Notes:I know it's been terribly long since I've written, let alone on this fic. Hopefully now that I've gotten some of my health problems a bit sorted out, I can keep writing. Thank you all for your patience on waiting for my updates on this! I'm hoping to have the next chapter finished sometime in July (I'll be on vacation soon or I'd work on it right away). :)
The irony that there was a light at the end of the tunnel was not lost on England, who felt America's insistent hand clutching at his side ever tighter as the thunderous noise grew closer. He was about to suggest that they try and hurry forward when suddenly the crawl space they were in dipped down steeply.
Oh, so that's their trap, England thought to himself sardonically. Taunt you with the light then crush you against the higher cavern ground you can't see until it's too late.
"England, why aren't we moving?" America's worried voice echoed behind him.
He sighed, already dreading trying to figure out how to navigate this obstacle without any semblance of sight. Finally, he thought of the only option available.
"There's a steep ledge here we've got to get up and over. You are going first, because if I can't make it over in time I might be able to use magic to stop whatever the bloody hell this thing is coming at us."
"Might?" America's worried pout was palpable in his tone.
England retorted with science, which he knew America wouldn't argue as much.
"And you are a bit taller so therefore you can reach it better if it's higher up. I don't want to get up there only to say I can't quite reach, you know."
Science, as expected, appeased America somewhat. "Okay, but I'm not leaving you behind to face that…whatever!"
England smiled despite himself; then shaking his head of sentimentality, he focused back on the matter at hand.
Right then. We're in a dark, sloping cavern tunnel. There was a light up ahead, so hopefully once America is up there he can see what's going on. But for now, we're in the dark, quite literally.
He edged closer to the solid rock wall in their way and put his hands down. "Okay America, I have a foothold down."
It took a few tries in the dark, but thankfully they knew each other well enough that America seemed to estimate pretty quickly where England's hands were held. Once his foot was secure in England's grip, it wasn't long before he was lifted up and grabbed hold of the ledge.
"Got the top of the wall!"
But, as if it sensed that its prey was about to escape, the ominous noise grew ever nearer.
"England, you've got to get up here now!" America called down. "Grab my hand!"
Looking up towards his voice, as if it would somehow help him discern where the hand was held, England began to stretch his hand out in hopes to find America's hand in the bleak darkness. He could feel the oncoming boulder, for now he was certain that is what it was, probably triggered by them passing a certain point. He hoped that his enchantment would protect them this deep into the cave, but since he felt no other magic outside the darkness, England felt safe in assuming that this was a sensor-triggered attack, not a planned one.
And somehow, that thought, that little bit of reassurance that this was nothing more than some ancient trap meant to keep people away, gave England the focus he needed to find the strong and lean fingers he knew so well.
America's grip on his hand was firm, sliding slowly down his wrist and forming a tight bond that would lift him up to safety.
Reaching up with his other hand, and ignoring the twinge of pain from his palm's injury, he held on and let America pull him up to the top. His feet scraped the ledge, his head brushing the tunnel ceiling uncomfortably and causing him to duck down a tad.
"Where did the light go?" He pondered aloud as he noticed the bleak darkness that stretched ahead.
America, who seemed to be seated on the ledge, put his hand up on England's side. "It just vanished a moment ago. The rest of the way down seems to be pretty much like a slide, so...if you trust me?"
England grabbed the hand on his side and gave it a squeeze. "Git. Of course I do. Now let's get out of this bloody tunnel."
And, as if it was some thrilling water park attraction, America gave out a loud whoop that echoed off the cavern walls. England, who still holding on to America's hand, felt himself suddenly sliding downward towards what he was hoping was the exit.
A rippling sensation permeated England's magic perception and he knew that if he struck a light now, it would shine. They'd left the enchantment that had kept them in the dark and England quickly conjured up a one-handed spell that caused a small purple flame to erupt in his free hand.
The small flicker of light illuminated what remained of the tunnel, the limestone all flowing into a smooth runoff pattern here that was, as America noted, reminiscent of a slide.
England was not surprised to find a certain bear waiting at the bottom for him. Although at this point, he would have been startled to not find him there. There was something about this bear that was far from normal, but no matter what England tried to make of him, he still couldn't figure out what else the bear could be but a very wise animal. But there had to be more to it than that, right?
America grinned on seeing Mr. Bear and reached down to give him a pet between the ears. The bear let out a purring noise and seemed to smile up at him, proud that they'd taken the hint and followed.
"You could have warned us about the last part, you know," America teased. "Though I guess you know how to get down that tunnel without setting off the boulder."
Mr. Bear seemed to think about that before cocking his head to the side. Clearly, he'd never experienced such a trap before. America just smiled and crouched down to his level.
"It's okay. We both know it wasn't your trap. Right England?"
England blinked, his thoughts being elsewhere, and looked over at the bear. "Oh. It most certainly wasn't your doing, Pastuso."
The bear trotted over and gave England's side a nuzzle at that before starting to nudge the two forward. Now, with the ordeal of the tunnel behind them, they both fully took in the room they'd entered. It was hard to tell completely how the cavern room was laid out with just the flickering light in England's hand to illuminate it, but the high ceiling was obvious on first glance.
"Wow," America said, his breath tickling England's neck as he leaned over toward him.
Far above, but still not yet quite at the top of the long cavernous shaft, there was a small hole that allowed a pocket of light to shine in. Mr. Bear, as if he was pleased to finally have someone to show this trick, padded over to a small rock hewn altar. Next to it was a cord, which he gripped in his teeth and yanked.
The room came alive in a flourish of gold. A golden circle captured the sunlight and shone it down into other golden reflectors, illuminating them all in a gilded glow. England's fingers dropped his small, now insignificant light, and he gently took America's hand.
"It's beautiful," he murmured.
"Yeah," America agreed, his eyes flickering from the crisscross of light making its way down to the man beside him. "Really brings out your eyes, you know?"
England started, glancing over at America who was looking at him with a little half-smile and a twinkle in his eyes. "Git. All these wonderful, probably not seen in hundreds of years, details and you're looking at me?"
America shrugged. "What can I say; I'm always drawn to the oldest thing in the room."
He got shoved lightly in the shoulder at that and began to laugh, as he glanced around at all the details England spoke of. There was, as they'd first noted, a chain of golden circles or plates of some sort that were triggered to shift with the pull of the rope. Below that, was an altar which held a collection of small trinkets atop it, along with the flowers they'd seen Mr. Bear with before. Whoever this altar was in remembrance of, it seemed, Mr. Bear must have liked them well. The sides of the chamber were bare outside the small circles, but above the altar was a mural of color depicting something in small pictograms.
Slowly, as if this stroke of luck was certainly to end soon, America began to walk forward, tugging England along to follow.
That's when England came to a stop. "America, look at the floor. This must be man-made."
Looking down, America saw immediately what England meant. The floor was made up of rows of tiles, circling the chamber walls and ending in a large ornate circle in the middle. England knelt down to inspect it and America crouched beside him.
"I feel as if I've seen something like this before," England noted, running his fingertips over the dusty floor. "Usually any carving with figures seems to be pre-Incan, but this isn't any of those. It's…"
He scrunched up his eyebrows in thought and America reached down and took his hand. "Come on England, think. It has to be something you're more familiar with than I am because I'm not placing it."
"The British Museum," England mumbled more to himself than aloud. "There's one vessel in their collection that's not on display that depicts figures thought to be from the earlier colonial period of the Inca. This…this looks very similar to that."
"So we're in a room with gold lights, Inca carving on the floor and it seems like Mr. Bear is friends with whoever the altar's for. Sounds like we've found something here, England."
England smiled as he gave America's hand a squeeze. "Most definitely something. Now only to determine what."
A deep rumble resounded at that, the floor vibrating with it. America looked to England, and they both stood up and gripped each other's forearms.
Knowing the sensation in his bones so well, America sighed. "England, this feels like SanFran. We've got some geologic activity incoming."
"An earthquake? In a cave shaft?" England asked, his grip growing firmer on America's arm.
"Either that or…" A warm rush of air blew up through the cracks in the flooring. "It's a shaft for something else."
England gasped, "Are we on a volcano?"
America shrugged. "Or a geyser. Won't know 'til she blows."
"Why aren't you worried about this you ninny? We need to be climbing back up that tunnel or finding another way out or…"
"Ride it up to the top?" America replied with a grin.
England huffed, the floor tiles starting to tremble under his feet even more. "Are you barmy?"
"The air pressure above the magma or water should shoot us up before the whatever else hits us. It'll be awesome!"
"Your definition of 'awesome' includes too many dangerous activities, America."
America reached down and nudged the pouch looped around England's belt. He smirked, feeling the steam beginning to fog up his glasses.
"Well then, how about a little magic?"
The thoughts rushing through England's mind were all but a jumble. America's crazed suggestion, mixing with confusion and then pride as the subject turned to his magic. Was America testing it? He had seemed skeptical in the past. But no, America would never be so cruel as to put something he knew England treasured to so harsh a test. If anything, and this England thought was most likely the answer he sought, it was more like America was testing his own belief in the magic. America knew England would protect him, even if he didn't quite believe in the how.
But magic, magic took time. Time to lay the circle, time to conjure the best spells up, time it seemed they didn't have as a luxury at that moment.
"That might take a bit, America. Right now we should…" The engraved circle, the keystone of the floor, rattled once then slipped into the inky blackness below. England's eyes went wide. "RUN!"
Tile by tile, it shifted into the blackness, their footsteps only seconds ahead as their footholds fell into the dark. America's hand was warm at England's elbow, steadying him as he struggled to pull his book from his pouch along with some ingredients for a quick spell.
"Got any pixie dust in there? I can start thinking up a happy thought," America quipped.
England sighed, shoving America ahead before the tiles he stood fell out from under him. "Pixie dust isn't that easy to come by," he replied, the whole chasm trembling now as the floor sank beneath them. "If it was, every drunken practitioner of magic in the Isles would be floating about all the time."
As they neared the altar, Pastuso called out to them then looked up meaningfully at the pictograms above the altar. England didn't even have to think twice, a smirk tugging at his lips as they reached the outermost edge of tiles.
"Looks like this row doesn't fall," America noted as they stood on the solid tiles.
England drew out a piece of rolled parchment and held it out to America. "Hold onto this, America."
"One," England pointed across the gaping hole in the room to where the ring of outer tiles rested against the opposite wall, "this row isn't safe."
Sure enough, the tiles weren't falling, but instead were slowly being withdrawn into the rock wall itself. America swore.
"Two, we need to take a quick picture of this drawing before we get out."
America looked from the paper to England. "I don't think hand drawing it will be a quick job, England."
He looked up at his partner then, a wan smile on his lips. "If only you'd believe, you'd understand."
With that, England tossed a blue powder into the air and chanted the incantation as swiftly as he could manage. "frumræden béo hrímigheard on þý hwílsticce sylfum hæs."
The air shimmered a brief moment before the floor fell out from under them.
The excitement and flair of New York City at Christmas was nothing once you'd seen it year after year, Tony decided. The bustling crowds, decorations and lights were pretty much cookie-cutter replications of the ones the year before. He sighed, the scarf that Poland and Lithuania had given him muffling the sound. America always managed to make it seem exciting, but without him it just wasn't the same.
Poland, at least, seemed to be beyond excited. Talking quickly and pointing out high fashions in various windows that he wanted to try on or force on one of the others. Lithuania, patient as always, would give Poland a strained smile and say, "Maybe later, okay?"
So they journeyed from one place to the next, going in and out of fitting rooms to try on various concoctions of clothing that Poland had whipped up. Tony was always pleased when it seemed Poland had found something Lithuania really liked, because the nation's eyes would light up in a certain way that just made him glow.
Lithuania, Tony had sworn since the twenties, deserved every happy smile he'd ever made and then some.
They were standing in the Times Square Disney Store, Poland cooing over how cute Tony looked in a Christmas-themed Mickey Mouse shirt, when his phone let out a little trill. Tony froze, his eyes darting up to Lithuania who seemed to realize immediately something was wrong.
"Poland, why don't we let Tony look around for a bit on his own? He can't do any Christmas shopping if we're breathing down his neck the whole time."
"Like that's totally okay, Tony!" Poland replied, grinning. "Just meet us down at the Princess stuff, I like totally want one of the tiaras for my pony."
As Poland headed off, Lithuania paused a moment and laid a gentle hand on Tony's shoulder. "If you need anything, come get me right away, okay?"
"Thanks," Tony mumbled, watching out of the corner of his eye as Lithuania dashed away to catch up to his partner.
Pulling his phone out of the pocket of his coat, Tony frowned at the readings the screen displayed. The alarm hadn't been a call or text, but an alert he'd set up to keep tabs on America. And right now, the device was showing some very strange readings.
It had issued an alert a few seconds earlier showing that America had been falling at a great rate. But now, much to Tony's bewilderment, it was telling him something that he didn't think possible. Or at least, not possible without him there to help.
"Fucking England," he grumbled. "That sort of power is not fucking common in you Earthlings at all."
to be continued...