"Can I provide a sanctuary to shield you from a world that preys?" Mighty Rivers Run by Globus
Twelve days into Alfred's disappearance, it is on the thirteenth day that Arthur wakes up screaming.
Before he can even stop, he is silenced. Darkness forces it way down his throat, silencing his echoing yells. It squirms down his raw throat, ripping up his skin and shredding his vocal cords to pieces. Rearing pain tears its way throughout him as the darkness tries to make itself deep at home within him. It burrows in his organs and drinks at his blood, searching and searching for something that isn't there.
It's looking for what never was. He thinks desperately as trembling pain tears throughout him. It's looking for my soul.
It rattles his bones and shakes his core, viciously clawing and scratching its way throughout the confines of its fleshy tomb. He cannot help but feel the terror seep from every pore as the darkness poisons him from within, feeling his nerves immolate as the monster burrows deeper and deeper and deeper in search of something that he could never have, never will have, searching for the soul -
Around him, he feels the looming silence of the house press in on its humble; the members of a once large empire having abandoned its pristine walls, leaving the silence to comfort the unheard howls of a perishing king.
Memories never his invade the sanctity of his private thoughts, forcing images that could never be to come to horrible light. They sweep in from the darkness, flooding his mind and pulling him under to witness their awfulness. Stolen from the eyes of a man he's never met, Arthur can only watch as the memory of a worn pocket watch breaking replays itself over and over and over and over and over again while the world around it burns.
London is on fire. Everyone is dead. Everyone is dead –
He's broken the rule. He's broken the rule! Time is going to unravel. All of humanity is going to
Man has hold of the clock
We have nothing –
I am God.
When his thoughts clear, the monster sneers from within his chest, breaking his ribs and kicking at his lungs. He wheezes out blood instead of air, and it cruelly steals away his breath so that his pitiful gasping beneath the darkness clogging his throat ebbs away into silent nothing. When the monster within bites into his heart, ripping out flesh and organ and blood in a fashion that makes him feel human, his back arches and his mouth splits into the shape of an ugly scream whose silence is all but mocked by the empty ceiling above him.
A gasp eventually is all that escapes from the screaming throat, and he chokes. His trembling hands claw away at his own throat, trying to breathe air that he's suddenly been cut from.
And then, beneath the feel of the monster that swallows all else, he feels it. He feels it, deep beneath the darkness that has devoured his screams and eaten his bones – the magic.
It's a strange feeling. It's such a strange feeling, even so beneath the terror and the pain having its wicked way with his body. It is the feel of magic – the feel of magic that is not his, not Norway's, not Romania's, not Ireland, Scotland or Wales'.
Even worse, it's the feel of magic that is evil.
Evil magic is something that he has worked so hard to contain. A thousand years of work; a thousand years of effort to squash to what should never be. A thousand years dedicated to the eradication of the evil – the destruction of the poison that threatened to squander the sanctity of magic. Magic is not supposed to be good or evil. It is not supposed to take a side for when it does the consequences are dire. When magic take a a side, people die. Countless people die in the battle to preserve this magic – whether good or bad it does not matter for it's all the same. Both sides defend their sides to the end, and thousands get caught in the cross-fire.
The fact that this magic is invading him now, after a thousand of years of hard work to keep evil and good magic from poisoning the natural world, could only rub Arthur the wrong way. Something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.
Settling down at last, he fruitlessly pulls at his chest, clawing away at the skin and cloth there hiding away the bleeding mess of his ancient heart. He can feel the darkness prowl deep beneath; feel it feed on the heart that is the closest thing he has to a soul. Realization is beginning to at least make its way back in through the pain and his diminishing terror. It kicks in his teeth and pulls at his hair and then he knows.
Someone's tampering with the wards.
That thought alone is enough to send anger coursing violently throughout his veins. It flushes out the tendrils of the darkness, sending it screaming and crawling deeper and deeper within. He closes his eyes and wills it away, gritting his teeth as it sinks in its claws and tries to hold on.
When he closes his eyes, images rain down him. Alfred is screaming, screaming, and absinthe eyes bear witness to the show of fear. The tick of a clock is the only thing to bring down judgement upon them both -
Memories assault him once more. Alfred I would never break your trust like that. Understand my love. Understand that I would do everything for you and for you I would turn the world. Alfred, you are my love. Bring me the key and I will make you a god.
His lungs constrict and release an agonizing scream of terror that shatters his pride. It tears its way out of his throat and realization kicks in utterly. It settles on his chest like a frightful weight that threatens to crush his lungs and steal away his breath forever.
Someone has America.
The thought terrifies him to the very core. It's an unbearable thought, an unbearable thought that he can't stand to ever stomach or even hear in ears that refuse to hear what he wants. It's an unbearable thought that turns the world on the side, turns the sky red and turns the sea with uncontrollable rage. His veins are on fire and the monster screams, gurgling in its own darkness as Arthur's sudden overwhelming ire.
It is a law known by all – an unspoken rule cast over Europe and the world when their relationship was reborn decades after their countless wars. You can fuck with Alfred. You can call him names, can hurt him, kick him or even take a gun to his head. You can declare war and Arthur will be at his side.
But you cannot take Alfred.
Especially so when Alfred is no one's to take.
(A fact he learned the hard way.)
And then, in the amidst of his temper reaching critical levels, it stops.
Just like that, it stops.
It stops with such a certainty that he finds himself praying that the attempt was halted and that the wards are still working.
Deep down though, he knew that even that was too much to be asking.
After a moment of terse silence, he realises that he's quivering like a small child. He can't help but quietly laugh though, regretting it instantly as it rubs at his throat, and runs his hands over his face.
"Fuck." He says after another minute passes by slowly. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Slowly, he can't help but weakly go through the motions after that. He removes himself from his bed with sluggish limbs and dying muscles before getting changed from the night clothing positively with sticky sweat. From there on, the day proceeds as normal – as if he hadn't woken up screaming with dark magic cramming its way down his throat as if he was a porn star who hated their job.
He falls into his morning routine at the very last – the monotony of it all just being enough to take control of his thoughts. He feeds the birds, feeds the cat, feed the animals, feeds the imaginary creatures who don't need food but still utterly adore when he scatters the broken pieces of mystical food he shouldn't have all over the ground. He then dusts the bookshelves, the tables, the cracks of the house and sweeps in the between places of his home, knowing that his 'guests' aren't too fond of the fact that he often or naught lets his mess get into the way of their entrance. After all, it's not like the fey drop in often, only coming to seek solace or wisdom from him when the court politics get too much to handle or they think themselves high and mighty and believe that killing him will rid them of the human problem that plague them. He shakes his head, unable to believe that some fey are still believing that they can eradicate the humans so easily and return from the hell that can the astral plane. After all, humans may not be forever, but nations are and there is nothing that can kill him –
(only betrayal and a broken heart, a sadistic voice murmurs in his ear.)
He forgets it then. He ignores it and shoves it away and swaps his broom at the thresholds and landings and the floors and just ends up cleaning the whole house instead to drown out the traitorous voice that echoes in his ears. (Is it him, he catches himself thinking more than once, this the voice of the man who has what is – ) Broken glass cuts up his hand and it wills within moments, creating enough of a distraction for him to swallow that train of thought forever.
When he at last makes into his kitchen, he finally puts the kettle on the stove to boil and collapses into a chair to await the tedious time to takes for the water to boil. He could always heat it himself, by way of the magic or the microwave, but both leave a funny taste in his mouth that isn't fully burned away by the taste of whatever tea he decides to have. Perhaps some chamomile, or even ginseng today –
The doorbell rings.
And it rings.
Not just once, not just twice, but over and over again. He swears, cursing the whoever the fuckface is at his door. The doorbell is supposed to played full in its entirety. That's why he swung for such a doorbell that played such nice music. After all, if he had gone with the incessant buzzing one that's all the rage these days, he would have indefinitely shot any poor bastard who had shown up at his door – be it even the sweet lady next door or the bastard post man whose jokes are never funny (and another reason Arthur never leaves his house.)
He eventually gets out of his chair a little too aggressively and makes his way back out into the foyer and towards the front door. An umbrella has fallen out of its holder and he knows he didn't miss that when on his cleaning spree and ignores it in favour of the door which is now shuddering slightly with the raps of someone's infernal knockings.
He's half tempted to not even answer. However, the door was a gift and he's fond of the glass stained into its frame. Even if the picture on the glass is such a wrong depiction of the Fair Folk and their Ways. It's still gorgeous, even if a little gaudy.
Arthur eventually sighs, realising that the door would probably shatter if the scatterbrain continued on as they are. He resigns himself, readjusts his argy-le sweater and rearranges his face into the most disgruntled expression he can manage before throwing open the door.
"What you bloody fuckin' want – "
He stops dead in his tracks, stops dead in his thought, his speech, his everything. He can feel the cold heart in his chest stop dead.
In his terror, in his horror, he almost doesn't recognise the face before him.
The ice flees from his veins and releases his heart from the prison the cold has trapped him in. He can't help but smile, can't help but chuckle and laugh and awkwardly smile at Alfred. All that terror, all that awfulness he experienced this morning had been for naught – Alfred is safe and sound and he's here, he's here –
"Oh, it's you, Alfred. What are you doing here?" Arthur then finally takes a look at the companion Alfred has strung along with him and he stops. He stops once more and stares before he can feel the ever too familiar feeling of hatred rush into veins, flushing out the cold and replacing it with sheer loathing –
"What in fuck are you doing with that bastard?"
Denmark sneers. He looks as ugly as he ever has, even more so with his short hair and the almost invisible cut only Arthur knows the existence of. (because I put it there, he snarls in memory of the slaughtered villages and the world burning.)
"Piss off, douchebag!" The Nordic barks. "You don't even fuckin' get the right to talk to me when you can't even fuckin' tell your own goddamn sons apart!"
"What...What are you talk –" It is then he takes a look at Alfred and his anger, his hatred, goes out like a light, smothered once more by that terrifying ice that rushes into his veins and freezes his heart. The violet eyes stare back at him with a cool sadness, the cool slight of a child who wishes to be loved and recognised but never is, and Arthur realises that he's fucked up.
"Oh bloody hell," he curses. "I'm so sorry, Matthew –"
"And shitty parent of the year award goes to the prick with the pubic hair eyebrows! Looks like we won't be giving that one to –" Next to him, Matthew silences him with a glare and turns back to face Arthur with an unsettling look in his face.
"We have a problem," Matthew tells him. "Alfred's missing."
And there is it, the admission of everything he fears. Arthur nearly crumbles, catching himself on the door-frame, suddenly reminded of it all – suddenly reminded of the monster in his chest, the monster devouring his heart and looking for the soul he does not have, and the eerie voice who whispers in his ear and smiles against the immortal skin of which all nations wear like a mask.
"I knew it," he says more to himself than either of the two before him, but they catch it. They catch it and look at him and he can feel their the accusations boil up within them both. They're going to accuse him of knowing something, of knowing of whatever has happened to Alfred, but he doesn't know. He doesn't know, he doesn't know, and all he knows is that Alfred's possibly dead and the wards placed on him as a young boy are shattering.
Or already have and he is dead, that voice murmurs, but it's lying and Arthur knows it. A thousand years of living and there is not a soul who can lie to him (all but his sons).
"What the fuck do you know?" Denmark demands. "That little shit of yours hasn't even been gone that long. Unless...Unless you've got something to do with it! This is all some big put together bullshit, ain't it? You guys are all in this together and Prussia's hiding somewhere in the bushes with a camera and Holland's already shit-faced high somewhere in the gutters of Manchester –"
"How many times do I have to tell you!" Matthew says with an irritable note in his voice, and Arthur gets the feeling that this conversation has happened a lot more often. "I am not shitting around!"
"Then what about fuckin' Pop-pop over here? I doubt his fuckin mumbo-wumbo is enough to tell us that America's pissed himself off somewhere. What does he know?"
"I shouldn't have let you drink that entire case yourself," Matthew answers more to himself before raising his voice and addressing the angering Dane. "Would you shut the fuck up so we can get some fucking answers?" He turns to Arthur then with rising violence in his eyes and all parts of his passive personality being swallowed up by the minutes passing where he remains unknowing of what he needs.
"Arthur, what do you know?"
"This is a talk for indoors, lad," he says in reserve. He moves out of the way to let the two pass (sneering to himself when Denmark begins to bitch about his taste in décor) and shuts the door close behind him. When it clicks, Denmark rounds on him, insinuating all types of bullshit that send all logic and reason flying out the window.
Heaven forbid, this clot think he knows whatever the hell is going on.
"Look, you scatterbrained divvy –!"
"You little fuckin' shit –" Denmark snarls, and Matthew just manages to hold the Dane back. When a grunt, Matthew tosses him back, sending him sprawling to the floor.
"Just stop it! Stop being fucking children! This is a serious problem right here and how the fuck do you handle it? By screaming at one another and calling each other names. This is not a world meeting, you twits."
Matthew's angry and screaming, and this is when Arthur realises that Matthew has so much more in stake here. This is his brother, his blood, his only living family who truly sees him they are mentioning. They all forget, all forget who Matthew is, what his country is, and he becomes the scapegoat for his brother who cannot handle the screaming. Who cannot handle the blame. In the end, Alfred is the only one who Matthew has.
England can't help but feel pity for the other nation who in these dark times is still overshadowed by the very thought of his bigger brother.
(Not here, it says)
"Alfred is missing," Matthew tells him in a much calmer, much quieter voice. "Alfred is missing, and I don't know where he is. You said something about knowing. What do you know, Arthur?"
Before he can answer, there is the angry whistling of his kettle in the kitchen blowing its horn to tell him that the water has finally reached where it needs to be. Matthew settles him with a glare, accusing him of planning this, before following him to the kitchen where Denmark trails in unhappily. They settle in at his little table nooked in the corner and he goes about preparing tea for the three of them.
"Put a little spit-fire in mine, would ya?" The Dane asks. "I like being drunk when talking to you."
"Do you want actual spit in it, or should I take pity on you and actually use alcohol this time?"
"Don't." Matthew says. "Don't even dare. The both of you. Just make your tea and put a shot of that Irish Whiskey I know you keep laying about it."
"It's for cooking!"
Matthew snorts. "Mmhmm. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Arthur. Ireland makes damn good Whiskey, and we both know it."
Having lost the battle, he reaches for the bottle hidden in the cabinets above his head. "I shouldn't have let you drink as a child."
"I would have been the better parent, you know. I would have let little Vinland drink and party and smoke and do whatever the hell he wanted because Christianity was so uncool then. You're such a shitty parent, England. Man, can't even tell your own fuckin' kids apart."
"You couldn't adapt to the wilderness of Canada, asshole, and left me to rot after your fuckin' settlement collapsed." Canada sneered at him. "So, don't bitch and moan about bad parenting, you prick, and don't call me Vinland."
In the Dane's shocked silence, Matthew sighs and rubs his eyes. "I'm sorry, Matthias. It's been a long day, and you're hungover still, and Arthur has yet to divulge any true information. Arthur, are you going to tell us or are we just wasting our time here?"
England brings the drinks to the table before at last settling into his own seat. He takes a sip of his drink, revelling in its warmth and its burn (he snuck a shot of his own in all of their drinks) before wrapping his hands around the cup. There's a crack on the edge –
"As you know, I am a user of the arcane arts–"
"Just mumbo-wumbo bullshit, of course –"
" - and beyond my ability to traverse the astral plain quite easily, I am particularly skilled in the usage of defensive magic. Quite skilled, seeing as I have been countlessly invaded my entire immortal life." Denmark waggled his fingers and England jeers at him before continuing. "When you two were lads, it was a time where everyone was vying for control over you both, myself included. Space was beginning to run short once more in Europe, and the Dark continent was too wild, too mad, for any sane European to wander. With naught the technology to traverse the sands of Africa we had in the nineteenth century, Europe had no choice but to push to the New World and fight. Before I won you from France in that damned war, Alfred had already been left alone for periods too long in between, and people were beginning to notice. Too selfish to lose what I believed to be rightfully mine, I warded young Alfred, and he has been so ever since. When I took you under my wing, I did the same, although yours are much stronger because we have been in contact. Alfred...I reinforced his whenever I could, but they would never match up to par with yours."
"What does this have to do with anything? You cast bullshit on your sons, woohoo! What happened to the fucker –"
Matthew quiets Matthias with an angry glare, and Arthur can't help but fleer at him from over the boy's shoulder.
"What happened to Alfred?" Matthew asks again, and Arthur knows this time he cannot escape the truth.
"It was this morning when I felt it," Arthur starts. "This morning, I felt something attack Alfred's wards. There is absolutely nothing in this universe that has the power to hurt those wards – let alone to get through them and come back to me. Someone, or something, broke through my wards and attacked me. It tried to get at my soul, but can't have one if you're who we are, after all." He takes a sobering sip of his tea. The unnerving stares of the two are weighing in on him, and they think he has more.
And to a point, he does.
"It tried to eat me alive from within – to harvest my magic and bring it back to whomever it was controlling. However, it was revoked too soon. Something happened to stop the breaking of your wards, and I do not know what it is. It may have been the wards itself, or the caster may have gotten distracted. They may have not even know they were there at all to begin with."
"Are they in place?" Matthew asks.
"I don't know, lad." He admits. (It pains him.) "I don't know. It feels as if they're still there, but...at the same time, not at all. They're hanging on by threads. Given time, they will repair themselves, but Alfred is in danger, and the wards in their current state will not handle another attack. But I have said enough. What are you both doing here, darkening my doorstep? Do you know where Alfred is?"
There is a shared silence between the two of them, and Arthur feels his heart plummet. They do not know the boy is, and they were hoping that Arthur had the answers. And for once, he does not. For once, the great oracle of knowledge that he claims himself to be, he does not know anything. After a silent minute, Denmark speaks.
"You're not gonna believe this one, Arthur. I mean for real – you are not going to believe this at all."
"And who are to judge what I believe and what I do not?"
"Because he had a tough time convincing even me."
"Oh this I have to hear this The Great Dane – who believes that gullible has been written on the ceiling – expressed doubt in something! Pray tell, Matthew, what is this great thing that has even the greatest minds hesitating?"
"No need to be a little – Don't give me look, Matthew. He's being a little shit, and you know it! You're sitting right there!"
But instead of responding, Matthew just looks into his tea silently. He stares for a good moment, as if the dark surface is speaking to him in a tongue only the Canadian can hear before raising his head and at last speaking.
"You might want to get the rest of the bottle, Arthur."
"You're telling me to drink? Lad, just get it over with. Where is America, Matthew? Is he dead?" He can feel the horror creeping in on him and he snorts it away. "Tell me, did he get lost somewhere again?"
Matthew closes his eyes and doesn't breathe. He holds himself still, struggling not to breathe, not to make a sound before it's all ruined. At last, he can no longer hold it before those eyes flash open, drowning in anger and sorrow and disbelief, and he speaks the words that send Arthur spiralling.
"Alfred's gone. He's thrown himself into another universe."
"Demons await where the mighty rivers run. Children, sail on!" Mighty Rivers Run by Globus.
LOOK, THE DEAD RISES.
Oh man, that's a poor joke – especially seeing as what I left off on. So, you guys are probably all wondering where the hell I've been the last six, seven months, eh? Well, the good news – I didn't end up getting surgery!
Bad news, they still fucking don't know what's wrong with me. I went into that office in December and came out absolutely devastated. I went in thinking – finally, we're going to know what the hell is wrong with me! We're going to finally go to a professional who can tell me what's wrong! Huzzah!
I was fucking wrong.
The waiting room was over-crowded and the Doctor was a fucking asshole. He left us waiting in a waiting room for at least an hour and then left us in a patient room for at least another hour. Then when he got there – he was there for fucking no more than ten minutes.
And do you know what he told me?
"There's nothing wrong with you. You're probably over-exaggerating the pain."
And let me say – GO FUCK YOURSELF. GO FUCKING FUCK YOURSELF, YOU PRICK.
And this was seven months ago and I'm STILL pissed. The guy wrote us off within five minutes. I'm pretty sure he never read my file or read anything of the stuff my primary doctor sent him, completely basing his opinion on what I told him there (which was pretty much - "It hurts sometimes and is aggravated by physical activity.") and when I told him I could move it – he pretty much told me "Lol that's not possible." despite the fact that before I knew what it was, I would spend my evenings laying in bed moving the mass back and forth across my stomach (and once had my best friend to move it to see that I wasn't crazy).
I eventually got over it somewhat, learning to deal with the bullshit more or less. Six months later, the asshole invites me back, despite being told nothing was wrong with me last time, and pretty much tells me the same goddamn thing – at least this time telling me that "lol it's probably your muscles". Pretty sure he only said that because he had an intern with him at the time. Personally, in my opinion – he can go fuck himself. He wrote me off and told me not to worry about my kidneys – despite the fact that kidney problems run in my family and this was the age that my mother ended up getting her kidney partially removed due to a bad infection that the doctors couldn't find and wrote her pills that incidentally began her life-long drug habit. This is the same doctor that removed her kidney actually, so you would think "oh hey, maybe we should keep an eye on this, seeing as I've already put one family member under the knife – nah, we'll just deal with the problem when it comes."
My grandma tells me I'm being irrationally angry about this, and I guess I am, but I don't like being left without answers. I don't like being brushed off, being told I don't know jackshit, or being told that I'm wasting someone's time when I have a problem that could possibly end in the removal of my fucking kidney. I guess I wouldn't be as mad if he hadn't been a prick and had given me ten minutes of his precious fucking time to sit down and tell me what he thought was wrong because obviously all the other fucking doctors were wrong instead of accusing me of wasting his time and telling my family and I to get the hell out of his office.
And after all that, my aunt died in February and I had to attend her wake on my birthday (happy birthday to me) and it destroyed all possibilities of me writing well for months.
So, please forgive my absence. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things and I can only hope that I can see this story through to the end.