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Acherontia Atropos (Part 8)

"I'm always happy to meet another practitioner of the art." the woman said, 
shaking my hand firmly.

"I don't know what you're talking about." I said conversationally. It was the 
honest response, though, especially considering what kind of place she was 
working at--I wasn't sure I wanted to know what kind of art she was talking 
about. She gave me a penetrating look, but she let the comment pass 
without saying anything else.

For a moment, it was a normal handshake. Then the hair on my arms and 
the back of my neck abruptly stood up and did the hula. I pulled away as 
quickly as I could without being too rude. My hand was tingling, like the 
pins and needles feeling you get when your foot falls asleep. Carmen smiled 
at me. "Are you alright?" She asked pleasantly.

"Just peachy." I waited until she turned her attention to Wufei, and then 
scrubbed my hand against my pants leg. It still felt weird. "I'm guessing that 
you're Carmen, right?" I kept my voice cheerful and neutral. Carmen was 
not making it on my good list so far…I had a strange feeling that she’d done 
whatever the hell it was, and that she’d done it on purpose. 

She idly rubbed the soft fabric of her robe over her breast. "That's correct. 
I'm the one you talked to on the phone. You didn't say anything about 
bringing friends." 

"Sorry. I just felt the need for a little backup." I shrugged, not sorry at all. 
This was getting just a little too weird. 

"Don't trust me?"

"It's been a bad week." I stuffed my hands in my pockets. "And I don't have 
a reason to. I didn't even know your name until now...the only reason I 
knew to call here was because someone broke into my room, put a box on 
my bed that had some guns in it, and wrote the phone number down on a 
white card that was with the guns. Not exactly confidence inspiring."

"I see. I'm sorry. I thought that you would have gotten warned about this." 
She kept rubbing. Up and down. Up and down. There was a bump under her 
fingers, which I presumed was her nipple. I was getting a really funny 
feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I was pretty sure it had nothing to do 
with whatever hormones were flowing in my veins. It wasn’t that kind of 
funny feeling.

"It would have been nice." I muttered. 

Carmen either didn't hear me or just ignored me, either of which was 
perfectly fine as far as I was concerned. Instead, she offered her hand—the 
one that wasn’t busy—to Wufei. "And you are?"

"Wufei." he said grudgingly, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Carmen’s 
right ear. He looked like he was putting some serious effort into fighting off 
a blush. Not that I wasn’t fighting off one too. He took her hand and shook 
it. Nothing happened. Maybe it had all been in my head. Right.

When she was done with Wufei, she turned her attention to Quatre. He 
smiled at her. "My name's Quatre. It's a pleasure to meet you." He offered 
his hand to her. That's Quatre. Always pleasant and polite, never mind the 
fact that we were in the ever so slightly odoriferous basement of the 
bondage and leather hut and shut in a tiny room with someone that...well, I 
wasn't quite sure what the hell Carmen was.

Strangely enough, Carmen didn't shake Quatre's hand. After a moment, he 
gave up and tucked his hand back into his pocket, his smile becoming 
faintly puzzled. 

"Now that the intros are done, would you like to tell us WHY we're here?" I 
asked, a little more abruptly than I had intended. I'm not exactly the most 
polite person on earth, but I'm normally not rude, either. Then again, my 
nerves were understandably getting a little frayed, and something about 
Carmen was really starting to set my teeth on edge.

She glanced at us, then back at the sagging bed. "Wouldn't you like to sit?"

In perfect unison, we shook our heads. "We're fine."

Carmen shrugged and sat. The bed made some interesting squealing sounds 
and sagged a little more. "You're here because my coven was given a 
message through one of our anonymous contacts that we were to keep an 
eye out for you and help you." She folded her hands neatly in her lap, and it 
took an effort not to let out a sigh of relief. 

"Coven?" I raised my eyebrows. "What's that?"

Carmen looked surprised. It wasn't necessarily good, though, because that 
meant that I knew less than she was assuming I knew. And I'd just informed 
her of it. Go me. Give the woman you don't know the advantage. She 
crossed her legs and the bathrobe rode up, exposing a generous amount of 
thigh. I’m talking a REAL generous amount. "A coven is a group of 
witches." The robe slipped even more. She definitely wasn't wearing 

I suddenly developed a whole new interest in the molded out paint of the 
wall just behind and to the left of her ear. "Witches. I see now. It all makes 
perfect sense." I wondered if there was solidified sarcasm dripping on the 
floor yet.

"You really don't know anything, do you."

I sighed, going beyond the point of exasperation. I was suddenly just very 
tired. "Look, I just found out last week that vampires exist. Be nice." Yeah, 
I actually said ‘be nice’ to a woman that I had a feeling would belong on the 
list of people that my mommy warned me about. Or would have warned me 
about if she’d lived that long. Whatever.

I didn't think it was possible, but she managed to look more surprised. "But 
I thought..." she gave me a sharp glance. "You didn't shake hands right, 
though..." Her voice trailed off on a bemused note.

My hand was still tingling. "What the hell did you do?"

"I read your aura." She shrugged, like she'd just said that she baked a cake 
or something. No, no, nothing weird happening here. Just another day at the 
shop. Sure thing. "You have one of the strongest auras I've ever seen. 
Normally, only people that practice the Art have that sort of feel to them." 

I had to ask. "The Art of what?" 

"Magic of course."

Yeah. Magic. Of course. It all made perfect sense now. NOT.

My internal comment must have been pretty obvious, because Carmen 
coughed politely. "Magic does exist, you know. You should know, actually. 
You have more than your fair share."

"Sure." Whatever. I didn't feel like arguing. A real first for me. 

Carmen wisely let the subject drop. "I'll begin at the beginning, then. I am a 
member of the local coven of witches. The woman that brought you down, 
Hara, is also a member of the coven." There was a kind of odd note in her 
voice. It sounded like...jealousy?

"She's higher rank than you, isn't she." I glanced up. I had no idea how I 
knew, but it made sense. Call it a hunch.

"Yes." Carmen's eyes widened. I shrugged before she could ask me 
anything, and she let it go. "I'm fairly new to this area, and I'm not terribly 
powerful. Hara is one of the high witches. High witches are like the ruling 
council of a coven. They tend to be the most powerful of a coven, though 
it's not a requirement." she quickly explained.

I had to admit, while this sounded like something out of a role-playing 
game, it was kind of interesting if you could suspend your disbelief long 
enough. And considering the events of the last few days, I didn't have a lot 
of disbelief left to suspend.

"What do you do?" Quatre asked quietly. I glanced at him, and he twitched 
on shoulder. I guess I wasn't the only one that was finding the little lesson 

"We do a lot of things, Quatre." a small, dangerous smile quirked Carmen's 
lips, and she ran two of her fingernails up her thigh. They glittered in the 
stark light. "We have to keep our power base stable and protected, and we 
need to repel any outside encroachers, like the vampires that you seem to be 
having problems with. That is probably why we were contacted. We have a 
common enemy." Her hand moved off of her thigh and she absently picked 
at a loose thread that was hanging off of one of her sleeves. "For the most 
part, covens are simply interested in staying hidden."

"Why?" I asked.

"Do you have any idea what the general public would do if they knew 
witches were real? Look how well you're taking it."

She did have a point.

Carmen smirked. It wasn't an expression that I liked. "If you keep playing, 
Duo, you're going to find that there is quite a lot that's kept hidden from 
people in general."

I really hate it when people act like they know more than me, even if it’s 
true. The superior attitude thing just pisses me off. "If I'm lucky, I can kill 
the vampires and go back to being blissfully unaware." I said. 

She actually laughed at me. "I don't think you'll be able to. Once you're in 
the field, everyone's going to want to try you out...especially considering 
that interesting aura of yours." Something in her voice said that she’d like to 
try me out, herself. And we’re not talking in a nice way. It suddenly struck 
me how small the room was. Great. Claustrophobia, too.

I shrugged a nonchalantly as I could. "Yeah, we'll see. Until then, can we 
just cut to the chase? Dinner's coming and I'm hungry." A lie. I didn't think 
I'd feel like eating when I got back to the school. I had way too much on my 
plate already.

"I have a client coming anyway." Carmen shrugged, the movement oddly 
fluid. "You need my help to find the vampires."

I nodded. "We were given an idea of how to kill them, but we don't know 
how to find them, or look for them or whatever."

"Hunt them during the day. You just have to find their resting place."

"Somehow, I don't think they're going to have a little neon sign that says 
'resting place here.'" I said. 

"Correct." Carmen hesitated, tapping her chin with one long, obviously fake 
fingernail. Hers were bright, metallic blue. "I can try to locate them for you, 
if you can bring me something that belongs to one of their victims." She 
saw my confused look. "The vampires would have drank the person's a small part of that person remains inside them. I can try to locate 
that, if I have an object I can take an impression from. I'd rather not try 
unless it's necessary, though. It takes a great deal of energy, and could 
attract the attention of the master vampire." She looked a little nervous, 
which was odd.

"Woah, slow down. Master vampires?"

Carmen sighed. "Just like there are greater and lesser witches, there are 
greater and lesser vampires. Master vampires control the lesser ones, to a 
certain degree. It's a little like the structure of a wolf pack. Masters are very 
powerful. The only reason vampires would even hunt together is because 
there is a Master forcing them to cooperate."

"Great." I wanted to moan or bang my head against the wall. So we were 
dealing with five normal vampires, plus the other EXTRA one that I had 
hoped I was imagining, and that one was more powerful than all the others. 
Shit. Not my week. "We need to find these things, Carmen. They're eating 
high school kids. It's bad publicity, and if someone figures out that vampires 
exist, they might start wondering about the other stuff."

Carmen paled a little. Ah, a palpable hit. I am so good. 

"So come help us, we'll kill them and then that's one less worry you 

"I can't." She shook her head and looked at me, wide-eyed. "I said that 
maybe I could...but...I'm low in the coven. I can't pull that much power 
without permission of the high witches."

I sighed. "Then get permission. This is important. You don't want anyone to 
find out about you witches, right? It's in your best interest." I gave her my 
best charming grin.

It must have been my sincere, boyish charm that wowed her. Yeah, me and 
Christopher Robin. "I'll do what I can. It's going to take a couple days, 
though. I can talk to Hara right away, but it'll take time to contact the rest of 
the high ones."

"Fine. If that's as good as it gets, I'm not going to push it."

Carmen hesitated, and actually started nibbling on the end of her fingernail. 
I had the insane urge to tell her not to--that nail polish of hers was probably 
radioactive if you went by color. Not a good thing to ingest. "There's 
something else you can try, while I'm trying to get permission."

"What's that?"

"Contact the Master of the City."

"The what?" I could feel another lesson coming on. My brain protested 
loudly that it was already too full. I told it to shut up. 

"The Master of Tokyo." Carmen kept nibbling at her fingernail. It was 
starting to get on my nerves. "Most vampires are set up like my coven 
is...they try to keep to themselves and out of the public eye. They aren't 
going to like a bunch of rogues moving in and killing, because it will 
definitely attract attention to them. We don't deal with the vampires often, 
so I don't know who the Master is, or where you can find him...but he's the 
Master that rule all of the vampires in Tokyo. We're in his territory."

Yippee. More vampires. But no. These were good guys. Right. "No idea 
where he is. No clues to find him. That isn’t real helpful." 

"If you want to meet him, he'll find out, and if he wants to see you, he'll find 
you himself. He might find you anyway, once he hears about you." Carmen 
shrugged. "I'm just saying that he might be able to help you."

"Alright, I'm going to make a concrete rule, right here." I said, images of 
corpses with their throats torn out dancing in my head. "Normally, I hate to 
generalize, but this is an exception. Vampires are monsters. I'm not going to 
deal with them." I felt a smile creep onto my lips, one that felt a lot like my 
special Deathscythe-piloting grin. "I'm going to kill them."

"Have it your way." There was something very final in Carmen's words. I 
wasn't sure what it was for. "I'll talk to the high witches."

"You do that." I pushed away from the wall and dug through my pockets 
until I found an old receipt. Why the hell had I paid so much for a damn 
bowl of ramen? I must have been pretty flippin hungry. Whatever. I found a 
pen in my other pocket and wrote down the phone number for our dorm 
room. Dorm rooms didn't normally have phone numbers. Heero's a useful 
little guy to have around. "When you hear something back, call me."

She took the paper and nodded, tucking the slip away...somewhere. I didn't 
see where, and I didn't particularly want to know where, either. "I'll do my 

"Thanks." I turned to leave. Quatre and Wufei were already half out the 
door. Perfect exit. The effect got kind of ruined, however, when Carmen 
grabbed my arm and I yelped. I really hate getting startled.

Carmen let go of my arm as quickly as she'd grabbed it, shaking her hand 
like she'd just gotten burned. "You say you have no magic." Her voice was 
a little amused.

"Someone told me I have an affinity for the dead. I can go for that. I'm 
Shinigami." I shrugged. "But not magic. That's too weird."

Carmen's eyes widened, the narrowed. "It's more than that, Duo." She stood 
and leaned forward until her lips were nearly touching my ear. It reminded 
me uncomfortably of Victoria the Vampire. "Stop denying what you are, or 
something bad will happen to you."

It wasn't a threat. At least I didn't think it was. Carmen laughed very softly, 
and kissed my ear.

I took a very deliberate step away from her, and then another and another 
before I turned and walked quickly out of the tiny room, shutting the door 
firmly behind me. I wasn't running away.

Really, I wasn't.

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