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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

Ryo stood chest high to the statue he was anchored to. The stone was covered with a thick film of dust that clung to his shirt and his pants when he leaned against it. The metal ring he was cuffed to was pitted with erosion, but very little in the way of rust. No moisture in the air to cause it, he supposed. The shiny new handcuff stood out in stark relief to it nonetheless. His wrist was a throbbing ache at the end of his arm from his pulling at it. It took a conscious effort not to, when he wanted loose so badly his teeth hurt.

The natives had clustered together, sitting cross-legged in the dust, observing Seiji's whispery recitation of the hieroglyphics with dark, wary eyes. All save for the dark bearded leader who hovered near Seiji's back, as if waiting to be called upon or expecting something to happen that might require his help. Seiji paid him no heed. Seiji paid nothing any heed, save that stone box and the words carved into it.

Ryo watched to, afraid that something would occur, terrified that he wouldn't be able to stop it. The soft sound of Seiji's voice, chanting a long dead language was hypnotizing ----

--- and then, rather abruptly, Seiji's head jerked up the words faltering on his tongue. His back arched and one hand rose almost reflexively to his neck. He toppled backwards, head slamming with a sickening thud against the stone floor. The natives were frozen in a moment of superstitious shock, their eyes fixed on the sarcophagus on its pedestal, as if they were waiting for the lid to be shoved back and a mummy to arise.

Their leader broke the spell first, creeping forward, uttering a word of question. Then he let out a hiss, staggering, reaching over his neck to clutch between his shoulders as he went down. The others rose in shock then, crying out, raising their guns and making signs against evil. The one closest to Ryo went down, and his finger squeezed spasmodically on the trigger of his gun as he fell. A burst of bullets hit the statue over Ryo's head, showering him with chips of stone even as he crouched, trying to make as small a target of himself as he could. And then quite literally -- all hell broke loose.

 

**

 

Kento darted out, even as the Egyptians were gathering their wits, realizing that it was no supernatural hand that felled them, and let loose a spray of automatic rifle fire that had them scattering and looking for cover. Sai followed him out, causing enormous damage to the wall over their heads, showering the floor with bits of rock and stone, doing quite a good job, for someone who claimed a hearty dislike for guns -- of wasting a fair bit of ammo.

It covered Rowan as he darted across the floor and skidded into the protective bulk of the sarcophagus. It gave Kento the chance he needed to get within physical striking range. Rowan hardly paid much heed to what the two of them were doing, trusting them to look after their own skins and very much doubting that a handful of surprised fanatics were much match for Torrent and Hardrock. Even a Torrent and Hardrock bereft of their armors.

His goal at the moment was making sure Seiji was bereft of his. He didn't trust the power of that selfsame armor not to throw off the effects of the carfentanil cocktail in the darts before he had the chance to find the orb that would allow Seiji to summon it. He made a grab for Seiji's outflung arm, and with a grunt of effort dragged him closer to the sarcophagus.

He felt the strain in mending ribs and ignored it. Frantically he plunged hands into Seiji's pockets, feeling for the tell tale shape of the orb. Not in his pants pockets. He patted down the breast pockets of his shirt and felt a small hard shape inside one.

"Yes." He crowed in victory and fished it out. Held the almost warm thing between his fingers and bellowed for Sai even as he felt Seiji stirring on the ground before him. The power of Halo hard at work protecting its chosen. Goddamnit!!

"What?" Sai slammed the butt of his rifle up against the side of someone's head and whirled around with the business end of the gun pointed in Rowan's direction. There were no more moving bodies in the chamber, save for Rowan and Kento and Ryo, who was slowly uncurling from his crouch under the bull headed statue he was attached to.

"Get this fucking thing out of here." At least far enough away to where Seiji couldn't call upon it. He tossed the orb and Sai's hand darted out reflexively to snag it.

"Rowan?" he hesitated, wide eyed and suddenly having second thoughts now that things had come to a head.

"Move, Sai, he's coming around."

Sai took a breath and headed for the door. Which left Kento and Ryo as witnesses. Somehow he trusted Kento to be able to deal with this better than Sai, which was strange, considering he'd trust Sai with his life and any other thing that Sai might demand of him, at any other given time. And Ryo -- well Ryo didn't have much of a choice one way or another, in the position he was in and Ryo damn sure wasn't going to like what followed.

He dug into his jacket pocket for a cord, flipped Seiji over onto his belly and quickly and efficiently tied his wrists. He didn't need a fight in this if Seiji managed to shake off the initial sedative. Couldn't afford a fight and the damage it might cause. Damage to all of them needed to be kept at a minimum.

A breath to shore up his own trembling will and he pulled Seiji back over, swinging a leg over him to sit straddling his chest.

"All right you bitch," he said softly. "This ends now."

Blue eyes blinked up at him. Dilated pupils, the shallow gulp of shaky breath. Seiji's body wanting very badly to succumb to the sedative, while his passenger strove to swim up and out of it. Not that hard a task for her, Rowan thought. She was used to riding a drugged horse.

"I killed you." A whisper that Rowan barely heard. A sluggish frustration in those eyes when she tried to gather the strength to throw him off and found her stolen body too lethargic to do it.

"Yeah." Rowan agreed. "You did. I came back. Guess my ba and ka weren't ready to tour the afterlife, huh?"

"Rowan, find the keys to the handcuffs." Ryo was pulling at the metal chaining him to the statue, peering at Rowan and Seiji worriedly.

"In a sec." Rowan promised, not paying him much heed. Not taking his eyes off Seiji's face. Fuck. Fuck. He didn't want to do this. He was afraid to do this. Terrified. If he was wrong. If the dosage was more than Seiji could handle mixed with all the other drugs she'd been pumping into his system -- if the reversal agent didn't work -- if Seiji's connection to the armor of Halo was less than Rowan's had been to Strata due to the bitch's interference -- if any of that happened and Seiji didn't come back -- he didn't want to dwell on it. Dwelling on it would give him second thoughts and he couldn't afford for his resolve to be shaken.

"What do you think you can accomplish, fool?" Seiji hissed at him. "Do you think he'll be any less mine because you've taken away the armor?"

"No." Rowan pulled out the little leather case with its two syringes. One a rather nasty little cocktail that would absolutely cause a body already weakened by heroin and whatever else the bitch had been pumping into Seiji to slip into flatline and the other the reversal agent that would make or break this little enterprise. He held the one up before those pale blue eyes and let her take a long hard look at. "But better dead than yours. I think he'd want it that way."

"Rowan -- Rowan what are you doing?" That from Ryo who'd gone very still, who was glancing in growing panic between Rowan and Kento. Kento looked away, miserable, but sure in their purpose.

"Doing what we both know he'd want, Ryo," Rowan said it more for the bitch's benefit than Ryo's. He needed her to know he was dead serious. He needed her to think there was no coming back from this.

"You know what blows the most for you?" he leaned a little closer to whisper. "Being so close you could taste it and having it yanked away from you."

"You can't stop me." A last bit of defiance, a last bit of fury, but she was uncertain. She was afraid. He could see it in Seiji's eyes. Not an expression that he commonly wore. That was all her.

"No?" Rowan asked and popped the cap off the end of the needle, holding the small syringe up in the battery powered light. "It doesn't take much. And his heart just -- stops. He won't feel a thing." He promised, though he honestly wasn't sure that was the case. "You -- I really don't care what you feel."

"Rowan -- No!!" Ryo screamed at him, a good deal more panicked than the bitch inside Seiji.

"You wouldn't --" Seiji hissed up at him. "You don't have it in you."

"Don't I?" he whispered and pressed the tip of the needle against Seiji's pale skin.

 

*

 

"No!!! Goddamn you, Rowan -- you fuck--!!" Ryo screamed in utter shock/fury/terror/grief as Rowan flushed the tiny little needle of its clear liquid and all it into Seiji. He jerked at the cuff holding him so violently that flesh tore on his wrist and metal grated against bone. He hardly felt it. Hardly felt the warm blood trickling down his arm.

Traitor. Liar. Murderer. The words echoed accusing between the pounding of his heartbeat inside his head. How could he? How could they? They'd known all along. Planned this all along and not told him. How could they --? How could the solution to ending this be Seiji's death?

He screamed again, something incoherent and full of rage/anguish, jerking to free himself even as Seiji jerked a little spasmodically under Rowan, mouth open and gasping, eyes wide and shocked -- fighting to stay afloat when Rowan's drugs dragged him under. Kento came over and tried to put hands on him, tried to keep him from savaging the wrist attached to the statue and Ryo slashed out a fist and caught him a glancing blow across the cheek. He might have hit squarer if Kento hadn't flinched back.

"Stop it, Ryo." Kento hissed, desperate and frightened and lunging back in to get his big arms around Ryo's waist and push him back up against the unforgiving stone, pinning him there where he couldn't damage himself and where Kento could whisper promises of things being okay and urging him to calm down -- as if anything could ever be okay if Seiji were dead and if he could ever find it in himself to calm down when the people he thought were his closest friends betrayed him.

"Get off me!" he cried, trying to buck Kento off, but extremely disadvantaged by the cuff and Kento outweighing him by a good fifty pounds of sheer muscle bulk. Under of the best of circumstances you didn't come out on top with Kento in quarters this close.

"Ryo, shut up. We know what we're doing." Kento didn't sound so sure.

"Fuck you." Sobbing almost now, trying to twist so that he could see Seiji and Rowan. He couldn't see. Kento wouldn't let him see and some tiny spark of connection -- some integral part of his soul was sputtering and flickering out. The light was dying. It hurt almost and he couldn't stop it and couldn't fight against it.

Salty warm wetness leaked over his lips and into his mouth. Kento forcibly pressed his face into his shoulder, whispering false promises all the while - - -

 

*

 

- - - - Awareness - - - -

- - - - Anger - - -

- - - - Terror - - -

A distinct lack of either on his own behalf. Distant, foreign emotions that were all the same entwined within the roots of his --- entire self -- so securely that it was hard telling where he ended and she began. Or caring.

She was so, so afraid and so so furious over the failings of his body. She railed against the injustice. She cursed him for his weaknesses -- but then again, they shared that emotion. He'd already condemned himself for them. Hated, hated, hated himself for them more than he'd hated anything before. Failure was his enemy. Always had been and he'd failed so badly in this. Failed himself and everything that had come to matter to him.

She was afraid of dying again. He welcomed it. It was only just rewards. Karma.

He blinked up and saw through wavering vision -- Rowan and wondered if he were already dead -- but no, despite everything he still had a firm understanding of his place in reality. He wasn't dead yet. Which meant Rowan wasn't. Which meant one less thing weighing down on his soul.

His mouth twitched up at the edges, a final bit of satisfaction that she hadn't succeeded in that particular goal. Rowan was an eternal pain in the ass and always would be.

"Seiji?" Rowan's lips formed his name. Rowan's eyes went round and wet as if he were suddenly aware that it was no one but Seiji staring up at him. Somewhere in the background he thought he heard Ryo screaming --

--- His body jerked and there was pain as muscles seized up and heart skipped a beat. Again and he stopped seeing Rowan's face. Stopped hearing Ryo's agony --- and just -- stopped.

 

*

 

Sick. Rowan felt ill. Violently, miserably ill. His eyes were hot and itchy, threatening to spill tears. He fought it back. He bit his lip to keep his teeth from chattering and tried to block out Ryo and the fear and the guilt. He put out a shaky hand, feeling for Seiji's pulse.

Almost he jerked away as his fingertips touched the warm, smooth flesh of Seiji's throat. He made himself press them down, searching for the tell tail beat of a blood pumped by a working heart. Nothing.

Gone. Seiji was gone. A shell under him. Immobile and helpless and -- dead. By his hand. He was shaking. He curled his fingers in Seiji's lapels and leaned over him, trying to stop the tremors.

"Kento." He croaked. Then louder. "Kento, how long?" he asked because his thoughts were chaotic and he couldn't focus enough to keep track of how long had passed since he'd plunged the cocktail into Seiji's veins."

"Not long. A minute."

"I need you." He pushed himself up, trying to reorganize. "Get over here."

"Rowan -- how do we know she's gone?"

"I don't fucking know." He hissed. "I don't fucking care. Get over here, now." He was fumbling for the other needle. How long before they were past the point of no return? How long to make her leave her chosen vessel and did he care? Could he live with being Seiji's executioner if he misjudged and waited too long? Probably. But not happily.

Something cold passed across his skin. The electric beams of the scattered flashlights flickered in unison. He felt something -- something immaterial and insubstantial that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up -- that made his mouth go dry and his balls shrink in upon themselves in fear-- it passed by him and perhaps tried to go through him, but couldn't find a foothold. It needed permission for that.

Her. Desperately looking for another host having abandoned her old one. Rowan hissed and uncapped the second needle, plunging it recklessly into Seiji's flesh, scrambling off and bellowing for Kento to get his ass over here and now. Kento moved. Kento skidded onto the floor next to Rowan, even as Rowan was tilting Seiji's limp head back and prying his mouth open to breath air into empty lungs.

A breath and Kento compressed Seiji's chest. Again. And again.

"Call him back, Ryo - -." He hardly paused to draw breath between that frantic demand and another breath of life given to Seiji. " - - I heard Sai - -" Another breath. " - - - make him hear you."

He didn't know whether Ryo heard him. He didn't know whether Ryo could comprehend what he was telling him to do. Not an easy thing to understand -- unless you'd lived and died it. Or died and lived to tell about it.

 

*

 

He didn't even get to the light -- or maybe the light was only reserved for those who deserved it. Maybe the undeserving plunged straight into eternal darkness and nothingness and stayed there. Incomplete, insubstantial -- void. He wasn't sure the void was what he wanted -- as if he had a choice in the matter -- but he was certain that he went there alone, with no clinging, twisted personality that was not his own woven into the fabric of his being. That was one relief. That made him a little more complacent in his acceptance of it. It might not be so bad -- the void -- if only he'd lose his awareness of it.

Then light flared at the edges of his existence -- or non-existence. Tiny and weak but demanding in its very nature. It was an antithesis to the darkness that could not be overlooked. It snared him when he drifted that way. Dug heated, angry fingers into his soul and shook at him. No gentle light of reason this. It was violent and hurtful and condemning. He tried to shrug it off and retreat back into the void, alarmed by its fervor when he'd almost resigned himself to nothingness.

It clung, stubborn and insistent. Another resounding echo of pain. He twisted and tried to slither away, frantic now, because the void was graying out a bit. Becoming not so entirely dark. Not so entirely bereft of --- reality.

Another pounding jolt of impact.

What do you want of me? He screamed it for all the world to hear, angry and desperate himself.

It wasn't a thing he was caught in the clutches of. It wasn't capable of corporeal thought or reasoning. It flared pure, unadulterated emotion at him though. Pure unadulterated want and need and feeling.

Nothing. Everything. Atonement.

Atonement? As if that were possible.

Something else glared on the horizon of his perception. Something huge and overwhelming and intimately familiar. Light and tranquillity and peace that had nothing to do with death. It was not so benevolent a benefactor to let loose its bearer. Troublesome to find another that would meld so well.

Impact again, that rang inside his consciousness like a hammer hitting an anvil. He thought this time, that it was the sluggish beat of his heart.

The dark turned to wavery lights. Grays and pale tones interspersed with random splashes of color. A face very close to his own. Recognizable features. Fingers splayed across his cheek and in his hair.

"Bastard --" he whispered. It hurt a little to breath. His chest ached. His hands were numb, foreign things behind him. "-- you should --- have let me -- -"

"Shut up." Rowan said, before he could gather the strength to finish the thought. Rowan shut his eyes and pressed his forehead against Seiji's, breathing harsh and uneven, wetness creeping down his cheeks to spill onto Seiji's face. "Just shut the fuck up, Seiji."

Okay, He could comply with that. He felt himself slipping away again. But not into the uncompromising void this time, but into a languid, limp acceptance of --- everything. Was vaguely aware of Rowan and Kento's hands on him, pulling him up so that Rowan could work at whatever was about his wrists. He was a limp thing against Kento's chest and when his hands fell free he hadn't the strength or the will do anything but let them lay.

"Sorry, Seiji, sorry," Rowan was searching through his pockets, babbling in his nervousness. "Its all the drugs. Can't be helped." He found what he was looking for and scrambled up.

Seiji shut his eyes and phased out.

 

*

 

"Son of a fucking bitch!!!"

That was the curse that rang in Rowan's ears when his ass hit the ground shortly after Ryo's fist had connected solidly with his face. Ryo was serious and Ryo was pissed off and for all intents and purposes seemed fixated on smearing Rowan across the floor of this very old, very dangerous tomb. Rowan shouldn't have let him go until there was sanity back in his eyes. But wasn't that always the case? Hindsight being twenty/twenty and all.

There was blood on his face, but he didn't think it was his. He thought it was Ryo's, from Ryo's mangled wrist which had soaked a good portion of his shirt up to the elbow. Fucking idiot had probably torn through the vein and was bleeding out even as he sat about kicking Rowan's sorry, sore as hell and hardly up for a fight, ass.

Rowan couldn't quite get a word in edgewise. The second hit produced blood in his mouth that was his. It took Kento to get a bit of reason into an otherwise unreasonable situation.

"Goddamnit, Ryo. We're gonna have a hard enough time carrying Seiji out of here, much less Rowan, too. Leave him the fuck alone!!" and then much, much louder, with the full power of his impressive set of lungs, Kento bellowed. "Sai, get back down here!!"

Ryo hesitated, one knee in Rowan's gut, one fist pulled back and ready to deliver another blow. An unwilling and uncertain Ryo.

"You're bleeding all over yourself." Rowan grumbled, still wary of being hit again.

Ryo hissed and jerked himself off Rowan, lunging instead in the direction of Kento and Seiji, stumbling to his knees next to them while Rowan slowly, painfully pushed himself up. He thought Ryo might have reopened a stitch or two. It felt like a mending rib had been rebroken. He didn't push his luck by approaching Ryo again. Just sat there, half doubled over listening to the sounds of Sai scrambling back down the incline into the tomb.

Sai plunged into the room, eyes whipping about in frantic fear of what he might find, flashlight stabbing here and there as he searched for the objects in question.

"Rowan?" he asked for reassurance from Rowan. Rowan shrugged and lifted a hand to indicate the other three.

"Alive."

"Oh, god." Sai chest expelled with relief. He squeezed himself into the space between Kento and Ryo, babbling questions that Ryo didn't know how to answer and Kento just didn't have the wherewithal to respond to.

"Ryo, your wrist!!" Sai exclaimed and started digging in his pack for bandages.

"Leave it alone, Sai!" Ryo wasn't up for doctoring. Sai set his jaw and glared.

"I can see bone, you idiot! Let me wrap it."

Ryo looked down and paled a bit at the damage. He didn't argue when Sai gingerly took his arm a second time to wrap white gauze about the bloody mess he'd made of his wrist. He leaned forward while Sai was doing it, and tentatively brushed aside a lock of Seiji's hair.

"Is -- she still there?"

Kento's eyes flickered to Rowan in question. Rowan sat there and shrugged. "I don't think so. I think she left pretty soon after he -- after his heart stopped beating. I felt something --- free in the room -- after he went down."

Ryo pulled back his hand. His head drooped for a moment, dark hair falling down to hide whatever emotions played across his face. He turned partially to look at Rowan and there was anger and hurt in his eyes. Accusation.

"You lied to me."

"I didn't." Rowan said softly. "Just didn't tell you -- the whole plan."

"Ryo, we didn't have a choice. We didn't have time to argue it out." Sai said. "If she'd succeeded here, we never would have had another chance to free him of her. Don't you understand?"

"No. You could have told me!! What if he'd died? For real died? What then?"

"Then he'd have been happier than he'll probably be when he comes out of this." Rowan murmured.

"You son of a bitch, Rowan---" Ryo glared, tensing and Sai planted both hands on his shoulders, hard, shoving him back against the sarcophagus. An angry Sai. A protective one.

"Don't place the blame on him, Ryo. Place it where it belongs. On HER. We didn't have a choice. None of us. Get it through that thick skull of yours and stop acting like a bloody child!" Sai didn't get that tone in his voice often. When he did, a body had to take him seriously. Had to think twice about whatever inane action had prompted him to go into that mode.

Ryo blinked at him. Rowan did. Sai took a breath and took it a step further.

"Ryo, help Kento with Seiji. We've got a ride waiting and we don't have all day before these fellows wake up."

 

 

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