He tried to stay balanced as the building beneath his feet shuddered and quavered. A strong aroma of burning material wafted past his nostrils and his line of sight caught the swelling, black wave of smoke pooling from the cracks below the doors. Kiku saw the multiple nations of the world cowering under the tops of the tables, embracing each other in fear; only a handful of countries remained up and about, making an effort to find a way out. Kiku’s own pupils searched for an exit, failing to locate one and a low growl bubbled in his throat. His mind raced as he tried to pinpoint the whereabouts of his comrades, relatives and closest friends.
There was a bull-like roar, which made Kiku snap his head in the direction of the sound; his irises went round when he distinguished the rigorous, manic appearance of Ivan. His faucet pipe held high, the very air around his figure emitted bloody-murder and the trio by the entrance that were attempting to knock it down scattered in alarm as he charged towards them. The Japanese man could only watch in dismay as the thick object met the end of the wooden ingresses, splitting each one in half.
A stunned silence fell upon the room – save for the blaring ringing of the drill – and all eyes turned to the Russian. He was breathing heavily, his weapon hanging limply in his grip, its peak rested on the floor. His vicious expression had changed into a shocked one, his lilac orbs fixed in awe on his work. Ivan seemed amazed that his plan had worked but there was something about it that seemed extremely off to Kiku: the doors had managed to survive two battle axes and a lethal set of cooking ware – how did they manage to break by a mere metal cylinder? It’s too weird…
Suddenly, there was a chorus of shouting, startling Kiku even more: ‘GET AWAY FROM THERE!’
The four males by the egresses spun around, puzzlement gracing their features, completely oblivious to the harsh, azure light seeping through the fissures in the oak. Kiku wanted to warn them but he found his voice stuck in his throat. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t convey his caution and the mystical shine began to brighten considerably behind them.
Loud humming ruptured the atmosphere and the ground quaked vastly, rougher than ever before. Kiku saw Matthias spin around, the pale skin of his countenance glowing as he stared at the doors in horror.
‘RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!’ he hollered, herding Yao, Antonio and Ivan away from the entrance, travelling towards a desk furthest away from it. None of them objected, especially once their own eyes had settled upon the scene.
Kiku squinted as the luminosity behind the wood progressed to higher standards, the severity almost blinding him. A hand in front of this face, the Japanese male noted three shadowed figures bolting en route for the gleam, each one varying in size. He caught the colours of jade, crimson and cerulean, along with olive, maroon and cobalt. He racked his brain for the identity of them but it was too frazzled with extreme thinking in order to do so.
‘On three!’ one of them yelled to the others, a palm raised, adorned with a dark glove.
‘Are you sure this is going to work?’ another rebutted, moving so that a swish of their cloak flickered in the now white beam.
‘It has to!’ they replied, ‘now, on three – one, two, three!’
If the room could be any more intense than it was before, it became so as a mixture of fiery red, emerald green and icy blue united with the silvery illumination, creating a display that put Alfred’s Fourth of July fireworks to shame. Kiku’s orbs couldn’t bear the strength of the combination of the efforts and he found himself covering them with his arms. The only way that he knew what was happening was by the elongated screams of the three and the increasingly shrill drone from the corridor outside, joined by the panicked shrieks from the countries gathered.
Then, there was an thunderous bang, sending Kiku’s eardrums into overdrive. The lustre beyond his lids vanished and as Kiku lifted his head, blinking rapidly to adjust to the normal appearance of the space, he spotted three sprawled bodies a few metres away from they were standing beforehand, unmoving. He felt his heart stop in dread and he hastily got onto his feet, rushing forwards, sliding to his knees when he reached them. He grasped sight of the fair-haired men, each one attired in various clothing: one in a navy sailor suit, his head adorned with a hat of the same colour, another in a burgundy ensemble, a large, black cape widely spread about his stature and the third in a bottle green military uniform, a thick volume with characters written on the front that Kiku did not recognise set upon his chest.
‘Are you alright?’ Kiku queried, shaking one of their shoulders gently. ‘England-san? – Romania-san? – Norway-san? Say something, any of you!’
However, all that Kiku was met with was silence; a feeling of trepidation coursed through his veins and he felt his world slow down. What if they’re severely injured and we can’t actually see it – just like Alfred-kun? He panicked mentally, gripping Arthur’s arm tightly.
‘England-san?’ he mumbled weakly, his russet irises fixed on the Englishman’s limp physique. Kiku could sense a tense ambience around him and he locked gazes with worried ones from the rest of the nations. Each and every face had concern written across their features as they stared at the fallen men.
No one said a word, and no one noticed that they were joined by another figure standing in the doorway, a superior aura surrounding them.
Kiku jumped abruptly as a hand clutched itself onto his wrist. He peeked down, a strangled laugh escaping his lips as he saw the bushy brows of Arthur’s contract in thought. He’s awake! His relief was shortly lived, however, as Arthur’s eyes snapped open: instead of the calming, nurturing lime he had grown used to, he was alarmed to see that they had turned into a piercing, frosty indigo. A sadistic grin stretched to Arthur’s ears and Kiku moved backwards in fright, unable to believe what was he was perceiving. This was not the Briton he had come to know.
‘Why, hello, old chap,’ he greeted Kiku, his voice several octaves lower than normal and his mouth widened to a point where Kiku thought that his cheeks were going to tear apart. ‘Isn’t this a nice change?’
Before the Japanese man had a chance to reply, his lost the ability to breathe properly as he was knocked crudely backwards by more than one hand. There was a brief pause where the countries remained in their spots, too surprised to move. Kiku looked up at the looming forms of Lukas, Vladimir and Arthur, noting that they all had matching expressions of malice on their countenances and orbs the same shade of a mystical terror. It was a view that he alleged would give him nightmares for months.
‘Aw, isn’t this cute?’ Vladimir cackled, nudging Arthur and Lukas in the sides. ‘The great and mighty Japan is terrified! Just look at him – he’s like a mouse trapped by a cat! Some supreme nation, da?’
They chortled amongst themselves, not paying any attention to the rising levels of smoke in the room. The entire area was cascaded with a dark haze and many people were coughing violently into their palms, even though they were hidden and were as low on the carpet as one could possibly be. Kiku’s rims were watering and he held back a convulse of his own, though it was proven difficult due to the current situation. This action did not go undetected by Lukas.
‘Oh, that’s just valiant,’ he murmured and Kiku was astonished to make out a passionate sneer embedded to his tone. Lukas seized Kiku by his jacket collar and hulled him to his feet until their noses were merely inches apart. ‘Trying to be tough, are we? Trying to be strong by not submitting, are we? As if you could do it. Besides, someone like you doesn’t deserve to be an almighty nation – especially since it only took two bombs to shut you up.’
Vladimir and Arthur roared at his remark, clutching their sides and Kiku froze, his heart ripping in two. He knew that Lukas’s mind was not in its right state but the words didn’t hurt him any less. He kept his gaze on Lukas’s as image after image flitted about in his head.
‘What is it? Can’t accept the truth, lad?’ Arthur jeered as Kiku’s expression contorted into one of pain – a sobbing woman holding a bloody, mangled body in her scratched, trembling arms, moaning in his native tongue burst into colour and Kiku saw red. It was enough for him to swiftly punch Lukas in the chin.
Seconds after, Kiku hissed and covered his mouth with his injured hand, gawking at Lukas, who was cradling his jaw, groaning in agony.
‘I’m so sorry!’ he apologised. ‘I really am! I didn’t mean to!’
‘You’re going to pay for that,’ Vladimir snarled, his canines glinting. ‘You with me, Potter?’
‘I’m ready when you are, Dracula,’ Arthur answered, his palm facing towards Kiku, a dazzling glow ascending from it.
Kiku withdrew his katana in defence, pointing it at Vladimir’s torso. The Romanian smiled hugely.
‘Bring it on, prietenul meu.’
He threw a ball of inferno at the Japanese man and Kiku dodged it by flying to the left. Adrenaline flowed through his being like a cascading river and a wind as loud as the surrounding whooping rushed in his ears. It was against his better judgement to fight them but the three were starting to scare him with their manic ways and heart-crushing taunts.
However, before he had so much as raised his sword above his head, somebody glided in front of him, their limbs outstretched and their voice clear amongst the fiasco.
‘Stop!’ they cried, skilfully blocking an enchantment of Arthur’s. ‘This is not you!’
Vladimir and Arthur halted in their tracks, their smirks turning downwards along with their crowns. Puzzlement flashed across their disdainful spheres momentarily and they quickly exchanged a look. Kiku felt his own brow furrow in confusion as he contemplated the slim, slender person ahead of him.
‘Whoever is in this room,’ they announced in a monotone voice, spinning around to study each face and Kiku was amazed to see Lukas glowering at everyone in the space. ‘Whoever is controlling these two,’ he pointed to Arthur and Vladimir, ‘you’d better stop.’
‘Or else what?’
There was a collective gasp and Kiku felt his blood turn cold. The tone of the mysterious voice sent a chill down to his toes and his heart hammered agonisingly against his chest.
He turned around and was met with the image of a person whose appearance matched Arthur’s and Vladimir’s. His locks glimmered and stood out against the swirling fog of black, almost as if he was some numinous being. A cruel curve of his mouth showed perfect, pearly teeth and a flicker of pink flashed across them as his tongue went in between them in thought. A fine eyebrow was raised to the stage where it was beginning to disappear into his hairline and his eyes couldn’t be seen due to the bangs that covered them.
Kiku was fascinated, but at the same time, horrified. Who could that possibly be? He thought, scratching his head. His question was instantly answered as the stranger’s deep tone pierced the strained atmosphere, his pitch causing the other nations to clamber out from under the desks in curiosity:
‘Halló, big brother.’
Mist gathered at their feet and a biting cold nipped at their fingers and toes. Their cheeks were dusted pink and their bodies clung together for warmth, the last thing that was present in the place they were currently residing, very much to their displeasure.
‘This sucks,’ one man scoffed, hugging his knees and snuggling closer to another man that was sitting next to him.
‘Oh, well spotted, Stark,’ the man on Tony’s other side mocked, his blonde hair free from its usual groomed state and his teeth chattering.
‘Now, now, there’s no need to be snarky, Steve,’ a woman with fiery red hair clucked, her shaking figure curled into a stocky chest. Steve snorted and wrapped his hoodie tighter around him, his attention fixed on the starry sky above them.
‘I think everyone is a bit uptight at the moment, Nat,’ Natasha’s cushion told her, his arms snaking around her waist. ‘Let them be.’
‘Gee, Barton, you sucking up to dear Agent Romanoff there?’ Tony teased lightly, his brown eyes alight with a childish glee. Clint blushed deeply and swore at the black-haired man. Tony feigned hurt and pouted, turning his head to the person he was using as a heater. ‘Bruce, Barton’s being mean.’
‘Oh, stop it, you mortals,’ another fair-haired man said exasperatedly, pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance. ‘Why are you so petty? And irritating?
‘Thor, this is Tony we are talking about here,’ Bruce reasoned, looking down at said man with confusion. ‘What are you doing?’
Tony peeked up at Bruce, a cheeky grin spreading across his stubbly face, replying, ‘Why, using you as a pillow and a contraption that radiates heat, of course.’
Bruce rolled his eyes and proceeded to shove Tony into Steve. He was interrupted, however, as the area around them rippled, causing a hush to settle over the group. They watched in awe and interest as forms began to appear, two of them appearing to be struggling with another pair. Natasha gripped Clint tighter, not wanting to show her sudden fear of the unknown beings. Clint responded by placing a chaste kiss to her forehead, his irises set on the scene like a hawk. Tony sent both Steve and Bruce puzzled looks, which they returned with either a shrug or an arched brow.
There was a bang and the sound of accented voices yelling in a different tongue. Various hues started to blossom, a mixture of what looked white and blue, russet and navy, along with grey, green and gold.
‘You idiots! Let go!’ a man with spectacles hollered, twisting in the hold of a shadowed individual. Steve stiffened at this voice, nostalgia washing over him: the smashes and cries of soldiers and guns; the crimson skin of his nemesis vibrant against the never-ending flames and explosions; a churning cube of azure… He shuddered at the memories.
‘Captain… you okay?’ Clint whispered, detecting Steve’s discomfort. Steve merely nodded, putting on a brave face – he didn’t want anyone to see his distress.
‘You arschlochs!’ a man with pure white hair hissed in hate, attempting to kick his capturer. He turned his head to glare at yet another materialising shape. ‘I swear to any high, superior being that I will kill you for this! Let mein freund and ich go!’
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up in puzzlement, his orbs following the place where the strange man was glowering at. His heart jumped into his throat and he clambered onto his feet, knocking Tony into the blonde American with a protested, ‘Hey!’
‘I’m sorry, my friend?’ a silky intonation murmured, the owner swishing their cape importantly. ‘What did you say?’
The man with the snowy locks grunted, shaking his head. ‘You’re insane.’
‘Please, will you just let us go?’ the bespectacled man whimpered. ‘Or do you really want to face the wrath of the others?’
He never received an answer for he and his friend were thrown to the ground, the three darkened entities vanishing without a trace. They spat out dirt and sand, brushing off any particles from their clothing as they stood. The group took a closer look at the duo, their expressions quizzical: one wore rectangular glasses, a long, cobalt coat and a hoary jabot while the other was attired in what looked like an old, unkempt, military uniform.
‘What are we going to do?’ the spectacled male screeched, slamming his palms down on his friend’s shoulders. ‘What about the others? Do they know we’re here? Do they know what’s happening? I –’
‘Shut up!’ the albino shrieked, clamping a hand over the other’s mouth, looking fearfully at the group. He started firing away in a different tongue, waving his arms animatedly, his scarlet spheres wide.
Steve screwed his eyes shut, the intonation of the language sending his memoirs into an overload. He didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to relive the moments that he wished he could change, didn’t want to feel the same emotions he felt at that time now.
‘CAN YOU TWO PLEASE BE QUIET!’ he hollered, his hands in fists by his sides. All eyes went to him and Tony let out a low whistle. Steve instantly regretted his outburst and he twisted away in shame.
‘What’s up, Captain Tight-Pants?’ Tony ribbed, standing up. ‘Can’t handle their awesomeness?’
The albino snapped his head towards Tony at this, a huge grin spreading across his face. His friend smacked his forehead and an expression of irritation passed over his features. Steve, on the other hand, growled and grabbed Tony by the lapels of his hoodie.
‘There is nothing “awesome” about them,’ he seethed. ‘You have no idea what I went through and these two just bring back bad memories.’
‘What, us?’ the albino queried, pointing himself and his acquaintance. ‘You don’t even know us!’
‘I know of your race and what they did,’ Steve retorted, releasing Tony and facing the pair. ‘You murdered millions of people – and for what?’
‘How dare –’ the russet-locked man began but the albino cut in with, ‘Roderich, nein!’ He locked gazes with the blonde American. ‘Now look here, you. I find your statement disgusting. How could you possibly make such judgements when you’ve literally just met us?’
‘He has a point, Captain,’ Natasha claimed, escaping Clint’s hold and walking over to the new arrivals. ‘Not to mention that Loki has something to do with them – otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.’
‘Loki? You know him?’ Roderich asked, his hand on his chest.
‘Unfortunately,’ the group chorused, all with dejected tones.
‘So he’s been causing you grief, too?’ Clint inquired, gesturing to Roderich and the albino. Both nodded.
‘Ja,’ Roderich replied, scoffing. ‘He thought that tormenting Pru – Gilbert and myself would be funny.’
‘That little son-of-a –’
‘Shut up, Thor,’ Bruce interrupted, smacking Thor on his arm. ‘He’s your brother.’
‘He’s adopted,’ Thor countered, a sour look on his face.
‘So, you’re his brother!’ Roderich exclaimed, appearing delighted. ‘He’s mentioned you.’
‘He has?’ Thor asked, baffled.
Roderich nodded, then added hastily, ‘Briefly, mind. Doesn’t seem to like you that much…’
‘Yeah, that’s him alright,’ said Tony, still curled in on himself to get warm.
Steve whacked him upside the head, to which Tony cried, ‘Ow! That hurt, you loser!’
‘You’re a loser,’ Steve argued, his expression aggravated.
‘Now, there’s no need to be rude,’ Gilbert muttered, crossing his skinny limbs over his chest. Steve sent him a dirty look.
‘Wait a second,’ said Roderich, his eyes going from one face to another. ‘You – all of you – you’re the Avengers, aren’t you?’
‘Who?’ Gilbert mused, frowning at his friend.
‘Loki told me about them,’ Roderich told him, ‘when you were… elsewhere.’
‘How did you guess?’ Natasha queried, intrigued. She thought that the newcomers were fascinating, even if the boys were acting cold towards them, especially Steve.
Roderich pointed at Thor. ‘One, he said that Loki is his brother. Loki revealed to me that he was part of a “gang” called the Avengers.’ He then pointed to Steve. ‘Plus, he looks like the superhero on one of Alfred’s collection cards.’
‘Oh, ja, he does!’ Gilbert agreed, inclining his head in affirmation. ‘Uh, what’s-his-name – America Something…’
‘Captain America, you idiot,’ Roderich huffed. ‘Why do I know you again?’
‘Because we’re family,’ Gilbert rebutted smugly, a large smirk on his pale face. ‘As Alfred usually says – deal with it.’
‘Who is this Alfred fellow?’ Clint inquired, silently slipping an arm around Natasha’s hips. ‘He sounds interesting.’
‘A friend of ours,’ Gilbert filled in, waving a hand. His expression turned downcast. ‘A friend who is very, very far away from here.’
‘How far?’ Steve asked.
‘Like, Washington D.C. far,’ Gilbert replied, sinking to his knees. ‘They’ll be meeting up now,’ he said to Roderich as the latter joined his friend on the ground. ‘They must realise we’re gone.’
‘Maybe…’ Roderich pondered, frowning. ‘Ludwig would probably notice. Not sure about Elizabeta.’
‘Lizzy would notice!’ Gilbert proclaimed, looking at Roderich as if he had grown an extra head.
‘And who are these people?’ Bruce questioned, following the pair’s lead to sit back down. The rest of the group mirrored their actions, bringing their legs up to their torsos, mustering all their willpower to not shiver from the cold.
‘Ludwig is my younger bruder,’ said Gilbert, a soft smile on his face. His ruby eyes swirled with emotion as he gazed at them all. ‘And Elizabeta is Roderich’s wife.’
‘You’re married?’ Tony cried, his face moulded into a look of surprise. ‘You don’t seem like the sort to be the marrying kind.’
‘Ja, well, we are,’ Roderich uttered, his gloved finger tracing patterns in the sandy floor. ‘But that is beside the point.’ He lifted his head. ‘Why are you here?’
‘We don’t know,’ Thor answered, running his large hand through his long, blonde hair. ‘We just… appeared here. One minute we’re doing our own thing, the next we wake up here.’
‘It was very strange,’ Steve continued, his former, bitter attitude fading. ‘Especially since it happened with no warning. We often get some sort of leak of what is about to happen to the world, what kind of things we’re dealing with. This time, we’re going blind.’
‘It was certainly a surprise to see everyone here,’ Natasha said, her dark brows contracted in worry. ‘But I’m afraid to find out what Loki has planned for us.’
‘We can answer that,’ Gilbert interjected, glancing at Roderich. ‘He’s trying to take over the world using us count – ahem – our relatives, including us two. As to why you are involved… I don’t know.’
‘He never gives up, does he?’ Bruce grumbled, frustrated.
No one answered him, just merely gazed at one another in concern and fear. They all knew that no matter what their rival was planning, it was not good, and they knew that it was going to be hard work and that someone was going to get hurt.
It was the start of yet another war.