Warning: The characters belong to who they belong to and not me. Don't sue me, I'm not worth your time. Special thanks to Laurell K. Hamilton for writing the Anita Blake novels.

Addtional warning: Characters acting wildly OOC. You have been warned.

Additional Additional warning: Alternate reality fic. Events that have happened or will happen in this reality not necessarily connected to what happened in the real series in any way. Don't wave the time line at me, I am beyond it now. A HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!

Additional Additional Additional warning: Extreme supernatural action. Supernatural abilities are as defined by me in the shadow world, where this takes place.

Additional Additional Additional Additional Warning: Story contains Yaoi, Bad language, violence, and pretty much everything deemed as "unwholesome" by Focus on the Family. (My Arch Nemesis...) If you are easily offended, do not read. Also, extra warning is attached to this due to the "YUCK!" factor during some scenes.


Acherontia Atropos Part VIII


"I'm always happy to meet another practitioner of the art." the woman said, shaking my hand firmly.

"I don't know what you're talking about." I said conversationally. It was the honest response, though, especially considering what kind of place she was working at--I wasn't sure I wanted to know what kind of art she was talking about. She gave me a penetrating look, but she let the comment pass without saying anything else.

For a moment, it was a normal handshake. Then the hair on my arms and the back of my neck abruptly stood up and did the hula. I pulled away as quickly as I could without being too rude. My hand was tingling, like the pins and needles feeling you get when your foot falls asleep. Carmen smiled at me. "Are you alright?" She asked pleasantly.

"Just peachy." I waited until she turned her attention to Wufei, and then scrubbed my hand against my pants leg. It still felt weird. "I'm guessing that you're Carmen, right?" I kept my voice cheerful and neutral. Carmen was not making it on my good list so far…I had a strange feeling that she’d done whatever the hell it was that she’d done on purpose.

She idly rubbed the soft fabric of her robe over her breast. "That's correct. I'm the one you talked to on the phone. You didn't say anything about bringing friends."

"Sorry. I just felt the need for a little backup." I shrugged, not sorry at all. This was getting just a little too weird.

"Don't trust me?"

"It's been a bad week." I stuffed my hands in my pockets. "And I don't have a reason to. I didn't even know your name until now...the only reason I knew to call here was because someone broke into my room, put a box on my bed that had some guns in it, and wrote the phone number down on a white card that was with the guns. Not exactly confidence inspiring."

"I see. I'm sorry. I thought that you would have gotten warned about this." She kept rubbing. Up and down. Up and down. There was a bump under her fingers, which I presumed was her nipple. I was getting a really funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I was pretty sure it had nothing to do with whatever hormones were flowing in my veins. It wasn’t that kind of funny feeling.

"It would have been nice." I muttered.

Carmen either didn't hear me or just ignored me, either of which was perfectly fine as far as I was concerned. Instead, she offered her hand—the one that wasn’t busy—to Wufei. "And you are?"

"Wufei." he said grudgingly, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Carmen’s right ear. He looked like he was putting some serious effort into fighting off a blush. Not that I wasn’t fighting off one too. He took her hand and shook it. Nothing happened. Maybe it had all been in my head. Right.

When she was done with Wufei, she turned her attention to Quatre. He smiled at her. "My name's Quatre. It's a pleasure to meet you." He offered his hand to her. That's Quatre. Always pleasant and polite, never mind the fact that we were in the ever so slightly odoriferous basement of the bondage and leather hut and shut in a tiny room with someone that...well, I wasn't quite sure what the hell Carmen was.

Strangely enough, Carmen didn't shake Quatre's hand. After a moment, he gave up and tucked his hand back into his pocket, his smile becoming faintly puzzled.

"Now that the intros are done, would you like to tell us WHY we're here?" I asked, a little more abruptly than I had intended. I'm not exactly the most polite person on earth, but I'm normally not rude, either. Then again, my nerves were understandably getting a little frayed, and something about Carmen was really starting to set my teeth on edge.

She glanced at us, then back at the sagging bed. "Wouldn't you like to sit?"

In perfect unison, we shook our heads. "We're fine."

Carmen shrugged and sat. The bed made some interesting squealing sounds and sagged a little more. "You're here because my coven was given a message through one of our anonymous contacts that we were to keep an eye out for you and help you." She folded her hands neatly in her lap, and it took an effort not to let out a sigh of relief.

"Coven?" I raised my eyebrows. "What's that?"

Carmen looked surprised. It wasn't necessarily good, though, because that meant that I knew less than she was assuming I knew. And I'd just informed her of it. Go me. Give the woman you don't know the advantage. She crossed her legs and the bathrobe rode up, exposing a generous amount of thigh. I’m talking a REAL generous amount. "A coven is a group of witches." The robe slipped even more. She definitely wasn't wearing underwear.

I suddenly developed a whole new interest in the molded out paint of the wall just behind and to the left of her ear. "Witches. I see now. It all makes perfect sense." I wondered if there was solidified sarcasm dripping on the floor yet.

"You really don't know anything, do you."

I sighed, going beyond the point of exasperation. I was suddenly just very tired. "Look, I just found out last week that vampires exist. Be nice." Yeah, I actually said ‘be nice’ to a woman that I had a feeling would belong on the list of people that my mommy warned me about. Or would have warned me about if she’d lived that long. Whatever.

I didn't think it was possible, but she managed to look more surprised. "But I thought..." she gave me a sharp glance. "You didn't shake hands right, though..." Her voice trailed off on a bemused note.

My hand was still tingling. "What the hell did you do?"

"I read your aura." She shrugged, like she'd just said that she baked a cake or something. No, no, nothing weird happening here. Just another day at the shop. Sure thing. "You have one of the strongest auras I've ever seen. Normally, only people that practice the Art have that sort of feel to them."

I had to ask. "The Art of what?"

"Magic of course."

Yeah. Magic. Of course. It all made perfect sense now. NOT.

My internal comment must have been pretty obvious, because Carmen coughed politely. "Magic does exist, you know. You should know, actually. You have more than your fair share."

"Sure." Whatever. I didn't feel like arguing. A real first for me.

Carmen wisely let the subject drop. "I'll begin at the beginning, then. I am a member of the local coven of witches. The woman that brought you down, Hara, is also a member of the coven." There was a kind of odd note in her voice. It sounded like...jealousy?

"She's higher rank than you, isn't she." I glanced up. I had no idea how I knew, but it made sense. Call it a hunch.

"Yes." Carmen's eyes widened. I shrugged before she could ask me anything, and she let it go. "I'm fairly new to this area, and I'm not terribly powerful. Hara is one of the high witches. High witches are like the ruling council of a coven. They tend to be the most powerful of a coven, though it's not a requirement." she quickly explained.

I had to admit, while this sounded like something out of a role-playing game, it was kind of interesting if you could suspend your disbelief long enough. And considering the events of the last few days, I didn't have a lot of disbelief left to suspend.

"What do you do?" Quatre asked quietly. I glanced at him, and he twitched on shoulder. I guess I wasn't the only one that was finding the little lesson interesting.

"We do a lot of things, Quatre." a small, dangerous smile quirked Carmen's lips, and she ran two of her fingernails up her thigh. They glittered in the stark light. "We have to keep our power base stable and protected, and we need to repel any outside encroachers, like the vampires that you seem to be having problems with. That is probably why we were contacted. We have a common enemy." Her hand moved off of her thigh and she absently picked at a loose thread that was hanging off of one of her sleeves. "For the most part, covens are simply interested in staying hidden."

"Why?" I asked.

"Do you have any idea what the general public would do if they knew witches were real? Look how well you're taking it."

She did have a point.

Carmen smirked. It wasn't an expression that I liked. "If you keep playing, Duo, you're going to find that there is quite a lot that's kept hidden from people in general."

I really hate it when people act like they know more than me, even if it’s true. The superior attitude thing just pisses me off. "If I'm lucky, I can kill the vampires and go back to being blissfully unaware." I said.

She actually laughed at me. "I don't think you'll be able to. Once you're in the field, everyone's going to want to try you out...especially considering that interesting aura of yours." Something in her voice said that she’d like to try me out, herself. And we’re not talking in a nice way. It suddenly struck me how small the room was. Great. Claustrophobia, too.

I shrugged a nonchalantly as I could. "Yeah, we'll see. Until then, can we just cut to the chase? Dinner's coming and I'm hungry." A lie. I didn't think I'd feel like eating when I got back to the school. I had way too much on my plate already.

"I have a client coming anyway." Carmen shrugged, the movement oddly fluid. "You need my help to find the vampires."

I nodded. "We were given an idea of how to kill them, but we don't know how to find them, or look for them or whatever."

"Hunt them during the day. You just have to find their resting place."

"Somehow, I don't think they're going to have a little neon sign that says 'resting place here.'" I said.

"Correct." Carmen hesitated, tapping her chin with one long, obviously fake fingernail. Hers were bright, metallic blue. "I can try to locate them for you, if you can bring me something that belongs to one of their victims." She saw my confused look. "The vampires would have drank the person's blood...so a small part of that person remains inside them. I can try to locate that, if I have an object I can take an impression from. I'd rather not try unless it's necessary, though. It takes a great deal of energy, and could attract the attention of the master vampire." She looked a little nervous, which was odd.

"Woah, slow down. Master vampires?"

Carmen sighed. "Just like there are greater and lesser witches, there are greater and lesser vampires. Master vampires control the lesser ones, to a certain degree. It's a little like the structure of a wolf pack. Masters are very powerful. The only reason vampires would even hunt together is because there is a Master forcing them to cooperate."

"Great." I wanted to moan or bang my head against the wall. So we were dealing with five normal vampires, plus the other EXTRA one that I had hoped I was imagining, and that one was more powerful than all the others.Shit. Not my week. "We need to find these things, Carmen. They're eating high school kids. It's bad publicity, and if someone figures out that vampires exist, they might start wondering about the other stuff."

Carmen paled a little. Ah, a palpable hit. I am so good.

"So come on...you help us, we'll kill them and then that's one less worry you have."

"I can't." She shook her head and looked at me, wide-eyed. "I said that maybe I could...but...I'm low in the coven. I can't pull that much power without permission of the high witches."

I sighed. "Then get permission. This is important. You don't want anyone to find out about you witches, right? It's in your best interest." I gave her my best charming grin.

It must have been my sincere, boyish charm that wowed her. Yeah, me and Christopher Robin. "I'll do what I can. It's going to take a couple days, though. I can talk to Hara right away, but it'll take time to contact the rest of the high ones."

"Fine. If that's as good as it gets, I'm not going to push it."

Carmen hesitated, and actually started nibbling on the end of her fingernail. I had the insane urge to tell her not to--that nail polish of hers was probably radioactive if you went by color. Not a good thing to ingest. "There's something else you can try, while I'm trying to get permission."

"What's that?"

"Contact the Master of the City."

"The what?" I could feel another lesson coming on. My brain protested loudly that it was already too full. I told it to shut up.

"The Master of Tokyo." Carmen kept nibbling at her fingernail. It was starting to get on my nerves. "Most vampires are set up like my coven is...they try to keep to themselves and out of the public eye. They aren't going to like a bunch of rogues moving in and killing, because it will definitely attract attention to them. We don't deal with the vampires often, so I don't know who the Master is, or where you can find him...but he's the Master that rule all of the vampires in Tokyo. We're in his territory."

Yippee. More vampires. But no. These were good guys. Right. "No idea where he is. No clues to find him. That isn’t real helpful."

"If you want to meet him, he'll find out, and if he wants to see you, he'll find you himself. He might find you anyway, once he hears about you." Carmen shrugged. "I'm just saying that he might be able to help you."

"Alright, I'm going to make a concrete rule, right here." I said, images of corpses with their throats torn out dancing in my head. "Normally, I hate to generalize, but this is an exception. Vampires are monsters. I'm not going to deal with them." I felt a smile creep onto my lips, one that felt a lot like my special Deathscythe-piloting grin. "I'm going to kill them."

"Have it your way." There was something very final in Carmen's words. I wasn't sure what it was for. "I'll talk to the high witches."

"You do that." I pushed away from the wall and dug through my pockets until I found an old receipt. Why the hell had I paid so much for a damn bowl of ramen? I must have been pretty flippin hungry. Whatever. I found a pen in my other pocket and wrote down the phone number for our dorm room. Dorm rooms didn't normally have phone numbers. Heero's a useful little guy to have around. "When you hear something back, call me."

She took the paper and nodded, tucking the slip away...somewhere. I didn't see where, and I didn't particularly want to know where, either. "I'll do my best."

"Thanks." I turned to leave. Quatre and Wufei were already half out the door. Perfect exit. The effect got kind of ruined, however, when Carmen grabbed my arm and I yelped. I really hate getting startled.

Carmen let go of my arm as quickly as she'd grabbed it, shaking her hand like she'd just gotten burned. "You say you have no magic." Her voice was a little amused.

"Someone told me I have an affinity for the dead. I can go for that. I'm Shinigami." I shrugged. "But not magic. That's too weird."

Carmen's eyes widened, the narrowed. "It's more than that, Duo." She stood and leaned forward until her lips were nearly touching my ear. It reminded me uncomfortably of Victoria the Vampire. "Stop denying what you are, or something bad will happen to you."

It wasn't a threat. At least I didn't think it was. Carmen laughed very softly, and kissed my ear.

I took a very deliberate step away from her, and then another and another before I turned and walked quickly out of the tiny room, shutting the door firmly behind me. I wasn't running away.

Really, I wasn't.