Ok, so I admit, I hadn't really expected anyone to read this, especially since I didn't have any more written at the time that I wrote this. I've been working rather diligently on this for the past two and a half days just to give you more to read! For those of you that have never played the game, this chapter is detailing some of what happens prior. For those of you who have played, I hope you don't mind the review. I plan to get into what what's happened to her in the other places she's visited, just not quite yet.
I'd like to thank Dilvish 2.0, lildevil0644, kimbclar, Allen Pitt, and youn2731 for their reviews.
I still don't own anything…at all…
I Watch You
Buffy's Point of View
"We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."
I found myself in a church. It was run down, dilapidated, with a hole in the roof and the pews were all broken and rotted. In front of me, silhouetted in a shaft of sunlight from the broken ceiling, was a garden of flowers and the girl in the pink dress with the spiky haired guy. This was something that was obviously in the past and I was seeing it all second hand as I stood amongst the pews. It was like I was a voyeur in someone else's memories.
As I watched, they introduced themselves.
"I'm Aerith, the flower girl. Nice to meet you," she said in that nauseatingly bright way of hers. Nice to know she had always been like that and it wasn't death that brought on her psychotic cheerfulness.
The blonde kid struck a macho type pose. "The name's Cloud," he said arrogantly. "Me? I do a bit of everything."
I snorted in amusement, but was then distracted by a noise from behind me. I turned and a man walked in the swinging double doors at the front of the church. He had messy red hair and a rumpled blue suit. I waved at him, just to see how interactive this place was, but his eyes didn't even flick in my direction. Which was too bad. The man was a hunk of salty goodness with bright aquamarine eyes, red crescent shaped tattoos on his high cheekbones, and goggles perched up on his head. But there was a fierceness about him, in the eyes and the set of his jaw. I would have bet even money that he played for the not-so-nice guys. I looked back at the two in front of me.
"Say Cloud. Have you ever been a bodyguard?" she asked him and I had to raise an eyebrow. It just sounded so suggestive. Even more so when he asked what he got as payment and my mind dove happily into the gutter. When she said she'd go out with him once, I couldn't stifle my snicker, but neither could the guy behind me. I watched him for a moment as he schooled his face into a smirk and then I turned back. But the stranger had other plans. He approached the chatting couple and, by chance, I found myself standing right next to him.
Cloud noticed and started down the aisle. "I don't know who you are, but…" he began. Then, a look of recognition crossed his face. "I do know you. That uniform…"
Three soldiers ran in, taking a position behind where we stood. "You Shin-Ra spy!" Cloud was yelling.
"Reno! Want him taken out?" one of the commandos asked the man next to me.
Reno smirked at Aerith and Cloud. "I haven't decided yet."
The girl in pink was simpering about how fighting in the church would ruin the flowers. I felt another stab of dislike for her. She ran off to a back exit and Cloud took off after her, running full speed away from the four men. Classy.
Reno walked up and stood in the middle of the flowerbed, muttering something I didn't understand about mako eyes and I found myself being slowly pulled from the room. Clearly I was supposed to stay with Cloud and Aerith, but I held on to the chapel as hard as I could. The man finished his thought and was ordering the soldiers on. And then he said, "And don't step on the flowers."
The men gaped at him and as I disappeared laughing from the room, I could hear things like "Hey, you just stepped on them," and "They're all ruined," before I completely vanished. The guy, Reno, loosely reminded me of Spike. I quailed at the thought and pushed it away, the pain still too fresh, and tried to reorient myself on what was happening in my new location. We were in the rafters above the church. I watched Cloud fight off the soldiers when they followed and then he and Aerith escaped through the hole in the roof. They sat there on the battered gable and Cloud told her that the blue suited man, Reno, was in an organization called the Turks. They were part of this Shin-Ra…whatever that was and they were into all sorts of things. Assassination. Spying. Kidnapping. Sounded like real quality people. Note my sarcasm.
Then they started running and hopping along the rooftops toward Aerith's house. Not wanting to be left behind and drug along the edges of the memory, I followed. Nearest I could tell, this was Aerith's memory and she had hijacked me as her passenger.
Cloud was already a fair bit ahead of me but I put on a burst of Slayer speed and began vaulting the rooftops, catching the blond boy with ease. He was in good shape, so I kept pace with him, ignoring the flower girl who had fallen far behind us.
I noticed we both rolled our eyes when she called out for him to wait for her. He teased her and then they started talking about how he had been in something called SOLDIER and his eyes were all glowy because he was infused with mako. Whatever all that was.
I heaved a huge and rather dramatic sigh. Why was I being shown all of this crap? How exactly was learning how they all met going to help me beat…well…whatever the bad guy was? That was all I wanted to know anyway and I couldn't figure out why no one would just give me a straight answer about that. I watched Aerith and Cloud arrive at her house and talk with her mother. The bantered about a girl named Tifa and I promptly zoned out.
By the time I was paying attention again, we had left the house and were sitting in a run down playground. I marveled at the low quality of life the people in this place had. It was a slum, definitely. A sick and sad way for people to live.
A cart clattered by on the mangled dirt road and Cloud began yelling to the girl in the back, calling her Tifa. I looked up in time to get a glimpse of her. A girl with extremely long brown hair and wine colored eyes. The girl from the airship. They both took off running after her.
I decided to find out what would happen if I just stood there. It took a few moments, but I was transported next to them as they discussed the best way to sneak into the mansion of a lecherous man named Don Corneo. I could only guess that that was where Tifa was.
"Okay!" I screamed. "Get to the important stuff! It'll take forever to go through every leg of your damn journey!"
And she listened. It was as if her memories were a video tape on fast forward. I saw Cloud go all drag to rescue Tifa, getting some really disturbing images that no amount of alcohol would ever scrub out of my brain. I watched as they ran through the slums to a pillar supporting a huge metal plate that towered over the rickety buildings it seemed everyone lived in. They were told someone named Barret was already at the top.
Cloud told Aerith something I didn't understand about helping a girl named Marlene. Then the memory flashed to her house and while her mother cried and a small girl watched them wide-eyed, a man in a blue suit with long brown hair escorted her to a helicopter. Which was, of course, where I found myself as well. I had never been in one before and found it a bit too militant for my taste. But soon we were hovering over a platform on the pillar, looking down on Cloud, Tifa, and the black man with the gun arm that had been glaring at me on the airship. I put two and two together and decided that his name must be Barret.
The group was yelling back and forth with the Turk that had taken Aerith. I thought I heard the pilot call him Tseng, but I decided the names of the bad guys weren't important as long as I recognized them. When he mentioned the Emergency Plate Release System, I finally understood what was going on. This huge structure was going to be dropped on the people living below. I was horrified. What was the point of this mindless destruction? What were these Shin-Ra people trying to do? Tseng had mentioned getting rid of a group called AVALANCHE so maybe that was Cloud and his friends. But killing a bunch of innocent people to get them? Not cool. The helicopter flew off before I could see what had happened.
The next thing I knew, Aerith and I were in a laboratory of some sort. There was a black haired man in a lab coat that introduced himself as Professor Hojo. While he spoke of things like 'Ancients' that I didn't understand, I wandered around the large room. There were all kinds of strange things. A large glass area big enough to hold multiple people, a table full of menacing instruments such as bone saws, syringes, and things I couldn't name if I tried. There were some pictures laid out of monsters, people, most cut open. Some featured Hojo pulling things out of them, organs, or sewing them back together. There were typed reports on the table that showed he construed his lust for blood science. I couldn't help but wonder how many people he had killed in the name of research.
I felt cold, remembering Adam, Riley, and the Initiative, but I was banking that this Hojo guy was worse than Professor Walsh could have ever been. I turned back to watch him strap Aerith to a chair and draw her blood. He was talking the whole time about how she was an inferior specimen compared to her mother and I felt sick. I didn't even want to know what he wanted to do to her and I have a pretty strong stomach anymore when it comes to pain and torture.
He hummed disgustingly off tune as he marched her into the glass containment area and slouched from the room. I wanted to follow him, to know where he was at all times because he just seemed too benignly dangerous to be left alone, but the memory wouldn't allow it. But it was kind enough to speed up again. Hojo was back, standing on an observation deck elevated by a short clump of stairs, hands clasped behind his back, just staring at the girl.
From an elevator in the corner of the room, a small group of people emerged. Cloud, Tifa, and Barret.
"Aerith!" Cloud screamed.
Hojo looked at them, seeming neither shocked nor alarmed at their abrupt arrival. "Aerith? Oh, is that her name? What do you want?" He almost sounded bored, but there was also a calculating tone in his voice…the sound of a man with something up his sleeve.
"We're taking Aerith back," Cloud said vehemently. He reminded me of me at a much younger point in my life where I would have spoken and not observed the situation more. He started for the Professor.
"Are you going to kill me?" Hojo asked impassively. "I don't think you should. The equipment here is extremely delicate. Without me, who would operate it? Hmmm?" His high voice was almost musical at the last, clearly pleased with his line of reasoning. He watched Cloud falter. "That's right," he said, nodding. "I recommend that you think things out logically before you make any rash moves."
I wanted to hurt him. The fear the man inspired was palpable. Looking at him, the light glinting of his glasses and the maniacal grin…he just seemed capable of doing anything in that lab. I was reminded of the insanity of Angelus and I had a feeling that this man…this Professor Hojo was more dangerous because he had corporate funding and a longer reach.
"Now, bring in the specimen," the mad doctor cried and the floor of Aerith's prison opened, an elevator platform rose, and something I could only call a crazy lion creature came out. But I had seen it before…on the bridge of the airship. At least something good was coming from this rehashing. When I came back to myself, I was going to know everyone's name.
Aerith screamed and jumped away from the creature. I walked into the glass enclosure, passing through without resistance. Just a wraith in her memories. I circled the pair with a trained killer's eye. The creature was growling, it's tail thrust into the air, but something was off. I looked at the animal intently. He was faking it, but I suppose unless one was looking closely, it would be missed.
Cloud, Tifa, and Barret surrounded the glass and Aerith began pounding on the walls of her prison with her fists, crying out for the group to help her. In doing so, she turned her back on the creature, a potential threat. Foolish. Had she been paying attention, she would have seen his one eye scouring the room, assessing the situation, as he feigned bloodthirstiness.
"Lending a hand to an endangered species," he replied. "Both of them are on the brink of extinction. If I don't help, both of these animals will disappear."
Okay, so I wasn't exactly Aerith's biggest fan, but I still bristled at her being called an animal. And then I got it. He didn't intend for them to fight or for the creature to kill her. He wanted them to breed. Can we say EWW! Interspecies breeding? So not right!
Barret used his gun arm to blast the container and the door opened. The lion like creature was lying in wait and as Hojo rushed forward to stop his specimens from escaping, it launched itself at him. It hit him in the chest, throwing him back a good twelve feet, snarling and lunging for his jugular. Hojo had his hands clamped over the creature's muzzle and I found myself hoping his grip would fail and I would get to see his vibrant blood spill out all over the floor of the lab. Sick? Maybe, but I was pretty sure that the devastation this man had caused warranted such a death.
Cloud called out that the elevator in the glass cell was moving again and the creature backed off of Hojo, turned to the group, and spoke in a low growling voice.
"He's rather strong. I'll help you all out."
The looks of shock all around were priceless. I was even kind of expecting it and I felt my jaw drop. I assumed he was talking about whatever was going to come through the floor and not the stooped scientist.
"It talked?" Tifa squeaked.
"I'll talk as much as you want later, miss," it said. I liked that. Polite. It seemed so contradictory because of his less than human nature, but right at the same time.
Cloud sent Aerith off to the side with Barret and geared up to fight. "What's your name?" he asked the lion thing.
"Hojo has named me Red XIII. A name that has no meaning whatsoever for me. You may call me Nanaki," he said.
Then the monster was upon them, clearly one of Hojo's deranged experiments. I was slightly impressed by their cohesive fighting skills, but they had a lot to learn. I could only hope they were better now that they had traveled some.
They slaughtered the thing, regrouped, saw that the Professor had fled, and decided that they were way past the point where they needed to get out of the building. It was always a bad idea to hang out in the headquarters of your enemies. They split up into two groups to be less conspicuous. Cloud with the two girls, big surprise there, while Barret and Nanaki took off in the other direction. The group of three ran out of the lab, down the hall, and jumped into the elevator. I was kinda having fun at this point. It was like having an adventure but with none of the physical risk.
Cloud was contemplating the controls when a blue suited man stepped in behind us. He had a shaved head, sunglasses, a goatee, and seven piercings distributing between his two ears. It was the suit that tipped me off and I started to wonder if it was a prerequisite for the Turks to be attractive because Tseng was, Reno was, and this guy totally was.
The two girls stared up at him in alarm.
"Would you press 'Up' please?" he asked politely.
"Turks," Cloud muttered. "Must be a trap."
The bald man moved aside to let Tseng enter as well and I found myself standing halfway inside the first Turks body. I jumped sideways with a startled shriek and found myself standing in Tifa's body.
"Man, this is too weird," I complained as Tseng began to speak.
"It must have been a real thrill for you. Did you enjoy it?"
Their hands were bound and Aerith was separated from the group and led down a different hallway. We found ourselves in a cell. Time sped up again and we heard Cloud's voice through the wall.
"Aerith? Are you safe?" he called.
They talked a while and there was some definite discomfort when Tifa, who I guess was in the same cell as Cloud, heard about the deal with the bodyguard for a date thing and I sunk down to the ground. Damned love triangles. This was so not something I wanted to deal with, but I was betting I would be confronted with the fallout at some point during this journey. Obviously Aerith had died, but if Cloud cared for her as much as he seemed to in the short time they had known each other, Tifa still hadn't won. I knew it was wrong to view love and relationships as a game with winners and losers, but I also knew that's what they were like. But this was not my problem! And all of a sudden I hoped Aerith couldn't hear my thoughts.
"Okay," I yelled. "I don't care about the personal shit. Let's move on to the plot so we can be done with this freaky Vision Quest!"
But this time, nothing happened. So I started paying attention the conversation again.
Tifa was speaking. "Does the Promised Land really exist?"
The what now? What the hell had I missed?
"I don't know," Aerith replied. "All I know is the Cetra were born from the Planet, speak with the Planet, and unlock the Planet. And then the Cetra will return to the Promised Land. A land that promises supreme happiness."
"What does that mean?" I heard Tifa ask in confusion.
I watched Aerith shake her head. "More than words…I don't know."
"Speak with the Planet?" Cloud's voice questioned.
"Just what does that mean?" I thought I heard a bit of a smirk in Tifa's words that time.
Aerith shook her head again, even though there was no one there but me, sort of, to see her. "It's full of people and noisy. That's why I can't make out what they're saying."
Okay, this sounded crazy even to me. The Cetra I was guessing were the Ancients that Hojo was referring to but this Promised Land stuff? I'd been to a lot of worlds and never heard of anywhere that promised supreme happiness. Nothing akin to that really existed, there were no true utopias like that, but if there was, I could see why Hojo and the rest of Shin-Ra were so interested in finding it.
"I only heard it at the church in the slums. Mother said Midgar was no longer safe. That is…my real mother."
"Oh god," I groaned. "Spare me the 'my mother died' story. Preachin' to the choir here."
"Someday, I'll get out of Midgar…speak with the Planet and find my Promised Land."
Did she have any clue how naïve she sounded? Or maybe I had really just become too cynical and jaded to believe in things like that anymore. At least I figured out Midgar was the name of the town we were in.
Time sped up again and suddenly Tifa was at the cell door.
"Something's wrong," she said quietly and Aerith followed her out into the corridor.
"No shit," I muttered as the coppery tang of blood hit my nostrils. We ran down the hall and found the guards torn apart, great puddles of their life essence seeping across the metal floor. There was a large dome like container that had been sliced apart. Whatever had been inside was long gone now.
"Jenova Specimen," Nanaki said. "Looks like it went to the upper floor using the that elevator for specimens."
I was confused again. I had never heard of this thing. Jenova. What the hell was that?
We went back up to Hojo's lab using the elevator Cloud and his team had utilized on their earlier escapade. When the doors opened, there was a trail of blood, as if someone had drug a bleeding corpse across the room. I sighed. Spike had been right. It's always gotta be blood. So, being heroes, they followed the trail and I followed them.
It led out of the lab, down the hall, and up some stairs. We followed it all the way to a huge office where a man sat at a massive desk. But on further inspection, I realized he wasn't sitting at all. He was slumped over the desk with a six foot long katana sticking out of his back.
"Nice," I breathed sarcastically.
"He's dead," Barret said in disbelief. "The leader of Shin-Ra Inc. is dead."
"Then this sword must be…" Tifa trailed off, the shock evident on her face.
"Sephiroth's," Cloud said numbly.
The buxom brunette stared at him. "Sephiroth is alive?"
The ex SOLDIER shrugged. "Looks like it. Sephiroth is the only one that can wield that sword."
"Wanna bet?" I said derisively, even though I knew it was pointless and no one else could hear me. "A katana, even one that big, is nothing compared to some of the crazy ass weapons I've used over the years." But I was thinking about what they were saying. Someone named Sephiroth, male probably, was presumed dead but was now back and had wreaked havoc within Shin-Ra. One might think that would make him and this group allies, with Shin-Ra as the common enemy, but judging by the terrified looks they all kept shooting in the direction of that sword, I was taking a stand and guessing Sephiroth was our Big Bad.
I came out of my musing as a man darted out from behind a pillar, running for the stairway we had come up. He was a tubby graying man that Cloud and Barret caught easily by the arms.
"P…P…Please don't kill me," he stuttered pathetically.
Cloud glared down at the struggling man. "What happened?" he shouted.
"Se…Sephiroth came. I saw him with my own two eyes and I heard his voice, too," he said nervously. "He was saying something about not letting us have the Promised Land."
"Then what?" Tifa asked. "Does that mean the Promised Land exists and that Sephiroth's trying to save it from Shin-Ra?"
Cloud didn't believe that and I completely agreed with him.
The man broke free and ran as a helicopter came into view through the window.
"Rufus!" Barret exclaimed. "Fuck! I forgot about him!"
"Who? Tifa asked, echoing my thoughts.
"Vice President Rufus. The President's son," Barret answered gravely.
The group ran out a side door onto a balcony in time to see a attractive blond man dressed head to toe in white exit the helicopter. He had a short conversation with the man that had escaped Cloud's custody and then gave the group a long-winded speech about how he was the new president. Obviously didn't care that his father's cooling corpse was sitting right inside. Cold man.
Cloud sent the group off, I guess to face Rufus alone. At the bottom of the stairs, Tifa decide to wait for him while Barret, Aerith, and Nanaki ran for the elevators to get out of the building.
Time elapsed again and we were all standing on a highway. Clearly everyone, including Cloud, had made it out unscathed.
"Well, what do we do now?" Barret asked.
Cloud walked past everyone, staring at the sun beginning to rise over the horizon. "Sephiroth is alive. I have to settle the score," he said softly.
Barret walked up beside him. "An' that'll save the Planet?"
Cloud shrugged. "Seems like it," he answered.
Everyone in the group agreed to go and they left Midgar, but only after voting Cloud as their leader. They split into two groups again. Cloud and the girls and Barret with Nanaki. They decided to head for a town named Kalm.
A flash and then we were there. It seemed like any other small town. They headed for the Inn. And that's where the plot really began.
Cloud told the group he had joined SOLDIER to be like Sephiroth and after working together for a while, they became friends. I sat down on the bed, figuring this trip down memory lane would take a while. I learned that five years ago, Cloud went to a place called Nibelheim, where he had grown up, on a mission with this Sephiroth guy. I gleaned that this man, this Sephiroth, was a general and rather well liked within the ranks. He claimed that Jenova was his mother. I remembered Nanaki mentioning the Jenova Specimen in the Shin-Ra building and filed away the information for later examination.
Cloud and Sephiroth were in the town to take care of some monsters around a reactor and Tifa, Cloud's childhood friend, was going to be their guide through the mountains to the site. She led them up the mountain and the two SOLDIERs, Sephiroth and Cloud, went in.
Inside was the Jenova specimen and containers of monsters that had been made with mako energy, the energy of the Planet. Sephiroth freaked out, realizing that the monsters had been human and wondering if he had been created in the same way. Shin-Ra, Hojo in particular, had been creating the beasts that they had been fighting.
Cloud told his friends that Sephiroth had come back to the town and then disappeared. They found him in the biggest building in Nibelheim. The Shin-Ra mansion. Underneath it, in the basement, was a library filled with the research on Jenova, the Ancients, everything. Sephiroth had gone there looking for answers. About who he was. What he was.
I felt a stab of sympathy for the man. When I found out the Slayer had been created by infecting a girl with the essence of a demon, I had been sickened. Horrified. And I had questioned often, albeit only to myself, whether or not that made me human or something else entirely. But I really didn't need to worry about that anymore. I wasn't human, and hadn't been for a hundred years.
We were told of how Sephiroth found out Jenova was an organism that had been found in a 2000-year-old geological stratum. Scientists studied it and it was confirmed that the thing was an Ancient. Something was started called the Jenova Project. Sephiroth kept researching. Cloud made it sound as if he had been there for weeks.
One night, Cloud woke and went down to the basement library to find his friend laughing madly. The General told him that the Planet had originally belonged to the Cetra. The Cetra had been an itinerant race, migrating to a planet, settling it, and then moving on. It was a hard journey, but when they finished, they were supposed to find the Promised Land and supreme happiness.
But some of the Cetra decided the journey was too grueling, so they settled to lead easier lives, thus splitting the race in two. Sephiroth claimed that, long ago, a disaster had hit the Planet and it was saved by sacrificing the remaining Cetra.
He said that the Jenova Project was started to produce people with the powers of the Cetra. And he was what had been produced. Then he headed off to the reactor to see the remains of the organism he had been infected with. He even called it 'Mother.'
When Cloud got outside the mansion, trying to catch up, he found that Sephiroth had set the entire town of Nibelheim on fire and killed most of it's citizens. Cloud chased him to the reactor, and found Tifa there. The General had killed her father. She pulled the sword from his body and chased the man, intent on revenge. He wrestled the katana away easily, swiping it at her, slicing open her chest.
I looked at her while Cloud told this part of the story. Tifa had her face buried in her hands and I tried to put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. But, of course, my hand passed right through. I rolled my eyes. Stupid Buffy! Not like I didn't know that was going to happen.
Cloud told us that Sephiroth went mad, claiming that he was the chosen one, destined to be the Planet's new leader. They each drew their swords…and that's all he remembered. He knew he couldn't have killed him, but he didn't know what had happened. Shin-Ra had released that Sephiroth had died, but that wasn't true.
A lot of things weren't adding up. He hadn't killed Cloud or Tifa. Why? The Jenova Specimen had been shipped from Nibelheim to Midgar, but who had taken it from the Shin-Ra building? Sephiroth? Someone else?
Somehow, all of this was interconnected. The Cetra…Aerith…Cloud…Hojo…Sephiroth…but I didn't know enough yet to understand how.