Cruel Chapter 3

The Ebony Syringe

By Firey Femme

The infinite denial which keeps everyone sane.

Cloud looked unsteadily around upper Junon where the city dwelled, the smoke rising up from the huge buildings and providing the Planet with an infectious disease. He had decided to pay Reeve a visit at his corporate office here. He wondered what kind of reception he was to receive from his old friend.

The wind caught Cloud's hair as a swirl of dust wrapped around his body. He coughed as it choked his throat, constricted his lungs. Junon was not the nicest place to be. Dirty, and the air had grown heavy with the foul scent of rain mixing with a stench of garbage and death. Upper Junon was worse than the Sector 7 slums had been.

Finally he reached a cleaner section of the massive city. The fresh air filled his ravaged lungs, and the smell of flowers from a street vendor lulled his aching nose.

What a contrast...

Cloud soon came upon a very large sky scraper, and as the looked up at the towering building he could see it had at least 70 floors. He involuntarily grimaced as Shinra Inc. instantly came to his mind. Shrugging, he entered the building anyway. He didn't even know what went on here, but he had looked Reeve's name up and found a business address for the very the building he now stood in. It had glowered out of the rest of the smaller towers like a needle, pricking the serene sky. How menacing it looked, how very devilish.

The sleek black paint had chipped somewhat at the bottom of it, but the top of the monstrosity glared in the sunlight that had begun to filter through the light frothy clouds.

Cloud shook his head.

Oh well...Shinra is dead.

It was the truth. So he walked in, bracing himself for the stares that were sure to follow his form striding broadly across the polished marble floor.

The guards at the back of the lobby eyed him quickly as they did everyone, but their gazes instantly turned to cautiousness. Cloud had a certain venom to the way he walked and the sound the Ultima Weapon made as it shifted on his back.

The massive sword glistened eerily in the blinding white lights of the building.

"Mr. Reeve, please?" Cloud asked the mousy-looking secretary patiently.

The writing woman casually glanced up at him, then continued with her work. He had expected to see fear in her eyes, but any emotion she may have felt prior to his arrival had been replaced by a direct coolness. "Floor 65."

She carelessly tossed a visitor's pass onto the desk in front of her. Cloud picked up the laminated card and headed off towards the elevator.

As the crystalline box rose to the sky, Cloud could see the building overlooked all of Junon. He also spotted a ship full of travelers coming into the harbor...


Tifa was wrenched from sleep with a start as the ship docked and a shove threw her against the head board of her bed. She sleepily pulled herself out from under the warm covers and gathered up any articles she had taken, which wasn't many. Her eyes roved the room for anything forgotten, and landed on a map of Junon. She walked over and slowly studied it.

If Cloud was alive...

He's alive.

...where would he be?

The urban maze was so humongous, and she so miniscule. She felt as if Junon was a dense garden and Cloud a single, solitary bud amongst all the life that stirred in the city.

She sighed. Hopelessness overcame her mind, and she knew that the only thing capable of guiding her to Cloud was mere fate.


As the rumble of the engines died down, Rude woke abruptly.


Elena was already aroused and up, looking about the room for her gun. "Shit...where the hell is my gun?!"

Without her weapon, she couldn't defend herself properly. Her speech twisted with the anger accentuating it.

She fell back into a sitting position onto a chair, her eyes still loathfully searching for her precious protector.

Rude stared at her, not knowing what to say. He looked as if she had done something absolutely unbelievable.

"What?" she asked.

"Your leg...??" he replied in wonder.

"Oh, that. It's nothing," she informed him, adding, "I got up this morning, and for some reason I could walk."

Rude looked at her strangely, but decided to dismiss the thought.

"So do you know where my gun is?" she said, her thoughts returning to her lost weapon.

"The man who kicked you has it," Rude told her, remembering how the ruckus of sadists had disturbed the peace the night before.

"No...," she stated slowly, "his friend does."

Elena remembered now how her gun had disappeared.

As she made herself ready to storm down the ship and violently obtain her prized possession once more, Rude stopped her.

"Remember what happened last time?"

Elena did remember.

Damn, I REALLY have to take up some kind of physical defense. Just before she had a chance to throw open the door however, someone knocked on it.

Elena and Rude both kept their gazes steadily on the entrance, he taking out his gun and Elena having her knife ready in hand. She slowly backed away, calmly awaiting whatever was to disturb them.

"Come in," she said in a very unthreatening sing-song voice.

As Tifa emerged, Rude cocked his gun and Elena rushed forward getting ready to entrap the stranger in a strong grip, but stopped once she realized who it was.

"Oh, sorry Tifa," she said non-chalantly as she slipped her knife back into its rightful place.

Rude holstered his weapon and coolly looked at Tifa.

"Yes, Ms. Lockheart?"

Tifa gave him a look, and he remembered what his client desired.

"Yes, Tifa?"

Tifa rolled her eyes skyward at his formality and walked in.

"Getting ready to attack?" she said and she skeptically looked at Elena.

Two deadly henchmen turned assassins in her midst, she realized just how well they fit together.

"Thought you were someone else," Elena replied as she closed the door behind Tifa, looking both ways down the hall before locking it.

"Who did you expect?"

"We had a last night," Rude replied, choosing his description of the animals that had harassed Elena carefully.

Tifa looked at him in bewilderment, wondering what the hidden meaning was behind his emotionless hazel eyes.

She merely shrugged, not wishing to pursue it, and proceeded to say to him what she meant to.

"Shall we go?"

Elena spoke up before Rude could answer, reminding them of her dilemma.

"I have a little errand I need to run first," she said slyly. Tifa could see the cold, smug light that glittered in her eyes, and decided she didn't want to find out what the female Turk meant.

"That's fine..." she said slowly, analyzing Elena's reaction. There was none.

She looked over at Rude, who simply looked at Elena, but Tifa could see the slight glimmer of worry slip out over his bereft face. Elena wanted revenge on those bastards who had almost raped her just hours ago. She looked at Rude, knowing that he didn't want her to go alone.

"Oh well," she thought to herself. Seeing the look on that sexist asshole's face was just too much to pass up.

"I need my gun back," she explained simply to Tifa.

Rude merely nodded, knowing he couldn't try to persuade her otherwise in front of Tifa.

As she began to walk into the hallway, Rude stopped her.

"Elena, wait," he said, and tossed his gun to her. Elena grinned. Tifa and Rude could take of themselves, even without his weapon. Rude gave her a "go-show-em what you can do" look. The two Turks looked at eachother, exchanging knowing glances, and Elena left to reclaim her property.

Tifa just stood there without saying a word. Now she really didn't want to know what Elena had just set out to do.


Cloud knocked on the door with the plaque that denoted Reeve's office. The door swung open with a mechanical sound, and he entered, curiously glancing around the room prior to Reeve's.

A woman working steadily on some papers hardly even looked up as he thudded in. Finally she stopped the tasks at her hand, and pressed a button with a click on the intercom.

"Mr. Reeve, someone here to see you," she told her boss in a nasal voice. She looked up at Cloud, the thick headed office assistant finally seeing exactly who was here.

She looked up at the towering frame of this attractive man, and her heart fluttered.

"Your name please?" she said breathlessly.

"Cloud Strife."

The woman gazed upon his mystique a second longer before buzzing the intercom once again.

"Mr. Strife," she practically whispered before the letting the button pop up again.

"You may go in," she said, her eyes lost in her own private day dreams.

Cloud almost felt his brilliant irises roll in his head at her reaction, but kept them straight ahead.

As he pushed open the door to Reeve's office, he wondered what would greet him there. As he finally entered, he saw Reeve staring at the door with an extremely surprised, expectant look.

"Cloud...?" he stuttered. He hadn't seen the man that had defeated Sephiroth for over a year. "Have a seat!" he finally spat out, wondering why he had decided to pay him a visit after all this time.

Cloud looked at his startled face, aware that he was the last person Reeve had been expecting.

"Ah, c'mon Reeve. We know eachother," he said good naturedly. Reeve finally relaxed, and realized he spoke the truth. He let a little laugh escape him, yet it was still strange to see Cloud after all this time, after they had been on the road for so long together.

"How have you been?!" he finally asked, not quite sure of what to say. Cloud shrugged. "Same as always," he replied, "you?"

Reeve chatted with him for a little time until the unavoidable came.

"What exactly do you do now?" he asked curiously.

Reeve had dreaded this question. Cloud looked at him inquisitively, seeing the look of grimace on his face.

"I work in this building...," his voice had trailed off.

He didn't want to admit his cowardice to his former leader.


Cloud hadn't the faintest idea of what Reeve was about reveal, but he had obviously stumbled upon something important.

"I manufacture spirit energy," he spit out the words in a rush. Cloud stared at him disbelief.

"In other words, mako energy?" Reeve didn't answer for a moment.

"What the hell are you thinking?!" Cloud demanded.

"No, not mako energy," Reeve finally stated.

He stared at him, not knowing what to say. The disbelieving rage was painted on his face, gazing at Reeve, his look absolute incredulous.

"What d'ya mean no?!"

Finally Cloud grasped what he was trying to say, and horror flared up within his mind - Reeve was creating a second Shinra. Either that or some other twisted idea had committed any last functioning brain cells he had left.

"No, not exactly mako energy. We do not steal the Lifestream of the Planet."

"Then what are you doing?" Cloud asked in a dangerously low voice. Reeve looked down wholly in shame. The leader of Avalanche just didn't understand what he was saying.

"It's not mako energy as you think of it. Well, it is in a sense." Cloud stared at him, confused.

"Well, the Shinra used to take the "spirit energy," as Bugenhagen called it, and process it into a concentrated energy source called mako?"

"Yes..." Cloud growled.

"Now, the Lifestream holds all the good of the Planet, the energy force, the thing that keeps everything in its existence. One of the only pure forms of serenity that keeps the Planet's activities in order. Complete purity and good will. Correct?"

Cloud nodded his head, wondering what Reeve's point was.

"For example, when Aeris her soul...she entered the Lifestream and became part of its undying energies." Cloud didn't know what to say.

"Aeris was not evil. We both know that."

"Are you insulting the memory of, our friend?"

"No, no, of course not," Reeve replied, looking hurt.

"What's your damn point then?"

"To put it simply, haven't you ever wondered where the spirit energy of murderers and the evil go?"

Cloud had never even considered this thought.

"Well, they, umm..."

"Become part of the Lifestream?" Reeve finished for him.

"In other words, do you honestly believe that Aeris and Sephiroth ended up at the same place after death?"

Cloud had to admit, that did not make sense.

"I don't know," he finally admitted.

To Cloud's astonishment, Reeve smiled.

"Well, we don't know exactly either. What we do know is that it does not become part of the source which keeps us all alive and in balance - the Lifestream."

"Yeah? So what?"

"That's what we make here," Reeve finally deemed, "processed spirit energy which stems from evil people."

Cloud looked at him as if he had been driven mad with insanity. Reeve could see his look quite clearly.

"Let me make it simple."

"We take spirit energy from people who will not join the Lifestream, ranging from the likes of Sephiroth - a ruthless, insane murderer to the common thief who has no conscience. By taking spirit energy which the Planet doesn't use, we create mako energy. No mako reactors sucking up the Lifestream and concentrating it. The Planet does not suffer, and we prosper."

Cloud gave no reaction, just sat contemplating this.

"We're actually doing the people of the world and the Planet itself a favor in the long run," he added.

Cloud finally looked up with an morbid expectant look on his face.

"Where do you get the spirit energy?"

A smile, almost cynical, crossed Reeve's face.

"Dio's prison can be quite helpful."


As Elena made her way down to hunt the man, she was flooded with vengeful thoughts.

She gripped Rude's gun tightly in her hand, getting used to its different weight and style. She had also remembered her knife this time.

Knowing it would be easy to spot the man by his obnoxious voice and swagger, she listened for any distinguishing noises that issued from the bar he had accosted her in last night. She had also adorned herself with Rude's blue jacket; its presence did not annoy her now but gave her more confidence as it was a Turk uniform. Suddenly she heard loud obnoxious laughter, followed by a sexually suggestive joke.

As she silently crept into the bar, she was rewarded with the sight of the man. He had his arm bandaged, though blood had seeped through. She nestled Rude's gun safely back into his jacket, and approached the pig. The man looked up on her arrival, and a disgusting, perverted grin crossed his face.

"Come back for more?"

He thought he could sass her since Rude was not present to rescue her once again. She slyly smirked at him.

I don't need anyone to intervene now you bastard.

"That's right," she said in a sudden sensual voice. The man looked at her in surprise, almost dropping his shot of vodka.

Quickly putting on his smoothness again, he dexterously downed the drink and stood up.

"My room, now."

Elena nodded, batting her eyes at him.

What a fucking moron...

Once in his room, he looked at her like a beast looks just before it's taking pleasure in the kill of its prey.

Elena was having too much fun not to pass this up.

"Hey, before we get started, what were you going to do to me last night?"

"You mean before your boyfriend came along?"


"Yeah, that's right."

"Exactly what I'm planning to do right now baby. Fuck your brains out."

Can you be any more subtle?

"Oooh, I'd like that," she said in a low, sultry tone.

As he was about to jump on top of her, she luxuriously stretched out on the bed.

Who the hell are you? Corneo's horny offspring?

"There's an act I desire though," she said erotically before he had the chance.

"Something that I'd like."

He looked at her in devious sexuality.

"What?" he asked, dying to know what kind of deliciously twisted nymphomaniac he had just acquired.

In one fluid motion, Elena stood up and brought Rude's gun to his face, right into his gaping mouth.

"Umph..." he gagged.

Elena looked down the barrel of the gun, centered, staring him straight in the eyes.

"You know what I'd like...hmm?" she said in a sweet voice.

"My gun," she added, her tone now pointe blank.

The man pointed raggedly to a box with a lock on it in the corner.

"Oh, saving it just for me?" she said innocently, her tone moving to a higher pitch.

"You're so sweet," her voice turned to a low icy rumble.

"Move an inch, and you'll die so painfully that it will take hours as you writhe around on the floor in your own blood, dying in agony as the life slowly flows out of you," she whispered very deliberately and sadistically into his ear.

The man was awestruck with terror. He didn't even move his eyes from her gun.

"Sit," she commanded.

Like a trained dog, the man immediately obeyed. Three shots sounded in rapid succession, one bullet hitting the lock of the box, the other to pop open the lid, and one for good measure just to the side of the man's head. The wall had acquired a new hole as plaster poured from it. Keeping her eyes trained on the man the entire time, Elena slowly backed away to get her gun out of the box.

Now grasping two weapons in her hands, she aimed both of them at the attempted rapist.

"I'll be watching you," she hissed, "and I promise that if you ever attempt what you did last night, I will disember you bullet by bullet no matter how long it takes and regardless of how many tendons must be ripped apart."

The man sat, almost screaming in fear, on the bed. He shook violently as he tried to keep calm. This was one interaction with a woman that would leave a lasting impression.

"Do I make myself, crystal clear?" she asked, pronouncing each word very carefully.

The man merely nodded in sheer terror.

As Elena went to exit the abode of sex, she looked back and met the man's eyes.

"Promise," she mouthed, and walked away.


Vincent sat solemnly in his sullen valley. The dreaded force that he had so vigorously dreaded peaked over the horizon - morning.

Having had a startling revelation the night before, he had decided once again, simply, that he must find some way to atone for his sins. He knew he could never erase them, and that he would always be an evil monster, waiting for someone to command him. And yet, there was no one telling him how to conduct himself except his own shame.

After all the murders, after all the cold, calculating indifference of everyone he had ever come in contact with, after his numerous betrayals, he didn't know what to do anymore. He had only lived in the new world for two years, and had slept in agony for thirty. There was no place in society for him obviously, and there was no one to turn to.

He thought of Cloud and the team.

No, I will not plague good people anymore...

He decided to just delete his existence from any prying eyes, and from anyone he was capable of hurting. That was everyone. He would hide himself in his love's former home, Lucrecia's Cave, until someone finally came to end his life.

He would revel in the grief. Lucrecia's death, and his own discomfort kept him from emerging. He realized just how evil he had always been, how careless of humanity.

You had no regard for anyone, not love, not hope...not even yourself. His mind echoed with thoughts that haunted him, just expelling him from life even more. He once thought that he had become what he was the day Hojo altered his physical state, and he had realized that he had always been like that. His soul had died the day he was born, for human nature is not a disease. It is not infectious to the person that is the owner. Vincent had been born without innocence. Even as a child, his mind set was only on how to escape from anything he ever entered. Before, he kept looking back, involuntarily deciding that the earlier parts of his life before he became part of Shinra were more glorious. As he remembered his past now, he realized his memories weren't carefree.

An appearance to fit my soul.

How true. How utterly, disgustingly true.

Lucrecia was the only flower that could bloom and not make him turn away. She, the only thing that could make his heart stop shivering and glow with warmth. The only woman that was capable of making him think that maybe, just maybe, if she could love him, he wasn't as horrible as he once assumed.

But that idea was gone. Withered away with Hojo's reckless experiments. She had been one of his experiments. In those days before Hojo had claimed her, he and Lucrecia had found eachother, and been happy. Happiness... how unfamiliar to a monster.

In those few weeks before their short lasting comfort was shattered, they had shared everything.

He remembered how she had died. Her face was still perfect, just as flawless as ever when her heart had ceased to beat. She had been smiling when she supposedly joined the Lifestream. Vincent knew now however, that she had not left at all. The Jenova cells denied her from any peace at all. Even death was not available to this angel of his.

The dark in love with the light...

"Lucrecia, I will atone, not for my many sins however. I will try to expunge the source of your sorrow, the source of everyone's sorrow. My point in any life that I live," he said quietly into the forth coming dawn.

A wind whispered across the field, gently blowing his hair around him in a silent gesture of comfort.

With that, he walked off. He had acquired a new purpose in life.


Reno started across the slippery dock of Costa del Sol as he began his search for Vincent Valentine. He couldn't help but feel a little of the fear that dwelled in his heart after the odd look that had spread across Cloud Strife's face when he had sarcastically suggested he owed him a favor.

Now there was gil involved however, and that changed the whole perceptive of things. This was a professional assignment, even if it was given by Cloud Strife. That was his policy now though. Doesn't matter who or what, as long as he got paid.

As he passed all the tourists that gallivanted through the streets as if they were swarms of wasps, trying to get to opposite locations, they reminded him of excited children.

Sheep, waiting to be pulverized whenever a wolf comes. Defenseless. They laughed, all in a great wave of sound. Reno ignored that naive, simple voice of contentment.

A solitary fiery stream had fallen into his face as he wove his way through the crowd, giving him an even more threatening look than it had before. His bright eyes, devoid of any feelings, stayed narrowed, no matter what he looked at. He wasn't a bitter sadist, nor was he a pathetic tourist in utter denial of the bitter truth called reality.

His mind focused on his job once more, and he wondered where Valentine could possibly be hiding.

Lucrecia's Cave?

That's where Cloud had pointed him to.

Cloud... the man that had ruined all of their lives. How ironic - to take a job from the destroyer of his livelihood. However angry Rude was, he never let it escape his smooth, careless features.

At least he was on the right continent. He casually roved the crowds for a devilish looking man, though he did not.

It wasn't going to be that easy. In actuality, the main reason he had even taken this job was out of pride. In any other situation, he wouldn't have even thought of his employer's identity or the magnitude of what was wanted done. Cloud Strife was different. He blamed all of his loss on that single soul, along with any other member of Avalanche that had helped in the downfall of the Shinra.

They had destroyed his life, conquered the will that the Shinra had instilled in him. He would never admit it, but he wasn't nearly as reputable as he had once been. Cloud had seen to that.

He knew people had despised the Turks with a vengeance, he knew that Avalanche had been livid with rage any time they did anything. He knew the Turks were cold blooded, ruthless animals that were the President's henchman, the ones who everyone feared.

Did he feel the shame, the lack of his own humanity?

The senseless destruction of people he didn't know?

Hell no!

I liked it that way.


Cloud stood unmoving, merely staring at Reeve in disgust.

How could this person, who had helped save the Planet, possibly be this twisted?

Reeve looked down in shame. He didn't like how things went about either, but it wasn't as if he ran the company. He was the vice- president, but he didn't control anything in that section of the corporation as far as the actual source was concerned.

"You're sick," Cloud finally commented unexpectedly, gazing straight into Reeve's face that was cast downward.

"Look at me!!!" Cloud thundered.

Reeve's head jerked up in surprise, ordaining his true feelings.

Cloud could plainly see the utter shame in Reeve's eyes.

That didn't change what he was doing however.

"What could possibly possess you to KILL people to line your own damn pockets with gold?!"

"I, I don't think of it that way. I'm helping the people of the Planet... I'm doing the Planet a favor..."

He knew his excuses were illogical to Cloud, who had suffered so immensely from the Shinra's old ways, but he knew this was different. He understood that he couldn't expect his former leader to comprehend exactly what he was saying, but he knew himself. He knew the truth.

"Stop it then," Cloud demanded of him, the potency of a new issue arising in his mind.

"I can' don't understand," Reeve replied, flustered.

Cloud threw his hands in exasperation up in the air, yelling a string of grief's at Reeve.

He finally ended with a rather unsettling conclusion.

"This company will regret it," he finally prophesized in a very menacing tone.

Reeve looked up at him, obviously fearful of what exactly he meant.

"I thought we were friends Cloud...," his voice trailed off. Cloud stood still for a moment, processing exactly what he said. Finally, he replied.

"I thought we were too," his voice wavered, though became strong once again.

"I thought you were someone else," Cloud replied simply, letting the sting sink in thoroughly.

"Obviously you're just a weak company clone in denial," adding, "once devoted to evil, always devoted," referring to Reeve's former employment with the Shinra and his early betrayal of Avalanche.

With that, Cloud turned and left the office in disgust, and regretting disbelief.

The world was falling apart before his eyes.


Tifa and Rude had exited the ship in the early morning, though due to the time zone change it was more like early afternoon.

Rude wondered anxiously where Elena was. He kept warily eyeing the entrance of the ship, waiting for her form to appear safely. This reminded him too much of when perverse Don Corneo had taken her and that annoying little brat from Avalanche.

He rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses at the memory. Last time any kind of encounter such as this had occurred, she had gotten herself strapped to Da Chao. The trouble she could get into with her hot head and torrid temper.

Despite his griping worries, there she was, looking smug and gripping two guns in her grasp. As she made her way carelessly down the gang plank, she met up with Rude and Tifa.

"Got your gun back?" Tifa questioned.

Elena just grinned, a look of complete self satisfaction on her face.

"Yeah," she replied simply.

Rude knew he wasn't going to ever hear what exactly had happened, but he guessed it wasn't very pleasant. A vague idea of the events that had occurred was just about to surface however.

About a minute later, a distraught looking man came down behind her. He had a bloody arm bandaged up, and Rude recognized him as his former assailant.

Elena saw him and gave a sweet smile, waving her fingers in a mock gesture at him. As the man caught sight of her, to Rude's entertainment, his face contorted in terror, and he turned to feverishly sprint in the other direction as fast as his legs would carry him.

Tifa looked at Rude curiously. He shrugged.

"C'mon, we have work to do," Elena announced rather self righteously, leading Rude and Tifa into Junon. She turned and unexpectedly tossed his gun to him.

Rude couldn't hide the tiny smile that was begging to escape his features.

As the unlikely group of allies made their way through Junon, they decided to split up. Tifa to find an Inn, Rude to learn the area, and Elena to question around about Cloud.


As Tifa started away from the two Turks, she could hear them immediately engage in a detailed conversation with her departure.

I'm working with the Turks.

That thought echoed in her mind as she pondered her earlier question as to whether it was time to put old differences behind her.

After all, though they were cold, they were still only doing a job. It wasn't as if they had killed anyone that she knew.

Though she suddenly realized a thought that hit her like a ton of lead, catapulting straight into her heart, heavy with guilt.

They were the ones who had practically willed Sephiroth to kill Aeris with their utter carelessness. They had also dropped the sector 7 plate, and she knew that they could've prevented thousands of deaths. Tseng had retrieved the Keystone from them, mindlessly opened the Temple of the Ancients and let Sephiroth in. If that Keystone had never gotten into the Shinra's hands in the first place, then Aeris wouldn't have died.

No matter how irrational this was, Tifa couldn't push the guilt from her mind. They had a huge hand in the woman she had loved like a sister's death.

And now here she was, trying to be friendly with them.

Aeris, I'm so sorry...

The guilt overwhelmed her. She still remembered Aeris' perfect features, frozen in time the minute, the second that Sephiroth's blade and pierced her fragile body. Descending upon such purity, the dark had infected the light. Her smile was to stay frozen upon her beautiful features for all eternity, ceaseless in it's shining ray of hope. More glorious than the shimmering stars at night, fuller of life than the very sun which let life itself thrive.

Tifa had called her a martyr. How could she dishonor her friend's memory so hastily?

Paying such a friendly demeanor to the Turks, who were always cold with her any how. She would not dishonor her friend any longer.

At that moment, had any soul been standing in the place Tifa walked, they would have felt the very presence of abhorrence and loathing loom in its unceaseless anger; a force felt in the physical world it grew so thick.

Her eyes blazed with her own foolishness at allowing herself to be an attempted ally to the Turks, and the sorrow she had felt when Aeris so meaninglessly perished, turned to anger.

She pushed her way blindly through the crowded streets, and if she had taken time from her bemused thoughts to gaze directly to her left, she would have seen Cloud pass her. Vengeance is an ugly thing.


Elena tried to decide where was best to start their search. As she walked toward Upper Junon, she glanced around casually. It had changed so much from when she had last been here. The diversity was very apparent to the worse sections of the city as she passed through areas that looked like war zones and others that had the appearance and vigor of Costa del Sol. Suddenly she stopped, deja vu creeping up on her like a ravenous animal. As she looked up, a sleek black skyscraper loomed out of the surrounding gaieties and older, smaller buildings. It reminded her very, very much of the Shinra building in Midgar. She quickly passed it, not wanting to dance with old painful memories.

Yet she couldn't keep her eyes off of it. It was so monstrous; like a great black syringe waiting to drain the sky of its color. Elena involuntarily shivered. Though she had worked for Shinra, just the thought of the events that had come to pass was enough to make her want to turn and run. She absentmindedly wondered what went on inside the monstrosity of the ebony color. She hadn't been completely familiar with all the departments at Shinra Inc. nor did she want to be. Becoming a Turk was just something she wanted to do, and she had easily attained it. She knew little of what went on in Hojo's labs, nor did she desire to know the revolting things about that either.

As she gazed at the large building, many thoughts of the Shinra passed through her mind. She had never really considered herself an ally of the company, nor an enemy. She never sworn some ridiculous false allegiance that the people in SOLDIER had. She simply did a job, be it cruel and heartless, but it was still her line of work.

She finally tore her eyes away from the memory extracting thing she found herself staring at, and stopped it from probing any more old feelings about Shinra she still retained or remembered.

Hurriedly she drew away from it, hoping to stumble upon some useful information in her collection of questions she had planned to ask. With the city's tremendous size increase however, she realized it was going to be much more difficult.


As Tifa finally came upon a large inn entering Lower Junon, she felt right at home as the section of the city became slummier. She remembered her bar, The Seventh Heaven, fondly back when Vicks, Wedge and Jesse were still alive. Back before she had met up with Cloud once again as an adult. She never admitted it, but she had though of him everyday, checking the newspapers for his picture or mere suggestion of his name. She saw plenty of Sephiroth in the earlier days, but gradually even his existence of fame dwindled off as the Shinra became more and more common in every day life. Heroes weren't needed to distract the public that made them think that the Shinra protected them at that point. "The Mighty Sephiroth" is what everyone had called him. He was the people's hero, yet became the people's destroyer.

Abandoning her thoughts of heroes and earlier days, Tifa entered the inn cautiously. She didn't know what kind of neighborhood this was. Not that she had any problem with taking care of herself, but she hated needless confrontation to begin with.

She was surprised by a pleasant faced young woman that greeted her.

"Hello miss, may I get you a room?" the friendly clerk asked.

Tifa decided in the back of her mind, though Lower Junon may be dirtier than other parts of the city, not to judge the people by their surroundings.

She smiled warmly at the front desk recipient.

Once in her room, Tifa decided to forget about the Turks for the present moment and focus on finding Cloud. In the past she had been a relentless optimist, so she figured centering her thoughts around hatred was pointless and hindered her chances to find her lost love. Love?

She wondered if it was.


Vincent walked along the ocean's edge, wondering where he should start his new found beginning. He had pledged to anything that cared to listen in the still the dawn ushered in that he was to stop basking in his sorrow. He could swear he felt Lucrecia's soul in his very soul that morning so little time ago. He could hear her whisper in his head, and hum her sweet melody of serenity in his ears.

He knew that he would never lead a normal life again, however the only point in his existence now was to avow his sins, as it had always been. Though in this situation, he clung to it, knowing now that it was not a burden but his only sense of hope.

As he walked, the waves crashed on soul, lulling him to an odd calmness. He thought back to when he had helped Cloud rid the Planet of Sephiroth. A strange pang had erupted in him as the evil died. He supposed it was because the insane man with the silver hair reminded him of his own plight.

Experimented upon, not allowed to lead his own life. And then, his detonation occurred once he learned of his true origins. Having Hojo's genes would drive anyone mad...

How true. Although Sephiroth also had Lucrecia's genes, and Vincent knew a part of her soul had died with the one winged angel.

He wondered if Lucrecia was in the Lifestream, soothed for eternity by it's healing green mists.

The shadow of a smile crossed his features at the thought of Lucrecia's tortured soul at infinite peace.

Another odd detail he had never let on was how much he had admired Aeris. Not as a love interest, or even as a friend. He just admired her selflessness to a great extent. She had journeyed to the Forgotten Capital, knowing that she would die. The woman that sold flowers on street corners, brightening the dismal background. The green eyed angel who had saved them all in sacrifice of her own existence.

He didn't think any human being could ever be that giving and hopeful. The reason he was so enamored with her acts was due to the fact that she was an exception to the rule of human greed.

Nothing had come out for her in the end. She had lost Cloud's love, lost her own life. She had given up her own chances at happiness to save a sick Planet, to save people she didn't even know.

Yet again Vincent was reminded of what he was. Another shimmering light that saved people she didn't even know, he the demon that killed people he didn't even know. Anything pure reminded him of his own abhorrence of himself. He was dirty, the blood of the victims staining his hands.

He then decided his first act of business was to visit Aeris' grave. He had never said goodbye. They had known each other such a short time, and yet Vincent had admired her so much. The least he could do was pay his respects to where her mortal, still form lay.

With that thought, he began to walk, vigorously heading north.


Elena stood outside the Inn that she had seen Tifa enter. She had not been able to dig up much information on Cloud's whereabouts in that short amount of time, but she now knew it was going to be very difficult to find.

As she walked in, her eyes roved carefully around the lobby, inspecting every corner and taking in every detail. It was an unavoidable habit.

"Ms. Lockheart's room number please," she said quickly to the clerk. A pretty woman looked back at her, but her eyes held none of the fear that most people's did as they looked up at the female Turk. She just looked curious as to if there was a source to Elena's cold entrance. Unknown to her, there was none, for it was simply Elena's disposition. She quickly scanned through the computer's list of names.

"138, ma'am."

"Thanks," Elena said as she started up the Avalanche member's room. She just wanted to get any interaction she had to have with Tifa Lockheart over with as quickly as possible. She may be a client, but that didn't mean they were allies. Far from it.

As she knocked on the door, it was swiftly opened. She had the nagging suspicion that Tifa was trying to be especially intimate with Rude, but she was probably just being paranoid. She had a tendency to do that. She had already lost one love interest to a beautiful Avalanche member, and she didn't intend for history to repeat itself.

Usually when Tifa Lockheart spoke to her or Rude, she tried to be very, very friendly and warmhearted. Elena supposed it was just naive optimism to a brighter future for Avalanche and the Turks. If that's what she thought she could accomplish, she was sorely mistaken.

To her surprise however, as she entered the room her entrance was met with one of the most torrid gazes she had ever seen. Tifa's eyes burned with an inner fire that was very apparent.

"Ms. Lockheart," she greeted Tifa hollowly as Rude had.

"Yes?" she said in a calm apathetic tone.

"I was just inquiring as to whether you took out a room for all of us?"

"Yes," Tifa said, setting a key down on table next to Elena, as if handing her the inanimate object was going to tarnish her soul. Elena looked at her oddly.

"Uh, thanks," she said, losing her exterior inattentive attitude for the moment.

A confusing woman. Practically shrugging, she turned and started up to her room.

As she left, she could feel Tifa's eyes burn into her. She wondered why the woman had become so indignant all of a sudden. Not that she cared. All she wanted to do was get this job over with and get paid. She also wanted to leave Tifa's presence behind and the idiotic suspicion of Rude's attraction to her.

She shook her head.

Stop it.

She refused to act like a jealous child.

As if her thoughts had been read by Alexander or some other supreme being, she saw Rude walking down the hall towards Tifa's room. Most likely to ask the same question Elena just had. He didn't notice her standing at the end of the long hallway however. He looked extremely menacing in his suit and sunglasses that hid his eyes; he looked like a shell of a man. He was such an enigma sometimes.

As he entered Tifa's room, she started up to the door. She needed to tell him of the few discoveries she had made.

" key?"

"Yes," she could hear Tifa reply to some question Rude had asked regarding his room.

"Thanks Tifa," Rude replied rather casually.

Elena felt her covetous feeling flare up. She became angry with herself again for letting foolish emotions get in her way.

"Don't call me Tifa," Tifa replied very frostily.

"What? I thought that is what you wanted...?" asked Rude in a bewildered tone.

"Well, I changed my mind."

Rude paused for a split second, before saying, "Very well, Ms. Lockheart," his tone becoming extremely cold once again. Elena thought she could detect a hint of disappointment in it however.

As Rude turned to leave, Tifa burned into his hazel eyes behind his sunglasses with her feiry chestnut ones. They were pandemonious with flame, smoldering with anger.

"I can be cruel too," she taunted him in a very low voice, supressing the anger that was threatening to spill over like lava from a volcano and engulf everything in its path.

Rude turned around, and gave her an uncaring though slightly confused look.

"Murderer," she said with malice, thinking grievously of Aeris. This statement merely added to Rude's confusion.

"What?" Rude asked in disbelief, "I thought you wanted us to help you?" Tifa issued a dry cough that resembled a laugh, though it was devoid of any humor.

"You'll help or kill anyone for the right price."

Rude couldn't disagree, for she spoke the truth. It wasn't her place to question his morality however. He was immune to accusations anyway, having been imputed of many things in his life. He had felt an odd growing attachment to this woman however, for her situation reminded him of his own. Though Tifa hated to admit it, she herself had found a paradox of some stray feeling for this man.

They had found and tread upon familiar ground.

Tifa stared at Rude, knowing that he had no idea to what she was referring to.


"You let Sephiroth.........kill Aeris," she repeated, obviously pained by the memory of her friend as she had to stop in the middle of her sentence for a breath of air to calm herself.

Rude slowly let his indifferent gaze fall.

"The Ancient?"

"She has a NAME," Tifa shrieked the last word in an odd trill.

"I didn't kill her," he said simply.

"Aeris," as Tifa had called her, was the one Tseng had been allured by. He decided to clear any misunderstanding of this up, as it obviously hindered their work.

"Sephiroth - as you just said - did," he replied coolly.

"Tseng took the keystone and that bastard went into the Temple of the Ancients. You let Sephiroth..." she didn't finish, her voice trailing off as it broke into a whisper.

Rude finally released his anger. He didn't have much to protect as far as anything outside of himself, but no one was going to insult his dead friend. That was low.

"You think you're the only one who lost someone?" he asked in an angry whisper.

Tifa looked at him in surprise, the burning in her eyes fading.

"Tseng's dead," he said, spitting out the words with acrid distaste. With that he turned and walked out of the room before she could arise his ire any further.

Since when did people think he had compassion? This woman actually thought she could make a dent in his soul by reminding him of a death that had occurred. He hadn't even known the girl!

He found Elena outside, with a depressed look on her face.

"Just reporting in, and to let you know what I found out," she mumbled. She knew that the information wasn't important right now. The mention of Tseng had arisen some old emotions, and her throat was constricting. Damn it.

There was no way she was going to be weak again. She brushed away the slight tears that were forming in her eyes, and turned away to relax her throat. As she turned back she found Rude looking at her strangely.

"Are you ok?" he asked in curiosity.

"Yeah," she said quietly.

"So you heard."

"Yes," she choked out, but forced herself to continue, "Sorry. I know that ... uh, that you and Tseng were great friends. I never got to say "

I'm sorry" to you about his death."

Elena rethought that statement.

"Hell, I never even got to say goodbye."

She had to get off this subject before she started to feel what she had when Tseng's death had occurred so suddenly.

Rude looked at her in concern. He realized it was the first time any of the Turks had even discussed Tseng's death. He wouldn't show any emotion, but they all knew how close he and Tseng were.

Guilt for his love of Elena and jealousy of her interest in Tseng arose in him.

He looked down in shame. He realized how horribly he was betraying Tseng. Hell, he was the best friend Rude had ever had besides Reno. He knew that Tseng and Elena hadn't been together, and that Tseng had been enticed by the Ancient, yet he couldn't help but wonder...

He looked back at Elena's pained face.

"You know what?" she said, as if she wasn't even in her physical state, her distant eyes obviously wrapped in her own memories.

"Just before he died, he asked me to dinner," she said, a melancholy smile crossing her face. Then she remembered exactly who she was talking to, and was jolted back to reality.

She shook her head, disturbed by her own carelessness.

"Not that it matters," she said roughly, her voice once again suppressing her emotions.

Rude didn't say anything. He finally understood just how deeply Elena had cared for his best friend. His face didn't betray anything of which he felt however.

"It's ok Elena," he said in a composed voice, "I understand that you cared for him very deeply."

There was a nagging, horrible guilt that he felt. He was in love and pursuing his deceased friend's. . .his friend's what??

What was Elena to Tseng? He always thought that Tseng had simply ignored her, but this newfound information about him displaying some interest in her led him to think otherwise.

"You miss him, don't you?" Elena asked suddenly.

Rude wasn't going to let any of the sadness he felt for his friend's death out in front of anyone, even Elena; much less at all externally.

"We were friends," he said simply.

Elena nodded her head in silent understanding.

She wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes in the silence that followed, thinking of Tseng before his death. Before Sephiroth had murdered him. If she felt any gratitude towards Avalanche at all, it was for them doing away with Sephiroth - Tseng's killer.

The only way to unite two rivals is not love, not friendship, but with a common hatred. That statement haunted her, for it was a sick reality.

Rude looked on, capable of telling she was thinking of Tseng. Her eyes were closed with no emotion racking her face; she looked even serene. Yet seconds before they had been closed for long they opened again, and flashed once in an abysmal, bereft sadness. Rude had underestimated Tseng's place in her heart tremendously. That fact was quite evident now. He wondered if he was capable of going on to express such love for her with the knowledge of this. Tseng's memory in her heart was a vast one, and Rude's guilt was simultaneous with her attraction to his dead friend. If he continued to openly show his affection of Elena, would it just hurt her more and lead him to simply be discarded of?

She could tell that she had hurt him. Her brown eyes flashed in annoyance with her careless mouth.

"Oh...," she looked up, flustered.

"You can't help the way you feel..." he began.

Pausing for a few seconds, he looked at her again.

"...or don't."

He looked down to hide the pain in his eyes. Elena sighed. Rude just couldn't believe how she felt about him.

She clasped his hand in hers, and to her surprise he rapidly pulled away.

"I don't need anyone's pity," he said viciously.

Elena stepped back, injured by his actions and words.

"I don't pity you Rude," she said even more quietly than before. For being someone who could shoot, kill from a 100 foot distance with his eyes closed, and be straight on mark, he didn't have much confidence. He refused to look up. He had been more emotional these past three days than he had been in his entire life. He felt utterly ashamed and enraged at his constant show of weakness. He had been right before to ignore his feelings when Tseng was alive - it only made him gullible and unfocused.

On the other hand, he couldn't keep being indifferent and hurt Elena. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

"I don't pity anyone," she said, adding more defiantly, "but I don't empathize with anyone that's pig headed enough to not believe me when I say that I do care for him!" Of course "him" was Rude, which he well knew, and with that she turned and walked away in frustration.

Before she got far however, she was stopped. She knew he'd come after her, but she didn't even know how strongly he felt about her anymore. The second that she was starting to actually have a little faith in love again, it was wrenched away from her.

She spun around to face him.

Tilting her head to the side, she crossed her arms in an angry fashion.

"What?" she spit out.

She had had enough of this bullshit.

"Elena, I'm tired of saying I'm sorry. Thing is, my feelings for you are never going to go away."

She looked at him, though had been expecting this.

"And if your love for Tseng is too strong to pass, I'll understand...," he didn't finish.

"You know how I feel about you. Why can't you just accept it?" she said rather harshly, continuing however, she added what had been unspoken for a long time, "Yes, I loved Tseng at a time, and I am disturbed by his memory."

There, she finally admitted it to herself.

She had loved Tseng.

That truth had been existent for quite a long time, though she'd never admitted it. A few days before that would've been all she had said. Things had changed however, and time had gone on. The situation was different. Everything was different.

"That doesn't mean my feelings for you is displaced," she said after a few minutes of silence, her words echoing up and down the long hallway, as well as in Rude's heart.


He looked up in surprise. Without another word she hesitantly locked him in an embrace, burying her head in his chest, wondering if he would be angry again. He didn't pull away this time. He simply held her tighter.

When she finally drew away, she looked into his face again.

"So, can you I feel?" she asked, searching for the right words.

"Yes," he replied slowly, debating if he could really get past his guilt. For the third time in the two years Elena had known him, Rude smiled.

A few minutes of silence later, Rude remembered exactly why they were in Junon in the first place. Letting her go, he decided it was time to get on the task at hand. Though he was in love, he wasn't going to turn into some kind of lovelorn fool.

"Anyway...," he started. Elena understood his thoughts and agreed mentally it was time to get to work.

"Did you find anything out about Cloud?"

"Not especially. The only thing that I found interesting was that there is another former member of Avalanche residing in this city."

"Who?" Rude asked in curiosity.

Elena looked at him expectantly; she was a little surprised herself.


"What?! Didn't he backstab the Shinra? He was the one that was the spy...," Rude said, recalling the man's former employment at the company.

"Yeah, that's him. Maybe he's had some contact with Strife," she replied thoughtfully.

"All I know is that he works somewhere in this city," she said finally. Rude replaced his sunglasses that he had absentmindedly taken off before.

"Let the search begin," he said.


Tifa stood in the doorway of her room, hearing the entire conversation between Rude and Elena.

She wondered why he was in Junon, or what he did here. She might as well pay her old friend a visit, if there was nothing else she could do.

She enviously watched Rude and Elena embrace eachother, causing her thoughts to immediately to turn to Cloud. She wondered for the millionth time if Cloud even felt like that about her, or if he ever even had. Somehow Aeris always played a key role in everything. If it wasn't Cloud's love interest, it was a martyr, or an anger that people hung on to.

She had loved Aeris as a sister, but she had also noticed how fond Cloud had grown of her. Aeris didn't care what happened to herself, only as long at the rest of the world was safe. The remarkable young woman had stunned anyone that had ever known her. She brought beauty and life to anywhere she went, most probably because that was just the kind of person she was and her Ancient heritage.

Tifa reprimanded herself for being envious of everyone else around her. She had to create her own happiness, or else she would have nothing. All she had been doing lately was looking at the past and contemplating it, using it to have new useless revelations and decisions of ire and revenge. She realized she needed to ask herself what was best for the people that were living now, not her deceased friend. Not that she would ever dishonor Aeris' memory, though she knew she couldn't continue living in the past. That's all that people seemed to be doing. Cloud writhed in his own memories, seeking answers in the past. She did the same. It was time to start living in the present.


As Reno wove his way towards the exit of the busy tourist trap city, he tried to course out a loose plan of action. In the past, he had always had some kind of general idea of why or where he was wanted to go and do. He knew it was not his place to ask questions, but he couldn't help but wonder.

As he walked out of Costa del Sol, the few people passing by at the outskirts of the city looked at him in a curious fashion. He didn't exactly blend in. He carried an electromag rod that glared evilly in the sunlight, had a shock of flaming red hair that erupted from his head, and donned a suit. The only thing he wore that made him a believable tourist were the signature sunglasses of the Turks.

He ignored the curious looks, for he was used to them. Suddenly he heard a scream behind him, and turned swiftly around, keeping unnaturally composed. His eyes didn't grasp the source of the commotion however, as a bullet painfully nicked his shoulder. He immediately ducked down behind the nearest shelter he could find - the rowboat boat he was passing by. Three more bullets followed in rapid succession, ricocheting off the front of the boat. Finally a calm resumed, and he quickly calculated mentally that the bullets were meant for him, and yet they weren't.

He carefully let his head emerge upwards to see who was having a maniacal shooting spree that sunny day. His brilliant blue eyes met with the gaze of no one. He couldn't see who had let the barrage of bullets assault the surrounding tourists and himself. If the gunman had been close a minute ago, he was gone now.

A few brightly clad tourists were kneeling down covering their heads, cowering in fear.

"Sheep...," a description that was the element of perfection that it fit these ignorant people so well.

Reno slowly lifted himself from a kneeling position, eyeing around for any more danger waiting to take his life. Not seeing any, he put away his weapon which had come out involuntarily before he had even taken shelter.

He wondered what had made the violence erupt so suddenly. The Planet was generally a peaceful place now that Shinra was gone, though the occasional evil or vengeful spirit would arise. That's what supported his own line of work in fact - the ruthless. As long as there was a need for violence left in the world, he was in business. Quite a morbid thought, though very true.

Could this quick display of shooting be anyway linked to his search for Valentine? Not most likely. News didn't travel that fast, not to mention he didn't think it was likely anyone would show any immediate interest anyway. If they did, he couldn't imagine what the reason might be.

He leveled himself again, resumed his walk out of town, and returned to his train of methodical thought. Though he knew the attack wasn't random, it seemed very much like some kind of odd warning.

He needed to think rationally. He then had a thought which he couldn't believe he hadn't realized before. The attempted assault most likely had to do with complications of the other assignment he had. In the likely event that the people who had hired him, though he didn't know who they were, had suspected his betrayal and abandonment of the job assigned, they would have sent someone to "warn" him of the consequences.

They should know a Turk never walks away once an assignment is given and accepted...

He should have never taken this side job from Cloud Strife. His own foolish pride had prevented him from walking away, though he knew in the game of death that a simple detail such as pride or a conscience could spell one's own pitfall into hell.

He was cocky enough to believe he could pull it off however, and come out with a load of gil and a new reputation in the end. He had no sense of gratitude, and the only time he ever complied with one of his enemies was if they did him a favor. This was different to that principle however. Cloud Strife, though unknowing of it, was his ultimate hatred. The man that had ruined his life, the man that had torn apart anything he had ever achieved or done. His reputation, his pride...Avalanche had taken it all. He would never show his lividity to another however, and no matter how it grew with each passing day, it would never surface. It was an emotion which would remain secreted, only to give him newfound vigor and energy. He lived and thrived on anger now. He wasn't a sadist, though his own actions were spurred by his anger. He didn't take pleasure in killing, but once he was in his role of doing it, his mind didn't work anymore. He was merely a shell of a human being, his conscious body watching from above making sure he moved at just the right time and struck just when his assailant was off guard for a millisecond.

The irony of it all was so beautiful. The downfall of his destroyer, a wad of gil, and most importantly, his reputation back. Once he found Vincent Valentine, he would return him to Cloud. Whatever was needed to be discussed would be, and Strife's comrade would leave. Reno would then carry out his main assignment.

He almost laughed at the eerie perfection of it all.

His assignment given, he had been more than happy to accept. He did not know who the person or people were who had given him this opportunity, nor did he care.

His latest job given by an unknown black angel, that made everything so perfect, was to exterminate Cloud Strife.


The agile warrior leapt with great dexterity from building to building. She glanced around what was once the Sector 4 slums of Midgar, lying in its pitiful rubble and disarray. Few people had stayed after Holy and Meteor had merged, tearing its existence into oblivion.

She wondered silently of the few who had stayed, mainly in the sector 5 slums. As once stated by a great man with a cold metal gun for an arm, the people refused to leave their land no matter how polluted and hopeless it became.

Though young in her age, this woman had grown to have hardship as a close, bitter companion. She had wizened beyond her years, and the innocent deviality of youth had been robbed from her. Once she had been careless; ignorant and naive. She looked back on it with eyes of scorn.

She held her shreuken poised menacingly above her head, ready for combat if the need should arise. No telling how many mutant monsters had been created to haunt Midgar, formed due to the destruction of the reactors that had powered the great mako cannon.

She looked carefully over the remnants of the past, memories flashing in her head like dying flames. It burned her to remember. At the time, she had barely been able to comprehend sorrow. When she had joined Avalanche, she had the center intent of stealing their precious materia. As they traveled however, she grew to know true compassionate friendship. From a little tag-along procession, emerged a true mission. She had grown up fast after that.

Barely 18 now, she had grown into an attractive young woman with her own distinct features. She had a roughened sort of beauty to her.

She often wondered what the others had done, or where they had gone. Always suspecting she was the least liked in their comradeship, she had left rather quickly. She had said her meaningful farewells, but she didn't stay around long.

She was the youngest, the most shrewdless and looking back, she could see quite clearly why people had taken such an immediate dislike to her.

She still retained her cocky airs, though the needless arrogance was gone. Experience changes a person. She wandered the world directionless now, going where ever she pleased. She had also been quite aware that she was the weakest in the party at the time of their final battle with Sephiroth. Never admitting to it, for she simply hadn't believed it. This idea of immortality came from the fact she had never had to fight a truly deadly, difficult battle up until the crater. It was then she realized that she had pulled a blind fold over her own eyes.

In the past year, she had begun to understand what a younger Cloud had felt so many years ago. Weakness, on a Planet where only the strong survived unless they cared to protect the vulnerable. Weakness was a dreaded thing that she vowed to never be again.

She finally let down the notion that she was more skilled as a warrior than everyone else. She understood now, that an overbearing hand simply resulted in death.

The past year had taken its toll on her. Though still cocky with a hint of her old arrogance, a vast sea of shrewdness lay beyond her careless exterior.

Wutai, her hometown, had fallen victim to the wrath of the WEAPONs when she was in the northern crater. It was not completely gone, but severely damaged. Once Meteor had been obliterated, Ruby and Emerald WEAPON had disappeared before they were capable of completing the devastation of Wutai.

Her father was dead - killed by WEAPON. She often visited his grave upon Da Chao, reveling in the peace it managed to retain despite the chaotic events that had progressed. She had kept her promise to her father and brought materia of any use back to help Wutai prosper.

Mastered materias and hidden ones such as "Mime" or "Knights of Round" had aided Wutai in regaining power. The idea of living in a proud city again also gave the people hope and encouraged them to rebuild. Yet they also had to go through the long, drawn out process of reconstructing their very lives as well.

Not Lord Godo, but Lady Kisaragi was who the people looked to now. That was only a formal title however. In actuality, Wutai was run by the Temple of the Five Gods and its residents.

She rarely journeyed home. Her job was to scout the Planet for useful materia and any other various ways to help her desolate city. "Home" held too many painful memories, making her visits sporadic as well as infrequent.

The warrior was now here in the ruins of Midgar, scouting for new materia that had been created accidentally with any overlooked mako that had escaped with the decimation of the reactors.

Her shreuken, the Conformer, a prized weapon retrieved from the Shinra's Gelinka, had been used quite often in the last year. As she battled her way through some of the most treacherous places on the Planet, her strength had increased as well.

She refused to be that young girl that she had, hiding behind a facade of arrogance. Her fighting skills wouldn't have cut it a year ago, though now she could honestly admit to herself that she wasn't defenseless any longer.

Despite the very serious side she had acquired with time, she was still the cocky, annoying personality she'd always been - just with a diverse look and inner manner about her.

Just as she was about to lose herself in thought again, her eyes fell with appreciation upon the abandoned Shinra tower - a treasure trove of forgotten power. It was sure to contain some kind of materia that would be to her use.

Without a trace of sound she flipped off the edge of the metal frame of the burned out building she had been walking along and landed spryly on the ground. Stealthily she made her way to a gaping hole in the side of the menacing structure, hoping to avoid a nasty carnage of beast that day. She succeeded in doing so.

As she entered the building, her mind immediately turned to Avalanche's last raid of the Shinra and the destruction of Hojo. She shivered involuntarily. She had no connection with Hojo, though the sadistic man chilled her to the bone.

She walked through the hallways which would have echoed her footsteps if they could've heard her stealthy tread. Her face glimmered with hope as she approached the basement floors of the dead building, wondering if they had stored materia used to aid the young men in their ranks down here. It would be likely, as Shinra had equipped all of their soldiers with various materia and weapons.

Suddenly she heard a scratchy sound behind her. She whirled around, forgetting to be silent. What she saw in front of her gaze made her gasp.

A woman, pale as the snow of the Gaea cliffs with hair drained of color, stood forebodingly before her. It looked as though someone had wrung any blood out of her, as her eyes gazed at Yuffie. The unearthly being had the palest complexion she had ever encountered, looking as if someone had cut her figure out and painted it white with a brush. One sharp blue eye glared out at her through the mist of complexion, unblinking. The other was sealed shut. It was a horrific sight. On a second examination however, Yuffie realized it wasn't merely sealed shut. It had been burned out and scarred over. That was the only color apparent on the woman's skin tone - a grey and purple mass looming out of a smooth eye socket that had been filled in with scar tissue. The remnants of where an eye had once been twisted and turned, making it a fearsome appearance. Her one glacier eye stared at Yuffie; no passing emotion glanced over it. A most surprising yet striking contrast to her utterly dead white skin was the dark crimson dress she wore. Blood.

Yuffie immediately drew her Conformer. Posing to strike, the woman blinked her orb of cerulean. No other portion of her body moved at all, and her crimson gown blew wildly in a sudden fit of storm. In an instant, Yuffie could feel herself floating slowly upwards and finally stopped until she was 5 feet above the floor, hovering. She couldn't move if her life had depended on it, which she suspected it did. The form of the young ninja could not escape the paralysis. Her weapon remained raised above her head, useless, still posed to slash at this creature or whatever the strange being may be. Yuffie felt as if she was frozen in a block of ice, and yet she was not. She simply floated, suspended in space and time. There was a small glint, like the sun reflecting off a distant river, yet its intensity was an infinite number times more. The woman vanished in that small flicker of light that was barely noticeable.

Yuffie could feel herself slowly descending back to floor, and as she was returned to the exact spot where she had been picked up, she felt as if someone had punched the feeling back into her. She let her arm fall limp that still grasped her weapon in its unheeding grasp. She could not imagine what kind of monster she had just encountered.

Then something caught her sharp sight, a tiny, tiny red piece of material that had ripped off the enigma's dress in the ravaging winds that had suddenly consumed the entire place in their power. She looked at it curiously, and without further hesitation picked it up and put it in her thick leather satchel.


Vincent climbed out of the small rowboat he had taken across the expand of water tot he nothern continent. The waves lapped at it, threatening to tear the miniscule water vehicle to shreds.

"'Thousand gil, sir," the boat owner drawled.

Vincent merely nodded, handed over the gil and started of towards the forest.

The weathered recipient of the payment just stared at him as he departed, wondering what this strange dark man could possibly want here. Without a further thought, he feverishly starting rowing away back towards the western continent, for some reason very eager to be far away from this place.

Vincent now stood in front of Bone Village, wondering how to enter the Forgotten City. He knew he must journey there. Why, he could not answer. He knew Lucrecia had guided him that night, telling him where to go. He had sensed that he was to fulfill some purpose, though he did not know what it might be. She in his heart, had led him here. This place where it had all started; a climax until Aeris' death upon Sephiroth's venomous blade.

Your son, Lucrecia. Yes, he killed Aeris. Yet what is it you desire me to do once in that place? He thought the last word with a bit of grimace.

He knew there were three ways to enter - a gold chocobo, Cid's airship, or the Lunar Harp. He had none of those to speak of, and he knew he could not very easily obtain a gold chocobo. That left him to go to Cid or Cloud, for they both had items he required.

Suddenly he heard that odd voice whisper in his ear once again.

Not Cloud...

It was full of urgency, full of pleading. He thought it to be Lucrecia, guiding him.

He immediately decided it was about time to pay Cid a visit.

As Vincent entered Rocket Town, he casually glanced around. It hadn't changed much in the last year, except for a new gleaming addition.

"My rocket is back!" an old man exclaimed excitedly to Vincent, immediately recognizing him from the party that had saved the Planet. Vincent's was not a face one forgot with much ease in the first place. Vincent just looked at him. Finally he spoke.

"Yes, I see it is," he said.

The sound of his own voice frightened him. He hadn't heard that hollow, reverberating sound conversing with anyone in a long time. At least not for the last 6 months.

The old man could see the dark figure was not interested in a raging conversation, though continued never the less.

"The Captain is ecstatic, but I heard that a girl was staying with him.

Heard she's really sick."

Vincent wondered who the "girl" could be the nosy man spoke of. The chirping gossiper noticed he had perked a little attention in the man, and continued enthusiastically at his newfound interest.

"Yes, beautiful thing she is too!"

Vincent looked at him, curious at who this mystery beauty was that seemed to be residing with Cid.


"No...not the Captain's housekeeper! Naw...her name was somethin' like Teresa or Taffy."

He knew who it was immediately. Vincent couldn't help but smile inwardly at the thought of Tifa being called Taffy, and what her reaction would be.

"Is she still here?"

"Naw, up'd and left 'bout . . . 2 months ago," he replied, slowly remembering the date.

Vincent nodded to the man and continued to Cid's house. As he knocked on the door, his claw resounded with a hollow thud upon the wood. Shera's voice echoed over the sound of an engine within the house.

"Who's there?" she said, opening the door and looking out to see who had knocked.

Vincent Valentine stood, with his extremely tall and looming dark presence.

The team had become quite fond of Shera in their friendship with Cid, as they had often returned to Rocket Town for various things.

"Vincent!! We haven't seen you in so long!!" she exclaimed in excitement.

"Come in!!"

Vincent was a little taken aback at her enthusiasm, though she was always like that when Cid wasn't around to hush her.

"Who the hell is it Shera?! C'mon, I need your help back here!" Cid shouted in an annoyed voice from the behind the house, "Damn it!" he cursed as the crash of metal falling upon metal could be heard.

Shera gave Vincent a weary smile.

"He's been at that rocket ever since the space program was restarted by that company in Corel," she said. Her eyes seemed to fairly glow however, and no longer held the dim, saddened light they had when the team had first encountered the unlikely couple.

"Yes, I just came to see Cid about the Highwind. I need his help for somewhere I must travel to."

Shera ignored his disinterest, and though he would not let on, Vincent had missed the old Captain along with the rest of the team.

"Before you decide to get down to business, sit down and have some tea!" she admonished in her cheerful voice.

Vincent took a seat at the table and glanced around the house. It too, had barely changed in the last year.

"Vincent Valentine! Where the hell ya been?!" Cid greeted him in his usual way.

Vincent looked up at him, though his face did not flicker in any emotion. Cid was used to his cold demeanor however, and knew it was nothing towards him personally.

"I have come because I wish you to take me to the City of the Ancients."

Cid gaped at him.


"Yes, I have a...what one may call a mission."

Cid looked at him strangely, but then shrugged. Let Vincent have his odd eccentricities, as everyone well knew, Cid surely had his.

"That's fine," he said finally after analyzing the situation.

"Of course I'll pay you..," Vincent started, but was cut off by Cid.

"Damn Valentine, who the hell you think you are?!" Cid asked gruffly, though in good humor.

Vincent shrugged.

"As you wish."

After their tea, Vincent and Cid sat in the kitchen talking, though it was Cid who did most of the speaking. Finally Vincent asked what he had meant to, merely out of curiosity.

"I heard Tifa has taken ill?"

Cid's face immediately turned to one of a very grim nature.

"Where did you hear that?"

"The old man that gave us the Yoshiyuki on our journey."

"Oh yeah...I know that strange guy. Been sittin' on that corner for as long as I can remember!" the grim look on Cid's face dissolved for a minute, replaced by a flicker of a smile, but once again continued to tell Vincent of Tifa's predicament.

"Tifa had a nervous breakdown in Midgar. Damned Spike left her to go to Junon. Didn't bother to call, and Tifa flipped out," he spoke bitterly as he slowly shook his head reprovingly of Cloud's rash actions. Vincent sat processing this information.

"Is she alright?" he said finally. As well as Aeris, Vincent has always admired Tifa a great deal as well, if not more. The way she seemed to stick by Cloud amazed him, and he knew the grief the loss of love could bring.

"I guess. She opened a new bar in Costa del Sol after Barret hauled her out of Midgar. He mostly takes care of her now, though I'm sure she's quite capable of doing it herself."

Vincent thought for a minute before asking something that had come to mind.

"Where exactly is Cloud?"

Cid's face fell again.

"Me'n Barret went searching for the damned kid in Junon for an entire month. We turned over every stone and blade of grass possible. Didn't turn up anything."

With no reply, Cid continued.

"And now, I think Tifa's at the end of her rope. If this doesn't work, she's never gonna recover."

"What do you mean?" Vincent asked, wondering what lengths she had gone to.

"She hired the Turks! Well, half of the Turks. Really, the Turks don't exist anymore."

This was news to Vincent.

"They don't exist??" he asked, mildly confused.

"Yeah. Heard they went their own separate ways after we took down Shinra," he said with a wry grin at the memory of the defeat of the Shinra.

"So, who exactly did she hire then?"

"Well, at first Barret told me it was Rude. Came storming in ranting about how Tifa's lost her mind. I guess Elena showed up later and is there too. No one knows where the other one went...Reno. Yeah, that's it. Reno. Heard he died," Cid said with a shrug.

Vincent reflected on how much Tifa despised the Turks, and had to agree with Cid. She must have been really disturbed.

"That kid don't deserve Tifa!" Cid said angrily.

"I am inclined to agree at times. However, he is a good man, irked by Sephiroth, despite his many flaws."

That many words from Vincent surprised Cid.

"Hey, you said more than one sentence Valentine!" Cid laughed. Vincent gave him a withering stare but it just made Cid laugh harder.

Finally Vincent gave up, knowing he couldn't truly regard his friend with malice even if he had wanted to.

Cid finally calmed himself, and stood up.

"C'mon beautiful, we're goin' to the City of the Ancients," he said, though he thankfully wasn't speaking to Vincent. His head was turned to the back of the house, talking to his airship that had suffered terribly with lack of use.


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