Squared Circleby Lothar Goldfist
Chapter 3But Kefka appeared nonplussed from the destruction that moaned and smoldered around them. In fact, he appeared to be reveling in it: soaking it up like a life-giving spring; drinking in the robust ambience of a million screaming voices like a well-aged vintage. One snapped neck later, another incensed commuter was added to the ruination, to their monument of nothingness. So beautiful.
"Something about you," he replied, "makes me feel like a conqueror again!"
Each one stood a dozen or so feet from the other, once again sizing up their competition. Masamune sang as its wielder lashed at the air with several elaborate swipes. Whether he was readying a spell this time or merely moving to intimidate Kefka couldn't be certain. It was only when the madman reached a hand into his bag of tricks that Sephiroth reacted – bolting forward, sword slashing in a chaos string of death.
Then, just as quickly, he was screeching.
Zigzag spears of lightning ricocheted endlessly off the coruscated tunnel around them, electrocuting any unlucky enough to be lingering in its presence. Kefka howled like the lunatic he was as the magical bolts spider webbed around his body, coating him, shielding him. Sephiroth fought to disentangle his fingers from his lightning rod of a weapon, but the stress of his nervous system only resulted in him clutching the blade all the more tightly. At the last possible second, he dispelled the attack, seizing the moment. He jerked into a run.
Kefka twisted out of the way, checking the gigas in his kidneys with an armored elbow.
"You're slow," he growled, flipping the soldier a lecturing finger, "you're stupid . . . and ya got no style."
Chuckling from the defeated look in Sephiroth's eyes, he readied himself for the next of his clockwork attacks. He drew back again, a muse to decapitate. Taking the bait, Kefka's body suddenly corkscrewed as a ball of gelatinous ice tiger-clawed out of the mako man's free hand, striking him full in the chest. All in the same fluid motion, he reared forward, kicking the frozen Imperial out of midair. Smashing into the distant tunnel wall with all the intensity of a wrecking ball, Kefka's impact was enough to at last dislodge the pouch of materia from his belt. Every conceiveable shade and color of rounded mako rolled and rattled around over the dimly lit tarmac, leaving a battered harlequin groaning defeatedly in their midst.
"At least I still have my marbles," Sephiroth taunted, this time gauging the distance for a true beheading.
Kefka fumbled for a weapon, any weapon. Not thinking rationally, he plucked a loose hubcap off of an upturned pick-up, holding it out as a stopgap shield. Masamune crossbowed towards him, thrusting through metal, past cloth, piercing flesh, shattering bone, tearing sinew, through cloth again, and finally shrieking out resonantly against the tunnel wall behind him.
His agonized roar rattled the tunnel all the way down to its rivets, sensation all but lost beneath the painted man's collarbone. The look in Sephiroth's triumphant face, however, told him that true punishment was only just beginning. "No. Oh shi--"
Trapped on the full length of the blade, Kefka yelped as he was immediately hurled fully across the width of the tunnel, his pulverized body shoving a savage impression into the steel canopy. And then, just as quickly, he was hurled back the way he had come.
Left. Right. Left.
Whompf! Bang! Crash!
Like a journeyman trying to extinguish his torch, Sephiroth flung the fiery Kefka to and fro in an endless synchrony, literally pounding the life out of him. So it was that by the time they had reached the mouth of the turnpike, back out into the sackcloth night of Midgar, there was scarcely any life left to the demented little man at all. Just a limp, groaning mass of muscle. Standing somewhat unsteadily, muscles still convulsing from the electrical discharge, Sephiroth at last catapulted his pray down over the dark precipice. Arms flailing useless, screams silenced by distance, Kefka flew – fading, fading, and finally crashing down through an apartment building skylight.
Sephiroth felt himself stagger somewhat from their bout. Sephiroth never staggered.
His body quivered from a very recent loss of motor function. His body never quivered.
Was Kefka still alive, even after all of this? Yes. The battle-hardened soldier didn't know how he knew or even why, he just did. This would be it, then. For good or ill, this would be their final round. The bout to end all bouts.
Steadying himself, the ever nimble hunter leaped down after his prey, intent on finishing this.
* * *
"There they are!"
Terra sat with hunched shoulders and veiled eyes between the half dozen or so Turks that were clustered into the limo with her. All of them gathered around the satellite feed as two hellbent souls went about knocking seven different shades of materia from one another. Rosalind kept only one eye on their endless fighting, too busy in securing a Dispel materia into her sidearm to be bothered. With any luck, the entire affair would last only as long as it took to bury the Runic weapon into that maniac's back. The night was quickly beginning to wear on her. She didn't think they'd have gotten as far as they had without the help of her colleagues.
"Man, that guy's tough!" Rude exclaimed, visibly shaken as the reception flared with an explosion of car parts and late-night commuters. "I'd hate to be the one that has to clean that mess up."
"I'm ready when you two ladies are." Goggle-eyed, and carrying more artillery than a Junon battleship, Reno was impatient to leave, to turn the tables, to even the odds, to kick some ass! "Just say the word!"
"I think it really ought to be just me and Terra going into this one, Reno."
"Are you kidding? After that Kefka clown messes up our ride, brands me like an ox, endangers our lives? No ma'am! I'm beating him down, I'm beating him down!"
Terra sighed. The impetuousness of youth. "Rosalind's right, Reno. The more of us that go out there, the more attention we're going to draw towards ourselves. She can just ring you up on that walkie thingie if we need some help."
Reno felt like raising anarchy at this point, as though the fact that he held seniority over Rosalind went completely over the both of their heads. Only through a supreme act of will was he able to hold his tongue.
"Be careful, then," Tseng put in, seemingly preoccupied with some other thought. "I don't have to remind you two how much Midgar is counting on you."
The sat feed suddenly focused on some wingless form descending heavily from the distant turnpike above, crashing through the rooftop of a building that was less than a dozen yards away from them.
"That's him!" Terra cried out. "That's got to be Kefka!"
Without so much as a goodbye, the two women headed off into the nearby building's direction. The men left behind sat silent for a moment, unsure of what it was they were supposed to be doing at this point.
"So what now?" Tseng finally asked to his stout troupe.
Reno turned up the volume on the television screen.
"Hope? Pray? Place bets?"
* * *
Kefka stirred from Lethe, broken and weary.
Thought and reason started running together, a limbo of ill-gotten gains and misshapen intentions, muddling his senses and clouding his mind. Stirred to consciousness by the sensation of broken glass beneath him, the events of he and Sephiroth's very recent godspat – a war to make devils wince and angels to tear the wings from their backs out of faith ungiven – returned in an instant. It wasn't over. Would it ever be? Body feeling as though it had been run over by a steamroller, Kefka nonetheless forced himself to get back up.
This machine, this Sephiroth, what was he? The creature that time forgot? A being from some other planet?
Checking to see if nothing was broken or even missing, he noticed at last. He didn't bleed as the shards of glass pierced him, at least, he didn't bleed as he once remembered bleeding. Rather, he was venting, venting a mystic green vapor, a vapor that escaped from cuts and contusions like steam from a flow valve. Was there no way to staunch such a flow of precious life force? He grimaced.
"Suck it up," he growled inwardly, snake eyes spinning to find an exit. "We . . . you . . . still have a soldier to put down. On with it!"
Dazed, nauseous, and stinking of whatever it was that flowed out of him, Kefka shouldered his way through the aluminum door of the blackened room, finding that once again he was outside. Midgar repulsed him. Everything about it – its people, its toxins, its bureaucracy – all of it was just about as base and wretched as he was about to stand. Once he was done with this jackal man, he would rip it all up by its foundations. Smote its ruin upon the countryside. Oblivion. Nothingness. His gift to the world. All would be complete then.
Barely able to balance himself on the rickety fire escape, Kefka didn't even notice the other on the grated landing with him until his head leveled.
"For fuck's sake . . ."
The blade came down, moving to part his head from its shoulders. Arm suddenly attrifuting, however, slackened the warrior's grip, knocking it clear off target. Kefka seized the moment, no longer grinning or cracking out into frenzied laughter. No more. Rebounding, the jester man planted a solid kick into the soldier's gut, winding him. He never gave the unflinching soldier an inch, sledgehammering several lightning quick blows into Sephiroth's jaw. The silver head whipsmacked to and fro, back and forth, in concert. Again, close quarter chaos. Again, the vice-like holds, the turn of the tables. No . . .
The soldier reacted to his mother's voice like so many earth-cleaving attacks he had been given, seizing Kefka by the waist and pitching him fully over his head. Cartwheeling, the hellish harlequin landed spread-eagle behind him. Masamune speared down after him, a blur of movement.
Kefka twisted away at the last moment, letting the blade shriek harmlessly through the iron landing. Free hand snaking around the cruciform blade, he counterattacked – stealthily channeling the katana's materia as he sent a series of brutal kicks up into Sephiroth's chest.
All throughout their danse macabre, however, each man was beginning to tire, their hidden reserves of strength beginning to wane. They were down to the wire now, with the current, against the current, back again, forth again.
Who would survive?
* * *
"Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Rosalind asked.
Then, she did. Grunting and groaning. The sounds of stone mortar and reinforced steel complaining in the wake of a hellacious contest. They were close by, but where?
"I hear it. It should only be just a couple more floors."
"Wait . . ." Terra wheezed, her century-old voice grinding in her throat. In the case of both Kefka and Sephiroth, the victor was anyone's guess. In the fight against time, however, Terra knew better than anyone that there was ever only one victor. "I can't . . . go on."
"Fight it, Terra." Rosalind's lithe fingers took hold of her spotted ones. "We're almost to the end now."
She coughed. She wheezed. Life unfolded in a frantic montage before her eyes, blotting out the dimly lit stairwell above her. One step, two. Terra kept moving, Runic Blade just at her side. Finally, they had reached the top – what was left of it.
"Where are they?"
The blasted out walls of the uppermost floor were completely silent, and Rosalind's mind began to race. Had they taken their duel to some other realm this time, some other plain of existence? Had they done away with each other already? As quietly as she could, she stepped out onto the warped fire escape and across the nearby catwalk, her nine millimeter gripped with a steady hand, ready for anything.
"Do you see them?" she said. Then, when there was no answer from her infirmed friend, she swiveled back around. "Ter—oh, God! Terra!"
Terra gurgled blood as the full length of the Runic Blade protruded from out of the black folds of her cloak. And behind her, leering, was her killer, finishing the job he had started over a century ago.
"Told you I'd be back, bitch," Kefka growled, victorious.
He kicked the esper woman from the sword, like so many others he had laid to waste, before zoning in on his next victim. Rosalind backpedaled, her face a mixture of rage, sorrow, and fear. Mindless of her direction, she tripped and fell on her backside, her gun loosing a blind shot. The materia-charged projectile tore at the air wildly but fizzled several feet short of its target, its energies already unraveling and feeding the Runic Knight with life again. Kefka roared his impatience with the brazen young woman and flung a sphere of ice from off the length of the sword. The spell nailed her hard in the sternum, sending her up into the empty space and through a townhouse window.
The ex-general flexed his fuming muscles, lost for a moment in diabolic thought.
"Yes, now where were we?"
Sephiroth groaned weakly on the opposite end of the catwalk.
Kefka sighed. "You're really beginning to bore me, you know that?"
Masamune slashed apart open air three times, sending several orbs of smoldering fire bee-lining across the walkway. Kefka mirrored the gesture, cutting the hellish globes into harmless vapor – feeding his fire, fueling his frenzy. The Lifestream demon jumped into a sprint, loosing bolt after bolt of jagged lightning. Sephiroth seemed at a loss to combat this type of sorcery, his already shellshocked physique overrun by nerve damage. Wracked by violent spasming, he toppled to his knees. Broken. Overcome . . .
Kefka's eyes waxed victorious. He ran and leaped, the mystical blade moving as if independent of its own wielder . . .
The prostrate form of Sephiroth waited . . . not yet . . . almost . . . a little closer, and . . .
Body barrel-rolling, Masamune pinwheeling, the soldier found purchase, severing the tendons of his enemy's sword arm!
Wailing, the bird of prey crash-landed behind him, a shadow of his former, wise-cracking self. A cloud of mako gas swirled about his form, making him look frail and almost intangible. The champion of Midgar was no more further from throwing in the towel than the Lord of Judgment, twitching and bleeding as he was from internal injury. A minute passed, then two. Five would elapse before either one returned to the fray. And yet they returned all the same, fighting death, fighting each other, fighting . . . to keep fighting!
Kefka parried, backhanding the soldier.
Sephiroth gave riposte, unleashing an ice spell.
Kefka feinted, dismissing the spell with his blade.
Sephiroth thrusted. Kefka dodged, kicking, hard . . .
And the soldier's cry rattled the sixth and seventh frontiers of the city as a million and one crippled nerves in his sciatic area unleashed a galaxy of torment upon him. Masamune did not so much slip from his grip this time as it was wrenched out of his hand by his nemesis. This beast, this defiler, this source of all his pain.
* * *
Rosalind picked her bloodied head up from the scene of shattered glass and wood splinters that surrounded her. Each breath she took was agony, the ball of ice having virtually caved her diaphragm in upon itself. She put it out of her mind. If she didn't succeed with this mission, if the Turks didn't succeed with this mission, then Terra and all of her Returner friends would have died in vain. She couldn't let that happen.
She wouldn't let it happen.
Hands fumbling blindly amidst the wreckage, the rookie Turk fought to find her cell phone. She only prayed that Reno would be ready for her.
* * *
Swipe! Swipe! Swipe!
Etiquette, if Kefka had truly entered this debacle with any whatsoever, was done away with by this time. Unbarring the last hole, pulling out the final stop, the former Imperial became absolutely relentless in putting the materia-eyed soldier away for good. In his left hand, Masamune pummeled Sephiroth repeatedly with a kaleidoscope of elemental spells. In his right, a notched Runic Blade fed the discharged mana back into Kefka's body, allowing him to unleash a virtually infinite cache of destruction. And never for one second did either blade stop moving.
On the receiving end, Sephiroth fought to project his screaming, heaving mindset somewhere else. Anywhere else! Twisting back, jerking away, stumbling from delirium and pain, the military gigas was seemingly helpless against such an onslaught. One moment, his blood froze; the next it boiled. One blow would put his frayed nerves on excruciating edge, then the next would launch them into a dizzying sort of limbo with an out-of-nowhere Gravity spell. Piece by piece, Kefka disassembled him, rippling the black leather around his body into ribbons. Crimson life poured out and showered the iron-grid catwalk with gore, causing him to slip and lose footing.
"That all ya got?!"
"What's the matter, champ?!"
"--hack it, huh?!"
Kefka jerked the half-conscious man upright, seized by his blood-soaked hair, tearing away what was left of his coat, intent on vivisecting his adversary with his own weapon. Naked chest rippling, Sephiroth barely mustered up the vigor to deflect an overhead slash. How long before he simply blacked out from the pain? Make it soon, he secretly hoped. Don't make me conscious for this . . .
"You," the Runic Knight crowed, harnessing a spell into both blades, "should have run. For you see, now . . ." Twin flames suddenly leapt to life on both weapons. "You're well done!"
Masamune, glimmering in the radiance of Kefka's waning lifeforce, came down, down . . .
Faltering . . . as Sephiroth took hold of the arm cradling the Runic Blade. A last ditch effort, perhaps all that was left to put this monster away for good, the other gloved hand came across to make contact with Masamune. Breath turning to white mist, the bare muscle and cartilege in Kefka's forearm started to congeal and crystallize. The jester man grimaced, mouth spewing vaporous Lifestream as Sephiroth wrenched the frozen appendage completely from its socket. The sigiled broadsword tumbled down over the edge of the platform, accompanied by hundreds of shards of emerald ice. The compulsion to main and kill was suddenly overrode by the instinct to survive, to exist. Kefka would not be denied this, swiveling the emblazoned Masamune end over end and driving it home – point blank, into the soldier's chest.
Red eyes, bathed in a murky, ethereal fog, tunneled through the encroaching shadows of oblivion, finding only mako eyes, wreathed in warm blood.
The winner was . . .
* * *
Rosalind plucked her PHS up at the last second.
* * *
Already two steps ahead of the rookie Turk, Reno crouched down upon a nearby rooftop, a loaded rocket launcher poised on his shoulder ready to unleash its payload. Flicking his cigarette butt down over the ledge, he took careful aim upon the ruin of the two dying gladiators wrought upon the bridge, taking only enough time to scratch at the fresh scars seared into his face.
With a sly grin, Reno fired.
Ten seconds later, the catwalk vanished, taking the two heaving, smoking juggernauts with it.
* * *
"Hey, come on."
Moaning, scarcely able to hear her assigned mentor over the dull ringing in her ears, Rosalind at last ascended from the rubble.
"Wait, what about--"
"Don't worry," said Reno, steadying her. "I got ‘em both. We should get you fed and washed. The president already has our next assignment all lined up for us."
Already? After nearly getting herself killed on no less than four occasions in the one evening? Rosalind's first impulse was to vent her outrage, then realized that she was not at liberty to. Risk was part of the game if she wanted to keep wearing the black and white. She was just going to have to get used to it.
"So, what does our next job entail?"
"A rival offshoot of human resources. Things have been acting up with the Shinra Electric Company and we have to get to the bottom of it."
"Well, at least that's taking it down a notch." Her bruised, scraped fingers handled her sidearm somewhat unsteadily. "At least there won't be any more problems with--"
She gasped, eyes losing focus. Reno followed her stare to back behind him, where a warped and twisted silhouette was ambling up over the mangled wreckage of the walkway. A seven-foot-long katana was clutched into the limping creature's mandible, and Rosalind thought for a second that it was the mako-eyed soldier coming back to rejoin them. It was only when the haggard looking face of Kefka materialized before them that she realized the severity of their predicament.
"You--" Kefka rasped, face melting and swaying – a Lifestream abomination that was slowly losing cohesion. Masamune flew up. "You--!"
Kefka howled—as the Runic Blade sliced through his rib cage.
And it's new wielder, Sephiroth — clutching precariously to the end of the platform.
Reno and Rosalind jerked back from the display: the silver-haired soldier plummeting back down the way he had come like a spent ammo shell; Kefka dropping to his knees like a prostrate cleric, the etched sword gradually eating away at his already badly dissolved body. He faded quickly, too quickly. Not quick enough.
Rosalind stepped forward, pushing Reno to one side as if he were an afterthought. Kefka raised what was left of his head, rapidly diminishing eyes held wide open as the nine millimeter pistol trained itself on the raggedy demon before her.
"Go ahead and scream," she told him. "No one's going to save you now."
And Kefka vanished, atoms scattering briefly on the wind before spiraling their way into the runes of a now wielderless weapon. Rosalind lowered her gun arm, blinking away the thrill of victory with tired eyes. Around both herself and Reno, Midgar burned, groaned, licked the wounds it had suffered, trying to awaken itself from the nightmare they had strayed into . . .
* * *
It took Rosalind three days to find the remnants of the town once known as Mobliz, the hamlet which history said Terra often spent her time. There wasn't much to see of the place by the time she got there, only several patchwork cottages and a well that had run dry a very long time ago. The place appeared to be ancient, far beyond repair even in the materia age. She felt something of the history behind this place, remembered when she had first read the tale of Kefka tearing the city to pieces. How close those events had come to repeating themselves.
Some several hours later, just before dusk, her task was complete. The final cairn of rocks had been laid now, hardworking and caring hands laid to rest at last. It made her sad, though. She did not personally know this esper woman up until last week, and yet the last ones of her generation were all but extinct now. And what remained, but this monument of nonexistence? Such cruel irony.
"I hope you've found peace, Terra Branford." She regarded the final resting placed of the rest of her friends out of the corner of her eye. "I hope you've all found peace."
And at the center of the unadorned burial, standing watch in the customary Imperial fashion, rested the Runic Blade. For somewhere within that rusted hunk of metal, Rosalind knew there was a demon looking to escape.
She smiled, then dialed up the number for her Shinra escort. "I'm ready."
* * *
He was ready. Beyond ready, even.
Professor Hojo kept silent vigil over the broken, bloodied Sephiroth in his laboratory. How absurdly convenient the whole experiment had been. So, it would appear that Hojo's methods of creating the ultimate soldier had proven superior after all. Not only had his creation triumphed over a greater evil, but Sephiroth also suffered none of the initial flaws of early experimentation. Mako splicing, combined with Jenova-cell re-sequencing, kept the subject's sanity completely intact.
The professor smiled a wiley sort of smile then, tapping on the sensory regeneration unit with amusement. The naked body of Sephiroth neither spoke nor stirred, comatose as the suspension fluids and dermoplasts fought to repair his mangled physique. Hojo seemed all the more impressed with himself and his prize-winning project.
"You are perfection, my boy. Just you wait and see."
Father left son to his own devices then, allowing him the time he needed to fully heal. To regenerate. To begin anew. Unbeknownst, however, to the smug young scientist, the invincible soldier's bloodstream had contracted something sinister in the wake of his gruesome showdown, something beyond imagining. Sephiroth twitched in his dreams that night, wincing and stirring amidst the firestorm of his mind. All in eyeshot burned and crackled in chaos and confusion. But something about this carnage allured him, enticed him even. There was no putting his finger on this feeling.
Even here, in this place, he could hear his mother's voice giving praise and offering him guidance. He paid the voice no mind this time, however. The burning was simply too beautiful to ignore. In the distance, a one-winged angel stirred from the ground as if mortally wounded. An angel he recognized, an angel he abhorred. And yet, at that very moment, it was a soul he seemed asynchronous with, one perfectly in tune with Sephiroth's own hatred toward the insects holding dominion over the planet.
Kefka's smile mirrored his own.
Sephiroth never smiled...
~ THE END ~