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Chapter 7 - Vol 2: Unbreakable Bonds

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 7 - Vol 2: Unbreakable Bonds

Chapter 7 - Vol 2: Unbreakable Bonds
"HAH-HAH-HAA…! Do you think you have what it takes to challenge me, boy!?" The tensed up, middle-aged man teased on one end of the sports field; giving off a dark, cocky smirk as he pointed to his opponent. "Then come at me! Give me your best shot!"
"You're not going to drag me through the mud anymore, Old Man!" The young, up-beat boy roared back, eyes burning with determination. "Mark my words: I’m going to defeat you with everything I have!"
The two raged at one another from a distance, the atmosphere surrounding them constantly expanded as it heated up to boiling point. Their auras were close to suffocating, oozing with testosterone and bravado as they refused to give in to the opposing force.
Woosh!
In a mere instant, the two leapt towards each other with both their fists at the ready.
The moment they drew close enough to each other, they began to swing, eyes focused solely on their target.
However, what immediately followed were both their left hands swiftly intercepting the attack, locking their grasps against the other’s fists.
Snatch!
The moment upon impact, the two were now at a stalemate, refusing to let go of the other no matter what happens. As though they were mimicking each other, they drew back their necks and tensed the muscles connecting to their spines.
They then, abruptly, bashed their foreheads against the others with full force, gritting their teeth the moment their foreheads made contact.
CRACK!
 
Meanwhile…
Cloud Strife stood a few feet away, watching the two combatants trade blows with a bored-like gaze – hopelessly trying not to nod off. With him, the rest of Class 13A were watching with similar expressions, utterly confused by what was happening right in front of their eyes.
The group were currently standing at the centre of the large sports field, situated directly outside the back of the Academy.
They were wearing the Academy's mandatory sports uniform, consisted of: a white polo t-shirt with the Academy's logo woven on the chest, showing the large amounts of delicacy placed into weaving the fabric; breathable jet-black tracksuit pants/trousers for male students and female students, allowing for free movement and comfortability during activity; and finally, white, gripping sports sneakers/trainers to assist with movability through various terrain.
Having just exited the changing rooms, Group 13A had immediately come across the 'Boy' and 'Old Man' wrestling one another without awareness of the world around them.
"Err … Do they always do this?" Squall questioned with a ‘soulless’ expression, stepping up beside Cloud in curiosity of the situation before them. "I mean … It's been 10 minutes already.”
"Yeah, well … considering they were recently handed the title of 'Most Competitive Father-Son Rivalry in the World' … it’s safe to say that this is a regular thing for them." Cloud awkwardly responded as his eyes continued to follow the conflict, giving off a somewhat ‘embarrassed’ grin.
Just then, the conflicting Father-Son duo finally broke away from each other, flexing their muscles in preparation for their next bout.
"Is your head hurting, Kid?" The Father teased, showcasing a dark, intense, cocky smirk, "If you go for another bash, you'll end up taking a nap in the mud."
"Oh-hoh…! Don't you worry, Old Man!" The Son yelled back, reckless arrogance building up inside his mind, "I'll make sure that the imprint in the mud will be of YOUR FACE!"
The two then tensed up their muscles, gritted their teeth, and dug their feet into the ground as they were ready to charge once again.
"Instructor Jecht … Sir?" Warrior of Light called out from behind the group, finding this whole random ordeal agitating, "Will we be having our P.E. Lesson today or are you just going to continue on beating up Tidus?"
Both the Father and Son halted their tense movement, expressions switching to surprise as though they had immediately returned to reality.
Jecht, the Father and a P.E. instructor of Dissidia Academy, switched his sight towards the Class, giving them a cheesy, powerful grin as if to show innocence.
"Well now, if you're that pumped up: I think we're just about ready for-!"
"Wha-!? ‘BEATING ME UP’!?!? What are you talking about, Light!?" Tidus, the Son and fellow Class 13A Student, interrupted with an exaggerated roar, "I was clearly holding my own against this Old Fart!"
"L … Light…?" Warrior of Light echoed in uncertain hesitation, somewhat appalled by this sudden nickname.
Just as Tidus finished his statement, Instructor Jecht abruptly locked his son in a tight headlock, several veins popping out from his muscles as he refused to let go. Tidus struggled to break free, seeing this as a cheap trick to gain the upper hand.
However, under his breath, Instructor Jecht began to whisper coldly to his son, "How dare you interrupt me during lesson…"
Something else was also whispered following these words but Cloud and the rest of Class 13A could not determine the words clearly.
Suddenly, Tidus' face dropped completely into a horrified expression, his whole body beginning to go limp and shaking in fear as the colour in his skin faded into ghostly-white. Cloud was caught completely off-guard by the abrupt turn in Tidus' personality, nervously wondering what in the world his Father had said to him.
“S-Sorry … Sir.” Tidus murmured in a monotoned voice, acting lifeless and robotic.
"Good boy … now go join the rest of your Class." Instructor Jecht concluded his whisper, relaxing his muscles around Tidus' neck and allowed him to move freely again.
Tidus gradually nodded his head in reply and stepped away, his eyes completely blank with fear and body slowly shifted like a zombie. The rest of the Class watched him as he limped over and stood back within the group, making no response whatsoever as he hid himself amongst them.
Cloud couldn't believe what he had just witnessed, never had he seen Tidus unable to speak or show off his over-enthusiasm.
"Now then, you little squirts! Let us start the session with some intense warmups!" Instructor Jecht then informed the group, once again giving off a cocky grin and bashing his rock-hard fists together. "Four laps around the Academy Grounds, no stopping for breaks … NOW!"
For the next 10 minutes, the group began their warmup jog around the Grounds, some students slower than others.
Cloud took up the middle of the group, his mind wandering off in its own world as he began to reflect on the day’s odd encounters.
There were two topics plaguing his mind: One of the topics the especially came up was the case of Zack and Aerith – wondering how they got to know each other, how long for, and why Zack kept their relationship a secret for so long; the other topic was regarding Sephiroth, mainly questions still relating to why he had taken a break from SOLDIER.
Just then, a small tap on his shoulder from out of nowhere caused Cloud to abruptly leap out from his skin in fright. In instant reaction, his mind snapped back to the current reality and switched his head towards the person who tapped him.
"You really have gotten jumpy recently, haven't you Cloud?" Cecil stated with a light-hearted grin.
With embarrassment hitting him at the core, Cloud quickly glanced away to hide the fluster in his cheeks.
Cecil was jogging beside Cloud during the warmup laps for quite some-time, even though Cloud was oblivious of his presence. He caught on to Cloud's recent daze not long after they began running, but ultimately decided to stay silent and wait until it was necessary to speak his mind.
"What's with all this spacing out today?" Cecil then curiously wondered, "I mean, you do it a lot anyway … but you’ve been doing it far more than usual! Did something happen to you recently?"
"N-no … it's nothing." Cloud murmured lowly, hoping to keep his own thoughts to himself. "I'm just having some second thoughts on tracking down Zack and his girlfriend, that's all."
"Hmm … Is that so?" Cecil wondered in amusement, finding Cloud's statement intriguing. However, he then gave out a light chuckle, "It’s funny, we've already asked you twice today and both times you've said 'Yes'. So technically you would be having 'third' thoughts."
"Ok, there's no need for you to rub it in!" Cloud spat back in annoyance, even though he knew that it was just a light-hearted joke. "I'm just starting to feel that 'maybe' we should hold it off for now. I’m sure Zack’s been anticipating this for a while now and it would hurt him if he found out we’ve known about it the entire time."
"Aww! But that would ruin the greatness of a 'secret romance'!" Cecil moaned in disappointment, albeit his eyes suddenly lighting up with emotion. “Don’t tell me you’re chickening out!”
"Err … it wouldn't be a 'secret' if we stalk on the couple." Cloud murmured with a bored and awkward expression. “In fact, it would be considered an invasion of his privacy.”
"You’re hiding something, Cloud." Another sudden voice muttered from Cloud's other side.
Cloud's heart skipped a beat in fright the moment the voice spoke, stumbling slightly whilst he continued to jog. He then whipped his head round to the opposite side, although fully aware of who it was from the moment they spoke.
"Firion, did you have to jump in without warning!?” He blurted out in agitation, his sweat pouring down his face.
Firion had caught up with Cloud and Cecil throughout the jog, listening in on their small conversation.
"What do you mean by Cloud 'hiding something'?" Cecil then asked out in intrigue, confused as to what Firion was indicating to.
"Whenever Zack's relationship was brought up during our 'heist' discussion, Cloud always backs off from the conversation or spaces out." Firion began to explain, becoming very perceptive on the whole matter whilst giving a hint of suspicion in his voice. "I have a feeling that he saw something related to Zack's relationship that didn't agree with him."
“URK-!!!”
Cloud felt his teeth suddenly bite the inside of his lip in reaction, cursing Firion’s surprisingly observant nature. He then hesitated from speaking out, feeling both Firion and Cecil's eyes glaring down on him.
"I … I already told you!” Cloud finally spoke out, stuttering as he jogged. “I spotted Zack at the Academy Gate during Lunch Break with the girl he was dating! I just couldn’t figure out her identity…”
Cloud then noticed Firion raise an eyebrow, causing his nerves to heighten.
"I see … so, why do I have the feeling that you’re lying." Firion chuckled as he became sceptical, his suspicions continuing to rise.
How did he catch on to that!? Cloud's mind nervously questioned; brushing the sweat from his forehead to distract himself from the unbearable anxiety.
He then had the immediate urge to change conversation.
"A-Anyway, where’s Tidus? I haven’t seen him at all since we began jogging."
Both Firion and Cecil glanced at each other with unexpected sorrowful expressions, wondering if it was ideal to answer.
"Well, ever since Instructor Jecht whispered in his ear…” Cecil answered somewhat cautiously, his shifting eyes indicating to the back of the jogging group. “…He stopped being his usual self."
As Class 13A began to turn a corner around the Academy Grounds, Cloud took a peek towards the rear. To his complete shock, he caught sight of a zombie-like Tidus jogging – or rather 'limping uncontrollably' – from far behind the rest of the group.
Coincidentally, it seemed that his was in a small three-man jogging team with two other half-dead looking classmates: Zidane and Bartz. The two seemingly had yet to recover from the wrath of Sephiroth during their previous lesson.
And yet, what was interesting about this development was that Bartz, Zidane, and Tidus would normally be leading far ahead of the Class 13A, factoring to their immense speed and endurance as seasonal sportsmen.
"What did the teacher say to Tidus!?" Cloud blurted out in a state of shock; eyes wide with horror upon seeing Tidus' current appearance.
"I don't think it’s wise for us to ask right now." Firion answered with a feeling of dread in the pits of his stomach, "However, what I would like to know is … why are the teachers in this Academy so terrifying!?"
 
Later that session…
The Class finished the 4-lap warmup, many already feeling as though they could pass out on the spot due to the intense exhaustion. However, throughout the rest of the P.E. lesson, they had worked on the circuit training set up within the whole diameter the Grounds.
Cloud was taken aback by the change in session. He had expected – from Tidus' own words not long previous – that the group would be playing Blitzball for the rest of the lesson. He considered bringing up the topic to Instructor Jecht, but ultimately decided to brush it away and follow through with the circuit training.
After the session finally drew to a close, Cloud made his way over towards the changing rooms. His body was covered with sweat as the muscles in his body ached and throbbed to no end.
He was completely drained.
It was the same with the rest of Class 13A, all of whom were dragging their feet to the changing rooms with unbearable exhaustion.
Suddenly, just as Cloud was about to enter the male changing room, Firion stepped out before him – still in his sportswear.
"Err … aren't you getting changed, Firion?" Cloud questioned him in an odd, wondering tone.
"Yes, I will do … eventually." Firion politely nodded, yet his eyes were fixated on the Grounds before them. "Although, it does seem that I will be delayed."
At first, Cloud stared at him with confusion, finding his response rather abnormal. He then followed Firion’s line of sight, directing him to face the Academy Grounds.
It was at that moment when realisation struck him completely.
It seemed that Tidus had recovered from his daze and immediately confronted Instructor Jecht … again.
"Seriously! They're fighting … AGAIN!?" Cloud yelled out in bafflement, eyes wide and mouth agape with absurdity. "I know they despise each other with a passion but … do they HAVE to fight each other the moment their eyes meet!?"
"I know, it's problematic … but we can look into fixing their relationship at a later date." Firion stated with a long-winded sigh, before his expression switched over to a determined look. "Right now, I have to split the two up."
"Do you want me to help you out?" Cloud volunteered, believing that more than one person would be necessary to intercept the Father-Son pair … especially considering Instructor Jecht's brooding stature.
"No, don't worry about that. I’ve got Cecil on backup if things go awry." Firion assured him confidently, showing off his polite smile.
"Oh … Ok." Cloud murmured in understanding, feeling rather useless.
"Well, in the meantime, you can head over to the Entrance Gate and wait for us there." Firion then suggested, although setting a cautious gaze on him. "Unless you've changed your mind about participating with the 'heist'…"
"You don't need to give me that suspicious look, Firion." Cloud assured with an irritated expression, finding Firion's constant glare an annoyance. “I'll be there.”
Firion nodded as his expression turned back to the usual soothing grin, before finally running off towards the Grounds in preparation to stop the Father-Son conflict.
Cloud spared a few seconds and watched as Firion started to struggle with splitting up Tidus from his brawl with Instructor Jecht. He shook his head, letting out a quiet chuckle in the process, and headed inside to change back into his usual Academy Uniform.
 
Dissidia Academy, 3:00pm…
After changing into his uniform, Cloud made his way towards the allocates meeting point. He made his way through the student-filled corridors on the Ground Floor of the Academy.
Drring-Drring-Drring…!
As expected, the final bell of the day rang throughout the entire Academy, causing the students to rush out from the rooms towards their long-desired freedom. Cloud swiftly turned a corner to evade the crowd’s aggression, preferring not to deal with the claustrophobic battle on his way to the Academy Grounds.
However, as he thought he had successfully escaped the crushing crowds of students, he accidently collided into an oncoming figure.
Trip!
“Whoops!”
He tripped up, causing him to fall onto something oddly soft … kind of like pillows. Thankfully, he was able to avoid colliding onto the floor, yet instead felt his body accidentally lean up against the other figure.
Cloud hastily recovered from his lack of balance and stood up awkwardly, blushing with embarrassment as he realised what he had done.
"I-I-I'm sorry about that! I wasn't looking where I was going." Cloud swiftly apologised, eyes shut tight and bowing hastily as the embarrassment took over him.
"Hmph-hmm … there’s no need to worry about that, Cloud.” The soothing voice of the figure replied, giving off a light, pure and wise tone. “It was just unfortunate timing."
Cloud then gradually opened his eyes, finding the voice very familiar to him. As he met eyes with the person, he instantly recognised Headmistress Cosmos standing before him with her usual pure smile.
"Oh, H-Headmistress Cosmos!" Cloud stuttered with surprise, trying his best not to act like a complete fool in front of her … even though he had already failed to do so.
A realisation then struck him.
Wait … the Headmistress!? Then the soft pillow-like objects I felt were her-AH!!!
Cloud's whole body completely froze up upon the realization, his entire face turning beat red at the thought.
Students continued to pass the two, heading out of the building and towards the Entrance Gate. As they did this, some had taken a small yet awkward glance towards the frozen Cloud, unable to grasp what was occurring between him and the Headmistress.
Noticing the abrupt reaction, Cosmos tilted her head with confusion, finding Cloud's sudden behaviour rather abnormal.
"Is something the matter, Cloud?" Cosmos asked him curiously, her gleaming smile as pure as the blue sky.
"I-I-I-I-I'M SO SORRY ABOUT BUMPING INTO YOU, HEADMISTRESS!" Cloud abruptly bellowed out in apology, hastily bowing down as he hid his burning red face.
"Like I said, don't worry about that." Cosmos reassured as she placed a hand up innocently, trying to hold back a giggle as she began to find Cloud's behaviour amusing. "And please … just call me Cosmos."
"O-Ok…" Cloud finally nodded back, raised his body back to a straight posture.
And yet, his eyes were still shying away with embarrassment, no matter how hard he was trying to hide it.
"Anyway, I'm glad to have bumped into you." Cosmos then clapped her hands together, changing the subject for his benefit. "I was wondering about the Chocobo Racing Committee you'll be leading next Wednesday."
Cloud gave out a light gasp. With everything that had occurred to him throughout the day, the Chocobo Racing Committee had completely slipped his mind.
"Ah! Y-yes, what do you wish to know?" Cloud then formally queried, curious as to what was on Cosmos’ mind.
"Well, have you been able to gather a team for the upcoming races yet?" Cosmos responded with a question, her expression beaming with hope.
"Sorry, not yet…" Cloud admitted apologetically, shaking his head, "I'm a team member short."
For the past few days, Cloud was preoccupied with advertising the Chocobo Racing Committee all throughout the Academy. From corridor-to-corridor, he could be seen placing 'The Chocobo Racing Committee needs YOU!' posters, handing out flyers to students, and announcing to groups on signing up for membership.
In the end, he was able to gather a decent amount of team members who had responded through emailing and other forms of social media. However, upon checking up on the number of members, he had gathered a total of only 5 new members who wished to be in the Racing Team itself. On the other hand, he was able to gain 15 others who opted to assist as a member of management for the committee.
"I see … well, at least you still have some time to find your last member." Cosmos cheerfully assured; giving off a light, pure aura as she spoke. "Let's hope for a successful season of racing!"
"Yeah, I'll be sure to make this season the best that the Academy has ever had." Cloud assured the Headmaster with complete determination, feeling as though his worries were suddenly lifted – even if it was temporary.
"I am glad you feel that way, Cloud.” Cosmos nodded back peacefully. “I’ll be cheering for you and your team when the race season commences."
With that, she waved and made her way up the flight of stairs nearby where they were standing, keeping a strong, refined posture as she ascended.
Cloud watched on in awe, his eyes filled with inspiration.
…She must be a Goddess in human form!
 
Eventually…
Upon finally reaching the Entrance Gate, Cloud stood idly and patiently waited for his friends to arrive. During this time, he observed the hordes of students who passed him as the exited the Academy, rushing out of the Gate and feeling the freedom of the outer world.
He then turned his gaze towards the expanding world outside the Gate, watching the trees peacefully rustling against the light breeze and the afternoon sun glaring strongly over the nearby metropolis.
He inhaled the fresh oxygen within the air around him and blew it out without a care in the world, allowing his question-filled mind to drop freely into a dormant slumber.
However, this was only short lived …
"You seem very relaxed, Cloud." A soft, light voice suddenly spoke beside him.
Cloud whipped his head around, mind suddenly becoming active again as he was caught out by the unexpected voice. The moment he noticed who had spoken to him, he leapt up in surprise, his heart skipping a beat and throat suddenly becoming dry.
"A-Aerith!?" Cloud stuttered in shock, unable to control his heart-beat as he hastily checked his surroundings, "W-what are you…? *A-hem!* I-I mean … you’re still here?”
Aerith Gainsborough was standing idly next to him, showing a cheerful, light-hearted expression – as one would usually expect from her. Her hands sat freely behind her back and legs closely together, giving her an innocent aura. Her braided, chocolate brown hair blew lightly towards the direction of the breeze, held strongly together with her new pink Hair-bow that she had received earlier by Zack Fair.
The sudden gut feeling Cloud gained not too long ago had returned to haunt him, causing him to feel gradually more on edge and unable to think straight.
"Yes, I had to finish off a few duties in the Medical Room." Aerith responded back with a soft giggle, showing a wondrous expression upon meeting Cloud. " It's nice to see you’re looking well. Are you waiting here for someone?"
"Y-Yeah, I'm meeting my friends here … who should be arriving anytime now." Cloud answered truthfully, although desperately praying for them not to show up. "Anyway, that hair-bow certainly suits you, although I don't think I've seen you wearing it before now."
"Ah, do you like it? It was given to me earlier today as a present." Aerith expressed enthusiastically upon hearing the compliment, moving her head side-to-side to show off her bow in all its purity. "I’ll admit, it's already become my pride and joy."
Cloud nodded with a calm smirk, "Well, the person who gave it to you certainly had taste."
"Eh-heh-heh!" Aerith chuckled away, before noticing the time on her watch. "Oh! Sorry Cloud, I must head off; I've got to go meet with someone."
This is my chance! Cloud's mind leapt up instantly, ensuring that this opportunity would not go to waste.
"No, don’t worry about it.” Cloud coolly expressed back, brushing the inconvenience aside. “Sorry if I sound random in asking this, but … where is it you’re heading off to?”
"I'm visiting Crescent Lake on the other-side of the City." Aerith answered excitedly without a care in the world, "Why do you want to know?"
"I'm just curious, that's all." Cloud answered in a casual manner, hoping for her not to catch on to him.
"Ok then. Well, I best head off." Aerith then concluded, heading off to her destination, "I'll see you soon, Cloud!"
Cloud waved her off, watching her with a small across her face as she left the scene.
He felt accomplished, believing luck was finally on his side.
As Cloud continued to wait for the three, he proceeded to watch on as the last of the Students stepped through the Entrance Gate.
Just then, one of the students had caught his attention, noticing a glint of reflective light illuminate from the corner of his eye. It was a female student, standing out gracefully amongst the small group she was walking together with.
She exhibited shoulder-length, dark-green hair and rather pale skin.
Concentrating his gaze, Cloud realized the item that reflected the Sun's light was a red, crystallized ruby gem. It sat firmly within a decorative Hair Ornament that the girl wore with pride.
It then occurred to Cloud that he had known about her from Cecil, having spoken of her a few times before.
The Girl's name was Rydia, who lived in a nearby town called Mist.
As she passed him, Cloud abruptly heard a voice in the distance, narrowing it down to within the area of the Academy.
It was loud.
It was over-exaggerative.
It was all too familiar.
With a sigh, Cloud twisted towards the direction of the growing voice, bracing for what was about to hit him.
"ClooooooOOOOOUUUUUDDD!"
The roaring voice rose to exaggerated heights, closing in on Cloud at tremendous speeds.
Cloud paused his breath, placing full concentration on the timing of when the owner of the voice would encounter him. As he did this, he then took in a deep, considerate breath as muscles in his body tensed up.
And then … He took a large step to the side.
WOOSH!!!
Within a matter of seconds, a blurred figure flew passed him at a ferocious speed, causing Cloud’s to flutter momentarily. Cloud had not even flinched, watching the events unfold before his eyes with an uncaring half-open gaze.
"WOAH!!!"
CRASH!!!
The figure suddenly tripped up over his own feet, causing him to collide face-first against the gravelled pavement and skid across the track just outside of the Entrance Gate.
BANG! CRASH! Skiiid…!!!
Cloud felt his entire body cringe up as he witnessed the figure continue his journey of agonizing pain, assuming it would leave a mark. And yet, he just could not take his eyes off the spectacle, finding it oddly intriguing to watch.
And then, Cloud caught sight of Firion and Cecil from the corner of his eye, stepping up beside him as they watched the carnage continue to unfold. Cloud could only imagine that both Firion and Cecil had the same amazed expressions as he had upon witnessing such a rare performance.
Sliiide…!
Finally, after what felt like forever, the tumbling and skidding across the gravel finally came to a halt.
Cloud soon realised that he had not blinked once throughout the spectacle, feeling somewhat sorrowful for allowing the event to occur in the first place.
On the other hand, it was satisfying to watch for some reason.
He then turned towards Firion and Cecil, who were – as Cloud had predicted – staring in horror upon witnessing the figure grind face-first across the gravelled pavement.
"Tidus … hasn't had one of his greater days today, has he?" Cloud admitted to the two, not knowing whether to show pain or amusement.
"Yeah … I’ll be honest, I don't think those marks will disappear anytime soon." Firion commented back, looking away in respect for his damaged friend.
"There goes the beautiful face of our fellow brethren." Cecil announced with a heartfelt sniff, showing off crocodile tears towards the lying Tidus. “…He shall be missed.”
Why do students in our Class always exaggerate these things…?
Suddenly, the motionless Tidus raised his arms, slamming the palm of his hands against the ground. Within one heave, he silently dragged his body up to his hands and knees, breathing eerily heavy upon bearing the agonising pain.
Not long after, he turned his head to face the three.
“““*GASP…!?!?* OOOOOHHH…!!!””” All three of them hissed loudly with a cringing tone, noticing the extent of the damage.
Form what they could see, Tidus' face was shredded to pieces. Several grazes appearing throughout the extent of his mug, some even had blood trickling out from the gashes.
The expression on his face was something akin to what Tidus would show when confronting his own Father: absolute anger and hatred.
"Cloud! Why did you move out of the way!?" Tidus roared out in bewilderment, struggling to bear the pain that throbbed throughout his face.
"What do you expect!?" Cloud argued back in defence, holding back the tears of laughter that began to creep up to him. "If I took the impact, I would be in the same situation as you!”
"Well, if you DID take the impact, my 'handsome' face would’ve been saved from being almost TORN off of me!!!" Tidus then bellowed in agony, leaping up to his feet with a struggle.
"Admit it, Tidus. You deserved that after what you had done during Lunch Break." Cecil shrugged in a cocky tone, unable to hide the dark grin on his face.
"Don't you even dare bring 'that' up, Cecil!" Tidus hastily demanded, gritting his teeth intensely and pointing to Cecil in order to hush him up.
"Wait … what did he do?" Cloud wondered as he turned to Cecil, ignoring Tidus' evident plea.
"You see, there was a reason why our P.E. Lesson changed plans at the last minute.” Cecil stated out bluntly, a slight grin appearing whilst he crossed his arms. “Tidus recklessly damaging a section of the Academy's Blitzball Stadium during the Lunch Break."
"WHA-!? How is that possible!?" Cloud blurted out in shock, unable to fathom the possibility.
“LA-LA-LAA…! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Tidus echoed out at the top of his voice, desperately using whatever methods he had to drown out the big reveal.
"During practice, he accidentally struck a weak point in the barrier with his notorious Jecht Shot." Cecil proceeded to explain, remembering what he was told earlier by Instructor Jecht whilst assisting to stop the Father-Son brawl. "Supposedly, the event within the stadium mechanics was 'quite' a spectacle."
"It was an accident, in any case!" Tidus pouted arrogantly, glancing away with frustration. "And besides, it was only a minor situation. The engineers said it'll be fully repaired by the end of next week."
"Yeah … no wonder your Dad was angry at you." Cecil commented underneath his breath, silently chuckling away.
Both Cloud and Firion began to let out a few chuckles of their own alongside Cecil whilst Tidus glared at the trio with betrayed eyes.
"A-Anyway, we know why we're meeting here!" Tidus then announced, hastily changing the subject whilst cuffing the blood from his face with his Blazer sleeve. "Right now, our 'task' is to track down Zack and find out everything about his new ‘girlfriend’. So far, all we know is that she is supposedly 'cute' and 'sweet'. So, our first objective is to find out where they are, which … is going to be rather difficult."
Cloud’s body instantly shuddered as he heard the plan, still conflicted at the thought of going through with the ‘heist’.
However, it was too late to turn back now.
"They … would most likely be meeting at Crescent Lake." Cloud admitted, trying to hide his nervous breath.
"What makes you say that, Cloud?" Firion wondered within risen intrigue, curious as to how Cloud came to such a conclusion.
"Oh! Well … I hear that Crescent Lake tends to be a hotspot for couples." Cloud quicky elaborated, reflecting upon what he had been told by his best-friend a while back, "Also, I do remember Zack telling me in the past that if he ever did get himself a girlfriend, the first place he would go would be to Crescent Lake."
“If that's what he said then that'll be the first place we'll look!" Tidus stated loudly with determination, stepping up to the group so that he didn't feel so out of place.
"It will be quite the trek though, seeing as it is on the other side of the City." Firion pointed out, reminding the others about the reality of the situation "At our usual pace, we'll probably get there by the evening. By that time, we'll most likely have missed them."
"Heh-hee…! That won't be a problem if we run all the way there!" Tidus cheerfully suggested, hopping up and down in preparation for a speedy pace.
"As much as we would love to, Tidus … keep in mind that the circuit training was brutal on our bodies earlier. The run would kill us before we even reach the Lake!” Cloud swiftly pointed out, desperately hoping that they wouldn't run after the agony they had to endure. "For now, we'll just have to bear with the long walk."
Firion and Cecil nodded in agreement, also feeling that running such a long distance would be unbearable. Cloud switched back to Tidus, noticing his frustration of being outnumbered in the debate.
After a moment of silence, Tidus gave out a bothersome sigh.
"Fine, we'll walk!" He concluded with a bitter nod, finding it completely pointless to argue at this point. “But … we’ll have to be fast!”
Cloud, Firion, and Cecil glanced at one another with amused grins, accepting the compromise.
They began to head off towards the City, hoping to reach Crescent Lake before the Sun sets.
 
Later that Afternoon…
The Sun magnificently illuminated Crescent Lake, giving it a pure, majestic atmosphere. The numerous trees surrounding the grand Lake rustled with the light gusts that passed them, transforming the late summer leaves into the autumn season. The stony pathways were trodden up by varieties of tourists: families, couples, study groups, and various others.
It was the perfect location to escape from reality.
As the day was approaching its end, many of the visitors had started to make their way towards the exit.
However, Cloud, Tidus, Firion and Cecil rushed through the exiting crowd in the opposing direction, completely out of breath and muscles beyond the point of aching. Their eyes hastily examined the area around them, only to soon realise that Zack and his girlfriend was nowhere to be found.
"W-were we too late?" Cecil wondered in a breathless pant, slowly recovering from the long journey.
"Argh, Man! What a pain!" Tidus groaned out irritably, his heightened anticipation quickly shattered as if it was a fragile glass item. "I was SO looking forward to seeing his gal as well!"
Cloud briefly glanced at his trio of friends, all looking both exhausted and disappointed.
"Maybe they haven't left yet." Cloud then suggested to them, refusing to believe the journey was a waste of time. "I mean, not all the visitors have left the Lake yet. There’s still a chance."
Firion and Cecil glanced to one another with uncertain eyes, doubting the possibility. Tidus, on the other hand, began to show an enthusiastic yet creepy grin, causing Cloud to shuffle back nervously.
And then, Tidus launched his whole body onto Cloud, grasping his neck and holding him down with a strong but friendly headlock. With the free-hand, Tidus clenched it into a fist and began to rub his knuckles hard against the top of Cloud's head.
"Man, I knew your curiosity would be your downfall!" Tidus cheerfully joked, chuckling away as he continued to rub his knuckles against Cloud's spiked blond hair. “Welcome to the darr side, my friend!”
"Ah – ow, ow, ow, OW!” Cloud yelled out in pain, struggling to release himself from Tidus' clutches. “Tidus! W-would you g-get off me!"
On request, Tidus released Cloud and gave him some much-needed space.
“Hahahaa! Sorry dude!"
Cloud stretched out, soothing his head after enduring such an embarrassing assault. After a quick recovery, he examined the area around him once more, searching for any hints of Zack and Aerith.
"If we walk around the whole entire Lake, we're bound to find them before dusk sets in." Cloud proposed to the group, knowing it was their best chance to track the two down.
"Hmm … apologies Cloud, but I'm opting out." Cecil sorrowfully shook his head, "I have this odd feeling that we’re too late. As much as I would love to see Zack’s relationship blossom with his girl, the search will only be in vain."
Cloud silently nodded, feeling no need to persuade his friend, although a hint of irony crept up at the thought that he was previously all for the 'heist' not too long ago.
Cloud then turned to Firion, wondering about the stance he would take on the subject.
However, Firion also shook his head in awkward silence, deciding it best to pull out of the heist.
"Argh…! You two are such killjoys!" Tidus abruptly blurted out, annoyed by their haphazard decisions. "Come on, Cloud! Let's go track down the lovebirds!"
Tidus strode off from the group in disgust, refusing to look back as he hunched up his shoulders. Cloud watched him walk off with an awkward expression, feeling that Tidus' frustration was slightly overblown.
Prior to setting off, he swivelled back to Firion and Cecil.
"If your minds are set, who am I to judge?" Cloud admitted truthfully with a small grin, accepting their decisions. "We'll see you at the Academy tomorrow."
Cloud switched round and swiftly sped into jogged in hopes of catching up to Tidus, waving back to his two other friends in the process. As he saw them wave back exiting the Lake, both Cloud and Tidus commenced with their search.
 
An hour or so later…
Cloud and Tidus travelled along the walkway that circled the entirety of the Lake, examining every likely area as thoroughly as possible.
Unfortunately, as they pressed on, the evening was passing swiftly – almost to the point where the setting Sun was soon to drop behind the trees.
With no sign of Zack or his girlfriend within view, doubt was finally setting in both their minds. Tidus refused to give in to the temptation of giving up, believing there was still a small chance of tracking them down.
Cloud, on the other hand, was growing more uncertain as time passed.
Eventually, they had completely circled Crescent Lake – much to their disappointment. They made their way back up to the entrance, calling it a day.
"You know … I'm starting to think it would’ve been best to head home with Firion and Cecil." Tidus depressively sighed out, the feeling of failure digging deep into his chest.
"We tried … at least." Cloud loosely shrugged, wishing he had listened to his intuition.
"Anyway, I best head home. My Old Man is probably going to scold me the moment I step in the door, so I’ll take the ‘scenic’ route back." Tidus then groaned in despair, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. "I'll see you tomorrow, dude."
Cloud nodded back and waved Tidus off, who had his head down in gloom as he trod off into the distance. This was soon followed by Cloud letting out a long sigh in frustration, giving a whimsical thought on what to do next.
Oddly enough, the idea of watching the Sun set from the Lake appeared in his mind, feeling that he would rather end the day with a fulfilling send off. With everything that had occurred throughout today, it felt necessary to end it on a peaceful note.
With his priority set, Cloud began to find a suitable bench.
However, as he continued his way on the track, two silhouettes in the distance suddenly caught his attention.
What followed … was an all-too familiar voice.
"Heh-heh…! What do you think to the new uniform?" The larger, masculine-looking silhouette wondered as he proudly showed himself off to the smaller, feminine-looking silhouette. "Do you think I look heroic yet?"
“It really suits you, Zack!" The feminine silhouette answered with a light giggle.
Zack!? So you DID take her here!
Cloud’s eyes lit up in a buzz as he silently treaded closer to the couple's position, hoping the two were oblivious to his existence.
Although the area was slowly darkening, there was just the right amount of light to at least determine the details of the two silhouettes. Cloud instantly recognised Aerith, who seemed to be wearing more casual clothing instead of the standard Academy Uniform he had seen her wear a while ago: This consisted of a long-sleeved, flower-patterned top; tight-worn jeans; and her new pink Hair-bow for added effect.
Witnessing Aerith in her new attire, Cloud felt his heart set pleasantly at ease. It was as though she was engulfed in tranquillity, curing anyone who passes her from the anxiety and depression that loomed over their heads.
As his sight switched over towards Zack, he was immediately caught off-guard by his new attire. His entire body was covered head-to-toe with the one thing Zack had always dreamed of wearing: The SOLDIER 1st Class Uniform.
"N-no way … he finally made 1st Class…" Cloud whispered in shock, letting out soundless chuckles of amazement as he watched his best friend revel in his accomplishment.
Stopping by a nearby tree, Cloud hid himself from view as he continued to watch the two. His mind was completely overturned by Zack's sudden success, wishing he could reveal himself them just so he could congratulate his long-time best friend.
Aerith sat down on a nearby bench, resting herself from what was likely a busy day for her. She watched as Zack gave out triumphant poses in front of her with his new uniform, overjoyed in seeing him so ecstatic.
Wow, what a showoff…! Cloud thought in a murmur, shaking his head as he let out a typical sigh.
Eventually, Zack decided to sit down next to Aerith, gazing out towards the illuminating Crescent Lake with a motivated grin.
"It's really peaceful…" Aerith quietly expressed, taking in a deep, meaningful breath, "I'm glad we came here."
"Hm-hmm…! Yeah … it certainly is." Zack agreed in a light tone, taking in the view of the lake. “Being here with you … it’s like a dream.”
Cloud watched on Zack and Aerith's closest hands gradually joined together, proof of their unbreakable bond.
Upon witnessing the two joining together, a chord struck with Cloud.
With all the odd behaviours he had displayed throughout the day along with the increasing moments of spacing out, there was no doubt in his mind at this point that Cloud admired Aerith greatly.
The feeling of tranquillity had always welcomed him whenever Aerith was close by, taking away all matter of worry and doubt in the process. He was obsessed with the feeling, wishing to be welcomed by it everywhere he went.
Ever since the truth was revealed, it was difficult for him to accept. Somewhat jealous of the fact that she pure light was already occupied by another person.
That person being his Best Friend.
However, as he observed the two become more intimately close to one another, he came to an understanding: Zack truly deserved her.
After witnessing Zack constantly being turned down by woman after woman, and then to finally see him break free from those shackles: Cloud found it to be a sight to behold. With the addition of him succeeding in his dream of becoming a Hero, Cloud’s respect for the man broke through its peak – both as a best friend and as his inspiration.
As the Sun finally set over the horizon, Cloud turned and stepped away towards the distance, satisfied by what he had seen. A deep smile grew, his heart renewed and assuring that he would support the two for eternity.
 
Meanwhile, back at Dissidia Academy…
The halls and corridors were glowing with the rays of the Evening Sun, slowly dimming as time continued to shift.
All the lights throughout the Academy were turned off … aside from one, single bulb.
Situated within Geography Room 2, work was still underway. Sephiroth was preoccupied with rebuilding the Great Globe, refusing to rest until the job was complete. Many of the golden, shattered pieces were finally forged back in their correct positions.
As Sephiroth continued his intense repair, the door suddenly began sprung open without warning.
Normally, one would cast an eye over to the door in wonder of whom had entered.
But not Sephiroth.
He was fully aware of the visitor’s presence far before they had reached the door, expecting them to enter without a care in the world.
"Still hard or work, I see!" The gruff voice spoke out, pridefully echoing throughout the entire room. "No wonder people see you as a workaholic!"
"Hmph…! If that is how they see it, then so be it.” Sephiroth muttered back in a dark tone, knowing exactly whose voice had spoken. “What do you want, Jecht?"
Jecht gave out a deep chuckle, closing the door behind him as he stepped over to inspect the repair.
"Watching you repair such a huge piece of equipment – even after it got smashed – really fires me up!"Jecht expressed loudly, giving out a snarky grin. "Why go so far for something that's only there to be 'flashy' in front of the kids!?"
Sephiroth abruptly halted and turned to face Jecht, his long silver hair barely hiding his dark, horrifying glare.
"Just so you know … it isn't 'just' for showing off and educating the students." Sephiroth murmured coldly, the whole atmosphere around him shuddering in terror.
"Oh, so I've heard." Jecht playfully teased, unfazed by Sephiroth’s deathly stare. "It must be horrific to watch your masterpiece shatter right on top of you, all due to some worthless brats messing around."
"Don't worry … I was able to handle it." Sephiroth then admitted, his expression showing no emotion whatsoever. "I assume you’ve had one hell of a time in trying to repair that Stadium of yours."
"Heh-heh-heh…! No need for the concern, I'll be sure in due time that my boy gets the punishment he rightfully deserves." Jecht grinned in a cocky tone, crossing his arms and tensing up his brutal muscles. "I'm curious though … what IS this big plan you’re so obsessed about?"
Sephiroth sat in complete silence as he heard Jecht’s question, slightly dipping his head. What soon followed was a small yet deadly grin seeping across, showing how menacing he had become throughout the years.
"I cannot tell you presently…" Sephiroth finally expressed, his dark voice echoing throughout the room.
He turned and flipped a switch that was situated on the base of the Globe, suddenly turning on the large variety of crystal-clear holograms.
However, instead of the images that he used for his classes, holograms of various specific people were showing on the walls throughout the room. These holograms included a wide range of live footage documenting the current whereabouts of these individuals – Including a variety of Students from the Academy.
Jecht switched off the lights in the room and stepped forward to gain a full view of the holograms, observing the glorious footage with his own two eyes. His grin and expression turned from dark and brooding to truly menacing and even insanity, accompanied with a dark, terrifying chuckle that slowly escaped his voice.
Ignoring Jecht’s moment of insanity, Sephiroth glanced up to the central section of the ceiling: concentrating at one last hologram.
"…It’s a whole lot bigger than you could ever imagine." Sephiroth concluded his dreading statement, the pupils of his eyes abruptly beginning to intensify.
The hologram was both observing and documenting the central, most important person in Sephiroth's plan. This person, oblivious to being watched, was the one and only person in Sephiroth's mind who could possibly cause such a magnitude of chaos within the whole of Shinra.
And later down the line: the entire world.
His name … SOLDIER 1st Class: Zack Fair.
 
End of Volume 2.









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