First non-anime fiction I've ever done, be gentle!

The Offer

Aeris sneezed in the chilly night air and pulled the cloak she had borrowed from the diggers at the Bone Village tighter around her arms. She silently chided herself for declining their offer to stay the night and going on to the Sleeping Forest. It seemed like a good idea at the time to continue, but the night had come quicker than she had expected and with it came the wind.

Sighing and deciding against pushing herself any harder, Aeris walked to the nearest tree and sat down, leaning her head back. There was no point in over-exerting herself, the Planet and the forest would show her the way when they were ready and until then she was just walking in circles without the legendary Lunar Harp to sooth the forest's curse. Besides, she would need all her strength for what was to come once she arrived at the Forgotten City.

Aeris looked up at the night sky, barely visible through the trees, and stared at the stars. Somewhere up there, for all she knew, was Meteor, streaming towards the planet to destroy it and everything on it in its impact and the subsequent draining of the Lifestream Sephiroth was planning. Had the former SOLDIER already used the Black Materia and their time already been cut short? The Planet likely had the answers, but Aeris was too tired to ask and listen. She had a mission to complete and all her energy and focus had to be on it.

"Such devotion is admirable, but ultimately futile."

Aeris' head dropped to stare into the forest as she climbed to her feet, looking for the source of the voice. Had she been followed? Impossible, she would have heard them earlier. Or had someone already been to the Forgotten City and come back? She looked around, worried that she had heard such a voice before.

"Have you now?" Aeris' blood chilled colder than the night air, and she slowly turned, her cloak drifting off her shoulders to the ground. Dark as any shadow in the cursed forest, Sephiroth emerged from the foliage and stood a few feet away. The two stared at each other for a moment before Aeris wondered if she could flee.

"Unlikely, but if you tried I would make it sporting," Sephiroth interrupted her thoughts. Aeris narrowed her eyes. As yes, Sephiroth had been injected with Jenova's cells. He must have inherited more of her powers than Hojo and Gast thought.

"What are you doing here Sephiroth?" she asked, putting on a strong face even though the eerily handsome man would see through such deception. Sephiroth smirked and closed his eyes.

"You cannot hide anything from me, Ancient," he scolded lightly. "I know what you are doing in this forest. Where you are going. That is why I am here. I am not willing to allow you to succeed."

"Really?" Aeris replied. Sephiroth opened his eyes and walked towards her. Aeris backed up to the tree as he began to circle her, the tip of Masamune cutting a shallow grove in the dirt as he carried it behind him.

"Do you think you can stop me?" Sephiroth asked coldly, stopping behind the tree. Aeris turned her head and nodded, even if he likely couldn't see her.

"The Black Materia is powerful, but if you spent so much time in the Lifestream then you know the power of the White Materia," she said.

"You're quite bold, Ancient. You would be willing to stake the fate of this planet on the very piece of Materia you once considered useless?" Sephiroth chuckled.

"That, and other things," Aeris defended. "Holy is not the only power in this world that you're underestimating."

"Cloud is nothing," Sephiroth said sharply. "You and I both know he's not who he thinks he is, and when he finds me destroying his mind will be a simple task. In his particular case, the truth will do far more damage than any lie I could conceive. He has done the work for me."

"Cloud's no fool, Sephiroth, and you're one if you think he is," Aeris replied, narrowing her eyes. Sephiroth snorted and resumed his pacing around the Ancient and the tree behind her. "Have you come here just to taunt me, Sephiroth?" Aeris asked. "Because if you're trying to intimidate me it won't work."

"Oh?" Sephiroth muttered, turning to look at her.

"Yes," Aeris nodded. "I'm not afraid of you Sephiroth."

Shing

Aeris' eyes went wide as Masamune whipped through the air, so quickly she barely saw its path. She stepped back as the tree behind her, cut in two down the center, slid apart to lie on the ground in two pieces. She gasped as she hit something behind her and spun around. Sephiroth glared down at her and put a hand on her chin, tilting her head up.

"That is the first mistake you've made that I've had to remedy," he said. "I advise you to not make a second." Aeris pulled away, and Sephiroth narrowed his eyes coldly. "I am here to make you an offer, Ancient," he explained.

"What could you possibly offer me?" she demanded.

"I have two things to offer, which you take is your decision," Sephiroth continued. "I can leave, now. And you can return to Cloud and enjoy your final days with him and his friends before I call Meteor. Or, you can continue to the city, and if you do then there is only one thing I have to offer you." As he spoke, Masamune slowly slid along the ground and up to point its blade at Aeris chest. Aeris looked down at the sword, then back up at its holder.

"If you stop this foolish quest now, there are rewards," Sephiroth said.

"There is nothing you could give that I want. You understand nothing about me," Aeris accused.

"Oh. But I do," Sephiroth smiled, closing his eyes. "He misses you."

Aeris suddenly straightened at Sephiroth's words, but the ex-SOLDIER was not finished.

"He says you always looked lovely, but that bow completed your look. He can barely imagine you without it now. He's glad he bought it for you, so a part of him can always be near you."

"Stop it," Aeris hissed, looking away. "I know what Jenova did to the Ancients. Your games won't work on me Sephiroth."

"I know they do," he replied. "Your human heart is weak and easily fooled. I see your thoughts, Ancient, and they know your heart." Sephiroth lowered his voice to a whisper. "You could see him again. You said it yourself, you know the power my Mother controls. If I wished it of her, she could show him to you."

"He's dead, you killed him," Aeris shook her head, driving out the deceptions she was being fed. "He's dead and not coming back, I've accepted this for a long time."

"And yet, if you could see him, just one last time, you would," Sephiroth insisted. "I could make that happen. If only for a few minutes, Zack could come back to you."

"No, you would make Jenova take on his form," Aeris corrected. "I'm not a fool."

"If that were true then you would realize what awaits you when you arrive at the Forgotten City," Sephiroth growled, frustrated the temptations he was offering were being ignored. "As I said, I cannot allow you to summon Holy. Continue onward, and I will give you reason to fear me."

"And just how do you think you can do that?" Aeris asked bitterly. Sephiroth walked up to her and glared down at her.

"Attempt to summon Holy, Ancient, and I will kill you," he growled. "If you will not accept my offer to bring Zack back to you, then I shall send you to see him." Aeris shook slightly as his words, but glared right back.

"So, that is the offer you came to make," she chuckled. "Death by your hand, or leave and die a few days later when Meteor hits."

"Yes. There is not a third option," Sephiroth nodded.

"But there is, you've shown it to me," Aeris smiled, genuinely happy. Sephiroth sensed her thoughts, and was taken back. "You came all this way, just to dissuade me," she explained. "If Holy were really no threat to you, then why would you care if I summon it?" Aeris leaned up on tiptoe and her smile widened as she tapped a finger on Sephiroth's chin. Sephiroth's lip curled up at the action.

"You spend all this time trying to make me afraid of you. But I think, Sephiroth, that's it you who's afraid of me," she said sweetly.

Sephiroth glared and flung out his hand, knocking her back to the ground. Aeris winced as she hit, and looked up at Sephiroth standing over her.

"I fear nothing, least of all you," he scowled. "Summon your Holy, use that useless Materia. And when you die in the process, we shall see if you fear me or not."

"I won't," Aeris said, putting out a hand and climbing to her feet. "If you really think killing me will help your plans then go ahead. I'll die knowing that you won't succeed." Sephiroth turned and began to walk away into the forest.

"Your death is assured either way, Ancient," he called back. "It is up to you if you make it worthwhile or not." He vanished into the darkness a moment later, and Aeris sunk to her knees. The reality of the situation hit, and she undid her hair ribbon and looked at the small light-green Materia wrapped in it.

"Zackā€¦" she whispered, closing her eyes. A single tear slid down her cheek and dangled on her chin for a moment, then dripped down and splashed lightly on the White Materia. Aeris slowly opened her eyes as the Materia flashed slightly, and she nodded. "He said it himself, I'll die one way or the other," she declared, standing up and picking up her cloak from the ground. "If that's my choice, then so be it."

Fill with newfound determination and energy, Aeris tied her hair back up and resumed the journey to the Forgotten City.