I Know What's Beneath
the Snow Fields -Chp.77
Vincent awoke with a start. He'd been having a nightmare. At first, he
thought he was trapped inside that coffin at Nibelheim again, or in some
sort of stuffy black box. Soon however, his vision adjusted to the dim
light. Much to his confusion, he found himself huddled in the corner of
the same old vent; just a blood-spattered, limp wreck slumped back
against the cold duct wall. Aeris sat curled up between his legs, snuggled
safe in his arms. Her head rested against his feverish chest. She was
Vincent rubbed his eyes. He struggled to re-organize his shambolic mind:
there was that messy battle, the daring stunt across the pit, the escape,
then... that's right. They'd taken refuge in this vent. He must have lost
consciousness soon afterwards. Vincent couldn't quite recall when or how
he slipped into oblivion. To him, fainting was one privilege he'd long
denied himself, not until he'd fully attained his goal.
That goal he now held close. For all the brutality and violence suffered
tonight, he only had one reason for coming: her. Indeed, Vincent peered
down at the slumbering Aeris. She'd wept a great deal, as he last remembered.
The tears still stained her pallid cheeks. Needless to say, tonight's
events had shaken her to near madness, especially her witnessing first-hand
that gritty, decisive war. Thankfully though, the cry had flushed out
the shock from her system, and mollified her to an unsettled sleep, at
least for now.
Nor would Vincent even consider disturbing her yet. Her drained spirits
needed refreshment. Besides, he felt too weak to move. Instead, he sunk
further back against the icy wall, and set his tired mind adrift a sea
of aimless contemplation, sailing wherever the winds blew.
Just a few more minutes. He wished to linger in this silence just a while
He felt so exhausted... so sick. Every inch of his body ached. Every joint,
from limb to vertebrae, felt rusted stiff. Vincent's memory hung in tatters,
so much like his appearance and health.
He had difficulty tying the battle sequence together into one thread.
By now, all the blows and agony, the exquisite taste of pain mixed with
blood had been dulled to a hazy recollection. He remembered being chased
through the labyrinthine duct system. They'd found sanctuary in this dead-end
hovel. He remembered comforting the distraught girl. The rest fizzed out.
He must have settled himself thus against the wall with Aeris wrapped
in his protective embrace, then lost consciousness under the lull of her
sobs. Time eluded Vincent. He knew not how long they'd sat here; certainly
more than an hour.
One thing, however, struck him quite distinctly. He remembered kissing
the tearful girl. Vincent paused, bewildered. The more he dwelt upon the
memory, the sharper it became until he lived every detail again: yes,
he remembered that blissful moment of peace, just the two of them hidden
here deep in darkness. The thrill of his lips upon hers. All those tingly
sensations... their *strength*...
Why? What on earth had possessed him to suddenly bend over and kiss her?
He couldn't understand.
Maybe he didn't want to understand.
All his life, he'd followed cool sense and precise calculations. Obey
orders without question or judgment. Choose reason over emotion. Reason
clarified his vision, whether he peered through the sight on his gun,
or beheld himself in the mirror.
Only once had he slipped to utter helplessness. Only once had emotion
eclipsed reason. It happened thirty-one years ago, when he gave a woman
his undying love and devotion; forever hers, even after she'd crossed
to the nether world.
But now. Right now, what did he see?
Vincent saw himself sitting slouched back against a wall, a tiny speck
lost inside a huge maze, battered on both physical and mental front. He
saw Aeris asleep, unaware of his thoughts. He remembered Lucrecia; his
beloved Lucrecia, still fresh in his mind after so many years.
Vincent saw the guilt that fettered him to the ignoble past. He saw the
sins that sullied both hands, most horrid the one he committed against
...this is your punishment...
To trudge across barren wastelands under her melancholy gaze. Guilty.
Guilty. Her death, his fault- his crime, his sin!
Vincent picked his brains in vicious self-examination. He demanded answers
without even knowing the questions. Too many forces tugged at him from
too many sides. He grew irritated, listless. He seemed to grope through
a fog of premontion in search for something. He couldn't describe it.
He couldn't understand it.
...it's because you don't want to understand it...
...are you afraid?...
Yet when he had Aeris there, cornered, her frightened face cupped between
his hands, something there triggered an impulse within himself, and he
kissed her. He'd felt it, hot, unreasonable, and inexplicable. It was
this passionate desire to seal her safe from harm as intensely as he'd
sealed her mouth.
No. More than that. Much more. In that one moment, he'd wanted to...
A sharp pain pierced Vincent's skull right on cue, scattering his thoughts
in a dozen directions. He pressed his temples to restrain the rampaging
headache. The coughs reverberated within his tight chest, but he never
let one escape. It hurt. Inside, he burned like a furnace. A secret part
of him, however, felt grateful for this agony; at least it provided some
distraction from those obsessions.
Luckily, the seizure soon passed, and Vincent breathed free once more.
Again, he returned to the pitiful girl clasped against him. Vincent spent
a rather pensive minute studying her upclose. He traced the torture marks
along way. He noted her sickly condition; her dirty face, and rumpled
clothes which covered that frail, meek, little body underneath.
He frowned gravely: all the beautiful life he'd watched blossom out of
her, Professor Hojo had drained dry. He'd reduced her to the same miserable
creature she was the night she escaped...
The realization suddenly
slapped him smack into the present: Hojo! He'd practically forgotten the
Professor! He'd been engulfed by the smoke (or steam screen), during which
they'd quickly slipped away, hoping to lose him amidst the entangled ventilation
network. Lose but not escape. Hojo had probably overcome that door obstacle
in zilch minutes. Vincent easily pictured the demented scientist on the
prowl for them. Meanwhile, they'd dawdled here for God-knows-how-long.
Why, Hojo could be *anywhere* by now, maybe even waiting outside their
hideout! Vincent pirked up his ears to the suspicious air. He thought
he heard a noise- just his paranoid imagination, or a real threat?
He didn't care to find out. Craven or prudent, either way Vincent decided
to flee- flee the laboratory, the Reactor, this whole nightmare of painful
truths and rude awakenings. Besides, he couldn't fight anymore than keep
a steady focus, and even that seemed on the wane. Against Hojo, he wouldn't
last three seconds .
Time to go then. Despite his rheumatic agony, he managed to sit upright,
still supporting Aeris against himself. The girl gave a weak moan of protest
at the movement. Her hazy green eyes happened to open halfway. But under
exhaustion's weight, they closed again, having understood very little.
He flopped Aeris onto his back, whereby she unconsciously hugged his neck
and burried her heavy head against his shoulder in submission. Everything
set. Vincent checked before venturing outside the shelter. Several paths
diverged from this junction point. He took the grimmest one.
Good news: though the short respite had wasted some time, it had also
re-vitalized his body, hopefully enough to see them through. Overall,
he'd stopped bleeding. In fact, the less serious wounds had already begun
to heal. Alive. He was still alive (well, not dead anyway). And most importantly,
he'd retrieved Aeris. She was latched on his back, safe and sound.
Bad news: Vincent hadn't the foggiest clue how to exit this blasted rat
maze, nevermind this madhouse. Worse, he realized he'd no more ammo, just
that last cartridge loaded in his gun. His metal arm needed emergency
repair. Plus there were the more serious injuries, broken side, and rising
fever which chewed at his mind like a rabid beast. Plus he had the girl
to consider. She was ill and traumatised; not forgetting of course their
relentless predator in the background.
Figures. The bad always outweighed the good. Vincent muttered a curse
as he scrambled onwards.
He followed a haphazard course through thick veils of gray and black.
They explored frosty conduit burrows with tiny iciles dangling overhead.
They wandered down dirty ghettos full of denizen ghouls, who from the
shadows watched those two strangers pass by. No start or finish to these
narrow caverns. More pipelines. More intersections. Same impenetrable
Time dragged on. Five minutes turned to ten turned to forty, still nothing.
The eerie suspense wound Vincent's nerves tighter. He could not dispel
this terrible premonition. Nor would the fever ease off. It grilled him
over a voracious inner fire. Indeed, the strain, the sheer act of respiring,
showed on his face, in particular those brilliant crimson eyes.
All the while, Aeris kept silent. She didn't stir either. She just kept
her head low and her arms around his neck. Vincent knew she'd fully awakened
now, but in her fear and timid confusion, refrained from any speech. Instead
she nestled closer for security (not to mention warmth).
Vincent didn't mindl. On the contrary, having her near set part of his
mind at ease. He only wished he'd kept his overcoat, at least have something
to wrap her up in. Like this, he felt her every breath on his neck, as
gentle as a ghost's. For some reason, it sent a chill down his spine.
Way led onto way. Vincent relied on intuition more than anything else;
this place was too complex to map out. Plus they hadn't the time. He remained
on high alert. The air grew so cold it stung his skin numb. The silence
made every movement sound so loud until Vincent was certain Hojo could
hear them- he felt ready to explode! Were there no exits out of these
Regardless, he kept moving, and the clock kept ticking. By chance, they
came across another intersection of paths, when Vincent suddenly stopped
short. Was that...? It was! He felt a breeze whiffing by. Very faint,
but it meant one thing: an exit vent was near!
Vincent quickened his pace. He entered the passageway he believed would
lead to the source, and hopefully to salvation. Onwards he shuffled, around
a corner. They reached a slanted airshaft, in which Vincent used the equally
spaced iron rims to clamber upwards. Once at the top, he crawled straight
ahead. Sure enough, he perceived a rectangular grate neatly fitted into
First, Vincent peeked between the bars onto the world far below. He could
not quite determine where they've arrived. It appeared to be some hall.
A very, very grand hall. There were two platforms, the smaller decked
over the much larger one, both supported by an intricate construction
of tall girders, scaffoldings and ceiling-high glass pillars. At this
altitude, Vincent estimated about thirty meters from here to the first
platform, another twenty to the lower one.
The coast was clear. They still dwelt in laboratory terrain, but that
hardly mattered. One good kick downwards dented the grate; two more broke
it free, sending it plummeting down to oblivion.
After he'd secured the girl, Vincent slipped through, and dangled loose
from the outlet high, high above. Having already spotted his next "footing",
he used his own weight to oscillate back and forth, back and forth, whereby
he let go for momentum to carry them across open space. He landed on a
sturdy metal beam, then crouched down in place to regain balance. He hopped
further down onto the scaffoldings. He scurried along the delivery conduits,
only to jump onto a lower pipe. Therefore, by a series of well-planned
leaps, they made their way down this craggy architecture until they finally
landed safe on the upper platform.
No sooner there, however, than the weary man collapsed onto one knee,
almost crashing aside had he not steadied himself in time. Before, it
would have cost no effort. Now even simple acrobatics taxed his muscles
beyond endurance. It wouldn't be too long before his strength gave out
Vincent shook that worry off. Right now he had more pressing concerns
to deal with. He looked behind towards the girl, who'd clung to him throughout
the whole trip downwards, and still did.
"Aeris, can you stand?" he asked softly.
She nodded twice without lifting her head. Vincent climbed onto both feet
again, doing his best to assist Aeris as she slid off him. Still, the
girl needed another kind reassurance to relinquish his shirt and stand
unaided. He held her steady for a moment or so just to make sure she was
absolutely okay. Strangely, Vincent found himself studying her care-worn
face a little too closely. He seemed to search her for some secret. In
response, Aeris shyed away from him, becoming so acutely self-conscious
that she dropped her eyes aside to avoid his.
The question hung between them: now what? Vincent surveyed the open terrain.
He wracked his brains for an answer.
Offhand, he guessed they'd dropped into some specimen-preservation centre.
On this floor stood several stately stasis-tanks dressed in their best
electronic finery. Expensive computer equipment littered the hall. Wires
and cablelines wrapped around this technology like gnarly vines. Yet what
struck Vincent most was the glass colonnade around them. It resembled
a massive, petrified arbour where giants once roamed. The interiors of
these pillars were divided horizontally into separate compartments, each
chamber filled with a discoloured liquid (probably the preservatives).
Every glass columns took root from the ground floor, and passed both decks
upwards. They all upheld the delivery network against the vaulted ceiling
So far, nothing.
he ordered. Aeris complied without argument.
Vincent stepped across towards the balustrade to view the lower platform.
Very large indeed. However, it served no more than another junction point
between different laboratory wings. There were six big entrances. So,
which path should they choose?
He knew the lab's layout very dimly. Add to that they had Professor Hojo
hunting for them. Not good. On the positive side, he possessed a keen
sense of direction. And perhaps with an extra dose of luck, he could retrace
his path back to the main reception hall, then from there make it back
up to the surface.
A plan had just begun to materialize when Vincent heard a sad murmur behind
him, "'It's useless'."
He turned his head towards Aeris again, puzzled. He beheld the lonesome
girl over there, who lingered lost in a private reverie, having betrayed
her innermost throughts without realizing it. The comment had escaped
her unintentionally. She didn't even imagine he'd hear her. But he had.
And now, upon noticing his attention fixed on her again, Aeris fumbled
in evident confusion, as if he'd caught her off guard.
"..the Professor..," she stammered, "..that's what he said.
Nothing will change the truth. 'It's useless'," she grew more disconcerted,
"..I..I had plenty of time to think about it. I'm beginning to realize
how right he is... about me. About everything..."
Vincent could make neither head nor tail of her fragmented sentences.
Inside, however, he felt that same premonition tingle his spine. He turned
to face her, standing tall and thoughtful despite injury. He waited for
her to speak.
-End of Chp.77