Chapter 1: The Tower
L'Innocent was flying his kite again when the Kooza tower came back.
He was watching the turquoise and orange dot flying way up in the sky, and at one point he looked down again and there it was, just sitting there, as if it had sneaked up on him from behind.
He almost jumped out of his striped suit, and stood clutching the kite reel to his chest as he waited with a mixture of apprehension and expectation for the troops of gold-uniformed dancers and a tall, trim man with a smirk on his face to emerge from the round tower. Surely they would, with just as much noise and drama as they had the previous time?...
But the tower was dark. No beautiful singers stood in the upper levels, no ruffled footmen emerged. And the man with the wand who should have been there, had to be there, was inexplicably absent.
The Innocent reeled his kite in, and holding it protectively, like a shield, stepped closer to the tower to investigate. Maybe he just had to set something off...? He walked carefully, like he was navigating a minefield and any second everything could go boom. But the tower remained unresponsive and uninhabited, even when he circled around the back of it to see if there was anyone hiding back there. There was no one at all.
He went back around to the front, and regarded the tower thoughtfully. The red cloth hanging covering the bottom level of the tower was open slightly. The Innocent clutched his kite more tightly, and slipped inside.
The inside of the tower was dimly lit, and seemingly empty. It took the Innocent a moment to see the thin lattice of yellow against the back wall of the tower.
The Trickster was sprawled on te dark floor in his red and yellow suit, laying very still. It took the Innocent a long blink to believe that he was really seeing what was really there.
He dropped his kite and ran across the room, dropped to his knees by the motionless Trickster and patted his face frantically. Trickster's skin was waxy and pale, and Innocent couldn't see if he was breathing or not. He stared at him, horrified, with no idea what to do. Took a deep breath and slapped Trickster's face harder, pumped up and down on his chest, unskilfully attempted artificial respiration, all with no effect whatsoever.
This wasn't happening. It couldn't be actually happening. The Innocent swallowed. "T... Trickster!"*
The Trickster twitched slightly. His hand moved up and dragged against L'Innocent's cheek. A pair of electric blue eyes** opened slowly and stared into the Innocent's own wide blue ones. He backed away, stiff with terror, as the Trickster struggled upright. He looked completely serious, and more intense than the Innocent had ever seen him before.
Trickster snapped his fingers and held out his hand, as if waiting to receive something from Innocent, who stared at him in puzzlement. Trickster did it again, more emphatically. And it dawned on the Innocent that the Trickster didn't have his wand.
Ohh. He thought that L'Innocent had taken it again. L'Innocent grinned sheepishly and shrugged, showing Trickster that he hadn't got anything in his hands.
The two of them stared t each other for a long moment. Trickster's eyes narrowed, and he made a hand gesture pulling L'Innocent toward him. Nothing happened.
Trickster's eyes narrowed further. He took a step toward the Innocent, lost his balance, and almost fell. Innocent ran to grab his arm and support him. This was so wrong. What was going on?
Trickster looked down at him, blinked, and smiled rather inscrutably. He put an arm around L'Innocent's shoulders, and it was a moment before Innocent realized it was for support.
He wanted very badly to ask Trickster what in the world was going on, but the look on Trickster's face kept him still.
They went outside into the dark auditorium, the older man leaning heavily on Innocent. The hundreds of seats were all empty, almost malevolently so, as if they were watching and waiting... for what?
L'Innocent looked up at Trickster, who looked as if he was trying to figure something out. Innocent tapped him on the arm eventually. His expression said Please tell me what's going on.
Trickster looked down at him through narrowed eyes. Then his gaze jerked upward suddenly, to something behind Innocent. He let out a hiss of breath.
Innocent turned to look. He shrank back - against the Trickster, as it turned out.
A triad of creatures were coming slowly out of the shadows toward them. They were more or less human-shaped, with long, scraggly black wings strapped to their backs and ripped-up fabric wrapped around their upper bodies, covering tattooed torsos and tucked into faded tights. But their heads, apart from a pair of deep-set, disconcerting eyes, were not at all human, or even mammalian. They were bird heads, with dirty white feathers, hooked beaks, and tufts of plumage sticking up on either side of their faces like demon horns.
They didn't at all look as if they belonged in Kooza. They also didn't look particularly friendly.
The air felt dry and electrified, as if lightning was about to strike. Innocent could feel static electricity making the hairs on his arms stand up.
Trickster sucked another breath in. The creature who appeared to be the leader of the three drew level with him and Innocent, and stared at them with black eyes much too human for the rest of its face. Trickster flicked his fingers at it, with no effect, and started making one motion after the other at it with increasing urgency. The creatures were around them on three sides now, and moving around to cut them off from the tower. The tower...
The Innocent glanced up at Trickster. The man wasn't exactly looking worried, but the furrow between his eyebrows was getting deeper. He didn't look completely awake - his eyes kept unfocusing and refocusing, and he was getting heavier across Innocent's shoulders. Innocent thought he probably couldn't beat the creatures to the tower dragging a half-unconscious Trickster with him.
All kinds of crazy ideas ran through his head. He didn't think any of them was likely to work, especially as he hadn't got a rocket launcher. Trickster was getting heavier and the things were getting even closer and...
Innocent yanked on Trickster's arm and motioned toward the tower. Trickster nodded, once. And they both just ran for it, Innocent half-supporting the Trickster, both of them dodging the creature nearest them as it reached out to intercept them. The tip of one of its claws caught Innocent's collar and ripped it as he dove through the cloth covering the bottom level of the tower, landing in a confused heap with Trickster on the floor. He tried to get up - maybe if they reached the second or third level the creatures wouldn't be able to follow them - but the Trickster motioned for him to stay down, cocking his head toward the outside.
The Innocent listened. He could hear the creatures outside, trying to get in, and he remembered that last time the tower had appeared for him, the closed velvet hangings had been like impassable barriers, opening and closing mysteriously, sometimes refusing to let him in no matter how hard he tried. And then sometimes he had found himself spirited up to the top with no recollection of how he had gotten up there. The tower was a mysterious thing. But for now, it seemed, the two of them were safe in it.
The two of them lay there for a while, as the scuffling noises from the creatures grew more erratic and then stopped - apparently they had given up and gone away, though Innocent wasn't about to go back out and check.
His heart was slowly slowing down from the rapid banging it had sustained since the creatures had showed up. This didn't feel like a dream. But if it was a dream, it was most definitely a nightmare.
He dreamt about Trickster and the Kooza world every night. He had never had a dream like this before. He looked over at Trickster's pale face - paler than usual, that was, which meant he was looking a little transparent - and his stomach knotted with the cold feeling that, though he desperately wished that it wasn't, this was almost certainly real.
And he still didn't have a clue what was going on.
Trickster still appeared to be trying to figure something out. He tried to get up after a while, and after a bit of limb-sorting, he and Innocent managed to make their way up the stairs to the second level of the tower.
There were chairs up there, at least, the musicians'. The Trickster sank down in one of them relievedly and watched while Innocent went to have a look out over the railing to see what was going on down on the stage. The creatures were gone, and the stage was empty once more.
The musicians' instruments were all still there in the space where they stood - an electric guitar leaning up against a chair, a flute laying on a music stand, a keyboard. Nothing was missing, except for the people. It was just like every creature in the Kooza world had vanished except for the two of them, the Innocent and the Trickster. But then, the Trickster had to be there, didn't he, for Kooza to exist at all... didn't he?
There was a shout from below, suddenly. "Hey! Yoo-hoo! You up there!"
Innocent jumped, and then rallied. So they weren't the only ones here after all... maybe it was all right actually...
The shouting went on. "We know you're there! Answer in the name of the King!"
Trickster gave a heartfelt groan and sank farther down in his chair.
*The significance of the Innocent saying things will hopefully become clear in the next chapter. Until then, you should just know that there is some.
** For those of you who are completely neurotic about this kind of thing, I am fully aware that Trickster has white eyes at least part of the time in canon. I do use this fact in most of my Kooza fanfics. For reasons which will become clearer later in the story, I had to give him eyes with some kind of coloring for this fanfic.
And, in other news, I have the first 8 and a half chapters of this done, but unfortunately I am a traditionalist and wrote it all... on paper. So I'm still trying to get everything typed up, and since I want to get all my other stories uploaded too, it may take a bit for me to get everything up. Be patient, please. ;)