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21 June 2008 @ 11:49 pm
Bend and Break, chapter three (Sephiroth, #50)  
Title: Bend and Break, chapter three
Game: Post-KH2
Theme + Number: #50 - Clear head
Claim: Sephiroth
Characters/Pairings included: Cloud Strife, Zexion (as Iezon), KH versions of Zack Fair, Hojo, and Lucrecia Crescent, Clone #45 and Alice Portman (OCs)
Rating: T/PG-13
Warnings: Mad scientist creepiness
Summary: Sephiroth converses with the clone and learns more about their predicament. Meanwhile, the scientists discuss their plans for Sephiroth and Cloud and Zack visit Iezon for help.

Cross-posted to 31_days, ladybug_tales, and http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4082577/4/


Notes: Thanks to Kaze and Lisa for plot help!


Chapter Three
31 Days: We both know you're worth so much more
Key Blade: Clear head


Working for Dr. Hojo was proving to be a worthwhile experience. He paid well, and Lucrecia was learning so much more about science that she had ever imagined. He had so many intriguing insights that she had attempted to file them away in her mind for further use. When she had free time, she scribbled them down as notes in her journal. Some day she might need to refer to them for her own research.

But there was also something wrong with the man. She really only saw hints of it now and then, but it was obvious. There would be moments when he was describing their latest experiment, and unbridled delight would slip into his voice when speaking of their test subject and what it would undergo. A vague shiver would go up her spine at those times, but then she would push aside her concerns. He was probably only anxious for the results of the experimenting and the good it could bring about, she had decided.

She had not told her parents about those moments. They would probably just tell her it was her imagination---which she knew it was not---or that she should be on her guard around him---which she was. There was no need for it, but it was good to be cautious.

She had been working with him for close to three months when he approached her about a new project.

"So far, we have only been dealing with the preliminary necessities, Dr. Crescent," he said, gesturing at the vials and equipment in the laboratory. "Everything we have been doing has been leading to one purpose."

She blinked in confusion, looking at him. "What do you mean, Doctor?" she asked.

A wicked smile began to play on his features. "Come with me," he said. "I believe you are strong enough to handle this now." With that he turned, walking out of the room. Confused, she set down her clipboard and followed.

Their footsteps echoed down the tiled, white halls before Dr. Hojo at last turned a corner and led her through one final corridor to a lone door. He turned the knob, stepping into another laboratory. As he switched on the light, the entire room was swiftly bathed in the bright glow. Several slabs were in the middle of the floor, each one covered. Crossing to the first one, Dr. Hojo pulled back the sheet.

Lucrecia could not help the gasp of surprise and horror at the sight. It was a human man laying on the slab, the eyes closed and the skin flushed. A stitched incision in the chest was very visible. What was this? Was he . . . dead? What had happened?

Something inside her had stiffened and gone cold. ". . . Doctor?" she said at last.

"Human experimentation, my dear Dr. Crescent," Dr. Hojo said, his voice filled with pride. "This is the future of science."

Lucrecia stepped closer. Now she could see that the chest was rising and falling, but in an erratic manner. "Doctor, human experimentation is illegal in Radiant Garden," she exclaimed. Was this the real reason the previous assistant had left? Suddenly the questions she had been asked in her interview made sense. He had wondered how she would react to this, and he had thought that if she accepted animal experimentation she would not have any problem with the next level.

"Oh, our subjects have agreed to be guinea pigs, of course," Dr. Hojo said. "Tell me, Dr. Crescent, is there a better way to study the human body than to experiment on the human body itself? There is only so much we can learn from lab rats." He paused. "And as for it being illegal, surely you don't believe I am the only one to have this vision? Ansem himself, and especially his protégés, study this as well. It's only illegal because we are feared for the great knowledge we are uncovering."

Lucrecia swallowed hard. Was that true? Was this the dark underbelly of science, and she would not be able to escape it, no matter whom she worked for? The very thought was dizzying.

"With all due respect, Doctor, this isn't why I became a scientist," she said.

"Wasn't it to better humanity?" Dr. Hojo smirked. "That is what we are doing, Dr. Crescent. And really, would our subjects be foolish enough to agree to be experimented on if they didn't know the risks? They have made their own decisions. And you must make yours, too."

This was so much to take in at once. She had never dreamed that this was what would happen on her journey to being a full-fledged scientist. It was hard to know whether to feel betrayed, alarmed, or fascinated. Surely Dr. Hojo knew what he was doing. And if the subjects had agreed, that was a lot different than experimenting on them without their permission. At least Lucrecia was certain no one would be doing
that.

But it was still illegal. As far as she knew, it was not only experimenting with unwilling subjects that was included in the law. Human experimentation was forbidden no matter how it was done.

She looked to the form again. The man did not looked pained, exactly; his expression was unreadable. Yet he seemed stable.

"What has been done to him?" she asked.

Again Dr. Hojo's lips twisted in that unsettling smirk. "A very intriguing process that, when perfected, will greatly benefit mankind," he said. "Come, Dr. Crescent. I will explain it to you."

Lucrecia's decision in this moment would forever alter not only her own future, but that of many others. For a moment she stood, the conflicting thoughts racing through her mind. In good conscience, she did not know if she could ever fully approve of this. But Dr. Hojo was her superior. She needed to keep an open mind.

And she could not deny that she was afraid, as well. If she walked out on him, what would he do to her? When she thought of it, she had never heard anything about his last assistant after her departure. Probably she had just left the world of science. But when she recalled Dr. Hojo's almost sadistic delight when describing their past experiments, her stomach began to turn. What if he really would perform human experimentation without the victims' permission?

Now she was just getting carried away. She needed to approach this logically. Still, was it good logic to stay, or even to just be willing to hear about the project? Well . . . she owed him that, at least. Then she could make her final decision.

She gave a single nod. "Alright, Doctor," she said.

Hojo was obviously pleased. "I'm glad to see that you have a clear head, Dr. Crescent," he said as he walked to the other side of the room.

Lucrecia followed. She could not help feeling less sure of that fact than he did.

****

There are dark shadows all around me. I know I'm still in Castle Oblivion, but I can barely see the room. I'm stumbling, struggling to find the light switch. All around me are screams---familiar screams---and in every direction I go, they become louder and more pained. I want to open my mouth, to demand for the cruelty to cease and to find out where you and Zack are, but my throat is tight. I cannot give voice to my orders no matter how hard I try.

Then Hojo's abominable voice joins in. "Such magnificent hearts, aren't they?" he says. "So much can be done with them."

More screaming. But abruptly it stops, choked as if blood has rushed into the throats.

I scream instead, in rage and horror.


Sephiroth's eyes flew open. He was gasping, perspiration streaming down his face. In his hands he gripped the thin sheet, his knuckles turning white from the force of his grasp. He was still in that same cell, the door standing open to reveal the laboratory beyond. He slumped back into the bed, moving a shaking hand to release the sheet and instead brush his bangs out of his face. The voices were still echoing through his mind---the screams just as pronounced and anguished, Hojo's laughter just as cruel, and the sudden cut-off of the cries just as horrible.

"You were dreaming."

He looked to the door. Clone 45 was standing in the doorway, the same sad expression gracing his ruddy features.

"It was only foolishness," Sephiroth returned. "It won't happen."

"But you're afraid it will." 45 spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. "Were you imagining White Coat removing your heart?"

"No." Sephiroth looked away. He did not want to discuss it. It was too horrifying. And he was not the type who was frightened by his dreams, or even paid much heed to them at all. During the time of his captivity, he had been forced to take a close look at the dream of the woman carrying a child. But he would not consider that this latest incubus was a warning of something to come. He would die before he would let Zack and Cloud be tortured like that and turned into Heartless. He would kill Hojo in the most graphic way he could, if that was the only way to stop him---even if it meant he himself would go to Hell as a result.

"All of us have had the dreams," 45 said, walking slowly into the cell. "Everyone wonders who will be next."

Sephiroth gave a deep frown. The clone sounded so resigned to his fate, as if he was not even going to try to stop it. Maybe by now they had tried everything and their hope was long ago spent. But it still bothered Sephiroth. It bothered him greatly that any clone of himself---or anyone at all, clone or not---would be at the point of sad acceptance. He was not willing to accept this. He would fight until his very last breath, and if he was turned into a Heartless, then he would become like the ones 45 had spoken of that were roaming about---waiting for the chance to attack Hojo and bring this madness to an end.

"Everyone wonders, but no one does anything about it," he deduced.

45 watched him, his sunken eyes never changing their expression. "We've tried," he said. "As soon as White Coat began to experiment on us, we began to rebel. If we were all gathered in the same place, he would not stand a chance. He makes sure to keep us all separated from each other."

Sephiroth looked back to him. "And individually you're too weak to fight him?"

"It's the same as it is with you," said 45. "He brings his henchmen with him, and of course we try to fight, but we're overpowered. Then when he's through, we're dragged back to wherever we're kept. This cell is my domain; that is why I'm able to be here with you."

Sephiroth frowned in confusion. "But you said that you'd spoken to Hojo about bringing me here," he said. "And that you then brought me."

A nod. "In exchange for a bit of freedom, I help him with some of the tasks," 45 said. "I'm always hoping to find a way to foil his plans and gather my brothers together. That hasn't come to pass yet. We're only allowed to be with one other captive at any given time."

Sephiroth grunted. "And Hojo isn't afraid that even two could overpower him?"

"When they're both weakened and ill? Not especially." 45 studied him. "You're improving, though. You responded very well to the treatment."

That news only revolted him. He did not want to be sustained by Hojo's abominable experiment. Knowing what was coursing through his veins, and why, was infuriating and demeaning.

"What about you?" he asked instead. "You aren't looking well at all. Haven't you been exposed to this . . . treatment?"

45 shook his head. "It wasn't tried to this extent on anyone but you," he said. "I and my brothers were given the medicine in smaller doses, and once White Coat saw that we responded to it, he focused on developing it to use on you."

And this was all the more outrageous. "Then you and the other clones . . ."

". . . Are failing rapidly," 45 finished. "The other experimentation has made us very ill, especially when White Coat barely tries to restore our health. If we don't all become Heartless, we will still die. But we would rather have that fate than the alternative."

Sephiroth narrowed his eyes. "You said that Hojo wouldn't stand a chance against all of the clones, so they must still be in fairly good health," he remarked.

"Maybe," 45 said. "Even if they are fine today, I couldn't say how they'll be tomorrow."

He gave Sephiroth a concerned look. "And all the conversation is wearing you down," he said. "White Coat gave you enough of the substance to heal your worst injuries, but you're still very weak. The treatment drains your energy as it repairs the damage. You need to rest."

"I'm fine," Sephiroth retorted. How could he possibly rest after hearing these revelations? What they needed to do was plan how to escape. He did not want to run the risk of falling asleep and having another foolish, time-wasting dream.

But his eyes were beginning to ache. He leaned further into the pillows, closing his eyes to rest them. ". . . Do the other clones feel bitter towards me?" he asked.

"Bitter?" 45 repeated in confused surprise.

"Because they were brought into this cold and cruel existence by my DNA," Sephiroth said, "and because Hojo has stopped doing anything to help them in favor of experimenting on me." Not to mention that he was subjecting the clones to a worse fate than death in order to sustain Sephiroth's life.

45 sighed. ". . . Yes, some of them are bitter," he said. "Mostly, however, they recognize that White Coat is our true enemy. You are as much a victim as any of us."

Sephiroth grunted, a wing twitching in acknowledgment.

"You're more spent than you're willing to admit," said 45. "Sleep."

Sephiroth wanted to stay awake. The wing twitched again, from reflex. 45 was speaking from far away now, through a dense fog that had settled over his ears. Suddenly he was so exhausted, as if he had been drugged. Could what he had been injected with be having this effect on him? Or was he really this tired on his own?

High above them, through a one-way window of glass, Hojo and Portman were observing.

Hojo smirked, crossing his arms. "Look how weary and worn out he is," he said. "I wonder what Clone Forty-Five told him."

"Most likely the dark secrets of his recovery," Portman said.

Hojo nodded, looking thoughtful. "Such an intriguing process it has been," he mused. "Who would have imagined a few years ago that the study of hearts could result in such a powerful medicine?"

Now Portman frowned. "Is it true that you are planning to do the same thing to your son that you did with the clones?" she asked.

Hojo looked to her. "Oh, certainly not for a while," he said. "It can only be done once. I must plan it very carefully." His eyes glittered in anticipation. "Mostly with him, I simply want to see what his Heartless and Nobody forms would be like. I have this feeling that he, like Ansem's apprentice, would be strong-willed enough to keep human forms for both. But would he remain as good as he is? Or would he be tainted by the experience? And what about his caring for his precious friends? There is so much to be learned."

"What a waste," Portman said. "Once it's done, it can't be reversed, as you yourself have just said. It's so much better to experiment on him when he is his true self."

Again the cruel smirk. "Ah, but my dear Portman, that is also part of the experiment," Hojo declared. "I will see if it's possible to reunite Heartless and Nobody."

"And if not?" Portman looked through the glass at Sephiroth's sleeping form. "Why not practice on the clones first? I haven't been allowed yet to even accomplish my experimentation on the subject."

Hojo shrugged. "Of course, I plan to test the clones first, if I can ever contain their Heartless and Nobody forms," he said. "They have been hiding in the shadows and I have not had the opportunity to entice them out."

"What a foolish man you are," Portman said. "They are average Heartless, yet they still have a deep-rooted loathing for you. When they're hungry, it's you whom they will come for. You have no concept of what you are dealing with."

A mad grin spread across Hojo's features. "I'm not adverse to experimenting on myself," he said.

Portman raised an eyebrow. "And if you became Heartless and Nobody, would you expect me to attempt restoring you?"

"I wouldn't expect anything," Hojo answered. "After all, we don't trust anyone but ourselves, do we?"

"No," Portman agreed, continuing to study Sephiroth and 45 in the cell below, "we really don't."

"Then there isn't a concern, is there?" Hojo said.

Portman looked back to him. "You didn't answer when I would be able to experiment on your son," she said. "I certainly didn't agree to be part of this scheme solely to watch you work."

Hojo smirked cruelly. "You will have your chance," he said. "Perhaps when Sephiroth awakens again would be a good time."

Portman nodded. "Then I will hold you to that."

"And you keep referring to him as my son," Hojo said. "Do I detect accusation in your tones?"

"No," Portman said. "Merely fact. After all, I remember well when he was born. You were so pleased to have an heir. But was this all that you wanted him for?"

"All?" Hojo said, his tone vague. "To know that he is as strong as a son of mine should be? If he was weak, he would be a disgrace."

"You don't think he's weak, to have such close ties to other people?" Portman wondered. "You always felt that it would be his undoing."

Hojo's visage twisted in wickedness. "I'm sure you'll see about bringing him to the realization of the 'truth', won't you, Portman?" he purred. "If I had raised him, as I had wanted, I never would have let it happen. But since it has, it must be . . . undone."

"Of course," Portman said. "By the time I'm through with him, he will believe that his friends have abandoned him and that they never did care about him." She paused. "But what will you do when they do come?"

"They might never find this place," Hojo said. "Would they ever consider the castle once inhabited by Organization XIII?"

"They will look until they find Sephiroth, no matter how long it takes," Portman said. "I can convince Sephiroth that they despise him, but it will be a lie. Even if it takes years, they will come."

"Years," Hojo repeated with a cackle. "Sephiroth may not still be sane in years. He may not still be sane in days." He sneered. "But whenever his precious friends do come, he will kill them himself."

"Excellent," Portman said. "Yes, we will see just how strong his loyalty and faith is, and obliterate it."

"Faith?" Hojo repeated. "In his friends, or even in something . . . higher?"

Portman shrugged. "Any and all," she said. "But does he even believe in a god?"

"He certainly has never spoken of it aloud, that I've heard," Hojo said. "I would have raised him atheist. As it is, who knows what he believes."

"Even if you had raised him and taught him atheism, there isn't any guarantee he would have stuck with it," Portman pointed out.

"True," Hojo said. "Especially when he has such a mind of his own. But tell me, can you really picture Sephiroth as a religious man?"

"Not particularly," Portman said. "But they do say there are no atheists in foxholes." She smirked. "I wonder if that would extend to people desperate to stay sane while at the mercy of scientists?"

Hojo laughed. "We shall see," he said. "After all, we have no mercy."

Down below, Sephiroth's wings were twitching as he moved onto his side---as if subconsciously he sensed that he was the subject of discussion.
****

Cloud was tense as he drove into the village boundaries hours later. By now his eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and his arms were aching from being held up so that his hands gripped the steering wheel. At his side, Zack's eyes also resembled a road map. The brunet could not control a powerful yawn that ripped forth.

Hours earlier, Zack had just started to pack when he had thought of asking Merlin to teleport them here. That certainly would have been preferable, but Merlin had not been at home and Yuffie had not known when he would get back. So Zack had decided that they should stick to the original plan of driving down, instead of waiting for Merlin. And that had brought them to this point.

It was surprising to see how the village had been built up since their last visit. The houses and huts were made of stronger materials than before, and did not merely have badly thatched roofs. Several small businesses appeared to be thriving. After the defeat of the dragons, the people claiming to have fallen into ruin had been granted hope. They were taking care of themselves much better.

Zack straightened up more, seeing this. "This is really great!" he chirped. "It barely even looks like the same place."

Cloud nodded. "It's pretty encouraging," he said. "But I wonder if that guy is going to be hard to find."

"He'd been living at the edge of town," Zack mused. "So we should try there first."

Cloud drove on in silence until coming to what had been Iezon's hut. An oil lamp still burned in the window, indicating the occupant was either awake or very stupid. The blond parked the Jeep, beginning to climb out. Zack followed suit, leaning on his cane.

"Too bad they don't have telephone service yet," Cloud muttered as he headed for the door. He gave a firm rap.

The door creaked open, a turquoise eye peering back at him. After a moment it blinked and the door opened wider. Iezon, still wearing a dark cloak but no longer bearing the hood, stood in the doorway. He looked from Cloud to Zack in surprise.

"It's been a while," he commented.

"Yeah, it has," Zack chirped. "The place is looking great!"

Iezon nodded in an offhand sort of way. "Did you find your friend?" he asked.

"No," Cloud said. "We came here to ask you some stuff."

Iezon shrugged. "He isn't here," he said. "I already let the military look for him."

"Well, here's the thing," Zack said. "A mad scientist took him." He gripped his cane. "We've been looking everywhere we can think of and we've just exhausted it all. And well . . . we kinda wondered if you'd know a good place to try next. . . . Some place where mad scientists might hang out or something." He shifted. Hopefully he would not offend Iezon with this line of questioning. He would surely know why they had come to ask him about it.

Now Iezon paused, tapping the doorframe with his fingers. "Come inside," he said then. He stepped aside, allowing them entrance. Once the duo was through the doorway, he closed the door behind them.

"The villagers still don't know who you are, do they?" Zack surmised.

"I've never had a reason to tell them," was the reply.

Cloud wondered if Iezon thought that they would not accept him if they knew that he had been partially responsible for the Heartless invasion ten years ago. But that did not seem likely, either, since many of them had also committed heinous crimes as their reason for self-exile. Probably it was as he said; after all, even though Iezon had somehow ended up a leader of the people, he was not sociable.

"I'm guessing you've looked through every part of the castle in town," he said now.

"Yep," Zack said. "Up, down, left, right, sideways . . ." He shook his head with a sigh. "Nothing. The guy was there before, but he's totally cleared out now."

Iezon hesitated. "Have you ever heard of Castle Oblivion?" he asked.

Cloud's eyes narrowed. He had, from Sora as well as from his own past travels---though he had been lucky enough to have never needed to go there or venture inside. "Isn't it some kind of thing filled with dark magic?" he said.

"That's right." Iezon gave a single nod. "It used to be that upon entering, one's memories would be transformed into a deck of cards. Later, during the time when the castle was in the possession of Organization XIII, its powers were twisted even further. Through the manipulation of a witch, one could begin losing memories, even having them replaced by false remembrances."

"That's awful!" Zack gasped, his eyes wide. "So you're saying if Seph's there, he might not even remember us?!"

"I don't know how it is now," Iezon confessed. "The witch's powers are no longer active, and it's possible that when the Keybearer defeated Organization XIII, the other dark magic collapsed as well. Castle Oblivion may be completely dormant in its realm. If someone were to go inside it who doesn't have powers, such as a scientist, it would probably not activate again. Or maybe he would even be able to bend the castle's powers to his own will, if he knew how. He could erect a magic barrier to prevent Sephiroth from using his fire abilities."

Zack swallowed hard. "So . . . where is its realm?" he asked.

"It's between light and dark." Iezon crossed his arms. "Even though it's closer to dark than light."

"That's an understatement," Cloud bitterly muttered. The thought of memories being taken away and even altered angered him. Who would have created such a place to begin with? The answer seemed obvious---probably some other mad scientist.

"And this is where you think Seph might've been taken?" Zack said, his stomach plummeting.

"If the scientist knows of it, then I'd say it's likely." Iezon frowned. "Who is it?" There was always the chance that he would know of the person. And if so, he might be able to shed even more light on the subject.

"Doctor Hojo." Cloud's voice was cold and hard now. Even just speaking the name felt like saying dirty words.

The visible turquoise eye widened. "Hojo . . ."

The fact that someone such as Iezon found this disturbing did not help Zack control his panic. "You do know about him?!" he exclaimed.

"He was one of Ansem's most prominent rivals," Iezon explained. "Ansem never did like him. But Xehanort found him fascinating. If things had turned out differently, he might have tried to recruit Hojo as an ally."

"That's really not encouraging," Zack moaned.

"What does Hojo want with your friend?" Iezon queried, looking from Zack to Cloud. "He never picked his subjects at random; he always had a very precise idea of what he was looking for in a guinea pig."

"He's always had a big interest in Sephiroth." Cloud frowned. "We've never known why, except that he wants to know all about Sephiroth's wings."

Iezon focused on Cloud. "Then why hasn't he been just as interested in you?"

Cloud shook his head. "I don't know," he said, helplessness washing over him. It was one of the things he had wondered off and on for some time. After all, if Hojo's main interest was the wings, then he should have found Cloud a suitable test subject as well. Instead he always bypassed Cloud for Sephiroth. But neither he or Zack had been able to come up with a reason why.

"It could be a key to what's happening now," Iezon said. "I recommend you try everything possible to arrive at an answer."

He reached for a piece of paper and a pen on the desk. "Meanwhile, I'll give you directions to Castle Oblivion."

Zack gave a grateful nod. "Thanks," he said.

He exchanged a worried look with Cloud. If there was some way to learn why Hojo was intrigued by Seph, they likely needed to find it and arrive at the answer before going to the foreboding castle. But it seemed impossible. Where would there possibly be any clues on that?

Or was the answer very simple?

"Hey," he said then, "what if we went to Seph's old home?"

Cloud blinked. "What for?" he demanded. "Wasn't it messed up in the Heartless attack?"

Zack nodded. "But maybe some stuff's still intact, like boxes and records and stuff! Maybe there's some clue there that'd help us figure out why Hojo's after Seph."

"I'm willing to try anything," Cloud said, and frowned. "But would that mean his parents knew about Hojo? Or that Hojo's been wanting to get Sephiroth for years?"

"I don't know." Zack gave a helpless shrug. "Maybe just something that happened when he was a kid that caught Hojo's interest."

"Maybe he's just interested because Sephiroth disappeared for a year and then popped up with wings," Cloud said. "I didn't ever actually disappear; I just wandered all around everywhere."

"Yeah, true." Zack sighed. "I'm probably just grasping at straws." He ran a hand through his hair.

"Let's try it anyway," Cloud said.

Now Iezon straightened, handing the sheet of paper to Zack. "I'd wish you good luck," he said, "but I don't believe in it."

Zack saluted. "Well, thanks a million!" he said, looking down to the directions. "We'll let you know if this works out."

"Yeah, you might want to consider telephones," Cloud remarked, gesturing by placing his hand at his ear as if holding a receiver.

"There hasn't been much need for them," Iezon said, "since these people don't have contact with anyone in the outside world."

"It'd sure be useful when we need to ask a question!" Zack said.

"Is Castle Oblivion the only place you can think of where Sephiroth might be?" Cloud asked.

"Offhand, yes," Iezon replied, "if you've already scoured Hollow Bastion. But Hojo likely has many hideouts, possibly spanning many worlds and realms."

"That's a scary thought," Zack declared.

Cloud rubbed his eyes as he headed for the door. Castle Oblivion by itself sounded bad enough. What if Sephiroth was not there and they had to find somewhere else to try? How would they ever know where a mad scientist would hang out?

He had to hope that not only would Sephiroth be at Castle Oblivion, but that if it was important to know they would be able to learn why Hojo had taken him.

Actually, when he thought of it, he also had to hope that there wouldn't be anything crazy going on at Castle Oblivion, such as decks of memory cards and memories being changed.

What were they getting into? What was Sephiroth already into?

"I guess you can't come with us to make sure we do things right," Zack was saying in the present. Cloud turned back to look.

Iezon shook his head. "I have responsibilities here," he said. His voice hardened. "And I will never return to Castle Oblivion."

Zack nodded slowly. He did not altogether understand the bitterness in Iezon's tones, but it was not his place to pry. "Okay then," he said, opening the door. "Thanks again for all your help!" He hurried down the steps, heading back to the Jeep.

Cloud nodded as well. "See you later," he said, going out the door after Zack.

Iezon crossed his arms, watching the two get back into the vehicle. He lingered as the engine revved, observing as Cloud steered the Jeep away from the hut and back the way they had come. With hardly any other illumination around, the glow from the headlights remained for some time afterwards, shrinking and vanishing into the night.

Iezon sighed, stepping further inside and shutting the door. He had to wonder what it would be like, to have someone care so much about him that they would be willing to transcend all dimensions and hardships to find and help him. He could not recall that anyone had cared about him in that way.

He could not recall that he had ever cared that way about someone else, either.

What a lonely and selfish life he had always led.
 
 
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