I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.46

The black haziness gradually dispersed from Vincent's eyes, leaving him in a whirl of confused blurriness. A dull pain teased his dizzy senses. He felt cold, numb, and so weak.

He wondered where he was.

Vincent found himself lying flat on his stomach, sprawled weakly over an uncomfortable bed of soot and sharp stones. Most of his face was buried deep into the ground, so that the pungent smell of burnt ash filled his nostrils. Exhaustion pinned him down under its heavy hand.

Without moving his head, he strained one eye around to inspect these unfamiliar surroundings.

It seemed he had somehow fallen into some ditch or gutter below ground level. Hard concrete walls squeezed this filthy place to a long, narrow tunnel. Sewer pipes intermingled with stiff cable lines, all fitted into the rough stonework. Soot, stones, and crushed coal blanketed the entire ground.

Darkness in all its cruelty suffocated this empty ditch to bleak shadow. However, there seemed to be an upper opening along one side of the wall, thus smuggling some moonlight inside. Most probably, Vincent had fallen into this gutter through that opening.

Yet *from where* had he fallen? Try as hard as he may, he could not remember, not even wager a guess.

Vincent at last tried to move. First, he twitched his stiff fingers, then painfully drew up his hand. With one soft grunt, he struggled to get up, at least lift his heavy head, yet soon collapsed back down again. Twice the poor man tried, each time sheer weakness foiled his pathetic attempts.

Finally, after much sweat and effort, Vincent managed to push himself up to one elbow, then miraculously onto all fours.

Though quite trivial, such a laborious task had exhausted him well beyond endurance. He paused a moment to snatch a whiff of air. Vincent's head bent down sharply, where his long black hair dangled against the ground. His arms trembled under his heavy weight. A horrible sickness choked him again.

He suddenly felt a mad surge of pain burble from his chest up through his parched throat. Vincent hardly fought the nausea. He instantly twisted his head aside, and squeezing both eyes tight, heaved out all the vomit and rotten blood in one giant effort. He could not help but grimace at the disgusting, sour hot after-taste in his mouth.

Fortunately however, the whole ordeal soon passed. Vincent huddled weakly against the cold wall, gasping and groping for his muddled senses. That "unpleasant release" has actually removed some of the sickly dizziness and stinging pain. At least he knew he wouldn't faint again.

He waited in this darkness for a few more minutes.

When he felt meager life revive his lifeless limbs, Vincent decided to move again. He wiped his mouth against his torn sleeve, then staggered up to his wobbly feet, all the while supporting himself against the wall. He glanced once more around this dark, dingy tunnel-way, yet still could not recall what had happened.

Rather than fight his befuddled memories, Vincent feebly climbed up the pipe lines towards that opening in the upper wall. He slipped through, and slowly crawled his way under some low, steel platform. When he at last emerged into the open, he found himself back on the main train tracks.

He looked around in tired amazement: there stood the signal gantry, haughtily posed high above all else. The stone bridge hung in its same dismal loneliness. The iron rails extended all the way back into the yawning tunnel, just as always. Emptiness re-echoed in the air. No one was here.

Vincent climbed up to his feet again, then leaned sideways against the wall, gasping so softly to himself. Slow memory floated back: he recalled the brilliant light blind his eyes; the wild rumbling hammer his ears. He then vaguely remembered making one final effort to move. Indeed, he must have rolled himself off the tracks just as the train had passed.

Vincent passively inspected the electricity platform again: he guessed he must have rolled all the way under this steel structure and into that underground ditch, where he instantly lost consciousness. No one would have suspected such a gutter to even exist. It lay completely hidden under the platform, well concealed by darkness and other pipe lines.

So if Davoren had peeked under the platform, he wouldn't have guessed any such underground tunnel-way to be there.

Suddenly, Vincent remembered Aeris. His anxious eyes searched the entire place again. They ran from one end of the tracks to the other, up the signal gantry, and under the bridge: nothing. No girl; no gunman.

Davoren had taken her back.

He cast one last wistful glance all around. When sure he would not find Aeris here, Vincent tiredly shifted himself around, then staggered his way along the tunnel wall. Soon, he discovered a ladder. Its russet rungs being built into the concrete, this stiff ladder led straight up to the main street above. Thus began the slow, painful journey upwards.

It took him a long time to reach the top. Wearied by the tedious climb, Vincent heavily tumbled over the parapet, then crashed his back onto the pavement with a sharp grunt. After another miserable struggle, Vincent managed to sit up. He slumped back against the wall, both legs drawn up and head bent low.

He looked the truest picture of despair in his gloomy, forlorn loneliness. Vincent expelled a stiff sigh, then tiredly pressed his fingers against his closed eyes. He did not lift his head.

Davoren had taken her back.

The long, bloody war had stretched far into the night, one hard battle after another, yet what had he to show for it? The one person he had fought so hard to protect had fallen prisoner again. For all his brave efforts, not one had matched Davoren's cleverness; not one had saved Aeris from that brutal deathtrap.

So now, when the victory had been claimed and the dust had settled, what remained? Here he sat, alone, completely crushed, and the girl forever gone. The Professor had swallowed her again, back to that nightmare she dreaded to tears.

Indeed, wasn't it only *yesterday* Aeris had been weeping in his bed, wishing for herself total safety? Just *yesterday* Vincent had embraced her away from those terrible fears, and lulled her to sweet sleep.

Yes, though it seemed ages ago, it was only yesterday.

Then tonight, she is dragged back to her dark dungeon of torture and pain. Against all pitiful pleas and struggles, her simple wish is cruelly dashed aside. For what?

An "experiment".

Vincent scowled coldly on recalling Aeris' miserable, tear-stained face; her frightened expression as the gunman had tormented her in his tight grip. The words "Davoren has taken her back" churned about his head until he could almost hear the gunman's mocking voice whisper them into his ears.

Yes, in the end, Davoren had taken her back.

Hot rage swelled inside Vincent's heart. He angrily released it all by slamming his clenched iron fist straight into the stone pavement. Yet he suddenly writhed aside on feeling a sharp pain gnaw through his left shoulder. The bullet wound would no longer be ignored.

With a soft curse, Vincent attended to this injury. He tore off his tattered overcoat, unbuttoned his uniform-like shirt, and roughly pulled down the left side. He examined the wound for a moment.

The deadly bullet had hit him clean into the main muscle. Dark blood seeped slowly out of the black, swollen hole. It smeared his pale skin in sickly redness, and soaked through his black undershirt.

At least he could rejoice in *one* fact: being "abnormal" also meant he could endure wounds and blood loss far better than ordinary humans.

Vincent turned his immediate attention to dressing this injury. He tore off a long, broad strip from the inner hem of his coat, then stiffly stretched out his other arm. He began to wrap the cloth around the wound, using his mouth in the painful procedure. When he had finished, Vincent buttoned up his shirt, and fumbled his torn coat back on.

That should keep the pain down to a tolerable level, at least until he found a way to get himself proper treatment.

Vincent slumped back against the wall again. Fever, exhaustion, but mostly weary despair weighed on his soul like a heavy rock. He cast his hallow eyes down to the pavement, where his gaze strayed far into thoughtfulness.

A deathly silence hung in the chilly air. Vincent sat alone in his dismal place, stoic outside, yet brooding so intently inside.

What to do now? He knew not where Davoren had taken her. He guessed he had lost conscious for at least an hour, so following the cold trail now would be quite impossible. Then what? Without an idea of her whereabouts, how could he possibly find her again?

Suddenly, an idea struck Vincent: he recalled killing all the mercenaries except *one*. After shooting that man's arm, he had hurtled the empty gun straight into his face. Hopefully, neither the blow nor the wound had killed him. So perhaps, this mercenary could be of some use after all.

Vincent snatched this last hope immediately. He staggered up to his weary feet again, and limped his way back to the park.

-End of Chp.46