Zack paced the floor restlessly stopping every now and then to do a squat or two. He seemed impervious to the vibrations of the crude truck, which they had been riding for hours. Sephiroth, on the other hand, was quietly leaning against one of the many wooden boxes on the far end of the truck. Lazily, Cloud rested his back against the metal walls. A feeling of nostalgia swept over him as the events of the past unfolded before his eyes.
He glanced at Sephiroth who always had a calm air about him. His black attire contrasted perfectly with his fair complexion and silver hair. A silent assassin, by anyone's standards. A sense of determination, anger and sadness were burning inside his eyes all at once.
"Heh.. The kind of guy you wouldn't want to get upset." Cloud whispered to himself though he knew deep inside that he would eventually have to fight this man who was once his role model. Just then, Sephiroth looked into his direction. Apparently, he had noticed that Cloud was staring at him for some time now. He gave a wicked smile and partly unsheathed his sword. This made the hairs on the back of Cloud's neck stand on end. The truth of his own words now weighed down upon him. "So Cloud? I believe this is your first actual combat mission. How does it feel?" Cloud breathed a sigh of relief. He had to avoid any violent confrontations for now until he found out why he was here in the first place. He felt reassured by the Shinra Helmet that shielded his face from Sephiroth's gaze. Sirea stood in a corner of the truck across Cloud also wearing a Shinra uniform. In the days that they had been travelling together, Cloud already felt at ease in her company.
It had only been a few days since they left the Shinra stronghold of Junon on a mission to eradicate some monsters who were dangerously close to the town of Nibelheim and to investigate the Mako Reactor in that area. During their travel by ship, Sirea would strike up a conversation with Cloud every now and then giving him a little nudge and saying something like "Hey do you like me?" her eyes blinking innocently. Cloud would then scratch his head or stare off into space trying to figure out how to respond to that. Then Sirea would break into giggles and sport a wide grin, satisfied with herself. They often talked about their surroundings or Cloud's adventures during his pursuit of Sephiroth. However, whenever they reached the topic of Aerith's death, Sirea would turn around and walk away silently. Asking her about her own past or anything related to that was also useless since she just flat out refused to answer. Already Cloud felt a kind of brotherly love for this woman who claimed to be his guide in this strange state of existence, which he was now living in. He grew accustomed to Sirea's childish ways. She had a certain radiance about her, which would probably make her hard to resist for most men if not for the Shinra soldier's uniform and helmet that she always wore. To Cloud, Sirea was like the little sister that he never had, whom he had to protect, though he knew that her skills in battle were probably equal to Sephiroth's. To add to that, Sirea was also the only one who seemed like a real person to him. She was the only one who knew of the purpose of his presence in this dreamlike state. All the other people around including Zack and Sephiroth were like faceless puppets in a play that has been shown a hundred times, bound to act out their role in the stage of fate time and again.
Despite all this, not a single day passed that he didn't think of Tifa. He would often talk to her in his thoughts while staring at the blue sky, telling her of the progress of his bizarre journey. He sometimes injected a little humor into his conversation like, "Hey Tif, whose boobs are bigger? Yours or Sirea's?" Then he'd imagine Tifa smiling like the devil while delivering a vicious roundhouse kick to the side of his head.
"Okay Cloud look sharp here we go." Zack's voice interrupted his train of thought. Cloud watched as Zack leapt off the truck followed by Sirea. He remembered that this is where they squared off against the green dragon. Picking up his rifle, he hastily ran to Sirea's side. Sephiroth had already hacked off one of the beast's huge claws when Cloud arrived. Sirea aimed her rifle and fired a burst at its head, yet bullets could do little against a dragon's tough hide. Instantly, the dragon turned toward its new tormentors and lumbered forward with amazing speed considering its size. The beast let out a deafening roar and took a swipe at them with one of its undamaged claws. Cloud and Sirea both jumped back to avoid the attack. Zack, who was also standing in the dragon's path, took the full force of the attack with his sword. The blow sent him flying several feet before violently crashing to the ground. Zack's bleeding body lay on the ground motionless, his eyes glazed over. Sirea ran towards him and cast a healing spell, showering his body with green light, his wounds immediately began to close and the blood disappeared but he remained still. "It's not good Cloud, I've already closed his wounds, but at this rate he'll need to wake up on his own otherwise ... " Sirea said while continuing to cast the healing spell on Zack. Cloud fired his rifle at the advancing green dragon, which now had murder in its eyes. Just then, sharp shards of ice began to form around the monsters body, tearing away at its skin. Cloud saw that Sephiroth had his eyes closed as if deep in thought. It was him who had cast the Ice3 spell. The ice dazed the dragon momentarily, Cloud eyed Zack's sword, which had landed only a few feet ahead of him. He knew that he had to make his move at this very moment while the monster was still recovering. Dropping his rifle, he made a dash toward the dragon grabbing the sword on his way. The dragon regained its senses and saw Cloud running toward it at deadly speed. It was clear even from the mind of an animal that this little creature armed with a sharp fang-like object was intent on killing it. In a last move of desperation, the dragon inhaled and spewed hot flames from its mouth and nostrils reducing to ashes everything in its path. Cloud rolled on the ground avoiding the deadly blaze but not without picking up a few burns despite the thick uniform that he wore. As he looked up, he saw the dragon's belly looming directly in front of him. "Level 2 sword technique Climhazzard!" and with that, Cloud buried his sword deep into the dragon's belly causing it to writhe in pain. The dragon's howl of agony woke up Zack just in time to see some soldier rising swiftly and slashing the dragon's body in half with his sword. Cloud landed safely on the ground in an acrobatic stance. He let out a sigh of relief as he saw the enemy's body split in half behind him and took off his helmet to wipe his sweat.
"Cloud! Wow! Cool move man! I can't believe you split that thing in two. Are you alright?" At that moment, Cloud looked deep into Zack's eyes, which were very much like his own, having acquired the same pale bluish color that came from mako infusion. He turned to Sephiroth who was cleaning his Masamune sword with a soft cloth. Sephiroth saw him and gave a nod of approval. "Good job Cloud." He heard the high-pitched female voice and saw Sirea smiling and giving him a thumbs-up sign. A realization hit him. The people in this past world weren't mere actors put here to play a role in a drama that already had a definite script. They were human beings just as he was and they were struggling to live at this very moment just like him and Sirea.
(Refer to Cloud's past in Chapter 6)
After that incident, things went on as they had happened before. The party made their way to Mt. Nibel to investigate the mako reactor with Tifa as their guide. Cloud kept his identity hidden from Tifa as he had done before. There was no need to involve the Tifa from this time. On their return to Nibelheim, Sephiroth began to act strangely and entered the Shinra Mansion, as predicted. This time, Cloud decided to take matters into his own hands. He had asked to borrow Zack's sword just moments before and Zack reluctantly agreed. Sirea said that he should be here only to witness the truth with his own eyes, yet he couldn't bear to experience this massacre a second time.
On that day, Cloud stood before the large abandoned mansion in Nibelheim. Still donning his Shinra costume, he held his weapon strongly, in anticipation of the fierce battle ahead. Sirea had made no move to stop him. So there he stood ... a lone figure standing defiantly against the hands of time and fate.
Chapter 5 | Fanfiction