Chapter 3 – Shadows of the Past

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 2                                                                                                    Chapter 4–>

Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its characters, and settings are all property of Square Enix so I can take no credit nor claim any ownership of that. I do take some credit for the story’s plot.
Artwork Disclaimer:  The featured artwork for this chapter is entitled FFVII: Broken Wing and was created by the very talented Deviant Artist TabrisV who was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it here. All rights belong to the artist, and links are included for both her artist page and the work.
“This is a warning to us all
These are the shadows of the past…”
-Les Misérable

Chapter 3 - Shadows of the Past
The candles were not even smoking and the room would shame mourning with black. Aeris jolted straight up in bed with a cry as she opened her eyes. Twin shafts of green light pierced her, and the flower girl released a full scream. A snap set the candles to burning again as if they’d never ceased. Her murderer sat in the old stuffed chair holding a book in his hand. The shuffling flames could not rival the Mako, but it was less blatant in natural light.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, little one.”

“It’s…it’s alright.” Her racing breath allowed itself to be caught as she pushed tendrils of hair from her face. “I just never leave myself in complete darkness.” She rubbed an arm, hoping he wouldn’t think her foolish before wondering why she cared.

“I understand.” And Aeris relaxed before realizing that she had. That earned him a look to take note of the tattered book in his grip.

“Were you…were you reading?”

“Yes. Does that surprise you?”

“No, not the reading part at all, but there wasn’t any light.”

“I don’t need light to see.”

“How do you see?” Her little face turned quite earnest as she leaned forward a bit.

Sephiroth tilted his head to the side, and she must’ve imagined the slight lift of his lips. “Very well. Better in the dark than you can in the light.”

“I know that…I meant how do you see? Is your vision all narrow like looking through a crack in a wall?”

He wasn’t moving yet became so still she could believe he had turned to stone. It was unsettling and eerie and the imagined smile was gone. “…you’re asking because of my cat eyes? Do they frighten you, child?”

“Maybe a little…” She bit her lip, unsure why she was embarrassed. “You…you don’t seem to blink.”

“Not unless something gets in my eyes, which is rare because of my lashes.” He lowered his lids and she witnessed their splendor against his marble skin. Incredibly long and surprisingly dark despite the silver hair.

“They’re…beautiful.” It came out before she could tame it.

“They’re functional,” he allowed laying the book on his lap. “That and nothing more.”

“What book were you reading?” She noticed it in the motion.

“Just a volume of old poems I found on your shelf.” He picked it back up between two fingers, and the air grew hushed as he read.

“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea,
By sea girls wreathed in seaweed red and brown.
‘Til human voices wake us and we drown.”

She tried to hide the shudder, but those eyes missed little in their gleam.

“I apologize,” he said quickly, closing the book on the table now. “I didn’t mean to remind you of your death.”

“It’s alright,” she replied. “I…didn’t really drown, you know.”

“Yes, child…I do.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Aeris asked a little vexed. He wasn’t that much older than her and death should’ve made them equal.

He moved too quickly to follow, but she still cringed away to him kneeling before her bed.

“Wh-What are you doing?” she squeaked, squeezing the bed clothes tight.

But he didn’t respond and just knelt there in silence head low as his hair spilled around. It was more silvery grey at the roots before falling to moonlight and ashes. He looked as he had when she’d first seen him, a wretched captive bound in chains. The collar was still around his neck. He’d not removed it in the night. The cuffs on his wrists scraped against the floor as if they were the ones trying to escape.

“You ask why I call you ‘child.’ Because I’m not worthy to say your name let alone be in your presence.”

Aeris’s heartbeat rang in her ears so it must’ve deafened him.

“I’m not the same monster that killed you. That was something else a long time ago, but my hand was the one that wielded the sword, and for that there’s no forgiveness.”

The flower girl’s fingers unclenched from the blanket as the Planet swirled sweetly within. Uncertain if touched by her own madness, Aeris pulled herself closer to the edge.

“Can I see your hand?”

He lifted his face at her request, presenting his left to her.

“W-Without the glove.” He immediately removed both of them and his palm was so white it could blind.

The flower girl shivered, remembering the sword had been drawn from the air on that side. She forced her hand to hover above his as he stared at her unblinking. With no expression on his face, his pupils were shaped to cut. It was as though emerald light had been slashed open for darkness to seep starkly through. Aeris forced her gaze away before terror had her running. With a silent prayer to the Planet, she lowered her hand towards his.

When her fingers touched his skin, Aeris braced for coldness, but found a surprising, abundant heat. She also couldn’t help but notice how tiny her hand looked on the broad plain of his palm. His fingers were well made and long enough to easily wrap around her throat. She swallowed that thought along with her shock as she studied his passive face.

“I…can’t feel it anymore.”

“Feel what, child?” His eyes were half veiled and his lashes danced in Mako light.

“The…the wrongness, the horror. I…won’t say its name…”

“Neither will I. There’s no reason to call up more horrors of the past…I think I am enough.”

He lowered his head to hard shut eyes and that moonlight hair tumbled before. Aeris was trying to fathom what was happening for contrition could not dwell within him. Her fingers on his hand softened, and though she trembled the flower girl let them sink down palm to palm. Warmth radiated up from his skin in an impossible rush, and she didn’t know what to do. She’d expected the creep of corruption, but what she’d found couldn’t be believed.

“Where are all your friends, child? Why are you alone?” He lifted his head and tossed his hair away and out of his face.

“They’re…dead, Sephiroth,” she whispered. “Do you know how long it’s been?”

He shook his head, and the whisper of silver shivered on leather black.

“A hundred years. They’ve been gone a long time.”

“Even Strife and Valentine?” His voice sharpened to steel and he narrowed his eyes, which made their heat more focused. Aeris snatched away her hand with a whimper. It was the “great general’s” voice unforgotten by time, its force filling her small bedroom.

“Y-Yes…”

Sephiroth put his hand on the floor though it was now a fist. He cast his gaze about, shaking his head. “How is that possible? They were like me…”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” Aeris was holding her hands up to her face and shaking too hard to run away.

He had been murmuring questions to himself, but stopped to give her his attention. “I’m sorry, child. I didn’t mean to frighten you. They had…its cells swimming in their veins. Unless they were killed by something greater, this short time would not bring them to end. It is a bitter travesty.” He lowered his head. “That I live and they now rot. Do you know how they died?”

“No, I don’t,” she assured him. “I was in the Lifestream when it happened. I felt their souls pass within, but I never saw them…I never saw any of them. There is only an echo in my heart of where they all used to be…”

There could be nothing worse than what happened next. Tears formed in her summer green eyes as her murderer knelt on her bedroom floor, but Sephiroth did not shame her for them as his other fist clenched in its cuff.

“I’m sorry…” She wiped her face with a sleeve and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Don’t apologize to me, little one,” he whispered his eyes wide in utter shock. He tamed his expression back to near blank, and Aeris remembered to breathe again. “So you were there for a hundred years?”

“Yes…” She wondered how much she should tell him and if the Planet would count that betrayal. A stream of music twirled through her ears, and she assumed her dear friend was on board. “I was…there to stop you when you called the meteor down. Your…killing me…it put me exactly where I needed to be…”

The candles crackled within their wax and almost drowned out his low voice. “Fate was just that my most heinous crime would lead to my undoing.”

“You’re happy to have been beaten?” Incredulity raised her voice.

Sephiroth shook his head, eyes closed so hard they could bleed. “I never wanted any of it…madness, godhood, glory. That was ever and always its plan, but now that horror has left my soul, leaving this sad, pale husk behind.”

She stopped her fingers from reaching out by clenching them hard together. “How did you end up here? Why were you caged and chained?”

He stood so quickly Aeris scrambled back, but Sephiroth merely whirled about his hair sweeping like a banner to lean against the frame of her door. He looked up at stars that neither could see and his low voice caused heart’s quaver.

“My nightmares are full of blood and screams. My memory full of death. The scrape of steel on naked bone…the stench of burning flesh. They all come back to haunt me now that I’m alive again. The memories…they never leave. All the ones I killed. All the ones I wronged. In waking it’s unbearable. In dreams it’s a thousand times worse.”

“Do…do I haunt you, too?”

He turned his head and if Aeris did not see it, she could not have burned her tongue with the words. But if sorrow existed it lived in his eyes as he forced himself to face her.

“Oh, little flower…you haunt me worst of all.” He turned back to the sky that lay unseen beyond the layers of steel. “When I died…when Strife killed me, it was…the sweetest of reliefs. I was free of the hatred…the burning desire to lay waste and to kill. Imagine being a spectator at your own hellish descent, but having no power to change your course. I welcomed the still of oblivion. In none of my delusions did I expect this world to take me in. I was cursed. I was tainted by that which had dripped down from the cold stars so long ago. Death is the best thing that ever happened to me, child, but I didn’t deserve that gift. I became aware in the freezing cold and was in pain so I knew that I lived. The tendrils of madness were gone from my mind so that memory could invade, but I could neither move nor see and could only lie there and suffer.

“Then one day I realized my blindness was due to my eyes being closed. The struggle to open them left me ashamed, I who had once been so strong, but I quickly forgot any pride I had had in the fight to lift my lashes. The first sight I saw was whirling white and my breath tainting the pristine air. In the deep Northern Crater all the way down my face streamed with icy tears. I hoped I would be buried by it, but it melted in touching the pale. Once open my eyes would no more close, I had spent all my strength in that action. So I was forced to bear the pinpricks of ice as they fell into unblinking green.

“Time passed slow, yet I was still thankful the day I found I could crawl. I spent meager strength trying to pull myself forward until exhaustion forced me to the ground. Never had I known what weakness was and but for memory this was the worst, but it gave me something to work towards, the hope that one day I could stand. Towards the far wall of the cavern I dragged myself so that I could climb to my feet. The first time I did my hair shrouded my face and the blood rushing made me collapse. In nightmares that howled I was placed on a rack and pulled til my bones cracked upon. When I awoke I felt every fissure and would have vomited had anything been within.

“I had nothing to do but try again as the snow stood silent witness. I took one step and fell to my knees, my hair splayed on the craggy ground. My palms were scraped but did not bleed. It would take more than rocks for that. I struggled to my feet once more and leaned against the cavern wall. It was large and would’ve been pitch black if not for the light of my eyes. Passages led winding up and down to where I didn’t then know. I could sense no life within my space, but faint stirrings were in the tunnels.

“I won’t bore you, child, with my slow ascent back to full strength. My tainted cells kept me alive, and I grew used to hunger as I never did nightmares for no mercy would let me die. The passage that smelled of outside cold was where I first sought my escape, but it wound deeper down to the bowels of the world, and I soon abandoned that plan. Another reeked of rotting flesh and was blocked by a great dead beast. The rats had gnawed their own passage through, but there was no room for me. For how long I don’t know I wandered those caves and found even beauty amongst the gloom. A great vaulted cavern that could’ve served as a hall burned luminescent green. It reflected my eyes but was far purer than unending Mako corruption. What creatures there were avoided me so they were wiser than they knew.

“Sunlight would’ve burned the eyes of one who needed to blink, when I finally stepped from the shadows. Drifting snow froze like earthbound stars as though binding the air to its cold. I only knew this intrinsically for it never reached my heat.   I could only think of one place to go…the city known as the scar on the world, the place I’d been created. Something was calling, calling me there, and I was initially repelled. But this yearning seemed more like a suggestion rather than a pathway to madness and death. The world would not want its greatest enemy dwelling in its midst, and the one thing about Midgar, say what you wish, it’s easy to disappear. So south I went through lands unspoiled by my selfish desire. The monsters out here were bolder, but my general instincts reacted and I called the Masamune to hand. The blood bond with it was still active, and I still remembered the dance.

“When the sprawl of the city crunched beneath my boots I wondered how much time had passed. The smell from even above was desolate and the slums fully reeked of despair. That was where I went for I wanted to vanish, and I knew the tower still stood. I saw the squalor that in my life before dwelled beneath my arrogant feet, but shame was already deep within me and I couldn’t summon any more. I made sure no one saw me in the dark sectors below. The pass code resurfaced from my memory and it was unchanged in what must’ve been years. I expected guards. I expected alarms, but I found nothing within. The whole of the structure was empty and had been for many years. What ran must have done so by design for not a living soul stirred within. There was…something though. A hint. A whisper, but it quickly faded, and my senses could detect no more. I went far below where the dead dare not dream and gave my nightmares their reign at last. When I awoke I was caged and chained in the place where you found me last night.”

Aeris bit her lip to stop its trembling and hid her eyes behind a fall of hair.

“How did you get there?”

“I don’t know. I awoke and there I was. Bound to the floor, covered in chains, surrounded by Midgar’s hatred.”

“How long were you there?” she whispered and he shook his head at the grief in her voice.

“I don’t know, little flower. A week perhaps some time more.”

“You wandered those caverns for nearly a century…” the little Cetra whispered.

“Yes. I supposed I did.” He cocked his head to the side, curious by her concern. “Why do you ask, child?”

Aeris covered her face, and he stepped out of the doorway so he could stand up straight. As if sensing this, she lowered her hands, but kept her trembling eyes veiled.

“Why didn’t you try to escape before?”

“Why would I do so, little flower?” His voice was soft and seemed even lower as the candles slightly dimmed.

“Because they were torturing you!” The cry broke the dam though she tried to contain it within her small shaking hand. Sephiroth slid forward his eyes wide to the white sparkling around emerald deep. The chains on his wrists clanged against the shackles and that made her weeping worse.

Toe to heel he approached the maid like the cat his eyes proclaimed. Her other hand came up to assist in containing, but the rush was too great to hold. Tentatively, using thumb and forefinger Sephiroth lifted her hand away. Aeris gasped and wiped her face with the other as he peered down with what could’ve been rue.

“Are you…are you weeping for me, child?” he whispered. Her soft palm was damp with the salt of her tears, and it was the most delicate thing he’d ever held.

“How can’t I?” The free hand briefly shielded her eyes before she looked up with cheeks flushed.

“Don’t I deserve to be bound in chains? Don’t I deserve to be beaten?”

“No!” she cried descending back to sobs. “No one deserves that. Especially not now…not now that I know…” She squeezed his hand as he frowned to her sorrow.

“Why does my discomfort bother you so? You of all people should revel to see me in torment.”

“You don’t deserve to be hurt!”

With grace he descended back to his knees still holding her hand in his. Moonlit hair slid along his black coat, limning in silver light. Aeris sniffed and a tear released her lashes to shiver down a sodden cheek. In curiosity abound Sephiroth caught it before rolling that hand to a fist.

“You truly believe that I, your murderer, don’t deserve to be hurt. That I need not pay for what I did…” It wasn’t a question but rather a wonder as her soft tear warmed his hand.

“You’ve paid for it a thousand times more, and it was never you.”

He lowered his head and squeezed his fist tight, wishing the tear could wash his sins, but he could not allow sentiment to block the bitter truth.

“Part of it was. Part of me wanted that poisoned promise that bled through my mind like foul fire. In all my strength there was still that weakness, the belief I was better than all. Maybe it was a flaw in my creation or maybe I created it on my own.”

“You’ve had ample chance to hurt me,” she insisted, “yet you’ve done nothing but help. You saved me from those men last night. You carried me safely home.”

“I could save you a thousand times. It won’t negate what I did. It makes me no less a monster.”

“You’re not a monster. What was done to you was terrible…” She placed her other hand on his, but his eyes reflected only her sadness.

“It is far less terrible than what was done to you.”

“Sephiroth, you-“

His head lifted and Aeris was caught in a wash of emerald flame. It stiffened her tongue and what he said next was in a voice so joyless it could’ve been a thousand years dead.

“When I pierced you your dying heart struggled to beat around the blade of my sword. It convulsed in hopeless agony as your hot blood washed my face. I felt you die and I enjoyed it. That is what makes me a monster.”

The tiniest sound quavered in the back of her throat as her murderer’s words froze the air. Aeris jerked away and he let her go to stumble past him and out the bedroom. He heard the bathroom door slam and incoherent sobbing shut his eyes to her fear. Lowering his head he squeezed both fists and gave her tears their solitude. Relegating the sound to his under-hearing where the nails in the foundation still dwelled.

The once general rose and walked over to her candles, sad stumps of wax almost burned out. With a motion swift he re-silenced them and opened the curtains to let in wane light. The street lamps were yellow as a sickly sun and his own eyes were brighter by far. A blob of wax had formed on faded surface so Sephiroth scraped it away. The image of Midgar sprawled beneath, and his head tilted in curiosity. Moving the piled knick knacks aside revealed a full map of the Planet with ends frayed from age and use. Sephiroth scrutinized the small words and etchings there as he slid silver away from his face.

Midgar was blighted, an empty hole, to call it black would insult that hue. But she’d drawn numerous paths from its heart in lighter, looping lines. Slightly east to Kalm were the words “It’s not far and I could sit at the inn and have coffee.” A steaming cup had been rendered in whimsical hand complete with steam rising above. The once general’s face was expressionless, but his finger followed the wavy lines. Further south on the same continent she’d traced a circle around Mideel. “The Lifestream flows close to the surface here, but the ebb swallowed the town long ago. Even if the people have rebuilt it’s oh so far away…” Farther north she’d marked the one town that dwelled in winter’s heart. “It would be so cold, but I’d see snow and frozen bones would be worth such a sight.” Then across the world she’d sketched a sun on the place known as Costa del Sol. “I think I’d burn like a leaf in a blaze, but it’d be worth it to see the sea. I’d even bless the sun in all its fury. It’s been so long since I’ve felt its light…”

Nearly every place on the map had been touched by her little hand. All save for Midgar which stayed ever dark, a harsh scar upon the world. She’d drawn pathways from the city to the lands of her desire. Just tracing them Sephiroth caught both her hope and sorrow that furrowed his brows wondering why. He shook the hair in front of his face when Nibelheim crossed his view, but he was saved from that as summer scent lifted his head to the maid’s return.

“No one has ever wept for, child,” he whispered. “No soul has ever shed tears on my behalf.” He pushed his hair back as he looked over to her standing with one hand on her bed. “I can never be as sorry as you deserve, but I apologize for my last words. You have no need to know how a heart of darkness seethes.”

“You were just telling me the truth.” She closed her hand by her heart. “There’s no need to apologize.”

Sephiroth nodded and faced her, and though Aeris stiffened slightly, she didn’t run away. “I never asked about you…” His voice became lower to this new shame, and the flower girl’s lips parted with curiosity. “That was very selfish and ungrateful of me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean how did you come to be here? In this rank place beneath the plate.”

“I…” She turned and leaned against the bed, and he ever slowly drew near. Aeris watched him while the emerald light dimmed to show he’d halved his lids. She sighed and rubbed a hand cross her lips as if prepping them for words never spoken.

“I awoke in my church amongst my flowers. They were still growing even after a hundred years. I don’t know how that’s possible…maybe they just remembered my touch or maybe they were called by my memory.”

He had stopped beside the window to clasp his hands behind his back as the street lamps streamed past his darkness. It ignited silver in its passing, and the winter hair multiplied light. Aeris forced herself not to stare for some moments robbed of coherent thought.

“I…was terrified at first because I didn’t understand and I also didn’t have my staff. I had my old clothes though…” Aeris trailed off so soft had he not his greater senses she would’ve faded to silence. “They…were covered in blood, but I no longer had a wound.”

“Did you keep them, child?” His low voice shivered her skin, and his head was bowed as he peered up.

“Yes…”

“Why?” he asked as she walked toward her closet and found the pink bundle with no need for sight.

“Memories are all I have.” She unfolded the dress that wore her blood as she had once worn it. “Even the bad ones are sacred…”

Sephiroth gave the sight his full piercing gaze, and in green light the old blood looked black. Behind his back his clasped hands tightened enough to crush a man’s bones. His face showed no sign of what lay beneath, but it was pouring off of his skin.

“I knew the Planet had revived me, but for what purpose I couldn’t know.” The flower girl put the memory away, though he lowered his head not forgetting. “I had been within it for a hundred years and couldn’t fathom why I was back. I can…talk to it, you know, but it’s not really talking it. It’s more like having a whisper in your ear all the time.”

“Change whisper to roar and I understand, child. I understand all too well…” Emerald lit the hair in front of his face before he pushed it away.

“But the Planet is benevolent. Demanding in its way, but never like what you endured. I was back in the city that had captured my youth, but I had no idea why I was here. My friends were all dead and I was trapped in the squalors, my only sanctuary my lonely church. Unlike you I could stand immediately, thankfully I’d been fully revived, but I knew I couldn’t stay there. My church was and always has been safe, but I needed somewhere to live. The only place I could think was my mother’s house.”

“I thought the last full Cetra died long ago.” The words came before he could stop them, and Aeris startled, a stricken look paining her face.

“Y-Yes…she did when I was young. I was speaking of the woman who adopted me.”

“I’m so sorry, child.” Her quaking was quelled by his utter sincerity. “It was beaten into me to be straightforward.” He looked down at the floor and deep into memory, the weight of it crossing his exquisite features.

“I don’t know how I made it through the slums with my life or virtue intact. It was so much worse than I remembered it. I don’t want to remember at all…what I saw that first night or what I’ve seen ever since.”

“Then don’t, child,” he said softly. “Your memory is burdened enough.”

Aeris shook her head. “But I must. All those victims don’t deserve to be forgotten. I still don’t understand how I made it through. The Planet must’ve protected me.” She sighed and found a strand of her bangs, running small fingers through. “I was so grateful to find my mother’s house not only standing, but not ransacked by thieves. Most of the other houses had been abandoned and quite a few more have been boarded up. Sometimes, though I’m not certain, I can hear…things coming from within.” She shuddered and he kept his silence again for the scratching within the walls. “When I first came back I checked the whole house to make sure that it was empty. Marauders had been in here, but they hadn’t found the gil my mother had hidden in the basement.”

“And how did you find it?”

“The Planet led me there…it was also the safest place in the house. I found that out my very first night.” The flower girl shivered again, and Sephiroth gripped the shackle on one wrist. “Thieving gangs run rampant when the lights bleed to red, and they’ll ‘steal’ far more than possessions. I was sleeping up here so grateful to have a bed beneath me, when the voice of the world shrilled me wake. I had enough time to hide under the bed as I listened to them rummage through my room.” Sad laughter lifted emerald green. “At least they weren’t like you to hear my very heartbeat and know where to find me then. I learned my lesson quickly and moved my bed things beneath the ground floor. It was colder and danker, but when they came none ever thought to look in the basement though I still trembled at the footsteps above. Not that it happened all that often, but just those few times were enough.

“I knew I had to do something to occupy my time and my church still bore my flowers. They were winter white though when once they’d been yellow, but the fragrance still cheered my heart. My dear friend…that’s what I call the Planet.” She blushed a bit, but he had no judgments to give. “Well, it was being stubborn with letting me know my purpose. I was alive, but I had no idea why. Before…I knew exactly what I had to do.”

“Stop me,” he said flatly. “You had your materia and I had mine. Thank the gods yours proved the stronger.” He stood a bit straighter, giving the flower girl a direct look under which she tried not to wither. “Whatever happened to yours, child?”

“I lost it on the day I died…” she barely breathed unsure if it was these words or him that stole her voice.

“A great many things were lost that day including your white stone.”

“It wasn’t white…not really.” Aeris folded her hands in memory. “Rather a pale, translucent green, warm to the touch with a glow that could’ve been just dreamed. It doesn’t matter anyway. It fulfilled its purpose…as did I.”

“But…it didn’t work, little one. Despite your plea I slew you on the altar.” His head was bowed so low again and his lips could’ve shaped regret.”

“It…did.” The small voice was reassuring and Sephiroth looked up again. “Just not in the way I expected. If my prayer had come to pass then, the story would’ve been different.”

“How so?”

It would’ve saved us all. Aloud she replied, “It would’ve destroyed the abomination or stopped it for a long time, but only life can pay for death and only blood for power.”

“You gave yourself to my sword and madness.”

“It’s what I was born to do…but now I don’t know what my purpose is besides selling flowers in the slums. It all comes full circle…”

“Is that what you do now, child?” he asked. “Sell your flowers in the gloom?”

Aeris nodded unsure why she feared the judgment of emerald light. “Yes…it seems to bring hope to the people down here.”

“Then it’s better than anything I’ve ever done.”

She rubbed her arm unsure what to say to her murderer’s hollow grief. “It’s just part of my daily routine. I go to my church and gather my lilies after I pray to the Planet. Every day I hope that it’ll reveal my purpose, but it only sings softly in my head. Then I go to the center and sell my white blooms for just one gil a piece. Some I give away if I find those sore needing or if there are children who show some interest. The money I make I give to the poor and destitute in the gloomier sectors. Then at the end of some days when the lights slip to yellow I go to the sector that used to be. There I lay flowers in memory of my friends and all of those who died beneath.”

Sephiroth’s eyes narrowed. “It’s dangerous over there, isn’t it, little one?”

“Yes,” Aeris admitted, “but I’m the only one left alive. I’m the only one left to remember. That’s what I was doing when those men found me. So stupid…they could’ve-”

“There’s nothing foolish in remembering,” he told her, “and you did nothing to warrant their ‘grace.’”

“You’re right…” She chewed her lip over restless hands. “But you were wrong about something else. You aren’t a monster.”

“I was born of one, child,” he said so sadly, shutting his eyes hard for the shame. “I am get of the ancient evil that fell from the stars long ago.”

“No.” Aeris shook her head stubbornly. “That’s not what she was.”

“Are you saying the thing you so desperately fought was not such an abomination?” One eyebrow was raised above deeper frown as the light became sharp in its gleaming.

The flower girl squirmed beneath such scrutiny, but held tight to her resolve. “I’m not saying that at all, but that was not your mother.”

Sephiroth parted his lips, but even the shadow of words died on his tongue. His hands fell to his sides as the chains dully clanged.

“They…they told me that she’d died in birth and her name was…the abomination’s. I believed them then. Why wouldn’t I? I had no other truth…”

“They lied,” was her gentle response. “Vincent told us the truth and they betrayed him, as well, so he had no reason to protect them.”

“He would know, wouldn’t he?” Sephiroth whispered. “He was older than us all.” He took a step back where a graceless man would’ve stumbled and descended back into the chair. One hand to his temple, he looked at the little Cetra trying to quell her own sorrow at his face. “Did he…did he tell you her name?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes he did. Her name was Lucrecia Crescent.”

“A-And how was she cursed to birth me?”

“She was a scientist taking part in some experiment…but Vincent wouldn’t speak about the details. I think it was too painful to recall.”

“And that experiment produced me…” He leaned back and looked up to the dark foundation, but no answers were hidden there. It had all happened so long ago, there were not even scraps of memory to cling. Hands clasping the chair, he concentrated on Aeris to keep his grip from crushing the arms. “I have to find her…I have to find where she’s buried and beg her for forgiveness. I was her son and I never knew it. I never even knew her name…”

“You were lied to.” Aeris felt herself pulled forward. “What could you have done?”

Sephiroth shook his head. “Do you know anything, child? Do you know where she might be?”

“No, I’m so sorry, Sephiroth-” But he silenced her before she could continue with a gesture of his hand.

“No apologies from you. I won’t have them, not after what I did.”

She put her hands to her hips, a bit exasperated, but found she could speak again. “What I was going to say was I don’t know where she might be, but I know some people who might.”

He looked up and she was only a few steps away.

“Who?” he asked.

“The Followers of Seph.”

“The Followers of Seph,” he repeated flatly with an expression to match. “Who or what are ‘The Followers of Seph?’”

“Well…” Aeris put a hand over her mouth but Sephiroth still heard the suppressed giggle. “To put it quite plainly…they’re fangirls. They’re fangirls…of you.”

“Fangirls.” His voice was deadpan. “They used to call themselves the Silver Elite…it seems they have evolved.”

“So you’ve heard of them?”

Sephiroth ran a hand through his hair so silver streamed down the side of his face. “One can’t be the greatest of generals without having some hangers on.” There was no pride or vanity in his voice. He was simply stating a fact.

“I-I don’t know too much about them,” Aeris stuttered, “just rumors no more no less. They have to keep themselves secreted away. People have had their tongues torn out for merely speaking your name.”

That shocked him back to grief once more as the mask he was wearing cracked. “So how do you know about them, little one?”

“One hears things in the slums of Midgar, especially when one is small and not easily noticed.” She half grinned. “They have a meeting place in Sector 2, but I’ve never been there. It’s close to the edge of the city…” She lowered her head as her thin shoulders slumped taking all of her mirth with them.

“What is it, child?” He leaned forward slowly so as not to frighten her.

Aeris wrapped her arms around herself and her bangs hid the burn in green eyes. “I want to leave the slums so badly, but there’s no way that I can.”

“Why can’t you leave?”

She shuddered and Sephiroth frowned. “You saw how bad it was last time. It’s even worse out close to the edge. The roving gangs own the nights and days and only the strong survive. As much as I want to escape the slums, I won’t risk the mercy of the Planet to try to get through that.”

“I’ll take you out of the city, child. If that’s what you desire.”

Aeris’s head jerked up to the ring of dew in summer green. His words and his look were both so sincere, and through her head spun the loveliest music.

“You…you will?”

“Flowers weren’t meant to bloom in the shadows.” His voice was low to emerald light. “I’ll take you out of the slums.”

Blinding by tears, Aeris rushed forward, reaching for the hands of her murderer, and though surprised, he caught hers within.

“You’ll really take me out of Midgar?”

“Of course I will.” Her fingers were so tiny and noticeably cold within the stark heat of his. “You once protected the world from me. Let me protect you from the world.”

“Oh thank you, thank you!” She all but leapt for joy looking up at his eyes and this time not flinching away.

“There’s no need, little flower,” he assured her. “I owe you your life. This little request is nothing.”

“It’s so much more than nothing to me…” His heart began to hurt for the expression on her face as Aeris mused aloud. She had not removed her hands from his, and Sephiroth sat almost frozen for if he moved she’d surely snatch them away.

“Where will I go once I get out though…outside must be even more dangerous than within. What will I do to protect myself? I don’t even have my staff and the Planet’s been so fickle. If I die again there’s not even anyone left to remember or mourn me, and I still never even knew my purpose – oh…”

The “oh” was due to the fact that Sephiroth was now standing, towering over the small flower girl. She lifted her head to cascading silver hair framing angelic and beautiful face. He was so tall her neck began to ache just in those short moments looking up.   Her right hand was still encased in his left, and his eyes smoldered like green coals.

“It’s a terrible thing to be forgotten,” he whispered.

“It’s a far worse thing never to be remembered at all…” she barely answered with half-stolen voice.

“Wherever you wish to go, little flower, I will take you there. I won’t leave you until I know you’re someplace safe.”

The tears came before Aeris could cage them and Sephiroth could find no words. Skin to skin she felt only sincerity and the sorrowful core of regret. She caught herself finally and tugged at her hand to his instant release.

“Do you…do you mind lighting a candle?” she asked stepping close to her map. “I know you can see, but it would be strange to view this using only the light in your eyes.”

He flicked those eyes and one of the taller ones brightened and it was half in her to ask how, but Aeris swallowed the question to peer at her map running fingers over the time worn surface. She started to blush as she realized he’d seen this, her little etchings and silly words, but in the candle’s crackle he peered down with no judgment on a passive face. He was standing beside her, but giving enough room so she wasn’t burdened by his presence. Aeris flipped her braid away to one side, and this called Sephiroth’s gaze only briefly to the curve of neck amongst wispy hair.

“I just want to go someplace quiet where I can see the sky and maybe hear the sea…”

“Costa del Sol then.” He moved his finger there as she slid hers just shy of touching.

“Maybe…” She tapped the map, pursing her lips. “It’s a resort town…or was a hundred years ago. Who knows if it’s even still there…” That thought deadened her heart for a moment. What if all before had been turned to dust in her time in the Lifestream and here?

“If Midgar still stands I’m sure other towns do.” His low voice was soft from above. She twisted her head to look up at him and his half-veiled eyes pulsed down. “There’s also the chance that others have grown, and you’ll find the quiet that you seek.”

“Kalm is not too far from the sea.” Her finger hovered around the small cup. “But it’s awfully close to Midgar.”

“You just want to be far away from here, don’t you?”

“Yes…” She lowered her head. “I’m…ashamed, because I feel like the Planet put me here to do something, but what can I possibly do?” She raised her hands peering up at him, but Sephiroth had no answer.

“Here’s this,” he said after some moments. “I’ll take you to the shores of the western continent and we’ll find a place for you to be safe.”

Aeris turned to him with such gratitude it couldn’t be contained on her face. “I just have a small request.”

“Anything, child.” He tilted his head as she stepped forward and tapped a finger on one of his shackles.

“You wish me to remove them.”

“Yes, and the one around your neck, too.”

“Why does this concern you so much, little one?”

“You don’t deserve to be in chains.”

Sephiroth sighed unsure how such stubbornness could dwell in one so small.

“And something else.” She closed the distance and laid a hand atop of his. He hid his shock by staying perfectly still. The flower girl gazed up out of innocent eyes the color of summers long dead. “We’re all that’s left of yesterday and my name is Aeris.”

The light from his eyes burned hot on his lashes as they curled long on winter skin. He slowly turned his hand to encase tiny fingers, and the candle flame dimmed in its wax.

“Aeris…” It was a name meant for whispers as he slid his thumb over her hand, and for a brief second she swore he smiled.


Disclaimer: The verse lines used near the beginning of this chapter are from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which I own no rights to (so many disclaimers…)

Author’s Note: Dearest readers, what do you think?  Is that smile evil or benign?  The next chapter entitled Blood Dance will be posted Friday April 17.  Thank you so much for your continued support.

<–Chapter 3                                                                                                   Chapter  4–>

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 3 – Shadows of the Past

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