Chapter 7

And now, gentlemen, I will tell you of the Espers."

Ghaleon forced himself to stand patiently in the hot afternoon sun, to not interrupt Bugenhagen. As fascinating as the old Cetra’s descriptions of the probability engine and the Prophecy were, they were irrelevant to finding Althena.

But this... this had promise.

"Hold up a second."

Ghaleon turned his gaze to the one Bugenhagen called the Leader, this Rufus Shinra. The rough, scarred young man did not look like a leader. And what need had Ghaleon of a leader, anyway? He knew his task. And now this interruption!

"Before you go merrily off on Bugenhagen’s little quest," Shinra said, "I wonder if you know who you’re working with."

Ghaleon practically laughed aloud. Was this little man going to boast of his own superiority, now?

Shinra’s gaze shifted to Sephiroth. "I think you should see what he did."

"I frankly do not care," Ghaleon said.

"You will," Shinra insisted. He had that look about him - he wouldn’t be silent until he had wasted more of their time. Perhaps it would be quicker to simply go along with his nonsense.

Bugenhagen’s weathered face was curved in a frown, but he nodded his consent. "A few moments, Leader. No more."

"As long as it takes," Shinra said. "You can wait a little longer."

But could Althena? Ghaleon steeled himself against the delays his companions would insist upon. He would find her. Soon.

But he would need the others, Atriedes and Sephiroth anyway, at least until she was safely in his arms again. The Espers were powerful indeed, and he did not care to face them unaided in their lair.

"Let us be done with this," Ghaleon said.

He was surprised that neither of his fellow Destined Ones had spoken one way or another. Perhaps they wished to see this sight for themselves. No doubt they would torture their overactive consciences over whatever horrors awaited them. No doubt, it would be irrelevant.

Only Althena mattered. They had not harmed her, had they? Nor could their actions have displeased her, for she did not know of them. What did such trifles matter?

Shinra led them up a long staircase carved into the canyon face. They walked in silence, whatever their reasons, and Aeris remained behind with Bugenhagen. Perhaps she did not wish to face what had happened to her world.

They soon came to the top of the canyon, for the stairway was steep. Atop it was a mesa, not wide, but long. And beyond it...

Not far from where they stood, a few dozen miles at most, there was a crater. It must have been blown out some time ago. Perhaps a year or two. Ghaleon could not tell from where he stood.

"Meteor struck there?" Sephiroth asked.

Shinra laughed bitterly. "A fragment struck there. Maybe a hundredth of the thing itself. It hit with more force than all the weapons ShinRa ever created combined. And there were dozens like it. In the twenty-four hours after the Meteor entered the atmosphere, 85% of the population was wiped out - close to that, anyway. Nobody knows exactly how much. Every city with a Mako reactor was wiped out completely. More than forty million men, women and children died in Midgar alone."

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. That was a most impressive feat of destruction. With such power, he would be able to properly punish the Espers for what they’d done, for what Zalbard had threatened to do.

He would have to keep it in mind.

"Why show this to us?" Atriedes asked.

"Just thought you should know what your good buddy Sephiroth did for his last trick," Shinra said. "Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Half the survivors of that last 15% died within the month, killed by residual Lifestream or by each other. If there are more than a million people left on this planet, I’d be surprised - most of them here in Cosmo, in Icicle Lodge, maybe Wutai and Bone Village."

Sephiroth said nothing. His eyes were locked on the empty horizon, past the crater.

"And that was just because the Meteor didn’t do what it was supposed to," Shinra continued, his performance clearly as much for Sephiroth’s ‘benefit’ as to inform Ghaleon and Atriedes. "Now if it had really hit home, the entire planet would have been split almost clean in half. Everything on it would be dead. Everything. Except for Sephiroth here, and he probably would have been some kind of god."

Ghaleon’s eyebrow inched higher. It was a pity he hadn’t known of this sooner. Had he returned to Lunar in divine glory, the Espers would never have taken Althena. He could have made good on his promise to remain at her side then and there, immortal and all-powerful.

But it was not to be.

Shinra probably would not have cared for the expression of disinterested curiosity on Ghaleon’s face. Most likely, Atriedes would have cared for it even less. But the two men's’ eyes were fixed on Sephiroth, one in shock, the other in anger.

"Say something, dammit!" Shinra snapped.

Sephiroth turned to him. "I do not believe there is anything to say."

"I guess ‘I’m sorry I killed millions of people and nearly destroyed the world’ doesn’t cut it, huh?" Shinra shrugged. "There isn’t anything you can say."

"Stop it!" All four turned to see Aeris all but climb the last stair leading up to the mesa. She fixed her gaze on Shinra with a ferocity that seemed to be quite uncharacteristic for her.

"I suppose you think it’s all fine and well, huh?" Shinra asked, his own face set in an expression that mirrored hers.

"No," she said, standing in front of him. "But I don’t think you have any right to speak. Wouldn’t you have done the same thing as Sephiroth? Didn’t ShinRa want the Black Materia, too? What was the Promised Land, Rufus? How did you plan to create it?"

He didn’t reply.

"Sephiroth fights now to save the worlds. He’s trying to make up for what he did." She was practically shaking now. "It seems all you’re trying to do is drive him mad again."

She spun around.

"It doesn’t matter," Sephiroth said. "There is nothing to say. But there is much to do."

Ghaleon heartily agreed with him.