Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 7 > Haunted House

Makou Reaction

by RapunzelK 0 reviews

Getting back to the original mission, the boys- and Tifa- investigate the going's on at the Nibelheim makou reactor. Here there be monsters, but not the kind they anticipated.

Category: Final Fantasy 7 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Cloud Strife,Sephiroth,Tifa Lockhart,Vincent Valentine,Zack - Warnings: [!!!] [?] - Published: 2015-08-18 - 5785 words


“/You./” Sephiroth narrowed his eyes at the guard who was supposed to have stood dogwatch. The infantryman quailed under the general’s disapproving stare.

“Undress,” he ordered. The infantryman blinked.


“You will not be coming with us,” Sephiroth went on. “Having stood watch half the night, you will be much too tired.”

The infantryman flushed crimson. Sephiroth narrowed his eyes and brought his brows low in a scowl.


Sephiroth waited, watching until the man stood trembling in his underclothes. Taking the neatly folded uniform from the bed, he turned and strode out the door.


He left the mortified soldier in the bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. Zack and Cloud were already downstairs putting a dent in Nibelheim’s supply of porridge, bacon, and eggs. Vincent, not wanting to cause any undue alarm, was lurking in the bathroom.

“Here,” Sephiroth said, shoving the uniform at him. Fortunately, the inept guard was almost a half a head taller than Cloud, but as to whether or not the uniform would fit Vincent… Sephiroth eyed his lanky height and decided it might work, but it would be a very near thing. “See what you can do. You’re coming with us.”

Vincent offered an amused half-smile from behind his collar. “I’d have followed you anyway.”

“Just get dressed,” Sephiroth told him, and headed downstairs to see if Zack and Cloud had left anything for him.


Sephiroth was not at all sure what to think of For some reason a teenaged girl was not at all what he’d been expecting. Still, if she knew her business, that was all that mattered. Curiously, Strife did not take his helmet off, even though it was likely he knew the girl. Perhaps he was shy when it came to females? Either way, he hung back, standing at parade rest with the other, much taller guard. Vincent had managed well enough, opting to roll the sleeves of his uniform down the better to conceal his claw. The gloves barely fit over the brazen fingers, but it was enough to gloss the image for any eye that was not looking too hard- and with the great General Sephiroth and a SOLDIER 1st Class, who would be looking at the guards?

The trek into the mountains would have to be on foot. Although the village was sequestered in a deep valley full of lush pasture land, the rocky foothills were too steep and the path too narrow for the truck. No one minded the walk, and Cloud was probably particularly glad not to have to drive. The trail wound back and forth, spiraling around the cliffs like a serpent. Sephiroth had climbed mountains before; both on foot and in a much more literal sense that involved ropes and hooks and so forth. He wasn’t winded, had barely even worked up a sweat and was easily keeping pace with the young lady who seemed to hop from rock to rock without effort or care. However, as they hiked ever higher, he could not help thinking that the incline was /steep/. Which was saying something.

The bridge just plain confounded him on a number of levels. Looking at the thing, his first thought was how stable it might be? The second was how the hell whoever had constructed the thing had managed it? Admittedly a swinging rope bridge was not the most advanced form of infrastructure, but how it had been strung across opposite ends of a canyon that had to be as deep as the Shinra building was tall baffled him.

“Come on,” the girl told him. “This way.”

The thought entered his head a fraction of a second too late. He’d followed the girl out onto the bridge followed closely by Zack, Vincent, and Cloud. They’d reached the low-hanging center of the bridge when the rope began to creak dangerously. A heartbeat later, the ancient twists of fibre had snapped, transforming from walkway to ladder too quickly to do anything but hold on for dear life. The girl shrieked and scrambled a few steps up the remaining slats of wood. Sephiroth managed to tangle his arms in the rope railing that still held. Vincent clung largely by one hand- the black leather glove now bearing some distinctive holes, and Zack had only just managed to avoid sliding into the abyss himself. Cloud, however, had been directly on top of the point of fracture. Zack made a wild grab and managed to catch him by one hand.

“Hold on, Cloud!” Zack panted, trying in vain to haul the younger boy up by only one arm. It was too much dead weight to pull up single-handed and his grip imperfect. Before anyone had fully realized what happened, Cloud had slipped, plummeting toward the earth.

“/CLOUD!/” Zack shouted, as if his voice alone would stop his descent. They watched in horror, as Cloud met the ground below. Because of the way the mountains zigzagged in switchback curves and loops, the distance from the broken bridge to the earth was not as bad as it might have been. Cloud still fell a considerable height, but he managed to land on his feet, rolling with the impact before tumbling to a halt, flat on his back.

“We have to help him!” the girl insisted, breathless; whether from alarm or exertion, Sephiroth could not tell. For the moment, he ignored her, keeping his eyes on Cloud. After an intensely anxious two minutes, Cloud peeled himself off the gravel path and waved up at them. Sephiroth released a breath he had not realized he’d been holding.

“It may sound cold, but we’ve got to press on,” Sephiroth told her. “He’s all right, and he knows these mountains himself. He’ll catch up.”

“Alright…” she said, nodding, though her tone implied anything but agreement.

“You first,” he instructed. “The rest of us will follow one at a time. I don’t want this thing collapsing any more than it already has.”


Cloud had not yet caught up by the time they reached the makou reactor. Tifa, their guide, had mentioned that the ‘back way’ was rather circuitous and would take far longer than the more direct route across the hanging bridge. This in mind, Sephiroth ordered the girl to stand watch for him. She was somewhat indignant about this, but as she was not Shirna personnel, she could not enter the reactor anyway. She might as well make good use of her time while she waited.

The reactor was tall, but rather compact for what it was, tucked in between the peaks of the mountains. Why anyone would want to build a reactor in such an out-of-the way place struck him as extremely odd. Furthermore, they’d passed a natural makou fountain with a thick layer of crystalline materia forming around its edges. If the mountains had enough makou for that, then the reactor must not be running at full capacity. Now that he thought about it, quite a number of the houses in Nibelheim had wood burning furnaces. He has seen and smelled the fragrant smoke as it rose from the chimneys. The town was wired for makou power, he knew that. However, very few of the citizens seemed to be using it. Perhaps the monsters had something to do with it? Speaking of which, where were they? They had encountered a few wild creatures, but nothing that was not indigenous to the area. If there were brutal monsters abroad, they had yet to meet any.

Maybe the Jenova fossil was part of the reason for the low energy production? It seemed like a strange place to store an archeological specimen. Nevertheless, the Nibelheim reactor had been built around the Jenova fossil. Why Shinra had built a reactor around the thing remained a mystery. Surely such an architectural choice was inadvisable? Wouldn’t it be safer to keep such a rare piece of history stored somewhere else? Perhaps it had been a cost-cutting measure. It was the kind of thing Building Management would do. There had been a time, he was told, when no expense had been spared on the production of makou energy. Now, however, the bulk of the budget went to either Weapons Development or the Science Department. A strange and rather chilling combination now that Sephiroth thought about it. No matter, there were more pressing things to consider.

Climbing into the heart of the reactor with Zack and Vincent right behind him, Sephiroth stopped short. For some reason, he had not expected this.

The area immediately overlooking the makou well was tired in a series of deep, ascending steps with pods arranged like seats for some grotesque opera. Sephiroth knew in his head that his heart had not stopped, that its steady rhythm had not been interrupted, but it felt as if it had. Cold shock coursed through him as recognition and then an explosion of unbidden memories flooded his head.

Makou pods. They were used, sometimes, by the medical staff for SOLDIERS who were gravely wounded. An overdose of makou resulted in stasis; a benign coma that would allow a person to heal without further risk. These, however, were not the slim glass tubes that allowed for an almost 360 degree view of the injured person. These were incubation pods of an antique design; as old- or older- than Sephiroth was himself. He had not seen such antiquated contraptions since… He shook his head, not wanting that playing in the back of his mind. Surely the horrid things were empty? And yet it would explain the unusual monsters…

Every fibre of his body protesting loudly, he stepped forward and peered into the tiny portal. The face behind the glass had been human once- the primary features of a man’s skull still barely discernable. Eyes, nose, and mouth lay in a fleshy mass that better resembled a creature from the bottom of the sea than anything human. Sephiroth stepped back, willing himself to be calm though he could feel the trembling in his limbs, his hands. He jumped and grabbed for Masamune as the wires sprouting from one of the pods sparked and fizzed. The pod burst, flooding the dais with sour makou, the creature inside it flopping forward like something drowned. It tried to move, the gesture slimey and primeval, before shuddering and lying still. A few seconds later it began to oxidize and shrivel; undeniably dead.

“The /fuck/?” Zack asked of no one in particular. Sephiroth envied the young SOLDIER the horrified look on his face. Even behind the helmet and visor, Vincent didn’t look as if the discovery was sitting very well with him either. Claw gripping the doorway so hard he’d left a dent, he stood on the threshold, his long body shaking like a tree in a strong wind. Swallowing hard, Sephiroth tried to find a firm place in his mind. Focus on the task at hand. The mission before all else. Determine what is causing the monsters.

/This/, he thought. Although none of the blighted creatures in these artificial wombs were like to wreak violence on anyone, he had no doubt that the source of the monsters was inside the reactor somewhere.

“What are they?”

Zack was still staring at the creature as it lay decaying, slowly turning to rot before their eyes.

“They were people once,” Sephiroth told him, voice flat and toneless in his own ears. “Men, women…”

“But /why/?” Zack’s voice was small and pleading. “What for?”

Sephiroth shook his head. “I have no idea. Whatever the Science Department was trying to do, it didn’t work.”

He contemplated the horrid things for a moment. Inside each one was a dying fetus; a creature unable to survive outside its womb of steel and plastic. Like so many eggs they stood arrayed, waiting only to be broken.


“Cut them down,” Sephiroth ordered, raising Masamune.

“Sir?” Zack blinked.

“Cut them all down. Shove the pods into the makou well. These things are dead, we may as well give them a decent burial.” Turning, he noticed Vincent still frozen in the doorway.

“Valentine, you stay there. Stand guard.”

Shaking himself, Vincent gave a jerky nod and relaxed ever so slightly.

Brandishing his buster sword, Zack brought it down on the thick coils of wires and cables that snaked out from the wall like the tentacles of some sort of mutant octopus. Sparks flew, steam gushed, but no more of the pods burst, for which Sephiroth was thankful. Perhaps he was imagining it, but he thought he heard a distant scream with every severed umbilical.

“This is sick,” Zack muttered, unable to keep from talking in his agitation, “fucking sick/! Who /does this to people? I they sign up for this? Did they volunteer? Did they know this is what would happen?”

“I hope so, and I hope not,” Sephiroth muttered, slicing another knot of cables and wincing at the shriek that seemed to echo only inside his head. With one foot, he shoved the pod, sending it tumbling down the stairs and into the makou well with a distant splash.

“Should we be worried about the reactor?” Zack asked, once all the pods had been detached and thrown into pit. “Will the pods gum up the works?”

Sephiroth shook his head. “The organic material will dissolve. The pods themselves are too big to become tangled in any of the intake tubes. They’ll be fine.”

And even it they wouldn’t, he found he didn’t care. The screams had died away, along with what had been inside the pods. That did not mean sound was not still echoing inside his head. Turning to face the rear of the chamber, he looked up at the word spelled out around the doorframe.


His mother’s name, if the Professor was to believed. Now, however, he wasn’t so sure. The deafening white noise buzzing inside his head was making it hard to think. Vincent had said that his mother was a woman, a human woman named Lucrecia, and that Jenova was a fossil dug out of the ice.

Come/, a word penetrated the noise. /Come to us. Come and see.

Yes, he would go in and see for himself. If Jenova was truly his mother, perhaps there would be similarities between them, a family resemblance as it were. Turning, he made to beckon to Zack, but the boy had retreated back down the stairs toward the doorway. Vincent had dropped to his knees. Helmet fallen to the floor, his eyes glowed a solid blood red and he pressed both hands against his head, teeth gritted in pain. The voice hissed and spat like an angry feline, and Vincent dropped to all fours and howled. Sephiroth inhaled sharply, realization dawning:

He can hear it too!

Zack had crouched down next to the taller man, keeping a careful distance.

“Vincent? Hey. Look at me. Right here,” Zack told him, voice low and even yet with a tone of command. “Look at me.”

Vincent appeared not to hear him. Staring right through him, he heaved rapid panic breaths. His jaw worked, but Zack couldn’t tell if he was trying to speak, or simply trying to breathe.

“Zack, get him out of here!” Sephiroth snapped. “Get him out of here /now!/”

“On it!” Zack called without looking back. “Come on buddy, let’s go, you don’t need to see this.”

Giving as much warning as he could, Zack took Vincent by the upper arm and guided him back toward the access ladder. Once out of the makou chamber, he calmed visibly. The adrenaline left him all at once and he collapsed to the floor, legs having turned to jelly. Zack kept a hand on his shoulder as Vincent fought to collect himself.

“You’re okay,” Zack told him softly, rubbing his shoulder. “You’re okay, just breathe.”

“He can’t…” Vincent rasped, struggling to breathe. “He can’t…”

“Can’t what?” Zack prompted, trying hard to lend what stability he could.

“Sephiroth,” Vincent panted. “He can’t… can’t go in there… Jenova…”

With a stifled cry, he doubled over, curling into a ball on the walkway. The posture was better suited for one bracing for a bomb blast, and Zack was at a loss as to what to do. He’d seen a few cases of combat fatigue, but nothing this severe.

“What about Jenova?” Zack asked, crouching down next to him. “Tell me.”


The inside of the Jenova chamber reminded him of a shrine. An altar of sorts was installed at the far end with an enormous figurehead framed by massive wings and wearing a crown. Instead of stone, it was constructed of riveted sheets of metal. Looking closer, Sephiroth noted that each wing, each strand of hair was actually housing or a wire, every sculptural element serving a dual purpose in what was presumably the specimen’s preservation. There was a tank somewhere behind the metal bust, but all but the base of the capsule was obscured by the effigy.

Come closer, our son, the voice sang. Set us free. Let us see you.

There had to be a control pannel around here somewhere… Sephiroth twisted where he stood, looking for a keypad or a release switch. Ah, there it was. Set into the opposite wall near the door, he’d walked right past it, his attention entirely taken up by the statue.

Hurry… We want to meet you, we want to look upon your face.

The control panel was not complex, consisting only of a block of buttons and a simple switch. Grasping the handle, he flipped it up. At once machinery whirred to life, the hum of electricity adding to the noise. He had expected the statue to fold away in pieces. It did, but rather than each part- bust, face, crown, wings- shifting independently, the whole thing split right down the middle into two halves. Sephiroth gaped at the mechanism, revolted for reasons he could not identify, and then past it at the creature in the tank.

It was large, larger than an average human in every dimension. The crown it wore echoed that on the statue, long wires hanging down on either side of its face rather like hair. Its shape was predominantly female, though its coloring more closely resembled the work of a kindergartner with finger paint. It had no arms that he could see, only the ragged remains of wings rising above its shoulders. A huge tube had been plugged into its belly, the red casing extending from the tank, across the floor, and through the wall before branching out to each of the makou pods that he and Zack had destroyed.

Look at us, our son.

Sephiroth could not disobey.

You have grown tall and strong, Jenova told him, though her lips did not move and her eyes remained closed. Release us. Set us free. We wish to reunite with you, with our people.

“Of course, mother.” Crossing the floor to the panel, Sephiroth began testing different codes with the buttons. The numbers were more worn down on some of them than others. It only took a few minutes for the panel to beep and for more machinery to whir to life. Evidently he’d skipped a step for the glass tube of the tank slowly began to sink, sending a wash of makou cascading down over the floor. The stench hit him from a distance as the discolored green liquid flooded the chamber. With both hands, he reached toward her.

The creature opened one glowing eye and smiled.


Vincent had not uncoiled even a little bit. Like a spring wound too tight, he huddled trembling on the floor, both hands pressed to his head. Unsure what else to do, Zack knelt beside him, one arm around him, the other gripping the pommel of his Buster sword. Something didn’t seem right. Trouble nagged at him like an itch between his shoulderblades, but he couldn’t very well leave a fallen comrade. SOLDIERs never left a man behind.

“Just breathe, man, breathe,” Zack told him gently, trying hard to be comforting. Abruptly, Vincent froze. Zack felt it too. Like a change in the air before bad weather, or the whiff of chemicals when striking a match, it was there. Leaving a hand on Vincent’s shoulder, he stood. No enemies presented themselves, but the feeling of wrongness did not evaporate. A sharp cry of pain interrupted his search for potential threats and he whipped around just in time to see Vincent morph from man to beast, his shriek of pain turning to a howl of rage mid way.

The beast turned on him and snarled. Standing on its hind legs, it’s forelegs oddly sapien, the thing stood head and shoulders over him. With a roar it charged, plowing into Zack with the force of a speeding truck, knocking him off the narrow walkway. He barely had time to make a wild grab for the railing, one hand still clutching his Buster sword.

“VINCENT!” he screamed as the beast raced past, lumbering on all fours. “VINCENT, NO! SIT! STAY!”

Cursing to himself, Zack managed to swing the sword up onto the platform before pulling himself up. Scrambling to his feet, he raced after the beast. It had made a beeline for the Jenova chamber. Slipping and sliding on the spilled makou, Zack tripped his way up the stairs in time to see the creature pounce.

Sephiroth stood with his back to the door, weapon sheathed, both arms extended toward the open tank. The beast lunged, closing its jaws around the general’s sword arm.

“VINCENT, DOWN!” Zack shouted, hurrying forward, boots splashing. “DOWN, BOY! DROP IT!”

The beast did not listen. Sephiroth’s arm clamped between its teeth, it dragged him across the floor. It was the first time in a long time that Sephiroth had ever been caught off guard, much less taken a hit. Completely blindsided, his first instinct was to reach for Masamune, but with his sword arm pinned, the pommel was out of reach. He beat the wet snout, tried to jab at the eyes protected by the long horns.

KILL IT! his mother screamed inside his head. KILL IT, THE FOUL BEAST! KILL IT!

Kicking, gouging, punching his attacker, Sephiroth tried to free himself, but it was no use. The beast drew him slowly closer and closer to the door, growling all the while. Zack rushed forward, intent on helping- how, exactly, he had not yet figured out- with Buster sword raised.

KILL THEM! Her voice was like nails on a blackboard, the sound piercing with rage and fear. THEY MEAN TO KILL US! DO NOT LET THEM!

All thoughts of Zack and Vincent forced from his mind, Sephiroth began to chant. His free hand had always been the one he preferred for magic. Zack skidded to a halt, noticing the telltale flicker of light as energy circled Sephiroth’s gloved fist. Knowing Sephiroth, that was no level one spell, either. Flipping the blade in his hands so that the blunt end faced out, he raced forward and dropped to one knee, skidding across the wet floor. The flat of the blade connected with the side of the beast’s skull with a heavy thud. The creature seemed little more than fazed, absorbing the blow as if it were no more than a pat on the head. It did, however, let go of Sephiroth’s arm.

At once the general sprang to his feet, tossing the spell at the beast as though it were a grenade. The creature sprang aside, flames licking its fur. Behind him, the creature in the tank screamed with a voice that even Zack could hear.

“Mother!” Sephiroth cried out in dismay. In his eagerness to burn the animal that had attacked him, he’d instead hit what the beast had been standing in front of only a moment before: Jenova.

IT BURNS! she shrieked. The flames had not actually touched her, but the housing and glass were badly scorched. IT WILL KILL US! KILL THEM KILL THEM!

Drawing Masamune, Sephiroth shifted to a ready stance, blade pointed at the beast. It barked at him. Fangs bared and hackles raised, it circled to once again stand between the general and the specimen.

Zack, having regained his footing a short distance away, just stood there, confused, wondering if he ought to intervene or not?

The thing in the tank was looking at him.

“What the crap?” It didn’t seem too happy.

Sloshing and splashing drew his attention and he turned.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me…”

The creatures they’d dumped into the makou well moments ago were lumbering towards him. How they’d escaped their pods and climbed up the sheer metal walls of the reactor he did not know, and did not care to find out.

“Sephiroth!” he called over his shoulder, not daring to turn his back on the things. They had all been male once, to look at them, which made him feel slightly less guilty. SOLDIERS were supposed to win every battle they fought, but he always felt a little guilty when it came to fighting girls. Well, they’d killed these things once already, they could do it again. Sephiroth, however, seemed to be ignoring him. Not waiting for further orders, Zack rushed forward, sword raised, and started hacking away.

For zombies, the things were cursedly fast, darting around him in the ankle-deep makou like too-large insects. There were only five of the original six; one of them having died once exposed to air. Suddenly, it dawned on him what had happened. They’d chucked the creatures- pod and all- into the makou well. They’d had time to revive in fresh makou and so had avoided wasting away like the corpses they were. Unwilling to risk accidentally healing one of the things, Zack held his potions in reserve and kept hacking away. Fighting alone, there wasn’t time to chant the words for a fire spell.

There was a roar, and rush of wind as something barreled past him. Zack blinked, realizing Vincent had plowed into the creatures, knocking several of them onto their backs with a splash. Turning briefly to Zack, he gave a plaintive whine and then lunged to tear the throat out of one of the zombies. Zack blinked at the rather human behaviour, and then it clicked. Right. Sephiroth.

Backing away from the battle- Vincent seemed to have things well in hand- paw?- something- Zack sloshed to where the general stood face-to-face with the...thing. The creature- Jenova- was smiling down at Sephiroth, but Zack would never had dubbed the expression ‘maternal’. Weren’t fossils supposed to be the dead, calcified remains of something that had lived hundred of thousands of years ago? This chick- despite being blue and missing some limbs- looked rather too alive for his taste. Looking over Sephiroth’s head, the feral smile darkened into a scowl.

Kill it.

Zack blinked, the words clear in his ears though the creature’s lips had not moved. Turning to face him, Sephiroth held up Masamune to duel. His eyes, like Vincent’s, glowed bright and solid; a vibrant green instead of red. At once, Sephiroth lunged at him, bringing the sword down hard. Zack only narrowly managed to block it with his own blade, arms shivering under the weight of the blow.

“You will not harm my mother,” the general growled, taking another swing. This time Zack dodged, and tried to return the attack.

“That thing ain’t your mother,” Zack shot back. “It’s like the man in the coffin said. It’s some creepy thing they dug out of the ice.”


Zack did not manage to get out of the way in time, a red-hot slice of pain stinging across one arm. He barely noticed. Sephiroth’s outburst had absorbed all his attention. The word had been shouted in two voices at once: Sephiroth’s and Jenova’s.

Aw fuck, Zack thought.

He didn’t have time to ponder the matter further, only barely blocking another swing from Sephiroth.

“I’ll kill anyone who threatens her!” the general shouted, eyes luminous in the dim chamber. “No one will ever separate us again! No one!”

It was not for nothing that Sephiroth had become a war hero at fifteen, a commanding officer at seventeen, a general at twenty. He had come by his reputation honestly. Every word of every story, no matter how far-fetched it seemed, was true. No one could stand against him; a man designed to fight, to be as lethal a weapon as the rifles the troops carried. Zack knew for a fact that he would not win; could not win. It was a foregone conclusion that he would lose this duel. However, he didn’t need to win. All he needed was to buy time. This in mind, it did not hurt as much as it might have when Sephiroth knocked him to the ground. Flat on his back, weapon spinning out of reach across the floor, Zack looked up at the man he had admired for so long.

“I will kill you,” Sephiroth told him, his earlier raging reduced to a dangerous whisper. “You and anyone else who would take her from me.”

He raised Masamune high above his head, and Zack braced himself for the sharp bite of the sword’s point through his chest.

A dual scream pierced the air, and Masamune fell- not in a swift arc through Zack’s flesh- but clattering to the wet floor. Sephiroth clutched his head and fell to his knees, the neon glow of his eyes fading to nothing. Zack scrambled to catch him, only just managing to intercept before his commander collapsed. Instinctively, Zack hugged him close and drew a shaky breath. That had been entirely too close.

At the doorway, Tifa and Vincent were finishing off the last of the makou zombies. At the other end of the room stood Cloud, soaked to the knees in makou, Buster sword in one hand, and the creature’s head in the other. Jenova’s body lay limp and trembling, much like the monster that had prematurely escaped its’ pod. With any luck, the fossil would wither away as well.

“Good job, Cloudy,” Zack told him, only slightly breathless. “You too, Toots.”

“My name,” the girl told him archly, “is /Tifa/.”

“That too. Good job.”

Vincent- still in beast form- lumbered up and snuffed at Sephiroth’s face. The strangeness of it all struck Zack at that moment- not the zombies, the creepy living fossil, or even the shape-shifting vampire. Instead, it was him holding the unconscious Great Sephiroth’s head up out of the three inches of fouled and sour makou that covered the floor that felt like an unforgivable breach in reality.

“Is he okay?” Cloud asked, still dragging the grisly Medusa’s head in one hand. Vincent growled at it.

“Sorry,” Cloud told him, and backed away.

Giving a small whine, Vincent sniffed at Sephiroth’s face and then delicately licked his cheek. The process was repeated until the general grimaced in pain and blinked eyes that had reverted to their usual makou-green.

“You alright, sir?”

Sephiroth did not answer right away, too busy taking in the scene around him. Vincent’s tail began to wag. Zack bit his lip to keep from laughing.

“What in /hells/?” was all the general could manage. Then his eyes fell on Jenova’s severed head, still dangling from Cloud’s fist. At once his entire body stiffened and he jerked upright.

“You cut her head off,” he remarked rather blankly.

“You were fighting Zack,” Cloud countered. “You were going to kill him.”

Sephiroth was quiet, evidently replaying events in his mind.

“Vincent was trying to keep you away from Jenova,” Zack said, realization dawning. “The whole time he was between you and the tank. He wasn’t attacking you, he was trying to drag you away!”

Vincent gave a strangely puppyish-sounding yap of approval.

“She told me to kill you…” the general’s words were soft, as if he were speaking only to himself. “She wanted me to kill you...all of you…” Shivering, he got to his feet.

“Cloud, throw that thing back in the tank,” he ordered, pointing at Jenova’s head. Cloud tossed it back into what remained of the scorched housing, glad to be rid of it. “Everyone out. Zack…” he hesitated briefly, wishing he did not have to make this demand. “I think you’d better bring up the rear.”

Zack, however, simply grinned and saluted. “Sir. Yes, sir.”

Vincent, now that Sephiroth was himself again, had waded over to Jenova’s tank. A steady rumbling growl came from his throat as he sniffed the creature’s corpse.

“Vincent, it’s dead. Extra-dead. Leave it.” Zack told him.

Vincent, however, did not seem convinced. He barked and snarled at the severed head and body, evidently unwilling to leave things as they were. For a long moment, Sephiroth stood silent, watching Vincent and his obvious dislike of the creature.

“Alright,” he said at last. “Stand back.”

At once Vincent padded over to stand beside Sephiroth. Even on all fours, he was more than waist-high to the general. Raising his hand, Sephiroth repeated the spell he’d cast earlier. This time, however, the massive ball of fire hit its intended target. A final shriek split the air as Jenova’s corpse began to smoulder. Around it, machinery began to melt and crumble. Sephiroth cried out himself, clutching his head with one hand and staggering into Zack.

“You okay, sir?”

Sephiroth shook himself. “Fine. Everyone out. /Now./”

The dash to the exit was an exercise in controlled panic. Cloud and Tifa raced ahead, followed closely by Vincent- still on all fours- then Sephiroth, and lastly, Zack. They made it out only just in time, flames licking at Zack’s boots as he stumbled down the stairs and onto the rocky soil of Mt. Nibel. No one stopped running. The explosion would likely cause cave-ins and roof collapses. Not until they’d safely reached the ledge of gravelly rock where Cloud had fallen, did anyone stop for breath. Behind them, a deafening boom shook the mountains.

Zack squinted against the sun and the rising column of black smoke.

“Damn,” he remarked. “I hope everyone’s chopped enough firewood.”

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