Angeal retook the controller after all the food had been put away, much to Sephiroth's relief. They retraced their steps down the long, far-too-straight-to-be-natural cave, fighting a few more battles on the way, one of which consisted of a new monster.
"Are those Cuahls?" Genesis asked.
"I didn't know they liked the cold," Angeal mused after he confirmed with a Scan.
"They are furred monsters," Genesis pointed out.
Angeal conceded with a nod, then continued out of the cave.
Or would have had they not run into the dragon.
It honestly felt like overkill at this point.
Still, the battle wasn't nearly as difficult as the two-headed chimera-dragon had been, so they finished that up quickly enough, used their cure materia to heal and finally made it out of the cave.
And back to the cliff face… although they didn't seem to have to worry about their temperature here. Sephiroth was grateful but also suspicious. Something told him they were nearing the next leg of their journey to chase Game Sephiroth down.
Angeal had Cloud climb to the top of the cliff and over the lip. As he ran up the last part of the trail leading to the edge of the cliff, the camera zoomed in. Above Cloud's head, they could see the night sky and the Aurora Borealis shifting and moving in the dark expanse. Even with the poor graphics, it was rather lovely.
Sephiroth wasn't sure what he was expecting to see, but an enormous crater full of energy circling around like a tornado wasn't it. Was that wind? Or mako? The more the game showed different views of the spectacle, the more Sephiroth thought the latter. Or maybe a combination thereof?
The music started again, sounding both haunting and wondering at the same time… somehow. Angeal moved Cloud forward, and he walked down the incline of the crater towards the energy gathering at the center. Then the music gained an ominous edge as Cloud and his party split apart, looking over the view and reiterating that something had fallen there centuries ago.
Suddenly, Sephiroth felt his stomach clench in apprehension. He took several deep, silent breaths to calm himself before looking back at the screen, in time to see Tifa ask if the planet had gathered all that energy there to heal itself. Cloud, instead of answering (to be fair, it was an obvious question that had been answered before), talked about how Game Sephiroth had taken that energy and used it (would use it?) to call Meteor.
Sephiroth clenched his teeth but otherwise made sure he showed now outward sign of distress as Cloud said that next time, the wound won't be so small. He noted Genesis and Angeal shooting him glances out of the corner of his eye, but ignored it.
They continued down the side of the crater, running into what looked like black bom-oms. The first of which exploded after only one hit and did massive damage to Cloud, taking him out. Angeal shifted to lean forward, clearly startled by the damage amount, but stuck with regular attacks. They had saved recently, so losing the battle wouldn't be a huge setback. The second monster exploded with far less damage, though, and they only ended up needing to revive Cloud. In hindsight, Angeal had probably also considered that the bom-oms had also only damaged a single party member, so even if the second had taken out Tifa or Vincent, they would still have had someone available to revive the other two.
They moved on once they revived Cloud, running into into yet another black-cloaked figure that said:
'… back… to… Seph… i… roth…' before they disappeared.
The sick feeling from earlier that day began to return but he said nothing, so Angeal moved on.
The screen changed to look like several crystal spires (except as dark as rock) poking through an eerie foggy base. The party split again and Tifa asked if Cloud was going after Game Sephiroth.
"Isn't that why they're there?" Genesis asked, although he seemed subdued, glancing over at his silver-haired friend every couple of seconds. Sephiroth appreciated his consideration.
No one answered his question.
When Cloud just nodded at Tifa, she turned away for a moment, saying she'd lost a lot because of Game Sephiroth. Then she shouted, 'Let's go!' and they moved on.
The next scene looked to be made of nothing but rock, and a black-cloaked figure walking on the path ahead. Before they could get to said figure, though, they either fell or jumped off the side of the rock formation and disappeared.
Sephiroth clenched his fist.
They ran across another materia not seconds later. A summon materia. Neo Bahamut.
Genesis gasped, but didn't say anything else (though his notebook made a reappearance). Without a word, Angeal equipped it to the blond. He then moved Cloud towards the save point on the screen, but had a little difficulty getting there, jumping forward and then backwards before he could get to the point. A couple of tries later, he finally got there and saved the game.
The music reset, starting out decent, but slowly growing more ominous as it moved on.
They continued to the next screen… or would have, had Cloud not stopped and looked up at a large formation of rock at the back of the screen.
The screen faded out and then into the deck of ShinRa's airship, where Rufus, Scarlet and Heidegger walked towards the large window at the front.
'So, I've finally found you,' Rufus said once he reached the window. Scarlet just laughed for several panels, then commented on how 'this' was incredible.
Heidegger claimed that this was the promised land the President had been searching for, but Rufus would get it. Rufus apologized to his 'old man'… rather insincerely, in Sephiroth's opinion.
Then someone else laughed and the camera panned down to show that the Turks had apparently brought in Hojo… who didn't seem worried in the slightest.
Sephiroth clenched his other hand.
'That land is no one's,' the mad scientist said. 'It's where Reunion will take place. They will all gather here… I wonder if we'll see… Sephiroth.'
Outside of the game, the actual man in question felt that twinge at the word again and couldn't stop himself from moving his hand to his chest, still curled in a fist. He checked for that foreign presence but felt nothing, thankfully.
"Sephiroth?" Angeal asked quietly.
"Like last time?" Genesis asked wryly.
Sephiroth took a deep breath, then shot the two of them a glare. "Keep going," he said.
Angeal sighed and Genesis shrugged, but they both turned back to the game. Maybe now they'd find out what this 'Reunion' was.
The scene faded out and (jarringly) back in to show the deck of ShinRa's airship, where Rufus, Scarlet and Heidegger walked towards the large window at the front.
In the next area, what looked like a wall of wind knocked two robed figures back from it. Before Cloud reached them, the party split and Tifa said they'd need to get past the wind while it was calm before joining back together again. The figures either groaned and disappeared or called out for Sephiroth. The silver-haired man ignored the growing nausea in his stomach.
His gut told him he would not like what happened next.
It wasn't difficult to make it through the wall of wind, so they hurried on.
The next screen showed a literal procession of black-cloaked figures walking up a winding pathway. Some of them fell down, simply collapsing, while others fell off the sides of the path, which looked every cliff-like.
The next battle they had to fight were two… blocks. Sculptures, the game called them and Sephiroth felt himself relax a little at the ridiculousness of it.
They made it to the first of the collapsed forms, but they simply disappeared. So did the second one. They picked up Tifa's Kaiser Knuckle from the nearby chest (seriously, why chests?!) but decided not to equip it as Angeal had Cloud run up the pathway.
The next cloaked figure they ran across disappeared as well. They weren't even speaking anymore…
So Cloud hurried onward, continuing to fight strange monsters (more Sculptures as well as cubes and goblins) on their way until they reached the edge of the screen.
The next scene showed another wall of wind, although this one had lines of energy running through it and the openings looked much smaller. It took them a couple of tries due to the game mechanics, and each time they failed, they had to fight a battle, but it didn't take Angeal long to make it through.
The next screen showed a green glow below the path Cloud continued to walk on. A couple of steps in, the screen panned up to show Game Sephiroth standing over two robed figures.
'This is the end… for all of you,' he said, then knocked the figures off of the path with his odachi.
'Sephiroth!' Cloud yelled out. Did he really need that many exclamation points?
Sephiroth realized he was distracting himself again…
'This is the end!' the blond yelled while Vincent swiped his cloak aside.
To their surprise, Game Sephiroth agreed, saying, 'This is the end of this body's usefulness.'
He disappeared and the lighting changed.
'He might still be nearby,' Tifa said, looking around desperately. The camera panned around, but ultimately snapped back to focus on the three of them.
Then words appeared on screen. 'Our purpose is to deliver the black materia to our master.'
'Our..' Cloud said. Was it in reply to the words?
Vincent cautioned to 'stay alert' due to Game Sephiroth's ability to appear from seemingly anywhere, and they continued to look around.
More words appeared on screen. 'Those who carry Jenova's cells.'
Then Cloud turned around and said, 'Master…'
"Well… that is unfortunate," Genesis muttered.
More words. 'Of course… Sephiroth.'
Then laughter… and then Game Sephiroth jumped down at them (from where, Sephiroth had no idea) and knocked them all down, despite Vincent's warning. Then Cloud stood up slowly, shaking his head and turned towards the silver-haired icon on the screen.
And said screen twisted into a battle.
The thing they ended up fighting was not, in any way shape or form, Sephiroth. It looked like a mutated, gray-skinned human with claws coming out of their shoulders and back. Using a sense materia on it named it Jenova DEATH, with 25000 HP.
This… would be a battle.
It used silence on Vincent and then attacked multiple times in a row. Keeping up with those attacks wasn't easy, and the Neo Bahamut didn't do nearly as much damage as it really should have… even if the scene of it using its attack was… impressive. Angeal picked a strategy of keeping health topped, which seemed to pay off.
Eventually, though, they managed to destroy it, gaining a reflect ring and…
"Is that the black materia?" Genesis asked.
"That is what it looks like," Sephiroth said slowly, not quite believing it himself. His game counterpart had been one step ahead this entire time. So why leave the black materia to his enemies? That is not something Sephiroth would ever do… unless…
The nausea returned like a kick to the stomach and it took all of his willpower to keep his dinner down.
This would break Cloud…
'Jenova's cells,' Cloud said. 'So that's what this is all about. The Jenova Reunion.'
Sephiroth felt his face pale a little, especially when Cloud confirmed that they hadn't been chasing Game Sephiroth the entire time. He said he'd explain later (and Sephiroth seriously considered throwing his television screen out the window) but that they had to focus on Sephiroth… no, he said that all that was on his mind was beating Sephiroth.
"No," he whispered, clutching the arm of the couch so hard he heard it creaking under the pressure.
"Sephiroth?" Angeal asked, voice even more concerned than before. Even Genesis was frowning at him.
The Silver General took a deep breath then let it out. Then he met his friends' gazes. "What happened at the Temple of the Ancients?" he asked. "To Cloud… at the end," he amended, trying to be more specific.
"He attacked Aer—" Angeal started, but then cut off, his eyes going wide as he looked back at the screen. Genesis had put it together too. Cloud hadn't attacked Aeris.
"He left that on purpose," the red-head muttered. "He's going to take over Cloud again."
Sephiroth nodded, struggling to keep his dinner down. He swallowed. "Cloud is part of the…" he paused, took a breath and forced himself to continue, "part of the Reunion." The twinge was stronger than ever, but the other remained silent so he counted it as a win. "He has some form of Jenova cells, which is why he can be controlled. Game Sephiroth… or Jenova or whoever it is, planned this all along."
"But why?" Angeal cut in. "Why Cloud specifically if he had all of those followers? Why take the chance to give it up to your enemies? Because they might surprise him. That isn't the kind of chance you would ever take."
"Because," he heard himself say lowly, "he wants his revenge."
Genesis seemed to go a shade paler, but Angeal looked just as confused as ever.
"I don't understand. He wants revenge… for his death?"
Sephiroth looked back at the screen, frozen for the moment. "He fell into the reactor. As far as we know, there was no recovery effort, no body. I doubt he died. Not fully." He shook his head. "Game Sephiroth was probably severely wounded and has been recovering since the fall, at my best guess. This is implying that he's been using the connection between the S and J cells to impose his bidding because he likely can't do it himself. The person we've been chasing from Midgar is either Jenova's body or one of the black-cloaked people who have taken his form." He wasn't sure which and didn't think it really mattered, but he needed to provide context.
"This is different. This isn't like killing ShinRa as his first act of revenge." He took another breath and looked down at his clenched hands. He didn't want to speak, but he needed the other two, his friends, to understand this. "I've never been good at… letting go of slights. Not ones that truly hurt me. I can all too easily imagine the stacked insults of... death, and of..." He turned his gaze back to his friends. "I'd want to break him, so utterly and completely, that he would never even think again without pain."
He swallowed. "I'd want him to hurt.
"I…" he had to swallow again. Why did it feel like his throat had a growth of some kind in it? But, he had to explain this, to make sure they were on the same page. "I've… always wanted to belong. I used to dream that my parents would come for me – find me and take me away from that lab – from that man. Game Sephiroth had finally found that belonging – that home. Cloud took that away from him… from me." He shook his head. "In that context… I wouldn't forgive him. "
It sickened him as to how much sense this made.
"What better way to break someone than to cast doubt on every decision they've ever made?" Genesis muttered, mildly horrified. "To think that he'd chosen to come after you only to find out he'd played right into your hands. To think he had resisted, only to be told he never had a will at all."
Sephiroth nodded, still aghast himself, but… Genesis understood and that somehow helped. "Precisely. I'd already taken everything else from him. The only thing he'd kept was his mind – his sense of self. This… will take that too. If he survives it, I would leave him in pain… agony… despair." Because Sephiroth, knew he could be vindictive like that.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Angeal cut in, sternly. "I thought we'd established that that," he jabbed a finger at the screen, "is not you."
"True," Genesis said, looking relieved.
Sephiroth really hated to say it, but it had to be said. "It could be." So very easily, and the game – or whoever made it – could see that. Yet another, terrifyingly deep understanding and insight.
Angeal frowned and crossed his arms. "No. I don't believe that."
"That doesn't stop it from being true." His fists had clenched again. In the back of his mind, he was glad to not be wearing his gloves, or he'd risk popping the seams again. He closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing.
"Sephiroth," Angeal started, but didn't say any more. Had Genesis stopped him?
"So," Genesis said after a couple of seconds, his voice almost as firm as Angeal's, "what will you do about it?"
Sephiroth's eyes snapped open and he looked over at his friend. "What?"
"We've identified the problem, the cause and the players. We have the information we need to prevent this. Will you?"
For several seconds he just stared into the cool, blue eyes of his friend, who gazed back, unwavering – demanding, almost. For a moment, the world stopped and he remembered the dream and a similar question. Then he sensed his answer, like a lifeline he could cling to. Because Genesis was right.
His heart began to calm and his fists loosened as he stared back steadily. Then he nodded, once.
Genesis nodded decisively. "Good. Now, Angeal?" he said, gesturing to the game.
The dark-haired man blinked and stared between them for several seconds. Then he smiled, small but warm.
He clicked the button to bring up the next dialogue. Tifa seemed confused, but Cloud stated that Sephiroth was there and even pointed to him – despite him not being on the screen. Definitely not a good sign.
They would prevent this, but that didn't mean Sephiroth wanted to watch it. He debated standing and letting them narrate for him as they had in order to finish the disk last night.
Cloud walked forward and picked up the black materia. Then he said that all they'd need to do now is defeat Game Sephiroth.
Tifa, thankfully, recommended that Cloud give the materia to someone else to keep hold of so Game Sephiroth wouldn't get it again. Even more thankfully, he agreed.
Maybe Sephiroth had been wrong? He hoped so.
"Who should we give it to?" Angeal asked.
"We're taking Tifa and Vincent into battle, I assume," Genesis mused, "seeing as we've been leveling them up. Out of who is left, I would say Barrett, Cid, and Nanaki are your best bets. Then, perhaps Yuffie."
Sephiroth blinked. "Yuffie?"
Genesis nodded. "She likes materia, wants to keep ahold of it, and probably has a way to keep it safe. The only reason I don't put her first is her attitude and age."
The Silver General had to admit to the solid reasoning. So he nodded at Angeal.
"I… think I will choose Barrett."
"Why?" Genesis asked, curious.
"He's so passionate. I can admire that, even though he hates ShinRa, and I can't see him giving it up unless he has to, and he's a little more intimidating than some of the other choices."
Sephiroth couldn't fault him, but then, by those definitions Cid worked just fine too.
On the screen, Angeal guided Cloud to the large man who took it, but reluctantly, commenting on how 'the pressure was on'.
Cloud didn't seem to help when he instructed Barrett to not give it to anyone and stated he was counting on him. When Barrett didn't respond, Angeal had Cloud turn and walk back to Tifa and Vincent. He spoke to Tifa who nodded.
'Let's find Sephiroth!'
Cloud returned the nod then addressed the rest of the group, saying they'd go in ahead and asked everyone else to keep watch. Was this hinting at why the party was limited to three, to act as vanguard?
The screen faded back to the original view of the path and the green below it. On the path ahead of them sat a yellow materia. Angeal immediately walked up to it and picked up an MP turbo… whatever that was.
"It's a mana turbo!" Genesis exclaimed.
Sephiroth startled a little. "A what?" he asked.
"It enables you to more easily and safely channel extra mana into a paired Materia for a greater output," he said dismissively. "These finds are getting rarer and rarer."
"Indeed," Sephiroth said.
A little farther ahead, they found a save point and another chest with a poison ring in it.
The next screen had a third air wall… with lightning and the green beams.
This one took them three tries to get through. Three tries, three fights and some annoyed muttering from Angeal.
Still, they got to the other side and had Cloud run to the end.
Suddenly, the screen turned white.
Tifa, panicked, asked what happened. Cloud asked her to calm down, then said Game Sephiroth was near and anything could happen.
The screen faded in to show Nibelheim. After some worried discussion, Cloud stated that it was an illusion from Game Sephiroth, and as long as they knew that, there was nothing to be afraid of.
Sephiroth frowned. Somehow Cloud seemed too… calm? Steady? Just… different. Normally when anything regarding the Silver General came up, he was beyond livid. So why did he just seem to casually roll with the metaphorical punches, as Angeal liked to say.
"He's trying to convince himself," the brunet said quietly, shaking his head.
"You think so?" Genesis asked.
Angeal nodded. "Cloud is usually rather… intense. He can act like Zack, but he usually just kind of backs off. He watches, he hesitates, so the lack of hesitation here marks this as different for some reason. My guess is that he knows something is coming and is bracing himself."
"Hmm," the red-head nodded. "True. Perhaps we will find out what actually happened all those years ago. We all pointed out holes in the memory."
Sephiroth nodded, but he doubted it. Maybe this would shed more light on the subject, but Game Sephiroth had too much control here.
It also occurred to him that Game Sephiroth wasn't only going to cast doubt on everything Cloud had done since the beginning of the game, but since his memory. Just when he'd thought it couldn't (or at least shouldn't) get any worse, the game proved him wrong.
'Look!' Tifa yelled, pointing off screen. The three in the party scattered off to each side as Game Sephiroth walks up to the town entrance.
"Is that truly an illusion, though?" Genesis asked as the figure on the screen turned around and called out. Had he done that in Cloud's memory? No, there had been dialogue in the memory, before Cloud had walked in.
But Cloud wasn't in the group.
Instead, a dark-haired person with a buster sword strapped across his back walked up with the infantry men. The scene stalled with Vincent's dialogue box, stating 'That's not Cloud. Who is this man?'
Sephiroth immediately knew who it was and he felt his eyes widen. Then he looked over at Angeal at the same time Genesis did. Angeal just stared at the screen, face going pale.
No one said anything for several seconds.
Then Genesis slowly ventured, "That's not you, Angeal... Is it?"
The larger man shook his head, almost reluctantly. "No. I… I think that's... Zack…"
"His hair is different," the red-head said.
"I… don't like wearing my hair in spikes. Zack does. You're right, it's different, there's more of it, but…" He faded off.
This made no sense.
"Why is Zack there instead of Cloud?" Genesis asked, looking mildly spooked. An odd contrast with Angeal's highly worried expression.
"We don't know that it's Zack… not from behind."
Sephiroth wished he had a definite answer. Zack had mentioned that he was the main character in the game he received… was this connected? There was something else Zack had said, about having possession of Angeal's sword at some point.
Angeal pressed the button to make the scene continue. Tifa asked Game Sephiroth to stop. Cloud said the whole thing was stupid. The Sephiroth figure on the screen – the one that was supposed to be part of the memory – started laughing. The screen flashed white and Sephiroth, Zack and the infantry vanished.
Sephiroth remembered Game Sephiroth chuckling in the Kalm flashback, but in the memory, Game Sephiroth had only laughed after speaking about his parents, while facing the camera. This... seemed different somehow. Apparently he wasn't the only one who thought so.
"This is wrong, and not just the… stranger in place of Cloud," Genesis said slowly, unknowingly agreeing with Sephiroth. "Nor the dialogue. That Sephiroth, I… don't think he's part of the illusion." He still glanced over at Angeal several times, the only thing that showed his worry.
"Do you need to stop?" Sephiroth asked slowly, beginning to see what his friends meant when they asked him. He also glimpsed the worry the others must feel when Angeal shook his head.
"No, I'm fine."
Did he sound that false when he said it too?
Still, he dropped it as Angeal played on, apparently back in control.
The larger SOLDIER moved Cloud up to speak with Tifa.
She reiterated that it was just an illusion.
Of course, then the screen flashed white again while Tifa screamed for it to stop.
The burning town of Nibelheim came into view with the three party members commenting on the horror of the scene. Cloud said that he was sure someone else would come running out of the ShinRa mansion; that Game Sephiroth would try and show them another stupid illusion.
Sephiroth was beginning to agree with Angeal – Cloud was trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
Might-be-Zack came running out just as Cloud had in his story, and from this angle and perspective, it looked even more possible that it was indeed Zack. He did everything Cloud had done, walking into the center of town, shaking his head, talking to Zangan…
And Sephiroth drew in a breath because they'd all agreed that Cloud's actions hadn't been one of someone seeing their childhood home burning. For better or for worse he'd been upset, but not desperate.
There was more truth to this than Cloud (or Sephiroth, for that matter) wanted to admit.
Tifa seemed to be getting progressively more panicked, saying she didn't want to watch this anymore. Cloud either comforted her or shot that down, saying there was no need to be scared because this was just an illusion.
"This… is going to be worse than we predicted," Angeal said suddenly, his voice low enough that only another SOLDIER would have been able to pick it up.
No one answered.
The scene faded to the inside of a house on fire. A body lay on one side, not moving. Sephiroth didn't know who it was. Vincent stated that it was an illusion again.
On the screen, Cloud called out that he knew what Game Sephiroth was trying to say – that he wasn't in Nibelheim all those years ago. The person in question appeared in the room, saying Cloud finally understood.
The blond was having none of it, stating that no matter what Game Sephiroth said, he wouldn't be confused.
Sephiroth had to admire his sheer tenacity.
Game Sephiroth said (and they could practically hear the smugness in the words) that Cloud was a puppet, he had no heart and could feel no pain.
"This… what you said earlier. Your reasoning for Game Sephiroth doing this… I read a critic's review for a recently premiered play. The critic rated it poorly, citing a poor handling of 'gaslighting' concerning a pair of the characters. I'd not heard the term before, so I looked it up," Genesis said quietly, more subdued than Sephiroth had seen him in a while. "Where one makes another doubt their memories, tries to force them and others to consider them mistaken, untrustworthy, or insane. It is… a more insidious practice than even I initially thought."
He'd spoken just as the words, 'What I have shown you is the memory. What you remember is the illusion,' appeared in the familiar blue and white box. Angeal had let it sit there while Genesis said his piece, the words looming in an ominous echo of the red-head's statement.
Cloud just shrugged and Sephiroth almost wanted to sigh in relief. The blond was holding his own admirably. But he couldn't allow himself to feel that relief just yet. Showing the memory with Zack (Angeal? He still wasn't ruling that possibility out) in it… He suspected that Game Sephiroth wasn't entirely lying.
When Game Sephiroth asked if Cloud understood, he again denied it, but said he had a question. He wanted to know why Game Sephiroth was doing 'this', likely referring to the entire scene.
Sephiroth had a sinking feeling in his chest, and the relief he felt a moment ago vanished. With that, he knew Game Sephiroth had him. It was only a matter of time.
Game Sephiroth said he wanted to take Cloud back to his 'real self', the one who gave him the black materia. Then he called Cloud a failed but useful experiment.
"Experiment?" Angeal asked, looking rather horrified. "Then, why was Zack-? Could Cloud-?"
"No, no. I'm probably drawing the wrong conclusion," Angeal muttered, and dodged explaining that baffling statement by continuing the game dialogue. It was usually reasonable to acquire more information when one was uncertain, but it left Sephiroth slightly irked at being left out, as they'd been open about sharing hypotheses thus far. What had he noticed? Something about Zack specifically, as he'd been mentioned first, but…?
The Sephiroth on the screen brought up Hojo, saying he'd 'die' if he knew how useful Cloud had been.
Naturally, Cloud didn't take well to that, asking what that had to do with him.
'Five years ago, you were… constructed by Hojo, piece by piece, right after Nibelheim was burnt. A puppet made of vibrant Jenova cells, her knowledge and the power of Mako.'
Both Angeal and Genesis caught their breaths.
"That can't be true," Genesis said, a little heatedly. "Cloud exists right now. We've seen him and interacted with him."
Angeal seemed to relax a bit at that.
"Care to explain your earlier tension?" Genesis also noticed, then.
"Knowing what we do about Hojo and Jenova, I was wondering if…" Angeal hesitated, "the stranger was used as a base of raw material to make Game Cloud. But you're right. Sephiroth met Cloud. Cloud exists now."
"Hmm. The first time we have proof that the game isn't entirely true," Genesis commented thoughtfully, sounding relieved.
"The game itself isn't saying anything," Sephiroth reminded softly. "This is Game Sephiroth," because it was easier to keep thinking of him like that, "being thorough." He suspected that there was at least some truth in the memories about Zack (or Angeal), but the part about Cloud being an artificial construct obviously wasn't. That didn't mean this had any bearing on whether the rest of the game proved to be true or not.
"Perhaps," Genesis conceded, albeit reluctantly, "but still."
Then Game Sephiroth called Cloud an 'incomplete Sephiroth clone, who didn't even have a number', and claimed that was his reality.
"The numbers are… clones?" Sephiroth asked, somehow even more horrified than before. "Of me?" The worst part was, he could see it. Angeal had been at least partially correct (though Cadet Strife's existence still contradicted it), and Sephiroth could see Hojo doing something that… depraved. His obsession with being the best – having the best… owning the best wouldn't be stopped by something like mere death. Sephiroth wouldn't be surprised if he already had contingency plans in place so he could still claim to be the 'creator' of the best warrior in existence.
Unless… Could this Cloud, instead of a clone of Game Sephiroth himself, be a clone of Cadet Strife? A test for a combination of cells? But then, wouldn't Tifa notice? Although, she hadn't spoken up about many things… could she be in denial? But Hojo wasn't known for 'trials' and would never bother testing a cloning procedure on a random infantryman… And if Angeal was right about maybe-Zack being material, then why would Hojo use maybe-Zack to make a Cloud clone, to then make a clone of Game Sephiroth?
Was this incoherent bombardment of stuttering thoughts what Angeal had experienced not minutes ago?
There was so much to unpack in all of that he didn't even know where to start. Nor was it the time to do so, as Angeal continued, oblivious to Sephiroth's mental turmoil.
Cloud, obviously still not believing, just shrugged.
"That is one strong conviction," Angeal said, approving.
"Agreed," Sephiroth said softly.
He felt something bump into his arm and looked down to see Genesis had knocked elbows with him. As a show of… support? Solidarity? Just… comfort? Or maybe it had been an accident? He glanced up at the red-head who met his gaze out of the corner of his eye and nodded.
The warmth in the Silver General's chest grew again, melting away some of the horror and disgust. He returned the nod with a small smile of his own, then turned back to the game as Cloud walked up to Game Sephiroth again.
He just laughed.
Cloud walked over to Vincent and Sephiroth realized Angeal was controlling him again. Vincent said only 'Cloud', though, so he walked over to Tifa. She told him not to listen to anything, to cover his ears and close his eyes.
Sephiroth frowned. Why was she so adamant about that? Cloud didn't seem to be giving in… unless she had another reason to think Game Sephiroth was telling the truth…?
Somehow, he got the feeling that the worst had yet to come.
Cloud said that he wasn't affected by it; wasn't even paying attention. Sephiroth now doubted that. Judging by Genesis' scoff and Angeal's grunt, they doubted the statement as well.
Tifa went on to recount their memories, that she'd grown up with him. It was a good point.
But then Game Sephiroth asked her why she was so worried.
Sephiroth couldn't stop himself from stiffening further. The world around him seemed faint, so he forced himself to count his breaths, hoping Genesis and Angeal had missed his reaction. He did not want to explain how that had been the exact point he himself had thought only seconds before. He hated how he and Game Sephiroth had echoed each other's thoughts again.
Game Sephiroth asked if Tifa wished for him to show everyone there what was 'in her heart'.
She turned away.
Game Sephiroth laughed and said she didn't look well, then vanished.
Then Cloud asked Tifa if Game Sephiroth was right.
"My friends, the fates are cruel. There are no dreams, no honor remains..." Genesis muttered grimly. "All that awaits you is a somber morrow…"
And, right about then, Sephiroth realized that he wasn't the only one very much dreading what would come. He wasn't the only one who felt sick.
He wasn't the only one who needed a break.
So he rose to his feet.
"Could we pause this for a moment?" he asked, forcing his voice to be calm and steady. "I need to visit the restroom."
The other two looked up at him, shocked.
"Y-yes, of course," Angeal said.
Sephiroth nodded as he left the game behind him, breathing more easily at the interruption and hoping Angeal could too.
AN: I am so glad Imagination7413 and I had this 'fifteen page monstrosity' (her words, lol) mostly done last week. (She's so amazing...)
Question: Am I going back to weekly posting? Answer: No, sorry. These next few weeks will likely be... full due largely to a death in the family and buying a house. I will try and post again in two weeks, but it might take as many as three to get the next part of everything done. I apologize again, and thank you for your patience.
Discord, if you're interested: discord. gg/EVUrHMd4za (without spaces)