Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its characters, and settings are all property of Square Enix so I can take no credit nor claim any ownership of that. I do take some credit for the story’s plot.
Artwork Disclaimer: I did not create and therefore own no rights to the featured artwork. It was created by artist Alegria, and the source for it can be found here. I was unable to locate a way to contact the artist and was therefore unable to ask permission before featuring their work. If you are the artist, I apologize profusely for this transgression and will gladly remove this picture from this and all sites at your request.
***Warning: Attempted rape***
“Wind in time rapes the flower trembling on the vine…”
-Sarah McLachlan “Fear”
The cats were always hungry, but they were ever wary, too. Steeped in shadow like a second skin, they clung to fear over bleak starvation until necessity drove them forth. Aeris always made sure she had something for them, knowing how desperate it was to starve. People were…not kind to cats in Midgar. Their slit eyes condemned them to pain. The bandy-legged tom with only ear was always the last to approach. The other hadn’t been lost in some back alley scuffle. The edges were far too clean… Then there was a calico who was almost friendly, though her eyes had been dug out of her skull. She would often approach albeit slowly to bump a flat head against Aeris’s shin. Though if the Cetra reached down for her, the cat would hiss and back away. The fat white one was noticeably smaller and attended by kittens today. Even at their brief age, they stayed close and made no overt sounds. Death awaited any offspring that would give a position away.
Aeris set down the two bowls of soup and tried to rub the cold from her upper arms. There was never any wind this far below the plate, just an ever present chill. She never remembered it being this frigid in the sector of her mother’s house. Dearest Elmyra, she had been a true mother, though she hadn’t given her birth. Like everyone Aeris had ever loved, she counted her amongst her dead. Of the other the Cetra only remembered a hazy shade of green and a whispered plea on dying lips.
A hundred years have come and passed, my friends are dead and gone. Yet I linger…I remain in this miserable hole that was the ‘greatest city.’ So called only by those who lived above. The flower girl shook her head dispelling memories. From her birth mother she might have Ancient blood, but from Elmyra she had a house. It stood still in Sector 5 not nearly as decrepit as the rest, and in a hidden space in the basement Aeris had found a stockpile of gil that brought tears to her summer green eyes. Her once home had been ransacked when she’d found it again, her flowers all trampled to dust. Though her mother’s hope had never once withered…she’d believed her daughter would return. She wasn’t wrong, but now she’s long dead, and never saw her hope fulfilled. The basement not only yielded such treasure, but was the safest place in the house. Piled high with blankets and pillows Aeris didn’t care that she slept on the floor. Better that than fall prey to the rovers that scoffed at locked doors and pleading cries.
There was a skirmish at the feast and Aeris clapped her small hands, sending furry bodies into scatter. She sighed more in pity than frustration. There were never more than five or six cats, but they always seemed to be hungrier. When she didn’t see one for a while, the flower girl couldn’t help but worry. She’d found a few quite far from her door, but she didn’t like to think about that. One playful kitten too young to be cautious had once followed her from her house to her church whilst pouncing at rats and cockroaches artfully hidden in the endless debris. A quick shout had Aeris crouching in an alley, her basket tucked against her chest. She didn’t dare call aloud and could only pray he’d be smart enough to hide, but either the kitten’s mother had been lacking or she’d died before teaching him that. The flower girl could shut her eyes, but beneath covered ears she heard it nor could tears wash the memory away.
She pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head to hide the chestnut spill. The garment was a dark almost ashen grey, as drab as a withered rose. It wasn’t so much to shield her hair, but rather her haunting green eyes. Of all the colors to have here in Midgar, green was the worst of them all. Aeris suspected the eyeless calico had once borne orbs of that hue, doubly cursed to both be a cat and also bear that burden.
The feasters were gone now, but Aeris knew they’d return. None of the meal would be wasted for hunger was as prevalent as shadows beneath the plate. She shifted the flowerless basket on her arm and began to walk down the empty street. In her previous life there’d been neighbors and children to romp in the less decayed playground. Neither they nor Elmyra had been rich or important (you needed to live above the plate for that), but they were far better off than the wretches crammed together in poorer sectors of the slums. It was quiet as their ghosts now and no wind stirred the broken swings or the dust on rusting slides.
Through here she would pass through the train yard, the moldering hulks humped like dying beasts. Aeris called then on her only friend to shield her from enemies both human and not. The former scared her far worse than any creature ever could. Monsters would only kill her. Men such as these would make her wish she were dead again. Rot had eaten holes in twisted iron to look like screaming mouths, but the metal and debris offered cover as the Planet murmured solace in her ear. Behind a once state of the art door the flower girl hid as ragged men tumbled out. They were as hungry as the cats, but she had nothing to offer which they would not forcefully take. Healthy fear kept her sharp even though she knew their pattern. She’d walked this hard path every day and had for nearly a year.
The next corridor housed the most destitute, far too broken to be a danger to her. Huddled in shacks beneath loose rubble, most did not even look when she passed. One old man would mutter only two words, over and over, “Get out.” But whether he meant that sector, the city or the world, Aeris could never know. She would so carelessly drop a few gil without stopping as she walked quickly through. Peril was always imminent, less here than amongst the trains, but it made no sense to take a chance when she’d survived far worse.
When her sanctuary lay before her, Aeris remembered to breathe. It was surely a silly girl’s fantasy that she was safe even here, but maybe it was the soft song from the world beneath her feet that deemed such a dream be true. As dilapidated as the rest of the city, the spires and steeple still seemed less weighted by the dust of a hundred years. The paint was chipped and faded on the half crooked doors, and most of the pews were gone, but light still spilled through the old stained glass and flowers still bloomed in the church. From vestibule to broken altar lilies white as ice breathed cloying perfume. The flower maid hummed the Planet’s own tune to greet her soft-petaled friends. She remembered again her other life when blooms of all hues had grown. It had all depended on the whim of the world to decide what colors would sprout. Yellow had been the last she’d plucked before her dying day. A buttery almost sunlit splash not a color usually found in Midgar.
Aeris squeezed a hand to the place in her chest where there was no wound but memory. The pain drove her to her knees, but she forced selfishness aside to say a prayer for the weary world. Bathed in light that came through the steeple, Aeris felt the hum of her oldest friend. Please…she found herself thinking, I don’t want to be alone anymore. Catching the sob, she opened her eyes and pursed her lips in annoyance. A swift hand brushed her reddened cheeks as the flower girl examined her flowers.
The little ones in the corner didn’t get enough light and would not be ready for several weeks. Whispered words and softest touch kept even the frailest alive, but Aeris would ask no more from the Planet then what she already did. Besides the ones in the upper portion of the nave more than made up for their lack. The flowers were larger than both of her hands though that wasn’t saying much. She recalled just last week the buds barely opened, bursting now with a scent that would cling. Plucking the first with apology to which she was instantly forgiven, Aeris thumbed the smooth exterior, while the dying flower’s scent flavored the air.
Gathering enough to fill her basket the flower girl stood brushing her knees. The church was empty this morning, but every now and then there were others in this quiet space. No words were ever exchanged between nor were her flowers ever disturbed. For whatever reason either magic or mundane no threat ever entered here. Those who caused trouble were never drawn in and the troubled only came here to pray.
Outside the sweet miasma halted as if cut by a heavy knife, and the vestigial light from the church faded as Aeris pulled up her hood and hurried away. The center of Midgar teemed only with ghosts to shiver any warm skin they could find. The living were only here to pass through from one desolate place to the other. The flower girl slipped up the alley besides a once bright marquee that held no “love” and only “less.” The great tower still stood thrusting up through the plate to rape the sky as they’d once raped the Planet. In sight of that monolith Aeris squeezed her basket tight, the lilies shushing as they shook.
She startled and quickly chided herself for letting someone take her unawares. There was no safety in Midgar for one such as her whose main weapons were hide and run.
“A gil,” she said to the man greyer in skin then his drab hued clothes. He handed her a coin and she gave him a bloom, which he twirled slowly in dusty fingers.
“My daughter…has never seen a flower.” He watched the petals spin. “They’re like pieces of light down here…and you’re giving them away.” His gaze quick flicked towards her, and Aeris lowered her head. A patron could turn into a predator fast. It had happened too often before, but his eyes soon dulled and turned back to the flower, clutching it tight to walk away.
When he was gone she found the tower again, and the Planet pulsed drab rhythm slow. She held neither anger nor rue for them. They just were as they’d always been. Logic told her that someone must still work inside for the city had power still. The thought hurt her sad, unbroken heart, but how much worse would the slums be if not? Utter darkness would fall beneath the plate and the slum-born would only die blind.
She forced herself away from the sight and the thought, walking around the central point. Around she went in silence having no need to cry her wares. If someone wanted a flower, they would offer and she would give. One dark dressed matron bought ten for ten gil not bothering to hide her tears. Her child was dead and soon to be buried. “No sun…” was the reason she said. Aeris prayed for the soul, asking silent query and the Planet was not remiss in reply. Smiling sadly she handed ten lilies and gave five gil back in return.
To children she would charge nothing to twine smaller blossoms softly in their hair. Boy or girl it did not matter and most of them urchins at that. As they wove laughing between the hollow buildings Aeris prayed the flowers would wither long before their hopes ever could. Surely my purpose will help them, she thought as they were sucked into shadow and steel.
She would try to save a few flowers as the changing lights told of eve. Yellow-tinged orbs on top of black poles that slowly faded to blue, surely mocking the sun and sky. Those were definitely new and she wondered who’d built them and more so if they still lived. Before they changed red to herald the night that was the time to be gone. As before the only law sought in the slums was the law of strength and power. Rapists and killers ruled the hours in red, though blue and yellow were truly theirs, too. Time down here truly didn’t matter. The city was always dark. There wasn’t a day the flower girl didn’t expect to be raped or murdered. It was a terrible, omnipresent fact, but one can grow used to any chain. She lived her life in that reality’s shadow and ordered her days by its grasp.
Aeris hitched up her basket, made sure her gil was safe, and let the music of the Planet fill her mind. The note was urging, and she smiled thinking, Alright dear friend if you insist…the dead must have their due. It was the sector that no longer existed, crushed by the plate from above. On the very edge of the central hub with its herald of twisted metal and debris. Abandoned cars and train scraps made a barricade, but it was impossible not to see what had occurred. A hundred years murdered the dead still hungered, Aeris could feel them in the Lifestream’s swell. It was a memory that she’d made herself take, though it pained her to near nausea. Once her friends had gathered beneath this rotting steel, dropped from the sky by those who played god. Was it equal that they, too, were dead? Caught in the same tide that filled them all? Tears had soaked the ends of her hood, and Aeris pushed it back with lowered head. Her friends had not died from this act of evil, but had been stolen from her by time. The Planet’s mournful thrill shiver through her skin as the flower girl laid her offering. Dust and trampling feet would take the blooms, and she thought it was fitting that way.
A clarion shrill from the earth below nearly shook her from her feet and the Cetra whirled around. Her uncovered hair had tumbled forth and she pushed it aside to search. With a gentle chide for her dear friend’s alarm, Aeris let her pulse slow its quiver until the muted colors coalesced into three men leering there.
You stupid, stupid child! Calmly she thumbed her basket to hide the quake in her hands. The tangled wood creaked releasing both musk and the sweetness of the flowers so borne. She forced her gaze to pass through the shapes, quickly scanning the central square. All those of honest repute were long gone to huddle in sectors drear, and the light from the lamps was jaundiced and sickly knowing it must soon bleed.
Aeris walked quickly, but did not run, for running just goads dogs on. The earth beneath concrete was fouled and tired, but it still guided her feet. Not through the corridor she’d come through earlier for she wouldn’t lead them to church or house. Sliding past dark hovels and shacks she witnessed numerous watching eyes. Her lips parted once to call for help until she remembered that there was none. A trash can darted in front of her feet before the flower girl realized she was running. With hard, tight breaths she stuffed her hair back before the flying locks gave them their prize. Chancing only one look Aeris saw the faint glint of a smile smeared in the gloom. This was a game and she was losing, but that was no reason to give in. A hum from beneath filled her legs lightly and made them stumble down an unfamiliar grade.
A ragged once red curtain allowed Aeris to pass, bumping into a body with no breath to beg for grace. It would hardly have mattered for the crowd was so great, her rudeness went wholly unnoticed. Shock widened her eyes before she remembered the need to hide and threat apparent. Her pursuers pointed with grins as soiled as the air, and she ducked to slip through the throng. No one seemed to notice the small maid in their midst, while in her head the Planet sang joyful.
Here, dear friend? She questioned as she remembered finally where she was. It was the place in Sector 6 once known as Wall Market. It wasn’t called anything now in these darker days, but the whorehouse was still there. The whores were as pitiful as everyone else, though they never lacked for work. Aeris recalled as she brushed through the crowd that she’d once peddled her flowers down here. One of the girls had noticed her and asked if she’d sell something more. Then another had appeared behind and roughly pulled back the hood of her cloak. “No,” she’d told them standing firm, “this one ‘flower’ will never be sold.” The Planet had lent her authority, and they’d left her alone, but Aeris remembered their eyes, hollow as the heart of a storm.
Even the whores were still in this lie of an eve with no moon or star to show the truth. Everyone was looking in just one direction as the grade of the ground pulled descent. She was too short to see the enrapturing spectacle even standing on her toes, but the rumble of taut emotions frightened her and yet fed the maid’s need to know. The Planet nudged her closer, half lifting her feet as voices crescendo drowned out all thought. The front row stood as rigid as though in vigil to the damned, and the obscenities burned her pink to the ears. She was half tempted to cut their curses with a question, when the line shifted and Aeris saw.
A figure was kneeling behind bars so cold she felt their frost touch where she stood. His wrists were bound before him upon the hard ground with chains thicker than her waist, and behind him his ankles still encased in black boots were shackled just as tight. Around his neck was an iron collar from which chains in all directions did sprout. Some connected to his wrists and some to his ankles, while the rest tied him to the cell floor. Over his collar and over the black and over his lowered face hair silver as the stolen moon spilled like liquid light. It wove through the chains and pooled on the floor, lightning wed to fire. He could have been a statue so bound for resemblance for that was as much as he moved.
Aeris’s heart squeezed around her fear as her basket cut groves in her palm, but her feet rode the Planet to carry her forward despite the maid’s desperate pleas. Her dearest friend skirled through her soul, almost painting light before her eyes. Around her the angry and hateful mob spat and seethed and swore, but not a one of them dared to draw too close. It can’t be him, Aeris thought, he’s been dead as long as me. No, it’s just some poor unfortunate who looks close enough to paint this lie. She’d seen such cruelty in the slums and not just with the cats. There were mothers with eyeless children whom they’d blinded themselves so that others less gentle would not. Hair too blonde would surely be dyed. But his could never have been called blonde…
The cell was right before her dark to his winter white as the crowd became distant dream. She placed a slim hand around the black bars and he slowly lifted his head. A green as bright as frost cut emerald demolished all shreds of her doubt, and she wanted to scream for the incongruent horror of slit pupils in angelic face. The very corruption she’d sworn to fight was leaking from his eyes, but as he found her his lips split in part, and Aeris pressed her face against the bars. Her breath was the only sound in the world as she met that unholy stare, but as quick as she could blink he turned away, bowing his head ever low.
A man stepped through a door in the back grinning like the jackal he was. He held some object in his hand, but Aeris couldn’t see what it was. The wretched figure bound in chains neither stirred nor made sound at his presence, but the row of the crowd more than made up, and Aeris trembled at the triumph there.
“There are some of you here who still don’t believe what you see before your eyes.” His voice projected better than a bullhorn as if it had been created for just such work. “Some of you who think I’m a charlatan and that I’ve found some poor, white-haired wretch.” A portion of the crowd on the other side of the cage repeated charlatan, liar and fraud. The jailer grinned and his front tooth was gold as if proving his words were as good. He lunged for his prize and gripped silver hair, pulling his head high and back. Bathed in the light of a thousand emeralds, the closest onlookers stepped back as they hissed. The jailer twisted his hand within the bright strands, but nothing could break his prisoner’s silence. Letting go with a shove, the man rubbed his fingers as if to brush off the taint of bright locks. “You see I’m not a liar. Here kneels before you the one-winged angel, the one who thought to be a god!” He laughed and the mob shared his dark mirth, but Aeris only had eyes for the fallen. His face was lowered again surely in pain, but no expression did he bear. Behind her she heard a growing chant of “torture, torment, and give him our pain,” and she thought, What else could he possibly do? But the flower girl was too innocent to consider it as the jailer squeezed the item in his hand.
The captive’s head jerked back as arcs of light doused every chain like white blood. They wrapped around his wrists and collar, trying everything to release a scream. But it was well known that he was made better, and she saw only clenched teeth behind lips. Aeris’s mouth was open as her breath came too fast and something burned behind her eyes. They were using the Planet’s precious lifeblood to torture the already damned. The souls of the ages, the souls yet to live were being corrupted for this torment.
When the power ceased coursing he returned once more to his first and final pose. The crowd was ecstatic, and she stared at them wondering if her purpose were to save fiends such as this. The jailer ignited his device again, and the throng swayed in grim satisfaction. The Cetra wished the sky was truly above so she could pretend the moisture on her face was rain. She had the greatest cause to hate him, but this sight before brought only pity. How long the torment went on the flower girl did not know. The lights were always red down here. It was the district for such a display, but even the vengeful have other tasks and the crowd finally began to disperse. The jailer watched them pass to the shiver of gil that twinkled the yellow of his smile. One final shock appeased him as he left his wretched captive to collect his take for this dim eve. Aeris could not leave the silent figure as the once market emptied around. There was a stoicism in his stillness that mocked the bitter pain, and the flower girl did not know if her heart hurt to this or the memory of what had been.
An iron vice gripped her upper arm, hauling the flower girl around, and she was sore ashamed of her whimper as a man threw her against the wall.
“You came to the right place for what we want.” He leered as the other two smiled in the grime, closing off any hope of escape.
“A f-flower?” She scrabbled for her basket and the remnants of petals there. He smacked them from her hand and pulled Aeris closer with lean and hungry strength.
“Oh, we’ll take a ‘flower’ alright.” His eyes skittered over her like rats amongst fresh grain. “Might be we’ll even pay you afterwards.” That called a full-throated laugh.
“We already decided the order.” The second one stepped from the gloom. His hair was lank and fell over one ear, and his face was so pinched it must hurt. “We was only going to take you once each, but you made us chase you, so that earns us a few more rounds.”
“Please…” she begged as the first man grabbed her wrists. “Please don’t do this. I’m nobody.”
“Oh, we know you’re nobody,” her captor tittered. “Just another slum girl, though prettier’n most, and there’s a host of buyers who’d pay some nice gil for that shade of green in your eyes. Dangerous, don’t you think, boys?” He threw the grin over his shoulder as his companions caught it to return.
The third laughed so loud it echoed. “Dangerous isn’t the word.” He spun a short knife. “Downright deadly I’d say. If we hadn’t come along this little flower could’ve ended up like that wretch chained in there.” He tilted his chin with a smirk toward the dark.
“You should be thanking us.” Her captor squeezed her arm and Aeris forced the cry back down. “Such a waste to have you caged…” He pressed her hard against the wall feeling for himself the soft flesh that waited just beneath her cloak.
The flower girl lost all hope in prayer for help that would never come. She tried to wrench free, but he was far too strong and twisted her wrist until she screamed. Her nails were quite roughed from digging in dirt, and she raked them down his arm. He smacked her hard as the other two chuckled letting their partner have his fun. Holding her reddened wrist, the man gripped the throat of her covering and ripped down hard and swift. A brown, modest dress swam into view, but it still tore lust from his eyes.
Aeris was begging and crying for mercy as he threw her down on the dirty ground. Through smeared vision and throbbing cheek she cast her mind out for her friend, but the Planet must have forsaken her for no pulse lay beneath her prone form.
“Now.” Her soon to be rapist made some motion around his belt. She struggled to stand until he kicked out her ankles, casual as skimming a stone. “You be a good girl and we’ll leave your face pretty, let you keep your eyes, and maybe even pay you, but…be a little bitch and I swear you’ll look worse than your c-”
Confusion knit his brows together and dropped his hands to his sides. Aeris clutched her wrist with tight teeth, sobbing pleas to his better nature.
The two so waiting called out, “Worse than what?” and “Come on, we want our turn!” when their comrade fell backwards, his head striking his knees before bouncing wetly on blood slickened ground. Mirth turned to madness, and they spun around to flee, but their shrieks and hands met solid wall.
Aeris scrambled backwards covering her mouth to stop the bile of revulsion there. Her assaulter’s confusion was still etched on his face tilted slightly on shorn neck below. Never would he know the death that had claimed him standing so tall behind. Gone was the grovel of a wretched captive though the collar still ringed his neck. Silver hair flowed over black garb, and Aeris forgot how to breathe. The very sword that had taken her life was shimmering in his left hand. Weeping hot blood it seemed almost to whisper, the only sound save the rats in the walls.
The eyes of the dead man stared slackly at her as though even in death he still lusted. His cronies as tongueless as he now was scrabbled at the wall til their nails cracked like eggs and blood seeped through the fissures. There was nowhere to run but towards certain death as it stood silent and still in their way. The third who’d loved laughing could not even weep, but his footfalls proved he could run. Aeris barely saw the brief flash of steel, but she could not look away as he clutched his own entrails with no room in his throat for a scream. The concrete took his guts without any question, but the earth was still silent in her ears. Why dear friend?! She wanted to scream. Why have you forsaken me? But even had she spoken, her pleas would not match the blubbering of the second and last.
The great sword unshaken drew a line to his heart, and begging would gain him no mercy. His dead partner had been failed by his feet, but perhaps he would succeed. He made it past with belly intact, and leapt over his friend who had not, but when his feet found the ground behind him was the shadow and a portion of steel bloomed from his chest.
A noise escaped Aeris’s lips. It could not be helped. She knew how cold that sword was as it slid slow between shoulder blades, washed in the blood of sacrifice. The scrape of steel over living bone was a new sound to her ears, but the silence that followed as his death cries drowned was all too deeply known. Her hands folded in remembrance of unfinished prayer, as her murderer turned towards her. The darkness of the slums only existed to radiate hot Mako gleam without pity. Sword newly ripped from his victim they found her, and no expression dared touch that face. Silent boots swiftly approached, and the last thing the flower girl thought before oblivion was she was his alone to kill.
Author’s Note: Thank you so much for reading! Chapter 2 will be posted next Friday April 3.