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. I was unable to locate any source or artist for the work seen below, so was therefore unable to request permission or even give credit. If you are the creator of this phenomenal piece and 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. If you are the artist and are fine with me using it, please give me your information, and I will gladly give credit. I apologize that I was unable to locate the source in order to request permission prior.
“…your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”
-George RR Martin “A Clash of Kings”
With near open arms the flower girl flew where the only light was virulent green. Alabaster skin mocked a still statue save for the sword at his side. In the space of a breath it was waiting in darkness, and Aeris’s rush was too swift. A tiny sound escaped her throat as her heart thrummed to memory’s pain. True steel pierced the straps at his chest, and both shadow and pale dissolved. Her guardian stepped forward washed over with darkness to come out so pure in the gloom, while the sensors so ancient were reactive enough to show what was real in their sight. Wane light still paled to sorrow filled eyes as he banished the sword to between. Aeris froze in place, swallowing the horror for what had almost occurred. He wanted her warm and soft in his arms, but could not move for fear she would run. That sight would break him, but he wouldn’t die, and the pain would go on and on.
“It’s me, little flower. I promise it’s me…” Emerald bled without shedding a tear.
“Is it…is it really?” She clutched at her dress, and her breath made the dusty air dance. The motes shivered in light as the space in her bones tightened the skin of her back. Then the Planet sang softly, Yes, in her ear before chiding its willful child. Sephiroth bowed his head but not before Aeris saw sorrow’s relief on his face. Still holding her skirt, she completed the rush thinking, If this is death, then be it so.
The Great General caught her tight in his embrace as her sobs echoed in the dim. Don’t hold her too tight, don’t hurt her, you monster, he thought as his arms locked around. It was soothing in thrum…her soft heart, the song he had once sought to still. It’s better than what I hear right now, the chorus of blood and screams. He shut his eyes hard and concentrated on her, of summer so deep in the ground. I can still hear them screaming, screaming forever as the flames eat away at their flesh…
“How do you always find me?” Aeris whispered.
“Your heart…it calls my name.”
“Does it really?” She pulled back to witness the grieving angel’s face. The words at his lips could only bring pain so he slanted them over hers, hoping her sweetness in filling his mouth would empty his tongue of its rue. The kiss pulled them both back into the present where the past was a mere ghost to howl. Sephiroth slid his arms fully around her, never wanting to release his rose. Her body melted into his chest as she drowned within silver seas.
“Time isn’t our friend…” Aeris murmured so sadly against his lips.
“We have time enough. Fate may be empty, but it can wait a few moments more.” He stood up tall, shaking his hair to shroud her in moonlight and ashes. The flickering lights were caught in each strand, and Aeris breathed in the scent once thought lost.
“You’re here now, which means I’m safe. I’m safe again in your arms.”
Sephiroth took her little hands running his fingers over her wrists. He let one palm cup her soft cheek, and the flower girl leaned towards his warmth.
“Are you whole, Aeris?” he asked and the note in his voice tried to hide bitter guilt. “Are you well?”
“I couldn’t be better.” She kissed his palm, and he near jerked it away as though burnt. “I’m here with you.”
“Here.” The low voice was flat as he lifted her chin. “In this cesspit…with me. I never should’ve let you go.”
“You were trying to protect me,” she insisted, ever stubborn to his remorse.
“And through that act put you in danger. I should’ve known. What waits below is tormenting us with shadows.”
The flower girl shuddered and squeezed his hands so warm and solid and strong. “You saved me again. I know you did…when the elevator fell.” She looked down. “Your poor hands…”
“My hands are fine, little flower.” He held one up and her awe brought the slightest of smiles. “It would take more than that to rend skin from flesh. I’m just relieved that you weren’t harmed.”
The Cetra leaned forward against Sephiroth’s chest as his arms enfolded her tight. He slid his palms up her back with jolting pain as he touched the spot.
“Oh Aeris,” he whispered, “I broke my promise. I lied to you, little rose.”
“How did you lie?” She lifted her head, curious without any fear. He looked just as lovely drowning in pain as he did within utter elation. That thought made her sad as his hair shivered forward half obscuring his face.
“I said I’d protect you.”
“What happened wasn’t your fault.”
The general turned away, piercing beyond with the light that never diminished. He tightened his jaw behind the mask and ignored the incessant scratching. “I have no purpose, little flower, beyond being your protector.”
“Sephiroth stop! You know that’s not true.” Aeris glared up, but he couldn’t face her.
“It’s the truest thing I know. Down here in this place there’s nothing but ghosts, ghosts and memory…”
The flower girl retook his hands, laying lips to his palms and each finger. Her guardian sealed his eyes to that as Mako light threaded each lash.
“You kiss my hands as if you didn’t know what they’d done…as if they hadn’t shed your innocent blood…as if they were worthy of your touch.”
“Please stop,” she begged him, causing more guilt to blossom in his heart. “Don’t go to that place where light cannot reach and love cannot ever find you.”
The once greatest general fell to his knees, and Aeris’s whimper was lost in the dark. He pressed his brow to hers with eyes still shut as the discord of claws grew around. “I watched everything burn and I reveled in it. I saw my past laid bare.”
Summer shimmered to unheld tears and she mimicked their lines on his cheeks. Her own vision quivered behind her eyes, held tight at the gate of her lips.
“The fire in my heart will never go out. There’s no escape from the flames.” Behind pale lids they danced and twirled in horrible beauty and light. Sephiroth clutched at her slim shoulders for she was real while the ancient past writhed. “I can’t remember their faces, Aeris. I never even knew their names. They are cursing me forever and more through the ages, and I never even knew who they were…”
“Oh Sephiroth…” she whispered, brushing hair from his stricken face. At touch of her fingers, his eyes opened wide, and the past shivered slim as thorn. That’s where he was. That’s where he dwelled as surely as she’d seen her own. The flower maid had no more fear for the fallen angel at her feet. She slipped her arms around his neck as he burned with those long dead shades.
“I turned around, do you know that? I turned and walked back through the flames. Do you know, little flower? Do you know why? Do you know why I turned?” She said no word but smoothed his hair where nary a tangle would form. He still faced forward with eyes unseeing save for a world made of ash. “Even as the town turned to cinders, I could hear them screaming, and if they could scream, they needed to be killed. That’s why…that’s why I turned. That’s why I walked back through the fire to play a song of blood. You have to know this.” He pulled suddenly back to catch her face, and the flower girl sobbed for his grief. “You have to know…you have to know what I am. I’m so sorry, Aeris. I’m so very sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she wept and her tears soaked his fingers.
“I have everything to be sorry for.” He released her face to clasp her hands as though begging her to pray. “I tortured your friend…”
“I…know, Sephiroth. There’s nothing you did that I don’t know about.”
The once Great General shook his head as though all of her knowledge were shadows. “You don’t understand. I tortured him, Aeris. I taunted him with your death. It was all a game, a twisted amusement. I convinced him that it was his fault. You have to know this. You have to understand so you can hate me as you should…”
“That wasn’t you!” Her voice so small shook the corridors and empty labs. “And I know all this just as I know it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It does matter, Aeris. It’s all that does. What I did. What I wrought. What I killed.”
The flower girl pursed her lips as sorrow still flowed from her summer eyes. “What else did you do? You rescued me. Does that mean nothing at all?”
“I owed you then. I owe you still. I owe the dead and slain. I can’t pay them back. I can’t change this. There’s nothing I can do.” His head fell forward to meet her brow. “And you. You…who I dare to call my little flower, who I dared to touch. What I did to you…”
“I didn’t die that day, Sephiroth,” she told him.
“No…I killed you personally. I wanted your friends to hurt.”
“But now you suffer.”
“I deserve to, Aeris.”
“No one deserves this.” Aeris pulled at her hands and he let her go, while the Cetra wept enough for both. Not that this lessened his pain in the least for she saw it more profound. She brushed her knuckle against his cheek, marble skin so smooth. “What you endured and what you saw. Madness and anger and pain. But for the want of a mother’s name, how many lives would’ve been saved? All of these horrors. All of this death could’ve been stopped if you’d known the truth.” She touched his face, and the general couldn’t help it. He had to look at her, this tiny rose, who not only forgave him, but loved him more than light. It was more than a gift. It was beyond life. It was better than air to breathe. Then she smiled. She actually smiled as the tears for him dried on her face. “Do you know what you did for me so long ago? The very first day we met…”
He shook his head, utterly lost, for his memory held only pain. Aeris slid the hair from his epaulets so he tossed the strands clearing his face. She rested her hands on that armor so shining that still paled to the shield of his skin.
“I was alone and only three…smaller than I am now. They’d…taken my mother and left me in darkness…left me in darkness alone, but then you came bringing your light. I’d never seen glowing cat eyes before…” She held her palm up to their gleam, where it lined it like emerald filigree. “…and I must admit I was afraid, but you shut them for me and spoke to me gentle, took my hand and led me to find her. We just found more horror.” Her little hand fell, but Sephiroth caught it soft clutched to his heart. “That’s what we’re chasing…chasing right now,” she whispered to close creeping dark.
“I think that it’s more chasing us, little flower. Beyond our nightmares it seethes. It’s calling our names, whispering our stories, and all we can do is reply.”
A tiny sound escaped her throat and Aeris jerked her hand in his grasp. Sephiroth released it in that instant, gaze narrowing on her face. She gripped her wrist where chains tight clung and needles still pierced her veins.
“Aeris, what is it?” He rose to his feet so the only shadow she faced was his. The maid couldn’t answer with her lip in her teeth and new tears forced from her eyes. Her guardian pulled her to his chest where she buried her face in black leather. “What haunts you, little flower?” he begged her. “What horrors do you see?” She turned her head and blurry sight was followed by emerald heat. It fell on jagged, sallow glass, and Sephiroth swept her up. Walking back to what caused her heart’s ache as the shards crunched under his heels.
The flickering light within that small room illumined the rusty links, and abject wrath made his skin whiter and thinned his lips to a line. Taking a step he set Aeris down away from the soon to be carnage. He didn’t even bother with the door, but stepped through what remained of that window. Crumbling glass rained over him like old and bitter snow. Crystalline clear against moonlight and ashes with nary a cut on frost skin. He lifted the manacles where rust mimicked blood and crushed them in his fist. Then reaching forward, he gripped at the base before ripping the chain from the wall. It groaned in weak protest, but time had left little for metal save for rot. A chunk of the cell was torn out as well, the stone within white as bone. The walls were still sound, and all that now mattered was that chain being crushed in his hands. The general flicked his fingers and dusted his palms so embered ash froze in still air. His lip curled in disgust peering around at what had presumed to hold her. Mere particles now and this tiny room would one day be crushed by time. Shaking out the moonlit mane, he freed it of any stray shards. The glass sparkled sadly against leather black where it drifted like far stars unseen. Returning to Aeris, Sephiroth caught the maid as she flew into his arms.
“It’s alright, little one.” He stroked her free bangs that brushed against now tears of joy.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a hundred years…” she got out between her sobs. Silver and chestnut mingled in light as Sephiroth tightened his arms.
“I wish they all were alive, little flower…so that I could kill them again. This time for you-”
“I don’t want that.” She forced her face lift to his so somber. “I’d take no joy from that bloodshed, and neither, I think, would you.” He curled his finger against her cheek, and Aeris kissed his palm.
I won’t let myself lose her. He fought hard with fate to wrest this victory from its clutch. Picking Aeris up in his right arm, Sephiroth gripped the sword at his left. The Cetra barely had time to register as she leaned against the solid pauldron.
“I should’ve done this before, little flower, and never let you out of my grasp…”
The corridor ended in darkness, but the old sensors rallied in light. It was testament to their build that they’d lasted this long so neither could fault them in fail. Down short stairs where the railing was rotted, he carried the flower maid. At times the only light was his and the only sound was scratching. She hid her face against his neck when she feared what the shadows would show. The labs disappeared so that open rooms with tables revealed their truth. Straps had been chewed or worn away, but the Cetra knew what they’d been for.
“It’s calling me, Aeris,” Sephiroth murmured.
“I know…I can hear it, too.”
Emerald drew streaks through the dimming dark, lighting ash-silver hair. Before them stood a vaulted door like a banker’s treasure house, but they knew no treasure lay beyond, and Sephiroth banished the sword. Curling his fingers around the wheel lock, he laid his brow to hers damp with dew. “Shall we go then, you and I, this one last time?”
“I didn’t bring my book…” she answered.
“That’s alright, little flower. I remember…I remember it for you.”
He turned the vault lock, speaking those words to fill the darkness with beauty. Aeris recited with him as if their memories were tied, as if his voice laid the verse bright before. The door squealed like rats trapped forever inside and their claws ripped against his ears. Hanging lights swung in the open space of what once was an operating theater. The great vaulted door led onto a landing where circular stairs wound down. Off to the right were long dark windows where observers could watch like gods. Sephiroth’s boots made no sound on the stairs that were composed of cracks, but between the fissures came those claws in desperate struggle to escape. Aeris clung tight to his neck, shaking so hard the terror almost made her still. She refused to shut her eyes, though memory paled her for what she’d soon see.
“There’s something terribly, terribly wrong…I can’t hear the Planet.”
A scattering of stone crumbled down the steps as he peered to what lay below. Emerald was sharp and more cutting than diamond, but the bottom remained like mist. “As it was in Sector 2,” he said half to himself.
Aeris nodded and hard clasped her hands. They were tangled in moonlight as she sent her prayer through the stillness that did now surround. “This is even below the slums near the heart of the world. I should be able to hear it clear, but there’s only silence.”
Sephiroth stroked her shivering skin, but could not bring himself to lie. “It knew I would seek it. It knew I would come…”
“We have no other choice.”
“You had a choice.” He leapt over a portion that had succumbed to age and rot. Aeris peered up to the black windows above, forever watching her still.
“You know I didn’t…what else was my purpose?”
“To be happy, my little flower.”
She kissed his cheek and despite it all, the general felt joy in that brush. Aeris leaned her brow to his temple and tried to imagine her church, but without the Planet the image was nothing but memory. The Cetra still prayed to that vision in white, hoping that it would still reach.
“When they first discovered the…abomination,” he told her, “this is where it was brought. Deep down below where no one could disturb…where they could do as they pleased. This room is soundproof, and once we are lower, you’ll see seats as though for a…performance.”
“How do you know so much about this place?” she asked in fear of the answer.
Sephiroth scanned the blurriness below. “I was brought here before.”
Despite the cold metal against her chest, Aeris squeezed him harder, and the Great General realized in his sadness that she was trying to hold him. His ear was close by and his hearing supreme so she barely needed to whisper. “You know you’re the one who helped us escape…who distracted the guards long enough.”
Sephiroth said no word to glare at the steps, which now dared to yawn in deep chasm. Age and rot had crumbled the stone to gathering rubble beneath. He easily jumped, spreading his wing to sail over the emptiness. Stagnant air stirred the night black fronds, and Aeris shut her eyes just to savor. Her mind gave her mercy to let her forget for one instant the distance to sky. If it still existed and wasn’t blood black with another world’s corruption. Shaking the flower girl forced open her eyes. This was no time for dreams.
“Why didn’t you come with us?” He landed so lightly like dancing on leaves, and the great wing disappeared.
“They told me I’d die without the Mako injections.”
“Do you think that was a lie, too?” She gave a little cry as beneath them the stairway sharply crumbled away. Immediately clutching her with both arms, the general made grace his sidestep. She cleared his face since his hands were full, and when the ground was stable under again Sephiroth kissed her brow. His eye remained open and cast towards below for now was not the time for indulgence.
“They gave me partial truth. When I…read about how I was created, the injections were a large part. They helped give me my tireless strength and were needed up to a point. What point that was was long before then. Half truth is far worse than a lie.” He frowned but shook his head against. Half truths and lies made up his life. “Without them, they said, I might’ve grown sick and died in the polluted slum air. But even without this they would’ve found me, their most coveted prize. The slums would’ve burned, but there I’d remain, glittering pale in the ashes.”
“Is it all lies and illusions?” Aeris asked. “Onto forever and more?”
“No. Not all of it, little flower,” he told her regretful, “the terrible things are true.”
“I don’t believe that.”
He sighed with saddest smile for her stubbornness endured.
“What about light?”
“Light is for the pure.”
Aeris tilted her head, swimming through emerald sorrow. “Light is for anyone willing to claim it. We can be more than the sum of our grief.”
Mildew veins rose up the walls as further down smelled of warm rot. It overrode the vestiges of Mako that had reigned above. The lights flickered in dull and Aeris was grateful that he would be able to see. Terror froze her blood as it quickened her heart, but of one thing she had no doubt. He would protect her. That spoke through his skin, an unwavering determination.
The pulse of her fear set Sephiroth’s jaw and shaped unblinking eyes to cut. He wished then that he’d been forsworn so she was safe while he spiraled toward doom. But he’d made a vow. He’d promised a promise, and he had done it to her. It was made in blood and blood can’t be broken. It can only be spilled.
“When we reach the bottom, I’ll put you down. Stay behind me, Aeris.” It was his general’s voice honed to command, and she jumped to the heat of his eyes. “I won’t have you hurt…not ever again.” He turned away to glare ever down.
“Alright…I’ll obey.” She tried to smile. “I’ll obey my general this once.” It fell on wane lips that quivered to silence.
The last of the steps were long rotted away, but that descent was nothing to him. All the way up the stairwell dissolved even to eyes that could see for miles. Instruments and devices used to cut life were strewn upon ancient concrete. They were yellow and curled like the Cetra’s old lilies, and would soon return to the same dust. A power beyond what they’d pulled from the earth prickled along their skins. Tendrils of chestnut and tendrils of ash lifted in heavy hair. The little maid blinked as her hands came loose for the sight was strange as summer snow.
The girl seemed familiar, black dress and black hair dyed silver at the tips. Her garb was tattered, her lace gloves were torn as if she’d crawled on her belly through glass. She was facing a cavern, a great yawning maw, and Aeris shuddered as Sephiroth hissed. That sound jerked her head up and breath caught in fear to her guardian’s narrowed thorn eyes. She remembered her name on the shadow’s lips. But he’s solid and warm and real. This litany repeated, becoming her prayer as the general put her down. Besides a raised platform great enough to hold something foul that’d been ripped from the earth.
From this far below those windows were pits for the gods to send dark from above. Her lip curled in horror. The residue still remained, staining the air that Aeris breathed. The past was gnawing, ever gnawing, eating away at the future. The Cetra squeezed her fist to her breast that hid a dearer darkness. Softest fronds and sweetest scent as she brushed the feathery edge. Her skin remembered the cool of the air as they rose above the clouds. The last thing she wanted was to look up. For within this girl who’d mocked and sneered, the future was already devoured.
“I knew you’d come.” Her voice shivered hollow. “An abomination in angel’s skin.”
Silver hair shushed as he lowered his head in neon upon this sight. His flower felt nothing, but that pulse tried to tie itself to his very heart’s beat. The girl turned from the opening where reverberations of scratching echoed throughout all worlds. Her face was cold as winter tears more frozen than the north. From her eyes a strange pulse hummed, a low and gleaming red. Sephiroth quelled the frightful urge to draw his sword and end her pain. There was no guarantee the horror would die, and only the pawn will bleed. It was an imperfect fit for she had nothing of it. She bore no corrupt cells. Her flesh screamed in silence. Her bones cracked in pain, and she forced her hands not to claw.
“Imminent darkness. Black winged death. The Great General…Sephiroth.”
His glamour was broken and emerald outpoured uncut by those glorious lashes. It flooded the blackness within that foul tunnel, but not even Mako could make dark ignite.
“Tis a dangerous thing,” Sephiroth warned, “to call upon an angel.”
“Tis a dangerous gift you bring.” Her head jerked towards Aeris, and such hate pushed the flower girl back. Her eyes had grown dry from staring too long and trying to place this memory.
The girl swayed forward, forcing her legs to move or bear broken bones. “The angel of death…you wouldn’t come now with a scythe or even a sword. No, you’d come with a whisper,” she made her voice match. “How else do you lure the most timid souls into your deadly grasp?” She pointed straight to Aeris’s heart, and Sephiroth stepped blocking that path. Wrath he thought gone boiled inside but for a far purer purpose. The hole in the wall behind howled sepulchral, and a raised finger split her lips with a hush.
The Cetra reached forward and caught tight his hand, the right for she wasn’t unwise. Only his fingers moved to close her fragile grip within. She still stayed behind, keeping her promise, obeying her general’s commands. She was afraid not to, terrified of what only stood because it was held. The name came to her from far memory, and “Phaedra Levanah…” it was.
Sephiroth turned his head just slight to keep both of them in his gaze. “You.” His eyes sliced over the girl in shock he hid with scrutiny. “The girl from Sector 2. The…’fangirl’ with the shop.”
She glanced towards the tunnel, tearing hands through her hair where the whiteness now grew from the root. “Yes. You do remember me. You answered my beck and call.” She found the Cetra in blood again, and his hand clenched with want of the sword. “You did what I asked and brought her to me.”
“I did nothing for you,” he spat. Aeris’s palm grew slick with fear, as her other gripped his fingers.
The changed girl laughed behind her lips, sealing her eyes as if in relief. “My vengeance unfolds like a bitter rose to bring me what I needed.”
“Vengeance,” he whispered, “vengeance for what?”
“Fire and blood and death.”
The flames hot within him rose up engorged, cracking the shell of his wrath. Forever beneath his grief always waited, raw as an unwashed wound. Beyond agony his flower hard clutched his hand, deaf to the Planet but not to his pain.
“Yes,” Phaedra whispered swaying forward boring red into green. “I wasn’t there in Nibelheim, but my grandmother was. My mother was here in the slums below dreaming of life in the sun. She’d thought it be better to live in this city, and have a chance to be of the elite.” Phaedra’s face jerked hard towards Aeris, full of hatred that could not be told. The Cetra refused to turn away from this enemy that could’ve been more ancient than she. Trying to see the seam of where the horror ended and this poor child began, but Sephiroth stricken realized this hate belonged to her alone.
“It never would happen,” Phaedra continued while the tunnel dark chuckled behind. The general snapped his gaze back up to that as the wall around turned silent grey. “My mother realized so she packed up her bags to go back to her mountain home. She told me the story…so many times when I shivered and cried in the dark. The slums were easier to escape back then if you had someplace to go…but she didn’t.” Phaedra flung the final word, and Sephiroth bowed his head to the blow. “Her once home had been turned to ash, and near everyone had died. She was trapped in the squalors beneath the grand, and I was born into that blight. But fire can’t destroy.” Zeal lifted her face. “It can only transform, and it made me what I am.” She held out her arms to welcome the hate that twisted her face up towards his. The general wished he could burn in that light. That the flames would immolate his soul and make ash his winter skin.
“Please forgive me,” he whispered hiding behind his otherworldly hair, but there was no skein that could shield such guilt let alone capture it.
“You will never be forgiven,” Phaedra hissed. “You will always be one of the damned.” He took that like a strike amidst hard battle, his teeth cutting against their edges. “You’re an abomination. That’s all you’ll ever be. Your fate was only to fall.”
And thus he did fall drowning in guilt enough for a thousand men. His little flower cried out in horror as his hand slipped from hers and danger prickled her skin to the bone. The girl draped in black circled them round in arrogance to view the pale fallen. Aeris leaned on his shoulder where pauldrons still gleamed brighter than sealed Mako eyes. Her breath came in rush tying her tongue on the many words it held.
“So now you see with different eyes, and you can’t take the pain.” Phaedra’s face full lit in glee at the torture rent from those words. His left hand clutched hard at his heart, but the only thing leaking was light.
“Stop it!” Aeris’s voice echoed through this chamber where protests were always made mute.
“Let her, little rose,” his voice answered soft. “I deserve every ounce of hate…”
“No, you don’t.”
Sephiroth looked up in almost hope to her so adamant, stubborn, and brave. Pink ruled her cheeks and tears held her eyes, but they did not reign over her voice. “What you did…was not your will. You’ve proven that to me, and you…” She whirled to Phaedra’s amusement. “You have suffered, I agree. The slums are no place for anyone, especially people like you and me, but he was another victim…of the madness affecting you now…” As if she just realized Aeris stepped back keeping her hand on her guardian’s shoulder.
The general forced himself face who he’d wronged over a century ago. It never resolves. It never is cleaned. What I’ve done will echo through time… “I’m sorry,” he whispered lifting his face. He deserved to see utter hatred, and Phaedra was not remiss in that gift, eyes bright as that long lost blaze.
“’Sorry,’” she repeated with voice flat and dead. “What does ‘sorry’ do?”
Aeris wanted to scream, It does all! but had no right in another’s pain.
“It doesn’t change the past.” Phaedra peered over her shoulder to the darkness beyond. “It doesn’t bring back what was burnt down. It didn’t rescue my mother from the slums. She died in pain and fear and blood, but I was strong enough to endure. Resourceful enough to rent that shop when I became obsessed with you…”
Sephiroth could only stare defeated again by his past. He smelled the tears on his little flower’s face and wished he could offer her ease, but he no more deserved to touch that rose than he deserved this child’s forgiveness.
“Yes, it’s true. I was obsessed. I wanted to revive the Silver Elite. It seemed more than fitting since the latter was the title that my mother had always craved, but I wanted defiance so I named us the dangerous ‘Followers of Seph.’ We met in secret below my shop where the walls seemed to swallow the sound. It went on much farther than the top would allow, and one day I took a light and kept on. Down, down, down it went into the earth, and it was there that she came to me.”
“’She,’” he hissed despite all sorrow his lip curled up in revulsion. “You call it ‘she’ as if it were human and not a horror seeped down from the stars.”
“I had nothing else!” Phaedra snapped, and the darkness rumbled behind. Aeris stepped further behind Sephiroth, and her fear made the general rise. Looking down at the girl’s evangelical zeal made his pupils cut sharper in green. “She knew my woes. She knew my pain. She knew what you had done. I would’ve worshipped you, but she reminded me how you had stolen my future.”
Phaedra spun around and held a hand toward the dark, voice echoing back in sepulchral reveals. “I found my way here, climbed my way up through the black labs destitute. Then I found you.” She turned back around, and her skin writhed with the taint of corruption. Sephiroth’s face was blank as a stone, and Aeris half covered hers. “I did have friends in the slums so foul who were gleeful to what I’d discovered.” She smiled and he again wanted the sword to cut right through her teeth. “You fetched quite a good price. I was able to purchase the shop I could only then rent.”
The only warmth that filled the fallen came from Aeris’s hand. She felt no cold emanate from his skin, but it filled him from the core. “That’s how I ended up in that cage…”
“Yes, so you can imagine my utter surprise that day you came asking about your ‘true mother.” She scoffed at the words, and winter did burn though it did not sear the flower girl’s hand.
“Have a care how you speak…you lied to me.”
“The only lie you believe is of love.”
Aeris placed her hand on his arm and prayed hard he would not be so tricked. The Planet was silent, but still she sent plea that though mute it still could hear. Sephiroth glanced down to the flower maid, then back up in almost amusement. Even with a heart ripped bare to its threads of this he would never doubt. Her love for him would fill the abyss between the weary worlds.
“Do you think your ‘mother’ actually loved you?” And pale skin turned whiter than ash. “She was only a vessel with only one purpose.” Phaedra laughed aloud. “She never even knew your name. Your horror never graced her eyes. She couldn’t stand to look at you. She left you because she knew what you were, but this…” She passed a hand before her face, and he stiffened as Aeris tried not to scream. “…has seen you true.”
“It saw what it made…” His low voice did crack and the light in his eyes bled to pale. “A monster, a horror, a darkness to drown out the world. Something no righteous mother could ever love…”
“Yes, that’s what you are. The purpose you’re meant. Imminent darkness come again….” She half rushed forward, but a flash from his eyes stopped Phaedra before she could touch. That didn’t keep her hate from finding the Cetra and near burning her with its heat. “We were here before the filth that dares to crawl upon this world.”
“Not before her,” Sephiroth said, peering over to his little rose staring up. He blinked once and then turned bearing truth even within Mako eyes. “Her people were here first.”
“Her people,” hissed Phaedra throwing her glare hard, but Aeris neither moved nor flinched, concentrating on her general. “Her people were weak and inconsequential.”
“Then why do you fear her so?” The girl stepped back and the horror howled, creasing darkness upon her face.
“We won’t once she’s dead.”
“She was dead before and she still defeated you.”
The terrible words reached Aeris from beyond, the promise of her death. Her little hands pressed his arm unafraid no matter what soon would come.
“This time though…” Phaedra turned again to the whispering hole in the wall. “The world turned without will keep her in her place.”
The Cetra snapped her face toward the girl, her terrors repeated below. “What do you mean ‘the world turned without?’”
Phaedra didn’t move or even acknowledge, and Sephiroth snarled, “Answer her.”
Despite the foulness carried within, the general’s voice still made her jump. The part of her not utterly coiled around the maddening folds. “The place you call the ‘in between.’ Didn’t you ever wonder what it was?” Sephiroth only followed her with sharpened eyes, hiding that question below. “When she came here so long ago, a piece of her world came along. Bound within cells, carried in memory of what time had long eaten away. Only a vestige to linger without and only those with the cells could step in.”
His face burned with emerald. It filled every hollow as his heart knocked each rib out of place. His flower’s hands slid down the leather while the blood in her veins ran in fear. It wasn’t paranoia. It wasn’t even that monster that made that greyness foul. Aeris’s soul had always known that was the darkest path.
Sephiroth shifted his gaze to the tunnel but saw only the horrible truth. “It gnawed and gnawed until it was destroyed…and then it sought another. That shadow world. That ‘in between’ is all that’s left of where it was born.” He cut his eyes over, black slivers in seas of emerald that never ends. “What of the monster…what of that beast that, too, sought her innocent blood?”
A low chuckle filled Phaedra’s throat and the general scowled to be so mocked. “It was ordered to find her and bring an end to the threat.” She sneered angry at the admission. Aeris breathed deep surprisingly calm for how many had wished for her death.
“But it only could do that if she were brought in, and you lost your chance in that first failure.” His glower contained all of the wrath and fear at the thought of her demise, but the tiny hand suddenly threaded in his cooled the fire beneath.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” the girl in black said, “soon the world will turn without and the darkness will swallow all down.”
“So you would turn this world into that?!” Aeris cried in fury unfelt. The Planet might be silenced, but she certainly was not, and only Sephiroth’s grip kept her still.
“That will never happen.” He stayed facing dark.
Phaedra laughed, “You really don’t see. You’re part of that darkness, and you can be redeemed.” She looked the maid up and down in contempt. “All you need do is fulfill your sole purpose and spill Ancient blood once more. When the world is in shadow it no more will speak and call this weak child to aid.” The trapped girl stepped forward, trailing black threads of her garb that had been so torn. “You will obey else endure such suffering you’ll beg to be back in your cage.”
The wrath drained out of Sephiroth’s face as the general shook his head. “I have seen through the eyes of the darkness at the heart of this world, the very one that twists your bones. The moment I was born, my life was to suffer to make me what I am. I have been dead and trapped in the swell that will never name me its own. I called down the fire from heaven and was cast down to rot in the cold. These threats you throw are as empty as fate. What is torture and pain to me?” He raised his left hand still empty of steel. “You gave me nothing but lies.”
“Those lies would’ve led you to ultimate glory.”
“And that would’ve been a lie, too. Playing a god led me to be fallen, but now I remember my place. It is better to be burned by the light of truth than to live in the shadow of falsehood.” He took a step forward and Phaedra slid back toward the night that lived in that passage. “We spend most of our lives running from the past and running from ourselves. I’m tired of running. I’m tired of blindness, and I’ve dined too long on despair.”
From his right side the pain erupted so Aeris was shadowed in black. To answer the Cetra pulled forth her feather, clutching the frond within her small hands.
“Come forth, you monster!” Sephiroth’s voice rang through the darkness behind. “I call you, so horror to horror we stand.”
Phaedra’s eyes widened in glee as shadow bubbled on her skin. Her lips split apart to mortal flesh pain, but the corruption drowned out her screams. Sephiroth could no more drive her back for Aeris now stood before. Tiny and frail with her hands clasped around the residue of his dark. If he looked down then he would falter from what he had to do. The Masamune was waiting, hungry for blood, and the pain in his eyes dimmed their brightness. It was only a moment, less than a blink, unnoticed by seething red orbs.
“You desire the blood of the Ancients?” he offered. “Come and take it if you wish.”
The abomination tore itself from the girl, and Phaedra crumpled like a leaf doused in flame.
A vice wrapped around the flower maid’s wrist, and Aeris was trapped between horror and fallen. All deception bled out in his clutch, and she raised her head to her fate without fear. The Planet was voiceless, and she prayed it could hear her as the light within flushed her skin. Sharpened tendrils came for her heart, but she was filled with the grace of the world. A vessel, too, and unashamed of the role she would play again. Within her blood lay its destruction, the gift she’d been given from death. It had never been lost, her precious white stone. It dwelled deep inside to wait.
Aeris knew her purpose, why she’d been sent back to this side of the stream. It was always to die, to be sacrificed, and once more watch the world from afar, but the little Ancient had accepted her fate from the moment she’d known its true name. She braced for the blow facing the horror that was incomprehensible in form. Her mind couldn’t fathom, but didn’t shut down. She was graciously blocked from that end. The pain would be sharp, but brief in its torture. Her heart was a tether both holding love and the ties that bound her to this life. The one would be sundered, the other uncut for death cannot master all.
Even as swift as shadow could fall, Sephiroth still had no time. He was facing the very cells in his flesh, the corruption that lived in his blood. There was no way to avoid the sacrifice, but he was still faster than his little flower and flung her aside with a sweep of his wing. The Masamune appeared between him and it, brimming over with holy light, and his eyes reflected that endless gleam turning Mako into miracle. Echoed and growing a ceaseless flame that burned brighter than skin white as ice. There was no time in between two heartbeats as the sword found its place in corruption, curling all it touched within.
There is nothing more real than the scrape of death against hard living bone. The pain meant for her pierced through black leather, white skin and thick muscle and bone. It burrowed like a worm beneath his heart where the thrum sank in what was to come. Neither that nor the blood that stained perfect lips touched the mask upon his face. His flower was safe. That’s all that did matter as the power she’d called filled his veins. His blood was spilling on leather and pale, but the light filled the space it had left. The black wing was lifted and transfixed in place by the tendrils that pierced joint and bone. Bloody feathers rained down over white hair, leaving brushes of blood in their wake. Within his body the horror clawed at his soul, but had no way to get inside. He had no hatred only grief and grief makes darkness pure.
“You broke into my mind.” He full faced the horror, holding blood between his teeth, but neither that nor the pain stole the power that swelled his voice. “You stole everything I was. Everything I could’ve been. I was already a monster, and you made me something worse. You turned me into you…”
The Masamune holy twisted inside so the sharp of the blade faced up, but within Sephiroth the false mother writhed, too. His jaw clenched behind the mask. This abomination that held him only in part tried to flaw raw his mind. The lift of his lips was forced in defiance as the great sword sliced horror apart. Dust specks and shadow filled the lost screech as the scratching beast, too, fell full silent. The passage of darkness became only that, a hallway that needed a light. Held high in his brilliance within both his hands, the sword shed shadow like second skin.
Softer blood fell down his chest and glistened the coat at his back. Hands that never faltered to unbroken strength opened to the weight of the blade. It clattered on tiles and shook the stale air where stillness was now dissipating. Where light left him, only death remained, and if he was its angel, he had to abide by the rules it had set forth. His descent was graceful, but it was still a fall, and Aeris ran to his side with a cry. Sephiroth slid against the old platform that had once held its victims in torment. Now it supported its once struggling subject who suffered twice to the pain of pure tears. The little Cetra pulled his coat apart and sobbed as though all light had died. Only that table was propping him up as he looked through agony with utter love.
“Are we even now, little flower?” he whispered. “Has the debt now been repaid?”
“There is no debt! There never was. I told you I knew my purpose.” She clung to his neck, and Sephiroth stroked her back where there was nary a wound. Blood pooled out so red beneath rent and torn black leather, but the greatest pain was her endless tears flooding his rustless armor. “You didn’t owe me a thing.” She pulled herself back to look at that lovely face paler.
“I owe you all things…” He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. “My dear little flower…I’d do it again. Anything to save you. A life for a life. A debt for a debt. Blood will pay for blood…”
Her piteous sobs shut his eyes where the emerald light flickered and dimmed. Behind his lids it was finally hidden so no light was cut on a lash. The wounds were too great on his right side for him to lift that hand. It rested against his ruined wing as each feather wept darker blood. Sephiroth kissed her brow, cupping a cheek full soaked with the salt of tears. The slits were more open but still split the light as it wavered around that darkness.
“Please…please don’t go,” she begged. “Please don’t leave me alone…” She cleared his face of blood damped strands, silver made tangled by red.
“Never beg, my little rose. Never beg for me…” He tried to kiss her brow but missed and slid across her temple.
“No!” she cried clutching his shoulders and filling her fingers with moon washed hair. As long as she held it, he couldn’t go. She believed like a child in the dark. “You never found what you were looking for.”
“I was looking for a grave…” He pressed his forehead to hers, bound together with blood, and Aeris’s tears washed down his face, cutting runnels in the red. “Where I am going…” He held voice together for it wanted to break around pain. “…you cannot follow, little rose.”
She kissed his brow, she kissed his cheeks, she kissed his lips so stained. Anything, something to drive life back in, and then Aeris remembered.
“Wait! My staff, my oaken staff. I can heal these wounds!”
Darkness was calling within too bright light, so he closed it away. The hand that had lifted that steel car with ease struggled to reach punctured chest. Regret stained his lips as readily as blood, as Sephiroth slid down the slick skin. His belly bled above his belt, muscle no defense against death. The other half of his body, his right arm and wing only swirled in a vortex of pain. He didn’t know how many times he’d been pierced, but relief still gave him a smile. Through the miasma, his rose was returning, and there was joy for she knew not this pain.
Sephiroth hissed. He didn’t mean to as Aeris laid a hand to his wounds. “I’m so sorry!” she cried and with eyes closed he smiled. His wonderful, stubborn flower. He wanted to tell her once again not to apologize, but oblivion’s tongue held only his name. He had only a few words left and could not waste them to chastise. The cooling touch from her spell barely softened his agony. His flesh wouldn’t knit to hold his soul in.
He opened his eyes to her ravaged face, more tears to skin through his veil. It was as though the hue of the emerald swam now before his sight. It’s her summer eyes…they’re filling my gaze. How gracious this world must be. This last sight of light before endless darkness. How do I deserve such a gift?
“Oh Aeris…” he whispered, “I can smell summer. It’s pure and good and green.” The healing cool filled all of his wounds, and he smiled as it faded to pain. Aeris collapsed against his shoulder, the stone in her staff dark as dust. Sephiroth brushed her cheek with his fingers so the flower maid raised her head. She pressed his palm hard to her face and sank down to her knees. Kissing it, clutching it, trying to squeeze some warmth from his draining skin.
“It’s alright, little one. I promise you that. You’re unharmed. I fulfilled my task.” He pushed himself up to erupt agony, but that didn’t matter now. Leaning his brow he clutched her close to flood her green eyes with last light. “You let me protect you. You let me love you. The least I can do for you is die.”
It didn’t go out like a bulb in burst, but slowly faded like autumn dusk. Aeris tried to form words, but agony stole them while blindness followed her tears. His lids were half open, lashes spread forth, but those eyes were as dull as the air. The light that had lived to be never extinguished was now forever dark. Only her hand kept his to her cheek as she keened over beautiful death. Her cries filled that room, awakening the memory of those who had screamed so before, but they remained silent to Aeris’s grief in respect to he who lay slain.
Author’s Note: For the meaning of Sephiroth’s name, if there are any theologians or Qabalists reading, I know it means “emanation.” I’ve done some study on the Qabalah/Tree of Life and am in fact currently reading Fortune’s Mystical Qabalah right now, and I took some liberties and extended that to mean “God’s light.” It seemed fitting. Aeris is actually Latin for “air” (if Google Translate is not lying to me), which is another reason I had to use that version of her moniker in this story. That and the “shadow’s” hissing it at the end of the Chapter 21 wouldn’t have been possible, and I really wanted that.
The next chapter is simply titled Judgment and that will fall next Friday August 21.
Thank you for reading!