Chapter 9 – My Enemies Closer.
A/N: Okay, this is the last chapter of this fic; hope you enjoyed it thus far. It's short, but hopefully it'll tie up a couple of loose ends, or maybe it'll leave them dangling. Who knows…?
HHH – Rouge chao? I never played nay chao games – how do they work exactly?
TH – I've continued right to the end of this fic; don't worry, sequel on the way!
Ri2 – 'The bullet that ended my father's life also ended mine'; remember the last chapter of AODAI? It's in Seraph's letter – he saw Nack shoot his father; remember he was only a kid at the time and that's bound to screw you up somewhat. Told you the ceiling would be important didn't I :-).
DH – Yeah, the scene took some doing; I really wanted to convey the sense of nightmare for everyone except Kragok, the only one left who wasn't a mindless serf. I also tried hard to get Lien's sense of horror and betrayal right – the one she felt closest too all her life just basically admits he's a psycho, what would you feel? I personally have no idea how I'd react – maybe I'm lucky like that.
The moonlight dappled the ground around them; despite her extra layers of insulating material, Lien shivered as the cool midnight air ate into her warmth. It was certainly late, the only light coming from the gibbous moon and stars shining down on the echidna lady standing at the entrance to what had once been a base of the Dark Legion and her silent cohort. Just for a fleeting moment, she turned, facing towards the northwest; she knew what lay there, further into the mountain range of Angel Island; nestled there, hidden away from prying eyes and scanning technology, deep veins of iron and other metals within the rocks that made up the base scrambling any devices employed to scan for it, was the citadel of Necronopolis, the stronghold and sanctuary of the Dark Legion. The only world she had ever known, the one place in the world she had called home with the family she loved; it called to her, beckoning her back to the bosom of the Legion – she could find the way, even in this virtual lightlessness. Lien knew the direction back to her base, the terrain she would encounter en route and even, if she was pressed to, the approximate number of steps she would have to take to get home.
And she knew, with a heart of stone, that she could never go back there.
Not now. Not after this.
Some hurts ran too deep to be healed; even as her mind ghosted back to Necronopolis and she embraced the angry but still loved form of her great-grandfather, her heart was rebuffed by the sight at the side of him. The thought of Kragok, disguised as always, poisonous fangs sheathed until the second they'd delivered their noxious bite, looking at her, speaking to her, touching her…she shivered; no, not yet – I can't do it. I have to face him sometime, but I need time to think, time to get my head around this. That was a basic truth; a shock so huge, a decision of such magnitude reached so quickly was deadening her senses; on an intellectual level, she knew right now she wasn't feeling any of the emotional backlashes that were sure to follow. And for that, she was thankful; she needed to get as far away as possible as far as possible; there would be time to mourn later. Turning to the side of her, she saw with mild incredulity that, rather than melting into the shadows he appeared to be part of, the strange creature who had inadvertently revealed the toxic truth at the heart of her family was still there, stood almost as though sizing her up; no, not now. Surely not – he can't still be after me.
She fought down her apprehension, wetting dry lips with the tip of her tongue as she spoke in a faint, quavering voice; the next, crucial decision would decide what her future held for her, and this time, the decision wasn't hers to make.
"So, what now Seraph?"
Innocent a security risk. Identity must be concealed.
He was completely alien to her; behind that faceless mask, she knew, lay something that remained hidden for good reason. The mask disguised his feature but most importantly it disguised his eyes, the windows to his empty soul; they alone would immediately set him apart. He didn't answer her, but now she knew it wasn't a rebuff, or an attempt to act macho or to purposely irritate her; he didn't answer simply because he couldn't. He was completely reactionary; the spark of innovation had been quenched along with everything else – she had to ask the right question to get a limited response because he couldn't think to pre-empt her question. Right; she steeled herself for a few questions; most important first then;
"You can't kill me".
Correct. Law states murder illegal – no debt punishable by death.
He nodded, a clinical answer delivered with minimum fuss and effort, maximum efficiency; well at least I'm not dead. Lien managed a weary smile as she spoke again,
"So what can we do now? You don't owe me anything, in fact it's quite the reverse; you probably saved my life back there, so you're a free agent again. Why are you still here?"
"You know my face".
In those four words, that simple little statement delivered in a chillingly colourless tone, she saw it; hope filtered through her almost timidly but even that was enough to warm her as, catalysed by her quick wits, she used that hope as fuel to forge an opportunity to solve both her problem and his own dilemma; if I'm reading this right, this is one chance I can't afford to miss;
"I'm a threat to you aren't I; I mean, I know what you look like", that was a lie; she could remember nothing beyond those eyes, or more importantly the endless vacuum behind those eyes; she could barely remember what colour they were, the void had scoured the knowledge away from her. Still, as he nodded, she could use that threat he felt, even if she knew it couldn't be realised, as a chit to get out of this place. If, that was, she could sound convincing enough,
"You don't want me shooting my mouth off; I could tell the world what you are and…"
"I would silence you". She knew that statement wasn't a threat, or a promise; it was the truth, something far more terrifying than either of the other two options. Trying to look appeasing at the same time as cross her fingers, she went for the throat of the issue,
"Well, quite, but listen, let's make a deal".
"State the terms"; his blank visage crept forwards, he was listening to this, summing up what it meant for him as Lien went for broke,
"You need me around to keep an eye on, and I need to get out of here. I can't stay; I have to get away, off this island, anywhere, the land below; you're the only one who can do that. I'll stay with you, as close or as far as you want, if you can get me away from the Legion".
Compromise efficient – innocent can be monitored in confined space. Deal acceptable.
Praise the Heavens; the weight that dropped from her shoulders hit the floor with an almost audible thump as Seraph, after taking a heart-stopping moment to decide, nodded. Relief was compressed into a verbal form as the female echidna drank in the sweet air of freedom,
"Good, we better get going now; the EST will be all over this place by morning and the last things I need now are awkward questions. The Legion will probably think I'm dead, and that's what I need now, a clean break", she extended on arm, her tone softer now as she realised she could barely see the ground ahead of her, "lead on Seraph; I can't see the path".
She felt a hand on her arm and pressure was applied, seeking to lead her forwards; she resisted for a single instant, one last time she looked upwards, seeing the world she was leaving forever and carrying it deep in her heart for the last time before, with a mighty effort, she broke her glance, yielding to the pressure and taking the first step towards a world far removed from the Legion. A world almost limitless in its scope, a world where she could hide, where she could grow and where, she swore quietly under her breath, she could prepare for the showdown she knew would have to one day be played out in full.
He'd known it was coming, but it was still a formidable sight and one he didn't relish seeing again; the door had practically been ripped off the hinges and plaster rained down as Dimitri, past caring of the structural damage the Central Dogma encasing him was doing, smashed his way into the small private hospital room, glaring at the occupant of the single bed. Swallowing nervously, Kragok spoke in a high, nasal voice as the gauze holding his shattered nose together would allow him no other tone,
"No Kragok", two more footfalls rattled the floor, sending shockwaves through the drip bag suspended from a nearby feed as behind the incensed lord of the Dark Legion medical orderlies rushed to clear themselves from the impact zone, "it is not a good morning; I have just been debriefed by Lieutenant Rykor about the travesty that just happened".
"A moment please and…" A split-second later Kragok whipped his legs apart as, with a mechanical roar that reverberated throughout the room deafeningly, Enerjak's metallic hand crashed through the railings on the end of the bed, the sheer force of the blow buckling the sturdy steel legs. With a yelp Kragok found himself forced up to a forty-five degree angle, right into the blazing eyes of the Central Dogma,
"No moment for you Kragok; I have heard enough", the growls hummed in his ears, the other free hand gripping him around the neck and forcing him to look, not break away as for a brief instant, Kragok feared for his life, "your plan has left everything in ruins! All that I have strived for has been promised with good intentions; I was earning the trust of a small minority of the Echidnopolis council and now this. Kidnapping the mother of the guardian in broad daylight! Threats of unsanctified augmentation! The only thing I am unsure of is whether to be thankful this debacle failed at all".
He was smart enough not to interrupt; he had a hunch that his great-grandfather was leading to something bigger than everything he'd mentioned so far and was interested, and not a little afraid, of what that something might be. In the silence, Enerjak carried on,
"You've squandered millions, gone behind my back and tried to capture targets who now, because of the threat you held against them, will only hate us more, making my job more difficult. I'm trying to get a team together from the remnants to search the place, but most of them are scared stiff – something about a black demon that none of them could hurt, that screamed like a dying soul and hit like a train. The EST will beat us there", for the first time there was something else in the synthesised voice, aside from rage; what is he sorrowful about? The fact that he will have to choke down his pride to admit the Legion's failure?; "and when they do, the only thing I can pray for is the body of our fallen is intact".
The fallen?; Kragok took a second to digest the news; there had been a fatality in the guardian's escape – even as he was planning how to use the death to spur hatred of the Brotherhood of Guardians in the minds of the other troops, Enerjak finished, the grip around his chest almost squeezing the air from his lungs,
"I see it in your eyes; yes, there has been a death, and I hold you partly responsible Kragok", twin suns of red bored into his single organic eye as the older echidna finished, "because of your impetuousness, I have only a single great-grandchild left".
It took some seconds for the words to reach his brain; for the first few micro-seconds he never had to employ his considerable acting talents as shock dictated his actions,
"Yes", he could see it in his descendant's eye; the true cost of his folly and the terrible price it had taken, "she was last reported running into the base in a panic; one of the guardian's allies pursued her; nothing has been heard from her since".
"Officially we must wait a month; until then she's missing", Enerjak's voice lowered, the pain Dimitri was feeling transmitted through the shell of the Central Dogma, "but I know it; in my heart, Lien-Da is lost to the Dark Legion", he pushed forwards, compressing Kragok into the bed, eyes glaring once more as he grated, "and I hold you responsible". Even finding it hard to breathe the second in command squeaked,
"But nothing", with a thrust, the bed crashed back down to the floor, Enerjak looming over it ominously as Kragok struggled to recapture his breath, "as of this moment, you are stripped of all your responsibilities; you are a private in the Dark Legion. I will be watching you closely Kragok; one more toe out of line and it will be the end of you as a soldier. Finally", he took a step back, the last point of his judgement about to made clear as he spoke, "you are forbidden corrective surgery to your face; your stupidity caused your sister's end – you'll remember that every time you look in the mirror". For a fleeting second Dimitri tensed in case Kragok would argue with him; certainly the younger echidna's face creased in anger but, no, he reigned it in; humility that this was his fault seeping to the surface as he inclined his head,
"As you will, my Lord" he mumbled quietly; Dimitri nodded, swinging his armoured shoulders around to leave the younger echidna alone with his grief; he had been close to his sister despite their differences; but first, I must make sure he suffers;
"By the way, who did attack you in such a manner?"
"I am unsure, Lord Enerjak", Kragok shook his head, "it was dark and my vision was obstructed".
"I'll look into it; I owe him a drink whoever it was", with the last stinging rebuke, he turned to leave from the hole he'd made, "get cleaned up and back on the parade ground; your wounds aren't serious bar your face. I expect to see you there no later than the day after tomorrow, understood?"
"Of course my Lord". Without another word, the grandmaster of the Dark Legion departed; a second after that, Kragok, eye closed in pain, lowered his head underneath the hospital blanket that still covered his mangled bed.
From the outside, it appeared he was sobbing in grief; the bundle under the covers moaned and shook as though in throes of utter despair, but then again, unknown to anyone bar his own mind, Kragok had always, even in the most difficult moments, been able to put on a good show.
I've been set back; he giggled again, the tone in his great-grandfather's voice, as though he actively expected him to feel pity for the loss of his twin sister; I'm a private again, but no matter, the officers still like me – I just have to make sure I get in the right platoon. The face though; his features contorted, the movement painful as the gauze tugged on the sensitive fur of his muzzle; that's something I could do without. Still no matter – the tap was supposed to remove the two greatest threats to the Legion's prosperity; his claw flexed as, with a smile that no-one else could ever see, a sick, twisted snarl pulled into a rictus expression of desire and conquest, Kragok let a spark dance along the three fingers of his augmented hand; one out of two isn't bad!
A/N: Okay, short fic I know, but important. Kragok's been delayed in his sick dreams, but is there enough time for Lien to find herself and prepare to face him once more before he regains his powers? Time will tell.
But then, one tale time has already told –the question asked and, until now, unanswered. But not for long; soon, as one unfortunate will find out, sometimes the things that get to you most are those that never touch you. When physical contact is not allowed, only a Psyche Out will do.