Chapter 1
"Verschwörung"


There was no such thing as a sunny day in Germany. No one had been able to convince Farfarello otherwise.

"Christ, it's like being in England," Jo grumbled from where she was leaning against the window, cigarette dangling forgotten in her fingers. "Join Rosenkreuz, see the world. Why couldn't we go somewhere with more seasons?" She'd been watching the rain for almost ten minutes.

Farfarello was watching the clock.

Tick tick tick tick.

Eleven fifty-five. Five more minutes.

Jo shifted finally, turning her head to stare at his reflection in the window. "Are you going to clean that up, or what?" She waved her cigarette toward the body in the corner of the room, bathing in a pool of slowly cooling blood. "That stain's never gonna come out of the carpet." She flicked ash and took a long drag.

Farfarello barely heard her.

Tick tick tick.

Eleven fifty-six. Four more minutes.

He ran a fingertip lightly across the edge of his blade, not quite hard enough to cut the skin. His eyes remained fixed on the clock.

Jo turned slightly to scowl at him. "Hey, Mick. Did you hear what I just said?"

Tick tick tick.

"Christ." She snubbed the cigarette out on the windowsill impatiently. "I'm not cleaning up your mess again, Farfarello."

"Leave it, then," Farfarello suggested distractedly, tone inflectionless.

Jo grimaced. "The client's still got to use this office, you know. And I don't think ruining his carpet was in the job description. He wanted us to take out the buggers, not mess up his office."

Tick tick tick.

She gave a frustrated sigh and turned her glare towards the man at the desk. "Talk sense into your little pet, Erich," she snapped. "He listens to you."

"Only when it suits him," Erich retorted, most of his attention on the paperwork he was shuffling through. He held up a sheaf of papers and squinted at them in mild disbelief. "How can that fat fuck possibly be making this much money selling wool?"

"What the hell are you doing? Put that away, you idiot. If he finds out you were rifling through his stuff--"

"Oh, shut up." Erich tossed the papers aside carelessly and began rummaging through the drawers.

Tick tick tick.

Twelve o' clock.

Farfarello's eyes shifted to the door expectantly.

Erich sensed his tension and glanced from him to the clock. "Make sure he doesn't yell and bring any other staff."

It was twelve.

But the door didn't open.

Farfarello's leg began to bounce in impatience. "He's late," he declared flatly.

Jo rolled her eyes. "His appointment was at twelve; that doesn't mean he'll be here at twelve on the dot, you anal-retentive Mick."

"He's late." Farfarello let his weight fall back abruptly so that he was slouching in the armchair he had dragged over to the door specifically for this moment. His eyes flicked towards the clock.

Tick tick tick.

Twelve.

Where was he?

Farfarello fixed his eyes on the hands of the clock and relaxed his focus.

"Hey, what are you-- Farfarello!" Jo said sharply. "Just wait, damn it!"

"Too late," Erich muttered, attention already back on the papers. "He's gone."

"Damned impatient freak," Jo growled, digging a half-empty pack of cigarettes out of her pocket. "Why is he so tense today, anyway?"

"He didn't get much sleep."

Jo hesitated with the cigarette halfway to her mouth. She made a face. "I don't want to know."

Erich sent her a brief, annoyed glance. "Get your mind out of the gutter, woman. He was having nightmares."

"I thought I heard noises." She shrugged, sliding the cigarette between her lips and snapping her fingers. A small tongue of flame flickered to life at the end of her thumb, and she used it as an impromptu lighter. "I assumed..."

Erich looked away dismissively, eyes scanning an interesting finance report. "I'd tell you- again -that you're jumping to conclusions, but seeing how it's none of your fucking business in the first place..."

Farfarello expelled his breath in a hiss, straightening suddenly with a gleam to his eyes. "He's coming," he said simply.

"Hey, let someone else have some fun," Jo complained. "I haven't done anything today but stand around and look pretty."

Farfarello ignored her, getting to his feet.

"Oh, let him play," Erich snorted, stuffing the papers back in the drawers. "Unless you want him wound-up and itching for a fight back at the apartment."

Jo sniffed and turned her attention back on the gray skies outside, absently twirling a lock of dark hair. "Point."

The man who opened the door a moment later had only seconds to process the sight laid out before him: dead body, strangers lying in wait--

And then the white-haired man by the chair was uncoiling like a spring, leaping for him with a knife upheld. He barely managed half a yell, and then he was struggling to breathe through the blood gushing out of the gash in his throat.

"There," Jo said primly as the man toppled to the floor, still twitching. "That's done with. I'm starving. Farfarello, get rid of the bodies-- and be discreet, for chrissakes. Move the car around, Erich. We're leaving. Who wants pasta?"

Erich looked from the pool of blood to his team leader and made a face. "I'll pass."

x-x-x


Rauch was one of many three-man teams Rosenkreuz had scattered throughout Europe, but they had one of the most notable reputations. Most other teams gave them a wide berth, or spoke of them in lowered voices: The scarred Irishman who, rumor had it, was either schizophrenic or just your everyday run-of-the-mill wacko; the cold-blooded Englishwoman who led them; and the laid-back but abrasive German who had a tendency to inspire thoughts of homicide in anyone he exchanged words with.

There were teams with more members, or teams comprised of people with more impressive psychic gifts, but none of the other teams were foolish or arrogant enough to actually hold body-counting contests with each other.

The men and women of Rauch and Fegefeuer had never gotten along, but since killing each other was frowned upon by Rosenkreuz, they found more inventive ways to slight each other. Like making the other team look a fool, or racking up a larger bodycount.

Secretly most teams gave the benefit of the doubt to Rauch; they had Jo and Farfarello, after all, who were a bit more bloodthirsty than most. But Fegefeuer was led by a bonifide sociopath, whose cruelty was reknowned in the underground. Rosenkreuz turned a blind eye to their 'games', since in the end it meant more business for them. Clients wanted to hire men who they knew who get the job done, and this usually meant the most vicious teams Rosenkreuz had to offer. With their reputations, Rauch and Fegefeuer brought in customers, which ruffled the feathers of some of the more arrogant teams.

But in spite of-- or perhaps because of --their twisted games, the opposing teams were rarely stationed on the same continent.


"Guess who's in motherfuckin' Germany."

Erich barely glanced up from where he was flipping idly through a magazine on the couch. "You're supposed to be at the client's. Did our money hit?"

Jo kicked the apartment door shut behind her, shrugging out of her jacket impatiently. "Of course it hit. Though he's a little peeved about all the blood... Anyway, didn't you hear me? Guess who I just saw passin' in a taxi downtown."

"I give up." Erich returned his attention to his magazine. Farfarello was seated on the ground at his feet, sharpening a knife and watching television. He hadn't even looked up at his leader's arrival.

Jo tossed her jacket into a chair and strode over to stand in front of the TV. Farfarello glanced up at her, eyes narrowing in annoyance. "Turn off the telly for a tick. You are not gonna believe who I just saw."

"Santa Claus," Erich said in a deadpan, eyes skimming an article.

Jo placed her hands on her hips and smirked. "Fegefeuer," she purred.

Farfarello lowered his knife, all ears.

Erich continued to read. "They're in Spain."

"The hell they are. I just saw your brother--"

Erich lowered his magazine to shoot her a heated glare. "Who?"

Jo hesitated, picking up on the danger in that simple word. "I saw Fegefeuer's team leader," she corrected herself carefully. "In a cab. About an hour ago."

Erich leaned back into the cushions, arms stretched across the back as he frowned skeptically. "Bullshit. They haven't been stationed in the same country as us in almost three years." He nudged Farfarello with the toe of his boot. "Before Rosenkreuz even picked this one up. Hey, Farf, have you even ever seen them face-to-face? I forget."

Farfarello cocked his head thoughtfully. "In Austria. Their telepath. The one with the big mouth."

"Fegefeuer doesn't have a telepath," Jo interrupted. "You never met all of 'em-- but you've met Alric, remember? Erich's.." she glanced at the other man and dropped it. "I know you met Alric before. You just didn't know who he was. When we picked you up, remember?"

"The telepath was German."

"Will you drop it? I just told you they don't have a telepath."

"Three of them are German," Erich explained, reaching for his magazine again. "Well... two, now. But none of them are telepaths, Farf. You're thinking of someone else."

"Hn."

Jo spread her arms and stared at them. "Uh, hello? Am I the only one who sees how awesome this is?"

Erich seemed unimpressed at her enthusiasm. "Don't get your thong in a twist, woman. The games aren't on until they make contact. For all you know, they're only passing through."

"I'll make contact," Jo said firmly, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. "They are so fucked." Snickering to herself, she hurried from the room.

Erich rolled his eyes. Farfarello set his knife on the coffee table and climbed onto the couch, pressing up against Erich to stare at him unnervingly.

Erich turned a page in the magazine, not even looking up. "What, Farf?"

"Your brother." It wasn't quite a question.

Erich scowled. "Mind your own goddamn business, Farfarello."

The Irishman studied him for a moment, then switched to German, as they usually did when they were alone. "She said he's your brother."

"Jesus Christ--" Erich slapped the magazine onto his lap and glared at his partner. "Did I not just say it's none of your fucking business, you fucking brat? Why don't you go play with your knives or something?"

Farfarello arched a brow, unintimidated at the other man's sudden show of temper. "Your brother," he repeated, relentless.

Erich lifted the magazine, blocking him from view as he continued to read stubbornly. Farfarello plucked it out of his grasp and tossed it aside, meeting the German's warning glare calmly.

"Maybe if I take away something vitally important for a few seconds, you'll get the hint," Erich threatened, jabbing his thumb against the Irishman's ribs. "Like a lung."

Farfarello seized the thumb firmly, eyes narrowing. "You never said anything about a brother."

"Because, again, it's none of your business." Erich's anger dissipated abruptly, and he gave a careless shrug. "Half-brother. Alric and I have never gotten along. It's part of the reason our teams fight so much. I admit, I'd assumed Jo had already told you. That woman never could keep her man-pleaser shut." He tugged his hand. "Do you mind?"

Farfarello released his thumb, but didn't move away. "What are these 'games'?"

Erich sighed in defeat. Farfarello was relentless when he wanted something, whether it be answers or the right to spill first blood. In the end, it was less of a headache to simply give him what he wanted. "It's something we've been doing for years. When Jack-- the man you replaced --was part of the team. We try to show each other up, that's all. Or make the other team look incompetent. You helped last time, remember? When we took that detour in France about five months ago."

Farfarello cocked his head in thought. "There were explosives in the basement of a building," he recalled. "You set them off."

"It was Fegefeuer's job; we just set the bomb off a bit ahead of schedule." He smirked briefly. "They managed to get out alive, but they looked damn foolish. And they've never been able to prove it was us. I heard Alric nearly lost an arm," he added in satisfaction.

Farfarello frowned. "I don't see the point of this 'game'," he said bluntly.

"Look, all you need to know is it means messing with other peoples' lives, which can be just as rewarding as killing people sometimes. And if they're really here, that means you'll get to actively participate this time."

Farfarello arched a brow skeptically, but didn't put up any further argument. He slid back to the floor and retrieved his knife. It sounded like a waste of time to him, but if his team members had it in their heads to continue their silly games, so be it. He would play along.

Perhaps he would even get a chance to kill one of Fegefeuer's men. He had never killed a psychic before. He had always wondered if he would be up to the task. He began sharpening his knife with enthusiasm. Behind him, paper rustled as Erich returned to his magazine.

x-x-x


The sound of his teammate's lilting laugh stirred Alric from his contemplation of the photographs strewn across the bedroom floor. Faiga's laugh tended to put people at ease; it was comfortable, honest, and happy. It relaxed clients, and confused enemies. With a laugh like that, people tended not to take you seriously. Alric was privately certain that the other German had spent years perfecting that laugh, just for that very purpose. She always had liked surprising people.

Crouching on the floor across from him, bony fingers moving thoughtfully from photo to photo, David flicked a hooded look towards the door. "What the hell is she cackling about?" he muttered.

Faiga appeared in the doorway a moment later, waving the team's cellphone and smiling unpleasantly. "Guess who just gave us a call," she purred.

David arched a brow. "The client? It's a little early..."

"Rauch."

Faiga winked at Alric's back. "Bingo. Jo called to send her warmest regards." She smirked coldly.

Alric lifted a picture to study it more carefully. "It was only a matter of time. They've been stationed here for almost a year."

"Fuck," David cursed softly, rocking back onto his heels. "I thought they'd have been moved by now. Why would Rosenkreuz put us together on the same continent? That's asking for trouble."

"Now we can get them back for Geisel," Feiga pointed out.

"Fuck Geisel," Alric interrupted. "He knew Jo was the stronger pyro; it's his own damned fault for going head to head with her. He's lucky he ended up in the hospital instead of the morgue." He tossed the photo aside and finally turned his head to regard the slender woman. "But they've still got things to answer for."

Faiga's eyes flickered to her leader's left arm, imagining the horrible burn scars hidden under the sleeve and thick leather glove. "Ja, they do, at that. That stunt they pulled in France is going to cost them."

"I heard they replaced Jack after that idiot got himself killed on a mission," David mused, tapping a photo against his chin. "Some new kid Rosenkreuz just recruited."

Faiga's eyes drifted to the side as she pulled the information out of her impressive memory. "I snuck a peek at the files. Farfarello, Irishman. He's an Astral Traveler. Apparently a bit of a handful, too; a budding psychopath, or so the doctors insist. They also seem to think he's incapable of feeling physical pain, though I highly dought it." She shrugged. "But he's new to the scene, and until Rosenkreuz scooped him up, he was untrained. And he's only eighteen. He won't be a problem."

Alric waved off the Irishman with disinterest. "I don't care what fuck they got as a replacement. I know it was my dear brother's idea to trigger the explosives in France." His eyes burned hotly. "He's going to pay for it in blood this time." Leather creaked as he tightened his scarred hand into a fist, ignoring the pain.

His teammates glanced at each other in silence for a moment. They knew their leader's temper well, and knew what path it inevitably would lead them down. Alric's anger could only be cooled when blood was spilled.

Heads would roll if Rosenkreuz found out a death in Rauch had been deliberate on Fegefeuer's part. But both psychics had learned long ago the futility of trying to talk sense into their cruel leader.

"We have to be careful," David cautioned.

"We can't be implicated in any way," Faiga agreed.

"Taking them out could bring hell crashing down on our heads."

Alric offered them both a slow, disturbing smile. "Oh, but we aren't going to take them out."

Faiga frowned. "But you just--"

"We won't have to," Alric murmured in a satisfied manner, sending David a meaningful look. "Rauch will destroy themselves. And we won't be anywhere near them when it happens."

David's own lips parted in a smile of understanding. "It happens," he agreed lightly. "Teams can't take the stress, they lose their tempers with each other... It's always such a pity. Such a waste of Talent."

"Rosenkreuz won't even mourn their passing," Alric smirked. "They'll be replaced. And Fegefeuer will be on top for good."

Faiga's charming little laugh filled the room.


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