Redemption Chapter 27
By Janet Monstwillo
Raieyana held up one hand to stop the commotion. "Look...I'm sure he's fine. It looks like Reeve just took Cloud's chocobo out for a little spin." She stood up from the bird tracks she had been examining.
As she walked back to the house, Tifa turned to the others. "We should probably just drop it for now," she said softly, "and worry about Patrick. If it's what Raieyana wants, it's her family...her decision."
"What about Dad?" asked Ishmael.
"He's all right," said Aeris, "and I think he needs to be alone right now." She met her twin's eye and waited for his nod.
"Let's go inside." Ignoring his sister, he grabbed Kati's hand and walked quickly inside the house.
As the others turned and slowly went back to the house, Cloud looked at Aeris. "You all right?"
"He's never done that before."
"I'm sure he's under stress."
She bit her lip. "He's mad that I decided Patrick was in more danger--doesn't matter that it's the truth--and said Dad wanted to be alone. He wanted me to agree with what he felt and I can't do that if I know otherwise."
"Then don't be upset. Just feel sorry that he can't see things as clearly as you can. As long as you know what's most important to focus on, the little stuff will fall into place." He drew her close a placed a light kiss on her forehead.
"I'm worried about us...my family...and what this is going to do to us."
"Your mom and dad have been through a lot," Cloud said reassuringly. "Of course it will be difficult, but if they could survive your mother's death and all, everything will be all right."
"I'm not so sure," she said softly. "We've been ignoring a lot of things. If they all come to a head at once, we'll snap into pieces."
"I'll make sure no one tramples the Rissy piece."
She smiled a little and wrapped her arms around him. "At least I have that..." She took his hand. "Let's go inside."
Azura was just inside the doorway, hands on her hips. "You guys...I can't do anything without you here."
"What are we now, sweetie, your support group?" asked Aeris.
"Yes." The girl tossed back her black hair. "Well..." She lowered her voice. "I've been thinking about the prophecy. When I was supposed to be looking for Reeve." She gave them a sheepish look and continued. "So, I was thinking...when you two and me...and Pat were all together, wouldn't you say we bonded pretty well?"
"I suppose..." offered Cloud.
"If Rissy is the one who sees, I'll give you guys a guess as to who probably is the one doing the burning."
The two of them shrugged and pointed at Azura.
She smiled. "Precisely. I just don't know if you're grieving or learning, Cloud."
His eyes widened and he cocked his head to the side in thought. "Well, to be quite honest, I feel like it's a little bit of both."
"But you'd fit into one of the categories."
He glanced at Aeris, then nodded. "Most likely."
"I just wonder who our fourth is...I don't like anyone else as much as you guys."
"It's true, Riss. And I never really liked you before now."
Aeris laughed and gently pushed the younger girl back towards the kitchen. "Come on, Miss Congeniality, it's time to do what you were waiting for us to come back for."
(They're all looking at me.) Azura smiled nervously and addressed the room. "Lately, I've been having a real knack for using materia. The day at the Alcor building, I had used a Sense materia to peek inside from on the sidewalk." She held up a yellow orb and slipped it into her armlet. "I'm going to try and see...if not where Patrick is, then the last place he left strong vibes."
Yuffie gazed at her, not only in awe at her magic prowess, but at her maturity and grace. "She really is your daughter, Vince."
"I know," he replied, sipping coffee and gazing in wonder, as wisps of yellow energy surrounded her.
Aeris leaned on Cloud's shoulder, almost bracing herself in case a group vision took her senses over again. (Zuri still has no idea just how strong she really is.)
Cloud had one arm clasped around her waist, and another hand bracing the two of them in the doorway. Hard dirt was not a place to fall on one's knees.
But maybe Azura had harnessed her energy, for the others merely watched as she trembled, her eyes open and staring at sights unknown to them.
All at once, there was a brilliant flash, blinding the group for a moment. Vincent's eyes recovered the quickest. He was just in time to see his youngest daughter collapse. Hurrying over, he knelt at her side.
"I'll get her some water." Marta, always helpful, scooted off.
The others watched as he shook Azura--gently--and tapped her shoulder, hoping to bring her back to consciousness.
Her eyes finally opened and she looked up at her father in alarm.
"Sweetheart, are you okay?"
She shook her head furiously. "I saw--" Her whisper trailed off into the hushed silence. "It couldn't be. He wouldn't..."
Vincent held her for a moment.
Marta offered the glass to Azura, who took it with shaky hands and managed to swallow a sip.
All of this happened at the same time Aeris' eyes widened in horror and she staggered a bit backwards into Cloud.
"What is it?" he asked.
Vincent softly spoke to Azura. "What did you see?"
A tear rolled down Aeris' cheek.
"Flame...ash." Azura drew in a shuddering breath. "Wutai."
Yuffie and Vincent exchanged horrified looks, as the eerie silence was interrupted by the sound of the Highwind II returning from Kalm.
Aeris ran to Azura and pushed Vincent toward the door. "You want to go," she insisted, in a low voice.
"Who else is coming?" He addressed the others, then turned and looked on in disbelief as the older girl comforted his hysterical daughter.
"I'm going," said Ishmael. Kati was clinging to his arm.
"I've seen enough destruction," declared Cloud. "I'll stay here, with anyone who wants to, so those who wish to go can do it. No need to let the welfare of the rest of us weigh on your minds. You need to reach Wutai."
All of the occupants turned to leave. Vincent and Yuffie, hand in hand; close behind were Ishmael, Kati, and Sean; Marta, her hands buried in Red XIII's mane, followed closely by her mother. Raieyana paused at the doorway.
"They'll need your level head," said Cloud softly. She nodded and walked out.
A few minutes later, the whir of propellers announced the Airship's sudden departure. Azura broke away, brushing tears from her eyes. "My heart hurts," she whispered, "I need to sit a little while by myself." She stood, shakily, and plodded to her bedroom.
Cloud stood silently, protectively, over Aeris. "My kid brother pulled another Sephiroth," she muttered bitterly.
"If the situation is the same here...then we know Patrick isn't evil, deep down inside."
"I know he was told to do this...so the one person in this Planet who can reach the real Patrick... He was told to do this so Zuri would hate him." Tears ran down her face. "Jenova can't win this time. Otherwise my life...my children...will all be tainted, because of the cells in my blood."
"Something I'm learning," said Cloud slowly, "from your mother mostly--a bit from the first Aeris, long ago--is that you can't throw hope away just because of fear. A full life is worth any pain you've risked. Don't be a coward like me, Riss."
"I can't be..." She looked up at him. "Not if you're here to say things like that to me."
"I'm not the strongest, surest thing for you to lean on."
"Cloud, please," Aeris shook her head, then stood up to meet him face-to-face. "Just shut up and hold me."
He felt silky arms circle around his neck and he obliged, placing his hands on her waist and drawing her near.
"Make me feel like there will be something left for me to hang onto...even if the whole Planet turned to dust."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Let the men of greatest courage come before me," declared the chief.
Several young men stepped up into his hut, presenting themselves to the chief, Eritsu, and Asula.
"Eritsu shall choose the three of you most suited to my task. The others shall go back to hunting stag." He nodded to his daughter.
Asula watched intently as the older girl stood before each man, placing her hand on his forehead and pausing, as if listening intently to words unspoken. When she finished, she tapped three men on the shoulder. They followed her up to her father.
"The rest of you are dismissed." After the rejected hopefuls left, he gestured for the three to come closer, and they did so. "This is a simple mission. I think that it would be pleasing for you to take Jenova on a trip to the small canyon north of our city. I believe her presence there will bless the spring rains, making our crop bountiful. You must take her there while snow is still heavy on the ground, to make the Planet favor us. I wish to prevent flood and drought."
"I thought you wanted us to treat Jenova with caution," one of them said.
"I want to perform a ceremony at the altar when she is away. I am afraid that outsiders have never been permitted to view it, and I do not intend to break the rules of our Elders. Her grace will also be welcomed by the Planet during this lonely season." He eyed the three men with severity. "Can I trust you, my tribesmen?"
They all nodded eagerly.
"Keep an eye on the weather and inform me of the best day to take her to the canyon without raising suspicion. Otherwise, I will not have the preparations complete for the planting ceremony." He bowed his head. "That is all. Thank you for your service."
"We serve you and the Planet, my lord," the three replied, in unison, before exiting the hut.
"They know routine well," commented Asula.
"Do you find this unusual?" the chief asked.
"No. Reassuring, in fact. I hope these men are up to their task. They seem very loyal and obedient."
"Are you sure this is the only way?" A touch of sorrow filled the man's face.
Eritsu nodded. "I cannot see any other way to subdue Jenova than with Asula's plan."
"As long as your men can get her there...I can make sure she never returns from that canyon. Her grave will be a frozen tomb of rock and ice. What was cruel enough for Erhiz, shall be mercy compared to what I wish I could inflict on her depravity."
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic