So Many Ways Alike
Author's note: This story is just for fun and no profit. Take nothing seriously, okay? Also, thank you for the encouraging e-mails and story suggestions. This is what I came up with. I hope you like it.
Anissina absolutely despised accidents. They happened. And they happened, in this case, in her lab. Of course, it wouldn't take long until it was discovered—which annoyed her. It irritated her more than the rumors that she spurned all men and their company. (She quite liked men, especially Raven and Gwendal, and found that they had their usefulness from time to time.) It bothered her more than being forced into political meetings that bordered on gossip sessions with her brother, who was clueless on the best of days and had a strange, unnatural attraction to poultry. He needed a better hobby. And it troubled her more than the thought that she might not be able to get Gwendal to agree to submit himself to her next experiment. She would have to corner him in the hallway right after lunch when his stomach would be full, and he would be too slow to move. Either that, or she'd slip past Yuuri a quick request to borrow her childhood friend and sometimes "confidant" for a little one on one "experimentation time." And since the maou was known for just signing things haphazardly, the odds were good she'd get her way.
Anissina, with clipboard in hand, narrowed her eyes. She noted that the black shadow was spreading across the floor in rolling little waves like cigar smoke. On either side stood "Tower 1" and "Tower 2"—tall, narrow generators that each sported a series of yellow, diaphanous disks, quite like sun catchers, that were supposed to take a Mazoku's magic and focus it on a particular spot to "super charge" it, as she called it. If the Super-Charge-Your-Magic-Kun worked as it was designed, she would be able to create a machine that could cut through brick, metal, magic shields—anything. The mammoth size was an issue, of course. However, as a prototype, it wasn't bad at all. But, she was concerned that the invention might be a tad too powerful and even harmful on the operator. In theory, it could go farther than anticipated and take it all—including the Mazoku's magic and life force. So, of course, the machine wasn't ready to be tested on Gwendal or Günter just yet. Today, just to play it safe, she had powered her invention by connecting cables to three of her other "in progress" inventions and switched them all on.
Anissina's frown deepened as the shadow extended between the towers and then began to rise towards the ceiling. It formed a black oval. She walked around the experiment and noticed that it was still rising. Lethargically, it spread itself out with wispy fingers--now taking on the shape of a black column with smoke and small grains of materials floating through it at random.
"What is this?" She wondered and stepped back with her clipboard still clutched in her hand. Notes. She really needed to take them, but her eyes were fixed on something within—a shifting of shadows.
The full moon appeared behind her and cast a blue-grey light through the windows.
"Anissina, dinner's almost ready and I wanted to talk to you about this budget request…" Gwendal's voice cut itself off immediately at the sight in the lab. He walked in, eyes locked on the column. His heavy steps made the red haired lady turn on her heel and smile a little too brightly.
"It's like this…" She laughed nervously, the clipboard placed strategically behind her back. The column now reached the ceiling, and she could see that out of the corner of her eye when she tilted her head. Teeth flashed a gleaming white.
It took a second, but it finally clicked.
"You have no idea what that thing is, DO YOU?" Gwendal barked with eyes wider than anything Anissina had ever seen before. He could feel a wrinkle working itself up on the surface of his skin and his blood pressure rising. He turned to his childhood friend and gritted his teeth. "You've just let some sort of dark specter into the castle!"
"It's not alive," she countered. "Don't be obtuse, Gwendal." She folded her arms and stared at him. "Even you should be able to observe that much."
He didn't even flinch. She was the one at fault. So, there was no way her misdirection was going to work. Pointing angrily, "Then, what do you propose to do about it?!"
"Oh," she said, turning back and resting one hand on her hip. "Well, I'm not exactly sure… and…"
Before their eyes, the center turned pitch black.
There were gusts now. Her skirts lifted briefly chest high. Gwendal got an eye-full that actually did distract him for a second. Anissina's black thong was actually really becoming. He did his best to shake the image of creamy thighs out of his head. It wasn't going to help the situation.
The column began to pulse—turning a silver-lined grey. And a deep rushing sound was coming from it. A breeze picked up, which turned into almost a gale—air being sucked into the column with the black column of rolling smoke seemingly not to be impacted in any way by it.
"Anissina," Yuuri said, poking his head in the door, "have you seen…" His eyes widened at the chaos in the lab, papers flying and a wind blowing around from somewhere. "Have you seen…Greta?" But the question was lost on his lips. No one was paying attention. Instead, they were all watching a long, silver object slide through the smoke column. It shined. The protrusion, which was obviously sharp, was aimed forward. It revealed itself to be a sword attached to a hand, followed by an arm wearing a sandy brown sleeve.
Jaw dropped, Yuuri wandered into the room and stood next to Gwendal, not believing what he was seeing. The administrator gave Yuuri a double take. "It would probably be for the best if you left the room!" It wasn't a suggestion. It was an order. Onyx eyes barely spared a glance. Noting the fact that Yuuri's feet were planted firmly in place out of curiosity more than anything else, Gwendal positioned himself between the threat and his all too naïve monarch, blocking the view.
"Your Majesty," the administrator barked back over his shoulder "please!"
Yuuri was about to argue the point, peeking past the administrator, when a person stepped through the column.
It was Wolfram. And it wasn't.
A tall, brunette Wolfram with chocolate brown eyes and pale as the moon skin stared at the trio. He was wearing the same khaki uniform with red piping that Conrad usually wore. The blond pointed his sword at Gwendal, but blinked hard as though he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Big…Brother?" he whispered incredulously, lowering the sword. "Is that you?"
From the column of smoke, another figure appeared. A caramel haired Murata Ken, wearing a long blue robe with silver piping and clasps that mimicked the original sage. Taking in the room, his glasses flashed—shielding his eyes.
"Isn't that…Murata?" Yuuri said, peeking around Gwendal.
Then, the smoke parted one last time. And, Yuuri stared at the figure. Eyes fixed. Involuntarily, he took a step around the administrator, but jerked to a halt as he was held back by the shoulder. Like it or not, Gwendal would let him go no further.
Directly in front, the young man's reactions were the same. He stopped.
They gaped at each other.
Impossible as it was, in Anissina's lab, there were two Yuuris.
"You look just like me," they said at once. Both double blacks were practically mirror images of each other in terms of height, weight, and clothing. However, the "Yuuri" who had stepped through the portal had raven hair that was shoulder length and a long, braided strand of hair the thickness of a pencil that stretched to mid back with a faceted onyx jewel knotted into the end.
"I think we should be careful," the sage said to the brunette soldier standing next to him, putting a hand on his arm and distracting the young man from his shock at seeing Gwendal. "Remember why we came here to begin with…Wolfgang."
He got a curt nod at that.
The trio walked forward, through the bulky towers, and into the gale as Gwendal, Anissina, and Yuuri stepped back to allow them some room.
Almost immediately, the wind whipped harder, shaking the invention. The towers seemed ready to fall, rocking unsteadily on their bases. Anissina's candles had long been extinguished and her lights overhead began to flicker wildly causing a strobe effect. Machinery sputtered and sparked—threatening to set fire to the entire lab.
This was too much. "Anissina!" Gwendal shouted over the roar, "Do something about this!"
"Agreed!" she yelled in his direction to be heard over the winds. Holding her skirts down, she made way for the far corner of the lab where the cables where leading. She'd have to pull the plugs without making any notes or saving data. The researcher in her was crying over that. Still, it had to be done.
Seconds later, there was a sudden drop in power and the generators began to slow, winding down with a distinct grinding noise that Anissina found distressing. The wind slowed, too, with an eerie silence taking its place along with the electronic sputtering of equipment somewhere in the lab.
"Just as I thought," the sage muttered as his eyes took in the sight of the portal collapsing in upon itself. "But maybe, it's for the best."
As the column's features began to dissipate, a deep purple form, the length of a large dog but lower to the ground and more spread out with the legs of a centipede scrambled out of the column, its clawed feet making a series of click-tick sounds as it scurried. Gurgled pants erupted from a tusked mouth.
Exiting through the towers, it charged at the Yuuris, and Gwendal tackled both double blacks, sending them all to the stone floor.
A scraping sound against stone as the body swerved back to have another go at them. A rumbling with the click-ticks as the feet sped up. A bloody gurgle. A mangy head came at them with tusks forward.
"Wolfgang! There!" Yuuri could hear himself shout, the black-clad figure beside him pushing himself up on an elbow. The sage turned abruptly, eyes concerned. And the soldier wearing Wolfram's face lunged at it with both speed and force. It, on the other hand, decided to take a more direct route out—dodging the steel blade, jumping over a lab table, and smashing through one of Anissina's large windows, unfurling sets of web-like wings between each scrawny leg, and gliding down to the ground below.
"Damn it!" Wolfgang shouted in frustration, charging to the remains of the window that looked like a gaping mouth with jagged teeth of glass. "The Gaki got away!"
The other two rushed to the window, shoes crunching on shards of glass broken glass. Numbly, Yuuri found himself following, not knowing what to think or do. At some point, he realized that Gwendal was, once again, standing between himself and the strangers who looked and sounded very much like his friends…as well as a twin of himself.
"We should go after it!" Wolfgang seethed, peering through the broken window and feeling the night air against his face.
Down below, three guards were shouting and pointing ahead of them in the direction that the beast had gone. A fourth was joining them with a torch in hand.
"I wouldn't advise it. Those creatures see better in the dark than we do." He pushed his glasses up on his face with a knuckle. "Though they hunt at night, I doubt it will try to eat right away if it thinks we're chasing it," the sage said wisely. "I'm sure some soldiers can be sent out to protect the local village. And, in the morning, we already know places to look." Then, he turned to the others in the room, taking a few cautious steps around the remains of the window and stopping in front of the strange double black with short hair. "Besides, I think introductions are in order…don't you?" he went on with a secretive smile in Yuuri's direction.
The double black could only nod dumbly to that. Yes, they really should have a meeting as soon as possible. There were too many questions that needed answers. And, even now, his mind was having problems accepting what he was seeing.
"I'll arrange it," Gwendal said, gesturing them out the door. He was having problems, too, but his soldier's training was kicking in—assess the situation, organize resources, and make a plan of action. "We'll meet in your office," he stated to Yuuri in the tone that sounded like an order, which got an immediate "yes."
"Good idea," Anissina chirped and got a stern look from Gwendal but she shrugged it off. He got a wink as she exited the lab.
Yuuri's stomach growled. Yes, he was hungry, but it had to wait. And, after what he'd just seen leap out the window, he wasn't sure if he could actually eat anything right away anyhow. And he prayed that, when they did eat, they wouldn't be having the boiled shrimp that he'd have to peel first. Those dangly little legs, which reminded him only too much of the dark monster that they called "Gaki," would have been an instant turn-off.
"Is The Great Sage here in the castle?" Gwendal asked irritably to no one in particular as they walked. Their footsteps in the hallway sounded like a kind of rushed, clumping march.
"I'm right beside you," the young man teased, twisting a caramel piece of hair between his thumb and finger. Up ahead, Anissina's chuckle could be heard. It echoed. Gwendal frowned at that. "I meant…our sage…" This was starting to get confusing and the thought of two "Great Sages" running around the castle was beginning to give him an ulcer on top of his usual wrinkles.
"Yes, I saw him a few minutes ago," Yuuri stated evenly, walking along while staring at the brunette "Wolfram" ahead of him and trying to wrap his mind around the fact that the man was even here at all.
Gwendal grunted the word "good." He kept up the pace. "I'll send a guard to ask Wolfram and Conrad to join us, too."
Wolfgang stopped abruptly and Yuuri almost plowed into the back of him. The double black was glad he didn't. But, still, they were close for a second, very close. The man smelled good—but not like Wolfram. There was no scent of summer—like sunflowers. Instead, he smelled like sandalwood and musk. It was a pleasant scent, but totally wrong for the person Yuuri had come to know and sleep with for the past four and a half years.
"Excuse me, Brother," the brunette soldier said, which made Gwendal wince internally. Did this tall stranger even have the right to call him that? Wolfgang's questioning eyes widened with hope when he said carefully, making sure that he heard correctly, "Are you…telling me that Conrad is…alive? Really?"
The sage placed a calming hand on Wolfgang's shoulder and waited for an answer to the question. Yuuri's twin had the same questioning look.
"Of course," Gwendal answered cautiously and noted the excited glances shared among the trio.
"Then, let's do this!" Yuuri heard himself say as his double walked forward towards the office without needing directions.
"Yeah…let's…" Yuuri said, not sure what else to say, but he, most certainly, wanted his godfather with him now. He needed the comfort and advice because he wasn't sure which way was up anymore.
Escape. Freedom. Scuttling furiously but glancing back at the looming castle which was a black shadow against the night sky.
Tree branches bent away with snapping and cracking sounds. Weeds pushed aside and trodden down from thin, hair covered legs in a darkened purple-black. The rustling continued until the clawed feet found a well-worn animal path and began to follow it—feet beating, drumming dirt—skirting the houses and farms.
It stopped. A sniff. Another.
The quiet night reflected back the panting, hollow and heavy, from a mouth with two yellowing bottom tusks that were jutting forth, dripping streamers of warm drool.
Hunger was eating at it. Hunger. It was always hungry…and always would be.
Time to feed.
Hurriedly, one of the castle guards jiggled the knob in an attempt to open the heavy wooden door in time. It swung back with a deep groan. And long before he entered, the blue clad soldier's irate voice could be heard. He stomped in irritably with the words "What's happened now? Did Yuuri forget to sign something—again—and that's what's making us wait? Greta's sitting at the dining table and I'd rather have her eating something by now… and…" He stopped himself in mid-rambled sentence.
Wolfram von Bielefeld blinked at the occupants in the room who were sitting around a large table. He wondered, very briefly, if this whole situation was, in fact, a dream. Gwendal looked like he'd just swallowed a lemon. Anissina was there with her usual smirk. There were two Great Sages sitting side by side, chatting merrily. And there were two "Yuuris" at opposite ends of the table. Worst of all, his eyes drifted to the right and he saw…himself, sort of.
"What is…this?" the blond turned to his brother with shocked and demanding emerald eyes as the guard outside shut the door discretely. As usual, the ex-prince's voice was beginning to carry. "I don't understand." His head swiveled back to the two Yuuris. One seemed uncomfortable with the way the blond was watching him. He squirmed. The other, who sported longer black hair, was practically stunned by the vision before him. His face was slowly forming a warm smile and the body shifted slightly in the chair to help him get a better look.
With a sense of wonder, Wolfgang got up from where he was sitting, wooden chair legs scraped against the tile floor. The man stood up to full height. He towered over Wolfram in much the same way that Conrad did on a daily basis—which, at times, annoyed the blond, making him feel more like a child than the man he knew he was. But, at the moment, all Wolfram could do was gape.
"I'm…a full blooded Mazoku in this world?" he said incredulously.
Emerald eyes widened at that statement. "Did he just say 'in this world'?" Wolfram muttered to his brother, pointing a finger at the stranger.
Gwendal put a hand to his head, eyes lowered. "We'll fill you in…in a second…"
Wolfgang leaned over a bit more, hands on his knees, and examined the adorably cute body up and down. Wolfram had sunny blond hair, pale skin, and glittering emerald green eyes so much like his mother's. The body was in perfect proportion, from Wolfgang's view point, with no scars whatsoever. To be like that, he had to be either incredibly skilled in battle, or he was never allowed into action other than military parades and the like. "What's your element?" he asked excitedly. "Can you create barriers and wield earth magic like Big Brother? Or are you more like Mother?"
Gwendal put a hand to his head at the mention of him and their mother in the same sentence. A pulse throbbed there and he had the desperate need to knit something cute.
Wolfram's eyebrows narrowed—offended by the familiar names being used and unconsciously took a step back to assess the man before him. He looked the stranger up and down: tall, brown hair, soft brown eyes…wearing Conrad's uniform. He clenched his teeth at the mere sight of the familiar clothes. But the face was his own. That, in truth, was unmistakable and disquieting.
"It's…fire," he said back with arms folded against his puffed out chest. "And I'm one of the strongest Mazoku in Shin Makoku." The "don't mess with me" vibe was communicated quite clearly. He tried to stand a little taller when he said it. And that didn't go unnoticed by his other self who chuckled inwardly. "Wait…" His eyebrows narrowed. "Did you just say…'fire'?"
"I thought I made myself quite clear," Wolfram grumbled with his mouth turning down as he felt a hand resting on his shoulder in much the same way as his brother did with Yuuri. After a gentle squeeze, Wolfram smacked the hand away. But, instead of taking it as an insult, Wolfgang cocked a grin. The other Yuuri did, too.
"Fire," Wolfgang said with emphasis and his eyes scanned for a reaction from his sage and his Yuuri. The serious looks he got back were not missed by Gwendal and Murata Ken. "Well, I'm impressed," Wolfgang replied easily, returning to his previous reassuring smile that he also seemed to share with Conrad. He extended a hand and said, "Just like you, my name is Wolfgang…Wolfgang Weller."
"Excuse me…?!" Wolfram blurted, not taking the extended hand at all. Yuuri, Gwendal, and Murata also shared the same dumbfounded look. The only one who didn't was Anissina, who was smiling with a smug expression that seemed to say Ha! I guessed right!
The name being an obvious shock, the tall brunette shrugged a little. There was almost a shy, boyish smile now. "And, as I guess you can see, I'm only half Mazoku." He turned to Wolfram again. "I can't wield magic in any way. So, I guess, I'm a little bit jealous of you." It was followed by a good natured chuckle. "But, I am good with a sword. I was trained by the best, you know."
"Well, my name is Wolfram…von Bielefeld." He said his name with pride that came across as arrogance to the rest of the room. "And it is obvious to me that we are nothing alike." He stood up on his toes a little when he said it and pushed back his shoulders to make his chest look bigger.
"Did you say 'von Bielefeld'? as in Waltorana von Bielefeld?" There was an appalled and revolted look on Wolfgang's face. He did his best to block out the image of his mother lying naked under the infamous fop.
Wolfram placed fisted hands on his hips. "That's my uncle, not my father!"
"So sure about that?" said the caramel-haired sage, stirring the pot because he could. He got an elbow in the ribs from his counterpart, who made a shushing sound with a finger to his lips. Both snickered evilly.
"What?" he gritted out. A growl followed. Visibly, Wolfram's body began to take on a red glow and a smoke plume rolled up. Death glares were sent to the sages and Wolfgang. He was not going to take this kind of garbage from strangers. No way. No how.
"Now, come on, Wolfram," Yuuri chuckled nervously, palms up defensively. He could see where this was going. Beads of sweat were starting to form. "They were only joking."
"Quite lively, isn't he?" the double black's twin said to the room without really expecting an answer. He tilted his head to one side and the smile widened.
"Are you telling me that you're really a Weller?" Gwendal asked because the "Weller" part still hadn't clicked in his head. Then, another person entered the room after a brief but gentle knock.
"Gwendal, one of the guards said that you wanted to see me." Conrad stopped abruptly and did, in many ways, what Wolfram had done only minutes earlier. He scanned the room, briefly, and was about to ask questions when arms wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him into a tight hug.
"Little… Big Brother," Wolfgang sobbed against his neck. "I can't believe this. I can't believe that I'd ever be with you again." Desperate fingers dug into his uniform, clinging to him. Then, the man leaned back. His palms were now on both sides of Conrad's face, looking intently into the brown eyes as though trying to convince himself that this was not a fantasy he'd devised in a fever-dream. Conrad took in the face. The eyes were wrong. They were his own eyes. But the face was Wolfram's. In fact, every line and curve of the man was an exact copy of his little brother, and the palms that were now resting on his face felt familiar—the same way he'd touch him back when Wolfram was a very small child and his "Little Big Brother" was his entire world.
It made his heart ache just a little.
In the next second, another set of arms encircled him. It looked like Yuuri but with longer hair. "I never thought I'd see my godfather again," he breathed. He closed his onyx eyes and a tear slid down his cheek.
Both young men pressed up against Conrad. He, in turn, glanced at them and then the room, getting back a variety of looks. The most pained and hurt belonged to Wolfram, who watched his tall counterpart hugging him and calling him "Little Big Brother" so intimately. The fiery blond folded his arms and with a "humph" turned his head away.
Conrad couldn't blame him, really. Conrad didn't know what to say or what to do, but his first guess was that Anissina had a hand in it somewhere.
And, typically, she didn't appear to be ashamed of herself.