Chapter 12 - Dreams in darkness

The contrast between the world he had endured, and the one he wandered now, was as startling as going from walking on the moon to the earth. Midgar was a metropolis that sucked the very light and life from the world. The two-tiered hub buried the soft earth beneath concrete and steel. The air that swirled within its borders was a tornado of carcinogens, smog and mako waste.

Outside the wall though, the world was totally different. Beyond the calyx shaped darkness that was Midgar's unnatrual occupancy, lush green plateaus stretched as far as the eye could see. If he closed his eyes, Cloud could almost feel like he were home.

"You have no home!" The unwelcome thought sprang from his unconsciousness like a viper. Momentarily he stopped in his tracks and glanced in all directions.

"Cloud! What's wrong with you?" Aerith asked, startled by the sudden halting of the advance.

Cloud placed a hand on his brow, feigning surveillance. "We have only covered three or four miles in the last hour and a half. The sun has not even begun to rise, and we are isolated. I am keeping my eyes on the backtrail."

Tifa squinted in the direction he had surveyed. "With only a crescent moon there isn't much of the trail highlighted, if the Shinra were in pursuit headlights would be all over us. Come on, let's get a move on!" She ushered suddenly, before she set off at point.

He smiled as Aerith followed in her wake, as soon as he had suggested the group fracture to make their escape, it had been obvious who he would be travelling with. Aerith, and her constant mentioning of him being her bodyguard, would not let him go easily. While Tifa's concern on the highway also meant she would want a close eye kept on him.

"This town sounds wonderful." Aerith cooed suddenly. "I wonder if they have museums and foreign goods to view?"

"Even if they do we won't have the luxury of surveying them." Cloud cut in suddenly. "If the Shinra have a list of public enemies to be caught at all costs, you can bet we are top of it."

"What about capturing Sephiroth? He murdered the President after all!" She countered swiftly.

Tifa shook her head. "Cloud's right on this one Aerith. Avalanche have been big news all over Midgar for the last two years, Sephiroth has been dead for five."

"Got it in one." Cloud replied. "Plus he was one of their greatest warriors, they won't want the public thinking less of him." He shivered suddenly. "Come on, we have a distance to go." At his command, the trio pressed on.

For eight hours he had followed the tracks of the animal ahead of him. Despite Cloud's suggestion that Red and he should strike North and then cut East, the animal with is natural ability to scent the flowing inland waters, had mapped their course incredibly accurately. As such, it was with a smile that they had arrived at the edge of the town first.

The image Jessie had painted in his mind really didn't match what was ahead of him. In many ways it looked as if a period drama from the television networks had suddenly sprung to life. The town roads were made of cobbled stones, while there were no modern highway features such as road signs or traffic lights.

"Damn di' we turn left at the fifteenth century or sumthin'?" He asked candidly.

"I thought you had travelled from far outside Midgar?" Red asked while glancing at him, "not many settlements are as advanced as where we have come from."

Barret nodded. "Yeah I guess you's right on that 'un. I think I's been away from the good worl' for too long. So, what the hell we gonna do?"

"An animal and a human with a gun is too obvious..." He sniffed at the air suddenly before he spun around.

Barret raised his gun-arm and twirled as well. To find himself staring at the mercenary.

"I'd rather you didn't shoot me." Cloud retorted coldly. "What are we looking at?"

"Sumthin' out of the past." Barret replied, desperate to not accede to the anger flowing through him. "Not sure how we's gonna blend in."

"It's not as deep as I expected it to be." Aerith pined suddenly. "Where are the merchant ships?"

"Girl this ain' no fu'ing holiday!" Barret roared suddenly, "who giv' a shi' abou' the boats! We's go' bigger thin's to be thinkin' 'bout!"

"Knock it off!" Tifa suddenly cried out. "Aerith is right to ask, this is the only port with access to the North on this continent. I'd expect at least two or three in the dock unloading. Especially with sun only up by a couple of hours. All the merchants should be queuing through snow and ice for the best produce before the day's trading starts."

Cloud nodded. "Yeah it does seem off, suggests the Shinra have invoked some form of trade embargo."

"Could be a sign of bad weather too." Red suggested, "which might mean the place is less crowded."

"Well we had best move fast then, longer we stand scouting on the edge of town the longer the people within have to get suspicious and report something." Tifa announced before she led the way, strolling casually down the pitted dirt-road into the town proper.

He sat at the oval table nervously, right now he had expected to be off on an enforced vacation, as ordered by the President. That had been twenty-four hours ago, now he sat and watched everyone else in the room, he smiled within, it was apparent they too possessed the same uncertainty that he did.

"All rise for the President!" The member of Soldier First-Class called out as the large doors opened once again.

Reeve followed the command silently, rising into a tight salute. Directly opposite, the huge form of Heidegger copied him instantaneously. All around the table came a united chant to hail the President's presence in the room. Reeve did not dare turn his head, the previous President Shinra had grown accustomed the core inner circle watching him enter the meeting. President Rufus Shinra was an unknown commodity, he could not, would not take any risks.

"Sit down the lot of you." Rufus Shinra commanded swiftly, Reeve slipped back to his chair as silently as possible. "For those of you who have not read the memo, and judging by the performances under my Father's adminstration, I assume that's at least half of you; I am President! The first port of call is for the movements forward to consumate my ascension to control of the Shinra." He swivelled his chair and stared directly at Reeve. "Surmise the situation for the good of this meeting."

Reeve nodded and cleared his throat. "Mr President, as of 02:36 the terrorist group Avalanche successfully fled the borders of Midgar, their current whereabouts are not yet known. At the request of yourself and the military, no immediate pursuit was launched, as we secured the tower facility."

"I have a unit ready to go at any command you provide, Mr President!" Heidegger cut in swiftly.

"I am aware of that Heidegger, you are the Head of Public Safety Maintainence..." He paused suddenly, and glared at the fat military field marshal. "However, if you ever interrupt a surmisation I have personally requested, ever again, you shall be stripped of all rank and placed under military arrest! Do you understand?"

Heidegeer noddded. "It is clear as crystal Mr President."

Reeve watched the situation play out as if he were in a game of high stakes poker. His face might have appeared neutral and emotionless, but inside, his heart was hammering as fast as a Mako reactor. The President was nothing like his Father, he was awed by it, but more than this, he was fearful of it.

"Reeve, please continue your summary." Rufus directed nonchalantly, almost as if nothing had even happened. Reeve knew in that instant, that the man sat to his left, at the head of the table, was a man of dangerous ashes; and he would walk wide around them.

"Yes Mr President. Well as requested we have been working on making the Tower secure from any other attack. Floors sixty-seven through seventy have been sealed off and our crime scene investigators are collating as much evidence as possible. At the same time, we have provided, as requested, a brief to the public explaining that the members of the Administration are currently being held under tight security. As part of the detail, Company policy of not co-operating with the press until all investigations into the assault have been reiterated."

"Thank you." He answered respectfully, before he suddenly rose to his feet. "As Reeve has just explained, we are now dark until I order otherwise. I have been paying close attention to the reports from multiple ranks of the military, and to say I am not impressed would be a sufficient understatement." He rudely pointed at Heidegger and the woman at his side, Scarlet, "first of all is the failing of you pair! We had the terrorists captured and imprisoned. Why then, was one man able to get through all security on the sixty-seventh floor? Avalanche had their weapons stored in basic annex rooms, rather than the bio-metric sealed armoury, while main militia were spread through all the floors for no apparent reason."

"We were focussing on ensuring no further in-roads could be made by sympathisers, no one had ever broken free of the cells, were it not for Sephiroth the same would be in place for Avalanche." Scarlet defended swiftly.

Rufus nodded. "Yes I have to admit Sephiroth's return was something of a surprise, especially since the Genesis files listed him as deceased. No matter, the first thing to focus on is the people. My departed father always believed the world could be controlled by money. Have the markets in his pocket, get people working constant overtime, and in return the Shinra army protects you. It is a good philosophy..." Reeve listened to the pause, knowing something else would replace it, two seconds later the President struck the table hard. "It is also foolish! People respect authority when it is used, they respect authority when it gets constant results. Avalanche have been allowed to subvert and undermine any rule we have had for four years too long. So this is how it plays out, all sympathisers are to be arrested and imprisoned, all who vocally support Avalanche and attempt to rile up discontent are to placed in solitary confinement, Avalanche will learn that the Shinra will not rest until their reign of terror is at an end. Begin all motions for this to happen now! Meeting adjourned!"

Reeve listened to the astonished silence, his eyes feasted on the pupils of everyone at the table. In their eyes he saw the very fear and respect for authority the President had commanded. The speech was not just for the populace, but it was for all under him, obey the authority of the President or suffer the fate of a traitor. Calmly he rose from his seat and excused himself from the meeting, aware that those who served him would be delighted by this turn of events.

Cloud looked on as Tifa approached the main desk for the hotel. As he had expected, the main square with the multiple merchant stalls, water fountains and bars was populated by establishments all aiming to outdo one another. Thus there were places with croupiers dealing cards, magicians performing tricks and provocatively dressed belly dancers. As a group on the run from a conglomerate that virtually ruled the continent, Cloud had wanted them to stay somewhere far less obtrusive.

Thus he had followed Tifa, her runner instincts taking them through a series of meandering alleyways, past the tourist traps and into the realm of the seedier joints. Three times they had been approached by a group of four men; all of them big, black and brash, each asked what it was that they wanted and how they could provide it.

Normally a stranger who approached such a group would be led to a dreadfully empty bar and charged multiple thousands of gil for the pleasure of leaving, Cloud though, was no ordinary man and Avalanche no ordinary group. So when Cloud advised the groups that the only thing they wanted was to avoid a bloodbath, the street huggers wisely chose to leave them be.

The hotel had three levels, and from what he could see, most of the rooms were cramped and had beds stacked in bunks. It almost looked like a scene from his miltary training, he half expected to see footlockers at the end of the beds.

"It's like this." He overheard Tifa announce smoothly. "We don't like travelling heavy, however, we have stuff to discuss that is deeply private. So sharing with strangers that have nothing but a pack on their spine is no use to us."

"Each room has eight beds, each bed is twenty gil a night. You want luxury? There's the door, don't let it hit you on the way out." The owner responded rudely, his eyes not even leaving the pages of the newspaper that he had held out in front of him.

"Look, you know full well we are willing to pay more, plus, you won't have to shovel shit out of the beds like you would with all the other drunks that stagger in here. Just give us a floor and that'll end it." Tifa demanded harshly.

The man set down his newspaper. "So you want to hire a floor? Now that's interesting, smallest floor we have is the top floor, has one open room with ten beds, you want that it'll cost you 200 gil." Tifa nodded. "Well that's simple enough, now just for some identification."

Tifa shook her head. "You have our cash, no records."

"That how it is huh? Listen doll, I don't care who you are, but that I.D is needed or you get nothing!"

Cloud stalked over and stared at the man harshly. "My ladyfriend here is not fond of paperwork, hell, nothing pisses her off more. Now you see my uniform?" The man nodded. "Well you know who I represent, if I wanted, I could have this place shutdown for all the vermin that infest it, for all the illegal unfiltered beer you sell and even the back room that you use for client entertainment as you call it." The man gulped in his grasp. "The fact I am even willing to pay you after listing off these violations, would tell a wise man we have a deal, correct?"

"Y... Yes sir!" He reached the cabinet below and pulled out a large ring that was infested with keys. "These are the top floor, please, it was all a mis-understanding. 200 for the top floor? Sure, sure, wouldn't want to create a scene, please, go on ahead."

Cloud nodded and the others set off, he waited at the reception, the man behind the desk looking on nervously at him. Two minutes later Tifa re-appeared gesturing that it was ok. Cloud tapped the desk clerk's cheeks lightly and smiled, before he too wandered after all the others.

As he walked into the room, Cloud was surprised to see that the beds were long single ones with wooden frames and clean linen. After the conversation at the entrance he was expecting termite ridden frames and linen so stained that you couldn't count the trysts they had been used for. Sat on the end of beds were the other members, all looking at him directly.

"Well then, I guess we's made the time for it, there's no holdin' out now punk!" Barret called.

"We need to know, and you also need to let go." Aerith followed up.

"This is how it is Cloud, we are a team, and a team trusts each other. So let's have it all heard out."

Cloud sighed and turned his back, shutting the door at the top of the stairs and barring all three locks from the inside. He felt his nerves fraying, he was stood on the edge and part of him wanted to fall into the silent embrace of the darkness. But at the edge of the darkness, he pictured the face and anger replaced the emotion of despair. As he took a deep breath, he spun back in the direction of the others.

"I have seen a lot." He began solemly. "As you all know, I was a former servant of the Shinra. The war in Wutai made Sephiroth a hero, and Soldier followed in his wake. I was one of the fortunates who climbed to the top of the ladder thanks to it. But a lot of strain was placed on me as a person. I was promoted by the head of Soldier, a man named Lazard, and with it, I was the first port of call for destroying insurgency."

Tifa nodded suddenly. "After the war there was a severe crackdown, the runners were always kept up to speed on the words from the street. Many groups got smashed by Soldier forces, as part of Shinra's law enforcement, the swift justice system as it was known. It is still employed for certain offences."

Cloud nodded with a heavy sigh. "If only that was the truth, in Wutai it was a war, and every action taken had no regrets. After the war, it was a lot different. Many groups formed protests, Shinra just declared them insurgents from Wutai. The public, opposed to Wutai, just lapped it up, so nothing was hated on." Cloud's balled fists shook violently. "I was sixteen, a kid, given a sword and huge license to do what he wanted in the name of the Shinra. At one march there were two young girls, both crying and pleading for their Mother and to let them go home. A Soldier Second-Class walked over to them and cut them down. I didn't stop him, no, instead I knocked out the reporter who filmed it, destroyed the footage and covered it up!" Shocked gasps filled the air.

"Cloud? Tell me that isn't..." Aerith began to plead, her eyes wide in horror.

Cloud shook his head. "I wish I could, but I can't. Why do you think I am a renegade? Why do you think I took up arms with Avalanche?"

"Hol' up a second! You's wuz always goin' on abou' leavin' after the mission! You's not usin' my lot to cover up your shi'!" Barret reacted angrily.

Cloud's eyes flared at the insinuation. "I was a mercenary! Any job, thing is, with Avalanche, I had a way to strike back. I realised that once we blew the reactor. You were a people aiming to make a difference. It might have been small, but it punched way above weight." He paused and sighed, "I can never forgive myself for those children, nor should I! But I could do what I could to make sure it never happened again, not while I had the will to stop it. We butted heads Barret, and it was because I bottled it all up. Your volatile nature and my defensiveness caused our arguments. I'm to blame, and for five years I have lived with the shadow of that day."

"How does this connect with Sephiroth?" Red asked suddenly.

Cloud nodded, "I was awestruck by Sephiroth, he had two close comrades in the warriors Angeal and Genesis. But Sephiroth always took my attention, the way he was so calm and controlled, for the immense abilities he had as a fighter, he was so private and quiet. In short, during the war I came to hero-worship him, and I never saw him at those clean ups. As a way to get away from it and to try and come to terms with what I had seen, I signed up for any mission I could with him. Most were basic jobs, but five years ago that all changed, when I was ordered with Sephiroth to investigate some activity that had sprung up at my hometown of Nibelheim..."

Cloud stood back from the others and ordered them all to focus on him but not say anything. He closed his eyes and felt warmth begin behind his pupils within his mind. The mitochondria and chromosomes collesced their senses together, as the wave reached near maximum Cloud threw out his arms and a veil of darkness swept through the room, dragging all those within deeper into his sub-conscious.

The group collectively opened their eyes and Cloud ignored the gasps of shock at the world they had stepped into. It was a confined world, the metal floor was flanked on both sides by two wooden benches. The roof was a canvas material that had multiple frames threaded through it, creating an almost tent-like ceiling.

Four figures occupied the truck. Two Shinra guards sat on opposite benches, the first on the right, his eyes fixed from within the helmet on the rifle that was held tightly in his hands. The second was on the left, he was slumped against the canvas wall and his breathing sounded ragged. At the centre of the truck was a younger version of Cloud. His eyes had the same strange hue at their edges, while the blonde hair was also still styled in the same rebellious biker fashion. His face was not as taut and his frame not as full. Directly behind Cloud sat the mysterious form of Sephiroth.

"Say, are you ok?" Cloud asked the guard to his right, the man shook his hands and head simultaneously.

"I suppose." The man replied with a groan, "so long as I don't think about the bumps and relax my breathing I should be ok."

"Why not take off your helmet?" Cloud asked.

"Containing the air is easier, trust me, I'll be ok."

Cloud shrugged. "Fair enough, I can't say I understand, I've never had motion sickness."

As the conversation ended, Cloud strode to the back of the truck and looked out through the opening in the canvas. The rain was heavy, it slashed at the world with a relentless fury. Fortunately for all inside, the direction was to their six, if it was at their twelve the truck would need to stop in order too prevent it being flooded. With all converation ceased Cloud began to do multiple squats in the back of the truck, despite the rugged surface they were driving over, he was not thrown off balance.

"Hey!" The voice of Sephiroth called suddenly, Cloud spun to face him. "Settle down."

Cloud smiled. "I can't help it, this is the first real mission that the pair of us have been on together. It's a long way from the rounding up of insurgents, plus, they gave me some new materia! I can't wait to try it in battle."

Sephiroth shook his head. "You might be First-Class but you've still not grown out of your attitude. A battle is not about trying out new materia, this isn't a game. Make the wrong step and you get injured or worse."

Cloud walked a couple of paces closer. "I have you in my shadow, surely that means I have little to worry about right?"

Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "I am not a bodyguard Cloud, you've seen my battles in the war, I am about ending the fight. You have to be able to stand alone. Take my advice and be careful."

"I understand sir." He chuckled suddenly. "You are right though, only take the risks when you have the skill. I still recall the critical battle in Wutai, you gave me command of the Second-Class to lead an onslaught and draw out the leaders, only for you to lead First-Class over the mountain to trap them between the hammer and the anvil." He balled his fists suddenly with the memory and the energy it gave him. "On that day I felt more alive than ever, that critical battle was filled with soldiers battling on all sides. I remember staring at the sun and thinking, 'this is a good way to go.' And then you swept through them. I was awed, I may have made First-Class, but you became a hero, I could never match that. I signed up for this and the other missions purely because of how much it means to me... In that I serve with such a hero."

Sephiroth shook his head calmly. "A hero? I hear them say that about me all the time. I killed hundreds, maybe even thousands of people, and I led those very Soldiers to their deaths. That makes me a hero? It makes me a killer."

Cloud shook his head. "You're not the one who covered for the killer of children after the war, you never gave up your principles."

"I know what you went through Cloud, but redemption is not given, it is found. I remember the words of my mentor, a wise man named Terra Justicos. He taught me the meaning of power, but also a phrase he told me, and only me."

"What phrase?" Cloud asked, captivated by the story.

"He used to tell me this, 'he who conquers is strong, but he conquers himself is mighty.' Try living by those words Cloud, what happened is past. You can hate and depress yourself for it, but it will never go away. You need to learn from it. You might serve the Shinra army, and you might be one of the highest rankers they have. But if something is wrong, learn to walk away, no matter what the cost."

Cloud nodded with a heavy sigh. "I understand, it is not easy, but I understand. I'll try it."

"Good! Now that you're focussed, let's talk about the mission, have you been read in?"

Cloud shook his head. "Not entirely, I heard it was some activity on the middle continent, nothing else was briefed to me by Lazard."

Sephiroth nodded. "I expected that, sometimes his methods baffle me. Anyway, we are to investigate a recent surge in the monsters that have inhabited one of our Mako reactor sites."

"Monsters aren't that uncommon though surely? Why does it require two of First-Class?" Cloud countered

"I knew that you had a lot of promise, I asked myself the same question, so when Lazard got sketchy I forced him to tell me. The monsters have started breeding uncontrollably creating different species, and the Shinra have reason to believe that something is causing it. They are concerned that it might be to do with Mako itself, but it could also be about the location. Due to the severe nature of the breeding, Lazard thought it wise to not just place this in the hands of one Soldier."

"Where is this place?" Cloud asked.

"A settlement called Nibelheim."

"Nibelheim! That's where I am from!" Cloud reacted suddenly, both excited and panicked by the nature of the mission.

The conversation was about to continue further when the truck suddenly changed direction without warning. Cloud was brushed aside by the guard with motion sickness who leant over the tailgate at the rear of the truck and began to vomit loudly. A scream filled the air as the driver suddenly lost control of the truck, while a large tail had smashed the windscreen and threatened to throttle all life from him. Cloud ran forward and stabbed out with his blade, the tail thrashed violently before retreating, the guard slammed on the brakes bringing the vehicle to a stop.

"S... Sir!" The guard began.

Sephiroth shook his head. "There's no need," he answered smoothly whilst climbing to his feet. "That must obviously be our monster." Without a second's thought he leapt from the truck, Cloud instantly followed his lead.

The wind driven rain made the atmosphere almost unbearable. The water slashed at the air like a thousand icy needles, Cloud cursed but refused to back away. As he rounded the truck he was almost rooted to his spot by the appearance of his Superior. Sephiroth stood defiant before the beast like a warrior of legend. His waist-long hair and full-length black cloak fluttered in the air with elegance and grace. Sephrioth himself held the legendary sword Masamune before him. It was easily six feet in length and curved much like a tulwar. Sephiroth's stance was unusual, he held it almost like a rifle, and stared along the blade like he was sniping from a rooftop.

As Cloud rushed to stand alongside his hero, his vision was arrested by the monster. It was a dragon, that much he could tell, quite how it came to exist he could not. It was a colossal size, Cloud estimated that it was at least thirty feet long and more than likely about twelve feet in height. It was an enemy Cloud did not envy fighting. He swallowed his fear and waited, at his side Sephiroth was looking down the blade with his eyes darting shallowly to the left and right.

The dragon suddenly roared and thrust its neck towards them, the wide gaping maw of the beast stretched out and a huge column of flame was directed the pair of them. Cloud thought fast and leapt to his right, using the slick surface of the earth as a means to slip free of the flame. Sephiroth, however, simply stood in the spot and raised his blade, angling it to his left. Cloud looked on, amazed, as the blade diverted the attack safely away from him.

Merely a second later Sephiroth swung the weapon and the blade slashed harshly against the dragon's neck. A deep wound formed spurting blood and puss. The beast howled and leapt forward, Sephiroth once again waited, the beast's mouth was now stretched fully out, the huge fangs looking like two rows of daggers.

Cloud clambered to his feet and began to clumsily make his way towards the enemy, before he had a chance, the beast was upon his hero. However, Sephiroth shocked both Cloud and the dragon by leaping up into the air, as he did so, he hurled masamune like a lance, the blade speared through the beast's mouth and out through the back of the neck.

The dragon toppled to the ground with a groan and Sephiroth landed three paces to the right, silently he picked up the weapon and gestured at Cloud to head for the truck.

"Let's get out of the rain, it won't do us any good to kill such a beast and die of pneumonia."

Cloud nodded at the casual and dismissive remark, as he clambered aboard the engine started and darkness fell upon the scene.

As he opened his eyes, he came to face to face with the others, their eyes showing the shock at what they had just witnessed.

"Sephiroth's strength has been the stuff of legend ever since he disappeared." Cloud began calmly.

"You's tellin' me punk!" Barret roared suddenly. "Shi'! How does someone take down that sort of thing alone?"

"I heard he was capable of immense power, but that terrified me." Aerith added softly.

Cloud nodded. "If anything his strength has been underplayed, the Shinra were always masters of the media, if they had shown what he truly could do in fights, the public would ask questions of how he is controlled and everything else. They couldn't afford that, so instead, his legend was watered down."

"So what happened after that?" Tifa interjected.

"Well with the fight still hanging over, I was full of adrenaline, no matter how much I tried to calm myself down, I still couldn't shake how I'd done nothing but survive the fight. Sephiroth tried explaining that I had done the right thing and was in a flank position if needed, but that didn't help. I felt like he had needed me, either way, for better or worse we arrived at Nibelheim, it was the first time in seven years I had seen my hometown, I had no idea what to expect."

As the mitochondria and chromosomes worked their magic again, the group were casually arrested by the black world. Suddenly it parted and they saw ahead of them what appeared to be the edge of a frontier town. A weathered metal archway hung at the end of a path, with the name of the town emblazoned on a beaten ancient sign at the tip. To their right of the gateway an old wreck of a truck sat with one wheel missing and the chassis sagging badly. Ahead was an old wooden water well that was the focal point of the town, the buildings circling it like people singing around a campfire.

Suddenly, the mysterious form of Sephiroth walked to the edge of the town, took a swift glance before he turned back to the road.

"How does it feel?" He asked with an ethereal twinge to his voice and gaze locked back towards the wilderness whence he came. "It's your first time back in your hometown for a long time right? So how does it feel? I wouldn't know, as I have no hometown."

"Erm... What about your parents? Surely they are waiting somewhere?" The younger form of Cloud asked as he walked along the same path.

"My Mother is Jenova, I know so little about her, she died in childbirth. As for my Father?" Sephiroth suddenly faltered and began to whimper, he held his arms to his face, covering the irises, before he snorted suddenly, as if to suck away all emotion. "What does it matter? Hometown or not, this is where our mission takes place, let's move out."

At his order the group moved on, Cloud observed the scene as if in an out of body experience. Essentially he was, though this was more an out of time experience. He concentrated on the transition of the world from the outside to the centre.

"Wait a minute, Jenova..." Barret's voice called out suddenly.

Cloud gasped as he looked at the world, it gathered entropy and chaos, the buildings twisted and distorted, the water within the well swirling like a maelstrom, the air blowing both East and West. Panicked he withdrew his concentration, pulling the group back from the vista before their eyes.

"Jenova... Wasn't she the headless fu'k in the Shinra building?"

"Yes she was!" Cloud asked with a sudden fury. "Barret, one important thing, if someone is sharing a vision you must never raise your voice suddenly!"

"What the hell? You's getting all worked up for!" He shouted in reponse.

"Guys please calm down." Aerith interrupted cautiously. "Barret, when a mindlink is opened, the body almost shuts down, to the point where the core physical components work, but the focus is so deep that it is almost comatose. Being far too sudden in how you talk to the sharer can cause severe brain trauma. It is an uncontrolled aspect of the mind, so you have to handle it with as much care as you would a nuclear bomb."

"Shi' I didn't know did I?" He responded defensively.

"Barret it's ok, it was done, and you can learn from it. Cloud seemed focussed on the tale, so please, let him continue." Tifa cut in. With silence restored, Cloud used the calm to refocus his mind, and allow the others to drift into the vision once more.

"The people seem distant, none have come out to welcome us or talk in any way. I get the feeling they are affraid of the monsters." The others listened to Cloud's voice fade in from the darkness, almost instantly, the scene became flooded with light, to show Cloud and Sephiroth face to face outside a building. "Though maybe, they might be affraid of us?" He asked suddenly.

Sephiroth nodded suddenly. "We may not know until we investigate further." He replied tonelessly. "For now we plan to spend the night here, we set off at first light. Our guide will be meeting us tomorrow."

"What do we need a guide for?" Cloud replied swiftly.

"We need to visit the source of Mako in this area, that means going into the Nibel mountains. It is a dangerous place, even without the monsters, due to the terrain. Therefore we have an expert joining us." He was about to walk inside when he turned back to face Cloud. "In the meantime you can visit your families."

As the leader walked away, Cloud began to circle around the well. The homes of the town were old fashioned, almost as if they belonged to an era approximately four centuries before now. The ground was a dirt path for the most part, with a small cobbled section leading to steps to the rear of the town. He walked past a three storey home unconsiously and entered into a single-tier dwelling.

"Hold on." Cloud cut in suddenly. "This is the home of my Mother, nothing of significance to Sephiroth occurred here." The scene began to fade when he suddenly heard chirping from Aerith.

"Cloud you can't bottle things up! You have to let it out, regardless of how insignifcant it might sound." She encouraged.

"She' your mother punk! Not'in' insignificant abou' her!" Barret cut in.

"I don't recall your mother even though we lived so close, I'd like to know more." Tifa added.

"Ok." Cloud responded quietly. "To be honest my Mother wasn't all that obvious, she was a typical woman who loved her son. Yeah. I saw my Mother."

Instantly light flooded the scene and the group were looking upon a small and spartan dwelling. Cloud and his Mother, it seemed, had never been the most well-off family. The rugs that covered the wooden floor were threadbare and ancient, whilst the living room doubled up as the bedroom. The only luxury was an old piano that bore multiple dents and scratches in the surface.

Cloud's younger form walked along the hallway, at the fireplace, a small woman was kneeling over a cooking pot. She wore a simple white dress which was covered by a pink pinafore. At the foot steps she turned around and held her hand above her mouth.

"Cloud? Is it you?" As the younger form of himself scratched his head, his Mother rushed over and embraced him tightly. "Oh Cloud! It has been so long since I have heard from you! And such a surprise to see you come and visit me!" Sit yourself down and we'll talk it all through." Suddenly the volume of the conversation ceased, Cloud strained to make it audible, but nothing worked. Suddenly, without warning, a white flash filled the group's vision.

The scene returned, only now, Cloud was lay on the bed. His mind began to hurt, he had seen this before, and he had not willed it into the view of the world, this was not meant to be here.

"I'm worried about you son," his mother called out from the distance. Cloud's bleary eyes saw that she was standing, as ever, by the large cooker in her apron, dusty with flour from the day of bread baking. "I am scared that you aren't looking after yourself. I mean, you were never the greatest cook, if memory serves me right."

"I'm alright." Cloud retorted; he was disinterested in the smothering words and busy bodied nature that she filled the room with. He was also panicking, he hadn't elected to show this, the vision was slipping from his grasp.

"I think you need a girlfriend, Cloud. No seriously," it was obvious that she could tell he was sending her a sceptical look. "But not just any girl will do, obviously. Someone who can look after you would be perfect. Ah, I know. What you need is an older woman. That'd be the perfect match for someone like you." His mother filled her face with a large smile, unseen by Cloud. "I think that would suit you."

"I'm not interested." This time he had voiced his inner apathy vocally. A flash of white fused with the apathetic words, before the scene fell to darkness once more.

The vision returned and his Mother was kneeled down in front of a large framed photo, her hands clasped tightly together. He felt terror flow through him, as he looked at the dream unfold in front of him. None of this was as he remembered, none of it made sense, none of it was wanted.

"Cloud, the Shinra care for you don't they?" She asked solemly. "They care you are from a Mother like me? That you have people who care for you behind him should you pass on?"

The words hit him like the hammer of god, the voice was twisted, distorted, ruined. The portrait showed a man in a long black cape, his hair silver and glistening. Cloud felt physical sickness arise from within, this world was not his own, this memory was not his own, this Mother was not his own. As dust arose around her, the scene flashed once again.

"Cloud." She was stood by the fire as she said it. Before the conversation slipped out of existence. "Cloud you know how things are." His Mother called out, only now she was scrubbing at the bathtub in the room, on her hands and knees, nowhere near the fireplace. Before he could try to fathom the confusion the conversation fell again. "Isn't the right Cloud?" His Mother asked as a question to accompany a statement, a statement he did not know nor understand, she knelt before the picture again, this time the man was suspended in fluid, a mask over his face allowed him to breathe. Before he could howl in pain the scene flashed once more. "I'll always be your mother." She announced, only her right hand was gone, it was scaled, clammy, as if it had only just been grown.

Angrily he snapped his mind free of the illusion focussing on darkness. "Let's stop this!" He announced forcefully, instantly the younger form of himself was back outside, the door to his Mother's house locked securely. Confused by what had happened Cloud let the younger form run free, instantly he went into the house next to his Mother's.

"Cloud?" Tifa's voice cooed softly. "Did you go into my house?"

Cloud nodded assertively. "Yeah, I assumed you'd be home as I hadn't seen you when I arrived at the town."

The home of Tifa was much more impressive than Cloud's. The floorboards were all covered with thick rugs and carpets, while the furniture was stylish and bore multiple symbolic figures such as gods and warriors. Cloud rushed up the stairs to find two doors, instantly he took the left and found himself in a room that was evidently for a young woman. Multiple teddy bears and dolls were placed on shelves neatly, while the bed had a sublime patchwork style.

"Cloud... Did you go into my room?" Tifa asked, evidently surprised by what she was seeing, Cloud's form simply nodded and ran further into the room to find himself in front of a mahogany piano.

"As I didn't see you, I remembered your piano. It was a magnificent piece, wonderfully tuned and with keys that had the smoothest action. I was no maestro, but my mother taught me to read music and play what I read, even if it was a slowed performance."

The group watched as he sat down and began to tap the keys softly, playing a smooth and slow musical number. Cloud hummed along with the notes, showing it was not some mindtrick to suggest he was suddenly gifted when not in the real world.

"After this though, I just left, disappointed I hadn't seen Tifa I had no wish to hang around." Instantly he clicked his fingers and darkness fell once more.

Cloud was back in the square, calmly he walked around the well and into the town's inn. The primitive inn had a single room the ground floor for breakfast, while the desk was an L-shaped compartment in the opening hall. As he walked in, Cloud noticed an old man with grey hair. What was unusual, was how he had a long red robe on, and multiple armlets on his wrists.

"Are you a stranger in this town?" Cloud asked casually.

The man shook his head. "No I am known here, I come back occasionally to see my pupil."

"Pupil? You don't look like a teacher." Cloud commented casually.

A bellow of laughter followed the comment. "No I guess I don't, no classroom for one. I am a travelling Sensei, a young girl named Tifa is my pupil here."

"Tifa?" Cloud asked in shock.

"Yeah, she might be young, but she has shown incredible aptitude for the art. I hope one day she'll become a travelling master like myself." He bowed elegantly. "Goodnight to you." He called before walking out of the inn and back into the streets.

With all conversation exhausted, Cloud walked to the upper level. Sephiroth was stood looking out of the window at the setting sun. Cloud joined him and stared into the wilderness, seeing nothing he hadn't before.

"What are you looking at Sir?" He asked respectfully.

"This scenery," he replied smoothly, "something about is really familiar, I can't think why as I have never been here before." Suddenly he turned from the vista and looked at him. "Anyway, we have an early start tomorrow, I reccomend we get some sleep now."

Cloud nodded and the pair made their way to the bunks that the Shinra had hired for the unit. With the lapsing of consciousness on the bed, darkness fell upon the group.

For the group, the vision was surreal. Their eyes feasted on darkness for little more than ten seconds, when, all of a sudden, they bore witness to a sunrise. It was as if the world had spun faster on its axis, all for the benefit of the past they had been invited to see.

They watched as the younger form of Cloud awoke alone, they chuckled in unison as he thrust aside the bedding desperately and dashed out of the room. The young Soldier bowled his way past the reception area with barely a word said. Out in the centre of the town, he frantically looked to his left and his right, before he was rewarded with the sight of Sephiroth and the other Shinra guards all stood outside the mansion that bore the namesake of who they fought for.

"Sir I am so so so sorry!" Cloud uttered as he made his way up the stone steps to stand aside his commander.

"Hmph! Remember that the Soldier is who everyone on the battlefield looks to. The longer you take to arrive, the more slack and lazy your warriors." Sephiroth replied disdainfully.

Cloud bowed. "I shall bear that in mind at all times."

Sephiroth nodded. "Good. Though today you are in luck, our guide has not yet arrived, so the delay is a cause outside your own. Never the less, don't let it become a habit."

As the pair continued their banter about the start of the mission, all of a sudden they were joined by a short man. He wore a two-piece suit that was styled in an ancient manner. The cuffs at the ends of the arms were puffed up like sponges, while the buttons were gilded and emblazoned with a family crest if sorts. The man had black hair and an angular face, were it not for the clothes, he would barely have been noticeable.

"Mr Sephiroth," the fellow began nervously and almost inaudibly. "I must remind you that this guide is incredibly valuable to us. The knowledge they hold is almost one of a kind, and many of our allies rely on it for their expeditions."

"You can rest assured that with two members of Soldier with them, your guide will have a very strong protective ring. Alone we can be as deadly as a guard unit. Together even more so." Sephiroth replied with a surprising level of diplomacy.

"Father!" A woman's voice shrieked suddenly. "You know that I have been trained to fight by Zangan, and that I also have knowledge of the mountains like no other! I don't need to be protected!"

The younger form of Cloud, shokced by the voice, spun to face her. As she stood on the steps, he felt his heart skip multiple beats. In the years he had been gone, Tifa had obviously grown up. She had ditched the jade coloured dresses, opting instead for an adventurer type of attire. A brown leather jacket had pockets stuffed with compasses, beef jerky and various knives. Her main body was protected by a similar white top and leather skirt that she wore in the future, though the strangest part of her look was the weather beaten cowboy hat.

"Tifa!" He called out, "you're the guide for the trip?"

She nodded emphatically. "Yup! While you've been earning your stripes for the army, the town needed someone who could handle the dangerous stuff while you were gone. I'm the number one guide in this town." She added with glee.

Cloud shook his head. "Tifa, your Father is right on this. We are here on an investigation that will take us to a very dangerous place. It's too risky for someone of your age to be putting themselves on the line like this."

She snarled angrily. "I am not some little girl that is frightened of heights Cloud! I can take care of myself!"

"More than that," Sephiroth cut in, "we can take care of her. Now we have wasted..."

"Umm... Excuse me." An anonymous figure cut in suddenly. "Hi, I work with the Town's press, and we want to run a story on your investigation. As such, I was hoping I could get a picture of you all together?" He asked with a sly plea.

Cloud could see Sephiroth about to protest. "The Shinra appreciate support from all the press around the world." He placated smoothly, before Sephiroth could cut the idea down. "We are on a very tight schedule that has, however, been compromised slightly. So it will have to be the one shot here and now."

"Oh of course!" The man announced emphatically. "Thank you so very much, I'll ensure the Soldier division recieve a special framed copy for display when you return to Midgar. Please, the three of you, step this way."

Swiftly Cloud, Sephiroth and Tifa stood together by a large cream wall that formed the perimeter of the mansion. Cloud stood to the left, his arms crossed together and the handle of his sword protruding from over his shoulder. Tifa carefully adjusted her hat and held the lip away from her face with her right hand. Sephiroth meanwhile, appeared as cold and lifeless as ever, the curved blade of Masamune pointed directly at the photographer. The flash was harsh in their eyes, even with the low light of the sun.

"Come, we have wasted enough time." Sephiroth announced brashly, before he led the group to the exit of Nibelheim adjacent to the mansion.

As the world faded in from darkness once again, the group's shared eye was flowing over a vastly different environment. Gone were the tudor buildings, street lamps and dirt tracks. In their place was a desolate mountain range. It looked a hostile and painful world, the many crags distorted and twisted, as if they had encased the strange creatures that Soldier had been called to investigate.

"If the town had not changed much," Cloud orated as the scene continued to unfold in front of their eyes, "then the mountains were truly a sign of the world remaining ever still. Since my childhood this place had been a place of terror and fear. The cutting and freezing winds, coupled with the lack of greenery made it an alien and inhospitable world. For ten long hours we travelled on the main pass, encountering multiple small groups of monsters only. Nothing seemed remotely worth our attention. That was until we reached a chasm that changed everything."

The group watched the scene fade slowly, the light dimming at first to darkness, but then settling on a murky grey dawn. Their view had moved much closer to the mountains now. The group had become far easier to recognise. Sephiroth led from the front, his confidence and fighting prowess readied him for any challenge. Cloud stalked alongside his Commander, determined to show his courage and skill. Directly in the middle of the group was Tifa, handing out directions as they went, while the pair of Shinra guards brought up the rear.

"We'll need to cross the Nibel gorge in order to reach the area with the reactor." Tifa announced as they ascended over a crest in the mountain range.

"How far do we have to travel?" Cloud asked swiftly.

"Around six miles, we should reach it in an hour or so, provided we are careful."

As the information passed to the pair, Cloud and Sephiroth walked on, for two hours longer they stalked the ground before they saw it. The gorge was colossal and must have stretched for at least one hundred feet. It was an awe-inspiring and terrifying sight. To cross the chasm a bridge of rope and wood had been formed.

Cloud watched it sway in the wind and gulped. "We have to cross that?" He asked fearfully.

Tifa nodded softly. "No other way without climbing down a two hundred foot cliff face and walking through the undercaves."

"We have delayed enough, swallow your fear or return to base camp." Sephiroth ordered harshly.

Cloud shook his head swiftly. "I am here to serve with you Sir, I will follow."

At Tifa's order the Soldier fighters had sheathed their blades. Sephiroth's sword was odd in that the scabbard hung across, and up his back, to create a shape much like a crescent moon. It was a beautiful and functional shape. It meant that the colossal sword only needed about two feet in total span from side to side, coupled with that it meant the weapon did not match Sephiroth's height either. Cloud thought his Shinra standard issue system was the more functional, being merely a scabbard secured to his back via magnetic locks.

As he placed his first foot onto the slat, however, all thought of weapon functionality abandoned his mind. It wasn't that he had a fear of heights, his training enabled him to think about dangerous acts as tight-rope walking without fear. It was more about the way the bridge was made, its simple styling meant that it swayed heavily in the winds. Should there be excess weight on one side when a strong gust hit... He shivered at the thought.

For twenty long minutes he had made the walk until the crossing had been completed without a hitch. As he breathed a sigh of relief Tifa grinned and signalled for the interior of a mountain. The gaping maw was wide and as he looked in, Cloud was shocked at how bright it was.

"This is the main pathway to the trade route, hence it is well lit." She explained.

A sudden shriek filled the air and Cloud pushed past her, suddenly a creature that resembled a cross between a preying mantis and a spider leapt from the shadows. Cloud brought his weapon to bear and thrust heavily, the thick blade pierced the creature and it screeched pitifully as its vital organs were torn asunder.

Cloud began to wipe the blood from his weapon. "With the monster outbreak couldn't you have turned off the lights? It will be drawing them out."

Sephiroth smiled. "Rule seventeen, always darken your path when in a hostile territory. You have studied the manual well Cloud." He announced complimentarily.

Cloud grinned. "Yes sir! Always prepared!" He replied enthusiastically.

"Good to know." Sephiroth walked over to where Tifa was stood. "Do not be concerned, I know you are not responsible for the lighting of this place, I'll suggest it to the Mayor should our investigation not resolve things immediately. Now, which way to the reactor?"

She pointed to the South. "Engineers from the Shinra have gone that route under heavy guard, it is darker there so that matches the secret nature of it."

"Let's move." Sephiroth ordered. Instantly the group walked down the natural stairwell of the mountain. The smooth limestone inside the mountain created a slick but shiny passage. The route stairwell was narrow, so tight that multiple times Cloud and Sephiroth had to shift their bodies to not get trapped against the walls.

With the darkness total and the walls narrow, Sephiroth had ordered silence. Cloud had kept his hand near the hilt of his sword, just in case an enemy appeared. To his surprise none had camped within the shadows of the stairs.

As he walked through the natural archway at the bottom, however, his jaw hung open in shock. The interior of the mountain glowed with an ethereal and stunning teal coloured light. The natural grotto was at least one hundred feet high and easily forty feet in diameter. At the centre of the room was the source of the light, it was a colossal collection of crystals that stood four feet high, whilst multiple pools and streams of bright liquid poured around and over it.

"This is truly incredible!" Tifa gushed, "it's so pretty, no wonder this was kept secret!"

"It is something I have heard of before, but never thought I would see with my own eyes. It clearly shows why Shinra chose here as a Mako reactor site. With such a natural abundance of Mako flowing freely, the mountain must be riddled with pools and sources of magnificent volume." Sephiroth explained swiftly. "Of course, Mako is also what creates materia."

Cloud nodded. "Yeah I heard that in Soldier training, it's strange how materia gives us properties."

Sephiroth chuckled. "You made First Class and didn't know that?" He added mockingly, "evidently it was your battle skills that made you a warrior. Still, you are correct in that it feels unnatural, materia is a conduit that serves as the link between Man and the planet."

"Magic, a mysterious power." Cloud concluded from the explanation.

Sephiroth chuckled again. "Don't ever let Hojo hear you using such a simple term." He added with a snicker. "We shouldn't even call it magic, to him, it is inter-planal energy... Or something."

"Scientists always complicate things," Cloud added, "plus, what he can't hear can't offend him." He concluded with a wink.

Tifa giggled. "Life in danger has not dampened your sense of humour! Come on, the reactor should be nearby, it is at the Western exit of the mountain."

As the group stalked free of the exit, Cloud kept his eyes behind him. The very nature of the mission had been to investigate the outbreak of monsters. Aside from the dragon, nothing of serious threat had been uncovered. It galled him that the Shinra would order their greatest hero on such a nothing mission. Which told him one thing, it was not a nothing mission, and he had a feeling that he had missed something.

He pondered this as he followed the others out of the opening and was almost instantly blown off his feet by the force of the wind. Somehow, the natural gateway shelterered the inner cave from the external gusts. He began to shiver at the chill that the drifting air brought with it. As he looked he around, he saw the area was a huge open circular point, with a narrow set of ledges to the South-West.

As he looked directly West he saw the monolith beckoning to him. The Shinra had built the reactor directly on the edge of the mountain. A huge metal wireframe floor, supported by girders and rods aplenty, jutted out from the edge. Almost as if the had decided to build a mountain of their own. The way to the entrance was a wide metal walkway that was guided by long tubes of bright light.

He saw Sephiroth already advancing along the walkway and dashed the three hundred metres between where he stood and his destination. The reactor was different to those of the contemporary world. It was not as vast, the tower reached a lower height, and the Mako plume was not as bright or thick as those of Midgar. Only five pipes jutted from their insides and down into the core of the earth. As he was advancing along the walkway he suddenly heard footsteps, he spun to his rear to be greeted by the sigh of Tifa following him.

"Tifa! You can't come here!" He shouted back.

She stared at him blankly. "What? I am the guide! Without me you wouldn't have come here!"

"Girl, the reactor is a restricted site, only those of Shinra rank may enter." Sephiroth coldly cut in, having made up the distance silently. "Your role was to guide us here, now we have arrived, await our return so you may guide us back."

As her protest fell on deaf ears, a member of the Shinra guard walked onto the platform and faced back towards the mountain, signalling that she could not pass. Cloud looked back once again to see her sulking at the edge. Before he followed Sephiroth into the monstrous building.

Much like the exterior, the inside of the reactor was totally unlike anything those sharing the vision of the past had ever seen. Where as the depths of those in Midgar featured multiple levels as deep as five hundred feet below ground, this reactor had only the entry level, the main concourse and the Mako pool. No service levels, crane operating rooms or storage bays greeted them. Cloud walked down the sloping ramp and stepped onto the thick pipe that served as a conduit for the Mako energy to be shipped from the reactor to the surrounding settlements. Ahead Sephiroth stalked, paying no attention to the sheer drop that awaited on either side of the pipe. Like a giant of old, he walked on and into the main room.

Bizarrely the room was populated with what looked like gigantic eggs, they stood upright and sported portholes much like on a ship. Cloud found them bewildering and could only assume they were used as reactors for the rods which fused the energy. Except they couldn't be for that reason, as there were at least fifty of these chambers, all housed on three different levels that were tiered towards a room at the top of the reactor.

"I have found the problem." Sephiroth called out whilst beckoning Cloud over. The Soldier did as directed and found his Commander knelt over a console. "Most of the pressures on the chambers are too high, therefore more waste product is being expelled than is being safely flushed into the vats at the base of the reactor. Please shut the valves." He commanded.

Cloud followed the order immediately, he could see what Sephiroth had meant, the bars for each chamber was flickering between garnet and ruby toned. The lowest colour shade was green. Carefully and quietly he moved the dials to the left, his keens eyes watched the bars, he didn't want them to drop too low, else the reactors may stop fusing. Once they reached a soft amber tone he left the switches alone.

As he turned around he saw Sephiroth stood with his hand on his chin, this worried Cloud. His Commander was not prone to deep thought, his moves were always sub-conscious and fluid, when it came to deep thought, it meant something deeply troubling was coming. Cloud was frightened by it, though he dared not show it.

"Leaking valves releasing more waste product..." He began in a low and inquisitive tone of voice. "How would that cause mutated monsters?"

Cloud nodded. "Also, other than the dragon we haven't engaged anything out of the ordinary. Sure, there are a lot of them on the loose, but you've seen this mountain, it's a perfect environment for creatures that need darkness and damp to survive."

"Indeed Cloud, none of this makes sense. I want answers." Before Cloud could say a word Sephiroth had clambered up and stared through a porthole. Cloud looked on as the Commander dropped down with a look born of shock and horror. "So that is why. Oh Hojo, you think this makes you a great man? It is an experiment of class, but you will never ascend to the level of Dr Gast." He reflected suddenly.

"Sephiroth?" Cloud asked, pausing out of concern. "What have you seen?"

Sephiroth gestured at the nearest pod. "Look for yourself, make your own judgement."

Cloud gulped as fear threatened to claw out of his throat. He tried to feel calm, but he could not shake the apprehension. Whatever Sephiroth had seen caused him to react cold and harsh. He had begun to compare scientists and experiments, it was so out of place, he could make no sense of it. With a final swallow he gripped tightly to a pair of handrails at the side of the porthole.

With effort he levered himself up and pressed his face against the glass. Instantly he recoiled in horror, the inside of the tank was full of water, but that was not all, inside was a creature the like he had never before seen. The main frame was almost human, possessing two arms and legs, a large head and the same facial features of any man. However, the arms ended with two huge hands that had three talons, the chest appeared to be as hard and firm as body armour, while the top of the head possessed multiple tentacles.

Instantly he lost grip and fell to the floor. "What the!" He protested in disbelief. "This has to be some form of error, an accident with one of the creatures."

Sephiroth shook his head. "Why do we have so many pods? Also the reports of monsters that were incredibly dangerous and never before seen. You said it yourself, nothing we encountered so far came close. We know that monsters have spawned with the exposure to the raw energy of the planet creating mutations." He pointed at a nearby pod. "But for any form like that to happen, it would have had to evolve over hundreds if not thousands of years, there is nothing natural about that creature."

"Sir... Do you think there is some kind of other plan here? If what you say is true could the Shinra..."

"No!" Sephiroth screamed suddenly, Cloud recoiled in horror as the Commander pulled forth Masamune and began hacking furiously at the pods. "This is not... This is not who I am!" He roared suddenly.

"Sephiroth! Please, come away!" Cloud pleaded, though his efforts fell on deaf ears. Sephiroth continued to cut at the mysterious pods. Cloud, sensing that Sephiroth may not be in full control retreated to the entrance of the floor.

"All my life I have felt different," Sephiroth recalled between deep breaths. "I was always trained, even from a young age. Doctors, soldiers, masters... They all told me how special I was, how I was the most unique and promising child they had ever seen. Why would I be special!" He shouted with anguish in his words. "I'll tell you why, because, like that creature, I too am the product of the Shinra. I too am unnatural!"

"Sephiroth..." Cloud coaxed, "please, let us return to the inn, we have had many hours exposed. Let us rest, head back to Nibelheim and collate our intel." Cloud thought he had got through to him when Sephiroth's eyes narrowed and he ran.

The awesome speed of the move caught Cloud out and within a second his Commander had gone from the room. Instantly he rushed after him, but he was gone. Cloud sighed and the memory faded to black.

Their eyes opened in unision, Cloud was lay down on the floor and groaned, before he pulled himself to a sitting position. Everyone took deep breaths and looked at him.

"After that I left the reactor." He continued after sucking in more air. "I found Tifa and the Guards, they were all together, puzzled, as they had witnessed Sephiroth storm off."

Tifa nodded. "I tried to stop him explaining nightfall was not far away and we should wait for dawn, but he didn't listen and just wandered alone."

"We found a small inlet shelter and decided to bed down before we returned to Nibelheim. We saw no tracks and no one had seen him return, it was as if he were a ghost." Cloud concluded with a heavy breath.

"So he believed tha' he wuz some form of freak?" Barret asked.

Cloud nodded. "Essentially yes, but at the time I had no idea just how much of a freak."

"What happened after that?" Aerith cut in.

Cloud sighed once more. "Quite a bit, especially important as it explains why I think he is out for himself and also why I bear hatred for him. But the memory sharing has drained me badly, and I don't doubt you have all heard a lot too. I think we should break for the night."

There was mass agreement and Cloud gratefully lay down on a bed. he turned his gaze to the west to say the sky turning red with the sunset. At that moment he saw the houses turning red too, horrified he rolled over, and focussed on trying to ignore the memories for now and sleep. He would face the pain, but not here and not now.