Robert Jekyll woke up with a gasp. For a moment, he was disoriented, not knowing what he was doing, why was he lying on the floor of the laboratory-? Then it all came flooding back. The heart of Lord Trash, Captain Dance, and-
Oh, God. Robert staggered to his feet weakly, looking frantically around him for Lily, for Bella, for Ravi. His head was spinning and his eyes were aching, making it hard to see.
There. On the floor not five meters from where he stood, lay the forms of two women, one lying sprawled over the other. He nearly threw himself across a table to reach them, flinging himself down onto the floor next to them, reeling. He scrambled for a second, trying to remember who he was and what he was doing, then pressed two fingers to Lily's neck, trying to calm himself down enough to feel her pulse. If there was one.
For one, two, three seconds he waited, hoping, praying, that there would be something.
A flicker under his fingers. The faintest touch of a pulse. The softest movement of her chest. Robert almost sobbed with thankfulness. He carefully shifted Lily to the side, looking to Bella. She was bruised across the face, probably from being knocked down by Lily falling on top of her. He repeated the action, waiting for a pulse, and, thank all goodness, there was one. Again, just the faintest throb, but it was there. With difficulty, Robert arranged the two women so they lay next to each other, then ran up the stairs to the catwalk to check on Ravi.
By the time he reached Ravi's side, the boy was already stirring. He had been farther from the explosion, so he was recovering faster. That, of course, made Robert raise the question. How am I still alive? I was right there, I was touching the heart, but here I am. Alive and breathing. How?
He shook his head briskly. This wasn't the time. Ravi was slowly sitting up, one hand pressed to his head. He blinked several times, rapidly, and his eyes focused on Robert, who this time really did give a cry of relief. He dragged his brother into a close hug. "Thank goodness you're all right," he muttered into Ravi's hair, tears forming in his eyes. Ravi swallowed and returned the hug, a smile touching the corners of his face. Below, Lily and Bella were moving as well, waking up and beginning to slur faint words. Robert got to his feet and, with Ravi following, ran back down the stairs to meet them.
After Robert had been reassured that Lily, Bella and Ravi were all fine (and in turn reassured them that he was virtually unharmed), the four of them turned their attention to Captain Dance, lying spread-eagled on the ground next to a woman and that fat man, Silas, with the toad in his eye. None of them wanted to go near them, but eventually, and after some persuading, Robert crouched at Silas's side and tested his pulse, fearing what he might find.
Nothing. Not even a hint. He was too human, and too close to the explosion. Robert shook his head at the other three silently. One thug down. Two to go.
Next was the woman that Robert had never learned the name of. She lay on her side, one hand draped over Dance's stomach. Robert cautiously moved the hand and pressed two fingers to her neck, then staggered up and back, pale. She was stirring.
The Tenebrae woman slowly sat up, hand gracefully raised to her temple. She blinked, then realized that she was sitting, weaponless, surrounded by her enemies, next to the unconscious-or-dead body of her lover. She gave a wail and buried her head against Dance's chest. "Kill me!" she whispered into his suit. "My love is dead and the Heart is gone. I have nothing left to live for. I will die before I tell you anything. Indeed," she raised her head, "death will be welcomed."
"Izzat so?" Bella snapped. "Then maybe we should keep you alive for longer, just outta spite."
Robert held up a finger, frowning. The woman's pupils, though hard to see in the light, were abnormally small, almost pinpoints. This meant one of two things. One, she was having a stroke. Unlikely. The other was that she was calculating something. Not good.
"Move over," he said suddenly, struck by an idea. "Bella, Lily, hold her. Ravi, stay back." As the woman, surprisingly, obeyed, Robert crouched, very carefully, at Dance's side. Instead of checking his pulse, he simply reached down, about to open the front of his jacket to look through the translucent skin. The second his hand came close to Dance's chest, though, the body lurched upwards, grabbing his wrist with an iron grip. Robert thrashed, trying to drag his wrist free, but Dance's hold was too tight. As the other three watched in astonishment, the woman gave a soft, light laugh and tore away from her captors. She waltzed to Silas's corpse and twirled a pistol from his belt, pointing it directly at Robert's head. He stopped struggling and froze, silent. How was she alive? She had been even closer to the explosion than Silas had been, yet she was clearly still fine...
She gave another laugh. "Do you like my little decoration?" she asked, using her gun-less hand to twirl her silver necklace around her finger. "No ordinary trinket, this is. Taken from the mantle of the earth itself. Infused with some helpful little... charms that my friend helped me create. And you see how it worked..." She smiled.
Robert was frozen. This one tiny necklace charm was strong enough, somehow, to protect her from the explosion? Incredible. It would be a dream to study it. But that would have to wait. His wrist was still locked in Dance's fist, though Dance himself was still lying sprawled on the ground, scattered bits of the Calyx strewn around him. But as he watched, Dance's head slowly rose, his blank eyes focusing in a matter of moments. A sadistic smile spread across his face. "Fedora, you angel. You've managed to manipulate the Star's range somehow?"
"Just enough for once, my love," the woman, Fedora, whispered, her eyes wide with infatuation. "It will take a long time before it can be done again. Oh, my love, I cannot tell you how happy I am to have you back."
"Indeed," Dance murmured back. Bella mimed gagging and, to Robert's slight surprise, Lily smirked with her. Was that a good sign?
Dance slowly increased his chokehold on Robert's wrist. "I do still want to kill you, dear boy. You have single-handedly ruined everything Tenebrae ever stood for, for thousands of years. You could have joined us, we could have been gods on earth together. You could have ruled. But instead you chose to crush dreams!" His self-control was crumbling a little. Dance was spitting now. "You chose to side with the weak, and burn all we ever wanted. A meaningless barmaid, a want-to-be agent, and an Indian boy."
"He's my brother!" Robert growled. He regained control over his voice, bit by bit. "They are important to me."
"You could have been so great," purred Fedora, smiling menacingly. "I told you before, Hyde has powers beyond what you have ever thought of. Even when you are Hyde, you have done nothing but taken the smallest glimpse of what he can do. We could have taught you."
"I DON'T-" Robert began furiously. "...I don't care," he finished, forcing his temper back under. "We stopped you, the Heart is gone, and I'm with my-" He stopped. There was a huge problem that he somehow hadn't seen. He wasn't with all of his friends yet. Renata and Olalla were still out in Renata's house, so Robert was fairly sure that they were safe. But Hils, Garson and Maggie were all still upstairs, and Garson and Maggie were old. They might be the most damaged of them all. Fedora caught his frantic upwards glance and all but giggled. "Oh, yes. Your sweet little elderlies. I think it is quite safe to say, my love, that they are dead?" The way she said the word "dead" was, frankly, frightening. There was a certain bite in it--she clearly had no problem with causing pain.
"Quite safe indeed, darling," Dance agreed musingly. "The elder generation does tend to be ever so fragile." He stood, smiling at Robert. "Finally, the moment has come where I can see you die. Slowly, and very, very painfully. Your friends can watch--I want to kill you first. These teammates of yours will follow, so perhaps your soul won't feel lonely for long." He leaned close to Robert's ear. "If a mixed thing like you even has one."
Robert stopped holding back.
A horrific grinding and cracking filled his head. The veins around his eyes ached as they expanded, filling with blood. His gums and throat burned momentarily. His eyes blurred, then cleared, and with them, his mind.
It was at this point that he realized he loved this feeling. He would change his mind the moment he changed back to Jekyll, but for now, he loved the cold, single-minded clarity of Hyde. He wasted no time in ripping his hand from Dance's fist and swinging the other with enough force to throw the Tenebrae agent to the ground. Fedora's pistol swung from Hyde's head to Lily's, and remained there, steady as anything. Hyde stood stock-still, staring down at Dance.
"I know I cannot hurt you with this, Hyde," Fedora whispered, finger gently tightening on the trigger. "But I can hurt your friends, ever so badly. Would you like to see?"
Hyde said nothing. Dance climbed to his feet and moved forward until he was standing nose-to-nose with Hyde, staring into his eyes with open malice. Hyde made a deep growling noise in his throat, one corner of his mouth lifted in a snarl.
"That was a mistake," Dance said softly. "She-" he gestured at Lily with a finger- "will die all the sooner."
A cold smile spread across Hyde's face. "You mistake me for someone who cares about her. Someone like, oh, Jekyll, maybe." He turned to stare piercingly at Lily. "Go on, then. Shoot her."
"Robert!" Ravi gasped. Hyde raised an eyebrow. "What? You think that because we're all here together, we should be friends? Looks like you're mistaken. I don't care what happens to you," he spat suddenly, rounding on Lily. She concentrated on her well-practiced poker face, but her facade was slipping. "So go on, then. Shoot her, Fedora. I'd like to watch."
Fedora hesitated, looking from Hyde to Dance and back again. Dance shook his head, just the slightest amount, and Fedora's aim drifted to Ravi.
"So you'll deny me the satisfaction of watching that one die?" Hyde sighed, stretching his neck to the side, feeling the joints pop and crack. "A pity." He turned back to Dance. "So what you're saying is, you want to watch me suffer. Is that right?" Dance didn't respond. "How sad that is. How simple of you. Pain and sorrow? Only those two? Me, I like to watch my enemies run. I want to see the fear in their eyes. But no, all you want is pain. Tragic."
Both Dance and Fedora were silent for the briefest of moments. But as Dance opened his mouth to speak, the laboratory door above them burst open and an Oriental woman in a silver outfit stormed in, stopping on the catwalk to glare down at them. Her teeth were like needlepoints.
"Captain Dance. Lady Fedora," she snarled. "You had one task. One task! And you have failed Tenebrae. Everything we ever stood for, gone. Our creatures, sent back to Pan's world. You have ruined us." For the first time, she seemed to notice Ravi, Lily, Bella and Hyde. Suddenly, a smile split her face, and her teeth were square and white. "So these are the ones who managed to stop you?" She laughed. Fedora slowly lowered her gun. "If they could do it, one of my assistants could have defeated you by blowing on you."
"Now, dear," Hyde commented coolly, "be careful of who you underestimate. It's a risky move, especially when I'm feeling like... thisss." He sat on the laboratory table and swung his legs up, reclining carelessly.
A sudden idea seemed to strike the woman. "Captain Dance, Fedora, come with me. Back to the Headquarters. We need to discuss... future plans."
"Keres," Dance started to protest, but Keres, who must have been the woman, gave him a glare so sudden and cold that Dance fell silent. "I do not care if they escape. They are not important now. You will have your revenge later, as will we all. But since you failed so miserably this time, you will need preparation."
"We're still here, dingleheads," snapped Bella. "Aren't you gonna do something about us?"
"Don't worry, my dear," Keres said smoothly. "You will be taken care of in due time. For now... run. I want to see the fear in your eyes." She smiled, exposing her teeth, which elongated into points as Bella watched. She glanced nervously towards Hyde, who rolled his eyes with a snarl. He jumped off the desk in one smooth motion and leaped straight up, swinging himself onto the catwalk where the door was. He turned and stared at Keres, who gazed back, unflinching. Abruptly, Hyde made a noise of satisfaction, grinned, and gestured to Lily, Bella and Ravi to follow him. They walked up and past Keres warily, but she made no move to stop them. Dance and Fedora were left standing in the laboratory, looking defeated.
The second they had left the lab, Lily whirled to face Hyde. "You left them in there? In your lab? Who knows what they could do in there? They could find the back passage and-"
"My question is," Hyde interrupted coolly, "how do you know about that passage?"
Lily was silent. She thought back to when Hyde had calmly condemned her, not caring if she died. Had he meant it? How would he react if he learned that the M. I. O. had sent her to look through the lab every chance she got?
Badly, her mind responded. And so she remained quiet.
A crooked, icy grin spread across his face. "I thought so." He let out a softly growling breath and turned away, looking for Garson, Maggie and Hils.
"Robert!" Ravi called, waving Hyde over. Hyde in turn pointed with his chin to Ravi, silently commanding Bella and Lily to send help to where the three older people were lying, crumpled, on the ground. Hils was already stirring, but the other two seemed out for the count. Hyde himself walked out the door, needing time alone and time to move, to think.
"You," Keres spat, showing her razor teeth. Her eyes turned wholly black. "Are. Failures." She turned her back on Captain Dance and Fedora, glaring into the distance. "Fedora, bring Dance back to the headquarters. Immediately. I shall find my own way." She turned on the catwalk and strode back through the door without a backward glance.
"Keres," Dance tried again. Keres stopped and turned, just a fraction, and raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Are you simply going to let Hyde and his minions to walk free? They are our destruction-" Dance began, but Keres cut him off with a snarl.
"No. You are wrong. They are not our destruction. You are our destruction. Unfortunately, both you and Fedora are too valuable to kill yet. We will need to do some... rearrangements... before you may take your revenge. Then," she suddenly smiled, "we shall find them. Then, they shall die." She vanished out of the doorway, and after a few moments, Fedora and Dance followed.
"Garson," Bella called softly. "Garson, are you all right? If you are, give me a sign." The old man didn't stir. Lily had already established that Garson's heart was still beating and he was breathing, but still didn't seem to be waking up. Hils, who had fully recovered, was bouncing around nervously. "Perhaps it's a real 'princess and the frog' job," she said in her normal chipper tone, though it was clear she was more than a little frightened. "Kiss the frog prince, he turns back to normal. Anyone?" Maggie, who had woken up only minutes after Hils, smiled and shook her head a little.
"No one's kissin' this frog," said a weak voice, and everyone glanced down to see Garson with his eyes faintly open, squinting up at everyone else. Bella fell onto him in relief, hugging him tightly around the neck. "We thought you were gone for a while there," she muttered into his shoulder. "Why didn't you answer when I asked you for a sign?"
"I was breathin'," Garson replied, a little strangled. "Thought that was enough of a sign. I was tired... Speakin' of breathin', that's not what I'm doing right now." Bella got off him with an apology. Everyone else crowded the old man, pulling him to his feet and patting him on the back. "Everyone's carryin' on like I just won the Olympics," he grumbled, but Ravi could tell that he was pleased.
"Well," Hils piped up lightly, "here we are. The gang's back together, and every last one of us still up and breathing."
"Most of 'the gang'," Ravi murmured. He glanced towards the front door.
"Good point, boy," commented Garson. "Where's Jekyll?"
"...Hyde," corrected Lily quietly. "He's Hyde, right now." Garson nodded slowly.
No one noticed the faint silver vein of smoke drift out through a window.
Hyde was still fuming as he strode through the back-streets of London in an attempt to satisfy himself. They had had their worst enemies right before them and Jekyll's first reaction was to check their pulse? He should have crushed their windpipes the second he had seen them. But no, the good Robert Jekyll had to play the merciful good doctor and in the act, he had allowed Tenebrae to get away. And this new woman, Keres, whom even Dance seemed to fear. That made her dangerous. And he had stared right at her and walked away.
As he walked, he realized that his rage was dissipating, being replaced with calm, concentrated blankness. He considered what Fedora had said, about having powers beyond imagining. Like what? He wanted to have that power. He didn't want what Tenebrae offered, with kingdoms under his command. He wanted to roam free and do whatever he desired, whenever he desired it. But to do that, he first had to destroy Tenebrae. So for now, he had to remain with Ravi, Bella, Garson, Maggie, Hils and Lily.
Lily. He had meant part of what he had said, not all. She had never, not for one instant, cared for him. Hyde didn't care, he had never thought highly of her, but Jekyll had loved her.
Hyde snarled, deep in his throat, disgusted with his own thoughts. They didn't matter now. He broke into a run, just to calm himself with the wind tearing past his face.
After half an hour or more, the door of the old house opened and Robert reentered, pulling off his coat and hanging it up tiredly. He smiled a little wanly at the others in the room, nodded with relief at Garson and Maggie, and slumped into a chair, closing his eyes. All that running had barely affected him as Hyde, but the moment he changed back, his energy had evaporated.
Ravi moved forward, about to comfort him, but Garson shook his head at the boy and stood back, allowing Robert to have some rest.
"So what next?" he asked suddenly, breaking the silence. "Tenebrae have lost the Heart, but now they're out for our blood. We have a new enemy, someone called Keres, and who knows what new trinkets Fedora and Dance will be getting from her. All I can think of right now is us getting away, as far and as fast as possible."
"Robert, we have a life here," Lily interrupted briskly. "There's the M. I. O. We have friends here, I'm sure we can lay low until we know some more about where Tenebrae is and what they're planning."
"So you think we should stay in London and hide?" Garson asked dully. "I'm with Robert. We should move. If not away from Tenebrae where they can't find us, towards 'em so we don't have to run."
"It's too risky," protested Bella. "I've a drinkin' hall to run. We can use that as our base until we've a plan." Maggie, Ravi and Garson nodded their agreement.
'We should go back to the M. I. O. headquarters," replied Lily. "It's secure and they have technology far better than anything we have right now. Things we could use against Tenebrae." Hils looked hesitant, glancing back and forth between the two women.
"If truth be told," Hils began nervously, "I'd say Lily goes to the M. I. O., gathers what she can, while we go to the Empire."
"I'm still wonderin', though," responded Bella, distrustfully regarding Lily out of the corner of her eye, "how much we can trust 'em."
Robert spoke up. "Right now, I don't think we have a choice."
As the others bickered, Ravi watched them all, shoulders slumped. Tenebrae were back and out for revenge. No one knew who to trust. But at the very least, they were all alive and well, Robert had returned, and they were beginning to get a plan in mind. Soon, no doubt, they would be ready to take on the Tenebrae, and until then, they had a place to stand.