In the harsh and rocky landscape of the northern part of the West Continent lay two sprawling cities not two hours walk apart. To the southwest lay the older one, a city on a plate, suspended by colossal pillars above the slums. The city Midgar was a skeleton of its former glory, ruined skyscrapers and piles of rubble dominating the scenery, and home only to a few old hermits, and the gangs of the slums, warring back and forth over meaningless patches of cement. But to the Northeast lay its stunning counterpart, Neo-Midgar. It had grown up rapidly around the old mining town of Kalm, the buildings of which still existed, and was now even larger than the original city. The north of town held the skyscrapers and the new Shin-ra building, while in the center was Kalm, the old city. The southern, western, and eastern sides of the city were residential and commercial areas, in which the majority of the people of Neo-Midgar lived and worked. Winter had descended early upon the world, and the twin cities were among the first to feel it. Snow was gently falling on the streets and buildings, as if compensating for the blazing heat seven years ago. And as people all over the city began to prepare themselves for the day, Tifa Lockheart stood in her house in the old town and considered the state of affairs .
It was the seventh anniversary of the Day of Judgment, and the first on which the day would actually be commemorated. At midnight, Reeve would be opening a monument to the day, and before then, both Tifa and Cloud had been invited to meet the new members of Reeve's staff and, hopefully to see their old friends again. Until then, Tifa's day was completely open, for the stores had been closed in recognition of the Monument. Much had changed in the past seven years. Tifa, now twenty-seven years old, ran the Lifestream Restaurant, and Cloud had been appointed the director of the Shin-ra Defense Department, although the world was now at peace, and defense was almost entirely unneeded.
And yet, although the world was at peace and worrying was unnecessary, Tifa worried for Cloud. He had seemed somehow...empty after the battle with Sephiroth, as if he could not believe that it was finally over. She had thought at the time that it was a temporary condition, but Cloud had seemed more secluded with each passing day, and that morning, he had even been awake and gone when Tifa woke up, although he usually slept much longer and deeper than she. I'm probably imagining it, Tifa tried to reassure herself. We did get married, after all, and he was not strange at all during that time. But even she knew it was a lie. For she knew that Cloud had never been at entirely at peace, after seven years, still refusing to admit that it was over.
And she did not want to have to worry, not ever again. She wanted a quiet life in Neo-Midgar with Cloud, with sufficient food and money. She wanted to hide, even if the world collapsed around her, to hide and stay with him in their last days of life. Tifa had helped the planet once before, and she felt that it ought to do the same for her, by letting her not have to worry about Shin-ra or Sephiroth or Jenova or anything else. But deep inside herself, Tifa knew that it could never happen. The change would come, and both she and Cloud would go out to fight it, but this time, things would not return to how they had been before. She could feel the change, and she knew it was coming, and all she could do was hope it did not come soon.
Evening came quickly over Neo-Midgar, and before Cloud knew it, the time to go to the reception was upon him. Returning to his house to change, Cloud found Tifa waiting for him, frowning.
"Cloud, where have you been all day? I was getting worried!" she asked anxiously. Cloud turned away, not able, despite his best efforts, to lie to her face.
"Nowhere. Just wanted to walk around a bit," he replied, and looked back up at her again. She was already dressed for the occasion, resplendent in a dress of midnight blue silk. She made no further comment on the matter, yet Cloud could see from her eyes that she did not believe him, and instantly felt ashamed for lying to her. But he could not tell her. Not anyone. Cloud walked into the bedroom and changed into more formal clothing, then came out again, and nodded to Tifa, who was immersed in thought. Even as she followed him out of the house and into the chilly air, she seemed troubled, preoccupied with her own thoughts. The taxi that Reeve had sent was waiting for them outside, and, with their entry, it glided silently to the north.
The Shin-ra building in Neo-Midgar was built to be indistinguishable from the its predecessor, which now loomed like a broken monolith over the urban wasteland below. With seventy stories, it stood much higher than the other office buildings in the area. Cloud surveyed it solemnly as the taxi climbed the steep ramp to the vehicle entrance in the back of the building. The last time he had climbed to the top of the Shin-ra building, he had found the president murdered and Sephiroth still alive, which turned his life completely upside down. He hoped that he would not have an experience like that again. But he knew he would.
Ever since Sephiroth's death seven years ago, Cloud had felt empty, that some part of him was missing, but not gone. He had felt it first a month ago, to the north, calling to him, and since his dream, it had grown stronger. It should have been over at Sephiroth's death, but he still felt that something was unfinished, a thread hanging loose. And how he longed to have it all be finished, to have an ordinary life for once. But he knew it would not happen.
Cloud snapped back into reality as the taxi shuddered and came to a halt, right next to the elevator. He steeped out of the cab, Tifa at his side, and nodded thanks to the driver, who said,
"Conference's on the sixty-sixth floor. Ya better hurry, cause it's startin' soon."
Cloud and Tifa walked into the elevator, and pressed the button for the said floor. As the elevator lifted smoothly off the ground, Tifa looked worriedly at Cloud, who said nothing and watched as the elevator rose rapidly upwards. At last they reached their destination, and stepped out of the elevator to find a familiar face awaiting them.
Cid seemed much older and somehow more experienced than when Cloud had seen him last, and he had a weary air about him, but it did not matter. There will be no more fighting, Cloud thought, trying to convince himself. And if there is, it will be just me this time. No need to get the others involved, just so they can all die like Aeris. Cid's rough voice startled Cloud, a voice he had not heard for seven years.
"Good to see you again, Cloud. Glad you made it intact. We'd best go back to the conference room. They're awaiting your arrival. We can talk later." So Cid and his wife, Shera, accompanied by Cloud and Tifa, walked back to the Conference Room, where they found Reeve and four others awaiting them.
Reeve too had changed. Cloud had rarely seen him in person, yet he looked disdainful and distant. It must be my mind, or some trick of the light, Cloud thought. The dream must have made me paranoid.
"We might as well begin," Reeve said flatly. "The others are not coming. They are...busy. Introductions must be made. Mrs. Lockheart, Mr. Strife, Mr. and Mrs. Highwind would you care to meet my new staff?" Without waiting for an answer, Reeve went on. "Allow me two introduce you to Ms. Judy Ashwell, director of Urban Development here in Neo-Midgar." The young woman sitting to Reeve's left rose smoothly from her seat, smiling. She was dressed formally in a gray suit, and had shoulder length brown hair with green eyes. She shook hands with all three of them, before sitting back in her seat. "Mr. James Warrington, the Mayor of the city of Junon," Reeve continued, indicating a man sitting to the left of Ms. Ashwell. He was leaning back in his chair, looking perfectly contented and relaxed, and, although he wore a perfectly made suit, he had a casual air about him. He had short brown hair and inquisitive blue eyes. He said nothing, simply nodded calmly. in the direction of the party. "Dr. Anton von Schwartzberg, head scientist in Neo-Midgar. An aging, straggly haired man wearing large glasses two seats to Reeve's right, beamed enthusiastically. "Mr. Highwind, Dr. von Schwartzberg will be working with you on the construction of the Shin-ra forty-nine rocket. And finally, this is Mr. Alexander Preston, my personal secretary," Reeve said, indicating the ruddy-faced man to his right, who grinned uncertainly at Cloud.
"Now that introductions are made, we should get straight to business," Reeve said, still in that flat, emotionless voice. Though this is a reunion, it is also a time in which much business must be done. As I have already mentioned, Mr. Highwind and Dr. von Schwartzberg will be administering the construction of the second Shin-ra rocket. The rest of you all have their own tasks. Mr. Strife, you be will designing a system of training and stimulation for the SOLDIER program which does not involve extensive usage of Mako energy. Mrs. Ashwell, you will be working on a plan to extend our city while conserving maximum rural area and without using Midgar's double layer system. I will be overseeing these activities, which will begin tomorrow, with Mr. Preston. Are there any questions?"
Cloud was astonished. In two weeks, he was supposed to design an environmentally safe alternate method to Shin-ra's highly successful SOLDIER program? Reeve must be out of his mind, he thought. Yet he did not speak up, for Reeve was continuing.
"Good," he said. "then I'll reveal the specifics. There will be..."
The conference lasted for two more hours, during which time Reeve described the specific provisions for each project, and then, the participants were given the chance to talk to each other. He greeted each of the other members of Reeve's staff fully, and talked for hours with Cid, about each of their lives for the past seven years. At eleven o'clock each person was to go back to his or her respective room in the building, and, as Cloud searched for his, he found Tifa deep in conversation with Warrington. And he did not like the way Warrington was looking at Tifa, like a wolf at a lamb, lazily, but ready to strike in an instant. And when he looked at Cloud, he smiled condescendingly. Cloud could tell that he and Warrington were not going to be the best of friends
Cid stepped back into his room, preoccupied with his thoughts about the discussion, just minutes earlier, and about what Reeve had said. He was particularly astonished by the fact that none of the others had come. Not that he had expected them all to. Vincent and Yuffie had always seemed to be loners, in a way, and they had probably gone down their own paths by now. But he had definitely expected Nanaki to come, and had thought that Barret would overcome his hatred of Shin-ra long enough to attend the meeting. Although they had not come, that was not what worried Cid the most. Cid could do nothing about it. He would have liked to see Barret and Nanaki again, but they had made their decisions, and taken their own paths. He could only wish them luck wherever they traveled.
What did worry Cid the most had been the change that had come over Reeve. Six years ago he had been perfectly normal, and had been more than energetic about the renewal of Shin-ra Inc. But now he had an air of hardness about him and spoke in an emotionless voice. He had issued obviously impossible orders, given the deadlines provided, to himself, Cloud, and Ms. Ashwell. The man was clearly insane! But what Cid wanted to know was why. Reeve had successfully re-started Shin-ra, even when many others thought it was doomed to fail, and created a new city even larger than Midgar itself. He was rich, influential, and had practically everything a man could want from life. So what had changed Reeve? Whatever it was, it could not be allowed to remain. Reeve was the leader of the biggest company in the world, the world's only super-power. He could not keep up this uncaring, unreasonable behavior or the whole continent, all of which was controlled by Shin-ra, would be doomed.
And what worried Cid even more was the fact that he felt the same feeling of instability that he had felt before boarding the plane in Rocket Town. Something was about to happen, and, chances were, it would not be a good something. The feeling was stronger, and Cid knew it would be happening shortly, maybe even that night. And he did not know how he was going to stop it, but he intended to try.
Cid peered around the room until. It was a modern, luxurious suite that Reeve had provided him, and it took him some time to find the clock, which was located on the ceiling, of all places. It was time. Grabbing the spear, he set out towards the door, only to meet Shera on the way. Her room was adjacent to his, and she had apparently come in to inform him that it was time to go. Shera was in her early forties, and had a simple yet beautiful face. She wore a pure white gown as she entered his room, and was about to speak, when she saw Cid holding the spear.
"I can feel it coming, Shera. There is something about to happen, and it's coming tonight," he said, in response to her look. "It's not gonna be good. I've got to stop it somehow."
"Why, Cid?" Shera asked quietly "You saved the planet once before. Don't you think that's enough? If there's another crisis, they can handle it without you."
"It's happening tonight," Cid replied. "I'm the only one to stop it, and it has to be stopped." Then he saw how she felt. He had already had to leave quickly and without notice once before, and he was sure something similar was about to happen. Shera had had no way of knowing where he was. And now it was about to happen again. Cid hung his head and took her hand, which was cold as snow. "I'm sorry, Shera," he said, "but I have to do this. I'll come back safe. I promise."
And without another word, he stepped out of the door and headed for the downstairs lobby, leaving Shera to hurry after him.
Sephiroth had felt only a mixture of surprise and mirth, no pain, when Cloud's blade had slid into his chest. He had left sanity far behind by then.
It had started when he killed the girl, not out of any personal hate, but because she was a Cetra, the only one who could stand in the way of Mother's plans. But he had not expected what had happened next. As the Masamune softly pierced her flesh, she had fallen quietly, not with an expression of grief or anguish, but with a half-smile, and at that moment, Sephiroth had felt what he had never in his life felt before: Tranquility. Why did it have to be her? Why not one of the others? The girl's emerald eyes closed, and her hair waved in a gentle breeze. But he did not question Mother's motives. What was, had to be. If the girl was to die for Mother, so be it.
It was only later that he had understood why the girl had smiled. Her counterstroke, not Cloud's sword, had been what destroyed him. Ever since that day, her voice was in his head, and all her memories. Memories of the innocent childhood he had never had, driving him over the edge into madness. Her voice, challenging every decision he made, laughing. He could feel her at all times; they were one and the same, and he could not bear it. He had fled to the crater, in an attempt to find solitude, but could not escape, so he waited, waited for the meteor to take them all, the humans, himself, and Aeris.
By the time Cloud and the others had come, he was completely insane, and laughed as he died, free at last from the voice in his head. Or so he thought. But when he fell into the lifestream, he did not die, as most humans would. The mako in his blood would keep him alive, briefly, he realized. But then the impossible happened. The lifestream was flowing into the wound and healing it! Then he realized why. When his mind had merged with that of the ancient, so had his spirit, and the lifestream had curative effects on the Cetra. Sephiroth did not know how long he drifted through the lifestream, powerless against its currents until finally, he felt one of the two vastly powerful presences in the corner of his mind stir. He knew them, and had felt them ever since he had killed the girl. They were the last two Weapons, the most powerful ones, and one was awakening. They had not come when the meteor was called down upon the world, as if mocking his power. But they would come. And they would bend to his will.
CETRA, a voice boomed in his head. I AM THE GAIA WEAPON. At that moment, an image flashed in his head. A gargantuan scaled beast, with the head and antlers of a stag. I FELT YOUR PRESCENCE ONCE BEFORE, IN THE TEMPLE. THE THREAT TO THE PLANET IS GREAT, AND THE WEAPONS WERE CREATED TO SERVE THE CETRA. YOU ARE THE LAST OF THE CETRA. WHAT IS YOUR COMMAND?
Sephiroth smiled to himself. Already one served him. I AM SEPHIROTH, he replied. LAST OF THE CETRA. AND I WILL CALL FOR YOU WHEN YOU I NEED YOUR AID.
But he got no further, for at that moment, rough hands grabbed his cold body and dragged him out of the lifestream
"At last," a familiar voice whispered. "I have found him at last." Sephiroth's red eyes slowly opened to lay eyes on a familiar face. A hated face. Though distorted by mutation and the stress of many years, the face was undoubtedly that of-
Sephiroth slid out of the memory and into consciousness. A thick glass tank, filled with a paralyzing fluid separated his motionless body from the world around him, or namely, the laboratory. These humans had the nerve to use him, the last of the Cetra, for experimentation! They would soon learn. He would show them. Experimentally Sephiroth tested his connection with the remaining clones and the cells of Jenova, his mother. Still solid. He had sent them transmissions several hours ago, whether it was during the day or during the night, Sephiroth could not tell. There was no day or night to him, no movement or sense other than a dim, blurry vision. Only his mind. But with it Sephiroth would make his mark on the world for the second time, and he would not be stopped this time. Great events are about to take place, Sephiroth thought, and, though they don't know it, these scientists are playing right into my hands. All I have left to do is wait.