Chapter 14: Da Uns Schlägt Die Rettende Stund
Teal made himself comfortable in an easy chair sharing a look with Ianto. “After this we’re even.” His tone was no longer cordial.
Ianto nodded. Tosh looked between them. “Just so we’re clear,” Teal emphasised.
“Crystal.” Ianto never dropped his gaze, Teal’s smile seemed a little too severe to be genuine.
“Okay then, let’s get this over with,” he said lifting his t-shirt over his head and throwing it to the floor.
Ianto stepped over the discarded garment and placed the manuscript on the side table next to him. Teal licked his lips. “You going to record this or are all Torchwood employees gifted with total recall nowadays?” He gave Ianto a sideways glance.
Feeling a little flustered, Tosh reached in her bag and set her PDA on the coffee table. “Ready,” she instructed, pressing it to record. Teal placed his hand on the manuscript.
Slowly and gracefully an unknown writing scrolled across the Teal’s skin. The script was alien in appearance yet it was also peppered with the Ogham symbols Tosh had investigated earlier. A light illuminated them from within giving the images a glassy appearance and making them look like chiffon against his milky flesh.
A crow began to shape itself from the lettering drawing together the unknown text until its ebony form stretched under the confines of Teal’s skin. It pushed its beak forward as if trying to escape the taut layers of epidermis but was unable to make any progress. Teal’s mouth dropped open and the bird’s angry screech filled the room before it ruptured into a swirl of unfamiliar script.
His eyes turned to amber and he spoke with many voices. “We came to this planet when our own burnt and died. We came to guide and teach the peoples of this world and help them reach an enlightenment like our own. We remained in the background becoming one with the population and holding all life in reverence, such is our way.
Maponus gave music…”
An image of a lithe youth became visible on Teal’s skin. His head was bent over a harp, his fingers dancing gracefully over the strings. The music was light yet its emotion played on the air, rising and leaping with the skip of their hearts. Tosh felt her consciousness drift as her mind explored the colours and patterns made by the lift of the melody. She turned to Ianto; his attention was firmly fixed on Teal.
As the youth stood, his form shifted to one of a stag, a majestic beast whose gentle eyes held a depth of spirit.
Teal’s breathing hitched and his eyes faltered for a moment turning back to white before blistering into deep yellow. He took a yawning breath and his chest became a blank page. “Nodons imparted his wisdom of healing and his knowledge of plants and fauna.”
A thick vine grew up over the folds of his ribs its supple leaves unfurling in an elegant ballet of growth. The face of a large grey and white wolf slowly manifested across his skin, its bottomless stare holding Tosh’s own gaze, compassion and benevolence was reflected in its orbs as they gradually turned from animal to that of an old man. Like the youth before the man’s own colouring was an alabaster making him appear ghostlike against Teal’s skin. The old man’s hair was a respectable silver and his eyes seemed to be the deepest violet.
“Agroná gave fertility to the land.”
A young woman with long flowing hair stepped across Teal’s torso, one hand clutching seeds which the other scattered onto the ground, following in her wake and casting their own shadow was a murder of crows.
“We did not wish to become gods just to live here unmolested and in return to pass on our knowledge. For us this is a fascinating planet with many diversities of life, it has great potential but we acknowledge that it is also in its infancy and the young can be temperamental.
“We tried not to interfere in the petty squabbles between the peoples of the land, for, though bloodshed is abhorrent to our own set of beliefs we recognise its significance in reaching a maturity of being. We hoped, one day, that through learning all wars would cease.
“What we did not foresee was the downfall of one of our own.”
Teal suddenly stiffened and the air became damp and cold. A darkness crept into the room, its shadow forming that of a crow.
“Ianto…?” Tosh began, drawn to the encroaching shade.
He stood and moved to where Teal sat letting his fingers hover over the hybrid’s hand. The older man turned his gaze. “I’m fine,” he offered taking his touch off the artefact and away from Ianto’s proximity.
The coldness abated to the room’s corners and the silhouette faded with it.
“Can you continue?” Ianto asked.
Teal rubbed his palm over his jeans. “In the drawer, to your left, there’s a small packet of Aspen shavings, we may need them.”
Ianto twisted round and pulled open a thin drawer under the side-table. He removed a small package from its interior and tucked it in his suit pocket. “The imprint’s strong?” He looked to the manuscript.
“I’ve got it,” Teal snarled with certainty.
“Just be ready to stop it.”
Ianto nodded and went back to the couch. “Some species leave an impression of themselves in the script, their emotions, especially if strong, can overwhelm a ‘host’ and use them to push through the written and into the here and now,” he explained.
Tosh looked between the two. “And that’ll stop it?” she asked indicating to the shavings.
Ianto smiled. “Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.” He tapped his pocket.
“You put a lot of faith in him?” Tosh watched the young man’s reaction carefully. His gaze shifted to the PDA; Tosh switched it off.
Ianto looked down to his hands. “He helped me with the difficult move to London,” he informed her, “he became both my mentor and my friend.” His voice broke slightly with the admission.
She turned back to Teal. “Then why doesn’t Jack trust him?”
He didn’t answer.
“Ianto, I need to know.”
He glanced in her direction. “He’s part of the alien underground network.”
“What!” Teal looked across at the outburst.
Ianto gestured for him to continue. “How big a part…” She held his gaze.
He shrugged and leant forward. “He one of the founding members.”
“He owes me, Tosh but if it’s a problem you can step out at any time.” He gave her a sideways glance.
Tosh shook her head watching as some psychic energy entwined itself up the coiling tattoo on Teal’s arm. “If we know who he is, then why don’t we just pull him in?”
Ianto sighed. “Because we can keep an eye on the network’s movements by monitoring Teal.”
She looked amazed. “He knows.” It wasn’t a question.
Ianto smiled. “Yes, and it keeps their activities to a minimum because they know we’re watching.”
“But the latest reports say that those activities are escalating, the bomb last month…”
Ianto’s gaze remained fixed on his mentor. “We disarmed it before it caused any damage and we pulled in those responsible.”
“But not the ring leaders…”
“No, not the ring leaders.”
He sighed again and turned to her. “Tosh, there are only five of us. Our time is mostly spent fire-fighting what the rift throws at us.” He nodded at Teal. “Their network is vast and can be very useful sometimes, so, as long as they supply us with the information we need and police their own ranks we will continue, at best, a tenuous relationship with them…”
“But the bomb,” she spoke through gritted teeth.
“There are a few violent elements within their structure but believe me we’re on top of it.” His stare hardened.
“We’re?” She reiterated, her own gaze just as demanding.
“Jack and myself…” he paused, “…And UNIT of course.”
“And us, Ianto, the team, don’t you think we…”
He pushed his fingertips across his forehead into his hair. Tosh caught a fleeting glimpse of a scar. “Ianto, what are we really doing here?”
“Getting the information we need to continue our investigation.” His eyes became veiled.
Tosh nodded and switched the digital device back on leaving her many questions unanswered. She let her gaze returned to Teal.
“After many years of living and watching the growth of your species, Agroná became enamoured with one of your kind.” A crowd of angry voices packed the room.
A face painted in woad pushed its screaming image at the tight skin of Teal’s chest. “She threw away her teachings and donned a mask of humanity to become his consort. Her heart overruled her principles going as far as to produce issue, a son, a half-breed warrior prince.”
Teal’s head slumped down to his chest his breathing became irregular and hitched in his throat. Ianto immediately jumped to his feet feeling the ebb of darkness that entered the room. Teal let out a strangled rasp and lifted his head; his eyes had changed to a polished onyx.
Ianto looked to the image engraving itself upon the other man’s skin, like a new acquired tattoo, it was all ink and blood. Agroná’s face rippled against the rhythm of Teal’s breathing, her expression was pinched with sorrow and her eyes were deadly and cold.
She spoke, her tone was one of grief and anger. “They came, one night, men with slaughter on their minds and greed in their hearts. We fought but we could not contain their numbers, they killed my lover, they killed my child.”
She let out a terrifying screech that almost toppled Ianto off his feet; several dogs in the street below began to howl.
Her smile was cruel and her voice dipped to a menacing whisper. “But I had my revenge and it was absolute. I rallied those under my sovereignty and together we soaked the ground with their blood and crushed their bones to dust in the earth. Men, women and children all fell to my vengeance until my mind throbbed with their screams and my blood pumped with their fear. I reaped the harvest of the seeds they sowed.” She laughed, it ripped through the room tearing at the hearts of both Torchwood employees.
“The carnage was exhilarating, the sheer violence gave me purpose, and it created a beast within me I had no reason to quell.”
She licked her lips, her tone sullen and harsh. “You are such small-minded creatures, you covet what is not yours, you desecrate what you do not understand and you are full of petty jealousy, greed and bursting with your own self-importance. All it takes is one gentle whisper, one small catalyst of desire, one iniquitous mistake to insult your superficial pride and release the primeval bloodlust that links you all.”
The room began to shake, outside something tore at the fragile brick work dislodging years of dust and grime from the squalid terraces. A backwash of fetid water coursed from an open grid cover, sloshing along the gully, bringing forth the rotting remains of slimy litter and organic debris. The lights flickered and the wind stirred from where it slept lamenting like a territorial cat.
Teal began to shudder, his body racked with convulsions. Ianto stepped toward him only to be thrown backwards. The hybrid stood breaking his connection to the book drawing the shadows from the corners of the room; shadows that stalked the light.
Tosh helped Ianto to his feet watching as the broadening darkness began to surround them shaping itself into silhouettes of men with spears and knifes.
“Ianto?” Tosh’s voice trembled slightly at the sight of the faceless figures; this was way out of her comfort zone.
Ianto instinctively reached into his pocket and threw the shavings towards the stir of the shadows. He watched them scatter from his hand and for a moment they hung in the air like a surreal visual effect. Then they fell against the darkness burning through its hostile cloud and carving its pitch with a splay of illumination. It screamed gathering itself into the form of crow once more, wings extended and flapping, before dissipating in the fierce scorch of light.
Teal fell back on the chair shivering. Ianto watched him a moment, his grasp still retaining a few of the shavings. They shared eye contact, the younger man searching the other’s pale gaze. Teal gave him a cold smile that was all his own. Ianto nodded and stepped back flicking the light switch on the wall. “The bulb’s blown,” he commented flipping it again for good measure.
“Try the table lamp,” Teal offered.
Tosh leant forward and turned on the heavy pewter light. Its square shade bathed the room in a soft glow making her feel a little more secure.
Ianto settled himself by Tosh. “Do you think it’s safe to continue?” she gestured to the remaining shaving stuck to the younger man’s opened palm.
Ianto shrugged picking at the pieces of wood. “We still need to know the connection with Addoedsbren. Teal?”
The hybrid wiped a hand over his face. “I’m good to go,” he offered, “by the way, you were right not to try and decipher this in house, not that I would have minded Torchwood’s destruction, it’s just this could take out a substantial chunk of the city if handled incorrectly and I value my own skin too much to let that happen.” His stare lingered on Tosh making her shudder involuntarily.
“I guess I’d better re-categorise it when I get back to the hub then,” Ianto suggested rubbing his hands together to dislodge the last of the Aspen.
“I guess so,” Teal reiterated with a grin placing his hand back onto the book.
Once more the alien script tore across his upper body and the ancient voices filled the room. “Agroná’s heart became a shadowy place full of base emotions that turned her into a vindictive creature with no compassion for mankind. She found her way into the insecurities of men, to feed her addiction for that powerful spill of emotion in the split-second when life becomes death.
“We did what we could to counter the change within her but it was to no avail. Still bound by our own beliefs our only course of action was to give her a life without death, in hope, that in some way, she would be able to atone for all the suffering she caused.”
The yew tree stretched across Teal’s torso. “We destroyed the corporal and imprisoned the spirit inside the sacred yew hoping time would cure her of the desire for blood and the magical properties of the tree would help restore the balance within. We sanctified the ground and placed within its corners four imbued stones to prevent her demon escaping with the spread of the ancient roots. The site was already used to bury the bodies of your kind and we believed that by surrounding her with both death and grief it would slowly wean her off her brutal dependency.
“Only time will tell.”
The last trace of script trailed across Teal’s body, three foreign symbols joined by the natural flow of the ink; life, death, rebirth.
Tosh looked at Ianto. “How come I can read…?”
The young man narrowed his eyes. “Because the words are important.” He didn’t know why, he just knew they were.
The images vanished from Teal’s chest and the symbols on cover of the manuscript glowed with a burning light until they fused together. Ianto stood and went to the artefact, the hide had bubbled with the heat and melted away from the oak board revealing a single crystalline tear that made rainbows of the light. He ran his finger over its jewel feeling the faint tremor of a heartbeat under its frozen glass. He stepped back and walked over to a drinks cabinet.
Teal slumped back against the cushions in the chair, his eyes returning to their unnatural white. “They put too much faith in mankind,” he scoffed looking at the artefact.
Tosh inclined her head. “How so?” she asked switching off the PDA and slipping it into a side pocket of her bag.
He rubbed a hand over his beardless chin. “They believed you’d reach a utopia of existence.” He licked his lips, his words cracking his dry throat.
“Maybe we will,” she challenged.
Teal leant forward, amused. “Ah, Miss Sato, ever the optimist I see, you want to watch out, Torchwood will break you of that. Isn’t that right, Ianto?”
The young man was pouring Teal a drink. He ignored the question, his focus remaining on the flow of deep yellow liquor. Teal sniffed at the lack of response. “There’s ice in the bucket.” It was more a command than a request.
Ianto lifted the plush, stainless steel lid and picked up the matching tongs. “One lump or two?”
“Surprise me,” Teal replied pulling his t-shirt back over his head.
Ianto froze for a moment and bit his lip. He gently pinched a block of ice between the serrated ends of the tongs and carefully let it drop into the crystal glass. He watched it sink into the saffron liquid and push its way up from the bottom.
“I should give Jack a call.” Tosh looked between the two men; there was something latent smouldering in the air around them.
Ianto’s concentration was not on her statement. “Yes you should.” He didn’t bother to look at her as he picked up the drink in the curl of his hand, his fingers spanning the rim.
“You’ll need to walk to the end of the alley, there’s no signal here,” Teal informed her, his eyes not leaving the approaching Scotch.
Ianto handed it to him and the man smiled his gratitude but the grin held a hint of contempt. Tosh pulled her mobile from her bag and checked the signal; she sighed.
“I told you,” Teal said absorbed in the movement of the ice hitting the side of the glass.
Tosh flicked her gaze at him and gathered her handbag. “Ianto…” She seized his arm.
He placed his hand over hers. “Give Jack a ring, Tosh, he needs to know what we’ve found out.” His eyes held her own as she fished for some clarification. “Tell him I’ve got this,” he whispered.
“Ianto…” He guided her to the door and opened it.
Tosh looked back to the room, Teal glanced up from his drink and gave her a full smile; she found her discomfort growing. “And tell the good captain that he can’t defeat this, he can only stop it for now.” There was a hidden meaning in his words.
Ianto handed Tosh her coat. She went to say something but he stopped her. “We’re just going to relive old times,” he said softly.
It did nothing to alleviate her anxiety.
Copyright RMC Dec 2017
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