I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.82


When confronted by Truth, there are those who can accept it. The less strong-hearted shun it. Others, probably the most dastardly, most desperate of all, destroy this truth and anything else associated with it, even another's life.
 
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Vincent's pupils constricted to pinpoints. Horror paralyzed him stone rigid as he'd arisen halfway off the floor, but too late. Infront, the bloody scene rolled past his eyes like a tape in slow motion. Every frame, every detail engrained itself forever into his memory.
 
        ...you never came...
        ...you didn't protect her...
 
He'd sooner have burned himself blind than witness those sharp talons tear her flesh. He'd have given his own body rather than watch hers wrung into a disorientated rag-doll, already lurching backwards towards the darkness which awaited her.
 
        ...Lucrecia...
        ...you didn't protect her...
       
Once he'd ruthlessly slashed across the defenseless girl, Professor Hojo, intoxicated with fury, did not hesitate a heartbeat to deliver the finale. Poor Aeris hadn't even absorbed the first blow when the maniac belted a vicious bundle of tentacles. She involuntarily yelped a harsh shriek as it whipped her hard against the waist, ripping flesh, cracking bone. The brutal force swept her aside clear out of Hojo's way, into oblivion for all he cared.
 
        ...it's your fault...
        ...monster...
 
Vincent watched impact set this girl spiraling mad through air. She was so small compared to the Professor's towering bulk. So delicate and lightweight. All it took was a single strike to send her gliding meters across the stone floor, whereupon she crashed and tumbled over several times.
 
He watched her loose hair, floppy limbs and broken body whirl around and around on a long gory streak. Finally, after what felt like ages to him, she rolled to a halt at the very opposite side of the arena.
 
Aeris lay sprawled aside upon her stomach, arms cast outwards, pallid face half-buried against the dirty floor. Her eyes were closed. From afar, no one could determine whether she was dying or already there. Either way, it was done. In a mere matter of seconds, she'd been reduced from an impressive figure to that lifeless mess. Even then, a somewhat mystic aura enshrouded her corpse.
 
Greed. Deceit. Murder. For "Genesis Retrial", an evil built on a hierarchy of crime could only end in crime. Aeris lay there alone in a crimson pool, the dying heart of a dying experiment; the blood-sacrifice that destroyed it.
 
An unnatural hush spread throughout the atmosphere. No movement made. No breath released. Time itself stopped at such a tragic sight, during which the still flustered Professor and the shell-shocked Vincent, enemies on opposite courts, shared the same view of that carcass. To each his own reaction.
 
The war-torn Holocaust, sullied by Aeris' blood, sent a derisive snort in her direction. Stupid chit, he seemed to think behind that spiteful visage. She said he'd lost everything long ago. That he'd always have nothing save nothingness itself and her pity. Her pity! With those simple words, through her unconquerable gaze, her "truth" had stripped his dream of all meaning and magnificence..... no! He refused to accept it! Not after all he'd given!!
 
No one could quite say what revolved in the Professor's deranged brain. But to him, Aeris had always embodied the aesthetic aspect of the experiment; it was she who'd bring his "God" into existence. Perhaps inside that warped genius mind of his, a side of him had actually fallen in love with his own creation. He'd kill anything that threatened this passionate obsession, even a little girl like her. Indeed, Hojo had massacred that detestable truth through her rather than concede an inch to it.
 
Meanwhile, on the other side of this blood-streaked stage, Vincent dropped under his own weight to sit there hunched upon both knees, lost in a daze. The silence suffocated him. His conscience spun miles out of orbit. Longer and longer gaped the man over at Aeris. She did not stir. His haggard, wide eyes called her name. She made no response, and his pleas bounced back as tiny shards of insanity.
 
        ...you didn't protect her...
        ...this is your punishment...
        ...this is your punishment...
 
Louder buzzed the discordant chorus around him. They trampled over his logic until it began to crack under strain. They pounded against his heart until he heard his pulse throb across both ears.
 
        ...you let her die...
        ...you didn't protect her...
 
Too entangled in mental mayhem, Vincent didn't even apprehend this inner force rattle his chest, harder... and harder... its intensity metastasized like cancer throughout his wrecked body. Its hellish heat literally gnarled up his form, coarsened his features to raw beastliness...
 
        ...it's all your fault...
        ...rot in guilt...
        ...beg for forgiveness...
                                    ...Lucrecia...
        ...you didn't protect her...
                                    ...Lucrecia...
        ...you let her die. You just watched her die...
                                    ...Lucrecia...
 
He'd already lost someone very dear to him. Thirty-one years later, he had to watch Death snatch her away again. Now he beheld her body flung upon the cold ground, bleeding, motionless. Still he gaped at her. Still she never moved.
 
With Aeris, how had it felt to be needed again?
 
How had it felt to turn and find her walking by his side, smiling, content just to be with him?
 
And how had it felt when she confessed she loved him, enough to give herself away to Death, whereas he's always despised himself for all he'd done?
 
Another circle complete, another loss, and the torture started anew.
 
        ...fear. Are you afraid, Vincent?...
        ...you'll never be free...
        ...you'll just go on repeating the same cycle forever...
 
        ...everytime, you won't protect her...
                                    ...Aeris...
        ...everytime, you'll let her die...
                                    ...Aeris...
        ...everytime, you'll watch her die...
                                    ...Aeris...
 
        ...again...
            ...and again...
                ...and again...
                    ...and again...
 
        ...this is your punishment...
        ...this is your punishment...
                                    ...monster...
 
His mind sped out of control. Just the same ramble a zillion times. He couldn't breathe. In this delirious moment, the beleaguered man whirled his vacant eyes towards Professor Hojo, who'd only just released his contemptuous snort.
 
At that exact instant, as he viewed the blood-stained gargantua, all those discordant voices blared unanimously across Vincent's conscience: How does it feel? How does it feel to lose her ALL OVER AGAIN?!
 
Then suddenly, something snapped.
 
Vincent buckled over to let out the most unearthly, blood-curdling scream, its timbre no longer human, but of a primal rage now set loose upon the world. The entire Reactor quaked on a catastrophic scale. The flabbergasted Professor was almost thrown off balance. During the verbal confrontation against Aeris, he'd practically forgotten his original enemy!
 
Holocaust Hojo turned around. He barely managed to brace himself in time as a flesh-shearing aura swept him like a blast of wind further back. Even then, his astounded eyes could hardly comprehend the spectacle. Where before there'd only been Vincent's ragged carcass, a phenomenal superpower seized his body by the very spine.
 
The sheer contact between flesh and fury unleashed such geyser force it literally swept Vincent whole into midair amidst an upward swirl of blazing gust. Superior hands mangled his form. They distorted his scraggly frame beyond human proportions. His skin darkened to leathery purple. The rage strained his face into a diabolical terror, and burned his pupils red out of their sockets.
 
Vincent was no more. Chaos assumed control.
 
Two black wings ripped through his back. Each stretched its glory three meters wide. Free at last! And plenty of anger for fodder! The airborne Hellspawn announced itself with a resonant roar so destructive, the sound waves shattered glass and tore metal and stone apart. Everything rumbled. The Reactor groaned; how could a fortress built by mere humans ever withstand a demon sculpted by the Devil himself?
 
Chaos stirred a paradox of emotions within all who beheld it, be they living, inanimate, or supernatural. Its graceful gargoyle figure evoked fascination. Its presence aroused fear. The creature itself was hideous, but simultaneously represented the beauty of evil, and glory of wanton destruction.
 
Gliding upon the same winds that had uplifted it, the crazed calamity made a backward loop, whereupon it swooped diagonally straight towards earth again. An infernal aura encased Chaos. Behind, shockwaves of pure havoc followed suit. Suddenly, Hojo realized he was the target.
 
At first, the victorious scientist had been stunned blank, not by the dramatic transformation as much as the timing. He'd always known how keenly Vincent detested Chaos. Since his Turk days he'd been a man of stern mental control. In fact, Hojo had wagered himself he'd kill Vincent before the man would even consider exchanging his mind for muscle. It was an advantage he'd exploited to the full.
 
Hitherto, he'd considered Vincent a dying (if not plain dead) wreck; that is until that outspoken chit had intervened. Still, had this change happened earlier, professor Hojo probably wouldn't have been too concerned. He'd created Chaos. He knew its weaknesses. But the war had dragged on far beyond expectation. He too had sustained many grievous injuries.
 
And unless he acted *now*, those injuries would soon become fatal.
 
The agitated scientist instantly belted a hefty bundle of tentacles at his incoming assailant; he hoped to strike it off course. Chaos, however, wouldn't be deterred. the creature merely swacked the vexatious diversion aside, shredding it to fleshy strings.
 
Holocaust Hojo hadn't even grunted his disbelief when this demented demon descended upon him at terminal velocity. Chaos drove one claw straight in for Hojo's skull, talons ablaze with murderous energy. Indeed, the alarmed Professor rallied up all his resources into a force shield. It absorbed the blow, but the impact almost crushed him under (not easy considering his massive size), nor would the weight ease off. In fact, the wailing calamity from Hell continued to drive its gnarled claw against this shield. They may be separate entities, but both Chaos and Vincent shared the exact same persistence.
 
The two enemies radiated such powerful auras. Neither side would yield. The resultant deadlock cut a swath of destruction round a twenty meter radius: the floors, walls, machinery and columns; nothing was spared.
 
Chaos, airborne and roaring mad, kept pushing downwards despite this vortex of energy and debris. Holocaust had no choice but to resist upwards. he exerted his mental capacities to the max just to hold this protective barrier together. The strain showed clear on his crumpled face.
 
The seconds ticked by. In the end however, something had to give. Hojo could not maintain output at such high frequency, not in this state. Sure enough, the shield, once a solid dome of glowing particles, actually began to "crack" under pressure. Those dagger-nails slowly penetrated through. The crazed creature persevered, even though the heat eroded skin and underlying muscle off its own arm. Hojo's head would make sweet compensation. Inch by inch, they reached their target.
 
Professor Hojo sorely needed breathing space. Desperate, he pumped that extra bit into his failing shield. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction: the sudden burst of force not only pushed him backwards out of danger, it also repelled Chaos away with a stunned shriek.
 
Both sides broke off. Chaos faltered a moment in disorientation, time enough for the scientist to mount an immediate counter-offence. He charged in fast. Simultaneously, thick ropes of tentacles wound themselves all along his right arm and beyond to form a knotted, thorny extension. Complete with those bony forearm and knuckle shears, the grotesque distortion made a lethal "sword" indeed.
 
Holocaust took a big swing at the unwary creature. In effect, the brutal slash sent Chaos flying further back with one messy gash across the torso, spurting scarlet blood all the way.
 
Still at maximum momentum, Hojo pressed on for another assault. Again he swung that armored appendage at his enemy. But Chaos had already recovered its poise, a lot sooner than Hojo expected. As graceful as a ballet dancer, the treacherous demon flipped over right-side up and landed upon a cushion of air with both wings folded together like a shield, just in time to absorb the incoming impact.
 
Holocaust Hojo was absolutely stunned. His astonishment doubled when Chaos, having received the blow unharmed, suddenly snapped both wings wide open again to whiff Hojo backwards off co-ordination... and also reveal a little "surprise": a searing hot swarm of energy gathered within one claw, so concentrated it actually resembled a light saber.
 
Chaos lunged in fasted than a blink. If it's a sword game Hojo wanted, then that's what he'd get: one jab clean through his exposed flank, twist, then rip it out sideways, effectively bestowing upon him a hideous open gash. Pain erupted loud from the depths of Hojo's lungs; a scream no human could ever produce.
 
Holocaust crashed to the arena floor in spastic agony. For now, Chaos left him sprawled there, at least to enjoy a moment's glory before finishing off the job. The vindictive fiend shot straight up into free space again, spreading catastrophes wherever it passed.
 
Even this vast Reactor could scarcely contain such diabolical powers. The earth shook more violently as if it might crack open. The heavens rained mangled steel, electronic garbage, and meteorites of stone. meanwhile, Professor Hojo struggled frantically to collect himself off the ground. He certainly did not appreciate getting KO'ed with one attack. Nor could he afford to grant the opposition any aerial advantage. In fact, he'd have to hammer in a good series of consecutive blows against Chaos, enough to overwhelm it back to submission. Only then had he any hope of winning.
 
His wound dripped gore. He snarled another curse. A computer console smashed nearby. One of the column specimen tanks lurched over. nevertheless, Hojo managed to stagger halfway up. he looked skyward. Amidst the bedlam, he perceived Chaos head towards the crumbling pipe network high above. Angry, twice indignant, the gargantua discarded his injuries to pursue his wily adversary. Hojo moved swiftly towards the opposite wall. he took the alternate route up the cableline and support system.
 
In a race to reach the top, he used all his nimbleness and stamina to keep pace. Holocaust passed the upper deck level, the devastated arbors of perservatory tanks. He leapt across to land on the scaffolds, then scaled up this convoluted jungle-gym architecture better than any monkey. Amazingly, it only took him a minute to reach such high altitude; he arrived upon the new battle site just after Chaos.
 
Indeed, Chaos had barely landed one  steel beam when in came danger at a sharp angle; Hojo threw his entire force into his mighty sword-arm. No good. The artful Hellspawn sprang upwards, and the attack struck metal instead.
 
Annoyed but undaunted, the professor raced three levels farther up. In effect, he intersected Chaos' escape route from above, just the position he needed to swing that merciless blade of bone and thorns crack against its shoulder.
 
The unanticipated strike, well delivered, almost shattered the joint as it sent Chaos spiraling over like a wrecked paper plane. Luckily, the monster collided against a slanted support girder. There it grabbed hold, mounted, and quickly clawed its way up this unsteady structure; that is until it sensed Holocaust swoop in amidst a fleet of tentacles. Chaos dived out of harm's way, after which those relentless ropes lacerated the girder to utter scrap. Close but still no luck.
 
The frustrated Professor dropped safe onto another pipeline nearby. his glare darted across the battlezone towards some ledge located further below. There Chaos landed, and squatted in place. Its wounded shoulder hung limp, yet sadistic amusement burned bright through those ruby-red eyes. It seemed to enjoy the strife... crave more carnage, more pain. No sooner had it touched down, than the deranged fiend instantly sprang back at Hojo for a second round, this time wielding energy sabers in both claws.
 
Together, the two evils danced a deadly duel throughout the duct system. They waltzed a crescendo of violence, devoid of rhythm or harmony, just murderous animal instincts. The world itself heaved on the verge of collapse. Neither side cared. Amidst the falling debris they clashed on and off. Blood was splattered. Flesh was torn. They ripped each other apart, chased one another across the multi-leveled battleground, met again, broke off...
 
Their delirious conflict endured only a few moments, though the repercussions reached far more than imagination ever could. Professor Hojo followed his strategy. He lead an all-out offense against the enemy, casting himself and his resources into the fray.
 
At first, Chaos held its own. but the artillery escalated to such a frenzy that the hard-pressed creature could just about keep on the move, retaliating whenever opportunity allowed.
 
Next time that sword-arm whiffed by, Chaos managed to dodge whilst delivering a clean slash alongway; the weapon was thus reduced to a sprawling mess of ropes and blood. That never deterred the equally-demented Holocaust. He lashed out a big interwoven net of tentacles. On the receiving end, Chaos was pelted away with a hundred mini-lacerations across its body.
 
Victory shone within reach. Holocaust Hojo kept the pressure at maximum. He made a second lunge against the wounded Chaos, but had to reverse gears when a deluge of debris from above suddenly crashed between them. The metal buttress, which hitherto had been their latest battle-spot lurched aside, then succumbed under impact, ripping out more pipes and scrap for a wild ride down. Both enemies were completely thrown off equilibrium. They plummeted towards the deck hall meters below.
 
Even Hojo could not fight gravity. he lost all orientation of space and time. The wreckage falling with him cut and tumbled him about through free-fall. The defenseless scientist battled on every front for some stability. Just then, something else happened to catch his eye. He looked upwards, dazed, alarmed.
 
In truth, he didn't dream Chaos had managed to escape the crash in tact. Worst still, he hadn't realized that rather than fight the current, Chaos had taken a nose-dive straight down for him. Indeed, when Hojo looked up, there he perceived that incoming menace silhouetted against the poring rubble, about to perform its most spectacular attack yet.
 
What followed occurred within mere seconds, right before Hojo's wide eyes: Chaos, riding free upon the winds of insanity, summoned glorious swirls of energy into both claws. With fluid arm motions, this display spiraled beyond any conceivable proportion to form a comet, whereupon Chaos swept its hands downwards to seal the spell; or rather, to hurtle this blazing trajectory straight for the mesmerized Holocaust below.
 
Had Armageddon struck just then, its impact wouldn't have been much louder or more terrifying. The explosion spewed fiery debris and a thousand destructive wavefronts all around the arena, if not the whole Reactor's parameter. Hojo never could have evaded such a massive missile. Instead, he'd squeezed his alien energy- everything to the last drop in time to materialize a spherical cocoon around himself, after which came impact.
 
It didn't save him. In fact, Holocaust was almost obliterated when that unholy blaze of havoc collided against him, sending him towards earth with a now shattered shield. But it certainly absorbed enough brunt to protect his life.
 
Or whatever remained afterwards. The Professor was spiked at such fanatical momentum he seemed to shred through the very fabric of air. He slammed harder than a twelve ton sack of concrete against the upper deck hall, cracking the floor beneath. A rain of debris followed; distorted ducts and other garbage set ablaze, some of which crashed upon him as he lay there, completely thrashed.
 
The shockwaves continued unabated until Judgement Day seemed at hand. In the wake of it all, Holocaust wrestled raw pain just to hold his fragmented senses together. He tried to stand again: he wouldn't allow one setback to change the tides against him! Damned if he'd succumb to defeat, not to Chaos, to that girl, or any of them!
 
Meanwhile, the situation deteriorated from bad to disastrous: louder rumbled the earth. The hall moaned in upheaval. It took this gargantua of broken armor and open wounds forever just to rise from under the rubble. He wobbled some steps away, but collapsed halfway again, wheezing harshly for oxygen, bristling pure derangement.
 
Soon, Hojo noticed something. Confused, he shot his suspicious glare around this scorched battlezone: why hadn't Chaos followed up his attack during this time? In fact, *where* was that confounded...
 
A sudden shriek from above answered. Hitherto, Chaos had patiently waited in the shadows for Hojo to recover, so that it may *then* attack. Not out of any sense of warrior's honor; rather to satisfy its own cruel sense of humor.
 
The scientist, absolutely startled off guard, had just looked upwards when in swooped the belligerent demon with wings wide apart. Chaos literally landed upon Hojo's shoulders; the latter was thrown into turmoil. But nothing compared to the gruesome moment Chaos, having anchored its feet-talons into his flesh, jabbed one claw right into Hojo's bad eye, and gouged it out by the roots.
 
The roar which exploded from Hojo's lungs rocked the Heavens themselves, so viscerally charged it twisted one's entrails to hear him. Blind, frenzied by pain and rage, Holocaust's automatic reaction was one haphazard strike against his assailant. his assailant had just embarked with that gory trophy when, quite unexpectedly, the blow slammed in the midriff. This time, Chaos lost orientation. The maniacal Hojo delivered such power so suddenly; he effectively spiked his airborne enemy clean across open terrain at the speed of a blur. The stunned demon couldn't re-adjust itself. It flew straight over the  upper deck parapet, and like a cannonball smashed back first against the opposite wall.
 
The impact not only left a huge crater in the unfortunate wall, but visibly jarred Chaos into a state of blunt shock. No pain. No anger or blood lust. Just total numbness. From there, the flaccid creature slipped off the wall to unconsciousness. During the fall, its wings shriveled away, its figure re-humanized until Vincent crashed upon the stone floor.
 
He emerged from the transformation a shaken mess, choking on the unpleasant after-effects. He writhed for some amidst his confusion. raucous dins and clangours surrounded him. The ground beneath him quaked. Vincent groggily raised his head. To his further bewilderment, he found himself sprawled thus upon the arena floor, with the hall on the brink of a massive cave-in.
 
The alarmed Vincent bolted up onto one knee. His eyes darted all around to comprehend the shambolic scene. The ceiling was falling. Scattered fires crackled about in glee. Deluges of dirt, glass and metal bombarded the ground. Amidst this mayhem, Vincent thought he glimpsed holocaust stranded on the upper deck; the creature seemed to be wailing, convulsing like an erratic animal to make a getaway. But Vincent lost sight of him again when one of walls finally avalanched and crashed down between them.
 
He wracked his brains: what exactly had happened? How did he end up over here?! He remembered this fissile anger exploding inside. There'd followed a terrible scream, yet the voice not his own. Then everything had stopped. Literally, it just jammed to a halt. Of course. Chaos. He must have surrendered to that fiend without even realizing it. He'd just lost himself in rage. The rest Vincent could guess, not without a profound sense of self-disgust. But right now, he had a far more important matter to attend to: Aeris.
 
He quickly scanned the battlefield. Vincent gave a faint "Ah!" of recognition when he spotted a rumpled carcass over there. At once, he scrambled like a madman under fire to reach her. Aeris hadn't moved all this time. Even when the frantic man shoved some fallen metal bar off her and gathered her into both arms, she never stirred
 
"Aeris!" Vincent called hoarsely. When he turned her over, Aeris' head flopped back to reveal an ashen face, eyes closed, with only a tint of pain upon her otherwise lifeless expression. Blood seeped through her wound. Of all the things he'd beheld tonight, this death mask probably disconcerted him the most. Vincent almost hesitated to check a pulse. Thankfully, he found one against her neck; very weak, but certainly better than none.
 
Again, the man looked around himself at a loss. Who knew how far Chaos' reign of terror had spread or how much of the Reactor it would destroy. He didn't know the laboratory's layout. Even if he did, there were no guarantees the exits (or this entire madhouse for that matter) wouldn't collapse before they've reached safety. So what *now*?! They were being buried alive in this maze fortress, and he had only himself to blame. How could he hope to escape, wrecked and lost, the girl in dire need of treatment? He didn't know what to do!
 
A suggestion came from above: some belligerent heap of pipes crashed just a meter away, almost destabilizing Vincent had he not supported himself in time. He decided to at least get the hell out of this trap. He'd worry about the rest later.
 
He collected the unconscious Aeris off the floor then beat a hasty retreat across no-man's land, dodging the hailstorm in search for any escape route. By chance, Vincent discovered the remnants of an exit crushed under stone blocks, marked only by a crevice in the wall. Good enough. He scuffled through the cracked exit and hurriedly limped down the long corridor. The path ended at a stairwell. Vincent descended the steps into complete darkness. He had no idea where he was going. He'd no gun to protect them; he'd lost it somewhere during the great fall, nor had he had the time to search for it. Far behind, Vincent heard the battlezone disintegrate to oblivion.


-End of Chp.82