Come Back: A Lover's Prayer

Shimmer and Vincent

Shimmer woke up to a dull pain on her arm, and a sharper, stronger one on her chest. She didn’t know where she was, much less how she had gotten there. When she managed to sit up, she noticed chains on her ankles and wrists bound her to the floor and wall. She looked around and noticed she was in some sort of basement, only a very creepy and disturbing one. There were four coffins in there, one bigger and fancier than the rest. Human bones lay on the dirt floor, cobwebs lined the walls’ upper ends and ceiling, and dust covered almost everything in the room. The walls, like the floor, were of compacted dirt. Finally, there was the iron door, which, Shimmer guessed, had been recently installed, for it lacked the decaying look the rest of the items in the room had.

She had barely finished surveying the room, when she heard a key turning in the door. A couple of seconds later, the door opened and in the doppelganger that had attacked her at the lakeshore walked in. Suddenly, it all came back to her: after reviving Aerith and having an unpleasant encounter with the man everyone thought to be Vincent, she and Reeve went outside, followed by the doppelganger. He’d caught up with them at the surface and after injuring Reeve, he took her away. So, that’s how she got to that damp, dark place. And that’s why she was chained to the wall and floor.

“Yes, dear, that is how and that is why.”

His voice was silky, but venom laced; his tone mocking and evilly gleeful. His big yellow eyes shone with malice, his steps were slow and deliberate. Shimmer noticed he kept his right hand on his back, and her heart began to race.

“Why are you so scared, Shim?” He smirked as he kept walking towards her.

“What’s on your right hand?” she asked more nervously than she had intended to sound.

The doppelganger chuckled and sat on one of the coffins, about two meters away from her. He stretched his right arm a bit so she could see what was on his hand. It was a syringe filled with a pale orange liquid. As soon as she laid eyes on it, Shimmer went pale and scrambled closer to the wall, trembling.

“My, my, my. Brave little Shimmer is afraid of injections, isn’t she?” Again, mocking and gleeful.

“Get that away from me! You can’t… you can’t do this!!”

“Oh, but of course I can, Shim. It is my job, after all.”

“Who sent you, anyway? Why do they want to kill me!?”

The doppelganger sighed wearily. “You already asked me this, and I already answered you. But, humouring you for no reason at all… You know why. You’re an Observer, our enemy. As for who sent me… what do you care? You’ll die, anyway.”

“I think I at least have a right to know what I did to be haunted like a wild animal…” She was still trembling and very much scared, but she had to buy some time to figure a way out of this situation.

As if he could read her thoughts, he smiled and said, “You’re just trying to buy time, aren’t you? You actually think you can save yourself. I guess hope never dies, huh? Well, I humoured you before, but not this time.” He stood up and walked towards her, preparing the syringe.

Shimmer managed to crawl towards the nearest corner of the room, but it offered little help to her cause. When she looked up, the doppelganger was already standing before her, syringe ready. She kicked and punched as much as the chains would allow her to, but to no avail; the doppelganger simply waved his left hand and the intense heartache paralysed her again. She could only watch as the doppelganger injected the orange liquid into her arm, grinning and revelling in the moment.

Once all of it was in her system, he threw the syringe away; then he waved his hand again and the heartache was gone. The young woman sat limply against the wall, tears silently rolling out of her eyes.

“Now, now, don’t cry. You have at least a day and a half before the virus reacts and the side effects begin. After that, it’ll be other two or three agonizing days before you finally die.” He smiled as if this was meant as comfort.

“I know what the darned virus does…” she whispered harshly.

“How rude of you. But, I understand; you probably want to be left alone, right? I’ll leave, if that’s the case.” Shimmer remained silent, looking towards the floor. “I’ll take that as a yes, then.” He bowed and began walking towards the door, but then he stopped and turned around. “Then again… I can’t promise you’ll be 100% alone…” He chuckled and left, locking the door.

Once the doppelganger was gone, Shimmer punched the floor and grunted, angry tears flowing out of her black eyes. She knew she was as good as dead now that the doppelganger had infected her with the Fire virus. As he had said, in up to four days she would be dead, her entrails scorched as if a bomb had exploded inside of her. Without her backpack, there was no way she would be able to escape the basement and get back to her home planet in time to drink the antidote.

Nor was there anyway she would be able to see Vincent ever again.

“I’m so sorry, Vincent…” she whispered, shaking her head slowly.

She began to doze off, because she was very tired and because of the virus that now ran in her bloodstream. As she drifted into slumber, she heard a sliding noise in the back of her head. Mustering all the strength she had left, she opened her eyes again and focused on the bigger, fancier coffin. She watched as the lid slid off the coffin and fell to the ground, lifting a cloud of dust and making her cough.

Once her coughing fit was over and the dust settled, she saw a man sitting inside the coffin; he wore a dark red cape and had long, silky black hair, and a bandana –also dark red– tied around his head. But what caught her attention the most was his metallic left arm. When she looked up into his pale face, her eyes locked with his, and for a very long time, none of them spoke.

Finally, Vincent broke the silence. “I see he managed to capture you, too.”

Shimmer jumped a bit at the sound of his voice: it was the same voice she had heard coming from the doppelganger when he was acting as Vincent, but so much deeper and… ‘Wearier’ was the only word that came to Shimmer’s mind at the time. Once she recovered from her shock, she nodded slowly. “Yes, he did. I was careless, and now I’m trapped here, and I’ll…”

“No need to explain, I know what happened. As ironic as it may sound, I’ve seen everything he has done in my dreams… or rather, in my nightmares.” He chuckled bitterly and shook his head. “After thirty years I managed to atone for my sins and was ready to move on… But then, out of nowhere, this… this thing comes and chains me to this place again, bringing me new nightmares.”

The young girl could only look to the ground and whisper, “I’m sorry you got caught up in this, too… it is my fault. I wished I could do something to make it up to you, but…”

“It is not your fault to be who you are, and it is not your fault to have fallen in love with the man you did. The fact that he and I are the same person in different worlds was mere chance. Do not blame yourself needlessly… it will do no one any good whatsoever. Take it from someone who knows.”

She sighed. “Not that it does much of a difference to blame me or others… I’m still stuck here, I’m still infected, and I’m still going to die without having seen him again…”

“I believe I can help you with the first of your problems.”

“What do you mean?”

He stood up and dusted his clothes a bit, then walked up to her and broke the chains that bound her with his claw. She thanked him and tried to get up, but her knees gave in and she fell to the floor once more.

Vincent knelt next to her, a mildly concerned look on his eyes. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine… it’s just the virus settling in, it weakens me for a bit. I’ll be alright in a moment.”

“Exactly how long does it take for the virus to become active? And what are the side effects?”

Shimmer sighed, rubbing her temple. “About… twelve hours for it to become active, and the side effects start around twelve hours after that. It starts with headaches and dizzy spells, easily confused with lack of food or sunstroke. Then the excessive sweating, shivers, and burning sensations all over the skin begin. Coughing fits, as well. That lasts around two days or so. After that starts the fever, really high fever. It comes with hallucinations, spasms, severe seizures… you die either because you break your skull due to the seizures, or because the virus manages to burn your insides. That’s why they call it ‘Fire virus’. It’s as if a bomb had exploded inside of you, or as if you’ve drunk gasoline followed by a lit match.”

Vincent listened to her and simply nodded. “Where does this virus come from?”

“We do not know… we only know the doppelgangers carry it with them and try to infect as many of us as possible. About ten years ago, Silia, or chief research scientist, managed to isolate the virus and create an antidote. It kills the virus, but while it’s doing it, the effects are far worse than the virus’. That’s why we have to be under supervision when the antidote is applied, and as such, we are not allowed to take it out of the labs when we go out… much less when you’re an escapee, like me.”

“Still, do you think they’ll let you have the antidote if you get a chance to go back to your home planet?”

Shimmer looked at him with slight confusion in her eyes. “Well, yes, of course. I may be a rebel, and I may have broken almost every single rule in the book, but they would not let me die because of this virus… Especially not when it would rob them of the opportunity to send me to trial,” she added with disgust.

“Very well, then.” He stood up and walked towards the door, pushing against it.

The young girl was a bit confused, still, so she asked, “Vincent, what are you doing?”

“I am looking for a way to get us out of here and go find Cloud and the rest. But it might take a while, and I’m not sure when will Craig return.”

“Craig? You mean the doppelganger?” Vincent simply nodded. “How do you know his name?”

“As I told you, I saw everything he did in my nightmares. That’s how I learnt his name, and his plans. But he keeps a lot of things to himself, so I do not know everything.”

“So, you don’t know who sent him to kill me, do you?”

Vincent shook his head, then rammed against the door with his good shoulder. Shimmer cringed, and asked if he was alright. “Yes, quite. I hate to admit it, but the experiments Hojo performed on me have a few advantages. Still, I do not think I’ll be able to break this door open as I am now.”

“What do you mean, as you are now?”

The taller man looked at her with his nigh emotionless eyes, and asked, “Do you not know about my… transformations?”

The Observer shook her head. “No, I am sorry. Out of all of Cloud’s companions, the only one I could not find specific information about was you. Tseng only had one file on you, the one they opened when you first joined ShinRa. Other than that, I only know Hojo experimented on you, but there were no details about what kind of experiments they were.”

“I thought so. That man worked for himself, he never sent full reports back to the company. It does not come as a surprise that you would not know about what he did to me.” He walked back to her and sat on the same coffin Craig had a while ago. “Do you want me to explain it to you?”

Shimmer thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. She figured he’d need someone to talk to after all his time sleeping. Besides, there was something about him… something that made him completely different from her Vincent. It was an air of mystery around him, and that was what compelled her to listen to his story.

“There are four monsters living within me, each unique and different to the others. They only come forth when I am angered enough and allow that rage to take over me. All four of them are physically stronger than I am, but, for the most part, I am able to control their actions during battle. However, the fourth monster, a demon actually, is the strongest of the four, and also the most difficult to control. This is usually not a problem, for his reasoning abilities are very similar to mine, and he handles battles well. If I am to break that door, I will have to unleash him. It has been far too long since the last time I had to do so, and while I trust my ability to control him, there is still a shadow of doubt in me regarding this.”

“What you are trying to tell me is that it’s dangerous for both of us for you to unleash this demon within you, right?” Vincent nodded. Shimmer sighed and considered things for a moment, and then she shook her head. “Listen Vincent, I appreciate your wanting to help me, but…”

“But you are wondering why I would want to help you in the first place. You also think there is no use, since Craig will find you before you are able to reach your Shifter and get out of here. You are not even sure you want to return to your home planet, since it means your hopes of seeing Vincent again would become zero instead of remaining as a slight glimmer.” She looked at him in awe, and the corner of his lips curled in a small, barely visible smile. “And now you are wondering how I know all this.”

“Well… yes.”

“Craig can read minds, and since we have been connected for a couple of years, some of his abilities have passed unto me. Now, tell me. Am I wrong?”

Shimmer shook her head slightly. “No, you are not wrong. I am thinking all that. Now, would you answer my question? Why are you helping me?”

“Because I know you, even if indirectly. I know what you’ve been through, and I know you are about to make the same mistakes I made over thirty years back. You are willing to let the one you love go, and that, Shimmer, is unacceptable. You are giving up without a fight, and I will not allow you to.”

“Why not? If you know me, if you know what Craig knows, then you should also know there is no way out!”

“There is a way out. Vincent, Sephiroth and your brother will provide it.”

“The middle of the lake!? After the snowfields, the mountain range and the huge crater, you just had to top it all bringing us to the middle of the lake, didn’t you!?”

“I knew I had to recalibrate the bracelet after it got steamed…”

“I swear, young man, if this coat shrinks, you’ll never hear the end of it.”

“You’re worried about your coat? My bracelet is probably ruined by now! How are we going to help my sister without it?”

“You’ll fix it, that’s how! Maybe that way you’ll stop dropping us in the wrong place all the time!”

“Would you stop yelling at me!? I am not deaf!”

“Both of you should stop yelling. I am beginning to get a headache.”

Cloud and the rest watched the three men in awe, some in disbelief, and some scared. And they were right to be scared and awed, for the first man to speak was Vincent… without the metallic claw or the long hair, though. Also, his clothes were ‘normal’, so to speak: black jeans, red shirt and black sneakers. The third man to speak was none other than Sephiroth, without the huge sword or leather garments. He wore a dark suit, blue shirt, black coat and boots. As for the second man, he turned out to be Daemon, Shimmer’s little brother. He was Cloud’s height, with slightly tanned skin, black hair and eyes. He wore black armour and carried a katana-style sword, as well as a bracelet on his left arm.

The first ones to react were Barret and the Turks, who aimed their guns towards Sephiroth.

“I thought you said he was dead, Cloud!” Spat Reno.

The silver haired man raised his hands defensively. “I believe you are confusing me with someone else, young man.”

“Like hell I am!”

“Reno, wait! I think he may be right…”

“What are you talking about, Cloud?” Barret asked.

“I think he is right, guys,” Reeve added.

The blonde man slowly walked towards the lakeshore, a curious look on his eyes. He looked at the three men, then showed the man he recognized as Vincent the gun Rude had found earlier. “This is Shimmer’s, isn’t it?”

Vincent’s crimson eyes opened wide and he walked towards Cloud, taking the gun in his hands. “Yes, it is hers… but, how? Why do you have this? She said she wouldn’t use it unless… what happened to her?”

Cloud looked towards the Turks and Barret, “Is alright, lower your guns. They won’t hurt us.”

“How can we be sure?” Elena asked, her voice trembling slightly.

“That requires a long explanation,” answered Red, “that I believe should be given elsewhere.”

“Sure, whatever. But tell us, what happened to my sister?” asked Daemon.

Cloud looked at them, shame creeping into his eyes. “She… I am sorry, I was supposed to be taking care of her, but I…”

Aerith walked up to Cloud and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “It’s not your fault, Cloud. She would not blame you.” Cloud nodded, and then she looked at Vincent. “I am afraid Shimmer was taken away not too long ago… you see, after she helped them bring me back to life, she left the City of the Ancients, and was chased by a doppelganger who, seemingly, had been looking for her. Reeve tried to help her, but he was no match for him. We are terribly sorry, and we’ll do anything we can to find her and bring her to safety. We owe her so much, is the least we could do.”

“A doppelganger was following her?” Vincent asked, horrified. Aerith nodded.

“How come she didn’t notice it?” Sephiroth said. “It’s not like her to be careless.”

“I think we should head somewhere we can talk a bit more calmly. Reeve needs to rest, and I believe you’ll need to dry your clothes,” Aerith said.

“Indeed. We’ll fill everyone in on Shimmer, and answer all your questions,” Cloud continued. “Then we’ll start looking for her.”

Vincent seemed about to protest, but Sephiroth interrupted him. “That is a good idea. We need to rest a bit, too, after our… bumpy ride, to put it mildly.” He glanced sideways towards Daemon, who simply stuck his tongue out mockingly.

“Then, let’s… mosey,” Cloud said, grinning and stealing a sideways glance towards Cid.

“Would you stop saying it like a wimp!?” The older man exclaimed in mock frustration.

They all laughed some and moved out.

Scarcely more than an hour later, the party was gathered at ShinRa’s HQ, which had been rebuilt by Reeve and some other people. Elmyra had been dropped off at Rocket Town, where Shera and Marlene were.

President Shinra’s office, ere nearly empty, now held numerous couches and chairs, as well as meeting tables and some decorative items, such as plants and small water fountains. It was in one of the meeting tables that the party sat down to discuss the matters that interested them.

Cloud started by explaining everyone about Shimmer: how she had gotten there and her suspicions about Vincent, their travelling companion… or at least, who they thought was their companion. Red XIII explained them what a doppelganger was, and about the multiple dimensions theory, with a bit of help from Daemon.

“This brings us to you, Sephiroth and Vincent,” Cloud informed.

“Seems like it. What is it that you would like to know?” Sephiroth asked.

“First off… what is your relationship with Shimmer, Vincent? She would not talk about it, and I’d like to know. I understand if you do not want to discuss it, though.”

Vincent’s eyes darkened, and he looked away. “I… I believe Seph can fill you in.”

“Indeed I can,” Sephiroth answered. “It must have been a bit more than two years ago when we first met Shimmer. Right, Vincent?” The dark haired man nodded, the hint of smile forming on his lips. “She arrived pretty much out of nowhere, for reasons known to all of us now. She came looking for Aerith, who had been expecting her arrival.”

“How did Aerith know about Shim?” asked Reeve.

Sephiroth was about to answer, when Vincent spoke up. “Aerith said she had a dream… she had died at Sephiroth’s hands at the Crystal City’s altar.”

“Crystal City…?” Aerith questioned. “You mean, the City of the Ancients, right?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, I believe it’s the same. Back home it’s called Crystal City, because of its material, and because the Cetra is still a big race in our planet, unlike here, and so aren’t called ‘Ancients’. In any case, that’s where Aerith’s dream took place. She had the same dream several times, and it never changed. She said she saw herself kneeling at the altar, and then Sephiroth jumped off the ceiling with a long silver sword and—”

“… and stabbed through her midsection…” Aerith said in a whisper, touching the place where her scar should be, but was not. Cloud grimaced at the memory and took Aerith’s free hand in his as if to confirm she was really there.

“Yes, that is what she saw. We knew that could not happen; Sephiroth is Aerith’s father in law, and they get along fine.”

“And I do not know how to wield a sword,” Sephiroth added.

“One night, though, there was a change in the dream. Or rather, an addition. Aerith saw…” He sighed and shook his head. “Seph…”

“She saw Shimmer holding the White Materia, and it was then that Aerith knew she’d meet this girl, and that she’d help her bring back to life the slain Aerith. And true enough, about two weeks later Shimmer appeared at the Crystal City, seeking Aerith’s help. She offered it willingly, as she and Cloud knew how you felt, Cloud. Did Shimmer give you Cloud’s message?”

Cloud smiled and nodded. “Yes, she did.”

“What message?” asked Tifa.

“That’ll remain a secret until we find Shimmer, I’m afraid,” was his reply.

“So, where does Vincent come into play in this tale?” Cid asked.

“Well, Vincent’s a researcher back home, along with me. Coincidently, we were interested in proving the Alternate Worlds theory when Shimmer appeared. Aerith knew this, and so she introduced her to us. For her and Vincent, it was love at first sight. Or at least something very similar to it.”

“Pff, nonsense. She hated me… I was such a jerk,” Vincent said in a distant murmur.

“Oh, well… there is that. Although, she didn’t hate you. She just thought you were a bit too pushy, is all.”

“Why?” Red asked.

“Vincent is quite devoted to our researches, and he’s known to lose his head from time to time when results aren’t exactly what he expects them to be. Or when people aren’t cooperative enough in his eyes. You see, when we met Shimmer, we asked her to tell us the Shifter’s secret. She refused at first, for she feared it could fall into the wrong hands and damage the balance that exists in the universe. Vincent might have been a bit too vehement in his pursuit to get her to tell us what we wanted to know. The facilities were constantly filled with their disputes.”

“You came to an understanding in the end, did you not?” Reeve asked.

“Yes,” Vincent answered. “She told us how the shifters work, but she did not tell us how to build one. She said that if we are meant to discover it, we will have to find out on our own, but the information she gave us was enough to set us on the right direction. And it was because of that information that…”

“What happened?” Elena asked.

“Shimmer broke her planet’s rules again. The first time was when she left with her brother and found this place. As she got involved with ShinRa and planned to find an alternate energy source, she broke her race’s isolation. Then were her plans of reviving Aerith, her affair with Vincent, and finally, giving us the Shifter’s information. That was the last drop for her elders, so to speak.”

“An affair? So she got past hating you and became your girlfriend?” asked Reno, suddenly interested in the conversation.

Vincent blushed and looked away again, covering his eyes as much as possible with his hair. Sephiroth sighed deeply and nodded. “Yes, that is correct. I think Shimmer’s love for Vincent was the only reason she told us about the Shifter. She also told us about her planet’s rules, and so both of them tried to avoid falling in love with each other, but when it comes to love, it’s no use. It it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen, no matter how much distance you put between two people.

“So these two became a couple, even though Shimmer received a fair amount of warning from her elders. Seems like they knew what would happen between her and Vince, and they also knew she would have to return to this planet to revive Aerith. And so they decided to punish her by forcing her to make a most difficult choice. They blocked her Shifter so that when she left our planet, she would not be able to return. The only way for her to be with Vincent was by staying with us, not coming to help you out. Should she leave our planet, as she did, she would lose Vincent forever.”

“That’s awful…” was all Aerith could say.

“So… she chose helping us instead of staying with you?” Cloud asked. Vincent sighed heavily while rubbing his eyes with his left hand. “I… I do not know what to say…”

“There is no need to say anything. He told her to come.”

“What? Why would you do that?” Cloud asked.

“Cloud and Aerith are my best friends, along with Sephiroth. I’ve seen how happy they are together, and after hearing Shim say how you two are so much like them, I… It’s strange, but I felt bad for you, Cloud. I couldn’t be selfish and ask her to stay with me, not after all the trouble I brought to her by asking her to show us how the Shifter works, and after seeing how hard she worked to find a way to help you reunite with Aerith. I… I just couldn’t.”

Aerith reached across the table and took Vincent’s hands in hers, looking intently into his eyes. “I promise you we’ll find her, and she’ll be back with you. After all she’s done for us, all she’s sacrificed, it is the least we can do.”

Vincent smiled, and nodded. “Thank you so much.”

Sephiroth also smiled. “Shim was right. There is not such a big difference between you and my daughter in law. Or between Cloud and my son.”

“So!” Daemon interrupted. “Explanations are done; you are getting all mushy, so why don’t we get down to business?”

“Wait,” said Yuffie. Daemon raised an eyebrow, and she went on. “You said your name is Daemon Falastur. Cloud said your sister’s name is Shimmer Oroke. That makes you half siblings, right?” Everyone looked at her in curiosity, and some even surprised. “What, what did I say?”

“The ninja wannabe can think!” exclaimed Reno, a fake surprised look on his face.

“Bite me, Reno.”

“Don’t want to get poisoned, so I’ll pass.”

“Quit it, you two,” said Reeve.

“Yuffie does have a point, Daemon,” said Sephiroth.

“Yeah, she’s my half-sister only. Same father, different mothers. All of them dead.”

“All of them Observers?” asked Red.

“Yes, only my mother was half-Observer, half-Demon. So I’m part demon.”

“That explains the name,” Tifa said.

“Yep. Anymore questions?” No one said anything, so Daemon went on. “So, we need to find my sister. Any ideas?”

Reeve got up and brought his laptop to the table, hooked it to the cannon and projected a world map on the white screen at the end of the table. “Well, maybe this software will help. We can enter some parameters, the computer will do some calculations based on that, and it’ll display the areas that fit the criteria.”

“Heidegger’s favourite toy,” Reno murmured.

“And Scarlet’s,” Rude added.

“Well, what do we know about this doppelganger?” Cid asked.

“He disguised himself as Vincent, although I don’t know when it started doing that.”

“What?” Vincent asked. “He disguised as me? I mean, as this world’s Vincent?” Cloud nodded.

“Then it means he had been following Shimmer for quite a bit of time,” Sephiroth assumed.

“But since doppelgangers can’t see the future, his taking over as Vincent must be quite recent. No more than two years,” explained Daemon.

“Around the time Shimmer met the other world’s Vincent and Aerith, then. That is around the time we left Midgar,” Cloud mused.

“Where was Vincent around that time?” Sephiroth asked.

“In the ShinRa Mansion back in Nibelheim, where we found him,” answered Aerith.

“But then, did we meet the real Vincent, or was he already a fake when we woke him up?”

“Woke him up?” asked Sephiroth.

“Long story, we’ll tell you about it later if you like,” answered Cid, waving his hand.

“As for your question, Barret… my guess is you met the real Vincent,” Daemon said.

“How so?”

“Well, Red, doppelgangers can’t stay in the same body for a prolonged period of time. They begin to lose what little identity they have within ten months.”

“That is a relief. You know, that we met the real Vincent. But, it doesn’t help us much here. If the doppelganger has been Vincent for the past ten or so months, it means he could’ve been just about anywhere,” Tifa said.

“Except for places Vincent would never frequent,” Daemon said.

“Well, that narrows it down some,” Cid said. “When we disbanded after Meteor was destroyed, I asked him where he wanted me to drop him off at. He said anywhere but the big cities. So, he stayed with Shera n’ me for a couple of weeks, ‘cause I sure as hell wasn’t gonna let him go back to Nibelheim.”

“After that,” Red continued, “he visited me for a while at Cosmo Canyon. He spent most of his time with the elders and at grandpa’s machine, looking at the large Materia and books we had. About a month after, however, he left without saying where to.”

Reeve entered some data into the computer, and big red crosses appeared over Junon, Midgar, Rocket Town and Cosmo Canyon. Some more data, and Gongaga, Mideel, the Temple of the Ancients, the Sleeping Forest and the City of the Ancients disappeared as well.

“Why’d you take those last five off, boss?”

“Gongaga and Mideel because those are places where two much attention would be drawn to himself, and we know that is something Vincent does not appreciate. The Sleeping Forest and the City of the Ancients because we were recently there. Finally, the Temple of the Ancients because it’s deserted. I’ve been monitoring it with Cait Sith, so that is how I know.”

“Ya still have that piece of junk with ya, Reeve?”

“Leave the cat alone, Barret.”

“So, based on what Red said, Vincent was doing some kind of research,” Tifa said. “Where else could he have gone to obtain information like the one in Cosmo Canyon?”

“Icicle Inn, here in Midgar, Nibelheim… and that’s about it,” Cloud answered.

“Icicle Inn?” Yuffie asked. “Oh, you mean Professor Gast and Aerith’s mom’s videos?”

“My mother? What videos is she talking about, Cloud?”

“Yuffie, you brat!” Cloud said. “I wanted to take her there so she’d see for herself, you silly.”


The spiky haired young man sighed. “After you died, we arrived to Icicle Inn, on the northern continent. There is an abandoned house there, and the villagers told us it belonged to a ShinRa scientist and to a Cetra. When we went in to investigate, we found some videos Professor Gast recorded, where he and Ifalna talked about Jenova and the disease that annihilated the Cetra. Then there were some other videos, more private. Those are from when you hadn’t been born yet, and then when Hojo took you and your mother away.”

Aerith covered her mouth with her hand, a shocked look on her eyes. Her earlier memories involved snow, but she didn’t really remember ever being to the northern continent, where all the snow was. It all made more sense now, but it really wasn’t time to be thinking about such things. They had to help Shimmer. Besides, she could always ask Cloud to take her there.

“Are you alright, dear?”

The young Cetra nodded. “Yes, it’s just… a bit sudden is all. But let’s not think about that now; we must help Shimmer.”

Cloud nodded and their gaze returned to the screen. Reeve had already entered more parameters, and Midgar, Icicle Inn and Nibelheim were surrounded by a light blue circle.

“Can we rule out any other places?” Sephiroth asked.

“The Chocobo Farm, Fort Condor, Gold Saucer, and Round Island,” Rude said, and Reeve marked them all with the red crosses.

“How do we know he’s not on Round Island?” asked Barret.

“We are the only ones to breed Golden Chocobos, and Vincent didn’t have any. Did he ask any of you if he could borrow one?” Everyone shook his or her head. “Is any of you missing any Chocobos?” Again, a general no. “There you go.”

“Wutai is clear, too,” added Yuffie. Reeve marked that, too.

The remaining places were Corel, Bone Village, and Costa del Sol, the Northern Crater, Gaea’s Cliff and the Materia caves. The last three places were easily dismissed because of lack of transport that could take anyone but Cloud and his companions there. Vincent, being the loner that he was, preferred walking or driving a small car, so it wouldn’t be easy for him –or the doppelganger, rather– to arrive to any of those areas.

“What about the remaining three?” asked Elena.

“Well…” Reeve started. “Bone Village should be clear, too. We were there not too long ago, and nothing seemed out of place. Besides, it’d be pretty stupid to remain there, considering we’d have to pass through there.”

“Yeah. Corel is not a good hiding place, either. Costa del Sol… you have a Villa there, right Cloud?” asked Elena, and Cloud nodded. “Well, that’s out of the question, too.”

“Midgar, Icicle Inn and Nibelheim are our only real choices, then,” Vincent mused.

“Yep,” Daemon agreed. “Now, how’re we gonna go about this? Do we go in as an angry mob?” Everyone stared at him in surprise, while Sephiroth and Vincent simply rolled their eyes. “What?” The boy asked.

“‘Go in as an angry mob’?” Red asked.

“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?”

“Well, I don’t know about you Observers, but our tactics do not include suicide,” Cid added. “We almost always split up and keep someone near as reinforcements.”

Daemon scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Fine, then. We’ll do it the boring way.”

“Better safe than sorry,” Sephiroth added under his breath.

“There are fourteen of us,” Cloud said after counting them all. “So, we make three groups of four, and one of us stays in the Highwind along with Cid as backup.” Everyone agreed, and he nodded. “Good. Now, I’d like to go to Nibelheim… I have a feeling that’s where he’s keeping them.”

“I’ll go with you,” Aerith said at once.

“So will Vincent and I,” Sephiroth stated.

“Very well. The Turks and Reeve should stay here in Midgar, since they know the city best.” They all agreed, and here Cloud hesitated a bit. “For Icicle Inn… I think Tifa, Yuffie, Barret and Daemon would do well to go there. That leaves Cid and Red aboard the Highwind. Is that all right?”

Everyone agreed, and Reeve turned the computer off. “Good. Now, let’s all stock up and be on our way. I’ve an unpleasant feeling about this all.”

“No kidding…” Vincent mused as everyone got up.

“What did you just say?”

“I said Sephiroth, Vincent and your brother will provide a way out for you. But, we’ll need to help them along. Which is why I must tear this door down.”

“But… how did they get here?”

“That I do not know. All I know is Craig is very upset about it, and perhaps, he’ll make a mistake we can take advantage of. But I wouldn’t count on that too much.”

While Shimmer tried to take this new information in, Vincent tackled the door once more, measuring its strength and resistance. After a moment’s pondering, he nodded and walked back to Shimmer. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m alright, I guess. Just feeling a bit weak.”

“You said we have little less than day and a half until the virus becomes active, right?” She nodded. “Good. You’ll need time to rest, and I’ll need it to prepare to break down that door. I’m sure Cloud and the others will be on their way here soon, but I’m willing to bet Craig knows this, too. So chances are he’ll try to slow them down, and I’ll know when he does. That’s when we’ll take our chance.”

“What if Craig notices our trying to escape and returns here?”

“I’ll fight him. He took my gun, but I still have my claw, my Turks training, and the monsters within me. I don’t think I’ll be able to beat him, but at least I can slow him down while you get to safety and the others arrive.”

“I’m still not sure why you would want to endanger yourself like that just to help me…”

“I already explained that to you.”

“Yes, but it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that. Suffice to say, I don’t want you to go through the same ordeals I’ve been through. And, besides, you helped two of my friends. I may not show it often, but I care for them, and I am grateful to you for helping them.”

Shimmer nodded and sighed. “Alright, then. So, now what?”

“Now, we wait. You should try to get some rest.”

“I don’t think I’ll rest much, but I can try, though.”

She really was tired, so sleep came easily enough. However, it was, as she thought, a restless sleep. She had nightmares involving Cloud and the rest, as well as Sephiroth, Vincent and her brother. Craig was, of course, in all of them. And, as it is expected from nightmares, they all died at his hand as she stood by, unable to stop him.

Most disturbing of all, was the fact that she dreamt about her parents and how they died at the hands of doppelgangers while she and Daemon escaped. Back then, she had caught a glimpse of the assassins’ faces, and she’d sworn she would find them and hunt them down, just like they had hunted her race. During this nightmare, however, both assassins were Craig. Afterwards, when the mission in Cloud’s planet was past history, she’d wonder how much of that dream was true, and how much of it was brought up by her problems at that time.

But not then.

She awoke once more not knowing where she was or how she had gotten there, but as soon as her eyes came across Vincent’s sleeping figure, everything came back to her. She sighed and clumsily stood up, stretching her sore legs and rubbing her temple. She wondered how long had she slept, and if Cloud and the others were on their way. Or perhaps Craig. She shook her head, pushing the thought away, and walked around the room, trying not to disturb Vincent.

“I’m not sleeping, so feel free to be loud, if you wish,” he said matter-of-factly, once again reading her thoughts as though they were part of a book.

“That’s a scary ability. Is why I never bothered learning it,” Shimmer commented, relaxing and walking towards the door. Vincent made no reply, so she went on. “So, what’s our situation?”

“As far as Craig knows, they’ve split into three teams, four if you count the ones aboard the Highwind. Cloud, Aerith, Vincent and Sephiroth are heading our way, so he’ll intercept them at the city’s gates in about half an hour.”

“Is that when we’ll make our move?” Vincent nodded. “How long has it been since I fell asleep?”

“Not five hours,” he stated simply.

“How can you be so certain?” Vincent simply extended his arm and showed her his wristwatch. Shimmer looked at it in disbelief, and then started giggling. The man in the red cape arched an eyebrow and stared at her, confusion plain to see on his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry… it’s just so… so bizarre that you have a watch with you at a time like this,” she explained between giggles.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re in a good enough shape to laugh,” was all his reply.

She exhaled deeply and nodded, then continued pacing around the room. It was then that she spotted Vincent’s coffin again, and her curiosity got the best of her. “What does it feel like to spend such a long time sleeping and having nightmares?”

“Numb. Surreal. Unsettling. After a while, you begin to forget the things you’re seeing and experiencing are naught but dreams, and you start believing those visions are your real life.”

“Can’t you just wake up and move on?”

Vincent’s lips curled into a small, sad smile. “I guess it’s possible, yes.”

“Then why did you spend such a long time asleep before Cloud and the others found you?”

“I was atoning.”

“Does sleep wash away your sins?”

“That is something I do not wish to discuss,” he answered dryly.

Shimmer understood that was the end of that, so she sat down next to him. “Didn’t you ever feel hungry or anything down here?” Vincent arched an eyebrow again, and gave her a sideways glance. “Well?”

“I don’t understand the purpose or direction of that question.”

“There is none. I’m just curious.”

“That being the case, no. Hojo made sure to alter everything in me, including my metabolism. I suppose you could say I’m like a bear in the sense that I can ‘hibernate’ for prolonged periods of time.”

“That’s… interesting.”

“You’ve no idea what I would give to stop being ‘interesting’.”

“Well, right now, I’m thankful you’re interesting.”

“So am I. Now, I need to prepare for the transformation. I can guarantee it will not be pretty, so perhaps you should hide in the coffin until it’s all done. And no matter what, don’t come out until you hear my voice.”

“But, what if it’s Craig?”

“You’ll know the difference.”

“I hope so…”

Shimmer stood up and walked towards the coffin Vincent had mentioned. “Do you think we should move it to a corner or something? To give you more room.” Without replying, Vincent pushed the coffin against the wall, and motioned for her to lie inside. “You’ll be quick about it, won’t you?”


“No… but it scares me all the same,” she said while sitting inside the coffin. “Promise you’ll be quick.”

“I promise,” Vincent said while closing the coffin. He set two of the other coffins on top of the bigger one, just to be on the safe side, and then walked towards the door.

“This is it, Chaos. I need your help…” He concentrated on all the memories than angered him, on all the things he’d done that he regretted, in everything he wanted to set right but couldn’t. Vincent allowed all that resentment and fury to slowly creep over him, enveloping him in an aura of pure wrath.

The change began sooner than he had expected it to. For a moment, he thought he’d lose control over the beast, that his will would not be enough to contain it after two years out of combat. But after a short battle of wits and wills, Vincent managed to exert his control over Chaos. However, he would have to be very careful and concentrate hard and long enough, otherwise, everything would be lost.

The first thing Chaos did was approach the door and tackle it like Vincent had done before. But unlike the other times, the door shook in its frame, sending off little trails of dust all over the place. With a deep, content growl, Chaos rammed against the door with all its might, managing to bend the hinges. A second assault broke them, and the door was left dangling precariously over half an inch of metal. A mild punch sent it flying to the other end of the hallway, lifting a cloud of dust and cobwebs all around. Satisfied with its performance, Chaos allowed Vincent to return, knowing his services would soon be needed again.

As soon as his body returned to normality, Vincent frowned and slowly returned to the coffin room. He could feel something was wrong, but was unsure what could it be. When he opened the biggest coffin, he saw what was wrong.

“Shimmer!” He yelled, taking her out of the coffin. She was pale, her eyes wide open but staring into nothingness. She clutched her chest with her left hand, holding on tightly to Vincent’s hand with her right. “Shimmer, what is wrong?”

“He—” The rest of her words got lost in a blood curling scream. Right after that, she seemed to snap out of whatever trance she was in, and she flung her arms around Vincent’s neck, holding onto him as if for dear life. “He knows! Vincent, he knows! You have to help them, you have to!” She sobbed onto his shoulder.

Her words made him see what she meant. Craig knew they were about to escape, but that didn’t bother him. He had set up a trap for Cloud, Daemon and the rest, and wasn’t worried about anything. Attacking Shimmer like that had been a mere entertainment session for him, and a simple message:

There is no way out.

After leaving Daemon’s team at Icicle Inn, Cid set a course towards Nibelheim. Red kept him company while Cloud, Aerith, Vincent and Sephiroth talked in the meeting room.

It was awkward for Aerith and Cloud at first to be talking to Sephiroth as friends and not as sworn enemies. It was especially hard for Aerith, who’d been murdered by a man very similar to the one she spoke to now. But, after a short while, she realized the similarity was only physical and that mentally and spiritually, their enemy and the man who now sat before her couldn’t possibly be more different. Where the other Sephiroth had been mean, cruel and a sadistic murderer, this one was very calm, gentle and centred. The only thing they had in common was their interest in science, even if their reasons were radically different.

As for Vincent, even though he wasn’t as quiet as their world’s Vincent, he was very gloomy and reserved. Both Cloud and Aerith thought it was only due to the circumstances they were in, but there really was no way to know.

“We’ll be there in about ten to fifteen minutes, kids,” Cid informed them over the intercom.

“Right, thanks, Cid,” Aerith replied.

“Well, better get ready. Did Reno and Rude tell you how to use those?” Cloud asked Sephiroth and Vincent. He pointed towards the revolvers resting at either man’s left side; they’d gotten them at the ShinRa building’s armoury before setting out to Icicle Inn.

Vincent eyed his gun carefully, and nodded. “Yes, they did. I’m familiar with this kind of weapon, but I’ve never been comfortable wearing them or using them.”

“I’d never even held one of these. But, I think I’ll manage if necessary,” Sephiroth added.

“But you’ve used Materia before, haven’t you?” Aerith asked.

“Yes, we have that back home,” Sephiroth replied. “I just hope it works the same way here.”

“At any rate, I’m sure you’ll make more damage than Aerith here,” Cloud teased.

Aerith gasped and smacked him in the head. “You are so mean! I swear I’m not going to heal you if you get hurt.”

“Aw, I was just kidding, dear…”

“I know,” she said, giggling and rubbing the spot she hit. “So was I.”

“So, what is it we should—?”

Vincent’s question was interrupted by Cid’s voice over the intercom. “Kids, we have trouble ahead…”

“What is it, Cid?” Cloud asked, getting up.

“Better come and see… you’re not going to believe me if I tell you.”

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