The Dark Fleet Chapter 3
By Dawn Wilkins
Syket Morreso roughly shoved Aeris down a corridor. They had docked with the flagship, Shinra's Glory and Morreso was bringing Aeris to Admiral Vervain's office. They soon reached a large door with the words 'Adm. Vervain' printed on it. Morreso opened the door and shoved Aeris inside.
"Miss Gainsborough, so nice to see you," Vervain said with false sincerity. "I trust you weren't harmed on your journey over here."
Aeris remained silent.
"The silent treatment, eh?" Vervain said. "That's understandable. Now, I suppose you're wondering what I'm going to do with you. Let me assure you, you won't be harmed at all if your friends at Avalanche do what I tell them to do."
"What are you going to do?" Aeris asked.
"Ah, she speaks." Vervain smiled. "I would think it'd be obvious. I'm going to give Avalanche one week to surrender to me. If they don't, you'll die. Sorry it had to work out this way."
"You're going to have to kill me," Aeris said. "Avalanche won't give in to Shinra. And I don't blame them."
"Hmm " Vervain stood up from his desk. "Cloud has a history of sympathizing with prisoners, such as yourself. I think we both know he'll give in."
"He'll try to rescue me before that happens," Aeris said with a smirk.
"Ha, you don't think I've thought of that?" Vervain laughed out loud. "I've planned out every possible way Cloud will react. If he plans a counterattack on us, I'll call in all twelve ships and have them massacre whatever force he brings."
"I wouldn't count on that," Aeris replied. "We've taken down Shinra, Sephiroth, Wedge, Waylon, everything that was put against us. What makes you think you can stop us?"
"My dear, numbers will eventually catch up with your friends," Vervain said. "To get to you, they'll have to go through the two-hundred soldiers I have assigned to this boat. I can assure you, we're safe from your friends here."
The door to Vervain's office burst open and Lance Convarion entered. "It's time for your next broadcast, sir."
"Very well," Vervain said. "Bring our guest along. Make sure she enjoys herself."
Convarion led Aeris out of Vervain's office, with the Admiral himself behind them. Soon, they entered a large room with a television camera at one end and a desk with the Shinra logo on it at the other end. Vervain sat down at the desk.
"Three, two, one and we're on the air!" Convarion said.
"Attention Avalanche! As you apparently know, I have one of your own, Aeris Gainsborough, in my custody. And I have a preposition for you all. You have one week to surrender to me. If you refuse, Aeris here will be executed."
Convarion grabbed Aeris and pushed on in front of the camera. "Just to show you we're playing hardball here," Convarion said.
Suddenly, Aeris got an idea. She wrestled free from Convarion's grip and shouted into the camera.
"Artanis!" she said. "Cloud, you've gotta find Artanis. There's a weapon there that the Ancients used before "
Convarion smacked Aeris out of view of the camera.
"You have one week," Vervain said. The camera shut off.
* * *
"Artanis?" Cloud said. "I've never heard of Artanis. Is it a city?"
"That's what my guess would be," Red said. "Perhaps we can find something about it at Cosmo Canyon."
"That'd be a good place to look," Cloud said. "But how are we gonna get Aeris back?"
"I think it's obvious we'd be unable to rescue her in our current state," Red replied. "She seems to have a plan on how we can rescue her and I suggest we follow what she says."
"We'll get her back Cloud," Tifa said. "Don't worry."
"Whoa, time out for just a second," Barret shouted. "What the hell is Artanis? And if there's a weapon there, why did Aeris wait till now to tell us? If this weapon can stop Vervain's fleet, why didn't Aeris tell us about it when we were fighting Shinra? Or Sephiroth? Or Waylon? Or Wedge?"
"That question will go unanswered until we get Aeris back, I'm afraid," Red said. "Shall we head to Cosmo Canyon?"
"Wait!" Cloud shouted. "We can't leave Aeris like this, I won't let it happen. We gotta atleast have some plan to get her back eventually."
"Well Cloud, how 'bout we just drop you off on the Shinra flagship and YOU can get Aeris yourself?" Cid blasted.
"You know, that's not that bad of an idea," Red said. "A single person probably could sneak around that ship with relative ease. The hard part would be finding Aeris."
"Alright Cloud, you got your rescue plan," Barret said. "Now, let's just concentrate on finding this Artanis."
Suddenly, Reeve's cellphone began ringing. He gazed up with a quizzical look on his face. "I have no idea who that could be." He picked it up. After about a minute, his face became grim.
"That face doesn't look to good," Yuffie whispered to Tifa.
Reeve hung up his phone and turned towards the rest of Avalanche. "Fort Condor is under attack by Vervain's forces. They want us to help, but I think it's a lost cause already. The Fort's army has already been cut in half and things are only getting worse. Vervain's forces are being led by Colonel Luke Zanov, whoever the hell that is."
"I think we saw him in Midgar," Cloud said.
"Anyway, Shinra's nearly got control of the Fort," Reeve continued. "They want us to get there as soon as possible."
Cid stood up. "I'll start the Highwind. You guys get your crap together and meet me out there."
"Alright Cid," Cloud said. "Let's move everyone. Fort Condor needs us."
* * *
When Avalanche reached Fort Condor, they found it practically in ruins. Fires burned fiercely all around them. The main structure was full of large holes. Mutilated bodies lied all over the battleground, most of them with Fort Condor insignia. In a small section of the battlefield, a group of Fort Condor troops had banded together to fight the incredible Shinra army. Suddenly, they heard a voice shout up from behind them.
"Praise the Lord!" a Fort Condor officer said. "You guys made it!"
"It doesn't look good," Cloud said. "Is there anything we can do?"
"Well," the officer replied. "We have several planes, but the pilots were all killed. Can any of you fly?"
"Can we fly!?!" Cid scoffed. "I'm the best damn pilot alive. You gotta plane, I'll fly it. Lead me to it!"
"I'll fly too," Cloud said. "I handled that ship pretty well when I was fighting Rufus in space, this can't be THAT much different."
"Thank you so much for your help!" the officer said. "Come this way!"
He led Cloud and Cid towards a small outcropping in the side of the hill. He punched in several buttons and secret wall in the dirt began to lower. Inside, Cid and Cloud saw two planes in good condition.
"I don't have to time to give you a run-down of the controls," the officer said. "You'll just have to learn as you go."
"No problem for me," Cid replied. "I can fly anything."
Cloud sighed as he and Cid both raced towards the planes. They climbed in and Cid began immediately punching in buttons. His engines flared up and his plane shot out of the hangar.
Cloud however, was not as confident.
"Okay Cloud," he said to himself. "This isn't that hard. Just remember what did you against Rufus." That was almost 2 years ago and Cloud was having trouble recalling.
"What the hell!" He slammed his fist into the control panel.
"Missile armed," the computer's monotonous voice said.
"Oh crap," Cloud said. He slammed his fist into the panel again. The blinking missile light shut off and this time to the engines started to ignite.
"Now we're cookin'." He pushed the control stick down and the plane began to roll out of the hangar, gaining speed as it went. When Cloud thought he had enough speed, he gently pulled the stick back and the plane began to rise.
"Yes!" Cloud shouted. But his excitement was short-lived. He had flown straight into a tandem of enemy planes. He jerked the stick to the left and flew out of harm's way. He rolled in behind the enemy planes, who didn't seem to notice he was behind them until it was too late.
"Choke on this," he said as pushed two missile lock buttons at once. Two missiles under his left wing blasted towards the enemy planes. One missile found its target easily. The other plane became aware of his situation and jerked out of the way of the missile. The missile slammed into the nearby hillside.
However, the plane flew directly in the path of Cid, who was blasting away with his plane's gattling gun.
"Woooo!" Cid exclaimed as he flew over Cloud's head.
"I take it you're enjoying this, Cid," Cloud said.
"You better believe it!" he replied. "I haven't had this much fun since we were in outer space. I love these planes, I gotta get one for myself!"
"I'll keep that in mind next time I'm shopping for aircraft," Cloud responded sarcastically. "How many bad guys you got on your radar?"
"A baker's dozen," Cid said enthusiastically. "A pretty good warm-up for me. You wanna sit this one out and let me handle it?"
"You've got to be kidding," Cloud said. "You've got 4 missiles on that plane. I've got two on mine. We can't take down 13 planes!"
"Hey, it was a baker's dozen before we took them two down. Now it's only 11. We got it made Cloud!"
Cloud sighed. It was no use arguing with the old pilot. He believed he could do anything in a plane.
"Alright Cid," Cloud announced, "if you're going in, I'm coming with ya. But if you die, don't say I didn't tell you so."
"Ha ha, always so optimistic Cloud?" Cid replied. "Let's go!"
Cid did a barrel-roll right into the enemy crossfire. He jerked the plane upwards and performed another corkscrew. He wound up behind the enemy squad.
"Check this out, Cloud." Cid punched in some buttons and all four missiles on his plane shot out at different enemy planes. Each found it's target and then enemy count was reduced to seven.
"How the hell did you do that?!" Cloud exclaimed. "The plane's safety precautions should've stopped you from firing all four missiles at once!"
"Well, those precautions can be overridden," Cid replied. "Like I said, there's nothing I can't do in a plane." Cid performed another corkscrew and began firing at enemy ground troops with his gattling gun.
Cloud focused in on the remaining seven planes, who were flying in formation. Cloud launched his two remaining missiles. Both found targets, but now the remaining five planes turned their attentions to Cloud.
"Hey Cid, wanna help me over here?" Cloud half-shouted over his intercom.
"Gotcha." Cid jerked his plane around and began flying towards Cloud. Suddenly, his plane was struck in the tail by a missile.
"Huh?" Cid said in shock. "Where did that come from?" He swerved the dying plane around and saw a Shinra boat sitting in the harbor. The missile had come from it.
"Cloud, they got a boat shooting ground-to-air missiles at us!" Cid shouted. "Get outta the sky, this is a battle we can't win."
"Argh " Cloud fired a last barrage at the enemy planes before heading towards the ground.
Cid's plane, however, was going down rapidly.
"Time to make an exit," Cid said to himself. He pushed the ejection seat button, but nothing happened. "Uh, c'mon now, don't play this game with me." He pushed the button over and over again, but nothing happened. His plane was losing altitude fast and he was trapped inside. "Work you piece of junk!" He slammed his head against the button in anger. The hood of the plane blew off and the pilot seat shot out of the plane.
"Way to use your head, Cid," Cloud commented.
"Uh, thanks Cloud," Cid replied. The parachute opened and Cid landed safely on the ground. Moments later, Cloud brought his plane down beside him.
"Cid, run," Cloud said and he started bolting towards the Fort.
"Huh? Why?" Moments later, his question was answered. One of the enemy planes launched a missile at Cloud's grounded plane.
"Oh God." Cid took off towards the Fort at breakneck speed. The missile struck the plane and sent Cid flying through the air. He screamed at the top of his lungs and landed headfirst into Cloud's back. They both tumbled to the ground.
"Cid, didn't I tell you to run?" Cloud said angrily.
"Hey, don't start that now," Cid replied.
Suddenly, a jeep pulled up beside them. Barret was driving and all of the other Avalanche members were with him.
"Time to check out," Barret said. "We just lost Fort Condor to the Shinra."
Cloud and Cid looked back at the battered fort and sighed.
"There's nothing you guys could've done," Barret said. "They had this battle won before we even got here."
"Barret's right," Cloud replied. "We need a new strategy if we're ever gonna beat the Shinra this time."
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