Chapter 2 – The Spoils of War

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 1                                                                                                  Chapter 3–>

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 do not own the rights to the featured artwork, which was found here in what appears to be a photo caching site. I was unable to locate a definitive source or find a way to contact the user for such information. Because of this I am unable to give credit for this gorgeous piece of work. If you are the creator of this piece and if you do not approve of me using it for my fanfiction, please let me know, and I will remove it immediately from this site and all others where it is used. If you are the creator/artist and are fine with me using it, please give me your information, and I will gladly update this site and all others.
“Heaven help the wayward soul that travels toward becoming whole,
But never gets to see the kingdom come.”
-November Project “Are You Sleeping?”

Aeris and a Shadow

You will hold the hand of death and let him speak your name…

Aeris’s eyes were shut, but she was awake and the scent around her was divine, a far cry from rotting garbage and filth sweating stones. The music of the Planet had finally returned, and she smiled at the world’s whim to symbolize her passage to the Lifestream in this way. She was a slum girl. She had never once flown so it was nice that the Planet would mimic. The sounds around though were still rustle and scrape, and in the distance there was a faint scream.

Opening her eyes to rusty, dim light, Aeris blinked blurriness away. She turned her head and cold embraced her face from cheekbone to slender jaw. The ground beneath was swift flowing by with the smooth step of silent boots. At that same moment something shifted beneath, and gasping she flung her gaze up.

The face above her was an empty mask as he walked without sound through the gloom. Carrying her easily in his right arm with the Masamune clutched on the left. The decrepit hovels seemed to dim at his passing as though terrified to rival such light. A dog half-barked with the other side a whimper, scraping trash with its belly to hide, and if human eyes were watching, they prayed this was a nightmare with its victim already caught.

Before Aeris could even think to resist, he tightened his arm around, but when a maid is being held by her murderer, it is a hard task not to fight. So struggle she did ‘til he turned his head and uttered only, “Be still.” And she was…instantaneously, as though his voice had bound her bones. Not that Aeris could’ve moved despite that. She was paralyzed by his one arm.

“Please…” The word was bare whispered but still soiled her tongue. “Please, please don’t hurt me.” But this was her murderer come again, and she was a spoil of war. He had killed three men tonight in order to get to her. Nor did she expect her new death to be quick as her old one had mercifully been. No…this he would savor by raping her first then playing her screams up the length of his sword. She bit her lip, but the cry escaped accompanied by shameful tears.

He shook his head and she shivered to the sweep of silver against her skin. His eyes were lowered and very near closed, but the light still bled on his cheeks. “Do you believe I saved your life to spill your blood in rape and murder?”

He was a meddler of minds of course he’d know her fear to bring it to fruition. “Why else?” Her voice quavered bringing more shame. “I was always yours to kill…”

He shut his eyes fully and tight before looking up to the foundation above. His left hand tightened on the wrapped hilt of the sword, and Aeris clutched both of hers to her chest. At least they were free and his face was in reach and certainly that long, flowing hair. She glanced at her nails so jagged and short and considered her ghost of a chance. He’d just make me pay dearly for my second death and it would be that much more gruesome. The Cetra quaked as vibrant in her heart the Planet echoed the words, Be still.

“Wh-Why are you doing this? Why did you save me?”

He froze with sword tracing a path in the air leaving light where it cut the gloom. Whatever he had seen ran away from those eyes brighter than even the blade. When he began to walk again Aeris could hardly tell, but she still recognized the sector even held high in his arms. This was the place where most of the urchins did dwell when not picking through the central hub. They were sprawled all over the debris strewn ground, making twisted metal and cement their home. Some were consigned to the open, clutching each other in sleep, no pattern or sense to their arrangements, but peaceful wherever they fell. Her captor stepped with grace in between, and not a one awoke from certainly brighter dreams to know that death left them untouched.

“The past can never be forgiven,” he murmured, ducking through corridor low, “and I owe you a life…”

“Wh-what are you going to do with me?”

“Where do you live?”

Her brow wrinkled around her flickering gaze, caught off guard and still unsure. “I-I live in Sector 5.”

He nodded. “Then I’m going to take you home.”

It was clearly the house with the remnants of blooms as though she still tended dead gardens. The others were boarded, empty, and dull, but the sector held more than just them. Hungry shapes were silhouetted in the corner of his eyes, disappearing in Mako gleam.

Aeris prayed in silence to the Planet, expecting the moment of death any time, but when she saw her mother’s house, she choked on her plea to think blood would be spilled in this place. Her murderer carried her up the stairs, narrowing his eyes on the door. He glanced at her and then at the sword, and the flower girl, ignoring her dear friend’s advice, could not help but struggle against. He tightened his arm again as though it were an afterthought, and murmured once more, “Be still.”

Again the words held her as the flower girl wept, watching her death lift his weapon. He released the sword and it hovered in air before fading from her view. Aeris gasped as his command lost its power, and she jerked herself forward to see.

“H-How did you do that?”

He slid his gaze back, head tilted to her awe. “It’s part of me. It has my blood, and the blood always remembers.”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean that ‘it’s part of you?’”

He sighed and stepped up to her door. “When the Masamune was forged they took a vial of my blood and mixed it with molten metal so my cells and it are one. If I call it, it will come. If I banish it, it will go.”

“But where is it now?”

“Between,” he replied.

“Between what?” Her voice raised in confusion.

“Just between…it’s difficult to explain.”

He turned the knob and opened the door as Aeris called out, “But it’s locked…”

He shrugged and ducked through as the lintel low brushed the pale hair on his crown.

Now is where I die in my poor mother’s house. Dear friend, are you truly this cruel?

It was darker than the leather that fell to his knees, but that mattered not to eyes that gleamed. Aeris covered hers in terror for the sight of green light shining forth from his face.

“Can you stand?” His voice echoed lowly within the confines of the walls, and she jumped to the reverberation.

“Y-Yes…” Her voice squeaked in response to his. “He…didn’t hurt me much.” You saved me before that happened. It was too strange to say and wouldn’t pass her lips. Slowly and quite gently she was lowered to the floor, and as her feet touched she scrambled away. Light flooded the room, more yellowed and muted than the Mako green of her captor’s eyes.

Aeris shivered backing away to put a chair between him and her. Not that it would do any good, but something was better than nothing. His hands were clasped now behind his back as he regarded her with unblinking stare. The lamp that he’d turned on glinted off the bright epaulets that adorned both of his shoulders, and the black coat beneath fell below his high boots with their buckles bright around. Beneath high lapels and nearly hidden the iron collar clutched his neck. His face was angelic and more framed by that hair though it was spotted with blood. The flower girl hid her shudder to wonder if hers had ever stained silver pristine.

“May I use your shower?” She jumped again at his voice and nearly blushed to her revealed scrutiny.

“I…of course.” Her hand didn’t shake much as she gestured to the stairs, and he nodded before making ascent. The scrape of metal on the wooden banister assailed her ears, and she remembered his wrists were bound, too. When he disappeared, Aeris sank to a crouch wrapping her arms around her knees. Her breath came too quick to sustain such momentum, and only a few tears squeezed now from her eyes. She forced herself stand and peek out the window, but her friends of the morning were gone. Circumstances had brought her home late, and they’d sought their supper elsewhere. If “circumstances” are what I can call him. Her own stomach was empty, and the day had been long. She lifted her head as water flowed from above.

Soup was her main staple since it was easy and the materials to make it were cheap. The meat was always questionable, but it had yet to make her sick. Potatoes, mushrooms, and other roots grew well in the endless dark, and there was almost a black market for ought else. Aeris counted herself fortunate to have the means to purchase, though still wished she could leave the slums to go to the places they’d grow. But the flower maid dare not set foot outside of her circle, tenuous as it was. Her home, her church, and the central hub were the safest places she knew. And look what happened anyway. She shuddered, picking up a wrinkled potato. It smelled of earth, and she fought tears at the odor, feeling half-bad as she skinned it raw.

The broth was thin enough to swirl it easily, but the smell was still sweet seasoned by need. Aeris thought of those poor souls in the sector of the children. I should be bringing them soup instead of flowers…what good do my blooms even do? The Planet buzzed in her ear like a persistent fly chastising the thought, and the flower girl sighed filling a bowl. She turned to the table and almost screamed to the sight of her forgotten guest. Soup sloshed over her shaking hand, and she only did not let it go. The table cloth drank the excess without pity, showing stain only between the checks.

The breath slid fast past Aeris’s lips as she clutched her hands to her heart. His clothes were the same, but his hair shone like silver spun from liquid light. She had thought it bright even when he was caged, but compared to this it had been dull as rainwater. His head was lowered within the moonlit spill, face still bearing that empty mask. Aeris had never seen anything more beautiful or more terrifying in either of her lives. She glanced down at the table where the one bowl steamed and blushed at her rudeness then.

“Are you…are you hungry?”

He lifted his gaze and she backed up a bit, placing her back against the counter. He’d banished the sword, but she could still feel it in the memory between her bones.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten.” The tone didn’t answer her question. He was just stating a fact such as “I am your murderer,” or “I want to burn down the world,” but the only thing she managed to do at that moment was fill another bowl and place it across from hers. His boots were still as silent on the cracked wood, so if she hadn’t seen him move, she never would’ve known.

Aeris was backed as far as she could without bolting from the room, but as he neared, he said, “Thank you,” and a portion of her muscles relaxed. She remained where she was against the counter, as he continued to stare at her. “I can take it outside if you wish me to so that you can eat in peace.”

Breath escaped she didn’t realize she was holding, and the flower girl bit her lip. “I’m being rude.” She stood up straight, but her foot wouldn’t take the step. “Th-That’s no way to treat…a guest.”

“A guest…” he repeated his voice a flat stone for the bitter irony. He lowered his eyes a frown tainting his lips despite their perfect shape. Aeris forced herself to tiptoe to her chair and slip slowly into the seat. Only then did he follow suit, and he waited for her to begin eating her own before mimicking that motion, as well.

Aeris tried not to think of what would happen next or what he would do to her. He could move faster than she could think or blink. She’d seen it when he had killed those three men, but the only motion he made besides spoon to mouth was to toss his damp hair aside. Vigilance was making her exhaustion more manifold than most of her other nights. With a jerk to stir her sleepy limbs, the maid climbed from her chair. Instantly, he rose, too, and she quavered with small sound in her throat. Clenching her fists, she tried to take comfort from the fact that he had not harmed her yet, but the darker past was encroaching hard upon uncertain future.

“I know my words mean nothing,” he said softly, “but I won’t hurt again. I’m not the same monster that killed you, child. That was something else…a long time ago.”

Aeris blinked, stirring tears in her wide green eyes, the hue of grass she’d never seen. The Planet hummed softly and she wondered at its treachery in terror that he’d corrupted it at last. She wanted to believe but knew he was a master of manipulation, and the sorrow so hidden behind his stark mask could just be another game.

“I’m…tired,” she said and he nodded only watching as she walked gingerly past. Sighing Aeris tugged at the basement door, but that action yielding no open, and she was confused until his shadow fell. He was leaning on the old wood with his head cocked to the side, asking query with still expression. The flower girl leapt back away from proximity and the scent of leather above winter skin.

“Why would you sleep in the basement?” he asked.

“It’s…the safest place in the house.” She clutched her hands because that was certainly no longer so. Her reason garnered narrowed eyes which focused the light directly on her face. There was a pull to them and Aeris jerked away frightened to be caught in such swells.

“The roving gangs of thieves and rapists would love to find something like me…y-you saw that tonight.”

“They won’t trouble you this evening, child. If you’ll allow, I’ll guard you tonight…it’s the least that I can do.”

She looked the far way up at his unblinking gaze, but there was no mockery there. His expression was expectant, and Aeris finally sighed. “Alright, but…give me a few minutes?”

He nodded to her request and she truly tried to turn, but she couldn’t show her back to him. Backing to the stairs she bolted up, and he briefly shut his eyes. The two bowls had been left on the table, so he cleaned and put them away. It was a servile, pedestrian task, but far better than entrails and blood. He darkened the light for he didn’t need it then opened the basement door. The steps would’ve creaked for another, but were silent under his weight, nor did shadows dare to dance even in the glow of his eyes.

The space beneath was as clean as she could make it, but he still frowned at the image of the little maid forced to dwell beneath. He easily found her pile of bed clothes, blankets and pillows in a hidden corner. They were behind a partial wall with some wooden slats stacked around. A quick eye glancing would just see discarded rags and hopefully not an innocent trembling there. Each inch of musty floor was caught in green light and summarily dismissed as safe. He turned his inspection then to the walls. The top corner near the water heater was crumbling, but with the moisture that was expected.

A long finger traced a biased crack in the middle beneath a beam, and at the touch his teeth came together behind his lips. Something hissed behind that fissure underneath his pressed ear. Tiny nails ceaselessly scratching as if a thousand rats had gone insane trapped within the walls. He poured incandescence into the crack, but not even Mako eyes could discern any source. It was half in his head to summon the sword, but then he unclenched his left hand. Perhaps something within her house just didn’t like him. That was hardly an idea farfetched.

Gathering up the blankets and pillows, he ascended the basement and upper stairs. He knew exactly where she was even without the need to search. The candles on the table flickered at his entrance as if they were subdued by greater light. He laid the bedding on a mattress far larger than one her minute size could fill, and it saddened him that she’d been forced to forgo this comfort for false safety beneath the floor.

The little maid was nowhere to be seen, but he didn’t require sight to hunt. “There’s no need to hide from me, child…I already know where you are.” His words were calm and not meant to be menacing, but her panic came to his enhanced senses. He sighed, went to the foot of the bed, and easily lifted it with one hand.

Aeris cried out in horror, trying to scrunch herself smaller near the top. Her shaking was uncontrollable and at the sight of that green lit fire she couldn’t stop her tears. “Please, please…” She didn’t know what to beg for. She had no armor to keep herself safe.

“I won’t hurt you, little flower…” he murmured so low. “I won’t hurt you again.”

His voice was too soothing. She didn’t want to believe. This is a trick. Her mind cried in crescendo, but the Planet itself gently chastised, and Aeris just lost all hope. All she knew and all she trusted were against her now. She might as well resign herself to fate. He could kill or rape her at any moment, now or an hour hence. There was nothing she could say or do that would stop him. The mercy she’d depended on for so long had finally run its course.

Like a prisoner expecting punishment, the flower girl crawled out from under the bed. He laid it back down as easily as he’d raised it observing her picking at the sleeve of her robe. Her chestnut and amber hair had been braided just now from what he quietly observed, and he backed closer to the window so that she wouldn’t feel so trapped.

“H-How did you know where I was?”

He glanced to the side and the pulse of the candles lent wane light to his angel face. “I can hear the sound of your heartbeat, the shush of your breath, and smell the scent of your skin.”

There was no shudder left in her, but she did clasp her small hands.

“You…can?”

“Yes.”

She tilted her head in genuine curiosity.

“What…what do I smell like?”

The mask almost cracked but he was quick to catch it before it could fall. “You smell like summer…”

“Oh.” Aeris’s hands fell as fast as her face. “I wish I remembered what summer smelled like…” She laid a hand to the bed then and turned surprised for the softness, noticing the covers he had brought up. “Oh you…how did you know?” He shrugged in response, and she set about fixing them on and upon the mattress. When he made move to assist, Aeris ran across the room to tremble near the closet door, so he let her be to stand by the window and watch the candles burn.

“Why candles?” he asked when he heard her finish and climb into the newly made bed.

“They don’t take from the Planet,” she answered, and he turned to her staring at him with the blankets up to her chin. “I…try to use as little power as possible.” She did not mention that that very power was leaking in abundance from his eyes, but he could hear breath and heartbeat and could possibly steal into her thoughts. He merely nodded to acknowledge before standing vigilance outside her door. The hallway beyond was much less dark with his eye gleam in attendance, and any potential intruders would be scared out of their wits if they were lucky and dead if they were not.

Aeris’s slim fingers clutched the bed clothes so tight that they began to cramp. Her eyes were drying out with the need to blink as she viewed the waterfall of silver against leather black. His hands were clasped against it and she frowned slightly at the bonds. Shackles with short chains still circled each wrist though the ones around his boots were gone.

“Sephiroth?” It was a name that should either be whispered or screamed and the former hushed past her lips.

He turned his head and the light from his eyes spilled over his shoulder, igniting the epaulet there. “Yes, child?”

“…thank you.”

“This is the least I can do for you…now sleep. No danger will find you tonight.”

At his word of “sleep” her eyelids turned solid, and she curled without thought into dreams. He turned his face back to dark draped hallway and with one gesture the candles went black.

<–Chapter 1                                                                                                    Chapter 3–>


Author’s Note:  What happens when darkness falls?  Chapter 3 to be posted next Friday April 10.  Thank you so much for reading!

7 thoughts on “Chapter 2 – The Spoils of War

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