By Faye Locke
Sephiroth floated in madness.
Green shadows taunted at the edges of his vision, green light blinded his eyes. Sibilant voices drowned his ears, but silence echoed in his mind. Distortion, disorientation ruled his world. Thoughts started and ended before he was aware they existed.
The word burned into his awareness. The impossible had occurred. He had lost. Jenova. She had left him. He was alone.
A figure appeared in the madness, calming the shadows into compliance, shielding the light to bearable, quieting the voices to dim echoes in his memory. Bringing him to reality.
"Do you know who I am?" The figure was speaking to him, Sephiroth realized. He focused his attention on it, recognizing the pink dress, flowing brown hair, and soft green eyes immediately. Oh yes, he knew her.
"You are dead," he said, trying to pull away from the reality she brought with her.
"So are you,' she replied gently, moving closer to him. Sephiroth's surroundings stabilized. He was standing in a void, staring at and endless stream of light. Aeris had approached from that light, and it seemed she had brought some of it with her, for she too glowed.
"I must tell you something," Aeris said, "but first-" She extended her hand to him, and, unwilling, he found that his hand was reaching to her. They touched, and the light began to move over him. Sephiroth tried to pull away, but found that he was paralyzed. Looking into her eyes, he saw a hardness there, an elemental fury he did not expect from the gentle girl. Aeris pulled her hand away, taking the light with her. Something was wrenched from Sephiroth as the light flowed away, pulling at every cell of his body, filling him with exquisite pain. Then the pain was gone, and so was part of him. Aeris held a ball of glowing light in her palm, looking at it distastefully.
"This," she explained, "is Jenova. Or what's left of it. All that it gave you - the powers that were enhanced by its heritage" - the ball suddenly vanished - "is no more. Now you are just Sephiroth, the mighty warrior still, for your Mako poisoning enhancement is still with you." Sephiroth gazed at her uncomprehendingly.
"Because," she said, a smile returning to her face, "I couldn't forgive you with that still inside you."
"I don't want your forgiveness," he growled angrily.
"That okay, I'm not asking for your permission." Aeris giggled, sounding for all the world like the innocent she was. "Sephiroth," she said, adopting a more formal tone, "I forgive you."
"I don't want your forgiveness," he repeated stubbornly. Aeris smiled sadly then glanced behind at the light - which Sephiroth now recognized as the lifestream. Tendrils of light began pulling away from the lifestream, moving toward Sephiroth and Aeris. As the light grew closer, he realized each represented a single person. And, as the lights grew closer still, he could see that each face belonged to one he had killed.
The lights departing from the lifestream were far too numerous to count.
"I forgive you," a wispy voice declared. The figure it had come from swirled around him, then headed back to the lifestream. More intonations of forgiveness followed, each sounding louder than the last in his mind. Sephiroth brought his hands to his ears, intent on shutting them out, but the voices cut through the barrier, burning deep inside his mind.
"I don't want it!" He shrieked at the figures. "Go away! I don't want your forgiveness! I don't need it!" Undaunted by his claims, the airs of forgiveness continued to overwhelm him. Sephiroth squeezed his eyes shut, but the light blinded him. He was surrounded by the light, by the voices, buoyed by them. They protected and hurt him at the same time, tearing wildly at his sanity.
Silence. The voices had departed. Opening his eyes and unclenching his hands from his head, Sephiroth found that Aeris stood before him, the ethereal quality he had sensed about her earlier seeming stronger.
"I'm sorry for that," Aeris said, "but it is necessary."
"Go away!" Sephiroth approached her menacingly, but found that every step brought him no closer to her. He tried moving faster, but to no avail. He remained fixed in place.
"Sephiroth, please listen. I am trying to help you."
"I don't want your help! You are nothing to me! Leave me alone!"
"You will listen to me, whether you like or not," her voice had grown hard. Sephiroth found that his voice was gone. He turned away from her, but he found that he was still facing her.
"Sephiroth, what you felt, what you experienced, before I came - this is your fate. The lifestream will not accept you. Not with what you have done. You must be forgiven - by all you have wronged. Those that have joined the lifestream forgive you. But those that are still living in the world must also forgive you."
"This is absurd," Sephiroth said rudely, suddenly finding his voice. "You are absurd."
"Perhaps," she smiled softly, "but absurd is all I - and you - have." Sephiroth shook his head. "There is one more thing. There was a deed, one that you did, that was completely unredeemable. You must redress this wrong as well."
"I will have no part in this!" Sephiroth's eyes glinted dangerously, even though he knew he could not touch the infuriating Ancient. "Leave me alone! I once regretted killing you - I don't now! I wish you a thousands deaths, each more painful than the last! I don't want any part of your plan. I don't want your forgiveness. I don't need it. I am above such petty mortal demands." He sneered at her menacingly. "Or hadn't you heard? I was to be God! To rule the Promised Land! Why would I care about forgiveness?"
"It is time for you to go back now," Aeris said after listening to his insane tirade. "Here, this is to aide you in you task." A glowing focus of light approached him, then sunk into the top of his right hand. The light intensified a moment, then dimmed, revealing a deep black stone, not unlike materia, imbedded in his hand. "When you have redressed the wrong, the stone will change to red. When you have the forgiveness of those living, the stone will turn green."
"I don't want this," Sephiroth said, tearing at the stone ineffectively.
"Should you die before the stone turns green," she continued, ignoring him, "you will return to the chaos outside the lifestream, forever doomed there."
"And when the stone turns green, my life ends there also? This stone just buys my time to redress and beg?" He realized that he could not remove the stone, and he also was beginning to realize he was not going to be able to stop Aeris from her plan.
"No," she smiled kindly, "your life is yours to do with as you wish. I am merely giving you the chance to join the lifestream when your life ends - whenever that may be."
"I could summon Meteor again," he warned her, hoping to stop her from sending him back.
"No, you can't. I destroyed the Black Materia. And remember, you don't have Jenova's powers anymore. Warrior you may still be, but Cloud and his companions still live, and they are still more than a match for you. Should you turn your intentions for ill, they will find you, stop you, and kill you. I won't prevent them from that."
Sephiroth turned away from her, surprised to find that he could. Darkness stretched out before him, except for a single thin strand of white light that disappeared into the void. He realized that light was coming from him. Like an aura, the soft white light actually surrounded him. The brightness of the lifestream must have prevented him from seeing it before. The darkness seemed to pull at the white light, so that it collected into a single beam before shooting out across the void. He reached out and touched the beam, surprised to find a familiar presence surged through him as he did.
"Jyleth," he whispered softly.
"She's still with you," Aeris said from behind him. "While it may have been Jenova who forced that spell, Jyleth is still very much a part of you. Her body is still alive, if you must know. Trapped in the ice where you left it." Sephiroth did not speak to her, transfixed on the light before him and what it meant.
A soft touch on his arm brought him out of his reverie. Looking down, he saw Aeris standing at his side, her eyes full of sympathetic understanding. It revolted him.
"It's time to go," she said. "Close your eyes."
"However did you get the stain out of your dress?" Sephiroth's voice was cold, laced with cruelty. Aeris scowled momentarily, then sighed.
"Close your eyes, Sephiroth," she repeated.
Sephiroth had no intention of doing what she commanded, but found that his eyes closed anyway. Brightness burned through his eyelids, then cold. . .cold enshrouded his limbs, his mind, numbing his senses. The peace that he had felt in Aeris's presence disappeared. He opened his eyes to be overcome by blinding light once more. However, this time, the light came from the sun, gloriously reflecting off newly fallen snow. He was lying on a snow-covered landscape, the cold coming from the snow that was melting on his clothes. Rising to his knees, he found that the Masamune was strapped to his side, and that his armor he had worn so long ago while still a SOLDIER clad his body once more.
And that stone was still there, part of his body as much as his skin.
But the cold affected him. Froze him, more like, he thought, not managing to suppress a violent shiver that shook his whole body. He had never felt the cold so keenly before. Jenova must have provided him with more power and resistance to harm that he had realized before. Taking in his frigid surroundings, Sephiroth realized that the task before was nigh near impossible. For an ordinary person. But he wasn't ordinary. He was still Sephiroth, with or without the alien Jenova singing in his blood, the most powerful and skilled warrior the planet had ever seen. He would accomplish this task, not because Aeris wished him to, but because it would prove that he was still the best. Who was to say what he could accomplish after the damned stone turned green? Smiling to himself, Sephiroth rose to his feet, stomping quickly to restore warmth, then strode off to his new destiny.
What you have done will destroy the other.
Aeris turned from the spot she had been staring at, where Sephiroth had stood before she had sent him back, to face the middle-aged specter who approached her. The woman was beautiful in her own way, long red hair held back in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck
"The other was doomed already," Aeris explained, "from the moment you interfered."
I had hoped there might be a chance for life after the task was complete. But you are right. The other is doomed. Sending Sephiroth back is only going to quicken the matter, possibly making the end more volatile. How many others will suffer from that doom?
"It was a choice I had to make," Aeris's voice was tinged with irritation, "I didn't ask you to take responsibility for it. Only that you accept it."
The other woman nodded slowly. This is your part of the game, Ancient, I am merely along for the view.
"Stop that," said Aeris, her voice softer, "you know how much I value your companionship. None of this has been easy, and the hardest part is still ahead."
In that, little one, you are correct.
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