Further Fantasy 7 - Part 2
Like virtually every other town, Cosmo Canyon had changed almost beyond recognition in the two years since the Meteor incident. It had expanded, almost explosively, as people from around the world came to seek understanding of the events that had occurred, and many had then stayed, furthering the study of Planet Life. A vast wealth of long-lost knowledge had been uncovered as books that had lain hidden in underground libraries since the threat of the Gi Tribe were translated by the many willing volunteers. Cosmo Canyons population was now more than five thousand strong, but despite its new size, it was still one of the most peaceful places on the planet; the vast majority of the populace were there to aid in furthering knowledge and understanding, and those who thought of attempting any underhand activities were nearly always deterred by the legends of the Canyon Guardians who defended their land and people with just ferocity.
The current Guardian swatted a fly from his nose with his tail, stretched and rolled over, basking in the warmth of the sun.
The voice was quiet and placid, but immediately commanded attention. Nanaki stood, stretched and turned to face the speaker. In the doorway stood a woman in her late twenties, dressed in dark blue robes. Her skin was a rich, dark brown, contrasting sharply with her almost white hair and sky-blue eyes. As she entered the room, her movements were almost regal, but there was no trace of arrogance in her manner - rather, hers was the grace and dignity of maturity and knowledge well beyond her years. She sat on a high stool by one of the many book-covered workbenches, facing the Guardian.
"How can I help, Sariva?" Nanaki asked.
"An aircraft has landed at the entrance to the Canyon."
"An aircraft?" The news was a surprise to Nanaki. Air travel had been almost non-existent since demise of Shinra: very few now had both the resources and the knowledge to keep such craft air-worthy. To even see one in flight was a rarity, so for one to touch down so close by was disturbing. "I shall take a look immediately."
"Be careful, Nanaki. For several days now, I have had a sense of foreboding that I have been unable to ignore."
By the time he had reached the incline down from the mountain canyon to the plains, Nanaki had recognised the airship. Although her lines were now quite different from her original form, the name "Highwind" stood out on the side, easing some of the tension he had felt at Sarivas warning. As he approached, three of the figures on the ground became recognisable as Cid, Barret and Cloud. A number of others whose uniforms gave them away as the flight crew scurried around the airship. "Welcome!" he called out, padding towards them, "Its been a long time."
"Hey there, Red," Cid called in reply, "Howre you doin?"
"Ever busy." Nanaki suppressed a smile at hearing his old nickname. He looked at the three before him: all three looked strung out, and Cloud was pale, which was cause for concern. "So what brings you to my neighbourhood?"
"I need to see Bugenhagen," Cloud replied, urgency in his tone.
Nanaki winced. Barret was the first to make the connection.
"Red, man, Im sorry," the massive black man hunkered down next to Nanaki, "What happened?"
"There was a lifestream eruption, a big one, about a year or so ago," Nanaki struggled with his grief momentarily, then continued; "The observatory collapsed while he was still inside."
For a long moment, there was silence, eventually broken by Cloud: "Im very sorry to hear about your Grandfather, Red. I was hoping he might be able to shed light on something that happened to me recently, but I guess "
"Why? What happened?"
"I dont really know. I cant remember much."
"I think we should go and see Sariva."
Barret, Cid and Nanaki sat round the table, watching Sariva as she completed her examination of Cloud. Certainly the new Keeper of Lore lived up to the praise Nanaki had given her on the walk up: Barret and Cid found themselves very impressed at her leadership and healing abilities, and her in-depth knowledge of ailments, both mundane and exotic.
"So," Sariva said, turning back from her books, "tell me again about what happened."
Barret exchanged glances with Cid and realised he had been elected the spokesperson. "Wed just got back from a mission, and one of Cids guys got the food in. I went out back to find Cloud: he was in this shrine hed constructed to Aeris - an old friend of ours - cuz it was the anniversary of her passin on. Anyway, I went back in, he stayed to clear up. Next thing we know, the grounds shakin then the shrine goes boom and Clouds left lying on the deck, covered in lifestream, and with something that looks like a man-sized version of Weapon between us and him."
"Weapon?" Sariva asked, one eyebrow cocked slightly.
"Sariva, these are the people I fought Sephiroth with," Nanaki interjected, "Theyre as familiar with the physical form of Weapon as we are."
"No, its not that, Nanaki. I think theres something about this sort of thing in one of my books, but Ill check later." Sariva nodded to the Guardian, then looked up. "Continue, Barret," she said, smiling.
"Uh sure. That Weapon thing was nasty - it was throwin me an Cid all over the place. I thought we were gonna buy it. Then, next thing I know, Clouds up on his feet, hes grabbed Aeris staff and invoked the Healing Wind."
"One of Aeris powers," Nanaki explained, "a soul-light technique, unique to her."
"Soul-light?" Barrets tone and expression indicated that the term was new to him.
"Most think of them as limit or limit-break techniques." Sariva elaborated, "Go on."
"Okay. So Im standin there, and Cloud marches up to the Weapon-thing and starts tellin it off like it were a kid stealin cookies. Then for the rest of the night, whenever we talk to him, hes actin like hes Aeris!"
Sarivas eyes widened and she stared at Cloud for a long moment. Then the blond mercenary met her gaze. "What happening to me?"
"I dont know exactly how to put this," Sarivas tone caused Nanaki to look up in surprise: normally, the Lore-keeper seemed unflappable. "Are you familiar with Mako poisoning and how it is caused?"
"I experienced it once," Cloud said, "but I dont know why it has the effect it does."
Sariva took a deep breath and began: "Well, when anything dies, it decomposes and returns to the planet. Similarly, souls return to the planet, becoming part of the lifestream: within any living thing is a quantity of the lifestream, which binds itself to the cells of the body and when the cells decompose, so the soul is returned, piece by piece, to the lifestream, fragmenting and breaking up. Mako poisoning occurs when lifestream other than that composing a persons soul invades body cells, bringing with it pieces of the experience and knowledge of a soul it used to be part of. Small soul fragments penetrate easily, but do little damage, while larger pieces can have a heavy impact, although their chances of entering cells is reduced due to their rarity and sheer size."
"So what determines how big these bits are?" Barret asked.
"The soul breaks down at a similar rate to the physical form. This normally takes a long time, and the currents of the lifestream scatter the soul fragments. However in certain extreme cases, large pieces can be released all at once. When such a fragment manages to enter the cells of a person, it can lead to radical personality changes, memory loss or change and severe brain damage."
"Is there anything we can do?" Cloud put in, his distress obvious.
"If that were the case, possibly," Sariva replied. She sighed, then continued, "Im afraid what has happened to you is a lot more serious, Cloud. I have detected the light of two complete souls within you - one that is yours and one that is not. Given that you were in a shrine dedicated to the memory of your friend Aeris, and the date of the incident, although I do not know how it happened, I believe that the totality of her soul has entered your body."
"Wha what does this mean? Whats going to happen to me?"
"I dont know. It depends on the strength of your soul, and that of Aeris. If her soul is stronger than yours, it will eventually permeate your body and mind, reshaping them according to itself."
"Wait just a damn minute!" Cid butted in, "Youre saying that hell turn into Aeris?!"
Cloud slumped. "Aeris was a Cetra," he said at great length, "She always had great faith in herself and those around her."
Sarivas face creased in an expression of sympathy. "Im sorry, Cloud. The Cetra were masters of the lifestream. It was the light of their souls that helped bring this planet to life."
"When I woke up I had this with me." Cloud reached into his pocket and withdrew the white materia. Sariva gasped at the sight. "Where did you get this?"
"It belonged to Aeris. She used it to call Holy during our fight with Sephiroth."
Sariva pushed the books on one of the surfaces aside, reached up to a shelf and extracted an ancient tome, which she opened in the space she had cleared. "There are three white materia," she said, excitement in her tone, "the materia of body, mind and soul. They were created by the Cetra in their battle against Jenova. If anything has the power to help you, they do."
"All I can remember is that it was shining when I was in the shrine. Oh, and I could hear a voice in my mind, too. It told me to go to Gongaga."
Sariva nodded. "In that case, you should go there. Your best chance is to seek out the other white materia. We have Holy, the materia of the soul: the other two are Genius and Goliath. Nanaki, I want you to go with them, to keep an eye on Cloud," she waited for Nanaki to acknowledge her request, then turned back to the young man. "I dont know how much time you have, Cloud. I shall do everything within my power to help you."
Cloud bowed his head in respect. "Your offer is greatly appreciated, Sariva."
Slowly, the foursome made their way back to the Highwind in heavy silence. Immediately, Cloud went up to the observation deck, while the others made ready to launch. It was only once they were underway that Barret and Nanaki joined him.
"Yo, Cloud!" Barret called to the blond mercenary, "Me an Red been havin a think. We reckon that after weve been to Gongaga, we should go take a look round the City of the Ancients - see if theres anything there that can help."
Cloud remained silent, staring out towards the horizon.
"Cheer up Cloud," Nanaki said, breaking up the awkward silence that had fallen, "something will turn up. Theyre making new discoveries every day back home, and Im sure that even if we dont find anything, Sariva will. Well work out a way to stop this and get you back to yourself."
Cloud turned, and the expression of determination of his face immediately drove all thoughts from both Barret and Nanakis minds.
"I dont want to just get through this," Cloud said, his tone matching his expression, "Aeris died because of my weakness. Now Im going to be strong for her. Dont get me wrong, Im not going to give myself up for her, but Im not going to give up this chance either."
"Wh what do you mean, Cloud?"
"Yeah, what you sayin, man?"
Cloud turned back to the horizon. "Im going to carry her soul for her. Its going to be difficult, but I will not give it up until we find some way to bring her back."
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