A Warrior's Redemptionby Artiles
Chapter 1We know Aeris was born to Professor Gast and Ifalna. But what if the Aeris we knew was not the original one? What if Ifalna had a daughter before meeting Professor Gast?
We know Elmyra's husband died during the Wutai siege by the Shinra. But is that the truth? What really happened back then? Was Elmyra told the truth, a part of it, or a blatant lie?
And most importantly... how are these two mysteries related?
My fellow friends, join me, Alejandro Artiles the Storyteller, as we begin a journey into the shadows of the past...
Let us begin...
A WARRIOR'S REDEMPTION
"Close your eyes and begin to relax."
"Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly."
"Concentrate on your breathing."
"With each breath, you become more relaxed."
"Imagine a brilliant white light above you. Focus in on this light as it flows through your body."
"Now you are entering the world of another man's memories. Gaze upon them, reveal the truth behind the facts we know, and make peace with the spirit that begs for your help."
"Are you ready now? Take a final breath, and dive into the stream of conciousness around you."
"Open your eyes."
MEMORY ONE: THE THIN LINE BETWEEN HONOR AND DUTY
A thick rain was pouring the grasslands surrounding the little town in the Western Continent. Not far from there, an encampment. A military encampment.
Soldiers ran from place to place, carrying standard-issue machine guns. Ion cannons were being manned by technicians frantically. In one of the tents, which stood out from the rest because of the company's flag on top, Commander Varlus Jenneson squeezed the butt of his last cigarette, and blew the smoke in circles.
He was growing impatient.
A mud-filled private broke into the tent and lowered his hood. "Commander" he began, "the cannons are nearly operational. All troops are prepared for the assault on Wutai."
Varlus stood up from his chair slowly.
"Very well, private" he whispered, in a tired voice that stressed his restlessness and boredom. "Stand by in your posts, and wait for my signal. Dawn is approaching: as soon as the Sun raises, we strike."
"Yes, sir." The private saluted formally. "Permission to leave, sir?"
"Granted" sighed Varlus. "Dismissed."
The private walked back into the thick curtain of water outside. Varlus paced through his tent, lighting another cigarette. He had to admit the fact: war was not good for his health. He was about to empty the second pack of the day.
Varlus was planning possible strategies for the upcoming assault on the town, when his cell phone buzzed in the desk. He picked it up and opened the lid.
INCOMING CALL – 911-268-559-03
The President. Varlus acknowledged the incoming call.
"Commander Jenneson reporting, Mr. President."
"Jenneson" replied the President's cold voice through the cell's receiver. "Report on the Wutai Campaign."
Straight to the point, as always.
"Preparations are ready. Ion cannons to be fully operational in short time. We will strike at daybreak."
"Good. Remember your orders, Commander: no prisoners are to be taken. Anyone who offers resistance must be terminated immediately."
"You are ordered to acquire as many Materia as possible. I do not care how you manage to get a hold of these. You are free to make use of any means necessary to complete your mission. Show no mercy, Commander Jenneson."
"I understand, sir. Wutai is a small town with virtually no army whatsoever; we should have no problems carrying out our mission."
The President stood silent for a moment, then spoke again. "You would be wise not to underestimate the people of Wutai. Army lacking or not, our spies have informed us that they are formidable melee fighters and Materia users." Silence. "Is the SOLDIER team already in place?"
"Good. The SOLDIER have an assignment of their own: assist them in any way possible. Casualties in either the SOLDIER squad and regular troops are to be kept to a minimum, Commander. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," said Varlus yet again. Did the President think he was a rookie? If so, he was deeply mistaken.
"That will be all, Commander" said the President.
"One more thing, sir" added Varlus, remembering something. "The fresh troops called in from Midgar have arrived yesterday, but… If I may be so bold, sir… they look pretty green to me. I'm not sure whether they are ready for this assault."
"That is the main idea, Commander" replied the President. "Consider these men "cannon fodder". They should make a nice distraction in the front while your more experienced men retrieve Materia from the town."
Varlus nearly cursed in rage. What the hell was the President thinking? These were men they were talking about, not mindless robots or artillery. "Nice distraction", were they?
"Commander, did you understand what I just said?" asked the President, colder than ever. Varlus hesitated, cell phone in his right hand. Should he speak his mind?
"Yes, sir. Commander Jenneson out" he said, and closed the cell phone.
He stood still for a moment. Sure, he was a man of action, had seen many atrocities, felt the loss of comrades at his side while he survived, tasted his own blood in fierce battles… but sending his own men to their certain doom just as decoys?
He recalled for a moment his father's words…
"A warrior must be ruthless, strong, and fierce, but above everything, he must have honor. Without honor, a warrior is nothing more than a puppet."
Honor. There was absolutely no honor in sending those fresh men to their deaths.
"I am a mercenary" thought Varlus. "A hired gun. Mercenaries have no right to debate their orders."
"No. I'm not a mercenary. I'm a warrior on a different path."
His mind thought otherwise.
"What do I care about those men, anyway?"
For a moment, Varlus thought he was right: he DIDN'T know those green privates.
"I'm not Shinra's puppet."
No, he wasn't. True, Shinra paid for his expenses, his little cottage off the coast of Junon, and thanks to the company he was able to marry Ifalna and raise his daughter.
"If I disobey the President, my salary's gonna be cut off."
What about Aeris' future scholarship? How could he pay for it if Shinra's income was gone? No way he was going back to dock guarding duty at Junon. He'd rather be damned before working as a slave.
"But am I not a slave to the Shinra now?"
"Sir, we are all set." Lieutenant Markus Noah, SOLDIER, First Class, walked into the tent, returning Varlus from his inner conflict. The commander shook his head.
"Alright. Prepare your men, Lieutenant."
Lieutenant Markus retired from the tent, and Varlus followed. He threw the butt of his last cigarette to the wet grass and gazed at the sky. Strangely enough, it was fully cleared: no sign of the recent storm was left in the deep blue cloak above them. The sun was rising at the east, blood-red, as if predicting the massive slaughter that was about to take place. How did the rain stop so suddenly?
Varlus glared at the sun once more. It was rising directly where he knew his cottage was. Ifalna was probably awake by now: she always liked bathing in dawn's light. Perhaps that was why she was so beautiful… Maybe the sun had its own magical properties, as his wife had.
"Ifalna… I miss you. Hell, I miss you and Aeris an awful lot."
The commander dropped his head. Tiny drops were still hanging from the grass.
"I'm sorry, Ifalna. I'm doing this for Aeris, not for me. I'd rather be there, with you, rather than being stuck in this God-forsaken place. I don't want to do this. But Aeris needs it."
Unwanted, unbearable, but unavoidable, a single, small tear ran through his left cheek. "Forgive me, Ifalna, for shedding innocent blood again."
And Varlus could have sworn that, amidst the whispering wind that ran through the military encampment, he could hear his wife's voice…
"I know, my love. And I forgive you."