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Pyractomena Borealis Part XII
The world blinked.
"What the hell?" I shielded my eyes with one hand. One moment, I'd been standing in a dim, endless room with my nose almost touching Treize Khushrenada's chest. Now, it was suddenly a hell of a lot brighter, Treize was conspicuously absent, and there was a soft, warm breeze playing gently across my cheeks and tugging at my hair. "Guys?" I squinted, trying to make my eyes adjust a little more quickly. I could smell the sickly-sweet scent of morning glories mixed with other, uglier weeds.
"Here." I heard Wufei say. "What was that?"
"Where are we?" Heero asked, his voice very, very cold.
Still shielding my eyes from the light, I looked down, which seemed to be a safe direction. Dark green grass that was in serious need of mowing surrounded my feet. I dropped to my knees and grabbed a handful. It came out of the ground with a satisfying rip, and I sniffed it cautiously. Between the tangy scent of the grass and the dew that was now soaking into my pants, I couldn't doubt any more. This was real. I looked up into an endlessly blue, almost cloudless sky stretched that out as far as I could see. There were trees reaching up for the horizon.
And our Gundams.
I dropped the handful of grass as I stared at Deathscythe. The black gloss of his gundanium armor was shining with almost painful intensity, not marred by even the smallest scratch or dent. There was no indication at all that any of them had been in a fight.
"Oh shit." Someone said quietly. It was Trowa.
You got to hand it to Trowa; he always knows what to say. I turned my head towards him. "No kid-"
Except that Trowa wasn't looking at the Gundams. He was looking in the opposite direction, his eyes wide. Not only that, but there was the cruel, silver line of a knife glittering in his hand, and I could see the tautness of his arm under his flight suit. He was ready to let fly at something.
Calmness flooded through me, and instinctively without a second thought, I reached for the Browning that I'd had in my shoulder rig before all the weird shit started happening. Surprisingly enough, it was back from its long absence--I guess Treize's mommy had taught him to put things back where he found them. I had the gun out of its holster and was thumbing off the safety with a final sounding 'click' as I was turned to face whatever the hell it was behind us.
I wasn't the only one that had noticed something was wrong. Just an instant after I had completed my turn, there were two more clicks, and the soft metallic hiss of knives being drawn. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see two gun barrels, no doubt belonging to Heero and Quatre. Wufei had produced what he called a knife and everyone else called a big freaking sword.
That wasn't nearly as interesting as what we had in front of us, though. Down the matte black line of my Browning's barrel, with the notch of the sight settled in the center of her chest, stood a petite woman with white-blonde hair and cold, cold blue eyes. It wasn't hard to recognize her, even with the consideration that it was broad daylight and she wasn't carrying a sawed-off shotgun.
"You." My voice sounded even colder than I had intended, which was a real accomplishment.
"Hello to you too," Tamlin said, her mouth quirking up in a smirk. "Is that a gun in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?" Her smirk didn't reach her eyes at all. Not even Heero had ever managed to reach their depths of sheer chill. Then again, I had a feeling that Tamlin had been killing people professionally before we were born. I also had the feeling that, unlike us, she enjoyed her job.
"What do you want?" Wufei asked, his voice tight. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see one of the gun barrels wavering almost imperceptibly--and it was the one that belonged to Heero. The lines of tense muscles were visible under the sleeves of his flight suit, and his jaw was clenched. Heero had never liked Tamlin, but not in the way I was used to him not liking people. I'd never even been tempted to ask him about it, since I'm a smart boy and I value my life, but I had the feeling that he was a little scared of her--and that in itself was enough to put the fear of God into me.
"The same thing all five of you want."
I snorted at that. "Somehow, I don't think peace is your aim."
"No. My aim is Death." Call me crazy, but I did not like what she was implying there.
"Cut the bullshit." Trowa said. I jumped at the sound. I've never heard his voice that loud...or that coldly furious. Emotion and Trowa weren't things I normally associated. Hell, foul language and Trowa weren't things I normally associated! "What the hell are you?"
Tamlin smiled charmingly, which was kind of like watching an alligator giving you its most innocent grin, and pointed at me. "Why don't you ask him. He should know."
I glared at her. "You're pushing it, Tamlin." The hair on the back of my neck stood up, which is my normal reaction to having everyone's attention directed towards me. At least in this case, I could shoot Tamlin if she gave me enough of an excuse. I hadn't yet found how to get away with that when it came to teachers putting me on the spot, unfortunately.
"Come, Maxwell, you still haven't figured it out? And I thought they said you were smart..." she let the sentence trail to a halt, and this time, I could see some emotion stir in the depths of her eyes; malicious amusement. Somehow, I preferred the simple dead ice that I was used to.
"Sorry, I'm fresh out of banter today, you're just going to have to make do without," I said through gritted teeth. It shouldn't have been possible for someone to get under my skin and truly annoy the shit out of me so quickly, but I was guessing that she was trying really hard. She'd done this to me last time, and even though this was only the second time we'd crossed swords I was already damn sick of it. "Why are you here?"
"You wouldn't believe I simply enjoy your company?"
Wufei let out a sharp bark of a laugh. "Not on this side of hell," he said.
"I have information." Her voice became flat, all of the false good humor draining away.
"That's great." I said, in my best sarcastic tone. "What do you want in return?" I'd learned a long time ago that if they don't show you the tag right away, the price is so high that you'll have to mortgage your two best friends if you ever want to pay it off.
Tamlin's eyes narrowed slightly. "No price. The information is free."
"I find that hard to believe." Trowa said.
"Believe what you like, I'm telling the truth." She shrugged carelessly. "I won't be asking for anything in return."
Call me crazy, but I actually had the strange feeling that she was telling the truth, or at least her version of the truth. "Whatever. Answer me one question before we get down to business, then."
"Are you planning to do anything that would make me want to shoot you, or can I put my gun down?"
She actually smiled. "If you don't push me, you will have no reason to shoot." I had a hunch that I could actually trust her on this one. I don't think that Tamlin was actually capable of lying; she just never told the whole truth, which can be far more damning and deceiving than a thousand tangled lies.
"Great." I let my poor, tired chicken arms drop. After a moment of consideration, I clicked the safety back on and slipped it into my holster. Tamlin raised an eyebrow at me. She'd gotten the point I was trying to make; I'd left a round chambered. "So talk." Heero and Quatre both lowered their guns, but they, notably, didn't put them away.
"The Master of Tokyo has finally surfaced." she said.
I raised an eyebrow at her. Man, was she behind on the times. "I know. We just met."
The shock on her face was almost worth all the stomach ulcers Treize was probably going to end up inflicting upon me.
"Oh," she said, "Really."
"Yes, really." Wufei piped up. Was that sarcasm in his voice? No, I must have been hearing things.
Quatre, next to him, was nodding enthusiastically, malicious amusement of his own dancing in his eyes. "And we met his little popsie, too."
I made a noise that was an unhealthy cross between a laugh and a choke. I should know better than to let Quatre surprise me by now...but to call UNE a popsie? Even if it wasn't to her face, that took some creative thinking and a set of big hairy ones...considering (according to intelligence that we'd gathered) that she was the closest thing Treize seemed to have to a spy master, she'd probably end up hearing about it sooner or later.
"Oh," Tamlin repeated. "Really."
I coughed quietly, and Quatre got the hint; he left off the lunatic grin to give Tamlin a moment to regain her balance and get back on task. As much as I didn't mind seeing her spinning her wheels for once, I didn't want to poke her too much. She might get cranky.
"So you've met him," she said carefully, a slightly amused smile creeping across her lips. The expression didn't reach her eyes. "That crafty old devil." Suddenly, she was sharp again. "Do you know how old he is?"
I shook my head, my thoughts scrambling as the conversation took a bit of an unexpected turn. "No...I don't. He's so old he makes my teeth hurt, but that's all I can tell."
"It was worth a try." She shook her head. "What did he want with you?"
I shrugged. "Pretty much the same thing that the Johannes guy wanted," she didn't so much as bat an eyelash at that one...I'd kind of figured that she'd known about my little one-on-one with the German master, "To recruit me and all that. I told him the same thing I told Johannes."
"What was that?"
"Where to stick it." I couldn't help but smile a little proudly at that. Me, the big heap vampire killer, so terminally stupid that I would tell not one but two extremely powerful master vampires to smeg off.
"I see." She didn't look amused. Her loss. "Did he want anything else?"
"Yeah. He wanted me to get in on the arson investigation."
Tamlin nodded. "Fire is one of a vampire's greatest enemies. Remember that. He's no doubt nervous because there's a pyro on the loose that isn't under his control."
"I assume that by pyro you're referring to something other than pyromaniacs?"
She allowed herself a little smug smile. Payback for us shocking her earlier, I guess. "Pyrokinetic. Fire starter, fire summoner, lightning bug, call them what you want. Someone with the ability to call flame and make things spontaneously combust. That's my other piece of information for you--there's a pyrokinetic on the loose that isn't under anyone's control. Whence the random nature of the fires."
"Ok, so what do you want me to do about all this?"
The smile became knife-edge sharp, and just as thirsty. "Kill him."
"Which one?" Wufei stepped in, asking the question that had been sitting on the tip of my tongue. He also managed to sound a lot less annoyed than I was all of a sudden feeling. I don't know who the hell put "hit man of the supernatural" on my forehead, but I was starting to get righteously aggravated about it.
"Woah." I waved my hands. "Woah. No. No way in hell. I don't know if you noticed, lady, but we're all pilots. I can't speak for the other guys, but I can tell you that piloting is all I can take on my plate right now. I don't need to add any more suicidal tendencies, thanks."
I cut her off cold. "And beside that point, I'm more inclined to let the two vampires duke it out, since at least one of them will get killed, and that'll be less work I have to do."
Her expression had lost any suggestion of warmth at that point. "You have to kill them," she said flatly.
"According to the head fang face himself, he's all that's keeping Tokyo from turning into the supernatural east side." I said carefully, trying not to let my growing annoyance show. People with one track minds (even Heero, at times) get on my bad side faster than anything else. "I don't know if he's lying or not, but I'd rather not chance it until I find out if he's telling the truth."
"That doesn't matter. The pyro is an uncontrolled threat, and the other two are vampires. They have to be eliminated."
"I'm not your personal assassin! I'm not going to go whack some human because you told me too, even if he is setting fires, and forgive me if I'm not eager to cause the streets of Tokyo to swim with blood because I've removed the only control there is!"
"You don't seem to understand...vampires. Pyros. They're twisted. They're evil. They have to die." Her voice got louder with each word.
"When did we bring the Spanish Inquisition back, huh? You shall not suffer a witch to live--is that what you're gunning for?" My voice was rising too. I personally had no love for vampires, but something about her dogged insistence that I had to kill them and the pyro was getting to me. There was a little voice whispering in the back of my head...one that asked 'If pyrokinetics are evil and don't deserve to live, what about necromancers, huh?' "Who the hell are you to decide who lives and who dies?" I almost yelled at her.
It never occured to me until much, much later how nearly everything I'd been saying was something that I aimed at myself in some form or another when I was indulging in an after battle bout of self-flagellation.
Tamlin froze as if I'd just slapped her...then called me the dirtiest word in the english language. "Hypocrite," she whispered venomously.
I snapped. My world narrowed to one objective--I was going to get her for that. If anything else was going on, I didn't notice.
Suddenly, I was almost nose to nose with her. She'd lost all of her chill...or maybe it had gotten deeper, but either way, she had obviously lost her temper too. There was a look in her eyes that I recognized all too well...I've seen it in myself way too often. "Shut the hell up and listen, would you? I don't take orders from you, the Master of the City or anyone else for that matter. I didn't ask for this. Get the fuck out of my business!"
Her hand moved toward me. I simply reacted. My gun was suddenly out and resting against her temple the instant the tip of her index finger gently touched the base of my neck. The simple touch almost brought me to my knees; her finger was cold, cold like liquid nitrogen. It burned, more than anything else I'd ever felt...and even worse, the touch pulled at me, sucking away at my own warmth and making my heart beat irregularly.
"Hypocrite." Tamlin hissed quietly. Her skin and lips had become chilly blue in an instant, and she had frost stiffening her hair and glittering on her cheeks.
I tried to reply, but my throat felt stiff, and very, very cold. I could hear my breath wheezing loudly in my own ears. So instead, I started pulling at my gun's trigger. Two more gun barrels came to rest against her head, and I could see a thin edge of silver resting against her neck.
"Drop your hand." Heero said quietly, from what sounded like years and years away.
Tamlin's eyes narrowed slightly. "I am not here by my own choice. If I had my way you'd be dead." There was a look in her eyes, one that transcended any amount of madness I could currently achieve...but I had a bad feeling that I could some day go that way.
Then she unraveled. That's the only way I could begin to describe it; she suddenly lost all color, turning white, and her body unraveled into braided mist that faded into the air, leaving nothing behind.
Someone whispered a very, very quiet "Fuck." It was Trowa again.
There was no sensation of movement, but suddenly I was on my knees, one hand still holding my gun, the other clutching my throat as I tried to remember how to breathe. Beneath my knees, the grass was very, very cold.