Rating: PG, mostly for violence. Contains spoilers for Duodecim. Probably also helps if you've played the 6th and 7th reports.
Summary: If Cloud killed Chaos in the twelfth cycle...
Author’s Note: Second part, up a day early as I'm trying to resist the urge to get myself stuck in a cycle (see what I did there) of rewriting. New canon details have made themselves aware to me, and while I'm incorporating as many as I can, some inconsistencies will have to remain. :( Dammit, Square, so many layers of lies in this world! (I can't wait until I finally unlock that last report to find what new bombshells await.)
Also, I am remembering why I try to avoid stories with big, decentralised casts. I do not handle them well.
The Emperor, Cloud of Darkness, ExDeath, and Ultimecia all stood before the goddess.
“Hmph.” The Emperor raised his staff. “I’d thought you lot would have had better things to be doing than guarding your precious deity.” He’d expected one guard – not three. Had he known, he might have risked bringing Jecht as well. No matter. The four of them, and their army of remaining manikins, would be more than enough.
The young rebel who had so long been a thorn in his side grit his teeth and tightened his grip around his axe. Fool though he was, he knew they were outgunned. Cosmos sat at his back on her white marble settee, watching the proceedings with a guarded solemnity. So very different from their god, but no less dangerous.
An enormous set of sky-blue armour stepped into his peripheral vision. ExDeath. “This will be your only warning. Stand aside, foolish mortals, and we may spare you.”
A lie, naturally. But better if they could neutralise Cosmos without expending strength on her protectors.
“As though we’re going to sit back and let you do whatever you want!” The young mimic brandished his own weapon.
Cloud of Darkness laughed, energy crackling around her fingertips. “We shall destroy you!”
“You are outnumbered,” Ultimecia drawled. “And even should you defeat us, the manikins would tear you apart.”
“We’ll see about that!” The white-haired rebel growled, drawing a broadsword from his collection as well.
It was pointless to entreaty with those idealists who sold their hearts to the light after all. “Hmph, so be it.”
He raised his staff, and let the first spell form - a glowing orb of blue fire. Beside him, the air filled with dark arrows, warped space, and gnashing yellow serpents.
With naught but a gesture, they exploded into battle.
The three Cosmos warriors were hammered – every spell they swept away replaced by another, unable to break through and dash into close quarters combat. The Emperor stepped lightly to the side as a glowing arrow flew past, the tiniest of grazes gracing his cheek, platinum blond hairs drifting to the ground. It struck a manikin behind him, and shattered crystal ore peppered his back. He rewarded it with orbs of red and blue fire, exploding beneath the rebel’s feet.
The gunblader staggered, whirling, fighting off arrows that came from every direction, dashing to slash at a yellow serpent sinking its teeth into his ally’s arm. The boy in turn switched weapons, throwing an axe at ExDeath even as he dodged Cloud of Darkness, blood running down his fingertips. And all the while manikins leapt into the fray, chipping away at their opponents one lucky slash at a time.
The Emperor could feel laughter building deep in his throat. Chaos, in its purest form!
Then it all came to an abrupt halt.
“Stay away!” a shrill voice called, and suddenly their spells fell short, sizzling and sputtering against a shimmering barrier, a ring of manikins exploding in the crossfire.
Cosmos, making her move at last?
The Emperor barely contained a snarl.
“Ha! I was right!” The red-armoured child ran onto the scene, accompanied by two familiar faces. “Looks like we made it back just in time!”
“You guys!” the Mimic sounded joyous and relieved, and gripped his sword with renewed determination. “Right! We can do this!”
“I’ve got Darkness!” the child called, squaring off against his chosen foe.
The gunblader took stance in front of Ultimecia. “This one’s mine.”
“I’ll take care of ExDeath!” The Mimic, naturally.
“We’ll hold off the manikins!” Tidus called, dashing away with young Terra. The Emperor’s eyes narrowed at them. So that was where they’d gone. He had stolen Jecht for their side, but Cosmos had stolen two of theirs in kind.
There was no time for recriminations, however. “We won’t let you have your way!” the rebel declared, sword in one hand, spear in another.
Most troublesome. But the battle was not yet lost. “Lowly worm.” He raised his staff, and the air crackled with magic once more.
Gunpowder exploded around him, a ring of protection driving back the deadly spears of dark energy.
"You are all fools." The witch drew the words out, soaking them with smiling contempt. "You don't even know what it is you're truly fighting for, do you?"
"We fight, to end the fighting," Squall replied, fingering the trigger of his still-smoking gunblade. The silver gleamed in the unnatural light.
"So you 'fight to end the fighting'." She let out a girlish laugh, high and sharp. The air seemed to distort, and half a breath later, she stood behind him, black feathers drifting in the air. "You've yet to realise what that means."
He whirled, but slashed only at empty space. A whisper of movement at his back, and he rolled to the side. Gold and silver lines flared, the destructive sigil missing him by inches.
“You need a hand Squall?” Bartz called.
“Worry about yourself,” he grumbled, and took stance once more. “This one’s my fight.”
ExDeath vanished. The Emperor had long fallen. In the distance, there was a flash as Squall put Ultimecia to final rest.
Cloud of Darkness hung in the air for a long moment, looking down upon them.
“Hmph,” she dismissed. “Enjoy your hollow victory.”
Then she too, faded from sight.
Tired and wounded, the warriors turned to face the remaining manikin horde. Tidus and Terra were worn ragged, but between his sword and her magic, had kept them off their backs long enough.
“We could use a little help, guys!” Tidus called, even as he smashed a blitzball into a manikin’s face.
“Hang on, we’re coming!” Firion replied, weary and bloodied, but drawing his sword once more.
Before they could even reach the first manikin, though, white light burst before their eyes like the dawning sun.
A line of manikins caught in its wake disintegrated. Over their fading remains stepped a familiar figure clad in blue and silver armour, holding a regal shield.
“Hey guys!” Zidane darted onto the scene, daggers spinning as he took out a likeness of himself. Cecil followed quickly behind. “Did we miss all the fun?”
Firion grinned. “Don’t worry, we saved some for you.”
Cloud grit his teeth, and fell to one knee, bracing himself against his Buster Sword.
Darkness spilled from his form, a stretching shadow bleeding from his very core. His breath rattled, his senses grew dull, it felt as though his body was tearing itself apart… but slowly, it passed.
“It’s getting worse,” he muttered. His words were met with only the hiss and sputter of lava flows. Not even manikins were around anymore.
Eventually, he straightened, and resumed walking. It might have been smarter to risk using the teleport stone, instead of taking the path through the Mirage Desert. The terrain was rugged, the paths convoluted, and the gateways many. And it was starting to look more and more like his time was limited.
A large part of him wanted to give up. Tifa’s life would be spared – Chaos was no more. The fighting would end, and she would never wind up like him. He’d achieved his goals.
Golbez’s words haunted him, though.
How much longer did he have left in this world? How long until the last threads of Chaos’s power were overwhelmed by harmony?
Darkness couldn’t exist in a world so thoroughly bathed in light.
Before that happened, he had to act.
The last of the manikins shattered, crystalline fragments scattering across the ground before disappearing into motes of light.
“Cosmos!” the Warrior of Light quickly knelt before the Goddess.
She simply closed her eyes for a moment, head tilting in the slightest of nods, before regarding them with a wide, guileless blue gaze. “I am unharmed. Thank you.”
“It was a lucky thing you all returned when you did,” Firion said, carefully returning each of his many weapons to their place. “We couldn't have lasted much longer on our own.”
“We went so far without encountering any manikins or Chaos warriors we became suspicious,” Onion Knight explained matter-of-factly – his tone was businesslike, but childish pride still shone through his expression. “As soon as we suspected, we came running back as fast we could.”
“I see. That was quick thinking on your part,” Cecil said with a slight smile. “We encountered Garland – it was he who gave their plans away.”
“So you took out the big guy? Great! One more down already!” Tidus enthused.
“It kinda worries me, though,” Zidane admitted, tail curling and uncurling anxiously. “I can’t stop thinking about what he said. You know. That we’ve been fighting the same battles over and over again. That we’ve done this all before, but we just can’t remember.”
At the others’ confusion, Cecil repeated Garland’s parting words. The silence that stretched afterwards was as heavy as it was long.
“It can’t be…” Firion crossed his arms, looking pensive. “Can it?” He turned to look at Cosmos, but she returned his stare unflinchingly, and gave no response either way.
That was a response in itself.
“It seems crazy, but it feels kind of true, you know?” Bartz said. “Like, I can almost remember it.”
“Maybe we have just forgotten,” Onion Knight pointed out. “After all, how would we know? When we first got here, most of us didn’t know much more than our names.” He darted a quick glance at the Warrior of Light.
“Does it matter?” Squall interrupted – evidently he’d become impatient. “What’s past is in the past. What’s now is what counts.”
“Squall is right,” the Warrior of Light decided. “Chaos is gone. If truly we have been trapped in a cycle, then this is its end.”
The mood brightened perceptibly at those words. “Right!” Bartz declared. “We just have to take down the leftovers now! We’re halfway there already!”
They were infused with energy, confidence brimming as the end of the conflict moved within arm’s reach. Over half of their foes felled. It was only a matter of time until the others would follow.
At their backs, Cosmos smiled.
“Hmm? What’s that?” Kefka rocked back on his heels, painted face stretched into an exaggerated smile. “I spy with my little eye…”
“What do you want?” Sephiroth asked, glancing over his shoulder with bored contempt.
“Come on now, don’t be like that!” The clown skittered around, away from the shining curve of Masamune. A whine entered his voice, “Is that any way to thank me? After I went to allllll that trouble to tell you about the girl.”
The silver-haired swordsman raised a single eyebrow, but didn’t otherwise react. “Somehow I doubt your motives were altruistic.”
Kefka giggled nervously, eyes creasing into crescents. “Oh, you are dangerous on so many levels,” he complimented with a flap of his hand. “Maaaaaaaaybe I had a teensy bit of a plan, but it worked out in your favour, didn’t it?” He slunk a short distance away, toeing the crumbling edge of rock. Lava hissed and sputtered, eating the loose clods of earth as they eroded under his heel.
“Did it?” Sephiroth drawled. “One might make the conclusion that it is, in fact, your fault Chaos is dead.”
“My fault?” he asked in exaggerated innocence. That would be something. His little bit of meddling, leading to the downfall of a god! A real coup for the cause of destruction! “Ha! It was no fair! He got to have all the fun!” His words ended on a melodramatic sob, then morphed to a wicked chortle. “Who would have thought that moody little brooder had it in him?”
“Get to the point,” Sephiroth ordered. “Why are you here? I have no more patience for your games.”
“Weeeeellllll…” He drew out the word, drawing circles with his toe in the dirt. “It occurs to me, we miiiight be a little bit outnumbered right now.”
Sephiroth gave him a flat look. Brightening, Kefka continued, “So if we wanna take out some of those Cosmos chumps, maybe we should join forces! Whaddya say?!”
“With you? Hmph. Not interested,” came the immediate reply.
“Awwww, you’re no fun!” he whined. “Come on! Don’t you want revenge?” He oiled the word, smile growing sly.
The swordsman, however, failed to take the bait. “The time for your shallow plots is past. I shall be seeing out this conflict on my own terms,” he dismissed, and walked away.
“Hmph. Nobody around here is any fun.” He fluffed out his oversized striped collar, and pranced towards a gateway. “Guess I’ll have to make my own!”
Except the fun he really wanted to have was now out of reach.
A growl built in his throat. That snotty little drama queen, stealing his prize right out from under him! Oh, he’d had his revenge, but it wasn’t near enough. And that dour spiky-haired fellow had gone and messed up any chance he had of getting his just desserts.
“I’ll destroy it. I’ll destroy it all,” he grumbled, hoarse.
He paid no attention to the scenery as he wandered, mind whirling with plots and tricks and destruction. It had been so perfect, so deliciously ironic…
A pulse of power stirred the air, drawing him out of his rambling mutterings. “Hm?” His voice echoed through the empty chamber, filled with vast pillars reaching for the sky. Dark tiled floors stretched into the distance before disappearing into black nothingness. And yet, somewhere nearby…
He had company.
The familiar power – intoxicating, so vast and rich! – washed over him, sending him wriggling to his toes with excitement. The girl.
“It’s going to a beautiful show!” he cackled.
The clown faded, his wretched laughter lingering in their ears long after he disappeared.
Another agent of Chaos down.
Truth be told, five of them had been overkill. They’d mostly left it to Terra. They had a history, apparently. Firion could appreciate that.
They were being more cautious now, after Chaos had pooled their forces to attack Cosmos. Four of their number had been left to guard their Goddess, enough to hold their ground if the remaining members descended upon Sanctuary. The rest had set out as a group to hunt down the stragglers.
"That's Kefka, Garland, Ultimecia, the Emperor, Darkness and ExDeath," Onion Knight recited, counting on his soot-streaked fingers. "Who's left?"
“...My brother, Golbez." Cecil sounded reluctant.
"My old man!" Tidus, on the other hand, was practically humming with energy. "Let's get going!"
"Wait," Firion interrupted, “Don’t forget Sephiroth." That impossibly long sword had caught his attention as a weaponsmaster.
“Right. Sephiroth,” Onion Knight agreed. “That’s three. We’re almost there!”
From his vantage point, Cloud watched over the gateway with a steady, cautious gaze.
This was the riskiest part of his journey – the small stone bridge, marked by a glowing blue gateway, joining two thin sandbars that linked the northern and southern islands.
Ideal for an ambush.
There was nobody in sight.
The other agents of Chaos had given him a wide berth since their god’s demise. They were, by and large, a selfish group, concerned with their personal welfare first and foremost. He’d survived enough cycles for them to be wary – with those reclaimed memories came knowledge and experience and magics. It was how the balance had been ever so slowly tipped in Chaos’s favour.
It was strange, though, that he hadn’t seen anyone since Golbez. At the very least, he expected Sephiroth to turn up, seeking revenge for the events of the previous cycle.
“Maybe there’s nobody left,” he murmured.
That wasn’t quite true – he knew Sephiroth was still around, at least. He was like an itch at the back of his skull that never quite went away.
More likely they were marshalling their numbers to take him out. Chaos’s warriors were typically spread far and wide – alliances were strictly fleeting matters of convenience. Their deceased god had kept them on very loose leashes. Something which now made him wonder – it didn’t fit with the destructive madness that had been taking a deeper and deeper hold over the cycles.
A quiver of dark energy at the core of his being shook him out of his introspection. He didn’t have time for second-guessing, not anymore. Cosmos’s power grew greater by the hour.
He hunched his shoulders, and set out towards the bridge.
Cosmos, Chaos... they would all be out for his blood in the end. It didn't matter. He had no choice but to keep moving.
They found Golbez in a gateway in the Onrac region.
The others stayed back at Cecil’s request.
“So you’ve come,” the Lunarian rumbled within the black depths of his armour. “I thought you might.”
“Brother…” Cecil faltered.
“You’ve been seeking out the forces of Chaos,” he observed.
“I… yes,” the paladin admitted. “We’re going to end the fighting once and for all.”
He chuckled. “…That is perhaps one way of doing it.” He turned properly then, to face him, midnight blue cape flaring with a silken rustle. “So now you’ve come for me.”
Cecil shook his head. “It doesn’t have to be like that, brother.” Then, in sudden earnest, “You can join us! What reason do we have to fight anymore?”
“What reason indeed…” He sounded pensive. “But I fear there can be no place for me in the light.”
“That’s not true!” Cecil protested.
For a long moment, Golbez didn’t respond, giving him hope that he truly might consider his words. The faint hiss of a lavafall carried on the wind.
“Tell me, Cecil…Is peace what you desire most?”
Puzzled, the paladin replied, “Of course.”
Suddenly, the air crackled with magic. Rocks tore from the ground with no warning. A cry wrenched from Cecil’s throat as they smashed into his side, throwing him to the ground with a heavy thump and a clatter of armour.
“Cecil!” Tidus called from a distance, already running to help.
He forced himself to his feet, leaning heavily on his sword, the breath knocked from his lungs. “Brother, why-?”
Golbez rose in the air, crimson lightning lashing around his fists. “If that is what you truly seek, then show me the strength of your conviction!”
Tidus sought him out after it was all over. To rest, they’d taken refuge in a peaceful gateway – a floating castle, with clipped green grass and stone turrets. The sky was wide and blue, featureless but for the occasional ephemeral vision of a distant, foreign forest.
“Hey, you holding up okay?”
Cecil managed a wan smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry everyone.” He turned his attention back to the clear, sunny sky. It seemed far too bright and cheerful for his mood.
“Nah, it’s okay.” Tidus plopped down on the castle’s edge next to him. “Pretty rough, huh?”
“I just don’t understand why he did it,” he admitted. “It never seemed like he wanted to.”
“I’m sure he had his reasons. Hey! Maybe he thought it would help you get home!”
At Cecil’s stricken glance, Tidus winced, rubbing the back of his neck. “Ahaha, that doesn’t really make it better… does it.”
“No… but you may be right.” He stared at his feet, hanging above the steep castle walls. “…And what about you Tidus? Aren’t you worried about fighting your father?”
“No way!” He hopped back up, light as always on his feet. “I’m looking forward to it!”
Tidus didn’t have to wait for long. They found Jecht in a gateway not far from the Teleport stone on Chaos’s side. It was filled with suspended platforms, the remnants of a ruined city. One featured a massive sword buried halfway to its hilt, and floating rocks formed an edifice remarkably like the silver emblem on his necklace.
“Yo, old man!”
The grizzled swordsman turned around. “Well, well. Look who’s come to visit.”
“Shut your face!” The words were said with an aggressive smirk. “I’m here to take you down!”
“Izzat so?” Jecht hefted his sword against his shoulder, a matching grin stretching his features. “You think you can?”
“I know it!”
“Well then, guess we’d better-”
He convulsed, cutting off mid-sentence and dropping to the ground.
“Hey!” Tidus stepped forward, hand outstretched, though to do what he didn’t quite know. Dark pyreflies swirled around the swordsman as he retched for what seemed like an eternity. “What… what is this?” His words faded to a whisper. It didn’t look right, seeing him… seeing him so weak!
“It’s nothing. Stop lookin’ at me like that,” he complained, voice rough. “You’re such a crybaby. I’m fine! Just gimme a minute.”
Onion Knight stepped up, looking him over critically. “Of course. I don’t know why we didn’t see it before. Chaos is dead – the warriors he summoned should have disappeared.” He folded his arms in thoughtful repose. “So why didn’t they?”
The darkness faded, and with a grunt, Jecht hauled himself back to his feet. “I don’t get it exactly, but apparently the old war horse gave us a parting gift to buy us some time.”
“So that’s why,” Firion mused. “Otherwise they would have just disappeared on their own, and the conflict would already be over.”
“So that’s what you kids are up to, huh?”
“…Something like that.”
Jecht scratched the back of his neck, apparently deep in thought, and then pulled his sword free. “Well, you’re welcome to try!” With sudden speed, he dashed at Tidus. The blitzballer dodged, barely, bringing his sword around at the last minute. Jecht blocked, retaliating with a heavy swing of his massive sword. It hit the ground with a crack – concrete shattering underneath it as Tidus nimbly hopped out of way. That was more like it!
“Is that all you got?!”
“Not even half!” They slashed and parried for another minute more, Tidus dancing around his father’s punishingly heavy strokes, heart thudding in his ears, crazy grin stretching across his face. He leapt into the sky, swinging high, brought the sword down-
And his old man didn’t move to block it.
The watery blade stopped a hair’s breadth above a tanned, muscled shoulder.
Then Tidus was lashing out with his fist, striking his father square in the gut.
Jecht flew back and hit the side of the massive sword with an audible thump. He slid to the ground, giant blade crashing beside him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Tidus seethed. His hands were clenched – his whole form radiated anger. “You think I’m just going to let you throw the fight, after all… after all this?”
Jecht coughed, and righted himself, apparently none the worse for wear. “Ah, hell. You saw straight through me.”
“You wanted to fight, didn’t you? Hell, I was even gonna let you win.”
“You… I hate you!” he blustered. “I don’t want to win like that! That’s not the guy I wanna beat! The guy I wanna beat doesn’t just roll over and lose! The guy I wanna beat isn’t weak!”
“What the heck do you suggest then, huh?” Jecht barked. “What’s the point of winning if I’m gonna vanish anyway!” The two of them glared at each other.
“If I may,” Cecil stepped in tentatively. “Our goals seem to be the same. Jecht, why don’t you lend us your assistance? We still have one last agent of Chaos to defeat. Your advice could really help. And I’m sure if we spoke to Cosmos, she’d be happy to let you join us.”
Jecht rubbed a hand through his tangled mess of hair. Eventually, he sighed, and stabbed his blade into the ground. “Doesn’t sound like I got a lot of choices, does it?” He nodded to himself. “Okay. Why not? I’ll help you kids out. Ain’t got nothing to lose, anyway.” He tossed a glance at Tidus, who was still quietly smouldering at him. “You and me, we can have our fight after. I don’t much feel like it right now anyway. Ain’t any good like that!”
He twitched, but in the end, put his sword away. “Ok, fine. But you’d better bet I’ll kick your ass when the time comes!”
Jecht laughed. “Sure, if you can!” Turning to the others, he asked, “So, I know you got the Emperor’s mob. Who’s left?”
“We took out Garland, Kefka, and Golbez,” Cecil explained. “If you join us, that leaves only Sephiroth.”
"Sephiroth, huh? That’ll be something.” He scratched his chin. “But hey… haven't you forgotten someone?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You know. The broody one! Cloud."
"You mean Cloud of Darkness?" Onion Knight piped up. "We already got her."
“That weird lady? Nah. Guy I’m talking about carries a big sword, has this crazy spiky blond hair. You know. The one who killed Chaos.”