This originally started out as a challenge for 10 AU on LJ. I dropped that forever ago, and this sat on my harddrive forever. Then, looking 50episodes on Insanejournal prompt lists(evil corrupting influences, I got the idea for this again. So I dug out my old stuff, went through, did massive rewrite and overhaul, and here we are. First ten of my Egyptian AU for Final Fantasy VII.
The various words used in this are Life, Anonymous, Sixth Sense, Jealous, Dream, Determinded, Believe, Costume, Time(replacing the word Christmas), and Meeting the Family. 47,44,31,33,18,16,6,14,2,36 respectively. Because they work so well together, I am just making the one intro, and putting all the info there.
Title: Song of the Wolf King
Author: GW Katrina
Claim: Egyptian AU
Prompt(s): 47-Life, 44-Anonymous, 31-Sixth Sense, 33-Jealous, 18-Dream, 16-Determined, 6-Believe, 14-Costume, 2-ChristmasTime, and 36-Meeting the Family for 50episodes
A/N: No real warnings. Possible slash in later posts, as well as implied incest, also in later posts. In this set of prompts, nothing to worry about.
The day had finally arrived.
Months after the priests had found the one they had sought, Lucretia, temporary avatar for the goddess She Who is Powerful, was giving birth to the goddess's child.
His mortal father, Hojo, was a priest of Lord of Divine Words. When he had brought his wife, who was already an avatar for her foreign goddess, home, he could not have expected that She Who is Powerful would have taken that link and rode it, taking the woman over as her own avatar long enough for a child to be born.
Nobody knew why the goddess had suddenly desired to have a child, or why she had picked a foreigner to bear that child, but now was not the time for questions. The avatar was in labor, and the appropriate symbols and protective amulets were placed around her and the still unborn child, to keep away evil spirits and invoke the blessings of the various gods and goddesses that would protect the child from them.
The priests were to take the infant away as soon as it was born. That was the order of She Who is Powerful, who wanted her child raised in the heart of power. In the heart of her sanctuary, knowing a mother's voice from birth, a mother's touch. Hojo had consented, which was just as well. Nobody wanted to anger the goddess, as she was the more vengeful Lady of Flame. To anger her was to turn the army against you, to bring down plagues and sickness. She was one of the Weret-Hekau, and so one should not tempt her to turn such powers against the lands. She was also the war-goddess of the Upper Land, and if she were to withdraw that support...
The birth went easily, and there were many prayers of thanks. Gast, the head priest of She Who is Powerful came and collected the infant. A boy. That would be good. He studied the child, and nodded as the goddess whispered his name.
"He will be known as Sephiroth. The goddess thanks you for your service," he told Hojo. Lucrecia was still resting in her room, recovering from the effort to have the boy. "Your wife has provided a great service, and she will always be welcomed into the temples of She Who is Powerful."
Hojo had simply nodded, studying the child. The boy had pale hair already, and his eyes had looked abnormal. The man followed the Lord of Divine Words, and he could feel his own god's curiosity. The need to pick the child apart to study him roused, but he knew that he would not be allowed to do so, so Hojo frowned faintly.
"My wife will be happy to know that she can return to be the Daughter of the Sky God's avatar without...interference."
Gast stiffened at the implied insult, but he said nothing. With a nod, he swathed the infant into the cloth brought to protect him from the sun, and bowed slightly to Hojo. "I take my leave of your home then, Hojo. May your god guard your path."
With that, he turned, and walked out of the home. In his arms, Sephiroth stirred. "It will be all right, Sephiroth," he said softly. "Your mother awaits you at your new home. She Who is Powerful must expect ill times if she is placing her own flesh on this world. You will be strong, and learn your mother's ways well. Will you follow plague and death better, or healing and protection? Time will tell, I suppose."
Looking at the boy, Gast sighed. Ill times ahead, indeed.
Seven years later
Nobody was sure where Angeal had gotten the infant. He had simply walked into the dining area with the boy one day. When questioned, he offered the child up. "He's mine," he said calmly. "The mother gave him to me yesterday. Claimed I would be able to take care of him better."
Genesis eyed the infant he had been given, and shook his head. "Are you sure that it is yours?" It would not have been the first time some mother, unable to support her infant, would have tried to give her child to the priesthood. The gods were generous most of the time, though dangerous as well. But any child who grew up in the temple would be well cared for, and usually favored by the gods.
"Very sure." Something in the man's voice made Genesis look up. Seeing nothing in the carefully blank expression, he looked at the child once again. The boy blinked watery blueish eyes at him, hand wobbly lifting to pat at his face. For a moment, the eyes focused, and he could have sworn the baby was actually studying him. But it was gone before he could be sure, and he glanced at Angeal. The man was powerful. If this was his child, and Genesis was starting to feel that it was, then the child probably had great magic of his own.
Giving the child back, he sighed. "All right. Have you registered him yet?"
Angeal snorted. "Of course. First thing. With me as the father."
"Fine, fine. What's his name?"
"His mother called him Zack."
Genesis hummed. Zack. An unusual name. Sounded rather foreign. "Is his mother from outside the Two Lands?"
Angeal's face was blank again. "You could say that." Cradling his son, he grinned at his friend. "Something tells me that things are going to be interesting around here. Very, very interesting."
Shaking his head, Genesis congratulated his friend on his new boon, and then went on his way. Though he did go to visit the room where the registry was held.
The mother was unlisted, though Angeal had listed himself as father.
Wondering at the secrecy, Genesis made a mental note to ask about it later, and then moved on to his other tasks. He was a priest of She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector. Where Angeal filled the second seat of the Lady of Flame for the army, Genesis handled the more protective aspects of their Lady, and if there was something that was always needed in the Two Lands, it was protective blessings.
One year later
The temples of The Great Mother and Lady was celebrating. All over the Two Lands, falcons and other messengers had spread the news. The Great Mother and Lady had gifted them with a child. Priestess Ifalna had delivered earlier that day, and the next in charge, Elmyra, had made the announcement later that both mother and child were fine.
In the birthing room, holding her daughter, Ifalna smiled at the girl's father, Gast, priest of She Who is Powerful. The two had been together many years, and when the goddess had asked, both had said yes to request. Gast was already raising his own goddess's child, and he was pleased that the woman he cared for had been asked to bear another.
It was worrying, however.
Sitting next to where Ifalna rested, their daughter, Aeris, in her arms, Gast sighed. "I fear what is coming," he said, fingers reaching out to brush Aeris's head. "Sephiroth, now Aeris. The gods so rarely gift us with their children, so the fact that we've had two in less than ten years... And there are rumors of a new power in She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector's temple. It's troubling."
Ifalna nodded. "Have you heard more of the rumors of sickness?"
Gast sighed and nodded himself. "The outer temples, those at the furthest edges of the Two Lands are reporting an increase in sacrifices and requests for aid. She Who is Powerful is aware of the sickness, the black filth that taints the skin and breath and kills slowly. It is not from her, though, and we are confused on what, or who, is causing it. It resist her touch, though, and that is distressing."
Smiling as Elmyra came in, bearing a string of protective amulets, Ifalna held up Aeris so that her friend could place the beads on her. The smile dimmed, though, as she studied her daughter. "There are dangerous times coming. She can feel it, our lady. Very dangerous. Your Sephiroth. Our Aeris, and I'm sure you've heard the whispers about my Lady's other. If the nebty of the Two Lands, as well as both Ladies of Flame, are sending in powers to prepare for this, I fear for our entire country. Upper and Lower Lands alike. Have you heard anything from the other temples?"
"Not as much as I'd like," Gast said, sighing. "The Distant One is preparing for something, but they won't share what. Lord of Divine Words... Well, his priest wouldn't share information with me for anything less than a direct order from the King or his god, so nothing from there, either. Most of the other temples are playing it close at hand, though rumors are starting to flow. I fear the worst. And it will only get worse before it gets better."
"That's what I feared." Hugging Aeris, who was yawning and looking as if she was settling to sleep. "Be careful, love."
Gast couldn't help but shiver at the real worry he heard in Ifalna's words, and the faint echo of power. The Great Mother and Lady was another of the Weret-Hekau. One with a talent for seeing what laid ahead. Even more so than the other gods. If she spoke through Ifalna with a warning.
"I will," he promised, already planning protections. It sounded like he might need them.
It was all for naught.
A month later, Gast was dead. Not by sickness or anything natural. He was poisoned. Speculation on who could have done this were rife in the temples, and, even more distressing, is who the goddess chose to be her next high priest.
Eight year old Sephiroth, eyes like a cat's and glowing with power already, stepped into the role of his mother's avatar and took control of She Who is Powerful's temples. The other high level priests helped as they could, but the boy was in control in truth as much as in name.
Ifalna did as much as she could, even in her own grief, to provide comfort for the boy. Her daughter was positively fascinated with Sephiroth, and the boy seemed to enjoy playing with her.
Another source of help was Angeal, who would bring his son over as he came to help plan things. With the death of such a well known priest to such foul means had acted as first stone, triggering events all around. The temples, for the most part, pulled closer together. If someone was willing to attack the high priest of a goddess as vengeful as She Who is Powerful, they would be willing to go after anyone.
The greatest worry, though, was the simple fact that, if the murderer had not only breached Gast's protective spells, but kept such a task hidden from the other gods, they must have the help of either a god of their own, or a demon. If the demons were starting to stir after such a long sleep...
After Gast's death, though, nothing new seemed to happen, and, slowly, the wary tension started to fade. The temples would keep watching, but the gods did things on their own time, and mortals did things on a different time.
So people began to settle back into place.
And the sickness began to slowly spread around the edges of the Two Lands.
One year later
Outside, his court and his people were celebrating. However, King Shinra found that he was rather displeased by this twist of the gods.
His wife had just given birth, providing his first heir. Only, instead of a single child, she had given him two. Both sons. If one of the children had been a girl, he could have married them together later on. The bloodline traveled through the woman's side, even if the man was King.
Outside of that, it gave him two choices for who would take his throne someday. Two competitors, once they were old enough. No king wanted competition, especially not for his throne.
And if Hojo could deliver on his promises, Shinra would never have to give up his power to his children.
Still, for now, he had his sons, and that was a good blessing of luck. Twins were considered highly prized, and the fact that he, the physical embodiment of the Two Lands had had twin sons was seen as an omen of good tidings to come for the lands. There were already a swarm of people descending upon the temples to offer up prayers and sacrifices for the new children. If they flourished, surely the Two Lands would as well.
Though there were already murmurs that with two kings, the lands would be divided again. The Two Lands had only joined recently, in his father's father's time. So there were still those who thought that they were to be divided, even after two generations of being together.
There was an almost frantic edge to the celebration. Something was happening outside the boundaries of the Two Lands, and it was slowly creeping its way in. Sickness was starting to become more common. Not just the ordinary illnesses, but a new sickness. The priest of She Who is Powerful didn't know what it was, only that it was fighting their goddess's attempts to destroy it. She was the bringer of plagues, as well as the patron of healers. No outside force had a right to infringe on the goddess's territory, and Shinra did not like the idea of the Two Lands becoming a battle ground for She Who is Powerful and some foreign power, be it god or demon.
Frowning, he turned to one of the attendants. "Bring me the high priest of Lord of Divine Words. And the high priest of She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector. I wish them to read the protective rites over my children." The dwarf god's priest had already been there, but Lord of Divine Words was a powerful hekau, and the Perfumed Protector aspect of She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector was well known for loving children.
He was not sure what he was going to do with his sons later on, but for now, they were to be protected. With every means he could.
When Hojo and Genesis arrived, not quite sneering at each other, he had them brought to the rooms his wife and the children had been moved to. Already, both boys had surprisingly rich blue eyes, unlike the more washed out color of other babies he had seen, and Shinra wondered if that wasn't a sign of some type.
With a slight bow of his head, Genesis pulled out slips of paper, and other mystical tools. "I will set about making protections immediately. What are their names?"
As Hojo was setting up his own magic, and waiting for the same information, Shinra looked at his sons again, and nodded to himself. "The firstborn is Rufus," he said. "The second is Cloud."
After he spoke, he stepped back. There. He had done what he could. Now it would be up to the gods what happened to his children.
Watching the priests work, he reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, where it had been itching. His fingers moved over the smallest of black marks, just the faintest hint of darkness.
Ten years later
Rufus stared calmly at the man who stood before him. He had wondered if this day was coming, since the dreams had started, and it appeared that his dreams had proved right.
He remembered the day that his father had thrown the priestess of The Great Mother and Lady out. The woman had done the readings typical for children when they reached their fifth birthday. Rufus did not know why five, but given how many children he saw die before age, he wondered if that had something to do with it.
Well, she had started them, anyway. His was first, as the first born child of the King, and he did not understand most of what she had him do. He had spat into ashes, and cast various things onto the ground, with her studying each of cast. Finally, her face very still, she had looked at his father.
"This boy will never be King," she said after a few moments of quiet. "He is marked for something else, and you cannot stop it."
Rufus had never seen his father look angry, and he felt Cloud pull back slightly, tugging Rufus along, and Rufus went. Their retreat was slight, and was only enough to put them out of their father's direct sight. Which wasn't hard. His eyes were hard and focused on the priestess, and Rufus couldn't help but be happy he wasn't in her place. Even at the age of five.
It had not gone well, and ended up with her leaving the palace. Rufus hadn't gotten it then, but later he realized that driving her, Elmyra herself, out of the palace had not helped anyone. Especially given that she followed one of the nebty. And the nebty confirmed the kingship of any king.
Cloud had never gotten his reading, as the temple refused to send anyone else, and many people expected Rufus to die, so both boys were somewhat shunned. Rufus knew the others looked at him as if he had the taint of death already, and Cloud was a child who had no future as far as they were concerned. They grew up listening to people speculate how they were going to die, and soft rumors that the king had better sire more children before these two died.
Now, though, Rufus felt an almost feral pleasure as he looked at the priest before him. The man was looking down at him with calm eyes, and Rufus could only hunger to have that sort of calm someday. So that the others could whisper and he could be unaffected, because they did not deserve his emotions.
Which was a good reason on why he should never be king. Their tutor had taught them that a king should be in touch with his country, and the Two Land's needed a good protector for it. Something their father had forgotten.
Rufus knew he would not be a good king. He did not care for these people.
Cloud, though, did.
Now was not the time for this, though. Instead, he focused his attention on Veld, the high priest of The Distant One. The man looked down at him, and Rufus could feel his father fuming at his back. "This is your choice," the priest said calmly, ignoring the king as only the highests of priests could do. "Come and join us, as The Distant One asks, or keep your position here."
Rufus knew enough about what to ask. "The Mesu Heru?"
"We have a group waiting."
Simple. And the thing that made his decision for him.
Rufus did not know that the temple of The Distant One was like the others. Scrambling for power and trying to find their god's chosen avatar. But where the other gods were birthing theirs, The Distant One had touched another with his power and passed over some of that gift, preparing for the battle to come.
What Rufus did know was that if he went, he would never be alone. He would have a group of people who would always stand at his back and would keep the jackals at bay. Here, there was only Cloud, and he wished to take his brother with him, but he knew it was impossible. Instead, he turned and walked to the other boy. Leaning over, he whispered something.
When Cloud's hand found his and tightened, he knew the other boy understood.
"You should go," Cloud said, voice soft. "Before Father remembers himself enough to try to force you to stay."
Rufus went. But even as he walked towards a task that would be even harder than being the King of the Two Lands would be, he couldn't help but feel as if he was running away.
He didn't like that feeling.
One day, he would prove to everyone that he wasn't fleeing to escape a prophecy of doom.
Four years later
Nobody had known when King Shinra had first contracted the illness. The first to know was Hojo, who was the king's physician. He and the others in the temple of Lord of Divine Words had done their best to cure him, but to no avail. Hojo said that the king appeared to have taken on the ills of the country, as he died of the same sickness that was ravaging the Two Lands.
What at first had only been a sickness of outsiders, of poor, of distance, far from the capital, was now everywhere, and could infect anyone. A sticky blackness, oozing filth, which disturbed the people to no end. Cloud's people were a very neat people, bathing often, necessary in such a hot land to keep healthy. To have something stick and cling to skin like the slime that this illness produced did was disgusting on several levels. For some, that was even worse than the wasting that followed, sucking away energy and strength, leaving the suffers looking like the walking dead, swathed in bandages to soak up the filth their own skins gave off.
Cloud had not seen his father for months before his death, and he did not see him now. The King had been taken to be prepared for the next world, and Cloud had no desire to see his father that way, either. When they placed him in his tomb, with all the effects he would need to travel to the Westlands, then Cloud would say his goodbyes.
Now there was more important matters.
At fourteen, he was old enough to rule without a regent. There was only one issue. His brother.
Cloud knew that there was no issue, but the older members of the council and all the court was talking in low whispers if there would be a battle for the throne. Cloud was, after all, the child of no future. The Great Mother and Lady's priestess had never read it, which meant that the gods had never set it in stone. Which was a dangerous thing for anyone. Without that promise, a person's life was free for Fate to play with, and there was rarely a more cruel being than Fate.
Some feared having him on the throne would bring down his fate-lashed curse upon the land, and others hoped it might mean a chance to drive the illness off. The priests and priestesses of She Who is Powerful were slowly fighting the illness, but not as much as they should have been. If the gods of another land were attacking the people of the Two Lands, having a free future might tip the balance.
For good or ill, who could say.
One day, Cloud hoped to find out. Right now, though, he had to take control of the court. Now. Or else it would devour him and spit him out a weak, witless shell, controlled by anyone with the power and the honeyed tongue to sway him to their side. Not a pleasant fate, and one he would not accept. He was young, but there had been great things done by young people.
From the corner of his eye, he saw one such person. Sephiroth, who had taken his place at the head of his mother's temple at the age of eight, who had taken his place as the leader of the army at the age of fourteen, firmly setting himself at the head of She Who is Powerful's temple by representing her in battle as one of the two Ladies of Flame, another title of the goddess. The other was filled currently by Angeal, he of She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector. The Protector, war goddess, twin to She Who is Powerful in power and ability, second of the Ladies of Flame.
Cloud hoped that they watched over the Two Lands this day, because he did not want his country to fall to ruin. Could not let it fall like that. Would not.
"That is the look I expected to find. Stubborn brother of mine."
A calm, cool voice, and he couldn't help the small smile that curled his lips as he spotted his brother walking into the room. Rufus looked good, and Cloud could see that the other boy was taller. Typical. His brother had always been the tall one.
Behind him came his Mesu Heru. Cloud had met them before. Elena, the tep res born, slim and pale and the only girl. It fit. Reno, lanky and red, meh-t, as loud as the son he represented. Rude, aab-t, tallest of all, bigger, deadly. And Tseng, who had his own pride as clearly as Rufus, manu.
His brother was fast rising through the priesthood, and Cloud had no doubt the other would become high priest when Veld stepped back. With such a group behind him, he was fearless, and rightfully so.
Rufus stopped a few feet away, then, without warning, knelt before Cloud, the ones with him following suit. There was an audible gasp, and Cloud smiled, small and fierce. If Rufus had expected to see Cloud's look of stubbornness and determination, then Cloud expected his brother to pull of his announcement with the most stylish means available.
By bowing, he gave Cloud power over him. A power that only the King could hold over priests.
Without saying a word, or losing his dignity in the least, Rufus had bested all the nobles in the game.
Cloud remembered what Rufus had said, the day he had left to join the priesthood of The Distant One.
"I will support you when the times comes. No matter what."
Cloud trusted few people.
His twin would always be on that list.
"Come, brother," he said softly, holding his hand out to Rufus. "Tell me of what things are like. If I am to rule, I need knowledge."
He did not say he didn't trust his own advisers. Some he did. Others he didn't. But fresh sources of information were always useful, and priests heard different things than nobles did.
"Bring your Mesu Heru and we'll rest and talk."
With a nod, Rufus took Cloud's hand and let the smaller blond pull him up. "Been a long time," he said simply, laughter twinkling in his eye.
"And you are just as good at stunning people as ever," Cloud replied. "We should go before they snap out of it."
"My Mesu Heru will stay here."
Spies. But for his brother.
Nodding, Cloud walked back to the family's private rooms, Rufus on his heels.
She couldn't believe this was happening.
When she was little, Aeris had been told who and what she was. The child of a goddess in power, the child of two of the most powerful priests in the city in flesh. She was an avatar, goddess made flesh, and would act as The Great Mother and Lady's voice to the world.
She knew all of this. Had been trained since she was old enough to understand to take up this duty and be ready to face whatever might come of it.
So why did she feel like throwing up?
"Mom, do I really have to...?" Aeris closed her mouth when she saw her mother's expression. Ifalna looked more amused than anything, and then went back to putting Aeris's long hair up.
"Yes, dear, you do. You know just as well as I that the Lady wants you to. It's all right to be nervous. You should have seen me right before I had to lead my first major rite. It is a terrifying thing, but you'll do fine. You have the training, and I -know- you have the will to make it through fine."
Aeris felt her cheeks flush a little. She had been a stubborn little kid, hadn't she? At fifteen, she wasn't sure why she was leading this rite, but it did need to be done. With the old king dead, and the new one needing to be secure in his throne, she understood why this rite was so important. There had already been a fuss over the elder twin giving up the throne, but knowing the gods touch herself, Aeris knew why Rufus wouldn't want to give it up. Especially given his Mesu Heru. Tseng was someone she had harassed to distraction, she was sure, but he was one of the older kids who had been willing to play with the younger temple children, and she thought of him as a sort of big brother. Rather like Sephiroth, only friendlier.
She wondered if Sephiroth was going to be there as well. He was the leader of the military, so it was likely he would be. He was already lending his support to the new king-to-be, and to have Sephiroth's ear was no small matter. How Cloud had done it, she had no idea. So Sephiroth would probably be there as both the leader of the temple of She Who is Powerful, and as her choice for the Lady of Flame position. She always found it funny that half the time, the so called Lady of Flame was male. But who was to argue the gods?
So if Sephiroth was in one position, then likely Angeal would be in his place as the second Lady of Flame. Which meant her counterpart this ceremony would most likely be Genesis. That would be odd. She rarely talked to the man, and could only hope that their powers meshed.
Running through the ceremony, she was pretty sure that she had it down. Join hands with Genesis, call upon her half of the nebty as he did the same for his half, confirm the king as rightful ruler, and him accept. Have the Ladies of Flame second the selection, have him accept again, name him, ceremony over, feast.
Yeah, that was it.
Oh, Lady, don't let her mess up.
Elmyra's words made Aeris want to whimper, but, instead, she took a deep breath and nodded. She was as ready as she would ever be.
Times were changing.
Time to embrace that change.
Standing comfortably in his place, Zack felt the locusts in his stomach move more. He wasn't nervous. He really wasn't. Not at all. Just because his father had dropped this on him two -days- ago didn't make this something to be nervous about.
He was seriously considering murdering the man.
But Genesis had cheerfully agreed with Angeal, so Zack would have to murder him as well. Maybe She of Papyrus-Perfumed Protector would forgive him for doing it? He thought she might. She was pretty forgiving of most of his other stunts, and some of those had been pretty bad. He really hadn't expected all the hair of all the temple cats to fall out that one time, but it had, and she hadn't killed him for that.
Given what his father said, about his mother, that was good. He thought...
Ew, parental person have sex. Ick. He was sixteen. He wanted to think about himself having sex. Not his father.
Still was going to murder the man for this. Or at least mix something in with his cleaning things. Making his hair turn orange might be good. Just would have to make sure that Angeal didn't turn it back on him. About a fourth of the time, the man caught Zack's tricks and reversed them. It did Zack good, though. Made him sneakier.
Vengeance would be his.
At least Ifalna was a nice person. He remember her giving him cookies when the temple children would all gather together for some lesson or another. Even Sephiroth had to go to those, and Zack still liked to hang out with the older boy. Even if the older boy didn't care if he was there. The fact the man didn't care any was a victory in and of itself.
His thoughts were jarred back to the presence as a silence fell over the group inside the room. This was one of the single most important ceremonies in the Two Lands.
If he fucked up, Zack wouldn't have to worry about killing Angeal. Angeal would get him first.
Taking a deep breath, Zack walking in, following the pace of the ceremony, a beat he couldn't hear thumping through his limbs. Heku, the gods blessings, and he followed it, letting it guide him.
Zack was almost jarred from it when he saw that his partner wasn't Ifalna as he had expected. It was her daughter, Aeris. She was playing the protector and king chooser for the Upper Land, just as he was acting as the same for the Lower Lands.
Aeris was clad in white, feathers faint on her clothing, the emblem of the vulture on her back as her half of the patron-protector. On Zack's own back was the cobra, his clothing the color of papyrus, faint designs resembling scales on the fabric. Ahead, he could see Cloud, who he didn't know that well, the boy who was to be king. On either side of him were Angeal and Sephiroth. Both men were in their warrior clothing, chocobo feathers woven into their hair, and each with the eye in sun-disk pendants of the Ladies of Flame.
All around, Zack was vaguely aware of familiar faces. Yuffie, a younger kid in his own temple, Nanaki, the most sacred of the sacred lions, his flame tipped tail twitching. Tifa, Cloud's younger half-sister, mothered by one of the Lesser Wives.
Zack could almost -feel- the court hold its breath as he and Aeris approached Cloud. This would make or break Cloud's crowning. And if it was broken, there would be nothing but chaos ahead. With the situation of the Two Lands, they simply couldn't afford a succession war.
All of that was going on in the back of his mind, but Zack couldn't actually bring himself to do anything but walk forward, offering his hand to take Aeris's as they drew close enough for it. He felt full of power, and knew the goddess was riding him. He felt almost dizzy, too full of power to be contained in a fragile, frail mortal form. Than any moment, his skin was going to split and it would pour out.
That didn't happen, but the moment that he and Aeris touched, power did flare. He could feel it, could see anyone with the least bit of sensitivity react to it. That was a good sign. The gods must have a special interest in this crowning, and he hoped it went well.
Then he and Aeris were before Cloud, and a voice that was neither his nor her's echoed from their throats.
"You are our child. You are of our line and of our hearts. We are the nebty, and we select you as king. Do you accept our will?"
Looking incredibly pale, Cloud nodded. His voice was high, but strong when he spoke. "Yes, ladies, patrons and protectors of the Two Lands. I accept what you wish to give me."
Sephiroth and Genesis moved forward, and Zack was almost sure he saw the images of lionesses overlapping them, fire flickering along their coats. "We are the goddesses who guard. We are the protectors and the warriors. We accept you as the nebty's chosen. Will you defend the Two Lands as they should be, even to the point of dying? To protect the people of your land till you are bleeding your last blood into the sand?"
Cloud nodded again. "Yes." If anything, his voice was even squeakier this time. Not that Zack blamed him. "I pledge to protect the land and its people, because the people are the Two Lands, and without them, we are all sand on the wind."
"Then we accept you not only as the chosen of the nebty, but as one we will follow as well."
With that, the Ladies of Flame stepped back, and Aeris and Zack's not-voices rose up again. "Chosen, accepted, and followed. We Name you now. King you are, Cloud by name, Wolf by title. Cloud, Wolf-King, We chose well. Go forth and proclaim your right to bear the name Wolf-King."
And, as sudden as that, Zack felt empty again, and only sheer will kept him up. Angeal moved to his side as Sephiroth moved to Aeris's, offering a shoulder to lean on. Cloud looked just as dazed.
For a moment, there was silence, then a cheer went up as the rightful king sat, carefully in his throne. "Why don't you sit?" the blond said dazedly. "Get off your feet and let them feed us."
Zack didn't wait to be asked twice. It didn't seem that the others were, either. Once they settled, food started to be brought out.
"I don't know about you guys," Zack said finally as beer and bread was passed about, "but that wasn't anything like I expected."
Angeal laughed softly and ruffled Zack's hair. "It never is, kid. Ever."
For some reason, that made Zack smile.
He always had like exciting and new things.
Rubbing his eyes, Angeal sighed as he felt the ache up his spine. No need to try to figure out what it was. He had seen the blackness that was starting to stain his clothing, and he knew what it meant.
Looks like he wasn't going to be part of this final fight. But given how the gods were moving, maybe that was the intention all along. It wouldn't be the first time that they had set things in motion that didn't make sense till much later. Sephiroth was in the other Lady of Flame chair, and Aeris was becoming the best healer in The Great Mother and Lady's temple. Cloud was King, his elder brother being set up as the leader of The Distant One's priests.
And now it looked as if Zack was about to take his place.
Angeal wasn't sure if the boy was ready, but it didn't seem as if they were going to have a choice. He knew it wouldn't take long for the illness to get worse. Those who used magic always seemed the hardest hit. And priests most of all.
Someone was directing this, and he wanted to know who. They had managed to hide their presence from She Who is Powerful, and that took some doing, given this -was- the goddess's homeland. None could truly overpower her here. So that left trickery. Which wasn't good.
But, as much as he hated to do it, he was going to have to trust the kids to get this done. Even if it did put them in danger.
He loved his son. And he really didn't think he was ready. But there wasn't time.
That had all ran out.
He wondered how long it would take everyone else to realize the same thing?
/Meeting the Family/
Sephiroth hadn't expected this situation for years. The fact that it was happening now was somewhat unnerving. Given the paleness of Zack's face, he wasn't expecting it, either.
Looking at them calmly, Angeal had his hands resting flat upon his desk. Between them was the Eye of Flame. The sun-disk, with the eye mark in the center, dull in the candle light. Sephiroth had never seen the counterpart to the one he worn that dull. When they were worn, they had a faint light, and the two holders of them always wore the disks. It was what marked them as the chosen to sit in their goddesses positions as the Ladies of Flame, even if they were both male. The war goddesses of the Two Lands did not care about gender of their representatives. Only that they did their duty and protected the lands through the art of war.
Sephiroth's own disk was glowing faintly, the light that glimmered along the lines a pale green. Another thing to say the pendent belonged to him. The color of the light matched his own eyes, which had glowed since he had taken the position of one of the co-leaders of the army of the Two Lands. He represented the Upper Land, while Angeal had represented the Lower one.
Now it looked as if Zack might get a chance to do this as well.
There was no guarantee that the pendent would light up for Zack. The title of Lady of Flame did not pass from father to child, though Sephiroth knew he was one of few who knew of the connection. Most people hadn't cared, thinking Zack only one more child adopted by the temple, who had proved powerful. Even if Zack hadn't told him when the other had gotten older, Sephiroth would have seen it. The pair were simply too similar for it to be anything else.
He knew that Angeal was sick, as well, though he didn't know if Zack knew. To Sephiroth, the sickness that tainted his counterpart was a stickiness that clung to him, that tickled Sephiroth's nose and made him want to sneeze.
"Why...?" Zack got out, finally. Standing to the side, Sephiroth only watched the scene calmly. This wasn't his place to interfere. His duty was clear. He was to watch and make sure that the pair didn't try to for the pendent to glow for Zack. Not that either of them would do so, but it was tradition, and a good check and balance. Angeal had done the same for Sephiroth so many years ago.
"Zack, remember what I told you? About your mother?"
The younger man nodded, still looking pale.
"It is your duty to do this. Things are coming, building faster than anyone can figure them out, and the gods are setting their pieces into place. Remember, above all else, we are here to obey them."
Zack scowled at that and muttered about bossy parents, then sighed, seeming to wilt some. His eyes glowed faintly for a moment as he did, and Sephiroth studied him. He knew Zack was powerful in his own right, but it took a great deal of said power to make the eyes glow in that way.
"Fine. Let's get this over with. What do I do?"
Angeal looked at him, and then pushed the pendent forward. "All you do is pick it up. Of the great Rites, this one is fairly simple."
"Obviously," Zack said, voice the driest Sephiroth had ever heard him use. It sounded rather like some of his own tones, and he found his lips quirking. Zack was a friend, even if they didn't get to spend a great deal of time together. It was nice to know that the transference of quirks went both ways. Sephiroth still blamed Zack for the fact that, when the urge to shove Scarlet out the door when she had shown up in his rooms naked, again, he had done so, not trying to reason with her like he normally did. He did have to admit, though, it was much more effective. And there were other quirks, here and there, that he laid fully at Zack's feet. Nice to know he was having some effect back.
Sephiroth's gaze sharpened as Zack, almost hesitantly, reached for the pendent. It wasn't just his interest, either. He could feel his mother looking through his eyes, the slit pupils stretching as they both took in details. There was a great deal of restrained attention, and he wondered why she was so focused. He didn't think that Angeal had dealt with anything this large when Sephiroth had received his own pendent.
Maybe the older man was right. Maybe the gods were getting their pawns into place for a larger, more important conflict than any mortal knew, and he did admit, the Ladies of Flame were powerful positions. They ruled the army, the personally chosen of the war goddesses of both lands. After the king and the high priests of the temples, there was no more powerful position in the Two Lands.
And look at all the changes that had occurred. Zack and Aeris had played the part of the nebty in the recent ceremony. The Kingship had changed hands. Sephiroth had been in his place for a long time, but now the rest of Gast's counterparts were starting to move.
He wondered if Aeris would take a place of power soon in The Great Mother and Lady's temple soon?
As he was thinking of these things, Sephiroth watched as Zack's hands hovered over the pendent for a long, long moment before reaching down and picking it up.
All three men yelped as violet light flashed, so bright that it blinded them all. Eyes watering, flinching away from the light that shone brightly, Sephiroth could hear his mother purr. My cousin was always the stealthy one, she said softly into his ear. I am she of slaughter and massacre. She is the one who looks innocent until you endanger her people. I see that not all the gods have been making noise when it came to their child's birth.
Was she talking about Zack?
Before he could ask, his mother's presence faded, and he was alone in his mind, eyes almost shut as he tried to focus through the glare of light. Wind was whipping around Zack. Sephiroth could see it, the black spikes dancing wildly in the wind, though nothing else seemed touched by the breeze.
Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped.
Blinking eyes that glowed as brightly as Sephiroth's now, Zack opened and shut his mouth a few times, focus locked tight on the pendent that glowed once again.
"Wow," he got out finally. Then his eyes rolled up and he collapsed.
Sephiroth moved to catch the younger man, Angeal moved to catch the pendent. Once Zack was safely on the floor, Sephiroth looked at Angeal. The other man had an amused expression on his face. "I always knew he took after his mother," he said finally, disk dull in his fingers as he held it.
Sephiroth tilted his head slightly. "He's like us, isn't he? Aeris and myself? Why didn't you tell anyone?"
Angeal's look of innocence was just as irritating as Zack's. "Tell anyone what? He's my son, and who am I to dispute his mother's will?" He straighten from his slightly lean. "Tell him you know, though. I think he wished he could have told you, but it wasn't his place to let you know. It will make him feel better to not have to hide this from you."
"I will," Sephiroth said, pausing, as Zack shifted, and opened dazed, -glowing- eyes.
"Seph?" The man sounded confused, and Sephiroth only nodded. "I..."
Then he shifted to sit upright, eyes scanning the room. "You!," he snapped, back tense, eyes focused on Angeal. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick?"
Even as Angeal moved to help Zack up, he shook his head. "I...I guess your mother told you, hmm?"
"Yes," Zack said, voice tight, letting his father pull him to his feet. "Why didn't -you- tell me, though?"
This was a discussion Sephiroth was not going to stay for. Slipping to his feet, he slid out, as silent as possible.
He would speak with Zack later.