Chapter 2: Dark Tidings

The Highwind now sped quickly over the Gold Saucer, the world's largest amusement park. Tifa and Cloud were looking intently at the huge structure, recalling all the fun times that they had shared there during their long journey. Everything would be coming to an end in an instant should they lose to Sephiroth. Both of them were aware that the final battle was drawing ever closer. The huge airship now moved past the town of sorrow, Gongaga. Tifa realized that these moments would be their last few hours together. She shut her eyes and covered them slightly with her left hand to shield it from the debris carried by the wind that suddenly grew stronger as they neared Red XIII's home, Cosmo Canyon.

"Look Cloud! Can you see it? Just a little bit further, it's our hometown, Nibelheim!" Cloud stared coldly at the town in the distance that had only given him bitter memories, apart from his short-lived childhood with his mother and Tifa. "I was a lot taller than you back then."

"Yeah ... " Cloud replied. "Still ... .we were never that close. I don't even understand why I made you give me that promise. Maybe it's because ... I felt a certain sense of importance as I talked to you. You never talked much to any of the kids in our neighborhood including me, but looking at you made me feel that I needed to protect you. Of course, I knew that you could take care of yourself. I guess I was using you as a scapegoat to help me forget the sorrow of my mother's death, but I was wrong. You are strong Cloud and that's why you were able to come back and keep your promise."

"I see." Cloud intoned. "Back then ...." (covered in-game.)

"On that day ... 12 years ago. We were young, innocent and helpless. So far from the way we are now. I would have been happier if we had lived only in that moment forever, but we must go forward now and face whatever fate has in store for us." Tifa was leaning on the rails of the airship and seemed devoid of energy as she said this. "That's not true Tifa" Cloud replied. "Our lives aren't at the mercy of fate. It's just like this ship we're riding, it can be pounded and battered over and over again by the fierce winds, rain or thunderstorms, but it never really surrenders itself, or the lives of its passengers to the mercy of the elements." He paused for awhile and then continued. "Tifa, do you know why I came back and kept my promise that time? It wasn't because I was strong, as you said before."

Tifa's eyes sparkled with life at his words. Mixed emotions of anxiety and enthusiasm coursed through her entire body. Her breathing became slightly heavier with anticipation. Finally, Cloud said hesitantly "I returned because ... " but before he could finish, the Highwind made a sudden turn that threw them both off their feet. The ship began to fly at great speed, erratically in multiple directions. They both held on to the metal bars of the guard rails. The ship's movements became more violent and some of its wooden floorboards were ripped off by the sharp gusts of wind generated by the swift movement of its own huge frame.

For at least five minutes the ship continued its deadly dance through the sky and then, it halted as abruptly as it had begun. Fortunately, the airship flew at a great height that kept it safe from any obstacles. If any of the people in the towns below had seen the Highwind's dodgy flight, they would have thought it some great winged beast injured from its hunt, for what was visible through human eyes looking up from the ground was a dark shadow no bigger than a lump of coal.

Tifa and Cloud steadied themselves on the tattered remains of the ship's wooden floor. "What was that all about?" asked Tifa. Then, suddenly the violent dance began again. To Tifa, who was still holding on tightly to the strong metal rails, it felt like an aerial earthquake, if that was possible. Again, the ship halted sharply, hurling wooden and metal parts overboard. " That was a close one. You all right Cloud?" but there was no answer and Tifa realized in horror that the sturdy metal bar that Cloud had been holding on to was now ripped from its base.

Awakened from his quarters by the sudden tremors, Barret got up from his bed and stepped hastily into the ship's bridge. His keen mind, which had experienced as many battles and tragedies as his sturdy, muscular physique, quickly surveyed the situation. Cid was marching slowly and deliberately around the room, shouting orders left and right to the ship's handful of technicians and to the rookie pilot controlling the ship. Vincent was standing on an isolated corner in front of the room staring blankly at the unsettling scenery and seemed impervious to the Highwind's restless movements. Red XIII (Nanaki) was seated quietly on the floor not far from Vincent. Cait Sith, was busy encouraging everyone and trying to use his knowledge of machines to aid the panic-stricken crew. "Hmm ... so that leaves Cloud, Tifa and Yuffie ... Hey Cid, what's goin on here?" Inquired Barret. "Why the hell should I tell YOU!" Roared Cid. He had stopped in his tracks and his facial expression indicated that he was annoyed that Barret had the nerve to ask him such a trivial question and thus delay him from doing his job of keeping the ship and its passengers safe as captain of the Highwind. Barret was surprised but not rattled by Cid's discourteous manner and his cold penetrating gaze. He saw no reason for such rudeness and felt that it was Cid's duty as the captain to keep the passengers well informed on the status of the ship. Red XIII felt the growing tension between the two well-built men. He stretched his long cat-like legs and lazily turned towards them, but he wasn't going to stop a fight if it was about to occur. He was just a spectator and it would be a welcome change of pace from the boredom of air travel. He wagged his fiery tail happily. "This is getting interesting." He muttered to himself.

"Hey ... ..urk! What's up with all this shaking and rolling? I'm getting even more airsick!" Said Yuffie, as she barged in pushing Barret and Cid aside to the surprise of everyone in the bridge. "Can't somebody do something about this flying disaster before I .... URP!!!"

"Shut up! Ya little thief! @#$& come waltzin in here like some sorta @#%#% Who do you think you are anyway?" Cid said gruffly. "Whaaaaat! What did you say old man!? You'd better speak more clearly or I might give you a shave, your nose hairs are sticking out and are muffling every monosyllabic word you say." Yufffie shot back forgetting her airsickness. "Sonuva$#!@# Why don't you butt out you materia-monger! This is between me and Cid!" Yelled Barret.

"This is getting even more interesting." Red XIII remarked to himself aloud, as he observed the three bickering. Then, mysteriously the ship stopped shaking, to the relief of the entire crew on board the Highwind. "Uh..excuse me everyone." Cait Sith interrupted. "WHAT!!!" yelled Barret, Cid and Yuffie. "Please take a look at the radar." He pointed his artificial stuffed toy arm at a large blip on the radar, that was being monitored by one of the technicians. "I've been studying the movement of the ship, ever since we lost control. We've been moving around quite a bit but it seems like an unknown energy is slowly drawing us closer to this point." "Hrumph, that area should be somewhere near Gongaga. Maybe ... a reaction to the Mako energy contained inside that reactor in the center of town." Cid pointed out. "I dunno man." Barret responded. "That reactor hasn't been used for a long time. It couldn't possibly contain enough energy to interfere with the controls of this ship."

"He..Hey! We're moving again!" Squealed Yuffie. The airship vibrated more ferociously this time, though it wasn't long before it again halted. "Well ... it seems to have settled down." Said Red XIII.

"Indeed it has." Vincent spoke in his inhumanly cold voice. "Man Vincent, You haven't spoken for so long that I forgot you had vocal chords. Or something equal to that anyway." Said Yuffie. "Barret, you said earlier that Gongaga's Mako reactor could not contain energy sufficient enough to dictate the passage of this vessel. If so, you underestimate the power of Mako. It is the lifestream of the planet, its energy does not diffuse as easily as other sources of power. " Vincent lectured while ignoring Yuffie. His shadowy gaze remained transfixed outside.

"I would also bring to your attention, that as I observed the outer surface through this window, Cloud fell off the ship not too long ago. "What!?" Everyone in the group excluding Vincent yelled in shock. "Cloud!!!!!" A shrill voice echoed from above. "That would be Tifa." Vincent added expressionlessly.

The air offered little resistance to Cloud's body, which had been traveling downwards rapidly for about ten seconds now. Tifa's outstretched hand was now nothing more than a speck on the Highwind. Her high-pitched cries grew fainter with distance. Cloud tried to scream, but the wind snatched his breath, so he closed his eyes to stem his fears and resigned himself to his fate. Time seemed to stand still and he thought of many things. His thoughts turned to Aerith

"Will she be there to greet me when I'm dead?" Then he thought of Tifa "......a sealed up secret...... wish......Tender memories...... no one can ever know.........I'm sorry Tifa." Cloud opened his eyes and as he did, he saw a small crystalline sphere. The sunlight filtered through it creating a miniature rainbow as it fell on his left eye and he saw that it was liquid. "A single teardrop? ... My promise! I have to try to keep it." He turned his body to face the world below and positioned himself for combat in defiance to his enemy. His opponent's teeth, the sharp jagged rocks of the massive earth, gleamed like some foul predator in anticipation of its cornered prey. Then, a white flash blinded his eyes and total darkness took over.

Chapter 3   |   Fanfiction