THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

The Window

Firey femme
fireyfem@email.menet.net





A single woman stood on a street corner, pedaling her floral bouquets for a single gil, waiting until 6:00 when she could adjourn and go 'home.' A man passing all to quickly suddenly reached out and grabbed her basket, taking off at a run.

All a day's work was contained in that basket, as well as some gil earned yesterday she had forgotten to take out. Quickly, she took off at a sprint after him, her pink dress flailing behind in a fashion anything but delicate. Ripping the staff that was strapped to her back off, she pursued the man steadily through two side alleys and onto another main road.

Her feet slammed against the pavement as she picked up speed, echoing throughout the emptying streets. Lights above the wet concrete had begun to reflect its dirtied yellow light, sickened as the slums themselves.

Before she knew what was happening, her boot caught in a hole and with a thud she went sprawling onto the sidewalk, her staff tittering metallically and skidding to a halt a few hundred feet away.

As she slumped to the ground, her face splashed into a muddy wet puddle that adorned the street, and she sat back up half heartedly, watching the man flee aeons ahead with her earnings.

She didn't curse. She didn't say anything. She simply regained any dignity she still harbored and retrieved her staff. Already able to feel the blood running from her left leg, she began to walk quickly back to her house in Sector Five.

********************

A few minutes later, she came upon an abandoned building. It had begun to rain, so she scurried inside, deciding to take a break from walking and tend to her wound. Using a weak cure materia she had equipped in her staff, she sat down timdily in the great building that housed her for the time being.

Her eyes slowly and deliberately fell over the curves and arches of the majestic

structure. Statues of assorted summoned Gods adorned the tops of long cracked pillars which towered menacingly a few hundred feet overhead. A girl no more than 19, she slowly got up and began to very slowly walk around and admire the building. In the two years she had passed this abandoned church, she had never bothered to take in its beauty.

"There is no time for things like that," she thought a little bitterly.

Tilting her head slightly to gaze at the marble statues, her keen eyes caught a glance of something even more beautiful than the statues.

A large, oval glass window stood in the centre of the church depicting the Planet with the Lifestream in a gentle swirl around it, cascading throughout the universe. She stared at it, small rays of dull street lamps on the lower plate casting odd coloured rays of light on the floor as they made their way through.

A light breeze from an unknown source wafted through the chapel, lightly tugging at a pink dress that danced slightly. Her unbound hair cascaded in a gentle slope down her back, falling in strands as it was blown the slightest degree.

To an onlooker, the scene would have easily conjured up images of butterflies or the upcoming spring months.

Aeris however, raggedly clawed at her dress agitatedly.

The blood that coursed through her veins called and pounded relentlessly at her,

screaming in that ghoulish fashion to a terrible song that only she could hear. The Lifestream had been wailing for the past few weeks from an unknown reason, and the girl could immediately find compassion in her heart and worry for the welfare of the Planet.

However, the nature demanded and expected of an Ancient was an everlasting amicable friendliness that never failed to lighten a black sky and an infinite patience. Aeris was only half human, and yet this blood that coursed through her veins demanded and tugged on the fringes of her mind.

Always there, yet barely detectable. She did in fact love humanity, and she loved the Planet, doing anything in her power to brighten it. That was the main reason she even sold flowers. However, even she, with this infinite tolerance, was disheartened by the darkness and dank smell of the slums. Everything she did, was based around what everyone thought should suit an Ancient. A pink dress, restore materias, a garden...and all of these she loved dearly.

She often wondered who she was however. Was she just a faceless Cetra, forced to conform to what everyone thought she should be?

Well, never the less, there was no use crying bitter tears with a fate written in stone. It was her very weighted responsibility as the last Cetra to protect the Planet and communicate with the Lifestream.

As her mind wandered away from her own thoughts, she began to wonder why the great window had not been broken and had come to be in tact. The only other figures unviolated in the building were the statues, though no individual wished themselves to receive an icy wind at the wrath of Shiva after defacing her stone copy.

The oval stained glass looked beautiful even in the yellow lights of the street, wish was a feat considering everything turned an odd colouration in their bask. It had an unearthly aura which seemed to radiate from it, and in that moment, Aeris discovered some unsolved enigma in herself that yearned to be unlocked, as she identified with this incredible work of art.

As the weeks passed after her first visit to the church, she began to return more often, bringing flowers to re-create some of the atmosphere the magnificent building must have possessed when it was in its full glory.

Always, it was the glass window that captured her fascination however. She could simply stare at it relentlessly, imagining other areas of the world as the looked at the crystalline image of the Planet she loved so dearly.

************************

Aeris always knew she would die.

That was her fate that had been deemed, and the voices in the Lifestream seemed to call reassuring words to her that, however well intended, failed to set her mind at ease. She had seen her death played out in her nightmares - or would one call them dreams? - repeatedly.

She knew how she would die.

By the blade, of whom she did not know, of a dormant shell infested with a great evil she had never seen, though knew somehow threatened everything she would ever love dearly and had ever held in her heart.

She never knew when however.

Well, not today. Her mind thought cheerfully, if not with a hint of cynicism.

She bent back over the flower bed she was working on, her flower basket in the corner and her staff propped up on one of the pillars. As she worked diligently, her mind turned to something that had been plaguing her lately.

Before her thoughts could contemplate that particular topic however, a pair of thick soled black boots thudded ominously into the church, echoing against the walls foreignly.

"Aeris."

Standing quickly, she retrieved her staff with an unexpected agility.

"What do you want?" she spat at the 'visitor' rabidly.

"Relax. I'm not here on business."

With a small heave of anxiety, she slowly lowered her weapon.

"What do you want Tseng?"

The tall man with grey eyes which always managed to pierce through her, raven black hair that fell gracefully at his waist, looked admonishingly at her.

"That's a fine greeting. Not what I'd expect from a Cetra."

Aeris scowled frostily at him, though her frown dropped as her tired voice took control.

"I'm never what you'd expect, am I?" she said quietly, kneeling back down silently.

Tseng looked at her with an openly surprised gaze, taken aback that she had not tried to drive him away. Of all the people this solitary enigma loved, Tseng was not one of them. Being of the Turks, it was often his assignment to capture her. He never succeeded however, and by the time he found her, the Shinra always changed their minds for some odd reason. Perhaps Hojo had other plans in mind...

"No, I suppose not," he replied at the lapse in communication as he pondered his own private thoughts.

Regardless of her beauty, she always had a very tired look about her. He had secretly watched her selling flowers tirelessly, always a smile for a customer and even for those who gave her dirty looks as she tried to vend her carnations.

But now, she let her face droop in fatigue from a long day of people accosting her and trying to be optimistic in such a dark world.

With a sigh, she asked him again, "What is it you want?"

Before he could answer, a young man entered the church, though Tseng darted into the shadows before he could be noticed.

"Hey," the man said obnoxiously.

Aeris stood up slowly, gazing straight at him with her burning sapphire eyes.

"Yes?" she replied lightly, the former morose tone now completely gone without a trace from her now vibrantly surreal voice.

"I heard there's some gorgeous girl here, selling?"

"Yes, what would you like?"

"Well, how much do you want?"

Aeris' eyes widened.

"What exactly did you hear?" she demanded, her eyes finally slightly narrowing in suspicion more than outrage as she recovered from the audacity of this youth no more than her own age.

"Well, apparently...well, let's put it this way. You'd be very busy in the Honey Bee...," the degrading man trailed off as he began to advance towards her.

"Stop where you are," she threatened, though a note of slight fear wavering in her voice. She could fight, however, she had not equipped much materia that day, and this possible assailant that faced her now had to be no shorter than 6 feet tall. With large, toned arms, he reached forward, catching her off guard, and wrenched the staff with an unyielding strength from her unsteady hands.

Completely caught off guard, she had no defense now except her own magic, which, thanks to her Cetra blood, was only curative.

"Hey, I offered to pay, but I guess that offer is too late now," he informed her gruffly, adding "and no one turns me down."

Suddenly, bear like hands reached out in a heathen way and roughly encircled her waist. Not knowing what to do, she called out for help.

There was no answer, only a slight click of what could have been a gun, though she very easily could have been imagining it as the man tightened his grip.

However, before she knew what was happening, the burly man had released her and turned to walk swiftly out of the chruch.

Without turning around, she bent down to pick up her staff where the man had flung it, saying roughly, "I had it under control."

"Like hell you did," Tseng replied immediately.

She was being robbed of her dignity, and that was something she did not enjoy.

"Just leave me alone," she said half heartedly, in a dull voice devoid of anger.

To her surprise, Tseng sharply grabbed her, coming very close to her face.

"You listen to me Aeris Gainesborough, and you listen now. You would have been raped and killed if I hadn't been here. I don't like you out alone when it's this dark."

Aeris stood, staring at him incredulously. An endless second ticked by, and within a split second she swiftly hit his grip away he had on her shoulder with surprising force and took a step back.

"You are no one to tell me what to do!" she said angrily, adding bitterly, "besides, isn't it your job? I'm sure the Shinra would be happy to have you bring my dead carcass back to the lab to dissect and study!"

Turning away, she threw her hands above her head sarcastically. "The last living Cetra for our scientific study! The great Tseng of the Turks has brought her!" she mimicked.

Though as she sharply turned around, he was gone.

Retrieving her staff and basket, she slowly began to exit the building. Upon the

entrance, whispering in her head, she said, "I'm sorry."

************************************

"Flowers! Only one gil!! Flowers here!" Aeris called on her street corner.

A few days had passed since her confrontation with Tseng, and she had been busily dedicating herself to earning a steady income again since the robbery.

"I'll take one," a familiar voice said.

Aeris turned abruptly at the familiarity the voice conjured up in her mind, unsure of what she would see.

It was the same man that had stolen her earnings a few weeks prior.

"You!" she said so loudly that a few passerbys stopped to glance though continued on walking.

Suddenly, a horrible recognition appeared on the man's face, and he broke in a run.

"Not this time," she thought, remembering how Tseng had called her weak and unable to

defend herself.

Breaking off into a very rapid sprint, she began to chase the thief that has robbed her of two days hard work.

Finally, this time she caught up to him. As she was in a few feet of him, she tackled him onto the ground, pinning him down.

He nervously drew a knife which she swiftly deflected with a slight blow from her staff.

"Where's my gil?!" she demanded in an irate tone, though more at those words that kept pounding in her mind that Tseng that admonished her with that night.

"I'm...I'm sorry lady," she man whimpered. Though as he did so, Aeris realized it not in fact a man, but a boy of about 13.

"I was starving...I'll get it back, I promise. Just don't kill me...please don't kill me...," he beseeched, obviously holding back tears that were begging to flood a scarred and bruised face.

Aeris looked down at him, realising she had over estimated and hurt the young boy.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered in an incredulous voice. She had just attacked a 13 year old boy, all with Tseng's voice pounding over and over in her head.

"Here," she said, throwing a few gil at the boy and running off before he could come out of the shocked look on his face and reply.

***********************

As the custom had become, after work, she always returned to the church to nurture her flowers and gaze at the window that had captivated her soul. It reminded her of herself; a Planet in the grips of something with wondrous beauty yet terrible weight, a woman in the restraints of an unchosen paradise. She had the odd notion that somehow, that window represented her.

On this particular day, she entered the church, immediately aware of someone else's presence. Without hesitation, she continued walking, placing her flower basket on the stone floor and smiling at her garden as she always did.

Whoever had decided to secrete themselves would show up sooner or later. She decided to proceed as she usually did, regardless of the stranger. Sooner than she expected, the individual showed itself from shadows.

"You again?" she said, slightly surprised as the dark haired Turk stepped from behind one of the columns.

Before waiting for an answer, she immediately asked, "Business or pleasure?"

"Well, whether you consider my visits a pleasure is unknown, though I suppose that is what you may entitle it."

Delicately raising an eyebrow, she set back to work.

"I saw you chase that boy today."

She looked up unexpectedly, taken aback. Swiftly standing up, she confronted him, interrogating, "How did you know that?"

With a look of what she thought might be unreadiness, flashing across his face and vanishing before it had taken flight, he replied coolly, "I do work around that area."

With a shrug, she replied, "He stole something from me, and I gave it back to him."

Tseng looked at her with a questioning look, his grey eyes like storm clouds.

"He was just some poor kid that needed food, and thanks to you and your ordering streak, I took it out on him. Why do you even bother Tseng?"

A look of pain flooded his face to her great shock, and he looked down.

"I didn't mean to say you were weak Aeris, but...," he trailed off, his face even more composed now than it was.

"But what?" she asked more quietly.

"Nothing," he replied with a shrug.

With a sigh, she knelt back down and returned to tending her flowers.

"Are you going to vanish again Tseng?"

No answer.

"Tseng?"

"No," he finally replied.

"Aeris, did anyone ever teach you to fight?"

Giving him an odd look upwards, she looked back down at her plants as her hands worked the soil.

"Yes. I am a magic user, not a physical fighter though," adding a bit sarcastically for his discomfort, "although you should already know that from looking at my classified files in the Shinra tower."

With a shrug, he just nodded. "You should have proper training if you live here in the slums."

Not being able to resist a sarcastic reply to such a condescending comment, she fired back, "And what do you have to have proper training in, Mister Tseng, to survive in the upper plate as a Shinra socialite?"

Tseng gave her a withering look, as she shot him back a stark, blunt face.

"It's true enough, isn't it? You Shinra never know what goes on down here Tseng, so don't you stand there and tell me what I need to learn. I grew up here."

"So did I," he replied in a surprisingly malicious voice.

With a shrug, this fact did not seem to phase her.

"Why don't you ever smile Aeris?" he asked in an odd voice.

"I do Tseng, I do. Just not in your presence. Like I said, maybe you'll go back and tell some Professor at Shinra how pretty I am, how bad I would look with my face cut open," she replied with a slightly bitter tone, and then a small shudder.

"You know they want me Tseng. They want to cut me, and hurt me," she continued, not being able to stop the barrage of words that flooded her wavering voice, "and you'll take me there."

Now he was openly staring at her, genuinely surprised. She was never usually was this upset, if she was actually ever annoyed about anything at all.

Standing up, she gazed at the stained glass window, steadily walking over to the Turk to look him straight in the face.

"And you come here each day, to taunt me. Is it part of your training or something?" she asked, genuinely wanting to know.

Tseng's eyes had grown overcast, and he stared back at her. Shaking her head, she returned to her garden, the pretending the delicate topic was forgotten.

Without another word on the subject, her tone brightened back to normal.

"I forgot to say thank you. I do you owe you that much for the other day."

With an almost undetectable sigh, Tseng took a step back.

"You still shouldn't be here alone Aeris."

She gaze him an annoyed look, and reinstated her former argument.

"I had it under control."

"I don't want you here alone," he insisted brusquely, "come one, I'm taking you home."

"There you go again!" she admonished him as he tried to take her by the shoulder.

"And again, just as I said," she began, outraged at his condescending airs, "why do you bother?! All the scientists want me dead, so they can study me," she said, casting him a piercing gaze.

"Their 'pretty little specimen', is all I am," she said quietly, scuffing her foot with a small bitter laugh, though a slight tear had begun to form in her eyes. "

"Why do you wait to take my life Tseng? Why do you wait and make me lay in bed each night, staring at that cracked white ceiling, waiting and listening for people to charge in and slowly kill me? Why do you taunt me?"

He looked at her in surprise, the anger and teror in her voice had been quite plain. This, from the girl who was afraid of nothing and feared no one; she who had it all under control.

"Aeris...," he began in a monotonous tone, not knowing how to respond.

"Well?" she demanded, tapping her foot with her dull eyes managing to blaze at the same time with a confused frustration at him, and a concealed terror at lying on some scientist's dissecting table.

"I couldn't kill you Aeris," he said softly, suddenly running a gentle hand along her face. Without another word, he released her and sprinted into the darkness of the night.

And Aeris stood in the middle of the great church, with the oval glass window,

dumbfounded and a feeling of terror she had never felt to such a degree.

*****************

After her and Tseng's strange encounter, Aeris continued with her normal life. Lying awake in bed at night in silent terror, wondering when the Shinra would come for her. Smiling that surreal smile at everyone she passed, wishing the world good will.

And finally, she began to form a new hope when they did not come. Tseng did not show up often after that, and if he did, it was only on one of the high balconies of the church, and before she could say anything, he was gone.

The garden progressed steadily, yielding a willingness to grow not found often in the slums. She figured that it must be such a holy place, it had been blessed. And with someone like her, life always seemed to spring in unlikely places.

This fact being all the more evident, as she had caused life in a place no one had ever thought would cease to be barren and indifferent. A place quite unknown to her, and unexpected. This place was Tseng's very heart.

She truly was a healer, and all the days that followed, she grew her plants and

relentlessly cleaned the stained glass window.

She did however, always wonder how Tseng managed to vanish from her gaze without a trace through the upper rafters in the church. The only entrance she knew of was the front which she always entered through.

She stopped being tired, weaving light yellow posies through her hair, unwitnessed to the outside world. This was her place, and no one else's. This was part of her; a part of her soul that made up an individual personality. She wasn't just a blank faced person with one road to a bleak future selling flowers, but tending to a garden of Eden in her own place.

The church was somewhere even the outside world couldn't touch or violate. Greenery was seen everywhere compared the bleak look the structure had taken on a few months before her arrival. Green vines climbed high up the gently sloping arches of the ceiling and the hole in the floor was filled with assorted colours.

And she hoped. She hoped for once in her life, that maybe the horrific nightmares and expectations she endured were all in her mind. Maybe...just maybe she was destined for something more than a quiet death. Her own private place had given her this strength, and then there was the window.

The beautiful, glorious window which stood, unharmed in the centre of this majestic garden she could finally call her own. Her spirit belonged to the Cetra, her living physical form to humanity and her mind to the Planet. But this place that she had created, this atmosphere that had blossomed, was hers alone. It belonged to no one except herself.

This filled a void in her that she thought would never heal since her mother had died, a tear in the very fiber of herself. Something her own, something that could not be claimed by anyone. Nothing belonged to her, except this place.

And the hole - the abysmal void - had finally filled. She was happy, and for once in her life, dared to believe that hope existed, a hope she pretended to believe in for the benefit for mankind, a thing which she secretly doubted and shunned existing.

And now, hope, seemed to exist. Life, seemed beautiful...almost as beautiful as that window she longingly gazed at.

Unknown to her knowledge, Tseng had watched her transform the church from a bleak, cold stone marble grave to a garden bursting with energy and life she had nurtured herself. His eyes moved with her every movement, dancing with her from above in the rafters.

And he too, was happy. A lurking darkness, exposed unconsciously to the light. An ever present sadness that was in love with a beauty unsurpassed in the darkened shadows of his world.

But they both knew in their hearts, the paradise had to end sometime. The dream had to awaken, and the nightmare had to start dreaming.

At that moment however, he did not care for once in his life, gazing at the most

beautiful and vibrant creature he had ever seen. He didn't care about the Turks, or Shinra. He didn't care about himself or his stealth. He didn't care about anything except

this serenity, this beautiful solitude he felt when near Aeris. But most of all, he thought of her.

And one day, he decided to show himself after weeks of hiding and cloaking himself in a velvety black cape of protective indifference.

Aeris was bent over, trimming the vines along a large stained glass oval window that Tseng had often quickly admired but immediately gone back to marveling at Aeris. But as the time was now, he was tired of hiding in the shadows and simply observing.

Silently jumping from beam to beam and down the rafters, he managed to hit the floor with agility of a stealthy animal. Unknown to her, she sat clipping the vines, humming softly as she went slowly along.

"Aeris."

Aeris jumped and whirled around, her jaw dropping slightly as she saw Tseng standing there. Without narrowing her eyes, nor smiling however, she looked at him for few seconds before speaking.

Before she could speak, he did. "Not business."

She opened her mouth again, and he knew what was coming.

"What do I want?" he hesitated before timidly adding like a young boy, "I want to help."

Finally her lips curled into a small smile, and she handed him a pair of shears.

"Just clip around the window."

***********************

Every day after that, Tseng would show silently at various, odd times during the day and help Aeris. After she was ready to leave, he would vanish just as silently as he had come.

One particular day, Aeris was battling with the tall weeds that had sprung up in a corner, brushing them out of the way with her staff. She attempted to brush them back, but they simply came whipping back up and hitting her arms brutally. Finally, in a frustrated swing, tried to 'decapitate' the harmless grass.

Tseng watched with the traces of a smile forming on his face, but then it was gone.

"Ugh!" she mumbled.

He finally walked over, facing her and taking the staff out of her hands.

"Can I show you a better way to do that?"

Aeris glared at him in a way that sparked the urge to laugh in his mind, but he didn't. Finally, without a smart response, she nodded.

"Well...," as he said, going on to explain how to use the weapon to its full advantage in the art of cutting weeds, Aeris noticed a spark in his eyes that hadn't been there a month ago when she had first encountered him in the abandoned church.

She watched him and finally, a small discrete smile curved on her lips.

"What?" he asked, curious.

"I didn't know the Turks were so informed about gardening," she replied innocently, allowing a little giggle to escape her throat.

Tseng gave a small glare, and finally for the first time since arriving, cracked a smile out of a face that Aeris had once thought might be made of ceramic.

*****************************

But, as all horrible things must come to and end, such a beautiful dream as this was also destined to close, with a slap.

The days progressed, and Tseng and Aeris worked side by side, beautifying the garden even more. In each of the two respective parties' lives, a cold dark Turk with no conscience, and a Cetra healer destined for nothing but superficial cheerfulness, they found that for the first time, they were themselves. The only time, in fact. Both trapped in different worlds, in all the screaming and death, they had managed to find eachother, and a piece of themselves they shared and showed to no one else.

Aeris had once thought of this church as that one part of herself no one saw, and therefore no one could violate. However, she realized that Tseng had come to think of the chapel as the same thing.

Not only did she willingly share it with him, she wanted to. She had finally found someone that felt the same way she did. They each put something that no one could ever steal into that garden, and revealed something that could be so easily broken they had never allowed it to surface.

As Aeris was sitting looking at the window, Tseng knelt beside her, gazing upon it as well.

"Tseng, sometimes I see myself in that oval glass."

He did not say anything, just basked in the moment of being near her.

"I can see myself, and I know that somehow, that window is calling to me."

She turned suddenly to him, a light in her eyes.

"Maybe...maybe I am destined for something other than death."

Tseng sat shock still as the word 'death' was spoken in accordance with Aeris' demise.

"Aeris...," he began. Stopping, he tried to begin again. He suddenly realized however, he had began again.

"Aeris, I love you. I've been wanting to tell you...," his voice trailed off as he said three words he thought he'd never say to anyone. He had always known though. Oh God, how he had felt the ache in his chest at that frightened look on her face, and he standing there ignoring it. Damn him.

"Damn myself," he thought furiously.

Aeris' eyes had widened, and she was now standing, staring at him in shock.

"Wha...what?!"

Tseng hung his head.

"I've loved you since the moment I saw you Aeris."

She stood, still staring with an incredulous look on her face.

"A Turk, loving their assignment."

A pained look flashed across his face.

"But," she continued, "I love you," she said, whispering, "and I'm afraid Tseng. Oh God, I'm so afraid." she said in a ragged voice, collapsing onto the steps they had been sitting on under the window.

Tseng bent down, and his arms encircled her. Kissing the top of her head, he could hear her sigh. She finally stood up to face him, letting her arms come around him as he held her tightly against him.

As grey storm cloud eyes weighed down on fearful sapphire ones, he knew he had caught her off guard. But he didn't want to let go, not after uttering that earth shattering confession.

"I don't want to leave," she sobbed. She knew it was ending, she knew that her dream's fabric was ripping.

"I don't want to die," she wailed quietly into his shoulder, "I'm so afraid," she said in a whispering sob.

Tears streamed down her face, and Tseng held her tightly.

"I don't want it to end," she sobbed gently, so quietly the only person that could hear it was Tseng.

****************************

"You, Tseng, are my best man," President Shinra gurgled like an overfed cannibal baby, "and I need you to retrieve something of the utmost importance to me."

Tseng's dull overcast eyes looked at President Shinra blankly, wondering what he wanted now. Last week it had been an assassination, this week a kidnapping. What now?!

"Hojo, you can come in now," the President said as he suddenly clicked the intercom.

Tseng's blood froze at that name.

A small, scraggly man with thick glasses and thinning, greasy hair hobbled into the office slowly, deliberately letting his frail form scratch across the floor like a flailing claw.

"I need the Ancient. And this time, I've decided once and for all. I need her for my research now."

With that, he exited, and Tseng stood, frozen for all eternity in place.

*************************

Aeris stood in the garden, willing herself to go away finally. She knew that the dream was coming to a close, that the beautiful world she had created for herself was breaking. Like a crystalline rose, it was shattering. And she with it.

Suddenly, she heard footsteps running rapidly towards the church. Regaining her dwindling composure, she darted behind a large pillar and into the shadows.

"Over here!" a voice called.

"Yes this way!" another admonished the first.

Almost immediately, and man with fiery red hair entered, trampling directly over the flowers. Aeris cringed as she watched her hard work all being destroyed with one footstep. Another man entered, a towering inferno in a blue suit came tramping in roughly, calling after the first. He also trampled more flowers.

And then the third entered, to her horror. A man, in a cold blue suit, with two swords and long black waist length hair.

"She's not here Reno, you were wrong."

The man called Reno just stared at him incredulously. "We haven't even looked yet Tseng."

With what could have been a sigh or relief or of dread issued from Tseng's lips.

With a shrug of his shoulders, he perched himself down on the steps, looking too cool for his own good.

"Well, the boss said to give her a warning if we couldn't find her," the tall man said.

An evil, devious smile crossed Reno's face, "Well, Rude it looks as if the little wench has become pretty fond of this place, huh?"

A look of dread, barely undetectable to the naked eye, passed over Tseng's face at that comment.

Rude just stared at him dumbly. "Guess so. What did you have in mind?"

A familiar cunning gleam entered Reno's eyes, and with that he took a fist full of vines from the wall and ripped them down. They with a scream though the air to the ground and dropped lifelessly, dead.

"Let's trash it."

Tseng stood up. "No Reno, just leave it."

"Why?" he asked, looking oddly at Tseng.

"Because...," Tseng couldn't come up with a suitable reason.

"Tseng, you're not going soft on me, are you?" Reno admonished him.

Rude looked at his leader dubiously.

"No, of course not," he replied gruffly.

With that as a command for a direct course of action, he went about to trample all the flower beds, killing all the life that Tseng and Aeris had managed to nurture.

Flower after flower was disintegrated under Reno's boots, and finally Aeris could stand it no longer as she watched the only place she thought could be violated destroyed.

"STOP!" she yelled, bringing her staff in front of her.

"Oh, so she's here after all," Reno said coolly, obviously not at all surprised.

Aeris circled around him menacingly, holding out her staff. And she was prepared to fight brutally, as she had never fought before.

"I said stop it," she repeated more quietly, looking pathetic despite the weapon. The frail framed girl with a long weak metal staff, taking on the six foot man with an electromag rod.

Finally she lashed out after circling Reno, with Rude watching in amusement and Tseng watching in horror. The butt of her staff grazed his arm and she drew blood.

"Damn it you little bitch! That hurt," he said in an annoyed voice, as if having been bit by an insect.

Finally his fist flew out and with one hit knocked her onto the floor. She sat there, slumped into the dead flowers like an invalid. When she looked up, a black eye was already beginning to show in its full glory.

"Tseng...," she said, and with that, slumped further down.

"Reno!" he thundered, no longer able to keep himself under control.

"I never said to hit her!"

Reno stared at him as if he was looking at a stranger.

"Huh?"

And with that, Reno replied quickly, "Well, we've got her. Now to leave the warning message, whatever for, only Hojo knows."

With that, he and Rude went around tearing roots out, killing plants, murdering life. And killing Tseng.

And suddenly, she looked up, tears streaming down her bruised face, her throat

constricted in a knot, whispered raggedly of a broken woman, "I don't want to die."

With that she curled into a small ball, and a green glow emanated from her, and suddenly she was not slumped anymore. Reno and Rude stopped in their progress, to stare in amazement at the curative magic that was issued from, not any materia, but her very self.

She stood up, looking like a shell. Tears streamed down her face still, and she began to sob despite the steady pace she kept. Her chest heaved up and down as she felt the pain of awakening overwhelm her.

"But I don't have to be afraid anymore," she said, as she continued over towards the only thing in the church that wasn't dead at a frightfully steady pace. With a last look at Tseng, glistening emerald eyes gazed out sorrowfully from a bright black bruise and a dirty dress, with tears streaming down her face. Salt tears burning her face like acid rain, her cracked lips drawn into an emotionless straight line, her skin like a corpse.

"I don't have to be afraid anymore of dying Tseng," she said again when she had reached the window. The beautiful greens and blues of the Lifestream cast a colourful orb of shield around her as the light shone through the glass of the window, shadowing that once vibrant face. And with that, she broke it.

The window shattered into a thousand tiny, crystalline pieces, sprinkling like tears over the cold marble floor. Small rays of light hit them as they fell, with small clinking noises, and then all was still.

And Aeris, fled out the only exit available to her.

And as the last remains of her pink dress could be seen, her voice wafted in on the breeze,

"I don't have to be afraid anymore of dying Tseng,

Because I am already dead."

<END>





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