Chapter 17 – Dutiful Daughter

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 16                                                                                                Chapter 18–>

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 White Materia and was created by Deviant Artist The-m00nriver All rights belong to the artist, and the work is used graciously with permission here.
Author’s Note:  I really debated posting two chapters again this week, because this is a fairly short one, but I think you will be happy with what occurs.  I feel the need to let you know that the very last chapter of this tale ALWAYS makes me cry no matter how many times I read it.  So, you have that to look forward to.  I hope you enjoy and thank you all for your patronage!
“We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us,
and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our stead.”
-George R R Martin, “A Storm of Swords”

White MateriaThe train was completed before midsummer so she bought a ticket for Costa del Sol. Just for the day. Just to see what life the high season would bring. The station was in Wesker’s Square and ran along the mountain. Aeris was happy they’d left her shore undisturbed by tracks. The day it opened was quite an event, almost like a holiday. The young were ecstatic, the old skeptical, but excitement still flared the air. For now it only went between the Whispers and there, but the future held only promise. There was talk one day it would cut through the mountains in order to reach Nibelheim. Aeris smiled sadly at that name and held her secrets within.

The car was clean and sleek and fast, as the flower girl watched the blurred world. Her sigh this time was not to court patience, but relief that she traveled alone. Edwin had hemmed and hawed and babbled about possibly taking a trip. She’d avoided commitment saying something about flowers, then bought a ticket the very next day. She hated to lie, but just couldn’t stomach a whole day full of Edwin. “There are just some blossoms that only grow in Costa,” she’d told him, “and I’d like to get some seeds.” It was business and boring and Aeris just hoped the boy wouldn’t want to tag along. He had no need to know that flowers just came as the petulant Planet willed.

She had started to arrange her inexhaustible blossoms for occasions about the town. It kept her hands busy even if her mind was still far too free. There had just been one wedding, an older couple who’d beamed brighter than any half aged. They’d wanted daffodils and baby’s breath to remind them time wasn’t their master, and the little Cetra couldn’t agree more since she was older than them both.

The resort town was definitely livelier than the last time she’d been there. Aeris wore her sandals and sundress, the white one with the blue lace. Removing her shoes, she tiptoed along barefoot on sun bathed beach. The sea licked her toes as she peered about, still seeing the town subdued. Along the grey wall, Aeris paused, the straps of her shoes making grooves in her palm. Though children splashed and bathers napped, she still marked the spot where he’d carried her out. Beneath her hand, the Cetra squinted at the mirage of the horizon. It was there playing in her mind, the afterimage of glory that must’ve stepped forth from the darkness into day. A string of soft music came to her then, but it was an echo and not the true song. The ocean grumbled deep and forlorn for she’d caught a snippet of ancient argument.

Aeris decided to take dinner at the hotel where they had stayed. The bellboy greeted her with a bright smile though he was overburdened with bags. She didn’t wait to see the query in his eyes for where her guardian was, but ducked into the restaurant in the back where no one would know her face.

The last train left right before midnight so the Cetra walked back to the sea. She was apprehensive for he had not been here to ensure no monsters lurked. The beach was deserted for there was no sun, and the chairs looked like bitter bones. The sand shifted cold beneath her soles as the flower girl tiptoed down. She could sense nothing and now had to put her trust in the stubborn world. Her reward was the ocean gleaming soft as if the stars had come down for a visit. There were tiny creatures flittering there, and their luminescence lit the sea. Though they were blue and not haunting green, Aeris was still reminded.

She fell asleep on the train, but was awakened by the conductor doing his rounds. Sleepy and blinking, the Cetra forgot to startle from the shock. The fear came as an afterthought, but it wasn’t needed here. Another relieved sighed lifted her chest for there no Edwin waiting. Well, it’s late, the little maid considered. He’s probably long been abed.

Aeris let the Cobblestone Way lead her home, not wanted to risk the strand. Though she trusted that it was still safe, she’d had enough adventures for this day. Adventures…she shook her head and tried not to scoff, wondering whence came so much judgment. I haven’t had adventures since. Since well… She pursed her lips while crossing the bridge.

Myrna’s and Nelly’s lights were off, and Aeris sighed looking up at the moon. It was full as a fat cat drunk on milk, and she hoped that he could see it. Please, she began but stopped the thought. What was she even doing? The Planet ignored her.   Was she now so desperate she sought favor from the moon? Were you once living like my world below? Did your children sing you songs? A sudden memory froze her soul. What if all worlds have such darkness gnawing at their hearts? What if the moon’s heart was utterly swallowed? What if the glow is its soul’s remains, residual light screaming in darkness? She couldn’t move for fear, but then she recalled he had sworn to fight just that. His very last task, the one that might end him, but he cared not for she was safe.

Aeris was used to all the locks now, even the one at the back of her house. Though she seldom used it, she knew it quite well with both her fingers and eyes. This was to her advantage as summer green was by then buried in salt. The sea came in. The sea went out, but left its stain on the flower girl’s face, and her bed so large did not judge her nor did the black feather that caught her tears.

*

Child.

Starlit dreams brought her what she desired as his scent swam sweet to her heart.

Child.

She squeezed the black shirt tight to her breast, melding material into her skin. Sunlight had banished the stars from the day though they waited beyond the veil.

Child…go to him.

She opened her eyes, sharply focused from the force of her dreams.

Who is that?

Dearest child…

She sat straight up in her bed.

Are you talking to me again?

Child, you must go.

Is he in danger? Aeris raised her arms in a stretch as the wind tickled her loose, chestnut hair. She grinned at the thought. He could break men’s necks with just one hand and break their minds with even less.

You both will be, the Planet said, and the flower girl lost all mirth.

What do you mean? Her eyes sought the sky that gleamed in bright, lazy rose.

Go to him.

He told me not to. It was exasperating to constantly follow commands. Pushing back her hair, Aeris tried to ignore how her ribs jumped to each desperate heartbeat.

You must go.

I don’t know where he is. Her lids fluttered as the sight took her mind. Boreal and cold, green limed with frost, and her skin was now ashen as snow.

Truly, dear friend? I must go there? The past and the future to meet again. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and slid from the sheets to the floor. So I’m the dutiful daughter again? Doing whatever you bid? What about my life in the Whispers?

But the Planet only hummed in her head. Despite her annoyance, despite her fear, Aeris shook to hear that again. She refused to cry, though the world knew her heart was weeping as she forced her eyes dry. Massaging the bridge of her nose with a sigh, the flower girl sensed no overt urgency, but the harmony there was dark.

There were affairs to put together and a flower order to make. It was for a funeral, and Aeris prayed the foreboding was not because this was a sign. She mentioned casually to her friends that she’d be traveling to seek out new blooms. Myrna poured her wine and pouted. She didn’t like drinking alone. Aeris hid a smile in the dark, furry drink for her neighbor sure suffered to constantly imbibe with only herself for company. Nelly’s children wailed and tugged for they loved poetry only from her. Aeris gave them daisies, including the boys, though none of them knew why she smiled so sad.

She visited the bank to withdraw some gil, something that could never be useless. Then to the church that had been so avoided, much to the Cetra’s guilt. With the Planet then silent she felt it quite useless to pray in futility. The pews were sleek. The nave carpeted. The altar was cushioned and soft. Light poured in through fine stained glass with nary a crack in between.

You speak again, my dearest friend…though should I still call you that? You abandoned me to silence and lone because you were upset. My dearest friend may be my general…though he abandoned me, too. She frowned at that, pressing nails to her knuckles. What is this danger that threatens us both, specifically, that is?

The answer received was, Go to him, which Aeris heard at least ten times a day. She was doing her best to make prepared, but the world below was sore impatient. Even without words she felt its harsh hum driving into her heart. When she dreamt of him, he still held her hands, but the pain in his eyes would melt souls. Always and around was Go to him, child, as his light burned with both fear and joy. No never fear. He couldn’t know that. Thought as the dream’s apogee faded.

It was impossible to avoid Wesker’s Square for more than a single week. She had taken Edwin’s calls and made every excuse. She was tired or maudlin and wouldn’t be good company. She had a touch of a cold. Her house was a mess and she must now clean it from top to bottom, side to side. Her flowers were dying (even as they grew to overshadow her front porch), and now was the time that they would need to be plucked. Eventually she had to visit the square for such things that she would need.

Edwin was waiting and he bounced to his feet, bounding over to her side. “Ah Miss Aeris! I’ve missed you so.”

“Thank you Edwin. That’s very kind.”

“My parents, they like you,” he said while they walked up the stairs to the stores above.

“Do they?” She fixed the bag on her hip. “I’m sure mine would’ve liked you, too.”

Edwin beamed as he took the stairs backwards so that they could talk face to face. “They said if I wanted…wanted to ask…well, they’d be okay with that.”

Aeris didn’t blink and tried hard not to shrug to the half formed proposal. She was wearing her old brown dress, the one that had traveled the most. It had been cleaned, but that process had faded and frayed it even more. Already shapeless and really too large, it hid her tiny frame within. While her hair she’d left messy with fly-a-ways in her braid that was taut to pull her face.

“This way Edwin,” she told the boy before stepping into the cool of the store. His face was still red, and the air within did nothing to ease that heat. Aeris scanned the high shelves full of shoes and prayed there’d be a different sales clerk. Her breath came out in resignation as the boot burner appeared. The woman gave Edwin a dismissive glance despite the fact he was the mayor’s son, then showered the flower maid with a smile that nearly drowned in its own pretense.

“Why are you buying boots, Miss Aeris?” the boy asked as he sat beside.

“They’re for my flowers, Edwin,” she said lacing up a sturdy brown pair. A bead of sweat trickled below one of her bangs. She really did hate so to lie. Is it less cruel if it’s used for protection? To consider another’s heart? She concentrated on lace through eyelet guiding her thoughts with that practical path. I doubt he’d follow me. He’s far too timid. I’ll probably have to lie more. She frowned as she mis-laced, rethreading the string, her thoughts now lined with guilt. I should just tell him that I’m not interested, though that really should be quite clear. The escaping sigh was lost in Edwin’s hum. Though he’s not the shiniest stone…

She bought the boots much to the salesclerk’s disgust since they were really made for a man. All the ones for her gender were dainty and high, not meant for a journeyer’s road. Aeris was happy the smallest size fit…though she’d have to wear thicker socks. Outside again the clock tolled twelve and Edwin jumped like a caught fish.

“Oh, Miss Aeris, I…have to go. I promised I’d meet my father for lunch. It’s…a council meeting of some sort and he wants me to be there.” He looked down and blushed and the sun hid its face so as not to be blamed for a burn. “D-Do you want to come? I know he won’t mind. He likes you…like I said.”

“No Edwin, I can’t.” She forced herself somber. “I’ve errands to run and flowers to tend.” I keep blaming my blooms, don’t I?

“Alright, Miss Aeris. Well…I’ll see you later.”

No you won’t…and she was truly sad. Watching the boy bound up the tiered stairs, she could only think of her puppies. So many puppies…why do I draw them bouncing to my side?

There was another store, farther back and closer to the pier. Salt and fish and tar and smoke gave it a halo of scent. There were no bad parts of the Whispers, but this was not really her place. Like the bar so named The Crown and Anchor welcomed more seafaring folk, and they were jolly, if rough around the edges, polite to her as she walked by. It was right by the store that she’d found by luck on an early morning stroll. The Whispers were safe, but the danger around was no secret to the townsfolk. If you decided to leave, better be prepared to face the monster hordes. Her general had killed quite a few swarms, but they’d never be fully gone. Eventually, Aeris would have to face foes if she wasn’t lucky enough to hide.

An occupant behind the glass sent poison through her soul, and the Cetra’s face turned bloodless. Pushing into the shop with a soft-sounded jingle that buried itself in her woe. In the window was a beautiful wood staff, darkened oak and taller than she. At the top what was set appeared to be stone, but appearances were deceptive. Flashing with brilliance of emerald and jade, there could be no doubt. The shop was empty save for the keeper who was wiping the counter down. Behind him hung swords and spears and staves while the corners held bracers and shields. The glass that he cleaned contained guns of more types than she could count on all of her fingers. The moment she closed the wood staff in her palm, warmth spread across her skin. Striding up to the counter, Aeris didn’t bother to hide her summer eyes dark as night’s sea.

“Where did you get this? Where is it from? Was it ripped from the heart of the world?”

The shopkeeper snorted in his surprise to see the flower maid before. There weren’t many to seek his business out and those who did were not like her. His gaze darted to the item in question clenched in a furious hand. This was his store and any with that tone could see their way swiftly out, but there was something in this little maid’s eyes that pushed the shopkeep back, away from the guns, but not too close to the edges behind.

“N-No, not at all. I’ve a supplier who just…finds them for me. They’re very rare. The finding n-not the ripping part. We don’t do that anymore. It’s why it’s so expensive. S-See for yourself.”

Aeris lifted the price tag and scanned it with glare hot enough to set it ablaze. Shock at the cost cooled it a bit, but she was still unsatisfied. “You’re sure about that? You’re ‘supplier’ is honest.”

“He’s a man of this very town. I promise you, miss.” He held up his hands in hope to show no lie was hidden within.

Peace child…he speaks the truth. The murmur resonated to her bones. In the vibration Aeris relaxed and was herself again. The shopkeeper pulled back a bit at the change, frightened now by the sudden calm. He recognized her of course. It was a small town and a newcomer was quite an event. Especially the pretty maid who’d bought Kes’s old house under circumstances no one could remember, and now she was somehow involved with Wesker’s timid son.

“I’m so so sorry, sir.” The flower girl leaned the staff to the counter, clasping her little hands. “It’s just I know my history…no one wants a repeat of the past.”

The shopkeeper nodded vigorously. “Aye, yes, you’re right there, miss. D-Did you want to buy that?” It started with stutter but ended strong. He was a businessman after all.

Aeris left spinning her new purchase watching the sphere catch the sun. Flecks of green where thrown on her face save for her eyes that shamed the light. I do have to find him, don’t I, dear friend? She thought beginning the long trek back home. He’s the only one I can be honest with, the only one I can show my true self. No one else in this world knows who I am, who I was before the dark…

*

Aeris’s phone rang the night before she left, and she sighed for she knew who it was. She had no more lies to give as she picked up her pen and let the last echo fade. Sipping rose tea, the flower maid conceded that she would indeed miss this. Sunset through her window made her bangs look auburn before she pushed them out of her face. She stroked the cover of her book idly as honest words flowed from her hand.

Dear Edwin,

I lied to you. I told you my friends were dead. Well not a full lie, but not the truth, though I feel that’s somehow worse. I do have one “friend” who is left, though I hesitate to name him that. I performed my part like a silly, young girl, a role I can no longer play. I am far too old for you, and my heart has already been lost. I’m chasing it now. That’s why I’m gone. It’s calling for me to find it.

I’m so sorry if I led you astray. That was never my intention. You are a kind and gentle boy. You remind me of a puppy. It wouldn’t be fair to take your heart when I don’t have one to give.

This is the true me. The one never seen. The guileless and the honest. I wish I could be fully truthful with you, but I’ve seen things you’d never believe. Maybe one day I can explain. Maybe one day I’ll have the words.

Best,

Aeris Gainsborough

It didn’t seem like enough, but she finished her tea as the sun was won over by star. The sea drank them all, and the Planet and waves seemed to have come to a truce. Her train would leave tomorrow early before daylight returned. It was the best way to ensure there’d be no Edwin waiting. She’d mail the letter before she left. He’d probably receive it that day. You’d never forgive me, would you, dear friend if I settled for poor silly Edwin?

Before bed she walked the length of her house, feeling each wall and every door. Unshod so the texture of floor and rug brushed against her soles. She was only sad because it was nice and she would miss the comfort. The Whispers hadn’t been Aeris’s home since she’d been robbed by a blink.


Author’s Note: I must give a preemptive apology if I have messed up how materia is mined making Aeris’s anger for naught.  I recall a line in the game (I believe it is written on something) that speaks of “Mako ripped from the Planet,” and that seems not only violent but violating.  Materia is concentrated Mako (from what I read on the wiki)., and this seems like something Aeris would be very unhappy about.

Next week’s chapter When the Forest Sleeps will be posted Friday July 17.

<–Chapter 16                                                                                                Chapter 18–>

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 17 – Dutiful Daughter

    1. That it is and I just scheduled the next chapter. We are almost in act three! I have so little time to read books either. I’m trying to (finally) read Paradise Lost so I can actually know what I’m talking about when I compare things to it hehe.

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