High Priestess Mayalin carefully sat down in front of the golden mirror, observing the mirror image doing the same thing but with her plain features replaced by something more magically divine by the tinted glass. Shining lush black hair resting at her back, she looked noble like a queen. Which was, incidentally, what she would become after Jenova was brought back. She would rule beside the mighty Sephiroth, gently guiding him in his decisions, always standing with him...
As she dreamily experienced her glorious future, a faint smile crossing her thin lips, she didn't hear the soft knocking on her door. The knockings persisted, and eventually the door swung open. Satisfied that the one she was seeking was in fact at her usual place, the visitor entered and shut the door behind her.
"Mary Sue, we've...." she breathed, anxious to tell her the good news.
Painfully awakened from her daydreams, High Priestess Mayalin briskly rose from her throne and strode towards the door and the unwelcome guest.
"Never ever call me that again, young girl!" A red mark showed the spot that received Mayalin's fury in the form of a slap. "My name is Mayalin. I am not who I was." Including that "young girl's" best friend.
"S..sorry.." The girl cowered, momentarily forgetting the reason of her going there in the fist place. "I will.. I will never forget it again, High Priestess."
"See to it then." You couldn't treat them sloppily, even if you had known them for years. If she did, they might think they were important to her. And then, when she finally became Sephiroth's bride, they would come with petty, earthly requests for her, as if she actually cared. They would probably whine, making horrible scenes when she would righteously deny them. That would simply not do. Better deal with that now, so they would know their places. It would be enough to be dependent on that awful woman who claimed to be Sephiroth's sister - and did indeed possess that coveted power over him that was rightfully Mayalin's.
"Report to Priestess Seraphin for your penance." Some things she could govern.
"Y..yes, High Priestess."
Mayalin sat down again, but did not get the pleasure of seeing the girl immediately obeying her orders.
"What?" she barked, at last losing her calm composure. What in the Lifestream was wrong with that silly girl?
"We.. I mean.. They have.. Seph.. I mean.. " She seemed to have trouble finding the correct phrasing. No wonder she was still a Novice.
"Out with it then! Do you wish to let me wait forever?"
With an insecure, wavering smile the young woman continued, ready to bolt and run at any time. "Sephiroth's hiding place has been found."
After that, High Priestess Mayalin didn't really have time to daydream. Before she left the room, however, a quick glance in the mirror showed that the roots of her hair once again had outgrown their coloring and was boringly rat-gray.
* * * * *
Waking up to another chilly day, the heat of the sun being shielded away by dark clouds, Tifa at first didn't know where she was. Trembling under the thin blanket, the pain of yesterday's failure hit her with full force as soon as she became aware of her surroundings.
"We failed." She hugged herself, waiting for comfort that she knew would never arrive, feeling as cold and empty inside as she did physically.
"I was so sure that if anyone could bring Aeris back, it would be Sephiroth. But now it'll never happen. I will never see her again." She had of course gotten used to that fact once before, but experiencing it again opened old wounds.
Sephiroth. Yes. Where was he? Tifa looked around, turning her head as much as she could without having to get up. He was nowhere in sight. His blanket had been precisely folded and put near the rest of their things, signaling that he at least hadn't been eaten by a monster in his sleep.
With a sigh, she rose from her resting-place, dropping the blanket in a crumpled heap on the ground, and walked to the bags to see if he'd left any breakfast for her.
* * * * *
Yuffie had continued her journey at dawn. She was too restless to be able to sleep much longer, and besides she didn't much appreciate lying on the rocky ground. Feeling totally miserable, she had decided that she would at least try to catch up with Sephiroth and Tifa. At least they would probably have brought a Restore Materia that she could.. borrow. But with the luck she'd had recently, she'd doubtlessly end up casting Poison on herself. She'd done it before, and the memory was not a happy one. At the time she had been drunk and.. no, it was not a thought worth pursuing. But she had won the bet though, and finding out how Reno reacted to having to cash out money had made it all worthwhile. His girlfriend Elena sure hadn't appreciated it, which had made it even more fun. A smirk slowly formed upon her lips at remembering the incident. The former Turks sure were fun to hang out with...
When she finally recognized the high-peaked, spiraling buildings of the Ancient City from afar, her stomach was growling with hunger. Apparently, Restore was not the only thing she'd have to "borrow". Now how would she be able to stay hidden with these monstrous sounds erupting from her?
"Shut up, betrayer," she whispered angrily to her rebellious stomach, boxing it with a clenched fist as if to emphasize her words. That didn't help much. Her abdomen seemed to have decided to shout out to the world that it wanted to be fed, and as soon as possible at that. She didn't really have a problem with that wish since it coincided with her own, she only wanted it to be a trifle quieter about it.
* * * * *
After some searching Tifa found fresh footprints in the sand. Following their even stride along the beach, she eventually found Sephiroth. He was sitting down by the water, hands cupped and filled to the brim with the magical liquid. He acknowledged her presence with a nod before lifting his hands to his mouth, swallowing the water with a loud gulp.
She sat down beside him and watched the clear water. Miniature fishes were swimming near the surface, plunging up and down and round each other, forming kaleidoscopical patterns with their luminous colors.
"Have you tried again today?" she asked after a while, not wanting to move her eyes away from the colorful display.
"No." After a long silence when they both stared out over the water, he continued. "However, it feels like something is lacking. "
"What do you mean?"
"I need something... special. Something to focus the magic. I can't seem to think of what, though." Sephiroth shrugged, dismissing the thought as it obviously was leading them nowhere, and rose. Brushing sand off his clothes, he started back towards their camp with brisk steps.
"Wait! What are you going to do now?" She rose as well, not noticing until now that he had put his cloak around her bare shoulders. She thankfully grabbed it, clutching it to make sure it wouldn't fall down and jogged after him.
"I'll keep trying until I get it right." Sephiroth shrugged again, throwing a smug smile in Tifa's direction and slowed down until she could catch up with him again.
She couldn't help but to smile. "At least one of us is still confident in our mission - not to mention in himself of course. No surprises there I guess. He's always been sure of himself, and I'd be surprised if something as trivial as death could change him in that aspect."
* * * * *
At last the forest began to grow thinner. Having marched steadfastly for several hours, Yuffie was glad for a chance to rest. She sat down on a rock, pondering her next actions. "Ha! This will show that stupid Barret I'm not a lazy good-for-nothing."
Her goal was very close now - that is, if the ones she stalked was indeed in the Forgotten Capitol. If they had continued towards the Crater, Yuffie wasn't too sure she really wanted to follow. She half regretted even coming this far.
"What if Sephiroth's insanity has rubbed off on Tifa? Then they probably will kill me the moment they see me... and then they'll probably sacrifice me to their dark god, or devour my bloody remains, or..." Yeah. Those thoughts really made her feel better. And paranoia is good for your mental health. "They didn't act like crazy homicidals over at Tifa's place, but that could've been a ploy to lure me to follow them." Even better. "Shut up, Yuffie." She rose and continued before those thoughts could get the better of her.
* * * * *
Leaning over Aeris' body Tifa wondered over her peaceful expression. Was it right to wake her up again, to this world's all miseries? Wouldn't it be for the better if they just let her rest in peace? Maybe the reason it was impossible for them to revive her was because her soul had returned to the planet. It should have done so.. However, she wasn't too sure that it had. She mentioned it to Sephiroth who was taking a break from his chanting.
"I don't think she has returned to the Planet," he theorized. "Knowing Aeris, I'd guess she has chosen to stay to watch over you."
"What? Is that even possible?"
"Normally, no. But she did have special powers, you know that. No one knew the extent of them. Hojo didn't after all his experiments. I don't think even Aeris herself did."
Tifa pondered that for a while but came to the same conclusion. If Aeris could stay behind she probably would have done so. They had seen something appearing to be her "ghost" in her church so Sephiroth's hypothesis seemed more than likely. What remained to be seen was if they could return her wandering spirit to her body. So far, the answer seemed to be no, but she nevertheless felt her good mood returning. Still, one question remained.
"But then.. How come you could be returned?" She didn't believe that he would stay behind just to watch over someone, and she was right.
"I suppose I was too filled with hatred towards everybody that was still alive, when I couldn't be. I am not a Cetra, but my ancestry gave me special powers also. I refused to return to the planet, I wouldn't give it that much."
* * * * *
As Yuffie sneaked closer to the city, she started hearing voices. Feeling extremely relieved that Tifa and Sephiroth at least weren't heading to the crater to continue making him a god, she hastened her steps. The sounds were emerging from a pond near a huge building, and as she stealtily advanced she could pick out some of the words.
"....returned... Aeris.. watch."
Aeris? So they were trying to resurrect her after all? That had been one of her theories of course, but by some reason her thoughts had focused on the more bizarre ones. Wanting to hear more, she stepped closer..
....and stumbled in the soft sand, cursing loudly as she fell.
Tifa turned around, fists ready in fighting position, preparing to launch a deadly Limit Break. At seeing Yuffie instead of the expected monster, her face fell. Before she had time to say anything, Sephiroth stepped forward, quickly advancing towards Yuffie.
"No! Don't kill me! Tifa heeeeelp!" Yuffie clawed in the sand, arms and legs flailing helplessly in all directions as she desperately tried to crawl away but got nowhere.
Sephiroth completely ignored her though, eyes fixed on something on the ground. Instead of attacking the terrified girl, he bent down, brushed away some sand and grabbed the White Materia that Yuffie by some reason had totally forgotten about.
"Yes! This is what was lacking!" he exclaimed, the Materia's brilliant light mirrored in his eyes.
"What?" Tifa and Yuffie looked at the orb, confusion obvious in their expressions. "That's mine!" Yuffie continued, blissfully forgetting that she'd "borrowed" it from a bunch of girls who didn't seem to have any use for it.
"Is it Holy?" Tifa breathed in wonderment, overwhelmed by its sudden appearance. Yuffie slapped herself for not recognizing it. That's where she'd seen it before. "Some Materia expert I am."
Sephiroth only nodded and quickly returned to the body, eager to finally have a chance to complete his task. Holding the sphere above Aeris' head, he started chanting something incomprehensible.
"I thought that thing was supposed to be useless..?" Yuffie started, turning her head to look at Tifa, but stopped herself when she noticed that the orb was shining brightly, emitting an eerie light that grew stronger with Sephiroth's incantations. After a while misty tentacles started reaching down from the corona, hovering over Aeris' head. A few moments later her body was completely covered by the glow that grew whiter by the seconds, the strands focusing over her heart and the wound slightly beneath it. They all had to look away from the body to keep its contours from being eternally inscribed into their eyes. Then, as suddenly as it had emerged, the light blinked out of existence.
A long silence followed. Something clearly had happened. The question was if it was what they had wanted to happen. Tifa looked at Aeris. Was there any difference? Perhaps the face had gained some color - but then again it was hard to tell after that explosion of light. She was probably imagining it since she so dearly wanted it to work.
Sephiroth slowly let his arms sink down, still clasping Holy as if to keep Yuffie from reclaiming it. He wasn't ready to give up yet, not after that impressive display. He sat down, legs crossed, and cast Cure on the body. When nothing happened he followed up with Cure 2.
"I need that better," Yuffie scowled, reaching for the Materia. However, before she had the chance to grab it, an energy surge encompassed her, leaving her revitalized, all wounds knitting together. At the same time, she heard Tifa gasp. When she turned to see what Tifa was fussing about, Aeris sat up, lending some strength from the brunette.
Smiling mildly amused at the small ninja, Aeris cast her Healing Wind again to completely fill up the party's energy. "Is that better?" Not waiting for an answer she got up on her feet and stretched her arms towards the sky as if bathing in the non-existent sunlight. "What a lovely day! I'm so glad to see you again."
Aeris turned to Sephiroth who was silently packing his things. "Hi there Sephy!" she grinned, ignoring his scowl at the nickname. "I can take that one." She reached for the White Materia that had been imperative in her reviving, despite Yuffie's whining.
"Sephy? Now that's interesting." Tifa couldn't quite see herself ever calling Sephiroth something like that - no matter how good friends they'd become - and smiled inwardly at his reaction. Yuffie was laughing openly and was rewarded with a murderous gaze, which caused her to yelp and jump backwards.
"Now be nice, Sephy," Aeris chided. "There's no need for you to behave like a baby." Sephiroth looked at Aeris, eyes narrowing, and opened his mouth. Then he shrugged, apparently deciding to simply ignore her jabs. Yuffie was trying very hard to stop giggling but didn't quite succeed.
* * * * *
Tifa couldn't believe their luck. She didn't know why Yuffie had suddenly appeared, but since it all had turned out so perfectly after her arrival, she wouldn't press the ninja about it. Still, it had been quite a shock to see her pop out as if from thin air. How could she know anything about their plans? Tifa decided to let the matter rest until later, and just enjoy the fact that their mission was accomplished.
"I wonder what you'll do now, Cloud. Now when your precious flower girl is back, and you can tell her about all the things you've thought of since her departure. And you'll have all the time in the world to apologize or whatever it is you want. Hah. You're gonna bore her to death, and then you'll have something more to whine about and blame yourself for. Just what we need."
It rather surprised her when thoughts like these popped up. She didn't believe she was the kind of person that would ever say something like that, but still her brain took certain liberties at times. Anyway, it would feel good to have Cloud finally stop mourning.
The only thing that possibly could get better would be if Aeris could calm down once in a while. The newly revived girl was chatting endlessly about whatever crossed her mind, and by now Tifa's head was beginning to ache. There were few things she had disliked about Aeris, but her inability to stay quiet was unfortunately one of them. How could she ever have forgotten something like this? She moaned and wished she had brought earplugs.
* * * * *
Yuffie wasn't impressed by the constant talking either. Following Aeris' death, she'd gotten used to always being the center of attention. Now nobody would ever listen to her again... Perhaps it was time to make use of her darker skills now. She hadn't had to chance to steal anything for almost a day now, she'd better do something or maybe she'd forget how to. "Not steal. Borrow," she corrected herself, knowing that the difference between the concepts didn't really matter to her. So what if she'd return the stuff or not? It wasn't as if the real owners couldn't buy new things. She never took things from people that couldn't afford it. Well. Not often anyway.
Extending her arm slightly backwards and to the right, she could just reach Sephiroth's sword. "Oh! Cool weapon! If I weren't such a good ninja, I'd get myself one of these." Groping about, she touched the closest Materia attached to it. "Hmm. Transform. Tempting as it is, I don't think a frog would be quieter. Aaah, here it is." She yanked the Seal Materia loose. "Tee hee, I'm still good at...."
A firm hand grabbed her wrist and forced her hand open despite her struggling to squirm it loose. "Damn." She turned around and prepared to explain herself. Sephiroth didn't seem angry though. In fact, he was grinning when he took it back, and miraculously followed up by casting Sleep on Aeris himself. She immediately fell asleep, snoring loudly. As he lifted her up, he explained "I thought my head would explode if she'd continue chattering. I thank you for reminding me of my options."
Tifa smiled, relieved that she weren't the only one feeling like that. "It's not that I don't like her. I do. She was a very dear friend to me. But I had forgotten this."
"Um. Well." Sephiroth seemed a little uncomfortable, as if he had been holding something important back. "It doubtlessly wasn't this bad before she died. The shock of being dragged back to her body like that probably changed her personality as much as it has changed me."
"What? You mean we'll se even worse sides of her?"
"No, not really. It's just that... Um. How should I put this... Lesser parts of her personality have grown stronger. But she won't be anything she haven't been before, only more of what she was." Sephiroth seemed to be at loss of words.
"I don't get it," Yuffie complained noisily.
"I really can't explain it better. I'm sorry Yuffie. You will have to see for yourself what I mean."
Yuffie wasn't really happy with that answer, but since Sephiroth refused to try to explain it again, she couldn't do much about it. Instead she spent the trip home in silence, plotting ways to extract revenge on Sephiroth by humiliating him in all ways she could think of, stealing his Materia, or making him fall hopelessly in love with Aeris. "That would serve him right." How she would accomplish that part of her plan remained to be seen.