[fic] Digital Devil Saga, "Lightning Strikes" Lightning Strikes DDS2 Adil, Roland, Cielo. Safe for work. Spoilers only for the early part of the game.
They found him in a quick raid on the occupied sector, with a severed arm gripped in his hand and blood spattered on his face. He'd given them a quick nervous smile, dropping the arm and raising his arms in surrender fast when Adil and his men pointed the guns at him.
It was, Roland thinks, as he listens to the report Adil is delivering, probably what saved his life; that and the fact that the arm he'd been gnawing on had been wearing the remnants of a Karma Society uniform. Roland rubs his brow, tries to bring the words he's hearing back into sense, vaguely clicks back through a file he'd been reading, delivered just a day earlier by their mole, on the initialization of a certain code in a certain project.
"You say his name is Cielo?" Roland asks.
"He says so, anyway," Adil says, glowering, though it's more of concern than disgust -- well, he's had to leave his men guarding one of them; of course he'd be worried.
Roland rests his cheek on his upturned palm. "Adil, how drunk am I right now?"
Adil hesitates. "I can't say," he hedges, which must mean he's pretty drunk. Roland doesn't feel it right now; he's tired, yes, but he also feels strangely hyped. He can feel his heart racing in his chest and it hurts a little; he dislikes adrenaline on the whole. He dislikes a lot of things; the feeling of blood on his hands and the look of a man's eyes as he dies weighing on his soul. Yes, he thinks; yes, he must be fairly drunk.
"Take me to him," Roland says anyway, because this isn't the sort of thing that can wait until tomorrow.
Roland regrets that; for a long time, everything seemed okay to leave until tomorrow, if just tomorrow. Lately it seems like he's out of time and he longs for the time when it lightens up and he can go back to putting things off.
He enters the room against Adil's advice, but on Adil's advice he takes Adil with him; Adil who's going to keep his weapon loose in its holster and who won't hesitate to shoot at the sight of a monster. Roland has more trouble with that, something they both know; sometimes he has problems with it. Not out of fear, exactly, but there is a thin line between human and monster at the best of times, and the urge to let nature take over and karma catch up is something he finds he often flirts with. Still, he's lasted quite a few years like this; it's just a quirk at this point, and if a trigger's going to be pulled he'd rather do it than let anyone else. Let him carry on in the cycle longest; he's already got enough of a debt that a little more won't matter.
But it makes Adil feel better, and that's fine too.
Roland is surprised at how young Cielo looks, in person. He's seen the model, of course, before this, but that was different; a soldier in a military simulation; soldiers are often so young and fresh-faced, after all. Here he just looks like a kid, skinny and long-limbed and tousle-haired. Roland pushes his glasses up. "Cielo?"
"Ya, dat's me." He sounds nervous. Roland blinks, and pushes his glasses up again immediately; he hadn't expected the accent. "Dere's been some kinna mistake! I din't mean to devour anyone's buddy, ya? Dey attacked me first!"
"Ah," Roland says. "That shouldn't be a problem."
"Eh?" Cielo pulls his legs up so he's sitting cross-legged on the little bed in the cell. "What de problem, den?"
"Where have you come from, Cielo?" Roland asks.
"I keep tellin you guys!" Cielo says. "From de Junkyard! Muladhara. I'm from de Embryon tribe."
"I see," Roland says. "Where's the rest of your tribe, then?"
Cielo's face falls; he looks so animated like this, not like the standard model's expression at all. "I dunno," he says. "I woke up and I was alone and hungry. Den all dese weird guys showed up..."
"Mm," Roland says. "Do you really expect us to believe that Junkyard thing?"
"If that's true," Roland says, "you're just data. How could you expect anyone to believe that? And even if it's true-" because he has to allow for the possibility, as bizarre as it would be if it were true; after all, the virus was elecromagnetic in source... "Even if it were true, the Karma Society had your program made by the Cyber Shaman. We can't just let you go"
"My comrades are out dere," Cielo says, and he sounds as much hurt as angry. "You gonna try to keep me locked up here?"
"Unfortunately," Roland says. "I do hope you don't try to fight."
Cielo rises. "Well, you guys don't have atma powers! I don't like fighting, brudda, but if I have to -- I gotta get to my comrades."
"Adil," Roland says, and turns away. "Get information out of him."
"Yes, sir," Adil says.
Roland leaves; he doesn't really have the stomach for this sort of thing, and finds himself feeling guilty for that as well as he finds his way to the bathroom and doubles over the toilet.
That night he dreams of the young man who had taken the virus; he remembers the way he'd seemed to go crazy, the sudden thrashing convulsions that had wracked his body as the demon had torn its way free, and he had barely had a chance to turn and look at them again before Adil was firing, and Roland was firing as well; he doesn't remember in the dream if he or Adil fired first, but he believes it had to have been him. Surely it must have been him; his fault again, but what choice did they have? He had other men to protect as well, and nobody wants to die.
When he wakes the dryness of his throat and the taste of bile in his mouth and the pounding in his head is just another hangover, he is sure.
Over the next few days he visits Cielo more. Cielo isn't looking too well; pale and tired and as he talks with Roland, his words tumbling over each other unevenly and his pale face covered in a sheen of sweat. As he shifts in his seat Roland can't help notice that his atma is sparking a bit, flickering blue light around the edges.
He does say a lot, enough to confirm the strange truth.
"Man," Cielo breaks out eventually. "I can't believe dat dis place's supposed to be Nirvana. It wasn't supposed to be like dis!"
Roland closes his eyes; he can afford to, with Adil at his back. "What were you expecting?"
"I, I dunno!" Cielo says. "Not dis! A quiet place, wit all my comrades -- nobody ever goes hungry and nobody ever gotta get hurt -- a blue sky, and peace, someting like dat!"
"Ah," Roland says. He has a headache. "You must be quite disappointed."
"Yeah, like dat's a surprise." He sounds bitter, through and through. "Everyone's gone -- it's not supposed to be like dis. Stuck with you guys who never lost anyone--"
"My son's out there," Roland says, sharply.
"No, nothing," Roland says. He rises. Fred isn't his son, and there's nothing they can do about it anyway. Hopefully Fred will survive. That's a life he doesn't want on his shoulders, not after he'd intended to lift him up instead. "It's nothing."
And then he meets them. They look almost human, and they've brought Fred with them. It's really hard to remember his duties, but easier too than he'd like to admit; at least until he sits them down to talk.
"Don't pay too much attention to those freaks," Adil says. He's still simmering with rage.
Roland's heart is racing, the adrenaline of facing Gale's rage rushing through his veins. He pours himself another unsteady drink. It tastes like fire in his throat. His chest hurts; it's something like terror and something like excitement. He's caught up by the sudden feeling of change, and knows the source of the mixed feeling. He hates change after all.
"Adil!" Fred protests. He turns to Roland. "Roland, how could you! You can't just--"
"I've had to," Roland says.
"They're good people!"
"That's not the point," Roland says.
Fred slams both hands down against the table. "That's exactly the point! What, do you think protecting the Lokapala makes any sense like this? Who are you protecting? A group of terrified idiots who can't even see who the good guys are?"
"Fred!" Adil hisses. "You know what we're doing here. Your father died for us."
"My father cared about making a difference," Fred says. "If you're not doing it right, why do it at all?"
"Don't talk to Roland that way," Adil says.
"No," Roland says. "You're right, Fred. But what choice did I have?"
Fred stares at him with a look like he's trying to recognize something in him. "You always have a choice," Fred says. "Everyone always has a choice."
He drinks the rest of the night, past the point he's thrown off, past the point that he can't walk straight, to the point that he feels like he might be able to do something. Courage in a bottle, maybe, but he has to find it somewhere, he thinks.
He doesn't tell Adil; Adil will disagree. Perhaps Adil will even be right, but there's a fine line between monster and man and he's tired of not knowing which side he's on.
It doesn't hurt as much as he had thought it would, from watching their test subject. He sets up the resonance, puts his hands against it so that the pulse passes through his body. His heart stutters, maybe even stops, but before that can scare him it's racing again, fast and terrified. He can't breathe. It doesn't hurt exactly but it's blinding, and it's not pleasure either; it's like the sensation of falling fast while lying down, and he can't write it off as an illusion. His vision grays out and he doubles over, wrapping his arms around himself like he's trying to feel something under his skin; there's a voice talking to him just outside of the range of hearing and it's getting stronger, a whisper that's driving into him with a stabbing pain into his hand; he hears need and tastes hunger and howls because he can't quite stop himself; he's so damn hungry and he wants to eat eat eat eat eat eat so that he can't tell what is his need and what's the voice's demands.
The door slams open. "Hell, Roland-!"
He turns and looks at Adil, though it's not quite looking; it takes him a moment to realize that he doesn't have eyes. The walls are dull and more a sense of marked space than anything else; Adil is marked out to his vision in presence that is just so terribly Adil: Angry and righteous and protective and guilty, glowing a dark tone in the darkness. Adil has his gun out and can't seem to raise it.
Roland draws a deep breath; he can see Adil, can know Adil. The flaps around his face close again and he closes his hands in a fist, feels the blades inside them shift. It's easier than he'd ever imagined it would be to shift back again.
"Adil," he says tiredly.
"You," Adil says. He stops for a long moment, apparently at a loss for words. And then, "It's those damn freak programs, isn't it! They've gotten to you-"
"No," Roland says. "Or maybe, but it's something I need to do. Every life is a debt, you know."
"It's not just -- sacrifices have to be made--"
"Yes," Roland says. "But I can't make them for other people. Only for myself." He flexes his fist; his atma burns on it. "I'm hungry. I'm... going to go out," he says, and walks past Adil.
It's strange; Adil must be exhausted too, because the look on his face is one of loss. I'm right here, Roland thinks; but still, he sympathizes.
Hands stuffed into his pockets, he orders the guards away and then opens Cielo's door. It's amazing, he thinks, that they couldn't tell of his change; he's hungry to the point of distraction, to the point that he feels like it's rolling off him in tangible waves. He can sense their presences retreating in a way he'd never been able to before the Atma; he can sense Cielo inside the room, a strange presence, human and non-human overlaid, something ominous.
Cielo looks up at him, twitchy and wan and surprised.
"Cielo," Roland says. "I... owe you an apology."
"Oh man," Cielo says. "Oh, you've done it, man, haven't you." Roland expects to hear laughter in his voice and doesn't, only a sudden, horrified sympathy.
Roland twitches his lips into something like a smile. "Ah, well," he says. "it seemed fair. Your friends from the Embryon came by today. They're... doing some work for us, but I can't give back as I am. Was."
"Fair, eh," Cielo says.
"I'm sorry to ask for this, after all the trouble I've caused you," Roland says. "But I could use your help."
"I don't know what these skills are," Roland says. "I've read the data, but ... My atma's of an electric element, like yours. I thought perhaps you might be able to show me a thing or two, if you'd be willing. I'd understand if you wouldn't be."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Cielo asks. He sounds genuinely surprised, almost taken aback. "But you haven't even devoured anyting yet, have you? Dat's no good! You can't let yourself get too hungry, brudda. Losing control isn't good for anyone, de oter person or you. Let's get back out into dat nasty part of de city, yeah? I can show you a trick or two."
"Ah," Roland says. It comes out very quiet, and he thinks: it all changes from here, doesn't it; it's been changing all along and it's time to catch up. "Thank you. I appreciate it."