As Cid Highwind had realized, a lot could happen in seven years. When he had first met the group of eight weary travelers who claimed to be following Sephiroth, he wanted nothing to do with them. He had had his share of adventures in the past, and knew that life did not work out as nicely and neatly as it did in stories. But when Rufus Shin-ra shattered his dreams of space travel once again, he could not see any other alternative than to join them in their seemingly futile mission. But look where it had got him. Although his prized airship, the Highwind, had been wrecked on that day, he had finally been given what he had wanted. John Reeve, his good friend and the new head of the Shin-ra electric company, had appointed him head of Shin-ra's Space department. And flight was making a triumphant return into his life. He had created a new personal plane, the Dragon Jet, and had ordered the construction of a new rocket, one which would hopefully not be as ill fated as the Shin-ra 26, in which Cid had become the first man ever to go to space.
Cid pushed himself grudgingly from the couch where he sat, and sighed. Tall, with short graying hair and a weathered face, he looked much older and more worn than his thirty-nine years. He was expected in Neo-Midgar shortly, for the opening of a new monument. Reeve was sending a shuttle to the small town that had grown up around the launch site of the Shin-ra 26 rocket. The town was never officially given a name and was simply called Rocket Town by its residents. Everything was going perfectly. Too perfectly, in fact, and Cid was suspicious. In all the years of his life, nothing had turned out perfectly, and it was always at the end when that little something went wrong. It would be good to see Cloud and the others again, he thought. He wondered if the kid had ever got around to marrying Tifa. Barret too; he had not seen Barret in all the past seven years. He wondered how much they had changed.
Shera, Cid's wife and former assistant, came through the door, wearing a heavy fur coat. Winter had come quickly this year, and it was an especially cold one. Cid could see the snow falling through the open door.
"Dear," Shera said, brushing snow from her face, " I think it's about time we started off. Our plane is coming in."
Cid took his heavy leather jacket from where it hung on the door, and, picking up his bags, nodded, and said, "I'm ready." Shera quickly gathered her luggage and stepped outside. Cid, however, hesitated. He saw his spear, the Venus Gospel, leaning against the wall of the open closet, unused since the battle with Sephiroth seven years ago. On a sudden instinct, Cid picked up the spear and hurried out the open door, locking it behind him. Cursing the weather as he lighted a cigarette, he hurried towards the Shin-ra shuttle. He ran up the ramp that had descended from the back of the plane to find Shera already inside. The pilot, dressed all in arctic gear, gave Cid's spear a questioning look, to which he replied "I like to be prepared."
The pilot shrugged and pressed a button on the wall, causing the ramp to slide back up into the plane. He went back into the cockpit and, within minutes, Rocket Town was obscured by the mists and snows. Cid sighed, for he knew that the captain had thought, even if he had not asked, the most obvious question: Prepared for what? But that's what I wish I knew, thought Cid. That's what I goddamn want to find out.
Yuffie Kisaragi sat on a ledge overlooking her new home in Mideel and worried, her short black hair blowing in the wind. She worried about several things, the first of which was how time seemed to have passed and left her behind. It was seven years now, since she had helped Cloud and his friends defeat Sephiroth and put an end to the meteor once and for all. Throughout the time, she had retained her slim graceful figure and playful smiling face. Though Yuffie hated to think about it, she was now twenty-three, and felt that seven years had passed with only two years worth of action in them. And now she was being called back to this Neo-Midgar for some sort of ceremony. Yuffie hated ceremonies, or for that matter, anything formal, which was why, even after climbing the Pagoda of the Five Sacred Gods and defeating the master of each art, she had refused to become formally acknowledged as the next ruler of Wutai. Her father, Godo, understood, or so she thought, but Gorki and the others never would. So she had left the city of Wutai in Cid's old personal plane, the Tiny Bronco, which had finally been repaired, and wandered the planet in search of a new home. In the end, she had chosen the recently rebuilt town of Mideel, remembering the vast stores of untapped Mako energy that occasionally hardened and formed Materia. And Yuffie loved Materia.
The second thing she worried about was precisely that. In the past weeks, less and less Mako was appearing around Mideel, and less of that was hardening into Materia. It was as if the lifestream, formerly prominent in the Mideel area, had begun to seep away into the recesses of the Planet. She had been making a generous living in Mideel, where she was not recognized as a hero of any kind, which pleased her greatly, by selling Materia that held no interest for her. So this decrease in the amount of Materia near Mideel could not only threaten her hobby, but also her very means of survival.
And the third thing about which Yuffie worried was that Mr. Allendor, proprietor of the other Materia shop in Mideel, would notice the sudden lack of Materia in his storage shed. He kept the storage shed locked, but, then again, locks did not hinder Yuffie at all.
A change was coming upon the world. Yuffie could sense it, and she had a keen sense for these things. Perhaps it was time to move on. She had lived in Mideel for four years, which was an unusual amount of time for Yuffie to remain in one place. Yes, a change is coming upon the world, she thought. And I'm going to go out and meet it. Perhaps she should really go to this ceremony in Neo-Midgar. There could be plenty of Materia there. And if the ceremony turned out too formal or tedious, Yuffie would be gone before anyone was the wiser. The letter Yuffie had received mentioned that an aircraft would come to pick her up, and escort her to Neo-Midgar. Well, whoever the pilot is, he'll sure be in for a surprise, thought Yuffie as she returned to her house for her favorite weapon, the Conformer, and her bags of treasured Materia. She tossed a few spare clothes carelessly into her bags, and some snacks for the journey, and then was out of the door.
A few hours later, Mr. Allendor went into his Materia storage shed and found it completely empty, and for all his howls of frustration, the Materia did not reappear. At the same time, the pilot of a recently arrived Shin-ra aircraft knocked furiously on the door to Yuffie Kisaragi's house, and though he waited there for an hour, she neither opened the door nor returned. And the Tiny Bronco, filled with bags of Materia and a lone passenger, skimmed over the seas towards the city of Neo-Midgar.
"My lord?" asked a trembling voice from below the ledge.
"Speak," replied Nanaki, looking down at the young man beside him. He was new to Cosmo Canyon, an immigrant from Gongaga, and had yet to grow accustomed to Nanaki. Nanaki supposed that he did have a rather intimidating appearance to one who had not seen him before, looking somewhat like a muscular red lion, with a fringe of tall red hair along his back. Black tattoos adorned his sides, with one standing out: the numeral thirteen, branded onto his left flank. Nanaki grimaced, remembering the pain of that branding. Never again, he thought. Never will I endure such captivity. A nervous clearing of the throat brought Nanaki back to the present, and he turned once again to the young man beside him.
"The Harad-Zun are marching, my lord. They will be here within the next three hours."
"Very well. We shall be on the plain to meet them." As the man turned to walk away, Nanaki called out to him, "What's your name, boy?"
"J...Jorm, my lord," came the unsteady answer.
"Well, Jorm, today will be a famous battle. You will recount this to your grandchildren, I hope?" Jorm nodded, and began to walk away again. "Oh, and Jorm," Nanaki said, "don't call me 'my lord'. Nanaki will do." The boy scampered away, not wanting to be stopped again. Nanaki watched him with a sigh. Jorm, and many others like him, were the last remnants of the population of Gongaga, a small jungle town to the south. For seven years after he had joined Cloud and his friends and destroyed Sephiroth, peace had reigned. And now, just one week ago, this band of marauders, calling themselves the Harad-Zun, had appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and raided the town of Gongaga. Fully half of the town's population had been slaughtered, and the rest had escaped to Cosmo Canyon, with tales of the strange garb and weapons of these fierce bandits. No, although Nanaki would have loved to go to Neo-Midgar and see Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and the others again, he was quite busy at the moment.
The past seven years had gone by quite quickly to Nanaki, who lived a much longer life than humans. Although he was now fifty-five years old, he was really the equivalent of an eighteen year old boy, far too young to be the Chief warrior of Cosmo Canyon. But his father, Seto, had held the title, and he had been Seto's only son. Sometimes, Nanaki wondered whether he would ever be able to continue his family's line, as he seemed to be the only one of his species left alive on the planet. However, Bugenhagen had told him that he might find a mate someday, and that thought filled him with hope. Nanaki had learned long ago that Bugenhagen was rarely wrong.
Stepping down from the ledge high on the cliffs above Cosmo Canyon, Nanaki contemplated what the boy had said. Three hours. It seemed that the raiders had been using Gongaga as a base of operations, and that they had finally begun their attack on Cosmo Canyon. He could not let his ancestors down, or the canyon fall. Growling, Nanaki called for the warriors of the Canyon to be assembled. If we must fight to survive, we will fight hard and dirty, whatever it takes, thought Nanaki. If they must come, let them come. We'll show them what Cosmo Canyon can do.
With a scowl, Barret Wallace flung open the door to his house and stomped angrily inside. Throughout the day, he had had a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something, something that would make him very angry. And then he remembered. That asshole Reeve, inviting me to some kinda new Midgar, Barret thought. Who the hell does he think he is? He wouldn't mind seeing Tifa or Cloud again, but there was no way he was ever going to that city. And Reeve, that clever asshole, had joined them in their chase of Sephiroth, using a robot mog named Cait Sith, only to betray them to Shin-ra. He had even held Marlene and Elmyra as hostages, preventing Cloud and Barret from harming him. I should have killed the damn traitor when I had the chance, he thought. I should have guessed that the last surviving Shin-ra executive would carry on the pollution and destruction of the planet like his company always had. Barret swore angrily and kicked a chair, causing a passing civilian to jump with fright and hurry on his way. Barret knew people were scared of him when they saw him first; his appearance could hardly be called anything less than intimidating. He was large and stocky, with tattooed arms the width of most people's heads and black skin. His right arm had been severed, and he had had a gun grafted to the stump, giving him look of a killer and a convict.
For seven years after the final showdown with Sephiroth, Barret had worked hard to rebuild his hometown, North Corel, from the ruins and heaps of junk he had found it in. Because of Shin-ra. They had come in the night, when he and his friend Dyne were away, killed their wives, Myrna and Elenore, and burned the town. And he had supported their corrupt scheme to power the town with Mako, the blood of the planet! Never would he make that mistake. Never would he trust Shin-ra again. Shin-ra depicted him as a ruthless, cold-blooded killer. But they were the one who were murderers. Myrna, Elenore, Dyne, Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, the people of North Corel, the people of Midgar's Sector Seven, Countless soldiers from Wutai, Soldiers from Fort Condor... all dead because of Shin-ra. And the bastard Reeve had the nerve to invite him to this new, corrupt, polluted city!
Barret sighed heavily. His entire life, for forty-two years, had been a war against Shin-ra. Ever since the destruction of North Corel, he had sought to bring them down. He had gone to Cosmo Canyon, where he met Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, and formed the Rebel group Avalanche. Now they were dead, and he was the only living one left to fight. But he would not give up. Barret would continue fighting the Shin-ra while there was blood left in his body.
Gastor approached the open door cautiously. He was a native of North Corel, in his early thirties, and one of Barret's closest friends. He could see clearly that Barret was angry, but proceeded anyway, which meant that he must have something important to tell.
"What is it, Gastor?" Barret asked with a sigh.
"We have just received word from Cosmo Canyon, Barret. The town is being invaded," his friend replied. Cosmo Canyon, thought Barret. If the town is under attack, Nanaki will be there. He would never abandon his hometown. "Do you have orders for us?" asked Gastor.
"Grab your gun, Gastor, and assemble the other men. We're leaving now," replied Barret as he stepped through the door. And eight buggies, filled with the strongest fighters of North Corel, left the town five minutes later, headed north, to Cosmo Canyon.
John Reeve paced bitterly back and forth in his office. He was a tall man, recently clean shaven, with long black hair, wearing a blue suit. The conference room in the company headquarters in Neo-Midgar, modeled after the original in the Shin-ra building in Midgar, had been arranged with twelve chairs, one more of a stool for Nanaki, but not all of them would be needed. He could tell. Nanaki had already sent back a polite letter of refusal, informing Reeve of many 'duties' around Cosmo Canyon that required his attendance. Complete Bullshit. Likely, all the others would hastily invent their own reasons for not coming. He could only rely on Cid, Cloud, and Tifa to come. What kind of a stupid idea had it been, inviting all his former allies, as if they were some kind of successful sports team, and had a sense of unity and loyalty? No, he knew they had all gone their own ways and probably completely forgotten him by now. After all, what did I do other than hand over the keystone to Tseng, Reeve thought sullenly. What did the stupid stuffed Mog and robotic cat do other than betray the group to Shin-ra?
In the past, Reeve had often wondered just why he had chosen the disguise of Cait Sith. And now he knew. He and Cait Sith alike were clumsy, blundering, and unwanted. His entire life had been a series of mistakes. As head of the Urban Development Department of Shin-ra, he had realized, after working hard to establish a cost-effective and realistic design for the city layout of Midgar, that president Shin-ra was willing to destroy one of the sectors of his city to exterminate a few rebels, and was not even considering rebuilding it. When the president died and his son Rufus took over, Reeve soon found that the new president had absolutely no interest in urban planning. His life's work trampled on by two consecutive presidents, Reeve grew bitter and longed to join the terrorists of Avalanche, just to show his defiance of the president, and was finally given an opportunity as Cait Sith. However, just when his life had found a new joy, he was brought back into the real world with orders from the president he despised to steal the keystone. The only help he had ever been to the rest of his 'friends' had been because of his worthlessness; his ability to sacrifice the mechanical Cait Sith. Regarded as a traitor and a coward by the only people he admired and looked up to, Reeve's life took another downward spiral. And when he thought he had finally managed to control his life by taking control of Shin-ra, he was harshly reminded of how little his former fellow adventurers trusted him.
Alex Preston, Reeve's personal secretary, hurried through the door. He was a short stocky man, with unruly brown hair and a red face, currently made even redder by much running. Already expecting an answer, Reeve turned to face him, waiting.
"Cid Highwind is on his way to the city, sir," Preston began. "The pilot of the plane sent to Mideel said that he could not find Yuffie Kisaragi, although the townspeople said that she was indeed in town. Barret Wallace and Vincent Valentine simply could not be found anywhere, in or around the towns that you said they would be in."
Reeve swore mentally. He had known this would happen, though he did not expect them to actually hide from him. Reeve suddenly laughed out loud sardonically. His life was at the bottom of its course. There was no use pretending any more. Cloud and Cid were only coming because they had to, because he had given them official positions in Shin-ra. But he would show them. Especially Barret, that bastard! He had never done anything to Barret, and yet the man treated him as a hated enemy. But he will learn, thought Reeve. They all will.
Wearing the discarded helmet of a Shin-ra MP, the man ran behind a fallen billboard near one of the massive steel buildings. "Join SOLDIER", it said, ironically enough, with a picture of Rufus, the previous president of Shin-ra, pointing his finger directly at the viewer. Breathing heavily, the man crouched, concealed from view by billboard and debris alike. The targeting system of the sniper rifle scanned the snow- covered area and then settled on the only exit from the pile of rubble. Sweating, the man removed his helmet, revealing a bright orange headband wound around his forehead. Holding on to the back of the helmet, he held it out just an inch from the side of the billboard. Instantly, a gunshot pierced the air, and the man darted from his cover to the inside of an abandoned building.
"Shit!" Reno swore, as he quickly reloaded the rifle, keeping his eyes on the fleeing man. I should have known he wouldn't be stupid enough to expose his helmet, he thought. This guy is good. Reno scanned the building that the man had entered, until he found what he needed. A tiny hole in the wall, too small to be noticed except by a careful observer, sixty feet from where the man had entered the building. Thinking he was safe, the man let out a long breath and began to walk down the corridor. Reno waited till the exact moment, and then fired. Good, but not good enough, thought Reno with satisfaction, as a faint cry let him know that he had hit his mark.
"That was the last one," he said, and, putting the sniper rifle aside, he stood up and sighed with exhaustion. Seven years without employment could do a lot to a man. Of average height, Reno wore his dark blue suit carelessly, his coat hanging open and his shirt partially unbuttoned. His dark reddish-brown hair was cut fairly short, but hung down his neck in a thin rattail. He stood casually, shoulders slumped, as if he were exhausted and depressed, but, in reality, Reno was alert as ever. Sighing, he contemplated his situation. One of the three surviving members of the Turks, a mercenary band hired by Shin-ra, his situation had gone from bad to worse as two successive presidents had been killed. After Scarlet and Heidegger, leaders of the Defense department, had attempted to take power and failed, the Turks had withdrawn their support from the already dying company and retreated into the back alleys of the old city of Midgar. For seven long years they had traveled the world in search of employment. They had returned from their fruitless search to Midgar, only to find the city in chaos. The street gang Vice, which had been fairly powerful in the slums of Sectors 5 and 6, had overrun and had a firm grip on over half of the ruined city, both the upper and lower areas. The Turks had retreated to the Sector 2 plate, and had taken turns shooting down Vice's raiding parties, distinguished by their orange headbands. Something was wrong with the raids lately, however. They were too organized, not the work of ordinary gangsters. He was brought back to the present by Elena's voice, complaining again.
"How long are we going to stay here?" she inquired. "How long? We are the Turks! Elite assassins and fighters! Are we supposed to spend the rest of our lives sniping irrelevant gangsters?" For the thousandth time, Reno wondered why Tseng, the former leader of the Turks, had ever chosen Elena. She was a competent fighter, and had a nice body, but sure was a bitch, and had grown even more bitchy after Tseng's death. Reno turned to face the woman. She was wearing the same uniform, but hers was much neater, and had an arrogant face with penetrating eyes, and short blonde hair.
"For the last time, Elena, we're not leaving till I say we are! There's just something in this city..." and he trailed off. He could not completely explain his intuitive sense anyway.
"Oh, fuck you, I'm leaving," Elena said when he did not complete his sentence, and stomped down the stairs and into the biting cold. The third one in the room, who had not spoken until this time, stood up to walk after her, but was stopped by Reno.
"Don't worry, the bitch will come back soon. You know her." The second man relaxed and sat down opposite his fellow Turk. Rude was a tall man, taller than either Reno or Elena by a head. His suit was perfectly made, complete with a checkerboard tie, giving him a professional air that neither Reno nor Elena could match. His head was shaved bald, and he wore shades covering his eyes. Rude was an excellent marksman, and rarely spoke, but when he did, it was sound advice.
"Look at this, Reno. The days of the Turks are over," Rude said quietly. "It's just us two, Reno. Elena is overconfident; she will get herself killed soon. When Shin-ra died, so did we."
"We don't have to give up now. Remember, we aren't part of Shin-ra, we were only their allies. We don't have to go down when they do," Reno replied.
"And where the shit do you think we'll ever find a client that pays as much as Rufus did? There are two of us, Reno, two, when there used to be four. A shit of a lot two assassins can do. We're not going to get employment anytime soon."
"If you want employment, I can offer that," a voice from the doorway remarked casually, and both men sprung up, guns ready, and whirled to face the newcomer, who simply stood watching them, a trace of a smile appearing on his lips. "Don't worry. I'm perfectly harmless."
"Who the shit are you?" Reno asked, recovering quickly from his surprise. The man did not look like one capable of surviving in the harsh world of Midgar, more like a wealthy businessman, unaccustomed to the rough world outside his sheltered mansion. Yet it took a lot of courage to stand up to a pair of trained gunmen, ready to kill in an instant, without flinching. And Reno knew that he was not looking at some average upper class citizen. The man probably did not intend harm, he realized. If he did, he could have killed them both while they sat and talked, unaware of his presence.
"Does it really matter?" the man asked. "I saw you fight earlier, and I am willing to offer you, the famous Turks, positions as guards for a project I am involved in. Come to the Nibel Mountains if you're interested." Without another word, he turned and walked away.
The two men exchanged glances. We still don't even know what he expects us to do, Reno reminded himself. But it was the only opportunity for work they had had in years, and probably one of the only ones for a while. And he knew that they could not go on living off scraps of salvaged food forever.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked
"Suppose it's worth a shot."
"Let's go then," Reno replied. "Shit!," he added, remembering something, and sighing with exasperation. "First we have to find Elena. Goddamn it, that woman pisses me off!"
Vincent Valentine walked steadily onwards up the mountain, straining against the sweeping winds filled with flakes of frost. His progress had been hindered by the onset of winter, and further by the arrival of a Shin-ra jet, which had circled the area for an hour before departing. It was not the Shin-ra that Vincent fled from; he knew that it was now Reeve who headed the company. He would have liked to see the others again, but to do so would expose him and ruin his plans, which had only grown more important with the sudden vision he had received only hours ago. He would have to wait. Maybe he would see them again someday. The Nibel Mountains loomed up around Vincent, great black spires of rock now covered with ice. For a long time he had searched the world, trying to find what he was looking for. What that was, Vincent did not know.
It was now seven years after the Day of Judgment, and Vincent, though he did not look it, was sixty-one years old. His long unruly black hair flowed back in the wind, kept out of his face by a wide red headband. His eyes glowed an unnatural red, and his left arm had been completely destroyed, replaced by a mechanical one. A tattered red caped was blowing in the wind behind Vincent, revealing his pitch black garb and a long barreled hand gun tucked under a sash. For seven years he had wandered the face of the planet, searching for the answer to his unsolved question. Hojo, his arch-nemesis and the man who transformed his body into such a misshapen beast, had been killed. Sephiroth, spawn of Hojo and the man who had nearly succeeded in destroying the world, was dead. And Lucrecia, the love of his life and the only reason he had not yet killed himself, had been finally able to rest in peace. Yet Vincent felt, deep inside his body, that it was not yet over, and his instinctive feelings had not been wrong yet. And his search had taken him deep into the Nibel Mountains, where he felt his feeling of unease growing stronger.
Reaching the peak of the mountain, Vincent surveyed his surroundings. He stood on a fairly tall mountain in the Nibel Chain, and could see for miles around. Nothing. He could only see tall mountains and spires of rock and ice, dominating the landscape. There must be something in here, thought Vincent. I'm just not seeing it. And then he spotted it. A glint of something metal, hidden in a small valley between two giant cliffs. The Nibelheim mako reactor, now out of use for so many years, still existed, it seemed. Perhaps it will hold the answers I seek, Vincent thought, as he surveyed the area for any paths leading down to the reactor. It was a steep drop below his feet, with no way down other than the way he had come. No, thought Vincent grimly, there is one way.
Clenching his fists tightly, he contorted his face with effort, and a change came over him. Skin and clothes alike transformed, as his back grew larger and changed its position, and his legs, arms and face transformed as well. The creature that raised its head and looked around was nothing like Vincent. Rough purple skin covered all of its body, and it moved in a somewhat wolf-like manner. Two large horns protruded from the back of its head. The Galian Beast paused only momentarily before leaping an astounding distance to another ledge, and, surveying its environment, it morphed back into Vincent. And without a backward glance, he walked onwards, disappearing into a cave in the mountainside.