Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 26

Gya ha ha

By Damodred

As they headed in to Wutai, directed by Yuffie, Aerith told them what she deduced to be Chaos' plan. It was a truly monstrous, selfish thing that he contemplated, and gave them all a chill. From the resurgence of the LifeStream at North Crater and from what they overheard and researched in Nibelheim, it seemed that he wanted to absorb the power of the Planet into himself in order to bring Lucrecia back. Since the Planet's power shows itself the most when it's threatened or harmed, he must be planning to harm it somehow. "And since we know he's after the Black Materia, he must be planning to use it," Aerith finished calmly. Tifa asked, hesitantly, "How can a piece of Materia harm the Planet? We use the ones we have constantly, and the Bolts and Fires we make don't seem to..." she gestured helplessly, unable to envision anything harming the Planet directly. Aerith said, firmly, "The Planet believes it can." Tifa nodded, unable to argue with that.

Shera distributed her improvement on ShinRa's communicators. Hers were lighter, the batteries lasted longer and the range was far beyond anything ShinRa could manufacture. "Something I whipped up when I was bored," she said, shrugging, "The quality of transmission is not as good, but the tradeoff's worth it." They headed towards the town, leaving Reno behind with his thoughts, watching the plane.

Within minutes, they could see the large pagoda jutting out of the forests around Wutai. Shera was lucky to have found such a suitable landing site, so close to such a remote place. Fortunately the forests didn't prevail in the area, and were concentrated only near the foot of the cliffs, allowing Shera to make landing fairly close. Aerith slowed her pace, dropping back to walk by Tifa for a while.

"I think I can purge him of the mutated Jenova cells within him and Chaos' influence if I can concentrate on him for a while. He's been moving around so fast that I couldn't tell before. But much of the damage done to him appears to be the same as Sephiroth's." Tifa opened her mouth to ask, but Aerith anticipated her question, "He is purified now. It took a while, but wasn't difficult. Just strenuous." She added musingly, a light blush suffusing her features, "The close contact helped a little, too." Tifa glanced at her sideways, smiling slightly and a new hope entered her heart, missing since Aerith's announcement on the plane.

"I like it here," commented Aerith from her vantage point outside the Inn. After procuring some new Materia, fuel for the Pride and a new staff for Shera, they left Yuffie and Tifa admiring the hardware at the weapons store. It seemed that they were glued to the display, so the rest of the group left them there to have a drink at the Dachao's Rest. "It's unspoiled, remote and peaceful. It's almost a pity that we have to leave soon." she finished regretfully. Shera nodded, sipping her martini and taking in the vista. The Inn's patio had a wonderful view of the forest of Wutai, the mountain jutting out of it like a punctuation mark. The contrast was impressive and imposing, for the mountain was very close, almost dwarfing the small village and its sandy, rocky slopes were in sharp opposition to the soft green of the forest below. They enjoyed the silence and the crisp air for a while longer, then reluctantly got up, acknowledging the need to get moving. They decided to get Yuffie and Tifa together, as a group.

"What do you mean, they left half an hour ago?" asked Shera, planting her hands on the counter and leaning over. The powerfully built clerk, obviously a user of the weapons he sold, took a wary step back. He said, stiffly, "I mean exactly what I said. The Kisaragi girl almost stole one of my smaller throwing knives, but the taller one stopped her, and then they left, arguing." Aerith looked at him blankly for a moment, then smacked her forehead in exasperation, "Of course, this is her hometown!" She turned to the clerk, who was looking at them even more warily, and asked, "Do you know where Yuffie lives?"

"Yuffie?" Aerith asked of the empty-looking house, opening the door cautiously, surprised when it wouldn't swing any further than about a foot. After squeezing inside, they realized that the doorstop was a prone body, lying in a small puddle of blood. Aerith crouched down, turning it over coolly, now noticing another body in the corner, shrouded in shadow. "SOLDIER, 3rd class" she said, pointing out the tattoed "3" on the dead man's wrist. "They're the ones who get all the lousy assignments." She sighed, getting back up, "Looks like Yuffie stole that throwing knife after all." She turned to Shera, who was turning over the other body, "I'm afraid whoever's behind this captured both Tifa and Yuffie." "But why?" asked Shera blankly, but then realized it. "Bait?" Aerith nodded grimly, "Indeed. And I'm afraid we have to take it." Closing her eyes, she concentrated.

"Ow," Tifa moaned, wincing as every slight movement made the pounding in her head increase. Opening her eyes only made the situation worse, as her predicament became obvious, the ropes cutting painfully into her wrists and ankles. She took stock in the situation, looking around in the darkness as much as the ropes binding her allowed. She seemed to be lying on her side, her tied wrists touching her ankles behind her back. Her back was arched painfully and she was completely unable to move, only to twitch her torso side to side. There were no windows, but enough light was leaking under the door to allow her to realize that she seemed to be in some sort of a dead-ended hallway, perhaps a storage closet. In the dim light, she discerned Yuffie's prone form, tied in a similar manner. She said her name quietly, afraid of letting their captors know that she was awake, and was rewarded with a groan of pain as the girl tried to move. "Shhhh," she whispered urgently, "Don't let them know you're awake." Yuffie nodded agreement, wincing in pain again. She whispered to Tifa, "I think we're in Lord Godo's house. There's a secret passage in this hallway, but it doesn't do us any good." Tifa could discern Yuffie's voice was trembling, but she was putting on a good front. She opened her mouth to say something encouraging, when she suddenly, felt someone call her name. She closed her eyes, concentrating. Aerith's presence was out there, questing for her but unable to find her. Tifa raised her mental voice, discarding her training to 'shout' again, feeling intense relief as the presence that was Aerith suddenly perceived her and turned in her direction. As Tifa reeled, stunned by the power of Aerith's lifeforce, she was able to glean a small understanding of what Aerith really was; a power that the Planet recognized and loved. Tifa's senses whirled, unable to adjust to the sheer brilliance that Aerith exuded within the lifestream. No, it wasn't a brilliance, it was...presence. It was the only way Tifa was able to understand what role Aerith's essence played in the Planet's existence. In this mental realm where life seethed everywhere around her, there was constant activity. The trees in the Wutai forests were breathing, their inhalations going on forever, to be followed by equally long exhalations. Thousands of forest-dwelling creatures frolicked within and around the trees, their life forces as quick and bright as the trees' were dull and still, but immensely powerful. The people in Wutai's were brighter than ones she sensed in Gongaga, undulled by loss or suffering. They were more brittle however, untempered by hardship. And in the center of all that shone Aerith, her force so strong it seemed that it would outshine everything around her. Instead, her inner light strengthened those in her company and sharpened their own brilliance. Tifa was able to tone down her experience within the LifeStream, but so much joy poured out of the Planet that she laughed, unable to withstand that power. Suddenly she felt trapped and panicked briefly, but then realized it was Aerith's life force around her, shielding her from the impact of the LifeStream. Now she could focus on her objective again, and view the powers raging around her with a calm detachment, but no less awe. She felt her mind intermingle with Aerith's, their thoughts intertwining and merging for brief moments, then flying apart again. She realized that it was amazing that mental contact with others was easy, considering the mess that each person had in their head. She laughed again, realizing that she no longer knew if that thought was hers or Aerith's, yet feeling no alarm about it. She could at least feel Aerith's calm confidence, and could still feel which part of their merging was essentially her own. She tried pulling back a little as an experiment, and upon finding no resistance at all, settled in and attempted to communicate.

"It's too soon!" a voice shouted outside their holding cell, shattering Tifa's concentration. A section of the wall swung open abruptly, and a couple of similar looking men, their eyes glowing faintly with Mako, walked inside. They unceremoniously picked up the captives and slung them over their shoulders. Bouncing on the man's shoulder as they walked out, Tifa wondered how long she was in the trance with Aerith, but it seemed like a long time. Even after Aerith's presence diminished, she stayed behind, reluctant to return to her aching body. She was also somewhat disappointed at her inability to communicate anything but the simplest messages. The fact that she didn't know who captured them didn't help much either. She tried to indicate that they were probably in Lord Godo's house, but wasn't sure how much went through. Bringing her thoughts back to the present, she wondered where they were going.


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