Appointment With Destiny Chapter 29

By T'Shael

Aeris lay in the dark thinking. Sephiroth was innocent. He wasn't involved in a plot to turn her over to Hojo after all. Now his life was in danger too. She didn't put it past Hojo to kill him.

"He's more interested in the baby than anything else," she said to herself. "He'll find a way to keep us out of the way, so he can use the baby."

Again and again, her mind played back the scene of Sephiroth strapped to a stretcher. What were they doing to him now? What had they done already? She sat up in bed. The house was silent. Slipping out of bed Aeris went to the window and stared out. She put her hands against the cold glass and looked up. The stars were bright against the black sky.

What am I going to do? She laid her head against the glass. No matter what I chose, my family will be at the mercy of Shinra and Hojo. If I don't go back, they'll kill Sephiroth and hunt me down. If I turn myself in, they'll never allow let us be together again. They're sure to take the baby.

Aeris was still looking up when she overwhelmed with a terrible sense of foreboding. In her mind she saw Elmyra, dressed in a robe. Three troopers were dragging her through her livingroom. Elmyra was struggling and begging them to let her go. The man behind her gave her a shove. The others let go of her arms. Elmyra flew forward landing on her face. The troopers laughed. Reaching down, they jerked the injured woman to her feet. Blood poured from her nose and lips as they dragged Elmyra through the front door. The picture faded.

Another took it's place. Sephiroth was locked in a glass coffin. Hojo was standing over Sephiroth grinning down at him. He raised his hand and slapped his unconscious son across the face. The silver head flew to the left. Hojo struck him again. Sephiroth's head flew to the right. Hojo laughed. He took a syringe from his pocket and jabbed it into Sephiroth's shoulder. Injecting the contents, he pulled it out. A grimace of pain appeared on Sephiroth's face before it went slack again. Hojo turned around and grinned at the men behind him.

"A few more of these and he'll be in a coma only I can bring him out of," he said. "It's safe for her to see him in this condition. He can't respond to her."

"Do you really think she'll come back?" The President puffed his cigar angrily. "My plans depend on Aeris!"

Hojo looked confident. "If she wants to save his life, she will. Of course if she doesn't, we'll track her down anyway."

"You'd kill your own son?" Rufus eyed Hojo with distaste.

"You have to ask?" Heidegger looked bored.

"He's no good to me without the Cetra." Hojo folded his arms. "I need both of them."

"But once you get her, if Sephiroth is dead, you've cut off your nose to spite your face." The President began to pace the floor.

"Leave everything to me," said Hojo. "Shall we go?"

They left the room.

The vision faded. Aeris found herself in the middle of the room shivering in fright.

"No!" she whispered. "No!"

She went back to the window and looked upwards. On impulse she dropped to her knees and put her hands together.

"I'm a Cetra lost in a world gone mad," she prayed. "Mother, wherever you are please help me. Tell me what to do. Wherever our people go when they leave this life, please hear me. I'm in trouble and I need you. Please, please, please! I lost the battle of spells to Sephiroth and he brought me back to his world. Since then I've learned to love him and I'm going to have his child. I misjudged him mother. I thought he was going to harm me. If I don't go back he and Elmyra will die. If I do go back we're all as good as dead. Hear me mother. You couldn't be with when me when I needed you most, but if you can, please help me now. Don't abandon me please! Tell me what to do!"

A golden light appeared around her. Aeris' bowed her head and continued to pray. The golden light grew brighter, then faded away. Aeris opened her eyes and raised her head.

"Thank you."

She was smiling as she reached for her clothes.

The head crewman was fast asleep when a gentle hand shook him awake. He opened his eyes to see Aeris standing over him.

"Mrs. Heidegger!" he said is surprise sitting up. "What are you doing here?"

Aeris didn't say a word. She reached out and stroked his face. The crewman's eyes went blank. He climbed out of bed and began to get dressed. Aeris went on to the next cabin. When all of the men were awake, Aeris stood watching as they prepared the Highwind for flight. Each man worked quietly, moving like a sleepwalker. Aeris waited until the ship was in the air before she went back to the passenger cabin and strapped herself into a seat. She watched the scenery passing by with a lack of interest. There were other things on her mind. The baby stirred within her and she pressed her hand against her stomach, thinking soothing thoughts till it was quiet again. The Highwind flew on.

* * * * *

Sephiroth was running toward Aeris, calling her name, but the faster he ran the further away she seemed. Always facing him, she was smiling as she drifted away. Her hands rested on her stomach. There was a lump in Sephiroth's throat as he thought of the child he would never see. He ran faster but couldn't catch up.

"Wait Aeris!" he called. "I love you. Please don't leave me."

Her expression never changed. She just kept moving away. Sephiroth clenched his fists and tried to shout, but it died in his throat.

The sensor attached to his forehead signaled a machine that monitored Sephiroth's level of consciousness. An alarm sounded, then a strong dose of sedatives was administered through the needle in his arm. Sephiroth's dream faded into blackness as he lay in his hibernation chamber.

* * * * *

Hojo was almost too excited to sleep. Surely Aeris would come home now. In the morning, he'd let her know he had Elmyra. Wouldn't she be shocked? Despite what he told the President, Sephiroth still had his uses. Tomorrow he would take all the samples he needed. Once he had Aeris, he could follow through with the rest of his plans. After she gave birth, he'd take ova from her and combine this with the samples he'd taken from Sephiroth. He'd plant them in women of his choosing and imprison them to monitor their pregnancies. The President wouldn't find that suspicious. He'd imprisoned women on more than one occasion to test out one thing or another. His methods were hardly surprising now.

Once the Cetra/Jenova hybrids were taken care of, he'd produce a few of his own. A brilliant mind like his could only produce more just like it. Four or five to start would be a good number. In the meantime he'd take very good care of Aeris until her baby was born. Once they used the baby to force her to open the portal, the President would be too busy negotiating to pay much attention to what he was doing. Hojo chuckled. He was sure Aeris would find a way to open the portal if her baby's life depended on it. He yawned and rolled over. It was time to sleep. He had a lot of work ahead of him.

* * * * *

Cid dreamed he was standing on a cliff. His airship was flying away without him. He swore and shook his fist as it vanished in the distance. Rolling over in bed, he snuggled deep inside his blankets and started to walking in his dream. He'd get the Highwind back if it was the last thing he ever did.

* * * * *

The Highwind set down near the Temple of the Ancients. Aeris went into the control room. The crew stared at her. She smiled and touched each one. As her fingers brushed their skin, they sank to the floor fast asleep. Aeris left the ship, crossed the rope bridge and stopped near the foot of the stairs.

"I'm here mother." Taking another look around, she walked into the temple. It was lit inside by hundreds of torches. There was an altar in the middle of the room. She stood before it. A stone lay near an empty slot. Aeris picked it up and sat it in place. The large rectangular stone beneath her feet dropped slowly through the floor.

Aeris stepped off when the stone stopped on the floor beneath. There was a roaring sound in the distance. A rabbit-like creature peeked at her from behind a wall.

"You're a Lagomorph aren't you?" she asked. "Please talk to me!"

Words in a language she'd never heard before filled her head. Some of them she understood clearly, but most were muddled.

Aeris shook her head. "No good. I don't understand the rest. Are you afraid . . . ?"

The Lagomorph wiggled it's nose at her then ran off. Aeris followed it. The roaring noise grew louder. The Lagomorph ran to a corner and stopped to look back at her. It ran off again. Aeris ran around the corner and stopped. This was the source of the roar. Before her stretched a long stone walkway. Joining it at the corner was another. Rumbling like thunder, gigantic barrel shaped boulders rolled down the second walkway in a never ending parade. Each boulder was notched from one edge to the center. Aeris looked for their source and found it.

They were dropping off ramp at the far end of the second walkway. Each boulder rolled the length of the path and dropped off into space at the corner. None of the boulders made a sound after they vanished in the darkness below. Aeris wondered how far the drop was.

The Lagomorph showed her what to do by darting toward the boulders. It paused long enough to let a notch roll over it before it ran toward the next boulder and repeated the process. When it reached the end of the walkway, the Lagomorph moved to one side on a new walkway and wiggled its nose before it ran off again.

Aeris watched the boulders, counting until she found the right sequence to make her move. When the third boulder in a set of three came toward her, she ran forward and stopped. The open slot closed over her. The boulder rolled away. Aeris was moving the moment she was free. She stopped in the path of the next boulder, hoping she was standing in the right place. She was. The second boulder passed over her and went on. Stopping and starting, Aeris made it to the end of the path. She stopped for the last boulder. It rolled over her and vanished.

She turned to look behind her. Not a boulder in sight. Aeris turned back toward the ramp. It was gone. Silence surrounded her.

Was that a test or what? She thought.

She looked back once again and saw a stone platform she'd been too busy to notice before. A violet glow drew brought her back for a closer inspection. There was a pool in the platform. It's water was the source of the eerie light. Aeris stopped at the waters edge. The water darkened to a deep rich purple.

"It's full of the knowledge of the Ancients. No . . . not knowledge . . . consciousness . . . a living soul . . . "

She raised her arms basking in the light. Something brushed her mind.

"It's trying to say something."

She knelt by the pool.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Show? You're going to show me?"

She dipped her hands into the water. A vision filled her mind of a room full of murals. Aeris took her hands out of the water.

"I saw it. I'm almost there."

Rising to her feet, Aeris left the pond and started walking again. Behind her the pool faded back to violet. She passed a few monsters along the way, but none of them challenged her. A doorway lead her to a strange room. Twelve protrusions along the wall bore ancient numbers. Except for pillar where two long flat arms were connected, the room seemed to be bottomless.

Aeris looked at the long arms again. Each was pointed at the tip. She looked at the protrusions along the side.

"Why it's a giant clock!" she said.

"I am the Time Guardian," said a deep voice. "Ye who seek the knowledge of the Ancients. I control the time, select your path."

Aeris stepped back. "It talks!"

She waited but the clock didn't speak again. She looked at the hour and minute hands.

"As much as I hate to say it, I think I'm supposed to get across on those," she said to herself. Aeris shivered inwardly. She'd never cared for heights.

But what are you alternatives? asked a voice deep inside.

Pushing her fears aside, Aeris knelt and prayed. By the time her prayer was over, she knew just what to do. She stepped on the long hand and walked to the center of the clock. The hands began to turn. When the longest hand reached the number six, Aeris walked straight across to the room she now had access to.

The Lagomorph or another like it saw her and ran into one of many doors. Aeris went to the largest door and tried it. It was locked.

The Lagomorph ran up to her waving a key. It danced a little jig, then ran away. Aeris went after it only to see it duck inside a door. She followed it. To her surprise the creature was gone. While she stood there wondering where it had gone, the Lagomorph came out of a different door and ran past her again. Aeris took up the chase again. Over and over she chased it, but every time she thought she had it cornered, it entered or exited a different door.

Winded at last, Aeris stopped moving and studied the doors. There had to be a method to the Lagomorph's madness. All she had to do was figure out what that was.

The doors were arranged in two rows. An upper and lower set. Aeris watched the Lagomorph running in and out of the openings. It taunted her as it appeared and disappeared again. She simply watched and waited. When the Lagomorph ran into an into an upper door. Aeris followed a hunch and chose a lower one. The startled creature ran right into her. Laughing, she pulled the key out of its hand. The Lagomorph jumped up and down chattering indignantly.

Aeris ignored it. She went back to the big door and unlocked it. She walked inside and gasped.

"This is the room with the murals . . . "

Aeris walked up to the biggest mural of all. It was covered with pictures and ancient words. She studied it for a long time.

"I know what I have to do now," she said to herself.

Without looking back, Aeris walked out of the door on the opposite side of the room.

* * * * *

Elmyra sat in her cell wiping tears from her eyes. Her back hurt where the trooper had shoved her. She hadn't been given food or water since they'd locked the door. The only thing she knew, is she'd been brought here to force Aeris to do something she didn't want to do. Elmyra wondered what they were going to do with her. Alone in the dark, she waited.

* * * * *

Aeris stood watching a tiny model the temple floating above another alter. Aeris reached up and gave it a little shake. The whole room around shuddered in the grip of a massive quake. Frightened, she released the model.

"I'm not going to do THAT again," she said.

The model floated before her. If she couldn't touch it, how was she supposed to get it out of here?

She looked skyward. "What do I do?"

A voice answered inside her head.

"What? Really?"

Aeris looked at the model in alarm.


Aeris frowned. She had to have the black materia in order to save Sephiroth, but how was she going to get it out of the temple if she couldn't touch it? As if in response to her question, a Lagomorph appeared in the room.

"Hi there!" she said.

It stared at her.

"Come on," she coaxed. "I won't hurt you."

The Lagomorph edged closer and closer. When it was close enough to touch, Aeris reached out suddenly and touched its face. The Lagomorph's eyes went dull.

"I need your help," said Aeris, "If I don't do something soon, this world and another will suffer oppression under Shinra."

The Lagomorph's eyes brightened.

Aeris looked surprised. "Are you sure?"

The Lagomorph wiggled its nose at her. Aeris reached out and touched it.

"Thank you. I wouldn't have the heart to force you into this. You can still change your mind if you want to. I'll understand."

The Lagomorph brushed past her and took up a place in font of the altar. It looked back at her.

"All right," she said. "Wait until I get outside. I'll let you know when I'm safe."

The Lagomorph wiggled its nose as she walked away. Aeris went back to the clock room. The hands had changed to the six o'clock position.. Aeris hurried across them. She ran into a cave-like room. There was a door at one end. She tried it. It was locked. Without warning, the room began to rumble. Aeris ran away from the door and looked back. A huge body, head and arms stretched themselves out of the wall. The creature glared at her and roared.

Aeris dropped to her knees quickly. Putting her hands together, she started to pray. Her terror was replaced by immeasurable calm. Surrounded by an aura of light she stood up and faced the Demon Wall. A thick finger of stalactite fell from the ceiling. It would have crushed her on the spot, but the glow around her body caused it to shatter. Aeris raised her hands above her head. Her staff appeared hovering in the air before her. She dropped her arms and reached out to take it. She aimed it at the monster.

"Get out of my way!" she shouted. "I don't have time to fool with you now! There too many lives at stake!

The demon growled in response.

"Come to me O' power of the Ancients," chanted Aeris. "Help me strike down the enemy who dares to bar my path! Our powers become one as we stand together now as we did in the past. Fill me with your wisdom and your knowledge. The power of the Cetra is mine!"

A brilliant light leaped from the end of the staff. It bathed the monster in a fiery glow. Rearing its head in pain, the Demon Wall howled and slashed at Aeris with its claws. Bouncing off her protective shield, they left deep furrows in the rocky floor.

"From the past until now, our power stands sure and true. Strike down my enemy with your might! Vanquish it to the unknown ever, clear the path that I might leave this place and save the one I love. Ancestors lend me your power!"

A brighter beam than ever, struck the monster, making it scream. Stalactites fell from the ceiling like rain. Broken stones littered the cave. Furious, the Demon Gate extended its arms for a double swipe. Aeris' protection held, but it wouldn't last forever. The monster was foaming at the mouth now. A pool of forth and blood puddled under its head. Venting its frustration at the ceiling, it dropped the biggest stalactite yet on Aeris' head. Its weapon exploded as it touched her force field.

"Stand by me now," prayed Aeris. "Do not desert me in my hour of need. Become one with me now, my family. Clear the way that I might preserve the glory of the Cetra and restore peace to this world at last. Be merciful to me, your child. Join with me, GIVE ME YOUR STRENGTH!"

The room was suddenly filled with the beat of a thousand wings. The Demon Wall howled at the ceiling as Aeris was surrounded by a silvery glow. Her body became so bright the monster was forced to shield it's eyes.

Holding her staff in both hands, Aeris raised it above her head, letting the power build. Her hair and clothing whipped around her body as though she was standing in the midst of a storm, yet the air in the room was still. The Demon Wall howled again. Raising one arm, it flexed its muscles and spread its claws, preparing to swipe at the Cetra once more.

The silvery glow leaped away from Aeris and hurled itself at the monster. The Demon Wall's scream died away in a gurgle. It convulsed wildly as though it was being electrocuted. Aeris held her ground, watching without emotion as the creature vanished in a flash of red.

The way was clear now. She hurried out of the temple. A safe distance away, Aeris turned to look back. Her mind reached out to the Lagomorph.


Inside the temple, the Lagomorph put its hand on the model and removed it from the altar. The room went white . . .

Outside, Aeris watched the temple quiver like a mirage. Before her startled eyes, it closed in on itself, becoming smaller and smaller. There was a sound like the pop of a giant balloon and the tinkle of broken glass. Aeris closed her eyes. Putting her fingers in her ears, she jiggled them trying to relieve a rush of pressure. When she opened her eyes again, the temple was gone. There was nothing left to mark where it had been except a craggy pit. Aeris approached it cautiously and looked over the edge. Something sparkled far below.

"The black materia," she said in awe.

Carefully, Aeris made her way down one side of the pit to the bottom. She picked up the black materia and examined. It was warm in her hand. She tucked it in her pocket and began the long climb back to the top. She was panting for breath by the time she climbed over the edge. The baby kicked.

"Sorry," she panted, touching her stomach. "I'm trying to be careful."

Exhausted now, it was slow going back to the ship. Before settling into a comfortable chair, Aeris touched the crew again and gave them their new orders. She tried to imagine what the Forgotten City looked like as the Highwind sailed off into the brightening sky.

* * * * *

Yuffie came out of the bathroom and yawned. She went to Aeris door and knocked. There was no answer. She opened the door and peeked inside. The bedcovers were thrown back, but there was no sign of Aeris. Yuffie pulled her robe tighter and went downstairs. Tifa was making coffee. Cid and Barret were yawning at the table.

"Has Aeris been down here yet?" she asked.

Barret shook his head. "I don't think she's awake yet."

"She has to be," said Yuffie. "She's not in her room."

That got their attention.

"What do you mean she's not in her room?" Cloud looked alert now.

"She's been in her bed, but she's not there now." Yuffie shrugged. "Her room is empty."

Before anyone could comment, Cid rushed into the kitchen followed by Red. He looked furious.

"The Highwind is gone, damn it!" He pointed toward the door. "I went out to check on the ship this morning but it's not there!"

"That makes two," said Yuffie.

"Two what?" Cid turned on her. "What in the hell are you talking about?"

"Aeris is gone and so is your ship," answered Yuffie. "I wonder if that means anything?"

"Aeris is gone?" Cid took his cigarette out of his mouth. "Where is she?"

"That's what we'd like to know." Tifa looked worried. "She was gone when Yuffie went to check on her."

Cid's brow furrowed. "You don't think she's stolen the Highwind do you?"

Vincent came into the room. "Who stole what?"

"Aeris stole my ship!" snapped Cid. "I saved her butt from her husband and this is how she repays me. She stole my damn airship!"

"You don't know if Aeris stole it," interrupted Red. "And it's not fair of you to say that."

"It wasn't missing before she got here," answered Cid. "Do you have any other explanation?"

"I don't know what happened to the Highwind, but we need to find Aeris," said Cloud. "It's not safe for her to be running around alone. I'm sure Shinra will pull out the stops to find her no matter how "kind" they were acting on television."

"Besides that," added Vincent. "Why would your crew fly your ship for anyone but you? You're the captain!"

Cid settled down a bit. "Okay, we'll look for Aeris, but I'm going to be ticked if I find out she took it."

"Okay," said Cloud. "Lets put our heads together and decide how we're going to conduct this search."

* * * * *

The Highwind settled down just outside the Forgotten City. Aeris stood on the gangplank looking into the distance. This is where my people came from, she thought. She closed her eyes listening to the whispering of voices in her mind.

"I'm coming," she said.

Aeris turned back toward the crew. She went to each man and touched his face. When she was finished she went back to the gangplank and started down. She didn't look back as the Highwind rose in the air and flew away. Her mind was on the task ahead.

Her steps were confident as she followed the path leading to the city. When the road split into three, she chose the one in the middle. It led her to the door of a shell-shaped house. Aeris walked through until she came to the top of a crystal stairway. She went down. At the bottom she was dazzled by the sight of a beautiful crystalline city.

"This is my real home," she said.

She would have loved to walk through the city while she tried to learn about herself, but time was getting short. Aeris turned her steps toward an altar set in the middle of a lake. She took the black materia out of her pocket and held as she knelt on the floor.

"Mother help me do this right," she whispered.

Voices on a breath of air whispered soothing words to her. Aeris closed her eyes and started to pray. The black materia began to glow. A golden light enveloped her. Aeris held her hands above her head. The black materia was hot and getting hotter. She opened her hand. It rose from her palm and hovered above her head.

"Meteor!" whispered Aeris. "Here me call! Meteor come!"

The black materia shot into the air like a rocket. It flew through the top of the dome that covered the ancient city and sailed out into space. Eyes open, hands in the air, Aeris saw nothing.

"I call upon you Planet to protect yourself from Shinra. Call forth your weapons! Call forth your children! Hear me O' Planet and protect yourself! Call forth your children! Protect! Protect! Protect!"

* * * * *

The Purple Mog, a Shinra cargo ship was putting out to sea, for the long journey back to Junon. Having left a load of supplies at the Icicle Lodge, the crew was looking forward to a brief stop in Costa Del Sol and a well deserved rest. Their sister ship, The Gold Chocobo, waited to dock once the first ship was clear. Captain Betz, strolled out of The Purple Mog's wheelhouse, just as the waters began to churn.

"What's happening?" He asked in alarm. "What's going on?"

An explosion nearly deafened him. The ship rocked violently under the shock wave. Captain Betz lost his footing. He stumbled to the deck, hearing a bone in one of his knees crack. White hot pain brought tears to his eyes. The captain his head just in time to see a blast of energy erupting out of the northern crater.

A question died on his lips as giant creatures, illuminated by the light from the crater, hurled themselves into the air. The captain's blood ran cold. They were the most frightening creatures he'd ever seen.

"Go away," he muttered under his breath. "Please go away."

The creatures circled above then turned and flew off in different directions. Captain Betz wiped his brow. His hand came away damp with sweat. He was just about to ask for assistance for his knee when one of his men cried out and pointed. One of the creatures was turning back.

Shinra cargo ships carried weapons for the crew. Captain Betz stood painfully, resting his weight on a rail.

"Get the weapons!" he shouted. "Arm yourselves!"

Aboard The Gold Chocobo, Captain Lunn was giving the same order. He watched the thing in the sky with a wary eye. Was it merely observing them or was it deciding which ship to attack first?

His men were positioning themselves for defense, when the monster dived headlong into the water just a few miles away.

Captain Lunn gave his first mate a puzzled glance and looked out to sea. The first mate was still looking at his captain, when the captain's expression changed to one of horror.

It was the first mates turn to look puzzled. He turned to see what the captain was looking at. He froze in place.

Captain Betz reacted first. Screaming orders to his men he braced himself as massive waves bore down on his ship.

Both ships dived and pitched as their crew fought to keep the waves from overwhelming them. Some men were washed overboard, some held on to something solid and screamed the whole time. When the worst of the waves were over and the sea began to settle again, both ships were still afloat.

Captain Betz was waving across to Captain Lunn when a gigantic green nightmare rose from the sea and turned its eyes on The Gold Chocobo.

It was difficult to tell who was screaming the loudest. The men on The Gold Chocobo or the men on The Purple Mog. In any event, The crew of The Gold Chocobo had more to scream about. The monster reached out and seized the ship in its claws. Some of the crew jumped overboard. Others were too frightened to move. With a roar that turned every spine to jelly, the creature turned the Gold Chocobo upside down and submerged with it. Trapped in the suction, the men in the water were dragged down with the rest of their crew mates.

At the edge of the disturbance, with no hands to guide her, The Purple Mog being pulled into the area of suction.

Ranting and swearing, Captain Betz brought his crew back into action. The men in the engine room turned the engine up as high as it would go. The Purple Mog threw her weight into pulling away from its dangerous location.

"Get back to shore!" shouted the captain. "I'm not going out on the open sea until I know that thing is gone!"

"Captain look!" shouted the first mate.

Expecting to see the monster, the captains heart was pounding as he looked at the place where his man was pointing. He almost cried in relief.

Three men from the Gold Chocobo had battled against the odds and won. Bobbing in the ocean, they pleaded for help.

"Get closer," ordered the captain. "We've got to pull those men aboard!"

No sooner had the words left his mouth, a beam of light shot out of the sea. Then another and another. The men in the water started screaming again. The captain didn't understand their fear at first, then he realized each time one of the beams emerged, it was closer to the men.

"What is that?" asked the first mate.

"I don't know," answered Captain Betz. "It almost looks like-"

The fourth beam must have hit one of the men beneath the waterline. He puffed out of existence like a birthday candle.

The captains jaw fell open.

The second and the third man went the same way.

The Purple Mog couldn't get back to the dock fast enough. The crew was leaping over the sides of the ship and running down the gangplank as if the monster was hot on their heels. Only the first mate remained with the captain. He dropped anchor and went to tie the mooring lines himself.

The captain, dragging his injured leg, made his way back to the wheelhouse to call Shinra. By the time help arrived. The first mate had to explain what had happened on his own. Captain Betz was content to sit and smile at anyone who spoke to him. Other than that, he just stared at his hands. The attendants shook their heads as they took him away.

Waiting in the room of his current girlfriend, Dio was looking out a window in the Gold Saucer when he noticed something high up in the sky. Whatever it was, it was huge and red. It was coming straight toward his establishment.

"What the hell is that?" he wondered.

It looked like a creature of some kind, but Dio had never seen anything like it before. He opened the window. The soundproofed room was filled with a roaring noise as the creature approached. Dio squinted. What was that? Whatever it was, he hoped it would keep on going and pass the Gold Saucer by.

It was not to be. The scarlet refugee from a horror movie dived into the sand just beyond the Saucer. It passed into the sand the way a human diver passed through the surface of a pool. Dio grabbed the edge of the windowsill. The building was rocked by a strong earthquake. He was thrown to the floor. He lay where he was until the ground stopped moving. Climbing to his feet, he went back to the window and looked out. There was nothing out there to show the creature had ever been there.

Dio leaned out and looked down. People, looking more like ants than anything else, ran out of the Gold Saucer to take a look around. Some of them were a group of young SOLDIERS who had stopped by for a rest before they reported back to headquarters. They were joined by more of the guests.

"No . . . " shouted Dio hoarsely. "D-Don't go out there! Get back inside, Get back!"

Two red tentacles snaked out of the ground several yards from the crowd. None of them noticed. The tentacles ducked into the ground and came up in a new place. They writhed in the air then ducked again.

"Run!" screamed Dio. "Run for your lives."

His floor was too high. No one could hear him. Dio watched as the tentacles came out of the ground near the crowd. Surely the people could see them now. Someone did. Part of the crowd broke away from the others and ran back toward the Gold Saucer. The SOLDIERS drew their weapons.

That convinced the rest of the guest to run for their lives. The SOLDIERS held their ground. One of them fired his weapon. The tentacles twitched, then the ground bulged a gigantic red beast broke through the sand. Rising impossibly high, it looked down at the SOLDIERS with a venomous eye.

It swept a tentacle across the sand, sending some of the SOLDIERS flying. Some of them crashed against the walls of the Gold Saucer, the rest landed elsewhere on the sand. Most of those who were stuck, didn't move once again.

The sand vibrated beneath the feet of the survivors. One by one the men sank out of sight like stones. The last three men threw down their weapons and ran. They didn't make it back inside. Two were killed by a tentacle. The last man tripped and fell. A tentacle rose out of the sand near his legs and coiled around him. The monster sank out of sight pulling its victim after it. Except for a scattering of bodies, the sand looked undisturbed.


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