To my readers,
This is the last chapter of "Line". This story answers some of the questions posed in it's summery, but not all of them, and none of them are adressed too directly. It's a case of reading between the lines I suppose. On fore thought this is more of a Asch/Noir/DarkWings fic. However there isn't a Noir slot in the charater selection place, and since it's deliberatly misleading I'll probably swap out the Van slot for an empty one. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. I've some more Asch fics up my sleeve and I'll put them up when I can. Hopefully Line was enjoyable as well as marginably informative.
Line of Impiety
He lounged, legs kicked up, arms sprawled lazily in whatever way they liked. He lay in the embrace of a shapeless battered couch of dark brown leather, it was one of his favorites...
The volumes robes of state, the tabard of divine station, and his cassic that did little than intimidate the masses and indicate his chosen order, were scattered around the room without care. He was clad in a long tunic of dun brown, baggy grey pants clung to his waist, and were held to him by the tightly bound length of leather that served as his belt. Setting his head upon the arm of his chosen couch, he ignored how his long crimson hair fell behind him. He ignored how the tips must certainly be dipping into the cups set upon the floor, and as his skin crawled and he realized his "ignorance" wasn't holding he promised himself that when he sobered up a shower was definatly in order. Two glasses of Rocket Tower wine -a brew supposedly made by combining the chemicals of the first Rocket Tower's fuel and passing it off as liquor- lay on the wooden floor. On was empty save an off orange skin at its bottom, the other was full. Untouched.
Around him, taking places on other disreputable but comfortable pieces of furniture were the Dark Wings. The legs of Urushi's chosen chair were lost in a forest of glasses of every shape and size. The portly thief slept off his indulgence, the raw volume of each snore made the cups around him rattle ominously. On the other side of the room was York. The thief was curled into a tight ball, his pirate hat covering his face. Like the hat's accompanying rodent, the thief's arms were twined around his lanky form, unlike the rodent however there was no bushy tail draped over a shoulder. York mumbled contentedly in his sleep, oblivious to Asch's scrutiny, the squirrel atop the hat soundlessly chittered. A handful of glasses were set around the uncomfortable looking wooden bench that York had claimed for himself, one had tipped over. The spill was hardly formidable just a small orange sport on light brown wood that could easily be felled by the application of a mop.
Asch stared blankly at the orange spot for a while, then with a yawn he stretched and turned so he was facing the back of the much clawed upon couch.
The hustle and press was behind him. He'd bolted at the first opportunity, abandoning his Master to make all the explanations the mass had wanted. Taking deep breathes in a quiet hall way, the murmurs of shock and worry from the grand chapel was little more than abstract rumbles... Like the peal of thunder heralding a storm...
They'd come for him there, wide smiles crossing their weary faces. And he offered warmth for warmth, shyly giving them a startled smile of his own.
"You did good work kid." Urushi's hand settled on his shoulder, the man's touch wrinkled the black fabric of his cassic a little. "Did us damn proud up there."
"Did you see Van's face?" York chortled. "Like he'd taken in some of Urushi's cooking! It was rich, Asch, just rich!"
"It was more a case of your cooking, York! Or perhaps I should call you your real name, Professor Dorki-"
Settling her slender hands upon the mock combatant's shoulders Noir stepped between the two thieves and flashed Asch her warmest smile.
"Turn around Asch, let me look you over."
He obliged her, all the while mystified by her request. The robes of his station twined awkwardly with his abrupt turn. Still he didn't trip, nor accidentally throttle himself with the black length of fabric that they'd so recently slung over his neck. The tasseled ends of the cassic tickled at his knees, the robes twisted, and the tabard was hot and heavy. Noir smiled, looked over him as he turned and she laughed. Then she was there, crossed the distance between them and embraced him, every inch the proud, older, sister.
"How you've grown, my dear, how you've grown!"
His smile widened a bit as her hand playfully twined his long locks of crimson hair.
"Noir, put the shears down, now."
She recoiled out of the embrace at his accusation. The scissors that she'd kept hidden up the flowing sleeve of her one sleeved dress caught the sun just right. The edge of the gapping tool twinkled with silent, golden, wicked laughter. Without a whit of shame she huffed at him, stuck her tongue out and with a flourish thrust the scissors back on her belt.
"You're no fun!"
"I wouldn't mind a trim," Asch admitted wryly, "just not by the woman who claims that she can't draw a straight line with the aid of a ruler."
Noir's voice purred lazily in the darkness of the chair's back and his half closed eyes.
"You alright Asch?"
"Fine." He murmured sleepily.
"Anything's worth something to someone." He informed the back of his couch, curling so that he could take the best that the cushions had to offer.
"Spoken like a true Dark Wing. By the way, I know you're not drunk, so stop playing like you are."
He turned then, away from the musty dark of the couch and faced Noir. Like always she was dressed in a challenging scarlet dress that showed much but reveled little of what really mattered. Her long hair was thick and a glossy artificial red; her eyes were a shocking blue in contrast. She'd taken the tall backed chair, it looked like a throne, but her posture -half slouched, one half bare leg kicked up over one arm- dispelled that disturbing image from the new God General's mind.
"We are proud of you, you know that, right? Even if we don't approve, we're proud."
That wasn't new, the knowledge that they didn't approve of what he was doing, and in part, what he was. They hated the killings and he hated the killing too. Or at least he told himself that everyday. His denial of pleasure in battle was the hollow mutterings of the impious' prayer, though. He knew that, and she knew that, but still he said the words everyday and every time they asked.
It had been their happy little facade, their comfortable pet lie, and it was very unlike Noir to coolly rip it down and make them both look on the uncomfortable truth. He shrugged, feigning nonchalance, and Noir scowled at his act.
"So," Eyes half closed Asch looked upon the leader of the black wings, his eyes lazily tracing the woman's blush hued locks. "-when are you going to let the real color grow out?"
With a sniff Noir ran a hand through her hair, coyly watching as at the red locks slithered between her fingers. Kat, he'd called her in his childhood, Misses Kat, to be exact. He smiled at the old memories, then reached down to help himself to the last cup. He raised it, and to his offer of a toast she raised a brow but took up her sole glass in reply.
"What I don't get is the whole smacky thing, I guess." Leading the way down the semi-silent halls of Nam Combodia -ruckus, mayhem, and chaos were a norm in the Black Wings/Dark Dreams abode- the squat thief dredged up a smile for his most unlikely of "wing" mates. "Why'd the Fon Master hit you like that?"
"It's a rebuke, the first strike is to scold the child for his forgetfulness, the second is to rebuke the adult."
Curious, York rose an eyebrow. "Whatever for? You weren't noted for being a dolt after all. 'Less you play stupid for Van."
"Hardly." Asch snorted. "He'd have killed me in a heartbeat if I was a fool, or a traitor."
"Nice man." York twirled the glass bottle in his hand, the burnt orange liquid inside twirled and twisted upon itself.
"What was the second hit for then?" Urushi growled, getting impatient. But then -if you believed Noir- Urushi was so impatient he came into the world so early he'd ruined his own legs. Urushi never said a word about that, to rebuke or confirm Noir's claim, he was too restless to sit still long enough to explain the "'fairs of his past".
"I just told you." Asch snapped, then chastising done, he reached up and tugged at the small bandages that Noir had slapped over the still healing cuts.
Without turning Noir knew exactly what he was doing. She stomped her small foot and glared at the darkness in front of her like she was glaring at Asch.
"Asch, leave them alone!"
"It itches." Asch grumbled to no one in particular.
"I don't care, leave them alone!"
"Come on Asch." Urushi whined. "You know I don't get them damn priesty dealings."
Annoyed beyond measure Asch growled, but since he was among friends he didn't do anything else. They waited for the God General's anger to pass, two sets of ears all but pricked forward in anticipation. Noir, who had actually spent the time to research the God General ritual already, knew what Asch was going to say. So she paid more attention to leading them through the darkness that shrouded Nam Combodia. The mess of scattered props, 'playful' traps, and toys left by Katz, Kows, and human children alike, was making the simple walk into something of a trial. They all grouped around in the shadows, wearily dragging their feet to feel for obstacles, and prayed that they wouldn't wander into anything truly dangerous.
Annoyed by the fact that someone had broken the fon tech lights as a practical joke Noir was mentally going over a few openings for her upcoming lecture. Correction… scathing lecture. Wincing as her foot bumped into a heavy prop sword she hissed such a violent oath that she could feel Asch turn and regard her. Out of them he only had light, and that was because he was wasting fifth fonons. Even then he was being so cautions with his spell that only the ends of his fingers glowed. Yes -she decided then and there with an evil cackle- her speech would be a truly paint blistering, lecture. Chalk full of profanity, she mentally amended. And ethics be damned. She was entitled to her indulgence after this nightmare crossing. With a nod to say "Yes, I'm fine, don't worry about me," Noir busied her mind with constructing the opening phrases. Her speech would be delivered nice and early, before breakfast… All so the miscreant could do without a meal and have hunger and shame gnawing at them…
"The second strike is a reprimand. To never take duty lightly, as a matter of fact protocol says that the Fon Master is to reprimand the supplicant."
"You said he was supposed to. Doesn't that mean he didn't?" York queried, all but jumping on the incognito shading of Asch's statement.
"He didn't." Asch confirmed.
"What'd he say then?" Urushi wondered.
"How the hell should I know! His eyes were rolling back like he was going to have some sort of fit, and he had it! I wasn't exactly taking the time to read his lips or anything!"
"To excitement?" Asch proposed. "A lively ending to a rather ho-hum affair?"
"Sound's like something I'd say." Noir conceded with a sly grin. "Proposal accepted!"
They both rose their glasses to the distant heavens and took a generous gulp of their drinks.
"So, what happens now?" Noir asked. "You got your freedom at long last. Much to that Master of yours chagrin you also still have your wits intact. Though Gods and Goddess know how you've kept it all these years."
With a sigh Noir twiddled the thin stem of her glass between her fingers. The liquid inside sloshed against the rim and nearly spilled over. Still Noir's nervous fingers played on, indifferent to the attire's danger. Silence -a mite strained- spanned between them. At last Asch stopped watching and said the first thing that came to his mind.
"You're not one to brood, Noir."
"Not suited for it." She grinned, fluttered her eyelashes at him. "Normally I find pretty, smart men, to do it for me."
Asch snorted at her praise. He shook his head as if to banish her words from his ears, but even as he did so he could feel his face turning a few shades closer to matching his hair.
"How did you do it?" She asked at last, snapping him out of his pleasantly numb state. "Keep your head all these years? Van had his hand in everything, twisting you whatever way he liked."
"He didn't have a thing. As for how I survived…. You might say that I merely apply what I excel at to all the scenarios that consist of my life."
"What, like annoying your elders?" Noir suggested archly.
"Among other things." Asch countered.
"A toast," Noir raised her glass. Asch, with a smirk, followed suit. "To free will, and to defeating the odds, or Gods, or whatever their parroting off Lorelie as nowadays..."
"To Lorelie's defeat then. And humanity's victory." Asch echoed.
Though a room apart they rose their glasses as if they might meet. Green eyes met blue, both shared warm smiles, then the drink was downed.
"I'll admit I miss having my little cardinal around." Noir set her glass down.
Following suit Asch put his glass on the floor with utmost care. An unstoppable yawn that stretched his mouth to its capacity and made his jaws ache decided him. It was time to turn in. The drink wasn't very strong, but it was making him a bit more aware of how weary he was.
"I haven't gone anywhere, Noir."
"No but you're growing up. You aren't half as vain as you used to be, and none of that annoying pro-noble attitude is still in you."
" Largo's scythe ripped more than bones and flesh. Blood wasn't the only thing I lost in Daath's salle." Asch countered. "I'm not an innocent little boy. I wasn't allowed to be. It happened Noir, that's life. I had to stay, to do what I needed to do."
"And you're going back…"
"There are six of us now Noir, when I first went to Daath it was just Legretta and Largo. I'm the last of six, now, and I don't understand why." He turned to her then, wiggled about until he lay on his stomach and moodily set his chin on an outstretched arm. The fingers dangled over the edge of the couch. He watched the tingling digits rather than her. "He's enlisted murderers Noir, murderers and the mad. Dist the Reaper, Sync the Tempest, and Arietta, Ion's previous guardian. Why? I can't think of a clear answer, and it chills my blood when I speculate on what little plans I know of that he has. He read me my death score you know, then he turns around and tells me he's going to have my replica fulfill it."
"That bastard!" Noir hissed. "He read you your death score, that motherless son of a bitch!"
Amused at her profanity -as always- Asch twinkled the fingers of the dangling hand. He watched the now burning numb fingers twitch at his command with something too detached to be fascination. At last, after gathering his courage, he turned to look at her, and was startled to see her face an uncomely shade of crimson. Noir didn't show her anger well. Rage made her face burn hot and bright and made her eyes glimmer, as if with tears...
"I can't let it happen, Noir. "The Sacred Flame will be used as a weapon of Kimlasca Lavendear. He shall be a tool of great devastation. And drawn by his flame, by his hope, those of the mining city shall flock to his standard and he will release his weapon amongst them." And there is only one weapon that Lorelie gave me, one so awful that I don't dare use it, ever."
"Hyperresonance…" Noir whispered, looking sick as understanding descended. "My Gods… the Order's just going to sit back and let your replica…"
"In a city," Asch whispered. "They'll have him release his power in a city filled with people. None of them would survive."
"Was he telling the truth though, Van, was he…"
"That's why I'm going back. The Score reading trance… it wasn't right… Something was wrong with it. I don't know if he was lying, or suppressing some of it, or changing the words somehow… They'll sit on their asses, the Order, they won't do a damn thing. But I think I can do something, I have to try at least."
"And you'll play his game."
"Like always." Asch's lips curled into something to bitter to be a smile. "But I think I have a few pieces up my sleeve he won't expect."
As his meaning hit Noir flushed. "You're putting way too much faith in us."
"Oh, not just you," Asch assured her with a mysterious chuckle. "Not just you."
Absently Asch went back to staring at his arm, as if tracing the patterns of his fon slots with his eyes.
It was impossible of course, simply impossible. You couldn't see fon slots, just like you couldn't see fonons. They were invisible, everyone knew that. The closest you could get to seeing was "feeling" them, and those who could were supposedly half mad.
"Go to bed, Noir." Asch murmured. "Get some sleep."
"You're not like a hero out of the stories, Asch." Noir whispered. "One man can't change the world."
"Really?" He flicked his gaze on her, a glimmer of surprise housed in the emerald depths of his eyes. "I'd never thought of you as a pessimist."
"I'm a realist." Noir countered. "If I were a blind optimist I'd have stopped stealing years ago. I would have just hoped that the performances would have brought enough in for me to continue things here."
"Yet you hope for change." Asch challenged. "Just like me. And you're willing to do anything to bring change about."
"Just like you?" Noir queried.
"Just like me." Asch answered coolly. "And, just like me, you aren't a blind optimist. If I were I'd walk away from Daath, from Van, and I'd go straight to Batical, straight home. I'd go home present myself to them as Luke fon Fabre."
"You tried that once, remember? It didn't work."
"Like I'd forget." Asch snarled. "I failed because that's not how the world works. It's not a bloodless work, fighting the Score, waging war on Lorelie. Have you ever considered what it costs us? To live without faith in the Score is to be a non-believer in a world of believers. If we told them, those outside this little community you've made, that the words of their "god" are little more than a lore of lies…"
Asch cut his speech off with a chuckle; clearly he was amused at his play upon words.
"I know what that costs, what would happen. I made all those mistakes starting out here-" Noir began. Asch silenced her with the wave of a hand.
"If you walked away, today, tomorrow, anytime, just took yourself, Urushi, York and left you'd be rich in a fortnight. No more midnight raids, no more fleeing the imperial army of Malkuth when the Wings almost get caught in a blotched robbery. No more working in dingy taverns with men leering at you. No more magazine signings. You'd be a free, wealthy woman, without an obligation in the world."
Noir shifted a bit, allowed her leg to drum at the side of the chair, her gaze conveying her lack of amusement louder than any words. Asch was repeating the obvious, and pissing her off while he did so. Anger was a dangerous thing in Aldurant. War was a currency, hate quick to come and hard to shake off. Its citizens were raised with a sword by the cradle, or fonic chant taught to them alongside nursery rhymes.
In Asch's case it had been both. Or rather both had been thrust upon him when he'd come into the real world outside the walls of his manor almost ten years ago.
"Just walk away." He told her. "It's not so hard."
"Then don't tell me to do so. Don't beg me to do the same. And trust me a little, alright?"
"I stay because of my responsibility." Noir hissed, her blood was up and she was almost ready for a fight. Not even the rare softness to Asch's tone, or the mute pleading in his eyes, was going to charm her into better humor. "If I left all these people would either starve or the monsters outside would get them! I'm not staying for some stupid selfish reason!"
"Optimist, a noble optimist, I think I didn't do to shabby after all."
"What the hell are you talking about?!"
"You wanted the run the Wings for profit, always nagged Darithin to take more risks for more profit. He always turned you down. You were more selfish than I was Noir, and that says a lot that you aren't now."
Sulkily Noir glared at him, draping an arm over her chest in a half attempted "arms crossed" pose she glowered. To that, he just smiled. It was one of his rare smiles, not his "I'm going to kill you slow" grin, but a genuine warm curl to his lips.
"I already went through my rite of passage ten years ago Asch."
Still Asch looked upon her, his smile widening a hair.
Noir huffed. She mentally writhed as she realized that she was giving up her anger, and her reason for doing so was so stupid! It was all because he was smiling at her just so. He looked far too much like an innocent child when he smiled. The fact that a sliver of crimson hair had fallen loose in his restless tossing and turning did much to add to the childish image Asch was presenting at the moment. Especially since that lock of hair happened to fell onto his eyes. Telling herself to be stern, Noir continued.
"Don't treat me like a child."
"We both fight for all for the same reason in this little war. We're both Nobles in our own way, even if we don't have estates and servants; our responsibility is to our people. It's just how it is."
"I like that." Noir admitted, allowing herself to relax a little. "That whole "it's just how it is" part, I mean. And for the record, I'm not some stupid, prissy, stuck up, noble. Don't call me a noble ever again. And you aren't a noble either, don't call yourself that, it's insulting."
Asch only shook his head and laughed at the irony of it all.