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Jenova, the Calamity from the Skies
Approximately two thousand years before the game's main events Jenova landed on the Planet, having traveled through space on a meteor. The impact created a giant wound on the Planet's surface that would later come to be known as the "Northern Crater." After its arrival, Jenova emerged from the Crater and approached the Cetra, using its mimic abilities to glean their memories and emotions. Those who were taken victim were infected with Jenova's cells and mutated into monsters. Jenova would then take the form of the fallen Cetra, and so get close enough to destroy their loved ones. This process is known as Jenova giving the Cetra "the virus". Quickly, Jenova was able to destroy most of the Cetra civilization. Their daughter race, the humans, hid from Jenova while the Cetra were nearly wiped out. The few Cetra who had survived banded together to defeat Jenova and quarantined it inside the Northern Crater, where it would lie dormant for thousands of years. Despite their victory over the "Calamity from the Skies", the Cetra civilization was lost, and their numbers dwindled down to almost nothing while humans spread over the Planet. As time wore on, humanity forgot about Jenova and the Cetra fell into legend. (Taken from the Final Fantasy Wiki article on Jenova)
Jenova's goal is similar to Ragnorra's, that is, to infect all life on the material plane and find a new world to corrupt. Once Jenova has completely destroyed a planet, it uses it as a vessel to travel through the cosmos to the next unfortunate planet. This constant destruction may have been going for millions of years before the beginning of the campaign. Jenova's age is unknown, but since it can lay dormant for thousands of years if needed, it very well might be older than the material plane itself.
Jenova in the Campaign
Approximately 30 years before the game's main events Professor Gast Faremis excavated Jenova's remains and mistakenly identified it as a Cetra. Thus began the Jenova Project, which sought to resurrect the Cetra and greatly improve sentient life.(Taken from the Final Fantasy Wiki article on Jenova, and slightly modified)
Jenova appears to have a female form, and since its discovery, it has been kept in a glass container in a secluded location. Currently, its head has been lost.
Geostigma is the plague that occurs as Jenova cells become disseminated throughout the world's population, as Jenova gains power, the plague eventually eradicates all life. It manifests as an incurable disease that infects regardless of immunity.
Faint: 25% of the world's population is infected, deals 1d6 Strength damage every 1d4 days. (DC 26 fort halves)
Moderate: 50% of the world's population is infected, deals 1d8 Dexterity, 1d6 Strength, and 1d4 Constitution damage every 1d3 days. (DC 38 fort halves)
Strong: 75% of the world's population is infected, deals 1d10 Dexterity, 1d8 Strength, and 1d6 Constitution damage every 1d2 days. (DC 50 fort halves)
Overwhelming: The world's entire population is infected, deals 1d12 Dexterity and Charisma, 1d8 Strength, and 1d6+1 Constitution damage every day. (DC 62 fort halves)
Anathematic Secrecy: Immune to all divine divination spells and effects.
Dark Visiting: Send nightmares that deal Wisdom damage. (1d4+1 wisdom damage and fatigued, DC 42 will negates)(Only affects those afflicted with geostigma, regardless of class)
Jenova is encountered multiple times, as is her herald, Sephiroth. Sephiroth Jenova∙BIRTH (3.5e Monster) Jenova∙LIFE(3.5e Monster) Jenova∙DEATH(3.5e Monster) Jenova∙SYNTHESIS(3.5e Monster) Jenova∙MOTHER(3.5e Monster)
Jenova∙MOTHER is custom, all others belong to Square Enix