meow riddi
waterwindow
meow riddi

Apex ch3
waterwindow

Tōngguò xīnzàng bīng.” Leng's arrow glowed blue and bright and he let it fly. It skewered the gorilla through the heart, freezing it solid mid-rampage. But no time to rest – there were more. They were surrounded.

His sister slashed open the head of a beast with her razor sharp, enchanted skates and floated down alongside her Da Ge. “I'm beginning to wonder if we are not invited here.”

Her brother smiled as he fired off arrows left and right. “You would think they could be more understanding.”

Xiao Jin laughed and grabbed an arrow from her brother's quiver and jabbed it deep in a gorilla's eye. It recoiled with a roar. “They nest like any other ape. And they are even stupider.”

Let us leave, sister – before their numbers grow too great.”

I thought that was what we were doing already!” She grabbed her brother under the man's arms and glided up into the air – barely dodging around the gorillas following them up the trees. “There's the mountain!”

Their map had led them to a towering peak – it was still weeks off for any mere travelers. But they were seasoned and fearless. Xiao Jin estimated they'd reach it in less than five days, if there was no incident. Even less time if this angry pack of animals decided to chase them the rest of the way.

Xiao Jin grunted, her hands clutching her brother began to weaken. “Da Ge, I can't fly much longer.”

This is fine. I think we confused them too much for them to chase us.” Leng spotted a clearing. “Let's settle there and see how far we can run before sunset.”

Xiao Jin couldn't help but sigh, she strongly disliked running. They seemed to be doing quite a bit of it since they entered this strange land of endless night. They landed in the clearing and her Da Ge grabbed her hand before unceremoniously dragging her into the woods. He held the map out in front of him and activated it. “We will most likely run into Qing Ting any day now,” she panted hopefully.

If he still lives – most definitely,” Leng called back, letting go of his sister once she matched his pace.

Don't speak like that! He lives, Da Ge! I just know it!”

Suddenly Leng ran right into something – no, someone - who screamed in shock. Xiao Jin saw a flash of colorful fabric before tumbling right over the two of them.

Hartley stopped in his tracks and pulled Roy back just in time to save him from joining the dog pile. They had been traveling at a steady pace – trying to avoid the far off sounds of an angry pack of giant gorillas – Giovanni leading the way. But that's when something unexpected happened.

A man and a woman came galloping through the woods and ran right overtop of their good Jester. Roy would have laughed if it wasn't so... random. He stepped forward and helped the woman up. “Um... hello.”

><><><

Ah haha...” The man who called himself Qing Ting laughed quietly to himself, seemingly at nothing.

Samuel looked up from his roasted mushroom on a stick and glared. “What? This one is edible. I'm positive.”

At this point I dunnae care if it makes me see lassies in th' lake or turns me nose green – Me stomach's bout t' start a mutiny.” Ewan gazed longingly at the vegetable.

Qing Ting broke from his thoughts, [Hm? Oh, yes you can eat those. Forgive me, I was laughing at something else.]

What? Another one of your creepy visions?” Sam licked his lips and poked the shroom off the stick into Ewan's eager hand.

[Yes. It was of my lovely wife. She is doing well.]

'Ow bout insteada spyin on yer girlfriend, yeh take a look inta our future fer a change. This savin’ the world crap aint aboota do itself.” He chewed his grilled mushroom and sighed.

You're welcome,” Sam sighed, sticking the rest of his humble crop onto the stick and holding it over the flame.

Thank yeeeww,” Ewan cooed, rolling his eyes.

How about the two of you mighty hunters go catch us some real food?” Sam growled.

[Most of the wildlife was driven from this place long ago by the beasts. But we will run into some animals tomorrow.] Qing Ting reassured.

Aye the beasties. Too bad we cannea et them. They're plenty enough.”

They're easy to kill too. I can see why Sir Psychic would want to travel with someone of our kind. Light magic drives them off faster than bees drive off picnickers.”

[Verily.] Qing Ting agreed, accepting a mushroom from the duke. [I have people who care about me. It was my intention for all of us to travel together... but events transpired more swiftly than I had predicted. I had to put self-preservation at the top of my priorities.]

Weeeell it's nice tae know we're the best candidates fae preservin yeh'” Ewan relaxed against his pack with a satisfied sigh, turning his face up to the black sky. His gut told him it was mid-morning, but it was impossible to tell here. “Qing Ting, gotta ask – if ye've been o'er 'ere so long, since yeh traveled ahead of yer lass and 'er brother. Why'dya nae learn any plain English spech.”

I could ask you the same question.” Samuel muttered, blowing on his smoking shroom. Ewan elbowed his leg, “Owch!”

[That wasn't at the top of my priorities,] the other declared. [Besides, this method of communication suits me best: It takes no effort and allows me to focus my energies on other things. Such as saving you before becoming monkey food. Or killing each other, whichever came first.]

I'm assuming your wife and her brother lack this ability.” Sam chewed slowly, rubbing his leg and glaring. It wasn't too late to kill Ewan - no matter how chummy they got.

[No, but I made sure they studied before they arrived – they're going to need it for the remainder of their journey.] Qing Ting smirked slightly and lay back on the ground, [It will be interesting. I wish I was there to witness it firsthand.]

><><><

Owch!” The woman with long golden hair kicked out with shocking speed – slashing at Roy's face with the strange blades strapped to her feet, “Dà Gē, qǐchuáng!”

Hartley blinked rapidly and shook his head, grabbing Roy back by the back of his shirt. “She's chewing what?”

Not English.” The artist winced and held the cut on his cheek.

Suddenly the parka clad man she was with jumped up and clashed with Giovanni. The jester's circular ring blade deflected a deadly looking serrated knife. “HUAH!” Leng hooked his knife in the ring and yanked it out of Gio's hand before lunging at him.

Whoa whoa whoa!!” Giovanni kicked his attacker overhead and rolled to his feet, he grabbed a handful of firecrackers and tossed them in Leng's face. He slapped them down and tackled Gio again.

Everybody just calm down...!” Roy hand was in his bag, fingering a powder pack for just that, but there was no need. When the strange assailant saw their golden card clutched Giovanni's hand, he gasped and recoiled. Leng's hand flew to his pocket and retrieved his own map, “Xiǎo, Tā shì qízhōng de yīgè-”

Hartley shook his head and winced a bit. “Still not English,” Roy reassured quietly.

Giovanni gasped, “Holy shit.” Roy had been telling the truth! There were more than one.

><><><

Xaio Jin pulled her brother from the fray, “Listen to them Da Ge! It's the English. Qing Ting told us to prepare for this! These are warriors of same quest. We were destined to cross paths with them.”

Ah yes – that odd language his Xaio made him learn. He grimaced and looked down at her.

She stopped, “You... did study it didn't you...?” her eyes narrowed.

........ yes....?”

She groaned and slapped her head, “Da Ge! It was your duty! You said it would be no problem!! We drew straws!”

I know it! I know it!” he gasped, stepping forward, “I know English! Calm down.”

><><><

Hello.”

Okay, that was English.” Hartley pointed.

Hello.” Roy pulled Giovanni back and stepped forward – these fools had no manners.

The stranger straightened out his tunic and glanced back at the woman before turning to the trio sternly, “...... How are you?”

How.... what? Okay... “Um... I'm fine.”

Leng forced a small smile and pointed at Gio, “Yellow.”

...what?”

His finger jabbed from Roy to Hartley. “Black, Green. Foot, leg, arm. Good. Yes? No.”

Roy laughed and held his head, glancing around at the others. Leng turned back to his sister and smiled encouragingly. She didn't seem convinced.

RUN!!” Hartley suddenly screamed, grabbing Gio and turning into the woods.

Roy didn't need to be told twice, the pack of gorillas crashing through the brush was incentive enough.

Run! Yes!” Leng grabbed Xaio Jin and together they sprint after them.

....Báichī.” she groaned.

><><><

Cold sea water splashed onto Marcello's face and he coughed and sputtered awake. “That's enough sleep.”

It was night, and they were still on the beach. The pirates had set up camp – fish were roasting on the fire, thanks to the Captain's surly first-mate. The wizard lay on his side, tied to the still-unconscious alchemist. It would make sense that they would keep him unconscious, being as he could break from his bounds easily. What Marcello didn't understand - and what he was still amazingly grateful for - was why they were still alive. The steady rise and fall of Alberich's back against his own gave him solace.

Seoirse crouched down and held up their map, “What is this?”

Marcello's eyes focused on it. “It's....” It was made of gold – these were pirates. “Garbage.”

The captain smirked and inclined his head, revealing his second hand from behind – in it was an identical card.

Let me tell you a story. A poor boy, cast from his tribe for the color of his hair, set out on his own. He became a pirate, just a lowly cabin boy of a small ship. Looked to make a man of himself, climb up the ladder of success. But one day – his crew came upon a massive treasure. Mountains of gold. Crowns, rings, coins – plenty of everything. But... There was only one of these.” He flicked the card at Marcello's face. It bounced off and landed in the sand.

That boy waited until his crew was passed out drunk from celebrating their find before slitting all their throats and tossing their bodies into the sea. With his gold and wit, he bought an even finer ship – hired a large crew. Supplies enough to last a journey of a life time.” He slid his thumb over the red mark and the map came to life. “Because, though that boy had come to possess everything he could possibly have desired... There was still one thing that plagued him so... Something he had to know.”

Marcello grit his teeth and glared as harshly as he dared.

So tell me... To what lengths have you gone – what have you sacrificed to reach the end of this map.” He whispered, his breath was enough to make the wizard gag. “Because I lost everything. My grand ship. Every crew mate. Every speck of treasure. Every speck of pride. What did you loose for this – tell me. I'm curious...”

The wizard's adam's apple bobbed stiffly. He didn't know why – maybe it was the fact that his life and that of his best friend hung in the balance, but every word of the Captain's tale fell on him like a weight. He sunk back and let silence envelope him.

Well?”

Haeta stood up and walked around the fire. He didn't understand what his captain was playing at, but it wasn't really his concern either. Two mages would be useful on their travels – obviously they know the terrain better, if only for being a little bit more local. The pyro stared up the cliff face. It was quite high. He wondered how much further this beach went on before the tide swallowed it up. Another one of those mysterious black storms circled only just inward of it. He also wondered if these phenomena expand over time. They definitely didn't seem to be going away.

A flash of color caught his eye – that was odd. The wizard called for help earlier. Were there more? Those were definitely people up there. They danced around the edge and turned back into the woods. Five of them.

Hm.... Captain....”

GROOOAAAARRHH!!”

Unexpectedly, following the figures, a huge gorilla viciously ripped from the brush up on the sea cliffs and fell. The three of them watched the beast tumble down the cliff side and land in the sand with a hard THUD.

It was little more than a black pile of fur on the beach. Seoirse stood up slowly, gathered the two maps into his pocket. All was silent.

The captain pursed his lips, brows climbing his forehead. “.... Well.... That was....”

ROAAAARRH!!” In an explosion of sand, the monster sprang to life and bellowed. Pounding its chest – flinging dirt and logs everywhere in anger before turning on the camp. It didn't hesitate to gallop towards them, screaming its rage loud enough to make their ears ring.

Marcello started to struggle, “Cut the ropes – untie us...!”

Blast!” The captain slung a boomerang – it sailed through the air and planted itself in the monster's shoulder – not even slowing it down.

Untie us! Please! CAPTAIN PLEASE!!!”

The two pirates scattered, leaving Marcello and his unconscious Albert to be trampled by the beast. It fell on them, huge hands slamming down in the sand ferociously. Marc felt himself grabbed like a hog-tied calf and tossed into the air. The bounds were jerked loose by the force, but he didn't realize until after he landed in the shallow surf. His chest thumped on the packed sand and he flailed wildly to find the surface. Air knocked out of him, he barely clamored free of the tide before collapsing into the sand, wheezing for air, “Alberich...!!”

He watched in waterlogged horror as his friend was grabbed by the arm in the jowls of the beast and shook like a doll. The pain was enough to wake the alchemist and he screamed.

The pirates were back now, the large one swinging flaming poi like nunchucks. He beat the beast's back and it burst into flames, releasing Alberich and turning to attack it's assailants.

Marcello dug his feet into the sand and ran for his partner. Bravely dodging around the flaming gorilla and dragging Alberich away by his uninjured arm. “No...! No..!!” The bite – Alberich's arm, he could see it, black and swollen like it'd already begun to rot. The stories were true.

Boomerangs sailed over their heads, followed by Seoirse, placing himself between them and the ape. His weapons lodged themselves in the ape's head and the creature's flailing finally died down. It fell into a burning heap.

Alberich coughed and looked up at his partner in shock, “What- what happened – I'm... Marcello I think it bit me...”

YOU MONSTERS!” Marcello cried, holding Alberich's head in his lap as the alchemist heaved, frothing at the mouth – aside himself with horrible pain. God, it had all happened so fast. “You just left us to die...!! You've killed him!!”

Seoirse turned. “Hold your tongue! We saved your lives!”

Marcello jumped up and ran at the pirate, gripping his coat and shaking him. “YOU DAMN FOOLS! You don't know anything!! You don't know what you've done!!”

Alberich rolled over with a gurgle, gripping his mangled arm. Everything sounded muffled behind his clamoring heartbeat. Black hair was already springing up around the wound. He turned his reddening eyes to Marcello and the pair.

You don't know what you've done...!” The wizard fell to his knees and sobbed, “My very best friend..!!”

One thing entered the alchemist's mind then.

With perfect clarity he turned his eyes to his hand and followed it to his shoulder. Nails dug into his own flesh – skin burning skin. A silent scream boiled in the pit of his stomach.

Those things...! Their bite - it turns mere men into ruthless monsters – you don't understand..!” The smell of the burning animal masked the flesh melting from the Alchemist's bone.

Bites that can what??” Haeta slapped himself all over, checking for any wounds.

Relax, it never touched you. But I....” Seoirse sneer at the wizard's hysterics turned into a gape of awe – he jabbed an elbow into his first-mate's side and they both stared ahead. “...don't....”

Alberich pulled himself out of the sand. Standing with his left hand outstretched – grasping his severed arm. Blood squirted out of his bloody stump of a shoulder and soaked into the sand.

Bloody....” Seoirse stepped back. Haeta looked a little sick.

Marcello twisted around and froze in shock, “A-alberich...”

The Alchemist dropped the severed limb heavily and swayed, “I.... think I'll be okay now....” His eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled down into a heap.

><><><

It wasn't perfect. But then, tears spark sympathetic actions: Haeta thrusting his hand into the camp fire for a handful of embers to cauterize Alberich's wound, Roy's jovial attitude towards their new comrades and their lack of English words between them.

Compromise.

Acceptance.

They were working together despite their differences in the face of great adversity. And while it was taking its toll, their fates were slowly intertwining. Eobard rest against a rock and gazed down the mountainside. It was an odd thing to be proud of. Carefully culling each and every one of their entire lives for this very moment. He didn't know what to feel. He didn't want to hope, it wasn't really his style. But he wasn't prepared to die... not like this.

Just hurry up...” He pressed his palms against his eye sockets and stood up – time was running out for him. Eobard decided to speed things up a bit, digging his feet in the dirt and jumped ahead a few weeks.

><><><

I pick-pocketed some artist,” Ewan explained, helping Samuel up the mountainside.

Really? That's – argh – really odd,” he panted, falling heavily against a rock.

'Ow's tha?”

I don't know – for some reason I thought you were just... destined to have it. Like you woke up with it or something of that flavor.” The duke pulled himself up a higher ledge and turned to give Ewan a hand. “In your little tribal hut – and that's why you came to Centrala – following the map.”

The Scot laughed heartily, “Wow, nae nae tha's not why I came to Centrala. I came for yeh yee wee silly.”

Sam blinked and gripped Ewan's arm. “What?”

It was odd that he was only just admitting this now, but he supposed after all they went though, there was no point in hiding it, “D'yeh never think it odd that we're the only light mages we've ever seen? I caught wind there were men who specialized in light magicks there and well... I guess there was only yeh.

But the map? That was just luck o' th' draw I s'pose.”

[He was destined to have it either way.] Qing Ting's voice was as loud as ever in their head, despite him being quite a bit further up than them.

Then what about the artist?” Sam grunt and pulled Ewan's girth up the ledge.

[His destiny lied with others. We'll meet them soon enough. The path splits down there that leads east.]

Sam turned and sure enough, there it was. A winding path that led right up the mountain. It was almost too perfect – flat and steady, like someone had come and constructed it prior to them. “Why are you taking the hard way, again?”

About a mile up, Qing Ting stopped his climbing, holding strong to a steep cliff-side. He had begun the trek a day before his partners – they needed rest. But this detour he was on would take too much time with them to slow him down. He forewent rest to make the climb – it was his duty and his alone. Though the sheer mountain face was a dizzying height below him, he wasn't the kind to get motion sick. And besides, he was almost there.

[I'll join you again soon. There's something important I have to find first. Something key to saving us all.]

Sam held the map out and followed the path, gazing up the mountain – he couldn't see Qing Ting anymore – the man was long gone from view, “Are you sure you'll find your way without the map?”

[Don't worry about me.] Qing Ting's hand slipped and he yelped, body flailing wildly, suspended by one arm. Rocks tumbled down into the abyss – sweat rolled down his face. He dangled there, heaving loudly, trying to catch his breath.

With a huge amount of effort, he forced himself back up, regaining his footing before continuing his climb, [I know what to do...]

Keep talkin to us won't yeh? Make sure yoo're 'lright.”

[No...]

He closed his mind off from his comrades then. He needed to concentrate on his climbing. It was so close. The thing they needed – he could feel it. Black wind picked up again and howled against his back – every second felt like an agonizing eternity. Every place his hands fell left a bloody mark on the stone. His nails were cracked and half were missing, his skin was broken and bleeding. But it was okay. Everything was seated on this, the ledge was within sight. And in that sight lay the end.

All his visions stopped here. With a mighty heave, he dragged himself up to flat ground. And just like that – there it was. Just as he envisioned. A small graveyard of rusty metal relics. Casings of blue light, all from different eras. Failed loops in the time stream.

Something was magical about this place. Like the grass had frozen mid-growth. Every relic crash landed here like echoes of apocalypses past. Qing Ting crawled to the one they would need. This one was the freshest, shining bright like a lantern, where all the others had long faded.

Qing Ting coughed and rolled over on his back. His head was screaming – pounding with pain, he could taste blood in his mouth. There was no more time. He clutched it to his chest and closed his eyes, dragging himself to his feet. Blood rolled off his tongue sticky strings, Qing Ting hacked and spat.

Great power at a great price.

But that was okay. It was all for her.

Xaio Jin.” His feet drug themselves to the ledge. In one arm clutched the relic, in the other clasped a long flowing golden braid.

His mind on the bridge of snapping – everything was flooding into him too quickly. All control was slipping away and in these last moments, knowledge filled him to the brim. This was a power cell. The being at the top of the mountain was from another dimension, Central City, Keystone, Professor Zoom, Everything was wrong, they were all wrong - Mick, Len, Digger, Sam, Evan, Mark, Al, Roy, Hartley, James, Lisa... All changed, paths forged together, out of selfish preservation for this Eobard creature.

Lisa...”

He wanted them to live. He wanted their world to go on. No matter how wrong and out of place it was. All this time they were all just tools – a means to an end. But none of it mattered now. Because he did his part. Here it was – the missing piece of the cosmic treadmill.

Wǒ ài nǐ” Qing Ting's mind burnt out at last, like snuffing a candle. And his body fell into the abyss.

><><><

Xaio Jin's screams echoed from the base of the mountain to its peak.

In a world where the sky grew darker every day, where black wind howls and beasts outnumber men, a great destiny drew to a close. A blind journey shared by a small multitude of travelers from all walks of the earth. Drawn by the prospect of a tomorrow. With each step any hopes of finding God or Riches were drawn back like a curtain. A pool of blood surrounding a man who gave up everything for the people he loved served to highlight that.

His gift of sight had shattered his mind and his bones to follow. In another life, a life without love or family, Qing Ting was just an odd man with a knack for spinning tops and guessing the future. But his love for Xaio pushed him too far – pushed him to see the end of the world and sacrifice everything to stop it. He knew his role was preordained at the end. He knew a man from another universe named Eobard Thawne was responsible.

But he hadn't cared. In fact, he was grateful.

Giovanni, Roy, Hartley and Leng stood stock-still as his sister cried over the crushed corpse of her husband.

><><><

Somewhere along the way, Alberich got sick of climbing rocks and flattened out a straight path for them to follow with his powers – which unbeknownst to their little band, turned out to be quite convenient for their fellow travelers.

Do you need to rest?” Marcello fret, glancing back at their pirate fellows, who were huffing and puffing at the altitude, “Er... do you two need to rest?”

Shut up and.... huff... puff.... keep making the path...!” Seorise gasped, leaning heavily on Heata's shoulder, “We're so close to the end... I can taste it! My whole... bloody life... is comin’ to this!”

Alberich adjusted his cloak and continued forward, the craggy rocks melding to stairs at his will, “I don't need rest either.”

Heata felt a little sorry for his captain – the air was especially thin up here. But the exhaustion wasn't what bogged him down most, personally. It was the ominous pitch-black hurricane circling around the apex of this mountain. It certainly didn't look pleasant. The prospect of treasure seemed to be getting dimmer the closer they got. The wizard seemed to think something up there would prevent the world from ending. While he wanted to believe what the Captain did with all his heart, Marcello's theory did seem far more likely at this point.

How much closer are we?” Alberich called back over the howling wind.

Marcello activated the map and blinked. “It's... just around that bend!” He pointed ahead.

Seorise couldn't believe his ears – he pushed himself off Heata and ran for Alberich, shoving his shoulders, “Hurry up then you bloody alchemist!!”

Marcello grabbed the ginger by the scruff of his shirt and punched him viciously across the face. “You stay away from him!!”

Haeta put himself between the two and knocked Marcello down with little effort.

Stop fighting already!” Alberich shouted, turning on the three, holding up his glowing hand, “Or you'll ALL be armless!”

That threat always seemed to work. Especially on the pirates, who were whipped right into shape almost instantly – falling back.

Alberich stared down at Marcello as he dragged himself back to his feet. “Heh... thanks.”

The alchemist simply turned back to his task, sighing deeply.

What happened to Alberich some weeks ago changed him. Marcello wasn't sure he liked the change. His friend seemed more willing to abuse his powers in any situation. And he barely spoke. He was hard and cold behind the eyes and regularly saw fit to abuse and threaten the pirates. There was never a harsh word towards Marcello himself, but that didn't extinguish the aura of dread. It was like they both knew and mutually agreed whose fault all this was.

And it certainly wasn't Alberich's.

We're here.”

All eyes turned up then, to a sight none other had ever seen before.

><><><

Welcome.” Eobard held his arms out to the last group to arrive.

Xaio Jin held the strange device under her arm, standing alongside her brother, and the three foreigners they'd run into along the way. This man was garbed in gold, the very symbol on the cards was marked on his chest. Truly they had arrived.

Hello,” Leng offered enthusiastically, only to be snuffed out by a harsh glare from his sister.

After the awe passed, Roy stepped forward into the clearing. There were so many people here. All looked to be of different walks, most of which were crouched around a device he'd never seen before. Wait a minute, was that Duke Samuel? He was seated alongside the Scottish bandit Ewan! And there was the Weather Wizard! And – he couldn't believe his eyes - the King's Alchemist! Roy had been a royal painter – it was amazing to see a familiar face from the Castle.

Alberich Diez!” The artist sprinted forward, arms outstretched.

Al blinked and looked up from his work on the treadmill and stood, “Roy...?”

HAHAHA! My eyes have never seen a sweeter sight!” The alchemist found himself nearly tackled to the ground and hugged for all his worth. “You cannot believe the hell I've been through! Sweet sweet familiar face!” He stopped and let Alberich go. “I don't think it's possible, but I dare say you've lost even more weight!”

Marcello stopped his tinkering as well and gave the artist the stink-eye.

But unexpectedly, Alberich smiled and pulled his cloak to the side, revealing his amputated state.

I- Oh....!” Roy stepped back. Apparently it was nothing compared to the hell the other had been through.

No treasure!” came a pathetic wail. “Nothin’ but JUNK! Junk'sfar as the eye can see. Look at all the junk!!” Seorise sobbed, casting his arm out in indication. Heata pat his captain's back consolingly.


What's his problem?”


Oh he's been like that since we arrived.” Alberich rolled his eyes. “Come on, nevermind him. Get a good look at this thing – It's called a 'Cosmic Treadmill' and we have to fix it before the world ends.”


Eobard rubbed his hands together with a grin, yes yes they were here! Well, one of them was missing, but that was fine! They were getting along! He finally allowed a small sliver of hope into his mind. His eyes scanned over them and paused on Lisa. He zipped to her side and glanced at what she clutched close to her chest, “Excuse me dear, but what might that be?”


Lí wǒ yuǎn diǎn” She hissed, recoiling back. Her brother stepped between her and the strange golden being.


No, yellow, leg foot. Bye!” he growled, leading his sibling to the treadmill.


Okay, it was far from perfect, but at this point it was too late to do anything more but hope for the best.


Eobard hopped up on the mountain of treadmills and clapped his hands, “Okay everybody! Let's all work together and get this thing done! So I can go home and your world can be saved!” He forced a grin and watched tentatively.


Alberich scratched his head, eyes flickering over the device, seeing every component and where things seemed to be disconnected. It was infinitely complex, but thanks to all these extra hands, he was able to direct most to get the job done as quickly as possible.


But still, something was wrong. Something important that blocked the energy from going from one place to another.


Dǎrǎo yīxià”


Alberich turned and found some strange lantern-like piece handed to him. Wait a minute... This was exactly what was missing!


Eobard hopped up, “Wait! Is that a missing part!?? Are you kidding me!!” In all his past-selves journals, there was no mention of a missing component anywhere. This was incredible news!


With the combined help of all hands present, Alberich was able to place the component. Everyone held their breath as it clicked into place. There was a whir and the machine began to shake. Everyone backed off and Eobard ran down, eyes wide with anticipation.


Then it sputtered and went quiet.


....hm...” Giovanni crossed his arms, “It seems that humpty dumpty is still not together.”


Do you think this is a JOKE!?” Eobard cried, grasping his head. “I need to get out of here!! What part of 'world hanging in the balance' do you simpletons not get??!”


He paused and took a deep breath. “... Okay... No – it's okay. You're all doing quite well just- take your time...” He laughed giddily and stared up at the black sky.

AH FOR FUCK'S SAKE.” Seoirse suddenly screamed, hopping up and stomping over. “I am SICK TO DEATH of this!”

Haeta followed along behind, scratching the back of his head nervously.

I THREW MY LIFE AWAY! And for WHAT? Some tart in yellow pajamas and a hunk of bloody JUNK!” with a mighty roar, he kicked the treadmill as hard as he could, jolting it roughly.

All mouths gasped.

Another kick, and a stomp, “Bloody piece of SHITE!”

Eobard laughed a little maniacally – oh, no, that's fine! Smash it to pieces! All hope was lost anyways. He had half a mind to join Seoirse himself.

Suddenly a final kick booted the machine to life and it started to shake violently against the ground – its belt turned faster than the eye could see and lighting shot from its blue aura. Haeta grabbed his captain and drug him back, “OH NOW YOU DECIDE TO – aaaAARRGH!!”

You did it!!” Eobard could just cry – no scratch that, there were tears. Real tears. “I can't believe it!!”

The ground under their feet started to rumble and crack, peaks crumbled all around them. Lighting rained down from the sky and the black wind was so intense it nearly swept them all off their feet.

WHAT'S HAPPENING???” Hartley cried grasping a rock.

Ewan and Sam looked to each other and knew what to do. “Everyone gather round!” they raised their hands and a bubble of light beat back the black and the howling weather. The remaining nine huddled in the circle – most of them screaming in terror without realizing it.

Eobard clamored onto the treadmill and grasped its handles and started to run backwards. A portal opened in the sky, brighter than anything he'd ever seen. His eyes settled on the group of trans-dimensional rogues. In the tiniest of split moments – a time that only a speedster could comprehend, he felt a deep seated pang of sorrow. He had watched these people grow up – custom designed every asset of their lives. The terror in each and every one of them, gazing up at him with confusion and dread.

It's going to be okay...!” he felt himself whisper – something that none would hear. Save for Hartley, who's eyes flashed recognition.

The white light in the sky enveloped all.

><><><

Somewhere far away a rooster called. Xaio Jin rolled over in her bed and yawned softly. It was time to get up. And as usual, she woke up far later than her beloved husband – he really did spoil her. It wasn't proper for a lady to sleep in so late.

Soon she stepped out of their tent and went out to feed the livestock, her golden hair glittering in the chilly winter air. Off in the hills she could see her husband and Da Ge conversing with their soldiers. Probably butting heads about where to move their camp – as usual. She smiled and shook her head – those two could never agree on anything. She would have to give her Da Ge another lecture about insubordination.

The pair saw her down in the valley and paused their emotive argument to wave.

Her heart swelled and she returned the gesture. All in all, it was a beautiful day.

><><><

Far out to sea, a ship sailed along the southern sea. Pirates hunted their next unexacting victims with bated breath and excited eyes. The captain's quarters were flung open and the crew cheered. “Ahoy Captain and first mate!!”

Digger grinned and swelled with pride, giving his first mate and best friend Haeta a slight inclination of his head.

Immediately the pyro started barking orders – whipping the the crew into shape, “ALRIGHT NOW YOU SCALLYWAGS, GREETING TIME'S OVER. BACK TO WORK!”

The Captain stuck his nose into the air and marched importantly to take his post at the helm. He didn't have much plans for today – but he had a good feeling nonetheless.

><><><

The royal painter, Roy Bivolo was at the market picking out fruit for his next still-life. It was a balmy spring afternoon without a single cloud as far as the eye could see. He felt inspired to paint something that would reflect his mood.

After filling his basket, he bumped into a couple of entertainers. A harlequin and bard by the looks of it. “Excuse us, but could you point us in the direction of the town square?”

Roy looked a bit irritated. “Yes, just follow that path and make a left. You honestly can't miss it!”

The jester tipped his floppy hat, “Thanks!”

Roy moved past them and went to pay for his basket, but when he reached behind to check his money sack, he found it was missing.

Wait a minute.

HEY!!” he turned on his heel just in time to see the entertainers break into a run. “GET BACK HERE! STOP! THIEVES!!”

><><><

Ewan the Barbarian kicked down the door to Duke Samuel's hide. “I 'ear there's someone in this bonny group that knows a little somethin o' light magicks.”

Criminals turned on the intruder, brandishing their weapons, but stopped at the sound of a snap.

They parted and Duke Samuel appeared, reclined in a luxurious chair, smoking a pipe. “That'd be me.”

Ewan's eyes lit up and he stepped forth. “That's just brilliant, then. I've traveled a long way to meetcha.”

><><><

I’ll bet your face will break from scowling so hard one morning when I arrive through your door.” Marcello leaned against the alchemist's door frame and grinned. “And it’ll be cast into that form for the rest of your life.”

Alberich's scowl nearly broke, and he snorted “Your solicitations are occurring at such obnoxious hours that any damage done to my face would be your liability.” The alchemist rolled out of bed and rubbed his hands down his mouth, trying to wipe the smile away.

Me? You’re the one who can’t keep track of the time of day down in this hole of yours - it’s nearly tea time.” The wizard stroked his beard that’d only just begun to fill in completely.

I suppose you're here to invite me out for tea then?”

Of course.” Marcello pushed the door the rest of the way open and swung his arm invitingly. “'Tis a beautiful day.”

>THE END<


Apex ch2
waterwindow

Do you think we're safe?” Alberich choked out between ragged panting, clutching at a tree for support. His legs wobbled from all the frantic running. He and Marcello had fled as soon as the black hole began to form, and luckily for them, they had already been on the edge of town. The black wind was no match for the wizard's weather magic and he had beat it back with his wand when it came for them. But despite having not far to run, they didn't stop once they were clear of the black. No – they were both too well-read to be so ignorant. Fear had them running until they could no longer, and walking until their legs gave out. Which was now. They had traveled so far from their home that they were now at the edge of a dense forest, and the destroyed town was nothing but a faint blemish on the horizon, outlined by the setting sun.

We should be...” Marcello removed his wizard's hat and fanned his face with it, sinking to the earth at Alberich's side. “Are you alright?”

I am not... Our home... Our lives! All our belongings- just... gone.”

Marc tried to keep his tone light.“Not exactly. I'm sure they're still there, under the rubble. And as for our homes, mine can withstand great winds, and you – well you live in the castle! It'll be quite a while before anything is looted. The beasts have probably made short work of the population. If anything, we should be concerned that we're now both out of a job – haha...”

Alberich's eyes widened, “Out of a JOB?? How can you joke right now!? If it weren't for your powers, we wouldn't be alive!” he coughed tiredly and put his head in his hands, “And it's probably only prolonged the inevitable.”

Probably.”

They sat in silence for a while, catching their breath, the sounds of the surrounding woods sending chills up their exhausted spines. The faintest echoes of splashing waves from the south told Alberich they were near some cliffs facing the ocean.

Finally the alchemist lifted his head, “Where are we...?”

Marcello didn't answer immediately, hiding a nervous grin, “Well... I don't know if I should tell you.”

Al sighed, “Please, my friend, I am too exhausted to play guessing games. I've been running after your coattails all day, and I'm hardly about to start another petty squabble. It's not like I'm going to get angry and just leave. We have to stick together, so for the sake of my sanity, be forthcoming with me from now on. Save us both the trouble.”

Well... I'm glad that's your sentiment. Because I have a feeling you won't-”

No, stop that! We're at the edge of some god-forsaken woods after fleeing for our lives from certain death – there's nothing useful anymore in beating around the bush. As charming as it can be in domesticity. For now let's put that all behind us and.....” He suddenly frowned, “We're following that map aren't we?”

I panicked.” The wizard raised his hands defensively. “It was the first thing that flew to my mind. I absolutely did not use this -- admittedly convenient -- catastrophe as an excuse to follow the map.”

Al crossed his arms and glared daggers. “Mmmhmm....”

I swear, it was one hundred percent adrenaline-driven momentary madness. I knew the path, and retraced this direction.” He yanked the card from his pocket and cursed with conviction, “Yes, it is ailing my mind! I'm sure of it. The wanderlust is too great, just as you said.”

His counterpart seemed convinced enough, “.... Well... I suppose I can't blame you for acting on instinct. You did provide us with a means of escape... even if that map does eventually lead straight into the shadow of yet another black hole.”

Marcello was forgiven, and he sighed in relief, “Ahh.... thank you.”

Yes, now we must find a safe place to hide – perhaps make our way to the nearest village for safety. As soon as morning breaks.”

Mmm... yes.” The wizard rubbed his thumb along the card and the map appeared, providing ample light between them, “It just... seems a waste.... Since we've already started... ” he glanced to the other and smiled hopefully.

I hate you.”

><><><

Quests like these come far too rarely for destiny to allow the chosen few to simply back out. That being said: what is destiny? Is it a beaten path marked out before every man and woman that they must walk, regardless of their desires? In some cases, perhaps it is. In this case though, it's something a little more preordained. Something carefully planned out by a person with the power to do so.


A person whose time is running short. Again.

The Cosmic Treadmill stood in pieces amongst a growing heap of broken machinery. Eobard Thawne glanced over it with low spirits. There was nothing left to do but wait. Red lightning tore through the inky skies. He knew his time was running short, as he grew weaker every day. If the Rogues of this world did not arrive soon to repair the Cosmic Treadmill, everything would revert back to the time when he’d first arrived in this wretched dimension. All the previous Eobards might have failed – and they now littered his surroundings as mounds of ghastly skeletons, garbed in tattered Professor Zoom uniforms and different stages of decay. But he had to convince himself he was their better, or else he'd go insane.

He carefully studied the ruins surrounding the growing mounds of broken treadmills and skeletons. This place seemed to be trapped in time, recording his actions through ruin and decay. The copious notes written for him by his previous selves had been collected and reviewed. Instead of flying into a panic, he devised a plan.

Eobard remained calm, collected. Meticulous. He would not wither and die like the other Zooms had. Even though (according to his records) this was apparently not the first time he'd tried to bring the Rogues here to fix the treadmill. Last time, one of his counterparts had brought them there using his super-speed and time-traveling abilities. It had proved fruitless: they’d been divided amongst each other, and uncooperative and fearful. Even after being threatened or bartered with, half of them couldn't even speak a language they could all understand. Let alone comprehend Eobard himself.

He needed to simulate the camaraderie they shared back in the twin cities. He needed to give them a mutual goal – to manipulate their lives until they were walking in step. Digger's sudden wealth, and the hiring of his crew and Mick. Evan's wanderlust for greater cities, and Sam's betrayal of his uncle. Roscoe and Lisa's marriage and his reconciliation with her brother. Hartley and James's lifelong friendship. Eobard manipulated everything as best he could, right down to Marcello being born in the same town as Albert. It had been exhausting, especially with his dwindling strength and the discouraging number of dead Eobards staring him right in the face.

Just creating those maps, using broken bits of previous treadmills, had been a feat all in itself. There was such limited and archaic technology available to him, as the time machines themselves were primitive compared to those in his proper timeline. Sophisticated and ingenious beyond his comprehension, sure – for a bucket of uncouth bolts. If only he could find a Barry Allen in this universe--! That would be a much more appealing option than putting his life in the hands of the Rogues. Alternate reality Rogues, no less.


It was especially frustrating that he couldn't jump to the near future to see if his plan had worked. It seemed that he couldn't run past the point of this universe's destruction. The instability of this reality's fiber was caused by the presence of the broken Cosmic Treadmill. Just barely held together by its dying breath. Hell, he’d had to break it further just to push Albert and Mark – oh excuse him, Marcello and Alberich -- to get off their lazy asses and get moving.

A dark chill ran through Eobard's bones and he clutched his shoulders tightly. He needed to rest, but was afraid to close his eyes. He, the treadmill, and this very reality were somehow connected now, and he had to stay alert to fight for his survival. He was at the mercy of these strange monsters, just like the others. To die prematurely would mean starting all over from scratch; another skeleton added to the pile.

The monsters themselves were curious: massive gorillas. He had been working with Grodd at the time he’d stolen the treadmill. Used some bullshit promise to take the gorilla back in time to change the evolution of the human race – as if he'd let that happen. All people bitten by these monsters became zombified half-gorillas, much like Grodd's failed tech had intended. The dimensional jump made the time immediately before it foggy and unclear. For all it was worth to speculate, this dimensional mayhem could have created some half-baked Grodd-clones of mass gorillafication. “Heh...”

Or maybe this had been Grodd's plan the whole time. It certainly seemed like the wet dream of a psychic gorilla hell-bent on destroying mankind. Eobard didn't know, and just trying to put together this nightmare was giving him a headache.

He swore that if he made it out alive, he would take months – no, a YEAR – TWO YEARS – to learn everything humanly possible about the Cosmic Treadmill and how to repair it, so this never happened again. He sighed – it made him paranoid that he had probably pondered these very thoughts countless times before. (Or not so countless – judging by the handles on the broken treadmills, he was lucky Eobard number one hundred and two! Goodie.)

He finally gave into his fatigue and took a seat on a nearby rock. The roars of monsters far away made his skin crawl. All in all it was a stupid plan: what could a band of old-timey alternate universe Rogues even do? Let alone fix a time machine. And even if by some carefully crafted miracle they could, how would Eobard be able to simulate the exact phenomena which had brought him here, but in reverse? He snorted and couldn't keep the deranged smile off his face. Reverse. He was just full of funny today. If anyone could do anything in reverse, it would be him, right? Right.

Of course...


><><><

I have to ask,” Hartley spoke blithely as he tramped through the underbrush. “What makes you so sure there'll be treasure at the end of this map?”

Wait, what? There has to be- I mean-” Roy sighed and rushed ahead of the musician and turned around, walking backwards so that he could see his mouth move. “There has to be! Why else would such a thing exist? I bet it's a magical treasure – filled with...” He motioned to the card in the ginger's hand. “That sort of stuff – stuff most people can't understand! And gold! Mountains of it!”

Hartley laughed. “Giovanni and I have been following this map for ages. My conclusion is that if this was a treasure map, then it would be much harder to follow – more... cryptic. If anything, this device is so simple a child could figure it out.”

Well what do you think it- whoa!” The artist stumbled back over a branch and nearly lost his footing – how this asshat manages to make everyone else bend over backwards just for a simple conversation was beyond him. “What are you getting at?”

I think it leads to some sort of... higher power. Someone or... something that wants to meet us.” The musician replied with a hint of amusement at Roy's misfortune.

Higher power...?”

Giovanni stumbled out of the woods noisily and brushed some leaves off his head. “He thinks we're going to find God. By the way, there's a path back there.”

Roy gasped in relief, “Glorious! I've twisted my ankle for the last time.” The jester led the way, and Roy decided to wait until they were on level ground before continuing his backwards-walking conversation. “God? Really. You really think there's a God somewhere waiting for someone to find them. It sounds a little ridiculous. You'd think if they were powerful enough to make... that-” He pointed at the map. “Then he would simply skip the ordeal and come meet us in person.”

Hartley shrugged. “Nobody said that God was especially mobile.”

Actually that's not really....” The artist frowned and shook his head. “Never mind. Change of topic: you go on and on about how long you've been following this map – granted, if I actually believed you, which I still don't - how long exactly have you been trekking about?”

Months!” Giovanni chimed in from up ahead. “I'd say it's been almost half a year at least.”

Months,” Hartley replied with a small smirk. “At least half a year I think.”

I just said that.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “I think one of you needs to be mute to even things out a bit.”

The jester turned on heel and began walking backwards as well to join the conversation. “Ah sure! And you can be blind, it'll be perfect! Walk a bit faster if you can and I'll jab out your eyes – then you may have the knife and cut out my tongue. It'll go just swimming.”

Roy's face turned bright red in indignation, for Giovanni had wounded his pride more than the two of them knew. Hartley laughed his strange, monotone and overly loud laugh. “A deaf musician, a blind painter, and a mute comedian – it sounds like a very entertaining novel waiting to be written. Not that you need any further handicap to be terrible at what you do, Giovanni.”

Roy's face only grew redder. “...You shouldn't joke about the blind.”

Gio huffed, looking equally indignant. “Yes, shame on you. Don't make fun of disabilities!”

Hartley frowned and stopped in his tracks, staring past the pair at an ominous oncoming horde off in the distance. “Stop and turn around. Infected.”

The trickster and artist nearly tripped over themselves to see that the ginger spoke the horrible truth.

Not more than ten meters away, hidden just barely by a curve in the path was a great hulking flock of misshapen humans with torn clothes and gray skin and mangled mangy black hair growing in odd places on their bodies. Almost as soon as they saw them, the stench of rancid animal met their collective noses. This was Roy's first time seeing so many, and so close. He'd had an unlucky encounter with the large ape-beasts early upon entering the shadow, but while those were horrid in every way imaginable... this was both parts tragic and grotesque.

The artist covered his mouth, hissing quietly, “D-do they see us?”

Hartley growled and tore the artist's hands from his face, “What?!”

Giovanni flipped around and gave them both a death glare, mouthing something slowly, 'shut up, the both of you...!'

Roy got the shut-up bit at least and nodded. It must be very convenient for these two to communicate with mere lip-reading - he'd be more impressed if he wasn't about to shat himself. The infected didn't seem to notice them, but they did seem to be moving their way as if in a herd.

Sweat rolled down Giovanni's back as thoughts raced through his mind, 'Up the trees...!' he mouthed hurriedly. Hartley grabbed Roy's arm and led him to the nearest climbable pine. They scrambled up as high as they could without making too much noise. Giovanni followed up, though much more slowly.

Hartley was mouthing things furiously down at the jester as he made the slowest climb imaginable. Roy's dark hair was plastered to his head with perspiration and his heart caught in his throat. The first infected just barely made it under Giovanni's foot.

What are you doing...?? Climb...!” He hissed as loudly as he dared, there's no reason why this jester should be struggling up each branch at such a pace, especially in this emergency.

Giovanni couldn't drag his eyes away from the ground as the horde passed beneath him, his trembling was so intense, the branch itself shook under his weight. While it was true these beasts seldom looked up, the noise was getting worrisome.

Hartley could see the leaves trembling and could only imagine the kind of racket it was causing. Fear for Giovanni's life took over. The jester was still all too within the creatures’ reach, and a half-dozen had already paused curiously, gnashing their horrible disfigured mouths.

Without thinking, and to Roy's shock, Hartley swung down his branch to Giovanni's. Thanks to the blond, they were going to be discovered regardless, the jester needed to be out of their reach. The ginger nearly lost his footing grabbing a couple fistfuls of his partner's tunic and hoisting him over his head to the higher branch.

A sickening snap shook the trunk of the tree, Roy gasped, the combined weight had been too much for the limb, and he saw the musician lose his footing over a sea of malformed humanity.

NO!” The artist wasn't very fit, but adrenaline pushed him off his perch, swinging a leg down to Hartley's aid. The musician waved his arms wildly and barely managed to grasp the tip of Roy's boot.

Hartley's heel collided with the top of one of their heads and instantly the beasts went wild. As soon as they were spotted every mangled man, woman, and child began clamoring over each other manically. The noise of screeching was deafening. Already Hartley's cloak was being torn from his neck, dragging him towards the mob.

The extra pull made Roy's arms scream. “HOLD ON!!” He wouldn't allow himself to let go of the branch. But no amount of desperate chemical-fueled panic could give Hartley the strength to grasp Roy's moss-slick boot. Before the artist even knew it, the weight was gone. By the time he had scrambled back up on his branch, Hartley was consumed by a mass of fur and rabid fangs.

AAGH!!” Giovanni sat gasping, having some sort of panic attack against the trunk of the tree, stock frozen and unable to do anything. Hammering filled Roy’s ears as an instinctual fear gripped his heart unlike any other. He jumped to his trembling feet, balancing on the branch long enough to lob a tightly packed sack from his sidebag right in the center of the ravenous mob. Yellow powder cloud exploded every direction upon impact – but to Roy, it appeared more a light gray.

Mere seconds later, the yellow-coated mob began shrieking in terror and scattered like roaches, clawing at their own skin and tripping over themselves and eachother to escape. Roy bravely (or stupidly) leapt from his branch and landed messily on the ground. “RAAAGH!!” He waved his arms wildly and chased them off - The Infected's screams echoed through the forest as they ran for their lives, fading out of sight.

Hartley's frantic, kicking body appeared as the dust settled, his screams finally prevailing above all. He was writhing on the ground, trying madly to get the sticky powder off him. He was wild with terror, near frothing at the mouth. “CALM DOWN IT'S OKAY!” Roy cried, grabbing Hartley by his arms and dragging him off the path, into the forest. Water, he needed water! Wet leaves would have to do – He tore Hartley's clothes off as quickly as he could and started shoving handfuls of grass and moss and any wet shrubbery he could find, mopping the yellow substance off Hartley's skin.

Are you bit?? Are you bitten?!?” He gripped Hartley's face and forced eye contact as he spoke.

AEEEGH!! GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” Roy finally grabbed his canteen off his belt and emptied what was left inside onto Hartley's face. The artist's vision was already a little warped from the affects of the powder on his hands, but he'd grown accustomed to the affects.

Hartley's screams finally died down and he dissolved into frantic panting sobs.

He leaned over the ginger's face “Hartley! It's enchanted! It's just the powder!”

The musician's wild eyes became more focused and he shakily nodded. “P-powder...!”

Yes, it's paint! It's just dry paint powder; I use it in my work! Mix it with oil it turns to paste, mix with water and it dissolves. It's enchanted paint. It makes you feel things. Do you understand. There's nothing to be afraid of, the monsters are gone! It's just magic!”

Hartley's breathing leveled out with some effort and he continued to nod. “Magic...!”

Roy relaxed his grip. “....Are you bitten?”

I... I don't think so...” He sat up and checked his body – scrapes and bruises, but nothing that could be a bite. He was lucky. Too lucky, “No... I'm not – LOOK OUT!!”

A loud slobbering zombified woman threw herself out of the bushes just feet behind them with a cannibalistic roar. Terror engulfed the artist and the musician, as they were both under the affects of the yellow powder.

A wide circular bladed hoola-hoop flew through the brush and decapitated the ape-woman mid-lunge. Giovanni leaped in soon after it and kicked the head away in disgust, “Ugh!”

He retrieved his ring from the trunk of a tree and checked the surroundings before coming to the pair's sides. “Are you two alright??”

Roy gulped and collapsed against Hartley. “Y...yes...” He stared at his stained hands and hurriedly wiped them on the grass until they were clean.

Giovanni...” Hartley pulled himself to his feet. “Are you alright?”

I'm fine. You?”

I'm alright... thanks to our artist.”

Roy found himself swelling with pride as he accepted the helping hand from Giovanni. The blond slapped a hand roughly on his shoulder. “Thank you....I wasn't sure it would work... I've never... used it that way...”

You'll have to tell me about that later... Let's get a fresh set of clothes for you.” Gio grabbed Hartley by the arm and led him through the underbrush.

Together they trod back out into the clearing and Hartley retrieved his bag, trampled on the ground. Roy carefully extracted the garments and let the musician dress himself.

After a lengthy silence, Giovanni spoke up. “Look... Hartley, I- about the tree. I'm... sorry... It was my idea, I should have-”

It's okay, I understand,” Hartley replied, adjusting his fresh cape.

Roy finished rubbing the musician's sack around in the dirt to clear it of yellow paint, “So... What was it? The monsters?”

The trickster kicked at the ground and decided it was best to set his pride aside. “Look... I'm afraid of heights, okay? It's stupid, I know...”

Oh...” An acrobat afraid of heights? Well weren't they a trio.

You can laugh if you want.”

After what they went through, the last thing Roy felt was the urge to do anything of the sort. “I won't... I'm...” He sighed and shook the dirt off Hartley's bag before handing it back to him. “I'm colorblind...”

Hartley and Giovanni stopped and stared at the shortest of them with mild shock. “Wait... you're....”

Roy glared at the ground. “Yes... The powder... er, paint – it's a gimmick to get people to like my paintings. Otherwise it's just... uninspired. To say the least.”

For once Hartley was the one going out of his way to see what Roy had to say, crouching down to get a better look at his mouth. “That's....” He grinned, looking up into the artist's gray eyes, “That's spectacular.”

You're just saying that because I saved your sorry lives...” Roy blushed and started down the path stiffly. “.... But thanks.”

Giovanni beamed. Hartley passed the map to him and he activated it before continuing on their way.

><><><

Do you think we could walk around it?” Alberich stared up at the black cloud circling ominously overhead as he carefully walked along a long piece of drift wood.

It was the evening of the fifth day of their travels. Thanks to Alberich's alchemy, they didn't need to forage for food. He was able to make salt water fresh and turn rocks into bread. And thanks to Marcello, they didn't need to worry about weather conditions getting too harsh. It seemed they were unstoppable, and that made the Alberich a little more confident and willing than when they first started. It also helped that they hadn't run into any monsters along the way. Just distant roars coming from inland that sent chills down their spine. But with a cliff separating them from the forest, lined with driftwood for them to walk along to keep from being tracked, the two of them began to feel safer every day. But both of them, even the enthusiastic Marcello was dreading the inward curve in their trajectory about two days ahead. It was a path that would funnel them directly through the looming shadow of a black hole.

The wizard hopped from one log to another quite a bit further ahead. Suddenly he turned on his heel, holding his hat as the sea wind tried to sweep it off his head. “I'm not sure if it would be quicker or less dangerous my dear alchemist. I've heard the beasts patrol the border just as much as they lurk within – it would be more trouble than it's worth when held to light of the time we would save.”

I understand that... it's just... I can't fight. And neither can you,” Alberich pointed out, fiddling with his hood. “Together we can survive the time it would take to go around, there's not really a hurry.”

The first is true - but I suppose a little wind or lightning could deter anything.” Marcello wasn't accustomed to using his magic for combat, but with danger around every corner he had to be prepared to do anything. He looked back at Al and offered, “And you could change the face of a beast to gold or something with your powers.”

...I've never used it on a person before, or any living creature – I wouldn't dare. What's so urgent that we couldn't just go around? We're already in this together. I don't care if it takes a whole month to get around that thing – I'd rather just avoid it. ”

Marcello didn't exactly agree that those deformed things were people at all. Then again, he'd never seen one of these 'Infected' – or the giant monkey monsters either - just vivid tales and the fear in the eyes of survivors.

They were survivors – in a way. The sound of a roar echoing from far off made him shudder. It was hard to balance on all this driftwood, but Alberich insisted any animal or beast would be unlikely to track them if they avoided making foot prints along the beach.

The questions concerning their rout made Marc a little nervous. Alberich was far from willing on this little trek, but Marcello knew Al wouldn't split off with him. Less for the lack of courage or knowledge of where to go, but more an unspoken duty to keep the wizard safe. All the arguing and name-calling – it was just a petty facade brought on thanks to a cushy life. It felt like they were brothers – Marcello intruding on Al's privacy whenever he pleased like an irritating younger sibling. Now they were marching into the belly of the beast, at his own behest with Alberich trudging along behind.

They spent time together because they felt like they found strange solace in each other's company. Now they weren't just the only wizards in Centrala – for all they knew, they were the only Centralans left at all. He couldn't bear to think what would happen if he inadvertently led Al to his death, but he had his reasons for their haste. Something that was eating him up inside like a disease.

Alberich?”

Yes, Marcello?” The alchemist yelped and nearly slid off his log.

The Weather Wizard stopped and backtracked, helping Alberich steady himself. “I'm happy you are here with me.”

The alchemist stared at the strong hand gripping his forearm and then at Marcello. “Well... I haven't much a choice.”

No, you did. You could have gone on your own – but you haven't left my side. I led you to believe we're following this map because I've been very spoiled and unwilling to compromise. But there's... more.” He let Alberich's arm go and took a seat on a log, kicking sand at a crab scuttling by. “Ever since this card came to me... I've felt... a great apprehension. This dread... Like something terrible is going to happen.”

Al crossed his arms and joined his counterpart, staring into his eyes with an unreadable expression.

Marcello sighed and rest his head in his hand.“It feels like the world is ending. And that whatever's at the end of this map will... perhaps... prevent it? I don't know if I'm making any sense....”

You're not getting religious on me, are you?”

What?”

Al managed a half-grimacing smirk. “You are beginning to get rather emotional... I don't know if I like it. Go back to where you were dragging me into an adventure – be smug like this is what you've always wanted. I don't want to think that this a kind of quest to save the world.

I want you to tease me and be reckless. I thought we were throwing our lives away here. I don't want to feel remorse. I'd rather just be irritated at you.”

Marc raised his head, frowning at Alberich.

My heart is too soft.” The alchemist stood up and continued down the beach.

The wizard sat there in silence a while, staring out at the ocean. He wasn't sure what to think of that, but he supposed it was strange, even for Alberich, that is. He thought the alchemist would appreciate the openness, but his own apprehension probably wasn't something Alberich wanted shared with him. The wizard sighed and rubbed his temples – he was confused.

Suddenly a dark figure leaped up from behind Marcello and tackled him into the sand. They were ambushed. “AGH!!”

Marc found himself pinned by a large, heavy man, covered in tattoos. He turned his face and spat out sand, yelling past the huge hand at his mouth, “ALBERICH!” But it was too late – the alchemist was in the dirt – also pinned by a stranger. Marcello struggled to no avail. He felt his ankles being tied to his wrists and was immobilized before he even laid a hand on his wand.

Alberich was heading for a similar situation – but as soon as the rope bit into his wrists, the Alchemist roared. His bonds disintegrated in a flash of green smoke as he rolled over, kicking the shocked assailant in the stomach before army-crawling away. The pair jumped to their feet circled each other. Al fumbled free his small serpentine dagger from his belt – it wasn't the kind for combat. Just a surgical tool used by alchemists and doctors for extracting blood from corpses, with many curves and a divot that ran its length.

YAHH!” He swung wildly at his captor, who ducked and dodged every slash with ease. A bladed boomerang deflected the last few swings, beating Alberich back before the fiery-haired stranger planted a strong right hook right across the alchemist's face. Marcello cried in anger as his friend fell flat on his back like a cut down tree.

Finally the stranger spoke, holstering his strange choice in weapon. “... Well that was unexpected.” He grabbed Alberich by the foot and dragged him over to where Marcello still lay pinned.

Who are you?? Bandits??”

Hold your tongue.” The man seated on Marcello's back growled.

Pirates actually. Haeta, take everything – food, water, weapons, clothes. Everything they have. We have a long journey ahead of us.” Seoirse searched the horizon. “And hurry.”

Pirates. Their fowl stench could have been enough to clue Marcello in. He struggled violently against his bounds as he was rolled over and searched. His savage captor took his belt, sword and bag. He felt his hat lift from his head and the apparent leader of the two donned it. “What do you think, Haeta?”

Give that back!!”

Haeta grunted and pulled Marcello's wand from his boot. “Captain.”

Seoirse examined it. “Mages! I didn't know they traveled in packs.” He crouched down by Marcello's face and poked his cheek with the end of his own wand. “Luckily for us, definitely not the warlock kind.” He smirked darkly. “Not much food on you.... Not much of anything. Do the two of you live near here?” He stabbed his cheek a little harder. “A nice little wizard's hut?”

Haeta grabbed Marcello's long hair and pulled his face up hard. “Got lots of food there, I bet.”

Marcello just glared and squirmed harder, sucking in a breath, “HEEEEEEEELP!!!”

The two pirates looked at each other, irritated. The Captain shrugged and stood, “Shut him up.”

Heata punched the wizard out cold without a second thought.


Apex ch1
waterwindow

In a world not unlike this one, a long time ago, a long ways away - yet ever so close - a great destiny was unfolding. A blind journey shared by a small multitude of travelers from all walks of the earth. Drawn by the promise of a treasure so vast, a mystery so tantalizing, it would end their woes forever. In this world, magic is real. Monsters are real. Great gaping holes in the sky, from which hellish beasts with infectious fangs fall, are real. What was once a simple world of rich culture and great promise was slowly turning into an apocalyptic nightmare. The holes in the sky that had once been an odd and rare occurrence were becoming slowly darkening patches of the horizon. Demonic creatures overcame small cities in single nights – leaving nothing but corpses and the unlucky few who survived. Reduced to ravaging zombies who wander aimlessly, they wait to attack any living thing that dares cross their path.

With such a backdrop of devastation, why would anyone dare to leave the safety of their homes in search of something so mundane as a promised treasure? Or a mystery? Well it takes a certain walk of people. Luckily for them, destiny had a mind to drop the information concerning this fool's quest into precisely the right hands.

><><><

There was a man in a city -- a grand city of art and literature in the heart of what our world might call Italy. He was a man of science and magic -- a tall, soft-spoken outcast who spent his days toiling in the workshop of a castle, serving a lord. This man was beautiful, with skin that shone like ivory, and he was always wrapped in a green hooded cloak that dipped along the floor as he walked his careful, quiet paths. His eyes were almond shaped, and rimmed with dark lashes that peeked past the edge of his profile as he studied his books and his chemistry and spells.

This man was an alchemist, Alberich Dies, unknown except to those with a keen eye. Or to the curious people who wondered why there was a door near the castle dungeons that was always locked, or noticed the hunched figure who scuttled up the stairs to whisper coyly in the lord’s ear. And the answers they received? A mystic. A wizard. A powerful sorcerer. None knew the man personally save for the other local wand-waver in the city, a man who pranced to and from his workshop on the outskirts of town to the castle as he pleased. It took one to know one, court workers supposed, and it seemed fitting that the Weather Wizard would be the only one to know the strange, beautiful alchemist who was rarely ever seen.

Or rather, ‘buggered constantly’, if anyone were to ask the soft-spoken doctor, but nobody ever did. Not even Marcello, the Wizard himself, because he wasn’t the sort to be curious about the inner workings of another’s mind at all. Not even a bit. He was simply extroverted, he needed company, and there was only one other person in this grand city of Centrala that any man with powers to spare could relate to and that was none other than poor Alberich who loathed the uninvited company, even on good days.

I’ll bet your face will break from scowling so hard one morning when I arrive through your door and it’ll be cast into that form for the rest of your life.” Marcello waved with an equally enthusiastic smile to match the frown that met him from the bed in the corner of Al’s chambers.

Your solicitations are occurring at such obnoxious hours that any damage done to my face would be your liability.” The alchemist rolled out of bed and rubbed his eyes.

Me? You’re the one who can’t keep track of the time of day down in this hole of yours - it’s nearly tea time.” The wizard stroked his beard that’d only just begun to fill in completely (much to his ever growing pride) and began scouring around the chambers for a tea pot just to make his point.

Cupboard,” the shorter man replied with a flippant flick of the wrist in its general direction. “The leaves may have taken root in the sack, if the bugs haven’t had their way with them yet.” Al got dressed, slipped into his tunic and cloak and dragged himself back to bed with a flop. He pulled the hood over his face, and hoped that his flamboyant counterpart would simply vanish if he ignored the man long enough.

There’s been some oddcomings as of late, my dear -- immigration from the far north and east, and pirates cropping up from parts unknown. Meanwhile, the duke’s own nephew has taken up a thug’s life in the streets as authorities turn a blind eye, and the great gaping holes that have opened in the sky seem to have doubled in size. Monsters and disease are pervasive throughout the land, even in heavily populated areas -- and all you can do is hide in your little bunker and solve the mysteries of life for the lord, which he uses to build a deadlier army.” A cup of steaming tea floated down into Alberich’s view and he reluctantly accepted it, finally deciding to sit up and face the intruder.

It is but a life to be had - these happenings are like rocks being dropped in a bowl of oats, spraying them left and right, displacing and replacing their previous normality with something they may see as unnatural. While in reality, they are nothing but particles subjected to change at the universe’s mercy - monsters and holes in the sky and immigration and all. They have no control, no choice or rebuttal, only the reaction to events as they happen.” Al sipped his tea and grimaced, “The only thing you CAN do is accept your life as it is and get on with it.”

Marc rolled his eyes, “You have a very bleak outlook on life, my dear Alchemist. It’s from willingly blinding yourself to the outside world. These walls confine your mind and cause it to grow into itself like a rotten fruit. Imagine how much good you’d do yourself if you set it free and became to be a spectator to the world’s horrors as they unfold around you?” He laughed and cleared a spot off Al’s desk to plant his rear. “It’s because your heart is too soft, you fear the pain of reality.”

What do you know of my heart?” Alberich grumbled

I know the heart of a man with fair face and intelligence and wealth. Who hides away like a mollusk. Whose only knowledge of society as it evolves around him is secondhand from yours truly, shoving it down your throat while you kick and scream the whole way.” Marc’s eyes twinkled (quite literally, for they sparked in the dim light) and this irritated Alberich all the more.

Come with me to my workshop - it’s an hour’s walk from here.” the wizard continued, “Just once, stretch your legs - feast your starving eyes on scenery that isn’t closed in by four walls. I have something fascinating to share with you.”

I have work to do,” Al grouched. He stood up and made his way towards his large book shelf -- only to have his path blocked by a gust of wind so strong that it caught his cloak and twisted him around on his heel to face the wizard, wand in hand, smile on his face.

You’re blowing my work everywhere.”

Oh please, this place is so disorderly, you can barely even tell - come now, I won’t let you be until you grant me this at least. Just one brisk walk and if you don’t like it, I won’t mention it again!”

Well... if that was the case. A small look of consideration passed over those fair features and the prospect of a future that wasn’t plagued with Marc’s insistent outdoorsy nagging was enticing.

I promise I won’t like it -- whatever it is you simply must share,” Al grumbled. He changed his cloak to a shorter one that didn’t drag along the ground, and dug out a satchel from under his bed.


Marcello beamed, “You may be surprised my friend.” And indeed, Marcello had something to show the alchemist – something to share.

><><><

Seoirse Harkness and Haeta Poi weren't really friends. Haeta was reserved, quiet, and unassuming. Strong and obedient. They weren't enemies either; they were on as equal terms as two pirates on a crew could be – when one was the captain, that is. Which really wasn't all that equal, but Seoirse was too standoffish for his status to affect the rest of the crew's deep psychological reverence. Yes, he shouted orders and made his way around the decks scolding any lollygaggers – executing any who dared defy him like a good pirate captain. But he was too remote. Looking out and standing away, and never meeting the eyes of his crew. He was empty inside, and that hollowness both frightened the crew and simultaneously dulled their senses to his presence. He was a billowing beast on a far away summit behind the eyes.


Or, you could say that Haeta and Seoirse were friends.

Haeta had strange ideas about friendship. Laughing together, drinking together, speaking to one another or meeting each others’ eyes weren't really requirements for friendship – after all, shipmates were supposed to stick together. Maybe unspoken friendship is like a hollow loyalty, but not in the negative sense – 'hollow' as in there's space to fill, with plenty of room. Potential real estate for some strong foundations of a friendship. Yes.


This was satisfying for Haeta to think about. So they were friends, or they would be soon. On the other hand, the captain hardly knew his relatively inexperienced crew's names, let alone possessed any hopes or aspirations to befriend them. These men were simply an end to his means. Pirates didn't make friends; they made enemies, corpses, and money. Lots and lots of money...

Far away from Italy -- more southerly than Egypt, more easterly than Greece, over limitless oceans and past the edge of the world to the most remote place on Earth -- there was a continent of the damned. A prisoner’s paradise, unexplored but by those who were condemned and shipped there from the known world to rot and fend for themselves. It was unheard of by most who’d otherwise care to know (and many did not), and even less known to those who didn’t care either way. A large flat expanse of red earth that bloomed in every direction. This was where the not-so-merry crew and their captain had originated.

This detail isn't important, other than to emphasize the immense lengths Seoirse Harkness has gone to fulfill a quest thrust upon him by the happenstance discovery of a mysterious wealth at sea – and the equally mysterious object which compelled him northward. The eventual hiring of his crew and these ulterior motives of which he shared with more than he knew were plotting his course in the very fate of their world.

On the ocean, sailing up along a clamoring coastline, this pirate ship searches for a treasure. The Crew, they follow blindly - to the knowledge that they were searching for instead a city of pigs, fat and ripe for the sticking. <This is a strange sentence. Are the crew not aware that they are searching for the city, or are they not aware of the true objective and just think that they’re gunning for the city?>

Unknown to all, however: they were heading for certain disaster.

They were hardly the last of the travelers to the humble city of Central, as if spurned by some unstoppable force – something like fate, only thicker, and far less bright and full of potential. It was a dark, sickly lull that tightened around poor traveling souls like a noose. Yet they pressed on, the artifacts of their quest clutched in their freezing palms.

><><><

In a very cold, lonely place, two travelers trudge along stoutheartedly in a frozen hell of steep inclines and cliffs. A woman and her elder brother gnash their teeth back at the chill, regardless of impossible conditions- only time will tell if these two are tougher than the ice that threatens to seal their doom. It is said that this mountain is the tallest in the world. But what is the world to two banished hearts, other than the ground at their feet and a disappearing horizon?

They are both of Hunnic descent. They were born to battle the everlasting winter of the Himalayas -- one a warrior, a mercenary, weathered and full of too much experience. He whips the horse mercilessly, though he knows it will not last much longer in the blizzard -- all that’s left to do is get it as far as it can go and carve it once it drops. They are low on supplies.

The sister isn’t made of the same stuff, but the journey has toughened her up. The tears stopped weeks ago, while her soft delicate hands are now thick and calloused from the cold air and slapping the stubborn steed. Her beautiful face and hair are thoroughly shielded with thick wraps, cloth from her brother’s back, which protect her from the cold.

How did they find themselves on this summit? What would cause a lonely caravan of two to travel so far west?

Do you think he made it, Da Ge?” The sister's hair shimmered as she shook – fear creeping into her. She spoke of her husband, who had left on the same fool's quest months ago and they had yet to hear from him.

Despite his dislike of his brother-in-law, her brother fought to keep the same worry from his face. “He most certainly did.”

><><><

Alright. We're here. Show me what it is that you were so desperate to show me so I can go home.” Alberich growled, crossing his arms. His feet were tired from walking all the way across town. He wasn't made for tramping about like this – it was exhausting. He was much happier to stay indoors “And pray that it was not something you could have easily carried with you to my home instead of bringing me all the way out here.”

His wizard companion scoffed and opened his front door, stepping aside for the Alchemist to enter before him, “Don't be foolish my dear, I wouldn't carry such a valuable artifact on my person in public! When you see, you will understand.”

It better be a diamond the size of my fist in that case, otherwise, I highly doubt it.” he huffed and pressed onward into the Wizard's home. He'd been here once before for official wizard's business (on a HORSE, like a proper sane-minded person) – the place looked basically the same as the last, very tidy save for the copious amounts of books stacked to the ceiling everywhere one looked. Alberich and Marcello shared a passion in that regard. “Where is it.”

Here.” Marc came from his room excitedly with a small box in his hand – its contents soon revealed. The alchemist <peered? looked? glanced?> within. Nestled safely inside was what appeared to be a shimmering golden-plated card, which Al would have mistook for a valuable mirror if not for the strange zig-zagging red pattern bisecting it vertically. With the help of his powers, Al could ascertain the components nestled in its core, but did not know the elements which composed it. It was a rainbow of metals and unknown pieces compressed in layers that ran together in beautiful geometric patterns, though how something so intricate could fit within a paper-thin space was baffling. “It's.... it's beautiful...”

Marc grinned, “Yes it is, I would like a recitation of what it is your glorious eyes can see. I very much want to know exactly how it works.”

Works...?”

Its beauty is that's not all that it is.” He lifted it from the box and held it between them, “Prepare yourself.”

Marcello rubbed his thumb along the stretch of red pattern along its surface and the card began to glow.

><><><

Haeta's eyes grew into saucers – he had to physically inhibit a cry of shock by biting his thumb. Their ship had reached its destination, and the dutiful first mate had come down to the captain's quarters to relay the information. For the first time in their lengthy journey, Haeta arrived to a door left partially ajar. Despite understanding the captain's preference for absolute privacy, he just couldn't resist a peek.

What met his eye was nearly too much for the simple-minded man to comprehend. He had grown up in a rural environment, and jumping from tribesman to pirate first mate was a valiant step of rebellion and independence. He had very little magic to his name and relied more on the natural tools of combat, sprinkled with his own special affiliation for everything to do with fire. But perhaps his self-proclaimed thirst for adventure was paltry when compared to that of others, because in all his travels, Haeta had never laid his eyes on something like this.

The obvious conclusion was that the scene had something to do with dark witchcraft. What else could it possibly be? The captain stood with his back to the door, holding something small and flat and made of gold in his hands. And from this object came a sort of sparkly blue spidery projection made of pure light.

Haeta regained his composure and leaned in closer, pressing his nose flat against the wall. It was... most unmistakably a map. But so much more comprehensive – it had depth and perspective, like a miniature model of the seascape. Not only that, but it MOVED like some kind of dream, painting a perfect bird's eye-view of the surrounding area. It showed the coastline, and the city they approached! And even more, there was a marked path on it. Haeta could at the very least read a map, for god's sake, and there was a clear red dotted line marking their exact course. If only he could get a closer look. Where was their captain leading them? The pyro stumbled back, holding his breath, and tried to come to terms with this new information. A magic map which was leading them blindly along with it. A map to what, though?

He took a steady step in reverse, carefully stepping up the stairs – but curse those creaky floor boards. His position was given away almost instantly and the door was flung open, with a furious captain at its threshold.

What did you see?”

><><><

Where does it point to....?” Alberich whispered in bone-jarring awe. Never in his life had he witnessed something like this. He could feel a great self-sustaining energy radiating from the golden card – and that MAP it displayed – and it was all too overwhelming.

I don't know.” Marc rubbed his finger over the surface again and the floating image disappeared, much to Alberich's relief. It had begun to frighten him. “The charted path leads up the coastline, but the image ends there and there's no way to tell where it leads....” the wizard smirked, enjoying the power he had suddenly gained over the good doctor's attention. “Unless the holder of the map travels the course – because the image rebuilds itself every mile you travel, from what I've assessed.”

Alberich was shaken from his trance and suddenly furious. “YOU WENT UP THE COAST?? Are you mad?! Please tell me you did not walk into the shadow of the hole in the sky – you could have been devoured by a BEAST – or WORSE! Made into a monster yourself!!”

Marc laughed, “Awww, so concerned! I'm touched,” and put his hand on his chest. “Yes, I went up the coast – no, I did not pass into the shadow, or allow myself to get anywhere near it. I simply did what was necessary to understand this device more. The coordinates most definitely lead into the badlands. I estimate they may go as far as the mountains.”

Al needed to sit down. “That thing is – is -” Well, frankly he didn't know. And he didn't like that he didn't know. “It's malicious!! It's evil! Don't let the sight of it pass over your eyes – put it back in the box!! NOW!!” He lunged at the wizard and pried the card free, shoving it into its container and tossing it onto Marcello's bed at the other end of the room.


Marc was shocked, hands grasping air where the box had once been. “Well, hello now! I wasn't expecting such a strong reactio-”

Do not take this sort of evil so lightly!! That... that THING is dark magic of some sort and I... I will not allow it to addle your mind!” Al hissed sharply, jutting a dangerous finger in the wizard's direction.

Marc raised his hand in self-defense, “I think you're being a little ridiculous, and when did you become my mother?”

It NEARLY got you killed!”

You're just frightened of it because you don't understand it.” the wizard frowned and stepped around his counterpart, retrieving the box before it received any further abuse, “It's obviously leads to something of great importance – else it would not be so magnificent!”

Because I don't- OF COURSE I DON'T!! And neither do you for that matter! How did you come across that accursed thing?!”

It came in a parcel! And I've studied it at length since it arrived! I didn't invite you here just so you could pull the rug out from under me!”

Alberich gripped his head and punctuated his disbelief with a short, high-pitched laugh, “Surely you jest. I knew you were irresponsible, but this time you allow your curiosity to go too far! To brazenly absorb yourself in some mystery map and let it lead you to parts more hellish than all could fathom is -!”

Marc crossed his arms. “Now see here, I never said I would follow the map to the end – that's a fool's errand! I couldn't simply drop everything I have here and go on some grand journey, leading to means that are anyone's guess!”

But you were THINKING it! I see it even now. It's driving you mad with wanderlust – cast it out immediately!”

I will not!” Marc held the box behind himself protectively and smirked, “I think you're jealous.”

JEALOUS??” This was laughable, absolutely laughable, “I barely like to leave my BED! I would rather die of gout than go to wherever that map is leading!”

Marc scoffed – he’d grown weary of this conversation “Calm your hysteria before you hurt yourself, Alberich. I wouldn't dream of leaving this city, you have so little faith in-”

Suddenly the ground shook and a stack of books toppled to the floor. The quibbling magicians froze stock still, staring at each other in fear.

....me?”

><><><

On a seemingly unrelated note – at that exact moment, perhaps a little bit before -- at the center of the city a sort of petty gang-war was in full swing. As mentioned by Marcello earlier that day, the duke's nephew Samuel Scudd had taken up a life of public harassment and crime. The young man, tired of living in the dull good graces of his uncle, had emancipated himself and now gleefully walked the streets as a menace. He was a crafty little snot, though, impressionable and talented in finer light-based magics. He'd gained quite a following for himself. His gang was as troublesome as it pretended to be prestigious – prancing around with their chests puffed out importantly, and terrorizing whomever they deemed fit. All as the duke turned a blind eye.

But the rebellious royal was not above petty rivalries – and recently within the past month, a strange immigrant from far north had come down and begun to plunder the wealthy as he pleased – as if he had the RIGHT to. This was Sam's town. And to make matters WORSE, this man by the name of 'Ewan' – or something of that sort – had the GALL to use the very same light-based magics to execute his crimes as Samuel himself (albeit a crude imitation, of course.) But Sam would not stand for it. This puny 'criminal' was a thorn in the side of his whole operation. The foreigner would either join them, or face his blade.

After a blatant open challenge to the stranger and an eager acceptance, Samuel found himself face-to-face with this rival in the town square. Surrounded by his followers and eager on-looking villagers, Sam beheld the man for the first time -- and he was even stranger than the stories had told. Dressed like a savage, wearing hardly more than a kilt, painted with blue tattoos from head to toe – while brandishing a hilariously crude and oversized sword, a twig-like spear, and polished shield. Sam could hardly believe this bestial man could conjure magic at all, let alone the fine art of light bending.


“Prepare to be humiliated before the entire town – er – Ewan McCulloch!” Sam declared as he brandished his sword, smirking haughtily as his entourage cheered him on.

Ewan howled with laughter and knocked the butt of his spear against the cobblestones. “Och please. Wi' a heed as large as yoors, it'll be easy tae chop it frae yer pretty shoolders.”

We'll see about that....” Sam said tensely, and they began to circle each other. This man Ewan was far larger and better muscled than Sam could ever hope to be, but he didn't look especially bright. Sam would have to rely on his reflexes and cunning to knock him off balance before delivering the disabling blow. Sam didn't necessarily want to kill this stranger – hell, with a little cleaning up and maybe some more clothing, he would make an excellent bodyguard. Ewan just needed to be shown who was boss.

Their battle would have been entertaining – surely. But before either had the opportunity to make the first move, the aforementioned rumbling under their feet caused even the most adamant of knuckle-headed squabbles to cease. All eyes glanced from the ground to the sky in horror.

A huge black tear drew the blue apart like a curtain. A hole. A horrible black hole. All citizens watched in dread as the spaces between the buildings colored in black as the shadow of their encroaching doom blanketed the entire city like molasses. It took mere seconds for crowds to disperse into a screaming frenzy.

><><><

I- I- I didn't see anything-” Haeta stuttered, backing up the stairs. Seoirse lunged at his first mate and grabbed his throat. A deadly curved boomerang – the weapon of the captain's homeland - pressed to his side, “WHAT DID YOU SEE??”

Haeta sucked in his lips and shook his head, “Nothing! Nothing I swear!”

A clamoring sound of shocked voices traveled down from the upper deck, probably saving the pyro’s life. Seoirse eyed Haeta suspiciously and carefully stepped around him, going to investigate the matter. “We'll talk later.”

When the captain stepped up top, a hushed silence fell over the crew. His eyes passed over their faces and then followed their gaze towards the shore.

TURN THE SHIP!!!” Seoirse roared, cutting through the horror as they watched the city they desperately needed succumbing to darkness. They scattered in a panic and everyone hopped to it – working the mooring as if their lives depended on it.

Haeta popped his head out of the hatch to see what the fuss was about, and just barely kept from being knocked over.

No – it was too late. The shadow hit the sea like the hand of God – sweeping towards the vessel faster than any ship could sail. By the time the crew was in position to redirect their course, it was upon them. As easily as capsizing a paper boat, the wave of black threw the massive ship over. Seoirse's feet slid across the deck, wood groaning all around him like a dying heifer. His hand flew to his pocket and held onto the map as tightly as he could while the deck disappeared beneath his boots -- he screwed his eyes shut and prepared for the plunge.

><><><

A rabbit escaped the blast of a firecracker, and a small gathering of travelers collectively sighed. “I don't believe fireworks are meant to be used that way,” Hartley Raffs said as he took a seat on a rock and pulled out his flute, toying with the knobs.

Fireworks can be used any way I feel like!” Giovanni quipped, watching his prey hop away. His stomach rumbled uncomfortably, “And I don't see you helping.” The blond looked at the musician busying himself with his silly little instrument and stomped over, “HEY look at my lips when I'm talking to you, you deaf arse!”

Hartley was immune to the noisy harlequin, and simply hummed to himself a horribly out of tune melody as he worked.

We're going to starve at this rate,” Roy complained, rubbing his eyes. A far-off howl in the forest made his skin crawl. “We should have stayed on the beach...”

Oh shut up, you cry-baby. We have to follow the map or we'll get even more lost than we already are!” the Trickster pulled the card from his pocket and waved it around as an indication.

MY map, you mean...” the artist grumbled, taking a seat on a log beside Hartley.


“Don't you two start arguing again about whose map it is,” the musician scolded. “We're all following it now, so it doesn't matter worth a damn.”

I'm only following you guys because you STOLE it from me!” Roy jabbed a finger at Giovanni.

And for the last time, we DID NOT! Hartley and I can tell you this until we're blue in the face, but we've had this map for ages before we ever passed through Centrala! I have no idea where YOURS could have gone! If you even had one, you delusional bastard.” The blond yanked a couple more cherry bombs from his bag and looked around the brush for another unsuspecting rabbit.

As if there could be more than one of such a thing!” The artist snapped back. Though Hartley was right, there wasn't much point in arguing anymore since he'd dropped everything he was doing and stalked the duo until they eventually gave into his pursuit and offered to let him join them on their quest. Now that they were ages away from Centrala, there was really no point in arguing. He was just SURE one of these two misfits pick-pocketed it off him though, and they were just playing dumb out of embarrassment at getting caught red-handed.

He supposed it worked out well in the end anyway. He had made plans to follow the map himself, but accompanying these two well-traveled (if not unorthodox) warriors has undoubtedly made the journey that much safer. A deaf musician and an un-funny harlequin were better than no companions at all. But as much as they boasted about their travels, this sorry display of huntsmanship was causing him to doubt their aptitude.

Ugh, this would be so much easier if we could just eat a monster...” Roy groaned, watching Giovanni crawl through the bushes like an imbecile.

It had been nearly a week of traveling through the shadow of the hole in the sky. He recalled how terrified he had been to pass into it at first, and how fast his heart had beaten when they’d seen their first pack of monsters. It had taken an insane amount of luck and stealth in order to survive, but once they’d developed a formula, the rare luxury of relaxation and even boredom arose. These two claimed to have passed under a shadow before, and while he wasn't entirely sure he believed everything they asserted, it was a relief to at least pretend he was traveling with people who knew what they were doing.

Thanks to Bivolo's lack of planning ahead, the three of them ran out of rations much more quickly than the original pair had planned. Now they were forced to hunt. Which raised the question: could an artist, a musician and a clown catch a rabbit? It sounded like one of Giovanni's un-funny jokes. From Roy's experience, he was sure the punchline would involve cannibalism. Roy wasn't terribly good at jokes, but it would be worth it to wrack his brain for something groan-worthy for the others as revenge for the near-constant assault on his ears.

Hartley broke the gloom then with a quiet note from his flute, followed soon after by a rabbit hopping out into the open. Giovanni pounced on it, “AH HAH! See? Piece of cake.”

Roy glanced at the musician and cocked a brow. Hartley simply applauded, “Yes, masterful work as always.”

Giovanni bowed grandiosely and pulled out a knife, “Now we can finally eat!”

At last...”

><><><

Qing Ting stroked a long yellow braid between his fingers. It was a trinket left to him from his young bride, whom he awaited with bated breath. If her brother had held fast to his promise, they should be passing over that hill any day now. It'd been nearly half a year since he'd seen her, but her face was just as clear in his thoughts. His beautiful mixed-blooded bride. The warrior could imagine her now, how she walked... almost as if she was gliding along the ground. And her voice, as deep and luxurious as a strong swig of sweet wine.

He smiled to himself and carefully put the lock of hair away in his bag. The family back home would have disapproved of their marriage. But Qing Ting was certain that if Xiao Jin's mixed blood made her different from any other, it was because she was part goddess. Too precious for the sight of pig-headed simpletons to behold. He frowned – though that would mean her brother was also part god, which made him shudder internally. That was giving him far too much credit. But. No, he swore to himself that if the man delivered Xiao Jin safely, he would put aside all ill-comings between them.

To take his mind off his worry, he pulled forth the magical golden card which had led him here, rubbing his finger over the red lightning bolt until the map appeared before him. He looked at its image and closed his eyes. He'd used his only carrier pigeon months ago to send the pair back home a carefully drawn copy of the path through the mountains, as given to him by the map. Now, at the base of this pass their information would run out, and they would need more to continue. He knew there wasn't much time. His eyes traveled up to the sky: still blue, but not for long.


Qing Ting shut it off and walked up the path a few meters. He put the card on the ground at the center of the trail, along with a note – stabbed in place with one of his signature tops. A tool from which he’d adopted his name.

He only had one chance at escaping the coming danger. Two men would ensure his safety, and if his premonitions were right (which they always were), they would be in town square just about now – preparing for a battle they would never complete. It was time to go.

The warrior stood up and brushed off his green and yellow striped tunic. He checked his bag once more, finding ample weapons and food provisions for three, and of course the braid of his beloved. He prayed it would bring him the luck he needed, and prayed that his wife and her brother would find the message he’d left them – which they should, as it had been placed directly in their path.

His only remorse was this lost opportunity for him to see Xiao Jin one last time.


The ground rumbled under his feet. No more time. Qing Ting stepped from his perch overlooking the city and ran towards its heart. A black tear was ripping open the sky.

><><><

Ewan gripped his spear. Thus far in his travels he had never seen this phenomenon up close – he'd been very careful to avoid the tears in the sky out of pure self-preservation. He’d spent months and months traveling off his route just to keep them at a comfortable distance. Now his worst fears fell on him like a hurricane. The first wave of darkness knocked him off his feet and sent him sailing clear across the courtyard.

AUGH!!” Sam Scudd landed not far from him – the black wind lashed at their clothes and threatened to send them flying again. Sam's body was so thin that he could barely keep his footing. While he struggled, scrambling to grab at anything to keep him grounded, Ewan almost felt a pang of sympathy. Almost. He wouldn't save a man in a normal situation on a good day. But while he himself clutched desperately at the gutters of a building, it appeared that his opponent was as good as dead. Good riddance either way. Not that he was in a much better situation.

The prestigious criminal dug his nails into the cobblestones. Sam's heart beat in his ears, while the black wind blasted him clean off the ground again and he flew against a building. “RRGHAA!!” he bellowed as he grabbed the nearest threshold he could, while the screams of other bodies flying through the air were drowned out by the howling darkness. His hand found a broken window and he dug into the sill for his life. He looked around with huge eyes – catching sight of McCulloch, who struggled as much as he while clutching to a structure across the alley. A wooden bench nearly collided with the barbarian and splattered against the side of the building like raindrop, its pieces carried away in a blink.

A deep sense of dread filled their hearts – a shared sense of futility. Death was most certainly upon them.

Suddenly, a loud sound filled the air and cut the wind against all probability, with a screeching wiring thrum. From the alley came a small tornado of blasting green and yellow, which tore through the wind like a knife.

Oh gods, it was a monster. Ewan grabbed his staff and struggled to position himself as it flew towards them. Sam screamed and nearly released his grip – the thing did not match the descriptions of shadow beasts from the stories he'd heard.

[Quick, there's no time, you must use your magic,] a calm voice echoed in their minds.

WHAT!!?? Who the hell are you?!?” Sam screamed as the wind suddenly picked up and the ground disappeared from beneath his feet. In a flash, the spinning blur dispersed and a man leaped from it, landing feet first on the wall and crouched like a spider. Sam was grabbed by the scruff of his shirt and held fast. [My name is Qing Ting. Now... use your magic!! Both of you!]

Oh for god's sake, “JES LISTEN TAE THE TORNADO-MAN'S DISEMBODIED VOICE!!” Ewan cried, thrusting his hand towards the sky. Sam hesitated, but did as he was told – and together their bodies began to glow brightly. A small, self-important part of Sam's mind was relieved to see that Ewan's magic was far less refined than his. But mostly he was shocked to see their light beat back the darkness and wind. The three of them fell to the ground in a heap. Sam had never seen his powers act in such a way; it bubbled out neatly in a protective barrier, when usually light-bending came in uncontrollable bursts and streaks.

How's it doin that??” Ewan gaped, rushing closer to the others now that he was able to move freely.

Qing Ting tapped his head. [It appears that we complement each other; my abilities enable your crude magic to work as a shield from the blast. But there isn't time to explain that now in depth. Ewan, act quickly with your map, it is the key to our destiny.]

Sam was more interested in what on earth was causing this person to speak in their very minds, “What map??”

Ewan was shocked but yanked the golden card from his pocket, “How did you-”

[Never mind that! Turn it on and let's go! Once the wind dies down, monsters will begin to arrive.]

><><><

Waves of ink splashed stickily on the destroyed shores of Centrala. Distant screams and the ominous inhuman growls of beasts echoed not far away. Haeta burst from the grey foam with a guttural gasp, carrying the limp form of his captain. “Don't worry...” he coughed, throwing the ginger man onto the shore and dragging himself to his feet.

Seoirse rolled over with a groan and dug his fingers into the sand – land. He was alive. He blinked the salt water out of his eyes and spat on the ground, pushing himself shakily upright. He took a moment to gaze at the apocalyptic nightmare surrounding him. The city buildings were toppled over and burning, while the silhouettes of people scrambling blindly in the smog could barely be made out amidst the destruction. He heard the sound of an exhausted body behind him and turned to meet Haeta's eyes. The other man was caked in black sludge from his bald head to his bare feet.

You...” Seoirse frowned and struggled to his feet.

I saved you... when the ship capsized, you were trapped under the mast. I barely got you out. You... you weren't prepared to die along with the ship... were you?” Haeta smirked.

Seoirse coughed again and put his hands on his knees, “Of course not... I... I'm not a real captain.”

You are.” The pyro wiped his hands down his face. “But let's not worry about that now... it appears the wind has died down. We have to get out of this fog.”

The wind...?” Seoirse had never seen anything like this before. What sort of horrible fate had his map led him to? Wait, his map!! He hurriedly slapped at his pockets until he felt the familiar rectangular shape with his palm. “Oh thank god...”

It was a fierce black bellowing hurricane. I could barely swim for it.” Haeta cast his eyes out to sea, scanning the water for any other surviving crew.

Seoirse rubbed his eyes and looked over, “....Thank you.”

Haeta grinned and returned his gaze, “You're -- LOOK OUT!” A hideous snarl from behind the captain caught him off guard, and Haeta leaped forward and knocked Seoirse off his feet as an enormous black beast hurled itself at the pair. Some sort of... well, dare Haeta say it, an ape. With teeth like knives, and pounding its chest with a roar.

They winced, scrambling backwards against the sand in unison. “Bloody hell...!!”

And that wasn't the only one – the pair, as exhausted as they were from nearly drowning, didn't have time to rest. Three more of these creatures came lumbering from the darkness, gnashing their teeth. “R-RUN!!”

Haeta and Seoirse dug into the sand and fled as quickly as their waterlogged bodies could carry them. It wasn't fast enough – one beast fell on Seoirse like a ten ton boulder, pushing him into the ground under its weight and trying to smash him to jelly. Haeta hopped on one foot, turned on his heel, and sprinted to Seoirse's aid. He quickly grabbed a jug of liquid from his belt, uncapped it and sucked down a mouthful. With the aid of his self-titled 'tinderbox magic', he ignited the potion as he spat it out, and a great ball of flame torched the beast in a glorious explosion of fur. Haeta skidded beneath the burning behemoth and dragged his struggling captain out from under it. “RUN, RUN!!”

Seoirse didn't really need to be told twice. He skipped right to it, sprinting along the sand for his life. Haeta poured a line of the potion across the beach and knocked it with his foot. A wall of flame rushed across the plane, hopefully preventing any remaining creatures from pursuing them. And it worked: the animals didn't want to get anywhere near the fire or their burning counterpart.

The duo ran at full tilt for an unknown length of time, and didn't stop until they suddenly burst from the cloud of smog into the light of day. They had begun at the outskirts of the city, but now they were far away from it. And now that they could see properly, it was obvious they weren't the only ones running. Townsfolk were stumbling out of the fog on either side of them. “This is horrible,” Haeta finally gasped, barely catching his breath.

You saved my life again.” Seoirse threw his back against a tree and gasped for breath, “What... What were those things??”

Haeta managed a smirk, “I don't know... But they were ugly. By the way you were running, I'm glad to say you weren't terribly injured.” But by the sight of discord and screaming people, it was safe to assume they weren't safe yet, “What are we going to do now...”

Seoirse shook his head. “We... we... well....” he laughed in disbelief. This was the only time Haeta had ever seen the captain's true emotions. It was surely hard to remain stoic in this situation, but it was a satisfying sight regardless. “What...what do you want to do, brave first mate Haeta?”

The pyro beamed, “If we need to get away from this place – which we do... I would like to see where that map of yours leads...”

Yes...” Seoirse agreed. Haeta had more than earned a place in his little treasure hunt. If the man's wish was to walk in step with him, Seoirse was sure the wealth waiting at the end of the map would be enough for them to split it fifty-fifty without ill will. Unpocketing his card and holding it forth, he declared, “Let's...”

><><><

My love,

Do not fear, I am in safe hands. But as you can probably see, this place is no longer. I was forced to make new friends and continue forth on the path marked on this map. Though I know it may be different from that of my own map, which I pass to your capable hands now, the destinations will be undoubtedly the same. The dark hole in the sky you see now is a dangerous phenomenon that flattens villages. The ruins of the city before you was once known as Centrala. I had many premonitions in my time here waiting for your arrival – one of which showed me the malicious natures of these holes. When one first appears, a great hurricane will destroy most of the surrounding land. Then from the gaping maw, horrible beasts will appear: ravenous carnivorous apes who infect all they sink their teeth into with some sort of rabies. I urge the two of you to avoid passing under any of these phenomena if at all possible. And avoid anybody who appears to be walking in a drunken manner and mumbling nonsense with a dead look in their eye.

I haven't much time to write this – if I had more presence of mind, I would have started sooner.

You know I'm forgetful about the really important things.

I love you Xiao Jin. Be sure you and your brother heed my warnings. I am truly sorry you have made such a dangerous journey only to find you have so much further to go. We are no longer fighting the persecution of our people, but the evils keeping us from our destiny. Please be safe. I will see you at the map's end.

Your ever faithful husband, Qing Ting.

'Qing Ting'? What sort of name is that? Absolutely childish.” Leng frowned after his sister finished the letter, holding the golden card in his hand. “How does he plan to continue on the path if he doesn't have this?”

My husband works in mysterious ways.” Xiao Jin pressed her face against the beautiful top her love had left behind. “If he goes by Qing Ting now, then respect his wishes, Da Ge. My husband Qing Ting...” She looked at the city down in the valley, which was now engulfed in blackness. “I have faith that he has held true to his word. We must press on, following the device.”

Leng groaned and took a seat on a boulder. “You are too sure of him, my sister. Our provisions are long gone. Our clothes barely cling to our backs. I am out of arrows, and my blade is dull...my spirit goes on only to ensure your happiness. But we're starving, and countless miles away from home. And your precious 'Qing Ting' has led us to a wasteland. To continue on now.... it's madness.”

She was resolute. “You make it sound as if it were impossible to mend our clothes or hunt for our food. So fletch your new arrows and sharpen your blade. We will spend the night here doing that. Rest and rejuvenate if we can, but regardless, we must carry on. Monsters and zombies and black holes in the sky be damned. We can't turn back now.”

Her brother buried his face in his hands. “You are crazy...” He lifted his head and stared at his reflection in the golden card, “.... but...very well.”


(no subject)
waterwindow
For the bang

Late
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Len sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, looking up at the ceiling, “What time is it?” he asked the warm body clinging to his side, “Like… two.” It muttered, hot breath tickling Len’s left pectoral. “Late…” Captain Cold breathed, “It’s really fucking late….” His hand found its way to Mick’s fevered brow, “Bet we stink real bad.” He smirked – unable to appreciate their musky stench of their liaison from the hours he spent stewing in it. Mick mumbled and clung tighter to Len’s chest, seemingly trying to meld with the captain through skin contact alone, “Five more minutes…” he rumbled softly, earning a light chuckle from the other. Len rested his palm on his fiery lover’s back and closed his eyes, “Fine… Five more minutes.”


Enough….
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( You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults. )

Virgin
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( You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults. )

Cigarette
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The first time had been a flurry of heated lust. The pounding of blood and the swirling of cigarette smoke. The trickling of sweat down Sam’s back as he moved hips in time with the thrusts; the beautiful ache in his voice as he begged Digger not to stop.

Never to stop.

That was when it all started… Or maybe… Before that… During that one time at the hideout.

“Does anybody have a bloody match?” Digger had grumbled as he violently searched through drawers and cabinets with an un-lit cigarette hanging off his lip.

Sam and Len looked at each other from where they sat smoking in the corner, “Nope…” Len said, looking sheepish, “We just used the last, you could go ask Mick…”

“And get my bloody face blown off?! I don’t think so, Thank you, Cold…” Digger crossed his arms and chewed on the stick in his mouth lethargically. He really needed a smoke.

That was it then. That moment – not that the two men had known – or maybe Sam HAD known. He was that kind of man, perceptive of the future in ways that trumped most the other rogues.


Which only made his untimely death hurt more.

Either way, the Mirror Master rose from his seat and took a drag from his Marlboro. “Hold still, Digger.”

The Australian turned and was gripped lightly on the shoulder as Scudder drew his face near. The glowing tip of his cigarette met with Digger’s and smoke lapped between the two. Breathing in slowly, Sam lit the captain’s cig, the two white rolls shouldering together almost passionately.

The Mirror Master smelt like musk and wine, like books and like the moldy couch he was sitting on prior. He smelt like cologne and shoe shine, and of course – cigarette smoke.

Had that meant to be erotic? Was it a courteous act, or a calculated move?

You never knew with Sam.

Either way, it had got Captain Boomerang’s mind in the right place. As Scudder pulled away and let loose an impossibly long stream of smoke from his dusky pink lips, he coughed a little and laughed innocently, “There, heh. That’ll do you.”

Digger reached up and pulled the roll out of his mouth and looked down at it as if he was in a trance, “Um…. Thanks….”

“Anytime Captain.” 

Maybe that was it then – had to be – because Digger would have never allowed himself to be carried away so easily otherwise when the… Well… When they took it to the next level.

When Captain Boomerang made love to the Mirror master.

Laughing the two stumbled through the door of the hotel sweet. The two men had been running for their lives for the last ten minutes and they had just escaped a certain untimely capture by the flash. But boy did they show him.

“Di-! Did you see the look on his face!?? HAHAHHAH!” Sam stumbled forward and shook with mirth as he gasped helplessly for breath, leaning on the rather expensive looking chair.

Digger pressed his back to the oak door and pointed at the Mirror Master howling with laughter, “Y-yeh! When  he… HAHAHAH!!! And we jes POOF!! HAHAHAH”

“YEAH!! And – And – And woooooosshh SPLASH!” The orange and green clad man made an arch with his arm that signified the flash running off the end of a dock before erupting into another fit of giggles.

The large decorated room echoed with mirth until the two men couldn’t laugh any longer and they both sat on the ground gasping for air and wiping away the tears. There was a long comfortable silence until Sam shot up and grinned at Digger,

“Alcohol.”

The Australian was instantly up as well, “YES”

The Mirror Master scrambled to his feet and started to search feverishly before laughing in a sing song voice, “Ha~Ha~HA! Lookie here~” He produced a yellow bottle of scotch and shook It lightly with a splash.

Digger held up a finger and pulled out a wrinkly pack of cigarettes, tapping out two into his hand.

Sam pursed his lips and look between the two men and then chuckled, “My find’s better. C’mon! I’ll pour out. We got this room to ourselves for free, so let’s make the most of it before we go home tomorrow~!”

Digger nodded as he sat down on the couch with a bounce besides the other, watching him pour the strong smelling liquor into a couple of glasses. By ‘free’ the mirror master had meant ‘stolen’. The two had appeared in here from the bathroom when they teleported to avoid the speedster. The fancy hotel that Sam had ‘reserved’ for them was closed for renovations and so there was nobody in it but them. It was classy and Victorian looking – despite slightly neglected. There was still plenty of stuff left in it though, in the sections that weren’t being reconstructed, like this room.

Digger sucked the drink down like it was a large shot and coughed loudly, handing the glass back to be refilled with a shaky hand. Sam laughed loudly and filled it again.

“You’re crazy!” He giggled, gingerly sipping his own drink.

The Captain swelled with pride as he repeated the act, eyeing Sam from the corner of his eye with a small smirk causing the Mirror master to grin and applaud, “Woo hoo! I can’t do that! I’d puke~!”

Digger stood up and made a grandiose bow, causing the one sitting to cheer louder and chuckle, “Thank you~ Thank you~  And fer my next trick, I shall loit a couple o’ cigarettes without a match!” He held up the two white Marlboros like he was a magician, waggling his fingers at them in a mystical way and raising his eyebrows up and down in mock concentration. Sam was spilling his drink from laughing so hard, his pretty brown eyes watering and squeezing shut.

“Hahh! HAHA! Hh-hold on! I think I – HAHA H-have one..!” The Mirror Master reached into his boot and pulled up one wooden match before standing up. He opened his mouth slightly, allowing Digger to deposit a roll in between his teeth before putting one in his mouth as well.

The two rogues stood almost chest to chest as Scudder struck the flame on a nearby coffee table. Holding up the little hot light, the two men brought their heads close, white rolls touching at the tips as the fire engulfed them. Breathing in slowly and almost instantaneously the cigarettes started to smolder – smoke dancing in their eyes.

Puffing on the light, Sam stepped away and lifted his eyes to look at the Australian, they twinkled slightly and he pursed his lips in a small smile. Tilting his drink up to his mouth and taking a small sip.

Digger stared back.

What happened next was a blur of laughter and alcohol, smoke and colorful clothing. No matter how hard Digger would try, he would never be able to figure out how the men had - In a sudden flurry - been pressed to the wall, grinding into each other, dragging lustful noises from the back of each other’s throats and tugging at each other’s costumes. Or even who had instigated it.

But they had. The two rogues had breathy, bone-shaking sex. Right against the wall, were – Digger was certain unless the wall had been painted after all these years – there was still a suspicious stain were Sam had finished.

Captain Boomerang made a mental note to check. Just for shits and giggles. Was it creepy to break into a five star hotel just to see if his long dead lover’s cum shot from their first time still remained?

Sam would’ve laughed.

Their two cigarettes had fallen to the floor and smoldered alone and neglected as the Sam let loose a pleasured cry during penetration, digging his fingers into the plaster. He tossed his head back and meshed lips with the Australian pounding into him. No lube, and as far as Digger could remember, no foreplay. He had just lost it. <i>Lost himself in the Mirror Master.</i>

In the rain, years later, Digger sat on a bench in the park, silently mussing. Sam was dead now and Digger’s life had taken more dips and turns than he knew how to count. Numbly the Aussie reached into this jacket and pulled out a stale cigarette, sticking it into his mouth and remembering the sound of Scudder’s voice as he sighed out Captain Boomerang’s name.

Mmm… Oh…George…Ahh!

Sighing softly, the older man searched for a match, but he stopped as tears came to his eyes discovering he couldn’t find one.

And he didn’t have a partner to light his roll with anymore.


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