|The Road from Hell
Author: Avelera PM
Vir comes to Centauri Prime to confront Emperor Londo Mollari on his increasingly cruel and erratic policies. There he learns of the Drakh Keeper, thus changing the future of the Centauri and the galaxy. Post-series AU for prompt: Vir takes the Keeper.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst/Friendship - Londo & Vir - Chapters: 4 - Words: 19,612 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 07-18-12 - Published: 03-31-12 - id: 7975480
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: The Road from Hell
Summary: For the AU Ficathon: Londo & Vir, Vir takes the Drakh Keeper for Londo, your mind on the road from hell and back, for fuckyeahdelenn aka miotasachsaol.
Author Note: Reference is made to both the "Legions of Fire" trilogy by Peter David, and my original character Aela Cantori, the Centauri Imperial Archivist. With this story I am deliberately breaking from and even rewriting parts of "Legions of Fire" that annoy me. However, familiarity with either is unnecessary in order to read this story, as all the required information is included in the prose. More extensive author notes regarding the setting can be found here: avelera. tumblr. com / post / 20148025114 / the-road-from-hell-part-1-a-babylon-5-au
Miotasachsaol broke my brain with this prompt. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The silverware clinked as servants placed their meals in front of them. Vir frowned as Londo shook his head at the proffered brivari, never having known his friend to turn down alcohol. It had only been a few years, but Londo had aged a decade in that time. His hair was still dyed a deep, inky black but the lines of his face had deepened and the pouches beneath his eyes had become more pronounced. He was a haggard shadow of his former self, the faint smiles of thanks he gave the serving girl not touching his eyes.
Someone is controlling the Emperor. The name "Drakh" is whispered, but none know what it means. Only you are close enough to him to find out. Be careful! Vir had been startled when the slight form barreled into him on his way to meet Londo, and the crumpled note and had been shoved into his pocket. He had only a momentary glimpse of a retreating bald head as the figure disappeared around a corner. He thought he had recognized the Imperial Archivist, Aela Cantori, just before she vanished, but he was too shaken by the note to pursue her. Someone behind the throne…it would explain the pall of silence that hung about the palace, the draconian laws, the executions. All things he had planned to confront Londo about. But this note changed everything, slid the inconsistent elements into place like a lens coming in to focus.
"So, Vir," Londo said, rolling the "r" luxuriously. Vir felt his breath catch in his throat at the familiar greeting, and looked up to see a cheerful expression frozen on Londo's features, too bright and brittle to be entirely real, "Tell me of your time on Babylon 5. I have found that over the years I have come to miss that rusted tin can."
"Ah, well, things have gotten easier for me lately. The Drazi especially…" Vir began, stating some vague pleasantries and ticking off a few of the minor diplomatic brush-ups that had caused him annoyance over the past few months. As he spoke, Londo settled back into his chair, a little of his stiffness melting as he listened with what appeared to be genuine enjoyment.
"Good, good Vir! I told you someday they would have to take you seriously," Londo spread his hands expansively, "It seems that day may have finally arrived. Which reminds me…"
"Which reminds me," Vir said at the same moment and the two glanced at each other. "I'm sorry, go on." The name "Drakh" hung on his lips, but he felt a strange reluctance to speak it, as if it would mark some turning point in his life. If Londo wasn't under another's control then Vir must consider what to do about the man who had once been his friend. He could not allow the executions to go on, but how to pull Londo back from his paranoia? And if he was being controlled? Who could wield the kind of power needed to sway an Emperor? And what could Vir do to stop them?
Londo shook his head, waving his hands in front of him as if pushing Vir forward, "No, no, I insist."
"I couldn't possibly, Emperor's prerogative after all," said Vir.
"Ah, well, fair enough," said Londo, straightening. He frowned, as if searching for the words, his mouth half open as he considered, "I have been thinking of Lady Morella's prophecy of late." Vir blinked, and Londo leaned against the table, steepling his fingers over his lips and fixing him with a somber look. "She said that one of us would be Emperor after the other. And," he chuckled, "who am I to argue with prophecy? It has come to my attention that I must appoint an heir. I would very much like it to be you."
Vir's mouth worked as Londo's words sank in, a million protests coming instantly to mind. "But Londo, I can't, I mean I'm not qualified to…"
"Nonsense! You have as many qualifications as I did, pathetic as those may be," Londo said, taking a sip from his glass. He glanced down at it, as if surprised that it was water. "And by the time you are fit to inherit I expect you will have filled other positions as well. No, this is the best way."
"Londo…I don't know what to say…"
"A simple thank you will suffice," said Londo, canines flashing as he grinned. "It is a great weight off my mind to have this trivial matter out of the way. You are the obvious choice. Underestimated, unexpected…pah, they will spend the next year fighting amongst themselves, certain it is a trick! In particular that little brat, Vintari. Well, too bad for them, it is already signed."
"I don't think this is a good idea!" Vir interjected. Londo paused, arching an eyebrow at him.
"Are you refusing a direct order from your Emperor?"
"It's not about that," he sighed, "There has to be someone better qualified than me to take the position!"
"There isn't," Londo said, "It is you or no one," Vir opened his mouth to protest but Londo shut him down with a shake of his finger, "I have made my decision and I will not be swayed on this matter."
Vir stopped, meeting his friend's eyes. They looked old, tired, but beneath that they burned with the first honest emotion Vir had seen since arriving on Centauri Prime. It was not desperation, no, it burned hotter than that. Rather it was raw determination, the muscles in Londo's jaw moving as if clamping down around words he could not speak. Vir could only imagine how much it had taken from him to form it as a request. Despite himself he nodded, and placed his hand over Londo's gloved one.
"All right. I'll do it."
Joy, sorrow, relief, mixed on Londo's face and he looked down at Vir's hand, a smile pulling at his lips. "Thank you," he said, his voice husky. He coughed pulling his hand away, the cordial mask of the Emperor once more falling across his features like a veil. "So, what were you going to ask me?"
"There has been a name circulating on the station," Vir lied. He was not sure why he did, but a sense of foreboding had settled on his heart. Londo watched him, his cocked as he listened. "And I was wondering if you might have heard it here as well."
"Bah, as if my intelligence network tells me anything. Well, spit it out, I will see what I can do to track down this mysterious name."
"Have you heard of something called 'Drakh'?" Londo stiffened as if electrocuted and Vir had only a minute to throw up a hand as the man across from him convulsively grabbed the pitcher of water and swung it at Vir's head.
He might have even connected too, but Vir was a younger man and was able to sidestep. Londo overbalanced, and Vir moved in quickly, pinning Londo's arm against his body, grappling against him. "Londo! What are you doing?" he exclaimed and bit back a gasp as Londo's eyes met his. They held the crazed expression of a wild animal, without a glimmer of rationality, only blind fear. Londo struggled, against Vir, trying to wrench his arm free for another swing at his head. But life as Emperor had not been particularly active for Londo, and Vir was the stronger man. He bore Londo to the ground, the pitcher scattering its contents as Londo lost hold of it.
"Let go of me," Londo growled. "You have to get out of here. Now!"
"Londo, what is going on?" Vir gasped from the exertion as Londo writhed to free himself. "This is insane!"
"Guards!" Londo shouted and Vir clapped a hand over his mouth, and brought them face-to-face.
"Is it the Drakh, Londo? Just nod, before anyone arrives. No one can hear us. Just let me help you," but Londo only fought harder, whipping his head back until his mouth was free.
"No, you fool, they're here. They are always here," Londo said, and there was such terror in his voice, beyond anything Vir had ever heard from him before, that he recoiled. "You must go before they kill you! Great Maker, it may be too late already." Londo's eyes had gone wide and vacant, as if contemplating an unimaginable horror as he looked at Vir.
The air shimmered near Londo's shoulder and Vir blinked, shaking his head to clear his vision. "So you're saying they can hear me right now?"
"Yes, yes, now go!"
"No. I won't leave you here with them," Vir released Londo and scrambled to his feet, staring about the room, searching for where they had hidden their cameras and microphones. The might have the entire palace bugged, how he could have been so stupid as to think this room was safe? "Do you hear me? Show yourself, whoever you are!"
Something moved out of the corner of Vir's, like a mirage, and he whipped around to see…a creature had materialized on Londo's shoulder. It was a hideous, a melted blob of puss with tentacles wrapped around Londo's throat and a single yellow eye glinting with malevolence. "…no, please…spare him…please…I'll do… anything…" Londo was whispering something just beyond hearing when his whole body went rigid and he screamed, clawing at his own face and skin, everywhere but at the disgusting thing on his shoulder. With a cry, Vir fell to his knees at Londo's side but could only watch helplessly as he spasmed, once, twice, and fell limp.
"Stop, stop it! You're killing him!" Vir said, his fingers scrabbling to open Londo's collar to give him air, then bending to listen to his chest. The twin hearts hammered beneath his ear, frantic but still alive. "Gods, what are you? Why are you doing this?"
"We are the Drakh," a hoarse voice said and Vir jumped as a figure stepped out from shadows he had not seen. It's skin dark and scaled, like a stone come to life, and red eyes shined out from beneath its crusted brow. "Who are you that Mollari is so insistent that you live? He did not fight this hard for any of the...others," it said, cocking its head to the side and studying Vir like he was no more than a curious insect it had found on the floor, as if all it wondered was whether to squash Vir or pin him to a display.
"Others? Are you the ones behind the executions?" Vir said.
"There were some that needed to die. They came too close. Like you," the Drakh said, and glanced down at the gray abomination clinging to Londo's shoulder, "Mollari tried to hide them from his thoughts, but we saw through the deceit. He will be punished for this, for not telling us what you knew."
"He didn't know," Vir said quickly, his limbs going numb with horror as it all began to sink in. These things must have some sort of telepathic ability if they were able to read Londo's thoughts. His own gaze followed the Drakh's to the creature on Londo's shoulder. It was watching Vir, and though it had no face for expressions he thought he saw hunger in its eyes. It must have been there the entire time, listening, monitoring Londo's words,his thoughts. Vir swallowed as bile rose in his throat imagining this thing lurking invisibly on Londo's shoulder like some twisted conscience, controlling him, "He didn't know, please don't hurt him."
"Mollari must learn," the Drakh said, "This was not his first disobedience. The next punishment will have to be more severe."
"Then take me instead!" Vir blurted out.
The Drakh paused and turned to consider him. It seemed surprised, as if seeing Vir for the first time. "Why?"
"Because he is my friend," said Vir, meeting the Drakh's unnerving garnet eyes. "And because I don't think you'll let him go without getting something in return."
The Drakh seemed to smile, "You are braver than the others, little Centauri. But still I do not see what it is you have to offer."
Vir's mouth went dry and he licked his lips, the enormity of the situation dawning on him. "I am the Emperor's duly appointed heir. There's no reason in the eyes of the Centaurum that I can't inherit as soon as it becomes official. He could step down and I…I would take his place." The Drakh studied him, as if expecting more, "He is old, and you said he was disobedient. Let him go, promise me you won't hurt the Centauri people, and I…I will do whatever you say."
"Those are not so different from Mollari's terms," said the Drakh. A lump rose in Vir's throat, Oh Londo… "We have planted fusion bombs planted across the surface of your planet. Should you consider disobedience, or think to tell another of our presence here, that person will die. If it is not enough to silence an individual, your people will die in their billions. Their safety is in your hands. Do you find these terms acceptable?"
Vir looked down at Londo, the deep lines in his face, his shallow breathing, the wretched thing on his shoulder.
There was no question.
"Yes. Just let him leave. Because if you hurt him then by the gods I will..."
"We will keep our bargain," said the Drakh. "But we cannot allow him to talk, unless you are willing to trade all of your people for one, the one that delivered them into our hands?"
Vir stared, stricken, "What are you planning?"
"Do not fear. We will place barriers within his mind. He will not be able to tell others of what he has seen here, but he will live. This is our only offer. Take it," said the Drakh, "Or die."
Is there really any difference? Vir thought, and for a moment he thought he saw, hovering in the air, all the moments that had led to this point. His appointment to Babylon 5, Londo hurling the glass during the Ragesh III incident, Lord Refa, Morden, your head on a pike, the fall of Narn, serving on Minbar, Abrahamo Lincolni, Lyndisti, Refa's telepath burrowing into his mind, Cartagia, blood on his hands, Vorlon ships darkening the sky, the end of the war, Londo's coronation, becoming Ambassador to Babylon 5, the executions that brought him back to Centauri Prime, all of it funneling to this moment, to the Keeper's yellow eye and the Drakh before him.
He undid the buttons of his coat and, casting it aside and baring his throat to the Drakh. "I accept. Now, do it."
Londo screamed, jerking Vir's gaze away from the Drakh. His back arched as another howl of agony was torn from his throat while the Keeper burrowed deeper into him, its eyelid half-closed in concentration. Vir took a step towards him but the Drakh held up a hand to stop him. "It is establishing the barrier. Do not interfere, or he will die." Vir froze, his hands clenching and unclenching helplessly as Londo groaned and writhed on the floor. The creature's tentacles pulsated, as if feeding off of him.
"Now," the Drakh said and the Keeper detached itself from Londo's throat. His whole body seemed to sigh and go boneless as it departed, the lines of pain easing, his face slackening into sleep. Vir had only a moment to appreciate the sight when he felt the thing's first tentacle wrap itself around his ankle, and the Keeper begin to climb its way upward.
A part of Vir wanted to scream, to run, to throw up, but he held still and kept his eyes fixed on Londo's still form, comforting himself with the knowledge that his friend would soon be free and at peace, even if his own torment was only beginning.
There is another who knows, Vir jerked as a voice in his mind seemed to hiss, its thoughts directed at the Drakh.
"Who?" said the Drakh.
The archivist. A vision of Aela Cantori flashed through Vir's mind.
"Your first order, little Centauri," said the Drakh. "Have her killed."
"No!" Vir said and sucked in a breath as a sting like jellyfish burned into his shoulder, dropping him to his knees. His hand moved on its own to slap the source of the pain, but went rigid mid-strike as the Keeper took control of his nervous system. He knelt there, frozen in shock at the sudden invasion of his body and thoughts. No, no, he had no time for this, "She is…Centauri. You guaranteed my people's safety."
"Only so long as they all remain ignorant. You must choose, her life or your people."
"No, please, there has to be another way," Vir pleaded, and groaned as the Keeper's grip tightened, threatening. "She doesn't have anything except a name! S-send her with Londo, send them both to Babylon 5. She will be banished as a traitor, no Centauri will go near her!" The Keeper's feelers relaxed and Vir could feel it transmitting its report of his thoughts to the Drakh, "Please. I promise, no one will believe a word she says. Just let her live."
"You are risking much for one person," said the Drakh.
"One life," Vir grunted, pushing himself to his feet. "Or a hundred. It doesn't matter. I will protect my people, and my friends." He stood, trying not to sway from the disorientation of the newly joined creature on his shoulder. "I can make things difficult for you without disobeying. Is it worth it to challenge me on such a small matter?"
"Perhaps not," said the Keeper. Was that grudging respect in its voice? "Consider this a test. There is no failure. Should she whisper a single word of our presence, we will not hesitate to detonate the fusion bombs. Remember that, and hope your faith is well placed. Now you should go, your Keeper is exhausted and in need of rest to complete the joining process. When you awaken, you may bid goodbye to Mollari and send him on his way." The Drakh smiled, "We are not cruel, after all."
Author Note: Thank you for reading! There's more to come, but I value any comments or reviews you might wish to offer!