Early morning. Lia was instructing Ruther on proper axe swinging. "Now don't put too much of your weight into it, because if your axe gets deflected, so do you." He gave a light half-swing onto the dummy. The dummy's head rolled away down the floor. "Right. Not too much power, because it decapitates all the same, even with just a little bit of effort." Raieyana walked into the room.
She stopped and picked up the dummy's head. "I think you'll want this back, Lia," she said.
"Well Ray," asked Lia, "what can I do for you?"
"If you weren't busy, I was going to ask you to spar with me," she said.
Ruther replaced the dummy's head. "It's okay," he said, "we're basically done here. I'll watch." He went and reclined on a gymnast's vault horse.
"Staff or sword or sabre?" asked Lia. Raieyana took out her staff. Lia smiled, and took out hers. "Ruther, count to three."
"One, two, three!"
The two girls were a whirl of parries and blocks. Then they jumped back. Out came the blades on both of the staffs. Raieyana did a little quick twist and disarmed Lia. Then Lia was on her back with a blade at her throat. "I can't spar with you anymore, Ray," she said, "you're too fast for me."
Raieyana bit her lip. "But there isn't anyone else as good as you," she said.
"Ray, you're better than me," said Lia, getting up, "grasshopper, you're training is over. It's all in God's hands now. But I bet you could spar with me on an axe. Or with Ruther."
Raieyana wrinkled her nose. "I hate axes," she said.
"I know," said Lia, handing her an axe.
"Thanks, Lia," she said sarcastically.
"Get up Ruther. It's your turn," said Lia, "one, two three!"
Raieyana's first swings were tentative, learning the weight of the axe. Ruther swung at her--hard. She blocked it and he fell right down on his butt. Lia shook her head. "Don't put so much weight on a swing, especially against Ray. She's defensive with an axe, because she really hates the thing."
Raieyana gave the axe back. "Sure, tell him my technique. Well, I should probably get the other guys breakfast now."
"Ray, who decided to go with us?" asked Lia.
"Camilla, Blake, Drake, and..."
"Quake," said Lia, "so, Camilla and the triplets. Well, now we have four men on axes. This is going to be interesting. Go have breakfast, Ray." Raieyana smiled, and left. Lia picked up her axe. "Now Ruther, like this," she said, demonstrating the proper swing for the second time.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
(Raieyana is an excellent cook. I hardly miss the meat.) "Compliments to the chef," said Barret, as Raieyana came back from the kitchen with his third helping.
"Tifa helped me cook. But they were my recipes," she said modestly.
"So," said Cloud, "we leave tomorrow morning?"
"That's the plan," said Raieyana, "then we split up and search for the spot the spell was cast to begin with and there..."
"It all ends," said Cid.
"It all ends," murmured Raieyana. Her mind was on a manic spree, recalling everything from song lyrics to the memory of her dream. (I want to capture this moment as it floats beyond the skies/And hide beneath the wings of a bluebird as she flies... This is my last full day on earth. I want to savor everything, look at everything, try to memorize every detail, everything. But there was no malice in his eyes, not even in the dream...)
Suddenly, Lia and Ruther walked into the room. "We didn't miss all your wonderful cuisine, I hope?" she asked.
"There's plenty in the kitchen," Raieyana said blankly. Then she got up and went to her room. Cloud got up, wiping his face with a napkin.
"I should probably get back to practicing my sword-swinging," he said. In actuality, he followed Raieyana to her room.
"Ray," Cloud said, leaning in her doorway. She looked up from where she was sitting on her bed, deep in thought.
"Don't call me that," she said.
"Why not?" he asked. "Reeve calls you that all the time."
"Maybe it makes me uncomfortable when you do it."
"Raieyana, I really want to apologize for what happened in Junon. I hoped that you'd forgive me. I never would want to do anything to hurt you," he said.
"Cloud, you scared me. I wasn't afraid exactly of whether or not I would have been injured. Physical injuries heal quickly. What were you trying to do to me? I'm not going to try to answer that question, Cloud. It makes me uneasy just to think about it. But every time you have tried to talk to me or do anything since then, that question comes back to haunt me. And the truth is, I don't really want to know what would have happened if you hadn't regained control of yourself. But I think I may learn anyway, if you and I are ever alone again."
(What does he see in you?
I wish he didn't see anything, Tifa, I swear to God...)
"Raieyana... Please, if you'd just let me try to make it up to you, maybe you'd..."
"Cloud," she said, "leave me alone, please."
"I just want to get to know you better. What happened there was not my fault. Raieyana, I really like you. A lot."
"I'm sorry, Cloud. No."
"Why not?" he asked.
She looked at him. (He really is serious about this. Then I'll give him a serious answer.) "Cloud... I'm in love with Reeve," she said, "even if the thing in Junon had never happened. I still..."
"You know what, Raieyana," Cloud said, "I really did have strong feelings for Aeris. She died and then you came...it was like a miracle. You're two totally different people, but I saw the same things I loved in her, in you--and then some. Reeve might not know it, but if he's got you, then he has the one person in this world who is absolutely perfect."
Raieyana shook her head. "I'm not perfect." (If I was perfect, I could have saved Ishmael. If I was perfect, he wouldn't be dead. If I was perfect, I wouldn't die tomorrow by Reeve's hand.)
"Tomorrow--the crater," said Cloud.
"Yes," she said, "tomorrow it all ends." (Here I arrive at the beginning of the end. Is there a Promised Land? I don't know. If there is, will I finally see it with my own eyes? Tomorrow the last of the Cetra dies; but Sephiroth will never return. That is my reward, but what will be the cost to the Planet? Could it be greater than the price of Sephiroth's return?)