Another chapter is here!
Accent the Worst: Thank you. It's true there is not much on Cissnei life. But with this story, Cissnei is a main one.
The clicking of the keys on the laptop rang out in the dark room. Sitting on the bed while dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, Crimson's eyes shone from the glare of the screen as she compared the data taken from Shinra to the journal next to her, now that things had settled down. Or as settled down as they could be in the few days since the fiasco in Midgar with Deepground.
With their chain of command completely decimated and no way to return to the Mako-Baths, which were destroyed at some point during the raid, the Deepground SOLDIERs were basically taken off the board. Crimson's group hadn't been near them, so she could only assume that Rufus was involved somehow. Whatever the case, the casualty count of the war was nothing to scoff at and neither were the death totals that were coming out from Midgar now.
Those who survived wouldn't be able to remain for long given the circumstances and collapse of the infrastructure. They had won the battle, but the recovery efforts were a different story. But there was nothing they could really do about that at the moment. All they could do now was try to find the last loose ends to tie everything up—Sephiroth and Jenova.
Those were the last two that needed to be eradicated in order to bring an end to everything. To ensure that the world could take a step towards peace as a whole and they could move on with their lives. To that end, she had been comparing notes with Doctor Kilmister to figure out as much as she could on Sephiroth and Genesis.
He was once Hojo's assistant before he left Shinra to open the hospital in Kalm, so he was the only one who could reasonably take care of Shelke and Cloud if they were seriously injured. Thanks to him Crimson had gotten the gist of information in the research journals they'd taken from the Shinra Manor in Nibelheim, and Shelke's hacking of Shinra HQ. Now she was comparing and compiling it all.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"It's open," the former Turk answered the knocking at her door without looking up from the screen. There wasn't much of a need. There were only a handful of their usual party members at the base currently—Aerith, Cloud, and herself.
Nanaki, Tifa, and Barret had returned to Cosmo Canyon for a moment and took the Huge Materia with them. Vincent had gone off to see Lucrecia and tell her of Hojo's demise. Yuffie and Cid went back to Wutai for their own ties there. And since Cloud was undergoing his self-imposed training at the moment, that left only Aerith free to talk.
"You wanted to see me?" the last of the Cetra asked as she walked through the door, holding her PHS.
Crimson nodded. "There's a theory I've come up with, but I wanted to get your opinion first before I went to the others with it." She tapped the spot next to her, indicating she should come and sit. Once Aerith did, Crimson pulled up a chart she made. "Look at this."
Emerald eyes shifted as they roamed over the text, brows furrowing as she took in the information. "JENOVA-project S… Sephiroth if I had to guess… and JENOVA-project G… so, Genesis?"
"Gillian Hewley," Crimson corrected. "The mother of Zack's mentor, First-Class SOLDIER Angeal Hewley. She was the original subject in Doctor Hollander's attempt to pass on the traits of the Cetra when they thought that was what Jenova was. Genesis and Angeal were both the products of that experiment, while Sephiroth was the result of Hojo's experiment."
Genesis was an incomplete subject of the JENOVA-project G, injected with the cells of Miss Hewley after she had been infused with the cells of Jenova. Angeal naturally inherited the traits from her and was considered complete. Sephiroth was different since he was injected as a fetus and exposed to Jenova's cells directly, without it being tainted or diluted by Human DNA.
Aerith's eyes then fell into the chart listing the abilities they had demonstrated based on the way they were exposed to Jenova. Genesis inherited the ability to implant his cells into others to create copies, but he couldn't absorb anything to repair his DNA that was being eroded by the implanted mix of human and Jenova cells. That caused his degeneration and, being imperfect, his clones also degenerated far quicker the further his own condition worsened.
Angeal, on the other hand, naturally inherited the traits from his mother. He didn't visibly suffer from degradation, but his clones still did at a significantly slower rate. And not only were his copies connected with one another, but he could implant the cells into monsters and imbue them with additional traits, or absorb them into himself.
"So that's why it protected us back then, even after he'd died..." There was softness in Aerith's tone, the kind that came from recalling a memory. "The wolf that stayed with me in the Church must've inherited his desire to help Zack."
"It's likely that the original host's will and emotions are impressed into the copies, exactly like the people who were turned into Sephiroth Clones," Crimson reasoned. "Since Sephiroth was presumed dead at the time, Hojo thought that they would instead be drawn to Jenova under the Reunion theory."
Realization dawned on Aerith's face. "So... Hojo didn't inject Zack and Cloud with Jenova's pure cells. He injected them with Sephiroth's cells?"
Crimson nodded, with her expression growing somber. "Zack was unaffected, I think, and Cloud managed to at least withstand it well enough that the change endowed him with the traits that allowed him to become far stronger than the average SOLDIER. But the other survivors are basically his puppets now, meaning he can move them how he sees fit. When I took that into consideration and the warning that Lucrecia Crescent mentioned about Sephiroth and Hojo scheming things, I couldn't help but think that Sephiroth used Hojo for another purpose besides Omega—that he was using Hojo to learn how to propagate, imbue, and pass on his traits as a contingency plan."
Angeal and Genesis learned from Hollander, who was responsible for Project G, to make copies and absorb traits. Sephiroth was thought to be superior to them both, so he should be able to do the same. Yet he never demonstrated the ability before, despite having Jenova under his control, even when it would have been beneficial to do so. It was likely that he never learned until now, after he'd gained enough control to animate and shapeshift Jenova to carry out the assault on Shinra HQ.
Aerith brought her hand to her chin in thought. "If he had used Meteor or Omega, he could have absorbed the Lifestream and everything into himself to do what he saw fit to. But we stopped both attempts, meaning that the last option he would have is to use Jenova's inherent abilities to infect everyone and then absorb them into himself to become a gestalt-like being, ruling over them as a god."
"I was afraid it'd be something like that too," Crimson agreed. "If that is his goal, then we'll have to hurry and find him soon, or—"
Aerith's PHS rang, cutting her off before she could finish. Then it was joined by Crimson's. The numbers on both of them were registered to the base, meaning it must've been to contact them for the same purpose.
They shared a look with one another before answering.
Arriving through the sliding metal doors, Cloud found that he was the last of everyone that was on the base to reach the conference room. Crimson and Aerith sat on one side of the round table, a seat next to the former empty and presumably for him, while Reeve sat next to Aerith. Genesis was sitting on the opposite end of the conference table and next to him was a large metal case of some kind that had a combination code, along with a duffel bag on top of it.
"I was out training," Cloud said as he took his place next to Crimson and sat down, explaining his delay prematurely. There were still battles to come, so he couldn't let himself stagnate in terms of combat ability since it would mean dying before accomplishing anything like before. Especially since his opponents so far had been able to surpass him.
Rosso had been faster and Azul was stronger. Both had drastically more experience in combat than Cloud, and it showed. It was only because of Tifa and Genesis providing a distraction that he'd been able to bridge the gap and get in the killing blow, but Sephiroth was different—if he couldn't properly face the man head-first, then he would very likely kill the others.
"Diligence in one's training is a virtue you shouldn't ever apologize for. After all, the complacent sword is one that grows dull, and the Buster Sword deserves more than to just rust away from lack of use," Genesis said before looking around the table. "I trust that you've all had the chance to recover from the trials you faced in Deepground?"
"Our physical injuries have healed," Crimson said, her tone professional as she sat with her back straight and looked him in the eyes. "However, we couldn't contact you and didn't know when to expect you, so the rest of us aren't present at the moment. We'll relay what's said here to them afterwards."
From the seat next to her, Cloud could see that her Sense Materia was activated. She was looking for any information. Any hint that something was amiss. After all, Crimson didn't easily trust or forgive others who had earned her animosity, and Genesis' defection had been one of the key events that led to Sephiroth's descent into madness as well as the tragedies that followed.
"You have my apologies for that. I have been rather busy these last few days attempting to find all the things we need to bring this tragedy of a tale to a close, and my time here will be short as well." He reached down to grab the duffel bag and there was a clinking sound as it touched down on the table's surface. "These are for your group."
Aerith tilted her head, eyes slightly folded in concentration as she stared at the bag and the case. "There are several Summoning Materia within the bag… and a Huge Materia in the case."
"There's also a weapon inside that I came across in the process of searching them out," Genesis explained as he slid the bag over to Cloud, who opened it and pulled out what looked to an oversized Shuriken. The five points of it connected at the center, with two rings linked the middle sections and the neck of the blades. Crimson accepted it from Cloud and looked it over carefully. "I hope that it'll suffice as a replacement for the one lost in Deepground due to my tardiness."
"It's good quality and the weight feels just right. I'll need familiarize myself with it later." She set it back down on the table and then turned her analytical gaze towards the metal case. "But how did you get that Huge Materia? The only one that's unaccounted for is the one in Shinra's custody."
"Rufus Shinra was reluctant to part with it, but a compromise was reached once I made it clear that it and the other three would be used to deal with Sephiroth in a manner that would unmake them in the process…" He paused for a moment before sighing. "Though I also made it clear that I would take it by force if necessary. I have to act in accordance to the Goddess' instructions while she has gone silent to prepare for what comes next."
A concerned expression dotted Aerith's face. "What do you mean she's gone silent?"
"It means that time is short," he said. "After giving me her guidance in finding the Summoning Materias and telling me where Sephiroth resides, she chose to incarnate into this world."
Aerith jostled in surprise at that. "You mean she's placed herself into a Summoning Materia?"
He nodded. "She has reduced herself from being one with the Lifestream in order to help us deal with the threat of Sephiroth, since she cannot interfere from within the Lifestream itself. However, her incarnated power will be less than in her true form given how rapidly she has to form it through a vein that is untouched and inaccessible to Sephiroth, so we need the Huge Materias to assist."
"I gathered the data we had on the Mako currents, but the closest we could place him if he was carried through the one from Nibelheim was somewhere in the Northern Continent," Reeve said. "I was planning on having scouts—"
"There's no need," Genesis said. "He's in the North Crater. That was where the calamity came from the skies in the distant past. Where Jenova's arrival and infection began at the northernmost point."
"So that's what he meant by the Reunion when we at the Manor," Cloud said softly. "But, if that's the case, then was it just a coincidence that he ended up where Jenova was initially found?"
Aerith shook her head. "The damage to that land was extensive enough that the Planet shifted the currents of the Lifestream so that many of them naturally gravitate towards it, making it a nexus of sorts."
"But with no Cetra to cultivate the land, it became nothing more than a reservoir from which he drinks with impunity," Genesis followed up with. "Considering his intention to use Meteor and then absorb the energy so that it couldn't flow elsewhere, it's likely that amount he can intake far surpasses what Hojo attempted in Deepground using the Tsviet's body. Worse, he's used a portion of that energy to create a powerful barrier that can't be pierced by normal methods and left the place crawling with spawns of Jenova."
"So he was using Hojo to learn how to do so," Crimson said, drawing their attention to her. She then clarified with a brief explanation of what Project G and Project S entailed.
It caused Reeve to pout grimly as he stroked his chin. "If that's the case, then eliminating him alone won't suffice, will it? Not when he can imprint his desire to infect more people and it persists even after his death."
"And that's why we need Minerva's help?" Aerith guessed. "If she can break the barrier, then we can get through it and stop him. But there's still the matter of Jenova."
"There's a way to do both," Genesis said. "If we summon the Goddess, she should be able to break open the barrier for a single moment and strike directly at Sephiroth at the same time. That will weaken him to an extent, so that's the first step we should take."
"Even if her Summoning contains only a fragment of her true power, she's still an existence that will require an enormous amount of effort and power to summon," Aerith pointed out.
"The four Huge Materia have a large amount of condensed power that can be used to offset the cost at the expense of unmaking them, but the mental strain will be immense," he said. "I don't think that there's anyone more capable of doing so than you, but I don't think you'll be able to sustain the summoning for more than a minute. You'll be defenseless as you concentrate, leaving your fate in the hands of your guardians."
"Sephiroth won't just sit by and let it happen though," Crimson noted as she looked at the Summoning Materias in the bag. "In a worst-case scenario, he might send the message for all of the Jenova spawns and his clones to begin infecting everything."
"That brings us to the second step," Genesis said, looking over to Aerith's hair and the White Materia within it. "There's a Mountain Resort village known as the Icicle Inn located between both the Great Glacier and an ancient, sacred city among the Cetra—the Forgotten Capital. Do you know of them?"
"The village was where I was born," Aerith explained in a soft tone. "And, from the memories I received at the Temple of Ancients, the Forgotten Capital is the place where Minerva joined the Lifestream and became the Goddess of it."
"That makes it the easiest and safest place for you to summon her with all the Huge Materia, but it will also allow you to pray for Holy beforehand. If it's used, then it can potentially eliminate Jenova on a global scale once Sephiroth is out of the picture."
Crimson looked to Aerith. "Is that true?"
"It'd be a risk," Aerith said carefully. "Holy was meant to deal with anything that threatened the Planet. That may very well include humanity given everything Shinra has done and nearly-awakening Omega."
"Holy has finite power, so it will devote itself to a single purpose in dealing with the greatest threat. That is without a doubt Jenova, so humanity as a whole will be spared," Genesis said, his gaze moving to Cloud. "However, there is a chance that we who have been infused with the cells will be eliminated indiscriminately to ensure that the threat Jenova presents to the Planet is removed once and for all."
So it would sacrifice the few to save the many? Cloud thought to himself. That meant he, Lucrecia Crescent, the Sephiroth Clones, Genesis, and any remaining SOLDIERs could possibly be killed if they went through with using Holy. But if they didn't and the clones scattered...
Genesis rose to his feet. "That's everything I had to say. Bring all the Huge Materia to the Mountain Resort, and I'll meet you there once I've retrieved the Goddess Materia. From there we'll split into two parties—one to go to the North Crater to confront Sephiroth the moment the barrier is opened and the other to head to Forgotten Capital to protect Miss Gainsborough while she summons Minerva and Holy."
"Wait a second!" Crimson rose from her seat as he walked towards the door, hands planted on the table. "You can't just leave after saying that we should use something so indiscriminate that it would kill some of the people who are fighting to save the Planet."
"…Holy was originally born from the collective prayers for salvation and the hope of Minerva," Genesis pointed out without looking back. "That hope saved me from degeneration and death, so that I can defend the Planet and the future. I have faith that the one who carries the hopes of the Cetra will be able to direct Holy so that it can be used in the same manner. You should as well."
Then he left out, leaving them to stew on that information.
"We're not doing that!" Aerith winced as Tifa shouted over the phone line a few minutes after Genesis' departure, which was as abrupt as his arrival. The other members of their group had been phoned into a conference and informed what was discussed by Reeve, rather than Crimson.
The former Turk had gone silent. Her eyes were closed, and her elbows were resting on the surface of the table. It was impossible to tell what expression she wore with her fingers interlaced to hide her mouth, but considering everything Aerith could take a guess at the thoughts racing through her head.
Holy could potentially end the threat of Jenova once and for all. But it would be at the potential cost of Cloud's life, along with the others who harbored Jenova's cells within them. That number had been drastically reduced given the events that had transpired, but the thought of being the ones to make that call was a heavy burden between them.
"Yeah, it's that's not fair to us," Yuffie said, equally offended at the thought of having to condemn one of their own to death for the sake of victory. "You should have grabbed the guy and made him cough up another way to do it!"
"Calm it down, you two," Barret said. "Ain't no need to get worked just yet. They said it might happen that way. Not that it was gonna."
"But why even risk it!?" Tifa argued. "We've been doing fine in getting rid of Jenova so far, and once Sephiroth is gone it won't be able to operate on its own. That's why Shinra managed to keep it contained all this time, right?"
"But we don't know if Jenova will reassert its own will once Sephiroth is out of the picture or if it will continue to function by his directive," Vincent counter-argued. "Eliminating all the remaining cells at once would be best if possible."
"Perhaps we could find some way to shield select individuals from the effect?" Reeve suggested, trying to work out the best solution possible. A reasonable man, like Crimson had said. It was a quality her adoptive mother no doubt liked in him before his mistakes came to light.
But that was easier said than done. Holy comes from the heart of the Planet itself. There was nowhere on it that the light wouldn't be able to reach once it was unleashed. "It won't. I'm sorry."
"Even if that would work, it would mean leaving one of our most capable warriors behind," Nanaki pointed out. "If the Shamaness is killed because of such an act, then it would be for nothing. Regardless of the outcome, we should utilize the power left in place for this purpose without hesitation."
"Red…" Tifa voice carried a hint of betrayal. "I thought you would at least understand."
"My Grandfather has now joined with the Great Flow, and his loss resonates with me, but I swore I would do my duty to see the Shamaness to the end and protect my home," he said in turn. "It is a cruel being forced to fight while knowing death possibly awaits you or your loved ones in victory, but every moment we hesitate is another that could spell disaster for the world."
"…We're getting nowhere arguing with ourselves over something that's out of our hands…" A lull in the conversation was created as Crimson finally spoke, lowering her hands and opening her eyes to reveal that they were rather cold. Steeled. "It'll be a moot point if Aerith is killed because we're having doubts about it, so we'll settle it with a vote between the ones directly at risk. That's Aerith, Cloud, Shelke, and Vincent on behalf of Lucrecia."
Aerith felt the weight of their eyes on her to make the call, but she hesitated to breathe—let alone speak. After all, she had always been afraid of her friends dying while helping her fulfill her duty, and that fear was realized with the death of Kunsel. But it would be no different than killing them herself if she called forth Holy and they died because of it.
Tifa would lose what remained of her friends and neighbors. Crimson would lose her lover and reason for having a second chance. All of them would lose a comrade who they had gone into battle with time and time again. And it would be all her fault for not finding another way or working faster to prevent it from getting to this point.
The tense silence as they awaited someone to speak was broken with a question from Cloud. "Tifa, you wanted to be a teacher after your last trip to Cosmo Canyon, didn't you? That way you'd be able to teach the next generation so that they respected the Planet and knew about the balance. So that they wouldn't make the same mistakes as before, right?"
"Yeah…" Tifa said cautiously. "I figured that once the fighting was done it would be a better way to make sure that the knowledge and teachings get passed on."
"To get to that point, we have to bring the fighting to an end. If we don't, we'll be forced to put down more people who get infected. More people will be needed to fight. More people will have to die on the battlefield…" Cloud looked over to Aerith. "I'm betting everything that Aerith will pull through for us, but at least I'll go knowing that I've left things in a state where they'll be better in the end."
He was fighting for the future, regardless of what happened to him. He seemed resolved, but when Aerith looked over to Crimson she saw that the former Turk's eyes were closed again. Whatever future they likely had together would be cut short if that happened, something they both had to have realized the moment he said it.
"…I also agree," Vincent began, his tone resigned. "Lucrecia would not want her presence to cause further problems, and letting her bear the weight of her regrets while sealed away as she is would be a fate worse than death."
Aerith could see the logic in his words. Lucrecia had given birth to Sephiroth and had the cells inside of her, making her unable to die. But she didn't want to live with the guilt of everything she'd been a party to. If Holy did cleanse the Planet of those with the Jenova cells, she would probably consider it preferable.
But would he hold up knowing that he was fighting towards that outcome? Vincent was undying and destined to live forever. But, even if his promise to allow her to rest in peace meant returning her to the Lifestream, wouldn't he rather she live so that one day she could walk the world with him, free of her guilt and able to start a new life?
"I also consent to the use of Holy," said Shelke Rui as she entered the room. Since no one had contacted her just yet, she must've been eavesdropping the entire time. "It is the most rational course of action."
"Is that what you really want?" Aerith asked her, looking into her eyes. "Even after you finally escaped from Deepground and have a chance to begin anew with your sister? Do you really want to throw it away so easily because it seems rational?"
"I…" There was a notable pause for a moment as she hesitated to speak and lowered her head. "…My sister recently constructed an armament for Barret Wallace that incorporates the use of Materia and interlaces the ammunition with the magical energy."
"Figured I'd need somethin' that packed a little more of a punch if we're gonna to be dealin' with monsters like Heidegger in the future," Barret explained. "What's that got to do with this?"
"That logic is understandable considering the present circumstances, but I could not help but think that such technology could be better used with the designs for her life-support systems. Such as the one she was designing to potentially aid me in regulating the need for constant mako-baths. They would benefit the injured or infirmed greatly, and her work could change the world for the better. But as long as the threat of Jenova exists the priority for her talents and resources will be warfare, in effect making her station no different than mine in Deepground. I would rather not have her subjected to the same fate because of the need to preserve my life, should the need arise."
In other words, Shelke's reason was for her sister. Whereas before she was willing to kill herself to complete her mission, she had become willing to die so that her sister was able to put her talents to use in work she could be proud of. And so that no one would be constrained to an existence where bloodshed would be the legacy they left behind in the end.
With that, only Aerith was left to voice her opinion. No one spoke. No one wanted to pressure her into making a decision one way or the other, since she was the one who had to use the White Materia to pray for Holy.
"I'll call upon Holy," Aerith finally said, her voice steady and resolved. After listening on how her friends were willing to die for the future that could be brought about through their own sacrifices, she wasn't willing to trample on that to preserve her own feelings. But that didn't mean that she was just going to just throw them towards their death for that. "But, even if the strain becomes unbearable, I'll make sure the Planet hears my pleas. So please… don't die defending me or fighting. I want everyone to live to see the future we'll bring together."
It was a ludicrous request, given Jenova and Sephiroth were their opponents. They would be lucky to return alive. But, as selfish as it was, Aerith wanted them to survive and make it through to the end.
It was Yuffie who agreed to it first. "I can't rule Wutai if I don't come back, so I'll get through it without a scratch on me. I'll even bring all my Materia to help."
"Though I do not fear death on the battlefield, there would be no one to defend my home should I fall," Nanaki said. "Therefore, I won't."
"Wedge'll chew me out if I don't come back to Marlene, so I won't lay down and die either," Barret added.
"Shera probably won't stop crying if something happens to me," Cid said. "Besides, there's still flying to be done even after the end of the world is stopped, so I've got to stick around."
"I won't add anymore regrets for Lucrecia to shoulder," Vincent said simply.
"I'll have Cait Sith on-hand to provide support," Reeve said, before turning to Shelke. "Keep us updated on anything that could showcase movement on Jenova or Sephiroth's clones. It'd be ideal if we could find them ahead of time."
Shelke nodded. "Acknowledged."
"We'll see it through to the end so that what happened with us doesn't happen again," Cloud said. "Right, Tifa?"
Tifa agreed. "Yeah. We'll bring an end to it once and for all."
"Then that's decided," Crimson said, taking a deep breath afterwards. Her eyes had softened, the steel core missing now. "Then everyone will meet up at the Mountain Resort and then get ready for the last battle."
Aerith was sure that there was still doubt storming within Crimson's mind and heart, given how quickly she left out after that. But there was nothing she could say that would change that. The last of the Cetra could only do her best to prepare for the undertaking that was to come.
And instead leave that to Cloud, who followed out after her…