Chapter 6

Rufus lowered his gun. He didn’t have a clear shot at Sephiroth. Not now. Maybe soon.

Destined Ones? Sephiroth? Bugenhagen was crazy. "What the hell are you talking about, old man?" he asked. But he never took his eyes off Sephiroth. The monster.

Everything was crazy. Sephiroth alive? AVALANCHE couldn’t do the job, it seemed, but how had the White Materia gotten unsealed?

For that matter, Rufus knew the girl who stood in front of Sephiroth. She was a Cetra herself, or half, anyway. One of dad’s test subjects. But she was dead, too, dammit. Had Reeve lied when he said that Sephiroth killed her? Why? And Rufus had never seen her after that.

The explanation that made the most sense was that Rufus was dead too, or, more likely, that this was some crazy dream.

He sure wished he’d wake up soon.

Bugenhagen’s chuckle seemed to be the only answer he intended to give. But at last, he spoke. "They are the three I told you of. The Seeker, the Player, and the Bearer. Your comrades."

The skinny, purple-robed man to Sephiroth’s left spoke. "You know of the Prophecy?" he asked.

"Know of it?" Bugenhagen chuckled again. "Why, Player, I wrote the thing."

Rufus had heard all about the damn Prophecy, and it made about as much sense as the rest of what was going on. It didn’t surprise him that Bugenhagen had written it. Another pack of nonsense to go along with Planet Life and all that crap.

And these other two with Sephiroth - who the hell were they? There were just too many questions.

"I’d like some answers," Rufus said.

He should have been careful what he wished for, because he sure as hell got it.

It was Bugenhagen who spoke. "The four of you are the ones I wrote of in the Prophecy, more than ten thousand years ago. Or perhaps I should say that I transcribed the Prophecy.

"We Cetra, you see, had constructed a computer capable of tapping into the infinite knowledge of an existence more ‘real’ than our own. We placed it at the center of the Planetary Library, Data Core, and all our plans, even the Prophecy itself, were based upon its interpretation of the data amassed there. Limited minds such as ours cannot understand the true meaning of such an existence, but what we can understand is... occasionally... enough." He shook his head. "Much was altered, gentlemen, so that four such as you could arise. All was made ready, and the flow of the possible was read by special interpreters until we deemed our preparations adequate. Your arrival was... almost certain."

Almost. Almost?! Rufus wanted to scream it. Prophecies that relied on "almosts" didn’t sound too hot to him.

Bugenhagen chuckled again. "I admit, I’ve often wondered what the Destined Ones would be like. I never expected you and Sephiroth to be among them... but I can see the signs clearly enough, now."

"Maybe you need glasses, old man," Rufus snapped. "We’re talking about Sephiroth. You might remember him? The guy who destroyed the whole damn world?!"

"Yes, yes," Bugenhagen said. "A terrible loss, I agree. But that’s in the past."

"In the past!" Rufus took his eyes off Sephiroth for the first time since the monster had arrived in the Canyon. "Do you know how many people he’s killed? The damage he’s done? He-"

"- was created by your company, wasn’t he?" Bugenhagen asked. "Perhaps the guilt rests with you?"

And perhaps some of it did. Some. But not all. "I’m not the one who called the Meteor."

The man who had spoken before, the Player, stepped forward. "I am uninterested in your world, and in you. Stand aside and let us speak to this... Bugenhagen."

Rufus’ gun was up, pointing at the man. "Back off-"

And then the gun, the expensive carbine he’d sold his coat for, the best damn gun he had, melted.

He dropped it and swore.

The purple-robed man smiled. "Do not think to command me," he said. The flames that licked at his hand, apparently without burning it, died down.

He hadn’t used a Materia.

Rufus gulped.

He was out of his league here.

"Gentlemen," Bugenhagen said, stepping between Rufus and the others, "we must not fight."

That was looking increasingly true. For the first time he could remember, Rufus wished a few of those AVALANCHE guys were around. Maybe they could do the job right this time. And where the hell was Red XIII, anyway? Not that he’d be much help, but it was better than nothing.

"I trust the -Heirs- are well, Seeker?" Bugenhagen asked, ignoring both Rufus and the Player.

Sephiroth lowered his head. "They... are not."

There was no sound but the wind whipping through the narrow canyon. Bugenhagen made no response, none of the others spoke, and Rufus didn’t care to be the one to break the silence.

But it had to be done, and he wanted some answers. "I’m guessing that’s a ‘bad thing,’ right?"

Slowly, Bugenhagen nodded. "Very bad, Leader. Very bad indeed." His voice was suddenly very tired, as old as he looked, and he gave a long sigh. "Gentlemen, you must tell me everything that has happened."

And they did.

Espers, -Heirs-, Runes, Convergences, Prophecies, destinies, other worlds, strange powers, a magical rift, and Rufus was lucky to catch one word in ten. It all sounded like the second biggest load of bull he’d heard in years - the first being that there was a good reason not to put a bullet in Sephiroth’s head then and there.

"And that is why we are here." Sephiroth nodded to Bugenhagen. "If you cannot help us..."

"I can, Seeker." Bugenhagen looked around, probably taking in their expressions. People-watching, testing the waters for what he was going to say. Rufus knew how - he’d done it often enough. "Not only can I help you, I must do so."

If Rufus missed pretty much all of it, at least he had the satisfaction of seeing that the others didn’t know a hell of a lot more. Rufus knew people, he’d made it his business to watch their reactions and figure out what they meant. These Destined Ones had been floundering, stumbling, getting where they did as much by blind luck as anything else.

Blind luck, destiny - same difference, he supposed. Destiny was what you called it when things worked out despite your mistakes.

"You’ve really been waiting all this time?" the one called the Bearer asked. "How can you have known it would work out?"

Bugenhagen smiled. "That, Bearer, is what prophecies are for."

Only two of them seemed to know much of anything - the Player, Ghaleon, he called himself, and Bugenhagen himself. And from their reactions, Rufus figured even they were guessing half the time.

"And you know where those... things... have taken Althena?" Ghaleon demanded. Rufus got the impression he wasn’t all that interested in the rest of the bullshit, just in the one -Heir-.

If Bugenhagen noticed, he didn’t let on. "Those Espers you fought were warriors. There is only one place they could have come from."