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Chapter 5 - Vol 2: Questioning Perfection

Within the halls of Dissidia Academy, life as a student is an adventure! Follow the Heroes of Final Fantasy as they fulfill the variety of challenges that lie before them, setting the path towards their future! However, underneath the depths of this highly established Academy ... lies a darkness that may throw the entire world into chaos.
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Chapter 5 - Vol 2: Questioning Perfection

Chapter 5 - Vol 2: Questioning Perfection
“HYAH!”
STAB! Splutter…!
Zack Fair lunged forward as he struck his blade into the chest of Wutai's 'Anti-Shinra’ weapon, focusing all his strength and attention on taking the abomination down. With a clenched jaw and deathly eyes, his dominance overpowered the opponent before him.
The weapon was a towering bulk of immovable mass – in fact, it was twice the size of Zack.
Its name: Vajradhara Tu.
It was Wutai’s ultimate resort to overpowering Shinra and gaining the upper hand in their War. Without this, Wutai would be unable to counter Shinra’s advances, leaving them cornered with no options left in their arsenal.
Zack made sure that this monster perished like its brother: Vajradhara Wu, who was currently lying motionless on the ground with several open wounds and lifeless eyes.
As he purged his blade deeper into the Vajradhara Tu’s chest, he could feel it begin to stagger and moan. The weapon attempted to flail its monstrous boulder-like arms in desperation, hoping to brush away its puny enemy.
However, it was hopeless for the monster. With life draining from its body at a fast rate, it had lost all focus in its eyes.
And then, the weapon’s legs finally gave way from underneath. There was no strength left in its hulking mass of a body, allowing gravity to take control of its weight. As the weapon fell forward, Zack hastily drew his blade out from the beast and leapt out of the way in haste, desperately praying on not getting flattened by the weapon's crushing mass.
CRASH!!!
The weapon collided against the floor of the Wutai fort, causing the whole area to shake violently like an erupting earthquake. Zack froze in a knelt down position, bracing himself as the floor continued to shake.
The reacting earthquake eventually died down, allowing Zack to steadily regain his feet. With his blade grasped securely in his palm, he stepped over to the Vajadhara Tu. Keeping a cautious eye on his fallen foe, he warily prodded the mass of muscle with his blade. The last thing he needed was a surprise attack, so the confirmation of its death was necessary for survival.
The Vajadhara Tu showed no signs of movement whatsoever, the pupils of its eyes completely whited out as saliva began to seep from the corner of its gaped mouth.
It then dawned on Zack: he was victorious.
Glancing at his two fallen opponents, Zack couldn’t hold in the overwhelming sensation of joy a moment longer.
"I-I did it…? I did it!?" Zack bellowed out, an explosion of excitement escaping him all at once. "HAH-HAH-HAAA…!!! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!"
With the amount of exhilaration running through his body, Zack proudly swung and spun his sword in a swift, fluid motion – ending with a powerful victory pose. Feeling refreshed, he placed the blade of his sword on his back, locking it against the magnet.
Letting out a sigh of relief, he began to reflect on the mission.
As stated on the mission briefing: Zack had to infiltrate Wutai's Fort without any supervision.
It was in the Shinra Company’s best interests to not to start an all-out conflict, preferring the mission to be carried out with the least amount of SOLDIER units possible. With Sephiroth way from SOLDIER, Zack's mentor – Angeal – was initially assigned to lead the mission. However, through Angeal's personal request, Zack was roped in to take on the mission as a solo operative.
Zack soon found out the reason behind this abrupt change: Angeal and SOLDIER’s Director - Lazard Deusericus – were recently in conversation regarding Zack’s skills and overall potential. In fact, Angeal had proposed the Director to allow Zack to prove his worth as a SOLDIER operative.
Upon initially hearing this, Zack was left speechless. He felt honoured to lead a mission of such importance for the company; although, he could not help but feel the daunting pressure of fulfilling such a momentous request.  
And so, throughout the duration of the mission, Zack was able to infiltrate the Fort without triggering any alarms or alerting any Wutai forces – much to his own surprise and relief. As he entered the 'Anti-Shinra weapons' stronghold, he valiantly fought against the two monstrous weapons.
It was a struggle, yet he was able to withstand their barrage of heavy hits.
He let out another sigh of relief.
Thank the Goddess its over…
Clap-clap-clap…!
Suddenly, the sound of a pair of hands clapping echoed throughout the building, causing Zack to leap up in fright. He immediately switched and drew his blade out, readying himself for another bout.
However, as he focused his attention towards the source of the echo, he caught sight of Angeal emerging from behind a corner.
Angeal was a tall, powerful man who always carried a large, deadly Buster Sword along with his forever tense expression. As rumours had implied, the Sword had never been used during missions, even though it was his primary weapon of choice as a 1st Class SOLDIER operative.
A reason for this was never truly given to Zack, leaving him only to guess that it was family-related.
Upon noticing Angeal, Zack hastily re-sheathed his weapon, hiding the embarrassment of almost attacking his own mentor by mistake.
"Well, it seems there wasn't any need for me to interfere in the mission after all." Angeal coolly chuckled, thoroughly analysing Zack's overall performance. "I must admit, there were times when I was on the edge of my seat – particularly when you almost let your guard down during the main battle. But you never drew attention to yourself and was able to swiftly complete the mission, so I think I'll be able to let the little nit-picks slide.”
Zack’s expression lit up with an ecstatic grin.
“I must hand it to you, Zack … you've certainly impressed me."
Zack knew that Angeal was inspecting his performance from a hidden distance, watching his every movement like a hawk. It left him increasingly anxious, showing awareness that one major slipup would cost him dearly.
Ans yet, the moment he began infiltrating the Fort, the thought of Angeal assessing him had completely disappeared from his mind. He focused himself solely on the mission at hand, allowing him to proceed without much hesitation and doubt
“Thanks Angeal,” Zack responded in tremendous gratitude, truly feeling proud to be a member of SOLDIER.
"Now, concerning your status within SOLDIER…" Angeal then began to mutter, stepping closer towards Zack with a serious expression.
Zack's heart jumped the moment Angeal spoke out; this was the moment of truth.
Will his recent success and progression in missions allow him to be finally promoted to 1st Class?
Or, will he be stuck to serve Shinra as a measly 2nd Class operative forever more?
"…I’ll have to address at a later time." Angeal concluded.
Zack's mind suddenly felt as though it had blown a fuse.
"HUH!?!?” Zack roared out in exaggerated frustration, firmly grasping the collar of Angeal's uniform as let loose everything that erupted in his mind. “YOU CAN'T JUST BUILD UP MY HOPES LIKE THAT AND THEN JUST LEAVE ME HANGING!"
Angeal gazed in bewilderment as the man before him continued to release his fury.
"HOW AM I SUPPOSE TO SLEEP SOUNDLY TONIGHT NOW!?"
Once Zack finally finished his rant, Angeal coolly brushed him off, showing no expression whatsoever.
"If you gave at least a moment of thought about your own surroundings before freaking out, you would have realised that we're still in the Wutai Fort.” Angeal explained to him in his calm tone. “I’m sure the Wutai Forces know of our location by now.”
Within that moment, Zack began to hear sirens outside the Fort, along with rising commotions surrounding the Fort. Not long after, a stampede of footsteps swiftly emerged from the distance, incoming from a variety of directions.
Zack's expression dropped, realising he had just screwed up.
“Right on cue…” Angeal murmured with a low sigh.
"Err … Oops." Zack whimpered in a squeaky tone, sweat breaking through his skin.
"What are you going to do now, ‘Zack the Puppy’?" Angeal questioned in a serious manner – although a hint of hidden amusement almost broke through.
"Wha-!? Angeal, you know how much I hate you calling me that!" Zack blurted out irritably, feeling as though the world was beginning to spin.
He then hastily turned and began to scout for a viable escape route, purposely ignoring his mentor’s cold glare.
"A-anyway, the sooner we get out of here, the better."
Zack hastily scanned the area around him, showing minor signs of panic and distress as he attempted to find a way out. He hastily treaded over towards the back door of the room, only to hear Angeal let out a small murmur.
"I would guess that the Wutai troops have the whole building surrounded by now.” Angeal lightly hinted with a small smirk, acting as though he was finding this situation amusing to watch. “I wouldn’t be surprised if all the plausible escape routes were blocked off.”
Zack pulled himself back from the door and gulped, his body covered in sweat and shaking with anxiety.
He couldn’t believe this was happening to him; after everything he put himself through in order to succeed in the most important mission of his career, he decides to go and screw himself over during the home run!
The thought of failing to reach 1st Class and losing the one opportunity to fulfil his dream had sent him into an inner meltdown. Throwing both arms over his head, Zack began to pace around, eyes wild as he struggled to rationalise his thoughts.
he then heard the footsteps closing in on them, commotions and shouting echoing from the other side of the doors.
It was only a matter of time before he and Angeal would be caught by Wutai forces.
He was drawing a complete blank.
Snap! Snap!
Zack snapped round to face Angeal, showing a mixed expression of confusion and panic. He immediately noticed his mentor casually pointing skywards. Zack, curious to know what Angeal was implying, took the hint and followed the direction of his mentor’s finger.
It was a Ventilation System.
Although it was the most clichéd way of escape, Zack knew that it was either this or facing an entire Wutai Army.
With that said, a couple of questions appeared in his mind: Where would the vents lead to?
…And, with either of them fit through the shaft without any issues – especially with the Buster Sword in Angeal’s possession?
"It’s just a hunch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this led to the roof of the Fort." Angeal calmly deducted, acting as though he was able to read Zack's mind. “What do you think?”
Zack stepped back hesitantly, uncertain about what he should do. He then noticed his mentor leap into the ventilation system with ease, not even a second thought passed through his mind as he disappeared.
Zack hastily took one last look of the doors in front of him.
"Well, I guess there’s no time like the present!" Zack encouraged himself, keeping up his regulated, positive tone.
Woosh…!
BANG!
He swiftly leapt up towards the opening of the vent, completely out of sight just as the Wutai army broke through the door.
 
The Wutai Rooftops…
After some time passed crawling within the never-ending maze of the vent, both Angeal and Zack finally reached an exit.
Angeal was – as usual – correct: the system did in fact reach the roof of the Fort.
Speaking of whom, Angeal was the first to appear out of the Ventilation system, inhaling the open air in desperate relief. He was able to spot the morning sun still beat down around the Wutai area, glaring proudly over the land. It was a beautiful sight, as though purposely masking the current dilemma.
Angeal stepped out of the system without making a noise, praying not to alert the Wutai troops of their current whereabouts.
Unfortunately, this idea had not crossed Zack's mind.
"PHWAH…! Man! Talk about cramped with a capital C!" Zack exclaimed loudly, obliviously bursting out of the vent. “Woo…! At least we’re out of there!”
Angeal scowled towards him, attempting to hold back the rising anger that almost took over his calm demeanour. And yet, Zack continued his loud speech, acting as though he had completely forgotten the mission.
"I mean, seriously! Drag a claustrophobic sufferer in there and in a matter of seconds he'll go absolutely Ape-shi – Mmph!?!?"
Zack mouth was forcefully covered by Angeal's hand, refusing him to speak another word.
Zack glanced up towards his mentor's face, only to gasp in abrupt horror upon noticing Angeal's current expression. Angeal's eyes were raging like a rabid bull, his temper completely passed the breaking point whilst his lips were sealed tight in desperation of holding back the roar of a lion.
"If you say another word in that loud, obnoxious tone of yours … your blood will be the first to stain the Buster Sword.” He murmured grittily, eyes locked like daggers on Zack's terrified face. “Do I MAKE myself clear?"
Zack instinctively nodded, hands slightly rose upwards in prove of his innocence whilst giving out a slight whimper.
"…Good." Angeal firmly nodded, removing his hand from Zack's mouth before commencing to scout the area.
Zack drew in a few deep – yet quick – breaths, calming himself down after such a terrifying encounter.
He stepped out of the vent and resealed its gate carefully without causing any disruptive sounds. He then turned and treaded over to his mentor's position – who was preoccupied observing the outskirts of the Fort. He decided to follow Angeal's eyes, peering down towards the depths of the fort below as curiosity took over him.
In that instant, Zack felt his heart sink in despair, noticing the sheer mass of the Wutai Army surrounding the building.
"Oh man, those are a lot of troops.” Zack commented gloomily, keeping a constant low voice. "How in the world are we going to get out of this mess?"
"Hm-hmm…!" Angeal chuckled proudly, acting as though he was one step ahead of the game.
“…What’s so funny?” Zack questioned in a low tone, caution entering his mind. “Why is it that I get the chills whenever I hear you laugh?”
“You don’t need to worry your simple mind over our small mishap, that’s all.” He then shrugged, a dark smirk sealed as he shook his head. “I have this covered.”
Zack curiously watched as his mentor swivel round, making his way towards a large mound of leaves situated on the other side of the Fort's roof. Angeal reached into the pile and pulled out two large backpacks. As he returned, Zack immediately knew the purpose of the bags.
However, it wasn't to his liking.
"And … why do you have parachutes?" Zack asked as he nervously stiffened, his breath stuttering.
"Simple. This is the key to our escape." Angeal answered as he noticed Zack’s cautious stance. "What's the matter, wasn't parachuting one of the activities they offered back in Dissidia Academy?"
"Yeah, we had the option … but I didn't find any interest at the time." Zack quietly admitted, glancing away to hide his embarrassment. “…I’m kinda regretting it right now.”
Angeal teasingly shook his head, showing off some disappointment in his protégé.
"And here you are hoping to be a 1st Class operative after this mission … how shameful." He spoke out, exaggerating his dissatisfaction in hope of triggering Zack.
Fortunately, this didn't take long whatsoever.
Zack's head instantly whipped round to face Angeal, showing off a scornful, bitter expression in the process. Zack's mind had snapped, he refused to allow this statement to pass off so easily.
"Give me that parachute." Zack ordered in a low, menacing tone, sounding completely off from his usual personality.
Angeal passed over one of the parachute packs, smirking by how typical Zack was with his behaviour.
The expression said it all: This was payback after Zack’s earlier vocal explosion.
Zack hastily strapped the pack onto back, making sure no straps were loose and that the fabric wasn’t twisted or worn. It was initially a difficult procedure, attempting to avoid slicing the bag with his attached weapon by accident.
Thankfully, this was not the case.
With everything in check, Zack faced his mentor with determination, ensuring that no more screw ups would occur during their escape.
However, this tense and looming atmosphere did not last very long. The moment Zack dipped his head, the tension he once had was replaced with a combination of awkwardness and uncertainty.
"Err… what do I do now?" Zack clumsily wondered, knowing that he had failed to keep up the tense tone of the situation.
“…”
After a silent groan, Angeal swiftly explained the instructions of the parachute. He was adamant to leave the facility as soon as possible, fully aware that the Wutai had already realised that the two SOLDIER Operatives had escaped to the roof of the complex.
“So … count to 5 and pull the cord.” Zack echoed curiously, reiterating his mentor’s explanation. “That’s all?”
“Yeah, that’s all there is to it.” Angeal nodded firmly, relieved to finally escape this place. “…Just don’t forget to jump.” 
Upon grasping the concept, Zack swiftly leapt into position. Angeal indicated the escape point, pointing towards the small forest in the distance west of the complex. Zack instantly tensed his muscles and locked eyes directly towards the bulk of the forest, building up his confidence yet again.
At that moment, the two began to hear crowds of Wutai troops forming far below, discussing their next options to capture the intruders.
It was now or never.
"No time like the present, Zack!" Angeal called out to him, swiftly observing the area below.
"I'm way ahead of you!" Zack nodded back in confidence, already running towards the edge of the roof.
I can do this … I can do this…
Zack repeated the thought to himself as he charged towards the edge, keeping a positive outlook.
Angeal watched him pass at ferocious speed, switching attention between him and the crowds below.
"I can do this … I CAN DO THIS!" Zack then bellowed out with pride, closing in to the edge with eyes locked towards his escape.
However, as he was seconds from the edge of the building, his words changed.
"…I can't do this."
In that instant, he began to fall to the crowd of Wutai forces at the bottom of the fort, unable to control his descent.
Angeal rapidly ran towards the edge where Zack leapt off from and swiftly called out to him, "ZACK! PULL THE CORD!"
As Angeal roared, gunshots began to fire.
The Wutai had spotted them.
Angeal stumbled back, evading the incoming bullets.
WOOSH!!!
He then heard an object inflate … and a sudden roar of excitement.
"YEEEAAHHH!!!" Zack roared at the top of his voice, his body lifting sky high as the parachute drifted towards their escape zone. "This is AWESOME!"
Unable to hide his relief, Angeal let out a light chuckle, finding Zack’s reaction somewhat typical.
He then took a step back to prepare himself, bag secured on his back behind the Buster Sword. Without a moment’s thought, he leapt off the edge of the complex, pulling the cord just as his feet left the edge. He began to feel the jolt of his body being carried away, the wind brushing passed at a refreshing pace.
Both Zack and Angeal swerved their bodies gracefully evading the bullets that were shot at them. To their luck, none of the shots hit their targets, not even damaging the parachutes.
"Hah-hah-haa! I forgot Wutai were terrible shots!" Zack called out in laughter, fully engulfed in the moment.
Finally, Zack and Angeal soared into the forest, successfully escaping the Wutai facility and completing the mission unscathed … mostly.
 
Shinra HQ, later that day…
The Director's office was always very organised and spacious, plenty of room for people to move around freely. The logo of the company hung down on large plaques against the walls around the office, displaying its pride to the world. In the middle of the office was a large arched desk with a small number of computer screens, detailing various attributes and current affairs surround SOLDIER and Shinra itself.
The director of SOLDIER himself sat behind the desk, filing papers and checking up on the system mainframe.
He had slick-back, blond hair and wore formal-looking blue glasses. His attire consisted of a striped blue blazer with white shirt, trousers, and gloves. He also wore a purple and blue tie to match the rest of his attire with elegance. All of this was proof of his dedication to his work.
With all of this and a strong, healthy posture; Director Lazard Deusericus was perfectly man for his role.
Knock-knock!
A small, polite knock from the office doors echoed, indicating the presence of visitors. Rising from his seat, Director Lazard was anticipating a visit around this time.
"Come in, gentlemen." The Director called out in a formal manner, assuming it was the two he expected to see.
The doors opened as two SOLDIER operatives entered the room in high spirits. SOLDIER 2nd Class Zack Fair and SOLDIER 1st Class Angeal Hewley stepped up to the arching desk, both bowing gracefully towards their boss. The Director nodded back in response, greeting both Zack and Angeal as he exited his desk.
Angeal stepped forward, believing the time was right to do so. He positioned himself beside the Director, facing Zack. Zack straightened up his posture, his arms joint behind his back in an organised fashion.
Upon returning to Shinra, all Zack could even think about was how he completely screwed up his mission during the escape. Without Angeal's assistance, he would have failed the mission altogether. Dread overcame him, only wishing for the mission debriefing to be over.
In his mind, he knew he wasn't going to be promoted to 1st Class anytime soon.
"After observing the video footage containing your actions during the mission, there were certainly times I was struck by surprise." The Director began in a truthful tone, his face expressionless.
Whilst the Director recapped various scenes that stood out in the footage, Zack gave out a sharp and annoyed look towards Angeal.
You were recording me!? His mind yelled out.
His teeth grounded together, keeping his irritations in check.
He then caught sight of Angeal nodding back towards him, indicating to pay attention to the Director. Zack switched back towards the Director, his breath stuttering.
Upon finishing his recollection of the mission, the Director was ready to give his verdict.
"…Overall, I must say that this was a very interesting experience for you, Angeal, myself and even the whole of SOLDIER." The Director honestly admitted, pressing his finger against the centre of his glasses to realign them. "All in all, with a 'few' unfortunate slip ups to be considered…"
This is it … the moment of truth.
Zack struggled to hide away his emotions, dreading the inevitable.
"…The mission was a complete success.” The Director proudly began to conclude, coolly smiling towards Zack. “The War against Wutai is now currently halted for the foreseeable future."
The corners of Angeal’s mouth curled.
"And so, it is an honour for me…” The Director announced highly, “…to promote Zack Fair to SOLDIER 1st Class."
Upon hearing those last key words, Zack froze in complete shock.
“…Huh?”
His mouth fell open, eyes wide with disbelief as his mind struggled to process this unexpected outcome. He didn't know what to say or think at all; it just felt as though all thoughts and doubts rummaging through him disappeared in an instant.
He began to chuckle lightly, tears of pure happiness welling up in his eyes. The thoughts of achievement finally rushing through his mind like a speeding train.
"This … this is insane!” Zack let out his roar of triumph, causing his voice to echo throughout the office for what seemed like forever. “I finally became FIRST CLASS!"
He switched towards Angeal, who was smirking upon seeing Zack's reaction with gaining this achievement.
In that instant, Zack leapt over towards Angeal, throwing his arms open, "I can't hold it back anymore, man! I gotta-!"
"If you hug me, your blood will be the first to stain my Buster Sword." Angeal coldly interrupted him, dropping his grin in an instant as though it wasn't even there in the first place.
Zack abruptly halted his lunge, skidding across the floor slightly as he took Angeal's words into consideration.
Whenever Angeal included his Buster Sword in statements, he wasn’t joking around.
"Eh-heh-heh … sorry Angeal." Zack apologised lightly, raising both hands innocently.
Zack then heard the Director chuckle lightly beside him, causing him to shift his gaze with wonder and curiosity. He noticed Lazard examining his watch with a cool, formal smile appearing across his face.
"Well now, it seems that not only did you succeed this mission with flying colours, but you also seemed to have completed it in record time.” The Director acknowledged, indicating the time on his watch. "Seeing as it is now only Lunch Break, one must wonder what you would do for the rest of the day."
Zack didn't take long to realise what the Director had meant, examining his own watch to confirm the time:
12:15pm.
Zack began to wonder about what he would do, his thoughts drawing a complete blank.
"Well, for now you can go for an extended break whilst we set up for your promotion." Lazard then suggested, showing that he was ahead of Zack in terms of plans and preparations. "When you arrive back, your new uniform will be ready and waiting for you and we'll brief you on future assignments."
Zack gave a firm nod in response, excitement engulfing him as he relished the fact that he had finally accomplished 1st Class Status.
That was when it hit him: what was he to do for such a long Lunch Break?
Whilst he gave it some thought, Director Lazard dismissed them from the mission debriefing. Zack and Angeal left the office, bowing to their boss just before they passed through the doors.
Finally, an idea clicked into Zack's mind, something that felt so obvious to him. However, before he began to follow through with his newly-formed idea, there was still a question looming around in his mind that needed answering.
As the two began stepping down the long hallway, Zack decided to speak his mind.
"How much footage did you record of me during the mission?" Zack quietly queried Angeal, knowing something wasn't completely right when the Director spoke about the details of the mission footage.
"Only what mattered for the Director." Angeal answered back in an instant, his eyes keeping to the path ahead. "I stopped recording the moment you killed the 'weapon'."
Zack's expression brightened, showing absolute relief that there wasn’t any footage of where he had completely screwed up the missions escape. However, as he continued to walk on through the passageways of Shinra HQ, Angeal placed a hand firmly on his shoulder and halted him in his tracks.
"There are two things that I want you to keep in mind when pursuing future assignments, Zack." Angeal indicated in a serious tone, eyes now locked on Zack as they both stood firm. "First of all: I want you to work on controlling your emotions during missions. If it wasn't for your over-the-top outburst, our escape would have played out a lot more smoothly."
"Well, you could have held off on ‘shooting down my hopes’ like you did back then." Zack countered, refusing to forget the reason behind the initial outburst.
"That's not the point." Angeal shook his head sternly, knowing Zack would bring that up, "As a newly promoted 1st Class operative, it is vital that your emotions are restrained, especially in the heat of the moment.”
Zack fell silent, taking in his mentor’s advice.
“Now, secondly, I want you to keep in mind that ‘no mission goes according to plan’." Angeal continued severely.
"What do you mean by that?" Zack questioned in wonder, finding the idea rather odd.
"What I mean is that there is no such thing as a 'perfect' mission."Angeal responded in a clear tone, keeping to his serious stnce. "No matter how smoothly a mission is executed, there will always be something that could potentially disrupt the flow of the mission. Once this occurs, it is your duty to improvise and dynamically plan how to regain the mission flow. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yeah, I think I got the idea." Zack answered confidently, nodding to show that he thoroughly understood. “I’ll be sure to keep it in mind.”
"If that is the case, then I’ll leave you to your errands." Angeal concluded with a subtle smile, aware that Zack was in a rush. "When you’re done, come back and I’ll debrief you further."
With that, Zack gave a small nod and began to make his way towards the end of the corridor, waving back just as he disappeared around the corner.
As he left the building of Shinra HQ, he immediately took out his cell-phone and began to type out an email, hoping to promptly meet with someone at Dissidia Academy’s Entrance Gates.
 
Dissidia Academy, 12:35pm…
Aerith Gainsborough emerged from Dissidia Academy’s building, fresh-faced after hours of lessons and working in the Medical Room.
She took in the fresh surrounding air and the strong rays of the Sun as she treaded across the Academy Grounds, her empty stomach indicating that it was time for a bite to eat. However, before she was able to do so, she needed to meet someone in front of the Academy Entrance Gates.
In her hand was her phone, its screen lit up to display an email she had received not long before hearing the Lunch Break bell.
She began to head her way over towards the requested meeting place, slipping passed the large groups of gathering students. Whilst a hassle to break through, it didn’t take too long to finally reach the Entrance Gates. Once there, she took the opportunity to regain her energy, taking in a few deep breaths like it was nutritious water.
Aerith waited by the gates patiently, feeling the pleasant atmosphere cooling her down in the meantime. She watched the crowds of students pass her gaze, humming peacefully to herself as time continued to pass.
It wasn’t long after that she noticed the person step up towards the Gates from outside the Academy Grounds. A kind and pleasant smile appeared across her face as she spotted the man, straightening up as he drew closer.
As the person closed in towards her, his details gradually began to show within the light of the Sun's rays. He stood at a fairly tall yet proud height, dressed in a 2nd Class SOLDIER Uniform covering the majority of his body. He had jet-black spikey hair and a constant positive expression on his face.
He was none other than Zack Fair.
Zack jogged over towards Aerith, coolly waving to her whilst seemingly hiding something behind his back in the other hand. Aerith politely waved back, although wondering curiously as to what he was hiding from her.
"Phew…! Sorry for making you wait." Zack cheerfully apologised, stretching out as he finally reached her. "I bet you're craving for some food right about now."
"Oh, there’s no need to worry; I didn't have to wait long." Aerith responded cheerfully with a light giggle, expressing her appreciation for the fact that he wished to meet her in the middle of his work. "So, what did you want to see me about?"
"Well, if you must know…" Zack began hesitantly, taking in a deep breath to show how important this was to him.
With a proud stance, he began to announce with a powerful, accomplished grin.
"I have finally been promoted to SOLDIER 1st Class!"
"Wha-!? Really!? " Aerith gasped with surprise, feeling astonished by Zack's achievement. "That's amazing! Congrats, Zack!"
"Heh-heh-hee…! Thanks." Zack happily responded, feeling proud to be one step closer towards his lifelong dream. "It won't be long now till society recognises me as a ‘hero’."
Although saying this to her, Zack was very aware Aerith’s lack of fondness for the Shinra Company, particularly their questionable practices and neglect of environmental awareness. Normally he would keep details of his work separate during their time together, only adding it into conversation if required.
However, he believed that today was an exception.
"To commemorate this achievement, I decided for us to start celebrating with this small present I wanted to give you." Zack announced excitedly, finally revealing what he was hiding behind his back.
Upon reveal, he was holding out a small, simple bag. Inside of this bag was a light object, carefully wrapped in styled packaging. Aerith took the object out from the bag appreciatively, yet seemed to be showing a confused expression upon holding it.
"For me…? But surely it would be the other way around?" Aerith wondered uncertainly, unable to figure out his reasoning behind this. "I mean, you were the one who received the promotion in the first place."
"Yeah, that is how it's meant to go … but I felt like breaking those rules for this one occasion." Zack cheekily answered, showing off a cheesy grin. “Come on, open it up!”
Aerith giggled, always enjoying Zack's optimistic attitude.
She began to unwrap the present with as much care and attention, just as how it was wrapped initially. Upon noticing what it was, Aerith suddenly gasped with delight, unable to get rid of the permanent beaming smile that struck across her face.
The present was a pink hair-bow; delicately woven with the absolute care.
"Nice, isn't it? The moment I saw this in the shop on the way here, I thought it would be the perfect upgrade to your hairband." Zack admitted sweetly, his eyes locked on her. "Here, let me put it on for you."
He offered to tie up the bow for her, feeling rather generous. As she turned, he carefully took out the simple hairband that had tied up her ponytail throughout the time she was a student of the Academy.
Once off, her hair dropped down slightly and swayed with the slight breeze, giving off a fresh, sweet scent in the process. Zack then attempted to tie the bow, his tongue sticking out as he concentrated on the task at hand.
Upon completion – along with a few ‘trial-and-error’ moments, Aerith gracefully switched back to him, showing off her look with the new bow.
"Well, how do I look?" Aerith wondered curiously, swaying her ponytail innocently.
"Just like an angel." Zack stated meaningfully, giving of a serious tone as he continued to grin.
Aerith cheerfully giggled and swiftly embraced him, showing her overwhelming gratitude towards him. In return, Zack wrapped his arms around her, feeling appreciative to have her by his side.
The two were so focused on each other’s company … that they were completely oblivious to the figure watching them in the distance.
 
Meanwhile…
Cloud Strife watched the couple as they continued to embrace in the distance, unable to break away.
Even though various students passed his gaze, the image of the two embracing was clear as day. Cloud was undeniably glad to see Zack finally showing affection for someone, believing that it was a long time coming.
Additionally, he had only known Aerith for a few days, so it was nice to see her returning Zack’s affection with her own.
And yet, he could not shake of this odd feeling brewing from deep inside.
His throat felt dry, his heart began to race, and his body felt frozen in place.
He just couldn’t understand it.
Part of him had the desire to go over and meet with them, but the rest refused. It was like a series of mental chains restricting him from moving, holding him back with absolute force.
A voice then broke his inner tension, almost causing him to leap out of his skin.
"Are you ok, Cloud?" Terra Branford peered at him curiously, wondering why he continued to gaze out in the distance. “Is something bothering you?”
"Ah, sorry … I must have dazed out for a moment there." Cloud answered back, breaking out of his locked gaze.
He switched his sights over towards the bench that they were both initially heading for, noticing it was still free.
"Should we sit?"
Terra nodded cheerfully, "Yeah, before it gets taken."
They hastily rushed over towards the bench, both feeling the emptiness of their insides as they craved for the food. Cloud still had Zack and Aerith in the corner of his eye, yet decided it was best to leave them be for the time being.
Cloud and Terra perched down on the bench in instant relief, feeling appreciative that they could rest themselves in the warm, pleasant environment. They both hastily took out their lunches from their bags and began to chow down on their lunch without hesitation.
As they ate, Cloud continued to reflect on what he just witnessed, attempted to understand this odd feeling growing inside of him. The image of the two embracing was forged in the depths of his mind, refusing to leave no matter how hard he tried to forget.
Cloud abruptly shook his head, trying his best to push that thought aside and think about something else.
This only led to it becoming more prevalent.
“So, do you know that couple?" Terra politely asked, hoping to start a conversation with him.
"Y-yeah…" Cloud nodded in response, although hesitant to answer her, "In fact, the guy with the black, spikey hair is … a close friend of mine."
"Oh, really!? Wow, that's convenient." Terra blurted out in surprise, giggling away quietly.
She then lowered her eyes slightly.
"…He certainly seemed happy with her."
"That’s Zack in a nutshell: he's always happy." Cloud chuckled as he pointed out to her, taking a sip of his drink. "Always having a positive demeanour when leaving for missions at SOLDIER and constantly headstrong about his goals … I've never seen him as anything different."
"It must be nice for him…" Terra began to silently murmur under her breath, closing her eyes in the process, "…to love and to feel."
"Huh?" Cloud glanced towards her oddly, feeling the atmosphere around them shift slightly.
"Ah … sorry. Don't mind me." Terra apologised in haste, returning back to her normal expressions. "Why not tell me more about him and the girl he was with."
"…Right." Cloud nodded with a shrug, continuing to speak as they ate their lunch.
As time passed, they finished with their meal and began to pack their empty boxes away, still chatting away cheerfully. It was pleasant for the two students, ignorant to the world around them as they enjoyed each other’s company. Even if the topics of the conversation was mundane, the atmosphere alone was just enough for them to relax.
And then, as Cloud leant down to grasp his bag from the floor … he began to hear a high pitch squeal in the far-off distance.
His whole body froze in an instant.
His eyes widened and muscles tensed, fear struck him without warning.
Terra noticed his sudden jump in reaction, and yet was oblivious to the situation. She watched him curiously, wondering what was troubling him this time. It was then that she noticed the ground beneath her feet begin to vibrate.
It was like a quake, strengthening with each passing second.
Soon after, Cloud rose up with his bag slung over his shoulder and eyes hidden from view.
"W-what going on, Cloud?" Terra worriedly asked as she stood up, struggling to understand the sudden change of events. "Why is the ground suddenly shaking!?"
"Sorry, Terra..." Cloud spoke lowly, a vacant grin appearing yet eyes completely devoid of expression. "But it looks like we'll have to part ways for the time being."
"Huh…? Why? Lunch break hasn't even ended yet." Terra responded in shock, feeling the vibrations below grow more ferocious. "We've got 10 minutes left before our next lesson."
"You'll see soon enough…" Cloud murmured, his fists tensing up.
There was a moment of odd silence between the two … until Cloud yelled his farewell.
"…See you in Geography!"
With that, he bolted off into the distance, dust emerging beneath his feet as he sped away in desperation. Terra watched him in bewilderment, her mind completely drawing a blank as to what was occurring.
However, it seemed she didn't need to spend another thought on the reason, as her answer appeared in front of her without a second delay.
A colossal stampede of female students flew passed Terra at gargantuan speeds, causing her to stumble back in horror. Students leapt out of the way in safety, noticing the group barging through.
They swiftly followed Cloud’s direction, sniffing him out like rabid dogs.
What followed was his terrified voice, his bellowing pleas echoing throughout the entire Academy Grounds.
"WILL YOU PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!?"
Terra was frozen in place, wide-eyed with disbelief.
 
Dissidia Academy’s 3rd Floor, 1:00pm…
Lunch Break ended with the sound of the Academy’s bell ringing, much to the disapproval of many. Students began to make their way for their next lessons, dispersing from the Grounds and back into the halls of the building.
Cloud made his way towards his destination: the 2nd Geography Room.
As he reached the 3rd Floor corridor, he noticed there was fair lack of students – a sign that he was slightly early.
Admittedly, he was completely worn out, feeling as though he could fall unconscious at any given moment. He was able to successfully outrun the mass of pursuing female students, refusing to repeat the horrors of his previous encounter.
During the chase, he had desperately hidden himself amongst a group of taller 3rd year students, purposely pretending to listen in to their discussions on the dreads of their next lesson. Just as the horde passed his position, he ducked as low as he could without acting out of place.
He had escaped his demise for another day.
With that out of his hair, he began to wonder about the upcoming lesson. He remembered Zack suggesting that Sephiroth would be taking on the lessons for Geography starting from today onward.
Ever since the day began, Cloud became rather conflicted regarding Sephiroth as a potential tutor for the subject. He was unable to grasp whether he was excited about the lesson … or dreaded the idea entirely.
The only way he could find out now was to sit through the lesson itself and ‘experience’ the Hero of SOLDIER informing him about the geography of the world.
Finally, Cloud reached the door to Geography Room 2.
He took a small moment to gather his thoughts, temporarily erasing any doubts in his mind.
After a moment of clarity, he took in a deep breath and pushed the door forward.
It was then when he heard the voice: powerful, smooth, and somewhat intimidating.
There, rising from his seat, was the man himself...
"Ah! Master Strife.” Sephiroth's smooth yet dark voice greeted him. “Come in and take a seat … the lesson will soon begin."
 






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