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"I heard that he died five years ago. But I see him in my dreams so often... And I know that physically, like myself, he canāt die so easily. Please, Vincent, tell me..."
* * * * *
Four beings were approaching the town. Jenova sent her mind out to them, mentally noting them out of curiosity. She had grown bored of the residents of the town, always with their routines; nothing exciting occurred in such a place. The creation of a few monsters with what limited power she possessed had certainly livened things up, and she was even more pleased to see that she had drawn the attention of outsiders. New faces. Anything to relieve the boredom, even slightly.
Two armed with those strange things called guns. Weak-minded, weak-hearted. Hardly interesting, though Jenova noted with minor interest that one considered the town home. She would have smirked if she had any motor control. She had spent two years trapped in this machine, and an additional twenty in the lab under the town, yet she never considered it home. Merely a prison. The one-time empress of the planet, reduced to powering a machine for insects. She snapped the thought out of her head and returned her attention to the four at the gate.
The third was of reasonable power and strength, and seemed to have a healthy dosage of spirit energy running through him. More than most humans did. Black hair, armed with sword, confident. He might be of some amusement.
Then Jenova turned to the fourth. This one was different. Very different, not like the humans at all, even in cellular structure... She stopped, then checked the cells again. Then she checked the DNA, life force... There was no mistaking it. The fourth newcomer... was herself.
* * * * *
Sephiroth dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand, rubbing his nose with the other. The cold fall air must be getting to him. It was fortunate that the reactor trouble had caught the attention of Shinra when it did; in a couple of weeks Mount Nibel would likely be buried under snow.
He stopped for a moment to stare at the mountain, frowning slightly. It almost felt like it was watching him...
His gaze wandered to a teenage girl sitting by the gates. She glanced up at Sephiroth inquisitively, then at the rest of the group. After acknowledging their presence, she took a last look at Sephiroth before standing and walking off. Sephiroth watched her go, straight-faced as always, before turning to the others. As he prepared to give some quick orders, he noticed that one of the guards ö Cloud, was it? ö still had his attention on the girl in the distance. Sephiroth couldnāt see Cloudās expression through the helmet, but his body language suggested disappointment, longing. At not being able to talk to her? Cloud had mentioned on the way here that he hailed from Nibelheim. Did he know that girl? Was she a relative? An old friend? How long had it been since he had seen her? How long had Cloud been away from his home anyway?
"How does it feel?"
He hadnāt meant to say that out loud. He momentarily berated himself for losing control, but decided that it would be even more improper now not to finish what he had started. "Itās your first time back to your hometown in a long time, right? So how does it feel?" He paused, mulling it over, then added almost as an afterthought, "I wouldnāt know because I donāt have a hometown..."
Cloud looked surprised at the sudden attention. Sephiroth knew he commanded respect, and the poor guard was probably nervous. Finally he managed to stumble out, "Umm, how about your parents?"
Sephiroth inwardly winced, though he managed to keep his face under control this time. Family was one subject he tried to avoid at all costs. But it was a fair question, and he had started the conversation, so he should be prepared to take it where it led. "My mother is Jenova. She died right after she gave birth to me. My father..."
He paused. Whenever he told this story at the academy, he had always said that his father was so great hero who died on the battlefield; that was why he wasnāt there during his childhood. But it somehow felt wrong to lie about that now, and Dr. Hojo had never actually told him anything about his father. Not much about his mother, either, just that her name was Jenova. And Hojo had been the only source of information he had during most of his childhood... He suddenly began to chuckle in spite of himself. Hojo was probably the closest thing to a father he had! The chuckle broke into a few seconds of pure laughter before he noticed the others were looking at him strangely. He brought himself back under control. "What does it matter?"
He sniffed the air. The mako exhaust from the mountain was apparent, in far larger quantities than seemed normal. It reminded him too much of the labs in Midgar. Yet somehow, it made the place seem familiar to him. Or maybe the feeling just came from talking with Cloud about home and family. He shrugged and ordered the group through the gates, glancing at the mountain one more time before following.
* * * * *
Cloud knocked on the door to his motherās house. Sephiroth had decided to let him see his relatives and friends while they were in town; it was too late to climb the mountain today anyway. To see his family again, to see Tifa...
...except he had told everyone he was joining SOLDIER. To show up now as a lowly guardsman was going to be a little embarrassing. He hadnāt even mailed home in two years because he hadnāt wanted to admit he hadnāt passed the qualification tests. But still, this was his first chance to see home...
"Hello? Are you listening?"
Cloud suddenly realized that the door had been open for a minute or two. His mother stood on the other side of the threshold. Mother had been so proud that he was going to join SOLDIER and fight in the war...
"Uh, weāre asking all civilians to stay inside for safe-keeping, maāam. Just getting the word around."
He couldnāt believe he just said that.
Mrs. Strife looked confused but nodded and shut the door. Arggh! Cloud leaned on the doorframe, trying to build up the courage to knock again, but couldnāt muster it. Now sheād wonder why he had lied to her the first time. Heād come back later when he had the chance. In civilian clothes; that way he wouldnāt be as embarrassed. Or maybe he could borrow one of Zackās spare SOLDIER uniforms... Yeah, right.
Tifa. He could still talk to Tifa.
Tifaās door was unlocked, but no one appeared to be inside. He let himself in and looked around. Ironically, he hadnāt been in this house much, though he had spent so much time looking at the upstairs window. Now he was inside, alone. Somehow he didnāt think it was such a good idea, but his feet carried him upstairs to Tifaās room anyway.
He stood in the doorway, just breathing the air for a moment, before entering. The room was simply decorated but still beautiful. After looking it over, he noticed a piano. He had never been very good at this, but the sheet music was right there. He played hunt-the-key for the first bar before giving up and moving on to other stuff in the room.
As he was checking out her desk he suddenly heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Brilliant. He just had to stay in her room uninvited, didnāt he? Without thinking he dove into the closet.
No, the footsteps were going into the other bedroom. It was her father. Even worse. He scrambled back out of the closet as silently as possible, plucked a few pieces of clothing off of him, and snuck back down the stairs. As he passed the kitchen he could hear Tifa inside; she must have come back too. He thought about talking to her... What? After coming down the stairs? Heād come back later.
He started walking back to the inn, then stopped. He could just go back inside and said hi now; she would never know he had been upstairs... Except that after all that he didnāt have the nerve. He sighed as he continued his walk to the inn, sadly whistling the tune from the sheet music. Why did he have to be such a coward?
* * * * *
What did it matter, Sephiroth had said. But it did matter. Why hadnāt Hojo told him more about his father? Or his mother? Why did his family need to be kept hidden from him? Sephiroth had repeatedly asked Hojo during his childhood about his parents, but the bastard had never told him anything that wasnāt completely cryptic. Finally Dr. Gast had come to him and said some things were best left unknown. Gast... he left the company two days after saying that. Sephiroth never saw him alive again, and it wasnāt until his days at the academy that he found out ö from another SOLDIER cadet, who had known about it for years! ö that Dr. Gast was found murdered in a house in Icicle Inn two years after he quit Shinra. Found by Hojo. Sephiroth didnāt buy the official story; Hojo had never been fond of Gast. But the past couldnāt be changed, and killing Hojo would only bring all of Shinra down on him. So frustrating...
Sephiroth stared out the window of the inn. This town seemed more and more familiar by the moment, though he didnāt remember ever being here. Still, Shinra Mansion had been a second lab to Hojo, and Gast, for years. Maybe he had taken Sephiroth there as a child.
So why did the mountain keep drawing his attention? No child, not even a Shinra ward, would have been allowed to cross the treacherous pass that led from Nibelheim to Rocket Town, and Sephiroth would have remembered if he had been here as a teenager. He must just be nervous about the upcoming mission. Most unlike him, even if the mountain did look so threatening.
Zack came in with one of the guards, interrupting his thoughts. "What are you looking at, sir?" Sephiroth almost smiled; he had gotten to know Zack fairly well over the past year or so and trusted the fellow SOLDIER well. Still, it took him awhile to admit, "This scenery... I feel like I know this place."
He glanced at the helmeted guard. It must be Cloud, unless the other guard had abandoned his sentry position at the gate. The guard looked even more disappointed and forlorn than he had this afternoon as he walked to his room to rest. Actually a good idea, considering that they would climb the mountain at 6 a.m. tomorrow. He turned to Zack. "We have an early start tomorrow. You should get some sleep soon."
Zack nodded, but he had one eye on Cloud the entire time. As soon as the door to the room closed, he switched to a low tone. "Sir, Iāve received word that Dr. Hojo will be arriving in town late tomorrow."
Hojo! That was all he needed! "Why?" he whispered harshly.
"Something about wanting to see what was wrong with his reactor. Heās given strict orders not to proceed with the mission until he arrives personally to supervise it."
Sephiroth gritted his teeth. This was a routine mission; the last thing he wanted was Hojo babysitting him. They knew better than to break anything. If something was classified, they could keep the guards outside. And waiting another day meant risking more monsters; they needed to get inside and neutralize the source immediately. Finally he asked, a bit louder than he intended, "Whatās so important in that reactor that two SOLDIERs and two well-trained Shinra guards canāt handle it?"
Zack merely shrugged. Sephiroth gave an exasperated sigh. "Iāve ha..." Suddenly he noticed that Cloud had poked his head back out of his room, probably curious about the noise. Without missing a beat, he continued, "...hired a guide a guide to the Mako reactor. I hear sheās young. I hope we can rely on her." That much was true, actually. A man named Zangan had sung the praises of his student, Tifa. Sephiroth knew the reputation of the man, and had hired Tifa without even meeting her, but was now wondering if he should have thought it through a bit more. Especially since it didnāt look like there would be a mission tomorrow.
Cloud, after realizing he wasnāt needed at the moment, went back into his room. Sephiroth immediately got back on the subject. "Listen, the truck was damaged during that dragon attack a few miles out of town. We still havenāt assessed all the damage. The radio could be malfunctioning too. Now are you sure that the message said not to continue until Hojo arrived?"
Zack smiled; he wasnāt fond of Hojo either. "No, sir. That transmission could have been any number of things. In fact, the radioās looking worse by the moment. I figure we wonāt have time to repair it until after the mission. Should I start getting the troops ready for tomorrow?"
Zack left for his room. Sephiroth stayed at the window, staring more to the east this time. Hojo was somewhere in that direction, probably in his lab in Midgar, packing. "Hojo." He practically spat out the word. Secretive, sniveling Hojo. Hiding behind the president and ten thousand Shinra guards. The man who raised him only to be his little war machine, his experiment. The man who pumped him full of drugs, ran millions of tests on him, and never let him have a normal life. Not even a family. Just the phrase that Sephiroth repeated even now: "Your mother is Jenova. She died right after she gave birth to you."
No, was Jenova. So why did he say "is" just now? Now that he thought about it, why did he say "is" at the gate? For some reason the mountain drew his attention again, but he pulled his eyes away from the window to think. Had Hojo actually said "is" at one time or another? And why...
...Why was he thinking about this now? Sephiroth scratched his head, then winced ever so slightly from a small headache. Great, now all the stress was giving him a migraine. It was definitely time for some rest; the sun was already setting. He took one last look at the mountain before turning around for his room. Then he turned around again, suddenly wary. No, no one was in the hall. And all the rooms on the floor were booked, and occupied, by his own men. He must have been imagining things. For a second he could have sworn he heard a woman soothingly whisper, "Sephiroth..."
* * * * *
Iām here, Mother.
Sephiroth, Iāve missed you so much...
I have too, Mother. Where are you?
Iām on the mountain, Sephiroth...
Iāve been hidden from you there, Sephiroth...
But... Hojo said you were dead.
He was lying, Sephiroth. You know Iām alive...
Yes... Iāve always known that. But...
Come to the mountain, Sephiroth... See me again...
Again? Mother, Iāve never seen you! ...Who are you?
* * * * *
Sephiroth opened his eyes suddenly. He stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, getting his thoughts together. He couldnāt remember what he had just dreamt, but he had the feeling that it had about been something incredibly...
* * * * *
Zack was already there when Sephiroth arrived in front of Shinra Mansion, talking with a man about 40 years old. He noticed his commandant approaching, and turned to salute him. Sephiroth returned the salute, then glanced at the stranger with a questioning look. Zack quickly moved to introduce the two. "Sir, this is Mr. Lockhart. Mr. Lockhart, this is Master SOLDIER Sephiroth."
Lockhart, where had he heard that... "Oh yes, thatās Tifaās name. You must be her father." Mr. Lockhart nodded, then started sizing Sephiroth up like he was deciding whether or not to let Tifa date him. Zack had meanwhile turned to greet the two guards, already in uniform and armed, who were making their way up the road from the inn.
"Listen to me, Sephiroth..." Sephiroth looked back at Mr. Lockhart and narrowed his eyes slightly; no one, save Hojo, addressed him as anything but "sir." Zack would have recognized the small change in expression as a sign to watch what he said, but Mr. Lockhart didnāt even notice. "In case something happens..."
"Trust me," Sephiroth interrupted. The manās superior attitude reminded him too much of Hojo, and he wanted him to shut up before he did something rash.
"Iāll be all right, Dad! I have two men from SOLDIER with me."
The four Shinra troops turned to see a young lady that had managed to approach them without their notice and now greeted them with "Iām Tifa; nice to meet you!" Quite a beauty, yet Sephiroth recognized her athletic ability hidden underneath. She also looked familiar somehow... Sephiroth suddenly noticed that Cloud was staring at her, and realized he had hired the girl at the gate. He immediately gave the dumbfounded guard a look that said, "Donāt you let her distract you during this mission, or else." Cloud quickly stood back at attention and tried to look straight ahead, though he was probably still glancing at Tifa through the helmet. It would have to do for now, though Sephiroth planned to give the guard a thorough dressing down later if he did anything stupid.
Zack seemed a little doubtful. "Youāre the guide?" Tifa, obviously annoyed, responded, "Thatās right! I happen to be the number one guide in this town," with an unspoken "so donāt judge me by my looks, okay?" added in the form of a glare. Zack rolled his eyes. Sephiroth, already irritated by the distracted Cloud, said slowly, "Thereāll be no problem if you respect her." His unspoken addition was in the form of narrowed eyes stating, "If you donāt respect her, the problem will come from me." Zack took the hint and said nothing more.
He was about to start up the mountain again when a young man came up with a request for a photo. It was Sephirothās turn to roll his eyes. He was not in the mood to be turned into a tourist attraction. Zack, however, grinned and parked himself to the right of Sephiroth; Tifa joined him on the left. After deciding it wasnāt worth arguing about, Sephiroth sighed and put the barest hint of a smile on his face until the shutter closed.
He turned with a "humph" to the mountain, ignoring the photographerās further comments to the rest of the group. He had already felt grouchy even before he met with the others; he had woken up from nightmares four times that night and was short on sleep. He didnāt remember any of them clearly, but they all involved the mountain somehow. Worrisome. Yet now, the mountain seemed to be calling him. It was probably nothing. He cleared his mind of his doubts as best he could and marched forward. He was the great Sephiroth. He feared nothing, and nothing could defeat him. Nothing.
* * * * *
Sephiroth, youāre close to me now...
Iām coming, Mother.
Please hurry, Sephiroth...
I will. I promise you.
Sephiroth opened his eyes, disoriented and with a splitting headache. He winced and rubbed his head until the pain subsided. Zack continued to stand over him, concerned.
"Are you alright, sir? You were out for a couple minutes."
Thatās right, the bridge collapsed. He must have bumped his head against something on impact. "Iām alright now," he muttered, getting to his feet. Zack seemed unconvinced, but decided to leave it at that and turned to the other two, who were still woozy. Two. Where did the other guard go?
Sephiroth rubbed his head. Damn headache was making it hard to think straight. What were they doing? Getting up to the reactor. He glanced up the cliffside to where the broken bridge still hung, swaying lazily in the wind. At least 30 feet straight up. He might be able to climb it... No, what was he thinking? He didnāt have the rock-climbing gear necessary for such a sheer climb. What was he supposed to do, fly to the top?
Dammit, there had to be a way back up there! He looked at Tifa, now dusting herself off, and asked rather sharply, "Everyone seems to be alright; can we get back to where we were?"
Tifa gave their position a once-over, then pointed to a nearby cave. "These caves are intertwined, like an ant farm..." She looked around again uncertainly, adding, "Oh, and Sephiroth... there seems to be one person missing."
The missing guard. He had forgotten about that. Which one was missing anyway? It was impossible to tell with the helmets on. When they were together, it was easier, because Cloud was distinctly shorter, but now...
Please hurry, Sephiroth...
No, they had to get up the mountain! "It may sound cold, but weāve got no time to search for him. We canāt go back now, so we must go on." He marched onward into the cave, leaving the other three behind.
* * * * *
Zack frowned and glanced at Cloud; Cloud seemed equally baffled. It was still early and the guard had to be somewhere in the narrow gorge. Surely they could spare 15 minutes to look for him. And his voice had sounded irritated. Sephiroth rarely raised his voice above the usual calm; something must be bothering him. Hojoās impending arrival, perhaps? He wished he hadnāt told Sephiroth about that if it meant a rushed mission.
Tifa was steaming. She had half a mind to start looking for the missing man herself and leave the rest to rot. Despite all the glorious tales she had heard about "The Great Sephiroth," she was rapidly forming her own opinions. How did someone so curt and uncaring get put in charge of other peopleās lives?
A sudden brusque order from the cave entrance snapped the three out of their thoughts; Sephiroth had finally noticed no one had followed him. "Weāll travel together from here." Cloud instinctively snapped back to attention and scurried into the cave. Zack slowly trudged after him; refusing a command from Sephiroth simply wasnāt done. Tifa looked around one more time, still wondering whether to leave them behind, then gave up and joined them in a huff. "That reactor better be about to meltdown," she muttered as she followed them into the darkness.
* * * * *
Cloud glanced nervously at Tifa as they stood outside the reactor. He was rather glad he didnāt have authorization to see the inside of the reactor; Sephiroth had no choice but to leave him outside with her to act as a sentry. Except now he found himself in the usual stupor. He had promised Tifa more than anyone that he would come back a SOLDIER. To reveal himself now...
Oh, just say something, stupid! "Uh, Tifa?"
He had to stay focused on the mission. Especially considering that glare Sephiroth had given him earlier. He feared his commander a lot more than he feared not talking to Tifa before they got back. Once the mission was over, then heād talk to everyone.
And tell them how he stood outside a reactor and did nothing while the two SOLDIERs saved the day. He sighed.
* * * * *
Only mako lit the reactorās interior. Sephiroth glared at the malfunctioning lights in the ceiling and forged ahead anyway, quickly leaving the more hesitant Zack behind. He carefully crossed the walkway over the mako pit and entered the pitch-black primary chamber. Even the makoās glow didnāt go this far, and he nearly tripped over the bottom of a staircase. Just like Hojo to completely ignore design specs. Sephiroth just hoped he could find the emergency power.
He stumbled up a few steps in pain, finally leaning against the wall for support. That headache again! He took a few calming breaths and tried to steady himself. Finally the pain subsided into a dull ache. He sighed in relief. Then he realized he was leaning on the emergency power switch. Puzzled but mildly pleased, he flipped it.
* * * * *
Zack entered the room just as the lights came on. He waited a few seconds for the spots to disappear before looking around. The reactor chamber had a central staircase, with several egg-shaped pods to either side that served no apparent purpose. In other words, it was vintage Hojo. "Looks like something out of ĪAttack of the Space Vultures,ā eh sir?" No response. He glanced around. "Sir?" It took a couple seconds for his eyes to find Sephiroth, standing at the top of the staircase and obliviously staring up. Zack followed his gaze upward to see a large plate with one word on it...
* * * * *
"...Jenova," Sephiroth murmured. His motherās name. Why? Why would Hojo carve his motherās name on a plate in an experimental reactor in Nibelheim? What was he hiding?
He was suddenly aware of Zack standing next to him, also looking at the plate. "Sir, whatās going on? What does any of this have to do with..." He paused to read the plate again. "...Jenova?" Zack glanced at the door beneath the plate, and tried to open it. He frowned when his clearance code didnāt work.
No, not him... You...
Sephiroth desperately attempting to return his focus to the mission. He looked around the room, trying to ignore the dull ache. "Thereās the problem. That part." He pointed to one of the pods. It had several mako cables running through it, all supported by the same regulator. Since the regulator had melted into goo from some sort of power surge, the cables were pumping mako through at ten times the recommended levels. The mako wellspring in the next room was probably less concentrated than the air in the pod.
He tried to walk to the broken part, then somewhat unsteadily dropped a few steps. Then he tried again and only succeeded in landing on the bottom platform. Zack was studying the broken part from the top of the stairs and didnāt notice. "Zack, could you..." Sephiroth gestured in the direction of the broken pod, feeling somewhat powerless. Zack nodded and closed the mako flow off.
He needed to clear his head, that was all. Concentrate on something, anything. His eyes seized the nearest pod and noticed a porthole on it. He glanced inside... and nearly fell over in surprise. Sephiroth had seen stranger creatures, but he hadnāt expected to see them in a reactor. Still, it explained a lot. Just not why his motherās name was above the door...
He smirked. Hojo trying to be innovative again. "Hojo! Did you really think this would make you as brilliant as Gast? This is nothing!" He felt like yelling, just to relieve the stress of the day. Hojo was probably halfway to Nibelheim by now; maybe heād actually hear if Sephiroth yelled loud enough.
Zack came down, curious. Sephiroth, now smiling most uncharacteristically, gestured to the pod. "Remember the Academy courses in Mako Physics? How mako surplus from reactors is usually condensed into materia?" Zack nodded; Sephiroth merely pointed to the pod again. "Look what Hojoās been doing with the mako surplus instead. Remember what happens to lifeforms exposed to high concentrations of mako?"
Zack glanced in the porthole, then looked away in disgust. "A mutated human?"
Sephiroth nodded and began to pace, largely to distract himself from his throbbing head. "Pumped full of unsafe levels of mako. The malfunctioning pod was even worse; it was mutating the very bacteria that got inside." But he still didnāt understand how they would escape afterwards, unless somehow the door was opened... He glanced up at the pod; if anyone had ever opened it, they had closed it when they were done. "Rather like the standard SOLDIER process, actually. Except weāre still human."
"So we havenāt been changed enough to be Īmonsters.ā"
Sephiroth suddenly clutched his head in pain and struggled to stay upright. What was wrong with him?
You arenāt like him...
"Am I not like you?" he suddenly cried. He didnāt know where the thought came from, but he was in too much pain to think about it. "Was I created like... this?" He gestured wildly to the nearby pod. The pain was excruciating now. In desperation he drew his sword and started attacking the nearest pod. Make it stop, make it stop! "They all started as humans!" he ranted. "Look at them!"
"SIR! Get ahold of yourself!"
Sephiroth stopped, more because of sudden fatigue than anything else. He sank to his knees and stared one by one at the pods. "I knew from childhood that I was different. Stronger, faster, more skillful. Hojo had been giving me SOLDIER levels of mako, plus God knows what else, since day one!" He turned to face Zack. "Does that make me like them? Does it?"
Zack just shook his head, both in uncertainty and alarm. The increasingly erratic behavior from Sephiroth that now culminated into this was shocking enough. The announcement that his commander was prepared for SOLDIER-hood from birth was even worse. But what stunned him the most was that when Sephiroth turned to him, he showed... fear...
* * * * *
The trek back had been worrisome. Sephiroth had looked distinctly ill the entire way and had locked himself in his room as soon as they arrived at the inn. Now Zack sat on his bed, completely lost in thought. What had come over Sephiroth back there?
Someone rapped on the door. He had half an urge to ignore it. But it had to be either Cloud or Sephiroth. If it was Sephiroth, ignoring it would mean trouble. If it was Cloud, well, he needed someone to talk to.
It was neither. Dr. Hojo, Head of Shinra Scientific Development stared furiously at the stunned SOLDIER. "Whereās Sephiroth?"
* * * * *
Cloud stood outside Tifaās house, staring at the window. Déjà vu. He still didnāt have the courage to go in after all these years. He paced rapidly. He just had to go in and say, "Hello, how have you been, Tifa?" And let the conversation go from there. He was going to do it...
He suddenly spotted Sephiroth out of the corner of his eye, entering the mansion. Why on earth would his commander be out this late? Somewhat glad for the distraction, he followed, not noticing when Zack exited the inn and tailed behind him.
* * * * *
"...an organism that was apparently dead, was found in a 2000 year old geological stratum..."
Sephiroth aimlessly read through the journal. He had heard about the laboratory below the mansion, but had never been there. Not in his memory, anyway. He figured if there was any explanation to the reactor, it would be here. Gast and Hojo did all their early experiments here, and kept it recorded in meticulous detail... When he arrived he had discovered journal after journal dedicated to "Project Jenova." They took up a shelf and a half.
Project Jenova. He had never been able to find any information in the Shinra databases on Jenova the person, but he had never thought to look for Jenova the... monster... "Could it possibly be a coincidence?" he murmured.
"Could what, sir?"
He whirled around to see Zack standing at the door to the lab, glancing around. "What is this, sir?"
Sephiroth put on a weary smile. Despite everything, it felt good to talk to Zack. "Gastās lab. All his work is here. He quit before Shinra moved its operations to Midgar. Gast..." He dropped his voice to a tired mutter, directed only to the air. "Why didnāt you tell me about this? Why did you die before you told me?"
"Sir? Iām sorry to have to tell you this, but Dr. Hojo arrived a few minutes ago."
Hojo. That was why.
"He was furious that we went ahead with the mission."
Of course he was. His little secret has been spoiled. Was that why he killed Gast?
"Heās been looking all over for you, but I told him I didnāt know where you were. Heās set up camp in your room and has already radioed for extra troops. I think heās waiting for you to come back."
"All the more reason for me not to come back."
Sephirothās face was dead serious now. "Iām not going. Iāll stay down here. For a week if I have to. Hojoās probably forgotten this lab exists, and he certainly doesnāt have a clue that Gast ever mentioned it to me." His eyes narrowed before Zack could object. "And you never saw me. Neither did Cloud. Get back up there and tell him that."
Zack, obviously still doubtful, nonetheless left. Sephiroth turned back to the journals, oblivious to the world again...
* * * * *
Cloud looked up as Zack came up the stairs. "Whatās the word?"
"You didnāt see Sephiroth; thatās the word."
"If anyone asks, you didnāt see Sephiroth enter this room! Or the mansion!" Zack snapped. He looked surprised at his own reaction; he normally wasnāt that harsh, especially to Cloud. "Sorry..."
Cloud was even more surprised. "Zack, whatās going on? The other guard is still missing, I just heard an airship fly overhead, and Sephiroth... just isnāt Sephiroth any more..." His voice was nearly pleading.
Zack sighed. He was breaking a log of regs doing this, but Cloud was right. Sephiroth wasnāt being Sephiroth. And if things got ugly... "Alright. But you heard none of this from me, got it?" Cloud nodded, and Zack began to tell all...
* * * * *
Sephiroth, youāve found me...
Hojo was hiding you from me, Mother. Why?
Heās coming for you, Sephiroth...
Heās coming for me, Sephiroth...
No, I wonāt let him near you!
Sephiroth, he wants to hurt us...
How do I stop him, Mother?
Hate him, Sephiroth...
I do! I do!
You hate, Sephiroth?
Theyāve taken something from me, Sephiroth... The Promised Land...
I was reading about that. How youāre an Ancient. Who took it from you?
Sephiroth, we can take it back...
We will, Mother. I promise you, we will. But who took it from you? Hojo?
If I tell you, will you kill them, Sephiroth?
I will do anything for you, Mother.
...and Sephiroth, dozing on the floor amidst journals, suddenly sat bolt upright and clutched his brain in agony...
* * * * *
Zack awoke to what sounded like a distant scream. He quickly went over the layout of the mansion in his mind ... the lab was right below him... He dashed for the basement.
Cloud was startled awake in his chair as Zack ran past without even a nod. "Zack?" If Zack heard, he ignored it. What was going on now? Probably he should leave well enough alone... Cloud abruptly remembered Zackās comments earlier about how Sephirothās instability might be a danger to Nibelheim. He raced down the stairs after Zack.
* * * * *
Sephiroth smiled menacingly. The knowledge and power of the Ancients was with him now. He gazed around the room at all the journals he had read. All worthless. Gast and Hojo knew nothing of the glory of Jenova. He laughed at their foolishness.
The entering form drew his attention. It was merely an insect, one of the blights on the planet surface. One of those who had destroyed his motherās race. "Hmph... traitor..."
* * * * *
Cloudās eyes widened as he listened to Sephiroth rant in the next room. His commander had gone nuts! An insane Sephiroth... He leaned against the wall to steady himself, nearly in a panic but continuing to listen. Shinra secrets no one should know, least of all a lowly guard, were flowing from his commanderās mouth. Even in his fear, Cloud was partially curious...
"Out of my way. Iām going to go see my mother."
Uh-oh. He should have followed his first instinct and run for it when he had the chance. Actually, that was still a good plan. He quickly snuck back to the stairs, trying to ignore Sephirothās purposeful steps not far behind him. Maybe if he got up there fast enough, he could still warn someone.
The pace of the steps behind him quickened suddenly. Dammit, he had been spotted! Abandoning all further attempts at stealth, he pounded up the steps and out of the mansion. Where was Zack? Had Sephiroth killed him, or was he just slow?
All of the sudden he heard the familiar sound of a materia charging for a spell. The frequency was definitely master level and probably not anything friendly. Without thinking he hit the dirt as the entire town exploded around him.
* * * * *
"Your target is one of our own. His name is Sephiroth." Hojo immediately glared at the dozen guards as they started murmuring to each other; they stopped immediately. The two SOLDIERs (why couldnāt Heidegger have spared more for this?) remained rigidly at attention but looking suddenly doubtful of their abilities.
"We have reason to believe he may have become momentarily... unstable. You are to return him to me alive, so I can rectify the problem." More murmurs; it was going to be hard enough to stop Sephiroth as it was. Now they had to do it without killing him?
"I havenāt finished your briefing!"
The guard immediately shut up and tried to ignore the town, about half a mile from them and the airship. Never mind if it was ablaze; he wasnāt going to be the one to interrupt Hojo again. Evidently, no one else was either.
* * * * *
Sephiroth looked around at his handiwork and smiled. One less village of insects. He basked in the glorious flames, purifying all around him.
Excellent, Sephiroth... Now come to me...
Sephiroth nodded obediently to the air and headed for the mountain pass, ignoring the stares of the survivors.
Mr. Lockhart staggered out of his burning house, Tifa beside him. He was out just in time to see Sephiroth start up the mountain. "Shinra bastard..." He took off in pursuit.
* * * * *
Cloud lay in the dirt, trying to shut out the world. Maybe he should just stay here. That way he wouldnāt have to follow Sephiroth. He had already succeeded in convincing the newly-psychotic SOLDIER that he was dead. If he just stayed here...
His eyes snapped open. "Tifa..." He turned his head to watch Tifa dash up the pass after her father and Sephiroth. "No, itās too dangerous..." Tifa didnāt even hear him as she vanished in the distance. A few seconds later, Zack entered Cloudās field of vision and ran after all of them. Zack, Tifa... Cloud struggled to his feet, ignoring his better judgement, and followed the other madmen...
* * * * *
Sephiroth turned as he entered the reactor to intercept the first intruder. He smiled as the fool ran forward only to meet his blade at the last moment. The insect gurgled most unpleasantly and staggered a few steps, still trying to pursue but finally collapsing on the floor. Sephiroth, pointedly ignoring him, left his sword in the intruderās gut and walked onward.
Sephiroth, free me...
He whirled around as he reached the top of the stairs. Another intruder had entered the room screaming like a maniac, almost upon him before he reacted. She wielded his sword, but was clearly no expert; he twisted it out of her grasp and slashed her open before she could react. Stunned, she tumbled down the stairs and crumpled in a heap at the bottom. He turned his attention back to the door, which opened as he walked up to it.
Welcome back, Sephiroth. Iāve missed you...
"Mother, letās take this planet back together."
* * * * *
Cloud entered in time to see Zack fly backwards out of the upper chamber and crash into one of the pods, gashed upwards across the chest. He stared in horror at his best friend bleeding to death, then Tifa... My God, why didnāt I had the courage to speak to her earlier... All the things taken from him... All the things Sephiroth took from him! Fear gave way to absolute hate as Cloud grabbed Zackās sword from where it fell and charged up the stairs.
* * * * *
The attack came upon him without warning; he had been too busy admiring his motherās beauty and hadnāt expected a fourth intruder. He gasped in shock as the sword pierced his abdomen. As his eyesight blurred, all he heard was "Mom... Tifa... my town..." The sword twisted violently. "Give it back..."
...What... where... what happened... "Who... who are you?"
"I had so much respect for you... I admired you..." And footsteps walked off into the distance.
Sephiroth still couldnāt see straight. Where was he? The reactor? How did he get here...
Sephiroth, free me!
Pain shot through his temples, overpowering his injury, and the world went black again.
* * * * *
Cloud gently stroked Tifaās hair and kissed her cheek. The wound was too severe, and he didnāt even have a cure materia on him. Why, God? Why couldnāt she at least be conscious, so I could say goodbye? So I could tell her... He began to sob. "Tifa... I know you canāt hear me... but Iām sorry... ...and I love you..."
"Just like you."
Cloud turned to face the sneering voice. No... it couldnāt be...
* * * * *
Sephiroth staggered down the stairs, holding his motherās head in one hand. He had been too weak to carry the whole body out, but he had been inspired to improvise. The insect who had dared attack him ö so humiliating, being injured by such a weakling! ö was now fawning over a fallen companion. Disgusting, these pitiful creaturesā attachments for each other. He spat out a last insult and walked unsteadily onward. He had better things to do than dispatch another pest.
Together, we shall rule, Sephiroth...
"Of course we will. Together, none can stop us."
Of course, Sephiroth. Think of all the power... the vengeance...
"The insects will pay for imprisoning you. I promise you."
That wasnāt Mother. He glanced behind him and spotted the surviving intruder charging him. This time, however, the imbecile had lost the element of surprise... Sephiroth drew, turned around and skewered his attacker. "Donāt... push... your luck," he said forcefully, lifting the dying creature in the air to prove his point. And then...
Ha ha ha...
Sephiroth blinked. He suddenly felt so weak... and confused... He last remembered being in the mansionās lab, then briefly in the reactor... The night abruptly came flooding back to him... visions of destruction and chaos... Were the visions real? Had he really slaughtered... "No..." he muttered, and then louder, screaming to the world, "...It canāt be!"
Suddenly he found himself in the air. Cloud, one of his own men, was staring at him with a murderous expression on his face, lifting Sephiroth with his own sword... He gasped, trying to summon enough strength to save himself, but it felt like something had drained him completely. The great Sephiroth dangled helplessly for a moment, then for one second he flew...
* * * * *
Cloud sunk against the wall, exhausted but amazed at himself. He had defeated Sephiroth! Perhaps he was finally qualified to be a SOLDIER now... He glanced down at his wound. Well, if he was a SOLDIER now, he wouldnāt be for long. At least... he had avenged his hometown... "For Nibelheim," he murmured, but then shook his head. He weakly turned to face Tifa, still visible through the door. "For you."
* * * * *
Total nothingness... Sephiroth felt himself floating in a void, unable to move. Did he even have a body anymore? He heard wails, murmurs, and white noise around him, but through it one sound came through clear...
Ha ha ha... Thank you for freeing me, Sephiroth...
"Who are you..."
We are one, together forever, Sephiroth...
"Who are you?"
Youāre MINE now, Sephiroth...
"WHO ARE YOU?!?"
And, with no one to hear him, Sephiroth screamed all the louder...
* * * * *
"Please, Vincent, tell me..."
"Lucrecia... your son, Sephiroth, is dead..."
- Finis -
I was inspired to write this for two reasons.
The first was my desire to set in stone (at least in my mind) what actually happened during the Nibelheim incident. Cloudās first memory of the event was definitely faulty and his second was incomplete, so all I could do was mesh them as best I could and add in my own conjectures. Some explanations:
I decided to presume that Cloudās memory was accurate for the actual speech, provided he could have been there at the time, and so I drew those lines pretty much word-for-word from the script (courtesy of Little Chiba, whose transcript can be found elsewhere on this site). I also decided that for scenes where he couldnāt have been there (the first reactor scene, since he was outside with Tifa) or where he wasnāt likely to have been there (most of the basement scenes, since he was last seen above in the mansion), Zack had explained it to him afterwards and the general events still roughly happened that way. This allowed me to be more liberal with the lines, however. Finally, except for the "hometown" conversation, I decided that any lines Cloud remembered as directed to or spoken by him were actually Zackās.
The addition of Hojo was originally meant to explain how he arrived in Nibelheim (with extra troops!) so quickly after the incident to collect survivors. It was pretty clear that someone would have spotted him if he been there all the while. So I added a side-story about him arriving to supervise Sephiroth (probably pull him off the mission entirely), and then having to improvise when the situation got out of hand. I was especially pleased when I found his arrival worked within the story so well.
The second reason I wrote this was to understand Sephiroth better. Though Cloud became more important in this story than I originally intended (apparently you just canāt write about the Nibelheim incident without bringing Cloud into it heavily), Sephiroth is meant as the focus. Hopefully I wrote this well enough to make that clear.
A certain person on the RPGamer boards has always been insisting that Sephiroth is a nicer guy than most give him credit for, so I finally decided to analyze his descent into insanity and see what really caused it. I wasnāt sure how to do it until I noticed that he clutches his head suddenly just before he goes bonkers at the reactor. Cloud has the same reaction whenever Sephiroth tries to control/contact him. Thatās when I realized that Sephiroth may have been the real puppet in all this... Anyway, Ellcrys, thanks for pointing towards the light. This is dedicated to you. Happy belated birthday or something. ^_-
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