New Year's - A Beginning and an End
“You have a mission tomorrow,” Hana reminded Sephiroth. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I’m not letting you stay on the roof unsupervised,” he said, putting a key ring and his ShinRa ID badge in his pocket and then taking a seat on his couch to wait. “We’ll go when you’re finished here.”
“It’s still not even midnight,” Hana said, her voice slightly muffled as she spoke through a washrag tied over her nose and mouth. She renewed her dusting with vigor. “You could still get at least a few hours’ sleep.”
He could, but Sephiroth found it fascinating to watch her. She had been cleaning so hard since the early afternoon that she had worked up quite a sweat. Everything had been neatly sorted and organized, not so much as fork or vase out of place. And then she had scrubbed and scoured – everything. The walls, the floors, the laundry, the dishes, the rugs and mirrors and shelves and furniture. The house smelled strongly of bleach and other cleaning chemicals, but as there were no windows, Sephiroth had opened the front door and turned on every fan he had to disperse the fumes. Though his nose was highly offended, he made the best of it. His home was practically glittering.
Osoji, she had called it. It was some kind of cleaning rampage to welcome in the New Year. He had tried to help, but Hana would only let him clean his own bedroom, which she never entered. He had finished a long time ago. He thought he had been very thorough, but watching Hana he began to doubt that it would have stood up to her standards.
“You can,” she huffed as attacked the dust with her duster the way he would attack crazed malboros, “boil the water…for the…soba.”
Sephiroth went to the kitchen and filled a large saucepan with water from the tap, careful not to let the water get out of the pot and into the sink that Hana had just polished. He set it on the stove and turned up the heat. “Will you be done by midnight? You only have forty-five minutes left.”
Hana let out a Wutaian word that sounded like a curse and dusted faster.
Sephiroth knew that New Years was an extremely important holiday in Wutai, but Hana had said nothing about it until just after Zack had left, when a delivery man had brought a package from Ma. Inside had been a large package of brown, slender noodles, a small glass container of sauce, and a red envelope filled with money and wishes for a happy new year. She had immediately lost despair that she couldn’t have an authentic New Year’s and took to cleaning like a madwoman.
The water had reached a rolling boil only a few minutes later, and Hana slumped to the floor with an exhausted sigh. “It will have to do,” she said.
“You should shower and dress,” Sephiroth said. “I’ll boil the noodles.”
Hana narrowed her eyes at him, debating whether or not to trust him with the preparation of her precious, imported Soba noodles. But then she looked down at the t-shirt and sweatpants she had worn to clean. “I guess the last thing to clean is myself.”
While she showered, Sephiroth put the noodles in and then got his hairdryer from his bathroom and hung it by the cord over her doorknob. It was an unspoken rule that neither entered the other’s room.
Just as the noodles were looking about done by his judgment, the water stopped, and soon after, Hana reached out to grab the hairdryer before disappearing inside her room again. “Do I drain these?” Sephiroth asked to the closed door.
“No,” she said. “Just leave it. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Sephiroth turned off the heat on the stove and again went to his room. He returned with the box of Wutaian dishes he had secretly bought on their shopping trip. He pulled out two bowls and one pair of chopsticks, leaving the rest of the dishes in the box but keeping the set on the kitchen counter where she would see it. He set their two places, hers with the chopsticks and his with a regular fork, and then sat himself down at the table.
Hana had dressed herself in a yukata with a wider obi than usual, and her dark hair was elegantly arranged atop her head and decorated with jeweled pins. The dishes immediately caught her attention immediately, and she stared wide-eyed at them.
“Five minutes to midnight,” Sephiroth said, holding out his bowl to her. “Let’s eat.”
He tried to guess what she would say. Would she complain about the price? Would she pretend she hadn’t seen them?
She did neither. She smiled brightly, if a little bashfully, and simply said a soft, “Thank you, Sephiroth.”
She took his bowl and hers and piled the noodles in, then used the warm water they had been boiled in and the sauce Ma had provided to make a broth. She served him first, and then herself. “Itadakimasu.”
“Itadakimasu,” Sephiroth repeated, his words a poor imitation of hers.
Sephiroth began to eat silently, but was distracted by a very loud, very unexpected sound. He looked up at Hana’ with a cascade of noodles still hanging out of her mouth. The sound stopped abruptly and Sephiroth raised his eyebrows. Awkwardly, Hana slurped the remaining noodles into her mouth, quieter this time. “Sorry,” she said. “I always forget that it’s really rude on the Continent.”
“You slurp your noodles?”
“Yes. It’s tradition.” And she continued to do so, but she kept the volume and speed down in consideration of Sephiroth. He couldn’t help a smile. She had proved herself capable of quite the racket!
When nothing was left but the broth, Hana said, “Happy New Year.”
“And to you,” he returned. The time was now 12:10. The year had begun in silence, without ceremony. It felt hollow and anticlimactic.
“There are lots of fireworks going off in Wutai now,” Hana said. “It’s an amazing celebration.”
“Did you like the soba?”
“It was very good. It has a unique flavor and texture.”
“If you’d like, you could probably try lots of other New Year’s treats over in Wutai! There’s so many—“ She stopped abruptly, looking a little forlorn. “New Year’s is when I miss Wutai the most,” she said. She clapped her hands in front of her heart, regaining her composure. “Right. But now all that’s left is to watch the sunrise – the first sunrise of the year. But that’s hours away, and Zack will be here before that. I think we should both get some rest until then.”
“One more thing, then,” Sephiroth said, a small black box in his hand. “You will need this before I leave.”
The night sky was ablaze. Even the stars lost their brilliance when faced against such radiant eruptions of light. Majestic reds and blues and greens flew and danced their dance, short lived, but no less glorious for it, and there was always another hue ready to take the place of its fallen comrade. Tonight, nature faded away to let man’s flowers of fire burn furiously in the untouchable heavens if only for but a moment, a celebration of the passing of time which, no matter with what wrath man raved, would eventually claim the lives of them all.
Ryouan watched the fireworks explode from the balcony of the temple, somber in his thoughts as every burst was born in radiance only to die after one exquisite breath. How short their lives, how ephemeral. He supposed that his own life, though long in human years, was no different, a wave of the Lifestream to soon dissolve back into the fabric of eternity, a blink in the life of the planet and the cosmos.
The temple was washed with the colored light. One moment he was enveloped in the blue of seas only to be then drowning in crimson. He let his body flow with the light, a tiny vessel floating along the stream of light but unruffled by the violent transitions from one hue to another. Each had its own time, its own beauty, and its own silent demise.
He was aware of the shadow behind him, an impurity the light could not purge. The black figure stretched as a vacancy in the heart of the illumination, an unfillable vacuum of cold and evil against the full and rich dance of colors.
“Have you come to celebrate the New Year as well, Mr. Reuben?” Ryouan asked.
The shadow approached. He heard the footsteps against the wood and the tap of a cane. Though the dark stranger was at his very back, Ryouan’s gaze stayed fixed on the glorious horizon.
“I never cared for the fireworks.” The voice seethed as it slithered and slipped, corroding the spirit of peace in the temple like an acid. “Loud and obnoxious things, and far too bright for my liking.”
“I suppose a heart as black as yours could never find enjoyment in the light.”
Ryouan felt the evil grin in his heart instead of seeing it with his eyes. The man’s aura was seeping across the wooden floor like a dark, foreboding miasma. The spirits cried at its touch, but Ryouan held his peace as a post in a maelstrom. “Indeed, old man. You just might be right.”
In the distance, the fireworks still crackled and boomed. Ryouan smiled softly at a fiery apparition in the shape of a phoenix, and at its side a fearsome dragon, poised to strike. “The end is soon,” Ryouan said. “It is said that the phoenix and the dragon cannot dwell together. One or the other must fade.”
“Well said,” the dark stranger unfurled a cloak as black as night, the thick fabric parting to reveal the glint of a silver rapier at his waist. The cane clapped as it hit the ground again, the temple shuddering in anticipation.
“You have defiled this sanctuary with
your weapons and your malice,” Ryouan said without anger.
“I should think that your most recent visitor did that for me. Did you forget?”
Ryouan closed his eyes, hands lightly clasped in prayer position as he sank into the warm waters of meditation. “He did not carry his weapon when he came here, and he did not hold violence in his heart.
“You aren’t so removed from the world that you didn’t recognize who it was, did you?”
“I know full well who he was,” Ryouan answered. “And I knew you would come after I gave your daughter to him.”
Reuben laughed long and hard, a harsh and grating sound that defiled the last of the peace and holiness of the temple. “Did you think I would be angry? Quite the opposite, I’m afraid. Now my ties run to ShinRa as deep as they do to Wutai. You have given me the world on a platter, old priest.”
“You cannot win on either front.”
“Time will tell, but let me tell you this: my precious little girl has fled from me now, but she has always come running back to me in the bitter, bitter end. I have my ways to make her return, and ways to make her obey. I think it quite charming, how she thinks she can hide behind that husband of hers. Adorable! My naive little snowflake…heavens, how she will need to be taught!”
“You cannot clip the wings of a phoenix any more than you can tame the flames that grant it rebirth. You could not tame Aika and you cannot bridle her daughter.”
“Shame you won’t be around to see me do it,” his voice was full of mock sympathy, but had hardened to iced onyx when he spoke again. “I tire of your games, old man. You know why I’m here.”
“I do,” Ryouan said. “And I do not fear it.”
“Shame…I had so wished to hear you beg. But time grows short and I have much more important matters to see to.”
Ryouan looked out into the darkness. The
balcony overlooked a deep ravine, the bottom of which could not be seen. Not
for the first time, and completely without fear, he wondered what lay down
there forgotten in the depths of the earth.
“It is fitting that it is New Year’s Day,” he said. “My end is truly a beginning.”
“Indeed. The beginning my bright new era.”
“You cannot win. It was prophesied eons before us both. The Kazehawa bloodline was given the emblem of the phoenix. They will fly, as is their destiny.”
His evil laugh ricocheted off the mountains, echoing as if Ryouan’s attacker was not one but legion. “Then fly for me, Ryouan Kazehawa! Show me the strength of your legendary blood!”
Ryouan was seized by his robes and thrown from the balcony.
As he flew, time stopped. Midair, weightless and free, he turned his eyes to the stars one last time. He could now see them even through the light of the fireworks, distant but immortal, with lives that neither man nor the planet itself could rival. Far beneath them, two final fireworks burst into being, and time, though drastically slowed, resumed.
Would the phoenix or the dragon fade first? His eyes stayed heavenward to tell, clinging desperately to the sight, though the wind rushed past him as he was drawn earthwards.
Through the smoke of the past fireworks, he could see the vibrant colors of the phoenix dissolve while the mighty dragon still flew strong and proud in the night.
“Oh, Hana…” he cried in sorrow with his final breath.