Vita, Amare, et Cruciamentum

(Life, Love and Torment)

By Lady Sanzennine

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Squaresoft. Except the lyrics to "Cry", which belong to Mandy Moore.

Chapter 1 ~ Shadows and Dust

I'll always remember...
It was late afternoon...
In places no one would find...

It was awfully cold, she noticed. Shivering, she tried to draw her short red jacket tighter around her slim body. It was a useless gesture, for the sharp, unseasonable winds cut through the pathetically thin and worn material as if it didn't exist.

What had brought her up here today anyways? Above the plates of Midgar? The slums below might have been dark and oppressive, but at least the insulated design of the plates kept the area warm. Now here she was, freezing half to death in fresh air, and making no more of a profit from her flowers than she was used to in the slums.

You would think that the rich occupants of the higher levels of Midgar would be more generous with their money, especially towards the beautiful flower girl, but that was to expect too much of humanity.

"Beautiful, fresh flowers for sale!" she called, forcing her voice to sound bright and cheerful, though that was far from the current state of her emotions. "Only one gil! Give your special lady a gift she'll adore!"

No one even paid her a glance. Why should they when they had access to first rate floral boutiques? Her precious blossoms, each grown and cultivated under her loving and constant care, had no hope of winning against elaborately garnished bouquets of the most expensive kind.

I'm such an idiot, she berated herself. She had spent so much effort getting above the plates, and it was all for nothing. What a waste.

It was time to return home now, before she managed to catch a chill from the relentless September winds.

She began to walk, and with each step her hear sank lower. Large green eyes, the hue of golden-green spring felt afire as tears pushed against the barrier of her will. She would not cry. She would not. They would not break her spirit.

Oh, what was the point? Why tread though this weary life where nothing ever changed and the children of the earth refused to listen to anything past their greed and desire? Where the downtrodden and the forsaken dragged their feet every step of the way for lack of nourishment to fuel their bodies. Where those born to privilege abused their power and wallowed in the corrupt and crippling sty of selfish pleasure.

And in the end, what was left?

A memory that fades and yellows over time until there is naught but dust left.

A world even more desolate and sickly then when it was first given to us, to leave to our children.

A legacy of death and destruction, of hatred and intolerance to be passed down through the eons.

Life ended in the stench of forbidding death. Love bloomed like the rose of incomparable spring, only to whither through the endless months of bitter winter.

And through it all, the Planet screamed.

The piercing, agonizing cries of pain were everlasting. And she alone heard it. She was the only one who truly knew its torment.

It wouldn't be long before all of humanity was crushed.

Shadows and Dust. Just shadows and dust.

What would be left then?

And what lay beyond the vice-like grip of mortality? The body died and the soul returned to the planet. But then what? Was there eternal peace? Perhaps the sanctuary of not feeling?

A powerful gust of wind assaulted her, whipping the few loose tendrils of light brown hair around her delicate face. Behind her, her thick braid was lifted away from her back, only to return moments later with a gentle bump.

Winds of upcoming winter, signifying yet another year's passing.

Year after year we continue moving forward, pushed by an invisible, undeniable force.

And year after year, we die even more.

Innocence destroyed. Hope smothered.

Why am I here?

She was so lonely. No one understood and no one empathized.

Why did you leave me here? She questioned the Planet, the Cetra. To be isolated from the ones that she belonged with and to be left on the earth so that only she could hear the Planet's cry – it was too much.

I have to be happy, she reminded herself, for the people around me. For mom, and my friends, and the others in the slums. I have to give them hope by being optimistic. No one else will do it.

But right now…I can't. I just can't feel that way.

She looked up towards the cloudy gray heavens. Eternally dull and lifeless, the Midgar skies were. The sun never shone upon the city at the heart of the Planet's slow death.

She sighed as she continued walking. She shouldn't be so selfish. She shouldn't complain that she had been left behind while the rest of her people moved on. As the last of the Planet's protectors, she had a duty to fulfill. And at least she wasn't being slowly drained of her life blood.

There would be nothing but a dry husk left if Shinra continued to suck the mako dry from the Planet's veins.

But didn't she have a right to be upset? Didn't she have the right to pursue her own happiness?

And what was stopping her?

Gods, who knew? She didn't have the answers herself.

Constantly pursued by Shinra, fighting to stay alive, and almost starving everyday… Yes, that was life. And she was happy, dammit!

She was happy…

So why did she feel so empty and lost?

Soon child, the Planet whispered for her ears alone.

Soon? She wondered.

Destiny has a way of working out for the best in the end.

In the end. In the end. What would be left but shadows and dust in the end?

She looked up from the ground then, as if compelled by the Planet itself. Before her stood one of the gates that served as the passage ways between Midgar and the wild world beyond.

She wasn't about to venture outside the city walls. To do that would be courting death.

Go, the Planet urged softly. Go.

And get myself killed by some monster? Aeris crossed her arms stubbornly. No thank you.

It took a lot more than mere sadness to desire the infinity after mortality.

Destiny has a way. The Planet told her in a singsong voice. For once its cries were silenced.

Go.

You'll find him there…

Him. Who? she wondered, her creamy smooth furrowing in confusion.

Go.

She stepped forward, and the gates opened automatically.

A whole new world was beyond those gates. A world that she longed to see. Perhaps somewhere, far from the darkness of Midgar, far from the corruption and evil of the people who ran it, there was a place of sunlight. A Garden of Eden.

Destiny has a way, the Planet repeated.

She stepped beyond the gates and onto the hard packed dirt ground where the concrete stopped. It didn't matter that she had no access card to open the gates with when she decided to return. It didn't matter that she wasn't even armed and would be helpless prey to any voracious monster that happened to spot her.

For what are we but shadows and dust?

She continued to walk forwards.

And in the distance, she could make out a solitary figure, masculine, and clothed in black.

He was there.

I'll always remember
It was late afternoon
It lasted forever
And ended too soon
You were all by yourself
Staring up at a dark gray sky
I was changed

~LS~