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CH 6: The Temple

A stagnant breeze swept through Zero's ponytail. He was standing at the foot of the Temple of the Ancients, truly a sight to behold. It reminded him of the mighty Aztec ruins of mexico; not that he cared, anyway. Wily had gone to great lengths in Zero's progamming, including visual records of every explored region of earth. This was a way of insuring he knew where he was at any given time; for tactical reasons, of course. At the moment, this info was useless, so Zero followed Cloud and Aeris up the stone steps.

Right behind them was the first Cait Sith, thinking of the sacrifice he would soon endure. His futuristic double told him what must be done, whether he agreed to it or not.

According to the second Cait, Sephiroth would eventually get his hands on the black materia; so it was safer for Avalanche to get it and hold onto it. Since Cloud had been injected with Jenova cells, he could very well hand it over to Sephiroth. So it was mutually agreed that Zero would come along to prevent Cloud from giving in to his weak side; the side of him that gave the black materia to Sephiroth. Or will give to Sephiroth, depending on the point of view.

No words were spoken as they passed the spot where Tseng was murdered, although Aeris did shed a few tears. Wiping them away, she continued walking. The keystone was still on the altar as the four-person party entered the room.

"The Keystone..." muttered Cloud.

"Sigma must have used it to get inside." Zero said with little emotion.

"Then shall we?" Cloud said, motioning towards the center of the altar.

Zero, Cloud, Aeris, and Cait were mystically transported to the inner sanctum as they each stepped up to the keystone. Zero observed his surroundings accordingly, for they were a bit confusing at first. It made him think of an Escher painting. Damn memory implants.

"So, where to?" Zero said.

"Well, that other me told us to go this way." Cait said, taking the lead of the pack.

Cloud and Aeris kept surprisingly quiet during the time that they wove in and out of the twists and turns of the temple. Occasionally the group would run into a monster or two, but they would either fall to Zero's beam sabre or one of Cloud's many spells. As a matter of fact, the two made a pretty good team; although neither seemed to really care.

Finally they reached the room with the murals. They were expecting to see Sephiroth or Sigma; but to their surprise the room was empty.

"Well, thar's the model that other me was talking about." Cait said in a regretful tone.

"Cloud...." Aeris said "Say something, anything."

"I'm...not really....good at...." Cloud replied.

"That's okay, Cloud. I know how ya feel. Thanks 'fer escortin' me down 'ere, though. I don' know what woulda happened if I came down 'ere alone." Cait said.

As the robot waddled to the pedestal, Aeris spoke up again.

"Cait...." she began.

The bot turned his head.

"Be strong." she finished.

Cait smiled as he turned back to the pedestal, and began hopping towards it as only Cait could do.

The remaining three backtracked a bit until they reached the exit. Cloud walked up to the door and tried to open it; no luck. But he did notice something odd about it. Turning towards his friends, he tried to explain.

"It's warm." Cloud said in confusion.

As if on cue, a demon's head began to emerge from the wall as soon as he said those words.

"Cloud! Behind you!" Aeris yelped.

Cloud whirled around, drawing his sword in the process. He backed up to a reasonable distance and began casting protection spells. Zero wasn't as cautious as Cloud, though, and began swinging his beam sabre wildy. It connected a few times with the creature's head; obviously it's weak point.

Cloud cursed Zero's methods as he attacked the monster with several fire and ice spells. Aeris acted as the medic, applying cure spells when needed. Zero continued to slash at the living wall like a man possessed; only stopping to catch his breath.

The creature, having endured unimaginable pain, finally succumbed to defeat and slumped over, dissipating into nothingness. The door was now open, and the three hurried out before Cait had a chance to finish the puzzles.

They were just in time, too. As soon as they stepped away from the temple, It began to encase itself with a black aura, then quickly shrunk to the size of a golf ball.

"Cloud, stay here." Zero said.

Cloud's only response to that order was a raised eyebrow.

Zero and Aeris climbed down to the bottom of the pit, which was about thirty feet by the looks of it. Zero grabbed the peice of materia and stared at it, long and hard.

"Strange, isn't it? Something this small is able to destroy the planet." Zero said, concerned more than ever.

Aeris didn't say anything.

"We should destroy it." Zero said.

"Ah, but that would be ruining the fun."

The voice was Sigma's; Zero recognized it immediately. All three heroes faced the source, which was coming from the top of one of the surrounding walls.

Sigma leapt off the wall and landed not five feet away from Zero. He grinned wickedly and spoke in almost a hypnotic tone.

"C'mon, Zero. You were destined to join me. Give your master the Black Materia." he said.

A flood of memories invaded Zero's mind forcefully. Dr. Wily...slaughtered hunters... blood on his hands...Sigma....

Zero tried fighting those images with everything he had. But he couldn't. They seemingly had no end.

X lying in a pool of blood...Sigma laughing in victory...

Before he realized it, Zero had given the black materia to Sigma. He fell backwards as Sigma teleported away. Sigma's laughing continued, echoing throughout the hollowed-out remains of the temple.

"Wha..What happened?" Zero said wearily.

"You gave the black materia to Sigma." She replied, helping him up.

"N..No, I couldn't have..." Zero murmered.

"It's okay, it's okay. You didn't mean.."

She was cut off as he shoved her aside. He tried to figure out why or how he could have handed over the most deadly piece of materia to his arch-nemisis.

Suddenly, Zero threw back his head and screamed as loud as he could. All his frustration, anger and hatred was released for all to hear.

Zero fell to his knees as he fully realized what he had done. He raised a fist and slammed it upon the ground like Zeus throwing a lightning bolt towards an unfaithful peasant.

"God....Dammit." he said.

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

Mega Man X skipped a small rock across the crystal-clear water. It bounced five times before it finally sank into the sea. He stood there for a moment, gazing at the ripples the stone left behind.

"X?"

Turning his head, he saw Pulse walking towards him.

"Yeah?" X replied.

"I've been wondering..."

"About what?"

"Well...Ever since we arrived here, you looked like you've been in some sort of trance. Almost as if you weren't yourself."

X gave her a strange look. He and Pulse really didn't know each other that well. It was true that they occasionally trained together, but not much else happened between them.

"Where are you going with this?" X asked.

"I...I don't know. I guess all I want to know is why."

That caught him off-guard. The truth was, he really didn't know. He had only been here a week and had seen so little...but something about this place appealed to him. Maybe it was the fact that technology was minimal compared to his time. Maybe it was the peacefulness that surrounded him. Whatever the case, he could only come up with one answer.

"I love it here." X said.

Just then, The Tiny Bronco appeared in the horizon. It carried Cloud, Zero, and Aeris; returning from their mission to the Temple of the Ancients, no doubt.As they got closer, the expressions on their faces became more evident.

Cloud looked somewhat disappointed, though no one could be too sure since he always had a deadpan expression on his face. Aeris was obviously sad. And Zero...he looked...frightened?

If Zero was afraid, that meant bad news. Really bad news.

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