tinfoiltennis: A woman standing on a beach, holding a model ship and looking away from the viewer (✎ I'm the bloody Queen mate!)
✎ Fel's Creative Journal ([personal profile] tinfoiltennis) wrote2010-12-11 02:04 am

✎ chapterfic - hetalia/ebz - it was not meant that we should voyage far [3/?]

Title: It was not meant that we should voyage far. [3/?]
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia/Echo Bazaar
Characters: Every nation ever at one point or another. This part:, America, Prussia, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and a few random extras.
Rating: PG-13/borderline R for this chapter, for gratuitous stabbings with knives courtesy of Prussia. :'>
Summary: An Echo Bazaar crossover AU. Fallen London: once capital of the British Empire, now home of the Bazaar, a mile underground and a boat ride away from Hell itself. Deep. Dark. Expensive. Marvellous. Here you can find everything from immortality, to unnervingly good mushroom wine.

Or so the stories go.

But stories can rarely be trusted, and all the wildest stories in the world couldn’t have prepared Alfred and Matthew Jones for what they would find when they descended into the fallen city on a journey that would lead them right into the heart of a rebellion against the Masters of the Bazaar themselves…
Word Count: This part: 3433.
Notes: The continuation of the long haul that started as my NaNo project for this year. :'> The title is from an HP Lovecraft quote, “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
Warnings: General warnings: A crossover with a (very addictive) online game, a lot of speculation and elaboration on my part on the universe of that game, human!AU, the occasional bit of 1800s sensibilities, and later on in the fic, a lot of OCs. :’> This chapter: NaNo quality writing, Prussia being gratuitously violent, and some OCs.

✎ ✎ ✎

Alfred wasn’t sure how long he’d been wandering around – an hour? Half an hour? Somewhere between the two, maybe? Either way, he was sure that however long he had been walking, he was now, without a doubt, completely and utterly lost.

He hadn’t even meant to wander all that far; he’d just felt like a quick walk away from the stuffy air of the pub, maybe get a peek at what the city looked like at night, then straight back in before Matthew even figured out that he’d been gone. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, anyway, and it couldn’t hurt any, right?

… Admittedly, he had had quite a lot to drink before making that decision.

But! That didn’t matter, because he hadn’t even been planning to walk more than a few paces up the street, maybe a quick trip around the block if he felt like it. He just hadn’t caught track of his wrong turn until he’d realized that he didn’t recognize the street he was on one bit. Maybe he’d taken a right turn where he was meant to have gone left, or a left turn where he was meant to have gone right? Who knew in this place? It was all way too dark

He couldn’t help noticing even in the dark that the streets he was wandering through now were a lot different to the ones in Veilgarden. There were none of the warm lights, or the bohemians sitting smoking or drinking on the steps of the pubs; instead it was even darker than the rest of London, and the houses and buildings seemed to lean over on either side of the narrow street as if they were watching him.

Honestly, the whole effect was just really damned creepy. Alfred drew his coat around him closer and fought the urge to shiver, trying with difficulty to remember if there’d been any ghost stories among the ones that Antonio and Luís had been telling that night.

He really did not want to run into any ghosts in this place.

Suddenly, there was an almighty crash from somewhere nearby, and the sound of what could only be described as cackling. Alfred whipped around, his heart thumping. Oh God, it wasn’t just a ghost, it was a witch instead. He was going to be killed in an alleyway by a cackling witch, and it wasn’t even going to be a heroic death!

The sounds of crashing and boots against cobblestones grew closer and closer, and Alfred found himself rooted to the ground by fear, hoping that whoever – or whatever – it was would just pass him by.

Then a loud and raucous group of men rounded the corner into his alleyway.

At first, Alfred relaxed. People – the real, normal kind, anyway – were a lot better than ghosts and witches, right?

That was about five seconds before another dark shape dropped down from somewhere in the rooftops above and started systematically slicing his way through the group with what appeared to be two very long, very well-kept knives.

It was almost frighteningly quick, and that was the first and nearly only thing Alfred would remember about the sight later on. Upon sinking his right-hand knife into the back of one of the unfortunate men at the finish of his jump, he immediately twisted and pulled – no, yanked – the knife out before turning to slash across his opponent’s throat. The man fell in seconds.

His companions barely had time for their jaws to drop before the knife-wielding maniac – who, Alfred noticed for some reason that was at that moment completely beyond him, appeared to be albino – turned and drove both knives into the abdomen of the man to his right before he could even raise his own knife. There were now only two men standing. One of then hesitated, clearly wondering if it wouldn’t simply be better to turn and run away from this demon in human clothing. The other, however, simply ran at his assailant with a cry, brandishing a short, sharp dagger. The white-haired man stepped back, parried, and lunged forwards almost in the same beat, laughing maniacally as he caught his opponent across the chest. He staggered; the albino let out another frightening laugh, not even bothering to reverse his grip on the knife before he slashed and stabbed again at the other man’s chest, forcing him down in a matter of a few instants.

The final man’s face was white, whatever previous attempts he had made at clinging to his dignity in the face of death forgotten. The albino cocked his head as if considering, his knives slightly raised.

“Planning to run away like a little girl?” he said, in a slightly German accent. “I know I would if I were you.”

The man let out a sound somewhere between a terrified squeak and a cry of rage and lunged forwards; quick as a flash, the twin knives were raised, and blade met flesh with a sickening schick.

“Guess not,” the albino noted with a smirk in his voice, and let the body fall. He bent down and retrieved something from the bodies on the ground, tucking whatever it was neatly into his coat pockets before glancing down at the knives in his hands. “Hmm,” he muttered to himself. “Should probably clean these up before I give them back to her…”

Alfred, who had witnessed this entire spectacle from only a few feet away, looked on in abject horror, his hand over his mouth in an attempt not to gag or even to breathe too loudly. At some point during the last two minutes, his legs had finally given way under him, leaving him slumped against the wall of the alleyway and fighting back panicked hyperventilating. Apparently not well enough. Some kind of noise caught the albino’s attention as he was wiping the knives off on the clothes of one of his victims, and his head shot up, his eyes narrowed and suddenly alert. As if to make the situation even more horrific than it already was, the faint gleam coming from the moonish light on the ceiling of the Neath made it clear that his eyes were a deep blood red.

“Eh? Another one?” He almost sounded bored. He sighed heavily and sprang to his feet, his knives back in his hands. “Alright, kid, just hand over your candles and maybe I won’t stab you all the way to death, how about that?”

Alfred couldn’t even respond. He just stared, his blue eyes wide, and tried to make his mouth work for long enough to say something suitably tough or heroic. Like hell he was going to be stabbed to death in an alleyway!

The albino stepped closer; now he was standing right over him. “I’m still waiting for an answer, here.”

“I don’t even have any candles,” Alfred managed to say, his voice coming back to him, albeit in the form of a horrified whisper. He swallowed and continued, his voice becoming stronger as he did so. “Is that what you killed them for?” he demanded through gritted teeth, voice full of righteous indignation. “What the hell is that supposed to be?”

“I don’t have time to argue morals with you,” the albino said in a bored voice, twirling his right-hand knife. “Short story is, you’ve run into the middle of a Game of Knife and Candle, which means you’re either really, really stupid or you’re just really good at pretending to be.” He grinned, his red eyes gleaming, and planted one of his heavy boots on Alfred’s chest, pointing one of the long knives in his face.

“So which is it?”

✎ ✎ ✎

Matthew was sure that in the list of all the days in his life that had gone pear-shaped (and it happened to be a fairly sizeable list), this one would definitely top the list as the worst day of his life. He’d finally done it; he’d actually managed to lose Alfred in one of the worst possible places that he could have lost him. Now what was he supposed to do?

He, Antonio and Luís were now all stumbling or half-stumbling quickly down winding streets and narrow alleyways, although since the worry and urgency of the situation had rather considerably sobered the three of them up, they were having far more luck walking in a straight line than any of them would have an hour beforehand.

“Where are we going?” Matthew asked, his voice tight; the other two seemed to have somewhere in mind to lead him to, but since they had all left the Singing Mandrake neither of them had spoken. At least, not to him; the two had had several hushed conferences between themselves in what Matthew assumed must have been either Portuguese or Spanish, or perhaps some combination of the two. Either way, it had left him excluded, and considering that it was his brother who had gone missing, he was getting rather fed up of it.

Luís, however, had the decency to answer his question. “To Brigid’s pub,” he said, without turning around or breaking stride. “She has contacts all over the city, once she gets the word out your brother ought to be found in no time.”

“And that will work?” Matthew asked, the doubt evident in his voice. Luís did stop then, turning to face him.

“You’d be surprised at how quickly word can spread here,” he said simply. “London is a city of spies and gossips.”

“And, it’s a better idea than trying to search the entire city for him ourselves,” Antonio added with an encouraging smile. Grudgingly, Matthew had to admit that he was right; they both were. Still semi-inebriated as the three of them were, they weren’t likely to be much help to Alfred at all, even if the city hadn’t been seemingly near-impossible to navigate.

They had been walking for almost an hour through narrow streets and strange, twisting turns – Luís claimed that he was taking them down the shortest route possible while staying out of the more dangerous or shadowy areas of the city – before Antonio, up ahead, finally rounded a corner and said “Ah, we’re here,” almost as if he was surprised to find himself at their destination himself.

Matthew’s head snapped up, his attention coming back from the stewing spiral of worry it had been preoccupied with throughout the walk. The road they were currently standing in was completely different from those of Veilgarden; candles burned in most windows instead of the brighter warmth of the larger lamps, and most of the buildings, while well-maintained, were clearly more functional than anything else. Closed, sealed and tightly-packed crates and boxes were piled up outside buildings or down small nooks, all covered with sailcloth or otherwise tied. Some tough-looking, unsmiling men lounged about nearby these hoarded goods with their hands in their pockets near their concealed weapons, nodding curtly at the threesome as they passed. The message was clear; as long as you don’t touch the goods, we won’t have to hurt you. Matthew swallowed. Altogether, this was a much less welcoming district than Veilgarden had been.

The building that Luís and Antonio stopped in front of, though, raised his spirits a little. It seemed somehow to be much better-kept than the others on either side; the tiled roof wasn’t missing tiles or boarded up hastily with pieces of wood, and the wooden door was well-scrubbed. A sign above the doorway proclaimed: The Horse And Harp.

Luís fumbled in his pocket for a moment to check his watch. “She’s probably locked the doors by now,” he noted after consulting it, and without any further ado, began to bang on the aforementioned door. The wood echoed hollowly with every knock. After a few moments, the sound of footsteps from inside could be heard, and the sound of somebody fumbling with something on the inside of the door. Matthew blinked in surprise when a wooden slot that he hadn’t noticed before opened at about head height, revealing a pair of green eyes looking through the opening suspiciously.

“Can’t ye read? We close up after three in the mornin’!” It was a woman’s voice with the most bizarre accent Matthew had ever heard; at first it simply sounded Irish, but there were notes of both the accent he was fast becoming to associate with London, and something else that he couldn’t quite catch – Welsh, perhaps? The effect, while not at all unpleasant, was still surprising, and made him double-take.

“And does that also apply for old friends in need of an urgent favour?” Luís asked, amusement evident in his voice.

There was the click of key in a lock and a scraping back of a latch; then the door was open, and a short, fiery-haired woman stood in front of them with a candle in her hand. “That’d be dependin’ on how urgent the favour is,” she replied.

“Well, strictly speaking, it’s not a favour for me,” he admitted, and looked back at Matthew, gesturing at him. “This is Matthew Jones,” he said by way of introduction, and Matthew felt Antonio give him a gentle push on the back to propel him forwards, closer to the light of the woman’s candle. “He and his brother only just arrived here yesterday morning, and they’ve got separated.”

“Meanin’ that his brother’s got himself lost, I take it?” she said shrewdly, and Luís nodded, looking somewhat sheepish.

“Essentially, yes.” She sighed and stepped outside for a moment, bringing the candle closer to Matthew’s face while she peered at him. After a few seconds, she nodded.

“Aye, ye look honest enough,” she said firmly, apparently satisfied with whatever she’d seen in his face, and smiled at him. Somehow, impossibly, he found himself smiling back at her; there was something about her smile that was contagious even through the worry about his brother. “Well, Matthew Jones, I’d be Brigid Kirkland, the owner of this little establishment, and ‘tis a pleasure to be meetin’ ye. Why don’t the three of ye be comin’ on in and tellin’ me what ‘tis that’s happened, then? ‘Tisn’t a good idea to be lingerin’ on doorways in this neighbourhood, ye realise.”

With that, she stepped back and held the door open for the three of them, who all nodded and murmured words of thanks as they passed her on the way in. The room Matthew now found himself in was simply furnished but immaculately clean; the tables were well-scrubbed, and even the kegs and bottles of liquor behind the bar were free of dust. It was clear that, whatever else Brigid Kirkland may be, she took pride in running her pub, and somehow, that reassured Matthew more than anything else may have done at that moment.

“’Tis lucky ye are that ye knocked when ye did, Luís,” Brigid was saying briskly as she placed her candle on a table and drew out the chairs for the men to sit on. “’Twas just about to go to me bed, I was, and none of me brothers are around tonight to let ye in instead.”

“Then I’m glad that I didn’t have to wake you to make you answer the door,” he said with a small grin. She smirked and nudged him in the side as she bustled back towards a door behind the bar that Matthew guessed leaded to the kitchen.

“Aye, sure ye are,” she called back. “Now, don’t any of ye be movin’, and I’ll fix us some tea before ye start tellin’ me anythin’.”

“Tea?” Luís asked, a note of surprise in his voice.

“Aye, tea! And good quality tea at that. Your Raul’s good to me, he is, gets me a good deal whenever that family of his starts smugglin’ more of it down here.”

Matthew watched this exchange, feeling quite out of the loop as he did so. Did everyone in this strange city have connections to various parts of the underworld? He didn’t have much time to think on this before Brigid returned with a tray in her arms, laden with four sturdy cups and a steaming, hardy teapot that seemed to have seen many years of service. She set the tray down before settling into a chair and gazing expectantly at Matthew.

“So, ye’re new down here, are ye?” she prompted. Matthew nodded, feeling uncomfortably on the spot.

“Yes, that’s right, ma’am.”

“Ma’am, is it?” She chuckled good-naturedly as she began to pour the tea into the cups. “Well, aren’t ye a polite one? There’s no need to be callin’ me ma’am, Matthew, just plain old Brigid’ll do nicely.” She handed him a steaming mug of tea before she settled back in her own chair. “So, how ‘tis it ye lost your brother?”

“He wandered off outside,” Matthew explained helplessly. “We were in the Singing Mandrake, and I feel asleep for a few moments, and well… when I woke up, he was just gone.”

“Singing Mandrake, was it?” she asked, and her gaze moved to rest on Luís and Antonio, boring holes into their faces with her eyes. “And ‘twould that be the fault of these two fine gentlemen here?”

“Hey, it wasn’t our fault!” Antonio protested. “We didn’t expect that he would decide to wander off on his own!”

“The point is, Brigid,” Luís said swiftly before the conversation could be derailed any further, “Alfred is somewhere out there right now completely lost and we have no idea where. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I believe that there was a round of Knife And Candle being played around Spite tonight, and if he somehow managed to make his way there –”

“Wait,” Matthew asked, surprised by his own daring in cutting off someone else’s words. “What’s Knife And Candle?”

Brigid, Antonio and Luís exchanged a hesitant glance. Finally, it was Antonio who broke the silence.

“They call it the art of polite murder,” he said, looking uncomfortable. “The players are given candles and have to stalk and… kill the other players to take their candles. That’s how they keep score.”

“It’s a game, supposedly,” Luís added, his expression saying exactly what he thought of that opinion.

“A game?” Matthew said in a horrified whisper. “But they’re murdering each other! How can people let something like that carry on?”

“Because dyin’ here ‘tisn’t always permanent,” Brigid said with a sour expression, staring down at her tea. “’Tis so close to Hell that we are that oftentimes the soul can go back and forth between the body and wherever ‘tis it goes after. Many of the folks that play have died more than once already.”

Matthew sat and stared at the three of them, stunned with horror. He was suddenly extremely glad that he was sitting down, because he didn’t think his legs would have been able to hold him after that revelation. Brigid reached across and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“‘Tis a lot to take in, I know,” she said gently. “But ‘tis the way things are down here.”

“But then…” Matthew said slowly. His head flew up as a horrifying thought occurred to him. “But you said that they were playing this game tonight! What happens if Alfred stumbles across it?”

“That’s why we need your help, Brigid,” Luís explained rapidly. “You know more people put together than probably anyone else in London, if you put the word out then someone is bound to come across him before anything happens. I just hope that he’s sensible enough to keep his head down if he comes across anything…”

Brigid nodded, taking a sip of her tea with a grave expression on her face. “Aye, I see now why ‘tis ye came to me. I’ll be seein’ what ‘tis I can do. ‘Tisn’t something I want to see, some poor soul wandering into something far over his head down here.” She turned to Matthew again and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “What ‘tis it ye brother looks like, m’dear?”

“Like me, really,” Matthew explained, swallowing. “Short blonde hair, blue eyes, and glasses. He’s quite tall.”

“And American,” Antonio put in helpfully. Brigid nodded.

“Right, that ought to be enough to be goin’ along with. I’ll start sendin’ the word out now.” She rose to her feet and looked down at Matthew with a strong, reassuring smile. “Don’t ye be worryin’ overmuch, Matthew. By all ‘tis good I’ll have your brother found for ye, and ‘tis a promise.”