A/N: Finally finally FINALLY! I sat down and was like, "I AM GOING TO FINISH THIS SUCKER. TODAY." And I did it. Between various real life occurences that kept my attention elsewhere, my awful tendency to start writing cracky oneshots and my brief hope to participate in NaNoWriMo, I managed to finish it. So to anyone interested, HERE IT IS~! ...*anti-climactic receival* ....8D;;;
I decided that I'd give up NaNoWriMo and focus on getting this story to at least 50k words instead. I came to the realization that I just didn't have much interest in a completely original story when I already had spent so much time thinking about the plot for this one. And now I'll be quiet and let you get to the chapter. Hee~ Hopefully it isn't too boring, I kept getting the feeling that not very much was happening. But good stuff is coming up, I promise! ...Probably. I also made it longer? Eheh.
Please let me know what you think, kay? It helps me a lot!
Thanks to my friends that read this over for me before I posted it, and thanks to those that reviewed! X3
Disclaimer: I don't own Code Geass...do I really have to be reminded of this every chapter? D8
The silence that dragged on was heavy with disbelief. Everyone in the room was tense and staring at the strange human girl with startled expressions, some even holding horror at the thought of what her statement could mean.
Charles zi Britannia supported the Incuria. He believed that for the sake of a perfect world filled with the cream of the crop of the human race, death and destruction of everyone else, without their knowing, was acceptable.
Charles zi Britannia was vile enough to not only support this monstrosity of a threat…he was controlling it.
"You lie!" Kallen yelled, breaking the silence, and looked ready to tackle the other woman to the ground.
"There's no way that bastard could pull something like that off!" Tamaki followed up angrily, always ready to hop on the yelling bandwagon to try and one-up Kallen. For once she didn't care.
"You can't be serious…" Ougi muttered, still more horrified than angry.
The girl rolled her eyes at them.
"Why would I bother coming here and relaying something like this if it wasn't the truth?" She spun around on her heel to face away from them, her long green hair flying around her like a curtain. "It isn't as if I like being in your company, as you surely don't enjoy being in mine," her tone was still flat, though it took on an almost wry edge. "If you don't want me to continue, I can leave instead. It doesn't bother me what happens to you."
One red-haired fox growled darkly, but fell silent. Tamaki gave a snort and muttered something under his breath. The mysterious girl turned around again and fixed him with an intimidating and cold stare, her amber eyes glinting with something almost malicious.
"What was that, mongrel?" her voice was icy and dangerous enough that Tamaki chose to retreat with his ears flicked back and tail between his legs. She smirked, her position of power in the group once more established.
"Please just continue," Lelouch said, sounding aggravated with the little squabbles amongst them.
The girl shrugged as she turned her attention to him. While it was very subtle, there was a difference in her treatment of Lelouch over the other people. It seemed to Suzaku that the cat boy had that sort of effect…warranting special treatment, that is. He felt oddly helpless in this situation, like more of a bystander watching the prediction of a nasty train crash when he had no knowledge of the workings of trains or what he could do to help.
"Don't look at me like that, Lelouch. It's the people in your group interrupting me, after all." Nevertheless she seemed ready to go on. "There was a prophecy about the Incuria. On their own they are nothing more than helpers of the natural decomposing process, creatures drawn to neglect that thrive on slowly removing energy and vibrance. They're neither good nor bad. They just are. Like the ocean, the wind, the coming of storms…"
"So why would there be a prophecy about them taking bunches of lives to create 'paradise'?" Suzaku piped up. The girl turned her gaze on him and he felt shivers run down his spine. Had he been wrong by inquiring? But a slow half-smile tugged on her lips and there seemed to be a sort of recognition in her eyes.
"Because many prophecies are self-fulfilling. They set the seeds of an idea into the heads of countless minds over many generations. Eventually the idea will find someone who believes in it so strongly that they will work towards it, consciously or subconsciously. The man to try and realize the potential of this prophecy is none other than the emperor of the cats…how he managed to gain control over them I'm not sure. Usually they wouldn't grow in number and strength this quickly…"
"That spot on the map they seem to be originating from," Lelouch suddenly exclaimed as he moved closer to the table, hands laid flat on the surface so he could lean in closer and inspect the parchment. "You may not have the answers, but they might be there."
"It would be extremely dangerous to travel there, you know," she drawled boredly as she played with a lock of her hair.
"What else can we do? We can't extract the answers from him, and no other person would know about this. But if we simply sit back on the edges of their circle of destruction, thousands of innocent people will be slaughtered because of his mad notion!" The situation seemed to ignite a passion in him, a similar passion to the one Suzaku had seen before, but this one seemed less controlled and focused into the performance of a convincing and charismatic speech. It was a raw determination that Lelouch truly felt, a need to perform justice when no one else would. "We need to save them from both of these monsters…from this new breed of controlled Incuria and their master, Charles zi Britannia!"
"You're so overdramatic," she sounded amused as she watched him. "But then again, I suppose you did always have a flare for things like that." Here she turned her attention to Suzaku once again, and he stiffened automatically.
"It looks like you finally found him. I was wondering when you would show up."
Suzaku was shocked. He had known that Lelouch was looking for another human, one with the capabilities to fight against the Incuria rather than just seeing them. But the way she said it made it seem as if she had been aware that it was him, personally, that would end up fitting the bill.
"I can't help you much anymore. What little I was able to do has become obsolete – the weapons I gave to you will no longer be very effective now that they grow stronger. But with this boy…" the girl smiled. It wasn't sarcastic or wry, nor was it taunting; it was more of a knowing smile, and maybe even the tiniest bit kind, though she didn't allow it to show for very long. She had an image to uphold, after all. "Lelouch, if you work with this boy, then no matter what feat you decide to accomplish, you will succeed."
A sudden surge of different emotions ran through Suzaku. He was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity, pride, determination, confidence…because of this he felt surprised as well. Together they could do anything; he knew these words, and they made him very…happy. The thought of working with Lelouch as equals, unstoppable with the force of their combined abilities, brought him immense excitement. He practically beamed, which earned him an amused glance from the strange girl. Lelouch was oblivious to the exchange going on between them, but looked very pleased himself.
"I will see to it that we do," he confirmed with a confident nod. "We need to move out as soon as the sun sets and travel by night around the outskirts of the castle town back towards the mountains. Ougi and Todou will get supplies when we camp at the base of the mountains, and Sayoko, you shall return to the main base of operations to inform the others of what has transpired. They should understand that the situation is dire enough to warrant immediate investigation without waiting for reinforcement. I do want as many able bodied fighters to make their way here as discreetly as possible, however. I will discuss the formation of the forces you shall relay to them before we part ways. Suzaku, you and I must work on training as we travel. We will have to devise a way to enhance the ability of our weapons so that they will be effective against these stronger generations of Incuria, but I don't plan on a confrontation with them just yet…keep in mind that our current mission is simply one of reconnaissance."
There was silent agreement amongst them. When he nodded, everyone besides the mysterious green haired girl and Suzaku left to go prepare for the journey come nightfall. A touch of anxiety appeared in Lelouch's eyes as he turned his attention to the girl, then, and momentarily ignored Suzaku.
"C.C….how is Nunnally doing?" His voice had lowered considerably into a hushed whisper, and he took on an urgent tone.
That name struck a chord within Suzaku, once again triggering inexplicable emotions and shooing away some of the thick fog that hovered around his memory. Nunnally was…Nunnally was someone very important to both him and Lelouch. She was… Lelouch's younger sister. He couldn't remember her face, but he pictured a physically frail and small body with pale skin and a halo of wavy brown hair, very light in its shade. He could remember a gentle and soft touch and a kind, melodious giggle. He wondered if the Nunnally of this world was as sweet as the one he had some memories of, and in the process found himself missing the Nunnally he knew.
She and Lelouch are probably very worried about me right now…
"I have been able to keep her safe from him so far. I suggest you finish this as soon as possible…I'm not sure how much longer I can continue," said the girl, the one Lelouch had called C.C. That name was peculiar to Suzaku, but he was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed from the rush of varying levels of familiarity. "…She misses you," C.C. added nonchalantly after a moment's pause.
"…I understand." Lelouch's voice was grave as he turned away from C.C. "Soon I will have identified all the conditions that need to be cleared. I won't allow him to be a threat to her any longer."
There was something very subtle in Lelouch's words that Suzaku very nearly missed. When he managed to stumble upon it, the information was so profound, such an epiphany, that he simply gaped in awe at the retreating form of the cat version of his friend.
Everything he does is for Nunnally, he thought, and suddenly he was able to see everything Lelouch did in a new light. He was slowly rediscovering things about himself and Lelouch. He cares about people and holds a strong sense of justice because of her. He's had his own tragedies and doesn't want others to suffer when he understands the pain, but Nunnally…it's what you think she wants, isn't it Lelouch? You have to have good morals for her, just as much as you need to protect her and her happiness. Is that why you don't want to explain yourself?
Caught in his thoughts, he didn't notice that Lelouch had left him alone with C.C. in favor of discussing the plan with other members of the group. Thus, Suzaku was startled by her lazy and bored drawl of a voice.
"You're from a different world."
He jumped and stumbled a little, but caught his balance quickly and stared at the green-haired girl. She was smirking at him, her masked and mysterious eyes suggesting a sense of knowing far beyond that of any normal person.
"I just know these things," she shrugged. "How I know isn't important. What I do with the information I have, however, is."
She allowed him time to process her words, but he still found himself confused. In the end he gave up and simply nodded.
"All right. And?"
"And what?" she replied evenly, quizzically, her eyebrows slowly rising.
"Well…were you going to continue with that subject? Don't you have more to say?"
"I never said that," she chuckled softly. He got the feeling she was simply using him as a toy, manipulating him for her own amusement. It infuriated him, and she must have noticed, because she smirked again.
"Then what was the point of bringing it up in the first place?" he managed to ask calmly when it didn't seem as if she would go on without prompting. Counting to ten was a good way to keep himself under control, and he found himself utilizing it more than ever. It wasn't often that people got under his skin quite like this, he knew.
"I was merely pointing out a fact. Consider it a helpful reminder when it comes time for you to need it."
He wasn't enjoying her mind games and the lack of sense she was making, so he was happy to see her turn and silently dismiss him.
"…They do miss you," she paused for a moment to murmur. Her tone was so different that it surprised him and he half wondered if it had actually came from her mouth. "I wouldn't take too long to return, if I were you. Going back should be your priority."
"I don't know how to go back…and now this Lelouch has asked me to help him. You said it yourself, he needs me to be able to do this, right? So it's a tough decision…"
"And yet you've already made the decision to help him, haven't you?" There was a smile in her voice, another one that didn't seem to fit the character she'd already established.
Before he could respond she was gone. He was left feeling as if he knew less than when he had first started talking to her. It seemed as if she knew more about him, where he was from, and how to get back there than he did. She encouraged him to return, and yet it was she that had nudged him in the direction of accepting. How could he decline after being told that he was the key to helping Lelouch succeed? Without anyone willing to pull themselves away from preparation and speak to him, he was left alone at the small table, sullenly flipping through the books recording sightings of Incuria.
At some point he had fallen asleep with his arms crossed on the table and his cheek resting on his arms. When he was jostled awake it was very dark in the barn. A candle flickered nearby to provide a touch of light in addition to the moon visible through the window.
"It's time to depart, Suzaku." The slightly hushed voice was familiar.
"I had a strange dream…someone talking to me about their day," he murmured in response while rubbing at his eyes. They were adjusting and he was able to make out the tiniest glint of violet with help from the candle.
"If you want to tell me about it, you need to wait until we're on our way. We need to make use of the time we have, and if we stay much longer we could be found." So he gestured for Suzaku to follow him and carried the candle towards the large doors. Cloaks were distributed among the group, plain and simple looking ones with hoods to hide their features, and they were sent out in groups of two with Sayoko heading off in a different direction. Lelouch and Suzaku were paired together, much to the disappointment of two other members, and silently left the barn last. It was their job to close the doors enough to hide everything from view while maintaining the image of a desolate and abandoned building. When Lelouch was satisfied, they walked.
They couldn't bring candles along with them, so it was just the moonlight, which didn't reach very far into the foliage they were creeping through. Progress was slow, almost painfully so, as the path needed to be carefully felt out. At any amount of shifting in the bushes they would freeze and wait, breath held, until they could discern that it wasn't a threat.
So for the first quarter of the trek it was intense. Suzaku was on high-alert, pumped full of adrenalin and turning every little rustle into a knight stalking them, one of the Incuria watching, waiting…Gradually he calmed down when nothing happened. He began to feel exasperated when the pent up energy lacked an outlet, and from there he was soon weary. Not tired, as he had far more stamina than that, but the effort it took to move such small amounts wore on him. They didn't talk for fear of being heard, but into the third quarter of the trip when both of them were sick of travelling it seemed that Lelouch had had enough of that philosophy.
"I never received a real answer from you, did I?" His voice was soft as he mused aloud, startling Suzaku from his trance-like state.
"Lelouch!" he hissed, alarmed, and looked around as if expecting someone to pop up out of thin air and attack them.
"It's all right as long as we keep our voices down. We aren't very close to the outskirts of town – I made sure of that."
"Oh…" Suzaku trailed off, feeling a little silly in light of his unnecessary caution. "A real answer? For what?"
"Whether or not you would be joining us," he replied. A look was shot his way, but the darkness obscured it for the most part. All Suzaku really managed to see was a glint of purple and a strip of alabaster skin, illuminated by the light of the moon filtering through branches and blankets of leaves. It looked very soft, and the thought made Suzaku's throat go dry.
"That? Ah, right…" he looked away as if in thought and sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. By now they had paused in their journey to speak with one another. "Well…"
"It was selfish of me to drag you along without getting your opinion first. I was blinded at the possibility of finally finding a compatible human…I didn't stop to consider that things might already be very overwhelming and confusing for you without the help of such a heavy issue. Your main concern is probably returning home, isn't it?" his smile was apologetic and gentle, as well as brief. Suzaku thought that Lelouch looked wonderful when he smiled and wished he had gotten to see it longer. "If the me you know is anything like myself, I'm sure he misses you very much."
"Lelouch…" he murmured. A wave of compassion for the cat boy rushed through him. While it wasn't easy to see where branches and rocks littered the ground around them, Lelouch was close enough that he didn't need to move himself far; his arms were soon around the boy.
He was amazed at how cold it actually was, at least in comparison to Lelouch. His skin, during the walk, had begun to feel chilled to the touch, but Lelouch was very warm in his arms. The quiet startled noise said boy emitted was very adorable, compelling him to half rest his cheek against his head. A soft and furry ear flicked at him and he delighted in the brush against his skin.
"You think of people more often than you give yourself credit for. Someone truly selfish wouldn't say something like that, would they?" In all honesty Suzaku wasn't very sure if that was true or not. He was blindly trusting Lelouch as if it were second nature.
"What decision were you allowed to make, Suzaku?" he responded, sounding the tiniest bit muffled from his position with his face against Suzaku's shoulder. While he seemed a little uncomfortable and confused at first, he was slowly relaxing into the embrace and allowing it to continue. "And now it's not as if you can simply walk away. You would get stranded in the forest. I suppose you could return to town with Ougi and Todou once we've reached the base of the mountains…"
"Why would I do that?" Suzaku honestly seemed surprised at the suggestion.
"You never asked for any of this, and you don't need to keep putting your own life in danger for some people you think look familiar. Getting home should be your priority," he said in a tone of mild aggravation. It was something Suzaku should have been able to see without explanation.
"No, Lelouch. I mean why would I go to town with them when we need to use that time to train and practice?" He sounded amused, and the smile was obvious in his voice. He could practically feel Lelouch get embarrassed, so he pushed it further. "My place is with you."
"Idiot," was the disgruntled reply he got after a moment of pause. He laughed softly and brushed his nose against one of Lelouch's ears before releasing him.
"Maybe I am. But I've seen how passionate you can be about this. There are lots of lives at stake, and I know I can make a difference. Even if I want to know where I came from and how to get back, I can't leave people to die. So I'll look for my answers while I help you, and maybe if I'm lucky I'll figure it out and manage to save people at the same time."
Lelouch was looking away, probably out of embarrassment. They were still standing close enough that he could feel Lelouch's tail touch his leg as it nervously swung behind him. The cat boy seemed startled at the contact, but tried to ignore it.
"You're one of those obnoxious people I see. Always putting others before yourself, even when you need to come first sometimes. For strangers, even…" He started walking again, the more serious conversation out of the way and a trek to the designated meeting spot still ahead of them.
"You put people before yourself, too," Suzaku commented as he began to follow him again. He thought of Nunnally, but her face was still unclear to him.
"You think of me too highly," his voice was wry, but he changed the topic before Suzaku could protest. "There are very few people in this world that know anything about magic use. I've read what I could on it, but I know very little. It's something we're going to have to learn together, through practice and experimentation. The first time we did it was a very inefficient way, as magic use doesn't usually drain someone so quickly…or it shouldn't, based on what I've read."
Suzaku sighed softly, not entirely pleased with Lelouch's topic change, but interested in the subject nonetheless. Perhaps he would approach Lelouch about his meaning later, as he did need to learn more about this "magic".
"I believe it works much better when both persons are aware of what's going on and completely consenting."
It seemed inevitable that he would twist that and get himself embarrassed, so he did his best to keep it hidden.
"How does knowing about it and allowing you to do it make it more efficient?"
"I told you, didn't I? Humans are huge sources of energy, but lack the ability to focus it properly. Cats and dogs can focus the energy to create the spell, but using their own energy wouldn't be enough to cast anything. Spells are performed when a human and cat or dog form a bond with one another, a channel between their bodies that combines the energy source with the focus. Think of a lake that is being held back from a dry river bed by a beaver's dam. Both the lake and the river bed make contact with the dam, but unless the channel between them is opened, the water won't flow into the river bed. There are also varying levels of openness, from a small hole to the removal of the entire thing," he explained while they walked. It was a little difficult for Lelouch to focus on his explanation while tiptoeing around foliage, but Suzaku didn't have much of a problem. He felt guilty.
"So if I let you use my energy, it's like removing the whole dam between us?"
"In a sense," Lelouch said, sounding slightly breathless and strained. "I'm sure it takes a little more effort than simply accepting it, and we'll need to figure out how it works. But through that I think we can manage more spells. I also wanted to make sure that you understood that it's a team effort. You have to make the decision to work with me…that part is entirely up to you."
"I don't really get how it works and all…and I did feel drained after you did it before, but I want to work with you. We'll find a way to improve it." He was smiling again, oddly thrilled at the thought of working with Lelouch like this. Lelouch didn't say anything in response, but he could tell that the boy was still embarrassed.
However, after that exchange they weren't left with much to talk about and fell into silence again. Well, Suzaku could have come up with plenty to talk about, but he got the feeling that Lelouch wasn't very interested in that when all flustered. While he thought it was cute, he didn't understand why he had to get all worked up over silly little things. Nevertheless they continued on without speaking once more. By the time they finally stopped walking, Suzaku was unsure as to how much time had actually passed. The sky was vaguely lighter than before, but he thought that also could have been because they finally got out of the forest surrounding the very outer edge of the outskirts of town. As safety precautions the group would remain split up until they reached the base of the mountains, so they were on their own once again. They couldn't build a fire for fear of attracting attention, so their cloaks had to double as blankets. This was only somewhat successful.
Their temporary camp was on a carpet of soft grass, partially cut off from view by a well placed tree and a fallen tree trunk. It wouldn't have been too bad if not for the fact that Suzaku didn't have a pillow, he was very cold, and he was starving. He couldn't recall the last time he had eaten, and he found himself willing to eat any of the weird plants of this world, provided Lelouch told him they were edible.
Being who he was, he kept quiet about it.
He had heard once that it was always coldest in the hours just before dawn. Now, lying in the grass with his cloak pulled tight around him and trembling, he thought that this was very true. Wasn't it dangerous to sleep if it was too cold? Was Lelouch all right? He hadn't heard much from him since their discussion when walking.
Suddenly something warm was nestling against him and he jumped in surprise.
"Wha?!" He blinked rapidly and found himself staring into those beautiful amethyst eyes. He immediately relaxed. "Lelouch, what are you doing? Are you cold?"
Suzaku hadn't seemed very aware of just how visible his own suffering was becoming, and Lelouch wondered if he should really break it to him.
"You are too, aren't you?" Was his solution.
Somehow the cold hadn't slowed down Suzaku's circulation, as he found heat pooling in his cheeks. He wondered why that heat couldn't be more considerate towards the rest of his body, then gave a slight nod.
"It's freezing. I know we couldn't bring much with us, but we should have packed blankets or something."
"I wasn't expecting to stop for a rest before the sun had risen…but I suppose even then it would have been wise…" Lelouch said before sighing softly. It didn't escape Suzaku.
"…You're preoccupied," he stated.
"Perhaps I am." When the silence stretched on, he gave up the act. "…I am," and he sighed again. "I had never thought my father had become so insane. I never thought he would be the one controlling the Incuria all along." He sounded forlorn, and Suzaku was overcome with the strong desire to crush him to his chest and stroke his hair.
He settled for wrapping an arm around him.
"I understand. And here we are, preparing to explore the potential lair of those monsters."
"…Since you came along, our progress has leaped forward. To even have a site in mind that could be a potential lair…I'm ecstatic. This has dragged on and on and I want so badly for it to end. With this journey, Suzaku, we could either be rapidly approaching the end of the battle, for better or for worse…or we may be on the very edge of the beginning of a long, painful war."
Suzaku was gradually warming up, whether because of Lelouch's words or the actual proximity of their bodies…he was sure it was a mixture of the two. With the shivering greatly reduced and his mind freed up now that his survival wasn't threatened, he was able to focus on their conversation and respond semi-intelligently.
"I haven't actually done anything for you since I arrived, you know. But…I want to do my best to help you as much as I possibly can. We'll stop it before it can become a full-scale war. We can do it if we work together, right?" He smiled into the darkness.
A soft noise of affirmation was his answer. The cat boy was once again lost in thought, and by the sound of it, far more tired than he would ever admit. Suzaku idly rubbed Lelouch's shoulder, leading to the boy settling more comfortably against him while muffling a yawn. What had only been a strain of Suzaku's patience was also a physical strain to the boy in his arms. Lelouch wouldn't be Lelouch without his trademark lack of stamina and he found it to be endearing, even though he always ended up teasingly reminding him that he should exercise more. The warm weight of his tail draped over his legs and he bit his lip against the odd rush of tingling heat it sent through his body. Lelouch was drifting off against him and he felt painfully awake in response.
"You've done plenty for me…"
It startled him out of his thoughts, but he wasn't quite sure if Lelouch had actually said anything. He felt odd again, mostly numb and kind of floaty, and the blackness felt different from that of the partial obscurity of night.
"Once again I can't do a thing for those that are important to me!" said a frustrated voice, sounding awfully similar to Lelouch, but on the verge of tears. "All I can do is sit here and watch, Suzaku…after everything you've done for me I'm so…"
Please don't call yourself…
No, no…you're far from useless! You…it's me that's…
"…It's so painful to wait. I don't even know if you're going to be okay after this…" The invisible voice was uneven now, trembling and shaky from the sobs, undoubtedly being stubbornly held in due to pride.
Please don't worry about me…I'll be fine, so don't…I don't want to put you through this.
"You've always been so amazing," was the soft response he got. "You charge head on into everything and somehow when you say it'll end up okay, it always has. Everyone has gotten caught up in your luck and skill…I suppose that even I started to unconsciously believe in your 'invincibility'. You would never get hurt…an impossible outcome of your idiotic actions. Everything would be okay…" the increasing sorrow squeezed at his chest. Despite the semi-numbness, he was aware of shifting next to him, until a familiar presence was close by.
"This isn't okay…Can you hear me? Everything isn't okay!"
And the voice dissolved into quiet crying. He felt horrible for causing so much pain without even realizing it, and for being helpless to offer any comfort.
"—zaku? Suzaku? Can you hear me?"
The voice was back but there was still the sound of quiet crying. His eyes snapped open and he stared up at the sky. The blue of daylight was obscured and blurry and he tried to blink it away. He noticed that Lelouch was leaning over him with a worried expression.
"Muh?" he intelligently responded. When had he fallen asleep?
"What's the matter?" Lelouch asked, sounding concerned. Suzaku wasn't sure what would warrant such concern, and he was about to reassure him that nothing was the matter at all when his hand, having moved to rub at an eye, came in contact with warm wetness.
"I…was crying?" he sounded so confused that Lelouch looked mildly bewildered as well.
"…Yes. In your sleep. Were you having a bad dream?"
Suzaku considered what he could remember of the exchange, his brow furrowing. "I don't know," was what he ended up coming up with. "I'm not sure if these are dreams…it's always very dark or very, very bright and I can't move. My body feels numb and I can't see anything or do anything but listen. Then there's always someone talking to me. Sometimes it's a little girl, sometimes a young man, sometimes a couple people…even though they try to be upbeat at times, all of them always seem to be very sad. It sounds like I made them all sad."
Lelouch listened and gave a slow nod. He sat back and offered Suzaku a hand up, then they both sat facing one another. The cloaks and their clothes were wrinkled and Lelouch's hair looked slightly out of place. The air felt crisp and clean, somewhat cool, but it was approaching midday.
"Perhaps there's a message in these dreams. If you keep listening to them, their purpose might eventually become clearer to you."
"Yeah, I suppose that's all I can do…" But the solemn moment was broken by the aggravated noise of Suzaku's stomach and he blushed. One hand came up to rest on it as if to silence it. Lelouch looked amused and was soon unable to hold back a soft chuckle, and Suzaku gave a sheepish laugh in return.
"I guess it has been a while since we've eaten. I'm sorry." After digging around in the small bag they had taken with them, he produced a hunk of pale cheese with a strong odor. Suzaku felt silly for not thinking of checking the bag before, and gratefully took the piece he was handed. He sniffed it, and despite his apprehension his stomach gave another noise of impatient approval, an order for him to get on with it. "Can you eat and walk? It should be easier now that it's light out, and this part of the forest isn't as dense."
Suzaku nodded, and they were back on their feet soon after.
When it was closer to the evening they stopped at a stream to rest.
They sat together by the water to rest their legs, but Lelouch wasn't willing to let any time go to waste. They had made good progress today, he had said. However as they drew closer to the mountains, it was also important for them to start focusing on magic. Not only did they have to get a better grip on the basics of casting spells for defense and offense of themselves, but they were in responsible for priming the new weapons with the ability to destroy Incuria.
Suzaku found that focusing was terribly difficult when he had to do it while holding Lelouch's hand. Lelouch's skin was so soft, no matter how much more physical work he was sure this cat version did in comparison to his Lelouch. The feeling of those slender and graceful fingers wrapped around his hand made his breathing shallow, which in turn made him feel light-headed.
"Suzaku! Are you even trying?" his cat partner snapped at him, annoyed, and he blinked rapidly.
"Huh?" When he noticed Lelouch's narrowed eyes he blushed darkly and sputtered out an apology. The cat boy rolled his eyes and the fur on his tail smoothed out once again.
"You're hopeless. Come on, you need to focus on this. We have to get used to the feeling of the energy flowing between us. If we're familiar with that we can better control the flow, which means better focus and less wasted effort leading to that exhaustion we both felt last time."
Oh, he could get used to this feeling all right. Suzaku wasn't sure it was the right kind of energy, though.
He cleared his throat and gave a guilty nod. Lelouch had already lectured him about his theory on how this was supposed to work, and he had pulled him out of a distracted state a couple of times since they had started.
"Let's continue?" he murmured in an attempt to pacify him. After another long moment in which Lelouch pinned him with a stern look, he sighed heavily. They hadn't made much progress, but while he was sure they wouldn't instantly become masters at it, he was sure Lelouch prided himself on being a quick study. Suzaku wasn't slow himself, especially when it came to these physical kind of things, but self taught magic was one thing he was sure took plenty of time. It just so happened they didn't have that kind of time.
"There should be a noticeable difference, a feeling of some sort…"
Suzaku shut his eyes and tried to seek out this sensation. The tingly warmth of Lelouch's touch probably wasn't what he was supposed to be looking for right now. And yet…
It was a peculiar tingling now that he thought about it. It could be mistaken for the regular tingling he was sure he would feel at Lelouch's touch, but it coiled and uncoiled, writhing about, crawling its way through his body and pulsing in various patterns. The intensity of its rush varied, making it seem so alive in its own way that he felt stupid for not noticing sooner.
"I think I got it!" he exclaimed proudly.
"Finally. Let's practice controlling the flow, then."
At first it was difficult for the two of them to make any sort of change in the energy. It seemed to fluctuate of its own free will, hardly bothering to respond to their attempts of control. With painfully slow progress they began to catch on to the particular sensation in the pattern of energy that, when applied with strong focus, made Suzaku think of threading a needle. In the end it was the focus that mattered the most, according to Lelouch. But seeing as Suzaku wasn't in the position to do the focusing, he soon found that all he needed was to be aware of the sensations and respond accordingly. If it felt like this, he needed to work at it until it felt like that. It did remind him of water rushing between them in a warm, tingling mass, and his job was to control the flow in response to what Lelouch wanted to do with it.
Originally Lelouch hadn't been sure of the importance of the words in a spell. The only one he knew was the one he had memorized from a book, the one that had protected them from the Incuria before. There were no explanations of the elements of spell casting that he knew of, and once again it was slow going.
The extent of what magic could do was also unknown to him. Was it merely sending energy in the form of attacks, and perhaps using energy to block the strikes of others? For a while he simply tried focusing the energy between them to get the hang of it, but was otherwise unsure with what to do with the focused energy. Suzaku was getting much better at gauging the level of his focus simply by the feelings that connected them, but with the energy focused and no outlet, it tended to make Lelouch feel very agitated. Often times he dropped the focus quickly in fear that pent up energy would cause either of them harm.
So as many brilliant things end up being, their success was a complete accident.
When focusing on the energy, his tired mind had wandered just a little. The trend so far was to clear his mind completely and only bother with the sensations. They had been working hard without pause and he was beginning to feel uncomfortably warm and parched, so the sound of the stream just in front of them was very appealing. The energy was still channeled in his mind as one eye slid open to glance at the water…and before he knew it, the energy he had given to the thought of water rushed through him and a thin column of the clear fluid rose into the air. It was perfectly shaped and remained stable and steady despite the fact that water was still moving beneath it, but without more direction it simply sat there on the surface. Lelouch let out a startled noise and it gave a shudder, the form losing its defined shape, then broke apart completely to rejoin the body beneath it.
Suzaku's eyes snapped open and he stared at the cat boy curiously.
"What was that?" It had definitely felt different than the exercises they had been performing this entire time.
"I think…the water…" but Lelouch sounded confused and in mild disbelief.
"…Water?" Suzaku prompted gently.
"Let's try again," he responded firmly with increased determination. An accident indeed, but if he could recreate it, he had the feeling he would be on the track to gaining real control over the magic…or at least a better understanding.
They started as they had been, with Lelouch setting the pace needed and Suzaku meeting it. This time instead of focusing on nothing but the energy itself, Lelouch focused on the water. What did he want to do with the water as a test? He thought of pulling some of the water into the air in front of them. When he had put enough focus into it, there was a rushing sensation and an unshaped mass slowly rose into the air. He felt Suzaku gasp next to him. The grip he had on Suzaku's hand tightened as if to remind him to keep concentrating; they were on the verge of a breakthrough.
He thought of molding it with invisible hands as if it were a mound of dough, pressing it into a nicely shaped sphere. The water responded accordingly, but he had to maintain a high level of focus, otherwise it threatened to collapse. After a moment of holding it he released it back into the stream.
"We…we did it!" Suzaku exclaimed beside him, his eyes lighting up as he dragged his gaze away from the river to beam at Lelouch. The cat boy was returning his smile with a softer one of his own and both of them appeared breathless from the excitement and exertion of the accomplishment. After the momentary exhilaration wore off and more attention was given to their close proximity, the slight blush on their faces was no longer due to the experiment. Their eyes were locked, faces a few inches away, and nothing but the running water of the river keeping them company. Suzaku found his eyes slowly drawn to Lelouch's lips and his throat grew dry.
It would be so easy to just lean forward and…
"We can't really celebrate yet," Lelouch murmured and glanced away. Suzaku felt disappointed, but the look on his face went unnoticed. "Focus is what's important here, but we don't know as much about what we can do with it or how to use it as effectively as we need to."
"At least we managed this much, right? You don't need to memorize any words, you just need to focus on what you want to do!"
"We don't know if it's that easy or not, Suzaku."
They took a brief break in silence as Suzaku considered what had been rather close to happening. It was incredibly weird of him to think like that, because Lelouch was simply a very good friend of his. He didn't want to jeopardize their friendship by attempting something so…uncalled for. He couldn't understand why he had felt like that and he did his best to shake it off. It had to be the heat of the moment. It didn't matter how nice Lelouch's lips looked, how beautiful his eyes had been when filled with triumph and excitement, the flush, the clasping of their hands…none of that mattered. Besides, this wasn't the Lelouch he knew. It was cruel to think of him like that instead of seeing him for who he was, as similar as they could be sometimes.
After their break they continued their work and Suzaku was able to move on by focusing on that instead. They experimented with what they could and couldn't do and how to control the things they did. There were plenty of mistakes, ones that could even have been considered dangerous, but for the most part they were making good progress. They learned that they could do many things, ranging from picking up items to making physical manifestations of their energy, but the focus and energy it took from them varied depending on how big and complicated the task was.
They were nearing the end of their energy reserves when Lelouch finally called it off, but he was less worried about thoroughly wearing them out and more concerned about their lack of progress towards the checkpoint.
"We should continue now, the night fall will offer us cover and the movement should help us stay warm."
"Lelouch…" Suzaku sighed and rubbed at the back of his head. Sure he was all for pushing himself to his limits but after the weariness from practicing and the thought of another long, endless night of trudging blindly, getting some sleep and continuing in the morning seemed like a much more appealing course of action. "We walked for hours, and then we spent more hours experimenting with a practice few people know anything about. It's practically pitch black now and the temperature is already decreasing…I don't think trying to continue on is a good idea."
Lelouch looked agitated at the thought of not pushing them onwards, and he wondered if his own Lelouch would ever push him so hard. Normally a lazy guy…he guess he did work hard when it mattered most to him. Suzaku moved closer to him and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"We can get up before the sun and walk all day tomorrow, but there isn't any point in pushing ourselves right now. We won't be much help if we're worn thin."
After a moment of hesitation and consideration the cat boy sighed heavily, although he still didn't look very pleased with the idea.
"Fine. Morning, then. Let's get some—"
Suddenly he froze and tensed, his ears perked and tail beginning to bristle. Suzaku took a step closer and opened his mouth to speak but found a hand clamped over it to keep him quiet. Lelouch was pressing close, his eyes narrowed and lips a thin line. Although Suzaku listened hard to try and figure out what had caused such a reaction, he could only hear normal sounds…the water, nocturnal animals, the wind. While he trusted this Lelouch's improved hearing, he wasn't sure what had made him react like this.
But upon further inspection he felt an odd chill spreading throughout his body. It wasn't the same chill expected from a cold night, but something far more sinister. Adrenalin began to circulate in his system and his heart pounded harder, his focus became more acute, and a sense of dread made his breathing falter.
It was difficult to see in the inky blackness of night, but perhaps their odd coloration distinguished them from their surroundings. Sliding across the ground like some kind of slugs, they looked oddly bright, although they themselves seemed to suck the very light from the area like a vacuum. They were the absence of light, but the shade of their darkness was more brilliant than the surrounding night. It wasn't the slow, amiable crawl of an idle creature moving along, as they definitely had a purpose…and they were moving right towards them. With Lelouch in his arms he was sure they were both able to see them…the cat boy was glaring right at them after all. He felt the hair rise on the back of his own neck.
"How did they…?" Suzaku hissed against Lelouch's hand. He slowly removed it without taking his eyes off of the unwanted company.
"We have to take them out." Was Lelouch's solemn response.
"There as to be like six of them though! And we're practically at our limit after all that…"
"Now that we have a better grasp of how to do this, it should be simple."
When they were closer their true forms rose up from the rippling puddles. Four of them were Second Generations and two were First Generations and they stood together in a sort of V formation with one leading. Their movements were sharp and jerky, heads tilting this way and that like clockwork toys with stiff joints. They had never faced such a large number of them before, and just being around them was beginning to make Suzaku sick.
But they did something very unexpected.
All of them, First and Second alike, moved towards their leader. When they touched it, their surfaces shuddered as if made from the ink they resembled, and slowly their forms began to accommodate each other, molding together to form one creature. All six merged into one, and the shape of that one changed.
This new generation of Incuria reminded Suzaku of a scorpion. The legs were thin and spider-like and ended in sharp, dramatic points. The body itself was thick and flat, held lower than the highest bend of the legs, and at one end was a tail, the other a head. The head was angular and flat as well, but the lack of eyes and wide, fang-filled grin were similar to that of the Second Generations. The tail was long and well muscled with a vicious looking spike on the end. The last bit of the tail was also covered in brambles to make it both a blunt and stabbing weapon.
"It's…" Suzaku gasped and held Lelouch a bit tighter to his chest.
"Third Generation," Lelouch finished solemnly, although he also appeared to be on-edge now. No one had yet to see a Third Generation Incuria and it was larger compared to the lower generations.
It didn't give them long to contemplate its new form. It rushed at them almost immediately, spindly legs carrying it with a surprising amount of speed. The distance was rapidly closing between them and the tail was looking rather menacing.
"Jeez, it's fast! Move!" Suzaku shouted and yanked Lelouch with him to the side just before the Incuria got to him. The tip of its tail slammed into the ground with enough force to shower them in dirt, and when it yanked it back out the spot was black and sickly looking. It turned to face them, moved its head in that jerky tilting motion, then lunged again.
Lelouch requested and Suzaku reacted automatically to provide him with the energy he needed. The air in front of them shimmered and the spike bounced off of it as if it had hit something solid and impenetrable. After appearing confused, it made a spine-chilling noise of frustration. They couldn't keep that sort of energy use going for long, however, so Suzaku led Lelouch by the hand off to the side.
"Attack it!" Suzaku shouted and found himself feeling agitated that he couldn't actually do any of the attacking. He wanted to be the one to protect, not the protected. All he could do was focus on the energy flow.
"I'm working on it," Lelouch responded through clenched teeth. Suzaku could see him considering his options, whether to use a more powerful but energy-consuming creation of their own, or using what they had available to pummel it to death. They didn't have much time as the Incuria was charging once again.
"Lelouch!" he cried in a strained voice as he tackled the boy to the ground, sending both of them skidding away just in time to miss being pierced by the tail. Instead of pulling back and preparing to launch it again, the tail simply swung to the side to try and get them with the brambles, and Lelouch barely managed to block it in time. If they continued like this then they would run out of energy before they could defeat it, leaving them helpless…basically dead.
They scrambled to their feet and ran again, behind a tree this time. It wasn't much protection in the long run but it gave Lelouch enough time to regain his bearings and decide how to handle the situation.
Then they were out of time. It was right there next to them, inky black and monstrous, all jagged lines and made for destruction. It was readying another attack, this one sure to get them, when Lelouch finally made his own offensive move. The energy he called forth was purple and blinding, causing the Incuria to hiss and rear back away from it. There was no way for it to dodge, and when launched it moved fast enough not to give it any time to, anyway. It ripped through the creature, tearing away and disintegrating half of its body. It toppled over with a noise of pain and writhed helplessly, unable to move with only one side of legs left. Lelouch slumped a little against Suzaku, feeling a bit dizzy from the exertion, but he needed to recover quickly and finish the job. While it could no longer move, the tail was still intact…and who knows, given time it might be able to regenerate.
Unfortunately it had another surprise up its sleeve. With Suzaku holding Lelouch steady, a worried expression on its face, the tail shot out its brambles, sending the thin needle-like attachments flying right towards them.
Suzaku reacted immediately, placing himself in front of Lelouch. Some of the needles imbedded themselves in his arm before Lelouch was able to block the rest. Burning pain shot through the appendage and he gritted his teeth against it. He told himself that he could endure, repeated it like a mantra while continuing to hold Lelouch steady.
"Finish it," he managed to get out between his clenched teeth. Lelouch nodded against him and used the remaining energy he could gather to slice through the final portion of the Incuria. With a cry the last of it slipped out of existence, leaving them alone in the quiet clearing.
Both of them were exhausted and pushed to their limits. After Suzaku helped Lelouch get situated against a fallen tree stump, he couldn't remember what happened next.