I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.51

Aeris sat huddled up in one corner of the black dungeon, both slender legs drawn up with arms folded across her knees. Her entire body shivered against the icy steel wall. Her weary head rested in both arms, while her loose hair flowed in thick long curls behind her back and over her shoulder. Complete loneliness isolated her.

She guessed she had sat thus for three, maybe four hours. On waking up, she had found herself (as always) flung against the stone ground, with a cold bowl of slop placed nearby. Most probably, the Professor had decided to grant her some respite before another round of torture. Therefore, she had crawled back to her usual corner, huddled up, and did not move since then. She never touched the food.

The wretched girl only awaited more torture. The silence around her endured for a long time. She seemed to have sat there an eternity, feeling bleak despair grind her soul to dust. Many times, she had wished herself dead.

Suddenly, a loud "click" broke into the silence. The dungeon door had been unlocked.

The stiff door budged a tiny crack, then opened with a hideous, long-drawn creek. Aeris hardly stirred at this rude disturbance. She remained huddled up so piteously in the corner, as if unaware of any intrusion. She discerned two men conversing at the doorway, but the dull pain clogged her ears so badly, the miserable girl could barely understand their words.

"It's too dark in here," commented one man, his calm voice sounding very muffled, "Isn't there a light or something?"

"Sorry Sir," apologized the other respectfully, "But there's barely any electricity in the entire place. The main generator's pretty much busted up...something wrong with the connection cables or step-up transformers...nothing we can do 'bout it."

"So I'm stuck with a candle, hm? How primitive. Very well. You wait outside until I am finished."

One voice mumbled some respectful consent, then the heavy dungeon door slammed shut again. The stiff silence returned.

At first, Aeris believed the two mysterious strangers had left. But soon, she vaguely sensed someone venture through the room, the scuffles of his shoes against the stone ground. Apparently, one of the men had entered her dungeon.

The footsteps grew closer until they stopped abruptly by her side. Yet the poor girl remained in her same pitiful position, head bowed and legs drawn up. She sensed the visitor crouch down in his spot, probably to inspect her.

Aeris wondered who it could be.

"So there you are, sweetheart!" greeted a friendly voice at last, "Good heavens, it's so dark, even I couldn't see you there. How are you?"

The voice so near sounded somewhat familiar. On pulling up her weary head, Aeris found herself momentarily dazzled by a warm, bright light. She moaned out a weak "ah". Her hand instantly twitched up to block this pain from her bleary eyes.

In the light, one could easily trace the torture marks on this poor girl. The lovely rosiness of her cheeks had been drained. Her pallid, haggard face, disheveled hair, and vacant eyes all showed her pathetic state. Aeris had grown quite frail, on the very brink of a feverish illness. Sore bruises marked her limbs. Mud and murky water dirtied her clothes and shoes.

Indeed, the vicious Professor had totally crushed her to the same miserable, frightened creature she had been before.

Aeris strained her eyes through the light to meet this stranger's face. A hazy blur at first, the feature's gradually sharpened until she beheld a man's face: he had squatted down by her side, at the same time holding a lighted candlestick up to her face. The warm, orange light lit up his handsome face, making his happy smile appear all the more affable. He wore a heavy black trench coat over his suit. The man had such incredible white hair, loose strands dangling before his gleaming pink eyes.

It took Aeris only a moment to recognize Davoren.

The pitiful girl blinked back in bewilderment, as if he had materialized out of thin air. Indeed, she could not remember seeing him since that miserable night.

But the confusion only lasted another moment. In an instant, both terror and intense hatred flared up inside. Aeris immediately cringed further into her black corner. She rested her chin down against her crossed arms, yet kept her tense eyes obstinately fixed straight ahead. She would not look at this loathsome gunman.

"Tsk! You shouldn't be sitting on the floor. You could catch pneumonia," remarked Davoren. He indicated s stiff pile of wooden boxes, all heaped into another corner, "There're some dry old storage boxes over there. You can sit on them if you like...."

Aeris did not speak, nor would she even grace him with a brief glance. Her huddled up appearance, though still wretched, also expressed extreme aloofness.

The good-humoured Davoren, nevertheless, kept his amicable smile. When the kind suggestion passed by unanswered, he stood up again, and walked over to the mentioned pile. He returned with one large wooden box for himself. He noisily propped it near Aeris, sat on top, then placed the candlestick by his side. Both gloved hands hung in his lap, his back slumped forward at total ease.

The silence endured another minute.

"I trust you're comfortable enough with your new accommodations," began Davoren again, "It's not like that dirty hovel you used to live in. See, we've moved out of that old dump to another laboratory..well, actually, it's a laboratory hidden within an old Mako Reactor."

He hoped the news might have some effect on Aeris. On the contrary, her cold face from the side showed not the slightest response.

"The laboratory itself is pretty advanced, but the whole place is so run down," he chatted on, "These Reactors sure crumble fast once they stop maintaining them: no heat, rats everywhere, and practically no electricity. We have to use those special generators just to get the essential lab equipment running."

Davoren paused as he peeked at Aeris again. The girl sat oblivious to all his friendly words. Never did she pull her eyes from the stubborn focus.

The weak candle light flickered in the gentle breeze. Darkness loomed about this lonely spot, just waiting to swallow all it contained, firstly that feeble light. The whole dungeon reeked of sickly dankness and bitter cold.

Davoren waited a moment before pulling out a cigarette from its packet. He stuck it between his lips, then flicked on his lighter.

"Mind if I smoke here?" he asked politely.

Aeris made no response.

The gunman interpreted her silence as consent, whereby he lit his cigarette at once. He enjoyed a few easy puffs, then returned to this obstinate girl. He obviously wanted *some* response.

"I should tell you, the old Professor was just ecstatic when I brought you back," Davoren recounted in good-humour, "The very first hour he got you, he began laughing like crazy, then started up work right away. He must've spent at least three days non-stop on you alone. He's in a bit of a rush. After all, your little escape cost him a month's worth of work."

She ignored him.

Davoren muttered sourly to the side, "He was pretty pissed off when I told him about Valentine though......feh! There's no pleasing that old grouch. Well, he let me live, so I guess it's not too bad."

Still no answer.

"Anyway, I'm just here to check on you...make sure you're cozy 'n comfy," he announced cheerfully, "One of my chief responsibilities is keeping the Professor's specimen's alive."

At this noble concern, Aeris shrunk further into the corner, turning her head away in such cold resentment. Neither his pleasantry nor his amicable smile could ever win an ounce of her favour.

The gunman waited, cigarette in hand. He rubbed his chin a moment, then scanned the bleak room for an object of interest. The untouched bowl of food instantly caught his eye, whereby he picked it up from the floor. He stirred the brown grainy slop twice with the rusted spoon.

"You should try to eat a bit more, honey," Davoren scolded in gentle disapproval, "I know it's just bland oat mash, but even a few spoonfuls would do you good."

The gunman propped the cold bowl back on the ground. He remained slumped forward, elbows as support, legs slightly parted. His keen eyes fixed on Aeris.

"Do the men here treat you properly? No....'ungentlemanly conduct'?" he inquired very meaningfully.

The wretched girl only hugged her legs more tightly against her bosom. Her face remained turned away to the wall.

"If you like, I can have them keep a candle here...have a bit of light for a change. Would you like that?"

The girl gave no reply.

"You're not very talkative today," he remarked.

Still no reply.

Davoren was silent.

All his kind offers and cares had been spurned. The heavy stillness felt too awkward, what with Davoren apparently chatting to himself, now no one talking at all. There seemed nothing more to say; every attempt to break through this cold treatment had failed.

His smile faded to a cool, stoic expression of defeat. The callous gunman puffed his cigarette again without looking at the girl, as if waiting for something else to break this ice.

Aeris remained huddled up, scornfully avoidant of his face. She persisted to stare at the wall.

For a full three minutes, no one spoke. Absolute silence stared between the odd pair, one seated so comfortably on the wooden box, the other degraded to misery on the ground.

"...you killed him," Aeris whispered suddenly.

Davoren glanced askance at her, cigarette held up to his lips. Of course, he knew exactly whom she meant.

"..you...killed him..m-murdered him in cold-blood," the pathetic girl whimpered out, "You didn't even fight fair. How could you...how could *anyone* be so cruel?"

Poor, distraught Aeris buried her sorrow back into her arms. Her weak voice began to quiver.

"I hate you!" she sobbed bitterly, "I'll never, ever forgive you! You killed him! Murderer!!"

The accusation, so pathetically presented, stood bare in the gunman's face. But he hardly appeared bothered. Instead, Davoren smoked on in perfect composure. He did not look at her.

A painful surge of emotions wrangled Aeris' broken heart, reducing her to more hot tears. She looked the epitome of misery.

Davoren listened to this outpour of anguish without interruption. The pitiful scene endured another minute.

"You don't actually believe he's dead, do you?" he asked at length.

Aeris froze at the question. Apparently, it had never once occurred to her Vincent could have somehow survived.

"I spent twenty minutes checking around, but never found his body," the gunman continued as coolly, "At first, I thought maybe the train had swept him away. But then, the wheels would've torn him up, and I'd have found his body parts. I found nothing...not one trace..."

The girl slowly lifted her head from her arms, then twisted her head around to the gunman. She did not speak.

Davoren exhaled another hazy puff of smoke without looking at her. His calm voice, far from playful, sounded dead serious, "Besides, didn't you hear what he said? He said he'd never let anyone take you away. Even if he was killed, even if he had to crawl back through the Gates of Hell, he won't let it happen."

She remembered those brave words, so fervently declared with his last strength. In her mind, she could see Vincent standing there, tall, ravaged, crimson eyes fiercely resolute. But he had been shot, and the gunman had....then the train.....how could he possibly have...

"He's alive, I know it," Davoren broke into her thoughts at once. He smiled so smugly at his pleasant cigarette, "And I also know he'll come for you; just give him time. Take my word as his ex-best buddy. Valentine would never make vow unless he fully intended to keep it."

Confidence in its surest form. He sat slumped forward with marked ease, puffing at his cigarette while staring into the empty distance. Through the white smoke, he seemed almost able to visualize his prophecy.

Aeris knew not what to make of this news. She reflected a long moment upon herself: rejoice! Not only could Vincent be alive, but perhaps he'd come rescue her from this nightmare. Hope still glimmered after all. She should smile, if not at least be comforted.

But no. Instead, a most pained expression overshadowed her whole face, casting her heart into deeper despair. She drew her sight to the far side.

"...if he's really alive, then I hope he'll never come for me," the wretched girl muttered sadly.

"Now THERE'S a surprise!" exclaimed Davoren, turning his head to her, "I thought you'd be happy!"


The gunman studied her quite keenly.

Intense sorrow gently sealed her eyes shut, at the same time squeezing out such a heavy sigh out of her bosom.

"If he comes, you'll trap him again...rip him apart, then shed his blood just...just like that night," she paused, overwhelmed by her own torn emotions, then whispered out more miserably, "..I don't want him to come here...not to die....I don't want to see him die all over again..."

Another silence befell the dungeon. The gunman, ever the sharp observer, beheld this pathetic girl in the feeble candle light.

A cunning smile gradually crossed his lips.

"...do you love Vincent?" he asked all of a sudden.

The unexpected question startled Aeris, as though he had just revealed her deepest secret. She instantly turned to the man, much confused by his bluntness.

"Oh, c'mon! Not like you ever try to hide it!" Davoren laughed light-heartedly at her reaction, "It's in everything you do! You nearly surrendered yourself in exchange for his life, and broke out into hysterics when I shot him, remember?"

Aeris felt her cheeks grow uncomfortably hot under his meaningful scrutiny. Thus cornered by all these sly observations, she huddled back against the cold wall, half her face buried in her crossed arms. She gazed down at her dirty boots, but said nothing.

"Yes, you *are* in love with him. Your silence only proves it," Davoren assured again.

She didn't argue, which caused the gunman to smile all the more cunningly at himself. He took another easy puff from his cigarette, then dispersed the white smoke with one elegant wave of the hand. He still sat bent over the wooden box, elbows as support against his knees. He gazed thoughtfully into the dark void ahead.

"I watched you two on the bridge....the way he hugged you while you cried your eyes out," Davoren observed in a voice far too sly, "Just from the way he held you, one could tell you meant a great deal to him. And then..that vow. There was something in his eyes....real anger, maybe hatred when he said he'd never let you be taken. His reasons for protecting you go well beyond simple duty, or so it seems to me. I'd say he also has very.....strong feelings for you. Dare I say...*love*?"

Aeris was silent. On glancing askance, she found Davoren's pink eyes fixed on her in keen curiosity. The smile remained on his face, adding a cunning intelligence to his appearance. He seemed to have uncovered all secrets (or so he claimed).

Soon, however, she tore her cold sight back down to her boots. A spiteful glow sparked in her green eyes.

"...you're so stupid," she remarked softly but quite scornfully.

Not at all insulted, the cool gunman asked, "In what way do you find me stupid?"

"You think Vincent actually loves me."

"Well, why else would he come for you if he didn't?" he chuckled like a parent amused by a silly child.

Aeris hesitated a long time.

"...if he comes, it won't be for me. It will be for *her*...Lucrecia.."

She re-buried half her face back into her arms, as if crushed by her own words. Huddled there so cold and alone, she found her heart struggling against a whirlpool of painful, most strange emotions. She shut her eyes to block them out.

"...you're so stupid to think Vincent would come all this way and risk his life for me," the girl sighed tragically, more to herself, "He doesn't want or love me at all, he loves Lucrecia. He loves her..so much..he.."

Her sad voice trailed off into another long, reclusive silence. She wondered at these strange new emotions tumbling inside, more at herself for confiding them to the gunman (of all people).

Her mind unconsciously reached back to another night long ago, that night when delirium had robbed Vincent's sanity blind. His raving words floated back to her, in particular one sentence he had shouted clear in her face for her to hear. So short, yet so cutting.

A strange pang of pain stabbed her heart when she finally remembered that sentence: "It's Lucrecia, not you! Not you!!"

Indeed, how many times during his mad fever had she heard him desperately rave out that one name? If he sat by himself, gazing so gloomily into empty space, couldn't she for once guess who occupied his mind? Lucrecia. A ghost who held him in thrall; an invisible presence only he somehow felt. Every time Aeris looked at him, there was Lucrecia...

"And do you hate Lucrecia for that?" Davoren suddenly cut into her contemplation.

Aeris gave a start at the intrusion. She immediately darted her shocked eyes to the man. He still sat bent over, smoking so coolly while smiling back at her. Not only had he seemingly read her mind, but had also tried to identify that strange emotion.

Aeris listened in silence. For some reason, a dreadful fear seized her by the roots as she gazed into his startling pink eyes.

"It must hurt to be standing there all alone with your heart in your hand, while he's still pining for a woman who (heaven knows) has been dead for thirty-one years," the gunman noted calmly, "I know he was madly in love with her. It wasted him away and made him miserable, but he still held onto her. That kind of love doesn't feel time. It never fades, no matter what happens. Do you hate Lucrecia for having all his love, while you have none?"

Whether his question was in jest or earnest, Davoren peered so intently at the girl as he smoked his cigarette. Aeris' blood ran cold. His cool voice, sharp gaze, all seemed to pierce deep into her soul, to somewhere she herself had never consciously wandered.

But subconsciously, in the darkest depths of her heart, is that how she felt about Vincent's beloved Lucrecia? Hatred? More than resentment, did she actually hate that woman for having all his love, while she had none?

Suddenly, Aeris cut off these thoughts. She felt immense disgust at Davoren's words, twice at herself for entertaining them.

"That's terrible!!" she instantly cried out in a passion. Her eyes glared so hatefully at him, "For you to say...for me to *hate* a woman I don't know or even seen.... and who has suffered in her own life, probably far more than me...for me to hate her....no!! That's simply terrible!!!"

Her angry outburst amused him, or perhaps he found her incensed face too charming, especially her green eyes and loose flowing hair. In any case, Davoren cast his sight back down to his own feet, and took another smoke from his cigarette.

"Once, I tried to kill her," he recounted.

Aeris stared dumbstruck with horror.

"Oh, Vincent never told you why he shot me, hm?" Davoren chuckled, even though he didn't look at her. His voice lingered between vicious mockery and bitter sadness, "It was because I tried to kill Lucrecia....no, not kill. 'Kill' is too fast, too simple. That night, I wanted to murder her... just riddle her top to bottom in bullets...spill her blood all over the orchard..."

A most evil smile curled his lips, making his face from the side appear so sinister, perhaps even a touch of insanity. He seemed to stare down into an abyss only visible to his brilliant eyes.

"But Vincent shot me before I could shoot her...one clean bullet in the head, then all goes black. Strange, I never once wanted revenge on him. I don't care. Life...death..it's all the same to me. I guess I just... enjoy it for some reason...the sight of blood. Fresh blood flowing out, even better when it washes my hands....that's the only way I know I'm still alive......"

The terror-stricken Aeris listened to this deranged reverie, herself growing frightened and angry at the same time: could this stone-hearted madman be the same Davoren Vincent had praised at the Snow Fields? Vincent had spoken so reverently of his dear old friend, calling him a "very, very good man", one who miraculously kept his soul alive, despite all the crimes...despite all the bloodshed...

Yet how could compassion thus turn to sadism? Could one simply cast off his humanity, and twist into *this* form, like the gunman had?

"You're a monster," Aeris accused in a harsh whisper.

Davoren seemed to find the word quite strange. He looked askance at her.

"A 'monster'?" he echoed coldly.

"Yes!" she cried aloud, "You murder people! You shed their blood! You love to watch helpless people suffer, and laugh when you do evil things!! It's impossible! You could never have a been a human being! You're just a horrible monster! A monster!!"

He looked down at his feet again.

"Vincent's a monster too," he argued calmly.

"No he's not!! Vincent's not a heartless animal like you!! He doesn't enjoy bloodshed and murder or.."

"My dear, it doesn't matter whether he enjoys it or not. He's still done the same things I've done. We're both the same breed...the exact same animal."

"No! No! You're wrong!!" she shouted in tearful despair, so overwhelmed by his unnatural tone, "Vincent would NEVER do any of the horrible things you do!! It's YOU who's the monster! You alone!!"

A heavy silence followed.

Aeris glared at him, half her heart cold with fear, the other half seething with hatred. She loathed him beyond any possible description.

The argument had apparently irritated the gunman too, most probably her bitter stubbornness. He breathed out a final puff of smoke through his nose, at the same time giving her such a sharp look, unlike anything she'd ever seen.

Davoren flicked the cigarette butt away, then stood up. Much to Aeris' wild alarm, the gunman walked towards her, as if he'd murder her next.

"Ah! G-get away from me!!" she cried at once. She scrambled up to her feet, then glued her whole back against the wall, "Don't come any closer! No, get away!"

Davoren did not. Instead, he stopped directly infront of her, hands loose by his side, pink eyes narrowed down on her alone. He did not speak.

His presence so close, less than a step away, reduced poor Aeris to a frightened silence. She pressed back against the icy wall, tense eyes lowered for fear of meeting his terrible face. Her whole body trembled in Davoren's tall shadow. Indeed, his height was quite impressive, more so measured against hers.

They stood thus for full minute. Neither spoke or moved. The air grew stiff under the heavy stillness. Darkness edged closer to the meek candle light.

"Tell me, what makes a man a monster?" asked Davoren dryly, almost like a challenge.

The question struck Aeris as so strange, she immediately shot her sight up to him. A deep solemnity marked his face.

"I'm the horrible fiend that spreads all evil...the villain.. the devil," Davoren remarked in ice-cold composure, "And Vincent, he's the good human being...the hero...your beloved guardian angel. What makes us so different from each other?"

Aeris stared back, perplexed by those mysterious words. His tone, too detached to be natural, frightened her. There wasn't a trace of that playfulness in it.

Suddenly, one gentle whiff of wind whisked all light away to oblivion. The dank dungeon plunged back to its formal state: a pitch-black void of endless shadows.

Aeris found herself transfixed by a bright pair of pink eyes, gazing so ominously down on her. In this stuffy darkness, she could not even distinguish the outline of Davoren's body, let alone his face; only his eyes.

Under such keen scrutiny, a violent bout of shivering seized the girl. She felt trapped, helpless.

Her ordeal suddenly worsened. Aeris gave a most horrified start when she felt the gunman take her hand. The touch, though quite warm, aroused such revulsion in her anguished heart. Davoren nevertheless pulled up her trembling hand, and pressed it against his left cheek.

"See for yourself. He and I, we're both made of flesh and bone, both covered with skin," he ran her delicate fingertips along his face, the forehead down the side, "We both look human, have our little 'abnormalities'. We're both criminals with blood on our hands, and a long string of crimes tagging behind. So why? Why call me a monster, and insist he's not one too?"

"..he...Vincent is not a monster..," Aeris heard herself deny weakly. She could say no more.

Another deathly silence followed.

He released her hand at last. Aeris instantly clenched it hard against her bosom. His unbearable gaze seemed to pierce more sternly into her now: she *still* clung to her obstinate belief.

Davoren spoke again, this time his voice rigidly cold, "Vincent has killed people just because they disagreed with his boss. It was so easy: there was the target. Simply aim the gun, and shoot. He has spied for his company, threatened deserters, kidnapped and interrogated opposers, all to please his superiors."

Aeris froze solid as she felt the man place his hand against the wall, right by her head. He stooped towards her, thus bringing his brilliant eyes so close to peer into hers.

"My dear, that man you love....the one you call 'human' was one of the company's finest Turks...ShinRa's little demons who dress in slick suits. He had never once....not ONCE stopped at anything to obey orders, even if it had meant killing...no, *murdering* an innocent, little child."

She still stared into those solemn eyes. His tone, so strange, seemed to drill into her very consciousness without pity.

"You only see us from one view: your selfish view," the gunman accused, his cool voice not above a hushed murmur, "Vincent protects you from danger. He hugs you when you cry. And for that, you disregard all his crimes, and call him 'human'. I'm the one who tries to return you to the Professor. And for that, you throw all my crimes in my face, and scream 'monster'."

She said nothing.

"So in your eyes, is that all that separates men from monsters? Petty kindness? If I were to right now become...'kind' to you alone, would I suddenly become human too?"

"...no..," Aeris faltered. Her frantic heartbeat drowned her ears.

"Then what?" whispered Davoren so softly, "If crimes and bloodshed don't make a monster, and kindness alone won't make a human, then what is it?"

Her tense eyes, already brimming with tears, begged him to leave. Her frail body ached in distress.

"..I don't know...I...," Aeris forced out, "...Vincent's done his share of crimes too...he's shed blood like you and done so many evil things....he told me himself.....but.."


"..inside...there's something *inside* of him that makes him so different from you..... underneath it all, there's something else..."

She suddenly remembered those beautiful snow fields.

"And what's 'inside' that makes him so different from me?" Davoren asked.

The riddle baffled her to confusion. For a long minute, their gazes interlocked without either flinching a single muscle. A deep curiosity lit up the man's eyes, cold yet quite solemn. He seemed to expect an answer.

But Aeris could not bear this torment any longer. She crumbled.

"Damn you! You've returned me to the Professor, what more do you want?!" she sobbed out in redoubled misery, "You've seen me cry and suffer, what else do you want to see? Did you just come here to torture me more?!"

The broken-hearted girl struggled against a fresh surge of tears, shivering between the cold air and her own fears. Davoren beheld her until slowly, his eyes softened.

"Of course not. I came here to check on you," he reassured gently, almost kindly.

He withdrew one step away, leaving the girl in a pitiful state of anguish. As Aeris stared back through her tears, she heard Davoren grope at his side pocket for something.

With one soft "click", a feeble light emerged again. Davoren had flicked on his cigarette lighter.

They stood face to face in total silence. Davoren's gloved hand had cupped over the weak flame to protect it from the cold breeze. His handsome face, only high-lighted to grey shadow, maintained the same solemn visage. His cool eyes gazed down on the mute girl, meditating over the details of her beautiful face.

Aeris wondered at that peculiar gleam in his eyes. If she did not know better, she'd have sworn there was...pain....

Suddenly, a loud bleeping sound interrupted the scene.

The gunman mechanically thrust his free hand into his pocket, and pulled out the rude radio transmitter. He fitted it into one ear.

"Go ahead," he demanded after tapping the device.

"Sir, you better get here quick!" begged a man's voice at once. He sounded quite perturbed.

"What's wrong now?"

"..it..it's Rufus again. He's having another spasm attack."

"Give him a sedative then."

"They're not working. They're only making him worse. He's getting so damn violent, we can barely hold him down. Please Sir!"

Davoren thought a moment. Clear annoyance marked his face.

"Alright. I'll be there in a minute," he consented very dryly. He yanked the transmitter out from his ear back into his pocket.

The same irritation pestered him for another moment. However, Davoren broke off his contemplation when he suddenly glanced again at Aeris, who hadn't spoken during that brief conversation. Without a word, the gunman marched back to the wooden box, and re-lit the forsaken candle.

Aeris watched him in silent suspicion. She stood an inch away from the wall, both hands still clasped against her chest.

The candle light now restored, Davoren returned to Aeris again, for some reason slipping off his heavy trench coat.

"Try to get some sleep now. This should keep you warm enough," he said quietly.

Aeris could not conceal her blank amazement as Davoren wrapped the coat around her. It was quite large for her slender figure, yet the pleasant heat inside warmed her stiff, frozen limbs greatly. Such warmth she had long lost in this hellish nightmare.

When done, Davoren gave Aeris one friendly pat against the cheek, then whispered more softly, "I still say Vincent loves you. And when he comes, trust me, he'll come for you alone."

The visit ended. He walked away.

Aeris' haggard eyes followed him until he reached the stiff dungeon door. One loud knock instantly signaled for the guardsman to open passage. The silent Davoren walked out without once looking back, whereby the door slammed shut again. Silence returned.

Though she was alone now, though he had left, Aeris could still hear his words echo through the dungeon.

-End of Chp.51