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Acherontia Atropos (Part 16)

Carmen didn't keep us waiting long. She came up the rickety little basement 
steps so fast that she was almost running while trying to tie the cord of her 
familiar, ratty green bathrobe. Her chest was bouncing up and down pretty 
badly as she came thumping up the steps in her bare feet. I tried not to 
wince. Obviously, I don't have much in the chest area myself, but all I can 
think when I see something like that is it's gotta be as uncomfortable as hell. 
Carmen stopped several feet in front of me, eyeing me warily. Hara was 
conspicuously not behind her. I had a feeling I wouldn't be seeing her again 
any time soon, which was more than fine with me.

"Hi Carmen." I said with a friendly smile. "I have a little job for you."

"Hara told me." Carmen didn't return my smile. "I don't know what you did, 
but she's scared now." Suddenly, she grinned. I had a feeling that she'd liked 
Hara's discomfort. 

"So you'll help us?"

"I don't have much of a choice, do I." She pulled her robe a little more 
tightly around herself. Was she scared too? What an intriguing thought. And 
she hadn't even seen me do anything.

"Nope." I grinned. "Mind if we take this somewhere else? The atmosphere 
is really getting to me."

"That's fine. I need to be outside for this, anyway." she hesitated. "Can I go 
grab my clothes?"

"Sure thing. We'll be waiting." I leaned back against the counter with a lot 
more nonchalance than I actually felt. I had absolutely no problem with 
Carmen getting dressed. I didn't want to attract any more attention than I 
had to, frankly, and it was already bad enough that Wufei was looking like 
an oriental junior Guido in that trench coat of his, though it was still better 
than the alternative. A good looking woman in a tattered, truncated green 
bathrobe would definitely catch some eyes.

She disappeared in the back of the store, presumably to go get her clothes. 
Wufei and I continued to stand at the front desk. Wufei was doing his best 
not to look at anything. I kept my eyes focused on a set of handcuffs. Still 
not the most innocent of objects, but a damn sight better than the other 
things Carmelita's had to offer. A couple of minutes later, she appeared 
again, dressed in a pair of tight jeans and a dark green dress shirt that was 
half unbuttoned, revealing a very tight white t-shirt underneath. Most of her 
makeup had been scraped away, and she looked almost, well...normal. It 
was kind of shocking. She was wearing Reeboks, for God's sake!

My surprise must have been showing, because she actually grinned. 

"Ready to go?" I asked. I had to shout to be heard over the music. A new 
song had just started up. I was half tempted to ask Carmen if she knew what 
it was. I have a certain fondness for early history metal. Still, I had to stay 
on task.

Carmen nodded, and we walked out. My eyes started watering as soon as 
we got out into the sunlight; it was a bright day, and I'd forgotten my 
sunglasses. It wouldn't usually bother me, but my eyes were having a hard 
time adjusting from the extreme dark of the happy hentai hut. We all stood 
in the doorway for a minute, blinking stupidly. Wufei and Carmen had 
forgotten their sunglasses too. 

When I could finally see again, I looked up at Carmen. Damnit, I hate being 
short sometimes. "Where to now?" 

"Back to my place." She took off walking at a ground eating pace. Wufei 
and I had to hurry to catch up with her; her legs were a lot longer than ours. 
It was kind of annoying. I felt like a little kid hurrying after his big sister or 
something...except no way could Carmen ever be mistaken as any big sister 
of mine. At least I hoped not. 

"Forgive me if the idea makes me nervous, Carmen." Come in to my parlor, 
said the spider to the fly...

Carmen shrugged easily. Cars on the street were slowing down, and I could 
see drivers craning their necks so that they could look at her. So much for 
not attracting attention. "If it makes you feel any better, we won't actually 
be going up to my apartment. What we're interested in is in the back plaza."

"And that is?"

"The apartment building belongs to my coven. It's built over our place of 
power." She said.

Place of power. Great. What a lovely day to get stuck in the middle of an 


I had to say one thing--the place of power that Carmen had been talking 
about didn't quite fit my expectations. It was cute, yeah, but somehow, it 
just didn't seem right for the gathering place for a coven to be cute. There 
was one tree, a cherry tree that was just turning green with leaves. Under it 
sat a stone picnic table. The table had a brown-stained yellow and white 
beach umbrella sticking out of its center. There was a plastic bird bath, 
filled with slimy green algae. 

I admit it, I've read too many fantasy manga. I'd been expecting something a 
lot more, well...grand. Maybe a grove of trees. Or a big stone alter. At the 
least, no cheesy umbrellas. Welcome to the world of the supernatural, Duo. 
Expect the unexpected.

"Sit down." Carmen pointed at the picnic table. "I've got to grab a couple 
things from my apartment. I'll be right back." She didn't wait to see if we 
had any objections.

I looked at Wufei. Wufei looked at me. I shrugged and sat down at the 
table, and he sat next to me. The stone bench was very chilly. I wished that 
my coat was as long as Wufei's; it would look pretty silly on me, but at least 
my butt would be warm. I hate being skinny, almost as much as I hate being 

For a long moment, Wufei and I silently contemplated the top of the stone 
table. At first glance, I'd thought it was smooth and highly polished, but 
after closer examination, I could see scrape marks, little pits, and thin 
gashes on its surface. It was an old table.

Wufei gently ran his fingers over the surface. "These were caused by 
knives." He said. 

I raise my eyebrows and touched the table top as well. It felt strange under 
my fingers, very warm and welcoming in its own way. The hair on my arms 
stood on end. I had a feeling that the table was what Carmen had been 
talking about when she'd said "place of power." Stranger things had 

"I see you've made friends."

I snatched my hand away and glanced back at Carmen, suddenly feeling 
like a kid that's been caught with his hand in someone else's pocket. This 
wasn't an uncommon occurrence for me, mind you, but that didn't mean I'd 
ever gotten used to it. "Made friends with who?"

"Fenoko Asztal."[1] Carmen sat down.

"Uh huh." I nodded like I actually had a clue. 

Carmen just raised an eyebrow. "Fenoko Asztal is the power base for this 
coven." She sat down at the table opposite from us, setting a light blue 
duffel bag on top of it, and patted the table top affectionately with one hand. 
"If a coven's power base is old enough, it acquires a personality and 
sentience all its own. It must like you, because otherwise, you wouldn't look 
nearly as comfortable."

So the table liked me. Thrilling.

Carmen unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a few things that I'd never 
seen stored in a duffel bag before; a stone bowl, a jar of something that 
looked like potpourri and smelled kind of like a pizza, a green plastic bottle 
of what looked like water, and an eight inch long butcher knife. I raised my 
eyebrows at that one, suddenly feeling a tad more nervous. Carmen favored 
me with a dazzling smile. I wasn't impressed. 

"What are you doing?" I asked. She didn't answer me.

Carmen picked up the knife and sliced her palm open. Wufei and I sat in 
stunned silence for a moment. We hadn't been expecting that. Finally, 
Wufei said, "Woman, what are you DOING?"

"What you wanted me to do. Power costs. I'm paying the price." The knife 
made a faint chiming noise when she set it down. Blood flowed up quickly 
through the large cut and pooled quickly in her palm before she turned it 
over and slapped her hand down on the table. I winced. That was kind of 

Not that I had a lot of room to talk, considering last night I'd been letting a 
corpse lick off my fingers. Who knew how many germs there had been in 
his mouth...

Wufei managed to maintain expressionless, but he did twitch when she 
picked her hand back up. There was a perfect hand print on the table, and 
her hand was crimson with blood. But there wasn't a cut on her palm any 
more. I blinked. No. Wasn't going to ask. Too weird. Waaaay to weird for 
this little Gundam Pilot.

Ok, I asked anyway. "What the hell?" I couldn't help myself.

She raised an eyebrow at me. "Magic."

Oh. Of course. Silly me. Yeah.

"Do you have a focus for me?" she asked.

"A what?" I asked right back. She let out a long suffering sigh. I didn't feel 
in the least bit sympathetic. "I must have been absent the day they taught 
that in school."

Wufei kicked me under the table. I ignored him.

"A focus," Carmen explained with exaggerated patience, "is an object 
belonging to one of the vampire's victims that I can get an impression 

"Yeah, right here." I pulled the nasty, bloody little bundle of hair out of my 
pocket and handed it to her. She raised an eyebrow, and I shrugged with 
carelessness I didn't feel. "There's hair from three people in there. Will that 

"Definitely. It's much easier to get a psychic impression from objects that 
were once a part of the victim's body...or objects that are still attached to the 

Wufei coughed softly. I let it lie. Wisely, so did she.

She untied the white ribbon and separated the locks of hair with her 
fingernails, combing through them as best she could, her efforts a little 
hampered by the dried blood that coated them. "These are friends of yours. 
Close friends." she said. "Perhaps even lovers."

I didn't see the need to answer. 

Carmen nodded to herself and picked up the plastic bottle of water. It took 
about half the container to fill up the stone bowl. Some of the potpourri 
stuff got sprinkled on the water, and on top of the handprint, and we were 
set to go. At least I thought so. "Do you have a particular preference as to 
who I look for?"

"No." I said. "I imagine they'll all be in the same place...and the vampires 
will, as well."

"Very good." Her long fingernails ran over the hair, until she stopped on her 
chosen pilot. The hair was blonde. "I get the best impression from this one. 
The other two are well hidden, especially the boy that the brown hair came 
from. I can barely feel him at all." For some reason, I wasn't surprised. She 
stroked the hair gently. "This one is very beautiful. Loving, deeply feeling," 
Carmen smirked, "sensual...I bet he would be a good lay. Perhaps he'd like 
handcuffs. A more...dominant one."

I really did NOT need to be hearing this about Quatre. Wufei coughed 
again, and I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. He was looking a 

"Is he?" Carmen asked.

"What?" I was caught a little off guard.

"Good in bed."


Carmen laughed throatily. Great. She was going all creepy again. "Is he 
good in bed?"

I gaped. "What makes you think I'D know that?" I demanded. Yeah, I'd told 
myself I wouldn't get into it, but I'd been surprised.

"You're very close." She smirked. "I remember him now. He was the other 
one you brought when you came to see me. He IS very pretty."

I was NOT liking the way this line of conversation was going. "Hey, can we 
just get on with this? Please?" I glanced at Wufei again. A muscle in his 
cheek was starting to twitch.

"As you please. I'm going to begin looking now. He is very strong, so I 
should be able to find him quickly." She picked up the blonde hair in one 
hand, and then stared into the bowl of water. That was it. No chanting. No 
sacrificing poultry. No more innuendo. Thank you God.

Watching Carmen communicate with a bowl of water that had some bits of 
greenery floating in it lost its charm very quickly. Wufei sat by my side, 
calm now that Carmen had stopped talking about Quatre's possible sexual 
habits, and appeared to be half-asleep. I knew that was deceptive, though. 
He was alert and ready to go. 

I, on the other hand, was bored. Very bored. After a few minutes, I started 
fidgeting, shifting around on the stone bench and swinging my legs. I 
always have too much energy. Sitting still is such a pain in the ass. 
Literally. The stone of the bench had not only frozen my butt, it was also 
starting to put too much pressure on my hip bones. The curse of the skinny 
strikes again. 

An eternity passed. Then another. The third eternity was about halfway over 
when Carmen finally moved, sitting up straight and blinking her eyes 
rapidly as if she'd just woken up from a nap. "I found this one." She said 
without preamble.

"Really? Great. Where?" 

Carmen raised her eyebrows. "You want an exact location?"

"That would be nice." I said dryly. "But even a general would help."


"A LITTLE more specific would be nice." I said immediately.

Carmen stood up and stretched. Her little teeny t-shirt rode up and exposed 
a generous expanse of skinny, smooth stomach. I wasn't impressed. I had 
her beat in the abs department, I was sure of it.

Wait a sec...why the hell was I thinking about that? Geeze...

"I can't get more specific. What I did gave me a line to the boy with the 
blonde hair. I can home in on him, but I don't have a specific location that I 
can write on a map, if that's what you want. I couldn't see well enough. I 
told you that I'm not that powerful." she sighed. "I'm going to have to come 
with you."

None of us were all that thrilled. "Great." I said. "Do you have a gun or 
anything you can defend yourself with?"

She shook her head.

Double great. Another back for Wufei and I to watch. Sometimes I wonder 
what I did to God to piss him off so much. "Ok, this is how it's going to 
work. You're going to stay safely between Wufei and I, and as soon as 
we've narrowed it down to a small area, you're going to go home and let us 
handle it." I waited for her to raise objections. She didn't, surprisingly 
enough. I guess she had a good self-preservation instinct too. "Are you 
SURE you can't just draw us a map or something?"

She shook her head. 



About an hour later, we were standing at the edge of the woods, about a 
kilometer south of the cemetery. Carmen had driven us there. We were just 
waiting for her to get her bearings so she could lead us to the vampires. I 
was really hoping that they'd be close to the edge of the forest, since we 
only had about an hour and a half until full dark. Hell, if I'd had the option, I 
would have just put things off until the next day, so we'd have a full day's 
worth of light that we could hunt during. I wasn't going to leave the guys in 
the clutches of the vampires a moment longer than I had to, though, and I 
knew Wufei felt the same. So it was now or never.

Carmen was standing out of earshot, doing some mystical witch crap. I 
glanced at Wufei. "You ready for this?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"Think we're going to find them?"

"I hope so."

Silence stretched. I cleared my throat. I was getting nervous. I had no 
problem admitting it. This was the first time I was going to actively seek out 
the monsters. "And we're going to kill them all, right?"

"If at all possible."

I laughed. "Oh man, we're going to die, aren't we."

Wufei raised an eyebrow. "That's a very probable outcome."

"Wufei! Geeze man, can't you just LIE to me and make me feel better?" I 
demanded, exasperated.

"You'd know I was lying, so it wouldn't do any good." Wufei let out a sigh. 
"Calm down. Stop thinking about your nervousness and concentrate on your 
anger." He seemed to have achieved a state of before battle calm. Then 
again, I knew the calm would disappear the moment he started fighting. 

"Maybe I should have let Mimura lock me up after all...this is pretty damn 
suicidal..." I muttered.

Wufei turned his head and glared at me. "Focus, Duo." he said in a tone that 
booked no argument.

Yeah concentrate. I could do that. Who me, nervous? Of course not. Come 
on, Duo, it's just like going in to battle. I wasn't even as badly outnumbered 
as normal. We'll just ignore the fact that we're not in our Gundams and it'll 
be ok.


Carmen started waving to us, and we both loped toward her. It wouldn't do 
to keep the nice witch waiting. Yeah. The minute we caught up to her, she 
turned and started walking through the woods. Wufei and I came up on 
either side of her, then slowed to match her pace. "I've got a direction." was 
all she said.

We didn't interrupt her. It took her long enough to figure out which way to 
go the first time around. God only knew how long it would take the second 
time. The woods, to quote one of my favorite poets, were "quiet dark and 
deep" and we definitely had miles to go before we could sleep. Hopefully, it 
would be the good kind of sleep, not the eternal kind. The trees were just 
budding, but the bare branches above us were so thick that they tangled 
together and formed a canopy so thick that very little light came through. It 
smelled like leaf mould left over from last year, and wet dirt even though 
the path was dry. Not really an unpleasant place to take a walk, when you 
came down to it. It was too bad we couldn't enjoy it.

We walked and walked, then walked some more. Then did a bit MORE 
walking. For hours, we headed more deeply into the woods. Carmen would 
occasionally change direction at times, but we never slowed. I memorized 
the way we were going, though I didn't have a lot of confidence that I'd be 
able to recognize it if it were dark and I was being pursued by vampires. 
Then again, if I was being chased by vampires, I probably wouldn't have a 
chance to make it out of the woods anyway. So I wouldn't worry about it. 

It was full dark and we'd been walking for nearly three hours before Carmen 
slowed, then stopped. As far as I could see, there was nothing special about 
the section of forest we had stopped in. There was a tiny, partial clearing 
where the light of the stars seeped through. Of course, if the vampires were 
around, I wasn’t expecting them to have out a welcome mat to let me know.

"This is the area." Carmen said.

"Can you find your way back?" I asked. I took her silence for assent. "Then 
head back. We'll search the area ourselves."

That was when they attacked. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end 
as I felt a surge of cold, electric power, and that was all the warning we had. 
I didn't even have enough time to pull my cross out. I slammed my shoulder 
into Carmen, knocking her out of the way while I went for the Browning 
with my other hand, just as a vampire rushed out from between two trees 
and clotheslined me. I was turned to the side and off balance, and that was 
the only thing that saved me; it hit my shoulder instead of my neck and sent 
me flying. I impacted roughly into a tree, and my ribs, which still weren't 
anywhere near healed, screamed in protest. My arm was numb. Thank god 
it wasn't my shooting arm.

I heard Wufei yell something, and then there was a shriek, but I really didn't 
even try to see what was going on. I was too busy trying to stand up, 
because I could feel the vampire coming again. I launched myself off of the 
tree. Air rushed by where it barely missed me with its fist. A hand grabbed 
my braid and jerked me back, and I yelped loudly. That HURT! I spun with 
the pull and brought my gun to bear, right into the face of one of the female 
vampires I recognized, though not by name, from the night Yan died. I 
didn't stop to think. I pulled the trigger.

Everything retreated until it seemed far away, slowing down. The gun 
kicked in my hands and the vampire's head almost exploded, black blood 
and thicker things spraying out the back and across the waning white disc of 
the moon. I took a step back, my gun automatically aiming lower, and I 
pulled the trigger again, turning her chest into a ruin of shiny bone splinters 
and blood. She fell to her knees, then to the ground, not moving. 

I had killed my first vampire.

Something grabbed me from behind and threw me at the tree again, and 
time sped back up. I hit the tree right arm first and both my arm and the tree 
let out a loud crack, the branches above me tilting at a crazy angle for a 
minute. I screamed as my world tilted at a crazy angle itself as everything 
fuzzed out in a haze of pain.

When you get hurt, truly hurt badly, like a gunshot wound or a bad 
compound fracture (I'm talking blood spurting and bone sticking out, here) 
there is a moment of shock while your body tries to cope with the sudden 
flood of screaming pain messages from your nerves, where you can't quite 
believe you've been injured. For that instant, everything is completely 
colorless and still, and you can't hear anything over the sound of your own 
blood in your ears. While I was caught up in that moment, the vampire that 
had grabbed me before had me again and shoved me down against the 
ground, hard. 

My right arm hit the ground and everything resumed its normal pace as I let 
out a scream of pure agony. Nothing hurts quite like a badly broken bone. 

I'd somehow managed to retain hold on my gun with my left hand, but 
unfortunately, my left hand was being held against the damp, clinging 
leaves by the vampire. It was straddling my stomach. I was well and truly 
pinned. It reared its head up, and smiled at me. Victoria. 

I could hear Wufei yelling again, but the sound retreated from my attention 
as Victoria reached her free hand over to my broken arm, grabbed, and 
squeezed. My vision whited out for a moment, and I came back to reality a 
couple seconds later with my harsh screams echoing in my ears. Victoria 
brought her hand up to her face. There was blood shining on it, and she 
giggled, smearing the blood on her face and on her nearly bare chest. She 
was barely wearing what looked like it had been a vinyl teddy before it got 
cut down. 

Not that I cared at that point. I was too focused on the fact that I thought I 
was going to never stop screaming. Victoria grabbed my chin and kissed 
me, and the taste of my own blood was thick in my mouth. Her body 
crawled down me and she rolled her hips against mine. 

She wasn't going to get a response, I thought happily in a tiny corner of my 
mind. My senses were already to overloaded by pain to be able to feel 
anything else at all. She seemed to sense this as well, because she let up and 
wrenched my head to the side and tore my shirt open to expose my neck and 
shoulder. She'd had enough foreplay, I guess. 

I really didn't want to think on what was about to happen. I could see two 
blurs in the distance. I idly thought that the light colored one must be 
Wufei, which was great since that mean he was still alive, and then Victoria 
struck. I'd been expecting her to go after my neck. Instead, she came down 
on my collarbone, tearing my shoulder wide open and snapping the bone 
like it was a brittle twig. I screamed again.

Two broken bones, well, actually more than that if you counted the ribs, in 
under five minutes. I had a new record. 

Victoria sat back up. Her face was covered with blood. She laughed and 
shoved her fingers into the tear she'd just made in my shoulder. I was 
starting to lose my voice; my screams were getting very raw. For one 
blissful moment, she pulled back and the messages from my nerves quieted 
to a dull roar. I could feel myself sinking away into shock...

Something rolled into my vision. It was a severed head. It had fangs.

That was the only warning I had before Victoria threw herself off of me. 
She rolled around on the ground, shrieking loudly and clawing at her chest. 
Part of a huge knife blade was sticking out from between her breasts. I saw 
Wufei, bleeding profusely from a head wound and from a long, deep gash 
on his chest pull a knife out of his sleeve and go after her while I struggled 
slowly to my feet. The vampire managed to get to her feet as well, and she 
grabbed Wufei as he lunged at her, pulling him tightly against her. She was 
a good 15 centimeters taller than him, which is all that saved his life. The 
blade when through the upper side of his chest instead of his heart. He 
managed to drive his knife into her stomach before she shoved him away, 
sending him flying. 

I was on my feet by then, and I brought my gun to bear. I could feel blood 
running freely down my right arm and side, and the pain was still jangling 
through my brain, but everything retreated into calm. I pulled the trigger, 
aiming for Victoria. Three bullets later, there wasn't anything left that could 
be identified as a head, and she was dead.

Score...Wufei one, Duo two, vampires zero. Go us.

I made my way over to where Wufei was laying as quickly as I could, 
considering the way the world was wavering in and out. I was getting pissed 
at myself; I didn't have time to feel pain. We were still missing two 
vampires and the master, not to mention the guys. Wufei was already 
struggling to his feet, filling the air with lyrical, pain-filled curses by the 
time I made it to him. 

I let out a careful sigh of relief that set my ribs off into another round of 
shrieks. We only had to find Carmen, who had gotten out of the way if she 
was smart, before continuing on. I looked around. "Carmen?" My voice was 
barely a whisper. Too much screaming will do that to you.

"Right here, Duo." she said. She was behind me. "I'm impressed. You two 
fight a lot better than we'd anticipated."

"What...?" I was slow, too goddamn slow...Something dark reared up 
behind Wufei and grabbed him, stabbing one hand into his profusely 
bleeding shoulder. He screamed. I just started to bring my gun up when 
someone grabbed me,, her arm snaking around me.

"Not so fast, honey." Carmen's voice whispered in my ear.

I made a barely audible croaking sound with all that was left of my voice. 
Sharp pain lanced through me as a cold knife slid effortlessly into my back 
and between my ribs.

Then there was only darkness.

[1] Unfortunately, I am unable to reproduce the accents over the letters. ^^ 
Fenoko is the word for a honing stone. Asztal is a table. ^^;; (if I read my 
Hungarian correctly). You might ask what a table with a Hungarian name is 
doing in Japan. Let's just say that it's one of those things a witch never 
leaves home without.

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