[Shattered] Dreams 64

Chapter Sixty-Four: Crimson Tears

“There’s no fuckin’ end to ’em,” Cid wheezed, taking another unconscious step backwards. For as many as he had killed, he was glad that the monsters dissolved to ash otherwise corpses would have surrounded them. They were odorous enough alive. To make matters worse, most of the enemies were kinds that Cid had never seen before, as if that bastard Hojo were still alive and experimenting. It was a sobering thought.

He speared another strange penguin-lion crossover creature as he snorted. “We’re never goin’ to get to Balaam if this keeps up!” he added for good measure.

Vincent rolled his eyes as he rapidly reloaded his gun, half-fearing that he might run out of ammunition. Not that many hadn’t fallen to his claw already. It had been a good decision to replace it on his hand and for once, looking at it did not bring the same revulsion as it did before.

“Leave the pessimistic proclamations to me,” the gunman teased.

Cid chuckled dryly as he wiped a thin stream of sweat from his brow, allowing a brief moment’s respite to sweep his gaze over the battleground nearest to them. He, Vincent, the Turks, and Nanaki had been separated from the others when the monsters attacked, but he assumed that they were fine. After all, Sephiroth wasn’t a man that went down easy and Archer was too damn stubborn to die.

When the lights had disappeared, only to be promptly followed by the sound of a large boulder scraping across the ground, the friends had immediately drawn as close to each other as they could, even though they couldn’t see each other in the darkness. Erebus had whispered to Vincent that they weren’t alone, and in the same moment that Sephiroth called for Suzaku to relight the torches, Asclepius had quickly cast a barrier over all of them, the pink and purple sparkles filling the air barely bright enough to pierce the gloom.

And when Suzaku’s flames revealed that they were surrounded, the only thing on their minds was a collective ‘oh shit.’ Behind them, it was plainly visible that a large boulder now blocked each of the three exits. Standing before them, a demi-deity and a huge group of the larger creatures were grinning maliciously, just waiting to be challenged.

There had been no warning before the monsters attacked and within seconds, they were in a battle for their lives against a certifiable horde of foes all hungry for blood and flesh-rending.

A low growl was Cid’s only caveat before he whirled to the right and sliced his spear through the air, efficiently gutting a monster he couldn’t even recognize. Another one of Hojo’s insane creations. Blood spattered to the ground but Cid had no time to contemplate it as he half-turned, tossing out a few random spells from his arsenal. The sound of Vincent’s gun was reassuring at his back.

To his right, Tseng was holding his own against the hordes. Twin blades flashed into the torchlight, one of Fire and one of Ice, simultaneously tearing through one beast after another. Reno was near to him, fluidly moving through the horde and zapping anything that came close. The redheaded Turk would have had a grim look to his face, were it not for the fact that he was smiling so broadly, almost appearing as if he were having fun.

“Ain’t nothin’ like the sneaky kill’em missions, is it, boss?” Reno called out, jabbing his Electro Rod into the gut of one creature and smirking when a smaller, weaker demon threw itself at him, only to ripple as it struck an invisible barrier. There was a hiss and a cry of pain as the monster was repelled over twenty feet away, crashing down into a beast that had been poised to strike Nanaki from behind.

Piece of cake.

Silvery eyes narrowed slightly as Tseng shook his head. “Concentrate on the battle, Reno,” he reprimanded in an even tone, twin blades flashing as he whipped the Tenken. He only half-watched as blood spattered to the by now gore-soaked ground, already whirling to face another opponent. It seemed they were endless.

“Survive this battle and perhaps then I’ll allow you to bore me with your version of a joke.”

A bark of laughter escaped Reno’s mouth. “So, he does have a sense of humor, yo.” But the chuckles died in his throat when a sudden chill raced up his spine, sending his entire body into a cold shudder. His skin prickled and fear spiked through him, a fear that was not his own. At the same time, a cry of terror filtered through to Reno’s ears.

He could feel it.

Reno whipped around, aquamarine eyes automatically searching for his anima, only to widen in shock when he found her pinned beneath a huge creature, twice the size of a Behemoth and equally deadly. His fingers tightened around his weapon as another sharp stab of fear assailed him and Reno sucked in a deep breath. Behind him, Tseng suddenly whirled around.

“Asclepius!” The Wutaiian cried, in a voice that was not his own, startling Reno with its intensity. “My child-” His words cut off as he suddenly gasped and grabbed his own head, nearly doubling over in pain.

Reno jerked and swiveled, stabbing his Electro Rod through a monster that thought it would attack his boss from behind. As electricity jerked through the beast, he pulled his weapon free and turned back towards the cry of fear he had heard.

The urgency in Tseng’s voice called to the dread that resonated within Reno and the Turk started forward, body on automatic as he idly stabbed at a monster that sought to get in his way. His eyes were trained on the beast, huge maws snapping at Asclepius’ neck as the bubbly deity writhed about beneath it, in a desperate attempt to remain uninjured.

But before Reno could get any more than three steps, a black blur whirred past him, nearly knocking him aside. He gaped as Erebus appeared in a swirl of black cloaks out of seemingly nowhere, raging like a rampant bull. He slashed through three beasts that stood in his way without a second glance, storming across the battlefield until he reached Asclepius.

The scythe in his hand rose and fell quickly, glinting eerily in the orange torchlight. The large beast didn’t even stand a chance as Erebus grabbed Asclepius’ arm and dragged her out from under the monster, jerking her protectively against his body with one arm. She didn’t bother to squirm in his hold, looking visibly relieved as he ruthlessly consumed the beast in a cloud of swirling blackness.

The monster roared and spat, straining against the clinging tendrils of the overshadowing dark. Erebus didn’t spare it another glance, his heart still pounding madly in his chest from fear for her. He turned away from the dying beast, finally feeling as if he could release Asclepius. He spun her around to face him, both of his hands clenched tightly to her shoulders.

“You are defense, Asclepius,” he snarled, feeling his entire body trembling from the force of the fright that had wracked him. “You don’t belong here.”

Garnet eyes opened impossibly wide. “What?” she demanded, hands curling into fists at her side.

He shook his head. “Just… go somewhere safe. The battlefield is not for you,” he suggested angrily.

She stared at him for a moment, glaring angrily though he could see tears shimmering in her eyes. For a moment, his resolve faltered and he opened his mouth to apologize or something.

“Fine,” she spat, her jaw set with anger. “I’ll only help when Reno calls for me. Like a good, little girl.” Before he could say anything, she promptly disappeared in a sparkling twinkle.

He regretted his harsh words in that instant but there was nothing he could do at the moment. He would have to explain to her later, somehow mollify her anger but for the moment, he would return to battle. Erebus took a deep breath and summoned up his scythe once more, turning to rake his gaze over the battlefield. His eyes caught sight of Vincent and Cid, working their way through a small contingent of Razor Weeds with their goal obviously set for the exit and the two demi-deities blocking it.

A Behemoth came pounding across the bloodstained ground, heading straight for Erebus. He ignored it, sending another spray of consuming darkness towards the creature before he hurried across the ground, making his way to Vincent’s side. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the Turk finding his way to them as well, leaving Nanaki and Reno to cover their back. A wise strategy.

“Byakko,” Erebus hissed as he drew up beside Vincent. His gaze swept over the deity next to the demi-human form of Byakko, immediately recognizing the others. “Lionel is to his left, and the one in the red overcoat is Lancelot, they are both Arthur’s knights.”

Vincent nodded, cocking the Hell Fire with smooth movements as his claw clicked at his side. On his other side, Cid growled low in his throat, hands tightening on his spear.

“Don’t matter who they are,” the pilot muttered, eyes narrowing with fury. “We take them all out.”

A deep chuckle echoed around them, mocking them as their attention turned towards Byakko, standing before the huge boulder that blocked their exit. Byakko was in his humanesque form, fur sprouted all over his body with flashing crimson eyes. He had his arms crossed over his broad chest, and gleaming claws, much like Nanaki’s weapon, glittered on each hand. He laughed again as their faces darkened with anger.

Byakko sneered. “Well, aren’t you familiar?” he scoffed, flicking one clawed hand at them as his gaze zeroed in on the furious pilot. Beside him, Lionel and Lancelot stared with dead expressions, not even blinking as they gripped tightly to their weapons, a staff and a spear respectively.

“What the hell’re you talking about?” Cid demanded, the sounds of the battlefield behind him barely filtering through to his conscious. He trusted that Nanaki and Reno would watch his back, however.

The demi-deity laughed scornfully before flicking a wrist, causing his subordinates to attack without warning. Something unholy glinted in Lancelot’s brown eyes as he launched himself at Tseng. The Turk quickly brought up his swords in retaliation and the deity’s spear met it with a fierce clang as Tseng was pushed backwards, almost tripping over a corpse. Some of Hojo’s creations didn’t dissolve like the others, leaving them to wonder what the foul scientist had been up to.

“Tseng!” Vincent yelled over his shoulder, already firing several rounds into some of the lesser demons that were flying over him.

The Wutaiian shook his head, vigorously defending against the rapid-fire attacks as his brain pounded in his skull, words trying to break through his mental barriers. “Don’t worry about me!” he ordered through clenched teeth. “Take that bastard down.” He dug his boots into the ground, stopping his retreat and darting forward, instantly going on the offensive against Lancelot.

Vincent nodded in understanding, turning his attention back towards the fight in front of him as Lionel threw himself into battle with Erebus, with little regard for his own safety. His eyes were dead, lifeless, as he moved quickly enough to tear a hole in the other deity’s robes, sending pieces of the onyx fabric fluttering to the ground. Erebus’ eyes flashed as he growled and retaliated, thrusting out a clawed hand and grabbing Lionel’s arm.

The man didn’t even scream as his clothing melted away and his flesh bubbled up beneath Erebus’ touch. He didn’t flinch or pull away, merely jerked his other arm forward and shoved his staff into Erebus’ shoulder. The cracking of bone filled the air as Erebus growled in pain, wrenching angrily on Lionel’s arm in revenge. The knight stumbled forward, succumbing to the greater strength as the two began to grapple in earnest, nearly bowling over Cid who was left standing alone, facing down Byakko.

Byakko snarled and swiped at the pilot with one of his massive metal claws. Quickly, Cid stepped to the side and blocked the blow with his spear. Another arm came down, chopping down hard into his shoulder and nearly causing him to drop his weapon. Cid whirled out from beneath Byakko’s arm and attempted to cast a Fire but to his surprise, it sputtered and died, the materia flaring brightly once before cracking clean down the middle and falling out of his spear.

Blue eyes blinked in shock and Byakko wasted no time in waiting for him to regain his senses. In a flash, he was behind Cid, moving abnormally fast, and slicing a claw across Cid’s back. He tore easily through the pilot’s clothes, ripping into the tender flesh beneath and causing Cid to stumble forward, gritting his teeth against the pain.

He whirled on his heels, quickly regaining his balance as his jabbed his spear behind him with a twirl of his fingers. Great luck managed to land the blow on Byakko’s shoulder, sending tufts of white hair into the air and scraping deeply into the flesh. Cid smirked but Byakko was not pleased.

The demi-deity immediately snarled and grabbed the weapon, pulling it from Cid’s arms with his greater strength and tossing it aside where it clattered uselessly to the ground. With his opponent weaponless, Byakko grinned maliciously.

“This is why I abandoned you,” he taunted as the pilot threw a clumsy fist at him, clipping across the cheekbone. “Humans are weak.” Byakko blocked the next fist easily, countering with a quick move that Cid smoothly sidestepped, managing not to trip on the huge rock beneath his foot.

“What the fuck are you talkin’ bout?” Cid exclaimed in return, lashing out with a boot and slamming it into the busily chortling deity’s belly.

Byakko grunted and pounded forward, his claws rapidly wrapping around the pilot’s neck. He squeezed with little ceremony as Cid gasped and clawed at the hand. Talons snapped through Byakko’s fingers, digging into the flesh of Cid’s neck and drawing red ribbons of blood, causing the blond to hiss in pain as he flailed with his other foot.

Spots were just beginning to dance in front of his eyes when a gunshot echoed through the air, ripping through Byakko’s arm and causing him to drop Cid in surprise. The pilot dropped to his hands and knees, gasping as he coughed and struggled to draw air into his lungs. Byakko whirled in anger, blood dripping bright red to the ground as he glared at Vincent, whose expression was equally cold. Another gunshot rang out but Byakko was prepared for this one and he deflected it easily with his claw.

“Get away from him,” Vincent demanded, cocking his gun once more as his claw hand began to glow with the beginnings of a spell.

Byakko laughed and idly licked the blood from his wound with one rough tongue. “And if I don’t?” he mocked, crimson eyes flashing.

On the ground, Cid could feel blood streaming through his fingers and dripping steadily to the ground from his many wounds. But he wasn’t going to stand aside and let Vincent fight on his own either. He quickly swept his gaze across the ground, seeking out his spear and finally spotting it several feet away, half-buried under a corpse. He scrabbled across the ground towards it as another gunshot echoed through the air.

Byakko turned into a blur of cold air as he disappeared from in front of Vincent, only to reappear behind him just as quickly. The gunman was prepared for that move however, and turned, squeezing off another round before Byakko could even manage to raise an arm. The bullet grazed Byakko’s neck as a rock threw Vincent off balance, but it wasn’t wasted as it kept on going, sinking directly into the forehead of a goat-headed beast standing behind Byakko.

The demi-deity roared, slashing out with a claw, only to be deflected by Vincent’s golden claw, finally finding a use for the thing he had once despised. Byakko smirked, revealing sharpened canines as he reached to attack with his other hand, only to find it blocked by a reeling Cid, who was rapidly losing blood.

The Hell Fire was raised as Vincent balanced it on his arm, cocking it one smooth motion. Crimson eyes widened but the ex-Turk merely smirked as he fired with little warning. The bullet flew true, but missed when Byakko suddenly disappeared, using the same trick as before. The lovers turned, eyes frantically scanned the battlefield, looking for their opponent.

Tseng was still locked in a deadly duel with his opponent but he appeared to be winning, with very little injuries. Of Erebus, they saw no sign, not that Vincent was particularly worried. He was certain that the demi-deity could take care of himself.

A pig-faced creature chose that moment to attack and Vincent spun, quickly firing a round into the beast’s chest. Byakko suddenly made his reappearance, grinning maliciously as he swirled to existence behind Cid, sending a chilly burst of ice across the pilot’s flesh. A clawed hand grabbed the pilot’s spear in the same moment as fangs clamped down on Cid’s shoulder, biting through flesh and bone without any effort.

Cid cried out in pain, his entire body seizing up as his fingers reflexively tightened around his spear. His head throbbed with pain and words began to enter his mind in a hissing, taunting voice. ‘You think I’d want to be connected to someone as pitiful as you?’ the voice jeered, accompanied by a rasping mocking laughter.

Drawn by the sound of the pilot’s cry, Vincent whirled and shot again, rapidly reloading the Hell Fire as he stormed closer. The bullet scraped across the beast’s head, taking off one feline ear. Grey eyes flashed with fury as the bullets slid into the chamber and as he cocked the gun to fire again, Vincent suddenly disappeared in a flurry of fur and teeth. Some strange type of hybrid knocked him to the ground and Cid couldn’t even see his lover beneath the bulk.

“Vince!” Cid snarled, jerking to get free. He could feel the slimy warmth of Byakko’s blood dripping onto him even as his own slithered down his arm. Fueled by concern for his lover, he ripped his shoulder free from Byakko’s fangs, not caring for the tearing of bone as he jerked his spear free from the deity’s grasp. He half-turned, gritting his teeth against the piercing agony, and moving so fast that even Byakko was surprised.

His spear pierced through a white-fur covered gut in spray of blood and gore, a sickening crunch echoed as the metal tip emerged from the other side.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ bout,” Cid growled, twisting the Venus Gospel within Byakko and causing the demi-deity to grunt in pain. “But I ain’t the one dying here either.”

He jerked out the spear and slashed it across Byakko’s throat before the demi-deity could even react. Crimson eyes flashed with continued ridicule even as he met his death with a fanged smirk. The white demi-deity dissolved in a cloud of greyish dust and ash, presumably to return to Elysium.

Grunting, Cid’s spear fell from his nerveless fingers as he immediately slumped, clutching one hand to his wounded shoulder. He panted, trying desperately to draw in a breath. He couldn’t feel his injured arm and blood seemed to trickle from his entire body, so thick that he left bloody footprints in his wake as he immediately turned to find his lover.

Sky blue eyes raked over the battlefield, catching sight of Vincent. He released a sigh of relief at that, noting that his dark-haired lover was perfectly unharmed. Cid grimaced as another sharp stab of pain shot through him and he turned towards Vincent, only to suddenly drop to his knees when a magic attack struck out of nowhere, catching him unaware. Lightning hit him in the dead center of his back, short-circuiting everything inside of him.

A gunshot echoed in its wake.

Already weakened from blood loss, his knees hit the ground as his vision immediately darkened. The world began to spin rapidly and the urge to vomit rose up in his throat. He teetered forwards, barely able to keep himself up with the one working hand as he only dimly registered that someone had called his name.

Then hands were on his shoulders, forcing him to raise his bleary gaze and stare directly into worried grey eyes. “Cid,” Vincent murmured fearfully. “Oh gods, you’re bleeding everywhere.” One hand frantically dug into his pockets, trying to find a materia or a potion or something. But his hands were trembling, he wasn’t moving fast enough, and Cid was still bleeding.

Sky blue eyes were unfocused as they looked at him, and Cid’s breathing was harsh, labored. Vincent raised his gaze, looking for help. Tseng was just finishing off his opponent; the knight dissolving in grey ash but luckily, Erebus was heading his way. The battle had been won, most of the minor creatures defeated around them. The exit was now unguarded.

Suddenly, Cid went limp in his arms, lost to unconsciousness and Vincent’s heart stopped. Frantically, he felt for a pulse, pressing his unclawed hand to Cid’s neck as he summoned up his only Life to mind. He didn’t breathe again until he located the pulse, weak and slow, but there.

Hopefully, Erebus would be able to heal him somehow.

Hopefully, they would come out of this alive.


Sephiroth blocked Caradoc’s heavy sword with one hand, effortlessly continuing the duel. He absentmindedly wiped sweat from his brow with his free hand as deadened eyes stared at him over the glint of their interlocked weapons. He stared back just as resolutely before he allowed his eyes to flicker to the other body that was lying on the ground. Dinadan was slowly beginning to rise, not yet defeated and in the back of his mind, he wondered where both Zack and Gilgamesh were.

Luckily, his duel with the two demi-deities seemed to be an unspoken warning to the other minor monsters to stay away. At least, for the moment anyways.

Caradoc shifted on the edge of his vision and his eyes darted back to the duel. The demi-deity pushed forward mindlessly, his face completely impassive. There was a brief interchange of power between them before Caradoc surged forward, ending the stalemate.

The former General recoiled quickly, regaining his momentum with practiced ease and slashing his sword forward. His blade nicked Caradoc across the arm, drawing a slow upwelling of blood as Caradoc swung at him. Their swords met in a bone-jarring clang, blades scraping on one another. Gritting his teeth, Sephiroth waved his free hand, tossing a Poison at Caradoc effortlessly.

The knight blinked in confusion before he began to cough, a greenish tinge taking over his complexion. Caradoc stumbled backwards and in the distraction, Sephiroth pressed forward, taking the initiative. Until his senses flared to life, sending a trickle down his spine. On instinct, he suddenly leapt backwards in one smooth motion, just managing to avoid the axe that had come screeching through the air, aiming for his head.

It appeared that the spell he had thrown at Dinadan had not held out for long.

Empty grey eyes, all too similar to Valentine’s, stared back at him unemotionally as Dinadan viciously slashed at him with the battle axe. The noise of their blades meeting in succession was lost to the din of battle. Then something flickered across the placid facade before him. Sephiroth’s eyes widened as he hastily constructed a shield around himself, moments before the first arcs of wind daggers slammed into him.

He was pushed backwards by several feet from the force of the close-range magic but he dug his heels into the ground and tightened his fingers around the hilt of the Masamune. He darted forward, moving far faster than he even knew he could, and found himself behind Dinadan, primed to strike.

The demi-deity whirled to defend and their weapons met once more with a jarring blow. There was an audible crack as a slight fracture split across one head of Dinadan’s axe. The deity’s brow twitched before he retracted, spinning on one heel to strike again. Sephiroth snarled, irritated by the games they were unintentionally playing as he ferociously countered, thus beginning another rapid exchange of blows that would have been difficult to follow by anyone else’ eyes.

A slight presence impressed on the back of his mind and he knew without looking that Gilgamesh was near.

(Dinadan had always been a little reckless.) Gilgamesh chuckled within Sephiroth’s mind, sounding slightly breathless. (More of a hack-n-slash, much like Zack, than any real strategy.)

‘Lucky me,’ Sephiroth responded with a roll of his eyes as he twisted his body to the side to avoid a jab from the axe, easily countering the somewhat desperate move.

Their blades locked as Gilgamesh laughed again. (Ah, nothing like a good solid fight to make-)

Sephiroth’s honed battle senses flared to life and he shoved all his strength against Dinadan, forcing the man several paces backwards before he spun on a heel, Masamune raised to defend. Until a blade, much larger than his, flashed out of the darkness, intercepting Caradoc’s attack with ease. Zack threw a smirk at him over his shoulder.

“Miss me?” the spiky-haired man teased as he turned back towards Caradoc, forcing his strength into his arms and pushing against his opponent with a great burst of muscle.

Caradoc didn’t stand a chance.

Smirking, Sephiroth returned his attention to Dinadan, summoning up an Ultima. With just one battle now, he was certain it would be over quickly. As the axe-wielder rushed at him, he released the green fire magic, watching as it engulfed Dinadan when he didn’t even bother to block it. Sephiroth grimaced as the Ultima consumed him, yet Dinadan still pressed forward.

On the edge of his vision, he caught sight of Zack dispatching Caradoc with a right, uppercut and he gripped the Masamune tightly. Moss green eyes looked into Dinadan’s expression as he raised his blade and slashed it across Dinadan’s chest, slicing him at least several inches deep. It was enough to kill him. Something flashed in the deity’s eyes, it might have even been gratitude, before he crumpled to the ground, only to dissolve into an ashy cloud.

“Not bad,” Zack commented, sidling up beside him and idly wiping soot from his brow.

Sephiroth snorted. “I see you managed to watch your own back for once,” he commented, idly scanning the battle as he cast a quick spray of Ultima over a cluster of demons. The enemies’ numbers were dwindling, nothing at all like the hordes that had attacked at the beginning of the battle.

They were winning.

Beside him, Zack rolled his eyes, swiping a stream of sweat from his brow. “Makes you think about the good old days, doesn’t it?” he questioned, rolling his shoulders to ease his aching muscles and flexing his fingers around the hilt of the Zanken. “Admit it, Seph. You’re loving it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sephiroth responded reprimanding, twisting his body to find the rest of his fighting crew. However, in the smoke and ash that permeated the air as well as the fact that several torches had been snuffed out during the battle, he couldn’t see anyone. Cries of pain and the clash of weapons were both too loud for his abnormal senses to hear as well. He had no choice but to trust in their abilities, and believe that the subtle surges in power he kept feeling belonged to their side and not the other.

A strange whistle, unique to the sounds of battle, was his only warning before four forms emerged out of the smoky haze, converging on he and Zack. The best friends were forced to leap backwards to avoid a spray of flame in their direction, Zack nearly losing some of his spikes. Instant recognition dawned in Sephiroth’s features for one of the forms.

“Balaam,” he hissed, as he and Zack stared down their four demi-deity opponents. They began to circle around each other in slow movements, two of Balaam’s cronies holding the same dead-eyed look as the others that Sephiroth had fought, and they were human… or human-looking.

The coal-eyed demon laughed, idly examining the talons on his claws. “Are you enjoying the trap that I have created for you?” he questioned mockingly, a trident clutched in his other hand.

(Stall them, Sephiroth,) Gilgamesh suddenly muttered in his mind. (I am almost there and I will handle Owain and Gawaine.)

The former General nodded mutely, agreeing internally as he returned his attention to his enemies.

“We took great pains to create it for you,” the woman on the left side of Balaam was purring, her eyes roaming over Sephiroth and Zack appraisingly. “Though it is a pity that we have to ruin such pretty faces.”

“Enough, Raidne,” Balaam snarled, shooting her a quieting glance. “Leave your seductions to worthier creatures. These mortals are not worth that much mind.”

Zack’s eyes narrowed to icy blue slits. All look of teasing was gone from his expression as the serious SOLDIER finally came out to play. Even Balaam looked a little nervous.

“You’ll regret ever starting this damned war,” Zack hissed, boot sliding with a scrape over the blood-stained, rocky ground beneath him.

“Will I now?” Balaam shot back.

An eyebrow twitched as they stared each other down.

Then a red cloak fluttered out of the darkness. One of the knights at Balaam’s side abruptly turned as his senses flared, moving to block Gilgamesh’s sword. The God of Destruction was unperturbed, quickly slicing at him with another one of his blades. They were quickly locked in a deadly duel, leaving only three others for Sephiroth and Zack.

Raidne smirked and stepped back as Balaam threw out an arm, casting the first spell. Zack darted forward, past the magic, heading straight for the other knight with the dead stare, leaving Balaam and Sephiroth to face off. Raidne seemed disinclined to join the battle, standing off to the side and admiring her gaudily painted fingernails.

Clang!

Balaam’s spear grazed past Sephiroth’s cheek, drawing a thin line of blood and the former General retaliated quickly, ducking under the long reach before Balaam could retract the spear and slicing upwards at his opponent. The Masamune caught in Balaam’s wings, tearing through the velvety flesh and nearly lodging in the bone of a joint.

Sephiroth didn’t waste any time in trying to pull it free. As Balaam growled and slashed at him with a claw, Sephiroth twisted his body to the side and slammed a fist into his gut. He received a grunt for his efforts before Balaam chopped a hand down on his arm with enough force to leave a bruise. He clenched his teeth against the throbbing pain however and shifted his weight, kicking upwards with unnatural speed and snapping one of his boots against Balaam’s knees.

There was a very audible crack as Balaam howled and staggered backwards, finally separating their interlocked forms. It was enough to release the Masamune from its trap in Balaam’s wings. Panting softly, energy starting to wane after so many subsequent battles, Sephiroth wiped sweat from his brow and blood from his cheek. He flexed his fingers around the hilt of Masamune before suddenly jerking backwards to avoid the long reach of Balaam’s trident which was even longer than the seven feet of Masamune. The deity had recovered far quicker than he had expected.

His feet skittered across the ground and he stumbled, boot catching on an overly large rock. Balaam grinned maliciously at this foible and pressed forward, swinging his weapon to the right and catching Sephiroth in the side. The former General grunted as pain raced through his chest but slammed his arm down anyways, locking it around the pole.

He locked his elbow and jerked, trying to yank it from Balaam’s grasp even as he regained his balance. He darted forward, refusing to relinquish his grip on Balaam’s weapon and attacked, slashing the Masamune through the air. Balaam growled and threw up an arm for defense.

A bright splash of blood spilled into the air.

Sephiroth smirked, pulling the pole even closer to his body.

“Is that the best you can do?” Balaam taunted, coal eyes flashing with crimson fire. He dug his foot into the ground and cast a spell with his free arm.

A stream of flame, the same that they had been forced to avoid earlier, hit Sephiroth full force in the chest, sending him flying backwards. It was only with great effort that he retained hold of his sword as he hit the ground several feet away, surviving thanks to the shield he had cast earlier which was reaching its limits. He smacked into the rocky battleground, his entire body jarring from the force of the magic.

With a thud, Zack landed beside him, grunting as he rolled over on his side and coughed audibly. “Something is off with that guy,” Zack grunted as he pushed a hand into the ground and struggled to rise to his feet. “He didn’t even wince when I nearly cut off his arm.”

Sephiroth gritted his teeth as he gingerly rose as well, both males staggering to their feet and standing back to back. Their opponents began to emerge out of the darkness, this time with Raidne standing at their backs.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sephiroth commented. “Just defeat him.”

Zack nodded, flexing his fingers around the Zanken and staring resolutely at his approaching opponent.

Until Raidne stepped forward. “It’s a concoction of my own,” she informed them as she spread the fingers of one hand towards them. “Have a little taste.”

A spray of gas, a discouraging, sickly purple color surged towards them, far faster than they had expected and immediately surrounded their forms. They coughed and sputtered in the poison, dizziness striking so suddenly that they doubled over. Zack immediately dropped to one knee, balling his hand up into a fist and punching the ground.

A wave of power rippled through the stone, sending jagged pillars of rock jutting up from the ground and heading straight for Raidne. It was too fast for her to avoid and it struck her immediately, sending the seductress flying into the air, far away from the battlefield.

The knight and Balaam took that moment to attack, having circled around their opponents. Sephiroth and Zack stood back to back, locked in a deadly duel with their opponents, still trying to blink the poison from their eyes. The exchange of blades among the four fighting males would have been amazing to see, could anyone actually follow the rapid clangs.

Then, a stroke of luck.

Zack’s opponent stumbled and Zack took full advantage of that. He shoved a palm into the knight’s chest, striking with the same force as a boulder. The other male went flying backwards, digging furrows into the ground. Sephiroth barely noticed this on the corner of his senses as he hastily blocked a blow from Balaam, unconsciously taking a step backwards. Balaam sneered and slashed at him with one of his claws and Sephiroth twisted out of the way, whirling on one heel to slice upwards with the Murasame, cutting the winged deity across the waist.

Suddenly, an invisible weight thumped Sephiroth in the chest, feeling as if he had been struck with a hammer. He gasped, faltering in his stance as behind him, Zack let out an unearthly screech of agony, abruptly dropping to his knees. The Zanken clattered to the ground as his hands gripped his head, pain wracking his entire body. There were voices, millions of them, screaming inside his head and it felt as if they were tearing his brain apart.

Sephiroth turned towards Zack, fearing that his best friend had been injured. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw the naked despair on his companion’s face and that tears streamed from his clenched eyes. Tears that looked eerily like blood.

Zack’s opponent appeared out of the darkness then, aiming a sword for his defenseless friend and Sephiroth moved forward to defend him. Fenrir flashed out of nowhere, intercepting the attack. Anger gleamed in the deity’s eyes as he growled and shoved the knight backwards.

“Stay away from him,” Fenrir hissed.

Pain lanced through the former General’s thigh in that moment, distracting him from Zack’s fate. He growled as his entire leg throbbed, turning to find Balaam sneering maliciously, twisting the trident in the wound. With a snarl, Sephiroth spat a curse at the deity and slashed his Masamune through the air, smacking the trident away.

‘Idiot!’ Gilgamesh hissed in his mind. ‘Concentrate on the battle!’ Sephiroth shot him an internal glare as felt the warmth of the blood snaking down his thigh as his leg trembled, but he pushed it away. He couldn’t think about that. He needed to defeat Balaam and see to Zack, who was still trembling and weeping on the ground.

Balaam laughed just then, at the determination in his eyes. “All mortals are weak,” he mocked.

It was the wrong thing to say, if there had been anything right to begin with.

Sephiroth growled, an unholy rage filling him to the core until he could see nothing but blood staining his vision. His entire body tingled as he felt the first rush of magic, and to his surprise, the Masamune suddenly burst into the greenish flame of an Ultima, though it still felt cool to the touch. He stalked forward, rage blossoming inside of him as Balaam’s eyes widened in shock.

“You… but how did you?” Balaam couldn’t even finish his question, fear suddenly reflecting in his gleaming eyes.

“This ends now!” Sephiroth growled, his entire body drawn taut with the urge to strike as quickly as possible. Balaam backpedaled from him quickly, terrified at the demonic rage that he was practically exuding from his pores.

His taloned feet turned on a rock and he tumbled to the ground, lying all too painfully onto his wings. They crumpled beneath him, twisting painfully and Balaam grunted. Sephiroth swung his blade, putting the tip of the Masamune directly beneath the deity’s chin. Coal eyes looked up at him.

“You wouldn’t strike an enemy that’s already down,” Balaam snarled, trying to reign in his dignity. “Isn’t it against some hero’s code?”

Sephiroth sneered. “Unlucky for you, I haven’t always been a hero.” He jerked his arm, slashing through Balaam’s neck in one easy swipe. Blood fanned out across the ground, joining the other gore and muck.

The demi-deity gurgled before he started laughing. “You’ve only killed a pawn, Mr. Anti-Hero.” He sneered. “Balaam will destroy you in the ennnnnnd.” The last word was dragged out as his body suddenly flattened, not dissolving like the others before acting as if air had been let out of a balloon. His laughter continued to echo around him.

Sephiroth’s senses flared, a trickle racing up his spine and he turned to see Raidne standing over the fallen form of his best friend. “Zack!” he cried, whirling towards her. He wasted no time in darting forward and cutting her down, feeling little regret as she dissolved away in a cloud of black ash.

Her smirk was the last thing he saw as the Ultima flame extinguished from his sword and a strange feeling of something leaving him wracked his body. He blinked, as if coming out of a dream, finding that his body was trembling. On the edge of his conscious, he barely registered that Gilgamesh had already destroyed the other knight but he was more concerned about Zack.

He dropped to the ground next to the prostrate SOLDIER, hands trying to shake him awake. “Zack,” he urged, realizing belatedly that his own fingers were trembling. “Zack!”

But he didn’t even moan.

“What happened?” Gilgamesh asked, dropping to one knee beside him. He laid one hand on the mortal’s forehead.

Sephiroth shook his head as he scooped Zack into his arms. “I don’t know… but we have to get out of here. Get back to Midgar and-” He paused, noticing that Gilgamesh was shaking his head. “What?” He could feel himself paling by the second, a cold fear gripping his heart at the look in Gilgamesh’s eyes.

“It is no longer there,” the demi-deity replied grimly. “Midgar has fallen.”

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