3-14-2001

Standard disclaimers for this story still apply in this part. ^.^

 

Pyractomena Borealis XIII

 

The burning I'd felt when Tamlin had touched my neck hadn't been an illussion; when I looked in the mirror (after I'd calmed down enough to be able to even think about purely cosmetic stuff) there was a red, perfectly round circle at the base of my throat. In the middle of the red burn, there was a huge blister.

Shit.

The guy that taught me how to torture people once said that burns hurt worse than any other kind of wound. I was definitely willing to believe that. I couldn't help but stare at the reflection of the perfectly round little burn in the bathroom mirror as pained reality fought a very brief battle with complete disbelief. Tamlin wasn't a witch; I knew that much. I'd met a couple of real, honest to God witches, the hag in the department store being a prime example, and they hadn't felt anything like her.

' I am not here by my own choice.'

That last words she'd said before disappearing seemed to be permanently stitched into my frontal lobes. Every time that woman showed up, she always left more questions behind than she answered...the real brain bender this time around was the scary question of who the hell was sending her at us, since she wasn't just showing up for her own malicious pleasure.

And then there was still the question of what exactly she was. I knew one thing for sure, now...she definitely wasn't alive in the classic definition of the word. The mental scent she gave off was eerily similar to vampires, but it was different enough that I was certain she was something else. I felt like I was at war with myself, almost; it was like I knew what she was, but I couldn't get anywhere near it. Just thinking about it made all of my body hair stand on end. It scared me, yeah, but it also really pissed me off. She'd been doing her best to annoy me ever since she'd first appeared, that much had been obvious. What had she been trying to accomplish? What would making me lose my temper do? Why hadn't I just shot the bitch the minute she'd touched me?

Would it have done--

"Duo, have you finished gazing at yourself yet?" Wufei asked dryly. The absolute sarcasm in his voice caused my train of thought to jump its tracks. All on board were killed.

I glared at his reflection in the mirror. "No. Go away."

He smirked at me. "If you want, I could kiss it and make it better."

"Wufei..." I glared at him even harder.

"Or I suppose I could ask Heero if he'd like to..." He let the sentence trail, his smirk reaching all new shit-eating proportions.

"WUFEI!" I spun around, ready to deck him, friend or no, only to be greeted by the sight of his retreating backside.

Not a bad sight, but still...I growled to myself, wincing as the burn on my neck twinged. Ok...priority one: take care of wound. Priority two: kill Wufei. Check.

I practically tore our tiny medicine chest apart looking for something to put on the wound. Nothing but petroleum based antibiotic cream, and I knew better than to use that. I had to settle for just a bandaid...at least it kept my collar from rubbing on it.

Great, so now it looked like I was attempting to hide a hickey. I tell you, some days I just can't win. As a note, I would have definitely preferred a hickey to a burn, though from a source other than Tamlin. Now there's a nasty thought. Ugh.

I tried to button the collar of my shirt up in the hope of quelling any speculation by my peers about my necking practices. Once I got the top button done, I could barely swallow, and the burn hurt like a son of a bitch. The collar was way too small, which shouldn't have been that much of a surprise since the shirt actually didn't belong to me. It was from one of Quatre's spare uniforms. Even after the witch at the department store, Treize, and now Tamlin, life still went on. It was a real shame, since I really would have liked to indulge in a nervous breakdown about now. Still, we all had to fake like we were going to school, and I still had to find more school uniform shirts. I was hoping this attempt would be more successful than the last one.

Wufei was waiting for me when I finally got out of the bathroom. "Ready to go?" he asked, eyebrow raised and smirk unfurled.

I snarled at him, which he only seemed to find more amusing. Without another word, I headed out of the room. The rest of the guys were waiting for us out in the hall; it had been an unspoken agreement after we'd made it back to the school that we weren't going to take any chances; bad things seemed to happen when we got separated into smaller groups. So we were all going shopping. What fun.

* * *

It had gotten hotter while we'd made our stop at the dorm, though part of that no doubt came from the fact that we weren't in a cool green meadow any more. Concrete and asphalt has a tendency to soak in heat, so that it gets to about egg frying temperature in no time. The entire atmosphere was made even more oppressive by the fact that the little breeze we'd had this morning had died down, so now the humidity just sat on my hair and shoulders instead of evaporating off. Tokyo is hell in the summer, and we were getting pretty darn close to it.

We walked past a group of businessmen laughing and smoking cigarettes. Quatre sneezed, then I sneezed in sympathy, which made my eyes water.

"I don't understand how they can smoke when it's so hot." Quatre said as soon as we were out of hearing range. "It's too hot as it is, without sucking on something that happens to be burning."

I couldn't help it; I laughed.

Quatre raised an eyebrow. "What's so funny about that?"

"You, Quatre of Arabia," I said, eliciting a snort from him, "complaining about it being too hot. If I remember right, you were the one bragging about how you guys could cook hamburgers on the sand dunes at lunch time."

"How many times do I have to tell you? It's not the heat--"

"--it's the humidity. I know." I grinned at him. "We just have to be careful...don't want to tax your delicate cons--"

Heero reached out and grabbed my sleeve, which was the only thing that stopped me from running into a veritable wall of humans. It looked like the world's biggest pedestrian traffic jam. The entire street was blocked with people standing, most of them wearing school uniforms or business suits...so basically, your average crowd in Tokyo. Most of them were talking to each other, or standing around and looking bored. A girl carrying an enormous shopping bag full of books

"Duo...is there a parade scheduled?" Heero asked.

I shook my head. "Not that I've heard. Today's not a holiday, if I remember right." I looked over at Quatre and mouthed the question to him; there was no way he was going to be able to hear me over the noise of the crowd ahead of us. He shook his head in mute reply, my earlier jab about his delicate constitution forgotten. "Quatre says no too." I said, "and you know he remembers that stuff better than me."

The ground beneath me shook. It was an almost imperceptible tremor at first. I wasn't the only one that felt it, though...the entire crowd fell silent and turned away from us, looking toward the end of the street, where the shocks seemed to be radiating from. Several of the school girls in the back started jumping up and down, trying to see what was happening ahead. The tremor came again, and again, once every two or three seconds. Definitely not an earthquake. I glanced back at Heero, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach.

A sound began to build under the tremor; not a rumbling like you'd expect out of some sort of geological phenomenon, but an electric whining noise, like an overworked motor. I winced. It was a sound I recognized all to well.

Bright metal flashed in the small space between two skyscrapers. An instant later, a Leo walked into view in front of us. Another followed it, and another. An entire convoy was walking down one of the main drags of Tokyo; they must have blocked off the street so that the pedestrian traffic wouldn't get under foot. My stomach gave an odd lurch to the left as I watched them go by. This was the convoy that Treize had used to lure us out. It wasn't fictional.

That bastard.

A deeper tremor ran up my leg, just as a line of bright red crossed between the skyscrapers. It reminded me uncomfortably of blood streaked on glass. A split second later, a brilliant white mobile suit, dwarfing the Leos, walked into view. There was a splash of black and maroon on its shoulder; a man in an Oz uniform, his long blonde hair streaming out behind him, the sun glinting off his mask. Zechs Merquise, showcasing for the crowd while Tallgeese marched along on autopilot. He lifted one white-gloved hand and waved languidly...and the crowd actually cheered. I could hear adolescent girls letting out their extra-special piercing squeals, the ones they normally reserved for rock starts. It was enough to make a cat sick.

"Well," I heard Quatre say, "this makes things more interesting."

We stood there long after the convoy had passed and the crowd had cleared, trying to figure out how this new problem fit into the overall cluster fuck.