A/N: Yeah, I've decided to make a new Cleris fic. I decided it was way too much fun to pass up. No, it won't come in the way of my Squffie. Anyways, here you go.

Disclaimer: I don't own FF7, period.

Chapter One

It was raining. The sky was sullen and black with angry storm clouds, and the sky flashed with fury. Cloud sent a fleeting look back, his sword ready, as he fled across the fields on his black steed. Seven warriors, riding terrible monsters, were following. And they were gaining, fast.

As he passed a tree, he sliced it in half with his huge blade. It crashed into two of the monsters, immediately turning to dust. He turned his mako eyes ahead. They caught a surprise.

There was a ravine up ahead…and the bridge that would take him to the other side just wasn't there. A glanced back at the taunting faces of the men said that they'd had this planned all along.

Cloud rode until he was only a few feet from the ravine, just to be sure his horse couldn't jump it. He was a powerful beast, but Cloud highly doubted they'd make it. So he turned his horse back around and waited only seconds for them, sword ready.

The five used their number against him, the only good fighting skill they had. Two closed in from either side, and the other three charged head on. He met them, huge blade swinging. One was easily decapitated, but he had to parry the other's sword. He quickly shoved his blade down that monster's throat, making it stumble and fall down the ravine. It turned to dust like the others, but its rider began a freefall. He watched only for a split second. That was a long drop.

There were three remaining. Cloud was just starting to be sure of himself when one of the monsters got back on its hind legs, its rider clutching to its neck tight, and swiped at him. He was hit right in the side of the face, three sharp claws digging into his skin and slicing across. His horse, eyes wide with fear, bucked. He was flung backwards…

…And somehow managed to grab hold of the edge. Feet dangling below, he tried to pull himself up. Blood stung his eyes. He saw one of the people dismount and walk over to him. Her blade flashed as she stabbed Cloud's hand and then kicked his sword over the edge with him.

Elsewhere

Aeris unzipped her tent and came out into the open. The air was fresh and the grass wet thanks to the ruthless rain of last night. Her mother was already long gone from their camp. The woman had probably left as soon as the rain stopped. It was still pretty early in the morning.

Aeris ate some dried meat, their rations for the trip, and then checked the list her mother has pinned to her tent.

The two sold herbs, medicine, and flowers together in their little shop back home. They came to this spot, five miles from their village, every month to restock. Aeris, who woke up a little later than her mother, always got a smaller list, but everything was always so far away. Plus, her mom had taken their only horse.

Since she'd probably be out for a while, she packed some extra clothes, because she'd definitely get dirty and wet, plus some dried meat and apples. They had plenty.

Humming, she started on the mile that would take her to the stream. She would go on a route that would eventually take her past all that she needed and then to the stream.

Waning and stretching, she nearly stomped over the herb she was looking for. She put it in her basket, marked it off the list, and then kept going, a little more carefully.

The stream up ahead was beautiful. The water shimmered in the morning light. A multitude of flowers covered its banks on either side of it. This was her favorite place to gather flowers.

Aeris cleaned off the herbs, picked several flowers, and then walked downstream to find a good spot to enjoy her lunch. She'd made it in record time and definitely had time to relax.

After a few minutes of walking, she saw something lying on the bank, something big, and it'd obviously washed downstream by the way it was still halfway in the water, facedown.

She ran over to whatever it was. A man. He was certainly dead, drowned to death by her guess. His primitive clothing marked him as one of the primitive monster-riding people of the northern lands. (A/N: Ha, I betcha thought it was Cloud, huh?)

Aeris was quite disturbed by the sight of this man. After all, these men hardly ever came down to the central lands where things were far more advanced and slightly more peaceful. They especially didn't come anywhere near her village. The castle wasn't even fifteen miles away, and King Rufus the Ruthless had a great dislike for this unintelligent people.

The girl was so busy trying to figure this out that she didn't notice the monster creeping up behind her. The man riding the beast raised his blade, a wicked gleam in his cruel eyes.

The clash of swords made Aeris gasp and whirl about to face her would-be attacker. Fighting off both a monster and the man riding it was a fighter with an over-sized sword. He was apparently a knight, by his armor.

The knight shoved the wild man's primitive blade aside and caught him in the chest. As soon as its master breathed his last breath, the monster turned to dust, and the man fell through it and to the ground.

Back turned to her, the knight wiped the blood off his sword and onto the wet grass before sheathing it. Before he could turn around to face her, he fell down on one knee. His face bore the steely look of someone masking pain.

Aeris quickly ran to help him, even crouching on the ground to do so. He seemed to suffer most in the stomach, where the metal of his armor had been hit so hard by something- definitely not a sword- that it split open and dented. Blood was smeared on the metal.

After a quick glance around to make sure they were alone, Aeris focused on his wounds, placing her hands close. They healed before their eyes. He looked up into her eyes, surprised.

"You're a witch," he said.

"That's a harsh word," she scolded, smiling and reassured. Well, she was until she saw the glow in his eyes, a glow similar to her own.

Knights were bound to protect those that helped them, she knew, by honor. But the Banished, accused of some horrible act, were stripped of said honor and marked by a light in their eyes. All other people treated them with scorn. Most of the Banished don't have children, but, if they did, their child would carry on the mark, like Aeris.

Now, witches, those blessed by the evil gods, were even worse than the Banished; they'd be stripped of life if found. He had the power, if he wanted to, to gain back his honor by turning her in.

Instead of immediately trying to do so, the knight removed his chest plate and looked down at the hole in his tunic. The thing was already stained with blood and sweat, so it really didn't matter. He tossed the metal aside, disgusted.

"My name is Aeris," she prodded. "What's yours?"

"Cloud," he said after a moment's pause.

"Not 'Sir' Cloud?" she asked, smiling again.

"No."

"Do you know why those men from the north are here in the central lands?" she asked, puzzled about that.

"They're after me," he said shortly.

"And why's that?"

He looked at her crossly and then merely shrugged. Aeris sighed.

"Well, then, I suppose we had better get going!" she announced, hopping to her feet.

"'We'?" he repeated, not getting up.

"Yes, 'we'. Do you know how dangerous it is around here with those men running around? Besides, you look tired- and you're soaked! We have food and a fire-"

"Fine," he interrupted. "Which way?"

King Rufus's castle

King Rufus was extremely wealthy. He had the biggest castle of all the kingdoms, he was the most prosperous, and his knights were famous all over the world. And it was mostly his doing, too. Well, his and Hojo's.

"Your majesty," a man with wild red hair greeted, bowing to Rufus on his throne. "No sign of you-know-who."

It was no surprise to Rufus, who suspected that this "you-know-who" was long dead. In fact, he'd even assigned the Turks, a special force among his knights, a new goal. For over two years, he'd been searching for witches, under cover of "execution". But said "you-know-who" had killed every last one they'd gathered, and he wasn't sure that there was another left.

As if just realizing that, Reno also said, "And, yeah, no you-know-whats either."

Now Rufus was angry. He sent Reno away with a frustrated wave of his hand. How was he to get rid of the amassing wild men from the north? More of his villagers in the slightly northern areas were being slaughtered by the day. And he had to keep his knights at the ready in the castle in case the threat of war from some nearby kingdom stupidly named Avalanche, ruled by King Barret, would be fulfilled. They had stolen Rufus's technology, advanced it, and now were threatening to blow up whole villages if Rufus didn't back down.

A shout from outside the throne room made Rufus sit up. He watched as Lady Scarlet opened up the double doors. "There's a messenger here to see you, your majesty," she notified him.

"Bring him in."

A guy with spiky black hair ran in, paused to catch his breath, and then said, "A whole village was burned to the ground."

"Avalanche?" Rufus asked.

"No," said a voice. Out of the shadows of Rufus's throne stepped Hojo. His glasses flashed as he shook his head. "Sephiroth."

A/N: So, guys, what'd you think? Good? Bad? I know it needs improvement, so just tell me where!