Chapter Twenty-One: Wolf in the Fold
Green light without sound, an ocean of jade strings and whispers, flowing across his formlessness… he hadn’t a body anymore. That had been left behind when he had been forced from the world time before hand. Approximately two… if he remembered it correctly.
Everyday of his existence, if that was what it could be called, he relived his memories, his life be it good or bad.
He was floating, a mind without physical form, in an endless sea of emerald, constantly swimming, flying through the massive thoughts and collection of dreams. He was dead… he was alive… he was everything and nothing, and yet… he still dared to hope.
There were lights, so many lights… all around him some sparkling, some fading. Their colors shifted like that of prism from one array of color to the next, a never ending cycle of rainbow bright.
He was at peace. He was restless. He couldn’t find it in him to rest; he didn’t feel as if he had reason to move on. He was unable to let go, unable to become one with the swirling mass of consciousness that made up the life force of Gaia.
They whispered to him from time to time, words of encouragement, of love and peace. It was that which he was not ready for. He hadn’t been given enough time to do anything, live, breathe, taste, smell, experience…. where was his chance? Why was the hero always left without in the end? Hadn’t he deserved it?
He saw his mother, she was smiling at him, blue eyes bright and beautiful as always. Even when his birth father ignored her and pushed his wife and son aside, she always had a smile for him, a smile and a cookie. Kami, he loved those cookies. She was the one who had encouraged him, telling him how strong he was, how he could go so far and do so much.
He saw his father, not the one that had sired him, but the real one. The man who had truly loved his mother and he, marrying her even though she already had a child and a failed marriage. The man whose name Zack now carried.
His parents didn’t know that he would die at twenty-three, protecting someone who meant something to him as he had always been taught. His company had betrayed him, given him up to the slaughter, given him up to the pain and the tests. He had lived; he had suffered; he had survived, but it tore away at his companion, tore apart the already fragile, beaten psyche of his friend.
He saw Sephiroth, the seemingly cold man who never seemed to care for anyone. He saw himself, trying to befriend the man, wanting to see what he was like beneath the icy exterior, knowing that somewhere behind those fiery jade eyes was a good heart that hadn’t been beaten or tortured out of him. It was a feeling that Zack knew very well. Perhaps he had seen a kindred spirit in the silver-haired man.
He saw Sephiroth as he last remembered him, first walking through the flames of Nibelheim, and second in the reactor, having gone insane, claiming his mother was inside… that his mother was that creature behind the glass. Zack had become angry after seeing the look of anguish on Cloud’s face, though it was hidden behind the face plate and sought after his friend, trying to find what had caused their leader to go mad.
The raving lunatic that slaughtered everyone; the man that swung his sword with widened eyes and a manic sneer… that was not the Sephiroth he knew. His friend had always wanted to know of his parentage, but Zack had never really believed he would go so crazy. He had thought, even when fighting the silver-haired man, that it was not truly Sephiroth he was trying to destroy.
In his minds eye, as he floated in the abyss of gathered ghosts of those long dead, he saw many other events.
Sweet Aeris on the day he had met her when he was stationed in Midgar. Her emerald eyes always looking at him so lovingly, her kind smile that she gave to everyone and seemed to never falter in her happiness. She was the type of woman he could take home to his mother and be proud to have her on his arm. Then she faded as well… he was starting to forget.
Yet, there were other memories, no matter how hard he tried to push them away that stuck with him. Those of his last moments of life on Gaia haunted his very semi-existence. He was a 1st class SOLDIER! He should have been able to protect himself and protect Cloud, as well. The poor boy had suffered intensely at Hojo’s hands and needed Zack to watch over him.
He remembered distinctly the sound of the rain as it pattered over the ground. He was trying to run from the soldiers chasing after him, the ones that had been ordered to slay the fleeing experiments. He had to drag Cloud along with him as the kid was still half out of his mind with Mako Poisoning. He was lucky himself to be able to sustain his own sanity.
He recalled the smell on the air and the foreboding tension that strained his muscles and attempted to sink the hope in his heart. He heard the crunch of wheels over gravel as the jeeps caught up with them and listened to the sound of booted feet racing across the ground, trying to catch up to his enhanced speed. If he hadn’t had a burden… if he hadn’t been so weak…
The smell of gunpowder struck him first, he never understood that. The feeling of being pierced by a dozen tiny knives as his body jerked around like a puppet with no strings hit next. One, two… maybe even three he could have survived. However, the soldiers fired on him with abandon, pumping him so full of bullets he would never even be able to count them all. He felt his body slump slowly to the ground, as if he were moving in slow motion, Cloud falling out of his grasp and onto the dirt, dangerously close to a crevice. He reached with blurry vision, fading light, gasping breaths before he crumpled to the ground.
It was always then that sound caught up to him. He heard the gunshots, the soldier’s yells, the sound of the rain beating down on their helmets as he lay on his back, body twitching in his death throes. His mind strangely vacant as he watched the grey clouds above idly passing by, dumping more sky tears on the scene below as if crying for the two men who only wanted to be free… who only wanted to return to their loved ones and go home…
And the memories hit him over and over, a never-ending cycle that he was far too familiar with. For so long he had lamented over his life, how it had ended so abruptly, how he had never gotten the chance to tell any of them….
From his position in the Lifestream, he was able to see what was going on above, through the voices around him and occasionally he was given glimpses. He saw Cloud… his spiky-haired friend had survived and Aeris… he wanted to weep when he saw his former best friend kill the girl he had cared for. Until he heard from the others that she was not to be kept within them long. She still had a chance… thanks to the sacrifice of another.
And so he was forced to watch idly by as the heroes defeated Sephiroth and stopped Meteor, phantasmal fingers itching to hold his blade once more and get out there and help.
“Would you return to the mortal plane?” came the whispered feminine voice, soaring on the threads of fate around him, surrounding his body of thoughts with its presence.
“In an instance,” he mumbled in return. “If only given the chance…”
There was a cry, a low murmuring of a thousand voices weeping in pain and sorrow that filled his very soul. He knew the sound, knew it well and every time it imbibed him with guilt and sadness. The planet, that which he was a part of, was crying and he still refused to join….
“Gaia is threatened once more,” intoned the mysterious soothing voice, momentarily pushing away the endless cycle of his once life. “And our warrior is unable to fight. She cannot wield the strength that has been given to her and so another must take her place.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, idly noting the brilliant jade green hue of the Lifestream. It never ceased in its movement, constantly gliding through the inner existence of the planet as the balance between life and death, life above and below was carefully maintained.
“Would you go, Wolf Child? Would you fight again, if given the sword? Will you be our conduit?”
He laughed softly a sound that went no further than his own thoughts as he had no corporeal body to laugh with. “What I wouldn’t give for one more chance at life…”
“Then go,” intoned the voice, ghosting across his memories with a fog and sending him spiraling towards another flow of life, another road of forgotten memories and dreams, experiences and falsehoods. “He will be your guide. Follow your anima, Wolf Child.”
Without another word, or any warning of any type, it felt as if he were suddenly jerked by something tangible and pulled, his consciousness straining towards up… if indeed there was such a thing as up in the boundless collection of spirit energy and thought. A low voice rumbled in his ear, words he didn’t understand, but he listened intently anyways. His memories pounded against his soul even as the hands of those that wanted his presence clawed at him begging him to stay.
Then suddenly he started to /fee/ as if he truly had a body again. Tingling sensations all over and an odd sensation of everything coalescing, the green Lifestream forming around his body creating muscles and tissue and blood, form a face and hair and bringing him back to a semblance of his normal self.
And then he started to hurt… as if someone was pinching him over and over at the same time that they pierced his body with dozens of needles and knives. Feeling returned to his limbs, his skin… and it felt like he was on fire all over. He opened his mouth to scream, but it filled with gulps of the emerald liquid; he choked but couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t breathe… couldn’t feel anything but pain… oh, Kami the pain.
And suddenly he felt light on his face, washing over him with warmth and soothing motions trying to quell the rising tremors of ache that was in him. He felt a tug on his arm seconds before he burst above the water, feeling for the first time in years the breath of air and wind over his face. His eyes snapped open, burning as the mako touched his pupils, and he coughed violently trying to expel the acidic liquid from his lungs.
His hands grasped for something to hold on to as he floundered in the mako pool trying desperately to seek land before he found himself back a part of the Lifestream he had tried so hard to leave. He couldn’t stop coughing as more and more of the vile liquid came out of him, and his vision danced with stars from lack of air and dizziness.
His probing fingers felt the smallest traces of dirt, it clumped under his fingernails, and he dug in, determined to pull his heaving and throbbing body ashore. His body was weak… so weak… it was as if he had been running forever and getting nowhere. He hardly had to the strength to haul himself up out of the mako pool and onto dry land, his feet still somewhat dangling in the emerald abyss.
Zack collapsed against the dry and dusty dirt, mind reeling and managed to move another few inches to drag his feet out before he started to retch, over and over. First coughing to clear his lungs, now retching to clear his stomach. He doubled over with pain and it seemed like it would never end as gouts of the fiery liquid expelled itself from his body and he continued to lie naked and shivering on the shore of the mako pool.
Finally, it seemed that the bouts of sickness were through, and he was able to move a few feet from where he had vomited so disgustingly before he collapsed back against the ground. His body continued to shake, but whether from the cold or the mako, he just couldn’t be sure. Pain was still flickering on the edges of his unconscious but he didn’t care. Only one thought centered on his mind.
Only one realization was important as he slipped unconscious, mind spinning before collapsing.
He had returned to Gaia.
He dreamed he was a wolf. Graceful creature of stealth and strength, flitting through the forest on silent feet, determined hunter….
He could feel the forest beneath him, around him and taste the scent of his prey on his lupine tongue. He was the purest silver, the stormy grey; his eyes still that crystalline clear azure. He was strong; he was fast, and he was lord of his domain, Lord of the Forest. The images were hazy and blended, a unique mix of dark pastel colors like paintings he had never really enjoyed properly before.
And then, another wolf was running beside him, easily keeping up with his fast pace. It was beautiful with smoky black fur tinted with the silver of age but nonetheless inspiring. The other wolf moved fluidly, far more so than Zack in his lupine form was able.
He glanced over and was trapped within brown eyes, so pure like soil after the rain or a newly turned field. Their depths seemed boundless, and it felt like he was staring into time as the aged wolf saw it… just a blink and a moment.
And then the words came although they continued to run.
“I am called Fenrir by the humans, though I’ve a name much older,” spoke the wolf though his mouth did not move. “If you listen closely enough you can hear the forest whisper my name.”
Zack was in awe of the creature, whose very aura seemed to over take him. “Why have you spoken to me?”
“Because you and I are connected, young one. You and I were fated to fight together for the sake of Gaia.”
He flew past more trees, everything a green and brown blur of life and time. The fresh scent of pine and that of his prey, a prey he didn’t know, filled his senses. He blinked, finding it hard to concentrate on the words of the wolf that bounded beside him.
“The Lifestream… the voices… they called me Wolf Child…”
Fenrir blinked in response, putting on a burst of speed as he pulled ahead of the grey wolf. “Hai, and if you listen, if you put aside your thoughts and just feel… you will know who I truly am.”
“True self?” murmured Zack more to himself than anyone else.
“Learn my name,” intoned the darker wolf. “And gain the power…” With that spoken, Fenrir sped ahead of Zack, moving so fast that he only saw a blur of motion speeding through the trees, and it wasn’t long before he was alone yet again, running on his own with a seemingly endless reserve of strength.
The wind whispered through the trees around him as his clawed feet softly treaded upon the light earth. Somewhere, a brook babbled on continuously, the soft sounds of water splashing against a low bank easily carried to his ears. He could make out birds singing in the trees and even the oh-so quiet scratch of insects in the ground.
Every part of him began to stand out, from the way his muscles pulled to force himself to run… to the beating of his heart in his chest and the slight panting of his breath from his lungs. It was then that he began to hear it, just so faintly that it barely poked at his conscious.
The demi-god of the land and forest… one so ancient that even the forest had nearly forgotten his name but now chanted it for the sake of his animus.
“Heimdal…” whispered Zack, the name rolling from his mouth almost worshipful.
Everything began to fade with revelation as his running lupine form approached a shining white and gold light, flashing him with its brilliance. The forest of green trees and life disappeared until he was running on nothingness, heading towards the endless abyss of white light… falling…
He awoke to find strange suntanned faces staring down at him, one even poking and prodding him with a stick. He closed his eyes against the sudden intrusion of very bright sunlight on his sensitive eyes as he mentally took a recap of his body. His mouth was parched, his tongue feeling like sandpaper, and his lips were chapped, possibly bleeding. His entire body ached from head to toe as if he had been put through a rock grinder, and he felt somewhat sticky as if the mako still clung to his body. The sun felt hot against his skin and realized, somewhat belatedly, that he was also completely nude, lying on the ground in front of the strange people.
Something poked him again, and his eyes opened to glare angrily at the poker. It was a child, no older than eight, regarding him with cool yet strange striped eyes, both green and blue in alternating bands striking out from the iris. The child – female he guessed – grinned at him cheekily, revealing a row of even child teeth before stepping backwards, a hand landing on its shoulder.
Zack groaned and struggled to sit up, trying to hide his most sensitive areas as he did so. He felt a shadow fall on his back moments before a rather soft blanket fell over his shoulders and around his body acting as a quite effective covering. He accepted it gratefully, wrapping the azure cloth around his body as well he could before attempting to stand to his feet, noticing how strangely weak his body felt as his knees wobbled and buckled.
He probably would have fallen to the ground had not another of the strangers offered out an arm and gave him something to halfway lean on.
Now sufficiently covered and feeling slightly more coherent, Zack allowed his eyes to wander about him. There were probably about six of them gathered around, all the same dusky complexion and the same banded eyes though the colors did vary. They were dressed rather lightly, and primitively for that matter, in loose tunics and trousers cut above the knees, even the few women that he saw. They also regarded him strangely.
Zack was about to speak when the man in front of him frowned and opened his mouth. “We thought you were dead.” His voice was crisp and surprisingly proper. Judging from their looks, he half expected them to be unable to speak his language.
“So did I,” Zack joked, quickly falling into his usual personality. It made things easier that way. “Where am I?”
The man, who seemed to be older than all those around, waved a hand at the area. “An island south of the Midgarian mainland but north of Mideel. How did you survive the Lifestream?”
The dark-haired man pondered how he was going to answer that question when another wave of dizziness struck him, and he faltered in his stance, leaning more heavily on the person who had offered him support. Apparently, he was not as strong as he had initially thought and coming from the Lifestream had weakened him immensely. Not to mention he desperately wanted something to drink and was really craving food, like the kind he could no longer eat after he had died.
“Forgive me, I didn’t realize how much you needed rest,” commented the older man with a slight frown and furrowed brow. “You can come back to our village. We will be glad to help you.”
Zack nodded, trying hard to swallow though he felt like his throat wanted to close up. “Thank you …. for helping… a stranger…”
However, the older man with eyes banded of gold and green merely nodded in understanding and turned, heading into the forest surrounding the strange mako pool from which Zack had emerged. The dark-haired man followed after, his weak body being supported by another strange local, albeit a younger, more muscular one.
Over the next couple days, Zack was tended to by the strange locals as he was nursed back to health, his body and strength needing time to recover from the strange ascension from the Lifestream.
He eventually learned that the man who had led the group that originally found him was named Rikan, and he was actually the patriarch of the small group of natives that were living on the island. They called themselves the Jissus 1 and explained that they had been living a quiet life on the island as a small group for longer than they were capable of remembering. Zack had never heard of them before.
Every member of the Jissus had the same brown skin and banded eyes though the colors varied from one person to the next. They lived simply, taking from the land and giving back in return, never was anything wasted or thrown away unless all use had been stripped from it. They gave thanks to animals they hunted for food and treated the land with grace and dignity. He was awed at their choice of living, having never seen anyone behave in that matter before.
They had found clothes for him, items more suitable for his way of life than theirs. He wasn’t sure how they had found the loose black pants, heavy black boots and loose blue shirt for him to wear, but he didn’t feel it was his right to pry.
They were all surprisingly friendly, willing to share whatever it was they had, whether it be a piece of maza bread or a spot by the fire. He was perfectly willing to help out, as well, once he had regained his strength. Chopping wood helped him restore some of his arm movement and helping the hunters using only a spear aided him in remembering some of his old moves.
After what seemed to be two days, however, Zack became restless. He hadn’t forgotten the words of the voices in the Lifestream, or his purpose for returning to life. Not to mention he still felt a presence at the back of his mind, nudging him towards something. However, he wasn’t quite sure what that was.
It wasn’t until the dawn of the third day that Zack heard the voice. He had gotten up early and wandered into the forest to think, plopping himself down on a log and sighing with a bored expression. He had wondered why the Planet had chosen him as their conduit, why he had been given the chance, not that he wasn’t grateful. But still, there were many things he didn’t understand about that particular conversation.
(You humans never cease to surprise me. Always thinking, always desiring to be in motion, like you realize just how short your lives truly are and struggle to make it mean something,) came a voice suddenly in his head. It wasn’t mocking or condescending, just simply stating a thought with almost a hint of wonder.
Zack frowned. “I recognize your voice from my dream. I only hope I’m not losing my fool mind.”
There was a dry chuckle that was a bit infectious, causing the dark-haired man’s mouth to turn up at the corners. (I assure you that your mind is intact. Until you call my true name, I won’t be able to manifest myself in you because unfortunately you are not in mortal peril.)
“If I remember correctly, you called yourself Fenrir, but the forest whispered Heimdal…”
“That is absolutely right,” came a voice from directly behind him. Zack leapt to his feet and turned around, somewhat surprised to find a man standing there with a half bemused expression on his face.
This man had deep brown eyes, like the bark of the trees in the forest around him and deep black hair streaked with silver at the temples and roots, giving him the effect of being aged, though his rather youthful face was a bit contradictory. He wore clothes similar to that worn by the Jissus although his pants were longer and ended at bare feet. The man had his arms crossed in front of his chest and was regarding Zack with the same expression that the crystalline-eyed man was sure was on his own face.
“So which should I call you then?” questioned the dark-haired man, quirking an eyebrow as he assumed this was Fenrir/Heimdal “manifested”. After all, he didn’t get into SOLDIER on skill alone. He had a brain up there, as well.
The brown-eyed man waved a hand of indifference. “Whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve lived longer than you can think. I’m not about to cause a fuss over my name.”
Zack grinned. “Okay then, Fenrir, why are you suddenly appearing in my head, speaking to me, and materializing out of thin air?”
Fenrir cocked an eyebrow. “Convinced you’re still losing your mind?” questioned the tanned man as he moved past Zack to sit on the log, finding a comfortable position.
“Call me insanely curious? At least, if I’m hallucinating then I can provide the doctor with a semi-scientific response,” remarked the swordsman with a grin as he folded his arms over his chest.
Fenrir laughed at that, full-bodied and carefree. “I am your anima and a demi-god of the earth and forest, much like those things you consider summons. In fact, I am a summon. However, that doesn’t matter because you aren’t the one that has the materia that holds part of my power. It used to belong to this one human, who gave it to this big dark-skinned man, who in turn gave it to this amber-eyed, intelligent man, who in turn handed it over to a blond woman. Apparently, I am very popular.”
Zack laughed, raising an eyebrow. “Anima? I think I remember the Lifestream using that term.”
Fenrir shook his head. “That, my animus, is a long story, one which I don’t care to relate. Suffice it to say, we are matched for strength to fight together in the upcoming war in Gaia. It has already begun, and the warriors are being summoned.”
The spiky dark-haired man sighed and pursed his lips, looking upwards at the sky. “Will it ever end? Doesn’t this Planet deserve peace?”
“Should its inhabitants learn to get along? Perhaps… but most likely never… Man cannot survive in a time of peace, he becomes restless. He would create conflict if only not to feel settled and subdued.”
“Wow.” Zack shook his head, momentarily pausing. “You’re really deep there. Been studying humans long?”
Fenrir shrugged. “Are you ready to get off this island?”
“Got an idea of how I’m going to do that? Cause I certainly am not going to swim to the mainland,” said Zack.
The demi-god laughed. “You think I have only this form? Besides, I have magic, too, you know. A simple transport spell, and I can take you anywhere in a matter of seconds.”
The dark-haired man appeared to think on that for a second. “Where should I go?”
“Might I suggest acquiring a weapon and some armor before you go charging into battle?”
Zack nodded. “Might as well go to Midgar then. I don’t know what has changed in the years since I’ve been gone, but I know I can find information there.”
“Alright then. Want to say goodbye to your caretakers?”
“They know I’m grateful. Besides, I have the feeling that they already know part of what is going on, at least perhaps, more than I know myself.”
Fenrir chuckled. “Very well, Midgar it is then.” He brought up a hand and furrowed his brow in concentration, moving forward and placing it on the Zack’s shoulder. “Migro!”
And just like that, the two men vanished in a ball of light, and the forest stood empty, almost as if they had never been there at all.