I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.65

This whole madness had lasted a mere ten seconds.

One ferocious explosion rocked clean through the delivery system; so powerful the shockwaves reached the walls and even the floor below. It occured directly above a huge open corridor, which in itself haughtily overlooked another hall down below.

Vincent landed safe here. At the same time, he witnessed a huge pipeline come crashing down in a fiery path, having just been blasted out of the network above. It tumbled madly across the hall, completely out of control, until it collided head-on into the wall. Such violent impact slammed a crater into the concrete as the pipe fractured open. Dust flew about. Finally, the overhead rumble trickled to total silence.

It was over.

Vincent remained tiredly squatted upon one knee. From a short distance away, he beheld this brutal wreckage of metal scrap, wires, and stone. His crimson eyes, like the stern grip on his gun, waited in silent anticipation. They both awaited Davoren.

Short wait. Soon, the debris began to rattle against some movement trapped beneath, at first faint but growing stronger. At last, force won over weight. Davoren shoved off a heavy metal scrap, then angirly kicked aside another to free his crushed leg.

Out of the two, Vincent had been the luckier to escape that deathtrap in time. The security program had caught Davoren like a rat inside the pipe, then expulsed that pipe in hopes of killing him.

Or in this case, degrading his invincibility level further. As much discomfort as this alliance caused him, Vincent had to praise Reno again for devising such an effective blow.

Now would have been an excellent opportunity for another attack. Unfortunately, Vincent lacked the strength to stand, let alone engage in new battles, not with this wretched state and wounds. He needed a moment to breathe.

Nor seemed the battered gunman ready to resume combat either. Instead, he hunched over to press his temples amidst harsh gasps, perhaps even restore focus to his shattered senses. This insane war had finally started to take its toll on him.

A minute dragged by. The gunman recovered first. Shaking off the last bit of feebleness, he climbed back up to his feet, then staggered a few steps out of the metal wreckage. His thick white hair hung in dishevelment before his dark, sinister eyes.

There shone murder in that venomous glare. Vincent felt it drill into his core. He had ignited a deadly fire; for all the successful blows he'd scored, for all the times he'd resisted. Now Davoren would go beyond all-out to kill him.

Yet Vincent refused to be intimidated, even in the face of such hostility. He too struggled up to his feet. He stood his ground tall and firm, with fingers tightly gripped around the gun.

Vincent didn't flinch as he watched Davoren tear off the remnants of his suit-jacket, then fling the tattered garment aside. He wore a double-holster harness, each one strapped along his shoulder. His collar was ripped open, and that scorched tie loose. The shirt, though torn and frumpled from endless combat, subtly revealed his fine-toned frame; there still remained ample power in that body.

Davoren only bothered to pull up his sleeves before taking both semi-automatics into his gloved hands. He then drew them close. His face expressed no emotion, as if chisled from cold marble. Vincent, careful not to miss any movement, tensed in anticipation.

There was no need for words between these two men, for they both understood. Around them lingered silence. The calm before a storm.

They lunged in for each other like hunger-crazed wolves, eyes hard set on the enemy ahead. Vincent blasted rapid fire straight at the target, who unfortunately had already foreseen that attack. Without losing momentum, Davoren instantly sprung high over the gunfire. So high, with his back arched inwards, he almost seemed to fly towards the alarmed Vincent.

Graceful yet quite deadly. During the descent, Davoren suddenly unleashed a full-scale bombardment upon his enemy below, two guns at once. Vincent rolled aside. He narrowly evaded the wild hailstorm, then Davoren as he landed down, slamming his mighty foot into the floor instead of Vincent's head.

Another near-miss, but the gunman wasn't disheartened. Far from it, he made a headlong charge straight for Vincent, who alas couldn't recover in time to parry.

One slip up would be his doom. Vincent gasped a hideous grunt as the powerful blow rammed clean into his chest, almost shattering his breastbone with the impact. Sensation was lost. Davoren, in fact, had used both butts of his weapons for the initiative strike. Next he hammered in a series of vicious blows, one into Vincent's injured side, and two others against his head. If he couldn't shoot him, then he'd certainly beat his brains out.

The unmerciful barrage hit hard and fast, without a chance to defend, not even breathe. Amidst such savagery, it was a miracle Vincent still kept upon both feet, even though every blow sent him staggering back in blind stupor. Pain battered sense. His sight went red: there was blood in his eyes; his own no doubt.

Davoren would have dealt another blow when he suddenly discerned a familiar presence attack from behind. At once, he parried aside with his arm uplifted, just as a disappointed nightstaff thrust straight through. Apparently, Reno had found his way to this battle too.

So as a welcome, Davoren gave this astonished young man just a taste of his ally's agony. He wheeled around sharply, thus slamming one gun right against Reno's head, then a brutal kick to send him spiralling back with a grunt.

Poor Reno, though stunned blind by such incredible strength and his own dismal failure, nevertheless managed to tumble onto one knee, but not fast enough to recover his dazed focus. Nor did Davoren wait: he opened double fire at full frenzy; he'd finish off this bothersome pest for good.

Reno blanked out. Undoubtedly, the mad torrent would have riddled him straight through had not something big and fast tackled him from the side, thereby sweeping his clear from danger. They both skid across until Reno sprawled onto his side, a bit shaken but alive. On looking up, he discovered a half-anxious, half-angry Rude squatted down, still holding him down for protection.

"What the Hell are YOU doing here?!" Reno furiously demanded.

"Saving your stupid punk-ass, what else!" retorted Rude.

Not the most touching reunion, to be sure. Much vexed by this interference, Davoren moved in for another try when a harsh claw suddenly clamped his wrist tight. A loud "WHAT?!" betrayed his disbelief. Indeed, Vincent, though battered and breathless, had used that brief distraction to flank the gunman's side; fast enough to catch him unawares.

Time for some serious retribution. Vincent quickly and ruthlessly twisted the whole arm around so as to force an opening in Davoren's side. There, he delivered his hardest blow, striking his gun at such an angle it snapped the gunman aside. Vincent then exterted all his might into one beautiful arm swing, which brought his gun like a ram directly into Davoren's face. Steel collided hard into bone.

The impressive impact sent the gunman tumbling back. However, he soon recovered enough balance to flip over again, where he crouched down like an untame animal, both guns still in hand.

An untame animal, indeed. Savage anger raged bright across those pink eyes. His grit teeth were bared as hard gasps fumed their way through. Davoren's muscles bristled with keen hatred. They could fight on forever, yet neither man it seemed would ever overpower the other!

Endurance definately would choose Vincent to embody it. He stood slouched up right before Davoren's hateful sight. A thousand aches and pains, bruises and wounds plagued his body. Exhaustion and dizziness burdened his shoulders. Yet he bore the ordeal with an unnaturally stoic face.

Such coolness struck a sharp contrast to his miserable, tattered appearance. He had lost all sensation of his chest. His claw clutched his injured side, already soaked red from the treacherous wound. Every desperate breath wrangled his soul more, with this murderous pain leading a carnage through his torn lungs.

Blood was everywhere, hot and moist. It clogged his throat. It seeped through his wounds, sometimes dripped onto the floor. A thick red colour smeared along his pallid face. It added such deadliness to his crimson gaze.

Amazing he hadn't collapsed yet. Even standing itself seemed to require effort. But Vincent returned Davoren's glower with icy sterness. He would suffer an eternity, if in the end it meant retrieving *her* back into his arms. That determination kept him firm upon both feet.

Just a few more minutes, he repeated to himself, just a few more....

They should have resumed battle, for neither man would surrender to the other. However, Vincent was perplexed when he instead noted Davoren's whole face darken from rage to fearful dread. His pink eyes tensed, as if he'd just detected something he loathed most to see. Davoren slowly turned his anxious attention to the side. Similarly, Vincent and the two ex-Turks looked in that direction.

Rufus stood but a short distance away, staring wide at the ruined gunman, and no one else. For the first time since this war began, they looked each other straight in the eye. Deep blue fastened upon fiery pink.

Absolute silence chilled the heart. Time itself froze to watch this scene. In truth, nobody knew where Rufus had appeared from, or how much he had seen. But it was clear this sight shook him to the very core.

His blank face reflected the stunned state of his mind. He stood in plain view, unafraid, with both hands loose by his sides. His eyes shone many emotions floundering in an inner storm. There was terrible confusion. Tension. Anxiety. And so much horror, not from the gunman himself, but what this scene meant.

Strange enough, Davoren remained locked in place more rigid than a statue. His gaze absorbed all those emotions, perhaps more than he cared for, yet failed to flinch any reaction. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the boy's, even though it aroused such a fierce turmoil inside.

So fierce, in fact, it suddenly sparked Davoren to intense, red-hot rage. He broke away from those eyes by force. Whatever the reason, Rufus' presence here provoked him to violence; a violence which erupted into instant action.

All his anger targeted Vincent again, whereby he bellowed some wordless battle-cry. The gunman charged forth at a phenomenal speed. Vincent barely managed to block as this madman tackled him head-on, thus sending them both tumbling over the balustrade. During the plummet downwards, Vincent forcefully wrenched himself free, just in time to land on the hall floor, then dash away. Davoren flipped feet-first onto the ground, and pursued at once.

Rufus rushed up to the balustrade. From his place above, he caught sight of the two enemies disappear into the labyrithine corridors below. His gaze strained to an intense gleam, frought by horrible premonitions and confusion. If one were allowed just a glimpse into this boy's mind, it would be impossible to unravel his flustered thoughts from an entanglement of memories.

That man...whose eyes betrayed a dangerous killer inside, whose aura emanated such menace...was that Davoren? No. It couldn't be. Blood and battle had transformed him into something savage and so ugly.

Or was this the truth? The truth he had been told about, the truth Davoren had simply concealed from his view.

Rufus' anxious thoughts ran clear: he couldn't understand the gunman. But there was something hideously wrong in what he had just witnessed. There was something wrong with the Davoren he had just seen. This madness must cease...somehow...right now!

A mad buzz swarmed about Reno's head. Rude held him up by the shoulders while he sat hunched over, still struggling to sort his entangled senses. Hot blood streamed down his face. It seeped from a large gash along one side of his forehead. No mistake, Davoren had dealt him a severe blow.

"Reno! Hey Reno! Get a hold on yourself!" cried Rude, fearful the man may faint any minute.

"Argh..s-shit..," he forcefully shook off this giddiness, then glared straight at his friend, "I thought we agreed you'd take the kid 'n hide somewhere safe!"

"I did! We hid HERE till you guys came crashing through... which is something you should be very thankful for!"

"That ain't important now!" declared the exasperated Reno. "Take Rufus 'n get outta here quick! Before things get crazier!"

Rude had to postpone his rebuke for later, in which he nodded in agreement. However, on turning around, both men were astonished to discover the boy had vanished. Their eyes searched around in confusion, then apprehension. Not a trace. Rufus had been standing there just moments ago. Where could he possibly have...

Suddenly, both men looked at each other in wild alarm, having grasped the answer at the same time.

"THAT CRAZY IDIOT!!" snarled Reno. All injuries and feebleness were instantly forgotten as he scrambled onto his feet, then darted away at top speed. He headed for the battle-grounds below.


No Hell could match this wild war-zone. An inferno of corners and corridors, which through this insanity zipped by as a grey haze, full of sinister shadows and shapes. Here two demons fought their final battle. Victory meant the enemy's life, failure meant gruesome death. There were no restraints or logic here. Bullets blasted about indiscriminately. Two black figures chased each other in a frenzy for blood. Wherever they stormed through, chaos and destruction followed.

To stay alive, Vincent had to keep both speed and sense alive. Despite his ruined condition and howling lungs, he fought at such a frantic pace, oblivious of everything save this war. It wasn't a battle of wits and tactics anymore, but sheer survival. Indeed, Davoren was down to his last few minutes.

His tight grip choked the gun. He couldn't hear anything except the crazy cross-fire. Sometimes, he almost shot the gunman. Other times, Davoren almost ambushed him. They swirled around deeper and deeper in these senseless circles. It never ceased. They had simply drifted far beyond control.

Yet Vincent had to wonder back on that scene just now, when the boy and gunman had met. The unexpected encounter had only lasted a moment, then dissolved to violence again. But in between those two events, Vincent had noticed (quite keenly) how profound the effect had been on Davoren. He could understand Rufus' shock, but the gunman's?

Why hadn't he shot the boy on sight? Rufus had stood there wide open and unarmed. All it would have required was one bullet. Instead, he had taken the battle down here.

Almost as if he wanted to escape.

Escape what? The boy, or his own turmoil? Davoren had only shown Rufus one mask. Was he..angry...even afraid now that the boy had clearly seen the other one?

Vincent's expression darkened further. The more layers he peeled through, the more perplextion he uncovered. Memories floated by. He remembered the moment he shot Davoren, so vivid he could still see the man lying dead in a pool of blood. He remembered their first encounter thirty-one long years later. How much he had changed! Vincent recalled that brief time in the park, when he caught pain..real anguish.. flicker across those pink eyes. He recalled the gunman's rave, especially his bizarre tone while he obsessed about blood shed...he said the sight kept him "alive".

What did it all mean? Davoren...what happened to you?

He had twisted himself into an enigma no one would dare approach, let alone solve. He was locked behind a door, and had discarded the key into the grey mists of oblivion.

Despite this thick fog, Vincent still ventured in. He searched around when he accidently groped something so small. It slowly took shape in between his fingers...slowly as he sought revelation from its touch.

All thoughts suddenly dispersed as Vincent perceived danger up ahead. At the very end of this long hallway, Davoren himself skid out into full view, having now intercepted the enemy's path. Without hesitation, he made a headlong dash straight for Vincent, both semi-automatics bared out. Nor did Vincent stop. He darted forth, drawing out his own gun. They ran on a collision course towards each other, each man at top speed.

There was an edge to Davoren's movements, ruthless and cuttingly brutal, even more than before. His eyes flashed brilliant pink; the glare of a madman.

A dark demon drove Vincent forward. Its crimson eyes glowed through his own, brighter than blood set on fire. He ran at full charge.

In the end, however, it came down to a simple ratio: two guns to one.

Vincent took aim to fire, when much to his astonishment, Davoren hurtled one semi-automatic right at him. The weapon spun wildly until it struck Vincent's wrist, so hard it knocked his own gun clean out of his grip. It all lasted a blink. Before Vincent even realized he had been disarmed, the insane gunman was right infront of him, still charging forth. Davoren's follow-up came swift: he sprung towards the enemy, at the same time slamming one knee hard into Vincent face. Perfect form, full-impact, no mercy.

It felt as though a concrete ram had collided into his senses, easily sending him flying back in a whirl of painful numbness. Vincent tumbled backwards, over and over, until he crashed back-first into the wall, then slumped down to the ground.

Raw sensations tingled his consciousness amidst a buzz of noises. A blurry haze clouded his eyesight. The mighty blow, in fact, had knocked him back to the end of the hall.

He now saw Davoren still lunge towards him. He saw the other semi-automatic flash at him. Yet awarness and action lingered far apart. In his feebleness, Vincent could not move.

"Hell awaits you, Mr. Valentine!" bellowed Davoren in a victorious frenzy, "Now DIE!!"

In rushed frantic footsteps to intercept right between the two foes. With arms spread wide out, Rufus suddenly flung himself fully in the line of fire, shouting, "DAVOREN STOP!!!!"

Eyes widened from shock. But by then, it was already too late.

One bullet rang out.

-End of Chp.65