As the dust and ash clouds began settling over the remains of Midgar, the authorities estimated the death count to over a hundred thousand persons - most of the persons who had moved back to Midgar. The catastrophe had been completely unforeseeable, and there had been no time for evacuation once disaster struck. Last time Midgar was destroyed, the slowly approaching meteor had visibly warned the city a long time before it actually struck, giving everybody plenty of time to move out. Naturally there were those who refused to realize what was going on, or simply wouldn't leave their Upper-Midgar all-expenses paid luxury apartment. This time, however, the something that had struck did so suddenly, giving the most alert victims at most a minute frozen in fear, watching as the doom approached them. This time, there was no spirit-guided Life Stream to lessen the destruction. This was the biggest calamity the world had seen in this age.
There would be no more reconstruction of the "Capital of the World". The site seemed smitten with ill fortune - and besides, with the surrounding environment completely destroyed by the years of too heavy Mako withdrawal no one really wanted to live there anyway. Maybe, with time, nature would reclaim its hold over what was now a scorched, blackened desert. As it looked now though, that wouldn't happen in the nearest century or two.
* * * * *
Speeding towards Midgar at the highest speed possible, Tifa let Yuffie and Aeris do the explaining so she'd be able to fully concentrate at the driving. The roads were wondrously empty, which made her task so much easier. However, since none of the other girls knew the full story, Tifa had to explain how she met Sephiroth in the first place and who the girls she had mentioned were.
Even though Cloud wasn't too sure that he wanted to help Sephiroth at all- or that Sephiroth wanted any help from him for that matter - he really did not want an insane god-wannabe trying to take over the world again. He agreed to help the girls out, but silently thought that he would have to see for himself if Sephiroth was the good guy Tifa claimed him to be. If not, well.. "I killed him once, and I can do it again." Especially if there - as Tifa had heard - was no Jenova to help him out this time.
He glanced at Aeris, who on the exterior seemed quite cold, but whose nervousness could be detected by her firm grip on Holy. She was gazing into the depths of the shining orb as if it would cleanse her from all sins. What sins she could possibly have had time to commit in the day or so that had passed since she regained her life. The former ones ought to have been purged by her death.
Yuffie, on the other hand, was jumping up and down in her seat. Who could sit still when there was a world to save? She was preparing her weapon, choosing Materia from an imposing heap in her lap. Glancing jealously at the luminous globe in Aeris' palm, she settled for the ones she had used and mastered. Knights of the Round, Ultima, Full Cure and Revive certainly. What else? Cloud had snatched the Master Materias before Yuffie had had the opportunity to do so herself, and she hadn't wanted to steal them 'back' considering his random mood swings. What she had left wasn't too bad though, even though some of it were bought.
"So you're saying that Sephiroth is totally free of the influence of Jenova?" Cloud was asking Tifa. "He was basically trying to atone for everything he'd done to us and to the planet by reviving Aeris?" The skepticism in his voice annoyed Tifa, who immediately retaliated. "You did some pretty stupid things as well, when you were possessed. No one has blamed you for that except yourself."
"Maybe so, but it was Sephiroth who made me do all those things. Do you expect me to just forgive and forget?" Cloud shouted angrily, remembering with a shudder exactly how close he had been to killing Aeris.
"Oh, do stop arguing!" Aeris screamed suddenly, with a shrill and nervous voice totally unlike her usual soft one. Her hands were covering her ears in an attempt to shut out the excessive noise, and she had closed her eyes as well. "Can't you settle this later? Sephiroth has been doing some things I'm sure he regrets deeply, but so have you. You can't blame everything on him."
Cloud and Tifa both opened their mouths to answer, but was cut off by Aeris. "Stop it, I said! Show some respect for the deceased!" At that Yuffie started giggling hysterically, almost falling out through the window. As did Aeris once she realized what she'd just said. Cloud looked at Aeris, eyes almost falling out of their sockets. Tifa was equally stunned, but after a moment joined Yuffie in laughing.
When Midgar became visible a few minutes later, nobody felt any urge to laugh any more. What had happened was simply too horrible.
* * * * *
The stench of death surrounded them, making it hard - if not impossible - to breathe. Nevertheless they had no choice. Somewhere there had to be a clue as to where the cultists had traveled - with their powerful, powerless prize in their leash. They all suspected that the destination was the old crater, but didn't dare venture there just yet. They couldn't afford going in the wrong direction, losing what precious time they still had.
Of course, one could argue, time would be lost by remaining here, searching for trails. Yuffie in particular was of that opinion, urging the others to hurry up and "move their fat asses".
At last they decided to do exactly that, even if the others preferred phrasing it a little more eloquently. Having found nothing at all to help them, the crater was their best alternative. The explosion that had nearly killed Avalanche a year earlier when they were trying to escape, had also caused the rift to deepen, reaching almost to the core of Planet. The Life Stream had surged up to mend the chasm, but with a wound as large as this, the healing procedure would take hundreds of years. The visible result? An abysmal lake of pure power, thousands of liters of liquid magic. The perfect starting point for one destined to become immortal.
* * * * *
Upon reaching Bone Village, it became obvious that their decision had been the right one. The place had been totally eradicated, with no traces left to show that civilization had had a small outpost here. Leading straight northward through the Sleeping Forest - who'd probably awakened by now - a blackened, scorched path told Cloud and the girls all they needed to know.
"Who are these people?" Yuffie whispered, shivering, receiving no answer from the others. "If they can do that to the Sleeping Forest, I'm not so sure I wanna go after them."
Cloud glared at her. "I suppose it'd be better if we just went home and waited for them to come and kill us instead?" He sighed. "Well, let's just keep moving." "If we don't have time to think about what we're doing, we won't have time to become afraid."
"Judging by this display, I'd say they probably know we're after them. We need to be very careful from now on, " Tifa suggested.
"Can't argue with that, " Yuffie shrugged and ran ahead to do her usual scouting.
"My idea of careful would be to stick together, but.. Oh well. " Tifa followed the girl, causing the others to start moving as well.
* * * * *
Removing the curtain for a while.
Power flowing, filling his veins to the point of bursting. The pain was a sweet one, holding a promise of might.
All for his mistress, to make her smile.
The silver eyes of his beloved sister, assuring happiness for them all. If he only..
If he only..
Silver eyes darkening, silver needles painfully piercing his mind.
No, that wasn't it. He would take this power offered and make it his. It was what he was meant to do. It was what he had been born to do.
And so the mist settled again and he relaxed, satisfied with his role.
* * * * *
Mayalin was holding Sephiroth in her arms, keeping him upright by the side of the crater. A hundred meters down, the surface of the Life Stream was glowing green, waves reaching upwards as if trying to reach them and pull them down.
Maybe Sephiroth hadn't reacted the way he was supposed to when they had found him, but none of that mattered anymore. She was holding him in his arms, and it was exactly as in her fondest dreams.
All around her, the other girls performed their tasks. A throne was being set up near the rim of the crater. There Sephiroth would be crowned by his first, highest Priestess. His simple, insipid sister had disapproved, of course, but she always did. At times it seemed - however unlikely - that glory was of no matter to her. Nevertheless, on this point Mayalin wouldn't budge. Sephiroth should have a throne, and she would crown him. "Then he will take me in his arms and we will be together.. I am the only one that fully understands him, and I know that he knows that, somewhere deep inside. He will thank me later, after realizing I gave him the chance for revenge."
She was so sure of her future that her heart was aching with happiness. This was what she had dreamt of since she'd first seen Sephiroth, her green-eyed angel. It was only on television, but what difference did it make? From that moment on, she knew that they were meant to be together. Once he met her, he was sure to feel the same.
And then those accursed Avalanche imbeciles killed him! Pure luck, she was certain, but she'd never cried as much, before nor after. It would be so sweet to watch her darling execute them with that glorious sword of his.
Mayalin was holding Sephiroth in her arms, and it was all thanks to that silver-eyed girl who called herself Sephiroth's sister. "Let her glare at me like she's the one in charge. I forgive her, for now," Mayalin decided generously. Plenty of time for punishment later - if necessary.
Was that a pimple worming its way through the skin on her chin? So typical. She was an adult now, really, and shouldn't have to worry about those anymore.
* * * * *
On the fire-cleared path they were following, nothing seemed to be alive. Although it was pleasant that they for once didn't have to fight weird mutations to get anywhere, the silence was very unsettling. Yuffie had soon re-joined the others, as sneaking alone in this dead forest left her with a feeling of disquiet. Besides, with all life extinguished in their vicinity, there really was no need for a scout.
At least, the insane girls had left the Ancient City undisturbed. Whether because of some late-found sense of respect for the now (almost) extinct people who had constructed it, or simply for not being able to overthrow the magic still residing within the city, neither of the pursuers were able to tell. Probably the latter, since the Ancients had had immense power during their existence, and would have wanted to protect their city from people like those.
With most of the way to the crater already traversed, the party decided to stay for a few minutes and catch their breath by the lake where Aeris had been left. Tifa quietly described how she and Sephiroth had attempted to resurrect the girl, but left unsaid the despair that had overcome her at the repeated failures. Remembering what Sephiroth had said about the magical properties of the water in the lake, she instead suggested that they all should take a drink from it. All right, so nothing had happened the last time she tried, but she had already been refreshed and fully cured at that time.
Having tasted the water earlier, Tifa herself was the first to do so. At least she knew it wasn't dangerous, or it would have shown by now. Her cupped hands broke the surface, causing the small fishes to scatter in all directions. The others watched her, hands unconsciously on Heal Materia, ready to cast Esuna if the water did not do what was expected. Perhaps the priestesses had done something to it, even if they had left the rest of the ruins alone?
Tifa sipped the water apprehensively, sensing it for danger. Not finding anything different from the last time, she shrugged and downed it all, afterwards wiping the hands on her shirt. "I don't know about this, " she said, discouraged. " It doesn't seem to work like that."
Yuffie shrugged. "I'm going to drink some anyway. I'm thirsty." She started towards the water, but stopped in alarm when Tifa suddenly gasped.
"What's wrong?" Aeris jumped up and run towards Tifa, ready to support the brunette if she'd fall.
"Nothing, I.. uh.. " Tifa coughed, her cheeks rapidly reddening. " I just feel so warm, and.. oh!" With wide eyes she stared at the water. "All my weariness just.. disappeared! It feels like I've had a nights rest and.. Try it yourselves!"
Cloud hastily equipped his Sense Materia and checked Tifa for potential abnormalities. Everything seemed to be in order, though, and if she said she felt better it probably was all right. Yuffie had already started drinking the revitalizing water, and reported that she, as well, felt much better. That convinced Aeris to try, and she was soon followed by the more skeptic Cloud. In this way being spared from having to rest and thereby lose an invaluable hour, the party happily continued their journey.
* * * * *
"I wish we would remain like this forever." Mayalin was in heaven, with her Sephiroth so close. "But of course it will become even better, after the coronation."
She knew that the ceremony had no actual meaning, except for showing the other girls the true order of things. What really would make the difference was the moment when Sephiroth's sister would open the final barriers to his mind, causing him to surrender completely to the magic.
That would wait until those Avalanche creeps arrived. Ah, the tension! How long would it take them to cross the forests? Once they got here, they would witness the birth of a god - and then, if they were lucky, they would die. Not that.. Tifa, though. Mayalin's mouth dried up at thinking about that girl. She had been the one who had stolen Sephiroth from her, and her punishment would be so much worse than just death.
Now, was that the sound of sneaking footsteps she heard closing in? She looked at the Hojo-spawn - funny that, that girl had never given her name, but everybody just thought of her as 'that creep' anyway - and Sephiroth's sister tensed momentarily, concentrating. Then she looked back at Mayalin and nodded, with a satisfied smile that almost reached her eyes.
"Finally! I thought they'd never get here! How hard could it be, when we have rolled out the red carpet for them?" Or burned down the forest for them, as it were. Taking a few moments to straighten her hair and put on some more make-up, she then grabbed Sephiroth again. She led him over to his throne and sat him down, getting an ecstatic smile as reward.
"It's time to begin now, Master."
Sephiroth nodded, something dark gleaming in his eyes, and he set to work.
* * * * *
"Finally!" Yuffie whispered fiercely. "I thought we'd never get here!" She grabbed her shuriken that had hung unused by her side for the last hour and waved for the others to hurry up. "No use stopping now, they probably know we're coming anyway, as you said, Teef." She hurried onwards, the others following her a little slower, not too fond the thought of rushing right into danger like that.
Then, suddenly, Yuffie slipped on a loose rock and fell backwards, twisting her ankle. Tifa was the first to reach her, but Yuffie told them to continue. "I'll be right after you, just go on. I have my Full-Cure, see?" She held the sparkling orb in her hands and started concentrating.
Cloud looked down at the ninja, unsure of how to proceed.
"Go on, I tell you!" She motioned for him to continue. "Hurry up! You don't have time to wait for me."
So they moved on. Cloud was taking the lead, with Tifa moving slowly behind him. Next to her went Aeris who seemed to have some problems with her long shirt. It got stuck in all kinds of debris on the mountain, slowing her down.
* * * * *
When Mayalin saw three humans approaching, she gestured for Sephiroth to act. He immediately obeyed, which made Mayalin very proud. His sister also started moving, casting something similar to a Stop spell on the party. Unable to act, Cloud and the two girls stared helplessly at the advancing silver-haired devil which was lusting for their blood.
"Sephiroth, don't!" How hard she tried, Tifa couldn't seem to scream. "Not that I think it would've made any difference, " she thought sadly. In the corner of her right eye, she saw a hideous creature that must've been the daughter of Hojo that Sephiroth was talking about. As she walked closer to the frozen party, Tifa could start to make out her appearance, but soon wished she could close her eyes.
The girl was offensively alike her dead father, from the greasy dark hair to the small hunch on her back. What was most repulsive, though, was her pupil-less silver eyes which seemed to focus on Tifa.
* * * * *
Sephiroth was exalted. Finally a chance for revenge! These were the worthless creeps that had killed him - and even worse, Mother.
He looked at the pink-clad Aeris, and frowned at the ugly red jacket she was wearing over the dress. "Haven't I killed you once already? No matter, I can do it again if you appreciated it that much."
Walking towards Cloud, he poked at the Ultima weapon hanging uselessly at the man's side. "Oh, you've brought a toy. I think I'll keep it to remember you by." Then, getting an interesting idea, he smiled evilly at the boy. "Oh, why don't we start with you killing that Ancient, as you failed to do the last time?"
Sephiroth fondly patted Cloud on his head, but withdrew his hand when the sharp spikes almost pierced his skin. He sauntered towards Tifa with his head tilted.
* * * * *
Cloud would've peed in his pants, had he been able to. He felt completely useless, and not to mention stupid. Tifa had been right. Their enemies had been more than prepared for his arrival.
What was that Sephiroth had just said? It was so hard concentrating.. "What? No way am I killing Aeris! Just you release me, and you'll see who I'm going to kill."
* * * * *
Tifa stared in fright as Sephiroth homed in on Cloud. He patted the younger man on the head as he walked away, after saying something about.. "killing Aeris? Ramuh, is he going to possess Cloud again?"
No time to ponder that now. More important to get free. She struggled, trying convincing her brain to move those lame limbs of hers, but nothing happened. Had this been an ordinary Stop spell, it surely would have worn off by now.
She didn't see Yuffie anywhere though. Maybe she hadn't been caught by the spell since she came after them?
Suddenly, Sephiroth was standing in front of her with his fists on his hips. "I think my dear Mayalin has special plans for you, Tifa. I'm afraid I won't kill you quite yet." He smiled at her and gently touched her chin. "I'm going to enjoy this, sweetie."
Sephiroth walked back towards the priestess in question, and put an arm around her waist. The girl seemed ecstatic, not paying any attention to reality at all.
* * * * *
Yuffie was surprised that there were no sounds of battle taking place. Had their enemies already been defeated, just like that? Not likely, they seemed to be quite powerful. Then.. maybe something had happened to Cloud, Tifa and Aeris?
"I'd never thought I'd be happy that I got hurt, but.. Thank you, Leviathan, for protecting me! Thank you Bahamut!" Moving ever so slowly now, she carefully edged closer towards her goal.
* * * * *
Unexpectedly, Cloud started to move again. For Tifa, this could only mean that something horrible was going to happen. She was right.
Cloud walked towards Aeris, slowly drawing his sword with a panicky look in his eyes. Obviously trying to fight it, Cloud once again was stuck within his reoccurring nightmare. This time, however, he knew he wouldn't wake up.
* * * * *
With all eyes - enemies' and allies' - on the scene taking place, Yuffie could scurry up the mountainside completely undetected. When noticing what Cloud was about to do, she immediately decided on a course of action.
She quickly bent down and grabbed a rock - smooth, round and not too large - and then carefully aimed. As she threw the stone, she shouted "Take this, you sucker!" "Now why didn't I use my Shuriken?" she wondered, scratching her head in confusion. Oh well, this seemed to work.
The rock hit its target with a loud thud, and the silver-eyed girl fell to the ground without a sound. As her head hit the rock beneath her, a cracking noise echoed through the crater.
Yuffie, who'd always wanted to be the center of attention, certainly got her wish granted that day. It was almost embarrassing to see the grateful smile on Cloud, as he realized he wouldn't have to kill Aeris after all. He run towards Yuffie and hugged her, to Yuffie's annoyance. "Get off me, stupid," she whimpered, pushing him away.
* * * * *
Mayalin didn't understand what just had happened. Cloud dropped his sword before he even got close to killing Aeris? And Sephiroth ignoring Mayalin's shrill commands to kill him? She looked around to get his sister to enforce the command, but she was...
...lying on the ground in a pool of blood?
This didn't make sense.
Neither did the reactions of the other girls. Instead of hindering Sephiroth's escape, as they knew they should, they seemed.. embarrassed? She even heard someone say that "I don't know what I'm doing here with that Mary Sue, she's freaky." And the others were.. agreeing?
What had happened to the grip she'd had on them?
"Noooooo!" she shouted, infuriated and bewildered. "This cannot happen!" What about her dreams?
"Shut up, Mary Sue, " one of the girls were telling her. "I don't know what you've done to us, but we'll make sure you'll end up in the nuthouse for this."
Eyes widening, Mayalin walked towards the girl and slapped her. That always worked. Not today, though. The rudeness! She was slapped back! This simply could not be!
* * * * *
And so everything was peaceful again. Rejoined with his friends, Sephiroth handed the Ultima weapon to Cloud and smiled faintly. Cloud looked back at him, but didn't say anything, which impressed Tifa immensely. As Yuffie joined them, proud grin on her lip, Cloud even offered her his Knights of the Round materia. "You're worth it, after today," he said.
Of course Yuffie didn't turn the gift down. She held it up to the sun, watching the shimmering sparks in it, and generously promised Cloud that he could borrow it now and then, if he felt like it.
So the five started towards civilization again, world saved once more.
* * * * *
Mayalin sat alone by the body of her one subordinate that hadn't failed her. Gently wiping the blood away from the girl's face, she silently cried for her crushed dreams.
"All is not lost yet, " somebody whispered to Mayalin's shock. She looked around, but saw that the nearest person was already vanishing from her sight. It was her darling Sephiroth, she could see. His hair flayed wildly in the wind, but he couldn't have been the one talking to her. So who...?
Being pushed away from underneath, Mayalin fell backwards and watched in awe as Hojo's daughter once more stood up. "How can she have survived that?"
"A child of Jenova does not suffer death so easily, " the being answered with a sardonic smile. She touched the back of her head, closing the wound as simple as that.
"Sephiroth!" she shouted commandingly. "Come back and face your destiny!"
* * * * *
Sephiroth stopped abruptly, causing Tifa who was walking right behind him to walk right into his back. Blushing wildly, she started apologizing but got rudely cut off when Sephiroth pushed her aside. "What's the matter now?" she asked.
"Silence, girl." He started running in the wrong direction, back up the mountain.
Yuffie moaned. "Man, what does it take to kill that freak?"
They followed in Sephiroth tracks, desperately hoping that he wouldn't suddenly turn on them as he had done before. His concentration seemed to be focused on his sister, so for now they appeared to be safe.
"How are we going to get rid of that girl?" Cloud asked no one in particular. "It seems that just killing her doesn't work." He scratched his head in confusion, hoping that someone else had an idea.
"Well, yes, we noticed that, we too, " Tifa answered sarcastically. " I wonder if he'll ever stop telling us things we already know? Probably not, but it's so annoying it makes me want to scream out loud at times."
"I know a way, " Aeris interrupted sadly.
"What? What are we going to do then?" Cloud asked hopefully, grabbing his sword again.
"Not we. I. And I'm not telling you any details, because then you'd try to stop me."
Cloud grabbed her arms, hampering her movements. "Aeris, you're not.. you're not going to sacrifice yourself again? I won't allow it."
Aeris shook his hand off her. "Cloud, this is my decision." Her eyes pleaded him to understand, and accept.
"Aeris.." He wouldn't understand nor accept, it seemed.
"You know I'm already dead. In a way, I had it better when I was. I didn't have to think about all the people I've disappointed and hurt. I.. Cloud, I'd like to go back there. And if I can help the Planet by doing it, then so be it."
"I won't let you!" "Not again. This time I'll save you."
"You can't do anything about it. Don't blame yourself for this death, at least. Know that I chose it myself. " She hugged him quickly. "Goodbye, Cloud."
The girls got the same treatment. "Goodbye Tifa and Yuffie. Please remember me fondly. I love you all." She took a deep breath, and then recalled something. "Oh, Yuffie, I believe you wished to have this." She handed Holy to the young girl, who accepted it with a perplexed look on her face. "But, Aeris.." Yuffie started, not knowing what to say about this sudden gift. "Don't you need it yourself?" "Damn, now I sound like I want her to leave."
"Not for this, no. " Aeris gave them a quick smile, then rushed away after dropping her equipped weapon since it would only slow her down. Cloud tried catching up with her, but it seemed Aeris had cast Haste on herself.
When they arrived at the summit again, Aeris had reached Sephiroth and his sister. She was panting, completely exhausted by having run that far that fast, but was determined to terminate these awful events before it was too late.
Making a final effort, she pushed herself over the edge, taking the silver-eyed girl with her. Sephiroth tried grabbing them, in vain. A few seconds later, they heard a loud splash as the pair hit the surface.
It was over.
* * * * *
Epilogue - Making sense
It took them all quite a while to get over the events. Especially for Cloud, for whom these two days had been the worst in his life. So much had transpired, and it felt like someone had been playing with him and his feelings. He slowly came to accept Sephiroth's existence, but by obvious reasons did not quite appreciate his presence.
At least the awful nightmares had stopped, and after a while he even could resume living again. Not a day went by without him thinking about Aeris, but not in the way he had before. No, this was fondly in a friendly way, as she had wanted him to. Maybe one day, he'd meet her again. He'd like to think that she was still in the Life Stream, looking out for them and protecting them.
Maybe one day he and Tifa would end up together, after all? He didn't know if he wanted that to happen or not, but who could tell what the future would bring them?
* * * * *
Yuffie didn't feel comfortable with Materia that she hadn't stolen. She absolutely wanted to keep Holy, though... Of course she found a way out of the dilemma. She sold the rare Materia to some corrupt ex-Shinra-researchers who were attempting to find another way to extract Mako power, then the following night stole it back. The immense amount of power she'd gotten as a payment for the orb, she sent anonymously to some hospital or another. She sure didn't need the money herself.
* * * * *
Sephiroth knew Cloud didn't want him around. He wasn't too eager to have the blonde as company either, so he stayed in Tifa's villa until he had recovered completely.
After a while, he felt a craving to move on. He would perhaps explore the world, find a place where nobody knew anything about him, and live an ordinary life. Sephiroth had never been ordinary, so it would be quite a challenge to find out what it was like. Said and done, one day he packed the few things he owned and went over to Cloud's house to find Tifa. He explained about his plans, and shyly asked her if she perhaps wanted to come with him.
Surely she missed her adventuring days?
Tifa seemed more than a little tempted, but after weighing the pros and cons she decided to stay in Junon.
At least until everything went back to normal again. Besides, someone had to explain for the others (meaning Cid, Vincent, Reeve, Barret and Red) what had taken place. Not to mention telling them Sephiroth was alive again.
But she'd very much like to come visit him, and she'd be disappointed if he didn't visit her now and then.
And so Sephiroth went away, not knowing what to think about anything anymore. At least he could look forward to visits from Tifa. What would happen between them in the future would be very interesting to find out, indeed.