I Know What's Beneath
the Snow Fields -Chp.61
The two enemies stood poised against each other, between them a height of cool defiance and mutual hatred. From his place high above, Davoren remained erect, one hand impertinently propped against his waist. Vincent held his ground down below. His sharp claw hung by his side, clenched into a tight fist.
The gunman sensed the rising hostility his sheer presence provoked. It filled him with cruel pleasure.
"I guess it's time we settled the score, my friend," he sneered outloud, "No holding back or sneaky tricks. Just your gun against mine."
Vincent made no response except narrow his eyes until they gleamed harsh crimson beneath knit brows. Deep hatred soared under that cold, marble-hard visage.
Yes. Time to end this madness for good. He had won one round, Davoren another, the third would finish it. And if Vincent wanted Aeris, he'd have to kill his way through Davoren; cast him back to the grim past where he belonged...a corpse in a ravaged apple orchard.
For a brief instant, Vincent recalled the boy's plain question "You're going to kill him, aren't you?"; that and his searching, deep-blue eyes. But he shook them both off at once.
If I must kill Davoren again, then so be it! Vincent argued fiercely inside himself, it will never end until one of us kills the other!
If that were so, why feel such discomfort everytime those eyes struck his memory? There had been a strange swirl of emotions in their tense blueness; had the boy actually anticipated the outcome of the bloodbath?
Kill Davoren or be killed..."kill"...
Thirty-one years ago, Vincent would have laid down his life for this man. He had been his best friend, his leader, and always the better man. And he knew Davoren had never hesitated to give all he could for Vincent, not just warm friendship, but protection and support too.
Now, Mysterious Fate had weaved a complex web of events, where each man pointed his gun at the other, hatred their sole fuel. Only blood would end the war.
Is that how Vincent wanted it?
Again, he dispelled these troublesome thoughts away. He couldn't afford to doubt himself now, not with poor Aeris at stake. It was too late for regrets; too late to dwell over things past and long dead. The present pressed itself so urgently upon the moment.
Then there was no other way except death. Either he killed Davoren, or died in the process.
His stern attention returned to that devillish figure perched high above. He looked those pink eyes staright, which seemed to glow all the more evilly. Davoren too knew it would end tonight.
A stiff silence oppressed the cold air, the two ex-Turks perhaps most aware of it. Indeed, their situation had just turned quite grim. Out of keen mistrust, Reno had gripped his nightstaff into the open. Rude, though apprehensive, nevertheless has assumed a hard front. Neither man lowered his guard for a moment.
It seemed Rufus alone bore no hostility for that man everyone else hated. Instead, he stood in plain view, head twisted up to behold Davoren up there. Clear anxiety strained his face, as if searching in vain for some explanation. However, he too dared not speak. His gaze, his whole concern, rested on Davoren; something the gunman seemed to purposely shun. He never looked at Rufus.
"You'd be delighted to know, gentlemen, the Professor has kindly granted me permission to kill you all," Davoren drew one hand over his face, so that his eyes peered like pink jewels through the fingers. His grin curled further to reveal a brutal madness, "Hehee...so much blood to spill...all in one night!"
The words belonged to a demon crazed by blood-lust, his gaze unnaturally bright, his aura too malicious to grasp. Vincent only uttered a scoff under his breath. He knew where Davoren's derrangement would lead.
However, the tension grew too much for Reno. He would not be intimidated.
"Huh! Dunno what the hell you're yapping about," he rebuffed upwards, "But damned if I get done in by a freak like YOU....y'ol phony-faced albino geezer!!"
Not at all ruffled, Davoren squatted down upon the beam.
"And what will you do, pray tell?" he mocked, amused by this man's spunk, "Hit me with your magic wand?"
One thing Reno never tolerated was any insult to his prized nightstaff. His grip tightened on the weapon, but he suppressed his outrage down to a hateful scowl.
"But honestly!" declared Davoren in feigned indignation, "You youngsters sure lack proper respect for your elders!"
His tone, his whole demeanour, suddenly dropped to cold ruthlessness, "Maybe I should kill the boy first just for show. He's the easiest target out of you lot."
Rufus was struck blank by that venomous tone, Davoren's unemotional face, and that stark threat. Anxiety and wide disbelief clouded his eyes. But still, the gunman wouldn't even look at him.
The threat had aroused a keen anger in both ex-Turks, which Rude acted upon at once. He effectively yanked Rufus behind, making his own challenge clear for Davoren to hear, "Screw you. The only way you get this kid is through *me*."
He spoke for himself and his friend. Both men glared at the gunman, who wasn't the leat bit impressed by their valour. Rufus stood safe behind, lost amidst his entangled thoughts and this disturbing scene. His anxious gaze never wavered off Davoren.
Vincent remained firm as ever in his spot, anticipating whatever may come next. One thing struck his sharp notice: Davoren had threatened to kill the boy, which meant Rufus was no longer needed anymore, at least not alive. Wasn't he the guinea pig? If not, then what?
At last, the gunman erected himself up again. He then strolled along the beam-joist, casually sweeping his fingers back through his fine white hair. A weak, smug smile crossed his lips.
"Well, not to worry, my good Sir," he remarked knowingly, "All in its own good time."
Vincent started when he suddenly noticed Davoren's other hand slip something out of his side-pocket. He recognized it too well: another time bomb.
He hadn't enough time to even shout a warning. Between the second it took Vincent to understand and act, Davoren hurtled the explosive device straight down upon the alarmed company. They scattered out at once: Vincent and Rude one direction, Reno shoving the astonished boy away into another.
No sooner had the bomb hit the floor than one thunderous explosion rocked the entire hall top to bottom. The sheer force sent all four men tumbling amidst blasted crates and wild shrapnel, their senses lost to the raucous chaos. Vincent felt the ground beneath crack wide open. Soon, he was plunging down...down into a black abyss.
Hazy consciousness stirred again. Slowly, Vincent forced his eyes open, gathering his dazed senses before even attempting to move. At first, he could see nothing. But as his keen eyes adjusted, he discovered himself in some bleak cavern of pipes. He lay sprawled back uopn a jagged hill of wrecked crates and stone rubble.
It took him a moment to recall what events had dumped him here. He guessed the violent explosion had destroyed the floor, whereby he and this debris had crashed down here to the lower levels. Indeed, on looking up, Vincent spied a hole gape wide through the grey stone ceiling. He had fallen a great height, then lost consciousness, probably just for a few minutes.
He slid off the garbage hill, heedless to the dozen of aches and pains in each limb. Vincent then struggled back onto his feet. As he shook off this dizziness, he discerned stiff movements rattle beneath the rubble. Soon, Reno crawled out, choking on dust between stiffled grunts. Of course, Vincent helped the man stand up.
Rude emerged next, having suffered a terrible gash in one arm, but still stern-faced. He shoved aside one giant cargo box off himself, then climbed to his feet again.
Their eyes searched around for Rufus. On spotting a pitiful hand outstretched through the garbage, all three men dug away until Rude forcefully dragged out a coughing Rufus.
"Y-you alright?" asked Reno, himself still dizzied by the blast.
"..I..think so...," wheezed the boy. He remained hunched over on the ground, encouraged by Rude to steady his breaths.
All in all though, they seemed to have managed well. They were all here and alive. No one had sustained any serious injuries; even Rude bore his own wound without complaint. Once Rufus had calmed again, he was helped to his feet. Though still a bit feeble, he stood unsupported and unharmed.
They beheld the dismal surroundings. The silence stretched into one painfully long minute.
"Where are we?" muttered Rude ominously.
"The main delivery centre," whispered Vincent, "It's directly above the reservoir pools and compressor tanks."
Darkness and cold hung like a disease throughout this dank dump. It extended into an endless labyrinth of pipes, gaskets, and ducts; a huge jungle of metal and wire. Dead cables hung loose. Tiny icicles or green mould festooned the overhead metal-work. There were cracks and dents amidst the network, filth and misery in every quarter.
No doubt this place had once been prosperous. Many tanks had hummed the sweet song of fresh Mako, pumping green life up those metal veins. Now, one could only wonder at such devestaion. Time had reduced it to a rusted playground for lost ghosts and rats to wander about.
But there permeated a sinister aura throughtout its air. It surrounded them; it grew more odious the longer they waited.
Vincent stood keenly aware of this dreadful presentiment. His suspicious eyes darted side to side; his ears were pricked up to full alertness. Similarly, the two men glared around. Poor Rufus fidgtted in this mistrustful atmosphere.
"He's here, right?" Reno breathed aside to Vincent.
"Shit," he cursed more softly. This quiet tension made his blood curdle.
Somewhere within these deep jungles, the hunter lay in patient wait for his prey. Vincent had to praise Davoren's clever tactfulness: he had dropped them into this complex cavern. Chances were, Davoren knew the territory far better than any of them. Plus, here he had plenty of shelter and dark places to hide. The ideal battle ground for any intelligent gunman.
Vincent noticed Reno venture past him towards the ghostly jungle. His nightstaff was gripped tight, ready for any action.
"You won't be able to fight him," stated Vincent, like a sage warning a rash youth.
Reno stopped, then confronted the composed man, "Well, it ain't like I can just ASK him to let us leave!"
"Davoren can raise his resistance to full invincibility. No attack, no matter how powerful, will affect him. He won't even feel it."
For a moment, Reno was dumbstruck by the news, so much he dropped his charged weapon to the side. Rude grew more discomforted by their hopeless situation.
"Does he have a weak spot?" demanded Reno.
"He has none."
"C'mon! He's gotta have SOME weakness!"
For some reason, Vincent glanced at the nervous boy, but quietly repeated, "He has none."
"Tsh! You really know how to pick your enemies, don't ya Red-eyes," he scoffed. They were in one tight corner.
Vincent ignored the crude comment. Instead, his mind churned a dozen thoughts to fomulate a plan. But how could one deafeat such a person, one with such cunning intellect and incredible resistance?
The awkward pause endured an eternity until at last, Vincent said, "However, there is one fault in Davoren's abnormality. He can only maintain his invincibility for fifteen minutes."
Both ex-Turks grasped this valuable piece of information with keen interest.
"If we can somehow *force* him to exceed the time limit, the level will crumble. Only then will we stand a better chance against him."
Reno, on noticing Vincent address him in particular, recoiled a step back, "Hey! Whoa there! 'We'? As in you 'n me? You wanna team up?!"
"I am open to better suggestions if you have any to offer," challenged Vincent calmly but contemptuously. He didn't like the idea either, but circumstances dictated the terms.
Reno silently consulted his friend with a meaningful glance: not too long ago, Vincent had been considered an enemy; he had already tricked them once and kidnapped the boy, nor did he seem that fond of them (especially Reno). However, Rude, who luckily had a cooller head, nodded his head in agreement. An alliance was their best option.
"...so what do we do?" Reno asked his new ally sarcastically, "Ask he please stand still while we bash him for fifteen minutes?"
Vincent paused, if only to organise this final thoughts together. He asked, rather oddly, "Are you fast?"
"Huh? Well...," Reno scratched his head, "Not as quick as you, of course, but I'm fast enough. Why?"
The plan was uttered as a hushed, important secret, "We'll alternate our attack modes on Davoren between offense and defense. Each time one attacks, the other defends, and then we switch the pattern. It must be quick and smooth, but irregular. Our best hope is to confuse him off his guard."
Reno said nothing, though his bright eyes not only showed he understood the plan, but liked it too.
"You are at a better advantage than I am. Davoren's never seen you before; he doesn't know how you fight. So, it'll be harder for him to fight you."
"...yeah. I get'cha," agreeed the man.
Indeed, Davoren depended on guns, not close combat, and certainly not electricity attacks. Perhaps hope glimmered after all.
The plan was set, the battle ground ready. All that remained was to act.
"So we gotta keep this up for fifteen minutes, huh?" confirmed Reno, ready to move out.
Vincent nodded, "We'll have to hit hard enough to force him to use his invincibility. If we keep it up without giving him a chance to rebuild, he..."
"NO!!" suddenly interrupted a tense voice.
All sight turned to Rufus, who hitherto had listened to their scheme with growing horror. He now stood rigid in his place, a most anxious turmoil upon his pallid face, especially those stormy blue eyes.
"Y-you can't kill Davoren!" he cried outloud in a passion, "Davoren isn't like this!! He doesn't know how to fight or use a gun!"
How could one argue against such ignorance? Vincent folded his arms coldly, then stood aloof from this scene, passively watching Reno handle this predicament. He would not enter any argument with this boy.
"If we don't kill this guy, he'll kill us!" Reno rebuffed impatiently, "He'll kill YOU!!"
"But he's my friend! It's impossible! this can't.."
"Wake up and smell the coffee beans, idiot!! Your 'friend' is a trigger-happy homicidal maniac!! He may have looked after you for a while, but he doesn't care a fig about you! He only cares about serving the Professor!"
"No!!" Rufus angirly shook his head to deny every word, "You can't make me beleive that!! That's not the Davoren *I* know! He.."
"Oh! So now you're telling me he's got some 'multiple personality' thing too?" snapped Reno at peak sarcasm, so cutting Rude almost interfered, "It's in his damn eyes!! He's a killer and loving it!!"
He turned to his bald friend, "Rude, take care of the kid. Hide somewhere safe," Reno then tapped his nightstaff against Rufus' chest for exrta emphasis, "And YOU! Stay clear, understand?"
"That's not negotiable!!"
They had wasted enough time of this useless argument. Deafeated, Rufus dropped his bitter glare to the ground, clenching his bare fists under supressed silence. He kept all his emotions in check.
Reno broke away in clear annoyance. He had obviously hated to be so harsh, especially after he had just earned Rufus' trust. But between that and the boy's safety, he chose the latter.
Vincent had observed the tense scene all throughout. Internally, he agreed with Reno's decision to keep Rufus out of danger. He could trace a profound 'Turk Loyalty' in these two men, even though Rufus no longer held them in command. In fact, the irony was that they commanded the boy now.
The two ex-Turks separated quickly. After final consultation, Rude led Rufus away in quest for a good hiding place. Reno cranked his nightstaff to full charge, then solemnly turned to Vincent: was he ready?
Vincent nodded. He pulled out his loaded black gun, then motioned towards the grim, bleak jungle. It was time.
Soon, the new-founded allies ventured forth, like two cats exploring new terrain.
But inside his own mind, Vincent could still see those tense blue eyes gaze at him, with Rufus's quiet voice ask so simply, "You're going to kill him, aren't you?"