Chapter XVI

Journey of the Raven

We both sat on the bed, leaning back against the headboard, him on my right side, and my right hand clasped with his left. I had already told him my story and was waiting for Raven to start telling me his.

"Well, after leaving Fort Condor," he began, "I moved north towards the mountains. I ended up at the home of an old man who liked to sleep a lot. I asked if he'd seen a pretty girl with a catlike face. He said he didn't and then said something about a spiky-haired blonde boy, so I left and headed west to Junon. Going by what you told me about your journey, it sounds like we were there at the same time, but it makes more sense for us to have missed each other in a place like Junon that has a huge military base in it, rather than a little nothing town like Nibelheim.

"I didn't figure I was gonna find you there, so I took the next boat across the ocean over here to Costa Del Sol. It was the first time I'd ever been here, and everyone seemed really friendly. I asked around for you, but nobody knew what I was talking about, so I left.

I followed the edge of the mountains until I ended up at the mining town of North Corel. After wandering around for a bit, I found the cable car that went to the famous Gold Saucer. I hopped on and was on my way. There were many fun things to do there, but you were nowhere to be found. So my stay there wasn't long.

After arriving back at North Corel on the cable car, I walked back through the town and left, heading west. I arrived at Rocket Town. The first thing I notice, as you pointed out, was that the rocket wasn't there anymore. I asked the locals what happened to the rocket, and they told me that the Shinra tried to destroy Meteor by launching the rocket into it and that it didn't work.

The second thing I noticed was, as you also said, that there was a gigantic airship parked just behind the house at the very back of the town, right next to the scrap yard that was once the rocket's launch pad. When I asked about that, the townspeople told me that it was the Highwind, captained by a man named Cid Highwind. They then told me not to go near the man because he was really vulgar."

"Oh yeah," I agreed, "He pretty much puts a swear word or two in every sentence he speaks. And he smokes constantly. His house wreaked of tobacco. He even carries a full pack of cigarettes under the strap of his goggles."

"I was told all those things," Raven continued, "But they were said to only be rumors because nobody in the town ever had the guts to go talk to him."

"Well, I actually met him, so I can tell you that they're not just rumors. But surprisingly enough, I found that there's a nice guy under all that. It's just really deep down. He was only so nice to me because I told him about how I flew on Jamie everywhere I went."

"I suppose everyone likes being with people they can agree with. I never heard anything nice about him from the people in town, so I avoided it and just stayed the night at the inn. I asked the innkeeper what was the quickest route to Nibelheim, which was the closest town to where I was. He laughed and said that the quickest route was up and over the mountains to the southeast, and then he also pointed out that that route was suicide. He then told me that the safe route would be to go east around the mountains and then head south. So, after leaving Rocket Town, that's what I did. I followed the southern mountains to the east and then headed south.

"At this point it was getting close to half a year since I started my journey. Unlike you, who had a swift-flying chocobo for your travels, I only had my two feet to carry me around, so the going was much slower. It took me several weeks to get there, but I was well supplied for it.

"When I got to Nibelheim and started talking to he townspeople, I learned that there were more people like me who had Jenova cells in them that, like me, survived. This was also the point where the so-called 'disease' was starting to show itself. One of the Jenova victims was in the clinic with strange symptoms that the doctors couldn't recognize. After a while, more and more people had come in with the same symptoms, some dying quickly after contracting them. All of them were Jenova victims. I decided to put my search for you on hold to help.

"Of course, I also worried that the same thing was gonna happen to me, so I wanted to help while I still could. Half a year later, nearly every Jenova victim was in the clinic being treated, or at least being made more comfortable because the doctors just couldn't figure out what it was or how to treat it. This was the point when the so-called epidemic hit the news worldwide, and soon after, the Highwind came to town. I was in the bar at the moment. Had I known that the reason for the Highwind's coming was to bring you here looking for me, I would've jumped up from my stool and ran out to find you. By the time I finished my drinks and left the bar, the Highwind was already flying away, taking you away with it.

"After another few months, I started getting ready to leave. I realized that I really couldn't do anything to help, and I had to continue my search for you and keep going while I still had the strength to do so. So, after having stayed there for a year, I left and headed south. I ended up at the sea. I knew there was more of the continent to the south, and I also knew that there were mountains between that place and where I was. So I followed the sea line until I found a ferry that went across it. After that, I continued south to Cosmo Canyon.

"The first thing I noticed was that there was a huge crater where half the canyon once was. Fortunately for me, the town was still there so that I could rest and restock my supplies. I asked about the crater, and they said that some giant Ultima Weapon monster made it. They also gave me a look like 'Where the heck have YOU been, in a coma?' which wouldn't have been entirely wrong considering what my condition was at that point in time. You probably understand what that's like, not to know about all the life-changing events that everyone else in the world knows about."

"Yes, I do," I replied, "Because I was in that tank in Hojo's lab the entire time this was happening."

"Yeah, so you know what I mean," he continued. "After that awkward moment, I explored the town. I wound up meeting an unusual creature by the name of Nanaki."

"Nanaki?" I interrupted, somehow recognizing the name, "I've heard that name before. What did he look like?"

"Well, he had bright red fur all over his body, had "XIII" tattooed on his hindquarters, and he kinda looked like a cross between a cat and a dog."

Then it clicked.

"I remember now! I met him in Hojo's lab. Nanaki was the specimen that Hojo told me to guard before knocking me out, but Hojo called him Red XIII, which I assume is related to the tattoo. I'd completely forgotten about him. I remember Hojo saying that he was the last of his kind."

"Well apparently, Hojo was wrong," Raven replied, "Because I saw him with a female of his species. He told me that after Meteor, he'd gone home to Cosmo Canyon to have a proper funeral for his grandfather, who had died not long before Meteor. Afterwards, he'd gone off to search the world for more of his kind, which ended quickly when he found that female. She was living alone in the dessert below the Gold Saucer. How she'd survived there I'll never know. I never learned her name."

"Well, it's nice to know Nanaki made it out alright," I replied, "And that he really isn't the last of his kind."

"Yeah. After we finished talking, he invited me to stay with him for as long as I needed to recover and continue my journey. I gladly accepted. After a few nights, I started to notice a few gray hairs starting to show up. I figured it would've happened sooner or later. What baffled me was that it happened ever so slightly, slowly. While the rest of the Jenova victims had all their symptoms hit them all at once, mine came gradually. I didn't start losing muscle strength until much later, at least enough that I could notice.

"A few years of traveling later, I found myself in my hometown of Mideel, staring down at a crater full of this glowing aqua-blue liquid. I was pretty sure it was the Lifestream, the very blood of the planet. I heard that the same Ultima Weapon that made the crater in Cosmo Canyon was what made this one in Mideel. It hurt seeing that big glowing hole in the ground where most of the town was. Mideel was never the most fun place to be, but it was still the place I called home, and I realized that fact when I saw how devastated it was. Funny how the things you miss the most are the things you take the most for granted.

"My hair had almost all turned gray, so I decided to just yank out the rest of my dark hairs and bury any evidence of the man known as Raven. I made the grave marker and set it amongst the graves of the townspeople who'd died when the hole was made. It seemed like the right idea at the time. If I'd known it would drive you to kill yourself, I'd have just left those hairs in my head to turn gray with the rest of 'em. Of course, I also never thought that you would actually FIND it, let alone READ it. Oh well, we can't change what happened, so why worry about it now?

"I didn't stay there long, because the ferry that took me there was only staying for a short while and wasn't going to return for a good long time. And the man that ran the ferry had been threatening to never run that route again because there was rarely any business to Mideel anymore."

"And he was still threatening when he took me there that last time," I replied. "Though he might've actually made good on his threat by now, because that was a little over eleven years ago."

"Yeah, you're probably right," he chuckled, "I can't imagine ferrying to such an empty place for so long. I'd think it would cost him more than help him.

"Well, some years later, I wound up in Gongaga, which is on the southeast corner of the Western Continent, a few hundred miles east-southeast of Cosmo Canyon. Not many people know about it because the Shinra had made a real mess of the place. It was where they built one of their first mako reactors, though this one had malfunctioned and exploded, destroying most of the town and killing many of the people. And even the survivors weren't completely unaffected, as many of them died from mako poisoning because so much of it was released into the air. When I got there, they were starting to rebuild the town but further away from the dead reactor. I met up with an old friend of mine while I was there and stayed for a while. In one of our conversations, my friend suggested to me that I stay in one place and wait for you to come to me, and in turn suggested Costa Del Sol because it's a major port town and the town itself isn't very big. So if you were to go through here, it wouldn't be very hard to find you.

So I came to Costa Del Sol, settled down here at the inn, and waited. Bradley lets me stay for free just because I'm a Jenova victim. And here I stayed for the past couple of years, waiting and watching. Every day I'd go out twice a day and walk around town. I'd go once in the morning, and once at night. Then last night I saw you, a mysterious person in a black cloak, entering the bar. At first I didn't think it could possibly be you because you looked so creepy. But then I remembered how much you used to drink, and that it would actually make sense for you to try and hide yourself under cloak and hood. So then I slipped my cloak, which I'd gotten during my stay at Nibelheim, and headed into the bar."

He reached his right hand over and touched our clasped hands.

"The rest is history," he finished. "Not nearly as exciting as your journey, but that's how it went."

"In most ways I wish mine wasn't so exciting," I replied as I reached my left hand and rested it ontop of Raven's. "I had a lot of experiences I'd rather forget."

He lifted my hand up, though barely able, and he leaned down and gently kissed it.

"And you're most likely to have more like it."

I looked up at him, puzzled. He looked back at me with a sad smile on his face.

"You're obviously going to live for a very long time, Moira," he explained. "You're bound to have many more bad experiences, but keep in mind that there will also be many more good ones. Instead of dwelling on the bad times, maybe you should just remember the fun and happy times you've had. Like your time with Bibble. Or when you helped Hikorai. Or even the times we had in our very short time dating together. I'm not going to be around for very long. Any day now, these Jenova cells will weaken me enough to kill me. And when that happens, I don't want you to grieve for me. I want you to continue to live and be happy."

I just stared at him. I really wasn't comfortable with the way he was talking. He leaned closer to me and then pressed his lips to mine. Though the press was weaker than I remembered, the taste was still the same. I closed my eyes and pressed back, ears tilting downward. He let go of my hand and touched my face. We parted and looked in each other's eyes.

I then moved down on the bed and turned around so I was lying down with my back to him. He lay down beside me and wrapped his arm around me. He laid his head on mine, right ontop of my large feline ear.

"Like this, Moira," he whispered, "Remember this moment. The way we're lying here. The conversation we had tonight."

I reached my arm up and held the arm he had wrapped around me.

"I love you," I said. It was all I could think to say.

"I love you, too," he replied, kissing my furry cheek and laying his head back behind mine. We had stayed up the entire night, and well into the day. We stayed like that on the bed until we drifted to sleep, even with the sun shining and the people bustling outside.

(A Few Hours Later)

The sun was going down when I woke up, noticing that I was the only one on the bed. I jolted up and looked around the room. I found him standing on the other side of the room, leaning and hunched over a desk with the desk lamp turned on. His right arm was clutched to his chest, and his breathing was heavy.

"Raven!" I yelled as I bolted up from the bed and ran over to him.

He only responded by looking up at me, sweating like he'd run a marathon.

"We have to get you to a doctor!" I said.

"No…" he replied. "They can't help."

"It's still worth a try."

I then lifted him up off the floor. He was surprisingly light, either because of my esper strength, his Jenova cells, or a combination of both. Carrying him in my arms, I ran out of the room and through the lobby. Bradley noticed us and immediately started panicking.

"What's going on!" He asked, stopping me at the door.

"He needs help," I answered. "Where's the clinic?"

"On the far side of the market."

"Thanks," I said and dashed away to the clinic.

Luckily for me the door was open so I could just run right in. As soon as I got in, the doctors immediately acted.

"Mr. Usher!" One of the doctors yelled out, rushing over to us. "Get the gurney!"

Almost immediately, a gurney was pulled out and wheeled over to me. I laid Raven down on it, and they wheeled him off to the emergency room.

"Will you be able to help him?" I asked the one doctor that stayed.

"I don't know," he answered, "This is the third time this month that this has happened. I'll let you know if anything happens."

He then turned around and walked over to the emergency room to join the other doctors, staring at me the entire time.

I was left there, waiting and wondering what was going to happen. I could feel the tension in the room from the receptionist at the desk. She wasn't comfortable with me being there. I didn't care. I wasn't going to leave without knowing whether or not Raven was ok.

After a long and excruciating wait, a doctor finally walked out of the room. It was the same doctor that stayed and stared at me. I walked over to him.

"Well?" I asked.

"He had a heart attack," he answered. My heart sank.

"You mean he's..."

"Not yet," he answered before I could finish. "He somehow managed to survive, but he was severely weakened by it. It's very possible that he won't make it through the night. He asked that we bring you in so you could be together."

I nodded and followed him into the room. There he was on the bed, with an injection tube pinned in his arm and an air tube in his nose. I walked over to the bedside and kneeled down next to it. He opened his eyes halfway and looked over to me.

"Hey, Beautiful," he greeted in a weak voice, managing a weak smile.

"Hey," I replied, tears welling up in my eyes.

"I'd reach up and touch your beautiful face, but I don't think I can."

I picked his hand up and held it to my face. I could feel a little bit of movement in his fingers, but not a lot.

"I don't have much longer," he said.

"I don't want it to end just yet," I said.

"I know," he replied. "I'm sorry. I tried."

I couldn't think of anything else to say. I just stayed there, holding his hand to my face.

"Although I get the feeling that even if I didn't have these Jenova cells and lived out a normal human lifespan, it would still not be long enough. You would still have a lot more life ahead of you."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You're in your forties, but you look exactly the same as when you were first put in this form. You're probably going to live much longer than any human could, maybe hundreds or even thousands of years. If that ends up being the case, I need you to promise me something."

"Anything."

"Promise me, Moira, that after I'm gone, you will go and settle down somewhere. Live a life, or maybe two or three. Start a new life for yourself, so you'll have a way of making new memories. Maybe along the way, you can even get yourself a new scythe. Truly start over."

I cracked a smile at that last one.

"I promise," I wept, tears flowing down my cheek.

He closed his eyes.

"I love you, Sweet Lady," he whispered.

"I love you, Kind Soldier," I responded.

With that, I felt his hand go limp and saw his face relax. I could even smell the difference in the air around him. I then dropped my head to his chest and cried for what seemed like forever.

"Remember," I heard in my head. "Don't grieve for me. Leave this place behind and live happily. Keep me in your heart with the good times we shared. And remember your promise."

Startled, I lifted my head up and looked around, but found nothing.

"A last message?" I thought, and lifted myself up from his now lifeless body.

I stared down at it. He looked so peaceful. The doctors came in and surrounded the bed, covering him up, confirming that he was in fact dead.

(The next morning)

I decided not to stay for the funeral. This decision was mostly because Raven's last wish was for me to not grieve for him, and a funeral was an event made for grieving. Besides, the basic point of a funeral service was to bury the body. Raven was dead and no longer in his body, so there was really no point in me sticking around to watch it be buried in the ground.

So I left Costa Del Sol late in the morning with a sack on my back filled with food for my new journey. I was leaving this place behind me and off to find a place to settle down and start a new life, just as he asked.

"I'll keep my promise," I thought, directing it to Raven in case he could hear it. "And if I live long enough to outlive that promise, I'll keep it again and again. As many times as I have to before I die."

To Be Continued...