I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.29

Vincent spent the next few days in an almost trance-like state. Time had ceased to have any meaning to him. All he knew was that Lucrecia was safe, and Davoren was dead.

Immediately after the brutal shooting incident in the apple orchard, the Turk (or the "murderer" as the villagers referred to him) spent his lonely days confined to his quarters. ShinRa Headquarters strictly ordered him to remain sealed in there until they reached a decision regarding this critical situation. Vincent offered no resistance, not even a word in his defense, but succumbed to all tedious procedures with remarkable coolness.

He wasted his hours pacing around his room, with folded arms and a patient expression on his face. If he grew tired, he slept. If he became hungry, he ate whatever they gave him. Sometimes, he'd gaze absent-mindedly out the window, pretending to watch the majestic Nibel Mountains outside. Other times, when exhausted from walking, he'd lay flat on his back in bed. Silence and boredom were his sole companions.

His door, double locked from outside and always guarded, never opened, except when the timid maid delivered his meals. Nor had the morose Turk any taste for company. He refused to speak a word unless unavoidably necessary. Instead, he preferred to wallow in his own gloomy meditations without interruption.

Surprisingly, Vincent could not remember what thoughts occupied his mind during those lonesome hours. He probably recalled his dead friend, Davoren, and his close friendship with the man. Past memories floated back to his mind, reminding him of how well the title "friend" had suited the ex-leader of the Turks: Davoren had saved his life in the storming of the Reactor. Davoren had always respected and helped him whenever possible. And Davoren also defended him when Professor Hojo had confronted him in the library.

Indeed, that man had watched over each and every one of his Turks as faithfully as a sheepdog. To Davoren, the safety and friendship of his Turks had always been his first priority, even before duty. He hadn't been *just* the leader of the Turks. He had also been a loyal friend and ardent guardian to his men. In return, this man had undoubtedly earned the respect and loyalty of all his Turks, including Vincent's.

Yet despite their close friendship, Vincent hadn't hesitated to kill Davoren that night. In fact, his finger had pulled the trigger without he even realizing it.

Vincent thought perhaps he should feel regret or guilt for Davoren's brutal death. He should, in the normal order of things, feel his conscience prick his mind non-stop until insanity broke loose. But did he writhe in his bed at night, tortured with remorse for his friend's murder? Did he tear his hair, his heart bursting with agony for his heinous crime?

No. Such sentiments had never existed in the Turk's cold, dead heart.

To his surprise, Vincent felt no guilt, not even a tinge of pity, for this horrible death. As long as Lucrecia remained safe from harm, then his friend's death meant nothing to him. If he had taken his friend's life, or a worthless beggar's life, what difference would it had made? He still killed. Davoren's death only meant more blood on his already bloody hands; just another life he had taken in the name of duty. He had done it many times before. Too many for him to remember.

So why should he feel guilty *now*?

Lucrecia alone possessed the key to his cold heart, his very soul. Only that one woman touched him where everyone and everything else dismally failed. Nothing, not even Davoren's tragic murder, could reach his frozen heart. It had always been Lucrecia, and no one else but Lucrecia.

Davoren's horrible death, Vincent heard, had caused a wild buzz in the usually quiet village of Nibelheim. For days, everyone spoke of nothing but the "apple orchard murder". Women stopped each other in the marketplace to gossip about it. The miners retold the incident at least a thousand times until they knew it by heart. However, although the murder had certainly sparked keen interest amongst the curious villagers, no one knew exactly *why* Davoren had been so brutally slain. Some believed the two Turks had been quarrelling; others argued that Davoren had had some "wicked intention" on that beautiful woman; some went as far as to swear that Davoren had, in fact, committed suicide.

"Ah, but who are we to say for sure?" one very old villager repeated sagaciously, "Only the ShinRa know."

Shortly after the bloody incident, ShinRa Inc. issued a brief official statement to settle the matter. It called for calm amongst the villagers; that due to some "misunderstanding" on part of the former leader of the Turks, Mr. Valentine was obliged to protect the company's interests by killing the man. The whole case would HENCEFORTH be closed, and all work in the materia mines would continue as regularly scheduled.

The villagers, though disappointed with this vague explanation for the killing, obediently accepted the company's statement. The miners now found a hundred other topics to discuss besides the mysterious murder. The women busied themselves with the tedious housework, not at all interested in the brutal incident. If the murder was even hinted at, the subject would be immediately diverted to a different topic. None of the ominous villagers dared meddle in "ShinRa matters" for fear of sharing Davoren's gruesome fate. As long as the company paid their wages and protected them, the simple villagers found no reason to intrude into ShinRa's private business; let them do whatever they pleased.

So, the subject was dropped, and eventually forgotten.

On the same day ShinRa Inc. issued that statement, Vincent finally learned of his fate: he would resume his full duties as a Turk, and remain stationed in Nibelheim until all scientific research was completed. He would protect the scientists as his obligations required, in addition to seeing to all their needs. The ShinRa President would "personally see to the rest of this nasty matter" without prosecuting or even punishing the Turk. In fact, the President commended Vincent for his strict adherence to his true duties in the face of danger.

Vincent's gun, which had been confiscated during his confinement, was immediately returned. The Turk resumed work the very next day, as if nothing had ever happened.

Therefore, in a mere two weeks after Davoren's tragic demise, ShinRa Inc., thanks to its diligent efforts, restored the peace in Nibelheim. As expected, the simple villagers soon forgot the disturbance, and returned to their hard work in the mines. The scientists slaved non-stop downstairs in the grim library, heedless to the world outside. Life, indeed, resumed its usual course.

Both Professor Gast and Hojo treated the Turk as before, Hojo with a bit more politeness. Although he still glared hatefully at Vincent whenever they chanced to meet, the spiteful man restricted any comments to himself. The Turk, in return, treated the two professors very respectfully. If they asked for any specific supplies, he made sure they were delivered promptly. If any problem arised, he attended to it the very same day. Their comfort seemed his sole priority.

Vincent seldom spoke to anyone, preferring to busy himself with his duties. Nor did anyone venture to speak to him: his cold, expressionless face certainly did not invite friendly conversation. He was always alone, as far from human company as possible.

The soldiers addressed him very respectfully, with a sharp salute and attentive ears ready for his orders. The kind-hearted villagers tipped their hats or bowed whenever the Turk passed them. Everything had been restored to its formal state.

All of Davoren's personal belongings were immediately returned to Midgar. Vincent never thought of asking what happened to the dead man's body: he *assumed* the corpse had been buried somewhere, probably in the grass fields; or maybe shipped back to Midgar. Any other reminders of Davoren, like his forgotten pack of cigarettes or his favorite book, was suitably disposed of (how happy were the soldiers to receive the cigarettes!). All traces of the man were completely erased.

Davoren, the beloved formal leader of the Turks, was never mentioned again.

The months steadily passed by, the chilly autumn replaced by a bitter cold winter. Though Lucrecia's delicate condition became increasingly apparent, she refused to leave her work in the library to rest. This grim place, surrounded by countless books and shelves, seemed her sole refuge from some spirit only visible to her. It wasn't until two months before the birth that Professor Gast, aided by Hojo's insolent threats, were able to persuade the woman to rest her body.

"Yes, Lucrecia, my dear, you must rest now," Professor Gast begged kindly, patting her trembling hand, "It isn't wise for you to slave like this, with a child only two months away from birth."

"Do not forget," Hojo intercepted haughtily, "that child's birth is our most important priority. If you do not rest, Miss, then the child could suffer. Remember, it's been exposed to JENOVA cells, so its development is very different. You must rest and let us monitor its development, otherwise all our work these past months would be in vain. Do you understand?"

Lucrecia only hung her head and sighed tiredly, "Yes, Sir."

Vincent scarcely spoke to Lucrecia after that bloody shooting incident. He avoided her at all costs; shunned any contact with her; and only talked to her unless necessary. He was told, much to his alarm, that the poor young woman had been in wild hysterics for hours after witnessing that brutal killing. Professor Gast had succeeded in calming her only after several reassurances and sympathetic words. For days afterwards, Lucrecia had spent her time in bed, suffering from a fever and slight delirium. Though reasonably well now, Vincent realized his presence would merely upset her further: seeing or speaking to him would remind her of that awful confrontation in the apple orchard.

Therefore, the Turk never neared the woman. On rare occurrences, if they happened to meet in the hall, Vincent would only nod politely and pass her by. He never looked her straight in the eye when they talked (an even rarer occurrence). Nor did he ever wander down to her chambers to visit her (she never asked for him, so why bother her?). He grew more distant with each day, his coldness increasing every time he noticed her swollen belly. In short, he occupied his time with his own duties, or simply wandered aimlessly along the fields until dusk, sometimes until nightfall.

Not to say he never thought of his beloved Lucrecia. On the contrary, that woman, her whole spirit and very soul, filled his aching heart at all times. He yearned for her all the time, especially during the cold, black nights he spent awake in bed. That same horrible foreboding *still* haunted his mind day and night; an inexplicable dread that some harm might befall Lucrecia. How badly he wanted to protect her, not just from Davoren's gun, but from all that might threaten her safety.

But Lucrecia had chosen her path by herself, and had begged him not to follow. This mad experiment meant literally everything to her. His petty worries and vague insecurities bore no significance to her (why should it?).

So, Vincent swallowed his fears for Lucrecia's sake. Though that presentiment always plagued his weary mind, he managed to somehow check his emotions. He artfully concealed them under a hard, cold visage, far away from her eyes to see. All he could do was watch her from afar. Just watch.

The bitter winter eventually faded away as the flowers began to bloom out of the frozen ground. The birds, home after a long journey, chirped with all their might to charm their listeners. Every tree swayed with the cool breeze, delighted at the gentle movement. Lush green grass, even brighter than before, blanketed entire hills with a fresh new cover. Though the cold winter fought valiantly for its domain, it soon lost its throne. All of nature, weary of its cruel tyranny, banished it until next year.

At long last, when spring arrived, the child was born. Lucrecia named it "Sephiroth".

-End of Chp.29