Bright sunlight, blue sky and the wind in his fur. This is what it means to be alive. This is what it means to keep a promise. He is running – thundering paws and clouds of dust – but he is not alone. On either side of him two little cubs are making two little dust trails.
He has something to show them.
He leaps, jumping up the cliff with swift assurance. He reaches the top and goes right to the edge. The sky is blue and the land is green. And while he waits for his cubs to catch up, honking cries catch his attention. He looks up and watches a skein of geese fly over. A fresh breeze brings with it the smell of the air and the earth and the sea.
He turns his head and watches his cubs scramble over the rocks, each of them eager to get to him first. Elia dashes ahead of her brother, her lips pulled back in a grin. She skids to a halt and Kelu nearly tumbles into her.
"Beat you," says Elia.
"I wasn't racing you anyway," says Kelu.
Nanaki merely smiles as the two cubs shake the dust from their fur. He looks over the horizon again. The cubs follow his gaze.
"It's so big…" says Elia.
Kelu appears to be dumbstruck. Both of them gaze over the ruins in awe. Spread out below them is an ancient city, a city brimming with life. None of its original inhabitants remain, however: this is a city overgrown with plant life; a vast green forest. Tiny birds flock in the branches, hunting for insects which feed on the flowers. Tiny mammals scurry through the undergrowth, burrow in the rich, deep soil and drink from the streams and rivulets. In the water, shoals of tiny silver fish dart here and there, while frogs sit amongst the wet rushes and herons stalk the water's edge.
Nanaki thinks that the city's population has never been so large or diverse. But he remembers how it used to be.
Yes, he remembers the city of old: the metal and stone, cold and lifeless, the towering Plate which blocked out the sun. He remembers the dead waste ground and the high towers. He remembers the twisting, winding streets, the grey buildings and that odd green glow… And the smell of Mako.
This is where it all began.
"Is it a city?" Elia asks. She has never seen a city before.
"It was," Nanaki replies.
"Can we go down there?"
"Yes. Follow me." The cubs growl excitedly as he leads them back down the cliff and towards the ruins. At first the way is narrow and steep, but then the land flattens out.
Such a long time ago, but Nanaki remembers. He knows where he is going. His paws take him on the right course, through long grass and ferns and shrubs and trees. As the forest grows thicker, the light filtering through the trees becomes greener, casting dappled shadows on the cubs' fur. Nanaki moves like a quiet shadow, the beam of his tail acting as a guide for Elia and Kelu.
Soon, traces of the old city appear. He treads over the faint, cracked remains of a road. Weeds push up from beneath the concrete. Bits of rusted metal lie on the ground entwined by creepers and the cubs are excited to discover the skeleton of a car.
They pass through the ruins of a crumbling stone wall. The trees thin out; they have reached an open clearing. Beneath their paws is mossy stone, above is the cloudless sky and light shines down on a pool of water in the centre of the clearing. White lilies float on the water's surface. Nanaki stops.
"Be careful," he says. "There may be broken glass."
Kelu twitches his nose at the warning and takes exaggerated high steps as he picks his way around the water. He finds a flattish grey stone, warmed by the sun, and settles himself down upon it, looking around with bright curious eyes. Elia trots to the edge of the pool and laps from the clear water. She turns, water dripping from her muzzle.
"Why have we stopped?"
"Because this is the most important place I want to show you."
Elia looks puzzled. "But it's just a pond."
"No, it isn't. This is a church."
Both of the cubs look around, confused, sniffing the air.
"I thought a church was a building," says Kelu.
"It doesn't smell like a church," says Elia.
"A church is a holy place," says Nanaki sternly. "It doesn't need to have walls or a roof."
He remembers, clearly, what the church used to look like: the pews, the stain glass windows, the garden of flowers. But these are just the trappings of a church. There is nothing left now but the holy water, and yet the trees still respect this place, leaving it open to the light of the sky.
"You play in churches, right?" says Elia. She grins and runs over to Kelu, cuffing him so that he falls off his perch. Kelu growls and swipes his paw back at her.
"No, you pray in a church, stupid!"
Elia bares her fangs at her brother and launches herself at him. Kelu dodges, but before they can start play-fighting in earnest, Nanaki snatches up Elia in his mouth. She squeals.
"Father! Put me down!"
Nanaki jumps lightly on to the grey rock and drops her in the grass nearby. Kelu watches smugly as Elia glares at her father.
"Come here, cubs," he says, settling himself down. "I have a story to tell you."
The cubs forget their squabble instantly. Elia stays where she is, her expression changing from indignant to rapt, and Kelu pads over to sit by his sister. Their tails twist behind them, never still.
"Are you going to tell us about this church?" Elia asks.
"Yes – that, and many other things."
She looks slightly put out. "Is it a long story?"
"As long as the history of this Planet."
She huffs, her body slumping. Kelu elbows his sister.
"Well, I want to hear," he says. "I want to know all of it."
Nanaki smiles. "I cannot claim to know everything. But I made a promise to tell you this. The story of the human race…"
"Humans!" says Elia. "Yeah, I like hearing about humans! Aren't they those weird, two-legged things? Those things without fur-"
"They do so have fur," says Kelu. "They have manes on their heads. And they built this city, didn't they?"
"Yes, long ago. And the story I'm about to tell you begins here."
The cubs fall silent, looking at him expectantly. So many memories, Nanaki thinks. So many memories… But it all started here. He draws breath.
"Once upon a time, there was a great city called Midgar…"
(A/N: ...Insert FFVII novelisation of your choice. XD I wrote this story ages ago and finally decided to post it here. There's a slight connection with another of my oneshots, Memories Live On, but they can each be read alone just fine. Reviews are welcome.)