It is a well known fact that change is inevitable. In the long span of human history nothing is so constant but for that one fact. Things change. Times change. Nothing stays the same, no matter how hard we wish for it to.

The life of one young girl would change completely in the space of one day. And like so many others in her position, she was left in the wake of this change confused and bereft of good reason. Perhaps it was the unwelcome circumstance. Maybe it was the manner of telling. Either way, this particular girl was unprepared for what fate had in store for her.

Aeris Louisa Gast was a simple girl of simple means. To say it that way would seem that she was unfortunate and it wouldn't be entirely untrue. She wasn't a rich girl and though she was far from plain looking, she was in manner a very simple person. This in and of itself isn't a crime. Many would say that it was a gift to take such pleasure in the simple beauties of life. So few of us have time for such things in this day and age, and Aeris was one of the very few who indulged herself fully in this regard. None of this made her unfortunate.

What did make her unfortunate were a series of circumstances that built upon each other made for a most unfavorable collusion of fate. These circumstances could have been avoided had Aeris had better connections and parents that had better prepared her for the future. This was if they thought of her future at all. She was burdened by irrevocably silly and irresponsible parents, who though they loved her thought only of themselves and their own needs. It is a sin, they say, to heap dishonor upon your mother and father. But what is one to do when one's mother and father heap dishonor upon you?

The answer in most cases is not a simple one indeed.

On the morning of the fourteenth of February, 1899, Miss Aeris Louisa Gast was born in the tiny hamlet of Winhill which was nestled peacefully in the Midgar plains. It was a farming village located not twenty miles away from Kalm and a good fifty away from the boisterous city of Midgar. Being such a small village, the birth of a child is a thing to be remembered, for there's nothing so enjoyable to farm folks as a good bit of gossip and a kind remembrance.

That morning had been marked by many as the most beautiful they'd seen in ages. Though no one had remembered the girl's actual birth as Mrs. Gast had insisted on having her in a hospital of all places. But a birth was good news, no matter where it happened. In a small town like Winhill, the very idea of having a child in a sterile hospital was abhorrent and strange. The local midwife had assisted in the birth of every child in the village. Every child but Aeris...and despite this one oddity, all agreed that the girl was as lovely as the day she was born. Her parents, Elmyra and Emmett, had been proclaimed as truly blessed to have such a child. And so it seemed...for at one time the Gast family had been prosperous. Rich in an excess of wealth as well as love.

Emmett Gast was the younger brother to the brilliant scientist, philosopher and inventor, Professor Albus Gast who was a modern genius in every sense of the word. The good Professor was the inventor of a list of devices and gadgets that could very well boggle the mind. He invented the light-bulb, designed the first modern airship, was responsible for designing and producing the world's first telephone and these were only his minor accomplishments to the advancement of the human race. His most triumphant accomplishment would be the discovery of mako refinement. Mako is a natural substance, much like lava, it bubbles under the surface of the earth. It gives it life...of sorts. Some might call mako the very water of life. In religious terms, mako was believed to be the essence of the gods. It is a substance that is ephemeral and no one really understands what purpose it really serves. Only that mako is needed to keep the planet habitable. Professor Gast studied mako for most of his life and though he could not pinpoint its purpose, he did see that it was a viable resource that man could harness. For twenty years of his life he studied and worked and finally it paid off. The refinement of synthetic mako was born and the world was never the same again.

Albus himself was clever, quick-witted and had a knack for seeing just what needed to be done, and then implementing it. He was a renaissance man who was gifted in many disciplines and spoke more than a dozen languages. And there was nothing he loved so much as solving a problem, the tougher it was...the better. If there was a way for him to save time or speed up an arduous job, he'd find it. With a quick flick of the wrist and barely a thought, he'd invent the latest modern marvel and afterwards you'd be wondering how you got on all these years without it. As a gifted artist, you could buy one of his prints for a gift or for your own enjoyment. He wrote several treatises on a number of subjects, everything from space travel to the anatomy of a chocobo. Pick a language you'd like to learn and there was likely a nice home study course written by the good professor that'd it teach it to you in less than a week...or you money back.

Professor Albus Gast was a rare man in the annuls of history. His brilliance only matched by his kindness, for there was never a humanitarian as great as he. Most of his vast fortune was spent on various charities and many of his inventions were given away for free to those in need. He was a saint amongst men and never was one soul so lauded with praise and approval that was more deserved. He had quite literally changed the world, pushing out the safety of agrarian dependence while lifting up a revolution vaulted ahead by the pulsing beat of industry.

Sadly, it was almost inevitable that such a bright star would eventually fade and fall. The man who'd drawn the world out of primitive drollery and into a new, modern age of reason and science, setting the pattern for the next one hundred years, died quietly in his sleep one morning. And when he was found and the cause ferreted out, it was found that the fallibility of his own humanity did him in. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Professor Albus Gast was laid to rest, dead from a heart attack at the age of thirty four. To have accomplished so much in such a short time is indeed the model of a life well lived.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when the world turned to his younger brother, Emmett, to further the glory Albus had started. Sadly, Emmett wasn't gifted with half the class, charm and genius of his older sibling. He was by all accounts a dullard and had lagged behind his older brother like a lost pup. It was a pity that one brother would get all the intelligence while the other had none. There were three years between the brothers and many blamed Emmett's uselessness on his youth. Most believed, and rightly so, that it was the boy himself that was to blame. Lazy, self-indulgent and ambitionless, he preferred to bask in the elder Gast's wealth and privilege. During his life, Albus had always seen to it that Emmett was provided for. This was probably the reason Emmett had never tried to put himself to good use. He'd never held a real job. Never tried to better himself in any way, shape or form. His brother had tried hard to help Emmett find his purpose, but it seemed any chore he was given ended in disaster. It was clear that even the most menial of tasks were beyond him, much to his elder brother's eternal disappointment. Reluctantly, Albus settled on giving him a monthly stipend to help keep him out of trouble.

It didn't, but you can't fault an older brother for trying.

Emmett wasted his meager earnings on drink, loose women and gambling. It is an insufferable irony that he was a failure in all areas. He wasn't that good looking. He couldn't hold his liquor and he was very, very bad at cards. After loosing a fortune in one card game, Albus's tolerance of his brother's antics abruptly ended.

Completely frustrated, he sent Emmett to a military school in hopes of straightening the boy out. Much to everyone's relief, the military life seemed to agree with Emmett. He finally became just a bit less useless and though he'd never become an officer, he was satisfied with his chosen career. Emmett, it seemed, finally found something he was good at. Doing what he was told.

It was in the military that he met his future wife.

Elmyra Gainsborough was a fine young lady and thoroughly unattainable. This is not to say that she was overly beautiful nor was she terribly smart. She was average in all ways, except for being silly and a bit conceited and as ignorant as she was opinionated. What made Elmyra unattainable to a simple soldier like Emmett was the fact that she was the cousin to the crown princess, Ifalna Gainsborough...who was said to have been a great beauty with a sharp mind as well. It was no surprise that Ifalna had been chosen as next in line for the crown. She was everything a future queen should be. Elegant, poised, and ethereally charming, she was a goddess walking the earth untamed. She was the exact opposite of her cousin, who paled in comparison.

Behind their backs, the servants often referred to the cousins as Beauty and the Beast...for such was an apt description of their differences in temperament. Of course, there is no question as to which was the beauty and which was the beast. Elmyra exemplified every negative association the word princess held and though her manners were taught by the best teachers money could buy, the lessons seemingly had no effect on her. It was as if she were immune to common decency. So, when the formal announcement came through for the final line of succession. It was a great shock for all to find that Elmyra was second in line for the throne. Of course, this news was greeted with smug condescension by Elmyra, who didn't appreciate being second in line one bit. She could barely tolerate her cousin Ifalna, despite the fact that the girl had made pleasant enough overtures to her. Elmyra was quite sure that she was only being so sweet to spite her. It had taken a lot of convincing for her to go on a tour of the world with "sweet" cousin Ifalna and she had only done it to keep her place in line.

Emmett and Elmyra met on a misty afternoon as the royal family was touring the grounds at Junon, where Emmett was stationed. He was lucky enough to be their guide and by some great coincidence or act of god, he caught Elmyra's eye. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Either way, they couldn't get enough of each other. The rest of her stay there she visited with the young soldier and after three weeks, they proclaimed themselves in love. Much to the chagrin of everyone else involved.

Albus wasn't happy with his brother's choice for a wife. "A princess," He said, "will hardly be happy with the meager salary of a simple soldier." But his brother didn't listen.

Elmyra's relatives were enraged. How dare an heir of royal lineage and second in line for the throne behave this way! To think that she'd content herself with a commoner and a soldier...a soldier for a husband! It was an outrage and her parents forbade her to marry such a man, threatening to disown the girl if she dared disobey.

She did...and the penalty for her disobedience was to be cut off from her family forever. Forsaking the throne and her position, she married for love. A foolish thing indeed for a lady who'd rarely stepped foot outside the royal palace her entire life. She had thrown it all away on a whim. Thinking herself quite lucky to catch a handsome soldier's eye. She had felt she'd bested Ifalna, who she was sure had taken a fancy to Emmett. Elmyra had cleverly stolen him away and though she gave up her place on the throne, she had no regrets. And anyway, Ifalna would probably end up living just about forever before she'd ever catch even a glimmer of that crown. It was best to give it up and besides, she'd finally have her freedom from the stifling rules that went along with being royalty. Something Elmyra had always craved since she was a little girl.

For awhile, things were good. Emmett's stipend from his brother and his salary as a soldier supported them well. His superiors had him re-stationed in Winhill, partially so that he could be closer to his family, partially to rid themselves of him. The world was at peace which meant there was little need for trained warriors. The soldiers stationed in Junon were little more than show. Emmett, being the person he was, didn't much care for being window dressing. He had always been an anxious person who was best put to use when there was a task that needed to be completed. With nothing to do, no orders to follow, he became a restless nuisance to all around him.

So, they stationed him in Winhill, his hometown. It was a small village that was unfortunately plagued with an overabundance of wildlife, violent wildlife that sometimes behaved more like monsters than natural animals. They were in need of a small contingent to clear the surrounding hills and forests of dangerous beasts. And Emmett was in need of something to do. So they sent him to them and he did his job quite well. Emmett was happy, his superiors were happy and so was his wife. Winhill wasn't as cosmopolitan as Junon, but it was much quieter and a good deal cleaner. She had never experienced the sounds and sights of the less attractive parts of the city. Being a soldier's wife acquainted her with a kind of living she'd only ever read about. And reading about something does not prepare you for experiencing it.

Junon was loud and dirty. There were homeless people on the street. You couldn't go out after dark. She was woken on more than one occasion by the sounds of a drunken brawl. Or worse, sometimes she woke to the most unpleasant smell, wafting through her window at night like an unwanted fog. In comparison, their simple little bungalow nestled on a remote little rural street in Winhill was heaven. It was quiet and blessedly free of the fetid stench of humanity that pervaded the air in Junon. Again, her life was more simple here but infinitely more pleasant. And though it was hardly what she was used to, she didn't mind. The pleasure in discovering the world and her new husband were enough to sate her soul. She rarely thought of how much she'd given up and he rarely thought at all.

As the years past, their lot in life became harder. All of it starting the day that Albus died. Though the untimely death was unwelcome and greatly saddened the younger Gast, it did bring with it a minor uplift of good fortune. Emmett inherited his brother's fortune, as well as the sprawling estate he'd built in Winhill. The estate had taken five years to build and upon completion it was given a name. Pembroke Estate upon Winhill. The Gasts had often visited Pembroke with their daughter in tow. Mostly for holidays and the like. Although Pembroke was large as many mansions of the day were, it was also a surprisingly cheery place. A beautiful country mansion that had all the trappings of wealth but put together in such a fashion as to make it welcoming, rather than imposing or museum-like. Pembroke's best feature were its gardens, which were so large that one could easily be lost within them for days at a time. It was a place that was unique and bespoke the nature of its owner. Every corner was filled with remembrances of Albus and the short, yet full life he'd led.

So it was with heavy hearts that the Gasts moved into their new home. Truly, they were all grateful to be blessed with such good fortune. But good fortune received because of someone else's bad fortune isn't necessarily something anyone would welcome without a tinge of regret. Time does eventually heal all wounds. The Gasts settled into a comfortable routine and soon the estate became their home as much as any place could be.

Now on the surface, the Gasts seemed happy and content with their lot in life. But reality didn't match the surface. Over the years, Elmyra became increasingly discontent with everything she had. It had finally sunken in that she'd given up a life of idle luxury for fleeting pleasure. She had enjoyed being a soldier's wife, until she began to see that they hadn't the money for the countless servants and handmaids she was used to. They hadn't the money to afford a new gown for every day of the year. They couldn't go to all the nice society parties that she'd so enjoyed in her youth...because they were unwelcome. Bitterness had taken a firm hold on Elmyra and it soon showed in her attitude towards her husband and child. She became a loud and insufferably pushy woman. Whining and complaining about everything under the sun. Her constant nagging and her tendency to spend more than they had, wore on her husband's nerves. His only solace was to turn to drinking and gambling again. And over these card games he'd loose even more money that he couldn't afford to spend. Between the pair of them, they managed to gradually fritter away Albus's fortune and within ten years they were in a considerable amount of debt.

During this time neither parent paid particular attention to their little girl, as they only expense they decided they could afford was a very good nanny. Despite this, Aeris grew to be a stunning young lady. She was surprisingly smart and beautiful, with a quick wit and quite a bit of natural charm. Aeris had a pleasant, easy going personality and all who met her couldn't help but love her. There were many in the village who remarked that she was quite unlike her mother and father in all respects. Some ventured to think that perhaps the girl wasn't theirs at all. The rumor stuck fast. No one had remembered seeing Mrs. Gast pregnant, and though this could be waved away by a woman's modesty, it was rather curious.

Curious indeed, for as the girl grew she resembled her parents less and less. She wasn't dull or lazy. She wasn't content to follow others. She was a curious girl who was uncommonly bright and ambitious in her intelligence. A genius almost and it was wondered that perhaps the Gast gift for brilliance skipped her father to bless his daughter. She had a great love of books and could often be seen coming and going from the local library. All the booksellers in town knew her by name and considered the young girl their best customer. Every teacher she had in throughout her schooling loved her. Aeris learned uncommonly fast and no subject was beneath her notice. By the time she was seventeen years old she already spoke a grand total of eight languages and was well versed in many subjects. And not just the subjects that would make her a better wife, no, those subjects were far too common for her. Aeris enjoyed Math and Science, which most young women traditionally avoided, not only because they thought it too difficult and uninteresting, but learning such things hardly made one a better wife. Aeris didn't share this view and she was lucky that most of her instructors understood. Those that didn't soon realized not to deny her need for learning, as she was persistent and stubborn when it came to her studies. She was the perfect student in every way and their only lament was that she was a girl. Had she been born a boy, how far she could have gone indeed!

Everything about the world interested her. She was an avid explorer and when she wasn't reading, she was traipsing about the countryside. Most of the time knee deep in mud or hanging off the side of a cliff. Sometimes, she could even be found in the bowers of trees. It was quite a sight to see such a comely young lady, dressed so finely, with her legs hanging over the limb of wide maple tree.

For her parents, this was a situation that left much to be desired. They had hoped to raise a mild, winsome young lady that would be easily married off to some well deserving young man of considerable wealth. But Aeris defied their expectations. She was too smart for her own good sometimes. She was able to converse at length about a number of subjects. The most studious of young men had tried to best her, and had at length met their match.

The girl just couldn't hold her tongue, especially if she felt she was right. Instead of playing the part of an empty-headed coquet, Aeris would most firmly state her opinion in the plainest of terms. Laying out in an organized fashion why they were wrong and she was right. Most young men left the Gast home feeling humiliated and dejected that they were bested by a mere slip of a girl. Yet they would call again and again. Even though she was just a girl and even though every time they called, she would match wits with them most expertly. Even though each time it ended in defeat, they still came because of her beauty.

She was small and demure, with lovely eyes as green as the darkest emerald. Her chestnut hair hung loose at her shoulders in graceful waves that corkscrewed at the ends into ringlets. It was as soft as spun silk and when she moved, it would dance around her shoulders most entrancingly. Her rosebud lips were prone to breaking into a wide and irrepressible smile. Most enchanting of all was her voice. It was lively and full of life, and any man could proclaim himself lucky to hear its sound first thing in the morning. She had a lithe and trim figure, due to all the time she spent running about the countryside. The only thing that detracted from her beauty was her rather swarthy skin tone. She wasn't a pale china doll, like the other young girls. Yet despite her sun kissed complexion, she was still regarded as the most handsome young lady in the countryside. It was all due to her lively nature. The very fact that she enjoyed life so thoroughly drew people to her. She wasn't a wan and fragile girl, content to spend the rest of her life hidden inside her home. Aeris was no shy and shrinking violet. She wasn't the hothouse orchid, who couldn't survive outside her home without protection. Aeris was a robust and untamed wildflower, a wild-rose that'd grow no matter where you planted her, unlike her haughty, housebroken relatives. There were few men alive who could resist such vivacity and anything that was considered a flaw in others, was a compliment in her.

Despite all the attention this garnered, the girl seemed ill disposed to find a husband. She had never shown an interest in any young man that had come to call. They were all the same, loud, boorish, rude and worst of all completely ignorant. It was bad enough that she had to suffer her mother's antics, but to have to pretend to be interested in the vapidity of others tested her patience. If she were to marry, she had promised herself that she wanted a man that was her equal in all ways. A man that was as intelligent as she, who would treat her with kindness and respect. Not some simpering fool who just wanted a woman to cook his meals and clean his home.

This plan didn't mesh at all with her parent's wishes. They had tried arguing with her. They had tried threatening her. All to no avail. Aeris was a stubborn girl and she stuck to her guns and honestly, they tired of arguing with her as neither of them could match wits with the girl.

This would imply some kind of enmity between parent and child, which was not the truth in the least. Elmyra and Emmett didn't always understand their daughter but she was their fey child and they accepted her for who she was. Even if it did bring a bit of torment upon them to wonder what would become of her once they were old. And Aeris loved her parents quite dearly as well, despite the fact that they were a bit of a social embarrassment. She especially adored her father, as most good daughters do. Emmett could never be accused of being overly bright but he had been the one to encourage his daughter's studies.

And perhaps this was the problem. He allowed her to be not only a bookworm but a tom boy as well. Aeris was simply too free and unfettered by society's rules. Her mother berated her father for indulging the girl, which didn't earn her daughter's love nor appreciation. Elmyra detested it greatly, but she had fallen into the role of parental task master. She was hard on her daughter by necessity and it irked her to no end that the girl hardly appreciated her efforts. Aeris had picked up manners well enough but her efforts at teaching her the more beguiling secrets of being a woman were wasted on her. Much to Elmyra's chagrin, the girl openly detested the flirtatious gestures and womanly modesty that would get her a good husband. It was something she endlessly lamented but did very little to change.

There really was no reason to. At the time, Emmett still had his fortune and his health.

Then he died.

Elmyra was already frantic about it because Emmett had no living male relatives. And Aeris, as his sole heir, could inherit nothing because she was a woman. Their only hope was to marry her off quickly so that her husband could accept Emmett's estate in her place. It wasn't an easy arrangement to accept, but they'd be able to keep their home and their fortune. Then the situation was made worse when Elmyra found out how deeply in debt Emmett had been. He'd never let his girls know. Both had stared at the lawyer in open faced shock. Elmyra had promptly passed out and left poor Aeris to sort out the details. And what she learned was that they'd be left with nothing. Their home was to be auctioned off, along with most of their possessions.

Within a week, an army of appraisers would arrive to catalogue and assess the value of every item in the house. Those that were deemed of no importance they could keep. Everything else belonged to the various creditors Emmett owed money to. And as Aeris contemplated this, she realized the enormity of the situation. Her entire library was stocked with rare and antique books and her heart clenched at the idea that some grubby appraiser would be rubbing his hands all over them. Her beloved chocobo, Mary Sue, would no doubt be sold. Chocobos, especially of Mary Sue's quality, fetched a nice price. But she just couldn't imagine someone else taking an animal she considered a friend. They wouldn't understand her. Those awful bank people would probably sell her to some racing track! Or worse, they'd give her to some nasty, spoiled rich girl, who wouldn't appreciate Mary Sue's unique personality. At this, Aeris became visibly upset and had to take a few minutes to calm herself before she could go on.

Then the lawyer told her that she and her mother would have to leave their home immediately. They could only take what they could carry and only things that the head collection agent deemed acceptable. Aeris nodded numbly, her worsening mood was not helped by the lawyer's almost cold attitude. The man had the gall to act like he was being endlessly gracious just because he'd offered to let them stay, rent free, in a ratty little tenement while they worked this out. A tenement he happened to own and which he said he would allow them to live at permanently, if they paid rent. He then made a condescending remark about finding her work as a servant or a laundress, but she blocked it out. Looking out the window, she had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from crying. She had to be strong for her mother. As this all was quite a blow to be delivered on the heels of already bad news. And her mother was anything but strong and did not take such tribulations well.

It was when things seemed the worst that a solution presented itself.

Aeris knew that at one time her mother had been royalty and though ties were officially cut off, she still had occasional dealings with her family. A distant cousin had heard of their troubles and offered to help them. Aeris had been worried, noting that there always seemed to be a price attached to any help given. Rufus Shinra was her cousin by marriage, though she'd hardly seen him her entire life. She knew he was much older than she was and that he was the heir to the rather generous Shinra fortune. Her parents had gone to his wedding when she was fourteen. She hadn't been invited, which was a disappointment in of itself. Worse, she hadn't even been asked to be a flower girl, which still disappointed her to this day. But that was besides the point. The fact that someone she barely knew and was only tenuously related to had suddenly decided to offer them help seemed suspicious to her.

With a sinking heart, she realized she had little choice in the matter. They were in the midst of a storm and any port would do at the moment.

She'd taken his offer, with her mother's prodding, and had never regretted anything so much in her life. Rufus was apparently well acquainted with the royal family and had found a way for Aeris to claim the title Elmyra had foolishly thrown away.

"I think you will find this plan most agreeable, Miss Gast." He said, seeming rather pleased with himself as he led her through her gardens she so treasured and was soon to lose. "You see, Her Majesty has long sought to settle things regarding your mother and herself. As you know, they have quite the bitter history. Her Eminence has thought for many years on who she would bestow your mother's former title on. But no candidates seemed worthy and so Her Highness had left the issue of title unresolved, until now. I have mentioned you to her and she seems quite intrigued."

"Oh." She replied, which was really all she could think to say.

"I have a mind to understand Her Majesty's will and I think she would find it agreeable to bestow you with the title, on condition, of course, that you were to marry a man of her choosing."

That marriage question again. The lawyer had brought it up as well and she'd absolutely refused. Mostly because she didn't trust the man as he seemed the unscrupulous type and she couldn't imagine what kind of husband he'd get for her. Not that she trusted Mr. Shinra much more but at the very least she'd get someone of her own standing. Even better, above her standing. The man in question had noted her silence and wondered at it.

"Are you disposed to have a husband?"

Aeris blushed furiously at this question but replied quietly, "Truthfully, I haven't thought of it. But I suppose I haven't much choice in the matter."

"Of course you have a choice, my dear. True, the thought of marrying a stranger is no doubt daunting. But I think it is most preferable to your other choices. Of course, you must keep your own council in such matters that concern yourself but I urge you to consider your options carefully. Your decision will not only affect you but your mother as well."

She nodded heavily and sighed, "Yes. I understand..."

"You have questions, I imagine? I'd be more than happy to erase any doubt..."

"If I were to accept your proposal, what exactly would happen to my mother and our home?"

"Well, I believe Her Majesty is willing to do away with your fathers debts. Your mother would be able to keep her home."

"And me?"

"You would go to the north and meet with Her Highness. You would stay in her palace until such time as she found a suitable husband for you. Then you would marry and take on the title of Grand-Duchess of Nibelheim."


"There is, of course, the matter of your mother's disgrace. She has been permanently disowned, so you will be forbidden to contact her once you take over your title. I know this will be the hardest part for you, as she is your mother. must pay a price for most things in life." He said, looking down at her with an expression somewhere between pity and sympathy.

Tears formed in her eyes but she batted them away, staring at him with a hard look in her face. Could she trade her freedom for her mother's happiness? She didn't know. Indecision wracked her and she looked to the clouds and the sky for answers. Finding none, she gripped her escort's arm a little tighter before exhaling deeply.

Her decision had been made.

"What kind of man would Her Highness get for me? Would I have any say at all in the selection?"

"She would find the most worthy. Regrettably, you would have no say at all in the matter. Such a marriage would be for political gain, rather than personal. I wouldn't worry overmuch. If nothing else comforts you, she will get you a rich husband who will provide for your every need. What more could a woman want?"

Aeris bristled at this suggestion but said nothing. No matter how odious she thought Rufus Shinra to be, he was doing her a favor. She should be grateful.

"When would I leave?"

"As soon as you've decided."

"May I take my things with me?"

"You make take some of your things with you, of course. With the exception of your wardrobe, as your current attire hardly befits the station you are to ascend to. You will, of course, be given new clothes to replace your old attire."

"What will become of me once I go to the palace? Will I be married immediately?"

"No, no. Most likely, Her Highness will want a full month, if not more, to choose the right husband for you. Then there would be a month of preparation for the nuptials. And of course, there is also the matter of learning royal protocol and etiquette. You seem to have rather adequate manners which I think with sufficient adjustment could improve easily. So in that time you'd be quite busy. It will give you time to adjust to your new situation."

They had walked the full circuit of the garden and arrived back at the entrance to the house. Rufus led her up the steps and still holding her hand he stopped and looked her in the eyes. His mouth had thinned to a sharp line and he gazed meaningfully at her.

"Have you decided?"

"I...I..." She struggled, her pretty face knitting together in indecision. "Would I be allowed to think on this a bit more before committing to this plan?"

"There is no time for hesitation, my dear. I must leave upon the morrow. I need your decision today, whether it be yes or no. I cannot wait. I am a busy man and have my own affairs to look after. I do not wish to chide you further but...a decision must be made."

She paused. The world around her had taken on a surreal quality. As if all the minutes of the day had lengthened into eternity and she was stuck in a moment that would not end. No birds cried. No wind whispered. Her future stood before her and it was quite unlike the one she'd imagined in her head. She'd always told herself she'd marry for love but now faced with a life of abject poverty and certain misery, her plans had changed. Marrying a stranger seemed so cold and impersonal. More like a bank transaction than anything resembling what she'd always dreamed matrimony to be. Surely, she'd be unhappy with such an arrangement, yet she supposed it would be like anything else. At first it would be uncomfortable, but with time perhaps it'd fade. She'd always believed that the situation didn't determine your happiness, your own attitude towards the situation did. This marriage would be what she made of it and if it didn't work out, then she'd at least saved her mother from spending her later years in unhappy labor. With a heavy heart, she broke her reverie and met Shinra's gaze unflinchingly.

"I accept."

But only because she had no other choice left open to her.

Welcome to the first chapter of Rose of Midgar! You'll notice the style is quite different from what I've written before. And the story itself is a great departure from your typical fic. This ain't your sister's AeriSeph! This is your gramma's! That's right! Your GRAMMA'S!

Basically, this is a alternate universe...obviously. The setting is the same. There's Midgar, even mako. But the story itself is meant to evoke a time long ago. It's set in 1916, though not on earth. Think of it this way, if Jane Austin, Final Fantasy and the Remains of the Day had a baby, it'd be Rose of Midgar. I'm trying to evoke a sort of Merchant-Ivory feeling from this story. Dealing with themes and issues that we don't deal with at all in the modern age, but were quite common a little over a hundred years ago.

So enjoy!