I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.84

It was dark. Rufus could hear them. Voices. Tiny butterflies of madness which fluttered about his ears. The boy wallowed within this tomb-like existence, neither dead nor alive, awake or asleep. He didn't even care. To him, it just didn't matter. Instead, he lay here blind and absolutely still, listening to his own thoughts battle each other.

~...it's so cold here...~

~...it burns me up, but I'm so cold...~

Yes, he dully acknowledged. That same icy disease crawled beneath his burning skin. Hadn't he experienced this paradox a thousand times before?

~... am I really all alone?...~

Alone. Vacant. Heavy. Low; his heart felt so unbearably low.

~...it doesn't matter anymore...~

No. It doesn't.

~... "Inside, Sir, you're exactly like me"...~

It's our blood. Our ShinRa blood.

~...it's too late...~

He knew.

~... you're already one of them...~

He knew.

~..."Inside, Sir, you're exactly like me"...~

He hated him.

~..."That man was your brother"...~

Stop. He wanted it to stop.

~..."your brother"...~


~... "MY GOD, DONAL!! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!!"...~

Out of no where reverberated that terrible scream, fired like a gunshot straight from a heart wrenched by anguish. It struck Rufus point-blank in the core. At that surreal moment, when his entire psyche froze amidst these raging flames, he beheld those tearful pink eyes, all that wretchedness, staring right back at him.

"My God, Davoren," the horrified boy whispered to himself, "..w..what have *I* done?"


With strong resolve and a steady balance, Rude shimmied along the perilous cliffsides quickly yet cautiously, always staying close to the wall. There was no clear path. That man had to carve his own way down this mountainous terrain scaffold by scaffold. Loose debris beneath him. At one stage, the ledge under his foot broke, almost ambushing him had his wits not been faster. Keep moving. He reminded himself not to look below, just keep moving.

Reno watched on with worried rigidity as his friend scaled further and further downwards. In truth, he knew not what to think. Granted, Rude possessed greater skill and a far more powerful physique for free climbing. Still, Reno mistrusted that injury in his flank. The manner he'd clutched it suggested deeper trauma, maybe even a fracture. Add to that the man carried twelve tons worth of fatigue on his shoulders, plus all those injuries. The odds certainly did not look favorable.

Regardless, Rude persevered. He knew what he had to do. He clambered down the escarpment's disfigured façade. Along the way he encountered a gantry which traveled slanted from here towards an islet of garbage nearby. The ex-Turk vaulted onto this skewered bridge. He scampered across to the other side, then followed another highway into the jumbled latticework of girders below. Deeper ventured Rude through this nightmarish architecture until he reached the bottom. There, he swung onto the final scaffold.

Beyond this point, Rude could go no further without falling in. He crouched onto all fours, where he leaned over the edge as far as possible whilst maintaining equilibrium. By now, the man was drenched in sweat. His senses blared danger on every side. His target lay down there just a few meters away, oblivious of the deathtrap he'd been cast into, which only added frustration to Rude's anxiety.

"Sir!" he called sharply, "Hey! Sir!!"

No response.

A harshness knit his brows. Rude bellowed louder, "Rufus! Dammit, c'mon kid! Wake up! Rufus!!"

This time, his agitated cries dragged the boy out of absolute darkness to a dim awareness. Rufus winced. His eyes opened to these grey, shaky surroundings. The pandemonium and raucous shrieks so befuddled his logic he couldn't distinguish between the bedlam outside and that still ravaging his head inside. The boy awoke as a wreck; his scrawny carcass cut and bruised, one arm burnt and a gash streaked alongside his dirty face. Clothes were singed and torn, and his hair hung a mess.

Rufus clumsily propped himself on one elbow. The world and ground never stopped rattling. He felt sick. He agonized with every breath just to stay conscious. All the while, Rufus heard someone hollering nonsense at him, or so it sounded to him. He pushed himself further up with one arm, and let that voice guide his foggy sight upwards. He perceived a man, at first a mere blur, positioned upon the scaffolding above.

"..R..Rude..??" he faltered weakly, unsure of his own eyes. Indeed, Rude had been calling him this entire time.

The agitated ex-Turk shouted "I can't reach you from here. Quick! Try to climb over to me and I'll haul ya the rest of the way up! Just hurry!!"

His urgent plea passed by Rufus in fragments. Nor could the latter string them into any meaning. Without aim or orientation, the beleaguered lunatic struggled to rise. Rude was still yelling. He thought he also heard Reno in the distance; he too was screaming down at them. Questions assaulted him from every angle: what happened? Where was he? That explosion... Why hadn't they left? How... how could he still be alive? No actually, WHY was he even alive??

~...it burns me up...~

~..."That man was your brother"...~

~..."inside, Sir, you're exactly like me"...~

~...My God, Davoren. What have I...~

A fresh shockwave suddenly swept the premises. The complex buckled in a spastic fit. Everyone was thrown into disarray. Reno fell back. Rude, who'd huddled in place to protect his head from raining rubbish, reacted violently when he witnessed the buttress beneath Rufus finally collapse at one end. Thus the disorientated boy went sliding downwards with a alarmed cry. By sheer instinct, Rufus grabbed hold of the remaining structure, which lurched further towards the pit yet thankfully stayed hinged at the main trunk. Gasping, bristling pure delirium, the boy clung to this mess with both arms. Meanwhile, his legs dangled free above the void.

Despite the commotion, Reno soon recovered his co-ordination. He scrambled back to the edge of the escarpment, only to view the fiasco below. "Holy shit!! Kid!!" he blared outloud, "Are ya alright?!"

Whether he meant physically or psychologically, the answer was no. Rufus grunted. He attempted to climb up to safer grounds, but in his confusion only crashed back to an even worse state. More than half his body now hung in the open whereas he, a shaken, destitute shipwreck, held on with arms wrapped around some garbage piece. Rufus never appeared more perturbed or mentally wrangled than at that terrifying moment. The tumult outside swirled into that inside until, quite overwhelmed, the boy hunched overslightly to bury his face in shadow. Rufus didn't try again. Any additional movement might break this flimsy lifeline. Besides, soon the buttress, the entire Reactor in fact, would collapse by itself. It didn't matter to him anymore. He wondered why he should continue holding on either. Why, when by surviving that explosion, he'd actually failed?

Rufus clung in flustered limbo. Rude however had already made a snap decision; he could no longer bear this uncertainty. He waited for the storm to recede a bit. Then much to Reno's further consternation, the man clambered off his scaffolding and deliberately dropped feet-first onto the garbled junkyard below. Rude crouched in place as the structure complained beneath his weight. Still, it did not collapse. Once certain of himself, he crawled forth very, very warily towards the buttress tip. There hung Rufus, wretched and isolated.

The fragile architecture groaned continuous warnings. Rude refused to be deterred. He edged to the last inch possible. With still a distance between them, he stretched his big, strong hand as far out as he could. "Rufus," he commanded, "Gimme your hand."

Rufus had either lost awareness of him or simply ignored him. He did not respond.

"Rufus!" the ex-Turk insisted. His gruff voice forced the boy to peer aside at him, but in a rather apathetic manner, as if to ask 'What do you want from me now?'

"Gimme your hand!" Rude repeated, "I'll pull ya up!"

The environment tossed between sporadic tremors. The extensive metallic plug lurched closer to catastrophe. Anxiety strained Rude's face. In return, Rufus seemed perplexed. He viewed this man- a stranger from a past he'd only discovered tonight, who be he foolish or brave had rushed over to help him. But instead of comfort, his expression darkened to an anguished look tainted with trouble and misgiving; like he couldn't understand the gesture. Or maybe he scorned it. Indeed, the boy cast a sidelong glance at that hand, then flicked his intense blue eyes away to the other corner.

"Why?" he snapped abruptly.

The ex-Turk blinked at the question: why what?

"Why should you pull me up?" Rufus persisted, disdain boiling hot underneath his icy demeanor.

He seemed to expect an answer. When the baffled Rude failed to provide one, the avoidant young man hissed "Don't you understand yet, Rude? 'Genesis Retrial' may belong to Professor Hojo, but the crime itself is entirely mine! Dammit, I could've stopped him!" a frustrated glower contorted Rufus' face. He shot his glare back to the ex-Turk. "There was so much I could've done. But I'd already become one of 'them'. Inside everything was frozen. I had so much blood on my hands that I'd stopped noticing or even caring. I just wanted power. I wanted it all to myself," he seethed, "I wanted to make that bastard- that man who called himself my 'father'- ah! Dammit! Dammit! I wanted to make HIM suffer!!"

Rude never once dismissed the boy as a loony or his words a madman's ramble. Regardless of the calamity around them, he pensively listened without interruption. He watched grief, self-disgust and bitterness surge within until Rufus, tortured breathless, rasped out his most rueful admission "But I.. the only one I made suffer was Davoren! What's worse, *I* killed him! I killed Davoren! The only person who hid me from punishment, even though we both knew I deserved it, AND I STAB HIM RIGHT THROUGH THE HEART!!!"

The ex-Turk maintained a sangfroid front despite all these acrid lashings. Rufus, delirious with rage, scoffed back "So tell me, Mr. Rude, why should I let you pull someone like me up? Why are you even here? I ordered you two leave because for the first time I realized what I had to do! I'm no different than the rest of 'them'... those monsters... hypocrites...liars... damn you anyway! It was my decision!!"

"And neither of us would have left you, even if it was your order," stated Rude calmly.

He snarled, "Because both of you are STUPID!!"

"Then I guess Davoren was just as stupid for caring so much about you."

His cool rebuttal struck the furious young man into blank amazement; he'd never considered his own words looking at them from that angle. Nor had Rude intended to demean the importance the gunman bore to Rufus. On the contrary, he wanted him to realize how highly he valued Davoren. Rude continued on the same solemn, compassionate note, "I.. I can't begin to imagine what you've been through: that WEAPON blast, the 'fire', living like.. some wild animal with your mind raped every minute, and now losing your friend like that. But kid, you gotta listen to me," he urged, "You cannot just surrender to those demons pulling you down. Get your act together! Fight back! And let others help you along the way. But don't you give up like this! Otherwise, all Davoren ever meant to you becomes worthless!!"

These words were the most Rufus had ever heard out of Rude. Yet in truth, their candor exerted a profound effect upon him as regarded the earnest ex-Turk, who'd taken all those destructive emotions inside and remolded them into something different... something strangely more comforting. Rude bore nothing but the sincerest intentions as a friend. Again, he offered his hand to the bemused young man. However, he couldn't make him take it.

That Rufus had to do of his own accord, at least for Davoren's sake.

Indeed, before he realized it, Rufus found himself slowly reaching out for that hand.

By now, the rotunda had begun to convulse in wake of another disaster. The distance between their fingertips narrowed. Rude gnashed his teeth with effort. The buttress was already disintegrating. Plus he could see Rufus' grip and consciousness fast on the wane. Closer. Closer. Just a few inches more...

Too late. The long-suffering structure finally broke.

There followed an avalanche of debris as the entire archipelago shifted geography. The latticework collapsed. Both men went keeling over. Rufus lost consciousness somewhere in the chaos. Meanwhile, Rude had less than a second to act: in an incredible burst of adrenaline, he thrust himself out that extra bit to grab the boy by the wrist. Just as quickly, he reeled both his own weight and Rufus' carcass back up, only to beat a hasty retreat. Before gravity took full effect, Rude had long since leapt off this degenerate branch onto another one, his parcel always clamped under one armpit.

He scurried across this mangled road like a maniac towards the main trunk up ahead. Destruction chased hot on his heels. He'd almost reached his destination when this branch also began to lurch. Mad with desperation, the man sprinted till the very end of the girder, whereupon he sprang forth just as it collapsed. Thus he clumsily landed against the mainland junkyard. There Rude struggled to hold on. By chance, he discovered a crevice. At once he grappled his way up and huddled deep within, the comatose Rufus protected in both arms.

Holy Hell rained down. All the while, shrieks of metal, shaking grounds and a terrible sense of foreboding choked the atmosphere. Rude kept his head low and eyes squeezed shut as the onslaught raged on a few minutes until it subdued again. Still, only after the din ringing inside his head had abated did Rude, gasping and heart pumping hard, induce himself to peek outside. The latticework had disappeared. The scaffoldings wasted to ruins.

Looking around, the lower parts of this complex had been eroded, adding more instability to the upper regions.

"RUDE! HEY! RUDE!!" a frantic voice cried.

Bewildered, the man whirled his eyes towards the scarred escarpment high up there. He spotted his friend gaping back down from over the brink, lurched so far forward he risked falling in. To Rude, the distance between them seemed infinite now; he cramped inside this crevice with a magnificent view of the abyss below, another almost ballistic with worry.

Indeed, the brutal earthquake had forced Reno to also seek shelter, during which he'd lost sight of his two friends. Now that the tempest had dissipated again, he'd returned to the cliffsides to scour the wastelands below. The distressed ex-Turk had tossed between hope and pessimism until at long last he found them both still alive. Relieved, he bellowed, "YOU TWO OKAY?!"

"..y..yeah..," the man fumbled, unsure. He checked the lifeless boy supported close against him. Rufus seemed fine. However, as the excitement began to fade, Rude became increasingly aware of his own state. He knew he's pushed himself too far. His muscles ached. An invisible corset of pain constrained his chest, turning respiration into a chore. Plus the realisation of the danger he'd just narrowly escaped finally began to catch up to his nerves. In truth, Rude marveled how he'd even survived this far!

Meanwhile, Reno fumed alone on top. He searched for a solution to this new dilemma. Rude had saved the young President. All well and good. But now, BOTH men lingered over eminent death, the latter unconscious, and the former injured and bereft of strength. And here he stood here completely helpless!

"Shit! Shit! SHIT!" Reno muttered. Sweat streamed down his angry face. He felt his sanity cracking under pressure: what should he do? He had to do SOMETHING and FAST!

"Rude! Hang on, okay?" desperate for ideas, he took a diffident step towards the cliff's edge with intention to descend further, "I'll climbdown there and h-"

"NO, YOU IDIOT!!" his friend barked, effectively pushing him back up into place. "How the hell do you expect to climb down here when all the scaffolds are gone? Besides! These parts will collapse any minute! Just stay where you are!!"

Reno stood there at his wits' end. "B-but.. what about you?! If the scaffolds are all destroyed, how're ya gonna climb back up?!"

Rude fell silent. He'd been so determined to rescue Rufus that he'd charged into this deathtrap without once considering how he may return. True he'd calmed the boy and saved him. But what good was that when he'd only gotten them trapped inside this hole, cut off from help or any means of escape. Then all he'd done was prolong their torture.

So much for heroics.

"NOW who's the idiot!!" exclaimed Reno at his incredible lack of foresight.

"Well, the poor kid was confused and suicidal! What else should I have done?!" the aggravated Rude retorted in self-defense, "Just let him drop to his death?!"

"No, but at least think before ya do something risky like that!"

"Huh! Now that's pretty rich coming from you!"

"What the hell are you babbling about?"

Rude thrust his neck out to shout up at his preachy friend "In case you forgot, Mr. I-gotta-be-cool, YOU were the ass who made a grand entrance, raised the alarm and got us into this pickle in the first place!!"

"That was a totally different situation!"

He snorted. "Funny! You seem to make an ass outta yourself in ANY situation!"

"Oh, izzat so!" the indignant man shot back, "Well, at least I'm an ass with a brain!!" but Reno stopped short: somehow, that retort didn't sound right.

"Yeah! Some brain!" praised Rude with cutting sarcasm, "It's probably rotted dead from alcohol... that's IF all that dye-shit you put in your punk hair hasn't already killed it!!"

Strange how moments ago, their friendship seemed stronger than steel. They'd always stuck together no matter the odds. Neither man knew why they were bickering right now, especially when death loomed so certain upon them. However, Reno did know one thing for sure: nobody insulted his hair!

At once, he exploded louder than a volcano, "SHADDAP, BALDY!! The closest YOU ever came to having hair was when Elena dragged us on her stupid picnic'n I dropped that dead squirrel on yer head!!! Oh! And since we're on the subject of animals, lemme tell-"

"Hey! Hey, you guys!" interrupted a new voice.

Both warring parties, caught completely off guard, turned their attentions towards the speaker. High up there from the forgotten surveillance room, they perceived a tall, imposing figure. His appearance was rough and unclean, yet his visage nonchalant as ever, most striking those cool pink eyes. He carried two guns; an assault rifle in one hand, another gun tucked in that double-holster strapped around his shoulders. With the other hand gripped on the windowsill, the man leaned forth to better view the chaotic scene far below.

It was Davoren.

-End of Chp.84