The Fallen Chapter 10
Sephiroth was sitting straight up on the bed, calmly cleaning his Masanume when Aeris stomped into the house and straight towards their room. He allowed himself a subtle smile for the briefest of moments, before jamming his face into the frozen sneer he always wore when addressing Aeris. Hed been able to watch the going ons outside through a one way window that simply appeared as more wall to people who were trying to look in from the outside. He had to admit he was impressed with how easily Aeris was managing to control the new powers that the Planet had granted her. Unlike her, hed chosen to keep his own abilities somewhat contained and hadnt flaunted them- but bravado notwithstanding, it had been an impressive display.
"What," Aeris uncharacteristically growled as she entered the room, slamming the door behind her with a flourish, "in the name of the Almighty Planet do I need to do to get these pigheaded idiots to work together!?" Sephiroth shot the former flower girl an indignant look at the intrusion on his peace, but she completely ignored it, and he simply shrugged his massive shoulders.
"Nothing", he stated, and Aeris could swear she actually saw his usually dead eyes glittering. "They wont work together. They wont get along. Oh, sure, they have their groups, theyll get along fine. But as a whole... they wont be able to defeat Hojo." He finished with his Masanume and slid it into his sheath, and started on his spiky white armor. White. And a little gold trimming. The absolute polar opposite of his old colors. Some stupid hang up of the planet or of Aeris had to have something to do with this, but he wouldnt give her the satisfaction of mentioning it.
Aeris tapped back to her roots as a little girl and slapped a stubborn look onto her face. "They have to be able to defend him," she argued, "or the Planet wouldnt have bothered to choose them. Its not like their arent billions of other options."
Sephiroth laughed, but not with the chilling, insanity wrecked voice had used so often in the past, but a short and mocking one, with a small reflection of actual humor involved. "I never said," he began, taking a deep breath, "that they wouldnt be able to defeat my father. I said they arent strong enough now. Its so blatantly obvious, you must see it."
Aeris opened her mouth, and then closed it. "Well," she started, but simply trailed off.
He didnt really care to let her stumble through the rest of her sentence. "Why the blazes do you think the planet sent me? Truly? For redemption? You must be kidding. This world isnt as happy and fun and forgiving as you would like to believe. I know things. I learned a thing or two in Hojos library under Shin-Ra mansion. There was some holes, of course, but I pieced an amazing amount of it together in the Lifestream."
Aeris looked up at him, both intrigued and surprised by his sudden bought of talketiveness. He usually answered her in a very literal snarl, and two word sentences. "What are you trying to say, Sephiroth?" she asked. "Quickly, please, they arent going to stay out there for very long before somebody kills someone else!"
"An interesting thought," he quipped, "and this isnt really something I can rush. My masanume, for example, it was given to me by Shin Ra. Your staff, you returned with it, a gift from the Planet. Ive seen them both before in a very less real world form, in the pages of a book that was simply called The Legacy..."
Reno drummed his fingers methodically against the aged wooden couch arm that he was leaning against, glaring ice coated daggers in a sweep across the room where it was returned with a half dozen equally hateful gazes. He quickly darted a glance at his wrist watch for the seventh time in the same number of seconds, and silently cursed Aeris and whatever fucking thing she had gone off to do. One more look at his watch... shed left a half hour ago!
He still wasnt entirely sure what had prompted her to storm out. Perhaps it she needed some air, the tension in the room was definitely enough to choke someone to their knees. Maybe she had something she needed to prepare. Or maybe, of course, she was just a bit frustrated when shed healed Renos wounded arm, and hed instantly used it to take a swing that had missed by a hairs breath from breaking Clouds nose.
It had taken all the self restraint in his body to force himself to sit in the couch by his fellow Turks, his sister, and Gabriel. As opposed to oh, say, leaping over the table that sat in the middle of the room, grabbing hold of Strifes wrists, and pulling in either direction until tendons stretched, snapped, and the limbs would pop put of their sockets. And then hed use the limbs to beat Strike into a very ugly submission.
A grin stretched across Renos face. That damn near euphoric thought had bought him... 8 seconds. The grin disappeared, and Reno contemplated smashing his watch with the heaviest object around. He growled. "Where in the fuck is she, anyway!?"
Gabriel leaned back slightly from his spot on the floor, glancing up at Reno, apparently he only one who had heard Renos mumbled curse. He shot the head a small smile that absolutely no one in the room shared, and tilted his hands towards the equally bored, equally irritated, and equally impatient Avalanche. It brightened Reno up just enough to cover the three remaining seconds of waiting, and said something for the kid on the floor that he had picked up on Renos not only professional but personal hatred of most of the other people in the room.
"Im right here, Reno," and so she was, her usually bright and perky- or at the very least, serene- face drawn tight and lined with concern, stretched out by grim determination and a definite over loud of seriousness. They look put them all off a peg or two, especially Cloud, who was stunned how Aeris could change her entire appearance from girl to women simply because of the mood she was currently in.
Reno blinked, shocked, because the door she had just walked out of was at least twenty feet away from her, and Gabriel was the only one who had reacted to what hed said- that was including people who had been in the immediate vicinity. One thing that he knew for sure was that he would never get used to all this mako, Lifestream, and Ancient shit. Dead people popping up everywhere these days. It didnt make any sense, you just couldnt put any logic to it.
A half dozen people leapt to their feet or opened their mouths to speak, but soon found that a search for the right words- or any words at all- was in vain. They each put out a few more futile attempts, particularly Tseng, who prided himself on his abilities with words... and who had been dying to scream at somebody since he had first waken up so many hours ago.
"Please," she began, holding up both of her hands like a teacher instructing her students to be quiet. You all have questions for me, or each other, and I know you all have something to say. I hope I can answer a good deal of your questions before you even need to ask them, and maybe even some of them you havent thought to ask yet. As most of you have long known, and I hope the rest of you have been informed, I was killed over a year ago by a renegade Soldier named Sephiroth. He drove a seven foot sword through my back, and all the way out my stomach."
Cloud opened his mouth to interrupt, but again, no words would come out. Reno allowed himself a mental snicker- he didnt seem to be able to do it out loud- at how remarkably Cloud looked like a fish as he stared almost bug eyed, his jaw working ceaselessly and pointlessly. Aeris took the moments pause to casually reach down and unfasten the 5th button down on her dress, pulling apart the material on either side a few inches in the opposite directions, exposing her navel. Resting directly above it was a small, almost silver scar. It was three inches tall but hardly a centimeter thick, and wouldnt have been intimidating at all if it wasnt for the common knowledge that it ran all the way through. Rory, always fascinated by scars, scooted forward a few feet across the floor just to see it better.
Rising shakily, Cloud slowly extended a finger, stopping it a hairsbreath from the ancient wound. He traced it in the air with a trembling finger, back and forth, several times. He looked up at her, and once again went to speak, and yet again he could not. Aeris suddenly felt bad about the simply spill she had placed on the room to make sure that they wouldnt interrupt her tale. The confusion and the sorrow, regret unearthed, was stitched plainly into every line on Clouds face. He sat down again, hard, a simple stunned mask twisted across his face.
"Before you," she said, "you see a wound healed and scarred over in a little over a years time. But I am the last Cetra, the last person able to speak clearly with the Planet. So I was healed. Skin was stitched back together with skin, organs were rebuilt from newly grown tissue, fused my spine together. It returned me to life, returned my essence to a body that was whole once again, a body that wouldnt be healed for eons.
"I am not the only one who has been granted this chance," Aeris continued, picking up the pace a bit. "Tseng Chet, Rory Tremaine, Gabriel Lucia. You all stand in a world that a week ago, you only inhabited as a part of the ground itself."
There was a pause, while the unsinkable tried to sink into the collective group. It confirmed a lot of peoples thoughts, guesses, hopes, fears... but at the same time added a whole new layer of all of that on the top of their minds. Tseng was simply nodding somberly, but Gabriel and Rory didnt even seem to be coherent, and they looked at her as if she had simply called attendance in class. Finally, like a stretched rope snapping under the weight of a rock, the truth broke over them- or at least her version of it- and the sheer look on their faces was enough to cause her to drop the Silence enchantment. It was astounding how quickly she wished she hadnt.
Noise poured into the room, as if every single individual sitting around her had never stopped attempting to talk even when it was clear that it was useless to try. The questions, denials, and outright accusations were overwhelming the Cetra couldnt even get a grasp on who or what was talking, and was forced to focus her spell again, but this time she did her best to leave it weaker around the teenagers, hopefully giving them a chance to say their piece. Gabriels eyes were wide.
"Uh, Miss..." he stated weakly, and Rory looked over at him in surprise, unused to seeing him nervous.
"Aeris," Aeris corrected him.
"Uh, Aeris, right..." he blinked, then swallowed. "Im not exactly sure how to say this without sounding like an absolute lunatic, but Im not, uh, a zombie."
Aeris stared at him for a moment. "Neither is anyone else in this room."
"Right, right... but Im not dead, either."
"Once again, no one else in this room is dead either."
"Well..." Gabriel tried again, obviously searching for the right words to form his denial. "But I never was."
"Unfortunately, that is no altogether true. In fact, you have been dead twice before now. When you were fourteen years old a poorly mixed rush of cocaine stopped your heart for four minutes." Aeris reminded him mildly. On the couch, Reno cocked an eyebrow, trying once again to size up the young man.
"But thats not... I mean... wait, how...?" Gabriel stumbled over his own words as if they were coated in baby oil, and any attempt to grab back hold was forgotten when Aeris answered him anyway.
"I know a lot of things about you, Mr. Lucia." Aeris said softly. "I know that you personally, deep down, are fully aware that youve spent more time out of the living world than you have in it, though some parts of you will not let you admit it to the other parts. Do you deny that youve felt incredibly out of place since you first awoke in Midgar?"
Now Gabriels tone was angry, if only because he was frustrated and because Aeris had just placed a finger directly on the point of unease he had been feeling for a while now. However, he chose to remain petulant over trying to mentally sort things out. "So I went out drinking. It isnt the first time Ive waken up with a hangover and things look a little different. Or a lot different. Its whats known as the underaged alcoholics time warp."
"Mako Slingers," Aeris said calmly, refusing to rise up over the tone of Tigers voice. "That is the bar you frequently visited, is it not?"
Gabriel took a deep breath, but he didnt use it. Instead, he simply nodded. Aeris slowly walked up to him, and without knowing why, he rose to meet her.
"Would you mind pulling aside your shirt for a moment?"
In any other situation he would have had a dozen and a half witty retorts prepared for that one, but in this case he simply reached down, grabbed the bottom of his shirt, and pulled it up to his chin, with absolutely no idea what she was looking for. He felt her finger, surprisingly cold, press over the skin right above his heart.
"White." She said simply.
Gabriel blinked. "Yes, I am." He answered, not understanding. "So?"
"No, thats not what I meant," Aeris dismissed his comment, "your skin is actually quite tan. But here its completely white. Almost bright in fact."
Gabriel leaned forward a bit, struggling to cast his gaze downwards without having his balled up shirt blocking the way. What he saw was the underside crescent of a jagged circle, right under where Aeris had poled him. "So?" he repeated, "I have a lot of scars. Theres one on my leg that looks like a dog for chrissake."
"August 4th, you were drinking alone. While typical of you, that is not a wise thing to attempt to do in Midgar, and especially that particular bar. Roughly seventeen seconds before the stroke of midnight an exhausted man you thought was one of your few friends entered the room with a Cobra Colt .62, and immediately sprayed most of your chest onto the counter."
"This is ridiculous!" A voice barked out, and Aeris jerked in surprise. Shed become so entrenched in her debate with Gabriel she didnt realize the strength of the spell had been slowly seeping away. The first man who had been able to break it was Tseng. "There is no reason to bicker over something that cant be proven one way or the other! Aeris. Why are we here?"
Aeris gave Tseng a curious look for a moment, straightened her dress, and began to talk.
She talked for a long time, but no longer needed any sort of silencing spell to keep their attention. Rory and Gabriel, for example, barely dared to breath after a few minutes into the tale. Tension held high as she told them of Hojo, of the Planet, and of the destruction of Condor Tower. And in turn, they spoke too, though most of them had no idea at all why they were choosing to tell the stories theyd told or why the called up the memories that they did. It just came as natural, and when quiet contemplation finally began to settle in on the general crowd, there really was only one think left to say.
"I notice," quipped Tseng, "you have yet to answer my question."
"Isnt is obvious?" Cloud asked, hopping to his feet for no reason at all. "We need to destroy Hojo." The last few hours of talking, and of a teased battle that had not come to fruition, had filled him with a sort of manic zeal, and the urge to smite the nearest evil object was almost overwhelming. His very skin was bristling with barely pent up energy.
Tseng smiles at the man, but there was nothing behind it. It was the sort of cold smirk he had given Shin Ra executives when they ordered him to do something.
"Sorry kid," he said coldly, "saving the Planet is your gig, not ours."
Across the couch, leaning back against Renos legs, Rory suddenly started in her relaxed pose. "But didnt you hear what she was just-"
Risking the consequences, Reno promptly covered her mouth with his hand. He immediately received an indignant bite and an elbow in the shins, but when he let her go at the very least she was silent, seemingly getting the message that this was not a situation it would be smart to throw herself into the middle of.
Cloud privately noted that at least the Turks were traveling with *one* decent person, but the angry look he had taken on upon hearing Tsengs words hadnt changed. "Tseng," he said through gritted teeth, "you dont like me, and your simple existence makes me question the plausibility of a higher power, but we wouldnt all be here if we werent all needed. We *all* need to go to Hojo and handle this."
With a sudden blink, Cloud became very unsure of himself. He turned to Aeris.
"Right?" he asked.
"Well... yes. And no," Aeris tacked on the last part quickly and cryptically, wiping the triumphant look off Clouds face before it had even truly had time to form.
"No?" Cloud asked, with confusion in his voice.
"Yes?" Tseng demanded, with irritation in his.
"You will all be needed, of course," Aeris tried to explain, "But there is some... equipment you need to pick up before you go to the Fort, and Im afraid its quite scattered. You will all go off with your respective groups to retrieve them, more or less."
"More or less?" Tseng asked, without a hint of give in his voice. "And whats with talking like weve already decided to go?"
Aeris ignored the second part of his statement. "Yes, more or less. A few from each of you groups may be going off in smaller factions to gather these items as quickly as possible, but not even the Planet is optimistic enough to assume that all of you could travel any amount of distance together without mass bloodshed."
Tseng glanced quickly at the other Turks. Their faces were impassive, just the was hed hoped, and he made a mental note to commemorate it later. Even so, he knew what they were thinking, especially Reno. Hed just got his sister back, and the rest of them had just gotten each other back, and the kid... well, he probably had a family somewhere. How would they get anything out of any of this if the world ended before they got to enjoy it for once?
He turned back to Aeris. "I have one condition," he said.
"No." Aeris stated firmly, then instantly changed her tune. "Well, yes. What I mean is that I have nothing to hold over any of you, this is completely voluntary and thus you may set any conditions you wish. I just meant that if its about anyone staying behind, or only going halfway, or waiting a day to leave- forget it. Go home, enjoy your last days alone, because you are *all* necessary to this."
Tseng paused, thinking over the condition he was ready to offer and realized it worked. He said it out loud, just so everyone would know. "Well go. Well do this. We might even refrain from killing any of Sliding Rocks over there. However, if we ever encounter a situation that there is no chance of walking away from- and the way you talk about whatever the hell Hojo has turned into, odds are well see a lot of these- we walk. We arent matyrs, were mercenaries."
Aeris misinterpreted his final sentence. "Well, Im sure youll find no shortage from parents of the children youll save if you succeed in what you need to do." Without waiting for a response from Tseng that she knew wasnt coming, she turned to Cloud. "Can I count on you?"
"Always." Cloud, as usual, spoke for the group, but even if he hadnt it would have been obvious what their answer was. They were simply an incredible union of heroism and unity.
"So...." Reno said idly, "what sort of equipment?"
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