"The phoenix must burn to emerge." - Janet Finch
Jason comes to, screaming in abject pain and terror. His vision is a disorienting, blinding white which then reels dizzyingly into the red-tinged black of the back of one’s eyelids when shutting out an especially bright light.
Gasping in his first ragged breath is a loud affair that is cut short quickly when he also inhales tiny particles of what tastes like ashy, bitter dust. When his harsh coughing ramps down, he’s left exhausted, and weakly pants out wheezing breaths that feel superheated as they pass over his arid, parched palate. His mind is absolutely spinning, as a thousand thoughts rush by far too fast to catch hold of.
What the fuck happened?
Gradually calming, he starts to take stock of exactly what’s around him. He’s wedged himself into a corner where something digs uncomfortably into his back and makes him shift minutely every few seconds to try and correct the problem.
His hearing, which had apparently been muffled or somewhat warped up until this very moment suddenly expands and clears, revealing a very familiar voice not too far away from his drained-feeling body.
At last opening his eyes, Jason is met by about the strangest view he could ever imagine— he’s apparently cocooned behind two gigantic walls of living, moving feathers. Two —
“…wings, culero! Open your fucking wings, or I’m gonna move them for you, and you really don’t want me to do that right now, with how my hands look, oka—”
[( culero – asshole )]
Something sparks in his hindbrain, and just like that, he’s moving the— or rather his— wings back and out of the way with a quick exhalation.
Immediately, a very recognizable person is revealed to be squatted down and leaning forward in interest. Blinking multiple times because nothing is making a lick of sense, still, and he has no memory of imbibing a single strange substance, the Californian’s voice is raspy with an audible edge of mildly hysterical disbelief.
“The fu— Vaas?”
As though Jason is the living non-sequitur of logic, the mohawked man scoffs and answers in an insolent tone, an irritated frown pulling on at his mouth.
“Yes, Jason. Obviously. What the hell? Did she lobotomize you before disemboweling you or what?”
Disembowl? And ‘she’ who? With a grimace, he scrubs a hand through his hair, finding it to be pretty much clean, if even messier than usual. By that measure, he can bet his scruff’s grown in to an uncomfortable degree, too. Mentally shaking himself, he runs through what his ‘apparently-not-dead’ once-enemy-turned-only-company has been rambling about.
“…ve to know what spell it was Citra used, man! Or at least what her plan was— what she was trying to make happen. I mean, she sacrificed you for some more power— that’s for sure, but why’d she try and use my body for the same thing right before? There’s gotta be a reason we’re both stuck in here!”
Growling in an admittedly menacing way, Vaas subsides, stretching one arm behind himself and fully lowering himself to the cold ground of the unremarkable, dark tunnel at whose terminus they are seated.
There are a lot of words, phrases, and concepts that he’s been bombarded with that Jason is trying to figure out, but instead his eyes start to notice a few things about the other man— things that hadn’t been immediately apparent in the somewhat dim torchlight that flares and wanes with each passing moment, as firelight is wont to do.
“Vaas,” he says slowly, furrowing his brows and tilting his head to try and get a different, better angle to try and scope out what he thinks he’s seeing. “Do you- d’you have a tail, right now?”
With a tired sigh that really drives home exactly how annoying Jason must be to him, right now, Vaas responds in a downright condescending tone, speaking slowly like he’s explaining a basic concept to an idiot.
“Yes, Jason. Obviously. And you? You have fucking wings, pendejo! How long are you going to rehash the obvious— but incidental— facts? Because I’m trying to Encyclopedia Brown this shit and figure out whether or not we wanna go down that way,” he says, half-twisting around to briefly point to one side in the distant blackness, where no more lit torches line the wall.
[( pendejo – strong/vulgar expression of ‘idiot’ )]
“Or that way,” he finishes, pointing more toward the other side of the unlit abyss. “Otherwise, we just sit here at the end of the tunnel, just waiting to be cornered by who-the-fuck knows what. Last thing we need is the ghost of some pissed off Rakyat zealot coming down here on some stupid revenge quest for my sister and finishing us off. Or a pack of feral dogs or some shit.”
Even squinting, though, the younger man is absolutely unable to make a thing out past about a hundred yards down the tunnel, no matter how many improbable scenarios the Rook native introduces.
“Um. Yeah, I don’t know what you’re seeing, but that’s just a whole lot of darkness down there, man. What exactly are you looking at?”
The orange and black tail, whose tip he’d been watching agitatedly lash around, pauses its movement as Vaas looks confused for a second, quickly glancing back behind him again and then forward at the perplexed American. This time, Jason can see how his pupils rapidly contract from a super-dilated disc and into an immediately recognizable feline vertical ellipse, when the light from a nearby torch hits his face.
He also can’t be sure, but the guy’s eyes might be a little bit lighter in colour— not that he’d been spending a lot of time noticing what colour it was before, what with constantly trying to kill (or avoid being killed by) the other man.
Said other man actually relaxes a bit, seemingly losing a bit of the steam he’s built up over the last several minutes.
“Oh. I guess… you can’t see all the way down there, huh? Well, for those of us with shitty vision, here’s what’s going on: the tunnel splits in two different directions down there, and I’m gonna bet that one is The Right Way, and the other is not. Everything I know about Citra and the shit our mother taught her tells me that this is either some precisely engineered shit that’s gonna work out in her favour (as usual), or we somehow both got lucky— something I don’t like to believe in when fate is a better answer— and managed to subvert whatever weird, bullshit plan she had.”
“So…” Jason says, trying to pinpoint the right answer when Vaas had been all over the place, subject-wise, in the wandering thread of his(mostly one-sided) conversation. “We just pick a direction to go in, right?”
One of Vaas’ scarred brows raises slightly and his eyelids lower to halfmast in irritation, prompting Jason to continue, speaking rapidly, but gaining confidence and conviction as he goes on.
“Okay, okay! Listen—I’m sorry, okay? All this weird shit is not… my forte, alright? I’m more just the shoot first-“
Vaas smirks and mutters a not quite inaudible, “More like burn first.”
“—and ask questions later kind of guy. This… mystical stuff is… kind of a lot. Things are starting to come back to me, though, and the last thing I remember is that me and Citra were, uh, you know.”
The other male grimaces but doesn’t interrupt otherwise.
“And then she starts saying some weird shit about needing more power, uh, faster than the way she was getting it? I was definitely on some of that hallucinogenic nectar again, so I basically took ‘more power’ and ‘faster’ to mean one thing…”
Jesus Christ, the more Jason starts to remember and narrate, the redder he gets, but interestingly Vaas isn’t absolutely roasting him like he expects. Instead his intense gaze is unfocused and he looks to be puzzling something out.
“And then— I… I don’t remember. She must have stabbed me with that ceremonial dagger, then, because the next thing I can kind of recall is this awful pain, and being, uh, pretty terrified and confused. There was a bunch of guys speaking in the local dialect— some Rakyat whose voices I actually recognized— who tossed me down into what must have been the cenote. And then I woke up here, tasting smoke, with you and my wings and your weird anime girl cat tail and—”
“and my retractable fucking claws that I could slice open your fucking throat with, Brody, hm? Take a breath, calm down, and let’s not get into who has the dumber looking X-men mutation. I can assure you that we’ve had chickens and other birds on this island for years, and I’m sure that plucking your wings would work pretty much exactly the same way.”
Shuddering, Jason instinctively shifts back a bit, feeling his wings move forward as if to hide him, again, before he quickly represses the reflex. Vaas’ keen eyes spot the quick, aborted movement, though, and he grins— or more accurately bares his teeth— in his usual facsimile of a smile.
“What, Jason? Did I ruffle your feathers, there?”
The former pirate lord cackles before going through one of his typical, mercurial mood changes.
“Now, we’ve probably got about all the background we’re going to get from your Swiss cheese memory of how you died— leave it to my basic-ass sister to use the wrong kind of drugs when she has sex— so let’s revisit my last question.”
Wait— what? What are the right kind of drugs to have sex on? In spite of his willingness to try pretty much every kind of substance he’s come into contact with on Rook, he’d never had much experience with anything beyond weed and ecstasy before all of that. Exactly how much sex has Vaas had to have compiled some sort of list of which drugs are the best to be on during the act?
Also, why is he hyper-fixating on Vaas and his alleged sexual prowess when he’s supposed to be having a conversation? Shit…
“Mhm,” the younger man eventually responds, before realizing that Rook native isn’t going to reiterate his point.
It takes a second for him to scramble for and grasp the thread of where they’d left off, not long ago.
“Uh… how about we go right?”
An odd sort of draft blows through the feathers at the very top of his wings and cools the back of his neck, causing him to shiver, as Vaas stands up and peers down into the pitch black far reaches of the tunnel, tilting his mohawked head as if judging the possible path.
“Huh,” he says, speculatively, still looking away, his lazily moving tail fully visible to his companion for the first time. “Okay. What the fuck, right? No time like now, I guess. Worst that happens is our souls get eaten or some shit, so might as well. Can’t stay here, anyway— not with how that hole opening up behind you keeps getting bigger— think I can see some fingers coming through, now. Damn, that’s creepy.”
If not for the involuntary shiver running up his spine and causing his wings to flutter, slightly, with nervous energy, Jason would just assume that Vaas is trying to fuck with him. As it is, just as he moves forward to put some space between himself and the rock wall, there is the unmistakable sensation of several fingers grazing over his side and around his lower back.
To put it mildly, that gives him a good case of the heebie jeebies, the likes of which he hasn’t experienced since that one time Grant had dressed up like Jason Voorhees and had spent a good part of Halloween night repeatedly scaring both of his younger siblings— ironically, more-so Jason than their youngest brother.
This time, however, Jason’s a fully grown man that has already seen some shit, so he doesn’t let loose an embarrassing, pre-pubescent shriek that cracks halfway through, or end up almost in tears from frustration. He does, however, almost knock Vaas over when he haphazardly scrambles to his feet and stumbles away from the eerie, otherworldly portal that slowly expands in front of the wall. From within its swirling, murky depths, several sets of clawed, grasping hands emerge and feel around in midair or touch the nearby stone wall.
“F— que chingados, man!” Vaas growls irritatedly, as he roughly rights the other man whose taller frame had nearly fully unbalanced his own.
[( que chingados - what the fuck?)]
Still more than a little creeped out, but trying to dutifully conceal it, Jason hardly tears his eyes away from the widening oblong, black and dark purple portal that slowly twists in murky whirlpool. One shadowy, unnervingly long arm manages to fully extend past the dozen or so hands piercing through the strange dimensional porthole, and soon bends in the middle so that its palm can press flat against the nearby portion of the stone wall, as if something is pulling or propelling itself forwards.
“Uh…” the American utters, weakly, going for casual, but utterly sure he’s missed the mark. “I’m about ready to get moving and try that tunnel that goes off to the right if you are.”
Finally breaking away from the sight of what is now definitely several arms coming out of the portal and turning to look at Vaas, he catches a frown on the older man’s face even while the volatile pirate lord begins to amble along beside him.
“Wow, Jason. I sense some growth, here— thought you’d freak out or get pissed and start yelling like usual for that prank.”
Prank? In what world…
Meanwhile, not pausing in his rambling, sarcastic speech, Vaas grabs a torch from the wall and hands it over to his companion whose inferior eyesight necessitates its use.
“Maybe dying is all it took to finally shut you the fuck up, huh?”
Accepting the torch grudgingly, Jason rolls his eyes and picks up his pace now that he finally has a reliable source of light in the increasingly dark stone corridor.
“Right. Why didn’t it work on you, then? Jesus. And for the record, I am pretty fucking pissed that you didn’t think it would be a nice idea to goddamn tell me a fucking hole to hell was opening up right the fuck behind me. So thanks for that hilarious ‘joke’, asshole.”
Having been walking at a brisk pace, thanks to Jason being the one who’d set said pace, they soon reach what must be the fork in the path that Vaas had seen earlier. At about the same time as they both come to a natural stop, a chillingly inhuman, otherworldy scream comes echoing down the long tunnel at their backs and instantly sets both of them on edge.
Even Vaas seems ruffled, this time, his bright, acid green eyes meeting Jason’s slightly widened ones as they quickly glance once behind them in search of the source of the sound. Another screech sounds, closer this time, followed by another that begins before the first one even tapers off, and the Rook native raises one scarred eyebrow at the other male as if in question.
Hesitating slightly and batting down his recent tendency to jump headlong into every possible altercation, Jason lowers his own brows and shakes his head no, scoffing at the disappointed look from Vaas.
“So,” he says, wings folded back and in, where he’s been fighting to keep them against the way they’d like to flare and rise in anxiety. “The right, still?”
“With how nasty those things sound, and how much we don’t know what the fuck is happening, I’d say yeah, it’s time to try out this path, Snow White. Now vamanos, you Big Bird-looking motherfucker!”
[( vamanos – come on; let’s go )]
The time for their biting, back-and-forth banter comes to a rapid close thanks to a raspy, bassy snarl that is more than a little too close for comfort. The two men flinch and waste no more time before setting off down the tunnel at full tilt.
Back in Rakyat territory, on a sacred altar in a mostly forgotten portion of an ancient temple, a slender body abruptly jackknifes up from where it has been lying prone for 72 straight hours. Formerly soft, baby blue eyes are instead fully taken over by inky blackness that extends even into the sclerae, only interrupted by the occasional swirl of shadowy, dark purple.
There is a complication in Citra’s plan, and she refuses for her ascent to power to be hindered by two minor issued that were so easy to dispose of in the first place.
It will take time, but her obnoxious brother and the gullible fool he’d been so obsessed with will be laid to rest fully. So she swears to the most powerful and ancient god whose power now runs through her body.