I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.50

She sat there huddled up in one bleak corner, cold, frightened, and all alone. Around her loomed the darkness, an endless void to which she found herself its sole prisoner. She had been swallowed by the abyss. Night had selfishly drawn her back into its horrible black wings, and would never release her again.

Time had long lost its meaning. Hours or days, she could not tell the difference anymore. They simply slipped by unnoticed.

A gentle but bitter-cold breeze always blew through this dungeon. It loved to caress her body, to feel her weak limbs shiver so pitifully. A sickly dankness suffocated the air to the brink of nausea. Cruel silence oppressed her to total stillness. Sometimes, the stiff steel walls let out a creek, or the quick skitter of rats echoed across the stone floor. But instantly, the sounds disappeared back into the same dull silence.

Aeris was prisoner here, yet the nightmare was not new. She had lived it many times before.

There had been pain too, well beyond anything else she had ever tasted. So brutal, it always left her voiceless, totally crushed under its claw. Her entire body ached non-stop. The hungry agony savoured the taste of her delicious, slender limbs.

Aeris was prisoner here, yet the torture was not new either. She had lived it many, many times before, far too many to count.

She hardly had any recollection of the surroundings or events around her; only flashes of blurry pictures, muffled sounds, or odd sensations, all rolled into one hazy moment of consciousness.

She somewhat remembered feeling her coat and sweater literally torn off. She vaguely recalled huge black figures, all strangers, drag her away somewhere against her will. They handled her so roughly; their brash voices sounded pure nonsense to her numb ears. Everything plunged into darkness afterwards. Whenever she woke up again, she found herself flung back in her black hole, so utterly broken on the cold floor.

Aeris had no memory of what happened during the actual torture, only the devastating, savage pain it left behind. In her cloudy mind, she had seen a blue computer screen type out some hazy jargon. She had seen blood-filled test tubes. Sometimes, there was this strange feeling of hanging in limbo, like her whole body had been immersed into some thick liquid. She remembered screams. The horrible shrieks and tearful cries always re-echoed through her ears. She guessed they were hers.

She could only recall the dreaded operation table once: she had been stripped naked first. Her bare body had been spread flat over an icy-cold table top, with a bright light and ominous machinery hovering overhead. She had felt hands, grubby yet so nimble, fiddle along her body, stuffing sharp needles into her skin. Bleeping sounds had droned into her ears, that and faint hissing. Only once, she remembered opening her eyes. A brilliant pair of yellow eyes, ablaze with vicious insanity, had glared back at her.

That must have been the Professor. Aeris did not know. When she woke up again, she found herself in the dungeon, all her clothes carelessly flung back on her. She never recalled more than that.

The girl guessed she had resisted this nightmare at first. She had probably screamed for help, struggled madly, or begged for pity. If that had ever happened, she assumed someone had struck her unconscious or drugged her. Indeed, either her head throbbed in dull pain, or she felt nauseous.

But now, she doubted whether she resisted anymore. The torture never ended, it only grew worse each time. Aeris always found herself sprawled on the cold floor again. She felt too weak, too helpless. Yes, she had probably succumbed to the nightmare and torture long ago. There seemed no use resisting it.

The horror saw no end. The girl found no place to hide, no succor in the darkness. Some invisible, evil force hovered around her, watching her, laughing at her.

So she sat huddled up in one bleak, filthy corner. She simply waited for whatever may come next.

Nothing new. She had lived it all before. But she always found herself broken, frightened, lost, and so alone. Every torture felt like the very first time.

Sometimes, while overwhelmed by wretched misery, her troubled mind unconsciously drifted back to another world. Faces floated by, their voices too faint to understand. She wandered through many places, marveling at each tiny detail. It all seemed such a strange dream world now, ages old, one she hardly recognized anymore.

Had she really hoped to escape to there?

As Aeris sailed away through this dream, she wondered at these strange sensations tingling her cold, pitiful body:...kind warmth.. unlike anything ever felt before....... shelter from night and fear...

..safety...total safety from all harm....

At that moment, Aeris caught herself lingering over one particular face; one face she associated all these strange words with. It seemed so dear to her, so much her cold fingertips ached to touch it again. But instantly, she shoved that face far away. It always aroused such a violent turmoil in her heart. It always choked her, made her eyes swell with so many hot tears. Indeed, she found the pain in her body far more tolerable than that inside her heart.

She struggled to not think of him. It hurt her too much, his name almost on her lips, her aching heart ready to burst with such inconsolable grief. Yet all in vain; her mind always clung to that same face. In final desperation, Aeris tried to stop thinking altogether.

The cruel question prickled her torn mind: why had she escaped in the first place? She belonged *here*...in this bleak hell called "the Laboratory". What had ever convinced her otherwise? Had she really hoped to escape to there..... to that strange dream world far, far away?

The Professor would never release her, not when he could enjoy her on an operation table instead. She meant too much to him; his darling little specimen. What had made her believe she could ever escape him? There was no safety anywhere. He'd torture her to madness in her nightmares. His ghost would forever haunt her. And at last, he'd send his best hound dog after her, never to return until it had retrieved her.

Another face appeared, filling her whole being with bitter hatred but equal terror. The dreaded "hound dog" had white hair and pink eyes. A demon in a trench coat, smiling so viciously back at her. He had stopped at nothing to capture her. He had torn her away from her only shelter, and cast her back into this horrible nightmare. To her, this "Professor" seemed an ominous presence with Davoren for a body.

And where lay everything now? All burnt to ashes. Her warm shelter, her peaceful safety, all trampled to the ground. The demon had wrenched her out of those protective arms, into another that felt so cold, so unfamiliar.

Aeris remembered that moment so vividly: when she heard the loud bang of the gun, then witnessed Vincent crash to the ground. He had lain so helplessly sprawled on the tracks, gasping, writhing in such pain. She could still see the ruthless gunman standing over his victim. She saw him triumphantly reach for the trigger.

She wanted to scream "stop!"

In her tormented mind, Aeris had repeated the scene at least a dozen times. How often she cowered in the darkness, languishing over that one scene. Every time, she wanted to stop the madness: clutch the gunman's coat and beg for mercy; embrace Vincent to protect him from any more harm; anything, anything but lose him.

But in the end, Aeris always crumbled back to the same desperate conclusion: What did it matter *now*? Vincent was dead.

Dead. The word crushed her. It rang through her ears each time she remembered him lying there on the iron tracks.

Vincent was dead...dead...

Again, Aeris desperately shut out all thoughts and emotions. She did not want to think. It drove her mad. It hurt her too much. Many times, she had burst out crying until unconsciousness took over. She did not want to think! She did not want to think!

Yet the poor girl never succeeded. Every time she remembered Vincent's face, the nightmare grew darker, colder, and more frightening. And this time, she found no warm arms to shield her away, or any soft voice to lull her to sleep.

Vincent was dead.

-End of Chp.50