The Illusion - Five Years Ago, In Nibelheim

"What I have shown you is reality. What you remember; that is the illusion."

There are two versions of Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth's respective pasts - what actually happened five years ago, and the version that each of them actually remembers or believes to have happened. In this section, the illusory events of the Nibelheim fire and the events proceeding it are told from all three perspectives...

Cloud's perspective

Cloud's version of events is particularly distorted, having been influenced by the Jenova cells in his body. What he remembers of his past is as follows..

In the beginning.. Cloud grew up in Nibelheim, living there all his life until reaching the age of 14, when he decided he wanted to join the elite SOLDIER - and be like the great Sephiroth. He was close friends with Tifa growing up - and on the night of his decision to leave Nibelheim, he asked Tifa to join him at the well. He made a promise on this night to Tifa - if she was ever in trouble he would come and rescue her. With this, he left Nibelheim.

Two years later, at the age of 16, Cloud returns to Nibelheim as Sephiroth's second-in-command - having fulfilled his dreams of joining SOLDIER and reaching First Class. On the journey, he consoles one of the guards on his travel sickness, but says - "I wouldn't know.. I've never had motion sickness." There have been reports of increased monster activity in the Mount Nibel area, possibly due to a reactor leak, and a SOLDIER group has been dispatched to investigate further. This is Cloud's first visit to Nibelheim in two years and he looks forward to seeing Tifa, but she is nowhere to be found - so instead, he visits her house, playing the piano in her room. and reading a letter to Tifa from one of her childhood friends; the son of the general store owner:

Tifa; how are you? I just arrived in Midgar eight days ago. Yesterday, all of Nibelheim got together to welcome me. The only person that we couldn't get a hold of was Cloud. But everyone said he wasn't really that close to us. So even if we asked, he probably wouldn't have come anyway. Well, enough about him. Midgar is really something. But to tell the truth, I feel so behind on everything... so out of it. Even the rooms of people in the slums are clean. Right now, I'm living in the slums, but I plan to move to a really nice room, like the ones I've seen in magazines, once I make some money. ...But, to do that, I guess I have to find a job first. That's right. I still haven't found a job yet. I lied to my parents and told them I found a great job with Shinra, Inc. I wonder if it's too late to go back. Sometimes I think I should've taken over my parents' store.

Cloud also visits his mother - but for some reason, his memories of this are very vague. After a night at the inn, the group wake up the next morning ready to visit the reactor, and Cloud discovers that their guide will be Tifa - who has been studying martial arts under an instructor named Zangan, and is one of the best guides that the town has to offer.

Before leaving for the Mount Nibel reactor, a local takes a photo of Tifa, Cloud and Sephiroth as a souveneir. The group then leaves, accompanied by two uniformed and masked Shinra soldiers. On the way to the reactor, the team is seperated - leaving only the main three, and one Shinra soldier to continue to the reactor. Only Cloud and Sephiroth enter the reactor itself. Inside there is a room with a plaque over it reading "Jenova" and numerous metal pods - there seems to be nothing out of the ordinary except a malfunctioning valve, which Sephiroth quickly closes. On closer inspection, however, the metal cases in the reactor contain organisms condensed with Mako - engineered monsters, once humans, part of Hojo's experimentation. Cloud then watches as Sephiroth begins to lose his mind - doubting where he came from, and believing that he was also created in this way by Hojo - he recalls that his mother, who he never met, was named Jenova - and believes that the organism of the same name contained in the reactor core is no coincidence.

Cloud then returns to Nibelheim, and enters the Shinra Mansion - where he finds Sephiroth in the basement, poring over Shinra documents and texts in an attempt to find out his true past. When Cloud returns later, Sephiroth calls him a traitor, and then leaves - his final words, "Out of my way.. I'm going to see my mother."

On leaving the Shinra Mansion, Cloud finds the town ablaze, and on checking his own home, finds his mother dead. He then sees Sephiroth through the flame, leaving the town towards Mount Nibel - and proceeds to follow him to the reactor.

Inside the reactor once again, Cloud finds Tifa kneeling over her father - presumably stabbed by Sephiroth. He then watches as Tifa snatches up Sephiroth's masamune and runs deeper into the reactor core. When Cloud follows, barely any time later, he finds Tifa badly wounded on the steps of Jenova's containment chamber, having been overpowered by Sephiroth. After carrying Tifa to a more comfortable position, Cloud then follows Sephiroth into the Jenova room, where he witnesses Sephiroth's fully evolved madness - "I am the chosen one. ... chosen to be the leader of this planet ... orders to take the planet back .. for the Cetra." Sephiroth then rips off the armour covering Jenova - revealing the blue, frozen alien organism beneath. Both Cloud and Sephiroth ready themselves for battle, and..

.. That is as far as Cloud's memories stretch. What happened to Sephiroth, he couldn't tell say, why Sephiroth didn't then kill both him and Tifa, he has no idea.. and how he reached Midgar and met up with Tifa once again five years later is a mystery. Which brings us to Tifa's story ...

Tifa's perspective

Tifa's memories are more confused than anything.. mostly due to her uncertainty about Cloud owing to their strongly contrasting versions of their childhoods. She doesn't mention any of her insecurities to Cloud, however, letting the truth emerge on its own..

Tifa grew up in Nibelheim with many friends, but there was one boy she didn't know as well - Cloud Strife. By the age of 14, despite having lived in the same town for their entire lives, they barely knew each other. The first contact they had was when Tifa was eight, the day her mother died - and the day she decided to climb the Nibel mountains, wondering "Did mama pass through the mountains?" . Her friends, warning Tifa against her plan, ran back to Nibelheim, and only Cloud followed her. Shortly after crossing the ropebridge to Mount Nibel itself, Tifa lost her footing and fell off the cliff - Cloud failing to save her. She was in a coma for a week.

At the age of 14, Cloud called Tifa out to the village well one night - which was strange, since they still didn't know each other that well. Cloud explained to Tifa his plans to leave Nibelheim and join SOLDIER, aiming to be as strong as Sephiroth. Tifa made Cloud promise that if she was ever in trouble, he would come back to rescue her - "If I'm ever in trouble, my hero will come and save me. I want to experience that at least once." Cloud agreed, and left soon after for Midgar - and this is the last Tifa saw of him until their meeting in Midgar seven years later.

In the two years that followed, Tifa learned martial arts under her instructor Zangan - and also became very familiar with the Nibel mountains, eventually acting as a guide for the region. She heard that a SOLDIER party was visiting the area, and hoped Cloud would be among them - as she had checked newpaper articles during the years he had been away hoping to hear something of his progress, but with no success.

A SOLDIER party did pay a visit to Nibelheim to investigate a reactor leak - Sephiroth with his second-in-command and a small group of Shinra soldiers - but Tifa did not see Cloud among this party, despite waiting by the gates of Nibelheim for an entire day, expecting to see him. After guiding Sephiroth's group to the reactor, Tifa was made to wait outside - and Sephiroth's madness was completely unexpected. Her father followed Sephiroth back to the reactor during the Nibelheim fire, attempting to stop him, but Sephiroth defeated him easily - and Tifa, determined to avenge her father's death, snatched up Sephiroth's masamune and ran into the reactor's inner core in pursuit.

Shouting "How could you do that to papa and all the townspeople?" , Tifa runs up the stairs towards Jenova's containment chamber, but Sephiroth easily turns his sword upon her, cutting her with a force that knocks her down the stairs and renders her unconcious.

After the Nibelheim fire, Tifa moves to Midgar and opens her bar in Sector 7 - Tifa's Seventh Heaven. When walking by the railway one night, she sees a man lying virtually unconcious on the ground - and shortly realises that it is the Cloud from her childhood, the Cloud she hasn't seen in over seven years. His words and memories are strange, though.. events he should remember, he doesn't, and things he should have no way of knowing.. he does. Tifa asks him to join AVALANCHE for at least one mission in order to keep an eye on him.. and her realisation of the true events of the Nibelheim fire unfold in time..

Sephiroth's perspective

Sephiroth had no knowledge of his existence prior to SOLDIER - other than the name of his mother, Jenova. He was comfortable in this knowledge until what should have been an uneventful trip to Nibelheim, in order to investigate a reactor leak.

On reaching the town, Sephiroth, his second-in-command, and two regular soldiers visit the reactor, guided by a local girl - Tifa. Inside the reactor's core, Sephiroth makes two disturbing discoveries - the first, an organism named "Jenova" contained within a room in the reactor - and secondly, the prescense of Mako=enhanced humanoid monsters growing within metal pods, a result of Hojo's experimentation. Sephiroth comes to the conclusion that he has also been produced in this way - as a Mako and Jenova enhanced 'super-soldier,' - and thus begins his descent into insanity.

On the trip back to Nibelheim, Sephiroth doesn't utter a word. Once there, he locks himself into the basement of the Shinra Mansion - where past records and documents are stored. Here, he begins his quest for knowledge of his past, the Cetra (or Ancients), and Jenova, his supposed mother...

" organism that was apparently dead, was found in a 2000 year old geological stratum."
       "Professor Gast named that organism, Jenova..."

"X Year, X Month, X Day. Jenova confirmed to be an Ancient..."
"X Year, X Month, X Day. Jenova Project approved. The use of Mako Reactor 1 approved for use..."

"My mother's name is Jenova... Jenova Project... Is this just a coincidence?"

When Cloud visits Sephiroth several days later, his knowledge is complete - and every document and manuscript in the Shinra basement read. Sephiroth calls Cloud a traitor - explaining that he is descended from the Cetra, the indigenous race of the planet, as his mother, Jenova was an Ancient. The Cetra, or Ancients, migrated around the planet, settling and moving on until they died when they reached the Promised Land and supreme happiness.

Those that disliked the journey, however, settled and chose to lead an easier life - the ancestors of humans on the planet during present day. Soon after this, a disaster struck, and the planet was saved only through sacrificing the Cetra - its original inhabitants. One Ancient at least remained, however - Jenova, was discovered in a 2000 year old geological stratum and spawned the birth of "The Jenova Project"; an attempt to reproduce people with the powers of the Ancients or Cetra (the ability to communicate with the planet, among other traits) - and through his research, Sephiroth discovered that he was the result of these experiments.

With this speech, Sephiroth leaves to visit his "mother", Jenova. Before exiting Nibelheim, he sets the town ablaze, killing virtually all its inhabitants and burning every building to the ground. He is followed to the Mount Nibel reactor by both Tifa, Tifa's father, a Shinra guard and his second-in-command.

On reaching the reactor, Sephiroth kills Tifa's father, the first to try and stop him. When Tifa attempts to take revenge, he badly wounds her, knocking her unconcious. The next attempt to stop Sephiroth (his own second-in-command) also fails, but the final attempt succeeds - a Shinra guard, after being stabbed by Sephiroth's masamune, manages to turn the tables; lifting Sephiroth into the air, sword still through his chest, and throw him into the reactor's core.

After this, Sephiroth is reported missing, presumed dead - but has, in fact, been preserved in the Mako of the reactor, and carried via the Lifestream to the Northern Continent - the Promised Land, to be exact. While in the Lifestream, he has absorbed the knowledge and power of the Ancients, has the ability to control the numerous Sephiroth clones still alive and also part of the Jenova project - all containing Jenova's cells..

So what really happened.. ?

Those three stories are all very well and good until you consider that they don't fit together at all . So what really happened... ? It's all explained in reality...

*to be concluded*