Chapter Two: The Stand
There were a lot of them and they came quickly.
Cloud calculated, drew out his gun and remembered how many magazines were with him. He had a grenade, and Lightning had worse. There were two pasts leading up here, one down the hill, the other up. But they could just drop down into the center of town anyway.
"How many can you take?" asked Cloud, checking with his sights.
Sure enough, Genesis was descending on ropes to land and making his way through the village. Others were circling around to land other places. Lightning moved her neck with a shrug. "Not enough.
"I might be a media goldengirl, but I can't fight Genesis one on one. Let alone him and a thousand of his clones. Maybe if he's not here-"
"He's here," said Cloud with a shrug.
Lightning looked up in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"There's nothing worth conquering here," said Cloud. "Nothing Shinra has anyway.
"If he's going to destroy his hometown, it'll be for personal reasons. So he'll be here."
"And what are you planning to do?" asked Lightning.
Cloud considered things. "We have to evacuate the people. We can't fight everyone.
"Lightning, head up and get Genesis' family out and anyone living further along this path. I'll see if I can get the people in Banora Village out. Once they've gone to safety, we'll make a stand here."
"Is the stand going to help?" asked Lightning.
"Well if we kill enough of them, maybe we'll gain the power to defeat Genesis," said Cloud. "But if we don't put up some resistance, he'll hunt down the civilians and slaughter them."
"Why would he do that?" asked Lightning.
"Why wouldn't he do that?" asked Cloud. "Now get them out of here."
And Cloud raced down the hill back to the main town. Checking with his binulars he saw the Genesis copies seemed to be moving sloppily. It was like their hearts weren't fully in what they were doing. Now and then groups of them would wander off.
It made sense. Genesis was imposing his will on sentient beings. Those beings probably weren't happy to have him there. And Genesis himself was a narcissistic sociopath who didn't like taking orders.
Coming to the center of town, he saw people milling about when they should have been working. "Everyone! Listen to me!
"A large strike force of the Genesis army is en route to our position as we speak! They are using stolen Shinra weaponry and with no garrison, you are defenseless. I recommend you grab any weapons and supplies you have and flee to a safe place."
"Genesis will know of our safe places too," said a man.
"You don't need to escape him," said Cloud. "Just delay him. My unit will hold him as long as we can. A high ranking member of SOLDIER is en route now alongside an elite Turks squadron. When they arrive, they'll handle things.
"You need to ensure your safety now as well. If any of you have weapons and the ability to fight, I recommend you take them with you."
"He's right, all of you go," said Ms. Hawkley, coming forward. "I can feel Genesis, him and Angeal. You must all go now. We can't stop them by ourselves."
And that spurred them into motion.
People rapidly began to put what belongings they could take with them as quickly as they could. Others holstered guns and swords and stared down the coming ranks. Cloud, for his part, moved forward and saw the ranks.
The Genesis army was moving forward in a chaotic mob. No formations or attempts to hide. Which made it easy prey for him. Cloud raised his rifle, aimed down the sights and fired. While he was not the best shot, it was difficult to miss. The bullet caught one in the heart and he fell dead. Cloud fired again and another fell, then another. Soon children began bringing ammunition. While behind, Cloud heard the sound of Lightning's gunblade at work.
Other people arrived, aiming like professional soldiers, and they fired as well. Again and again the sound of gunfire resounded as smoke filled the air. The bodies of Genesis copies littered the road beneath the withering hail. Cheers came from the people as his forces lost rank after rank to no gain.
And then Genesis himself descended. He appeared, with a single black wing to land upon a clifftop. Raising a hand, he directed his legions and they moved forward with far greater intensity. Before they had not been attacking with all the speed they could muster, but now they charged forward.
"Run!" said Cloud. "Fire your mag and retreat, go! I will hold them here!"
At that moment, there was a roar of steam and engines. Into the town through the fields came an immense machine of war. Cloud had seen them being tested in the Shinra fields, but they fired missiles at him. Rolling aside, he saw the explosion rip several men to shreds and soon all the rest fled. Pulling himself up, Cloud saw the Genesis army advancing, and the machine aiming at him.
The villagers who had stayed were melting away into the wilds and soon he would be cut off. Running for the hill, he saw Ms. Hawkley looking out the window sadly.
"Come with me!" said Cloud.
But she smiled and turned away.
With nothing else to do, Cloud fled up the hill as fast as his legs would carry him. Missiles blew holes in the dirt behind him. Yet as he risked a glance back, he saw the Genesis copies filling the town. Some of them had caught a number of villagers and were dragging them out into the town sqaure.
Two men, a woman and a children. Drawing their swords, the Genesis copies hacked at them. They screamed, begging for mercy as they were stabbed to death. Raising his rifle, Cloud aimed and gunned down one of the Genesis copies responsible. Then another, and another, but they paid no heed.
He fired again, and again, and then he reloaded but no response came.
At last, his gun clicked empty. Checking his side, he found he was out of mags. The Genesis copies who had been killed were being piled into a heap with their victims. Fire magic set it alight, and as the day began to darken, the smoke rose into the heavens. And Genesis himself, black winged and clad in the color of blood perched on the town church and smiled.
Genesis did not care how many of his minions Cloud killed. They meant nothing to him, they were mere extensions of his flesh. But extensions that had no meaning and caused him no pain to lose. Cloud could have killed thousands of Genesis copies, and he would not have cared so long as he won. If anything, the effort would amuse Genesis, that Cloud had thought to try.
But they did not attack the home of Angeal. Perhaps some courtesy between him and his friend? In the end it changed nothing. Even if Genesis let her live, he'd leave her alone on an island of the dead.
Cloud withdrew, feeling a sense of fear. He needed to come up with a plan. When he arrived at the house, however, he found Lightning there. She was standing at the doors and dozens of Genesis copies were dead at her feet. Her arm had a bandage, and she was leaning against a wall, resting. Her sword was planted in the ground and held in an undergrip.
"Lightning!" said Cloud. "Lightning, what is the status?"
"They won't leave. I didn't want to force them," said Lightning.
"That's not what I meant!" said Cloud. "How many attacked you?"
"A lot," said Lightning with a shrug. "I drove them away and got a look at a building. It looked like a lot of them were taking care to guard it. It's probably something important to them. Eventually they formed a ring around it and that was it."
Cloud sighed. "Alright then." He looked to the door where Mr. and Ms. Rhapsodes were. "Mr. and Ms. Rhapsodes, you have to go."
"...Genesis is our son and our responsibility. If we talk to him we can make him understand," said Mr. Rhapsodes.
"Your son is dangerous and deranged," said Cloud. "My warning was in case he approached you privately, but he is coming here with an army. An army of people he has assimilated into himself.
"Please, you have to leave for your own safety. I can't in good conscience leave you here."
"We are staying," said Ms. Rhapsodes. "If we can dissuade him from what he is doing, we have to try. If we can't... it would be better to be dead than bear the shame of his actions."
Cloud sighed. "Alright, fine. Lightning, keep a watch out. I'm going to make some explosives. You two, show me all the chemicals you have here. Do you have a gun?"
"Yes," said Mr. Rhapsodes. "I used to hunt, in my time. I... taught my son, but he was never good at it."
"Then take a position on the second floor and pick your shots. Ms. Rhapsodes, you will help me with explosives. Lightning, do you know how to set traps?"
"I'm not that kind of SOLDIER," said Lightning. "My job is to charge in and kill everything I see. Strategy and tactics aren't my forte."
"Fine," said Cloud. "Then get some rest and wait."
Cloud worked fast with Ms. Rhapsodes help, creating makeshift explosives as he could. It was just as Jesse had taught him and he eventually used all his materials. Once done, he went outside and brought one to Lightning.
"Alright, you light this rag on fire and then you throw it into the enemy ranks," said Cloud. "Can you do that?"
"Yes," said Lightning.
"Good," said Cloud. "No charging in this time. We want Genesis to come up the hill after us. Ms. Rhapsodes, you should stay inside."
"Shouldn't we try to talk to him right away," said Ms. Rhapsodes. "To avoid this?"
"If he is going to talk to us, he will," said Cloud, noting the dying light. "But I want him to come talk to us because he has no choice. Not because we got down on our knees and begged."
"Here they come," said Lightning.
Cloud had time to set up a few traps. A tripwire was set across the rode, which would deploy grenades into the center. He then took a position in the underbrush a little ways down from that tripwire and waited. Plans were made and Genesis ordered his warriors forward as darkness fell. Up they went and as the clouds obscured the stars, the Genesis copies had their swords flare with light. Soon they marched as one, holding flaming swords aloft like torches.
You could hardly make them out in the dark, but you could see those flames.
Guns were fired and the torches began to go out. One by one, they'd wink out silently without a scream. And then another would replace them as they walked in perfect formation. Cloud remembered only too well some of the parades, and he'd always wanted to walk in one.
This was one parade he'd forgo.
The torches passed him by, one falling dead. Then one of them tripped the wire and the grenades explode. Cloud tossed one of his own grenades from the underbrush. It landed amid their feet and exploded. Genesis copies went flying, limbs flying off. Another such explosive landed among from Lightning and the same thing happened.
Cloud by then had lit his own cocktail and hurled it further down the line. Then another, and another. The explosions claimed life after life as torches winked out. But he got a look at a Genesis copies face. It was expressionless.
One more cocktail and he was out.
Rushing back up the path, he heard gunfire poured in and finally got back to where Lightning was. Turning around, he saw the sea of flaming swords rising ever higher in spite. Yet there were far fewer of the flaming blade than before. It was no longer an insurmountable horde, but a flowing river.
And they halted.
Looking down, Cloud saw them drawing back in fear. Looking to Lightning, he guessed they might come from behind. Tapping her on the shoulder, he motion to behind and she nodded. Cloud also motioned up to Mr. Rhapsodes.
Moving there, they prepared for a fight.
So it was that they didn't get hit unprepared. When the Genesis copies came down the hill, Lightning and Cloud were waiting with swords. They clashed and two fell headless. Four stepped over them and they were hard put to it. More fell and more came as Mr. Rhapsodes fired more shots.
The problem with the Genesis copies was that they had no will of their own.
An ordinary solider had hopes, dreams, goals, desires, friends and family. They had a huge number of different motivations and responsibilities pulling at them. How they reacted to them defined who they were, and drove them to do what they did. A Genesis copy, however, had none of those things. It was a disposable and inferior copy of the original, who'd been forced into the body of a real person.
Genesis did not care if they died, so neither did the Genesis copies. None of them wanted to achieve anything or had any ambition. Nor did they have any natural reflexes to survive. And Cloud suspected that what was left of the people they had been fought from within.
It didn't matter if a Genesis copy had the combat skills of a master swordsmen. Because they were not and never would be a master swordsman. They had never trained day in and out to be the best, and they did not want to be the best. They did not want anything, save perhaps to die or help the real Genesis.
As a result, Cloud and Lightning were making mincemeat of them.
One after another came at them, only to fall down dead with one slash. An ordinary infantryman would survive some of these wounds. But without will, the Genesis copies fell like copies with cut strings.
Until, eventually, the copies retreated.
The clouds broke above them and from a starlight sky descended the true Genesis. He fell like lightning from heaven and landed before them. Cloud and Lightning turned to face him, and if he was angry at their defiance, he did not show it.
"When the war of the beasts brings about the world's end," said Genesis, landing. "The goddess descends from the sky
"Wings of light and dark spread afar
"She guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting"
"Genesis," said Ms. Rhapsodes as her husband came through the door.
"You always had terrible taste in theatre," said Cloud.
"Genesis, is that you?" asked Mr. Rhapsodes.
"Mother, Father, I have returned at last," said Genesis. "And the world is not as it should be."
"Genesis, listen to me. What you're doing right now is-" began Mr. Rhapsodes.
But Genesis raised his sword and pointed it at his chest. "I will speak, and may give you the chance to respond in kind.
"The play, Loveless, is a true work of art. Perhaps the greatest play in the history of the theatre. And yet, the play is incomplete, unfinished despite the best hopes.
"It lies engraved in a stone tablet upon the Banora Underground. And from there was adapted the play.
"The tablets tell more of the story. A group of three friends who go in search for the "Gift of the goddess." One becomes a hero, one becomes a prisoner, and one becomes a traveler. The prisoner escapes and is critically wounded, only to end up in the care of a woman from the enemy side. A woman whom he falls in love with.
"He lives a peaceful life, but is tortured by a promise he made to his friends."
"Genesis, this is not a play!" said Ms. Rhapsodes. "Real people are dying as a result of your actions! You've betrayed the oath you made to Shinra corporation. You endangered your entire village! You... you've used your powers to take over the bodies of other people!
And you're holding us hostage at swordpoint while talking about theatre!"
Genesis turned away and Cloud looked to his copies standing by. There were still huge number of them, but they kept their difference. Even so, Genesis seemed to have some doubt. "I am dying.
"My disease gnaws at me even now, and I seek the cure. But if I cannot be cured then I will see my story come to reality."
"And do you think the person you're working for is going to save you?" asked Lightning. "They'll use you up and throw you away! Just like Shinra would do to us!"
Oh so now Lightning was trying to reason with him?
Was this a SOLDIER thing? Like, you had to try to talk down the irredeemable complete monster? But it was A okay to slaughter perfectly innocent enemy soldiers by the truckload. Though Mr. Rhapsodes and his wife were in better standing. The only people they had killed were Genesis himself.
And that was okay in Cloud's book.
"Genesis, my son, please come to your senses," said Mr. Rhapsodes, stepping forward. "Your acting irrational and you are making everything worse for yourself and others. Please just... release your grip on your copies, let them pass on to the Lifestream.
"Come home and perhaps... perhaps we can save you."
Genesis bristled at the tone and turned around, sword in hand. That's no way to talk to a hero!"
"...Genesis, you're not acting like a hero," said Ms. Rhapsodes.
Genesis screamed in rage and stabbed her through the heart in an instant. Before Mr. Rhapsodes could move, he'd already sent a bolt of fire. It struck him and his body was consumed in flames.
Then he drew out his sword and let the corpses of his parents hit the ground.
Stared as Genesis looked at the bodies, shaking his head as if trying to remember a math problem. "...No... no... no the play doesn't go like this. What verse applies to this, something mistranslated or copied wrong?"
"Genesis, if there was any part of you left that was good or decent it no longer matters," said Lightning simply. "You murdered your Mother and Father because they implied you weren't as great as you thought you were. You cut them down in cold blood. They were no threat to you, they wanted to help you!
"They loved you!
"And you cut them down like... like props for a tragic backstory! You're not a hero! You will NEVER be a hero!"
If Genesis heard anything Lightning had to say, he showed no sign. He was now pacing back and forth restlessly, his long coat flowing behind him. "Let me see... of course, of course.
"I thought Sephiroth was the prisoner, and Angeal the traveler, and I was the hero. Angeal is playing his role, but Sephiroth won't cooperate. Perhaps someone else is the prisoner...
"Kill them! Slaughter them all! Wipe every last meaningless NPC away so the stage is set for a confrontation between heroes!"
Apparently they didn't count as NPC's because the Genesis copies now fanned out. Cloud realized that aside from killing Genesis, his only options was to redeem him.
...Well, logically Cloud should make a list of his good points.
"Listen to yourself, Genesis! You've lost it if you ever had it!" said Lightning.
Yeah, that pretty much summed them up. Cloud looked to the bodies of Mr. and Ms. Rhapsodes and wondered how many corpses like this he'd seen?
And then a blade was driven through his stomach. Genesis threw him to the ground, smiling proudly.
"My friend, the fates are cruel," said Genesis. "There are no dreams, no honor remains
"The arrow has left the bow of the goddess
"My soul, corrupted by vengeance
"Hath endured torment, to find the end of the journey
"In my own salvation
"And your eternal slumber
"Legend shall speak
"Of sacrifice at world's end."
Cloud spat blood in his face. The last thing he heard before he blacked out was Lightning scream.