I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.63

Darkness saw no end throughout these hollow halls of ancient stone, rusted metal and clustered pipes. Deep within this jungle, there hung an eerie silence in the chilly air. For an eternity, it had reigned unchallenged.

That is until a quick rush of footsteps echoed down the corridor. The intruder emerged as a tall, black figure dashing forth at top speed. It didn't matter which path he took. Nor cared this brazen phantom much about disturbing the tranquility. Right now, far graver matters pressed upon him.

After breaking away from that fight, Davoren had retreated into the darkest depths of this Delivery Centre. He still held one semi-automatic within a tight grip. Behind him stretched the void further and further, but his stern glare instead focused up front.

Deeper and deeper he flew through the maze, fueled onwards by the urgency of the situation.

The path finally stopped at a dead-end, a dismal shelter Davoren was forced to accept. He slumped against the stone wall. Soon, he began to tumble many thoughts behind closed eyes, exasperation written clear on his dirty face. He held the gun in both hands, arms loosley stretched downwards. He struck a lonely figure there, more overwhelmed by events than blows.

The gunman lingered thus for a rather long time, as if awaiting something to happen. Around him loomed the darkness, a black curtain that draped in heavy folds upon this wasteland. Above him hovered silence, ominous and absolute.

A strange, soft sound suddenly reached the gunman's ears. When he realized this unfamiliar sound emanated from himself, Davoren snapped his eyes wide open: yes. He was gasping. Up till now, he had not noticed.

A rather silly discovery to fret about, yet nevertheless, the gunman gaped at his heaving chest, even pressed it to confirm his sight; the movements were quick and subdued, indicating only minor strain. But still, he was gasping.

His expression darkened to a grave frown. He knew what this ill-omen meant only too well.

Davoren scornfully swallowed down the gasps. His stern attention turned to his weapon. He ejected an almost empty cartridge, then jammed in a new one, cocking it once when done.

His preparation came at the most opportune time. Davoren's sharp senses suddenly warned eminent danger, whereby he instantly evaded aside. The moment passed as a single blink: a missile of charged fire shrieked straight by, spraying wild sparks all the way. It narrowly missed Davoren for the stone wall behind, and exploded at full impact, blasting rubble high into the air.

Heavy swirls of dust rushed about. The explosion had left a deep crater in the hapless wall as blatant proof of its power. But Davoren's unimpressed glare rested on the sneaky attacker, who stood poised some distance up ahead.

Reno had the gunman cornered down this blind hall. That blast had been a mere announcement of his arrival. And now that he caught Davoren's undivided attention, the man slacked off into an easy attack-stance, intending a far more serious fight.

Nevertheless, Reno couldn't help but smirk vindictively at the ruined state of Davoren's once fine appearance. "Not bad for a 'magic wand', eh Gramps?"

Davoren deemed it better to bare his gun than answer. For a moment, he measured up this new opponent, observing in particular how well the dangerous staff befitted those nimble fingers.

Discrete caution marked the gunman's stoic demeanour, more so as he drew his own weapon closer. Indeed, this enemy had already caught him twice off guard.

A playful glitter lit up Reno's narrow, sea-green eyes. They held Davoren half in mockery, half in contempt. "Y'know, Vinnie tells me you used to be leader of the Turks."

"And you?" replied the calm gunman, "You and your other friend were Turks also, correct?"

"Hey, not bad! Yeah, you guys saw the company rise to the skies, 'n we saw it collapse to the mud."

Davoren granted himself a small smile. "The old generation meets the new, hm?"

"Heh! Guess so."

No more pleasantry. Reno's whole appearance dropped dead-serious as he suddenly made a headlong lunge into combat. Davoren was prepared, so was his gun: it blasted straight into action.

Time, like this battle, escalated to an incredible pace. Reno somehow swerved out of range, doubling his speed until he reached the gunman upfront. There, he thrust in his nightstaff; fast but not fast enough. Davoren had already manoeuvered around, which brought him to Reno's unprotected back. He simply aimed for the head, and fired.

By miracle, Reno ducked down, just as that treacherous bullet zinged overhead. He took advantage of his crouched postion by jabbing his staff upwards, right for Davoren's jaw. Failed again. The gunman gracefully flipped backwards with one hand, and the staff cut through empty air instead.

Reno hadn't time to curse his luck. On gaining enough space, Davoren introduced his second semi-automatic onto the scene. With a loud oath, Reno rolled aside as the twin guns pelted the floor after him.

One thing for certain: Davoren's concentration had dangerously improved. Reno reached that painful realisation when three bullets razed his body, one his head. He almost lost momentum from shock.

Yet far from intimidated, the man tumbled through heated gunfire to the far side, where he scrambled onto one knee for instant retaliation: Reno slashed his nightstaff in a quick outward sweep. The action spewed a roarous fireball of electricity, spinning madly through a spiral path straight for Davoren.

The gunman, who had come charging at Reno, anticipated the incoming volley. With such incredible athleticism, Davoren leapt forth over the wild firball, tumbling only once before resuming his path. The blast collided with a clamorous boom into a thicket a pipes behind.

Astonished beyond words, Reno darted away, just before the furious bullets lashed a hellstorm upon his spot. It persued his as he dashed across the battered hall. It riddled the walls, and spluttered against the metal.

If Reno didn't "do something now", he knew he'd end up a bloody corpse on the ground.

He frowned at the unpleasant thought. Therefore, Reno shifted back into offense, even gripping his charged staff to full attack-mode. He wheeled around to make a new lunge for his adroit adversary, keeping his own head below ths chaos.

Davoren prepared to meet a fresh round of attacks, this time in cool readiness.

Reno assaulted his opponent with an impressive barrage of jabs and thrusts, targeting every vital point in sight. The nightstaff whiffed electric sparks. The movements were quick and accurate, but sadly fruitless. Davoren evaded every attack with such ease, ducking here, tilting there. The enraged Reno skittered forwards, while Davoren seemed to simply dance backwards.

Suddenly, the gunman stopped this useless game by swinging up one mighty foot for Reno's head. Reno narrowly dodged, where the foot slammed a hard dent into a pipeline instead of his skull. Nevertheless, Davoren hammered on unaffected.

In a flash, Reno spotted a potential opening in Davoren; his final hope. All strength rushed to both arms. He swept the staff like a sword down upon the gunman's head, blazing a trail of charge towards this target.

What followed astounded Reno to a loud exclamation of "WHAT THE?!": Davoren had cleverly blocked that desperate attack by crossing his two guns overhead. They formed an X, with the nightstaff wedged in between, still crackling angry electricity.

Two words came to Reno's mind: "Oh, shit."

Perhaps now he understood why Vincent had warned him not to underestimate this gunman.

In this moment of blank shock, Reno could not anticipate Davoren deliver one brutal kick hard against the side of his ribcage. The stunned man was sent slamming back-first into a wall of pipes, which rattled stiffly on impact.

That blow had knocked more than wind from his chest. Reno would have collapsed, yet savagely retched a cry when something hard rammed straight into his abdomen. It pinned him up against the wall. On opening one bleary eye, he found Davoren leaning towards him. One foot was dug deep into Reno's stomach, while the gunman balanced himself upon the other foot, gun in hand. Thus Reno was now prisoner.

Davoren ruthlessly asserted his authority. The foot shoved further into Reno's battered stomach, causing him to grunt amidst a froth of blood and saliva.

"Oh, please forgive me," apologized Davoren in cold sarcasm, "I've forgotten how... delicate normal humans are. Been a while since I was one."

Poor Reno had no strength to breathe, let alone speak. He remained pinned in place, haggard eyes struggling to stay focussed. His pigtail hung dead over one shoulder. However, despite this agony, Reno still clutched his nightstaff tight.

Davoren, on the other hand, looked the epitome of cool confidence. The pink gleam in his eyes flickered sinister amusement, even though his face remained ever stern.

Death lingered but a heartbeat away. In such a dire situaion, one could beg for mercy, resist, or accept this fate. Reno chose none. Instead, his lips twisted into a weak, crooked smile.

Davoren was a bit surprised. "You find this amusing?"

"Ah?..n-no...," croaked the prisoner through pressing pain, "I..I used to have a leader... back when I was Turk..great guy too. It's just-ugh! You fight A LOT better than he could've ever hoped to."

Davoren did not flinch, but accepted the compliment anyway.

"So tell me," confronted Reno so simply, "What kinda music do you like?"

The gunman blinked at this most unexpected digression, "Eh..excuse me??"

"Music! I figure you like all those fuddy-duddy songs the rest of the old folk listen to."

"Young man," retorted Davoren, "I'll have you know: whatever music us 'old folk' like is better than the noise you brain-dead kids listen to nowadays."

He paused on realizing how ridiculous this conversation was, more that he had actually participated in it. Reno, more amused than ever, asked outright, "Ever heard of the 'Bottle Song'?"

"...'Bottle Song'?...no."

"Really? It's my favorite! It goes like this," he broke off into an upbeat hum, "Duhn-doo-duhn...I'd rather have a bottle infront of meeee...than a frontal lobotomeeee...doo-doo-duhn.."

Perhaps Reno had taken leave of his senses. Davoren gaped at this crazy prisoner, then sighed aside "NOW I know why the company fell apart.."

Reno's ruse had been deviously simple: to talk the gunman off guard. In flash of strength, he snatched his chance, and thrust up the staff straight for Davoren's chest, aiming to electrocute him again.

A commendable trick; if only Davoren hadn't already seen through it.

There was no need to even dodge. With uncanny reflexes, the ruthless gunman swacked the weapon out of Reno's stunned hand, then somehow flipped it into his own grip. Revenge came sweet: Davoren immediately jabbed the charged prong clean against Reno's shoulder; a taste of his own medicine.

Air snuffed out. Reno's whole body writhed wildly as surges of electric madness ravaged him like a thunder storm. Crackles and savage sparks drowned over his desperate scream. They scorched through cloth for flesh, and rattled him for a torturous eternity.

Yet eternity actually lasted a mere moment. Davoren, who still had Reno pinned up with one foot, suddenly yanked the staff out. The stunned victim slumped over in speechless shock.

"Nice try, sonny," praised Davoren callously, "You're lucky you didn't charge that toy to maximum. It could have fried your arm off."

Reno could barely hold that evil gaze through the buzzing pain. Davoren's vicious words aroused a hazy awareness about his now wrecked state; one charred shoulder, scruffy-dirty clothes, and bleeding wounds. Indeed, the old generation had thrashed some humility into the new.

Too bad he wouldn't live long to cherish the lesson. Davoren flung the dead staff behind, then flashed one gun straight into Reno's forehead.

It would end now.

When thus confronted by doom, Reno seized the most desperate hope from within his jacket, and simply acted: he snapped open some flask with his thumb, then splashed all its contents right into Davoren's atonished face.

The sudden move shocked the gunman with a confused cry. He staggered two steps back against the brash liquid, thereby releasing Reno from captivity. However, Reno could barely balance himself up, let alone follow through any attack. Instead, he remained weakly slumped against the wall. He watched the flabbergasted Davoren struggle madly to rub off that tarnation.

He had not expected that flask-attack. This liquid could be some sinister acid, or any other chemical. However, Davoren paused when the taste reached his lips: deliciously sweet and luscious, just like...

"Wine?!" he exclaimed, turning to Reno in disbelief.

"Beer, actually. Wine's too expensive for me."

Fury flared red-hot as Davoren spat out the beverage. "YOU THREW *BEER* IN MY FACE?!!"

"So I'm an alcoholic! So what?!" the angry Reno retorted, "You had a damn GUN pointed at my head!!"

Suddenly, a stern voice from behind shouted, "Reno, out of the way!!"

Events swept by too fast for comprehension. Reno obeyed without thinking; he scrambled aside for cover. At the same moment, Davoren darted his alarmed eyes far behind, where they met a hard crimson glare fixed behind a ready gun.

It was the perfect chance. In all this fluster of distractions, Vincent had caught Davoren wide open.

The ruthless bombardment pelted Davoren backwards. Such intensity, like Satan's fiercest hellstorm, overpowered any attempted retailiation. One blast after another. Vincent showered the gunman in hot lead, not sparing a second in between shots. With every bullet, he advanced forwards, while the gunman reeled back against this madness.

When he reached Reno's discarded nightstaff, Vincent kicked it over to its owner, who readily flipped it back to life within his nimble grasp. The two allies worked together: Vincent suddenly halted the bullet-blitz, just before Reno seized the opportunity for an attack.

He thrust the charged prong fully against Davoren's chest, then blasted one electric explosion clean through the torso, just like a rifle. So powerful, it sent the gunman flying across until he slammed his back hard against the wall. There, he slumped to the floor, slouched up amidst a buzz of confusion.

His suit had been tattered, riddled across in bullets, and his white hair dangled in a mess. His once elegant jacket was blasted half-way open, exposing his frumpled collar and loose tie. Indeed, while his clothes had not survived, Davoren had certainly endured this fight. It was a wonder how anyone could bear so many fatal attacks, even with an invinsibility level.

And now a dwindling invinsibilty level. They had passed eight minutes.

Not to say that Vincent had fared better. His side-wound stung bitterly, sometimes to the point where breathing itself became impossible. It took some effort to stay focused, much more to tolerate his injuries and aches. Yet there shone a feverish glow in Vincent's eyes; a strained sheen which indicated great pain repressed inside.

Nevertheless, he took a moment to check on Reno, who chafed his burnt shoulder in vexation. That attack had cost him much strength.

"Are you alright?" asked Vincent.

"I just got thrashed, electrocuted, AND wasted good beer," growled Reno, "OF COURSE I'm not alright!"

Though silent, Vincent's cool eyes spoke his reproval: I *told* you not to underestimate him.

"Okay! Don't rub it in, Vampy!" Reno paused, then added softly and rather awkwardly, "..thanks, man."

At least he earned some gratitude for rushing to Reno's rescue. Though Vincent had to admire well.

A contemptuous snort brought them back to the present. They both heard Davoren's voice sneer "Heh! You shouldn't take your eyes off your enemy."

Vincent swung around in alarm, but was too late: the gunman, already half-standing, opened a full round at the two men, who immediately dispersed for cover. Yet rather than pursue any further, Davoren instead blasted some gasket nearby. Heavy swirls of steam whooshed out upon the scene, blinding all sight to a haze. It choked the hall in loud chaos.

Luckily however, the mist soon dispersed. Vincent searched all over for the gunman. No trace; he had disappeared.

His expression darkened. Vincent's keen sight then lifted up towards the huge delivery system overhead. He spotted a grate hanging open, where the square vent led to an ominous void inside.

The gunman must have escaped through there.

Both men stood just below the vent, lost in a moment of thoughtful silence. Right now, several options lay before them.

"Listen," decided Reno solemnly, "You go up there. Find him, 'n keep him occupied for a few minutes. I got an idea."

Vincent silently demanded an explanation.

"There's no time for that," insisted the man in a hurry, "But remember: when ya hear a rumbling sound, get yourself outta there AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!"

Though Vincent hadn't even a vague idea of Reno's plan, he put his trust in his comrade, and nodded in agreement: he'd assume defense, while this man would carry out his myterious offense.

All settled then. They broke off again. Reno dashed down the corridor to fulfill his task. In the meantime, Vincent gracefully sprang high up to the open vent, and crawled into the void.

Eight minutes passed, seven more to go.

Wait for me..Aeris, he thought, just wait for me a bit longer...

-End of Chp.63