Aerith, Dreaming of Forever Part 4
City of the Cetra
By Aerith's Man
Without a monstrous reptile chasing her every move,
Aerith was able to climb down the canyon and reach the City of the Ancients
in about ten minutes. On her way down, she saw that the Adamanchyt
had tumbled to the bottom of the cliff and was impaled upon the trunk of
a dead tree, splattering blood . It was a very gruesome sight, and
although she had been in defense of her life, she was still a Cetra, an Ancient,
and she felt sorrow over the creature of the forest that she had
slaughtered. And yet, she was, strangely, a little proud. She
had doubted herself, but Aerith had protected herself against a monster
single-handedly that had taken three people to take on. As she looked
again at the pink ribbon that was now tied around her neck, the young woman
saw that it was stained with dark red blood, the blood, she realized, of
the Adamanchyt, and now she thought to herself, maybe even the most faint
of heart can be brave at times, maybe the weak can be strong... have
I learned something new about myself that I never knew before because of
defeating the monster? She clapped her hands in prayer and wished the
beast a swift entrance into the Lifestream. After all, it wasn't the
monster's fault that it was hungry. It was the way nature worked.
A harsh way, but there was nothing to be done about it.
The graceful, beautiful young woman looked upon a site equally as beautiful and graceful beside the fact that it was much older than she, a monument that had been built upon the Planet before human beings had even been born. Tall, wondrous stone structures seemed to protrude from the earth itself to reign majestically over the sky and the ground below her feet. Long granite pathways extended over an icy lake to a central hub at the center of her vision, a towering spire larger than the rest and covered with growths of dark green plants.
The Cetra Capital, The City of the Ancients. The holiest place in the entire planet.
Aerith didn't feel like she belonged in these surroundings, but she knew she had some sort of fate here, as she had dreamed when she was with Cloud and the others, before entering the Temple of the Ancients a couple of weeks ago. She had no idea what she was supposed to do, so she walked to the central hub and looked inside, searching for evidence of a person or creature having been inside. And she found it. A piece of black cloth, fine and silky, lay torn on the end of a sharp protrusion from the wall. It must have been a piece of someone's clothing that got ripped by the spike on the wall while they were in a hurry. She didn't know whose it was, but she ran forward anyway, sure that someone was waiting for her.
She suddenly heard a voice from behind her. She whirled around.
It was Cloud. She knew she should wait, but she couldn't. She had to find this person who left the mysterious black cloth. It was somehow connected with the dream, she knew, the one she'd had before
A million lights dazzle the senses.
A black caped man comes bearing a secret.
The Cetra Capital holds the ultimate mystery
but are you willing to give up your innocence to retrieve it?
"That's it!" she exclamed, recalling the prophecy of her dream. A black caped man... the cloth had come from the man bearing a secret....but what was it? What was the mystery of the Cetra? And where did she tie in with all of this?
"Aerith! We're here to help you!'
Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, the others. I'm sorry, you guys.... I have to do this alone. She ran forward more quickly, letting her hair fly back, causing her ribbon to flutter freely in the air. She felt a little guilty about leaving her friends behind, but she felt an immense sense of urgency.
She ran down a spiral passageway made of seashell-like carvings and into a small circular room upon whose limestone walls were inscribed a multitude of strange symbols. In the center of the room was a circular stone pedestal upon which rested a glowing white sphere that seemed to pulse with holy energy. Aerith had never seen anything like it before.
What are these symbols? They look like writing- maybe the language of the Ancients? But what does it mean?
<WHO COMES HERE?> A deep voice boomed from nowhere and everywhere.
"Wha-What was that?" Aerith cried. "Who-who are you?"
<WHO COMES HERE?> The voice seemed to come from the walls and resonate throughout the room.
"Ah" the young Cetra didn't know what was speaking or why, but said despite, "My name is Aerith Gainsborough, descendant of the holy Cetra."
<WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?>
"II came to discover the mystery of the Cetra Capital. It is my destiny as foretold in a dream."
<YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH?>
"From my heart, and my honor as an Ancient."
<THIS IS GOOD.>
"Whowho are you?"
<WHY DO YOU WISH TO KNOW?>
"I wish to know whether I am speaking to one of my ancestors."
<I AM THE VOICE OF THE CETRA CAPITAL. I AM THE SPIRIT OF ALL ANCIENTS. I WATCH OVER THE LIFESTREAM AND ALL LIVING THINGS IN THE PLANET.>
Aerith was shocked by this revelation. She had expected at the most that she would see one of her kin from beyond, but had never expected to speak to the epitome of all holiness on the Planet. The Spirit of All Ancients. The Gaurdian of the Lifestream. Aerith kneeled down before the globe. "I give you my praise, Spirit of All Ancients."
<YOU NEED NOT DO SO. YOU HAVE LITTLE TIME. THERE IS A MISSION FOR YOU.>
"Then, what shall I do?"
<TO FIND THE MYSTERY OF THE CETRA, YOU MUST PASS A TEST OF MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT. YOU MUST PROVE YOURSELF WORTHY.>
"...What must I do to take this trial?"
<PUT YOUR HANDS ON THE GLOBE AND PREPARE YOURSELF.>
She hesitated. Am I ready? What if I can't make it? What if...
The Ancient became infuriated with herself. Here I go again! A coward as usual! I've been given the privilege to discover something great, and I'm too afraid to take it! If I can kill an Adamanchyt all by myself, then I can take whatever lies before me! I'll do it!
Aerith slowly walked forward, took a deep breath, stretched out her arms, and placed her hands on the globe. It felt icy cold and impossibly smooth. All of a sudden, the globe's solidity fled and it seemed to become liquid. Aerith fell into the globe and was swept through it into a realm of white.
Her surroundings disappeared and were replaced by a swirling sky of milky white and light grey. She couldn't see the ground, saw only spirals of light colors, but she could feel it upon her feet. Aerith almost lost her senses and fell into vertigo, but somehow she kept herself oriented. ...Where am I?
There was nothing to be seen anywhere. All was just a moving, churning mix, and she began to wonder what she was supposed to do. After a minute or two, the Ancient began to feel uneasy, until dark thoughts made her wonder if she had fell victim to an evil trick. A churning of fear began in her heart, and she began to breathe faster.
Suddenly, a shadow appeared, long and tall, from nowhere, and the world lit up with a multitude of sparkling lights that bombarded her eyes. Aerith blinked and turned her head in reflexive action.
A million lights dazzle the senses...
The shadow grew larger and seemed to be edging nearer to her, and the fear crept all over her, as if she were being possessed by some dark spirit. Her hands began to tremble, her heart seemed to race like a chocobo, and her knees began to buckle under her. . What am I supposed to do?
She couldn't stand herself anymore. She ran, fists gripped, as hard as she could toward the shadow, until all she could see was blackness, and she leaped at it.
Leaped through it.
Aerith fell and rolled on the floor that was there but wasn't there, jumped to her feet again, heart pounding, and stood there, wondering, What's going on here?
The shadow was no more. In its place was a tall man with long hair the color of a corpse, and emerald eyes that gleamed with a fearsome might. A thin sword that was an impossible length was clutched tightly in his right hand, a silver buckler in his left. He seemed to tower over Aerith, and she was afraid, and hated herself for it.
"Nice try, little girl, although very foolish, I must say. Never challenge a creature you know nothing about. You'll soon find yourself dead."
"....What are you doing here? Is this some sort of trap?"
"Ah....curiousity....the bane of man and yet the sole reason for his existence. Well, you see, dear child, you and I are part of a grand scheme involving the Planet. To uncover the great mystery behind the City of the Ancients and all beings living and dead and yet to come, we must pass a trial of mind, body, and spirit. Since we've both just passed the trial of the mind, there are now two more trials to overcome."
A black caped man comes bearing a secret...
"The trial of the mind? But... I haven't done anything yet!"
"Ah, my dear Aerith, but you have. When you relinquished your self control and attacked the shadow, you overcame the fears in your mind and dispelled your illusions. You see, that's all it was. An illusion."
Aerith Gainsborough knew the despicable heart of the being before her, and didn't trust him. "Why are you telling me this? And how do you know all these things? You sound as if you're the Creator himself!"
"The Creator I am not, but I may soon become. Let us say that I just know, and that is all that matters."
Aerith didn't reply, but looked over Sephiroth's shoulder. All of a sudden, he raised his head high and yelled in a loud, deep, leering voice, "So, Ancients, where is our next test, if you're going to give us one at all? I can take anything you throw at me!"
The young Cetra was surprised at this blasphemous statement, but kept her mouth shut, preparing for an attack by some savage beast, snarling monster, or gruesome creature. Suddenly, Aerith felt another bout of fear wash over her, and then a loud noise came from her left. Aerith whirled, bringing her staff to bear, and saw the face of....
A chocobo. A harmless, oversized bird whose only fierce trait was the adorability, the cuteness of it. In fact, the creatures were so docile once tamed that people kept them in their house as pets. It squawked, a lovable little squawk, and bent its head ever so slightly as to say, "Hi there!"
This is the Ancient's test of body? To discover the ultimate secret of the Cetra Capital, you must kill an overstuffed chicken? What sort of trial is this?
As soon as the chocobo appeared, two green bursts of flame appeared to the left and right of the chocobo, then two more ahead of those, and two more... soon the swirl of grey and white was lit with what reminded Aerith of a train track made of ghostly green fireballs.
"Hmmmm.... Interesting...." said Sephiroth. "Very creative.... but then, I suppose the Ancients are demigods in a way..."
"What are you talking about? If I didn't know better, I'd say this was preposterous!" Aerith said in an unbelieving voice. Is Sephiroth going looney?
"Isn't it obvious? Instead of making us defeat some weak monster, which would be all too easy, the Ancients put us up to a harder test."
The chocobo started scratching its feet on the ground fiercely, looking as if it was ready to go somewhere, and it reminded the Cetra of a creature called a bull that she had read about in a science fiction novel. Aerith was completely perplexed.
"Then... what do we have to do? What's this test about?"
Sephiroth laughed patronizingly, and Aerith blushed with frustration. "Do I have to spell everything out for you, my little Ancient? We have to race the chocobo!"
Huh?.... Well.... if you think about it, it does make sense... By the Lifestream, Sephiroth does make me feel unintelligent... Okay, this is going to be weird, but there doesn't seem to be any other way...
"Let's do it!"
The chocobo squawked loudly as if in acknowledgement and broke off into a steady run. Aerith and Sephiroth followed down the road of green flame. Since the creature had had a bit of a head start, they had a hard time catching up to it; Sephiroth met it at a strong run, racing past it, without the slightest loss of breath, probably due to his SOLDIER training at Shinra; Aerith herself was running at a fair speed, and wasn't very tired, although perhaps a little heavy of breath. They ran for a long way, and the chocobo, perceiving that it was about to be passed, squawked in alarm and raced forward even faster.
Suddenly, Aerith laughed.
She felt the wind blow her hair back and the adrenaline rushing through her bones, saw the little chocobo running as hard as it could, the cute little thing huffing and puffing, and the rush of the race made her burst with excitement.
The Ancient could see the end to the track about two hundred feet ahead of her, and she felt an immense relief wash over her. She was getting tired, after all. She pushed harder. Then she fell.
"AaaahOof!" she cried. Sephiroth, who was ahead of her, stopped, ran back past the chocobo, who was continuing toward the finish line by its lonesome, and grabbed Aerith by her left arm, pulling her up and almost throwing her forward. "We're gonna lose! Get a move-on, Cetra!"
The young woman was very surprised at this act of kindness, if she could call it that from a man like Sephiroth. This was against everything he'd ever said, done, or that she'd heard of him doing before. But she didn't have time to contemplate. The chocobo was almost there, and Sephiroth and she were twenty feet behind him!
"Come on, Cetra!!"
She ran forward with all of her might, gritting her teeth together and forcing her legs to go faster, faster, faster, even though she was almost entirely worn out. Her heart pounded like a smithy's hammer, and she breathed as if she were gulping the air down as liquid. Then she passed the chocobo, and caught up with Sephiroth who had taken off with a burst of energy, and suddenly the road ended, the green flame disappeared, and Aerith collapsed on the ground that was not there with an Oof and a gasp for breath. Sephiroth himself was a bit winded and was kneeling down beside her. The chocobo had disappeared along with the flames as if it had never been.
When she regained her composure, she got up, looked at the black-caped man, and said, "You helped me back there. Why? Aren't we enemies?"
"Ah, as so often in history, we find that people who are enemies aren't really enemies at all, just people with different viewpoints who can't resolve their differences and must take more drastic measures. This is what one learns after going to war. And as for helping you, I knew I could beat the chocobo. I'm a Shinra SOLDIER elite. I just wanted to see if you could."
Such a wise man, to be so evil. Or is he really evil? What really does make a person that way? We've all done things wrong at one time or another. Maybe all the horrible things he's done have been for some purpose for him, like it was for me when I killed the Adamanchyt. Maybe he doesn't really hate anyone, but does have different perspectives on life, and, like he said, has to take 'more drastic measures.'
Or maybe I'm just crazy. That would explain it too.
"So, what's the next test?"
"The one of spirit," Sephiroth said arrogantly, "The most difficult one, probably, although if it's troublesome as the last two, then it won't be hard at all."
Aerith wasn't so sure about that; she wasn't nearly as cocky as the SOLDIER was. She was sure Cloud would have acted the same way, too, though. If they could do it, why not her?
"Yeah, those first two were a snap."
Sephiroth looked at her, eyebrow raised, snorted derisively, and stated, "Aerith, you have no skill as a liar. I can tell you're frightened. You're as yellow as a chocobo, in fact."
"Well!" Aerith acted infuriated, but was merely surprised at being caught. She should have known that she couldn't fool the man. "I'm sure that under your seemingly inpenetrable facade of calmness you are frightened too."
Sephiroth smiled, a grim, malicious, evil smile, and said, "I have seen things no mortal has ever seen before. I have faced creatures more terrible than you could possibly imagine, and won without a scratch. I have sent thousands to their death. I have witnessed more brutal destruction than is impossible for a mere human to mete out."
He looked at her again, with right eyebrow arched, and asked her, "So what makes you think that I'm afraid of a simple test that I've already two-thirds completed with ease?"
"I think," she ventured, gritting her teeth together, daring to defy the evil man, "That while you and I are both capable in mind and body, only one of us has the purity of spirit that the holy Cetra requires.
"And that one is not you, Sephiroth."
"You can think whatever you wish to, Ancient. ...But enough of this talk. We're waiting, Ancients! I'm getting impatient towards your ethereal dilly-dallying!!"
<SO BE IT, SEPHIROTH. THIS IS THE LAST TRIAL. THE TRIAL OF SPIRIT. THE ONE WHO PASSES THIS TRIAL WILL DISCOVER THE TRUE SECRET OF THE CETRA CAPITAL. THE ONE WHO FAILS WILL BE SENT BACK TO THE LIVING WORLD KNOWING THAT HE HAS DISGRACED HIMSELF ETERNALLY AND IS NOT WORTHY OF THE HOLY KNOWLEDGE.>
"The Ancient!" Aerith cried.
But the Guardian of the Lifestream spoke no more.
In a flash, the world around her disappeared, and she was standing in Midgar, back in the church where she had planted flowers and tended them most of her childhood, until Cloud came along. It felt so real that she had to blink back tears of nostalgia. So this was the test of spirit.
She couldn't see Sephiroth anywhere. She assumed he was in his own personal place. I wonder where that is? Where is the place that Sephiroth calls home? Is there any place on the planet that Sephiroth loves, that has nostalgia about? Or would he just as soon blow it to smithereens?
In an instant, a figure appeared before her. When Aerith recovered from her startlement, she discovered that the figure was....
Standing before her was a young girl of average height, with brown hair in two ponytails in front and one large tail in back, parted strangely as if the hair were standing up on her head, and on her face were large green eyes, a weak and feeble smile. Her arms and legs were tiny and weak, and when she walked toward Aerith she stumbled and fell with a loud cry and lay weeping on the floor.
"Who...who are you?" Aerith cried fearstricken, although in her heart she knew, and her weak voice carried and echoed around her, shaming her, making her sound like a little girl.
The thin, frail apparition beneath her opened her lips and whispered, in between sniffles of her nose and wiping of her eyes, "Don't you see, Aerith Gainsborough? I....am you!"
As before, the small, pathetic voice echoed around her, filling her with loathing.
"No." she said loudly. "You can't possibly be me." Summoning her courage, she added, "You don't even look like me!" The voice that echoed back was trembling, but with more strength and confidence than before.
The girl that was her, but yet was not her, rose to her feet slowly, her knees trembling, looking as if she were going to fall again at any minute. "What do you mean? I'm frail, weak, cowardly, pathetic in every way. Of course I am you, silly!"
"No. You're what I was two years ago. A child. I am different now. I have grown. I know the meaning of courage, strength, and power. I know happiness, I know freedom, I know love now more than ever. I've seen the world, and been put to the test, and succeeded. The old me could not have done this."
The apparition seemed to be stung as if stabbed with a cruel blade at every confident word.
"What are you talking about? You're the same as ever! You still can't speak to Cloud after all this time, because you're too afraid. You're still lonely. You stay by yourself. You say that you killed that Adamanchyt, but if fell off of a cliff! You even ran from that!"
"You're wrong. I've spoken to Cloud in my dreams, and he knows me now. Just because I'm a lone wolf doesn't mean I'm a coward. And if I hadn't been strong, and run from the Adamanchyt, if I had been stupid and stood and fought it I would have been killed right then. I ran, and when it caught up with me, I fought it. I am strong, I am proud, and you are nothing but a dreadful, no, make that pathetic, apparition!"
The words rang in her ears powerful and true, and she could hear the maturity in her voice echoing back to her. Her strength resonated from the walls and pulsed into the weak, small, frightened Aerith that she once was, seemed to jolt her back, and she cried even louder and more pitifully.
"You may say that," cried the spirit desperately, "but you know I'm still in you! You can't deny it!"
"You're right," cried Aerith loudly, and the specter smiled, but then Aerith continued, "Fear is a part of every human being, brave or cowardly. Fear is what drives us on when we're in the heat of battle. Fear is what makes us fight harder and harder and triumph over our enemies. Courage is not the absence of fear! Courage is the utilization of fear, to take fear and turn it into motivation, take weakness and convert it into strength. This I know now. I don't despise myself anymore, as I do you now. I'm proud of myself, and though I know my limits I also know my strengths. You are not me anymore!"
"What? You can't say that" the ghost was howling despairedly now, crying and weeping as though her heart were being ripped from her chest, as indeed it was, tearing her to pieces.
"Why not? I AM saying it, and you'll hear me out! You are not me anymore! You once were, shameful, unreasonable, mind-clenching cowardice and faint-heartedness, but I've flushed you out! You DO NOT EXIST ANYMORE!"
And with those words, which, in their magnitude and power, reverberated throughout the church, tore through the walls, exposed the sky, and then raged through the shameful slums of Midgar like a hurricane and ripped the world apart, with those words did the specter let out a humiliating shreek and writhe and die before her, slowly fading from the world and from her memory. Midgar, the filthy, wretched, crime-ridden, pollution-filled trash heap in which she had lived for so long, disappeared from her view.
She had returned to the strange world of swirling white and gray once again.
Aerith Gainsborough had done it. The Ancient had completed the test. She had conquered her fear and finished the third trial, the trial of spirit, and definitely the most difficult. And she was proud.
The third trial of spirit. I had to face my most detestable facets of myself, and had to overcome them. But Sephiroth is almost totally evil. How will he pass the trial? He's arrogant, selfish, cold-hearted, uncompassionate... pure evil. Is there any good traits that man has? Even when he helped me, he did it for his own interest and not my own.
When she looked up, she saw Sephiroth there among the pools of white and grey, looking more fear-stricken and angry than she'd ever seen him before. He must not have been able to see her; she reasoned that he was trapped within his own dreamworld as she had been in Midgar. Could he watch me while I was taking my Trial?
He was looking up at some unseen enemy, clutching his sword with sweaty palms, yelling at the top of his lungs, projecting fear much as she had.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" he cried to the invisible enemy with unmeasured hatred.
From nowhere and everywhere, she heard the voice of Sephiroth's opponent. And, just as she expected, it was, indeed, Sephiroth's voice calling back to him.
"That's a good question," said the extremely malevolent voice that was so full of evil and malice, and yet with an underlying cunning and almost sneering quality, that it made Aerith's skin crawl. "I want....power. I want....unimaginable, infinite power. But to do that I need a human form. Not a spirit form. It is YOU I want. As you have stole and conquered and wasted the lives of everyone around you, so I will now to you, Sephiroth, unless you repent for your actions. Because if you continue the way you're going, you're doomed. I know. I see the future. I see....everything. Prepare yourself."
"Repent! Never! I have no need to repent. Human lives are worthless. It is I, son of Jenova, that will dominate the planet. So, YOU prepare yourself, cunning spirit, because you are going to die."
And with this, real Sephiroth raised his 12-foot long with both hands to bring it to his side, the long arc of the Masamune stretching behind him from where he held it at his waist, and he ran toward his unseen enemy with an evil yell, hair the color of pale amethyst and onyx cloak blowing behind him from the momentumhe jumped, brought the sword around and upwards to slash like a scytheAerith could see the immense hate in his eyes as he grinned with victory even while still in the airand suddenly Sephiroth disappeared in a single millisecond, as if he had never existed.
The world around her churned in waves of white and grey that to her startlement became flushed with color like a rainbow sea, maroon, violet, aquamarine, yellow, and green, and suddenly the fluidlike atmosphere appeared to be sucked into the 'top' of the sky, and she was left sitting on a crystal like pillar in a strange, water-filled room. The walls were black and a long crystal staircase led from where she was sitting to some room above.
"Wh....where am I? What happened to Sephiroth? Did he complete the trial? Did I?"
<YES, YOU DID COMPLETE ALL THE TRIALS SUCCESSFULLY. HOWEVER, SEPHIROTH DID NOT. HE TRIED TO DESTROY HIS SPIRIT, INSTEAD OF UNDERSTANDING IT AND OVERCOMING IT AS YOU DID. HE WAS NOT WORTHY.>
"So....what's the....secret of the Capital? Why was I chosen to learn this?"
<THE SECRET OF THE CETRA CAPITAL IS THIS. HERE, MANY MILLENIA AGO, WHEN THE ANCIENTS THRIVED AND LIVED HERE, A TERRIBLE CALAMITY STRUCK. A BLACK WIZARD OF UNMAGINABLE POWER SUMMONED AN EVIL METEOR TO STRIKE THE PLANET, HOPING TO WIPE OUT ALL OF THE ANCIENTS IN A SINGLE BLAST. WHEN THIS WAS DISCOVERED, THE ANCIENTS DISPATCHED THE WIZARD AND FOUND THE EVIL METEOR MATERIA, BUT IT WAS TOO LATE. KNOWING THE FORCE WAS TOO POWERFUL FOR ANYONE TO RIGHTFULLY USE, THEY SEALED IT UP IN A GREAT PUZZLE IN THE TEMPLE OF THE ANCIENTS. YOU SEE, THE TEMPLE ITSELF WAS THE MATERIA.>
"We already found that out. We solved the puzzle, but Sephiroth stole the Meteor Materia from us."
<THIS IS INDEED GRAVE. BUT THAT IS NOT THE WHOLE TALE. THE ANCIENTS CAME UP WITH A PLAN TO STOP THE METEOR. A HUNDRED ANCIENTS SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES SO THAT THEIR POWER COULD BE BOTTLED UP WITHIN AN ULTRA-POWERFUL MATERIA CALLED THE HOLY MATERIA. THE METEOR STRUCK BEFORE HOLY COULD BE SUMMONED, HOWEVER, AND THE METEOR BLASTED A TREMENDOUS CRATER AT THE VERY SITE OF THE PROMISED LAND, TO THE NORTH OF HERE. THE SITE THAT HOUSES THE ESSENCE OF THE LIFESTREAM. THE LIFESTREAM FORMED A BARRIER FROM INTRUSION TO THIS DAY THAT CAN ONLY BE BROKEN BY THE AWESOME POWER OF THE METEOR MATERIA, WHICH IS THE SINGLE MOST POWERFUL MATERIA ON THE PLANET.>
"And Sephiroth is going there with the Meteor Materia right now....but what happened to Holy Materia?"
<IT WAS DISCOVERED IN THIS TEMPLE A FEW YEARS AFTER THE METEOR HIT. IT HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN BY THE REMAINING CETRA FOR GENERATIONS, UNTIL IT REACHED YOUR MOTHER, AND THEN, YOU.>
"What? But I don't have the Holy Materia!"
<IT HAS BEEN IN YOUR POSSESSION SINCE YOU WERE A CHILD. IT IS THE TINY WHITE BAUBLE YOU HAVE TIED UP IN YOUR HAIR. YOU MUST USE IT TO PREVENT THE METEOR FROM STRIKING AGAIN. THIS IS THE SECRET. USE IT WELL.>
The Ancient Guardian of the Lifestream spoke no longer.
Her eyes wide with astonishment, Aerith untied her ribbon and took it down to look at the small white globe that she now knew was the second most powerful force on the planet. She hardly understood anything the Ancient had told her. How was she going to prevent Sephiroth from using Meteor if she didn't know how to use Holy? And if the Holy Materia was as powerful as Meteor, wouldn't it cause a similar catastrophe? And....why was she of all people chosen to have the power?
"I don't have the answer to your questions, but I have them for mine," cried a voice from somewhere above her, that startled her from her intense thoughts.
"Sephiroth? Where are you? What....what are you doing here?"
"I may have failed the test miserably but it's only a testament of my own power. I was facing my own self, you see. No mortal being alive could possibly defeat that phantom. And now, even though I failed there, I still hold the key to victory. I have the Meteor Materia...next, I will have the life of the one destined to destroy it. You, Aerith Gainsborough, shall die."
But....How did he know? He didn't pass the test
"Why, my dear Aerith, along the path of my travels I've learned the psychic sense of telepathy, or more accurately. delving into people's minds and stealing their thoughts from them. And that is how, by helping you pass the test, I myself learned the secret. Cheating, perhaps, but I've done far worse in my lifetime... and much worse to come."
The words came as a shock, and the mere thought that Sephiroth could read her mind made her shudder with fright and uneasiness. She also realized, without conscious thought that Sephiroth could detect, that he thought that she somehow was the Holy power, that it was embodied in her. And that, to become victorious, he must kill her...he didn't know the power was locked in the sphere she kept tied to her hair, the one that now rested in her hands upon her ribbon. I don't have a chance against him....what, what's that?
A sudden light burst upon the chambers with the brilliance of the sun, and three silhouttes emerged to walk down the stairs. She could tell they were people, lost, confused, disoriented, she could tell by their body language. Then she heard voices.
"Cloud!" she cried with joy, but it died away with fear in an instant. "Help me! Sephiroth's down here!"
The blinding light slowly faded away with the close of the entryway and she could discern that the three figures were Cloud, Tifa, and Barret. Cid, Nanaki, Yuffie, and Vincent must be waiting outside. But all four of us together are enough to hold off Sephiroth... The problem was, she couldn't see him. The voice had come from above, but among the dark man's bag of tricks was the ability to project his voices into spaces like a ventriloquist. He could be anywhere. Another shudder rippled down her back.
"Aerith, we're coming!" yelled Cloud back as he broke out into a run on the other side of the room, the two surrounded by a deep pit filled with water, the only stepping-stones being thin, fragile quartz pillars that rose from the depths to lead to the chamber the Cetra was trapped in. "Where's Sephiroth?"
"II don't know...." her fright almost wanted to overcome her, and she felt like breaking out into a run to meet Cloud in his arms. But she remembered the trial. She remembered the statement she had made there. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the utilization of fear.... If she didn't do something about it, she was going to buckle under with fright.
"Sephiroth!" she cried with loathing. "Come out from your hiding place! If you're really as powerful as you are, you wouldn't be afraid of a harmless girl, would you?"
"Ah," came the voice from all around her, "But you are not a harmless girl. You are a powerful young woman whose idea is to kill me and all I stand for. I won't have it. I haven't come this far to be thwarted by an Ancient. Not I, son of Jenova!"
"Neither will I be threaten by a foul-hearted monster of a man, not I, descendant of the holy Cetra!" Her tactic was working. She wasn't nearly afraid anymore. It was still there, of course, she was more afraid now than she had ever been in her life, but if she didn't concentrate on it, if she defied it, she could save her life...
"Aerith, what are you doing?" cried Cloud with bewilderment. "He'll kill you in a heartbeat! He doesn't care!"
Why's he sound so worried? She thought. He's acting like I'm crazy! When for the first time in my life, I'm becoming what I wanted to be! The feeble Aerith is no more! "I'm standing up to him!"
"Aerith!" cried Cloud, amazed. "There's point in being courageous, but that's just recklessness!" He was a third of the way to her side of the undergound river, jumping from crystal pillar to crystal pillar as quickly as he could without losing his grip and plummeting to the watery depths far below.
"Well, oh holy Cetra, we'll see how great you are after your blood lays splattered on the ground!" Sephiroth suddenly snarled.
"What is that I hear in your voice, Sephiroth?" She still knew that he thought she was the imbodiment of Holy, and he thought that he was doomed if he fought her. She pressed this to her advantage. "Is that....fear?"
"Fear?! Why would I be afraid of you, puny animal! I am the greatest being this world has ever known! You are nothing to me!"
"If I were nothing to you, you would have no reason to single me out for bloodshed. You're afraid of me. I can tell. Because you know that I am your doom."
Cloud was nearly half of the way to Aerith's chamber now, scrambling up the crystal stairs, expecting Sephiroth to burst out at any time and incinerate them all with some unearthly power. Sephiroth didn't appear.
"Aerith, I'm coming!"
Come on, Cloud, I don't want to be stuck here with this idiotic wretch of a madman any longer than I have to, she thought 'loudly', knowing Sephiroth was screening her mind for every word.
"Sephiroth... I know you're there, somewhere... Why don't you come out and be the cat instead of the mouse? Or are you really a mouse at heart?"
No more sound came from above, but a ferocious, unhuman growl.
"What's that, Sephy?" she said, making the most dangerous man in the world sound like a childhood bully. "Still won't come out, will you? I guess you are really a mouse at heart."
Cloud was nearly there now, and Aerith knew she only had to stall Sephiroth until he reached her. But for now....
She was having fun.
"What is it you want, animal?" he suddenly cried out in a snarl from above, his voice trembling with rage and infuriation at what he didn't want to admit to himself. A new feeling, something he'd never felt before. He'd fought on battlefields with the blade of death aimed at him every moment. Traveled through uncharted territory riddled with ferocious, unearthly creatures. Participated in missions against the most dangerous opposition the world had known.
But never, not even once, had he felt fear like this before. It was almost as if the mutated cells of his mother Jenova would not allow him to have a human spirit. Now, although he refused to accept it, he knew that, even as he insulted the creature below him with an acid tongue, he was the same as her. He was a human being. Not all-powerful. Not all-knowing. He could be killed like the rest, and if anyone in the universe could do it, it would be the incarnation of Holy that he saw before him. No, he knew, he must kill her now and rid himself of this ungodly emotion....
Cloud's almost here.... In the most scathing voice possible, she cried out to Sephiroth, "You're pathetic. You call me an animal but you're worse. I may be weak in the flesh, but in the spirit I am whole. You are strong on the outside but are empty within, a more threatening fault than any weakness of limb. And that is why I was chosen...to defeat you! So come out and show me where you are!"
"NOOOOOOOO!" cried Sephiroth, and he leaped from the ledge above her with a cowardly expression that did indeed resemble a mouse to her, as she looked up in surprise. It all seemed to happen slowly. The frightened expression, though it never faded, seemed to become mixed with one of utter hatred, the only feeling he had ever known beside the fear that Aerith had opened up and torn in his heart, and he slowly drew his 12 foot saber from its sheath as he landed behind her. She span around to face him; Cloud reached the chamber, reached out for Aerith, his one , newly found true love, with an expression of grief and terror; Sephiroth brought his sword around to bear, the cowardice still openly displayed in his features.
He drew his arm back, brought it forward with the sword, and stabbed Aerith through the stomach.
Even in times of immense pain and near death, the human mind wanders, and Aerith found herself wondering even as the blade pierced the side of her heart and went upwards through her back, the odd fact that although the sword was all the way inside of her, she wasn't bleeding, in fact, didn't seem to be hurt at all, although she could feel the pain as if a giant conflagration had begun in her body. It was almost as if she were ethereal, that even though Sephiroth had stabbed her through and through, even as she heard Cloud's despaired cries and knew she was dying, she would not shed blood, or tears....and soon the pain was gone also, and she fell to the ground, looking up at Sephiroth with a gazed but triumphant expression. She was dying, but she had won.
Why....why is she looking at me that WAY?! thought Sephiroth in repulsion and horror. I just ended her life, and she's smiling as if she had the grace of the gods herself! What a horrible face.... I can't take it anymore! Seeing the beautiful, victorious, angelic face of death Aerith wore, still looking towards him, smiling, he cracked with fear and trembled, turned, transported himself and his sword away as quickly as he could.
I've won....I'm dying, but...I didn't show fear. I gave fear. I showed Sephiroth the error of his ways, and I showed him that he can have human emotions of the weaker kind. What he doesn't know is sometimes those can be strengths as well. And that's why he's going to fail. I know it. Cloud and the others will...find a way to stop him. And now that Sephiroth fears me, he'll fear them too...it will be his undoing. It will give my death justice. I see the plan of the Ancients, now, perhaps because I am so close to them....she could feel her eyes giving way, almost forcing themselves shut, but she kept them open, just for another bit, until she could give farewell...she had to tell them about Holy.
Cloud ran over to Aerith, knelt by her, grasped her hand, dazed in shock and disbelief. He suddenly began sobbing furiously, realizing that his love was dying before him. She didn't seem as if anything had happened at all, but he could see the wound where Sephiroth had stole her life away with his evil blade...he couldn't bear to look. He gazed at her face, and became even more grief-stricken.
"No..." Aerith said kindly, and reached out with all of her might to touch his face. "Don't cry for me...."
"Aerith....why? You stood up to him so courageously, but why? You could have ran..."
"Because you're...you're....you're dying!"
She felt empathy for Cloud, knowing he would be despaired, and wished she could stay with him, but she only had these last few moments of her life...
"Don't cry for me.......I've won....."
She felt her eyelids give way, and she closed her eyes. She was so tired, she could feel herself drifting away. She felt as though her spirit was draining out of her body slowly, ever so slowly, and, with those last thoughts of victory in her mind, Aerith Gainsborough, young twenty-three year old descendant of the Cetra, gave her last breath in this world and her first in the next.
Cloud still held her hand, and he felt the pulse stop almost abruptly. Saw her head lay back on the ground and her eyelids close. Saw a smile come, then it left her face also, and her visage was one of utter and total peace.
He didn't know what he would do without her. Every day he had been with her he had been, secretly, warmed in his heart by her presence. When he was depressed, her graceful, angelic smile always seemed to cheer him more than any of Tifa's most inspired attempts at making him happy. She comforted the rest of them, too, he knew, with her presence. And now, she was gone. Forever.
He saw the long, faint pink ribbon that she used to tie her hair laying lightly in her left hand, on the ground; he gently picked it up, ignoring the tiny white bauble that rolled from under it to fall in the undergound lake behind him;
he found himself comparing the ribbon to Aerith in misery, this object which so personified her. It was graceful, but strong, beautiful in its sheer simplicity and modesty, as she was; as it waved in the air it reminded him of the gentle, gliding way of her gait. Even the faintness of color seemed to embody compassion and kindness; the traits he loved most about her.
He wiped the tears from his eyes. Aerith was right. He shouldn't cry. Not now.
Cloud gazed at the ribbon, then at her, with soft eyes; he gently laid it upon her chest, and looked upon the face of his lover, one last time. Indeed, Aerith had taught him how to love, something he'd never known before. He kissed her upon the forehead, blessed her soul. Laid his head upon hers, caressed her long brown hair, wishing it could be different, but knowing his companion had made the only choice she could. He held her tight, in a last embrace.
And Aerith lay there, eternally asleep, dreaming of forever.
This is my first fanfic that's been written to put on a web site, so I tried really hard to make this one special. Strangely, Final Fantasy 7 was one of my least favorite in the series, but on the flip side Aerith and Sephiroth are two of my favorite characters. I started off with an idea where Aerith dreamed that she was alive after she traveled to the Capital and it told what could have happened, but upon further thought I reasoned that this was corny and the plot had been used much too much in fanfics. On the other hand, I haven't read one yet that tells about what happened to Aerith when she was traveling to the Capital alone, and I wanted to put the scene in there where she died, and make it more emotional, because the scene in the actual game was pathetic in my opinion. (The main characters love interest dies and all he does is throw her in a lake and say two lines? Come on!) Not to mention Cloud's character is just plain shallow, and although in every fanfic I've read he's been given a tiny amount of character by making him 'mushy on the inside', there's really not alot I could do to stray from that conception without putting in alot of extra emphasis on Cloud himself, which wasn't the point of the fanfic.
This is probably the last FF7 fanfic I'll write unless I come up with an idea for Aerith or Sephiroth, although, giving Square a little slack on the noose, Cid and Nanaki's characters weren't all that terrible.
My email is RPGLover548@hotmail.com. Comments, opinions, and especially criticism is welcome. Thanx, and watch out for my next story!
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