Hope in Love Chapter 12

Going Solo

By Sorceress Fantasia

>Footsteps were soft, almost inaudible. After some time, they could faintly make out a shadowy figure walking towards them. The person’s hands moved relative to its speed. As the person got closer, everyone breaths were held in their throats in anticipation. They all silently wondered who could it be.

Reno was busily picturing the person’s looks. Judging from the strange animal they had just encountered some time ago, it wasn’t hard for him to imagine how ugly the person would most probably be.

The figure reached the threshold of the building and stopped. Rays of sunshine shone on her, therefore giving everyone a really clear look of the person. Surprisingly, it was a young woman, perhaps only eighteen or at most, twenty. And it was not any ordinary woman you can find on the streets. God, she was beautiful!

Her complexion was fair, like Tifa’s, if not fairer. Her face was oval, with a sharp chin. Her wavy locks were held back by a plain azure blue headband, and it hung down to her waist easily. They looked like strands of silk, all dyed a platinum blonde, the prized assets of silkworms. Her short bangs were straight, however, and they were puffed up a little. Her big eyes shone with intelligence far surpassing her young age. They were expressive, and maybe even a little watery. Her enchanting endless pools of blue resembled sapphires, shimmering with a life of its own. Eyes are the windows to one’s soul, and everyone felt that they were gazing into the most beautiful soul they had ever beheld. Her full cherry pink lips only adorned her beauty. She had a long, slender body as well.

She wore a naval blue long-sleeved turtleneck, and a royal blue sleeveless jacket that was made of denim over it. A mini-skirt that almost reached her knees covered her thighs. However, she still wore a pair of striped tight-fitting long pants that were also in shades of dark colours, blue and black. The pants matched the pattern of her sleeves, which were also striped with the same colours. Even her boots were of dark colours. It was as though this girl had a deep passion for dark colours. A dandling metal belt hung on her waist loosely, and it held two short staves at her sides. And on her chest was a pendant, shaped like a teardrop.

All in all, she was beautiful. No, beautiful wouldn’t do her justice. She was a lot more than just plain beautiful. She was seraphic.

Yet, the feeling she evoked was the exact opposite. Her expression was deadpanned, and was surrounded by a depressing and sad aura, just like the structure now behind her.

Reno’s gaze was fixed on the attractive siren before him. He felt that he could drown in those endless pools of liquid blue forever. Before he knew it, he blurted, "Who are you?" His eyes were dreamy.

He was graced with the stare of bright, shimmering eyes that seemed to reach into him and probe his very soul. Reno gasped. The girl then shifted her attention over to Cloud, who looked like the leader of the group of intruders. Then her eyes fell on Grim. She took a sharp breath.

"Who are you? And why are you here?" Her voice was cold, as though they had came out of an ice mountain.

Cloud, being the leader, answered cautiously, "We are lost travelers, looking for a way out of here. Would you kindly tell us where we are?"

Before the girl could answer, Grim butted in. "Is this Zeal, the holy temple of Pacific?!" He sounded flustered.

The girl’s eyes widened. She retorted, "How do you know about the shrine?! Just who are you?!" She drew out her staves, and posed herself in battle stance menacingly.

Grim answered, "My name is Grim Reaper, descendant of the Lukes."

The girl answered everyone’s silent question, "Lukes, the race of people who were the protectors of the royal family of the Pacific Kingdom." However, she had no intention of withdrawing her weapons.

Grim nodded, "Right. Protectors of the royalties." He almost wanted to say, "So why aren’t you keeping your weapons?" but he kept mum, his mind in deep contemplation of who this enigmatic woman was. It was illegal to get too close to the holy shrine, and Grim could tell that this girl was *way* too near it.

Barret and Cid spoke Grim’s mind, however. They chorused, "See? O’ Grim’s ya friend, so keep ya weapons! Missy!"

Lucretsia supported, "We mean no harm, Miss. Please, keep your weapons." Vincent and Red nodded simultaneously.

"You can’t fool me. All Lukes are dead. Not a single one was left."

Grim’s eyes widened in shock. He whispered, almost painfully, "Wha…What do you mean?"

"The great punishment. Seven years ago, the entire civilization of Pacific was wiped out, including the Lukes. No one else survived. There’s only a few of us left now."

"WHAT!?" Grim practically shouted. He backed a few steps, then tripped and fell, falling on his butt. His expression was one of shock and misery. Tears were forming in his eyes. He muttered to himself, "I’ve come so far…but what do I find? A ruined city…a ghost town…"

Tifa felt sorry for Grim, and gathered him in her arms, hands stroking his back comfortingly. She hushed, "Grim…don’t think so much."

Cloud sympathized with the poor creature, and decided to help him clarify things with the walking mystery in front of them. "Just who are you?"

She stared at Cloud, and Cloud felt as though her eyes were drilling a hole into his mind. He felt as if the girl was seeing through him. His mind, his thoughts… Their line of vision met and locked. Cobalt met cold azure. She spoke softly yet firmness was clearly present, "I am Solo, Solo Paladin, keeper of the holy shrine, Zeal." The sphinx shut her bright orbs for a moment, in deep concentration, then opened, shining with a hint of danger. "Since the dawn of time, anyone who dared trespass the holy shrine died …Turn back or you too will suffer the same fate!" Solo spat murderously as her grip on her weapons tightened.

Cloud felt his throat dry. He coughed slightly a few times, then he answered, "We are here to look for the orb of Angel. Please let us have it. We need it to save a life."

"What makes you think that I’ll hand it to you? It’s impossible. The only way you can get it…," she paused momentarily before she spat, venom dripping from her icy voice, "…is to kill me!"

Cloud fathomed the fact that he would have to fight. Thus, he removed his own weapon from its sheathe and flailed it threateningly. "Must we fight? I have no wish to hurt you." Somehow, something about this girl reminded him of Aeris and that killing her was just the same as killing Aeris. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the beautiful Aeris hurt in anyway, especially by him.

Solo held out her weapons in a cross, "Yes." She said it softly, and menacingly. As the word left her lips, two beams of light burst out from the staves she held. They glowed a frightening purple, and the light shone onto Solo’s pale face. One look at her weapons and one would fear for his life. At this moment, Solo looked like an epitome of darkness.

Then, Grim exclaimed, "Your weapons! They’re of the Pacific royal colour! And I recognise this! It’s the Death twin saber! The royal weapons that are passed onto the royalties only! How did you get it!?"

Everyone stared at Solo even more. She ignored the scrutiny directed at her, and replied, "The weapons no longer belong to the royal family. It has been in my possession for as long as I can remember. Besides, everyone is dead."

Grim looked as if he was going to break down again, and tears were welling up. Tifa tried her best to console him once more.

Barret, being his repulsive self, shouted, "C’mon guys! Les’ jus’ blast ta place up and get ta %$%*^* Angel thingy!"

With that, Cid and Barret launched into action. Cid lunged forwards, lance in hand. Barret held out his arm, and shots came forth, all heading for Solo. She stood there for a while, looking at the two attackers. Just as the duo was about to cheer for being right on target, she slipped away quickly, fast and silent like a ghost. Their jaws almost dropped if it wasn’t for Solo’s retaliation.

She charged at them, so fast that the two failed to see her only when it was too late. She was already right in front of them. Solo slashed her twin sabers upwards, and Barret and Cid each received a deep wound on their chest. The hard blow caused the both of them to tumble onto the ground.

The others, seeing what had happened, rushed forwards to aid them. Cloud and Vincent were first to react. Vincent fired heavy shots, but Solo managed to dodge all. However, her saber deflected his last shot, and it headed back for Vincent. He quickly side-stepped it, but the bullet still wounded him by wheezing past his shoulder. Cloud’s Ultima weapon was not one to trifle with. He crashed it down on Solo, who in turn, held her sabers in a cross to block his attack. They stood like that for a while, each trying to push the other away. Cloud gritted his teeth. He dug his boots into the ground for more firm support, and his grip tightened immensely. Solo did the same. They each tried to outdo the other.

Yuffie and Red took the opportunity to attack. Red howled a few times, and vermilion energy gathered itself above him. Yuffie held Confomer, hands outstretched as a ball of lilac energy emerged from her weapon’s center. They called out simultaneously.

"Cosmo Memory!"

"All Creation!"

Two beams of great energy were shot out, aiming for Solo. Cloud and Solo both noticed the attacks and their swords parted, each of them jumping away to avoid them. With lightning reflexes, Solo did a back flip and landed on the terra firma gracefully, some distance behind. Cloud rolled away dexterously. Just as Solo touched the ground, shots were already flying towards her. She immediately placed her hands in front of her chest in a triangular shape, slightly apart. Swirls of purple energy glided up to her palms, snaking between her fingers. Then, they gathered in the middle of her palms, forming a minute ball. The colour was changing constantly, between purple, black and blue. Just as the bullets were mere inches from her face, she tossed the ball of energy out. "Dark pearl!"

It deflected the bullets effortlessly, and it continued to go for Lucretsia and Elena, who had been the two to fire the shots. Vincent jumped forwards and pulled the two, now dazed, away from the path of the energy. It was fortunate he had did it in time, for the tree behind them, which had been hit instead, was engulfed by purplish flames that was licking some other nearby plants as well.

The fight went on for a long time. All of them were injured and exhausted. Solo, on the other hand, seemed to have an infinite amount of energy. She was still as fast and powerful as she had been when they first began the fight. And her injuries were minor.

The only one who was really able to fight with her was Cloud. However, he was beginning to feel the strains of the battle as well. His attacks had slowed down considerably, and his power was draining. As he dodged an attack, Solo sneaked behind him with superhuman speed and struck at him. Her twin sabers slammed down upon Cloud. Blood gushed out as he fell. Just as Solo advanced to his side to deliver another blow, she was rudely interrupted by Grim.

"Don’t! Stop it!"

Solo was distracted, and that split of a second was enough for Cloud to roll away to safety. Immediately, Grim jumped in. He held a pendant in his grasp so tightly that his knuckles turned white. "Look! Just look at this!"

Solo’s eyes registered a hint of recognition, and she knelt down to take a closer look. Grim held it out on his opened palm. She hesitated, then slowly picked it up in her hands with such gentleness as though she was afraid the pendant would break under the slightest of pressure. "The Seraph key?" She eventually muttered.

"Right, the Seraph key." Grim silently thanked every god he could think of for letting him find the key at this point of time to stop the fight. He had been totally at his wits’ ends, until he caught sight of a glimmer on Tifa’s chest. The pendant Cloud gave her at the Wutai cave… The chain had snapped in the heats of the battle, and he picked it up, being the closest to the fallen pendant. It granted him a closer and more careful look, and he realised that the key-like pendant was indeed a key, a key that would stop the foolish charade between them and Solo.

"How…?" She whispered, almost inaudible. Her hands were trembling, as though she couldn’t believe the key was in her possession.

Grim thought for a moment, then started his story, "It was thrown onto the surface, along with much treasure that once belonged to Pacific. As was my ancestor, during the battle with Uran."

Solo looked thoughtful. She lowered her head in deep contemplation.

"Please, believe me. I have nothing to gain."

Solo lifted her head, and stared at Grim, hesitant clearly shown in her bright blue orbs.

Yuffie saw this opportunity and butted in. She knew it would be offending to Grim, but well…what the heck! They need Solo’s trust right now. "C’mon! Do you think anyone’s so idiotic as to guise as someone like Grim? A Luke or whatsoever?"

Grim flashed her a glare that promised death. Yuffie let out a sharp ‘eep!’, then ducked behind Tifa. Once safe, she stuck out her tongue, thinking, ‘So sorry, but it had to be done.’

Solo clenched her fist and held the pendant slightly tighter, to reassure herself that the key was really in her hands. It was, to be honest, the first time she ever saw the real thing. She had seen it, yes, but they were only pictures drawn by best artists in Pacific. She had wondered how it looked, imagined how it looked, but they were far from the real thing. It’s beauty could never be captured by still photos. And Solo could feel the energy emitted. It evoked peacefulness in her heart, something that had not happen for… she didn’t know. She had long lost count.

Grim broke her away from her admiration of the key. "As you know, this wasn’t just any key. It’s the key to the unknown chambers of Zeal. This is the reason why we were transported here. It had reacted with the entrance, when we were rather close to it."

"Alright, I believe you. But nothing you say will let you inside Zeal. ‘Angel’ cannot be taken out." She placed much emphasize on her last sentence. "It is a rule passed down to all keepers ever since the existence of Zeal, and I have the least of intentions to break it." She said coolly.

"But!" Cloud was getting worried.

"Gomen nasai." Solo’s voice was firm yet gentle. She shook her head slightly.

"We understand." Grim decided to change their tactic. Being this straightforward was getting them nowhere. They had to win Solo’s trust first. And everything will go from there. As for now…might as well make the most of it. "Solo, can you bring us around Pacific? The palace? I…I wish to see…my home." Everyone shot looks of puzzlement at him, but he returned them with a ‘I- know- what- I’m- doing- and - you- can- trust- me’ look, and they bit back questions.

Solo considered this change of plan for a moment. Eventually, she agreed. "Yes, I will bring you around." Then she whipped her head around and snapped her fingers. The snap sounded crisp and loud in the silent forest. Four figures appeared from inside the shadows of the shrine almost immediately.

The first to appear was a young man, seemingly in his late twenties. His crisp black hair frames a tanned, honest face. Rather good-looking, to say the least. Another young man lagged behind him. He was panting a little, as though he had ran quite some distance. His chestnut brown braid flew behind him, defying gravity for a split of a second. Two teenage girls appeared soon after. Their features were almost exactly the same, except that one had long azure locks, and the other violet tresses. Both seemed to be of the same age. All four wore skin-tight black clothes that clung onto them like a second skin.

They wore looks of surprise and utter shock when they found the intruders staring at them.  All went into battle stance, and were about to attack when Solo held up a hand. "Don’t. They’re not enemies." The four looked confused, but were not about to question Solo. It was just like her, to say things without elaborating and leaving them totally perplexed and dying for answers. But it wasn’t good for your health to question or doubt Solo’s judgement. For if you did, chances are you’ll be rewarded with a glare-of-doom. And when that happens, the four knew it was time to split. Solo wasn’t one to mess with.

"I’m leaving here for some time, around a few days. Take care of things while I’m away." Solo said coldly.

"They’re…?" Yuffie and Elena asked.

"Survivors, like me."

"Names?" They prodded.

Solo glanced back, and nodded. The four took this as a cue to introduce themselves.

"Elisha, Elisha Grey, at your service!" The first man said, as he brushed back a loose lock of his raven hair. He winked at Yuffie, who tried not to puke.

"The name’s Ranon Kashu! Nice to meet you all!" The man with the chestnut braid butted in. He had a lopsided grin plastered onto his handsome face.

"Domina Dido!" The azure-haired girl chirped gleefully as she raised a hand, as though to tell everyone of her existence.

"And I’m Dominica Dido." The last girl spoke up. Then she pointed at Domina, "I’m her twin."

Solo then picked up where they left it. "They are keepers of Zeal as well." She spun around, "Can I trust you all to protect this place when I’m gone?"

"Hey! That’s offending!" Domina protested. Dominica just pouted.

"Cuz’ you can, why not? We may not fight half as well as you do, but there’s four of us. Surely we can think of something if anything *do* happen to crop up." Ranon shrugged. Elisha seemed content to just merely nod.

"Alright then. I’m going." Solo turned back around to face Cloud and company. She and Cloud exchanged nods, and each gestured the others to move.

"Bye, your high-!" Elisha cooed, but a hand slapped over his mouth, causing him to stop in his sentence. He suddenly remembered the rule (SF: Rule? More likely a threat.) that Solo had set. A thought went through his mind. 'K'so! Oh God, oh Jesus, oh Saint Joseph, oh Virgin Mary, oh Holy Mother of God, oh Saint Peter, oh Holy Spirits, oh Allah! Please don't let her hear me!!!'

When they were out of sight, especially Solo, Ranon released his hand. Dominica gave him a light punch on the head, and reprimand, "Watch your tongue, Elisha no baka! Are you trying to get yourself killed and mutilated?!"

"Hey! It was a slip of the tongue!" Elisha retorted as he heaved a sigh of relieve.

"Yeah, slip of the tongue." Ranon rolled his eyes, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "Did it occur to you that if Angel had heard that, your precious little head would slip off your neck too?"

Domina nudged him roughly, "Ahem! Mind you words. Isn’t there something wrong with what you said earlier as well?"

It was a second later when Ranon slapped his mouth as well. "Damn! It’s just so hard to get used to calling her ‘Solo’, after hailing her for more than fifteen years!" He frowned, "We would have been beheaded back then if we called her that! And now, we *have* to call her that, or else *she* would behead us! Isn’t this just great?!"

As if on cue, all four of them released exaggerated sighs simultaneously and sweatdropped.


By this time, Cloud and company had already gotten out of the forest surrounding Zeal. Everyone were so caught up with the encounter with Solo that none remembered the existence of evil that had arrived along with them…


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