Chapter 9

Of Serpents and Shadows

One. Slash. Two. Slash, Slash. Three. Slash, Slash, Slash.

Sephiroth inhaled.


Sephiroth exhaled. "I know the routine. No instructions necessary."

Very well.

One. Forward cut. Two. Downward cut. Three. Upward cut.

You're improving. The katas come swifter and with more vigor.

"Thank you, Mother," he said as his fingers tip-toed Masamune. Sunlight fractured from the treetops above and danced down its length. Physical communication annoyed his Mother, but from time to time the former SOLDIER resorted to it in hopes of restoring some normalcy to his life. That, and if the anti-social man would admit it, he longed to hear any voice aside from that of the wind. He kept that musing to himself though, knowing how much it would displease his volatile matriarch.

I've tarried here too long he thought my mind is starting to fray.

Yes, my son. You seem too eager to delay our mission with pointless pondering.

And don't you think waving a hand at the masses to alert the clone is pointless as well?

Spinning his sword into a firm grip, Sephiroth resumed his training. That last retort had been unintentional and especially not meant for his Mother's hearing. Yet it couldn't be helped—either of it. Travel outside of Midgar and into the forest beyond grated on the ex-general's nerves. It had never occurred to him how dangerous monotony and isolation could be.

Like a million blades, Sephiroth stabbed the sword in the air, finishing with a swift sideways thrust. A slight sheen of sweat trickled down his shoulder blades, bare back exposed to the warm afternoon sun. Sephiroth preferred to train topless as it afforded him more maneuverability. In the past, that lack of dress annoyingly drew the attention of the masses, particularly of the female persuasion. Fortunately, his scowl sent them fleeing more often than not.

At last, the materia warrior drove Masamune cleanly into the grass and plopped down beside her. Shaded by a tree, he planted his back to the bark and plucked an apple from the branch above. Sephiroth's mind wandered the many avenues of memory as his tongue probed the fruit's green outer coating. The humans seemed to know exactly how to torture him. When he longed for solitude the cameras kept on clicking but when he desired companionship they deserted him…

Why do you humans always seek to torment me so?

Must you always whine like that?

So startled was he by the mental intrusion that the swordsman flung the half-eaten apple into the near-by river. It dropped with a slight splash. He'd thought too loudly again. Such irreverent thoughts. Yet how could he not think them? How could she not understand his malcontent? They'd been at odds because of her insistence at him popping into the public eye for the sake of the clone.

The shadow of the tree masking the shadow in his mako-green eyes, Sephiroth slipped his trench coat on. Then the ex-general made his way to the river, carrying his personal effects (and the canister containing his Mother) with him. Sephiroth dipped his hands into the clear liquid and splashed his face. Droplets fell from his chin. The water was cold but he'd not had the chance to bathe since leaving Kalm town a few days ago in his efforts to remain hidden. Not that Sephiroth feared the rubbish of either commoner or clone but the constant forced sightings wore on his patience. No one else warranted such exceptions? Why this clone…this…Cloud…?

We've been through this before came Mother's stringent voice.

Yes, we most certainly have. And we'll go through again and again until I am satisfied with your answer.

Why the jealously? You know you are far dearer to me than this clone. He is a means to an end and he will be ended as soon as he has served his purpose. A pause. Why are you lonely, my son? Have you forgotten our glorious plan to find the Promised Land and bring back the Cetra people? Then, you will never be lonely again…

Sephiroth didn't deign to answer. His eyes remained cast upon the unsteady image of his face on the water. Then, that gaze was drawn to a bird dipping low. Rapt, the ex-general watched it bank over the waterfall connected to the river and soar high into the clouds until it shrank to nothingness. For a moment, the former SOLDIER felt in commune with the creature. How often had he longed to fly from the chains of the life forced upon him?

Sighing, he at last responded. "And how are we supposed to accomplish that, Mother? How do we find the Promised Land? Sprout wings and fly to it?" The more the materia warrior contemplated that notion the more he liked it. "Such are powers I do not possess. What a pitiful Heir I am! An Heir to a broken line, a lost legacy!"


But her plea fell upon deaf ears. Softly Sephiroth's voice echoed, as if through the end of time, "I want to be free…Free to fly above the ills of the Planet. How high can I fly? And can I even fall…?" As the words left his lips, the former SOLDIER abandoned the river bank. As one inebriated he stumbled toward the rushing waterfall.

Like Seto frozen upon the brink of Cosmo Mountain, Sephiroth stood on the outcropping. One foot embraced the empty air. A single step separated him from plunging the fifty or so feet. Would he rise as that bird inches from surface or crash beneath the dark depths? How could Mother claim him worth of the crown of the Cetra? What if he was not worthy?

Sephiroth! What in the name of the Planet are you doing?

The sun struck his eyes as Sephiroth lifted his head. "Heirs can't die…Can they, Mother?"

He took that step.

As the former general extended his arms spread-eagle, his cloak billowed as a host of ravens following his descent. Wind rushed his face. The noise of the crashing waves invited him as the materia warrior closed in on them. A most marvelous sensation, like riding the top of a box car on the Midgar Train. For so long he felt stagnate, cutting himself just to see if he still lived. Ah, he was living now…

Not for much longer, however. That hit him as he hit the water. What lack of logic dictated his actions this time; when had that logic dried up and the folly flowed? Often Sephiroth did things not conducive to his health, but leaping off cliffs for the sheer desire to feel something had never been one of them. He sank further into the depths, the dark waters stabbing him like endless origami.

Damn you, Sephiroth! Have you taken leave of your senses? What are you trying to prove? That you can't be killed?… I assure you even a Cetra can die from such foolishness!

His lifestream-shaded eyes popped open. Light cut through the waters. His own unconscious efforts? A physical manifestation breathed to life from his will to survive? Sephiroth's limbs flailed, fighting to reach the surface. As he did so, his foot landed on something solid. Startled, the ex-general glanced down. There was his foot, suspended on insubstantial liquid as if planted squarely upon a step.

Now you see my doubtful son. Witness the birthright of your ancestors!

To the master swordsman's utter amazement, his feet continued to meet resistance. Joy coursing his veins like mako pumped directly into his bloodstream, Sephiroth burst through the surface with a terrific splash. He swung his head from side to side, silver hair fanning out like a starlit curtain. Once he emerged entirely, more shocking revelations awaited him.

As if on a slab of stone, Sephiroth stood upon the glimmering waters.

Mother…This can't be…

Yes, Sephiroth, it can. Too long you've denied your heritage. Embrace the power of the Cetra!

Sephiroth flung back his head and laughed. Power teemed at his very core. Normal mortal restrictions no longer chained him down. His hand floated up and outward as if to a flower. He took a step, then another, a slight splash accompanying each. The moment felt surreal, yet he knew it be utterly real. He was literally walking on the water.

The image of the crystalline staircase sprang into his mind's eye. Smiling, the materia warrior lifted a foot in the air. That smile deepened when it encountered solidity as he anticipated. This time, Sephiroth did not hesitate. Up and up he went, higher and higher. An onlooker would rub their eyes at that moment, fearing hallucination. Yet their eyes did not deceive them for Sephiroth was indeed ascending empty air.

Though there existed no plateau for the eye to see, the ex-general stopped suddenly. The last few moments had passed by so swiftly like the river's current itself. What a rush! The fall, the surfacing, the ascension…Despite standing over twenty feet in the air the master swordsman experienced not even a tingling of fear. Somehow, Sephiroth always knew he had powers beyond any other before him. Even for a Cetra his might was staggering.

As if a child beseeching a ride on the merry-go-round, Sephiroth whispered, "Mother, may I try this new-found power out? A little spin the air perhaps?"

Yes, my son, you may. Just remember that your power is limited.

Yet another warning that Sephiroth dismissed. Happiness and energy tickling his fingertips, the ex-general burst across the sky like a falling star on a horizontal path. Such was the energy burning from his tall form that Sephiroth could not be seen at the center; even gazing at him was brilliance bright enough to sear the eyes.

It was a long, long time before he ever came back down.

All good things must come to an end and so it was for Sephiroth. For over two hours he enjoyed a whirl across the darkening skies, his burning form casting light to almost outshine the stars. Then, with the utmost lack of ceremony, the Heir plummeted to the earth. Fortunately he landed in a grassy field within sight of a ranch. Still, the former SOLDIER was rubbing his head for over a half hour later.

The thought of how that ability might have been better served now slipped unbidden into his mind. Tall blades of grass fell to his army boots many of which stuck to his black cloak. The stench was almost unbearable—like a rotten corpse it was. Trudging through this miserable swamp lacked any of the dignity a former Head of SOLDIER normally qualified for.

I told you to reserve some of your power, both innate and materia-based. I told you to accept a chocobo to hurry past this land. Why have you taken to disobeying your loving mother as of late?

Sephiroth himself was uncertain as to his unruly behavior. Yes, she tested his patience concerning the nonsense with the clone but he'd never been so utterly difficult to work with. Perhaps the tedium of his current life, or perhaps the fact that now that he'd left Midgar the feelings of that this task, restoring the Cetra, seemed more and more implausible each day.

Swish. Sephiroth's gaze dropped to his left boot. Like the feces of some monster, brown goop coated the bottom, one that didn't readily come off. He frowned. The Mythril Swamp certainly gave credence to its inhospitable rumors, though far graver existed within than the miserable terrain. When the Heir stumbled upon a chocobo ranch some few miles off his 'drop-off point' the human there warned Sephiroth of huge serpents prowling the marsh before the mines. He tried to convince the former SOLDIER to buy a chocobo if he was determined to cross.

Tried anyway. After facing the likes of Emerald and the Guardian, a simple snake or two would be like crushing imps. Even with his materia reserves dangerously low (another unfortunate side affect of his ill-advised flight) Sephiroth doubted the zoloms could make him break a sweat.

I wonder how many other adventurers thought the same thing before falling down the throat of one of those creatures?

Sephiroth grimaced as he stepped into another deep pool of nameless substance, splashing his cloak and rimming the edges a dusky color. Vanity was hardy a trait of his, yet the Heir found this constant outdoors lifestyle not suited to his tastes. Battling in the jungles of Gongaga and on the beaches of Wutai had been less messy.

A shadow suddenly crossed his path. On alert, the ex-general drew his sword.

Perhaps you will eat your foolish words now. Despite the venom in the timbre of her voice, Jenova sounded genuinely concerned. Sephiroth flexed his wrist, Masamune spinning in the air before him. Several of the beasts lurked in the marshes, he knew, but only a single zolom sought him out. Such was the solitary nature of the creatures. It would regret that nature.

At last the Midgar Zolom burst up from the ground, grasses and mud spraying up in its ascent. Slowly, the former SOLDIER's eyes climbed up the leathery green body, his gaze locking with its. It hissed softly. So did Sephiroth. As if of like mind, the opponents circled one another. A glint caught in Sephiroth's eyes. A battle might be just what he needed to strip the boredom from the last few weeks.

Suspending his blade horizontally, at eyelevel, the ex-general waited. Not for long, though. Like a loosed catapult, the Midgar Zolom lunged for Sephiroth tearing up the marsh and spraying slush in the air. Its mouth opened to devour the ex-SOLDIER, but Masamune's steel blade repelled the attack, screeching at impact. At that very last instant, when the beast coiled, he sensed it might bowl him over.

All the while, Sephiroth didn't even blink.

His instinct proved correct and his roll-away wise as the Zolom retreated from the sword and twisted to his right. Seizing the opportunity as he seized Masamune, Sephiroth leapt onto its back, catching hold of a dung-colored fin. Positioning himself, the former SOLDIER hurried toward the head, slashing and hacking several gashes from whence blood burst to stain his trench coat.

Its shriek seemed possessed of paranatural volume. To unseat Sephiroth, the beast twirled over and over again. As a log in a stream, the master swordsman jumped and spun in tune to the turns, not even missing a heartbeat in his assault. More blood. More screams. Upon reaching the apex of the body, he dared a downward cut at the head. This time, he came up short, as the Zolom snaked his gaping mouth at Sephiroth. One back flip, then two, brought the ex-general back at square one. Back to the tail.

Sephiroth voluntarily abandoned his perch then because with the whipping around of the tail his next move, to fall flat on the ground, would not have been so voluntary.

Dropping lightly on one foot and one knee, the former SOLDIER drew a breath. He had not anticipated even the slightest of difficulty and had not made allowances. His materia energy was almost spent. There was little point in self-pity, he noted. It stood to reason that riding a chocobo probably would have avoided this confrontation but then it had been so long since he'd sated the bloodlust.

Just who's blood would be spilt at the end of this was still a matter of dispute.

Not mine! The blood of the Heir is too sweet a nectar for the foul beasts of the human realm.

Next time, listen to your Mother!

Oh, Mother, there's always time for a little on-field training…

No response. He supposed she'd slap one hell of a headache on him for that later.

As the beast dove at him, Sephiroth twisted his body out of harm's way. Instead of wasting the maneuver, the ex-general used the momentum to thrust himself into a cartwheel to land directly at the Zolom's left flank. Then…Slash. Hack. Slash. The deadly dance of katas landed on the scales of the beast lead to more ungodly shrieking.

Deciding to sacrifice a little of his low materia reserves, Sephiroth kept working Masamune above his head to ward off the blows of the beast's tail while he brewed a spell. Fires raged overhead like the lightning of gods striking fast and hard on the Zolom. Perhaps Sephiroth became too lofty; perhaps the beast just lost all patience. Whatever the reason, it outwitted the ex-general by wrapping its tail around his wrist and spinning Sephiroth as a slingshot.

That was not a comfortable thought.

An accurate one, however, as Sephiroth felt his grip break from the sword and he sailed easily thirty feet to land in the muck. Dazed, he spat out rotted vegetation. His ribs rattled in his chest. His stomach did flip-flops. His head hurt damnably. And his hair was probably a most frightful sight.

Damn Hojo and his insistence of long hair!

Infuriated, Sephiroth called upon his innate abilities for floatation, the one he'd discovered a mere day before. Within a heartbeat, the swordsman lifted into the air, his hands rising. The Midgar Zolom hovered as well, as if in preparation for another pass. It had long since discarded the ex-general's weapon and now the shining blade lay upon the marshlands as a lost beam of starlight.

As if summoned by that light reflecting in his own eyes, Sephiroth went after it. Not missing a beat, even as he grasped her hilt, the materia warrior surged forward, blade held high. Fast came his stroke…and just as fast came the tail to wrap around his statuesque body. A scream tore from his throat. Arching his back against the shock and pain, the ex-general found no refuge from the ever-tightening tail.

His hold on Eskallanilna weakened, as did his hold on consciousness….

No, my son! You must endure because you are the Heir! The fate of our kin, the beloved Cetra, rests in your hands!


Yes! Listen to Mother! Use the power of the Cetra. Fuel the rage with the tragedy that hath befallen us.

As if filling a glass of wine, power surged in the master swordsman's body for the second time in as many days. It bulged at the seams of sanity, driving him to distraction. Sephiroth resisted it briefly; then, with a joyous abandon, let loose the energy. It expanded outward, pure light brighter than a dozen Super Nova's. Shrieking, the Midgar Zolom released his prey and Sephiroth dropped to the ground with a gasp.

Peering through the threads of silver hair, the former SOLDIER watched the beast twisting in the air. What manner of power he possessed, Sephiroth knew naught but the potency could be clearly gauged from the outraged screams of his opponent. That, and the exposed muscles and sinewy flesh from which blood rapidly poured.

Mother, you spoke truly! I am without a doubt the most formidable force on the Planet. None can stand against my power. I will be crowned the leader of the Cetra people!

Concentrate, my son! Your task is not yet done.

Again, Mother's words held merit, as the serpent darted for him once more. Like a grotesque lance, it shot through the air but missed its target by mere inches. Sephiroth had anticipated the move and fell face-flat in the muck. Wind from the force of its passage stirred his argent tresses and the warrior flipped over to face the beast's underbelly. Masamune bit hard into that soft skin, leaving crisscrossing marks on the Zolom and identical patterns of blood on its wielder.

Immediately after it pulled away Sephiroth stood, attempting to brush off the brown grass from his hair and wipe some of the blood from his clothes. Neither dislodged and he supposed the fee for cleaning would be atrocious indeed. Whipping his blade around, the ex-general studied the serpent's stance. Rather than coil up to spring forth again, the Zolom suspended in the air, blue energy welling at its head.

He didn't know what that meant, but he figured it was unlikely to be a boon.

Whichever, that did not matter. Sephiroth's melodic voice rose steadily as he spoke.

"Ils eluys Seraph karlma….Dalhilema!"

Letting his sword arm lower so that Eskallanilna's tip hit the ground, Sephiroth lifted his other hand. Green light sparked at each of his fingertips. Who needed materia? Not he, not the Heir of the Cetras. Before the zolom could complete its spell, a gigantic wooden spear burst up from the earth. It tore into the serpent's flesh, erupting from its head. More blood cascaded in a morbid crimson display.

His display…of power.

It is impressive, if a bit ostentatious.

Sephiroth sheathed the blade and resumed his trek through the marshlands. Passing through the mines and the mountains would be less arduous now that he'd not need to worry about the zoloms. The sight of their kin slaughtered so brutally would likely deter them. At least the clone will not have to look hard to find sign of me.

She had no answer for that.

Junon Harbor. How long had it been since the materia warrior strolled these avenues? Over five years. Like much of the Planet little had changed. The gulls still dipped low across the horizon. The sailors still hurried from post to ship, nearly losing their white hats. The thugs still prowled the streets, looking for an unwary tourist. Junon had never been a low-crime city but under the guidance of Sephiroth the elite force of SOLDIER had reduced the levels to a somewhat acceptable level.

Had, anyway. Since his disappearance, Junon had slipped further into its crime-filled decline.

What could one expect from such lowly humans?

Entirely too much, apparently. A part of you yearns for some sign that the humans can be saved. A sigh from his matriarch. I suppose there's no help for it. Your upbringing with the humans has bred some sickly sympathy for their race. Have you forgotten what they did to your race? To your Mother? To you?

"Never!" Sephiroth shouted vehemently, hand closing around Eskallanilna's hilt. An old couple stared in his direction, bewildered and a bit frightened. Annoyed at his outburst, the materia warrior glared at them, sending the couple scurrying away. Slowly he spoke in his head, mindful not to let the words slip from his lips. My dim hope was to see at least some semblance of my leadership.

A wasted effort, my child. See an example of that now…

The former SOLDIER turned his head to see a woman running from one of the run-down houses.

"Oh, woe!" cried she. To Sephiroth's surprise and amusement, she bent over the railing of the Harbor still shouting all manners of nonsense. Then, the woman cast a depreciating glance his way. "My love has rejected me—life is not worth living anymore!"

"I will help you," the materia warrior said, light from the water glinting in his eyes. At first the woman started, face clouded in suspicion. As his hand extended to her, the woman reconsidered, gladly grabbing him at the wrist. She had just a spilt second to witness his smile twist before he hurled her from the railing and sent her spinning into the mako-filthy waters. To Sephiroth, the woman gave a most satisfying squeal.

For a moment the former SOLDIER waited, watching the air bubbles fade. She did not surface.

One less foolish human the Planet has to worry about.

Despite her natural response to his wanton use of violence, Mother actually chuckled. That tingling sensation sang in his blood. She did not comment; she did not need to. Her delight continued to suffuse his form as the materia warrior continued on, passing a set of houses that seriously required a paint job and some ragged-looking citizens.

Sephiroth glanced among them, noting that none would probably have the answers he sought. His gaze floated to a single guard standing ward of a ship. It amazed the ex-general that Shin-ra still deployed guards in single units. After the massacre at Gongaga some seven years ago, Sephiroth had thought they wizened. A dozen citizens of the town killed a few guards in retaliation of the Mako reactor's construction in that area. It had caused some mako poisoning in those citizens and they'd slaughtered the Shin-ra employees almost to a man. Had Sephiroth not intervened none would live to speak of the horror.

Apparently surviving to tell the tale didn't matter—Shin-ra just didn't care.

Stealing in shadows, Sephiroth slipped behind the guard. As his blade slid up the man's spine he stiffened. The bottle he'd been holding dropped him shaking hands and the ex-general's hand darted out to catch it then set it aside. In a voice as menacing as he could manage, Sephiroth whispered, "Not one word. Follow me."

He could only imagine what the guard was thinking, but the man did as was bid. Sephiroth half-dragged, half-led him within the shadows of an alleyway. The stench of offal irritated the Heir but he dismissed it from his attention. Shadows from the shops to the left and right concealed them though the ex-general wasn't terribly concerned, anyway. "Speak fast and true: Where is Rufus Shin-ra?"

"I—I—I—don't—don't know!"

"Wrong answer." The former SOLDIER pulled Masamune back for a strike. He made sure the guard could see it.

"N—No! Wait! He—He—sometimes visits a….bar! It's—called—Temptations!"

Narrowing his deep green eyes, Sephiroth spun the man around to face him. The guard gasped and his mouth hung open. Even in the murky light, the man could see those eyes, read his death in them. For a moment, the former SOLDIER just bored his eyes into the man's soul, peeling his defenses and securing the truth. Satisfied, Sephiroth nodded as his hand snaked up.


The blade burst through his torso, splattering blood. His face twisting the man dropped to the cold stone. "Wha—Damn! You said….I…I would live! Yes, live, if I told—you!"

Ignoring the dying man for now, the former SOLDIER prepare to leave when Mother came crashing into his head. Wait! You cannot enter a tavern as you now are. You are a much recognized figure. Even as Jenova articulated her concerns they became readily evident to her son. If you insist on pursuing this course of action, at least do so with a measure of caution. The Cetras have long held the ability for metamorphism.

A smirk crawled into Sephiroth's lips. More power at his fingertips? The ability for transformation would be useful thing indeed. The ex-general stretched, reaching within for the energy. Appearing as himself at the tavern would likely start off a chain of events that could ensure Rufus' escape. Appearing as someone else, someone less note-worthy, probably would not.

Blue light hallowed his form, spinning and twisting. It lifted his silvery hair, shading it a light sapphire. His thoughts concentrated on a single image, that of his former subcommander Terrence. Only the physical attributes altered; his attire and personal effects remained the same. Terrence's level of authority would be enough to gain him access without question, but lacked the fear and hatred Sephiroth's image entailed.

As he stepped back into the street, Sephiroth glanced over a shoulder, recalling the words of his victim. "Since when did we make that agreement?" His black cloak stained red as the master swordsman cleaned his blade on the fabric. As if an afterthought, he added, "I did make your death swift for your honesty. Take solace in that for however long you can."

That wasn't long—the man died a few minutes after that.

Upon entering Temptations a myriad of sights and sounds assaulted Sephiroth. The materia warrior gagged slightly on the smoke and human stench, covering his mouth with his cloak. He direly wished he could do the same with his eyes. Though the tavern was of good repair, only a few of patrons were themselves. Most sprawled on the bar and the others huddled around a stage, pudgy flesh crinkling at each whoop.

"Humanity in all its glory," the master swordsman muttered as he took a stool by the bar. With a snap of his fingers and the barmaid came scurrying. After serving him an Angel's Poison at his request, the scantily-clad girl bent forward affording him a generous view and asked sweetly if there were anything else he'd need. "A bed, perhaps? I know of one you can borrow—for the night."

He shot her a cold glare and that was enough to persuade her to tend to the customers. Downing the drink in a single shot (and drawing a few approving looks from the other patrons) Sephiroth spun around to monitor the entrance. Occasionally a gaudily-dressed woman with a suit-and-tie man would pass by, blocking his view. That didn't last, though, with a momentary narrow of his ice-blue eyes.

The shade of his eyes mattered not—rather how he put them to use.

Though Sephiroth normally remained above such things, morbid curiosity lured his gaze to the sight on the neon-lit stage. Not a new experience for him. The master swordsman attended the wedding of the very 'friend' he emulated, after all. Sephiroth smirked as his fingers met no smooth long hair but rather the edges of black wisps. He'd thought the rare moment of being free of the troublesome tresses would be a relief, but the materia warrior actually found its absence slightly unsettling.

Without returning his gaze to the bar, Sephiroth tapped an index finger for a refill. He didn't have to wait long for a slight splash and he brought the liquid to his lips, eying the stage again. Terrence's wedding party had been much like the display occurring now, something that left the former general dumbfounded. Not entirely unworldly (having been victim to a few social functions) still Sephiroth shook his head in remembrance of his sub-commander behaving in such a distasteful manner.

A whole night wasted dragging his subordinates home when he'd preferred training.

A pink furry bra landed in Sephiroth's cup just as he was about to take another gulp. Between thumb and forefinger he plucked out the article of clothing, face clouded with annoyance. The ex-general's eyes floated up to its owner, the blonde woman on stage with its matching bottom. She winked, smiled, and blew a kiss at him.

Had a couple not strolled in Temptations at that moment, Sephiroth might have strangled the insolent woman with her own bra. But his attention was immediately riveted on a young man in a white coat with an arm around a woman donning a shamelessly-advertising red dress. The man waved perfunctory, a gesture that stirred his sun-gold hair. The motions, the sneer, the entire persona were as a storm to the ex-SOLDIER's senses. Even if he had not met the younger Shin-ra before, Sephiroth would have identified him on the spot from the sheer shades of his father.

Rufus Shin-ra, son of the late Russell Shin-ra.

Mother, that's him. Slaying the new President would bring more chaos to our hated enemies.

It is as I told you, willful child—he is merely a figurehead. Our true task lies not with the assassination of a few leaders but rather with joining the Planet with the Promised Land to restore the Cetras. This is more pointless meandering!

I'm sorry you feel that way, Mother, but my vision is of greater scope. He is the Heir of the Humans, the new head of the snake. It is time to end that miserable line, to tear the ivory tower down.

Jenova's protests crashed into his head, but Sephiroth's fury flared beyond recourse. Growling, the ex-general cast the bra and his cup aside. The former flew into the lap of a customer (quite pleased by that) and the other smashed to a million pieces on the floor. Smiling delightfully, Sephiroth strode to his adversary all the while the barmaid screamed at his back about who would pay for that.

Cutting across the distance with the speed of an assassin, Sephiroth's hand dipped to his side where Masamune hung. The new Head of Shin-ra didn't even notice his approach so caught up on proclaiming the Huge Materia to be Scarlet's chest. That drew a healthy round of laughter from his seated associates and even Scarlet herself. Rufus took heed, however, when the master swordsman thrust aside his nearest bodyguard and lifted him a foot off the ground in a chokehold.

Scarlet shrieked louder than the shattering glass. Everyone else ceased their various activities to gaze open-mouthed, even the men engaged with the woman on stage. Rufus squealed, his fingers clawing at the fist around his neck. Tearing a tentacle off Ruby Weapon would have been easier. When that became evident, the President gasped, "The hell—what do you want? Who are you!"

It was an interesting contrast—the pillar-still Sephiroth clutching a flailing Rufus. Amusing, if a person had the presence of mind to be amused considering that most worried more about their bodily functions. Even as Terrence, Sephiroth carried a certain intensity and dominance. The materia warrior kept his tone cold, full of malice. "I am the Heir."

"The air!" Rufus' baby blue eyes bulged and not only from the lack of oxygen. And they certainly magnified even more when Sephiroth slid Masamune out of her sheath. It climbed up steadily to touch the dead center of Rufus's forehead like the barrel of a gun.

"I am the Heir. Jenova's son. The mortal enemy of the humans. Face your mortality, human-spawn, to pay for the crimes committed against the Cetras!"

At that last word, shots cut through the air. Sephiroth gasped as fiery pain blazed up his spine from two bullets lodged there. He stumbled to a knee, Masamune clanging to the ground at the same instant. Rufus landed heavily too, but remained less than a blink's duration, climbing to his feet and being swarmed by his bodyguards. Sephiroth longed to rush at the human but he had more pressing matters.

Pressing matters of the unscheduled remanifestation of his true identity. Light poured out of his body, swirling in the same blue streaks as his transformation. Again the former SOLDIER's hair floated up like silver threads. The image of his long-dead comrade vanished and the appearance of the most feared man on the Planet sent a chorus of howls throughout the room.

Grunting with pain, growling with rage, the materia warrior spun on his heel even as he rose. Eskallanilna cleanly cut through a Shin-ra guard, splitting his skull in half. Then, he reversed the stroke to behead a bouncer. More screams cut through the air, followed by the shattering of glass and bottles. Lightning snaked from Rufus' general direction and Sephiroth swung up with his blade. It deflected the bolt and redirected it into the chests of two of the President's bodyguards.

"You will not escape the wrath of the Cetra," Sephiroth hissed as he cut a path of blood.

"No, wait!" Rufus threw up his hands like a white flag of surrender. "I was searching for you—but not to kill you. You did an excellent job assassinating my father. I will reward you richly for your assistance in eliminating that threat to my power. I will give you a seat on the Board of Directors—right next to me. We need not be enemies!"

"You are human and thus my enemy." Sephiroth said not another word, preferring as was his custom, actions to words. His assault was delayed however, as guns fired forcing him into a sidelong roll. He came out of it right next to a small table and sprang up on it. As more bullets sailed harmlessly past, the master swordsman back flipped onto the stage. The blonde woman screamed. He did a brief double take as he recognized her as the famous (or infamous, according to him) pop singer, Sally Sugar.

"Sorry, Sugar." His tone was hardly apologetic as he tossed her off the stage and she sailed into three shooting guards. Sephiroth half-turned to catch a glimpse of the new president vanishing by way of a Flight Materia. Gripping the pole, the materia warrior whipped around it, a hairs-breath ahead of the bullets. Then he used the momentum to hurl himself into the crowd of customers and guards, flooring them.

If not for Rufus' escape, this might have been deemed an enjoyable time for him.

Out came Masamune, a blinding blade of death, slicing into throats, chests and faces. Then a bouncer in the far corner rapid-fired at him. Sephiroth twirled his sword in front, sending the bullets everywhere but in his own gut. Patrons and guards dropped like flies, blood mixing with Kalm tequila and Midgar beer.

Will you please cease this foolishness? Rufus is not our objective. We must protect the clone!

Utterly ignoring the shrieking voice in his head, the Heir ran a cloth down Masamune's blade and then departed Temptations. Sephiroth could not begin to understand Jenova's insistence of safeguarding the clone. Despite handing him some hefty explanations Mother actually danced about the truth, disguising logic with emotion. It surprised Sephiroth that she didn't attack him with a headache, seeming to go silent as he turned left down a filthy avenue.

Slipping under the dull red banner with 'Rufus' etched on it, Sephiroth could safely conclude that he remained on the right track. Locating the ship posed no difficulty, certainly not for one accustomed to sea-faring ships. Though the ex-general conducted most of his military business on land, from time to time, duties required his presence on a boat. Duties, and sometimes vacations.

Of course, sometimes those two overlapped—as in the hostile takeover of Miranda some six years ago.

This ship, the Albrook, readied to cast off. Sephiroth smirked as its door closed fast, taking his time. Then, in a sudden shift of speed, the former SOLDIER sprang over the lip and into the ship itself. A mere mortal would have been instantly crushed, mangled body left to be discovered by the dock workers. Mortality's definition didn't apply him, however, and Sephiroth strode the dark hallway.

His boots making little sound on the steel floor, Sephiroth crawled his fingers down Masamune's length, from tip to hilt. They halted at the latter, encountering several materia orbs. With a single word, he activated them all, and the hallway lit up in a five-color spectrum. Squinting his green eyes, the Heir noted a hatch above and decided that it was as good place as any to commence his search of Rufus.

After he flipped open the hatch, Sephiroth swung up to the next level. Five boxes labeled with the five materia partially blocked his view of the rest of the room. Not sufficiently enough in his opinion, though. The sight that befell his gaze make the Heir gasp, not in shock, but anger. Four SOLDIERs, one Shin-ra guard and two dock workers hurled a young girl between themselves, her dress fast becoming shreds beneath their avaricious hands.

His mind was sent careening back…

A circle of six boys entrapping a younger, smaller child of silver hair. At first, they'd tossed his hat counter-clock wise several times, but it transformed into a stone. Many stones. All hurled at the little boy who crouched to deflect them.

A shriek of rage burst from his thin lips, startling all in the room including himself. Logically the Heir understood that his fury formed not from his concern for the girl—she was human, after all—but at the further degeneration of his former company. SOLDIER had never been a saintly organization but under his leadership had developed a sense pride, honor, dignity and grace.

None of which he viewed now.

In a moment of inspiration, the Heir struck the nearest crate next to him with Masamune. It let fly dozens of red materia orbs pelting the humans like a wave of blood. Reversing the stroke, Sephiroth smashed open another box, this one of blue materia. Shots rang out, but the former SOLDIER deftly dodged them, leaping onto the materia and riding them right to his opponents.

Sephiroth twisted his wrist cutting a Shin-ra guard and a SOLDIER down where they stood. Blood from their hacked bodies lubricated the orbs, but the Heir kept his wits about him along his footing. As a SOLDIER slashed at him, Sephiroth parried with Masamune. In the same instant the former general threw up a weak shield to deflect some bullets from another SOLDIER. Swiftly, Sephiroth made short work of both, impaling the first and incinerating the other.

Making the mistake of his life, quite literally so, one of the remaining SOLDIERs lifted a gun. He didn't even have the chance to shoot before Sephiroth sliced off the arm holding it, spewing blood on the steel floor. Howling did him little good since the Heir simply then took off his head. On instinct, Sephiroth spun the blade behind himself, smirking as he heard the ring of six bullets bouncing off.

Oh, Mother, why do you think they even bother? Don't they see their death in my eyes?

Perhaps if you left them alone they'd not bother you at all.

That reasoning baffled the Heir. After he swiftly slaughtered the remaining humans, including the girl, Sephiroth wiped his blade on a hanging banner of Shin-ra. He'd not meant to kill the woman but she'd been in the way of his lightning bolts and was a human, besides. She'd likely wronged the Planet at some point. Mother's desire to save the humans was most uncharacteristic.

You misunderstand me, son. I don't desire to prolong their miserable existence—I'm attempting to save yours. Sephiroth fell silent, expecting an explanation. It wasn't long in coming. The sight of justice wrecked upon the humans brings me much joy. But I cannot enjoy that sight knowing it'll only bring their wrath that much swifter.

Let them come! Nothing can stand before my might! More Sephiroth had to add, but then the sound of clapping reached his ears.

"Impressive. You would have made a fantastic Turk. Of course you lack a certain subtlety."

His silver hair fanning as stardust, the former SOLDIER spun around. On one of the crates sat a man in a navy suit. Three Turks hovered by him—a blonde, too-eager to please, woman, a man with the wildest red hair Sephiroth had ever seen and a bald, tanned man. Despite not recognizing the last three, only noting their occupation due to their attire, the ex-general remembered the first Turk vaguely.

"Tseng. It's been a long time."

"Hasn't it?" Tseng said as he crossed his arms. "You've been on page one of the Midgar Telegram for quite some time."

"Only a few killings here and there," came Sephiroth's cold reply. "Something that should be quite familiar to you."

The Turk opened his mouth, but his red-haired subordinate cut him to the chase. "Oh, Sephiroth why'd you have to kill that lovely-looking girl? She'd have made a willing conquest."

An ugly grimace spread across the ex-general's handsome face. "And what...allow you humans to procreate? I did the Planet a favor." Throwing his cape behind, Sephiroth tossed Masamune in the air, catching it with barely a blink. "I shall continue that trend and you will all meet a similar fate."

Tseng shook his head. "We are not your enemies." His subordinates gave him odd looks for that.

"As I told your wretched leader: you are human and thus my enemy. When we meet next you will die."

"A threat?"

Sephiroth chuckled, amused at the human gesture. "Prophecy spoken by the Cetra." With that, the Heir spun on a heel, black cloak whipping out at his exit. The Turks muttered amongst themselves but took no action against him. Sephiroth continued to the room beyond without fear of reprisals. Only the insane, or desperate, would do so.

The smell of mako was stronger here than elsewhere in the ship. The control room contained only two Shin-ra guards and both fell to blade as easily as butter to a knife. Broken pipes and shattered stairs forced Sephiroth to scrunch down as he made his way to the other end of the room with the control station. With a tap of his finger and the former general brought the screen to life.

Digital. Not exactly up to current standards. Still it would suffice. Sinking the ship would be an easy solution to his annoying problem, that of the snake Rufus.

Sephiroth, don't you dare! The clone is aboard and we need him to finish the mission.

His finger halted over the button. The clone is here? On this very boat?

Watch out!

"What?" His hand moved independent of his brain, slashing out with Masamune. The blade bit hard into the flesh of a Shin-ra guard, killing him in an instant. The dropping of the body revealed another, that of a young man with absurd blonde hair. Others accompanied him, but, for the moment, all Sephiroth could do was stare at him.

Mother, that's him! The clone. The man you say is the key to reaching the Promised Land.

Yes. You must keep him alive at all costs. Lead him to Nibelhiem.

Nibelhiem! Why that miserable town?

Because there you shall find the secrets to restoring the Cetra people. After a long sleep I shall finally see my son upon the throne. Be strong my son. Resist the urge to slay him. The time has come for your ascension.

Sephiroth was unaware he spoke out loud as he responded. "…The time…time...has come…?"

The clone's face contorted. "Sephiroth! You're alive!"

For a long moment, the former SOLDIER leveled a hard stare on him. There could be no errors, he understood. "….Who are you?"

"You don't remember me? I'm Cloud!"

A smirk replaced the glare. "Cloud…" he hissed, delighted.

The clone's companions shot him concerned looks, but Cloud paid them no attention. Having secured the identity, Sephiroth let his glance slip to another. That other, Aeris. The young flower girl twisted a strand of brown hair around her finger, her head titled, studying him. That green-eyed gaze pierced the former SOLDIER as if determined to peel the layers of soul.

Remember dear child. She will beguile you with her beauty; deceive you into believing she is harmless.

A chiding at his earlier weakness, a weakness Sephiroth would not repeat. He'd earned that, he knew. His eyes shouldn't have even floated over to hers yet they lingered longer than a heartbeat. The master swordsman's hand slipped down to Masamune, wondering how it feel like to pierce the lying heart of the Crisis, the beautiful beast that had betrayed his people…

"Sephiroth, what are you thinking! What are you doing?"

It is time you are off, my son. Leave them to me. I will distract them while you flee down the ventilation shaft.

Sephiroth wrinkled his nose. I do not fear them. They could do me no harm.

I fear not for your safety—it is for them I fear.

A sound enough response. His Mother was well aware of her son's hatred of Cloud. She would not allow his thirst for vengeance to threaten their mission. Just as well for Sephiroth had no such compulsion to control that desire. "The time…is now…" Not believing the clone worthy of any further explanation, the Heir flicked his wrist. Light and smoke sprang before him.

Like a shadow, Sephiroth slipped into the vents and out of sight.

"What a formidable opponent!" Luke gasped as his eyes passed over the text of Sephiroth's slayings. His red cloak nearly encompassing his entire person, Vincent merely gazed sternly at the reporter. He'd known most of all this before and guessed what he hadn't. The reporter pushed the glasses up his nose, "I guess not being human really helped him, eh?"

Vincent leapt down from the coffin in a fell swoop that startled his guest. "Sephiroth is as human as you or I. Demonizing him does not negate the fact that he carries our race's blood."

"But, I thought—"

"You thought what most others thought, still think: That Sephiroth had some foreign blood in his veins…that the truth of his powers stemmed from Cetra as he himself believed."

"Well, not quite that—"

A glare from the former Turk silenced Luke. "I told you already: Sephiroth has a human mother. Lucrecia…" That glare melted into the saddest expression the reporter had ever seen. Mistakenly thinking that Vincent needed some comfort, Luke draped an arm on his shoulder. That arm snapped right back as Vincent's glare returned tenfold.

"Oh," Luke stammered, "Yes, that's right, you did! Well, he has no father then I suppose—"

"He has a father."

"Oh! And he is?"

At last a smile peeked at the former Turk's lips. "Patience, dear reporter. The story is not yet over."

"All in due time?" Luke sighed unhappily.

"All in due time."