Red Revolution: Metamorphosis

Chapter Eight - My Nightmare Begins

When my eyes finally refocus, the first thing I see is the ceiling.

It’s over again. For now.

All the weight has lifted off of me. I slowly sit up and take in a very steady breath. I don’t feel tired or weak or stiff in any way at all.

In fact, I feel… kind of …

The bed I’m sitting on is very low to the floor, only a few feet off the ground. Beside me, Yuffie is sitting traditionally, with a low table and a Chinese tea set at her side. The tea smells like oolong.

“Are you feeling better now, Cloud-sama?” she asks.

“I think so…” I reply. “Where’s Marlene?”

“In the living room,” she tells me. “My idiots managed to calm her down with some sweets we found in the kitchen. It took a while though.”

I frown. “A while? How long have I been out?!”

“Two hours.”

I grunt in dismay. Yuffie titters and pours a cup of tea.

“That’s too long!” I cry. “I…”

“Slow down,” she advises. “Have a cup.”

She raises the teacup and offers it to me. I heave an exasperated sigh and accept it. Definitely oolong.

“Also,” she adds. “I took the liberty of buying you some cartridges.”

The moment she mentions “cartridges”, I immediately think of something other than a printer. Yuffie scoots back and pulls out a box from under the table. She sits it on the bed before me and opens it up.

They were cartridges all right. Gun cartridges…

“W-where did you get these from?”

“Don’t worry,” she replies, misunderstanding my question. “I had my men buy this from the arsenal store downstairs. They’re excellent quality.”

...

“What… kind of place… is this!?” I ask in horror.

Yuffie averts her eyes and bites her lip. “Well, it’s not as if a place like this was ever given a ‘name’. Think of it as a sort of… exchange center. Everyone comes here… government scientists, the CIA, MI6, top-notch assassins… Triad members like Tseng… Yakuza clans like me and Papa… the Mafia… and important, powerful people like the Madame herself. For some, it’s a place where they can get work done or have safe meetings, and for others… it’s a temporary or secondary home… or merely a rest stop. There’s even a dance club below the lobby! You can get in if you’re sixteen…”

An arsenal store.

A hotline where you can schedule private planes.

A safe haven for assassins.

A dance club.

My eye twitches involuntarily. I’m going to need serious therapy after this.

“Never mind,” I answer, rubbing my head. “I don’t think I want to know.”

“It’s best if you do,” Yuffie warns. “This won’t be the last you’ll ever see of a place like this.”

“But I want nothing to do with crime!” I snap.

“You say that as if you have a choice.”

My heart sinks. Deep down, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, she’s right.

And sad to say, my only option is to follow Nicky’s instructions.

“I need to call the hotline,” I announce.

“What do you need?” Yuffie asks.

“I have to schedule… a plane to Cape Town,” I answer. “I have to go as soon as possible. There’s something I need to do.”

Yuffie bows her head with a smile. “I understand. I’ll have my men do it for you.”

She gets up from her perch and heads out the door. As she walks out, she rattles out instructions to whoever’s outside. I take a sip of my tea and try to relax. It’s the only thing I can do now.

I move my neck from side to side. My whole body feels strong, but it’s oddly loose. What exactly… happened to me?

A few minutes later, a pair of beady eyes appears from behind the door. I look back at her. She doesn’t budge.

“Are you coming in?” I ask. “Or do you plan on staring at me all day?”

The door opens a bit more, and Marlene pops in her head. I give her a smile and stretch out my hand towards her.

“Cloud!”

Marlene opens the door wide and launches herself onto the bed. The impact nearly makes me spill the tea. She crawls and latches onto me, whining and carrying on in my shirt.

“It’s alright, sweet love,” I reply. “I’m alright now.”

We’ll be okay. Right?


A while later, we finally left the apartment. But not before Yuffie admonished me to load both pistols and hide one on my persons. There was a strange urgency in her voice. I decided that I’d go my own way, so she and her men escorted me to the elevator. We agreed that she’d only ride with me to a certain point and then return to her room.

As we wait for the blasted elevator to come, I’m strapped down with the sword on my back and the suitcase at my side. Yuffie graciously carried the sake bottle for me.

I take out my cell-phone and check for possible messages. Fifteen missed calls, many of them closely following each other. Five voice messages from Tifa and two of from Elena. Nine unidentified text messages, most of them signed by Tifa, and one signed by Reno, cheering me on and warning me not to get caught.

But no messages from Seph-chan.

No matter. It seems that I’m quite missed.

“Are you sure you won’t get into trouble with your father?” I ask as we wait. “Wasn’t there some sort of… ‘meeting’?”

“No worries!” Yuffie replies. “If I tell him I was with you, he will excuse it.”

Marlene whines impatiently.

“Also, Cloud-sama,” she says. “It may not please you to hear this, but there is one more thing you may need to know… about Madame Luciano. You were upset when I answered your questions, so I hesitated to…”

“Let me guess,” I reply blandly. “The Luciano family is also has ties to the Mafia.”

“How did you know?”

“An Italian family in this middle of all this? I think—by now—I’d be able to put two and two together. Are there any more surprises for me?”

“There might be.”

She stares at me, smiles widely, and says nothing more.

“You won’t tell me, will you?” I realize.

“I’ve probably said too much already,” Yuffie replies. “After all, I’m simply the daughter of a humble Yakuza boss.”

If it weren’t for the situation, I would’ve burst out laughing.

My cell phone receives another message. This time, it actually is Seph-chan.

I press the button to access it, expecting a death threat.

Be seeing you in the lobby, Princess =), it says.

I break out in a cold sweat.

There is no way.

There is no way!

No! No! It can’t be true!

It’s not possible! How on this bloody earth could he have possibly found out where I was? How did he know I was here? How did he find me?

No! It just can’t be true!

“Cloud-sama?” Yuffie asks. “Is it a bad message?”

I turn to her, stiffly; I’m trembling all over. “I think I’ve been caught.”

“Eh?”

“I didn’t mention this, but… I ditched my group in order to make it here.”

Yuffie stares at me with big, wide eyes. “You what?!”

“I didn’t have a choice,” I explain pathetically. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t have let me come. I just know it.”

“He?”

“Kitty-chan,” Marlene tweets from below.

“Sephiroth,” I correct sternly.

Yuffie pales and drops her jaw in horror. “You tried to run away from Skandon-sama?!” she cries. “What were you thinking?!”

“I don’t know anything about anything!” I remind her.

I swallow and try to think. I’m not crazy enough to go down to the lobby; I’m too young to die! I still want to know what mess my life is in, and there’s no reason to think that he would let me go to Cape Town.

But then, how could I avoid him? I don’t know this place…

“I can’t let him catch me,” I tell her. “Not yet.”

Yuffie pinches her chin. “Then, you’ll have to go through the dance club on the bottom floor. Though, he might anticipate that. And even if he doesn’t catch you there, he might already know about the plane and try to head you off there. And if not that, he’ll already know your destination and get you there.”

“B-but how could… how would he know about the plane too? What is he apart of? The CIA?!”

“Well, that’s because, like you, he’s also a VIP. The concierge would happily tell him. And if you think he won’t go so far to chase you down, think again. The Madame calls him Kitten, but we call him The Tiger.”

I facepalm. “Bugger!”

So, there I have it. Two choices are laid out before me. One, I can go down to the lobby, beg for mercy, and probably die at Seph-chan’s hands. Two, I can sneak away to the plane, either getting caught at the plane or in Cape Town, beg for mercy, and still probably die at his hands… but with the chance of least finding out what the bloody hell is going on.

“The dance club is open this time of day?” I ask, putting my cell phone away.

The decision is a no-brainer.

“It opens at noon and closes at three in the morning,” she answers.

“I can bring my sister through there?”

“Don’t worry. They’ll let us through if it’s an emergency.”

The elevator finally comes to a stop; the ding is music to my ears.

The doors slide open, and on the inside, I see a petite, baby-doll faced woman with fuchsia dyed hair; she’s carrying a guitar case. Surrounding her, there’s a group of normal looking men… three brunettes, two blonds, one redhead, a bloke with raven hair (I’m analyzing quickly again). She looks me straight in the eye, her eyes growing wide. The look in her eyes turns wild, and an unpleasant smirk appears on her lips.

Something… is very wrong!

The woman reaches under her flimsy day dress, and time slows down. I see the pistol that’s clutched her small hands, and my hair stands on end. She aims quickly and fires; the sound echoes through the entire hall. Out of the corner of my eye, one of Yuffie’s guards falls to the ground, and I see blood. The woman giggles.

The men rush out of the elevator. They’re… they’re attacking us!

I see guns being drawn on both sides, and another shot is fired. I hear Marlene let out a scream. Everything becomes a blur. Yuffie grabs my arm, and I snatch the suitcase off the ground before I’m forcefully yanked away from the frenzy.

Yuffie has a firm grip on my wrist. One of her bodyguards has slung Marlene over his shoulder. Three more guards are flanking us.

And then, the reality of the situation hits me for a six.

I’m in danger. My life is in danger!

Are those people… are they after me?!

A fusillade of rapid gunfire drums through my ears. My head turns. Two of Yuffie’s bodyguards fall dead onto the hall carpet. Yuffie lets out an enraged shriek. And then, I stop running.

“Cloud-sama!” Yuffie squeaks, trying to pull me forward.

“Don’t move!” the woman shouts.

I turn slowly to face her. The first thing I notice is that she’s carrying a very large machine in her arms.

Sweet, holy mother of…!

“That’s good!” the woman sings. “Chasing you would’ve been a waste of time!”

Her men are trailing behind her in the distance. All of the other remaining bodyguards are lying twisted on the floor near the elevator. I could get shot right now, and yet, I can feel myself boiling with anger. I feel sick.

“You’re after me, aren’t you?” I declare.

“You catch on quick,” she replies.

“There was no need to… kill those people.”

The woman stops and throws her head to the side, her pink Shirley Temple curls falling behind her shoulder.

“They were in my way,” she says with blank, childlike smile.

Something in me snaps.

This piece of trash from hell—she kills Yuffie’s bodyguards in cold blood, is terrorizes us, exposes my sister to things she should never have to see in her life, and she has the gall to brush it off?!

Perhaps, I’m partially to blame, and those men were Yakuza, but there was no reason for this to happen!

“If you don’t want us to kill anyone else,” the woman tells me, still smiling, “you just have to come along with us. No funny business either.”

“What do you want with me?!” I reply cautiously.

“You’ll find out soon enough… my beautiful boy.”

I think I’m really going to vomit.

“Go jump in the Hudson, you skank!” Yuffie shouts in English.

The woman frowns and sucks at her teeth.

I begin to think fast. If I did as this woman told me, there was no guarantee that she’d spare Yuffie’s life or leave my sister unharmed. Or rather, I highly doubt that she plans to. And there’s no way we can just run away anymore.

So, there’s only one other option left for me.

I drop my and suitcase on the ground and raise my hands in the air. As I walk towards her, Yuffie grabs me.

“No, don’t do it!” she cries.

“Let me go,” I reply in a low voice, and I slip out of her grasp. “I know what I’m doing.”

The woman grins in triumph, and I bite my lip.

No, I really don’t know what I’m doing… but right now, I’m so angry that somehow… I’m going to make this baby-doll, psycho-bitch pay!

I walk closer to her… closer… closer. Her expression is secure, confident, and arrogant. I close in, only a few feet in front of her, and I feel a smirk on my lips. The woman tenses.

I take a deep breath, pick up my leg, and kick the barrel of her gun with all my might.

And all hell breaks loose.

The woman gasps as she looses her grip on the gun, and I spring up on her. I catch the gun as it flies backwards, aiming the barrel for the men rushing to her aid, and I squeeze the trigger. The results—to my horror—our glorious.

The torrent of bullets hit their mark, and four of her men twitch like oil on a frying pan. They fall over like logs. The woman screeches in a fury and struggles hard, making me lose control of the gun. She pulls away and shoves me, making the gun fall out of my hands. Yuffie’s remaining bodyguard comes up from behind and pounces on it.

The woman tries to kick him, but I quickly knee her in the stomach. She doubles over onto the ground.

The rest of her men keep running towards us, completely unperturbed. I take a few steps back, run, and then, I jump onto her back like I’m on a trampoline.

I aim directly for one of her cronies and drive my foot straight into his face. He falls down with his arms flailing, and I land on the ground with my knees bent. I swerve around, and the next one tries to tackle me. I spin on the ball of my foot and deliver a neat high kick into the side of his head. He crashes into the wall, making a large crater in the plaster.

Did I just jump kick someone… and then pull off a roundhouse kick?! And there is no way I’m that strong!

Not that I’m complaining…

But then, the third bloke lands a kick on me, and I hit the floor, sliding back several feet into the hall. I hiss in pain (my ego damaged), but it reminds me of the gun hidden in the back of my pants.

I hop to my feet, jamming my hand into my pants. I pull out the gun, release the safety, and leap forward to face him head on. He charges and fires at me. I jump to the side and dodge it. He tries to shoot again, but I break the distance between us and backhand his arm away and the bullet hits the wall.

I stick the barrel of the gun right onto his nose. His jaw goes slack.

“Sayonara, arsehole,” I reply coolly, and I squeeze the trigger…

Wait, what!?

His nose explodes in a bloody fountain, splattering onto my shirt. His body falls back like a domino, bouncing on the floor with a thud.

I’m too stunned to move.

“Cloud-sama, are you alright?!” Yuffie shouts.

I pull myself together and return to them. My legs are shaking.

“I… I think so,” I reply.

The bodyguard’s holding the psycho at bay with her own gun. She grits her teeth and glares daggers at me.

Well, you started it…

Yuffie grins from ear to ear and claps her hands together.

“You’re amazing!” she gushes. “You didn’t tell me you knew how to fight!”

“I… I don’t!” I stammer back. “I’ve never…”

Yuffie flinches, completely taken aback. “Are you serious!?”

I ball hand into a fist and punch my forehead. Get a hold of yourself! This is no time to flip out! You have to get out of here, NOW! Stay calm. Just stay calm!

Yeah, easier said then done!

I kneel down and grab my sword while Yuffie takes the suitcase. She’s still carrying the sake bottle under her arm, which is miraculously intact. I reach out and grab the woman by her neck and hold the gun near her bright, fuchsia head.

“Move!” I bark at her, and she obeys with a snort.

Our greatly diminished posse travels back to the elevator. I hold back the bile in my throat as I see the dead bodyguards all over the floor.

“L-Lola!”

The man I jumped kicked tries to stumble to his feet. Once again, my body moves almost reflexively, and I fire two warning shots near his head. He doesn’t move another inch.

The elevator—thankfully—has not moved. We all step inside—me first with my newest enemy—and the bodyguard jabs the button to close it. We’re sealed in and safe.

“Do we take her with us?” I ask.

“No,” Yuffie replies. “It’s too risky to take her hostage.”

Yuffie then gives her a mocking look and says, “Right, Lola-chan?”

Lola growls through her teeth. Yuffie presses the button to the seventieth floor, and the elevator goes down, nearly making me tip over.

I take deep breaths, just like Mum taught me. Surprisingly, it works.

Lola cranes her neck, glaring at me.

“Lola’s a rather proper name for you,” I say to her. “In a sick sort of way.”

“You’re gonna regret this, you little brat!” she spits.

“I was about to say the same thing.”

The elevator stops on the seventieth floor and opens. I raise the gun and cosh her a good one on the back of her head. Discombobulated, she loses her balance, and I throw her head first onto the floor, getting a good view of her teddy bear panties.

The doors close, and Yuffie presses another button to continue the journey down. I fall against the back of the elevator, pressing my hands to my cheeks. She takes out her cell from the folds of her kimono and dials a number.

“Hello, concierge,” she says in calm, collected English. “This is Yuffie Kisaragi. We have a problem named Lola Hopkins. She broke facility rules and attacked us on the eightieth floor… actually, she’s on the seventieth floor now. People are dead. Thank you. Please sound the alarm and handle it. Yes, we’ll be careful.”

Marlene wriggles out of from the arm that’s been holding her all this time and flings herself onto my legs. She’s breathing heavily and hiccupping in tears.

Yuffie ends the call and tells me, “I’m sorry, Cloud-sama. We’ll have to go to the lobby after all. There might be more people after you, so we’ll need… Skandon-sama’s help!”

I don’t answer. My body slides down until I fall sprawled on my backside. I bury my head in my hands. Marlene presses herself against me.

The reality of my plight slaps me in the face yet again. I just went waif-fu on a team of assassins, violently killing five people in no more than a minute! With skills I am NOT supposed to have! And I think I did it with a smile on my face!

Forget therapy. I’m halfway to the loony bin now! And I still don’t know what the hell is going on!

But one thing’s for sure: I am neck deep in something very, very ugly...

Shera and Reno were right, I mourn. I’m crazy after all! And I’m not normal! Normal people don’t suddenly know how to do flying jump kicks without any training! Normal people can’t put a dent into the bloody wall! Normal people don’t turn from law-abiding citizens into lethal killers in two seconds flat! And they don’t do it while smirking! I really killed those people, didn’t I?! I’m a nutcase! I’m a nutcase!

My chest tightens. It’s getting hard to breathe…

A pair of gentle hands touches my head. They pull me towards a bundle of colorful cloth and a soft stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” Yuffie says softly. “You’ve really never killed before, have you? I said something insensitive. It’s not easy to do it. But… please try to calm down. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Easy for you to say, Yakuza girl!

“You defended yourself and me very well. We might’ve all been killed if you hadn’t taken action. Just say it. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

I don’t answer, and she shakes me forcefully. “Go on! Say it!”

I swallow heavily, and she waits.

“I…” I reply slowly. “I’ve… done nothing wrong.”

My breathing starts to return to normal, and I raised my voice a bit louder. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

I defended myself. My sweet love was safe, thank God. My new acquaintance survived. I taught that evil creature a lesson. We’re all okay.

“I did nothing wrong?” I said again.

“Yes!” Yuffie declared. “What other choice did you have? There’s no way she would have just left us all alone. That Lola Hopkins… she’s heartless! Just like her mother and her sisters!”

“I’ve done nothing wrong...”

I take deep breaths (again), and I try to force myself to relax.

“Yes, it’s fine. Try to stay calm. Once we get to Sephiroth-sama, I’m sure he’ll make it all better.”

Yeah, right before he rips me a new one.

“You’re alright?” Yuffie asks.

I’m not, but I nod anyway. She slowly pulls away from me.

“Though it was wise and fortunate that you didn’t kill her,” she begins to say. “Why didn’t you—”

Yuffie stops midsentence and squeals, falling on her backside, barely catching herself with her hands. I raise my head in confusion, and she gasps, staring at me in fright.

I look around the elevator, and the bodyguard is giving me a hostile look. Marlene leans close to me with her tearstained face, with an expression that suggests that she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“W-what?” I ask. “What is it?”

And then, I realize it: my British accent has risen up by a few notes. And my clothes are two sizes too big.

No.

No!

I lift my up my hands. They’ve become smaller!

No!

I grab my hair. The spikes are gone, and it’s grown right out!

No!

I touch my cheeks. My skin is even smoother, and my face is rounder!

No!

I touch my chest…

I don’t even want to think about it!

No! No! No, no, no, no, no! This has to be a joke. This has to be some horrible, sick joke!

Yuffie steadies herself and tries to talk to me. “C-c-c… Cl-cl… I…”

I open my mouth to reply, but I end up screaming like a girl.

Literally.

“Ojou-sama, get away from it!” her bodyguard cries.

The elevator starts to spin, and I can hear Yuffie screaming, “What do you think you’re doing!? Unhand me!”, and something heavy gets knocked against the wall, and bodyguard grunts in pain. And I just keep screaming. I can’t stop myself!

Yuffie practically pounces on top of me, nudging Marlene out of the way. The impact sends the back of my head into the wall, not enough to hurt but plenty enough to shock me back to my senses. Yuffie grabs me in random places, running her hands through my hair, pressing her fingers into my cheeks, tilting my head back, and staring at my neck.

“No Adam’s apple,” she finally says. “Cloud-sama, are you… are you alright?”

“What do you think!?” I snap. “I’ve grown a set of bloody knockers!”

So, did Nicky have this in mind when he said we were going to have “fun”!? From the very beginning!? And Tseng—he knew this was going to happen to me? Is that why he gave me those clothes!?

No kidding, genius.


Understandably, a spanner has been thrown into our plans.

Yuffie insists on letting us make a stop at the fifty-fourth floor. She drags me out of the elevator—I nearly trip all over my sagging pants—and she forces her bodyguard to carry all of my belongings. A loud alarm is ringing throughout the entire hallway, and a few people our rushing out of their apartments.

As she pulls me down the hall, Yuffie makes another call on her cell.

“Papa, it’s me!” she says. “Yes… I know about the alarm… yes, it was me. My bodyguards… nine of them are dead. No, I’m not hurt. Papa…no. Papa, NO! It wasn’t me. You see, I’m with someone…you know about Dr. Strife’s son, right?”

I lose track of the conversation altogether. I’m so mentally haggard; my mind is still reeling… over everything. The only thing I can feel is Marlene’s hand clasped into mine. Only God knows why she’d want to hold it now.

Yuffie’s place isn’t very far from the elevator. She lets go of my hand and fishes out her key (also hidden in her kimono). She opens the door and ushers me, still conversing with her father over our predicament, and leads me through a small living room. The alarm goes on forever.

Yuffie snatches the suitcase from bodyguard’s hand, pushes Marlene and me right into the next room, and follows us inside.

There’s a bed only a few feet away. I go weak at the knees and fall right at the foot of it; my arms rest on it for support. Yuffie sighs and begins to close the door behind her.

“Ojou-sama, wait!”

A guard grabs the door, trying to keep Yuffie from closing it. I look back at him and realize that he’s that same, outspoken bodyguard who was rude to me in the lobby.

Of course he’d survive.

“Ladies only, please,” she replies (more demanding rather than requesting). “No peeking.”

“I heard that!” I complain.

Yuffie picks up her foot (she’s wearing a pair of geta) and stomps it over his. He yowls and steps back, and she slams the door in victory. She locks it for good measure.

“That man,” she murmurs, “all muscle and worry and no brains at all!”

I can only groan in response.

Yuffie tosses the suitcase onto the bed. She hurriedly walks over to her dresser and pulls out some casual clothes. She holds them over her arm and faces me again.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to call Skandon-sama,” she declares.

“Come again, Miss Kisaragi!?” I rejoin.

“We’re in a tight spot.”

“But my voice! He won’t recognize my voice!”

“Toughen it! Just try! You have to talk to him!”

“Why don’t you do it?”

Yuffie recoils and flushes bright read. “No, no, no! I couldn’t possibly talk to Skandon-sama on the phone. I couldn’t possibly…”

She rushes into her bathroom and escapes, leaving no more room for argument. It’s just me and the cell phone in my pocket. I hope vehemently that the cell got crushed. I pull it out my pocket, and to my exasperation, the cell has only sustained a few scratches. Nothing wants to go my way.

I look up at Marlene, who’s standing before me. Her expression is very cold, very sober.

“You alright, dear?” I ask.

“Hmmm…” she gurgles.

“I’m sorry…I should never have brought you here…”

“So now you’re telling me… that I’ve had an older sister all this time?” she mumbles.

I sit there for a moment, completely dumbfounded. I’m not entirely sure if Marlene is grasping the severity of the situation… or that she’s only more concerned about the sudden change of my body.

Well, leave it to her—the only person who could possibly change the mood after something like that.

God bless her little heart.

“I’m your older brother,” I reply firmly. “And don’t you ever forget that!”

I’m still shaking from the ordeal; the word shell-shocked wouldn’t do justice to what I’m feeling.

I hoist myself up onto the bed and face the screen of my phone head on. I swallow for courage and press for speed dial.

I knew I was going to regret sneaking off… but boy, did I not know the half of it!

The dial tone picks up in less than a few of seconds. I hear his voice on the other end… and nearly piss myself.

“Had enough adventure for one day?” he drawls sarcastically.

I try to reply but end up choking on incoherent babble.

“I thought I was just going easy on you, you know,” he continues. “Letting you have a head start when I saw you sneaking off. But I guess I was being too nice…”

“Seph-chan… I…” I manage to say in a quiet voice.

“Dammit, Cloud!” he yells angrily. “What part of ‘don’t go outside alone’ don’t you understand!? What the hell has gotten into you?! And why is the alarm—”

I try to answer again, but I strange noise comes out my mouth. It sounds like a cross between a whine and a sob. There’s a long pause.

“Princess?” he asked, his tone drastically softens.

“Would you mind coming to get me before you chew me out, you bloody git!?” I finally scream back.

And then, there’s an even longer pause. The alarm bell is driving me mad!

He doesn’t know my voice at all, does he? I thought. He doesn’t know me anymore! What do I do!?

But then, Seph-chan answers me back in hesitant, mortified voice.

“…Princess?”

He knows it’s me? He actually knows?!

Thank God for my British accent!

“Whose phone do you think this is?!” I cry frantically. “Help me! Some psychotic, pink-haired slut attacked me … I killed five people… and now, I think my plumbing’s changed! Please, help me!!!”

“Oh, God no…” Seph-chan mutters.

I hear a cacophony of noise coming from his end: the alarm, rustling, and talking excitably. And then, I hear the chime of an elevator.

“Where are you now?” he replies tiredly.

“I’m in Miss Kisaragi’s place,” I tell him. “Room 5407.”

I clicks his teeth. “Kisaragi… stay right where you are! If you move, I’m gonna shave off your hair and make you eat it!”

“Wait a minute!” I protest. “You won’t recognize me when you get here! I look… different!”

“I’ll be counting on that,” he deadpans, and the connection cuts off.

It’s over.

I lay my cell on the bed. Marlene climbs up beside me and wraps her arm around my tiny waist.

“What’s going on?!” she pleads. “Why did those people try to hurt us? And why are you a girl?”

I cover my eyes with my hand. “That’s what I’d like to know…”

But my companion knows. He knows.

He knew that I was in danger the whole time. Why else was he so jumpy when Tseng showed up at the house?! And if he knew it was me, even when my voice had changed, then he must have known that this was eventually going to happen to me! He knew everything… and said nothing at all!

I’m not worried about getting killed by him anymore… because I’m going to kill him first

Yuffie comes out of the bathroom at last. No longer in her fancy kimono, she now wears a good white blouse with a ruffled collar, brown suede shorts and a pair of yellow, knee high stockings. Tomboyish, but very fitting.

“I hate having to look so casual in front of an important person,” Yuffie says, “but it can’t be helped. Let’s get you into your clothes, Cloud-sama. You can borrow some underwear from me.”

“You’re going to help me dress!?” I cry, scooting away.

“We’re both girls,” she replies.

“I am NOT a girl!”

“Well, you look like one, and that’s all that matters. Get out your clothes and let’s strip please! Unless, you actually know how to put on a bra.”

She has me there. I stand up with a whimper and open the suitcase. I shut my eyes tight, undo my pants, and let them fall to the floor. Marlene covers her eyes with both hands.

“Nice legs,” Yuffie says, trying to lighten the mood. My ears grow hot.

“Very funny,” I seethe, unbuttoning my shirt. “I feel so much better.”

“But you look very good as a woman,” she says.

“Aren’t you shocked at all?!”

“I was at first… but it sure gave me clarity.”

I stop in the middle of my shirt, my cleavage in full view. Is it just me… or are they a tad bigger than what I saw in the dream this morning!?

“Clarity?” I question. “On what?”

“I suspected it when you saved us from those pigs,” Yuffie replies. “I wasn’t certain… but when I saw that you had grown this skin of yours, I knew it had to be the case!”

The skin? She knows about ‘skins’?

“W-what do you mean?”

Yuffie clears her throat and stares at me with a resolute look in her eye.

“Cloud-sama, you are not a normal human.”

"I think I've already figured that out..."

She bites her lip and grabs my shirt, undoing the rest of the buttons.

“It’s not something I can just talk about,” she answers. “You’d better ask your people about it instead.”

No more information out of Yuffie.

And then suddenly, I’m bare-chested in front of her. I’m not sure whether to care or whether to cover myself. Male instincts die-hard.

“I don’t think my bras are going to fit you,” Yuffie realizes, frowning. “Seeing that I’m outdone by a boy… makes me feel very… inadequate.”

“Please stop looking,” I beg piteously.

I wish I’d gotten shot.

Yuffie picks up the bluish-gray dress and opens it. A lacy, baby-blue bra and some matching panties fall onto the bed.

Is Tseng… a pervert?

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