Episode Seven – Here There Be Monsters
Vincent was an enigma, and from the moment we opened the coffin and found a man, alive at that, I wanted to understand him.
He didn’t speak much at first, which made sense considering what had occurred to him. He had spent a long time locked away after being subjected to Hojo and his tortures. That would make anyone never want to speak again.
The ex-Turk kept to himself, and he didn’t sleep much either. At night, I could hear him tossing about restlessly in the tent, even before he started sharing it with Cid. That man snored with all the force of a train, so whether or not it was his fault as well after he joined, I cannot say.
And if Vincent wasn’t attempting to sleep, or he grew annoyed at tossing about, he would come out and sit by the fire, staring contemplatively into the flames. I grew to know him best during the darkest hours of the night, as if it were safer for him to speak then. He even grew bold enough, I should say, to sit close to me now and pet my head. I may be a lion wolf with human intelligence, but I do enjoy the occasional scratch. After all, humans have this thing with touching each other, don’t they?
Vincent sometimes spoke in riddles, circuitously approaching a question and leading me about. He did answer it, but it was not until later that I finally comprehended all of what he had said. It was amusing that way we would spout what Cid would call “nonsensical bullshit” at each other. It was how we understood… how we coped.
After a time, he spoke more plainly, although I did have to pry the information out of him. I learned of Hojo and Lucrecia… perhaps he trusted me because I knew the horror of being in the scientist’s lab myself. I think that I was his first true friend among those of us, long before we met Cid.
Maybe it was because of our rapport we developed that Vincent came to me, the first time that he changed. It wasn’t so much that it surprised him, or that he was afraid, as much as it was he was angry. Furious with Hojo for his lack of humanity… and anger at himself for being too weak to stop him and do anything to help either himself or Lucrecia.
“I’m no longer human,” he had murmured, speaking aloud but not necessarily to me. “Hojo has taken even that from me.”
On the night that this occurred, I still did not know much of him; he hadn’t really expressed much of what had happened, but he returned in the dead of the night when the others were sleeping, as if he only wanted to see me first… because I would understand. Perhaps he thought that the others feared him now, hated him even, and didn’t want to see their pity or their revulsion. It is a feeling I can understand… I would have done the same.
He fell silent for a moment, after speaking that enigmatic phrase. He stared into the fire as if mesmerized, the golden flame almost reflecting in his crimson-amber eyes as he almost unconsciously reached out to pet my head. I accepted the affection, knowing it was a form of comfort that he needed far more than I ever did.
“I’m nothing more than a monster now,” he murmured once more, body slumping only slightly as he hid more behind that covering cloak. “But such is my penance.” And with that, he didn’t say anything else.
I knew that he did not come to speak to me because he wanted to be comforted by words. He did not want pity or idle consolation either. He didn’t want the truth to be bent or skewed so that his pride could be soothed. I may not have been that old or as well-learned as my grandfather, but there were some things that were instinct. I knew he did not want me to speak pretty, petty thoughts.
He likely did not want me to say anything at all but let him suffer in silence. Maybe it was my quiet yet calm understanding he craved. He did not want to hear that everything was going to be fine and work out. Nor did he want to be told not to worry or not think about it. If I had spoken the plain truth, he would have scoffed. No, what he wanted was to be told in the same way he spoke, approaching the truth in a circuitous fashion that made him believe it for himself.
He came to me, and I felt a small measure of pride in me for that. Vincent wanted to talk to someone, and he waited until the time was right to come to me. I knew that I had to say something, that I couldn’t waste his trust in me. Despite his seemingly placid exterior with the barely hidden anger boiling beneath, I knew that there were other emotions buried deep within, among them sadness and revulsion. He hated what he had become.
I am not human, though as of now in my current form I cannot say what I actually am. However, Vincent, he was. Hojo’s experimentations had done nothing to change that. After transforming into this demonic beast, he had returned to his original form, and it wasn’t as if he had attacked his allies. Somehow, he had retained his measure of humanity. That was what separated him from being a monster.
I waited long enough for him to think that I wasn’t going to say anything before sighing softly, idly twitching my tail. “You say you are a monster,” I commented, merely restating his own phrase. “And so, I cannot help but wonder what that makes me. I am not human, and this form, this body holds a power that humans cannot. It isn’t natural to them…” I trailed off, not explaining any further, as if I had a sudden epiphany about the nature of my being. I waited for him to absorb my words.
Here there be monsters, and the monsters were us.
He didn’t speak for a moment, mulling over my words. The only sound between us was the crackling of the fire and my tail swishing over the somewhat rocky ground of the Nibel Mountain Range. Cloud had us rest for the evening, on the off chance that Vincent decided to return. He had shown remarkably decent foresight for once on that matter, which almost counter balanced the fact that his abysmal sense of direction had caused us to wander through the mountains for weeks.
Barret had of course, argued against it, afraid that the ‘vampy’ would kill them all, but Cloud was adamant that Vincent was not a threat, as if he knew something we did not. I am only glad that the ex-Turk was not here to hear that argument… or perhaps he had from afar; I can’t be certain.
I don’t know how long we sat there in silence, but finally, he sighed softly to himself, straightening his back and lifting his head. His eyes had cleared, no longer brewing with the sadness I had sensed, and the vague feelings of revulsion were gradually fading. He stretched mildly before unfolding his limbs and rising to his feet.
“You are of a clan, Nanaki,” he said slowly, as if by way of apology. “You have intelligence and morals, a monster you are most assuredly not, despite your lupine appearance.”
And with that, he turned and headed for the small tent that he shared with no one. Someone had taken the time to set it up for him. Aeris and Yuffie most likely, the flower-girl probably guilting the little ninja into doing it. I wondered if he truly understood what I was trying to tell him, if his own words to comfort me even reached his ears.
The next day, Cloud seemed unsurprised that Vincent had returned, and once again, showing a surprisingly large amount of tact, he did not make a big deal out of it. He didn’t call Vincent or even say anything, only shot Barret a hard look for glaring suspiciously at the ex-Turk. And with that we were on our way again, heading towards Rocket Town.
It wasn’t until the next day, after the battle with Materia Keeper when we were forced so quickly into another, that I received my answer. We were all tired and worn when we were ambushed by a group of Nibel wolves. It was a pack, nearly a dozen, and the most of us were injured and still recovering.
Five had tackled him before any of us could react, dealing with our own enemies. He hit his Limit Break as he thrashed beneath them, glowing a dark purple before becoming the horned Galian Beast. He tore into the wolves, easily destroying them all before we could even move.
When there were no more enemies, he stood still as if surveying the battlefield. Cloud half expected him to run off again, I wondered what he would do. He turned towards us, his demon form still present, but I found no fear within me when he did so, despite Yuffie’s startled gasp and Barret’s muttered curse.
It was his eyes… they remained the ones that I knew. That crimson-amber stared at me. With a slight nod of his head that I may have imagined, his body glowed again, and he shivered, returning to this human form, all of his wounds healed. I wish I had such a power.
I think perhaps that was how I knew in the crater, that when Chaos took over, Vincent was no longer in control. I looked at the winged demon that was the ex-Turk’s final form, and in his eyes, I saw madness and destruction, disorder and unruliness. His eyes were a coal crimson, seemingly sucking me into a pit of blackness, an abyss from which there was no return. Vincent wasn’t behind those eyes.
I never again heard him refer to himself as a monster, though he grimaced at the two newer forms. Cid may have also had something to do with that, once they finally met, but I cannot honestly say. As close to Vincent as I was, I think I may have been the first to sense their developing relationship. The pilot had something that Vincent needed, something that would help him overcome what had happened and see beyond his guilt and penance.
We had a lot in common, Vincent and I. Two of the most misunderstood members of our anti-ShinRa group. I don’t mention Cloud because he is a special case altogether; I don’t think anyone understands him.
Vincent and I were mysterious, the new enigmas of nature that baffled the group. I, due to my age and form, and he for mostly the same reason.
I’ve lived nearly forty-nine human years, though in my clan I am scarcely older than Yuffie. As a result, I sometimes act older than I am; I know more than it seems. Yet, I am still vastly unlearned, much I have yet to experience, almost a paradox.
And Vincent, he has lived for fifty-seven years, yet he looks no older than twenty-seven. He hasn’t aged for any of the thirty years that he spent locked away in the coffin. It almost makes me wonder if he was immortal, if he would live forever.
I am in a form most similar to that of an animal, but my intelligence is of human proportions. I still remember how much it shocked people that I can speak and do so many things just as a human. I think Cloud was triply confused when he first met me… not that it is a difficult thing to accomplish.
And Vincent, though his form was more humane than mine, I think his appearance was a bit more frightening, at least to the general public. As long as I didn’t speak, I appeared as an overgrown pet, but he was something different all together.
From his razor sharp claw – that I strongly suspect was just a weapon – and his scarlet and black clothing, he had an overwhelming presence. His eyes – that some like to call crimson, but I preferred to say they were crimson-amber – only added to his overall mystery and intrigue. The cloak, covering most of his face made it nearly impossible to distinguish his features.
It wasn’t until after I changed forms that I realized he was actually someone considered good-looking. I’m not so sure if he believed it of himself anymore.
Of those present, we were bonded by our way of thought, by our wisdom, not that the others weren’t smart, but they were on a different pattern. Riddles, vague extrapolations, witty banter that they could not follow, we had in common.
Who was Vincent? The man before Hojo altered him? I can only speculate.
His true personality began to show as he accepted his life and his trust in us. He was reserved and calm, not prone to angry irrational outbursts. He was often the voice of reason, and someone you could rely on in battle. He was intelligent and skilled, courageous above many things.
I admired him at times, and though it what I learned wasn’t tangible, or easy to explain, it was present nonetheless.
I want to believe that he is still alive, though my hope is fading more quickly than the pilot’s. Just as I deserve my chance to live and love, so does he; no matter what Hojo tried to take from us. He attempted to make all of us monsters, but we were stronger.
In the end, even Vincent had grown to understand that.