October 31, 1996
Krycek found her in Macedonia, up in the hills near Philip's grave.
She knelt in the intersection of two hill paths that didn't warrant the name 'road,' upright and at home as the pine saplings growing on either side. The moon hadn't risen over the mountains yet, and she wore dark fabrics with no sheen to them. Rough cotton or wool, Krycek thought, not the shadowed pool of black but something barely lighter: forest shadows green, dried blood red, or maybe charcoal gray. Her hair was black, her face a pale triangle under it with cheekbones he could have sharpened his blades on.
Her hands were the other visible things in the night -- darker than her face but not tan, long, strong fingers with silver rings, constantly moving as she sectioned and combed smooth hair with no glimmer of light on it or in it or through it, not even reflected light from her rings or Krycek's firefly of a flashlight.
Krycek settled to his knees almost in front of her, eye to eye, and he'd made very sure that he wasn't on either path. "Lady."
She smiled without baring her teeth and answered in English, "If a man has no home, then all places are equally far from it, I think."
"I'm here to make a deal," Krycek said, sticking to his point rather than tangle himself in her logic. Concealing his expressions was habit; holding still the aches beneath them was another matter, but he did it.
Her smile tilted further up at the edges and she murmured, "Oh, yes. Everyone comes to me to trade, man. Would you bargain with me?"
Krycek shook his head once, and tried not to think how alike they were with their dark hair and dark clothes and pale faces in the night. "No one gets the better of bargains with you, not that I've ever heard. No one even lies and claims they did, Lady."
Her hands came to a stop in the midnight of her hair and now her smile bared teeth that made Krycek breathe deeply, once, to still his heartbeat against terror. White teeth, white as a well-fed child's, and lips dark purple as ripe cherries -- there was nothing inhuman about her, yet his heart wanted to pound. "No," she whispered, and the trees whispered it back. "No. No one does. Wise man. One of the few. What would you have of me, then? An ear to hear, an eye to see, a foot to know the path? All these you have already, son of my daughter."
Krycek accepted and ignored his fear with a practiced thought and said evenly, "My enemies move through shadows, recover from things that should be death. And they are not all from here, Lady."
"No," she said softly. "They are not." The ground trembled under Krycek, and she asked more quietly again, "What would you have from me and what will you pay?"
"Give me what I need." He forced the next words out through a throat full of ashes and acid. "And take what payment is due that will still leave me able to do what must be done."
She tilted her head to study him, surprised for the first time that night. "Well, well, well. Had you not closed that so, child, it might have been your death."
"And it may yet. I know." Krycek nodded. "But not until I can destroy them, Lady. If they win, who will come and make bargains with you?"
"Not them," she agreed and her hands began to move again, parting, sectioning, and combing hair that fell into the shadows around her. "So be it."
A scream behind his shoulder came from a mountain cat; when Krycek whipped his head back around she was gone.
Three weeks later, so was his left arm.
# # #
At the dark of the moon, he collapsed in a field of winter wheat, and rolled to protect what was left of his arm with a need so new it was not yet reflex. Oak trees rustled and whispered around the field's edges, still dressed in dead, drab leaves that declined to fall.
Pain traced white lines along his vision, drew unknown constellations among the stars. The wind bit at him from that clear sky and Krycek whispered, "Damn you."
"I could poison all of Rome with your bitterness," the breeze murmured. The hay rustled around him, whispering, "You made the bargain."
"I paid," Krycek grated out around the spark and scream of truncated muscle and bone, of nerves trying to transmit signals that could not be received. "For what?"
An owl flew past, almost noiseless. In its wake, Krycek heard the susurrus of words. "Silver and shadow, son of my daughter." A canine or lupine howled, "Your arm is not gone, it is no longer where you expect." Green eyes reflected the last of the light from a city miles away and someone asked, "What will you open with it, where will you reach with it?"
He woke in the morning amid concentric circles of different tracks, small and large, and wondered if the wolf and the deer really had been dancing.
That convinced him it was time to eat his last energy bar and stumble out to civilization again.
# # #
Krycek spent six weeks cursing his way through learning to use a prosthetic over skin not yet healed. Six weeks of weaning himself off painkillers whose muzziness he couldn't afford. Six weeks of convincing underlings and thugs, minions and hirelings and henchmen that he wasn't an easy target. (He made three hardened criminals, muggers who'd kill a nun for the day's collection, piss themselves one night by smiling at them and reciting the Blazing Saddles litany of recruits. It was in English and they spoke German and Czech, but they paled and ran and his laughter ran after them, taking his breath with it.)
Six weeks of pain and strain, his energy drained by the trauma, his mind dulled by the constant catch in his movements, the inconstant reminders that he was no longer whole. Six weeks and one night he looked up at the moon through glass imperfections in a cottage the Englishman had mentioned, absently, in the way that meant going there was an order. The moon came and went, larger and then smaller, round and then imperfect, dark and then light, and Krycek snarled at it, banging his good hand on the desk in frustration.
And felt his left hand hit the desk, curl through the wood, and trip a latch within that he hadn't suspected was there.
He froze, wondering already if this was madness, but when he turned on the reading lamp, a compartment lay open. Krycek ran the fingers of his right hand over the inlaid section of wood that functioned as door as well as decoration, then deliberately turned the light off again.
It took seven tries before he could reach in with his left hand, the arm which felt the poisoned needle slide through and only sent whispered messages of cold fog and the bitter taste of unripe almonds in the back of his throat. Then the fingers he couldn't see closed around an equally invisible slim, leather-bound journal. If his missing arm had dripped blood on the book, there was nothing to see when the light came back on.
# # #
Lying in his bed that night, good arm outside the duvet and his nonexistent arm flexing and stretching under the down comforter, Alex Krycek watched the moonlight paint its path across the ceiling.
The drawn window hangings murmured to him in a rustle of cloth. "And now, son of my daughter?"
"Now, mother of my mother," Krycek whispered back. "Now, I begin to see. Shadows, you said, and the backs of mirrors are silver."
Soft laughter fell around him with the dust motes in the moonlight. "Shadows of doors and canyons, silver of mirrors and windows and water. What think you of my price now?"
"I think," Krycek whispered, "that I'll thank You most properly with the conspirators' hearts in the palm of my left hand."
"Silver, and shadow, and sinister," sang the owl outside the window. "Yes," hissed the radiator, and then the night was silent.
Krycek closed his eyes, and smiled with hidden teeth, and fell asleep dreaming of the silver tips of leaves in moonlight and the shadows between windows in New York buildings.
~~~ finis ~~~
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:
Philip of Macedon -- father to Alexander the Great, a great warrior in his own right, and one of his most protracted wars was with his wife, Olympia, said to be a priestess of Hecate.
Hecate is goddess of the crossroads, the dark of the moon, dark magic, dark hounds, and dark bargains.
There have been claims through history of witches braiding spells, tangling fates, or smoothing futures with the twining or releasing of their hair.
Yes, Tunguska/Terma is set in early November, per the X-Files Timeline.
Ah, yes, Hedley Lamarr's classic list of villains to hire to assault Rock Ridge: "I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists." And if you've never heard this list, go watch Blazing Saddles. Call it an antidote to this.
The Englishman -- also known as Well-Manicured Man. Be grateful I've never made him an immortal. He's terrifying enough now.
Mirrors are made by applying a thin layer of silver to the back of a sheet of glass.
No, I don't know what's in the journal, but I don't doubt it's useful.
Last, and not least: Inspired by various quotes from Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic). To wit:
This they know: ...
The darkness is there.
The darkness is waiting.
And the things in the darkness
They whisper before they feast.
They are to be placated and persuaded,
They are to be loved and sacrificed to,
They are to be prayed to and distrusted.
And so there is magic.
The witch-queen always has three face; who waits at the crossroads, for your sacrifices,
Waits in the underworld,
In the sacred groves,
In the moon.
She sits beneath a dead king, hanging from a tree branch,
And will show you all manner of elegant charms.
-- At the heart of every mystery,
Whispers the twice-born boy, who rose from the dead,
-- is the grain of my corn and the wine of my blood.
"I am the mistress of all mirrors, woman. Give me the boy, or one night your reflection will sneak out of its frame and cut your sleeping throat."
"He dances on the edge of the known, like a crazy man, pitting himself against heaven and the pit, because he is John Constantine, and he is alive."
I hope you enjoyed.