Path of Seduction Chapter 8

By Ardwynna Morrigu

Disclaimer: FFVII and all its characters are the property of Squaresoft.

Gold Saucer was a riot of color. The walls bore murals that would have been perfect for a nursery school, the shapes large, vivid and bold. Bright balloons bobbed their way up to the ceiling in a steady stream, seeming to almost move in time to the cheerful theme park music blaring out from hidden speakers. Even the welcoming committee was colorful.

“Welcome to Gold Saucer!” the giant ‘chocobo’ flapped his wings for effect. Cloud did not know what to make of him. Waddling around in a heavy costume did not strike him as a great way to make a living, but people did what they had to do and he was hardly one to judge. He ducked out of the way and headed straight to the main door. The blonde ticket seller seemed to be assessing him from a distance in a way he did not like. Did everybody really know what a dirt-poor bunch they were right off the bat? It was almost embarrassing.

The sound of a yelp and a wark and a scuffle made him look back. Tifa and Aeris were tugging on Yuffie’s arm, trying to keep her from swiping at the mascot with her shuriken while Barret and Red wisely kept their distance.

“That’ll teach you! ‘Just being friendly’, my ass!” the girl was shrieking. Cloud didn’t even want to know. He caught the look in the ticket-seller’s eyes and inwardly sighed. The commotion behind him was hardly helping matters. And the chirpy music was really starting to get to him.

“How much?” he asked and forced himself to listen to the spiel about prices, all the while silently cursing a certain insane former-General for being the vilest type of sadist as well.


“Man, this place looks expensive,” Cloud mumbled as he stared at the map on the station wall. It was a flashy affair, lighting up to show the various dome-covered ‘saucers’ that gave the amusement park its name. He supposed the giant tree structure was sensible for something built in the middle of an ocean of sand, but why they had built it there in the first place, he had no idea.

Aeris tiptoed to peek over his shoulder, her eyes wide and childlike with delight despite the previous night’s misgivings. Gold Saucer was the stuff of legend and she had waited so long. “Oh, let’s have some fun!” She bounced on the tips of her toes as she tried to contain the burning energy within. Barret’s angry grunt made her turn. She studied him for a short while, assessing him with her innate Ancient’s intuition. He was still so full of guilt, would have been raking himself over the coals if he was not covering it with rage. She calmed down a bit. “I know this isn’t the right time for this,” she muttered quietly, but made a beeline for him anyway, schooling her face to her sweetest expression.

“Hey,” she called to him, “Cheer up, Barret!” The large man pounded the wall behind him with his fist.

“I ain’t in no cheery mood so just leave me alone!”

“You sure? That’s too bad!” She forced herself to keep smiling through the reaction she was getting. Barret’s anger was shifting from himself, to her, then to Cloud and finally dispersed to a general sense of everything, the way it usually was.

“You kids do whatever the hell you want! Don’t forget we’re supposed to be going after Sephiroth!” He stormed past the rest of them and hopped into a little doorway, one marked ‘Wonder Square’ before anyone could stop him. Aeris breathed in relief.

“I think he’s mad,” she said with a nearly mocking sweetness.

“Ya think?” Yuffie snapped with hardly any fire.

Aeris smiled and for a split second the wicked, wild glint of mischief shone through her eyes for any who knew to look for it. Tifa smiled with her though her eyes lacked the light of knowledge. she did not know half of what had transpired right in front of her.

“He’ll probably be okay now.”

Cloud ignored the turmoil behind him, frowning. He still had no idea where he should go. What kind of game was Sephiroth playing, running through a place like this? It hardly fit what Cloud remembered of the man. Did the dark SOLDIER suddenly feel the need to take a break from the killing to bet on chocobo races? Or play in a video arcade?

The man must have been looking for something. No other explanation would make much sense. There was hardly anyone worth assassinating in the park right now other than Avalanche, and if Sephiroth had wanted them dead Cloud knew he would have seen to it already. What puzzled him now was what the madman could possibly want, because he knew it would not be good, and where in this aggravatingly happy place it was to be found. The map was no help, but then he supposed there would hardly be a sign saying, “Mad SOLDIERS’s Trinkets Sold Here!”

He sighed. There was nothing left to do but search and he hoped his group would not attract too much attention to themselves in the process. He turned around to see Red chewing a snarl out of his shoulder while his ears moved in time to the music and three female posteriors sticking out of the tunnel doorways.

“Do we just hop down and slide, or what?” Yuffie’s voice echoed with a metallic ring.

“I suppose. I can’t see the end though,” Aeris said in the same tone. “It’s pretty dark in here.”

Cloud sighed again. Was there something in the air here, perhaps some subliminal line in the music, that just turned people into children?

Tifa piped up, “I think I can see a light in this one. Maybe if I just got a little further!” Cloud watched with a guilty fascination as she wriggled around in the attempt. He supposed it could be worse. At least the view was interesting.

“Come on,” he called out and watched the girls’ pop out of the tunnels like bright-eyed rabbits. “Let’s try this one first.”


“Hmm, could have sworn Barret came through this one,” the blond took in the scene around him. There were families and couples and more chocobo mascots parading around under the lights that boldly proclaimed that particular section of the park to be the ‘Wonder Square’. What was really making him wonder was the contraption bouncing towards him. It appeared to be a moogle with some odd contraption on its head and Cloud wondered what genius had let the thing loose in there. Did anything make sense in this place?

Yuffie said his thoughts for him. “What the hell is that thing? And why is it coming this way?”

“Hey, you!” The thing on the moogle’s head actually spoke as it approached, “Why so glum?” Cloud realized it was a cat, dressed in a cape and crown. “The name’s Cait Sith! You can call me Cait but don’t call me Caity!” Cloud only grew more confused at the way the moogle beneath the little metal cat gestured.

“Come on, buddy! I’ve got just the thing to cheer you up! I’m a genuine fortune telling toysaurus. How about it? Want me to read your fortune? A bright future! A happy future!”

Tifa smiled. “How ‘bout it, Cloud? Sounds like fun!”

The toysaurus bounced. “One for the pretty lady!” It did a move between a jiggle and a dance, spit out a slip of paper and handed it to her. Aeris and Yuffie crowded around her in excitement.

“What’s it say, Tifa?”

The former barmaid’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Give into the good will of others and something big will happen by summer. What does that mean?”

Cait Sith bounced again, “Sorry, let me try again!” Cloud took the next one.

“Be careful of forgetfulness. Your lucky color is . . . blue?” he shook his head. “That’s really no help to us here. What we need is someone who can tell us where Sephiroth is.”

Cait Sit apparently was not going to be discouraged. “Hey, I can find missing things, missing people, anything, if you would quit poking me for a second, kid!” The last part was aimed at Yuffie, who was busy conducting an investigation of her own.

“I just want to know what that big zipper is for?” she yelped in defense as he swung his little megaphone at her.

He readied himself, shaking and bouncing like a terrier and produced one more slip of paper. Cloud looked it over and could not explain the dread he felt growing in him. “What’s this supposed to mean?” he demanded, voice shaky and quiet.

Aeris tried to look over his shoulder, “What is it?” Cloud held the paper out for all to see.

You will find what you seek, but you will lose something dear.

“Oh,” Tifa’s eyes widened. “That doesn’t sound too good. But don’t worry about it Cloud. These things are all just games.”

Cait looked interested himself, “First time I’ve ever gotten something like that! Now I’ve just got to come along with you guys to see what happens!” He spun around and swung the megaphone in a downward arc. Yuffie shrieked again as it connected with her head. The little cat shook his fist, “Look, kid, leave the zipper alone, okay?”

The toysaurus bounced back, bumped into something behind it and wobbled precariously, with both the moogle’s and the cat’s arms flailing around before a helpful nudge at the back straightened him. Red walked around from behind, peering up at the cat with his one eye.

Cait bounced again, “What’s this thing doing, eh?”

Red sat down to scratch his ear, “You smell funny. More metal than stuffing.”

The little toy eyes widened in surprise. “You mean the big cat talks?”

“Why not?” Red asked. “The little one does.” The toy emitted a rasp that served for laughter.

“Well, why not? Let’s get moving!” He looked up to see the blond and the two long haired women heading through one of the exits. “Hey, guys, wait a minute!”

“Ah, forget it!” Yuffie picked herself off the floor. “We can find the old folks later. Let’s hit the arcade!”


“Speed Square? Is it some kind of ride?” Tifa asked. Aeris hardly heard the question. She was too busy looking around and was the first to spot the muscle-bound man in the shamefully tiny briefs staring intently at them. For a moment she was afraid that he was looking directly at her. She glanced away as quickly as she could, not wanting that kind of attention, but he had already started walking towards them. Fortunately it was Cloud he addressed first.

“Hey, boy! You with the blond spikes!”

Cloud spun around. “Boy?”

The man grinned, “How’s it going so far, boy? Having fun?” He seemed to notice the two pairs of female eyes, deep emerald and crimson, peering around the blond’s shoulders. “Ah, you are having fun. Well good, good for you, boy.”

Cloud felt his patience growing thin. Bad enough he had a madman to stop, that most of his team was wandering around in various stages of idiocy and that the music was driving him nuts. Now this huge, severely underdressed man was calling him ‘boy’.

“My name’s Cloud!” He just barely kept himself from snapping. “Who do you think you are, calling me ‘boy’!”

“Me?” The man did not seem insulted. “I’m the owner of Gold Saucer. The name’s Dio and you can feel free to call me that.” The blond did not say a word. Dio wondered if this was the right one. “Say, boy, do you know what a Black Materia is?” This only got a confused stare out of the blond and an indecipherable look from the green-eyed girl behind him.

“Why do you ask me?”

Dio stretched as he answered. “Well, a while back a boy about your age, maybe a little older, came in and asked me if I had a ‘Black Materia’ and I don’t even know what that is. I thought that since you boys are the same age and both carrying big swords around you might know what it is, or at least know who he was.”

This got the group’s attention, the blond boy’s especially. “Was he wearing a black coat?”

“Actually, he was!” They were getting somewhere now. “He had a tattoo of a number one on the back of his hand too. That the guy you had in mind, boy?”

Cloud did not even notice the title now. “Do you know where he went?” Dio laughed.

“Not a clue, boy, but drop by the Battle Arena sometime! You’ll probably like it and all my collections from battles and travels are there too. I might not have a Black Materia, but I’ve got stuff that’s probably even better.” He laughed again and this time looked right past Cloud to address Aeris. “Might be something of special interest to you too, little lady.” He winked and grinned as he walked away, leaving her more than a little nervous and slowly turning the color of her dress. Tifa frowned at his retreating form.

“Muscle-heads! Hm! They’re the same wherever you go! Don’t let it get to you, Aeris.”


Aeris the pair alone at the chocobo races, hoping that they could resolve some small bit of what hung so thick and heavy between them or at least enjoy each other’s company. She could see, anyone could, the quiet hope in Tifa’s eyes whenever they turned to their blond leader, but what Cloud himself felt was a mystery even to her.

His eyes shifted like sands. The threads of emotion rolling off him twined and tangled till she could not tell which was the true line. It was all so twisted. Sometimes Aeris swore he could match Tifa for shy, distant longing. More often, though, there was something frightfully familiar, something she had not seen in anyone for a long time, a drive and a passion, single-mindedness and wicked playfulness that for some reason did not quite fit with a head of bright yellow.

Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking on her part, the long-stifled yearning to have what she had once known return to her, that made shadows gain substance. She sighed as she stepped around laughing children, slowly making her way towards the doors. It was not in her power to unravel the coils of spirit. She could only see the snarl and point the way.

The last thread deep within the coil that was Cloud disturbed her most of all, that intense, fiery, familiar stare that seemed to stare right through her. It showed itself only rarely, when the blond was shrouded in eerie silence, when glowing blue swirled and seemed to hold something of the green sea instead of the sky above it.

He had turned that look on her just a short while ago, when her eyes had been trained on the coursing birds. She had felt it on her like a slowly rising wave of warmth, had met it full on with her own gaze for a heartbeat. “The Battle Arena,” he said, before that fire was replaced by shadowy emptiness. She would not permit herself to ponder where such a gaze had come from, or why it came and went as it did. Some things were too frightening for thought.

She stepped out of the tunnel, blinking under the bright lights of the Battle Arena. The staircase to the fighting ring towered so high above her that she had to draw breath for the wonder of it. The warmth in her blood, stirred slowly awake by a distant stare and a quiet suggestion drew her gently onwards. There was something of special interest to her there.

She politely declined several invitations to watch a match as she made her way upwards, citing interest in the exhibits and too little time for even that. She paused at the entrance, both the get her bearings and catch her breath. The floor was full of young fighters stretching and throwing practice kicks. It took a while for her to spot the exhibition hall and make her way in.

There was nothing of immediate interest. Only a few archaic weapons, old hunting masks, some ancient tome on the art of war lay well-cushioned within display cases lined up neatly behind velvet rope. There were smaller items, newer ones, Dio’s tribute to himself, the little trophies he had won as a fighter. Aeris had to shake her head at the evidence of his ego. There was nothing in there that she could find particularly interesting and she found herself wondering what trick of fate had led her to this place, if what had convinced her to come here had been all in her head. Perhaps it was best to leave before Dio should show up.

She completed a brisk circuit of the room and turned to leave. A light flutter made her turn to see a piece of paper, crisp and white and neatly folded, fluttering to the floor, blown off its resting place by the gust of her spinning. It slid right to her feet when it hit the floor just the right way up for her to see the large letter ‘A’ written on it. Was this what she was meant to see? She glanced around to be sure the room was still empty before reaching out. She unfolded the page. The script inside was neat, bold and somewhat stark, a very masculine hand. It was his note for her, it had to be.

I long for you.
I wait for you.

She pressed the paper to her heart, smiling as a flush colored her face. What a silly, boyish thing for him to do, to go through all that trouble to get such brief words to her. It was almost ridiculous and still so flattering. She giggled, almost beside herself with giddiness. She read the note again, soaking in the quiet reassurance that she did not stand alone with this irrational burning in her soul, that he would see her again and not leave her alone. Last night’s solitude had almost been too much, but she could bear such loneliness again if she had this small promise to hold close to her fluttering heart.

A loud racket from the Arena broke her out of her musing. Was that gunfire? It sounded much closer than the other sounds from the Arena had. It was so close it almost hurt to hear it. When screams joined the noise it turned her heart’s fluttering to a pounding. Something was very, very wrong. She took one step forward in curiosity just as the glass display case next to her shattered. She stifled a terrified shriek as she crouched to the floor, the shards raining all around her. It did not take much to know that something was terribly wrong. Someone was out there wielding rage and a gun.

If her friends were here, they could do something, but she was one person, hiding behind a display case with her hands over her ears in a futile attempt to block out the sound of the shots and the screams. She could no more silence that she could the agony of the guards and fighters as their souls were forced from their bodies. Those screams that human ears would never hear tore brutally through her.

Instinctively, her mind wrapped around itself for protection, blocking out fear and death as it tuned its focus to the immediate problem. Slowly, without Aeris’ even knowing it, her thoughts reached out as one small tendril from within the barricaded psyche, carrying the words she was not even aware she was frantically whispering. Stop it, please, stop it. You don’t have to do this. The thread reached a mass of burning rage. She felt it and flinched.

Then all was still. The shots stopped as quickly as they had begun and there were no more sounds other than her pained, terrified gasping that turned into deep sobs. She stooped in the pool of shards, the note crumpled, torn and forgotten in her hand. It was over now and there was nothing she could do but pull herself together with the knowledge that those spirits so tormented in their last moments were in a better place now.

She heard footsteps coming up the stairs. They stopped abruptly at the entrance to the lobby. “What . . . what happened here?” The voice was familiar. She sprang from her position and flew out of the exhibit hall, ignoring the bodies she knew were lying there, people she had seen alive just a few minutes ago.

“Cloud! Cloud!” She caught on to his arm, reassuring herself that he was solid and unhurt. He shook her off and ran ahead to inspect the bodies, leaving her with the others behind him. Barret was missing. “Cloud, where are you going?”

Yuffie stared at her with wide eyes. “Did you see it happen?”

Aeris shook her head. “No. I only heard it. I didn’t see anything.”

“Did Sephiroth do this?” Cloud threw the question out to no one in particular. He toed the body of a young man, seeking out the wound beneath the dark red stain. It was not the long slash he had expected. “No,” he whispered, “It’s not him . . .they’re all shot. Sephiroth would never use a gun.” A slight movement in the corner of the room caught his eye. Someone was still alive. Cloud rushed over. “What happened?” he barked, “Tell me what happened here! Who was it?”

“A man . . . he had a gun . . . on his arm,” the young man wheezed.

Aeris stepped forward, in alarm. “It couldn’t be . . .” The loud tramp of boots up the stairs made them all turn. Dio stood at the entrance, flanked by two guards.

“Did you all do this?” he roared. Cloud hesitated in his answer, shocked at the question.

“N . . . no, it wasn’t us.”

Cait Sith saw the look in Dio’s eyes and backed up towards the fighting ring. “Better move, guys,” he whispered, “Things are going to get ugly.” He bounded awkwardly up to the door with the rest of Avalanche close behind him. Dio’s orders to the guards echoed around them as they flooded into the arena.

It was a dead end. They were soon surrounded. Dio stepped in, angry and menacing. “That’s as far as you go!”

Cloud stepped out in front of him. “Listen to me! We didn’t . . .” Dio cut him off.

“There’s only one way we deal with criminals around here! You’re going down below!”

The guards closed in. Aeris tried to break free but it was useless. They grabbed her arms, hoisted her straight off the floor and carried her over to a gaping hole that she had not noticed before. She struggled harder, heard Yuffie cursing behind her, screaming that it was all a mistake. The guards held her over the hole, awaiting further orders. “No, don’t!” she cried, but the guards paid no mind. At a sign from Dio that she did not see, they released her. She fell hard and fast into the darkness. She would remember the terror of that first lurch, but she would not remember landing.


She stood quietly by some hours later, inside the run-down living room that had once been part of a house in the original Corel. When Barret had said his home town had been buried, she had not thought it had been like this. Her mind still hurt from the story he had told and her head still hurt from the blow it had taken. She was only glad to be in a shelter, surrounded by friends.

This desert prison was a dangerous place. It had taken mere minutes for that to become apparent. If the inmates did not kill them, the heat would. There was only one way out, that strange man had said, and for that they needed the Boss’ permission. Exactly who the Boss was, she had no idea, but the others were intent on helping Barret resolve his problem first. She had been so glad to learn that the slaughter in the Battle Arena had not been his doing.

“Look, it’s something I have to do by myself,” he was saying. “I don’t want none of you getting hurt because of this. It’s between me and Dyne. I got to apologize to him before I can rest in peace.” Aeris could feel the waves of guilt resurfacing from him and deep inside, she understood.

Cloud disagreed, “Do whatever you want to do. Is that what you want to hear from me? Well that’s no good. I can’t let you go alone. If you die on me I’m going to have nightmares.”

Aeris spoke up softly from her corner, “This can’t be the end, Barret. Weren’t you going to save the Planet?” Barret did not look outwardly happy at the support he was getting, but he was warming up to the idea inside.

“We’re not going to let you go alone, Barret,” Tifa said.

Aeris watched quietly as the rest of the group pledged their support, assuring the gunman that they were all in it together. She leaned against the arm of the couch as she tried to soothe her mind. Too much had flown through her today. The waves of emotion had gone from one extreme to another too rapidly and the bump on her head was not helping matters. She had a headache and it was rapidly growing worse. She needed some time alone to center her own thoughts, to filter out the strands that were not hers, but she did not dare take a walk alone in this place. It was too hot, too dangerous, but she needed the silence. The pain was not letting up. There were dark spots before her eyes.

“Hey!” Someone cried out. Aeris felt a strong grip on her arm but it was not enough to keep her from swaying. For a moment she saw nothing, felt nothing, knew nothing but the need to draw a deep breath. Slowly, the darkness faded and she found herself lying on the couch with everyone looking down at her. Red nuzzled her face as he tried to wake her.

“I’m okay,” she assured them. “I just got dizzy for a moment there.” Her statement drew frowns from all around.

“Are you sure?” Tifa felt her forehead and Aeris had to smile at the gesture. “It’s not the heat?” Aeris shook her head.

“Maybe you hit your head harder than you thought,” Yuffie remarked wryly. Cloud stepped out of sight.

“Give her some breathing room, people.” Aeris murmured her thanks. Even well-intentioned concern was proving too much for her. All she wanted was quiet rest, sleep if she could have it, but mostly just some time away from the crowd.

She pressed one hand across her eyes. “Sorry.” The voices continued, not directed at her, but they seemed to be discussing something important. She could hardly put in the effort to make sense of the words. A wet nose against her chin roused her. She opened one eye lazily to find Red watching her.

“They went with Barret,” he told her, his voice almost a deep purr. “Cait Sith and I stayed to watch you.” Aeris smiled gratefully and petted his nose, laughing inside at the way he tried to dodge it before sliding back into the easy comfort of a quiet room. She sunk deep within herself and reached for the thread that tied her to the Planet, felt it reach back to her and cradle her in a small pocket of its being. She let its slow humming wash over her like a lullaby till she was only vaguely aware of her surroundings.

The couch she lay on faded from her mind. Every emotion that was not hers was left behind the deeper she went, until she floated in a place that was hers alone. She would stay here as long as she could to let her defenses rebuild themselves. And it would be good to simply rest and perhaps dream in this peaceful plane. Time was meaningless here. She lost track of it.

She had no idea how long she had drifted within her own mind when she first felt the intruder, the unmistakable presence of another at the gates of her being. Inside, she jumped awake, fully prepared to assess that presence. There were very few others who could reach out with their own minds the way she could, and none who should have been able to brush so closely against hers. The long peace she had experienced prevented serious alarm. Instead, what she felt bordered on a wary curiosity.

The dark presence did not push any further, nor did it move away. It stayed there, almost as if waiting for acknowledgment, just outside of what she had thought to be her own hidden space. None could ever enter here. None should have ever been able to find it and know it for what it truly was and yet this strange one did. She carefully reached towards it, seeking some reason for this impossibility. What she found flooded her with joy.

Are you alright?” he asked. “Does it hurt badly?” The words were a soundless impression through the barrier that separated her mind from his, but she needed no voice to see his concern and bask in it.

I am fine. I was only tired.” She pressed herself as close to him as she could, longing for an embrace, but in a place where they had no bodies, such things were impossible. It was not important. He had found her and that was enough. What did it matter if the walls of their minds stood between them? She could feel his warmth as surely as she had felt his arms around her despite the barrier.

I’ve missed you,” she confessed and felt the same sentiment emanating from him, the flow of it softened somewhat by the wall that stood between them. Even in this place of rest, the burning he caused in her took hold, all the more powerful for having him so close and still out of reach. If she could have torn down those walls, both his and hers, and mingled their thoughts, their souls, she would have done it in an instant. She strained at the very borders of her being, trying to feel more of him brushing against her no matter how lightly it did so. The walls were cruelly thick.

I will see you soon,” the silent promise came and she felt his frustration, only a mere glimmer of it but enough to convince her that it matched her own. Deep in his mind where he could not lie, he felt the strange ties between them as strongly as she did and like her, he did not know why. The quiet revelation soothed her. She would see him soon. He would wait for her. She settled against the edge of her mind’s own space, trying to be as close to him as she could and returned to her state of rest, cushioned by the presence of the dark one.


Red rolled onto his back and wriggled on the rough floor boards in an attempt to reach an itch on his back. He did not often get an opportunity to do these uniquely animal things when the group was on the move. The house was almost empty. The little robot was dormant at the door and Aeris was asleep so he indulged, never removing his eye from her for a second. He had been given a duty to watch her and he was determined not to fail in it. He rolled back onto his stomach and lay very still. Aeris murmured something and seemed about to wake, but she soon quieted and her breathing remained steady and slow.

Red’s ears twitched. Something was making his fur rise. He sprang up, ready to pounce, but there was nothing there. He sniffed the air and detected no odd scent. Still, he could not shake the feeling that there was something there that did not belong.

Aeris murmured again, her words too soft even for his ears. She reached up with one arm as if to caress something in her sleep. Red watched, curious and slightly alarmed. The girl did not wake, but only turned in her sleep to pillow her head on her hands. The strange prickle along Red’s spine refused to leave. He froze in position, ready for action. If there was a threat he would not meet it lying down. Aeris slept on unperturbed.

Red watched. He waited. The square of light from the little window slid slowly across the floor, growing dimmer all the while. There was a sharp rap at the door and Cloud’s voice came through the wood. “It’s us! We’re coming in.” The presence slid away and Red immediately felt his fur flatten. The strange thing was gone.

Yuffie burst in through the door. “We’re getting out of here! And guess what? We got a buggy? Now we don’t have to walk!” She ran over to the couch. “Hey, Aeris! Wake up!”

The flower girl’s eyes opened slowly. Yuffie bounced in excitement, “Gawd, girl, you sure sleep long! Did you hear? Cloud won us out of here and we got a buggy!”

Red studied the rest of Avalanche as they filed in, all in various stages of weariness and relief. If there had been danger here as he had feared, it was gone now. There was no point in needlessly worrying them.

Amidst the excited chatter, Aeris pressed her hand to her chest, where a small, crumpled scrap of paper lay hidden, and smiled.


The swordsman sat under a tree, slowly returning to himself and considering how typically reckless it was of the blond puppet to find himself in such a situation. There were no straight roads for that one, it seemed. And the boy had managed to get the green-eyed one hurt as well, though not seriously. That alone had kept the silver-haired one from retracing his steps to skewer the boy where he stood.

He leaned his head back and felt it thud against the rough bark as he sighed, resigned. He had actually found her, felt her with his mind, though she lacked the signs in her body that drew him to the blond and the others like him. Her essence shone out like a beacon in the dark, so different from his own. He had brushed his mind against her own, but he could not enter. She was not like his pawns. They could only draw what power he let them, only be his tools to use. She was a power in her own right and he could not get past the barriers that had separated them.

If only he could have reached out and actually touched her. Everything she was, the bare core of her being had been there, flickering like a torch with her every thought. It drew him in with its heat, setting his desire for her body, her soul, for all of her blazing like the desert sun, only to leave him tormented at a gate neither of them could cross. He almost cursed the darkness in him, the thing that set him apart from humans, made him better. There was no room for shadows in that airy space of hers, no opening for him.

Drifting close by was the best he could have and even that had been dangerous. Animals, even sentient ones it seemed, were acutely aware of the unseen. There was nothing he could do but stay very still, make no sudden shifts of the mind. He never would have hurt her. The cloud of his mind was dark, but there had never been any threat. He had longed to wrap his consciousness around his lady’s as much as he could, but caution demanded that with an audience, even one with no true sight, he maintain as unthreatening an appearance as possible.

He hung his head forward in despair as the moon rose high above the trees and slivers of light filtered through the leaves to light him up, a figure of black and white on the deep green. He sighed. He needed her so much, longed to wrap his arms around her and see the laughter in emerald eyes as he had that one precious night on distant sands. He wanted to feel her beneath him again, to know those soft curves more intimately. He feared he was forgetting the scent of her skin, longed to bury his face in her chest and so burn the fragrance into his memory.

She would be coming soon and he would wait for her here. Her own innocent desire would bring her to him. The half-dreamed meeting had drawn the threads between them. When she came he would fasten it tight and soon, he promised himself, soon, he would pull the strings.

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