This is a work of amateur fiction and does not intend to infringe on the rights of Anne Rice, Randomhouse, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency, Asahi TV, and Bandai Visuals. No profit is being made.
This is a crossover between Gundam Wing and Vampire Chronicles. If you don't know GW, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. If you don't know VC... well, some things might be confusing. But find out for yourself. :-)
Spoilers for GW up to Ep. 34, and for the VC books QotD and TVA.
The thick Persian carpet in the hallway swallowed any sounds the steps of a person would make, allowing completely silent movements. In this particular case it would not have been necessary, since the figure walked in absolute quietude, almost casually maneuvering around sensors that would trip alarms and summon guards from all over the building.
Security had definitely improved since the time of his last visit, he thought as he crossed an area of pressure plates without touching the ground. Nevertheless it could impossibly be thorough enough to keep him out, should he choose to enter.
The vampire passed a stairwell and turned into another, even darker hallway. Briefly he wondered why no lights were burning; the soldiers he could hear on their patrols all across the castle would have been far more efficient if they could see through the shadows. Everybody with some experience could enter under these circumstances and remain unnoticed.
Which most likely was the reason for the gloomy atmosphere. Someone wanted to give this opportunity for an approach, spelling it out like a blatant invitation to those who listened to this particular language. It was probably being rectified as a fitting measure to preserve energy during a time of siege. Even though the power generators down in the basement, whose humming and vibrating he could hear and feel, would give enough energy to keep everything running for years without fluctuations. And light would hardly made a difference; but the total lack of it gave the situation a seriousness that could hardly be achieved through other measures. Lack of light, lack of security. Peril. Treize had to have thought it to be fitting to have only emergency illumination at a time like this, had considered it necessary to preserve a general impression.
Stopping in a niche, he scanned for the particular mind that was the reason for him to be here, the reason for him to go out of his way and delve into the middle of a war zone, even though normally he would have quietly observed the events from the side until the situation was calm and safe again.
Effortlessly he found what he was looking for, the mind that had fascinated him the first time he had encountered it, and had increased his curiosity ever since. Nearly impossible to understand, a riddle so tempting to solve, though there was no guarantee that a solution even existed. Quite surprising to find something like this in a human.
Finding the way downwards to the more secure areas of the building presented no trouble. Nobody was guarding the halls any longer, as if nothing of importance could be found here. Again he scanned, nodding at himself when he brushed the sought mind again. His goal was here.
An elevator door blocked his way, the panel at the side demanding voice and fingerprint verification. He frowned, then rested his hand on the scanner surface. A small green light started to blink.
Apparently his profile had been programmed into the computer. Intriguing, but hardly surprising.
The computer again requested that he stated his name. With a small sigh, annoyed by the persistent voice, he complied.
The elevator door slid open, and he stepped inside. No panel with buttons, not even a display of the current floor number. Just smooth metal surfaces. Remotely controlled, he thought as the elevator descended; probably programmed into the computer along with his profile so certain persons only could reach certain levels.
Still, much ado about just one person. There had to be other expected visitors; or at least others authorized to use these areas of the building, or it would be a waste of resources. He had the uneasy feeling that whoever else was intended to come here would do so out of reasons other his.
Abruptly the elevator slowed and came to a halt. With a light hiss of hydraulics the sliding doors opened, gave way into a dark room. Again, no sources of light apart from the faint bluish glow of a laptop monitor on a free standing desk; but that was enough. Eyes able to see clearly as long as there was even the tiniest bit of fluorescence swept across the room, took in carpeted floors, stacked bookshelves that reached up to the ceiling, mahogany chairs arranged around an oblong table. Finally his gaze came to rest on a silhouette next to the banister at the bottom of the stairs leading to a higher level within the room.
"I have not expected you to come." Still the same voice, smooth and soft, but with a tint of wistfulness that had not been there in the past.
He raised an eyebrow. "Your computer accepts me, so it cannot be a complete surprise."
A quietly amused sound answered him. "Wishful thinking, my friend. I have hoped that you would pay me a visit, but I was not counting on it."
"You should know by now that when my kind becomes interested by a mortal, the fascination will never let us go." He shook his head, sending black locks to brush across his face. Almost unconsciously he tucked the strands back behind his ears.
"I am flattered." Tone carefully balanced between irony and honesty. "To think that I am intriguing enough to attract the attention of an immortal."
Again black eyebrows rose slightly. "Do not think too much of it. Others of my kind have been mesmerized by microwaves and trash shredders."
A small smile crossed the handsome face so quickly that it might have been an illusion. "I will keep this in mind." Treize crossed the room, coming to a halt in front of his visitor and extending a gloved hand. "But I am forgetting my manners. Welcome to Luxembourg, Santino."
The vampire took the offered hand, but released it again almost immediately. After all these years, he still did not feel comfortable being touched by mortals. Even though in this case he did not have to fear the discovery that he was anything but a normal human being, his instincts urged him to keep a safe distance.
"Thank you," he replied, for the moment going along with the game of polite wording which this mortal was so fond of. "I see that you are coming to terms with your current situation."
"Confinement has its advantages." Treize took a few steps towards the group of chairs, motioning for Santino to take a seat, which he did. "For once I am not forced to make decisions, nobody looks at me for answers." He met the vampire's eyes steadily. "This imprisonment grants me more freedom than I had for most of my life."
Santino nodded in understanding; he had faced situations similar to Treize's current one. Which was part of the reason why he was here now. A small part of it, but not an insignificant one.
"You are comfortable like this?" he asked, knowing the answer already. The real question was whether Treize would lie to him or not.
Treize closed his eyes for a moment, and Santino felt tempted to read his mind, see what was going through his head right now. Still he resisted the temptation, preferring to simply wait for the response and then act accordingly. He had to make several decisions, and all of them required that he considered Treize's behavior, his position.
"No," the young man finally said. "I do not like to be cut off from everything." A taste of bitterness entered his voice. "There is so much I have to do still, but I am not able to take any steps for as long as I am here."
Leaning forward slightly, Santino considered his words carefully before he spoke. "They have discarded you like a tool that is not needed at the moment. And your precious Foundation will only remember you when they have a use for you again." He paused. "Unless you take steps to remind them of your existence and that they cannot ignore you."
Considering this, Treize nodded slightly. "I take it that you are speaking with experience?"
This made Santino think for a moment, before he shook his head. "I have never been in a situation like yours. Close, but there always were significant differences." He had never been entirely out of control over his own life, at least not to the extent Treize was. Things looked bleak, and Santino was not certain whether it would be possible for him to free himself. Not without sacrifices.
"And so you cannot offer any advice." Treize folded his hands, rested them on the smoothly polished wood of the table.
The gesture was mirrored. "No. And even if I could, I would not."
A forked eyebrow rose. "And why is that?"
Because I need to see if you can struggle free by yourself. If you are strong enough. Enduring enough. Because this is why you interest me, I want to see how much your beliefs mean to you and whether you are willing to sacrifice your heart, your life to them.
"It is not my place to do so," he finally answered. "You must face this on your own."
Treize raised a gloved hand to massage the bridge of his nose. "My hands are bound until some of the actors move into the right places again." He looked at Santino. "And your presence here can only mean one thing, that you consider this to be as bad as I do."
Santino held Treize's gaze. "I see that you remember our last meeting."
The mortal nodded, but made no move to speak, so Santino went on.
"To be honest, I believe that your situation can hardly become worse. You are stripped of your powers, and you have no supporters left who have enough influence to offer helping hands right now." He rose from his seat and began pacing, an old habit that seemed to return whenever he addressed political issues. "To the Foundation you are less dangerous alive than dead, otherwise not even your loyal soldiers could protect you from them. Assassins are easily dispatched. And your security system here will not fend off anybody who really wants to reach you."
Treize's eyes followed his movements, but he remained seated. "We appear to agree about this."
"It seems so." Santino stopped in front of him, studying his expression. Treize looked calm, but he did not have to read his mind to know that his thoughts were racing. The mortal did not have many choices left, and all of them were more than risky. "Whatever you do now is a leap of faith."
"And I do not know whether there will be someone to break my fall," Treize added, straightening slightly. "Milliard I have driven away. Lady Une defends a last bastion in space that is already lost. Neither of them I can depend on to be aiding me."
Resuming his pacing, Santino turned the last statement over in his mind and determined it to be true. While he had never met the two high-ranking officers, he knew that Treize had put them on pedestals for good reasons. Their successes could not be denied, and while rumors said that neither of them was easy to get along with, they were doubtlessly devoted to their commanding officer. Or rather had been devoted, in the case of Zechs Merquise. Santino could only guess where the former OZ ace was standing now, but his path was no longer the one of Treize. And maybe that was good.
"You know that I must not survive the war that is about to begin."
Santino looked at him sharply. "What makes you think that?"
"Do I really have to explain it to you?" Treize asked. "I should think that you of all people would understand."
"Indulge me nevertheless," Santino replied, still wondering where this had come from. True, the thought that Treize's death would accelerate the progress of war had crossed his mind, but he had never considered it necessary.
"My presence here is tearing OZ apart, and the Romafeller Foundation alone will not be strong enough to face the colonies once they unite." Treize folded his hands again. "There are rebel groups with enough military potential to present a serious threat to Earth, and only the combined forces of all nations have the chance to be victorious over them." A humorless smile hushed across his face. "My uncle may believe that the World Nation he dreams of serves only the purpose of controlling the planet. He does not see the possibilities this offers, and neither does he realize that it is not enough to delete borders from the maps."
"Forgive me, but I still do not see how your death should affect this," Santino had to admit. From his point of view, it just did not make sense. "If you are killed, the different OZ factions will only drift further apart because each will blame the other for murdering you."
Treize leaned back in his seat. "You are absolutely right. But if one of the rebels, or even the Gundam pilots causes my death..."
"It unites both OZ and the Foundation and raises their determination to defeat the Colonies," Santino finished, shaking his head in disbelief. "If I did not know that you really are willing to gamble with your life like this, I would declare you to be insane."
"My battle is over. It is only reasonable that my death would be a last move to improve the Earth's position in this war."
I believe this answers my question whether you are willing to sacrifice everything you have, Santino thought. And I do trust you to be strong enough to indeed go through with this plan.
"How are you going to bring one of those pilots here?" he asked, slowing his steps a little. "They would hardly follow an invitation."
This time Treize's smile seemed sincere. "They would, if the right words are chosen. An inferior security system should spell out my intentions clearly enough. Besides, there is something I need to introduce to the battle still."
He slowly rose from his seat and walked towards one of the walls. Santino watched as he lifted one of the books - Sun Tzu's Art of War, he noticed - off the shelf and took a keycard out of it.
"Tsubarov lost to me when he questioned the loyalty of soldiers," Treize said, sliding the card into a barely visible slot within a stone gargoyle. "Now he is straining to prove that human fighting abilities are worth less than those of machines. I plan on accepting his challenge, and show that he is wrong."
The Mobile Dolls, Santino realized. They had not been publicly discussed yet, but of course rumors were spreading, and the Romafeller Foundation had repeatedly announced that a new weapon was in development, one that would eliminate humans from the battlefield. Hardly surprising that Treize was dead set against it.
An entire wall of the room slid to the side at a sudden, and Santino had to concentrate hard in order to keep his face the careful blank expression he used to wear.
And there I was thinking that you might be on the verge of giving up, Treize. It seems that you manage to surprise even me sometimes. The question is, have you got a chance still?
"I have not given it a name yet," Treize said as he approached the half-finished Mobile Suit, his face showing hints of the pride he was doubtlessly feeling.
Santino studied the machine more closely. Numerous cables were still connected to openings in the armor, blank circuits gleamed in the light. Even the inner hydraulics could still be seen through the vast amounts of pipelines and cords wrapped around them. The head was not attached yet; steel cords were holding it just above the rest of the suit's body.
Armor plates were stapled near one of the hangar walls, shining silver metal still. Never before had Santino seen gundanium, but he assumed that this was what those plates were made of.
"You are building a Gundam," he finally stated.
Treize nodded, his hand brushing across the hydraulics of one leg. "The first one to be created on Earth. And the answer to Tsubarov's Mobile Dolls."
Stepping closer, Santino took in the sleek built of the suit, so different from the sight of the Leos and Aries he was more familiar with. Beautiful was not a word he would ever consider fitting for a machine, but he had to admit that the Gundam radiated a certain fascination even in its half-finished state.
Intriguing that Treize should manage to create something like this while he was being kept prisoner. Either he had some very useful contacts within the Foundation and their personnel, or they were absolutely blind. Santino suspected the first option; it was simply impossible that nobody had known that a Gundam was being constructed right in the basement of the Romafeller Foundation's headquarter.
"What makes you believe that it can beat the Mobile Dolls?" Santino eventually asked. He could not help being a little curious.
"The system that steers and commands the Dolls calculates combat data," Treize explained. "The artificial intelligence of the installed computer processes this data and decides on the best strategy within fractions of a second, far faster than a human could ever hope to react."
Nodding, Santino waited for him to continue. This was nothing new to him.
"This suit's cockpit system interfaces directly with the pilot's mind. Depending on what the human controlling the Gundam wants to achieve, the system will supply him with the knowledge on how to reach those goals." With a final stroke over shimmering cables, Treize left his spot next to the suit and came to stand near Santino, following his gaze at the open latch of the cockpit.
"What if the pilot is distracted?" the vampire asked, trying not to show his uneasiness. The description of the system made him feel apprehensive. To think that human minds could be linked directly to a computer was disturbing. Perhaps his medieval catholic education was raising its head again, he was not sure. It would explain why it felt so strange to him to imagine using a human body like a mechanic part and not viewing it as God's creation.
Treize hesitated a moment before answering. "The pilot's thoughts must be focused on the victory, otherwise the system delves into chaos. A true warrior can use it, which makes this Gundam a beautiful weapon. Almost like Excalibur; only somebody worthy of piloting it can do so."
Santino chose not to reply; he had had similar ideas at one point in the past, and thinking of the covens that had been based on that philosophy still was not easy. It was an old wound, one that had not quite healed yet and probably never would. And Treize's words were coming dangerously close to reopening it.
He cast another look at the Gundam, tried to imagine how it would look once it was finished. If the other ones were anything to go by, there would be basic differences to normal Mobile Suits, both in the physical form and the coloring. But this one was no longer in the league of the previous five Gundams, it was on a level of its own. An entirely new version of a weapon that had already been deadly in its earliest designs.
"Epyon," he said. "You should name it Epyon."
Raising an eyebrow, Treize looked first at him, then at the Gundam. "Dawning of the new day, is it? I admit to my Greek being somewhat rusty."
"The translation is as good as any other you will find," Santino stated.
"I like the name." Treize sounded content with it, and Santino was rather sure that the Gundam was christened now. How strange that he should become godfather to something like this. He was not certain whether to feel good about it. The machine might be a fine piece of work, and surely would fit the name, but it still was intended for war, and that thought was unsettling. It meant that he was becoming involved.
Usually Santino had done whatever had been necessary to avoid being caught in military conflicts in even the slightest way. It had worked well for centuries, had never caused him trouble. And, most important, it had always kept him safe. Watching from the fringes was enough, he had learned that much. Even as powerful as vampires were, they could not make a difference if mortals raised their hands against each other. And now a single mortal made him forget even his most basic security guidelines.
Santino sighed. He was behaving almost like a naive fledgling.
He turned around, walked out of the hangar again and back into the library-like room where they had been before. Behind him he heard Treize's footsteps following him, and a loud rumbling as the walls slid back into place, hiding the cavernous hall and its contents from view.
"Allow me to apologize for boring you with mechanical ideas," Treize said, his voice smooth as always. Santino could easily imagine how difficult it had to be for Treize's underlings to detect his mood sometimes. An always calm expression, a voice that hardly ever betrayed his thoughts.
You would have made a perfect student of mine. The covens would have bowed to your orders like the Romafeller Foundation does now.
"Apology accepted," he said curtly. There was only one thing left to do, and he wanted to leave soon, out of several reasons. Dawn was near, that was one of them, but also the entire situation made him uncomfortable. "Treize, you know why I am here."
A soft nod, followed by an invitation to take a seat, which he declined this time. "I was always wondering when you would come back."
"When you are at your worst, as I told you." Santino paused, allowing the shadow of a smile to cross his face. "Though the outward appearance may have been deceiving. But still this seems the right time to repeat my offer."
Treize remained silent for a while, obviously carefully choosing his words before speaking. "It is tempting. But I am afraid that I have to decline once again."
Santino nodded. "I thought you would. But keep in mind that this may be your last opportunity."
"Believe me, my friend. I am perfectly aware of that." Treize sighed so softly that it was barely audible even for heightened vampire senses. "But I have chosen this life. There are too many projects in progress still, and I must see them to their proper end."
"Do whatever you have to do." Santino took a few steps towards the elevator doors. "I sincerely wish you luck, Treize. And I think you will need it."
The young mortal graced him with a quiet smile. "Thank you. Maybe, under different circumstances, I will take what you offer."
"Maybe," Santino agreed, pushing the button to cause the doors to slide open. "Goodbye."
He did not wait for Treize's reply, instead he stepped into the elevator and waited for it to take him back to the ground floor.
Treize's declining left him with mixed feelings. On the one hand he was disappointed that the man he had deemed worth the effort of creating a fledgling showed no inclination to become one. But at the same time Santino was aware that it was best like this, that Treize could not abandon his work now, even though it would probably kill him in the end.
He had chosen the other route himself, had fared well with the decision. But it was a choice everybody had to make on his own. There was no way but to accept that.
Moving steadily, Santino left the building as silently as he had entered it, leaving no traces of his presence.