I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chapter 12

Vincent, finally alone in the bedroom, flung himself on the soft bed. Fatigue had completely overpowered him; he did not even bother removing his muddy boots off his feet.

As he gradually sunk into unconsciousness, he set his mind sailing away in a chaotic, wild sea of thoughts. At times, he found himself arguing fiercely about some abstract idea; other times, he thought of nothing at all.

Time dragged on. Vincent shifted to his side, burying his sickly face into the pillow. Though he felt incredibly suffocated and hot, his whole body never stopped shivering. His restless mind drifted in all directions until it finally settled on the image of the old gentleman on the train. Vincent lingered over that memory with strange, almost absurd, fascination.

"That man was so old!" he whispered to himself in wonder, "his face looked like a crumpled piece of paper."

Whether he expected some response, or simply had grown tired of the dreary silence, Vincent gently peeked out of his pillow. Sweat broke out all over his body as bouts of violent shivering seized him.

His ears discerned an unnatural buzz behind the door, as if several people were whispering and humming cautiously. His bloodshot eyes darted all over the dark room, then fixed themselves rigorously on the door.

"He couldn't even stand up without his cane," Vincent continued archly, "And he trembled so much..poor man.."

The faint murmurings behind the door grew louder, but still, Vincent could not distinguish one voice. He buried his face into the pillow again, greatly agitated.

"I wonder..," he muttered, "..I wonder if that's how I should look like..."

He suddenly rolled onto his back, and stared wild-eyed at the black ceiling.

"No..," he answered with a cold grin, "No..I should have black wings sprouting out of my back..yes..and fangs dripping with blood too.."

"A monster! A monster!" squealed the disorderly voices behind the door, "Oh! A monster!"

"A monster..yes..," Vincent agreed, smiling more coldly, "..yes..nothing but a monster in human form..just like Davoren said.."

The tumultuous voices gabbled away behind the door. Vincent's chest heaved up and down in sharp pain; he could feel his blood burbling inside. The rowdy sounds not only drowned his ears, they seemed to strangle his very life.

"Heh heh..," he chuckled amidst the deranged voices, "Y'know, Davoren saved my life once..strange how I never thought of him until now.."

The voices cackled and cawed rudely: some even screamed through the keyhole. As the heat became unbearable, Vincent finally tore open his stiff collar, but still gazed at the plain ceiling. His breaths grew short.

"But then again," he gasped out, "why is it so strange? I was a monster then..I'm a monster still. What difference would it make if I hide behind this mask?"

The voices suddenly fell back to a hushed, faint murmur.

"So what if..it's just..an..illusion..?"

His eyelids steadily grew heavy; his head sunk deeper into the warm pillow. Everything swirled around his weary head in utter chaos, not sure where to go.

"He's so angry," hissed a malicious voice into his ears, "He must finish! He must!"

But Vincent lost conscious before the voice finished.

Though Vincent was semi-aware of his surroundings as he lay on the bed, he could not induce any of his muscles to move an inch.

He heard someone cautiously slip into the room. He knew that stranger was peering over him, but his eyes stubbornly refused to open. After a minute, Vincent felt somebody gently pulling off his heavy boots. The same person pulled the blankets from underneath him with great care, then covered him.

Whoever that was soon left, shutting the door softly. Vincent was alone again.

But his interest in his surroundings gradually faded. He floated as gently as a feather through some grim dream world, fluttering with a puff of wind. He passed so many forgotten memories, details, and faces; but whenever he reached for them, they instantly vanished into this air.

"Do you remember what happened in the apple orchard?" laughed a sweet voice out of the darkness.

"Yes," Vincent replied monotonously, "I killed Davoren there.."

"And do you remember what happened in the library?"

"Yes..I was shot there...by the Professor.."

He felt two soft hands caress his cheeks tenderly. They were exceedingly cold.

"Ah," whispered the gentle voice, "but he preserved your life, didn't he?"

Vincent let out a short, wooden laugh.

"I never had a 'life'," Vincent corrected, "I was just a cold-hearted killing-machine, made of flesh instead of steel."

The soothing hands withdrew from his bloodless cheeks.

"He never preserved my 'life'," Vincent raved on, "He only preserved my body.."

There was an eerie silence.

"And sometimes..," Vincent sighed bitterly, "..sometimes I wish he hadn't.."

"Yes! Yes!" shrieked another voice, mad with excitement, "Yes! Your life bears no significance! Even you confess it!!"

The insane voice swirled around Vincent, screamed shrilly into his ears, "it's your body!! Your body was preserved for a purpose!!"

"Was it?" Vincent commented calmly, somewhat bored with the wild voice.

"It's for an experiment," ranted the impatient voice, "An experiment where all the little pieces fuse together!"

"What 'experiment'?!" asked Vincent in alarm.

An invisible hand suddenly cut him short. It gripped his throat and squeezed his windpipe with all its might. Another hand dug its sharp claw deep into his lungs, tearing it to shreds.

Vincent fought in vain for his life. Despite his vigorous struggle to break free, the iron grip only tightened and tightened until he could breath no more.

Vincent suddenly woke up from the nightmare.

As he sat up in bed, he could hear someone roaring with laughter from behind the bedroom door. He stared deliriously at the door, expecting the person to storm into his room. But the voice only doubled its hysterical laughter, and began blubbering to a group of dissentient voices.

Vincent did not know how long he listened to the bustling voices. He sat perfectly still, allowing his disheveled hair to tumble around his haggard face. His crimson eyes shone brilliantly; sweat streamed down to soak his neck and shirt.

"Hurry! Oh hurry!" shrieked a voice over all the commotion, "The Professor must finish his experiment! He's not done yet!!"

Vincent's eyes wandered all over the dark room, examining every obscure, black corner. He wanted to see this voice. His whole body shook with intense disgust.

"He cannot finish!" gabbled the angry voice, "He wants you for the experiment...and that girl!! HE MUST HAVE HER!! HE MUST!!"

Vincent thought he heard Aeris sobbing pitifully amidst all the yammering voices. She continuously begged someone to stop hurting her, but the booming laughter soon drowned her cries.

"Poor little girl..," Vincent muttered as the voices babbled away, "He must be going mad about her..just itching to stuff needles into her body..and carve her to bits.."

"Precious little darling..," hissed the voice near Vincent's ears, "He must..he WILL have her.."

A cold, most grotesque smile distorted Vincent's lips.

"..and she's such a sweet, innocent dove..,"he whispered, beside himself with delirium, "..so much like Lucrecia.."

"Oh, she cannot hide from him!" thundered the malicious voice. It seemed to grope around the darkness, stumble over objects, even squirm under the bed, just to find the girl.

Vincent fell back onto his pillow, and gazed dreamily at the ceiling. He placed one hand on his trembling chest as the voice rambled on. It amused him greatly to hear this voice splutter curses or mutter to itself in anger.

"He can find her no matter where she hides!" the voice snarled, agitated with its dismal failure.

"I'm sure he can," agreed Vincent weakly, "He simply wallows in her fear, doesn't he? If she trembles, he laughs; and if she runs, he follows."

Vincent remained on his back, but slowly turned his head to look at the edge of the bed. Despite his painful headache and throbbing chest, he smiled insolently, almost defiantly, at the darkness. He seemed to detect some invisible creature peeking over the bed.

"She reminds me of myself," he said, "..when *you* changed my body so many years ago.."

There was an awkward silence for a few minutes, or maybe several hours; Vincent had simply lost track of time.

"Heh heh," sniggered the voice finally, "Is that why you try so hard to protect her from me?"

"Yes..," replied Vincent, his smile fading away, "but there's another reason why I want to shield her away from you..a reason even I wouldn't admit to myself until now.."

The voice seemed to linger around the bed, awaiting his mysterious "reason" with certain impatience.

"It's because I felt that whenever I protected that girl..I was somehow protecting Lucrecia too.."

The voice let out an impudent guffaw, then scoffed mockingly at the madman. Nevertheless, it sounded highly amused.

"Yes, I'm cursed, Professor," Vincent raved bitterly, "Cursed with this odious mask I wear, but even more cursed with her..her and her unbearable reproaches!!"

Vincent squeezed his eyes shut, then clutched his hair in agony; the headache was boring straight through his skull. He thought he heard the voice chuckle quietly at his suffering.

"I hoped that if..," Vincent forced out, "..if I protected someone else as helpless as Lucrecia was.. maybe then, she'd forgive me for abandoning her.."

The voice could no longer restrain itself; it burst out into a coarse, insulting laugh. The other discordinate voices readily joined in.

Vincent tiredly threw one arm over his eyes. The cruel voices only intensified his headache with their senseless screaming. They pierced his head, trampled all over his battered brain, then stormed away, only to return again. His chest writhed in sharp pain; he could feel it gurgling with hot blood.

"What a sentimental fool you are!" exclaimed the voice contemptuously, "You think you can be forgiven?! You left her to suffer alone, and now you grovel, like the pathetic wretch you are, and cry for her forgiveness?!"

Vincent kept his arm over his face. He did not flinch a muscle. All the other voices were silent too, afraid to interrupt their leader.

"Answer me!" demanded the loud voice, "Do you think you DESERVE to be forgiven?!"

Vincent deliberately removed his arm, and fixed his ruby-red eyes on the ceiling.

"No," he replied composedly, "No matter what sufferings or pains I take, I know it cannot satisfy her...nor could it hope to erase the agony she bore..I don't deserve her forgiveness.."

Vincent sat up in bed again, letting all the little voices whiz around his numb head. His corroded lungs howled in pain, as though they might explode any moment. He thought he heard Aeris wailing behind the door again. Absolute insanity glared at him from the foot of the bed, just waiting for the right moment to attack.

"You could not protect her from me, Sir!" bellowed the voice hoarsely, "You can not protect this girl from me either! She's beyond your feeble reach!!"

Vincent cast his eyes down in utter dejection. The voices sang jeeringly in his ears.

"Why look at your hands," commanded the booming voice, "Look! What do you see?"

He mechanically looked into the palm of his hand and claw. They were smeared with a dark red colour.

"..blood..," Vincent whispered stoically, "..I see blood.."

"Whose blood?"

"..mine..and hers..and Davoren's..and everyone else I've killed.."

All the voices instantly screamed triumphantly, then dispersed to a wild murmur around him.

"Oh yes! You're good at murdering, Vincent!!" praised the voice, "It comes so naturally to you! A monster AND a murderer!!"

Vincent stared in wonder at his bloody hands, then covered his face again. He felt very cold all of a sudden.

"It's your fault Lucrecia is dead!!" shouted several voices at once, "YOURS AND YOURS ALONE!"

"I know..I know..," he cried, extremely agitated, "that's what I've been telling myself for the last thirty-one years.."

"And you think you can protect that little girl?" jeered all the voices in a unanimous shout, "You, a monster, a murderer, and a hypocrite?!! You, a thousand sins to deform you?! YOU protect her from me?!!"

All the voices swarmed around Vincent's head, screaming "monster! monster!" into his numb ears. He clutched his aching head as they forcefully squeezed themselves into his brain. He heard someone laughing hysterically; Aeris still sobbed behind the door; another babbled about going somewhere. Each voice tried its best to drown the other, none took pity on him.

They drilled into his head until Vincent felt his throat suddenly gargle up some hot liquid: it was his own blood.

With his hand over his mouth, he bolted out of the bedroom, and stormed into the bathroom across the hall. Kicking the toilet seat up, he bent over it, just as the rotten blood exploded out of his mouth.

The dark, fuming liquid splashed indiscriminately all over the toilet, even dripped onto the floor. Vincent struggled vainly for air; two invisible claws seemed to mangle his lungs to force all the life out.

He began to choke and hack violently on his own blood. His corroded lungs screamed for air, causing his entire body to writhe around the hapless toilet.

Some maddening force tried to overpower his senses. Though Vincent fought wildly against it, his feeble strength drained away with his blood. Huge, purple wings ripped through his shaking back and spread clumsily over the bathroom. His hands, already half-deformed, twitched horribly as the skin darkened into a sickening, coarse purple colour. He could feel his whole face contort into a hideous shape.

He was warping into the hateful Chaos Form against his own will. The evil monster growled for its freedom, and seemed on the brink of eruption.

"NO! NO! NO!!" screamed Vincent, squirming madly on the floor. He kicked his legs; stifled his breath; chewed his lower lip; anything to stop it! He would NOT transform into the creature!!

He hurled all his strength, force, and determination against the beast to repress it. He somehow managed to withdraw the grotesque wings into his back. His skin returned to its normal pale colour. The monster reluctantly retreated back into the darkness, and Vincent triumphed.

When the attack had finally ceased, Vincent found himself on the bathroom floor, gasping loudly for air. His whole body burned with fever.

Vincent stared all around the bathroom, completely dumbfounded: the toilet next to him dripped in his rotten, black blood. Much to his amazement, he noticed himself sitting in a pool of hot blood. His shirt was drenched in sweat and blood as well.

The entire bathroom reeked of sickness and vomit. He still could not understand any of what had passed. After a silent moment, he scuffled up to his feet, then fell against the sink, almost slipping in the sticky blood.

He gawked blankly at his image in the mirror above the sink. Large, red blots of blood smeared his pallid cheeks. His crimson eyes shone with insane delirium. His hair, tangled and disheveled beyond hope, hung in thick clusters all around his face.

He looked like a perfect madman.

Disgusted with his whole sickly appearance, especially his bloody mouth, Vincent gargled up the blood in his throat, then spat it out contemptuously.

He mechanically turned open the faucet. The cold, soothing water flowed through his trembling fingers as he tried to cup his hand. Vincent scrubbed his mouth once or twice, but stopped short on noticing something else in the mirror: he finally noticed Aeris standing behind him, completely scared out of her wits.

He did not feel guilty, troubled, or even angry. He stared calmly at her image in the mirror, then turned around to face the horrified girl. Leaning himself against the sink in an unnaturally composed manner, Vincent fixed his burning eyes on her. He said nothing.

Aeris fidgeted by the doorway, too afraid to enter yet too alarmed to leave. Her hair looked terribly distorted, her face pale and distressed. She had obviously been sleeping.

Perhaps she saw him vomit his blood all over the toilet; or caught him convulsing on the cold floor. Maybe she even saw him fight that loathsome transformation. Vincent's mouth twisted into a wry smile: he did not care what she had seen.

"Ah, Aeris," he greeted in a terribly cracked, hoarse whisper. Aeris gave a violent start on hearing her name.

"Heh heh..don't be frightened," he chuckled, "It's only blood." He touched his cold face in wonder, then added archly, "Blood suits my face better, don't you think?"

Though she could not tear her anxious eyes away from him, she dared not answer the madman. His eyes sparkled with alarming insanity, and his bloody face only added to their brilliance.

Vincent suddenly took a step forward, but froze when he noticed the girl recoil in fear. He stood in the middle of the bathroom, still gazing at her. His eyes slowly softened.

"Poor little girl..," he muttered compassionately, "Why were you crying behind the door? Were you afraid I'd be angry if you came in?"

Aeris blinked in confusion at him. She did not understand his meaning.

"I..I wasn't crying behind the door, Vincent," she stammered in a low voice, "You've been having a nightmare..."

"You were crying..," he repeated to himself, taking no more notice of her, "I must have frightened you..you're always afraid of me..."

Aeris was silent. Vincent turned his head in many directions while constantly rubbing his forehead. He seemed greatly perplexed with his chaotic ideas.

"You're probably more afraid of me than Hojo..," he raved on good-humouredly, "..not..not that I mind, really...you should be afraid of me.."

He staggered out of the bathroom, scarcely seeing anything. His body shivered with fever and delirium. Aeris immediately made way for him to pass, not having enough courage to interrupt him.

"Ha ha!" Vincent laughed as he dragged himself back to the bedroom, "..so much like her..she was always afraid of me too...so afraid of the monster..and blood..red blood..yes..."

His mind floundered in a strange sea of mayhem. He could not remember where he was, or why his body felt so heavy. The air suffocated him. He could hear his heart thumping in him aching chest.

Vincent stumbled over something, and he seemed to be falling..falling...falling...

Then suddenly, everything went black.

-End of Chp.12