I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.67

Vincent did not stir until the mad rumble in his ears subdued, whereby he then lifted his head for a peak. At first, dust hampered his vision. Yet as it gradually dispersed, Vincent's senses sharpened to a fine focus again. He instantly recalled the present situation.

The Delivery System had collapsed. Luckily, they had escaped in time, where the violence had swept them half-way down an open bridge, clear out of danger. Here he lay upon the dirty floor, with the boy huddled safe beneath him. Around them loomed a silence eerie enough to chill any heart.

Out of caution, Vincent waited another moment. When nothing emerged, he finally pushed his weary body up to its knees, wincing against severe muscle strain. Rubble and dust tumbled off his sore back. His long black hair dangled in dishvellment.

Inside, fever boiled his ruined chest. Nevertheless, he helped the boy sit up. Rufus struggled weakly amidst a daze of confusion. Vincent even had to steady him by the shoulders. A quick check soon assured the boy had sustained no injuries (Vincent had made sure of that). The chaos had just shaken him a bit.

However, Rufus sprang to full alarm when he suddenly remembered. "Reno..and Rude!..Davoren!! What..w-where are..??"

Such anxiety searched all around in blind desperation. At a loss, Rufus turned to Vincent for answers. But the aloof man only stood up. He left the boy to resolve his own turmoil.

His back ached miserably, more so as he limped a few steps ahead. From a distance, Vincent beheld the ruins in long thoughtfulness. Rufus remained slouched upon the floor. He gaped beyond Vincent, at the devestation up infront. His face paled.

In a disastrous chain of events, the first cave-in had brought the upper levels to a secondary collapse, causing a massive landslide as the centre stormed down. In fact, it now stood as a steep hillslide of garbage and rubble. Corridors were crushed beneath unsupported ceilings. Pipelines were torn out.

Both men viewed this wreckage, Vincent without any visible emotion, Rufus with rising consternation. There were mangled steel and jagged brick. Pipes and girders protruding out like gravestones throughout.

Devastation spared nothing. It all sloped downwards, some debris even spilled upon the bridge. No body could have survived such destruction. Indeed, just the thought of getting buried thus made one's blood curdle.

They had been quite fortunate to escape alive out into the open. This bridge, a rather sturdy, wide structure, extended across. Smaller bridges intercepted its path at right angles. Far down stretched a black abyss, so deep it seemed bottomless, like a tunnelway to oblivion.

For a long time, Vincent's cool gaze lingered upon the mountaineous debris infront, musing his thoughts amidst a grave suspicion. The still air cautioned him not to lower his guard just yet.

Yes. The two ex-Turks certainly deserved praise for their bravery, if not at least admiration for their steadfast loyalty to Rufus. In exchange for his safety, they had scored an impressive blow against Davoren, maybe enough to kill him.

But there showed no sign of them anywhere. Perhaps they too had perished, perhaps they had managed to escape. Vincent hoped the latter. As much as he begrudged it, both men, especially that loutish Reno, had proven worthy allies.

Vincent could discern the boy's heart sink. No doubt, Davoren would flood his memory, already causing him much trouble and anxiety. He would realize what both ex-Turks had bargained for with Vincent: his life for this attack.

And now where lay everything? Beneath the rubble. He could not rejoice in losing Davoren or his other two friends. Instead of stopping this madness, the madness had almost swallowed him.

It's a war that tears him between opposite sides, mused Vincent gloomily.

Silence and all thoughts dispersed when a loud clamour suddenly resounded out. It emanated from above, somewhere behind the debris. Vincent automatically gripped his gun in stern anticipation. The bewildered Rufus scrambled up to his feet. The clamour resounded again, this time with double anger.

There was a survivor after all, but who?

The third clamour answered that question. From their postion below, they witnessed a mighty foot kick its way to freedom amidst an entanglement of bar and stone. Soon, a battered figure crawled out. Through chaotic white hair, Davoren's eyes glared fiery pink.

It only took him a moment to skid down the jagged hillside. There he stood for all to behold; a devil just arisen from the depths of Hell.

Somehow, Vincent was not surprised, nor did his expression waver off its cold stoicism.

"You still intend to fight?" he asked dryly.

"It will never finish...until either one of us dies..," the gunman growled. He staggered against sharp dizziness, but immediately steadied himself again, enough to pull out his own gun. "I have my orders to obey...y-you..have your vow to keep."

Saying that, he took direct aim of Vincent, and waited. Vincent did not respond.

True. As long as both men lived, one would always thwart the other. Davoren would not defy Hojo's orders, even at the cost of his own life. Vincent would never abandon Aeris, not while that vow burned hot upon his heart.

Another clash was imminent. The two bitter foes stood their distance far apart. Between them sparked heated hostility, yet still Vincent would not draw his gun.

Instead, he measured up this man with calmness, so contrary to Davoren's harsh glare. The man wanted to finish this tedious business in a final shoot-out. Just his gun against Vincent's; to the victor goes the spoils (or the enemy's life).

Inside seethed rage, but outside both exhaustion and weakness plagued Davoren's body. It obviously took him much effort to maintain balance, more to steady his shaky aim. His dirty, tattered clothes and haggard eyes all gave him the appearance of a wild animal.

Vincent himself had suffered grievous injuries, from his bleeding side to a battered head. But by comparison, the war had taken its greater toll on Davoren. The alliance had dealt him so many blows, reaching its climax with that massive collapse. Whatever remained of his invincibility level, he had used to crawl out alive. Now, it was almost depleted.

Vincent's face hardened: most likely, he could kill Davoren first. He gripped his own gun more tightly; no backing out now.

But before the tension swelled any further, Rufus, hitherto forgotten, bravely intervened upon the scene. From askance, Vincent watched the young man stand out in plain view. His eyes, like a calm blue ocean, gazed upon Davoren, unafraid of his appearance or the muzzle.

"Davoren, please stop this," he spoke gently.

Such placidity, however, only redoubled the gunman's irritation. He vehemently hissed back, "Spare me the melodrama, boy. Get out of my way."

The weapon remained fixed. Nevertheless, Rufus insisted with the same patient softness, "Davoren, you can't fight anymore."

Vincent stood aloof, continuously darting his keen eyes between these two without any interruption. He let the boy speak.

Davoren had revealed his brutal side to the boy. He had vented out such intense emotions, from hatred to violence. But still, Rufus persisted. As he simply expressed, something was "wrong"; something he foresaw would end with Davoren in a bloodbath.

"And..so what if I die, Rufus?" smiled Davoren humourlessly. His voice trailed far into hushed bitterness, "I don't care. Maybe because living...just breathing..has become a burden.."

Light and darkness, life and death had long became an equivalence to those empty pink eyes. They glared behind a loaded weapon straight at Rufus, nettled inside by such a tempest.

As he gazed back, the boy sunk into gradual sadness. He quietly answered, "It's a burden...if you live it all alone, or live it behind a face you yourself hate but cannot discard. But I'd think..if there was one person who truely cared about you, isn't that reason enough to live?"

The argument, though so childlike in its simplicity, struck the gunman at the most sensative chord. His aim wavered slightly. For a moment, he lost the struggle against an uprising of intense mental anguish.

A certain irony marked the scene; the lunatic now trying to reason with Davoren. Vincent found it uncanny. While Rufus spoke, he seemed to delve deep into himself, and with plain words to somehow extract Davoren's core.

Yet that was a secret place, and no one was allowed there. Davoren suddenly shook his head, casting off all emotion except red-hot rage, all words except except murder. He fixed his aim again.

"I don't want to see your face!" he roared venomously at Rufus, "Just get out of my way, dammit!!"

Rufus would have tried a second plea. Alas, the winds blew against him. Davoren refused to stop, and Vincent had only granted him one chance to speak. Indeed, Rufus gave a violent start as Vincent now brushed past him, prepping his gun for a bloody finale.

"Ah! No! W-wait!!" he begged. In desperation, the boy grabbed Vincent's claw to thwart his advance.

Just like a child trying to protect its parent from Death. But all in vain. Vincent ruthlessly flung the anxious boy behind: time to end this madness for good.

"You've already defeated him!!" Rufus cried aloud, "Must you kill him too?!!"

Vincent did not listen. Taking a firm stand upfront, he stretched out his arm, and immediately opened full fire at Davoren.

The brutal lead shower pelted the gunman backwards. One bullet after another, every bang louder than the first. Davoren never retaliated; perhaps he couldn't, or maybe he just didn't try.

Vincent paused a split-moment upon his seventh bullet, if only to note Davoren's disorientated state, then fired the eigth. At the other side, Davoren grunted sharply as the gunshot grazed clean through his arm, sending him stumbling back against a spout of bright blood. Yet he refused to fall. Instead, he clutched his wounded arm, and wrestled the dizziness outright to stay standing.

It was over. The barrier had finally shattered.

Again, Vincent paused but did not lower his gun. Rufus stood rooted behind, overwhelemed by speechless horror, and his inability to act.

Pain crumpled Davoren's pallid face as each gasp ravaged his interior more. Yet at the same time, such raw, physical agony fascinated him, like a sensation long forgotten but now fully realized. He glanced into his palm. It was smeared red. Already, the blood trickled down his dangling arm until his grip on the gun became sticky-wet. It even dripped down onto the floor.

Somehow, Davoren found the sight too funny. What started as a crooked smile developed into a deranged chuckle. He declared to Vincent, "S-Saint's alive! I haven't seen my own blood in ages!"

Vincent stared back unamused, nor could Rufus force out his voice through his clogged throat. Soon, the gunman's laughter crumbled to such a coarse cough, one wondered how he still stood. He was deteriorating fast.

"I suppose...you'll have to finish me off quickly, Vincent.." wheezed the sly gunman, "You want to reach your little girl before he does.."

Yes, before Hojo drags her away to eternal darkness. He is finished. Kill him now.

"Ugh!...t-though..I'm sure..you'd rather get some satisfaction out of watching me die..," Davoren teased through a hard-grit sneer. He fed his amusement on Vincent's thoughts, "..watch the life pour out of me..s..slowly and painfully, eh?"

Hurry. Hurry and kill him! Just pull the trigger once and it will end.

It will end. It must end. He can't fight anymore. He can't even hold up his own gun. For all the trouble he's caused you, from the day he first appeared to this moment, kill him. Cast this demon into the black, murky past...another dead corpse in a pool of blood.

Kill him, Vincent. Isn't that what you want?

"No," refused Vincent calmly, but loud enough for everyone to hear. He lowered his gun.

Neither Rufus nor Davoren had expected this sudden act of mercy. Death of the enemy meant victory. Why should there be mercy? The gunman stood lost in a moment of bewilderment, as if he had perhaps misheard the verdict.

"You have changed into something hideous, Davoren," confessed Vincent demurely, "Until now, I had been content to just think of you as Professor Hojo's puppet-slave..an enemy I had to eliminate," his tone softened into profound thoughfullness, "But while we were fighting, I suddenly realized something: never once had I asked myself *why* you changed."

Davoren tensed as he felt that crimson gaze search too deep into him. It seemed to unravel many complexities to discover the simple truth hidden inside. No, he did not like that gaze at all.

"Feh! Come now, Vincent!" he mocked with such brash scorn, "I tore that girl from your arms. Remember? Remember all that anger you felt? That hatred? Surely you want to *kill* me for that."

His vicious tone dripped temptation. Vincent's muscles stiffened involuntarily: and how could he ever forget that terrible night? Him standing there helpless...watching Davoren kiss the tearful Aeris...it was all burned clear into his memory. Yes, inside boiled enough rage to kill this gunman.

Not anymore. It seemed Vincent had indeed gained an entirely new insight; something far stronger than any mockery or murderous temptation could detroy. He remained unprovoked.

"At first, I could not understand why or how you could change," Vincent answered Davoren with calm words instead of bullets, "It's strange. You think life, including your own, is so cheap...just as long as there's more blood to shed. You were a dark riddle."

He indicated Rufus with a curt nod. "But this boy gave me the solution. Now I see through you, and for once, I understand you perfectly...more so now than ever."

The atmosphere around lingered in rigid tension, its weight heaviest upon the silent gunman. His unemotional exterior could not conceal the dread inside.

"You and I are very similar, Davoren. There is this wretched pain inside of us. Everything else withers away, but the pain grows until our very lives revolve around it. We plod on, searching for a way..ANY way to get rid of it."

He ventured a step forward, as if to draw some invisible bond closer. Yet if there were any bond, Davoren nervously brushed it aside with a derisive scoff. "What absolute nonsense! Heh! 'Pain'? There is nothing inside of me. It's all hollow and dead."

"There *is* pain, Davoren. I see so much pain and sadness behind your smile," Vincent's gaze reached deeper into that pink brilliance, where it found a warm core hidden there. So gently, he touched it. So gently, he muttered the name.


Strange how one person could drift through dozens of different experiences unaffected, yet be so violently stirred by a single name. It evokes a storm of memories and emotions. They could be joyful and welcome. Or bitter, shunned but not forgotten.

On hearing that name, Davoren's eyes twitched to a harsh, narrow glare. He stiffened in place, clutching his wounded arm so tight, he could have torn his flesh out.

Rufus looked on in puzzlement. He softly echoed to himself, "..D..Donal..?"

But this scene belonged to three men; two stood pitted against each other, the third was a ghost lingering between them.

"It took me a while, but I finally remembered Donal. I even remember you once spoke about him to me," Vincent reflected coolly upon Davoren's anger. "You loved him dearly. It showed in your eyes, even the warmth of your voice. Yes, you even sold your own beliefs and became a Turk for him."

The gunman growled back, "Stop it."

"And when he died, you were left alone with all this pain and bitterness. That is why you shed blood. You hope that if you shed enough, it will blot over Donal, and you won't feel pain anymore."

"I said stop it!"

"You channel that pain into evil and brutality, then unleash it onto the world around you," Vincent's voice gained impressive strength over Davoren's, "But it doesn't lessen the hurt, does it? It only makes it worse. And you repeat the same cycle again and again until you can't stop anymore!"

The gunman blistered under forced silence, for a moment overwhelmed by this merciless bombardment. Rage burned hot upon his face. His limbs trembled.

Vincent dwelt upon dangerous grounds. The more he unveiled, the greater swelled Davoren's fury. Yet regardless, he peeled through deeper layers. "That night you tried to kill Lucrecia...that's when you first slipped. For a long time, you've been flooded by pain and anger. You hid it all well, but it still grew worse. In the end, pain overwhelmed you, and it turned into this desire to shed blood. It was so strong..so insane, Davoren, you just couldn't resist."

It had taken him this long to finally understand. Thirty-one years ago, he killed this man in an apple orchard. He then placed that memory on the upper shelf, and left it there untouched. No questions. No reflections.

Now that memory filled his mind, and he understood. Davoren was prisoner of a bitter pain he could not escape, so much like himself. But that night, he surrendered his despair to a murderous demon. He could not stop, even at the cost of his own life. What mattered was drowning the pain, in blood if need be.

"And there you stand," Vincent hammered on, "The pain still eats you alive. You still shed more blood...soak your hands in red...let the sight burn you blind...it's all to forget Donal!"

"DON'T YOU DARE SAY MY BROTHER'S NAME, YOU BASTARD!!" exploded Davoren in a sudden burst of passion.

Every time that name was spoken, it wound his wrath tighter and tighter, until at last the coil snapped. He trembled all over, breathless from his own outburst.

"Don't mention him or even utter his name," he hissed, "He was the *first* thing I got rid of. It's all dead in the past."

"I don't believe that," retorted the composed Vincent. "Donal is the *only* thing you still cling to after all these years."

Davoren glared back. Again, he was beaten into silence, unable to stop this torture. Vincent's cool voice forced him to listen to things he obviously did not want to hear. And those ruby eyes spilled out so many secrets he had long kept bottled inside.

Indeed, neither threat nor fiery glower could affect Vincent, not even scorch his composure. He would still speak.

"You think you've turned yourself into an empty shell. You think you've cast off the old Davoren to become Hojo's slave. That's what I..what everyone thought too."

Yes. This hated gunman. The same who had long hounded Aeris, then against all pleas and tears, carried her back to Hojo. He fought like a maniac, stooping to any lows just to obey orders. Everything the "old" Davoren would hate, this one enjoyed. A heartless killer, a hound dog, and a lowly servant for his master.

"But this boy proves us all wrong. He paints your true picture. It is a picture of kindness, pity and protection. You showed him that because you *care* for him, just like you cared for Donal. It's not because Hojo ordered you."

Davoren said nothing.

"The old Davoren hasn't died. He IS alive somewhere within. You've only drowned him in grief, and gave this monster control."

Vincent's gaze softened upon the ruined gunman. Even his tone assumed a certain gentleness as he pleaded "Bring your old self..your true self..back to the surface again, Davoren. This is just a mask. Behind it, Rufus can still see his caretaker, Donal can see his brother," something like a smile floated past his lips, "..and I can see you..the Davoren who has always been my friend and by far the better man."

Vincent turned slightly away in conclusion. "That is why I have lowered my gun, Davoren. From here onwards, I refuse to fight you."

They stood riveted in a long moment of silent scrutiny. Vincent's exterior had returned to its unemotional state, yet his crimson eyes lingered upon Davoren. In them brimmed a deep warmth. He waited.

He wanted to destroy this demon, not with blood and fury, but with gentle, simple words...just discard all hostilities and strip the truth to its barest core. To him victory didn't mean the enemy's death. True victory was making Davoren see the truth as he did now.

Davoren had survived so many fatal attacks, yet in the end could not withstand these words. The longer he pondered them, the weaker he grew. Like day fades to night, his harsh anger slowly sunk to wistful sadness, tinted by some shame. From Vincent he glanced to Rufus, then sealed his eyes shut, as if sealing them away from his own emotions.

Davoren dropped his gun to the ground. He was defeated.

The air around brimmed with such sorrow. From afar, Vincent watched the gunman in morose meditation. Tonight had forever changed his view of this man.

During this whole time, Rufus had listened in silence. After some hesitation, he took a step towards Davoren. But the gunman immediately shunned him off by staggering two steps back. He hugged this agony tighter against himself, and would let no one, especially the boy, hold it.

Nobody spoke. What could be said? There are some scars that remain open, and no words could ever stop the bleeding. How well Vincent knew that.

At that moment, he suddenly discerned an insidious presence lurk nearby. Vincent darted his alarmed attention down one of the side-bridges. There at the entrance stood a wasted black figure. Its narrow yellow eyes glared upon this scene, particularly Davoren.

It was none other than Professor Hojo.

-End of Chp.67