To Hell and Back

Chapter One: Mother's Eyes

Mother's eyes are sparkling diamonds,
Still the moon shows no light
This rose is withered, may God deliver
The rake at the gates of hell tonight

—The Pogues, "Rake at the Gates of Hell"

1; mother's eyes are sparkling diamonds

Kisaragi no Yuffie is barely nine, still a child, when Sephiroth rides in on a golden Chocobo, his hair tied in a samurai's topknot. He dismounts and shows the greatest of respect to this city teeming with people so very unlike him, through which the River Leviathan flows unchecked. Their gods are not his gods, his ways are not their ways.

He is so very, very determined to meet in the middle. And everyone present looks on and listens with blank faces as he explains his desire, in fluid, almost musical Wutaian.

"He may find rest here," her mother, the Byakuren no Daigensha, the Guardian-Advocate, says. It is not an answer to his speech; it does not pretend to be. Only barbarian easterners would make any sort of response to such bald overtures so soon. For all anyone knows, the Imperial Family of Wutai may make no response to him at all.

Yuffie-no-miya looks up at her mother. The olive skin inherent to all Wutaians is porcelain smooth and completely expressionless. In the grey eyes Yuffie has inherited is a sheen like Materia, a glimmer of something Yuffie will not understand for years to come.

She clasps her mother's hand as they make the regal procession back to Upper Wutai. Her father is hidden from their view, as befits the sumera no mikoto. Servants with downcast eyes hold up a four-walled screen. Were this anything but a state occasion, he would be traveling in a separate palanquin. But as their Gracious Mother Ashura, to whom Leviathan gave the coin of the sun, walked the world on her own feet, so too must the Emperor.

Yuffie-no-miya is too young to mind.

2; on the earth, alone, unfettered

Two years pass; they ignore Sephiroth. Her father dies in a riding accident. It is her mother's duty to kill the chocobo her father once rode, and Yuffie watches as that faint, strange gleam in her mother's eyes never once changes.

Her mother becomes statuesque. She was always quiet, but now she is quieter. The face that Yuffie bears in miniature—though not so miniature anymore—loses all expression as she speaks in serene, unhurried tones with Sephiroth and his Eastern companions. Those eyes always glitter with something that the foreigners do not like.

Yuffie doesn't like it either.

Two more years pass. Yuffie turns thirteen. Sephiroth brings her a gift. A beautiful Great Shuriken, forged by a master smith in a place called Nifelheim and she skims her fingers along its cool metal edges. She does not miss the strange tension in the air as Sephiroth watches her mother with those hard green eyes, does not miss the strange, shimmering smolder in the way her mother stares back.

It's just another step in the intricate dance between Wutai and Shinra Company, one more tiny victory for Sephiroth. Yuffie tries so very hard not to like the shuriken, tries so very hard to remember that it was crafted in the east. That it is a bribe. That being won over to the Shinra gifts could mean being won over to the Shinra side.

But it's so perfect in her hands. When another year passes and her hands have gotten too large to spin it properly, her mother commissions another. This time, the smith who forges it does so for all to see. And Yuffie gives her thanks not to Shinra, but to the Amekawa clan, who are famed artisans.

Yuffie sees the corner of her mother's lip twitch upward as Yuffie bows her thanks—and makes the heir apparent to the Amekawa's lands and title blush, just a tiny bit. There's a faint downward quirk to Sephiroth's lips.

Two more years pass. Shinra and Wutai swoop gracefully around each other in a butterfly's flight, rising toward cooperation at some times, but ever so slowly, ever so faintly dipping down toward chaos and war. She visits her mother's room at night, sits seiza on the bed where her parents once slept together, and they talk.

"War is looking inevitable as Leviathan's tide," her mother says as she combs the wax out of her long dark hair. In the near-darkness, Kisaragi no Kouhei's eyes are like hard, sharp steel.

Yuffie thinks of her river-taming city, thinks of the caverns of Da Chao. Contemplates fire and death. In her mind's eye she watches her home burn and her mouth goes dry. "Can we win?"

Her mother looks forlornly at her. "I don't know."

3; as roses wither, may God deliver

Being sixteen in a country dancing on the precipice of a war it cannot win is a strange and scary thing. She will ascend the throne on her twenty-first birthday. Her mother cannot act as a regent for longer than that.

Today, though, on her sixteenth birthday, she kneels before Kisaragi no Kouhei and averts her gaze.

Her mother's hand comes to rest on the top of her head. "As you have vowed on your honor to uphold Wutai's, as you have shed your blood for its blessing, as you would give your life that any Wutaian may live, rise, lift your eyes, and become Akekoukennin."

Wutai's Red Guardian. A duty given only to female heirs apparent. Between now and her coronation, she must overcome Ashura's sacred kindness for Wutai's sake.

"I accept my duties," Yuffie says as she stands.

Posted 09 OCT 2008, edited 10 September 2011, to adjust the Japanese used.

"Byakuren no Daigensha" is written 白蓮 の 代言者, the best literal translation of which might be, "advocate of the white lotus."

"Akekoukennin" is written 緋後見人. The literal translation of this is "blood-red guardian."