned, pushed back again. "He is in there, for all your talk he's still fighting you."
"He won't break through in time. What can you do? Taunt me? That won't distract me again. And you don't have the strength or the courage to attack, and risk harming him. You're helpless," Cloud said. With another push of his arms, the Buster Sword lurched forward, and Terra's arms shook.
"I…no…" Terra said, closing her eyes.
"Believe it!" Kefka laughed. "You're gonna die, all alone in the middle of nowhere, and it's gonna be your only friend left who's gonna do it! And you can't do a thing to stop him!"
"It's over!" Cloud roared. The Buster Sword came back over his head, and Terra opened her eyes as it cleaved down, dark energy turning the metal itself black.
"Time to die, and you can't do a thing to save yourself! Nothing, nothing nothing nothing!" Kefka's laughter filled the air, echoing through the cavern.
In the heat of the moment, her strength nearly gone and the sight of the massive broadsword arcing through the air towards her head, Terra wasn't sure where the idea came from. It was a foolish, unlikely final effort to halt Sephiroth's assault through Cloud. And yet, she had nothing to lose. Another blow would shatter her barrier and leave her open as the Buster Sword cut through it and then her. This was her only option left. She knew Cloud was fighting, somewhere inside his mind he was battling Sephiroth's control. Either reach him, or disrupt Sephiroth's control. Terra had one final chance to make some sort of move to do either, and if she failed then she would die.
Only one thing came to mind from nowhere, and she didn't even have a second to think her idea through before she realized she was acting upon it. The Buster Sword came down, and Terra let out a shout, pushing out her barrier and swinging her sword. The blade came up to meet the Buster Sword, the barrier summoned around it with the final power she could muster crackling with the impact. She swung to the side, knocking the Buster Sword to her right. The edge of the blade slid past her, and Cloud pitched forward as the momentum threw off his balance, a hand coming out to reach for the railing to stop his fall. Startled, Cloud's face twisted into an expression of surprise as Sephiroth was caught off-guard by the counter. At the same time she swung, Terra's free hand reached up, coming up to grab Cloud's shoulder, her fingers digging into the fabric. And with that, Terra pulled herself up, lifting herself off the ground, and pressed her lips against his.
Cloud's eyes went wide as Terra kissed him, her eyes held shut. The single hand now holding the Buster Sword shook and opened, the sword clanging on the ground. Kefka froze in place from his perch, his face twisted.
"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwww," he drawled, turning away and gagging. Terra held herself up, prolonging the intimate gesture. Cloud had stilled at the contact, the only movement the slight twitching of the fingers that had only a second ago held the Buster Sword.
"Ugh!" Sephiroth's eyes flew open, and he recoiled as if struck. "That…she…" For once Sephiroth was at a loss for words. Terra's kiss had caught him off guard, and with so much of his energy focused on keeping Cloud at bay, the sensation had been too…Sephiroth lifted a hand to his mouth, grimacing. It wasn't an illusion, his lips were tingling, he and Cloud had been so deeply connected he had felt her lips as if-
"Cloud!" Sephiroth cried out and closed his eyes, realizing what he had done. His powers raced at the speed of thought, wrapping back around Cloud's mind. "NO!"
Cloud's eyelids fluttered shut as Terra kissed him, his hand on the railing holding himself over her, her hand on his shoulder holding her torso up. Terra opened her eyes to see his fluttering and pulled back, scanning his face. The hand on the railing lost its grip, and Cloud collapsed against Terra, the two of them falling onto the floor. His head over her shoulder with the cheek pressed against cold tile, Cloud lay still for a moment, his eyes closed. Terra turned her head and watched. There was a small moan, and Cloud's hand moved.
"Cloud?" she said softly. There was a second moan, and Cloud's head turned.
"T…Terra?" he whispered. Terra's face lit up and she threw her arms around him, hugging him. "What happened?" Cloud murmured, his eyes darting around the chamber he could see from his position. "I feel so weak…"
"It's okay," Terra replied, a few tears rolling down the sides of her face. "You're back…you're back."
"Back?" Cloud asked, confused. "What happened? Where…"
"Don't worry about it yet," Terra assured him, tightening her arms around him. "I'll explain, I just…I thought I'd lost you."
"Lost me?" Cloud asked. "What do you mean?"
"You don't remember?" Terra asked. Cloud's hand moved to push himself up slightly, and he turned his head to face her.
"I remember...someone was here," Cloud said aloud. "Then...Sephiroth?" Cloud cried. Terra smiled again and reached out her hand, laying it over the back of Cloud's.
"It's okay...you're free now," she said. "That's all that matters."
Kefka's shout grew in volume as he appeared in a dark flash, doubling over and heaving as he stumbled forward.
"That is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life! And I've seen live people disembowled!" he groaned. "I need to gouge out my eyes!"
"Stop your tantrum!" Sephiroth snapped. "At least you only watched it. I experienced it first-hand."
"Ooooh yeah, through Cloud," Kefka muttered. After a moment's thought, he grinned. "So how was she?"
"Shut up!" Sephiroth shouted.
"Yeesh, what's got your goat?" Kefka asked. "Okay yeah, we gotta face Chaos now but we can talk him into being nice!"
"It isn't that simple," Sephiroth said, regaining his composure. He had done as Mateus had ordered, seeded the final part of his role in the emperor's plan. But in order to make sure it sprouted, Kefka had to be told. "In order to control him, I had to link my mind with Cloud's. The link went both ways, I saw his mind as he saw mine. I believe he may have…"
"May have what?" Kefka said, lifting an eyebrow. Sephiroth closed his eyes and silently cursed Mateus for forcing his hand.
"…he knows where we are."
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