Appointment With Destiny Chapter 25
It was a beautiful day. The birds were singing and the sky was clear. There were those who leaned back and sighed as they enjoyed the warmth of the day, but there were others who had too much on their minds to be concerned with the state of the weather.
One of those people was Sephiroth. Heidegger watched him warily as he paced back and forth in the mansions living room. He'd left Junon in response to Sephiroth's frantic call and arrived to find the young general driving his men in a frenzy get results. Orders fueled by his temper were causing more harm than good.
It was Heidegger's idea to have him wait at the mansion so the troopers could do their jobs. Sephiroth had refused to go until Heidegger was forced to make his suggestion an order. Now he was trying to get him to calm down and think of places to search for Aeris, but Sephiroth was too upset to engage in conversation. Eyes blazing with fury, he paced back and forth across the living room floor stopping occasionally to stare out the window in frustration.
Heidegger glanced at the phone, willing it to ring with good news. It remained stubbornly quiet. Sephiroth was an excellent leader and a fairly reasonable person, but there were times when his temper drove him to the extreme. The older general wasn't sure how long he could hold him. In the state he was in, there was a very good chance that Sephiroth would defy him and go off on his own. Using the troops to keep him at the mansion was the last thing Heidegger wanted to try. The results of that attempt were sure to be unpleasant.
"Sephiroth," he said gently. "Sit down for a while. You're getting all worked up and that won't help us find Aeris. We'll find her, you'll see."
Sephiroth turned around so fast, Heidegger was sure the next thing he'd see would be the flash of the masamune. It took all of his willpower not to flinch. Sephiroth's eyes burned into his. The weapon was still in its sheath.
"Where could she be?" Sephiroth's words came out in a rush. "Where is my wife?"
"I don't know Sephiroth," he said carefully. "Our men are looking everywhere. They're sure to find her soon."
"And what if they don't?" Sephiroth's eyes were unnerving. "What if they don't find her at all?"
"They will-" began Heidegger, but Sephiroth cut him off.
"She's carrying my child!" Sparks danced in his eyes. "What about everything I've planned? If anything happens to Aeris and my baby, I'll-"
"What a touching scene," said Hojo coming through the front door. "The anxious husband and grieving father."
Sephiroth took a step toward Hojo. Heidegger threw himself between both men.
"That was uncalled for Hojo," he said giving Hojo a warning look. "You know he's upset about Aeris."
"Why should he care?"Sephiroth's words were cold. "As long as he gets what he wants, nothing else matters to him. Do you know the meaning of the word "Father" Hojo?"
Hojo's eyes glittered.
"You don't," continued Sephiroth. "And you don't deserve that title."
"You're right," agreed Hojo. "Children are a waste of my time."
Heidegger glared at the scientist. "If you can't do anything but start more problems than we've already got, get out of here!"
Hojo gave him a cool look, then raised his eyes to Sephiroth.
"I apologize for my earlier statement Sephiroth," he said bowing his head. He looked up again. "If I can do anything to help you find her, I'm here to help."
"You could have helped by staying away!" spat Sephiroth. "What if Aeris comes back and finds you here? She won't want to stay in the same room with you!"
"You're right." Hojo nodded again. "I don't want to upset her in her condition. I just came to tell you I don't think she's far away."
Heidegger looked at Hojo eagerly. "Have you heard anything?"
"Not really." Hojo brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his jacket. "I examined the baby shop myself. The only way Aeris could have left the shop is through a door in the back and there were no signs of a struggle."
Heidegger stroked his beard. "She wouldn't put up much of a fight if she was kidnaped an armed assailant."
"True, but maybe . . . " Hojo gave Sephiroth a shrew look. ". . . she left on her own. You had her eating out of the palm of your hand Sephiroth. Why would she run away from you?"
Sephiroth looked at Hojo as if he wanted to strangle him.
"What makes you think that?" Heidegger frowned at Hojo. "Aeris loves Sephiroth very much she wouldn't run away from him."
Hojo shrugged. "Maybe not. It's just a thought. The guards were checking around the back of the building, but I suggested they move further out and search for signs of a vehicle or a chocobo."
"My men don't need you to tell them what to do." Sephiroth glared at him. Why don't you go back to your lab?"
"Perhaps I should stick around." Hojo gave him a sidelong glance. "If she isn't found in the next few minutes, maybe I can talk you out of killing more of the guards."
Heidegger grabbed Hojo by the arm and pushed him toward the door. He braced himself to block Sephiroth again, but Sephiroth held his ground. His hand was resting on the hilt of the masamune. He glared at Hojo.
"Get out of here!" Heidegger hissed urgently. He'd seen that look before. "I'm not strong enough to keep him from killing you! Go now!"
Hojo smirked at him and answered in a low voice. "My son won't kill me."
"GET OUT OF HERE NOW!" shouted Heidegger. He opened the door and shoved Hojo outside.
Hojo gave them a baleful look before Heidegger slammed the door in his face.
"One of these days-" began Sephiroth.
Someone knocked on the door.
"If that's Hojo again-" Sephiroth drew his sword.
The door opened and a trooper rushed in. He stopped short when he saw the look on Sephiroth's face.
"What is it?" asked Heidegger before Sephiroth could speak. "Have you found her?"
The guard eyed Sephiroth's weapon uncertainly.
"Well? Do you have news or not?" Sephiroth's eyes burned through the man.
The guard dragged his eyes away from the masamune and saluted.
"We found tire tracks a short distance from the shop where Mrs. Heidegger vanished Sir," said the guard. "There were two sets of footprints. Both female. We believe Mrs. Heidegger was taken from the building against her will, forced into a truck and driven away."
Sephiroth took a step toward the trooper.
"Was there a trail?"
"Yes sir," said the trooper, taking a step back. "Our best trackers are following it toward North Corel. They just reported in a minute ago. There's no sign of the vehicle itself, but they hope to catch up with it soon."
"I'm going to my helicopter," snapped Sephiroth. "Call my pilot and tell him we're going out with the trackers, is that understood?"
"Yes sir!" The trooper saluted and hurried out the door.
Sephiroth turned to Heidegger. "I can't wait any longer. I'm going to look for her myself."
Heidegger nodded. "I'll wait here for more information."
Sephiroth nodded and hurried out the door.
* * * * *
"Where are we going?" asked Aeris.
"It's just a little further," answered Tifa leading the way. "Just up this hill."
Aeris followed Tifa, picking her way around the brush. The truck looked small in the distance. When they reached the top of the hill, Tifa shaded her eyes and scanned the sky.
"We'll be on our way home soon," she said. "Cid will be here any minute."
She looked at Aeris and reddened.
"I'm sorry. Our new hideout isn't going to be home for you is it?"
"Don't mind me." Aeris raised her chin. "It's not going to do me any good to start falling apart now. If this is the way things are, I'll just have to accept them."
"I wonder if I could do the same in your place?" Tifa brushed a stray hair off her face."You've been through lot in a short amount of time."
"I'm sure there's more to come." Aeris looked away. "I'm going to have to learn how to use my powers so I can protect myself and the baby. Sephiroth isn't going to forget about us. I'll have to be ready for that."
"I don't doubt that for a minute." Tifa scanned the sky again. "We'll find a way to keep you out of harms way."
Aeris sighed. "The only thing I know how to do right now is use materia."
"That's better than nothing." Tifa knocked a bug off her blouse. "It would be worse, if you didn't know anything at all."
"Sephiroth taught me." Aeris' eyes darkened. "He's taught me a lot it seems. I would never have suspected he'd turn against me."
Tifa glanced at Aeris then looked into the distance.
"I see him!" She jumped up and down. "There's Cid!"
"Tell him to fly faster!" Aeris' voice sounded strange.
Tifa turned to look at her. "Why?"
Silently Aeris pointed in the direction of the abandoned truck. Out on the plain, two vehicles were moving toward them in a cloud of dust.
"They've followed our tracks!" Tifa pulled her PHS out of her pocket. "Cid, Cid! Can you hear me?"
"I hear you."
"Get down here quick! It looks like a rescue squad is coming after Aeris!"
"Damn!" Cid muttered something Aeris couldn't hear. "I'm coming!"
"Come on!" said Tifa tugging Aeris' arm.
Aeris didn't need to hear more. She took off running with Tifa. The men in the jeeps hadn't seen them yet, or the truck hidden on the other side of a clump high brush, but they would soon. Aeris prayed Sephiroth wasn't in one of the vehicles. She kept up for a short distance, but she began to tire quickly.
"Tifa!" She cried. "I can't keep up with you!"
Tifa stopped running and grabbed Aeris to steady her. "You won't have to run anymore. Cid is here."
Indeed the huge air craft had picked up speed. It passed over them and circled around.
"Where's he going?" cried Aeris. "Isn't he going to pick us up?"
"Don't worry, he'll get us." Tifa watched the Highwind coming toward them again. A bullet slammed into the ground near her feet. Another passed through her hair. Two passed so close to her face, she felt them pass.
"They're shooting at us with rifle or something!" cried Aeris.
"Get down!" Tifa yanked Aeris down next to her.
* * * * *
Back on the first jeep the officer slammed the palm of his hand against the back the troopers head in the front passenger seat.
"Stop shooting you idiot!" he shouted. "Do you want to hit the generals wife?"
"I was aiming at the terrorist Sir." Trooper Marsh rubbed the back of his head. "I had her right in my sights! It's Tifa Lockheart!"
"What if you'd missed and hit Mrs. Heidegger instead?" The officer glared at him. "Sephiroth would kill us all!"
"I missed," said the trooper. "There's no harm done."
"You idiot!" The officer gave him an incredulous look. "You fired a weapon that could have killed his wife. Don't you think the men in the other jeep have reported that by now? The General is going to come looking for YOU!"
The confident look fell off Trooper Marsh's face. His skin turned several shades of white before he fainted.
* * * * *
The Highwind settled on the ground in front of the women. Tifa ran toward it half dragging Aeris. A door opened and a ramp slid down. Cloud raced toward them. He took Aeris' other arm. Together raced toward the ship and charged up the ramp. The door slammed into place behind them. The Highwind took to the air just as the first jeep crested the hill.
"Bye bye suckers!" Cid waved.
"Forget that stuff!" snapped Barrett. "Let's get the hell out of here before they shoot us down!"
"They won't shoot at us." said Cid as the Highwind rose higher, turning its nose to the wind. "We've got the general's wife on board."
Barret grinned. "We do, don't we?"
Cloud and Tifa helped Aeris find a seat near a window. She sat down trying to catch her breath.
"I'm sorry Tifa," she said. "I don't run as fast as I used to."
"Don't worry about it." Tifa smiled and touched her on the shoulder. "You're safe now. We'll be home soon."
"We've got a problem!" A large red lion-like beast ran toward them. It was missing one eye.
Aeris let out a scream and cringed against the window next to her seat.
Red XIII stopped, startled. He looked around. "What? What's wrong?"
Aeris stared at him and tried to press herself flatter.
Red XIII took a step closer. "What's wrong?"
Aeris screamed again and he stopped.
Cloud and Tifa looked at her as if she was crazy. Barret came running.
"I don't know." Cloud gave Aeris a quizzical look. "What's wrong Aeris?"
She pointed fearfully. "What's that?"
Everyone turned to see what she was pointing at. Even the beast. He looked confused. "What? What are you looking at?"
Aeris kept pointing. "That!"
"That what?" Everyone was looked puzzled.
A teenage girl came running. she was carrying the strangest looking boomerang Aeris had ever seen.
"What's going on?" She looked around ready for a fight.
"Tell us what's wrong Aeris," said Tifa. "What is it?"
Red took another step closer. "What can I do to help?"
Cid came running. "We've got company! A Shinra helicopter is on our tail!"
The events of the last few seconds vanished as everyone ran to a window. Aeris turned to look out hers.
It was a Shinra helicopter all right. There was no mistaking the markings. It was huge. almost as big as the Highwind. The red and white craft pulled along side the Highwind. Faces stared back at them.
Aeris glanced at each window. Every face was a stranger except one. Sephiroth was staring at her. Aeris turned white. He looked mad enough to kill someone.
"Oh my God!" she said out loud. "It's Sephiroth!"
His mouth formed a word. "Aeris."
She was numb with fright.
He mouthed her name again. "Aeris."
She turned away from him, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Please," she said to Cloud. "Please take me away from here."
Cid was already running back to the cockpit yelling orders. The Highwind picked up speed. The Shinra helicopter began to drop behind. With a loud hum it caught up again.
Aeris looked out the window. Sephiroth was pounding on the glass and shouting. She couldn't hear her name but she knew he was screaming it over and over. She shook her head and he stopped pounding and stared at her. The Highwind surged forward again. The helicopter slipped by a few inches then caught up again.
Sephiroth put one of his hands against the glass. One of the Highwinds motors sputtered then caught.
"What happened?" asked Tifa, turning away from the window.
"It's HIM!" screamed Yuffie. "HE's doing it."
The second engine, sputtered then caught again.
"He's going to make us crash land, so he can get to Aeris!" shouted Tifa. She ran toward the cockpit. "Get us out of here Cid. I don't want to die in this thing!"
Sephiroth's eyes were burning right through her. Aeris couldn't tear her gaze away.
"Aeris," he said silently. "Please come back."
Blinded momentarily by tears, Aeris found the strength to look away again shaking her head.
"I can't," she whispered. "I can't Sephiroth."
She covered her face and cried.
The first engine faltered, made grating sounds, then caught.
"Damn it!" Cid sat down and strapped himself in. The crew, anticipating his move, had already done so. "He'll bring my ship down over my dead body."
"That's what he's trying to do!" screeched Yuffie. "Do something!"
"Strap in!" yelled Cid over his shoulder. "We're getting out of here. Strap in!"
Everyone ran to strap in. Cloud helped Red XIII with the special straps Cid had installed for him. The only one who didn't heed his call was Yuffie. Cid didn't have time to wait for her. He reached for the lever and pulled it down hard.
The Highwind leaped forward. Those in their chairs were slammed back in their seat by invisible hands. Yuffie, standing near Cid, dropped on her rear. The pressure knocked her flat on her back. She shot out of the cockpit on her way to serious contact with whatever she hit first.
Fiction set her back on fire. She screamed. A hand reached out and grabbed her arm. Yuffie clutched at it desperately. Cloud grit his teeth as he fought against the forces that tried to rip her away. It was pure luck, he caught the young Ninja at all.
"Hold on!" he shouted.
"Don't let go of me!" she shouted back. "Please don't let go!"
Cloud's arm felt as though was breaking. Yuffie didn't weigh much but the stresses tugging her body made it feel as if she did.
* * * * *
The Highwind zoomed past the helicopter so fast, it almost seemed if the helicopter pilot had slammed on his brakes.
Sephiroth ran into the cockpit and dropped into an empty seat.
"After them you fool!" He shouted at the pilot. "They're kidnaping my wife!"
Even as the pilot rushed to comply, the memory of Aeris shaking her head at him burned in the back of his mind.
"Don't let them get away!"
The pilot broke into a sweat as he pushed the helicopter for more speed. This was Shinra fastest model, but the Highwind was built with newer technology. Cid had stolen it right from Shinra's nose and they hadn't been able to get it back since. Unless Sephiroth used his powers to interfere with the airships motor, there was no way he was going to catch up with it. Not daring to voice his opinion to the silver haired man behind him, he gave the helicopter more fuel.
* * * * *
Cid eased off the engines and allowed the Highwind to slow down.
"Y-Yuffie!" panted Cloud. "Get in a chair and strap in before Cid fires her up again!"
Yuffie nodded. She held onto Cloud until she pulled herself to her feet.
Cloud gave a sigh of relief. His arm ached. Yuffie leaned over to touch him. "Thanks Cloud."
"It was nothing," he said. winced and rubbed his arm.
* * * * *
I mustn't let them get away, thought Sephiroth. He reached out with his mind again. He pictured the left engine of the Highwind and thought "Stop!"
* * * * *
Yuffie was just about to take a step toward a seat. She flew backwards. Cloud found himself holding an armful of Yuffie.
Cid heard one of engines make a peculiar noise. He glanced at his controls. Before he could determine which engine it was, the Highwind lurched to one side and spiraled toward the ground.
Tifa, Yuffie and Aeris screamed.
The Highwind lurched again.
* * * * *
"Look Sir!" The Shinra pilot pointed. "They're going down! They'll be killed if they don't pull out of that spin."
Sephiroth broke off concentrating and released his control on the engine. He was only trying to force the pilot of the Highwind. to land. He didn't want to kill Aeris.
* * * * *
The engine came back to life. Sweat pouring down his forehead, Cid fought to pull the Highwind out of the dive. His crew was shouting and working at their controls. Cid swore under his breath and pulled back on the controls. Just when he had given up hope, the Highwind came out of the last spin and raised her nose. Cid searched for the helicopter and saw it gaining on them again.
"The hell you say," he muttered under his breath. He spat out the cigarette he'd chewed to pieces. He gave the Highwind more fuel and pulled back the lever he'd turned off a minute ago. The Highwind screamed across the sky.
With Yuffie's weight and the pressure from the Highwind holding him in place. Cloud wondered if he'd ever be able to draw a normal breath again.
Cid looked back. The helicopter shrank to a speck in the sky, then it vanished. He dropped the ship below radar and slowed down enough to execute a turn before increasing his speed again.. He grinned to himself as he headed for home.
* * * * *
The Shinra pilot made an effort to follow the other ship, but it was painfully obvious that he was outclassed. He loosened his collar. Sephiroth was awfully quiet. He was staring through the cockpit glass as though he could still see the Highwind in front of them.
The pilot cleared his throat nervously. "Uh, what are your orders Sir?"
Sephiroth turned his maddened gaze on the pilot without speaking.
The pilot flushed and turned his eyes straight ahead. "Should I request additional helicopter units to locate them, Sir?"
"No." Sephiroth voice pure ice. "Take me back to Nibelhiem."
"Yes sir." The pilot swallowed. Nibelhiem was only a few minutes away, but this was going to be the longest trip in his life. He turned the helicopter around.
Sephiroth got up and went into the cabin area of the helicopter. The troopers fell silent. No one would look at him. He didn't care. Dark thoughts filled his mind.
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