It has frankly been a truly disgusting amount of time since this was last updated. SO… we won't even discuss it. XD
HERE WE ARE~!
Thanks to: Bulmaaa, Just Call Me Zyzix, Autumn Eclipse, DesktopNeko, TwistedRoses132, pandawolf, IthoughtIsawyoutry, moyashi-neechan, JL27, SeungSeiRan, rein hitomi, jagaimo-chan, hoshiko2kokoro, Psyche Eros, Cake or Death, LovelyToMeetYou, CherryFlamingo, albinococoon, MuSiC HaTs, splitDEVOTION, Lndmuse, and CodeLyoko!
Keep Calm and Carry On: A meme for Real Life, various LJ icons and too many T-shirts to count, this phrase (the original) was first printed on one of a series of three positive propaganda posters released by the Ministry of Information in 1939 with the intent of inciting a collected, can-do attitude from the British as they faced the looming threat of WWII (not that it was really needed - the British populace at large is actually quite well-known for not really being bothered by anything at all ever as long as there's still tea). As to the aforementioned LJ icons and T-shirts, well-known witty variants of this phrase include 'Now Panic and Freak Out', 'Sod Calm and Get Angry', 'Change Words and Be Hilarious' and (my personal favourite) 'Keep Calm and Call Batman'. Words to the wise indeed! :3
Keep Calm and Carry On
Reality crystallized soundlessly, the white edges of nothing splintering and falling away in feathered flakes to reveal his new environment in small snatches, like tiny scales falling from his eyes. After a moment his body followed as weight and gravity clicked on rather suddenly, leaving him earthed, disorientated, surely miles away from where he had first fallen.
America opened his eyes to find a weave of foliage stitched high above him, blotting out the sky so that only the boldest fragments of sunlight wormed their way through the tight knit of the canopy and fell on his face. He sat up, pinching at the bridge of his nose as he shook his head to clear it, and then glanced around.
Well, this was strange.
He found himself in the very heart of a forest – the kind in old European fairytales, thick and dark and gnarled with ivy crawling up every ancient overhanging tree and a carpet of greenery laid out on the ground. Every stone had moss on it as though it had lain undisturbed for centuries and several trees, he saw now, had long since died and stood twisted and deformed with hollowed-out innards, still rotting. The place was completely still (with no sign of moving life whatsoever, not even a breeze so that the air hung rather stale and inert) and utterly soundless, so much so that although the place was somewhat unnerving, he was under the impression nonetheless that he was utterly alone.
(Which was a bit of a shame, if only because now was the perfect time to turn to someone and quip that they weren't in Kansas anymore.)
And as consciousness slowly lapped away at his disorientation, America suddenly remembered why he was here in this strange, still forest. The transportation had been an emotional reset and, for a blissful moment, he'd only been focused on absorbing the strange new milieu; however, the recent past was quickly catching up and it was mere seconds before the memory of fresh loss full-on tackled him.
A seasoned spark of pain lit in his chest and America pitched forward with a strangled desperate cry.
The name echoed through the empty forest, as if they were still in that self-destructive storage room, dragged under by roots from England's very lands, still surrounded by guardians and symbols all hell-bent on snuffing the source of their mythos from the world.
Looking down, he saw those same thick roots which had dragged England's house into the utmost bowels of London weaving across the ground, as still as statues now and dusty with the debris of decades. He leapt to his feet, as fast as the emotional constriction around his chest would allow, and stared at his open hands. They were shaking and still streaked with blood drawn from the rose thorns, blood that had been strangely absent in those last horrific moments when England was impaled upon St George's sword. America knew it had happened, he had seen the long blade sink easily into England's body as if it were a homecoming; there was no denying the act itself. But there had been no blood, no wound, no reaction, save for the fact that he had been unexpectedly transported here.
And since there was no blood it naturally followed that there may have been no death as well.
It was a small and foolish hope but that was more than enough for a natural optimist like America and he quickly seized on the notion. He convinced himself that England must still be around; why else had he been sent to an old English woodland if not to be the hero in search of the sleeping beauty?
Reassured by his self-appointed mission, he gingerly stepped towards the nearest root and picked his way along it, following the winding path of it between the old trees. He had no idea where he was going, of course, and hoped that this might lead him somewhere—
Given, of course, that there was no sign of England; nor the attendants which had so selflessly followed him to his self-elected grave.
For several long, silent moments, he simply walked with barely a touch of change in his surroundings; and the stale static prickled uncomfortably at his skin until he began to feel really quite anxious, his imagination teasing at his rationality so that he began to speculate (quite understandably, of course) that there might be ghosts and ghouls and god only knew what else lurking at the hearts of these deformed branches. Well, seriously, he'd seen Disney's Snow White and she was trekking through a forest just like this one when all the trees started to get creepy faces and claws on their branches so that they could grab at her; and hadn't he just been thinking about The Wizard of Oz as well because hell if something similar hadn't happened in that, too, evil trees in haunted forests or something like that… And after the recent turn of events, with symbols and creatures swarming out of the woodworks and into reality, it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine the monsters crawling out of the movies. Before too long America had his M1911 out, safety off and finger on the trigger as he trotted nervously without quite breaking into a blind run—
But then he rounded an old oak, hollowed and rotting where it stood, pistol half-raised, and stopped dead. Before him, towering far overhead, were the skeletal remains of what looked like an old abbey. The crumbling spines of gothic pillars still stretched out of sight between the trees like the desperate hands of the dying and broken archways still crested halfway, bridges to nowhere. Empty windows, long since bereft of their panes, gaped like open wounds and all about the fragile structure was the frothing emerald decay of ivy, tight between the smallest of cracks to burst it open and rip the cathedral's corpse apart at the seams.
The roots were still running this way, coiling out of sight through the main archway of the old structure's bare bones, and America followed them, cautious in his oft-clumsy gait as he ascended each of the crumbling steps, the exhale-vibrations of his brand-new military issue boots on a construction far older than he, patient with the deep ache of history. Stepping through the archway, there was a shift and a sigh in the air as though he had stepped through a gossamer curtain and then—
The old abbey was gone and (with a glance over his shoulder to affirm) no longer stood even behind him, the forest having vanished too like a startled daydream. Instead he found himself standing precariously at the edge of a large, flat, circular platform of white which floated, seemingly, in the utter absence of anything but the roots which weaved still across its plain expanse. All around him was stark white too, above, below, absolutely everywhere; and the only distinguishing feature about this singular platform upon which he found himself at all was the door suspended in the very centre of it – a handsome affair, carved oak with a decadent and medieval air about it, the roots curling beneath like gnarled old ringlets. Without dwelling much on it – for where else was he to go with the forest evaporating and leaving him marooned on a monotone island? – America went straight to the arched portal and twisted the heavy brass handle, pulling the door open with the groan of unoiled hinges. Impossibly (since the door seemed to simply be and act as nothing other than an unnecessary thoroughfare to the other side of the platform), he found that he had opened a doorway to a small room absolutely cluttered with things. He stepped in tentatively, still keeping a firm grasp on his gun, and the door swung shut by itself behind him.
The room was narrow and dark with barely room to take a step – and it was reminiscent entirely of England's little storage room in his destroyed house, the same one in which his final attendants had gathered to see him off. The walls were littered with old paintings of long-dead monarchs and quaint pastoral scenes in faded colors and fraying Medieval tapestries; and between these were shelves and cases and indeed even raw stacks of books, precarious and uneven and tattered leather in once-rich shades. There were statues and ornaments and glinting bottles with miniature ships in them; crests and banners and suits of armor; swords, shields, bows, cannons; painted wooden horses and silver tea-sets and piles of clothes in the fashions of all centuries—
And, at the end, half-obscured by a thick curtain of deep red velvet, was an open doorway. The roots had found their home in here, curling and settling about these old possessions of England's – the very same, America wouldn't wager, as the things in England's storage room, dragged down here for jealous safekeeping. America scrambled through the corridor of trinkets, careful to step over thick veins of roots as he made his way towards the door, apologizing to what looked like one of Queen Victoria's gowns when he stumbled on a small bust of Shakespeare and accidentally bumped into it (before catching himself and realizing that he was talking to a dress). He was beginning to get that Alice in Wonderland vibe again, given that his experience in this very strange, ever-changing milieu thus far seemed to have revolved around him finding doors to go through (though thankfully none yet that he was either much too big or much too small to fit) and hoped that this would be the last of them – not that he had any idea what he was looking for, exactly, except maybe England standing waiting for him. "Ah, you found me," he'd say in a perfect world; and then they'd go home and America would sulk with him for days afterwards for his poor idea of a joke and all would be well.
Alas, this was not what he found on pushing aside the curtain. Though he had yet to take a step down, he instinctively knew he was going deeper, burrowing through the innards of the floating white island before coming out on the other side. He emerged below a heavy marble archway, beneath and around which were littered various rich accruements to symbolize Great Britain with a touch more magnificence than a short blonde physical embodiment with the face of a human and the bloodlust of an entire army. Here sat a hand-carved throne, upon which was a heavy crown and a leather-bound copy of the Magna Carta; above this was the crest America had come to know rather well by now, lion and unicorn firmly in place fighting it out; and, to his left, a full-size marble figure of Britannia (whom America recognized more for being wrought of stone instead of flesh), her spear thrust outright. High above it all, suspended from a pole, was the Union Flag.
This, America realized with some chagrin, was actually the other side of the circular platform he had begun upon; but the surroundings were no longer bare. All around, as far as the eye could see, with perhaps a half-mile's distance between each of them, were other platforms just like this one, floating independently amidst nothingness, like cultural jetsam on the nonexistent tide. Each had an archway, presumably leading down into its own narrow little "museum", and clustered about its mouth were various artifacts of the highest representation, the entire structure crowned with the country's corresponding flag.
To the left floated France's, Marianne guarding a guillotine with a bloodied crown in her hand; and Canada's was on the other side of that, an entire maple tree growing around the archway, littering the platform with crimson stars. Some reflected a country's architecture more outright; China's archway was fashioned after those common in a Buddhist temple and a squint at both Greece and Turkey's (which were quite far away) made it clear that their own arches had the typical Grecian pillars and the complex mathematics of Islamic design, respectively.
Germany's was stained red by the ragged Nazi swastika overhanging its gorgeous Gothicism.
None of the platforms were connected to each other in any way, making it impossible – it seemed – to get from one to another…
…With the exception, America noticed, of England's and his own, which were next to one another. There was a narrow gilded bridge stretching between them, allowing access between one and the other, which America suspected was likely a new addition brought about by England having put his blood and his history into America's body. The connection was tenuous, like gold spun finely between their floating lands, stretched incredibly thin in the middle so that it was little more than a pretty plank. Still, they were connected and America could feel the tug of his own archway across the bridge.
Great. More doors. He should have left breadcrumbs or something.
He wasn't entirely sure why he was simply blindly following doorway after doorway, going further and further down this rabbit-hole; but he didn't know what else to do. There didn't seem to be any way back regardless of how far he went and he was hoping, just desperately hoping, that if he kept going, he might find some trace of England himself.
He finally put his M1911 back in its holster and hopped down onto the flimsy bridge, padding carefully across it (without looking down) towards the familiar thirteen stripes and forty-eight stars flapping above an archway similar in design to England's. There was an eagle with outstretched wings atop his, too, and either side of the blue curtain hiding the little room full of his own clutter stood Columbia andJean-Antoine Houdon's statue of George Washington. There was a miniature Statue of Liberty, too, and above her head hung a copy of the Declaration of Independence in a gilt frame.
America shimmied past Lady Liberty and pushed back the curtain, stepping down into the small, narrow room of his own subconscious keeping. Here lay guns and blue uniforms and old pieces of failed Wright Brothers proto-airplanes; Betsy Ross' original flag design for the fledgling United States adorning the nearest wall and Henry T. Ford's first production-line automobile crouched in a corner like a shining black beetle. The clutter was not quite as bad as England's, who had more centuries to cram into such a small space, but America did not pause to take stock of his symbolic belongings nonetheless, his gaze drawn instead to the open trapdoor in the middle of the floor (a feature most certainly not present in England's). He crossed to it and looked down at the steps it gave way to – narrow, wooden, rickety things like those in old colonial houses.
That it was lying open at all seemed reason enough for investigation and he carefully picked his way down the stairs; there was no banister and he kept his hand to the wall for purchase, following the dreary downward wind of the staircase until he emerged into a long, wide room of considerable splendor. There were no windows, in their place rows of candle-lit alcoves in the walls, each holding a marble bust of one of his past presidents, and the high ceiling was painted with the familiar image of Columbia stringing telegraph poles across the Frontier – John Gast's iconic painting symbolizing Manifest Destiny, American Progress.
The room was empty, however, but for one thing – one giant thing which commandeered the space to her mighty whim. Her sails folded like old skin, her bedraggled Union and English flags limp against her battered masts, he hadn't seen her for centuries but knew her the moment he saw her.
The Mayflower floating miraculously against the solid ground was still not what drew his attention entirely, however; he saw the moonlight gleam of the unicorn, he saw the gold flush of the lion – and, hacking away at her hull with St George's sword, he saw England.
"So you have the entire Scandinavian Front dealt with and secure," Germany repeated, batting Italy away from the phone's coiled cord. "You are quite sure?"
Prussia gave an icy little laugh on the other end of the line, the mocking incredulous tone carried easily even over their fuzzy connection.
"You always sound like you don't believe me, West," he sighed. "Am I so untrustworthy?"
Germany felt his heart give an uncomfortable tug and he couldn't gather his breath in order to answer the obvious dig. The loss of his Führer was still too fresh and inexplicable to be touched, as raw as a wound through which Prussia had sucked out the so-called poison. Italy unerringly sensed the ache radiating from Germany's silence and climbed up to straddle his legs, wrapping his arms around his neck, nuzzling affectionately against him so that he had to switch the side on which he held the phone in order to accommodate a lapful of cuddling country.
Prussia simply laughed again at the silence, mocking amusement that turned to humming over the phone.
"I bend over fucking backwards for you and you know it," he said coldly. "Well, have no doubt that it's done. Kinda easy, really – barely broke a sweat. I had Russia with me, after all. You can mark all of Scandinavia off your little map."
"I am glad to hear it," Germany said stiffly; he was glad to be moving forward with the unemotional, and therefore less uncomfortable, talk of military strategizing. "You may proceed, then."
"Who's next?" Prussia sounded rather bored. "France? England? Oh, I can't wait to bash their scheming little skulls in…"
"No, I will not leave all the work to you," Germany replied shortly. "I will deal with France myself. I need to crush him before he can either escape to England's or mobilize himself. France's location has a strategic advantage to England, given their physical closeness. If England attacks us by land, it will be through France's territory."
"What about Portugal? He and England are still thick as thieves when it comes to military talk."
"I shall have Portugal imprisoned in his brother's house. Spain is Fascist so I am sure he will not mind. I agree that we cannot trust Portugal to not aid England, even if he officially remains neutral. Spain himself borders France and I am to his right, leaving him with few options for escape. Logically, he will go westward towards England and seek refuge on the other side of the English Channel with him."
Prussia coughed, kicking up a flurry of auditory fuzz across the phone line.
"And Belgium?" he asked. "She's straight up. He could go to her."
"That is where you come in," Germany said, at last chasing Italy off his lap only by standing and dumping him unceremoniously to the floor. "Holland and Belgium must be dealt with in order to successfully box France in."
"So that's our next assignment." Prussia paused. "What then?"
"Then France and England. As I said, I will deal with them myself."
"What about America?"
"Once we have put England in a position in which he must surrender, Japan and I will pincer America from both sides and crush him. Had he not declared war on us, it might have been different, but as it stands I know that he will mobilize once we invade England's land to come to his aid. Our defeat of England must be swift enough that it renders America's assistance useless – and to do that, we must capture France and blockade the English Channel."
"Very well," Prussia said briskly, not sounding terribly interested. "I'll inform Russia of the plan. I'll speak with you later, West."
He hung up the phone rather abruptly, Germany doing the same at a more languid pace. He looked down at Italy, who was leaning against the desk, smiling at him.
"All is going well, hmm?" Italy said mildly.
"It would seem so," Germany replied, sitting once again and pressing his hands together thoughtfully. "Prussia has excelled himself, for once. I suppose you might as well make amends."
Italy nodded and went into one of the desk drawers, withdrawing an eraser and going to the wall to the right of the broad desk which had once belonged to Germany's Führer. Here, the wall was just plain white plaster, devoid of paint or wallpaper, and upon it was a perfectly accurate, highly-detailed map of the world drawn by Italy; done in pencil with the names of cities and rivers and mountains picked out in both Italian and German.
Italy fetched himself the footstool he had used to originally draw the uppermost reaches of the map to begin with and hopped up onto it, pressing one hand to the wall to steady himself as he began to rub out all of the lines depicting the boundaries between the Scandinavian countries, converting them all into one large, strangely-shaped specimen as he took out all their unique place-names and erased their existence entirely from his map.
Germany came around the desk and looked up at the map – at the changing, merging face of Europe – as Italy finished the last of his erasing. He looked upon it with a certain swell of pride, not just at what he had achieved but also at how beautiful it was, how well Italy had captured their vision.
Some of the pencil was beginning to get rather worn away, however.
"Italy," he said briskly, pointing towards the British Isles, "the United Kingdom is fading a bit. Don't forget to thicken up the lines before we invade." He frowned. "America too, actually."
"I will!" Italy called cheerfully as he untucked a pencil from his belt. He stretched up to write across the strange new shape of old Scandinavia what he had done already to Austria and Czechoslovakia and Hungary, to Prussia and Poland and Russia and the entire Soviet Union, to China and Japan and himself.
Japan's small tabi-clad feet were silent as he crossed the smooth expanse of the room, tea tray carefully balanced in both hands. It was his finest set, thin glass bedecked with hand-painted phoenixes and gold detail, half obscured by passing clouds of white paint crosshatched across the black shellacked background. Such finery was not customary for Japan's tea ceremony, but neither was such a lofty and grand venue. There were no tatami mats, no sunken hearth for the iron tea pot, no calligraphy hung from an alcove, no surrounding garden bred intentionally for rustic simplicity to accompany the delicate flavor of the light green tea. Instead, the tea set that he carried carefully, gentle in setting it down atop the low table, was nothing more than a shadow of the traditional ceremony that was meant to imbue the principles of harmony, purity and respect - ideals that were impossible to feel when he was sharing said tea with a prisoner.
He knelt, arranging himself so that his silk kimono fanned and folded in all the right places, and watched China work for a long moment, his dark eyes gleaming.
Their progress was good. Already the machine had taken on its monstrous black shape, high and hulking, blades gleaming at its skeletal forefront; it was still gutted, its innards being assembled separately before being transplanted into the frame, but with its outer shell complete, it undeniably looked like a hideous and twisted tank which had trundled straight out of a nightmare.
Italy's design, of course (safely on paper), was gorgeous; every last millimeter of his fanciful drawing was enslaved to detail, lashings of delicate wrought ironwork on the front grate, deep and beautiful engravings etched onto each of the metal plates and even the necessary bolts and most utilitarian mechanics of the engine were shaped artistically rather than expected to fit the grip of any wrench in reality. It was a work of fantasy, a dangerous and beautiful creature from a fairytale, perhaps; and the creation itself looked a little like it. It seemed almost equine in the rolling curves of its most base outline, the way the frame splayed blades like a mane down the bowed stretch of its neck, gaunt and graceful as an apocalyptic steed. Oh, Japan and China both knew how to craft beauty out of base and blunt metal, how to fold the heated iron over itself countless times until it was a weapon, engrave entire scenes into a few centimeters of space up its deadly gleaming side—
But Japan was practical nonetheless and it seemed to him that Italy's design was not invested in the real world at all. Something as beautifully-crafted as Italy's creation would crumple beneath its own weight if it drove over so much as a rock – and so Japan had sacrificed aesthetical detail in favor of the thing being robust. It was black iron and steel rivets in plates in the shape of a decidedly less-frail beast. The invulnerable, hinged tail of a lobster, monstrous tire tracks with folded legs underneath like a spider, a pointed grate encrowning the front reinforced with steel blades to carve up the waiting Earth.
There were still some elusive calculations he was having trouble with, a missing link that not even Germany's meticulous engineering could pin down on paper – but they had nothing to do with the outer design of the machine, simply its more mysterious inner workings. His mind idled on the issue again as he watched China toil, laboring over a project he wanted no part of.
"China," he said at length, "come and have some tea."
China put down his spanner and looked at Japan over his shoulder. His eyes were cold despite being rimmed with sweat.
"Very well," he said. He attempted to wipe his oily hand clean, an almost laughable pretense as they were stained black with the mechanical pitch, before smoothing back his long hair, half of which had fallen out from the cord tying it over his shoulder. China stood slowly, wearily, and Japan fancied he could hear the fatigue creaking audibly from his prisoner's overworked joints. The older country was sweaty and filthy, having worked long, exhausting hours on the machine for the past few weeks, and tugged his open Mandarin shirt closer around his shoulders and bare chest as he approached Japan.
The bruise on his shoulder from where Japan had struck him with a piece of metal pipe from the machine had at last turned an ugly brown color; while the ill-knit seams of scars beaded here and there in small shameful lumps of bare flesh pin-pointed the finer details of abuse.
China sank to his knees at the opposite side of the table, not meeting Japan's gaze. He distractedly neatened his hair, looping the silk cord back around it, as Japan made a demure show of pouring hot water over the green tea powder. The steam settled like a veil between them and Japan sighed contentedly as he began to whisk the fragrant concoction until it was crowned in froth.
Neither bothered mentioning the skipped steps – the customary purification, the bowing as a way to give and receive respect.
"This is nice," Japan said. "It's good to rest now and then." He passed China's tea towards him, one hand cupping the underside, the other tucked politely around the side. "You're doing well, China."
His hand rose from the cup, his thin fingers outstretched as the doubled sleeves of his kimonos slid back along his wrist, and moved towards China's face with the intent, perhaps, of brushing aside a strand of sticky hair; China reacted with the quickness of a snake, slapping Japan's hand away.
"Don't touch me," he growled savagely, wrapping both hands around his cup and drawing it towards himself as if it were a shield, his shoulders hunching.
Japan raised his fine dark eyebrows.
"Your manners are lacking this weather, China," he mused. "You always taught me to treat guests with utmost respect and humility, not to mention unwavering hospitality – and yet I find that your charms are thin, at best."
"You are not a guest," China replied icily, closing his eyes as he sipped at his tea. "This is forceful occupation. You have no right to be in Beijing, much less in the Emperor's palace!"
Japan shrugged, the well-worn argument having lost its weight long ago, transferred instead to the yoke he had China pinned beneath.
"Then perhaps it would be in your interest to coerce me to leave," he replied pleasantly, a breezy suggestion no more substantial than the steam rising from their cups.
China said nothing, looking down at his tea. Japan smirked.
"Ah, that's right," he said gently. "You cannot, of course. I have already beaten you into submission. That your Emperor fled and left you at my mercy is of no consequence, really. All that matters is that your lands are now mine – and what is mine is part of the Axis Design." Japan allowed his fingers to ghost along the familiar, textured hilt of the katana at his hip. "These are all things that you would do well to remember, China. You lost to me – as you have lost to me before." He shook his head sympathetically. "I can't help it if you won't learn from history – though I must say that it's somewhat ironic that your failings have always been because of your disinterest in industrialization. Looking at the work you have done on our machine, it would seem to me that you have a bit of a talent for the physical work that industrialization requires."
"I have no interest in such vulgar pursuits," China said. "All industrialization has done is find ways to kill more and more, faster and faster – that and made it easier to steal from one another."
Japan gave another sing-song sigh.
"Oh, you're so naïve." He looked down at the steam spiraling up from his tea. "This ignorance – this ridiculous moral high-ground – is what has made you so weak. Do you think England cared what you thought of him when he addled your brain with drugs to get what he wanted? Do you think I cared when I beat the living daylights out of you not once but twice?" He gave an incredulous shake of his head. "You're a fool, China."
China still wouldn't look at him, clearly disgusted as he frowned at his tea instead.
"I did not raise you to be like this, Japan," he said stiffly, grip tightening around his cup. "This bullying behavior did not come from me, I assure you – and that is why you presume me weak in the face of it. The grasp of Western greed is strong on you." He sounded downright prophetic, a false trait Japan had long since grow accustomed to.
Japan smiled, the expression pulling his moon-pale face taut in the instant before his hand flashed out and he threw his tea straight at China. It hit the older nation's bare chest, steam sparking as it made contact with his skin, and China gave a half-strangled shriek and a long hiss, recoiling.
"You always get guts at the wrong moment, China," Japan said in a low voice. "It's stupid of you." He poured himself another cup of tea as he watched China regain his posture, panting with pain. "You should have learnt by now that your best hope of preservation is to accept our will with obedience and in silence. I'll thank you to hold your tongue on your opinion of my alliances."
China bowed his head – but it was not in reverence.
"You dishonor me, Japan," he said icily, barely raising his voice above a disgusted whisper.
Japan simply snorted.
"Your dishonor is misplaced," he said, sipping at his tea. "I do not see at all how my actions bring shame upon you but that you are shamed by my victory. I have no sympathy for weakness, not even from you, and so I will not tolerate it." He waved his hand dismissively towards the machine. "I tire of you, anyway. Get back to work."
The older country was silent as he stood, leaving his cup half-drained on the table, another half cup of tea now stained and heated painfully through his shirt.
With China slaving over the machine again, his work considerably slower with the blistering ache of the burn, Japan pressed his hands together on the tabletop and watched him, his dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully. The mechanism was Germany's job, really, designed by Italy at his approval, and Japan couldn't be held accountable if the machine didn't work as Germany wished; but nonetheless, they were eluded still by the process they wished to harness. There was an implicit bond between a nation and their land, so much so that great trauma to their landmass caused them to bleed and scar and bear the brunt of it – and their land was their keeper, also. When a nation was afflicted with a mortal wound, upon death their soil would take in their body and they would be restored to life (often hundreds of miles away) within the confines of their human helm. America, for example (should he die), would breathe again in the White House; England in the Houses of Parliament; Germany in the Reichstag and so forth.
For China and Japan both, this regeneration location was their respective Emperor's palace.
This was the tie which Germany needed to have under his control if his machine was to function. His plan to erase borders between countries and repaint the entire globe as a single nation-state – Axis – which worked together from within required an understanding and a deconstruction of what made a nation who they were, what united them with their land so completely.
Japan's mind stalled on the issue again, a cord of irritation catching and knotting through the problem. There was a code in the earth itself which he couldn't crack – a formula needed for the machine and yet out of his reach.
And unless they solved it, the machine would never work.
Quick, silent, Japan rose, unsheathing his katana and stepping towards China from behind as he worked. He had done this before, many times, chasing after the power to revive their embodiment which Chinese lands possessed, and nothing had come of it. China's earth refused to give up the secret and he expected no less now, even as he raised his sword.
If China noticed, he didn't react. Japan swung down diagonally, barely feeling the resistance of bone against such a finely honed blade as he cut off China's head with a single easy swipe. He stepped back with the motion, although not quick enough that he avoided the arc of blood which spattered like deeper and darker cherry blossom petals up the front of his kimono. China's lifeless body swayed for only a moment as the arterial geyser continued to gush before he collapsed in a nerveless heap, his head barely hitting the floor after it some feet away. The instant he hit the ground his skin began to bubble and pull, first inward as every cell of his being sloughed and was drawn to the nucleus of China's body, and then downward as the entire writhing mass sank into the marble.
Japan cleaned his blade with a swift swing to the side and re-sheathed it as he walked away from China's twisting, deflating body, glancing back at the threshold just in time to see the crisp outline of his skeleton before it too fully liquefied and then disappeared between the cracks of the floor, leaving behind no trace whatsoever of the corpse's presence. He turned away again, stepping into the adjacent room – a magnificent chamber of red and gold with a throne, carved dragons coiling around it, at the end of it atop three steps. The throne was empty.
Everything was silent, of course, muted as though pressed down under some great, soft paw. There was not even the thrumming of reforming life beneath his feet as the essence of China's undying form flowed beneath him, an unconscious river carefully pieced back together by his land. Japan watched sulkily as ribbons of blood and marrow spiraled out from the gaps in the marble before the grand throne and wrapped themselves about with a flurry of affectionate effort, filling in the outline of a body, organs inflating rapidly like colorful balloons before being sheathed with flesh, creased with wrinkles and imperfections and finally the fabric of well-worn clothing until China stood again, his head back on his shoulders without even a mark upon his neck. He exhaled deeply, tiredly, and trained his weary amber eyes upon Japan, who peered angrily around the doorframe at him, empty-handed.
"Disappointed?" China asked coldly.
Japan lowered his head in a sarcastic bow.
"Of course," he replied.
America bounded off the final step, turning practically buoyant as his heart lifted in his chest in utter relief as he saw England as plain as day before him, clearly very much alive and… trying to cut into the hull of an old ship with a sword.
England froze at the sound of his name, his lion and his unicorn looking towards America long before he did. The lion growled, the threat arching off the high ceiling in lacy peals, but America paid it no heed, padding happily towards the Mayflower and England with an uncontrollable grin of pure joy, so delighted was he to see him.
"England, jeez, thank god I found you!" America chirped as England lowered the sword. "I was getting worried that I was completely lost and I'd never be able to get out of here, wherever the heck we are… and, well, gosh, I'm just so glad to see you because… well, I mean you had all those… uh, representatives of yours flocking 'round your lifeless body like it was a goddamn funeral and then King Arthur stabbed a fuckin' sword straight through you and I figured it would take more than that to kill you, especially since everything was so weird an' all, but it's good to see you, um… in full health and trying to fend off that vicious ship…?"
England didn't turn to him, clenching his fist around the sword.
"I told you not to follow me," he said in a low voice.
America paused, stopping a few feet away from him as caution rallied in; the lion slinked around England, his body coiled and low to the ground, his gold eyes not leaving America even for an instant.
"…Yeah," America replied, deflating a little bit. "Y-yeah, I know, but—"
"I told you not to follow me several times," England interrupted, still not looking at him. "I told you why you couldn't follow me. I even stopped you from following me by physically restraining you."
"Why, then, do I find you before me?" England finally turned to him, his tone and his expression both cold and furious. "Hmm? Would you care to enlighten me?" He put his hand to the lion's head, perhaps to stop him from pouncing at America and ripping out his throat as his anger rippled through his beasts. "Is it that my persuasive powers are no longer what they used to be or is it simply that you are stupid, America?"
"Uh." America didn't know quite what to say to that. "…Option One, I guess? You told me not to come and here I am."
He gave a nervous little laugh, looking away, no longer able to meet England's eyes. England was funny when he was agitated or flustered or cross about trivial things. He wasn't funny at all when he was honestly livid – the green of his eyes could cut when narrowed and honed.
"Strange." England's tone was very clipped. "I find myself drawn towards Option Two, myself." He looked at America in utter disgust. "Look at you, pleased as bloody punch with yourself and all. I expect you think this is a grand adventure – that you've done a brave and heroic thing by venturing down here after me, risking peril to rescue me like some flaming damsel in distress!" He flashed Ascalon towards America, its edge gleaming brightly beneath the strange sunless light of the room. "Honestly, do I look to you as though I need rescuing?"
America looked at him. For someone who'd just had a sword run through him, he didn't have a mark on him whatsoever; and standing firmly in his green military uniform flanked either side by his powerful symbols, sword in hand and his jade eyes as hard as steel, he didn't look much like the stereotypical damsel, to be honest.
"Well, uh, no, not really," America admitted, feeling the beginning pangs of guilt and confusion paw at him, a familiar combination in light of recent events.
"Then perhaps you'll kindly take your heroics elsewhere," England said frostily. "Like to the bloody war."
The guilt was quickly shooed away by the flare of annoyance at being scolded like a naughty child by England, something he was pretty sure he'd grown out of by now (or, at least, he'd gotten too old for England to have the right to scold him like a naughty child), and America folded his arms petulantly.
"Well, that's kinda rich coming from you," he pointed out, "given that you just upped and bailed—"
"America, we have been over this—"
"And second of all," America went on, determined to be heard out, "you can shout at me all you like for not doing what you told me to do but that doesn't change the fact that I found you down here meddling with my stuff!" He threw out his arms, gesturing to the room, to the Mayflower. "I mean, what the fuck are you doing to my Mayflower?"
"The Mayflower is an English ship," England said curtly, "which brought English settlers to what became an English colony—"
"And then I kicked you out on your ass, so that makes it mine by proxy – which is why it's down here with my stuff." America scowled. "And honestly? I don't much care for you cutting a huge fuckin' hole in it! It's gonna be useless if you do that!"
England rolled his eyes, turning Ascalon over in his hand.
"America, it's not real," he said wryly. "Well, it's real – but it's not physical. You can't sail in it. It's just a manifestation, an echo of your history."
"W-well, even so!" America said crossly, flailing his arms again. "Why are you hacking away at it?"
England put the point of the sword to the ground, his hand over the globe of iron at the end of the handle as he leaned on the weapon as though it was a cane; he looked at America very long and hard for a moment, silent, as though debating how best to word his reply. His unicorn nudged at his shoulder and he absently stroked the whiskery velvet of her nose.
"I am under the impression," he said, still holding America's gaze, "that you fail to understand quite where we are."
"Well, uh, yeah, there wasn't exactly a signpost," America replied curtly. "Sorry I'm not a regular Sherlock."
"That may be," England said, sounding quite irritable, "but nonetheless I thought it might have made itself rather obvious."
America shrugged helplessly.
"I'm stumped," he admitted.
"Indeed." England took his hand from the unicorn's nose just long enough to point towards the ceiling. "Above us is a place called Pangaea. Ironic title, really, since everything up there is rather separate – a subconscious realm which stores our history for us. All nations which have ever existed, even if they no longer inhabit the map, have one of those floating islands to call their own. Rome's is up there, for example, for even though he no longer exists as a nation, his history is still a part of the world and there are remnants of his Empire all over Europe. Pangaea is, however, a secret – most nations do not know of its existence and never will unless they die. Dalliances down here are forbidden unless at the cost of the sacrifice of one's nationhood." England's eyes hardened again. "Which is precisely why you cannot be down here. I have sacrificed to make this journey – you have not." He shook his head firmly. "You must go back, America. You have no right to be here."
"I'll only go back if you come with me," America said stubbornly.
"I can't. I have something I must do and… well, as I said, I have sacrificed. I cannot go back now – that's the price of what I did with you."
"Why, though?" America insisted. "What's the big deal? You just put some of your history in me, big whoop."
"It is a big whoop," England replied dryly. "It's utterly forbidden. Everything to do with Pangaea is. This is the cataloging system of history itself. We may be nations but it is not for us to meddle with."
"Uh…" America was floored. "Then… um, why are you down here, you know, meddling?"
England looked away.
"I can't tell you," he said.
"Christ, why not?" America burst out. "I'm so damn sick of you being all… secretive—"
"Well, forgive me," England interrupted icily, "but there is a time and a place for playing favorites with you, my lad, and this isn't it." He lifted the sword again and waved the point in America's general direction. "Look, just… just stay there. I'll deal with you in a moment. I'll have to send you back through your history…"
"I'm not going back!" America said obstinately.
"Yes you bloody well are," England replied lightly. "Now stay where you are."
He turned on his heel and went back to the hull of the Mayflower, turning Ascalon this way and that before plunging it through the seam of the planks. America took the opportunity to creep a few steps closer to him, trying to be as quiet as possible—
"I told you to stay where you are!" England lost his temper completely and whirled on America, pulling his Browning Hi-Power and holding him hostage with it. The sudden flash of the gun paled beneath the brimstone reflected in England's eyes.
"Okay, whoa, whoa," America cried, stopping where he was and putting up his hands in surrender. "Cool your fuckin' jets! I ain't moving!"
England made a very frustrated sound and America held his breath as the noise eddied through him.
"Just do as you're told, for once," he groaned. Still holding America at gunpoint, he patted his unicorn's wide, arched neck and addressed her: "Watch him, won't you? Don't hurt him but don't let him come near me."
The unicorn nuzzled at his hand affectionately and stepped forward, aligning herself with America, who took a nervous step back at the flash of her horn; she lowered her head, aligning the living weapon, and pawed at the ground in agitation. Behind her, England reholstered his gun and took the final step back towards the hull, lifting Ascalon once more. The lion lay down beside him as he worked, his tail flicking back and forth like a pendulum, and America was left with no choice but to watch the bizarre, unexplained spectacle from over the unicorn's shoulder.
She was watching him curiously, moving her head idly but precisely in order to keep him to the mark when he inched to the left or the right. He kept the glint of her horn at the edge of his gaze as he watched England, horribly mindful of it, and thought that it wasn't even worth reaching for his own gun (with the intention of reversing the situation, holding England captive until he explained himself).
England's Browning, on that subject, was clearly tucked snugly back into its holster so that he could use both hands to cut into the hull of the Mayflower, slicing through the old wood and shattering it, splitting it so that it fell away from the frame, Ascalon carrying the strength to sink a ship. The growing gap blazed with color, a liquid-crystal glow of rainbow hues filtering out of the Mayflower's heart like a condensed, captured Aurora Borealis. England wedged the sword between two of the boards and pulled, breaking them away to leave a massive fissure in the hull, a sort of ragged archway into the Mayflower itself. The colored light fell across the floor, flowing out of the ship's innards liked spilt iridescent water, and with it words in tight, decorative gold, which floated on the surface of the marbled rainbow with the ease and clink of ice.
—and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutualy in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves togeather into a cavill body politick—
This fragment washed beneath America's feet; and much more yet slid beyond him, all around, pooling beneath England, too, to cluster at their source and their recipient. These words were the Mayflower Compact, spilling out of the wounded ship like blood.
"England." America said his name sharply, looking up. "England, what the hell is going on? What are you doing?"
England bade him no answer, lowering the sword to his side as he stepped into the ship; and instead of an empty hull, it was clear even to America (where he stood) that the bowels of the replica Mayflower were a corridor, the walls of which radiated that ethereal glow. At the end lay a door, ornate and with a heavy gold lock like the clasp of an old book, draped over with two tied and tasseled American flags crossed over one another – and before it, on a stone pedestal, was a long, narrow wooden box. England laid down Ascalon on the pedestal to lift the lid of box with both hands; and from within it, he drew out a large ceremonial knife, all of gold, the hilt in the shape of an eagle and laden with scarlet jewels.
"England!" America shouted at him, misgiving growing like a poisonous weed as England delved deeper into his inner workings. "Don't ignore me! What the fuck is going on here?" He grew angrier still at England's deliberate unawareness of him in favor of bringing the knife to the door within the Mayflower. "God damn it, England! I know you can hear me! That's my ship, my flag…! What the fuck are you doing to me?"
When England still stoutly refused to acknowledge him, America utterly lost his temper and dodged past the unicorn, taking her by surprise enough to duck her horn even as she reared and wheeled about in his periphery. He started towards the Mayflower just as England lowered the knife towards the keyhole in the ornate lock—
He got no further, too stunned to even cry out as the unicorn slammed her horn right through his chest from behind. He stumbled, thoroughly impaled on her, and at length gave an odd little gasp. It didn't even really hurt, feeling cold and tingling and peculiar more than anything, but he was so shocked that he couldn't even react to it.
The unicorn exhaled against the small of his back and retracted her horn from his body in a sharp motion; and, down here, his blood appeared to lack the discipline of normalcy, behaving instead in a spectacular fashion. It exploded out of his wound in layers, fluid fractures which, on impact with the Mayflower, with the floor still bathed in liquid light, fell into clear and concise shapes. Here upon the prow stretched the Statue of Liberty, a blotched eagle soaring over the archway cut into the hull, an entire cityscape, recognizable as New York City, arcing halfway onto the floor. When America collapsed, the blood pooled beneath him like the cracked Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore, spreading and fanning under his bleeding body.
It was only now that England lowered his hand and turned to him, abandoning the door; the Mayflower had begun to shake, quivering and groaning as though suddenly under an immense amount of pressure, weathering an unseen storm. The bow leaned forward and began to crack and the deck of the ship sank inwards, the masts tilting. The unicorn, her horn dripping, came to him as he drifted, horrified, towards the archway to look at America; she nudged at his shoulder, perhaps looking for approval, and he looked at her in despair.
"I told you not to hurt him," he groaned. "Oh, you stupid girl…"
There was an almighty crack from somewhere inside the Mayflower and the floor of the deck collapsed completely, crumbling into the hull. America rolled over with some effort and began to push himself up, blood still spilling out of the wound in his chest to splash to the floor in the shape of perfect stars.
"England, wh… what the hell have you done now?" he hissed, pushing up his slipping glasses with the heel of his hand.
"Nothing." Still holding the gold knife, England sprinted to him ahead of the prow breaking loose entirely and tumbling to the floor. "This is you, America. Your blood has been spilt down here and your history deems it unforgivable."
"It was… your dumb unicorn—!"
"She was doing her duty." England put the knife into his belt as the unicorn and the lion came to him. "And I will do mine."
The whole room seemed to shake now, quivering with the destruction of the Mayflower; and as it fell apart, it suddenly pitched forwards completely as though launching, thundering towards them as barely more than a bleeding skeleton—
America was pushed back to the floor again by the weight of England throwing himself on top of him, curling around him protectively, and by the lion and the unicorn in turn shielding their country, as the remains of the Mayflower came crashing down on top of them all.
…Honestly, I have nothing to say about this chapter, really. Nothing at all – except that we hope you feel that it was worth the wait. This is the first update of 2012 and here's hoping it won't be the last until 2013 for poor old Pangaea! XD In all seriousness, this just kept getting pushed back and back on my writing schedule and then I finally got it done and then it got pushed back again on Narroch's writing schedule so it was a cumulative joint-effort fail, methinks. Hopefully it won't happen again!
Btw, Happy New Year, everyone!
RR and Narroch