Appointment With Destiny Chapter 1
England is so beautiful, thought Aeris Gainsborough as she steered the car along the winding road. The hills around her were lush with vegetation. She passed a sheepherder tending his flock and waved. He gave her a puzzled smile and waved back. He probably thinks I'm nuts for being out here this early in the morning, she thought. After all, the sun isn't even up yet. He shouldn't be surprised. What can you expect from a crazy American tourist?
The sky promised a beautiful day. It felt great to be alive. Cumbria was wonderful place to be. This was Aeris' first big adventure and the start of a new life. She rolled down the window and let the wind blow through her silky hair. For ten years, she'd felt like an unwelcome guest. Now she was free to be her own person. Her heart felt light and gay.
Up ahead was a place she'd longed to see ever since she'd picked up an encyclopedia on her eighth birthday and opened it to the section covering England. The first thing she'd seen was a picture of a beautiful green countryside. It burned into her brain. From that moment on, she'd been consumed with the need to see that beautiful countryside for herself. Ten long years. Now she was here, driving a rented car. In a very short time, she'd lay eyes on what haunted her dreams.
Aeris pushed the car a little faster. If she didn't hurry, she'd have to watch the sunrise from the road. She tightened her hands on the steering wheel and shivered. Everything she'd seen so far was just as it had been in her dreams. The airport, the roads she'd traveled, the rustic little inn she'd checked into and the people she'd seen. She hadn't needed to ask anyone anything. How could she know what to do? That question scared her as much as it intrigued her.
She found the dirt road without even looking for it. Aeris turned off the paved road and followed it. Her heart quickened. She was almost there. Why did it feel as if she was coming home? She'd never been to England before in her life.
The sky was getting brighter now. Aeris pulled over and parked at the foot of a hill. She stepped out of the car and looked up. The ruins of a house was up there somewhere among the trees. She couldn't see it from where she stood, but she knew it was there just the same. The ruins of a stone house. Aeris left the keys in the ignition. They weren't important now. She hurried up the hill as fast as she could.
When she reached the top, the view on the other side took her breath away. Aeris clasped her hands together in awe. Before her stretched the true beauty of the rolling green hills.
I dreamed this, she thought. It's all here, just like in my dream!
The sun would be rising soon. More than anything else, Aeris wanted to see it crest over the top of those hills. When that happened, Aeris was sure, deep in her heart, it would be the first day of a new life for her. She sighed. She didn't know what kind of life that was, but she as certain it would be very different from the one she had left behind in America. Her dream always ended at this point, but that didn't bother her.
Aeris turned her head to the right. There it was, the ruins of the old stone house. Aeris couldn't help the smile that spread across her lips. Yes! Everything was exactly as it was in her dreams. She looked back toward the distance hills with a strong sense of anticipation.
When she heard the snap of a stick, Aeris turned, expecting to see a small animal running for cover. What she saw instead, made her cry out and stumble back in fear. A figure stood there, that hadn't been there before.
Dressed in black slacks and a grey cabled turtle neck sweater, he was tall, muscular and incredibly handsome. Belying his obvious youth, his hair was the most unusual shade of silver Aeris had ever seen. His bangs peaked high over his forehead, split apart, and ran down both sides of his face to rest upon his shoulders. The rest cascaded down his back in silver waves well below his hips. Bright green eyes regarded her with in an intensity she found disconcerting.
The stranger regarded the young woman before him with a touch of amusement. She was pretending to be frightened. How quaint. He'd been warned to watch out for tricks. His eyes swept over her. She was beautiful, almost his height with a neat trim figure. It was a pity, he couldn't see her legs. She was wearing black slacks. That wouldn't be allowed in the future. Her pink sweater was a nice touch though. Pink looked good on her. Her golden brown hair hung over her forehead in bangs not unlike his own. Nice touch, he thought. Had she done that on purpose? The rest of her hair was gathered in a pink bow at the back of her head, holding a long loose braid that dropped past her shapely hips. That was going to have to change too. Loose hair would be more becoming. Her eyes were just as green as his own and filled with intelligence. That's good, he thought. I don't have the time or patience to deal with a fool.
Aeris took a step back.
"I'm sorry!" she said, finding her voice at last. "Am I trespassing?"
He man blinked and looked at her. "What?"
"Am I trespassing?" Aeris flushed red.
What was she talking about? What kind of game was this? Something new? All right. He'd play along with her.
"No," he said out loud. "You're not trespassing. I don't own this land."
"Oh." Aeris looked relived.
Interesting how she could make herself blush like that, he thought. She's even more clever than the others. I'll have to keep a very close eye on this Cetra or she'll escape. I don't intend to let that happen.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
He raised an eyebrow. What now? What kind of question was this? Careful now.
"I might ask you the same question."
Aeris felt herself blushing again. Who was this guy and why was he looking at her like that? Feeling uncomfortable, she glanced toward her car. It looked small in the distance. Maybe she should leave now. Where had he come from anyway? She hadn't passed any other cars along the way. She was out here all alone with a stranger. As much as she wanted to see the sun rise over the distant hills, the thought occurred to her that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. A headline flashed through her head: "American Tourist Found Raped and Strangled." He was kind of cute, but that didn't mean she was going to volunteer to be his victim.
"I came to see the sun rise," she said, trying to look braver than she felt. "I think I'd better go."
She turned away and the silver haired man frowned at her back. What was she trying to pull? She couldn't leave yet. Not like this. Fighting the urge to go after her and drag her back, he tried a different tack.
"Wait a minute!"
Aeris stopped and looked back, fighting the urge to run. Was he going to stop her from getting to her car? She visualized herself running down the hill with him in hot pursuit. He'd probably catch her before she was halfway down. He drag her to the ground, tearing at her clothes. There would be no one around to hear her screaming.
Why was she looking at him as if he was a predator? She had something up her sleeve and he was sure he wouldn't like what it was.
"I thought you were going to watch the sunrise?" he asked.
Aeris glanced at the hills in the distance. She wanted to. She wanted to see the sun rise so bad, it was like an ache in her heart. She looked back at him.
Why is she looking at me like that? Does she really think I'm going to do something to her now? Realization came to him at last. What's wrong with her? She ought to know I can't lay a hand on her yet. Why does she think I'd even try? I'd better get her back up here or she'll step outside the zone before the sun rises. She's not going to get away from me that easy.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said out loud. "My name is Sephiroth. I'm here to watch the sun rise too."
She looked at him doubtfully. "You are?"
He nodded. "I had to come. I want to see the sun rise over those hills more than anything else in the world."
She glanced at her car again.
"So do I," she said. "I've waited for this day a long time."
So have I, he thought, fighting to keep his face neutral. You don't know the half of it.
Sephiroth waved toward the ruins. "If you'll look over there, you'll see my easel and paints. I have the hills painted in. All I need to do is add the sun. I need to see it rise over those hill to get the colors right."
Aeris glanced toward the ruins. There was an easel standing there. How had she missed it the first time she looked that way?
You've almost got her, he thought. "Have you had breakfast yet?"
"No I haven't," she admitted.
"Neither have I," he said. "I brought a few snacks. Would you care to join me?"
Sephiroth looked around on the ground and found a short club sized stick. He picked it up and showed it to Aeris.
"I'm going to leave this here on the ground," he said. "Pick it up on your way over. If I try anything out of line, defend yourself. It's rather sharp on one end. You should be able to draw enough blood to get your point across."
Amazing, he thought. She actually looks relieved again. She really did think I was going to try something too early. I don't know what she's up to, but as long as I get her back up here, fine. He dropped the stick on the ground and walked toward the ruins.
She came back up the hill. "I'd love to join you. By the way, my name is Aeris."
"That's a lovely name."
"I didn't see you before," said Aeris. "You really startled me."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I saw you when you first arrived. I should have made more noise."
At the ruins, he glanced at her hands.
"You didn't bring the stick."
She looked hesitant. "Do I really need it?"
Sephiroth smiled as he sat on a broken wall. He reached into a bag and pulled out an apple. He held it out to Aeris.
"Only if you think I should build a fire, so you can roast this apple," he said.
Aeris laughed again.
That's a sound I'll never get tired of, thought Sephiroth.
Aeris sat down next to him and took the apple. "Do you live around here?"
Sephiroth shook his head. "I'm like you. I came for the sunrise."
"I didn't see another car," said Aeris.
"I don't have one," he answered.
Her eyes widened. "You walked all the way from the village? You must be a health nut!"
Sephiroth smiled. If you want to believe I walked, so be it. What are you up to Miss Aeris? Why are you acting like you don't know why you're here?
"Exercise is good for the body," he said. "I work out regularly."
I can see that, thought Aeris. He's even more good looking up close. I wonder if he has a girlfriend?
"You don't have an accent," she said out loud. "You're not British."
"I'm just visiting," he said. "I'll be leaving today."
"Oh." Aeris looked thoughtful. "Me too. I'm heading home this evening."
Not if I can help it, he thought. Home will be just a memory for you after today.
"My aunt and uncle thought I was crazy." Aeris laughed again. "I told them, I was going to England just to see the sun rise here. They thought it was a waste of money."
Sephiroth didn't really care about her relatives. There were other things on his mind, but he would do it her way for now. "Your aunt and uncle?"
Aeris nodded. "They raised me after my parents were killed in an automobile accident."
"I'm sorry to hear that," answered Sephiroth. "That must have been very hard on you."
"It was," said Aeris. "I was only seven at the time, but I remember like it was yesterday."
Sephiroth flinched as if he'd been struck and stared at her. "Your mother died before you were eight?"
Aeris was puzzled by his reaction. "Yes. I was seven when they were killed. I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle soon after."
So she wasn't faking! This girl really didn't know why she was here. Sephiroth didn't know whether to shout for joy or go into shock. This was too good to be true! The odds had just strengthened in his favor. Aeris didn't know what was in store for her. She'd come here just as she was supposed to with no idea of the consequences. His eyes swept over her again. Unless a miracle occurred in the next few seconds, it looked like he was going to get what he came for.
He was looking at her in that way that made her nervous again. Aeris edged away from him.
Sephiroth shook himself. "Nothing. It's just that my mother died when I was young too."
Aeris relaxed. "Really? It looks like we both have something in common then."
Except that I was prepared by my father, thought Sephiroth. There was no one to prepare you.
"My father gave me my mothers ring to remember her by," said Sephiroth. "It's been handed down through the generations. It will go to my wife, when I marry."
He doesn't have a wife, thought Aeris.
"You're going to give it to your girlfriend?" she asked.
He hesitated before he answered. "I don't have one."
No girlfriend? Aeris wondered if she should delay her flight.
"You're luckier than me," she said out loud. "My mother left me a beautiful wooden chest, but my aunt sold it to an antique dealer out of spite. She was angry when she found out my mother's will gave her and my uncle a set amount of money to care for me in the event of her death and the rest would go to me on my eighteenth birthday. My mother gave me the key on my seventh birthday. She told me I'd get the chest on my eighth. Now I have a key but no chest. I was really mad at my aunt for selling it."
That's good for me and bad for you, thought Sephiroth to himself. If your mother couldn't be around to prepare you, the contents of that chest would have told you everything you needed to know. There's no hope for you now.
"Your aunt and uncle weren't very kind to you were they?" he asked.
"They tolerated me," answered Aeris. "They didn't do any more than they had to. They never wanted children. They thought I was a burden they had to bear."
"Why didn't they send you to another relative?" asked Sephiroth.
"My aunt was my fathers only living relative," replied Aeris.
"And your mother?"
"It seems I come from a cursed lineage." Aeris smiled sadly.
"What do you mean by that?" Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.
He has such a intense gaze, thought Aeris. His eyes don't tell what he's thinking.
"My mother talked about it to me once," she said. "There are no boys born in our family, only girls. One girl. Her parents always seem to die in an accident. The girl lives with relatives until she marries. She has a daughter then she and her husband die. Now it's my turn, but I'm the only girl whose mother died before she was eight.
After today things will change Aeris, thought Sephiroth. There will be no more daughters born to parents who die in accidents. Not after the sun rises. He looked toward the hills. The sun would be rising any time now. He almost felt sorry for her. It wasn't Aeris' fault she wasn't ready, but he didn't feel sorry enough to let her go. He had waited a long time for his prize and he meant to have it.
Aeris followed his gaze. "The sun is about to rise!"
His voice sounded distant. "I know."
Aeris glanced at him curiously. He was looking at her in that intense way of his again. There was something in his eyes that scared her a little. It reminded her of the look in a cat's eyes when it was about to pounce on a moving target.
"What's wrong?" she asked,
"Nothing." He stood up. Let's go watch the sunrise."
Aeris moved out into the open on feet as light as a feather. Something was going to happen, she knew it. She turned to Sephiroth.
"This is the first day of the rest of my life," she said.
He was silent.
"My aunt and uncle made me free like a prisoner, " she explained. "I never caused any problems for them, but they were so strict they kept me drowning in rules and regulations. The only time I could relax was when I was preforming with my band."
Aeris smiled. "I'm the lead singer in a rock band."
Sephiroth looked puzzled.
"You know, a singing group," she said. "We're doing great. As a matter of fact, when I go back to America, we're going to cut our first album!"
Sephiroth stared at her.
"A recording contract!" Aeris clasped her hands together and gave a little hop. "We're going to sing, and perform and the record company is going to record us and sell the recordings! We were performing at a little club in Los Angeles, and it just so happened a record producer stopped by with a friend of his. He told us we had the sound he was looking for. We cut a demo record and they played it on a local radio station to see how it went. Everyone loved it! We played a few other songs for the producer and he went wild."
"He's going to send us out on a tour as the opening act for a very popular boys group. I'm going to see the world! I'm going to be my own person at last. No more being under anyone's thumb. I've been under my aunt and uncles control for ten years too long. I'm finally going to be independent! You don't know how happy that makes me."
"I thought most young women your age would think about getting married, said Sephiroth.
Aeris shook her head vehemently. "Not me! Not right now. I want to be free. I'm not ready for that kind of life yet and I don't want it. I just got out of prison. Why would I want to tie myself down again so soon? Besides, getting married in my family and having a baby is a death sentence! No sir! I'm going to travel all over the country and be a star!"
Sephiroth turned away.
"What?" Aeris was puzzled. "You don't think I can do it? We're good! We really are!"
The wind was beginning to blow. Sephiroth's hair fanned out as he turned to her again.
"What if you couldn't be a star? What if your future was a husband and children?"
"I don't want a husband or children right now," she answered. "I have other plans for my life."
"What if you don't have a choice?" he insisted. "What if you have to get married and your husband wants children? What if a baby wasn't a death sentence for your side of the family anymore?"
What a one track mind, thought Aeris. Is this one of those "keep them barefoot and pregnant" guys? I think I'm going to forget about delaying my flight or asking for his phone number.
"I do have a choice," she said with a touch of anger. "I don't have to get married and if I should do so in a moment of madness, I don't have to have a baby. I'm going to back to America, cut an album and be a star."
Sephiroth looked toward the hills. It was getting brighter.
"But what if you couldn't?" he asked. "Would being married and raising children be so bad?"
"It is, if isn't what I want," she said. "Why are you going on about this?"
"When I find my wife, that's what I want."
"Then I hope you get what you desire." Aeris brushed her bangs away from her face.
I'm sure I will, he thought.
"What do you have against getting married?"
"It's too much like being owned,"she said. "I want to belong to myself for a while before I belong to someone else."
"Sometimes things don't work out the way we wish they would," he said.
Aeris frowned at him. "I'm getting a little tired of this conversation. Why don't we change the subject?"
"I'm just trying to help," he answered. "You weren't properly prepared before you came here."
"Properly prepared for what?" She frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Your destiny," answered Sephiroth. "Your destiny . . . and mine. It's not a coincidence that you and I are here Aeris. We had to come. Both of us. Ever since the day we uttered our first cry, you and I have been moving toward this day.
Aeris stared at him. He was a nut! He was one of those kind who appeared perfectly normal on the surface but was as crazy as a loon underneath. She wanted to kick herself. She'd fallen right into his trap! She should have run to her car while she had a chance.
"I think I'll see the sunrise some other time."
She turned away from him and walked down the hill.
Sephiroth took a step after her. "Wait! Don't go."
"I'm leaving," she answered, not looking back. Her eyes scanned the ground looking for the stick she had rejected before. Would he come after her? She'd defend herself if she had to.
Sephiroth glanced toward the hills, then looked after Aeris. She was getting away. He waved his hand at her back.
Her bow loosened and dropped out of her hair. Aeris felt her braid come free and reached back to touch her head. Not finding her ribbon, she turned around. The wind shifted. The ribbon lay on the ground. Aeris bent to pick it up and it blew a short distance away and stopped. Irritated, she went after it. Every time she tried to pick it up, it blew further away, staying just ahead of her fingers. Aeris didn't realize how far up the hill she'd come until the ribbon blew against Sephiroth's feet. He leaned down and pulled it free. He held out to her.
She stopped, afraid to reach for it.
"I'm sorry Aeris," he said. "It's not your fault that you're not ready, but I'm not going to let you go. I'm the last one in my line who can claim the Cetra bride. If I fail, the curse on your family is broken and none of your descendants will ever have to come back here again."
"What are you talking about?" she cried. Reaching out, she snatched the ribbon from his hands. "You're talking crazy!"
"It would be easier on you if I were," he answered. "The curse was made long ago when the first Cetra bride escaped into another dimension to keep from marrying one of my ancestors. He couldn't go after her, so he put a curse on her as she fled. Every generation, the Cetra descendant must come to this place where the first Cetra entered this world. A descendant from my line comes through from the other side. His mission is to defeat her in a battle of spells. If he wins, she must return to the world the first Cetra left behind to become his bride. If she wins, she is free to stay in this world and marry. Your mother battled my father and won."
"You're mad!" cried Aeris, as the wind grew stronger. "I never heard of anything like this before."
"Of course you didn't," answered Sephiroth. "The curse has rules. Neither of the descendants are told the story of their destinies until they are eight years old. Each one is given a chest with documents inside, in a language only they can read. Those documents tell the history of the curse and all the spells used by the ancestors before on either side. The descendants must make up new spells to use when it's their turn to come to the place of battle. The ground you are standing on now, is the place of our battle Aeris. Unless you defeat me in a battle of spells, you are fated to become my wife."
Aeris wanted to tell Sephiroth he was lying, but as he spoke of the curse, something deep in her heart and soul, told her he was telling the truth. Now she understood why her dreams always ended when she reached the hill. She had to finish the rest of the story on her own.
"That's not fair!" she shouted. "My mother died when I was seven. My aunt sold the chest. I never knew about the curse. I never had time to prepare. I don't know what to do!"
"I know," said Sephiroth. "My dreams have been filled with your face for the last six months. I dream of you every night and think about you all day. Now that I've seen you with my own eyes, I want you more than ever. You're mine Aeris and I mean to have you."
"No!" cried Aeris. "I have a life ahead of me in America! I won't let you take that from me!"
"According to the terms of the curse, I am the last of my line who can claim the Cetra bride," said Sephiroth. Twenty generations of your ancestors and mine were to meet here for battle. Nineteen generations of my line have failed. Now it's my turn. If I fail, the Cetra bride is free forever. I will not go home a failure Aeris. I'm taking you back with me!"
Aeris turned to run but stopped short as a silvery sheen formed a barrier in front of her. She reached out to touch it. It looked like mist, but she couldn't push her hand through it. Beyond the barrier, she could see her rental car on the dirt road. She turned back to Sephiroth and saw the silvery barrier had formed a huge circle around both of them.
"The sun is rising," said Sephiroth. "When it clears the top of the hill, we begin."
"No!" cried Aeris. "You can't do this to me! I don't know what to do!"
Sephiroth looked toward the hills. Aeris followed his gaze. A sliver of the sun appeared above one of the hills. The air around them was suddenly charged with energy. Aeris felt her body tingling all over. Sparkling colored lights covered her body. Through their brilliance, she could see the same thing happening to Sephiroth. When the bright colors vanished, she looked at Sephiroth again and gasped.
Gone were his black slacks and grey sweater. He was wearing an outfit she had never seen before. Dressed entirely in black, he wore a black cape-like coat with the biggest shoulder pads she'd ever seen. They appeared to be metallic. There were colored gems in various slots. Metallic bands encircled each wrist over black gloved hands. The cape-coat was open in front, showing off a chest she might have found enticing on a beach. Two bands crossed over it, the lower ends just above a huge silver emblem that could be a part of a belt. Aeris wasn't sure. The cape-coat closed at that point, flaring open again to a point just below his knees. He was wearing black boots trimmed with two bands. The thing that caught her eyes most was the extraordinary sword he held in his left hand. Curved slightly, it had a long silver blade.
Aeris looked down at herself and found her clothing had changed as well. Somehow her pants and sweater had transformed into a pink dress that buttoned down the front. The buttons opened a few inches below her waist allowing the hem beneath her knees to flap in the strengthening breeze. For some reason she was wearing ugly brown boots she would have passed over in a store and a short red jacket over her pink dress she wouldn't have looked at twice. There was a flash of light and a long brown rod appeared before her, hanging in space by invisible means. Aeris reached out fearfully and plucked it out of the air. It felt comfortable in her hand somehow, but she didn't know what it was for. Surely she wasn't expected to beat Sephiroth with it? If it was a weapon, it wouldn't last long against a sword!
She looked across at him. "This isn't fair and you know it."
"I know," he answered "I'm sorry."
He raised both hands into the air. Lightening crackled down and struck his blade. Sephiroth's body was outlined in a brilliant light.
Aeris dropped the rod as if it were a snake. If lightening was supposed to strike her staff as well, she wanted nothing to more to do with it.
The lightening faded away and Sephiroth lowered his arms. The sun pulled the rest of itself over the hill. Sephiroth looked down at the staff and raised an eyebrow. He looked at Aeris.
"Don't do this to me," she said.
His expression didn't change.
"At least give me a hint!" cried Aeris. "What am I supposed to do?"
The wind roared. Sephiroth raised his arms again. Lightening flashed from dark angry clouds that appeared out of nowhere above the barrier.
Aeris turned and beat her fists against the smokey walls. There had to be another way out of here. There had to be! She pressed her back against the barrier in despair. Sephiroth was watching her.
"Please let me go," she half whispered.
He shook his head. "Now we begin."
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