I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.81

Seized by genuine anxiety for Aeris, the woozy Vincent overcame a hundred aches to shift aside then climb onto one elbow, at least restore some focus. Had he the power, no doubt he'd have done a lot more than lie sprawled here in this sorry condition. It alarmed him to watch her take a stand unsupported when events had turned bleakest black for them. But also, it intrigued him. She intrigued him more than ever.

The two opponets struck such a contrast: on the darker side posed a war-ravaged gargoyle, breathing hard, just fuming psychopathic dogma. Around him twitched tens of listless tentacles. They all reflected their master's inner state.

The slightest spark could have triggered this bomb suppressed within his chest. But against Aeris, the demon was riveted by her, like her composure kept his calamity in check. She was neither shaking nor crying. She wasn't even intimidated. Compared to him, Aeris looked so harmless, so small. He could do with her whatever he wanted, at any minute he chose. Neverthless, she bore herself with dignity.

"Davoren once told me something," she started from the most unexpected place, "He came while I was locked up. They were only words he used, but they cut me open. Right here," Aeris placed her clenched fist over her bosom. Inside, she still felt those keen pink eyes dissect her amidst total darkness.

She sighed. "It's easier for us to take the selfish view. That way, we can hide from our own shame, anger, or hurt. And in the end, Professor, that's what each one of us wants: freedom from those emotions. And yes, sometimes we want it so badly that we exchange everything we have to attain that freedom, even our 'humanity'."

A low-pitched growl escaped Hojo's throat to betray his increasing discomfort. He scrutinized Aeris closer: one could hardly call this girl an "enemy". She possessed none of Davoren or Vincent's combat skills, not even Rufus' manipulative streak. No, she fought on a completely different level, probably the most devestating level of all. It forewarned of far more ominous consequences- maybe for herself, for Hojo, maybe both of them. Vincent felt it worst. His misgivings weighed so heavy they pressed upon his chest.

"I used to believe that 'kindness' and 'good' made us human. But then, that was just my narrow view," Aeris confessed. She granted herself a small, rather sad smile: how else could she react to her own naivety? "I was still looking at the snow fields, not what's beneath. To me, the past wasn't important. The *entire* truth didn't matter, only what I saw on the surface."

"Davoren taught me it can never be that simple. People hide so much within their hearts... some terrible things they never want others to find. He showed me that in himself!" she exclaimed with rising zeal, "..I.. t-that's when I searched again... really dug hard... until I finally understood what's beneath the snow fields: 'kindness' by itself doesn't make a human. 'Blood and crimes' make a criminal, not a monster. It's the soul, Professor. That's what makes the difference!"

Aeris took another step forward to assert, quite boldly, into Hojo's mean face "A 'human' is a soul buried under pain and sadness, crimes and sin, but still... he can find some good inside himself... and compassion to share with others. It's when his 'soul' shines through he discovers he's truly 'human' after all!"

Holocaust Hojo held his ground firm behind a frigid wall, though it didn't block her verbal blows, or dampen the stirring power of her words, spoken from a moment of revelation. To listen to her, to sense her indomitable spirit clash against his own; it both repulsed Hojo to the very edge of an abyss and attracted him like some perverse fascination.

But Aeris had addressed more than the Professor. Indeed, she'd drawn a wide audience of demons and outcasts. They listened perched high up on pipelines. They watched from between the entangled girders and atop the towers of glass tanks. Everyone here was an exile one way or another; each a lonely wanderer in his own wasteland.

So much lies beneath those cold, barren fields: anger without retribution. Love without fulfillment. Crushed ambitions. Simple wishes, like safety and maybe a dollop of happiness, that didn't reach Heaven. Scars that never heal. Regrets that always kill.

Come spring, however, the wintry-white blanket slowly melts away. From the frosty earth life rises again. Grass, flowers, Beauty itself blooms. If such fields exist within the heart, could there also be a regenerative force as incredible as that?

Was that what she meant by "the human soul"?

Outside the battle zone, Vincent lay thrashed motionless in a trance. His mind seemed to whirl and whirl around her words. The longer he gaped across at Aeris, the more violent shook his core. Her steady voice reached everyone, but it carried something very special from her heart to his, and no one else.

Vincent wanted to tell her something too- what exactly, he did not know. How could he begin to articulate the thoughts and emotions spinning around his head? If only he had the strength! Danger surrounded her. He wanted to disperse it before.. before...

Even so, Aeris upheld her conviction that whatever be the consequences, now was the time truth must be spoken. Demure, with stone set in her eyes, she laid it flat at Hojo's feet. "You've spent years building this false world to hide from your own wounds, Professor. It made you feel safe and in-control. Now your world is collapsing around you, and you're too afraid to admit: all you've ever had were empty fields with nothing beneath."

Her look hardened even further. "The only 'monster' I see here is YOU, not because you lost your dream; it's because you've murdered your own soul!"

This time, Hojo snarled outloud. His front cracked to reveal the hostility underneath, and the dread from where it stemmed, as if to let her continue meant his destruction. The demon's muscular frame overcast her frail, solitary figure. His insanity threatened to devour her- surely she perceived the hunger in his glare! However, Aeris did not waver. Spiritually, she looked down on Hojo from her new-set position high above.

This was her creator, an unforgettable part of her past. She was his specimen, bound to his experiment. To him, she symbolized the very essence of his dream.

She no longer feared him. Despite the torture he'd inflicted upon her, she couldn't hate him anymore either, not the true person she saw through that massive armor. In fact, a subtle softness relaxed her hard-line front a bit, so contrary to Hojo's pugged, crumpled visage.

Never did Aeris appear more ravishing, pure or regretful as when she lamented, ".....what a sad creature you are, Professor. All that time I wasted fearing you, I should have been pitying you."

And with that gentle finale, the dove broke free of her chains; she flew away from her prisoner, leaving him miles behind, alone to contend with his loss.

Pity; the type one feels upon finding a stray pup dead along the roadside. That's how Aeris regarded him. She'd picked him up. She'd dug him a grave, and placed a tiny headstone there before continuing onwards. That way, should she ever pass the spot again, she'd remember the pup.

Of course, it's always easier to let the carcass rot. Surely with time, snow and mud will bury it under. Besides, why would anyone want to remember such a thing?

Because though its body will disintegrate, its ghost will never rest in peace. Everytime one passes that same spot, the sleepless dog will bark in anger, howl in sadness, or maybe just silently follow behind till the end of the road.

For those who yearn for freedom, keep the past. Keep its sweet and sour memories untainted, but lay the suffering to rest. Anger, fears, sorrows, hurt: dig them a proper grave, mark it, then leave quietly.

Exactly what Aeris had done to Hojo.

He'd been wrong to think this was that same little girl. Not that trembling, tearful wretch who'd escaped one wet, cold night. Before their very eyes she'd transformed into a brave young woman who'd do anything, even confront the Professor himself, to protect the man she loved.

For once, she'd decided, she too would put her faith... *all* of it, in Vincent.

Hojo remained silent a long, long time. He seemed embroiled amidst an introspective war, one dare say shell-shocked from the many blows dealt him. Heaven only knew what revolved inside that brain; what he saw, images he saw reflected in Aeris nonchalant gaze straight back at him.

Perhaps he viewed his magnificent dream reduced to useless ruin, just like this laboratory, just like himself. Perhaps he too finally saw the truth: that rather than confront reality, he'd pinned his entire fanaticism on Aeris, rationalizing that if he held onto her, then somehow he could glue the broken pieces together again.

But there were too many pieces.

And he had nothing....

"..d..dedication... diligence... years of.. of..," he stumbled over each noun in a quiet daze. They sounded so hollow now, "years slaving my life away...heh! 'Building' a reality out of fantasies... and at the end of my endeavors, this is all I have left to show: nothing."

He echoed to himself more softly, "...nothing... and your pity..."

Aeris needn't speak. The anticipation sickened Vincent. He managed to push himself a bit farther up, unsure which direction events would turn now that Hojo's eyes have been forced open.

For a passing moment, the scene hung in limbo, during which the grotesque beast, indeed once a holy terror, now evoked a pang of sympathy. Genuine sympathy. The way he lingered there gaping aside into empty space, not even aware of himself. How despite his glory, his uncontested might, he appeared so lost, so tormented and defeated.




                All he'd given! All of it...

Suddenly, his demented glare riveted back on Aeris: her "truth" tasted bitter in his mouth. Nor could he swallow it down. It just regurgitated more rage up his throat! No! He'd given too much to lose now! He'd given his EVERYTHING!

Even if you scream from the highest mountain peak, emphasized her calm gaze: you'll still have nothing... and my pity.

She knew it. He knew it. They both saw it, crystal clear through each other's eyes. Now as he loitered among the wastes of "Genesis Retrial", he saw that all along, he had nothing.

Nothing save nothingness itself and her pity.

The creature began to bristle. With marked difficulty, he forced out, "That may be so. But the fact remains, my darling: you are a clone and the centre of 'Genesis Retrial'. If my experiment is to be destroyed like this...," his tone dripped dark intentions, louder and angrier, "..if I cAnNoT hAvE you..," until he roared the verdict, "THEN YOU'RE NOT WORTH THE LIFE PUT IN YOU!!!"

A violent emotion gagged Vincent. In an instant he saw those huge claws contract full length. The maniacal demon charged faster than a blur to take a swipe at Aeris, who hadn't even time to react. Somehow, the frantic Vincent scrambled onto his knee, about to shout Hojo's name before he...

Too late: in one fair swoop, those murderous daggers slashed Aeris clean across the thorax; deep from her right shoulder, chest, and out, splattering fresh blood high into open air.

Her eyes blanked wide to accommodate such exquisite pain. Her conscience disconnected from her body as she buckled under brutal impact. Aeris had foreseen her gruesome fate the moment she'd confronted Professor Hojo. Still, she knew he could never defeat her; even if he took her life, he could never take this new strength she'd acquired tonight.

Maybe it was better this way. To die yet to live. Strange how she felt neither fear nor regret. Only freedom. Only victory.

In herself, she'd found indestructible truth. In Death, she'd found triumph.

             And in Vincent... she'd... fou..n...d.....

-End of Chp.81