Chapter 18

"What are we going to do?”

Sephiroth looked up. Aeris had certainly asked the most pertinent question. He had imagined that there would be difficulties in finding Althena, and perhaps in returning her to the facility.

But he had never expected those difficulties to come from the -Heir- herself.

He turned to Nall, who was perched on the windowsill of the inn. “How long has your lady been like that?” he asked.

Nall looked down. “Since Alex’s death,” he said quietly. “That was... almost twenty years ago.”

Sephiroth scowled. Twenty years was nothing in the life of an immortal. It was unlikely that she would emerge from mourning now. It might be a century or more.

Of course, the world did not have a century left. Immortal or no, neither did Althena.

“No, it’s been longer than that,” Nall said. “Ever since she realized that she wasn’t aging like a mortal. She tried to hide it, but I think both Alex and I knew how she felt.”

“Why did she want to live as a mortal?” Aeris asked.

“She wanted to be human,” Nall said. “At first, it was just because she wanted to let the people of Lunar chart their own course.”

“And they did so well,” Sephiroth said dryly. He found it difficult to imagine that this world had been in worse condition before her abdication.

Nall ignored him. “But later, it was... something else. Althena had always chosen those she loved to be her protectors. Luna... didn’t want to have to leave Alex behind like she had all those others.”

“Alex was her Dragonmaster?” Aeris asked.

Sephiroth glanced over at her. What was it in what Nall said that so captivated her? To his mind, it was madness. If Althena had succeed in surrendering her immortality, the worlds would have been doomed.

Nall continued. “Alex was her last Dragonmaster,” he said. “After she gave up her powers, though, there wasn’t a Dragonmaster anymore. He was just her husband. They lived here in Burg, as farmers. They were happy here, while they were young.”

Aeris smiled. “It sounds wonderful.”

Nall sighed. “It was. But when she got to be about twenty five, Luna stopped aging. We didn’t realize it at first, of course. But after another ten years, it wasn’t much of a secret. Alex didn’t mind. He was willing to love her as long as he lived, and to let her go afterwards. Luna... didn’t want to go on without him.”

“He must have been a very special man,” Aeris said quietly.

“He was.” Nall spread his small white wings and lifted into the air. “And he was a good friend.”

He turned and flew out the window.

Sephiroth watched him leave. It was foolish, for immortals like the -Heirs- and the Dragons of Althena to give their friendship, even their love, to mortals. What could possibly come from such an act but sadness?

He glanced over at Aeris. She was staring out the window, looking up at the Blue Star.

She did not think it foolish.

What did she see, that he could not?

Just as it was with dreams, he simply had no way to understand. At times, Aeris seemed to inhabit a different world than he.

Unbidden, his hand reached up and touched the side of his face, where he had cut himself.

That world of Aeris’ had already intruded upon his own. Even though he didn’t understand it, it had begun to affect him. It was making him weak. He could not allow such emotion to cloud his judgment.

If he did, he would only make more mistakes.

“We must bring Althena to the facility,” he said, breaking the silence.

Aeris blinked. She turned to him. “I don’t think she’s going to listen, though.”

Sephiroth’s hand came to rest on the hilt of his energy blade. “If that is so, then she must be taken by force.”

Aeris gasped. “You mustn’t! It isn’t right.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I can, and, if she cannot be persuaded, I will. Where the fate of the world is concerned, there is no room for foolish sentimentality.”

She lowered her eyes for a moment. Then, she looked up. “But an unwilling -Heir- could do more harm than good,” she said.

“Perhaps.” Her words were true, but did she really believe them? He didn’t think so. Her real objection was the same as it had been. That it ‘wasn’t right’.

Such scruples were admirable, of themselves. But reality... that was something different.

“Your point has weight,” he said. “The risk of her using the Core’s powers in her present state of mind may be simply too great.”

Aeris nodded. “I’m sure we can find a way to convince Althena.”

He said nothing.

Perhaps there was a way to convince her.

But if not, he would not be afraid to do what was needed.

Aeris’ world was no doubt a brighter, happier place. But it was not his. And the times called not for hers, but for his. No matter what means had to be employed, this end would justify them.

Perhaps the future his actions would create would be a grim one. But if he did nothing, or if he did only what was ‘right’, there would be no future at all.

He could not afford to be held back any longer.