The room shook, shattering the dream.
Slowly, I peeled myself off of the floor, rubbing and pinching at my nose in a vain attempt to clear it enough to I could breathe normally. Most of the skin of my face was tacky with dried blood. Wufei and Milliard were already awake and up.
"Is that... an earthquake?" I asked. My voice cooperated only after severe protest. Constant nosebleeds will do that to a guy.
"I don't think so," Milliard said. "It didn't last long enough."
The room shook again, harder, setting our cages swaying. I felt, rather than heard, the dull whump! That accompanied it. "Wait, I know that sound..."
Wufei uncurled enough to look up, hope ragged in his eyes. "That was Heavyarms. I helped tune the missile launcher. I know that pitch."
"Oh my God." I grabbed the bars with shaking hands. "The guys have come for us. I didn't think it could happen, but somehow..."
"Heavyarms? The guys? What are you talking about?" Milliard asked.
I turned toward him, grinning so widely that my already dry lips cracked. I really didn't care. "Believe it orr not, man, Wufei and I are two of the notorious Gundam pilots. Sounds like our buddies have finally gotten off their asses and come looking for us." I knew I shouldn't have said anything, but my heart was singing an irrational chorus of hope and joy that would have made Beethoven put down his music in despair.
Besides, after you've been guinea pig with someone for a while, there aren't too many secrets left.
Milliard stared at me for a long moment, his mismatched eyes wide with disbelief. Then he threw his head back and began to laugh like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard in his life.
Whump! The room shook again, and still he laughed, clutching at his ribs. Maybe he was finally cracking. Or maybe he was just enjoying the feeling of laughter; none of us had gotten to laugh at all in such a long time.
Slowly, he started to wind down, wiping at his eyes in between throaty chuckles. I quirked an eyebrow. "Care to let us in on the joke?" I asked.
That set him off again. Between gales of laughter, he gasped out, "It's just too funny... Gundam pilots... right next to me... Oz's Lightning Count!"
Wufei and I stared at him as if he'd started speaking Basque, then at each other, then back at him. Lightning Count? I'd only heard that name once before, in a news report... "No fucking way!" I yelled. "You're Zechs Merquise?"
He somehow managed to stop laughing in an instant, smoothing his expression into cultured lines. "A pleasure to make the acquaintance of two such notorious terrorists. I hope you've been enjoying the lovely weather we've had." And then he was off again.
I looked at Wufei. "You're not Treize in disguise, right?"
"Okay, just checking."
The room shook again. It was the strongest tremor yet. The explosions were getting closer. "Milliard, get a fucking hold of yourself, okay?" I snapped. Amazingly enough, he did, except for the occasional snort that managed to leak out of his nose. I dropped my voice low, hoping that all of our previous yelling had gone unnoticed. "Look, either the guys are going to manage a flawless jailbreak - in which case we get to sit here and look pretty - or the lab techs are going to try to get us to a different location. If that happens, it's the ideal time to make a prison break. So we keep cool and keep watch. No one gets left behind on this one. We're all going to make it out."
Wufei nodded, echoing. "No one left behind."
I grinned at Milliard. "We'll deal with your shitty politics some other time."
Surprisingly enough, he stayed serious. "There are quite a few things stronger than politics in this world."
The lock to the main door clanked before I could answer, and we all sprawled down in our cages, playing possum. It might as well have been a well-rehearsed plan. Guess after you're with other guys for a while, you start sharing brain cells. I cracked an eye open so I could watch. When they opened the door, the light was painfully bright, but not blinding. The drug was already fading, then.
I'd deal with that later. Like I had a choice.
The witches filed in, feathers in hand. Dr. Schbeiker followed in their wake. It sent a stab of fear through me. Not good. Whispering their sibilant little cantrips, they flattened Wufei and then Milliard like a couple of toads under a tractor trailer. They brought them to the front for another injection of the drug, then shoved them into plastic crates that looked like large, glorified pet carriers. When both were out the door, they turned their attention to me. The gathering power misted my breath and made me shiver, but the expected blow of power never came. I had a hard time continuing my sleepy act.
The rowan Tamlin had spoken of. Maybe it didn't just keep me locked in. Hot damn.
I played dead, staying still and limp, as the room shook with the worst tremor yet. There was a crack like a gun shot, and tiles fell away from the ceiling, crashing down on the ledge only inches away from the witches.
The ringleader looked at Schbeiker. "We are needed outside, now, if we want to buy any more time. He is subdued, you will be able to handle him. Tesra, stay." In a swish of black cloaks, she and all but one of the witches was gone. The remaining witch reeled me in. As my cage reached the platform, there was another whump, and more ceiling came tumbling down.
Tesra directed a rather frightened look at Dr. Schbeiker. It was almost amusing. "Doctor, let's get out of here before the roof collapses. He's subdued for now. Once we get him to the truck there will be time to drug him safely."
Dr. Schbeiker was looking pretty nervous himself. It did my black little heart no end to good. "A wise plan," he said, sticking the black case he held in his hand back into his pocket. "Let us, then."
I closed my eyes and forced every muscle in my body to relax as they opened the door to my cage and yanked me out, then dumped me in the plastic crate. I stayed absolutely still until they slid the little door in place and locked it. Once we were moving, they weren't paying attention, so I slowly arranged myself into a much more comfortable position and waited, every nerve on edge. My opportunity was coming soon, I could feel it.
We burst from a set of double doors as an explosion shook the building, sending acoustic tiles cascading to the floor. The lights in the hallway we'd just left flickered and died. It was getting close.
Outside was the end of sunset, the entire world bathed in blood red by the dying sun. I couldn't recognize anything I saw; as I'd expected, they'd taken us to a different lab than the one we'd been captured at. Through the cracks in the crate, I could see the moon already risen, fat and full in the sky. The moon seemed to glow with its own light, beckoning me; it stirred my blood and made me bare my teeth. But more importantly, as the moon's weak light fell on my eyes, the power within that I'd been bereft of for what felt like years stirred and rose to greet it.
"Did you say something, Doctor?" Tesra asked.
"Not at all. Keep walking, please." The good doctor glanced back at the building, his movements nervous. Couldn't say I'd blame him, the way the masonry was starting to shake loose.
I'd never realized until now what an integral part of me the magic was. I wouldn't forget the feeling of its return soon. It was like my blood had been thick and sluggish in my veins before; now it finally began to move, bringing warmth to my limbs. And there, yes, just barely on the edge of my sluggish perceptions, I could feel a tug. The voices of the restless dead were trying to call to me. I needed to hear them better. I needed the blood.
Grimacing, I reached up and pinched my nose. It was enough to start it bleeding again, and I took a few drops on the tips of my fingers. Waiting for the moment that my captors were looking away, I stuck my fingers through one of the cracks and flicked the blood onto the concrete.
Hallelujah! Once blind, but now could see. Once deaf, but now could hear.
There were hundreds of them, in shallow tombs of poured concrete, each one filled with memories of pain, hatred, and terror.
And, of course, the beautiful need for revenge.
The sound of an idling truck reached my ears. I didn't have a lot of time for finesse. I bit into my right wrist, shut my eyes tightly, and tore. Blood began to patter down on the plastic. Not much, but enough. I stuck my entire hand through the crack this time, squeezing my fingers tightly so I'd bleed more and praying to whatever god watched me that it would be enough.
They noticed me almost immediately, but it had been too late for them the moment they decided not to drug me. The crate jerked to a halt, and Dr. Schbeiker yelled at Tesra to grab my wrist. My skin was slick with blood; I pulled away from her grasp easily. They began working on the crate's door, but there was no way they were going to be quick enough. As little blood as it had been, it was enough. They had their own hatred to animate them; all they needed was my invitation. I flung back my head and screamed, "Rise, and take your vengeance!"
For one terrible instant, there was silence. I could feel the dead turn in their graves, flexing their hands and stretching their legs.
Then, all around us, the concrete cracked. It was loud like a gunshot as it buckled and writhed, torn apart by the hands of the dead. Tesra and Dr. Schbeiker were held still by their own confusion and growing horror. They backed away from me, realizing too late that they were surrounded by those they had buried.
I let go of all the pain, anger, and anguish that I'd felt during the time in the lab, channeling it through the power that licked at my fingers. The emotion, echoed by the zombies erupting from the ground, changed the cool power to blackened violet fire that surrounded me like a shell. The raw power woke something in me that had been sleeping far longer than I'd been alive, far longer than even the world had lived. It opened its eyes, and I became someone... not Duo.
The crate exploded, leaving me barefoot on the cracked concrete. Tesra and the good doctor had been blown away and lay sprawled across the ground like a couple of discarded toys. I watched curiously as they tried to get to their feet, surrounded by the monsters they'd created. Monsters they were indeed, men and women caught halfway between animal and human. Their fingers were talons, their teeth fangs.
Sobbing with terror, Tesra scrambled to her feet, pulling her raven feather from her sleeve. Her eyes were open so wide I could see the whites all around. The fire surrounding me reflected in them.
"Now, now," I said, waggling a finger at her, "it's far too late for that nonsense." I snapped my fingers, and the feather shattered like glass, becoming black dust that blew away in the wind. I held her in place with a simple gesture of the hand, turning my gaze to my zombies... my children. They gathered around Dr. Schbeiker in a sea, but none moved to touch the now shaking and pathetic man. They all looked at me, expectantly.
"He is yours," I said, smiling as the doctor screamed. It was a beautiful, glorious sound. "Take your satisfaction from him and find peace in his death."
They needed no other encouragement; they fell on him like starving rats, ripping and tearing. He didn't get a chance to scream again.
"And now, you..." I turned my gaze back to Tesra. "Stupid, childish. Messing with that which you have no understanding of, and thinking you can control it with your pathetic toys. Disrupting the natural cycle of things, destroying the souls of your victims... and for this, I will give you a gift; I will give you another chance. I hope you will remember this lesson when the wheel turns again. I will be waiting and watching, little girl." She shook, struggling against the power that held her in place, and made little mewling sounds in her throat. As I walked toward her she made excuses, then begged, then fell to silent weeping.
I touched her forehead like a priest giving benediction and looked into her, down at the base of her soul. It lay strangled in the black, twisted arms of something for which I had no name, but her life still shone strong and steady as a candle. "Remember well the God of Death's mercy," I said. Then like a candle, I snuffed her out.
Tesra fell to the ground, a puppet whose strings had been cut. With detached interest, I watched the tattoos fade from her face until her skin was pale and pristine again. "Fools."
When I turned, my zombies were watching me again. Not one stood without its mouth or claws stained with blood. "You have had your vengeance now," I said gently, as if to children. "It is time to truly rest." They shuffled back to their concrete tombs and sank into the ground. The broken concrete flowed back down into the pits like water, leaving it flat and smooth once again. I could feel as they settled comfortably and began their true sleep. The rage faded from the air, leaving only peace.
And then, just as suddenly as it had come, I was just Duo again. I fell to my knees, bruising my legs and hands on the concrete. For a moment, I just shivered, feeling alone, cold, and horribly small. Then the feeling, and the memory of being so much more retreated, and I was able to stand again. The truck that had been waiting to receive me was gone; probably fled the minute the shit hit the fan. There was no sign of Milliard or Wufei. I also noticed that I was still bleeding all over the place.
"Bloody hell!" I yelled, then added a few more curses for good measure. Nothing could really begin to express how upset I was. The wrist was just the icing on the cake. I didn't want to rip up my pants, since that was now the only thing standing between me and a decidedly chilly breeze. Dr. Schbeiker's lab coat lay on the ground, only a short distance away. It was even relatively clean; only a few blood spatters on it. Carefully skirting the smear on the concrete that had once been a man, I picked up the coat and tore made myself a passable bandage from one of the sleeves. There were a few odd lumps in its deep pockets.
"Hello, what have we here..." I fished around, discarding a severed finger, then pulled out the black case. There was a thin gold chain tangled around its latch, and a locket hung from the chain. I pried the little bit of decorated gold open, and it revealed a picture of Hilde and a woman who could only have been her mother. Feeling like a voyeur, I stuck the locket in my pocket. It'd give it back to Hilde later, I figured.
The box, though... I tried to make myself drop it. My fingers wouldn't let it go. I couldn't help but notice that my hands were beginning to tremble, ever so slightly. It was starting.
A roar in the sky made me look up; Wing was flying overhead. Without really thinking about it, I shoved the case in my only intact pocket, then waved my arms at Heero as the booming steps of Sandrock and Heavyarms rumbled against the bottoms of my feet. I'd think about it later. For now, there were more important things to worry about, like trying to find Wufei and Milliard. Like getting some actual clothes.