AN: Sitting in German class, I decided to start this.. it's more fun to work on than figuring out article cases in sentences such as "Ich gebe der sauren Mann ein Kleenex" all period. (I think I did that wrong, too. Maybe it's 'den sauren Mann.' shrug)

I checked out the guestbook at the UM website. It's nice to see that some of you have listened to my proddings and checked it out. You guys, then, will have some hint of what's coming in future chapters. Lucky, lucky you.

2/18/2005: Well, I'm trying this again. Hopefully this will be a nice long chapter and you'll all love me again. I'll explain my disappearance at the end of the chapter if I remember. If not, those who care can e-mail me and I'll explain myself. (Or you can e-mail to praise me. Or just to talk. I love talking. My jaw/typing fingers will probably lock up and fall off before I'm thirty.)


Fourteen: Encarnadine


"What do I want?" Doroval repeated thoughtfully. He seemed far-off in his mind, but that wasn't entirely inaccurate; after all, he was wrapped up, quite literally, in Mercury's dreams. (And hair.)

"Yes. I've always wondered, since it was the one thing we never bothered to thrash out." Nervous fingers tightened on his staff.

"True." Black lips curved in not quite a smile. It was more of a sneer than anything cheerful. Ryst waited, but his once-twin deigned not to reply. Ryst clenched his staff tighter to resist the urge to grind his teeth. Damn Daryl and his insufferable egocentricity.

(AN: XD Oh, the irony.)

"I'm waiting," Ryst growled, his fingers beginning to go numb from clutching his staff so tightly. Doroval's smile became even more sneering, and he chuckled.

"Are you? How nice."

Ryst gave into the urge. Teeth lost enamel. He took a deep breath, remembered to let it out again, and glared at Daryl. (Doroval. Doroval!) "I'm losing my patience, Daryl. Tell me what you want and fuck off."

"Still the foul-mouthed little boy you always were."

"You'd miss me if I changed. Besides, you're really one to talk. I remember your road rage, Daryl. I learned new words from you."

Doroval chuckled and leaned back against a crumbling balustrade. "I just wanted to let you in on a few things." He was still smiling that half-sneer and his pose smacked of languorous grace, but underneath the cursive façade Ryst knew he was growing angry. The twins tended to have that effect on each other. A few moments in each other's presence and they were ready to kill things. (Preferably each other. Or things that looked like them. There had, back home, been a memorable incident with Daryl attacking a broom with clothes stuffed on it. Considering what Ryan had done to him, he couldn't really be blamed. Imagine something really horrible involving oatmeal, a hot poker, and an oven mitt, and then imagine it happening to Daryl. This has nothing to do with what Ryan did, but it's pretty darn satisfying.) "Namely, that you don't seem to get the fact that you aren't all-powerful anymore."

"I told Mercury—"

"What you told Mercury was a load of fresh bullshit to keep her quiet, and we both know it. You, on the other hand, seem to really believe that you're still Korangar, sovereign of Hell or whatever, and you really should figure out that you aren't. Unlike me, you have this habit of dying, and getting reborn. It's not good for your power, Ryan. You lose a little bit more every time. I, on the other hand, am the original. I haven't shed this body since we first crashed on this God-forsaken rock, and I don't plan to anytime soon."

"So what?" Ryst challenged, forcing his teeth to stop destroying themselves.

"If I wanted to, I could destroy you right now." Daryl clenched a fist and the world flashed black before Ryst's eyes. "And it's because you're careless, you retard."

"Again, so what? If I'm so careless, why don't you just teach me a lesson? You know, help me straighten out, or whatever they're calling it these days?" Ryst challenged. "Going soft, or is it just brotherly love?"

Daryl's face hardened and his eyes gleamed danger. "Yes," he replied, voice tight. "Brotherly love, indeed. No, don't be stupid, Ryan. It's because I'm bored of you, and I want an excuse to get rid of you permanently."

"Why don't you? You're god, after all. What does a god need excuses for?"

"No one could ever accuse me of being unfair, Ryan. Temperamental, probably. Emo, maybe, psychotic, definitely. But not unfair. I want to play, and dammit, you're going to play with me. And I play by the rules."

"I don't," Ryst said, and promptly jabbed Daryl in the stomach with the butt of his staff.


The mouth on Mercury's sudden jerked back, and the Lord stumbled away from her, nearly falling over. Mercury gasped and grabbed his wrist, helping him recover his footing.

"Lord! What's wrong?"

Dominus forced a smile through a face drawn up in pain. "N-nothing, my dear. Don't concern yourself. Merely some simpleton trying to interfere with our privacy."

"Are you all right?"

"Quite, my dear." He smiled benevolently at Mercury. "Now, then," he insinuated, "where were we?"


The Almighty wheezed a breath and fell back against the balustrade, shocked eyes wide and fixed on Ryst. After a moment, he gained sufficient air to gasp, "Nicely done. I must admit I didn't see it coming."

"You never did give me enough credit, Daryl. So just what the hell are you talking about, 'playing'?"

Daryl straightened and tried, without much success, to regain his suave attitude. "I'm bored with you, Ryan. Bored, and annoyed, as with an insect. But instead of just smashing you, I'll open a window and give you a chance to buzz your way back outside."

"Your analogies suck."

"Like you."

"How mature."

"Stop being a hypocrite, and stop interrupting me. I want you out of the way. Whether you're dead or simply gone is no concern of mine. Just get yourself out of the picture and don't interfere with Mercury and me."

"That has nothing to do with 'playing', Daryl."

"Don't you remember the game of Life, Ryan? That's it, I suppose, only the Life is yours. And here are your objectives: break your curses, destroy me (I suppose) and live happily ever after. If you can do it, then you win."

Ryst rolled his eyes. "You always were insufferably over-dramatic. Fine, I'll play your little game. Not like I have anything to lose anyway. But listen to me, Daryl, and listen good, because next time I won't tell you, I'll just smash your morbid-clown face in." He stepped forward and grabbed the neck of the fishnet top, jerked Daryl toward him. "Stay the hell away from Mercury. She's not part of this."

"Are you mad? Of course she is. You can't break the curses without her. She's the reincarnation of your beloved Roranoa, after all. And as such, I'll be doing everything in my power to steal her from you." Daryl smiled again, and this time gave no pretense of politeness or solicitation: he grinned, showing all his teeth, more in the way of an animal threat than any real smile.

The effect was somewhat marred by the smudge of black lipstick on one tooth.

"I'll be seeing you, Ryan," he growled, and vanished. In the traditional fade-to-creepy-glittery-mist-that-disperses-evil-black-clouds-of-smoke disappearing method. Daryl always had been a dramatist.

Ryst shook his head. Daryl was one person he was glad to see the back of.


Again the Lord's mouth lifted off of Mercury's. Mercury made a small noise of protest and tried to follow his lips with her own, but the Lord only chuckled and pushed her gently back.

"Alas, my dear, I must depart," he said, smiling indulgently. "But don't despair. You haven't seen the last of me. Not by far."

Why did that suddenly sound ominous?

Mercury shivered involuntarily, then bowed her head in submission. "Your will be done, Lord," she murmured. When she looked up again, he was gone, and she was left alone in the suddenly huge room. She wrapped her arms around herself to still the shivers that crept up her spine, and wondered if she would be left here by herself long.

Don't be stupid, she told herself. This is just a dream. Wake up.


Why not?

I'm scared.

What're you scared of, pussycat?

Well, back in the waking world it's big and scary and there's that creepy city . . .


In any case it's sure to be worse than it is here!

Don't be stupid.

You already said that!

Well, it needed to be said again. You're still being stupid.

Am not!

Are too.

Am not!

Prove it. Wake up.

Fine, I will . . . oh, damn!

Hee, hee.

Mercury's eyes creaked open. The first thing she saw made her wish she'd stayed asleep. Namely, Lothar. Which wouldn't normally be a problem— Lothar was far from unattractive— but he'd been worried sick about her, and it showed on his face, which was a problem. At the moment, he looked rather like a fleshy ghost.

Mercury decided to try imitating a banshee.

"My lady, calm yourself, please! It's only me! Lothar! My lady, please! Oh, God . . . Quell, perhaps you could help me?"

Quell looked up, vaguely interested. "Help you do what?"

"Shut my lady up!"

Quell glanced at Mercury. "Oh. Is that her screaming?"


Quell ambled over. Sat down next to Mercury. Did something that absolutely astonished Lothar, mainly because it worked and because he himself would never have thought of it: pulled her into his lap and cuddled her. In fact, if Lothar was hearing correctly, Quell was even talking to her. Nonsense, all of it, and some of it snatches of lullaby, but it was working. Mercury stopped screaming.

"Hi, Quell."

"Hey, Mercury."

Mercury grabbed Lothar's arm and used it to pull herself to her feet. Quell scrambled to his own, and Lothar, already standing, jumped a little so that he wouldn't be left out.

Turning to her gargantuan guardian, Mercury addressed him: "Lothar?"

"Yes, my lady?"

"I'm sorry I screamed at you."

"I assure you it's quite all right. As long as you are."

"Only you look like death warmed over. Twice. It scared me."

"I see."


"I've had worse, my lady. You threw up on me once, I recall."

"Yes, I'm sorry about that too."

Quell went to the edge of the cliff and looked down. "You know, I thought I heard a scream down there in the city-thing," he mentioned.

"Are you sure it wasn't just an echo of mine?" Mercury wondered.

"It was earlier."


"While you were still passed out."


"So I was thinking maybe we should go down and help?"

Mercury considered. "Maybe," she agreed. Then she seemed to remember something, and her face darkened. "But we can't go down there. I told you, it's death!"

"Well, it's boredom up here, and that's not much better. Come on, Mercury, somebody could be hurt!"

Mercury glanced at Lothar, who shrugged. He didn't care either way what they did, provided his lady was safe and decently clothed. Since the circumstances prevented the latter, he was damn well going to see to the former. "The ruffian has a point, my lady. If there is a problem, it would be best if we lent our assistance. Provided you don't wander off," he added sternly.

"Why would I 'wander off'?!"

"You have an obnoxiously long curious streak, my lady, and I don't want you getting hurt trying to 'explore'!" Though Lothar didn't physically use the quotes gesture, it was evident in his tone.

Quell grabbed Mercury's hand and pulled her along as he bumped down the stairs. "Come on, Mercury, if someone's hurt it'd be best if we're all together. Besides, you can call up an Ironman and blast the bad guys if there are any."

"Eironen! It's Eironen, Quell!"



Yanna clung to Marron and whimpered.

Marron was at a crossroads. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to react to this, and not for the first time wished women came with a user's manual. Or at least a hint sheet.

For instance, would now be an appropriate time to hug Yanna? He was holding her already, but would it be okay to embrace her? Or would she claw his eyes out— or, being blind, try to claw out his eyes and end up tearing off his ears instead? He thought it very likely that she would cause him bodily harm, but he was almost willing to risk it.

He liked Yanna. Quite a lot, actually. Maybe that was creepy, cross-species attraction and all, but he didn't care. This was Yanna. It didn't matter if she was orange and covered in fur, and had whiskers and kitty-cat ears. She was still Yanna.

And she was vaguely human-shaped. That ought to make up for a lot.

As he was considering the consequences of hugging her, Quell dashed past, dragging Mercury. Lothar rocketed after them. Strydda looked up from her shiny pebbles and followed, looking vaguely interested. Marron sighed, filed his thoughts away for further contemplation later, and stood up, carrying Yanna. The feringar yowled.

"What are you doing?!"

"Everyone's gathering over there and you can't see, so I'm going to carry you over there."

Yanna growled. "I don't need to be carried!"

"Fine. Walk. Break your neck because you tripped on a brick you couldn't see."

"Don't mock me! I'm in the middle of a crisis! I can't see!"

"So shut up and let me carry you, idiot!"

Ryst, left pleasantly alone, turned to head back to the others. As it turned out, that was unnecessary; he was no longer alone, because the others had all come to him. How nice.

He said so.

"Oh, you're welcome, Ryst," said Quell, happily ignoring the sarcasm in his friend's voice.

Ryst would have made some properly scathing reply— he did, after all, have a reputation to keep— but at that particular moment a small, Mercury-shaped missile struck him in the chest.


Pause. Ryst worked out an approximate translation to the psychobabble Mercury had presented him with and soothed her accordingly. "Nightmares can't hurt you, Mercury. It's all right. No, I'm not hurt. Just pissed off. I'm glad you're back in the land of the conscious."

"It was a horrible dream, Ryst!"

The others, bored, headed off to do things for number one. Namely, themselves. If Ryst and Mercury wanted to have a Scene, fine by them. But they weren't going to watch it.

Ryst, sighing, slipped his arms around Mercury. "Yes, I know, dreams can . . . uh . . . be horrible sometimes, but they're just the brain's way of dealing with stress that— oh, wait, was it one of those dreams?"

Mercury sniffled. "What do you mean?"

"The kind where you get chased by big hungry things that want to eat you and all of a sudden you can't move."

"No, not that kind."

"Then the kind where my brother shows up and tries to have an intimate encounter with you?"

"How did you know?"

"Oh, a little birdie told me," Ryst muttered, stroking Mercury's hair to distract himself. His teeth wanted to start grinding again.

Mercury twined her arms around him and began crying in earnest. "It was a nice dream at first, but . . . now that I'm awake, it seems awful. He kept kissing me and calling me his dear—" She swallowed painfully and didn't mention that it only seemed horrible because she'd enjoyed herself, and that was . . . not right. "I don't want anyone to kiss me except you, Ryst," she murmured, nestling her head in the hollow of his throat.

"I don't want anyone else kissing you, either. I'd kill him if he didn't have this nasty habit of disappearing on me." He lead her over to a handy fallen pillar and sat down. "Anyway, I'm glad you're feeling better. What made you pass out like that?"

Mercury furrowed her brow. "I'm not sure, exactly. I told you, one of the Eironen showed me a vision, but it wasn't very clear. I can only remember that it was horrid."

"The vision caused you to faint?"

"It wasn't a normal vision! I could feel things in it, and they were disgusting, creeping, vile things! The things that made Yanna blind—" She choked on a sob.

"How did you know Yanna was struck blind? You were unconscious!"

"It was part of the vision. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't, I was so afraid that it was all I could do not to just die!"

Ryst held her closer, trying to comfort her. "But it wasn't 'things' that caused Yanna's blindness. It was the spell on that door." He gestured toward it.

Mercury glanced at it wearily, then dropped her head back on Ryst's shoulder. "It might have been the spell directly, but those things are responsible. I don't know what they are, but they're repulsive. And they did something to Yanna."

Ryst considered. It was quite possible that some non-corporeal entities— resentful spirits, probably— had tampered with the door's magic, twisted it into something foul. Just why they would do such a thing was anyone's guess.

"Well," he said carefully, "someone's going to have to open that door eventually, because there doesn't seem to be anything else of any worth here. If the Ro Dust is here, like you were thinking, it's probably in there somewhere."

"What makes you think that?"

"It's traditional. When you have some incredibly valuable ancient artifact, you lock it up behind an ominous door with evil spells to ward off intruders, because even if you're done with it, you can't let anyone else have it. Mages tend to be that way. I mean, it makes sense; that's what I'd do."

"Wonderful." Mercury shuddered and clutched at Ryst. "But let's put off going in there as long as possible, all right?"

"Fine by me," Ryst replied, gazing at the door. God knows we've got quite enough to deal with already.


AN: Well, I think that's a good-sized length for a chapter. Just shy of 3,000 words, and I think for the most part they're pretty good ones.

Anyway, about my vanishing act the last few months.. well, things have been icky around here lately. I'd rather not get into details here, but if anyone wants to let me sob on their shoulder, just drop me a line and I'll in turn drop the whole ugly story on you. Not that any of you likely care.

Sigh Zippy's not feeling too good lately. Maybe it's the lack of seratonin in her body due to lack of sunlight, but she is depressed. Hopefully she'll get over it soon.

And now she's talking about herself in the third person. Delightful.


2/18/05, 'Recondita armonia' from Tosca in CD player