[r]ating: PG-13, at the mo'.
[p]airing: Godo/Cho, OC/Cho, Zack/Aerith
[s]ummary: An aging empire too stubborn to know when to back down. A rising corporation with too much power for its own good. The clash of old and new. A more serious look at the Wutai War. "Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind..."
[n]otes: Chapter One, excerpt.
Add. Note: "Regular speech", (thoughts), and "#Wutaian speech #"
I've found truth to be
I've found rivers there
And the world keeps on spinning, round and round
So I lay still and wait
Will we ever have the words?
Will we ever meet again?
All the worries, will slip right away
And even through, all of the clouds disguise the sky
And the reasons aren't clear why
When will we ever find clues to guide us?
Where will we ever find words at all?
— Clue, Gungrave: Beyond the Grave opening theme
One: When Games Become Reality
This is the truth: the end is the beginning is the end is the beginning. The world is neither flat nor round, because it is not real. The only real thing in the world is the One, and there is nothing that is real that is not part of the One. If you can touch it, then it doesn't matter, because it will eventually decay, and the One cannot decay.
You are either unreal or part of the One. Take your pick.
Yeah. I thought so.
There has always been The War. People have always been dying. Always. Every day, a guard leaves the Palace and does not return. This is the way of the world. This is how it has always been.
The War is a hard thing to comprehend. It doesn't seem to have any reason for existing. Everybody hates it, everybody curses it. But nobody refuses to go off and die in it. Sane people would wonder about this, foreigners would wonder about this, but that is simply how things are.
The War has no reason or rhyme to it, it takes who it pleases and whisks them away, to (if they're lucky, whispers Chekhov) come back without an arm or a leg, or maybe undamaged but with a haunted look in the eyes and no time (never any time, nobody whispers at all) for a little girl with her grandmother's hair and her mother's face.
Here then, is the truth. There has always been The War. Always. She does not remember a time when there was not The War.
But she is not concerned with The War. She is concerned with her porcelain doll, and the crack that runs down the back of the doll's head. She does not know how to fix it, or even if it is not too broken to fix, and there is never any time.
Never any time.
Her mother has not stopped carrying her naginata for the past three months. It goes with her everywhere. With it, her mother could unhorse and kill Wutai's best samurai.
Without it, her mother would braid her hair with flowers and sing to her.
Singing. Her mother doesn't sing anymore. Her mother used to sing to her as they brushed each other's hair. Her mother used to hold her and sing. It used to be that her mother was always singing something, the newest song on the city's only radio, or one of the beautiful hymns to Lord Leviathan, or a simple sailor's shanty.
But now her mother walks with her naginata held in her right hand, and does not sing.
She stares at the crack in the doll's head and decides that it isn't worth it to try and fix it. It also isn't worth it to ask for a new doll. There will be no new dolls this year.
She will make do. Ninja always make do, especially cute little ninja with pug noses and their fathers' smiles.
The speaker was the runner for the far edge of the camp— as usual, the far southern edge. For some reason, the ruckus always started on the far southern side of the camp.
Considering that they had camped south of the so-called Heavenly City, Sephiroth found this a bit odd.
But Sephiroth stopped his conversation with Zack anyway and stood to find out what the commotion was. Probably the South Wutaians had driven a herd of monsters toward the camp again, but Wutaians were unpredictable.
"You can't keep doing this every time, 'roth." Zack mumbled around his pencil.
"They can only strike successfully if we relax our guard."
It was a game, of sorts. Sephiroth would tend to the disturbance, and Zack would try to talk him out of doing so. The problem was, neither one of them could always tell when the other was joking. Games tended to become reality.
"You're going to run yourself ragged."
"I'm already ragged. Try another one."
In anything but a game, he would have balked at calling himself ragged. A general was always in control, or at least, always said he was in control. Loss of dominance was weakness. Confusion was weakness. Emotion was weakness. Fatigue was weakness.
Weakness was death.
"Chain of command. You're breaking the chain of command."
"We don't have a chain of command. That's why we're losing the war. Try another one."
Zack thought for a few moments. "It could be a trap."
"If it's a trap, I can deal with it. Try another one."
The shorter man sighed. "This is about the dumbest word game ever. Just go."
Sephiroth saluted (a distinctly mocking salute, of course, because it would be unseemly for him to salute Zack seriously) and left.
It turned out that the disturbance was neither a monster attack nor a brawl. The disturbance was a small, lithe woman clad entirely in black.
This was new.
Sephiroth grabbed the runner by the shoulder. "Go get General Zack."
The runner saluted and did his job: he ran.
Moments later, Zack arrived on the scene. He caught sight of the woman and stiffened.
It wasn't often you saw a ninja in the camp. Sephiroth didn't doubt that the camp had a ninja infestation problem. But a decent ninja— you didn't actually see a decent ninja if he didn't want you to see him.
"# Who are you? #" Zack asked.
"# My name is none of your concern, Isutanaa. You will die, for the indignity you have forced upon my people! #"
Isutanaa. Easterner. There it was, that bizarre Wutaian accent, the way it angled its r sound and dropped the r sounds from other languages.
"# But how am I to know the plight of your people if I do not so much as know your name? And what purpose would killing me serve if I do not know the plight of your people? #"
"# Don't lie! You needn't know my name or the name of my people to know what you've done to them! Ripping the masks from their faces, hanging them upside down as if you have a right to make them do penance! #"
Sephiroth watched the woman's eyes. The pupils had dilated, and something about her speech was... off.
What was that bulge in her stomach? Did he smell... gunpowder? What the hell was going on here?
The woman's hands cradled whatever it was she was hiding in her shirt.
And then he put it together. "Zack, don't go any closer. Zack, stand back!"
But Zack, trying to get an answer out of the ninja, was moving closer.
Sephiroth surged forward, grabbed Zack by the back of his collar, and dragged him backwards.
The ninja exploded. Bits of sharp metal and Wutaian woman cascaded around them, as well bits of Shinra soldiers.
Sephiroth, from behind a tent, sighed. He should have seen that coming. Yet another suicide attack. There had been so many, and he should have seen it coming.