Damn, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry for the long wait. I haven't had much energy or motivation to write for quite a while, but after going back and impulsively re-reading this story, I deem it time to finish it up. I really like the plot and characters, so it seems something of a waste to just leave it unfinished.
As per usual, it's unedited, but it gets the job done. Enjoy.
The sky, Thomes noticed, was very, very blue. The fact that he was flat on his back helped the view considerably.
"I forgot how unpleasant you can be," Jack grunted hoarsely from beyond the obstruction of grav-cars that separated them.
"Yeah. You're a pain in the ass, yourself," Thom growled.
"I swear I'll kill you."
"Not before I kill you first."
Hollow words, they both knew. Jack had had the unfortunate luck to have Thomes get a hold of him, after which his Genoum had rapidly been reduced to Thom's own level. Now, unable to die but unable to regenerate, they both lay bleeding, studded with holes and in too much pain to move much more than their jaws.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Jack demanded after a long moment of silence in which they both admired a small cloud skuddling across the wide expanse of blue.
"The girl picked me up by accident and I thought I'd help her out."
"Nothing happens by accident when Genoum is involved," Jack replied philosophically.
Thomes rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever."
He was silent, thinking on 'the girl'. Had she been successful in getting herself picked up? Undoubtedly. He wondered how the rest of her plan would work out. Most likely it wouldn't and she'd be in deep shit. Well, she was already up to her eyebrows. More shit wouldn't make much of a difference now.
"Ah, help's coming," the Duav said with relief.
"For you or for me?"
Thom didn't say anything, wishing for the nth time that he could sense Genoum. Alas, he could only take it.
From far off, he began to hear the sound of footsteps. Two pairs. They came closer.
"You children have played long enough," the man's voice said, dry but firm. "I hope both of you have gotten out your murderous impulses for the next century because I don't want to have to worry about your bickering while we're sorting this out."
"Yes, Leon," Jack muttered, chastised. He gave a sigh of relief as Leon paused to touch him, restoring his link and allowing his body to regenerate.
A moment later, the familiar gold eyes appeared in Thom's vision. The gaze was harried and stern. "I expect you to tell me why you left Michal." He bent down and healed Thom's wounds absently, then hoisted him up with one hand.
Thomes shrugged, wiping off his sleeves. Those holes in his coat would be hard to hide. He'd need some new clothes. "She persuaded me that she could pull it off."
"Pull what off?" A young man ghosted up behind him, pale with bleached hair and a slender build. Thom resisted taking a step back.
"What's the Guardian doing here?" he asked, giving the boy a wary look. Baivaskumo scowled at him.
"Thom, if you don't start telling me about Michal, I'm going to kill you," Leon said, his hands closing and opening as if he was restraining himself from wringing Thomes' neck.
"She's got a plan to bring down both of them," he said before the Original lost his infamously short temper. "Ardin and Marcis, that is."
Leon stared at him incredulously. Jack's eyes were wide. "Is she insane?" the Duav scoffed.
"Probably," Thom admitted. "Or rather, she's very desperate."
"It's the only way she can survive," the Guardian put in quietly.
"Damn that woman's nerve," Leon cursed. His eyes went distant for a moment. "The Wolves have her, and they're too close to Marcis right now for me to get to her."
"We have to get her," Jack said firmly.
"There's no way even I can walk into Nephilim right now and get her out," Leon said with a shake of his head.
"Will Marcis kill her?" Baivaskumo asked, his dark eyes flickering with worry.
"No, he wants her alive to blackmail me."
"Would you let him blackmail you like that?"
Leon's face was inscrutable. "I'd have no choice."
Jack looked over Leon's shoulder. "Ah, there's Nine."
They all turned to see a tall, obviously military woman striding towards them, looking irritated. Baivaskumo gasped and Thomes didn't blame him. She looked exactly like the old Blue, down to the hard azure stare.
"She was taken away by the Wolves before I could get her, and my chances were too slim to try," she said to Jack, then glanced to the rest of them. When she looked at Leon, Thomes noticed that she frowned, as if perplexed by something.
"Who the hell are you?" Leon demanded, obviously unnerved by her appearance.
"Blue-Nine," she replied. "And you?"
"Leon. Why do you look like Blue?"
Her expression didn't change. "That's what I want to know."
"Leon, I've got an idea," Thomes interjected, turning the focus to him. "Why don't you cooperate with Michal? At this point, we've got no choice but to throw our lot in with whatever she's doing and try and salvage something of it."
He raised an eyebrow. "How can I cooperate with her if I don't know what her plan is?"
Thomes shrugged. "Be predictable. Do what you think she thinks you would do. When Marcis blackmails you, go to him. He'll have her."
"Not a bad idea. I won't have to fight my way through half of Nephilim to get to her, either." Leon pursed his lips. "That's the only option, really." He cursed suddenly. "Where in all hell is Angel? Michal wouldn't discount her, but Angel can't be predicted like we can. There's no rhyme or reason to that creature. But she could ruin all of this."
"Just wait and see what Michal will do," Thom said.
Leon glowered at him. "You know what she's planning, don't you?"
He shrugged. "Some. I've guessed the rest. But I can't say. All of your reactions need to be genuine."
"Thanks," Jack said sarcastically. "So glad you're working to be a part of the team."
"This isn't a team," Thom retorted, glaring. "Don't get your stupid Arceus sentimentality involved in this. It makes me sick."
"Look, you can shove your arrogance right up-"
"Shut it, both of you," Leon snapped. "We've got bigger problems to deal with. It shouldn't be long until Marcis wants me to gloat over, and I'll figure out what she's doing. Until then, lie low and close. Inform me of anything that happens." His icy glare quelled all arguments. "Everyone got it?"
There were assents, muttered or willing, all around.
"Good." He started off, Baivaskumo following, then paused and cast one last glance between the two men. "And no killing each other until this is settled."
With that, he turned and left briskly.
Michal felt small, diminutive in the triangle of imposing figures. She hid it behind a lifted chin and steady gaze, staring straight ahead at the design on the back of Taitsu's long jacket. Not unsurprisingly, it was a wolfish insignia with aggressive lines. Taitsu was the only one of the three to have a red band around his upper arm with the same insignia embroidered in black. The aura of power surrounding him impressed the fact that he was the pack leader.
She swallowed her doubts. Knowing what was to come, she smoothed her face clear of everything Michal and tried to look Blue. Whoever that was.
"Rein?" Taitsu said suddenly.
"The big room," the man at her left replied.
Taitsu said nothing. Rein smiled.
"Naturally," Kelkaki murmured.
That was another thing. It seemed these men had spent so much time together, the connection between them needed no words. She could almost feel the Genoum between them, flowing together in harmony. It was strongest between Rein and Taitsu.
Taitsu continued straight through the complex of corridors, finally coming to a large pair of doors reaching high.
Rein leaned forward as they stopped and spoke quietly in her ear. "Are you sure about this?"
"Never more so," she replied sharply.
He shrugged as if to say it's your neck, and straightened.
The doors opened.
The room was like a cavern, going up and up, the roof ribbed like a boat in marble arches. Angelic statues, great white wings spreading upwards as their hands lifted in supplication, backed a tall, cushioned wooden chair. Windows of stained glass were patterned with stories of father and son parting, what could only be the Mutiny, and the birth of Nephilim. She felt her steps become light as she secretly marveled at what was revealed in those panes.
He thought he was God. Marcis thought he was a God! Confidence surged through her.
The man that sprawled in the high-backed chair, one leg tossed carelessly over the arm, seemed young, his face handsome and physique well-conditioned. It was only as she drew closer that she could smell the reek of corruption and see the parasite of madness.
Taitsu bowed at the foot of the dais, and the other two followed suit. "As you wished, we've delivered her."
"Is that so?" The man twirled a small, black orb between his fingers. As she saw it, Michal felt a strange shudder of revulsion. His hand closed around it and he turned his dark eyes on them. "Can you prove it?"
There was only a moment's hesitation. "She is the one who communed with the orb before it was given to you."
"So? That doesn't mean it took her."
Michal's brow twitched with irritation as she realized she was the "it" in question.
"She's shown signs of being able to sense the presence of Genoum," Taitsu said.
"Yet it has none."
"My lord, I delivered the woman you asked me to."
Marcis straightened, eyes flashing as he grew angry. "I ordered you to deliver me Blue, not some dirty wh-"
"Enough of this!" Michal snarled, surprising them all. Rein winced. "Can't you recognize me, Marcis? Or have the centuries made you blind?" Her stare was cool and even.
Marcis stared at her. "You interrupted me," he said incredulously.
"And you ignored me," she sneered, stepping past the prostrated Taitsu. "As for why I have no Genoum, it's quite simple if you'd think about it. This isn't my natural body. Angel's got that," she growled. "So of course I wouldn't have any Genoum."
He recovered from his surprise. "So you're really…" He seemed to realize what she had said. His gaze became sly. "No Genoum, eh?" He approached, his white robes trailing behind him until he stood only a few meters from her, looking down from the steps, his smile hungry. "I've always wanted to conquer your mind, you know," he purred.
"You could never stand the fact that we Originals were better than you," she replied.
"I suppose you're right. But now that you have no Genoum…" He reached out, and as he did, she could feel his Genoum twisting towards her. "I'm free to do with your mind what I wish."
It was just like a virus, she noticed immediately. As she realized this, instincts snapped up barriers and firewalls, blocking him from her thoughts. As she had before, she formed her memory into a weapon, driving it against him with brute force of will.
She met his Genoum with what she swore was an audible explosion, holding him at bay as she searched for weakness in his attack.
Too easy. She already knew where it was.
Michal popped him one through his over-inflated ego, slamming all her strength into it and vomiting what was to him meaningless numbers, overwhelming him momentarily with impossible amounts of data.
He grunted, pulling away and taking a step back, staring at her in rage and fear as his attack dissipated. "What the-"
"You underestimate me still, I see," she said coldly, hoping he didn't see the cold sweat on her forehead. "When will you learn?"
Anger and grudging respect warred over his features for a moment. He gave a bark of mirthless laughter to dispel them both. "So you say! Yet here you are, in my stronghold. Certainly not even the great Blue can hope to escape I as well as your beloved's pet Wolves?" He revealed his teeth.
She glanced behind her where the silent men still bowed. "Pets? They're as loyal as strays."
"Perhaps. But that doesn't change the fact that you're mine." He smiled possessively, regaining his confidence quickly. "And, as you said, you're in a mortal body. If Genoum cannot hurt you, bullets sure can."
"Ah, then you'd be out a hostage, now wouldn't you?" Michal retorted. "You could hardly get Leon on your side with a dead woman to blackmail him with."
"Perhaps. Then again, once he's done his job and killed your body, I'll hardly have any use for an arrogant, Genoum-less woman, now will I?" He sneered.
Her blue eyes were ice.
"Taitsu," Marcis snapped.
"Call for Leon. Blue, if you'll follow Rein?" His voice was mockingly polite. "You really need to get changed out of those rags. Must look good for your lover, ne?"
"I doubt he'd care what I looked like," she replied.
"But I do. Rein?"
A hand closed around her wrist. "Blue, if you'll follow me?" the Wolf asked kindly.
She paused, then shrugged, turning to let him lead her out of the cavern. At the door, she felt a tremor from Taitsu through his Genoum, and knew then that Leon had been called.
Michal could only hope this Leon was the understanding type.
As the doors closed behind them, Rein gave an explosive sigh. "That was a dangerous game you played," he said. "We were sure he was going to kill you right there."
"He tried. Didn't you see?" she replied, following his quick steps.
"I could sense him, yes, but whatever you did wasn't Genoum. What was it?" he asked curiously.
He frowned delicately. "I'm not sure I understand."
"Both on the Net and with Genoum, you're in direct combat with another person's psyche. I merely applied the same theory that I do on the Net with the Genoum." She thought a moment. "It was difficult at first, since Genoum is more unformed than code, but once you get used to it, it's virtually the same. It also helps that I have such a large memory. Where he can increase his psyche's size and force with Genoum, so can I with my memory."
"Fascinating," Rein said sincerely, smiling. "When he went against you, all we could see was his Genoum crashing into something, then being attacked by void. Rather disturbing. But I must say…" He dropped his voice. "It was splendid to see him without an ego, even for a moment."
Michal frowned. "Whose side are you on, anyway? Are you really just strays?"
Rein's face became serious again. "If you really think that, then you're as foolish as he." He changed the subject. "You know, your hair looks absolutely mangled. What on earth did you do to it?"
"I let a trainee droid do it," she replied with a smile, lifting a lock of bleached, jaggedly cut hair. "It's the latest fashion among ravers."
"Good thing you're not among them anymore." He sighed mournfully. "I'd be ashamed to let Leon see you with hair like that."
Michal looked uneasy. "Would he be disgusted?"
"No, of course not. But he knows that I'd never forgive myself to let you see daylight with that haircut, and he'd laugh at me. He's got a strange sense of humor."
"I see." Leon… she'd finally meet Blue's beloved. What kind of man was he? Would he agree with her plan? Would he hate her for pretending to be someone she wasn't?
She tugged on her hair harder, wishing to get it over with.
Vaskumo lifted his head from his knees as he felt a wave rush through the Genoum. He looked up at Leon, eyes flashing red with worry.
The man at the window, a mere dark smear against the setting sun behind him, straightened. "Stay here. If anything goes wrong, find Thom. He's the only one who could keep you under control."
The door opened, then closed, leaving the young man alone.
Rein stepped out of the room, the door sliding shut behind him. Taitsu and Kelkaki, waiting outside in the hall, looked up.
Rein sighed. "She's almost done. Skinny as a rat, that one, and just as hard to clean up."
"That woman's nothing but trouble," Kelkaki growled.
"That's her goal, I think," Taitsu said as Rein came to stand next to him. "I must admit though, I was surprised when she stood up to Marcis like that."
Rein smiled. "She's psychotic and suicidal," he said cheerfully. "She'll probably get herself killed."
"Possibly. But if she can survive the next twelve hours, she can survive anything."
A moment later, the door opened and Michal stepped out.
Michal raised an eyebrow at the three men as she put her hands on her hips. "Well? Do I look presentable?" she asked, trying to hide her nervousness at meeting Leon.
"Marginally," Taitsu said without inflection. She resisted the urge to glower at him.
"Don't flatter her, Taitsu, I'll get jealous," Rein said teasingly. "This way, Blue. Marcis will be in his study by now."
She fell in step next to him, conscious of the other two flanking her steps. She ran her hand through her hair, feeling its short length. It fell around her face in half-bleached locks now, cut in sloping lines over her eyes. The locks were still wet from her quick shower, her skin still drying under the pressed slacks, short jacket, and white shirt that had been provided for her. The last time she had worn such presentable garb had been ages ago, back when she was in uniform. That seemed like centuries ago now.
She took a deep breath, pushing Michal away again and trying to put Blue on her face as they came closer to the knot of wild, lunatic Genoum that was Marcis. Just a few more turns…
They stepped into a small waiting room where a woman sat behind a desk, sorting through papers. She looked up as they approached. "Ah. So this is Blue."
Michal stood still as the woman came out from behind the desk and assessed her with one hard, searching glance, taking in everything with narrowed eyes. "Interesting. I'm Lois."
Michal had the feeling this woman was no ordinary secretary. There was too much intelligence in that gaze, too much challenge, for her to be ordinary. "My pleasure, I'm sure," she replied.
Lois pressed a button on her desk. "My lord, she's here. Shall I have the Wolves wait outside?"
"Yes," came the crackling response.
Lois glanced to the three men, her gaze a warning as she let go of the button. "Blue, you can go on ahead." And watch your ass, her tone added.
"Thank you." She could work with this woman. Putting that fact away for later, Michal opened the door at the other end of the room and stepped inside.
The chamber was dimly lit, the walls rimmed with bookshelves stacked with dusty volumes. Behind an ebony desk sat Marcis, now dressed in more casual wear, obviously deeming that he had already impressed her enough with his throne room. "Please, come here. Leon should be here any minute and I'd like you to be next to me when he comes in."
Men, really. What was it with them and dominance? She shrugged inwardly and went to the side of his desk, leaning back against it. "When will he be here?"
"Any minute now," Marcis said easily, his eyes burning into the door. "I- ah, there he is."
It was a moment before she could sense it as well. A smoldering fire, burning with power, gold to her mind. She frowned slightly as it came closer. It felt… familiar. But that couldn't be right. She had never met him.
Marcis tensed as the presence came closer. It washed over her in warm waves, soothing and intimate, caressing her skin. She realized she was holding her breath.
The com on his desk buzzed. "Leon is here, my lord," came Lois' voice.
"Let him in," Marcis replied tightly.
The door opened.
An Original entered.
The mask of complacency and gentle humanity was gone from his face. The second man, the wolf-man that she had felt under his skin so long ago, was now the only one, without a question the true face of the man. Gold eyes glowing like embers, his gaze immediately sought hers.
She felt something click… something change as she stared dumb-founded into his face. Something elemental. It reminded her of the first time they had met, when she had felt the comfort of his presence surround her. Now, it was stronger, taking her breath away.
"Marcolo," she whispered, blue eyes wide.
"So it's true," Marcis purred, looking between them. "I have to admit, I wasn't sure she was really Blue. Such a scrawny girl. I figured you would know your lover's eyes better than I." He smiled mockingly.
Marcolo's –no…Leon's- gaze snapped to the man, and Michal could feel his loathing like a tangible thing, hot against her face. "You son of a-" he took a step forward.
"Don't," Marcis snapped. "I've got my hand on her life. If you come any closer, I'll kill her."
Leon stopped, his hands clenching and unclenching helplessly. "I'll kill you for this, boy," he snarled.
"You'd like to, wouldn't you?" Marcis said thoughtfully. He swung his feet off the desk and stood. "But that's really beside the point. She's mine. Therefore, you're mine." He smiled. "Come now, Leon… we all knew it would come to this, once I found the orb. Are you really surprised?"
"At your cowardice? No." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I suppose you want me to take care of Angel for you."
"Indeed. I'm glad we understand each other," the younger man replied, satisfied.
Leon's gaze flickered to her. "Fine. But under one condition."
"I get to speak to her. Now. Alone."
Marcis tsked. "I couldn't have that. I'm afraid I don't really trust you enough."
"Marcis, right now, Dextera is lurking out there ready to kill me," Michal said matter-of-factly, regaining her composure. "It's highly unlikely that even with Leon's protection I'd survive. It's in my best interest to stay here. Therefore, I can give you my word that I won't run. Besides…" She raised an eyebrow. "It's not as if you can't sense Leon a half-mile away. Tracking his presence alone should reassure you."
"And considering that it's the only terms I'm offering, I suggest you take them," the gold-eyed man added coldly.
Marcis looked between them, then grunted. "Fine." He stood. "You get ten minutes." He stopped next to Leon and sneered. "One move from you and I'll squeeze her heart out," he hissed, then closed the door behind him with a snap.
Leon turned away from the door, and his eyes came to rest on her. She shifted uncomfortably, studying the carpet.
"So I saw you've met Thomes," he commented.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded, looking up at him, blue eyes angry. She took a step forward. "I was looking for you the entire time, I hunted down every one of those fucking decoys just so I could find you! Why did you hide behind that mask of Marcolo? Why didn't you tell me the truth? Then I never would have had to do this!"
"How was I supposed to know who you were?" he retorted. "You lied just as much as I did, Jacqueline."
"How were you supposed to know…? How was I supposed to know?" she cried. "One minute I'm pulling inhibitors out of my spine and talking nonsense with men in garbage shops over coffee, then the next everyone's telling me that a woman was tucked away in a rock and now she's somehow in my head! Not only that, but she's a part of me, that somehow this invader has taken over my body and is slowly changing me to become her. I don't want to change! I'd rather go back to being a homeless nobody than be involved with all of you sick bastards!"
She paused to catch her breath, surprised at the torrent of words that had poured out. What was it in him that brought the worst out in her? Michal swore and rubbed at her eyes.
The anger that had burned in Leon's presence drained away. He sighed. "Been holding that in a while, have you?" he muttered, but not accusing. "That's water under the bridge. Right now, you need to tell me why you've gone mad and come here."
Michal shook her head. "No, I can't. I haven't even worked out the details myself yet. But I need you to find Angel and pass on a message."
His face was inscrutable for a moment, then he gave a slow nod. "All right. What is it?"
"Tell her to find Nine and come to me."
"That's a tall order."
"She's a big girl."
He actually gave a slight smile, but his eyes were steady as he regarded her. "You'll have to get a new name after this, you know. It won't be Blue, but it won't be Michal either."
She smiled tensely. "I know. Maybe you can help me think of one."
"Maybe." He took a step forward and wrapped one arm around her briefly, giving her a quick, reassuring hug. "I'll pass it on. And don't you die. We still have to see the other planes."
Somehow, she knew what he meant. Whether it was ghostly memories that once hadn't been her own, or by the same instinct that allowed her to feel the warmth of his canine presence, she knew. She nodded and stood taller. "I'm not planning on going for a long time yet."
"Good." He turned and left then, but she didn't feel alone even as his presence disappeared from her senses. He had given her strength to do what she must.
Michal took a deep breath, closing and opening her eyes before she turned to find Marcis and stall for time.