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In his defence, he hadn't moved.
That had been what Zachary had said, wasn't it? "Don't. Move." ...he'd almost bitten the words out to Rufus. But Rufus had been more concerned about the Vanguard Member that had been shoving a rifle into his boyfriend's cranium, demanding that Rufus 'drop the guns and give him the codex.' Firstly, how did the Vanguard know about the codex? Secondly... drop the guns? Um, no. No, that was not likely to happen. You see, the problem is that if Rufus didn't have something to grip onto, his hands would be shaking uncontrollably. That and 'excuse me; You have a rifle aimed at my fiancé's head? You drop the gun!'
And there had been no way to see this attack coming – and therefore no way to avoid it.
As the last codex piece had stated, they had reached co-ordinates 37:47:36N 122:33:17W, which turned out to be the city of San Fran in the very north of California.
In the past, the co-ordinates had always been set for the deep jungle, like the African Congo or the Amazon, or perhaps smack bang in the middle of the Sahara or the Antarctic Tundra. The hiding places had always been in extremes of weather, in what Teddy called 'te kinda place you'd expect either Indiana Jones or a Star Wars snow beast ta pop outta nowhere.' (whatever that meant, exactly). So you can imagine it was quite a change when the two Magi stepped out into civilisation. Brightly lit, bustling, and damn threatening civilisation... because in civilisation, there is always a threat of the Vanguard.
Rufus had felt Zachary stiffen a little, before muttering "Stay close." At which Rufus rolled his eyes and walked, or rather loped easily next to Arlen, who was muttering agitatedly under his breath.
"I suggest we storm the fuckers and get this over and done with but oh no, Starius says we have to follow a 'code' that has been left for us by a total stranger that for all we know could be a trap and we'll all die exactly the same way those other martyrs did, whilst back in Harmartia..." At this point Rufus tuned him out. Harmatia had seemed so far away at that time; how was Master Odin coping, with both of his apprentices missing? Did Sverrin's burial go smoothly, or did the knights try something? And what of Jionat? How was he coping, along with Reine as the acting monarch and his father ill? That had been three years ago. What was Harmartia like now? Was Thestian dead? Was Jionat king? Or was it possible that he'd ran away before hand (without Rufus to literally shackle him to his bed) and got eaten by a cat sidhe?
On the other hand, coming to this mirror-world may have put time in a state of flux, and whilst three years may have passed for the awol magi, three seconds may have passed in Harmatia. There was no way of knowing.
Rufus huffed, glancing over at Zachary who now held a shabby com-piece in his gloved hand – the black leather of the palm slightly raised in places to give him better grip. In both their ears was a tiny, outdated earpiece that buzzed continuously, except for the minute 'blip' noise from the com-piece radar, signalling the whereabouts of codex 0.9. Written harshly and with little care in peeling white paint on the com-piece were the letters CX0.8 – codex 0.8. According to the diaries of Alistair Wilde, there were 10 codex pieces, ranging from CX0.1 all the way to CX0.x – the last one having the codes to access information on the tyrannical leader of this world.
The rebels were already aware that the Poster-boy leader Alec Vandelle was exactly that; a poster-boy, and therefore the main target for an uninformed assassination attempt. But these rebels had not been uninformed.
Rufus' thoughts drifted sadly to the bios pinned on Starius' office wall, of Zachary Allen and Rupert Merrell. Both the spitting image of their mirror-selves, only unlike Arlen, Zack's face had a terrible burn scar down the left of his face, marring it completely. From the right of his face, you could see he was once very handsome and rugged. But despite the scars, Rufus new that Rupert had loved Zack wholly and completely. It was in Zack's old bedroom that Arlen had found the rusting twin swords, the modest collection of leather jackets and a condemning picture of the two dead lovers, Zack sat looking mildly amused, but mostly disgruntled as Rupert wrapped his long, elven arms around Zack's shoulders, smiling brightly with blue eyes alight.
There were differences in personality, of course. For example, to Rufus' horror, Rupert had been noted by Alistair as 'the bravest man he'd ever met'. That, and Rupert was allergic to apples. Which, in Rufus' opinion, was an abomination.
The reason that Rupert had been so remarkably brave was also the reason he and Zack had met; by going undercover at VanSol and being inducted to the VanSol elite. Otherwise known as Sven's Mafia. Sven was the silent leader of the world, his laws enforced by his right-hand man Vandelle, and his corporal punishment handled by the shadowed man known only as 'Giles'. There was a reason for Zack's face being so burned – insubordination. Zack too had been a member of Sven's Mafia, only he wasn't undercover. He was Sven's best hit man, and a trusted ally. It was only when Rupert appeared, his actions so obviously that of an inside job, that Zack began to question himself.
Why exactly had he covered up for Rupert? Why was he protecting him? In truth, Zack hadn't cared who won and lost in this battle. But strangely he cared whether Rupert lived or died. So when Sven ordered that Rupert be punished by Giles for a small mistake (he'd let one of the captives, Hayley, escape) it was Zack who pleaded for mercy, on Rupert's behalf.
Zack was punished in Rupert's stead, but the punishment was far more severe. In a way, the two mirror-selves most alike were the two Zacharys. Rufus snorted to himself, shoving his own gloved hands in his pockets. They were moving west, towards the harbour front. Zachary didn't speak, his face set in a concentrated frown. Rufus, despite losing all his magical powers the moment he stepped into this world, could almost hear exactly what was going through Arlen's head: Get the codex, then get the hell out before Rufus kills himself. It wasn't Rufus' fault that death seemed to have a vendetta on him; in fact, he'd much prefer it if death didn't. Absent-mindedly, he played the compacted metal that Teddy had slipped him before they left, giving him sharp instructions "Don't use it unless yah have ta. If yah do, duck, cover an' roll!"
Was it the best idea to arm Rufus with an untested and possibly unstable bomb? Probably not. But without his magic, Rufus was willing to use anything, especially if Zachary was in danger.
Another twinge of sadness. That's how Rupert died.
Rupert and Zack had been the last remaining members, and they were on the run, whilst single-handedly searching for CX0.6.
It was the last diary entry in Alistair's files, written in Zack's hand. Rupert had been killed by Sven himself. Sven had been aiming at Zack. It was only through old newspapers that Starius had learnt that Zack had been captured in an assassination attempt, and had been handed over to 'Giles'. One could assume that out of the eight, Zack Allen's death had been the least peaceful.
Determination burned through Rufus like the fires of Athea.  They weren't going to die. They were going to save this world, then go home and apologise to Master Odin for the sudden disappearance, and then he was going to eat an apple. A nice, fresh, juicy apple that was nothing like the freeze-dried rations they lived on these days.
It was then that Rufus was jolted back into reality as he slammed face-first into the space between Zachary's shoulder blades. Zachary stumbled a little before regaining his footing and glaring ferociously at Rufus, who merely glared back. Purposefully, Zachary raised a finger to his lips and gestured around the building's side.
Without Rufus even realising – so deep he was in his own thoughts – they'd waded into the thick and rough of San Fransisco's once infamous Pier 39, once glorious in all its tourist trade glamour, now desolate and cold in its decaying state. What point was there for holidays and tourism in a hellhole world like this?  None what-so- ever. Sven had drained the Soul out of the entire world, leaving nothing but an empty shell-a ghost world, as opposed to the conventional ghost-town.
The wind seemed to make the air itself creak, and on the tumult drifts of air, Rufus could make out what Zachary had obviously heard moments ago.
"...supposed to destroy it before the rebels get here – it's a damn miracle we found it first. But I guess with Vandelle's new system, they'll be flushed out soon enough."
"I heard that the resistance can't die – they've all come back from the dead, one by one."
"Nobody can come back from the dead."
"Sven did."
There was a pregnant pause. "Doesn't matter. These guys aren't the real things, just phonies. Not a real threat."
Zachary's eyebrow rose at the comment, before giving Rufus a wry smile. 'Want to go first?' he mouthed, gesturing to the two oblivious speakers behind the wall. Fervently, Rufus shook his head. 'After you.' He silently replied.
Slowly, Zachary stepped from the shadows where they were hiding, a miniature knife slipping discreetly from his sleeve into his hand. With incredible speed and accuracy, Zachary threw the knife at one of the thugs, simultaneously drawing a long, wicked blade from its sheath at his hip. The throwing knife struck one man in the throat, his vocal chords sliced away with a silent scream. The other, reeling at the sight of his flailing, gurgling colleague, stared in pure horror at the looming figure of Arlen Zachary before him.
Rufus had to admit, the leather fashion of Zack Allen seemed to suite Zachary very well – particularly the form-fitting trousers that accented his rear just so. But in a dark alley, a Zachary clad in duster leather – as your opponent – was not the best sight to see. In fact, Rufus wouldn't be surprised if the poor, uninjured sod wasn't kacking his pants by now.
The man however, didn't just fear the sight of Zachary – he was utterly terrified of it. He clawed his way backward, away from Zachary's approach, until his spineless, trembling back hit the mottled red brick wall.
"Zack. My God. Zack." He breathed, his eyes as wide as the moon. Zachary raised his brow. "We know each other?"
The man nodded frantically. "I was one of your men in the SS Mafia. Don't you remember?"
Rufus cursed as Zachary faltered. Whether in this or any other life – Zachary would always put his men first.
Of course, what Zachary was oblivious too – and what Rufus could clearly see – was this supposed 'ex-ally' priming a vortex revolver, slowly and carefully pulling off the safety to avoid the tell-tale 'click'. With as much speed as possible, Rufus ripped the v5 pistols from his own holsters and shot with exact precision. The man screamed in agony, cradling his now bloody hand, and the gun dropped and skittering across the pavement. Zachary watched the cold tool with equally cold eyes. "Thank you, Rufus." He murmured quietly. Rufus stepped the shadows, his eyes still glued to the slippery snake before them, nodded absently in recognition of the thanks.
The man glared venomously at Rufus. "Rupert Merrell. You snake."
Rufus didn't respond, his gun still trained on the man before him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other man had stilled in movement, his body limp and flaccid. In the pavement crack, one could see the bright crimson that now slowly oozed from him as his heartbeat slowed. That man, Rufus summarised, was no longer a threat.
The bloodied man stared at both of them furiously. "How did you do it? Huh? I saw Sven kill you!"  The goon's gaze tried to pierce through them, but Rufus kept his face stony. The man turned his accusatory eyes upon Zachary. "I saw Giles mopping up your remains! Both of you – sickening, conniving traitors! Defy death? I'm not surprised! Even Hell will spit you out, you are that disgusting!"
"Rufus?"
Rufus cocked his head slightly to show he was listening, eyes still trained on the small target that was the man's forehead.
"I'm bored." Zachary spoke tonelessly. Rufus understood, and with one small movement, a bullet went ricocheting through the man's thick skull, smashing through the bone and sending a spray of blood and brain tissue through the air, painting the brick wall behind him.
The man's mouth fell agape as his eyes glazed. Death had been kinder to this man than any of the previous rebels. That's what Rufus kept telling himself. Life was precious – but those who sold it for power, drenching it in blood and treachery, were worthless.
Rufus had to think like that – otherwise he would go mad with guilt. These men and women were beyond saving. They had to be.
Without batting an eyelid, Zachary crouched down to where the men had been, the pavement having been blasted away with Nuc-Cherie bombs. Rufus could tell – there was still a faint taste of radioactivity in the air.
"Found it." Zachary murmured, pulling out a dusty, black folder, now marred slightly with the sticky congealing blood of the first victim. Rufus wrinkled his nose in disgust as Zachary mopped off the offensive liquid with almost professional demeanour.
Rufus gave a sweeping glance at the two fresh corpses, bemused. "How'd they know about the codex anyway?"
"Obviously they've been watching us... or the originals. They must have learnt the operation objectives from observation." Zachary paused, giving the codex a hard look, before sighing and handing the book over to Rufus. "You're the genius." He muttered, rolling his eyes. With the slightest hint of smugness, Rufus took the book from his fiancé and started to casually flip through the pages.
The pages were filled with programs, commands, ciphers and passwords. This wasn't a code one could crack on paper. Rufus sighed. "If these were magical texts, we'd be fine. But..."
"But?" Zachary repeated with a bored expression.
"We need to get this back to Maggie." Rufus concluded, stuffing the code into one of his coat's inner pockets whilst Zachary rolled his eyes.
The street light behind them began to flicker, its neon orange glow fading to a stark white. The effect was immediate; the entire scene was cast into black, white and a wheying grey. The blood spattered on the brick wall was an inky shade of tar, the thugs' skin like chalk. The cobbles beneath their feet shone wetly, as the light ominously grew paler. Rufus watched the scene change, like an eerie black and white film. "I don't like this." He muttered.
Zachary's eyes flicked from one direction to the other, before striding out and taking Rufus by the wrist. The grip was as tight as it was reassuring. "I suggest we leave." was his only reply. Too late.
The dying light flickered into nothing. Then hell broke loose.
The night sky was suddenly set of fire as close to thirty red flares filled the air, painting the once stark scene a vibrant shade of scarlet. There was a shrill cry of steel on steel as Zachary pounced into action; his grip torn from Rufus, but his thoughts clutching tightly.
At one point, the crimson flares and screaming noises would have entirely disorientated Rufus, unhinging him into a violent, yet familiar state of panic. There was definitely still an element of panic, but he was no longer as wet behind the ears as he had been in the beginning... much to Zachary's general relief. So as Zachary launched into his complex, dance-like routine of slay, flay and sauté, Rufus yanked his second v5 from its holster and started his own game of 'shoot 'em up'. There must have been close to thirty SS ops there, but obviously they weren't prepared for the challenge of Zachary and Rufus together. These two together were a whole new level. With easy grace, Rufus pulled one trigger to a skull in front, then instantaneously sent three bullets spraying behind him; instinctually knowing where his targets stood. Then he back-flipped over their falling corpses to dodge an oncoming foray of firearms. They grazed his skin barely, before tunnelling vicariously into the bloodied brick wall behind him. Rufus twisted on his heels where he stood, shooting blindly at his attackers repeatedly – the bullets slamming into chest, stomach, and finally the forehead. They slumped where they stood.
Suddenly the minute sound of beeping caught Rufus' attention. He leapt over to the wall, where the miss-shot bullets were still buried. And beeping. And the beeping was getting louder. Bombe-bullets. Rufus' eyes widened with the sudden realisation that he had three seconds to tell Zachary about the bombs and duck cover and roll. Magic all but non-existent, Rufus desperately reached out to grab something that resembled a magi's psychic link. Instantly, Arlen's eyes met his. One word was thrown over the link like a soundless scream.
DUCK!!
Rufus threw himself to the ground as the wall behind him erupted into a vengeful inferno, which having tasted the blood of Rufus' victim was now suddenly ravenous for more. The old redbrick, likely about half a century or more old, shredded apart at the impact, and flew at high velocity, acting as bullets far more precise than Rufus could have managed – killing about ten in the explosion's repercussion. Rufus peeled himself from the now dust-covered floor, his clothes tattered and ripped a little by all types of high speed projectiles, bullets and brick wall alike. Littered about him were those not so lucky; a chunk of jagged plaster protruded grotesquely from one man's left eye, impaling his head entirely. Another had lost half his skull, his cranium dashed out and painting the cobbled stones beneath it. Rufus refused to be sick. He had bigger problems. Where was Zachary?
The dust was starting to settle, and to the left of him Rufus could hear coughing and wheezing. Rufus started to stagger furiously in the direction of the coughing, his heart beating in sync with the mantra spinning repeatedly around his head. Let him be alive. Let him be alive. Let him be alive. Athea, please let him be alive.
Rufus stopped abruptly when he saw the Vanguard soldier. He was very young, younger than Teddy, and had a distinctly Arian look about him. The boy stared at Rufus, gasping futilely for air, his blue eyes wide with fear, but still full of strength. Rufus' eyes were glued to the boy, whose chest was peppered with debris, and in consequence his lungs also torn to shreds. He gasped furiously for air, his eyes pinning Rufus with more ferocity than the Magi had ever felt before. His lips moved, but Rufus couldn't hear. The boy, shuddering with a great, final breath, husked through paper-dry lips "Free us."
Rufus was unable to move his gaze as the light faded from the boy's childlike eyes. The boy resembled Jionat in a way – young, fair-eyed and forced to participate in something you can neither bear nor escape from. Rufus felt sick. It had nothing to do with the scent of blood that hung thickly in the air.
With immense effort, Rufus tore his eyes from the young boy, the dust starting to settle around him. Where was Zachary? He gulped, the pressure painful in his bone dry throat. "Zachary?" he called out hoarsely. No answer. Rufus searched the thick dust frantically, his eyes flicking in all directions. "Zachary?!"
"I'm here."
Rufus turned, the palpations in his heart momentarily calming at the sound of Arlen's even voice... and then picking up to double-time as the scene before him unfolded. Zachary, knelt amongst the littered bodies and red dust that was soaked with a darker red. There were flecks of blood all over Zachary's cheeks, streaked with grime and sweat from exertion. And his eyes betrayed none of his emotions, meeting Rufus' with cool indifference...
Indifference to the fact that a rifle, not a handgun or pistol, or even a revolver... a rifle was being aimed at point blank range to the side of his temple. About five Vanguard Soldiers stood around him; obviously seasoned fighters, as opposed to the young freshman Rufus had just witnessed the death of.
Rufus bypassed any coherent thought, immediately moving toward his lover with a form of petrified determination. The guy with the rifle jabbed Zachary harshly with the rifle's barrel. Zachary grunted, drawing Rufus up short. "Ow." He voiced blandly.
"Don't bother, Merrell! One wrong move, and Allen loses more than his mind." They clicked off the safety, the threat more feasible than any words as the sound bounced on the remaining walls. Rufus shuddered, his eyes going from the Vanguards' to Zachary's, then back to the Vanguards'. The man, seemingly the captain of the severely diminished squad, smiled grimly at Rufus. "Now, if you wouldn't mind Rupert; drop the guns and hand over the codex."
His hands remained at his sides, gripping the v5s so hard the whites of his knuckles were visible. They shook slightly, but at this point only Zachary had the inclination to notice. Rufus remained resolute, to which the grim smile of the captain broadened. He stabbed viciously at the side of Zachary's head, forcing it to tilt at an awkward angle. Arlen hissed, but Rufus wasn't sure whether it was in pain or fury.
"The codex, Merrell. And drop your guns."
Rufus didn't think, he only raised both his guns and let his arms move on their own; with swift deftness he shot the captain's hand, shattering the bone entirely. Within seconds, he'd also shot two of Zachary's captors in the head, before spinning to shot the last three when...
Click-click. Oh. Bugger.
Zachary's expression hadn't changed. He merely stared at Rufus' attempt at heroics whilst still restrained by a hulking rifle aimed at his temple. At the tell-tale sound, he finally spoke.
"Out of bullets?"
Rufus nodded minutely. "... yep."
"Any refills?"
"... nope."
"... fucking fantastic."
Silence. Broken only when the captain - no longer able to hold the rifle, so therefore delegating to one of his remaining two men – began to laugh in utter euphoria. "A chivalrous attempt, Mr Merrell. But if you please; you are out of bullets, therefore your weapons are useless. You are defenceless. You're friend here is on his knees, with his executioner at his side, unless you do as I say: Give. Me. The codex."
Rufus couldn't do it. The situation was futile, and Zachary would never forgive him if he died. But... Rufus raised his eyes to meet Arlen's, and stop short. Arlen fixed him with a stare of pure intensity. "Don't. Move." The words were grit through his teeth. Obviously he was planning something, but that gun was too close, too much of a threat for Rufus' liking. The concept of a world without Zachary... without Arlen Zachary...
Tears were pointless right now. That and they were weak. For this reason alone, Rufus bit them back. He threw his hand into the pocket that the codex lay, stashed within the inner of his coat. His fingers brushed the leather binding of the codes, and simultaneously felt the jagged prick of... Teddy's bomb.
It wasn't tested. It was stupid. It was impractical. Teddy was a shite engineer, which made the whole plan close to suicidal. But this is Rufus we're talking about. Practicality and likelihood of being killed doesn't always compute.
" You want the codex? Fine." Rufus stood to his full height, the gashes and tears at his skin crying out, and strode purposefully toward the captain. He pulled the leather binding from his coat and passed it to the captain. "Free my friend."
The captain nodded, and the two remaining men flung Zachary to the ground as unceremoniously as possible. He twisted on the floor to glare accusingly at Rufus. Rufus, however, was a little pre-occupied. The Vanguard captain grabbed Rufus' arm, squeezing mercilessly. Rufus gasped at the pain. The captain leaned forward, malice glinting in his eyes, and spoke softly into Rufus' ear. Zachary couldn't make out to the ghostly words, only register the horrified look in Rufus' eyes. With that moment, Rufus slammed the binder into the captain's hands, before producing in his other hand what looked like... a detonator?
There was no time at all for Zachary to think. Within seconds, Rufus had leapt onto Zachary, pinning him to the floor, shielding Arlen's body with his own. One split second passed.
The rest is darkness.

~Code Breaker~

Rufus woke to the sound of loud yelling, swearing, the sound of things breaking and heavy furniture moving. For a moment, he mused that he had once again fallen unconscious at the tavern in Harmatia. He'd probably gotten into a fight again, hence why his entire body ached.
Then reality dawned on him. He sat up, eyes snapping open.
The scene before him was every level of disturbing. A big man, nearly as tall as Starius, was bearing down fiercely on Rufus' comrades, and his main focus seemed to be the only person beside the knight himself that wielded a sword. Zachary's hand rested on his hilt, whilst the tall man in chainmail fixed the point of his sword at Zachary's jugular.
Rufus found this quite upsetting.
"NO!"
In one swift movement, the man everyone had thought in deep comatose a moment ago had ripped all the IVs from his body, unravelling various bloodied bandages, and yet somehow was able to jump on and straddle this strange new goliath's back.
Gal didn't appreciate this.
"Get off of me, you villain! Slaves of Morgause, all of them!!"
"Gal, calm down! He's not going to kill me!"
"Don't you dare touch my boyfriend!"
"Rufus, you idiot!"
"Get him off me!"
"I'M TRYING!!"
Gal swung his sword wildly about him, attempting to either pry Rufus off with the quicksilver or shake him off like a rabid rat. The sight of flashing metal forced Zachary into action, and the peal of sword on sword rang out like a scream.
"All of you stop it!" Snapped Kestrel, raising her hand "Or you'll force me to use magic!"
Zachary eyeballed her with a look of sheer boredom. "Magic doesn't work here."
"Maybe not yours, but my locket is working fine." Kestrel replied smugly, and with that she began summoning her powers to the palm of her hand to feel... nothing. She paused. Repeat. Still nothing. What the-? If her locket worked then surely she should be able to...? She cussed furiously. She'd have to use her next favourite weapon.
"Fine. Magic doesn't work." It was Arlen's turn to look smug. "But what about pepper-spray?" Three faces were fixed on Kestrel's; two vaguely bemused, but one very clearly horror-struck. "My lady, please, there is no need for-" Too late for mercy. The can was already in her hand, and without any differentiation between friend and foe, Kestrel sprayed the horrifying liquid into the faces of the three men, taking no prisoners.
"GAAH! SWEET ARAMATHEA, WHAT THE FUCK?!?!!"
"MY EYES! MY EYES!"
"My lady, why me also?!!"
Kestrel expertly spun the bottle in her hands, before tucking it back into her bag. "Because you were acting equally childishly."
Maggie, still sat at her desk watching the scene with morbid interest (and slightly sadistic humour), called out lightly "I thought your file said you could do karate?"
Kestrel turned to face Maggie, smiling sweetly. "Oh, I do. It's just easier to beat someone when they're already clawing their own eyes out." She pointed at Zachary, who was still moaning as he was in the process of doing just that. Maggie swallowed her laughter, turning to her computer screen. Something told her she was going to get on with Kestrel.
Starius chuckled a little as the two Harmatians pawed at their eyes fruitlessly, moaning as they did, whilst quietly filing away the fact he did not want to get on Kestrel's bad side. Then he frowned, suddenly reminded of something. "Rufus?"
The poor man opened his bleary, stinging eyes to look at Starius, tears still streaming down his cheeks. "Yes Starius?"
"Where is the codex?"
Immediately, Zachary stiffened, his movements frozen. Rufus blinked. "I...er...I..."
"Rufus" Zachary cut across, revealing his own puckered red eyes as he turned to glare at his boyfriend "blew it up."
A few moments of stunned silence, before "Blew...it...up?" gasped Maggie, eyes wide. Starius' face remained utterly stoic. Teddy looked ill – as pale as a sheet. Maggie stood slowly from her desk, before screeching "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, BLEW IT UP?!!" Before anyone could move, she had crossed the room and grabbed Rufus by the lapels and shook him, like a wildcat worrying an extremely apologetic mouse. "Wait! Hold on a second, I-"
"You what, Rufus Merle?! What?! Want to beg for mercy? FIVE YEARS MERLE!! FIVE YEARS!!!! And poor Starius and Libré have been here for seven!!! All that work, RUINED!"
"If you'd give me a chance to say, I-"
Maggie clawed  at his clothes mercilessly. "NO EXCUSES!! I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOUR EXCUSES!!" She slumped, her head falling forward against Rufus' chest. "I just want to go home..."
Rufus, frozen at the sheer fact one of his favourite comrades had literally broken down and crumpled on his front, looked helplessly at the onlooking rebels. Zachary simply watched on silently, offering no help what-so-ever. Kestrel and Gal were equally at a loss, only Kestrel was now suddenly facing reality- a reality with no magic, no escape, and a fuckload of migraines. The prospect was not bright.
Wordless, Teddy stood up and gently pried Maggie off Rufus' chest, pulling her into his own arms and holding her like an older brother would after a waking nightmare. Maggie gulped down her sobs fruitlessly, her voice cracking as she cried "I miss them so much! I miss Jen and Harley... my God, I miss Nick so much!!" Her words caught on the back of her throat, and the name 'Nick', Rufus noticed, was full of such passion and plea. The look in Teddy's eyes were fathomless as he hushed her, stroking her hair lightly. Suddenly, Rufus felt equally blessed and cursed; at least the man Rufus loved was by his side – they were together. But at the same time, Rufus was faced everyday with the prospect of either Zachary or himself dying. Neither being that attractive.
But he wasn't lonely. Zack Allen may be dead, but Arlen was alive. But the truth that went hand in hand with that fact was suffocating: Each of his comrades had someone they loved, and the likelihood was that in this reality, those people were dead. Take the aforementioned 'Nick'. His doppelganger, Nicodemus Stafford (also known as Nick) had a militant upbringing, and as soon as the Vandelle Empire declared war for world domination, he was one of those on the frontline. He didn't stand a chance.
And he was trained for battle, so what did that say about this rag-tag group's efforts? Were they wasting their time? Especially when in the world you live in the people you love are dead. Hence – they needed to win, and get home. For that they needed the codex.
Rufus coughed sheepishly, turning to Libré. "Do you still have my jacket?"
Smiling, the graceful woman floated off, returning moments later with the depressingly shredded leather bomber jacket that Rufus had taken a small liking to. It had been Rupert's. Sighing sadly at the ruined garment, Rufus began to rifle around in the coat's inner pockets, fully aware of the scrutiny he was earning from Zachary. Teddy and Maggie were too wrapped up in their mourning of a world they left behind five years ago to notice. After a couple of moments, Rufus produced a bunch of slightly ruffled papers from the jackets' inner pocket. Without a word, he handed it to Starius, who stared at the papers incredulously. "But Zachary just said-"
"Zachary is an idiot." Rufus deadpanned back, ignoring how his fiancé's face darkened over like a brewing storm cloud. One could only fathom what thoughts were being kept decidedly private behind those sealed lips. Rufus wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Kestrel raised an eyebrow at the papers, before voicing "Exactly what is that?"
Both Teddy and Maggie raised their head at this. Starius spoke calmly. "This is Codex 0.9, and it will give us the location of Codex 0.x: the final code."
Maggie stared at the papers, her tears drying on her cheeks, before turning her fierce gaze on Rufus. "You had it?"
Rufus sighed in exasperation. "Yes. That's what I was trying tell you; before I used the bomb, I took the codex out of the binder, put the bomb in its place, and then detonated." He gave Zachary a pointed look. "I'm not a idiot."
"No." Zachary replied tautly. "You just lack self-preservation skills."
Rufus would've replied with something equally snarky, however something in his gut told him he should be paying attention to Maggie. So he turned to face her, simultaneously snubbing Arlen as well, only to be rewarded with a firm punch to the face. "YOU HAD IT ALL THE LONG, BUT YOU JUST LET ME CRY ANYWAY??!!?!!" Maggie screeched furiously, all sign of tears gone, only her face still red, but this time due to fury and indignity. Rufus groaned, holding his bleeding nose. Kestrel stepped forward, half horrified.
"Can we all stop hitting the injured guy please? What's wrong with you?!"
Teddy waved his hand dismissively. "No matter what we do, the guy just won't die. So it's okay; hit him as you like." Kestrel had to fight the urge to hug Rufus out of pure sympathy and empathy. As one who also spent her life outrunning the clutches of death, she could relate surprisingly well. She groaned internally, watching Libré putter about with the bloodied bandages and steaming water. "Doesn't anyone here actually have any medical training?" she asked, almost without hope. But suddenly, without fail, he whole room pointed to one person. Kestrel could feel the smallest sliver of joy in her, only to be quashed when she realised everyone was pointing at Rufus, the person most likely to need said medical training, who was currently sat on his bench realigning his nose cartilage and wiping away any blood. Never before had Kestrel felt such an urge to repeatedly bang her head on a desk; she'd have to ask Starius if she could borrow his office later.
Starius passed the mess of paper over to Maggie with a small, knowing smile. She took the paper, giving him a wry wink, before setting off toward her bedroom, calling back "You boys keep it down; I'm gonna need sleep at some point."
Rufus, still sat demurely on the hospital bench, blushed three shades of red, whilst Zachary simply ignored at her. "If you need sleep, take Rufus' room at the back – he will not be needing it."
A terrible, cold fear settled on Rufus' shoulders as that quaint blush of his faded into an ashen pale. Call him crazy, perhaps even paranoid, but something at the back of Rufus' mind told him he was – literally – screwed. Or, if that wasn't the case, he was about to be.
He frantically looked about the room at his teammates, and noticed they were all strategically avoiding his gaze. Teddy was picking his way over to his makeshift workshop, carefully avoiding eye contact with Rufus or Zachary. As long as Arlen was focused on Rufus for using the bomb, rather than being pissed at the bombs manufacturer, then Teddy would still be alive… with genitals intact.
Libré was happily humming as she collected bloodied bandages off the floor, a pan of water already set on their camping stove to boil, to later sterilize the used bandages for later use (most likely on Rufus again). Starius was busying himself with Kestrel and Gal's sleeping arrangements, leaving no-one to register Rufus' silent looks of plea.
There was nothing else for it. Slowly, Rufus turned to look at his fiancé, who by this point had that glint his eye; the same glint that Zachary acquires when he's seconds away from bursting forth into Night Patrol form, with a bloody vengeance to acclaim. That gleam spoke to Rufus. It said "Oh yes. There will be vengeance, and it may very well be bloody."
Rufus squeaked in terror, which was like baiting a rabid cat with a petrified mouse. Easy kill. Which is a very good analogy of what happened next:
Rufus didn't stand a chance; Zachary pounced, eyes still ablaze with aforementioned murderous gleam, and literally dragged Rufus off the bench. Rufus, squeezing his eyes shut, clung hopelessly to the grimy linen, screaming intermittently "No!" "You can't make me!" "Stop it!" etc, until with evident futility, the linen ripped under Rufus' desperate clutching, leaving nothing to stop Zachary from dragging Rufus by his ankles into the sleeping barracks of their hideaway – kicking and screaming "I need an adult!! I need an aduuuult!!!"
Gal and Kestrel looked on at the scene with awestruck horror. Slowly, she turned to Starius. "Is he going to be okay?" Starius, his eyes still glued to the blank piece of paper in front of him, shrugged his shoulders slightly, saying "define 'okay'?"
Gal blanched, looking after Rufus' flailing form as he was dragged into the depth of the barracks. "My thoughts are with him, may God have mercy."
Almost in answer, a shrill scream echoed from the barracks, followed by "ATHEA SAVE MEEE!!!!"
Kestrel blinked in the cave's general direction before turning back to Starius. "Men screaming out in terror. Gets more and more like home by the second."
Starius scowled. "In my world, men do not scream like little girls."
Kestrel shrugged. "Yeah, but in his situation…"
Starius considered for a moment, before conceding "…true." He went back to the sleeping arrangements. "There is only one room left, as Kelsie and Galvin were always reported as an intimate couple. I take it you are a couple?"
Simultaneously, Kestrel blurted a resounding "No!" whilst Gal responded with a blunt "Yes."
Kestrel stared at him, mouth agape. "What?!" she squeaked.
Gal shrugged. "We are a two-some, and therefore a couple." Starius snorted into his hand, expertly turning his laughter into a coughing fit. Kestrel rubbed her temples, as if repressing a huge migraine. "Gal, let me put this in terms that will compute for you; are we courting each other?"
Horrified and wide-eyed, Gal shook his head wildly. Satisfied, Kestrel turned back to Starius, who was still red in the face from his 'coughing fit'. "One room will be fine though, Gal sleeps in his locket." Another scream ensued from the sleeping barracks. Both Kestrel and Gal winced. "As long as it's as far away from Zachary's room as possible."

~Code Breaker~

Ahahaha! Yes, much longer this time. And remember when Zachary said in chapter 1 that 'obviously, Rufus overreacted.'? Well, this is Rufus saying 'I bloody well did not!!'
And, as we can see, Zachary ignores this statement and starts (literally!) dragging Rufus to the bedroom by his ankles. Muwahahaha.
Just saying, if it's not abundantly clear, next chapter comes with a warning. ;)
In which Rufus fills us in on exactly WHY he's out cold, bleeding, covered in shrapnel and inches from death. And also WHY Zachary is a bloody liar when he claims that Rufus overreacted...

Also in which Zachary drags Rufus to their bedroom by his ankles. XD

Teddy Pearson, Magdalene Vandelle, Starius of Orien & Libré de Aviatrice © Me

Rufus Merle, Arlen Zachary, Kestrel McBurney and Galahad (of the Locket) © M Vaughan
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