I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.30

During his entire stay in Nibelheim, Vincent had seen Sephiroth only once, which was three weeks after the birth. He happened to be ascending the stairs when he spied the maid leaving one of the rooms, with the child in her hands. Curious to see the boy, Vincent halted the maid in the hallway, then asked (very politely) about any supplies the household lacked. The maid, being of a well-disposed nature (and also a big admirer of this Turk), began a lengthy description of all the supplies necessary for the week.

"Oh yes, Sir! We're out of butter! Goodness, Professor Hojo throws a fit if his baked potatoe has no butter on it," the kind woman prattled on, fearful of forgetting an item, "La, Sir! Please don't forget I need money to buy a new pan! That last one was...."

Vincent, while nodding every so often to acknowledge her demands, carefully scrutinized the baby between her hands. In return, the boy stared back in complete awe at this tower of a stranger.

The child was a plump, soft little thing, with the most amazing pair of bright green eyes. They shone in childish wonder at the world around them, trying to make sense of it but understanding nothing. His hair colour, of a delicate silver leaning more towards light grey, certainly won the admiration of anyone who beheld it; a very unusual colour indeed, further emphasized by his white, soft skin. He had a beautiful round face, which showed childish innocence in its purest state.

To Vincent, Sephiroth looked like any other child.

"I think that's all, Sir," concluded the chattering maid at last, "I'd say maybe thirty gil would do it."

"Ah..yes ma'am, of course," the Turk replied, fumbling awkwardly for his wallet. He gave her the necessary money (plus a little extra for her to keep). After a pause, he asked, rather cautiously, "Where are you taking that child?"

"Oh, Sir," she sighed, snuggling the baby more tightly, "The Professor wants little Sephy to be moved down to the basement today. Heaven knows, I begged him not to. Why, he's barely three weeks old, the little darling. Ah, but he just made a sour face and ordered me to 'just do it'. There ain't a speck of decency in *that* scoundrel!"

Vincent eyed Sephiroth another minute before inquiring even more cautiously, "And how is Ms.Lucrecia? Is she better now?"

"Ah! The poor dear! She's still hurting from the labour, even though, like I said Sir, it's been three weeks. All she does is pine by the window, sighing her heart out. It's enough to break your heart, Sir, and she's *SUCH* a pretty, pretty young woman too!"

"I see. Well then, it's best you go now."

"Yes, Sir," she immediately obeyed, curtseying before leaving.

Vincent watched the kind maid march down the hallway, humming softly to "little Sephy" who had fallen asleep against her bosom. When she had finally disappeared from his sight, the Turk resumed his own way.

These scientists are brutal, Vincent mused to himself, the child's barely three weeks old, and already they...

The two Professors, to be sure, treated the child as an amazing phenomenon. Their eyes had gleamed with great but constrained excitement on the day of the birth. They spent the first week examining every aspect of the child's anatomy, from the tip of his hair to his tiny toe. Every detail, down to the most meticulous, needed to be recorded: tissue samples for further research; more "tests" to confirm results. The list stretched on forever.

How often did Vincent spot either Professor Gast or Hojo barging into Sephiroth's room, carrying at least three notebooks and some bizarre device in their hands. They remained sealed within that room, sometimes for hours, "analyzing" the child for their mysterious purposes. Many times while passing them in the halls, Vincent heard the two men eagerly discussing the boy. They never tired of speaking about Sephiroth.

"The boy shows a marked difference in many various aspects," Professor Gast had once remarked excitedly. The two scientists were marching through the corridors when they met Vincent, who immediately made room for them to pass. Hojo, as usual, snubbed the Turk, but Professor Gast greeted him quite amicably.

As the two men descended the staircase, Vincent heard Gast say, "..he's similar to normal humans, but closer observations show he's totally different. If my analysis data is correct, then.."

"Ach! We can't assume anything until we FULLY analyze him," Hojo interrupted rudely, "I say we bring the child NOW downstairs for a complete, thorough testing. Why waste anymore time on simple analysis when we should have already started on the more important ones?!"

"Now, now, Professor Hojo."

"Don't you 'now now' me, Sir! The President is expecting a full report in a month. And since Lucrecia, our lab assistant, is still ill, we must work double time to finish! These analysis tests are crucial to the JENOVA Project!"

Vincent listened to the two dissentient scientists debate until they cleared the stairs and entered another room. One would have thought they were discussing a laboratory animal, not a human life.

No sooner had three weeks passed, than little Sephiroth was transferred from his warm crib to a cold hard tabletop down in the grim library. Undoubtedly, the two men performed every "analysis" test in existence on him, furiously scribbling down all the results. For days on end, they toiled like demons, knowing no rest or mercy. They scarcely left the library below, if only perhaps to grab a bite and a nap. Both, though Hojo more in particular, shunned any contact with the outside world. All their sweat and hard work was dedicated to Sephiroth.

No one knew (or dared imagine) what horrible forms of torture Lucrecia's son suffered in the name of science. Sephiroth was never seen again, nor had anyone the courage to ask about him. In fact, the very mention of the Professors' "work" sent shivers down anyone's spine.

The Nibelheim villagers, as always, remained oblivious of any "ShinRa matters" conducted inside the grand Mansion. The soldiers, though aware of the child's existence, never bothered discussing the topic. The maid, busy to her ears in housework, hardly mentioned the boy. Similarly, Vincent strictly stuck to his duties, and said nothing.

Sephiroth obviously concerned the two Professors only.

However, some nights, when not a soul stirred the stillness, Sephiroth's pitiful shrieks re-echoed through the huge mansion. Though quite faint, the cries could reach Vincent's ears as he lay awake in bed. The child wailed for hours, during which Vincent stayed perfectly still in his place, his eyes fixed on the black ceiling. Poor Sephiroth sobbed for any kind soul to rescue him from the loathsome library. Sadly, no one ever came.

Vincent wondered if Lucrecia could hear the child's pitiful cries like he could.

Much to his annoyance, he found himself thinking a lot about her lately. The very recollection of his beloved set his mind adrift in a thousand different directions. The fear that some harm may befall her still haunted him non-stop. Whenever he passed her closed door, the desire to embrace her all to himself nearly blinded his logic. He discerned an invisible danger hovering over her head, ready to devour her any moment.

Fortunately, Vincent would check his feelings in time, then continue his way past her door. Though the presentiment never spared his mind, the Turk refused to be guided by emotion rather than reason. Besides, he had heard Lucrecia was quite ill. So why irritate her more his unpleasant sight?

The poor woman, indeed, had suffered enormously during the actual labour. Immediately after the painful delivery, Lucrecia had sunk into a dangerous level of semi-consciousness, further plagued by fever and genuine fatigue. Professor Gast, greatly concerned about her, strictly forbade anyone to visit Lucrecia (save the maid) until her health had recovered. The young mother, ravaged by delirium, had cried for days afterwards, sobbing reputedly for her child as well as for "him" (no one knew exactly *who* she meant).

Thanks to Professor Gast's medicines and the maid's tender care, Lucrecia eventually recovered enough of her health to see her child. However, being still in this critical state, the ill mother was only granted two looks at the boy: one during his second week (in which he was named), and right before his cruel transfer down to the hateful library.

Surprisingly, Lucrecia made no protest or complaint on hearing of Sephiroth's transfer. She listened very attentively to Professor Hojo explain, in his usual brash manner, how important these "analysis tests" mattered to the overall Project. He emphasized a dozen times how significant those tests were to the advancement of their research.

"And I won't tolerate any silly, womanly, sentimental nonsense from you, Missy!" the insolent man concluded, shaking his long finger in her face very haughtily, "You have successfully fulfilled your part of the experiment, so don't interfere with mine. Is that clear?"

Too heartbroken to argue, Lucrecia nodded her head, then tiredly turned away. She never saw her son again.

One month rolled by. Spring reluctantly faded into a cool, breezy summer. Lush blankets of fresh grass covered the rolling hills. Every green leaf on each branch of every tree swayed in the wind. The golden sunlight, only too eager to reach the fertile land below, delighted the winsome village with its warmth. The birds, though regretting spring's departure, nevertheless celebrated the glories of summer.

Until that time, Vincent had not seen his beloved Lucrecia even once since her son's birth. Although she had recovered sufficiently by the time summer arrived, the woman, for some obscure reason, refused to see anyone. She never left her chamber, preferring to hide away from the world outside. She scarcely ate the food delivered to her door, and would not speak to anyone under any circumstances. The kind-hearted maid, worried out of her wits, had on many occasions, begged Lucrecia to "open the door and have a bit of food". However, Lucrecia remained silently imprisoned in her room, her door barred and double locked.

She had not, in fact, crossed the door's threshold since Sephiroth's birth. Nor had she spoken a word to a soul for all that time. Nobody knew exactly *what* that poor, depressed woman did in her room.

Professor Hojo, being too engrossed in organizing the analysis results, had no time to waste on Lucrecia. The soldiers, as expected, never bothered worrying about any of the scientists. Each day dragged by, with the young mother still hiding all alone in her chamber. It seemed Lucrecia had lost all interest in the world outside her room.

On one particular warm day in the very late afternoon, Vincent heard a cautious knock at his door. He carelessly dumped the book he had been reading, then opened the door. Much to his surprise, he found the maid before him, breathless and on the verge of tears.

"Sir!" she exclaimed hurriedly, her heart swelling with pity, "I've tried and tried, but Ms. Lucrecia won't come out of her room! She's been locked up for a month now, barely eating and never speaking a word to a living soul!! I just don't know what to do anymore! I'm so worried about her, the poor little dear!!"

Unable to contain her grief for Lucrecia's misfortune, the compassionate woman burst into tears. Vincent spent at least five minutes calming her, asking her to repeat herself several times, until he finally understood her problem. The kind-hearted maid meticulously described Lucrecia's harsh, self-imposed seclusion. She had become so desperate, trying to coax the young mother out of her hideout, but all in vain."

She doesn't even answer me, Sir!" the woman complained tearfully, "for a whole month now, she won't come out! I told Professor Hojo, but he only yelled at me for bothering him. Well! I hope he ROTS in that library of his if he won't help this poor woman! The shame of it!!"

At her wits' end after so many failed attempts, the maid had finally sought Vincent's help.

"I know you're not like that grouch of a Professor, Sir," she pleaded to the Turk, "If anyone can talk some sense into poor Ms. Lucrecia, it's you. Please Sir, talk to her! She hasn't opened her door or her mouth in a month, and I'm afraid she's dead!"

Vincent immediately promised the woman he would speak to Lucrecia and lure her out of her room somehow. So, after many such assurances and vows, the Turk successfully mollified the tearful woman. Her work for the day now finished, he dismissed her very politely, even walked her to the front door. The good woman blessed the Turk for the hundredth time, then left the Mansion in reasonably high spirits.

He shut the door immediately after she had cleared the gate. Vincent leaned against the heavy door, trying to organize his thoughts into a reasonable order. The haunting silence of the whole mansion crushed his senses to bits; it seemed he was the only soul living in it.

Without further hesitation, Vincent decided to try his luck with breaking Lucrecia's imprisonment. He skipped up the stairs, then noiselessly marched down the corridor towards Lucrecia's room. On reaching his destination, the Turk tapped the door lightly, and waited.

No reply.

He knocked the door again more firmly. Still no reply.

"Lucrecia," he called gently, "It's me."

Vincent waited patiently for an answer. None came.

"Lucrecia," the Turk called again, more softly that before, "If you don't open the door now, I'll break it down."

When his threat received no response, he took one step closer to the door and whispered, "Please, Lucrecia. I want to talk to you."

He stood rooted to his spot, patiently waiting to hear her voice. An unnatural silence filled the hallway, challenged only by the howls of gusty winds outside. A full minute passed without even a faint scuffle inside. Weary of the wait, Vincent lifted his hand to knock again when the door suddenly unlocked.

The door opened to a tiny crack, small enough to barely allow a pair of tense eyes to glare at the Turk. Vincent returned Lucrecia's strange glare with a restrained expression. This was the first time they had seen each other in a whole month.

"I don't want to see you, Vincent," she stated, growing more irritated with each word, "I don't want to see anyone. Just leave me alone...all of you."

Vincent fixed his keen eyes on hers, but did not speak.

"I don't want to see you or that horrid gun of yours! It scares me, Vincent. I can't bear its sight!" she whispered in tearful exasperation, "Everyone is pounding in my brain...why can't they all leave me alone?! The Professor...that stupid maid...Sephiroth.. Davoren...even you! I want to be alone! Alone!!"

"I'm not carrying my gun," Vincent replied coolly. To prove the truth, he opened his jacket, then showed her his side-holster: it was empty.

"And there's nobody here but me," Vincent reassured softly. He pressed his hand against the door, as though he would push it open, then implored, "Please, Lucrecia, I won't harm you. Just let me talk to you."

A most peculiar silence fell on the two. Neither muttered a word for a moment. Instead, they gazed intently at each other, Vincent with tender concern, Lucrecia with crumbling resistance. At last, she fully opened the door to admit the Turk, still refusing to speak. Vincent entered her room.

"Close the door," she begged in a faltering voice, "Please.. close it and lock it.."

He obeyed without question.

Her whole body shaking in agitation, Lucrecia hobbled over to the large window, and gazed absent-mindedly through the glass pane. She took no heed of the new guest, as though unaware of his presence. An entirely different matter seemed to occupy her battered mind.

Vincent scanned her square, stuffy room with mild interest. He noted several bedcovers scattered across the bed, some tumbled into a heap on the floor. In an easy chair, both Lucrecia's glasses and some overturned book lay ruthlessly discarded on top of each other. The ancient lantern behind this comfy seat cast a very weak light in the room. Two medicine bottles and a tall glass of water stood erect on the tabletop, with some colourful tablets scattered around them. Finally, Vincent spotted a tray of food rudely shoved into the far side of the room. The food had not been touched.

He turned his attention to Lucrecia. She stood leaning against the window frame, her back mostly facing him. Her disheveled hair had been carelessly heaped into a distorted bun, so that several strands dangled against her long neck. The tired woman wore a very loose silk robe around her graceful body. Her feet were bare.

Lucrecia's careworn, wasted face, however, alarmed Vincent the most. That healthy rosiness in her soft cheeks had withered away. Her eyes, blood-shot with many bitter tears, betrayed deep sadness, if not utter despair. This passing month had drained the very life out of Lucrecia.

Yet despite the cruel illness, Lucrecia still retained a strange beauty about her. Sadness had crushed her spirit; despair had wrangled her heart. Nevertheless, Vincent gazed thoughtfully at her beloved face in silent fascination. The long, harsh seclusion hadn't robbed an ounce of her beauty; it had only added a sad touch to it.

Lucrecia spent a long time looking through her window without speaking to Vincent. A cool evening loomed in the sky as the red sun sunk into the rolling hills. The birds' sweet chirps filled the air, interrupted occasionally by the rude caws of a crow. A branch near Lucrecia's window caught her hallow eyes. It swayed playfully in the breeze, often times scratching her window, as if it too wanted to enter.

She watched the meek branch dance in the wind. Vincent waited patiently for her to speak first. Though so many thoughts cluttered his mind, he knew not how to express them.

"You look well," the young woman remarked casually. She did not turn to him.

Vincent made no reply.

"You don't go out for your strolls as often as before," she muttered in an almost reproaching tone, "Sometimes from my window, I'd see you leave the house to go for a walk. But now, you hardly do that."

She drew one arm across her bosom, and covered her haggard face with the other. Her shoulders shivered, struggling against a violent surge of emotions. She seemed to be fighting brutal, physical pain.

"Lucrecia," Vincent began gently but firmly, "Why won't you come out of your room?"

"I don't want to..."

"You've been locked up in here for nearly a month now. You eat very little, if at all. From your face, I can tell you've been crying a lot and hardly sleep. Now please, Lucrecia, tell me what's wrong?"

"I don't know," the miserable woman faltered, "..I'm torn in so many pieces, I just don't know anymore."

"Are you...afraid of something?"

She glanced at him, her pale face devoid of any expression, but instantly turned away. She did not answer.

Vincent paused a moment before asking, "Are you afraid... of what happened *that* night..when I killed him?"

"I don't know! I don't know!" Lucrecia cried in anguish, "I hear Davoren's voice calling me a monster for experimenting on my child! I hear you promising me not to interfere, even though I know you want to. Then..then Hojo's ugly voice just pounds in my ears..he..tells me I must give myself to the experiment..and I feel him touch my body... UGH!! It makes me sick!!!"

So enraged by the tumultuous emotions, Lucrecia nearly stumbled to the floor had not her hand caught the table. She clutched her breast in agony. Vincent moved to help her, but stopped short when he noticed her recoil away from him. She leaned against the table, her sole support.

"Don't come near me," Lucrecia implored wretchedly, "Just..just stay back... everything..it just screams in my head, and tears me inside out, Vincent. I don't know where to hide."

She steadied herself again, but kept a tight grip on her bosom. Vincent watched her in concern.

"You remember that night, ages ago, when I told you why the JENOVA Project meant so much to me?" Lucrecia recalled dreamily, "..it was the same night you kissed me. I..was so sure of myself back then.. so arrogantly sure...ah, but now! Now I'm lost in the dark, and can't find my way out."

If this pitiful woman possessed any strength at all, it soon disappeared. Lucrecia's whole body wobbled to the side as her feet lost balance. Unable to contain his alarm any further, Vincent dashed to the delirious woman and caught her before she could collapse to the floor.

"LET ME GO!!!!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, "LEAVE ME ALONE!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!"

Wild with rage, Lucrecia fought violently to break loose from Vincent's grip: she screamed, cried, even kicked his shins more than once. All in vain; the Turk surpassed her power greatly and refused to let go. She did not hear him call her name, nor could she feel him shake her shoulders in hopes of restoring her lost sanity. Instead, Lucrecia struggled to free herself from him, even though she knew his arms alone prevented her collapse.

To be short, Lucrecia had lost her mind.

Losing his patience at last, Vincent roughly swept his arm underneath Lucrecia's two legs, while the other arm encircled her back. Despite her fierce kicking, the Turk managed to carry her all the way to the easy chair with little difficulty. After brushing aside her book and glasses, Vincent sat in the comfy chair and forcefully perched Lucrecia on his lap. Whenever she tried to escape, he yanked her back to him. He shook the woman so violently, repeating her name over all her insane cries, until she suddenly stopped. He had restored her reason.

Lucrecia stared blankly at his face, gasping and scarcely understanding how she had landed in his lap. Vincent held her tightly in his arms for fear she may either lose her balance or her mind again. His hand continuously rubbed the young woman's back in an effort to soothe the turmoil in her mind.

Lucrecia looked all around herself in wonder before asking the Turk directly, "Did you see Sephiroth?"

Vincent blinked confusedly at the unexpected question, but dutifully replied, "Yes, I did."


"Right before he was taken to the library."

"He's beautiful, isn't he?"


"I wanted to hug him..all to myself, just like this.."

She crossed both hands across her chest, as if actually embracing a child. Vincent made no comment.

Lucrecia fidgeted in his lap, trying weakly to stand up. Unfortunately, her feet refused to obey her command, and her body continued trembling. Vincent watched her grapple with her muddled emotions for a long time. He held her very carefully in his lap without disturbing her.

"I just wanted to hug him, Vincent," she whispered softly, "..to feel his little body in my arms...once would have been enough for me..."

She cast her eyes down in shame, then slowly nestled her head against the Turk's shoulder. Lucrecia placed her clenched fist against his chest, choking on many bitter sobs. Vincent did not move.

"But Professor Hojo wouldn't let me," she complained, "..Sephiroth..my poor little son... he's for the Project, not me. I had agreed to it, so I gave him away. I was so sure of what I was doing..the road was so clear to me, I could even see the end of it. But when you came, Vincent, I became lost a bit, like I didn't want to finish the road anymore..and when you..you killed Davoren that night, I lost my way completely."

Vincent gently loosened her hair, so that it tumbled all around her shaking shoulders. He placed his hand on her head, which snuggled even more against his shoulder at the kind touch.

"I had agreed to bear all of this," she sobbed in misery, "I remember telling Davoren 'I accept the consequences', and I will. But it's not fair, Vincent! It's too cruel! The Professor wouldn't even let me hug my son! I want Sephiroth, Vincent, I want my son!!"

Both her arms suddenly embraced his neck. Lucrecia buried her full face further into his shoulder, repressing her sobs to her best abilities. Vincent felt her whole body shiver in his lap.

"Lucrecia," he whispered compassionately, running his fingers through her hair, "I'll bring Sephiroth to you."

The heart-broken mother looked at him in silence.

"I'll bring him up here, straight to you," he promised, "But you must go to sleep, Lucrecia. You need some rest."

For some reason, Lucrecia lifted her shaking hand and caressed the Turk's cheek. She gazed tiredly at his face, her cold fingertips running along his pale skin. A very weak smile crossed her lips.

"You've always been so kind to me, Vincent, even though I've hurt you at least a thousand times. I'm sorry," Lucrecia sighed sadly, "..you're only so warm and loving with me..while at the same time, you can kill anyone else...murder them in cold blood. It's like a very small part of your heart works, while the rest is frozen dead."

He did not answer.

"When you bring Sephiroth to me, we can go for long walks in the fields," the sad mother dreamed to herself, "He's too small, so I'll have to carry him. If you want to, I'll let you too carry him a bit. He'll call me 'mama'..heh, and I'll teach him to call you 'Dada' ...yes, I'll pretend you're the father instead of that horrible Professor Hojo..."

Vincent studied her beautiful face in well-concealed pain. He had lied to Lucrecia: Sephiroth, all his analysis tests being completed, had returned to Midgar in the company of Professor Gast. Most of the soldiers, weary of the uneventful countryside, decided to return to the city as well. Only Professor Hojo remained in Nibelheim in order to revise his final report on the Project. Naturally, Vincent's duty required him to stay in the village until all the scientist's work finished.

Regardless of the painful truth, Vincent nodded his head in agreement to Lucrecia's pitiful fantasy. He would do anything, even pretend to be Sephiroth's "Dada", if only he could induce Lucrecia to sleep.

The room had grown considerably dim during their meeting. The approaching night streaked a deep shade of blue across the heavens, casting most of the room into shadows. The birds had long ceased their chirping, so that the heavy silence in the room struck Vincent as extremely unnatural. Lucrecia nestled her head against his shoulder once more. With one hand clasped over her aching heart, she sat perfectly still in his lap.

"You didn't come," Lucrecia whispered softly all of a sudden.


"While I was locked up in here all by myself, I cried all the time," Lucrecia recounted in anguish, "I cried my heart out ten times a day. I.. I wanted you to come to me, Vincent. Deep down, I wanted only you to help me out of this darkness...to stop this miserable nightmare! I cried day and night for you, Vincent, but you never came! You never came!"

Vincent was silent.

"Even though I loved you and wanted you to come so badly, you never came," the pitiful woman concluded in a whisper.

Drained of all strength, Lucrecia sunk her head against his shoulder in complete silence. Her entire body never stopped shaking in Vincent's arms. She watched the sky fade to blackness through the window, then buried her face into the Turk's neck. Vincent carefully leaned himself back against the easy chair, making sure his movements did not awaken the exhausted woman, then snuggled her body more securely against his.

He sat in this position a long time, watching the room surrender to darkness. The Turk rested his head against Lucrecia's as his thoughts dispersed in different directions. Every passing moment, every sigh the woman heaved sharpened a very strange sensation in his heart. In all likelihood, Lucrecia hadn't meant those harsh reproaches. To be sure, her grief had clouded her reason, enough to accuse the Turk of abandoning her.

But she had spoken the truth.

Vincent admitted to himself he had always somehow known Lucrecia was not truly happy. He MUST have felt her misery as the experiment slowly drained the life out of her.

How many times had the pessimism that Lucrecia would be harmed plagued his mind? Indeed, why hadn't he *acted* to protect her from this menace? Instead, he had chosen to wallow in self-pity, excusing it as "non-interference". All those past declarations of love battered his mind. What disgust he felt with himself. They were empty words, devoid of any true feelings.

He *should* have interfered, even though his mind had discouraged him. He *should* have obeyed his fears rather than discredit them. He *should* have protected Lucrecia instead of idly watching her suffer by herself.

Suddenly, Lucrecia's sufferings, agonies, and tears became *his* fault. Her pain was his sin.

Thus sat Vincent, fumbling with his heavy guilt. His past life mattered very little, if at all, to him. He found no regret in slaughtering misguided beggars in a Reactor, threatening little innocent children to satisfy his superiors, or murdering his best friend so ruthlessly. To him, these crimes bore no consequence, not even an ounce of significance, compared to abandoning his beloved Lucrecia.

How could she ever forgive his blindness? How could he ever forgive himself?

When at last unable to bear this burden of guilt, Vincent carried Lucrecia straight to bed. He stretched her body fully on the bed, then covered her with the bedcovers. The Turk wiped her tear-stained cheeks with his gloved hand before leaving the bedroom. He left the door ajar.

Vincent lingered in the dark hallway for one long minute. His weary eyes glanced to the far side of the hall, which ultimately led to the loathsome library below. Hojo, no doubt, had been slaving all this time down there in preparation of his report.

Silence slithered through the black corridor, interrupted by a rude creek of some rotting wood. The stained windows rattled with each howl of wind. Complete darkness dominated the hall.

Vincent fetched a stiff wooden chair from another room, then propped it right next to Lucrecia's door. After glancing into her room one last time, the Turk dropped into the chair, overwrought with exhaustion. Although he closed his eyes and folded his arms across his chest, Vincent did not sleep a wink the entire night.

Just before the arrival of dawn, Vincent heard a faint "thump" in Lucrecia's bedroom. The Turk, his senses sharper thanks to his lack of sleep, instantly sat up in his chair. He listened for a moment: nothing. Had he simply imagined the sound?

He stood up. Rubbing his tired eyes, Vincent cautiously peeked into the dim room. Everything seemed to be in its proper order, except for an extremely peculiar shadow lying heaped up on the floor. It appeared to be a body. Much to Vincent's horror, it was Lucrecia.

With a loud oath, the Turk dashed to her body. Lucrecia lay heaped up on the floor, face down and both hands close to her bosom. Her hair was scattered around her head, even over her face. Evidently, the woman had awakened sometime earlier, and must have collapsed suddenly in her spot.

"Lucrecia!!" Vincent called loudly, "Lucrecia!! Wake up!!!"

Vincent turned her onto her back. He tore open her collar, calling her name all the time, while patting her cheeks. She did not respond.

Frantic beyond reason, Vincent checked the woman's pulse: he could barely feel a heartbeat throbbing very weakly. Lucrecia was dying right before his eyes! She would surely die unless he helped her now.

In a flash, the Turk stormed out of the bedroom like a perfect madman, then dashed down the dark hallway. He knew not what help he could get for the dying woman, but understood she lingered between life and death. He rushed down the stony passageway, heading straight for the grim library. That was his last hope.

On barging in, breathless with agitation, Vincent found Professor Hojo writing on the operation table. Several scraps of paper littered the bulky table, some crumpled up, others heaped under the flickering lantern. The Professor immediately turned to the rude intruder, his face showing great annoyance, as if to say "How dare YOU bother ME?"

"Professor!!" Vincent gasped out, taking a step closer to the man, "You have to help Lucrecia!! She's dying!!"

Hojo narrowed his mean eyes with peculiar interest at the Turk, but said nothing.

Vincent felt the anger boil his blood as he cried, "She's having a heart attack!! If we don't hurry and save her now, she'll die for sure!!!"

"Let her die then," scoffed Hojo simply.

Perhaps he had lost his mind, or maybe he had simply misheard the man. In either case, Vincent whispered in absolute astonishment, "What?!"

"I say let her die and rot in her grave," Hojo repeated, stepping closer to the shocked Turk, "The JENOVA cells have poisoned her body, so she will die very soon. Besides, she's outlived her usefulness. I don't need her for my experiment anymore."

"Have you lost your mind??!!! You can't just..."

"Ah, but *you*, my dear Sir..you will do quite nicely for my experiment..heh heh heh..you'll be part of my OTHER experiment... heh heh heh heh..."

Vincent stared in amazement at this mad scientist, not understanding his strange meaning at all. Hojo glared maliciously back at the Turk, while a sinister grin played on his thin lips. Vincent suddenly felt nauseated with the Professor.

"What 'experiment'?" he cried, losing his patience with the deranged man, "Professor, you've just FINISHED an experiment!!"

"I know that, you idiot! That's NOT the experiment I meant!!" Hojo shouted angrily. He gripped his hair in frustration as he roared, "You...and him... all of us..will be part of ANOTHER experiment!! I'm not finished yet!! I must finish my experiment! WE'RE ALL PART OF THE EXPERIMENT!!!!!!"

Vincent was dumbstruck with this man's madness.

"It could take ten..fifty...maybe a hundred years to finish," the insane Professor ranted on, eyeing Vincent so viciously, "..it'll take time, Sir, TIME to finish my experiment. But never mind, Mr. Valentine, you can sleep for all eternity, preserved just as you are now. And when it's time to finish my experiment..I'll wake you."

The movement was instant; so fast, so unexpected at that mad moment. In the blink of an eye, Professor Hojo yanked out a small revolver from his pocket and fired once straight at Vincent's chest. The Turk lost all sensation of his surroundings, except for a murderous pain ripping through his chest. The bullet had most likely hit his heart.

Everything went black.

The very moment he hit the floor, Vincent sprang up in bed in a cold sweat. He looked around himself silently. This was his bedroom in his apartment. Here was his frightening metallic claw. There was Aeris, sound asleep under the covers, safe by his side.

It was all just a nightmare.

It took him great effort to understand he had been merely re-living his past once again. All of that madness died long ago: ShinRa, the library, Hojo, Davoren...and Lucrecia; they were all ghosts haunting his past. They were just faces and places floating in his memory. That horrible nightmare finished thirty-one years ago, never to return again...

Or did it?

-End of Chp.30