THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

The Battle Within

By: Amber Michelle
elahayym@hotmail.com





One:

Fighting was his life. His love.

The swift clomp of soldiers' boots followed him down a deserted street in downtown Midgar. A stray cat scrambled away at their approach, but the city was shrouded in silence, and the darkness was only broken by the occasional streetlamp. Even the center of Midgar, near Shinra Headquarters, was kept dark during the city's "night" because the company would not spare funds for unnecessary electricity. His eyes glowed as he passed through the shadowy places, and his silver hair flowed in a shimmering curtain behind him.

The war was not over yet. It would never be over.

Hojo had taught him that, and those were the few words uttered by the mad scientist that he had taken to heart. His war would never be over, not if eternity ended and hell froze over. He loved only one thing -- the rush of battle, his enemies' blood. But he couldn't help thinking there was more, somewhere...... knowledge he had been deprived of since his birth.

Shinra Headquarters loomed above him. He lead his division around the monolith to the grounds that housed SOLDIER, the fighting elite of Shinra's army. The company broke up into groups and straggled away to the barracks. He moved more slowly, heading to the back entrance of the main building. Hojo was waiting.

Something always drew him back to the laboratory when the scientist called. He hated the man, but he always did as he was told. Good soldiers always did as ordered. And he was the best. Rank wasn't in it; he knew he was better than his so-called superiors. He had only to wait...... and his patience would pay off.

Tomorrow was his birthday. He had survived twenty-five years of experimentation and humiliation, and he still didn't know anything about his past. But tonight, that would change. Tonight, he wouldn't take no for an answer.

* * * *

"You took your sweet time, boy."



Sephiroth narrowed his eyes at the insult. Hojo didn't seem to notice, or didn't care. "I had other business to take care of." He gripped Murasame's hilt, knowing it would be easy to strike now and finish the scientist. But he held back, and didn't know why.

His nemesis chuckled, adjusting his thick, wire-rimmed glasses. "Your division has been ordered to stand down until the missing members can be replaced. Until the President puts you back on the line, you are to stay here for treatment." He gestured to a glass quarantine tube. "Get in."

"I don't need treatment. I thought you said that was all over. Why more?"

"Those wounds need to be treated. Get in." Hojo pulled a syringe from his pocket.

Sephiroth's lip curled in contempt. His wounds would be gone by morning. They didn't even bleed. "Answer my question first." He knew it was childish, but hadn't he just resolved not to take no for an answer?

"Don't be temperamental, boy. I gave you an order!"

"Your orders don't mean a damn thing to me, old man. You aren't my father --"

The scientist broke into another sinister chuckle and casually backhanded the young man across the face. The blow jolted him, more out of surprise than pain, and he had to clench his fists to stop himself from throttling his tormentor. Why am I backing down and giving in to him? With an effortless snap of his wrists Sephiroth could end Hojo's experimenting days forever, but he couldn't bring himself to cross that threshold.

Cold reason broke through his anger and he forced himself to calm down. He would never be free if he continued to allow Hojo to do this. His hatred bound him to the scientist, and that had to be broken. He had accepted the abuse for so long...... As much as he despised the man, he would just have to endure it a little longer.

Hojo still had the sadistic glint in his eyes. "Get in the tube. This will only take a moment."

Someday, the struggle of wills would be over. Sephiroth sighed and climbed into the tube. But not today.

* * * *

Two:

"Why is that girl giving the lady a present?"

Lena pulled him along by the shoulder. "The lady is her mother, Sephiroth. Now, come along."

He twisted out of her grip, yanking at the sleeve of her lab coat to dislodge her hand, and stopped by the rail to watch the two curiously. The woman picked her daughter up and gave her a hug, clutching the gift in one of her hands, and the little girl laughed and kissed her mother. Sephiroth gripped the railing, wishing she would come pick him up and do the same thing. Lena never did things like that.

"Get over here!" A hand grasped his hair and yanked him back from the railing. Lena turned him around and slapped him across the face. The pain made his eyes water, but he didn't cry. He never cried anymore.

Sephiroth stared at the ceiling of his room. It was blurred by the tears in his eyes, but blissfully blank. The dream always made him want to cry. It reached something deep inside him that he kept locked away, and pulled it out. He hated it. He hated caring that he had no parents, no home to go to, he hated feeling what it made him feel. And it was all because of his night in the lab. It always came back, after his treatments.

Relentlessly he pushed it back, into the corner of his mind he shut away from his life, where it would not bother him. He didn't have time for sentimentality; war was raging across the continents, and he intended to be in the middle of it. He had only one love: the heat of battle.

That was what they had taught him, ever so patiently...... Sephiroth would surpass their expectations...... and throw it in their faces. Shinra, Hojo, Lena...... He would spit on her grave.

He would show all of them that he would not be used.

* * * *

"Just get the job done." President Shinra pulled out another cigar. "You have a problem, Reeve?"

"Is this really necessary, sir? Sephiroth has already proven his skill in battle --"

"His skill in battle isn't the issue here. We've spent years to put this project together--"

"We need to show the Jenova project has been a success." Hojo laced his fingers together nervously. "We can arrange a test. We've been making amazing progress with these new treatments." The cigar was killing him -- he couldn't wait to get away from the smell.

Reeve glared at Hojo. "Every other experiment you've tried involving Jenova has failed.

Why should we waste money on this one? We already have our super soldier!"

How could he explain that Sephiroth was becoming too independent, that his loyalty should be tested without reflecting any bad light on himself, now that Reeve had brought his failure into the open?

Simple. He would ignore it.

Hojo straightened his lab coat and did his best to smile. "The experiment will be completed."

* * * *

"Anything else?" Sephiroth snapped acidly, glancing over his shoulder at Hojo.

"Just go, boy. They want you in Junon by tomorrow."

He turned his back on the scientist in disgust, practically storming out of the laboratory. These sessions always left him feeling moody. He had been forced to spend almost two days with Hojo, forced to hold his aggression in. Calmness was the farthest thing from his mind. He was tempted to leave on his own and arrive in Junon after the parade. What purpose did such a show serve, anyway? Shinra seemed to enjoy nothing but showing off, when he should be thinking of the war.

They were sending him to the North Continent after the parade, to eradicate an enemy base lodged at Icicle Inn. The place had no strategic value whatsoever, and he did not understand why they were sending his unit to liberate it. Or why they were sending Vir and Duran along with him. But then, who was he to question his commander? Sephiroth sneered, stepping out of the elevator to the first floor. Only the best soldier they had.

Professor Gast had spent his last days at Icicle Inn. He wondered if the cottage would still be there. That alone would make the trip worthwhile, though if he knew Hojo, one of the men accompanying him would be a spy. It wouldn't do to let the scientist know he still searched for Gast's records. He shrugged. Maybe they would die fighting the "enemy" force.

His two companions were waiting by the helicopter, loaded down with gear and ready to go. A sigh of relief escaped his lips; he had made it through the building and across the grounds without running into any delays. He just wanted to get away from all of the self-important idiots roaming Shinra's tower. His hair and coat flapped around him as he hauled himself into the cab and secured his sword. Ignoring the others, he stared out the window and watched Midgar grow smaller and dwindle away when the helicopter took to the air and headed for Junon.

* * * *

Three:

Trumpets blared, confetti drifted down from the heights of Junon's buildings, and the steady drumbeats echoed SOLDIER's footsteps as the entire organization marched down the causeway. People were jammed at both sides of the street, yelling at the top of their lungs and waving at the heroes striding at the front of the line. Laurel Naora, General and founder of SOLDIER, strode at the forefront, flourishing her weapon and crimson-lined cape like she led a group of carnival fools.

"Right flank! Formation!" Barely heard above the clamor of Junon's citizens, Laurel shouted the commands and positioned her sword above her head like a mace, directing them. SOLDIER's ranks folded into a maze of interlocking diamonds behind her. The crowd's cheering only got louder.

To Sephiroth, who was striding behind her as one of the four war heroes, the events occurring around him were blessedly distant. He carried Murasame tightly under his arm, coat and hair flashing in the morning sunlight. They shouted his name, reached past the barricades to touch him, and he bore it all with as much patience as he could. The people were so fickle; one moment they were afraid of him, the next praising him.

He was a wraith, a ghost among the vivid, normal members of SOLDIER. He was tall, lithe, his shimmering pale hair and light complexion almost feminine, wrapped in a coal-black trenchcoat. He could feel the treatments Hojo had administered in Midgar writhing in his veins.

Sephiroth felt as if he weren't a part of this, that someone else was marching down the causeway and basking in the adulation of the crowd. His mind was on one thing now -- Professor Gast's old records. It was all he could cling to.

The cloud of confetti relented, finally, and his line reached the docks. "Unit one, second class, fall out!" Laurel's voice was still barely audible above the not-so-distant noise of the crowd. Sephiroth and his two companions, followed by several dozen escort guards quickly moved out of formation and lined up before her. She confronted him. "You've been briefed?" It wasn't really a question, but he nodded. "Good. You're in command. If you do well you may be promoted to first class when you return to Midgar." She winked and walked off. "May Lady Luck guide your footsteps."

He gazed after her quizzically, but she didn't look back. Sephiroth shrugged and motioned for his troops to follow him onto the ship. It wasn't the first time she had come on to him, and it probably wouldn't be the last. She was attractive, he supposed, but he really had no interest in such things, despite the urgings of his 'fellow soldiers'.

The warriors who had accompanied him behind Laurel saluted as he passed and entered the shadowed confines of the cargo hold. The air was just as bad inside as out. Trying not to breathe very deeply, he signaled the others to precede him on the stairs, and followed at his own pace, wanting to be as far from human contact as possible.

The ship lurched into motion. Sephiroth stood at the helm and leaned forward against the rail, sea spray spattering his lips. His pale hair flowed out behind him, and his coat billowed out, filled with the wind. He simply stared out to the horizon, listening as the clamor of the crowds in the city dwindled to nothing and only the sound of the ship's engine and the ocean waves met his ears.

"Uh... sir......"

The moment shattered, he glanced back. Vir pointed silently to the cabins, and shrugged. Sephiroth gestured for him to lead the way, and prepared to deliver a scathing lecture to whoever had caused the problem. Although he could not vent his anger at Hojo or anyone else at Shinra Headquarters, the men under his command had no such protection. And they were about to find out just how angry he was.

* * * *

"When the summer's wind, dies at your breath, and nature turns, strangles you to death, when fear chokes your words and ice taints your soul...... remember me, my son...... our time has come......"

Her musky voice drifted off. The bard's mournful song picked up, seeming to gather an entire orchestra to accompany the lute, and the blond shade, his expression so sad, looked up to the sky.

Vines trapped him, snaking around his arms and legs. "Soon......" she whispered. "Our time has come......" Soft laughter curled around him.

He couldn't stop shivering. The voice seemed so familiar. It terrified him, summoning a fear so intense he thought he might scream. She was something inside of him, something alien he couldn't pinpoint, and it writhed in his veins like the vines in his dream. Out. He had to get out!

Blood calls for blood......

Sephiroth threw the tangled sheet away and stumbled out of his bunk, glad he had been given a private cabin. He pulled the door open and padded quietly to the rail. The air was still, laden with moisture and summer's warmth.

...... Fear, for your soul......

He squeezed his eyes shut and gripped the rail. It wouldn't leave him alone. She wouldn't leave him alone. Was it his mother? But his mother hadn't been insane, and those words were definitely the ramblings of a madwoman. Someone driven insane by her pain and the deeds of others...... Not real. It was just a dream! Only a dream.

A dream that would not leave him, however hard he ran.

Better than dreaming about Lena, he reminded himself. His old caretaker was the source of most of his nightmares, and he hoped she was burning in hell for what she had done to him. Thinking about it still made him shudder. Like Hojo, his hatred bound him to her, and made it impossible to forget her. Someday he would forget about it... and Hojo...... and all the humiliations suffered at their hands...... but how?

Not me, my son..... never forget me...... She laughed again, and a sharp pain stabbed his heart. His knees gave out and he dropped to the deck, kneeling there in shock. What's wrong with me? What's happening to me? His fingers were tangled in his hair, clutching his head to drive out the voice. Sephiroth snatched them away in fury. He wasn't a child, to be frightened so easily by a nightmare, no matter how vivid. Slowly he straightened and forced himself to return to his cabin and climb into bed. She was there......

Waiting for him......

* * * *

"Form up!" He shouted over the chill wind. He had forgotten how much he hated the northern continent. Icicle Inn was a few dozen miles away, just over the mountain.

"Shouldn't we scout the area first sir?" Vir called out as Sephiroth was about to turn.

He gazed at Vir for a long moment, tossing his hair back. "No need. Sethra's forces are spread too thin to give us much trouble. Just follow the plan and meet outside the settlement in two hours. If anyone is missing, they'll be left behind!" The bone-chilling cold crept along his limbs, coating his skin with frost. His sword was ice in his fingers.

"But sir --"

Sephiroth turned his back on Vir and ordered the group to disperse. Did the man think he was stupid? He had scouted the area last night, easily slipping through enemy ranks long enough to check on the town. Professor Gast's home still stood, looking as if it had not been entered in decades.

That house was his goal. He hoped, however vainly, that he would find something there, anything, to tell him who he was and where he had come from. Maybe something to stop the nightmares, if he was lucky. Why did you die? How could you leave me like this? If Gast's murderer ever fell into his hands......

Vir and the others under his command were gone. His plan would efficiently dispose of most of them, and leave him free to search the old scientist's home without the constant fear that someone would be spying on him. The rest would be lost in the snow fields for the better part of the day. He would have the rare pleasure of relaxing after a job, and access to Gast's records. Assuming everything went according to plan.

Sephiroth began plodding through the slushy snow, careful to keep his weapon high above it. Complete silence blanketed the valley. He smiled. Sethra's troops were not prepared for him. Derisive laughter burst out of him. It would be a slaughter, pure and simple.

* * * *

A husky soldier about half his height rushed at him, bellowing a wordless battle-cry. Sephiroth calmly side-stepped to avoid the blade and extended his leg, tripping him. The man went sprawling face first into the snow. He swung his sword up, stretched to his full height, and plunged the blade through his enemy, driving it almost to the hilt through the soldier's body.

"Bastard!" came a voice behind him. A burning pain spread across his back, and he jerked away, backhanding his assailant. He stumbled over the forgotten corpse, still clinging to his sword. The woman charged him again.

He almost didn't make it. She was almost on him when he managed to pull his sword out of his victim's corpse, hands slipping on the blood-covered hilt in his haste. The blade moved of it's own accord, or so it seemed to him, whipping out and slicing her neatly across the midsection just as she was about to strike. Both of them tumbled to the ground.

He rolled away, pushed her off with disgust and sat up, looking over the town. There was only one enemy soldier left standing, and when he saw Sephiroth studying him he darted away. A few quick shots from an escort guard ended his flight forever.

The blood-stained snow was partly melted from the heat of battle. His hair, also stained red, was hanging limply over his eyes and shoulder, and his sword lay rusting in the snow. He used it to lever himself into a standing position, delicately stepping over the bodies of the enemy, lying in a ring around his former position. They hadn't been much of a challenge.

The wound on his back stung as he moved. A thousand cuts and scratches covered his body, his sweat irritating them more than his movement. Some were already partly healed, but he ignored all of them and walked rather stiffly to the escort guard that had killed the last enemy soldier. "See that this is swept away, and post a watch at the southern entrance to the town."

The kid nodded and ran off. Sephiroth left the main square of the town and headed toward his goal -- a small house nestled behind the weapon shop, hidden by tall mounds of snow and a clump of pine trees. Professor Gast's house.

The interior was dark and cool, the air musty from many years of disuse. He propped his sword against the stair rail and dropped the scabbard next to it, walking slowly across the main room as if in a trance. Here were his happiest memories. Gast and Ifalna had given him the loving care he so needed, and was deprived of in Hojo's lab. The only man Sephiroth had come close to calling father had lived in this house, and coming back to it was like coming home. He closed his eyes and soaked the in the atmosphere, feeling relaxed for the first time in years.

He had played games in this room -- not puzzles or history as he did in Midgar, but silly games, things normal children did with their parents. He had known, even then, that he was different from the other children his age, but Gast had made him forget that. Sephiroth shook his head. Hojo would never live up to his legacy. He would never reach that level.

Sephiroth smiled, and reveled in this new feeling. He was home.

* * * *

Four:

It only took a few moments for the scene to shatter. When he took a closer look at the room he stood in, he noticed broken chairs, overturned boxes and files scattered in the corners as if someone had been scavenging through what remained of the scientist's belongings. Sephiroth walked slowly to the corner by the door and knelt down next to the pile of loose papers and manila folders. They were covered by decades-worth of dust, and it coated his fingers as he rifled through them. One file caught his eye: Jenova.

He snatched the folder out and opened it excitedly. Nothing. Only a list of dates, the last being his birthday. Shaking his head, he sifted through the loose papers and even some of the other folders, hoping to find the missing pieces to the file he held in his hand, to no avail. There was nothing of any importance left. Whoever had gone through Gast's belongings had been thorough -- long, dry reports and minor experiments were all he found in the house. Video records marked with Gast's personal codes he left alone. He had no reason to go through the professor's personal files, and he doubted he would find anything of use to him there in any case.

There had to be something! Anything!

Hours later Sephiroth sat in a rickety chair, blood still caked in his hair and armor, staring out the window in despair. He'd had such high hopes. Foolish hope, but it had led him here, to his mentor's home in search of his soul. Why did people look at him as if they were surprised he had emotions, feelings? Why were his parents kept secret from him, and who were they? Where did he come from?

Why did you leave me? The question was just a whisper, echoing in his mind for the thousandth time. You promised me you would tell me! Who am I? Nobody answered his silent pleas.

Weaklings plead and cry. The strong accept what comes without complaint. The strong take matters into their own hands.

Sephiroth cursed Lena under his breath, his head in his hands. How many times had he heard her lecture him about that? His shoulders shook with weak laughter. He had taken matters into his own hands. Watching her die on his blade had been the single most pleasurable moment of his life. He still remembered the look of horrified shock on her face when the first inch of steel had entered her flesh.

His laughter stopped abruptly. Even that could not overshadow his disappointment. This was the last place he could turn to for answers, and his hopes had been shattered. The last of his hope. She was right. Oh how she would have loved to hear those words uttered from his lips when she was alive.....! Splintered wood bit into his hands when he gripped the edge of the table. Lena had her faults, but when she was right...... she was right.

He had no one else to turn to. Where else could he find information on his past? Midgar? Sephiroth laughed again, imagining the look he would see on Hojo's face if he demanded the information, or, even better, stole it from the electronic files on Shinra's computer system......

He stopped. Suddenly, the idea wasn't so funny anymore. It was a very real possibility.

He straightened, thinking. Who would dare challenge him? Upon return to Midgar he was scheduled for another mako injection, and he would be forced to spend the night in the lab. If he could resist the sleeping drugs he knew would be slipped into his system, the lab would be empty by one or two after midnight at the latest. Even Hojo needed sleep. Sephiroth smiled sardonically. The years were finally catching up with that mad scientist.

Perhaps he would also meet his end on Sephiroth's shining blade......

The idea made his smile widen. It would be the perfect birthday present -- his past, and Hojo's blood......

* * * *

"Are you sure about this, Professor? I don't see why he would come here." Laurel waited patiently by a large glass specimen tube. "The ICU is practically across the lab complex."

Her voice broke into his muttering. "What? Of course he'll be here! He'll be under quarantine twenty-four hours after his scheduled treatment. Just make sure you're here!" Hojo brushed past her, pushing his glasses over his nose and shaking his head, resuming his incessant mumbling.

Laurel sighed. She didn't know why Hojo wanted her to wait here when Sephiroth's division returned from the North Continent, or why he thought there would be any trouble in the lab. She wasn't particularly excited about watching the mako treatment either. Her own experience still lingered in her mind, and once was bad enough, in her opinion. If she understood correctly, this would be Sephiroth's fifth for this year alone. Mako must run in his veins!

Orders were orders. She would be here, but she didn't have to like it, or understand it. She was a soldier -- that's what she was there for. To honor. To obey.

* * * *

Five:

Sephiroth hoisted himself onto the examination table, eyes following Hojo's every move.

His face betrayed no emotion. The scientist seemed to be crawling through his normal routine, doing everything possible to put the treatment off for another few minutes, but Sephiroth knew it was just his nerves. He was anxious to get on with his quest before anything happened to jeopardize it. After another few minutes of aimless waiting, he was tempted to shout at Hojo to get to the job at hand.

"Regretting your mistake at the Glacier?" Hojo chuckled and shuffled over with a syringe and a small bottle containing a softly glowing substance. "I thought you were smarter, boy. Was I wrong?"

Sephiroth gritted his teeth and said nothing. This time, he refused to allow the man to draw him into a verbal duel. He would simply accept the treatment, escape from quarantine, and complete his mission. Then he suppressed a smile. How could Hojo know he had given those orders on purpose, just to get to Gast's cottage? They were the orders handed down to him from Shinra. How foolish of them to think the enemy would hold the same formation until we arrived. They knew we were coming. Overconfidence -- that was the story of Shinra, and SOLDIER.

A flaw in his own armor, but one he intended to use to his advantage. As he was now. "Get on with it, old man."

Shaking his head, Hojo sterilized the needle, then pierced the top of the small vial, drawing its contents into the syringe. With a tiny piece of gauze he cleaned a small area of Sephiroth's bare chest, just below his heart. The mako would be injected there to ensure fast distribution through his bloodstream.

Sephiroth flinched as the long needle pierced his flesh and entered his heart, squeezing his eyes shut as he felt the mako move sluggishly through his system. He often wondered just how safe the procedure was, knowing when other members of SOLDIER were augmented they were showered with the substance, not injected.

He forced his eyes to open. Hojo seemed to be taking malicious delight in his pain, taking his sweet time with the injection, then in drawing the needle out. When it was finally over and the scientist followed him to the glass quarantine tube, Sephiroth just wanted him to leave so he could take what he wanted. He didn't even have the energy to respond to Hojo's jibes about his last mission.

The door was locked behind him, and he watched as the scientist closed down most of the systems in the lab, turning off all lights but the small emergency bulbs on the stair rails and the computer screens. An eternity passed, and then Hojo left the laboratory, setting the security system on his way out. A system that would protect his workplace from the outside, but not from within.

Sephiroth allowed an hour to pass without acting to be sure nobody would return to complete unfinished work or check on him. When he was sure no one would interrupt him, he stood up and reached out to touch the glass wall surrounding him. It didn't seem very thick, but it was more durable than it looked. A chill smile crossed his lips and he moved to the weak point in his prison -- the door.

He was feeling stronger, much stronger. The treatment must have been increased for some reason. It didn't matter. The strength of the mako was rushing through him, augmenting his abilities. He tensed, standing a safe distance from the door, and kicked through the thick sheet of glass, sending the entire door and most of the wall surrounding it flying. It hit the lab table and shattered. Shards of glass and the doorframe clanged to the floor and lay glittering in the faint light.

The way was clear. Sephiroth calmly stepped through the hole and bent to retrieve his sword, though he left his coat and shoulder guards behind. The empty screens beckoned, and he wouldn't need his armor to protect him from them. A few long strides brought him to the main console. Knowing Hojo, there would be a password guarding the secrets he sought. He smirked. Only a fool would leave important files without protection.

His first guess yielded nothing. And that was the trend with his search; an endless chain of failed passwords taunting him as he worked feverishly to find a way in. He tried every name and place he knew, even making some up as he went along in hopes of accidentally triggering the password. Nothing.

Then, Sephiroth remembered a name he had seen in one of Gast's old reports during his search. He typed it in: Lucresia. The computer blinked affirmative, and files scrolled before him, a short list full of the mad scientist's secrets. He wondered idly who the name belonged to. A lover? His sharp laughter echoed across the laboratory. Hojo just wasn't the type!

The steely rasp of a sword being drawn drew his attention. Sephiroth spun around. Laurel stood behind him, armor shining and crimson cape turned purple in the pale blue light. Sephiroth's lip twisted in a derisive smile. The power of mako coursed through his veins, giving him strength, and his eyes glowed as brightly as ever.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Conducting personal business, General," he replied cooly. "This is not your concern."

"You've broken regulations, soldier." She raised her sword, pointing it at his stomach. Her grim expression put him on guard. Petty crimes such as the one he'd just committed didn't warrant the attention of a general. Something else was going on. He grabbed the hilt of his sword and brought it up front in a defensive position. "A challenge?"

Sephiroth smiled coldly and did not respond.

She moved swiftly, lunging with the point of her weapon aimed at his exposed side. He moved to parry, and she twisted her body, slashing him across the middle. Fire spread across his torso and he reacted without thought, bringing his blade down on her shoulder. Her armor turned the blow away and he staggered back, parrying another lightning fast strike. She was good -- certainly deserving of her title.

Laurel eyed the cut spread across his waist, and he knew what caught her attention. He did not bleed. Unfortunately, he still felt the pain. His movement was hampered by the wound and the stinging pain it delivered whenever he stretched or leaned forward. She had earned his grudging respect. Feigning weakness, he clung to the computer console, holding his position.

She moved closer, eyeing him cautiously and hefting her sword. When he made no threatening moves she moved another few feet, just a few steps out of his range. "Surrender, soldier."

"Not in this lifetime!" His hair shimmered, hanging like a curtain over his free arm. A shard of glass was clutched in his hand. He held it over the wound, appearing to cover the cut in pain.

She swung at him in two vicious horizontal arcs which he barely found the strength to parry one-handed. After a third she feinted, then struck high, sending his sword skittering across the floor to the other side of the lab. She was on him before he could draw a breath, holding the sword to his throat.

"One last chance, Sephiroth. Surrender, or I'll return you to Hojo in pieces."

"So you're Hojo's little spy? I'm not surprised." He sneered, his grip tightening around the glass. Did she really think she could defeat him so easily? His voice lowered to a deadly whisper. "Send this message back to your master......" He whipped his arm around and plunged the shard into her stomach, twisting it cruelly.

Laurel gasped, eyes widening in shock, and dropped her sword. Sephiroth shoved her to the floor, kneeling with one knee on her chest., and stabbed her again, through the heart. Her hand, grasping the glass, went limp, and her eyes dimmed. Golden hair, her only truly beautiful feature, fanned out from her head among bits of glass and metal.

He twisted off of her and turned his back to the former general, striding to the computer console. She had been good -- but not good enough. He typed in a command and waited patiently for the file to load.

* * * *

"You see? It was a success, as I predicted. He is ready for the next step."

"Promotion to General?" Reeves asked acidly, staring through Hojo.

"The boy is still too independent, and his skills need honing. Give him a little time in first class to calm him down. We can work on him from there." President Shinra hardly paid attention to their little rivalry, focusing on the images produced by Hojo's security cam and grinding a cigar into the ever-present ashtray.

"He's accessed the files! If he learns the truth won't that make dealing with him that much harder?" Reeves was trying hard to find some fault in his rival's plan.

"I removed the files yesterday. Why should he learn of his heritage?" Hojo chucked and wandered toward the door. "He doesn't have one......"

* * * *

FILE DOES NOT EXIST. NEXT REQUEST?

Sephiroth closed his eyes. He longed to scream, and take his frustration out on his surroundings, on Hojo. The man had known all along. This had all been a ruse, a test of some sort to prove his strength or ingenuity. His clenched fists trembled, his nails bit into his palms. All of his effort, for nothing.

His past...... did not exist.



Life was gained from love, destroyed,

That kept his heart alive but stained,

Only coldness filled the void,

And forged a sword from what remained.



<END>







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