At long last. Yes, I am alive, but barely. ^^
*cough* Damn Martian Death Flu.
Warning: The characters belong to who they belong to and not me. Don'tsue me, I'm not worth your time. Special thanks to Laurell K. Hamiltonfor 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, wherethis 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 areeasily offended, do not read. Also, extra warning is attached to this due to the "YUCK!" factor during some scenes.
Pyractomena Borealis Part X
Something was tickling my nose. I snorted softly, and the annoying bit of whatever-the-hell-it-was retreated for just a second before I inhaled and sucked it back into my nostril. Damnit. I didn't want to wake up. I was warm, I felt safe, and better yet, I had no idea who the hell I was or if I was supposed to be doing anything. Some days, the amnesia of sleep can be a gift from God. I had a feeling that this day had probably been one of them, but I couldn't remember, which was the entire point.
Except the damn something-or-other was still tickling my nose. Presented with no other choices, I crawled my way back toward consciousness. Sensations started to slowly creep into my field of attention. I was laying on my side. There was something smooth and slightly bumpy under my right cheek. My left cheek felt stiff, and ached dully, as did the side of my head. The inside of my eyelids was grey, so it was light.
"Duo." Someone said.
So that's who I was. It explained a lot. The image of a harpoon made of black metal, long and impossibly thin, slicing through the cockpit of my Gundam ran across my mind.
Oh yeah, that's right. Sucks to be me.
I opened my eyes a crack and found myself looking at a smooth expanse of shiny fabric the color of mint ice cream. Gold threads crawled across the surface in a pattern that probably would have looked like something if I had been observing it from the top rather than from the side.
"Duo?" There was no mistaking that voice. It was Quatre, and he sounded like he was about to leap into full-blown worried mother hen mode.
"Quatre," I said very carefully around the suddenly sharp pain lancing across the side of my face, "I don't suppose there's any chance that if I pretend to be asleep, you'll just go away, is there?"
Relief blossomed in his voice. "Unfortunately, no." He said, half laughing.
"Then would you be offended if I just told you to fuck off?"
This time, he did a full blown laugh. "Quite possibly."
"Well shit. I tried." I let out an exaggerated sigh. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Heero, Wufei, and Trowa, and a weight that I hadn't even really noticed until now suddenly lifted off my chest. Still, I couldn't help but wonder how I was managing to be so damn calm. Then again, I was apparently alive and so was everyone else. We'd made it out of worse situations before. Besides, there wouldn't be much point in freaking out, and it's damn hard to think of how to haul your ass out of trouble if your ulcers are acting up.
"Do you feel alright?" Quatre asked. He was sitting back on his heels in front of me, peering worriedly at me.
I sat up with a soft groan and stretched gingerly. My shoulder rig was missing, but I'd kind of been expecting that. I was betting that I had an exact copy of my safety harness imprinted on my body in black and blue. "Argh." I said intelligently. "Not too bad, all things considered. I guess. No nausea, wooziness, or anything else you'd normally expect out of sleeping gas." I gingerly reached up to touch the side of my face. My skin was crusty with streaks of dried blood, as was my hair, and I could feel a thick line of it right under my eye. Judging by the size of the cut, it was pretty surprising that it had managed to close up and stop bleeding without stitches.
"You looks like someone attacked you with a brush full of dark red paint." Quatre reached out and gently touched my cheek. Strangely enough, the pain immediately retreated under his soothing touch. Then again, it's hard to be anything but serene around Quatre; he's just got that kind of aura around him. "Deep, but very clean." He commented. "It's thin enough that you probably won't get too bad of a scar out of it. What happened?"
"To be truthful, I'm not really that sure. Things were kind of jumbled at that point, but I thought a...harpoon got speared through my cockpit. It was so close that it sliced right into me, and then I got gassed." I shrugged. "You remember anything like that?"
Quatre shrugged in return. "Not really, but things happened very fast. One minute, I was calling for retreat, and then Sandrock got slammed into the ground and I lost consciousness."
"I saw something." I heard Wufei say. "It may have been something similar to a harpoon...but it didn't go through my cockpit. Only the point entered."
"Huh." I leaned back against the back of the couch I was on. "Did anyone see," I hesitated for a moment, not sure if it had been real or just a pain induced hallucination. Nah, it never hurt to ask. Right. "yellow eyes in the fog?"
Ok, maybe asking hadn't been such a great idea. "Never mind."
Quatre gave me one last concerned look, then backed up a couple of steps to sit down next to Trowa on a light blue couch with green vines embroidered carefully on the armrests. I gave the room we were all in the quick once over. I hadn't seen anything so tastefully and...eclectically decorated with antiques since I'd done a class field trip to an old French Palace. The wallpaper was off white with a faint gold pattern, and the carpet was a deep green, covered with oriental rugs. There were oil paintings and intricate tapestries hanging on the walls. All of the furniture was rich, dark wood and what looked like embroidered satin. The whole room looked like something that belonged in a museum...or a dollhouse. I could see Wufei sitting on a couch, too, and Heero had claimed the only non-couch piece of furniture in the room, a little writing desk that was pushed up against one wall.
"So now what?" I asked.
Heero shrugged. "Wait, like the rest of us have been."
"At least you don't have to listen to yourself snore." Wufei said dryly.
I sneered delicately. "Fine words from a man sitting on a pink couch." As nonchalantly as possible, I eyed my own couch. The gold embroidery on it turned out to be stylized heraldic eagles. Considering that not only was Wufei's couch pink, it had roses on it, I definitely had the high ground as far as furniture went.
Wufei snorted. "Idiot."
I stuck my tongue out at him. Immaturity is great stress relief. "So how long have we been here, anyway? And how long was I out."
"I woke up an hour ago." Trowa said quietly, tilting his shoulders in a nonchalant shrug. "I was the first one to wake. Before that, there's no way of telling. Several hours, at least, quite possibly longer."
"And no sign of our host or hosts at all, right?"
Trowa shrugged in response. I took it as a no.
"The room is completely secure." Heero said. His voice sounded a little more nasal than usual, probably because his nose had swelled up to nearly twice its normal size and was a positively hideous shade of nasty green and yellow, the color a really bad bruise gets when it's healing. When Wing had crashed, part of the control panel must have leapt up and bit him or something. He still had streaks of dried blood on his forehead and crusted around one nostril, and he had a rakish raccoon look going, courtesy of two black eyes. It was odd to see his bruises already fading, but then again, we might have been out for a while. Be that as it may, he was a sight and a half. None of us were exactly looking our best, really. "No egress possible through anything but the doors, and there's no budging them. I have no doubts that we're being monitored, as well."
I nodded. "So we wait." None of us wanted to talk much more--we were pretty sure we were being watched, and it was never a good idea to give away more than necessary. Besides, it was obvious to all of us that we'd be alive for a least a while longer. Whoever had caught us had gone to a lot of trouble to capture us alive and relatively unharmed. It was doubtful that they'd kill us offhand, but then again, that opened up all sorts of unpleasant possibilities. Still, we'd all learned a while back to stay relaxed about the possibility of dying or worse.
When you work closely with Death, or, hell, you ARE Death, it just doesn't make sense to worry.
So it was just back to waiting.
I passed the time by picking at a loose thread in my couch's embroidery, incidentally the same one that had been attacking my nose. Fortunately for the couch, we didn't have to wait too long. I'd managed to unravel the wing of one of the embroidered eagles when the huge double doors opened.
All of us were on our feet immediately, reaching for guns that we'd been relieved of while unconscious.
"Good evening." The man who had opened the doors said. Even as I was still groping helplessly for the gun I didn't have, I couldn't help but stare at him. To go with the theme of the room, he was dressed like a palace guard. He looked like something out of a film I'd once seen in a history class about the last Czar in Russia. Gold braid covered the front of his ocean blue jacket, looping around both arms. Really, the jacket was a lot more impressive than the guy wearing it. He was only a few inches taller than me, and had mousy brown hair cut neatly short, a snub nose, and muddled hazel eyes.
Definitely not the towering, impressive figure you'd expect out of a vampire.
Then again, this guy wasn't exactly a towering, impressive example of vampire-hood to start with. He couldn't have been more than 300 years old, and he was a pretty weak 300 years old at that. After what I'd been dealing with, he was almost laughable. Sure, I still wouldn't want to arm wrestle him, but in a magical pissing contest, I'd be able to eat him for breakfast.
"My name is Ivan." The vampire continued after a moment. There was only a trace of an accent in his light tenor voice, but logically enough, it sounded Russian. "I have been charged by the Master of Tokyo to bid you welcome, and to apologize for the less than civilized manner in which we were forced to deliver your invitations." He bowed and straightened in one fluid motion. While he might not have been impressive as a vampire, there was an absolute confidence in the way he moved and even the way that he wore his uniform like a second skin that practically screamed "soldier." In life, he would have been a force to be reckoned with. I had a feeling that becoming a vampire had only made it worse. There went my misplaced feeling of confidence.
Wufei coughed softly. "It would have been nice," he said, "If your master had simply chosen to send a card."
Ivan didn't even twitch. "Unfortunately, my Master's time is at a premium, and it was not feasible to deal with the loss your refusal would have caused. Once again, I extend the apology. Now, if you will follow me, the Master wishes to speak with you face to face." He smiled, and it was almost like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, open and honest in the extreme. This guy wasn't acting like any vampire I'd ever met...not that I'd met a lot of them.
I gave Quatre a look. He shook his head almost imperceptibly at me. I got the hint. Refusing wouldn't be the best idea, since the vampire was at least being polite for now.
Besides, if we went along with it, we might actually get a clue as to what the hell was going on.
No one was saying anything, and Ivan was just standing there with the unending patience of the dead, so I stepped up to bat. "Lead the way, Ivan."
"Thank you." In one motion, he turned and started walking. With a shrug at the rest of the guys, I followed him and they all fell into line behind me. I heard the doors swing shut a moment later.
The hallway pretty much matched the room. Pleasantly lit, nice thick, sound-eating carpet, and more oil paintings on the walls. It seemed to stretch on forever, and after five minutes of endless, still scenes of women washing clothes and men hunting, it was either talk or go crazy for me.
"So, Ivan," I said, "how long have you been working for the Master of Tokyo?"
Ivan actually hesitated for a split second before taking his next step, like he was shocked that anyone would want to talk to him. I was pretty shocked that I'd actually want to talk to a vampire, myself. "I've been with the Master for the last hundred years." He said.
"Is your Master a good guy?"
Once again, there was a hesitation, and then Ivan nodded to himself. "The Master is a good master," he said, "though I am sure that my definition of good and yours are quite different. But the Master is not needlessly cruel, and does not torture lesser beings for diversion or fun." He shrugged. "There is no one else I would rather serve in all the world."
That sounded like just about the best recommendation you could get out of a vampire.
"Huh." I said, doing the best I could to ignore the disapproval I could almost feel radiating off of Heero behind me. "I've got another question."
"Sir." The hallway split. Ivan chose the right hand fork, which sloped downward.
"I don't suppose you were in on capturing us, were you?"
Ivan's neutral statement twitched into surprise for a moment before smoothing back into blankness. It was nice to see proof that not all vampires were professional poker players. Ivan had probably been an open book when he was alive. "Actually, I was honored to be included in that particular activity." He said carefully.
"Great." I gave him my best winning smile. "Mind sharing with our viewers at home how you did it?"
Ivan raised an eyebrow at me, then actually smiled, a real, genuine statement that seemed somehow out of place on the face of an undead blood sucker. "I wouldn't be much of a soldier if I told you that, would I?" he asked.
"It was worth a try." I shrugged. Behind me, someone snorted. It sounded suspiciously like Heero.
"It always is." Ivan said quietly. Then, without so much as a word of warning, he stopped in the middle of the hall. All that saved me from running into his back was an undignified little sidestep that instead caused me to run into an end table that had a blue and white Chinese vase on it. Without looking, Ivan reached out and caught the vase right before it fell over, gently restoring it to its spot in the exact center of the table. "We have arrived." He said.
I glanced at the massive doors that stood in front of us, made of dark red mahogany that almost looked like old blood and covered with intricate carvings of stylized eagles and wolves. There were actually the traditional, old style door knockers, one on each door, an eagle and a wolf's head, each with a ring in its mouth.
"Before I open the doors," Ivan said softly, "I will give you some advice, as one soldier to another. Do not attempt to be anything other than open and honest with the Master." He glanced back at me, a strange, very inhuman light in his eyes. "We can smell it when humans lie."
Somehow, a flippant comment just didn't seem appropriate. "Thank you." I said, nodding.
Ivan stepped forward and pushed the massive doors. They swung soundlessly back on well oiled hinges.
Nothing could have prepared me for what lay beyond. Really, I should have been expecting it, but somehow, it didn't feel like a classic vampire movie setup. The light of the hallway simply stopped at the room's threshold, as if afraid to enter. In the gloom, I could make out an enormous staircase of pale marble, leading up into eternity. The only other decoration were shadowy banners that looked almost like wisps of fog, hanging down from a darkness deep enough to drown in that had to be hiding a ceiling somewhere. It looked almost like a painting, not even a breath of air stirring one of the thin pieces of cloth.
The room was by no means still, though. Even though I couldn't see it, I could FEEL things moving through the room, restlessly circling around us, just outside of the pale light by the doorway. Instinctively, all of us took a step closer to each other, tightening the group up.
Ivan stepped to the side. A ghost of pale violet mist lit his eyes, completely washing away any chance I could have had of thinking of him as human. "The Master waits for you at the top of the stairs."
I took a step forward, and the guys followed. The doors shut themselves behind us, plunging us into almost complete darkness while our eyes fought to adjust. I took another tentative step, then stopped, transfixed.
Eyes...there were hundreds of them, all around us, at different heights, peering at us from behind the banners or sitting out in the darkness. They all seemed to come with their own amber, purely internal glow, resting like stars in the darkness.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and my skin suddenly felt too small for my body. It was the eyes in the fog, multiplied a hundred times, and a hell of a lot closer.
A shape and a pair of eyes detached themselves from the darkness for just a moment, crossing in front of me.
It was a wolf, the biggest wolf I'd ever seen in my entire life. Its shoulder would probably come up to my waist, but I sincerely hoped it wouldn't come close enough to test that theory. It disappeared into the darkness, never once looking away.
I'd never seen an animal with eyes like that. It was like it somehow knew everything that I was thinking, and it found my cognitive processes sadly wanting. It was full of intelligence, malevolent and ancient.
"You do not need to fear anything." Ivan said quietly. "They are only curious, and would not think of harming you. Please, go up the stairs. Do not keep the Master waiting."
I was caught between wanting to believe Ivan and refusing to take a step further because I was too scared of the wolves. Another massive shadow passed through the bare edges of the light, and I came to the conclusion that I didn't have much of a choice. I had a feeling that Ivan was wrong in saying that the wolves wouldn't think to hurt us.
So it was up the stairs. The climb never seemed to end, and pretty soon, I was starting to feel a little worn out, and my knees were hurting. I still couldn't see a ceiling, or walls, and the floor retreated into darkness pretty quickly as well, leaving us with just the stairs, and each other. Ivan had stayed at the bottom.
After what seemed like an eternity, the stairs finally ended in anenormous, flat platform of the same white marble. There was dim, sourceless light there, though it seemed really bright when compared to the darkness below. The filmy stuff that had hung down in streamers before now obscured everything, hanging down from the ceiling in a veritable maze. I could see a dais vaguely through it, though, with a massive chair at the top, and a shape in the chair.
The Master of Tokyo.
The air felt heavy and electric against my skin, and it was everything I could do to keep from scratching my arms and hands raw. It rolled across me in waves, and I wasn't sure if it felt good or it just scared me. What I did know if that I was feeling just a fraction of the Master's power. This vampire was so massively old that it made my teeth ache. It leaked energy so heavily that it almost made my hair stand on end with each slow beat of its heart, and it wasn't even doing it consciously.
It was like listening to God breathe.
The only thing that kept me from turning tail and running my ass down the stairs was the other pilots at my back. Safety in numbers. Right.
Slowly, I walked toward the dais, somehow never touching the tangle of translucent fabric. I could see indistinct shapes beyond the dais; they could have been people, were probably vampires.
I stubbed the toe of my boot against the bottom step of the dais. Somehow, I really didn't want to look up at the source of all the power, but I didn't seem to have a choice. My gaze was drawn inexorably upward. Halfway up the steps, a woman lounged, her brown hair pulled into two tight braids. She was wearing almost nothing, just a white leather bustier and shorts. Her eyes were like the wolves', golden amber, glowing, and full of ancient knowledge.
She wasn't what I was looking for though. In the moment of distraction that I'd had, whatever had been hiding the Master from view had disappeared.
Behind me, I heard Wufei whisper under his breath. It sounded like a curse.
That Master of Tokyo rose, smiling kindly. "Duo Maxwell, Heero Yuy, Trowa Barton, Chang Wufei, and Quatre Raberba Winner...it's an honor to meet you at last."
"Hail Mary, full of grace..." I heard myself say hollowly, as if from a thousand years away. I recognized the Master of Tokyo, knew him from hundreds of newscasts and missions.
The commander of Oz and our mortal enemy.
We were in bigger trouble than I had ever imagined.
Katsusuhiro (ICQ me-13773131!)
High Mucky Muck of Naked Samurai Productions
Keeper of Duo's Angst, Stake, Mallet, and Browning .40 Hi-Power III
Wufei no Seishi, Duo's Grand Inquisitor and Head Torturer
AND: Keeper of Ad's Sanity! (*snicker* What sanity?)
Can't sleep the con will eat me.