"So were going to the ShinRa mansion?" Lyria asked, entering the living room and setting a plate of sandwiches in front of Cloud and Tifa who sat on the couch.
"We?" Surprisingly, Vincent spoke first from where he had moved to the corner by the window and resumed his aimless staring.
"Yup. Im coming too."
"No. You arent."
"Yes, I am."
"Yes. Dont bother arguing with me. Youre not going to make me stay unless you tie me to a pole and leave me to starve."
"Cloud, have you got any rope?"
Lyria blinked. "Is he serious? Or is this an uncharacteristic joke?"
Tifa smiled. "I dont mind if you come. It could be helpful to have a doctor along."
"Im not against it either. What do you think Cloud?" Red asked.
"Fine with me. Sorry, Vincent " Cloud turned to the corner of the room where Vincent had been standing, but he was gone. "Aw, hell. Whered he go?"
"Probably the ShinRa mansion," Red said.
"He doesnt take well to losing arguments, does he?" Lyria commented.
"I dont think he gets into many arguments in the first place." Tifa pulled a pair of gloves onto her hands and smacked one fist against her palm. "Im ready."
Cloud picked up his sword and slung it over his back. "Me too."
"Lets go," Red said.
"This place is creepy " Tifa and Lyria whispered in unison, staring up at the stern visage of the tumbledown mansion.
"The gates open, Vincents here," Red noted, leading the way up the path to the ivy-covered mansion.
"How can he stand being here alone?"
"Its not the sort of thing that bothers him. Being here with other people is what would make him uncomfortable."
The group entered the foyer, dimly lit by the grimy windows.
"So where do we go?" Lyria asked.
"Well check the basement first," Red answered, loping up the stairs. The others followed, Lyria nervously glancing around. She could almost feel the presence of other beings in the mansion, and the place was musty and stuffy with age. There was a heaviness atmosphere that seemed almost weighted with sorrow. If these walls could talk, what stories would they weave?
"Why are we going upstairs to get to a basement?" Lyria asked.
"Its a secret basement."
"Oh. Typical. Freaky haunted mansions always have secret basements."
They entered a room and Lyria looked around curiously. "Wheres the staircase?"
Cloud walked over to a wall and began prodding it in various places. "Its behind here, I can never find the goddamn " he was cut off as the door suddenly swung open and knocked him to the ground.
"Good job, Cloud, you found the goddamn switch!" Tifa congratulated her husband and helped him to his feet.
"If it wasnt already open, does that mean Vincent didnt go down?" Lyria reasoned.
"Maybe." Red stepped through the doorway and proceeded down the staircase.
Lyria made as though to follow him, but stopped when she saw the rickety boards spiraling around the inside edge of the tower. "Oh god. I cant go down those."
"Come on Lyr. Its not that bad." Tifa jumped up and down on the makeshift staircase to demonstrate her point.
"Tifa! Stop that! If you fall then Ill have to figure out a way down because youll break your stupid neck!" Lyria backed away. "Ill just stay up here "
"Are you sure? There are monsters " Cloud cautioned.
"Ill be ok; Ill stay in this room."
"If youre certain "
Cloud and the others disappeared down the staircase, the secret door swinging shut behind them. Lyria paced the room for about five boring minutes, then abandoned her promise and walked down the hallways of the mansion silently. Her mind saw past the dingy, tattered furnishings into the far past, when the mansion must have been beautiful and full of light. Even with age the old place had held up extraordinarily.
"Id love to have lived here when it was beautiful "
Lyria continued down the hallway, eventually wandering into a ballroom.
"Oh wow this is " Lyria gazed around the room with wide eyes. Through the veil of her imagination she saw chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and couples waltzing daintily. The piano in the corner was repaired and a delicate minuet floated through the room. The scene flickering before her minds eye was suddenly marred as a freakishly writhing creature stumbled forward, hands extended for her throat. Lyrias mouth dropped open and she was about to scream when gunfire erupted from behind her. The creature lurched backwards from the force of the bullets entering its body. Lyria clamped her hands over her ears and closed her eyes tightly as the shot grew louder and more powerful. When she next dared to open her eyes, the creature was slumping to the floor. Lyria turned to see Vincent, gun still smoking in one hand.
"I told you not to come."
"Well, I came anyway, now didnt I?"
Vincent didnt answer, but instead came forward and prodded the body in the middle of the floor with his foot. Lyria, ever curious, came forward and examined the creature. Without warning it suddenly twitched and wrapped a sinewy undead hand around her ankle. This time Lyria did scream and backed into Vincent who, apathetic as always, raised his gun and blew the creatures entire head off. The hold on her ankle was released and she hurriedly backed further away from the now immobilized beast.
"Th-thanks " Lyria stammered, rubbing her ankle in an attempt to alleviate the feeling the cold, clammy hand had left. She laughed nervously and walked to the piano, eying it with mild interest. Vincent watched as she approached, almost cautiously, and peeked inside, perhaps looking for more monsters. Apparently satisfied with the relative safety of the instrument she sat down at the bench and ran her fingers over the keys.
"Do you play?" Vincent asked.
"Do you care?" Lyria answered. She played a few random notes, fingers skipping lightly over the keys, and then a simple melody took shape. She winced as she hit a sour note then got up, kneeling on the bench. She reached in and started to toy with the strings on the piano. She struck the out of tune key several times after each adjustment until she was satisfied. "Do you play?"
"I used to. I cant anymore." He held up his left hand. "I can barely do anything with this theres no feeling in it."
"You know, Ive never heard you say that many words consecutively. Come sit down theres some music here, Ill play the left hand part and you can play the right."
"I havent played in years."
"Neither have I."
Vincent didnt answer, but, somewhat to Lyrias surprise, he came to sit beside her and placed his fingers on the keys. He glanced at the music and Lyria saw a flicker deep in his eyes. A memory resurrecting itself.
"I wonder how long this piece has been here." Lyria murmured studying the music.
"A long, long time "
It had taken Vincent all of almost two days, but he'd done it. The ballroom
was more or less immaculate. Well, not really, but it was a hell of a lot
better. The room's trash had been taken out. He'd cleaned the windows, and
repaired the piano. The floor and walls had been rid of dust, cobwebs, dirt,
and bat droppings. He'd fixed the chandelier, so it lit up. It didn't look
professionally cleaned; not in the least, but the room was much better. Best
of all, none of the others knew! He looked over the room one last time, with
the proud expression of a successful labourer on his face, and went to get
the scientists...and Lucrecia.
He walked to the lab, and gently knocked on the door. A muffled exchange of muted tones came from the other side of the door. "Come in, Mr. Valentine." Gast said softly. "Do be careful."
Vincent lightly opened the door, and looked inside. Lucrecia was sitting in an office chair, a DNA strand model spinning on a computer screen next to her. Gast was next to a small tube, studying whatever was happening inside of it. Hojo had completely ignored Vincent, and was looking through a microscope, in another world. There were small wires meshing the floor, and multiple tabletops were covered with notebooks and sample jars. "Have I come in at a bad time?" he asked mildly.
"Not at all, Vincent," Lucrecia said with a slightly tired smile. "It's just patience from here, for a while."
Vincent nodded slightly. "If you could, I have something to show you. I figured I'd give you a break, if you wanted one." He walked off, back towards the ballroom.
The scientists traded glances, and both Gast and Lucrecia left the room. Hojo lifted his eyes from his studies, and, sighing with irritation at the interruption, followed his colleagues out the door.
Vincent's usually serious, passive face shone with pride as he opened the ballroom door. Lucrecia gasped, and clapped her hands in delight. "Vincent! It's beautiful!" She walked into the room, and circled, taking it in.
Gast calmly entered the room, and studied it. "I'm impressed, Vincent. It looks great!"
Hojo's comment was as Vincent suspected. "Wonderful. I'll be in the lab
if you need me." He left the room. Vincent shook his head, and walked
into the room. He had hosting duties.
"I never knew we had such a nice view of the mountains." Lucrecia breathed. "We missed a lot getting straight to work." Beyond the filthy panes of glass had hid a picturesque view of the Nibel Mountain Range. Between two trees, standing like a living picture frame, was a sweeping view of the lower mountains and cliffs. Despite the town's ambient light, stars sparkled above, a finishing touch on the majestic view. "I've got to see this at sunrise...The sun will light up one side of the mountains inch by inch, until the entire range is a shimmering tower of snow and stone." She turned as the sounds of rain and water came into focus in her mind. She turned towards the sound, and laughed.
"Vincent! You play?"
"I'm rusty. I haven't played since..." Memories of Kalm filled Vincent's mind...When his mother had taught him how to read music...Making his little sister laugh so hard as he played that they'd thought she would bust...Playing during the holidays... Duets with his mother, while his sister had sang with her nightingale voice... A tear welled in one eye. He shook his head, his brown eyes hardened. "...Not for a long, long time."
Lucrecia sat down on the repaired piano bench, next to him. "You play beautifully."
Vincent never knew just why he opened his mouth next. Was it her eyes? Her compliment? Had the hard work let down his guard? Had the memories truly cut him so deeply?
"You...You are beautiful, Lucrecia," he said softly, his voice cracking. "You... You've always been beautiful."
A tear shone in Lucrecia's eye, and she kissed him softly. Their eyes widened in surprise, and closed as they kissed again, and again...Stopping only because they suddenly realized that Professor Gast was in the room.
Vincent approved. If looks could kill, Lucrecia's stare could have killed Gast more times than Vincent had killed at all. Gast disappeared, half running, half growing wings and flying for dear life out of the room.
"You start," Vincent said quietly, breaking out of his memory. There were too many memories in this cursed house. At least the memories in this room were warm, almost tender. Not like the memories from the basement, where the nightmares were not mere dreams, but the rebirth of reality.
"What?" Lyria asked, slightly confused.
"You start. The left hand plays first."
"Oh. Ok " Lyria began the piece, introducing the chords with the perfect volume and depth. As Vincent began to play Lyrias right hand twitched to the side and touched his left. The cold metal made her shiver slightly and she glanced at him to see if hed noticed. Vincent was still absorbed in the complicated melody that dominated the upper measures as Lyrias hand moved once more and she curled her fingers around his. A strange tingling feeling ran up her spine and she returned her attention to the piano. The left hand part was getting to be more than simple chords, as she started to echo Vincents part. Vincent spared a half glance at the lower measure. It was unlikely that Lyria could keep up with the melody now that it had become swifter and he deliberated slowing down. To his surprise Lyria kept perfect pace with him and even looked at him questioningly when his tempo almost slowed. On a sudden impulse, he increased his speed, Lyria grinned and did the same, fingers blurring as she mimicked each bar he played. She reached up and turned the page with her free hand and in the momentary lapse she missed a note and their hands suddenly collided. Lyria laughed out loud and Vincents eyes almost registered mild amusement.
"Oops. Well, it was your fault for speeding up." Lyria giggled again.
"It wasnt my fault, you hit a wrong note."
"Only because I was turning the page."
"Why didnt you let me?"
"I didnt think you would turn it in time, I was looking at my part, not yours "
"Quiet all of a sudden? What, did your voice give out from talking to me so much?"
"Hey, cmon, a minute ago, you wouldnt shut up "
"We should go find Cloud and the others." Vincent stood up and stepped away from the piano, towards the door.
"If you say so." Lyria stood up and tripped over the bench in her haste to catch up with Vincent.
"I believe the phrase is damn clumsy." Lyria corrected, standing up and brushing herself off.
"That would have been rude."
"Well I dont think Vincent did this " Cloud remarked, looking around the room full of coffins, all of which were lying in splinters with bits of corpses scattered about.
"No it looks to be the work of Chaos meaning when it struck he was sleeping and he immediately left the room afterward," Red said, sniffing the air distastefully.
"So where do we go from here?" Tifa asked.
"I think we should look in the lab for Hojos notes perhaps therell be something pertaining to Vincent there "
Red headed down the hallway to the lab. Once there he began searching the lower shelves for titles that looked relevant. Tifa and Cloud joined him and scanned the shelves above his range of vision.
They searched in silence for a while until Tifa finally spoke, "Hey, Red? Dyou think this might be something?" She pulled a dusty volume from one of the higher shelves and opened it on the floor in front of Red. Hojos spidery script laced the pages of an old log, recording all of the scientists progress. Red opened to a random page and hit pay dirt.
of course, he wont be my main project, just a sort of hobby. Once Lucrecia gives birth I can begin to relax and perhaps tinker with him some more. Worthless fool, standing in the way of Jenova he has paid dearly. Maybe I can have some fun with the control device; once its activated I could cause such havoc without risking any harm to myself. Dear Vincent, even in a state of inhumanity you shall be my servant, far better behaved now that I have better control of you.
Red stopped reading; he could take no more of Hojos madness. Even from beyond the grave Hojo was managing to instill pain in the lives of those his insanity had touched. Red sighed and continued with the next entry.
Well be returning to the ShinRa headquarters soon. The one thing I regret about the loss of Vincent is that we can no longer carry out our operations without his protection. Hopefully the other Turks will not be suspicious of his loss. Theyre a closely-knit organization surprisingly enough, perhaps because all Turks seem to have their families slaughtered when theyre drafted or join because theyve nothing left. Ah well, the journey there should be interesting. I believe I shall leave my logs here, perhaps with a note giving hints to the resting place of my creation. I think on the ride to Midgar Ill fully chronicle my experiments with the Turk; its always nice to have notes to look back on. Lucrecia doesnt know half of what I did to him. Not only can he transform, but, to a degree, I can trigger his transformations, Ill include the rest of the details on the way to Midgar. Here ends this log.
"It ends there " Red murmured. "We were so close "
"What does this mean?" Tifa whispered, horrified.
"Im not certain, but the part about controlling Vincent has me worried," Cloud said, picking up the book. "Lets get out of here."
"Yeah, I hate this place " Tifa agreed, almost running out the door and down the hallway. She ran up the staircase to find Vincent at the top attempting to coax Lyria down the stairs. Lyria was crouched at the top hugging her knees to her chest and refusing to move. Vincent looked mildly irritated, but not yet to the point of giving up and leaving Lyria alone.
"Tifa! Are you guys done? I dont have to go down there, do I?" Lyria cried, noticing Tifa.
"Yeah, were about finished "
"Did you find anything out?" Vincent asked.
"Yes I dont think youre going to like it though "
"Ive never liked anything thats come out of this house."
"This is a bit worse "
Vincents laughter was hollow, almost mocking. "Worse? I didnt know this could get worse "
"Trust me, it can and it has " Tifa handed Vincent Hojos log, holding her finger at the crucial page.
"What do you mean Tifa?" Lyria asked, chilled by Vincents reaction.
"Lets head back to my house and well explain what we found there " Tifa looked at the pair curiously. "What were you doing up here anyway?"
"Nothing," Lyria answered. "I was just wandering around a bit." She glanced at the spot where Vincent had been standing moments earlier. "He did it again back to your house?"
"Yeah probably "
Tifa, Cloud, Red, and Lyria arrived at Tifas house, and to their collective surprise found Cid, unsuccessfully attempting to converse with Vincent.
"Howdy all! Just droppin by to pick up Red! Been quite a long time!" Cid yelled even though the four were well within earshot.
"Hello Cid," Red greeted the pilot.
"God, its good to talk to somebody! Been standing with him," Cid jerked a thumb at Vincent, "and he dont say two words."
"Weve got a problem Cid," Red informed him.
"Yes. Me." Vincent said quietly.
"Heh. Look at that, he said two words." Cid saw everyone was serious and forgot his joke. "Whats the goddamn problem?"
"This is the problem." Vincent handed Cid the book hed been holding.
"#$&%! We got trouble " Cid said as he finished reading and almost unconsciously took a step away from Vincent.
"Yes, were all agreed that #$&%! We got trouble," Cloud said sarcastically. "What do we do about it?"
"Well we sure as #$&% are gonna need more information than this."
"Would you mind laying off the gutter mouth? You seem to be forgetting youre in the presence of ladies," Lyria chided the pilot.
"The hell? Whore you?" Cid asked, noticing Lyria for the first time.
"Dr. Lyria Kindred, sailor. Watch your mouth."
"Friggin hell! You dont tell me what to do!"
"Cid!" a sharp voice from above scolded. "We agreed when we got engaged that you were going to lay off the swearing!"
The group looked up to see Shera on the deck of the Highwind, beaming and waving down.
"Engaged, Cid?" Tifa asked mildly.
Cid flushed slightly and muttered something. "It was Sheras idea "
"You all get up here on the airship! Weve got catching up to do!" Shera shouted.