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22 June 2005 @ 09:36 pm
Chapter 13  
Robbit Headquarters: Chapter 13

by htebazytook

Notes: I suggest that either ashturil or caitiedid write the next chapter. You know, to get them into the order ^^;

My main goal in this chapter was to bring all the Robbits together, but that just isn't happening. elvenpaw told me pipsi_stick had some kind of plan for that. *shrug* I'm just settling for the handy dandy guides in the previous and following entries, detailing where everyone is.

Pleeeeease don’t hesitate to point out typos or ambiguousness.

Click on the [bracketed numbers] for a surprise!

You'll notice a pattern to some characters' fates, I think.

I noticed that Jade's and my storyline hadn't been touched since Jade's chapter. So I have brought that one up to date, and concentrated a bit less on the others. I've tried my best to further complicate the plot. ;P

Also, p33r my mad action-scene-writing skillz.

If you're about to actually read this, please note that it ends up being 23 pages in Word (12 pt font, single spaced, Times New Roman.) This is what the sections are for. (Well, mostly to aid me in organising plot, but still.)



~*~


Lightness. Whiteness. Blindness. Pound pound went her heart. Liz's eye twitched abruptly open, unseeing, and just as quickly closed again.

It was some time before Liz came to. Jade had not so much stopped the bleeding as hidden the bleeding from her sight with a once fine, white linen towel she had found in the dojo. She suspected—hoped—that Liz's unconsciousness had been brought on by nothing more than her being suddenly dispossessed; she didn't think Liz had had the time to loose enough blood to faint from blood-loss. She also didn't think Dette or Caitie would be waking up any time soon, either. Although they were alive and breathing, last she checked. Maybe they'd been possessed too? She wondered, having nothing much else to do . . .

She stayed with Liz. The soft buttery light streaming from somewhere and into the room was heartbreakingly calm, but now it only served to put Jade even more on edge as she took in the creamy details; digested them with a distinct agony that exists when being suspended between fierce control and abandoned, guilty grief. Jade had nearly forgotten to bind her own right arm—Liz's wound was on her left arm—and had found it to have stopped bleeding, more or less, when she did remember, and consequently let it go. Time stretched at the speed of Jade's heavy heartbeat, every second feeling unutterably precious, every breath wasted in this peaceful room when it could be out there saying . . . saving, she felt sure . . .

When Liz did come to, her eyes—normal now, thank God—shot open. She seemed to take a quick inventory of herself, mouth moving soundlessly, and then she looked to Jade, whose expression was a mixture of relief and reluctant worry.

"Je . . . Jin . . ." Liz faltered, her eyes widening even more. She sat bolt upright.

"Djinn?" Jade repeated, anxiously steadying her.

Liz snorted. "You got that right. Quite."

". . ."

Liz took a deep breath and concentrated sombrely on Jade. "Jincey." She said it in a quiet, rational voice.

Which was more than one could say for Jade's reaction. "What?!" she gasped, toppling forward a bit, gazing at Liz incredulously.

She nodded.

"That Jincey?" Jade asked meekly.

"Yeah. That Jincey."

"Shit," they said together.

In the silence that followed, Jade's eyes came to rest on the sword with the green handle, lying on the floor. Close-by was the sword Liz had used. Only, thought Jade, peering closer curiously, it wasn't like a normal sword, really . . . She picked it up, and tilted it toward Liz for consideration. "Hey."

"Hm? Oh." Liz seemed to have become newly aware of her wound, and was inspecting the bandage, grimacing at the pain, but admiring Jade's handiwork. Now she breathed out through her nose derisively. "It's a bayo. . . oh . . . Jade. Jade, it's a blasted bayonet!"

It wasn't surprising that Jade hadn't noticed this detail. She had been fighting against a friend. With actual weapons, no less. And things tended to happen very quickly and blurrily to the person terrified for her friend; and, not to mention, also terrified for herself upon remembering what lamentable swordsmanship she barely retained.

"Don't you get it, Jade? Jadeth-dear. Think very hard."

Liz was never one to come out with it right away. She took a sadistic pleasure in watching the other party squirm, but looked upon their eventual triumph with a sort of maternal fondness. She also liked giving hints.

"Think about it, dearie. Okay. In which American war were cannons and bayonets, like, the top technology? Hmmmm? 19th century."

"Um. Wait, wait a second—that's the 1900's or the 1800's, again?" Jade did a fair impression of ^^;.

"Okay, okay. Badly stated. Here. The Civil War. They make me think of the Civil War. Who do we know who thinks about the Civil War unhealthily much?"

"Wha—? Oh fuck. Holy shit, Baz."

"Yeeep. The Oyster. I bet he's involved. He's got to be. And, I seem to remember vaguely OY-ish things in that gold code on the computer screen Pips showed us. 'Member?"

"Shit. Ahhh, shit shit shit."

"Mm."

"Okay, so, what? You think Jincey possessed you—"

"I know she did. I recognised her." Liz paused. "I think she might've fled because of that. I did fight her like fuck. Took a hell of a lot out of me. S'why I keeled over, probably."

"Right. But," Jade's voice took on a very young, unguarded, tone, "but do you think they're working together? I always got the impression that they hated each other as much as we hate each of them."

"I know it sounds improbable," Liz admitted. "It does. But I still think they must be working together, somehow. In any case, I'm positive Jincey is behind some of this. There were the Colour Rebellions, and all of that."

The Colour Rebellions. That's what the Robbits had come to call them. The first one was stronger than just the Robbits and came with the first +L that didn't let up. The second one had transpired not three years ago; they'd slowly migrated back into Barliman's, where the flow of the chat had grown less hectic. It was a wonderful thing. It was For Old Times' Sake. It meant following the rules of the operators, like Jincey, who was still there, and who didn't show any signs of leaving . . .

Jade surfaced from her reverie, shook her head, and peered up at Liz with eyes wide with seeking and seriousness. "I agree. Yes. That's definitely reason for revenge, Bazy."

Appearing preoccupied with the dressing on her left arm, Liz spoke without lifting her head. "Are they all right?" She gestured vaguely in Caitie and Dette's direction. Her voice was muted, and she looked as though she didn't trust herself actually look.

"They're, ah . . . alive?"

"Did you, like, check? Ugh. I will. Okay, c'mon, deareth." Liz pulled herself up, using Jade for support. A mistrustful look sat on Jade's face, but she didn't argue.

All around the pair bound to the pillars across the floor was a subtle, dreary grey dimness. Dette's face was worryingly paler than Caitie's. There were metal-capped holes at the bases of their skulls. They were both still breathing, although their eyes moved restlessly behind closed lids. And, by God, did everything have to be like the Matrix in here? Jade demanded of the ceiling. It was almost predictable. She might have felt disappointed at the lack of challenge for a split second, but unease quickly took over. That was just it, wasn't it? Get the Robbits' guard down—

Wait a minute.

Liz sighed. "Right. Well. Doesn't seem as though there's much we can do, just yet," she said reluctantly. "We ought to try to find some of the others—well, some of the other others . . ."

"Bazy," Jade interjected excitedly; Something had Occurred to her. "Bazy-baz-baz. Maybe they got Charles!"

Liz raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"

"Yeah!" Jade's mind was going a thousand miles a second, ticking though every single nuance of Charles' personality they'd managed to detect. When had he first become their guard, again? Why should he be loyal, anyway? And, where, damnit, had he come from? Her eyes widened impossibly. "Or, maybe Charles got them!"

"Hmm." Liz tapped a finger against her lips. The raised it and opened her mouth. "Oh. Uh," closed it again, "hmmmmmm."

"Think about it. Elizabeth. He's way too fucking mysterious. Am I right, or am I right?"

"Man. I just dunno." Liz glanced at her grudgingly, pleadingly: Make it true. Kill my attachments to a thing and drag me out of the dark. She had always placed her trust in the RHQ, as a whole, and this included Charles. Dealing with somebody telling her that she couldn't trust what she'd staked most of her trust in didn't automatically sink in enough for her to actually consider the logic in the statement.

She sighed, stretching out her back, an arm behind her head like some embarrassed anime character. "Okay, we should go." It was meant to be a no-nonsense tone, a determined, do whatever it takes tone. Her voice cracked.

Jade led the way to the entrance, relieved to find that sixty-eight was no longer a pitch black, nightmarish light show. She said something inconsequential to Liz in order to look past her at the two unconscious Robbits, then exited.

Liz, too, took the time for one last look, feeling too responsible, and weak, and scared. She was like one of a set of incompatible siblings, having lost the younger one out of unthinking anger, and having finally moved past selfish worry and on to something that didn't want to be recognised . . . but still made her stomach sink.



~*~


Jade was having trouble keeping a straight face, which made it all the funnier. Especially now that Liz had joined in.

"Do - the stuff that buys my beer
Re - the guy who pours my beer
Mi - the guy who drinks my beer
Fa - a long way to the privy
So - I think I'll have a beer
La - I'll have another beer
Ti - No thanks, I'll have a beer
And that brings us back to
Do, do, do, do . . . "

"Shit," Jade giggled, leaning on her friend, "I always forget how much fun that first time was. Hahaa—you know what I mean."

"Yeah. Yeah." And Liz couldn't help but laugh too, ignoring involuntary winces as her wound was jarred.

She nearly ran into Jade, who had stopped short, and who was doing a remarkable impression of a guppy. This wasn't very surprising—I mean, how would you react to Elrond in a suit, and dark glasses, glaring in your general direction. And the smoke. Red smoke billowed out behind it. Anyone assuming its smug half-smile would seem more alarming on a huge theatre screen would be sadly mistaken. Even at this distance, Jade and Liz could practically feel the power and the malice radiating from it, just like that awful, awful smoke . . .

A greyscale Krista in flowing robes was facing off with it.
Then it disappeared.
"K-Krista?" Jade stammered.
Krista turned around.
"Krista, why was Agent Smith trying to kill you?"

Krista offered a sympathetic smile, although irony hovered on the corners of her mouth and in her eyes. "If he was trying to kill me, then he was stupider than I thought." Liz's mouth had fallen open some time ago. Her jaw dropped a fraction more. "And it wasn't Agent Smith, per se. I think it might've been—and don't laugh at me, eh?—um, Typo." Krista's voice sounded far-away, and a bit static-y, but not at all indistinct. It didn't echo, either, as one might expect, or wobble spookily as in an old horror film, come to that.

Liz's first instinct was denial, but it seemed rather impractical as her friend was standing—floating? hovering?—well, her friend was right there, anyway. Her second instinct was to embrace her, but given Krista's wounds (not that they hurt anymore, she didn't think) and Liz's own out-of-commission left arm, that didn't seem like the best of ideas either. Instead, she said, with a calmness that surprised her: "So, how did you die?"

While Krista's body was typically translucent and wispy, her eyes remained the same earthy brown- or green-gold. The overall effect of her cloudy face made them, in their untouched normalcy, vividly surreal. She turned these eyes to her friend and adopted a manner of jovial mockery. "I'm not . . . quite dead!" she proclaimed, and stuck out her tongue and winked broadly.

Liz grinned. Then something occurred to her, and she voiced the thought quite without thinking: "So, does this mean I'm right, or you're right?"

The face that rearranged its expression at that was very far from conventional for Krista.

It reminded Liz immediately of a time back in the summer before her High School junior year, when, while at the beach, she had begun reading the Bible. One day her grandmother and she had been left alone in the house, and had stumbled cautiously into a deep discussion of religion. No lies, no hiding behind their respective banners, no misconceptions. At one point, her grandmother, who was far from fundamentalist, but who was still very religious, had looked at her granddaughter and asked, both in wavering words and distressingly unguarded expression, "Am I unfaithful because I question?" It had been a difficult look to digest for Liz; pleading and scared and at the same time hopeful and sure in Liz's ability to answer truthfully. People often assumed Liz could do so, and she was flattered, but not a little uneasy about answering.

Presently, they both—all three—were silent.

But, Jade didn't seem to have picked up the unspoken topic, and so cut in with: "Uh, guys, maybe we should, like, get a move on? Eh?"

There was the sound of something stone and heavy scraping against something equally stone and heavy. And loudly.

"The hell?"

"Lemme go check it out, minion." And with that Krista floated off in the direction of the sound, before either of them could protest. "It's not like I can be hurt," her distant voice echoed around the curved corner.

Pastel murals decorated the walls here, which were sound-proofed, a feature which extended into neighbouring annexes. They were, in fact, on the edge of the Harry Potter wing, which bordered what had come to be known as Krista's wing, and the hallways were becoming subtly more and more like castle corridors. Liz wasn't entirely sure which side of the wing they were on—it was an especially extensive playground for the Robbits.

Somewhere, in a spacious room with screens across the walls, Caitie opened her eyes.



~*~


"So . . . where were you, before, Spam?"

"Oh, me and Ali and Crackie an—dude."

"You saw it too, huh?"

"I wasn't being serious, you know."

The purple monkeys cackled as they flew by, more ribbons clutched between their claws.

"Um. Anyway. Ali, Crackie, Mel was there . . . and Emily. And, um, Krista. Was there. I."

"What?" Viveca placed a hand on Christine's shoulder, leaning on her, stuck in the frustrating state between panic and optimism. "What?" she repeated more calmly.

"We lost Krista. She's." If the tears oozing out of Christine's eyes were any indication . . .

"Dead," Viveca finished.

An oversized peach bobbled over their heads, indignant voices squeaking forth as a bit of tiny fence caught in Viveca's hair.

"Ow," she said distantly, not truly feeling anything.

Christine swallowed. "Yeah. She was shot by an arrow, crazy as it sounds."

Crazy? Viveca mouthed, eyes flicking around the thoroughly random room, sighting a vicious-looking, er, suitcase as it slunk its way into a pocket of white nothing and disappeared.

The room as a whole was aggressively white, with fluorescent flashes and odd floating things. Viveca didn't remember building it. There were no Chambers of Secret in the RHQ.

At least, none that the Robbits had built.

Somewhere nearby a room filled with TV screens was empty.



~*~


". . . you never even finished it, did you?" Liz grinned.

"Well . . ."

"Oh, come on! It wasn't that long, silly."

"What wasn't?" Krista asked as she glided over to them.

"Good Omens. And yes, I know that asking you what you'd consider to be a long book is stupid. Honestly."

"Hmm."

"Oh, jeez, anyway. What's up, up there?"

"Yeah," Jade seconded.

"Ah. Well, you see, it's the entrance to Dumbledore's study. That's what the sound was."

"Oh . . . kay. So should we try to get in?" asked Jade.

"Who's in there, do you know?"

"No idea. But, ah," Krista gave the others a meaningful look, "there's green smoke coming out through the cracks."

"Bad?"

"Bad."

"Baz," Jade said.

"Good."

"Pft. Remember the red smoke? Before we entered the Matrix?"

"Oh?" Krista appeared urgently interested. "'Cause, you know, Typo from a bit ago's smoke is red, too. Yeah. The smoke is definitely bad, guys. Not quite sure what it does. Where did you say you sa—oi! What was that?"

"Um."

"What was what, dearie?"

"That . . . shriek?" A pause. Jade and Liz looked uneasily at one another. "Oh, come now, it could've put discordant piccolos to shame."

"Well, I didn't hear anything, Krista, but if your Super Chem Hearing Aids are telling you something . . ."

"Fucking hell, let's go!" Krista shouted suddenly—a strained, wretched tone.

Before the statue of the phoenix, they bumped into one another Kingdom Hearts Green Trinity style—as was appropriate, given the hue of the smoke—except Liz fell right through Krista.

"Ai! Sheesh." Her blood was suddenly frigid, her face and ears flushed and icy, as though she had just stumbled in from the cold.

Krista seemed to bask in her friend's warmth, a surprised delight lighting her glowing face. "Wow. Didn't think that'd happen. Sorry, though, Liz."

"Yeah, yeah. Just don't feed off of me like some vampire—"

"It was nice. I wasn't even feeling cold, just sort of this lack of any feeling whatsoever. And then it was like . . ." Her expression was distinctly dazed. "It was good."

Liz smirked. "I refuse to comment."

"It's 'candy corn', right?" Jade queried, face contorted in thought. Good to know somebody was focusing on the task at hand.

"Nah, that was during Halloween, 'member?"

"Liz is right. I don't think it's even a kind of candy now. Crap."

The phoenix slid away from the wall, revealing an archway leading to spiraling stairs. Green smoke slithered stealthily down, casting a spooky hue on the light radiating from a chandelier over their heads.

"Heh."

But Jade had already shoved past Liz and was taking the tiny, worn stone steps three at a time.

"Damnit," Krista said, "it's started again. The screaming." She looked beseeching at her friend.

"I guess you can only hear it 'cause you're a ghost, and all that?" Liz said matter-of-factly, but nevertheless returned the look.

Krista began to shrug, but a startled jolt disrupted it as Jade called back to them, "Hurry the fuck up!"

By the time the trio arrived on the landing, Tara, Talley, and Laura were fatigued, bloodied, and utterly bedraggled—that much was painfully obvious. None of the new group hesitated, and soon the three Green Smiths had six fiercely loyal and fed-up Robbits to deal with: Jade and Tara, Liz and Talley, and Krista and Laura.

Hell hath no fury like a threatened Robbit's friends.

The Smiths advanced on the Robbits, like an entire Nuclear Triad sauntering toward the Trinity; leisurely, malignant, and bent on destroying something holy.



Krista and Laura faced off the most energetic-looking of the Smiths. He darted about, attempting to psyche them out. The pair rolled their eyes at one another, looking somewhat disappointed at his uncomplicated offense.

The Smith picked up a hunk of heavy stuff that lay conveniently nearby, pointed at it with one finger, and then proceeded to force his hand the entire way through, waving at them jollily with the skewering hand before removing it. The sound the unidentified hunk of stuff made as it hit the floor indicated that it was pointedly not Styrofoam Moria rock.

And although it seemed impossible, the pair managed to look marginally more unimpressed. Krista gave off the impression of a metaphorical yawn with a mere shift of the hips. Laura nonchalantly reached out and grasped the sheath of an ornate dagger lying on a shelf. It glittered cruelly in correspondence with her set gaze, and she grinned as she twirled it in her hand like a baton. A corner of the Smith's mouth twitched downward, almost imperceptibly.

Slowly, deliberately, Laura curled dexterous fingers around the hilt. Then she unsheathed the dagger with a flourish.

". . ." said Krista.

"Sorry. Er."

It was lucky that Krista was a ghost, otherwise Dumbledore's carpet would be ruined. As it was—and this being very possibly the more upsetting for Krista—the dagger embedded itself in an ancient tome on the bookshelf. Laura still held the sheath. She glanced about helplessly, gave a mental shrug, and brandished it with as much ferocity as a lanky girl without a proper weapon can muster.

The Smith's smirk returned in full, widening with mirth even as Laura's eyes did with fear . . .

Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping.

. . . and froze. And disappeared because the Smith had fallen over backwards, and was
now disintegrating à la Witch-king.

Ping!

Laura turned cautiously and regarded Krista as if just noticing her transparency. "Oh. Laser vision. Ghosts get laser vision?"

"Apparently."

"Oh," she said. "Neato."

"Mm. Superb job of killing me, back there, by the way. Right through the, um, elbow."

Laura fiddled with the sheath. "Oh? Yes. Thanks."



Liz and Talley found themselves dazzled by the second Smith's onslaught of flurried, fast-forwarded movement. They could only deduce there was some sort of karate involved, and that he intended it to be daunting. Talley, for her part, looked properly daunted. Liz, though, who hadn't yet been treated to a fight against the odds (a.k.a. the Smiths), was, perhaps, to some extent unfamiliar with the actual danger involved.

So, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to Talley that she laughed outright at the Smith.

He sneered. And a sneer from a Smith is more akin to Elrond proclaiming "Doom, doom doom!" than many are likely to suppose. In conclusion, even Liz couldn't miss the menace in this sneer.

But this didn't stop her from marching straight up to him and slapping him across the face.

Shock—nay, indignation dawned on the Smith's reddened countenance. He seemed too at a loss to summon any kind of response, and just gaped at the girls, searching vainly for a cue of some sort. "Uh?"

"Indeed," they said, nodded to each other, and kicked him Where the Sun Don't Shine.

He let out a silent sort of scream, and retreated quickly out of sight.



Jade and Tara edged closer together as a Smith strode purposefully toward them, a smug expression on his face that only served to feed the inferno that was Jade's temper. She rearranged her stance, now with legs apart, half-shielding her friend. The Smith stopped and looked around him, smiling nastily and sliding hands casually into pockets. He rocked on his feet, gave off the impression of gesturing around the room with a sardonic "huh", although his arms were immobile. The noise translated into, 'Well, what are you going to do now, you little shit?' spoken in a subdued, superior tone.

Tara's eyes narrowed, and she reached out to put a firm hand on Jade's shoulder, but her friend was suddenly absent.

Jade may have been a bit slow, but she was by no means stupid. She learned from her mistakes, and she didn't bother attempting the impossible. This particular trait usually surfaced in understated ways, but when it became more defined, some might say, it had the tendency to limit her bounds. They were fantastically mistaken.

Leaving Tara at that bastard's mercy didn't just twist Jade's heart, but twisted it out of her chest, and it hung in the air like a balloon between Tara and the Smith, still beating, feeble-looking but potent with love. It had to be done, though. Jade had to stand on her tip-toes to reach the wizened old hat. She grabbed it roughly and ran back to Tara, and she was confident and brave and certain it would aid her.

And, indeed, when Jade reached her steady hand into the emptiness she withdrew a beautiful sword—handle engraved with phoenix, unicorn, wizard . . . design poured over the dazzling silver just like magic. Along the blade was written, in gold, the name Godric Gryffindor.

She did not smile, she did not gloat. She did not speak or blink or breathe, and the Smith was so taken aback that he didn't even consider using his unnatural wiles, just froze in shock as the ancient sword impaled him.

A long beep, and he was gone.



~*~


Pong, pong, went the remaining Smith as he scurried around the study, the better to avoid Krista. He was surprisingly agile for a man-shaped piece of smoke. He retrieved the dagger Laura had thrown and advanced on the closest Robbit, who happened to be Jade.

Luckily for Jade, her newfound skill with the sword was paying off. Parry, slash, hack, bang, pow. And then she sliced the Smith's right arm off, some part of her subconscious smugly maintaining that too much Star Wars had paid off.

Which resulted in two of him. Krista quickly zapped one of them while Liz hurled her shoe at the other. Both of the Smiths promptly dropped like flies, and proceeded to meeelt, meeeeelt.



~*~


The six Robbits were left standing, panting, in Dumbledore's study. The energised summer silence of averted disaster hung in the air between them. Now was the time for some explaining, some comfort. The resolution, the regroup. The most heartening, quotable paragraphs; the most hummable motive of the symphony.

And it would have been, except that, almost too predictably (had the girls been audience to this narrative), several things happened at once:

That the metaphorical manifestation of "Idea!" appeared over Krista's head with a pop. She made a beeline for the stairs. (And she would probably look at the idiom used to describe her conduct as slightly dubious—since when did bees fly in straight lines?)

That Talley gasped, clutched at the back of her head, crumpled to the floor, and disintegrated via green code like a screen transition gone horribly wrong. She left a not so metaphorical manifestation of a Rabbit Hole—and this in title case—in her wake.

And finally, that Laura dove through it, after her.



~*~


Tara impulsively consorted the lines that lingered in her head; they stuck around, uninvited, like overheard, hurtful intimacies:

"Look around about you
See:
You cannot sate your
task. Prithee, skulk back to your
Huddled hole, peer
'round corners, now you fear
thy master's wrath, whom you ensnared.
Now be gone, go 'way
from here.
"

Jade and Liz were wondering fearfully if they two were the only duo left unbroken out of the tidy pairs who had left the conference room in such—they now realised—a futilely organised way. But Tara interrupted their parallel ponderings—yes, they could hear her, and were not entirely surprised by the Trelawney quality to her voice, given their surroundings, although Tara herself was unaware she was speaking a new Prophecy.

None of them were aware it was a new prophecy—a Prophecy, in fact. Nor that somebody was most impatient to attain it for herself.



~*~


An ethereal aura settled hauntingly over the scene whilst Ali waited, tense, frightened, and determined, for the figure in the smoke, even as Crack was experiencing the same vision, still battling the insidious voice in her head. She was only a few yards away, but it was far enough that the smoke obscured any trace of Ali; for God's sake, she couldn't even see her hands.

The figure flickered off like a dying light-bulb. Both girls gasped, but it was so in sync that neither heard the other.

In her struggle to hold on to reason, Ali urgently recalled the verse to her mind. This was not necessarily the best course of action. Prophecy is rarely intended to be obvious, otherwise where's the fun?

For sloth is sin, and sin
we do
So list my words and off
with you! Flee in haste
To thy abode, where
burns the wet branch.


Oh, she thought. Everything makes sense now</i>.</i> Her inward eyeroll was so pronounced that it's remarkable Crack didn't hear it.

The phrase "sitting duck" slunk uneasily into Ali's mind. She hastily abandoned her contemplations.

Ali began to pace, without any real direction, merely wandering a ghostly dream. She methodically took note of her surroundings—what little of them were immediately visible. The ground was uneven and rocky, punctuated by scraggly weeds and brief splotches of more compact earth. Small grey boulders and little sheer shelves dictated her already aimless route.

She gradually became aware of another pair of footsteps, at first dismissing the sound as her own echoing, and paused. It stopped shortly after she did, and she was uncomfortably reminded of A Journey in the Dark. The instinct to be utterly still and stopper even her own breathing was tremendous; in an icy panic, she wildly wondered why in the world people automatically called out "Hello?" on TV, in the movies, across the pages of a Nancy Drew.

For several interminable minutes she replayed the same phase of alarm through her brain, willing it not to advance. Afterthoughts on life and guilt penetrated the taught, silent sanctuary of her stillness like a variety of flavours.

She was so preoccupied with straining her ears that she didn't perceive the resumption of the other footsteps right away. Cautiously, giddy with her daring, she tip-toed after them, the echoes of the maze of rock walls confusing her direction.

Hell, this scarier than stupid fucking viruses. Jesus. Shit. Ackpth. Obscenities. "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will—"

She was facing something, at any rate: a puddle of black goo that pulsated purple. That she nearly stumbled into. Somehow, its swirling depths weren't terribly inviting.

A hand on her shoulder and she fell backwards with a gasp.

Crack smiled at Ali from across the sinister pool, clearly relieved. Ali sighed gratefully.

Passed over and through me, then, have you? Thank God.

No words had been spoken; they didn't need to be. Just seeing your friend's face is comfort enough. Such a perfect insurance—always watching your back; someone to save you at the last minute . . .

Oh.

But. H-how did . . . sheohshit!

"Poor doll. Good she didn't scream, though. That would've been awfully melodramatic." An amused, feminine exhale/laugh. "Wouldn't you say, Alia?"

Crack. Too familiar, too familiar, that voice—oh, Crack . . .

Mel materialised where Crack had been standing; or rather, something Mel-shaped had taken the place of the aura of refuge that was the presence of a friend. Alia's gaze was magnetised to the blank glossy emptiness that had swallowed Crack up.

". . . face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me."—Crack.—"And when it has gone past I will turn the"—oh fucking hell, Crack—"inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Only I will remain. Only I—Crack, damn you, would you just—only I. Oh, I . . .

The hand on her shoulder was more grey smoke than appendage. And a grey smoky voice whispered something absurd in her ear:

"Oh, but I am nothing, my dear alligator."



~*~


A six-foot gong, wood-bead curtains and cushion-strewn hardwood were home for Krista.

She didn't know how, precicely, he had managed it. But the answer was here, all right. Sitting down at her computer, she flourished her hands and set to work, idly wondering if her newfound state of ghostliness had empowered her with mad hacking skillz.

Probably not.



~*~


Three words came to mind. Two of them were "flashy" and "white."

The first one was "wow."

Jincey reclined on a white leather sofa on a pristine white carpet, surrounded by white walls and beneath a white ceiling. The flat obviously satisfied her taste for colour, which was nonexistent. Although, it was true that other colours snuck their way into the room—high-tech, solid black things that resembled classy, expensive cars[1].

The first thing Jincey had noticed, however, had been the acute abundance of houseplants. They really looked, she mused, terrifyingly pretty. Either that, or really pretty terrified. What seemed to be a sketch of the Mona Lisa—the sole decoration—smiled down on them.

She's got to be the loser in the end, she's got to be the loser in the end, sang Freddie Mercury.

He would be here soon.

"My Lady?"

"Mm?" Jincey didn't even glance at Krinkle.

"Did you want me to attempt to contact Her again?"

"Certainly. But She didn’t reply the last time?"

"The Eyes were watching me. I had to go." The female dwarf fidgeted with a strangely sinister green plant mister.

Jincey continued staring into the black abyss of the television. "Well," she sighed, "I suppose you ought to try again later, then. Hm." She could feel Krinkle's hesitant impatience, could feel her relentless curiosity.

"Are you sure you should even try contacting Her again? I mean, Ser—"

"She promised She'd have a new riddle for me. I trust Her. It's not in Her nature to tell lies. Although," Jincey chuckled dryly, "I found Her insistence upon this particular method of relying Her insight somewhat aggravating. Hm. No matter. The Robbits will surely unravel it for me, eh? Causality, you know. Inevitability, and et cetera."

Krinkle was used to her mistress' monologues, and warily took advantage of them. "I've seen Her, My Lady. And what She told me, well, what She always tells me—"

Ding dong, went the door.

Aha.

Krinkle scurried to answer it.

The pipers had ordered it, Jincey thought, and they ordered . . . him.







"Hi," said the newcomer. His garb was oddly antique, yet an air of twenty-first century clung to his face and hands, and it inexplicably suited him. Walking brightly past Krinkle, and shoving her aside (equally brightly), he sauntered over to a white leather chair across from the white leather sofa. But before sitting down, he executed a very Loony Toons double-take, then wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Hey, um. What's that 'music'?" The quotes were audible.

. . .You'll get forgotten on the way if you don't let them have their fun. Forget regrets and just remember, it's not so long since you were young. You're bound to be the loser in the end, you're bound to be the loser in the end . . .

Jincey snatched the CD case and squinted at it. "Stravinsky," she said. Music was not her forte.

Beat.

"Uh huh. And . . . where's it comin' from?" There was a conspicuous lack of speakers.

"Search me," said Jincey indifferently. "Now, do sit down. And on to business. You have Melanie under control, do you not?"

He opened his mouth.

"Good," she continued. "She can be dangerous to them. She is weak. Although—"

"—only sometimes," he finished. "Yes, that's kinda obvious, now that Lag's possessed her, too. So," he leaned forward conspiratorially, and not a little curiously, "why couldn't you possess Liz?"

Jincey quirked an eyebrow. "Oh, but I did. Briefly. Although I do think she may have recognised me, which undoubtedly triggered her strength. She has a strong ally, remember. That . . . hm." Her eyes swept swiftly over Krinkle. "The ragged one projects a considerable strength. Particularly for Liz."

He took this in. "We should eliminate him. He'll come over here eventually. Should probably head him off, yeah?"

"Tricky. He'll sense something's wrong. No, I think allowing him to become lost in the RHQ is the best way of disposing of him. Keep him separated from the Robbits. He can't get around without cracking our Code[2]. Which is impossible unless one is imbedded in it; in essence, written into it."

Now his eyes flickered carefully to Krinkle, as if finally sensing her presence. Jincey was too busy bringing the code up on the screen to notice [3].

"I've sent the ASP's[4]. after them," he said. "Which brings me to Laura. Seeing as she's Liz's other substantial strength. She's been lured in, as have others."

"And hopefully they'll follow Caitie. That's what it means, don't you agree? I confess that one's rather puzzled me."

They stared at the first few lines of the Prophecy; Jincey paused the scrolling before it disappeared.

"I actually don't think it means she'll really help us," he said. "More of a warning to them, I'd say."

"Adhering to her will result in Frodette's demise."

". . . or that."

Jincey was scrolling down. "But good intentions, nonetheless, has Caitie," she muttered. "Ah. Here we are. Have you successfully turned Ash?" A degrading glare. "You haven't."

"I know, I know. But it seems irrelevant now."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Spammy's in Murphy's Room. [5]. So is Ash. Kind of hard to get at either of 'em now, huh?"

"No, not necessarily. Not necessarily." She gestured abruptly at the dwarf, who hastened to her side; she then scribbled something in the margin of an open book[6].

The television screen displayed a circular room with several chairs along the walls—and these were more window than not. From what could be seen through the glass, the room was situated loftily in an extremely extensive metropolis. Colours were not discernable; everything was staticy-blue, like Krinkle.

"What's that?" he asked.

"The Jedi Temple. Ops' channel."

After a few moments of watching people debate lazily, Jincey spoke, her eyes fixed on the youngest person seated in the circle: "Scorpio needs to be put in his place," she snapped.

"Uh huh."

"Now, do pay attention to this. This is the ultimate target, boy. You gave me the information on the RHQ, I'll give you the information on the Ops. They will not approve of our operations. In fact, the only operations they approve of are their own," she said, adopting a disgusted expression. "But you can't get to them; you don't have their access codes, you don't know them. And now I arrive at my point. The point is. The point I'm trying to make is that you've got to do your part in fulfilling the Prophecy because I've got to turn the Ops against each other. I might have been identified by the Robbits, but you haven't been. You've got to get close to them, and yet be simultaneously wary and industrious. I don't know . . ."

"Fly casual."

"Sure. Maegwen is too close to the Robbits. She's sympathetic, too weak. But I don't believe she would act. Demosthenes, on the other hand . . ."

"Yes," said the young man, suddenly attentive. "Indeed he would. Well." He got to his feet. "I guess I should get moving, then."

"Quite so. Remember, Ali is your number one priority. Don't deny the Prophecy; I don't want any delusions of grandeur coming from the likes of you, young man. Take her out, and we will have free reign. And for God's sake, be careful of Jade. 'Sorely skillful,' and her skills are beginning to wax, and will continue to do so before they ever consider waning."

His hand was reaching for the doorknob, but he turned back to Jincey. "I sent Lag after her and your Twin." ‘You’re a poor shot,’ I said . . .

"Nevertheless. I want what is due. I want what is to be repaid." Her countenance had congealed.

"Yeah, I know," he said nonchalantly. "Me too. I'll see ya."

"Good luck," she called. As the door swung closed, she murmured, "Know thyself," to a suddenly empty room.



[1] Like a Bentley, say.
[2] The gold code.
[3] And it did keep her rather occupied. For all that the controls for the television had been so streamlined that only a single On/Off button remained, it was remarkably difficult to perform either of the advertised options. Jincey had obviously not read the nearly invisible print of still-sealed disclaimers that were piled, as everything in the (white) room, fashionably neatly on an under-shelf of the (white) coffee table.
[4] Agent Smith Programs. They're not Agents, but they're definitely not renegade Smith-types. They're merely a security system. That eats people.
[5] Everything that can be random, will be random.
[6] The Unrighteous Bible — divine, dusty and incongruous with the flat.



~*~


Laura staggered into the conference room. Everything was offensively normal, distressingly ignorant of the disease infiltrating their sanctuary.

She absentmindedly wandered among the computers, a default autopilot for all of the Robbits—got boredom? Get online!

One of the screens stood out from the others in that it was normal.

Booohholing, booohholing. The Instant Messenger window blinked blue and yellow.

Laura edged warily closer to it, eyes glued to the screen. She was beginning to become reacquainted with the terror of exposing terror, the kind that prevented her from doing anything but moving her feet while her rigid body tersely admonished her racing heart.

She was drawn inexorably to the screen. Conversation echoed dully from her memory, rising like steam, summoned by her mere location's reunion with the room, perplexing her.

"Pipsi called this meeting for a reason," Krista was saying. "I don't know about you, but I hate an unsatisfied curiosity. And with all the randomness just dripping off the four of us, our imaginations'll be screwier than the truth."

"You got a point," she had said. "Not that it even
could be-"

"Now don't you say it!" they had chorused.

"-rabid tattoo-flower-eating goats. What did you think I was gonna say? Honestly!


. . . What did they think I was going to–

Oh.

But. But, two years ago he . . . he . . . Laura shuddered involuntarily; she didn't want to think about it. It had been the first real test of the Robbits. He'd hurt some of their number, and they'd struck back. All of them. Together. What was he . . . ? How was he . . . ?

Oh. Laura felt a wave of nausea. Revenge.

She could just make out the figures on the screen. A screen name she didn't recognise. Emoticons. Harmless, commonly used ones, at that. Smiling out through the screen at her.

And a fair amount of winking, too.

Smiling and winking, smiling and winking.

"Hi, Laura." A young man was sauntering his way toward her. "Long time no chat." He chuckled quietly, a disconcerting sound.



~*~


A black Mini Cooper managed to look oversized as it pulled up next to Liz and Jade's sleek silver Smart Car out front. (Liz had begged and begged upon finding the only Smart Car ever sighted in America. Jade gave the okay as long as they "altered" it, and now, its multicoloured windows gleamed pleasantly in the noon August sun.) A young man with decidedly poofy hair got out and strode towards the door, smiling cheerily. Hey keyed in his passwords and went in.

He came back out.

"Where's Charles?" he demanded. "Huh."

Indeed, there was the infamous mat, and there was the security guard's normal spot. Exceedingly normal, considering he evidently never left it. But then, the definition of normal had to be re-evaluated when dealing with the Robbits, Alex reminded himself. Normal would be Charles leaving every evening. So, he supposed, it was safe to say that there was something distinctly usual going on around here . . .

His train of thought was interrupted—not that it had been headed anywhere of importance—by a . . . He squinted, not entirely sure what it was.

"Hi, there," said the whatever it was. "Um. You'd be the ragged one, yes?" It—he?—acted very timidly. Alex wasn't exactly surprised at this, given its—wait a minute, not her?—height. Or lack thereof.

It appeared to be a dwarf, although he wasn't sure—both sexes of dwarves had beards, according to Tolkien, and these were the Robbits he was dealing with. Something come running out of their Headquarters was sure to be Tolkien-influenced.

That didn't put him off guard, however. He regarded the whatever it was with open suspicion, but felt he was being too callous when it cowered visibly.

What the butt.

"I'm Alex. I'm a Robbit, too, like all those girls in there." A pause. He reconsidered his wording. "What I mean is, I'm one of them. The girls, I mean. Er." The maybe-dwarf looked somewhat concerned for him. He sighed, shook his head. "In any case, I'm Alex, and I'm probably the 'ragged one,' as you put it. Raggy is one of my nicknames."

Its eyes lit up and it laughed in nervous relief. "Oh, thank goodness! My name is Krinkle." She—he had finally decided its voice was too impossibly giddy to be any self-respecting male's—beamed expectantly up at him, much after the manner of his dog Molly.

But, Alex didn't know what was expected of him. He had a sudden, inexplicable impulse to drop onto his knees and shake his fists at the heavens, crying Damn you, Gimli! He raised an eyebrow at his own thoughts, and they skittered back into the more colourful recesses of his brain, cackling.

"You, um, realize you look like something out of Star Wars, yeah?" he asked, at a loss, referring to her bluish transparency.

"What? Oh, no. But some of my neighbours are, you know. Most of them are Lightsabres. I'm Krinkle," she repeated, as if this explained everything.

"Right. Um. Yes. Yes, but what are you?"

Krinkle's eyes narrowed impatiently. This one was supposed to be strong for the girl My Lady had had so much trouble holding onto, wasn't he? Perhaps she had the wrong person. "I'm. Krinkle," she enunciated exasperatedly.

Something occurred to Alex. He held up a finger signifying "wait," and made his way back to his car, pulling out the keys as he went. He returned with a pen, and began writing disjointedly on the sidewalk. Spelled out in blue ink, Krinkle tilted her head to see:

!1420.

She produced an old-fashioned, grey-brown ceramic mug brimming with frothing, golden alcohol. After Alex took it, Krinkle backed up a little bit, respectfully, and stared at her booted toes.

"Ah. I see. Well. You'll not mind telling me where Char—no? Okay. Showing me? All right. Yes. Let's start with that."

;look Charles he wrote.

And away they went.



~*~


End of Chapter 13.

To Be Continued . . .

~*~
 
 
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Enigma Variations: R.P.A. - Elgar
 
 
 
Laura the Borg: i worship the devilblackbutterfli on June 22nd, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
LONG have I waited
OH MY GOD FIRST COMMENT.

*goes to read the story now*
laughing on purpose at the darkness: ::sw-droids::htebazytook on June 24th, 2005 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: LONG have I waited
*hands over fruit basket* Or something.
Laura the Borg: everyone a puzzle loverblackbutterfli on June 22nd, 2005 10:12 pm (UTC)
Brilliance itself. OY terrifying. (I seriously shrieked) Jincey hilarious, poor thing. LOVED the last part. Did you talk with Leggums about that or did you figure it out for yourself? (we thought of Jincey FIRST, you see, maybe we did anyway) AND is it my turn yet AND oh my god !1420. Guh. More detailed analysis to follow, but this really cheered me up. You deserve a medal.

Only typo that jumped out at me (was probably too busy laughing to check the others)

Oh, she thought. Everything makes sense now. Her inward eyeroll was so pronounced that it's was remarkable Crack couldn't hear it.
laughing on purpose at the darkness: ::poetry::htebazytook on June 24th, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC)
I . . . actually can't remember. XD I know I asked Tara lots of questions and stuff.

OMG THANK YOU FOR TYPO THING ^^;;;; I HATE it when I have its/it's problems because I hate it when other ppl don't KNOW how to write it correctly and. Thanks, hee.
Laura the Borgblackbutterfli on June 22nd, 2005 10:20 pm (UTC)
one more
Have I mentioned how much I love this?

GOOD OMENS SECTION BRILLIANT.
laughing on purpose at the darkness: ::go-crowley::htebazytook on June 24th, 2005 01:41 pm (UTC)
Re: one more
That was the last bit I wrote. I was saving it cuz HEEE.

Am most pleased you think so XD
Pipsi: Princess Mononoke - caitiedidpipsi_stick on June 22nd, 2005 10:32 pm (UTC)
OH MY GOD YOU PULLED ALEX IN I THINK I'M GOING TO CRY. if anything happens to him I will >.> for serious.

but no, Bazy, this is BRILLIANT! Jincey!! And the OY-ster!! oh it hit me out of NOWHERE!! I LOVED it.

and the numbers!? neat!! where'd you find out how to do that!?

crazy good. yes, WONDERFUL. moved the plot along nicely. figured some stuff out. good good. yes, excellent.

*****
laughing on purpose at the darkness: ::phantom::htebazytook on June 24th, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC)
. . . *pat pat* It's not real, dear. And I'm also wonder how one >.>s. ;P

Haha, I asked at a GO community, cuz footnotes frequent the fic. ^^;

I say 'crazy good' and 'crazy weird' all the time.
afleet on June 23rd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! *dances excitedly* will post comment of substance later.