[03.02.00] » by Adam McDonald

It is quiet . . . there is no sound, no sensations, but there is a light . . . a light so pure and bright it seems to shine right through me. Flashes of my life fly before my eyes; my childhood, friends, family, loved ones passed on. Scenes of happiness, joy and pain float around me. Suddenly a face appears -- SEPHIROTH! He smirks at me as he draws his sword and flies into the air.

Suddenly, the light is gone and I am standing in the City of the Ancients again. I look around and see . . . myself holding my sword above my head and about to strike down on the vulnerable Aeris.

"NO!" I cry out, but my voice makes no sound. I am merely a ghost forced again to watch the horrible act that follows.

Suddenly, I hear Tifa and Cid cry out to me to stop. I see myself drop my sword to the ground, fall to my knees and cry out, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!"

I know what is going to happen next . . . I know all to well the scene that will be portrayed before me. I try to run over to where my past self is kneeling next to Aeris, but I can't move. . . it's almost like I'm in a bad dream where you're being chased by a monster, but can't run from it. I glance upward and see Sephiroth falling from the sky; his giant Masamune aimed right for Aeris' chest. I yell and scream for her attention, but to no avail, no sound comes from my lips.

The moment Sephiroth's Masamune touches Aeris' body, the whole scene stops and then seems to continue in slow motion. I see the sword pierce through her. I see her drop her hands from their praying position, and I see Aeris, slump forward . . . dead. Tears are flowing down my face, and I can't stop them, nor do I want to. Aeris is dead . . . one whom I truly loved . . . the first person in my life who saw through me and saw ME . . . is dead.

I find that I am now able to move again, so I stumble slowly to where Aeris' lifeless body is lying on the cold ground. My friends and my past self are busy fighting one of Jenova's creatures and wouldn't have noticed me even if I had been visible. I kneel next to her and lightly stroked her soft cheek. Dear God, could this be? She was more beautiful in death than in life. Perhaps it was because the cares and troubles of this world had been lost to her once she had passed on. As my tears fell off my face and tumbled down hers as well, I could take it no longer and began to sob as I was bent over her.

Moments later, my past self, Tifa and Cid knelt next to Aeris in reverent silence. She had given her life to save the world. They didn't know this at the time, but I did. Tifa was in tears, and Cid just shook his head sadly. I watched the reaction on my past self's face. It was a mixture of a million emotions . . . sadness, shock, and most of all hatred -- hatred of the one who had done this to Aeris. Without a word, my past self walked over, picked Aeris up and began to walk back to the surface with her. I began to follow rather numbly, when I thought of something. I didn't know if I could even do it or not, but I knew I had to try. I jumped into the water and was not really surprised that it didn't feel any different that the air. I slowly came to rest on the bottom next to where Aeris' Materia had fallen from her hair when she collapsed into my past self's arms. Could I? Dare I? I reached for the small, glowing ball of magical energy and picked it up. I nearly dropped it since I was so surprised that I was able to pick up a physical object in this dream world. I was even more surprised to look back down and see that the Materia was both in my hands and on the floor of the lake. Ah, but of course . . . if I am a spirit in this spirit world then I would be able to pick up and use spiritual items, and what is more spiritual that pure magical Mako energy?

I glanced into my hands to see the precious treasure that I carried . . . the spirit of the White Materia. It glowed a bright greenish white and seemed to radiate pure energy. Careful cradling my prize, I walked up the embankment, out of the lake and up the glassy stairs to the surface where my past self was just laying Aeris in the water. Once again I was struck by how peaceful and serene she looked. If my eyes didn't deceive me, I would say she had a small smile on her face. Snapping out of my daze, I hurried through the waist deep water until I reached Aeris. I held out my hands and the Materia and gently placed it into her clasped hands.

"I wish I could have done more," I silently whisper as Aeris' body began to slowly sink into the crystal clear water.

I turned away and began to walk to the shore when I heard what sounded like a giant rush of water. I turned to see a geyser of water fly high into the air. Rising up through this pillar of water was the Materia I had placed in Aeris' hands glowing with a fierce white fire that should have blinded me, yet only made me see more clearly. When the Materia's ascent had stopped, the water abruptly lost its flight and splashed back into the lake. Already in awe at what had happened, I could do nothing less than stand and stare at the site unfolding before my eyes.

The Materia shot out a beam of light directly into the lake and down to where Aeris had been laid to rest. As the light began to withdraw into the Materia, it drew the body of Aeris up out of the water with it. When Aeris reached the Materia, there was a FLASH and a giant whoosh of air . . . and then silence. The Materia, the light, and Aeris were gone as if they had never been. I began to panic at first wondering what had happened and if I had done something wrong by returning the Materia to her, when suddenly I heard a slight splash behind me.

Turning around, I was met with the most glorious sight I had ever seen. There stood Aeris, standing tall and proud with her long, lustrous hair flowing in an unseen wind. She was clothed in the purest white you have ever seen and moved with such grace and ease it seemed she was floating across the surface of the water. I was scared because at first I thought she was a ghost, or maybe a trick sent from Sephiroth. She seemed to sense my feelings because she smiled slightly and shook her head a bit as if to dispel my doubts. She held out her hand. Dare I take it? Dare I follow this spirit to an unknown destination?

"Who are you?" I suddenly blurted out, but then felt ashamed because I knew who it was . . . it was Aeris, but instead of being filled with joy, as I knew I should have, I felt scared and nervous. Why? I don't know and I don't think I ever will, but I ask you, what would you have done in the same situation? How would you react to seeing a dead loved one standing before you as real as anything.

Aeris didn't seem to mind though; she just smiled shyly then offered her hand again this time, I took it, gently placing my battle-roughened and scarred hand in her small, smooth one. Instantly the setting behind us disappeared. We were no longer at that place of death, but in a small fountain at the steps of a great palace. Such a site has no man ever seen before; let me describe it for you.

The palace before us was immense and of the purest white marble. Studded along the walls were jewels that appeared to be of the bluest sapphire that glowed with the fire of diamonds. Later I would realize that these were pure Materia . . . much purer than the Materia used on earth. Behind me, were countless fruit trees, all heavy with the ripest fruit ever seen. Thousands were in the fruit groves picking fruits and eating them, yet never did the fruit trees seem to have less fruit. Speaking of people, there were millions everywhere . . . people of all races and nations. This view was breathtaking, and should I talk for a million years, I could never describe the scene fully.

"Do you know where you are?" asked a soft voice. I turned to my left to answer the voice and saw Aeris still standing there holding my hand. Had it been that long since I had heard her voice that I had forgotten it?

"Um . . . no, where am I?" I stammered, "What is this place."

"It is the Promised Land," she replied, "it is what Sephiroth and Shinra were looking for . . . the land made of pure Mako energy."

"But, but how did I get here?"

"Meteor was about to crash into the earth . . . you were there, you saw. Holy came to try to stop it, but had no effect on Meteor. I saw all this from here in the Promised Land, and I knew that I had to act. My death empowered me to free and control Lifestream, and by sending it, I knew that it would stop Meteor . . . but I didn't know what other effects it would have. Lifestream combined with Holy would rid the world of all that was evil . . . and Meteor was evil incarnate, thus it was immediately destroyed. Humanity however, also may have been viewed as evil and also destroyed. No one, not even all the Ancients knew if that would happen."

"But not all humans are evil," I injected suddenly, "what about Barret and Tifa and Cid! They weren't evil, they risked their lives to save humanity!"

"That was taken into consideration . . . but there was nothing we could do; Lifestream would do what was necessary to protect the earth itself. Because of that . . . humanity was removed along with Meteor."

"WHAT!" I cried, "why? What about my friends, your friends, your mother . . ."

"Lifestream didn't destroy humanity . . . just removed it from the earth."

"What do you mean?"

"Everyone with a virtuous heart, all those who revered and tried to save Mother Earth were transported here to the Promised Land."

"So you mean, Tifa, Barret, Cid, everyone is here?"

" . . . not everyone," Aeris said slowly. I stared at her for a moment, mustering up the courage to ask the question I dreaded to have answered.

"Who didn't make it?"

"It wasn't a matter of not making it as it was a matter of not being human. Red XIII was not human and was left behind along with the rest of the animals and creatures of the earth . . . they will be its caretakers now until they join us here in the Promised Land."

Joy replaced the fear that had been growing inside me as I realized that all those who were really important to me where here, with me where they belonged.

"Come," said Aeris, holding out her hand to me once again, "there is so much to see . . . "

This time I gladly took her hand as we strode arm in arm through the Promised Land . . . together . . . forever.

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