Appointment With Destiny Chapter 18
Tifa turned so pale. Cloud took her in his arms. "Are you all right?"
"How could they be so callous?" she whispered. "They'll kill everyone! All those lives!"
Tifa looked up at Cloud. "We have to stop them before its too late."
Cloud's gaze hardened. "Let's get going. The Turks will be on their way to the pillar by now."
* * * * *
Sephiroth slipped the pendant over Aeris' head. She raised her hair and he fastened the chain at the back of her neck.
"A star," she said. "It's beautiful."
"It's not just jewelry," he said. "It will protect you against a poison enemy. Give me your hand."
Aeris held out her right hand and he slid a ring over her fourth finger.
"This is a Fire Ring," he said. It will protect you against fire attacks."
"Who would have thought jewelry was more than just for admiring?" Aeris held the ring up to the light. "It's pretty."
"There's one more thing," said Sephiroth.
"When you sneaked out with Storm Chaser and went shopping, you really went shopping!" Aeris smiled at him. "What's next?"
"This," Sephiroth reached behind the sofa and picked up a long rod.
"A staff?" Aeris looked puzzled. "I have a staff."
"Not this kind," he said. "This is a Fairy Tale staff."
"It's much stronger your Guard Stick." Sephiroth frowned at her. "I'm jumping you a few steps ahead in weapons. Don't make me sorry."
Aeris giggled. "I won't."
"Have you been practicing your White Wind spell while I've been gone?"
Aeris nodded. "White Wind and Frog Song."
"Good. Shall we go pick a fight?"
"I thought we'd get a lot closer to the Temple of the Ancients this time."
Aeris moved closer. "Are we going inside."
"Not yet," he answered. "You need more practice first."
"Darn!" Aeris looked disappointed. I was kind of curious about it."
"The monsters inside that place are worse than those on the outside," replied Sephiroth. "This isn't a pleasure trip."
"I know. You're teaching me to use the new materia in my staff, right?"
He nodded. "Think you're up to it? It won't be easy."
Aeris straightened herself as tall as she could. "I'm ready."
"Okay," said Sephiroth. "Let's go."
* * * * *
The trip across the train graveyard wasn't easy. They were attacked by Cripshays twice. Barret killed a pair of Deenglows. Just as the trio thought their problems were over, a group of Sahagins tried to ambush them. Barret swore up a blue streak, but at last they made it to the base of the pillar the Turks were going to destroy.
"Wedge and Jessie should already be here," panted Barret as he started up the stairs. "I just hope the Turks haven't made it here yet."
"I knew President Shinra could be hard," said Tifa, reaching for the handrail. "But I never thought he'd go this far."
"Why not?" asked Cloud, moving past her. "The man has ice water for blood. People are no more than bugs to be squashed by him."
"Couldn't you have picked a better phrase Cloud?" Barret rolled his eyes.
"Sorry." Cloud kept going.
They hadn't gone too far before they came upon Wedge sitting on a step pressing both hands against his bloody stomach.
"Wedge! Oh no!" said Tifa kneeling near him. "What happened?"
"Don't worry about me," said Wedge, gasping for breath. "I'm not going to make it. Go help Jessie. She's up there all alone."
"I can heal you," said Cloud.
"Don't." Wedge struggled to breath. "You'll need all your powers for the fight. Go on. Get out of here. I'm worried about Jessie."
"We can't leave you here like this!" Barret's eyes filled with grief. "I won't leave a man behind!"
Wedge smiled at him. "I'm afraid you're going to have to, old friend."
Before their grief stricken faces, Wedge's eyes closed and his body went limp.
"He's dead." Tifa touched the still face.
Cloud looked upward.
"Come on," he said. "Jessie will suffer the same fate if we don't get up there in time."
They hurried up the stairs. The top of the stairway was in view when they heard a scream. Jessie appeared above them, stumbling backwards. Her foot stepped into open air and she tumbled down the stairs like a broken doll. Her body bounced into the air just before it reached them. Barret caught her in his arms.
"Jessie!" His voice was a ragged whisper.
Her clothes were torn and every inch of exposed skin was bruised or bloodied. A thin trail of blood flowed from the corner of her mouth. At the sound of Barret's voice, Jessie opened her eyes.
She tried to smile but it was more of a grimace.
"B-B-Barret!" She was overcome by a fit of coughing. Jessie turned her head quickly, so she wouldn't spray blood in Barret's face.
"My f-f-f-friends," she said when she could speak again.
Tifa took her hand. Cloud touched her hair.
"We're too late." A tear slid down Tifa's face. "Oh Jessie, I'm so sorry!"
"What if y-you knew, I've always b-b-been in l-love with C-Cloud?" asked Jessie looking only at Tifa. "You s-s-should h-hate me. I-I've been so jealous of you."
She turned her head to look into Cloud's blue eyes.
"I can't die . . . without . . . telling you that."
Cloud laid his hand against Jessie's cheek. "I never knew."
"I . . . know." Jessie seemed to fade for a moment, then she was back. "I didn't want . . . to interfere with . . . the way . . . you . . . felt . . . for . . . Tifa."
She looked back to Tifa.
"I-I-I'm s-s-sorry . . . T-Tifa."
"You don't have to be sorry Jessie," said Tifa. She glanced at Cloud and looked back at the dying girl. "I understand. He is special isn't he? You're still my friend Jessie. I'll always think of you as my friend."
"I'm here." Barret's eyes looked damp.
"I'm sorry . . . I failed." Jessie turned her head to cough. Her face was pasty white. She looked at Barret again. "I wasn't . . . strong enough."
"You did your job Jessie," said Barret. "You held them till we got here. I'm proud of you girl."
Jessie's eyes, fluttered. Closed. Opened and fluttered again.
Cloud leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. She opened her eyes and smiled at him, then her soft brown eyes closed and her body relaxed.
Tears poured down Tifa's cheeks. "Damn Shinra!"
"They've killed two of our friends," said Barret. "Damn them all!"
"They'll kill more if we don't stop them," said Cloud standing up. "I'm going to stop them any way I can."
"I'm with you," said Tifa brushing her tears away.
Barret laid Jessie's body on the stairs.
"Let's go," he said.
They hurried up the rest of the stairs and stepped onto the platform. Having dispatched Jessie and Wedge, the guards weren't expecting more company. Three were looking at the plate overhead. The fourth was looking at his friends. He turned when he heard a sound behind him. Before he could raise an alarm, Tifa rushed forward and hit him with two punches that laid him out cold.
The others turned when they heard him fall. Cloud hit one with a lightening spell. Tifa hit the second with comet. Only the man Barret shot fell down. The others recovered and fired their weapons. Cloud and his friends were forced to run, dodging and weaving to avoid being hit. A helicopter swooped in low on the other side of the platform. Reno jumped out, landing on his feet. He ran to the control panel and began pressing a sequence of buttons.
Cloud used his strongest ice spell. One of the guard was thrown backwards. Trying to keep his balance, he backed against the railing. His gun slipped out of his hands. He tried to grab it out of the air but he overbalanced and went over the side screaming. His companion turned to look and Tifa fell on him punching. The guard dropped his weapon and fell unconscious to the floor.
Tifa pointed at Reno. "Barret! Cloud! We've got to stop him!"
Reno laughed. "You're too late. Once I push this button . . . "
"Stop!" shouted Cloud. "Don't do it Reno!"
Barret aimed his weapon at the red haired Turk. "You're going to kill a lot of people man!"
"So?" Reno kept his hand on the button. "You know what you do with garbage? You put it a trash compacter. Think of this as Shinra's solution to all the trash down here!"
"You can't be that cruel." said Tifa. "Don't you have any feelings?"
Reno pushed his sunglasses up into his hair and gave her his most seductive smile. "Yeah. I've got feelings."
His eyes traveled over her body.
"Especially when I look at you in that outfit. Want me to tell you about them?"
Tifa's face went red.
"Lay off Reno," said Cloud in a warning voice.
Reno winked at him. "Not quite what I had in mind."
He turned his attention back to Tifa. "Know what I've got in mind?"
She was speechless.
"Sure you do." Reno brushed a stand of hair out of his eyes. "Why don't you stand to the side over there and let me take care of these losers? I'll give you a ride out of here. I've got a nice little apartment on the upper level. You'd like it there Tifa. You and I could spend some quality time getting to know each other. What do you say?"
"Leave her alone, Reno!" Cloud took a step forward. "I'm warning you. If you've got anything to say, say it to me!"
Reno looked at him and snorted. "Invite YOU back to my apartment? Forget it. I don't go that way."
Cloud would have rushed forward if Tifa hadn't stopped him.
"Don't let him make you act without thinking," she whispered.
"Leave her alone creep!" Barret shook with rage. "She don't have no use for Shinra lackeys like you."
Reno ignored him.
"What about it Tifa?" he asked. "Satisfaction guaranteed. You ready to meet a real man?"
Cloud opened his mouth to speak but Tifa touched his shoulder to silence him.
She looked at Reno.
"You're right,"she said. "I need a real man. Anything else is just a cheap imitation."
Cloud looked at her in surprise.
Reno's smile grew wider.
Tifa turned to Cloud and held out her right hand.
"Hello," she said. "My name is Tifa Lockheart, and you are?"
Cloud put out his hand instinctively, not sure what she was doing.
"My name is Cloud Strife," he said in a puzzled voice.
Tifa gave him her most winning smile. "I'm very glad to meet you Cloud Strife."
She turned back to see Reno looking just as perplexed as Cloud.
She smiled at him.
"Thanks Reno," she said. She hugged herself. "Oh-h-h you were s-s-s-so right! It feels so good to meet a REAL man!"
Reno's face reddened in anger. He pressed the button. "You just signed your own death warrant."
"YOU . . . " Barret's eyes were wide with shock. "He pressed the damned button!"
"Reno!" Cloud clenched his fists.
"We've got to disarm it!" Tifa glared at Reno. "We have to get to the panel and stop it ourselves!"
Reno smirked at them. "I can't have you do that. No one gets in the way of Reno and the Turks."
He pulled his nightstick from under his arm and pressed a button. The weapon hummed as sparks skipped over its surface.
"You want a fight? Let's do it."
Cloud started with a quake spell hoping to knock Reno off his feet long enough to disarm him, but Reno weathered the heaving metal floor and aimed his nightstick at Tifa. A golden ball sped toward her. She hardly felt it hit, but the golden sphere wasn't meant to cause damage on impact. The moment it touched her body, it spread over her and expanded. Tifa found herself inside a translucent pyramid. She touched it with her fingers. The surface gave a little when she pressed against it the first time, but the next prod told her it was hardening at an alarming rate. She beat at it with her fists.
Reno laughed at her efforts.
"How do you like my little pyramid?" he asked. "I designed it myself. The walls are using the air INSIDE the pyramid to set. You'll be dead in minutes."
Cloud and Barret looked at Tifa in alarm.
"Cloud!" Tifa's voice was faint. She dropped to her knees panting.
"It's invincible once it hardens completely," said Reno. "No one and nothing has ever broken out once it's set. Say goodbye to your little playmate Cloud!"
Cloud swung his blade at the pyramid. There was barely any give left in the surface, but what was there was enough. The pyramid shattered. Tifa spilled out on the floor gasping for breath.
Forgetting Reno for the moment, Cloud and Barret went to her assistance. They were helping Tifa to her feet when Cloud let out a piercing cry and dropped to his knees. Barret looked past Cloud to see Reno holding his nightstick against Cloud's side. He let go of Tifa. Reno jumped away from them. Tifa dropped to her knees again. He aimed his weapon at Reno and fired.
Reno dived to one side at the same instant and rolled out of the way. Regaining his feet, he grinned at Barret with a malicious glint in his eyes.
Barret pulled Tifa to her feet and knelt next to Cloud.
"Are you okay?"
Cloud shook himself. He raised his head. His eyes sought out Reno and narrowed.
"I'm all right."
He rose to his feet. "What about you Tifa?"
"I'm okay," she answered.
"Let's take him out," said Cloud.
"Fine by me." Barret fired at Reno. His first shot gazed Reno's left arm, but the red haired man avoided the rest of the barrage.
Reno aimed his nightstick in Barret's direction. A stream of electrical bolt hit the big man dead center. Barret's mouth opened in a silent scream and he stood frozen in place.
Cloud darted forward. Reno turned toward him. The stream of bolts appeared again. Cloud rolled to the side and came up fast. He slashed at Reno, nicking his arm before the nightstick slapped his blade away. Tifa distracted Reno with an ice attack, allowing Cloud retreat to a safe distance. Reno swore at her and grazed her with a blast of energy that made the loose strands of her hair stand out.
Cloud attacked him with another ice spell. Reno whipped his nightstick around as Cloud moved forward again. Another golden sphere left the nightstick and zoomed toward Cloud. He ducked the first one, but he wasn't fast enough to avoid the second. The golden pyramid sealed him in and began to harden.
"Cloud!" Tifa rushed forward to free him.
"Oh no you don't!" Reno ran forward, lowering the charge on his stick. He pressed it against Tifa's shoulder before she could attack the pyramid.
She screamed in agony and backed away from him clutching her shoulder in pain.
Reno thrust his stick against her right shoulder with a slightly higher charge.
Tifa cried out and dropped to her knees.
Reno circled her and pressed the nightstick against her spine. Tifa's eyes opened wide and she fell on her stomach trying to scream. She couldn't find her voice. Reno circled her again and press the stick against her shoulder. Tifa flopped over on her back with a muffled grunt.
"So you're too good for me?" Reno smirked at her and touched her again.
Tifa's legs kicked helplessly. She managed a half scream.
Inside his pyramid, Cloud swung his blade uselessly against the walls of his prison. They wouldn't break. The air inside was getting desperately thin. The pyramid could only be broken from the outside. He looked toward Barret helplessly. The AVALANCHE man was still frozen in place. He looked back at Tifa. Reno was laughing as he held the nightstick against Tifa's arm She was shaking like a leaf in high wind.
"Stop it!" he yelled, his voice was a croak. There wasn't much of his air supply left. Cloud dropped to his knees panting.
"We could have had a good time," said Reno standing over Tifa holding his nightstick threateningly. "Now look what you're making me do. What if I give you one last chance? Want to come with me now?"
Tifa rolled onto her hands and knees. Her face was damp with tears. She slipped one hand into her pocket and pulled out a small vial of ether. Reno hit it out of her hands before she could get it in her mouth. He shocked her again. She cried out. He laughed.
Cloud was lying on his stomach watching. Spots swam before his eyes.
Reno laughed and poked her again.
"Stop!" she whimpered. "Please stop!"
"Trust me," said Reno turning the charge of to its strongest setting. "This will be the last time you'll feel a thing."
He lowered the stick to touch her back .
Something seized him from behind. Reno screamed as he was raised high above the platform. He barely had time to realize a huge gun was pressing into his spine before he was thrown through the air. He landed painfully at the base of the control panel.
Barret fired at the pyramid encasing Cloud. It shattered. He tucked Tifa under his gun arm. She reached down to grab the ether before Barret carried her to Cloud. Barret scooped up Cloud, tucking him under the other arm.
"Hang on to that damned sword Cloud," he said.
Tifa opened her ether and swallowed it the moment Barret put her down. He reached in his pocket and pulled out an X-potion tablet.
"Swallow this too," he said urgently.
He cast Cure on Cloud.
Cloud sat up. Barret reached in Cloud's pocket and pulled out another X-potion tablet. "Swallow this."
Cloud put it in his mouth. Barret swallowed one of his own. He looked across to see Reno using the control for support as he climbed to his feet. The helicopter was circling the platform. Someone inside cast Cure on Reno. The red haired man picked up his nightstick and turned in their direction.
"Get up," said Barret. "He's getting ready to attack again."
"I owe him," said Tifa rising to her feet. She cast ice on Reno.
He staggered back a step and sent an electrical charge her way. Leaning on her fighting skills, Tifa danced out of the way and used Dolphin Blow.
Reno reeled under the assault. His eyes were murderous as he aimed at her again. Cloud joined her using Metorain.
Reno went down on one knee. A golden globe struck Cloud and encased him in a pyramid. Tifa attacked it at once with her fists. It shattered. Barret gave Reno a taste of Hammerblow. Bleeding from numerous cuts, Reno had taken all he could stand.
"It's time." he said. Instead of attacking as they expected, he ran toward the edge of the platform and leaped over the rail.
"Did he just commit suicide?" asked Tifa looking startled.
"Who gives a damn?" Barret ran toward the controls. "We've got to stop this thing from blowing up!"
They ran to the panel. The digital clock was ticking off the seconds till the pillar separated from the plates overhead. Tifa fiddled with one button after another. Nothing changed. The timer kept counting down.
"Cloud!" she cried. "I don't know how to stop this! Try it!"
Cloud moved to her side and examined the panel. "It's not a normal time bomb."
With the whirl of an angry hornet, the helicopter rose above the railing where Reno had vanished. It moved around until it was hovering over their heads. They could see an open door. Reno's head appeared. He saluted them with a wave of his hand. He smiled down at Tifa.
"See? You could have been safe," he shouted down at her. "Now you'll have to die with your friends. My way would have been so much better and so much more . . . entertaining."
"Drop dead Reno," said Tifa.
"Oh you will," he said. "You will."
He ducked out of sight. Another head appeared. It was Tseng.
"It won't do you any good to mess with those controls," he said. "You can't disarm it. Only a Shinra executive can set up or disarm the Emergency Plate Release System. It'll blow the second some stupid jerk touches it."
He glanced at the panel and grinned.
"See? You've speeded up the countdown."
Barret, Tifa and Cloud turned to look at the counter. Tseng was right. It was counting down much faster.
Tseng ducked back into the helicopter as Barret fired at it. Bullets slammed into the fuselage.
One word came over the helicopters loudspeaker.
Barret stopped firing. "What?"
Tseng stuck his head back out of the door.
"I know where your daughter is Barret," he said. "One of our people in Rocket Town spotted her an hour ago. Shoot us down and my last order will be to have her killed. It won't be pleasant and it won't be quick."
"Don't you touch my daughter!" screamed Barret. "I'll kill you Tseng. Touch her and I swear I'll kill you dead!"
Tseng looked bored.
"Instead of threatening me, you ought to think about your own situation," he said. "It should be starting right about now. Think you can escape in time?"
They could hear him laughing as the helicopter flew away. Beneath their feet, the platform began to rumble. The counter hit zero. Tifa screamed and held onto Cloud as an explosion below them made the tower rattle.
"Once that plate comes down, it's too late," she said, her face white with fear. "We've got to hurry!"
Cloud looked around for a way to escape.
"This way!" Barret ran to the railing.
Tifa ran toward him with Cloud.
"What do you propose we do?" she asked. "Fly?"
"Something like that," said Barret. He reached for a wire attached to the rail. The other end was slanted away toward the ceiling, attached to the top of the next support tower. Holding the wire in one hand Barret blasted the section attached to the rail free.
"What are you doing?"asked Cloud.
Barret climbed up on the rail and pulled against the wire to test its strength. It seemed strong enough.
"Tifa, get in front and put your put your arms around my neck," he said. "Hang on tight. Get on my back Cloud!"
They did as he asked. An explosion rocked the tower. It was followed by another. They heard the screech of metal as the supports gave way. Barret jumped an instant before the rail dropped from beneath his feet. He swung out over the abyss as explosions ripped the tower to pieces.
Tifa buried her face against Barret's neck, expecting to fall to her death. All around them people were screaming as they realized what was happening. The sound of tearing metal all but drowned them out.
Barret hung on to the wire feeling the strain of the extra weight. The wire was biting into his hands, but he refused to let go of it. He would not be responsible for killing the rest of his friends.
The wire swung down to it's lowest point. Barret dropped his feet to the ground running. He released the wire. Cloud dropped off his back hitting the ground painfully. Barret tripped. He rolled at the last instant to take the brunt of the blow on his back to protect Tifa. She rolled off him scraping the skin off one elbow and thigh. There was not time to use. Barret got up pulling Tifa up by the arm. He started running as hard as he could He looked back. Limply slightly, she was right behind them.
"Run!" screamed Barret. He slowed down and pushed Tifa ahead of him. "Run for your lives!"
Gritting his teeth, Cloud forced himself to run harder. Dirt and dust filled the air. The sound of rending metal continued. There weren't as many screams behind them as before. Tifa tried not to falter as scream after scream ended before it finished.
Barret stumbled once. Cloud and Tifa grabbed an arm and helped him steady himself. They were almost at the end of their endurance, but stopping meant certain death. By the time, they reached a safe area, well beyond the collapse, they were too weak to stand. They lay on the ground helpless. Behind them, except for sounds of metal settling into place and the cloud of dirt blanketing the area, there was only silence.