A Promise Kept Chapter 3

Hatred and Gratitude

By Karura


"Get outta here, or I'll send ya on a quest fer da Promised Land now!" (Barret)


"It's really easy. Whistle at the right time, Mr. Dolphin will jump, and you will land on top of the beams. You can reach the base easily from there." Priscilla explained solemnly, proud of being able to help out people a lot older than her. She curled up her little fingers and put it to her mouth, "Watch."

As she whistled, the huge blue dolphin leapt out of the water with great strength, flipped in the air and came back down. It almost reached the top of the electric tower.

"Impressive." Barret muttered.

Priscilla smiled at the large man, no longer afraid of him.

Cloud nodded: "Yes, very impressive indeed. I will do it, and then I'll open the gate for you guys. Any objections?"

No one objected, and Cloud smiled: "Then, I'll see you later."

"Wait." Priscilla called to him, handing him an icy-blue materia: "This is a special summoning materia, I forgot to give it to you yesterday." She blushed a little, "Thank you for saving my life."

Cloud took it from her and nodded kindly: "You are welcome, and thank you." He put it into his pocket, then took a deep breath as he walked into the water: "All right, here goes nothing."

It took him two tries, but finally his feet caught the beam, he wrapped them around it and pulled himself up, feeling a little disoriented from the flight.

After making sure he had balance, he glanced down, and saw his friends cheering for him.

"We'll meet you at the gate, good luck!" Tifa called to him.

Cloud's lips curled upward into a smile. He waved to them, and quickly found his way to the base.

As his figure disappeared from their sight, Aeris bent down and hugged Priscilla: "Thank you so much for helping us."

"It's nothing. You helped dad when he was sick in Midgar." Priscilla smiled to her, and shoved a folded square of paper into her hand.

"What is it?" Aeris asked curiously.

"Flower seeds. I gathered them for you this spring. It was a small flower, very beautiful, but I didn't know the name of it." Priscilla told her, "After they bloom, write to me, and tell me their name, will you?"

"I will… I…Thank you." Aeris hugged the girl again, blinking back the tears. She wanted to make a promise, but from what she knew from her vision, this would be one promise she can not keep.

"We have to go." Tifa said just then, "Rufus is in town today, they are busy with a celebration. With luck, we might be able to get onto the ship unnoticed."

Aeris nodded and stood up: "Take care, Priscilla."

"Good bye." Priscilla waved as everyone bid her farewell, even the strange man and the red beast.

Silently, she wished them good luck, and went back to her house.


As Cloud sneak into the base, he couldn't help noticing the huge airship above:

The Highwind, Shinra's pride.

Cloud's face darkened. Shinra has too much power… dangerously too much. And he could tell Rufus would be much worse than his father. The old man was only a greedy old coward… But Rufus… he was another story.

Cloud spotted a building to the south, and went in.

He came to the right place. The hall was filled with soldiers. Cloud calmly walked past them, looking around with a blank face.

He spotted a short guy in the corner, and approached him: "You, can you tell me where's the locker room?"

"Yeah, it's down at the end." The guy looked at him and grinned, "In for the ceremony?"

Cloud nodded: "And can you tell me where's the gate? I need to get there too."

"The gate? Go west from here and it's like three blocks away… You new?"

"Yeah… Thanks a lot." Cloud started to walk away, but the guy called to him again: "Hey, where ya from?"

"Midgar." He replied without looking back, and heard a low mumbling: "Obnoxious morons."

Tifa leaned against the wall, watching the gate of the base intensely. They had been waiting for more than half an hour now, Cloud should be coming soon… If luck was on their side.

Glancing briefly at her companions, she could see Vincent stood in the shadows, hardly noticeable. Barret sat against the wall, with his massive arms folded across his chest, apparently taking a nap. Next to him, Aeris sat with her hands wrapped around her knees, talking to Red in a low voice.

The Ancient's face seemed calm and peaceful enough, Tifa briefly wondered what made her so upset last night. She wanted to ask Aeris, wanted to know what she and Cloud talked about… But what right did she have to poking her nose in others' private business? Tifa felt a bitterness in her mouth as she looked at Aeris.

She quickly turned her eyes back to the gate and shook her head. No, jealousy is one ugly thing; she wouldn't let it come between the twp of them. If Cloud should love Aeris, she would give them her blessings… even if it's the hardest thing for her to do.

Suddenly the gate cracked open, Tifa narrowed her eyes. It was a guard in Shinra uniform, but Tifa knew Cloud's frame too well not to recognize him. She got to her feet and kicked Barret lightly: "C'mon, let's go!"

Cloud glanced around warily as his friends ran to join him hastily. Without a word they headed for the elevator, got in and closed it at once.

Everyone breathed out a sigh of relief as Cloud handed each a set of uniforms: "Listen, the ship is not leaving any time soon, and I don't know exactly when it will leave. Luckily it's a mess in town right now, so that shouldn't be too much problem. Let's find an Inn and rest for a while, I'll go investigate, mainwhile you guys just stay out of sight, especially you, and you." He nodded to Vincent and Red.

Barret chuckled: "Too bad, Red, if you were Black XIII you could probably pass for a guard dog."

Red snorted: "Very funny."


Tifa sat on the hotel bed, looking out the window at the busy streets down below. Cloud was right; everything in this town was a mess, lucky for them.

A soft knock on the door, and Aeris entered the room, already dressed in Shinra uniforms.

Tifa lifted an eyebrow in surprise: "We are not going anywhere for a while."

"I know… I want to take a look around. I'll be back in no time, but thought I'd better let you know."

Tifa frowned slightly in worry: "Why? You should stay here, Cloud said he would handle the investigations."

Aeris smiled: "I'm not going to get into trouble. I just want to take a look around."

"Want me to go with you?"

"No… I'll be all right, just want to take a walk, that's all."

Tifa sighed. Although she knew Aeris only for less than a month, she knew her well enough. It's not easy to persuade her, once she made up her mind.

"Be careful then." She told her, "And come back soon."

Aeris nodded, lowered the mask over her eyes, and left.


She walked in the streets, feeling his presence.

He's here. Sephiroth, he is definitely here.

The Cetras always had sharp six senses; they could feel a certain things that no one else could feel, the presence of Jenova being one.

Aeris lowered her head in thoughts. She could’ve told the others about her gut feeling, and wait for Cloud to return… but she felt the urge to go near him, to find out more about him, to find out…

Find out what? Find out if he was going to kill her?

Aeris smiled bitterly to herself: Well, she had the right to know her killer.

She was not thinking much about where she was going. She only followed her instincts, when suddenly she felt a sharp glance upon her back.

"Boy, you are late!" A head guard addressed her directly, making a gesture for her to join the line.

Aeris swallowed nervously, but she knew better than to refuse. With a quick nod, she filled in as the head guard commanded.

Her commander seemed satisfied, and turned his attention back to the others: "All right, your task is simple. When the lines pass by, just march in and do the goddamned salutes, got it? And don't any of you screw up, or I will break your nose personally! You hear me?"

Perfectly. Aeris thought sarcastically, only somebody please tell me, what goddamned thing is he referring to?

A silver car passed her by, she stole a glance of Rufus in it, dressed in white as usual and waving to the crowd. Marching soldiers followed the car, and the front of her line started to move.

Aeris felt herself sweating. She never had any kind of military training, if she screw up this one, she'll very likely end up in Shinra's hands again… And Sephiroth is very close by…

"Ancient, we meet again." Someone filled in behind her, and commented.

Aeris froze completely. She could recognize him without turning around.

Her senses did not serve her wrong. "Sephiroth." She whispered, "You are here."

" I have a welcome to give the new President of Shinra." Sephiroth replied coldly. Aeris felt a chill, as she felt his gaze on her back.

"Listen, if you don't want to blow your cover, do as I say." He pushed her lightly: "Now go!"

Aeris stumped forward, to find herself pushed into the line. She adjusted her steps to follow the rhythm, as Sephiroth filled in gracefully after her.

"Head up, shoulders flat." He whispered coldly behind her, in the commanding tone of a general, "You are too tense, curve your arms a little… don't lost the steps!"

She heard him sigh impatiently behind her back: "Damn it! If you were my man I'd…"

"I'm only a flower girl." She couldn't help but retort in a whisper, feeling more confident as she marched on. Enemy or not, Sephiroth was a great general.

"Salute with you gun!" He ordered.

Startled, Aeris did as she was told, and finding everyone else doing the same. If she were left on her own, she would have missed that by more than a beat.

"Down." He told her, again she obeyed and her… rather, his timing was precise.

Aeris let out a sigh of relief as they marched past the crowd… Fewer people were watching now, even the head guard did not glance back anymore.

Suddenly Sephiroth grabbed her hand, snatching her into a dark alley.

Aeris panicked for a second, but once they were safely out of sight, he released her immediately, indicating that he did not like the contact any more than she did.

"I don't know why those fools you call friends let you wonder around like this, but go back to them, and stay out of sight. Next time you will not be so lucky." He told her. Even though he was wearing the dull Shinra uniform with the stupid mask, she could sense his dark expression underneath.

She stared at him for a moment: "Why did you help me?"

"Because I don't want that young Shinra to have you, and I'm expecting you in Nibelheim in a few days." Sephiroth smiled… more like a smirk than a smile actually; "You are special like me, young Cetra… I haven't decided yet, but if anyone was to take your life, that person would have to be me."

With those words he turned to walk away, didn't look back even once.

Aeris stared after him, and murmured: "We'll find out soon enough." She turned the opposite direction, and broke into a run for the inn.


"Where is Aeris?" Cloud asked, looking around impatiently, "I thought I told all of you not to leave, the ship will sail in an hour."

Tifa lowered her head: "I'm sorry, she said she'll be back soon, and…"

"It's not your fault." Cloud told her, his eyebrows knotted together in worry, "Damn! What if Rufus caught her? Even Sephiroth could be here."

"He was here, I met him." Aeris said, walking in and closed the door behind her.

"You what?" everyone except Vincent cried, and even Vincent stared at her in shock.

"I met him." Aeris repeated calmly, "He said he'll be wainting for us in Nibelheim."

Cloud ran to her and grabbed her arm anxiously: "Did he hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine." She reassured him with a smile, "I was caught up in the ceremony and was forced to march along… Sephiroth was there, and he helped me out, or I would probably have been exposed."

"What? Sephiroth helped you?" Barret's jaw dropped, "But that lunatic…"

"He didn't want Rufus to catch me." Aeris told him, "And he said he was here to give Rufus a welcome."

Red frowned, a funny expression for him: "What does he mean by a welcome?"

Cloud shook his head: "Whatever he meant, it can't be good coming from him." He looked around at everyone, "Should we interfere?"

Vincent spoke in his low voice: "Don't. We need not worry about them making an alliance. Let's just go to Nibelheim."

"Right, leave Sephiroth and Rufus to kill each other, that saves us a lot of trouble." Barret grinned.

Vincent shot him a dark look: "That's not what I said."

"That's what I hope for anyway." Tifa said under her breath and turned to Cloud, "You said the ship is leaving, shall we go?"

Cloud nodded: "Yeah, let's get ready."


Tifa stood on the deck, looking into the horizon. It was a fine day actually, with the sun shining brightly and clouds drifting high.

Luck was with them; they went on the boat successfully without any trouble. Now everyone scattered around, disguising as crewmembers until the ship reach destination. Barret was somewhere near the engines, Aeris stood by the rails, Cloud was with her, Vincent and Red XIII went to hide in the storage, since they could’t really put a disguise on themselves.

Tifa let out a soft sigh. From where she stood, she could see Aeris leaning casually, talking to Cloud. She couldn't see Cloud's face, but Aeris seemed pretty happy, as she bursted into laughter every now and then.

Again Tifa felt a familiar pang in her heart. She wanted to walk to them, to join their conversation, but she knew she would ruin it. Cloud used to open up to her, but not anymore. Now he always grew silent when she was around, and he only opened up to Aeris… only to Aeris…

Tifa shook her head, turning back to look at the waves underneath her. There she goes again. It's not good, Aeris has done nothing wrong, and she won't let it come between their friendship. Although she didn't know her for long, she liked and respected this young Ancient, despite her sometime mysterious ways. If only… If only he would talk to her, the way he talked to Aeris.

"Look Cloud, Tifa is right over there." Aeris nodded at her direction.

Cloud turned his head for a moment: "Good, at least we three are not scattered too far apart."

Aeris looked at him expectantly: "Don't you want to go talk to her?"

Cloud avoided her eyes: "I'll stay with you, in case something happens. Tifa can take care of herself."

"I can manage by myself too." She sounded slightly irritated, "I'm not that useless."

"I'm your bodyguard." He told her flatly.

Aeris rolled her eyes in a childish way: "Remember, you don't get paid extra for taking your job too seriously."

He found himself chuckle at that. Somehow it was really easy for him to relax in front of Aeris, to talk and laugh as if he led a normal life.

He looked at the horizon, squinting as the form of land slowly became visible.

"We are almost there, better get ready." He told her, "Go to Tifa, and I'll get the others."

"I told you, I can take care of myself!" Aeris sighed, but did what she was told, joining Tifa as Cloud disappeared around the corner.

"Cloud said to get ready." Aeris told her, "We are almost there."

Tifa nodded: "I know." She didn't look at Aeris.

Aeris frowned slightly: "Is there something wrong?"

Tifa quickly shook her head: "No, nothing, I'm just a little tired." She smiled at Aeris; "We better go to the lower decks now, C'mon."

Aeris followed her in silence. Something was definitely wrong, she had a vague idea just what exactly that was, but now would not be a good time to confront it.


Once the ship reached its destination, getting off it was as easy as getting on.

"Damn that *&^% Shinra ship stinks!" Barret grumbled as he walks straight toward the inn: "I need a shower."

"So do we, and some good food." Red said, as Vincent rolled his eyes, murmuring: "Shin-ra's food quality had not improved a bit over the thirty years."

"Accept the fact, they are cheap." Tifa told him bitterly, as they arrived at the inn.

"You know, sometime I wonder what do these people do all day." Tifa said, leaning on the window frame looking down. From the streets to the beach, people were all lightly dressed, women with even less fabric on them than men did. There were couples kissing in the streets, displaying actions that were not intended for the public eye.

She sighed, wondering if these people knew about the dangers threatening their lives. Weren't they ever alarmed by Shinra's growing power, by the rumors of Sephiroth and Jenova?… or maybe they simply didn't care at all? And if most people didn't care, why should they have to risk their lives for something that was not even appreciated?

Aeris approached her with a gentle smile on her face: "Tifa, what we are doing will be appreciated."

Tifa turned back at her, startled. No matter how much time she spent with Aeris, she'll never figure her out completely. Aeris seemed so naïve at times, but other times she can precisely read the thoughts of others.

Tifa shook her head to herself: "I know… but sometimes, I wish my life was… well, normal." Suddenly a flash of rage lit her eyes: "It would probably have been, if Sephiroth didn't destroy my home five years ago!"

Aeris opened her mouth to speak, but Vincent suddenly came forward to the window, his eyes narrowed as he pointed at the beach: "Look."

Everyone gathered around them to take a closer look. Something dark slowly emerged from the sea. Vincent, who was gifted with extremely sharp vision, muttered: "It's a sea dragon."

"What?" Cloud yelled, grabbing his sword and rushed for the stairs.

Red took a more direct approach, he jumped out of the window, while everyone else followed Cloud, weapons in hands.

Not losing a second, they ran for the beach, while Barret cursed out aloud: "Damn it! Ain't sea dragon suppose ta be f*&^ing deep sea $hit?"

"Watch your language! And yes, normally they don't come to the shores." Tifa answered bitterly, "I hope no one gets injured before we get there."

People on the beach were in complete chaos. Panicked crowd scattered everywhere but most of them, who didn’t lose it completely, headed for the town, bumping into Cloud's company. A heavy built man knocked Aeris down.

Vincent helped Aeris to her feet while Barret shouted: "Outta my way or turn your ass and fight! Cowards!"

"This is not good!" Red groaned, "Look at the nutshell over there! He's running toward the beast! If we fight we might injure them as well."

"I'll try to prevent that." Aeris said, gripping her staff tightly.

As they came closer to the beach, Cloud suddenly slowed down: "Something is wrong."

"It's… not very aggressive, is it?" Tifa slowed down as well, carefully approaching the beast, "As I recall, sea dragons are very short-tempered."

Still in the water, the enormous black dragon suddenly roared, sending a deafening blast of poisonous breath in their face.

Aeris clapped her hands together, with a word of prayer, a current of cool, sparkling wind swept over them, blowing the dark mist away.

Cloud saw his chance coming and dashed forward. He jumped high, and quicker than lighting, his huge sword buried itself deep into the beast's throat.

The sea dragon roared again, but this time it was cut short into a dying rasp. Its long neck stiffened, and then without warning, crashed down onto the beach.

The party gathered around Cloud as he retrieved his sword from the dead monster.

"This is way too easy…" Tifa said with brows creasing, "Sea dragons are not so easy to deal with, that I know."

Aeris put a hand on her shoulder and whispered: "Look." Her voice was very uneasy.

Tifa looked in the direction and her eyes widened. The dead dragon had a deep cut on its back that went right through the stomach, as green blood still poured from it. In fact, the shallow water around its body was turning darker because of that. And she knew it was not Cloud's doing.

"Damn, this is gonna stink." Barret murmured, awestruck but disgusted.

"Who did this?" Cloud wondered out aloud, eyeing the dragon's wound. It is apparently a sword wound, not many people are capable of doing this, not even him, and the only person he could think of that has the capability is…

A gift for you, fellow Cetra.

Aeris heard a voice in her mind, and she shuttered: "Cloud, it's Sephiro…"

"No!" She was cut short by an angry scream, as a man in white robe stumbled toward them, "No!"

Aeris recognized him immediately, and took a step back, positioning her staff defensively.

Vincent came forward, blocking in front of Aeris protectively and his red eyes glowed with menace: "Hojo."

Hojo didn't even notice him, he ran beside the dead beast and screamed: "No! This can't be! My darling creation! "

"What the *&^%…" Barret spat, "Is he nuts?"

Vincent sound disgusted: "Hojo didn't only run experiments on human, he also studied genetics of animals… and mutants, or monsters."

The ill-looking man finally took notice of them, and he shrilled: "You… Did you kill my pet? I'll get you for this!"

"How ironic, I was thinking the same thing." Vincent said coolly, "Hojo, remember me?"

Hojo looked at him in surprise: "Vincent? How did you get out?" his thin lips curved into a nasty smile, "Why you look sad. Still mourning after my wife?"

Vincent raised his hand slowly, his gun shining brightly under the sun: "Lucrecia… and Sephiroth ought to be avenged. Any last words?"

Hojo grinned: "My, you certainly have a taste for melodrama."

Vincent stared at him for a minute, as Cloud and the rest stood silently behind him. Finally he put down his gun, his bloody red eyes unreadable: "You are not Hojo."

The man laughed: "That's the funniest thing I've ever heard. I thought after all these years, you should at least remember how I look."

His eyes turned to the rest of the party, and upon seeing Aeris, his eyes brightened: "Oh, I see you even have the Cetra with you. How on earth did you get together?"

Cloud took a step forward too: "That's none of your concern. Get out of here before you lose your head."

"Wait." Aeris put a hand on Cloud's shoulder and came forward to stand on his side: "Hojo, I wish to know, is this one of your creations?"

"Yes, my darling, yes…" He looked at her eagerly in a way that made Aeris's stomach turn, but her face remained calm as he spoke, "He is a beauty isn't he? He could have terrorized these pathetic fools over here, and then people would turn to Shinra for protection… But no! You had to destroy him! … Or was it the maniacal traitor’s doing?"

"Is this the way you speak about your son?" Deep in her heart Aeris felt a sorrow for Sephiroth. What his childhood must be like!

Hojo narrowed his eyes: "I see… Vincent told you everything. Well it doesn't matter, he was a marvelous piece of work until he turned insane… what a waste."

Cloud was surprised to see Aeris clenching her fists. He had never seen her show anger so openly. With a tight voice, Aeris said: "Go back to Midgar and tell the real Hojo, he'll get his due in time." Her voice dropped down to a whisper; "It's a promise."

Hojo didn't move: "I've spoke about much, now it's your turn. Tell me something, Cetra, tell me about the Promised Land."

Barret snarled: "Get outta here, or I'll send ya on a quest fer da Promised Land now!"

"Gee… some temper." Hojo shrugged, "Doesn't matter, I'll find out soon enough." He started to walk away.

Aeris looked after him and spoke quietly: "You will never find the answers you seek, Hojo. You are trying to create a world according to your desires, and… the answer to your question is therefore left for you to create too, but your world is a delusion against nature in the end... How do you find a real answer in delusion?"

Hojo stiffed, but after a pause, he walked on without looking back.

Barret looked confused: "Vincent, why did you let him go? I thought…"

"He's not the one." Vincent replied evenly.

"What do you mean he's not the one?" Red asked.

Aeris gave him a weak smile: "Vincent is right, he is not the real Hojo… He is identical to Hojo in every aspect, except… he doesn't have a soul. I believe he is… a clone, so you call it."

"A clone?" Tifa looked startled, "You mean… there are two Hojos now?"

"Could be more than that. They are all alike… except, the clones does not have a soul, and if it dies it just disappears, won't be able to enter the Lifestream." Aeris explained, a look mixed with anger and sadness on her face: "Hojo is playing with nature. If we allow him to continue on he will hurt the Planet, as Jenova would."

"But Jenova is the immediate threat, isn't she?" Cloud asked, his voice icy.

Aeris nodded: "I believe so."

Cloud smiled coldly: "Then we take care of Jenova first, Shinra could wait… We'll deal with Hojo, soon." Cloud looked at the sea dragon's corpse, his expression grim, "If Sephiroth did this, we will have a tough battle ahead."

"I'll kick his ass." Barret gritted his teeth.

Tifa agreed: "Then let's go back to the inn for now, we need to buy some more supplies, and then we can head for Nibelheim tomorrow morning."

Everyone nodded and started to walk back. Vincent looks at Aeris; she understood him and slowed down her pace to accompany him.

"You said you heard Sephiroth? How was that possible?" He asked quietly.

"Jenova is an advanced being. She could use telepathic communication to a certain degree… and I'm sensitive in that matter." Aeris whispered back.

Vincent nodded, after a moment, he said: "Aeris… honestly, is there a chance for him?"

Aeris fell silent. Part of her hated Sephiroth for endangering the Planet, but part of her pitied him, and even felt gratitude. After all, he did saved her in Junon, and now he helped to defeat this sea dragon. But… It’s also very likely that he would kill her the next time they meet.

Finally she sighed: "I'll try to help you as much as I could, but it will not be easy. Vincent, when he spoke to my mind… He called me fellow Cetra."

His brows creased: "When you spoke to him in the Shinra headquarter, I thought you convinced him."

"I thought so too, but apparently Jenova did work on him… Her control is hard to brake."

"…" Vincent looked sad, "I will kill him if necessary, but Lucrecia will never forgive me."

"Whatever you do, Lucrecia will appreciate your effort." Aeris told him gently but firmly, "That I know."


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