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Dullahan
March 25th, 2011, 02:45 PM
I've been having a number of ideas about a NV fanfic set in the relatively distant past (specifically, the 1920s) but incorporating a number of elements from 'modern' canon such as Dead Apostle Ancestors, the Demon Hunter's Association, Enforcers, the Burial Agency, etc. I'm posting this here (1) to get my own thoughts in order, which I find a lot easier to do when explaining them to someone else :) and (2) because I need some help fleshing out what I have here. Here's a summary of what I have so far:


Names are formatted Western-style.

The year is 1920. January. The Russian Civil War is in full swing. In the Far East of Russia, Aleksandr Kolchak's forces do battle with the Bolsheviks and partisans of the Red Army. Elsewhere, Grigory Semyonov and the Mad Baron Von Sternberg make names for themselves as the East's most brutal Cossack warlords. Supporting Kolchak is a force of 70,000 Japanese troops under General Yui, who currently occupy much of the Russian Far East in an attempt to create a buffer state between themselves and the Communists. With the Japanese occupation, there come settlers - fifty thousand of them in total - to Russia. Vladivostok is the centre of this influx - far behind the front lines of the war, the zaibatsu that form the backbone of Japan's economy see the opportunity for profits to be made. Trade is the name of the game.

Except, there's a problem. In and around the city of Vladivostok, people have begun dying under mysterious circumstances. Bodies have been found, half-buried in the snow - entirely drained of blood. One of these bodies was Touichirou Yamada, the younger brother of a senior clerk at the Mitsui Bank branch in Vladivostok. When their father back in Tokyo received a letter from the elder brother, he was quite unsure what to make of it. After a day's deliberation on the matter, he decides to show the letter to an old classmate of his from Peers School (Gakushuin University), Akira Ryougi. Akira, being the current head of the Ryougi family (and hence a senior figure in the Demon Hunter's Association) relates the contents of the letter to the other family heads - Kojirou Asakami, Youichi Fujyou and Saitou Nanaya - at a meeting the next day. It is decided that, while the events in Vladivostok are of interest, only two operatives can be spared from ongoing demon-extermination activities in Hokkaido.

Mikoto Asakami and Shun Ryougi. One is a trained detective with Mystic Eyes that allow any visible object to be twisted clockwise and/or anticlockwise. The other is a recent high school graduate possessed of a second personality with borderline-superhuman sword-fighting skills. Together, they fight crime! Ahem. Anyway, that's not the point. After spending a week in Vladivostok, following a trail of victims and the most tenuous clues imaginable, they uncover the agency behind the killings - a bizarre vampire; the Dead Apostle Ancestor known as Mosaic.

Mosaic is around 600 years old and reckons he's seen it all. He was once a bishop, and also a Magus who received a Sealing Designation - one of the first ever issued, as it happens - but a rather strange thing happened in 1307 and he ended up being bitten by Altrouge Brunestud. He's wanted by pretty much every supernaturally-related organization out there, at various points on the 'alive-dead' spectrum. The Holy Church wants his head on a pike, partially because he's a vampire, but mostly because he broke into the Vatican in 1582 and stole Saint Peter's right arm. Most of the Dead Apostle Ancestors want him dead because he has a near-psychotic vendetta against Altrouge, who is herself the linchpin of the D.A.A. organizational structure. The Mage's Association want him alive...barely. Much like Nero Chaos would absorb beasts, Mosaic absorbs Sealing Designated Magi who wish to escape from the Mage's Association. They lend him their Crests and Circuits, and he protects them from the Enforcers sent out by the Association. In a sense there is no 'Mosaic' to speak of, there is only an aggregate intelligence, a hive mind, created by a hundred and seven Sealing Designates. So, naturally, he's not too fond of the Association. They want to seal him and retrieve the Circuits and Crests from him. But enough about how he's managed to piss off everyone who's anyone.

Mosaic has come to Vladivostok as part of an extremely circituous route (for security reasons, of course!) to Japan, where he aims to recover a certain former possession of his that was lost in the Philippines and made its way to Tokyo via Portuguese traders in the 1700s. A sword, to be specific - the sword of an ancient hero. A powerful Conceptual Weapon. Mosaic has a few uses in mind for it. For Mikoto and Shun, it seems like a simple enough task to kill him, right? But, of course, nothing's ever that simple.

Not when Lumi Tynne Edelfelt, Enforcer from the Mage's Association, is on the prowl in the Maritime Territories.

Not when Aleksandr Kolchak is executed by the Bolsheviks and passes power to the warlord Semyonov, and his questionably sane associate Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg.

Not when the aforementioned Baron, with the aid of the magically-gifted priests of the Bogd Khan, uses the entire town of Nikolayevsk-on-Amur as a human sacrifice to summon a certain Heroic Spirit by brute force and bind it to his will, planning to realize his dream of a restored Mongol empire.

Not when Narbareck of the Burial Agency decides that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Not when the sword Mosaic is after happens to be in the possession of the Karyou family - Japan's oldest and most powerful lineage of Demon Masters, known for replacing their limbs with powerful Demon familiars.

I'll post more on the plot later (it's, like, 2:30 in the morning here), but if you have any questions, comments, advice, criticism, cookies, etc. for me, I'd love to hear them. Before I go, though, here are some salient details on Mosaic:

His whole body is literally a Mosaic. It's formed out of pieces of the bodies of every Magus he assimilates. The areas of different skin colour create a mosaic-like pattern on his skin, hence the name. In addition to that, his eyes are both Mystic Eyes, but they're different (as they were taken from different sources). The right eye is a Mystic Eye of Contract (lets him bind people to promises they make to him) and the left eye is an indeterminate type of Mystic Eye assimilated back in the 1600s which allows him to 'see' the flow of mana. In addition to the eyes, his arms are also non-standard. The right arm is an arm-shaped block of frozen holy water, which is animated in the same way a familiar might be. Encased within the holy water are the bones of Saint Peter's right arm and hand, which has effectively been grafted onto him. It makes a weird crunching sound when he moves it, like when you're walking on snow. Saint Peter's HAND (not the arm, just the hand) is used like an incredibly powerful anti-Vampire Conceptual Weapon. The reason he keeps it encased in holy water is twofold. (1) to ensure the purity of the bones and (2) because if he accidentally touches it, it's actually safer to touch the holy water than the bones. In order to avoid as much contact as possible, his left arm is not truly an arm either - it's a large globule of mercury grafted onto his left shoulder, of which an arm is only one of the shapes it can be compelled to make. Anything from a broadsword to a corkscrew is possible. It's basically a multi-purpose weapon.

MrTags
March 25th, 2011, 03:53 PM
Well you've got a lot that you need down. It might help to introduce things a bit gradually as you have a lot of stuff. Besides that it's time to hit the keyboard. You're good to go.

Btw... how does he handle where the Saint's arm touches his shoulder?

food
March 25th, 2011, 08:47 PM
A couple of things.

The reactions of the Association and the Church are way too luke warm. A monster that absorbs Seal-Designated rogues (who are already powerful magi) for several centuries would sure shake the higher echelons of the Association. Small fry sealing agents would make the story unrealistic (in Nasuverse terms). You might actually want to introduce a Lord from the Association.

On the Church's side, losing St. Paul's arm is a huge disgrace, and a very dangerous loss as well. You may want to mobilize more top dogs from the Burial Agency. Narbareck is a good start, you may want to introduce some sidekicks for him as well.

The Baron part is unnecessary in my opinion. The conflict between the four potential parties (Church, Association, the protagonists, and Mosiac) is more than enough. Juggling too many things will actually backfire, bog the story down, and steal spotlights from the protagonists.

EDIT:
I meant to say "the Baron part is UN-necessary".

RanmaBushiko
March 25th, 2011, 08:59 PM
Could go interesting, but you've gotta ensure that your characters are strong enough to at least be a minor threat at first. And them getting to be a bigger threat as time goes by.
Or finding unique trump cards to counter his abilities better.

Egophobia
March 25th, 2011, 09:00 PM
Kind of springboarding off of what food posted, the church would literally be going to war over this. You might want to consider the Three Prophecies of Fatima on this one - or we could talk about it, since I'm trying to work it into a Nasuverse fanfic that I'm working on myself. At any rate, the Second Prophecy implies a greater conflict arising out of the ashes of World War I, and has to do a good deal with Russia. Coupled with the fact that they've lost Saint Paul's arm to a Dead Apostle, as well as the mobilization of their rivals, I wouldn't be surprised if they sent the entire Burial Agency...

Dullahan
March 25th, 2011, 10:31 PM
Great ideas, guys. (And yeah, I probably have underestimated the Church's response.)

Responding to y'all one at a time:

MrTags: The bones of the saint's arm don't actually connect to his. Think about it as having your entire arm sliced cleanly off at the shoulder, then having a block of animated ice in the shape of that arm seamlessly attached where it was. The bones are frozen inside that. Because he was a bishop (and thus baptised prior to becoming a vampire) Holy Water has a diminished effect on him. In any other vampire, it'd induce necrosis of the flesh which would have to be counteracted by their own Vampiric regeneration.

food: I agree that the Baron part is probably unnecessary. The entire motivation for including him was that if anyone in that time and area was bat-shit crazy enough to try and brute-force summon a Heroic Spirit and then use it as an unstoppable conquering machine, it'd be him. As for the Church - yeah. The entire Burial Agency would be a good idea, although as things stand there's still a lot we don't know about the members. Off the top of my head the only ones who'd be around in 1920 who are around currently would be Narbareck and Merem Solomon. Which means I have 5 other members to invent. Should be fun. As for the Mage's Association, a Lord would be appropriate, although I'm not sure where to start when designing their character. Are we talking someone roughly on the level of Barthomeloi Lorelei? I'll need to work on that.

RanmaBushiko: They do. They acquire - via a method I'm currently working on - the actual sword that Mosaic is looking for. That, in combination with Ryougi's sword-fighting skills, puts them roughly on-par with Mosaic in terms of the ability to kill the shit out of things.

Egophobia: This is a good point. The Church and the Mage's Association are probably going to come to a conflict at this point. This will be their main weakness - after all, if they teamed up, Mosaic would be in a very bad position. I wonder, who would win in a fight between a Lord from Clock Tower and an Executor from the Burial Agency? Sounds like that's going to be a fun fight to write!

As for the sword that Mosaic is chasing, it's Nęgling, the sword that Beowulf used to slay a dragon. The blade, having been soaked in the blood of a Phantasmal Beast, is an extremely powerful Conceptual Weapon. It behaves somewhat like what would happen if it were a normal sword and the user had the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception - cuts made with it cannot be healed immediately and in most cases not at all. (Of course, it doesn't GIVE the user the MEoDP - that would be retardedly overpowered. It just makes it seem like that's what they're using, but really it's all in the sword.)

The reason Mosaic wants it is because he used it to slay another dragon back in the 1500s, and once he'd killed it, he pulled out its heart and replaced his own with it. Having a dragon's heart gives him a WICKED magic resistance, but it means that he inherits the vulnerability to Nęgling that dragons have. Nęgling is pretty much his kryptonite, and he'd much prefer to have it in his possession. He also possesses a number of other swords - Hrunting, the sword used by Beowulf to defeat Grendel, Skofnung, a demonic sword with twelve demons possessing the blade (he doesn't like using it because it doesn't work in the presence of either sunshine or women) and Joyeuse, formerly the property of Charlemagne. He keeps them inside his body - which is a Reality Marble in a manner similar to Nero Chaos - and takes them out as needed. That said, he doesn't actually use any of them very much at all. He's more of a collector. Maybe he's just a guy who likes swords? God knows the Nasuverse has a few of them.

Input much appreciated, guys!

(PS: The existence of these swords outside of a Heaven's Feel ritual implies that the events of the epic Beowulf did, in fact, actually happen as depicted. How awesome is that?)

And one last thing: I need a title. Seriously, throw me a bone here, I've got NOTHING.

food
March 25th, 2011, 10:53 PM
About the Burial Agency, you don't have to go all out. You can use existing characters you are comfortable with, and throw in some "apprentices" or "proteges". People get mad if you don't get the power level right for big figures like Burial Agency guys, so you can sidestep that with apprentices.

As for the Association part, Barthomeloi Lorelei may be a bit too much. Use Kayneth from Zero as a standard, and go from there.

Also, about the St. Paul's arm part. Why not make it ATTACHED to Mosaic? Make it so that the holy relic constantly rends the flesh of Mosaic, and the villain is super hardcore as he willingly bears it. The constant rend and tear in part contributes to Mosaic's appetite for more powerful magi to assimilate so he can alleviate the damage. Sounds better, no?

Dullahan
March 26th, 2011, 02:23 AM
Good idea about the arm. (Although it's Saint Peter's right arm, but hey, details). Moasic is a pretty hardcore kind of dude.

As for the Burial Agency, I'm guessing the apprentices would be sourced from the Eighth Sacrament Assembly, seeing as this operation against Mosaic is first and foremost about relic recovery. Hey, maybe Kotomine's grandfather could make an appearance? Narbareck is a heriditary title, so the power level and skillset of the 1920s Narbareck could be somewhat different to the current one. Probably won't send Merem Solomon, 'cause Demonition is h4x. (Is Talk. canon? Because if it's true what he says about Satsujinki not being able to hurt him...hmm.)

I haven't read Zero, but I'll see what I can dig up on Kayneth. (Holy crap, I think I may have accidentally stolen Kayneth's Mystic Code for Mosaic's left arm. Wow. Was NOT expecting that.) I really want to get an Edelfelt in there somewhere, because I have a joke planned about Luvia's distinctive laugh being a heriditary trait.

Dohohohoho~!

food
March 26th, 2011, 09:53 AM
Calling on the Eighth Sacrament is a good idea. However, the Burial Agency dudes have high power levels and prefer to work alone. You can have the apprentices "forced" onto them due to the insistence of the Church for insuring safety, which could make for some interesting character dynamics.

Kayneth is representative of Association Lord's power level. However, I don't think Edelfelts actually has the power level or political alliance to reach Lord, so you might get away with having him/her as the Lord's star pupil?

Dullahan
March 28th, 2011, 06:13 AM
First up: 2000 words so far! I'll post what I have once it hits 3500.

So, I've hammered out the details of Mosaic's right arm. He refers to it as Brachium Petri, literally, the Arm of Peter. Mosaic uses Latin for nearly all of his incantations, mostly because it sounds cool.

The arm itself is grafted to Mosaic's skeleton and has an animated shell of frozen holy water as a substitute for flesh. Mosaic's dominant personality has a Water/Ice elemental affinity, so he can keep it frozen indefinitely. Due to Mosaic being, y'know, a vampire, the arm causes necrosis of the flesh in and around Mosaic's right shoulder, something which has to be continuously counteracted by a combination of standard vampiric regeneration and healing magecraft. The main ability of the arm is its use as a Conceptual Weapon against vampires, although it's somewhat effective against demons as well.

The attack Mosaic does with the arm is similar to what you would get if you crossed True Assassin's Delusional Heartbeat with Shiki's MEoDP. After being activated by the following incantation,

PARE VOLUNTAS DOMINI ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORUM

the holy water surrounding the skeletal arm flash-boils, leaving the arm completely exposed. The arm from there on will proceed to actualize the internal concept of death (same as MEoDP dots) in the target, proceeding until Mosaic wishes it to stop. However, he cannot sustain the attack indefinitely, as it causes him incredible pain and damage to his body to use it like this even for a second. He uses 'safety-lockout' magecraft to make the attack cut out after a few seconds - and even after that, he needs to drink rather a lot of blood to counteract the effects. In addition to this, despite operating on similar principles to Shiki's MEoDP, the arm only has an effect on 'unholy' creatures such as vampires (any type) and demons. Ordinary humans are unaffected. Basically it's a exorcism tool on steroids. While it exacts a huge toll on his body, there are very few entities powerful enough to survive a single direct hit from it, similar to the MEoDP.

Sound good?

food
March 28th, 2011, 08:35 AM
St. Peter's arm is unnecessarily br0ken, and its power mostly goes against Christian teachings and the figure of Peter in general.

MEoDP-type power is getting old. It would make more sense to have the power as "absolute incapacitation/pacification/nullification of powers not allowed by the Church" for a short period of time.

And during the process tear the flesh off of half of Mosaic's body (or incinerating half of the body).

RexRox
March 28th, 2011, 09:16 AM
I'm with food regarding the arm.

As for the story as a whole, I'd actually say that including the Baron part adds to it a great deal. Incorporating the civil war and the Baron's insanity into the background could add a lot more. On top of the typical factional warfare and engagement with Mosaic is something that is still very dangerous and cares nothing for them - it works as both background and foreground elements in the story.

Titles-wise, maybe "Puzzling Out a Mosaic" or something similar. Mosaic is both a good word for the title and the name of the BBEG, so including it is an easy way to construct a title.

Dullahan
March 28th, 2011, 09:44 AM
Re: food. You have a point there. I hadn't actually considered the 'pacification' angle before, so I'll use that instead. Again, you've been a great help. :)

Re: RexRox. Fo' shizzle? Sorry, couldn't resist. Anyway, the Baron's insanity was always going to be a background element (a lot of ugly rumors flying in Vladivostok that the 'Mad Baron' is behind the 'vampiric killings', because it's the sort of thing he'd do). Trouble is, the story is set in Q1 and Q2 1920, immediately after Kolchak's execution and during the period when Semyonov's thugs basically ran White Russia. Our friend the Baron doesn't make contact with the Bogd Khan until early 1921, after the siege of Urga (Ulan Batur). Then again, I suppose the Bogd Khan himself doesn't really need to be involved and I can just make the Baron himself a Magus, of a particularily twisted variety. He's not quite on Zouken's level, but he's way, way up there in terms of crazy.

IF (not certain about it yet) I do decide to include him, his little brute-force Heroic Spirit summon could make things interesting. Seeing as he doesn't have Third Magic from the Great Grail, what he summons isn't going to have the personality of the original hero and be more like a mindless murderizing machine of mayhem, if you catch my alliterative drift. He'd need something similar to a Command Seal to control the damn thing though, and I've no idea how he'd get his hands on that kind of magecraft without turning the guy into a kind of deranged magical savant. Not entirely improbable, knowing how Nasuverse magecraft works :)

And yeah, the title probably should include Mosaic somehow. I'm still drawing blanks on ideas for it, though.

Dullahan
March 28th, 2011, 11:15 AM
Alright, gents. The first 7-or-so pages are done. Here's what I have so far:


Part One: At The Base Of The Sun

“You asked to see me, Father?”

“Ah, Mikoto-kun. Good to see you. Come in.”

I have a good father. He's being overly outgoing and personable today, which means something bad has happened. Trust me, I've known the man for twenty-four years. When the going gets tough, his stern, businesslike facade vanishes, leaving behind the residual kind-hearted person he tries so hard to suppress. I find it endearing, somehow. It's hardly the strangest thing I have to deal with regularly. I sit down opposite Father. The low table is bare, save for a folded piece of paper and two cups of tea.

“Please, have some tea.”

He's even remembered the type I like, that shrewd devil. I drink a little of it. There's a long silence.

“Mikoto-kun, do you remember a man named Yamada-san?”

“Kiyoaki Yamada-san? Vaguely. He's a friend of yours, isn't he?”

Father nods. He has a number of acquaintances, all high up in government or industry, most of which date back to his time at Peers School in the 1880s. Kiyoaki Yamada is one such person. From what I can remember, he's an industrialist. Shipping, I think.

“That's right.” He takes a sip of his tea. “He came to see me yesterday.”

Interesting, but not entirely unusual. Our family has a public life somewhat removed from our private life – membership of the Demon Hunter's Organization is not something one publicises, you understand – and Father receives important visitors fairly often. He takes my silence as a cue to continue.

“Yamada-san has two sons – Takumi-kun, the elder and Touichirou-kun, the younger. I believe Touichirou-kun was a year below you at Peers School.” I nod sagely. I don't have that many fond memories of Peers School, so I wouldn't be able to verify that to any degree of accuracy. “Until a couple of days ago, both were working at the NYK Line branch in Vladivostok. Their father is a senior executive with NYK, so I imagine that was his doing.” Father makes a point of wrapping his tongue around the Russian name for the city. Another one of his little habits.

“What do you mean when you say 'until a couple of days ago'?” I ask. Father, who has been gazing into his tea for some time, looks up at me sharply, as if he's just noticed that I'm here.

“Two days ago, Yamada-san received this letter-” he taps a finger on the folded piece of paper. “-from Takumi-kun. I won't ask you to read it. Suffice to say, it relates a rather unfortunate tale. It appears Touichirou-kun has been murdered.”

Murdered. The word ripples through the room, having much the same effect a raindrop has on a puddle. We of the Demon Hunter's Organization are no strangers to death. A case of demon possession will, in a manner reminiscent of any parasite, eventually cause the death of its host. But we have never termed that as murder. Demons can no more be murderers than a man-eating lion or a disease can be a murderer. To our family, at least (I wouldn't dare presume to speak for the Ryougi or Nanaya clans) the act of murder – the deliberate separation of body and soul – is an unforgivable act, capable of tainting a man's soul for the rest of his life, and then some. But even so, why inform us? The Asakami family are old, rich and powerful, yes, but surely it would be more appropriate to inform the police. Or, if not the police, at the very least the occupation force under General Yui. I mean, what are we supposed to do about it?

Father anticipates my question.

“It is not the fact of his murder that should concern us, but the manner in which it was carried out. The body of Touichirou Yamada was discovered in an alleyway in Vladivostok, half-covered by snow, with no visible wounds – and entirely drained of blood.”

“Drained?”

“Yes. According to Takumi-kun in the letter, it was 'uncanny'. Like he had been dried in the sun.”

Now, that is interesting. Operating on the assumption that Touichirou-kun did not simply misplace all of his blood, the only thing one can assume is that someone else endeavoured to misplace it for him. But – and this is a puzzle indeed – how do you get all the blood out of a person without leaving any wounds?

Father continues.

“When Yamada-san received the letter, he came to the – quite justifiable – conclusion that his son was killed by supernatural means. Recalling the, ah, reputation I had at Peers School, he contacted me in the hope that I could shed some light on this incident.”

Somehow I can't imagine my father as a person who would have a quote reputation unquote, at Peers School or anywhere else for that matter. I'll ask him about it later.

“But that isn't all, Mikoto-kun. This morning I received a reply to a telegram I sent to an old friend of mine living in Vladivostok. It appears that young Yamada-kun was not the only victim. Five more bodies were found in and around the city in the time between the discovery of Touichirou-kun's body and the arrival of the letter to Yamada-san. All were in a similar state. No visible wounds, yet completely drained of blood.”

“So what does that imply?”

“I agree with Yamada-san's conclusion; these murders were not done by human hands. I believe we are dealing with a blood-drinking crossbreed.”

Blood. Conventional or garden-variety demons of the Fiendish Kind don't require such...visceral sustenance. No, the need to drink blood is exclusively the territory of cross-breeds – families that, in the past, interbred with demons to produce offspring with partial demon blood. As such, they're a huge threat to society at large, because for the most part they look indistinguishable from regular people. Hunting down and eliminating cross-breeds is another one of the main occupations of the Organisation.

“So are we going to be taking action?” I ask. I mean, it's obvious that's what he's been leading up to.

“Perhaps. It's outside the country, which complicates things. Our more...conservative associates might object to us taking action over there when, in their view, we should be concentrating on incidents inside the country. It's all politics, really. I'll discuss it at the next meeting of the family heads, in two days' time.” He takes another sip of tea. “But as it happens, that wasn't why I interrupted your morning practice.”

Even if that last five minutes of conversation turns out to be completely irrelevant, Father, I cannot thank you enough for interrupting practice with Hakko-sensei. She's actually given up on teaching me anything and spends most of her lessons trying to kill me in increasingly creative ways.

“Then what did you need me for?”

Father reaches under the table and pulls out a book, roughly half an inch thick, bound in the Western style in black leather. The title is lettered in gold on the spine. There's a small golden lock installed in the book – without a key, no-one will be able to read it.

“This is a reproduction I had made of the after-action report my father wrote for the Hakurei Shrine Operation.” He barely suppresses a shudder as the words pass his lips. “Nasty business. Eight went through, only Father came back alive...and even then...” He trails off. I've only heard bits and pieces about the Great Hakurei Shrine Exorcism of 1885, mostly because it's an unwritten rule about the house that that is one of the things you do not ask about. Supposedly my grandfather, Hiro Asakami, committed hara-kiri immediately after finishing his report. It's an unlucky topic, let's leave it at that. Father manages to pull himself together, and continues speaking.

“..hmm. Yes. Anyway, I'd like you to run a small errand for me.” I try to avoid wincing. I still remember the last 'small errand' my father sent one of us on. Ichirou-niisan still hasn't fully recovered, and that temple gate will never be the same again. “There's a Buddhist temple up north, in Fuyuki. The abbot there is a friend of your grandfather's. He's been after a copy of this report for thirty years now. I want you to take this to him.”

“Aren't reports usually thicker than that?” I ask, thinking back to the last one I had to read to prepare for one of Hakko-sensei's gruelling examinations. Father smiles cunningly.

“You didn't think I'd actually let him read the whole thing, hmm? I've taken the liberty of removing the more...sensitive parts. Some things have to be kept in the family, you understand.”

That shrewd devil. I should have expected nothing less from a patriarch of the Demon Hunter's Organization.

“Well, Mikoto-kun, I think that's all. A car is waiting for you at the West Gate, so you'd best be off.”

I finish the last of my tea, take the book, and stand up. I bow respectfully, and leave the room.

Fuyuki is two hours away by car. I've been there a couple of times before on operations – mostly minor possession cases, nothing severe. It's a nice enough place. Much more agreeable than Misaki. Now, allowing two hours to get up there, two to return, an hour, maximum, to reach the temple and deliver the book, I should be back by four o'clock in the afternoon. Which allows me to avoid Hakko-sensei for the rest of the day. See, I told you I have a good father.

I step out into the chilly January morning. A weak sun is shining through the branches of the cherry trees along the path to the West Gate. I pick up the pace. After all, the eleventh of January, 1920, is going to be a long day.

Rome, Italy

“I won't allow it.”

Deep within the labyrinth of chapels, vestries, catacombs, archives and offices that comprises the Vatican City, there exists an room untouched by sunlight for the past two hundred years. It resembles a wood-paneled study, exquisitely furnished, lit only by candlelight. Two vacant suits of armour stand to attention on either side of an expansive mahogany desk, they original occupants long since perished in the Crusades. Two figures sit in the dim room, one on either side of the desk. On the side adjacent to the entrance, there sits a young boy in the habit of a priest, his dark hair framing an angelic face. Ironic, considering the boy is something closer to a true demon than anything remotely angelic. Opposite him, behind a block of hardwood thick enough to stop a rifle bullet, sits a woman with hair the colour of Alpine snow and eyes as blue as the Mediterranean. She wears a man's clothing – a waistcoat, trousers and cardigan, in a manner unfitting her ladylike air. The woman is, at this moment, very unhappy.

“Why not?”

The boy speaks in soft, melodious tones. His angelic face is a mask, revealing nothing, absorbing everything.

“I am not going to let some upstart cardinal dictate operational doctrine. My predecessors would never have allowed it, and I'm not about to start.”

The woman's name is Narbareck. Of course, that's less of a name and more of a hereditary title, but it's the only one she knows. There is a continuous chain of Narbarecks, dating all the way back to the establishment of the Burial Doctrine under Pope Alexander the Third. As the technical leader of the Burial Agency, it is her responsibility to oversee the Holy Church's counter-vampiric warfare division.

“The upstart cardinal you refer to happens to be the reigning Pontifex Maximus, so technically he has every right to dictate operational doctrine.”

“Oh, yes, technically. But there's a convention, Solomon. His Holiness leaves us to do as we please, and Europe is not overrun by vampires. A fair trade, I think. It's how things are done.”

The boy's name is...well. In truth he has no name, although there are some who call him 'Crown'. For the purposes of convenience he has taken the name Merem Solomon. Surprisingly for a member of an agency which hunts vampires, he is one himself. He is, in fact, one of the twenty-seven most powerful vampires in the world. Truly, he is an oddity among oddities – a vampire so obsessed with collecting holy relics that he joined an agency that, by rights, should be his worst enemy, purely to gain access to their huge storehouses of artifacts.

“Evidently the current Pope feels differently. I suppose it may have something to do with the nature of the task at hand...”

Narbareck scowls. More so than she was previously.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Look. Not to put too fine a point on it, you haven't had much success in retrieving the artefact. It's been, how long now, three hundred and thirty-eight years since you lost it-”

“It was STOLEN. We do not LOSE relics, Solomon.”

“-since it was stolen, and it has still not been recovered. And now that we have a possible lead on the artefact's current location, can you really blame His Holiness for wanting to make absolutely certain that the recovery is successful? After all, relic recovery is the Eighth Sacrament Assembly's speciality. I'm quite certain His Holiness feels just as strongly about recovering it as you do.”

“Is that what you believe, or are you just playing Devil's Advocate?”

The boy smiles.

“Oh, it would be a fine thing, if someone like myself were to play the Devil's Advocate.”

“Even so, I don't like the precedent it sets. If the Pope sees fit to send SOE along on this mission, what's to stop a future Papacy from sending them along on other missions? What's to stop them sending SOE with us to Aylesbury? Gott im Himmel, that would be a mess.”

“That's a long way off. You can always take the Alexander the Sixth option if your objections are that strong.”

“I don't think we can get away with that these days.”

“The current Pope is not long for this world, in any case. I can smell it. His little request seems to be more indicative of a personal feeling than any significant change in our management structure. Once he's been succeeded, things should return to normal.”

“That's not my only concern, though. If our intelligence is accurate, we're dealing with a Dead Apostle Ancestor that's been assimilating Sealing Designate magi for over three hundred years. The Eighth Sacrament Assembly is just not equipped for this kind of operation. It doesn't matter what they're expecting. I don't have the time frame or the inclination to train SOE operators up to the point where they can last more than a minute in a fight against a Dead Apostle, let alone this particular one. I don't think the Pope realises that no matter how many he sends, no matter how well they're equipped, SOE are going to get slaughtered.”

“Hmm...” The boy gives a wicked grin. Satanic, you might call it. “Well, they do say that the best rewards are the ones paid for in blood...”

“You think it's worth it?”

“This relic? Oh, certainly. It's something far more than the usual trinkets I find lying around. This...this is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. No price would be too high.”

“Hmm.” The woman appears lost in thought for a few seconds. Suddenly, she looks Merem Solomon directly in his blood-red eyes. “You know, Solomon, you're absolutely right.”

“You have a plan, don't you?”

“Of course.” The woman gets up from her desk, matching Solomon's grin as she does so. “Have Rats call ahead and tell the Camerlengo to wake His Holiness. I've got an idea.”

Vladivostok, Russia

Blue sky.

White snow.

Confusion.

Yes. Confusion.

We are confused.

We look. A man. In the snow. A man.

Not moving.

Blood. Man has blood.

No. Had blood.

Empty now.

None left.

All gone.

You drank it, didn't you?

We...drank it?

No. No. No. Couldn't have. Couldn't be. Not us. Not we.

It was delicious, wasn't it? Like nothing else on earth, wouldn't you agree?

No. No. No. NO. NO. NO.

There's no sense in denying it, you know. I was there. I watched you.

Watched. Watched us.

Who?

Hehehehehe...I'm you, don't you know? More accurately, you're a part of me. I know you drank blood, and I know you enjoyed it...because I drank blood, and oh, did I enjoy it.

Us...You. Part. Part of you.

No. Can't be. Not us. Not we.

It's times like these I think that I should have kept your brains when I ate you instead of just your Circuits and Magic Crests.

Us. Ate. You ate.

Us?

Of course. How else would you be a part of me? I ate you because I needed what you know, and I discarded the bits I didn't need. You lot are just the remnants. Usually you're dormant, but you come out a lot when I need to drink. And you know what the best part is? YOU NEVER REMEMBER! I get to have this conversation as many times as I like! Isn't that just something special?

Understand. We.

Don't. Understand.

Maybe you should open your eyes. Or maybe I'll open them for you?

We...see.

Face. We see face.

That'd be mine. Great things, these reflective glass windows, aren't they? Ooh, I think there's a still a drop on my chin. I'll just lick it up, shall I?

Lick. Taste.

Drink.

Blood. Red.

More.

Want.

Want more. Want more. Want. Want. Want!

I knew you'd come around eventually. You always do.

Always.

Al...ways.

All ways.

Ha. Haah. Haha. Hahaha. Hahaha! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!



As always, comments, criticism, advice, questions, etc. are much appreciated!