As the World Falls Down
A/N: Written as a gift-fic for J. Pendragon. There may one day be more to this, but I had to end it somewhere. XD Hopefully youll like it as it is.
The wind tugged and yanked at her hair as she fought to control the flapping shutters. Each curse and growl spat at the offending device was lost to the howl of the building storm, yet that didnt stop the Priestess from muttering them. All about her, the world seemed ready to take flight. The trees that surrounded her hill-top shrine shook and rattled and gave threatening groans into the night air. Even standing as she was to the back of the shrine, she could hear the chimes hung in the front as they shrieked hysterical laughter, welcoming the doom gathering overhead.
With one last, grunted expletives, the Priestess slammed the shutters closed and slid the bolt home. The storm shutters had been built with double locksone outside and one infor a reason, but that reason seemed absurd when she was the only conscious being for miles.
Plastering her palms to her forehead, Rei slid her hands backward along her skull to capture her wind-torn hair into a thick, twisted rope. She knew that the knot she made of it wouldnt hold for longit would just have to do for now.
The woman rushed across the courtyard to the well, ignoring the funnels of dust that danced their way across the cobbles. She knocked the bucket into the well and hastily grabbed the rope before it was lost to her. One buckets worth was all she would have time for; with luck she wouldnt even need it. Rei sent up a silent prayer that the electricity would survive what was coming. She waited with bated breath for the tug to tell her the bucket had filled.
A flash of lightning threw the world into sharp relief. On the horizon, past a break in the trees that revealed the curve of the hill, the gleam of the Crystal Palace shone with a light of its own. For a moment she paused to stare at it, the magical edifice that rose from the ashes of Tokyo-That-Was. Had it really been three hundred years?
A ground-shaking thunder clap reminded her that time waited for no one and the bucket tugged upon its rope. Rei launched into action, fighting with the hand-blistering twine rope until the bucket rose once again from the depths. Rei grabbed it and pulled it from the hook; the water sloshed over her sleeves.
It didnt matter. Drops began to fall from the sky, landing upon her arms, clothing, and hair as she lugged her burden back across the yard. As she slipped beneath the porch roof, the sky opened and the world was baptized anew in natures fury.
Rei put the bucket down and forced the door shut. The next few minutes were filled with frantic dashing to-and-fro about the shines interior, snapping the inner-locks shut and double checking the shutters security. The last one was slid home with a sigh and a final struggle with the insistent wind. Proud of her victory, Rei allowed herself the smallest of smiles before the faint sound of anothers breath alerted her to which room she was in.
The light in the hallway stuttered and blinked as the electricity fought with the raging storm. Its feeble light was all that illuminated the man sleeping upon a pallet a few feet from where she stood. In the darkness, his mahogany hair spilled over the pillow like a river of dried blood. Had she not been able to see the shallow rise and fall of his chest, Rei might have thought him dead. As he had not for the past two days, he did not wake.
It would be best for them both if he never did.
Such thoughts were unbecoming of her, Rei felt with shame, and she left the room before she could have another. Once away from the windows, Rei could hear a tell-tale beeping from deeper within the shrine. Knowing all too well what it meant, the Priestess went willingly to her would-be tribunal.
The small area which served as the common room for the shrines occupants was just outside the fire shrine. Rei glanced into the antechamber as she passed it to ascertain that the fire had not gone out and then pulled her attention back to the box-like consol and monitor affixed to the adjacent wall. Answer, she said to it.
Rei, Serenity began before the picture even had time to focus upon her tired and distant features, I really do wish you wouldnt send all the shrine maidens away like this. You shouldnt be there alone!
I appreciate your concern, Usagi, but its unneeded.
A frown touched upon Serenitys face as her jaw tightened. She should have known, Rei thought, that it was difficult for anyone to take her seriously when she was wearing over-sized pink bunny-print pajamas. Not that the Queens regalia would have done much to impress Rei. There was a silence, during which the Priestess imagined that she could hear Serenity pulling her argument together.
The weather watchers noticed that storm Serenity began.
building above my (your) position this afternoon, they finished together. Rei crossed her arms across her chest. Im very much aware that this isnt a natural occurrence, thank you.
Dont snap at me, Serenity protested in her most un-Queenly fashion, Im worried! Jupiter says that she can take a land rover up there tonight to get you.
Im fine, Rei growled and flapped her hand dismissively.
Are you? Without waiting for an answer, Serenity set back in the large easy chair Rei recognized as belonging to the Queens private office, and crossed her arms in kind. One silver eyebrow rose toward the glinting moon emblem marked upon her forehead. And what of this man that youve taken in?
The Priestess gave a derisive snort.
Rei, Serenity sighed.
What did they tell you?
Not much, Serenity offered with the barest shrug of her pink-clad shoulders. Merely that he seems to be comatose and youve been silent since you found him.
Rei chewed her bottom lip, vision blurring the image of Serenity upon the monitor. I
There was an odd sound, a loud-silent sound, and the monitor went blank. Simultaneously, the lights switched themselves off and the world went dark but for the faint red glow of the shrine fire behind her. The crack of lightning and roar of thunder outside the shrine informed her that more light might be had were she to uncover a window, but the possibility of the glass being blown-in was too great a threat. Well fuck, Rei finally muttered and let her shoulders sag.
Annoyed as she was at the miko, she had meant to tell Usagi what she thought was going on. That opportunity denied her, and her communicator left behind at the palace when shed gone on her annual vacation, there didnt seem to be any option but to deal with this herself.
There were candles in the kitchen; Rei took one to see by and left the others there. One was enough by her standards, and it wasnt the dark which she was afraid of.
The priestess paused before the entrance to the guest room where theyd put the man two days earlier. Even with the door closed, she could feel the energy massing within its walls. The paper wards shed posted to the door flapped warily of their own accordthere was no draft.
Though she lacked Amis medical knowledge, Rei had little doubt that her guest was waking.
With a trembling hand, she forced the door open enough that she might peek into the chamber. There was no longer any need for a candlethe man glowed with an aura bright enough that even the most mundane soul would have seen it. It was as red as her own, and just as dangerous.
As if that had been a trigger, the mans eyes snapped open to reveal demonic red rips of light belonging to no mortal man. They pierced what darkness had remained and the cacophony outside redoubled its efforts, bludgeoning the fragile house of god with all the force of a hurricane.
Something (a window or the roof, she didnt know) broke, sending wood and wind and rain roaring about the room. Unable to do anything else, Rei clapped her hands to her ears and fell to the floor. Beside her, the door ripped away from the wall and the candle fell forgotten to the floor.
Two naked feet appeared before her when she was able to force her eyes open. Rei recoiled from the man but he grabbed her chin before she could get away. His hand forced her face up and her eyes followed to meet his own. Those terrible red lights filled her vision and the world stopped.
His whisper resounded in her head and followed her into unconsciousness.
He was just a little boy, he couldnt have known what the candles would do, but he would never touch one again.
The night about him was filled with lightsswirling, angry reds and blues which twisted the faces of strangers into monsters and demons. There wasnt a single face here that he knew. His chest hurt and his body rebelled, forcing his bare knees to the pavement as he his lungs hacked for air. One of the monsters knelt beside him. It rubbed his back and pulled the blanket tight about his bruised and dirty body. The boy didnt care.
There was a stench to the air greater than the burning pyre and scorched grass of 1450 Chestnut Street. The boy didnt know what it was, but the monster didnt seem to like it. As the horizon turned grey and the stars began to dim, they snapped gargantuan muzzles over their noses and dove once more into the remains of the house. Others stood by with clip boards and pens and spoke in low, excited voices; no one spoke to the boy.
A shout from the ruin and the monsters scrambled. Two of them wheeled a thin, alien bed from the box-like vehicle theyd arrived in, and raced with it up the ash-smeared pavement which divided the yard. The boy tried to protest when he saw them trampling the flowershis mother would have a fitbut his lungs rebelled again and sent pain laden tears to prick his eyes. He squeezed them shut upon the blurry image of a monster carrying a burnt and mangled form from the insides of the house.
The sirens were gone and replaced by the droning of a great buzzard in a black uniform. It perched at the head of the pine-wood coffin and surveyed the few gathered before it with menacing, beady eyes. The boy thought that those eyes stayed upon him more than they did any other there that day, but he said nothing of it. He had said nothing at all, since he had known this day would come. The hand of the silent Sister who came to guard him squeezed his shoulder, and he had to twist his body to remove it.
Glancing upward, the boy saw the hurt in her eyesanother monster, like all the others. He returned his eyes to his mothers coffin and her claws sank once again into his shoulder. This was his punishment and he would bear it.
The buzzard lifted the cross from about its neck and held it aloft as it squawked something which was meant to be meaningful. All around him, the monsters shifted in place with discomfort; the day was getting longer and theyd all been standing. The organ at the front of the cathedral played on, the congregation bent to their knees and rose again. Up and down, down and up, sing a song, chant a prayer; each action significant in its meaninglessness and there was only a handful in the masses gathered that even cared about why they did what they were doing. The others were just scared.
Standing in the front with the other children, the boy could feel the energy of those around him like water upon his skin. He was drowning in it; the pressure of it constricted his chest and hurt his heart. Gasping and choking, the boy squeezed his eyes shut. The girl beside him touched his arm in concernno one else noticed.
It was over as soon as it had started. The boy opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He returned his gaze to the pulpit, searching among the monsters for the buzzard. Those sharp, beady eyes which saw everything were glossed and staring; the buzzard would fly no more.
This time he knew the smell when it wafted upon the air. Burnt feathers, he imagined, as the monster dug her claws once more into his shoulder. There was no coffin, but there was an urn. It was placed inside a stone house, dark and dank and cold, and forgotten to all but a boy. He passed it one night, a sack of worldly goods thrown over his shoulder, and kissed the door before he went. Never did the boy look back.
She trembled as she was pulled from the darkness by the morning light. The cawing of crows and distant song of morning birds alerted her to the timeand to the absence of the storm which had raged the night before. Rei pushed herself off the ground with a sudden, jolting movement and stared in horror at the world around her.
The shrine was ash and fallen timber, disintegrating paper wards and torn, tattered belongings. Mud, leaves and glowing embers marked the cobblestone pavement, a trail which led from the ruins to the still-standing well in its middle. Somehow the bucket which she had used the night before was sitting beside it, whole and damp with water it no longer held.
Rei shifted further onto her knees, realizing as she did that it was not the naked ground she sat upon but a spread, if damp and ash-streaked, blanket. The woman put one hand to her forehead and tried to slide her fingers through her knotted, wind-tangled hair. She wrinkled her nose at the grease and dirt.
Im sorry, said a hollow voice.
The Priestesss gaze jerked upward again to find the man standing near the ruins. The night-shirt theyd put him in was off, tied about his waist in lieu of pants as theyd had none to spare; the cloth was stained beyond repair, in the same manner as everything else. Rei scrambled to her feet, growling as she did, and gestured wildly to what remained of her sanctuary. Youre sorry? Youre sorry! Yes, you had damn well better be sorry!
Nephrite frowned and drew himself up. It was, by far, not the reaction Rei had expected and only made her anger boil. I said I am, and its true, he replied, I it wasnt intentional. I didnt I mean, I dont After a moment of struggling, his jaw closed with a snap.
Reis eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to ignore how the dirty cloth of her kimono made it stiff and grating against her skin, But youre aware that it is your fault.
A spark of anger like a wave flooded from his person; the red aura flared about him and then settled into oblivion once again. Rei tried not to show that she had tensed and was at once very aware that she had no idea where her henshin wand had ended up at. For the first time in a very long time, she felt entirely unprotected.
Aware? He asked like a gunshot. The birds resting in the trees nearby cried their annoyance and the more nervous of their lot took flight. Neither human paid them any heed. As aware of it as I am the fact that youve been mucking about in my head!
It was then that Rei noticed that the energy about him was decidedly different than it had been the night before. While the building of the storm had been decidedly evil in origin, there was nothing of that about this man now. She made no move to close the distance between them. Unintentional, I assure you.
As unintentional as this, Nephrite shot back with a jerk of his hand to indicate the shrine. Look. Im not saying I wont fix it I dont know how, but I will. Just dont freak out at me, okay? I dont even know how I got here.
The miko and I found you three days ago, passed out by the river. Rei gestured with her chin in the general direction of the nearby river, though one couldnt see it from the forested hilltop. We brought you here for medical attention.
Your miko The man seemed to pale through his tan and his eyes went wide. In her third eye his aura faded in a sudden and complete drop as he turned about to stare at the ruins. But I didnt findoh god.
No! Rei slapped her hand to her face and waved one hand at him. She strode forward on automatic as she flapped that hand at the misunderstanding, No, no, they werent in there! I sent them away yesterday, before the storm.
His shoulders sagged with relief and he sighed. Rubbing at one temple with a dirty hand, he turned again to face her and the two stared at one another.
Reis hands met before her, fingers playing with the hems of her kimono sleeves as something logical tugged at her brain. You there was a fire.
Nephrite nodded, A candle, I think.
And you pulled me from it.
You were passed out, he replied and looked as if he expected her to hit him. The memory of her dream was still fresh in her mindbut it wasnt a dream at all, was it?
And this, Rei decided, was not Nephrite before her. Not exactly.
What should I call you? She asked after a moment. If youre going to be fixing my shrine, I ought to call you something.
Nathaniel. The man replied after a moment; then he added: Albright. Nathaniel Albright.
Well, Rei replied and turned her gaze to the shrine with pursed lips, Im going to hold you to your word, Nathaniel Albright. Youd better be good for it.
Reis gaze jerked back to the mans face, rebellious at the laughter she heard there. His lips stretched into a grin when he caught her looking; it was going to be hell working with an empath, even if he was untrained. The Priestess damned her luck and turned to go and draw more water from the well. Serenity would have sent someone to the shrine by now, and she wouldnt meet them dirty.
Serenity was not happy, not in the least little bit, but there didnt seem to be much she could do about it. The shrine was Reis private property, not the Queens, and if Rei insisted upon pressing no chargesso long as her demands were metthen there was nothing the Queen could say. At least, there was nothing she could say legally. There was plenty that she could, would and had said to Reis face and plenty that the priestess had shouted back at her.
Nathaniel Albright had no money to tap into and Rei hadnt asked for that. Insurance was a wonderful thing, and Reis policy included both storm and accidental fire damage; with that and the inheritance from her father, which she had never before deigned to touch, there didnt seem to be much limiting the repairs. Except that she was only allowing one worker to touch it.
I know I said Id fix this, Nathaniel drawled in his stilted Japanese as they stared at the newly cleared building site where the shrine would be raised, But you do realize that Ive never built a house before.
It isnt a house, its a shrine, the Priestess replied and cast a sweet smile up at her indentured servant. Theres a first time for everything. Think of this as a character building exercise.
Their eyes met and auras flared and then Nathaniel tromped out into the bare foundation which had been left behind. He didnt seem to have any idea what he was doing and Rei merely watched with a smile. A wisp of gold moved in her peripheral vision and Minako came to lean against the well beside her. He isnt going to be able to do this by himself, you know.
Rei gave her sister a glance, smiling at the picturesque image the woman made. It was hard to believe that they were all over three-hundred years old now, and harder yet when Minako insisted upon wearing shirts tied under her chest and shorts that barely made it a quarter of the way down her thigh. Yet Rei couldnt blame her; it was hotter than Hades and only mid-morning. Then he should be more careful with his promises, shouldnt he?
The blonde gave her a side-long look, noisily slurping on her glass of lemonade as she did, and then snickered. Youre setting him up to fail on purpose, arent you?
I said it was a character building exercise, Rei replied smoothly. The corner of her mouth gave a betraying twitch and brought peals of laughter from Minako. Across the yard, Nathaniel gave them a dirty look.
Thats horrible! Minako giggled, still, and wiped tears from her eyes with one manicured hand. Rei, you cant be that mean to him! I know he ruined your shrine, but the poor thing is a vagabond. Besides, it isnt as if you had to pay for it.
Thats beside the point, entirely.
Oh? Minako didnt even blink as Rei took the drink from her hand and stole a sip of it. Then what exactly is the point, because he seems to think youre serious.
I am. Rei handed the drink back and turned to press her hip into the well. Now that she was facing Minako, it was hard to keep an eye on Nathaniel, but she pitched her voice lower so that he wouldnt hear. In that he is going to do the majority of the work himself, under my supervision, and that he isnt going to have it easy. Ill bring in some contractors to get the major framework up, first.
Minako tapped her fingers against the glass as she thought that over. I know who he isor wasbut dont you think thats taking this a bit far? It was an accident after all.
No, Rei shook her head. You didnt see what I did, Minako. He may have had it rough in this life, and it may have been an accident, but he has to learn to control his powers. That is going to take discipline.
Minako hummed suspiciously. Discipline. Is that what youre telling yourself? It seems more like a punishment to me.
Would you disagree with that, if it were?
No, Minako replied with a smile and a shrug, But I think he should at least know what hes being punished foryoure afraid hes going to remember.
Rei nodded and turned to face Nathaniel again. She smiled to herself as she watched him work. He did that night, or a part of him did. I dont know why it was repressed again, but it was.
And this is a perfect excuse to keep him around for observation, Minako sighed. She swirled the straw about in her glass then took another sip. After a second she added with a smirk, And its good eye-candy besides. Makoto would be proud.
Mina! Rei gasped, gaining Nathaniels attention. She glared at the blonde, who only grinned and threw a wink at the bewildered man in their midst.
True to her word, Rei hired contractors the next day. The summer droned on to the tune of cicadas, summer birds and the steady thump-thump-thump of hammers on wood. For a few weeks the saws buzzed and drills whirled and the men shouted expletives at one another and their own tools, conveniently forgetting for a moment that this was supposed to be holy ground. Nathaniel worked diligently alongside them, learning the trade and earning his keep. Rei watched in the background as she kept the shrines business going from one of the tiny outbuildings which had remained undamaged, ever wary of a changebut nothing seemed to happen.
The heat of the summer never ebbed, but the daylight business did, and Rei was more and more left to her thoughts. Her lunch hours were spent beneath a sprawling oak treeone of the giants which had survived the last war with Chaos that had leveled Tokyo-That-Was and gave rise to Crystal Tokyoreading. In the construction site, the men laughed and carried on; by this time, Rei had long since learned to tune them out. In retrospect, she considered that to be the reason why she didnt hear the footsteps approaching.
So youre that Rei, are you? Nathaniel asked as he leaned against her tree and looked over her shoulder.
Reis eyes snapped up, her entire body giving a little jump. He smiled when she met his eyes and the woman rolled her own. It took you awhile to figure it out.
Well, Nathaniel shrugged and moved to sit beside her without waiting for invitation. Reis eyebrow twitched but she moved over a few inches to give him space, It has become one of the more common names, planet wide. Granted, there are a few more Usagis than Reis floating around, but all nine of you have quite a few namesakes. Ten, if you count His Majesty.
The birth rate isnt that high, Rei protested mildly.
Yeah, but three-hundred years is a long time, Nathaniel reminded her with a snicker. He glanced her over, making her cheeks heat, and added: Though I must say, youre doing well for your age, my Lady.
Rei forgot about her bookmark and gave his arm a gentle whack with her book. The man laughed, rubbing at the spot though it couldnt have hurt much. Assault! Assault!
This is a monarchy, I can afford it, the Priestess replied and gently threw the book a few inches to her left.
Ahha, and I bet the Queen would love to hear you say that, Nathaniel replied softly. Rei turned to look at him but found that his eyes were for the Crystal Palace, looming in the distance. Unable to read his expression she frowned to herself and turned in kind.
Shes heard it enough, she replied, And knows that from me it is nothing but a joke.
Not for some, though.
No, Rei agreed. And my present company?
They both nodded, both a little weary for separate reasons, and when Nathaniel spoke again it was in a much more serious way. They say that youre the most powerful psychic on the planet.
They might say correctly.
The man looked up from where hed been watching his feet, but could not get her to meet his eyes. He frowned and drew his knees to his chest, resting his arms upon them. Can you tell me what is wrong with me, then?
The priestess shifted in her seat and idly brushed her bangs from her eyes. Unable to help herself, the woman wondered what it was that he felt from her now. Did he understand her mistrust, or did he write it off as fear of his powers, and not their birthing place? She pursed her lips, tongue peeking from between her lips to wet them.
No, Rei responded after a few minutes, Because there is nothing wrong with you. Youre a psychicthat doesnt make you inherently evil.
Or else so too would you be, my Lady, he nodded in agreement. She glanced at him, catching the faintest hint of irony in his voice, but could find nothing solid to object to. That has always been my argument for it. I am American, however.
Not all Americans have a problem with Serenitys regime.
Most do. The truth in that statement could not be argued with; Rei didnt even try.
Your powers are simply uncontrolled, that doesnt mean theres anything wrongper say. Plucking at her hakama, the Priestess spoke slowly as she pulled her thoughts together, It takes awhile for control to be learned. Longer still for those who begin their training as an adult, as it requires unlearning many bad habits. Like any skill, really.
Nathaniel nodded distantly as his teeth worried his bottom lip. After a while of this he nodded again, thanked her, and rose from his seat. Rei didnt stop him when he moved to rejoin the construction crew.
Business picked up in the evening hours when the heat had dropped and the locals could make it up the steps without killing themselves. Rei and the single miko who lived in the tiny village beneath the hill worked to hand out their charms and recite the prayers and appease the spirits of the forest. It was good to see the shrine doing so well, even despite the construction, Rei noted.
Ever since the collapse of Tokyo-That-Was the shrines all over Japan had been seeing many more visitors. Some considered this a good thing, while the science community rebelledbut the science community had also had to swallow the fact that their Queen was once a magical princess of the moon. That particular press release had been delightful.
They closed late into the night, after making certain that the shrines funds were accounted for, the tiny little shop put into order and everything ready for the next day. As Rei watched the Miko leave with her elder brother, she found herself wishing that she had a fire to tend. Even when she was stuck in the palace, attending to her duties there she still had the freedom of tending the palace shrine.
Technically she should have been doing that, anyway. Her eyes drifted once more to star of the palace perched upon the hazy horizon and wondered how things there faired. In three-hundred years she hadnt taken so much time away perhaps that was why Serenity allowed her to do so, now.
A shadow loomed to her right and Rei startled, pose automatically shifting into a fighting stance. Nathaniel threw his hands up in surrender, backing away again. Ah, Rei relaxed somewhat and frowned, You shouldnt sneak up on me like that.
Who was sneaking? He replied with an arch of one eyebrow. Shrugging it off before she could answer, Nathaniel let his hands drop and shoved them into the pockets of his work-jeans as he approached once more. The guys finished their part today. Im going to start the inside work tomorrow.
Does that mean we can move back into the shrine?
Nathaniel nodded, yeah, the roofs up and stable.
I wonder, She drawled. For a moment he seemed taken back and then the man cracked a smile.
Youre teasing me.
Am I? The shared a look and a laugh, and then he nodded.
Scuffing one boot upon the earth, Nathaniel asked in a rush: Will you teach me to control it?
Rei smiled faintly to herself. I was wondering how long it would take you to ask. His head jerked up in surprise, eyes wide as he regarded her. Then that strange, boyish smile broke across his face again and he laughed.
So thats a yes?
For now. I want the fire shrine up as soon as you can.
Hai, sensei. He dashed away as she threatened him with a fist, and back towards the tents theyd been camping out in. Rei let him go and cast one more look at the palace. They could do without her for a time, and there were secrets to be discovered here. Though she didnt trust the man, not a wit but his very existence was intriguing.
A shout from the tents got her attention and Rei looked to see Nethanial struggling with his ownit had caved in on him in his excitement. She snorted and jogged across the yard to help him free.