Characters: Ifalna, President Shinra
Summary: Ifalna never forgets and she does not forgive.
In the end the wait was not so long. For her the years had passed pleasantly enough, or at least as well as they could under the circumstances. She had not been caught unawares by her own crossing, resigned to it before the last breath came. Still, it was a change, and a loss, and she had left so much behind. Her body had been young, and if ill use had made it frail, there was still hope she could recover. It could have housed her for a century more. There were parts of the Planet she had not yet seen. There was not much in the way of the Planet’s music to collect nowadays, but there would have been some. She would have loved to bring the memory of new melody to the collective song.
And there was her daughter, so young, so alone. At least Aerith had been safe. Safe enough. Safer than she had been almost from birth. And she had lived, oh, she had lived, so brightly and briefly, earning her place among their greatest heroes. When she finished her own explorations, when she had seen her fill of the world from this side of the veil, she would be welcomed as a hero and a queen by all her long gone kin even as they mourned together the inevitable passing of their kind from the world.
Ifalna took to waiting at the gate. The rest thought it was only Mother’s ways. Sometime her mother joined her, eager for sight of the grandchild she had not yet met. But mostly Ifalna waited alone, waving solitary greeting to the brief spirits that floated by. Human spirits. Deaf to the song and not long for this side of the world, but they found themselves drawn to this hub of light all the same. They would wonder at what they had seen and become lost in their own brief memories. They would fade and be sent on.
Ifalna never let it be known that Aerith was not who she waited for. So many years she had held on to bitter, spiteful hopes. In the end it had not been so long. Not even two decades, in human years, a breath in the flow of eternity. She had expected more, to tell the truth. He had money at his disposal. The best doctors. Fresh air. Sunshine. Clean rain. He could have lived decades more, well past decrepitude, building a scaffold around growing frailty, stealing time as well as blood from the earth he walked on.
He came by following the flow of the stream in the way of humankind. He had been strong in life. His spirit still bore some semblance of his living form.
He had gotten fat.
“Shinra,” she called. “It’s been a while.”
He paused in the currents, bobbing like a half-dead fish, fighting against the tide. “Who said that?” Effort showed on his memoried face as he turned. Eyes he no longer really had widened at the sight of her. “Is that…” Thick fingers plucked at the stream, as if he could pull her name out of it.
“Ifalna,” she said, and the ice she had nursed near twenty years frosted over soul. “You don’t even remember my name.”
“No, no, Ifalna, of course. Of course I remember,” the former President said. “It was right there on the tip of my…”
Ifalna watched him fade. He flickered in and out, like one of the dying bulbs she had seen in her last moments, hanging high above, a mockery of stars.
He seemed to gather himself, anchoring his form near the light of the gates. “Cold here, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Her daughter’s resting state, she had heard, was a field of blooming flowers, but hers had always been cold, desolate snow.
Shinra flickered more, struggling for something to say. “How have you been?”
“Dead,” Ifalna said.
“Ah, yes,” Shinra said, and laughed a little. “Unfortunate that, but here you are. Here I am. So I don’t suppose it matters much now.”
“Doesn’t it?” The long years she had waited and prepared and all speech seemed to have gone. What to say in the face of such obstinate ignorance? He could not even begin to understand what he had done. Not yet.
“I saw your daughter,” he said. “She grew up pretty, I’ll have you know.”
Ifalna did know, but she said nothing. The President looked around, searching the currents for more tangible spirit forms. “She was here,” he said, “well, I mean, she died too, but maybe you knew that. Seems she had an accident of some sort.” He flickered again, like a television receiving a poor signal. Ifalna would have kicked him in the side if it would have helped. She would have kicked him in the side anyway if she could.
“I think I had an accident too,” Shinra said. “Something happened… I can’t recall.”
Ifalna could taste the bitter victory on a tongue she no longer truly had, not out here at any rate. “Sephiroth killed you.” His own creation, manipulation, abomination. The blade he had sharpened turned on him in the end. So fitting.
“Did he now?” Shinra looked confused, drifting several feet away as he lost more of himself to the stream. “I suppose he did. What a thing, eh? Who would have thought?”
Ifalna felt a snowy drift across her personal tundra. Shinra had taken too long to find this place. Lost too much of himself. What good was rage against a senile husk of a man?
“I warned you,” she said. She had planned this, practiced this, waited too long to do it any other way. “I did warn you.”
“Did you?” Shinra solidified and opacified before her, focusing hard on something he was sure he should have remembered. “I suppose you did. Shame you didn’t tell me what I really wanted to know. We could have made such a marvel for the world if you had.”
One oak-colored eyebrow raised. “What didn’t I tell you?” Truly, what hadn’t she told them, after they had beat and bled and starved it out of her, on top of the horror of the murder they had done before her very eyes. The burning terror of those years was far away now, but never far enough.
“Why, the location of the Promised Land, of course.” Shinra turned cartwheels midstream. He bobbed like a balloon in a sudden gust. “Took that secret to your grave, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t,” Ifalna said, shaking her head. “I told you,” she said, “I told you many times.”
“Really?” President Shinra floated aright, flickering again as the memory of snow brushed across her frozen plains. “I don’t recall,” he said. “There’s a lot I seem to have forgotten right now, but that was important, and I don’t recall at all.”
“Pity,” Ifalna said, feeling nothing of the kind.
“Well?” Shinra solidified almost as much as a human spirit could this close to the glowing gates, stabilized by purpose.
“Yes?” She would not give in so easily this time. Let him do the work.
“Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” Ifalna saw her beloved die again, shot down once more in memory’s eye. A blizzard stirred on the tundra’s edge.
“Where is the Promised Land?” Shinra asked. “It can’t hurt to tell the truth now.”
“No,” Ifalna said, and any smile she might have had was calculating and wry. “No, it can’t. Because here we are.”
Shinra blinked, “What?”
“We’re here,” Ifalna said. “Just outside it.”
Shinra lost contact with the ground again, bobbing along in the flow. “The Promised Land? Here?” He looked around, taking in the white landscape her mind had created, and the steady glow behind her that had nothing to do with snow. He had only a memory of his face but it still moved like the real thing. Ifalna watched like a winter hawk, savouring the moment that understanding dawned.
“Here,” Shinra repeated. “Here. You meant it, didn’t you? When you said it wasn’t on a map.” He spun like a bouy in a stormy sea, laughing hysterically. “You were telling the truth about this.”
“I was always telling the truth.” Old pain could not reach her here, for all that she remembered it too well.
“Well, well,” Shinra said, rolling in place. “Imagine that.” He shot aright and recovered something of his gravity. “Shall we then?” he asked, offering an arm. Ifalna wanted to slap the audacity off him.
“Shall we what?” she asked.
“Shall we go in together?” Shinra said, as if it were obvious. “All these years….” He laughed to himself. “I’m dying to see what it’s like, of course. So, shall we?”
The intervening years had been slow, and Ifalna made this moment slower still, savoring the crisp bitterness that tanged her icy cold. “No.”
Shinra blinked. “No?” He recovered, smiling in wry amusement. “Come now,” he said, wagging a finger in her direction. “Let bygones be bygones, eh? We have an eternity to work it all out. Where’s the entry way? I want go in.”
“You don’t understand,” Ifalna said, marking every twitch and flicker to his insusbtantiate form. “You can’t.”
“What do you mean I can’t?” Shinra snapped, never one to take denial well. “Who are you to decide what I can and can’t do?”
“I might have asked the same of you,” Ifalna said, “when I was still alive.”
Shinra huffed, sensing for the first time that she was not a welcome committee. “That’s how it’s going to be, is it? Well, step aside, woman. I’m going in.”
She would not and did not step aside, not for something as insignificant and transitory as a dead, despicable human. He gathered himself up enough to set the feet of his form on the memory of snow, but she was immovable and beloved of the Planet and he had to walk around her to the great glowing gates because the Planet would never let him harm her again.
He walked around to the great glowing gates, fuming. He stood and pushed at the great glowing gates and his spirit strained and flickered with the effort and he found himself no closer. “Alright, woman, what have you done?”
“What have I done?” Ifalna said, feigning surprise. “Nothing at all.”
“You must have done something,” Shinra insisted. “Some Cetra thing.”
Ifalna laughed to herself, quietly behind a veil of falling snow. “It is a Cetra thing,” she said. “But I didn’t do it.” She stood beside him looking up at the glowing gates and pushed one hand through as easily as dreaming. “The Planet made it so a very long time ago.”
Shinra’s face fell and Ifalna’s heart soared. “You mean,” he said, “you mean, it’s Cetra only.”
“Of course,” Ifalna said, “I told you this a long time ago. It was all true.” She smiled a smile worthy of Shiva’s icy touch, memorizing every nuance of his soul’s descent into despair.
“You told me this…” he repeated. “You told me.”
Yes, she had told him, and because it was not convenient, because it was not what he had wanted to hear, he had granted permission for her to be ‘persuaded’ to tell the truth, and there had been no other truth to give. The memory of her last years remained beside the image of her love, bleeding in the snow, and all the quiet peace since had had no hope of melting it.
“Cetra only,” Shinra said, fading fast. “Cetra only.”
“Yes,” the Cetra said. “You need to move on.”
He looked as lost and alone as any mortal would, with the world crumbling to dust around them. And his world had been so firm and so strong and so false and rotten at the core. “Move on,” he said, looking around at the green-tinged currents swirling around them, even through the memories of snow. “Move… where?”
“It’s not up to me where you humans go,” Ifalna said. “The Planet will send you on somewhere. Who knows what you will be? A fish? Or a rat. Or maybe a monster once more.” She smiled. “An eternity of starting over, or close enough.”
Terror that she was sure he had never worn in life draped his vanishing soul. Ifalna stepped halfway through the gate, taunting the little remnant of a man with everything he would never have. “Don’t worry,” she said, turning back. “Your journey might not be so long. You might get picked up by a reactor and burn up for good.
Horror gripped his faltering consciousness and flung it into the stream again. The current carried him away, his last agonized wail fading from her fields of snow. Ifalna stood ensconced in the gate, lit by light like an avenging angel as she watched him go.
The blizzard of her mind calmed and stilled. Far away on the edge of the tundra, there was a shape, white and red and wrong, like a body slumped in snow. Ifalna let the glow of the gate envelop her, fading her view of barren white. “Rest now, my dear,” she said, as the memory of that shape flickered and went out.