A Promise Kept Chapter 11
"Get used to it." (Sephiroth)
"Stay behind!" Sephiroth gently pushed Aeris to the corner before he turned to face the beast with his Masamune. Cloud, Vincent and Red started attacking the dragon as well.
Aeris wasn't about to just stand there and watch. She cast Haste on her friends to help them gain the upper hand. With Sephiroth's strength and Cloud's limit break, the red dragon wasn't too hard to defeat. Soon, all that was left of it was a shiny Bahamut summon materia.
"Cool!" Yuffie picked it up and examined it fondly. Cloud shook his head and turned to Aeris: "Now what?"
"You have to get out of here, all of you." Aeris said quietly.
Cloud stared at her: "What?"
"No one but a Cetra could take the black materia without paying a deadly cost." Aeris explained, "I have to do it alone. After all of you get out of this place, it would be safer for me to retrieve the materia."
"Cloud, do you trust me?"
"Yes, but "
"Then get out of here, please." Aeris cut him off gently, meeting his eyes steadily, "Wait for me outside, I'll be there in a second."
Her expression convinced Cloud, he gave in to her wishes: "Alright, we'll wait for you." He handed a PHS to her, "Call us if there's anything. Be careful."
"I will." She smiled.
One by one the Avalanche headed for the exit. Sephiroth hesitated at the door, Aeris urged him on with a gentle smile. He finally nodded and followed the rest of them out, leaving her alone in the big chamber.
Aeris tried her best to remain calm and confident. Slowly, she knelt down in front of the dais and began to pray to her ancestors from the Cetra side.
After a pretty nasty fight with the Demons Gate, Cloud's party left the temple unharmed. Soon they were outside, under the warm sunshine.
It wasn't a minute too soon. Behind them, the ground suddenly rumbled as they turned around, watched in horror as the temple began to collapse.
"Aeris!" Everyone cried out. Cloud tried to go back but was prevented by the waves of dust.
Sephiroth just stared at the scene, his mind going completely blank.
Very soon, the whole temple was destroyed. Struck with grief, panic and utter shock, everyone jumped at a ringing sound. It took them some time to realize the sound was coming from Cloud's PHS. Shakily and almost clumsily he held it to his ear and yelled: "Aeris?!"
"Hi Cloud "
As soon as the unmistakable voice of Aeris reached his ear, Cloud cut her off and shouted: "Damn! What the hell were you doing? Are you okay? Are you hurt? Aeris? Answer me!"
"Hey, hey, I'm fine, really." Aeris' voice was somewhat muffled, but it was apparent that she was well, "I have the black materia, but I'm still in that chamber or what's left of it, and I'm kind of stuck. Can you come down and help me get up there?"
"I'll be there in a minute." Cloud started walking back to the ruins and shouted into the PHS, "Wait for me and DO NOT MOVE!"
"Alright, alright." He could hear Aeris laughing at the other end, "I'll stay put. See ya Cloud."
"Bye." Cloud put the PHS back into his pocket and turned around, "I'm going to get Aeris. You guys stay here and wait for me."
He looked directly at Sephiroth, making it clear that he did not want the silver-hair man anywhere near the black materia.
Sephiroth understood well. He simply snorted and folded his arms across his chest, trying not to show the slight tremble of his hands. At the moment he was too relieved to care about anything else.
Cloud headed for the foundation of the temple.
Once there, he looked at his friend in utter surprise. Aeris was smiling at him, but of course it wasn't her smile that made him stare at her. It was the fact that her body was glowing. A faint golden light that surrounded her made her look unearthly pretty.
"How ?" that was all he managed to ask.
"My ancestors protected me. I told you, I'm the only one who can retrieve the materia without paying a price."
The golden glow on her slowly faded, she handed the black materia to Cloud, "Here, now we have one less thing to worry about."
The two whirled around to find Tseng, or rather, Jenova, hovering in the air, snarling down at them with contempt.
"You!" Cloud drew his sword and hissed, "What do you want?"
Jenova ignored him for the moment. Instead she addressed Aeris: "Stupid Cetra. You just made my job a whole lot easier."
She turned to Cloud, through Tseng's eyes she stared into Cloud's, and commanded in a deadly tone: "Give me the materia."
Cloud's hand dropped away from his sword. His eyes went blank as he took a step toward the alien.
"Cloud?" Aeris touched his shoulder in alarm, he pushed her aside and took another step forward.
"Cloud!" Panicking, Aeris grabbed his arm, "What are you doing?"
He flung her aside, forcefully this time, sending Aeris to sail across the chamber, finally hitting the wall with a sickening thud. She cried out in pain and sled down, unable to move anymore.
Ignoring her completely, Cloud took another step, hand outstretched and in his palm, the black materia shone.
Up at the ruined entrance, Sephiroth's head lifted suddenly, his eyes were instantly filled with alarm. Without saying anything, he ran toward the direction where Cloud had gone.
"Hey pal! Where the &%$# do you think you are going?" Barret lifted his gun arm and demanded.
"Follow him." Vincent said urgently, already doing that himself, "I thought I heard something as well, it sounded like Aeris screaming."
Barret and Tifa exchanged a glance, then hastily followed the two men, with the rest of
Avalanche trailing closely behind.
A hard blow landed on Aeris' cheek, causing her head to turn to the side with the impact. Another blow followed and slapped her head to the other side. Tears of pain blurred her vision. Weakly she stared up at Cloud in horror.
This wasn't the man she had came to know and thought of as a brother. This wasn't the man whom she became friends with and trusted with her life. His expression was now cold and cruel, his icy blue eyes harbored a terribly gleam which wasn't entirely due to Mako.
Jenova stood behind Cloud with a triumphant look.
"The Cetra served her purpose. Kill her." She demanded, and then added in her twisted delight: "Slowly."
Cloud kicked Aeris in the stomach, then a few more brutal kicks followed, targeting her chest and head, leaving her crawled up on the floor in a pitiful attempt to defend herself. Blood triggered down the corner of her mouth but she wasn't even aware. The pain was too great, she felt her conscious slowly slipping away, despite the increasing fear that held her heart in its cold grip.
She was going to die.
Cloud lifted her limp and bloodied body by the collar and, without any hesitation, threw her across the room.
That was the scene the Avalanche beheld from above.
"No!" Sephiroth leapt from stone to stone, desperately trying to get to Aeris' side before the blonde young man succeeded in killing her. Behind him, Tifa screamed for Cloud to stop.
Jenova looked up with a cruel smile. She stared at Sephiroth and demanded: "Kill the girl."
A sharp pain invaded Sephiroth's brain. Unprepared for this, he lost his footing and fell to the ground beside Cloud.
"Kill the girl, kill the girl " Jenova softly chanted through Tseng's deep, even voice, not giving Sephiroth any time to react.
Sephiroth climbed to his feet. His eyes now had the same empty and cold look as Cloud's. He pushed Cloud aside and marched toward Aeris: "Let me handle this."
His gloved hand reached for her thin neck and effortlessly lifted her up, holding her in a chokehold. He began to squeeze.
Jenova laughed in triumph.
But then, he saw her face.
A bloodied and bruised face, with a pair of frightened, wide emerald eyes staring straight into his. Her lips quivered as her tears hastily fell on his gloves.
He winced. It felt as if her tears burned right through his gloves. Why was his chest suddenly so tight? Why did his heart ache so terribly all of the sudden, why
Images flooded his mind. It lasted for only two or three brief seconds, but in those two or three brief seconds he relived the whole crucial turning point of his life.
He saw the girl standing before him, her eyes closed and her hair danced wildly in the wind. She looked heavenly "Take my hand." She said to him. He did, and light entered his dark heart
He saw the ghost of his mother, bidding him farewell with a peaceful smile on her face. "Protect the Ancient at all cost." She told him, "She is the last hope for the Planet, and she has the power to help you find your answers "
He saw the girl, smiling at him, offering him her compassion: "Give it time, you will be fine..."
"You are not a monster Sephiroth. You are human like the rest of us please remember that." She told him, "I respect you, Sephiroth. I respect you for what you are doing, and for who you are."
"I will help you fight Jenova, if you let me." She told him.
"You have me." She told him
"Don't be scared Aeris I'm here, I'll protect you." He saw himself pulling her closer into a tight embrace, wanting nothing more than to shield her from all the dangers of the world.
Sephiroth blinked. Protect the girl protect the last Ancient, protect Aeris Aeris
"Aeris!" Sephiroth exclaimed in horror, instantly loosing his grip. His eyes caught a movement behind him, without thinking, he embraced her tight, shielded her body with his.
Cloud's massive blade fell on Sephiroth's back. Blood instantly gushed from the wound, but before he could attack again, Sephiroth rolled away with Aeris, and gracefully landed into a defense stance, holding the weak Aeris close to his body.
"Se phiroth " Aeris whispered, blood triggered down her mouth as she coughed up more.
"You will be alright." Sephiroth looked down at her for a moment and told her firmly, his strong voice wiping out the fear in her eyes.
Cloud charged at him, sword high above his head.
Sephiroth lifted his own sword, ready to defend himself and Aeris, but then the rest of Avalanche arrived.
Barret and Cid immediately grabbed Cloud from the behind, tried their best to prevent him from getting any further.
"Cloud!" Tifa stood in front of him, tears of fright and desperation drenched her beautiful face, "What are you doing Cloud? Cloud! What's wrong with you?"
" " Cloud suddenly stopped his vicious struggling. He stared at Tifa as if he just saw her for the first time in his life. Then, without warning, he suddenly collapsed, falling backwards and fainted.
"Cloud!" Tifa cried in alarm, bending down to examine her childhood friend. While the three were busy tending to Cloud, Vincent and Red placed themselves protectively between Jenova and their teammates. They were soon joined by a rather reluctant Yuffie.
Sephiroth took the opportunity to take care of Aeris. His heart ached to see how much injury she had suffered. Gently placing her down on the ground, he ignored his own burning wound for the moment, and cast a Cure3 spell on her.
A greenish light enveloped Aeris' prone form. The smaller bruises and scratches instantly disappeared from her body, as some color returned to her cheeks, though hardly noticeable under all the smudges of blood. She sat up a moment later, smiling at Sephiroth with concern in her eyes: "You are also hurt!"
"It's nothing." He replied.
"But you are bleeding " Now that the pain lessened, Aeris was able to focus again. This time, she finally heard the words her people were trying to tell her, when Cloud started to attack her. She wrapped her arms around Sephiroth in a gentle embrace, "Here, let me take care of it "
Her lips moved in prayer, a golden light appeared from nowhere and shone down at them, flurry little gold starts sprinkled on their embracing form. Cuts and bruises disappeared from Aeris' body; the deep cut on Sephiroth's back stopped bleeding, his wound slowly closed, and then, it completely faded.
"That spell !" Jenova stared at them in surprise, then spat, "This is your lucky day, Cetra bitch!" With that, she disappeared in a flash of light.
Sephiroth looked down at her in wonder, as did the others. Slowly the golden light began to fade, Aeris leaned against Sephiroth heavily, She blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to stay awake.
He gently gathered her into his arms and stood up. "Get some rest." He told her, looking down at her with an adoring expression that even he had not realized, "You are safe now."
She looked up at him trustingly, smiled and closed her eyes. Her head leaned against his chest, hearing his strong, comforting heartbeat, Aeris allowed exhaustion to take over, and drifted into a deep slumber.
Cloud Strife slowly opened his eyes. He blinked several times, then bolted up in his bed, his eyes widening as remembrance replaced confusion.
"Cloud, you are awake!" Tifa rushed to his bedside.
"Tifa!" Cloud exclaimed, taking her hands, "How is Aeris? Where is she?"
"Shes sleeping, shes fine." Tifa quickly reassured him, "We are in Gongaga now, everyone is okay " Her voice trailed off, not knowing what else to say.
Cloud released Tifa and stared down at his own hands, they were trembling. He looked up at her helplessly: "I I cant believe it I attacker her worse, almost killed her "
His whole body started to tremble: "Whats happening to me?"
Tifa quickly reached out and hugged him fiercely: "Dont worry, you will be alright." She said, reassuring him as well as herself, "We will get through this, somehow "
Cloud hugged her back desperately, eager to share her warmth and unable to say anything else.
After a while Tifa pulled back. Cloud asked in a voice full of worry and shame: "Aeris she didnt suffer any serious injury, did she? Is there any permanent "
Tifa shook her head quickly: "No, she will be fine. She was hurt pretty badly, but I think she just acquired her ultimate limit break back there. She healed herself."
Cloud sighed heavily: "As much as I hate to admit, I owe Sephiroth one. If he hadnt been there, I I would have killed Aeris "
Tifa looked like she wanted to say something.
"What is it?" Cloud asked.
She hesitated a second, and then answered: "Sephiroth said it might be that Jenova controlled you through her cells. After all, Hojo experimented on the SOLDIERS "
Cloud said nothing for a minute, then slowly nodded: "I think I need to talk to Sephiroth."
Tifa nodded: "Hes probably watching over Aeris right now. Its the next room to the left."
Cloud gazed at her a moment longer, taking comfort in her warm, supporting eyes. He then got off the bed and quietly exited the room.
Tifa sat there, staring out the window without really seeing anything. She hated Sephiroth with all her heart, ever since the incident five years ago. The hatred did not lessen, even after he joined the team and helped out on more than a few occasions. She tried to be fair with him, but deep down she never believed that he wasnt evil. She watched his every move cautiously, always looking for an excuse to take revenge.
But now after witnessing what Cloud had done to Aeris, she wasnt sure how she should feel about anything anymore. If Jenova could manipulate Cloud into attacking Aeris, then what would be so difficult about making Sephiroth kill all those people who were merely strangers to him?
Tifa sighed and rubbed her temple. She had some serious thinking to do.
Sure enough, Sephiroth answered the door when Cloud knocked on it. The two men stood there awkwardly for a moment, staring at each other. Finally Cloud broke the ice first: "Is she awake?"
Sephiroth shook his head: "She was exhausted."
Cloud bowed down his head in guilt. After a moment he collected himself and looked up at Sephiroth again: "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Sephiroth seemed to understand what Cloud wanted to speak to him about. He nodded and stepped outside, lightly closing the door behind him.
"Tell me," Cloud ran a hand through his messy hair, "How did Jenova control me?"
Sephiroth was silent for a moment, then slowly replied: "As far as I know, she has very strong telepathic abilities. She can speak directly into individuals minds and if you have her cell in your body, she could use that to her advantages That creature possessed strong skills of manipulation."
"So I have Jenova cells inside me?" Cloud gritted his teeth, "How?"
"Hojo experimented on all SOLDIERS, giving them Mako injections." Sephiroths eyes were glowing more than usual, "But in some cases, where he thought fitting, he will give them Jenova injections as well, not to mention, he also cloned people "
Cloud nodded, looking thoroughly disgusted: "Yes, we saw one in Costa del Sol, of himself."
"He made clones of me too "
"WHAT?!" Cloud shouted, then, remembering Aeris was still sleeping, he hastily lowered his voice, "He cloned YOU?"
"As far as I know, they were all failures. But if he made a successful clone of himself, the other project wont stay as failed." Sephiroth looked directly into Clouds eyes, "If those clones possess my abilities and obey Hojo without question, Shinra could become unstoppable."
Cloud nodded an agreement. He must admit that Sephiroth at least was human clones were a completely different story. Shinra and Jenova must both be stopped, as soon as possible. But could he do it? Would Jenova be able to control him like a puppet, whenever she desires?
He looked at Sephiroth again: "How do I stop Jenova from using me?"
"Get used to it."
"What?" Clouds eyes flared in anger, but before he could say another word, Sephiroth cut him short, "Get used to it. Jenova will use every opportunity to probe into your mind, trying to use you to her advantages. But if you care enough, she wouldnt win."
A look of pain and regret crossed Sephiroths face, "Back then I didnt care, I made her conquest easy Im sorry."
Cloud said nothing. It would be sometime before he could bring himself to forgive Sephiroth if that ever happens at all. But, he was beginning to see things in a different light. Finally, Cloud asked another question: "When will this ever stop?"
This time, Sephiroths answer was simple: "When she is dead for good."
He then turned away from Cloud, signaling the end of conversation. Cloud walked back to his room, dwelled in his own thoughts.
Aeris finally woke up with a start. She bolted up into a sitting position, eyes wide open in alarm.
Drenched in cold sweat, she regarded her surroundings for a moment, then slowly got to her feet and walked to the window.
Gongaga Inn Her friends decided to stay here for the night, then.
Her friends Cloud How is Cloud now?
Aeris sat down on the edge of her bed with a heavy sigh. Jenova has the Black Materia, Tseng is dead, Meteor is waiting to be summoned, and Shinra is still in power What is she going to do now?
Tears of anger and frustration suddenly welled up in her eyes, she hastily threw herself on the covers, buried her face in a pillow and cried. She screamed into the pillow as hot tears streamed, releasing her fear and grief. She cried until her throat was itchy and dry, until her head felt light and her eyes painful.
She stood up and spotted her travel pack in the corner. Numbly she walked over to retrieve it.
Dumping the contents on the bed, she picked out a dark green shirt, and a pair of tight-fitting black pants. She looked down at herself, biting on her lower lip.
Needless to say her clothes were a little too fancy for traveling and fighting. This caused great inconvenience for her, she knew it very well too. It was just that that
She wasnt ready.
Everyday when she woke up in the morning she pretended it was just another peaceful, ordinary day of her life. She pretended she was going home soon, she pretended it was all just some kind of a tour, a field trip, and she would go back to flower-selling in no time.
And look what her cowardice had cost them.
Instead of making her mother and her people chase after her with dreams and visions, she shouldve been more willing to seek them out on her own. If she was more willing to seek answers, maybe they wouldve gotten to the temple sooner, and Tseng wouldnt be murdered. If she were more willing to conquer her fear and learn how to defend herself, maybe Jenova wouldnt have gotten the Black Materia through Cloud. Only if she was more brave
Aeris slowly unbuttoned her dress, it fell to the floor silently. She stepped out of it and changed into the outfit she had just taken out of her pack.
No more. She would not run anymore! Running didnt solve any problems, it only makes it worse. Now that their situation was looking more grim than ever, she couldnt afford to be a liability anymore.
She would not run anymore! For her friends who understood her and trusted her, for Cloud who was like the brother she never had, for Tseng, whose death waiting to be avenged, and for Sephiroth for Sephiroth who protected her with life, she will face her heritage and become a true Cetra.
Aeris knelt down and closed her eyes, clasping her hands tightly in front of her chest, praying to her ancestors for guidance. After only short moments, a brilliant light slowly appeared in front of her, she opened her eyes and held out both her hands. The light settled into her palms, materializing into a beautifully crafted mages staff.
"Thank you." Aeris whispered, standing up.
Just then she heard a knock on the door.
"Come in." She said.
Sephiroth opened the door and walked in. When he saw her attire, he raised one eyebrow slightly. "I thought I heard you. How are you feeling?"
"I'm alright thank you."
He looked at her staff with questions in his eyes. Aeris answered him before he voiced his thoughts, "Its Princess Guard, a Cetra mages weapon." She looked at the staff in her hands, and then looked up at him: "Sephiroth?"
"Do you do you know how to handle a staff?"
"Then Will you teach me how to use it properly?"
He stared at her for a moment, seeming to understand her thoughts. His expression softened as he walked up to her and, a little hesitantly, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder: "Of course, Aeris."
"Thank you." Aeris muttered, taking several deep breaths to calm herself.
It was about time that she fought back.
As you can see, Cloud WAS a SOLDIER in my story. More of his past will be explained in the sequel.
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