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CHAPTER 8
Madness and Ashes
                                            TWO YEARS LATER


The time was around ten, Zack was wandering around the Slums of Sector Five…he had to find his friend. With the events of a year ago, well the pain of it all had changed him slightly. He was still the same man, but he had grown up somewhat since the whole affair around Genesis.

Thinking back, with Avalanche now in virtual ruin thanks to the Turks, Zack couldn’t think it a more fitting punishment for what happened to Cloud.
He had found him just leaving the compound, his bag over his shoulder and a forlorn expression on his face, if the knowledge the Jerikson had been a member of Avalanche secretly planted in the program and had tricked Cloud into getting him to the train station shocked him, then the fact that Colonel Roberts had ordered his immediate expulsion from the program came as a crushing blow. He had got Cloud to go to the Lower Plate, gave him a set of keys to his place in Sector Five, Zack then spoke to Angeal and he had got Cloud a position in the MP’s, it wasn’t SOLDIER, but he could one day make it to the ranks again…if he worked at it.

The time as a SOLDIER 2nd had been very hard and at the end of the final mission, the death of Angeal and Genesis. Sephiroth had pushed through his promotion to the Firsts. Cloud hadn’t spoken to him about that…in fact he hadn’t seen Cloud since. Sometimes he figured that Cloud was rather envious of his position, that since the beginning of the program, Cloud had to claw his way up while he had found it easier. Zack turned the corner and walked up to the lone house on a corner-it was small, one floor and was surprisingly good for the houses of Sector Four. He knocked on the door and waited, after a moment a young man in a white tee opened, his hair was wild and spikey-as always-the glint in his eyes showed the Mako Enhancements he’d had, that would always be a reminder of his failure. He gave a grin to Cloud and walked in.

“We’ve got a job on.”

He looked around the place-it was well kept and alcohol free-several Shinra issue things, his sword-a gift from Zack on his advancement in the MP’s. He had been watching the TV when Zack arrived and sat back down, not replying.

“I was given a week off, Zack.” Cloud said. “Give me a reason why I’d come with you?”

“Sephiroth is in charge.”

And the hook was in, Cloud raised his head to look and a slight smile crossed his eyes.

“Alright then.”
                                                        **
Cloud walked up, his uniform a little itchy from the fabric softener he’d been using, his helmet held behind his neck as he approached the large van, Zack and several other Guard were already there, talking quietly.

He didn’t carry a sword-not yet-his rifle was slung over his back-he didn’t like guns, they were impersonal, uncivilized.

Sephiroth wasn’t long in coming and he ushered the whole group in the truck, this was a part of his life as an MP that Cloud hated, he was always being put in small, rickety cars, vans, trucks…all which turned his stomach on its head, but he was starting to develop a technique of blocking it all out, not thinking on it was the best way and that meant not talking-something that the other MP’s hadn’t missed-and that gave him a little bit of the loner personality again.

Grinning, he got into the van and sat as close to the back as possible, air would help a lot.

Zack, Sephiroth and two other Guards got into the back after Cloud and assembled themselves around him. It was clear by Zack’s demeanour that this mission, whatever it was, thrilled him. As with the norm of current Shinra techniques, only the highest-ranking officer on the mission knew about the details of it.

The truck started off, its rumble sending Cloud into a fit of moans already. Soon the plains of Midgar were rolling behind them. The first problem came when they approached the Mythril Mines…for a reason that had never been given to any of the people at Shinra, a swamp had grown at the entrance to the mines and living in them were groups of things called Zoloms.

With a crashing boom, the truck nearly turned on its side and with a silent movement, Sephiroth opened the back and hopped to the floor, Zack followed along with an MP, Cloud watched as Sephiroth moved within the swamp, neatly jumping over the Zolom’s huge snaps and bites. Smiling at it, Sephiroth moved before the other two could and unsheathed his sword, he skewered the Zolom’s belly once and jumped high in the air, slicing his Masamune up through its body and through its head. The Midgar Zolom was supposedly a deadly creature, the Chocobo Farm was making money hand over fist in renting Chocobo’s to travellers who wanted to get to Junon and Sephiroth was able to kill it with as little effort as Cloud had ever seen. He shook off the grime from the swamp and returned to the van, Cloud had heard what had happened a year ago with Angeal and Genesis…the fact that Sephiroth was still working for the Shinra was an amazing thing, but the emotionless state he was usually in seemed warm compared to how he looked after fighting that thing.

The trip over to Junon was uneventful, the rebuilding of the Fort Reactor was still going on, with protestors already showing up complaining about the damage it would do to the giant Condors that usually nested there. Cloud ignored them and finally breathed a sigh of relief when he was allowed out on the TCSL (Trans-Continent Shinra Liner). Walking with a quickness he usually held for manoeuvres, Cloud found his way to the front of the ship-the tossing of the ship would be just as bad as the car if he didn’t get the full breeze from the ocean.

A small laugh caught Cloud as he leaned against the railing and he turned to see Zack stood there, a plain grin on his face. Cloud rolled his eyes at his friend and turned to him.

“So…what’s this mission about?”

“I don’t have a clue…why?” Zack asked.

“Well, we’re both going home, right?”

“What…I doubt it…it’ll probably be something like Rocket Town, the place is going down hill and they seemed to want help from Wutai last I heard.” Zack explained. “But…the only one who knows is Sephiroth and he ain’t tellin’, well yet at least.”

The thrust of the engines sent Clouds stomach reeling and he moaned slightly, hanging his head closer to the railing. “I hate these missions…why can’t we-ulp-just go on foot?”

“You want to go on foot…since when were you named Jesus?” Zack asked. “This is the only way other than plane and you’re worse on them than you are in a van.”

“Don’t remind me.” Cloud muttered between moans.

Half way through the trip Cloud allowed himself to throw up, hoping that the further journey would keep his stomach settled. The scenery of the ocean was beautiful, when he had first come across the ocean he had been in a van in the hold with the driver, he had been across the world more times than he could count, but each time he had been cooped up in a van or an Gelinka aircraft. The world was a beautiful place and he was proud to be a part of the Shinra Corporation who kept it like this.

Zack and Sephiroth were quietly talking over something at the bow of the ship, several crewmembers were laughing with the other MP’s, Cloud obviously wasn’t welcome to interfere with either of them so he decided to try and keep his mind off the rolling waves.

Eventually the ship docked at the tropical resort of Costa Del Sol. The place had been of little interest for Cloud when he had passed through, it had been in the off season and there had been little to nothing open. Now though, the place was abuzz with people in skimpy swimwear, an elbow in his rib brought his attention to Zack who nodded at a lounging woman with no top on. Her long brown hair had been held up above her head and she was laying face forwards on a beach towel. Gulping down a small amount of shock, Cloud grinned back at Zack.

“I thought you said you’d given up on all that?”

“I can look can’t I?” Zack asked. “But what about you…I mean, that glint in your eye, is that sunlight or what?”

They both laughed raucously before getting back in the van, Cloud feeling the heat already within the van and loosening his face veil. They started out and Cloud kept his view on the outside-it helped. These trips were almost always uneventful and the trips there and back were always very boring. As they passed over a small river, Cloud saw a large desert area emerging from behind the mountains of the Corel Reigon. He hadn’t noticed it there before.

“What in the name of god is that?” Cloud muttered.

“The Corel desert.” Sephiroth muttered. “There used to be a pretty large mining village there…but when the people who didn’t want a Mako Reactor there tampered with it…well, the town was destroyed and this desert swallowed it about a year or so.”

“And that?” Zack asked. “That is probably the Gold Saucer, right?”

Sephiroth nodded “We’re not on any R&R boys, not yet anyway…no stops there.”

“But, who could own something like that?” Cloud asked, his head craning upwards. “Its bigger than Midgar.”

“Dio…he’s the third cousin of President Shinra. He had a bit of the family inheritance allowed him and had this built.” Sephiroth explained. “Though now he likes to keep a ways away from the Shinra…doesn’t like the politics his family is instilling.”

Cloud nodded, so that was where Corel had been, where Avalanche had attacked and blamed the townspeople, they were gone though now…and good riddance.

They moved on, passing over another small stream, the day finally turning to an early evening, the heat in the air starting to dissipate into a slightly wet heat. Heading along the grass roads they turned passed another small town.

“Hay, I heard that you were from Gongaga, Cossat. You hear that they are planning on starting construction on a Reactor for them.” An MP asked.

“Really, damn that’s good news, I’ve been lobbying for them to get one since I joined SOLDIER.” Zack replied. “Well, maybe once we’re through here I’ll be able to stop and see how they’re doing.”

“Once this missions over, we’ll all be getting a bit of R&R.” Sephiroth replied.

The trip through the Cosmo Region took them into the night and as they left the area, it began to rain. With that plus the pitch darkness outside, Clouds stomach started acting up again, quite a bit too. He lowered his head as they passed over a large part of the uneven grass and he moaned.

“You alright mate?” Zack asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Cloud raised his head and shook it,

“I really don’t envy you…I’ve never had motion sickness.” He turned and looked at Sephiroth. “I almost forgot, they gave me some new Materia for this mission. This rules!”

“Just like a kid.” Sephiroth chuckled.

“Huh? Anyway…as we’re a long ways into the trip, where we headed?” Zack said.

“Nibelheim.”

Clouds eyes opened and he lifted his head. “Nibelheim…that’s where I’m from.”

“Really…well I guess you’ll be able to see your family and friends then.” Sephiroth replied.

“But...why are we going there?”

“There has been a lot of monster activity there over the last year…Shinra thinks it might have something to do with the Reactor…we’re supposed to investigate it and kill any monsters we might find.”

Cloud was about to ask whether the monsters had hurt anyone when the van was hit by a tremendous crash. The van rocked and the driver yelled that something had just rammed into the side.

“Well, looks like that is our queue.”

Sephiroth stood up and walked to the back of the truck, hesitating a moment before jumping out into the darkness. Zack and Cloud right behind him.

Stood in the middle of the road was a huge dragon, it was coloured back and purple and looked strong enough to rent a person in two in an instant. Sephiroth stood unflinching in front of it, his sword ready. Cloud raised his gun and saw Zack have his sword out instantly, but Sephiroth moved before all of them, jumping into the air and slicing at the dragons head, the slash brought back blood and Sephiroth landed neatly on the other side of the dragon as its head rolled to a neat stop near them.

He stood and turned, saw the dumbfounded looks on the others faces and gave a slight smile.
                                                                 **
The Mako smell had gotten a little worse since he’d left, the natural smell of the life all around them had grown…probably because of the Mako Reactor on the mountain.

But that was the only thing.

Cloud stood-his helmet and kerchief on-looking at the exact same scenery that he’d left two years ago. There was nothing different about it. He walked over to the old man’s truck, the owner of the hotel had left it there for as long as Cloud could remember and it hadn’t changed at all.

“How’s it feel?”

Cloud turned and saw Zack and Sephiroth looking at him, their heads cocked.

“Huh?”

“How’s it feel…to be home?” Sephiroth asked. “I wouldn’t know…I don’t have a hometown.”

“What?” Cloud said. “Really sir…what about your family?”

A dark look crossed Sephiroth’s face. “My mother was Jenova…she died in child birth.” He said. “My father…ha…”

And he started laughing coldly. “My father…I don’t know who he is…but the fool who raised me…well, he is an evil man and not worth thinking of.”

Laughing again, he turned and started into town.
The day hadn’t started well, Tifa had actually been there in the middle of the square, sitting as if waiting…for what, him? Surely news that two SOLDIER’s would be coming had been big to everyone here, would she had suspected him to be one of them?

He had felt worse and worse about this mission, now he was seeing the effects of his boasting. How would Tifa take it that he wasn’t a SOLDIER, could he take the look of shock and disappointment on her face?

What about his mother?

He’d got letters off her and he’d not replied to them, he didn’t want to lie to her. People were actually coming out now, looking at the hero of the Wutai War…for the first time he didn’t want Sephiroth on this mission. If it were any other, then he might have been less conspicuous.

Zack elbowed him and they both walked up to Sephiroth. “We’re booked in for the night, make sure to get plenty of rest.” He reached up and touched the door handle. “Oh…and you’re free to visit your family and friends.”

Zack grinned and nudged Cloud to show him around.

“So, this is where you grew up, huh?” Zack muttered. “Have to admit, it’s a lot like Gongaga but I doubt I’d be able to live in a place like this after seeing Midgar.”

Cloud adopted a gruffer sounding voice and nodded. “I know what you mean, so where you want to go?”

Zack gave him a quizzical look before smiling. “Whatever man, lets take a look at this freaky mansion you told us about.”

Cloud walked Zack around the town all day, showing him some of the sights that he’d gown up in, his particular hangouts and of course, the foot of Mount Nibel.

“These’re supposed to be the most dangerous mounts next to Gaea, aren’t they?”

“Honestly, do all you big city people think that?”

Cloud froze on the spot and turned when Zack did, stood before them was a young woman, her dark brown hair half way down her back. She was sporting a strange cowgirl-country mix with a cowboy hat as well and she still had the most enchanting eyes he had ever seen in his life. He inadvertently gulped down and straightened slightly.

Zack gave a slight smile before stretching. “Ah well, you know. Not much comes our way about the little towns…’scuse me miss, we’ve gotta get to the other end of town, make sure things are okay for the night.”

He walked Cloud away with a tug of the arm, Tifa staring at them with a perplexed look on her face.

Cloud avoided his own home, though Zack did want to see his mother, Cloud didn’t want to lie to her face. He took Zack to the bar instead, he needed a stiff drink to calm himself for the mission.

Sitting at the bar, Cloud undid his kerchief and lay it around his neck. Zack turned to him when he did this. “Honestly, the people here don’t care and besides, after everything you’ve been through…there ain’t much else to get you back in SOLDIER.”

“Yeah, like Roberts will ever let me back in.” Cloud muttered, before ordering. The barman raised an eyebrow at the speed of Clouds order before nodding and heading off to make the drinks. “And you don’t know what these lot are like…they-.”

A person appeared from behind them just pulling on an apron. Cloud groaned slightly as Tifa smiled at them-probably just at Zack-and walked up to them. He had unwittingly placed them at the grill, she placed both hands on the counter and leaned forwards.

“What can I get you?”

Cloud hesitated a moment for Zack to order and when he didn’t, he grabbed the menu and started reading.

“Um, how’s about…the Wolves Fang prime rib and I think I’ll go without.”

“Why…my food’s not bad you know.”

He tapped his helmet. “I’m not allowed to remove it while on duty miss. If you’d be kind enough to have a heated steak sandwich sent up to our room at the Inn.”

Tifa gave another quizzical look. “Where are you from?”

“I was from Corel.” Cloud muttered. “Not that it matters much now.”

Tifa frowned. “You sure…your voice…its kinda familiar.”

“Dammit woman…I ain’t been here before, now scoot!”

Tifa frowned and turned away. “You’re a SOLDIER, right?”

Zack nodded, a cold look on his face, giving Cloud a withering stare he turned to Tifa. “Yeah…why, miss…?”

“Its Tifa…um, there was a friend of mine, he left here about two years ago. He was called Cloud, he said he was going to Midgar to become a member of SOLDIER. Do you know him?” She replied, looking a little embarrassed.

“A SOLDIER called Cloud…well, you’ve gotta understand that there’s a lot of guys out there who’re SOLDIER’s or hopefuls, I only just made it as a 1st, ‘fraid I can’t know every SOLDIER out there.” He said, a glint appearing in his eye. “Why though…what reason could you have to want to know this guy, I mean…he’s been gone a while, right?”

“He left about two years ago…I…well I miss him if you must know…I thought that seeing as a SOLDIER mission would be coming here, he’d want to come back.” Tifa said. “I’d like to see him, whatever he’s made of himself…”

She walked off, a far away look on her face.

Zack turned to Cloud. “You hear that. She doesn’t give a shit, she’d be happy just to see you.”

Cloud shook his head. “No…she wouldn’t. I said I’d be a hero and I’m nothing.”

When he and Zack retired to their room, one of the other MP’s informed them that they were one bed short.

“Don’t you worry. I’ll keep watch tonight.” Sephiroth said. “You’re sandwich was delightful, Strife…thank you.”

Cloud smiled bitterly as he took his helmet off, throwing it to the corner of the room, “Very good sir.”
                                                        **
The next morning, Cloud was one of the last to awake, though Zack had to be prodded awake as well, they dressed quickly and rushed out, Cloud fumbling with his helmet as he rushed to the entrance to the Shinra Mansion, he skidded to a halt when he saw who was stood next to Sephiroth.

Jack Lockheart was stood, his eyes slightly wide with shock at seeing Cloud, then they narrowed tightly.

Cloud snapped his helmet on and wrapped the kerchief over his face as Jack approached him.

“So…you’re back.” He said, coldly.

“Yeah.” Cloud said, he had no idea how he was going to get out of this one. “Why, that a problem?”

“No…so long as you don’t stay.” Jack said. “Listen to me carefully Strife…I want you to stay away from my daughter…leave her be here, let her be happy.”

“That…was exactly my idea.” Cloud replied, glad of his helmet and kerchief hiding the sting he had in his eyes.

He walked over to Sephiroth and stood with him, looking ahead.

“You alright Strife?”

Cloud nodded once.

“If you are having second thoughts, I could have you wait in the-.”

“Sir.” Cloud muttered darkly. “I will complete the mission, thank you.”

Sephiroth nodded and turned to the trail, Tifa was approaching from the base, a slight smile on her face.

“Well, I think everything’s okay…” Cloud looked at her, she was so beautiful. Beyond anything he had fantasized about over the two years, a lump was constricting his throat, after this mission was over with, then he’d never be back here, never see her face again. As Sephiroth and Tifa stood next to Zack, Cloud felt two tears roll down his face. He would have to, he couldn’t let her see him like this.

They travelled up the mountain at a steady pace, taking their time with sheer rock faces and hard high trails until they made it to a rope bridge, Cloud stopped as Tifa stepped on without second thought, this was the very same rope bridge that it had happened on six years ago. He placed a hand on the rope as he stepped on, it was old…he could feel its age even under the Shinra gloves.

After a cough from behind him, he followed Zack and Sephiroth. He was half way across when he felt something very wrong, with a thunk of a rope snapping, the bridge shuddered wildly before the second rope snapped. Cloud felt the ground beneath him fall away and he gripped the side with his free arm, he heard one of the MP’s screaming as he fell, reached out and gripped the other with his free hand, but little comfort came from that as the other end of the rope bridge snapped and Cloud saw the rushing ground approaching him.

The next thing he knew was pain, a terrible aching pain all over him, he sat up and groaned, looking around he could only see Tifa, Zack and one of the other MP’s-possibly the one he grabbed-groaning as they got up.

“It looks like we’ve got the long way to go.” Sephiroth appeared from the side of a fissure of rock, looking utterly calm and centred.

“Um, Mr. Sephiroth…it looks like we’re one man down?” Tifa said, looking over the group.

“I know it is cold but we don’t have the time to search for him, he’s lost to us anyway.” Sephiroth replied. “Lead on, Miss Lockheart.”

The trip up to the Reactor was an rigorous one, they passed through whole shining caves full of Lifestream energy, passed a fully active Lifestream Fountain with natural Materia growing inside it and a high wall and trail until they eventually came upon the long and high trail up to the Reactor.

The first remaining MP was stationed at the gates to the Reactor grounds, while Cloud, Tifa, Zack and Sephiroth walked up to the main entrance.
Tifa attempted to lead them in, but was stopped by Sephiroth throwing out an arm.

“Sorry miss, but there are Shinra industrial secrets inside, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait here.”

“But-.”

Sephiroth turned to Cloud

“Take care of the lady.”

Cloud nodded and, as Zack and Sephiroth made their way inside, he stepped in font of the metal staircase and crossed his arms.

“Tsst….well you’d better take good care of me then.” She said, placing her hands on her hips. “Anyway, you said you were from Corel right…did you get out before the Reactor explosion?”

“Yeah.” Cloud replied gruffly. “I ha-those idiots that attacked the Reactor were the ones who killed my hometown, no one else.”

He had nearly let loose the information of the Avalanche involvement, that was a part of the Shinra’s private database, something that the public didn’t know or should know.

“Well…why are you in the Guard…I thought most people wanted to be in SOLDIER?” Tifa asked.

“I tried, was kicked out near the end.” Cloud replied again. “Though I still hope that I’ll be a SOLDIER one day.”

“You seem friendly with that SOLDIER, Zack. Did you train with him?”

“Was in the same year in SOLDIER.” Cloud replied. “He made it, I’m glad for him, just wish I had.”

“Did you know a Cloud Strife?”

Cloud sighed inwardly, he had been waiting for this.

“Like Zack said there’s loadsa people try out for SOLDIER, can’t name ‘em all, miss,” Cloud gruffly replied. “Though I do know there was a coupleoCloud’s in the program.”

“You think so.” Tifa said. “He…he would have blond hair, kinda spikey…shorter than most people, blue eyes, brilliantly blue.”

She bit her lip and shook her head. “If…when you get back to Midgar…you meet a guy like that, tell him…tell him Tifa Lockheart misses him and wants to see him again.”

The lump was back in his throat, but he didn’t need to say anything as Sephiroth bustled past him, muttering something about his mother.
                                                        **
“Look man,” Zack said, again at the bar-this time at eleven o’clock-Tifa had just gone home for the night and Cloud had felt safe enough to remove his helmet. “She says she wanted to see you…go say hello. You have the same skills I do, the only thing you’re missing is the outfit!”

“Its not the same, Zack.” Cloud replied. “You don’t see it, you’re a SOLDIER, you live with the knowledge every day, me. I said I’d be as good as Sephiroth! Ha, and now look at me, an MP…sure she’d be happy to see me.”

“Personally I think you’re throwing away a smoking hot piece of-.”

Cloud had gripped Zack by the throat, dragged him down and slammed him to the bar top, he looked at him seriously and said quietly. “Never speak of her like that, do you understand me.”

He let go of Zack and sat back down, the people in the bar not paying any attention to them.

“Well, it looks like you still have a fire for her…Cloud, listen to me, she is probably one of the most attractive women I’ve seen, trust me that’s saying something-and she is hopelessly in love with you. She would love you even if you came back here without Mako Enhancements.” Zack said. “You know how difficult it is to find someone like that…for Christ’s sake man, act on it!”

But Cloud swilled his drink down before turning and walking out of the bar, his gil in the glass.
                                                            **
The second day’s stay at Nibelheim passed without event, no monsters were appearing now, the only thing was that Sephiroth had left the whole group alone and shut himself up in the old Shinra Mansion, the basement light remaining on all day and into the night.

When night fell on their third day at Nibelheim, Cloud and Zack met in the square, Cloud having spoken with his mother briefly beforehand.

“Sephiroth is acting very strangely.” Zack said. “I’m worried, he kind of went off kilter in the Reactor for a minute, stay out here and keep an eye on things, I’m going inside to see what he’s up to…Cloud, if something is wrong, we are the only ones with any chance of killing him…if I don’t come out of here, you’ve gotta do it.”

Cloud nodded and took guard in front of Tifa’s home, her father and the heads of the town were at the gates to the mansion, Zack stopped briefly to speak with them before closing the gate and walking into the mansion.

Cloud could hear Tifa’s movements inside the house, she seemed to be cooking something from the smell. He allowed himself a moment to picture her in a frilly apron, rushing around a kitchen with ladles and soupspoons in her hands before he fixed his gaze back on the mansion. Cloud could hear talking from the group, a man who looked like Tifa’s father broke out of the group and started up the mountain…towards the Reactor.

He would have followed, but the idea of leaving anyone alone-he didn’t want to leave Tifa alone at the moment-was out of the option.

And then the door opened, Sephiroth was carrying Clouds fellow MP in the air one handed by the throat. He took one look around the gathering of people and spoke loudly enough to get the whole towns attention.

“GET OUT OF MY WAY, I’M GOING TO SEE MY MOTHER!!!”

And in an instant, the MP had burst into flame, Cloud’s grip on his gun tightened and he raised it high enough to be ready. The MP’s screams died out and Sephiroth threw the body aside, he then clenched his arms into his chest and yelled to the world  “FLARE!”

Cloud had an instant to react, he raised his gun in a defensive manner as the wall of heat slammed into everything around him and he was slammed into the wall of Tifa’s home, his body fell to the floor with a dull thud and he passed out.
                                                          **
Tifa felt the rumble and then the whole house shook. She stopped at the pan of carrots, the salt seller in one hand and a ladle in the other, there were screams coming from outside-terrifying screams.

Walking out to the hall, she tried the front door, it wouldn’t open, with a hard kick it broke open, she saw an unconscious MP on the floor and Zangan tending to injured people on the ground and…

The whole of Nibelheim was ablaze.

She staggered slightly from shock and held herself up on the doorframe. What in the name of god could do this?

“Master, MASTER! What happened?”

She rushed over to him and helped the young Devin Karton to a sitting position.

“Sephiroth…he’s lost his mind, sent a Flare attack everywhere…that kid who was with him is still in the mansion…was saying something about his mother.”

“Sephiroth did this?” Tifa mumbled. She looked around, her father was nowhere to be seen. “Master, where’s my father?”

“Went up to the Reactor, said that he’d find out what was causing all this and stop it himself.” Zangan replied. “Why…Tifa WAIT!”

Tifa had turned and was running through the fire now, she had a terrified thought, Sephiroth had come out of the Reactor muttering about his mother…and father was up there.

She pumped herself as fast as she could, and was soon climbing the slopes of Mt. Nibel, she would stop Sephiroth if she had to, someone had to.

It took half an hour to climb up the rock face that she would usually leave alone, but she got to the top and was heading up he trail to the Reactor when she saw him.

He was lying on the outskirts of the Reactor, his throat ripped out by the blade sunk into the earth. She fell to her knees and gripped her father’s body, it was already growing cold, and tears were leaking out of her eyes and down her cheeks.

“Father…father, Sephiroth did this to you didn’t he.” She stuttered out “I hate them…Sephiroth….Shinra…SOLDIER…Mako Reactors…EVERYTHING!!!!” She screamed the last to the sky. “I HATE THEM ALL!!!!!”

And she jumped to her feet, grabbing Sephiroth sword and wrenching it from the earth, she sped forwards to the Reactor.
                                                                 **
Zack stopped for a brief moment at the body of a dead man-Tifa’s Father-she had not been that far ahead of him. He unsheathed his sword and rushed forwards, fear bubbling up in him, he hadn’t checked on Cloud, if he was dead then it was up to him, he was alone.

He’d stopped Genesis, he could stop Sephiroth too, right?

He broke into the Reactor, slid down the chain to the reactor floor and rushed into the main Jenova Chamber.

Tifa was lying on the floor, her body twitching, she was breathing but she had a terrible gash running down her front, blood was pumping quickly from her wound.

“Tifa…”

He bent down and touched her wound, it was a deep one and something that few people would be able to heal. He pulled out a Materia orb-Cure-and was about to cast when Tifa beat his hand away.

“Get…away from…me…” Her voice was cracked and shaky. “SOLDIER…I…hate…I hate…everything….you…”

Zack got to his feet, his eyes still on her.

“I’m sorry Tifa, I’ll do my best to pay back what Sephiroth has done.”

He looked up the steps, the door to Jenova’s Chamber was open, he rushed upwards to it.
                                                         **
“Sep…hir…oth!” Cloud groaned as he sat up.

His helmet was cracked down the middle, his vision was fogged for a moment before he got steady and saw that Zangan was tending to the wounded.

“Hay…where’d Sephiroth go?” Cloud shouted.

“He’s gone up the mountain.” He said. “That other one, Zack…he went after him. You goin’ up there too?”

Cloud threw his ruined gun away and nodded. “Yeah…he has to pay for this, its too much…”

He looked back at Tifa’s house, it was ablaze.

“Tifa…Where’s Tifa!?”

“She’s gone up there too…you’re him aren’t you, the one who left to be a SOLDIER…Strife?”

“Yeah.” Cloud said, turning and ripping the burnt kerchief off his face. “And I have a promise to keep.”

The run up the mountain, took less time that it had when Tifa had taken them up, Cloud had ripped his clothes and blooded his knees getting up in such a hurry, but he had to help her, he only prayed he made it in time.
Seeing Jack Lockhearts body on the trail floor told him to expect the worst, but when he slid down the chain to the reactor floor and stepped into the Jenova chamber, his world turned upside down, Zack was lying on several human sized Mako pods, his shirt stained with the blood from his chest, he’d defended himself enough to stop a lethal blow, but then he saw her.

Tifa was lying on the reactor floor, her face slowly turning a chalk white, blood was oozing from her open chest. His eyes opened wide and he felt his breath catching in his throat, it couldn’t be true…she couldn’t be- a rage hit Cloud like he had never before felt, he blindly grabbed Zack’s sword-lying on the reactor floor where his friend had dropped it-and rushed up the steps.

The inside of the inner chamber was coloured an oddly blue but Cloud saw nothing of that as he rushed up a set of power cables to a huge glass pod with Sephiroth fondling it lovingly, he pulled back the sword and drove it right into Sephiroth’s midsection, hearing a great cracking of glass as he did.

“Mom…Tifa…My Hometown….GIVE THEM BACK!!!!” He yelled.

Cloud pulled the sword out and backed away.

“WHo Are…YOU!” Sephiroth spluttered blood over his clothes and the floor as he spoke, his eyes widening in shock.

“I admired you….” He was shaking terribly. “I WANTED TO BE YOU!”

He turned, tore his helmet off and threw it angrily to the side of the chamber. As soon as he had removed the helmet, he was a different person and he rushed out of the reactor saying one word.

Tifa.

When he got to the floor, he lifted Tifa in his arms-the lifeless feeling of how she hung there scared him-and he carried her to the side of the reactor, placing her in a sitting position before taking a look at her.

Even now, speckled in blood, her face growing whiter, she was still beautiful. He caressed her face gently and she awoke. Recognition filled her face as she smiled as happily as he had ever seen anyone ever smile. “You came…you kept your promise…when I was in a bind…Cloud.”

Cloud smiled and nodded, the noise also seemed to have awoken something else.

“Cloud…Kill Sephiroth.” It was Zack, he looked injured and only turned his head, but his eyes were full of the cold fury and as soon as they met, Cloud knew what he had to do.

Sephiroth passed them without notice and walked out, holding a severed head in his hand as well as his sword.

Cloud nodded, his rage boiling again, he tore out of the room and into the reactor main.

“SEPHIROTH!!!!”

Sephiroth straightened up, waited a moment and Cloud took his chance, he flew at the man, only to feel fire erupt in his midriff.

“Don’t push…your luck!”

Cloud looked down at the blade sticking from his midsection in horror, but a second later, hate greater than anything he had felt before filled him and he grabbed the blade, pulled himself further along it, lifted Sephiroth into the air and threw him, full bodied into the reactor wall, he slammed into it, Cloud saw Sephiroth’s body contracting slightly before he fell into the depths of the Reactor’s core.

Cloud heaved a sigh and turned around, eight feet of sword sticking from his chest, he started back to the others, his eyes growing dimmer as he did.

“Tifa…” Was the last thing he said before the darkness took him.
                                                                 **
Zangan stepped into the reactor’s floor, saw the young man-Strife-lying motionless near the entrance to the chamber ahead, Sephiroth’s sword sticking out of his chest. He quickly walked in through the doorway, saw the other boy, Zack…he was unconscious on the pods, injured but alive and Tifa…she was sitting up, her chest open and bleeding badly.

He scooped her up in his arms, turned to look once at the two boys as he left, he had no other choice…Tifa was his priority now.

He got out of the Reactor and then out of the dying Nibelheim passing the dead as he did, none of those who were hit in the blast had survived long and those who had been trapped in the houses had died as they collapsed in on themselves and he could feel the cold burn on his arms and legs from when he had defended himself. They trekked along as fast as Zangan could move and only stopped as night drew on, here he tried to heal Tifa-the wound did close, but not for long-he had heard about Sephiroth’s blade causing this kind of problem but he hadn’t believed it, until now.

“Midgar then…best chance you’ve got.” He muttered, lifting her up.

He placed the Cure Materia behind his wristband and started using it on Tifa every few hours to keep her alive on the long trip to the metal city.
                                                       **
The call had come in and he had gone immediately, Shiraton Hojo surveyed the damage inside the Jenova Chamber and the inner chamber…Koji’s plan had actually worked.

He laughed out loud. “But he doesn’t know what I do!” It was an almost insane laugh, he didn’t notice his fellow scientists looking terrified at him, or the Turks who were now staring at him with avid attention. After surveying the majority of the mansion-the only building that had survived the attack-he led a team up to the Reactor.

As he walked into the Mako Chamber, he sighed and let a tut escape. If there was one thing he still hated about Sephiroth, it was a lack of subtlety, the place would cost him at least a hundred thousand to repair.

“Sephiroth could have caused less damage, I always told him to kill, but no…he has the glamorise everything.” He stopped a pair of Turks lifting the Cossat boys body-he was alive, miraculously. “Take him to my lab in the Mansion…heh…he will prove an interesting subject.”

He continued on and saw the Masamune, lying on the floor, Five feet of bloodstained blade shimmering next to a body being lifted onto a stretcher and he goggled…the other one…Strife.

He was alive!

But all permutations had said he’d die in killing Sephiroth. A wild grin came across his face, if the boy was alive, he could prove very, very interesting.

“Oh…and take him as well.” Hojo said, cackling with laugher again. His plans, the plans of his beloved were going to happen no matter what anyone said. And these two were going to aid in that.

He removed his glasses to clean them , a smile on his face and the golden colour of his eyes glinting brightly as he walked slowly out of the reactor, humming to himself.

                                                       Pt.1: The End
And Final Fantasy VII Children of the West Cloud Strife is finished. This chapter was a ball ache to write as I had to replay FFVII to get the dialogue for the whole Incident in Nibelheim.

Everything is pretty much up to scratch on it, I've had a little poetic license by adding stuff for the parts that we still don't really know about-I purposely skipped entering Cloud's home because I didn't want to touch that can of worms with Cloud-but I will go to it eventually in Zack's story.

This story was basically showing that Hojo and President Shinra used Cloud's untapped potential to destroy an enemy, well that's what Shinra wanted while Hojo had other plans.

The constant mention of the 'Goddess' in this story is set up to show a building split between humans and the Lifestream in favour of Jenova. It is explained more in Legacy though.
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