Kindred: The ResurrectedA Capow tale compiled and edited by Dot
(Alternate dimension 44::10:21::7)
(Three years ago)
"Noooooooo!!" Ahlen screamed as he watched the steel blade of Nurse Jones' sword slide through Kimiko's stomach.
Kimiko gasped, a spurt of blood gurgled from her mouth. Her right hand opened and she dropped the katana. She sank to her knees and fell over.
"ONEE-SAMA!" Ahlen yelled as he rushed to her side. Nurse Jones fled down the cavern but Ahlen ignored her. He had to tend to his sister. "Onee-sama! Onee-sama!"
"Q-quit shaking ..." Kimiko tried to murmur, coughing up some blood and clutching her fatal wound as the pain spread through her body. "Looks like ... I wasn't good enough."
"Hang on!" pleaded Ahlen. His left hand was bloodied as he tried to keep pressure on Kimiko's stomach but the chance of her living was slim.
Kimiko placed her other hand on Ahlen's. "It's too late, Otouto."
Ahlen shook his head, refusing to give up. "You can't die, Onee-sama!"
"Ahlen," Kimiko whispered, her voice growing fainter. "I want you to listen..."
"I'll kill her!" Ahlen swore.
"No, listen!" rasped Kimiko, struggling to get her final words out.
"You have to stop Dr. Feelbad. If he escapes.. through his device...we'll never catch him." She stared deep into her brother's eyes. "Promise me you'll stop him."
Ahlen nodded. "I promise."
Kimiko reached over to her side and tugged at the hilt of her sword. It was too heavy for her now. Instead, her finger scratched the handle and Ahlen placed it in her hand. "Take my sword, Ahlen. There's ...something special about it." Ahlen nodded again. Kimiko smiled and knew she had only one more thing to say. "Goodbye, Otouto. I love you." She breathed her last.
Ahlen stared with disbelief. He shook her sister, hoping she had just slipped into unconsciousness. When she didn't respond, he patted her cheek. He ran his finger down her neck and felt for a pulse. There was none.
* * *
Ahlen pulled the blade free from Nurse Jones' gut. His arm was badly cut and his shoulder punctured from the fight. But the satisfaction of watching Nurse Jones die by his sword was worth it. "I did it, Onee-sama," Ahlen said aloud, "I did it!"
"You fool!" Dr. Feelbad screamed as he cowered behind a broken console. "You hav destroyed yearz of wurk!" Suddenly, the cavern began to rumble. Dirt fell from the ceiling and soon rocks did too. The entire cave was beginning to collapse.
The console in front of Dr. Feelbad exploded, tossing the evil doctor into the air. He landed near the edge of the chasm and rolled off. Ahlen raced over to grab his wrist but he was too late. The doctor's fingers lost their grip and he spiraled down the darkened pit.
Another explosion pushed Ahlen to the ground. He looked behind to see the volatile computer equipment was only making the situation worse. Steadily, he got up and headed for the exit. Ahlen leaped back just as another explosion caved in the hallway. "Dammit!" he yelled. There were too many rocks to move in time.
Behind him, a massive explosion rocked the cave again. Ahlen backed into the room and stared at the machine Dr. Feelbad was working on. At the centre of the platform was a giant orange sphere. What did he call it? A dimensional translocator? Ahlen had no idea that meant. But he knew the doctor was going to use it to escape.
The console to Ahlen's left exploded, sending shards of glass and debris flying at him. He covered his face instinctively. The sphere waned. Ahlen knew it was only hope of surviving. He just wished it worked. And wherever it took him, that it was better than here.
With final resolve, Ahlen ran straight for the orange sphere, just as multiple explosions filled to cave. He leapt into the air and disappeared into the translocator. The explosions destroyed the last bit of equipment and the sphere dissipated. Seconds after that, the entire cavern filled in on itself.
* * *
Kimiko's lungs violently filled with air. Her body spasmed uncontrollably for a few seconds before calming down. Her eyes snapped open and she blinked. The brown cavern ceiling stared back at her. She was supposed to be dead. Her hand went to the wound in her stomach. The blood was still wet but as she felt around, the wound was missing. Kimiko cradled her neck and saw the wound had completely closed up. She tried to get up but slumped back down. The pain was still there, even if the wound was gone.
"Welcome back, Souichi," a sinister voice chuckled.
Kimiko turned her head to the side. She saw nothing but a wall. Suddenly, a pattern rippled like a stone falling into a pond. The shape of a person become clear. And then, the rocky pattern of the wall disappeared and a cloaked man stepped away. "Who..?"
"All your questions shall be answered," the dark voice answered. The man looked up at the ceiling as more dirt came down. "The boy escaped with the sword. You will have to do, then." He reached over and picked up Kimiko's body in his arms.
Kimiko struggled to push him away but found she had not the strength. Everything become a blur as the man carried her out the cave. She looked down to the ground and her eyes deceived her. They were moving away at incredible speeds, faster than any normal person could run. Behind them, the ceiling collapsed.
When they reached the open night air, the man put Kimiko back on the ground. The entrance to the cave had caved in along with the entire underground cavern. There was no going back. Ahlen, Kimiko thought. She prayed he survived, somehow.
Kimiko tried to get up but this time it was not her strength that kept her back. The man placed his hand on her forehead and pushed her back to the ground. "Sleep, my child," he soothed and Kimiko's eyes began to grow heavy. "I have clutched you from the hands of death itself. You shall be reborn anew. When you awaken, you will be quicker, stronger, deadlier." Kimiko's eyes blinked, trying to stay awake, but she found it impossible. She was so tired. Before she closed them completely, she saw the man's eyes flash an eerie yellow. His last words echoed in her mind. "You shall be Kindred."
* * *
(Three weeks ago)
The night air was warm and thankfully dry, if not a little misty. Thompson hated guard duty. It was even worse when it was raining, as it forced him to stay inside the booth at the entrance to Dr. Aoki's grounds. The only comfort was being able to stand outside and breath fresh air. Beside him was his colleague, Therault. The other guard provided company, sometimes the man would never shut up.
Therault yawned and began talking again. "Didya hear about the latest murder in Tokyo?"
Thompson grunted in response. Therault took it to mean he hadn't as an excuse to continue the conversation. "Holy shit, the man was found in an alley, his throat completely ripped apart. Cops don't know any weapon that can do that. They said it's like an animal bit him."
"What kind of animal?" Thompson asked better of himself.
"I dunno, maybe some rabid dog? But it's the fourth one in two weeks!" Therault's eyes twinkled at the sound of his own voice. "The other day it was some hooker. And last week it was a teenage girl and another man. There's no pattern to the murders. It has to be some fucken' animal."
"Since when did you turn detective?" Thompson asked glumly.
"Excuse me?" a woman's voice called out to them.
"Who's there?" Thompson called back, hand on his pistol, just in case.
A woman appeared from the fog, that seemed to roll in as they were talking moments ago. She was tall for a Japanese woman. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail. She wore tight leather pants and a black PVC tanktop that hugged her body. Around her body was a gray cloak. She lifted her bare arms and waved to the men. "Hi boys," she said shyly. "I was wondering if I could use your phone to call a taxi."
"This is a restricted area," Thompson told her in a serious voice.
Therault nudged him in the elbow. "Hey," he whispered to Thompson, "check it out, what a babe. C'mon, let her use the phone."
"We're not supposed to let strangers in!" Thompson argued back.
"Don't be a pussy, man. She's hot! I need something better to look at than your ugly face and I want a glimpse of that ass."
"Hey," the woman called out again. "If you're not going to let me use the phone, then at least say so. Look, I'm leaving. Thanks."
"No, wait!" Therault beckoned her despite Thompson's protestations. "You can use the phone." The woman stepped closer and Therault noticed she was wearing sunglasses. He frowned, as it clearly hid her pretty face. His eyes roamed back down to her chest and lingered there for a moment. He slapped Thompson's shoulder with the back of his hand. "Yo, go get her the phone."
"We're going to get in trouble!"
"Shut up and get the phone for fuck's sake!" seethed Therault.
Thompson nodded and went inside, shaking his head. Therault walked up to the woman, who was as tall as he was. He liked a woman with long legs. "So, where you heading?"
"Home," the woman answered nonchalantly.
"You know, my shift doesn't end for another hour but I'd gladly ditch my partner here and escort you home." He stepped a little closer.
"My, what a gentleman," the woman cooed. "But are you sure your partner will mind?"
"Oh, he'll mind!" chuckled Therault. "But I think it's more important to see a woman home safely than hang out here. The city's a dangerous place at night."
"Ah.." the woman said and just smiled.
Therault was right in front of her now. Despite his urgings not to, his hand shot up to her face and caressed her cheek. "What's a girl like you need to wear shades at night? Things not dark enough for you?" He tugged the frame. "C'mon, let's see your pretty face." He pulled the sunglasses off.
The woman's yellow eyes glared back at him. The man stepped back. "What the fuck?"
The woman locked her arms behind the man's back and pulled him close to her body. "Hey, baby," she cooed with a dark edge in her voice, "let's get it on, ne?" Her mouth opened and she bared fangs. The man yelped as she sunk them into his neck and tore the flesh right out. Blood spurted from the man's neck and he writhed with tortuous pain.
The shoutings brought Thompson back out, phone in one hand, his pistol raised in the other. "What the hell's going on? Therault?" He saw the woman toss Therault's body away. Her face was stained with blood and her yellow eyes stared back at him. Fear took control of him for a brief second but he shook free from its grasp and slammed the alarm button. Sirens howled in the middle of the night.
The woman walked closer, unconcerned about the alarms being raised. Thompson raised his pistol and fired without hesitation. The bullets sunk into the woman's body. She looked down. The bullets popped out sickeningly and the wounds closed up by themselves.
"What the hell?" Thompson cried as he emptied the entire clip. He scrambled back hoping to find some more bullets, maybe a shotgun.
The woman stepped into the booth, her body unscathed from all the shots fired at her. From under her cloak, she pulled out a large semi-automatic handgun and fired it at Thompson's chest a few times, killing him. She walked over to the dead guard's body and used his shirt to wipe her mouth clean of the blood. Then she put her sunglasses back on.
* * *
Several guards came out of the laboratory after the alarm had been raised. They stood by the only entrance and waited for the guardbooth to radio in the situation. The night air was misty but still visible. The woman appeared out of the fog, walking calmly towards the men.
"Halt!" the first man ordered. He raised his rifle. "Stop or we'll shoot!" The woman kept on walking. "Fire!" The other two men raised their pistols and fired.
The woman flared the side of her cloak and pulled out a long, curved sword. She moved with incredible speeds, deflecting each bullet as they came at her. The ricochet flew in all directions. The men stared back in awe as they fired their magazines at her, not one bullet passing through her sword.
Lowering the katana, the woman raised her other hand and opened fire, killing both men with the pistols. The last man's face went wide with shock as he desperately tried to reload his rifle. The woman dropped her gun and raced at him. She leapt into the air, almost fifteen feet. Extending her sword over her head, she came down on the last guard, cleaving him in two, from head to foot.
The sounds of more men coming from the lab alerted the woman.
She hid her sword back inside her cloak and stepped towards the wall. Pulling the hood over her face, she bowed her head and leaned back. Almost instantaneously, the gray stucco pattern became masked over her cloak and she disappeared behind it.
Silently, she listened as the doors opened and more men rushed out. "Oh my god!" they yelled at the two halves of the guard lying by the stairs. She heard one man retch in disgust. "C'mon!" the other yelled and pulled themselves away from the horrid scene. When the guards had left, the woman stepped away from the wall, the gray cloak becoming visible again. She pulled the hood back, leapt over the railing and entered the laboratory.
Inside the lab, sirens wailed and lights blinked on and off. The woman entered a large storage room. She walked over to the other side and opened the door. A man wearing a backpack greeted her and pulled the trigger. Flames seared from the barrel of the nozzle he carried. The woman skittered back and pulled the cloak over her body as the flames engulfed her. The man released the trigger and the flames died down but they did not burn through her cloak.
The woman stood up and tossed her cloak back. She threw off her melted sunglasses, exposing her yellow eyes. The man looked back without a second glance. "Dammit!" he yelled and unshouldered the flame-thrower. Picking up the shotgun by his feet, he charged her.
The woman pulled out her sword, did a mid-jump and brought the blade down. Unlike the unwitting guard, the man pulled himself back in time, missing the razor sharp edge. He placed his foot on the flat of the sword to keep the woman's arms down. Then he brought up his shotgun. "Dodge this!"
The man fired and the blast threw the woman back against some shelves. She slumped to the ground, a nasty wound exposing her stomach. The man tossed the shotgun away and pulled out a wooden stake from behind his belt. "Only one way to kill a vampire." He walked up to her body and placed the tip of the stake over her heart. He pulled back a little and prepared to impale her.
A hand shot up from the woman's side and grabbed his wrist. The man struggled to break free from her grasp but she held it tightly until she snapped the bones. He screamed and pulled back, hand dangling limp. The woman got up, the shotgun wound in her stomach closing up completely. She picked up the wooden stake. "Let's see how you like this," she snarled and flew right up to him before he could even move. She drove the stake right through his heart.
The woman sat back to the floor and rested for a moment. Healing was a consuming process. Although she could do it endlessly, it took time and energy. After a few seconds, she felt her strength rise back to its peak levels. She looked at the dead man. "Vampire hunter?" she mused. "Dr. Aoki must have anticipated my coming." She looked at her watch. There was some minutes to spare and she liked this one.
Pulling the stake out of the man's body, she laid him flat on the ground. She pulled out a small knife from her belt and ran it under the fleshy part of her palm. Blood bubbled up the open wound and she made a fist. She squeezed it over the man's heart and blood dripped down into his open wound. After a few drops, the woman opened her palm and concentrated, closing up the wound. She got up, stepped back, and waited.
Tendrils of smoke appeared over the man's chest like acid eating through metal. When it stopped, the man's hand twitched. Then his body spasmed and writhed. It moved violently, as if being possessed, for several seconds and climaxed to a loud snarling as the man bolted upright, his fangs showing. His eyes were now a dull yellow, like the woman's. He looked down at the hole in his chest and instinctively knew how to close it up. He lifted his arm and snapped the wristbones back in place. He flexed his hand a few times, forming a fist.
"How ironic," the woman said, "that I should turn the hunter into one of the hunted." The man was no longer a threat to her and he stood obediently. He was one of the Kindred now. "What is your name?"
"Sho-sun," the man answered back. "Thank you for giving me life, Mistress..?"
"Kimiko Souichi," the woman answered back with a smile. She walked over to Sho-sun and wetted her finger on the man's bloodied face. She opened her mouth and licked the blood. "Now, show me how to reach Dr. Aoki."
* * *
The security door to Dr. Aoki's lab opened effortlessly. Dr. Aoki looked up and saw Sho-sun, the man he hired to protect him, enter through.
"Did you kill her?" Aoki asked nervously.
Sho-sun grinned. "Even better, I brought her."
Kimiko walked through the door. She tossed her cloak back a little and sheathed the katana in the holder by her hip. "Ah, Dr. Aoki, it seems you've been expecting me."
"You!" Aoki gasped and scrambled back a litle, bumping into the table behind him. "I saw you! You were in my dreams."
"Dreams?" Kimiko repeated with a smile. "Or your nightmares? In any case, it seems you took precautions." She walked beside Sho-sun and ran her hand down his broad chest. Sho-sun stood quietly but his yellow eyes were fixed on Dr. Aoki.
"Oh, dear god," Aoki stuttered, sliding under the table and out the other side. He glanced back at the door behind him. If he could just make it through...
The woman flew over several tables and landed right beside Aoki before he could dart away. She grabbed him by the throat and choke-slammed him against the wall. Aoki clawed at Kimiko's hand but her steel grip remained firm. "Please," choked Aoki, "don't kill me."
Kimiko set him back to the floor. "If you activate your machine, I won't kill you."
"Do it!" Kimiko growled menacingly, baring her fangs to frighten the small man. He cowered with his hands over his face and nodded with fear.
Kimiko stepped back and gave the man a little room to move. He got up slowly, eyes locked on Kimiko's for fear of looking anywhere else. She nodded towards the large machine in the other room. Aoki walked to the glass door by Sho-sun and opened it. He gave Sho-sun a look and received a frightening stare back. Dr. Aoki scrambled through.
Standing at the controls of the large machine, Aoki waited for Kimiko and Sho-sun. The machine was a large platform at one end hooked up to several computers and consoles. Above the platform was two large beam-emitting devices. Sitting on the platform were two metal circles, one fixed inside the other. "Activate it," Kimiko ordered him.
"The dimensional agitator needs to be calibrated to a setting," Aoki protested. "We've spent months trying to find the coordinates of another dimensional plane and we had no luck."
Kimiko pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to the doctor. "I want to go here."
Aoki gave Kimiko a frightened look and took the paper. He looked at the numbers carefully. "Where did you get these values? I've never thought of using these constants!"
"Just enter them already!" barked Kimiko with impatience.
"Y-yes," stammered the doctor.
Kimiko walked over to Sho-sun. "Enable the security lock on all the doors. I don't want the guards to come and disturb us."
Sho-sun nodded and stepped over to the console in the other corner. Entering a passcode, he activated the locks and every door in the lab latched firmly shut.
After a few minutes of entering the numbers, Dr. Aoki pressed the activation button. The two circles began to spin in a gyroscopic manner. When they reached full rotational velocity, the two emitters came online. Particles glowed at their tips until they were fully charged. They released their energy into the centre of the gyroscope until a large, glowing, orange sphere appeared. The two spinning circles slowed to a halt and rotated out of the way, leaving the platform clear for the sphere. The emitters died down as the sphere stabilized itself.
"My god!" Aoki whispered in awe. "A stable wormhole! But how did you know?" Kimiko didn't answer his question. Instead, she walked over to the sphere and pulled out a small palm device. She used it to scan the sphere and noted the numbers. Pleased that it was the correct portal, she stepped back to Aoki.
"Well done, Dr. Aoki. As I promised, I would not kill you."
"Thank you!" cried Aoki in relief.
Kimiko glanced over to Sho-sun. "However, my new friend here is a little hungry. He lost a lot of blood, you see." She called to Sho-sun. "My dear, would you like to replenish yourself?"
"Yes, Mistress, I am very thirsty."
Kimiko nodded to the doctor, who was now stepping back in fear. "He's all yours."
The doctor tried to run away but Sho-sun grabbed him by the neck. The doctor struggled to free himself but Sho-sun's grasp, like Kimiko's, was unbreakable. He took the screaming doctor to the corner.
"Sho-sun!" Kimiko called out melodiously. The Kindred hunter looked back. "Don't make a mess," she told him.
Kimiko turned away as the cries of Dr. Aoki turned into blood-gurgling screams. She didn't have to watch as Sho-sun feasted on the doctor's blood, bringing back some of the blood he had lost earlier. Kimiko pulled out a small satchel from her cloak and revealed two blocks of C-4 plastique and timers. She placed one block by the console where Aoki had operated the agitator and the other by the emitter's power supply. She set the timers for thirty seconds. There was no need to linger.
After Sho-sun had finished, he walked back to Kimiko. His tongue licked the corners of his mouth and his teeth were still slightly stained with blood. Kimiko smiled in approval. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, Mistress. Where are we going, though?"
"It's another world, just like ours. This portal leads to a city outside of Tokyo called Capow." "Are we going to establish our brood, there?" Sho-sun asked. "Yes, I suppose that's one of our goals. But I'm looking for a man with a sword. He was once my brother. I want my sword back." She reached into her pocket and pulled out another pair of sunglasses. Placing them over her eyes, she looked up to Sho-sun. "Let's go."
The two Kindred walked into the orange sphere that led them to Capow.
Seconds later, the room exploded.
Evening found him back in St. John's Park in front of the fountain as usual, but this time he wasn't alone.
Junsui faced the class and looked sternly at them as they all lined up before him. "You have all done well and I am honored to be instructing you." He bowed to his class and they responded in turn. Straightening, he smiled broadly at them all.
The small group of kids scattered, laughing and talking while they headed toward their parents. Junsui waved bye to the four of them. Once he was sure that they were headed home safely, he settled himself to begin what he had started to call his "Kata of the Setting Sun". Losing himself in his focus, he tuned the world out until it became only a haze, tinged only by the color of the descending sun.
Nearby, something was stirring, looking at the world with new eyes. It rose, looking out the window at the last rays of the setting sun. It didn't mind daylight, just that it considered sunlight to be like a mosquito that you could hear, but not find.. A grating annoyance. The nights were more fun anyways.
Junsui finished his kata, he watching the sun cross over the horizon, leaving a dark orange tint across the sky. Sighing, he reached down and shouldered his bag, beginning the customary walk home.
It watched him. Looking down on him from the tops of the buildings, it followed him. Sometimes leading, sometimes trailing behind, it found amusement in the fact that his prey had no idea what it was being stalked. A few blocks later, the amusement was becoming short-lived, as it quickly grew bored with that game, deciding to try another one.
The streets were oddly empty as Junsui crossed the street that marked the beginning of the warehouse district, but this section was usually quiet anyway so he thought nothing of it.
"Hey, could you help me out over here?"
Startled at the unexpected voice, Jun turned around, seeing someone in jeans and a t-shirt standing a few feet behind him at the corner, looking up at the street sign.
"Yes?" Jun responded.
The stranger turned toward him and blinked several times, glancing between the street sign and a semi-crumpled piece of paper in his hand in confusion, saying, "I'm trying to find St. John's Park.. It seems that the directions I was given were a bit off.. Could you point me in the general direction?"
Pointing back the way he came, Junsui said, "Its back the way I came. Just follow this street back, you can't miss it."
"Thanks." The stranger grinned widely, his grin seeming a bit too wide for the situation, and began to head in the direction he was given.
Taking about a second to shoulder his bag more comfortably, Jun dug the pencil out of the bag that had been poking him in the side and tucked it behind his ear absently. For some reason, the back of his mind was giving him a warning that something wasn't right about this situation, but he dismissed it as paranoia. Looking up, he was surprised to see the stranger standing in front of him when he looked up. "Forget something?" Junsui asked him.
The stranger looked at him solemnly for a moment before displaying a smile that revealed fangs. "Yeah," he said, "Breakfast."
His hand shot forward toward Junsui's throat, but all he managed to grab was the strap of the bag he was carrying, which was then wrapped around his wrist, arm, and neck as Junsui kicked his leg out from under him, putting weight on the bag.
So my breakfast wants to play, It/he thought. With a mental shrug, it concluded Why not?
Any other person would have been in great pain, but the loud, muffled pops of joints dislocating was Junsui's reward as he saw he(it?) straighten its arm despite the binding, and the strap gave with several tearing sounds. Unwrapping the material from his wrist and letting it drop to the ground, it shrugged the dislocated arm and the sickening sound of its joints popping back into place was heard.
He --_It_ Junsui corrected himself-- raised its eyebrows as it eyed the straps on the ground. It grinned. "Nice try," it said. "My turn."
Its arms a blur, it kept its speed to just under where its prey could
barely avoid them, playing. It noticed the growing look of desperation
in the prey's eyes as he realized that it outmatched him, and liked it.
Keeping up the game for a short while, barely missing, It played with Junsui until it decided that his prey wasn't playing hard enough and ended it.
Junsui was hard pressed and had felt fatigue leading his muscles as he saw the look of amusement fade in its eyes. The only thought he could spare was "Uh oh." before a blow that he couldn't see struck him in the chest and flung him up against the sheet metal side of the warehouse behind him. Trying to ignore the pain of what he knew would be a large, deep bruise on his chest, he saw whatever it was --for it was certainly no longer human-- lunge toward him, its arm cocked back for what would most likely be something he wouldn't survive.
Doing the only thing he could think of, he lunged desperately out of the way, tapping a reserve of strength that he didn't know he could muster. By some bit of incredible fortune, the punch missed, but only by a hair. Junsui felt the fist brush the side of his eyebrow and continue along the side of his face, pushing the pencil that he had behind his right ear back against the wall of the warehouse, where once braced, it was driven into the thing's fist up to the eraser, the pencil ending up inside the length of its hand, past its wrist, and into its forearm.
A scream of incredible pain and volume tore from its throat, shattering windows as it pulled its arm back, eyes transfixed on the dark blood spilling from the wound as it cradled its arm, backing away.
Junsui took advantage of its distraction to flee around the side of the warehouse, hands over his ears in pain, where he yanked open a door and after darting inside, slammed it behind him.
A dim light stood over the door as he looked around and exhaled
loudly, saying "Gotta love those No.2 pencils.." when he glanced down at his hands, noticing that they had blood on them. "Great," he muttered to himself. "Just wonderful." He managed a couple of steps into the warehouse before the pain caught up with him and he crumpled to the floor unconscious.
The sun was beginning to set under the hills in St. John's Park. Although it was spring, there was an unusual chill in the air. It didn't bother Ahlen that much as he was still warm from practising his sword forms. But there was something tugging at his conscious and it made his mind uneasy.
At first he thought he knew what it was. Today was the anniversary of his sister's death. Three years ago, they had infiltrated Dr. Feelbad's underground cave. Onee-sama dueled with Nurse Jones, Feelbad's top assassin. Onee-sama lost. Ahlen slew Nurse Jones in the ensuing fight, and the damage caused Dr. Feelbad's dimensional machine to cause a cave-in. Ahlen barely escaped through the dimensional rift and ended up in Capow, where he met Kimiko, the alternate-reality of his sister. He knew his real sister was dead but he couldn't help calling this Kimiko onee-sama. She didn't mind either. It was as if she had known him all her life when, in fact, she never had a brother.
Ahlen spent the day alone and talked to no one, not even Lyta. She understood, though, having told her what had happened before. He knew she still worried that he wasn't finished grieving. He was, but yet something nagged at him. Something yet to come. Unfinished business? What could it mean?
"Ahlen?" Lyta called to him. He didn't even notice her standing there with a tray in her hands. He got up and set the tray on the bench by the gazebo where the large bell hung. "Kokutan-san made some tea," she said.
"Tell her thanks," Ahlen replied, knowing he hadn't spoken to the kitsune-demon all day, even when Kokutan tried to initiate conversation. He hoped she didn't think he was ignoring her.
Lyta had a special bond with Ahlen and somehow always knew what was on his mind. "Don't worry," she assured him, "Kokutan's not angry."
Ahlen sniffed and took a sip of the warm tea. Lyta sat down beside him and stared over the steps that lead up to their shrine. "You still miss her, don't you?"
Ahlen put the cup down and placed his arm around Lyta's shoulder. She welcomed it and snuggled close to him, her head rested on his shoulder. "Yeah, I guess I do. You never met her, did you?" Lyta shook her head. "She's not like Kimiko, I mean Kimiko, here in Capow. They look the same, but there's little differences. Onee-sama was much, umm, happier? I mean, Kimiko-onee-sama is sometimes so serious, but onee-sama, that is, my real sister, was less serious."
"Kimiko has her own demons," Lyta said cryptically. "Besides, you've only known her for three years since coming here. You've known your onee-sama all your life."
"And Onee-sama always liked to tease me. I guess I miss that the most. Kimiko treats me like a younger brother, but we live separate lives. She's got her job and her missions. I've got you and this shrine. We hardly spend time together."
"Why don't you invite her over for dinner?" Lyta asked, hoping it would ease some of Ahlen's concerns. "Kokutan and I can make some really nice dishes and you can catch up with Kimiko."
Ahlen sighed. "Yeah, I guess." He lifted his arm and took up the sword that once belonged to his sister. Mizuno Heiwa. Harmony of Water. It was named so because the way it flowed when he wielded it, like using a sword of water. He noticed the blade was a little dirty. Taking the rag on the bench, he began to clean it.
Lyta watched for a second and drank the rest of her tea. She got up and kissed Ahlen on the back of his neck. "Speaking of dinner, don't sit out here all night and let it go cold."
"Okay," Ahlen said absently, not really paying her attention.
Lyta drummed her fingers on the cup. She knew his mind was preoccupied. She wasn't jealous that he wasn't giving her his attention. She felt sad that he was sad. Seeing nothing else she could do, Lyta walked back to the house.
The spot was giving Ahlen some trouble. No matter how hard he cleaned the steel, the spot seemed to move to a different location. Onee-sama had given him the sword as she lay dying in his arms. The least he could do was keep it clean.
After several minutes of wiping and rubbing, he decided it was clean enough and could not find the dirty mark. He raised the sword up and let the blade's steel reflect in his face. When he turned it a certain way, he saw his sister, his real sister, on the steel. Ahlen spun around, expecting to see her standing behind him, alive and well. Nobody was there. Ahlen looked back at the blade. There was no reflection. It was just his imagination.
Taking up the sheath, Ahlen put the sword away and headed back to the house. It was time to get back to reality. Onee-sama was dead and there was nothing left to mull about. He walked up the steps to the front door and disappeared inside.
Outside, by the bench, the breeze shifted and the cup Ahlen had forgotten to take in tipped over, spilling its contents. The liquid dripped off the bench and raced down the uneven stone floor of the shrine's front area. When it reached the steps, the liquid mysteriously parted in two directions until it formed the outline of a shoe.
Kimiko lifted the cloak and her body shimmered into view. She stood by the steps at the top of the shrine, just yards before the bell where Ahlen was standing. She looked up at the yellow sun, slowly sinking. he light bothered her eyes and she put on her sunglasses. So, this is where he was, Kimiko thought. And he still has the sword. She smiled. Kimiko knew she could take the sword back whenever she wanted. But, tonight was not a good night. There were other things to attend to. Her brood was slowly increasing in number ever since she and Sho-sun reached Capow through the dimensional agitator. She sent several out on gathering missions to convert new members; the others rested in their lair.
"I will return for you, otouto," Kimiko said aloud. She pulled the cloak close to her body, leapt high into the air and disappeared into the surrounding forest.
Katt sat up in her bed with a jolt. Something had woken her, something was terribly wrong. The first out of place things she realized was that Dachend was missing. He couldn't have been away for long, the space just beside her was still warm. As quietly as her namesake, she got out of bed, there was something else wrong with her home, she couldn't place it.. There was something terribly wrong. Tip'toing to the door, she tried hard to figure out what it was, there was something in the air, something that definitely shouldn't be there. As she quietly opened the door, it hit her. The smell, her house had a very slight smell of death. Not a thing any human would notice, probably not even Dachend with his honed senses. But to Katt that horrid stank was as clear as if it had been colored smoke drifting down the hallway.
Summoning her armor and sword, Katt snuck down the hallway, hiding in the shadows like Dachend had taught her, fighting to not hold her breath. If there was a fight, she would need her lungs full and her muscles primed for combat, Not tensed up.
Then she heard a faint click.
Katt whipped her head around and glanced at the other door in the hallway as it glided open, sliding out came the familiar shadow of Tenris, her Lycanthropic friend, his green tiger eyes connecting with hers, she saw him raise his sword in greeting and then pointed down the hallway.
Silently, the two sneaked through the silent and dark garage. With dread, Katt felt the stench getting stronger. There was something strange about that dead smell, it seemed twisted.
Before the thought had fully formed, the sound of fighting broke out from the main garage. Katt and Tenris broke into a dead run, but before they reached the hall, the sounds had died away again. Nearing, the two looked at each other in the dark.
"Don't stand there gawking in the dark!" called a familiar voice. Katt couldn't help herself breathe a relieved sigh. Walking into the garage, Tenris pushing the lightswitch on the way.
Dachend stood in the middle of the room and decapitated corpse lying infront of him. Dracho'xian rested on one shoulder and a head dangling from the other hand infront of his face, Dachend studying it intensely.
Katt looked at the corpse, the foul stench was reeking from it. "What's that?"
"Trouble Kitten" was the dry reply.
A small sound broke Jude's concentration as she painstakingly organized and neatly packed the myriad of parts that made up her NAVI. Jude groaned as she rubbed her eyes. At the moment she could happily kill the Chobetsu agent who had first crashed her original warehouse. This was the fifth move in as many weeks. Swearing elegantly, she wondered if she was just getting soft. First Kimiko, then that STRA agent, then Kai. Shit, if she were still with the Dragons Takeo would have had her head so fast it wouldn't even be funny. Jude rubbed her arms. She missed her brothers. She had most definitely underestimated the people here. That would _not_ happen again.
The small sound that had broken Jude's concentrations rippled through the empty space again. Jude's burning hazel eyes narrowed as she recognized Kai' s whisper soft whimper of deep distress. Swinging over the rail that wrapped around the loft, Jude dropped down next to the angel. The Seraphim's clear gray-green eyes were wide with fright. Her hands were posed above the crates that she had been diligently packing. Jude very gently touched Kai's shoulder and was rewarded with Kai's slight smile.
"Kai? Daijoubu? Nandeyo?
Kai just shuddered so hard that it wracked her delicate frame, then she launched herself into Jude's arms. Jude stiffened for a second and that hesitancy sent both girls tumbling to the hard concrete. She suppressed a groan as she blocked Kai's fall with her own body. Laying flat on her back she blew a strand of stray hair out of her eyes, and wondered briefly why she put up with this. Kai looked down into Jude's half hidden eyes. The worry, apology, and still present fear warred in her face.
"Jude, I'm scared."
And with that the angel buried her face in Jude's shoulder. The ex-street rat sighed and stared up at the bare ceiling and its skeleton of beams. Her life had been turned over and over in the past three years but this ephemeral creature was doing more than her fair share of destroying Jude's equilibrium. Jude ran her fingers through Kai's thick hair and quietly asked:
The setting sun threw growing shadows across the warehouse floor and Jude watched as they crept towards them like fingers reaching out to pull them away. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on the slender body draped over her. Whatever was bugging Kai was starting to get to her as well. Making her senses go into over drive. She felt Kai inhale and waited for the Seraphim's explanation.
"I can feel something..someone.who is just wrong coming this way. Their soul, that person's soul, it's all wrong. Confused, lost, and it doesn't even know it. And it's coming this way."
Jude continued to absently stroke Kai's hair as she took in this bit of information. She snarled at herself as she realized that she had been cuddling Kai. She pushed herself into a sitting position, sending Kai tumbling off. She locked stares with Kai's confused soft gray eyes.
"Wrong in what way?'
Kai pushed herself up and carefully wrapped her silken hair back into its complex bun. She focused on the feeling that she was getting from that.thing.. She still couldn't figure out what was wrong. It wasn't a demon, it wasn't a Youkai, or necessarily evil, it just felt wrong somehow. Like it had forgotten what it was. Kai's eyes widened as she realized what it sort of felt like. It felt like one of the Fallen. Not as strong, not by far, and not very conscious of itself, not in that sense. But it was like one of the Fallen. She falteringly tried to explain it to Jude.
"It feels like a soul that has forgotten the way home. Or it knows the way and doesn't want to remember. That person should have died, should have gone home, but it wouldn't, or couldn't and now it's gotten all twisted. I don't know why, or how really. I can't put my finger on it, but that soul is all twisted!"
She looked pleadingly at Jude, whose intense eyes were hidden under the curls of her hair. Just as Jude looked like she was ready to speak an ungodly screaming split the air. Kai's wings appeared as she sprang to her feet. She knew that sound, and it meant nothing good. Jude was on her feet and loading her Seburo. As she strapped the wicked looking gun to her back she mouthed 'Get Amadeus' to Kai. Then, with the same unerring efficiency, she loaded the 7.65mm rifle that she had on 'loan' from Yu Ominae. Kai mentally called Amadeus to her and wished for her sword, but she already knew the answer to _that_ question.
Jude jerked her head towards the ceiling as she disappeared into the shadows of the warehouse. Kai spread her wings and flew to her hiding spot in the beams. Crouching in the darkness, she opened Amadeus and start to prepare a standard attack spell. She could barely make out Jude's lean form hiding in the deep shadows.
The door flew open but instead of some hideous monster that Kai had been naively expecting a battered young man stumbled in. He didn't look like he was there to pick a fight. In fact, he looked like he had already been in one, and lost. Kai watched as he stumbled a few feet into the warehouse and then pasted out. Jude sort of materialized out of shadows and knelt by the young man. She pressed two fingers to his neck before signaling Kai to come down.
"Is he okay?"
Jude just nodded and turned to man over. He was tallish, with a trim body and a boyish face. Kai knelt down next to Jude and gently smoothed away a lock of hair that covered his eyes. Jude noted the tattoo for water on his cheek and remembered Dracho'xian saying something about some guy her age with a similar tattoo. Well, if he was Dracho's friend, or acquaintance, he couldn't be that bad. She slipped an arm under his body and draped his arm over her shoulders. Grunting a little as she hefted him up she turned to regard Kai.
"Find a healing spell in Amadeus and fast. He's hurt and I don't think whatever was after him has gone away."
Kai gave a small nod and followed Jude as she made her way up to the loft, half-dragging, half carrying to young man. Kai opened Amadeus and gave him a stern look.
"Right. You heard Jude. We need a healing spell."
"I don't know."
Amadeus rolled his eyes, the ones that always trip Jude out, and glared at Kai. Kai just shrugged. The pages flipped by themselves and presented Kai with short incantation.
"THIS WILL HEAL HIM, BUT NOT COMPLETELY. HE'LL NEED SOMETIME TO GET OVER ANYTHING TOO MAJOR."
"What? I've been good! I should have more power than that!"
Amadeus gave her a dubious look with his two little eyes. The look said. 'u-huh. And I'm the king of Persia.'
Kai huffed. "I have been good. Swear."
"WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU HID JUDE'S PSYCHE CHIP FROM HER?"
Kai pouted. "She was ignoring me! I just wanted her to pay attention for once."
Amadeus just looked at her.
Jude rolled her eyes at the exchange, but didn't comment as Kai came marching up the stairs. Something that never ceased to amuse Jude. Why use the stairs when you can just fly? Kai sat on the edge of the bed where Jude had laid the man with the tattoo and started to murmur in a low voice. Jude could make out vague words but once she tried to focus on them they faded away into the incomprehensible music of Kai's chant. The Seraphim began to glow faintly. Reaching out she laid her hands on the man and warm golden glow rippled like waves over her arms down to his body. It pooled and flowed over him like liquid light. Kai's face was relaxed but filled with deep concentration, her mouth slightly open and her eyes shut. Slowly the iridescent light faded away, lingering in the places where he had been hurt the worst. Kai sighed and opened her eyes to looked up at Jude, giving her a little smile of satisfaction.
"Now what?" She whispered.
Dachend looked at Katt as she came over to him, she'd summoned her armor and her sword were at her side. "You got hold of Ryan?"
Katt nodded. "I'm still not too damn crazy about you going out there." he growled through his teeth. He had a real nasty feeling about these bloodsuckers.
Katt made a mock pouting face. "Hey, I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself"
Dachend cocked an eyebrow "since when?"
She jabbed him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, besides I got Tenris to take care of me, ne?"
"Okay Kitten. But remember that if you get in a fight with'em it's the head or the heart. Everything else is a waste of time"
"got'cha" she smiled and showed him the makeshift spring attachment with the wooden pole she'd strapped to her right forearm.
"Just be careful okay Kitten?" he said and hugged her tight.
"Awweee.. ain't it sweet--" started Dracho'xian, but a growl from Dachend silence the sword efficiently. Katt breathed in his scent "I will belshasta" she said and hugged him back. giving him a quick kiss, she walked back to the garage door. Dachend stood for a moment, then turned as he heard something rustle in the grass. He then saw Tenris appear from the darkness, the weretiger had his katana strapped to his back and was carrying a fully automated crossbow, loaded with wooden bolts. "Clear?"
"Clear!" answered Tenris.
"Good. Got the plan down pat?"
Tenris nodded. "We go to the Retreat and warn everyone there, then we go for the Shrine and stay with Ahlen and Lyta till you show up."
"Good" Dachend replied calmly, Dracho'xian taking form in his hand.
"Pardon me for asking sir Dachend, but what will you be doing since you are not coming with us?" Dachend looked out of the corner of his black eyes at the weretiger "I'll run a quick round about and see if I can find another of these blood suckers and convince its head to file a divorce against its body. oneway another I'll go by Jude, that is if I can remember where her supposed secret hideout is now."
After that there was a moment of silence between the two. "If you are waiting for a kiss, then fucking forget it crappusher" snarled Dachend, but with a good natured glint in his eye.
"Awwwee comeon," whined Dracho'xian and Tenris in unison, the weretiger taking no insult at the comment at his sexual orientation. Tenris then turned to leave
"Yes, Sir Dachend"
"I don't have to tell just how vicious I'll get at you if you let her get hurt in anyway."
"Your concern is noted and take my word that I'll die before a single vampire lays alone a hand on lady Kattarina."
"Just checking" replied the immortal, starting to walk away into the night. "Oh yeah, be careful yourself," added Tenris with a touch of dry humor. Dachend smiled as he looked over his shoulder, "You're forgetting who I am, it's night, this is my turf, my playground. It's them who need to be careful." Then he turned away again, "but keep that yellow tail of yours clear and in one piece 'kay" with that the immortal had disappeared in the darkness of the night.
"Thanks for coming, onee-sama," Ahlen greeted Kimiko at the door to the house.
"It was kind of short notice," Kimiko replied as she stepped in, "but Lyta was the one who insisted I come over tonight for dinner." She took in a whiff of air. "Mmm... smells good."
Ahlen led her into the kitchen area where Kokutan and Lyta were preparing the dinner. Lyta kept peeking under the lids, which got a reproachful look from Kokutan. "Let it simmer," the fox-demon said.
"Kimiko-san!" Lyta exclaimed and bounced over to the give the Chobetsu agent a quick hug. "Thanks for coming!"
"Yeah," Kimiko hugged back, "after what you said on the phone--"
"Ahem!" Lyta coughed, hoping Kimiko wouldn't discuss the details. She wanted Kimiko over so she and Ahlen could catch up on things and not make him feel sad about the anniversary of his sister's death.
Ahlen had an oblivious look on his face. For once, Lyta wasn't sure if he knew or not. Those little surprises were what drew her to him.
Kimiko pulled out a chair from the dining table. "So when's dinner going to--" and the lights suddenly went out. "--be ready?"
Kokutan's voice growled. "All that cooked food with no heat!"
Lyta cast a light spell and a little ball of luminance floated over her head. It was barely enough to light the room to half its normal brightness with the electricity. "Let me find a candle," she suggested and rummaged through the cabinets. Finding one, she set the wick on fire with a whisper of a fireball spell and passed it to Ahlen.
"Where's the electrical box, otouto?" Kimiko asked.
"In the basement. I hardly go down there, though."
"C'mon, show me. Let's see if we just tripped a fuse or something."
The two Souichi's stepped down to the basement. It was dark and the candle only gave a small radius of light around them. The basement was mostly empty, as the previous occupants left very little furniture down there to begin with. Ahlen and Lyta both enjoyed the fresh, open air, and so they never bothered to make use of the space. Ahlen took Kimiko around some drywall into a large den-like room. As they approached the corner, they discovered the electrical box had be torn open and its cover hanging by one hinge. Several of the fuses had been ripped out.
"What the hell?" Kimiko asked aloud. "Who did this?"
Suddenly, the little hairs on the back of Ahlen's neck stood on end. A shiver ran down his spine. He quickly spun around and peered around the empty room. Kimiko became alarmed. "What's wrong?"
Ahlen continued looking around. Finally, he spoke aloud. "Who's there? Show yourself!"
The wall in front of them shimmered ever so slightly until the form of a person became clear. Then the wall itself disappeared and it was replaced by the person itself. It was a woman but her face was hidden under a hood and her body covered with the cloak.
Kimiko widened her stance and raised her fists just to be ready. The figure lifted her head and pulled back the hood. Kimiko gasped. Except for the hair color, she was staring at a mirror.
The other Kimiko stared back. The first thing they noticed was her eyes. Instead of brown, they were a dull red, almost blood-like. Ahlen kept his gaze locked on hers but his mind was deceiving him. "Onee-sama?"
"Hello, Otouto," the other Kimiko said. "It's been a while."
Ahlen shook his head. "You're dead! I saw you die at the hands of Nurse Jones!"
The other Kimiko nodded. "I was dead, for a while. But, someone breathed life back into my body and I felt renewed!"
"I don't understand!" Ahlen shouted. "Who did this? How is it possible?!" So many questions ran through his head. It was impossible, his real sister died in a duel. He saw the katana slide through her stomach and out her back.
"If you want to meet him, I'd be happy to introduce you." She smiled. "Oh, you wouldn't believe the rewards I've reaped by him." Then, she turned her gaze to Kimiko. "So, you must be me, in this reality."
Kimiko said nothing, but kept her stance raised. Even though the other woman staring at her could be her identical twin, she had seen just as many strange things in Capow ever since she arrived. And the glow of the woman's red eyes could not be a good sign.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs and shouts of Lyta echoed the
basement."Ahlen? What's going on?" She and Kokutan turned around the doorway and stopped in their tracks when they saw the other Kimiko.
Kokutan, however, sensed a familiar scent. "Demon!" she hissed at the other Kimiko. Baring her claws, she launched herself. The other Kimiko flourished her cloak so her arms were more free to move. She grabbed Kokutan as she pounced and threw her back to where Lyta was standing. Lyta jumped out of the way, but Kokutan was thrown so hard, she smashed through the drywall.
Lyta wasted no time. She shouted, "Flare arrow!" and launched the magical fire attack at the woman. The other Kimiko raised her cloak and the fire magic bounced harmlessly off it and extinguished itself.
She snarled and at that instant, her fangs became visible. Ahlen gasped, unsure of what was going on. The other Kimiko drew her sword and with lightning speed, ran towards Lyta and was ready to slice her through.
Lyta had barely time to move as the blur came rushing towards her. She didn't react fast enough to cast another spell, draw her sword or just move. The blade came hurtling towards her neck when the clash of metal on metal parried Kimiko's sword away. Looking to her right, she saw Ahlen, Mizuno Heiwa mysteriously in his hands, blocking the fatal blow.
"My sword," the other Kimiko said. "I'll be wanting that back, now that I'm here."
Ahlen growled. "What are you? Monster that takes the shape of my dead sister! You'll pay for your disrespect!"
Kimiko knocked Lyta away so the two would have room to fight. Their swords glanced of the others at very high speeds, each blocking the others strikes and thrusts. "I'm much faster than I used to be," Kimiko remarked, starting a combination of strikes and cuts, forcing Ahlen back towards the wall. She feinted to Ahlen's left and went for his open right side, slashing him.
Ahlen pulled back his arm in pain. Kimiko smiled. "You were always a sucker for that move. I thought sensei told you a million times to keep your right flank guarded."
"How do you know that?!" Ahlen asked with disbelief.
"Because I'm your sister!" she roared and raised her sword.
"Hey you!" the real Kimiko yelled to the woman attacking Ahlen. She raised her gun and fired. The bullet zipped across the room and into the other Kimiko's chest. The cloaked woman staggered back a little and her face became enraged. The bullet wound in her chest closed up immediately.
"Ahlen!" Lyta yelled, trying to help Kokutan up from the big hole in the wall. "Let's get outside!" Seeing Kokutan was unconsciously and too heavy to lift, she decided to hurl some more fire magic at the cloaked woman to buy some time.
Kimiko had already moved to the stairs where Lyta was. She turned back and yelled, "Ahlen!"
The swordsman breathed deeply from the quick fight but his eyes were locked on the other Kimiko's red eyes. "What are you? Are you really her? What happened to you?"
"Give me my sword," she answered back.
Ahlen hefted Mizuno Heiwa up a little more. "Why do you want it so badly? This sword belonged to my sister and I guard it with my life. I won't give it to some demon like you."
"You don't get it, do you?" the other Kimiko yelled. "I am your sister! I was there at the cave when we fought Dr. Feelbad! I was there when Nurse Jones defeated me in combat! You held me as I lay dying in your arms and I told you to stop FeelBad."
Ahlen shook his head. "How could you know that?"
"Ahlen!" Lyta screamed again.
The momentary confusion gave the moment the other Kimiko needed. With lightning reflexes, she tried to snatch the blade away from Ahlen's hands. Instead, when she touched the hilt, a crackle of electricity jumped from the sword and knocked her back several feet.
"Dammit, it's already bonded with you!" she swore. "The only way I can get it back is if you willingly give it to me, otouto."
Lyta yelled, "Ahlen, don't listen to her! She's not your sister!"
The real Kimiko, angry at the inaction of everyone, ran over to the woman and tried to punch her in the face. The woman was extremely fast, and easily dodged it. When Kimiko tried to deliver another series of punches, the woman blocked each hit perfectly. Kimiko spun around and tried to kick her, but the woman ducked, her head missing Kimiko's foot by a hair. Then she shot up and grabbed Kimiko's leg and physically threw her into the wall.
The woman glanced at Lyta and a plan quickly formed in her mind.
She jumped over to Lyta and grabbed her by the throat. Spinning the girl around, she secured her arm around Lyta's chest so that her arms couldn't move and placed her sword at Lyta's neck.
"Lyta!" Ahlen yelled. Sister or no sister, nobody would threaten his love. He ran with his sword raised but stopped short when the other Kimiko threatened to sink the blade through.
Instead of backing up the stairs, the woman holding Lyta jumped up
several feet and back through the doorway, almost gliding backwards in a floating manner. Ahlen quickly checked on Kimiko who was slowly getting up, as well as Kokutan. Seeing they would be okay, he raced up the stairs. The front door was open and Ahlen raced out into the night air. At the centre of the stone yard by the bell, the woman claiming to be Kimiko held Lyta locked in her strong grasp.
"You will relinquish my sword," she ordered, "or I will kill your friend."
"Let her go!" Ahlen barked. "If you were really my sister, you wouldn't be doing this!"
"Oh, to hell with the past! I'm not the woman I used to be!"
Suddenly, a scream from behind her caught her attention. Katt raced up the steps, clad in her armor and her sword drawn. Her blade was at Kimiko's head level and was ready to behead the woman.
Kimiko shifted her captive to one hand, while she parried Katt's slice
with unexpected speed. At the same time, she twisted her own sword and knocked Katt's blade from hands. Katt stared back with disbelief. Kimiko took Lyta back into her forearm lock and the blade once again under her neck.
"Katt!" Ahlen yelled as he raced over. Tenris was bounding up the stairs as well but stopped beside the little elf.
"Ahlen, they're some sort of vampires!" Katt told him in a rushed breath.
"Vampires?" the woman scoffed. "That's an insult if I heard one! We're better than inferior vampires. We've evolved into a higher species; quicker, stronger, smarter." She added, "Deadlier."
"I'd like to see how deadly you'd be without your head," Katt snapped back.
"Enough!" Kimiko barked, turning so she and Lyta faced Ahlen.
"Otouto-chan, the only way you can get your friend back unharmed is if you come alone to the sewer entrance and give the sword to me, willingly." She put her mouth close to Lyta's ear. "Or else I can't guarantee her safety."
Before anyone could react, she withdrew the sword but smashed the end against the base of Lyta's neck, knocking her out. Sweeping her limp body in one arm, she leapt into the air, over Tenris and Katt and landed at the base of the shrine steps.
"LYTA!" Ahlen yelled and ran down the stairs. Halfway down, he lost
his footing and tumbled end over end. Katt and Tenris raced after him, helping him up at the bottom. Ahlen shrugged away their assistance, and the pain from falling and ran onto the grassy field. Lyta or the woman was nowhere to be seen.
Junsui found himself waking up and he started to try to remember what day it was when he realized that something wasn't normal. He kept his eyes closed, trying to feign sleep while he set about trying to identify what was different. First of all, this wasn't his bed. The air was dry and the sounds he heard sounded like he was somewhere big, and he could feel two presences close by.. Then he remembered the.. vampire?
He started awake and glanced quickly around, trying to determine where he was when his gaze landed on someone watching over him. "Wha--?" he began, but was silenced by the look of concern in her eyes as she lifted a hand to push back the hair that was laying over the left side of his face.
Her dark hair pooled on his chest as she leaned over him and quietly asked, "How do you feel?"
He started to sit up when she placed a hand on his chest, saying, "Ah. No stop that! You might still be hurt!" her stormy gray eyes had a worried look in them as another voice spoke. "Kai. I think he's fine."
She stopped in mid-push as Junsui looked over to see a slender form move into his field of view. Dark hazel eyes locked onto his as she calmly folded her arms over her chest. "Who are you? and what happened to you?" she asked in a calm voice that carried an undertone of promised violence if he gave the wrong answers.
Junsui gave a reassuring look to the person sitting next to him as he put his hand over hers and said, "Doumo. I'm fine now." as he sat up, he winced a little and grinned sheepishly at her. "..well, nearly." He then turned his attention to the person who had questioned him and gave a terse sigh as he organized his thoughts.
"I am Hayashi Junsui," he stated as he gave a small nod to her and a glance back at the person sitting next to him. "I was passing by this place and was attacked by something.. not human.. It toyed with me and intended to kill me, but it injured itself --that was the scream that you heard-- and I got away.
Kai slowly turned a delicate shade of pretty pink as she looked down to where he had gently placed his hand over hers. Behind her, Jude visibly relaxed upon hearing his explanation for his unexpected arrival and his previously battered state. Before the completion of his last sentence, her mind was already running through their rather limited options.. Having already underestimated someone in CAPOW once, she was thoroughly analyzing the situation and smiling bitterly to herself. Takeo tried for years to get me to think first, shoot second.. and now I finally get it, she mused. "So, what's this thing like? What are we up against?"
Already, Junsui had been neatly shuffled into the category of potential ally and Jude was formulating plans accordingly. With any luck he'd be able to distract this... thing, so she could pump a few HD slugs into it. After that there wouldn't be anything left of it to cause trouble. Actually, she thought, there probably wouldn't be even enough left of it to fill a baggie... Lovely things, HD bullets.
She listened intently as Junsui gave a thoughtful frown and said, "I can't tell you much.. All that I really noticed was that it had strength and speed that far exceeded the human norm.." With a curious look, he added, "Um-- may I ask who you two are?"
Kai, who's attention was on Junsui's hand holding hers, looked up to smile at him as she introduced herself. "Well, my name is Kai. I'm a Seraphim currently bound to the mortal plane." Nodding toward Jude, she continued, "..And that's Jude. She's a-- um..." Kai trailed off, unable to find anything to say.
Jude stepped in, effectively heading off any confusion. "I'm Jude, just Jude," she told him as she stepped forward. "Both Kai and I are new to Capow so it's natural that you haven't heard of either of us, although, I have heard of you from Dracho'xian.." She started to turn away while heading toward the door. "..speaking of which, getting ahold of him and his S.O.B. partner might not be a bad idea."
Her last statment was nearly unheard by Junsui, who had looked directly at Kai, trying to ascertain that what she said was true. He searched Kai's eyes with his own, finding no trace of guile, and getting drawn deeper in. He felt himself detach from the 'here and now' as he breathed, "Tennotsukai[Sky Messenger], ne? Sugoi...", giving her hand a light squeeze. The sound of Jude's footsteps shook him out of the semi-trance he had fallen into, when he finally comprehended what Jude intended. "Hey, if you're going out there, at least let me back you.." Junsui spoke, getting up and heading after Jude.
Jude half-turned to regard him through her bangs, saying, "Back me up?"
At Junsui's intent look, she simply shrugged and started heading down the stairs. "Fine, Just try not to get shot and stay out of my way." Junsui was trying to understand her attitude when Kai spoke up from behind him.
"Junsui-san, Jude doesn't mean to be rude..." Kai apologized. "She's just worried." A book appeared in her hands as she composed herself and stood up. "..Well, if she's going out then so am I."
Junsui looked in the direction that Jude had headed, and then back to Kai as she gave him a shy smile. "Jude may be able to handle herself, but I.. um.. need someone to give me time so I can get out the incantations." she started. "If you want, you could.. um..." Kai trailed off, looking at her feet with sudden interest.
Junsui smiled widely at Kai, knowing what she was about to ask. "Well," he started, still smiling. "since Jude doesn't seem to need my help, may I aid you instead?" He paused, noting the grin that appeared after he said that. "--And please, call me Jun."
Kai rushed up to him, saying, "Thank you Jun-san!" as she grabbed his hand and ran down the stairs after Jude. Enjoying the attention, Junsui laughed a little and kept pace.
When they arrived downstairs, Jude eyed the two of them and shrugged again.
"See if you can keep her out of trouble. Some of her spells pack quite a punch, so stay out of their way, but she needs protection while she chants. I'll see what I can do." Jude started turned, heading toward the door outside as she finished her briefing. "Dachend isn't at the garage, bet he's heading this way." Reaching the door, she looked back at Kai and Junsui. "You comin'?"
Junsui centered himself and looked over at Kai, then back at Jude.
"..Ready." Kai nodded.
"If you are." Junsui finished.
Jude gave Junsui the once-over, like she didn't entirely trust him, and then at Kai, who nodded once. "'Ch. I'm more than ready."
* * *
Jude blinked as Kai pushed past her and out the door, but she didn't argue as the Seraphim paused for a moment and then motioned a direction with one hand. The angel seemed to have a compass-sense to the vampire creatures Junsui had attempted to describe earlier. Kai shivered as she led them through the dark corridors of Capow's industrial district. "The air is so cold," sometimes she would whisper. "Why are they so angry?," as well. Junsui didn't know if Kai was aware she was saying them aloud. Part of him wondered if she would feel better holding his hand.
Kai lead them to fenced area where old cars lay and stopped. Her eyes were wide as if fear had taken them over. Jude was growing concerned and silently pulled the Seburo off her back and switched the safety. "What is it?" she hissed to the angel.
"I can feel it!" Kai whispered back, her voice infused with confused anxiety. "The emptiness....That's the lost souls! They are so hateful and angry!"
A footstep crunched on stones caught Jude's ear. She turned to the source and raised her weapon, but remained hidden in the deep shadows. A figure appeared behind a wrecked car. A girl was slumped over the person's shoulder. Jude squinted her eyes and scowled slightly. That person looked familiar. "Kimiko?" she called out.
Kimiko's head snapped up to the sound of her name. Jude noticed she wore sunglasses, which was very odd considering how dark it was. There was something else strange about her as well.
"Hey, you dye your hair or something? Who do you have there?"
"Jude-sama!" Kai yelped and pulled Jude back beside her. 'She's all _wrong_! DON'T go near her, onegai!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jude demanded, staring at the angel holding onto her sleeve. But before Kai could answer, Kimiko stepped back a little. Suddenly, two figures shimmered beside her. One was a tall, muscular man. The other Junsui recognized immediately. It was the creature that had attacked him earlier.
Kimiko removed her sunglasses, revealing unnatural yellow eyes. "Is he the one?" she said to Junsui's attacker. The other man licked his lips and growled. "Sho-sun", Kimiko said to the big man. "Take care of the other two. I'm sure they look quite delectable. Then, return to the lair."
The man named Sho-sun nodded. Kimiko jumped onto the wrecked car with one leap and disappeared into the darkness.
"I've no idea who you thought it was," Junsui remarked, "but somehow I don't think that was her. And the girl, I think that was Lyta, the shrine priestess from the park."
"It looks like she was kidnapping her," Jude noted with a sardonic calm.
"Anou...," Kai tugged on Jude's sleeve. The two vampires were quickly advancing on them.
Jude opened fire without hesitation while pulling the angel behind her while Junsui took up a position near her. The two vampires scattered from the gunfire, Sho-sun cartwheeling sideways with amazing grace. The other leapt away but closed in on Junsui. Glowing a sudden bright blue, Junsui created a blast of water, yelling "IIE!!" but the vampire leapt into the air so fast that all his blast did was disperse harmlessly. The vampire bore down on Junsui with that same speed and grace. A moment of indecision struck Junsui and he froze.
"ABUNAIII!" Kai screamed and slammed into Junsui, knocking them both out of the vampire's way. Junsui automatically tucked the slender angel underneath him and rolled into the relative safety of the shadows. Kai looked up at him with dark eyes that were frightened, but determined. He gave her a small grin as he watched her call Amadeus to her. Turning back to vampire that was leisurely stalking up to them he prepared to buy Kai all the time she needed.
Kai focused her energy as Amadeus raced to find an incantation that work on this very odd breed of vampire. She suppressed a grin at the words that flicked across the page.
"YOU WOULD HAVE TO FIND THE MOST DIFFICULT BREED OF VAMPIRE WOULDN'T YOU?...AH, FOUND IT."
A very small, vindictive smile flicked over the angel's full lips as she read over the spell--a very powerful 'return home' command that only worked on those souls that -should- have returned, but for one reason or another had not. Holding the book before her, letting the light wash over her, she began to chant.
Junsui hurled an array of needle-sharp shards of ice that buried themselves deeply in his would be attacker. He listened closely to the pitch of Kai's chanting voice. The martial artist couldn't even begin to understand the words that slipped from the angel's mouth, but he knew enough to fling himself to one side when her voice rang out clear and cold. A burning blue-black energy raced past him to cling to the vampire.
Junsui could just make out a whispering voice murmuring, "come home come home come home." He blinked as his attacker froze in mid-step, it's eyes wide with denial. That blue-black light condensed around the vampire that struggled against something it couldn't see. Junsui stared as the vampire sort of just melted down to nothing but a blue sphere that rose into the air and disappeared. What remained of the corpse crumbled into dust. He looked at the angel in shock.
Kai shrugged one shoulder and gave him a tired but cheeky grin, "I told him to go home."
"Just great Kai," yelped Jude as she came bounding over to them, Sho- sun hot on her heels, "now tell this one to go home too!!"
Junsui jerked Kai out the way of Sho-sun's sweeping claws as Jude fired at nearly point-blank range into the vampire-kit's shoulder. The water martial artist hurled another two handfuls of ice shards that the vampire neatly side stepped.
Jude swore with more intensity than she had been able to dredge up in four years as she rolled out of the way of Sho-sun's attack. Coming up on one knee she fired a steady stream of bullets at the vampire and swore with even greater invention. She checked the clip as she ran to protect Kai, at this rate she would be out of bullets and down to the Gong resting securely at her back. Coming up next to Junsui and infront of Kai, she blinked as Sho-sun came to a sudden stop on top of a car. Despite the wounds that both she and Junsui had given him the vampire looked ready and eager to take on all three of them. Jude felt her stomach clench, but instead of attacking Sho-sun gave them a slow, wicked smile and backed off. Jude and Junsui stared in unease. Kai whimpered. Sho-sun's grimace faded and he leapt back of the car and disappeared. The three stood silent but with a foreboding sense of anticipation.
* * *
Dachend knelt down and studied the ground, small traces of blood on the asphalt. dipping a finger in one of the still damp spots he took it to his lips and licked it off. the taste immediately sent alarm bells going off in his head. this was a vampire okay, but not like any he had ever tasted before, ever. this was something new, different and if he had to trust his gut and he did, dangerous. "It's vampire blood" he stated to Dracho'xians unspoken question and sneaked from shadow to shadow towards the warehouse.
If he remembered correctly this was the warehouse Jude lived in now. but he wasn't sure, she had changed homes as often this last weeks as Dachend usually changed cloth because of blood stains.
With the agility of a monkey he scaled the wall of the warehouse and slid across the roof, gently prying a roofwindow open, first checking for trouble, he then dropped into the warehouse. light was on, but silent as the grave. going from room to room silently, the monster hunter quickly checked the kids home. he found evidence of Jude having been there, along with one other. something lingering in the air, not evil, but he sure wasn't convinced it like it because of that. but there wasn't any signs of struggle and Dachend was pretty sure that if anybody tried to take out Jude, she'd leave a trace or two. something along the line of a smoking crater.
Picking up a phone Dachend dialed the number to the shrine, giving a silent sigh of relief when it was answered. standing for a long moment listening, the demon hunter then slammed the headset back on and ran towards the door. "god damn it!" the monster hunter cursed and sprinted down the street, all thought of stealth abandoned.
"I don't get any of this" whined Dracho'xian "what about you"?
"Haven't got a clue bud, but what fucking else is new. as long as they can die, I don't care" growled Dachend bouncing across a car. then the sound
Submachine gun fire rang out. "Hey that sounded like a Seboro!!" yelled Dracho'xian
"Jude" the two the agreeded, Dachend picked up his pace.
* * *
Jude looked at Junsui and Kai. Junsui looked quietly pensive and concerned. Kai's delicate face broadcast her exhaustion, she wasn't even fussing over her long black hair that had slipped out of it's myriad of braids and floated around her like loving silk tendrils. Jude raked a hand through her short curls.
"Well, what the fuck was that?" She demanded, using fury to mask her growing unease. Melding with her NAVI she could take, meeting a telepath in the wired she could take, she could even handle having an angel for a permanent houseguest, but for some reason having to deal with these.....blood suckers was making her skin crawl. Dammit.
Junsui looked up with a confused look at her demand and shrugged. "I would say that they were vampires."
Jude blinked at the unassuming but decidedly amused tone. Kai laid a gentle hand on Jude's arm, watching her with concerned gray eyes. She just shook her head and gave the angel a small smile to reassure her. Then she looked around the small alley and street that had been site of their recent battle. She nudged the small pile of ash that had been Junsui's original attacker, and watched in troubled silence as the dust swirled up and vanished in a sudden breeze.
Kai made a small sound of worry and Junsui frowned slightly in concern as they both watched an odd expression flicker over the lean girl's face. Then she looked up and it was gone as if it had never been there.
"Let's move. First rule of combat: If your enemies know where you are, don't be there."
* * *
"Are you sure he's gone?" Junsui asked nervously. "You want to stay around to find out?" Jude returned.
"He's gone," Kai affirmed, a bit less tense than before. She flexed the arm that Amadeus was in. "And I'm gonna make sure he doesn't show his face around us any time soon." "Then what in the world is that?" Junsui wanted to know, shakily pointing to an eerie glow that the shadow of a distant crate was giving off.
* * *
'He's gone,' Falora thought as the world rematerialized around her, not entirely certain whether she was relieved or disappointed. The "stench" was no longer unbarable, but enough of it remained to linger in the air for a few more hours. Technically, it wasn't actually a physical smell, but Falora had no idea how else to put the pervasive, nearly overwhelming sense of the demon that she had been feeling for the entire week. Not to mention that the fine-tuned balance of Capow that she had finally managed to bring to some semblance of equilibrium had been completely thrown out of whack by the demon's appearance. If Kami-sama hadn't called her and talked some sense into her, Falora would have charged after that demon the moment he stepped foot into Capow, even if she was now without a guardian angel.
Falora's stomach churned as the unmistakable odor of burnt flesh registered in her nostrils. A sudden loss of equilibrium hit her, signifying that someone had died. Her hand went to her mouth as she realized the manner in which the death had occurred. Her knees giving way, Falora curled up on the ground as her body reflected what her mind and soul felt.
"Excuse me," a voice greeted with a touch of sarcasm. Falora's head jerked up and she found herself staring up at a petite young woman with long black hair and a pair of equally immense white wings.
Wait a minute. Wings?
Falora's heart soared. "You must be the ones Kami-sama meant when he said I didn't have to be alone! Thank goodness!"
The angel blinked, her hand slightly lowering in conjunction. "Pardon?" The angel blinked again as Falora slowly allowed her deity markings to be visible, carefully making sure that she wasn't broadcasting her presence too far. "Falora, Goddess Second Class Limited, primary network maintenance personel for the Capow area." Falora smiled brightly and extended her hand. "Nice to meet you."
The angel's shoulders sagged visibly before taking Falora's hand. "Kai, Angel of Death, in training."
Two more people peeked around the corner. "Is it safe?" the young man with navy blue hair inquired in a half-whisper. Spotting Falora, he turned an interesting shade of red. "Oh."
"One false alarm after another," the brunette lady groused, and Falora gulped as the barrel of a rifle came into view. "People need to wear signs that say 'Don't mind me, I'm just an innocent bystander'."
The man chuckled. "That'd be about as believable as a sign that says 'there is no valuable treasure buried here'."
Kai shook her head, sighed, and muttered something to herself and was about to start introductions when she heard a voice in the distance that made all the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
"Hey! Anybody still alive over there?"
A deep, melodic voice sighed. "Dachend..."
"What? It's a valid question, isn't it?"
Jude was already running towards the source of the sound and waving at the approaching figures. "Dachend! Draco-x'ian! Over here!"
* * *
Anne's thrown rock bounced harmlessly off the monster's skull, with the overall effect of making said monster even angrier. It growled at Anne, but kept its distance from her shikigamis, who were doing a much more successful job at keeping it at bay.
"Why won't it go away?" Anne all but wailed.
"Maybe we're not asking nicely enough," Joseph suggested.
Anne backhanded Joseph in the skull. "That's not funny!"
"Ow," was Joseph's eloquent reply.
Anne sighed and sat back down, cupping her chin in her hands. "Where's Washuu-oneechan when you need her?" she wondered out loud. "She could figure out a way to beat this thing."
"Or at least call the ghost-busters," Joseph half-joked.
Anne gave Joseph the Look of Death. "Shut up."
"Yes, ma'am," Joseph chirped.
Two teens and three spirit guardians gulped nervously as five more monsters appeared from the entrance of the alley and began closing in. "You don't suppose this is a Bring Your Own Victim party, is it?" Joseph asked, warily eyeing the monsters, being careful to avoid their dark, empty gazes.
Anne facepalmed. "Joseph, can't you ever be serious?"
"Of course I'm serious." Joseph replied a bit defensively. "I'm just trying not to panic, that's all."
The monsters advanced even closer.
Joseph gulped again. "Okay, maybe panicking isn't such a bad idea after all."
"Hey." All monsters and humans looked up at the source of the terse greeting.
The monsters found themselves staring up at the barrel of a really, really, _really_ large weapon. Joseph and Anne recognized the wielder of the weapon as Samui.
"Smile, you're on candid camera," Samui deadpanned as she pulled the trigger.
Joseph facefaulted as an immense stake was launched out of the end of the weapon. The monsters scattered, but it was too late for one of them. The stake struck it fully in the chest and passed all the way through, leaving a trail of dark, oozing liquid in its wake. The monster roared in pain, collapsing to the ground. The other monsters made similar ear-splitting noises at Samui and began ascending the fire escape towards her. Samui waved at Joseph and Anne before retreating higher, firing all the way. The monsters didn't seem to be at all bothered by the fact that they were being showered by the projectiles and only chased faster.
They were about halfway up when a man appeared out of the first floor window with a flamethrower strapped to his back. Without any sort of greeting, he quite literally opened fire on the monsters. When the flames died down, all of them seemed to be unharmed.
"They've got some sort of fire resistant clothing on!" he shouted up to Samui.
"So much for plan B, then," Samui called back, her voice carrying easily despite the fact that she didn't sound like she was straining to project down several feet. "Fall back and get those two out of here."
"Right!" maneuvering slowly around the fire escape, the man began to descend. Meanwhile, half of the remaining monsters also followed suit.
"Watch out!" Anne cried out, wrenching her hands.
"I see them, I see them," the man replied, struggling with his cumbersome gear.
"Anne, what are you doing?" Joseph asked with some alarm as Anne began to chant.
"If that man doesn't get himself unstuck, he's going to be in danger!
I've got to help him!" as if guessing Joseph's next question, Anne answered it for him. "I can at least buy him some time!"
Samui leaned over the edge of the roof. "Joseph, Anne, please back up a bit. I might drop this thing, and I don't want to worry about it falling on you."
"What?" Anne began, but Joseph was already pulling her back.
Hefting the weapon over her shoulder, Samui pushed herself up so that she was balanced at the spot where the roof just began to drop off into the alley below.
And then she jumped.
Anne's jaw dropped. "Is she NUTS?!?"
"It's definitely the fastest way to get down..." Joseph pointed out.
The monsters seemed to be caught by surprise as well, giving Samui the perfect opportunity to fire at them as she fell. Reaching out, she grabbed the metal bars of the fire escape; everyone else winced visibly as Samui came to an abrupt stop, but she didn't make a sound. Swinging into the fire escape, Samui turned to blast the monster that had doubled back yet again to confront her. The final monster, probably realizing that the battle was lost, tried to make a similar leap for freedom.
The man was waiting for it.
"Can't hide under that cape now, can you?" he asked as he let loose a barrage of flames. The monster tried to twist out of the way, but Samui sealed its fate by throwing her entire weapon at it.
Anne turned her face away as the burning corpse slammed into the ground.
"Is everyone all right?" Samui asked, pulling herself to her feet.
"That's what I want to ask you," the man replied, taking off the flamethrower. "What were you thinking, pulling a stunt like that?"
"Perhaps I wasn't." Samui seemed to be ready to smile, but whatever trace of emotion turned icy cold as she spotted something.
"What?" the man wanted to know. "What is it?"
"Look," was her response as she pointed.
Joseph and Anne looked as well.
"Oh my God..."
The object in question was a green pool of light that seemed to extend from the ground up several meters into the air. It was not completely circular in shape, but closely resembled it. The light moved in different directions, like spots reflecting at the bottom of a swimming pool.
Joseph moved towards it, curiousity getting the better of his judgement. As he approached, he noticed how his reflection shimmered like a curved mirror in a funhouse. Sometimes it contorted inwards, other times, it moved outwards. Joseph reached his hand towards the mysterious light. He wondered if it was like floating water.
A hand firmly caught his wrist and pulled him back gently. Samui shook her head. "I wouldn't do that," she warned him with a little stern tone to her voice. If Samui was ever showed concern, this was one of those times.
"Why?" Joseph asked.
Samui's face was very serious. "Trust me." She turned to Talon and nodded for him to step aside with her, away from Joseph and Anne's ears.
"Is that what I think it is?" Talon asked. Samui nodded. Talon wiped his brow with worry. "It's a dimensional gap, huh? Man, what was it they said? 'The particles within that field of light are fluctuating in all sorts of directions that it could tear atoms apart?'"
Samui cautioned him, "This is supposed to be classified. No one is supposed to know what that is."
Talon looked worried. "Capow is destabilizing and we can't let them know because of bureaucratic red tape? That really sucks, you know that?" According to the latest scientific report, Capow, the nexus of dimensions, was breaking down. The process was going slowly because dimensional jumps were infrequent. They predicted major symptoms would not occur in another 10 years. Because STRA had assigned Samui to Capow, she knew this information. And so did Talon.
"If we're seeing this, now," Talon whispered, "then something is causing the process to accelerate."
"Or indirectly causing it," Samui corrected. "Even with accelerated growth, this threat is not important now. The vampires are."
Talon nodded but not because he completely agreed. He felt the destabilization was important, too. But the process was slow and irreversible. There was no point in fretting over spilt milk. The damage was done and they would have to deal with it another time. That time was not now.
Samui gripped her battered rifle tightly. "C'mon, Talon. We're getting sidetracked."
Talon looked back at the dimensional gap as it wavered. Samui went to collect Joseph and Anne. It was time to get back to vampire-hunting.
* * *
Jude couldn't help but crack a smirk as Dachend rounded the corner with Dracho'xian. There was nobody she felt safer fighting with than Dachend. His unpredictable but deadly style of combat would be a definite asset against the blood-suckers.
"What the fuck happened?" Dachend yelled as he got closer. "We heard your Seburo in the distance and came running as fast as we could. Now I see you just standing around like a bunch of pan-handlers."
"I'm glad to see you, too, Dachend," Jude replied dryly. "Look, we're in big trouble. There's--"
"Vampires," Dachend finished.
Jude blinked. "You know?"
"Hell ya. I've been tracking these undead assholes for a good portion of the day." Dachend eyed the others Jude was with. For the most part, he did not recognize most of them.
Feeling introductions were in order, Jude gave them their names.
"This is Kai," Jude pointed to the angel with the long black hair. The shorter man, she introduced as Junsui.
Falora spoke up for herself, knowing that she had only met Jude and the others a moment ago. "Falora, Goddess Second Class Limited," she greeted.
Dachend stared down at the girl who was barely up to his neck in height. "Goddess? You sure look puny for a goddess."
"Dachend!" Dracho'xian hissed with dismay. "Pleased to meet you, Falora. Please ignore Dachend's remarks. He can be a real bonehead about most of the time."
"Shut up," came the automatic reply. To Kai, Dachend looked at her with a scrutinizing eye. "What is that I sense..?"
Kai smiled proudly. "Angel of death in-training."
Dachend shook his head. "A mini-goddess and an angel of death. With the vampires around, you two should run along. This isn't for kids."
Kai frowned angrily. "Hey, I can take care of myself!"
Falora smiled cheerfully. "I know there's some bad things running around but I think I can help. At least, I want to help.. somehow."
"Bloody hell," Dachend mumbled, "bloody fucking hell." He sighed.
"I don't have time for playing babysitter so here's what I know. There's vampires running around Capow. If you two are angels and goddesses, I'm damn sure you can sense them, too." He went on to tell Jude, mostly, about his conversation with Katt on the phone at the shrine.
"So, we should head for the sewers?" Jude asked in anticipation for the next move.
"If that's where that evil-Kimiko told Ahlen to go, I'm sure they're lurking down there. Probably have some fucking lair or hive set up."
Falora shivered. "It's probably pretty dark, huh?" Dachend gave her a sort of glare. "That's okay," she said, forcing a little courage.
Dachend continued. "From what they told me on the phone, they're some sort of super-vampire. Faster and stronger."
"Tell me about it," Junsui piped in. "That Kimiko we saw certainly had an air of darkness around her. She felt evil!"
"Like I said before," Dachend noted, "all I care is that if they can fucking bleed, they can fucking die."
* * *
Kimiko stroked the cheek of unconscious Lyta. "Such a pretty girl," she remarked. "I can see why my brother loves her."
"Why not make her one of us?" Sho-sun suggested. "She could help us turn the boy."
"No," Kimiko disagreed. "She's my bargaining chip. I mustn't hurt her until he gives me back the sword." She paused. "Weren't you supposed to take care of some of the mortals we met earlier?"
"We lost Bryan," Sho-sun said candidly. "I felt a little drained and there were three of them."
"So?" Kimiko asked with a raised eyebrow. "You could have easily taken them all on. You have to stop thinking like a mortal. You have to let your instincts guide you."
"I'll finish them off in good time."
Kimiko smiled. "What did they tell you about playing with your food?"
Another man, cloaked in similar garb as them all appeared before Kimiko. He was skinnier than the other kindred, his hair betraying the signs of gray. He was definitely older than the young kindred Kimiko and Sho-sun had recruited.
"Doctor," Kimiko greeted. "What's your progress?"
"The machine isn't working quite up to expectations. I've tried calibrating it on the various settings you mentioned but the tests are all failing."
"Bah!" Kimiko spat. "I knew this would be a waste of time. Why bother with defunct technology.
When I regain my brother's sword, I can easily do what 50 years of research and development would require." She pulled out her own katana and held it up to her face, letting the dim light gleam off its blade. "Soon, you shall be reunited," she crooned to the blade.
"What should I do with the machinery?" the scientist-kindred asked.
"I dunno, keep working, I guess," Kimiko said back. "Maybe you'l get lucky."
Sho-sun looked concerned. "Mistress, what if your plan to regain the sword fails? We shouldn't be so casual about the technology if it has a chance of working."
"It won't fail!" Kimiko barked as if she were being criticized. "If you want to go over all the details with the doctor, fine. I don't care much for that avenue any longer." She stroked Lyta's cheek again to prove her point. The girl was beginning to stir, just slightly.
Sho-sun growled to the kindred-scientist. "Get that machine working!" He did not have to mention the consequences for failing.
The doctor nodded and left. Kimiko watched him go but didn't care if
he succeeded or not. Why bother with half-measures and what-ifs? Getting back her old sword was the only sure way to complete her task.
Kimiko got up and slung Lyta over her back again. "Is the collar secured on her?" she asked Sho-sun.
"Yes. It will prevent her from using her magical powers."
"Good. Her fire spells can wreak havoc. C'mon, I think otouto-chan should be close to the entrance by now."
Jude grinned at that comment. Dachend sounded -just- like her brother Takeo, at that thought her smile wavered for just a second before she shook away the lingering dread. She hefted her Seburo and switched ammo clips. She caught Dachend's raised eyebrow and gave him an evil smile.
"HD rounds. They're a hybrid of the HESH and the Delayed Fuse explosive rounds. Basically they have the stopping power of an HESH round, meaning they go in with a nice penny sized hole and come out with a hole roughly the size of a large pizza," Jude grinned at Dachend's raised eyebrow, "and they don't explode until after penetration. Nothing lives after getting hit with these. nothin'."
Dachend shook his head at Jude's pleased tone and smile faintly. The girl had a decidedly nasty streak. He liked it.
"Vicious ammo for a little girl to be totting around." He commented mildly.
Jude shrugged and grinned, 'Hey, a girl's gotta be prepared, ne?'
Kai cough slightly to get Jude's attention and Falora looked mildly ill at the idea of ammo that could leave a hole the size of a pizza in a body. Jude flicked a glance at the diminuitive Goddess and shook her head almost imperceiveably. Kai placed a protective hand on Falora's shoulder and shot Jude a look that read 'Don't Even.' Jude shrugged.
Junsui broke the tension with a typically mild-voiced question, "Are we going to head to the sewers or discuss the virtue of ammo all day?"
Dachend reached down and pulled up the nearest manhole, "After you, little boy."
Junsui scowled, but before he had a chance to answer Kai pointed to Dachend and annouced, 'You first. You're the immortal."
Dachend blinked and then glowered at the Seraphim, his distrust and suspicion leaking from evey pore. "How did you know that?"
Kai shrugged one slender shoulder. 'Like can tell like. You're immortal and I'm close to it. I could just sense it. The same way I can sense the Kindred."
Falora quietly spoke up, "Why do you call them the Kindred?"
Kai turned very serious eyes upon the Goddess, 'Because that is what they think of themselves. They believe that they are the new Kindred and have no need or call to God. I'm going to show them just how wrong they are."
Dachend groaned aloud. 'Just fuckin' great! Now we've got a fuckin' crusader! Just where do you find these people kid?"
Jude shrugged away the question and pointed to the sewers. "You going or not? I'd rather get this over as fast as possible."
The black-eyed immortal studied her with an unusual amount of seriousness before asking, 'What? You scared?" Under the reek of scorn was a faint note of concern.
Jude looked straight into those black-in-black eyes and stated flatly, 'I'd be a fuckin' idiot if I wasn't afraid. Fear is good, it keeps you from doing something stupid."
"Not always." was Junsui's soft interjection. "Not always."
Samui took the lead, walking in big, agressive strides. Talon had a feeling that if the rest of them hadn't been there, she could have outran the wind. Her eyes were sharp and focused, the expression on her face tight, and she grasped the strap of her bazooka like she was about to strangle it. Her entire body emanated barely contained cold fury that Talon was certain took every ounce of her self control to keep under tabs.
"Samui-san," Anne began uncertainly.
"Yes," Samui replied without looking back.
"Are you okay? You're starting to look really...well..." Anne scratched the back of his head.
"Scary," Joseph filled in for Anne.
Anne made an exasperated sound. "Joseph!"
Joseph glared back. "It's true!"
Samui slowed down enough to get a glance at herself in a passing window. "I suppose I do look a bit tense."
Talon shook his head. "Tense wouldn't even _begin_ to describe it."
Samui sighed, closing her eyes. "How do you expect me to feel after seeing what we saw?"
"It wasn't your fault," Talon pointed out. "You didn't know until it was too late."
Samui let out what sounded like a dry chuckle. "I'm not mad at myself. Thanks to you, I've gotten over making myself responsible for things I can't control." she opened her eyes again, the expression in them deadly serious. "What gets me is who--or what--is responsible for doing such a thing."
"Why do you think that there's somebody directing those monsters?" Anne wanted to know, shuddering slightly at the memory of the chase.
"Because everywhere we went, they were always one step ahead of us somehow. We were only able to find you guys because those things were out for food and not more victims. Every other group we've tried to track down so far has avoided us even though they don't seem to have any sort of long-range sensing abilities. That seems to point to some sort of a mastermind who can somehow see the bigger picture and direct his 'pawns' to the right places. And notice how the monsters reacted when we showed up: they neither fled to save their own lives nor banded together to protect one another. Perhaps whoever was in charge decided that they were expendable and left them to die in order to probe our abilities."
Talon went from mildly concerned to definitely worried. It was only at the two exremes of emotion that Samui would become more talkative, and he was certain that she was not at the positive end. 'It really means that much to her...' he mused. 'But then again, I shouldn't be surprised. She takes the sanctity of human life very seriously, and to her what happened back there must have been the worst possible violation.'
"Oh," said Joseph, his mind elsewhere. Namely, the dangerous vortex that they had seen hovering over the bodies of the Things That Were Trying To Eat Them. He had immediately recognized it both from what he had seen in Washuu-onee-chan's lab and from his experiences as a Hitchhiker, and in fact was going to "turn it off" before Samui stopped him. Joseph wasn't really sure of the theory behind how he could do it. When he asked Washuu-onee-san, she had gone on for hours about wave-particles, superstrings, and some guy named Heisenberg until his head spun. Ironically enough, it was Mihoshi who had inadvertently showed him how to handle destructive vortexes, but not before accidentally destroying some video tapes Washuu-onee-chan kept in her lab by unwittingly creating that vortex in the first place. Joseph hadn't thought Washuu-onee-chan could be angry until that day.
At any rate, Joseph very quickly came to the understanding that he and Anne would have to find some sort of excuse to go off on their own and deal with those vortices. But until that moment came, the secret stayed between the two of them. And Anne's shikigamis, but of course they wouldn't say anything.
The group reached the STRA's Information and Complaints Kiosk, the only portion of STRA headquarters that actually existed in Capow proper. Itsuko was already waiting for them, her grim visage echoing the sentiments of everyone else present.
"Any new information yet?" Samui asked as she reloaded her weapon.
"Unfortunately, no, but we _have_ managed to pick up some help." Itsuko nodded at someone in the back, and in walked a little girl in a red and white kimono, followed by a much taller masked figure in a robe. "Everyone, this is Miyu and her familiar, Larva."
"Konnichi wa," Miyu greeted softly. Her eyes fell on Joseph, and her eyebrow quirked. "You people have strange recruitment policies."
Joseph gulped, suddenly feeling rather nervous, and forced a smile back. "Oh, I'm not with these people, I'm just sort of following along."
"I see." Miyu looked around, her expression neutral. "The aura here is indeed strange." she cocked her head to look up at Larva. "What do you think, Larva, could it be Shinma?" A pale hand reached out of the robe and stroked Miyu on the cheek. "Hm, yes, that's true. I suppose we'll have to see for ourselves."
Samui gave her belongings one more check before turning to the rest of the group. "Joseph, Anne, are you sure you don't want to stay somewhere safe?"
Anne shook her head. "Not when I can still fight." Behind her, her shikigamis voiced their agreement. Besides, there was something really weird about that Miyu girl that Anne couldn't quite place, and Anne didn't think that leaving Samui and Talon with Miyu was a good idea.
"Yeah, what Anne said." Joseph had similar thoughts, and in addition it was probably easier to slip away from the group while they were on the move than if they were being babysat by the STRA. And another thing occurred to him. "And I'm really worried about Falora. I haven't seen her since this whole mess started."
"Falora?" Talon repeated blankly.
"She's an exchange student from Norway, and we're her host family," Anne answered. Or at least that was Falora's identity to everyone else. When Anne tried to ask Falora about it when the papers had arrived, Falora only shrugged and said that the Ultimate Force works in strange ways, whatever that was supposed to mean. At any rate, Falora looked and acted sufficiently foreign for the cover story to make sense.
"I think I've seen her here or there." Samui picked up the bazooka and once again bore it over her shoulders. "Let's go, then."
* * *
Falora stepped gingerly, dismayed at the filth she was walking over. "Why do the bad guys always pick the yuckiest places as their hideouts?" she wondered out loud.
Dachend snorted. "This ain't fucking _nothing_ compared to some of the places I've seen, little girl. The worst thing you'll find down here other than those damnable vampires are the mutant goldfish people flush down their toilets."
"That's terrible!" Falora exclaimed. "Those poor goldfish! Just because their owners didn't want to take care of them any more didn't mean that they could be thrown away like that!"
Even Dracho-x'ian sweatdropped. "I think Dachend was joking about the goldfish part, miss."
"Oh," Falora said a bit sheepishly. She flashed the sword a bright grin. "By the way, you can just call me Falora-chan. Everybody does."
'Kami-sama, what in the world is a rookie like her doing in a place like this?!?' Kai all but screamed at her employer.
That 'rookie' is a lot more experienced that you think. You don't yet know enough of her to judge.
If you're really that worried about her, then watch over her. I certainly am.
Dachend peered into the darkness, beyond the range of Kai's light spell. "I hate to break up this touching moment, but I think we're about to run into the welcoming committee."
Jude unlatched the saftey of her Seburo. "Good. I look forward to it."
"Don't use up all your wonderful ammo," Junsui finally piped up with a touch of sarcasm. "It won't be of any use if you don' have any left by the time we get through to whoever--or whatever--is responsible."
"I know that without you telling me," Jude answered, mentally raising an eyebrow. So the kid had some spine after all.
Kai began flipping through Amadeus again. "I suppose the sword is still no dice..." she muttered.
If the book could smile, it would have been flashing a 100-watt smirk right then. "YUP. SORRY."
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Dachend wanted to know as Falora pulled what looked like a frying pan out of a subspace pocket. "This is no time for little kids to screw around."
"I'm fourteen years old," Falora informed Dachend proudly. "And Kami-sama trusted me enough to make me a Helper Goddess."
Dachend scowled. "That doesn't mean shit to me, but if you want to die, then I can't stop you. Just stay the hell out of my way."
The entrance to the sewers loomed ahead as Talon, Samui, Joseph, Anne and her shikigami's approached.
"Are you sure they're in there?" Joseph asked tugging his collar. Trudging through raw sewage wasn't something he was going to enjoy.
"That's what Itsuko said, according to their scans," Talon replied to Joseph's dismay.
"Oh, how original," the 11-year old quipped. "Umm.. does it worry anyone that Miyu and her tall friend are missing?"
"They're around," Samui said softly. She was aware Miyu and Larva had disappeared shortly after leaving the kiosk. Samui had other things on her mind to worry about that.
"Do we really have to go down there?" Joseph complained. "I'd rather not have to take a week's worth of showering--"
"Shh!" Samui shushed them. Joseph moved in front of Anne and the shikigami's surrounded her. Talon extended his fighting staff. Samui cocked her bazooka ready.
Footsteps faintly heard not from the sewer entrance but from the pathopposite the one Samui's group had taken. Talon tensed up. The vampires would hardly make their approach so noticeable.
Talon's instincts were correct as Ahlen came into view. He was running hard but his face was hardly sweating. He stopped short of the entrance when he saw the heavily armed group. "Uh?" he groaned in a confused way. It was definitely not what he was expecting.
Talon let his muscles relax and Samui put the bazooka down. Joseph remained unmoving and had to be pushed out of Anne's way before he would ease up.
"What are you doing here?" Samui asked sharply.
"Onee-sama!" Ahlen gasped. "Where is she?!"
"Onee-sama?" asked Talon.
Ahlen wiped his face. "She took Lyta!"
"I think you should start explaining from the beginning."
* * *
Inside the sewers, Dachend scanned the dark passageway for the group of vampires he was sure were coming. The two kids behind him had finally shut up and Jude cocked her seburo.
"I thought I told Ahlen to come alone," a voice from the darkness said. Kimiko shimmered into view and she flourished her cloak around her body. "Oh, if it isn't the other humans I ran into from before. How interesting."
"Interesting my ass, bitch," Dachend spat. "So you're the cause of this whole fucking mess."
"I'm going to give you a chance to live just a little longer if you withdraw. I'm too busy to play with you." Kimiko folded her arms across her chest.
Dachend let out a hearty laugh. "What's the matter, bitch? Not so hot now that you're outnumbered? You wouldn't offer a deal if you didn't think you could beat us. Admit it. I'm going to slice your fucking head off your shoulders and you know it."
Kimiko stared back. "I see. So that's your answer."
Jude became increasingly impatient. All this standing around and exchanging meaningless banter. All she needed to do was get a clean shot at the vampire and it'd be done.
"Yeaaaaaaarghhh!!!!!" Jude yelled as she leaped from behind Dachend and pulled the trigger.
Bullets flew out with rapid speed but Kimiko was even faster. She ran upwards along one of the walls with such speed that she touched the ceiling with her feet, flipped backwards and launched herself at Jude. Her momentum carried them both to the other side of the passageway and Kimiko smashed Jude against the wall. Jude fell to the floor, clutching her ribs.
An agonized scream splintered the uneasy silence that hung in the blood-tainted air. Jude drew in a shuddering breath that was perilously close to a sob as Kimiko lifted her easily from the floor. The vampyre dug her claws deeper into Jude's shoulder, making the fiery waves of pain the center of Jude's world. She could feel the deep welling blood trickle down her back, soaking the light fabric of her tank top and drip down her leg to land with fat plopping sounds on the concrete. The pain dominated her every thought, but it was nothing compared to the absolute terror that washed over her when she looked into Kimiko?s brilliant, too brilliant eyes.
"Silly little girl, trying to defy me," Kimiko purred "Whatever were you thinking?"
Fresh waves of sickening, deadening pain washed over Jude as Kimiko tightened her grip. Jude whimpered as the world turned hazy. The vampyre lazily laughed at the sound and casually drew her finger along the graceful line of Jude's neck.
"You smell so interesting, little girl. I wonder how you would taste, hmm?"
Kimiko laughed again at the low mewling sound of terror that escaped from Jude's lips. She brought the slender girl into a crushing embrace and inhaled the scent that had intrigued her from the moment that she had first seen the wild-eyed girl. It was wonderfully human with all of its sensuousness, but underneath that was a current of something else, a power that lurked just beyond the vampyre's ability to define. *How fascinating,* Kimiko mused.
Jude whimpered as she felt Kimiko?s hot breath dance across her neck. Her mind was running frantic little circles trying to find a way to keep Kimiko at bay. *Please God, oh shit, oh please, anything but this. ANYTHING. God, please* A formless prayer sprang unbidden from her mind. *please God. Anything, anything, but this, please?.* She could feel Kimiko's lips against her neck and struggled to keep from sobbing out loud. Kimiko's grip was too tight, she couldn't fight back. All she could do was whimper. The sheer amount of fear pounding through her mind and body awoke something deep inside her. It looked at the situation, and it smiled.
Kimiko frowned and pulled back from Jude. The lovely scent of absolute terror was no longer coming off the girl in waves; instead a deep calm had settled over her captive. Kimiko pulled Jude's head back by her short auburn hair and glared down into those swirling hazel eyes, trying to pound the girl back into submissive terror. But Jude did the unexpected. She smiled.
"Hello Kimiko, daughter of the Kindred."
Kimiko snarled down at the girl who now lay calmly in her embrace. The voice the girl had spoken in was lower, huskier, more seductive than the voice the vampyre had heard before. *Terror must have snapped the weak human's mind.*
"Do you know what I am?"
"A human, meat, is all you are, little girl."
At that Jude laughed. It was a low musical sound that had Kimiko"s eyebrows raising.
"Ah, yes, well sort of."
If the girl was stalling for time she was doing a fascinating job of it. Despite herself, Kimiko was curious. Her expression must have betrayed it because smiled that slow seductive smile again.
"I am a descendent of Lilith." Jude laughed again. "Drink my blood and go insane."
Kimiko sneered at the girl. "An amusing but silly bluff, little one. What happens if I call it?"
Jude, as well as she was able, merely shrugged. "Try it. I can do nothing to stop you. My body is, after all, only human. But my blood, vampyre, the blood of first demoness will drive you mad. _That_ I can swear to you."
Kimiko looked into those swirling pools of color that were her captive's eyes and wondered if the girl was speaking the truth, or had gone insane. Her reverie was broken as a door slammed open and Kai came skidding into the room. The Seraphim's wings were fully extended and in her hands Amadeus lay open. Furious gray eyes locked onto Kimiko?s red ones.
"Give her back."
The angel's normally soft voice was rock hard and so cold it seemed as if it could stab through Kimiko with daggers of sheer ice. The vampyre merely arched one eyebrow at the Seraphim and raised Jude an arm length in front of her. Once again holding Jude by one shoulder, digging her claws through the slim girl, eliciting a delightful whimper of pain, the vampyre coolly addressed Kai.
"You mean this little one? I think I like her. I may even keep her as one of my own."
Kimiko smiled at the angel's fury and then drew Jude in front of her, holding her in a deceptive embrace.
"Seraphim, attack me and the girl dies." Kimiko slowly smiled a wicked smiled and cupped Jude's throat. "I'll rip her throat out before you can move."
Jude looked at Kai. "It's alright Kai. It's alright. All she can do is kill me."
Jude left the unspoken but universally understood alternative hanging in the tension- laden air. Death was better than the alternative. So much better.
Kai snarled in fury and helplessness. It had been a long time since she had felt this type of fury. A very, very long time, so long that she had almost forgotten she was capable of this type of bloodlust, but she wanted this vampyre dead. Beyond dead, she wanted this vampyre unmade like she had never existed. Behind her Dachend made a sound of equal frustration. Dachend! Dachend had a sword, if she had a sword she could get to Jude. If she had a sword?
Jude felt herself start to check in and out of consciousness. *Shit, I've lost too much blood, way too much blood.* Between the holes that Kimiko was ripping into her shoulder and the wounds that she had received earlier she had lost too much blood. But there was something hammering inside her head, demanding recognition, demanding life. *My supposed ancestry, that was just a bluff, wasn't it? Wasn't it?* The blood pounding in heavily in her ears and she could feel each oozing drop of blood as it dripped from the ragged wounds. The darkness was seeping around her periphery vision, dripping into her gaze, obscuring Kai, her angel Kai. *But angels don't exist. Praying is just pounding on a door and no one is on the other side. There are no angels. There is only blood and darkness.* Blood running from her, darkness threatening to drown her. *There are no angels here.* The night lurking in the periphery rose up like an endless wave and crashed over Jude, dragging her under. In that endless sea of interior night a pair of pale arms reached up to enfold her. Cradled in pale white arms, enveloped by a pair of pitch wings, Jude heard a whisper soft voice murmur.
"My Jude, my daughter."
Kai screamed a denial as she watched Jude finally sag limp in Kimiko?s grasp. Before Dachend could move, before Kimiko could register it, Kai ripped Dracho? xian from Dachend's grasp and launched herself at the vampyre. Ignoring the excruciating pain that immediately ripped through her slender arms, she flipped Dracho'xian around to hold him as she would her broadsword. One hand wrapped around the hilt and the other balanced on the hilt she used her God-given speed to charge Kimiko before the vampyre was able to drag Jude around to use as a shield. Kai snapped Dracho'xian down in a arching line that ripped through the vampyre's shoulder, causing her to scream in pain and drop Jude in a crumpled, seemingly boneless heap. Kai easily shifted the direction of swing and blocked Kimiko's return strike. The pain from touching the demon sword was causing her to tremble, badly. But she stood between Kimiko and Jude in defiance despite the pain and the knowledge that she was far, far outmatched.
"Angel" Kimiko hissed the word, "I'll rip your throat out for that."
Her claws shot out faster than Kai's pain wracked body could register. Kai's neck truly would have been a gapping hole if Dachend hadn't caught Kimiko's arm before those vicious claws made it. Not bothering to look at the angel he jerked his sword from her shaking hands and gave Kimiko as slow evil grin.
"Kimiko-sama!" a heavy-set voice called out to the kindred from the dark end of the tunnel. Sho-sun appeared as he walked towards the dim light. Lyta was slumped over his back with her arms and feet bound and a strange looking collar around her neck. She showed no signs of being awake.
Sho-sun dropped the girl on the ground and pulled out two swords from behind his back. One was short and unremarkable. The second resembled a long saber with a serrated edge. He held the long sword in his right hand, the short sword in his left, closer to his body for defense.
"I will take care of these two," he said simply.
Kimiko observed Dachend and Kai. She could easily take them both but she had more important issues to deal with -- such as Ahlen's sword. She nodded and put her katana away.
"Come back here you chicken shit!" Dachend roared, feeling cheated out of a fight. "You fucking coward!" He hoped Kimiko would respond out of pride or anger. She didn't.
Dachend cursed and ran after the kindred. The big Sho-sun got between the two. "Where are you going?" Sho-sun asked. "I'm your opponent now, mortal."
Dachend grinned. "Jokes on you, asshole. I ain't no mortal."
The thick eyebrow over Sho-sun's eye raised. "Immortal? Ah, this should be interesting. It's a shame you aren't kindred, like us. Then you would be of the true blood."
Dachend spat on the ground. "True blood? I'd rather be the shit on the end of a bug's ass than one of you."
The two combatants began a little circle. The fight was on and there was no stopping now.
* * *
Ahlen, Samui, Talon, Joseph, Anne and her shikigami's stepped through the sewer corridors in loose formation. After Ahlen had explained about Kimiko and the Kindred, Samui told him he should stick with the group instead of going off alone. They had not strayed far from the sewer entrance when Kimiko appeared ahead of them.
"I told you to wait at the opening, Otouto," Kimiko chided. "And I
also told you to come alone.
You've been disobedient again." She sighed. "You were always so disobedient as a child. Remember when you were six and you told mother that you were going out to the briar patch to look for strawberries?"
"Yes, I rememember. I went skateboarding over the little ravine, instead."
"And when you broke your wrist on a fall, I told mother that we were playing around in the forest," Kimiko continued.
Ahlen let a little smile parse his lips. "You didn't let me hear the end of it for two weeks. And I had to do all your chores or you'd tell mom."
Talon coughed noticeably. Kimiko turned her gaze to the newcomers with Ahlen. "Who are you people?"
"My name is Namida Samui, STRA agent," Samui introduced herself with as much coldness and seriousness in her voice.
"STRA?" Kimiko repeated. "The dimensional police? I've heard of you people. Regular folks would never believe in such a thing as STRA but I've been told you exist."
"You're in violation of STRA lawcode 184.108.40.206," Samui answered back. "Release the girl and surrender yourself or you will die."
Kimiko turned back to Ahlen. "You have very bold friends, Otouto. And they even brought children along. How much more stupid can you get?"
"Dammit, give me back Lyta!" Ahlen yelled impatiently. "I came here like you wanted! Let her go!"
Kimiko unslung Lyta from her shoulder and held her unconscious body close to her own. She put her arm around the girl's neck, threatening to snap it. "You know what our deal was. You are to relinquish your sword to me, then you can have her."
Ahlen tensed up. "If you hurt her--"
"You'll what?" Kimiko barked. "You'll kill me? You'd kill your 'onee-sama'? Are you willing to risk everything on the one you love so much? Are you prepared for such a gambit. And even if you avenge her death and kill me, what then? How will you live with yourself for the rest of your life?"
"Goddammit!" Ahlen yelled back. "You're not my sister, you're a monster using her body!"
"Believe what you want," Kimiko replied, "but I know deep down you believe it's me. I know you think I've been corrupted in some way. I suppose to you it is corruption. But to me, it's redemption. I've been resurrected with new life."
Samui hoisted up the bazooka and it caught the kindred's attention. "I wouldn't. First of all, you'd kill Lyta too. And the whole sewer corridor would probably come crashing down on your heads."
The STRA agent didn't say anything but she did not lower her weapon, either. Instead, she kept a steady finger on the trigger and an eye through the targeting recticle.
When Kimiko saw she wasn't going to do anything, yet, she decided to finish it. An explosive projectile didn't concern her too much. She could clear it with a burst of speed. But, first, the sword. "Ahlen Souichi! Give up the sword or Lyta dies."
"Fine," Ahlen complied sullenly and pulled out the sword from the sheath. The katana's blade gleamed a brilliant luster shine, as always.
"Repeat these words," Kimiko instructed. "'Vene venedil ul kestra Lifanar. Torand ut venedil ul sorto Lifanar. Now the bond is broken. I release you.'"
Ahlen repeated the strange words.
"Good," Kimiko commented with a gleam in her eye. "Now, throw the sword over here."
"Don't do it!" Talon told him. "I don't know what she's going to do but don't!"
Kimiko tightened her grip on Lyta's neck. "THROW IT!"
"Ahlen.." Talon warned.
The young swordsman opened his mouth and screamed as he launched the sword like a spear right toward Kimiko's head. The speed and quickness of it surprised the kindred. She dropped Lyta, leaned to one side and grabbed it in midair by the blade just as it flew by. Blood trickled down her wrist and onto the floor.
"That was very stupid of you, Otouto."
"I don't care!" Ahlen yelled. Until he could get Lyta to safety, he had to do whatever Kimiko wanted. After that, he would fight her in any way he could. "Let Lyta go!"
Kimiko stepped away from Lyta's body. "As you wish. You see, I still keep my promises. Just as you know I would."
Talon glanced over to Samui. She was still silent but he knew she could pull that trigger any moment. It was definitely crazy but seeing how fiercely Samui reacted to the whole Kindred mess, he didn't know if she was going to call.
"What are you planning?" Talon demanded of the kindred.
"Do you think I'm stupid? This isn't a movie and I don't have to reveal my plans. You'll know them as they unfold. But, I suppose if you're wondering.." Kimiko held out her own katana in her right hand. "This is the Rahimval, the sword of death." She held out Ahlen's sword. "This one has many names. But it's true name is Lifanar, the sword of life."
"Sword of life.. sword death?" Talon repeated the names. "Life.. death.." His eyes went wide. "No.."
Kimiko smiled sweetly.
The fight between Dachend and Sho-sun was getting more intense by the second. Dracho'xian had formed into two swords similar to Sho-sun's and the battle seemed to be pretty much even. The both of them had no emotion on either of their faces, emotions showing only in their sword-work.
Neither paid any attention to him. For that matter, neither had Kai, all her attention set on the fight and Kimiko. A rueful smile crossed his face as he held Jude as he half sat- half leaned against the wall, trying to find the extent of her injuries. "..Think you are not there.. Convince yourself that you're not there.. Everyone else will believe that you're not there..." It was what they were told during training, and he never imagined that it would be this effective. A hand was on her injured shoulder, fingers over the wounds where Kimiko had sunk her fingernails in, trying to stop the blood loss. His other hand was supporting her ribs, in an attempt to keep the broken ones from puncturing her lungs.
He had managed to stop nearly all the bleeding from her shoulder, but her ribs were another story.
"Kai!" he called, trying to get her attention. "Kai!"
It seemed that she couldn't hear him over the sound of blades impacting against one another, too loud for his voice to reach her.
Setting himself to keep from moving, his eyes glowed faintly blue as he spun water from the sewer into a small ball and with a toss of his head, sent it flying at Kai's back.
When it hit, she turned with a snarl, the hilt of some sword starting to fade into her hands, but all trace of expression left her eyes as she saw who had done it.
"I can't help her." he mouthed, hoping she got his intention.
In a flash, she was opposite him, Jude between them.
"I've almost stopped the bleeding from her shoulder, but I can't set her ribs," he told her. "You're the only one that can do that here."
The ringing of steel on steel intensified, as the fighters began trading strike after strike, silvery trails showing where there weapons had been as they began to dance even faster.
Amodeus appeared in her hands as she opened the book. "Amodeus," she said, "We've got to help her."
"TRY THIS ONE. IT SHOULD SET THE BONE AND GIVE HER SOME MEASURE OF STRENGTH, BUT THERE IS SOME OTHER TYPE OF ENERGY AROUND HER ALREADY."
"That'd be me." Junsui said, looking over at Dachend and Sho-sun.
The eyes of the book looked up at him from the page in slight astonishment. "A WATER BORN? WELL, HE'LL HAVE TO BE INVOLVED AS WELL, SINCE HIS ENERGY WAS EXERTED FIRST. USE THIS SPELL, BUT MAKE SURE YOU'RE IN CONTACT WITH HIM."
Kai flicked him a curious look through her stone-gray eyes that still held more than a little bit of steel. Despite the injuring of her friend, a large part of her was still focused on getting to Kimiko.
Then she looked back down to the book and started to read.
Kai finished the spell, fighting the urge to sprawl into an exhausted heap. Kimiko had disappeared into the darkness ages ago, but more Kindred kept lurching into view to take her place.
"Well, that's about all I can do for her," Kai let out the breath that she had been holding. "Do you think you can get her somewhere safe?"
Junsui looked around at the Kindred, who so far were only interested in standing guard. "Unless we can get past those things, nope."
Kai growled. Damn the Kindred. Or at least that's what Kai wanted to do. Her wings itched something awful, but that was nothing compared to the nearly infinite sense of helplessness and failure that she felt everytime she thought of Jude. And the thoughts, for Kai, were assaulting a nearly continuous stream, most of which culminating to one.
'I failed her.'
Dachend and Sho had fought themselves to a standstill now, but neither one appeared to be tired or ready to quit. Falora was defending her quite well, giving any Kindred that happened to be within striking distance a powerful headache via an impressive whallop with her frying pan. And now Junsui was throwing himself into the battle as well, using an odd combination of martial arts and water manipulation to keep the Kindred at bay. Kai alone was useless, having no weapon and not enough time to chant anything from Amadeus that would do more than give the Kindred a slight sting. She had been able to summon some sembalance of her sword, but she needed a much more powerful version of it to be able to fight off the Kindred.
It was at times like this that Kai battled doubt. Surely Kami-sama was all-knowing, all-able, and all-loving; yet all she could see was a city being terrorized by monsters, a kidnapped girl, and Jude lying unconscious on the ground.
"Help me, please." Kai looked up at the grungy ceiling, trying to reach the expanse of infinity that surrounded them. "Kami-sama, I'm begging you..."
She didn't have to wait long for an answer.
Kai felt the familiar fire stir within her, and her heart skipped a beat as she saw the elaborate hilt form in her hand.
"Thank you," she whispered, drawing forth her sword.
Some of the Kindred, sensing the force of Heavenly Wrath, decided that retreat had suddenly become the most attractive option. The slower ones found themselves impaled on Kai's blade, their connection to the mortal world quickly severed thereafter. Kai gave chase, taking to the air with her wings, Amadeus lagging behind reminding her to take it easy.
* * *
The Kindred were nothing like the demons that Falora had run into before. "Normal" agents of Hell were full of hatred so strong that not even Kami-sama's love affected them in any way other than making them yet more determined to oppose Him. However, as Falora encountered them time and again, she discovered that demons also had a nearly insatiable sense of want that drove all of their actions even more intensely than their hatred.
The Kindred, on the other hand, were...empty. They possessed neither the destructively self-centered pull that the demons manifested nor the overflowing warmth that heavenly beings exuberated, nor the various in-between auras that humans displayed. The Kindred were completely neutral, and that confused her to no end. She had arrived looking for the demon whose energy waves were so obnoxious she'd start breaking out in hives if she were allergic, but instead she runs across these...things, whatever they were. No matter how hard Falora tried to think it out, it just wouldn't make sense.
The incongruity of it all still tugged at the edges of Falora's mind, but she relegated it to the backburners for now, having found herself in the middle of her first real battle in Capow. The Kindred were not only superior in every aspect of fighting, they were incredibly well coordinated. The only thing that kept Falora from being swamped was Kami-sama's protection. They seemed to understand that the marking on her face signified something much more than a strange new fashion sense, and they maintained a respectable distance, excepting when the spatial limitations of the sewer brought them within striking range. Between all of the running and swatting, Falora dimly wondered if they were being herded towards something.
That was about when Kami-sama granted Kai THE sword, and the tide of battle turned towards their favor for the first time.
"After them!" Kai cried as the Kindred scattered, her powerful wings lifting her into the air. Falora followed, on foot, not noticing that the Kindred still remained relatively organized despite their apparent panic.
"Hey, wait!" Junsui called, throwing more water onto the Kindred. "What about Jude?"
"I TOLD YOU TO TAKE IT EASY," Amadeus said as Kai came to a screeching stop, and all of the Kindred save Sho vanished once more.
"Oh, be quiet," Kai muttered, descending lightly next to Junsui.
"Now what?" Falora wanted to know, keeping her Frying Pan ready just in
case any stray Kindred decided to show up, and eyeing Dachend and Sho nervously.
Kai brandished her sword fiercely, having approximately the same idea. "We hope that Dachend wins."
* * *
"Life and death..." Talon's eyes widened. "No!"
Kimiko grinned. "Yes."
"Question," Joseph piped up. "Are you planning to take over and/or destroy the universe?"
"Joseph!" Anne exclaimed, dismayed. "At a time like this...!"
"What?" Joseph asked back defensively. "We have a right to know, don't we?"
"You don't have a 'right' to anything," Kimiko corrected.
"That's true," a new voice agreed.
Everyone froze as the sound of a young child's giggles filled the air.
"What the--?!?" Kimiko managed to spit out. Looking around for any signs of danger, she backed away slowly, only to be grabbed by a pair of pale yet powerful arms. She cried out as the nails dug into her skin, but kept a tight grip on the swords in her hands.
A girl in her early teens descended out of apparently nowhere, the ribbons in her hair and wrapped around her ankle rippling even though no breeze could be felt. She held out her right hand, and a small flame lit up. Kimiko tensed and tried to struggle away, but the arms holding her were tight and unyielding. The flame condensed at the tip of the girl's index finger, and she touched it along Kimiko's forehead. Kimiko flinched violently, then blinked as the flame left no effect.
"Hm. Not Shinma." the girl reached into Kimiko's mouth and probed her canines with her thumb. "Not quite vampire, either." she stepped back and looked pensive. "I think I'm beginning to understand now."
Kimiko was the first to come back to her senses. "Who the _hell_ do you think you are?" she demanded angrily.
The girl smiled. "That's a strange question coming from one such as yourself. But I shall answer anyway..." she tucked a stray hair behind her ear, "some call me Miyu."
Kimiko blanched--quite a feat considering that she was already deathly
pale--and drew in a sharp breath. "The Guardian...!" The title passed Ahlen unnoticed, while Joseph and Anne gave each other blank looks and shrugged, and Talon unsuccessfully tried to ask Samui what in the world that meant.
"Yes," Miyu nodded almost imperceptively, still smiling. "So your master _does_ know who I am. Good. That makes things a lot easier." she nodded to the figure holding Kimiko. "Let her go, Larva."
"What?!?" Ahlen exclaimed, hovering over the still-unconscious Lyta.
"You get your girl, she gets the swords, and I get valuable information. Since we all have what we want, isn't that enough?" Miyu turned to Samui. "Or are you still intending to shoot?"
Samui lowered her bazooka slightly after a few nerve-wrackingly tense seconds. "No."
Miyu nodded once to Larva, who let go, and Kimiko jumped free at once. Ahlen immediately wrapped his arms protectively around Lyta.
"Don't worry, ototou, I know when to cut my losses," Kimiko informed her brother. "But you won't be able to get away next time, I promise you that."
With that, she was gone.
* * *
"Onee-sama!" Ahlen exclaimed as Kimiko disappeared.
"She can't hear you anymore, little boy," Miyu informed him coolly.
"Yeah, and thanks to you, she has both of those swords," Ahlen said a bit angrily.
"So would bringing the swords into contact put an end to the universe, or something to that effect?" Joseph wanted to know.
Samui thought about this for a while. "No...not quite. It's more of a Schreodinger's paradox."
"Schreodinger?" Talon repeated blankly. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place where he had heard it before.
"The guy with that cat experiment thingy, right?" Joseph asked.
"Right. His conclusion was that since the outcome is uncertain until it is determined by the observer, before then it can be considered that _all_ possible results are equally and simultaneously present," Samui clarified, nodding. "As for how it relates to these swords, bringing them together would only _access_ the trajectories of the universe it happened to be in. In lay terms, that means that the wielder is now standing in the middle of the intersection of an infinite number of paths and can choose to go down any one of them."
"So if onee-sama chose destruction..." Ahlen murmured.
"Then that's exactly what would happen," Samui finished for Ahlen.
"Although I doubt that she went through the trouble of kidnapping someone just to put an end to all existence. If that was what she had really wanted, then she would have just made a grab for the sword earlier. From what I've seen of how the Kindred move, she would certainly be fast enough to pull it off."
"Then why the elaborate setup?" Ahlen wondered, before remembering
what had happened when Kimiko had tried to grab the sword earlier. Still, a part of him reasoned, if she was that determined she might have been able to hold on long enough to unleash the swords' powers.
Samui shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I have a feeling _you_ might have something to do with it."
"Yes," Miyu agreed. "Her will is strong. No matter what 'he' is up to, he has to work around her memories of you."
"Then it's possible to save her!" Ahlen exclaimed.
Miyu shrugged. "Perhaps."
Anne's eyes suddenly lit up and she turned to Joseph. "Joseph, remember that big book of monsters Washuu-onnechan has in her library?"
Joseph scratched his head. "Uh...no, can't say I do."
"Well, I do, and it says that true vampires don't bleed!"
"They don't?" Ahlen looked doubtful. "But in all of the vampire movies..."
Joseph rolled his eyes. "Since Hollywood produced it, then it _must_ be true, huh?"
Anne sighed. "As much as I hate to admit it, Joseph is actually right for once."
"Hey--!" Joseph protested.
"According to Washuu-chan's book," Anne continued, ignoring Joseph, "true vampires, as in Draculas and the Chinese ones, are basically corpses so they can't possibly have any sort of circulation."
"That's a rather strict classification," Miyu noted. "Under that definition, Shinma would also not be considered vampires."
Anne nodded. "I know, but that's not the only thing that bugged me, though."
"Well, what, then?" Joseph asked.
"I'm not sure..." Anne looked distant. "Just...something...something I don't like thinking about..."
Sho's head dropped onto the ground with a wet thud and rolled several feet as Dracho-x'ian sliced neatly through his neck. The rest of the Kindred's body dropped limply into a prone position, the blood spurting from its wound glittering oddly in the dim light.
"Let's see you fucking try to put yourself back together now, you son of a bitch," Dachend said gleefully, giving Sho's body savage kick.
"You don't look too hot yourself," Dracho-x'ian observed dryly.
Dachend popped his maligned joints back into place, causing the others present to wince at the sound. "I'll heal."
"I think I can help," Kai offered half-heartedly. Whatever misgivings she had about him, he was for the time being a formidable ally. She secretly hoped that he would decline, though.
Dachend gave his other wounds a quick once-over and shrugged. "Nah, I've lived through worse."
"MY SPELLS MIGHT NOT BE COMPATIBLE WITH HIS OWN REGENERATIVE ABILITIES," Amadeus added.
"Oh, right," Kai half-muttered, trying to remember exactly what classification Dachend would fall under. If he was what she thought he was, healing spells might do more harm than good, and it definitely was unwise to risk that at the moment.
"Say, what's taking Falora so long?" Junsui wanted to know. "Didn't she say she would just drop Jude off somewhere safe and then come right back?"
"Maybe she got some fucking sense knocked into her and realized that fighting vampires in dark, shit-slimy sewers ain't for little girls, Goddess or not," Dachend suggested.
"Always thinking the worst of someone, hm?" Dracho-x'ian sighed. "I suppose it hasn't occurred to you yet that if she were the type to give up easily, she wouldn't have even followed us here in the first place?"
Kai agreed. "Even if she didn't want to go on, I think she'd at least come back to tell us."
"SHE DID SAY SOMETHING ABOUT MAKING SURE THAT YOU KEPT IT BRIGHT IN HERE, DIDN'T SHE?" Amadeus reminded Kai.
Kai looked at the spluttering globe she had conjured up. "Oh, yeah, I guess I should recast my light spell..."
* * *
"What's wrong, Falora-chan?" Washuu asked as Falora's brows furrowed in concentration.
"I can't find them," Falora replied worriedly. "I hope nothing's happened..." Washuu patted Falora on the head before returning to check up on Jude. "I'm sure they're fine, dear." This time, Washuu kept her reservations about Falora going back to the sewers to herself. Goddess or not, Falora was only fourteen years old, for heaven's sake! But no matter how Washuu tried to convince Falora otherwise, the Goddess only became more determined to rejoin her new acquaintances. The fact that Falora had brought back one of them severely injured and in a coma hadn't seemed to faze her one bit.
Falora didn't answer, both because she was still busy trying to find the exact location she was supposed to be heading and she had an idea of what Washuu left unsaid. Of course she, too, had doubts about her ability to help once she got back, but chickening out was no longer an option. She finally knew why Kami-sama had sent her off on this assignment, and she would never forgive herself if she failed.
Finally, she could sense Kai's location with enough accuracy to complete the teleportation. Focusing on it, Falora opened a portal to where she needed to go and stepped in.
* * *
Back in the sewers, Kai was rather surprised that Falora, instead of emerging from the ball of light as everyone predicted, instead rose out of the long shadows that resulted from the spell, and nearly falling into the raging sewer waters behind her as a consequence. Fortunately, Dachend was fast enough to catch the flailing Goddess and pull her to safety.
"Ack, that was close." Falora sighed a breath of relief. "Thank you very much, Mr. Dachend." Dachend just crossed his arms and grumbled some more about children and fools, but Kai caught the briefest undercurrent of worry in his voice. So the immortal was not entirely heartless after all.
The first order of business on Kai's mind, though, was her young charge. "Is Jude going to be okay?"
"Washuu-chan doesn't know yet, but she will take good care of Jude, I'm sure," Falora answered confidently.
"We can worry about Jude later," Junsui pointed out. "First we need to find where those vampire things went."
"Dontcha worry 'bout that," Dachend grinned. "Those fuckers left a stink a mile wide."
"You can sense their residual aura too?" Kai asked, blinking.
"No, I meant literally." Dachend's nose wrinkled a bit. "The shitheads don't bathe much."
It was about now that Falora noticed what was left of Sho's corpse. "Oh, no!" she burst into tears. "I was too late!" She clutched onto the nearest arm for support, which at the moment was Dachend's, and soaked his sleeve to the point of dripping. Dachend, after getting many ugly looks from Kai, decided to suffer silently, but the expression on his face made it very clear that he did not like the idea of being a large-sized tissue paper.
Fortunately for Dachend, Falora managed to collect herself after a few moments and apologized profusely.
"Forget it," was Dachend's clipped reply, hoping that he could indeed banish this horrible moment from memory.
"I didn't mean to..." Falora summoned all of her willpower to keep from breaking down again. "But we have to hurry! We can't let any more people get hurt!"
Nobody disagreed with that.
The restricting collar fell from Lyta's neck. Samui relaxed slightly. "There. I think she'll be all right now."
"I'd better take her to the hospital to make sure," Talon said.
Samui blinked. "You're not coming with us?"
"I've only been getting in your way during this whole mission," Talon pointed out a bit sadly. "Besides, somebody _does_ need to stay with Lyta to keep her safe."
"If that's what you want to do, then..." Samui turned to Joseph and Anne. "What about you two?"
"Well..." Joseph began uncertainly. Now was the perfect moment to slip away and fix those nasty little time vortices, but on the other hand, he felt somehow that it was very important for him to be observing the woman who had the Schroedinger swords. He'd been getting all sorts of strange impressions lately--in fact, one of them had sent him out of the relative safety of the Habuki residence into the streets--as if he was being directed by some Greater Force. Joseph wasn't entirely comfortable with that thought, especially since he didn't have a clue as to whether this Greater Force was benevolent, both to the universe in general or to him in particular. He had a niggling suspicion that Falora--just where in the world had she disappeared to, anyway?--might have some sort of connection with said Greater Force, but she probably didn't know anything about what such a Greater Force would be up to.
Meanwhile, Anne seemed to be wrestling with the same issues, so she wasn't being very helpful. Joseph wryly wondered if he should requir some sign from Mr. Greater Force--or Ms., one never knew--as to what to do next.
"The more time we spend discussing who should go and who should stay, the less time we'll have to find onee-sama!" Ahlen reminded everyone urgently.
Something in Joseph's mind clicked. "There's an old underground water treatment plant near here," he offered.
Samui blinked again. "Really?"
Joseph nodded. "Anne and I did a project for class researching post- World War II Capow." Uh-oh. He didn't like the direction that this conversation was going.
Samui didn't look like she was, either. "Then I guess you'll have to stay with us to give directions, because I can't seem to get Headquarters from down here."
Joseph gulped mentally. So he was going with them, after all.
Well, he had asked for a sign, didn't he?
[Alex wrote, with additions from Danielle and Dot:]
Junsui had been trying to justify the reason -or reasons- for everyone to be down here chasing after the vampires.
Up until now, he had backed up everyone simply because he was riding the need for revenge against the things that had attacked him and his friends. Although after witnessing Jude's injury, Kai's change in temperament (not at all angelic), and Falora's breakdown at seeing the corpse of Kimiko's second, he came to a decision:
Put plain and simply, he didn't like the odds, they were out of their league, and Dachend was the only one that had a reasonable probability of surviving this.
"I know where we have to go," he said, still wrestling with what he had to admit.
"Well, well, well, looks like someone has finally come to his fucking senses." Dachend said, reading the look in his eyes.
Junsui ignored the comment and continued. "...I'm out of my league and I'll admit it. We can't let anymore people get hurt, and that's why I'm taking you home, Falora. You're too young to be experiencing this kind of thing, and I -or Kai, for that matter- may not be able to save you if push comes to shove."
"No!" Falora cried. "I'm down here because I have to make sure that no one else gets hurt!"
"As was I," Junsui told her, "but we're outclassed, and you know it."
Falora opened her mouth to say something, and he gave her a hard look.
"One of those vampires almost.. Hell, he _did_ beat me, and the only way that I survived was because of her." He indicated Kai and sent her a particularly heartfelt look. "That's the only reason that I'm down here. To make sure that if anything was going to happen to her, it'd have to get through me first." Junsui started to continue but was interrupted.
"Oh cut this 'white knight' shit, kid." Dachend interrupted and fixed all of them with a glare. "Face it, without me, you are all _dead_, and that isn't bullshit." He took a step back. "You three will get the fuck out of here and let me do what I do best, 'Cause I don't need you all getting in my goddamn way." He turned and walked away.
"So you're just going to charge in and kill them all?" Falora asked quietly.
Dachend stopped and faced Falora. "Yeah, and enjoy every moment of ripping the fuckers into hellhound chow." He crossed his arms. "You got a problem with that?"
"Yes, especially if there was some other option." Falora looked at Kai. "Kai, don't you know any exorcising spells?"
Kai nodded. "I tried using one on a vampire, and it melted."
"MORE ACCURATELY, ONCE THE DEMONIC PRESENCE LEFT, THE PHYSICAL BODY THAT HOUSED IT DISINTEGRATED," Amadeus corrected.
Falora absorbed this new information silently, with her eyes closed and her head bowed. For a moment she seemed to be on the verge of tears, but she collected herself and looked up, her eyes sad. "Kami- sama have mercy on their souls..." she whispered to herself. Then she looked to Junsui and forced a smile. "Let's go. I need to go make a phone call."
Now Kai was definitely concerned. Only moments ago Falora had been adamant about going, obviously very anxious about something. Now, all of the fight in the young Goddess was gone, replaced by a kind of resignation that someone of her age shouldn't have to experience.
"Falora, if there's something wrong you can tell me," she said, putting a hand on Falora's shoulder.
* * *
Falora could feel the Seraphim's stormy eyes on her and felt her heart climb into her throat. She could feel the bloodlust coming off the angel in waves. Kai's desire to repay those who had hurt her friend was as strong as Dachend's. The diminutive goddess squared her shoulders. She could not allow any more of the Kindred to be killed, not if she could save them.
"You mustn't kill them. Any of them." Falora looked up into Kai's gray eyes and saw the Seraphim's displeasure.
Dachend, as usual, was more vocal with his disagreement. "Say fucking what?!"
Kai shot the blond monster hunter a warning look that he completely ignored. "Falora, please explain yourself."
Junsui went to stand behind Falora in a silent sign of approval and support. He could feel that killing the Kindred was not the same as killing a monster or a demon, that there was something fundamentally different. He didn't touch Falora, that would have been a sign of challenge to Kai, but he did level a gaze at the raven-haired angel, trying to emit and maintain an air of calm into the group, or at least keep Kai calm. He intended to stand up for Falora's unconscious order.
Falora shuddered at Kai's sickly polite tone before continuing. "The Kindred are human." She didn't look at Kai but she could hear the angel suck in breath fast and hard through her teeth. A quiet movement behind her told her that Junsui had shifted position very subtly. Kai did not interrupt. "Haven't you felt their helplessness?" Falora looked at Kai significantly. "They weren't acting out of their own will."
Dachend and Kai snorted in unison. "What that bitch Kimiko did to Jude looked pretty damned deliberate to me." hissed Dracho'xian for the first time. Dachend and Kai looked like they agreed.
Falora shook her head. "That's exactly what makes it so horrible. She's being made to enjoy something that was abhorrent to her." Falora looked straight into Kai's stormy eyes and saw comprehension slowly begin to dawn.
"Demons," hissed the angel. "They've gone so low as involving humans in the War."
Falora disagreed. "Father told me that the War was always about humans." she wiped away the tears that were threatening to start up again. "I guess this time the other side was so eager to win that they were willing to use the prize they were fighting for."
Junsui remembered what Kai had mentioned when they had first set out from Jude's warehouse. "Falora." The goddess looked up at him over her shoulder, "These Kindred...are they a type of lost soul?"
Falora nodded. "Someone--or something--interrupted their Soul's Journey and hijacked their bodies and minds as well."
"Soul's journey?" Echoed Junsui, Dachend, and Dracho'xian.
Kai smiled wistfully, and Falora mirrored it. "Sorry, confidential information."
Kai studied the goddess for a long time and could taste the truth to her words, as much as she hated it. "Then we have to free their souls from this power."
Dachend hefted Dracho'xian and smiled grimly. "I know how to free them."
"No." Junsui's voice cut through the monster hunter's last statement, with force, despite that he'd said it in a commonplace tone. He looked flatly at Dachend, "Haven't you been listening? If you kill them, then their souls will forever remain in the grasp of this demonic force."
Kai looked at the human, startled that he had picked up on that where she had not.
Falora seemed so sad that she appeared far older than her normal appearance. "That's right. And the demonic force will simply grow larger, absorbing the power from these lost souls."
Dachend snarled. "Fucking great. Now what do we do."
[Dare wrote, with some revisions from Dot:]
"We track down Kimiko," Kai said as if it should have been obvious. "Even if she's not the one ultimately behind this mess, she wouldn't have just left so abruptly if she hadn't been up to something."
"We?" Dachend raised an eyebrow, about to protest again.
Kai, Junsui, and even Dracho-x'ian glared at Dachend. "There's no time to argue," Kai reminded Dachend a bit sharply. Turning to Falora, Kai continued, albeit a bit more softly, "Falora, things are going to be getting really nasty in there, so--"
Falora played with the hem of her sleeve. "I know, I'll get out if it gets too rough." Her eyes lowered. "I'd only get in the way otherwise."
"Damn right she would," Dachend muttered, scooping up Sho-sun's head. Getting a quizzical look from Junsui, Dachend explained with a small grin: "Housewarming present."
Kai ignored the exchange and began walking in the direction she had seen Kimiko disappear. "Let's go."
* * *
Joseph peered down the hallway and barely made out the vague shape of a door beyond the beam cast by Samui's flashlight. Pointing, he turned and slowed down. "I think we're here."
"Narrow entrance, probably no other exits," observed Samui. "In other words, easy to defend."
That has to be it! Ahlen noted with a quickened heartbeat. The forces were gathering and here was the nexus point.
Something caught his attention. Or rather, the lack of something. "If it's easy to defend, where is their defense?"
"They're probably giving us the warm welcome," Joseph muttered "You know, 'come on in, make yourselves at home, don't mind while we peck at your necks.'"
"Joseph!" Anne admonished.
Ahlen didn't know how the two children could be so animated at a place like this. He was certainly in strange company. And the strange girl Miyu and her tall companion were nowhere to be seen again.
The entrance to the room ahead was guarded by a broken set of metal doors. The left door was set askew on its hinges and the right door was bent inwards creating a gap even though they were set. Ahlen stopped and reached for his sword, only to remember he didn't have it anymore. The usual habits were hard to break.
They stepped through knowing anything could happen. The room was large and split on two levels. From Ahlen's limited view, he could make out several unmoving fans at the far wall. The tall ceiling sloped up and inwards and the top let in what little light there was.
On the second level, which acted like a raised platform overlooking the room, Kimiko stood with both swords in her hands. Around her were various kindred. Ahlen was shocked at the variety of people now turned: women, men, both young and old. There were at least fifteen of them. Ahlen was aware of how they could hide themselves with their cloaks. He wondered if there were more.
"I knew you would come here," Kimiko greeted.
"I knew you would be waiting," Ahlen replied. "As they say, 'the ball's in your court'. What are you going to do?"
"Did you come here to stop me, otouto?" Kimiko mocked. "You're not even armed. How do you expect to fight me?"
"I'll fix that soon enough."
Kimiko's yellow eyes narrowed. She gripped the swords tightly, keeping both at her sides but not raised. "You can't stop what I must do. I won't let anyone stand between my task."
"What task is that?" asked Ahlen.
"She has to make a choice," a voice answered. Miyu floated in, at least that's what Ahlen thought she did. Her bare feet were remarkably clean for someone walking around in the sewers. "The swords she holds are the swords of life and death. And so, that is what she must choose between."
"YOU!" Kimiko snarled. "Why are you here again?!"
"I'm here to watch," said Miyu as she hung off Larva's arm.
"You won't stop me," Kimiko barked.
"So you've been saying," Miyu responded with a cruel smile. "Why is that? Are you lacking the confidence to complete your 'task'?"
"Shut up!" screamed Kimiko.
"Onee-sama!" Ahlen yelled hoping he could get through to his sister in the moment of confusion. He stepped towards the platform, judging if he could make the jump up.
One of the kindred leaped down and sped at Ahlen with a sword drawn. The young swordsman stood his ground, thinking he could parry the strike. But once again he realized he had no sword. He had to move away fast. His legs remained slow.
At the last second, the kindred's body fell to one side, its head the other side. A shimmering wavy form fell in beside Ahlen. The cloaked figure removed the hood and lifted his head. It was Dachend.
"Wazzup?" Dachend grinned. Before Kimiko could say anything, Dachend opened his cloak. "Oh yeah, friend of yours wants to say hello." He pulled out his arm and held out the head of Sho-sun. He tossed the Kindred's head to Kimiko's feet and flung the cloak away. Ahlen gasped as he studied Dachend's wounds. His left arm are was badly cut. Gashes lined his body like a cheetah. His thighs had been punctured several times from a sword. His left abdomen was soaked in blood. His right knee and left shoulder both looked disjointed and recently set. Despite his wounds, Dachend moved with speed and strength.
Miyu chuckled cruelly. "Your pieces are falling apart," she said.
Kimiko held out her swords. "The only pieces I need are right here."
"No!" Ahlen shouted. He grabbed the sword the kindred was wielding and ran towards the platform. He leapt with all his strength and found himself flying into the air, higher than he thought was possible.
Kimiko crossed the sword blades and a crackle of energy sparked between them. A sphere of energy surrounded her body as Ahlen flew towards it. It sparked as he made contact and flung him back towards the ground. Before he could make painful contact, though, two strong arms caught him and slowed his decent until he landed gently. Looking back to see who had rescued him, Ahlen found himself staring at a pair of immense white wings and the stormiest eyes he'd ever seen.
"Uh...thanks," he said, not knowing what else to say.
The other nodded back. "Kai," she introduced curtly, before focusing her attention back to the situation at hand.
Meanwhile, Dachend wasted no time and tried to reach Kimiko as well, hoping Dracho'xian would have the power to break through. Two kindred leapt in his way and Dachend swung through quickly, decapitating them immediately. As he flew towards Kimiko, she held the swords out harder and the sphere caught Dachend's overhand strike. There was a brief second where the immortal was caught in midair. Kimiko gritted and pushed hard. Dachend flew back even farther and slammed into the broken doorway.
Kai's eyes narrowed and a flaming blade leapt to existence in her hand, but Kimiko had already began to chant. "Ar, Lifanar arto ve niam lereni vehdi. Rahavim cum ve tereso ulm sha vor. Vor, Lifanar! Vor, Rahavim!"
"What's she saying?" Anne asked aloud.
"'I call upon the spirit of Lifanar. Rahavim come to unleash its will. Come, Lifanar. Come, Rahavim.'" Miyu translated. "More or less.."
The swords began to glow. Lifanar, Ahlen's sword, became blue and the other sword glowed red. Lightning began to crackle all around Kimiko. Two spheres suddenly appeared, first as small dots and then growing outward. Within the blue sphere, a naked woman held her legs close to her body in the fetal position. In the red sphere, a man had his arms around his legs. As the spheres became as large as Kimiko, the two figures stood on the ground.
Anne put her palm in front of Joseph's eyes.
Ahlen stared at the woman. She was beautiful, despite being naked. Then, he realized who it was. It was the woman that had once saved his life when he was locked in a long duel with Shiori, the space pirate.
"I am Lifanar, spirit of life," the woman said to Kimiko in a soft voice.
"I am Rahavim, spirit of death," the man said in the same fashion.
Then, they spoke as one. "What is your choice?"
Ahlen got up and clutched his aching side. He reached out his hand, thinking Kimiko would take it, grab it, and make contact somehow. "Onee-sama!" he yelled.
The two repeated their demands. "What is your choice?"
Miyu gasped, for the first time showing emotion other than her cool nature. "The junction!"
Kai's eyes widened and she nearly let go of her weapon. "A decision gate?!?"
Kimiko let her hands go free and the swords dropped to the ground. She walked forward and held herself out strongly. "I choose..." she started in a loud voice "... I choose LIFE!"
"Onee-sama!" Ahlen shouted.
And then there was only one left. The woman stood before Kimiko, her body bathed in blue light. "You have chosen. What is your desire?"
Kimiko hissed her desire. "RELEASE ME!"
Without hesitation, the woman said, "It is done."
Kimiko's body crumpled and fell to the ground as if the life had been drawn from her.
"ONEE-SAMA!!!" screamed Ahlen. He raced up to the platform and held Kimiko in his arms. It was happening again. His sister was dying again. "Please!" he pleaded to the woman. "Give her back to me, please!"
"She has chosen," the woman said plainly.
"No!" Ahlen wailed. "I lost you once, not again...not again."
The woman disappeared and the swords no longer glowed. From the corner of his eye, Ahlen could see the other kindred flailing their bodies uncontrollably. They too crumpled to the ground, but disintegrated to dust.
Ahlen watched Kimiko's body. It did not disappear like the other kindred. Her eyes were closed and she had a peaceful look on her face. Then, her chest moved slightly, her lungs filling with what little air they could draw in. Her eyes opened and they were no longer yellow. Kimiko smiled. "Otouto...I had to.."
"Onee-sama!" Ahlen cried. He wanted to tell her not to say anything or that they would get her to a hospital or a healer. He wanted to tell her he loved her. But his lip trembled and he could say nothing.
"Gomen," Kimiko whispered softly. Her eyes closed again and did not open. Then, her chest exhaled one last time. Her head tilted to the side.
Miyu stepped beside Ahlen with Larva. He could hear her voice through his tears as his face was buried in Kimiko's hair. "This was how it had to be," Miyu explained. "She had to comply to her master's wishes to the very end until she could play her hand. Otherwise she would have been stopped and replaced."
Miyu picked up Rahavim and Lifanar. She admired the two swords lovingly. She turned to Larva and handed him Rahavim. He placed it inside his long robes. The other sword, Lifanar, Ahlen's sword, she placed back on the floor at his side. "Come, Larva," she beckoned. The girl latched onto Larva's arm and they stepped off the platform and disappeared in midair, leaving the rest to gape at the scene in shock.
* * *
Falora's hand hovered over the dial, but she trembled too much to be able to dial the necessary numbers. She desperately wanted to hear Kami-sama's voice reassuring her that everything was all right, that she had done everything she could, and that she shouldn't blame herself. But a small part of her was absolutely terrified at the prospective talk with the Almighty. Falora couldn't shake the feeling that she could have done so much more than just watch in abject horror as the Lost Souls disappeared one by one.
Dachend was right about her. In the end, despite all of her enthusiasm and determination, she was completely useless. Not only had she been at a total loss as to rescuing those souls, she would not have been able to help her friends or even herself if things had turned for the worse.
And yet...Kami-sama called her to action personally, didn't He? And all along she had felt the pull of the Ultimate Force guiding her, hadn't she? But perhaps...perhaps she had ignored the signs that she was in way over her head, that she should let the adults handle things. Perhaps she should have turned back the minute the realized exactly what those Kindred were. Or perhaps she should not have gone at all.
Falora picked up the receiver. She needed to speak to Kami-sama, even only to apologize. Listening to Him was like experiencing a little bit of the home she missed so much although being a Helper Goddess was everything she had ever wished for and more. Kami-sama was the father Falora never had, and He had even allowed her to address Him as such. Of course, Kami-sama extended this grace to all who were born of Yggsadril; but for Falora, who when her big brother abruptly vanished had no remaining family, being able to call the Creator and Ruler of the Universe by such an intimate title meant everything to her.
"You have reached the offices of Kami-sama. Please leave a message."
She felt her entire body sag, and she knew it wasn't from relief.
'He won't speak to me...' she twisted the phone cord in her hands, waiting for the beep to sound.
"Father...Lord..." she began hesitantly. "I'm so confused. I..." she trailed off, the swirl of emotions in her head making it very difficult to find the right words to voice what she wanted. "I need You...please..."
* * *
Lyta came out from the house and walked to the stone patio at the front of the shrine. Ahlen was sitting on the bench, staring at the glowing embers of the funeral pyre. He carried Kimiko's body home and gave her a cremation. He said that was how they originally wanted to be buried. "From ashes we came, to ashes we return," he said during the private ceremony. Little else was said. Lyta knew there was no need for words for such a tragic end. Ahlen had lost his sister once and then to have to lose her again. The practical side of her knew cremation would ensure Kimiko would never again be resurrected against her will and turned into another horrible monster. Practicality didn't make the loss any less painful.
Lyta sat down beside Ahlen and rested her head against his shoulder. His arm came naturally around her and they sat staring at the embers. After a while, Ahlen sighed. "Lyta, I'm so confused."
"Is it about Kimiko?" she asked gingerly. "I know it must be hard to have to go through this again."
Ahlen shook his head. "No, it's not that. I grieved a little the first time. Part of me in shock when I found this world's Kimiko. I stayed with her for a while and I thought it would help me deal with the loss. It didn't really. I didn't feel real closure." He paused. "I do now. But that's not it."
"Then what's wrong?"
"I don't know what I'm doing here. I don't know what my purpose in life is."
Lyta gave him a worried look. "You're not happy here? Ahlen, if you want to go somewhere else, we can. I'll go wherever you want to go."
"No, I want us to stay here," Ahlen objected. "Somehow it feels right, at least for you. I know you find it happy here."
"I do, Ahlen, but if you're not happy, I won't be either."
Ahlen tried to collect his thoughts to better explain himself. For the first time, it seemed he and Lyta weren't on the same wavelength. "I want to make myself more useful."
"In what way? You help a lot around the shrine."
"Yeah," Ahlen agreed, "but it doesn't feel like that's what I'm supposed to do. I know what you're going to say. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I just feel like I should make a difference in other lives."
Lyta squeezed his arm. "You make a difference in my life."
"I know," Ahlen said. He turned to face Lyta. "You and I were destined to be together. But I meant in the lives of others as well." Ahlen reached to the other side and picked up his sword. "This is all I've ever known. It's kind of funny. The sword that holds the spirit of life and I use it to take life."
Lyta held Ahlen's hand in her own and look into his eyes. "Ahlen, I've never known you to take life unless it was absolutely necessary. And only at great regret. If this is your way of thinking you were responsible for her death, don't. It wasn't your fault."
Ahlen sighed and put the sword down. "It's so destructive. All it does is destroy. I want to do something that builds, creates. Something that affects the lives of others too. I feel I owe something back."
Lyta's heart quickened. Was Ahlen leading to what she was thinking? The ultimate act of creation that she had ever known was to create life. Was Ahlen asking her to have children? She didn't know how to react. She knew she wanted children with Ahlen but she didn't know if it was too soon.
She wanted to steer the subject away a little. Although Ahlen's feelings were important, she didn't think she could handle this, yet. "Life's been so hard for you, Ahlen. It's taken so much, you don't owe anything."
"Maybe that's why it's been so hard," Ahlen replied. "I've never given anything and so this is its way of telling me." He sighed again. "I don't know what I'm thinking anymore. Lyta? Do you mind if I just sat here alone? I just want to think about everything."
Lyta let go of Ahlen hands and nodded without question. "No matter what you decide, I'll be with you." She pulled the cloak tighter around her body and walked back to the house.
* * *
Off in the distance, the sun had just sunk low under the horizon. Miyu watched the smoke rise from the top of the hill. Larva stood silently beside her and she looped her arm around his. Larva removed his mask and held Rahavim up in front of them both.
"Why did you give the other one back to him?"
"Because I don't need it," Miyu answered.
"I suppose keeping them apart may be safer," Larva said.
Miyu set her head against Larva's arm. "We're lucky Kimiko chose Lifanar. Had her will not been strong, she would have released her master's bonds. That would have been very...interesting."
"But dangerous," Larva countered.
* * *
On a different plane of reality, a rather heated argument (for one side, at least) was taking place.
"You said you'd make absolutely certain our plan wouldn't fail." A very nervous and agitated demon paced up and down the room, apparently addressing an empty desk. "Well, where the hell were you when that bitch Kimiko tricked us?"
"Some complications arose," a tenor voice replied calmly. "If you had bothered to pay attention, you would have noticed that there was a Helper Goddess present."
"She was only Second Class Limited!" the demon all but shouted. "You telling me you couldn't even handle a rookie like her?"
The voice tsked. "Your kind are so shortsighted and impatient. What good would it have done if I revealed myself then? Or were you asleep when I was talking to your boss about the element of surprise?"
The demon flinched visibly, his temper checked by his good sense. In a few moments, though, his worries returned at full force. "So what am I supposed to be reporting to His Unholiness?"
The voice chuckled. "You let _me_ handle him, that's what. And get started on Plan B."
The demon blinked. "There was a Plan B?"
"Of course," the voice said with a slight undertone of exasperation. "There's _always_ a Plan B." There was the sound of rustling feathers. "Well, off to talk to old Lou. He probably won't be too happy to see me, but it was his own carelessness that screwed things up anyway."
There was a rush of wind, and then silence.