A/N: Fanfiction . net formatting sucks. As such, during the interactions over the radios, please insert ending punctuation (question marks, periods, etc.) because it won't let me. ((screams)) ... And enjoy!
Disclaimer: The following fourteen (O.o) pages of prose revolve around a show in which the original concept isn't mine, the original characters aren't mine, and… the original setting isn't mine either. ((thinks)) I think that's it. I guess I have to claim ownership for Drakewind, Tanya, Chrism, Saber, Natalie, and Tsukiyo, though, which kinda sucks because that makes me flash back to horrible memories of stumbling across Mary-Sue fics with the exact same kind of disclaimer on them. ((shudders))
Dedication: There should be no surprise when I dedicate this (again) to my beta-reader for this fandom. The one and only… Person Whose Name I Won't Mention! Muahahahaa! Seriously, though, your comments make me freak and flail wildly in joy. And thus I wrote this story mostly for you! Please be happy!
One Bright Day – Chapter Three
"I can't believe we're doing this!" Natalie muttered. Ahead of her, the door to the Ready Room burst open as the sensor detected their speed.
"Believe it, sweetheart," Saber shot back as he ran the last few steps into the room.
In the blink of an eye, Tanya tore past the both of them in her haste to activate the audio/visual input from the lab. "Drake, voice identification: Tanya. Engage camera 51."
"Access granted," the computer intoned, then presented a screen filled with static. "Audio and visual offline," it then commented.
The members in the room blanched – even Chrism who had silently joined them. A mute reminder of the calamity which had befallen them, the sacrificed body lay on the back table.
Tanya, however, recovered quickly and cracked her knuckles. "Drake, engage manual override," she ground out through clenched teeth, a split second before her fingers began to fly over the assorted keypads.
Almost hesitant, Saber shot a glance at the now-pacing Natalie. "How many minutes?"
"Oh." That seemed to be all that he could say. Without his knowledge, his foot started to tap demandingly against the paneled floor.
Chrism settled into position, and there was an expectant pause as he attempted to begin a visionary meditation. Almost immediately, though, his eyes shot back open, and he gasped. Saber and Natalie turned to run over to him, but he held up his hand. "No, I am fine. There was just…" he trailed off, searching for the right words to express the tumult of swirling chaos that he'd encountered, "too much interference."
Natalie frowned. "Blast. Tanya?"
"Still trying. Keep it down!"
Aware that it was intense concentration that made her so abrupt, the other three subsided. Natalie chewed her lip, Chrism's hands drummed against his arm, and Saber – at a total loss – examined his fingernails for dirt.
Finally, the tension was too much. Natalie leaned over to Saber. "Did you hear about the last time this happened?" she whispered in the lowest tone she could manage.
Saber nodded fractionally. "Drakewind wouldn't go into any details, though. Must have been pretty nasty," he murmured back.
"Seriously bad karma," Chrism rumbled under his breath.
His two avid listeners pulled a face. Finally, Natalie shrugged. "Well, what else can you expect with a Saurian around?" she commented lowly. "When it rains…"
"It pours … blood." Ominously, Saber amended the saying.
Another pause – this one more sombre than the first. Tanya walked over, defeated. "Well, I couldn't get any input. And I've set up the detonation," she sighed with a hitch in her voice.
Natalie looked at her watch. "Three minutes and counting."
Drakewind activated the defence shield the minute the door slammed shut behind the others. Barely a moment later, volcanic temperatured winds raced around the room. Tsukiyo howled his frustration – oblivious to the shouted pleas of the only other one in the room who'd stayed to brave the mindless wrath. Beakers, papers, chairs – anything that wasn't bolted down – began to rise into the air and fly about chaotically, as if in tune with the spell caster's feelings. The cacophony of smashing glass and splintering metal hid the small explosion of the surveillance camera as it gave under the heat and pressure.
Drakewind gritted his teeth and ignored the red warning light on his armour. Dodging and weaving the flying debris, he made his way forwards to the screaming figure clutching its head.
But what existed now wasn't his teammate. Even as Drakewind got within lunging distance, the scream became a howl of satisfaction. With the arid wind still slashing currents around the room, Drakewind felt himself freeze as the Saurian looked at him.
The mouth opened to reveal fangs, bared in a horrible parody of the normal smile.
Drakewind winced, then recovered. He wouldn't be afraid. He wouldn't let this situation happen again. No more would he hesitate – at the cost of others' lives. In fact, he would rather die.
"Calm down!" he demanded, though without much hope. The being standing in front of him was beyond words now. The only thing that it heard was the helpless screams and cries of its victims.
The talons flexed – a move with which Drakewind was more than familiar. On Tsukiyo, the move brought a sense of anticipation and comfort, in the knowledge that their teammate was ready and willing to fight for what was right. But now…
Drakewind firmed his resolve. It had come down to this, and he would not fail. Much as he hated pulling rank, he would do what was necessary. Like Wildwing – Wildwing had done what had to be done, even though the tears had coursed down his cheeks.
The beast took a step forwards. The reddish winds tossed the shoulder-length hair about in sick imitation of the flames of hell brought to earth. The eyes slit with infernal purpose, the mouth opened in a savage gape; even the posture had changed, becoming more sinuous and dangerous.
It was the very embodiment of Saurian greed and bloodlust.
A sound escaped its throat – a sibilant hiss – as it began the saunter before the kill. Not even the faintest recognition flashed in the amber eyes.
Drakewind hated pulling rank. It went against his solemn belief that everyone – even Saurians and Puckworlders – could get along without the presence of authority. He took a shaky breath, even as his armour screamed out a warning about failing systems in the unbearable environment around it.
"Under the authority of Wildwing, I command you to return to me! Tsukiyo, Drakewind orders it! OBEY!" The shout pierced the air, cutting it in two as it shot across the lessening space to his opponent's ears, whose eyes widened as it saw…
A sight unseeable to any save the Saurian, a chorus of spiritual ducks rose behind Drakewind, piling in numbers to universal proportions. First, there was Wildwing, then the rest of the team, then the entirety of Puckworlders in the complete history of time and creation, and finally, looming over them all and bearing down with massive presence, glared the figure of Drake Ducaine. His red eyes shone forebodingly out through the expressionless features of the Mask.
The Saurian body, heedless of the spirit's desires, jerked to a halt and shut down. A startled shriek escaped as the figure's spirit fled back from whence it came. The wind vanished, leaving the swirling debris to crash, unheeded, to the ground.
Drakewind, though, ignored it all; his entire attention was breathlessly fixed on the gradually collapsing boy ahead of him. Hope bloomed in Drakewind's chest as he scanned him with the Mask's help, his body tensed: It had worked! Tsukiyo was back!
All too late, his brain registered the shattered glass littering the floor. Drakewind's eyes widened and, without a thought, he dove forwards, catching his team-mate in his arms and twisting so that it was the back of his armour that took the scarring. Then, and only then, with the crisis averted and things set right, did Drakewind relax. Nerves, previously strung tighter than a high coil spring, loosened in a flood of relief. He looked down, still unable to believe that this situation – which had ended in so much bloodshed before – was over so peacefully. The sleeping teen cuddled against him was safe once more.
The timer on his watch-com beeped insistently. "Thirty seconds," it reminded him.
Drakewind started, "Crap!" His hand shot the com open. "Drakewind here. Cancel the countdown!"
"Drakewind! You're really ok? " Tanya's voice erupted back over the air waves, her tone mixing relief and exuberance.
He smiled. Stars, but he loved this team of his. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"And … Tsuki?"
His smile widened. "You can come check him out for yourself," he answered, letting a snicker escape him.
"On our way, sir!" Natalie's voice interjected, the relief palpable in her own voice. In the background, Drakewind could hear a tinny version of Saber's voice cheering, and he had no doubt that Chrism was doing that quiet, proud smile that he wore sometimes.
"Over and out." With finality, Drakewind snapped the com shut, then looked around. "Ooh," he winced. "This place is a mess." It was true. Stools lay in splintered fragments, tables were overturned and warped into spirals, papers drifted about in fluttering scraps, and shattered glass covered the floor. The light from the single unbroken bulb above refracted off some pieces, creating momentary rainbows around the room. "I think Tanya's going to kill me."
Further perusal was dismissed, though, because at that moment, the warm body in his arms stirred. Startled, Drakewind looked down. He was waking up so soon? Talk about a short recovery time.
Drakewind suppressed a grin. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead."
"How very eloquent."
A finger prodded him half-heartedly in the general vicinity of the ribs. Unable to prevent the all-around good feelings swelling inside him, Drakewind let the grin escape. "You going to get up, or should I grab your teddy bear and blankie-poo?"
"Wha--?" Blinking rapidly, the yellow eyes opened with great effort, before clenching shut. "Mrrr! Bright."
"If you say so. I personally didn't think so, due to the fact there's only one light bulb you didn't destroy!" Good humour diminishing as he began to realize the close shave they'd had, Drakewind's smile turned into a serious frown. "Come on. Up. I mean it."
"…Slave driver." With a few grunts, Tsukiyo manoeuvred his way back to the vertical. He put a hand against his head, wincing. "Ouchies. What happened?"
Drakewind joined him, reluctantly offering a steadying arm. "You went berserk. I stopped you."
Guileless eyes widened. "Ooh. Did I kill anyone?"
"No, thank the stars."
"Aww." Unbelievably, Tsukiyo started pouting. "I don't get to add to my kill score."
Drakewind stared with incredulity and increasing rage as Tsukiyo began to tentatively stretch with studied nonchalance. "You…" he managed, before his voice froze up.
"Hmm? Whazzup?" Tsukiyo continued stretching, but shot him a vaguely curious glance.
Drakewind shook his head. "Un-bloody-believable," he muttered.
In return, he got a faintly quizzical grin.
Drakewind crossed his arms. "I don't even know where to begin. Although, with an attitude like that, I'm definitely going to insist on something that you owe me."
"I? Owe you?"
There was a momentary pause. "Like what?"
Drakewind suppressed a sigh, then realized he suppressed many things when dealing with Tsukiyo. Ah, well. "I'll give you a hint. It's something you almost never say."
"Ooh! A game!" Tsukiyo clapped enthusiastically. "Let's see. Something I almost never say? Hmm. Is it 'purple bunnies are attacking'?"
Drakewind gave him a flat stare. "No. Think in terms of manners. In fact," he continued, placing a hand against his chest, "you can look to me as an example."
Tsukiyo pondered this. "'We'll reimburse you for property damage'?"
"P… puh-lease?" This word sounded foreign, as if the mouth were unused to forming it.
The normally smooth forehead creased into deep ridges of concentration. "…thank you…?" This came out even more tentatively.
"You're welcome; now try again." Drakewind was being almost flippant with his answers, in the knowledge that Tsukiyo didn't actually mean any of the things he was saying.
There was another pause. "Is it something you say a lot?" Tsukiyo asked. At Drakewind's shrug and nod, he thought some more. "'Oh, Nosedive, why you?'"
Another flat stare.
"I'm guessing no."
"It's the only right guess you've had so far!" Drakewind shot back.
"Well, I don't know what you want! This isn't fun anymore."
Drakewind sighed for what seemed to be the hundredth time. "Fine. I'm…" he hinted.
Leaning forward, Tsukiyo perked up. "You're…?"
"Oh. Oh! I'm…" The eyes blinked expectantly.
"'I'm sore'? Well, a little bit, but I didn't think it was polite to mention it."
"'I'm … sor…ry'? Ooh! I'm sorry!" Tsukiyo bounced briefly and grinned at Drakewind like a child with a twenty pound bag of candy.
Amused, Drakewind grinned back. "Good! And now for the three million dollar question." He leaned back. "What are you sorry for?"
There was another pause, though glass remains crunched into smaller pieces as Tsukiyo shifted hesitantly. "Uh…"
"Take a look around, if you think it would help." Sometimes Drakewind wondered if all Saurians were this hesitant to admit to screwing up. This was reaching almost astronomical proportions.
Just then, the door to the lab slid open as the rest of the team joined them. Their initial burst of speed screeched to an abrupt stop as the four took in the sheer chaos of the room around them.
"Oh, stars…" Saber muttered with wide eyes. Chrism pursed his lips, and Natalie winced. Almost as one, they turned and looked fearfully at Tanya, whose mouth was opening and closing in shock.
"My lab!" she finally burst out. "What did you guys do to my lab!"
Tsukiyo spared her a faintly scornful glance. "Blew things up in it?"
"Be nice." Drakewind nudged him in mild reprimand.
Tsukiyo looked at him in brief disdain, then with enlightenment. "Oh! I get it!" He grinned and quickly moved over to Tanya, sweeping her hands up in his and gazing at her earnestly. "Tanya, I am sorry!" Tsukiyo enunciated each word carefully, then looked at Drakewind with a proud glance. "Right?"
Drakewind opened his mouth to correct him – he'd meant the apology to cover the fact that Tsukiyo had tried to kill him – then sighed. Anything was better than nothing. And, knowing Tsukiyo, he would have seen the earlier almost-fight as a test between warriors and therefore nothing to apologize for. So, instead, Drakewind smiled wanly and decided to let this one go. "Bingo."
The others gaped. "Did he just apologize?"
"I think my ears have fallen into shock."
Chrism moved over and clapped a hand on Drakewind's back, making him stumble slightly. "You have made much progress, my friend."
Drakewind looked down, flattered. "Well, it's certainly not easy. But one step at a time, right?"
In the background, Tsukiyo looked probingly at Tanya, then decided it might be better to patrol outside. Just for a bit.
Back in the Ready Room, Natalie glanced around. "Where's Tsuki?"
The others perked up at her question, then looked equally clueless.
Drakewind's shoulders stiffened briefly, before he seemed to drain of all energy. "Never a dull moment, I guess," he muttered, as he snapped open his comm. "Tsuki, come in?" he called over the line.
A mere moment passed before the crackle came back. +Yo. 'Sup+
Uh-huh. What's your point+
…Sure. Is Tanya still close to grasping pointy objects+
Tanya flushed a flattering crimson. "I wouldn't… I mean, I'd never…"
Saber chuckled. "Give it up, sweetheart." He opened his own comm. "You might want to stay outside until we've got a plan, kid."
All right, all right. Tsukiyo out.+
Chrism cleared his throat. "The note?" he reminded them all in his calm, unassuming manner.
"Right." Drakewind took a reinforcing breath. "Let's just examine the note for now." Another glance at Tanya, who currently looked faintly nauseous. "We can probably examine it away from its… uh… carrier."
The team let out a relieved sigh and made their way over to the other side of the room. A grim reminder of the calamity that had befallen them, the body lay in the cooling portion of the containment unit, its limbs pathetically limp.
Ignoring the tragic for the ominous, Drakewind used a pair of tweezers to open the note with the utmost caution. After all, they had certainly encountered their share of toxic notes, exploding notes, corrosive notes… unfortunately, the list continued at great length.
When nothing happened, he skimmed the note quickly, frowning in confusion. It read simply:
Seven little duckies sitting in a pond,
One's pushed out and told 'So long.'
Another repents and is replaced.
When will the guilty be disgraced?
The tide is high and the moon is low,
At midnight there your blood will flow.
The judge and jury have been chosen,
And the unworthy will be … frozen.
Almost immediately, the paper was crumpled into a ball as Drakewind clenched his hands. "Canard!" he growled.
Natalie bit her lip. "Ignoring the weirdness, he really can't write poetry, can he? I mean, what's with that last line?"
"What's with the poem?" Saber wondered, more pointedly. "I mean, it's about us, or who he thinks we are, sure, but does he want to meet us? Kill us? Freeze us? Who's this jury he's talkin' about?"
Tanya sniffled – her allergies kicking in most inconveniently. "Well, uh… based on previous documentation … uh… documented by the other teams, this is kinda like the final showdown, I guess. I mean, the first two lines are obviously about the original team and Canard sacrificing himself—"
"Obviously," Natalie rolled her eyes.
"But, for the rest…" Tanya shrugged helplessly. "Sorry, guys."
Drakewind uncrumpled the poem and handed it to Chrism. "You're good at confusing and obscure wordings. Any clue?"
Chrism pondered the sickening poem briefly, then handed it back. "The docks, eastern side. Do not ask," he stated obliquely.
"Ah, all right." Even Drakewind looked taken aback by Chrism's swift insight. "No questioning, but definitely action-taking! Get ready, people. We're heading to the docks."
"No problem, oh fearless one," Saber drawled. "I'm as much for stopping Canard as Duke was, but do the words 'walking into a trap' mean anything to you?"
"Trap or not," Drakewind sighed, "he's killing innocent people. We have to stop him."
Chrism spoke up again, being unusually talkative. "As the floods break the dam, so will Canard's trap be washed away."
"That's the spirit!" Drakewind felt the rest of his team bolster their courage as he opened his comm. Once more. "Tsukiyo, report back and suit up. We're going to say hello to a duck."
Great! Finally, some action+ Tsukiyo's voice bounced back, containing none of the bored disgruntlement from earlier. +ETA is thirty seconds; just lemme grab my sword+
Twenty minutes later, a silent owl was witness to an equally silent procession. The full moon hung pendulous in the sky, as if it were only the expectations of humanity that kept it from falling into the darkness. The wisps of cloud that occasionally drifted by were no match for its fierce Halloween glow which tinted the docks with an otherworldly sheen.
The owl tilted its head, snapping up the remainder of its recent meal, and examined the newcomers. There were six of them in total, aligned single file. Their process was cautious but certain, indicating they had been to this section of the docks before. They were on the alert, obviously aware that the gentle hush of the waves masked many warning sounds. The owl blinked at them in approval, then rose in stately flight, more interested with the rodents in the southern area.
Drakewind briefly looked up, alerted by the movement of the owl, before returning his attention to the maze of buildings that rose around them. It would have been nice to be able to fly over these obstacles, but the plane would have made too much noise. Canard, though insane, was anything but stupid, unfortunately. He knew they'd be coming here, but they still kept the element of surprise: showing up early and approaching from a different direction that they normally came. If they could take Canard down before his trap was sprung, then they would win. Drakewind sensed that anticipatory expectation in the rest of his team. Eight years of chasing after the same fiend, almost non-stop, had made them reach the limit of their tolerance. 'Tonight is the night!' the air thrummed between them. 'This was what you were created to do! Take him out! It's either him or you.'
It wasn't just battle hype, either. The other teams before them had lasted approximately this long, but where they'd failed and perished, Drakewind vowed, his team would triumph and win. He halted momentarily to take a good look at the others. They stared back at him with equal warmth.
Tanya, Saber, Natalie, Chrism, and Tsukiyo: they may have been odd by modern 'normal' standards, but that was what he loved about them. They were above average: better, friendlier, fiercer. He didn't want to lose any of them. An upswelling of emotion made his vision blurry, and he held out a hand. "Let's do this," he whispered softly, determination threading steel into his voice.
The four other ducks stepped forwards, placing their hands atop his in a familiar gesture of soliditarity.
"We believe in you," Tanya smiled shyly at him.
Saber gave his hand a squeeze, "And we trust ourselves because of you."
"We're with you all the way, you know," Natalie gave him a thumbs up, while Chrism bowed formally, letting actions speak louder than words.
Saber turned. "How about you, kid? You thinking of sticking around for the long haul?"
"I suppose I must." Arms crossed and head held disdainfully high, Tsukiyo gave an aggrieved sigh. "But only because you'd all be hopelessly lost without me."
Natalie nudged him. "Way to keep a modest image," she teased.
He smirked back. "And why should I hide such a glaringly obvious truth?"
Drakewind's grin widened briefly, then his face firmed into an expression of resolution. "Ok, team, this is it. I'm counting on all of you to use your judgement."
"Right!" The five straightened minutely.
"We'll divide and conquer here. Tanya, you're with Chrism. If there's anything tech-y, you run interference while he covers you. Maintain open radio channels so we can talk if anything comes up."
"Natalie," Drakewind turned to address the next two, "you're with Saber. I need you two setting up an ambush that will work to trap Canard, if only for a minute. I don't care what you come up with or what it does, as long as it works. Ditto on the radio channels, by the way."
"Affirmative." Natalie and Saber both saluted, though Saber's was infinitely more casual than Natalie's crisp military send-off. The four, having been given their orders, slipped off into the shadows.
"Good." Last but not least on his list, Drakewind turned to Tsukiyo, who was standing at ease with an odd expression on his face. Drakewind ignored it. "Tsuki, you're with me. I want you to scout ahead, see if you can't spot Canard coming. It's only 10:30, and the note said midnight, so we should be able to complete some sort of pre-emptive attack."
Tsukiyo nodded reluctantly. "I rejoin with you after that?"
"Right after," Drakewind stressed, noting Tsukiyo's relieved grin. "Canard hasn't hesitated to start giving you orders if he gets you away from us, and I've no doubt he'll jump at the chance to do it again tonight. I want you near me at all times, got that? At least if we're together, I can tell you to ignore Canard's orders, or something. We're trying to avoid a forced betrayal, after all."
Tsukiyo smiled at him – a real smile, for a change. "Thanks," he murmured, then ducked his head in embarrassment.
"That is disgustingly cute."
At the new voice, Drakewind and Tsukiyo's heads whipped around in unison. That unmistakeable accent could belong only to one.
"Canard!" Drakewind shouted, his eyes scanning the shadows around them as the echo bounced between the buildings.
There was a pause, then a sudden rumbling jarred the ground beneath.
"'Wind! Look out!"
Drakewind glanced down in trepidation, then was thrown to the side as a heavy, red-haired weight slammed into him, pushing him aside. Even as the two hit the ground, an explosion ripped apart the place Drakewind had just been.
Drakewind fought to catch his breath, wishing he had enough air to gasp out a thanks to Tsukiyo. Above, the teen in question fought to untangle their limbs, only to scramble to his feet. In an attacking position, he teleported to the other side of the square, growling, eyes darting. Drakewind gasped in some more air, then got to his feet as well, grasping his puck launcher.
"Show yourself, Canard," Drakewind challenged. "We know how you play these games of yours!"
"And I know how you play," Canard shot back, gliding out of the shadows in between the two team members. "You think you're doing anything new, Wildwing? I've been around for every single strategy you've done." He grinned a mocking smile. "Silly buddy. You tried to do this fifty years ago."
Stunned, Drakewind took a step backwards. That was right; Canard had faced off against all the previous Mighty Duck descendants. But to discover that he remembered all those attacks and knew how to defeat them? Drakewind felt like falling to his knees, so devoid of hope that had become. "No…" he whispered.
"Yes," Canard licked his beak. "I don't think you realize how lucky you've been, Wildwing." Ignoring Tsukiyo's derisive laughter, Canard moved forwards, his limbs akimbo and bent at impossible angles. "You know, all this time, I've been looking out for you. You've been unknowingly protected by me. I've been like an invisible guardian angel." He struck a noble pose.
Drakewind felt sick, and a glance at Tsukiyo's revolted expression let him know the feeling was echoed in his team-mate. Knowing it was futile to argue, Drakewind spoke up anyway. "What are you talking about? You're the reason we have to fight; you're behind all the murders, tortures…"
"You've made me jealous," Tsukiyo spoke up casually, the glint in his eyes being the only betrayal to his hatred and impatience. "So you know you've been bad."
"Shut up, lizard-breath," Canard sneered.
Tsukiyo made a rude noise. "Make me, you meddlesome mallard."
"Hey, nice consonance!" Drakewind drawled.
Tsukiyo grinned and shot him a thumbs up. "Thankee kindly."
"Enough!" Canard roared. "I was going to give you the opportunity of an easy repentance, but no more! Now, you'll have to suffer just as much as I did." He began trembling as he started to scratch his stomach. "All those years where I've endured your cruel treatment… but no longer! As of tonight, you will pay for your abusive ways!"
"What?" Drakewind was confused.
Tsukiyo rolled his eyes. "Great. Selective amnesia." He raised his voice and slowed it down, as if speaking to a stupid animal. "Do…you…re-mem-ber … what … you… did … last…week?"
Canard twisted his head around to stare maniacally at the Saurian. "I was brutally attacked. I had no choice but to defend myself. Now, I order you into silence, slave!"
Subsiding, Tsukiyo bit his lip, glaring hatefully as Canard turned back to face Drakewind. "You will suffer tonight, buddy," Canard whispered insistently.
"Uh-huh," Drakewind answered absently. He was personally finding it hard to suppress a snigger: behind Canard's back, Tsukiyo was becoming increasingly creative in the rude gestures he'd begun in silent retaliation.
"And still you mock me!" Canard wailed. "Even when I'm warning you of danger, you refuse to cease your taunting!" His beak drew back to reveal a full set of chipped, pointed teeth, darkened by old blood. "You're on your own from now on, Wildwing. You and every one else. I can't believe I trusted you."
Drakewind tensed, sensing a shift in the atmosphere. The time for banter was over, it seemed. "Canard!" he yelled, bringing his puck launcher to bear.
"No more help!" Canard carolled as he suddenly vanished into the ground – a split second before the explosive puck tore through the space he'd occupied.
"Blast!" Drakewind freed the curse from his throat, overcome by frustration. Why hadn't he fired sooner?
"Yeah, I really hate him," Tsukiyo sauntered back over to his side. His voice was casual, but his hands were flexing compulsively.
Drakewind shook his head. "Change of plans," he muttered. "We should regroup." He opened his comm. – only to discover a steady hiss of static.
Tsukiyo leaned over his shoulder to peer at Drakewind's comm. "Huh. That can't be good."
Drakewind let out a breath. "Nope."
Copying her leader's example, Tanya kept to the shadows as she crept forwards. Tanya's resurrected omni-tool lay on her left wrist. Though it fit snugly, there were still tiny areas that would have been filled with feathers, and in their absence, small rivulets of sweat pooled stickily. Tanya shook her arm to dislodge them absentmindedly, too accustomed to the feeling to pay it any real attention. Instead, she kept her eyes and ears peeled for anything mechanical.
"Do you see anything?" Tanya waved her right hand behind her to attract Chrism's attention, then asked the question sotto voce.
Chrism frowned. "No," he slowly answered, as though distracted by something.
His reticence brought Tanya's full interest to bear and she turned, still trying to keep to the wall. "What? What is it?"
Chrism deepened his frown, as if that would allow him to understand. "Something is not right," he murmured. Usually, once they arrived, the ocean of life-energies would calm. At the moment, however, the ocean's distress had only increased, to the point where it seemed to Chrism as if they were at the heart of a maelstrom. The invisible, spiritual winds buffeted him on all sides, making him wish to meditate in order to purge these distractions for the critical task at hand. He did not desire to disappoint the others – his team, his family.
"Still?" Tanya stuttered. "Doesn't everything normally, you know, settle down by now?"
Chrism pursed his lips, then laid gentle hands on Tanya's slight shoulders. "Be careful," he warned.
She stared up at him, looking for once her real age of twenty years, all her youth suddenly obvious. She had her whole life ahead of here – they all did. Chrism didn't want these bright flames to be blown out.
"We should, ah, call the others," Tanya suggested after a while, clearing her throat. But even as she opened her comm., she could tell it was useless – the crackle of static seemed loud in the otherwise hushed night. Suddenly, it was as if the universe was holding its breath for the outcome. It had seen this situation before, always ending with failure and pitiable bloodshed. Would this time be any different?
And at a temporary loss, the two descendents stared at each other hopelessly.
Cautiously, Natalie leaned back and ran a critical eye over their handiwork. The trap was complete: simple, yet effective. Pitfalls, marked with tiny red string 'X's, provided intersections between canopies of lobster mesh. Originally, she'd been apprehensive about using material that didn't belong to them and was, in fact, some fisherman's lengthy endeavour. However, as Saber had so correctly pointed out, "We can always pay them back. And besides, what else is strong enough to hammockify a crazy duck?"
Natalie had grinned. "Point. But… 'hammockify'?"
"Well, yeah…? I've never seen anything else get as tangled as a hammock," Saber had returned the grin sheepishly.
So they'd set up the traps. And now, Natalie surveyed them with satisfaction, then shook her head as she felt her body start to shut down for the night.
"Natalie? You ok?" Saber's voice, suddenly very close, whispered worriedly in her ear.
"Huh? Oh… yeah. I'm fine." Her face heated in a combination of self-directed shame and irritation. "Just a little tired."
Saber relaxed. "Is that all? Do you want some chocolate-covered coffee beans?" he dug in one of many pockets and pulled out a handful of the delicious wake-up candies.
Natalie hesitated. "You know I try and avoid stimulants –" she was interrupted as her body yawned of its own accord. She felt herself flushing more deeply. "On the other hand, maybe one couldn't hurt. Just for tonight."
"Sure," Saber accepted her answer easily. "Here you go." He winked as she took the smallest one from his palm. "Just do me a favour?"
"What's that?" she asked, curious.
"Don't tell Tsuki I have these. Ok?"
Natalie suppressed a snort of hysterical laughter. "Stars, I didn't even think of that! Can you imagine what would happen if he got into them?"
Saber chuckled and shivered in mock-horror. "And they're chocolate-coated, too! I wouldn't want to be Drakewind for the world!"
Natalie gave up and laughed quietly until tears pricked her eyes. She waved a hand helplessly. "Here, lizard, lizard, lizard…" she managed to gasp out amidst bouts of laughter.
Saber joined in, imitating his fearless leader. "No, we don't summon dinosaurs to destroy the rush hour crowd. We wait our turn like everyone else!"
They laughed a bit longer, until clouds darkened the sky above. The dimming of the already low light brought them back to their grim reality. In unison, they sobered up, then Natalie opened her comm., ready to report in.
Instead of the familiar, ready-blue screen, though, a snowy popcorn image filled their eyes and ears.
With trepidation, Natalie flicked the side of the comm. To her incredible un-surprise, that failed to change anything. She sighed. "I hate machines."
Saber opened his mouth to start a new plan of action when he caught the whisper of footfalls over the asphalt. His hand shot up to his mouth in a gesture for silence as he tried to identify who it was by the tread and distance. Natalie caught hold of his sleeve and gestured urgently to a pile of concealing boxes.
Without a word, Saber followed Natalie's lead and dove silently behind them. Once concealed, they waited ten seconds to calm their breathing, then peeked out with the utmost caution on either side.
Saber sucked in a surprised breath as the figure meandered so indolently down the pavement. 'Duke?' his mind realized, then stuttered to a halt.
"No way," Natalie whispered, horrified. "How is that possible? How can he be here?"
The Duke in front of them slid a casual path through the traps, effortless and eased. With increasing dread, the two watched as he approached their hiding spot. Natalie gripped her gun tighter to compensate for her sweat-slackened grip.
"Saber," she whispered. "He's not setting off any of the traps."
"No surprise there," Saber whispered back. "I did base most of the layout on his designs."
Ahead, Duke paused and drew his light-sword. He tilted his head, and the brand that Canard had marked him with gleamed wetly in the silver moonlight.
Saber activated his own sword, an updated version of Duke's original design. The soft glow shone out clearly in the darkness around them. "I'll have to stall him. Tell Drakewind we've got a definite situation here."
She frowned. "Negative. I'm not going to leave you alone with him. Besides, if this is all orchestrated by Canard, then they'll be having their own traps to deal with."
Duke began to move forwards at a ground-eating lope that was deceptively slow. His beak opened, though only an eerie hiss emerged. Saber took a deep breath. "This is it," he muttered. "Natalie…"
She brought her gun to bear. "I'll tranq him," she proclaimed, then was torn from the ground as two golden cables snatched her upwards.
"Natalie!" Saber screamed.
And Natalie fought to free herself from the grip of a resurrected B.R.A.W.N. unit.
Disgusted, Drakewind gave up on the static-filled communicator and slammed it shut. "This is hopeless. We'll have to manually regroup. Tsuki? Let's go."
He started forwards, gun at the ready, eyes scanning the ground ahead of them. At his back was the silent presence of the Saurian. Without looking, Drakewind knew that the talons would be primed, the muscles tensed, the yellow eyes darting ferally. There would be that odd little smile on Tsukiyo's face, too, but Drakewind had to ignore that part. There were too many unpleasant realisations if he began to think about what that smile meant.
A sudden scream tore the night air to their left. Drakewind and Tsukiyo swivelled, arms ready, and witnessed a golden monster rise above the wharfs with a figure in its coils. Drakewind focused, his mind shooting out and enlargening the image through the Mask's power, and gasped. "Natalie?"
Tsukiyo grabbed his shirt. "Is that a B.R.A.W.N.?" he wondered in a terrified voice. "I thought you said they didn't exist anymore!"
Drakewind tore away into a sprint. "They're not supposed to!"
Tsukiyo caught up a half-moment later. "Canard's cheating! I'll rip out his eyeballs for that!"
"Hurry!" Drakewind shot back. His first priority was the team's safety. If that broke down, then they might as well be mercenaries. "Hey!" he was hit with an idea. "Can you summon one of those dragons to get her down?"
Tsukiyo stumbled in shock, then caught up again as they rounded a corner. "You want me to summon a limbo-monster?" His eyes were wide with yellow surprise. "I thought you forbade me from doing that!"
"The situation's changed," Drakewind ground out. "We need to get Natalie back and we don't have time to waste on that. We need to get to the rest of the team, then get Canard. Do it!"
Tsukiyo shook his head in wonder. "You're the captain," he acquiesced, then stopped. "I'll take care of the B.R.A.W.N. then. Somehow. Do you want to get Tanya and Chrism?"
Drakewind ruffled his hair. "We think too similarly," he smiled. "I was just about to tell you that. Now," he got serious, "open the link between us. I want to be able to summon you. Got it?"
Closing his eyes and concentrating, Tsukiyo opened the mental channel between them. The overflow of emotions, heightened further by the situation, swirled into the other's mind before it obtained the regular consistency.
Drakewind shook his head and blinked, "I keep forgetting that part. Holy crap, that's dizzy."
Tsukiyo stumbled a bit, equally dazed. Being more used to it, though, he recovered and gave his leader an odd look. "You really think like that? Eww." He shuddered. "Your thoughts are all icy. It's gross."
He got a flat stare. "I'm going to take the high road to that comment and refrain from commenting on what methods you've got planned for Canard in your thoughts. That's 'eww' squared."
"Only 'cause you're a wimp!" Tsuki shot back.
"More like I'm not a bloodthirsty, crazed freak!" Equally incensed, Drakewind yelled in his face.
Tsukiyo stuck out his tongue. "Black kettle-pot!"
"That doesn't even make sense!" Drakewind was twitching by this point, so caught up in the flare of frustration that he forgot all about the outside world. His eyes clouded over in a vision of red, to the point where it was unclear whether it was a haze of anger or the Mask coming to his aid in preparation to the upcoming fight.
"Doesn't have to! You suck!"
"Don't make me order you!" Drakewind threw the ultimate threat out, hardly aware that he was pulling rank.
Tsukiyo hid the flinch too well, snarling promisingly instead. "I'd kill you twice over before you had time to speak!"
Drakewind drew in an enraged breath, then blinked, shaken. "Would you seriously?"
"Ah—" Tsukiyo, caught equally off-guard, suddenly realized what was going on. "Well, no. Not really."
Again, Drakewind shook his head briskly. "Ok. Back to normal. Get that dragon going and keep listening to me. If Canard shows up—"
"Yeah, yeah. Zap over to you immediately. No worries." Tsukiyo grinned disarmingly, the boyish expression an interesting contrast with his nature.
Drakewind nodded tersely, then turned and bolted.
He watched him leave, then Tsukiyo took a deep breath, called Wraith's staff from the Abyss of Darkness, and concentrated.
As Murphy's Law would have it, the minute his attention was diverted, a pair of malevolently watchful eyes appeared in the dark alley nearby.
A/N: Ok! That's it for this chapter! Thank you all ((peers at the chirping crickets)) for your patience in waiting for this chapter to come out. And, thanks to a certain someone ((waves)) – you know who you are! – I'll try and get started on the next one ASAP. ((grumbles)) Stupid school… takes up all my free time…
And hey! Reviews are, you know, nice. Hint, hint. And now I'm done. Thanks again!