I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.83

One by one, Reno's vagrant senses began to return. At long last, he opened his blurry eyes halfway. To his great bemusement, he found himself a rumpled mess flung upon a composite of metal garbage, the world around him in upheaval, and the stench of Mako fumes up his nose. The dazed man struggled to sit up. Meanwhile, the clamorous din continued to pound against his eardrums. The ground beneath him wouldn't stop trembling, nor could he disperse this clinging dizziness to grasp the situation.

Reno grunted a curse: where was he anyway? How long had he been out? More importantly, what the HELL had happened?! Desperate, he tried to string the last few events into chronological order. Explosion. Reno remembered an explosion. The rest fizzled to black. For all he knew, he could be dead. However, as he sluggishly climbed onto all fours, a sudden pain pierced his left temple, blatant proof he was very much alive. Reno pressed that side with one hand then peered into his palm. It was smeared bright red. His head was bleeding.

"Shit," he hissed.

No word better described the situation. Reno's clothes were singed and tattered, jeans torn at both knees. His hair resembled a nervous wreck. Every inch of his bruised body ached pure agony. Nevertheless, the determined man rose onto his feet. He hobbled a few steps across the shaky terrain until he reached an upright steel bar. There he leaned against it for support.

Reno felt nauseated. He knew not where he was or how he got here. Plus God! He'd such a headache! Lost in the heart of chaos, the miserable ex-Turk rubbed his temples to clear his focus. Still leaning against this sturdy prop, Reno took a few moments to acquaint himself with his surroundings.

First thing which struck him was to learn he stood not on solid ground. In fact, it wasn't a "ground" at all. Rather, a knot of beams, bridges and other architectural scrap woven together into a monstrous complex. Confused more than ever, Reno searched further for better comprehension. Until now, he'd always thought "Hellhole" was a mere expression. Tonight he found himself stranded inside one. Reno soon realized they'd somehow crashed into a colossal vertical tunnel way; colossal indeed, both in diameter and depth, travelling straight down to obscurity.

As for this magnificent mishmash of debris, it had wedged, literally wedged, itself midway down the tunnel like a plus. To be more poetic, it seemed as if a hungry giant had crumpled up a bolus of metal, swallowed it, only for the mess to lodge halfway down his throat; and here lingered Reno a mere flea trapped amidst this indigestible meal.

Reno did not appreciate the analogy. He turned his sights skyward. Hundreds of meters away, a cragged orifice as big as the moon gaped back at him. Deluges of raw Mako and rubble poured from its margins. They cascaded through the unstable complex like green waterfalls. Their poignant odor suffocated the atmosphere.

He knew better than to look the opposite direction, but Reno couldn't help himself. Staring straight down from his superior position, he suddenly appreciated just how deep this metallic knot extended; about forty feet according to his estimates: twisted girders and mammoth beams. Collapsed walls, torn sheets of iron, smashed electric equipment, even a crane and its control booth toppled upside down. There were scaffolds of broken pipes and mangled bridges, cable, gantries, and other unrecognizable garbage, all tangled up into a forty meter-long kafkasque jungle.

It got worse. Reno cast his gaze deeper beyond this complex. He beheld an ominous abyss at the bottom, its mouth stretched wide open in anticipation of a delicious meal: metal, Mako, and human lives.

"Shit!" he growled again.

Not good. Definitely not good. The same questions spun unanswered around his head: What was this place? How did he get here? Where was everyone else? What happened?! The confounded man struggled to piece his shattered memory together.

Since the demise of ShinRa Inc. (felt like eons ago to him right now), he and his two fellow ex-Turks had been semi-content to lead their own mundane lives in peace. That's until a mysterious stranger appeared with an extraordinary scrap of information: their young President may still be alive. At first, Reno had flat refused the idea. As far as he was concerned, Rufus ShinRa had perished during that WEAPON attack on Midgar. Much to his annoyance however, Reno couldn't quite set his mind at rest either. No matter how hard he argued, there WAS this minuscule chance it may be true. He'd decided only an investigation would settle this bothersome affair for good.

How could he have known they'd end up here, in a pit full of dirty secrets and schemes, some more than thirty-one years ago? Soon, both he and Rude became embroiled amidst a deadly game of many players: a former enemy, with a private agenda no doubt, turned ally just for tonight. A girl clone of the last Cetra. A young man, once the most powerful figure on the Planet, now degraded to a troubled, amnesic prisoner. A sadistic gunman thirsty for blood. And a genius scientist twisted by obsession. All linked some way or another to an "experiment".

Reno fast-forwarded through events: the gunman, feeling rather playful, had ambushed them in the depths of the Reactor's delivery network. With no other options, he and Vincent formed an alliance. Together they'd waged a long-drawn war against a common foe to crack his invincibility "shield". Things took a bad twist when Rufus, genuinely torn between both sides, tried to restore his so-called "friend's" senses, only to become Davoren's hapless hostage.

Reno recalled that critical moment when he and Rude, who'd crept onto the scene undetected, struck a silent deal with Vincent; he get their President to safety in exchange for a massive blow against the gunman. Vincent consented. Next blink, Rufus was snatched away just as both men brought the whole catacombs down upon Davoren. Afterwards, they had to burrow their way out from under the rubble. Then they took an alternate route to meet up with their ally on the other side.

But it seemed only Rufus had survived. Reno didn't remember spotting Vincent or Davoren on the scene. So what had happened to them? Had they both perished in the network? Did the Professor kill them?

In any case, Hojo had turned his sights on the boy. Luckily, they'd arrived in time to fend off the scientist, at least until Rufus confusedly made his getaway. Not that their valor mattered much. The Professor beat them both to bloody pulp and thrashed them all way back to the Mako reservoirs, where he finally lunged in for the kill.

Then when Reno thought things couldn't get any worse, they did. Rufus interfered. In fact, the lunatic dared Hojo come confront him, a challenge the latter gladly accepted. Everyone knew a single slash would kill him. Yet no one expected him to possess two powerful weapons: the "Merger" materia and a manipulative business nature.

They exchanged words under an air of tension. Questions were answered, intentions clarified. Rufus spoke of himself, his role in this experimental abomination, his father, Davoren, and at last his decision: in total defiance to the flabbergasted Professor, he tossed the mystical orb into the Mako pit. An explosion. The violence hurtled them to the floor. After that, Reno recalled nothing.

He could only speculate about what followed next. That explosion must have destroyed the entire reservoir area. Judging from that hole above, Reno also reckoned it blasted the hall floor wide open, whereupon everything fell through: Mako sludge, fiery debris, and themselves. He concluded they'd crashed into the drainage system. A round vestibule several miles long, it linked the reservoirs above to the underground stock below.

Yet even this rotunda couldn't swallow such an enormous bolus at once. Indeed, the mess had tumbled downwards, shredding through the walls. Along the wild journey, they'd collided upon the network of connection pipes that extended across the tunnel's diameter. This "safety net", though itself wrecked under impact, nevertheless had halted the onslaught so as to form a clot. The complex must have then lurched heavily across open space, and smashed against the opposite wall. Thus it languished, wedged between earth and Hell. Reno did not know what happened to the Professor. In all likelihood, he'd escaped the fiasco.

Returning to the present, Reno found this archipelago of junk lacked any kind of stability. What with these sporadic earthquakes plaguing the area, Mako waterfalls and rubble rain crashing down, the complex continuously groaned in agony. He knew it was only a matter of time before this fragile clot disintegrated. In fact, the entire Reactor heaved on the verge of an irrevocable cave-in.

As he reflected upon this hazardous environment, a certain eeriness chilled Reno's blood. He couldn't quite explain it. Just something in the air didn't seem "right". No. These tremors definitely felt unnatural. He frowned in dark premonition: sure, the explosion Rufus instigated had probably wiped out a section. Yet it couldn't have reached such catastrophic levels as to flatten a Reactor. Something else must have happened... something terrible. Whatever it was, it emanated enough havoc to reduce a stronghold like this to scrap.

Which lead him to the only logical decision: he had to find Rude and the boy FAST, then evacuate! The man frantically scanned all around... for his friends, assistance, a solution... ANYTHING! In vain. No sign of either Rude or Rufus. No escape within reach. No deliverance out of this deathtrap.

Reno refused to surrender. He wouldn't even CONSIDER the possibility his friends may have perished during the crash ("or I'll kill 'em *both*, so help me!" Reno threatened anxiously) Nor would he accept the hopelessness of his situation. There had to be SOME way out!

Up? Reno snapped his head back to look: no. He couldn't scale the walls to reach that blast hole. One, he possessed neither strength nor skill for such an undertaking. Two, the height was too great, and the walls too damaged to climb.

Down then? The man cast his eyes into the black pit. Several meters below, he happened to spy a panel of windows located on the opposite wall. Behind its smashed glass panes lurked some surveillance room. It overlooked the mangled complex outside in calm dignity. Between them stretched a huge gap of air.

At first, Reno thought he'd discovered their salvation. He calculated the distances from here to there, but the result yielded a frustrated curse: no. He couldn't hope to reach that room. The metal bolus had lodged in such a skewered manner as to render it inaccessible. Even were he to descend to its level, about halfway down, and leap across, he'd never make it to the other side.

Reno tackled the problem from different angles. He sought any alternate route. Same result. Same curse. And the panel remained out of human reach, each window silently ridiculing his predicament. The man took one last panoramic view all around himself in search of any hope. Nothing.

So what did that mean? Was he actually... trapped here? Could there really be no escape? Is this how it ends for him? What to do then? Calmly accept his fate? Freak out? Damn! What he wouldn't give for a good drink right now!

Just then, a groan floated past his ears. It originated from somewhere below. Very faint, but he recognized its owner at once: Rude!

Reno instantly abandoned post. The nimble man descended this nightmarish jungle-gym like a monkey, dodging in between tangled pipes and cable vines, pushing junk out of his way whilst he sought the source. Chance brought him to a steep cliff of garbage. From atop this peak Reno scoured the wasteland below for any life signs. Sure enough, he spotted his friend sprawled there flat, buried up to his chest under debris, his ordeal rendered even worse by a girder which had collapsed askew upon him. All this time, he'd been struggling to free himself; if not then just ease the pressure off his crushed rib cage.

"Rude!" cried the alarmed Reno. Spurred into urgent action, he dashed off to pursue the quickest route downhill. At the bottom, he then hurried forth across the cragged terrain. He ran so fast, avoiding falling debris, that he tripped over some obscure rubbish. Yet in his haste, he simply scuffled onwards on all fours. Finally, he reached his trapped friend, flustered and sweaty, but still in tact.

Reno dispersed some loose metal bars away to get through. "Rude! Yo! You alright?!" he called outloud as he leaned over to tend to him.

Rude grunted back some unintelligible answer: obviously not. The agony showed clear on his crumpled face. The strain taxed his well-toned muscles until every vein bulged out. First Reno dug a bit at this mound; maybe he could unclog it. No good. He tried another way. With a supportive "Hang in there", he scrambled off. Reno tackled this troublesome girder at an angle. He pushed against it at maximum force. It refused to budge.

"Goddammit!!" he spat his frustration.

"..u..use your.. right sho..ulder..," instructed the trapped prisoner feebly, "..push outwards, not upwards.."

So Reno tried again. His teeth gnashed hard as he squeezed his entire strength into the task. Rude also exerted an effort. Soon the heavy load began to shift. At this rate, the two men managed to displace it offside, far enough for the prisoner to slip away. Even then, poor Rude needed assistance. Reno, by now awash with worry, had to tear at more debris before he could pull his friend to complete freedom.

Rude emerged a heaving, scruffy carcass, more dead than alive and twice as bewildered between the two extremes. Meanwhile, Reno dragged him away from the immediate danger zone. Once clear, he carefully laid his friend on one side then dropped onto both knees in close attendance.

Rude groaned something. He writhed onto one elbow, yet still couldn't quite collect himself together. Reno helped him sit up.

"Rude! C'mon!!" he wrapped the man's arm around his own neck for extra support, "For God's sake! Say something! Are you OKAY?"

"Urgh! I..I don't..," he slurred groggily, "Ah! Goddamn shit.."

His mind whirled ten thousand miles a second. He bowed his head into one hand just to slow it down. Reno held him steady least vertigo toppled him over again. Both relief and concern strained his face as he watched on.

"I think I'm.. o-okay," Rude forced out.

"Easy now. Just take it easy," he reassured.

Rude tried to move, when a sudden pain stabbed his flank. He reeled over to clutch the site with a sharp wince. Reno certainly did not like that sign. He scuffled closer in genuine alarm, yet Rude gruffly insisted "I'm fine! I'm alright!"- A blatant lie he nevertheless had to respect.

Reno granted him another minute or so to restore his equilibrium. After all, it *had* been a pretty wild ride. They were lucky to even be here (though inside he wondered what value survival bore in light of their bleak situation). Nor could he disperse this grave sense of apprehension as he studied Rude's shabby state in profile. His garments, especially his leather jacket, had been lacerated to rags. Underneath bristled countless injuries, from superficial cuts to shrapnel wounds and open gashes dripping gore. Still, he'd found his friend; rumpled-up and bloody, eyes haggard with agony, but thankfully very much alive.

By now his gasps had abated to harsh breaths. Rude looked around. The catastrophic scenery bewildered him, not least as he discovered themselves two insignificant lives sitting amidst a vast mutilated mishmash of metal.

"What.. happened..?" he asked dazedly.

"The explosion. Remember?"

He needed a second to think, to organize his logic: the Professor... their desperate battle.. an earth-shattering blast, and an upward gush of violence, followed by utter blackness. Looking around again, he could only reach one conclusion.

"..then?" Rude hesitated.

"Yeah," confirmed his friend, who'd deduced the same some time ago, "I'm not exactly sure what happened, but that explosion. Friggin' Hell, man!" he shot his wrathful glare skywards, "This is probably the drainage system. The blast must've spewed the whole damn hall down through that hole. In fact, I reckon so much shit fell in, it got stuck... sorta like a clog in the kitchen sink."

And they a pair of cockroaches huddled together, waiting to be flushed to their deaths. Rude remained silent. He didn't need Reno to also tell him they were trapped. Nor would Reno admit that to himself. He still clung to the hope of some deliverance. But what? How? Everything right now seemed so-

"Where's the President?" inquired Rude abruptly.

Good question. Reno turned to him, yet before he could speak, the man had already scrambled onto both feet and hurriedly limped away.

"Rude, hey wait!" called his agitated friend after him. He sprang up in pursuit.

A sense of urgency spurred them onwards. Supporting his injured side with one hand, Rude hobbled across debris-infested terrain. His hard eyes raked the premises for any signs. Reno trailed some distance behind. The two men searched about here and there. Reno remained on high grounds. Often he paused to check the ruinous surroundings. The other ex-Turk drifted towards lower levels.

Their efforts yielded nothing. A few more minutes, still nothing. Rude stopped to rest. His despairing gaze floated around the cavernous hellhole. Not a trace. He peered downwards, just a careless glance to sort out his thoughts. Suddenly, he spotted something.

"Reno!" the man hollered.

From his location, Reno peeked over down at his friend and immediately understood, whereupon he bolted off to catch up. Rude didn't wait. Instead, he rushed downhill until the path terminated at a range of cliffs carved out of gnarled steel. He dropped onto this destitute construction then dashed to the very edge. The spot from here provided a panoramic view of the lowermost parts of this interwoven mess. Absolutely breathtaking. Reno arrived moments later. Both men directed their sights downwards. More specifically, towards some metal buttress which lurched unhinged from the main body over open space. There lay Rufus sprawled upon his stomach, completely motionless. He was either unconscious or dead. It looked like the latter. They preferred to believe the former.

Rufus had been extremely fortunate. As the explosion sent him on a free-fall course, the collapsing debris must have partially protected him during the journey. Therefore, when the bolus finally lodged midway, this "entourage" softened his impact just enough to keep him in tact, after which the comatose young man had tumbled along onto that buttress ledge. Any further, and the abyss would have swallowed him.

The two ex-Turks faced a serious dilemma. On one hand, they'd found their President. On the other hand, they could find no way to reach him. They stood at the very brink of this accursed meshwork; "the edge of the world", so to speak. And Rufus lay down there, well beyond their access. Nor would the infrastructure hold for long. Already they perceived his lifeless body slide slowly as the buttress began to creek. Meanwhile, the atmosphere continued to growl in misery, and the prospect of escape ever so remote.

Reno chewed on his frustration. He hated this uncertainty, this inability to act. After all of tonight's crazy events, he'd come to consider the boy a friend. They couldn't just abandon him. But then, what COULD they possibly do?

At a loss, he looked towards Rude. Much to his amazement, he saw the man hurriedly slipping off his tattered leather jacket.

"Rude, what the hell are you doing?"

"I'm going down there," he stated the obvious.

"W-wha?! Are you nuts?! You can't-"

-End of Chp.83