This is my personal daily drabble challenge. My objective? To write every day, no matter how much or how little. My 31 day project is 5 sections strong each with 6 installments, plus an Epilogue. Please read and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing except an overactive imagination and a computer.
1. The delivery boy
It is an inexplicable event. No one knew it could happen, nor could they ever dream to predict the outcome. The dominoes that once fell in place fell askew. A future wrought with pain, death and strife is forever altered.
All because, on the day that fourteen year old Cloud Strife left for Midgar, the boy died. At least, that is what is assumed. He disappeared without a trace before the ship that left the clear waters of Costa del Sol reached Junon's murky harbor. Inconsequential, a small town nobody, Cloud is quickly forgotten by all but a few. His supposed death not even significant enough to warrant a letter.
His mother would wonder why her little boy never called home.
His childhood crush would search the newspapers for a face that would never appear.
They would never hear word.
The very sequence of events that once led to the fall of a great man into madness, and the creation of unsuspecting heroes out of those haunted by ghosts, is thrown apart. It is as if the universe had accidentally deleted the most crucial player in the future of the planet Gaia!
Nothing happens on accident. All events, crucial or insignificant, happen for a reason. It is the very nature of fate.
That is why when Cloud Strife disappeared—those bound by a shared destiny began to dream. Or, as some would put it, hallucinate. A stranger with haunted, glowing eyes graced them and he left behind a trail of letters and packages…deliveries. Very little is ever said and he is impossible to follow, much less catch, even when those whom sought answers hastily made pursuit.
It is as if he did not exist except in their minds.
However, could an imaginary delivery boy mend a broken future by unraveling the past?
Word Count: 305
2. The flower girl
In the dark, dirty confines of Midgar exists much turmoil. Above the infamous Plate is a fabulous city, bright with technology that outshines the conflict of its inhabitants. Businessmen swarm about like ants, scrambling through the streets in order to reach the train station. An overtone of tension belies to the rumors running amok...then again, there are always rumors.
Below the Plate, where gossip is darker and dirtier than the squalor that the slum dwellers live in, the rumors that make the businessmen tense, cause true disruption. They have no reason to trust President ShinRa or anything attached to his name. It is because of him that they live without access to sunlight, clean water or air. To hear about another mishap being sloppily covered up and fed to the general public as a minor problem, simply made their blood boil.
Every person living in Midgar is subjugated. Some didn't realized it yet, their wallets were too fat with Gil. Others knew it from the day ShinRa rose to power, when he took over the collection of villages that once laid in Midgar's place and turned it into the industrious capital of power and corruption. But no matter one's status, they all hear the rumors. They all know the filthy truth. They all know that they were helpless to do a thing to stop it.
It is why the terrorist faction, AVALANCHE, had gained ground. No one wants to intervene. The poor support them and the rich are too cowardly to face them. With the war in Wutai yet to come to a true close, many of the troops were deployed, unable to respond to the blatant assaults against ShinRa and those affiliated to him. Midgar is in absolute chaos…
Yet it continued to function.
For some, there is no choice but to continue living, surviving, despite the turmoil. Fear of losing one's life is never part of the equation. Fear, in fact, could never be part of the equation.
This is why, despite the feverish tension of the underplate dwellers, Aerith Gainsborough waves goodbye to her mother and begins her journey to a long ago abandoned church. Danger is a part of life in the slums. At every turn, a monster could pop up and attack or a mugger could attempt an assault. Thus nothing changes for those used to these frequent dangers, especially if the rumors are given no heed.
Why should she be afraid AVALANCHE? They'd personally done her no wrong.
With a girlish smile and a skip to her step, Aerith maneuvers through the worst sectors with practiced ease. Whispers are caught by her ears as she passes by makeshift shelters, but she does not listen. Midgar is a festering wound that needs dealing with, but she is not one to take action. Her purpose is to take care of the only flowers growing in Midgar…the last remaining blooms of natural life amongst a forest of steel and concrete.
It is a simple purpose, but she is satisfied with a simple life.
No need was there to make things complicated. Life would be so much easier if everybody lived in peace and harmony as intended by the planet and its creator, whoever he or she might be. If there was no war, anger or greed, then there could be sunshine and flowers for everyone! Again, a simple thing…a simple wish…a simple dream.
Why couldn't everything be simple?
Aerith arrives at her church, her mind and heart aflutter. How she loves this place. She loves everything about it, from the hole in the roof to the broken floorboards, to the upturned pews. She loves the way the light catches the dust moats as they spiral high into rafters above…She loves her garden. And in this sanctuary, she is at peace.
"Hello," she offers the empty air, her cheerful voice echoing against the walls and vaulted ceiling. Then she giggles, much like a fifteen year old girl is prone to doing, before crouching beside the flowerbed and murmuring adoring nonsense to the white and yellow blooms.
A few minutes later, she rises and begins her daily routine. Weeds are pulled. Soil is overturned and then wet with a dented tin watering can. She soon loses herself in the simplicity of it all, at peace despite the utter chaos of the world around her.
"Miss Aerith Gainsborough?" the flower girl nearly squashes a tender springling when a masculine voice breaks the calm silence. No one bothers her here. Her heart began to race. Had he avoided the Turks that were watching her? Is he a Turk here to steal her away? Forcing her panic away, Aerith stood up, brushing dirt from her striped, blue-and-white sundress.
"Hello?" she found herself saying timidly. Her experience with men is minimal, but she knew from just looking at him that this stranger is dangerous.
He stands a few inches shy of six feet and possesses the broad shoulders and confident stance of a fighter. His black uniform gives him a mysterious edge, as do the tinted goggles he wears over his eyes. What throws her off a little is the unruly mass of blond hair, it seemed unbefitting of a such a lethal looking man. Perhaps that is why he usually wears a hat, Aerith found herself thinking, the cap held respectively in the man's right hand her biggest hint.
The man drew closer, but not until after he spent a good minute examining Aerith, making her feel self-conscious about her messy, brunette braid and child-like emerald eyes. How could he make her feel so small with his presence alone?
"This is for you," he eventually says, holding out an envelope. Aerith blinks in surprise.
"You're a delivery boy?" she asks, curious.
"You assumed otherwise?" the blond smiles, as if amused by the thought.
Saying nothing in response, Aerith gingerly accepts the scrap of paper, her gaze unable to be torn away from the stranger. "Who are you?" she questions when the man walks away, and to her surprise, he turns, just for a moment.
The goggles hide from her his eyes, but she could feel their intensity all the same. Aerith wants to believe this man to be a warrior or some kind of famous hero, but what he says halts those presumptions. "I'm just a simple man." And she is but a simple flower girl, living sweet and innocent amongst the corrupting influence of a rotting city. Yet she feels that there is more to him…more to both of them, in that moment.
It is, to say the least, disconcerting.
She is pinned by both confusion and wonder as the mystery man walks away. The roar of a motorcycle can be heard outside, but it is as if she is rooted in place. Her eyes fall upon the envelope in her hands, and aside from her name written on the front, it is blank. No sender. No address. Just her name.
Curious as well as filled with newfound dread, Aerith opens the letter.
Written neatly in black ink are these words alone:
I will not fail you this time.
Word Count: 1188
3. The crimson commander
Hallucinations were none too uncommon for Genesis Rhapsodos. However, this particular one iced the proverbial cake. Standing in the middle of his war camp, set up strategically a few miles south of the enemy capital, was some kind of mail man. The infamous crimson Commander knew it to be a mere figment of his imagination because no one else in camp paid the irregular looking man any attention.
"Hollander was right," Genesis muttered caustically as he narrowed his eyes and willed the figure to simply disappear. "I'm going insane." But the uniformed man did not waver or shift, rather, he stood steadfast, gazing around at his surroundings with apparent interest. Frustrated, the First Class SOLDIER pulled his attention completely away from the map laid out before him and glared hotly at the hallucination.
The world spun for a moment and almost unbalanced the already feverish Commander. He refrained from clapping his hand onto his wounded shoulder or gripping the table for support. No one needed to know he was wounded. No one needed to know that the minor injury he suffered months ago refused to heal, and instead was festering and rotting away…No one needed to know he was dying, both his body and mind decaying due to his apparently subpar genetics. No one.
He would stand tall and strong until the end—no matter how weak his body became; no matter how much his thoughts scattered.
Suddenly, as if sensing Genesis' burning gaze, the package toting stranger looked him dead in the eyes. Something washed over the volatile SOLDIER, causing him to hesitate and his temper to cool in an instant. He could not see the man's eyes, for they were covered in dark-tinted goggles, but instinct warned him of the reason why a man would hide his eyes. Mako glow. It meant his hallucination was a SOLDIER…but was it someone he knew? Was that why the man wore that ridiculous cap, to hide his identity?
"Why would a figment of my imagination need a disguise?" he found himself asking no one in particular.
"Perhaps it is because he isn't a figment of your imagination." the man offered and Genesis was surprised by both the dry humor lacing his tone as well as the softness of his tenor voice. He sounded almost…haunted. Weary. "First Class Commander Genesis Rhapsodos?"
"I am he."
The imaginary delivery boy hefted a small, cubic box out from beneath his arm,"This is for you." Genesis blinked. His hallucinations were certainly becoming more elaborate. Noting his confused stare, the stranger chuckled softly. "It's not a bomb, I promise. Though I'm afraid it's not a First Edition copy of Loveless either. In fact," he tapped a gloved finger on the red ink printed on the otherwise white wrapping,"it's rather fragile. So do be gentle."
"Who in Gaia's name are you?" Genesis growled, his paranoia rearing its ugly head in an instant. It took no more than a split second to push aside his red, leather trench coat and draw Rapier from his hip sheath. The blade took on a threatening glow as its master's temper flared.
Unimpressed by the display, the black-clad man shrugged,"I'm but a simple man." He then placed the box on the ground and promptly turned on his heel. Genesis gaped at the man's audacity. How dare he turn his back on the second most powerful SOLDIER to ever live!
"Come back here!" he demanded, chasing after the man, brandishing his sword in a crazed manner. But the delivery boy did not even look back. He merely took a sharp left, behind a collection of tents, and when Genesis rounded the corner…he was gone. Completely, and utterly, gone. Dropping his sword hand to his side, the crimson Commander let out a huff of bitter laughter. "You're losing it, Genesis. First you talk to the imaginary man, then you chase him. Real sane…"
"Uh, Commander Rhapsodos?" piped a nervous voice.
He whipped around to see a trembling Third Class standing there, a small box in hand,"Y-you…this belongs to you."
"Give me that!" Genesis snarled, snatching the apparently delicate package away from the grunt. The boy then squeaked and ran off like a frightened mouse. "Pathetic…Now, what do we have here?" He almost dropped he box in surprise. It was the very one that the imaginary man gave him. But…how? Without further ado, he ripped it open, wanting to disprove his strange imaginings as quickly as possible.
Within the box lay two small glass vials filled with a clear liquid, cradled in a soft nest of…feathers? As Genesis combed his fingers through the downy mass, he felt them brush against something…a folded card. Hesitantly, he drew it into the light so that he could read the faded lettering.
And what he read nearly turned more of his auburn hair grey.
We are all monsters, given the right circumstance. But even monsters deserve a second chance.
Word Count: 818
4. The ninja princess
"I am the awesome ninja Yuffie Kisaragi! Run away or face my super ninja skills."
The tremendous cry did little to intimidate the hulking monster before her. In fact, the creature only lumbered closer, growling deeply at the back of its throat.
Yuffie readied her four-point shuriken. No icky monster was going to stop her on her quest to find materia and take down ShinRa in the name of her country. She was the Princess of Wutai! Levithan guided her heart and hand, and as long as she was the daughter of Emperor Godo, the gods would favor her.
Even if she was only nine years old.
"Okay. You asked for it you big dummy!" she shouted when the enormous, slobbering thing took a swipe in her direction, forcing Yuffie to leap out of the way. Reorienting herself, the gray-eyed girl rooted her stance and threw her weapon with a loud,"Hiya!"
Unfortunately, it bounced off, returning to Yuffie without leaving a scratch on the monster's thick hide. "Uh-oh…I mean…There more where that came from, ugly!" The monster responded with another wide swipe of its claws, catching the girl as she darted out way. Pain lanced through Yuffie's leg and ribs, and blood oozed from the fortunately shallow wounds. "Meanie…Yikes!" She jumped to the ground, narrowly avoiding a second assault, but the impact sent vibrations that seared through her injured half like acid and caused her to let out a pained groan.
Instinctively, the monster pounced.
But the ripping agony she predicted did not follow. Instead, there was a thick gush of warm blood and…nothing. Yuffie opened the eyes she had clamped shut and found herself face-to-face with a blue-eyed stranger…Her surprise voiced itself despite her best restraint,"Mako eyes…You're a SOLDIER!"
The man shook his head and offered her his hand. Like the rest of him, it was enshrouded in black. Whoever he was, it was obvious he was a uniformed official. "Then what are you, ShinRa dog?" she demanded, refusing his hand and scrambling to her feet. The man remained silent, his eyes like ghost lights in the dappled shadows of the forest,"You know what…I don't care! Gimme your materia and I won't hurt you."
"Miss Yuffie Kisaragi?"
"T-that's my name, now shuddup and…"
"I have a package for you," he told her, motioning towards the motorcycle a few meters away. It was then that Yuffie noticed the sword in his hand, held easily despite its cumbersome size and weight. This man was a warrior. Maybe even an assassin!
"Yeah right, mister. I'm not going to fall for that trick. I'm not stupid! You've been hired to kidnap or kill me."
The stranger laughed humorlessly and adjusted the militaristic cap on his head,"You misunderstand. I'm but a simple delivery boy."
"You? A delivery boy? Then explain the sword."
"It's dangerous on the road." and that was all he said before returning to his bike and unfastening a canvas bag from where it had been hung from the handle bars. Yuffie, brimming with curiosity, followed. "Here."
The "package" was awkward to hold and possessed considerable weight. That, and when she looked closely, there were ShinRa markings. It meant that the man was either lying, and was in the employ of ShinRa, or had just stolen from them and was unloading the goods. Was he some kind of bizarre Robin Hood?
Looking up, she noticed that the delivery boy was already straddling his bike, goggles covering his ethereal eyes. "Good luck," he called, kicking the monstrous vehicle awake and speeding through the thick underbrush as if it were air.
Yuffie considered making pursuit, but her curiosity overcame her impulses. Instead, she lowered herself to the ground and unzipped the canvas bag, revealing the most beautiful craftsmanship she had ever seen in her life. Eyes already wide, she reached in and brushed the delicate looking weapon with her fingertips. "There have to be…eight or ten materia slots in this…." She frowned softly, dropping her hand to trace the name engraved at the weapon's center,"Conformer…"
Boldly, she gripped the shuriken and lifted it up, discovering it to be perfectly balanced. As she gave it a quick spin, Yuffie noticed an envelope tied to one of the points. It was addressed to her and when opened, revealed a message that filled her young heart with newfound courage and pride.
Take back your country, not with blades but with cunning, by not letting despair turn into complacency.
Word Count: 747
5. The martial artist
When the time is right, the key is Sephiroth.
Tifa Lockheart read the note in her hands over and over again. It had been three days since the message had appeared on her piano, and it still made no sense. What made things more confusing, was the rusty key that had been lain beside it…Obviously the key had something to do with the note, but what did either have to do with the silver General?
"The key is Sephiroth?" she shook her head, rolling the hefty piece of metal in her palm. "Key…A tool…something used to unlock something else. Unlock…solve…maybe, like a password? Is the word Sephiroth a password or part of a code?" Tifa closed her fist around the key. "Two keys. When the time is right, I'll need both. But…how will I know? What do they unlock?"
With a sigh, she drew her eyes away from the note and laid them upon the closed hand. Uncurling her fingers she once again examined the key. It was as it was before…"Cloud would know," Tifa murmured. "He was so quiet. He probably enjoyed puzzles…" A small smiled quirked on her lips. "Cloud."
Word Count: 192
6. The silver general
It made no sense. There were no such phenomena as ghosts, yet the only explanation behind a slew of thefts and vandalism was that there was one floating about with a vendetta against ShinRa. The surveillance footage revealed nothing, not even a blip or a glimmer. The Turks found no prints or DNA evidence of an intruder. Yet some of the most powerful weapons manufactured by the company had suddenly gone missing and vast stores of data were corrupted by the very computer that held it secure. He did not even want to figure the physical damage done by this supposed specter…
He looked up, both hands at his temples in a vain attempt to soothe his aching head. There, standing in the doorway, was a…delivery boy? Sephiroth frowned, no unauthorized persons were allowed on this floor of the building. And this man, this civilian, was certainly not authorized to be here. Just as he was about to snap at the intruder, Sephiroth noticed something. His eyes. Brilliant, ethereal blue eyes. A color only achieved through saturating the body with mako.
"I am a busy man," the silver-haired General forced himself to bark, curiosity keeping him from outright challenging the stranger. "State your business and be gone."
The mako-eyed man did not falter nor flinch. He kept an impenetrably calm demeanor as he opened the leather satchel slung over his shoulder. A second later, he held a fat yellow envelope in hand, Sephiroth's name scrawled on the front. "This is for you, sir." he stated coolly, placing it on Sephiroth's desk without missing a beat.
Whoever this man was, he seemed confident that he would not be caught in his charade.
"What is it?" Sephiroth inquired as he lifted the envelope, not wanting to scare the man off quite yet. If this "delivery boy" was some breed of assassin, he was either very bad at his job or was very good. He had to be careful how he played this; otherwise, there would be trouble. "There is no sender information. No return address. Quite convenient that he or she chose to remain anonymous."
The tiniest of smirks graced the mako-eyed man's lips and he adjusted his cap. Sephiroth caught a brief hint of blond hair as he did so, and there was a flash of metal as the man's long sleeve pulled away from his gloved hand, revealing a strip of his wrist…and the bangle that was secured there.
Certain that he was dealing with someone more dangerous than he appeared, the silver General rose quickly from his seat, both hands planted aggressively on his office desk. The envelope lay beneath one open palm. "Who are you?"
"A simple man," the delivery boy quipped, as if amused by the situation. "That is all." Few people did not cower beneath Sephiroth's powerful gaze, especially when he was clad in full battle regalia (he had to always be armed and ready in case of an emergency). Even fewer had the gall to smile. Less than five ever dared to laugh.
"Who are you…?"
All amusement fled the man's face and he met the fearsome General's eyes with steely determination. "If you are asking my name, I'm afraid that you will be disappointed. I have none." The man dipped his fingers into the front pocket of his uniform jacket,"If you are asking my identity, then I will tell you this. I am no one." He flicked his wrist and a Sephiroth found himself catching the business card thrown in his direction. Again, the mako-eyed man smirked,"However, I do respond to Strife."
Sephrioth crumpled the card and quickly skirted around his desk, but "Strife" proved faster. In a flash, he was out of the door and by the time the silver General reached the doorframe, the man had vanished.
"Is something amiss, General?"
He growled in frustration as the head Turk approached, coffee in hand. Tseng was always popping up where he was neither wanted nor needed.
"Did you see an unauthorized person in the building?"
An elegant brow lifted.
"I encountered an individual in my office a few minutes ago. Male, approximately five feet eight inches tall, slim of build with mako eyes and dressed in a black uniform."
"What exactly did he do to distress you?" Tseng, the insufferable rat that he was, asked between sips of coffee. He did not appear to feel Sephiroth's same urgency.
"An unknown with mako enhancements appears in my office then disappears without a trace, and you expect me not to express some form of frustration? This floor is supposed to be monitored by your men to prevent either from occurring."
"I see…When was the last time you slept, sir?"
"How is that relevant?"
"Do you feel as if you are always being watched or that your life is constantly in danger from some unknown source?"
"I'm a highly ranked military official, of course I feel as if I am always being watched and my life is constantly in danger."
"Have you been hearing any voices?"
"Pardon? What exactly are you implying?"
Tseng shrugged,"No one was in your office, General. I am here at the request of the President to evaluate your mental and physical health should your behavior become erratic."
"I am not hearing voices!" Sephiroth found himself snapping a little louder than intended. "Someone was in my office. Look, he even left a card."
The Turk took the crumpled piece of cardstock from the agitated SOLDIER,"Everything you know as the truth is a lie. But beneath every lie is the truth." Tseng offered the card back to the silver General,"Interesting motto for a psychiatrist. Good to know you're getting help."
"Have a nice day General." Tseng bowed politely before walking away, leaving behind a very ruffled Sephiroth standing in the hallway.
Realizing that the Turk wasn't coming back, he glanced at the card. It said exactly what Tseng claimed. "Dr. Strife…PhD in psychiatric medicine. Specializes in the treatment of both mood and personality disorders." Sephiroth shook his head. Of all the things…
He crushed the card again, banishing his train of thought. He was not crazy. He did not hear voices. And he was not imagining things. As he entered his office, Sephiroth became doubly certain he was not imagining things. There, in the middle of his desk, was that yellow envelope the person under the alias 'Strife' left behind. A light went off in his head. Perhaps more clues could be found within.
Quickly, he unfastened the tiny brad that kept it closed before pouring its contents onto his desk. His eyes widened the moment he spied the label on the first manila folder.
Word Count: 1120
A/N: (The cast is set. Now comes the plot. )