Through the Looking Glass Chapter 8
By Lucrecia Marionette
>"Whoa! Hey, Vinny wait up!" yelled Yuffie as she ran after the rapidly disappearing figure before her down the outside of the Shinra HQ.
"No time..." answered a voice from the darkness.
"Well... why don't you just bite me or something?"
The clicking of footsteps stopped completely and as she turned the corner she noticed Vincent watching her; red slits above the neck of his collar beneath a tangle of jet-black hair that was being swept around wildly by the strong wind.
"You know Yuffie," he began emotionlessly. "That has got to be one of the most stupid things I think I've ever heard you say."
She opened her mouth to object but with inhuman speed, he turned on his heel and bolted down the spiralling railway line. She put her hands on her hips and glared after where he'd faded away. The clicking of his boots continued to reach her ears until they were finally muffled in the small blizzard of snow that was steadily increasing as the night drew on. She shivered as one of the tiny crystals melted on her skin and with obvious reluctance began to follow him without the driving determination.
It wasn't long until her feet touched the soft white blanket that was now lying in place of the lush green Sector Seven grass. The HQ stood behind her, masked by the thickening sheets of white as they fell from heaven to earth with beautiful yet deadly consequences.
She moved out from the shadow of the building cast down by the silver moon that hung in the sky like a pearl over the slumbering city. The eerie light played upon the snow giving the impression of a field of silver until the initial beauty was pushed to one side by the biting coldness. She trembled from the icy wind and walked further into the plain of white squinting against the freezing element.
"Vincent!" she called, her voice instantly muffled by the thick snow. "Vincent?"
She paused and waited for an answer or some sign without avail. Muttering angry curses to herself she glanced around. The snow now blinded her in all directions and the only object visible was the faint outline of a dark tree in the distance. Swallowing hard, she strode towards it, the ferocious wind pushing her back two steps for her one. In the end, she gave up and flopped down onto the hidden grass, not caring that the ice was melting and soaking into her shorts and top. She stared up to the sky where it seemed like there was a tunnel of white all around allowing her only a glimpse of the black expanse ahead. It felt as though she was being buried beneath the gentle sheets of soft snow and she closed her eyes in sleep. Her joints ached from the severe cold but it didn't really matter. The snowflakes were mesmerising and insanely angelic, taking away her worries for a moments peace.
A dark shadow fell over her and against her feeble objections, she was gently lifted from her icy bed and hoisted into the sharp air. There was a jolt and then the wind seemed to increase in its force as it blew towards her and whistled past her ears with soothing songs of life.
Hesitantly, she opened her eyes and gasped in wonder as she looked down upon the world that was quickly becoming smaller and further away as she rose above it and it travelled at an incredible speed. Wonder made way for panic and she began to struggle without reason as the sight of the lack of solid earth beneath her feet became overpowering. However, strong arms kept her in place and when she turned to look at her captor, she saw an impassive gargoylic face staring with vehement concentration on what lay ahead. Red eyes glittered like rubies beneath a harsh brow and she smiled weakly to herself.
"You took your time." she said and the beast's eyes momentarily flicked to her face before giving a slight smile in reply and looking straight ahead once more. "I hope you know how to land." she continued half-conversationally. "I mean things could get pretty messy if you don't."
He remained expressionless and with a shrug, she turned her head to look towards their destination. A breath caught in her throat as the lines of houses and streets broke suddenly as they sailed over a vast wall that in turn gave away to a scene painted from hell. They were now passing over what was left of Sector Two in all of its hellish glory. Heaps of metal and rubble lay smouldering like lava across where there had once been happy chatter and normal people going about their everyday life. Skeletons of buildings stood precariously around awaiting a slight force to push them and cease their pointless stand. Fires dotted the barren, burnt out landscape and smoke rose up like black serpents reaching up to pollute heaven.
Vincent's flight slowed as he drifted lazily on the thermals rising from the scorched earth and he surveyed the site with expert instincts. Picking out a relatively flat piece of land, he swooped down as low as he dared to and brought his legs under him in order to hit the ground running. He held the young ninja tightly and padded feet touched upon the dead land and he ran to catch up with his momentum. Eventually, with wings wide open he came to a gradual halt and peered around. He bent and Yuffie slid from his grip and stepped lightly to the ground, a cold shiver running up her spine at the desecration of someone's final resting-place.
"I don't like it here." she whispered and Vincent gave her a glance.
He turned after a second's thought and began to walk into the shimmering air that was so hot it was within a permanent heat haze. Yuffie stared after him and marvelled temporarily how at home he appeared; like a demon returning to its home in the very depths of Hades. She gave a shuddering sigh and trotted after him, his slow long strides easily outmatching her smaller quick ones. She eventually caught up with him and held onto his wing like a child trying to gain comfort from a blanket. She stayed close to him simply feeling infinitely safer for having his presence nearby. After a long time of walking, they found themselves standing next to what had once been the Sector Two reactor.
"Do we have to go in?" Yuffie asked quietly with obvious fear and Vincent shook his head.
Whoever did this is not going to be inside. We should find everyone else. They'll know what to do. Perhaps they've gone to the next reactor. He stopped and looked in either direction; to his right stood Sector Three and to his left stood Sector One. Which one do we go to, though?
He stood back and thought for a few more minutes before making a decision. Although it was unfamiliar and in a sense instinctive, he felt something calling him, almost like it was asking him to go somewhere. Left or right? He sighed irritably, whatever wanted him was going to have to answer a few questions first. He attempted to call out to Yuffie but it came out as nothing more that a throaty growl and the girl spun around to face him with alarm on her face.
"What is it? Y, You're not gonna eat me are you??"
He rolled his eyes and knelt down on the ashy ground. She stared at him quizzically until realisation dawned on her and she skipped over to him. He lifted her effortlessly off the ground and with a powerful leap and flap of massive, bat-like wings was aloft. He hovered until certain of his bearings and then beat the wings again and flew through the stifling air towards his destination.
"Cloud, where are we going?" Tifa asked the warrior breathlessly as she ran after him but he didn't answer immediately.
Tifa was astonished at the sudden change. Only an hour before he had been a sickly young man lying in a bed drenched in sweat. Now though, he was the proud fighter that she had seen in him during the Meteor Crisis. His steps were strong and determined and he held the Ultima Weapon high like a warning beacon to any who dared stand in his way.
"I'm going to find Sephiroth." He answered flatly. "I've told you that you don't need to come if you don't want to."
She bowed her head and her steps halted for a brief second until she darted after and held onto his arm, forcing him to stop and face her. "Cloud, Sephiroth is dead. There must've just been a random explosion. It had to happen sometime."
He stared at her blankly, the bright blue mako eyes appearing so cold and ice-like, just like His. "He is here Tifa. I don't care if you think I'm mad, o, or crazy. I can't explain it... I just... know."
"But he's dead!" she protested and his eyes continued to bore into hers even after he broke free from her grasp and pulled away to start walking away once more. "Stop this madness! Please!" she cried tearfully but he didn't even afford her a glance.
It seems that the past is stronger than love she mused solemnly to herself as she watched him walk into the shadows. A single tear ran down her face and fell to the cobbled road of Sector Three breaking the endless silence that had stood since the initial blast from Sector Two. She smiled grimly to herself. If she started thinking any more like Vincent then she'd don a red cloak the next day. Cloud's footsteps were slowly fading, enveloped by the calling night that was begging her to join it within its murky depths.
All at once the monotony of black that stretched on before her was broken as snow began to fall in increasing amounts from the skyward darkness. The street was one way and left no routes to the imagination. She couldn't have lost Cloud yet and driven on by her own depressing thoughts and the chill, she sprinted after him with renewed determination.
She chased him along the wide main-street following his rapidly fading prints in the snow before they were swallowed by the thickening whiteness, taking her hope with them. Her eyes firmly on the ground beneath her feet she almost collided with the ex-SOLDIER as he stood before the abandoned reactor with '3' painted in fifty-metre tall numbers on all its sides.
The massive obelisk stood undisturbed from the day that Meteor had torn through the once prosperous city. The impressive dark-metallic blue monolith was deathly silent and the aura of old lives and the old ways still clung around its massive frame like a shroud. A chill crept up her spine as ghosts of the people murdered by the catastrophe screamed in her ears as the wind howled through broken windows and pipes.
"Are you coming with me?" asked a low voice.
She turned to look at Cloud, her body tensed with fear and trepidation. "I'd go to hell with you and back. You know I would." she answered truthfully with firm resolution and he smiled.
His expression turned hard however as he looked back at the huge structure.
"Are you sure about this Cloud?"
"You don't believe me?"
"No... It's not that. I, I just don't want to believe it... ."
A strong arm slid over her shoulders and pulled her close to him. He gently kissed the top of her head. "Y'know," he started in an almost inaudible whisper. "I've never told you how beautiful you are... ."
She blushed and bit her bottom lip.
"Can you believe what a jerk I am?" he continued rhetorically. "I almost died and I was prepared to go to the grave without ever seeing your face again and knowing how I feel in my heart."
Her eyes began to well once more as the threat of terrible death and sorrow at the foot of the building simply melted away.
"I, I hope that I'm not gonna jump straight in here and ruin everything we're achieved in our lives... but... I have to say something before we go in." Her fists clenched in preparation and her heart fluttered as it never had before in anticipation. "Tifa Lockheart," he began in a soft whisper. "I am hopelessly in love with you."
She dared a smile as the one man who had held the key to her heart for a lifetime made her complete. Her world shattered and reformed into a beautiful new picture that told of ageless love and the wonders of a universe undiscovered. All her life she had been waiting for those words to pass his lips and now the time had come; she only regretted that she had not heard them before then, before they walked into uncertainty.
"In Nibelheim even when we were kids I always knew that we would be together. I'd always admired you from afar like some goal that I just couldn't reach but now... now I'm starting to see how much I need you." he kissed the top of her head again and her hands held tightly to his arm. "I need you right now more than I do this sword or this strength. From now on Tifa... I want you to be my weapon and my guide. I'll put anything I have with you without exception and I want us to be together forever. I know it's taken me so long to tell you this but I really do love you."
"Oh Cloud." she whispered. "Thank you, thank you, thank you..."
He didn't have time to reply before she turned and threw her arms around his neck and pulled his head down to kiss her. She pressed his lips to her own and he gave into her as he moved his arms up her back and held her closer in the chilling yet beautiful snow.
It was over too quickly and they pulled away looking deeply into each other's eyes as if seeing them truly for the first time. Cloud's endless blue depths and Tifa's warm and caring burgundy blurred occasionally by a snowflake as it drifted across their vision. They were so perfect together. It was pure stupidity that had kept them apart for so long. They held each other for another few seconds before looking back to the nightmarish monument of the reactor that was the contrast to their previous moment of harmony.
"Where you go, I follow." Tifa announced and his hand found her own.
They stood in blissful silence until there was the soft sound of wind over the muffling snow. Cloud looked up first, his enhanced abilities allowing him to hear the odd sound marginally before Tifa who seconds later copied him. The sound, whatever it was, was getting closer by the second and was gradually discernible as a flapping. Before they could react, the whiteness above them was momentarily obliterated as a shadow passed overhead and they followed it through the sky. Their eyes came to rest on a massive creature as it landed silently in front of them on the snow-covered road. Crimson wings beat powerfully until it was steadied and it eventually knelt down and released its cargo. A young yet recognisable figure jumped from the black demon's grip and skipped over to them.
"Hello." she grinned. "I don't suppose you guys have any idea what's happening?"
Cloud's eyes flicked from Yuffie to Vincent who was staring transfixed at the reactor, his back facing the group of three. He looked back at her. "I'm not too sure but I have a terrible feeling that..." his voice trailed off and Vincent turned back to look at him.
You feel it as well? A strong sense of power... something familiar. Something... dangerous but not quite complete... . The demon sighed and walked silently towards them, his red eyes still glancing occasionally at the monument behind him.
"What do you mean?" asked Yuffie, irritated at the long pause. Her voice lowered and she moved closer to the AVALANCHE leader. "To be honest, Vincent's been acting kinda weird. Has it got anything to do with that?"
Cloud shrugged. "I don't know but perhaps it is." he scratched the back of his head. "I, I'm pretty sure that... Sephiroth's in there."
Yuffie's eyes widened alarmingly. "Y, You're kidding me! I thought he was dead!"
"He is." interrupted Tifa softly. "But Cloud has a feeling."
"It's not just a feeling. I, I can hear Him... calling me." he ended wistfully. "Hojo said that they were gonna recreate Him. Who's to say that they didn't succeed? Rufus and Janus were never found in the wreckage of the explosion. Maybe, just maybe this is their doing."
"Congratulations, Spike." said a voice from the shadows.
Cloud held up the Ultima Weapon and Yuffie whipped out her shuriken, eyes darting warily around the darkness, looking for a glimpse of the silent intruder. Tifa widened her stance while Vincent stood calmly, staring into the liquid darkness with penetrating eyes as they focused on the stranger.
Eventually a red-haired, blue suited man stepped out of the corner with his nightstick shouldered comfortably. He looked around the small group, his gaze lingering worriedly on Vincent. Satisfied, he looked back to the shadows. "Alright guys, it's safe." he announced to AVALANCHE's puzzlement until two more people stepped out from behind him.
"You took your time." Cloud commented dryly. "I take it you've come to the same conclusion?"
Reno nodded. "It makes sense. I'm not too sure about the whole 'back-from-the-dead' thing, but this all reeks of Rufus."
"You think that they've succeeded in bringing Sephiroth back?" Elena asked Cloud and the warrior nodded.
"Rufus plans these things, but he'd never press the button himself. I know only one person who'd do something so terrible."
Reno fell into solemn silence and looked down at the floor.
"I'm sorry Reno." apologised Cloud. "I didn't mean-"
Reno waved a dismissive hand. "It's alright." he excused quietly. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of." he paused and looked up, his sea-green eyes burning intensely. "I'd never do it again. Never."
Cloud nodded. "Yeah, sorry bout that." an uncomfortable silence elapsed. "I meant Sephiroth." Cloud finished as he raised his head. "There is one who would do something as terrible as this after everything that has happened and that's Sephiroth. I, I just have this feeling that I used to get whenever he was around like... like someone's gripping onto my heart and they're refusing to let go." to illustrate his point, he balled his fist and put it over his chest. "And it's not just that. I hear Him whispering to me and telling me to come to him."
There was an electric whining as Reno charged up his nightstick and it flickered with a bright blue. "Well, we don't want to disappoint him now do we?"
Everyone smiled but it fell from their faces as the faint sound of voices emanating from the reactor drew their attentions back to the terrible task at hand.
"Where's Cid?" Yuffie asked quietly.
"He's asleep." explained Tifa with a weak smile. "It'll take more than an explosion to wake him up."
Yuffie smiled and with a nod from the leader, the group slowly began to sift in through the giant doorway to the reactor, Cloud at the lead with Vincent bringing up the rear. They walked silently in single file through the doors and along the mazes of pipes and confusing tunnels, the sounds of voices chattering and whispering in the shadows following them with every turn. Wary eyes darted from left to right in hope of catching a glimpse of their tormentors but no salvation came and they eventually stood at the start of a vast bridge that spanned from the control room to the core of the once thriving machinery. Sharp eyes stared at the end of the narrow span as they came to a unanimous halt. Grips on weapons increased and sweat began to bead on their brows as they sought for a target.
With pain-staking slowness, the shadows at the end of the catwalk began to move as if they had a life of their own. The darkness gave birth to two distinct figures, both dressed in white; one in a wheel chair, the other standing. The one in a wheel chair gave a cheery wave and with violent muttering, Cloud strode forward onto the bridge with strong steps. The others followed with reluctance until he stopped at the halfway mark, murder gleaming in his blue eyes.
"How nice of you to finally show up." Rufus said pleasantly, dangerous undertones to his voice. "You and your little freak-show."
"Shut up you stupid moron!" Cloud yelled. "This has gone too far."
"No Cloud, it has not gone far enough. Reactor Two was only the start. By the way, did you like my little bomb? It was so much more advanced than your pathetic AVALANCHE attempt when you blew up Reactor One. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it was more damaging the Reno's little plate trick."
Reno glowered at his former employer but held his tongue.
"Anyway," Rufus continued idly with gloved hands drumming along the barrel of his shotgun. "I was hoping that you'd come later. After all, I've only had the chance to destroy one sector and I really was hoping to get half the city done by dawn." he sighed forlornly. "Ah well, nothing ever seems to go to plan."
"A shame." spoke the man that stood behind the head of Shinra, clearly recognisable as Janus. "After I spent all that time creating those bombs and now we shall never use them."
"Oh, my heart bleeds for you." Yuffie spat.
"How could you do this?? All of those people for god's sake. You destroyed an entire sector!" Tifa cried in disbelief. "In AVALANCHE I did a lot of things that I wasn't proud of but we never harmed that many! Never!"
"The night's only just begun." grinned Rufus. "I want to have my fun and so I will. I'm guessing that Reeve hasn't sent you here on a surrender mission, hmm?"
"You've gotta be outta your fucking mind if you think we're going to give up to a shit-head like you!" yelled Reno furiously.
Rufus became contemplative. "Good, good." he said over arched fingers. "You know, I'm glad that you said that because there's a new toy that I've just been dying to use."
Before AVALANCHE and the Turks could react, a black shapeless mass dropped from the ceiling and fell landing with silent feet onto the bridge. All breathing ceased for an eternity as the mass began to become more discernible as a human form hunched into a crouching position. It slowly rose up from the floor clothed utterly in black from boots to gloves and a river of silver hair ran down his back. Thin lips turned upwards in a cruel smile and bright aqua eyes stared out over the evil gesture to glare confidently at the group.
Cloud's breath stuck in his throat and the grip on the hilt of his sword became weaker and weaker until it clattered uselessly to the metal floor. He gasped for air but his body was completely paralysed through fear, loathing and total horror. Behind the tall man there was movement as Janus limped up to stand beside him. Janus was tall but the silver-haired man towered over him further, a dominating figure that even struck fear into the scientist's heart. Masking his foreboding, Janus stood beside him and smirked at the group assembled before him.
"I would like you to meet Hojo's latest and greatest creation." he said with obvious triumph. "I believe that he may be familiar to you all?"
"Holy shit," breathed Elena. "S, Sephiroth??"
"Oh God." gasped Yuffie, her voice rising to a higher pitch. "What the hell have you done??"
"We have made a god who is prepared to serve us even to his death." Janus replied smugly. "If we asked him to plunge his own sword into his heart he would do so. He is totally under our power and as such will do as we say."
"You can't do this." Cloud said eventually after finding the means to talk. "You can't control someone like him. He'd turn around and kill you if he wanted to! You hold no grip over him and it'll be your deaths when you discover that!"
He knelt down and lifted the Ultima Weapon feeling safer for having the powerful sword within his grasp.
Sephiroth blinked slowly as he observed the group. He was aware that words were being exchanged but he wasn't grasping them or even making an effort to comprehend them. He found his eyes being drawn inexplicably towards a huge dark form standing at the back of the line. He didn't recognise the people that stood before him, he was only aware of the fact that the man in the wheel chair and the scientist with the limp had informed him they were here to kill him. He wasn't in any mood for dying after only experiencing remembered life for a few days and so would stop them in their plans. They certainly had enough weapons and hatred in their malicious glares to destroy him and he found himself easily believing the stories he'd been fed. However, still his eyes were pulled towards the creature at the back of the group. Red, eerily human eyes stared back at him intensely with unnerving strength. It felt as if they were staring straight through him and into his very soul. He knew nothing about himself but this, this demon appeared to know more about him than he ever could hope to. He swallowed and hoped to avoid the gaze without luck. Everywhere he turned the eyes were printed before him until with an angry growl, he glared back at the beast.
Taken aback for a brief second he was startled to find himself hearing words. These weren't the harsh words being exchanged by the arguing parties; these were different. They seemed softer, more lulling and full of emotions he'd never felt before. Or had he? He couldn't remember. He was starting to get another headache. Ever since coming into consciousness he'd been experiencing terrible migraines started by the slightest things that didn't seem to mean anything at all. First was when he was handed the long sword that was now strapped to his belt. The second had been meeting the two men that claimed to be his friends and the third was now. There was something disturbingly familiar about the people before him, but that could just be from the fact that they had been chasing him across the world for the past few years... or so the two men had said.
They told him that they had found him barely alive on the outskirts of the demonic city and only just saved him. It was only natural that he should feel amnesia after such a terrible beating. He was exactly what they needed to pursue their dreams of eliminating the city and freeing the world from the evil grasp of the people that had come to kill him now. It made sense, why else would they be here with such murderous intent? But something was nagging at him and telling him to shut his ears against the lies. He knew he should, but the only problem was; which were the lies and which were the truths?
There was the voice again. It wasn't a voice, so much as knowledge of what was being felt. The knowledge turned to words and the words turned to phrases.
"Can you hear me...?"
Hear? Who? What the hell was going on?
"Sephiroth. Your name is Sephiroth. Son of Lucrecia, can you hear me?"
Lucrecia? Who the hell was Lucrecia? Sephiroth, so that was his name? The men had never told him what it was and he never thought to ask. Things like that didn't occur to him in the face of pure confusion.
"You are the son of Lucrecia."
That voice again. It was beginning to annoy him now, talking about things he knew nothing about. 'Son of Lucrecia'? Well, it seemed that whoever Lucrecia was, she was his mother. Mother... . That was an eerily familiar word. Lucrecia... . Images were conjured up of a beautiful face watching him from the wall of life. 'Wall of life'? What was that? A face... It was crying, a female face, her voice calling to him across the barriers he'd set up around himself. Barriers? Why would he set up barriers and what had he done? Who was trying to harm him... or was he preventing himself from harming others?
"Sephiroth, listen to me. I'm sure that you can hear me but you must be willing to learn. You are being manipulated. Turn away from the men that claim to be your friends. Break free from them."
Sephiroth laughed inwardly. "And join you all? You are trying to kill me."
"I do not know what lies have been told to you but we will not hurt you if you trust us. The two men are Rufus Shinra and Dr. Janus. Both of them have harmed you and abused you so many times in the past as they have me. They have resurrected you and are using your vulnerability to their advantage. I'm not asking you to go anywhere against your will but you are going down the same path you did before if you allow yourself to be taken in by fake promises and lies."
Sephiroth frowned. "The same path as before?"
The voice when it answered appeared at the back of his mind. He wasn't sure how or even why but he found his gaze directed towards the black demon. For some reason, the voice seemed to naturally pair with the gargoylic creature despite its nightmarish guise and the voice's humanity.
"What do you mean? Why are you hounding me?"
For a moment he saw pain flicker across the ruby irises of the monster's eyes. "There is much to tell and I haven't the time to explain it to you now. Please, I don't want to force you into anything but you have to trust me. The lives of the millions in this city depend on it!"
Something clicked inside Sephiroth. The demon, the black hellish apparition actually mentioned the people of the city; he talked of their lives as opposed to his own. Not even the supposed 'kindly' strangers in the forms of the two men that had 'rescued' him had shown any concern towards the massive loss of life the detonation of the bombs would entail.
Right or wrong, truth or lie, the creature was more bothered by everyone else that itself, it even seemed to care about his life over it's own. He remembered nothing, but there were millions of questions that he knew could be answered if he only acted on instinct and threw caution to the wind for the sake of what he felt was right rather than what he was told was right.
The arguing voices were reaching a crescendo now and their sounds were beginning to take on more meaning. They were talking about him, that much was clear but the one with blonde spiked hair was talking of terrible, heinous crimes that he was meant to have done. The burning of an innocent village, the conscious murder of a young woman and the willing destruction of the planet. How could he have done all of those things when he couldn't even remember his own name? Something within him stirred and he found his right hand gripping with expert practice the hilt of his long sword. Although not much was clear in a collection of muddled memories and blurred images as he felt the smooth handle beneath his black leather glove the word 'Masamune' suddenly sparked into his mind. That was the sword's name, the Masamune. How did he know that? According to the two men, this was the first time he'd use the sword. But somewhere deep down he recalled the single word and he found a part of himself... .
With the smooth sound of metal against metal, he unsheathed the sword and held it out before him. The vast room fell silent as all eyes rested on him.
"Are you ready to end the lives of those who have chased you for so long?" asked Janus seriously giving the tall warrior a pat on the shoulder but he stumbled back in alarm as a pair of aqua eyes, glowing bright with fury stared at him.
"Lies!" he hissed.
"Wh, What?" stuttered Janus as he took a few cautious steps back. "What are you talking about?"
"What is my name?" Sephiroth asked in a low tone.
"Y, Your name? Er, it's S, Sephiroth." Janus answered.
So, the demon hadn't lied about that.
"Why am I here?"
"Why are you here? To get rid of this awful city and release the world from the grip of your enemies. If you blow up these reactors then you'll kill them and any sign of the one's that have hurt you for so long." Rufus answered calmly.
"You are Rufus Shinra." Sephiroth asked. It was more of a statement than a question and the man he addressed nodded. Sephiroth looked around while AVALANCHE and the Turks exchanged puzzled expressions. The demon at the back watched the scene with cool satisfaction.
"This reactor... it has 'Shinra' written all over it." his icy gaze flicked from the core to the man in the wheel chair. "This belongs to you."
Rufus swallowed nervously but strived to remain outwardly calm. "I don't have time to explain this to you. Kill them, now."
Sephiroth lowered his sword. "No."
"No??" repeated Rufus in shock. "How dare you go against my order!"
"I do not take orders from a liar. I don't take orders from anyone." Sephiroth responded coldly. "You have not told me everything. As a matter of fact, I don't think that anything you have told me has any truth within it."
Janus glanced between his boss and creation warily, uncertainty governing his actions.
"Sephiroth, kill them." Rufus ordered in a quiet voice. "This is no longer about what's right and what's wrong. If you want to survive, you need to dispatch of them. Kill or be killed."
Heavy silence fell upon the chamber and when it was finally broken; the observers found their hearts stopping and their minds reeling through pure confusion and wonder.
"Then I choose death." Sephiroth replied firmly and shocked gasps rang around the core as eyes widened and the outside world became irrelevant.
The world slowed as life took on an unnaturally listless pace. There was a loud click as Janus reached into his lab coat and withdrew his hand holding a small revolver. Tifa cried out in horror and Sephiroth spun, the Masamune still in his grasp. The long blade flailed out and sliced through Janus's neck without a single jolt. The scientist fell back and slipped over the bridge railings into the Mako that shimmered far below with a loud splash. They stared over the side of the catwalk with horrified expressions and his dark silhouette was printed into the their vision before it was swallowed up by the glowing liquid. Another gunshot burst their dream-like observations and they lifted their heads in time to see Sephiroth plunge his sword into Rufus's chest. The head of Shinra gasped and all blood drained from his face as it leaked from his thin sword wound and began to spread across his white jacket. Sephiroth stumbled back, one hand clutching his chest and the other grasping his weapon and withdrawing it from its fleshy sheath.
Rufus fell forward in his chair with a blood-curdling cry and tumbled to the floor, his smoking shotgun clattering next to him. Sephiroth cried out and bent double as the sword slipped from his grasp and blood started dripping to the metal floor. Before the others could react, he fell backwards over the bridge railings to join Janus in his grave of lifestream.
The world exploded into real time once more and they leapt to the edges to peer down and watch the dramatic event.
Sephiroth fell through the air without a thought in his head. The only thing that existed was remorse; disturbing, pounding remorse that he couldn't do more.
His trench coat and silver hair streamed out behind him like a banner as he gracefully plummeted through the chemical scented air and into the lake of pure energy that flowed beneath the feet of every person on the planet. He hit the surface of the liquid with a neck breaking jolt and slowly sank down into it, closing his eyes and sighing mournfully as it enveloped him and took him away from his brief yet disturbing view of reality.
Tifa cried out again as he disappeared from view and Yuffie began to sob quietly. The others stood in numb silence. It was over, it truly was over. All of their enemies had been destroyed in one fell swoop... but had they? Their enemies. The men who they had always considered as being their most hated and feared adversaries had appeared and died before them. Still, somewhere deep down they felt a pang of sorrow. Something had happened, something that they'd never thought possible. Rufus and Janus, both dead by sword wounds.
Sephiroth; the cause.
They had seen him for what he was beneath his dark and menacing exterior; lost and clueless. He had no idea what had happened or who he was. Is this how it had been all through those years that he had systematically destroyed their lives or was this a ruse? To what purpose though?
Cloud clenched his jaw. The Sephiroth he had met when he attempted to join SOLDIER. The Sephiroth that he had met years later on his mission to Nibelheim. That had been the Sephiroth he believed dead. The Sephiroth that existed before Jenova polluted his mind with promises of godly power and false heritage.
That Sephiroth had died but against all the odds had returned. The monster masquerading as his friend was the one that had been killed in the Northern Crater five years before. Sephiroth the SOLDIER still existed. It couldn't end now, not like this. If there was a chance, if there was any hope that he could be brought back...
"Vincent!" Tifa cried, looking at the black demon. "Please! Can you get him? Maybe he's survived!"
Vincent looked to Cloud for confirmation and although still very much confused, he nodded.
"Wait a moment. Are you talking about rescuing the bastard that almost killed us all??" Reno questioned with utter disbelief.
"No." Cloud answered quietly. "I'm talking about rescuing a friend."
Vincent dived off the railings and fell to the bubbling liquid like a black dart as he streaked through the air. He collided into the Mako with an incredible splash and was immediately swallowed by the lifestream.
Sephiroth felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into the suffocating liquid.
Ironic, he thought to himself how the very essence of life itself shall prove to be my grave... .
As the shining Mako rushed around him and soothed his aching muscles and weary body with gentle ripples, the planet sang songs of life into his ears with a soft lullaby. He relaxed and didn't try to fight against it. Peace, perfect peace: after such a brief turbulent time he was being allowed to return to where he belonged.
Where I belong? How do I belong here?
His silent query went unanswered. The planet continued to sing to him and his body once more surrendered to the tranquillity. But, there was something above the soft trilling of the lifestream, something much more urgent and demanding. He aroused his consciousness and attempted to concentrate on the faint cries. They were far away but rapidly getting closer. Were they getting closer to him, or was he getting closer to them? Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered now that he was returning.
Returning, again returning. Have I been here before? Am I dead yet or have I been here in the past? He snorted derisively. Dreams and fantasies. Let me sleep. I don't want to face this world any longer. I want to mourn, I want to be alone to continue my atonement. I shouldn't be privileged with another chance.
He paused. What was he thinking? There were parts of him beginning to speak that he wasn't even aware existed. What was he atoning for that was so bad he was prepared to be alone for the rest of time?
Out of the humming liquid around him came an answer and Sephiroth wept.
I did that? I truly am not worthy of another chance... . I deserve to suffer for everything I have done whether I was conscious of my actions or not. I never should've let myself go... it was my fault....
A sudden and pleasant feeling of warmth and joy ran around him but the burden upon his soul was too great for the planet to reach and it fell back; unable to ease his pain.
I do not want forgiving. Sephiroth argued tearfully. Leave me. What harm can it do you to let me be? Please, let me make up for my sins....
And then the answer came. In a flash of brilliance it entered his mind as quickly as it left and he was left wondering whether or not he was going insane. A second chance? He was being given a second chance? But why? Why out of the countless souls on the planet he was once more chosen after the crimes he had committed? He didn't even deserve recognition of his existence.
And then the second answer came. No explanation, no background or information for him to grasp and understand; yet it somehow made perfect sense.
That's why, when the firm, strong hands grabbed his arms and held him tightly, he didn't object. That's why when he felt himself being heaved upwards with incredible speed through the warm liquid to face the harsh world again, he didn't struggle. That's why when he knew for certainty that his life was about to begin again he didn't even want to stay.
Destiny. That single word that spoke a million meanings. One of which would become clearer to him soon.
A peaceful smile touched his lips and remained there as he was torn from the planet and into the bitter night air.
Vincent burst from the liquid holding Sephiroth before him. His wings flailed and flapped wildly in order to gain some hold over the thick substance but it continued in its attempts to drag him back down to it's softy lulling depths and warmth. With a powerful roar that shook the very bridge his spectators stood on, he beat them with all his strength and broke free from his restraints, rising faster and faster into the air with the noise and determination of a demon rising from the pits of hell. With another roar, he hovered on level with the catwalk, eyeing its occupiers with a worrying glint in his eyes.
Eventually satisfied of some unapparent fact, he slowly rose and landed upon the metal span, laying Sephiroth down carefully onto the floor, the warrior's silver hair plastered to his face by the illuminous liquid that clung to his clothes and skin like a disease. Vincent stood back and with a glance around his surroundings, took to the air once more, coming to rest on a large pipe that ran over the bridge. He crouched on it like a bird of prey preparing to dive onto an unsuspecting victim and watched the events with glittering red eyes.
Yuffie cast him a worried glance before turning back to the scene unfolding before her. Tifa and Cloud immediately brushed past the open-mouthed spectators and knelt beside the unconscious form of the ex-SOLDIER.
"What's the deal with this?" asked Elena with knitted brows. "I thought you guys were all worst enemies?"
"That was with the other Sephiroth." Cloud answered quietly. "The Sephiroth that destroyed Nibelheim and almost wiped out the planet. This is the Sephiroth I remember from ten years ago, the one who was a good friend and tutor. Something happened to him and it wasn't his fault. We shouldn't punish him for that."
The Turks exchanged blank looks until Reno coughed and slotted his nightstick back into its holder. "There's no point in us sticking around. We'll go and see if we can find the bomb that mad bastard Rufus planted with Janus. If there are any of their flunkies running around then we'll keep them outta your path."
Cloud mumbled a thanks and with a motion of his head, Reno led his two companions off the bridge and into the control room.
"We should get him out of here." Tifa murmured. "If we don't get these clothes off him then he might develop Mako poisoning."
Cloud nodded grimly and looked up at Vincent who seemed more interested in examining his surroundings as he patrolled the length of his platform. "Vincent, could you lift Sephiroth for us?"
The demon peered down at them and after a brief thought, leapt and glided gracefully onto the catwalk, perching on the railings and watching them.
Cloud scratched the back of his head. "You've really got the whole flying thing sorted, huh?"
Vincent looked at him expressionlessly before turning his attention down to the sodden figure lying on the cold metal. He hopped off the thin railings and onto the platform before scooping Sephiroth up and starting to walk away from the site of the night's terrible events with Yuffie, Tifa and Cloud in tow. They cast backward glances at the site of the crumpled form of Rufus who lay on the floor in a heap like a spineless rag-doll in a pool of his own blood. Tifa reached down and lifted Sephiroth's sword. The brilliant silver sheen of the metal dimmed with her instant touch and seemed to become heavier with every second. Not even bothering to wield the massive weapon, she followed closely to Cloud's heels in the middle of the line.
Yuffie swallowed nervously and kept close to the people before her, still clutching the Conformer tightly in fear of ambush. The Turks kept to their word however and the only signs they saw of any opposition were the dead bodies of Shinra soldiers clothed in the uniform Cloud had seen them wearing in the HQ. Bloodstains spread across the floor from pistol wounds and the singed open injuries from Reno's nightstick. Although they grimaced they continued on their gruesome path until the exit. It was more than obvious by the copious amounts of corpses that Rufus had planned them a reception had they intended on leaving early. Cloud was simply thankful that the Turk's training provided them with the means to dispatch their enemies quickly and effortlessly.
As they stepped out through the reactor main door into the frozen street, the chilling air immediately attacked their lungs. They coughed until the initial shock was over and began to look around their new surroundings. It seemed like the most beautiful night they had ever seen. The sky was clear except for the smattering of stars that decorated the black-velvet canvas of night. The full moon still hung in the sky like an unearthly jewel suspended about them in the eternal ballet of heavenly bodies that circled their planet. They were momentarily overwhelmed by the clarity that they could see into the rest of the universe but awe made way for worry as Sephiroth began to lapse into a violent coughing fit.
Vincent set the man down onto the crisp snow that was beginning to grow an ice covering that glittered like diamonds in the moonlight. Sephiroth quietened as he felt himself on a flat surface and dared to open his eyes as the cold roused him from his fleeting coma. Aqua slits appeared above pale, sunken cheeks and he peered back at them.
Cloud knelt beside him and narrowed his own eyes thoughtfully.
"You okay?" he asked eventually and Sephiroth nodded unconvincingly as the movement forced him into another fit.
For a minute he gave wracking coughs that seemed to tear him to pieces until he sat up and rolled to one side weakly, spitting out the blood that had gathered in his mouth. Wiping his lips and only succeeding in smearing the red stain across his gaunt face, he lay back down again.
"I'll be all right." he responded quietly. "But I have to ask one thing... why? Why did you save me?"
Tifa and Cloud looked at each other as if searching for an answer in words to vociferate their early feelings. "I, I'm not sure." Cloud replied truthfully. "You saved us. We couldn't leave you after that."
"But after everything I've done. I almost destroyed you both." the silver-haired man spoke sorrowfully, closing his eyes and reopening them once he was looking away from them in an attempt to guiltily avoid recognition.
"That wasn't you." Cloud contended softly. "The man in there, that risked his life to rescue us and the city was the Sephiroth that I knew ten years ago, before the Nibelheim incident ever happened. I don't what the hell happened to you then man, and to be honest, I was about to cut you down where you stood for everything you'd done but when you turned around and refused to kill us... I knew something was different. I couldn't walk away. Even if this is a trick, some lure to make us trust you so that you can kill us I'm willing to take the risk."
Sephiroth turned back to look at the adamant swordsman and felt a mixture of emotions at the brief but powerful speech. Elation at his forgiveness but sadness for the man's blinding trust. He wasn't even sure of himself and was unable to let himself sleep peacefully for his crimes so how was this person, the very man who had been his instrument of destruction able to put it aside?
"Th, thank you." he stuttered hoarsely, the words unfamiliar to his lips. "I am unable to forgive myself so how-"
"I didn't say I forgave you." Cloud argued firmly but there was no anger in his voice. "You destroyed my hometown, you killed my mother and Tifa's father, you killed Aeris in cold blood and you were prepared to murder the planet."
Sephiroth fell silent. Guilty as charged... .
Cloud's voice softened. "But you redeemed yourself in my eyes by showing that you were willing to sacrifice yourself. You had no idea what was happening or who you were so you acted in instinct and that instinct told you to help us. I can thank you for that and place my trust in you but the fires in Nibelheim will always burn brightly in my heart and mind."
"Thank you." Sephiroth said again, his voice choked and Cloud's brow furrowed.
"Thank you?" he repeated. "For what?"
"I do not deserve pardon for what happened in the past. I would strike you down now if you dared lay it to rest. It is the last thing I want."
Cloud nodded solemnly but frowned as Sephiroth began to choke again. Like before, he spat blood and as he moved, Cloud caught sight of the large shotgun wound in the man's chest.
"We need to get that looked at." he reported as he stood up. "C'mon, it's time we went back to the bar."
Vincent lifted Sephiroth again and for a second their eyes met as unspoken emotions were passed until Sephiroth looked down at Cloud. "Where are we going?"
"Back to my bar." Tifa intervened. "You can stay there and rest until you've fully recuperated."
"I am grateful... Tifa." Sephiroth acknowledged gratefully and the beautiful woman blushed lightly and nodded.
"For now, it's the very least I could do."
"It's too cold to stay out here for much longer;" said Cloud softly to break the brief peace. "Let's get home."
Just as dawn was breaking over the horizon adding colour to the pallid night, Tifa gently pushed open the bar's back door. Her boots crunched softly on the snow and the microscopic ice-crystals refracted the sun's light into a myriad of small rainbows to add even more beauty to the awe inspiring elegance that had touched them in the night's snowstorm. It seemed strange how such a terrible event had happened the previous evening yet such peacefulness now existed in the tranquil city. She imagined that it would be considerably different around Sector Two and a glance at Vincent reminded her of how lucky that they'd been to avoid detection.
She held open the door while Cloud stepped through and Vincent stooped as low as he possibly could, walking on his knees and still bending double in order to fit through the small doorway. With a snarl of pain as his wings caught on the wooden frame, he squeezed through and wearily passed Sephiroth's barely conscious form to the waiting Cloud. Cloud carefully carried Sephiroth upstairs whilst Tifa locked the door quietly behind Yuffie after she stepped through and stamped the snow from her sneakers. Vincent shuffled exhaustedly into his corner and promptly fell asleep despite the lack of comfort, his wings shivering with every deep breath until they locked together over his head and hid him away from everyone else.
Tifa motioned for Yuffie to follow her and the two women crept upstairs after Cloud and Sephiroth. As they reached the landing, Cloud walked out of Yuffie's room and pulled the door to behind him. The three moved into Cloud and Tifa's room where they sat down on the bed and mulled over their thoughts morosely.
"I still can't believe it." Tifa murmured eventually. "We, AVALANCHE have just given our supposed nemesis a bed to sleep and recuperate in."
"Many won't be able to believe that he saved us and probably everyone in the city." Cloud responded with a sigh. "It's a screwed up world sometimes.... ."
"Sometimes?" repeated Yuffie with a degree of disbelief. "This whole thing has been nothing but fucked up from the beginning!"
"Yuffie!" gasped Tifa, unused to hearing the girl use such extreme language.
"I'm not joking." Yuffie retorted seriously. "Vincent finally gets around to telling us he's a vampire and then gets turned into a monster after Hojo comes back from the dead and tries to kill Cloud. Then Rufus rears his ugly head along with some guy I've never even heard of and they try to blow up the city! Tell me if there's anything remotely normal about that??"
Tifa and Cloud fell silent while she stared at them accusingly. "It's just not right. Why the hell do we have to go through all of this? What have we done that's so bad to deserve all this crap? Especially Vincent, god I feel so sorry for him. He can't say anything; he can hardly do anything and whatever shred of humanity he says he has left is slowly being eaten away. You saw how he behaved in the reactor. After he came away from the Mako, he flew up to the rafters and starting prowling around like some kind of animal. He's never been able to fly before; I mean you saw how hard it was for him to even walk when you first woke him up." she paused and licked her dry lips. "Something's going on with him. I don't know what but... it feels like we're losing him. I, I'm not at all sure but... he's fading away."
Tifa swallowed and a heavy feeling of guilt was thrown onto her shoulders with the force of a ten-ton weight. She had been so obsessed with her own petty fears and life she had never even bothered to sit back and look at how Vincent, the worst casualty of what had happened, was reacting to everything. So far he was being used as something to do the jobs that none of them could do. If she had ever asked him how he was, she had never bothered to wait for an answer. It was as though all her reassuring had been done purely for the purpose of easing her own feelings.
She sighed sorrowfully. "We should help him." she announced quietly. "There must be something we can do to help his research if he's even going to try that any more. He won't want to stay in the corner of my kitchen for the rest of his life, that's for sure and the least we can do is aid his studies somehow."
Cloud nodded. "I can't believe I never even noticed." he mumbled. "I guess it's been so obvious, but what can we do? Should we just watch him and hope it doesn't get any worse or do we mention it?"
Yuffie shrugged. "I doubt he's even aware of it. Maybe it's nothing, maybe I'm just being paranoid but he just seems so much more at ease with what's happened that it's almost frightening. After such a short time it's like that's the way he's always been. He's even stopped pacing now..." she ended, her voice trailing off with a slight smile. "He always used to do that, even when he first changed but now he just stands and stares at nothing. I think he just gets involved in his thoughts too much."
"I guess that it's all he can do." sighed Tifa sadly. "I go into the kitchen sometimes and it's like he's in a trance. He'll just stare without blinking at nothing at all and when he's not like that, he's asleep."
"I wonder what he thinks about." Cloud said wistfully. "I mean does he get bored of just siting there all of the time?"
"Of course he does." frowned Tifa. "You saw how desperate he was to get out of here and begin finding Janus." she suddenly fell silent. "Oh god, how's he taking Janus's death? I mean with both him and Hojo gone, it doesn't look like there's anyone else he can talk to about what they did to him."
An oppressive silence fell upon them as they all began to dissect the information they had gathered over the past week's events.
"I guess I should speak with him." Cloud volunteered quietly. "The problem is that he's always in such a hurry to leave the house when he changes that there's never much time."
"We'll just have to make time then." shrugged Yuffie. "He shouldn't have to feel like he's alone in this. I tried to talk to him... but its just too awkward sometimes. I don't think there's much point in me trying to get any information out of him."
Cloud gave a slight smile. "I'll speak with him tomorrow after he comes back."
They nodded and weariness began to creep up and weave its spell upon the group of three. Yuffie yawned loudly and looked at the couple through bleary eyes. "I'm kinda tired now." she announced tiredly. "Where am I gonna sleep?"
Tifa stood and helped the girl to her feet. "I'll sort out one of the spare rooms. I'm sure I can find something to make a quick bed but I'm afraid that it'll be boxes and blankets for now."
Yuffie pulled a face but didn't complain as she followed Tifa out of the room. Cloud sighed and sank back onto warm bed with his hands folded behind his head. He exhaled deeply and lids closed slowly over fatigued eyes as all noise ceased in the house and darkness stole upon the domain.
As he lay there oblivious to the world, he was vaguely aware of something in the room with him. His fighter instincts alerted him to the unfamiliar presence but there was such a feeling of utter and complete peace that he found himself unable to do anything except track it's brief journey around the bed. He felt a slight breeze on his face as all aches and pains that had riddled him for the past week melted along with all anxieties as he slipped into blissful sleep.
She moved silently from the room with steps that didn't disturb even the lightest piece of dust as her long white dress trailed from behind her. There was a strange feeling around the house; auras of peace yet unbearable sadness. She almost wept.
There was a quiet click at the end of the landing and her light dimmed as she faded into the shadows and watched a young woman with long brown hair yet weary strides move quietly past her. When the bedroom door closed, she stepped out from the shadows and moved down the narrow hall until she stood outside another room, from which there were laboured breaths emanating. She reached out to touch the door handle but pulled back with slow realisation and sadness that flickered momentarily on her pale face. With a sigh that reached from the depths of the planet, she walked forward and passed through the door with a faint breeze carrying her.
Her light and ghostly iridescence stayed with her and when she stopped in the middle of the almost black room, a soft and non-intrusive light faintly illuminated it. She took the time to look around herself and memorise every corner and every unpacked box. It was only a small room yet it was comfortable and warm. There was no furniture as such, only crates covered with sheets that served as sparse decoration. A bed stood against one wall beneath a window and she drifted towards it to look on its occupant.
The man that slept in the bed was obviously disturbed although whether it was with the pain from a bloody wound on his chest or unmentionable dreams, she was uncertain. His long silver hair was plastered to his face from sweat and the sheet that covered his naked body was twisted and wrapped around his legs and arms where he'd thrashed in agony. She wished that she could reach out and smooth the covers out, just as she wished she could kiss his forehead and scrape the hair back from his face whilst telling him everything would be all right. Everything would be all right because his mother was there.
Only she couldn't. As a projection, nothing more than a spirit that refused to return to the planet since it had been disturbed she could do nothing.
Lucrecia reached out a hand that glowed faintly and her pale touch landed on his wound. When she pulled it away, there was a slight look of serenity on her son's face and the terrible injury had healed leaving only faint scaring. A smile played upon her gaunt lips as bright aqua eyes opened and turned painstakingly to focus on her.
"Mother..." whispered a faint voice. "Why are you here?"
She knelt down by his bedside and placed a hand over his eyes. The touch was not physical but the healing aura that seemed to surround it filtered into his body and soothed his pains. "Shh, shh my son." she pacified gently. "It is nothing for you to worry about. Simply rest now... you need your strength for what is to come."
"What is to come?" Sephiroth repeated, fighting the calming touch of the spirit as he forced his eyes open to look at her once more. "What is about to happen?"
She stood and kissed him on the cheek as the tranquillity of sleep settled upon him once more with renewed intensity. "You'll see... soon. You'll be able to be with me for always. But first, you have to look after yourself and your friends. I want you to look after Vincent... he needs you right now although he's too stubborn to accept help from anyone." there was a hint of a smile in her voice as she said this. "But take care of them all. Do you hear? I'll be with you as always but I cannot help you. It is against my abilities so let me guide you for now."
"Okay... mother..." Sephiroth murmured as he sank into unconsciousness and dreams became the only things that he knew.
Lucrecia gave a sad smile and left the room, walking through the door as silently as she had done before. She walked out into the landing once more but this time walked down the stairs with noticeable determination in her steps. She passed through the kitchen door and walked out into the middle of the tiled floor, stopping to glance around with eyes that were looking for one thing only. She turned and gasped as her sight fell upon a dark shape huddled in the corner. Tears brimmed in hazel eyes as she hesitantly walked forward to stand next to the black mass. She reached out to run her hand down the crimson membrane of the wings but it passed through noiselessly and only stirred a slight wind that brushed against the cheek of the demon. She pulled back suddenly and took a few steps away as it slowly began to move; wings shuffled and angry mutterings emerged from below the organic shroud.
The wings parted and a gargoylic face looked around the room; the creature was so large that even when slouched down its head was over five-feet above the floor. It did not have to look hard before it saw the apparition. Vincent's breath caught in his throat and he choked on his own emotions as he saw the figure of his beloved standing before him like an angel in the night. Her hazel eyes regarded him sadly from a pale face and her long, light brown hair floated lightly around her shoulders as though she was standing within a light breeze.
He attempted to speak, but as usual, the sounds were nothing but guttural snarls that would only mean something to another monster such as himself. He lowered his eyes feeling unworthy to look upon her and stared down at his hands that were clasped firmly over his stomach.
"Vincent...?" called the spirit softly in a lulling voice that drained his fears and anxieties whilst furthering them. "Vincent, I've come to see you." she whispered, stepping towards him with one hand outstretched.
He shifted his gaze and looked into her face; the beautiful face that had captivated him from the very second his eyes had fallen upon it thirty-nine years previous. The very face that still held the key to his heart all of this time later. "Oh god Lucrecia... why are you here? I, I didn't ever want you to see me... like this."
A pained smile touched her delicate features as she made a motion to stroke his face without making any physical contact. "Vincent... I'll always love you, no matter what you look like. No matter what Hojo's done to you, you are always the same man I fell in love with."
"But I am not..." He contended with sorrow but also a trace of anger in his voice. "I am not even a man anymore... not even human. Look at me my love. In his books he had always said that this was his aim, to create me in this form as the so-called demon that he always saw me as. Perhaps he was right..."
"No!" she cried. "You are not a monster Vincent! Please... stop saying that. Don't you know how much it pains me to hear you degrade yourself like this? It was Hojo all along, I have told you that countless times and I wish that you would stop being so stubborn as to ignore me!"
He gave her a pained look. "I would never ignore you. I live just to hear your voice but I choose not to take your opinion. You know my beliefs, even after reliving in my nightmares about what happened in Nibelheim, I still look back and think of a million things I could've done to stop this happening."
"Do you regret... us?" Lucrecia asked emotionlessly.
Vincent shook his head vehemently. "No, never. You are the only good thing that has ever happened in my miserable life and I will never believe otherwise. No matter what hells I have been forced to suffer, I see your face and my world makes sense. I don't care what happens so long as I know that I shall never wake up and find that you were a dream. A simple mirage created by a man who needed something to keep him sane. Please god, I couldn't bear it."
He gave a shuddering sigh and cradled his head in his hands as she watched helplessly.
"I would give anything just to hold you again..."
"Then come with me." she said firmly and he looked at her curiously. "Do you trust me Vincent?" she asked and he nodded dubiously without clarity of the situation.
She put her hands over her face and the light that surrounded her being faded as she pulled the hands away. They were cupped together and as she held them before herself, the light began to burn within them as a pure white flame. She moved over to stand beside him and before he could object, there was a cold breeze and the flames passed from her onto him. He watched the sight in awe as they began to spread over him until they covered every part of his body. With nothing but astonishment written on demonic features, the flames began to melt away the dark skin on his body revealing the human flesh beneath it. In a minute, the darkness had seeped back into the shadows from whence it had been born and Vincent Valentine stood up with overwhelming shock.
His golden claw gleamed at his side and black hair hung over his face as though it had never left, if only for a few hours. His one, good hand was held before his face as though it was a precious jewel he had never seen before and should be admired and studied for its beauty no matter how pallid it seemed. He dropped both arms limply to his sides and looked at Lucrecia.
She smiled sadly back at him; her ghostly white light severely diminished.
"How-" he began but she cut him off.
"I don't have time to explain." she answered softly. "But come, walk with me."
She motioned towards the back door and he opened it for her, her soft light flowing out into the sharp night air. He followed behind her almost as silent as she and closed the door.
"Where are we going?" he questioned, completely mystified by the night's occurrences.
She glanced back and shrugged. "Just for a walk I guess." she replied and he gave a curt nod.
Together they walked out onto the street and made their ways towards the Seven Gardens without a word of direction.
"So why are you here?" Vincent inquired after a few moments of blissful if confusing silence. "I am guessing that it's not simply a social call."
She shook her head and long, wavy brown hair hung over her shoulders. "No... I'm here for a reason."
"What is it... or daren't I ask?"
She fell silent. "I would prefer not to talk about it."
He looked at her out of the corner of a single red eye. "I'm curious now."
She gave a slight but flat laugh. "Yes, I thought you might be."
She looked up at him with a curious expression. "Are you not pleased to see me?"
He stopped and she turned to face him. "Of course I am." he whispered. "But you are changing the subject, my love. I am purely curious but you are holding something back and it is weighing upon you. I cannot stand to see you suffer so."
"And you don't mind that I should have to watch you torture yourself day after day??" she snapped and he raised his eyebrows. "I watch you Vincent, every day I am by your side. Not physically but I feel with you. I hate when you hate and I love when you love. Can't you see how much I am suffering because of your idiotic punishments on yourself??"
He swallowed. "I, I'm sorry..." he muttered.
"Sorry is not enough Vincent." Lucrecia cried, her voice breaking as divine tears began to fall down her cheeks. "I don't want to suffer any more but I cannot let you harm yourself so I will not leave you. I love you! I love you Vincent Valentine but you do not love yourself enough to let go." she lowered her head. "You cannot love me enough if you don't stop this."
Vincent was vaguely aware of movement from the corner of his eye and the sounds of footsteps but all became oblivious as his heart shattered. "You think... I don't love you...?" he gasped, a physical pain starting to rise up from his chest.
"I didn't mean it like that!" Lucrecia wept. "I'm so sorry."
She began to fade away and Vincent reached out to touch her, his hand passing through her like a blade through smoke. He suddenly cried out as the pain in his chest increased; making its presence known even further.
The footsteps from down the street became louder and louder and gradually more discernible as not an individual, but a large group of people.
"I'm so, so sorry Vincent..." the female voice continued to say until the white light had completely disappeared on the wind.
Vincent cried out again and clutched his stomach as there was the feeling of his ribs compacting in on themselves and the colour of his skin began to darken.
"Hey! Hey yo!" yelled a menacing voice that came from the direction of the footsteps.
Vincent tilted his head towards the sound and saw a group of five men standing in a line across the street, all carrying an arsenal of weapons that would've succeeded in making Barret jealous.
"What the hell're you doin?" demanded the voice of their leader. He stepped out from the middle of the line and walked towards Vincent, a large katana in his right hand. "Don't you know it's unwise to come outta yo' house during nightfall? Hell, I mean there could be thieves or anyone around!"
There was a ripple of laughter from the men behind him.
"If I were you... I'd get out of here. Right now." Vincent succeeded in forcing out through pained gasps for air.
"Hey, hey!" objected another of the men from the line. "We don't take orders from stuck-up punks like you!"
"Yeah, anyway," started the leader. "We're about to give you a very good offer."
"Go... away." Vincent whispered as another shot of pain ripped through his body.
"Now that's not very nice." another reprimanded. "After all, you don't even know what we're about to say!"
"How about, if we offer you the chance to pay us five hundred gil so that we don't slit your throat." suggested the chief pleasantly but his proposal was ignored as Vincent cried out in pain and fell to the floor on his knees.
The thief nearest to him stepped forward until he stood a few metres away from Vincent, a cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth and a revolver clutched limply in one hand. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he asked angrily. "You don't like our little suggestion?"
Vincent moaned again, he had fought back the inevitable for too long now and like a time bomb, he was ready to explode. There was no point in persuading these morons to keep back; if they were around to face the consequences of hell personified then who was he to argue?
He looked up at them with a grim smile. "Keep... back." he begged finally before a scream escaped his lips and the shadows at the edge of the street were pulled into him and the transformation began.
The five men stepped back; their faces twisted in horror as the abomination took place before them. Wings burst out from beneath the red cloak and the resultant wind was powerful enough to knock the leader to his knees as he stumbled back to keep away.
Vincent reared his head and let out a demonic scream that was a mixture of a human cry of pain and a bestial howl; a single word uttered over the cacophony, 'Lucrecia'. Agony and the demonic features twisted his visage as they began to contort them into a hellish blueprint. He curled back up again and began to grow; his clothes somehow sticking to him like a skin that became a deep, pure black. The wings drew in around him and with a whimper of agony; the crimson and black creature huddled in the centre of the street.
"Holy shit." breathed the leader. "What the fucking hell is that??"
"S, Someone! Kill it!" squealed the nearest bandit, trembling in total fear.
He clicked back his revolver with shaking hands and aimed it at the creature. His finger squeezed on the trigger and he was about to fire before there was movement.
It grew upwards from off the ground as it started to stand and the wings opened like the blood red petals of a hellish flower. The demon drew itself up to its full height and threw back its head to give a roar that came from the bloody depths of hell. The wings beat powerfully by its side and when satisfied that it had made its diabolical presence known, it glared down at the five who dared challenge it.
The eyes glowed vivid red beneath a dark brow and they eventually focused on the closest opponent, the gun still in his hand. Jolted back to reality, he raised the weapon and prepared to fire, when with unnatural speed, Chaos sprang forward. It raised one wing and slashed it back down slicing cleanly through the man's wrist as his hand fell to the ground with a thump. He screamed, but his cry was stopped quickly as a massive claw was swung with such a great force, he was decapitated and his fragmented body sprayed blood across the cobbles. The demon roared and leapt back to face the other threats. The leader gave a battle cry and sprinted forward to meet the clash with his sword raised.
Chaos sneered at the pathetic human as he easily sidestepped the attack. He tripped over the curb and was sent sprawling to the pavement, the blade jarred from his grasp. Chaos raised a claw and smashed it down into the man's back, tearing through the thin skin and pulling back, lifting him by an agonising grip.
He screamed out as blood poured from the hideous wounds but he was promptly hurled to the floor as another stepped forward to challenge the demon.
A knife was sliced down and Chaos screamed, the membrane of his wing ripped badly by one of the insolent humans as he tore one of them to pieces. He spun once he'd dropped the last victim and crouched down low on the floor like a cat preparing to pounce. The foolishly brave thief started to back away, but with a powerful leapt, Chaos flew through the air like a dart and landed on the man so that the back of his head was smashed into the blood stained cobbles. The nightmarish demon lifted a clawed hand and dragged it down his face, reducing it to a blood streaked mess. The thief screamed as he was pinned down by the incredible weight of the monster and his body was slowly shredded before his eyes. With a final swipe, the demon ended his life as he sliced the man's throat with a bloody claw and sprang back to face the next threat.
Two of the men stood together facing him and he gave a low growl, ducking back to avoid a shuriken as it whistled past his head and embedded itself in the wall behind him. He slunk forward and pounced, little more than a black and red blur before their eyes. With unnatural strength he lifted the nearest from the ground and began to crush him between immensely powerful claws. The man began to scream but the air was squeezed from his lungs as his ribs cracked loudly and his organs were pulverised inside his body. The grip was lessened slightly but his body was so weak, he could not move, even as he was hurled to the ground and the demon grabbed him by the head. With a forceful jerk and loud crack his neck was snapped and his body slumped to the floor pathetically as he died noiselessly.
Chaos paused and looked around. The final human was not nearby and his muscles tensed in a mixture of concern and the thrill of the chase. His moment of adrenaline fuelled searching was stopped suddenly as he spied his prey running with the speed of a madman down the street and away from the carnage.
Chaos gave a low growl and jumped into the air beating the crimson wings a few times until he hovered and then charged forward, his head lowered barely a metre from the ground. The tips of his wings brushed the houses either side of the road as he moved at an incalculable speed but he was never deterred from his target as he moved on the wind.
With a crunch and searing agony, the final bandit gasped has he was jolted from the floor and carried higher and higher into the air. He looked down on himself and vomited as he saw two perfect ivory horns jutting out from his abdomen dripping with his own blood. Still, they travelled further and further into the air until the mega-city was laid out beneath them, no larger than a map.
He wasn't sure why he fainted; whether it was from the terrible agony or the height. He slipped into unconsciousness.
With a flick of his head; Chaos unimpaled his skewered prey and sent him tumbling to the ground far, far below.
He threw back his head in a roar that screamed his dominance over the pathetic creatures that dared to challenge him and slowly dived back downwards, the injuries he'd sustained starting to throb in the chilling night-air.
He swooped down over the buildings and labyrinth of streets until he passed over the remains of Sector Two where there were still rescue operations going on although it was unlikely that anyone had survived the enormous blast. He roared as he passed over their heads but didn't pause to see the reaction gained. Simply knowing that he would've scared them half to death was enough and a wicked smile touched his thin black lips. He sailed over Sectors One, Eight and finally Seven as he dived down and flapped lazily through the main street of Six, stopping as his eyes picked out the now familiar green sign of 'Tifa's Seventh Heaven'.
He landed outside the building and smelt the air. The human's were stirring now, their scent carried on a faint breeze like the plague and he recoiled as it reached his nostrils. He snorted derisively and crept through the narrow alleyway beside the bar where he suddenly fell to the floor unconscious.
Vincent shivered violently as the cold night air began to eat away at his body and chill his soul. Attempting to stand, he snarled in pain and leant against the wall of one of the buildings. He expertly examined his right leg whereupon he discovered a bullet lodged in his calf muscle. He sighed wearily as though it was a chore and set about removing the offending piece of metal with a manner that was eerily familiar.
Eventually, there was a clink as it slipped out of the small wound and fell to the stone floor.
Vincent stood up; satisfied that he had tended to his injuries the best he could at that moment. His healing rate was faster than a normal human and he didn't doubt that by sunrise most of his injuries would be gone. He looked down at himself and grimaced. From his brief moments slouched up against the alley wall, the thin layer of snow had been stained scarlet. Wounds that he had never noticed before covered his body and the blood dripped down to add to the growing puddle beneath his feet. His wing still hurt terribly from the tear and as he examined them he noticed more rips and slashes in the thin membrane.
He sighed wearily and fought to regain memories of what had just happened. Vague, fleeting and horrific visions sprung to mind and he witnessed slow torturous deaths. Deaths that he had caused.
Why couldn't he remember? What had just happened?
He frowned as Lucrecia's face appeared in his mind. That's right... he had been talking with her and they'd argued. He couldn't even recall why; that's how little of the past hour had remained in his mind. Then he'd become hurt and angry. She left him and then thieves had approached him; at least that much was clear. Then, when she had gone he was no longer able to fight back the change and the metamorphosis took place. As always he'd been infuriated by the pain he suffered but as he looked upon the men that held their weapons towards him, something else stirred. Something more instinctual and primal.
His face contorted in puzzlement. What had been going through his mind which forced him into committing such heinous acts? It was almost as though the Chaos transformation had taken place through his usual emotional disturbance as it had done in the past rather than through Hojo's wicked routine. The rhythm of forms that had been cursed on him by the insane scientist.
Slow and horrific realisation started to dawn upon him.
His own anger in the demonic form had led to the deaths of those men. It was no use blaming it upon an alter ego or a creature that Hojo had created through him. He could not place the burden of the night's events on something that was beyond his control.
His eyes widened and he placed a massive clawed hand on one of the walls to support himself as shock and an intense mixture of emotions overwhelmed his senses.
Hojo had never lied when he said that the demonic transformation was Vincent. He had never exaggerated when explaining that the demon was a part of him like his hands and legs.
Vincent collapsed to the floor and cradled his head in his hands.
He was Chaos. Chaos was him.
Now that his form had been altered to that of the demon's, when he truly thought about it; nothing, absolutely nothing had changed. Only now, there was no physical transformation; there was no warning to the violence he was capable of.
Ever since his sever of all ties to the Turks, he'd denied that he was able to perform such vile acts. It was easy to blame his explosions of anger on Hojo's manifestation of his hidden fury. During every day life he restrained his emotions so far that it was understandable to the rest of AVALANCHE that Chaos would act with such vehemence and terrible violence.
But there was no use hiding it now; from himself or them.
It had been him all along. It was the part of him he refused to believe in and now it had been released with all its fury. That was Hojo's curse. Not the form itself; no, he was too clever for that. When Hojo claimed to see him for the black-hearted demon that he was, he had never distorted the truth. Hojo had seen straight through his emotionless exterior to his tumultuous soul and saw the damaging potential it contained.
Vincent opened his tear-misted eyes and looked down on his hands. Where they touched the snow, there was a gruesome stain spreading out from where the blood of his victims was filtering into the pure white blanket. He swallowed and sat back on his heels holding the offending hands behind his back as though hiding them from an unseen observer.
With a mournful sigh that sounded more like an injured howl, he looked up at the sky. Night was rapidly fading and orange hues and blue flecks were starting to appear in the vast canvas. He had to get inside quickly before anyone saw him. No doubt the stories of the terrible deaths would be broadcasted all over the city and it wouldn't take a genius to link them back to him if he was discovered. He stood uncertainly and stumbled towards the bar's back door whereupon he pushed it open and crawled through, quickly resuming his position in the corner of the room to recuperate and deny the sick parody which was his life.
"All my life, I worshiped her
Her golden voice, her beauty's beat
How she made us feel
How she made me real
And the ground beneath her feet
And the ground beneath her feet
And now I can't be sure of anything
Black is white, and cold is heat
For what I worshiped stole my love away
It was the ground beneath her feet
It was the ground beneath her feet
Go lightly down your darkened way
Go lightly underground
I'll be down there in another day
I won't rest until you're found
Let me love you true, let me rescue you
Let me bring you where two roads meet
Oh come back above
Where there is only love
Let me love you true, let me rescue you
Let me bring you to where two roads meet
Let me love you true, let me rescue you
Let me bring you to where two roads meet."
'The Ground Beneath Her Feet', by U2
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