Disclaimer: The characters of Clover are property of CLAMP and their associates. All other characters in this 'fic are invented by me. This fanfic story is posted for non-commercial entertainment purposes only.Notes: This 'fic happens about two and a half years after the end of Clover 2, and therefore contains lots of spoilers. It's a sequel to 'Icosahedron', although it's not necessary to have read that 'fic to figure out what's going in this one. The story is currently incomplete, but will eventually have six parts. For more information about the content presented in Part One and later parts, please consult the posted story warnings. Sincere appreciation goes out to Kristin O. for beta-reading comments.
Summary: As Lan's five years of freedom draw to a close, the Parliament meets to decide on his future. But others who know of the Clover Project may have designs on his future as well... .
The fifth chancellor of the Parliament spoke, his voice echoing slightly in the vast chamber of shadows where the five Wizards had gathered to hear news of the Three-leaf's abduction. The single eye visible behind the monocle he wore glinted with faint unease as he contemplated the now-dark surface of the circular screen in front of him. "It was a mistake," he said, "Ever to allow the Three-leaf Clover to leave the research institute. It was ridiculous to think he would be safe living in a private residence...even if the owner was of military rank." He lifted his chin to look at the others. "It's because of that decision that we now have this problem."
"No," the fourth chancellor disagreed. Thick lenses that were more metal than glass hid any expression that might have been in his eyes, but his voice held a note of unyielding certainty. "The security on that building was even better than the security at the institute, since it was designed and maintained by a Three-leaf Clover." He shook his head. "Even we five, the most powerful wizards in the country, would have a hard time bypassing it."
The others were silent. There were only a few ways that such a security system could have been overcome. There had been no evidence of manual sabotage, of circuits that had been bypassed or damaged. Likewise, a thorough search of the system had found no residual loopholes that someone on the outside could have found and exploited. That left only the possibility that it had been an attack by an array of Wizards from another country...or the interference of the Four-leaf Clover. This last possibility caused the chancellors of the Parliament the most concern. The message that had been left behind at the site of the Three-leaf's kidnapping had been from Azurite Special ops, and the idea that the Four-leaf, Suu, could be working with the Azurite government was unthinkable.
"We're wasting time," the first chancellor said at last. "It's been nearly seven hours since the Three-leaf was taken. Arguing over the details won't help us to find out where he is."
"We already know where he is."
All heads immediately turned in General Kou's direction. "The information you received before is correct," she elaborated. "The younger Three-leaf was unable to determine the exact location of the older. However, because of the bond between them, we have a direction. A small force has already been dispatched across our northern border to bring him back."
The fifth chancellor raised his eyebrows. "You're certain that he's been taken beyond the border, then?" At her nod, he frowned. "This complicates things. The Clover project has never been common knowledge. To undertake a retrieval mission on foreign soil, while at the same time maintaining the secrecy of the project...this matter requires some discretion."
The fourth chancellor was frowning as well. "Do we know," he asked, "Why the Three-leaf was taken North instead of over to Azurite? If the Special Information Collection was involved, they should have gone back to a base in their home country instead."
"Azurite does not have the Wizard power to have pulled this off," General Kou replied. "That's why they've always coveted the power of the Clovers. Someone else is helping them." She glanced over at the Chairman as she spoke. He met her gaze, but said nothing.
The fourth chancellor's expression did not change. "In that case, we must ensure that the Secret Colors Battalion won't fail in their mission."
"They won't fail. They are the best."
As the other chancellors rose one by one and filed out of the room, General Kou waited behind, calling up the latest data on her viewscreen as a pretense. Once the other three had left, she spoke aloud to the other remaining occupant of the room. "You choose not to tell them."
Sage Shuu looked up from his own screen to meet her level gaze. "Yes."
General Kou looked away. "...And when will you?" she asked, allowing the barest hint of sharpness to creep into her tone. "After the Three-leaf is dead?"
"You know they won't kill him. There's something else they want." Sage Shuu brushed a hand over the surface of his monitor, and studied the picture that it showed him...the seal of a Three-leaf clover. "The Three-leaf at the research institute was able to get a vague direction, but nothing more. The bond between the brothers is being blocked, and your selection of the location is only a guess."
"A guess. But it will be correct. It's the only place that makes sense."
"Yes." Sage Shuu's monitor went dark, and he rose to his feet, looking across the rise of the central dome at her. "The Clover project was first started over thirty years ago. The other three chancellors of the Parliament know of the project, know enough to covet the power of the Clovers for themselves...but they were not there from the beginning. Of the Parliament, only we two know everything." His gaze was stern. "...And for now, that's how it will stay."
Kou said nothing as he left, only stared down at the Three-leaf seal visible on her own screen, trying not to think about the person who wore it, or what might happen before this unpleasant business reached its end. She passed a hand over the screen, turning it to black. Memories did not wipe clean so easily. She bowed her head over the monitor, whispering a single word into the empty room.
"My name is Iris."
Lan blinked at the dark-haired woman, reminding himself that it wasn't polite to stare. He found it hard not to. The woman's presence was incredibly familiar to him, as if he had known her all his life...though he knew that they had never met before today. It was her power that he recognized. Such power he had only ever encountered in two other people, two people that he *had* known all his life. His brothers. "You're..." he said in bewilderment, "You're a Clover?"
Iris gave a small smile, and held her right hand face-up. Marked on her palm was a lobed tattoo, inscribed with numbers and a bar-code marking--a seal of the Clover project. "Yes," she murmured. "A Three-leaf, like yourself. You're wondering why you couldn't sense me before, when you should have known of any others with an equal number of leaves or below." She glanced upwards, to the iron and glass lattice of the dome above them, the dome that covered this entire section of forested park. "This place is sealed," she said sadly. "No one, not even a Four-leaf, can sense the people here. If you try, you'll find that you can't sense the ones outside either."
With a disturbing start, Lan realized that she was right. No Wizards, no Sorcerers...no Gingetsu. Only his bond with A was still tangible...but very weak. The sense of isolation unnerved him. What is this place? How can someone create a building that's shielded from the magic of a Four-leaf Clover?
"I'll tell you how it was made, if you like," Iris said, as if reading his thoughts. She shook her head abruptly and forced a smile. "But before we get into all of that, you must be hungry." She ventured across the path that separated them and held out her hand. "There's more to this place than just gardens and trees. I can take us someplace more comfortable to talk."
He looked up at her from his seat on the park bench, wondering how much of a choice he actually had. But the alternative was to simply sit here and learn nothing at all about where he was or what his kidnappers wanted of him. Whatever they had used to drug him appeared to have worn off completely, but he realized that Iris had been right about food. Suddenly he was both hungry and thirsty. "Will you tell me the reason I've been brought here?" he asked her.
She bowed her head, just enough for her bangs to fall forward and hide her eyes. "Yes," she said softly, "I will." She drew in a deep breath and met his concerned gaze, her expression turning determined and a little grim. She reached down and pulled at his hand, and he rose to his feet out of politeness. He was taller than she was, but only by a few centimeters. Looking up at him, something in her dark eyes softened into sympathy. "There are many things that we should talk about, Lan," she said. "Come with me. I think it's finally time someone told you a little bit about the history of the Clover project."
Gingetsu paused in putting on his coat. The boy, still wearing the set of borrowed pajamas that were ridiculously large on his small frame, had abandoned his breakfast and emerged from the kitchen to watch him. The dark eyes with their quiet intelligence took in the sight of the coat and the briefcase, and though the young voice had been steady, in those eyes lurked just a hint of anxiety. Gingetsu realized belatedly how very large and strange this house must seem to someone who was not used to being here alone.
"I have to go to work," he said. When he didn't say anything more, an awkward silence fell in the roomful of space between them. The Lieutenant Colonel's rudimentary communication skills failed him, bringing home once again the fact that he was unused to having any kind of company around. This would be the first time that Gingetsu would be away from the place for more than an hour or two since the situation of the Three-leaf Clover had been resolved. Now that the crisis was over, it was time for him to resume his normal duties.
The silence did not go on for too long. The boy offered him rescue in the form of a deeply drawn breath and a forced smile. Something inside Gingetsu found that simple expression unbearably painful to watch. "Have a good day, then," the boy said, with a valiant attempt at a light-hearted tone.
Gingetsu fastened up his coat, acutely aware of the simple courage behind the boy's words. Another child would have begged for some sort of comfort, or tried to cause a scene. But Gingetsu already knew that very few children were like this one. "You'll be safe here while I'm gone," he felt the need to add gruffly. It sounded inane, a clumsy offering of reassurance to a new pet. ...Except of course that this was not a new pet. It wasn't any kind of pet at all.
Nonetheless, the boy responded to that offered reassurance with a small smile...a real one this time. It barely touched his lips, but illuminated those expressive eyes completely from within. "Yes," he said quietly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Yes, I know."
A nudge against his knee brought Gingetsu out of the past and back into the present. Kazuhiko, sitting on the seat across from him, was looking at him in concern. "Hey," he said. "We're almost there."
Gingetsu sat up a little straighter. There were no windows in the sides of the unmarked van, and a stack of strapped-down boxes blocked the windshield and front seats from view. However, looking past the other four occupants of the van who were conversing in low tones, he could see sky and buildings through the vehicle's tiny back window. He drew back the cuff of his jacket to look at his watch.
Kazuhiko noticed the gesture. "We're right on schedule," he remarked. "There haven't been any problems yet, so we should get to the place exactly as planned."
Gingetsu noted the use of the word 'yet'. He activated the modem in his visor to conjure an earpiece and wires to check in. He had been advised that it was imprudent for him to use his Clover magic too casually until they learned more about what they were facing. The ordinary 'noise' of a modem would be covered up by other background noise from the city around them. The frequency Gingetsu turned to was a secure one...at least as secure as a Three-leaf Clover could make it. Not that Gingetsu trusted A to keep his word on the matter at all. ...But as long as the Wizards of the Parliament were checking in on him, he supposed that Lan's brother would behave. There was a moment of static before a man's voice came through from the other end of the connection. "Sir."
"Lieutenant," he responded.
"We read your position as 15 kilometers Southeast of the intended destination. At the present rate of speed, if the current traffic patterns are maintained, you will reach it in seventeen minutes."
"Do you have any new information?"
"Some. The...encryption specialist...you assigned to us says that he's accessed only a small part of the target system." There was a pause. "Sir. He says you'll have to be patient, if you want his help at all."
Gingetsu's mouth thinned. He was quite certain that the Lieutenant was giving him the edited version of that comment. So much for A's good behavior. Gingetsu had disliked the idea of relying on A from the start. ...Unfortunately, in this case, there was no other alternative. "Get us a floorplan."
Another pause, this one longer. The Lieutenant's voice, when he spoke again, was distinctly uneasy. "He says that he will direct you."
"No." Absolutely not. "We need a map."
Another pause. "Understood. You'll make contact again once you reach the target point?"
"We'll have it for you then. Anything else, sir?"
Gingetsu was silent a moment. "No, that will be all." The modem hummed, and the communications wires vanished. His gaze wandered towards the front of the van, as if the visor he wore were equipped with X-ray vision and could see past the boxes blocking the view. ...See through to the road, and the solitary building that waited at the end of that road. Seventeen minutes.
"What will we do once we get there?" Kazuhiko asked him.
Gingetsu barely heard. "We wait," he said at length, "...Until dark."
"Hmph." Kazuhiko's voice was disapproving. "The army must have changed its regulations. What's wrong with daylight?"
"This is a special case."
"I see." Kazuhiko fell silent, following his friend's gaze to the blank wall of the boxes as well. "Don't worry," he said, in an undertone, one that escaped even the ears of the soldiers sitting nearest to them, "We'll get him back."
Gingetsu didn't respond. In the privacy of his own thoughts, however, he wholeheartedly agreed.
As far as he was concerned, there was no other choice.
The long white corridor stretched out to either side of the woman, a barren hallway with a white floor, white ceiling, and white walls, one side of which was punctuated with a series of unlabled doors. The place where Iris stood had a large, rectangular window overlooking the glass and metal framework of the domed garden. The trees shielded the Three-leaf, C...no, she corrected herself, Lan, from view. She'd had to leave before they could talk much. Something had come up, and her co-workers had called her away. She folded her arms, the crisp, white fabric of her lab coat crinkling against her skin. She was both eager and reluctant to go back down to the garden, to converse with the Three-leaf again. Of the two emotions, she couldn't decide which was the stronger.
Three-leaf Clover. Iris raised her hand, to study the marking permanently inked on her palm. It had been a very long time since she'd seen any of the others from the Clover-leaf project, the ones that had stayed behind with Grandma Kou. Unbidden, an old memory rose to the surface.
The white hallway around her blurred--becoming a different white corridor, from a previous time and place.
The sixteen year-old girl turned away from the window where she had stood, turning her back on the sprawling, interconnected buildings of the research institute spread out below. Grandma Kou stood at one end of the hall. As the young Three-leaf respectfully bowed to the older woman, she reflected that the title 'Grandma' probably wasn't appropriate to use anymore. Maybe 'General' or 'Chancellor'. It seemed that it was 'Chancellor' today. The old woman was dressed in the recently acquired robes of the supreme Parliament. The highest-ranking scientist of the Clover project had finally earned the title of one of the five highest-ranking Wizards in the country.
It was a great honor, and one that was well deserved, though with all that had happened, Iris wondered if the post might have been a defense, in addition to a reward. Iris couldn't help but think that the other members of the Parliament had decided to elevate the General's position in order to keep a closer watch on her. With all the shadows and intrigues of politics, Iris wondered if that might not be how all members of the Parliament acquired their posts.
The Wizard held out her hand. "I wish to speak with you. Come out of your tower and walk with me for a bit in the garden."
Iris joined her in silence, and they walked over to the lift that was waiting for them with an open door just beyond the end of the hall. There was the soft whirring of well-serviced machinery, and the lift began its descent. This particular elevator only went one floor down. "Are you ready to go?" Kou asked, as they stepped out onto the white tile of yet another corridor. Truly this place was a maze. The older woman looked thoughtfully ahead towards the three-way branch at the end of the hall. "There will be some here who will miss you when you leave."
Iris bowed her head, not quite sure how to answer that. "It's not my decision," she said at last.
Kou sighed. "I know." She looked up and away, gazing at the walls as if they held secrets of great interest. "Now that the treaty that bound the three countries participating in the Clover project has been dissolved, the results of that collaboration must be separated as well. All of the Clovers will be kept apart from now on." Her gaze slipped sideways to rest searchingly on the young girl's face. "You know that it's for the best."
Yes. They all tried to convince themselves that it was for the best. Iris stopped in the middle of the three-way intersection, hesitating even as General Kou paused in her first step onto the path to the right...towards the lift that led down to the gardens. "What will happen to them," she asked, her gaze straying to the hallway on the left, and to the row of unmarked doors that lay down that path. "...To the others?"
Kou stopped as well, following her gaze. "The other Clovers?" She glanced at Iris, then turned and started in that direction. Iris fell into step beside her.
"Oruha the One-leaf has already gone Outside," Kou said. "The child is full of life and beauty, and her surrogate parents have fallen in love with her. They have decided to raise her on their own. At seven years old, she seems happy enough with that choice. Because she is a One-leaf, it will be allowed." Kou sighed. "She will always be carefully watched by the Parliament, however."
The General paused, stopping before the small window set into the first door. Iris could sense the person on the other side before she looked in. The Two-leaf Clover. The pale-haired boy stood with his back to them, on the far side of the room, looking out the window at the other buildings of the institute. He stood absolutely still, his posture exact and perfect, like everything else within the spartan chamber.
"Gingetsu will only be here for a few more days. He seems to have an aptitude for the military, and so has been enrolled in the top military academy. We hope he will make a good officer. The academy is also outside these walls, but since he is only a Two-leaf, it will also be allowed." She turned away and continued down the corridor.
"The triplets will stay here," she said. "As you already know, all Three-leafs have the biological instability that causes premature aging. But as long as they stay here we can control it...even reverse it, so that time passes more slowly for them." She stopped before another door. Beyond the window, a nurse sat watching over three dark-haired toddlers who were playing with toy blocks. They looked just like any other children at play, except that the blocks they were playing with had mechanical devices implanted in them that allowed them to hover in mid-air--and all three toddlers were making them move around the room without using any device that could serve as a remote control.
"And the Four-leaf?" Iris asked softly. The four year-old girl with the incredibly strong powers of the Four-leaf Clover was not staying in this wing of the institute. The place she had been moved to was top-secret, and only the members of Parliament knew its location.
"The Four-leaf cannot be let outside, of course." General Kou sighed. "We hope that she is too young to remember all that's happened these past few weeks. The separation from her mother was difficult enough for the poor child."
"Yes," Iris whispered, picturing the lifetime of solitude that sad little girl had ahead of her, with no human contact and only the Auto Dolls for company. "The poor child...."
It wasn't good to dwell too much on the past.
Iris forced herself to let go of that memory, the memory of the Clover project, and to return to the concerns of the present.
There were enough things to worry about right here.
An approaching footstep sounded on the white tile behind Iris, intruding into her thoughts. She knew who it was without turning around, and therefore she didn't bother to. "I talked with the Three-leaf," she said aloud, gazing out the window towards the high arch of the domed garden. As always, she found herself thinking how beautiful it was. Beautiful, until one realized that the iron bars of the dome were nothing more than a spacious and glittering cage. ...Especially to the young man currently held prisoner there against his will. "He's a good person," she murmured. When the comment went unanswered, she sighed. "We're making a mistake."
"It's not a mistake," the woman behind her answered firmly. The unyielding tone held no mercy towards the subject of that statement, and no regret. "To not do anything would be worse."
Iris shook her head tightly, unable to voice her reply past the sudden lump in her throat.
Warm breath brushed across her ear. "I know you don't agree with this. ...But even you must see that there's no other choice."
"Yes." Iris closed her eyes, repeating it like a litany that would bring her absolution. "I know there's no other choice."
"Don't worry," the other woman murmured soothingly as fingers stroked at her hair. "This will all be over soon."
The arms around her slid away in acquiescence, the only contact that remained was the feather-light weight of smooth hands resting on her shoulders. "You'll go back down to talk to him again?"
"To Lan. Yes." She hesitated a moment, then brought up the subject of their *other* guest. "The White Leopard isn't going to stay on his leash for very much longer," she warned.
The other woman made a noise of contempt. "Barus will cooperate with us up to the moment that he finally gets what he wants out of this. We just have to be sure to get what *we* want before that happens."
The casual words caused Iris to feel something almost like pain. "All I want is for you to be happy," she whispered, so softly that she wasn't even sure that the other woman would hear.
...But those warm arms closed around her again, in an embrace that was everything, and soft lips brushed against the dark hair by her temple. "We will be," the woman said consolingly. "Both of us will be happy, for always." Too soon that touch retreated again. Iris yearned after it, but could make no move to follow. "And now," the woman said, her voice gentle, chastising, "You should get back to work. The sooner we follow through with the plan, the sooner Barus and his gang will leave us, and the sooner the Azurite government will fulfill their promise, once they finally get what they desire." The shadow behind her slid away then. Iris listened to the click of heels as the woman left, counting them in her head until they faded off beyond hearing.
"...Once the Azurite government finally gets what they desire," Iris repeated to herself sadly, lifting one hand to the cold glass of the window, as if she could press her fingertips through it and touch the expanse of the great dome below. The clover mark on her palm reflected back at her in perfect detail from the window pane...as if it was a still pool of water...or a mirror.
"...A Three-leaf Clover of their very own."
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