<–Chapter 20 Chapter 22–>
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 claim no rights to the featured picture, which can be found here. The image is The Tower card from the Iona Tarot created by Giona Fiochi.
“Grief does not change you…it reveals you.” -John Green “The Fault in Our Stars”
Sunlight made Midgar no less dark and the tower still raped the sky. From far above nothing moved below even to slivered eyes, and Aeris in breathing started to cough from the reek that assailed her nostrils.
“It’s rotting…” she whispered, but he still could hear.
“It’s Mako,” was empty reply. His face was a death mask, unmoving and cold as the winds that still held them above. She touched his cheek and the general turned, emerald melting from ice to pure grief.
He pulled up within the city’s perimeter to a slow descent. Debris fled in the disturbed air before his boots touched down. Moonlight and ashes fell in perfection against his long black coat, and before Aeris blinked the great wing was gone as he shook the hair from his face. He put her down gently but kept steadying arms around the flower maid. She was glad for her legs forgot in that short time how to properly work, but she couldn’t dwell long on that inconvenience for sights never seen before. Above the plate where the elite dwelled and the sun rose and set every day. No wane light to order their days, they were the ones to command…or they did once.
Sephiroth lifted her chin. “Are you alright to walk, little flower? I can carry you if you wish so long as my sword hand is free.”
“I’m fine.” She shuddered but didn’t know why when he mentioned the sword. How long had it been since she had shown fear of him or the Masamune? It must be the air of this dark place. She clutched his hand and peered up to buildings taller than she could see. Even in sunlight the city was dark as if it sucked up that energy, too.
A lamppost on the corner shone in the dim, and Aeris brushed her palm on cracked paint, while Sephiroth tied their fingers together, letting his senses draw everything in. The manse that subdued the full length of a block was silent to stale air within. A high window yawned around jagged glass, but that was the only damage.
“Aeris,” he called and she twisted up, rubbing residue against her dress.
Through Midgar they walked the quieting streets where luxury waited unused. Cars parked in rows untouched by all violence save the cruelty of time. Leaves gathered in wheel wells and miniscule squeaks echoed behind flattened rubber. The house that was bigger than Kalm lolled in silence, expecting any moment the door to be breached. A side one was open, and Sephiroth stared in, splintering darkness with his emerald light. Papers and treasures were flung to the floor, but human scent had long faded away.
Aeris clutched her staff far too tight, but it was not in fear of the unknown. Her general’s hand so warm around hers quelled any terror of what might lurk. He could act far faster than she ever could to bring danger to an end. No…growing truth squeezed little fingers for what she didn’t want to be. The wide avenues where the elite had strolled were now home only to cats and cracked asphalt. The former growing fat on the rats that feast on what humans leave behind.
“There’s no one here…” Her voice was a whisper because she only wanted to scream. He pulled his gaze from the tower that curled up his lip to witness her trembling and pale. “Midgar is dead.”
“Was it ever alive? No, it fed off life, but never lived.”
“And the ones forgotten still rot below in the shadow of husks above. People die beneath, but there’s no one here. There’s no one here at all! It’s empty, emptier than before. The slum-born suffer for nothing…”
Tears cracked her face and he drew her against as the lonely wind scattered debris. Sephiroth stroked her hair and tried to focus on only her heartrending sobs. Every crack in the ground held incessant scratching, as if waiting below the rotting foundation, the horror was poised to rise.
“There’s a memory to this place, Aeris,” he told her. “The elite…they finally did care.”
“That gives small comfort to the souls dying in darkness below.” It was buried in tears, but the general still caught the words on mournful tide.
“No, little one, don’t do that. Don’t let bitterness rule your heart. You are the light the darkness so fears. Even beyond death you shone.”
Her little hands clenched into tight fists upon the straps on his chest. Aeris sniffed and looked up at his face to see her own hope reflected. He was wearing it well, but it was still mask. The Cetra could always see through, but the fact he would try just for her sake made her expression attempt to ring true.
Sephiroth slid his hands down her back, wrinkling his nose at the stench in the air. He concentrated to separate Mako from past, wind from what occurred long ago. “They walked away,” he told her. “There’s no thread of death. I can taste the memories, the utter shame, the crushing guilt of their petty lives. After my…actions it caught them at last, what they were ignoring, what they’d allowed, what festered beneath their feet.”
“It’s still there.” The flower girl pulled herself back and Sephiroth let her go. She took a few steps closer to the great tower, steel pristine in dying day. “And something deeper…but the Planet doesn’t know what. It’s bad. It’s awful. It’s…worse than before.” She shut her eyes and he took her shoulders. “The world turned without. I don’t know what that means…”
“It means we stop it, little flower.” He took her hand as the tower grew taller in the epicenter of their sight. Those engines of destruction, the Mako reactors still tore life from the world. All of them, he thought. All of them active when before there had been just a few. Yet the city is empty save for the slums, and the cracks in the ground whisper death.
Before the steps of his former employer there were cars bumper to grill. No space even dwelled between to let general and maid pass through.
“I think you were right.” Aeris laid a palm to a once luxurious brand. “It’s like just one day, they all stood up and left.” She kicked aside clutter to peer through a window. “There’s a briefcase rotted through.”
Sephiroth ducked beside her and emerald lit what was left. “Chewed through by rats or fouler.” He scooped her up and leapt over the cars. It mimicked flight in its smoothness, but there was no elation now. The air hung heavy like steeped in a swamp and it grew worse the closer they drew. All around the cracked ground issued up scratching, a noise he could not block out. Their tiny claws etched out the torture, the futility of escape. He knew that too well as he set Aeris down before the unstained glass doors. There were lights but the locks were fully engaged, and she peered through tensed for vision of people for surely some had to be here. Why waste power to keep this place lit if no one dwelled within?
Sephiroth turned to the numbered panel lit bright as a star full sky. He put in the code as memories descended to the shush of the doors sliding soft. Ghosts passed before, some carrying papers, some rushing to meetings so late. His appearance always prompted a shuffling hush, the very sight of him calling command. He’d always ignored it without any mask. He’d needed none because he didn’t care. Striding to the elevators to fulfill the summons that had drawn him back to this place. His wake left pure awe for some moments long though his gaze never turned their way. They were lucky in that for emerald so bared could’ve burned them all alive.
Now the shades passed through him in memory cold, but Aeris’s hand was warm. The immense lobby held only stale air, and her heart echoed in his ears. High ceilings could shame a cathedral. The sepulchral air would mock a tomb. It was so pristine the general’s lip curl up in disgust. Always perfect, always pure to hide what screamed beneath. The little hand slipped out of his, and Sephiroth shook off the memory.
“It looks so normal…like an office building. Nothing like what it is.” She peered up. “It doesn’t smell here,” the flower girl realized. “It’s just the stale of still air.”
“No, it never would, little one. They’d never allow it…not even now.”
Aeris spun around and her skirt flared dancing dust motes in the light. “I’ve…only ever been here once, I-I mean at least this part.” She bowed her head to his narrowed eyes. “I was raised here…so were you. We both come from the same place, the same horror.”
He sealed the distance and lifted her face to his, holding tight to the mask. “You don’t come from horror, little rose. You were forced into its clutch.”
Aeris nodded as much as she could with her chin caged in his grip. He let her go so they walked beneath fixtures emitting hum and light. “My mother was brought here right after my birth after they…killed my father.”
“I know,” he told her retaking her hand and giving a gentle squeeze. The Cetra half smiled, curling her fingers in the warmth of his. “This might sound odd in all that transpired, but I respected him, Aeris, far more than my own…” His pupils sliced through emerald so deep they bled Mako light hot on his face, and the flower maid quelled all questions. Some doors should never be opened even if you have the key.
The once general turned to the left at the elevators, and Aeris craned her neck back confused.
“Don’t we have to go below?”
“Yes we do, little one, but those will not take us there. They wanted no link to the black labs within their shining façade.”
The flower girl shuddered and clutched at his arm as the corridor narrowed and dimmed. How he remembered this winding path, she would never know. At some points the dark won to lights long gone, and Mako lit night with bright gleam. Every door they passed was sealed with red pulse that demanded a code for entry. Sephiroth ignored them, leading her on through a maze that would distress its master. It was down a narrow hallway barely wide enough for his shoulders, and Aeris froze with half a whimper. There was nothing in her memory that told her be afraid, merely what emanated from below. She was before him for the slim way, hand still clutched in leather behind.
“It’s alright, Aeris.” He frowned as she jumped. “I’m not going to force you forward.”
The flower maid swallowed, peering up as she leaned back into his form. “You’d never force me to do anything.”
“That’s right, little flower. I never will.” He met her gaze, hair sweeping forth to brush the skin of her neck.
“We have to hurry…we don’t have a choice, but it’s not you forcing me.” She raised her eyes to the way laid before. “That’s it…isn’t it, Seph?”
His lips twitched up into what would’ve been a smile if circumstance had been different. “Yes, little flower, it is.” The ceiling was as low as the walls were close, but he’d long lost his fear of such things. “I won’t lie to your Aeris, when I was called here, they always wanted blood.”
The Cetra shuddered and he regretted his words, bowing his head to seal his lids. There was light up ahead so Aeris wasn’t blind, but it paled in the gleam of his own. The voice of the Planet jolted her soles, and she shivered drawn then to move on. Sephiroth stretched when they were clear of that hall in a small square room of wane light. Right before them near as black as his wing were massive steel wrought doors.
The once general laid a hand over the dark portals. Black doors, black labs, was his thought. There was only one button with arrow forlorn and a place to slide in a key card. He glared at the slot as he pressed, willing the circuitry to obey. Sephiroth’s mind brought them together as though in between dwelled his ancient ID. The light flickered white as a bleached skull, and the doors slipped easily open. No rattle, no creak choked that gateway, and the machinations within whirred so soft. Cold, empty steel greeted two pairs of green eyes, and Aeris gripped his fingers tight.
“There aren’t any stairs?” she asked of him, gripping hard with her other hand. Sephiroth drew her close once more as the open space hummed to itself. The interior was larger than most huts in the slums, but that did nothing for Aeris’s fear.
“There are, but it’s a long way down…to the black labs of our youth.”
“That’s where it is…” She didn’t need ask. “It has to come full circle.”
“It always does, my little flower, but we can break it now.” He stepped close and kissed her on the brow. “What did I tell you, Aeris? Nothing will hurt you.” The warmth lingered on her skin like daylight. Despite everything, the danger, the memory, the past to rise again, the flower girl smiled and stepped through those doors that yawned like a waiting mouth.
Nails raked against the walls of their bondage, and the hiss made Sephiroth whirl. The air thinned before him and he felt it coming for his little rose. Aeris screamed as he released her hand for the sword to slash at shadows. Eyes wide to the white, the general spun back banishing the Masamune again. She was reaching forth as the slamming doors shook the dead tower and silenced the ghosts.
Leaping forward, Sephiroth dug his fingers into the crack and tore the steel as he forced it apart. The thick cable slide like a striking snake, and Mako light burned on lost mask. Her scream tore his ears, unknown if just echo or her terror descending far down. He wrapped one hand around the black cord, but didn’t tighten it fully around. Instead it played out against his hand, friction ripping his glove to shreds. His palm fared far better slowing the cable against his unbreakable skin. Utter concentration ruled the general’s face as he calculated speed. He squeezed his fist as his heart followed suit to still suddenness of the stop. Then hand over hand he lowered the car unseen to the depths below.
“Aeris!” His low voice turned hollow in the cold shaft, and only an echo returned. The cries of her terror no more rang out and that horrified him worst of all. He couldn’t hear her heart and the scent of sweet summer had been sundered by empty fear. The jump down cold concrete would mimic his fall, and there was no room to spread his one wing.
Sephiroth bolted swifter than a blink to the stairs he had just condemned. Kicking in the door, he leapt over its fall as the klaxon invaded his ears. With barely a thought, he silenced the noise to match darkness within the chill. The light had long died, though that hardly mattered to the Great General’s eyes. He leapt down each landing barely stopping to turn as moonlight and ash streamed behind. The crumbling stone succumbed to his weight so chunks rattled beneath black boots. Down and down Sephiroth sped far beneath rotting foundation. Echoes lifted from below and a soft voice whispered, Come.
He gritted his teeth and thought only of her and how he had failed in his task. She is dead. His heart faltered and the general near fell, foot turning on loosened stone, but he righted himself and remembered her lily that bloomed beyond death with new life. By the time he reached the deepest below the stairs there were long gone. Crumbled away into ancient dust. He didn’t hesitate to jump. Needing no wing in this descent for he’d no innocent to protect. The crunch of his boots did not compare to what would break if his flower were hurt. Dust rose up and danced in his light and laid a path to the door. It was half buried in ash and debris, but Sephiroth wasted no time. He drove the Masamune through the steel and sliced it through the top. The rusted hinge was no match for his strength, and the general slid through to a pale lit corridor where time held dust motes in midair.
The past struck him immediately, and Sephiroth froze with eyes burning wide. Pristine white flooded his vision in contrast to the “black” of the labs. Memories slunk muddily through an overwhelmed mind, and he heard the voice, Come to me. It was that which freed him, and he whirled towards the doors that should’ve concealed his rose. They were open and the general leaned on the frame, scanning the space within. Aeris was gone but he smelled no death just summer warmth, pale fear, and…something. The hair on his neck arose in alarm, and Sephiroth spun around. Sinister snickers stroked the air as the past wove before Mako eyes. He had to find her. She was all that mattered, find her and destroy the false.
As the once general stalked the halls of his youth, the untouched shroud faded away. Where above was perfect despite drifting dust, down here chaos had played. Papers were spilling out of a lab where a door hung from half a hinge. Overturned tables blocked corridors and missing tiles revealed rusted pipes. It was the clatter that brought down his eyes to bone so white on ripped up floor. Sephiroth turned to stone so only his coat and hair flared in the last step. Eyes pulsing bright he stared at the corpse face down where it had fallen. Who he had been and what he done were lost to antiquity. The weight of the ages had buried his name as readily as his rotted ID.
“No one will ever remember you or the horrors that you performed.” The general’s voice so low did not echo, but was caught in the folds of lost time. Only Aeris could’ve seen it, emerald tinged with rue. His name and his horrors would ever be known even were he to join the dead. The dead will not have me. I belong to the dark. A vision of summer arose.
High steady beat lifted his ears, and Sephiroth’s breath hissed at inhale. The pulse quickened with notes of raw fear tingeing summer leaves. He ran where it led him, pushing through a door as the weight of the world bore down. His own heart echoed in time with hers for he knew too well where he was. The general flashed between then and now, shutting his eyes as he flew. The ghosts passed through him, chilling his heart but he hardened it to that pain. His name aloud jerked Sephiroth’s head to the large glass window before. Smeared and stained but still intact, its sight parted his perfect lips. He slowly turned lifting one hand as he leaned against to its creak. The harmony of hearts tangled in his ears, but that rushing breath was his alone.
He had been chained here and hung by his hair to writhe in torture and pain. It was a two way mirror with insides full dark save for bleeding green eyes. Never could he remember seeing this view, the watcher instead of the watched. The chain was still there though rusted half through. The rope had long rotted away. If he sharpened his gaze, maybe he’d find pale hairs slightly tainted with blood. But his vision soon melted and what flew before was more horrible than that lost child.
Mako burned hot to sheer through the years, through time and space it did flow. Mist covered the window before his lips, but nothing blurred Sephiroth’s view. The screams still found him beyond the ages as bodies twisted in flame. Tongues of fire lifting their own until they, too, were burned to ash. The general cried out to warn them away as flesh melted to smoke and embers, but his voice was silenced by cruel time and even crueler fate. He couldn’t stop it. It was the past. If their blood hadn’t sizzled from melted veins, it, too, would’ve coated his hands. Then what he had dreaded stained emerald eyes, but he dared not turn away. What right did he have when he had wrought this very horror before? Seeing himself cold and ever unburnt washed with fire with skin like ice. Fire can’t destroy. It can only transform. It transformed me into a monster. No…it only revealed me. I was a monster all along.
Sephiroth fell to his knees still forced to see as silver spilled over his coat. His nails scratched the glass leaving white streaks that melded with those lost ashes. The vision consumed him as the flames swallowed all save the corruption that slunk. Drowning in memories, he only could watch as all of his sins were replayed. But when he descended to murder the light, the fallen could take no more. Mako eyes sealed as he arched his back as though the sword had sawn through his flesh, and in the flames that still crackled he heard the dark words, Come to me, dearest child.
Aeris unwound her arms from her knees and dared to lift her head. The last sight she remembered was her great guardian whirling back around. She’d caught a glimpse of his Mako eyes filled with utter fear. Even now in recollection, the flower girl trembled for that could never be. Her voice was hoarse from ragged screams that had shriveled to piteous whimpers.
She’d clung to the railing crouched in the corner as the pressure near split her ears. Tiny fingers were cut so tight did she hold and her jaw was sore to clenched teeth. The maiden would die, slain again by death from above, but this time it embraced her and promised to shatter every delicate bone. Then suddenly her descent did slow, and through her grip she lifted a lid. The whistle had lowered within the deep shaft, each moment the tone growing softer. Breath burst from Aeris’s lips in hope she prayed wouldn’t bloom in vain.
The jolting stop threw her to the ground, and she gasped and backed to the corner. Pulling her knees up into her chest the maid wrapped her arms around. Cold steel burned her skin and awakened her mind to the memories that dwelled deep down. Summer green flashed open and focused on now, finding her wood staff on the floor. The orb within slept perhaps dimmed by the depth or subdued by its mistress’s fear. The Cetra jerked up as the car dropped again and her heart followed in its fall, but this was far slower and smooth with no stops as if in control from above.
“Sephiroth…” she whispered frozen in place. Standing would do her no good. There was an exit through the roof, but Aeris was too short to reach. Even if she balanced on the rails it was beyond her stretch. And what would I do if I could get out? I’d just be stuck on top. Silence reigned save for slow grinding against the cold concrete, and the flower girl fought pulse and breath, shutting her eyes again. She envisioned him gripping the taut black cable in his powerful hands. Slowly performing without any effort a task beyond strength of men. The mask would be fractured, but he’d force the hold despite having nothing to prove.
The moment the elevator reached the bottom the doors slid silently open. Aeris tightened her arms around in terror for what would then await, but only pale hallways greeted her gaze, as white as his great wing was black. Come, child…the soft voice lifted her head, and she untangled her limbs from each other.
Dear friend? There was no answer save low under-hum, but Aeris obeyed the command. Her little hands shook, but she picked up her staff finding steadier fingers around it. The façade fully shattered when the Cetra emerged, the halls yellowed and fouled like old teeth. A whine cut the air and it took her a moment to realize it was hers. Her wrists burned in memory of so many needles, and she clutched them to still the pain. Once she’d worn bracers to hide what remained, but death had erased those fell lines.
Each flicker of light held dark memory as Aeris passed through empty halls. The floor was patterned with more missing than tiles, and a spilled potted plant rendered soil. The bones of its branches crunched under her boots for not even Cetra touch could revive. Nothing grew here though earth was revealed, and she balked to a nearly black hall. Then a flash revealed a struggling light, and the whisper of fate drew her forth. Muffled logic in her mind told Aeris that she should wait. The stairs were right by her once death trap, but she’d heard the Planet’s voice…and something else, something so lost she wanted to tear at her heart’s tender bindings.
Twisting and winding through the black labs, empty as darkness lost. Once important documents papered the ground as if the occupants had had a parade. The silence held singing just bare beneath, a mere layer between her ears. She let her hands brush over the walls where the dust was so old it did crumble. Each touch pulsed memory through her fingers, flickered like a forgotten film. Child, here, the dear voice said and tears shimmered like pearls in green seas. She lifted her hand to a broken window where jagged teeth sought Ancient blood. Aeris picked up one crackling beneath her boots, turning the sliver in her hand. One side was clear and one showed her face, the innocent ingénue still. No matter the time no matter her actions, this would never change.
Dust seemed to gather in the back of her throat and her lip trembled as she looked up. The sharpened shard rejoined its brethren as her eyes focused on the chain. It grew from the wall like a great rusty snake with manacles made for tiny hands. The stillness took her memory and washed the past away. Window whole, but now she watched though she was still that child weeping alone…
The cell was dark and freezing cold and they’d taken her mother away. Tears and runnings wet her knees and stained her thin white shift. Ifalna had tried to calm her daughter’s fears, but that was hard for it bound her own heart. Before the child had always gone, too, though put in a room with toys. It was bright colored, and the walls and her giggles had muffled out any screams. Sometimes though she was brought to the lab, as her mother stared hard before. Hands on her thighs, she forced herself watch needles enter the tiny veins. The little girl hated those times of course, though her mother soon hushed that away, but now in the dark so cold and alone she’d take a hundred stabbing hurts.
It was only a click, but the child looked up, sacred word on the edge of her lips. Then ragged screams tore through the air as quickly as she could draw in breath. Luminous green sheared through the room, making her cower and wail at the wall.
“I’m sorry. Don’t cry. I’m shutting them now.” An anxious voice replaced the light. The little girl’s breath still caught in her fear for what now dwelled in her blindness. “What are you doing here crying and cold all alone in the darkness?” But the little girl only whimpered. Whiter light tore through her eyes, burying the child’s face back in her knees. Her tiny body trembled so hard, hiccupping coughs were shaken out. The voice in her mind that also called her daughter told her to look up. Fighting the tremble to lift her head, the child saw a strange boy before. His eyes were shut and silver hair streamed all the way down his back. It framed skin too pale, and thickly fringed lids barely held back that scary light.
“They took my mommy,” she sobbed and a line creased his brow as he frowned.
“They take a lot of people,” he told her, and the little girl whimpered when his lids slowly did part. The glow was less harsh within the room’s light after he’d flipped the switch. He was tall like a grown up where even her jumps would fall short every time. “How old are you?”
She bit her lip, rubbing at her pink nose. “Three and a half.” Emerald eyes widened and the little girl shrieked at pupils sharp as a waiting blade.
“Shhh!” the pale boy frantically held up his hands, as his sleeves came tumbling down. He pushed them back up whirling about to check the window in the door.
The little girl’s mouth shut with a snap. She didn’t want them to come. This boy wasn’t her mommy, but he was better than them and seemed almost as frightened as her. He had his ear pressed to the steel, body tensed as though waiting for blows. A sigh slumped his shoulders, and he turned back around, but not before halving his lids.
“That’s really young.” He stepped closer with head cocked to the side. “I’m eleven.” She swallowed her tears and blinked back up. “What’s your name?”
A tiny tremor shook the child’s bottom lip, but she still whispered, “Aeris”.
“Aeris?” he said.
She nodded and sniffed. “My mommy told me it means ‘air.’”
“My name is Sephiroth.” He gave a slight nod. “They told me it means ‘gods’ light.’”
The little girl tried to his constant repeats, but it was beyond her three year old skills. He finally settled for the truncated “Seph” giving her a hard won smile.
“Do you know where they took your mother?” he asked, rolling up his other sleeve. Aeris peeked up over her knees as if she were trying to see a secret. He wasn’t dressed like anyone else she’d seen here with black pants and an over large shirt. His feet at least were bare as hers. She stared back up at his face.
“No. They took her. I dunno where. You’re prettier than her.”
The boy only shrugged as she sniffled again. “I’ll…I’ll help you find her.” Sephiroth gave her a glance. “You’re too young to be left alone.” His brow creased again to follow his scowl, making him older than his years. Reaching out a hand as his sleeve rolled over, he patiently waited not looking her way.
Aeris’s heart raced through her chest as if it could best her ribs. She scrambled up to stand with feet turned in and her head bowed suddenly shy. He stayed where he was with hand outstretched not grabbing her like the others. Tiptoeing on the cold tiled floor, Aeris shook her bangs from her face. The braid once neat was messy from tears, but the pink ribbon was still tight around. Loving hands had tied it into a bow while Ifalna had whispered her vow. “One day I’ll show you true light, Aeris. Now can’t steal forever.”
The strange boy’s hand was warm and strong in leading her to the door.
“Do you know where your mommy is?” she asked as his fist squeezed on the handle.
“My mother is dead.” He didn’t look back for the pulse in his eyes would break darkness. “I never met her. She died giving me birth.”
“Oh,” was all Aeris could think to say. She chewed on her thumb while he peered through the seam. “Your eyes are funny.” Sephiroth turned back around. Long lashes veiled them, and Aeris half hid her face against his arm. “Why don’t you blink?”
“I don’t need to.”
“I’m sorry.” He shut them away, pulling the knob to spill in light from the hallway.
“You’re not though.” Aeris reached for the silver, and her curious fingers were soft. “And your hair is nice.”
Furtive glances showed the west sector empty, but Sephiroth still double checked. Aeris squeezed her lids closed to brighter light, but still hummed along with the Planet. He glanced down and raised a finger to his lips so she kept the song in her head. Ascetic, white light washed out the children as they crept down the hall. The thrum of great engines filled the air, near driving out the deep pulse from below. Aeris wanted to hum to make sure she could catch that so that she could hear the word, Daughter. There was something else churning that made her feel sick, and she bit her lip to still the whimper.
Closed doors shunned them with their red lights searing the ever cold air. Aeris held tight to her new friend’s hand as his sleeves rolled down again.
“Your clothes are funny, too.” Sephiroth’s shoulders stiffened for he thought he heard echoing voices.
“I…borrowed them.” Glancing at her with a tilt of his head, he flicked the pink ribbon in her hair. “Where did you get this from?” he asked. “They let you wear it?”
“My mommy gave it to me.”
His face froze in mask near frigid as the hall. He twisted back around. “My mother gave me nothing, not even my name…”
Footsteps resounded down a side hall growing louder to conversation. Tears slid down Aeris’s cheeks to shorter, huffing breaths. They’d take her away and lock her up. She’d never see her mother again. The palm against hers grew slick with sweat as Sephiroth backed against the wall. He turned to her as a whimper formed at her lips, shaking his head so silver hair flew.
“Shh, don’t cry. It’ll be alright, but Aeris you have to be quiet.”
The little girl swallowed her hiccups peering up at a face as frightened as her own. The figures rounded the corner and he stepped…away, pulling her into grey light. The child would’ve cried out, but her throat was dry from her earlier emptying tears. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the scary people. They were going to take her, drag her away, and stick her with needles until she died…but they kept walking. Nobody turned or seemed to notice the two children standing there. The hall had turned to empty hue as if even white had been leeched from the world. Aeris squirmed because her ears were silent, no soft song flooding her mind. Looking up at the boy, she suddenly forgot for his emerald eyes bested the greyness. They bored into the blind figures, and what she saw cut whimper loose. One of them stopped and peered around, and Sephiroth nearly crushed her hand. The squeak of a shoe was deemed the culprit, so they continued down the hall for meetings and deadlines demand.
His breath came out with sighing rush and the world knew color again. The boy loosened his hand in apology, but Aeris was smiling up. “I liked that. That hiding. It was like playing a game. They couldn’t see us at all!” She lowered to whisper as his finger again touched upon his lips.
“It doesn’t work all the time. In certain places I’ve been caught before…” Sephiroth let it trail away before leading her on again. The hallway split into long corridors, and the pale boy stopped with a frown. “What does your mother look like, Aeris?”
“Like me.” She pressed close to his side. He cast that bright gaze down each direction, pursing his lips as he thought.
“I think I saw her when I…left my room. She was going into Lab 56.” He looked down at the child in sudden relief. “It’s locked of course, but the door has a window.” The little girl jumped up and down as Sephiroth held up a palm. “But you have to be quiet, Aeris. We’ll get caught and you don’t want that.”
She shook her head, face filled with terror, and he squeezed her hand gently this time. They had to turn left where windows winked, crawling beneath if there were occupants. Aeris had no interest. She wanted her mother, and Sephiroth knew not to look. They had to “hide” a few times more to her delight but to his worried chagrin. If it didn’t work, hell would be his due. He didn’t know what would happen to her. Some of the passers walked quickly with anger, glaring this way and that. They were looking for him, and Sephiroth swallowed filling his belly with endless cold.
The labs were numbered in arbitrary fashion, but he’d lived here all his life. Lab 2 was neighbors with lab 301 with no rhyme or reason between. Sephiroth’s thoughts turned quick morbid to wonder if death had ordered each name. They were always scrubbed clean, but he could still smell the undercurrent of blood.
56 waited opposite a black window that not even the stark lights could breach. The corridor was dark much further down. No one there to disturb the light sensors. Security doors blocked any hope of getting to the outside. More complex codes he couldn’t breach not like the one on his door.
“Is my mommy in there?” Aeris’s voice quivered again like a harp string wound too taut. She stood on her toes, but the window was high, and Sephiroth could smell tears brewing. He narrowed his eyes to dim down his light and threw a side glance through the glass. There was a woman there and a scientist. His teeth came together tight. She looked nervous, but that was expected. Most subjects here usually did. His heart knocked hard against his ribs, and he pulled his face away.
I wanna see my mommy!” Aeris exclaimed to his grimace, but the door was thick to block the sound.
“Okay,” he whispered, “but you still have to be quiet. Can you do that, Aeris?”
She nodded so hard her bangs spilled in mess over her gleaming face. Jumping up and down, the little girl tried to see, but the window was just like her light. Sephiroth caught her in mid-spring, lifting the child to her prize. He was very strong for an eleven year old boy and held her up without any effort.
Aeris framed her face in her hands and made sure she didn’t kick. She said she’d be quiet. That was too easy. Ifalna had asked her that often. Her mother looked scared, but she was just talking, and that weird man was writing stuff down. She’d be so proud and be so excited that Aeris had found her at last. Her new friend had brought her, a very strange boy with odd eyes but such pretty hair. Maybe he could help them find this “outside,” her mother had promised her.
Sephiroth kept a vigilant stare alternating left and right. The child was stock still never once squirming within his unwavering grip. He’d have to persuade her back to her cell, though the thought twisted his face in disgust. There was no escape and even this small defiance could leave them both writhing in pain. The thump at his ribs echoed again, because she couldn’t take his punishment. He was…special in some undisclosed way beyond just his emerald cat eyes.
“Aeris?” he whispered at the moment her scream pierced his ears like a thousand alarms. Startled and scared, Sephiroth dropped her, and the child crashed to the floor. She wasn’t there long as frantic fists and feet attacked the thick steel door. “What are you doing?!” the pale boy hissed, trying to drag her away. Her screams never ceased, a high ululation filled with both horror and fear. She clutched at the door knob, and Sephiroth would hurt her if he pulled too hard. Within the wail, he glanced through the window, and bile corroded the back of his throat.
Then hands appeared from nowhere tearing the children apart. The boy never even realized so drowned in her screams that the alarms had been going off. He didn’t try to fight. That would just make it worse, but then she reached for his hand through her tears. Ragged cries proved they were hurting her, and Sephiroth saw red through green. He freed one hand and twisted a wrist to a hearty curse and a slap. The blow didn’t matter. He wouldn’t bruise, but it was disorienting. A firmer grip trapped that arm, and one he might’ve taken. He had to try as they were dragged away in opposite directions, but he couldn’t turn his head so tightly held, and at last the pale boy gave up. Being beaten was nothing. That could be endured, but being caught was far, far worse. Now they’d know that he could escape and…measures would be taken.
The little girl’s muffled screams still shook the walls as she reached and clawed for that door. Her mother was in there being hurt, but the scary people were far too strong. They’d take her back to the cold, dark cell and stab her to death with needles, but Aeris was wrong for she was roughly thrown into a room with a pitiless mirror. Angry hands shackled her tiny wrists in manacles far too tight. They pinched tender skin, and the little girl wailed for her mother shut away in the dark. She pulled against the chain and felt her wrist slide with wet slicker and more acrid than sweat. Time flows slow for one so young, but strength bleeds out far quicker.
Curled in a tight ball, she saw neither the light nor the violent hysterics of a mother’s rage. Scooped up she screamed at the tug on her wrists until a gentle hand cleared her face. She buried it into welcoming bosom and knew nothing more than that relief…
Aeris was weeping on her knees bound still by that long rusted chain. In the blur of tears time had sheared away, and the weeping child still curled within. Ifalna had never been so angry or so terrified. She’d refused to cooperate, refused to release her terrified, crying daughter. What that cost her Aeris would never know, as the flickering lights brought her back to the now. The door of her prison was long gone with only rusted hinges for memory. Standing up the flower maid bit back a cry to the glass that had cut through her dress. You still stupid child, she thought viciously bending to pull the splinters out. Her dress was dark enough to hide the blood, but it still flecked her fingers.
She didn’t see it, the shadow that stirred from its rightful place in the dark. Bound to the past as she picked at the pain that went deeper than slivered shards. Mako seeped like bitter poison staining his fair skin, and the sword scraped on the ground like an echo of the damned. His step was measured almost painful, but her vision lifted his lips.
“Aerisss…” he called and the Cetra looked up, catching the joy in her throat. Green swallowed the darkness, and when it touched her, it was all the maid could see. The Planet wailed at her, calling her daughter, using her mother’s voice. Aeris ignored it not feeling what dribbled down into her boots.
In that dark the sword slowly whispered, “I remember you…”
Chapter 22 Blood of the Ancients will be posted next Friday August 14. Thank you again for your likes and comments!
<–Chapter 20 Chapter 22–>