I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.45

Davoren was alive.

The gunman's face, though dirtied and quite pale, expressed cool composure. To contrast, his eyes glared like a wild pink fire. His black trench coat and suit were torn, especially at the bottom. His silvery-grey gun, the same Vincent had "borrowed" then flung away, now hung tightly by his side.

There were absolutely no marks where Vincent had shot him, not even the smallest scratch.

The heavy silence endured for a long, awkward minute.

Vincent's mind raced to find some explanation to this impossible sight, all the while gaping incredulously at the gunman: he could not guess when Davoren had crept here, more importantly, how he could have survived. He *knew* he had shot this man. The range had been too close for him to miss, even with his blurry eyesight. Then how could Davoren possibly...

"..I...I shot you," Vincent whispered hoarsely to the gunman.

Davoren lifted one eyebrow quizzically.

"I shot you!" Vincent choked out, as if doubting his own words, "I shot your head, neck, and heart! I didn't...I *couldn't* have missed!"

A wry smile slowly twisted Davoren's lips, making him appear all the more sinister in the bleak shadow.

"No, you didn't miss," he affirmed calmly.

He took one step forward, at the same time jamming a cartridge of bullets into his empty gun. However, he did not lift the weapon, but instead gazed so menacingly at the stunned pair.

Vincent became aware of Aeris' body shaking behind him. Indeed, the poor girl had hid again, desperately clinging to his stiff arm. Wild terror marked her whole face. It seemed death itself could not thwart this monster's dogged pursuit.

"You got me all three times. But y'know, Professor Hojo played around with my body too," sneered Davoren, "Don't think you're the *only* one here with the abnormalities."

The move was swift and totally unexpected. With such carefree simplicity, Davoren pressed the loaded weapon into the side of his own head. Before either Vincent or Aeris realized it, the insane man pulled the trigger.

The loud shot rang out through the still air, shattering the silence to pieces. Slowly, it faded away into the night until all was deathly calm again.

Vincent could only gape in mute shock. Aeris remained huddled behind him, her green eyes wide with horror.

Davoren still stood before them, his head slightly tilted sideways, but otherwise unharmed. At his feet lay the fired bullet.

It had literally bounced off his head.

"Infinite resistance to physical injury, high tolerance to pain, that's my little secret," the gunman scoffed at last, "I can raise my level up whenever I want....sorta like a shield. That's how I survived when you dropped the wall on me, and the explosion, and the gunshots. I just raised my level up in time."

It took Vincent a full moment to actually grasp this man's words. Aeris now realized what Davoren had meant when he described his skin as "really, really, really tough". He hadn't been joking at all.

Davoren pushed back his snow-white hair in one sweep, then added rather haughtily, "See my abnormalities are better than yours, Mr. Valentine. Oh sure, you're far more agile and sharp than me. And you got all the raw power hidden inside. But of course, we both know once you tap into that power, it explodes. You automatically lose control of yourself....you'd probably end up destroying everything in your path...even those you're trying so hard to protect."

At here, Davoren glanced briefly at Aeris, then smirked, "The risk is too high for you, so you avoid it all together. I, on the other hand, can control mine so easily. No fuss, no claws or ugly wings. Just one thought, and hoop! Invulnerability!"

Vincent made no comment to the vicious mockery.

"Now, I know what you're thinking!" laughed Davoren, as if telling a funny joke, "You're thinking 'Well, if he's so damn resistant, why'd he bother going through all those nasty tactics and underhanded schemes, when he could have just fought straight out from the beginning', right?"

No one answered.

"Ah! But see, I can only maintain my level up for a short time.... fifteen minutes max, then it starts to crumble down again. And I know from out last encounter, Mr. Valentine, killing you would take much more than fifteen minutes. So, you'd understand why I wouldn't want to just waste it all away in one go. I save it...only use it when I absolutely must. The only person who can kill me outright is the Professor. Now do you understand?"

Vincent understood. Those petty small victories had meant nothing to the final outcome. All the odds had been in Davoren's favour from the very beginning.

They had fought hard throughout the entire night, Davoren simply raising his level whenever necessary. True, Vincent had taken him hostage for a brief time. Yet that he attributed to sheer luck; he had probably attacked Davoren just when his "shield" crumbled. And in all likelihood, the gunman had only succumbed to interrogation to buy himself time: either to rebuild his fallen level or until the coughing fit would aid him (or maybe just to satisfy his sick sense of humour).

In any case, the cunning man left no hope for escape. He had shoved Vincent into the tightest corner: the mercenaries had wearied him; the battle had ruined him; the Professor had wrecked him with fits; Aeris had worried him to near distraction; and of course, when no more strength remained, Davoren would simply finish the rest.

Cruel fate had decided against him.

Drowned by such overwhelming misfortune, Vincent only glared hatefully at the triumphant gunman. He huddled Aeris further behind him: whatever be the consequences, he would not surrender.

The cold air hung in haunted stillness.

Davoren suddenly diverted his attention over to the frightened girl, who cringed away on meeting his hard gaze. He grinned at her through the shadow, his pink eyes savouring her delicious fear.

"Well my dear, we've just about had enough of this running around," the gunman noted maliciously, "Now, what say we end it all, and I take you back, hm?"

Vincent instantly anticipated the next move.

In the blink of an eye, Davoren lunged at the two, straight for the terrified Aeris. He charged like a mad demon, eyes fiercely set on his target: he would not fail this time.

Vincent barely reacted in time. Snatching the frantic girl by the waist, he instantly flipped sideways onto the stone parapet, then leapt high over the gunman's head. With luck, maybe he could pass overhead then dash away, at least before the assailant could turn around.

Yet much to his alarm, Davoren ruthlessly cut off this escape route. Without heed of hesitation, the terrible man hopped onto the parapet too, then sprang high up into the air, right into the astonished Vincent.

Vincent did not understand until a savage pain suddenly tore clean through his stomach. The blow, swift yet quite powerful, cut his breath short. All sensation of his surroundings shattered to numbness.

Indeed, it had happened only in a moment, while still suspended in air. Davoren, on leaping up, had rammed his entire knee straight into Vincent's stomach.

Though Aeris saw everything, her mind couldn't grasp the meaning at all. She saw Vincent's red eyes constrict in violent pain. She even felt his arm tense around her waist. Everything then swirled around in total chaos. They both seemed to be plunging down, down to a black abyss.

Yet suddenly, Aeris felt a rough force tear her away. She saw Vincent crash shoulder first into the ground, while she just stopped without the slightest injury. In fact, her whole body hung suspended above the ground.

Bewildered by the enigma, Aeris blankly watched poor Vincent tumbled over a few times across the tracks before rolling to an abrupt halt. The man curled up on his injured side, trying in vain to suppress the wild agony. He lay only a short distance away from her.

Strange. Hadn't she been with Vincent just moments ago? Hadn't both of them plunged down? Then how had she...

Aeris at last noticed herself trapped in between arms that felt so unfamiliar. On looking up, she found Davoren's face, only a few inches away, smiling so pleasantly down at her.

The horrible shock struck her speechless.

That brutal blow had sent both Aeris and Vincent flying clear over the stone bridge, down towards the train tracks below. However, Davoren had snatched the girl away moments before impact. So while Vincent crashed onto the iron rails, the gunman had landed gracefully on both feet, with Aeris safe in his arms.

Davoren had remained squatted down after landing. He gazed quite kindly, almost lovingly, down at the girl, who in return blinked back in total confusion. He held her very closely against himself, one arm wrapped around her back, the other around her two slender legs.

Aeris felt paralyzed, her body so weak in his strong grip. In truth, she had never seen Davoren's face this close.

He had captured her. That meant a return to the torture and never-ending pain; her body trembling on a cold dissection table, with invisible hands fumbling at her from every side. No safety in the night, no light in the dark maze. He had captured her.

Unable to speak, Aeris turned her head over to Vincent's direction again. A terrible trembling bout seized her.

Though fully aware of the desperate situation, Vincent found himself crushed by weakness. Savage pain tore him inside out as he lay helplessly sprawled on the iron tracks. He squeezed his eyes shut. His hand clutched his battered stomach. With each grunt, Vincent gnashed his teeth then writhed over in further agony. He could taste bitter hot blood in his mouth. Total unconsciousness fingered his weary mind.

He thought he heard Aeris scream out his name. If she did, her voice had sounded far too muffled.

It took Vincent a long time to finally force his eyes open. Blurry shadows and grey shapes danced before him. He felt nauseated beyond endurance.

He easily sensed those vicious pink eyes glaring so vindictively at him. He also felt the wild turmoil storming inside of poor Aeris.

Davoren had torn her from his arms. Yet there remained the grand finale to this long, bloody fight. Vincent knew only too well what it would be: his death.

He waited another moment before deciding to move again. Mustering all his feeble strength one last time, Vincent weakly lifted his head up, rolled onto his stomach, then struggled to his knees. Only through a miracle did he manage to stagger back up to his feet.

He now stood slouched up in his spot for both Davoren and Aeris to behold. His hand dropped off his stomach. Soft gasps, whispers of a hectic fever, escaped his tight chest.

Vincent stared straight at the gunman, crimson eyes darkened to cold, unforgiving hatred. His clothes were soaked and tattered. Dirt, scratches, and blood spatters marked his pale face, with loose hair strands hanging all around. Yet Vincent's face maintained an unnaturally calm, stoic expression.

Davoren only erected himself up from his squatted position. He slipped one arm just under Aeris' bosom, then released her legs, so that she now dangled helplessly by his side.

His strong arm squeezed the poor girl to tears, drawing her so close to himself, almost into his open trench coat. His height seemed all the more impressive now; Aeris' two feet hung at least five inches from the ground.

The two men remained silent for a rather long time.

The empty train tracks stretched to infinity through this open tunnel. The concrete walls rose high up on both sides, while a narrow steel platform for electricity cables ran along the side. Sooty pebbles and dirty snow covered the black ground. The signal gantry, on the other hand, towered high above. Dismal shadow infested the place.

The stillness lasted another minute.

"Well, what now, Vincent?" mocked Davoren at last. His cool, clear voice so nearby startled the poor girl.

Vincent, however, made no reply.

"Heh heh...aren't you going to save your precious little girl? What, are you finally giving up?"

The playful words only received a cutting silence. Vincent's expression remained stone-hard, his brilliant gaze fixed on this brutal man.

Yet far from irritation, Davoren grew all the more amused, especially by this bitter resentment. He suddenly yanked up the horrified Aeris closer, then bent his head down just by her lovely, frightened face. Their cheeks touched.

She swallowed a violent sob as she felt his gentle breath tickle her neck.

"You've fought so hard, killed so many, and wasted yourself away to this sorry state," hissed Davoren, peering so vehemently at the man, "...all to protect her...all to keep her safe from the Professor."

No reply.

"And yet don't you know, Vincent, the Professor won't stop until he has her in his claws...shaking and at his total mercy. That's what she is to him....his darling little specimen."

Still keeping his malicious eyes locked on Vincent, Davoren slowly kissed Aeris' cheek. Her whole body shivered at the loathsome touch; his lips felt icy cold against her skin.

"Hmm....soft as peach and twice as sweet," the terrible gunman breathed playfully into her ear.

Aeris could not endure this torture any longer. Hot tears began to tumble down her cheeks. In her wild anguish, she stared straight at Vincent.

Yet he never once dropped his eyes off Davoren, even as he witnessed the girl's kiss of doom. He remained rooted to the spot, leaden by exhaustion and illness.

The bitter cold air grew heavy under this long silence. The darkness seemed to grow thicker each second.

"I know...you have me right where you want me, Davoren," admitted Vincent with marked coolness, bowing his head slightly, "You've cut me off from every possible direction...I can't fight anymore...I can barely..stay conscious. I know any moment now, you'll kill me...splatter my blood, and drag my dead carcass away."

Davoren did not interrupt.

Vincent gently drew in a breath of air, then added more tiredly, "...you'll take Aeris back to Professor Hojo. She'll be tortured for some 'experiment'...and she'll never escape again. She'll be locked in that nightmare forever."

Poor Aeris stared in horror at the prediction. The gunman still said nothing.

"But mark my words, Davoren, I won't let him, or you, or anyone else have her," vowed Vincent, his calm voice suddenly seething to bitter hostility. His fiery eyes pierced into Davoren, "Kill me and take her if you will, but I will never let anyone torture her again. If I have to crawl back through the very Gates of Hell, I won't let it happen!"

Another heavy silence followed.

Vincent could say no more. The fervent vow had exhausted him, every word an agony to push out. Yet he still glared fixedly at no one except the gunman. He now awaited whatever may come next.

At last came the final verdict. Davoren mocked those brave words with a most cunning sneer. The grin stretched across his face as his terrible pink eyes narrowed in delight. Not even the devil himself could have matched his evil appearance.

Davoren yanked out his gun, then stretched his arm fully out, with the deadly weapon aimed straight at Vincent.

Aeris gave a violent start on spotting the gun thus outstretched beside her. Vincent, however, faced it without flinching a muscle.

"Now let's see....where to shoot...where to shoot..," mused Davoren aloud, unable to conceal his amusement, "I suppose the head would be appropriate. An eye for an eye, and a brain for a brain, eh?"

No answer. Aeris continuously darted her horrified eyes between the weapon and Vincent. Her hands trembled like mad.

"..but then again, you'd die too soon, and I promised you a painful death. Hmm...so Vincent, I guess I'll just shoot your heart, and watch the life pour out of you...nice and slow!"

Davoren instantly reached for the trigger.

"NO!!!!!!!" shrieked Aeris.

Much to Davoren's great astonishment, the frantic girl kicked his forearm up with her knee, just as the loud bullet rang out.

In an instant, Vincent felt a violent pain suddenly rip straight into his left shoulder, sending him sprawling backwards. He saw a wild fountain of dark red liquid gush out into the air. It was his own blood.

The bullet had missed his heart, and hit his shoulder instead.

He crashed onto the iron rails again, then began writhing weakly on his side, all the while clutching his wounded shoulder. Hot blood soaked his entire hand immediately. The savage pain drilled through his flesh into the very bone.

"AAH!!!! V-VINCENT!!!!!!!" screamed Aeris in tearful hysterics. She struggled wildly for freedom, tugging at her captor's unrelinquishing arm.

"Goddamn it!!" snarled Davoren at this unexpected interference.

Indeed, Davoren had had enough. He dropped the frantic Aeris, where on snagging her collar, ruthlessly struck the butt of his hard gun clean across her head. Without looking at her, he flung her far away behind him, then marched over to Vincent: the tedious business must be concluded tonight.

Poor Aeris crashed heavily onto her side, where she lay sprawled against the train tracks, unable to lift her head from the dirty ground. The blow had stunned her to painful numbness. She saw the gunman advance quickly towards Vincent, who still writhed in pitiful agony.

She saw the deadly gun in his hand, thirsting for more blood. She wanted to warn Vincent, to stop this madness, yet could not even squeeze out the softest whisper.

Soon, Davoren stopped at his fallen victim. Vincent had curled weakly onto his side, gritting his teeth while his hand fought the profuse outflow of blood. Already, consciousness began slipping into darkness.

The callous gunman eyed Vincent for a brief moment, then rolled him flat onto his back with one kick. Reveling this tasty cruelty further, Davoren forcefully drove his heavy foot against the man's shoulder, right into the bullet wound.

Vincent twisted violently in wild pain, yet somehow stifled his scream down to a hideous, sharp grunt.

"What's wrong, Vincent? No more revolvers up your sleeve?" scoffed Davoren sarcastically.

Vincent could not distinguish between his voice and all the other mad chaos. They both buzzed into his numb ears at once.

He now lay spread out over the train tracks, battered beyond hope. No life remained save a feeble breath.

Without another word, Davoren aimed his gun at Vincent's head: no misses this time.

From her place far behind, Aeris had witnessed this horrifying scene until wild despair overpowered her. She shifted her body around, somehow pushed herself onto all fours, and feebly crawled her way towards the two men. The pitiful girl only managed three inches before collapsing again. Yet she persisted by literally dragging her heavy body across the tracks.

She did not know what she could possibly do, nor did she care. In her mad anguish, she only saw Vincent.

A very, very faint rumbling, like that of thunder, seemed to fill the still air. Aeris paused a moment: she thought she had felt the ground shake. Yet so distraught and confused, she could make no sense of these mysterious signs.

The sadistic gunman, on the other hand, found this victory far too delightful to notice Aeris or anything else. Like his deadly gun, all his attention remained fixed down on Vincent.

Vincent never moved a muscle. Instead, he wearily forced one bloodshot eye half-open. His blurry eyesight lingered a moment on the black muzzle of the gun, then on Davoren's cold face.

Both eyes locked onto each other. One glowed in crimson brilliance, like fresh blood set on fire. The other pair shone in no less brilliance, as pink as sparkling jewels. Neither man spoke.

Aeris still struggled in vain to pull her lifeless limbs forward, if only to stop this hellish nightmare. The rumbling seemed to grow louder. Small pebbles on the ground began to vibrate lightly.

The moment came at last: Davoren reached for the trigger again.

She opened her mouth to scream, when instead a thunderous, booming clamour interrupted the execution. Davoren shot his head back towards the source in alarm; Vincent forced his eye to the far side.

The whole ground shook as a loud surge of rumbling drowned the air. Darkness was obliterated. On looking behind, Aeris felt a brilliant white light blind her eyes. All the chaos seemed to race towards her.

A train suddenly burst through the black tunnel at top speed. It shot forth like a mad bullet, devouring the iron tracks as it headed straight for the three, firstly Aeris.

Davoren instantly reacted. Forgetting everything else including Vincent, he made a headlong dash for the petrified girl. He lunged into the blinding light, where on sweeping Aeris off her feet, immediately sprang high up into the air, just as the wild train zoomed underneath. He had saved her in time.

Still sprawled flat on the ground, Vincent felt the brilliant light plunge him into painful blindness. The insane rumbling deafened his ears. His bleary eyes saw the sharp wheels tearing straight for him.

And that was all he saw.

The heedless train flew down the iron tracks, stretching its full length down the open tunnel. Anything in its way was destroyed.

On leaping up, Davoren had grabbed hold of the signal gantry arched high overhead. He had gracefully flipped on top of the broad crossbar, and there remained crouched down, with Aeris safely tucked under his armpit.

They both watched the speedy train rush by, the gunman in silent irritation, the poor girl in mute shock.

A wild gust of wind blew against the two as this madness whizzed underneath. The hem of Davoren's torn trench coat flapped wildly in the air. His white hair swayed infront of his face. He gripped the girl very closely to himself, while the other hand held onto the bar for balance.

Aeris saw nothing save the loud, mad chaos. Though now clinging to Davoren's coat, she gaped in stupefied horror as the train rushed on below. It zoomed at such an insane speed, one car after another, until she could no longer tell them apart.

The torment lasted an eternity. The clamour suffocated her to tearful madness. There seemed no end to this long metal snake, the wild lights, or these booming noises. They only intensified the turmoil in her mind.

At long, long last, it ended. The train zipped away under the stone bridge, sweeping all its chaos into a dying echo. Soon, shadow and silence returned.

Aeris' frantic eyes searched the tracks up and down, yet found no trace of Vincent. There was the spot where he had lain, even the small pool of blood from his wound, but nothing more. He had disappeared.

The train must have swept him away, shredding his body under their cruel wheels, savouring the flavour of his torn flesh. Davoren had emerged the final victor, she his prisoner, and he dead.

"...no...V...Vincent...," Aeris whispered, pitifully reaching her hand out towards the empty tracks.

Only silence answered. He was not there.

A violent pain swelled inside until her whole heart burst.


Aeris heard herself scream through the mad turmoil, then suddenly, everything went black.

-End of Chp.45