"The Raven Days"
Our hearts are gone out, and our hearts are broken,
And but the ghosts of home to us remain,
And ghostly eyes and hollow sighs give token
From friend to friend of an unspoken pain.
O, Raven Days, dark Raven Days of sorrow,
Bring to us, in your whetted ivory beaks,
Some sign out of the far land of To-morrow,
Some strip of sea-green dawn, some orange streaks.
Ye float in dusky files, forever croaking -
Ye chill our manhood with your dreary shade.
Pale, in the dark, not even God invoking,
We lie in chains, to week to be afraid.
O Raven Days, dark Raven Days of sorrow,
Will ever any warm light come again?
Will ever the lit mountains of To-morrow
Begin to gleam across the mournful plain?
Blue and black the sky above, much like the face of the mother who tries to protect her children from a drunken father's rage - or that of a child in need to be protected from its mother. Blue and black and streaked with fat clouds pregnant with rain; the sky is almost moaning under her breath, the warning rumbles of a coming storm.
In her comfortable apartment, Eve Drake leans on the windowsill and looks out over the city as it spreads out beyond her. She is holding a cup of strong, black coffee in one of her meaty hands, occasionally sipping it while flicking ash from her cigarillo out of the window. The air smells of earth and wet, those two unique smells preceding a storm. Shifting now, her massive body aching from the long time she has been leaning down, she sets the cup onto the windowsill and cracks her knuckles, the smooth leather of her gloves shifting against her skin. She thinks she can hear the distant waves of the Tokyo Bay; but really, that would be a miracle indeed if the ocean ever managed to scream louder than the cars and the people that inhabit this dark city. Even at night, the city is screaming. Or at least, that is what it sounds like to her. Screaming. Calling out for something, only the loa can give. The loa, or one of the many old gods and goddesses that inhabit this hemisphere of the planet. Tonight, the gods and goddesses are screaming too as the sky finally gives birth to a downpour; it is as if someone had simply zipped the sky open like a whore zips the pants of a trick open in one of the seedier streets of Tokyo, mouth open to receive.
She thinks again about today's afternoon visitors, and her smooth dark brow furrows. Although she has been working with the men of Schwarz - correction, the barely-out-of-adolescence members of Schwarz; much too often Eve is reminded of the fact that she could be the mother of three of them - for almost a year now, she needs to be alone for a while after a visit. Though she is not in the least afraid of them, she can feel the residue of the power emanating from each one of them like a man's too-strong aftershave: pleasant from a distance, but sharp like a snake's bite from up close.
A gust of wind drives raindrops through her open window, fat, round drops of water exploding on the bare skin of her arms and on her face. The end of her cigarillo sizzles, then dies out. She stares at it for a moment and wonders if the loa were sending her a sign: stop smoking.
Then she shrugs, collects her coffee cup and steps back to close the window. Soon, the heavy downpour outside dies down to a pleasant drumming murmur of water against windows; Eve turns on the radio and sits down in her armchair, a fresh cup of coffee and another cigarillo in her hands. Inside her own four walls she is safe from the sky outside, safe from the screaming and the rain, and soon her mind begins to wander.
Her dreams, when she finally drifts off into sleep, are filled with misshaped monsters and voiceless whispers.
"Oh Kami-sama ..."
It is neither with repulsion nor with fear that Ken Hidaka stares at the things - the beings, he forces himself to think - inside the breeding tubes, but with something he can only describe to himself as morbid curiosity. He has to look, maybe only to persuade himself that what he is seeing is real. The hings - beings - they have hunted down in the streets of Tokyo for the last weeks were a horror of their own, but for some reason, he cannot compare them with what he sees now.
All of them at once cause him to hate them and pity them. Hate for the havoc their brothers and sisters - although, he does admit to himself dryly, that none of Weiß went so far as to ascertain the gender of one of those things - have wreaked on the innocent of Tokyo; pity because he can only imagine what the process from intelligent human being back to instinct - ruled monster must have done to these things - beings - that once had the ability to laugh, to speak, to live.
And so, it is maybe with pity and morbid curiosity both that Ken Hidaka raises his hand and taps against the thick glass pain that divides the monster within from the human outside.
And you thought you had it tough, with your little J-league dreams and broken trust. You thought you had a reason to go against the unfairness that lurks outside the safe harbour of your own four walls. Well, boy, think again.
That, and more, is what he reads in the glassy, sightless eyes of the creature inside as it rears its head and looks at him. There is a long, Y-shaped incision going down its chest, red and fresh looking. Ken can count the stitches on the raised flesh.
"Ken." A hand appears on his shoulder, pulling him around and away from those eyes. He blinks, shakes his head slightly, and looks up at Youji, whose shades are for once not sliding down his nose. The older man shakes his head and steps back, pulling Ken with him. "Don't look at them. You'll have nightmares for weeks."
I already have. Couldn't you have pulled me around a bit sooner, before I actually began to think about those things?
They walk back down the narrow aisle, guarded on each side by glass tubes that stand like silent monuments of kings past and gone in a museum. At the bottom of the stairs leading into this bizarre hall, Aya is holding silent vigil while Omi tries to calm his stomach down; both Ken and Youji can smell the acid, bitter stench of fresh vomit wafting off of the youth, but they say nothing. Omi's eyes are larger than usual, terrified almost as they stare up at his colleagues from within a sickly pale face framed by unruly bangs. He holds his arms pressed over his stomach, and it is visible how he is shaking.
Aya alone seems unfazed by the sight. He is a monument himself in this hall, standing upright and stiffly, the silver gleam of his katana peeking out from between the folds of his coat where he holds the weapon against his thigh. His eyes reveal nothing as they wander over the rows of 'monsters', mouth a thin, grim line bisecting his face as his gaze shifts to Youji and Ken.
"Let us go," he says, voice barely above a whisper. His eyes shift toward the door at the end of the row Ken and Youji came out of.
Mutely, the four slowly make their way down that row. The hair on the back of their necks rises as the eyes and heads of those trapped inside the glass tubes follow their procession. The occasional blubbering sound of thick liquid is pierced only by their hollow footsteps and shallows breaths.
Only one of the Takatori family could come up with such monstrosities, Aya thinks as he strains to keep his eyes focused on the door they are walking up to. Only Takatori himself would fund such a misbegotten dream - the equipment used to keep this twisted growing garden alive is new, the hum of the machines smooth, the computers of the latest brand.
Takatori. At times, the name itself is becoming a mantra for Aya to repeat over and over again when things are crashing down on him from all sides. Takatori. He dreams about him and fights him in his nightmares; fights that square, aged face with his bare hands and teeth and rips it to pieces, hoping, vainly of course, that the death of one man might make up for the death of two parents and a sister forever trapped in stasis, as the doctors say. It took him time to acknowledge that there is nothing he can do about his parents.
But he can do something about his sister. And if killing the one man responsible for her frozen, sleeping state does not re-animate her, then it will at least put one of his demons to rest, or make way for another, darker shadow to haunt him.
The world is funny, sometimes. Seeking for nothing, it presents one with all things never asked for and leaves us to deal with them on our own, never looking back once.
With his home destroyed and his parents killed, Aya's sister has become his world. She has -
Really? Tell me, what did she ever give you other than a life filled with nightmares?
The voice comes and goes before he knows where it comes from and leaves him blinking, rooted to the spot. Behind him, he can hear the others freeze and stop also, can hear the subtle shifting of clothes as weapons are raised, the intricate whisper of steel, the siren's song of gleaming wire. Aya feels a chill creep down his spine, straining to hear the soft, sexless voice again. Sexless, yes. Neither male nor female, but streaked with a maliciousness he has never heard before. The hair on the back of his neck is shifted by a soft breeze, and the muscles in Aya's arms tighten as he waits for more words.
Only to realize that it is Youji standing very close behind him, breathing into his hair.
"What is it, Aya?" the older man asks, soft and strained.
With a sound in the back of his throat that could pass as an answer, Aya steps forward, away from the suddenly suffocating presence of his teammate. Listens again, but hears only the thick blubbering liquid and the hum of the machines, and his own, too-fast heartbeat.
And the slow creaking of the door in front of them as it opens.
He is amused. Very much so. He cannot remember the last time he had such fun poking around in another human being's mind, safe for Farfarello's, of course, but then the Irishman has been with him for so long, Schuldig sometimes forgets that they are not one mind in two bodies.
Of course, what he has seen in the mind of the Weiß leader is only a tiny fraction of what is there to be found, waiting to be discovered, but the telepath knows how to savour the slow process of unwrapping a present.
Sometimes, the treasure within the package is not nearly as much fun as the unwrapping.
Leaned on the railing of the walkway again, where only hours before he and Farfarello had been standing for the first time, Schuldig slowly pulls his mental fingers from Ran - correction, Aya - Fujimiya's mind and sighs, licking his lips as if to savour an aftertaste of the brief glimpse.
"Delicious," he says softly. Next to him, Farfarello mutters something, but Schuldig pays him no attention. He has screened the minds of all four members of Weiß and discarded Omi, Ken, and Youji immediately, tagging them boring, uninteresting, ordinary. Crawford supplies him with more entertainment than these three. Oh, of course, their little tragedies are heart-warming, their fears and desires tasty like candied, black cherries, but their minds pale in comparison to Fujimiya's.
So much fear. So much anger.
So much guilt.
You have my name on you, sweetheart, Schuldig thinks, almost with a paternal smile, as he watches the four of Weiß move toward the door where he knows the women of Schreient are waiting for them to come closer, watching their progress on a small screen hooked up to a tiny surveillance camera built into the door itself.
Fear, anger, and guilt. A heady cocktail, mixed with a hate for Reiji Takatori like Schuldig has never tasted hate before. Surprisingly, an undercurrent of pessimism is creating gently cresting waves in that cocktail, and the telepath knows how a part of Fujimiya's mind seeks to understand what it is being put through, but alas, Schuldig also knows how the human mind is capable of screaming denial in the face of truth.
He turns to Farfarello, and finds his Irishman staring at the four of Weiß, once again chewing on a needle absent-mindedly. With a smirk, the telepath reaches out and traces the Irishman's cheek; thumb sliding over the black of the eye patch before it dips between those petal-soft lips and strokes over sharp teeth. A stab of lust to his groin as a hot tongue slides over the pad of his thumb. Stepping closer to his lover, Schuldig winds his free arm around Farfarello's waist and nudges Farfarello's face with his chin until he has the other's undivided attention. Lovely, this amber eye. Intriguing, those scars.
"Which one?" he asks softly, leaning forward to replace his thumb with his mouth, licking around the needle point still sticking out between Farfarello's lips.
"The red-head," comes the mumbled, muffled reply.
Schuldig takes the needle between thumb and index finger and yanks it out of Farfarello's mouth, silencing his annoyed growl with a hard kiss, and listens to the sounds of the fight breaking out beneath them, in the artificial Garden of Eden.
Stiletto heels, Youji thinks, look good on women with long legs. They do, however, hurt like hell when plunged gracefully into one's groin. He winces in sympathy pain as he, in the split of a second, watches the blonde woman plunge her foot between Ken's legs; imagines with a faint feeling of dread how it would feel to have one's balls pushed back into the sheltering warmth of one's body. Imagines the soft, fragile orbs carried in the loose skin being squashed like eggs.
The thought alone makes him want to vomit.
The diminutive woman he is fighting against is not wearing stiletto heels, but she may as well have been - each kick delivered to his midsection, thighs, or groin leaves him with a sharp, short shock of pain.
It is only a sharp twist to the left that saves him from a high-aimed kick to the throat; he stumbles, tries to catch his fall with his arms, and feels his fingers slip in something soft as he lands on his butt. The legs of his pants are immediately soaked with the liquid coming from -
The thought of wanting to vomit comes back to him as he hastily gets his feet back under himself and pushes up, throwing a left-handed punch at the woman's face and hoping, in that short breath of a moment, that the force of his blow will shatter the visor covering half her face.
In the liquid coming from one of the breeding tubes, his mind whispers at him. His lips split into a hard smile as his punch hits home. The liquid that cradled this mass of veins, skin, and bones that slithered to a floor so much like a worm when Aya's katana shattered the glass.
A worm that just exploded when it hit the floor, as if the skin had been too thin to contain what was inside any longer.
Dry-cleaning his coat would be a killer after tonight.
He wonders if Aya has done that on purpose, maybe to pay him back for listening at his door. Because Youji has been listening at Aya's door - and not for the first time.
Oh well. Curiosity killed the cat.
The visor over the woman's face shatters under the force of his punch, and she steps back quickly, shaking her head to clear the shards away from her eyes - and what eyes they are. Youji is actually taken aback as he finds himself staring into dead, leaden, lightless pools of a colour that defies description. Green, grey, and something darker, brown maybe, mixed into one.
"Bastard! I'm going to kill you!"
Her voice is agitated, the anger behind it clearly audible. Twisting on her heel, her foot comes up for his face again, with a strength belying her petite frame. He can only raise his arm to block the kick, not wanting to step backwards, not wanting to slip in the pulp on the floor again, not wanting to feel the greasy substance against his own flesh, in his hair maybe.
Raises his arm, and sees, in the instant before the side of her boot connects sharply with his forearm, a tiny freckle beneath her left eye.
A ... su ... ka?
And then he is slipping and falling after all.
Her eyes, he realizes after they have exchanged the first few testing blows, are much the same like crystallized amber. Beautiful, in their own way, alive with a fury and a will to win that is welcomingly surprising. His adversary fights with shiruken, small, deadly sharp blades thrown almost like a Frisbee, but only half as much fun. Her fighting gear compliments the lines of her body well and is as practical as it is simple.
Dressed to kill. In light of their current situation, this saying takes on a whole new meaning.
He deflects another thrown shuriken with a wild upward strike and steps on the blades as they clatter to the floor, facing his opponent with a grim, determined face. His world has narrowed down to the space between them and her, this tall, slim woman who calls herself Hell and who fights as though she were possessed by a demon; but then, perhaps she is, and then, perhaps he is - Aya long since realized how easy it is to forget about one's surroundings when in a fight. He steps forward, raising the katana until the blade rests at his eyelevel, advancing slowly but steady on Hell and forcing her back - for some reason feeling uncomfortable about their surroundings. The steady hum of the machines sounds much like the hum of his sister's respirator, the tubes connecting the breeding wombs to the machines look much like the tubes infiltrating, violating his sister's body. He does not want to, not now, but he imagines how it would feel to have a clear plastic tube down his throat, and he shudders - and throws himself nearly to the floor a second later as one of the sharp blades whisks barely past his face, leaving a reminder not to daydream while fighting in the shape of a line of blood opening up on his right cheek.
A shadow races past him. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ken pursuing the blonde woman with the whip, an expression of repressed pain on his face. By the way the ex-soccer player is running Aya knows he must have taken a kick to the groin. Both Ken and the other woman run through the door leading off into another part of the underground laboratory; he can hear glass shattering, a high-pitched scream ... coming from a man, not from a woman.
With renewed vigour, he fights on, forcing Hell back towards the door step by step, her shuriken no match for his blade. Soon, she will run out of things to throw at him.
Hell knows this, of course, and it fills her with worry. She and her sisters are trained in the martial arts and have been fighting for some time now; it both annoys and worries her that the fight is taking so long. Risking a glance at the others - taking into account that Schön is in the other rooms - she growls under her breath to see how badly it is going for Schreient. Neu is down, or at least it seems like it, the small woman's hands grappling madly at her throat where the twin lines of looped wire bite into her skin. The man wielding the wire is yelling, but Hell cannot make out the words. Tot . she can see the girl's brightly blue hair through the distorting glass and liquid of one of the breeding tubes, hear her high voice throwing insults at the boy she fights with.
A hot, agonizing spear of pain drills itself into her right side, driving the air from her lungs. Dumbfounded, she looks down at herself, staring at the metal sticking out beneath her ribs.
Aww ... let yourself be distracted, my dear?
For a moment, she thinks it's her own voice scolding her - then the red-head before her yanks his katana out of her, and Hell takes a deep, whooping breath at the pain, and lashes out with her fist as hard as she can; surprising him, it seems, because his head snaps back as blood erupts from his nose in a torrent, and he staggers back.
Oh no. No.
Masafumi. She does not have to turn to see him, she sees his reflection in the eyes of her adversary as he stares past her shoulder, licking the blood from his lips. Sees her lover standing in the doorway in his white, immaculate lab coat, a terrified look on his narrow face, and Hell turns, opening her mouth to scream -
- and staggers, gasping, as the point of the katana comes out between her breasts, bearing with it a pain she never thought possible. She can feel her flesh moving around the metal, can feel the bones grate against the sharp edges of the blade, and then the scream tears itself from her throat, loud and long.
Aya draws his katana back and stabs it forward again, into the expanse of back before him, repeating the process. Hell's scream is reduced to a blubbering sound in her throat. He reaches out with his free hand, grabs her hair, and propels her to the side, his vision honing in on the tall, awkward form of Masafumi Takatori in the doorway, whose eyes are terrified and wide at the sight of Hell being thrown to the side so much like a rag doll.
Then those eyes rise to meet Aya's cold violet ones, and the pain and fear in them is reduced to absolute terror.
"No! What are you doing? The experiments!"
Masafumi's eyes have found the large, bloated mess on the floor. Aya can see in the man's posture how he would like to run over to it, and somehow, it irks him how the man so easily files Hell's fall away - as if it meant nothing, as if she had been nothing but a shield between him and Aya. Just as his sister had been nothing to the men who had nearly killed her.
He steps forward, raising the bloodied katana in his right, his left hand clenching to a fist. Takatori. They all were the same, it seems, cold, heartless bastards who wiped lives out where they saw fit.
Oh? And what, pray tell me, is it you do?
He snarls at the voice this time, teeth bared, and charges at Masafumi with a hoarse scream, sprinting forward - falling, a second later, as something wraps itself around his legs. Hitting the floor hard, katana clattering from his hand, and then there is pain shooting up his leg. Twisting around, he stares, disbelievingly, at the face of Hell, Hell, whose arms are wrapped around his legs, and who is driving a shiruken into the back of his right knee. He realizes it is the shiruken he deflected and stepped on; grinding his teeth, Aya yanks his left leg out of her failing grip and rams his boot heel into Hell's face, taking sadistic delight in the sound of the cartilage of her nose crunching and her scream even as her hand still pushes on the shuriken, twisting it now. Again, he kicks at her, and this time he gets the angle right, pushing the fragmented bones of her nose up into her cranium. Immediately, she spasms - once.
"Mas - "
Aya dismisses her as a threat, yanking his leg out of her limp arms. He rolls onto his stomach, quickly, and not a second too late - the whooshing air of the pipe passing an inch over his head reminds him that there is still one more threat to deal with: Masafumi Takatori, standing square-legged in front of him, a long, slightly bent pipe held in both hands, a look of frustration and anger marring his features.
"You stupid bastard!" Masafumi swings the pipe again, and Aya rolls again, trying to ignore the pain in his leg and the feeling of blood seeping into the material of his pants. He grabs his katana as soon as it is within reach and gets to his feet, faltering slightly as his knee threatens to give out. Holding it before him like a club instead of the elegant weapon it is, he stares at Masafumi, teeth bared in a snarl.
"Have you any idea what you've done?"
Aya is very sure Hell is not what Masafumi is referring to. He deflects the next swing of the pipe, the vibrations going up into his shoulder as if he has received an electric shock from walking over carpet. The man before him is untrained, clumsy - Aya can see the breaches in his defence without having to look for them.
Sounds filter in again. He charges at Masafumi, trying to get past the reach of the pipe, hearing a woman's strained, suffocating voice, hearing Youji scream something, Omi scream something, the youngest Weiß member's screams barely outdoing those of the girl he is fighting against.
His first strike at Masafumi brings the katana clear through the man's right shoulder. The pipe hits Aya's left side, but doesn't do much damage; it falls to the ground a moment later from useless hands as Masafumi staggers backwards, effectively helping Aya to pull the katana back. There is blood trickling down the white lab coat, blood spreading like a sea on white where the wound is.
There has been a time when Aya shuddered at the sight of blood, the normal reaction of one whose life has been smooth and good considered by normal standards. He remembers his sister laughing at him, laughing at him while he puts a coloured band-aid around her small finger, laughing as he kisses it better.
Now, blood makes him smile. It means he was successful - another enemy bleeding, another dark beast slain.
Or nearly so.
"The kitten has drawn blood ..." Farfarello's voice is barely above a whisper as he watches the redhead strike at Masafumi Takatori. As always, the sight of blood quickens his heartbeat. For the Irishman, the red liquid is so much more than just a vital ingredient of the human body; it is a river flowing smoothly, slowing down with age, trickling out of wounds and cascading from cut throats. He has painted pictures with it, he has tasted it, and he loves its taste.
"So he has." Schuldig slinks along the railing of the walkway, towards the stairs. He has spend a few minutes going through Youji Kudou's memories, wondering why the tall man reacted so strangely to Neu. Having found what he wanted to see, he has left again, and now he leaves Kudou to deal with a woman the Weiß assassin thinks is a part of his past.
Farfarello watches Schuldig go, observing his pain's gait. When Schuldig moves, he moves like a whisper, a breath sliding through leaves in a dead forest. Turning with the German's movements, he keeps track of him as he slides down the stairs to get a little closer to the actual fight scene - a natural curiosity, Farfarello knows, that has brought both of them into considerable danger before. But maybe that is why he thinks so highly of Schuldig ... he doesn't walk away from a fight. Like a fire-fighter, instead of running away, Schuldig runs in.
Curiosity kills the cat. Schuldig whispers into his Irishman's mind, as always keeping his mind open enough to overhear, as he calls it, Farfarello's internal monologues.
You're not a cat.
Schuldig's answer is cut off by the deafening blast of the explosion that rips Farfarello off of his feet a moment later and throws him into the wall behind him. And then there are no sounds at all anymore.
Part 2: Chapter 4 | Fanfiction