Chapter Forty-One: Jenova’s Last Dance
The two groups somehow timed it perfectly, ending up in the same cavern at the end of their climb down. Both looked a little worse for wear, telling the tale of how they had just spent the last several hours fighting for their lives.
“How did it go?” Cloud asked, striding up to a somewhat haggard Vincent.
“Three Tonberrys and two enormous Marlboros ambushed us, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle.” The dark-haired man shrugged. “You?”
The former SOLDIER shook his head. “Dragon Zombie nearly got the best of us.” He sighed. “At least, our direction is obvious now.” Cloud gestured towards the strange staircase, which led downwards into the depths of the crater.
“We decided to use the save crystal,” Reeve said striding up to the two. “Here is as good a place as any.”
“How much longer do we have?”
“Not enough,” Nanaki remarked sadly. He had crept up quietly behind others, listening to their conversation.
Vincent exhaled, his crimson eyes unreadable. “We’ll have to work with forced energy rather than resting ourselves then.”
Cloud nodded. He hated having to do it, and he knew how much most of them felt about restoring their energy using fake means.
The members of AVALANCHE took a few moments for themselves, using potions for all the minor damage they had incurred. The mega ethers were reserved for all the energy they had used in battle, casting magic and calling summons.
Reeve and Reno were assuring themselves of their health as they traded murmured words of endearment and joked together. Anyone who looked closely enough could see the worry reflected in their eyes, however.
“Here,” Yuffie said, walking up to Nanaki.
The demi-human raised an eyebrow at the proffered item she was holding. It was the Tetra Elemental she had found earlier in the cave.
“I know you want to equip for strength, but it might be wiser to protect against magic,” the ninja put in.
He took the small accessory, flipping it between his fingers expertly. Nanaki smiled at her, his eyes brightening.
“Thank you. I suppose that you are right. With all the mako around him, Sephiroth will probably rely on magic more heavily than his own strength.”
She shrugged, watching as he switched out the Champion Belt for the Tetra Elemental. It was a sad fact that living beings couldn’t sustain more than one physical enhancement at a time; otherwise, he would’ve kept them both attached.
Of course, it left for hard decisions, although people in weapons development were working to make stronger accessories. It was a long and slow going process as many protections tended to cancel each other out, not that the demi-human really needed that much enhancement. All that well-muscled body was more than enough to destroy Sephiroth. And he was fast too, his legs powerful and…
“What about you?” Nanaki asked, suddenly pulling Yuffie out of her musings.
She blinked. “Eh?”
Bemusement flashed into his features. “Don’t you need it?” he asked again, gesturing towards the item she had handed over.
“Oh.” Realization dawned as she shook her head. “I have the Minerva Band and a Fairy Ring. I don’t need much else.”
Nanaki smiled. “Confident?”
She cocked her head to the side and struck a pose. “Wouldn’t you be, if you were me?” They laughed.
A short distance from the two, Vincent turned back towards Cloud. “What’s the strategy? Are we going into this particular battle with any plans in mind?”
His words cut through any and all conversation. The calm and relaxed aura that had settled around the group quickly dissipated. The gunman shifted nervously in his spot, tense that he had caused them all to be so nervous.
“It’s not as if Sephiroth has any weaknesses that we know,” Nanaki pointed out.
Aeris bit her lip. “Still, we can be prepared even if it’s just the barest sketches of a plan.”
The swordsman sighed as he contemplated. “First of all, we need three lines of attack instead of just being scattered over the battlefield.”
Reno twirled his Electro Rod in his fingers before letting the weapon dangle from his wrist by its band. “Primary offense, secondary, and defensive curative.” He ticked each off on his fingers, remembering his Turk training.
“Right,” Cloud agreed. “That is what they taught us in SOLDIER.” The blond closed his eyes and tried to envision what he should do. There were times that being leader was anything but what he wanted.
“The secondary line should consist of a combination of magic strength and secondary attack,” Vincent suggested. “Since Sephiroth was trained by ShinRa, he’ll suspect we might do something like this; any formation has to be flexible.”
Aeris sighed. “I can tell you this right off. I’m not offense material.”
“Yes, I know,” Cloud agreed, shooting his girlfriend a comforting smile. “You and Vincent will be the defensive curative. With his shotgun, he can cover us from afar and still do steady damage.” He left the rest unsaid.
As the back line, Vincent would also be far from attack himself and close to the healer.
-I’m getting stronger you know,- Chaos growled suddenly, making his presence known.
“Reeve, Yuffie, Cid, you three will act as secondary line.” Cloud’s voice faded into the background as Vincent concentrated on the blood-thirsty demon.
‘I won’t use you. I refuse.’
–You fear me; I can see it. You will need my help in this battle and I will enjoying watching you beg for it.-
Internally, the gunman snorted, his eyes narrowing. ‘I’d rather die than call for you.’
Chaos chuckled darkly, the noise an uncomfortable slither across Vincent’s mind. -I would not allow my host to die on me. You underestimate your ability to make the decision for yourself.- He smirked internally, bearing a fanged grin as he continued, -When I am free, you won’t be able to control me. I can see it now. I can see the fear in your mind and in your heart. Those you care for… him… I’ll destroy them all.-
“You’ll never get the chance,” Vince hissed, feeling the anger coursing through his body. He hadn’t even realized he had spoken aloud until he felt the hand settle on his shoulder.
Cid’s voice pierced through the hazy fog of fury. “Vince, you alright?”
Vincent blinked and looked into those sky blue irises. “Hmm?” He noted the concerned expression on the pilot’s face. “Yes, I am fine.”
Cid gave him a skeptical look. “We’re going to move out soon,” he said, moving around behind the gunman.
Both hands appeared on the former Turk’s shoulders, and Cid began to massage him gently, working on the tense kinks he could feel beneath the thick fabric.
The gunman glanced around nervously, but no one was paying them a bit of attention. He really wasn’t used to overt displays of affection, especially in public. He allowed himself, just this once, however.
Dimly, he heard the rustle of fabric behind him as one of the pilot’s strong hands left his shoulders. Vincent turned and raised an eyebrow when he saw the blond digging around in his pockets, as if looking for something.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for that damn…” Cid started, trailing off as he reached into the pocket of his jeans. “Aha!” he declared triumphantly as he found the item. He held it, and Vincent squinted at it in the dim light.
It was a materia.
“Here,” Cid said, holding out the small ball.
Vincent took it, rolling the red materia between his fingers. Then, he recognized it.
His eyes widened. “Th-this is Jade Tiger,” he pointed out. “Why?”
Cid shrugged. “Dunno. But something told me I should give him to you.”
“But that leaves you weak, you can’t fight without his strength on your side,” the gunman protested trying to give it back.
The blond shook his head. “Look, I’m not much on all that nonsensical spiritual bullshit, but something in my gut is telling me that you need him more than I do. I can’t ignore this feeling. I been trying ever since we landed my airship at this godforsaken crater, but it won’t leave me.”
Vincent nodded, pulling back his hand. He unholstered the Death Penalty and removed one of his own red materia before replacing it with Jade Tiger. He fingered the summon he had detached, frowning over it. The red materia was Diablos, his second favorite after Hades. When he had awoken in ShinRa mansion, the winged demon had been with him. Since then, he had not shared Diablos with anyone.
Looking up into Cid’s blue eyes, he knew what he was going to do with the summon. He handed over Diablos, gesturing that Cid should take it.
“He is not the same as Jade Tiger, but he has been invaluable to me.”
Cid took the materia with a smile, deftly slipping it into an empty slot on his armlet. He had taken out Jade Tiger earlier, almost unconsciously, and just hadn’t asked Cloud yet if there was something for him to replace it with.
“Okay, folks, we’re moving out!” Cloud called out suddenly, interrupting whatever it was Cid was about to say.
The swordsman was standing on the edge of the precipice. Just below him, the scattered stairs led downwards into the bowels of the crater. There was grim determination in the blond’s features as he tightly gripped the handle of the sword slung across his back.
The pilot wanted to curse his bad luck but knew, even if he had started to say something, the gunman probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear it just yet. Inwardly, he sighed.
Cloud looked up, his eyes meeting the gazes of every single one of his team members. This was it. The last chance for them to run from the battle, if they so choose.
But none did. All met his glance with equal determination.
Nodding more to himself than anyone else, Cloud took a deep breath and stepped onto the first stair, the members of AVALANCHE following in his wake.
Truthfully, they could hardly be called stairs. They weren’t connected, instead floating in a sort of phantasmal space that left the team nervous. They feared that, with each step they took, the block of rock would suddenly fall beneath them or crumble away. And below them was nothing but a green abyss, probably spelling quick and certain death, and at the bottom, there was a platform of squarish blocks made of a reflective and hard substance that none could identify. Whatever it was loosely fitted together, hedged in on all sides by rocks.
Finally, they came the ending of the platform. There was nowhere else to go, neither stairs nor obvious path. Just as they began to think that perhaps they had come to the wrong spot, the ground began to shake, and a creature burst from the greenish glow beyond the platform.
It vaguely resembled a large, bulbous snail. Its two appendages, which could have been arms, feelers, or tentacles, sprouted from the frontal area. This was Jenova-Synthesis, the last of the Jenova spawn.
To get to Sephiroth, they would have to go through her.
“Nanaki, Haste! Aeris, Regen! Reeve, Wall!” Cloud ordered, proud to see that each of his team members quickly obeyed.
The three magics were cast in succession, and each person was energized by the temporary rush, doused with continuous healing, and wrapped in a protective translucent wall of magic.
“Cid! Reno! Flank me! Vincent, cover! Yuffie, status!” the swordsman continued, quickly barking out orders.
The two men rushed to his side, and the three attacked the creature, aiming for the soft tissue of the underbelly. Jenova immediately began to flail her appendages wildly trying to strike the attacking party [1.
“No weaknesses! Don’t use poison or ice or water!” Yuffie called out, finishing her Sense. That being said, she gripped onto her Conformer, looking for the perfect time to strike.
Cloud slashed viciously at Jenova, making headway, but she didn’t seem at all fazed by cuts he was making in her soft belly. Cid had taken another approach, jumping onto the creature’s back and trying to find a weakness in the cone-like shell she had surrounded herself in. Jenova bucked wildly, trying to get the pilot off her back as Reno was shocking the hell out of the tentacles He watched them writhe in pain, preventing the two from attacking anything else. The resounding boom of a shot gun permeated the air as Vincent struggled to blind the monster, having a difficult time because of her movement.
The prickle of magic picked at their skin. It was the only warning they received before the monster cast her first spell. Aero ripped through the air, sending a gust of strong wind at the attacking men. Cloud, Cid, and Reno went flying away from Jenova, slamming into the ground with little cushion.
Reeve took the opportunity to cast his own spell. “Demi 3!”
Immediately, the very atmosphere around the creature shifted, the air seeming like it was pulling around itself. It twisted and turned the flesh of the creature, trying to rip her into pieces, and Jenova writhed and keened with the pain, tentacles thrashing about wildly.
The moment of distraction was enough for Yuffie to make her move. She bounded towards the snail-like abomination, releasing her Conformer. It soared through the heavens and struck the flesh-like body of Jenova, leaving a bloody streak in its wake before it restored itself to her hand. To her left, scattered across the ground, Cid, Cloud, and Reno rose to their feet, already heading for Jenova again.
The monster hissed menacingly and proceeded to attack once more. She thrust her tentacles at the men, Nanaki having joined them. The appendages seemed to have a mind of their own, and in the same moment, they avoided both attacks of the blonds and smacked them away. Jenova opened her mouth, and a stream of acidic liquid shot out, slamming into Nanaki even as Reno did a rather acrobatic move out of the way.
The wall surrounding the demi-human took most of the damage, but some managed to burn its way through, sizzling as it struck the skin of his attack arm. Nanaki hissed in pain and leapt backwards, unable to move his claw.
Reno dove in under the tentacles and flipped on his Electro Rod. “Take this, ya fucker!” he yelled as he thrust the weapon up into the underbelly of Jenova.
She hissed with pain but knocked him away, as if he were nothing larger than an insect.
A flash of magic later, Aeris had healed Nanaki. The flower-girl quickly restored the wall around him, adding a bit of her own strength to make it stronger.
The sound of a shotgun echoed, accompanied by a loud groan of pain. Vincent had managed to strike the creature in one of her eyes.
“Ultima!” Yuffie cast, using her strongest magic.
The green ball of flame appeared as before and struck Jenova. Yet, instead of doing damage, the snail-like body greedily sucked in the greenish-fire, leaving the ninja gaping in shock.
Perhaps it would be better if she didn’t use Ultima at all.
“5…” the snail-like creature hissed in a voice that sent chills down the spine of those present.
“What the hell?” Cid swore. “I didn’t know that fucker could speak.” He held his spear out angrily, pissed that he had been thrown back so easily by the monster’s tentacles.
“I did,” Cloud answered grimly.
She had been talking to him since the battle had begun, but he had been steadfastly ignoring her.
He darted forward and managed to slash through one of the tentacles. It writhed as it fell to the ground, blood pooling below, and the blond raised his blade once more, already forming a counter-attack in his mind.
“Reeve! Ramuh!” Cloud ordered as his gaze quickly sought out the ex-executive’s lover. “Reno! Counter after with Brothers!”
“4…” The countdown continued to echo around the cavern.
“Thunderstorm!” Reeve summoned, feeling his body literally tingle with the strength of the call.
Dark storm clouds began to gather over the battlefield as thunder rumbled, and the atmosphere above them flashed. A bolt of lightning struck the floor, lifting up a platform. There, the bearded Ramuh stood. He raised his hands high, staff held strongly in one. At the head, a glowing ball of lightning formed and peppered Jenova with sparks, which joined to form a growing electrical shell around the monster. Energy built up at the top of the shell and then struck inwards with a suitably large explosion.
The snail-like body writhed and screamed as sparks raced along her shell. Nevertheless, even throughout her pain, the monster still managed to speak.
Ramuh disappeared in a puff of sparks as Jenova screeched and cast another spell, realizing her physical attacks were useless. Frozen cones of water arched out from her body and threw themselves at the team. Most of them easily batted away the frozen bits; shields that were beginning to lose their effectiveness destroyed the rest.
“Brotherly Love,” Reno added, determined to bring the bitch down [2.
The floor beneath Jenova rose, being lifted by a Minotaur of great proportions. It was Sacred, the younger of the two Minotaur twins. He threw the portion of floor high into the air, almost beyond sight, which seemed improbable given where the battle was taking place.
Jenova’s screeching count could be faintly heard, “2…”
Suddenly, Safer, the older of the two Minotaurs, appeared at his brother’s side. They started a game of rock-paper-scissors, both of them choosing rock, but at the last moment, Safer changed his to paper. Sacred shook his head sadly as Safer laughed then picked up his larger brother with the ease of a child. A heightened breath later, and the younger flying into the departing rock with Jenova atop it.
Safer disappeared as Sacred smashed straight through the flooring, vanishing in the distance. The platform broke into fragments and began to fall. With a resounding crash, both the rock pieces and Jenova struck the ground.
A dust cloud resulted, hampering nearly everyone’s vision. A few even choked.
And yet, Jenova had survived the attack.
“1…” Her voice still reverberated throughout the air.
Cid growled angrily and hefted up the Venus Gospel, determined to take down the creature. Though he couldn’t see, he had a good guess as to where he could find her.
Before he could attack, however, a tentacle appeared out of the dust and slammed into his thigh. It pierced through his flesh, and blood dripped down his leg, warm and sticky.
“Fucking Jenova!” Cid cursed.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stick of dynamite, lighting the end on his cigarette and throwing it in the general direction of the main body. He swore heatedly as he brought down the end of his spear on the tentacle and cut it from his body, backing off with an evident limp.
A dark-headed shape darted past the pilot. Yuffie had cast Shadow on herself and was now using the technique to attack the monster without being caught. There was a sparkle of steel and then the sound of pain as Yuffie’s Conformer struck home.
The walls around the friends shimmered and then disappeared. Only Nanaki’s remained since it had been refreshed earlier in the battle. Aeris hurriedly went to recast the spell, but the countdown had been completed.
All at once, the friends found out why Ultima had failed on Jenova.
A flash of light nearly blinded them as the surrounding environment suddenly turned warm, too warm. Jenova was pulling energy from the very ground itself, and emerald cackling fire began to gather around the front of her body.
Before anyone could react, she attacked.
Long tendrils of green flame shot out from the sphere of energy collected in front of her. It struck each and every one of the team members with complete accuracy, even snaking around to hit those that were lithe enough to avoid it.
Screams pierced the air. They were being consumed by a poisonous fire, breathing in nothing but fiery air. Their skin crackled, and tendrils wrapped themselves around their victims as Jenova pumped more power into the magical attack.
Aside from Nanaki, everyone fell to their knees, writhing in agony. They were all but being burned from the inside out. Reeve fell over suddenly, eyes rolled up into the back of his head as his body could no longer stand the agony. Vincent let out a shriek of pain and clasped to his hands and knees, still arguing with something within him.
-You will fail! You will fall! I will kill them!- Chaos cackled, taunting Vincent as he pushed at the gunman’s subconscious, testing the bonds of the human’s willpower.
The wall around Nanaki protected him from the worst of the spell, and he knew he was the only one who could do anything. He pushed against the tendrils of flame surrounding him and flexed his claw. While Jenova was absorbed with the casting of the ultimate Ultima spell, he darted forward and sliced through her other tentacle, pulling back only far enough to slash a giant cut in the beast’s side.
Jenova roared as blood dripped down her fleshy underbelly. She thrust out the last of the spell, and the green flames disappeared.
The group literally littered the battlefield, most of them choking or gasping as they struggled to draw in air that wasn’t filled with fire.
Aeris fought her way to her feet, her body beginning to glow a faint red as her limit break consumed her. Jade eyes glowed brightly, and she raised her staff and held it out in front of her. Her eyelids fluttered as the fresh scent of spring filled the air, and a soft wind began to flow, washing away the smell of battle and blood. The beating of wings was a most welcome sound, and a party of angels appeared out of nowhere, descending on the party to heal and restore their energy.
‘Lis… you… me.’ A voice resounded from within Cloud’s mind.
He jumped even as the cooling sensation of being healed spread throughout his body. He shook his head, considering it an illusion of his pain. Either that or Sephiroth, and he wasn’t going to obey that bastard any longer.
Hephaestion noticed this internal struggle and mentally frowned. ‘Your promised is ignoring his other,’ he whispered to Aeris as he sent a tingle of healing energy swimming through her veins.
Her eyes took on a faint note of concern, knowing well Cloud’s fear of voices within his head. “He probably can’t hear you as I can,” she replied shakily.
There was a sparkle of light, and the angels disappeared. However, Reeve remained unconscious, their power only able to restore physical wounds. Reno crept over to his side, trying to awaken his lover as Vincent struggled to his feet, obviously still arguing with something.
It went without saying that the battle would have to continue without the three of them.
Yuffie stood angrily, bearing her Conformer. She flung it at the monster, watching as it arced and slashed across the flesh easily, cutting into the soft skin. Yet, no matter how much blood Jenova lost, the bitch would not go down. It was like there was something else powering her.
Or perhaps Jenova was simply determined to protect her “son.”
‘Iblion is calling to him. You will need him to defeat that creature,” Hephaestion insisted, his presence pressing tenaciously upon her mind, even as he mentally soothed her.
She bit her lip irritably before turning towards her lover, calling to him. “Cloud! Don’t ignore him! It’s not Sephiroth,” she blurted out. When mako blue eyes darkened in confusion, she struggled to find the right words. “Just listen!”
‘…I… oth… call… Ib…’ The words were still garbled as Cloud tried to push them from his mind. He heard Aeris’ voice and idly wondered how she knew he was hearing voices.
Frozen cones of water flew through the air once more.
Cid took one in the shoulder and went down. Nanaki nimbly avoided two and raced in for battle, still not doing any more damage than the thick slashes.
But suddenly, a bright, blue light surrounded Jenova. They were forced to shield their eyes from the luminescence, and when they could once again look, it was to see that she had been completely healed.
Was Jenova invincible?
“What the &#!” Cid cursed, his jaw gaping as he rolled across the ground to avoid a recently restored tentacle. He gasped as he turned onto his injured shoulder, leaving a streak of blood across the ground behind him.
‘You need an attack strong enough to take out every piece of her at once,’ Hephaestion pushed. ‘This is Jenova; her entire body is regenerative.’
Aeris shook her head violently, her head beginning to ache from Hephaestion’s pushing. “Listen to him!” she urged, her voice sharper than she intended.
“I can’t!” Cloud screamed in return. His hand went up to his head, fingers entangling viciously his spikes. “It’s just garbled nonsense!”
Just then, a cloud of poisonous gas flooded the air, an attack that Jenova had not yet leashed. The rolling, grayish-green, noxious substance clung to their bodies; they were forced to inhale the poison, causing a silence to fall over the battlefield. Much like a Marlboro’s breath, it caused every status effect imaginable, leaving only Cid and Reno left standing because of the Ribbons they had equipped.
The pilot dug into his pack, producing the only remedy he had thought to bring with him on this Kamiforsaken mission. The only problem remained was who to give it to, and his eyes searched the battlefield.
Reno was frantically probing through his pockets for a remedy to help Reeve. His Heal had broken in the fight earlier when he had slammed into the dirt. Yuffie and Vincent were unconscious nearby, while Nanaki was frozen in time, his claw ready for action. Aeris leaned heavily on her staff, a victim of both darkness and silence.
Cloud, a victim of silence and darkness himself, couldn’t see the pleading looks that Aeris was attempting to send his way. Not that it mattered because finally, the voice was clear.
‘Call for me, my beloved animus. Call for Iblion, and I will come.’
His fingers tugged frantically at his blond spikes. ‘What are you? Why are you in my mind?’
The voice was unfailingly patient, despite the urgency of the situation. ‘Does it matter at this point? Your friends are vulnerable to Jenova’s attack now.’
“5…” Jenova’s voice filtered through to Cloud’s conscious as he slowly began to panic.
Somewhere beyond him, Cid was running towards Aeris, believing she was the best to use his remedy on.
The voice continued, pulling Cloud’s attention away from a battle he could not see. ‘It will cast that attack, and it will destroy you.’
He groaned, though the sound went no further than the rumble in his chest. ‘I can’t speak. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t!’
‘That matters not. Say it! Say my name! Please, little brother!’ The words screamed in his mind, echoing and echoing until they filled his thoughts.
The ex-SOLDIER’s lips formed the name, though his vocal cords were locked. “Ib…lion,” he mouthed unable to truly speak.
Pain coursed through his body once more as both poison and the agony of petrification began to take over.
The ground unexpectedly trembled, though he couldn’t see what was going on.
Cid tripped over an unexpectedly protruding rock and stumbled, nearly losing his grip on the remedy.
Lightning appeared out of a thundercloud and struck Jenova dead on, causing blue energy to course over her body. Before the sparkles could dissipate, they leapt into the air and morphed into ice shards. The sharpened icicles pummeled Jenova, creating a ball of ice that turned solid for only a moment before it imploded, and the ice crashed to the ground and melted into a puddle within seconds. The water suddenly caught fire, sending giant sparks of flame onto Jenova. The snail-like monster had no time to react as she was then pummeled by fireballs.
The ground shook violently once again. Blocks of stone burst upwards, and the great boar, Kujata, emerged. He tossed his head violently as the ring in his nose swung back and forth. The boar stomped furiously, creating a wave of dirt and rock, which pummeled into Jenova. It created a mud mush that both hampered her movements and caught fire from the magical flame.
Jenova screamed, flopping around uselessly as Kujata roared angrily and charged, spearing her on his enormous tusks. It was a battle of great beasts, but it was obvious who would come out the victor.
The great boar reared up on his hind legs and stomped on Jenova’s shell, cracking it beneath his great weight. She crumpled, and Kujata snarled, spearing the creature on one of his sharp tusks. Blood spurted everywhere; far more than the team had managed to produce in their measly attacks alone.
Meanwhile, Cid shoved himself to his feet and darted across the ground, finally reaching Aeris. He rapidly poured the remedy down her throat, and the moment she was cured, the Ancient acted, quickly casting Heal in rapid succession.
Reno found his own remedy and coaxed it into Reeve’s mouth. With a cough, the ex-executive sat up but managed to swallow the tingling liquid.
In the interim, Kujata slammed Jenova down once again.
The creature collapsed. She had no more will to fight. Jenova twitched a last time and died, releasing a keening wail and forcing them to cover their ears.
Displaying a large roar of victory, Kujata vanished in an explosion of light, and suddenly, the ground beneath them shook.
That was their only warning before it collapsed, dropping each and every one of them into the depths of the crater.