Appointment With Destiny Chapter 24
Just as she'd known in advance, Dancy's Baby World was having another sale. As the only shop in the village devoted to the care of infants, Dancy could set her own prices, which were usually above those offered by other shops. Since she carried the biggest and best selection available, she didn't have a problem with getting her customers to part with their money. They paid it willingly because Dancy gave them a break sometimes by having a sale at least once or twice a month. She put out brand new items as well as close outs. Whenever she had a sale, people came from miles around and the shop was packed with buyers.
The driver pulled up in front of the shop and got out of his seat to come around and open the door for Aeris. He looked at the crowd milling around inside.
"It looks pretty crowded in there Ma 'am" he said, glancing at a woman carrying an armload of packages. "Are you sure you want to shop today?"
Aeris smiled at him. "If I don't get in there now, it's back to regular prices again. Sometimes she puts out things you never see except for a sale. I don't want to take any chances on missing something!"
"If you say so Ma 'am." The driver nodded to the guards, who were getting off their motorcycles. "Just stay close to your guards please."
Aeris gave him another smile. One of the guards led the way into the crowded shop. Most people moved out of the way. Those that didn't were given first a verbal warning then a rough hand. Aeris sighed. She hated it when the guards went overboard. For a while she milled around collecting items here and there, but her mind was on escape.
Dancy had a storeroom behind the counter. Aeris knew there was a door in the rear of the shop. If only she could make her way behind the counter without being seen by the guards, she'd have a chance to slip out and get away.
Nearly an hour later, she was ready to admit defeat. No matter how crowded the shop was, the guards always managed to stay close. She even tried to lose them by going into the restroom, but they were waiting diligently when she came out. Aeris was just about to buy the few items she was carrying and ask to be taken back to the mansion when Dancy came out of the storeroom pushing a cart loaded down with merchandise.
"Here you are ladies!" she said cheerfully, moving out of the way. "These are one of a kind items made only in Icicle Village. They're regularly priced at 40 gil each. I'm letting them go for 25 gil!"
A mob descended on the cart. Aeris was swept into the action before she had a chance to get out of the way. Women at a sale have no tolerance for men who don't have enough sense to move aside. Guards or no guards, armed or not, no one was going to keep them from getting to that cart before the merchandise was gone. The guards found themselves being elbowed and bumped from one side to the other. One of them made the mistake of trying to push his way past an old woman who shopping for an expectant granddaughter. She kicked him in the shins and shoved him into another woman. That woman turned around and let him have it with her purse. Aeris found herself shoved up against the counter. She caught a glimpse of the second guard moving into her direction just as the first of several fights broke out.
Two women were fighting over a christening gown. Both of them had one end of it and neither would let go.
"Let go, you fat Chocobo!" screamed one.
"Who are you calling a fat Chocobo, you overstuffed Hungry!" answered her foe.
"Who are you calling a overstuffed Hungry? You ugly Zuu!" shouted the first.
"Why you . . . " The second woman drew back her fist. "I'll show you, you stupid Twin Brain!"
She swung her fist as hard as she could. The first woman ducked to one side. Her aggressors fist flattened the nose of the second guard. He went down.
The second first guard tried to go to the aide of his companion. He pushed one woman out of his way, causing her to drop the beautiful baby gown she'd just wrestled away from another woman. He aimed his gun at the woman who was clutching her fist in pain. "Hold it right there!"
The woman who dropped the gown leaned down to pick it up, but someone snatched it away and vanished into the crowd. Angry now, she straightened up and looked at the armed guard.
The woman he held at bay was white with fear.
The angry woman swung her heavy purse with all her might. It slammed into the guards head. He stumbled back into another woman who fell against two more. All of them ended up on the the floor.
The first guard climbed to his feet with a bloody nose. Angered by pain, he shoved two women aside. They fell against another group of women. Some fell, some didn't. The shop was suddenly silent. All the women stared at the guards.
Aeris stood pressed against the counter feeling the tension in the room.
The second guard was done with shopping for the day. He was just about to look for Aeris when the women attacked. He barely had time to shout before he was beaten to the floor with purses. The first guard screamed at the driver for help. A woman ripped his shirt off, and the others raked their fingernails down his back. He screamed as they dragged him to the floor. The driver, watching just outside the door, ran back to the car and picked up his microphone.
"Ladies! Ladies!" Dancy's calls went unheard.
Aeris backed along the counter until she felt open space behind her back. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw the storeroom door. She ran behind the counter and slipped through, closing it behind her. She hurried past racks and shelves of baby items. She was just reaching for the knob of the back door when a hand seized her arm. She cried out in fear.
"That was pretty neat!" said Tifa grinning at her. "I couldn't have done better myself!"
"Where did you come from?" asked Aeris.
"I followed you in," answered Tifa. "Come on, let's get out of here before the reinforcements arrive."
"It's a wonder my driver didn't stop you at the door," said Aeris. "Didn't he see you?"
"Sure he did," grinned Tifa, "But he was too busy keeping out of harms way to pay that much attention to me. Besides my wanted posters don't show me being pregnant!"
Aeris looked at Tifa's stomach. "You aren't."
There was an old ball laying against the curb across the street," explained Tifa. "I stuffed it under my blouse when he wasn't looking. It's a good thing I decided to wear a longer style today!"
She opened the door and peeked out.
"It's clear," she said. "If we don't get out of here now, we're going to get caught."
"Okay." Aeris followed Tifa out the door. "But I don't know where to go."
Tifa looked back and winked at her. "I do."
She led Aeris to an old truck parked behind a crumbling brick wall. She ran around to the drivers side.
Aeris climbed into the truck.
"Strap in," said Tifa. "I'll try not to bounce you around too much."
She turned the key and the old truck started right up. Tifa drove along the backs of the shops for a while, then turned out on the open plain and picked up speed.
"Don't worry," she said to Aeris. "This thing has four wheel drive. We won't get stuck."
"How did you know I'd come to town today?" asked Aeris.
"I didn't," answered Tifa. "My friends have business outside North Corel. I was just visiting old friends and picking up a few supplies before I met them. I was surprised to see you."
"Oh." Aeris looked away.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were trying to sneak away from your guards. Why?"
"Don't pretend you don't know about the journal Biggs left for me." Aeris heard the resentment in her voice but she didn't care. "Or the pages I received later."
"So you did read them." Tifa glanced at the other girl. "And you believe. We weren't sure you would."
"Is Sephiroth part of Hojo plans?" asked Aeris. "Did he bring me here just to give me to Hojo?"
"We were hoping you could tell us that," replied Tifa. "Since you were trying to run away, I guess that answers that question."
Aeris dropped her eyes and laid her hands across her stomach. Her eyes started to burn, but she refused to cry.
"He's made some sort of plans to send me away tomorrow," she said. "I heard him telling someone on the phone, he was going to be glad to do it. He going to amuse himself with some of his female troopers."
Tifa swerved and brought the vehicle back under control.
"Sorry," she said glancing at Aeris. "I was hoping we were wrong. I'm so sorry for you."
"Not as sorry as I am." Aeris stared out her window. "I wish I'd never gone to England."
"Nothing." Aeris' voice was flat. "Just talking to myself."
A Grangalan rose out of the grass and stared as they went by.
"Don't worry about him," said Tifa. "They don't attack moving vehicles."
"How did they pull off that stunt of Heidegger acting like Sephiroth's father?" asked Aeris.
"Hojo's father Eco bragged that HE was going to be the one to win the Cetra," said Tifa. I understand he used to strut around with a chip on his shoulder. When the time came for him to pass through the portal, there was a crowd waiting for him to emerge with the Cetra, but he came back empty handed. Not only that, he had long scars across his face from her fingernails. His clothes were scorched and ragged. He never explained how that happened. He looked like a beat up scarecrow."
"Some of the crowd laughed at him. That was a big mistake. Eco was already embarrassed and humiliated as it was. The laughter set him off. Using his powers, he turned on the crowd and killed or injured many as he could before his father stopped him."
"He took a bride from Kalm and moved into the mountains above Midgar. No one saw him for a long time. When he finally came down, he came with two boys, both eight years old. His wife had died from complications of the flu. Eco introduced the boys as his son Heidegger and his adopted son Hojo. He said he'd found Hojo's pregnant mother sick in the wilderness. She'd shamed her family by getting pregnant by a man who left her. She ran away, hoping to make it to Kalm on foot. She never said where she'd come from. "
"Eco and his wife cared for her, but she never really recovered from her ordeal in the wild. She died soon after her son was born. By coincidence, Eco's wife was pregnant too. She gave birth a week later. She raised both boys as her own until her death."
"Jenova's line is strong. None of them had ever been known to contract disease or show illness of any kind, so the only thing we can assume here, is whatever Eco came down with, it was an illness only Jenova's race could get as part of their curse. Eco was sick when he came back to Midgar. He left his sons in the care of a willing family and died a few weeks later."
"Hojo was interested in the world around him, so he wanted to be a scientist. Heidegger was more interested in the military. He joined as soon as he could. In time, as you see, both of them went to work for the Shinra family. Hojo is now their head scientist and Heidegger runs the army."
"What about the battle for the Cetra?" asked Aeris. "How did Hojo go in Heidegger's place?"
"Heidegger made a public statement," answered Tifa. "He said he didn't want his trial with the Cetra to become a circus. He promised to repeat the same destruction his father caused if anyone came to the meeting place against his wishes. He didn't want anyone present but Hojo."
"So, there was no one to witness the fact that Hojo went through the portal instead of Heidegger," mused Aeris. "No one would know who Hojo was if he lost."
"That's what we think," said Tifa. "Hojo had time to think about what he wanted out of life. He must have decided long ago that he was more interested in using the Cetra for science than simply having her as a wife. Heidegger went along with his plans."
"It was Heidegger's daughter who died at birth." Aeris looked out the side window. "I wonder if Hojo got the idea to pretend Heidegger was Sephiroth's father then or if he planned it all along. Maybe the deaths of Lucrecia and Heidegger's wife wasn't from natural causes."
"We have no way of proving that." Tifa sighed. "And if it's true, we may never know why Heidegger let Hojo kill his wife and child."
Aeris shivered. "Does the President and Rufus know about their sham?"
Tifa shrugged. "We don't know."
"But Sephiroth does." Aeris closed her eyes and bit her trembling lip.
"Hojo isn't the only one who wants you," said Tifa. "Rufus and the President have their own agenda."
"It has something to do with the Portal doesn't it?" asked Aeris.
Tifa nodded. "They want you to open the portal so they can make contact with someone in power from your world. They hope to get new weapons and things to add to their arsenal. Later they will attack the world that helped them and take control of both planets. The President here and Rufus there."
"I wouldn't help them do that!" cried Aeris. "Never!"
"You would if they were holding your baby hostage," said Tifa.
Aeris turned pale. "My baby?"
"Think about it Aeris," Tifa glanced at her. "Was anyone at Shinra bugging you about when you were going to get pregnant?"
Aeris thought about Scarlett and Hojo. She nodded. "Almost every day."
"See?" Tifa glanced at her again. "They'll do whatever they have to do to gain your cooperation. What better way, than to use your child against you?"
"Hojo on one side, Sephiroth on the other, and both Shinra's take up the last two corners. It was getting harder and harder for Aeris to hold back her tears. "I'm standing right in the middle of a box. What am I going to do?"
Tifa reached out and touched her hand. "Don't worry Aeris, we'll think of something."
The touch was comforting but when Aeris turned toward her companion, there was a look of hopelessness in her eyes.
"Sephiroth said he loved me and I believed him," she said. "Are Jenova's children really capable of love?"
Tifa didn't know what to say. The truck rumbled on.
* * * * *
Back at the baby shop, law and order had been restored. Dancy was forced to close for the day. Most the customers came away satisfied. Those who were not remained in the area giving dirty looks to the guards who being questioned by an officer.
"What do you mean you don't know where Mrs. Heidegger is?" asked the officer. "We're talking about the General's wife. How could you lose her?"
The first guard could only see out one eye.
"We were separated by the crowd sir," he said through swollen lips. "Before we could get to her, we were attacked."
"Attacked?" The officer looked incredulous. "That shop was full of women! Can't you two handle a few women?"
"Women!" The second guard spat on the ground. "I've seen Grand Horns that were tamer! Those weren't women! They were more like a pack of female Bandersnatches!"
The women watching from the sidelines heard what he said and shouted out in anger.
"You made me drop my christening gown!"
"You big Edge Head! You stepped on my foot!"
"He pushed me!" said another. "I only wish I'd had a brick in my purse."
"I only wish I'd had my gun!" yelled the guard. "Then we'd see how tough you are!"
The women surged forward. The officer signaled his men. They raised their weapons and the woman fell back.
"Clear the area!" The officer shouted. "Get these people out of here."
"Yes sir!" His men moved purposely toward the crowd.
It was one thing to beat up a couple of guards but fighting a platoon of armed men was something else. The women decided now would be a good time to leave.
"Sir?" A trooper pulled an earpiece away from his head. "General Sephiroth is on his way."
"Thank you." The officer turned back to hapless guards. "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes."
The guards glanced at each other and turned pale.
"She couldn't have gone far," grumbled the first guard. "Did anyone check the restroom?"
"We did and she's not there," replied the officer. "I don't understand how this could have happened."
"Have you ever seen a bunch of women at a sale?" asked one of the guards. "You struggle through a mob of snarling women and see if you can do better!"
"I don't have to," sniffed the officer indignantly. "And it looks like you've run out time."
A helicopter was speeding toward the village. It dropped out of sight behind a row of houses. Sephiroth came running into view. The expression on his face sent a chill down the officers spine. He tried not to flinch when Sephiroth stopped in front of him. He came to attention and saluted.
Sephiroth did not return the gesture. He glanced at the battered guards then pinned the officer with his eyes.
"Where is my wife?"
The officer looked at the guards. "That's that I'm trying to find out sir. These are the men who were "protecting" her."
The first guard glared at the officer. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. He turned to Sephiroth and saluted.
"I'm sorry sir," he said as calm as he could manage. "We were separated when the proprietress announced a close out sale."
Sephiroth seized him by the throat and raised him into the air.
"You were supposed to stay by her side no matter what." he said through clenched teeth. "You failed to carry out your duty."
The guard made a gagging sound. His eyes were bulging. Desperately he tried to pry Sephiroth's fingers loose, but the General's fingers were as hard as steel. His face began to turn blue.
"Where . . . is . . . my . . . wife?" asked Sephiroth.
The guard was beyond words. His eyes rolled back in his head.
"Sir?" The officer cleared his throat. "Perhaps if you'd let him breathe, he could answer your question, sir."
Sephiroth snarled and hurled the man to the ground. Something snapped in his body, assuring everyone within hearing range, there were broken bones involved. Sephiroth turned on the second guard.
The guard yelped in terror and stumbled backwards trying to protect his throat.
"Mercy sir!" It wasn't our fault!" he cried. "Those women attacked us!"
Sephiroth drew his sword.
The guard screamed and turned to run. He took one step then gasped as the masamune plunged through his body. He guard looked down at the metal protusion, then collapsed.
Sephiroth let him fall of the blade.
The injured guard crawled to his knees, still gasping for breath. He stared at Sephiroth in horror.
"No!" he whimpered. "Please don't!"
Sephiroth raised his sword.
The masamune silenced him. Sephiroth cleaned his blade on the body, then raised his head to stare at the driver.
The troopers standing the near the driver melted away from him. The driver looked around then back at Sephiroth. He pointed to himself questioningly. Sephiroth took a step toward him. The driver let out a squeal and jumped back.
"Where were you?" Sephiroth stood with his masamune lowered.
"W-w-waiting at the front door, like I've been ordered t-to," stammered the man. "Mrs. Heidegger didn't come out the front door sir . . . I swear it! I kept watch! She never came out of the shop!"
Sephiroth stared at him.
"It wasn't my fault!" wailed the driver. He pointed at the dead men. "They are the ones who are supposed to keep her under surveillance! I did my part. I did my job!"
Sephiroth stared at him a moment longer. The driver was sweating. He almost sank to the ground in relief when Sephiroth turned away from him and slid his weapon back in its sheath.
"Search the area," he said to the officer. "Find my wife!"
"Yes sir!" The officer saluted and started shouting orders to his men.
Sephiroth stood trembling in anger.
* * * * *
Tifa stopped the truck in the middle of a grassy plain.
"Why are we stopping here?" Aeris looked around curiously.
"This is my pickup location," said Tifa. "They're coming a few minutes. They were going to wait here till I came, but since you're here, I thought it was wiser to get here a little earlier."
She pulled a PHS out from under the dash board and pressed a button.
"Hi guys, it's Tifa."
"We read you loud and clear," said a man's voice. "Don't tell me you've got your shopping done already?"
"I didn't shop at all," answered Tifa. She winked at Aeris. "But I found something more valuable. I've got Aeris with me."
There was a long pause.
"Did you hear me Cid?" Tifa checked to make sure the device was still on.
"I hear you," came Cid's answer. "I just don't know what to say. How did you manage that?"
Tifa held the PHS out to Aeris. Aeris took it.
"I've left Sephiroth," she said. "Please come and get us. The guards must know I'm gone by now. It won't be long till they spread out and start looking for me."
"You've got it," replied Cid. "You girls just hang tight. I'll be there so fast, you won't believe it. Cid out!"
Aeris gave the PHS back to Tifa.
"I've left my husband. I'm pregnant and homeless," she said. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
Tifa reached out and took Aeris' hands.
"You're not alone Aeris," she said. "AVALANCHE is your friend, and we'll protect you and your baby."
Aeris' vision blurred with tears. "This has been the strangest year I've ever had. No one told me my life was going to go out of control like this. I don't know how much more of this I can take."
"Stop that," Tifa gave her a stern look. "You're stronger than you think. You may have lost the war of spells with Sephiroth, but that doesn't mean you can't use your powers to save yourself now."
"I can't save myself period!" wept Aeris. "I don't have any special powers and if I do, I don't know how to use them!"
"But what about the war of spells with Sephiroth?" asked Tifa in a puzzled tone. "You fought back, right?"
"I didn't fight at all!" Aeris dropped her head.
Tifa looked at her in disbelief. "You didn't? You mean you just let Sephiroth win?"
Aeris shook her head. "I never knew about Jerin's curse. My mother died before she could tell me. I didn't know anything about anything until Sephiroth appeared. He won the contest hands down and brought me here. Now I've found out he's involved in a plot to conquer this world and others. If I knew what to do, I'd open that portal right now and go home. I don't know how! What am I going to do Tifa? What am I going to do?"
Her head ringing with Aeris' confession, Tifa put her arms around the sobbing girl and held her. She didn't know what to do either.
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