n. A place or condition of suffering, expiation, or remorse
Stepping down into the damp, mildew-ridden air of the passageway, she began to wonder if there really was something down here for them to find. If what the note alluded to was true, then… She suppressed a shiver. She didn't want to think about it.
Who knew what horrifying, inhumane things had transpired here, hidden beneath metres of stone, locked away, too dark and too deep for anyone to hear the screaming…
"Tifa?" She shook herself at Cloud's sudden address. "You need to either go down, or let me go first."
Of course, she was still stood frozen on the top stair blocking the passageway, staring down past the torch beam and into the gloom. The sound of steady trickling water down the moss-covered stone seemed to be swallowed by the darkness itself. No noise came from beyond the dark, her ears supplying only a background static, accustomed to at least some sort of background ambience.
"You- you go first."
The cloying, almost sweet odour of burgeoning moss and plant life no doubt borne from the invading water flow was thick on the air. It clung to the back of her nasal passage and coated the inside of her mouth. With the content of Hojo's note in mind though, the scent became unearthly, emulating festering decay, accompanied by grotesque images supplied by her disturbed thoughts.
The door swung open after much battering of the rusty lock, revealing what she could only surmise was a tomb. Her heart went into spasm, her throat refusing to allow her to swallow down a bubble of rising fear. Her nose couldn't sense the decay anymore. She could only smell age; musty earth, rotting wood and stagnant water. There were bones here, human bones, and aged wooden crates; human sized, apparently hastily assembled and locked away inside. Only one stood in the centre, non-recent drag marks telling of its being relocated some time before.
She could only watch as Cloud moved forward to open it.
"Who disturbs my slumber?"
Her vision swims, knees trembling as she is confronted with proof of life, and not death. Yet she fails to validate either argument. As he speaks, she received the impression that he is communicating from another dimension, another time. His words are hollow, devoid totally of any inflection of emotion besides despair, hatred and loneliness. His ruby eyes, piercing the gloom, tell of suffering and loss beyond her comprehension. His pale skin tells of years out of the reach of the sun, his voice almost cracks and aches from dis-use. He looked at them as though they were the ghosts, and not he.
"Please. Leave me to my sin."
He chooses to remain in his self-imposed prison, a hell constructed for him, to be punished. For he feels that is all he deserves.
He wished to remain in Purgatory.
The distant dull clanking of buoys was barely audible over the battery of rain against the pavement. It was a wonder she could see at all, the fine spray rebounding from the cobbled streets rendering light into a distorted haze. She might have enjoyed the sights, if the situation weren't so spirit-dampening. Tifa's skin had risen in goosebumps, suffering at the onslaught of icy rain. Her companion didn't seem to mind so much, or at least he gave no indication of displeasure that she could see. The rain had barely let up since they had arrived in Junon.
Grumbling inanely under her breath, she stomped through puddle after puddle, her socks soaked through, wondering when it would be considered reasonable to call it a night. Cloud had insisted they split up for reconnaissance; find as much out as possible about what ShinRa were up to- after all, Junon was their main Military hub, and boy could those soldiers talk.
Vincent, her allocated intel-gathering partner-in-crime seemed to know the streets of the port town reasonably well; He'd spent time here on assignments with the Turks, she managed to extract from him after a few inquisitive comments, and it certainly saved them wandering aimlessly at her guidance.
It was about the time of her sixth sneezing episode that her companion broke the silence.
"We should find shelter. You will catch a cold."
Vincent's vocalisation of concern, no matter how stoic the delivery, brought a smug smile to her lips. Cloud and Barrett seemed all too eager to forget that they were all on the same side sometimes, and gave little consideration towards their quietest crew member. Though he gave them the same inattention in return, he was always ready with a heal spell, or a steadying hand, should the occasion arise.
"Yeah," she sniffed, pushing her sopping hair back out of her eyes for what felt like the hundredth time that night. "Screw Cloud and his 'let's split up' routine!" She huffed, neglecting to duck as she passed under a leaking drainpipe. She was as wet as fricking possible, anyway.
Cloud had teamed with Aeris, and he'd sent Barrett off with Cid. She didn't think the other pairs of would-be intel-gatherers would put much effort into their searches. Barrett and Cid had been snickering about some bars they wanted to drop into, and Cloud, well… Aeris was enough of a distraction for him.
Frowning, she pressed her PHS to her ear, in awe that it still managed to function after residing in her damp pocket for so long. Her call connected sooner than she'd expected, considering. "Hey Tifa, we've found a room for the night. Apparently there are no rooms hardly anywhere across town. You'll have to find someplace to stay yourself. We can regroup tomorrow."
"Got it. See you tomorrow." Irritated, and feeling rather downtrodden, she snapped the device shut and shoved it back into its soggy resting place. "Looks like we're on our own Vincent."
"Hm." A flash of lightning sets his features into stark relief—ruby eyes seeming to capture the electric charge of the heavens and hold her in place with it. She marvelled that his hair could appear any darker than it did in daylight when soaked through with rain water. "I would suggest trying some less-than savoury establishments if that is the case. I must apologise in advance, for I fear than none would be suitable for a lady."
She smirked in spite of her sudden misery, jumping only slightly at the crack of thunder. "We'd better find somewhere fast. I don't fancy getting fried."
She swore she saw him smirk.
She had been afraid of him. No. She was terrified. He followed behind them in silence, one with the shadows; for he was merely a shadow himself, leaving their embrace temporarily to join Avalanche in an earthly pursuit of revenge. The scent of age and decay surrounded him; she daren't stand too close, lest she revisit that basement in her nightmares.
The first time it happened, they were lost within the maze of the mountain caves, beyond Nibelheim. The darkness had been absolute, save for their torch beam, and in that protrusion of light she had watched his body transform. They were under assault from cave-dwelling monsters, and yet she found herself turning towards the source of an inhuman scream; he was tearing at his clothes, cape tossed aside first, then he was fumbling desperately with buttons, chest heaving with laboured breath. He couldn't manage it in time, instead dropping to his knees as waves of excruciating pain washed over him, ruby eyes wide and for the first time, terrified; muscles tore, stretched and reformed, bones cracked, grew and healed again, skin stretched and shifted over a new monstrous form.
Wings, claws, teeth and terrible golden irises, a purple, impenetrable hide…
Yet the thing she remembered most after it was all over, was how he had stared at his blood-stained palms, trembling still, tears mixing with the blood on his cheeks.
I had this as one long story, but decided to break it down into small bite size fragments. A small idea that grew around the word, Purgatory.
I hope you enjoy it.