Vivisection is deeply unpleasant. I highly advise avoiding it if one has the opportunity to do so. That my life has devolved to the point where I have enough experiential knowledge to rate the relative unpleasantness of differing types of vivisection is a matter I generally prefer not to discuss, given virtually any other potential topic of conversation. You don't know it, but trust me when I say that you take the relative equilibrium of having all your limbs attached in the proper places entirely for granted.
After about the age of five we all just use our limbs without thinking actively about the process of lifting our arm, flexing our leg, or tilting our head at any given second. The minutiae of manipulating the human body in three-dimensional space is a constant for which very little active thought is required to orient ourselves relative to world we exist within.
Once your body parts are divested from each other, however, the logistics involved in manipulating them with any degree of efficacy is like trying to direct chess moves underwater via sousaphone - difficult, confusing, and entirely incomprehensible to someone who hasn't had a pressing need to execute the activity. Suffice it to say, Bigfoot's psychotic cousin was happily forcing me to engage in an impromptu exercise in aquatic sousaphone as he started ripping my limbs from my body, hooting with simian glee.
It was a much bloodier affair than the mordite blade had been, the star flecked liquid of my blood poured from my body and into his matted fur as he tore me to shreds. I would have like to say something witty or biting, but under the circumstances I was too busy screaming. My current lack of lungs provided only minor impediment to the vocalization of a new and horrific pain as he tore my genitals from my torso and flung them into my face, holding my pale, bloody torso aloft and breaking it over his knee before tossing it upon the pile with all my other discarded limbs.
The bigfoot stood victorious before me, grinning his gristly rotting smile as he shrugged off spells from the female Brute Squad Warden. His fur dripped with my blood and viscera, galaxies and constellations shimmering across his matted hide as he flexed his massive fingers. He laughed a low hateful rumble, dragging his knuckes across the ground as he batted away the Brute Squad Wizard's spell with a disinterested wave of his paw – shattering the cutting burst of air to waft across the room harmlessly. "I just broke a god, Witch – and you think you can hurt me with the breeze?"
"I don't need to hurt you, Genoskwa. You already did more to yourself than I could hope to manage." The Brute Squad Wizard whistled sharply, calling the surving Brute Squad Wizards into a protective circle around us, giving Thomas time to pile my body parts into a rug. My arms and legs were still kicking violently, complicating the process greatly as he hefted the bag over his shoulder and propped my head in the crook of his arm.
"Big talk for a little girl." The Genoskwa licked his lips hungrily. "Maybe I keep you around before I eat you. Have a bit of fun before dinner."
"I'm going to have to decline that offer, big boy." Replied the Female Warden. "I'm going to walk out that door and you're going to die in agony."
"You're not even close to my match, little witch." Replied the Genoskwa, planting his fingers in the ground and growling. His sheer presence started to lift rubble from the ground, his immense magical presence imposing itself upon the world around him.
"I'm not the one utterly soaked with divine blood and standing in the center of a room full of injured Vampires." The woman replied, an evil glint in her eyes the hunting cries of Black Court Warriors hissed out from around the library. Black Court Vampires had a couple of Achillies heels, but with the exception of a very specific set of circumstances they were damn sturdy. Injuring a Black Court Vampire without killing it just made them exponentially angrier, and exponentially hungrier.
The Genoskwa was soaked with a vampiric smorgasbord, the pure, uncut, unfiltered, unadulterated, and for the past several centuries unavailable blood of a god. The Genoskwa disappeared under a wave of vampire warriors, the injured vampiric shock troops long past the point of sanity as they tried to feast upon my blood and the Genoskwa's flesh alike. The small cadre of surviving Brute Squad warriors didn't wait to see who won the fight, escorting my brother and the Female Warden through the shattered remnants of the library's doors and into the tower of Archangel.
The Wardens collapsed the hall behind us, bringing down tons of marble to the ground as the hunting cries of even more Black Court vampires sounded. I caught a glimpse of dozens more black-clad figures flying into the burning library, a second wave of Black Court warriors joining the initial shock troops. My eyes flashed reflexively as a grin spread across my lips. "That's right! That's what you get for ripping me apart you knockoff nega-Chewbacca."
The Wardens continued to collapse the hall as we went, putting as much stone between themselves and the inferno of the library as they could manage. We got to a richly furnished sitting area covered in amber before the Female Warden stopped, cut her finger, and rubbed it across a tall stone figure above the mantle. I felt the wash of defensive wards go up in the room, recognizing them as destructive magics similar to those placed upon the library doors. Hells Bells, Archangel must have been just littered with combat wards. This room seemed more like a random alcove than a specific defensive point, but there was as much power to protect this sitting room as I'd put in my apartment in Chicago.
Thomas dropped the bloody bag of my body parts a bit more roughly than I would have strictly cared for, placing my bleeding head upon the ground next to the rug as he unrolled it and turned to me. His face was vaguely green, as he looked at the bloody mess of ivory skin covered in black blood. "So… uh… is this just plug and play, or do I have to say something to put everything back together?"
"Don't put it back together!" Hissed the female warden, slapping Thomas' hand as he reached tentatively for my left leg. "We finally have the God in a more manageable state, why would you resurrect him?"
"He can hear you, you know." I interjected, trying to use my jaw to pivot on the ground and face the Warden. It was a lot harder than Bob made it look. I ended up just falling over rather than doing the spin he always seemed to manage so easily, but I was at least slightly more able to see her than I previously could. "And right now, having me whole is a lot less dangerous than having me in pieces."
"You'll pardon me if I don't take the word of a God of Lies, Treason and Chaos at face value, "Warden." The Archive warned us that you were capable of spinning lies with truth and offering us what we desire most." The Warden picked me up painfully by my ear, her disdainful gaze not quite meeting my eyes.
"Look, treat me like the Fae if you have to. Don't trust a word I say if you have to. But right now you're carrying around a pile of bleeding god parts, which amounts to a pile of Vampire catnip. As long as I'm broken into bits and spreading out across your rug its just putting out a "free lunch" signal to any Vampire close enough to catch a whiff of me." I raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Do you think your chances of survival are improved by having me not only unable to fight vampires, but by leaving open the possibility for the Vampires to feed off of me? Does "a vampire who feasted upon a god" sound like the sort of thing you want to deal with?"
She glared at me, but it was the sort of glare I'd seen Morgan give me when he'd failed to impose the Doom of Damocles upon me. It was the "I would like nothing more than to kill you where you stand but I can't do so without causing something worse in the long run" stare. I smiled, "Come on, don't be like that. We can be friends! Lets start with introductions. I'm the Warden of Nekehb, and you are?"
"You can call me Warden Nanami." The woman replied, her voice utterly arctic in a way that convinced me she was desperate enough to see how long I stuck to my word. I'd been on the other side of this equation before, dealing with creatures more powerful than I. She didn't dare show exactly how horrified she was of what was happening at Archangel. I didn't know the precise number of Wizards in Pietrovich's Brute Squad, by design the number of Wizards in both the Wardens and Brute Squad was a guarded secret. But the opening days of the war had reduced the Wardens from thousands to Dozens and the Brute Squad from likely dozens to zero. I was very likely surrounded by the elite of the Brute Squad, and they'd been devastated already.
"Warden Nanami, you already have my word that I will not attack. You are under siege. I am a being of means. There is no profit to keeping me unable to fight vampires and everything to gain from letting me fight the ancient enemy of the Goa'uld." I winked knowingly. "And I'm very good at killing vampires."
"I know that I will come to regret this." The woman dropped me onto my bloody pile of limbs, turning to Thomas. "These wards will last for ten minutes. My men and I need to see to the wounded and try to contact the defenders. Put the God of Chaos back together. If he tries to betray us, you both die."
"Right." Replied Thomas, elongating the vowel far past any semblance that he believed Nanami was actually capable of killing me. He picked up my leg and pressed it against the bleeding stump of my pelvis. There was a rush of cool air as some of the blood congealed upon the rug was sucked up and into my body, sealing the limb to my torso. He pressed them each against me, restoring them with yet another cool burst of air – pausing in front of my genitals and looking at me. "So… do you want me to put that back on… or…"
"No… no…" I replied emphatically, shaking my head as best I could on my stump of neck. "I got that."
"Good." Replied my brother as he picked up my head and placed it back upon my shoulders. "Because that's just… I mean, I'm an incubus and that's even weird by my standards."
"No, trust me, I get it." I agreed, reaching down to pick up the remaining appendage. I fretted briefly in front of a mirror on the wall, doing my best to make sure that everything was properly aligned before fixing it in place. It seemed likely that I would be able to detach the part and give it a second try if need be, but I was hoping to avoid a repeat if at all possible. After a probably prolonged moment of examining myself in the mirror to be sure everything was attached to what it was supposed to be attached to I held out my hand and immolated the rug to destroy my remaining blood.
"My sister is going to be furious that she missed out on this." Thomas snorted as he watched the blood on my flesh seep into the ivory skin, starlight dissolving into pure white.
"Lara will get over it." I replied, briefly wondering if without Mab's interference to get me here it would have been my older brother's half-sister here in his place. Or would either of them have been here at all? Without my presence the Archive likely wouldn't have had cause to involve herself and my brother by proxy.
"Seriously, how are you so well informed." Thomas shook his head. "Even my father would have taken a few moments before guessing which of my sisters I was referring to."
"Lara is the sister you like." The sister he'd been willing actually align himself with when he'd tried to make a play for ruling the White Court, for that matter. And, in her own psychotic, evil and untrustworthy vampire way, she actually was the sort of person it made sense for Thomas to put a relative degree of trust in. "I don't think you'd overly care if the rest of your sisters missed out on something… well, maybe Inari."
Thomas flinched at the name of his youngest sister, a dangerous look in his eyes as he snarled. "You leave her alone."
"Thomas – I'm not threatening your little sister." I rolled my eyes as I grabbed a tapestry from the wall and wrapped it around my waist, turning the centuries old decoration into a makeshift loincloth. "Just commenting on how which of them you like the most. You like Lara because she's the one you think you can rely upon to keep her word and you like Inari because you're hoping that she can be saved from becoming a succubus if she meets the right guy."
Thomas got very still. Yeah, I was cheating and pulling from a nearly a year of having lived with the guy but if I had to play the role of "cryptic mentor" I could at least do it well, damn it. I tied off the loincloth, flexing my hands and popping my still slightly misaligned spine back into place with a squelching crack. I groaned in satisfaction, stretching back and forth. "You're right by the way – on both counts. Lara is dangerous but honest, and Inari is going to fall in love with a guy who loves her back before she becomes a succubus. It's going to take some effort from you, but she'll manage to live a normal life without the hunger."
"Empty Night," Thomas shuddered. "I thought that I was the tempter of souls in this room. There's temptation and then there's just … wow. That is some varsity level fucked up shit."
"I'm telling the truth." I replied.
"I believe you." Thomas replied, rolling his eyes. "Which is why I don't trust a word of it. When the most dangerous monster hunters in the world trap the god of Lies and he starts telling you everything you want to hear, start looking for the trap. Just because I haven't seen it yet doesn't mean that I'm falling for it."
"I'm not exactly the god of lies." I replied in frustration.
"Then what are you the god of exactly?" Asked my brother.
I paused, realizing how ridiculous "I'm not a god" would sound in context with having just put me back together like a broken Ken doll. "That's sort of a theological discussion at the moment within my clergy. I don't really like labels… worship isn't really my thing."
"So what, you're an Agnostic to your own theology?" Thomas rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you're really selling me on the "honest" nature of your godhood."
I didn't have a good reply to that, so I just elected to walk over to the amber walls and examine the wards with my Wizard's sight. It was really amazing how little the wards had changed from Simon's, to Justin's, to my own. They were a good deal stronger than anything I'd ever been able to make, but I wrote that off as having had a couple centuries to empower them. The wards placed upon this room in particular just seemed lackluster come to think of it. I squinted in confusion, examining them more closely as I followed the path of energy around the room. "That can't be right. Who made these?"
"Warden?" Nanami looked up at me, using my title derisively as she bandaged the shoulder of a Brute Squad Wizard.
"Who made these wards? They're terrible. I mean, they look strong if you don't know what you're doing but they have deliberated flaws built into them." I looked to the four corners of the room, confirming my suspicions. "All of them, they're purposely useless. These wards were designed to break down if someone hit them the right way. They feel like they're valuable because there is a lot of juice behind them, but we're standing in the center of a submarine with screen doors."
"You must be mistaken." Nanami stood, looking where I pointed as her eyes clouded over with her own wizard's sight. "That… that cannot be... you must have tampered with them."
"Would that be while I was re-attaching my dick or when I was making improvised pants?" I snorted. "Look, I know wards. I'm good at wards. But I'm not "make them change with my mind while I'm decapitated and lying on the ground" good at wards." I pointed to the flaw in the ward structure. "And that isn't an ad-hoc change to the warding. Somebody actually built that into the wards when they first went up."
"But these defenses have been here since Archangel was first constructed." She shook her head in confusion. "The wards were either put up by Pietrovich himself or by his apprentices as part of their tutelage."
"You mean apprentices like Justin "I do business with He Who Walks Behind" DuMorne?" I queried, blinking the sight out of my eyes as I turned to Nanami and realized that I had accidentally moved my hand into her line of vision while she had her Wizard's sight active. I counted to three and turned to face her as she stared at me, open mouthed, looking into my chest with rapt attention. Her eyes were unfocused as though staring at some point miles behind me, her lips almost forming words in Japanese. She shook off whatever vision she'd seen, clearing her throat as the scales fell from her eyes and she returned to normal sight.
I didn't dare ask her what she'd seen with the sight. I didn't really want to know.
When the warden spoke again, it was with a degree of caution she hadn't previously used. "You think that DuMorne sabotaged us so long ago?"
"I think that he was a prick." I replied. "And that on the short list of pricks who could have fucked with your wards he's top of the list for people I could imagine selling out the White Council to the vampires for this sort of thing if he knew he'd already torpedoed the wards of one of their fortresses."
I pointed to the collapsed tunnel. "If you'd been forced to fall back here to fight off the vampires and these wards actually went off you'd fry as many of your own guys as you killed vampires. Hell, I think it's actually intended to just explode eventually if they're turned on."
Thomas blanched. "Uh… if that's the case, shouldn't we turn off the wards? You know, given that we're standing in the center of them."
Nanami swore in Japanese, turning to the amber icon. "It isn't designed to be turned off. It's activated by blood and then just keeps going for the duration of the spell."
"That's… bad." I groaned, given my own suddenly discovered durability I was confident that I would survive the blast but not in my ability to do so without maiming or killing Thomas in the process. "I don't suppose that old Pete taught you guys the skeleton key to axing his wards, did he?"
Nanami swore again in Japanese.
"Fine… fine… I've got this." I grumbled under my breath, fidgeting with the tapestry tied around my waist. I untied it and handed it to my brother, I was going to be manipulating some dangerous energy as part of this and having anything in my way was going to complicate the process. "But I want some damn pants when this is over."
I looked around the room for the objects to assist me in the ritual I was going to need to conduct to take down the wards safely. The items themselves weren't significant except as symbols, but it was a hell of a lot easier to do magic with the assistance of symbols than it was to keep all of the iconography and elements of magic straight in your head without them. I snagged a candle, a dried flower from a bowl, an ornamental horse carved from amber and placed them on the ground as I sat cross legged in front of the north wall. "I need water and something for air."
Nanani handed me her canteen and a feather she pulled from a charm on her waist. "Will these do?"
"Nicely." I nodded, placing the feather on the ground and snapping my fingers to light the candle. I focused my eyes upon the candle, letting the concepts of earth, fire, stone, water, and air meld in my mind – using my own magic to bind them conceptually as I reached out touch the wards. I exhaled nervously as I felt my magic contact that of the wards. Assuming that these wards were, in fact, built by Justin DuMorne I was reasonably certain that I would know the proper sequence of magical elements required to manipulate the ward structure.
The only way for Justin to teach me how to construct wards had been to watch him do so, and replicate them on my own. It had been a grueling process that Justin had treated with the same degree of severity as he approached every other aspect of my training, rewarding victory and punishing failure with inordinate harshness. He'd never put me in lethal danger in the process, but there had been more than sufficient pain for me to learn the lesson of how to quickly lower and raise his wards.
If they weren't keyed the same way that Justin's wards had been made in my training, or if he'd intentionally built them to prevent anyone from manipulating his trap, I was likely dooming all of my companions.
After only a few seconds I immediately realized that I needn't have worried. Justin had apparently been eager to avoid becoming a victim of his own treachery, building intentional points of failure into their structural as well as into their usage. It was laughably easy to gain control of the ward structure and even easier to disable them once I'd gained entry. There was a brief snap-hiss of releasing energy as the wards de-activated, the ambient flavor of magic that had been building in the air dissolving into a clear taste of ozone.
"One is left to wonder exactly how you are so conversant in manipulating the wards of the White Council, Lord Warden." Nanami queried, taking care to never turn her back to me as I took the tapestry back from Thomas and wrapped it around me again.
"You're welcome, Lady." I replied in her native Japanese before switching to English for Thomas. "Geeze, get a load of her? You'd think she'd show a little gratitude for saving your lives."
Thomas shrugged, hefting his stolen axe over his shoulder. "Wizards like to pretend they know more than anyone else. They don't like it when someone starts messing with that illusion."
Well, Nanami was just going to have to get over that one. I knew more than she did, and I wasn't planning on sharing why any time soon. "Lady, you kidnapped a god of magic and you're surprised he can fiddle with your mortal wards? There's arrogant and then there's just entirely missing context. My library is older than your entire society and you're surprised that I know a couple of shortcuts that you don't? Really?"
"Wizard Pietrovich invented this type of ward." Replied Nanami, not letting the matter go. With good cause, I supposed, but she had no reason to know why.
"Yeah… and if I was from Earth I'd probably have to have been one of his apprentices to learn it. You remember that magic ring you went through to travel to other planets? I'm not exactly from the neighborhood." I waved the idea away as though it were ridiculous. "It's a big galaxy. Too big and too old for anyone on Earth to have been the first to "invent" anything."
"Other planets?" Queried Thomas, his interest piqued.
I blinked. "Seriously? Did they just give you a plane ticket to Russia and an address?"
Thomas snorted. "You wish. They just gave me an address and a time. I had to arrange my own transport. Beyond rude if you ask me. I mean, yeah, my family is wealthy but if you want me to show up you could at least offer me a coach ticket."
"You ride coach?" It didn't quite jive with my experience with the White Court thus far.
"Empty Night, no. Father wouldn't ever stand for it, but the offer would be appreciated." Thomas turned to me and repeated the question. "Are you telling me that you're from another planet? As in Aliens?"
"I rule several of them, yes." I replied, gnashing my teeth together as a piercing jolt of rage ran through me. I now had irrefutable proof that Thomas not only knew about alien life, and hadn't told me. "No Harry," I reminded myself mentally. "He isn't living with you yet. The changes to your past are things that you're remembering in real time. He has two more years before you get to be mad at him for not telling you this."
Stars and stones, I was building up pre-emptively for fourth dimensional sibling rivalry. There was no degree of therapy in existence that would properly deal with this crap. And how exactly was I going to explain to Thomas that I was actually his brother when the time came? He'd only seen me as the "Lord Warden," not his brother. His introduction to me was literally as an unkillable cosmic force of evil – it wasn't exactly the sort of thing for which they had greeting cards made.
But then, it was the exact same sort of problem Thomas had faced when he'd first met me. Turnabout was a bitch when it came down to it. Things had a way of repeating themselves in life, once you saw something happen once you could pretty much rely upon seeing it happen later in life to a lesser or greater degree.
Oh, hell's bells… things did have a habit of repeating, didn't they? Especially things like the way people constructed wards. And Justin had been a trusted member of the Wardens for a long time before his eventual fall from grace. He was exactly the sort of person who would have been able to access a corridor outside the most guarded prison in the Wizarding world.
I massaged my forehead with the palm of my hand as a thought hit me, a terrible thought – a horrifically plausible thought. "Nanami, was this the only set of wards that Justin DuMorne had a hand in constructing?"
"No… oh God help us… no…." Nanami replied in horror. "Simon's apprentices helped construct most of the major warding stones for Archangel under Simon's tutelage to free up Wizard Pietrovich to construct the more dangerous and destructive wards."
I groaned, answers to the question of "how did the vampires get into Archangel" and "Why did the wards fall" occurring to me. "Would these other wards perhaps be similar to the ones I just disabled? Say, wards that are easy to circumvent with some basic direction that turn into a time-bomb once they're turned on. Wards that wouldn't stop a vampire army from entering but might explode after detecting one?"
I swore furiously, rubbing my forehead with the palm of my hand in irritation. "Of course, they are. Why wouldn't they be. We're standing in the heart of a fortress with as many wards as Edinburgh, and Darth Dickhead decided to turn them into a time bomb to take the whole place out. No – that's just freaking fantastic. Dare I ask if the wards prevent us from entering the Nevernever to escape?"
"There is a single path to Edinburg accessible through the Library permitted by the wards." Replied Nanami dryly. "I'm disinclined to use it under the circumstances."
"And that answers why the Vampires would send suicide troops to open up a supermax prison full of critters that don't especially care for Vampires." I groaned. "We were their insurance policy to keep you here long enough for the place to explode."
"It would seem that the late DuMorne did not pass into the gates of hell without ensuring that he would not travel alone." Nanami agreed, resting her blade upon her shoulder against her stole. "The power in the magical protections for this fortress is not insubstantial. The entire city of Arkhangelsk and most of the surrounding province will likely be lost if the leyline used to power them explodes."
"Christ… and we're in the heart of Russia. If an explosion big enough to destroy a city happens they're going to assume "nuke" not "wizard." By the time anyone realizes that the US didn't shoot first it's going to be too late to stop anything." I shuddered, not wanting to imagine a post-apocalyptic world ruled by the Red Court by default after nuclear ash choked out the sun.
"Wow…" Thomas' lip curled in horror. "This is… really bad. I, uh, I've never been on the verge of a total global apocalypse before… what do we do?"
"We stop it obviously." Nanami interjected, snapping her fingers as she issued orders to her subordinates.
I sighed. I was already saving the damsel, fleeing the vengeful queen and defeating the monster, why not add "save the world" to my list of tasks for the day?
"You know what the worst part of this is?" I sighed. "I'm about do something that is just going to make a guy I hate insufferably smug if he ever realized that I'm the one who did it."
"Which is?" Thomas queried.
"I'm going to take down the wards for this entire structure." I winced, imagining the glee on Donald Morgan's face when he finally discovered what had become of me after the Darkhallow. Perhaps the man hadn't been quite as off base as I'd first believed when he'd accused me of bringing down Simon Pietrovich's wards after the death of the Summer Knight.