Chapter Twelve: Black Angel
His black boots pounded against the ground, searching for purchase in the loose gravel and thick slick snow. His target was only a few strides in front of him, and he was gaining fast. He had been chasing the thief through the better part of twenty minutes; yet, he wasn’t even winded.
SOLDIERs 1st Class were trained to run miles effortlessly. This was a piece of cake. His target, however, was not so lucky. Sweat was streaming down the thief’s pale face, and he was panting heavily.
The area around him was thick with trees and scrub, and he had to move quickly to avoid them. The thief was more nimble, but he had already gotten swatted in the face several times by over hanging branches. Seraph was sure that the man’s vision was already dimming.
The thief stumbled for just a moment, and Seraph saw his chance. He put on a short burst of speed and sprang at the fleeing back. He collided with the thief; the two crashed to the ground.
“Ow! Dammit! Fine, I give up!” The thief cursed as his face was pressed down into the cold of the snow.
“Shut up!” Seraph ordered, placing an elbow into the thief’s back as he dug into the pocket of his leather jacket for a set of metal cuffs. The man beneath him grunted with the pain and flailed about, though it did no good.
“Are you proud of yourself?” the grey-eyed man demanded as he angrily restrained the thief and cuffed him across the head. “Takes a man to frighten women and the elderly, doesn’t it?”
“Man,” the thief began to whine.
Swap! Another hand graced the back of the dingy brown-haired thief. The younger man couldn’t have been more than twenty. He winced with the pain as the strike cut off his words.
“I said, shut up, Eben!” (1) Seraph snapped, nostrils flaring in anger. He shoved himself to his feet and dragged his captive up with him.
“I don’t know why your parents bother anymore. The only place you belong is prison.”
Eben, however, wisely kept his mouth shut, glaring openly at the man who had deemed himself Icicle’s newest method of law and order. And the stupid idiots in charge of the town had accepted him, despite his mysterious arrival. The thief didn’t deny that Seraph was strong and did a good job. He just hated that the man was always able to catch him.
Seraph sighed and started retracing his steps back towards the town, yanking on the cuffs as he did so. Eben was forced to stumble along with him. The younger man was more trouble than he was worth.
His parents couldn’t understand why their youngest son liked to get in trouble. Constantly picking fights and stealing, Eben was rapidly heading down the wrong path. However, they wouldn’t allow Seraph to throw the punk in jail, convinced all he needed was a little more love and attention. Feh! What the brat needed was heavy handed discipline.
(Like the kind you are familiar with?) a voice questioned in his mind. It was one he was well used to and the closest thing to a best friend he had.
Rather than Eben think him mad, Seraph chose to respond within his own head. He mentally snorted. ‘It worked, did it not? They had me trained.’
(Up until the point you went crazy and tried to destroy the world.)
‘Point,’ Seraph agreed. ‘However, a little something else had her alien hands in it, as well.’
Behind him, he could hear Eben muttering to himself, complaining most likely. Choosing to ignore the spoiled younger man, Seraph continued his internal conversation.
As Gilgamesh rambled on about how much he despised ShinRa, Hojo, Jenova, and then most of mankind in general, Seraph turned his attentions to the area around him.
It would take at least twice as long to get to Icicle since they were walking instead of running like mad. He glanced up at the sky, noting it would be dark soon. The two men needed to hurry. Cold winds rushing down from Gaea’s Cliff could freeze a man overnight. However, it was only Eben who had to worry.
Seraph Noire knew he had nothing to fear. The mako coursing through his veins kept his body perfectly regulated, no matter the outside temperature. His body had been trained and conditioned to be the ultimate fighting machine, the perfect soldier. Hojo had been made certain of that.
Seraph, whose true yet absolutely secret name was Sephiroth, hated the bespectacled scientist with every inch of his genetically manufactured body. Could he even be called human?
He ran an irritated hand through his dark, silver-streaked hair, succeeding in tucking a few errant strands behind his ear. He had had to change his appearance, so that no one could reveal his true identity. He had cut his hair; it now sat just below his shoulder and had even dyed it. He had changed his dress and his eyes, well; they had changed on their own. He had heard once long ago that they were grey, though he couldn’t recall who had told him, rather than the brilliant jade green that Cloud had known him for. Now, they were grayish-moss green as before. They changed from time to time, from granite grey to full blown mossy green. He could hardly be recognized for who he truly was.
Truthfully, he shouldn’t even be alive. He wasn’t worthy of this second chance. Cloud had killed him, he should have stayed dead. Still, no matter how much he believed his life was worthless, he couldn’t find it in him to end it.
There had to have been some reason he woke up on the shores just south of the cold tourist town of Icicle three months earlier. He had been lucky. A couple of fisherman had spotted him collapsed on the gravelly shore and brought him to their home, nursing him back to health.
It was then that Gilgamesh had first started speaking to him. Of course, Seraph was wise enough to know he couldn’t go by his true name. Although his memories at that time had been fuzzy past a certain point, he knew enough that he had deserved his original death.
(You are not even listening to me,) Gilgamesh pointed out in an annoyed tone.
‘You were rambling,’ the grey-eyed man returned easily, picking up the pace of his stride. Eben grumbled but didn’t actually speak directly to Seraph.
Gilgamesh snorted and fell silent for a moment. However, the demi-god, despite his intimidating appearance and power, was perpetually fidgety.
(You are still young, you know. The Planet gave you a second chance. You should use it.)
‘It should not have wasted the effort,’ Seraph returned somberly. ‘I killed and destroyed much. There is naught left of worth in this body of mine.’
(I have a feeling ‘he’ would disagree,) countered the demi death god easily.
‘ ‘He’ is better off believing I am dead. For all intents and purposes, Sephiroth died in the crater.’
(He loved you once, worshipped your greatness. He may still feel the same.)
Seraph gave a yank on Eben’s bond in irritation, though it wasn’t the thief’s fault. Gilgamesh and he had often had this very same argument. The brown-haired younger man started to complain but Seraph tuned him out.
‘You should not be able to kill the ones you love.’
The demi-god sighed. (Every time we discuss this, you forget the fact it was not he who actually killed you. It was in truth Balaam… and you, of course, returned the favor.)
Seraph shook his head mentally. ‘No, it was that man. The one I feel I should know but have no outright memory of.’
(Hmm,) Gilgamesh mused. (By the way, a Jumping is about to attack.)
Seraph jerked out of his mental argument and looked up just in time to see two of the rabbit creatures, called Jumping, preparing to attack Eben and him. For a moment, he reached for a sword that was no longer there. He cursed himself for that and waited for the creatures to attack.
The first white-furred abomination leapt out at him. Eben emitted a high-pitched scream and dropped to the ground, cowering behind Seraph as he did so. The grey-eyed man shook his head at the thief’s cowardice and kicked out high and hard.
He caught the first Jumping in the chest, smirking with satisfaction at the sound of broken bones. The monster fell with a plop to the ground, eyes glazed over.
The remaining enemy took one look at its fallen friend and ran away, too frightened to even squeak. Seraph smirked at this before turning his attention to the hiding thief.
“Come along!” Seraph demanded, smacking Eben across the top of his head before jerking the thief to his feet. The brunet stumbled upwards and followed after the grey-eyed man.
They were nearly to Icicle, which was good because sunset was still fast approaching. This time of year it seemed that the sun always went to sleep early.
Eben mumbled as he tiredly stumbled after the silverish black-haired man clad in leather. He really hated Seraph. Especially since he knew the man was going to drag him through town, cuffed as he was and probably make him apologize.
Seraph heard the thief mumbling but chose to ignore it, instead concentrating on the strange, foreboding feeling that was beginning to course through his body. It was a low sensation of dread that was collecting in the pit of his belly and sending his shiver up and down his spine, almost as if he were being watched. He surreptitiously searched the area around him, scanning the foreboding trees and horizon for anything out of the nowhere.
The air still smelled pure although it hinted at an impending snowstorm, and it felt light and airy rather than heavy with trepidation. The birds were still singing, and the Planet was still thrumming. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Seraph frowned, confused by the odd feeling floating through him.
‘Do you sense that?’ he questioned Gilgamesh as they finally stepped through the front gates of Icicle. There were very few people in sight as most had retreated to the relative warmth of their homes. Most of the shops had already closed down with the falling of the sun, and many were ready to snuggle in front of the fire or relax for the day.
(It is worse than you know,) the demi-god confirmed grimly.
Seraph cursed under his breath, his senses immediately going on high alert as he dragged Eben towards his parents’ house. Within moments, he was standing in front of the innocent looking two-story home and knocking on the front door. After a few moments of silence, Seraph could hear the familiar slight shuffling of feet before Eben’s father, a graying man of around sixty-five opened the door.
“Mr. Wiley, I brought back your son,” Seraph explained in a low voice as he bowed slightly before roughly grabbing the younger man and pushing him towards the door.
Eben snorted and attempted an innocent smile. “Hello, father, pleasant evening we are having, isn’t it?”
Mr. Wiley sighed and shook his head. His clear eyes showed much pain at his son’s antics, though he didn’t speak it aloud. “What was it this time? Were you just bored? Was it a dare?”
Before Eben had a chance to open his mouth and speak, one slightly wrinkled hand shot up in the air, and Mr. Wiley closed his eyes, effectively silencing his son. “No, I don’t want to hear it. Your mother and I both are tired of your excuses. Get in the house.” His voice spoke of no arguing.
Seraph took the opportunity to uncuff the youth, who had gone pale with his father’s tone. It seems he was no longer going to be able to get away with everything. The thief dared an almost scared glance at the grey-eyed man before disappearing inside the house, the sound of his footsteps on the stairs clear to Seraph’s perfect hearing.
“Thank you, Mr. Noire.” Mr. Wiley bowed slightly. “I am sorry that he has troubled once more. I assure you, however, this will be the last.”
Seraph gave the older man a strained smile. He had, after all, heard such a promise before. “Yes, of course, Mr. Wiley. I understand. Good evening.” He gave another small and short bow before turning on his heels, intent on going home for the night.
Mr. Wiley blinked at him owlishly before shrugging his shoulders and closing the door behind him. Seraph sincerely hoped that Eben’s father was being honest this time and that he and his wife really planned to do something about their errant son.
The granite-eyed man sighed and turned his attentions to the sky. The sun had already descended, turning the horizon a deep, purple blue and bathing much of the area around him in shadow. He wasn’t afraid of the dark… there wasn’t much that Seraph feared. He had been trained that way… trained to have nothing at all, the ultimate killing machine in human form.
He breathed in deep of the cool, crisp air and abruptly realized that he could no longer stay in Icicle Inn. That deep and foreboding feeling in the pit of his stomach just would not leave and he knew his time of complacency was over. His reason for returning to the world of living and his second chance were fast approaching. He would have to leave his comfortable semi-existence and go… somewhere. He wasn’t sure where.
“Gilgamesh,” he spoke aloud this time, though his tone was quiet because he disliked the strain of trying to carry on a conversation in his head and not display his reactions on the outside. “What did you mean?”
The demi-god sighed. (If it had not been for one troublesome scientist, we would never even need to have this conversation.)
Seraph sneered as he stalked towards the small apartment that the townspeople had donated to him to live in. “Let me guess, that would not be Hojo, would it?”
(Any other and we would have no worries. Yet, that is beside the point. He delved into something he should not have, whose power scale is far more dangerous than that of one half-frozen alien from the stars. You are correct in thinking it is time you left this place. I have a feeling a battle will be starting soon.)
Seraph listened intently to the demi-god as he spoke, mentally cataloguing the things that he would need, and, for that matter, where the hell he was going to go. Masa was still stabled on the outskirts of town, and he had a small stock of Ethers and Potions, not that he would really need them. He had few materia, Poison, Fire, Time, and a now darkened and lifeless Typhoon.
“A battle? Do you not mean a war? If that is indeed, where you are heading with this talk?” Seraph questioned as he dug the key to the small apartment out of his pocket and unlocked the door, stepping into the darkened foyer.
There wasn’t much to his temporary home. Three doors spouted off the main hall, the one to the right leading to his kitchen/ living area, the one in front to his bedroom, and the one to the left to a bathroom. It was perfect for the needs of a bachelor. He headed back towards his room, snagging a travel pack from the small hall closet whose door wasn’t even worth mentioning earlier, as he passed.
Eventually, he would need to get a sword to replace the Masamune. He would miss the weapon; it was one he had become well-acquainted with. Unfortunately, it had been crunched in the crater, and there was no hope of restoring it. For some reason, this brought to mind one of his friends when he was still in SOLDIER.
Zack had been his closest friend, of course, and with that monstrous Buster Sword they were a perfect match almost. As a pair, the two made quite a stir when they went out. And Seraph, being General of the ShinRa troops, was well-acquainted with Tseng, as well, when he was just second to the one before and when he later became commander of the Turks. The Wutaiian man had started out working with guns only as a secondary weapon before he learned how to shoot and had quite an extensive collection of blades in his home. If… no, Seraph had no more thoughts for if. He would learn to make do with his fists.
(War is precisely what we all feared and what is beginning. The apprehensive feeling you have been experiencing, it is an underlying tension to Gaia. They have more allies this time. I am not sure if we can win…)
Seraph snorted. “What do they want this time? Money? Power? Total and absolute destruction?”
He pushed open the door to his room and entered the darkened area. He switched on the lamp, causing a low light to bathe the room. Seraph stalked over to the dresser and started shoving clothing and supplies into the travel pack. He put the materia into his armlet and shoved the vials of medicinal concoctions into his pack as well.
(Let me give you a hint,) replied Gilgamesh dryly. (They were not called the Four Demons of the Apocalypse just for kicks.)
Seraph shook his head and cursed under his breath, not that he had anything to say really. Under Jenova’s influence, he had tried to do the very same thing. Why couldn’t the evil ones understand that destroying everything wasn’t really a good way to try and take over? What was left over in the end? Nothing. What was the point of it all?
(At least you are admitting to yourself now that that alien bitch had something to do with it.)
“Partially,” he admitted aloud. “But still, I was alert. I did not have to let her lead me astray. Sure, it was easy for her to whisper those tempting words in my mind and control me, but I could have fought her. I suppose it was just easier to give in. I sure lucked out on parents, did I not?”
The demi-god was silent as he considered the words of his animus.
It was Seraph’s guilt that had kept him hiding out in this small town. He should have resisted Jenova’s words. He should have seen through her lies of the Promised Land. And he should have been strong enough to resist her control.
It didn’t matter that after his dive into the mako reactor at Nibelheim that his body was no longer under his control. That part was the truth. But he should have never listened to her in the first place. The alien was smart. She knew if she could disconnect his mind from his body she could have control. Convincing him to take a dive into the mako pool at the bottom of the reactor was exactly what she wanted.
That was one side effect of the Lifestream… a dunk tended to separate the consciousness and the host. The many voices of the planet, its screams and cries, were enough to drive anyone slightly insane, and he was no different. It was actually a relief when he felt his mind separate from his body. Jenova moved in, and he became nothing more than a side-liner, watching but unable to change anything.
But still, Nibelheim… Zack… that girl… and the people… that had been him. That had been his actions… Fueled by his anger and hatred, convinced by his confusions and swayed by pretty words of deceit, it had been his choice to destroy the town. It was a petty attempt to get back at ShinRa as all the residents were either employees of ShinRa or connected to it. Yet, they had been innocent. He had shed innocent blood, and, even now, he could feel the weight on his hands.
Seraph threw the pack over his shoulder and glanced once more about the room that was his temporary home for half a year. The place hardly looked disturbed as it was incredibly clean and tidy. He preferred it that way, everything in its place. Then again, he didn’t really know if that was how he liked it… or if he had been conditioned to think so.
He shook his head trying to clear away that line of thought. He didn’t want to get into “Who Am I?” discussions at the moment. Satisfied that he had packed all things of importance, Seraph turned from the small room and headed out of the apartment, making sure to lock the door behind him. Although Icicle didn’t really have a problem with crime, Eben excluded, he wouldn’t want to make it easy on thieves when the town had been so kind to him.
He debated whether or not he should inform the innkeeper that he was leaving. After all, the robust man had been the one to loan him the apartment. Deciding it was better not to make a scene; he placed the keys in the mail box for the inn and headed for the outskirts of town where Masa was stabled.
He had raised the Mountain chocobo himself, while searching for something to occupy his time over the past three months. Masa was a female and one of the fastest that he had ever encountered. Of course, he had named her after his sword, as if he couldn’t truly get away from his past. Gone but not forgotten…
He quietly snuck into the stables and made his way to where Masa was being tended. Most of the stalls were empty this time of year but at least she wasn’t lonely. A pretty white Chocobo, whose name or owner he did not know, was stabled next to her.
Masa was currently warbling softly at the other Chocobo, and Seraph couldn’t help but wonder at the gender of the unknown one. Was it that time of the month already? He shook his head at his chocobo’s actions and unlatched the small hook enclosing the stall.
Masa warbled when she saw him approach and trotted over towards him, nuzzling the side of his face with her own feathery one. He laughed softly and led her from the stable out into the open. He dug into his pack for the leather reins and harness, even as she kept nudging him playfully. He smiled and rubbed her head as his fingers finally wrapped around the straps, and he managed to pull them out. Seraph deftly arranged them properly around Masa’s neck and mouth before climbing up on her back and directing her away from Icicle, although he wasn’t sure where he was going.
(Seraph,) Gilgamesh began hesitantly. (There is something you should know. It is not my place to tell you these things, but I believe it will give you the direction you need.)
The silver and black-haired man frowned as he listened to Gilgamesh, clucking lightly to urge Masa forward. She warked happily and trotted off towards the horizon.
“What is it?” asked Seraph. “Do you know the location of the apprehensive feeling?”
(Yes and no, but that is not what I am going to tell you. Your mother… was not Jenova.)
Seraph froze in place on Masa’s back. Lies… it had to be a lie. Hojo had told him his mother was Jenova. The scientist had driven the fact into his mind over and over. His mother was an Ancient named Jenova. Then again… Hojo had lied about her being an Ancient.
(That is correct. She was only an alien, and she was just used for her genetic material. You had a human mother. I do not know who, but perhaps Hojo’s lab and research notes can tell you more.) Inwardly, Gilgamesh groaned. That in itself was a lie. He knew who Seraph’s mother was but he was already stretching it thin by telling him Jenova was not. It was up to the grey-eyed man to decide for himself if he wanted to know.
“Midgar…” Seraph mumbled under his breath. “Hojo had a lab in Midgar. I will go there.”
If Hojo had indeed lied about his mother, perhaps the mad scientist had lied about his true father, as well. It was a hope that he had never once considered before. Maybe he had a chance… for a real family.
He tugged lightly on Masa’s reins and pointed her in the direction of Bone Village. With her mountain climbing capabilities, the journey there would take him half-a-day at most, but being as he was traveling at night, it could take him a little longer. He would have to stop for rest at some point.
(You understand now then, yes?) Gilgamesh questioned.
“Understand what?” the leather-clad man demanded, his voice nearing a growl. “I have been poked and prodded, beaten and whipped, injected and tested on nearly my entire life, and the man could not even do me the courtesy of telling me the truth!”
Gilgamesh performed the mental equivalent of a head shake and sighed. (Perhaps not…) He meant the reason that Seraph had been given a second chance. However, it would probably take longer for him to understand.
Seraph narrowed his eyes as the familiar hatred for his ‘father’ and previous life welled up in him. What kind of life could he have had if he had only been raised in another way? Or was there any use in trying to place the blame? Everyone had a choice… and he had made the wrong decisions. There were no excuses for his deeds, and he had no designs to try and prove that to anyone.
Was he even worth this new life? Should he even bother to try and contact his true mother? He began to doubt that he should. Was he wasting his time going to Midgar and searching out the truth? Would a mother want to know him, when his soul had been tainted by so much blood? Would she want to know the one-winged black angel of death?
A fierce wind suddenly kicked up out of nowhere, disturbing his inner thoughts, and threw a flurry of ice and snow at him. He put an arm in front of his face to block the flying wind and winced as it struck him harshly. A storm was approaching, and quickly it seemed. He would have to find shelter for the night. Although he could handle it, Masa could not. Maybe this was the meaning of his ominous senses?
(There is a cave less than half a mile to the east at the base of the mountain,) Gilgamesh pointed out.
Seraph nodded and steered Masa towards the cave. He would have to forestall his trip to Midgar and wait out the night in the cavern.
At least with the time spent waiting, he would have long to think.