October 1, εуλ2002. Thursday. The day I'll remember for the rest of my life as that day.
A single gong from the bell of the schoolhouse woke me up. I was in the Shinra mansion, in the bedroom I had made my own throughout the last week. . It was late-ish – the bell wasn't ringing in an exact hour. Towns like this weren't too crazy about time, not like in Midgar.
I left the west wing and headed to the main entranceway, curving down the grand staircase. There was a murmur of a crowd from beyond the front door.
Outside of the mansion, nothing much had changed. The mayor stood with a resigned patience outside of the gates. He wouldn't dare enter. The townspeople were gathered around him.
I approached. "Yes?"
"It has been a week," Mr. Lockhart said. "Where is Sephiroth?"
"He's inside," I replied.
"You know," Mr. Lockhart narrowed his eyes. "It is beginning to seem as though the best interests of the town are no longer your priority."
"The town is our top priority," I assured him. "If you want to question us, that's your call. We here to protect the area, and your questions aren't going to stop us." I turned to the crowd. "Return to your homes, unless you really think it isn't safe to do so."
Some people stammered and left.
The mayor shook his head. "It seems to me that Sephiroth, and you his entourage, are hiding something."
"If we came across any information that we thought was important for your safety, we would have told you."
"Important information? What about what's been going on inside the reactor? When were you going to tell us about that!?"
It became suddenly clear.
He had been there.
He had seen.
And then another revelation hit me. There had been no malfunction. All the pods we had seen still had their makonoids sleeping inside of them when we'd arrived.
The hatchers had lied to me. Mayor Lockhart had told them to lie to me. I had to keep my face still. "Are you saying that you trespassed on Shinra property?"
He didn't flinch. "Did you at least kill the monsters they're making?"
We hadn't. Actually, we'd let one loose.
The moment's hesitation was all that Lockhart needed. "I am going to the reactor!" he announced. "Anyone who is tired of the secrets and lies of Shinra, follow me!"
This was bad.
This was very bad.
Mr. Lockhart turned towards the mountain path. Some men followed him. I had to do something, but I needed Sephiroth. He always had the big picture in his head. He would know what to do.
I tried to make myself sound as confident as possible. "Folks! Calm down. I'm going to get Sephiroth. He's going to come out and we'll get to the bottom of this together. But you must not go into the reactor! It is Shinra property. If you do, you're looking at a severe fine or worse, jail time. Please listen. We're all on the same side! If there are more monsters up there, we will not stop until they are defeated!"
It didn't stop Mr. Lockhart or the people bold enough to follow him. Some people returned home. Afraid of us.
Some people stayed, but not enough.
I ran back into the mansion and up towards the secret passageway. The MP was sitting on the moth-eaten bed in the east wing bedroom. He seemed to have no idea what was going on. I raced past him and pushed on the stone wall of the chimney.
"Sephiroth seems different," he said behind me, but I didn't slow down. I practically jumped down to the catacombs.
The light was still on in the library, creeping into the cave tunnel from under the door. I opened it a bit and looked inside.
I couldn't see Sephiroth. No further books had left the shelves.
"Ha, ha, ha…"
It came from somewhere deeper in the library.
I moved inside.
The way was cluttered with stacks of books. I had to weave around them, especially in the corridor. It led me to a cavernous room in the farthest reaches of the underground complex.
The walls were coated with bookshelves and they had been ransacked in much the same way as the first chamber. The biggest desk I'd ever seen took up most of the room, made from a dark wood and covered with candles – some were dry puddles of wax, and many more were burning, giving warm light to the room.
Sephiroth was seated at the other side of the desk, facing me, but with his eyes inside another book on the table.
When he noticed my presence, he twitched his head up violently. "Who is it!?"
I shook, startled.
Sephiroth's green eyes rested on me. He didn't seem to recognize me at first, and then, when he did, he didn't relax. He huffed at me and then, "Traitor."
Sephiroth placed both of his hands on the table and helped himself to stand. "You ignorant wretch." He was no longer talking to me, but to his hands. "Allow me to educate you."
Sephiroth took a few steps away from the desk, but it wasn't how he usually moved. The grace and poise that had once defined his manner was gone. In its place was a staggered step. His arms swung like he was wading through water.
"This Planet originally belonged to the Cetra," he announced. "The Ancients, you call them. The Cetra were an itinerant race. They would migrate in, settle the Planet, and then move on. They lived a life of servitude. They labored on the land, healing the Planet, and their very existence is the reason for any harmony that may have ever graced this miserable world."
Is that what he had been reading about?
"It wasn't an entirely thankless task," Sephiroth continued. "They were the Planet's chosen people. At the end of their harsh, hard journey, the Cetra would find the Promised Land and supreme happiness."
He took a few more staggered steps until he was facing a hole in the shelf where books had once been.
"But… those that disliked the journey appeared. Those who stopped believing. Those who stopped caring. Those who wanted an easier life appeared. They stopped their migrations, and stopped living for the land. They lived from the land. They took that which the Cetra and the Planet had made without giving back one whit in return!"
He turned, finally, and pointed an accusational finger at me. "Those are your ancestors."
He dropped his arm, but spoke over me. "Long ago, disaster struck the Planet. Your ancestors escaped… They survived because they hid. The Planet was saved by sacrificing the Cetra, but your kind lived on. Increasing their population, increasing their consumption, like a mold growing on the surface of the Planet. Now all that's left of the Cetra is in these reports."
My kind? "What does that have to do with you?"
Sephiroth laughed again – unlike how he used to. "You understand nothing, do you? A Cetra named Jenova was found in the geological stratum of two-hundred-thousand years ago by Shinra scientists. The Jenova Project wanted to produce people with the powers of the lost Cetra."
Then he said, "I am the one that was produced."
"Yes." There was a frenzied kind of pride in his voice. "Professor Gast, leader of the Jenova Project and genius scientist, produced me."
"How…" I wondered. "How did he…?"
Sephiroth walked past me and into the corridor.
He stopped, for an instant, maybe at the sound of his name.
He did not turn.
"Out of my way," Sephiroth said. "I'm going to see my mother."
He turned the corner and left the library.
I ran out into the catacombs after him.
Sephiroth wasn't there. The way to the spiral passageway was straight and empty.
I ran at a full sprint.
I reached the bottom. I could see out the top of the chimney.
The sky was dark.
Sephiroth wasn't in the stone shaft.
I reached the top. My legs were burning. I pried open the secret entrance.
The bedroom was empty. The MP was gone.
I ran through the empty window room. An orange light flickered in the window but I didn't slow down to look.
I ran into the vast entrance hall.
Down onto the mezzanine
Down the curving stair.
Across the grey rug.
It was quiet.
I grabbed the great iron handles of the front doors and pulled them open.
The light hit me first.
It was like a million bulbs had suddenly switched on. My eyes didn't know what to do. I was submerged into a white sea.
Then the heat struck me and knocked me off my feet.
My back hit the rug. Dust exploded around me. Cobwebs burned up, turning to ash midair.
I choked on the heat. It didn't relent. It flooded into the house. The roar of flames deafened me.
I somehow made it outside.
I couldn't quite understand what I was looking at.
The air rippled and moved all around me, and windswept embers flared up and disappeared around me. The way into the mountains was closed with a wall of flame too thick for me to make it through.
South of the mansion, Nibelheim was on fire.
The houses were all on fire.
All of them.
The well in the middle of Nibelheim was a pillar of smoke and red flame. It collapsed before I made it back to town.
I ran towards home.
Deeper into the firestorm.
I stumbled on the steps. I felt my skin blister from the heat. It felt like my lungs were full of daggers. I knew that if I started coughing, it might be too late to get out. But I kept running.
"Hey!" Someone shouted loud enough for me to hear them.
Zangan was kneeling over the body of a man. When he turned aside, I saw it was Mr. Swiftfoot, his face half-burned off.
"Hey!" Zangan shouted again. "You're still sane, right?"
I managed to nod.
"Then come over here and help me!"
I jumped over the wreck of some collapsed roof – the flames licked my boots.
I arrived at Mr. Swiftfoot's side. Zangan shot me a look.
"Am I going to die?" Mr. Swiftfoot asked.
The answer was yes. Without doubt. Yes.
He was holding the developed photograph he took the other day. Sephiroth, Tifa, and me.
Where was Tifa?
Oh god. Where was Tifa?
And then, some part of my brain still wanted to stand behind Sephiroth. Some part of me tried to say that he always had some bigger plot in mind, some heroic reason behind his actions.
Augustus Swiftfoot died just then, choking on the heat.
Town square was full of bodies. Women. Children. The MP was sprawled on his back nearby, surrounded by flames, murmuring Sephiroth's name and trying in vain to get up.
"I'll check this house," Zangan gestured with a flick of his head at the building behind him. His beard was singed. He pointed behind me. "You check that one over there!"
I turned to look.
He was pointing at my house.
Where the well had been, the burning pile of wood cracked open loudly, sending a plume of red embers drifting towards a sky black with ash.
I tried to enter my house. I made it through the door.
I did not linger there long.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to die.
The house Zangan went into collapsed. He did not come out.
"Terrible…" I said. "Sephiroth… This is too terrible…"
Someone screamed at the top of the staircase.
Roger Innsman collapsed down the steps. The top half of his body fell from the bottom half, finely sliced open. He was in two pieces for a full second before the blood gushed out from both sides and immediately came to a boil on the hot stone steps.
The life left his eyes. He rolled into a flaming hunk of roof. The smell of burning flesh and hair suffocated me.
Some townspeople were running around at the top of the staircase. They converged and attacked – Sephiroth!
I had to help. I ran forward.
He swung his sword with the effortless grace I had seen him use a thousand times on monsters.
"Sephiroth!" I shouted. "No! Wait!"
The townspeople fell away from him in chunks.
When the last of them was dead, Sephiroth turned his green gaze towards town square. He smirked down at me. The green of his eyes was so clear, even through the world of red around him…
The fire did nothing to him. His clothes, skin, hair, and eyes… he was untouched, like he wasn't even part of the real world anymore.
He eventually broke contact with me and moved towards the mountains. He was silhouetted briefly against the wall of flame. It swallowed him.
The mountain path was covered in bodies. Fishers. Hatchers. Everyone in Sephiroth's path. One of the bodies had a pouch full of fish eggs that glowed in the moonlight.
I turned my gaze hesitantly up Mount Nibel. The reactor wasn't on fire. It didn't look any different. But I knew he was heading there.
I was still coughing. But when I managed to gulp down air, it was cool. I carried on up the steep path.
The lights were still on, but everything was silent in the reactor except for the thrum of the core ahead. I ran into the control room. Something was happening below, so I climbed out and down the chain to the catwalk.
Mayor Lockhart's body was crookedly heaped on the catwalk of the mako reactor. The long daikatana blade—Masamune—had skewered him to the floor. It stuck out of his back like a flagpole.
I remember the blood. It wasn't coming from the wound – the sword cut too neatly for that. It dribbled out of his mouth, off the catwalk he lay on, down into the blinding pool of mako waste.
Tifa knelt over him, trembling. "Papa?" she asked the corpse.
I couldn't do anything but watch from the shadows.
"Papa…" she realized. "No."
Tifa leaned in, pressing her face against the body. Listening.
I could hear my breathing over the hiss of the reactor.
She reached out and touched the long handle of the sword. "Sephiroth," she recognized it. "Sephiroth did this to you, didn't he?" She looked ahead, at the doorway to the next chamber. Noise came from within. He was in there. "Sephiroth… Shinra… SOLDIER… I hate them all… I hate them all…"
She used the handle of the Masamune to hoist herself up. She wasn't trembling anymore.
Using all of her might, she pulled the blade out of her dad's spine.
When the blade wrenched through the body, the nerves twitched and the corpse convulsed. She didn't scream. She didn't even flinch.
"I hate them all," I heard her say.
The Masamune was too long and heavy for her to wield. She dragged it behind her.
She stalked into the chamber ahead, as if in a trance.
I followed silently.
In the room with the pods, Tifa did not stop. She saw Sephiroth at the top of the stairs and made a stronger effort to keep the blade steady in her hands.
"Mother!" Sephiroth called to the brass door that read Jenova. "Mother I am here to see you! Please open this door!"
Tifa charged up the staircase as quickly as she could under the weight of the sword. "How could you do that to Papa and all the townspeople!?" In a feat of unbelievable strength, she lifted the sword over her head and brought it down—
Sephiroth turned like lightning and grabbed Tifa's hands. In a swift move he wrenched the handle from her grip and twirled the blade through the air.
He brought the sword down.
The slice made a ringing echo in the chamber.
Tifa fell back.
She sailed clear over the top few steps, twisting in the air. Streams of blood trailed behind her.
Her head hit a step halfway down. It snapped forward and she bounced, clearing a few more steps until she collapsed in a heap at the bottom.
Sephiroth watched her fall with a broadening smile.
The brass door behind him opened. He sheathed the Masamune and walked through.
I ran forward.
She was alive. She was breathing. The cut had crossed her body from shoulder to hip. I saw steam rising from the wound, and between the folds of skin I saw the pink surface of some organ throbbing underneath.
I had no potions. I had no spells that could help.
I picked her up and put her in an emergency position. I held the wound closed. I put her hands on her chest and pressed them down. She was barely conscious but she kept pressing even when I drew my hands away…
"Hate…" she murmured, pressing her belly closed.
I went up the stairs and through the brass door.
Jenova's chamber was pitch-black at first.
The light from the chamber behind me reflected off of a small bit of silver far back and high up. I used that as my source of light and from there I discerned the room.
My eyes made quick work of the silver shape – it was a neutral mask, genderless, expressionless, and looking towards the door.
The statue had wings – enormous, expansive silver wings that stretched out into the shrinking blackness. When I made out the tips, I saw there were tubes feeding out of them and into the walls. The statue ended at the waist and was mounted on top of a thick, singular tube that I could easily fit inside. That tube led down into the ground. Standing before the whole thing was him.
"Mother!" his arms were stretched wide as if to embrace it. "Let's take this planet back together. I've thought of a great idea. Let's go to the Promised Land."
"Sephiroth…" I shook my head. "My family! My hometown! How could you do this to them!?"
Sephiroth laughed – like the measured ticking of a clock. "Ha, ha, ha."
He did not turn to strike.
"They've come again, mother… With her superior power, knowledge, and magic, she was destined to become the ruler of this planet…"
He started to walk up the tube. The blood and black cells inside of it wobbled under the pressure.
"But they…" his voice was ice. "Those worthless creatures are stealing the Planet from my mother. They've been stealing it this whole time."
When he neared the statue, he slowed his ascent. He reached up to touch the silver face, as if to stroke it. "But now I'm here with you," he cooed at it. "So don't worry."
He grabbed the statue and pulled, revealing what it really was – a façade. A prettiness to cover up the true workings of the Jenova chamber.
He put a foot forward at the base of the statue and wrenched the statue free. Belts of wires snapped. Sparks fountained from the statue. The wings ripped off of the body and swung down, crashing into the wall. The wing's tubes were severed – some kind of bile poured down.
Blood drooled away from the mask's mouth and out of its hollow eyes.
Sephiroth tossed the statue aside – the silver crashed hideously at the bottom of the chamber.
There was a giant glass cylinder before Sephiroth – full of liquid mako – the big tube of blood beneath his feet entered the cell and connected to the ancient body inside.
She was blue-skinned – with eyes like the abyss. Her skin was wrinkled – or intricately scarred – or made of dragon scales. I could tell she was alive – not because she moved (she was still as the grave) but I knew she was aware of me.
Sephiroth looked at her with a pity he had not shown the townspeople.
"What about my sadness!?" I screamed. "My family… friends… the sadness of having my whole life taken away from me… It's the same as your sadness!"
Sephiroth laughed again and turned around. He addressed me directly, a crooked smile breaking his face open. "Sadness? What do I have to be sad about? I have found the truth. The truth about myself. In my veins courses the blood of the Ancients. I am the rightful heir to this Planet! I have orders to take it back from you stupid people. What am I supposed to be sad about?"
"Sephiroth…" I trembled. "I trusted you…"
My hands found the handle of the Buster sword. I drew it slowly.
Sephiroth watched me and, in an almost playful way, drew his own sword with a matched pace. His face peeled back into a wider grin – his eyes darkened to more than blackness. He looked like a makonoid.
'If there are monsters,' I'd told the townspeople. 'We will not stop until they are defeated.'
"No," I decided. "You're not the Sephiroth I used to know!"
We raised our swords in readiness.