Author's note: This is not the same as saying, "Things can only get better."
The Blunderbuss, attrib.
Writing of Wrongs
It was dark.
A mere three word sentence cannot begin to encapsulate just how dark it was. This was not the ordinary darkness that comes from turning off all the lights. This was the darkness that exists only as a rather abstract concept; the darkness that engulfs one and somehow blacks out all the senses, not just the sight.
And then, a series of images ensued, in a manner reminiscent of a clichéd dream sequence. Sephiroth, standing with the Masamune in hand and laughing evilly. Those... creatures from the Northern Crater. An alley in Midgar, lit only by a flickering street lamp. A horrifying monster, with tentacles where its hands should have been. A man in a jester's outfit, his eyes wild. And then that damn blackness again...
"Ground floor," said Mr. Big automatically without looking up.
"Oh, hey, everyone," Tifa observed. "Barret's up."
Barret sat up wearily. His entire body felt as if it had been stretched to about twice its normal size and then released to snap back, although he personally would not have put it quite so elegantly.
He appeared to be propped up against one wall of a particularly large and uninteresting room. The floor, walls and ceiling were all made of a dull metal, with the exception of a thin window at head height that ran the entire length of the wall opposite him. There was no furniture or anything, the only things of any note in the room being the rest of the self-appointed heroes.
"The hell's goin' on here?" he said as soon as the power of speech returned to him.
"You just said, 'ding,'" Mr. Big explained, rather unhelpfully.
"We're in Junon," Perigee added, wandering over. "One of the prison cells here - I think we were all, er, given some kind of Sleep tablets and then thrown in here. You're the last to wake up." He sighed. "I guess you got captured too, huh?"
"Brilliant deduction," Cid put in. "How the hell'd you work that one out?"
"Well," began Perigee.
"That was sarcasm, you moron."
"Uh, hey!" Barret put in. "Yo' get Cloud an'... the other guy back?"
"Not as such," Perigee admitted.
"Huh? Wha' happened?"
"Um..." Perigee wrung his hands, clearly embarrassed. "We resurrected Jenova instead and then got captured." He brightened up, obviously hoping for good news. "How about you? Did you kill Sephiroth?"
"We freed him from some sort of prison and then released six bloody great stone monsters into the world," Mr. Big explained. "And then we got captured."
"So, er... where is he now?" Aeris asked nervously.
"I'm over here."
The voice came from one of the corners of the room, a corner that had somehow remained dark even with the large window flooding the room with sunlight. None of the group had given it more than a glance so far, but now they looked closely they could make out a figure hunched there. It raised a hand and waved to get their attention.
"You!" shouted Cid. "The hell are you doin' here?"
"What does it look like?" Sephiroth replied gloomily. "I got captured, same as you."
"Where's your cool sword gone?" Croft enquired. Sephiroth gave him an 'I'm-not-even-going-to-bother-answering-that-one' look.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Croft added. "It would be rather silly of them to let you keep it, wouldn't it? You might try killing us with it or something nasty like that."
"Now why would I want to do that?"
"Well, er... you're the villain, aren't you? I thought you were suppoed to do things like that."
Sephiroth sighed. "Do I have to explain this all again? I'm not the villain."
"He's telling the truth, you know," said Cloud knowledgeably.
"Well, if you're not, it might be nice to know who we've been chasing these last few days," Ess said, rather coldly. "You know, we... what do you mean, 'again?'"
"I had to go through this whole rigmarole with your friends," Sephiroth replied flatly. "The one with the book and the one wearing a yellow hedgehog on his head."
"Cloud!" said Tifa.
"Author!" said Aeris.
"What?" said the Major, who hadn't really been following the conversation as well as he could have.
"Where did you meet them?" Perigee asked absently, his attention elsewhere. Something inside his mind was trying desperately to get his attention, as if it wanted to tell him something. Sephiroth sneered at him.
"In the Lifestream, where else?" he snapped. "They're dead, you know. Surely you can't have forgotten that?"
"So... you're dead too, old boy?" the Major remarked. "I say, awfully sorry, what?"
Sephiroth shook his head wearily. "Sit down and listen," he ordered. "Let's get a few things straight, shall we?"
Over the course of the next few minutes he explained everything pertinent to the plot he could think of. He told them about the Jenova Project, and of the events of Nibelheim, five years past. He told them of Cloud and Zack's imprisonment at the hands of Professor Hojo, which caused Ess to look like someone had just whomped her in the face with a frying pan. He told of the whole clone affair, and of who the party had actually been following these past few days. He told of how Jenova had been resurrected, and of how her departure from the Lifestream had somehow dragged him with her. And he told of what he knew of the Weapons, of the legendary Planet-spawned beasts that even now were laying waste to the towns and cities of the world in their search for Jenova.
Once he'd finished, he surveyed the collection of confused faces staring at him.
"What's the problem now?" he asked exasperatedly.
"Nothin'," Barret replied, speaking slowly even for him. "That's jes'... ya know, a whole lotta stuff to think abou' at once." He looked pensive for a while. "So... yo' on our side?"
"An'... Jenova an' Hojo is da real bad guys?"
Sephiroth nodded again.
"Gotcha." Barret nodded and got to his feet decisively, as if that was all he needed to know. "Then let's bust outta here an' go whup Hojo's pretty chemist ass!"
"And how would ya do that?" Cid asked coldly.
"Well, first we kick da guy in -"
"How would ya get out of this room, moron," Cid snapped.
"Aren't you really strong, Mister Sephiroth?" Tifa enquired. "Couldn't you break the door down for us?"
'Mister Sephiroth?' thought Perigee.
Sephiroth shook his head. "Reincarnation kind of takes it out of you," he stated dully. "I don't know how long it'll be before I regain my full strength again... if I actually do."
"So what do we do?" Mr. Big asked resignedly.
"We could surprise the guards when they come in and steal their uniforms," suggested Cloud.
"Would there be enough, though?" Perigee pointed out gloomily. That little thought had suddenly redoubled its efforts to get his attention.
"We'd only need three, right?" Cloud objected.
"Well, at first..." Perigee realised. "Cloud?"
"Cloud?" said Tifa.
"Cloud!" said Ess.
"Huh?" said Barret.
"Who?" said the Major.
"Yes?" said Cloud. "Oh, yeah. Hi, guys."
"Where are you?" Perigee asked.
"Oh, I'm..." Cloud hesitated. "Er, I don't know. Where am I?"
"You mean you don't know?"
"Well, I'm here... But I don't know where that is." Cloud looked towards Sephiroth in a plea for help - that is, he would have done, had he known in which direction to look. "Sephiroth? Help!"
"Hey, now why should he know what ta do?" Cid complained.
Sephiroth got to his feet. "Most likely you've ended up as a Spirit Without," he observed. "It happens sometimes, if someone really wants to return to the world, they can be quite easy to dislodge from the Lifestream. They tend to just float around aimlessly up here for a while and then come back again."
"So what can I do?" asked Cloud hopefully.
Sephiroth shrugged. "Not much. You might have the Possess ability if you're lucky, but that's about it."
"Possess? Cool!" Cloud was obviously impressed. "So how do I do that?"
"Just try moving into something."
"Yo," Barret interrupted. "How'd yo' know alla this stuff anyway?"
"I have had five years to learn this 'stuff,'" Sephiroth replied flatly.
"Er..." Cloud put in. "How do I move into things if I don't know where I am?"
"You know where they are, don't you?"
"Er, yeah. Right. Okay."
There was a pause.
"Um," said Perigee eventually.
"Yes, Perigee?" asked Ess, a little wearily.
"This feels weird," Perigee announced.
"Cloud?" said Tifa.
"Yeah," agreed Perigee. "This isn't that difficult after all."
"You've made your point," interrupted Perigee. "Could you get out now?"
"Er...?" Perigee seemed worried. "How do I do that?"
"How should I know?"
"Er..." Ess looked distinctly confused. "Perigee?"
"What?" said Perigee together.
"What's going on?"
"Possession takes practice if you want to use it on people," Sephiroth pointed out. "They tend to fight back. I suggest you stick to possessing inanimate objects... like a chair, say."
"So how do I get out?"
"Good morning, everyone."
The single door to the room opened smoothly, and Rufus Shinra strode proudly in, flanked by a couple of guards. Their uniforms proclaimed them to be among the higher echelons of the army, and both carried large rifles and bore broadswords across their backs, just in case any of the prisoners were feeling frisky.
"Ah!" said Perigee happily. "Let's attack them and steal their clothes!"
Perigee glared at him.
"Be quiet or they'll take it out on me," he complained under his breath.
Rufus paused and gave him a curious look.
"Is he all right?" he asked the room as a whole.
"Er, he's not... feeling like himself at the moment..." said Aeris slowly.
"Oh." Rufus hesitated again, a 'What was I going to say?' expression hanging around on his face. "Ah, yes." He straightened up, and began to pace around the room, switching smoothly into Speech mode. "Do you people know the trouble you've caused me? Not only have you been running around my soldiers and the Turks, but now this..."
He waved one hand towards the window. "It would have been bad enough if it was just the affair at IMPERIAL and that mysterious tower at the crater, but now I have six literally massive monsters wandering around making a mess of things, and the public want answers. Well, to tell the truth, they want someone to destroy those beasts, but in the meantime they'll settle for someone to blame. And that, my friends, is where you come in. You see, who better to blame than the mysterious swordsman who vanished five years ago but has resurfaced in the last few days? The man who," for a very brief moment it seemed as if anger flashed across Rufus' face, before he controlled himself, "stole into the Shinra Headquarters and slew the president himself? And more importantly, someone who everyone has heard of," he added, pointing at the guilty culprit. "That man there! The Great Sephiroth!"
Sephiroth gave Rufus a stony glare.
"You're gonna blame him for everything?" Mr. Big asked. "That seems a little harsh."
"Oh, we'll probably execute you guys as well for good measure," Rufus replied pleasantly, "but to be honest, no one's really heard of you."
"Now jes' waitadamn-" Barret began, before Sephiroth held up a hand to silence him.
"So we use Sephiroth to get people's attention," Rufus explained. "And then we have all of you sentenced to make people think we're really clamping down and putting an effort into finding the culprits. It's really rather cunning, isn't it?"
"Very," said Mr. Big in a bored voice.
"So the general public will blame you for everything," Rufus went on cheerfully. "And they'll blame you for any destruction that occurs while our soldiers are destroying those monsters, and afterwards they'll only remember that you caused it all and that we did our best to save them. So everyone wins, really... well, except you guys."
"That sounds acceptable," mused Perigee, nodding sagely until Ess hit him over the head.
"So," Rufus waved to the guards flanking him, and they advanced towards the group, "everyone up on their feet. Come on, we've got the courthouse all prepared for you."
"Courthouse?" repeated Tifa.
"Of course. We can't just have you executed without a fair trial, can we?" Rufus beamed. "Your lawyer's been briefed properly and everything, so it should be... pretty interesting, I'd say."
It said something about how much importance was being placed on this trial that Rufus had managed to book Centre Court for the occasion. It was a truly impressive chamber, featuring ornate decorations on the walls, plush carpets, and space for a good thousand-odd spectators if you counted standing room as well as the wonderfully comfortable seats. Normally only the really important people got in here - serial killers, professional assassins, that class of citizen - but even they didn't attract this much of a crowd. The place was literally packed.
The group were escorted by a cluster of stony-faced SOLDIER elites to a bench at the front, just behind a couple of suited men who were presumably their token lawyers, while Rufus went off to take his place at the head of the room. Shortly after the guards left and marched to their posts around the walls, the younger of the two lawyers turned and gave them a brief, perfunctory smile. He had a truly exceptional fringe that contrasted quite sharply with his otherwise sober appearance.
"Afternoon, guys," he said, nodding to them and offering his hand to Sephiroth, who shook it coldly. "The name's Biggs - Biggs Zephere. I'll be representing your interests in this..." He paused. "I'm sorry, sir, why are you staring at me like that?"
Barret was looking puzzled. "Yo, do I... uh, have we..." He shook his head. "Nah, nothin'."
Biggs shrugged. "Okaaay. Anyway, I'll try to make this as quick and painless as possible. You have my solemn oath that I'll do what I can to get you the best verdict we can reasonably expect."
"You mean you're going to let us get sentenced," paraphrased Sephiroth. Biggs shot him a glare.
"I didn't say that," he snapped.
Near the head of the room, someone banged a couple of hard things together. Gradually, the background murmur from the audience died away.
"Th'court will rAAAiiise!" bellowed a short squat individual from the cardboard box he was standing on, "f'r th'ntrance offIS Ex'llency Ruf's ShEEEEEENRAH!"
The court rose, with a noise approximately like a few hundred people standing up, and Rufus appeared behind the large judge's desk at the end of the room, wearing one of the traditional silly wigs customary for judges. He nodded to the court in acknowledgement, almost lost the wig while doing so, and seated himself in the almost throne-like seat there.
Despite the fact that everyone was standing in silence, he still picked up the gavel and whacked it happily a couple of times on the desk.
"Order! Order!" he shouted, then looked marginally embarrassed. "Sorry, I just like doing that. Do sit down, everyone."
"Right." Rufus leaned forward and rested his elbows on the wood. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to charge... I mean, to try the Great Sephiroth for his crimes, together with his accomplices that you see before you. Would the Clerk of the Court please read the charges?"
"Seph'ROTH!" announced the Clerk. "ChEEEaaargesah! TWOhundr'dsevenTEEEEEEN countsa murder! TwenTEEEfah countsa wilfadamage t'prop'ty! One counTAH..."
Rufus banged his gavel again. "Perhaps you should just give me the sheet and I'll read it," he suggested.
"RightEEEooo AH, y'r'n'r!"
"Thank you." Rufus relieved the Clerk of the extensive list and read it himself. "The charges are: Two hundred and seventeen counts of murder. Twenty-four counts of wilful damage to property. One count of wilful damage to a naval vessel. Two counts of breaking and entering. Two counts of theft of Jenova. One count of kidnapping. One count of hijacking." He paused for breath. "Three counts of obstructing the Turks in their duty. Six counts of unleashing several-hundred-foot tall genocidal monsters onto the world. And one count of building a tower without proper planning permission."
He handed the sheet back. "Should you be found guilty, your sentence will be death together with your entourage. Do you have anything to say before we begin the prosecution?"
"Yes," said Sephiroth flatly.
"And that is?"
Rufus turned to the other side of the chamber, where the prosecution lawyers were sitting calmly in their immaculate suits, sunglasses and identical haircuts.
"Would you like to begin?" he said benevolently.
The two exchanged glances.
"Would you like to go first, Mr. Smith?" suggested one.
"Only if you don't want to, Mr. Smith," replied the other.
"You're certain, Mr. Smith?"
"Absolutely, Mr. Smith."
Mr. Smith got to his feet, smoothed his suit off, and quickly ran a comb through his hair. "The prosecution would like to call our first witness, Mr. Shinra," he said impassively, glancing over his shoulder at the line of - presumably - witnesses seated behind his partner. "Would you please take the stand, Mr. Bros?"
"Oh, right-a you are."
Mr. Bros turned out to be a tall, rather spindly man whose only real features of note were his wide bushy moustache, strong Italian accent and incongruous green beret. He practically bounded over to the stand, leaped over it in one mighty spring, and landed behind it.
"Er, right," said Rufus, not wholly unfazed. "Okay, Mr. Bros, please repeat after the Clerk... no, repeat after me: I, whatever your name is, hereby swear..."
"I, whatever you-a name is, here-a-by..."
"You say your name there," said Rufus wearily.
"Sorry. I, Mister Luigi Bros, here-a-by swear..."
"To tell the truth, insofar as it will benefit the majority of those present..."
"To-a tell the truth, insofar as-a it-a will benefit the majority of those present..."
"And to do my duty to the state."
"And to-a do my duty to-a the state."
"Well done." Rufus nodded. "Okay, prosecution, you may begin."
"Thank you, Mr. Shinra," said Mr. Smith. "Would you care to explain to the court who you are and where you lived prior to the morning of October the first, the year 2045 AI, Mr. Bros?"
"Si, si." Luigi nodded. "I ran-a my restaurant in-a Nibelheim, the Mako Bowl."
"And do you still work there, Mr. Bros?"
"No." Luigi shook his head sadly. "I have-a new restaurant right-a here in Junon. You should-a try it, is very good."
"Why did you move, Mr. Bros?"
"Because..." Luigi turned and pointed one arm at Sephiroth. "That-a man there, he burn down my hometown! My kitchen, my-a restaurant, my long-a lost brother Mario... I never see him again!"
Mr. Smith turned and gave his partner a concerned look.
"That man burned down Nibelheim, Mr. Smith," he said, sounding as if it was a new revelation to him and as if he hadn't seen it coming at all.
"Tragic, Mr. Smith."
"Very much so, Mr. Smith."
Mr. Smith turned back to Luigi. "That will be all, Mr. Bros."
On the bench, Ess leaned over and nudged Biggs.
"That's not much of a prosecution, is it?" she muttered.
Biggs shook his head, tapping his pen thoughtfully on the pad he had open in front of him. "No, no," he replied. "I think they've got us there."
"Would you like to cross-examine the witness?" Rufus called over, cutting him off. Biggs got to his feet.
"No, your honour," he called back, and sat down.
"No?" gasped Ess, shocked. "You could have..."
"Please," Biggs retorted. "I am a professional lawyer. I know what I'm doing."
"Sure you do."
"The prosecution would now like to call its second witness, Mr. Shinra," announced Mr. Smith. Rufus nodded benevolently to him.
"Do go ahead," he said genially. "Mr. Bros, you may return to your seat now."
Mr. Smith turned back to his partner. "Who would we like to call now, Mr. Smith?" he enquired.
"I was thinking of the guard person, Mr. Smith," Mr. Smith volunteered.
"A good idea, Mr. Smith."
"Thank you, Mr. Smith."
Mr. Smith paused. "Would you like to take this one, Mr. Smith?"
"I would be only too happy to, Mr. Smith."
Mr. Smith got to his feet and calmly traded places with Mr. Smith. He brushed a few specks of dust off his shoulders, produced a pen from one jacket pocket, and began twirling it absently between his fingers. Only once he had done this for a good ten seconds or so did he speak.
"The prosecution calls its second witness, Mr. Shinra," he said. "Would you take the stand, Mr. Thripp?"
"Oh er, oh er, oh er, right."
The man who hurried over to the stand and took his place behind it in the normal manner by actually wandering round to the other side was of slightly more normal proportions than his predecessor there. His clothes, however, weren't, and every single article seemed to be about two sizes too big for him.
Rufus read the oath to him, and in a rather uncertain tremolo, he repeated it. His full name, it transpired, was Alphonse Thripp, which is not the sort of name that should be wished on anyone.
"You may begin the prosecution," Rufus said once this formality was completed.
"Thank you, Mr. Shinra." Mr. Smith turned to the witness. "Would you please explain to the court what your job is, Mr. Thripp?"
"Oh, I'm a, I'm a, I'm a security guard at the Shinra Headquarters," Alphonse explained. "I guard the top, er, the top, er, the top few floors. Every morning I -"
"Interrupt him, Mr. Smith," called the seated Mr. Smith to his cohort.
"That will do, Mr. Thripp," said Mr. Smith on cue. He glanced to Rufus. "Would you please remind the court of the events of 'that' day, Mr. Shinra?"
"Certainly." Rufus whacked his gavel on the desk a few times, then stood up. "You all remember the day the President - my father - was mercilessly slain at his desk while working late. It was a tragic occurrence, and I'm sure we all wish we knew who the culprit was so that he might be brought to justice." He sat back down again. "Do continue."
"Thank you, Mr. Shinra." Mr. Smith turned to the witness. "Where were you at two o'clock that afternoon, Mr. Thripp?"
"Oh, I was, I was, I was guarding the sixty-seventh floor to make sure no one came up who wasn't who wasn't who wasn't allowed to."
"And what did you see, Mr. Thripp?"
"I saw that, er, saw that, saw that man," the guard waved at Sephiroth, "walk in through one of the, er, the walls and go up the stairs before I could stop him."
Kasuto nudged Sephiroth gently. "Hey, can you really do that?"
Sephiroth looked puzzled. "Apparently," he said mildly.
"And what happened after that, Mr. Thripp?" the prosecution continued, ignoring the subdued discussion.
"Then those, er, those people, er, those people came running up after him," Alphonse Thripp went on, wringing his hands. "And then a few minutes later they all, they all, they all came back down again. After the President was dead," he added helpfully.
"How do you know that was after he had been murdered, Mr. Thripp?"
"Because I, er, I, er, I heard them talking about it."
Mr. Smith nodded.
"A heinous crime indeed, Mr. Smith," he said without turning round, apparently to the courtroom at large.
"Most certainly, Mr. Smith."
"Who knows what this man is capable of, Mr. Smith?"
"I would not wish to know, Mr. Smith."
"Neither I, Mr. Smith." The standing Smith glanced at Rufus. "The prosecution has no more questions, Mr. Shinra."
"Does the defence have any?" Rufus enquired.
"Yes, we do!" Ess hissed into Biggs' ear. "Come on, there are so many things we can say here! How can Sephiroth walk through walls? How come Whatshisface over there didn't try to do anything? You can nail this one!"
"No questions, your honour," Biggs called, ignoring her.
The fun proceeded for an hour or so. A number of witnesses were called, all testifying briefly to having beheld Sephiroth's terrible actions when he had slaughtered people in the Shinra building, stolen the body of Jenova from the research labs while his partners in crime kidnapped a research subject -
"Nanaki," said Nanaki.
...sunk a cargo ship, and generally caused havoc. There was even a pilot aboard the Ragnarok who had seen Sephiroth summon the Weapons from the earth with his own hands, and subsequently raise a tower on the spot, from where he presumably planned to manipulate them.
Surprisingly, Biggs seemed to think that there was nothing to be gained by cross-examining anyone.
"The prosecution rests its case, Mr. Shinra," said one of the Mr. Smiths. They had traded places at fairly regular intervals throughout the proceedings, and now there wasn't anyone in the court who could remember - or who cared, to be honest - whether the one concluding the prosecution was the one that had begun it in the first place.
In any case, he returned to his seat, sat down, and looked impassive.
"A notable summary, Mr. Smith," said the other one.
"Thank you, Mr. Smith."
"Would the defence please put forward its case?" Rufus suggested from the end of the room. Biggs nodded, got to his feet, and cleared his throat.
"The defence calls its first witness," he said. "Sephiroth, please take the stand."
"Okay, repeat after me," said Rufus, "I, whatever your name is, hereby -"
"Is there any point?" Sephiroth enquired, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Is... there... any... point?" Sephiroth sighed. "Whatever I say, you'll assume it's a lie anyway."
"That's a point," admitted Rufus. "Okay, counsel, you may begin."
"Thank you, your honour." Biggs cleared his throat again. "Sephiroth, how plead you to the charges levied against you today?"
"For the most part, innocent," Sephiroth said flatly, "but -"
"Thank you." Biggs returned his attention to Rufus. "The defence rests its case, your honour."
Ess sprung to her feet, levelling a truly venomous glare at Biggs.
"You can't just end there!" she shouted at him. "What sort of defence do you call that? You didn't do anything!"
"I am defending you in the way that I feel will be most beneficial for all involved," Biggs snapped stonily.
"You mean we all get executed and you lot get to go have an early lunch?" Mr. Big suggested.
"That's ri... no!"
"Well, we don't think you're representing our best interests," said Ess coldly.
"Yeah!" Kasuto piped up. "You're fired!"
A brief silence ensued.
"Yo, we allowed to do that?" Barret asked.
"No!" Biggs objected.
"They are allowed, Mr. Zephere," put in one of the Mr. Smiths.
"Rule three hundred and seventeen states that the client may switch lawyers at any point, Mr. Zephere."
"Providing a suitable replacement may be found, Mr. Zephere," added the other Mr. Smith.
"B-b-but..." Biggs stammered. "I'm at the top of the field! I'm a level 15 lawyer! I'm -"
"Fired," Ess finished for him, not without a very definite air of smug satisfaction.
"You do need to choose a replacement, Miss Harrison," said a Mr. Smith.
"Choose wisely, Miss Harrison," said the other one.
The group went into a huddle.
"Okay, we need a lawyer," said Perigee, somewhat unnecessarily. "Who wants to be it?"
Unsurprisingly, no one volunteered.
"Anyone?" added Perigee hopefully.
"We could draw straws," suggested the voice of Cloud from just above Cid's right shoulder. "That always works. Although I don't really think I should. People might not believe I exist."
"That do sound most fair," agreed Shan. There was a general chorus of assent.
"So who's got the straws?" Cid prompted.
"I have a Bag," suggested Shan.
"Yeah, real helpful."
"In this bag," Shan went on pointedly, "shalt I place twenty-and-one rupees, in denominations o' one ten an' eleven ones. He who draws th'ten rupees shall play th'part o' th'lawyer."
"That'd work," Tifa put in as Shan deposited into the bag eleven green gems and one blue one, all of the same size. She wondered briefly why the guards hadn't taken them off him when he was captured. "Who wants to go first?"
"Not me!" Barret said vehemently. "Yo' got me that way last time."
"Okay, I will," Croft decided, reached into the bag, and produced a green gem. "Good, not me."
"I say, this looks like fun, what?" observed the Major. He plunged one hand in, rummaged around for a bit, and took out a handful of green gems. "Oh, does this mean I win, eh?"
After persuading him to return all bar one of his prizes, the fun continued until only Shan and Barret remained, everyone else having taken out a one rupee gem.
"Wouldst thou prefer to draw after or afore me, noble sir?" Shan enquired. Barret pondered this.
"Aw, let me at it," he said after a while, dug his hand into the bag, and took out a gem.
Everyone looked at it.
"Bad luck, Barret," said Tifa eventually, patting him on the back consolingly. "Well, look at it this way, at least you don't need to take the stand now."
"Yeah..." Barret mumbled. "Aw, wha'ever. Let's get this show movin'!"
He stood up abruptly, marched out to the front of the court, and roughly elbowed Biggs out of the way.
This whole mess don't make no sense!
Y'all speakin' rubbish; it's not that I'm dense!
So now yo' got me, an' I'm da defence!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
In unison, every single person in the courtroom said, "..."
"This will be most interesting, Mr. Smith," observed one of them.
"Indeed, Mr. Smith."
"Er..." said Rufus after a while. "Okay, Mr... Barret... Please continue with the defence."
"Gotcha." Barret turned to Sephiroth and began wandering towards him. "Yo, Sephiroth. Yo' said yo' innocent."
"Indeed I did." Sephiroth nodded.
"But Smith an' Smith, they got people what say,
They saw yo' do shit, jes' da other day!
So who's lyin', is it yo' or is it they?
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
"No one is lying," Sephiroth replied cooly. "They may think they saw me, but there is no way I could have committed those crimes."
"An' why's that?"
"Because I have been dead for the last five years."
Barret paused for a moment. For a more professional lawyer, this would have looked like he was letting the jury digest the new information. In his case, it just looked like he was having difficulty getting his head round it.
"But these people here must think that's a lie!
'Cause how'd you be here if someday you died?
So 'splain yo'self quick, an' yo' should really try!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
Sephiroth sighed. "The story is a long one," he said, "and people here would not believe me were I to tell them," he said wearily. "But suffice to say that I have indeed inhabited the Lifestream these last five years, and it is only through the actions of you fine people that I have returned here today."
Barret nodded, but then he looked puzzled and turned back to the rest of the group, sitting on their bench and giving him encouraging thumbs-up signs. "Yo, how'm I gonna show he tellin' da truth?"
"You could examine me," suggested Perigee. "I could explain how the Chi Quantum Fixing machine works. That should convince them."
"Uh, yeah." Barret himself was obviously not convinced. "Anythin' else?"
"Ask me!" said Cloud's voice. "I can tell them!"
"You're not even corporeal," Perigee pointed out.
"I could be," Cloud objected. "I could possess someone. Or something."
"Possess something inanimate," Aeris volunteered. "Won't that look more convincing?"
"Yeah, but what?"
"Er..." Aeris cast her gaze around the room. "I don't know, that chair over there or something."
"Right you are!" said Cloud's voice enthusiastically, and rushed off.
Barret nodded, swivelled round, and addressed Rufus.
"Yo, now this might seem like one big mess.
But by da end it'll all make real sense!
Da defence will now call its next witness!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
"Right you are," said Rufus, who was beginning to get into the swing of things. "Sephiroth, you may return to your seat. Who's going to be next, Mr. Wallace?"
"Yo, now I'm thinkin' disbelief here is rife!
We'll show dat after death there can be life!
Da defence will now question Cloud Strife!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
"Cloud Strife?" repeated Rufus, puzzled. "But, er... he's not here."
"No, I'm right over here!"
The voice came, apparently, from an uncomfortable-looking folding metal chair as it hopped over from one side of the courtroom to the stand, almost tripping Sephiroth as he strode back towards the rest of the group. There were a few gasps of surprise and some muffled confusion from the audience, but for the most part people just accepted what was going on as run-of-the-mill. After all, with the chaos that had taken place during Funny Harry's trial last week, this was veritably mundane.
Cloud - that is, the chair - took the stand and looked pointedly at Rufus with one of its hinges.
"Er, okay," he said eventually. "Cloud Strife, repeat after me -"
"Yo, never mind that!" Barret interrupted. "I wanna get on with my questions!"
Rufus sighed resignedly. "Very well, go ahead."
We got Seph'roth here, now he's jes' said
Dat fo' these last years he really been dead!
But people need help gettin' it into their heads!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
"Er," said the chair after a while. "Sorry, what was the question?"
"I think he wants you to elaborate on how Sephiroth has been dead," Rufus told him in a conspiratorial whisper.
"Yeah, dat's it!" agreed Barret.
"Oh. Well," the chair explained, "we both died, you see, and Sephiroth told me in the Lifestream that sometimes people with very strong personalites can sort of hold themselves together after death. And if we can do that, well, we can come back then, can't we?" It somehow contrived to shrug, which is a fair achievement when all one has are hinges. "And the others brought Jenova back, and they brought me back, so why shouldn't they bring Sephiroth back too?"
"Um, I think there are a few flaws in that argument," Perigee remarked slightly too loudly, and was promptly shushed by everyone around him.
"Gotcha, Cloud." Barret nodded to the jury, seated just to one side of the stand.
"Yo, yo' got all dat?
Now da Lifestream ain't all it cracked up to be,
'Cause people in dere can make 'emselves free!
So Seph's tale is true, yo' listen to me!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
One of the Mr. Smiths got to his feet, a rather pained expression on his face. "If I might make an observation, Mr. Shinra?" he said flatly.
"Oh, go ahead," Rufus replied benevolently.
"Thank you, Mr. Shinra." Mr. Smith cleared his throat pointedly and levelled one bony finger at Barret.
"It is an insult to stand against this man!
There are limits to how much one can stand!
He would do well to give up while he still can,
...objected Mr. Smith.
There was a brief pause.
"Why did you speak like that, Mr. Smith?" enquired the other one, more out of curiosity than anything else.
"Like what, Mr. Smith?"
"Never mind, Mr. Smith."
"Very well, Mr. Smith."
"Will you be seated once more, Mr. Smith?"
"I think I just might, Mr. Smith."
Rufus blinked a few times. He was beginning to feel just a little out of his depth here.
"Please continue, Mr. Wallace," he said weakly.
Barret's case, as it proceeded, did seem to lack any form of coherency or structure. He called to the dock, in order, Sephiroth, Cloud, Sephiroth again, Aeris, Perigee, Cloud and Sephiroth (well, by this time Sephiroth needed something to sit down on), Cid (briefly), the Major (even more briefly), himself, and finally, for good measure, Sephiroth a couple more times.
And so eventually he brought his defence to a close.
"Yo! Now I got nuthin' more to say,
An' none of us want to have no more delay!
So hurry an' free us, 'cause I don't got all day!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, HUH!"
When it became clear that his case was now finished, the court as a whole breathed a collective sigh of relief. Rufus picked up on this and whacked his gavel on the desk a few times.
"Order, order!" he shouted. Gradually the tumultuous sighing died away. "Good, good. Does the prosecution have anything more to add to their case?"
"I think not, Mr. Shinra," said both Mr. Smiths simultaneously.
"And the defence?"
"Hey, I jes' told ya I'm done!"
"Very well." Rufus smiled, his expression halfway between victory and relief. "In that case, would the jury please step forwards and announce their verdicts?"
There were seven jurors present for this trial. There were always an odd number, so that there was always a majority decision. It saved on all this silly deliberating to try and get them all agreeing with one another.
One, an elderly man whose eyes were almost completely hidden behind his moustache, got shakily to his feet. He waddled slowly to the centre of the room, turned to face Rufus, and intoned solemnly, "Guilty."
Having said this, he went over and stood by one side of the judge's desk.
A second, surprisingly similar looking juror, wandered up next.
"Guilty," he said, and hurried to stand by his partner's side.
Another came up.
"Not guilty," he announced, and went to the other side of the desk from the other two.
Rufus' triumphant smile faded.
"Huh?" he said, shocked.
"Not guilty," the juror repeated pointedly. The undertones in his voice clearly stated, 'Do you dare question me, young whippersnapper?'
"Er, okay," Rufus conceded. Well, there were still four more.
The next came up, and spoke thusly:
Rufus relaxed. That was more like it.
As the seventh and final juror strode ponderously to his place in the centre of the floor, Rufus wasn't the only person present whose nerves were tense.
The man opened his mouth.
"," he said, before the doors at the back of the courtroom were flung open, revealing a short, squat man wearing red.
"Hey, it's-a me!" he announced in a strong Italian accent.
In the silence that followed, Rufus glared at him. "Who?" he snapped.
"Mario?" Luigi leaped to his feet, to the obvious displeasure of Messrs. Smith and Smith. "Mario, is-a it really you? I thought you were-a dead!"
"It-a takes more than fire to-a kill Super Mario!"
Luigi spread his arms wide. "Mario!"
Ignoring the two of them as they hurtled down the central aisle towards one another, Rufus turned his attention back to the juror. "Go ahead."
The man opened his mouth.
"," he said again, and this time the wall exploded.
The dust cleared. Very slowly. After all, it didn't have anywhere to go other than through the newly formed immense hole in the wall, and it seemed strangely reluctant to do that. So it just settled on people, giving the room a nice Christmas feel. Interestingly enough, not many people seemed to want to hang around, though, and it took approximately thirty seconds for the audience area to empty completely. An unearthly silence descended, marred only by the occasional plink of falling stone.
A chunk of ceiling descended from above and bounced off Perigee's head as he crawled out from under one of the benches, where he had been thrown by the blast.
"Ouch," he said weakly, before another shower of plaster dust turned his hair white. "Okay, what -"
HE IS HERE.
"Uh oh," said Croft, who recognised a foreboding voice when he heard one.
THE SPAWN OF THE INTRUDER IS HERE.
Presumably sensing that something bad was about to happen, the dust still hanging in the air swirled away from the hole. As the air cleared, a bright aquamarine light could be seen shining through into the room.
As it cleared a bit more, the light turned out to be coming from an eye.
A very, very large eye.
In one corner of the room, the Clerk of the Court staggered to his feet, announced, "Courtsadjained," to himself, and toppled over.
STEP FORWARD, SPAWN. COME TO ME, OR I SHALL TEAR THIS CITY APART TO FIND YOU.
"What is that...?" Rufus muttered, picking himself up and wondering if shouting, "Order, order!" would get him anywhere. Probably not, he figured.
"A Weapon..." Perigee breathed.
"I say, we can't just let the blighter come and mess things up, what?" the Major blustered, hurrying towards the hole with a vengeful expression on his face and shaking one fist angrily. "We'll have to show Jerry that... yes, old boy?"
Sephiroth had got back to his feet and planted one hand gently on the Major's chest in a restraining gesture. "It's all right," he said softly. "It's me it's after."
"Well, whoever the dashed thing wants, it should have knocked like anyone else, eh?"
Ignoring him, Sephiroth turned to the others.
"It seems this interruption is Planet-sent," he said wryly. "I'll do what I can to keep this creature occupied. If you're fast you should be able to get to your airship and escape in time. Get to the crater. That should be where Jenova will be headed at the moment."
"Hey, what about you?" Cid enquired. "Ya plannin' to catch up later?"
Sephiroth shook his head. "I shouldn't think so."
ARE YOU QUITE DONE IN THERE?
"Oh, wonderful," Mr. Big muttered. The dust had turned him quite a fetching shade of grey, somehow making him look even cuter than usual. "You're gonna go and do one of those 'noble sacrifice' acts on us, aren't you?"
"Only if I can't avoid it," Sephiroth replied. "I'm going to try to give you time to escape so you can go up against Jenova - after all, it seems to me that, strange as it may be, you're the only group to stand much of a chance against her. I'm sure I'll meet up with you at some point."
There was a sound a bit like a very deep intake of breath. The light seemed to be growing brighter.
I SHALL COUNT TO TEN, boomed the Weapon's voice. IF YOU DO NOT STAND FORWARD BY THE TIME I REACH TEN, I SHALL PROCEED TO TAKE ONE HUMAN AT A TIME AND BURN THEIR SKIN FROM THEIR BONES UNTIL YOU SHOW YOURSELF.
"Do you think it would really do that to us, Mr. Smith?" wondered a small pile of rubble near the hole.
"Only if we asked it nicely, Mr. Smith," replied another, almost identical pile.
The party stared at one another in silence for a few moments.
"Well," said Mr. Big, finding his voice before the others, "I just gotta say..."
"...good luck, man. Don't get all -"
"Look, could you shut up? We're tryin' to say our farewells here."
"I know, I know," Sephiroth sighed wearily. "Just make sure you make the most of the opportunity."
"Yo, yo' ain't allowed to do that!" Barret exclaimed.
I DELAYED SIX UNTIL THE END OF HIS SENTENCE SO AS NOT TO INTERRUPT HIM. EIGHT.
"Okay," said Mr. Big, taking charge. "C'mon, we'd... hey, Tifa, what're you doing with that chair?"
"Cloud can't get out of it!" Tifa exclaimed, hurrying towards the others with the chair strapped to her back. "He doesn't know how!"
"Well, we're all here, at least. Right, guys." Mr. Big pointed towards the door at the rear of the courtroom with one ear. "Let's move!"
"Here I am," said Sephiroth.
WELL, TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH TO REALISE, DIDN'T IT?
The door at the rear of the courthouse led into a fairly narrow corridor. Doors down either wall led into assorted diminutive bedrooms, storerooms and so on, until at the end the passage split into two at a T-junction.
"This way!" said Perigee and Barret together and hurtled off in opposite directions, while the rest of the group split roughly in two and followed whoever they felt like at the time.
A few seconds later both parties came running back and met up again. Both Perigee and Barret announced, "No, actually I think it's this way," and went the ways they hadn't tried before. Their respective followers tagged along, exchanging a few greetings as they passed each other.
Maybe ten seconds after this, they all came back to the junction.
"I think we'd better, um, sort ourselves out," observed Perigee. "Flip a coin?"
"Hey, aren't we forgetting something?" pointed out Cloud, still in chair form.
"All our stuff!"
"Er, he's got a point," admitted Tifa. "We can't really leave all our equipment behind."
"Yeah, but we don't know where the hell it is," Cid objected. "An' look how many damn doors we got here!"
"Well, we'll just have to divide and conquer, old boy, what?" the Major suggested. "One to a door, now, look sharp, and we'll be back here before you can say Jerry's got his pants down. Haha."
"Verily, th'venerable one do have a most worthy point," agreed Shan.
"Yeah, sounds good!" Barret added. "Okay, ev'ryone choose a door an' check da room! Go!"
The party split and disappeared into the many smaller rooms adjoining this corridor. It would be unfair at this point for the narrative to follow some and not all of them, and it would also be incredibly boring to relate what happened to each and every character. Thus the mind's eye remains in the corridor.
A few minutes passed, made more interesting by the assorted noises that emerged from some of the rooms. These ranged from a high-pitched scream (followed, incidentally, by Cid saying, "Whoops, sorry 'bout that, miss,") through a loud and protracted explosion to various assorted animal noises, and only hinted as to the sort of fun the heroes could have been getting up to.
Eventually they all regrouped in the corridor.
"Here we go," said Perigee, who had been the lucky one to find the chest with all their items in it. For a lesser person carrying them all out might have proven a bit of a problem, but fortunately he was the temporary keeper of Cloud's Item Bag, and so had had no difficulty at all. He began returning the equipment to its rightful owners. "Did anyone else find anything?"
"I found this," Croft said, holding aloft what appeared to be half a sword. It had presumably once been a rather nice blade, though, judging by the hilt.
"It's half a sword," explained Croft unhelpfully.
"I can see that. Why did you take it?"
"Well, I thought that if we find the other half we might be able to make a whole sword."
"Good thinking there," said Tifa's chair cheerfully. "It might even be a unique weapon!"
"Why would a random half sword we found lying around here be a unique weapon?" Mr. Big put in.
"Well, if someone's bothered to keep it, there's got to be something special about it, right?" the chair pointed out.
"Yo, da... chair's gotta point," concurred Barret.
"Well, we can keep in it the Item Bag anyway, can't we?"
"Hey, guys?" Cid interrupted. "I do hate to break up the party, but we sorta got a ride to catch, remember?"
"Oh. Yeah. C'mon, then."
"Onwards!" said the chair happily.
"Hey, you guys can't come through here, you're supposed to be on trial, aren't -"
The Highwind was still, thankfully, sitting happily in the middle of the Junon landing pad where Cid had left it beforehand. Unfortunately, it was currently guarded by three - well, two now - of the Junon elite corps -
"You just hit Dave! You hit him! How could -"
Okay, one of the Junon -
"Help! Help! The terrorists are -"
...as it turned out, the Highwind had been left unguarded.
"Okay, guys, you lot get back to the bridge," Cid ordered, rubbing his knuckles irritably as he stepped over Dave's prostrate body. "I'm gonna go check on the engines, make sure they haven't been locked or anythin'. Be with ya in a minute."
"Sounds like a dashed good plan, pilot old bean!" agreed the Major, and hurtled off up the ramp into the airship's interior. The rest of the guys followed him shortly, leaving Cid on his own outside.
"Right," he muttered to himself, and set off around the ship. He got at least four steps before he stopped, spotting another group hurrying out onto the landing pad.
This group turned out to consist solely of the four girls.
"Hey, the hell're you lot doing there?" Cid shouted at them. "We don't have all day, ya know!"
"Aeris isn't feeling well!" Ess shouted back. Indeed, it did appear that the she, Tifa and Kasuto were all supporting Aeris. "She thinks that soldier we fought earlier poisoned her!"
"Typical," Cid mused quietly, then yelled, "Well, get into the ship! There's a bed she can use in there! Just get a move on!"
He stormed off and soon disappeared behind the Highwind.
"Okay, come on, Aeris," Tifa told her gently as the cluster of girls made its way towards the hatch. "Just get to the ship and you can have a lie down. You'll feel fine after a rest."
"Oh, will she, indeed?"
The voice seemed to come from behind them, but yet when they turned, there was no one there. This was, in fact, because Elena of the Turks could move like a snake when she wanted to, and was already in front of them by the time they looked back.
"You didn't think you'd get away that easily, did you?" she asked coldly. "You're still going to be executed, you know. It's going to be quite a sight."
"Oh, go away, will you?" Ess snapped at her, taking a step forwards. "What's the point in having us killed? We haven't done anything wrong!"
"You killed Tseng," said Reno coldly. "And Reno. And Rude."
"That wasn't -"
The crack echoed for a few seconds. It shouldn't really have echoed, given that they were out in the open, but it did so anyway for effect.
Ess raised one hand slowly and deliberately to the reddening mark on her cheek. Her eyes narrowed.
"Don't you say it wasn't your fault," Elena spat at her. "Do you seriously think -"
Ess slapped her.
Elena slapped Ess.
"Ooh, this looks like fun!" Kasuto observed, and promptly slapped Elena too.
Elena slapped Kasuto.
Ess slapped Elena.
Tifa slapped Elena.
Kasuto got a bit overexcited and slapped Ess by mistake.
"Eheh... whoops," she said.
Elena cracked her knuckles and slapped both Kasuto and Ess at once.
Ess slapped Elena.
Kasuto slapped Ess.
"Could you stop that?" Ess snapped irritably, and slapped Elena again.
Kasuto slapped Aeris.
Elena slapped Ess.
"Hey! The hell d'you lot think you're up to?"
Cid came hurrying over, having completed his tour of the Highwind's exterior without incident. "I told ya to get inside, didn't I? We're not hangin' around for sightseein', ya know!"
Elena turned and slapped Cid.
Cid slapped Elena. He put quite a lot of force into the blow, knocking her head back so fast her neck made an audible click. She practically spun on the spot and hit the tarmac face first.
Cid dusted his hands off and glared at the other girls. "Now are ya comin' or not?"
SO... CAN I KILL YOU YET?
Sephiroth shook his head firmly. He would have liked to think he had the situation under control, and, in a way, he supposed he had. That is to say, he'd somehow convinced the Weapon that it ought to let him live a little while so that his self-sacrifice to give his 'friends' time to escape would not be wasted, and he'd survived a good ten minutes like this. Things were going quite well, when one looked at it that way.
Unfortunately, the Weapon was currently holding him firmly in one of its huge clenched fists, with his head and arms protruding from the top and his feet from the bottom, and standing a good few hundred yards out to sea. This sort of limited his pride in his current predicament.
"I'd really rather you left me alive a little longer," he said. "At least until I'm sure that the group escaped. Then I can die happy in the knowledge that my death was not in vain."
SOUNDS TO ME LIKE YOU'RE JUST BLUFFING, the Weapon muttered sulkily.
"Why would I do that?" Sephiroth replied. Something nearby was making a distinctly propeller-like noise, getting progressively louder and louder. He was beginning to have to raise his voice to make himself heard. "I'm perfectly happy to lose my life in the name of the Planet. I just -"
WHAT DID YOU SAY?
"I said, I'm perfectly happy to -"
"I'M PERFECTLY HAPPY TO LOSE -"
At this point it transpired that the source of the propeller-like noise was, in fact, a number of propellers. All of these were attached to the Highwind, which had somehow managed to sneak up unnoticed behind the Weapon. Sephiroth's eyes followed it as it swooped past him with almost balletic grace, and then his gaze was attracted to the main deck, on which stood Warbling Croft holding a very familiar weapon.
"Here!" he shouted, drawing his arm back and hurling the Masamune as hard as he could towards Sephiroth. "Catch!"
Sephiroth did so, with relative ease. As his hand closed around the hilt of the weapon, he turned and gave the Weapon (note the capital letter) a particularly evil grin. It was one truly worthy of a spawn of the World-Destroyer.
"Thanks for waiting," he said pleasantly.
The blade of the Masamune moved in wide flashing arcs, slicing effortlessly through the Weapon's stone fist. Huge shards of deep blue gemstone flew in all directions, until there was nothing holding Sephiroth up aside from the air below his feet.
This, unsurprisingly, didn't hold him for long. He plummeted towards the welcoming ocean, and would have got there had the Weapon not snatched him up in its other fist. This time it made sure to pin his arms to his sides.
IT SEEMS YOUR FRIENDS HAVE INDEED ESCAPED, it said coldly, clenching its fist tighter. Sephiroth could practically feel his bones creaking. NOW YOU SHALL DIE THAT THE PLANET MAY BE CLEANSED.
And then, carried on the wind, came a faint dialogue...
"Barrel up three degrees, Pugwashsah!"
"Oh, och aye the noo, and other bonnie Scottish words!"
The Weapon looked puzzled briefly. Then it looked shocked, and uttered, OH, CRA-
Prologue: Writing of Wrongs
Part 1: For What We Are About to Receive
Chapter I: Editorial Changes
Chapter II: Insert Chapter Title Here
Chapter III: Biohazard
Part 2: Present Imperfect
Chapter IV: Ahead on our Way
Chapter V: On That Day, Five Years Ago...
Chapter VI: Feather in the Wind (reprise)
Part 3: World Travel
Chapter VII: Twelve Good Men on a Dead Man's Chest
Chapter VIII: Music of the Night
Chapter IX: Drawing Inexorably
Part 4: Crossroads
Chapter X: The Trousers of Time
Part 5: Calculus
Chapter XI: Differentiation & Integration
Chapter XII: The Sunrise and I
Chapter XIII: The Best Is Yet To Come
Part 6: Introduction to Destruction
Chapter XIV: Makes No Difference
Chapter XV: Second Impact
Chapter XVI: Judgment Day
Epilogue: Loose Ends
Return to index