Chapter 3: Fury

They hadn't had any sign of Sephiroth since Dio's note that he'd been headed towards Gongaga. Running into Shinra suggested they were looking for him in the same area, but there was nothing to say where he'd gone from there.

Barret didn't protest when they headed for Cosmo Canyon. He'd always wanted to go, and it turned out it meant getting Red XIII—Nanaki—home. There was plenty to be learned there, even if it had nothing to do with Sephiroth.

But he didn't get Cloud's certainty when they pressed on north. He acted like he knew exactly where he was going, but he didn't share his reasons with the rest of them. Maybe, Barret reflected, he just wanted to see Nibelheim again. They all knew he had a few gaps in his memory from back then, and maybe seeing the ruins would help bring it back. Barret could see him not wanting to admit that.

He wasn't expecting to find... a town. Not ruins, not even a hint of the fire that Cloud had described, just a sleepy village nestled in the mouth of the valley.

If it weren't for Tifa, he might have called Cloud a liar. But this... He didn't know what the hell was going on.

They split up, looking for any kind of clue. The townspeople acted like they were crazy, all the while refusing to acknowledge the black-robed weirdos in their midst.

Barret noticed some of them shuffling around the gate to the big mansion at the end of the street. He could name it from Cloud's story, and it was about as ominous as he would have expected. The rest of the town had a newness to it, but the mansion had presence. It had spent decades settling deeper into its foundations.

"The Great Sephiroth..." crooned one of the cloaked figures. "Inside... the mansion..."

Barret hesitated.

If Sephiroth was here, the others needed to know that. These robed guys clearly weren't all there, but it was the closest thing they'd had to a lead in a while. It wasn't something to check out on his own.

But he knew what would happen once he told Cloud. He'd charge in sword-first and shouting. Barret couldn't blame him; hell, seeing Cloud get riled up about something was what made him realize they actually had anything in common. But it wouldn't get them any answers. They didn't know what the hell Sephiroth was up to, what he wanted with the Promised Land, what the deal was with Jenova.

Guys with big plans liked to talk about them, when you gave them the chance. Barret pushed open the gate and approached the mansion.

The interior showed its age even more than the outside. A lifetime's worth of grime coated its walls, and the air tasted stale. The stairs creaked under his weight.

In one of the upstairs bedrooms, Cloud had said, there was some kind of secret door down into the basement. That was what had drawn Sephiroth before, so if he'd come here again, that seemed like the place to find him. Barret searched the rooms until he found it: a decaying spiral staircase descending into near pitch darkness.

Should've brought a flashlight.

He made his way down, carefully, feeling his way along with his shoulder brushing the wall. He missed a step and stumbled, but let out a breath of relief when he realized he'd reached the bottom.

There was a faint light coming from the far end of the rough-hewn passageway. It led him to a doorway, and he paused there, looking over the lab. Piles of books littered the floor, pulled off their shelves and abandoned seemingly at random. He could smell Mako, like there was a leak somewhere in the pipes that carried it all the way down here. And he heard movement.

A short, cluttered hallway led to a study crammed with even more shelves. Sephiroth sat perched atop the desk, a book in his hands.

He glanced up and paused, his expression registering a faint surprise as his gaze shifted to the empty space past Barret's shoulder. "I didn't expect you to come on your own," he said.

Already he seemed a lot more lucid than he had on the cargo ship, a lot more of a person. Barret didn't see that sword on him, but he kept a wary distance.

"The others are still checkin' out the town," he said. He glanced around the study, never quite letting Sephiroth out of his sight. "So, this is where it all started, huh?"

"In more ways than one," said Sephiroth, regarding him steadily. His eyes had that same weird glow that Cloud's did, but their intense green made them a lot closer to the Mako that gave them their name.

"It's gotta suck," Barret ventured, "bein' the wet dream of a bunch o' scientists an' only findin' out about it way later from their old books."

Sephiroth's brow furrowed. "Why are you saying this to me?"

"Dunno. I had this crazy thought... that maybe you ain't so crazy. You kinda remind me o' somebody."

"Who could I possibly remind you of?" Sephiroth scoffed.

"Old friend o' mine," he said. Was the trail of bodies Sephiroth left behind all that different from Dyne's? Or the source of his fury? "After what was done to you, you can't see anything good in people. Every last one of us is complicit, and there ain't no savin' the world we built. That it?"

"What was 'done' to me?" Sephiroth repeated. "Gast created a superior being, and now I'm simply carrying out my destiny."

"Uh-huh. You wanna act like you're above feelin' anything, then what're you doin' back in this basement? There some kinda clue you missed five years ago? You gonna find the Promised Land down here?"

Sephiroth didn't answer him. He closed the book in his hands and stood, but he didn't move any closer. Barret didn't plan to take his eyes off him.

"You probably don't think much o' me," he said. "Probably don't think anyone's been payin' attention. Except, the things you been doin' since you showed up again... I've wanted to do 'em, too, if I'm bein' honest. You ain't been killin' just anybody—you been killin' Shinra. The soldiers on the ship, the guys in that lab..."

In following Sephiroth, they'd gotten most of their leads from civilians. The man outside Kalm's inn, the women on the beach of Costa del Sol, the old man on the slopes of Mt. Corel whose only grievance was that Sephiroth had rudely ignored him.

Sephiroth had carved a path through Shinra employees, and one really big snake, and that was all—so far.

"The way you killed President Shinra," he went on, "that was personal. You talk like you're some enlightened being, an' I get that. I've said it plenty o' times myself, and sometimes even I buy it—I'm doin' it for the Planet, to save the Planet...... We both know, that ain't really why."

"Perhaps that's where you and I differ," Sephiroth said at last.

"So what's the master plan, then, if you ain't just killin' people you hate?"

"You expect me to explain it to you?"

Barret spread his arms. "Why not? What's one stupid human like me gonna do about it?"


"Maybe you don't even got a plan," Barret goaded. "After all, I don't see how Nibelheim fits into it. What's the point o' killin' folks who weren't even involved?"

"You think Nibelheim wasn't involved?"

"In Shinra's crimes against humanity? 'course not."

Sephiroth turned to the shelves behind him, turning his back without a second thought. He didn't consider Barret a threat at all. Locating a folder amidst the files, he drew it out and tossed it across the room. Barret caught it clumsily, and some of the papers nearly spilled out before he adjusted his grip.

The pages within were dated more than 30 years ago. Snatches of the phrasing were familiar, but Sephiroth spoke before he could read very far.

"A contract between Shinra and the people of Nibelheim," he said. "In exchange for power from the reactor, they grant Shinra the land and the right to conduct research."

"Research! You think anybody guessed that'd be human experiments? They probably thought it was gonna be environmental impact surveys."

"Ignorance is no excuse," Sephiroth stated coldly.

"An' what about you then?" Barret countered. "You used to be Shinra's number one SOLDIER. Lotta people say they wouldn't've won the war without ya. An' what've they been doin' since? Reactors everywhere, suckin' up the life o' this Planet."

Sephiroth tilted his head, regarding him like he was some kind of animal in a zoo. "You're angry," he said.

"Damn straight I'm angry!" Barret said. He threw the file folder down on the desk. "You're judgin' people like you got clean hands. The men who signed this, they didn't know they were makin' a deal with the devil. An' no, that don't excuse 'em entirely, but it sure as hell didn't buy 'em what you did. Some naive idiots sign a piece o' paper an' you condemn the whole village, an' their kids right along with 'em."

"The children did not die," Sephiroth stated. "Though given what Hojo did to them, perhaps it would have been a mercy."

"You're an asshole," said Barret.

"Did you come here to insult me?"

"I came here to talk. Not much o' that happenin' with Cloud around. 'Course, you did kill his mother."

"Hmm," Sephiroth hummed disinterestedly. Barret was losing him with that line.

"Been wonderin' about somethin,'" he began instead. "Cloud can't remember how the whole thing ended. You ain't dead, obviously. But you've been missin' for five whole years. What happened then? Where've you been?"

Sephiroth turned away, his hand resting on the desk beside him. He'd definitely come down here to reminisce about something, and Barret thought those memories were at the forefront now. "...I was betrayed," he said at last. "But it doesn't matter now. I learned quite a bit in the interim."

"Like what?" Barret pressed.

Sephiroth looked back at him thoughtfully, but then his gaze shifted. Barret caught the sound of footsteps, and then voices, as his friends made their way warily down the hallway into the lab.

"Sephiroth!" Cloud exclaimed the moment he spotted him.

Tifa froze behind him, her eyes darting from Sephiroth to Barret. He could tell just the sight of him standing as close to the man as he was scared her. He backed off to join his friends, and ignored the more quizzical look Nanaki threw him.

Sephiroth's voice took on that arch tone again as he spouted some cryptic stuff about a Reunion and a Calamity from the Skies. He flew past them out of the library, and Cloud chased after him a short ways, but he was already gone.

In his wake, the others voiced their concern over Barret confronting him alone and asked if Sephiroth had said anything to him. Barret shrugged it off; Sephiroth hadn't shared any plans with him, and in the moment, he wasn't sure if he'd learned anything at all from that conversation.

Later, as they pressed on into the mountains, Barret turned it back over in his mind. If Sephiroth wasn't an Ancient, then he didn't have any 'birthright' to the Planet. Had he known that five years ago, too, or was that one of those things he'd learned since? Was it the thing that had triggered his reappearance after all this time? Was he after something now that he hadn't been before?

The only thing Barret was sure of was that he wasn't crazy. He was angry, the same way Dyne had been... the same way Barret was. Only, he wasn't sure if Sephiroth had acknowledged it to himself. He rationalized his actions as the proper consequences of a just world. He didn't kill out of hate, but because Shinra deserved it, the people of Nibelheim deserved it.

Barret had justified things like that, too. He'd spent months planning those reactor bombings, telling himself all the while that he was doing it for the good of the Planet. The casualties would be mostly Shinra, mostly people on the plate, people complacent and complicit in all of it.

Was it really for the Planet? He'd convinced himself that it would help, and maybe it had—maybe he'd given the Planet some small respite, taking out two reactors. But when the explosions reverberated in his bones, that wasn't what he'd been thinking about.

So, did Sephiroth know what he was saying was just a line? It was more comfortable to believe it. Owning up to all that fury meant acknowledging where it came from, and that was a lot of pain to deal with.

Who knew if he'd have the chance to recognize it, before his plans carried him too far.

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