9-20-1999

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.

Additional 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.

Additional...Oh, HELL With It Warning: This is not an Anita Blake crossover, per se. Sorry if anyone's been misled. For more details about the universe this takes place in, contact me about the shadow world.

 

Acherontia Atropos Part XVI

 

Carmen didn't keep us waiting long. She came up the rickety little basement steps so fast that she was almost running while trying to tie the cord of her familiar, ratty green bathroom. Her chest was bouncing up and down pretty badly as she came thumping up the steps in her bare feet. I tried not to wince. Obviously, I don't have much in the chest area myself, but all I can think when I see something like that is it's gotta be as uncomfortable as hell. Carmen stopped several feet in front of me, eyeing me warily. Hara was conspicuously not behind her. I had a feeling I wouldn't be seeing her again any time soon, which was more than fine with me.

"Hi Carmen." I said with a friendly smile. "I have a little job for you."

"Hara told me." Carmen didn't return my smile. "I don't know what you did, but she's scared now." Suddenly, she grinned. I had a feeling that she'd liked Hara's discomfort.

"So you'll help us?"

"I don't have much of a choice, do I." She pulled her robe a little more tightly around herself. Was she scared too? What an intriguing thought. And she hadn't even seen me do anything.

"Nope." I grinned. "Mind if we take this somewhere else? The atmosphere is really getting to me."

"That's fine. I need to be outside for this, anyway." she hesitated. "Can I go grab my clothes?"

"Sure thing. We'll be waiting." I leaned back against the counter with a lot more nonchalance than I actually felt. I had absolutely no problem with Carmen getting dressed. I didn't want to attract any more attention than I had to, frankly, and it was already bad enough that Wufei was looking like an oriental junior Guido in that trench coat of his, though it was still better than the alternative. A good looking woman in a tattered, truncated green bathrobe would definitely catch some eyes.

She disappeared in the back of the store, presumably to go get her clothes. Wufei and I continued to stand at the front desk. Wufei was doing his best not to look at anything. I kept my eyes focused on a set of handcuffs. Still not the most innocent of objects, but a damn sight better than the other things Carmelita's had to offer. A couple of minutes later, she appeared again, dressed in a pair of tight jeans and a dark green dress shirt that was half unbuttoned, revealing a very tight white t-shirt underneath. Most of her makeup had been scraped away, and she looked almost, well...normal. It was kind of shocking. She was wearing Reeboks, for God's sake!

My surprise must have been showing, because she actually grinned.

"Ready to go?" I asked. I had to shout to be heard over the music. A new song had just started up. I was half tempted to ask Carmen if she knew what it was. I have a certain fondness for early history metal. Still, I had to stay on task.

Carmen nodded, and we walked out. My eyes started watering as soon as we got out into the sunlight; it was a bright day, and I'd forgotten my sunglasses. It wouldn't usually bother me, but my eyes were having a hard time adjusting from the extreme dark of the happy hentai hut. We all stood in the doorway for a minute, blinking stupidly. Wufei and Carmen had forgotten their sunglasses too.

When I could finally see again, I looked up at Carmen. Damnit, I hate being short sometimes. "Where to now?"

"Back to my place." She took off walking at a ground eating pace. Wufei and I had to hurry to catch up with her; her legs were a lot longer than ours. It was kind of annoying. I felt like a little kid hurrying after his big sister or something...except no way could Carmen ever be mistaken as any big sister of mine. At least I hoped not.

"Forgive me if the idea makes me nervous, Carmen." Come in to my parlor, said the spider to the fly...

Carmen shrugged easily. Cars on the street were slowing down, and I could see drivers craning their necks so that they could look at her. So much for not attracting attention. "If it makes you feel any better, we won't actually be going up to my apartment. What we're interested in is in the back plaza."

"And that is?"

"The apartment building belongs to my coven. It's built over our place of power." She said.

Place of power. Great. What a lovely day to get stuck in the middle of an RPG.

***

I had to say one thing--the place of power that Carmen had been talking about didn't quite fit my expectations. It was cute, yeah, but somehow, it just didn't seem right for the gathering place for a coven to be cute. There was one tree, a cherry tree that was just turning green with leaves. Under it sat a stone picnic table. The table had a brown-stained yellow and white beach umbrella sticking out of its center. There was a plastic bird bath, filled with slimy green algae.

I admit it, I've read too many fantasy manga. I'd been expecting something a lot more, well...grand. Maybe a grove of trees. Or a big stone alter. At the least, no cheesy umbrellas. Welcome to the world of the supernatural, Duo. Expect the unexpected.

"Sit down." Carmen pointed at the picnic table. "I've got to grab a couple things from my apartment. I'll be right back." She didn't wait to see if we had any objections.

I looked at Wufei. Wufei looked at me. I shrugged and sat down at the table, and he sat next to me. The stone bench was very chilly. I wished that my coat was as long as Wufei's; it would look pretty silly on me, but at least my butt would be warm. I hate being skinny, almost as much as I hate being short.

For a long moment, Wufei and I silently contemplated the top of the stone table. At first glance, I'd thought it was smooth and highly polished, but after closer examination, I could see scrape marks, little pits, and thin gashes on its surface. It was an old table.

Wufei gently ran his fingers over the surface. "These were caused by knives." He said.

I raise my eyebrows and touched the table top as well. It felt strange under my fingers, very warm and welcoming in its own way. The hair on my arms stood on end. I had a feeling that the table was what Carmen had been talking about when she'd said "place of power." Stranger things had happened.

"I see you've made friends."

I snatched my hand away and glanced back at Carmen, suddenly feeling like a kid that's been caught with his hand in someone else's pocket. This wasn't an uncommon occurrence for me, mind you, but that didn't mean I'd ever gotten used to it. "Made friends with who?"

"Fenoko Asztal."[1] Carmen sat down.

"Uh huh." I nodded like I actually had a clue.

Carmen just raised an eyebrow. "Fenoko Asztal is the power base for this coven." She sat down at the table opposite from us, setting a light blue duffel bag on top of it, and patted the table top affectionately with one hand. "If a coven's power base is old enough, it acquires a personality and sentience all its own. It must like you, because otherwise, you wouldn't look nearly as comfortable."

So the table liked me. Thrilling.

Carmen unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a few things that I'd never seen stored in a duffel bag before; a stone bowl, a jar of something that looked like potpourri and smelled kind of like a pizza, a green plastic bottle of what looked like water, and an eight inch long butcher knife. I raised my eyebrows at that one, suddenly feeling a tad more nervous. Carmen favored me with a dazzling smile. I wasn't impressed.

"What are you doing?" I asked. She didn't answer me.

Carmen picked up the knife and sliced her palm open. Wufei and I sat in stunned silence for a moment. We hadn't been expecting that. Finally, Wufei said, "Woman, what are you DOING?"

"What you wanted me to do. Power costs. I'm paying the price." The knife made a faint chiming noise when she set it down. Blood flowed up quickly through the large cut and pooled quickly in her palm before she turned it over and slapped her hand down on the table. I winced. That was kind of gross.

Not that I had a lot of room to talk, considering last night I'd been letting a corpse lick off my fingers. Who knew how many germs there had been in his mouth...

Wufei managed to maintain expressionless, but he did twitch when she picked her hand back up. There was a perfect hand print on the table, and her hand was crimson with blood. But there wasn't a cut on her palm any more. I blinked. No. Wasn't going to ask. Too weird. Waaaay to weird for this little Gundam Pilot.

Ok, I asked anyway. "What the hell?" I couldn't help myself.

She raised an eyebrow at me. "Magic."

Oh. Of course. Silly me. Yeah.

"Do you have a focus for me?" she asked.

"A what?" I asked right back. She let out a long suffering sigh. I didn't feel in the least bit sympathetic. "I must have been absent the day they taught that in school."

Wufei kicked me under the table. I ignored him.

"A focus," Carmen explained with exaggerated patience, "is an object belonging to one of the vampire's victims that I can get an impression from."

"Yeah, right here." I pulled the nasty, bloody little bundle of hair out of my pocket and handed it to her. She raised an eyebrow, and I shrugged with carelessness I didn't feel. "There's hair from three people in there. Will that work?"

"Definitely. It's much easier to get a psychic impression from objects that were once a part of the victim's body...or objects that are still attached to the body."

Wufei coughed softly. I let it lie. Wisely, so did she.

She untied the white ribbon and separated the locks of hair with her fingernails, combing through them as best she could, her efforts a little hampered by the dried blood that coated them. "These are friends of yours. Close friends." she said. "Perhaps even lovers."

I didn't see the need to answer.

Carmen nodded to herself and picked up the plastic bottle of water. It took about half the container to fill up the stone bowl. Some of the potpourri stuff got sprinkled on the water, and on top of the handprint, and we were set to go. At least I thought so. "Do you have a particular preference as to who I look for?"

"No." I said. "I imagine they'll all be in the same place...and the vampires will, as well."

"Very good." Her long fingernails ran over the hair, until she stopped on her chosen pilot. The hair was blonde. "I get the best impression from this one. The other two are well hidden, especially the boy that the brown hair came from. I can barely feel him at all." For some reason, I wasn't surprised. She stroked the hair gently. "This one is very beautiful. Loving, deeply feeling," Carmen smirked, "sensual...I bet he would be a good lay. Perhaps he'd like handcuffs. A more...dominant one."

I really did NOT need to be hearing this about Quatre. Wufei coughed again, and I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. He was looking a little...tense.

"Is he?" Carmen asked.

"What?" I was caught a little off guard.

"Good in bed."

"WHAT?"

Carmen laughed throatily. Great. She was going all creepy again. "Is he good in bed?"

I gaped. "What makes you think I'D know that?" I demanded. Yeah, I'd told myself I wouldn't get into it, but I'd been surprised.

"You're very close." She smirked. "I remember him now. He was the other one you brought when you came to see me. He IS very pretty."

I was NOT liking the way this line of conversation was going. "Hey, can we just get on with this? Please?" I glanced at Wufei again. A muscle in his cheek was starting to twitch.

"As you please. I'm going to begin looking now. He is very strong, so I should be able to find him quickly." She picked up the blonde hair in one hand, and then stared into the bowl of water. That was it. No chanting. No sacrificing poultry. No more innuendo. Thank you God.

Watching Carmen communicate with a bowl of water that had some bits of greenery floating in it lost its charm very quickly. Wufei sat by my side, calm now that Carmen had stopped talking about Quatre's possible sexual habits, and appeared to be half-asleep. I knew that was deceptive, though. He was alert and ready to go.

I, on the other hand, was bored. Very bored. After a few minutes, I started fidgeting, shifting around on the stone bench and swinging my legs. I always have too much energy. Sitting still is such a pain in the ass. Literally. The stone of the bench had not only frozen my butt, it was also starting to put too much pressure on my hip bones. The curse of the skinny strikes again.

An eternity passed. Then another. The third eternity was about halfway over when Carmen finally moved, sitting up straight and blinking her eyes rapidly as if she'd just woken up from a nap. "I found this one." She said without preamble.

"Really? Great. Where?"

Carmen raised her eyebrows. "You want an exact location?"

"That would be nice." I said dryly. "But even a general would help."

"Northwest."

"A LITTLE more specific would be nice." I said immediately.

Carmen stood up and stretched. Her little teeny t-shirt rode up and exposed a generous expanse of skinny, smooth stomach. I wasn't impressed. I had her beat in the abs department, I was sure of it.

Wait a sec...why the hell was I thinking about that? Geeze...

"I can't get more specific. What I did gave me a line to the boy with the blonde hair. I can home in on him, but I don't have a specific location that I can write on a map, if that's what you want. I couldn't see well enough. I told you that I'm not that powerful." she sighed. "I'm going to have to come with you."

None of us were all that thrilled. "Great." I said. "Do you have a gun or anything you can defend yourself with?"

She shook her head.

Double great. Another back for Wufei and I to watch. Sometimes I wonder what I did to God to piss him off so much. "Ok, this is how it's going to work. You're going to stay safely between Wufei and I, and as soon as we've narrowed it down to a small area, you're going to go home and let us handle it." I waited for her to raise objections. She didn't, surprisingly enough. I guess she had a good self-preservation instinct too. "Are you SURE you can't just draw us a map or something?"

She shook her head.

Damn.

***

About an hour later, we were standing at the edge of the woods, about a kilometer south of the cemetery. Carmen had driven us there. We were just waiting for her to get her bearings so she could lead us to the vampires. I was really hoping that they'd be close to the edge of the forest, since we only had about an hour and a half until full dark. Hell, if I'd had the option, I would have just put things off until the next day, so we'd have a full day's worth of light that we could hunt during. I wasn't going to leave the guys in the clutches of the vampires a moment longer than I had to, though, and I knew Wufei felt the same. So it was now or never.

Carmen was standing out of earshot, doing some mystical witch crap. I glanced at Wufei. "You ready for this?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"Think we're going to find them?"

"I hope so."

Silence stretched. I cleared my throat. I was getting nervous. I had no problem admitting it. This was the first time I was going to actively seek out the monsters. "And we're going to kill them all, right?"

"If at all possible."

I laughed. "Oh man, we're going to die, aren't we."

Wufei raised an eyebrow. "That's a very probable outcome."

"Wufei! Geeze man, can't you just LIE to me and make me feel better?" I demanded, exasperated.

"You'd know I was lying, so it wouldn't do any good." Wufei let out a sigh. "Calm down. Stop thinking about your nervousness and concentrate on your anger." He seemed to have achieved a state of before battle calm. Then again, I knew the calm would disappear the moment he started fighting.

"Maybe I should have let Mimura lock me up after all...this is pretty damn suicidal..." I muttered.

Wufei turned his head and glared at me. "Focus, Duo." he said in a tone that booked no argument.

Yeah concentrate. I could do that. Who me, nervous? Of course not. Come on, Duo, it's just like going in to battle. I wasn't even as badly outnumbered as normal. We'll just ignore the fact that we're not in our Gundams and it'll be ok.

Right.

Carmen started waving to us, and we both loped toward her. It wouldn't do to keep the nice witch waiting. Yeah. The minute we caught up to her, she turned and started walking through the woods. Wufei and I came up on either side of her, then slowed to match her pace. "I've got a direction." was all she said.

We didn't interrupt her. It took her long enough to figure out which way to go the first time around. God only knew how long it would take the second time. The woods, to quote one of my favorite poets, were "quiet dark and deep" and we definitely had miles to go before we could sleep. Hopefully, it would be the good kind of sleep, not the eternal kind. The trees were just budding, but the bare branches above us were so thick that they tangled together and formed a canopy so thick that very little light came through. It smelled like leaf mould left over from last year, and wet dirt even though the path was dry. Not really an unpleasant place to take a walk, when you came down to it. It was too bad we couldn't enjoy it.

We walked and walked, then walked some more. Then did a bit MORE walking. For hours, we headed more deeply into the woods. Carmen would occasionally change direction at times, but we never slowed. I memorized the way we were going, though I didn't have a lot of confidence that I'd be able to recognize it if it were dark and I was being pursued by vampires. Then again, if I was being chased by vampires, I probably wouldn't have a chance to make it out of the woods anyway. So I wouldn't worry about it.

It was full dark and we'd been walking for nearly three hours before Carmen slowed, then stopped. As far as I could see, there was nothing special about the section of forest we had stopped in. There was a tiny, partial clearing where the light of the stars seeped through. Of course, if the vampires were around, I wasn’t expecting them to have out a welcome mat to let me know.

"This is the area." Carmen said.

"Can you find your way back?" I asked. I took her silence for assent. "Then head back. We'll search the area ourselves."

That was when they attacked. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I felt a surge of cold, electric power, and that was all the warning we had. I didn't even have enough time to pull my cross out. I slammed my shoulder into Carmen, knocking her out of the way while I went for the Browning with my other hand, just as a vampire rushed out from between two trees and clotheslined me. I was turned to the side and off balance, and that was the only thing that saved me; it hit my shoulder instead of my neck and sent me flying. I impacted roughly into a tree, and my ribs, which still weren't anywhere near healed, screamed in protest. My arm was numb. Thank god it wasn't my shooting arm.

I heard Wufei yell something, and then there was a shriek, but I really didn't even try to see what was going on. I was too busy trying to stand up, because I could feel the vampire coming again. I launched myself off of the tree. Air rushed by where it barely missed me with its fist. A hand grabbed my braid and jerked me back, and I yelped loudly. That HURT! I spun with the pull and brought my gun to bear, right into the face of one of the female vampires I recognized, though not by name, from the night Yan died. I didn't stop to think. I pulled the trigger.

Everything retreated until it seemed far away, slowing down. The gun kicked in my hands and the vampire's head almost exploded, black blood and thicker things spraying out the back and across the waning white disc of the moon. I took a step back, my gun automatically aiming lower, and I pulled the trigger again, turning her chest into a ruin of shiny bone splinters and blood. She fell to her knees, then to the ground, not moving.

I had killed my first vampire.

Something grabbed me from behind and threw me at the tree again, and time sped back up. I hit the tree right arm first and both my arm and the tree let out a loud crack, the branches above me tilting at a crazy angle for a minute. I screamed as my world tilted at a crazy angle itself as everything fuzzed out in a haze of pain.

When you get hurt, truly hurt badly, like a gunshot wound or a bad compound fracture (I'm talking blood spurting and bone sticking out, here) there is a moment of shock while your body tries to cope with the sudden flood of screaming pain messages from your nerves, where you can't quite believe you've been injured. For that instant, everything is completely colorless and still, and you can't hear anything over the sound of your own blood in your ears. While I was caught up in that moment, the vampire that had grabbed me before had me again and shoved me down against the ground, hard.

My right arm hit the ground and everything resumed its normal pace as I let out a scream of pure agony. Nothing hurts quite like a badly broken bone.

I'd somehow managed to retain hold on my gun with my left hand, but unfortunately, my left hand was being held against the damp, clinging leaves by the vampire. It was straddling my stomach. I was well and truly pinned. It reared its head up, and smiled at me. Victoria.

I could hear Wufei yelling again, but the sound retreated from my attention as Victoria reached her free hand over to my broken arm, grabbed, and squeezed. My vision whited out for a moment, and I came back to reality a couple seconds later with my harsh screams echoing in my ears. Victoria brought her hand up to her face. There was blood shining on it, and she giggled, smearing the blood on her face and on her nearly bare chest. She was barely wearing what looked like it had been a vinyl teddy before it got cut down.

Not that I cared at that point. I was too focused on the fact that I thought I was going to never stop screaming. Victoria grabbed my chin and kissed me, and the taste of my own blood was thick in my mouth. Her body crawled down me and she rolled her hips against mine.

She wasn't going to get a response, I thought happily in a tiny corner of my mind. My senses were already to overloaded by pain to be able to feel anything else at all. She seemed to sense this as well, because she let up and wrenched my head to the side and tore my shirt open to expose my neck and shoulder. She'd had enough foreplay, I guess.

I really didn't want to think on what was about to happen. I could see two blurs in the distance. I idly thought that the light colored one must be Wufei, which was great since that mean he was still alive, and then Victoria struck. I'd been expecting her to go after my neck. Instead, she came down on my collarbone, tearing my shoulder wide open and snapping the bone like it was a brittle twig. I screamed again.

Two broken bones, well, actually more than that if you counted the ribs, in under five minutes. I had a new record.

Victoria sat back up. Her face was covered with blood. She laughed and shoved her fingers into the tear she'd just made in my shoulder. I was starting to lose my voice; my screams were getting very raw. For one blissful moment, she pulled back and the messages from my nerves quieted to a dull roar. I could feel myself sinking away into shock...

Something rolled into my vision. It was a severed head. It had fangs.

That was the only warning I had before Victoria threw herself off of me. She rolled around on the ground, shrieking loudly and clawing at her chest. Part of a huge knife blade was sticking out from between her breasts. I saw Wufei, bleeding profusely from a head wound and from a long, deep gash on his chest pull a knife out of his sleeve and go after her while I struggled slowly to my feet. The vampire managed to get to her feet as well, and she grabbed Wufei as he lunged at her, pulling him tightly against her. She was a good 15 centimeters taller than him, which is all that saved his life. The blade when through the upper side of his chest instead of his heart. He managed to drive his knife into her stomach before she shoved him away, sending him flying.

I was on my feet by then, and I brought my gun to bear. I could feel blood running freely down my right arm and side, and the pain was still jangling through my brain, but everything retreated into calm. I pulled the trigger, aiming for Victoria. Three bullets later, there wasn't anything left that could be identified as a head, and she was dead.

Score...Wufei one, Duo two, vampires zero. Go us.

I made my way over to where Wufei was laying as quickly as I could, considering the way the world was wavering in and out. I was getting pissed at myself; I didn't have time to feel pain. We were still missing two vampires and the master, not to mention the guys. Wufei was already struggling to his feet, filling the air with lyrical, pain-filled curses by the time I made it to him.

I let out a careful sigh of relief that set my ribs off into another round of shrieks. We only had to find Carmen, who had gotten out of the way if she was smart, before continuing on. I looked around. "Carmen?" My voice was barely a whisper. Too much screaming will do that to you.

"Right here, Duo." she said. She was behind me. "I'm impressed. You two fight a lot better than we'd anticipated."

"What...?" I was slow, too goddamn slow...Something dark reared up behind Wufei and grabbed him, stabbing one hand into his profusely bleeding shoulder. He screamed. I just started to bring my gun up when someone grabbed me, his...no, her arm snaking around me.

"Not so fast, honey." Carmen's voice whispered in my ear.

I made a barely audible croaking sound with all that was left of my voice. Sharp pain lanced through me as a cold knife slid effortlessly into my back and between my ribs.

Then there was only darkness.

 

 

[1] Unfortunately, I am unable to reproduce the accents over the letters. ^^ Fenoko is the word for a honing stone. Asztal is a table. ^^;; (if I read my Hungarian correctly). You might ask what a table with a Hungarian name is doing in Japan. Let's just say that it's one of those things a witch never leaves home without.