I Know What's Beneath
the Snow Fields -Chp.34
When the heart aches in painful misery, yet has no soul to comfort it...what happens then?
Whether a warm light shining within the heart, or simply an aura bound to the flesh, the human soul bears an amazing web of complexity. It unfolds into an endless labyrinth of different emotions, hidden thoughts, and dark secrets.
Yet surprisingly, the human soul also possesses an almost childlike simplicity to its nature. At its inner most core lies the profoundest of truths, so obvious yet somehow overlooked. At its centre hides the heart's simplest but most powerful emotions.
The human soul is so confoundingly mysterious, yet at the same time so artlessly plain.
This uncanny paradox is probably why the heart often draws near the soul in times of trouble. In its aching need for solace during pain, the heart often searches the soul for guidance, just like a compass.
But what happens to those who, whether on purpose or by sheer accident, simply have no souls in their hearts?
When there is no soul to seek comfort in during suffering.. what then? When the heart is torn to shreds by grief and pain, yet finds no solace or succour...what then?
Do such soulless creatures hide away from the world outside, preferring the lonely, gloomy one inside? Do they pine away in a corner all alone, tormented by despair?
Or do they simply roam the wasteland of wretched misery inside their own empty, frozen hearts?
Perhaps that is why they call themselves "monsters".
Vincent led Aeris by the hand down a long-winded gravel path. He walked quickly and silently, scarcely paying attention to anything save the black road ahead. Aeris, being held in his gentle but firm grip, followed him without a word. Something in the air of this cold, dark park discouraged any disturbance, even a simple question like "where are we going?".
Therefore, the timid girl contented herself with the silence.
The stony pathway snaked through this forest-like park, very often forking into other smaller roads. Pea-green lamp posts outlined one side of the path; they cast a feeble, yellow light against the hard ground.
Tall, lifeless trees, some twisted with old age, thronged along the gravel road to welcome the new visitors. Leafless and quite brittle, their branches hungrily reached out in all directions. Some stretched up to the black sky; others entwined with each other to form an arbor. This magnificent canopy of dead branches, frozen twigs, and hard vines arched high above the gravel pathway below.
In its greedy quest for land, the white snow had smothered the whole park underneath save, of course, for the stony path. A biting chilliness clung to the still air. The peaceful calmness that lingered about this dark place nearly resembled that of a haunted graveyard.
The two walked a long time through this quiet forest-park, neither speaking a word to the other. Eventually during the journey, Vincent slowed his pace down to an easy stroll. He never glanced back at the girl, even though he still held her hand. Nor did he seem fully aware or even caring of the path he followed. In truth, his mind had returned to the same vague, gloomy thoughts which had been pestering him all night.
When she had marveled enough at the eerie surroundings, Aeris peeked cautiously at Vincent. His face from the side struck her as extremely melancholy, if not mournfully absorbed in dreary contemplation. However, on perceiving his glum mood, Aeris thought it best to remain quiet.
They wandered for a considerable time along different pathways until Vincent, for some reason, took an obscure sidetrack down the hill. This black road cut straight through an impressive thicket of trees. No lamp post lighted this hidden road; it was extremely dark.
Nevertheless, Vincent marched through the darkness with a surprisingly calm and confident step. He tightened his grip on the girl's hand, but never once looked at her.
Suddenly, the throng of trees along one side of this endless, beaten track ended, and the two lonely companions emerged into the open again. Vincent at last released Aeris' hand, then stopped exactly one step away from her. His back was turned to her.
"Look," he ordered curtly with a careless gesture.
Puzzled by his odd manner, Aeris obeyed the command. Her eyes turned to the far side of the path, where he had motioned.
Much to her silent wonder, Aeris found herself standing before a barren, open field of snow. This lonely field hugged one end of the arborous hillside, then lazily spread itself far beyond the horizon. Not a single tree or brave shrub disturbed the rolling landscape. Far from it, this pitiful field had fallen victim to emptiness and sad despair.
Yet despite its lonesome desolation, the field also bore a strange, almost unnatural, beauty about it. It stretched for endless miles into the far, far distance, inducing a feeling of fearful awe to the barren vastness. A thick blanket of impeccable snow smothered the entire field end to end, thereby depriving any life a chance of survival.
The snow's saintly whiteness contrasted sharply with the blackness of the night. So much so that the snowy, winter-ridden field below shone in dazzling beauty against the dark sky high above.
A peaceful tranquility, quite pleasing to the senses, loomed about this wonderful place. Sadly, death and lonely emptiness also haunted the cold field. Not a life thrived in its vast quarters; not a sound stirred its heavy silence.
To be sure, it was a marvelous wasteland, but nevertheless, a wasteland.
Aeris certainly did not even try to conceal her wonderment. Her bright green eyes lingered on the snow-laden field, dazzled by its striking purity.
"This public garden was built about a year ago," Vincent recounted softly, eying the snowy wasteland with mild curiosity, "But by the time they had actually finished construction and planting, it was already winter."
Aeris looked at him but did not interrupt.
"The snow fell very hard that year, and completely covered these fields for the whole season. So, they nicknamed this place 'the Snow Fields'."
When he had thus concluded, Vincent relapsed into his strange moody silence. His back remained coldly turned to the girl, but his keen eyes had fixed themselves on the white wasteland. He spoke no more.
As if obeying some beckoning call, Aeris suddenly stepped off the stony gravel pathway, and wandered into the open snow fields up ahead. She trudged through the heavy snow, watching in almost childish fascination her boots leave a deep trail of footprints behind. Aeris had drifted only a short distance when she halted at last. She stood perfectly still in her spot, completely surrounded by wintry wilderness.
A deep sense of peace gradually overcame her heart.
From his spot over at the gravel pathway, Vincent studied Aeris' lonely figure against the pure-white landscape. The girl stood by herself, unaware of his thoughtful scrutiny. Her shining eyes lingered on the vast, white wasteland before her.
She heard Vincent slowly plod through the heavy snow towards her, but did not turn around to face him. Vincent halted a few steps behind her; he did not speak.
"The snow here is so white," Aeris admired at last.
"That's because it's far away from the smoke and soot of the city centre," Vincent replied casually.
The girl paused a long time before slowly sitting down in the snow. Regardless of wetness or coldness, Aeris huddled both feet together, and drew her knees up to her chest. Her arms encircled her slender legs as she studied the frozen landscape ahead.
Vincent glanced indifferently at the girl thus seated in the snow, then looked away.
"It's beautiful here...and very quiet," Aeris whispered, more to herself that to anyone else.
The morose man did not reply.
"How does this place look like in the springtime?"
"All sorts of flowers bloom here."
"Really?!" she exclaimed in surprise, looking up at him.
Vincent nodded his head as an answer.
"I'd love to see it."
Aeris turned her head away to gaze at the barren landscape, trying her best to picture the flowers in springtime. Vincent still lingered some steps behind her. He glanced down at the girl for a moment, then looked away again, this time to the far side of this endless field.
"But personally, I prefer the snow," Vincent forced out.
"I don't know. I've always liked the snow better."
On hearing his strange, soft tone, Aeris turned her head around, and peered from over her shoulder up at this man. Vincent, however, avoided her look. His bright, deep crimson eyes remained stubbornly fixed on the snow-ridden fields.
His tall, lonesome figure struck Aeris as unnaturally aloof and detached. Even the way he stood, with his sharp metallic claw hanging by his side, showed how withdrawn his nature truly was. Vincent's face betrayed a sad yet profound thoughtfulness. Some heavy matter seemed to weigh down on his mind.
Aeris turned her focus back to the wasted wilderness.
"Y'know, Vincent," she remarked meaningfully, "..these snow fields are very much like yourself.."
A very, very long silence followed.
Although she did not look behind, Aeris knew the unexpected comment had surprised Vincent greatly. She could even sense his thoughtful eyes lingering on her back.
At long last, Vincent walked up to the girl, and sat down in the snow right by her side. He did not seem to mind this wet, cold spot. His whole face darkened in gloomy meditation as the heavy silence stretched itself further and further.
"Aeris, I want to tell you something," Vincent finally declared, rather reluctantly.
The girl looked at him without a word; His strange tone certainly commanded absolute silence. But Vincent still would not look at her. His eyes remained rigidly focused on the far distance.
He took a deep breath before beginning softly, "There are many...'bad' things I've done in my past. Many things you'll never know about. Some of them you'd think evil, cruel, even inhuman....and you'd be absolutely right for thinking so too."
He gazed down at both his gloved hand and metallic claw. He seemed, while speaking so gently, to detect something only visible to his own eyes.
"See, my hands bloody with so many crimes and sins...no amount of cleaning can wash the stain out."
He slowly lifted his hallow eyes straight up to the black, starry sky high above. Millions of tiny stars had scattered themselves across the heavens, sparkling like diamonds against black silk. The bright moon, round as a perfect pearl, hung in the middle of the sky. It showered the barren snow fields below with its gentle moonlight.
Vincent brooded a long time up at these wondrous works of heaven. He had plunged into another long, deep silence. Aeris gazed keenly at his face from the side, but did not disturb his meditation. A strange anxiety troubled her as she sensed him sink deeper into sadness.
"On the very first day I became delirious, I remember I attacked you," Vincent recalled suddenly but with strange calmness, "..yes..I remember I pinned you to the ground."
"N-no, Vincent,' the girl faltered in alarm, "That wasn't your..."
"I felt so angry at you, Aeris, because you wouldn't call me a monster. In my whole life, I don't think I've ever been angrier than at that one moment. I just wanted to hear you say 'Vincent, you are a monster'."
Aeris looked concernedly at him, yet made no reply. Vincent did not return her anxious look. He sat perfectly still by her side, intently absorbed into the brilliant canopy of stars hanging above him.
"I was so angry at you because you wouldn't see the truth," he whispered, a tone of bitter resentment playing on his voice, "It angered me so much that you thought me some kind of holy saint, even though you knew nothing...absolutely nothing about my past.. maybe..maybe it still angers me."
He dropped his weary eyes from the black sky down to the snowy white fields below. He paid no heed to the silent Aeris, who gazed at the side of his face in great worry. Slowly, Vincent shut his eyes.
His mind raced past so many memories so quickly, he could scarcely grasp their meaning.
"But while I was raving with that fever, Aeris, I was having this horrible nightmare," Vincent muttered, his eyes still closed, "...I was literally re-living my past...I was like an actor performing a play..."
His mind hopped madly from one memory to another: President ShinRa's bloated face...Gerald and Cindy, the other two Turks... the quaint Nibelheim village...
"..and when I remember that nightmare...I wasn't a holy saint or an angel, Aeris.."
His mind, completely out of control, flashed past Professor Hojo's lean face, with those shiny glasses propped on his long nose....he saw Davoren's face smile affably back at him, like he always used to.....
"..In that nightmare..I was a monster...a demon.."
He zoomed past so many memories at once, hardly making sense of them, until suddenly he froze on Lucrecia's beloved face. In his mind, he could see her soft eyes stare straight at him in silent, reproachful sadness, just as she had looked before her sad death....
Vincent forced his eyes open to escape the painful reverie. He stared solemnly at the barren wasteland before him. For a long time, he wallowed in the silence. Though fully aware of the girl's presence next to him, as well as her concerned eyes fixed on his face, he did not even glance at her.
"I'm not blaming you for thinking of me like that, Aeris," he murmured softly, "You weren't there...in my nightmares..you didn't see me for what I really was. If you did...you wouldn't think me such a wonderful person, and you wouldn't think Davoren such an evil man.."
"That's not true, Vincent!" Aeris cried indignantly, appalled by such a thought, "He IS an evil man! Why, he..."
"No, Davoren was a very, very good man...he was much better than I will ever be...."
Aeris stared in disbelief at such praise.
"We were both Turks, that's true. But Aeris, Davoren was also a kind human being, and I was..well..a monster. Davoren... he somehow kept a soul alive inside of him, even amidst all the crimes and bloodshed. Me..I just never had a soul to begin with. I was just a bloody killing-machine that blindly obeyed orders."
For the first time, Vincent looked straight into Aeris' eyes. The girl stared back at him with concern, but also with another emotion he could not quite place.
"I don't want you to think I'm like these snow fields...all pure and innocent, just like their whiteness," he sighed in conclusion, "I'm not the wonderful saint you dreamed up in your fantasies. In reality, I'm the total opposite. That's the simple truth."
He turned his face away from her, and fell into thoughtful silence once again. Irritation seemed to trouble his mind; he knit his brows as he sunk into his usual gloomy moroseness.
"But that's not what I meant when I said you were like these snow fields, Vincent," Aeris corrected gently after a long hesitation, "I didn't mean you were 'pure' or 'innocent' at all."
Baffled by her mysterious words, Vincent stared at her from the corner of his eye. The girl returned his quizzical look with an enigmatic smile, then turned to the desolate wasteland. A very serious yet sad expression spread across her face as she stared into the far distance.
"When you look at these huge fields, Vincent, you see them buried under frost, ice, and so much snow," Aeris spoke at last in a soft undertone, "..the fields are so cold, and so empty. Everything is frozen dead, you'd think nothing can ever grow there."
Vincent did not answer.
"But you said in the springtime, the flowers bloom here. So, something was able to grow in these fields after all. There was life hidden underneath, only you didn't see it."
She paused a moment to reflect upon her thoughts, but never once diverted her eyes off the snowy, wasted fields.
"I don't know exactly what 'bad' things you've done in your past. They probably were evil and inhuman. I don't know what you did to Lucrecia..the..woman you love; you're still in pain over her, and maybe you should be. You say you never had a soul to begin with...and that you were a killing-machine... maybe you're right. I have no way of knowing for sure. I wasn't with you in that nightmare..."
Aeris suddenly looked again at the silent Vincent. Her bright green eyes shone with loving kindness as a gentle smile lit up her face.
"But I still don't believe you when you tell me you're a monster, Vincent. When you look inside yourself, you see all these snow fields: your heart's frozen dead, and there's no warm place for anything to grow among all the ice and cold. But see, that's where you're wrong and I'm right. Somewhere underneath all that snow, there's something new that wasn't there before...or maybe it was there all along, only you simply didn't know you had it. That's why you're not a monster in my eyes."
He said nothing.
"You think because I'm a child compared to you, I wouldn't know that much," Aeris added in a hushed whisper, bringing her face very close to his, "..you've been through many, many things in your own life, while I've lived whatever I remember of mine trapped in a dingy laboratory. So, in a way, you're right about that; you *do* know a lot more than me. But I know some things too, Vincent....and I know what's beneath the snow fields."
A heavy silence followed.
Vincent narrowed his eyes thoughtfully on the girl, his whole countenance expressing nothing but cool reservedness. In contrast, Aeris' lovely face beamed with gentler kindness the longer she gazed into his deep-crimson eyes. An almost prophetic air seemed to surround her.
When perhaps a minute had passed, Vincent finally stood up. He flapped the snow off his long, black coat, then turned his eyes down on the girl.
"It's getting late," he remarked without emotion, "We should be getting back home now."
He extended his hand out to Aeris, who readily accepted it. After pulling herself up, she carefully wiped the snow off her bottom and legs.
Soon, they were walking up the stony gravel pathway once again.