Chapter 1: The Slave
Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast;
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the Moon is cast-
(S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
One thing, one thing especially in that hell, Tifa would have never been able to forget. That was not the worst thing which had happened to her, but it was the most irritating, the most oppressive.
And it was the dampness. The wetness. The cold, not an unbearable cold, but an exhausting, scavenging one. Days, weeks kneeled down in that frosty dirty mud, which seemed to climb on her legs, transmitting through all her nerves those shivers. And there just wasn't a way to get rid of it, it was everywhere, always there. Her hands were pinned above her head, her blood yet barely reaching them, and from the very first day she had been brought there she had never managed to wipe the mud-stains on her cheek and on her mouth. She was pale, spectral like a goner, if not a dead, staring blank minded at the tip of her once beautiful hair sinking into that black mire, just because she had lost the strength to hold her head high. She didn't even want to look at what was happening around her, she wouldn't even hear the cry for help of the prisoners in that cave.
With her almost lifeless eyes she was just enjoying the spectacle of her own decadence.
Moreover, Tifa was ill.
She was not just mentally ill, affected by those nonsensical visions which drew men to insanity, so typical of all prisoners.
She was also poisoned, poisoned in late stage, alarming green small but innumerable spots appearing all over her skin, growing day by day, as she was able to see in spite of the darkness that surrounded her.
And, relentlessly, those images tormented, stabbed her mind.
Images of her house, of her husband, of her son. All, all gone, destroyed.
Just fragments in her memory, hurting fragments. And she was obliged to think about it, because there was nothing else to think about, just the absolute black of the cave, just those incomprehensible screams.
Long swords, red blood, blond hair.
Broken glasses, crying children, burning houses.
She never slept. For her there wasn't any prisoner's dream: there was only that blatantly inevitable torture.
There was nothing, absolutely nothing left for her. And when she had realised that, she had tried to suicide, also. Yes, to suicide there, in that place which looked, smelled, like the death itself. She had tried to cut her veins forcing her wrists on the metal of the handcuffs which kept her imprisoned there. Doing that, she was probably searching for a way to leave that place. Dead or alive, she didn't mind.
But after that affair had died down in two exiguous trails of blood down her arms, Tifa had given up.
But, still, she couldn't stand the cold mud. Mud.
The mud which made her a dirty war prisoner.
Because a dirty war prisoner was exactly what she had become.
One day, or one night - it was impossible to be sure in that cave - two strangely rational voices pierced Tifa's mind, momentarily setting aside all her internal voices and the prisoner's screams.
"For Lord's sake, Greg! Pick up quickly the fucking slaves the General wants and let's get outta here! I hate this smell of death!" a guard was stating.
"But is there someone alive here? Ew!" the other guard snorted while raising a woman with his gloved hand "this one must be dead since days!"
"There should be someone alive. Just, don't choose the ones who are screaming. They've probably gone insane. They'd be totally useless." his voice was arid, as if he was talking about objects instead of human beings.
"I'll use our old method. One yes, one no. So, you come, you die, you come, you die, you come, you die…"
And while the litany went on, Tifa could hear the clinging of released handcuffs a few metres from her, the sobbing of women, the snorts of agony.
She really didn't mind coming or dying. Probably, she would have died anyway. And basically, she didn't even understand what was going on.
".. you come, you die, you come, you die, you.. No. I guess it's enough now. For what I'm concerned, you can exterminate the rest of them."
"Aahahah don't say so! They still have a soul, you know." the guard laughed while he was still setting the list of prisoners free.
"Yeah, whatever. But move it, please. I'm not helping you out, I don't want those… those creatures to make me filthy." he added crossing his arms.
Suddenly, when she wasn't expecting that anymore, Tifa felt the guard's hands unlocking her handcuffs. A suffocated cry escaped her throat, she was too shocked for that sudden awakening from her unreachable death-in-life.
She instantly widened her eyes, and stirred abruptly as if a jolt had hit her.
"Whoa! Look at this one! She has great boobs! Seems like your 'one yes one no' strategy sometimes actually makes sense…"
Tifa had remained for too long untouched in her position to stand the sudden change. So, while the guard pulled roughly her arm to make her stand on her feet, she lost consciousness, vaguely realising that was the last time she saw that cave, and that the bloody irony of fate was pulling her by her hair out the hell in which it had previously thrown her.
Was her first thought when she saw all that celestial white.
Spotless white surrounded her, and it was blinding for her eyes accustomed to darkness.
But the second thought which followed was more realistic and simple.
This is too bad to be heaven
She saw a dark stain on the white beneath her. Even though it was hard, she tried to focus, and after a considerable amount of seconds, she was able to ascertain that the dark stain was nothing but her hand. Her dirty hand, filthy with mud.
Something else was different.
The coldness and the wetness had disappeared. Unconsciously she tried to reach the mud-stain on her face with her hand, ready to feel something holding her back. But nothing did. For every inch she trailed her hand on the floor, she felt thousands of needles pinching her muscles.
This is not heaven at all
She closed her aching eyes, letting her head fall down on the floor again, her lips kissing that endless white.
Slowly, she began hearing voices, normal voices, conversations, so different from the prisoners' ravings. There was something tense there around, but nothing more.
The voice she heard more often was the voice of a man.
A subtle voice, a dry voice.
A somewhat scaring voice.
The man threw brief statements in the air, and devoted silence or tentative answers followed them.
When Tifa opened her eyes again, she focused again on the white pavement, and this time she could recognise black parallel lines running through the room, dividing it into squared tiles. Still, those tiles appeared to her exaggeratedly white.
It's just you, hell! You and you're damaged eyes
She said to herself.
But then something black materialized inches from her eyes.
Something - she didn't know what exactly - made her freeze in that position. An explicable panic caught her, even when she realised that in front of her there was just a pair of boots
"And you are…" a shadow lowered on her for a few seconds, then disappeared. "Nr 925. Captured in Niebelheim. Right?"
She didn't answer.
She didn't want to answer, and she couldn't answer. She still had doubt that the freezing voice was all for her.
Instead, she started examining the boots in front of her. Leather black, that nearly comforting black which her eyes were accustomed to, with metallic buckles that the white of the room made more bright.
She knew she didn't have the power to look higher than that.
The voice came again, cutting the still air.
But Tifa didn't move, and all that the man could see of her was her messy black hair, scattered on the white tiles, mud-tingled on its tips. Other than that, there were just a pair of bony arms abandoned on the floor, since her legs were hidden by her skirt and her boots.
And Tifa didn't dare looking at him, because she was feeling something excruciatingly hostile in the whole aura which surrounded the man.
"I'm not used to talking to people who don't look at me, and you will be no exception." the voice sounded like a sentence.
And the terrible sentence arrived when the stranger's hand violated her trance again, grabbing her chin and raising her head from the floor.
The cold touch of those fingers and the blinding light of the white neon above them left her breathless, an immediate sense of repulsion gushing from her heart.
She barely recognised her hoarse voice, and automatically she scratched the stranger's hand with her long nails.
Then her head fell again to the ground: she felt even more tired than before, and she was now breathing hard in the absolute silence which had fell after her attack.
Meanwhile, the man was analysing the four little blood trails on the back of his hand, narrowing his eyes but remaining still calm.
"Fine" he stated "Is that so, then?"
With a sudden and harsh movement he kicked Tifa, making her lie on her back instead
"Now I'm asking you: what is your name?"
But Tifa rolled on her stomach, now growling like a wounded animal, and hiding her face against the floor again.
In less than one second the man's boot hit her, and then pinned her throat to the ground.
"My name's none of your business!" Tifa yelled with shrill voice, bruising her lungs, and showing him for a fraction of second her demonic red eyes, which in those moments had regained all the fire they had lost during the permanence in the cave.
And in that fraction of second, while she was still wondering how she had managed to put the words together in a way which was not nonsensical, blinded by the neon light, she caught a glimpse of the man's appearance.
She saw black, black basically, and then silver shimmering everywhere for a few seconds, then the man's boot nearly strangled her.
"If you think you can make me a fool, well, let me remind you that you're not exactly in the most suitable position to do so."
Tifa felt clearly, from the push of his boot, that he was furious; but he was hiding it very well in his mask of indifference.
"I can kill you right now, without hesitance or regret." the man voice was blank.
And, hearing it, Tifa had no doubt he meant exactly what he said.
"Please, Sephiroth, stop!"
It was a melodious female voice interrupting them. Then, a pink vision, a relaxing aura contrasted Sephiroth's tense one.
And as soon as his boot's push lost his strength, Tifa stopped squirming and cuddled on the white floor once again, exhausted.
"What's the problem?" Sephiroth asked briskly to the woman who was now keeping him away from Tifa.
She had both her hands on his shoulders, in a way almost none else dared to do.
"Can't you see her arms? She has been poisoned… she's probably still not herself. Please, do not harm her."
A moment of silence followed.
"Aeris. She's just a slave." Sephiroth finally said with a disgusted face.
"She doesn't deserve this treatment anyway!" the woman insisted.
"Listen: just because I'm in good mood today that doesn't mean you can come here around giving me orders. Now leave." Sephiroth's voice left no choice.
After a few seconds, Tifa heard distinctively the echo of the woman's heels resounding in the room. Tifa actually considered an intriguing possibility: maybe that Sephiroth would kill her right there, finally setting her free from that inferno.
Sephiroth locked his gaze on Tifa again. She looked more dead than alive.
But she's too alive -he thought sarcastically - She's a wild beast which bites and scratches.. - For a moment his eyes latched on the blood trails on his hand, than returned to her, to that disgusting skinny woman.
Finally, he grabbed Tifa by her hair, ignoring the fact he was arousing in her infinite repulsion, and held his wounded hand inches from her nose.
"Whatever your name is. Whoever you are. I wont forget about this."
Then Sephiroth smacked Tifa's head to the ground again.
Tifa instantly became grateful to all the Gods that Sephiroth wasn't touching her anymore. It was impossible to describe the horrible sensations the man's touch provoked in her. It was like all the terrible images of two weeks ago crowded into her brains when she came in contact with him.
"This one's okay." Sephiroth was speaking. And Tifa didn't know he was pointing at her while saying so. "Make her join the other housemaids. Quickly."
And he left the room.
Author's Notes: I've had this idea from a while… I don't know. I decided to write this chapter, but I am actually not sure if I will continue this… I hope there's still some TifaSeph fan out there… even if the couple is wrong. Eh. Another problem is my English: I'm trying to improve it, but it's hard, really.. Maybe I will just delete this story and repost it when I'll be more talented.
Tell me at least if this first chapter was worth reading, or if I have wasted my time…
(AN2: I've now fixed some errors and the dialogues-dashes thing. I hope now this is less confusing than before, and that I'm not leaving something else behind..
A very special 'thank you' to all the people who helped me out and gave me suggestions. If I ever manage to come out with another chapter, it'll be thanks to you.)