A Handful of Dust
Part 6: Descend
“I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.”
- T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
Evening was falling, and the darkness that began to creep up on the street behind her caused Robin to suppress a shudder. She hadn't walked alone in so long. It felt… strange.. and almost frightening to not have the steady presence of Amon nearby. If she had thought it over more, she might have stayed and let him come along… he would be angry, and that in itself was something she would do much to avoid. But no… it wasn't possible. She had no choice now – Amon did not have to be a part of this, and she had no intent to involve him any more than necessary. Her destiny was not his responsibility.
He's your warden.
She quelled the voice in her mind with a small shake of her head. I won't let him suffer because of me… he has done that enough. If he deems me unworthy to live after this, then…
You'll let him?
Would she? Before she would have, before she found out that there was something she was supposed to do. Something only she could do… something that gave her seemingly… wrong … existence some justification. I will do what I must. Then I will let him do what he feels he must.
The thought made her sick, but she promptly shoved the feeling down and tried to ignore it. This was no time for emotional trivialities, she had gotten herself into this, and she would have to find a way out before she could even let herself think on what was to come. If anything would come. It has to.
A faint current crackled against her senses, and her head snapped up, jeweled eyes moving swiftly to detect any movement, mind working to feel any power being used nearby. A lot…more than I thought.
Ducking into an alley, she breathed deeply and waited for a move to be made. It had been her choice to come into this… and she could take care of herself. She would have to, because anything less would be the ruin of her plans. She hadn't been given her power just to die before she could use it…
The sense of power grew stronger, and she fished the glasses out of her pocket and readied herself. This would be her victory – there was no alternative.
“Where is Robin?”
Amon's demand broke through the continued conversation at Harry's, bringing the eyes of all of the STNJ to rest on him. He stood stiffly, his mouth tight as he returned the looks of his former comrades. Michael stepped out from behind him and began to look around, as though expecting Robin to pop up from under a table. The others, startled, did the same, before turning to look at their boss. Kosaka's brow furrowed.
“You didn't see her in the hall? She said she was going to think there…”
“She was not there.” Amon's voice was hard, and he barely lifted his eyes for another scan of the room.
Sakaki stood, his chair clattering backwards. “Amon, she must have -”
But Amon was already moving, hand sliding under his coat to settle on the hilt of the gun he always carried. His normally passive eyes held a hint of fury, the soles of his shoes making an unusually loud sound against the floor. The air seemed to move , leaving the others standing in shock for a moment before rushing after him, catching up just as he reached the door.
Doujima spoke up as they ran toward the STNJ car, managing to keep up even in her high-heels. “Do we know which way she would have gone?”
“The center of the city.” The look on Amon's face allowed no questions.
He moved to get behind the wheel, but Miho caught his arm, dark eyes serious. “I'm driving, Amon. I don't know what you might do.”
She had to fight to keep from stepping back instinctively as his icy gaze met hers, before he tossed her arm off and slipped into the passenger seat. Miho sighed lightly in relief – even through years of working with Amon, she had never seen his control worn so thin. When he looked at her, the air itself had seemed to grow… hostile. Uncomfortable. She hadn't liked it.
With Amon, Miho, Doujima and Sakaki inside, the car sped off down the same road Robin had taken.
The first hit seemed to come from nowhere, but Robin had been expecting it. A simple psychic blast, she sidestepped it easily and whirled to send her flames in the attacker's direction. A solid-looking man in a brown vest shrieked in pain and threw himself to the floor, but she wasn't left any time to watch as another attack came from behind.
Fighting… killing… I hate it…but I have to do it…
That one went down, body half charred.
I have to do it. That's what I've always thought. I have to do it. What sort of things have I done with that for an excuse?
Then… two, at once. Something sharp grazed her arm and she gritted her teeth, turning, as the earth moved under her feet and she lurched to the ground. Panic flooded through her and she shoved herself back upright, spinning to the side as something blasted the place where she had been moments before. Why were there so many? She hadn't even been aware there were so many hunters at SOLOMON's disposal…
The next attacks came in a blur, and she was unable to distinguish the different crafts as she concentrated on deflecting as many as possible with her wheels of fire. Even so, some hit their mark, and her body became a mass of pain as she continued moving, blocking and hitting, dodging and burning, closing her eyes to the agonized screams of those she managed to take down. Blood seeped from a forehead cut, blurring her vision slightly, and her heart began to flutter with dread.
“ SOLOMON has many hunters, Robin. And while it's true that not a one is as strong as you are, they have battle experience. You are not used to fighting. What if they sent several hunters? Have you ever fought a group of witches before, Robin? No. It was always one, or several humans who couldn't use a power back. You could be taken under. And even if you do win, then the more power you show, the more will be thrown back at you.”
Amon's voice rang through her memory, and shame fueled her to fight on. Hadn't she been so confident? Hadn't she known she would win? Then why… why was each step harder and harder to take?
The breath abruptly left her body as an attack hit her chest, and blood leapt into her throat. She felt herself begin to fall, and reached out with her arms to cushion herself against the ground. If anything, the pain intensified as her defense dropped, and she let out a small scream in anguish.
My first scream in a hunt… it is usually the hunted that screams, is it not?
Her fingers began to scrabble on the concrete, desperate for some way to get out of the situation, but her heart had already realized that escape was impossible. Figures silhouetted against the moonlight closed in. So many of them… was she that important? Then all at once, it didn't matter… all that mattered was that the fight be over, so she could do what she needed to…
I will do what I have to! I will not be one of the fallen!
She gritted her teeth and rose to her knees, green eyes blazing with an otherworldly light, ignoring the pain and the delayed response of her injured body. Everything focused on one point… destroying those who sought to harm her, who sought to stop her… the flame gathered, bright… bright… hot… in sudden desperation the hunters moved in on her, and their combined power ripped her clothes and skin, dragging pained gasps from her bloodstained lips, but her mind did not comprehend the agony. One of her hair ribbons had been sliced through, letting some of her hair stick to the side of her face, catching in her eyes.
Amon … Amon… I'm sorry… don't hate me…
And she let the power go. It seemed almost to spin, whirring through the figures, filling the air with last shrieks and cries of horror as the fire consumed them at a horrific rate. Soon, all that was left was the smell of burnt flesh and cloth, and embers in the alley.
And the body of a young, pale woman, covered in blood streaks and ashes, her hair sticking to the wetness on her face, masking her darkened eyes.
Amon … why does it hurt? I was not supposed to fall…
The last thing she felt before sinking into the merciful blackness was the wind roaring around her, twining around her limbs as though it was alive, screaming through the air like thrown blades.
The sky lit up for a brief moment as if some massive bonfire had been lit, and then disappeared as abruptly as it had started. The people walking in the streets blinked, assumed it must have been a malfunction in the electricity, and continued their tasks.
The STNJ knew better.
Miho threw the caution that had stopped her from allowing Amon to drive to the wind and sped towards where the flames had been seen. The man's hand had half-opened the car door despite the fact that it was going at such a speed. The others all knew that if Miho had not turned in that direction, Amon would have thrown himself out of the car and made his way there alone. The tension seemed to crackle around him, and Doujima pressed against her seat as her the hair on the back of her neck seemed to rise.
Something had changed.
The brakes screeched as the car skidded to a stop in front of the almost unnoticeable alleyway that had a few tendrils of smoke wafting out. This time Amon did hurtle out of the door before the skidding had stopped. He was in the alley before the others had even gotten out of the car.
The wind suddenly rose to a scream, where the night had been still before. It seemed to clash with the walls, even leaving small marks, and it buffeted the others as they ran around the car to catch up. They found they could not even enter, the force of the wind was too strong, and they exchanged looks. Was this Amon's…?.
Suddenly, the wind dropped off and there was silence. Doujima, Miho and Sakaki pulled the guns from their holders and warily made their way to the opening, slipping into the dark and letting their eyes adjust.
Doujima's gun clattered to the pavement as her hands rose to cover her mouth. Amon stood, long dark hair covering his face, over the crumpled body of Robin. Miho let out a soft noise and Sakaki shuddered lightly. The tall, silent man seemed to have no reaction, gazing down at her still form before lowering himself and gently lifting Robin, cradling her broken body in his arms. Blood seeped from her tattered clothing onto his, but he did not seem to notice.
Miho had opened to her mouth to protest moving her friend, but closed it again, seeing how Amon carried her. He strode out of the alley and went into the car, settling Robin on the backseat and sitting beside her. For the first time since arriving at the scene, he raised his eyes to the others'.
“To the hospital.” His voice was flat, almost dead. It did not seem like a voice that would come from a living being.
Miho stepped towards the car to take the wheel, and saw Robin in the electric lights. A strangled sob caught in her throat at the sight, the fragile girl looked as if she had been battered to almost death… white skin stained with drying blood and dirt, horrible gashes and rips. Amon's stare grew sharp, and she hurriedly got in and started the ignition. The question of secrecy was no more – Robin was going to the hospital, there was no alternative in any of their minds.
Overcome with shock, Doujima and Sakaki wandered back into the alley after Amon and Miho had left. The young woman sank against the wall, burying her face in her knees. Sakaki bent down and picked up an object from the ash-covered floor, lifting it to eye level.
The moonlight caught on the pair of shattered glasses.