Chapter 29

Jowy lay in a pool of blood. Thick, black esper blood, and the thinner, red variety. Human blood. Blood his blades had spilled.

His eyes shot open.

The clouds above the village had long since dispersed. Though the long day of this world, which seemed to go on for an eternity, was finally nearing its end, the light still hurt his eyes.

He squinted against it and looked around.

Everyone, everything, was dead. He lay on the blood-soaked ground only a few yards from the body of one of the villagers.

He couldn’t tell what had caused the gash that had killed the young peasant. A scythe? A claw? A... sword?

His sword?

Abruptly, he turned his head away. But there was no escaping the sight. The village was in ruins, and corpses littered the town square.

Jowy got to his feet, head bowed.

How many of these people had died because of what he’d done?

He couldn’t bear to think of the battle. It was shrouded in a haze of blood and fire and clanging metal, and he preferred it that way. If he had to relive that horror in his thoughts, he was sure it would consume him.

He held up his hand, staring at the Beast Rune’s mark inscribed upon it.

Jillia had warned him of it. It had destroyed everything else she’d had. Her brother, her family.

He had believed that he could control it.

He had been a fool.

Perhaps someone could control the Beast Rune, but Jowy was not that one. He did not have the strength.

There was no denying that he had caused the deaths of innocents before this day. He had led Highland’s war with Jowston, and war was a chaotic thing. Many suffered, even those who had nothing to do with the conflict. Such was the lot of humanity. But always, he had tried to ease that suffering.

This... this was different.

This was no war.

It was murder.

"You’re awake."

Jowy spun around at the sound of a voice.

Sephiroth stood, his strange weapon pointed at Jowy’s chest, its long glowing blade withdrawn into the hilt.

Aeris, who had been standing at Sephiroth’s side, put her hand on his arm. "He is himself now."

"We shall see," he said, his eyes never leaving Jowy’s. "So, Bearer, have you regained your sanity?"

Jowy’s gaze swept over the ruined village of Burg. He closed his eyes. "No," he said, quietly.

Was this what had happened to Luca Blight? Had the Beast Rune made him the monster he had had been? Was Jowy now the same as the man he hated most?

No. Luca Blight had been evil enough in his heart. The Beast Rune had given him the power to destroy, but the desire had been his to begin with. Whatever darkness was within his soul, it had existed before the Rune ever touched his flesh.

Jowy had been conscious the whole time he’d used the Rune. Even as the part of his mind that it occupied instructed his body to continue the slaughter, he had cried out against it.

And it hadn’t mattered. He had been powerless to stop it.

Just as he had been powerless to protect Pilika, all those years ago.

His body, another body - what was the difference? His arrogance had caused this horror, and his weakness had allowed it.

Then, as now, he was guilty.

"Open your eyes," Sephiroth said coldly.

Jowy did so.

"What is the matter with you?" Sephiroth demanded.

Jowy said nothing. His gaze again swept over the village. Surely that was explanation enough.

Jowy’s head was snapped to the side by a slap. He raised his hand to his mouth, feeling the trickle of blood there.

The Seeker’s eyes met his. "Do you think you have sinned, Bearer?" he asked.

"Yes," Jowy said.

"And because of that, you will stand dumbly and let the world suffer a fate worse even than this." Sephiroth shook his head and turned away.

He strode toward the forest. As he passed by Aeris, she lay her hand on his arm. He stopped.

He glanced over his shoulder. "Know this, Bearer. You and I are alike, now. What we have done in the past can never be forgotten. Perhaps it can never be forgiven, either. To fight on without hope of any redemption may be the act of a fool. But, for you and I, it may also be all we can do."

And with that, he continued up the forest path.

With a last nod to Jowy, Aeris followed him.

What Sephiroth had said was true, of course. One way or another, Jowy’s thoughts were a kind of self-pity. He still had a duty. If he did not fulfill it, countless more would die. This was no time for regrets.

That time would come after the duty was done.

Jowy took a deep breath, gave the quietly burning village one more look, and started up the path after them.