All Cetra daemons are birds. Her mother's was a fierce thunderbird. Her father's -- she is told, she doesn't remember -- a storm-petrel, always flying high, never landing. One of her grandparents had a phoenix.
Ifalna's Jalen is a sparrow, flitting here and there on her head, her shoulders. Anything but impressive, a drab little thing that cannot fight, that relies on looking like too much effort for too little of a meal. He suits her well.
Ifalna plays meek. She's sorry she ran away, she was so taken with Doctor Gast, the silly girl that she is, but she knows her place now. Oh, whatever do you mean with your sharp questions? They're much too smart for me to satisfactorily answer to. Ifalna plays meek, and isn't half as cowed as she acts, but the other half of her is, indeed, terrified. She took a risk once. She failed. What is she going to lose next? She has so little left.
Aeris' Simon is a bird often, when Ifalna is here, a little ball of fuzz too indistinct to tell which species it belongs to. He cannot fly. He seems fine with it. Maybe, Ifalna thinks, maybe he'll settle chocobo, faithful and brave and strong, and, so long as it can run, fine with being barred from the sky.
When a chocobo cannot run it usually lets itself die.
The corridors around here are short and twisty-turny and not a one of the doors going outside opens for her. She doubts they'll ever open for her daughter, either.
"Aeris?" she says, and she smiles. Her daughter toddles to her, tripping every other step and not letting any of them slow down her mad rush. She dives in Ifalna's arms with a laugh, like she never doubted her mother would catch her before she hits the ground.
"Aeris, honey, do you want to play a game?"
Of course she does. Simon becomes a puppy -- a Labrador, all fat and golden-furred -- and dances around their feet.
"It's Hide and Seek," Ifalna says as she fixes her daughter's ponytail, which didn't really need it. And she smiles, still. "The nice guards are It."
Aeris's eyes go wide; Simon goes owl for a second, still like a forest ghost, and then flits lion cub. "All of them?" she asks.
"Uh huh." Jalen nods his little head and lands on Simon's head, starts grooming a tuft of fur on his head. "They told us it would be too hard for you," Ifalna whispers conspiratorially, "but I know we can win."
Aeris beams, round cheeks dimpling, eyes bright with excitation. Simon quivers from nose to tail. Ifalna feels a pang of love so sharp she cannot breathe.
"First things first, you'll need to show Mama your secret cave, honey."
Aeris looks guilty for a second, and then a little awed. She looks down at Simon and whispers, "See, see, Mama knows everything."
Ifalna doesn't know where the secret cave is, but that's because she deliberately never looked for the air vent in their quarters, so she would be able to be just as baffled as everyone else whenever her daughter was nowhere to be found for her tests.
"Now, Simon, honey, I need you to do something difficult. I need you to become something small enough to fit in Aeris' pocket." There's one on the front of her dress, large enough to fit two tiny hands and not much more. Ifalna will pick up Simon with her own hands if they have to run, but she would rather not; it'd be too distracting.
Aeris reaches down and Simon becomes a fuzzy caterpillar, all roly-poly, and she giggles as she puts him in her pocket. Ifalna briefly wonders if perhaps her daughter will be a butterfly. Not a bird, but bright and flying enough.
Ifalna smiles a playful smile at her daughter and follows her on hands and knees behind the couch and under the little catch-all table in the corner. Jalen doesn't.
What Hojo doesn't know is that a Cetra and her daemon are not bound. Or rather, their bond runs through the Promised Land, and the only distance that counts over there is distance between hearts.
Jalen is a drab little thing, smaller even than a lab mouse, and who would notice him slipping through an air vent, following a guard -- alone -- past sealed hatch-doors, heavy and solid and airtight enough to terrify just about anyone with the thought that it might snap closed in between a person and his daemon?
Aeris cannot climb vertical air vents, but Ifalna is determined that she will find a way for them both, and a keycard doesn't weigh too much for a determined sparrow.
She would, for her daughter, but she's not even going against her nature. Sparrows are drab, tiny, fearless thieves anyway.