(A/N: Oneshot, written for a themes challenge on LJ.
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all its characters belong to Square-Enix.)
My journey is not over. Though I have travelled many times across the Planet, there is still more to explore. It would not be true to say that I have overturned every leaf in every forest or left my paw prints on every mountain and every valley. My task is not easy: I have an entire world to search.
I reach the Forgotten City as the sun rises. The pale stone is hard under my paws but I pad onwards over the cracked pavement. The city has a melancholy air; I can smell it. It is heavy with ancient wisdom. Following the path lit up by the rays which penetrate the forest and the stone, I reach that place.
I see a still pool of water. Behind it, a crumbling stone structure. The last city of the Ancients will soon be swallowed up by the forest altogether. But not this place. She rests here.
I go right to the water's edge. I smell life and death. I am thirsty and my fur is dusty. I lap at the water. Ripples spread out from the source of the disturbance. Is it her I taste? Is that her essence shimmering in the ripples of light?
I wait for the ripples to fade. My tail swings of its own accord, a fiery beacon in this sanctuary of water and earth. I could cleanse myself in this pool; remove the dust and dirt of long travelling. But water is not my element and I feel the pool should remain still. I have already announced my presence. I have drunk her.
The water is deep. She is in the centre, where it is deepest. Perhaps if I gaze hard enough, I will see her. I sit on my haunches and peer into the water, which is calm again. No. I cannot see her with my eyes. I don't need to. I feel her spirit there. It makes my hackles rise and my whiskers twitch. It is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. I am in the presence of a friend who is dead.
Do I feel the ghost of a hand pass across my head? My fur ripples. There is something in the air. I remember she used to pat me sometimes. I wouldn't tolerate such behaviour from my other comrades, but somehow with her it was all right. She saw beyond my battle-hardened exterior to the scared cub within. I was still a child then. I appreciated the attention.
I feel her more strongly. Is it her presence now, or the memories flooding into my head? They wash over me like a vivid dream. Like healing water.
I inhale her scent. The human stench doesn't normally appeal to my kind, but she smells different. There is something of the human about her, yes, but also an impression of flowers, and soil, and a perfume that makes my nose itch. Underneath it all, something sharp and tangy. I couldn't place it at first. It was only when we went to Mideel that it struck me. She smells of the Lifestream, the blood of the Planet. They are connected.
Another impression – further back, this time. It is when we first meet. I am a prisoner in Shinra's Headquarters, Hojo's lab rat. I am confined in a prison of metal and plastic. I keep away from the walls of my cell. Every touch of that artificial material disgusts me. Even the floor is swabbed with chemicals. They hurt my paws.
I long to feel the wind stir my fur again. I long for the rough texture of stone, for the smell of the air and sky, and my homeland. The canyon calls to me. I ache to see the bright flame of Cosmo Canyon. I want to feel its comforting heat.
I grow to hate Hojo. At that time, I respected very few human beings, and Hojo almost destroyed what faith I had in them. Only human beings could do such things to a fellow creature. I don't know what tests he is performing. I only know the pain of the injections, the humiliation of being tattooed – to the scientist I am just another specimen to be exploited.
My sanity is wearing thin. They save me just in time. That's when I see her. Hojo has stolen her. To him, she is another experiment. Although we are of different races, we share many things in common, and this experience is one of them. She is scared of me at first. Of course she is. Hojo puts us together in a confined space. I could tear her apart and she knows it. I smell her fear. She cries out.
I bare my fangs and snarl at her. But I hold in my anger. It is Hojo I hate. I recognise that she too is his victim. I will not hurt her. My senses are keener than a human's. She is different. She is a Cetra. I smell raw magic on her. She looks so frail, with those delicate white limbs, tiny jaw and pitiful human fingernails. But she is holding something powerful.
She quickly sees past the beast. I am no more lethal than Cloud, with his Mako-enhanced strength and his giant sword, or Barret, with his gun arm and bad temper. I make sure to speak rationally to them. I am polite and intelligent – they must see that I am not an animal. Humans think that anything with four legs and fur must be a witless beast. They are wrong. They don't credit intelligence to anyone but themselves. These humans, however, do accept me.
She is perhaps the first one to trust me. When she talks to me, she crouches, so we are at the same eye level. In this way she acknowledges that we are equals. It is a small gesture, but for me a significant one. The kinship I feel with her increases.
The memory fades like ripples in the pool. More come. Her joy and wonder when Grandfather shows her a model of the Planet. The way she understands the principles of life and death. Above all, I recall how she knew her duty to protect the Planet. Here is another thing we have in common. I protect the home of my ancestors. So does she, in her own way – but her legacy is far greater than mine. She hears the Planet. She is far closer to it than any human being I have ever seen. She gives me hope.
The whole group gives me hope. Who would have thought it? A band of humans on a journey to save the Planet! She is the key. Even after she is gone, she is the glue that holds us together.
Life is so frail. One sword thrust was all it took to end her. It is the spirit, not the body, which endures. Her spirit is strong. I lift my eyes from the water's surface and the spell is broken. I feel a slight breath of wind. The sun is beating down. The glade is full of light.
Here, she rests. I am out of memories. I stay a moment longer, long enough to bow my head and whisper a thank-you to the girl who watches over the Planet. My break is finished. I know she appreciates the short time I have devoted to her. I turn and leave. New scents await.