12-23-2001

Pyractomena Borealis Part 16
by Katsu

This chapter is dedicated to Evian. Hey, who says what small miracles may happen in the modern world?

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"If you want to live past the next five minutes, you have to run." My eyes were drawn to the rooftops, scanning them for any sort of movement. I could feel warmth creeping down the palm of my hand, probably blood from where Relena had bit me. Or drool. Who knows. "Nod if you understand me."

Relena seemed frozen for a long moment. Her eyes were so wide that you could see the whites all around, and she was pale as death. I had a feeling I didn't look much better. The good old fight or flight response was kicking in, and fighting wasn't even under consideration. I must have made an impression on her; she attempted to nod, which was hampered by the fact that my hand was still firmly over her mouth.

"Great." I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. We were out of time. "Now run." I let go of her quickly, transferring my grip from her upper arm to her wrist, then took off running. She had no choice; it was either run or be dragged. I wasn't about to leave her to the tender mercies of three vampires, no matter how much she pissed me off.

It was like running through an endless maze, in an out of the light puddles cast by the street lamps. Since I had no idea where I was or where I was going, I started taking random turns, hoping to lose the vampires that I still knew were pursuing us. I was starting to get a little tired; my breath was coming harder, but at least neither Relena or I had tripped and fallen yet. That would have been a bad thing. One thing I've got to say for Tokyo is that they keep their streets in good condition; if we'd been trying to run through any old city in Europe, one of us would have fallen and broken a leg by now. Relena was keeping up admirably; she was gasping for breath, a brilliant red smear of my blood streaked across on cheek, but she was still managing to run. A good shot of adrenaline has a way of helping a person do that, though.

I saw a bright flash of neon, far down the street ahead of us. Great. Neon meant shopping or entertainment district, which meant people, even as late as it was. We had a better chance to escaping in a crowd. My right knee was starting to twinge a little under the strain of running on a hard surface, never a good sign. I did my best to ignore it and poured on more speed, heading for the light and dragging Relena along behind me. Seven intersections to go...six...five...

FUCK!

Something dropped down to the street, nearly on top of us--a vampire. I backpedaled quickly, yanking Relena toward me even as the thing made a grab for her other arm. As I was turning to run down the left hand street, I pulled out the Browning, somehow got the safety off, and fired two shots at the thing without even bothering to aim. Miracle of miracles, I must have at least winged it--an outraged, pained, and very inhuman shriek echoed behind us as we ran.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and fired at it, hoping that it wasn't a cat or some nice old lady taking her trash out as I yanked Relena down another random street, between two apartment buildings. My knee gave a twinge of protest at the abrupt direction change.

"I can't...keep running." Relena gasped out. There was another blur of movement ahead of us. I fired a shot and we turned away from it.

"You have to. I can't carry you." I gave her wrist my best version of a reassuring squeeze; I was being serious. If she went down, I'd have to try to carry her and keep running. I wasn't going to leave her behind. It was bad enough that we both might get killed, hunted to our deaths...but dying because someone left you behind, too worried about saving their own kiester? Not going to happen.

I didn't know where this new street would take us, but I did know that with each step, we were drawing away from the questionable salvation of a public place. I didn't like it, not one bit...but I also was not about to turn around and head back. If we kept running away, we'd probably get killed. If we turned around and went right back at them, the chances of death were 100%.

That's when I saw it--a brick wall right in front of us. It made sense now; they probably could have jumped us at any time, but it would have allowed us too much opportunity for movement and escape. So they'd run us right into a blind alley.

Fuck me.

I jerked Relena to a halt. She didn't bother asking why; she only leaned against one of the walls surrounding us, panting harshly and looking like she was gearing up to puke right on the street. I would have liked to, but I had more pressing matters on my mind--like not getting killed. The wall belonged to another apartment building...while I might be able to scale it, there's no way Relena would be able to, and I had a feeling I might not like what I found on the roof anyway. There were no doors in any of the walls, no fire escapes or convenient stacks of crates, boxes, garbage bags, or rolls of abandoned carpet. Movies are such liars.

The only way out was the way we had come. Shit. I grabbed Relena's wrist again and pulled her away from the wall, only to discover that our only way out had vanished too.

There was a dark shape in the mouth of the alley, and it definitely wasn't Santa Claus.

I hooked one finger around the chain of my cross and pulled it out from under my shirt. Relena was looking at me wide-eyed, completely confused. She didn't know what was in the alley with us; to her, it just looked like a person. "Duo--"

Whatever she was going to ask was cut off; the minute my cross was out, it started glowing with the white-hot, angry intensity of a magnesium flare. The...thing...at the end of the alley shrieked and cowered away, covering its eyes. It was pretty young; the old ones wouldn't react nearly that violently. Not bad...it was wonderfully refreshing to be going up against something I actually had a chance of beating in a halfway fair fight.

Thanks to the glow of my cross, I could see it pretty well now; it was male, dressed in a black fishnet shirt and black leather pants. Really, black seemed to be the theme of the day; his hair was black, I could see his fingernails were painted black, and I was betting he was also wearing lipstick, and it would be black too. Real subtle, that. Some day, I would really like to meet a vampire that doesn't look either like something that just walked out of a history museum or a goth punk's wet dream.

"Duo Maxwell!" the vampire kinder-goth had to speak pretty loudly, since he was turned away from me. "Please put the cross away. I just wish to speak with you."

"Funny joke, man. What about your two little buddies, huh? Are they just here to talk to? If you want to talk, why the hell did I just spend the last twenty minutes doing a killer aerobic workout?" I bared my teeth in a nasty grin, even though I knew he couldn't see me. It just felt good.

The kinder goth ignored my questions, probably one of the best ways on the planet to annoy the shit out of me. "Put your cross away. You will not be harmed."

"What about the girl?" I instinctively pulled Relena a little closer. I could feel her arm shaking under my hand. She might not have had any idea what we were up against, but she obviously had at least figured out that something was very wrong. "No deal." I took a couple steps toward the vampire. Satisfyingly enough, he moved back.

"We just wish to talk." the vampire said. "Our master sent us with a message for you."

"You can tell me just fine without looking at me." I said. "So you're going to be a good little messanger, say what you have to, and then stand aside before I puncture your sorry ass because it's in my way."

"Our master said that we were to give it to you face to face."

"You master has one hell of a sense of humor, then." I said. "Who is it? The Master of Tokyo? The Master from Berlin?"

The vampire actually chuckled. The sound was very dry, like stones sliding past each other. "No."

I didn't get a chance to ask any other questions. Something large and heavy hit me from above, knocking me face first into the brick floor of the alley. I saw nothing but bright red and yellow stars for a minute as my forehead and nose took the brunt of the fall. Dimly, I could hear the sound of Relena screaming, then being abruptly cut off.

The thin, cold line of a knife slid across the back of my neck, under the chain my cross hung from. There was a sharp, bruising jerk, and the chain snapped. Shit. The vampire on my back moved the knife to one side, scraping it across the ground -- trying to get the cross, I guess, to toss it away.

Between the bruise on my neck, the thing on my back, and the blood free- flowing out of my nose, I was having a tough time breathing. While I still had the oxygen necessary to stay conscious, I relaxed completely. The vampire obliged me by relaxing as well, still distracted by trying to get the cross away. Good boy. I threw myself to one side, rolling the vampire with me, and I was free of him.

The vampire, large, blonde, and not particularly intelligent looking, fell into a befuddled heap, giving me a few precious seconds to react. Somehow, my right hand found the chain of my cross, and I flung it at the vampire. It hit him in the middle of the chest, prompting a round of shrieking and clawing at the cross, which was shining like a nova and starting to smoke. I didn't bother with finesse; while the monster was still trying to escape the burning, I took aim and fired, point blank range. One in the head, and he stopped shrieking. Two in the chest, and I was satisfied that he was dead. I and the wall behind him were covered with blood, bits of bone, and what little grey matter he had possessed.

A hand grabbed my wrist with nearly bone-crushing force, and the gun got ripped out of my fingers and thrown away, skittering across the alley and disappearing from sight. There were bigger problems on my mind, though.

/Shit./ The vampire that had me by the arm swung me around, toward the wall. /This isn't good./ I managed to turn enough that I didn't hit the wall with my head; instead, I went sliding down the wall, gasping for breath and essentially immobilized. The black-haired kinder goth was in front of me. /Damnit, Heero, you were supposed to be my backup, and you deserted me!/

The kinder goth drew his hand back and slapped me. It was like getting smacked in the cheek with a baseball bat; I was suddenly on my side and seeing stars. There was a white blur to one side; it resolved itself into Relena. Her eyes were wide open and blankly staring, her mouth frozen in a perfect little "O" of shock. I couldn't tell if she was breathing or not, but there was blood down the front of her shirt, trailing down her neck--way too much blood. /Damnit, I can't take them on myself!/ There was a dark shape above her; a vampire, blood streaked down his chin. He was laughing.

A hand roughly grabbed my collar and hauled me back upright, while another hand on my chin jerked my face to front, so that I was staring into the eyes of the black-haired vampire. "This will teach you to disrespect us." he hissed. "Beg for my kiss, scum, or I kill you now."

I managed a weak grin. I had a feeling he was trying to pull the ol' eye trick on me, and I knew it wasn't working. "You breath smells like old blood." was all I could to get out.

I got another slap for my trouble, and then I was on the alley floor again, stunned. My shirt collar was jerked down, sending buttons bouncing across the bricks as they were popped off. /Oh God.../ The sharp pinpoints of fangs began to sink into my neck, and damnit, it hurt like nothing I'd ever felt before. I would have screamed if I'd been able to dredge up the breath for it. This was not happening, this could not be happening, nuh uh, no way, not me... /Oh GOD! DAMN YOU, HEERO! HELP!/

Suddenly, the vampire jerked away from me like someone had just grabbed him, and threw himself backwards. He was clawing at his chest, whimpering like he was in pain. The whimpering got louder and louder until he was screaming--

He burst into flame. Bright blue-white flames leapt out of him, consuming everything. He didn't get a chance to scream again; he was gone in less than ten seconds, reduced to a shadow burned into the alley wall and a greasy pile of ash on the bricks.

Holy shit.

That's when I realized that there was one vampire still unaccounted for -- the one that had Relena. No time to go into puzzled brain lock. I struggled to my feet, staggering down the alley toward where my gun had been thrown, almost certain that I wouldn't get there in time.

I didn't. But then again, I didn't have to -- something else happened. Just when I thought things couldn't get any scarier, they did.

A roar echoed down the alley. That's right. A roar, the kind you never hear outside of nature shows, circuses, and zoos. Except I'd never heard one quite like this anywhere -- it sounded too damn PISSED. The primitive part of my brain, the throwback to the days when humans still had opposable toes and lived in trees, said "EEK!" I definitely seconded that particular opinion. Without hesitation, I threw myself to the alley floor, somehow managing to land on top of my gun because I'm just lucky that way. It's like falling on your keys, but much, much worse. Owie.

I rolled over and struggled to my feet, bringing my gun with me. Even though I did manage to point my gun at it, what I saw at the end of the alley was enough to make me fall back on my ass. I wasn't the only one stunned. The last vampire was still over Relena, her wrist held in his hand, halfway to his mouth. He'd stopped moving when the other vampire had burst into flames, and was still frozen now.

There was a tiger in the alley. A fucking tiger, white as bleached bone instead of orange.

The only problem was, I'd never seen a tiger that big, not in pictures and not in the zoo. Maybe it looked bigger because I was so scared, but I doubted that. For a long, silent moment, it stood at the end of the alley, half in the light, its lashing tail the only thing about it that moved at all.

The vampire dropped Relena's wrist and then started to stand. It was like a cue; the insant the vampire moved, the tiger let out a low, rumbling growl...and leapt. All I saw was a huge, white blur hit the vampire. There was a scream, then a crunch and a wet tearing sound. Something came rolling down the alley, slowing to a stop as it neared me.

It was the vampire's head. Just his head. The neck was torn raggedly, still seeping blood, and it had a singular look of fear in its wide, dull eyes.

Soft fur brushed lightly against my cheek, and I froze, not even daring to breathe. The scent of blood was heavy and very close. I felt more than saw the tiger go past me, toward the end of the alley. It sprang, jumping to the /oh my god/ top of the building. I saw its tail flick one last time in a movement that looked curiously amused, and then it was gone.

I stared after it for a long moment, trying to wrap my mind around the idea of a tiger that obviously did not like vampires wandering the streets of Tokyo. There was a soft whimper from Relena's direction, and I forcibly pulled myself together. I had to go check on her, see how badly hurt she was.

It wasn't as bad as I thought, but also definitely not good. The vampire had rolled her under before it bit her, so she hadn't struggled and made the things worse, but she had lost a lot of blood. I untucked my shirt, and, grimacing, ripped a large strip from the bottom of it. I was just going to have to find out whoever had thought up this particular attack and send them my damn uniform bill.

Relena didn't move as I gently wrapped the makeshift bandage around her neck. She just stared at me, her eyes wide and lost. She was much too pale -- it was like the time I'd seen a dead dove on the side of the road; all the blood on the white feathers looked very wrong. I realized, then, that I wouldn't be able to get really mad at her again. I finally got it. In the end, no matter how much power she was given or how mature she tried to act, she was still a kid.

"Hey," I said softly, "you going to live?" I gave her a crooked smile to let her know I was joking with her.

She stared at me for a long moment, and then managed a weak smile. "I don't feel very good." she whispered. Tears began to slowly seep out of her eyes, running down her cheeks to mix with all the blood.

I tied the bandage off, pulling as little as possible. "It's ok," I said, "I wouldn't expect you to. Do you think you can walk?"

"I don't think so." she whispered back, biting her lip.

Crud. "Alright." I nodded. "I'll carry you. It's ok. Just give me a second." I stood up, planning to go look for my cross. She gave me a look of absolute terror. "Don't worry, I'm just going to get my cross. I might need it. I'm not leaving. Watch." I tucked my gun back into my shoulder rig, then went over to the corpse of the vampire I had killed. I had to peel the cross out of a blackened patch on his chest. Ew. A little sterilization was going to be in order before I wore it again. I shoved it into my pocket and headed back over to Relena. I was feeling more steady on my feet now that I'd gotten my breath back, thank god, and I still had enough adrenaline in my system that I was pretty sure I could get the both of us down the road to civilization...and help.

She managed another smile when I knelt down by her again. "I'm sorry." she whispered.

"It's ok." I put on my best reassuring grin, because, to be honest, I wasn't really sure if it was ok or not. "Listen to me though...I'm going to get us to help, and they're going to end up taking you to the hospital. You can't tell them what happened." It was pretty much a tribute to how drained she was that she didn't even protest. "If you tell anyone what happened here, they will find you and kill you. They don't want anyone to know about them, and if they want you dead, no one in the world will be able to stop them."

"Except for you." The sudden, complete trust in her eyes hurt.

"Maybe not even me." I shrugged. "But I'm not going to be around to protect you. Trust me...if I were, it would only put you in more danger. So you have to keep this quiet. Make something up. Tell them a thug with fake teeth tried to rob you or have his way with you. Just do not tell anyone the truth." I gave her a stern look. "Understand me? Promise? Nod for me, or I'm not taking you anywhere."

After a long moment of hesitation, she nodded. "I promise."

I slipped my arms underneath her and picked her up. She was surprisingly light in my arms; I'd expected her to be heavier, since she wasn't all the much shorter than me. She wrapped shaking arms around my neck and rested her head against my chest as we set off down the street, heading for civilization.