Disclaimer: Have you ever heard of Squaresoft? You know, that company that makes all these really great RPGs? Yeah, well, they also made Final Fantasy. SURPRISE!!! They own it, not me. I know, I know- you're shocked. Try to get over it without any permanent brain damage.

Author's Note: HA!!!!! You guys all thought that I would not write at all, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?! But here I am, typing away on my friend's computer while her family's out. What does that tell you? That I am a sneaky, conniving, little twit of a person? Noooooooo... it tells you that I am dedicated to my work. Yes, that's right. DEDICATED. I could be watching Gensomaden Saiyuki right now, or Inuyasha, or Hunter x Hunter, or Argento Soma, but what am I doing? I'm here typing this up for you. Aren't you ecstatic?..... Well, you should be.

I really am sorry for the whole lack of update thing. I've been really busy, but that's no excuse I know. I'm trying to get back on schedule- but don't worry! I promised that I'd finish this fic and I WILL!!!!!!! You just have to be patient with me... ^///^;;

I decided to upload this now, instead of waiting for the entire chapter to be complete. I'll just split it up. That will give you guys something to read earlier than it would have been out. Hope that's okay.

Enjoy! ^^

Chapter 41:

Not Surprised at All

Wutai had been a strange place. The land had been completely foreign to all of the soldiers, and most never wanted to visit there again. Buildings and people looked different, and there was nothing of the city within them. Perhaps that was why the general had ordered everyone to move out.

It wasn't a great reason, certainly, but it was the best reason they could come up with. After all, the battle had been going well. They were winning, their opponents were losing, and they had few casualties. The situation had only improved when Godo had surrendered. They had finally been able to accomplish ShinRa's orders, and most were ready to take a breather. But the general had insisted that they press on, desperate as he was to get back to some semblance of civilization.

No one really knew what he was thinking. Even his second-in-command had absolutely no idea what was going on in his mind. Which was probably a good thing. After all, he had the look of a man who'd seen too much, and wasn't about to start sharing.

They marched for a while, making their way slowly to the opposite end of the island nation. They had landed the aircraft there to avoid attention, and it had worked brilliantly. The citizens of Wutai had not noticed anything until it was far too late.

Even then, it had been work to weaken the country so much. The untrained citizens knew how to defend themselves, and the soldiers were skilled. But ShinRa had numbers and the element of surprise on their side. They knew they would win, and they did.

The general had warned all of them not to be too cocky. A swollen head makes for a bigger target, he would say. Well, that was just fine and all, but who wouldn't take a little pride in defeating an entire nation? It was something that would be celebrated in Midgar, and they were all eager to get back there.

All of them, except perhaps the general. He didn't seem pleased at all with the idea of going back to Midgar. Logically, that made no sense. Everyone knew that ShinRa treated him with respect and reverence. He was highly regarded as the best general ShinRa had ever employed. Why should he be anything less than thrilled to go back to that place?

It was impossible to ask him. No one ever questioned him about anything, and no one was willing to be the first to try. Who knew how he would react?

It would be pointless for anyone to try and approach him now, anyway. He was in his own world, far away from the rest of them. He might be planning new strategies for their next fight, but it was equally likely that he was wondering what would happen when he got home. Better to let him think in peace, than to try and figure out why he was so distant.

The general knew his soldiers' thoughts without even trying, and he smiled to himself. It was always better to let people think he was crueler than he was. They would fear him then, and he had learned from an early age that fear was the best way to control people. Excluding respect, which was much too much work, fear was really the only way to ensure that people would listen to you.

That was the one thing that he had learned the hard way. He had always been intelligent enough to understand everything around him without someone else explaining it to him. He had known that fear was a great controller, but the lesson was hammered into him when he met Hojo.

Hojo...

The man that was solely responsible for some of the worst sins committed in history. The man who was given the power to do whatever he pleased by one of the most powerful men in history. The man whose only purpose was to recreate humanity in his image. One of the strangest, most dangerous men in history, he was the only thing that kept the general from eagerly anticipating his arrival in Midgar.

Well, perhaps not the only thing. In all honesty, he never really liked Midgar. There were some good aspects about it, of course. He liked seeing how people interacted with each other, and how they lived their mundane lives. He had spent many hours staring out over the populace from his office, wondering just how they managed to get by. Life in Midgar was never easy. Only those who were stubborn enough not to listen to good sense stayed.

No one would choose to live in Midgar. Given the option, they would undoubtedly choose to live someplace like Kalm, where everyone was laid back and peaceful. No one running around trying to rob or cheat you, no company brain-washing everyone with its lies. Yes, a town like that would be a wonderful place to live.

Of course, there were always the people who liked the increased fervor of the city. The hot, damp streets and steel bolted sky. There would always be people who enjoyed that sort of life. He had grown up among those types of people, and found it rather odd that they were content to live as they were. No matter how often someone spoke of getting out of the god- forsaken polluted city they all lived in, no one was able to get away. Whether through lack of money or will, everyone who got into Midgar never seemed to leave.

His mother was like that. She always wanted to leave Midgar. To get away from ShinRa and its' corrupted following. If she never saw a Turk again, it would be too soon. The first time he had heard her say such a thing he had found it shocking. Did it mean that someone else despised ShinRa, too? From birth, he had never heard anyone say anything negative about ShinRa. But when he was alone with his mother and father, they would make comments that led him to believe that maybe he wasn't as much of a minority as he thought. Maybe someone else also saw ShinRa as the scheming, power-hungry, earth-killing monster that he saw. What a wonderful thing that would be. Wonderful and completely unexpected.

Of course, no matter how often he had heard his parents speak against ShinRa behind closed doors, he had heard praises about the loathed company in public so much more. Was it really that much of a sin to speak what you really thought? Even if it was against something like ShinRa?

The platoon finally reached the aircraft. Their ship was enormous, and most soldiers knew the only reason they got such luxuries was because their general was held in such high regard. If he hadn't been as popular, they might have had more hardships. As it was, ShinRa did everything possible to keep their general happy, and that meant comfortable living quarters, as well as full-sized meals. Many soldiers remembered times spent with other squadrons. Cold, hard floors; rations that a mouse would find frugal; endless days of marching without rest. No, those were not times they would like to repeat.

Not many soldiers were given the option to join his battalion, though. In order to serve under such an esteemed man, you had to be the best. The general would expect no less from you. If you excelled at one area, it wasn't good enough. Every soldier under his command needed to have at least two areas of expertise, although most had three or four. Some were excellent at hand-to-hand combat, while others were good sharp-shooters. A few had exquisite reconnaissance abilities, while others were better with handling machinery. The general had equal amounts of respect for all the positions. They were all needed to create a winning army, and he wouldn't have anything less than a win. Losing a war was unthinkable. As it had never happened, most did not worry about it.

The general, though, had his concerns. The harshest criticism he had was that those under his command were far too arrogant for their own good. Many believed themselves to be immortal, and made crude errors in judgment. When a simple turn would suffice to dodge an attack, his company would rather make extravagant moves. There was something fundamentally wrong with that. The belief that showmanship was important enough to sacrifice time for only worked in an arena where a crowd could watch and judge you. In the battlefield, no one was watching but your enemy. If all went as planned, they wouldn't be around later to tell anyone what they had seen. Why, then, waste time with such childish maneuvers and games? He had seen enough stupidity in his time. There was no need to add to that amount by watching a member of his battalion get brutally slaughtered because he was too busy executing a 'superior attack' to realize another enemy had snuck up behind him. What was the point in training soldiers for battle when all they wanted to do was model for some invisible camera?

He gave the order to take off, and their airship began to rise. He stood on the deck, watching the land drift slowly away from him. It might have been a meaningless gesture, but he saluted as the ground fell away. He had the utmost respect for his opponents at all times, even when they were less skilled than his regiment was. All types of fighting had their flaws, and he saw his own just as clearly as he saw others. It would have been unfair and judgmental of him to consider his opponents as anything less than worthy.

Clouds had completely engulfed the land. He knew Wutai would still be there, underneath all of the white strands. Clouds were a curiosity to him. They were both tangible and intangible. If the ship drifted into a cloud, you could reach out and never touch it, although your hand would technically be in the middle of the mysterious white mass.

This dual existence interested the general beyond reason. The concepts of yin and yang, light and dark, right and wrong- they were all intriguing to him. Ghosts were both alive and dead, were they not? The wax and wane of the moon, the rise and fall of the tide. Such dualities were of extreme interest to him, although he never knew why.

Perhaps that was why he so enjoyed smaller towns. After the chaos of Midgar, he would have enjoyed a quiet life in a rural town. The city had left its indelible mark on him, and he was more than ready to experience another lifestyle. He had been to other towns before, of course. It was necessary when choosing new recruits and doing random missions for ShinRa. It had been a while since he had done anything even remotely resembling such missions, though. Once he had reached a certain level, the higher-ups had found it better to use him for other things. They had tried to get him to become a Turk. He had refused. His mother's words still rang through his mind. There was another man who wanted the position, and so it was passed down to him. That man was more suited to the job, anyway. Midnight black hair, eyes dark enough to burn, and a personality that matched. Let the psychos become Turks. The general had enough to worry about without a guilty conscience.

They might have persisted if they hadn't realized what was obvious to everyone else. The personalities required for such a job were fundamentally different from his own. He simply didn't take such liberties with human life. Yes, he had killed people and would kill again. Even so, he never killed to cover someone else's mistake, or to prove that the person he worked for was more powerful than someone else. The Turks acted as bodyguards and an odd type of clean-up crew.

Of course, there was never anything left once they were done cleaning.

The general didn't want to live his life like that. That was just another way of being trapped. He hated being forced to do things he didn't want to. That was why it was such a surprise that he held such a high position in the army. After all, when people gave him orders, whether or not he listened depended a great deal on his current mood. That attitude was a part of him that couldn't be erased, no matter how hard the training had tried. He had it more under control now, but it was still there, still lingering slightly under the surface of his thoughts. If he had complete control, things would be different. But he didn't have complete control.

But that doesn't mean he had no control. Oh, no, he had a control of sorts. But it was only a mimicry of that power which continued to elude him. When he first joined the military, he was certain that it was power he desired. He was absolutely sure that when he moved up through the ranks and gained power over others, he would be happy. The respect and fear of people was something that he thought enabled a person to have power. And once he had that type of power, he could do whatever he wanted to with it.

Yes, he could do anything he liked. And many, many things he didn't.

But the choice would be up to him, not up to some idiot sitting up in a cushioned chair somewhere fifty million miles away from the action. That distance blinded people no matter who they were. You couldn't be that far away from a situation and have a clear understanding of it, for it simply wasn't real to you. Your hands were too clean; you hadn't seen anything worth telling over a fire on a night that was too silent for comfort. On the other hand, someone who was always in the line of fire also had a distorted view of things. That type of person either became too emotional or just detached from the world. There was only a certain amount of violence someone could take before that person broke down. It was only a matter of time before that happened to him.

Maybe that was why the project had been made. Maybe it was all his fault.

No, no, it wasn't good to think like that. There was nothing he could have done either way. The mad scientist always got his way in the end. It never mattered how much others were against his experiments. Not to ShinRa, anyway. And he was the only one whose opinion mattered, anyway. At least, that's what he thought. The general wasn't so sure about that.

So ShinRa had said okay, and the project had begun. He didn't know the actual name of the project, and he didn't really want to know. The less he knew about this new experiment, the better. What he did know made him uncomfortable, and he wasn't about to go looking for more nightmares to haunt him.

What did he know? Well, he knew that the project was at the top of Hojo's priority list. He knew that it was started only a few years ago, not even a whole decade. It was top-secret, and only the people who worked directly with it knew anything about it at all.

Then there was the small but somehow enormously important fact that a sample of his blood was somehow involved in this top-secret project. Just one sample. No more than a few drops, really. But it was his blood.

HIS blood.

Why did they need his blood for anything?

It was something that had been bothering him off and on again for the past couple of years. After all, who knew what kind of sick, freakish things Hojo did in his lab? There was a reason why even the Turks stayed far away from the scientist, and it wasn't out of courtesy, or even respect. It was out of fear. The most controlling factor in people's lives- regardless of age, gender, race, religion, nationality, and every other defining characteristic feature that a person might have. Fear was what bound the world together. It was why the Cetra had been destroyed, it was why ShinRa had gained control, it was why people hid in their homes day after day, waiting for something that would never come.

More people feared Hojo than any other person alive, including himself and ShinRa. That was a record that no one else could ever hold. Most people had never met the man, and they were happier for that fortunate experience. The general often wished that he had never met the scientist. Then this whole thing might have been avoided.

He didn't know what the whole thing was, mind you, but he knew that it was bad and that it could have been avoided. And that it involved his blood.

A fact that unnerved him.

A soldier cleared his throat, and saluted the general. He went on by saying that they were almost to Midgar. The general thanked and dismissed him.

Almost to Midgar. Well, that was pleasant.

...

He had to think properly about this. It was really the only way to go about it. Hojo had asked for a meeting with him once he got back from Wutai. The only time he had ever had a meeting with Hojo before this was when a sample of his blood was given to the scientist, even though he protested it. Hojo had sneered and said that he had plenty of blood, and why was he whining about this anyway? Wasn't he supposed to be the strongest general ShinaRa had to offer? So the general had shut his mouth and watched Hojo walk out of the room with his blood.

Well, he'd be damned if that was going to happen again. There was just no way that he was going to let Hojo anywhere near him. They could have a meeting, fine. They could sit on opposite sides of a table, skip small talk, and discuss whatever it was Hojo wanted to speak to him about. He only hoped it had nothing to do with the project. He never wanted to hear about this project again.

Somehow, though, he thought that was the only reason why Hojo would ever speak to him willingly. The two men just did not get along. Neither minded not getting along. In fact, they both relished the fact that they hated each other. That might have been the entire reason that Hojo used the general's blood to begin with, but who knew why he did the strange things he did?

He felt a slight difference in the air around him and realized that the ship was descending. The general turned around and walked over to the entrance, where the other soldiers were all waiting for him. He was going to guide them back to their hometown. He had led them out to a foreign land. He had guided them into battle, and through his leadership they had been victorious. They trusted him. So, he led them.

The ship landed, and he slowly walked out. The sun seemed bright on his face. He squinted a little, and immediately spotted the huge metal doors that led into Midgar. Most of his soldiers cheered or yelled happily, but more than just a few were as silent as he was. Maybe they also had nothing that kept them in this godforsaken city. Maybe they also were only here to serve in a corrupted military that had been formed to suit the needs of an overweight middle-aged man who regularly wore cheap suits like satin. Maybe they also had contemplated the meaning behind this all, and wondered if this cause was really worth their time. Maybe they also had slowly let their worries die, just because it was the easy thing to do. Maybe they also had a conscious that screamed at them daily to stop living a life they knew would eventually lead them to ruin.

If they had, they never showed any signs of it. Then again, neither had he.

He approached the dull gray walls with a feeling of apprehension. He wasn't quite sure what awaited them on the other side, but somehow he knew that it wouldn't be good. Anything involving Hojo was never good.

The doors opened, allowing them access into the city. The general stepped forward, and led his battalion into their hometown. The sunlight was immediately blocked by tons of metal. His nerves didn't get any better when he saw that a guard was standing right there, waiting to take him to his appointment. He asked for an hour to shower and change clothes. He was told that the scientist had already been kept waiting. There was nothing to say to that, so silence reigned.

He turned and told his troops that they were off duty until further notice. They cheered a little, and gradually parted. The general nodded once more at them, then turned and climbed onto the car the guards had brought with them. The ride to ShinRa headquarters was silent and filled with tension.

On the way there, the general once again saw how people's lives had deteriorated since he had last left. Shops that were once alive and bustling with people were now empty- mere shadows of their former selves. Other shops had sprung up into some spots, but looking down a street it was much easier to spot boarded windows and broken glass than it was to see an item waiting in a window, trying to lure anyone who had any extra money at all. Not many such people existed in Midgar. The homeless were slowly becoming the majority, and the people who did own property were exasperatedly trying to keep their hold on it. Lights were blinking in a never-ending cycle. Not yet broken enough to be fixed, but also not giving off enough light to see by, these lights could easily represent the fractured society citizens in Midgar had come to expect and call normal.

Was it normal to live like that? With few or no possessions and a job that was either low paying, nonexistent, or against your morals? Perhaps. It was possible that this was normality in a sense that he just didn't understand.

Maybe he had been away for too long. That was probably it. After escaping from the dirty streets and polluted air that Midgar had to offer, he was even more reluctant than ever to come back. Bright sun, white fluffy clouds, green grass, and blue, blue sky- those were all memories that most people in Midgar didn't have. Maybe because he had them it was different for him. He was able to recall- even now, even when he was traveling through the smog filled streets and alleyways of the city- the way fresh air smelled. That clean feeling that ran into his nose and mouth, then flowed down his throat, finally resting in his lungs. Foolishly, he always loathed breathing it out, for fear that he would never be able to breathe such air again. The next time he breathed he might suddenly be back in Midgar, back in the slums, back with the people that feared him for being something he wasn't sure he even was.

He didn't know if he'd be able to breathe properly then.

The car stopped in front of ShinRa headquarters, and he had the unreasonable urge to unsheathe his sword, kill the guards, and run far away where no one would ever be able to find him. The only part of that plan that was unreasonable was that they would always find him. Always. He knew that, though his hand strayed to rest on the comforting hilt of his beloved sword. He wouldn't deny himself the thought. Sometimes those types of thoughts were the only things that kept him able to function properly throughout the day.

Especially when the day was one like today. One where he was being led up into ShinRa's private meeting room with the knowledge that whatever happened next would drastically affect him in a very, very bad way.

So when he stopped in front of the door, and the guard knocked on it, he wasn't surprised to find his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. Not surprised at all.