Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter One
Choice For The Future
By Paul Nathans
It was over.
How many times had that been something thought by others, only for them to be proved wrong time and again. Those who don't learn from the mistakes from the past seemed to be doomed to repeat them in the future. Those who don't understand their past, or can't come to terms with it, may not have any future.
Such was the case of Sephiroth.
'Why the philosophical reminiscing now?'
'That's our second failure? If we lose again things rip apart?'
'I know. We want it vice-versa, we want our own essences back?'
'And you still are against destroying planets when someone uses the Black Materia to absorb their Lifestream? Its for our benefit.'
'But what of the benefit of others?'
'It doesn't matter. At least this time there won't be anyone to stop anymore Calamities from the Skies. I doubt they even know the Black Materia isn't even of this universe, or what they've really gotten into.'
'Don't take it further, please. For once, I think I'm beginning to understand why we ended up in this position in the first place.'
'Enough of your complaining. You know there is only one way out. We've made our pact, and its either the planets or us. You think I'm not sick of seeing that blasted Meteor, living alongside it, then being forced inside when it travels to ensure its destination. We're the only way it gets repaired, and we can't stop. We're so close!'
'To what! It'll start again, and we'll end up elsewhere? Holy ripped apart the Meteor. We're free. We can't become targets if we hide.'
'And our essences can't fully be freed if we d and succeed.'
'Point.' There was a sigh. 'So how do we make up for this error?'
'Simple. If there's no more Meteor for half our essences to ride and repair every time it gets summoned from this place, we find another force of nature, fill it with the powers, and disguise it, then accomplish our objective. We've never had three failures on any particular planet, this won't be the first.'
'Make it clearer.'
'I will, if you continue to listen. I was just getting to that.'
The last of the shimmering, green light faded away, as did the light of Holy.
Meteor had vanished.
Cloud hadn't been aware he'd been clutching the side of the airship until now, when his hands began to throb with pain as he moved them away, and let out a half-held breath of relief.
Cheers erupted from Cait Sith, and his moogle began to dance, tossing him up and down. Yuffie immediately made for his Materia, and was nailed on the head as he waved his arms, his HP Shout still held. She withdrew.
Barret looked up at the sky, wondering if all the people who had perished in the Sector 7 Collapse in Midgar knew that others had succeeded where they had failed, while Red XIII simply sat and relaxed, the same as Vincent, who just stared out at the sky, solemn.
"I'm sorry it turned out this way, Sephiroth," he said.
Cid resisted the urge to snap at him, momentarily pausing in his harsh scolding of the Crew-Members' Actions. He was thankful they had done what they did, but if he let them think they could fly Airships into small spaces, who knew how many times they'd keep it up?
Cloud slowly began to smile again, and Tifa joined in the cheer, spinning Cloud around and trying to drag him into the throng. "Meteor, Sephiroth, Shinra, all gone!" she laughed, letting the breeze and light that was penetrating through the slowly-fading storm clouds touch her face. "A lot farther than Barret ever expected AVALANCHE to go, and yet it happened!"
Cloud, still not knowing what to say right now, let her lead him into the throng, and, for that particular time, allowed himself to fully relax and celebrate.
The Rocket-Airship set down near the City of the Ancients, in a small, non-tree-filled area just southeast of the valley in which the city was. Tifa and Cloud stepped out, and they began to walk through the forest, followed slowly by the others. Yuffie, for once, wasn't eyeing any Materia.
It was as though the creatures themselves knew what had happened, and weren't disturbing the small procession. They reached the edge of the cliff and looked down on the city without encountering so much as a non-carnivorous animal.
This had all been decided soon after the celebration was over. Tifa stepped forward, fully into the now-totally-clear morning light, cleared her throat, and was the first to speak.
"I know its probably not much, now, Aeris, but we all know what you did, the price you paid. Perhaps the last of your kind, you made a larger sacrifice than anyone in AVALANCHE could have done." She had to stop to prevent tears from brimming in her eyes, then continued. "You were the most optimistic of us, thinking about the future more than any of us ever had. You softened all of us with your cheerful way, at least, those of us who had been expecting only to fight and not to enjoy our travels.
"You were optimistic, and gave us the opportunity for us to have a future to look towards." Her eyes did brim here, but she quickly regained composure. "You gave not only us a future, you gave the billions of humans, no, every living thing on this planet a future, where otherwise nothing could've been done. You gave us one last chance to provide a future for all, we took it, and granted that wish."
She finally allowed tears to stream freely down her cheeks, before concluding the statement. "We all thank you for giving us a future, and for helping all of us in anyway you could. We'll never forget you. Goodbye," she had to wipe tears from her eyes before finishing ,"Aeris."
She tried to rejoin the group, and stumbled. Cloud helped her up and led her to the rest of the group as Red XIII stepped up to the edge of the cliff overlooking the city. He, too, cleared his throat.
"Grandfather was repetitively trying to teach me to look beyond what I thought I saw, into the inner meanings of all that I could. Until you helped comfort me in that cage, showing me that I wasn't the only person who may be the last of my kind, the only being who seemed to not truly know who he/she was, or his/her purpose, I never thought I'd know much more than what I saw.
"By explaining who you were, and that you were estranged from most others, you helped me to look inside myself, to question most things, to search for others. I began to live as the son of the Warrior Seto should. Back then, I deserved nothing more than the name Red XIII, my tatoo number. You brought forth the true Nanaki out of a closed soul. I thank you for this " he almost shed a tear now ,"and farewell, my friend. I hope you enjoy truly being part of the planet."
He walked back into the group, his statement only making this task more solemn. Cloud almost began to shed a few tears himself, but managed to remain strong, holding Tifa as she cried and stood next to him, for both hers' and Aeris' sakes.
Barret was next, having to be urged on by Cait Sith and Cid before he could even start to make an attempt at doing something he hated: making a speech. Nevertheless, he stepped forward, and began.
"Aeris, I've gotta' give you some thanks in some way orally, but since there's really only one specific thing I can thank you for, I'll try as best as I can to put as much meaning in my words as my pals here."
He paused for a few seconds, then continued.
"Back when Sector 7 collapsed, you saved my daughter, Marlene. When the Sector collapsed, I began to wonder if there was any point in saving the planet, its either sacrificing billions, or the ones you hold dear. 'Least that's what I thought, and I began to think I made the incorrect choice. You provided me more hope to go on, you did it by showing that you'll still have those who stick by ya' to make sure you help those more in need. Twice you sacrificed something for Marlene, first, your freedom, which could be restored, then, your life, which can't. I'm eternally grateful for your help, and I'm sure my daughter is, too." He took a deep breath before finishing, hoping that would increase the solemnity. "Goodbye."
He stepped back to the group, and Cait Sith stepped up. Yuffie snickered, but stopped when she was punched in the arm by Vincent.
"Y'know, back after I had to explain I was part a' Shinra, back at the Gold Saucer, by the way, sorry for interrupting your date," Yuffie snickered again, and this time Cid stuffed a useless All Materia into her mouth to shut her up ,"you didn't seem to get upset with me.
"And then came the Temple of the Ancients, when I sent my first model to grab that blasted Black Materia, which, by the way, should be just that now, I hope, you showed you were the only one who believed I might be trying to change when you asked me to tell your fortune. I'm sorry it didn't turn out true, Tifa might not be," the former AVALANCHE Member glared at him, as did Cloud ,"but it kept me hoping maybe Shinra was wrong. I should've given your home much more Sunlight, but be assured, Midgar will get that soon. See ya' in the Lifestream!"
He strode back to the group, and Cid stepped forward, while the shocked Yuffie finally removed the All Materia from her mouth and aimed it at the back of his head. Vincent grabbed it from her and followed up with a glare that told her to shut up.
"I didn't really know you for long, even though I probably would've wanted to. Heck, if not for you doing what was write, I may not be alive much longer, or, even now. Thanks to you, I can keep the memories of entering space.
"Also, you complained a bit about how my friend Shera might've been right about the malfunction in the Oxygen Tanks, and for treating her harshly because of it. Well, you might wanna' know she was right, which I found out the hard way. Shera managed to save my life then, further proving she only had the right thing in her heart. There's little more I can thank you for, but about this, I can truly say, you were right."
He stepped back to the group, and it was Vincent's turn now. He stepped up to where the others had spoken, cleared his throat, and started his own speech.
"I don't know if this is true or not, but I have a feeling it is. I was upset about how I thought I was the one who was responsible for Sephiroth suffering through what he did, something I've realized isn't true. But I don't know how far I would've kept on going without your aid. I thought I'd lost Lucrecia, I thought I'd been responsible for creating a maniac, and I may not have had the spirit to keep on going if not for your cheerful way. That's one thing I can thank you for.
"I also know that you might've been the only person who could've gotten through to the real Sephiros, the one that perished, in a way, that day he learned what he thought was his past in Nibleheim. If not for Hojo, no, if not for the Shinra, he could've had a normal life, something you might've been able to give him. Rest in peace, and remember us all."
He stepped back into the crowd, with Tifa and Cloud becoming even more depressed. Cid managed a halfhearted smile in Yuffie's direction, and she gaped, pointing at herself, mouthing the word "me!?"
Cid had to shove her forward before she, stuttering, walked up to the area where all the others had made their speeches. She kept scratching her head, trying to think of what to say for a while, before starting.
"I don't think I've got a good place to start, but here could be a nice place. I can start by thanking you for doing something about that annoying Black Materia, something I didn't care for very much, although I wish I could get your White Materia now. You knew how to use them well, something you should've been able to teach me, and, well -AWK!!!!!"
She was cut off with a startled scream as Cid forcefully dragged her back to the group. She opened her mouth to speak, and got a Fire Materia, a type she hated, shoved into it this time. It didn't take long to remove it and attempt to pocket it, but Cid swiped it back and silenced her with another glare.
And now it was Cloud's turn. Tears streaming openly down his face, with a reassuring look from Tifa, who also nodded slightly to say she could take care of herself now, he started forward.
It wasn't long before he reached the area overlooking the City of the Ancients, and he had to choke back sobs for a while before he could begin.
"Aeris, it was at my request this was done. I felt our solemn farewell to you back after you ," he choked back a sob, unable to say the word ,"wasn't enough. I-we all cared for you more than you could probably imagine. You've helped every living being on this planet, no, maybe in the universe, because there's no more Meteor for the Black Materia to summon, and another will never be created, since its gone. But most of all, you probably helped our group."
Making no move to stop the tears that were still flowing down his face, he went on. "For me, first off, your attempt to make flowers grow in Midgar saved my life. Actually, that's second. You provided a place of darkness, a place where there wasn't much hope, with light, and perhaps hope. You touched the hearts of everyone you met, never carrying a grudge, never holding anger towards others.
"After I lost my hometown, and my friend Zacks, I'm sorry for not remembering about him when you heard about him in Gongaga, I felt as if there really wasn't much to do but become a mercenary with completely hidden emotions. Even Tifa couldn't fill the void in my heart. But you gave me a purpose, a reason to go on. You brought me out of myself and back to what it felt like to be a person. You gave us all hope when none seemed to remain. We'll never forget what you did for everyone." He choked back another sob.
"So long, Aeris. We'll always hold your thoughts, your memories, in our hearts."
He just stood there for a while, until Tifa walked up next to him, gently sobbing. He slipped his arm around her again, and both of them stood there, allowing their grief to pour out freely, while the others stood behind, occasionally shedding a tear, and waiting solemnly.
The Rocket-Airship gently settled down near Cosmo Canyon. Red XIII walked to the edge of the Airship, paused, and looked back at his friends.
"Once again, I can assure you this is not the last time we part ways. I requested we return to Cosmo Canyon. I no longer can do much to protect the planet. I now leave, and once more, thanks for everything."
The parting was undeniably brief. He leapt from the side of the ship, paws touching the ground. Taking one last look back at his friends, he stampeded forward. The group watched until he'd disappeared over the horizon.
"Farewell, Nanaki," whispered Cloud. "We'll meet again."
Once the airship had taken to the skies again, Cid turned to the others.
"Do I drop anyone off next, or is there something else you plan on dragging me into?" He chuckled momentarily after the statement.
Cloud did not respond. There was nothing much to say. He hadn't said much since the destruction of Meteor, and seemed even more closed now that they had given a parting speech to Aeris. When Barret had inquired of what they should do next, it had been Red XIII who spoke up.
Now they were expecting a response from Cloud.
"Your choice," he said.
"I'm hightailing it back to Wutai!" Put in Yuffie. "And you're all forking over the Materia! That town gets returned to its former glory, where our order can run again, or no one gets Materia back! That's a fact!"
"Its also a fact that you're not getting any Materia, Yuffie!" Cid retorted.
"You'll get dumped off a Wutai, all right! The hard way! Go find some Materia in those mountains! If they represent creatures that are probably good for summoning! Besides, for cryin' out loud, Materia's not gonna' do anything to your town! Maybe you think you want the Materia for the town, if your old man wants it, the same with him, maybe you just want it and he's chasing false hopes!"
"The Wutai War would be a good place for the Shinra to start making amends," put in Cait Sith. "I'll use Cait Sith Model 2 to keep an eye on things directly there, while as Reeve, I can have a lot of influence."
Yuffie looked slightly shocked, but a little suspicious.
"Well?" inquired Cid.
"All right," she grudgingly conceded. "But if you're lying you're not going to have any more stuffed bodies to worry about!"
Cait Sith glared at her, but conceded.
"Vincent?" asked Barret.
"Drop me off at the Chocobo Farm," he said, sighing. "I'm taking that Sea Chocobo, Chocos, to the cavern Lucrecia's been in. I intend to find out why she was there," he paused, then continued ,"and tell her the truth about Sephiros."
Before anyone could comment on that, he walked to the place of the ship he seemed to like standing near most frequently and began gazing at the sky.
"As for me, I'm going to see if any part of that rocket in Midgar, Sector 6 Slums is salvageable!" He turned around to the three ship crewmen on deck. "Yo, you!"
Then spun around and snapped a salute. "You guys have my PHS's, unless I need pickup, and/or if any of my friends here allow it, you'll be piloting it for them! Tell that to those other dolts, and DON'T PRESS ANY EMERGENCY LEVERS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!!!!!"
"I'll go back to Midgar, for now, I guess," muttered Barret. "I'm making sure Reeve himself gets it out to the populace that the AVALANCHE aren't terrorists!"
Cait Sith nodded.
Tifa looked at Cloud. "And you?"
"Later. I don't know now what I'm going to do."
Tifa sighed. "Let's go. I suppose I'll get the pilots to drop me off at Nibleheim after the rest of you. There has to be some other link to my past there."
It was nighttime again by the time Barret and Cid had been dropped off. Cloud had asked for the airship to be piloted over to the mountains near Kalm Town, where they had parked the airship those seven days before the Meteor would crash, before their adventure had come to a close.
"Its funny, isn't it?" asked Tifa softly. "We don't know whether we'll see any of them again, yet its like we will, the same as when you sent them to find their reason for fighting." She half-smiled.
"Maybe," answered Cloud. "I figured since you'd liked that night under the stars, we could look at the sky again."
Tifa smiled warmly. "Sure. That'll be relaxing."
Cloud suddenly seemed to focus again, and he felt a head resting on his shoulder. He realized they'd both dozed off again, and looked down at Tifa, smiling at her peaceful form.
He continued to watch her sleeping form, using the time to think over what he was going to do. There was nothing for him in Nibleheim, and there was no way he was going back to becoming a mercenary again.
He almost moved his right arms, before he realized that might cause Tifa to fall, waking her up. Looking down at her again, he realized that there was only one option right now. He gently placed her on the cool stone, and took a soft towel out of his traveling pack. He slowly lifted her head and placed it on the towel.
In the moon's glow, she seemed like a sleeping angel. He realized he'd have to hurry, or he might not be able to go through with this. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket, one of his many spare ones, and used one of his two pens to write a note on it. After he decided it would explain what was going on fully, he folded it, wrote her name on it, and placed in next to the 'pillow' her head was on.
"I'm sorry, Tifa," he whispered, sighing. "I wish it didn't have to be this way." Just as quietly as he had performed his previous actions, he smoothed her hair, then began to walk away. As he was near the horizon, he glanced once more at her sleeping form, and, before he could change his mind, turned away and strode into the distance.
When Tifa's eyes fluttered open that morning, it was only a few seconds before she realized she had dozed off, and, strangely, Cloud wasn't nearby.
She sat up and glanced around. "Cloud?" She called quietly.
A little more urgent this time. "Cloud?"
When there was no answer this time, panic struck. She jumped up and scanned the area, finding no trace of him. "Cloud, where are you!!" she screamed.
That's when she noticed the towel, and realized he must have placed her like that. She also noticed the note, sat down, and looked at it.
Hands shaking, and not understanding what was going on at all, she opened the letter and read the words.
I'm sorry for the fact that this probably caused you to worry at first, but I saw no other way around it. If you remember, besides saving the planet, the main reason I went after Sephiroth was to settle that score with him. Even though, I realized in the Crater, that wasn't true, I also know there's nothing left for me here. I don't know where I'm going, and I'm afraid I might end up someplace dangerous, thus putting you in danger, as well.
That's why I left. I hope sometime we'll meet again, but as of now, our paths lead apart.
Fondly Remembering You,
Now tears were brimming in her eyes. Her hands shaking even more, she closed the letter and placed it back in its original position.
"Why, Cloud?" she whispered, even though she knew the answer in both her mind and her heart.
She collapsed on the ground where she had been sleeping, and it wasn't long before sobs racked her body.
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