Appointment With Destiny Chapter 21
Except for one person, the recreation floor was deserted.
Standing near a bench by the trees, was a slender man in nondescript clothing. He jumped as if he'd been shot when the door opened but sagged in relief when he saw who it was.
"You're late!" he said in a sharp voice.
"Hello to you too," she said. "Who are you and why am I here?"
"Hello Mrs. Heidegger. My name is Biggs Waylin. I work for Hojo."
"Hojo?" Aeris drew back. "Look, if you're here to deliver a message from that weirdo . . . "
Biggs threw up his hands.
"No! No! It's nothing like that! I came on my own!"
Aeris eyed him suspiciously.
"What do you want?"
"I came to warn you," he said looking around anxiously.
"Warn me about what?" she asked backing away. "What are you so nervous about?"
"Mrs. Heidegger PLEASE!" Biggs' eyes were desperate. "I know something about computers. I hacked my way into the system and made some changes so that some of the cameras on various floors aren't working right now. We've only got a little time left before they bring the surveillance equipment back on line. I can't be seen with you or he'll kill me!"
Aeris stopped. "Who?"
Aeris made a dismissive gesture. "Nonsense. Hojo may pull the wings off a fly or two, but he hardly strikes me the killer type."
"Then you're a fool," said Biggs in a quiet voice.
Stung by his remark Aeris opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off.
"Hojo has killed before and he won't hesitate to kill again. He's a very dangerous man Mrs. Heidegger."
His eyes were a gentle brown, but something in his voice made her skin crawl.
"All right speak," she said, "And please call me Aeris."
"Thank you, " he said with relief in his voice. "I just heard General Heidegger is sending you and Sephiroth to the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim."
"Yes he is. So?"
"Whatever you do, please go to the basement and check out the library," said Biggs. "There will be books down there I think you should read."
"Sephiroth mentioned the library," said Aeris. "He said there's nothing down there but Hojo's stuff. I don't want either of them getting mad at me. I intend to stay as far away from that room as I can get."
"No!" The loudness in his voice startled both of them. Biggs' face reddened. He dropped his tone. "You must go to the library. Read whatever you find."
"Why should I go over my husband's head and listen to you?" asked Aeris. "He told me to leave the library alone."
"There's something there that you should know about." Biggs looked at his watch. "Something very important."
"You keep saying that," she said. "What it is I need to know?"
"You'll never believe it coming from me." Biggs looked at his watch again. "I have to go now."
"You don't know that." Aeris blocked his path. "Why don 't you give me a chance? What's down there?"
"Besides the fact you won't believe me, it's for your own protection."
"What are you talking about?"
Biggs' expression was grim.
"If I'm caught, they can't make me say I told you anything."
Aeris felt a coldness spread through her bones. "If it's that bad, maybe you should tell my husband after all."
"No!" shouted Biggs. He flushed when she jumped back. "I'm sorry. It's better if you find what's down there first, then if you think he should know, you tell him."
He looked at his watch and his face turned pale.
"I have to go."
"Will I see you again?"
"Not here I hope." Biggs' looked nervous again. "I'm dead if I don't leave soon. Hojo is getting suspicious of his assistants again, but he doesn't know who he shouldn't trust. If you see me again in this building, please pretend you don't know me."
"Look Mr. Waylin," Aeris blocked his path again. "I don't know about all this secrecy and sneaking around where I don't belong. I'll take my chances with you. Why don't you just tell me what's going on?"
"Get out of here!" shouted Biggs. He was sweating now. "Go back to your apartment before the cameras are operational. If you hurry you'll be safe a little longer. If they see you here . . . please hurry!"
The fear in his voice was contagious. Aeris scurried toward the door. She took the elevator back to her floor. There was no one in the hall. She ran to her apartment and let herself in.
What should she do? Aeris sat in the den with her arms wrapped around herself trying to decide whether to listen to Biggs or tell Sephiroth about him.
Less than half an hour later, she was nearly startled out of her skin by the sound alarms. They were loud in the apartment and even louder when she opened the door and looked out into the hall. A voice boomed from a speaker.
"Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! Please lock your doors! Intruder Alert!"
Aeris locked the door and stood trembling in fear. The alarms turned off after a short time, but she still didn't know whether it was safe to open the door or not. She kept watching the phone. Why hadn't Sephiroth called to tell her what was going on? Forty minutes ticked by before she heard him opening the door.
She flew into his arms. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Sephiroth's green eyes glowed with barely concealed anger. "AVALANCHE is alive and well."
"AVALANCHE?" Aeris looked up in bewilderment. "I thought they were dead!"
"Didn't we all?" Sephiroth gave her a light squeeze and released her. "Apparently we were wrong. We don't know how long they were in the building before the alarms went off. Somehow they managed to sabotage our surveillance equipment."
Aeris thought about Biggs.
"Did they take anything?"
"As far as we know, all they took were a few hostages," he answered. "They let all of them go, but one."
"Who?" Aeris' eyes were large.
"One of Hojo's assistants," replied Sephiroth. "Biggs Waylin. Biggs kept them from taking a female hostage so they took him instead. His bravery has probably cost him his life. He took a swing at a man named Barret Wallace."
"Is Barret considered a killer?" she asked.
"If he's in AVALANCHE Aeris, he's a killer." Sephiroth's tone suggested she should have known that.
"Oh." Aeris thought back to the gentle man she had met and tried to think of him as a mad killer. It was a difficult thing to do.
Sephiroth mistook her expression for fright. He put his arms around her.
"Don't worry Aeris. They're gone now. If I could have made it downstairs in time, they wouldn't have gotten away."
Her face hidden from his view Aeris pondered her position. She felt bad enough keeping her trip to the slums a secret, now she had another one. Sephiroth was her husband and he had a right to know about both events. He'd be angry, but at least she wouldn't feel as though she was betraying his confidence in her, on the other hand she was bothered by the way Biggs had risked his life to speak to her. He had to be the contact Jessie was referring to. What was so important he had come out of hiding?
She looked up at Sephiroth. "Does mean we won't move today because you'll have to go after them?"
He shook his head. "We're leaving in the next ten minutes, or as soon as you're ready. Whatever comes first."
"I'm ready now," she said. Tell him about Biggs, said a voice inside her. Why are you keeping another secret?
Sephiroth released her and went to the phone. "I'll take care of everything."
Aeris smiled at him and went into the kitchen. I should tell him, she thought, but if I say something now, Sephiroth will be so concerned for my safety, he won't take me to the mansion at all. He'll leave me here under armed guard. With my luck, the President will insist on that being Tseng and the Turks. I'll be stuck with Scarlet and Hojo too. On top of that, I'll never know what Biggs was trying to tell me.
She could hear Sephiroth speaking in the other room. Aeris made up her mind. I'm going to keep quiet for now, she thought. I want to be with my husband, not in a building far away with people I can't trust. She bit her lower lip. That sounds funny coming from me. Trust. I just hope when I tell him the truth, Sephiroth will forgive me.
* * * * *
"Did you tell her?" asked Cloud when AVALANCHE was safely away.
"I told her," answered Biggs.
"Do you think she'll do it?"
"I don't know." Biggs sighed. "Let's hope she does."
* * * * *
The helicopter ride to the mansion gave Aeris a chance to see more of the countryside. Sephiroth pointed out various areas and answered her questions patiently. From what Aeris could see, the houses in the village were arranged in a large circle with a well dominating the center. The Mansion, surrounded by a brick and wrought iron wall was accessed by ascending a flight of stairs and walking to the left, almost directly behind the Nibelheim Inn.
Sephiroth took Aeris by the hand and led her inside. Curious villagers watched from a distance. The mansions interior was lovely, but the fancy scrolls and lacy designs on the windows and doors reminded Aeris of all the haunted houses she'd ever seem in movies. She half expected a ghost to jump out of its hiding place and yell "Boo!"
Sephiroth took her through each room until she'd seen the top and bottom floors. Finally he took her through the basement door. He turned on the light above the stairs.
"The library is down there," he said pointing. "That's what you want to stay clear of."
"Don't worry I will." She almost flinched knowing that wasn't true. All the way to Nibelheim, Brigg's words had been gnawing on her mind. What did he want her to see in the library?
"Are we safe here?" she asked. "What about AVALANCHE?"
Sephiroth let her back through the door and closed it behind them.
"Actually this is Cloud Strife's home town," he said. "But he wouldn't dare show his face here. At least not while I'm this close."
Aeris heard another helicopter landing. "What's that?"
"The mansion will be well guarded while we're here," answered Sephiroth. "I'm not going to restrict your activities to the mansion. You can come and go as you please, but you'll always have an armed escort to accompany you. I'm not taking any chances with your life."
"You still think AVALANCHE would hurt me to get at you?"
"Look what they did in Sector Seven," he said.
Aeris bit lip and walked into the huge living room. "Am I supposed to keep this place clean by myself?"
"No, that would be impossible," he replied. "Especially in your condition."
She turned to him. "I'm not helpless."
"No, but keeping this place up is a lot of work." Sephiroth looked out a window. "A cleaning crew will come in three times a week to do the cleaning. They work a few hours then leave. They can stay on permanently if you like. They're here now, making sure everything is ready."
Aeris nodded. "Can I still cook our dinner myself?"
"I thought you'd say that." Sephiroth smiled. " If you get tired of cooking and keeping the kitchen up, I'll hire a full time chef for you."
She shook her head. "A part time clean up crew is fine."
"All right." Sephiroth put his arms around her. "I have to go now. I want to get a look at the problem near the reactor. I'm told the monsters are back and they're making it almost impossible for the crews to get to work without being attacked."
"Okay, I'll see you later."
Sephiroth kissed her before he left. Aeris watched him gather some of the soldiers outside and speak to them. One of the men signaled for a truck. Sephiroth got in the back with them and the truck pulled away. Aeris went to an upstairs window and watched until she couldn't see them anymore. She hurried back to the basement door and opened it. It looked gloomy down there but the walls were made of a material that had its own glow. It wouldn't be hard to find the library, still, as she slipped inside and closed the door behind her, Aeris turned on the light.
Her heart was pounding as she went down the winding staircase. Once she thought she heard a noise and stopped.
I should have brought my staff down here, she thought.
She waited quietly. There was complete silence below. She moved forward again. Further down, she was sure she heard another sound. Aeris waited in silence. Nothing moved.
"The next time I'm bringing my staff for sure," she said to herself. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she'd ever have the nerve to come back . . . if she made it back up to the top alive.
At the base of the stairs, she found a set of double doors held shut by a padlock. Aeris held the lock in her hands and frowned. The lock wasn't even dusty. It couldn't have been there long.
"You were put here when Hojo knew we were coming," she said to the lock. "Why is he so afraid we might go into the library?"
She frowned at the lock.
"I'm going to get you off, if it's the last thing I ever do."
Turning around she made her way back up the stairs again.
Sephiroth came back two hours later and gave Aeris a tour of the town. She greeted each person warmly. They accepted her at once. Back at the mansion Sephiroth surprised her by helping with the job of preparing dinner.
Later that night as he lay sleeping beside her, Aeris stared into the darkness thinking about the lock. She could understand Hojo not wanting his things disturbed but the mansion was empty most of the time. Anyone in town could have come in and gone down there. Why was it sealed now that a supposedly trusted member of Shinra had moved in?
You'd think he'd trust Sephiroth to tell me not to go down there and I wouldn't. Aeris smiled to herself. Sure, I went anyway, but he didn't even give me the benefit of a doubt. Is it me he don't want down there or is it Sephiroth? What's in the library?
Aeris didn't go to sleep for a long time. When she did, it seemed as if the sun came up five minutes later. Sephiroth got up to shower. He cheerful as ever, but Aeris was dead on her feet. She dragged herself to the kitchen and made breakfast for him.
Sephiroth looked at her over his cup of coffee. "Maybe you should go back to bed Aeris. You look tired."
Leaning on one elbow with her head resting in her palm, Aeris gave him a wan smile. "I didn't get much sleep last night."
"I guess I'm just not used to sleeping in a new place." She gave him a tired smile. "I'll adjust."
"If you find it too hard on you here, I can always send you back to the apartment," he said. "I don't want to put any stress on you."
"You will if you send me back," she replied. "One word. Scarlet."
Sephiroth stood up and came around the table. "Okay. I won't send you back. Give me a hug, I'm on my way out."
She stood up and hugged him. He kissed her.
"I'll be back as soon as I can."
She smiled at him, then watched until he was in the truck and gone. She cleaned the kitchen as fast as she could then hurried back down the stairs to see if the lock had fallen off during the night. It hadn't. Aeris went back upstairs. Somehow she'd find a way to open those doors.
Over the next few days, Aeris found the villagers were quick to share their time with her. The shopkeepers always showed her their best wares. On the surface, Aeris felt just like she had always belonged in a place like Nibelheim but every so often she was reminded of her status as an outsider. One such time was when she asked a lady she'd been chatting with if Cloud Strife had relatives in the village. The woman's face turned frosty and she told Aeris she had to go home and check something. She walked away without looking back.
On another occasion, Aeris thought she saw a girl like Tifa in the distance. She called out, but the object of her curiosity vanished around a corner. When Aeris got there, the girl was gone. She asked people in the area if they'd seen the girl and mentioned Tifa's name. They gave her blank expressions and went on their way.
Both times left Aeris feeling rejected, but she understood their reluctance. They liked her but she was still the wife of a man sworn to bring in AVALANCHE. Without intending to, she represented the company who kept the village under its thumb. Aeris stopped asking about AVALANCHE and kept her conversations on other subjects.
* * * * *
Three weeks after they arrived, there was an incident at the reactor. A pair of dragons decided to fight over the right to mate with a female of their kind. The female fled, but that didn't stop the quarrel between the males. The guards were forced to fire on the monsters to save themselves from being trampled.
It was an unfortunate coincidence AVALANCHE chose that night to plant a bomb. While the soldiers ran around shooting at the dragons, AVALANCHE came out of hiding to flee. One of the group didn't make it. Before he could reach the safety of of a nearby forest, a man near the rear of the group was hit by a blast of machine gun fire. He crumpled to the ground and lay still. Two troopers turned the body over. The fixed gaze of Biggs Waylin stared up at them.
Another trooper found the bomb. It was set to go off in fifteen minutes. He pulled it from its moorings and ran for open ground hoping to throw it before time ran out. He tripped and fell. The impact caused the bomb to explode. Twelve men were killed outright. Many more were horribly injured. Repairs made earlier were weakened, putting the reactor in worse shape than before.
Sephiroth sat up in bed at the first sound of gunfire. He was running out of the door, pulling on his clothes when the explosion rocked the mansion. Aeris grabbed her robe and went after him. Sephiroth was too fast for her. She ran out the front door all the way down to the mansion's gate. The appreciative smile of a passing male drove her back inside.
Aeris took off her nightgown and found some clothes to wear. She rushed back outside. It was easy to find the reactor by the flaming trees ignited by the blast. She followed the curious villagers there and stood in shock as injured men were hustled to a hasty erected triage.
Sephiroth was furious. Aeris watched him tearing into his men in a temper she'd never seen before. Helicopters were arriving with more troops and doctors. Of the four men who were supposed to be guarding the entrance to the reactor, only one survived. Before the arrival of the dragons, three of them had moved off a short distance away to play cards with their backs to the door. The fourth guard sneaked off to be alone with a pretty village girl.
AVALANCHE had simply sneaked past the perimeter guards and walked into the reactor to set their bombs. When the dragons arrived, the card playing guards were caught up in the struggle to drive them away. The fourth guard and his girlfriend, drawn by the commotion, arrived just in time to witness the explosion. The dragons fled, one of them trampling the girl. The guard saved himself from the same fate, by leaping out of the way. The only injury he received was a skinned knee. The girls was loaded on a Shinra helicopter and taken away with the rest of the wounded. The guard was sent before the wrath of Sephiroth.
He stood shivering as he gazed into icy green eyes.
"I'll take care of you later," promised Sephiroth.
The guard turned white as he was led away.
"Get these people out of here," ordered Sephiroth.
One of the troopers glanced at Aeris and pointed.
Sephiroth turned. As he walked toward her, Aeris was very much aware of the fact that he wasn't happy to see her. When he spoke however, his voice was calm.
"I'll have a trooper drive you home."
Aeris glanced around. "There goes a family I know. I can walk back with them."
"No." Sephiroth turned around and signaled to a man with a jeep.
"It's okay Sephiroth, really." Aeris waved at the family and they waved back. "I'll be okay with them."
Sephiroth turned back and Aeris caught a glimpse of barely controlled rage.
"Whatever you think is best," she added quickly.
The jeep pulled up.
"Take my wife back to the mansion." Sephiroth's voice was colder than she'd ever heard it before. "Triple her guards. No one gets in or out of there unless it's me. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir." The guard jumped down from his jeep and helped Aeris climb onboard.
"Don't come outside again Aeris." Sephiroth was clearly trying not to take his anger out on her.
"I won't." Aeris wanted to give him a hug, but he didn't look as if he was in the mood for one. "Are you coming back tonight?"
"I don't know." He turned and walked away without looking back.
Aeris looked after him feeling as if she was the least important thing on his mind. The driver turned the vehicle around. He picked up his mike and repeated the orders Sephiroth had given him. The jeep flew over the wooden bridge spanning a deep chasm and headed back for the Village. The guard walked her to the door and waited till she was inside, before he touched his helmet to her and went back to his jeep.
Aeris went upstairs and dressed for bed again. Hearing a noise outside, she looked out the window. Another helicopter was landing. Guards hurried to take positions around the mansion. Aeris watched them from the window. Just what was going on in this crazy world? Her mind turned back to the library.
"I'm not just going to stand here and worry," she said to herself. "I'm going to get in that library!"
Filled with determination, Aeris put on her robe and headed for the basement. She opened the door, turned on the light and looked down.
"I'm coming to get you lock," she said. "You're going to open for me tonight!"
She hurried down the stairs as fast as she could. When she finally reached the door, she closed her fist around the lock.
"Open up!" She jiggled it. "You're not going to keep me out of this library!"
She shook and pulled it with all her might, but it did no good. The lock held firm. Frustrated, she let go and stared at it.
"What good is my being a Cetra, supposedly with magic powers if I don't know how to use them?"
There was no answer from the lock.
"A real Cetra would take this lock in her hands like this." Aeris put both hands around the lock. "Then close her eyes and picture the lock in her mind."
Aeris closed her eyes and thought how the lock looked when she'd last seen it.
"She would imagine something moving inside." She wasn't sure what would move, but she pictured little gears turning.
"And then it would pop open, just like that!"
Aeris felt movement in her palms and something clicked. She opened eyes, then jumped back in surprise. The lock was hanging open.
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