Chapter 12

Rufus had recognized the smell as soon as they’d gotten to this... place. He’d slapped on the Cetra breathing device and hoped for the best, and it seemed to have worked. That he could even try and figure out whether he’d gotten Mako poisoning or not meant he probably hadn’t.

But what the hell was going on around here?

Some paradise.

Had Bugenhagen lied to them? If he had, it was pretty stupid of him. The Destined Ones weren’t going to be doing a lot of good if they were laying in this mist and mud drooling, not even realizing that the Mako was killing them.

So he didn’t lie. He was just wrong.

Great. Some prophet they were following.

Rufus frowned. What the hell was he doing here, anyway? He didn’t really believe all of Bugenhagen’s line of bull, and this sure wasn’t convincing him.

So did he really believe what Aeris had told him?

It sounded crazy, that was for sure, and he could think of about a million reasons why it wasn‘t true. But dammit, it felt true. When Aeris had thrown her arms around him and called him ‘brother,’ he’d been about ready to push her off the damn cliff... but he hadn’t.

Instead, he’d told her everything he could remember, things he’d never said to anyone, never wanted to say.

How his mother had stolen a few minutes with him whenever she could, how she’d told him, he a tiny baby, about how they’d leave one day, go somewhere far away where they’d always be safe.

And he’d understood her words.

Because a Cetra baby always does.

He didn’t know for sure, but he’d probably cried when he’d talked about it. He hoped not - it was bad enough that he’d let something like what Aeris had said get to him. Him, Rufus Shinra. They’d called him the coldest bastard in the whole company, and to his face, because he’d considered it a compliment.

But he’d told her more. About how, one time, his father had come in on them, back from a late meeting a few hours early. He’d been furious, told her that she was never to come back again, never, dammit! And he’d hit her.

She didn’t stop coming - she was just more careful.

When Rufus was three, his mother stopped coming to see him. She disappeared entirely, and no one would tell him where she’d gone. But he’d found one man, a TURKs named Vincent, who’d told him she was still alive.

He’d never seen that man again. Not, Rufus realized, until he’d shown up, somehow un-aged, as a member of AVALANCHE. Another damn mystery, but one he didn’t care to go into. Guy was probably dead now, anyway - he'd holed up in Nibelheim, and that, Rufus’d heard, had taken a direct hit from a Meteor fragment.

And he’d told Aeris about how, when he was fifteen, he’d confronted his father with those memories, demanded to know where his mother was, what had happened to her.

That was the day he’d gotten the scar that ran down the side of his face. He’d never asked his father again.

And then he’d looked up and realized everything he’d said, and called Aeris ‘sister.’

Did he believe it?

He shook his head. He had more important things to do than try and figure out what he felt about that. Like figure out what the hell this place was that they’d ended up in.

He glanced over at Sephiroth, who was, true to his soldierly form, checking the perimeter of their little clearing.

Rufus hadn’t come here because of whatever it was he felt for Aeris, or her crazy story.

He’d been so lost in thought, he almost didn’t notice that the sticky mud around his boot had given way to something else, something more solid.

He looked down.

It was a slab, covered with moss and with two of the thick, thorn-covered vines running across it. He dropped to his knees in the mud, brushed the vines aside, trying to ignore the fact that they seemed to be moving back of their own volition, and scraped at the moss.

The slab was made of the same metal as Bugenhagen’s arsenal, and the corrosive mist didn’t seem to have dulled its brushed-steel sheen. There was Cetra writing on it.

The very same message Bugenhagen had told them they’d find on the marker.

"Ye who are banished here, think upon thy fate. And when thou returneth to the fold, be mindful of the mercy shown thee," Rufus read aloud, suppressing a laugh at the old-fashioned language. Most Cetra writing didn’t have this style, but most of it he’d seen wasn’t this old, either.

"You hear that, team?" he called, looking up to see what was keeping them.

And found himself staring into the face of the meanest looking creature he’d ever seen.