"Wake her up."
The woman is still, asleep and naked. One man pulls out a needle and stabs the tip of her forefinger. She cries out. The sound is just barely coming out of her mouth before a fist strikes her. Blood dribbles down her lips. Her tongue bleeds where she had bitten it.
The man yanks the blindfold off her face. With blurred vision, she looks at her caper. She sees the gray of their cloaks and the short swords swinging from his hips. The way he stands before her, as if she is a peasant in the presence of a man who owns the world, tells her who it is before her even see his face.
"I put word out I wanted you brought before me." Cloud Skyes says. "Consider yourself a gift from Leon and his Lions."
"I hope you're pleased with your present." She says. The woman tries to turn her head to spit, but the shackles around her head and neck prevent it. Feeling horribly sick, she spits the blood from her mouth. Her stomach curls as it dribbles down her neck and between her breasts.
"That'll depend on your answers." Cloud says. A giant muscular man stands beside him. They are outside the city, somewhere on the northern side judging by the trees that grow within touching distance of the wall . . . the wall she is helplessly strapped to by buckles and shackles.
"Lexaeus, clean her off," Cloud says to the giant man. Lexaeus obliges, leaning the blood from her chest and neck with a clean rag. She expects him to fondle her breasts or let his fingers linger on her neck, but the man did no such thing.
"Thank you." She says. She feels her head clear a little. Two torches are stuck in the ground on either side of her, and their light disrupts her eyes' attempt to adjust to the dark. She thinks she sees another form standing beside Cloud. It makes no sense, though. She thinks she sees a young man, someone twelve, maybe thirteen.
"I've been patient." Cloud says. He crosses his arms and stands directly before her. "I've given Cid Highwind plenty of chances to come to my side. Your Shark Guild is strong, and I hold more respect for it than for any other guild. Yet you and Cid did something stupid, girl. You plotted against me."
"No." she says.
Cloud's fist smashes her face. Lexaeus' rag is there immediately, soaking in the blood she spits. The rage coupled with kindness only confuses her more.
"Don't lie to me." Cloud says. "The Weasel came to me last morning and told me everything you'd arranged for him to do . . . for a price of course."
Yuffie feels her stomach sink. A few strands of her hair fall in front of her face, blurring on eye.
"Is that why I'm here?" she asks. "Figure a little torture will help me make your point to the rest of the guilds?"
"What I want," Cloud says, leaning close. "is you."
She opens her mouth, closes it.
"I don't understand." She says at last.
"I need the Shark Guild's men," Cloud says, pacing before her. "All of the guilds must be united in this plan if we are to crush the King come the Royal Garden's Court gathering. For this to happen, the other guildmasters must trust me, and if they are to trust me, they must all join the plan willingly. The second I force loyalty, the other guilds will break away for the fear of absorption and disbandment. Now, your dear Cid has proven stubborn. As satisfying as it would be to kill him, I cannot. Too many whisper of me doing such things as it is. I cannot dignify those mad ramblings with a kernel of truth."
"You want me to kill him," she says, guessing where his thoughts are leading. "I take over, bend knee to you, and suddenly the Shark Guild is just a toy in your pocket, to be used whenever necessary."
"You're smart, strong, and beautiful." Cloud says, not denying her accusation. "It wouldn't be difficult for you to consolidate power should Cid die by your hands. You already have your reason for it. Cid had you contact the Weasel, hoping to use him to sell information about our plan to the King. Doing so puts all of is at risk. Put an end to him. With but a word, I can declare the Shark Guild a friend, and the rest of the vermin will stop pressing your territory, stealing it away from you street by street. You can rule, Yuffie. Do you have the strength to do so?"
Yuffie thinks of betraying her guildmaster, and the very idea makes her sick. He is a good man. A better man, worlds better than Cloud could ever be. And all for what? So Cloud could rely on the Shark Guild's aid when he launches his suicidal plan?
"This is folly, Cloud," Yuffie insists. "We're thieves, thugs, brutes. We're not an army, yet you would have us launch a combined attack against all three leaders of the Bastion during their Royal Garden gathering the one night when they're at their most powerful? We'll be slaughtered and broken."
Cloud runs a hand through her short black hair.
"Do not let loyalty cost you everything." He whispers to her. "Either accept my proposal or suffer the consequences. What's your choice?"
Any other street rat would have turned on their leader. Yuffie is unlike any other member.
"Cid has saved me a hundred times," she says. "Kill me or let me go. I will not turn traitor and knife him in the dark."
"A shame. Will not kill you, Yuffie. That is not part of the deal. Sephiroth required you as his price for telling me of your conspiracy with Xemnas. I had no intention of paying it."
A shiver of disgust runs up and down her spine. Now she understands why they had stripped her naked. They'd even healed the wound in her shoulder where the arrow had pierced clean through. She closes her eyes, trying not to think of the man's predatory gleam in his blue catlike eyes, his long enveloping fingers. She almost changes her mind. Cloud pauses, as if waiting for her to break. When she doesn't, he puts his back to her.
"Remember, Roxas." She hears him say. "Things will never go as plan. Prepare for anything, and be willing to sacrifice everything, even beauty."
Yuffie sees the boy standing next to Cloud, staring at her with his blue eyes. She can't decipher his look, his face remarkably controlled. He looks much like his father, having the same bright blue eyes, body build, and spiky golden blond hair. His hair style though separates them, as the front concentrates the spikes on the right side of his head as if windswept, and the back is smoother and flakier. They both wear the black trousers of their guild, and from Roxas' shoulders hangs a black cloak that puddles at his feet. A too-long sword hangs from one side of his belt, a dagger from the other.
"I know you are bright," Cloud says. "But the life we live is twisted, and we are forever surrounded by liars and betrayers. You must trust your instincts, and learn to listen to not just what is said, but what is not. Can you do this? Can you view men and women as if they are pieces to a game, and understand what must be done, my son?"
His blue eyes meet his father's, and then he speaks the words that seal her fate.
"Yes, Father." He says.
Roxas steps towards Yuffie. His blue eyes are calm, unworried. In a single smooth motion, he yanks his dagger from his belt, flips it around, and thrusts it to the hilt in Yuffie's neck. Lexaeus steps back, jaw hanging open, but he wisely holds his tongue. Roxas withdraws the dagger, spins around, and presents it as a gift to his father.
Cloud places a hand on Roxas' shoulder.
"You did well, my son." He says. "My heir."
"Thank you." Roxas bows low as behind him the body of Yuffie bleeds out on the grass.
Roxas takes one torch, Lexaeus the other. They walk away from the forest, toward the western gates.
The torches fade away and then die.