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CH 5: The Poker Game

The sun had set on another day. As nighttime slowly crept up, the light of a distant campfire seemed to glow even brighter. Around the fire were several tents, each containing a few of the 19-person party that had come together earlier in the day. Only about twenty or so feet away was the river, glistening in the rising moonlight. And standing on the riverbank, staring at the budding stars, was the leader of Avalanche.

Cloud went over the events of the past few days in his head. The second Cait Sith had told him everything about what happened to him-what is going to happen, anyway. Cait also spoke in great detail just what Cloud's role in this whole mess really was. False memories, Jenova cells, Sephiroth's origins....Everything.

It made him wonder. Was it true? He couldn't remember. It did seem to make sense, though. For that, he trusted his new allies.

Although to him, trust was a very flexible term at this point.

Somewhere across the campsite, Aeris watched the very same stars as Cloud. Taking a deep breath, she tried to remember her last dream. The thing that stood out the most was the white materia. Her mother's white materia. The planet was telling her that the time for using it was near. But she hadn't the slightest idea how to use it in the first place.

Something else was nagging at her, though; the strangers. They were not a part of her dreams, yet their story coincided with them. How was that possible? Are they really from the future? Will their presence here change their destiny?

Aeris decided to head back to camp. She needed to rest; the trip to the Temple of the Ancients would no doubt be exausting. As she walked back towards the campsite, she saw several people sitting around the fire. Getting closer, Aeris could make out the distinctive colored armor of some of her new friends.

Mega Man X was sitting close to the fire, wondering why he was transported to such a magnificent place. The Auroran Flash sat next to him, arm around him as always. The two were silent at the moment, gazing into the firey abyss.

Pulse and Red XIII were on the other side of the fire, discussing scientific theories. Pulse was quite intelligent; she was one of the few reploids to have ever graduated from a human college. It was only a matter of fate that she would be mind-sparring with Red; perhaps one of the greatest minds of his time.

Aeris could hear roaring laughter coming from one of the guy's tents; probably another poker game. Aeris peeked inside. Crowded around a fold-up table were seven of the guys and....Tifa. It looked like she was winning, too.

"Allright Tifa, I see your hundred and raise you another hundred." Blaze said, sliding some more poker chips to th center of the table.

"I call. Let me see that great hand of yours, Blaze." Tifa said, upping the bounty another 100 gil.

Blaze showed his cards and revealed an impressive hand.

"Straight Flush. Read 'em and weep." Blaze said, grinning.

"Damn. He beat me." Cid said.

"Me two." replied Airbaster.

"Hey Proton, what do you got? Barret asked.

Proton stared at Barret, then put his cards face-down on the table.

"I guess that settles it. Show me the money!" Blaze said.

"Hold it." Tifa said. "Royal Flush, spades."

"Damn you, that's the fifth game in a row!" Blaze said as Tifa gathered up her winnings.

"What can I say? I'm good." Tifa said with a broad smile.

************************************

Sigma mumbled curses as he walked across the rope bridge that led to the Temple of the Ancients. Stupid Sephiroth, he thought. Rubbing the shoulder that the masamune had connected with, Sigma stopped to see two humans in dark blue suits acsend the temple stairway. This place was supposed to be a secret. Drawing his beam sabre, Sigma grinned in the anticipation of slaughtering those weaklings.

"Reno and Rude currently have other orders, so I guess it's just you and me." Tseng said to the blond Turk.

"Yeah." said Elena.

She wished she had said something different. Something intelligent. After all, this was her chance with Tseng. Well, she had plenty of opportunities beforehand, but could never work up the nerve to tell him how she felt.

Suddenly, Tseng's ears perked up. Whirling around, he saw a strange-looking man rushing at him. It would take him only a few seconds to reach the top, where the two Turks had stopped.

"Elena! Look out!" Tseng shouted.

Elena had barely enough time to avoid the swipe of the beam sabre across her neck. However, It did connect with her leg, sending her sprawling to the ground in agony. Tseng attacked with his strongest spells, but each had little effect. Brushing aside a fire attack, Sigma grabbed Tseng by the neck and squeezed. Sigma relished the feeling of slowly killing a human.

Tseng fought hard to get air into his lungs, but Sigma's grip was too strong. In a matter of moments, Tseng was dead.

Sigma tossed the lifeless body away like a used kleenex, landing only a few feet away from Elena. Seeing that she was still alive, Sigma kicked her until she lost conciousness. Crude, but effective.

****************************

Elena awoke to find Rude nursing her head injuries. Her vision was a bit blurred, but she could tell that he wasn't the only one in the room. Some she recocnized as members of Avalanche. She was too woozy to care, though.

"Are you all right?" said Rude.

Elena managed to sputter out a "no".

"Do you know where you are?"

That was Reno's voice coming from across the room; what was strange was the fact that he sounded as if he really cared. Elena glanced around the room and answered him.

"Gon...gaga?"

"At least she got that right." Cid said, smoking a cigarette as always.

"What happened...to...Tseng?" Elena said slowly.

There was an uneasy silence around the room.

"Elena...Tseng is dead." Rude said.

Elena was in shock. Tseng was dead? It couldn't be. No. Not in a million years.

But she had to accept the facts. The one person she cared the most about had perished at the hands of a stranger. She ran thruogh a roller coaster of emotions at that moment. Sorrow....anger....regret....Basically anything negitive.

Elena sat up, tears beginning to stream from her eyes. Her vision was more clear now, despite the salty substance. She saw her enemies circling the small room; but at the same time they weren't her enemies. There were others as well. People that Elena didn't recognize. However, their armor was strikingly similar to the stranger that killed Tseng. Elena bore them an almost evil look.

"What do you know about the guy who killed Tseng?"

A blue-armored person stepped up and tried to explain calmly. He looked saddened and spoke gently, as if not to alarm her.

"We were hoping you could tell us. That's why some of us are here."

Elena sighed. It had all happened so fast. All she caught were a few glimpses of shiny armor and big feet bashing her face in.

"Was there anything unusual about him?" Rude asked.

"He...he was unhumanly strong. His...armor was....similar to theirs." she said warily, pointing to X and his futuristic friends.

X's eyes widened.

"Sigma." he said.

"Who's Sigma?" Reno asked.

"A heartless reploid who kills humans without remorse or regret. I've fought him several times in the past. In my past, anyway."

"What's Baldy doing here?" Aurie asked.

"I don't know. But I have a bad feeling we're going to find out." X said.

X walked out of the room, as did most of his allies. Reno and Rude were the only ones who stayed.

"I guess this makes me the leader, huh?" Reno said.

".........Yeah." Rude replied.

"We gotta handle this like Turks. We hunt this "Sigma" down and kill him. No if's, and's, or but's. Rude, call Heidegger and report this. Elena......Get some rest." Reno said, as if he was born to lead.

Elena laid back onto the bed as the two Turks left. Elena closed her eyes and wished she was just dreaming. If only it were so...

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