A Promise Kept Chapter 1
Promise and Duty
"Cloud? Cloud, can you hear me?" Tifa whispered uncertainly, tapping the wall of her cell.
At first there was silence, she repeated her words, much louder this time. Why give a damn about whether the guards hear her or not? She, and all her friends, will be executed tomorrow anyway, and she was pretty sure no one was interested in taping down their final words.
A few moments later, a somewhat muffled sound answered her: "Yeah Tifa You alright?"
"Im okay." She replied, thinking sarcastically about Shinra's bastards.
Although the SHINRA building was overall very expensive looking, the prison part certainly had not the privilege to share the resplendent. The cells were dimly lighted, cold, moist and they reeked of urine. Not to mention the thin, roughly painted walls that didn't insulate sounds, or anything else for that matter.
However, her thoughts drifted back to her companions quickly, and when she spoke again she sounded worried: "How's Aeris doing?"
"Not very well." Cloud replied, looking at the slim figure sleeping on the bed beside him with mixed emotions of worry and anxiety. He had covered her up with what threadbare rags Shinra provided, and dumped his sweater on top of that, but it didn't seem to help much.
He touched her forehead gently, and sighed: "She's burning, and I'm afraid she's in a half-coma damn that Hojo."
Yes, damn that fucking bastard. Tifa thought silently as Barret cursed beside her: "I swear, if I ever run across dat freaking herb again, I'd blow his *&^% head to pieces and shove it up his ass "
Tifa nodded, knowing exactly whom he is referring to. When they rescued Aeris from Hojo's lab not many hours ago, she was suffering from being kept in a freezing glass prison. Then the Turks captured all of them And Aeris collapsed when they finally arrived at the cells. Tifa suspected that she suffered from mental, as well as physical tortures Damn those bastards.
"I will make sure Shinra gets their due." Cloud said coldly, his icy words seemed to clash with the air around him. Then after a moment of silence, he sighed again: "Tifa, Barret, get some sleep it's late."
"Alright, but I don't see the point we are probably gonna be dead by tomorrow anyway." Barret replied bitterly.
"Reserve your strength is always wise, you never know, there might yet be a chance for escape." Red XIII, the huge lion-like beast spoke from his own cell. Cloud was startled a bit, still not used to hearing a beast communicate in human language. But after today's xperience, nothing could surprise him too much at this moment. He echoed an agreement, and sat down with his back leaning against Aeris' bedside. Casting one last worried glance toward her, he closed his eyes, forcing his muscles to relax.
Everyone fell silent. Just when Cloud was about to go to sleep, a soft sob startled him. He turned quickly to Aeris, and was a little astonished when he saw a tear rolling down her cheek She, who was always cheerful and happy, was now crying in her sleep.
A voice called to her a voice within her mind, the voice of a loving soul, the voice of eternity.
~Aeris, my child ~
~Mother ~she answered eagerly with her mind, but unlike many times before in the past, this time she focused hard but could only see darkness.
~Mother! ~ She called again, scared, ~Mother why can't I see you? Am I What happened to me?~
~Don't worry, it's only a fever, sweeheartt.~ Ifalna reassured her calmly, ~Aeris, I have to speak to you about something, listen well ~
~What is it, mother? I heard the cry of the Planet; it's so hurt Whats happening?~
~You know whats happening, Aeris. Shinra is draining the very life of this planet, and now, there is yet another threat. Listen well Aeris, Jenova is back.~
~Jenova?~ Aeris was shocked as fear grasped her. Jenova the Crisis from Sky, the alien being that destroyed her people so long ago it has returned?
~Aeris, the Shinra doesn't know what they are doing Jenova returned through their greed and ignorance. My child, you must stop Jenova. ~
Although calm, Ifalna's voice failed to hide a hint of sadness. Her daughter, her child was left alone to face the malicious enemy
Aeris shuddered mentally.
~Mother! Why? Why am I the only one? ~ She suddenly cried with despair.
~Aeris I'm sorry.~
~Mother, I'm scared. I might fail, I'm not strong, not like Tifa, or or you ~
Ifalna sighed. Although Aeris couldn't see her, she could almost picture her mother's distressed expression at this moment. She felt sadness. She doesn't want to disappoint her mother, but
~Aeris, perhaps you are not physically very capable like your companions, but you are strong within. We are all with you, the Planet itself chose you. Be strong Aeris, you promised me that you will be strong.~
~But mother ~ Suddenly she felt Ifalna retreating from her mind, ~Mother!~
~Be strong Aeris, you promised ~
~I promised.~ She admitted, more to herself than to Ifalna whose presence was merely detectable and still retreating further away.
~I'll be strong like I promised I'll keep that promise ~ Her conscious was slowing sipping back into her body, and she felt a cold tear rolling down her cheek.
~I'll keep that promise but tell me, why am I the only one? ~She wept, wept for her inevitable fate. She was the last of her kind, and so she will always be alone, in war and in peace.
She opened her eyes with some effort. Everything before her was in a blur as she weakly raised one hand to wipe her eyes. Once her vision cleared, she saw Cloud's face hovering above her with concerns in his Mako infused blue eyes: "Are you all right?"
" Yeah, thanks." She managed a quick smile as he slipped his arm under her back to help her sit up.
Aeris leaned thankfully against him for a moment. When she finally overcame her dizziness, she opened her eyes again and whispered: "What time is it?"
"No idea, I guess it'll be dawning soon." Cloud replied, and after a short pause, he stated flatly, "You've been crying."
She nodded: "Yes but it's nothing. Just a dream." She was a bit ashamed now for her thoughts. She complained too much, as long as she has her friends with her, she would never really be alone.
Cloud said nothing. He could tell there's more to it, but decided not to ask. He would be good at listening, but not equally well at asking questions. Besides, he had the feeling that even if Aeris told him what was going on inside her head, he wouldn't be able to understand fully anyway. She was a special one, whenever she spoke he felt that there was a deeper meaning to what was apparent.
Suddenly Cloud's body tensed, he tilted his head slightly as if listening to something.
"What's wrong?" Aeris whispered.
"Don't move." Cloud told her as he stood up and approached the door carefully. He stared at the door for a moment, then pushed it lightly. Silently, the door cracked open.
Cloud waved to Aeris. She quickly got out of bed and ran to him.
"Something is very wrong Stay behind me." He told her as he pushed the door wide open, and walked out with Aeris close behind him.
Once they got a full view of the hallway, Aeris clasped her hands on her mouth to prevent a scream from escaping.
There was blood everywhere. The guards lay motionless in their own blood pools, brutally murdered. And there is a bloody trail of footsteps leading out a single set of footsteps. In the corner, the Avalanches weapons lined up against the wall, perfectly undamaged.
Cloud frowned, quickly stepping over a dead body to retrieve their weapons. He handed Aeris her staff: "Stay here, I'll get the others."
She nodded, standing against the wall with her staff poised in front of her defensively as Cloud went for the others. Looking at the bodies around her, she felt sad, and sick to the stomach. She had seen death, but never so brutal, so inhuman as to make her skin craw.
Suddenly she heard a faint moan, and a body to her left stirred. Aeris swallowed hard, but she was compelled to walk over, and kneel down beside the dying guard.
He was only a little more than a boy, perhaps younger than she younger than Cloud is. There was a big, ugly wound right through his chest, as dark blood spilled out along with other things she did not wish to identify.
Aeris looked at his face. He looked gray and deathly pale, and his black eyes seemed to be losing color as his life is coming to an end. But he saw her, and his face twisted in fear.
"It's all right." She smiled at him softly, "I'm not here to harm you."
"He was here crazy " The guard choked on his words as blood dripped down the corner of his mouth, "Devil "
Aeris sighed. She wish she could ask him more, but there's no time. She has to guide this man to his place now.
"It's all right, the devil is gone." She gently cupped his face with her small hands, which were glowing with a pure golden light. She smiled with a love, the love for life, "Go in peace, you will not be harmed anymore."
His expression changed as calmness entered his eyes. He returned her smile barely: " Angel." With that his eyes closed. She withdrew her hands and bowed her head, silently praying as another soul enters the Lifestream.
She got to her feet slowly and turned around. Her friends stood silently, staring at her, awestruck. They had heard about Cetra's special abilities, and they witnessed one just now.
Aeris spoke quietly, with a lump in her throat: "He is so young and the only mistake he made was serving Shinra " She swayed a little, suddenly very exhausted.
Everyone murmured agreement, Tifa walked over to Aeris and supported her on the left side, while Cloud got her on the right. Together the three walked toward the exit, with Barret and Red XIII following. As they walked past the bodies, Barret cursed under his breath: "Dat fat ass son of a bitch He's not worth it."
Cloud knew very well whom he was referring to. He nodded gravely: "Let's find him."
Moments later they stood outside the office on 70th floor, facing the President of Shin-ra The late President of Shinra, who had a huge sword stuck on his back.
" I don't believe it, the bastard is dead!" Barret exclaimed, running forward to take a closer look. Cloud slowly followed him, still supporting Aeris between him and Tifa. His eyes fixed on the eerie long sword that stood erect on the old man's back.
"Sephiroth." Cloud whispered.
"Sephiroth? Isn't that lunatic dead or something?" Barret frowned, scratching his head, "If Sephiroth had done this then he's on our side?"
Tifa's eyes burned with hatred, she was about to open her mouth when Cloud spoke: "No, can't be I know Sephiroth too well He's evil."
"Perhaps you don't know him as well as you think then." A voice spoke behind them.
They turned around quickly, weapons in hand and ready to strike, but all of them knew that if there was going to be a battle, it was not going to be an easy one. No one heard the man, not even Red XIII. This opponent must be deadly.
Being the owner of Seventh Heaven, Tifa was not the type to show fear easily, but she gulped visibly as her eyes fell on the stranger.
He was a pale man in his late twenties or so. He stood tall, wore a scarlet cape that matched the bloody color of his eyes. In his right hand he held a gun, and his left hand was a sharp claw. With his face devoid of expressions, he looked almost like one of those vampires in fables.
Cloud left Aeris to Tifa as he let go of her, tightened his gripe on the Buster Sword and took a step forward. "Who are you?" He asked in an even tone.
"Vincent Valentine a former Turk." He replied, somehow his voice sounded eerie.
Tifa's eyes narrowed: "Turk huh?" She hid Aeris behind her protectively, "Look, if you are here for the Ancient, you will have to get through us!"
"I said, former Turk." He looked at Aeris, his eyes seem to glow, but it was something different than the glow caused by Mako, "So you are a Cetra interesting. However, I'm not here for you." His glance drifted past them, "I'm here for him."
"Shinra?" Barret asked.
"No I'm here for Sephiroth." Vincent fixed his glance on the long sword, "Masamune is here, Sephiroth must be close by."
"What do you want with Sephiroth?" Cloud asked suspiciously.
Vincent's lips curled into a smirk: "That's none of your business. Look, if you want to go, you better go now. Someone's coming."
Before Cloud could speak again, they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. Within seconds it landed outside.
"Shit." Barret cursed as a man in white suit steps out of the helicopter, "That's da pretty boy Rufus Shinra, shit."
Cloud sighed: "We have no choice but " He walked toward the roof, with his friends behind him. Strangely enough, Vincent followed.
As the team assembled before the young man, he raised a hand to fling back a lock of hair thats on his face, and nodded as his gaze fell on Barret: "Ah, the leader of Avalanche. What a pleasant surprise, and who are these people with you?"
"Tifa Lockheart from Avalanche."
"Cloud Strife, mercenary."
"Red XIII." The fire-red beast spoke in a quiet tone; his eyes sparkled with pleasure momentarily as his voice caught Rufus by surprise. After all, the guy wasn't expecting a talking beast.
Rufus restrained himself however, his gaze fell on Aeris who was next in line, and she shrugged: "Aeris Gainsborough, flower girl from the slums."
"Vincent Valentine." The mysterious man spoke. Rufus frowned slightly at the name, seeming to recall something, but Vincent shook his head, "You don't know me."
Rufus couldn't remember whatever he want to remember, and finally he dismissed it with a gesture of his hand, "My, what an interesting group of people we got over here. But it doesn't matter, you will all have the honor of witnessing my inauguration as the new President of Shinra Corporation."
"So you know your old man is dead." Cloud commented.
"Yes, too bad, he was a fool anyway." Rufus grinned, "I would have thanked Sephiroth, if he was here."
"You can thank me now." An icy voice cut the air, everyone, including Rufus, froze as a tall figure emerged from the darkness. He held an enormous long sword in his hand, the very same one that claimed the life of every dead body in this building, and his silver hair shimmered under the dim light, as did his sword.
Aeris gasped as her eyes met his. They are green just like hers, but lighter, and there was something sparkling in his eyes, something powerful, raging and terrifying. She shivered as realization hit her. He was the one her mother warned her of he was the vessel Jenova resides inside of him.
Rufus swallowed nervously. He looked at Cloud and the rest for a moment, and shrugged. If he wanted to fight Sephiroth at this moment, Cloud and the others would surely join him, but it was too risky. He had came a long way, and he wasnt going to blow it now. Rufus grabbed the rope ladder to his helicopter, and bowed his head slightly, "I would love to stay, but unfortunately, as the new leader of Shinra, I have much to do. A very nice evening to you all."
With that he ascended, leaving behind Sephiroth and the rest.
"Asshole." Barret cursed under his breath, looking at Cloud uncertainly. He knew how much Cloud and Tifa hated Sephiroth, yet at this moment, they were all weak from imprisonment and previous battles, not to mention Aeris was ill, and there stood the man Vincent Valentine, who may or may not be an ally.
Sephiroth saw the fear clouded in their eyes, and his lips curled slightly upward into a mocking smile: "I'm only here to retrieve Masamune, and I don't give a damn about who you are. It's not important."
With that he turned away from them, starting to leave.
"Wait!" Vincent pushed past the rest of them and shouted, "Sephiroth, I wish to have a word with you."
Sephiroth turned back to look at him, his eyes cold without emotions: "What do you want?"
"I wish to speak to you about your mother." Vincent said.
Aeris stared at him in surprise. He and Jenova? But how come she didn't sense danger coming from him?
Vincent continued to speak: "I knew your mother very well and I have a promise to keep a promise I made long ago."
Sephiroth stood motionless for a moment as if seeing something no one else could see, and then his eyes narrowed: "Liar, my mother doesn't know you. She was trapped long before you were even born."
"I wasn't talking about Jenova." Vincent replied calmly, "I was talking about Lucrecia, your real mother."
Everyone gasped at the shocking news. Sephiroth's eyes now seemed to be burning in the dark as he laughed: "Liar! My mother is Jenova the Ancient! Do you think I'm so ignorant of the crimes committed against me? I knew it all Shinra found her body and extracted her cells to start the Jenova Project."
He took a step forward, his stare made Aeris want to shiver visibly, and she knew her friends felt the same, as Tifa shifted uncomfortably beside her.
Sephiroth glared at Vincent coldly, and whispered through gritted teeth: "The result of the Jenova Project was me, the last Cetra alive on this Planet. I will help my mother reclaim this land that you coward ancestors had taken away from us. But first, you'll get what you deserve for trying to trick me, you unworthy human."
Vincent didn't move, and he still looked calm as ever, although there was sadness in his bloody-red eyes: "If only you would listen to me Son of Lucrecia, I would never lie to you "
"Shut up!" Sephiroth groaned, "My mother is Jenova, and I'm an Ancient, not one of your disgusting, earthly cowards!"
He raised his sword into a position to strike. Cloud and Tifa, with their deep hatred toward Sephiroth, were ready to make a move when Aeris suddenly called out: "Wait!"
"Aeris!" Cloud shouted in panic as Aeris ran forward to stand by Vincent's side. Cloud gripped his sword so tight that his knuckles turned white. Now there was no way he could get to Aeris before Sephiroth makes the strike.
If he harms her, I swear I will tear him apart, piece by piece. Cloud felt as if the fire of Nibelheim was burning inside him, I will, I swear I will
However, Sephiroth only looked at her coldly: "What do you want?"
Aeris wanted to back away from his cold gaze so badly Yet it was her duty, her destiny to confront him. She took a breath and when she finally spoke, her voice was soft and gentle: "Listen, I do not know whether Lucrecia was your mother, but you are not a Cetra."
"What did you say?" He asked in a dangerously low voice. Vincent thought the fragile looking girl would probably breakdown under such cold and intense stare, but to his surprise and her credit, she met Sephiroth's eyes calmly and repeated: "Sephiroth, you are not a Cetra. I know because I'm the last one."
"What?" Sephiroth was so astonished that he nearly took a step back. He tightened his grip on Masamune, and Vincent tensed up as well. He didn't know why, but if Sephiroth makes a move, he would protect the Cetra girl beside him, at all cost.
Mother give me the strength I need Aeris silently prayed, and continued to look into Sephiroth's Mako infused eyes: "Sephiroth, my mother was Ifalna the Cetra, whom Shinra hunted down. She told me I'm the last one in the Cetra bloodline, and after she died, I became the only one."
His eyes were so cold, so cold that she felt her blood slowly freezing up. But just then, she saw something underneath the ice, something in the depth of his eyes that reflected the thoughts in her own.
It was loneliness.
Suddenly tears filled her eyes It was not planned, she wanted to stay calm, but her emotions swept her away, and she let the tears roll down her cheeks freely: " You understand, don't you? You understand how I feel "
He could not speak, nor make move. He felt the urge to just kill the girl, she seemed weak enough, not even a threat. But he couldn't, he couldn't do it, not with that pair of eyes staring at him. The loneliness he saw in her eyes, it was too much like his own too much alike
Abruptly he took a step back, ignoring the angry voice raging in his mind. He looked at Vincent: "Do you have proof?"
Vincent was surprised, but he responded quickly, "There's cave close to Nibelheim where Lucrecia used to go with me "
"I'll see you in Nibelheim in seven days." Sephiroth moved his glance from Vincent to Cloud, to Tifa, Red XIII and Barret, and at last to Aeris, "And if I find out you are lying to me, you will all die."
With that he disappeared back into the darkness as if he was never here.
With his disappearance the air seemed to circulate normally once again, and everyone was finally able to breathe. Cloud rushed to Aeris's side, as others followed him closely.
"Aeris, are you all right?" Cloud grabbed her shoulders: "Were you out of your mind? Do you have any idea what he might do to you?"
"But he didn't." Aeris smiled weakly, "Cloud there are some things I can't avoid doing, whether I want to or not "
" Kiddo, you are way too hard on yourself." Barret shook his head at Aeris and pulled Cloud, "C'mon, let's get outta here before dat Rufus boy comes back."
"Follow me." Vincent said quickly, "I know a short cut to where the Shinra store their motorcycles."
Cloud looked uncertain, but Aeris nodded and whispered to him: "You can trust Vincent."
"Alright." It seemed like he could never object to anything Aeris said, Cloud followed Vincent out as he whispered back, "But Aeris, how do you know?"
She smiled in her usual way which seemed to make her glow with a mysterious aura: "I just know."
Vincent led them through a small set of stairs to the right of the front door. There they found an opened garage with motorcycles.
" I don't know how to ride one." Aeris admitted with embarrassment, but Tifa seemed relieved as she smiled at her: "Neither do I."
Cloud hesitated. Barret seemed too large for his motorcycle already, carrying another person would be impossible, and it'll be very difficult for him to give both Aeris and Tifa a ride. There's Vincent, but
Aeris smiled: "I'll ride with Vincent." She turned to Vincent and quickly added, "If you don't mind, that is."
He extended his right hand to her: "C'mon, we should get out of here as soon as possible."
She took his hand trustingly, climbing onto the motorcycle behind his back, and placed her hands on his waist. The slight contact of their hands and body made him frown. His senses had been sharpened above human capability, and he could immediately tell that her body temperature was way above normal.
"Hang on tight. This is going to get ugly, but I'll try my best to give you a smooth ride." He told her gently.
For God's sake, this girl is burning with fever! How weak and uncomfortable she must've felt, yet the way she stood before Sephiroth and spoke he would never have guessed. In the past he wondered just what was so special about the Ancients, now he was beginning to understand.
At this time Tifa climbed onto the seat behind Cloud too, and the six of them raced out of Midgar. Red XIII followed the motorcycles on his legs, and of course, he was perfectly capable of keeping up with the pace.
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