Author's Note: I am back from Japan! Have been for about a week. I wanted to fix my jet lag so I spent ALL night writing this chapter; feel free to call me on any silly typos. Haven't had Christmas myself yet, so here, Merry Christmas! And Happy new year! Oh and lots of Italics text ahead. You've been warned.
XXTakaraXX—I went with through a program at my college. There are lots of options for study abroad in Japan, just ask the international center at your school (or when you get to college if you're still in high school).
Spiel—yes! In the prequel!
Irbise—You really didn't have to wait long. You literally reviewed right after I finished the chapter. Talk about lucky!
Hinata's Shadow1, Erikaran, UltimateNinjaOfDoom, Kyrinne, Soawen, bugger-bo, Waga, Magicnixi, Sayonara7, Thank you guys so much for your reviews. I get them and smile and laugh. I always reread them several times, especially when I'm trying to work up the motivation to write. You don't know how much they mean to me!
Disclaimer: I own a Alpaca plushie, and a deer plushie, and a Jiji Plushie, and a pokemon plushie, and Ciel Phantomhive in a cow suit plushie and a Kadaj plushie… but I sadly do not own Kadaj… or any of the FF7 rights. Pity…
"They'll know it was me," Sephiroth responded the split second Rufus' words computed in his head. "You expect me to face the entire board afterwards?"
"Kill them too," Rufus said, a twisted grin spreading across his lips. "Scarlet, Heidegger, Palmer; kill them all. I know all of them have given you as much grief as my father. I'm handing you your revenge on a platter."
"What about Reeve and Hojo?" Sephiroth asked, staring coldly into Rufus' eyes. He'd hardened his poker face; Rufus was snake when he had goals he wanted to achieve and the intent behind his plans weren't clear at all. Either he was making a deal with the devil or a contract with his saving grace.
"Forget Hojo. You won't be able to get to him in time. I already have other plans in motion to get rid of him," Rufus explained. "Reeve, on the other hand, can probably be swayed to my cause. He seems to be equally sick of the rest of the board of late."
"What if Hojo gets away?"
"We will hunt him down. He's practically powerless without resources, and he doesn't exactly have a lot of friends and loyal followers." Sephiroth inwardly scoffed at the words. Hojo would find a way to put a thorn in Rufus' side. "If he does escape you can hunt him down yourself." Sephiroth remained silent for a few moments after Rufus' proposition. It was appealing to say the least. Their goals coincided at least partially, and gave him the chance to do exactly what he'd planned to do to the board anyway.
"I'll help on one condition," Sephiroth finally said, his voice cool and reserved.
"And that is?"
"Get Aerith and Claudia out of ShinRa. Get them some place safe."
"If that's all, fine General, you have a deal," Rufus agreed, stretching his hand out to shake. Sephiroth took the man's hand firmly.
Cloud felt his mouth go dry as he spotted the main gates into Nibelheim in the dim evening light. He was clenching his fists so tightly his fingers were going numb from the pressure. He swallowed a few times to regain his composer, to steel his emotions so that he could do what he had to do. Genesis brushed his arm, warning him to stop. The ex-SOLDIER summoned his wing then took a few steps back. Cloud concentrated on his back, on his wing. In the hours on the boat, Genesis made him hone the skills surrounding his wing, but he was still comparatively pathetic. Once capable, the two took to the air, continuing their journey where the guards weren't expecting to look. Nibel wasn't particularly ideal for landing aircraft; it could be done if absolutely necessary, but it was avoided.
They landed on the rooftop of the ShinRa manor, the old tiles cracking under their feet. A few broken pieces slid off the roof, knocking other tiles out of their positions as they went. Cloud could feel his heartbeat picking up, unpleasantly stirring his adrenaline. Genesis took a few careful steps forward, surveying the area for any potential threats. Once he'd decided it was clear, he grabbed the edge of the roof and swung himself over, keeping his grip. The ex-SOLDIER took to working open the closest window. The front door was most likely guarded from the inside, but the bedrooms were never used as anything but storage rooms. With a few strong tugs, Genesis managed to crumble the old rotting locks on the window and open it. He released the window, causing it to drop closed again, and allowed his wing to take over holding him up as he pushed it open and broke a piece of wood to prop it. When the opening was wide enough, he proceeded to climb through.
Cloud took a few deep breaths before forcing his legs to move. At the edge of the roof he took hold of the edge and swung himself down and through the window. He removed the prop and closed window. Genesis had chosen to enter through the room just down the hall from the hidden staircase. Genesis examined the door. When it didn't open at first jiggle, he stepped back and kicked it, not caring that it broke the knob and splintered the door. Once free of the confines, he exited and made his way down the hall. Cloud followed closely behind, his stomach sinking with every step he took.
It was only a few short strides from the room they had entered from to the study room that stood between the hallway and the staircase. The door had been left open, so Genesis strode in without heed. He entered into the adjacent bedroom and began searching the stonewall for the switch to open its door. With a gentle click, the door slid open. Genesis glanced back at Cloud before ducking in the doorway and starting down the long spiral staircase.
The scent of the rotting wood, of the mold and dust wafting up through the entrance filled Cloud's lungs. He couldn't bring himself to move as pinpricks climbed his arms and legs. His breathing became shallow, and he could tell vaguely that his jaw was clamped tightly. Drops of blood splattered to ground, but Cloud couldn't feel his hands to even realize they were the source. The entrance to the deepest bowls of hell stood in front of him, and he wanted nothing more in that instant than to run away from it.
Genesis returned to the entrance, brows creased in an emotion that Cloud couldn't even process at the moment. The ex-SOLDIER swiftly closed in on the blond and grabbed Cloud's upper arm. With great force, he jerked the teen to the side, breaking him out of his trance.
"Seek it thus," Genesis said, turning to face the dark entrance and sweeping his arm out to guide Cloud's gaze. "All the answers lie within." When the teen still didn't move, Genesis shoved him forward and onto the stairs. With one last push, he sent Cloud tumbling forward. The blond struggled to regain his balance and not fall down or off the stairs. Once he was sure of his footing on the rotten wood, he started his descent, the wood creaking dangerously with each step. When his feet touched compacted earth floor and could see the steel doors of the lab, he balked again. Genesis shoved him forward again, not daring to let the teen think second thoughts.
He took a hesitant step on his own, the crunch of the dirt under his boot sending a shock through his mind.
Why come back to this useless place?
Cloud shook his head, waving off Jenova's voice floating into his mind for the first time in hours. He took another step forward, then another.
No one is here. They've all returned to the lifestream.
He built momentum off each step he took, but each stride was no emotionally easier than the previous.
What we seek is west.
Wasn't it east before? Cloud shook his head again to get himself away from her voice.
Can't you hear your siblings calling?
Cloud found himself faced with the steel door. He lifted his hands to open it, but the moment his fingers brushed the cold metal a roar of pained voices filled his head. He stumbled back a few paces, touching his temples as he began to vigorously shake his head in an attempt to dispel them.
"Jenova, the bitch," Genesis spat from behind him. The elder slid around Cloud and took him by the chin. He forced the teen to look him in the eyes. "What we seek is right in front of us. I'll be damned if she's the one to get in our way," Genesis hissed. The voices in Cloud's head faded, but he could make out the sound of Jenova laughing in response to Genesis. The blond shook himself free of Genesis and took a few deep breaths. The older man turned around and forced the door open. Grabbing Cloud's wrist, he dragged the teen into the room.
Cloud's eyes widened. The sudden stench of mako and chemicals filled his lunges. The lights were dim, but he could clearly make out the slab he'd been vivisected on, the destroyed tube he'd escaped from, the bookcases of data, the trays of bladed probing instruments. His breath caught in his throat for a brief second before he could no longer control it. Pain seared in his chest, his arms, his entire body as the memories of his foggy torture surged to the front of his mind with a clarity he'd never hoped to have.
His breathing quickened dangerously as he sunk to his knees in fear and shock. Dark clouds crowded out his vision, but he hardly noticed. Leave, leave, leave. Every fiber of his body screamed for him to leave the retched lab. Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, stinging like knives at the edges of his eyes. He wanted to scream in anger, in fear, in frustration, but couldn't get the breath to do so. Genesis jerked him again, effectively throwing him across the lab floor and into a bookcase. Blue eyes snapped to Genesis, the black clouds replaced with shaky unfocused lines.
"If you can't even face this place, how do you expect to face Sephiroth?" the older man asked, staring him in the eye. Cloud's eyes fought to focus as he comprehended the words. Genesis only frowned and walked away. The man had a point. He had escaped. He had survived. He couldn't let himself waiver at this stage. He wouldn't return to how he was in the past. He was bleeding horribly inside but he was damned well determined to make ShinRa pay. If facing the lab was the first step, then he would over come it. Sleep and sanity be damned, he had a goal, and he would see it through before he'd let the horrors take him over. Snapping his eye shut, the teen slowly managed to clam his breathing down. Once he felt in control of his memory and body again, he pushed himself up. He scanned the room for Genesis, and finally spotted him farther into the library. Cloud moved towards the man, glancing at spines of the books and reports lining the shelves as he did.
One of the titles caught his eye, stopping him in his tracks. He fingered the spine, tracing each letter on the binding. Project C: Stage One. Did he even dare to start there? He took a deep breath and pulled the book from the shelf, opening it to the first page.
Sephiroth and one other SOLDIER had been dispatched to Nibelheim to deal with pests related to the Mount Nibel reactor. During the mission Sephiroth suffered a psychotic break of uncertain causes. The close proximity to Jevnova and other Jenova Project subjects most likely drove him mad. In his madness, he slaughtered the city and mutilated Jenova's body. The possible causes of what is now referred to as the "Nibelheim Incident" will be discussed in another essay to be published at a later date. Out of the rubble of the Incident, I was fortunate enough to gain several new test subjects and grants to start new research on creating superior SOLDIERs in Nibelheim.
The initial survivors of the Nibelheim incident were numbered 28, of which only 12 were deemed to have suitable background for the experiment. Of the twelve set aside, only seven survived the two week recuperation period before the experiment began. My records start on the first day of mako injections, three months after the initial subjects were settled upon, and will outline each specimen's status on a day-by-day basis.
B—female; 28; blonde hair, green eyes; average build; Class B3; Blood Type A; Injection course I
C—male, 16, blond hair, blue eyes; small build; Class C3; Blood Type AB; Injection course I
E—male, 8; brown hair, green eyes; small build; Class B4, Blood Type O; Injection course I
F—female, 47, brown hair, green eyes; large build; Class B1, Blood Type O; Injection course I
H—male, 22; blond hair, brown eyes, average build; Class B2, Blood Type A; Injection course II
J—male, 50; grey hair, blue eyes, average build; Class C1, Blood Type B; Injection course II
L—female, 19, brown hair, brown eyes, small build; Class B2, Blood Type B; Injection Course II
He was Specimen C. he'd no doubt about it. The irony of the lettering and his name didn't escape him. The teen flipped several pages into the text, stopping on a page dated two months into the experiments. B and H had died from mako injections. He flipped further; J died during an injection of J cells before receiving enough mako to strengthen his body. He flipped further still. E died after a five-month mako bath. Further still; F was torn to pieces while testing her strength after being injected with J cells; L slit her throat while her body fought to accept Jenova cells.
Cloud snapped the book shut, his hands shaking and breath ragged as he soaked up the information. After one year, all other subjects in the study had died. While he could tell from the manner of the notes that he had been Hojo's main focus, he had also become the sole subject in the end. All of them had been sacrificed as a means to sort out the best dosage of mako and sample of J cells to use on him. Stage one ended with L's death, and preparation to wake Cloud from his months long mako bath. He shoved the book back onto the shelf and grabbed the next volume, Stage Two, but Genesis' voice interrupted him before he could open it.
"So you've found Project C's data compilations? That's what you've been so intent on for the last two hours," Genesis commented as he pulled the first volume off the shelf.
"Two hours?" Cloud horsed out. He'd hardly realized he'd spent that long reading the horrific book.
"Time flies when you're reading the tales of human suffering," Genesis said dryly as he paged through the volume, scanning each page as he did. "You need to learn to read faster. Sephiroth had the whole library read in a matter of weeks."
"I don't intend to read everything," Cloud frowned. If Project C's records made his stomach churn, he was sure the other records in the lab would too.
"Then take what you think is relevant," Genesis replied. "Take the rest of these books, and start searching for the rest of the information you need." The ex-SOLDIER shoved a sack into Cloud's arm. The teen nodded and took the bag, throwing the numbered volumes dealing with Project C inside. He turned to move deeper into the library, brushing past Genesis as he walked. He continued scanning the shelves until he came to a book with titled Project S: Project Notes. Cloud removed it from the shelf and began leafing through the pages. He stopped about halfway through on a random page.
Gast has grown a definite affinity to Sephiroth. The boy's superior capability at this young age show that my experiment is in every way superior to Hollanders'. Gast spends much of his free time here in Nibelheim doting on Sephiroth, but I do not condone such spoiling. However, given the circumstances that Sephiroth exists, it is quite understandable that the boy does not know what to do with the kindness that Gast gives him. But so, kindness is relative. I will admit that the doting Gast bestows Sephiroth is nothing like the doting of a true parent and child relationship. One of the premises of Project S is to raise a perfect soldier from childhood, and to do such, I believe that emotions such as love must be cut from his rearing as much as possible.
While he has limited access to the spectrum of human emotions, and shows signs of being socially inept, he has been taught enough to be able to function in society on the most necessary levels. He is exceptionally well behaved, for a child aged 6, when presented with public situations. He does not act out of line, nor does he overstep his bounds. Gast has seen to the maintenance of the boy's manners and stress relief in the boundaries that I have allowed him to. Of late there has been talk of introducing him to Hollander's Project G in order to socialize him in ways that a lab cannot prepare him for; however, I do not want to risk tarnishing what great strides Sephiroth has made by letting him interact with such uncontrolled subjects. I fear that if he's allowed to interact with such uncouth children that it will douse his morale. He will remain here in the lab until I deem the brats of Project G worthy of meeting Sephiroth.
Cloud closed the book, disgusted. Hojo was a sick fuck. With the life that he'd forced upon Sephiroth in Nibelheim, it was no surprise that Sephiroth had had to submit to daily psychiatric visits. He re-shelved the book and moved on. Next, the teen moved to the desk in library. Several documents with headers pertaining to Project C were scattered across the top. Cloud picked one up and scanned the details, only to drop it in horror. He picked up another, scanning it, then tossing it. He worked his way through the entire table before he was convinced without a doubt: the chocobo-mounted troops had been sacrificed to experiments in Nibelheim. About twenty men had been used and killed in Project C, attempting to replicate Cloud's success. All but one was a failure, and the one success had died at Cloud's own hands, according to the report. The rest of the men were consumed in other human experiments, similar to those that resulted in the M20s in the Nibel Reactor, of which Cloud had had to destroy.
Nausea over took his body, causing him to sink to the floor. His neighbors and his peers at ShinRa had both suffered in Project C. No one was safe from Hojo's grip. After a few deep breaths, the sensation faded and he was able to stand once more. He pushed away from the desk and headed back to the bookshelf. As he was browsing the titles, Genesis called out to him.
"I found the original research from the Jenova Project." The teen perked and turned towards Genesis. Abandoning his place at the shelf, he re-entered the hall where the older man was standing. "And this, this is the research Gast's father published on Ancients," the ex-SOLDIER said, holding up another book. Cloud took it from Genesis's hand and opened it, not bothering to say a word to the elder man.
The fact that there are no Ancients in existence today is invariable proof that there were strong tensions between humans and Ancients for years. There has been little archeological evidence of their culture surviving in the last several hundred years. While there are strong records of Ancients across the globe dating to around 2100YA, the artifacts sharply decrease in number after 2000YA and become almost nonexistent around 1300YA. Up to this day, two theories have been largely contested by scholars as to the fate of the Ancients. This argument divides the field of Ancientology almost completely in half. One camp believes that humans competed the Ancients out of existence, while the other believes that the Ancients eventually assimilated into Human culture and continue to live among us. Without definitive DNA samples to prove the latter, support for the extinction theory has grown in recent years. We hope that the discovery of the 2000-year-old Ancient, Jenova, will allow us to shed some light on the mystery and determine which theory is correct. Here in, I shall discuss the known history and legends of the Ancients and the research surrounding Jenova in an effort to complete the picture of the Ancient's fate.
He closed the book and slid it into the bag Genesis had given him earlier. Genesis handed him another report, this one penned by Gast himself.
My father dedicated his life to the study of Cetra, to Ancientoloy. However, he has spent the majority of his career writing about theories he could not prove. We have recently discovered a small family that claims to be of Cetra decent, and have taken their DNA to sample and compare to Human DNA. Analyzing the DNA samples of each of the family members will take up to a year. However, the discovery of the Cetra family completely changes the way we must look at history. While they have survived until today, they claim to be the last remaining Cetra on the Planet. How has our behavior over the centuries affected the flow events? Are we responsible for the near extinction of the Cetra?
Putting down the file in his hand, he picked up another, read the first paragraph, then moved on to the next. After reading the first few paragraphs of the rest of the books on that particular bookcase, Cloud could understand where Sephiroth's deranged ideas of being an ancient had come from. Every book on the wide shelf dealt with the same contents. At least eighty volumes were dedicated to the early research into Jenova—her excavation, her transportation, theorizing her history and how she ended up in the stratum, the properties of her cells, the experiments done on her cells, the experiments performed on beasts, the experiments performed on humans, and the implementation of the J cells in the SOLDIER project. Another thirty volumes were dedicated to theories on the Cetra, all of which were completely critical of humans. The rest of the library consisted of hundreds upon hundreds of records of Hojo's other experiments—Sephiroth, monsters, M20s, pre-Sephiorth human subjects.
To be exposed to the information during an emotionally unstable period could drive a man mad. Cloud could see that, but Sephiroth was incredibly intelligent, incredibly strong willed. To fall under Jenova's sway after completing the bookshelves was something that Cloud would have hope Sephiroth had been above. Yet, he'd succumbed to insanity anyway. Though Cloud could understand the reasons, could understand all of the circumstances for the Nibelheim Incident, his current existence and the deaths of countless people, he couldn't forgive Sephiroth for his actions. Sephiroth still killed his mother, burned his home, tried to murder Zack and impaled Cloud on Masamune. But his hate for Hojo and Jenova had grown a hundred fold.
"Let's go," Cloud said quietly, shoving several of the most key documents and books into his bag. "I'll think it all over once you get me out of this damned place."
Genesis nodded and turned to walk out. Cloud followed, his feet dragging heavily as he fought to keep his mind clear for even just a moment. He wanted to block everything out of his vision and memory at least long enough to be able to get back to their makeshift base. Genesis closed the steel door behind them and walked a few paces before stopped.
"Wait. This other door is curious," the ex-SOLDIER called to Cloud. The teen snapped his head to look at the door that Genesis was referring to. "I had noticed it the other times I was here, but I've never taken the time to investigate it. Based on the notes that Hojo left in the lab, he has a few skeletons hidden in the closets. This door may hide another ally," the older man went on to explain.
"Must you?" Cloud asked, just wanted to escape as quickly as possible.
"Oh, I must," Genesis replied, summoning a firaga spell and hurling it at the iron door. After the smoke had cleared, he kicked the door open. It revealed a room with three coffins. Cloud stayed in the doorway as Genesis went up to each coffin to investigate. The first two he opened revealed M20s, but the third contained a beautiful slumbering man in red. Genesis touched him, but he didn't wake.
"It's useless, come on," Cloud called from the doorway.
"I beg to differ," Genesis said, pushing the coffin lid off the rest of the way. "You're the one in that file that Hojo had buried in the back of his desk drawer. How long have you been slumbering here? Almost 30 years?" The man snapped his crimson eyes open.
"Leave me be," he said, his voice deep and husky, tone sharp and dangerous.
"Why do you stay here when there are no shackles?" Genesis persisted.
"My sins are great, this is my punishment to bear," the man replied, closing his eyes in annoyance.
"And what exactly are your sins?" Genesis continued to prod.
"I was unable to stop Hojo and the Jenova Project." Genesis frowned, not getting the answer he had wanted.
"So you're just going to lie there and sleep? When the world is going to hell because of the Jenova Project?"
"There is nothing I can do," the man insisted, keeping his eyes closed. Cloud took a shaky breath and stepped into the room. He didn't know the man's story, but he was annoyed by his reaction.
"We're the results of the Jenova Project. Hundreds, probably thousands of people have died in the name of this project, and you're just going to sleep?" Cloud spat. If only sleeping could turn back time, could untoture him, could unkill his mother, could unrape him. The man in the coffin sat up and looked at Cloud, taking in every detail he could, then turned to face the severely degraded Genesis.
"Yet another sin to add to my burden," he said, then lay back down. "Leave me to my punishment." Cloud scoffed and turned away.
"I told you it was useless," the teen said as he stepped back out of the room.
"If you ever decide to stop dreaming and actually start repenting, go to the Midgar slums. You'll find allies there," Genesis instructed, his brow stern. The man in the coffin stayed silent, falling back into his slumber. Genesis exited the room after replacing the lid. He sealed the iron door once more and turned to Cloud.
"If he ever comes around, he will be a very powerful ally."
"I doubt he'll ever come around with that attitude," Cloud said frowning. He diverted his eyes from Genesis, and took in the sight of the underground tunnel. His stomach flipped as he remembered the few times he'd been transported through the hallway in restraints between experiments. "Let's get out of here," he said hurriedly and turned on his heel. "We have more important things to worry about than him."
It was sunrise by the time they reached Genesis' makeshift base in the mountains. They possessed the high ground in the event that they had been caught or followed, but their mission had been a success. Cloud barely made it into his tent before collapsing to the ground, tears welling to his eyes. The wave of emotions washing over him was almost too much to handle. He couldn't even tell who he was crying for—himself or everyone else? He had faced hell again, and come back with the knowledge he'd wanted. He'd met another of Hojo's experiments, and decided that he was doing the best he absolutely could do in comparison. But he felt absolutely horrid.
Knowledge always comes at a price, Jenova whispered in the back Cloud's head. Rest, my child. Rest, my precious Cloud. You've paid enough for today. Come rest in mother's arms.
Cloud slammed his head into the ground in an attempt to make her shut up. Blood began to drip down his forehead, but he didn't care anymore. He could barely feel the pain he was so numb from the information overload. He sunk into the ground and closed his eyes, attempting to sort his thoughts so he could decide. However, images of the labs kept resurfacing in his mind. His eyes snapped back open. Sleep had been rare before this trip, Cloud realized, but from this point on it would be damn near impossible.
"My friend, the fates are cruel. There are no dreams, no honor remains. The arrow has left the bow of the Goddess. My soul, corrupted by vengeance Hath endured torment, to find the end of the journey In my own salvation and your eternal slumber," Genesis recited, watching the sun over the mountains. "Long ago, I said those words to you, Angeal. That chocobo, all bloodied and scarred, seems to be the embodiment of them now, don't you think?" He fell into silence for a few moments before chuckling to himself.
"I don't think he can hear you from the lifestream," Hollander said, approaching the ex-SOLDIER from behind.
"You don't know that for sure," Genesis bit back.
"Did you learn what you wanted to from the manor?" Hollander said, quickly changing the subject.
"I learned enough," Genesis replied curtly. He considered learning of the man in the coffin's existence was more than worthwhile.
"And the boy?"
"Between Jenova and the books, I think it nearly drove him insane from hatred, if he isn't already. At nightfall, I'll start his training. He'll have had some time to think then."
Author's Note: I feel like all the chapters are so intense lately. Genesis' reciting Loveless like always. Anyway, drop me a line on how you feel, it'll make my holidays! Don't forget to check out the prequel to CSSA, following Zack and Angeal's relationship: My Friend, the Fates are Cruel.