Chapter 9

Aeris gasped. Jowy’s cry of pain and surprise filled the canyon, but it was the pulse of magical energy that caused her to look away. Could a human survive such power?

Apparently so.

She could see her relief mirrored on Bugenhagen’s face. The Bearer’s last test was passed. He was ready.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rufus turn and stalk over to one of the stairways.

Her thoughts went back to the conversation she’d had with Bugenhagen after the Destined Ones had followed Rufus to the top of the mesa. He’d told her that she had already performed an important service, that the Seeker would not have been here without her actions. She’d blushed at that, but he’d continued.

He’d said that the Leader, too, would need her words to convince him.

He’d said it was her place to convince Rufus.

But why? She’d never known him, except as an unsmiling face atop the ShinRa building when AVALANCHE had rescued her, and later in Junon while they pursued Sephiroth.

But somehow, she knew Bugenhagen was right.

Almost without knowing it, she had slipped away from the warmth of the fire, and now her feet found the roughly carved stairs. Suddenly realizing where she was, she put her hand out to steady herself.

Ahead, she could see the entrance to Bugenhagen’s observatory, at least that was what it used to be. She didn’t suppose that he would let the observatory be replaced.

There was a door, wooden and too small for most people to get through without ducking, built into the outside of the Observatory. It was open.

Rufus must have gone inside.

Still not entirely sure why she did so, Aeris stepped into the Observatory.

Rufus stood at the far side, his back turned to her, looking at something on the wall, or, perhaps, simply thinking.

She didn’t wish to disturb him, but her footfalls sounded terribly loud on the polished sandstone floor.

"Dammit!" Rufus shouted, and kicked the device at the foot of the wall, one of the projectors, probably. He hung his head, his hands spread on the panel in front of him.

It sprang to life.

Aeris’ hand flew to her throat.

Bugenhagen had told her one more thing in that strange conversation in the afternoon. He’d told her that only a Cetra could operate the machinery in his Observatory.

Rufus turned, his angry gaze boring into her. "Why’d you follow me up here? Come to tell me what an asshole I am again? Or maybe you’re Sephiroth's press agent now. Well, don’t bother."

Her attention was caught by the flickering images playing out above her. Worlds spinning around a central globe, their energy focused onto one point, flowing into the central globe, filling it with life.

The green wave spread over the great sphere, leaving a sea of plants and life in its wake.

"Well?" Rufus demanded.

"I... How did you do that?" she asked.

"Do what?" He looked above his head, apparently not noticing the swirling images until she said it. "That?"

"Yes," she whispered. Had Bugenhagen meant for this to happen? Was that why he’d told her? Or was it just a malfunction, and it was the image rotating above her head that Rufus was meant to see?

He shrugged. "I pushed a damn button. What do you think?"

"Bugenhagen said only a Cetra could operate it."

"Then the old fool was wrong again. Or he lied. Either way, it wouldn’t be the first time." Rufus, still glaring, tried to walk past her, but there was no room in the narrow doorway.

"Can you read that text?" she asked, pointing to the string of Cetra characters beside the image of two planets circling around each other even as they orbited the central sphere.

"How the hell could I read..." His voice trailed off as he stared at the letters. When he spoke again, the anger was gone from his voice, replaced with... wonder, perhaps? "It says that the large one is called Ceralune. The other... Lunar."

Aeris was glad she was braced by the doorway.

This was no coincidence. Bugenhagen had known this would happen. But how was it possible? How could Rufus read this? If only a Cetra could activate the observatory, then...

She blinked. Then... "Rufus, what do you remember of your childhood?"

"None of your damn business," he snapped. He pushed her aside, stepping out into the cold night air atop the mesa.

"Please. Don‘t go."

She could hear him sigh. He started to take a step, but then set his foot back down. "My father was a ruthless bastard, and I don’t remember my mother. Good enough?"

"I’m sorry," Aeris said. The bitterness in Rufus’ voice was as harsh as that he’d shown toward Sephiroth.

Aeris tried to imagine feeling that way toward her own parents. She’d been a tiny child when her father died, but a Cetra child remembered. She recalled him, gentle and kind. She recalled the day he’d died, too, a memory she wished she could banish.

Her mother had always protected her. They’d been ShinRa test subjects for years after their capture, and in all that time, Aeris could hardly recall being used in an experiment. Her mother had volunteered, again and again, telling Hojo a pureblood Cetra was of more use to him.

She’d grown sicker with each passing week, until it seemed impossible that she could even lift her head, but still she’d never let them use Aeris. And one day, with the last of her strength, she’d found a way to escape, to save Aeris.

But the escape had been too much, it had killed her. Aeris had grown up in Midgar’s slums with a human mother.

"I saw my mother a few times, I think," Rufus said. He, too, seemed to be lost in thought, barely noticing that Aeris was there. "I don’t remember her well - I can’t have been even a year old, really. But I remember her eyes. Such... kind eyes. Blue-green, almost like the Lifestream."

Aeris looked up at the stars.

Blue-green eyes.

Memories, lost memories that Aeris had never really understood before, came flooding back to her:

She lay in her crib, mother and father speaking. Mother was crying again. Why was she so sad? She wanted something she called ‘her son,’ but Aeris didn’t know what that meant. Was it like her?

And father had promised. He still had connections. He spoke a name, Hojo. He would help them, wouldn’t he? They’d get her son.

And years later, long after the terror that decision had caused, in a cell in the ShinRa Building. Mother had spoken quickly, and Aeris, tired, confused, hadn’t really listened. "If anything happens to me, Aeris, you must find your brother. I... I’ll explain soon."

But she’d never explained. She’d died in a Midgar train station, and Aeris had cried as she’d watched the light leave her mother’s eyes.

Her blue-green eyes.

Almost like the Lifestream.

Like Aeris’ own.

The stars over Cosmo Canyon shone down on her, and she looked at the scarred man who had once been her enemy, who stood, like her, staring into nothing.

"Brother!" she cried, and threw her arms around Rufus.