Through the Looking Glass Chapter 9
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa stamped noisily on the back step as she shook the snow off her boots. Overnight the level of the freezing element had increased dramatically and now the entire city was smothered thickly. She held in her arms a large grocery bag containing an assortment of items including medicines and the day's Midgar Post, the daily newspaper. She quietly packed them away in the cupboards around the kitchen and with a weary sigh made a cup of tea and sat down to scan over the paper before the others awoke.
She gently sipped the hot liquid whilst idly flicking through the black and white sheets, pausing occasionally as an article took her interest. Eventually she stopped as she reached the centre-fold and gasped as a headline blared out to her. 'Five killed in freak attack!" it screamed and below were blurred photos showing the chalk outlines of bodies strewn across a main street. Although Midgar since rebuilding had suffered more than its fair share of problems with crime, it had always been relatively mild. Terrible events such as murder and attacks were rare occurrences and the papers would devote much time towards helping the police in solving such horrific puzzles. She quickly became enveloped in the article as it described in gruesome detail the result of the attacks and the overly dramatic language enticed her into the hellish depths of the depraved story. She wrinkled her noise at the awful article and licked the tips of her finger as her hand idly reached for the next page of the paper when she paused.
Beneath a subtitle in the feature was a list of eyewitness accounts. A slight smile touched her lips as bizarre versions were given of weird creatures terrorising the city all night long viewed by several drunks across Midgar at varying times as they stumbled barely conscious from the pubs and bars. Descriptions of the monster varied from green dragons to animals that bore a resemblance to chocobos. However, the smile quickly slipped from her face as a disturbing trend in the descriptions became apparent.
More than a third of the comments collected described with horrific accuracy a demon like monster with black skin and bat's wings which hovered over the scene of the crime and had the audacity to drift over Sector Two when it had committed its murderous acts. It was tracked carefully by rescue workers in the decimated Sector until they lost sight of it over the Seven Gardens and there were no more reports of it. The paper went further into depth as it described how the police were taking all leads seriously and had closed off the Gardens to hunt for the creature.
Tifa swallowed nervously and closed the paper; her eyes fixed on the wall in front of her as she listened closely to the sounds behind her. The ticking of a small clock on the wall near her clicked with irritating loudness and there were the faint creaks of movement above her as the rest of the house began to stir. However, above all the noise were the deep and even yet laboured breaths of the beast behind her. Bracing herself, she swivelled slowly on the stool and looked over at Vincent.
Earlier in the morning she had simply afforded him a glance on her way out of the back door. As strange as it seemed she was now becoming used to his presence in the corner of tiled room. At first she would simply sit and watch him as if he was a rare commodity; a display in a twisted museum but he hated that and she quickly learnt to subtly observe his actions without appearing too obvious. Interest gave away to recognition until he was now just something that occupied this particular room.
Now however, she took the time to sit down and examine him in his unconscious state. A terrible sense of dread rose up from the pit of her stomach until she felt physically ill by simply examining him. Tears and rips decorated the leathery membrane of his wings like a hideous lace and dark red blood, stained black by time oozed slowly from barely noticeable veins in them. His rough black skin glittered with drying blood like onyx and flakes of the dark liquid littered the floor space around him.
Absently her fingers brushed over the sheet of paper behind her and shocking clarity took the place of half formed ideas in her mind. The tips of bull-like horns protruded from his head and as she watched the light shimmer from a drop of semi-congealed liquid as it fell from the tips of one. The demon shivered as it fell to his skin with a wet plop and she stood up, her back against the bench as it began to stir in increasing amounts. Her hand reached back frantically until it closed around a wooden shaft and she pulled it forward, almost catching herself with the shiny metal blade of the kitchen knife.
Eventually there was a click as the bony spikes that topped the wings opened like a purse latch and parted slightly allowing a pair of glittering red eyes to peer out like a clam looking out of its shell. Tifa met the gaze with visible trembling but kept the knife low to avoid its detection. The red slits blinked curiously and their direction shifted slightly as they looked to the clock on the opposite wall. Satisfied of whatever fact it wished to know, they once more focused on Tifa's quivering form.
"V, Vincent?" she stuttered quietly uncertain of what answer she expected in return.
The eyes lowered and righted themselves to give the impression of a nod and continued to regard her with odd curiosity.
"A, Are you... all right?" she questioned warily and again he nodded.
This time, the wings opened fully until they revealed the dark pearl within their scarlet depths. Vincent looked out at her, his eyes half closed through lack of sleep and his shoulders slumped wearily. As Tifa observed this new, more human side to the monster she felt her heart twinge guiltily at her uncertain fear. However, as he glanced down on his hands and clenched them, the dried blood flaked off and fell to the floor in a crimson shower and fear once more crept up her spin until she trembled violently. The knife clasped behind her back started to drum against the benches and as he peered up at her questioningly, her grip weakened and the blade clattered on the floor tiles.
He shifted his gaze to look down at the stark, steel knife and then up at her. She almost gasped aloud as she saw the terrible emotions swirling within his blood red eyes. Sorrow was the most immediate, awful remorseful sorrow although whether it was for her or himself she couldn't be sure. Then there was the regret; perhaps for his unspoken actions or the very fact that he was the cause of her terror. At the same time as his eyes appeared to ask her why she was holding the knife defensively, they also showed that internally, deep inside he knew the answer. A glance at the newspaper behind her explained his worry.
"I, I'm sorry Vincent." she breathed tearfully. "But you... you killed those men, didn't you?"
The red eyes looked down at the floor shame-facedly and the black head nodded slowly.
Yes... yes, it was me. It was me all along and only now have I realised that. I see how you finally show your fear towards me but oddly enough, I am not sad for that. I am sorrowful for the fact that you like me were so blind to the truth that has been there all along. It has always been me... .
"I don't mean to sound like a judge," Tifa began, her voice laced with the restrained hints of an unspoken emotion. "But why? What made you do it? The paper described those deaths... did they really deserve that?"
Of course they didn't... no one deserves to have their life taken away from them, no matter how they abuse and pervert it. I know that, oh god I know that and I always thought that after everything I'd done in the Turks I'd learn to hold that high above any other principle. But deep within me in the part that masquerades behind this demonic visage, I don't care. I never have. I only pretended to so that Lucrecia would love me. He exhaled a deep and mournful sigh. Tifa's hard expression softened at the display of regret although she couldn't understand his motivation. You were right Hojo... . What is the point any more...?
Tifa began to speak again; it was obvious that her words were directed at himself but he didn't listen. It wasn't intentional but his mind swam with so many millions of different thoughts that he found it impossible to concentrate. Her voice rang clear with worry and regret but despite the heavy burden it placed upon his heart he couldn't force himself to pay attention. No, there was something much more pressing; something more urgent than anything he could comprehend and as he sank deeper and deeper into his thoughts, the world became less and less relevant.
Lucrecia... why? Why did you do this? You led me out there on purpose, didn't you? To what aim though? What did you hope to accomplish? Did you mean for me to kill those five men or was it terrible coincidence?
No... Very few things in this life are pure serendipity. There was a method behind this madness, I am certain of it but I wish to the gods that I could decipher what it is. Why must these things be so awkward? I was once a man of action, not thought but how the tables of turned and so abruptly. Now I have nothing to do but think of what a mutated mess my life is and wonder if there is a meaning.
Was there a lesson? Was there a valuable lesson that I didn't learn, an obvious hint which was always in front of me but I could never grasp? I've finally realised that Chaos is a part of me, but why? What was the meaning to that? Was this another cruel joke or are you trying to tell me something? Luc...? Lucrecia...........................
His head jerked up and the red eyes focused on Tofa; her face contorted with an ambivalent mixture of annoyance and worry. "You weren't listening, were you?"
She didn't wait for an answer as she picked up the knife and placed it carefully on the kitchen bench. She opened up a cupboard above her head and pulled out several bottles, clasping a small silver spoon in her left hand whilst expertly loading a tray with the multi-coloured glass containers. She lifted the tray and looked back at the demon who regarded her guiltily.
She gave a sigh. "I'll speak to you tonight, huh? Maybe you can tell me what happened then... ." He didn't reply and with a weary shrug, she turned and walked through the kitchen door to the living area upstairs.
Cloud's eyes opened with obvious reluctance and his body ached with weariness and vague recollections of the night before. The evening's sudden activity and movement after a week's confinement in bed had played heavily on him and now he was experiencing the result. His muscles ached and his head throbbed; perhaps he wasn't as fit as he'd presumed he was.
There was a light knock at the door and he rolled his head over to face it. Unprompted, it opened slowly and Tifa tiptoed in carrying a tray balanced on one hand and the other on the door handle. She gave him a bright smile.
"Morning." she said warmly. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah, not too bad." he responded with a hesitant stretch feeling his bones crack and body object to the movement. Thrusting the dull pain to the back of his mind as not to worry the woman who had just entered, he sat up and leant against the headboard.
She nodded and perched on the edge of the bed, putting a hand on Cloud's forehead to crudely check his temperature. "Your fever seems fine." she reported after a few seconds. "Here, I got you some medicine in case you're still not feeling to good inside."
He nodded thankfully and took one of the bottles to examine it curiously. He unscrewed the lid and pulled a face as he caught a whiff of the 'strawberry' flavoured liquid inside. "I hate this stuff." he commented as she smiled at his reaction. "It reminds of medicine my Mom used to give me when I was a kid. Y'think that after all this time they'd change how it tastes wouldn't you? I mean everyone knows how awful it is!"
The couple laughed and for the first time that fortnight Tifa felt at ease. She pushed the tray onto the bedside locker and lay down on the comfortable bed across Cloud's legs where he stroked her hair fondly and gazed down into her face. Dappled light shone through the half opened curtains and glittered on her face like gold only enhancing the beauty that had captivated him since he first laid eyes upon her.
Feeling his watch upon her, she turned her deep burgundy eyes to gaze back at him. She met his icy-blue stare with a content smile and she reached up and brushed his cheek with her hand.
"Are you happy?" she asked him in a soft, barely audible voice.
"Of course I am." he whispered in reply. "I have the most beautiful woman in the world lying in the same bed as me, tending over me and fighting beside me. What more could I ever, ever ask for?"
Her smile broadened and she lifted her head, whilst he lowered his own until they were locked in a kiss. Her hand slid up the back of his head and she pressed his lips further into her own. His arms slipped tightly around her shoulders and drew her body closer until they were pressed firmly together in a loving embrace that made them one physically for a few moments, but together in their hearts forever.
They eventually broke apart and gazed deeply into each other's eyes for a few more minutes before reluctantly separating to occupy their previous positions. A warm, comfortable silence smothered them and eliminated the need for harsh speech in the eternal world of love where emotion was the only form of communication. Eventually, Tifa once more turned her head to look up at him.
"If you could be anywhere, anywhere in the world right now at any time... where would you be?" she asked quietly and he became thoughtful.
"I don't care so long as I'm with you." he answered with a soppy grin and she pushed him playfully. "Really... if I could be anywhere right now it would be in the Gold Saucer when the whole of AVALANCHE was there and nothing was complicated. Sure I believed things which weren't true, but at least I didn't have to worry about anything then.
"Aeris would be there sitting on her own and looking up into the stars wondering about the Cetra and other things. You'd probably be sat with Barret and Red talking about how life was back in Midgar and what you were all gonna do after Sephiroth was dead. Cait would probably be playing poker with Cid or something like that or he'd be trying to persuade me into getting my fortune told." He paused and smiled to himself at the memory. Tifa felt a reminiscent smile creep upon her own lips at the sight of his happiness.
"Vincent would be sat in a corner watching everyone and thinking or he'd be off walking on his own. I guess that's when he wandered off to do all his vampire stuff, huh? Yuffie would either be trying to stalk Vincent or find out how Cait worked."
He stopped and Tifa continued to look at him expectantly. "And you...?" She prompted gently. "What would you be doing?"
"Me?" he sighed. "I'd probably be sat on my own thinking about what we'll be doing the next day and whether we'll have enough weapons and supplies. And... I'll be watching everyone else."
"Will you be watching me?"
"...Yeah. Every now and then, you'll catch my eye and smile at me, but because I'm too stupid and because I'm worrying too much about the next day, I won't respond."
Tifa's heart fell as she looked away and recalled the many times that he had done such a thing. How often had she felt that aching pit in her heart that yearned for his embrace; that wanted nothing more than for him to gather her up in his arms and tell her everything was all right?
She felt a nudge on her hand and looked to see that he was resting his own over her slender fingers, entwining them in his own.
"Not now though." he ended softly. "Now, whenever you smile at me, it brightens my day. As long as you're there, I know that everything'll be okay. So long as you're by my side nothing can go wrong."
"I'm glad that you have such faith in me... ." she smiled and he returned the gesture.
"So what are you doing today?" he asked conversationally once a few more moments of blissful silence had elapsed.
She shrugged. "I'm not sure. There's no point in opening the bar because last week when Cid and Yuffie were running it hardly any customers came. It just doesn't seem worth it."
"No customers?" Cloud repeated with puzzlement. "But this is one of the busiest bars in Midgar. Where have they all gone?"
She shrugged again. "I don't know. They must be sick of us not keeping to the opening hours. I guess I don't blame them." she said, her voice trailing off as she sank into her thoughts.
"As soon as I get on my feet again, we can open up properly once more. I can help you this time."
"Don't get ahead of yourself Mr Strife!" Tifa admonished jovially as she sat up and pushed him back into the bed, pulling the covers up around his neck and tucking him in. "That's not gonna be for a while, so don't you go making yourself ill over it."
"Yes ma'am!" he grinned.
She kissed him lightly on the cheek and left the room with a smile and shake of her head. She walked along the landing, quietly past Yuffie's bedroom door from which there emanated soft snores and she stopped outside the door opposite her and Cloud's. She reached out a hand to the door handle but it was faltering in complying with her metal requests and hesitated inches from the cold metal knob. Reprimanding herself internally for her fear, she resolutely thrust her hand firmly onto the handle and twisted it firmly, pushing the door open and stepping inside before reason tried to tell her to do otherwise.
The room she entered was dark in ambience and feeling. The oppression weighed heavily upon her until it seemed like something she could reach out and run her hand through. Reluctant to breathe in the dark atmosphere, she unconsciously held her breath until physically unable. Forcing her racing heart to calm down, she paused and listened.
There were deep, laboured breaths drifting to her through the darkness from opposite her in the small chamber and she walked blindly towards the source. She eventually stopped as she found herself standing beside a single bed pushed up against a wall beneath a window which had been shrouded heavily by thick, dark curtains.
The bed's occupant, Sephiroth, was deep in sleep but parts of his body would twitch sporadically and his face was contorted in pain and concentration as he fought internal demons. She gently reached out, overcome by pity and anger at her fear and she gently pulled back the sheets from the man's chest. Her eyes fell upon the expected shotgun wound and she gasped in alarm. In the place of the gaping, bloody injury was a neat, if large scar in the centre of his bust. She reached out in disbelief and lightly touched the healed wound and leapt back in shock at its realness. There was no denying that the terrible lesion from the power of Rufus's almost point-blank shot had healed over. She knew that his abilities had been enhanced greatly by the Jenova within him but she hadn't expected this.
Even this miraculous healing seemed beyond his abilities.
As she thought carefully about the unusual sight, he emitted a low groan from pain and she leapt from startlement. Calming herself and taking deep breaths, she moved over to the head of the bed to see what was wrong. His eyes remained tightly shut in fitful slumber and he appeared to be speaking although no words left his lips. She strained to hear his voice without avail and as quickly as he had started to move he suddenly ceased and sighed deeply.
She frowned and not for the first time wished that she could see into his mind and read his thoughts... .
Sephiroth found himself standing in a field of rocks; the ground was black and charred whilst the sky was a dark, dull blue as though someone had drained all life from it. Rubble and blackened skeletons of trees littered the floor. If the remains of Sector Two had been hell; this was the aftermath. The landscape was barren and lifeless; no hope existed in this place and he doubted that it ever would again.
Not even air seemed to exist and when he inhaled it felt empty and dead as though nothing was entering his lungs. He felt dizzy.
Where am I? What is this place? He questioned mentally in fear of disturbing the hollow silence that existed with him.
As he contemplated the dead, almost lunar landscape he gasped as something reached out and put pressure on his shoulder. He froze and held his breath in fear for what felt like an eternity but whatever it was, was still there. Eventually, he lowered his bright aqua eyes and found them focusing on a long pale pink tendril that looked like a massive earthworm laid over his right shoulder. He cried out in alarm and pushed the hideous appendage from himself, running away and only stopping when he was certain that he was out of its reach. He stopped, breathless and panicked and took deep lungfuls of the cold air to calm his nerves.
Suitably composed, he swallowed and licked his suddenly dry lips. Gathering his courage and clenching his fists to reassure himself of his strength, he took a deep breath and slowly turned. He had run quite a distance from his starting place and only footprints in the black soil gave any indication of direction. Steeling himself, he started to walk back along the tracks he'd made; his bright eyes darting warily in all directions as he attempted to focus on the object of his fear.
The tracks came to a halt and he was alone. The surroundings were as desolate and barren as they had been before except his eyes came to rest on a large group of boulders situated twenty metres from him. Seeing no other alternative, he started to walk towards them; his muscles tensed and ready for action. As he came nearer and nearer to the natural monument in the sea of bleakness signs of a struggle became more and more obvious imprinted in the dark sandy soil. He found himself becoming gradually more and more unwilling to peer behind the screen of rock, but pushing back his apprehension with renewed determination, he clambered agilely up the boulders. After a few minutes of exhausting climbing, he stood at the peak of the edifice. Even from the new vantagepoint, there was nothing new. Everything from the sky to the earth was completely desolate and hopeless.
He bowed his head and shook it sorrowfully with a deep sigh. There didn't seem to be any way out of this living nightmare. He started to climb slowly back down the rocks but was soon alerted to another sound that rang through the empty air. He paused and listened curious to whether he was the source but after only a few seconds it was obvious that he was not. It sounded like a loud scratching; it was purposeful and rhythmic like the beating of a heart as though whatever it was, was purposefully trying to attract his attention.
Frowning to himself and thinking about the next course of action, he quietly started to follow his ears to find the source of the sound. He manoeuvred himself around a particularly large rock, almost slipping and losing his grip on the vast surface. Eventually he stood on a small ledge on the other side to the face he had scaled. Taking a deep breath, he walked to the edge of the jutting platform and forced himself to look down. What he saw horrified and tore through him. He dropped to his knees unable to breathe from the horror that beheld him as it gripped his heart and brain. Still, he could not tear his eyes away.
The shattered remains of some kind of creature lay around the floor like a crushed shell. Broken veins split and sliced by the cracks leaked black blood onto the sand staining it even darker like gritty treacle. Light from a hidden source glittered off it like molten ebony and the almost overpowering stench of sulphur and numerous other acidic chemicals drifted up and touched his nose through the still air. He almost vomited. The shattered pieces of what had once been a massive, spherical dome of some kind lay strewn around the ground like diamonds on a piece of black velvet. But it was the object in the centre of the explosion of delicacy which caught his eyes.
Without pausing to think, he leapt from the ledge and plummeted to the ground, rolling as he hit the dark sandy soil to absorb some to the impact. He cried out softly as he felt his shoulder slip out of joint and it echoed back at him in twisted mimicry. Clutching it defensively, he leapt to his feet and ran through the broken shell until with slow steps, he stopped as he neared the middle. At the closer point he was able to make out the object which had caught his attention in clearer detail. What seemed like the top half of a broken statue lay half buried in the sand. It was in the form of a tall yet unnaturally beautiful woman without any legs or clothes; her skin dyed a deep pink covered with dark veins that covered her body like rivers. In the place of her arms twitched massive pink tentacles; one of which had been the object that had startled him on his arrival at the dead place. She faced away from him although he knew that with certainty she knew of his presence. After all he was a part of her just as she was a part of him. This battered and broken creature that had once held the world under her power. The alien life form Jenova.
"My... son..." whispered a broken voice in his mind.
Although it was weak and feeble, there was an element of charm in it like the song of a siren and he was suddenly drawn towards her. He found himself taking a few steps forward but rechecking himself he stopped and frowned angrily.
"I am not your son." he said firmly. "I am the son of a woman called Lucrecia. You are nothing but a virus who no longer controls me like a puppet. Release me, Disease and I'll let you live."
The tendrils twitched at his answer and he got the impression of a snake preparing to strike. However, too blinded by trying to remain in control, he ignored them.
"It hurts me... to hear you speak like that. My son..." she answered mentally although there was a hint of amusement in her voice at his annoyance.
"I am no more your son than I am innocent." he contended angrily. "You should be dead."
Jenova laughed weakly in his mind and he narrowed his eyes. "How foolish you are my son." she said eventually to further his fury. "Perhaps you have spent too much time with these mortals to consider your true worth." she sighed and he shook his head with disgust.
"Had I have known that they would weave their spell of deception over you so quickly then I'd have ordered Hojo to bring you here immediately."
Sephiroth's frown turned to one of puzzlement as he regarded the creature before him. "Hojo? What does he have to do with this?"
"He is the one that granted you life for a second time. He gave you your body and ensured that I gave you back your soul. It was not easy, but I succeeded. I did the same for him also."
"What do you mean?"
Jenova laughed once more, this time however it was harsh and grating. It screamed through Sephiroth's head until he dropped to the floor, his hands over his ears in a futile attempt to block it out. At last the cruel laughter subsided and his ears were left ringing and his limbs numb. He could only watch as Jenova began to move and she lifted her head from the ground to look down at him.
Her face was deceptively beautiful; the features were fine and delicate as though they'd been carved in marble adding more of an ageless quality to her ancient form. Black almond eyes considered him curiously giving no more emotion than the rocks behind him or the blank acrid sky. She had no mouth or orifice but the muscles in the area twisted up to give the impression of a lopsided smile.
"You know that you are a clone? Little more than a mirror image of your previous, great self." He was able to little else than nod; his brief time in the Lifestream where he had dropped in the reactor had afforded him with many of the answers to his unanswered questions. Satisfied, she continued. "That moron Shinra had Hojo cloned also so that they could bring you back. His illusions of grandeur stretch no further than this pathetic planet and so with you, the most beautiful and destructive force left in the known universe he was going to command an army!" She laughed at the absurdity. "But I know that you are capable of so much more... . I knew that they were going to bring back Hojo and so I ensured that his lifeless shell would be inhabited by the same soul. He served me in the past and I knew that he would again if I ordered him to.
"By doing this I reclaimed one of my servants. Through him I had you recreated to be exactly the same as you were before pride got the better of you and you allowed those impudent humans to kill you."
"Why... do you want me?" he forced out. She had moved her massive bulk so that she was now half lying over him, squeezing the oxygen from his lungs and forcing him to fight for every breath.
"So that we can once more attempt godhood, of course." she whispered mentally. "We were so close... it was not right for us to be robbed so soon!"
"But Meteor... it was destroyed. We were destroyed. It cannot be done again."
"There are many other ways. I have had five years to consider the alternatives. Five years!" She screamed and he cried out in pain as her voice echoed around his brain and the weight upon him increased. She snaked her tentacles around his waist and lifted him off the ground; holding him before her face as she continued with vehemence. "I have been lying here shattered and broken in agony since they left me here! I cannot sleep the pain is so bad and I am all alone; I have been going insane through loneliness and I have been reduced to consuming myself to survive!!" She shrieked and she threw him around in the air like a rag-doll. Too weak and secure to escape, Sephiroth could only cry out as his head and legs were snapped backwards and forwards by the sudden movements. Eventually she stopped and once more held him before her face. "I will have my revenge!" she hissed. "As will you for what they did to you."
"I... don't want... revenge." he wheezed and she narrowed her eyes. "I almost.. killed millions... and millions of people. I... don't even... deserve death."
"Impudent swine!" she screamed and she threw him to the ground where he lay winded and aching. His shoulder throbbed agonisingly and when he went for his sword hilt he found that it wasn't there.
With horror, he looked up to see the massive alien bearing down on him. He tried to run but ended up stumbling through the field of shattered shell until he reached the base of the rocks. Jenova screamed again and lashed out with a tendril, whipping it against his back and sending him sprawling to the ground. He pulled himself up and scrambled up the rocks until he stood on the high ledge he had occupied when looking out over her remains.
"Do not defy me!" she shrieked. "You belong to me! I own you and I will never let you go!"
"I am not owned by anyone!!" he roared in reply knowing well that he lacked the power to support his convictions.
"I shall have you!" she hissed venomously. "You can never escape me!"
"But I can, and I have." Sephiroth replied defiantly. "I see your anger and it is through my release. You cannot stand to see me walking free but now I am. You have no control over me and with the gods as my witnesses; I shall keep it that way!"
"BASTARD!!" she shrieked and he fell to the rocky floor once more in agony.
Too occupied with blocking out the din from his mind, he didn't notice one of the pink tentacles as it snaked up the boulder from behind him. Before he could react, it wrapped itself around his ankles and he was dragged back down to the ground where he landed with a cracking thump. Winded and dazed, he curled up into a ball and closed his eyes tightly in a defiant attempt to deny the world.
He felt himself being hoisted from the ground again and he cried out in pain as he was hurled against the boulders. Feeling like a broken puppet, he weakly opened his eyes to once more look up into her face as she stared disdainfully upon him.
"Dead or alive, you shall be mine. Whether it takes a thousand tries and a million years, you will be my instrument of destruction once more." She narrowed her eyes and focused the pure black orbs on his face. "You are expendable and so long as you survive in this contused state you are a hindrance. I am doing this for your own good... my son." she hissed.
His eyes widened as he saw one of the massive tentacles rising slowly in the air above his head. Too weak to move any more and escape from her bulky form, he simply closed his eyes and waited for her.
The tentacle slammed down throwing up a cloud of black dust and Sephiroth winced as the shock jarred through his body. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at the ground to his right. Something was wrong. The tentacle had missed him by a clear metre and Jenova was not one to show humanity. He looked up, his eyes expecting to see her still looking over him and gaining satisfaction in his moment of false security but there was nothing. Suddenly a scream tore through the air, not a mental scream. A real, physical scream that showed true agony and terror; emotions he was used to inflicting on other people. However, he was not the cause. One of the tentacles filled his vision and he rolled to one side just as it crashed into the ground where he had been lying seconds before. Perhaps he'd been wrong. Jenova truly was playing with him. Using the second's delay to his advantage, he leapt to his feet and prepared to run. Just as he was about to turn on his heels, there was another scream. He stopped and turned back. His jaw dropped open and his eyes open wide in horror.
The tentacle that had been aimed at him was not attached to anything. It had been torn off Jenova's body and even now lay twitching and writhing in the black mud. He jumped back as it swept over to him and ducked as it made another pass. Finally it was still; deathly still. The tentacle was dead. His eyes raised just as there was another cry of pain and this time focused on an even more horrific sight. Jenova was being killed.
Many, many metres away from him a terrible fight was going ahead. Jenova or what was left of her was being thrown around in the air and hurled to the ground as he had only minutes before. However, where he was weak the creature that had the audacity to do this to one of the most dangerous forces in the universe was infinitely more powerful. He watched as the female alien was suddenly flung to one side. He jumped back just in time as her battered body slammed to the ground before him like the Calamity From The Skies that she was.
Her breath came in choked splutters and her remaining tentacle hung limp and useless. Massive bite marks covered her scratched and charred skin while black blood oozed out like tar from her many wounds. Sephiroth looked up in terror to catch a glimpse of her assailant but could see nothing.
"H, Help me... s, son." she stuttered agonisingly and he looked down at her with obvious disgust.
"Me?" he spat. "Help you? You're more insane than I thought you were if you think that I would ever consider aiding you."
"P, Please!" She begged and his expression of coldness cracked for a moment but quickly reformed. Suddenly, her eyes widened in horror as they began to search sightlessly around the barren field. "I, It's... coming!!" she cried.
The ground started to rumble and Sephiroth turned quickly and sprinted as fast as his weary legs would carry him towards the outcrop of boulders. There was an explosion behind him as he reached their shadow. He was thrown through the air by the force but quickly stumbled to his feet again. With the determination of a madman he started to scramble up the rock.
He pulled himself up to the ledge and was stunned to see one of the men he recognised as being a member of AVALANCHE and the black demon which had addressed him the reactor standing side by side looking down on the start of a fight below. The massive beast towered over even the tall raven-haired man but neither seemed aware of each other's presence as they watched the scene intently. Chaos's wings twitched anxiously and Vincent was tapping his side with his claw as though he regretted not being able to join the expected fray.
"Vincent!" called Sephiroth, surprised that he was able to recall the name.
At the same time, both the demon and the man turned to face him. Momentarily taken aback, he ran over to them and Vincent stepped forward.
"What's going on?" he asked immediately. "Where are we?"
Sephiroth shook his head weakly. "I don't know. I came here an hour ago and Jenova found me. We were talking and she tried to kill me when all of a sudden something started attacking her."
"What is it?"
He shook his head again. "I haven't caught sight of it yet."
Vincent sighed and continued to stare down on Jenova's broken remains. "Is this a dream? It seems too real... ." he murmured and Sephiroth joined him.
He glanced up at the demon who hadn't even moved since his entrance and turned to Vincent. "Why is that demon here?" he asked with his voice lowered to a whisper
Vincent turned and regarded him emotionlessly. "He is a part of me. I don't see why he shouldn't be here." he contended flatly.
Sephiroth's eyes widened and he made a mental note not to mention it again. "I don't understand." he said quietly once the only noise that existed was the soft scratching of Jenova below as she started to re-gather herself. "What is the point of this? Why are we here?"
"We are all 'children of Jenova'." Vincent responded after a few more minutes of silence had elapsed. "She must have summoned us here in mind."
"But... why?" Sephiroth questioned rhetorically. "I wish I could understand."
There was a soft rumbling like a faint earthquake and Sephiroth was alarmed to hear both Chaos and Vincent emit low growls from the back of their throats. He looked at the ex-Turk. "What is it?" he gasped worriedly and Vincent peered out over the edge of the platform.
"I believe that Jenova's Bane is about to make itself known." he growled and Chaos stepped to the edge to stare down with him.
Moments passed until with horrid expectation and adrenaline that surged through their veins, the ground below the shattered alien started to bulge upwards like a monstrous bubble. Jenova started to scream again like a wounded animal as she saw her death approaching and the broken tentacle started to flail wildly forcing the spectators to leap back warily.
Eventually, the bubble skin started to split and fissures beaming off curtains of illuminous green steam burst upwards like twisted waterfalls. The cracks widened until the ground peeled back like a balloon bursting in slow motion and Jenova was thrown away to land below the trio covered in thick black blood and dust. As the earth was pushed away, a massive hole was formed from which arose a black gas in strong contrast to the previous bright green. The acrid scent filled the air until they retched, but fighting it back they continued to watch with horrid fascination.
Suddenly, the darkness began to move. The shadows that existed within the deepest depths of the hellish hole took form and began to shift. Glowing orange streaks like veins started to appear within it and the three were blasted back suddenly as a rush of hot air burst up from the chasm. They leapt to their feet quickly however to resume their watch but regretted their hasty reactions as they looked upon hell given a physical form.
The darkness started to bulge upwards like another bubble, except instead of bursting it continued to grow taller and taller until it stood like a column thrust from the planet. Just as they thought it was about to topple over, it suddenly shrank back down at an incredible rate until it was half the size it had been before. The rounded tip split open with a hiss of the black steam and a piercing scream was emitted. Vincent and Chaos dropped to the floor with their hands pressed over their ears while Sephiroth winced and fought to keep his sanity. From the open tip formed structures like massive fangs and a forked tongue flickered out; a glowing orange magma, the same colour as the veins that covered the molten onyx beast. The end bent over like a head and lowered to face the shattered form of Jenova. Two points either side of the 'head' began to glow brighter and brighter until they formed two huge, almond orange eyes that gleamed like lava.
They seemed to focus on the screaming female 'goddess' but her cries were drowned out as the snake-like beast threw back its head and let forth another shriek. It towered above the broken alien and even above the heap of boulders but Sephiroth, Vincent and Chaos were too overwhelmed to move or hide themselves from the monstrosity.
The noise like a steam-train screaming a thousand times at once ceased suddenly and silence rushed in to fill the lack of consistency in the air. Jenova shook and trembled as the attention of the serpentine creature was focused upon her and the rattling of her cracked shell served as the only sound in the barren field. An eternity passed and a forked lava tongue flickered out to break the stifling stillness where nothing dared to move. Suddenly a terrible noise filled the air more terrifying that the hissed screech of the snake's cry. A sound like the rumbling of an earthquake boomed through their souls and rumbled the very ground they stood upon. Pebbles danced and jumped on the rocky earth as the vibrations rattled through the black soil. It took them many minutes of close listening until they finally realised that the demonic appartition was communicating. The almond eyes blacked for a second as though it was blinking and then the noise started again.
"JENOVA." its voice boomed speaking with the tongue of a thousand voices at once. "THE CALAMITY FROM THE SKIES. THE ONE WHO ENDEAVOURED TO DESTROY THE PLANET AND EVERYTHING WITHIN IT. THE ONE WHO SOUGHT TO RISE ABOVE HER STATION."
The creature spoke with statements rather than questions and the trembling bloody accused made no move to answer her charges.
"YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A CANCER; A MALIGNANT GROWTH ON THE FACE OF LIFE." The eyes narrowed and the head lowered until the three observing the trial could smell the black smoke rising from the demon's head. "I AM THE JUDGE I AM THE JURY AND I AM THE EXECUTIONER. YOU ARE GUILTY AND DESERVE BEYOND DEATH; I SHALL BE THE ONE TO MAKE YOU ENDURE THAT. PREPARE TO ATONE DISEASE FOR YOUR HEINOUS CRIMES. BY DOING SO THE UNIVERSE SHALL BE RESTORED AND YOUR INSIGNIFICANT LIFE SHALL BE FORGOTTEN.
"BOW BEFORE ME. I AM YOUR DEATH."
The serpent ended its speech with another shriek that screamed across the dead land. The remaining loose rocks which had not tumbled from the rumbling of its voice toppled and thumped to the sooty ground far below.
Jenova feebly attempted to escape the wrath of her persecutor by dragging her battered body away using the barely functioning tentacle. However, to halt her pathetic movements a tendril of the black viscous mass that made up the serpent weaved out and wrapped around the tentacle. It froze and time paused for a brief second but as the trio watched the black tendril started to glow brighter and brighter until it was the same colour as the lava veins. Jenova shrieked and wisps of vile smelling smoke dispersed into the air as the corpulent appendage started to melt. Eventually when the light became too much to watch, there was a thump and the tentacle melted off and landed in the dust throwing up a cloud as it continued to hiss, filling the air with the sweet smell of burning flesh.
Jenova now writhed on the ground uselessly screaming and wailing in agony; both physical and in that of defeat. Her cries were ended abruptly however as a serpentine head suddenly lunged down and lifted once more with the statuesque form in its mouth. Now the terror that had manipulated thousands of years of life hung like a worn-out toy in the jaws of a puppy. The creature shook its head and black blood was sprayed out across the landscape coating the onlookers with a strong sulphuric stench. Chaos lunged forward with wings wide open to protect Vincent and the acid blood sprayed across the crimson membrane and hissed loudly as it reacted with the delicate skin. Sephiroth dived behind a nearby rock crying out as some of the blood hit him on the boot and started to melt through. Chaos screamed out and Vincent's own cries joined his mingled with those of Jenova's until there was a cacophony of agony ringing in the once dead air.
It wasn't long before the gruesome rain ceased falling and the wails died out leaving their hideous tune ringing in the ears of all present. Sephiroth lifted his head from behind the rock and looked over at Chaos and Vincent. Their bodies lay intertwined with the more massive form of the demon lying over the ex-Turk as if to protect him. Smoke rose up off the black skin and patches of scarlet stained the rock near around as blood seeped from the charred wounds. He grimaced but couldn't help but feel thankful it was Chaos rather than Vincent. His thoughts came too quickly however as the demon painfully eased itself up to reveal Vincent's fear stricken person. He was curled up tightly in a ball and although no wounds had touched his unnaturally pale skin, his eyes were terrifyingly wide and his mouth was aghast. He'd been drained of all colour and seemed little more than a corpse. Sephiroth gasped as the red-cloaked figure didn't move even after his living shield had moved away; from the distance it wasn't overly hard to see that he was dead. He vaulted over the side of the small boulder and sprinted over to the AVALANCHE member where he knelt down and stared into his pale face.
"V, Valentine?" he said worriedly. "Vincent!"
He bowed his head sorrowfully realising that it was futile to even hope for a reaction but as there came a coughing and spluttering, he leapt in shock and gazed down in horror at Vincent as he started to choke.
The vampire rolled over onto his stomach and then pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. Taking a few breaths, he suddenly vomited blood and the terrible red pool flowed outwards and ran over the edge of the high rocky platform. Despite the desolate and hopeless surroundings, Sephiroth couldn't help but feel a wave of relief.
"I thought you were dead." he breathed.
Vincent crudely wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and regarded Sephiroth with a ruby stare. "I get that a lot." he responded dryly.
He lifted his head and glanced over at the dark shape of Chaos leaning up against a wall of rock from which the ledge jutted out. The black demon was covered in gaping charred wounds and blood dripped freely onto the dusty ground. Vincent grimaced as he stood, clutching at invisible wounds and finding it difficult to walk as he stumbled over to the conjuration of his own dark side.
Sephiroth observed him as he had a one-sided conversation with Chaos in low murmurs. Unable to hear the words spoken, he turned on his heel and strode to the edge of the platform to look out on the destruction. As he watched, the demonic cobra spat out the torn corpse of what was left of Jenova disdainfully and stared coolly at the place where the fleshy heap landed. It fizzed and boiled unprompted; burnt away by its own acid and soon nothing was left except a hissing mound of tissue.
Satisfied that its prey was dead, the onyx serpent turned and directed its stare at the black clad figure of the SOLDIER as he stood defiantly, covered in dust and tears. The resolution and strength that glittered in his aqua eyes was unmistakable. However, the creature seemed less than threatened by the unspoken warning and amusement seemed to shimmer in its own amber orbs.
Swallowing nervously in the presence of a greater power, Sephiroth clenched and unclenched his fists warily and continued to stare up at the towering monster as it seemed to hypnotise him. Eventually tearing his mind away from what he was certain the beast wished him to think, he coughed.
"Thank you." he began uncertainly.
The amusement in its eyes seemed to increase and its tongue flickered. "YOU THANK ME, SON OF JENOVA?" it asked and Sephiroth made no motion to answer. "I AM CURIOUS."
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "I am not the son of that virus." he retorted angrily. "I do not wish to be affiliated with It in any way."
The serpent's head tilted to one side. "YOU SHARE THE SAME CELLS, YOU AND HER." it boomed in answer and Sephiroth's head lowered.
"That was not by choice." he replied sadly. "I do not belong to her and I am not a part of her."
"IT MATTERS NOT WHAT YOU BELIEVE MORTAL. YOU HOLD A PART OF HER WHICH CAN NEVER BE REMOVED AND SO YOU ARE INEXPLICABLY BOUND TO HER. YOU ARE THE ONE WHO TRIED TO DESTROY THE PLANET. FOR THAT ALONE YOU DESERVE DEATH."
Sephiroth nodded. "I have never doubted that." he whispered. "And I wish to the gods that I still was. However fate resurrected me and I shall not turn on a second chance if I can redeem myself in any way."
"REDEEM YOURSELF??" it exclaimed. A harrowing sound tore through the plains and the earth vibrated as the beast threw back its head and let out a cold, hollow laughter. "YOU CAN NEVER BE CLEANSED FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE, SON OF JENOVA. WHETHER YOU CAN FEEL REMORSE ON YOUR ACTIONS OR NOT DOES NOT CLEANSE YOU OF YOUR DEEDS. YOU ARE STILL NOTHING MORE THAN HER PUPPET; YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN ONE OF HER TENTACLES. WHILE YOU LIVE, SO DOES SHE. I CANNOT ALLOW THAT."
Sephiroth opened his mouth to object but he felt a soft nudge on his arm and turned to see Vincent standing weakly next to him, half supported by Chaos. "So you will kill him?" he asked rhetorically. "Despite his atonement and regret you will turn on that and murder him anyway?"
Again the beast threw back its head in laughter and they winced as the sharp sound pierced their eardrums. Eventually the creature stopped and regarded them with cruel amusement. "I DO NOT HAVE TO KILL YOU. I CAN SAVE OR DAMN YOU BOTH AT A WHIM IF I SO WISH. WITH THE DEATH OF JENOVA, YOU, HER SONS SHALL ALSO PERISH; YOU ARE ONLY MORTAL AFTER ALL. FOR ME TO DESTROY YOU NOW WOULD BE THE MOST HUMANE SOLUTION. I COULD SAVE YOU FROM THE PROLONGED DEATH THAT TIME HAS TO OFFER YOU." Black lips turned upwards in a fiendish grin. "I CANNOT HELP BUT BELIEVE I WOULD FIND THE GREATEST SATISFACTION HOWEVER IN BEING THE ONE TO END THE LEGACY OF THAT VIRUS. BECAUSE OF THAT YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT HERE."
"We have been summoned to die?" yelled Sephiroth fiercely while Chaos let out a furious roar. "What kind of a sick joke is this??"
"I ASSURE YOU THAT THE ONLY AMUSEMENT TO BE GAINED IN THIS SITUATION SHALL BE MY OWN WHEN I PULVERISE YOUR CORPSES AS WELL AS I DID YOUR MOTHER'S."
Before they could speak again, the head jabbed forward. Sephiroth's fighting instincts warned him of the move and he leapt as the fangs struck rock, tearing the thick slab from the wall it sprouted from. Chaos wrapped massive arms around Vincent's weak waist and beat its wings powerfully until they rose high into the air.
Sephiroth once more landed on his dislocated shoulder and screamed as the joint completely shattered under the clumsy landing. He only managed to roll away in time to prevent being bitten in half as the serpent dived down; slavering jaws open in preparation for the contact with flesh. The ground exploded as the viscous snake hit hard stone and lost its form, reduced to the puddle of liquid that it was. Sephiroth stumbled away to hide behind the rock edifice but a tendril of the black liquid burst up from the dark lake and wrapped around his ankle. He cried out as he was pulled to the floor and dragged along the dust towards the shapeless mass that was slowly reforming into the hooded cobra.
The line was severed as Chaos swooped down still clutching his passenger. A well-tilted wing sliced through the connection and Sephiroth sprinted as quickly as his legs would carry him away from the monstrosity. The crimson winged demon started to lift higher and higher into the air once more in preparation for another assault but a geyser of the black fluid broke the surface of the lake and collided with the flying demon. Stunned and winded, Chaos couldn't control itself and started to dive downwards, smothered in the fluid. Vincent closed his eyes without a sound and braced himself for impact while his carrier persisted to fight off the choking substance. Eventually after a few seconds that seemed like an eternity of agonised struggling, they hit the dark lake with a tary explosion. The semi-solid collapsed back in on itself to hide the contact point and with a loud squelch both Chaos and Vincent were swallowed within the black depths.
Sephiroth gasped in shock from his vantagepoint behind a large boulder. He regretted his display of emotion however as a serpentine head rose from the middle of the lake and stared towards him. Holding his breath to avoid detection, it didn't take him long to realise that his lame attempt was useless. The lake started the shrink back in on itself to once more form the cylindrical body of the snake and it coiled around itself in a pose that reminded him eerily of the Midgar Zolom before it lunged. The serpent swayed to and fro as it surveyed its surroundings with murderous intent. Its tongue flickering in and out expectantly, it slowly came back down and started to slither across the grainy sand towards the outcrop of boulders.
Ducking as low as he could whilst still clutching his shattered joint, Sephiroth could do little more than hide. The sound of the dirt scratching and tearing against smooth skin reached a crescendo as the beast moved closer and closer to his trembling form, but all at once it ceased. Minutes passed with nothing but shallow breathing and silent prayers to whatever gods were listening. Eventually when silence had elapsed for an unbearably long time, Sephiroth dared to lift his head and peer behind him towards where the demonic snake had been the last time he'd dared to look. But there was nothing. It seemed as though it had disappeared and anger swelled his heart as he realised that it had taken the bodies of Vincent and Chaos within it. Bowing his head sorrowfully he pushed off from the large stone and stumbled away. He didn't care if the serpent was present; if it was lying in wait for him so that it didn't have to bother searching. What was the point? He was the son of Jenova and the beast was right. He deserved worse than death. He had waited many years for such a punishment to arrive and perhaps it was time to face it.
"Here I am you bastard!!" he screamed as he walked away from the sheltered pile and out into the black plains towards where he had originally appeared. "I won't hide! I've had enough of hiding. Come and get me! Make me do what you think I deserve! I won't object; in fact I'll welcome it. Come on!!"
He was now standing metres away from his first set of footprints that tarnished the barren landscape. There was no sign of the death bringer and he was starting to feel weak. He fell to the floor and threw off his elbow high black leather gloves to wipe his forehead half-heartedly. It was all a joke; it had to be a sick and twisted joke that someone was playing on him. He was ready to take the blame and they were even going to snatch that from his grasp. What was the point any more?
He slumped down onto the ground and put his face in his hands. It was useless.
He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to shout more abuse at whoever or whatever was listening but he paused as something caught his eye. There was a definite movement coming from the direction of the group of boulders. Squinting against the weak light that seemed to emanate from the sky; he focused his eyes upon the source of his interest. The snake had reappeared and was now twisting itself around the rocks like a coiled black spring. He stood but the massive creature didn't even glance in his direction.
He considered calling to it; making his presence better known if his stark silver hair wasn't already obvious enough against the black ground. However, a sudden and loud crack burst through the air as if someone had fired a gunshot near his head and it tore him rudely from his thoughts. The snake opened its mouth and let forth another terrible roar that echoed against invisible walls and rang through the landscape. Another loud crack boomed out and it was followed by a loud rumbling. As Sephiroth watched, the snake screamed and uncoiled itself. The miniature-mountain gave a weary groan and gradually collapsed, rolling out across the ground throwing up a colossal dust-cloud that was swept high up into the air.
Sephiroth choked and coughed on the thick atmosphere and wafted the haze from his face. When the black screen eventually cleared there was nothing left of the rocks that had served as his only shelter on the open plains. They were little more than rubble. He gasped at the strength of the creature that had destroyed Jenova and created her tomb in an act of might and pure hatred.
A black and lava veined hooded-head appeared from opposite the gravel heap and regarded him from the great distance with vivid orange eyes. A forked tongue flickered out like a bolt of lightening against the ebony body and seemingly satisfied of its prey, the serpent started to slither over the pile towards him. It moved at an astonishing speed as it appeared to flow across the sea of raven sand; dust clouds spewing up either side of its massive, long bulk.
Sephiroth stood and tilted his chin up defiantly to face to the towering creature that bore down upon him. Sweat beaded upon his brow and his legs felt numb but he remained standing. Eventually, the serpent slowed and its head stopped barely ten metres away from him. It was huge even from the slight distance. He predicted in his last moments out of something to do in order to keep himself calm that the head alone was five metres long from 'snout' to back. From the tip of the nose to the tail that was split into three separate tips he estimated one-hundred-and-thirty metres in total. Its girth was at least ten metres and he grimaced as he thought of Vincent and Chaos smothered in the inky viscous liquid. Tearing his eyes from the rest of the serpent's body, he lifted his face to look into its eyes. They smouldered like hot coals in an old fireplace except pure hatred and loathing were the only fuels for these inner fires.
The magma cracks that ran like rivers across its body seemed to glow and dim with a slow rhythm and as he stared into the almond eyes he found himself slowly mesmerised by the slow throbbing.
"YOU HAVE NO WEAPON. YOU HAVE NO SHELTER AND NO ONE TO TURN TO SON OF JENOVA." the creature boomed to break the silence. The very ground that Sephiroth stood upon shook and trembled with every syllable and he clenched his jaw to stop himself from crying out in terror. "IT IS YOUR TIME."
He almost nodded. He almost opened his arms providing an easy target for the black fangs to sink into and end his pathetic existence. He almost relished the thought of sinking back into oblivion and surrendering to the will of the demonic cobra as it swayed rhythmically before him. He almost gave up... . Almost............. .
This wasn't right.
Chaos and Vincent had given their lives for him to live and fate had brought him back to redeem himself. 'Destiny' was the only reason given to him. Destiny was controlled by the greater beings who watched such tragic ballets. Destiny controlled by the universe itself.
Who was he to throw it back in their faces? He had destroyed one life; was it his right to ruin another?
Sephiroth slowly lifted his head and looked back at the creature with a frown.
The serpent stopped and drew back until it towered many metres above him. He was forced to crane his neck in order to meet its burning gaze but he never lost his resolution.
"YOU DARE TO DEFY ME, VIRUS?" it rumbled furiously.
He nodded. "I am no virus. I was once a part of Jenova during which time I was drunk with power and hatred but I have changed. I may contain a part of her but it has been made redundant. Slay that part of me if you will but to kill me would be like destroying a human. I am not innocent. I do not deserve to live by my own beliefs but I have been reborn and I shall not deny fate the chance to deal me again in whatever game it persists in playing."
"THEN YOU BELIEVE YOURSELF TO BE HUMAN, SILVER-HAIRED ONE?"
"THEN REMAIN SAFE WITHIN THAT ILLUSION. IT MATTERS NOT. HUMANS AND ALL OTHER CREATURES POLLUTE THE PLANET AND SAP IT OF ITS LIFE. YOU HAVE MADE THE WRONG CHOICE MORTAL."
"Choice? You think that I chose to be created in the first place? I was born and I have lived; I am what I am."
"AND WHAT YOU ARE IS A LEECH ON THIS PLANET; DRAINING ITS SPIRIT AND POISONING IT WITH YOUR OWN. HUMAN OR CHILD OF THE PARASITE JENOVA YOU MUST PERISH." The glowing eyes narrowed and Sephiroth felt the hatred and loathing flow like a gas off the creature's body. He swallowed nervously.
"So all living things have to die." he stated more to himself than his company who nodded at his realisation.
"I SHALL BE THE ONE TO PURGE THE PLANET OF THIS DISEASE; THE DISEASE CALLED 'LIFE'. I AM THE VIGILANTE."
The snake let forth a hiss like that of a thousand grains of sand falling in a timepiece and Sephiroth felt his last seconds counting away with every golden piece of grit. It rose up until its head was barely visible and his mouth dropped open at the enormity of his fate. Like a tree felling, the serpent started to bend downwards at the awesome speed of a cobra striking a paralysed victim. He closed his eyes and prepared for the wicked jaws to clamp down on his body and shake the life from it as the beast had done to Jenova before him.
However, it never came.
Metres away from Sephiroth's rigid form, the head of the onyx serpent suddenly exploded showering a rain of black and orange tar over him. His eyes open in alarm and he leapt back as the snake's torso collapsed to the ground with an earth-shattering boom as a crimson and ebony streak burst from the remaining, steaming stump and darted into the air quickly becoming little more than a speck. As the body of the viscous beast hit the ground it burst and the dark lake it had formed from was created again. A tidal wave of the vile smelling liquid rushed towards the gaping observer, and spurned on by fear, he sprinted away and somehow outran the ebony tsunami.
Finally safe, he stopped and turned back around to see the extent of the jet-black pool. It stretched on for as far as his eyes could see and further, filling the air with its sulphuric stench. Like a mirror, he could see his own reflection when he dared to look down upon it but as a measly bubble broke the surface, he jumped back and took a few cautious steps away. The earth started to vibrate and a hideous screaming filled the dead air.
"I'LL KILL YOU YET, VIRUSES!" the bodiless voice screamed. "ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, YOU SHALL BOTH BE MINE.........!!"
And then there was silence. Cold oppressive silence that seemed more terrifying than the remains of the beast itself. Eventually as he watched, the lake started to disappear as it began seeping into the ground. After an agonising few seconds, the entire dark puddle had drained away leaving the horizon and surroundings as bleak, lifeless and barren as they had been before.
The weakness overcame him once more and with a weary sigh he fell to the floor on his hands and knees. The creature had been defeated for now but its threat hung in the air like it's acrid smell which made him want to choke. His ripped trench-coat and bare hands reeked of the foul chemicals while his long hair had been plastered to his face due to the sweat pouring from his forehead. He had to get away before it returned, but where? He didn't even know where he was. The whole place in it's lifeless entirety could only exist in a nightmare; in the deepest, darkest pits of a mans mind. It had to be a dream, surely it was. The last thing he remembered was lying in an unfamiliar yet comfortable bed with the face of his mother, his real mother in his mind. How could such a divine feeling lead to such horror?
Maybe if I wake up, it shall all go away. Nothing as awful as this can really exist; it can't do. It's all a dream... .
"I wish to the gods it were." whispered a voice from behind him.
He gasped in alarm and twisted around to face the unannounced speaker. Vincent stood behind him; the black liquid of the serpent falling from him like distorted blood from numerous wounds that covered his pale skin. Scorch marks and seeping injuries bled slowly while his clothes were torn and ripped beyond repair. His cloak fluttered behind him like a tattered banner and Sephiroth inhaled sharply as he saw the extent of the many injuries.
"Good God." he gagged. " Are you all right?"
Vincent looked down at himself. "I'm sure I'll... live." he paused and sighed. "How are you feeling?"
Sephiroth brushed himself down with his good arm. His shoulder hurt like hell and he felt battered and weary but compared to the barely standing figure before him, his own minor injuries were nothing but scuffs and bruises. "I'm all right but you look terrible. Here, let me take a look at those burns."
He reached out but Vincent drew back like a cat and bared his fangs in a feral threat as he gave a piercing hiss. "Don't touch me!" he growled and Sephiroth's eyes widened.
"I was trained in SOLDIER how to tend to wounds. I'll try not to hurt you."
He took a step forward in another attempt to console the ex-Turk but again he was met with hostility. "I told you not to touch me!" Vincent snarled and he leapt back with astonishing agility, regarding the silver-haired warrior with furious red eyes.
Not fully comprehending but harbouring no desire to push the matter, Sephiroth sat back down on the gritty floor and shivered as a chilling wind suddenly blew through the plains from nowhere. It swirled in the distance pulling columns of the black sand into the air like brief stalagmites as they reached up to the dull heavens and collapsed back down again. Silence reclaimed its territory over the barren landscape and Sephiroth felt his eyelids get heavier and heavier until he almost teetered over onto his side. Admonishing himself mentally, he stood and started to pace, ignoring Vincent's wary eyes following his every move. He dared a couple of glances towards the tattered vampire and every time his aqua gaze was met with a harsh ruby one. Eventually he stopped and turned to face him.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked, anger creeping into his voice. "Why don't you say something instead of just sitting there and staring at me?"
Vincent blinked slowly but said nothing.
"Where's that demon? Where's Chaos?" he asked and he noticed the golden claw at Vincent's side clench briefly.
"It is here."
Sephiroth stopped and glanced around the surroundings. He frowned at his inability to locate it and finally turned back to his dark company. "I don't see it."
"You're looking at it now." came the calm reply and Sephiroth's brow creased in puzzlement.
"I see you and I see a lot of black dust."
Vincent gave a sad nod. "I am Chaos. You see him through me although I suppose that it is no longer correct to give 'him' a name or even regard 'him' as being anything other then myself." Vincent looked up to the sky as he became lost in his mutterings. "I suppose that would be like giving your hand a gender or your foot a name. It seems pointless."
Sephiroth arched his eyebrows. "From what I gathered, you were no more in control of that form than you were over an earthquake in another galaxy. I thought Hojo created another life-form through you that would only appear when you could no longer hold it back?"
"Yes... yes it was nice to believe that, wasn't it?" Vincent murmured flatly. "Sometimes it is hard to distinguish reality and what you have forced yourself to assume over time." He almost gave a manic laugh as his hazy mind was cast back to his brief conversation with Yuffie as she read her book in his apartment many weeks before. What was it called? Oh yes... 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'; where life is backwards and appearance is not reality. How paradoxical. How deliciously ironic... .
He sighed and started to pace; it appeared as though they had exchanged roles as Sephiroth now followed Vincent with his bright, curious aqua gaze.
"Hojo did indeed succeed in personifying my emotions but I had always interpreted that to mean he had given them a life of their own. He had literally created life through my inability to control myself but I was wrong. 'Chaos' was never anything separate from me. It was true that I had to prevent myself from transforming and it only occurred when lost my temper. I believed that this was because I was unable to focus my mind upon keeping the creature at bay." he shook his head sorrowfully and sighed deeply. "It was never anything as complex. When I became angry my form would alter. Unfortunately it only ever appears when I am so furious that I can hardly govern my actions; thus giving the impression that I wasn't in command of my body. The only restraining I had to do on my behalf was to prevent myself from getting mad." he chuckled and gave a contradictory smile, his fangs protruding obviously over his bottom lip. "The very occurrence which led me to my present dilemma. I lost my temper over Lucrecia's illness and went to kill Hojo. I was so blinded by pure rage that I walked straight into his lab where he shot me as easily as if I had been tied down and prevented from moving. I was so angry I wasn't even aware of what I was seeing or doing and so I literally killed myself."
Vincent stopped and bowed his head mournfully in stark contrast to the satirical smile which had played on his lips before. "I killed five men, I robbed five human-beings of their lives because I lost my temper. In a moment of blind passion I murdered them." his voice died out and was carried away by the soft wind as it started to pick up intensity with every silent moment.
"I, I've killed... a lot of innocent people in my time." Sephiroth answered quietly so as not to shatter the delicate atmosphere.
Vincent lifted his head slightly and peered intensely at him. "You were under the control of a greater power. I was in control of myself. I suppose that I could argue I did it in self-defence just as I have done many times in the past and never regretted it. But I could have run. I didn't have to stop and take my aggression out on them simply because I felt like it.
"The monster is not the form; it is the force that drives the actions. That force is me." he ended in a solemn, sorrowful whisper.
Sephiroth choked on whatever words were about to pass through his lips. What could he say? What was appropriate to say in such a circumstance? Somehow he knew that 'Congratulations, you're a murderous demon' wasn't going to be appropriate. Instead he started to play numbly with the hole in his boot where Jenova's blood had touched him and he studiously avoided drawing any further attention to himself. Eventually he heard a soft sigh and the rhythmic sound of near silent footsteps leading away from him. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and leapt to his feet to follow after the solitary figure.
"Where are you going now?" he asked when he was a metre away.
Vincent stopped but didn't turn around. "I don't know." he replied quietly. "Away; away from here to take my problems elsewhere."
"You don't have to go alone."
He turned around to face Sephiroth; an ambiguous look of puzzlement and annoyance on his pale, blood streaked face. "And you would come with me?" he asked softly. "You would share my hell with me?"
"No. I simply want you to know that you don't have to suffer in silence and walk away like this." Vincent tilted his head to one side questioningly and Sephiroth coughed before he continued. "When I was in the lifestream, my mother, Lucrecia spoke to me. She would talk and talk for hours on end but I was too consumed by myself to give her my full attention. I did listen though; I hung on every word, upon every emotion that touched her soft voice and it used to tear her to pieces when I didn't even acknowledge her existence. I was listening though and I think that the only thing which kept me sane was the fact that she stayed with me even though I isolated myself from everything and everyone else.
"She'd talk of minor things like the weather and how everyone up here was doing and how the world was slowly rebuilding itself. But she'd talk about you most of all." Sephiroth swallowed and Vincent looked down at the ground, his fists clenched as he held back whatever emotion threatened to spill over his outwardly imperturbable exterior. "She'd describe all the nights that you used to spend together in Nibelheim and the things that you used to do whenever you were forced apart for more than a day. She told me about things like how you'd always put roses on her pillow and take her for walks in the dead of night in the fields around the town. About how you'd look up at the stars and you'd tell her all the constellation names and you'd go for picnics away from prying eyes and Hojo.
"I used to love listening to her talk about things like that because although I could tell she was sad, there was always such happiness in her voice when she even mentioned your name. She could tell me absolutely everything about those precious moments you'd spend together from what direction the wind was blowing to how many stars were in the sky. She'd remembered everything about you but sometimes she'd get depressed and tired. I didn't really understand about it all but sometimes she'd return after she'd gone to the surface for a few days just so that she could watch you for a while and remember what it used to be like when you were together.
"I longed to comfort her and ask her what was wrong but I was so obsessed with punishing myself that I didn't spare her with the time. She'd sometimes tell me anyway; she'd say that you were torturing yourself and that she was sad you couldn't move on. I, I can remember this one time when she came back after a long absence and she burst into tears. I almost turned around to help her but she started to talk anyway so I sat back and listened.
"She said that although you two would always be joined through your hearts and souls, she wished that you would move on and find happiness again. She hated seeing you punish yourself as she hated to watch me do the same but there was nothing she could do to help us." Sephiroth paused and sighed. "All she wanted was for everyone to be happy and then she would allow herself to return to the lifestream and be at peace, but she can't do that as long as we persist to hate ourselves.
"I, I'm trying to move on, really I am but right now, at this moment in time, I can't do that. I realise now that turning my back on the universe and wallowing in self-loathing isn't the way to remedy my problem. I was brought back for a reason and I shall find out what that reason is."
He folded his arms and looked down at the floor. "In the meantime, all I can do is play out destiny and hope that I realise my path before it's too late."
Vincent was silent. His eyes had drifted to the horizon and remained there all through his companion's speech; their gaze unwavering. Eventually, as Sephiroth started to shuffle uncomfortably under the oppressive atmosphere, he turned and looked at him.
"I want to be alone now." Vincent announced in a barely audible whisper and stared at him blankly.
Sephiroth started to walk away but he didn't get far before he turned back, anger steeling over his senses. "Do you even care?" he asked in a low tone. "Have you taken in anything that I have just said to you??"
Vincent turned around and glared at the accuser, his red irises glowing through fury. "Don't you ever say that I don't care!" he retorted furiously. "I sacrificed my body to save my mind, I renounced my past to save my sanity and I relinquished my emotions to save my soul. You may see me as cold and heartless but I assure you that the cause of this miserable wretch you see standing before you was love and any other emotion under this god forsaken sun.
"So forgive me if I am not as willing to hand out my emotions as any 'normal' person. You may be able to stand back and decide to renounce everything you have done and become but I am not so eager. Where you used your 'gifts' to become a greater being, I have shied away from them and god knows I have tried to destroy them. You stand there with your Mako-enhanced abilities; your swordsmanship and strength that came about as the result of Jenova cells and you think with the mind and soul that was created in a laboratory. You stand there and feel that you have the right to govern my actions and my thoughts??" Vincent screamed, his voice rising higher and higher in pitch as utter rage overcame his senses. "Every waking minute of every waking day I loathe myself! I hate what I am, I hate what I do and I hate what I shall inevitably become. I know that it hurts Lucrecia. I know that I am poisoning myself and for that I despise myself further! There is nothing I can do! So long as I live and feel I shall continue to murder those around me and for that I disgust myself more than you could ever know!!" As Vincent finished his vehement speech, massive wings burst from beneath his blood red cape and the darkness that stained the sand beneath his feet seemed drawn up to him. Sephiroth stumbled back and fell to the floor as he started to grow and twist into his now familiar demonic form. Finally the embodiment of Vincent's ire stood before him in its hellish glory.
"LET ME BE ALONE!" he roared and the ground seemed to shake under the fury of the creature. With a final diabolical roar, Vincent beat his wings and soared up unto the grey sky and beyond until Sephiroth could no longer trace his flight.
He fell back until the back of his head rested on the gritty sand. This was all going wrong. He had been thankful for the opportunity to return so that he could make peace with those whose lives he had almost destroyed in the Meteor Crisis five years ago. All he had succeeded in doing so far was opening up old wounds and making fresh ones.
This wasn't right. It couldn't be right... .
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
And done what is evil in your sight,
So that you are proved right when you speak
And justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
Sinful from the time my mother conceived me... .
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