I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.41

"All of you get back," Vincent ordered.

He addressed the three mercenaries very sternly, eyeing each man with icy contempt. His gun remained rigidly fixed on Davoren's forehead, as if warning them any wrong move would be fatal.

The defeated gunman, on the other hand, had succumbed to his fate in resentful silence. He sat against the tree, body slumped forward, and knees drawn up but wide apart to support his tired posture. Both gloved hands lay heaped between his legs where they could be clearly seen. He would have no part in this scene.

Their leader thus taken hostage, the enemy now dictating the orders, the three mercenaries fidgeted confusedly in their spots, exchanging nervous glances between each other. Their guns remained silently pointed at the enemy, which only added to their stupid appearance.

"Get back," Vincent demanded again, this time more forcefully.

They still hesitated.

Losing all his patience, Vincent tilted his aim slightly to the side just before firing once. Davoren gave a violent start when the loud bullet zinged right past his ear, and blasted the tree behind instead.

"NOW!!" Vincent thundered at the three ineffective men.

They dared not question this man's authority any further. The three mercenaries lowered their disappointed guns. Very deliberately, they began retreating backwards. The palms of their hands were raised to prove they intended no heroics or sneaky tricks.

Considering his scarce ammo, Vincent had decided not to waste it on these small-fry. Only four bullets remained; best saved for the prize prisoner instead. The mercenaries had seen their less fortunate comrades fall under Vincent's deadly gun. So by this stage, they knew better than to risk some "surprise attack" to rescue their captured leader. In short, they were no real threat; Davoren was.

Vincent silently watched them fall back, at the same time keeping his gun fixed on Davoren's forehead. Soon, the three men reached the end of the black road, where they disappeared behind the trees, and never returned again.

After so many brutal disruptions, the heavy silence resumed its formal course in the dark park.

Alone at last, Vincent gazed very pensively down at the silent prisoner. His gun stayed rigidly fixed on its mark. Davoren still sat in a slumped position, hands bare and head bowed. Rips and tears, some quite brutal, ruined his black trench coat. Several white hair strands dangled before his dirty face. His expression remained stoically cold.

Vincent stood towering over the defeated man, his forearm drawn up to hold the gun, the claw hanging idly by his side. All his clothes were tattered, especially his right sleeve, where the huge rip exposed an ugly wound. Filth, blots of frozen blood, and dozens of tiny scratches marked his haggard face. Countless wounds stung his limbs. Hot blood dripped off his hand onto the stony ground. The fever burned his eyes to their sockets.

Indeed, the battle now concluded, that last charge slowly began to take its toll on him. Such an insane attack under fire had taxed his sore muscles and depleted his strength. However, Vincent resisted the violent pain bubbling inside his hot chest. He would not have a coughing fit, not when he could he finally get some questions answered.

He had spared, or rather prolonged, Davoren's life for the sole purpose of interrogating him.

For a long time, neither man spoke a word.

"I always used to give you advice...how to handle open battles.. you were still a rookie back then...," Davoren remarked flatly without looking up, "...improve your hearing senses....keep all wits about you. I remember once I taught you how to counter-attack a grenade. Bravo. I certainly didn't expect you to go charging at me like that. You sure knocked me out back there."

The praise received no answer.

"But for God's sake, don't go shooting by my head like that," Davoren begged, slowly rubbing his ear, "Bullets are pretty loud, y'know. Last thing I want is a hearing aid."

Another awkward silence followed.

"What's Professor Hojo's experiment, Davoren?" Vincent asked.


At the mention of the familiar name, the defeated man lifted his head up to his captor. He found Vincent's expression unnaturally cold, with deep crimson eyes steadily fixed on him.

"Now why would you think Professor Hojo is behind this? Is he the *only* Professor in the world?" Davoren mocked with a broad, insolent smile.

Vincent paused a moment before replying icily, "This whole business reeks with his....crafty handiwork."

Besides his instincts, he had no other proof. True, Hojo had supposedly been killed a year ago, yet the possibility he had somehow survived remained far too strong to be ignored. Vincent vaguely recalled that miserable night when fever had overpowered his sanity: for some reason, he had believed himself conversing with none other than Hojo. Also, the mysterious words "it's all for the experiment...I must finish the experiment" had echoed all throughout his delirium, and repeated again in his nightmare.

But if he needed material proof, then Davoren sufficed. Just like himself, the gunman hadn't aged a wrinkle in thirty-one years. He claimed to serve a "Professor", also his master. All reasoning led to the same conclusion: Professor Hojo. Who else could it possibly be but him?

The question persisted: what was this "experiment"?

Vincent gazed more intently down at his prisoner, as though he could perhaps guess the answer. The insulting smile remained frozen on Davoren's lips. He took no heed of the gun so rigidly fixed at his forehead. He hadn't changed his slumped posture, nor had Vincent moved either.

A deathly stillness clung to the bitter-cold air. Countless black trees had clustered thickly along the road. Their branches, entangled and twisted around each other, arched overhead to bar out the beautiful moonlight.

A thick darkness loomed about the empty road, even though the feeble lamp posts struggled to disperse it. Both men could only distinguish patches of each others faces, the rest being obscured by shadow. However, their brilliant eyes shone through this black veil, and locked onto each other without wavering.

"You've been searching for me a long time, haven't you?" Vincent inquired, finally breaking the icy silence.

"Almost five months," Davoren replied.

"To kill me, obviously."


"And when you got desperate, you contacted one of my old comrades from Avalanche. You hoped she might help you locate me." Davoren muffled a light snigger with the back of his hand. Mischievous cruelty flickered in his eyes.

"I see Miss Lockhart told you....hmmm...I knew I should've killed her that day," the terrible gunman joked, "Yes, I did contact her. Unfortunately, she was of no help. I thought I should....'interrogate' Mr. Strife too, since he was your group leader. But you didn't seem particularly close to him, so he probably didn't know either."

Vincent made no response except narrow his eyes down on this ruthless man. He hated to imagine what could have happened to Cloud or Tifa *had* they known his whereabouts.

"I spent three months wandering between towns and villages, just trying to track you down," Davoren recounted in a dismayed voice, "Of course, I didn't find anything, so I returned here to the Professor, and began searching Midgar. But y'know, it's a huge city. You could've been anywhere, or maybe you weren't in Midgar at all (how would I know?). Even your former comrades had no clue where you were. You had simply disappeared, and I just about gave up."

No reply.

"But then, that girl escaped the laboratory. The men we sent to catch her never came back, and the girl....she vanished without a trace. Therefore, the Professor ordered me to capture her, AND retrieve you (dead or alive..it didn't matter). Two missions at once. Huh! As if I didn't have enough responsibilities already."

The amused smile slowly faded off Davoren's face. He suddenly dropped his pink eyes to the ground as he expelled a tired sigh. The gun remained directly pointed at his forehead.

"It was a lucky coincidence we met that same day I found the girl. It meant I could kill two birds with one stone. Sure, then the Professor could finish his experiment. But as you remember, I failed, which really pissed off the grouchy old coot. Ah well. At least I knew you had the little girl. So if I found her again, I knew I'd find you too."

"Why, Davoren?" asked Vincent dryly but quite calmly, "Why is Professor Hojo so bent on Aeris and me? You keep on saying 'it's for the experiment', but what *is* it?"

The prisoner scornfully cast his eyes to the far side. The direct question received a most contemptuous silence. Not at all satisfied with this answer, Vincent forced the cold muzzle of his gun against Davoren's forehead.

"What is it, Davoren?" he demanded again, emphasizing each word with vexed firmness.

He had grown so weary, both physically and mentally. The cruel fit mercilessly clawed at his lungs; Vincent could only suppress the pain by sheer force. His chest had begun heaving, slowly but noticeably. Blood tickled his parched throat. His wounds stung his feverish, battered body.

The illness would not spare him, even though he barely had enough strength to stay conscious.

The stiff silence endured for a full minute. Vincent studied his prisoner very intently; Davoren remained stubbornly mute. His spiteful pink eyes insisted on the far corner, undaunted by the gun's deadly threat, or Vincent's cold, hard stare.

"You remember Sephiroth, don't you?" the gunman spoke at last, his voice quite serious.

"....S..Sephiroth?" Vincent repeated, somewhat taken aback.

"Yes, the fruit of the JENOVA Project. I believe you and your comrades had the honor of battling him a year ago....after he had summoned that meteor."

And how could Vincent ever forget? The image of Sephiroth immediately sprung to his mind: long silver hair flowing down his back; sadistic evil just brimming in those startling emerald-green eyes. His whole figure, tall, imposing, and muscular, had certainly struck awe into any heart. His insanity had exactly matched his swordsmanship: deadly.

Hard to believe Vincent had met the *exact* same Sephiroth in the ShinRa Mansion, thirty-one long years ago. Who would have dreamed that innocent, helpless little child would pave out such a bloody path of destruction, nearly sending the Planet into oblivion. Harder still to believe that was Lucrecia's son, the very same she had yearned to hug; that she had given birth to the same murderous, cold-hearted demon.

Indeed, fate moved in mysterious ways. Yet why had Davoren digressed onto such an unexpected, if not irrelevant, topic?

"What does *Sephiroth* have to do with any of this?" Vincent asked suspiciously when he couldn't guess an answer.

"Why, everything," replied the prisoner in a calm, patronizing voice.

A heavy pause followed. Davoren slowly turned his scornful eyes back up to his captor's. His face remained frozen cold under Vincent's sharp, quizzical scrutiny. He hardly noticed the gun glued to his forehead.

Vincent's muscles tensed as a horrible foreboding gripped his heart. He didn't like this silence one bit.

"The Professor....is going to revive Sephiroth," announced Davoren at last. His face expressed no emotion.

-End of Chp.41