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By JustineE

Moonlight poured from the tops of the trees onto the forest floor. Icy raindrops fell from the cracks in the leaves, and as the moonlight shone through them they glistened like polished silver. Aeris lay on the damp, rocky earth listening to the stillness of the night. She suddenly sat up and peered through the dense darkness that blanketed the ground. She sniffed the air. The rain made it hard to hear approaching enemies. Aeris had been lost in the woods for days now, and without her staff, the Princess Guard, she had no way to protect herself. As she arose, particles of dirt clung to her pink dress. Though she wasn’t afraid of many things, she felt just a little scared of the quiet noises that sounded deep in the woods, even though she knew they were only from the rain. Normally, Aeris’ golden locks would neatly frame her slim face, but now her hair was matted and tangled. Here and there bits of dirt and underbrush stuck to the strands. She hadn't showered in days. She didn’t know how she arrived in the woods, but from the look of them she knew that she was stranded in the Sleeping Forest, but without the Lunar Harp to wake the forest she would never be able to escape. She needed to find AVALANCHE. Cloud, Tifa, and the rest of the members were probably searching for her, but without food or any way of defending herself she was bound to die in the Sleeping Forest before she could find her way out. The Sleeping Forest was beautiful, but very mysterious, and was filled with dangerous creatures. Suddenly, she heard a rustling sound in a bush located nearby the hollow tree she was leaning against.
“Hello?” Aeris called out. She quietly backed away from the bush, terrified of the monsters that could be crawling in the bushes. Even the smallest creatures were of threat to her.
The bushes shook again. Aeris held her breath when she heard it, but was very surprised to see a small rabbit with violet fur jump out, holding a silver leaf in its mouth. She sighed with relief as the rabbit bounded away into the night.
“I should get some sleep,” Aeris remarked to herself. She climbed into the hollow of the tree and curled up on the ground. After what seemed like hours of waiting, she finally fell asleep.

Aeris awoke to the sound of twigs snapping. She held her breath, afraid of the enemies that might be looking for her. She slowly peered over the rim of the hole in the tree to see none other than Cloud’s blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He saw her, and then stood shocked for a moment while Aeris beamed.
“Aeris!” Cloud exclaimed. Aeris pulled herself out of the tree and ran to embrace him. He was still frozen to the bluish dew-covered ground. Tifa emerged from the silvery bushes, and when she saw Aeris, her facial expression looked much like Cloud’s.
“What the…how are you…wait a minute,” Tifa stammered, “weren’t you…killed?”
“What are you talking about?” Aeris asked. “Of course I wasn’t killed! I’m standing right here!”
“No, really…” Cloud said, “you were killed by Sephiroth. We saw you.”
“Sephiroth?” Aeris asked, confused.
Tifa shook her long brown ponytail and stared at Aeris. “Yes, Sephiroth,” she answered flatly.
“We saw him…stab you in the back,” Cloud added, “in the Forgotten City."
“Stab me…No,” Aeris laughed feebly, “I’m right here! How could I have been killed?”
Cloud and Tifa exchanged glances. “Well,” Cloud said, “I believe that it could have been an illusion created by Sephiroth, but why would he do that?”
“Does it matter?” Aeris asked. “Let’s just get out of here. You have the Lunar Harp, right?”
“Of course,” Tifa told Aeris.
“Good,” Aeris said. “Come on, let’s get back to the Highwind.”

Everyone in AVALANCHE was thoroughly shocked to see Aeris. They laughed and exclaimed and carried on about how glad they were that she was okay. When everyone had gotten over the shock, Aeris and Cloud wanted to find out how Sephiroth made the illusion of Aeris dying so real. Aeris was quiet most of the way to the Forgotten City. She sat on the deck in silence and didn’t look at anybody. Most of the crew noticed that something was wrong. But when they arrived at the Forgotten Capital, Aeris jumped up and hurried to get off board. Cloud and Tifa were the only ones who had seen “Aeris” die. They were the ones who were chosen to go to the Forgotten City with Aeris. They walked through the deserted capital until they came to a small pond. The glassy surface of the water shone, and it was so clear that you could see almost to the bottom. This was the resting-place of the Aeris that had died. Tifa and Aeris looked at Cloud, waiting for him to volunteer.
Cloud sighed. “I guess I’ll go to the bottom and see if she’s still there,” he told them.
He dove into the cool water and swam to the very bottom, where it was almost too dark to see anything. Quickly he swam around, looking for the body of Aeris. Suddenly his hand brushed something. He swerved to see what it was. There, lying on the bottom of the pond, was a motionless figure of a girl. Her pink dress moved slightly from the current, and her golden hair flowed around it. Her eyes were shut, and the lips were perfect. She looked alive, so real, Cloud thought, and he reached out to touch the beautiful face. Yes, it was Aeris. Unfortunately, his lungs began to burn for oxygen, and he swam to the top of the pond. His head broke the stillness of the surface, and as he gasped for breath, he noticed Tifa staring at the ground next to her in awe.
“What are you looking at? Where’s Aeris?” Cloud asked.
“Aeris…” Tifa whispered, still staring at the ground.
“Where’s Aeris?” Cloud reiterated. He swam to the bank and climbed out of the pond, dripping with water.
“She was…here…” Tifa stammered.
“Where did she go?” Cloud asked sternly.
“She…disappeared.” Tifa said slowly.
“What do you mean?”
“She disappeared,” Tifa repeated. “She’s…gone.”