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Chapter 4 - Vol 2: Wake Up Call

Dissidia Academy: A predigious school for the ambitious and talented, where students strive to accomplish their goals and dreams.

Follow the heroes of Final Fantasy as they tackle the many challenges and tribulations that await them throughout the eventful academic year!

Chapter 4 - Vol 2: Wake Up Call

Chapter 4 - Vol 2: Wake Up Call
Volume 2: Admiration
Cloud Strife's drowsy eyes flickered open, everything around him a blur.
“What’s … going on…?”
As time passed, he groggily began to regain his senses, gradually being able to focus on what was around him. The first that caught his attention was the plain yet heavenly ceiling directly above him. The unique patterns and swirls mesmerized him, his imagination wondering with its heavenly aura.
Then, his eyes diverted, noticing a series of large crystal-white curtains surrounding him, further adding to the therapeutic atmosphere. As he momentarily lifted his head, he immediately felt a puffed-up pillow gently rub against the back of his head. Additionally, he noticed the blank-white duvet laid out over the top of his body.
Cloud’s suspicions were quickly confirmed: he had woken up in a bed that was not his own.
Usually, he would begin to panic, fretting over the fact that he was somewhere he had never been before and no clue as to how he got there in the first place. However, he had no energy in him to react so excessively. Instead, he began to reflect on the events prior to his current predicament.
As expected though, everything that occurred to him throughout the day was a complete haze, with only brief glimpses of memory appearing on brief occasions.
…such as the early-morning Blitzball practise with Tidus.
Oh … now I remember.
Just then, through that small snippet of memory, the events all came flooding back to him.
"Ah, so you're finally awake." A sweet and innocent voice suddenly spoke out, causing Cloud to jump up in fright. "Welcome back to the living."
Cloud immediately switched direction to where he heard the voice, not knowing what to expect. And then, the moment he met eyes with the voice’s owner, his heart instantly skipped a beat.
The person who he laid eyes upon gave off a therapeutic aura, as if she was a guardian angel watching over him from above. Her face was smooth and delicate, showing of a sweet and innocent smile that would calm any troubled soul. Her long, chocolate-brown, plaited hair was tied back with a simple hairband, and yet it flowed so majestically. Finally, to add to the heavenly feel, she wore what seemed to be a pure white uniform.
Cloud hastily shook his head, snapping out of his consuming trance.
As one would expect, a plethora of questions began to pop into his mind. Shuffling through the batch, he decided to begin with the simplest.
"Wh-where am I?" He dazedly requested, examining the area around him once again as he woozily sat up on the bed. "Am I … dead?"
"Wha-!? No, no! Don’t be ridiculous! You're in the Academy's Medical Room." The girl hastily responded, letting out a fit of giggles upon hearing his question. "You're two classmates carried you down here saying you collapsed during Homeroom."
Great … of course I did. His thoughts echoed out in a disgruntled murmur, briefly glancing away in embarrassment.
Whilst his memories of the day came back to him, his time during Homeroom with still rather hazy. He could just about remember listening to Professor Shantotto’s speech, Bartz Klauser being blasted to be back of the classroom, and after that … it was a blank.
Through this, he realised that the lack of sleep had hit him like a truck, his head still throbbing from the impact.
He began to sooth it, flinching as his fingers made contact with the mall bump that had formed overtime.
"Well … thank you for looking after me … err…" Cloud began to state in gratitude, showing appreciation to the mysterious girl who tended to his care.
"Aerith Gainsborough." The girl answered to him sweetly. "I help out here as a Student Nurse."
"Th-thank you … Aerith." Cloud shyly stuttered in echo, trying to hide his flustered face.
Aerith nodded cheerfully in acknowledgement, accepting his gratitude wholeheartedly.
She then nonchalantly placed her palm on his forehead, checking to see if the swelling was beginning to diminish. He felt her smooth, soft touch comfort his forehead, causing him to reach the peak of anxiousness.
With his face burning bright red and body as tense as it ever could be, Cloud felt cornered by this unexpected situation.
"Hmm … it seems to be settling down now. Just to be on the safe side, though: you should probably sooth it with an ice-pack every so often." Aerith began to explain with her kind smile, completely oblivious to Cloud's highly flustered expression. "And, in my opinion, a cup of freshly brewed coffee would help with the drowsiness."
"Oh … right!" Cloud nodded hastily, barely paying much attention.
Aerith moved her palm off from Cloud's forehead and straightened up, indicating that she was ultimately satisfied with his recovery. she followed up be dragging back the curtains that surrounded him, revealing the Medical Room in its entirety.
Seeing this as a sign to move, Cloud began to shuffle himself over to the edge of the bed. He noticed his shoes were neatly placed on the floor directly below, taking no time to slip back into them. He finally checked the time, noticing the clock that hung on the wall to the left of him:
It read 12:23pm.
Wait … I’ve been unconscious for 4 Hours!? He abruptly realised, his eyes widened with disbelief.
He quickly began to tie up his shoelaces – hoping to leave the Medical Room and regroup with Tidus, Firion and Cecil as soon as he could. If he was lucky enough, he would be able to stop off for some coffee on the way to the Academy Grounds.
However, as he did this, Cloud heard Aerith's soft voice call out from the distance.
"Oh … you’re ALL here to visit Cloud?" Aerith wondered curiously, sounding as though she was surprised. “He’s just about to leave, but … if you insist.”
Did … did she just say ‘all’!?
Frozen in place, Cloud’s body completely tensed up as the sense of terror began to consume him. The atmosphere around him was close to suffocating, as if several pairs of eyes were staring at him. He  
His mind overcome with fear, Cloud cautiously turned his head.
He immediately gave out a small whimper, emulating that of a small pup.
He was immediately surrounded by a hoard of female students. They all stood over him, faces gleaming with excitement as they slowly closed in. Cloud forced a grin to hide his inner nervousness, knowing that no matter what he tried to do next … he was trapped.
And then, he twitched.
In that instant, the female students in unison screamed at the top of their voices ecstatically. Their screams were loud enough to pierce the eardrums of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in range, shattering windows and other types of glass without resistance.
Cloud leapt out of his skin in fright, swiftly realising that he was now in major trouble. The group towered over him from every direction, their hands ready to reach out and latch onto him.
He was trapped, with no possible escape.
"N-no, please don't!" Cloud cried out in panic, hastily shuffling back on his bed as he braced himself for the worst. "NOOOoooooo...!!!"
And then … the world faded into darkness.
Reality, 7:00am…
Cloud tossed and turned in his sleep, letting out quiet, terrified moans. His body was completely drenched in sweat, trying desperately to escape his nightmare.
However, as he continued to drift, a knock was heard from the door on the other side of the room.
"Oi, Cloud! It's time to wake up!" A voice called out in a loud and energetic tone, obliviously entering the room without a second thought. "Come on, man! It's not the weekend yet! You’ll be late if you continued to sleep in!"
As he approached the bed, the man caught notice of Cloud’s inner torment. The man immediately deduced that Cloud was trapped in a nightmare, which had become a common occurrence ever since he started the new semester at Dissidia Academy. Although he had yet to find out why his friend was having these nightmares in the first place, he came to the assumption at it had something to do with recent trauma that occurred whist he was at the Academy.
At first, the man felt concerned for Cloud, wishing he could help his friend in some way…
"N-no … please don't…!” Cloud moaned in his sleep, his face continuing to steam with sweat. “G-get … get away from … me!”
…The man then showed an evil, somewhat scheming grin as an idea suddenly popped into his mind.
He trod up closer to Cloud's bed, flexing his shoulders to ease the joints in his arms.
"Hm-hm-hmm … oh, don't you worry, Cloud. I'll save you from your nightmare." The man assured the oblivious sleeping Cloud, chuckling away as stretched his body out.
He loomed over Cloud's bed with an increasingly menacing, his body free of restriction as he began to put his plan into action.
Just then, he firmly grasped his right bicep as he tensed up his muscles. He raised his arm to a roughly 90˚ angle, refusing to divert his attention from the oblivious Cloud throughout the process. With legs spread out to shoulder-width apart and emulating a proud stance, the man drew in a deep, calming breath.
"Time for the good old…" The man peacefully exhaled.
However – like a spark – the man's tone of voice abruptly switched to loud and monstrous.
The man leapt high in the air, almost reaching the ceiling of the bedroom. With his elbow out, he aimed for Cloud's abdomen. Eyes locked on target, the man descend and struck his prey with full force.
In immediate effect, the startled Cloud woke up in the most painful and abrupt way possible. The man's elbow crushed his abdomen without warning, causing the air in his lungs to escape him.
Tears broke from the sockets of Cloud’s eyes, gasping out as he desperately to regain oxygen. To sooth the agony, he hastily wrapped his arms around his abdomen, unable to control his body as it rolled off the bed and onto the floor.
Cloud rolled around on the floor in the foetal position, continuing to gasp and wheeze. During this time, A shadow loomed over him, watching him from directly above. Cloud hesitantly glared upwards in response, his eyes red and streaming with tears of pain.
“…Urgh…!” Cloud grunted breathlessly, completely devoid of words.
And then, a loud, hysterically menacing laughter echoed throughout the room, the man towering above Cloud crossing his arms in triumph.
"HAHAHAHAA! Now THAT … is a wake-up call!" The man bellowed out in a fit of giggles.
"W-why did you … have to do that … Zack!?" Cloud blurted as air finally returned to his lungs.
"Ah, so you're still able to say my name after that?” The man – known as Zack – playfully joked in response. “Hahahaa…! I feel so honoured!"
Zack Fair was Cloud's best friend and fellow housemate of their two-bedroomed rented apartment. He had long, spikey jet-black hair with his bangs/fringe parting both ways, and bright-blue Mako-filled eyes. Standing at a tall 6ft 3in, he slightly dwarfed Cloud’s 5ft 7in. Additionally, he was significantly toned, the muscles on show being fairly bulked up to the point that he was a force on nature if opposed.
Whilst Cloud was still a student of Dissidia Academy, Zack had already completed his studies a few years prior. Since then, he had taken up arms as a full-time 2nd Class operative of SOLDIER, a super-soldier program linked to the Shinra Electric Power Company based in a nearby city.
His dream: to reach 1st Class status and become a hero to the world.
Zack held out his hand to Cloud, his face beaming with optimism and positivity. Although cautious at first, Cloud accepted the help. As he was lifted onto his feet, he could not help but wince. He could still feel the pain in his abdomen, letting out struggling breathes to endure it.
"You didn't need to … e-elbow me in the gut." Cloud painfully wheezed, soothing his abdomen in the process.
"What are you talking about?” Zack cheerfully pointed out. “You should be thanking me. After all, I just did you a solid and saved you from another one of your ‘nightmares’."
“Yeah, but could you have done it in a less … excessive way?” He then refuted in a low groan.
As he watched Zack shrug back in innocence, Cloud reflected on how his week of nightmares began to consume his dreams – much to his dread of the thought.
Ever since the ‘incident’ during the first day back at the Academy, the group of girls had frequently invaded his dreams, thoughts and memories.
It was absolute torture for him.
Cloud began to wonder when these series of nightmares would eventually end, desiring for a decent night sleep for a change. Zack noticed Cloud's troubled expression, letting out a light sigh as he understood the dilemma his friend.
"Standing around here isn't going to get us anywhere, you know?" Zack stated in honestly, casually placing a hand on Cloud's shoulder. "We have places to be and stuff to do."
With that, he turned and made his way towards the bedroom door, flexing the elbow he used to wake Cloud up with. Cloud watched as he left the scene, keeping silent as he took the time to compose himself.
Dining Room, 7:15am…
Cloud eagerly munched on the slices of toast, only now realising the depths of his hunger. He had already scoffed down the eggs and bacon that was included with the breakfast, with only the cereal and mug of coffee remaining.
As Cloud continued to consume, Zack watched him with a stunned gaze.
"Since when did you become such a … glutton?" Zack questioned hesitantly, sipping his own mug of coffee at reasonable pace.
Cloud temporarily paused on his mass consumption, acknowledging Zack’s comment with a wary glare … before returning to the food.
Within minutes, Cloud had demolished his remaining breakfast. Feeling as though his mission was accomplished, he sat back on his seat with a hand on his stomach. Holding back the burp at began to brew, he felt satisfied with his first meal of the day.
"It's weird, I don't even know why I'm this hungry." Cloud admitted anxiously, embarrassed by his sudden urge for food.
"Well, for now … I'm just thankful that I ate my breakfast before waking you up." Zack laughed awkwardly, placing down his mug of coffee.
Cloud began to sip his own coffee, feeling the refreshing taste revive his energy.
Ever since he collapsed from over-tiredness during Homeroom, Cloud’s reliance on coffee became mandatory inclusion to his daily life. In order to survive another sleep-related incident – whether it would be through Tidus’ early-morning antics, or by similar means – he would ensure that a coffee was at the ready to revitalize him.
Some may say it was a ridiculous plan, but for him … it was a matter of life and death.
As the two continued the gulp back their coffees, Cloud decided to keep an eye on the time. Glancing over to the clock on the far-off kitchen wall, he could see it was only 7:20am – meaning he still had some time to relax until his full day of studying.
Zack and Cloud's kitchen/dining room combo was rather small and simple, consisting of the essential equipment for cooking and storing food. Due to their current lack of a decent budget, the room was barren. This was not too much of a problem for either of them, though; if it was comfortable and served the basics for living, the two were contempt with what they had.
Just then, Zack abruptly snapped his fingers, acting as though a small light bulb had clicked on in his mind. Cloud, having gulped down the last of his coffee, glanced at him with heightened curiosity.
"I just remembered! You have Geography today, right?" Zack asked ecstatically, his face beaming with rising excitement.
"Yeah … why do you ask?" Cloud responded with uncertainty, cautiously wondering where this conversation was leading to.
"Well starting today … Sephiroth will be tutoring your lessons!” Zack leapt up to his feet, a cheerful smile strapped across his face. “He announced a few days ago that he would be taking a break from his SOLDIER 1st Class job indefinitely."
For a small moment, Cloud blankly stared at his friend – the unexpected announcement taking time to process in his head. However, he eyes widened with sudden surprise in a snap. He had no idea how to respond to this news, silently questioning whether this was just a joke.
Sephiroth – as stated by Zack – was a SOLDIER 1st Class operative and Zack’s senior. At Shinra, he was the top dog. He was seen by the large majority as a one-of-a-kind hero, inspiring those to follow in his footsteps and serve their nation. This thought had even made its way into Dissidia Academy, with numerous students proclaiming to join SOLDIER as soon as they graduate.
For Zack, the moment he joined SOLDIER, he saw Sephiroth as a rival and a goal. He occasionally declared that he would one day catch up to his senior so that he would achieve the status of ‘hero’. It was a momentous task, even going so far as to work and train after-hours just to boost his reputation within the company.
Thinking it though, Cloud was all in favour for Sephiroth becoming a teacher for the Academy, imagining what he would bring to the table with regards to his previous ventures and experiences. That being said, a part of his mind seemed was unsure of the idea, feeling as though there was far too much mystery surrounding the change of occupation to make it a simple ‘break from SOLDIER’.
As questions formed in his mind, Cloud decided to pursue for answers.
"Why would Sephiroth wish to take a break from SOLDIER?" He asked Zack, casually sipping away at a second mug of coffee, "What does he hope to gain out of this?"
"I’ll be honest, I haven’t the slightest idea.” Zack answered back with a shrug, scratching his head as he attempted to remember back to when this had been announced. “He just stated that he ‘desired to pursue other projects for the time being’. He never actually gave detail from what I remember."
Cloud nodded thoughtfully, eyes lowering in thought as he silently finished off his second coffee. However, a small chuckle from Zack's direction caused Cloud to once again raise his eyes, wondering what he had to say this time.
"I guess there is this ‘other’ thing … I've got myself a date." Zack coolly announced, showing off a cheesy and innocent smile.
Within an instant, Cloud spat out his drink in abrupt shock. Zack swiftly ducked under the table, avoiding the spray of projectile coffee.
"You!? A date!?" Cloud blurted in shock, coffee dripping from his chin. "What 'poor' soul would accept a blockheaded fool like you!?"
"Hey! No need to be so harsh about it!" Zack drew back, feeling insulted by Cloud's statement. "All I'll say for now is that she's … sweet and cute."
After swiftly cleaning himself up with a towel, Cloud squinted at Zack with a judging glare.
"…Is it Cissnei?" He then questioned in an interrogative tone, eyes locked onto Zack like daggers across the table.
"Huh..? Cissnei!? Nooooo … No-no-no, it isn't her." Zack shook his head, looking somewhat disappointed for some reason. "You know how many times I got turned down by her! Didn’t I tell you that she ‘prefers to concentrate with her Turk work’."
Cloud silently grinned at the thought as he knew exactly the amount of times Cissnei turned Zack down: 17 times over the span of 4 years.
The fact that Zack continued to pursue her after each decline was beyond him entirely.
However, the idea of Zack successfully dating a new girl greatly intrigued Cloud, questioning who this mysterious person was or how they got to know one another. With that said, he needed more information about this ‘mysterious female’ in order to grasp an idea of how their relationship was going to unfold overtime.
That is … if this person was even real, of course.
"Seriously though, I need more than just 'sweet' and 'cute'." Cloud stated in a stern tone, not letting this pass so easily. "Come on, do you have any other hint about her? Occupation? Interests? … Anything?"
"Ah-hah … all in good time, my friend." Zack cheekily teased, pressing a finger against the side of his nose to indicate that he was keeping it all under wraps. “If I told you now, I’ll just be ruining the surprise.”
Cloud shrugged his arms whist his eyes rolled, feeling disappointed by the unnecessary secrecy. Seeing this reaction, Zack showed off a cheesy grin, indicating that it was all fun and games.
Just then, a 'Victory Fanfare' tune began to ring around the kitchen, causing both Cloud and Zack to jump up with fright. Zack hastily grasped his ringing phone and rose up from his seat, answering it immediately.
"Hello, Zack here." Zack responded openly and positively, listening carefully to the other end of the speaker. "Ah! Hey there, Director! … Uh-huh, yep … ok, I'll be right over."
Cloud then heard him hang up the phone and hastily began to collect his work belongings along with his SOLDIER weapon: a simple bladed sword with the Shinra emblem on it.
"Are you heading out already?" Cloud asked in interest, rising up from his own seat as he spoke.
"Yep, duty calls!" Zack cheerfully chanted out, placing his weapon against the metallic magnet on the back of his SOLDIER uniform.
The blade of his weapon instantly locked up against the magnet on his back, showing no loose movement whatsoever. The magnet would only unlock on Zack’s command, a mechanism that allowed him access to his weapon whenever the appropriate situation arises.
"The Director wants me to lead a mission with Angeal to Wutai, asap.” He then added in context, recapping what he was told on the phone. “From what the boss told me, they’re supposedly holding mass anti-Shinra weaponry in their bunkers. The problem is: we have no idea what the weaponry are or how devastating they could be."
Cloud nodded with a raised brow, generally interested in this new mission.
Angeal – another of Shinra’s 1st Class SOLDIERs – was Zack’s highly-respected mentor. Although Cloud had yet to meet this man, he was aware that Zack’s mentor was a man of respect and honour – at least, that was how Zack described him. Although not as popular as Sephiroth in terms of overall notability, Angeal still had a considerable number of followers and fans.
He also was a man who had a unique sense of pride, especially when it came to his unique weapon: The Buster Sword. Supposedly, he had never used the weapon during combat and missions, resorting in only carrying it on his back as a ‘good-luck charm’ whilst wielding other, more disposable blades to do his bidding.
In terms of the Wutai stronghold, Cloud knew from various articles in newspapers and online that they had recently raged war against the Shinra company, citing them as a threat to society due to their practices and ignorance for the environment.
"Be careful." Cloud warned him with a firm expression, aware of Zack’s tendency to grow reckless during missions.
"I always am." Zack stated proudly, heading towards the front door.
As he was about to step through the door, he was oblivious the archway above him. His forehead throbbing immensely after the collision, Zack could not help but awkwardly sooth it in embarrassment.
Cloud attempted to hold back the laughter, finding the situation ironic.
"L-like I said: I’m always careful!" He reminded hastily, trying his best not to act like a complete fool.
Cloud sarcastically nodded, holding a large – somewhat sympathetic – grin of amusement. Zack opened the front door, feeling the warm autumn breeze brush against him. Letting out a deep, confident breath, he stepped forward. As he did this, he raised his arm up towards the bright-morning sky above.
"Hey Cloud! Maybe if this mission succeeds, I'll finally be promoted to 1st Class!" Zack called out in hope, clenching his raised fist as proof of his determination.
"It wouldn't hurt to be hopeful." Cloud commented back in support, keeping up with Zack's optimistic atmosphere.
With that, Zack charged off into the distance, waving back to his friend just before he disappeared into the blinding light. 
“Give Sephiroth my regards…!”
With a smile strapped across his face, Cloud began to prepare for the Academy, taking a moment to reflect on Zack's dream of becoming a ‘Hero’.
Even though Sephiroth was the ‘hero of the world’ to most, Cloud never truly acknowledged him as an inspiration. He undoubtfully respected the man and his legendary status, yet it was never enough for him to consider the man as inspirational.
To him, Zack Fair was all the inspiration he needed.
DISSIDIA ACADEMY, Class 13A Homeroom, 8:40am…
"…So, he's finally got himself a date!" Tidus loudly bellowed out in surprise, acting in his usual over-the-top manner.
Class 13A began to gather in the usual Homeroom, waking themselves up from their drowsy states and continuing to chat amongst one another about the usual up-to-date gossip.
Firion, Cecil, and Tidus sat around Cloud's desk, chilling out with Cloud before Professor Shantotto entered to commence morning Homeroom. Although hesitant at first, Cloud eventually gave in and explained to trio about Zack's new 'mystery' girlfriend, knowing all too well that they – mainly Tidus – would kick up a fuss if he kept it a secret.
Reactions were as follows: Firion had a very surprised expression on his face, although he accepted it wholeheartedly; Cecil had nodded to himself with a light glimmer shining in his eyes, anticipating the idea of a 'mystery' romance; and Tidus – as one would expect – had leapt up in abrupt shock, bewildered by the fact that Zack had finally been able to 'bag' himself a girl.
"Do you know the girlfriend’s identity?" Firion curiously pursued, casually leaning against the table in front.
"No. All he told me was that she's 'sweet' and 'cute'." Cloud admitted whilst shaking his head, crossing his arms in frustration. "Aside from that … I’ve got nothing."
"I think it's glorious.” Cecil proudly stated to the group, his eyes burned brightly. “A couple loving each other in secret. Those close to them unravel the mystery. Just the thought of it makes my heart burn with passion."
Firion, Tidus, and Cloud glanced at Cecil with odd smirks. All three knew full well about Cecil’s romanticist tendencies, so this type of comment was to be expected of him.
"Yeah … keep dreaming, love maniac." Tidus commented under his breath, patting him on the back with his usual cheesy grin.
He then swiftly whipped back to face Cloud, his eager eyes brimming with excitement.
"I suggest we jump on him, force him to spill the beans!"
"There's a slight problem with that proposition: we're just Academy students with barely any experience of such physical activity.” Firion interrupted Tidus' idea, stating exactly what Cloud had been thinking – except in more context and with slight exaggeration. “Zack – on the other hand – is a full-blown SOLDIER operative. He would turn the tables on us before we even make the move on him."
"How about we tail him whenever he is caught off-guard?” Cecil then suggested, considering more of a secretive approach. “Learn what we can from the shadows."
"If he were to catch us, it'll be game over." Tidus sighed in denial, not particularly enjoying the idea of being caught in the act. “Think about it this way: neither of us are as ninja-like as Zidane. We would make a mistake before we even reached Zack.”
"Guys, we're talking about my best-friend here.” Cloud then decided to cut in, feeling the whole situation unnecessary. “He’s not the serious 'I'll wipe your memory if you find out' type of guy. There isn't any need to go so far just to find out who this girlfriend is.
“Besides, I'm not going to stalk or force Zack into admitting something he wants to surprise us with. When he finally decides to reveal her identity, I'll be there waiting patiently for who it is."
Ending the conversation then and there, Cloud rose from his own seat and decided to go grab a coffee from the machine. Believing he had time to spare before Professor Shantotto would enter the room, he took this opportunity to reenergize himself.
He passed Onion Knight and Terra on his right, the two discussing away with each other as they usually do. And Warrior of Light on his left, who was patiently sitting at his desk with focus primarily on the book in his hand.
However, before Cloud could exit the classroom, he immediately froze as he caught an ear of Tidus’ next comment
"You're boring as usual, Cloud." Tidus murmured, a scheming yet subtle smirk appearing on his face.
Firion and Cecil followed the pattern with their own comments.
"How disappointing, it would have been quite fun." Firion admitted bluntly, trying to keep a straight face.
"So, the 'mysterious' romance will forever stay a secret." Cecil stated lowly, dipping his head down to hide his face behind his long silver hair.
Cloud’s jaw clenched up, his eyes half-open to emulate his frustrated expression.
"Fine, I'll play your little 'game'!” Cloud stated in a serious tone, showing no amusement in being guilt-tripped. “If we're going to tail him, we'll have to wait till he returns from his mission in Wutai. And, we'll have to be extra vigilant … Zack has the senses of a hawk."
Tidus nodded cheerfully to Firion and Cecil, feeling rather victorious guilt-tripping their friend.
"No need to worry about that, Cloud!" Tidus smiled confidently, ideas forming in his mind. "We'll have a plan set in no time!"
Cloud cautiously glared at him, feeling a rising concern in Tidus’ upbeat declaration.
…I’m going to regret this.
Noticing the time, he then hastily left the Homeroom to grab his coffee.
Just before Lunch Break, 12:25pm…
Cloud sat patiently in his seat as his Math lesson began to end. He – along with most of his other classmates – watched the clock with anticipation, feeling their hunger was driving them to the point of insanity.
Their Math Teacher – a very intelligent yet stuck up man who referred to himself as 'The Emperor' – waffled on about how he ruled in the field of ‘Math’. Whilst the actual subject of Math was included in the lesson, it was vastly inferior to the amount of time The Emperor had spent gloating about his superiority.
Just before the lesson began, Firion murmured underneath his breath to Cloud that The Emperor was a man who bathed in his own ego. It was only now that Cloud had realised that his words were a direct warning to how the lesson was going to play out.
Throughout the lesson, individual students gradually began to slip into a trance of boredom. Some fell into daydreams, their imaginations taking them away to their fantasy-lands as a means of temporary escape. Others … fell asleep completely, their minds unable to resist the temptation as boredom forced them to the edge of insanity.
Would the torment ever end?
Much to the surprise of both he and the rest of the Class, Cloud was able to keep himself awake throughout the lesson. With only his eyes drooping during certain instances, he was only one of the few to survive the lesson so far.
Only three others survived: Warrior of Light, Onion Knight, and Terra.
Warrior of Light and Onion Knight were mainly focused with their own rivalry, attempting to one-up and belittle each other with their wits at every opportunity. Terra, on the other hand, was struggling to hold her consciousness, her eyes gradually drifting and refocusing as she reminded herself what would occur if she were to fall into slumber.
With only two minutes left before they were free, Cloud could feel the anticipation rising in his soul … and yet, also the sense of anxiety breaking through.
There were two reasons for this sudden dilemma: the ‘encounter’ that he may potentially face during the Lunch Break, and the lesson that followed. The ‘encounter’ was rather self-explanatory at this point; the hoard of female students would be out on the hunt once again, and Cloud was expected to be on the very top of their list of targets.
The ‘lesson’ that followed was less simple, for it wasn’t the usual case of spending an hour listening to introductory lectures and brief activities. For it seems that once Lunch Break ends, he would be sitting in a Geography lesson with Sephiroth as his teacher.
The thought of this impending occurrence had yet to settle in Cloud’s mind, still somewhat wondering if this was just a ruse made by Zack. This did not help by the fact that Sephiroth was yet to be seen of heard by hi or the others in his Class.
Cloud's mind rattled as thoughts and questions continued to form in his mind throughout the day:
Why was he teaching Geography?
What was so special about that subject?
It was all so confusing.
Just then, the bell finally rang out throughout the corridors of Dissidia Academy, announcing that the day’s Lunch Break had officially commenced – much to the relief of Class 13A.
During that very moment, The Emperor finished up on his dismal lecture, allowing the students to leave the classroom. Without a second thought, Cloud swiftly packed up his belongings and slung his backpack over his shoulders, refusing to spend a moment longer in the hellhole of a Math classroom.
However, before he was about to leave, he met up with Firion. With his eyes red and drowsy expression, Firion was the most relieved of the students to finally escape he torment they had to endure. Cecil soon joined them, lazily shaking his head as an attempt to stay conscious.
With two out of his three companions by his side, Cloud switched to the direction of Tidus' desk. At first he wondered why Tidus – the most lively and energetic member of the group – was taking so long to join them.
And then he realised … the answer was obvious.
Tidus was caught drifting away in a deep slumber, sluggishly leaning back against his chair as he snoozed away.
A sudden and idea immediately crossed Cloud's mind, letting out a cheeky grin as the opportunity for payback finally arose. As Firion and Cecil watched in intrigue, he hastily stepped over and knelt down to the legs of Tidus' chair. Hoping not to have his plan foiled, he carefully pushed the legs upwards, tipping the oblivious Tidus off-balance.
The moment Tidus collided against the classroom floor, he abruptly leapt back up to his feet in a confused startle.
"Who-!? Wha-!? I-I wasn't asleep, I swear!" Tidus bellowed out in panic, his loud voice echoing through the classroom.
The whole of Class 13A stared at him in silence, eyes peering upon him with a mixture of curiosity and concern. Tidus blushed with embarrassment, glancing away to hide the bright red flush in his cheeks.
Tidus then switched to hear an uncontrollable laughter coming from non-other than Cloud, who was clutching his stomach in pain as he tried and failed to calm himself down. He was crying – eyes streaming with tears – as his idea became a momentous success.
After a moment of processing the situation, Tidus decided to brush the embarrassment aside and laugh alongside his friend.
Academy Grounds, 12:35pm…
Cloud cautiously peeked around the corner of Dissidia Academy's building, observing for any signs of the dreaded horde of female students. Word had spread across the Academy that they were on the hunt, preying on any of the innocent and unsuspecting victims that happened to be in their line of sight.
Much to his despair, Cloud was left to fend of himself, for his usual backup had gone their separate ways due to mandatory obligations.
Tidus was preoccupied with his scheduled Blitzball practice, where he was ‘begrudgingly’ being coached by his own Father – the Academy’s P.E Instructor. Elsewhere, Firion was running errands with the Student Council, focusing his assistance on Warrior of Light and Onion Knight as they were fulfilling various ‘important’ tasks for Headmistress Cosmos. Finally, Cecil was summoned by his Brother – Astronomy teacher: Sir Golbez – for a meeting regarding future events.
Cloud had to be as vigilant as ever, believing his life was truly on the line.
After several moments of examining the area, Cloud released a sigh of relief. There was no sign of the female students, meaning they had already moved on from the front section of the Grounds … or, had yet to commence their search for prey.
Desperately hoping for the latter, Cloud stepped out of the corner, knowingly taking the risk that could likely backfire at any moment.
And then, he felt a tap on his shoulder from behind.
Cloud completely leapt out of his skin in fright, stumbling back as paranoia overcame him. Covering his head with his arms to block out the world, he awaited his inevitable demise.
"I-is … something the matter, Cloud?" A light, pure voice questioned worriedly, drawn back by Cloud's unexpectedly over-exaggerated reaction.
Cloud's eyes suddenly flickered open upon hearing the familiar voice, swiftly realising that the person who had approached him was not involved with the horde. As he gradually dropped his arms, his allowed his heartbeat to relax whilst he faced the person standing before him.
Terra Branford gazed at Cloud in awkward confusion, wondering why he was so jumpy.
Brushing away the paranoia with immediate haste, Cloud forced a smile.
"It's nothing.” Cloud admitted in denial, letting out a light chuckle. “I was just caught off-guard, that's all."
"I … see.” Terra warily responded with a silent giggle, before pursuing to ask a question in her shy tone. “Well, seeing as Onion Knight is away on his Council errands, I was just wondering: Would you like to join me for Lunch?"
"I – err … Y-yeah, sure!” Cloud answered awkwardly, generally surprised that she was asking him for company. “…Why not."
Cloud and Terra explored the Academy Grounds for the next few minutes, their eyes peeled in hopes of locating a space to eat their Lunch. Along the way, they were happily making small-talk.
The Academy Grounds were packed with groups of students, all socialising and eating their lunches together as they enjoyed the lively atmosphere. Due to this, irritation began to set in for both Cloud and Terra, wondering if they would ever find a place to sit and chill.
And then, after a while of searching, they finally found a free bench situated on the opposite side of the where they stood. The two acknowledged one another with expressions of determination, knowing they had to act fast before the opportunity disappears entirely.
With a fast pace set in motion, Cloud and Terra began to cross the front entrance of the Academy, their eyes focused solely on the bench in their sights.
However, as they closed in on the vacant bench, a brief glimpse of the Academy Gate caught the corner of Cloud's eye.
He halted his steps instantly, gazing off towards the Gate with widened eyes.
Terra immediately noticed Cloud’s sudden stop, switching back to him with a curious expression. She was about to ask him as to why he stopped so abruptly, but decided to instead follow the line of his sight.
Standing at the Gate were two people, both deep in conversation.
One was a female student, fresh from her morning studies. The other was a slightly older male, seemingly on break from work.
From what Cloud and Terra could see, the man had just passed over a present he had close to his side, giving out a genuine smile in the process. The female student clapped her hands together with excitement, showing her appreciation towards the man as she was handed the present.
Opening the present with glee, it was revealed to be a pink silk hair-ribbon.
The following gestures indicated that the man had offered to tie the ribbon for the female student, suggesting it to be the perfect replacement for the simple hairband she was currently wearing. The female student accepted with a cheerful not, immediately facing away from the man so that he could see what he was doing.
After a moment of trial and error on the man’s part, the ribbon seemed to suite the female student perfectly. The female student swayed as she felt her braided ponytail swish back and forth elegantly, further showing the ribbon holding up her hair in grace.
Overwhelmed with gratitude, the female student threw her arms around the man, eagerly expressing her affection for the man.
"Aww … how sweet." Terra cheerfully commented, placing her hands together softly against her chest as she watched the couple lovingly embrace.
"Yeah…" Cloud murmured in response, completely lost for words, "…sweet."
Terra was completely oblivious to notice Cloud’s current expression of shock and disbelief, his widened eyes locked on to the couple as he struggled to grasp what he had just witnessed.
He knew the exact identities of the couple.
The man who stood at the Entrance Gate was relatively tall, his posture strong and proud as he showed off his 2nd Class SOLDIER Uniform.
That man was Zack Fair.
From what Cloud assumed, it seemed that Zack was able to finish off his mission in Wutai earlier than initially expected.
However, whilst it was a shock to see his best friend at the Entrance Gate of the Academy: what caused his heart to leap the most was the female student.
With the hair-ribbon now tied in place: her long, chocolate-brown, braided hair was the definition of perfection. Furthermore, her smooth, natural skin was basked in purity, giving of the aura of an angel. Finally, she wore the same Dissidia Academy uniform as every other female student on site, yet she could easily stand out amongst a crowd.
Her name … Aerith Gainsborough.


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