Ch 17: Into the Abyss
There is a long moment of silence as the others exchange looks and I gaze mournfully at the ground. Finally Wufei makes a small noise in the back of his throat and steps forward uncertainly. "Look...Maxwell...."
Suddenly LaLa's cat howls a warning and the Mischief gives a stifled shriek. Dark shapes suddenly explode from the branches, diving down on us and screeching like banshees. I throw up a barrier quicker than thought, baring my teeth in distaste as yelping goblins bounce off the surface, tumbling to the ground. I sneer at them as the ugly things climb to their feet, slobbering helplessly as they scrape at my invisible wall with their curved claws.
"Begone!" Wufei barks impatiently, and the handful of cretins are thrown across the vale with a sudden outrush of dragon power.
"Hurry and find the knot," Trowa says, and we immediately spread out along the trunk, pushing at all the bumps in the wood as the goblins continue to sharpen their claws on my barrier.
"My, and just what are *you* doing?"
We whirl around at the amused voice to see the speaker standing directly behind us.
"You again!" I gasp, recognizing the woman from earlier. "How did you get past my shield?"
"Having a little trouble?" she asks, ignoring my question and tilting her head towards the goblins. "Come, now, Shini, if you don't hurry, you'll never save your precious Heero in time."
I sputter indignantly, but she is already turning away, flicking dark curls out of her face as she fixes the goblins with a penetrating stare. Finally she sighs airily and waves her hand in the air dismissively. "Once inside you'll have a hard time of it," she says simply. "Wufei, your youth hinders you, and of course you, Shini, are unable to use even half your powers in that mortal body. So I will lend you my little baby, ne? Oh, one last warning: the closer you get to Irdarr, the weaker your powers will become, so do not rely too heavily on them."
"Why are you helping us?" Wufei demands, glaring at her suspiciously.
She glances over her shoulder at us, giving a silky smile. "So many questions, little dragon. Must you be so distrustful?"
He merely scowls.
"Now go." She turns her back on us once more. "Hurry along, now. Oh, and it's that one by you, Quatre-chan. LaLa, you will stay with me." She gives the meek Mischief a Look.
Quatre blinks and hesitantly pushes a nearby knot. Immediately there is a low rumbling and part of the trunk simply fades away, revealing wooden stairs spiraling down into the ground and darkness. He hesitates once more, taking an instinctive backwards step, bringing him closer to Trowa. The quiet pilot touches his shoulder reassuringly, and Quatre swallows, following reluctantly as I take the lead, walking swiftly down the stairs without a backward glance, calling over my shoulders, "Wufei, you walk in back. Dragons have good night sight, and I want you as rearguard. C'mon, let's get this over with."
Even my eyes are hindered by the pitch blackness that surrounds us as we half-stumble through the tunnel below the staircase. Quatre is holding fast to my hand, and Trowa's hand is on his shoulder. Only Wufei seems unaffected by the darkness. Sometimes I curse this mortal body.. I run my hand along the wall to make sure I don't run into it, and finally spot something dimmly in a nearby sconce. "Yo, Wu-man," I call softly. "Think you can light that?"
He walks forward without hesitation and plucks the unlit torch from its socket, blowing lightly on it. Flames do not shoot from his mouth, but the torch bursts into flames just the same. He holds it up and offers me a look as if to say "which way?".
I sigh, glancing at the fork in the tunnel we've come across. "Great... 'Righty tighty, lefty loosey doesn't' exactly help us right now." I turn to Quatre hopefully. "Well? Any intuition?"
Quatre only shakes his head hopelessly. "If anyone can feel where Heero is, it would be you," he says delicately, and I frown.
"Well I can't," I snap, irritated at myself and the pang of hurt I feel at this admittance. I can't even feel where he is. Even though the woman warned me that my powers would wane, I still would like to think I could sense which direction my-- er, comrade is.
"Why don't we ask him?" Trowa asks calmly, and I whirl around swiftly, arms raised to throw up a shield. I blink, faced with an empty tunnel.
I give Trowa a baffled look, still keeping my guard up. "Huh? Who?"
He points calmly towards the left tunnel, and my eyes nearly pop out of my head.
Two glowing green eyes bob towards us slowly, and Wufei growls, lifting the torch higher so we can all see.
Quatre gives a squeak of shock and ducks quickly behind Trowa, who doesn't take his eyes from the enormous cat that strolls towards us as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
"N-nani yo?!" I sputter, backpedaling swiftly. "A tiger?!"
"A Siberian tiger," Trowa corrects quietly. "Perhaps this is the 'pet' that lady mentioned."
"*That's* a pet?" Wufei asks incredulously, keeping a wary eye on the animal as it offers him a bored look, baring enormous teeth in a long yawn.
"Hey, kitty, which way?" I ask flippantly, still keeping my distance. Cats never did like the scent of Death. "Which way to Heero, kitty?"
The cat doesn't even glance my way. He seems entranced by Quatre's feathers, as if staring hungrily at a huge bird. Quatre gulps and huddles closer to Trowa. "He won't hurt you, Quatre," Trowa mutters, reaching back to touch his arm reassuringly. "Just keep your wings folded and stay by me."
He nods nervously, tucking his wings tighter against his body, and I open my mouth to say something, but suddenly Wufei barks, "Wait! His wings!"
We all turn to him, puzzled, and he glares at Trowa accusingly, pointing a finger. "You can see his wings! You looked into the mirror, didn't you?!"
Quatre and I gape at the stoic pilot, who merely shrugs a little. "On my way back from putting Relena in the house, I did look, yes. I thought it might be helpful on this mission."
"This isn't a mission," I snap, at the same time Quatre asks eagerly,
"Then what are you? Who did you see?"
Suddenly the tiger gives such a ferocious snarl that even Wufei jumps. Only Trowa seems undisturbed. Well, hell, he did spend time with those lions at the circus, after all. I would think he's used to them.
"Something's coming," he announces, and a moment later we hear scuffling noises coming from the right tunnel.
"Guess that solves *that* problem," I chirp. "They're prob'ly comin' from that bastard kin of mine. C'mon!" I dash towards the right tunnel, hearing the others running after me.
We turn a corner in the tunnel and practically run smack into a score of the little uglies. I leap back, cannonning into Quatre, but ignoring his startled yelp as I hurl out a black burst of power that fries half of the advancing goblins and scatters the rest, howling. Then suddenly the tiger is leaping forward, his snarl echoing in the tunnel as he swipes with his claws, bringing down two with each deadly paw. A flicker of blue dragon lightening flies by me, destroying two more goblins, and the remaining four turn tail and run shrieking, but not before Trowa brings down one with a well-aimed rock. I rush forward and seize the stunned creature by the throat, looking around quickly. "Quick, we have to get to him before those cretins warn him." I shake the hideous thing in my grip, and it gurgles in horror. My powers may be getting weaker the farther in I go, but holding this life in my hands at such close range...
He doesn't have a chance.
"You! Quickly, tell me, which way to the Gundam pilot??"
He whimpers and points with one quivering claw in the direction the others went, eyes huge in fear. I sent a quick jolt through his body, instantly shredding his soul, and toss his lifeless body aside, up and running before the startled cry is halfway out of Quatre's mouth.
I hear them running close behind me after only a moment, and we continue on doggedly, not saying anything. Any goblins we run across are killed swiftly. My black jolts, Wufei's lightening, and Trowa's bullets hit home with deadly accuracy, and the tiger is always there, snarling and slashing with claw and fang, and even Quatre is fighting grimly, rushes of blinding white wind hurling the demons out of our path and stinging their eyes so they do not see the blows coming.
We are running down the right fork of another tunnel when suddenly I feel a quick, almost unnoticable wrench at my heart, and stumble to a halt, at first too surprised to answer Quatre's worried inquiry. I spin around quickly and push through them, panting as I head back the way we came. "The wrong way!" I call back frantically. "This is the wrong way! I can *feel* him!!"
They hurry after me until we get to the second fork, and I dive unhesitantly into the left tunnel. As I dash down the corridor, my heart hammering and my breath coming short, I can't stop myself, and call out anxiously, the horrible feeling in my chest pulsating and growing. "Heero!! Heero!!"
I finally stumble to a halt, sobbing for breath and looking around dazedly. The tunnel has suddenly widened, and lining the walls along both sides are cell doors.
"Wait." Trowa steps forward, the tiger padding behind him, and looks around calmly. He turns and crouches, facing the tiger squarely, meeting its cool golden eyes. "Where is Heero?" he asks quietly, reaching up and burying one hand in the thick mane of fur. "Find him."
The tiger pulls away and pads obediantly down the hall, pausing occassionally to sniff at the doors.
"How...." Quatre gapes at him, but just then the tiger halts before a door, stiffening and giving an alert growl. I scramble to my feet and run over, seizing the door handle, intent of wrenching the door from its frame, weakening powers or no. I give a cry of pain and surprise as the knob suddenly heats up, practically melting the skin on my hands before Wufei reaches out and snatches them away from the white-hot metal.
"Shit!!" I curse, doing a little dance of pain. Quatre gives a worried sound and gently takes my hands, clasping them in his own, eyes closed. I still, watching him silently as the pain slowly fades, our hands glowing faintly in a pearly-white gleam. Finally the pain disappears completely, and he releases me, smiling up at me sweetly, and I smile falteringly back before turning back towards the door. "Thanks. How are we supposed to get in, though?" I bang on the wood with a fist, sending an echoing boom reverberating through the passageway. "Heero, just hang on a minute," I call with false cheerfulness. "We'll have you out in a jiffy!" Is that the faint sound of chains sliding over the floor? I banish the thought from my mind before I freak out, looking around quickly for some way, *any* way, to get inside.
"Can't you just break it down with your powers?" Quatre asks.
I shake my head, biting my lip. "I'd rather save them up in case we run into Irdarr. Besides, in some ways-- especially with my powers hampered right now --his strength balances my own. He's a Diety, too, you know."
"You're the God of Death," Wufei says, "so what is he?"
"Well, we're cousins," I say dryly, laughing mirthlessly. "He is the God of Despair."
Wufei hesitates, then steps forward reluctantly. "Dragons are usually more attuned to fire," he says slowly, eyeing the door warily. "But sometimes we can twist our magic around to emcompass water, since it's the opposite of fire."
I blink at him stupidly, and he puts his hand just above the knob, without really touching it, looking at me fearlessly. "I can freeze the knob. But you're going to have to cut me, first."
"Yes," he says impatiently, thrusting out his hand, wrist up. "Just do it, damn it. We don't have much time. Dragon skin is too hard for anyone else to cut it but you. Hayaku!"
I hesitate, then reach out and seize his wrist determidely, reaching up with my other hand and slashing a sharp claw across the tough skin, slicing into it, the dark blood oozing out slowly, catching my attention. I stare fascinated until he pulls his arm free and draws his wrist to his mouth, closing his eyes, his lips moving over the wound as he murmurs something in an eerie tongue I vaguely reconize. I feel power humming around him, making my hair stand on end, and take a small step back, waiting nervously. Suddenly there's an odd sense of a connection-- a sort of clipping together, as if something has been broken apart, rearranged, and put back together again.
He lowers his hand to the door, a fine tremble going through his body, the blood dripping slowly onto the knob as he grips it and clenches his teeth, his teeth red with his own blood. At first there is a horrible sizzling noise, but that fades, turning to a crackling sound that grows louder as the knob turns from red to its ordinary silver color..and then to pure white as ice emcompasses it. After another moment, he takes a breath and wrenches at it with all his strength.
It snaps off with a loud crack, and he tosses it aside, breathing hard, licking the blood absently from his lips as he steps back, sizing up the door. "There was a spell on that knob," he says quietly, "that was over the entire door. But it's broken now, so step back. Heero!" he calls. "Get away from the door!" We step away obediantly and he swirls swiftly, lashing out with his foot in a ferocious karate kick that blows the door clean off its hinges with a booming crash that will undoubtedly bring more goblins running.
I dodge in front of the dragon, dashing inside, my eyes adjusting quickly as someone lifts the torch in the doorway. I come to a halt, my breath catching in my throat, my eyes widening in horror.
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