tinfoiltennis: A woman standing on a beach, holding a model ship and looking away from the viewer (✎ Feltwig used Drink Tea!)
✎ Fel's Creative Journal ([personal profile] tinfoiltennis) wrote2011-01-26 08:00 pm

✎ chapterfic - hetalia/ebz - it was not meant that we should voyage far [9/?]

Title: It was not meant that we should voyage far. [9/?]
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia/Echo Bazaar
Characters: Every nation ever at one point or another. This part: Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia.
Rating: PG for this chapter.
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: 4455
Notes: Once again, the continuation of the long haul that started as my NaNo project for last 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 and my first time writing the Eastern Block characters, sob.

✎ ✎ ✎


Deep among the dankest and darkest rookeries of the ragged old market of Spite, near to where a bend in the river curved past a few tumbledown old houses and a colony of alarmingly mobile fungus made its home, lay a rather unremarkable-looking old building. In fact, its only remarkable feature could have been said to be the fact that it was in a much better state of repair than its neighbours. This was an impressive feat in and of itself, as the house, with its two storeys and its small basement, appeared for all intents and purposes to be unlived in, the windows boarded up and the front door staying both locked tight and unanswered.

Of course, the house was in truth not uninhabited at all. The windows stayed boarded up and the front door stayed locked because the owner wished it that way, and all the inhabitants knew to use the back stairs, the ones hidden by a healthy colony of that same distressingly mobile fungus, to enter and leave. The proximity to the Stolen River made it especially easy for them to come and go without having to go down into the city proper and attract undue attention to themselves, which again was exactly what the owner of the house had in mind. When one is conducting an illegal business under the noses of the Bazaar, one doesn’t want any unnecessary attention.

On this particular night, a small boat drifted quietly upstream along the stretch of river leading to the house, guided by the sure, steady hand of a brown-haired man with dark circles under his eyes and worry lines that didn’t suit his young face. His passengers were a bored-looking man who was currently braiding his blonde hair as if the act of sneaking in and out of the city was nothing more than a chore to him, and a sandy-haired girl lying stretched out on the tiny deck with a bandage wrapped around her head and a sword lying in easy reach at her side. Other than for them, the boat was empty. A quick maneuvre starboard into a small nook at the side of the river, and the helmsman quickly stepped off onto dry land, securing the boat around a short stump with a sturdy length of rope and some hastily-tied knots.

One only tends to be so cautious in Fallen London if one really needs to evade the law. If one happens to be a member of one of the most infamous group of spirifers in the entire city, for instance.

Toris Laurinaitis took a cautious look around and waved to his companions, the permanently worried look on his features taking on an impatient quality.

“Hurry up, Feliks, we’re late as it is and you know how he gets about that even when we’ve got good news for him,” he said agitatedly, compulsively straightening his jacket. Feliks yawned widely and unbraided the stretch of hair his fingers had just been working at, untangling the strands from each other.

“Like, there’s no need to get worked up, Toris, I’m coming already,” he drawled, climbing out of the boat lazily. He glanced over his shoulder at Nataliya, who was now sitting up and grasping her sword in her hand. “Hey, come on Nataliya, you heard Toris say we were late.” Nataliya fixed Feliks with a glare that would have made a lesser man, or at least one that was not quite as used to her constant glaring, quail as she got to her feet and re-buckled her sword around her waist, smoothing her skirts down.

“Be quiet,” she said as she passed him, her skirts swishing. “You know brother won’t be pleased with us after what happened.”

Feliks folded his arms, pouting as he followed the other two over the rickety raised path that lifted them away from the mushroom colony that covered the ground between the tiny makeshift jetty and the entrance to the house. “Yeah, yeah, I know already, geez!” he muttered. “We’ll just have to think of something to tell him, and he’ll probably, like, be more mad at that weird zailor than us anyway, yeah?”

“Hopefully,” Toris replied, but he didn’t sound convinced. Partly, that was because he wasn’t. Their leader, Nataliya’s brother, rarely got angry. At least, not outwardly. He was always calm and in control for the most part, with a gentle smile that was somewhat unnerving. But that didn’t mean that he couldn’t be cruel when he was displeased, either, and on occasion he had been downright terrifying, even if he hadn’t lost his temper in the way others did. He was like a child, thought Toris to himself, which made him cruel like a child. He’d been that way for as long as Toris had known him. Still, he thought, trying to think positively, maybe there was a chance that he’d understand if they explained what had happened to him. After all, all three of them had been with their customers at the time, and they’d hardly expected anyone to be able to find their storage room, let alone take an interest and actually follow them down there from the White Raven. Maybe they had let the mysterious zailor get away from them, but perhaps that would just make him focus on chasing after him rather than exacting punishment on anyone else in the group…

Well. Toris could always hope.

“If brother is angry at us, then he will be angry for a good reason,” Nataliya frowned as they traipsed up the steps to the back door of the house. “We let him down that night.” Her voice grew small and sad. “I let him down that night.”

Toris hesitated and turned to face her, offering a small smile of comfort. “Nataliya, maybe if we explain he’ll understand,” he tried. “You tried your best, after all –”

“Not good enough,” she said firmly, a dull note of unhappiness still in her voice. “I should have stopped that foolish zailor.” Her hands tightened their grip on her sword, and she scowled down at them bitterly. Toris sighed and turned to unlock the door with the key he kept safe around his neck, ignoring Feliks’s conspiratorial eyeroll at Nataliya’s actions.

The back hallway was dark when they entered it; it was always dark, to save candles for the more lived-in areas of their little hideaway. The three of them trailed through the hallway quietly and down a little set of stairs into the kitchen, which was brightly lit by the flames of all the candles which had been so absent in the hallway above.

“Oh, you’re back! Thank goodness!” The relieved cry came from Yekaterina, Nataliya’s older sister, who had looked up from where she was standing by the stove as they had entered the room. She wrung her hands nervously on her apron as she looked at them all, almost looking to be on the verge of tears. “I was beginning to get worried!”

“There’s no need to have worried,” Toris assured her. “We just ran into a little trouble that held us up for a little while, that’s all.” That might have sounded more convincing had Yekaterina not caught sight of her sister’s bandaged head at that moment and rushed forward with a fresh cry of alarm, wringing her hands anew as she hovered like a nervous bird around her sister.

“Nataliya, your head! What on Earth happened out there?”

“It’s nothing, sister,” Nataliya said tonelessly, brushing her sister off with a wave of her hand and moving to sit at the table. “It’s just a scratch.”

“But – ” Yekaterina bit her lip, gazing down at her sister in clear worry. “You’re injured! Nobody caught you, did they? You know how Ivan will react if somebody caught you!”

“Like, chill out, Katyusha, we obviously didn’t get caught or we wouldn’t have made it back,” Feliks said, bopping the older woman on the head lightly. “Geez, you worry more than Toris does, and that’s saying something.”

“Then what did happen?”

Toris hesitated, watching the woman’s worried expression, the way she was compulsively brushing back a loose strand of hair behind her ear. In many ways, Feliks was right; if Toris worried a lot, then Yekaterina managed to take it to the next level and then some, living in what seemed to be a permanent state of tearful worry. He supposed that part of it was just Yekaterina’s naturally caring and motherly nature. But when your younger brother and sister also happened to be Nataliya and Ivan, Toris had a feeling that it was only natural to worry so much, especially given what he knew about the three siblings’ past. But then, that meant that even if he didn’t tell the poor woman about what had transpired over near the Carnelian Coast, she would still worry herself into an early grave thinking up scenarios much worse than what had happened in reality. It was, he reflected with a sigh, probably better to simply tell her.

“Someone did catch us,” he explained softly, holding up his hands pre-emptively to forestall a fresh wave of worried questioning. “Don’t worry, it was nobody important,” he added hastily for good measure, his mind flashing back to the blonde zailor with fierce eyebrows who’d been standing in the cave, souls swirling around his head like a scene from an old ghost story. “Just a zailor, so I don’t think he will have gone to the constables about us. We’re still safe here.”

“And Nataliya?” she said anxiously, the sister in question watching the conversation with half-lidded eyes.

“It’s just a precaution more than anything else,” he assured her with a small smile, trying to be reassuring. “She tried to catch him when he ran from us, but she was knocked out and hit her head on the cave wall. She really is otherwise uninjured.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Yekaterina sighed in relief. “I really was worried that something awful had happened!”

“Well, it didn’t,” Toris told her. “So don’t worry so much.”

“Sure, it didn’t,” Feliks interrupted, throwing himself down into a chair and lounging there with his arms folded. “Except for the part where, like almost our entire stock was smashed by that crazy zailor before any of us could blink.”

“What?” The voice came from the kitchen door, and Toris glanced around to find a quiet, intelligent-looking man with glasses and a short, timid teenager peering into the room. Eduard and Raivis, two people that Toris considered to be as good as brothers to him within this group, if not more so. Toris cringed inwardly – he’d hoped that these two wouldn’t get to hear this, not before Ivan had been told and had a chance to calm down first, at least…

“Everything in our storage was destroyed, Feliks? Are you sure?” Eduard asked matter-of-factly, a small frown the only thing betraying how much this worried him. He was probably calculating the extent of their loss of business even as they spoke, Toris thought; Eduard always had been the most business-minded of all of them. Raivis, on the other hand, looked positively terrified by the prospect.

“A-all of it?” he practically squeaked. “B-but you know that Mr. Braginski is going to be s-so angry i-if it was!”

“Yup,” Feliks said unconcernedly, apparently more focused on the state of his nails than the situation at hand. “Pretty much all of it, anyway, I think we managed to rebottle, like, a quarter of them. But then we totally ran out of spare bottles, so that was like, that, you know?” That was so typically him, Toris thought despairingly; Feliks was so incorrigibly optimistic and seemingly oblivious to the bad things around him. He guessed that it was a good thing in some ways, some sort of defence mechanism, and even he had to admit that sometimes he was glad for his friend’s ever-exuberant attitude. But it didn’t half make him impossibly annoying to deal with sometimes.

Such as right now, when he looked up at Toris, propped his chin up in his hands, and said, “Don’t worry, Toris’ll totally find some way to explain it to that dummy Ivan, right?”

Quite suddenly, so suddenly that both Toris and Yekaterina jumped at it, Nataliya’s hand shot out and grabbed one of Feliks’s wrists, squeezing so tightly that Toris was sure that she was going to end up breaking the Polish man’s hand.

“Ouch! Geez, Nataliya, let go already!” Feliks yelled, struggling to free his hand from her vice-like grip.

“Don’t insult brother,” she told him dangerously, apparently completely impervious to his increasingly animated attempts to throw her off.

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry already! Just stop crushing my hand, I need that!” Nataliya apparently found Feliks’s apology, even made under considerable duress as it was, acceptable, and she released his wrist. After a fashion, anyway; to be more accurate, she pushed his hand down hard away from hers so that it landed hard on the table, and everyone else present winced. Immediately, Feliks snatched his hand up and cradled it close to his chest while he inspected the damage. Nataliya returned to sitting passively at the table, looking for all the world as if she hadn’t just grabbed Feliks’s wrist with the intent of doing some considerable damage to him. Toris cleared his throat nervously, trying to bring the attention of the others back to the problem at hand.

“A-anyway. Feliks is telling the truth, I’m afraid,” he said apologetically. “By the time we realized what was happening, it was too late to stop him, and we did end up losing over half of what we had.” He felt his spirits sinking again as he told them, thinking of how he would have to find a convincing way to tell Ivan about this.

Eduard sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Raivis is right, you know, he isn’t going to like this.”

“I know,” Toris nodded, trying to keep his already rather frazzled nerves from getting the better of him. The last thing he needed right now was for one of his nervous stomachaches to rear its head. “But we did still manage to sell some of what we had left and I’m sure that I can think of some way to explain it to him.”

“That’s the spirit, Toris,” Feliks quipped. “Now come on, Katyusha, let’s eat already! We’re all like, totally hungry after traveling back for so long, and whatever it is you’re cooking smells delicious.” His eyes traveled over to gaze at the pot that was bubbling away on the stove, beginning to push the lid set atop it up. “Like, by the way, it’s totally about to explode on you.”

“Ah!” Yekaterina turned back to her stove in alarm, picking up her wooden spoon once again. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention!” she all but shrieked as she hastily removed the lid from the rattling pot, giving the bubbling stew inside a quick stir. “It almost spoiled, but I think it’s okay. Thank you for pointing it out, Feliks, I wouldn’t have caught it otherwise –”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can thank me by feeding me,” Feliks said, waving her words away like so many flies. “It’s totally alright, okay?”

“Okay!”

Good grief, Toris reflected as he took his place at the table and watched as the others took theirs, sometimes he wondered what on Earth he’d done in a former life to end up living with such a bizarre group of people. Then again, he reflected guiltily, considering what it was they were all involved in together, he probably didn’t have a very good track record in any of his former lives for doing good things. Trading in human souls, though, that had to be one of the worst crimes that anyone could commit. Sometimes, it would cross his mind and he’d realise that he’d just become so used to the idea, working at this day in, day out, that he forgot what it was they were really doing. It wasn’t a comforting thought. Toris didn’t really think of himself as a bad person most of the time, but when he remembered this…

He pulled his mind away from those thoughts and tried to settle himself. It was no use thinking that way within this group, he knew, not with Ivan pulling the strings. But still, events like the one from the other night did leave him wondering; what if there was some way to persuade their ringleader to shut down this whole operation, or at least some way to force him to? Toris wasn’t hopeful of there even being the tiniest chance of success with such a venture, but sometimes, like now, he did have to wonder…

As if simply thinking mutinous thoughts in the same house as Ivan was enough to summon him, it was that moment that heavy footsteps came thudding down the stairs and the tall, broad figure of one of London’s most infamous spirifers emerged into the room, his long scarf trailing behind in his wake.

“Ah, I thought I heard people coming in!” he said brightly, that ever-present smile fixed on his face. Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed; where before it had been nervous, but still full of a somewhat friendly camaraderie, it was now so tense that you probably could have heard the proverbial pin dropping. Raivis shrank down into his seat and suddenly became a lot more interested in his bowl of stew, shaking from head to foot; Yekaterina dropped the spoon she was holding back into the pot clumsily before turning to smile at her brother as if nothing was the matter; even Eduard and Feliks seemed to shrink down into themselves slightly, and Toris himself didn’t feel much better. It was as if a sudden cold chill had entered the room at the same time as their Russian ringleader. Nataliya was the only one who seemed to brighten up at his entrance, sitting up a lot straighter and even almost smiling as she gazed at her brother with an eager light in her eyes.

“Ah,” Toris said with a nervous smile. “Good evening, Mr. Braginski. We only just got back a few minutes ago.”

“Dinner’s ready, Ivan!” Yekaterina said in an attempt to try and defuse what was clearly turning into an awkward situation. Toris had to admire her for trying, but he knew that it was probably a lost cause from the beginning; except for Nataliya, who hero-worshipped her older brother to an almost disturbing degree, all of them felt as if they had to walk on eggshells around Ivan, as if one wrong move could spell their downfall. That was just the effect he had on them all.

“Ah, thank you,” Ivan said, that serene smile still on his face as he sat down at the head of the table between Toris and Feliks. Feliks was back to studying his nails again in an effort to ignore the man to his right. Toris swallowed nervously and tried to think of how best to go about explaining what had happened when the inevitable question came. He knew it couldn’t be long now, and sure enough, his expectations weren’t disappointed.

“I was worried when you didn’t arrive back on time,” Ivan was saying in that childlike way of his. He turned to Toris reproachfully. “You should know better than to worry me, da? You know how bad it would be if anything awful happened to you while you were gone.”

He managed to sound threatening even when he was saying something that would usually just mean he was concerned, Toris thought to himself. Out loud, he said, “I know, Mr. Braginski. I’m sorry.”

“Hmm, that’s alright,” Ivan said with a little nod, beaming. “You are back now, and that is what counts, isn’t it?” Mutely, both Toris and Feliks nodded, while the others at the table picked at their food and tried to pretend that they weren’t listening to every detail of this conversation with their breath held. They had every reason to, for the next moment, Ivan stiffened for a moment as he glanced around the table. It was momentary, and so slight as to be barely noticeable, but Toris managed to catch it, and inwardly braced himself for whatever was going to follow.

Ivan tilted his head, as if he were simply puzzled by something. “Oh, what happened to Nataliya’s head?” he asked, with the air of someone startled at opening a door to find that they had walked into the wrong room. Toris bit his lip imperceptibly and opened his mouth to answer.

“We… ran into a little bit of trouble while we were away,” he said weakly, but he held his back straight even so. Ivan tutted and shook his head.

“Well, that’s no good,” he said, no longer smiling. “You should tell me these things straight away instead of waiting for me to ask.” His voice sank lower, so that he was practically murmuring his next words. “What did happen?”

“Forgive us, brother,” Nataliya said before Toris could say anything himself. “We were followed down to our storage room by some sort of zailor. He –” her voice caught for a moment, as if it shamed her to remember how she had let down her brother so, “He managed to get past our watch, and destroyed over half of our stock. I tried to apprehend him, but… I failed. He escaped my grasp.” Nataliya’s grip on her spoon was almost painfully tight. She bowed her head quickly, staring down into her lap. “I’m so sorry, brother!”

For a few moments, there was silence at the table, everyone holding their breath while they waited to see how Ivan would react to the news. For a long while, he simply sat there, staring at his sister with his usual calm smile. Raivis and Yekaterina sank down further towards their meals, clearly expecting the worst. In the end, though, Ivan just sighed as though disappointed; only the dangerous gleam in his eyes spoke of anything being wrong. Still, Toris had to fight hard not to jump when one of Ivan’s large heavy hands came to rest on his shoulder, grasping it firmly.

“Such a disappointment,” he sighed. “You were supposed to be in charge of that, Toris, da?” His grip on Toris’s shoulder tightened, and Toris continued to hold his breath as he looked up into the much taller man’s violet eyes. He fervently hoped that Ivan wasn’t about to dislocate his shoulder or worse. He’d done it twice before, and even though Yekaterina had helped him set it back into place, it wasn’t an experience Toris cared to repeat a third time. Still, he nodded, wondering if he ought to apologise as well for good measure. He knew that it wouldn’t be entirely sincere, but still…

In the end, Ivan simply sighed again. “You should take more care not to let things like that happen in the future,” he told him, slapping his shoulder in a manner that was almost comradely. Almost comradely because it was still hard enough to hurt. “It is bad for business, yes? And after we all worked so hard, it’s sad that it could be destroyed so quickly just because you weren’t watching.” Toris swallowed and nodded again quickly, feeling relieved at having got off lightly this time.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Braginski,” he nodded. “I’ll try harder next time.”

“Good,” Ivan smiled. “We wouldn’t want any more accidents. Now, why don’t you tell me more about this zailor who has caused us all so much trouble?” Ivan’s smile was gone again, and although his voice was still light, the dangerous gleam was back in his eyes. Toris hesitated; for some reason, he didn’t want to give the man away. For the same reason that he’d let the strange man go after discovering him the other night, his conscience wouldn’t let him. It just didn’t feel right to help Ivan in an effort to persecute the mysterious stranger for attempting something that Toris was too cowardly to despite his own misgivings. Fortunately for him, he didn’t have to say anything; Nataliya got there first, desperate for a chance to try and redeem herself in her brother’s eyes for letting him down with her fight with the man in the cavern’s passageways.

“I couldn’t tell too much about him when I fought him,” she admitted, “but he was definitely from the Wolfstack Docks. Some sort of captain, I think. Our customer said she saw him there.”

“A captain?” Toris said in spite of himself, his eyes widening slightly in surprise. It had been clear enough that the man was a zailor, but a captain? “He seemed too young for that.”

“No,” Nataliya retorted sharply, shaking her head vehemently. “She said he was a captain. Which means that he must be easy to find. The captains of the trading ships are all well-known to the authorities.”

“But like, if he’s got any sense, he’ll totally be hiding, right?” Feliks reasoned. “I mean, he didn’t just manage to piss off us, he totally got on Hell’s bad side too.”

“We could still find him,” Nataliya said flatly. “If we find out more, it will be easy.” She turned to her brother with a desperate, pleading look, her eyes shining. “Please let me do this for you, brother! I can find him for you, and this time, he won’t defeat me.” Her expression turned dark as she reached for the handle of her sword, belted to the back of her chair. “Won’t get a chance to cheat, this time,” she muttered.

Ivan looked genuinely startled and a little unnerved by his sister’s fervour, and he blinked for a few seconds before coughing discreetly. “Sister, while I… admire your enthusiasm, perhaps we should get someone less noticeable to find out more for us.” He turned back to Toris, his serene smile sliding back onto his face. “Toris shall find out more about this mysterious zailor for us,” he smiled, his tone of voice clearly inviting no argument. “And then once we know as much as possible about him and where to find him, Nataliya can have the honour of making him pay for inconveniencing us so much, da?” He laid his hand back on Toris’s shoulder again, his eyes boring into the smaller man’s. “I know you can do this for me,” he smiled. “Don’t let me down.”

Toris summoned a small smile, the one that said that he was a trustworthy, obedient worker, and tried to ignore the pricking of his conscience.

“I won’t,” he replied.

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